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Dear Molly,

The photographs from the second half of the Slytherin Soiree are enclosed. As you can see, almost all the clothing stayed where it was meant to, other than the usual effects gravity has on robes, and the most popular performer of the night was indeed one of your children—just not the one you might be expecting. Hermione apparently convinced him that they should top off their table's winning the manners competition by trying this out together. It's really rather charming.

I don't know why they thought they'd get away with keeping it from us either. They never do seem to learn.

All is well otherwise. Say hello to Arthur for me.

Aletha

P.S. Thank you for your suggestion of Gripping Spells on the poles. I'm told it helped a great deal. Do I smell a story of the "don't tell the boys" variety? And may Danger and I come over for tea one of these afternoons and hear all about it?

P.P.S. Plans for two Saturdays from now are going very well.


Neville sat sideways across two seats in the Quidditch stands, his Charms text and several scrolls of notes spread out around him, anchored by various bits of rock and root to keep them from blowing away. Meghan was perched in the next seat over, her ebony wand in her hand, transfiguring a swatch of cloth into a sleek wooden pawn from a Muggle chess set and back again, varying the color and design each time. A row or two down, Hermione and Luna had their heads together over what appeared to be Harry's Potions textbook, though Neville hadn't looked closely at it. If they wanted his help, they knew where to find him.

In the air above the snow-covered pitch, broomsticks swooped and swirled, the red blur of the Quaffle shooting dizzily from hand to hand, blending in the late afternoon light with the robes worn by the players as the Gryffindor Quidditch team honed their already considerable skills. They had a little over a week left before the match with Hufflepuff, and it was likely to be a hard-fought game.

Though I wish that was all we had to worry about…

As the frantic pace of building Sanctuary slowed somewhat, the yearmates were beginning to catch their breaths, to look around them more, and to acknowledge, grimly, that their work was going to be needed sooner rather than later. Neville's own sources, his gran and his mother, as well as the various adults from whom the Pride and the yearmates received correspondence, all reported that the war was…

A war. Which is to say, chaotic, painful, and deadly, for a lot more people than anyone wants.

Except ones like him. And her.

Neville tightened his grip on his wand at the thought of the only two people in the world he could truly be said to hate. He wanted Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange dead, dead or stripped of their power or in some other way stopped, stopped from hurting anyone else the way they'd hurt him and his family. More than that, he wanted them to suffer—he wanted them to know that everything they'd ever wanted, everything they'd fought and struggled so hard to get, was just out of their reach, and would be that way forever—

So we win the war. He glanced down at Meghan, who was critically examining the job she'd done of polka-dotting her pawn. We live. We love each other, and do what we want to do with our lives. Like combining the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw lines, and continuing both our Houses another generation, on our terms. And like teaching all our children, and all the Pride's children, and all the children in the wizarding world—he leaned momentarily into the power surrounding Hogwarts, and felt a warm pulse of acceptance in response—that it doesn't matter where you came from. It matters what, and who, you are.

Now if there were just some way I could let them see that, but not be able to ruin it…

An idea teased at the back of his mind. Rather than pursue it, he scooped up The Standard Book of Spells, Grade Six, and flipped to the chapter Professor Flitwick had assigned. Long experience with the workings of his mind had taught him not to force his thoughts. They'd bloom when they were ready.

Besides, I don't need to think about them this weekend. I have plenty of homework I need to get done, all the more so because tomorrow's a Hogsmeade day, and a very special one. He grinned to himself. The teachers thought they were going to have to cancel it for security reasons, but somebody was able to provide enough extra hands, and wands, that it ought to be safe to be out in the village for a while, even if we do have to get back sooner than usual…

His eyes wandered away from his page, lingering for a few moments on one of the players still working with the Quaffle, a shaggy mop of red hair in more disarray than usual from the conflicting wind currents. Softly, he whistled a jaunty line of music, drawing a giggle from Meghan.

A certain Warrior of the Pride was in for quite a surprise tomorrow.


Ron leaned on his elbow at the Gryffindor table and scowled at a platter of sausages. Not even the prospect of Hogsmeade could cheer him up just now.

It's my birthday. My seventeenth birthday. My coming of age.

And everyone flipping well forgot about it.

He hadn't been expecting a huge bash or anything extravagant, but a few presents or the occasional "Many happy returns" would have been nice. Instead of which, the foot of his bed had been completely barren when he awakened, the Pride was chattering away about what they wanted to see and do in the village today, even Hermione had barely taken notice of the foul mood he was in—

And that's not like her.

Straightening up, Ron reached for a bowl of scrambled eggs, and used the motion to sneak a glance at his girlfriend. To all outward appearances, she was talking over their previous day's Defense lesson with Harry, but would even the unfairness of Snape docking points from Gryffindor for "exhibitionism" when Harry had decapitated all five of Snape's targets without saying a word bring that much warmth to her face? Or was she excited about something else?

Hermione never forgets things. Especially not about people who're important to her.

Adding a spoonful of ketchup to the eggs, he let his eyes rove across the Pride's faces, noticing the fit of giggles Meghan tried to bury in her pumpkin juice when she saw him looking at her, the sly little grin Ginny was sharing with Luna when she thought he wasn't looking, the satisfied smirk Draco wore as he adjusted the drape of the cloak he'd brought to breakfast with him—

Merlin's blood, they're having me on. And I almost fell for it. They've got something planned, something out in the village—some of the rest of the DA might be in on it, or the twins and Percy, maybe even Mum and Dad—

He hid his own smile behind a huge bite of eggs.

Have to give them the proper reaction, though, don't I?


"Do you think he suspects?" Ginny asked Luna as they waited in the entrance hall for Filch to check them over with his vibrating Secrecy Sensor.

"Maybe." Luna turned to look at Ron, who glared at her. "But he's determined to be in a bad mood, so he's convinced himself he's wrong."

Ginny sighed. "My stupid brothers," she said, bending down to retie her shoe.

While Ginny wasn't looking, Ron tossed Luna a salute. She inclined her head in response.

If Ron wanted to make everyone think they'd successfully surprised him, she wasn't about to ruin that.


The biting wind of early March made it easy for Ron to huddle into his cloak and not say anything as the Pride made their way across the lawns, out Hogwarts' gates, and down the road into Hogsmeade. Once there, they split naturally into smaller groups, Ginny and Luna sliding off together in the general direction of the Three Broomsticks, Meghan and Neville starting for Honeydukes, and Harry and Draco making a beeline for Zonko's. Ron watched them all go, trying to project an air of "I don't care what you do, go on and have fun without me".

Maybe I should worry about how easy that seems to be…

"What's wrong?" Hermione said close to his ear, startling him into a small jump.

"Nothing." Ron looked away from her.

"If you say so." She moved back a pace. "Care to take a walk with me?"

"Where to?"

"Just up to that shop the twins are renovating." Hermione pointed in the right direction with her chin, since her hands were tucked into her pockets. "They think they'll be ready to open by their birthday, did you know?"

Was that a hint? I think that was a hint. Why not take it.

"No, I didn't know. Because apparently my own brothers talk to you more than they do to me." Ron kicked moodily at a rock, sending it bouncing along the street in front of him and Hermione. "And speaking of birthdays…"

"Oh!" Hermione's hands flew to her mouth, her eyes wide and chagrined. "Oh, Ron—oh no, I'm so sorry—we've had so much going on, what with classes and the DA and the year, I'd completely forgot—"

And the overacting award goes to…Hermione Jane Granger-Lupin. "I'd noticed." Ron hoped Hermione couldn't tell that the reason he was grinding his words out between his teeth was not that he was too angry to speak any other way, but that he was afraid he'd laugh if he opened his mouth any further. "You, and Harry, and Fox, and Ginny—my own sister, even—"

"I wish there were something I could say that would make it better." Hermione was looking away, her head bent, and Ron strongly suspected she too was feeling the need to burst out laughing. "Something that would wipe it all out, let us start fresh. Help you understand it isn't that we don't care about you, really it isn't."

"Right, sure it isn't." Ron considered a snort, but thought it would be too likely to break his control. "Pull the other one, Neenie. What could you possibly say that would do that?"

"Oh, I don't know." Hermione looked up with a small smile as they drew level with the twins' shop, its exterior now sparkling with a new paint job and its windows plastered with gaudy posters advertising its opening date of next month. "What about—"

A loud crack behind him startled Ron into a yelp, and a pair of strong hands propelled him forward, through the door Hermione had just bespelled open, into the interior of the shop—

"SURPRISE!"


Harry dusted off his hands smugly, grinning at Hermione. She returned the expression, then slipped into the shop to join in the raucous chorus of "Happy Birthday" currently being sung in Ron's general direction by a large portion of the DA and the Red Shepherds, along with all four Pack-parents and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.

"Funny," remarked Draco, stepping out of hiding to join Harry. "He didn't smell surprised."

"No, he didn't." Harry wiggled his fingers and arched his back, making sure his Apparition hadn't left anything important behind. "But he was willing to play along, and that's what matters. Shall we?"

"Shouldn't we wait for the girls?"

"Won't be much of a wait." Harry pointed down the street at two small figures levitating an enormous carton of butterbeer between them. "Here they come now."

"Excellent."


"Check, check…test, one, two, three…is this thing on? Can anybody hear me? There was a young lady from Venus, who improbably sprouted a—"

"JORDAN!"

"Sorry, Professor—guess that's a go, then—gooooood morning Hogwarts!" Lindsay Jordan's voice boomed out over the Quidditch pitch. "How's everybody feeling on this lovely chilly spring Saturday?"

Cheers and whistles filled the frosty air.

"That's grand, and today's match should get everything warmed right up for us, as we present the battle of the yellow and the red, the badgers and the lions, the tireless toilers and the fearsome fighters—witches and gentlewizards, I give you the righteously reliable, the tenaciously terrible, the hard-hitting heroes of HUFFLEPUFF! And their opponents for today, hoping to position themselves to repeat as Quidditch champions—it's the counts of courage, the barons of bravery, let's hear you roar for GRYFFINDOR!"

Locking his knees around his Firebolt, Harry sped out of the chute behind Beaters Jimmy Peakes and Ritchie Coote, his hands, like the rest of the team's, held high to acknowledge the thunderous yells being emitted by the red-clad portions of the audience. Draco waved them all into a rough circle above their own end of the pitch. "Let's try and win," he shouted over the noise, "but if we can't—"

"Let's try and break a few heads!" the rest of the team chorused, grinning, and Ron sped off for the goal hoops as the Chasers headed for the center line. Harry climbed steeply, putting himself in position to see the whole game at once. Hufflepuff's team, he knew, was not only composed of talented individuals but had trained together fiercely, with the insistence on teamwork which characterized their House. If Gryffindor were likely to lose any match this year, this would be the one.

Though they do have weaknesses. That one Chaser of theirs, what's his name, Cadwallader, he's fast, he's accurate, he's good all around, but he's afraid of the Bludgers. Harry kept his eyeroll mental. How do you hack it in Quidditch even at the school level if you're afraid of the Bludgers? I've had my arm broken twice and nearly died once from Bludgers, and I'm not afraid of them!

But then, he had to admit, that might just be a temperamental difference between a Hufflepuff and a Gryffindor.

Besides, it's probably a sign of intelligence to be afraid of the big nasty enchanted ball that likes to follow people around and try to knock them off their flimsy little flying sticks. Harry glanced down at the snow so far below, melting here and there to show off the patchwork of brown and green beneath. Means you're more likely to live to grow up.

Though Ron's managed that despite it all, and I'm getting there myself…

Madam Hooch's whistle blew, and Harry's attention snapped to the center of the pitch.

He could be philosophical later. Right now, there was Quidditch to play.


A match against Hufflepuff, Ginny reflected as she leaned back hard on her broomstick to gain altitude, was definitely cleaner than one against Slytherin. On the flip side, it was also a great deal more difficult.

Slytherin doesn't have any real practice regimen. They work hard on their trick plays and their fouls, but they aren't out here regularly, three, four, five times a week, doing their basic moves over and over, getting the patterns so engrained into their muscles that they don't even have to—she swerved and pulled up more, dodging a yellow-clad Chaser who had made a grab for the red leather ball she had under one arm—think about it, they just do it.

Whereas "regular practice" might as well be tattooed across every single Hufflepuff's…chest.

Her self-censorship made her grin, and she turned height into speed, rocketing away in a shallow dive from another of the Hufflepuff Chasers, who had been attempting to force her towards a Bludger. Ritchie Coote barreled across her wake, his bat high, and the third Hufflepuff Chaser broke off what had looked to Ginny like a worryingly good angle of attack towards her proposed line of flight with a shriek of pure terror.

Wonder what that's about?

But as much fun as wondering might be, she had work to do now. Lean forward, more, more, narrow eyes against the wind, hold tight to the Quaffle—dodge the other Bludger, shoot underneath Harry so close she had to resist the temptation to tug on his robes as she went by—here came the goal hoops and there was the hovering Keeper, now to get her throw at precisely the right angle—

"And Weasley SHOOTS and NO good, it's no good, Harris has—NOT saved it!" Lindsay bellowed into her megaphone over the scoring gong and the cheers of the Gryffindors. "WHAT A PLAY, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! Ten points to Gryffindor, scored by Ginny Weasley, with a perfect swat through the center ring, set up by Hufflepuff Keeper Harris's save to the left!"

"Nice one!" Harris shouted, diving to retrieve the Quaffle and tossing it to Madam Hooch as the flying teacher zoomed up. "You'll have to teach us how that's done sometime!"

"Be glad to," Ginny called back. "After we beat you."

Harris's chuckle followed her up the field.


Here we are again…

Ron gritted his teeth as the Hufflepuff Chasers shot towards him in a tightly bunched group, the Quaffle shooting from one to another of them so rapidly he was having trouble keeping track of who had it.

Which is the point, isn't it?

He'd failed to save six of their last seven shots on goal, including a run of three during which he'd been frantically dodging both Bludgers at once, until Jimmy Peakes arrived to Beat them back into general play. How or why the goals had been scored, though, mattered less than that they had, and Gryffindor was currently forty points behind.

We won't be out of the running for the Cup even if we lose, and Harry's bound to spot the Snitch soon, but I'd rather not give away any more points if I can manage it. But how…

The thought of Harry and of giving things away, along with the unaccustomed weight of his new watch in his pocket, sparked a train of thought in Ron's mind, and he looked sharply at the oncoming Chasers.

No, no, no, no—yes!

The girl in the center of the group, Hawkes he thought her name was, had just had the "color" in her face spike to his vision, in the way that meant she'd made up her mind about something—and sure enough, the other two Chasers had peeled away, Hawkes was aiming the Quaffle at the center, no, the right ring—

I don't think so!

Ron's arm shot out, and his fingers dug into the tough leather of the Quaffle. "Sorry!" he shouted at the Hufflepuffs, holding the ball over his head to hear his Housemates roar in approval.

Nearer the center of the field, two blurs hurtled earthward in a dizzying spiral.


"So what are we supposed to call that move?" Draco inquired at the party in the Gryffindor common room. "The Wronski This-Is-Not-A-Feint?"

Harry bounced a Junior Mint Tadpole off Draco's forehead. Draco caught the tiny wriggling thing as it fell, popped it into his mouth, and licked the chocolate from his fingers before grabbing a napkin to do the same service for the Tadpole's point of impact.

Ginny, Hermione, and Meghan sighed in practiced, weary unison.

"I thought it was a Wronski Feint," said Ron, his hands swirling around each other to illustrate. "When I saw you both diving like that, with you in the lead, Harry, I was almost sure of it—and then you came up with the Snitch anyway!"

"Just luck at that point. It was there, so was I, and…" Harry grinned, holding up his prize, which obediently whirred its silver wings. "So we won it by a hundred ten, which puts us pretty comfortably out in front going into the match with Ravenclaw. They play Slytherin next, don't they?"

"They do," Ginny confirmed, offering Neville a leg of her Crunchy Frog, the crisped-rice bones just visible where she'd snapped it off. "And I think they'll likely win it. That'll cut into our lead some, but it shouldn't put them ahead of us, not unless it's a blowout. And unless it's a total blowout, we should still be within a Snitch capture, and it's not like we have the best Seeker in the school on our side or anything…"

"We don't?" Luna looked perplexed. "Do you like Cho Chang better than Harry, then?"

Ginny turned as red as her robes while the boys laughed themselves into hiccups.


"As this will be our last meeting before your Easter holidays, I have chosen today to conduct an impromptu examination." Snape's black glare raked over the sixth years. "On the off chance that a few of you may have learned something in the nearly seven months I have been attempting to instill a modicum of knowledge into your empty heads."

Blah, blah, blah, Harry signed under his desk, sending Hermione and Neville, bracketing him, into quiet snickers. Doesn't he ever get tired of listening to himself be rude?

"This is how we will proceed." Snape paced down one side of the room, his wand in his hand. "I will be moving about among you, as I might if this were a typical class session. At random intervals, I will direct either questions or basic wanded attacks towards particular students. Points will be awarded to every student who successfully answers the question or blocks the attack. Having been questioned, or attacked, once is no guarantee that I will not choose you again. We begin…now."

Harry sat back in his chair, making sure his wand was ready in his hand and that he could bring it above desk level in time to cast a Shield Charm or some other form of block. Have to see if I can't get Padfoot to teach me that extra bit you can put on a Shield, the one that makes it so shiny it reflects back your opponent's spell at double power…

"Li!" Snape whirled to face Su, who jumped. "Name the main weakness of the Inferius and the reason for it!"

"Fire, Professor," said Su promptly. "Inferi shrink from fire, because they know it can destroy them."

"Good. Incarcerous!" This spell was directed at Terry Boot, sitting next to Su, who promptly deflected it upwards, encasing the reptilian skeleton hanging from the ceiling in rope. Snape nodded and moved on.

Forty minutes into class, Harry was feeling nicely confident. He had stopped both spells Snape had thrown at him, one a Twitchy Ears, the other a nonverbal and therefore invisible Stunning Spell, and correctly answered all three questions, including one he'd only known because of Hermione's habit of reading her notes aloud in the common room after class.

Not that I think I'll be telling her that.

The rest of the Pride was doing almost as well. Ron's Orbis Block had rung like a bell when Snape's Impediment Jinx had hit it, but in a real battle that would have startled his enemy as much as it had him, so Harry didn't consider it detrimental. Neville's Shield Charm had ricocheted the Leg-Locker Snape had thrown directly back at its caster, and Harry thought he might have been imagining it, but Snape had looked almost impressed as he'd blocked his own spell in his turn. Hermione, of course, was being her usual brilliant self, annihilating questions and hexes with equal ease, which only left—

Snape wheeled around and fixed his eyes on Draco's. His wand stayed loose in his hand, his mouth did not open. Draco paled, but held his ground, staring back at his professor with his face set and neutral.

For five seconds, everything was silent. The two figures, so still that they drew attention to themselves by their very motionlessness, were locked in what Harry knew from experience was a fierce and merciless battle—Snape had begun to sweat, Draco's hands were flattened against the top of his desk, but neither the black eyes nor the gray showed any sign of wavering—

Hermione, a trifle too casually to Harry's practiced eye, leaned too far forward and tipped her copy of Confronting the Faceless out of her lap.

The resulting slam snapped Draco's head around. Snape took a step back, blinking hard. "Full marks," he said, his voice very slightly unsteady. "Macmillan! What are the advantages and deficiencies of the corporeal Patronus?"


"Was he—" Harry began to ask his brother after Snape had dismissed them (for a wonder, five minutes early).

"Yes."

"And you held him off?" Ron said in admiration.

"Yes."

"It looked hard," said Neville, flipping his bag shut.

"Was hard." Draco rubbed the back of his neck, wincing. "He's strong."

"We knew that." Hermione looked worriedly at her twin. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Be fine. Head just hurts." Drawing a deep breath, Draco blew it out slowly. "Okay," he said on the end of it. "I'm okay." He gave Hermione a crooked smile. "Thanks for breaking it off. I think I would've been all right if I'd had a little time to prepare, but right off the cuff like that was hard."

"What'd you use?" Neville asked, leading the way out of the classroom. "Ice, like you were talking about that one time?"

"Yeah, and it worked really well. Except when he started chipping into it. Have to find some way to make it resistant to that, or maybe so cold no one can touch it at all…"


"Look, just go away, all right?"

The voice, feminine, familiar, and hoarse in the way that signified a worrisome closeness to tears, caught Sirius's ear as he descended the stairs towards the ground floor of Headquarters. Who's Danger yelling at now? Not Moony, if she's going to shout at him she does it silently—Par and Voni are off checking on that rumor of a vampire colony near York, God, I hope they don't find anything, that's all we need—Dobby's getting the cubs' rooms ready, Winky's working on dinner, and Bernie and the elflets are in the attics playing dress-up, Echo's the equivalent of thirteen by now so we can trust them up there alone—

"The Muggleborn is not Kreacher's mistress," responded a wheezing voice just as Sirius's mind came to the same conclusion on its own. "The little Muggleborn who looks like this one, she is Kreacher's mistress, but not this Muggleborn, Kreacher does not have to obey her—"

"No, but you do have to obey me," Sirius called, swinging himself over the banister and making it to the door of the War Room in three strides. "And I say that's enough."

Kreacher glared impotently at Sirius, who stared back coldly. He might no longer actively hate his family's house-elf, but he certainly wasn't going to be holding any parties in Kreacher's honor any time soon.

Even if he and Regulus did get us "valuable information about our enemies' weaknesses", as Albus put it—huzzah, cheers and whistles, now can someone tell me why couldn't it have been this wrinkly little bastard who died for it, instead of my brother?

But then, Kreacher'd have preferred that himself. And I know that, and he knows I know that.

So it's like everything else in our lives lately. Way too damn complicated.

He glanced past Kreacher to see Danger sitting in one of the chairs in the room, a file of what looked like Daily Prophet clippings on her lap and a suspicious shimmering in her mostly-brown eyes. Handle the immediate problem, Padfoot. Figure out what's up with you and the grumpy house-elf later.

"You know the rules, Kreacher," he said firmly. "You obey my guests like you obey me. You're doing better at being polite, which, good work there, but mistress or no mistress, Danger's allowed to give you orders, understand?"

"Yes, Master," Kreacher croaked, bowing nearly double. "Kreacher understands."

And Kreacher still hates my guts. Which I knew, so no love lost there.

"Good. Now go find something useful to do. Or go sit under the water tank and sulk, whichever you'd like. I don't really care which."

With one last poisonous glance, Kreacher vanished.

"He getting on your nerves again?" Sirius asked Danger, pulling up a chair beside hers. "Or is it something else?"

"Something else—well, a bit of both, he certainly didn't help matters by coming in here to 'tidy up' and refusing to leave, but…" Danger rubbed the inside corners of her eyes, heaving a sigh. "Sirius, did you ever know a witch named Bathilda Bagshot?"

Sirius laughed, surprised by the unexpected turn the conversation had taken. "Great Merlin, where did you dig that up? Old Batty—come on, we were twenty years old when we met her, James and I," he defended himself as Danger looked daggers at him. "What else did you expect us to call her? Never to her face, though, we had that much sense even then."

"So you did know her."

"Yes, I knew her. We all knew her. She was one of James and Lily's neighbors in Godric's Hollow, she used to mind Harry for Lily if Moony or Wormtail or I couldn't get away to do it. Old connection of Albus's, I think, she knew him when he was young—which would make her even more ancient than I really want to think about, wouldn't it? She still around?"

Danger shook her head. "She's been dead quite a few years now," she said, her voice regaining its earlier tone of tearfulness. "She died…well, here." Shuffling through the yellowing newspaper clippings, she selected one and held it out. Sirius accepted it and began to read.

The obituary was short and simple, stating that Bathilda Bagshot, noted wizarding historian, had been found dead in her home at Godric's Hollow. Her funeral would be private, and burial would be in the local churchyard. Instead of flowers, donations were requested for the fund that helped Hogwarts students in need get their robes and books.

Sirius frowned as he reached the end of the few lines of text. It's a shame she's dead, but I don't see what's bugging Danger so much about it…

Then he looked at the top of the page. The Daily Prophet from which the clipping had been taken was dated Sunday, 18 April, 1982.

"Merlin's teacup, she's been gone a while, hasn't she? I know, I know, you said as much," Sirius added at Danger's small noise of annoyance. "And I don't mean it rudely, you know I don't, but…"

He stopped and read the date again.

That's awfully close to the time the Pack got going. And it was never any secret Bathilda was associated with James and Lily, and with Harry…

His eyes snapped back to the text of the obituary.

Found dead, was she? That sounds like she had a heart attack, a stroke, something else natural, it happens even to witches and wizards, we may live longer but we're not immortal…except in that case, why the need for the private funeral?

"You think she was murdered," he said, looking up at Danger. "You think some of the Death Eaters went after her. Trying to find out what'd happened to Harry."

Silently, Danger extended a slip of parchment covered with dark, angular handwriting.

Dumbledore—

Killing Curse, no question. Cruciatus signs on her as well. Possible Imperius. Not sure what they were after. I'd guess you don't want it getting out?

Moody

"We killed her, Sirius," Danger said softly, staring at the floor. "I killed her. Taking Harry out of that damned cupboard, I killed her, just as surely as if I'd run her over in the street."

"No." Sirius removed the folder from Danger's lap, set it on the desk behind him, and lifted her chin with two fingers, looking into her eyes. "No, you didn't."

"It happened because of me!" Danger snapped. "If I'd stopped to think about what I was doing, the repercussions it might have on other people, the trouble it might cause—"

"Then we might not have a Pack today," Sirius interrupted. "And what were you going to do about Harry? Leave him there to starve?"

"We could have handled it some other way, some way that wasn't so…I don't know, splashy!" Danger shoved Sirius's hand away. "Remus could have moved into the house with me and Neenie once we were married, we'd have offered to mind Harry for free, Petunia would have jumped on it—we'd still have come after you on that first full moon, you could have been Letha's dog instead of ours, we'd have put a lot of use on the fireplaces coming and going to see each other but who cares, that's what they're for—"

"And Letha and I would have driven each other mad within the first six months," Sirius interrupted. "We needed each other at that point, Danger. All of us, together. Not a Floo call away, in the same damn house. If we hadn't had you and Moony, and the cubs, we'd have stopped speaking to each other long before that September, to say nothing of sleeping together, and then where would I get my beautiful little Pearl?"

"She'd still have come along at some point," Danger objected, but Sirius could hear her weakening. "You and Letha would have made it up, found some way to co-exist."

"Yes, but I prefer living, not just existing. And living's what we've made work with the Pack." Sirius tugged a piece of Danger's hair. "And speaking of Pack and cubs, what about Draco? What would've happened to him, if we'd gone for the 'less splashy' option? He'd probably still be trapped in purebloodland, he'd be a Junior Death Eater by now…" He could see the thoughts churning behind Danger's eyes, and decided to play his high card. "And besides, how were you supposed to know any of this? Danger, you went after the problem you knew about, and you fixed it. You saved Harry. You can't take the blame for what a bunch of mad Death Eaters did afterwards. That's on them. Not you."

Danger glared at him for one more moment. Then her shoulders relaxed, and she sighed deeply. "As much as I want to smack you for that, I can't. Because you're right." She blinked a few times, her eyes acquiring more of their usual swirls of blue. "I didn't kill Bathilda Bagshot. Some of my actions may have started a train of events that led to her death, and I'll always be sorry for that, but it doesn't mean I killed her."

"There we go." Sirius leaned over to give her a quick hug. "Feeling better?"

"Yes. Not perfect, but better."

"Good. Because what I was coming down to tell you is that it's almost time to leave for the station to pick up the cubs and Letha." Sirius grinned at the sudden light in Danger's eyes. "That's more like it. Come on, drag that werewolf of yours out of whatever academic oddity he's buried in. We've got a holiday to get started."


Draco woke early the next morning, not by plan or predetermination but from simple restlessness. Careful not to disturb Harry, he got up and dressed, then slipped out of their bedroom.

The person he'd been expecting was waiting for him, book in hand, outside the girls' room on the floor below. She looked up and smiled as he approached, and he felt his heart lift.

"Morning, Neenie," he said.

"Morning, Fox."

A quick scent-touch for hello, and they meandered down the stairs towards the kitchen together. Danger blew them both scent-kisses from the stove, and Letha and Corona Gamp waved from the table, as they entered. "Just the people I'd wanted to see," said Letha, beckoning them closer. "How would you two like to earn a bit of extra credit in Potions?"

Hermione brightened immediately. Draco laughed and poked her in the shoulder, and she hissed and slapped him lightly on the side of the head, then relented and grinned at him. "We're listening," she said, sitting down beside Corona.

"It's about Brian," Corona began. "Or, well—not really about Brian, but about both of us. About me. And about…" She shook her head. "I'm not making a particle of sense, am I?"

"Give us the background we're missing first," Danger advised, plucking the last of her drop scones off its baking sheet with her bare hand, tossing it neatly into its cloth-lined basket, and sending the basket soaring across the kitchen with her wand. Hermione plucked it from the air and set it down on the table. "Then go on to what you're looking for."

"Background. All right." Corona held out her hands to the warmth of the basket. "It starts with what Brian and I do for the Order. Which you know perfectly well, but I'm not sure if you've heard how much more crucial it's becoming." She shuddered. "The Death Eaters have been sending the werewolves they command to attack Muggle children."

Draco growled, feeling his hands pull into fists without his conscious command. Though he knew werewolves attacking children was standard fare to most of the wizarding world, no more surprising than goblins being greedy or Slytherins not to be trusted, the Pack-instincts which had governed the majority of his life equated "werewolf" with "protector", turning this latest filthy amusement of the Death Eaters into a worse perversion than most.

Not to mention hard to fight, because we can ward Muggle houses against random spells, we can defend specific families if we know the DE's are coming after them, but werewolves are more or less immune to pure magic, meaning they can walk straight through plain wards, and if they've taken Wolfsbane, they're also human-smart, so they can pick their own targets…

"Are yours fighting them, then?" Hermione asked, her hazel eyes sparking with much the same mix of emotions Draco could feel swelling in his own chest. "Yours and Brian's, the ones he talks to?"

"Brian's, yes." Corona sighed, shaking her head. "Not mine, not most of them. They're terribly wary of ordinary humans—well, I can understand that, so would I be if the world thought that badly of me, but we learned the hard way that I can't even touch Brian before he goes out to speak to a new group of them, because if they catch so much as a whiff of my scent on his robes, they're certain I'm 'controlling' him somehow, and trying to do the same to them."

"Which means you have to stay completely out of the picture, back at wherever you're using for a base," said Letha, smiling thanks at Danger as a full teapot and a collection of mugs arrived on the table. "Not the worst thing in the world, but if Brian should ever get into trouble and need backup quickly…"

"Exactly." Pulling back one of her sleeves, Corona regarded the flesh thus exposed ruefully. "And if it weren't for the scent, I could pass as a werewolf quite easily, because working with the animals the Order finds, well…" She held out her arm, covered in a variety of scrapes and scratches in various stages of healing, for the twins to examine. "My grandmother would, of course, be horrified."

"So you need something that'll disguise your scent, then." Draco tested the heat coming from the basket of scones, then chose one for himself and a second for Hermione, handing it to her as he continued to speak. "As long-lasting as we can get it, without too many side effects, and preferably something you could brew yourself."

"Quickly," Hermione added, setting her scone on her plate to pour out two mugs of tea. "I know you don't stay long in any one place. Though if it turns out to be a potion with a longer brewing time, we could always make it for you, here at Headquarters or even at Hogwarts, and deliver it to you as you needed it." One mug, along with the small pitcher of cream, landed in front of Draco, who pushed the sugar bowl down the table in return. "Where do you think we ought to start?" she asked him, scooping up a careful half-spoonful and sprinkling it slowly into her tea.

"Samples," Draco said immediately, pouring a dollop of the cream into his own mug. "From Brian and Maya to start with, fan out further if we need to. Then a couple of controls—not any of us, we're around Maya and Moony too much and we don't want cross-contamination, but we can find somebody in the Order who isn't here often, they should do."

"I've got a few ideas for that." Hermione nodded. "Once we have the samples, we'll run some basic diagnostics, isolate the magical and chemical elements in the one set not present in the other—unless that's already been done?" She turned to look at Letha. "Would that be something they might have on file at the Bonham School? What's present in a werewolf's body that isn't in an ordinary human's?"

"I couldn't say offhand, but I can certainly check." Letha smiled at Corona, who was regarding the twins with a look of wary bemusement. "And now you see why I suggested bringing them in on this," she said. "What they may lack in experience, they make up for in energy. We'll have a working brew or two by the end of holidays, possibly even a finished product if that information does happen to be on file."

"So soon?" Corona smiled in answer. "That would be wonderful. I worry about him, you know."

"I know." Letha sighed. "Believe me, I know."

"I think that's one of the functions of men," said Danger, coming to sit down beside Hermione. "To make women worry about them."

"And one of the functions of women is to do the worrying?" Draco hazarded.

He realized one instant too late how very outnumbered he was.

Note to self: engage brain before opening mouth.

It was his last coherent thought before he had to put all his attention into self-defense.

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Author Notes:

Hoping this chapter proves to people that yes, I really do read your reviews. As for how Artemis Moon learned to hang upside down on a pole, even with magical assistanceā€¦ well, her big sister Selena is wondering the same thing! Go check out their story, Defying Gravity, by LupineMoon of fanfiction.net, if you want to hear moreā€¦

Okay, so I lied. We get one more chapter of general fluffiness. After this, though, we're into big-time plot. There are plenty of Bad Things, but there are also Good Things, although the Good Things are sometimes disguised as Bad Things. And yes, for those of you reading "A Secret Never Told", some of the deaths reported there are going to happen.

Quick reminder to anyone who would like to read Homecoming (the first Anne original DV-based fantasy novel) but is broke: it's on the list for a LibraryThing Member Giveaway until March 12. It's a toss-up whether or not you'll get it, since the requests have already well outstripped the number of copies I'd made available, but why not put your name in the hat? Sign-ups are free!

That's all from me for now. Please remember to review, and stay tuned for more from the Dangerverse, both here and in various worlds of Anne originality!

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