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Living with Danger
Chapter 10: Simple Stuff
By Anne B. Walsh
Disclaimer: I didn't write either of the songs quoted in this chapter. The first one is by a band called Easily Amused, and the second is from the movie Casablanca.
Chapter 10: Simple Stuff
Danger hung up the phone, climbed back into the truck, and shut the door. "Letha sends her love," she said to everyone, buckling her seat belt. "Can I put the radio on?"
"Not too loud, please," Remus requested.
Sirius nodded in agreement, carefully, because Harry had a hold of one of his ears. His tail was across Neenie’s lap, and her free hand was resting on it. She’s a cutie, but she can’t hold a candle to my Harry.
Hope she likes me.
Danger fiddled with the buttons and dials for a moment, finally coming up with something not too annoying, and stepped on the gas.
Sirius yawned, settling his head into a more comfortable position. The opening bars of a new song caught his attention slightly, and as he listened, he felt himself relaxing.
Do you remember me from the bar?
I bought you a drink, that isn’t something I normally do
The rhythm was compelling without being too forceful, and the woman’s voice was wistfully sweet.
I was the girl in jeans and a pink shirt
I could’ve sworn you were looking my way
The truck turned onto a major road and accelerated, the wheels seeming to turn in time with the music as it picked up for the chorus.
Cause I would like to get to know you
I’m not asking for much
Remus was already asleep, his head against the window.
I want to take you out
A dinner on a date
Harry’s grip relaxed as he fell more deeply asleep.
I’m not asking to get all hyped
Danger glanced in the rearview mirror with a fond smile.
The simple stuff would be nice
That would be nice
That would be nice...
Sirius slipped into the first real sleep he’d had since November, and dreamed of Aletha.
It was just a normal day in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
Amelia Bones, Second Assistant Head of the Department, had eaten her lunch and was working on her usual afternoon task.
Merlin, how she hated reports some days. It seemed as if half the Aurors couldn’t write a simple paragraph, and the other half couldn’t even formulate a sentence correctly. She often had to resist the temptation to load her quill with red ink, correct their spelling and grammar, and send the reports back until they wrote them better.
But no, my job is to read them, summarize them, tag them in order of importance, and send them up the chain. And only that. No thoughts or comments of my own.
One of these days, we are going to choke on our own bureaucracy around here.
She sighed, and rang for her secretary. "Ms. Freeman, these are finished. The usual procedure, please."
"Yes, ma’am." Aletha gathered the reports up in her arms. She would make two copies of each of them, file one herself, and send the other two up the chain, one to the Assistant Head of the Department and one straight to the Head.
That’s if we don’t choke on parchment first.
Lars Vilias, Assistant Head of the Department and her immediate superior, burst through the door, making Aletha jump and flatten herself against the wall. "Amelia!" he almost shouted. "Word’s just come through — have you heard — it’s awful—"
"Calm down and tell me what it is, man," she directed, sighing inwardly at his tendency to exaggerate. Probably a minor breach of security somewhere, some Muggle saw an undisguised hippogriff...
"Sirius Black has escaped!"
All right, maybe not so minor.
Aletha made a strangled noise. Madam Bones, looking over at her, saw her normally unflappable secretary clutching the reports in her arms as if they were her salvation, her face frozen in what must be fear. "Pull yourself together," she snapped. "This goes no farther, Ms. Freeman."
"Y-yes, ma’am." Aletha walked a touch unsteadily out of Madam Bones’ office. Amelia watched as the woman deposited the reports on her own desk, then hurried around the partition and down the hall in the direction of the restrooms. Probably someone crying in there every day of the week. No one will notice her.
"The Daily Prophet already knows," Vilias hissed at her. "We have to do something — we have to figure out who to assign, where to search, what to tell people—"
"The first thing we need to do is calm down," Amelia said as sternly as she could. "Panic never helped anything."
Though there are times when it feels like a very good idea.
Aletha shoved through the restroom door, ran into an empty stall, and began to laugh and cry at the same time.
It’s really happening.
And it’s happening today, right now.
Oh, Sirius, Sirius...
She began to compose herself. As long as they can get safely home, we’re free and clear. So the greatest danger is between now and tonight. And part of the danger lies with me — we’ll be just as caught if I give us away...
I’m lucky — excited is easy to mistake for scared. Excited people make mistakes and break things the way scared people do. Just remember, Letha, until he walks through that door tonight, you’re petrified of him.
But after he does...
She spent ten blissful seconds — all she would allow herself — lost in thoughts of Sirius, of his smile and his walk and the way he kissed her...
No more of that, now. He’s a traitor and a murderer, and although not many people know it, you loved him once, and you’re frightened out of your wits that he might want revenge. That’s your story, now stick to it!
Straightening her robes, she swept out into the office again.
Late that afternoon, Danger swore.
"What’s wrong?" Remus asked sleepily, opening his eyes.
"Police. We’re being pulled over."
In the mirror, she saw Sirius stiffen.
"Just stay calm," Remus said soothingly. "It’s probably something routine."
Do you really believe that?
No, but it’s what Sirius needs to hear. He’s liable to panic right now, and he does really stupid things when he gets panicky.
Danger brought the truck to a halt on the shoulder of the road. The policeman walked up to her open window. "Good afternoon, ma’am. Sorry to interrupt your trip, but we’ve had word that a dangerous criminal’s escaped, and we were wondering if you’d seen him." He handed her a photograph.
It was recognizably Sirius, but only just. He seemed to have several months’ worth of beard and be extremely grimy, and he was scowling at the camera. She got the feeling the picture had been frozen, by whatever magical authorities had passed it along, at his most threatening expression.
"I haven’t seen anyone who looks like this," Danger said. "Darling?"
Remus shook his head. "Sorry, can’t help you."
"Are you certain?" the policeman asked. "Because we’ve had a tip that he might be hiding in a vehicle of this description. Do you mind if we search a bit?"
"Not at all." Danger climbed out and stretched her back, allowing the two officers to poke around in the cab. Sirius growled slightly at them as they checked under the back seat.
"Padfoot!" Remus snapped from the passenger side, where he too had got out and was standing. "My apologies, officers. He’s very protective of the children."
"Well, he’s not here," the first policeman said, shrugging, as his colleague climbed out of the truck. "Sorry to have inconvenienced you, sir, ma’am. Have a pleasant day."
"Thank you, we will," Danger said, firmly suppressing her giggle reflex.
We’ll have to do anti-scrying spells around the house and truck, Remus said. That’s probably how they caught on to us.
What, they said, "Show me where Sirius Black is," and they saw my truck?
Basically. But they can’t see much detail, so they couldn’t see inside it. And since they don’t know about his dog form...
They assumed he was under the seat or something, and some stupid Muggle family hadn’t even noticed?
The police car pulled past them, and Danger could finally allow herself to laugh.
"And you know the best part?" she said finally. "I didn’t even have to lie. I haven’t seen anyone who looks like this." She brandished the photo, which the police had left with them, â€˜in case you happen to run into him at some point.’
"Nor did I." Remus grinned like a boy who’d stolen the entire cookie jar. "I said I couldn’t help them. Which is perfectly true. But you have to learn to control yourself," he said to the back seat.
Sirius whined apologetically.
"Altogether, though, I think we handled that pretty well," Danger said, feeling a surge of giddiness. "Let’s go. We’re only a couple hours from home."
I need to go home.
It was quitting time at the Ministry, and Aletha had never been more ready.
She gasped and whirled around. Madam Bones was standing behind her.
"Sorry," she apologized quickly, breathing hard, one hand pressed to her heart. "I’m just... I guess... a little... on edge. With the news, I mean."
The Evening Prophet had arrived in the office a few minutes ago, with huge banner headlines proclaiming the news and photos of Sirius, taken during the last inspection of Azkaban, a month ago. He was staring at something off to one side, then turning to the camera and scowling. She could hardly bear to look at it.
He’ll be all right when he gets home. He has to be.
"Ms. Freeman, correct me if I’m wrong, but you were once fairly close with Mr. Black."
She nodded, biting her lip.
"If you like, we can assign you some security. An Auror could be spared, I think, to make sure of your safety..."
"No, ma’am, that’s all right. He... he never knew where I lived. I always went to his place, never the other way around. I should be safe enough at home."
"You’re sure? I would hate to see anything happen to you."
"I’m sure, ma’am."
"Very well. Good night."
"Good night, ma’am." Aletha gathered her things and headed for the lift.
Madam Bones regarded her for a moment.
"Take the remainder of the week off," she said finally. "Owl or firecall if anything happens. I think you need a rest."
Aletha smiled tremulously. "Thank you, ma’am. I’ll see you on Monday, then."
"Monday it is."
In the lift, Aletha allowed herself a grin, for the briefest of moments.
Four. Day. Weekend.
She quickly reassumed her former demeanor as the lift approached the Atrium. The golden door slid open, and she hurried out and got in line for a fireplace.
"Number 71, Crozer Street," she said clearly when her turn came, and stepped into the green flames. The Ministry blurred out of sight in the usual spinning rush of Floo travel, and only a moment later, her own music room came into focus as she took a practiced step forward and caught herself on the handgrip she’d installed on the mantel.
They’ll be here soon.
He’ll be here soon.
The refrain seemed to be beating in her heart, moving through her blood. She forced herself to calm down, to move slowly, though everything in her body wanted to shriek wildly for joy. Schooling herself to serenity, she climbed the stairs to her bedroom.
I think a special outfit is appropriate for the occasion...
Sirius startled out of his sleep. Why was someone shaking him?
"Time to wake up, Sleeping Beauty," Remus said with a smile. "We’re home."
Carefully, so as not to step on Harry, Sirius stood up. It was an unassuming house, painted white, with two front doors and two letter boxes showing it was a semidetached. There were probably thousands like it in London alone.
But this one is special.
This one is ours.
Danger lifted out Harry, now awake and looking around interestedly. "Come on, out you come," she said, and Sirius jumped a little awkwardly to the ground. "John, will you let him in, love?"
John? Oh, right, that’s Remus. And Harry is James, and Danger is... Kelly, I think? Doesn’t matter, I’m not going to be talking to anyone, but it’s good to know...
He followed Remus up the steps to the front door on the right. "Go straight back to the room with the fireplace, then make a left," Remus said quietly while getting his keys out. "There’s a disguised archway in the wall. Letha’s right past that, in her music room. And she’s expecting you."
Sirius nodded to show he understood.
Remus opened the door. "Good luck," he said with a wink as Sirius went inside, and shut the door quietly behind him.
Sirius transformed back to human and took a look around. The room had a bit of an unsettled look yet, but it was obvious people lived there. Books were lying on tables rather than being perfectly stacked on the shelves, a few toys were scattered on the floor, and there was a forgotten water glass on the floor beside a chair.
Come on, Sirius, move. They’ll be coming in any moment, they don’t need to run into you just standing here like an idiot. Besides, there’s someone waiting for you, or had you forgotten?
As if on cue, somewhere in the house, a piano began to play what was obviously an introduction.
I know this song. I know I know this song, but I can’t think of it...
Sirius moved back through the house, listening, as a woman’s voice began to sing.
You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss,
A sigh is just a sigh,
The fundamental things apply,
As time goes by...
Sirius felt the smile coming to his face again. Our song. She’s singing our song. This is so perfect.
For one terrible second, he doubted again. No. This is too perfect. It can’t be real.
But the song went on, and he knew the singer’s voice beyond a shadow of a doubt...
And when two lovers woo, they still say "I love you,"
On that you can rely,
No matter what the future brings,
As time goes by.
Sirius was at the back of the house, in the room with the fireplace, and the music was louder here.
The archway must be just there, in that blank stretch of wall.
The song moved into the bridge.
Moonlight and love songs, never out of date,
Sirius felt at the wall.
Hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate,
Sure enough, in one place, it simply wasn’t there.
Woman needs man and man must have his mate,
That no one can deny.
He took a deep breath. Here goes nothing...
The singer began the last verse.
It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory,
Sirius stepped through the arch.
A case of do or die!
Aletha Freeman, dressed in flowing red, sat at the piano with her back to him, absorbed in the end of the song.
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.
"You are so beautiful," Sirius said softly in the silence that followed her last chord.
Aletha spun around on the bench with a gasp. Her face showed first shock, then joy, joy too great for words. With a sound like a sob, she ran into his arms.
They held each other for a long moment, then kissed, fiercely, hungrily. When they broke apart, Sirius saw that Aletha’s cheeks were wet.
"You’re crying," he said hoarsely.
"So are you." Aletha smiled even as more tears spilled from her eyes. "I love you so much." She moved to kiss him again, but Sirius put his hand over her mouth.
"I need to look at you," he said. "Just look at you. I need to see your face again."
"Can you look sitting down?" Aletha asked with a shaky laugh. They moved in awkward tandem to the sofa without letting go of one another. Aletha sat first, and Sirius, never taking his eyes from her, sank down next to her.
"I lost your face," he said as he stroked her cheek. "In Azkaban. I lost everything about you. Your eyes, your hands, the smell of your skin and the feel of your hair, everything. All I knew was that you existed, and that once you had loved me, but I knew you would hate me for what you thought I had done."
"I couldn’t hate you — because I couldn’t stop loving you." Aletha caressed his other hand, twining her fingers with his. "Even thinking about what everyone said you had done, I couldn’t stop loving you. Thinking of you as a traitor sent my whole world cockeyed. It was as if someone had told me that now rain fell up and the sun rose in the west, and then locked me away from the sun and the rain so that I couldn’t see for myself. I had to believe what I was told."
"Do you still believe what you’re told?"
"Depends on who’s saying it, and what’s said."
"Well, I’m telling you that I love you," Sirius said, and pulled Aletha towards him for another kiss without waiting for an answer — well, it’s not as if she’s resisting!
"Never leave me, Letha," he said pleadingly when they came up. "I can’t lose you again."
"Then marry me."
"Marry me. I want to be your wife. I want to be Mrs. Sirius Black. Please. Even if the world can’t know about it, I want to belong to you, and I want you to belong to me."
"Well, then, let me do this the right way..." Sirius slid off the couch and down onto one knee. "Aletha Freeman, will you marry me?"
"Sirius Black, I thought you’d never ask." Aletha smiled broadly, her eyes still wet. "Of course I will."
"Good, then I can get up." Sirius returned to the couch, and Aletha cuddled next to him, his arm around her shoulders. "Would you believe I went ring shopping three days before Halloween?" he whispered in her ear.
"You... you mean you were..."
"I was going to ask you in November some time. We could have had a Christmas wedding. Would you have liked that?"
Her answer was not verbal, but it left him in no doubt that she would have liked that very much indeed.
An indefinite but blissful time later, Aletha pulled away. "We can get married as soon as you’re ready," she said with a smug smile. "I even have a dowry."
"Yes, a dowry. A gift a wife brings to a marriage for her husband. A practical item, for his everyday use..." She was rummaging behind her, but at his chuckle she turned her head back to him. "And get your mind out of the gutter!"
Sirius snickered. "You’re kidding. With an opening like that, I’m not supposed to take advantage?"
Aletha made a face at him. "Take advantage of this," she said, slapping something into his open hand.
Sirius stared at it. A wand. And a familiar wand...
"Aletha — is this..."
"It’s yours," she said with no trace of teasing in her voice. "Or it had damn well better be, considering how I got it."
"I thought they would have snapped it." Sirius stroked two fingers lovingly along the gleaming length of his own wand, the one he’d had since he was eleven, the only one he’d ever owned.
"I think they would have... except that the Museum of Magical Curiosities offered a fairly large amount of gold for the chance to put it on display, and they simply couldn’t resist. So that’s where it has been, and, to all appearances, where it still is."
"I transfigured a stick to leave in its place. After I distracted the security guard by throwing a rock through another exhibit. It was so easy, it was almost criminal. I was Disillusioned, of course, so he never saw me, and I was wearing gloves, so even if they do the Muggle thing and dust for fingerprints, there won’t be any. And that’s assuming they ever even find out." Aletha grinned widely. "So, now we’re both criminals."
"You are a dangerous woman," Sirius said admiringly, caressing his wand once more before sliding it into his pocket.
Now I feel like a wizard again.
"Pa-foot?" a small voice said.
Sirius and Aletha looked up to see Harry, supporting himself on the piano bench and looking curiously at them both. "Come here, you little rascal," Sirius said, holding out his arms.
Harry navigated carefully along the edge of the bench, then launched himself into Sirius’ arms from the corner. "Gotcha!" Sirius exclaimed, swinging his godson up into his lap. "You’re mine, now. And I’m going to... tickle you!"
"No tickle!" Harry shrieked happily, trying to ward off Sirius’ hands. "Letha, no tickle!"
"Stop that," Aletha said, pulling Harry onto her own lap. "Leave the poor child alone. Let me do it!"
She started tickling Harry herself. He squealed and giggled and shoved at her hands for a moment, until Sirius intervened by squashing both of them in an enormous hug.
"You’re both mine," he growled playfully. "And I’m never letting you go. Never, ever, ever."
"Works for me," Aletha said, smiling. "Unless you mean it literally, in which case Harry’s not the one I’ll be tickling. And I know all your hot spots, Sirius Black."
"Oh, trust me, I would."
Harry was following their conversation, probably not with much understanding, Sirius thought, but certainly with a great deal of interest.
A dull clanging noise made itself heard. "What is that?" Sirius asked.
"That’s Danger, banging on a pot with a wooden spoon. It’s her way of saying that she thinks we’ve been snogging long enough." Aletha chuckled. "Or that dinner is ready. Your choice."
"I like the sound of dinner, myself." Sirius stood up, holding Harry. "Which way do we go?"
The meal was simple — hamburgers and baked potatoes with a salad — but Sirius was secretly grateful. Anything more elaborate, he thought, might well have overwhelmed him.
I need some time to adjust to actually having a life again. Simple things are probably better until then.
After dinner, the four of them sat and talked, with Harry going from one lap to another as he wanted and Neenie still asleep in her car seat (the potion she’d been given wouldn’t wear off until the morning, Sirius had learned). The others brought Sirius up to date on events in the world, both magical and Muggle. He wanted to see what the Evening Prophet had to say about him, but after he, Danger, and Harry all yawned at precisely the same time, bed was generally decreed to be a good idea.
"After all, it’s not like you’re going anywhere," Aletha said with a grin as they settled down on the mattresses. "When you wake up in the morning, you’ll still be right here with us, where you belong."
Where I belong. Merlin, that’s good to hear.
He lay awake for a time, just enjoying the little things he knew he had always taken for granted. The mattress, the pillow, the blanket. The warmth of Aletha against one side, and Harry against the other. The scent and sound of Remus, Danger, and Neenie, not far away.
There is no way I could mistake this for Azkaban, even in my sleep. Not with everyone here around me. I might not even have nightmares about it.
Maybe this is partly for me, as well as for Harry...
The rhythmic breathing of his sleeping family reminded him of the wheels of the truck on the road, and that reminded him of the song on the radio that morning.
I’m not asking to get all hyped
The simple stuff would be nice
That would be nice
That would be nice...
And as Sirius remembered what he had done at that point in the song, he did it again.
Safely hidden from the world and together at last, the family slept in peace.