Living with Danger
Chapter 16: Beautiful Is the Child
By Anne B. Walsh
"Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" is a traditional French Christmas carol, which I did not write.
Chapter 16: Beautiful Is the Child
Remus awoke with an odd sense of foreboding, as if something awful was going to happen today.
As he came farther into wakefulness, he remembered. It wasn’t so much that something would happen today, but that something had happened, on this day a year ago...
"Halloween," he said quietly.
Halloween? So it is. Danger’s mind-voice was filled with understanding. Come here.
Remus turned over and found himself swamped by a fierce hug.
You held me when I needed to cry, she reminded him as his own eyes began to sting. And now I do the same for you...
"I’m glad today is Sunday," Aletha said hoarsely, blotting her eyes. "Otherwise, I would have had to take off work."
Danger had taken it upon herself to keep the children happy all day, allowing the three members of the Pack who had actually known James Potter and Lily Evans to reminisce together. Probably inevitably, the reminiscing led to more tears.
But this is the good kind of grief. Not the kind we had in the first few months, when it seemed as if everything we had died with James and Lily.
Now we have each other, and we can mourn them without being afraid to lose ourselves in the grief. Because there will always be someone there to bring us out again.
Remus took a tissue from the box on the coffee table. "Your turn, Padfoot," he said. Aletha had come up with the plan that they swap stories about either James or Lily, the idea being to see who knew the most that the others didn’t.
"Right." Sirius coughed a little. "Did you two ever know that James once got stuck half-transformed?"
"Well, since I didn’t know about you being Animagi, that would be a no," Aletha said wryly as Remus shook his head.
"He did. And a right idiot he looked, running around starkers with a fur coat from his chest to his knees and antlers on his head."
And this is how they would want to be remembered. With laughter amid the tears.
Den-sleeping was now reserved for full moons and special occasions, of which Halloween night had been deemed to be one. Harry and Neenie were waiting impatiently on the mattresses when Remus and Danger arrived. Sirius and Aletha came down shortly afterwards, and the Pack gathered into a loose circle, the adults around the outside and the children in the middle.
"Look at these pictures, children," Aletha said, holding out two photographs, one magical, one Muggle.
Harry and Hermione looked at them curiously. "Who that?" Hermione asked, pointing at the magical picture.
"Lily Potter, Harry’s mum. See how she has green eyes like Harry?" Remus said.
"Who that?" Harry asked, indicating the Muggle photo.
"David Granger, Neenie’s dad. He used to call her â€˜Oh-my-knee’." Danger clutched at her own knee, making the children laugh.
"Is’at my dad?" Harry asked, pointing at the magical photo, where James and Lily were waving at the camera. Occasionally, James would reach over and slyly poke Lily, and she would slap at him playfully, laughing.
"Yes, that’s your father James," Sirius said.
"And this is our mum, Hermione," Danger said, pointing the woman out. "Her name was Rose. She loved her garden very much, but she loved you even more. She used to take you outside in the springtime and lay you on a blanket while she dug in the garden."
"Where she?" Hermione asked, looking at the picture.
Danger sighed. "She died, sweetheart. Her and your dad, and Harry’s mum and dad too, they all died."
"What â€˜died’ mean?" Harry asked curiously.
The adults exchanged who-wants-to-handle-this-one looks. Aletha took the job. "They went far away, Harry. Very far away. And they can’t come back. But they love you, and they’re watching over you from far away. You remember that, both of you. Your parents loved you, and they’re always watching over you."
Hermione nodded. "Why my par’nts not move?" she asked after a moment.
Remus explained, as best he could to a two-year-old, the difference between magical and Muggle photography.
Neenie was not impressed. "It not fair," she said with a distinct hint of whine in her voice.
"Whiners don’t get bedtime stories," Danger said as if to herself, looking at the ceiling.
"So’y," Neenie apologized quickly.
"Tell story, Padfoot?" Harry asked, establishing himself on his godfather’s lap.
"You forgot the magic word," Sirius said in a teasing tone.
"Alo’mora!" Hermione giggled, waving her hand as if she held a wand.
"Pleeeeease?" Harry said beseechingly.
"All right. This is the story of the day the Slytherin common room got toilet-papered..."
Aletha’s birthday was 28 November, while Danger’s was 4 December. The Pack split the difference and celebrated on 1 December.
"I know I can’t buy you what you really want," Sirius said to Aletha.
"That’s assuming you know what I really want."
"Oh, I know."
"Fine, tell me."
"You want toilet-training to be over with."
Remus chuckled. "He’s got you there, Letha."
"But I bought you a little something anyway," Sirius said, casually tossing Aletha a small package. "Happy birthday."
Aletha opened her present and gasped. "Earrings to match my wedding ring are not a little something, Sirius!"
"No, but they will look good on you."
"Show-off rich kid," Remus said, punching his friend lightly on the shoulder. "Happy birthday, love."
Danger opened her birthday card. Inside, Remus had written a note.
I, Remus Lupin, promise to take my wife, Gertrude "Danger" Granger-Lupin, to Ollivander’s as soon as is convenient for both of us and buy her a wand, and commence her magical training as soon as possible thereafter.
"It’s exactly what I wanted," Danger said, grinning. "After what Aletha wanted, of course."
Remus’ gift to Aletha was a new book of sheet music, and Sirius’ gift to Danger a broomstick — a Nimbus One Thousand, fairly fast but very safe.
"I would say thank you, if you hadn’t put a seat belt on it," Danger said, glaring at Sirius.
Aletha had got Danger some new cookie sheets, since she had noticed Danger’s starting to bend, and Danger had bought Aletha an enormous box of chocolate-covered strawberries, which she knew were her friend’s greatest weakness.
"You evil woman," Aletha said in tones of longing.
"If you don’t eat them, they’ll go bad," Danger pointed out, ever so politely, earning herself a smack upside the head with a wad of wrapping paper.
All in all, it was a most satisfactory day.
A gale of giggles trailed in from the den room to the kitchen, where Danger was doing paperwork. "What are you up to in there?" she called out.
"We’re just playing catch with Harry," Sirius answered, with laughter in his tone.
"All right." Danger went back to her work.
For about fifteen seconds.
Then something about the phrase penetrated her mind.
A game of catch shouldn’t cause that much laughing...
Care to elaborate on that, love? she asked.
Well, see for yourself. Remus opened his eyes to her.
Sure enough, they were playing catch. With Harry.
At least they have enough sense to do it over a mattress.
Hermione was running back and forth, giggling and trying to keep up with the flights of her Pack-brother as Remus and Sirius tossed Harry between them. The little boy was obviously enjoying himself — his cheeks were pink with laughing, and his eyes sparkled.
What’s a woman to do?
She went and got the camera.
Albus Dumbledore’s most anticipated Christmas package arrived several days after the actual holiday, on 29 December to be exact. It was a rather thicker envelope than he had been expecting, but that was explained when he opened it and, instead of a letter, out fell an audio tape, along with the expected photographs.
That’s right, I showed Aletha my latest acquisition the last time she was here. Dumbledore had got hold of a Muggle tape player and made the necessary adjustments to allow it to work magically, rather than on batteries. He was slowly accumulating taped versions of his favorite music, and appreciated the convenience.
After all, you can hardly ask an orchestra to play the same piece five times.
He slid the tape in and pressed the play button.
There was a moment of the hissing sound that meant a home recording, with murmurs in the background. Then a small, slightly hesitant voice spoke, a little too loudly, as if the speaker were unsure what to do with the microphone.
"Happy Ch’istmas, P’fessor Dumbledore." There was a pause, then, "Moony, what’s a p’fessor?"
Dumbledore chuckled along with the recorded laughter on the tape.
"The voice you have just heard," said an amused female voice, "was that of Harry Potter, age almost two-and-a-half."
"And more trouble than he’s worth," called out a deep male voice from somewhere in the background.
There was a smacking noise.
"And that was a certain troublemaker whom I have no need to name, I’m sure," the female voice went on. Dumbledore knew it, though he had, up till now, heard it only in a dream. "Happy Christmas from the Pack. I will be your narrator through the photographs, which are numbered for your viewing pleasure. If you would please turn over photograph number one, now."
Dumbledore did so, and laughed out loud.
"Here you see Padfoot and Moony playing catch with Harry — a prime example of the ways in which the English language can be stretched. If you would turn to photograph number two."
Dumbledore frowned a little. What’s happened to Aletha? She looks different...
Aletha’s voice came on the tape. "A Blessed Event is expected in June, Professor," she said a little shyly. "I’ve been using Concealment Charms at the office for obvious reasons, but we thought it was time you knew. Harry and Hermione are excited over their new little brother or sister. Harry, in particular, thinks it’s unfair that we have to wait until summer to find out if the baby will be a boy or a girl."
Danger’s voice returned. "Photograph number three is a picture of the unfortunate consequences of a decision by two small members of this Pack to wash their hair with ketchup."
They look as if they’ve been scalped. Dumbledore chuckled again.
All too soon, the tape was winding down. "Oh, but don’t forget to turn this tape over," Danger wrapped up. "We’ve put a bit of a surprise for you on the other side. Have a happy Christmas and a good New Year, and we’ll let you know when the baby’s born."
Dumbledore ejected the tape, turned it over, and pressed play again.
A piano played a short introduction, and a woman began to sing.
Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella,
Bring a torch, come hurry and run!
It is Jesus, good folk of the village,
Christ is born, and Mary’s calling,
Ah, ah, beautiful is the mother,
Ah, ah, beautiful is the child!
"Joy to the World," "Away in a Manger," "O Come All Ye Faithful," one after another, they came from the player, sometimes as solos, sometimes in harmony. But the one Dumbledore liked best came last.
It was "Silent Night," with Harry and Hermione singing along.
The Pack saw in the New Year in the traditional way, by staying up until midnight (the children fell asleep around ten) and drinking toasts in champagne (Aletha’s non-alcoholic, of course).
"To success in toilet-training," Danger said to start, making everyone laugh.
"To better sleep for all," Aletha said fervently.
"To a new cub for the Pack," was Sirius’ contribution.
"To our first full year together," Remus said, raising his glass high.
"Here, here," chorused the rest of the Pack, and drank to a New Year together.
Hermione woke up in the middle of the night, unsure why. She thought there had been a little noise, but she wasn’t quite sure.
Then she heard it again. A little squeak, like a mouse. But it wasn’t a mouse. She knew what it was.
She picked up her stuffed lion, got out of her bed, and padded over to Harry’s.
He rolled over and looked at her, his eyes glinting a little in the moonlight coming in their window. Without saying anything, he flipped his covers down and scooted over.
She climbed up beside him and settled in, pulling the covers up around herself. Harry put his lion next to hers, sandwiched between their bodies, and they went back to sleep together, black hair and brown on the same pillow.
Danger finally got her wand at the end of January — maple and unicorn tail hair, ten and a half inches. While at Diagon Alley, she slipped into Flourish and Blotts and made a few purchases of her own. There were birthdays coming, after all...
To Danger’s annoyance, she learned wand-wielding magic slowly, though she showed an aptitude for brewing potions (an art which Aletha taught her, since Remus and Sirius shared a dislike for it). "Oh, I give up," she said in disgust one day, slapping her wand down on the table.
"What, the great rescuer of Harry Potter and wielder of wandless magic, giving up?" Remus teased. "Show some honorary Gryffindor spirit, here, woman." They had crowned her an honorary Gryffindor the day she’d got her wand, with Sirius providing the voice of the Sorting Hat.
"I don’t want to," Danger said, pulling a face. "I’m just tired. Tired of everything. Of hiding, and of magic, and... there are days I wish everything was back to the way it used to be. Just me and my parents and Neenie. Living a normal life."
"I’m not sure if I should be insulted or not, here."
"Go ahead. Be insulted. You never are. You’re so nice, it’s scary."
"All right, fine. I’m insulted."
"Good. I’m insulted too."
"Insulted at what? I didn’t say anything insulting!"
"That’s what you think!"
"Yes, it is what I think. Would you please tell me if I’m wrong?"
"Yes, of course you’re wrong!"
"What did I say?"
"Figure it out yourself!"
"Yes!" Danger stomped out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
"Fine!" Remus yelled after her. "Be that way!"
He turned around to find Aletha looking at him quizzically.
"Don’t ask," he said, picking up Danger’s wand and his own.
"Don’t need to. You two were obviously overdue."
Aletha shrugged. "Everyone needs to fight occasionally. It’s better than letting the tension just sit there, that’s for sure. Now it’s over, you both got it out, and you have making up to look forward to."
Remus gave a short laugh. "I never thought of it that way before."
"You never dated anyone before." Aletha sat down heavily — she was almost halfway through her pregnancy, and the added weight was starting to tell on her. "So, now you know."
"True enough." I’m sorry, he called silently...
Only to realize that his mental voice had been doubled by another, saying exactly the same thing.
Was that you, or me? Danger asked, tone rich with irony.
It was both of us. But it’s true. I am sorry.
No, I am. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have gone off like that.
Don’t worry about it. As I have just been informed, everyone needs to fight occasionally.
You see, this is what gets on my nerves. Your professor-ish attitude. You get this way sometimes, and it just bothers me...
I didn’t realize. I’ll try to stop.
Thanks. Can I come back downstairs now?
Where are you?
In our bedroom. Why?
I think I’ll come up, instead, if you don’t mind...
"All right, ready for another game?"
Hermione and Harry nodded eagerly.
"We’re out of den. Who am I?"
"Daddy," Harry said.
"And who’s this?" Remus pointed to Danger.
"Mum," Neenie said solemnly.
"And who are you?"
"I’m Jamie," Harry said. "Jamie White."
"Janie White," said Neenie. "Jamie’s sister."
"Very good, both of you. Enough playing for today — bath time!"
"Bath time!" the children squealed in unison, and raced each other to the stairs.
Sirius chuckled as he followed them. "I think we have the only children in the world who like taking baths."
"Why do you keep working with them like this?" Aletha asked, on the couch with her feet up. "A minor Compulsion Charm does the job just fine."
Remus sighed. "I hate doing that. It’s so close to Dark magic. Besides, we can’t use Compulsions on them forever — most kids learn to throw them off around five. Better to have them trained now."
"Also, it gives them a secret," Danger said. "Kids love having secrets, knowing things other people don’t know. It makes them feel powerful."
"True enough — and these kids need that feeling, more than most," Aletha said, nodding in understanding. "Because there’s a big nasty world out there, and sooner or later, it’s going to come knocking on our door."
Sirius’ birthday, which had always annoyed him, was 14 February.
"And my mother, may she die a horrible death, decided that it would be cute to name me in honor of the day," he said to Danger on the 13th. "My father talked her out of it as a first name, thank Merlin, but I got saddled with it as a middle name instead..."
"So that’s what the V stands for," Danger said. She’d seen an old picture of Aletha’s inscribed "SVB loves ACF," and while she knew Aletha’s middle name was Carina, she had never known Sirius’. Until now. "Sirius Valentine Black."
Sirius groaned. "Do you have to say it?"
"I think it’s rather cute," Danger said, smiling at him.
Her gift to him the next day was a book entitled "Get It Out There: How to Get Your Masterpiece Published Now That You’ve Finally Finished It."
"Is there something you’re not telling us?" Aletha asked over the birthday cake.
Sirius flushed slightly. "Well... I have been working on a story. And I think it’s pretty good so far, but it’s not done yet."
"You’ll have to let us see it when it is," Remus said, putting a slice of cake in front of Harry.
Months faded into one another, winter turned to spring. Remus’ birthday came and passed, as did 14 April, which the Pack celebrated as their collective birthday, the first day they had all spent together. The children finally mastered the skill of using the toilet in mid-May, which gave rise to a larger celebration than any of the birthdays had.
1 June was a Tuesday, a rainy, gray Tuesday. Aletha was just signing the last of a new batch of parchments having to do with track repairs for the Hogwarts Express when she felt an odd sensation in her stomach.
That’s strange. It’s not nearly time for lunch yet...
The feeling intensified, and suddenly she knew what was happening.
It would have to happen at work. Of all the places for it to happen, it had to be at work.
She quickly scribbled a memo to Paul Abbott, her immediate superior, saying that she didn’t feel well and was taking the rest of the day off, summoned an owl and sent the message, and was on her feet, making her unsteady way toward the lift.
Please oh please just let me get home, she prayed quietly.
She made it safely to the Atrium, to the Floo fireplaces, and staggered out of her own fireplace, almost falling on top of Hermione, who was playing chase with Harry and Sirius. Her husband hurried to catch her. "Letha, what’s wrong?" he asked, face creased with worry.
Aletha smiled, though another twinge in her belly turned it into a wince.
"It’s time," she said.
A few hours later, elsewhere in England, a different woman snarled as for the third time that day, a light bulb burned out as soon as she switched it on.
All I want, she thought bitterly, is to raise my son so he can grow up and have a normal life...
Although she didn’t know it, Petunia Dursley had just triggered a fresh spurt of life in the Curse which hung over her.
A small bell rang in Albus Dumbledore’s office. The Headmaster looked up and smiled. "Come with me, Minerva?" he asked Professor McGonagall, who was having tea with him.
"Oh, Albus, you and that book," she said, putting down her teacup. "You’re like a little boy with a magical storybook, I swear, every time there’s a new name, you have to go and look..."
"I do enjoy seeing the names of those who will follow in my footsteps," Albus acknowledged, opening the door of the room where resided the quill that recorded the name of every child in the British Isles with magical powers.
"That’s odd," said Minerva, stopping short. A large number 2 was hovering over the book where the quill was scratching. "What does it mean?"
"Twins, quite possibly," said Albus, stepping forward to look at the book. "Or simply two children born close together..."
He ran his finger down the column of names and stopped.
"Now this is very interesting," he said softly. "Very interesting indeed. Fascinating, that these names should keep company in this way."
Minerva shook her head and sighed. "Albus, if you’re going to be cryptic, I have papers to grade."
"Forgive me, Minerva, I meant no disrespect. Would you care to see?"
"Honestly, no, but thank you."
"Very well. Shall we resume our conversation, then?"
A few hours later, Aletha’s screech owl, Maya, flew in through his window with a pink envelope in her beak. Dumbledore thanked the bird and opened the announcement, written in Danger’s familiar handwriting.
It’s a Girl!
Sirius Black and Aletha Freeman-Black
Are proud to announce
The birth of their first child
Meghan Lily Black
On 1 June, 1983
At 4:13 pm
At the bottom, in Sirius’ handwriting, was a note.
She’s beautiful, Professor. We’ll send you photos in July.
"I’m sure she is," Dumbledore said softly, rather glad Minerva hadn’t wanted to see the two newest names in the book of magical children:
Meghan Lily Black
Dudley Ursinus Dursley