Living with Danger
Chapter 17: Discovered
By Anne B. Walsh
"Stay Awake" is from the Disney movie "Mary Poppins."
Chapter 17: Discovered
In the middle of a difficult passage, Remus heard shrieking.
Oh no, here we go again...
Neenie burst through the door of the music room, screaming, with Harry in hot pursuit. Remus just had time to put his violin and bow down on the top of the piano before Neenie skidded to a halt behind him, panting. Harry was standing in the middle of the room, fists clenched.
"What now, you two?" Remus asked.
"She hit me!"
"He ripped my book!"
"Why did you rip Hermione’s book, Harry?"
"Was an asident," Harry muttered, looking sulky. "An’I said sorry."
"Did not," Neenie said, sticking out her tongue.
"Stop," Remus ordered. "Harry, even if you already said sorry, say it again."
"I said, do it."
Harry made a face. "Sorry, Neenie."
"Now, Hermione, say sorry to Harry for hitting him."
"Now hug and make up."
The hug resembled Greco-Roman wrestling more than anything, but it would do.
"I’m a snake," Harry announced when he let Neenie go. "Hiss, hiss, hiss."
"That’s fine. Go be a snake upstairs."
"No." Harry sat down on Remus’ left foot and wrapped his arms and legs around Remus’ leg. "I’m a snake on you. Hiss, hiss."
"Me too, me too!" Neenie took possession of Remus’ other foot and started hissing, in between giggles.
Remus folded his arms and considered his options.
I am, more or less, stuck here. I could try walking, but if I give them a ride, they’ll think this is a great game and do it again. Same thing goes for levitating them off. So the prudent thing to do would be...
Call for help.
"WHAT?" floated down the stairs.
"YOU MAY WANT TO SEE THIS!"
Remus kept it vague on purpose. If there’s one thing Sirius can’t resist, it’s a mystery.
That, and a chance to laugh at me.
Sure enough, it wasn’t more than a few seconds before he heard Sirius descending the stairs, in his usual herd-of-hippogriffs manner.
"What’s up, Moony?" Sirius stopped in the doorway of the music room, took in the scene, and started laughing.
Perfect. Under cover of Sirius’ laughter, Remus leaned over and whispered something to the children. Harry and Hermione promptly let go of him, scuttled over to Sirius, and attached themselves to his legs.
"What are they doing?" Sirius asked in bewilderment, looking down at the hissing children sitting on his feet.
"They’re snakes. They were being snakes on me, but now they’re snakes on you. Thank you for the distraction, and good luck getting them off."
"Why, you sneaky little two-timing double-crossing werewolf..."
"Ask me if I care," Remus said, grinning, as he picked up his violin again.
Sirius growled at him as he began the piece over. "Why have you been working on that all day, anyway?"
"Because Aletha wants to learn a few duet pieces, and this is one of them. I wanted to get some practice in before she gets home. And speaking of home, Danger’s due back any minute. Why don’t you go get the cubs ready to go out?"
"Hey, that’s right. Harry, Neenie, you wanna go to Diagon Alley?"
"Yeah!" both children yelled.
"Well, we can’t take snakes to Diagon Alley, everyone would get scared. You have to be people to go to Diagon Alley."
"We’re people," Neenie said, letting go immediately and standing up.
"Yeah, we’re people," Harry seconded, also standing up. "We gonna get ice cream?"
"If you’re good, maybe."
"ICE CREAM!" shouted two small voices in unison.
"You certainly do," said Danger, appearing in the archway and kneeling down to intercept a pair of flying-tackle hugs. "Hello, everyone, and I see the secret trip to Diagon Alley is no longer a secret."
"Hey, it got them off me," Sirius said, chuckling. "Wait until you hear what they’re up to now..."
Hello, love, how was your day? Danger asked, while making all the right noises in response to Sirius and both children all talking to her at once.
Work this morning was fine, the afternoon was peaceful until just a minute or two ago. It will be nice to have the house to myself for a while, though.
We’ll leave as soon as we’re ready. The children will need a few minutes to get used to Sirius’ new face.
Take your time, I’m in no rush.
Meghan Lily Black, age two and a half months, opened her long-lashed, enormous eyes and blinked up curiously at the world.
Her long-lashed, enormous, silver-gray eyes.
Just like her father’s.
The Pack had been as good as their word, sending photographs of Meghan with their usual package in July, but this, the real thing, made the photographs look tawdry. "Such a little beauty," Albus Dumbledore said softly, cradling her in his arms. "All children are beautiful, of course, but you and Sirius seem to have quite a heartbreaker in the making, here..."
Aletha laughed. "And, of course, if you said that anywhere but here, or the Den, people would look at you very oddly. Once they got done screaming."
What a life this little girl will know. Raised in hiding, as part of a â€˜Pack’ and a younger sister to Harry Potter, with her father supposedly the worst criminal Azkaban has ever held...
"Yes, well, the story you came up with will suit quite well, I think," Dumbledore said, handing Meghan back to her mother.
It would have been very hard for Aletha to conceal the presence of a new baby in her life, so she had decided not even to try. Instead, she had spread the word around for a few months prior to Meghan’s birth that she was planning to adopt a magical but Muggle-born orphan, as soon as one appeared in Dumbledore’s book. Meghan would be the result of that search, her resemblance to Aletha merely a coincidence.
As to how many will believe it... there will be little reason to doubt. Very few people know Aletha was briefly ill at the start of June, and even if they do, all that will emerge are rumors and gossip. The worst that will happen is that her reputation will be smirched.
He mentioned this, and Aletha snorted. "I couldn’t care less about my reputation at this point, Professor," she said, sliding Meghan back into the baby sling she wore around her. "As long as no one guesses both that she’s mine by birth and the identity of her father — which they won’t — I don’t care what anyone says."
A wise attitude. Dumbledore rose to see her out. "Are you going back to the Ministry, or home?"
"Oh, home, definitely. All my work’s caught up with, so there’s no real reason for me to sit at my desk for an hour. If they need me, they can always firecall."
"True enough. Have a pleasant afternoon, Aletha."
"You too, Professor. The Marauders’ Den!" Aletha announced as she tossed Floo powder into the fireplace and stepped in, holding the sling, with Meghan in it, close with the other arm. The green flames whirled her out of sight, and Dumbledore returned to his desk.
"This falls out better than I could devise." So said the Bard, and so say I. It takes a wise man to admit when he was wrong... but Harry is happy and healthy and unspoiled, likewise Hermione, and Meghan bids fair to grow up the same.
As long as they remain safely hidden, nothing more needs to be done.
Harry, hair lightened to blond, sat happily on Sirius’ shoulders as they browsed through Quality Quidditch Supplies together. Sirius’ looks had been distinctly altered, giving him a rounder face, much lighter hair, and a slightly puzzled expression. He didn’t care much for the alterations, but it was the only way he could go out in public, and he did rather enjoy his trips to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
Once, for fun, the Pack had even gone to the Museum of Magical Curiosities, and Sirius had compared his wand to the one on display. They were almost utterly identical, except that Aletha had missed the little nick that his wand had incurred when rat-Peter had bitten the end of it once. He had had to convince her not to fix the mistake on the spot, reminding her that no one else would be likely to notice.
Suddenly, he realized he was hearing screaming. Had been hearing it, for that matter, for the past minute or so.
Familiar screaming, at that.
Oh Merlin, what’s Hermione mad about now?
A very put-out-looking Danger was standing outside the store, holding a red-faced Neenie by one arm. The little girl was shrieking inarticulately and yanking at Danger’s hand, apparently trying to get away.
"She pulled down an entire display in Flourish and Blotts," Danger said when Sirius was close enough to hear. "I told her I was taking her straight home, with no ice cream, and this was the result. She’s overtired, obviously. See you there?"
Sirius had to laugh as Danger expertly picked up her sister, slung her over one shoulder, and walked off in the direction of the Leaky Cauldron, ignoring the fists drumming on her back and the attention she was getting from the crowd.
"Padfoot, we get ice cream?" Harry asked from atop his shoulders.
"I think we can manage that, Jamie-boy," Sirius said. "You’ve been good so far today."
The screams were what attracted his attention first. Almost everyone in the street turned to see what it was.
When he saw it was just a little girl, he was about to walk away, but the crowd was thick, and he had to stay where he was for a moment, hidden behind one rank of people but close enough to hear what the man and woman said to one another.
The man’s voice struck a chord in his memory. The bark-like laugh only added to it. But when the little boy addressed the man as Padfoot, he knew.
His wife’s cousin was not only alive and free, but still in England, and either in possession of a wand, to change his looks so drastically, or friends with someone who was. And also in possession of a child. A boy, of an extremely suspicious age...
I wonder what the reward will be for finding the most wanted criminal and the most sought-after child in Britain at the same time.
Lucius Malfoy smiled, and laid his plan.
At Florian Fortescue’s, Harry attacked a cone of chocolate peanut butter ripple while Sirius started in on a double-decker triple chocolate monster.
Yes, we are ruining our dinners. That’s what trips to Diagon Alley are for.
Besides, what good are kids if you can’t spoil them every now and again?
Very few people knew of the existence of the spell Lucius planned to use. It had been invented by the Dark Lord himself, in the final days of the war, and would probably be illegal if anyone in the lawmaking business knew about it. It was an Apparition Disrupter — the next time the witch or wizard it was cast on tried to Apparate, no matter where they thought they were going, they would end up in a place of the caster’s choosing.
Pity it’s so complex most wizards can’t use it. Severus Snape might have been able to manage, but the Dark Lord was unsure of his loyalty — rightly so, as it turned out — and never taught it to him. I was the only one who could do it reliably.
And now I use it for his glory, to take the brat who made him fall...
Hidden in the shadows of an alley across from the ice cream parlor, Lucius cast the spell — a process which took nearly a minute and a half, no simple one-or-two-word invocation, this — and waited for the two to finish their snack.
Finally, Black took a handful of napkins from the basket on the table and started to wipe the boy’s face and hands with them. As he finished, Lucius raised his wand.
Sirius felt something brush his face, like a light breeze, or the touch of a spell...
What was that?
A woman at the next table screamed, pointing at him. "Sirius Black!"
Damn it, my glamour’s gone! How’d that happen?
A glance at Harry showed that his godson’s disguise was gone as well.
We have to get out of here. NOW!
He snatched up Harry as more screaming erupted around them and thought hard about the Den, starting the familiar process of Apparating —
But then something went wrong. An unfamiliar spell took control of him and flung him, and Harry in his arms, somewhere else entirely...
Sirius took the brunt of the fall, saving Harry the shock. The little boy was frightened but unhurt. Sirius wished he could say the same for himself. Exploring fingers to the back of his head came away bloody.
We can’t have gone far. I can still hear the screaming.
"Hold on to me tight, now, Greeneyes," he said to Harry, loosing his hold on the boy to get his wand out with one hand and pull himself to his feet with the other. Might have to fight, if I can’t Apparate. Wonder if an Auror got me, or...
"Well, well, Sirius Black, look at you," said a familiar, and thoroughly unwelcome, voice, from the mouth of the dead-end alley in which Sirius now stood.
That is not an Auror.
That is what Aurors go after. Or should.
Lucius double-damn-him Malfoy.
"What do you want?" Sirius asked, starting to advance. Best defense and all that. Harry clung to his side, shivering.
"Why, I want what every decent wizard wants," Malfoy said, smirking. "I want Sirius Black, mass murderer, to be brought to justice, and Harry Potter to be raised by a proper wizarding family."
"Like yours?" Sirius spat at Malfoy’s feet. "Dumbledore would never let filth like you touch Harry, much less raise him."
"Ah, but once I am the hero who conquered Sirius Black," Malfoy said, his own wand out and ready, "who could deny me anything? Even Albus Dumbledore thinks you guilty, after all. You’ll go back to Azkaban, and my Draco will have a brother..."
"Stupefy!" Sirius shouted, but Malfoy was ready.
"Protego! Petrificus Totallus!"
"Protego!" Malfoy was distracted for a moment by dodging the two reflected spells, and Sirius ran for the open street beyond, hoping to get to somewhere he could Apparate from — Malfoy leapt at him, almost knocking him down — a huge shadow fell across both of them —
A jolt of raw magic shot through him, and Sirius knew no more.
The wizard who had stopped the fight shook his head in complete disbelief. "Who’d’a thought," he muttered to himself. "Who’d’a thought."
Malfoy he left where he was. He picked up Sirius and hung him over one shoulder, letting his cloak hang down to cover the man’s face. Scooping up the unconscious Harry ever so gently with the other hand and hiding the boy inside his coat, he strode off toward the Leaky Cauldron.
"Dumbledore’ll know what ta do," he told himself quietly, making his way through the crowd as inconspicuously as he could.
It was occasionally an advantage to be well known. Though he couldn’t be inconspicuous by being part of the crowd, he was inconspicuous merely by being who and what he was. No one questioned him, no one stopped him. He threw Floo powder into the oversized fireplace at the Leaky Cauldron, said "Headmaster’s office, Hogwarts!" and was gone.
Albus Dumbledore looked up from his work as his groundskeeper stumbled out of his fireplace, a man over one shoulder and his hand hidden inside his coat. "Hagrid, what on earth—"
"I dunno," Hagrid said, looking frightened and confused. "I dunno, Professor Dumbledore, sir. But I didn’ know where else ter take them..."
He laid an unconscious Harry Potter gently on the Headmaster’s desk and eased Sirius Black into one of the chairs sitting nearby.
"He was duelin’ with Lucius Malfoy," Hagrid said, staring at Sirius. "Malfoy said sommat about ev’ryone thinkin’ Sirius was guilty..."
"Is he hurt?" Dumbledore asked, rising.
"â€˜M not sure. Looks like blood on his cloak, though..."
"Excuse me a moment, Hagrid." Dumbledore went to his fireplace, added Floo powder, and said, "The Marauders’ Den." Then he knelt down and put his head in the fire.
Aletha and Remus stopped playing as the fire turned green. Remus stepped hastily through the archway, lest it be a call from work, but stopped when he heard Dumbledore’s voice.
"Aletha, can you come at once? There’s been an accident."
"Harry?" Aletha asked worriedly. "Sirius?"
"Both alive, though unconscious, and Sirius appears to have been slightly injured. There is also a complication. Hagrid has seen them."
"I’ll come right through," Aletha said, getting up as Remus reentered the room. They exchanged looks as Dumbledore vanished.
"What do you think?" Aletha asked quietly.
"Hagrid’s not much for keeping secrets," Remus said ruefully. "But it’s probably too late now. Better that he knows all of it than bits. Go ahead, tell him."
Hagrid wasn’t sure who he was expecting to come out of the fire — perhaps Remus Lupin, they had been best friends, after all, and Remus had vanished suspiciously close to Sirius’ escape — but Aletha Freeman was only an outside possibility.
And he certainly wasn’t expecting her to run to Sirius, who was just regaining consciousness as she arrived, and first kiss him firmly, then slap him.
"What was that for?"
"For being such an idiot as to get yourself seen!" Aletha said furiously. "What did you do, take your glamour off in front of everyone?"
"It wasn’t my fault!" Sirius protested. "It was Lucius Malfoy—" He winced as he moved his head. "Headmaster, do you have some tissues or something—"
Dumbledore conjured a wad of bandage and handed it to Sirius, who pressed it against the back of his head. "Malfoy must have caught on to us somehow," he said to the room at large. "First he unmasked us — both of us — then he interfered with my Apparition—"
"Interfered with it?" Dumbledore said. "Are you certain?"
"I’m not such a fool as to Apparate deliberately to a dead-end alleyway with a Death Eater waiting at the only exit!" Sirius retorted. "I was trying to get to the Den. He taunted me some, we dueled, and then something knocked us both down..."
Hagrid was staring at them both. Two contradictory worlds were warring for space in his mind.
"But yer... yer a Death Eater too. Aren’ yeh?"
"No." Sirius shook his head, very carefully. "I never was. Harry’s in no danger with me, Hagrid." For some reason, this made Aletha smile. "Hell, I have a daughter of my own, now. With Aletha. She was just born in June. Dumbledore can show you her picture."
"In fact, I can tell you their whole story, Hagrid," Dumbledore interrupted smoothly. "If that’s all right with you, of course..."
"Yes," Aletha said after a glance at Sirius. "You saved them, Hagrid," she said to him. "You deserve to know."
"While you take Sirius and Harry home, Aletha," Dumbledore finished. "They need to rest."
"Very true." Aletha helped Sirius to his feet and lifted Harry expertly off the Headmaster’s desk. They made their way to the fire, Aletha added the Floo powder, and they both stepped in at once, Sirius leaning on Aletha. "The Marauders’ Den," Aletha said clearly, and they vanished into the flames.
Hagrid leaned against the wall, feeling utterly baffled.
"Come sit down," Dumbledore said gently. "I’ll try to explain all this."
"The first thing to know is that Harry Potter is well and happy, and Sirius Black is an innocent man," Dumbledore said, and Hagrid sighed in relief. "How and why that is so, however, is rather a long story..."
"The only problem is, Hagrid talks too much when he gets even a little drink in him," Remus said, pacing around the kitchen. "But what else were we going to do? Put a Memory Charm on him?"
"He’s resistant to them anyway," Sirius put in, wincing as Aletha swabbed the long, shallow scrape along the back of his head. "It’s his giant blood, I think. Same thing that makes him hard to Stun."
"Bad situation all around," Aletha said, her lips pursed as she dabbed a Healing Potion onto Sirius’ cut. "I think we did just about the only thing we could."
"This Malfoy character sounds like bad news, though," Danger said, rocking Meghan gently.
"Oh, you have no idea," Sirius said grimly. "He married my cousin Narcissa — it was a perfect match, they were both in love — with themselves. And both of them Dark as Snape’s hair. He’s got a son, just Harry and Neenie’s age. Draco. Honestly, no one in my family has any idea how to give a child a normal name..."
"Yes, I do remember the teasing you used to get in our first year," Remus said. "That was the first thing Snape ever twitted you on, wasn’t it?"
"No, second. First was becoming a Gryffindor." Sirius grinned. "When he added in my looks, I threw my pumpkin juice at him. First detention at Hogwarts, opening banquet. It’s a record, or so I’ve been told."
"Not one any cub of ours will be trying to break," Aletha said firmly, magically affixing a bandage to the back of Sirius’ head. "There, you’re patched up."
"We’ll just have to be careful from now on," Danger said. "Extra careful."
Lucius Malfoy scowled at his fire. He knew Black was alive, and in England, and that he had the Potter boy, but the Ministry refused to believe anything they couldn’t see in front of their faces. It had worked for the Dark forces in the past — it was how Black had got arrested in the first place — but now it was working against him as well.
But wait. There was a woman with them. And a little girl. Black may not come out in public again looking like that, but the woman might. Or the girl.
Once I find either of them, it’s only a matter of time before I find Black and Potter...
And then I will triumph. Harry Potter will be mine, and raised properly, instead of defying the Dark Lord, he will serve him...
Revenge, Lucius thought, would be so sweet.
Elsewhere in the house, a woman walked by a room, humming as if to herself. She smiled sadly as she heard the crying in the room stop.
I can do so little for him, she reflected. I do not know how to love him...
The little boy stared at the wall of his room. Quietly, he hummed the same tune he had just heard from the woman in the hallway, note-perfect even to her hesitations.
His entire being was filled with a longing for something he could not name. He only knew it was missing, and the song helped to fill a little bit of the emptiness inside him for a moment.
Aletha sat in a rocking chair in the children’s room, cradling Meghan in her arms and singing to her son and her daughters.
Stay awake, don’t rest your head,
Don’t lie down upon your bed...
Downstairs, Remus played a winding melody that reminded her of flying, darting and swooping in the air, free as any bird, chasing and being chased and laughing for joy.
Though the moon is in the skies,
Stay awake, don’t close your eyes.
Dishes clinked in the kitchen. Danger laughed at something, probably some joke Sirius had cracked.
Though the world is fast asleep,
Though your pillow’s soft and deep,
You’re not sleepy as you seem,
Stay awake, don’t nod and dream...
Harry’s eyes were already shut. Hermione’s were closing fast. Meghan’s breathing had long since settled into the regular pattern of sleep.
Stay awake, don’t nod and dream.
She brushed the children’s hair out of their faces before she left.
All we can do is love them, and try to protect them, and hope for the best.
As Remus said, it will have to be enough.
It’s all we have.