Living with Danger
Chapter 27: Bits and Pieces
By Anne B. Walsh
Chapter 27: Bits and Pieces
Severus had the most remarkable thing to show me today — a plaque enchanted so that every time he destroys it, it reconstitutes itself and reappears on his desk. It was sent to him anonymously. I would hate to have to hire another Potions teacher simply because my current one went insane, so any help you can provide would be welcome.
We’re shocked and hurt that you think we could possibly have had anything to do with such a terrible prank being pulled on Professor Snape, for whom we have the greatest regard.
P.S. To make spells take on the plaque, preface whatever spell you use with the phrase "Molesti sunt dei." We recommend you perform it, since having to say this might preclude Professor Snape’s insanity by causing him to have a heart attack.
Susan Robertson parked her car in front of the unassuming white house.
73 Crozer Street, his records say. This is the place.
She walked up the front steps, feeling unaccountably nervous.
You’re not doing anything illegal — on the contrary, you’re preventing crime. One of your co-workers forgot his wallet at your workplace, so you’re returning it. You’re doing the right thing.
She rang the doorbell. Shrill yells and bass barks heralded the sound from within. After a moment, the door was opened by a tiny girl, who must have stood on tiptoe to reach the handle. "Hi," she said with a shy smile.
"Hi," Sue said back, looking the girl over. She couldn’t be more than two, she was utterly darling —
And completely naked. Sue stifled a laugh. "Is your dad home, sweetie?" she asked.
A huge black canine head intruded between them before the girl could reply, gently herding her back into the house. The dog regarded Sue for a moment, then turned and barked three times.
"I’m coming, I’m coming," a female voice called, and the door was abruptly opened quite a bit wider. "Can I help you?" the brunette woman asked.
"I’m looking for John White," Sue said, feeling more nervous still. If this is his wife, I’d love to know how the two of them produced a child with that dark a skin tone… "I’m Sue Robertson, we work together at—"
"Oh, of course!" the woman said, smiling. "Please come in, I’m Kelly, John’s wife. Pleased to meet you. Never mind the dog, he’s very friendly. Aren’t you, Padfoot?" This was addressed to the dog. "You’re just a big old stupid puppy, aren’t you?"
The dog flopped down where it stood, apparently disdaining to reply, as Sue stepped into the house.
"Meghan Lily, you go upstairs right now and get some clothes on. Ask Neenie to help you. Go on."
The girl scampered quickly up the stairs. "Is she yours?" Sue asked.
"Meghan? No, she’s our landlady’s daughter, from next door. We have two of our own, plus my sister’s boy we took in about a year ago, so Meghan’s here almost every day."
John stepped out of the hallway which led to the back of the house. "Hello, Sue," he said with a smile. "Something wrong?"
"You forgot this yesterday," Sue said, holding out the wallet. "I found it under your apron this morning when I tidied up the break room."
"Good Lord." John took the wallet and quickly glanced through it. "Well, everything seems to be here — thank you, Sue, you’re a lifesaver."
"He’d forget his head if it wasn’t fastened on," Kelly said, shoving her husband affectionately. "Are you in a hurry, or would you care for a cup of tea?"
"Oooh, and the Ravenclaw Keeper is hit with a Bludger — nice belt by Tonks, the newest Gryffindor Beater — and GRYFFINDORS SCORE!"
Tonks pumped her bat in the air, flew over to high-five Harris, the Chaser who had scored the goal, then went back into the thick of things, always keeping an eye out for Charlie, who was circling the stadium slowly —
No, he was circling fast. Very fast.
"I think Weasley’s seen the Snitch!" shouted the commentator. "But here comes Manning, right on his tail—"
Tonks located the nearest Bludger, chased it down, took an instant to aim, and whomped it hard towards the other end of the pitch.
"And Manning is forced to swerve to avoid a Bludger — WEASLEY HAS THE SNITCH! GRYFFINDOR WINS!"
Tonks was sure she’d broken some kind of speed record getting over to Charlie. "You did it!" she shouted to him over the crowd’s cheering. "You did it!"
"We did it!" Charlie shouted back, and handed her the Snitch.
Tonks felt herself blush as their hands touched.
"Huh," Sirius said one morning, perusing the Daily Prophet. "Would you look at that. My mother died."
Aletha raised her eyebrows. "If I didn’t know you and your family, I would think you were just about the most unfeeling, cynical person on the planet."
"But since you know him, you know he’s the most unfeeling, cynical person on the planet," Remus said, pouring himself a cup of tea.
"Har har," Sirius said, rolling his eyes.
"Moony, no tease Dadfoot," Meghan said with a pout. She had combined her original "Dada" with the "Padfoot" that the other cubs used to create her own name for Sirius. Aletha was "Mama Letha" to her, which the other people in Aletha’s department at work thought was just adorable.
"Yes tease Dadfoot," Remus said to her, rubbing her head. "I have to tease your Dadfoot, or his head gets too big, and then he floats away over the trees and scares all the birds."
The cubs found this highly amusing.
"Does this mean anything legally?" Aletha asked Sirius over the laughter and birdcalls. "She was the last of your immediate family, wasn’t she?"
"Well, the house in London is mine now. That’s entailed, it doesn’t go out of the family unless we all die. I’m not sure about the money, I think it depends on if she made a will — and there’s really no one closer than about a third cousin to leave it to, if she wanted to leave it to someone who wasn’t a blood traitor. She might not have bothered, since supposedly I’m not even in the country any more." The latest rumors placed Sirius and Harry in Australia.
"We should keep an eye on the house," Danger said. "Just in case we ever need somewhere to go in a hurry."
"You haven’t dreamed anything, have you?" Aletha asked.
"No, not for a long time. But it’s always a good idea to be prepared."
Fall turned to winter, and Christmas came around in due course. Not that it mattered to Snape, except that the halls of Hogwarts were magically, gloriously, nearly empty for a time, and he could devote himself to the more important things in life, like his studies.
Except when he was invaded.
"Professor Snape, sir!"
It was the wretched house-elf in clothing again. Dumbledore appeared to have conceived a liking for the creature, as it was now his personal messenger. "Yes, what do you want?"
"Professor Dumbledore says he is wanting to see you in his office as soon as you is having the time."
Which, of course, meant now. "I will come immediately."
"Thank you, sir!" The house-elf disappeared, and Snape got up slowly, wondering idly what wizarding household had finally wearied of the small annoying thing and dismissed it.
"Candy cane," he said to the gargoyle, and ascended to the Headmaster’s office.
"Severus, do come in. Have a seat."
He is never this polite except when he wants something.
"I was wondering how you plan to deal with the rash of fights which Slytherins appear to have been instigating."
"Three fights in the first term of school hardly constitutes a rash, Headmaster. I have spoken to the students involved, and they have assured me it will not happen again. Also, according to them, it was the Gryffindors who started the fights, specifically a pair of second-years — "
"Headmaster!" a voice shouted from a portrait on the wall. It was a witch all in blue, looking quite alarmed. "It’s Peeves — he’s in the Ravenclaw common room — terrorizing the students—"
"Will you excuse me for a moment, Severus?" Dumbledore said, getting up quickly.
Dumbledore hurried from the room, and Snape was left to his own devices. Fawkes the phoenix watched him for a moment, then made a crooning sound and closed his eyes. The Sorting Hat sat on a high shelf, as it always did. Various small pieces of equipment made small pings or chuffling noises to themselves. The portraits snored in their frames. An owl tapped at the window, which was half occluded by snow.
I should let the creature in. It would not do to have the Headmaster’s post interrupted because the owl carrying it froze.
Snape opened the window, and the owl flapped in with a hoot of thanks. It deposited the parcel it was carrying on Dumbledore’s desk, then soared back out the window, probably on its way to the Owlery.
Snape glanced idly at the package, then did a classic double-take.
I have seen that handwriting before.
It niggled at him all through the rest of his meeting with Dumbledore, all through his lunch and his afternoon, until finally he opened a drawer of his desk and was confronted with the taunting note that had accompanied that blasted plaque, which Dumbledore had finally rid him of, without telling him how, in mid-September.
Whoever did this to me, Dumbledore knows her. Or, more likely, them.
And receives Christmas packages from them.
I do not like this.
But there was nothing he could do about it.
Except to watch, and keep accumulating information.
"All right, gentlemen. Your papers have 30 problems on them. The challenge — finish all 30 in three minutes or less. A bonus goes to the first finisher and the wizard with the most correct answers. Salute your opponent."
Harry and Draco tapped their pencil points together, eyes locked.
"On your marks."
The points touched paper.
Both boys tensed.
"Go!" Danger said, pressing the button on the kitchen timer beside her.
Turning classes into competitions was one of the best ideas I’ve had. These boys are fiercely competitive. This gives them a way to battle each other without resorting to physical violence every day.
It’s only every other day now.
Hermione, on the other side of the table from Danger, gave the boys an amused look, then returned to her own paper. She was so good at anything academic that she had been banned from the competitions, which suited her just fine.
I suppose we could send them to school. But it would be hard on them. School would, of necessity, be out-of-den time, and that’s a lot to ask a five-year-old — to assume another name and face for six to eight hours a day.
Besides, they’re all three so bright. They’re probably at least a year ahead of most curricula at this point. No, I think this is probably the smartest thing to do, is keep teaching them here at home.
The only problem is, they might get a kind of "us-against-the-world" mentality. At this point in their lives, it’s probably wise for them to think that way… but they shouldn’t go around treating everyone they don’t know as a potential enemy. No matter how true it is.
I just wish they had some friends outside the Pack. Children friends.
"Done!" Draco said, putting down his pencil.
"Nuts," Harry muttered, slapping his own down. "I only had one more."
"Let me see those," Danger said, collecting both sheets. "Ah, Draco, you were going too fast. You missed one. Harry, yours are all correct. Which means, we have two winners! Shake hands and tell each other good job."
The handshake was overly firm and emphasized on both sides, making Neenie roll her eyes and murmur, "Boys," in a world-weary voice.
May was warm and sunny, much to Snape’s annoyance. Sunny days tended to make his classes more difficult, since students wanted to be outdoors, or, lacking that, somewhere with a window. Consequently, the Potions classroom was one of their least favorite places, and they daydreamed, made mistakes, or out-and-out cheeked him.
"I’m sorry, Professor," said the red-faced Gryffindor girl. "I knocked it over by accident, I swear."
"This is the fourth such â€˜accident’ in two weeks, Miss Tonks. I will be speaking to your Head of House about this."
The girl blushed even redder, matching her partner’s hair. Said partner was giving Snape the proverbial look that could kill.
"Mr. Weasley, mind your own cauldron," Snape barked, pointing at the thing, which was boiling and perilously close to overflowing.
All in all, he was quite glad when the bell rang and the Gryffindors charged out of the dungeon.
I really should speak to Minerva anyway. She has been docking points from Slytherins entirely too much lately. I think she fears we may win the House Cup again.
Consequently, he made his way up the stairs to Professor McGonagall’s office and knocked on the door. "Come in," her voice called.
Snape opened the door to be greeted by a peal of laughter. Aletha Freeman sat in one of the chairs facing McGonagall’s desk, face alight with merriment. "Professor, thank you so much for telling me," she said happily.
"Any time, Ms. Freeman, any time." McGonagall smiled predatorily. "Give everyone my regards."
"I will. Have a good afternoon. Oh, hello, Professor Snape. I was just leaving."
"Indeed," Snape said in his flattest voice, watching her close the door behind her. "Minerva, I wish to speak to you about Tonks and Weasley. They were positively disrespectful in class today, and Weasley endangered everyone when his cauldron almost boiled over while he was busy glaring at me…"
"Professor McGonagall told me the most interesting story today," Aletha announced at dinner. "Something about once penalizing a trio of Gryffindor boys for a double offense — first, having an illegal pet in the school, and second, getting said pet, and themselves, totally and utterly drunk."
Sirius buried his face in his hands. "I hoped she would have forgotten about that," he said in a muffled voice. "Especially now that she knows the dog was me."
"She said, â€˜twenty points from Gryffindor for each of you drunken fools,’" Remus recalled. "She never could figure out why the counters dropped by eighty instead of sixty."
"Oh, I have some good news," Sirius said, after the laughter had died down. "My publishers decided I’m worth a larger audience. They’re sending my manuscripts through to their Muggle affiliates." His second novel, Long Journey Home, had been published the past November, and he had a third one in the works, tentatively titled Wait for Me.
"They have Muggle affiliates?" Danger asked in disbelief.
"Half the good fantasy in Britain’s written by wizards and witches," Aletha said. "That’s why it seems so real. Congratulations, love."
"You could be selling my books by August, Danger. And if you ever have customers who want something signed…"
"Glory hound," Danger said, pretending to throw a piece of bread at Sirius. "I’ll keep it in mind."
Snape was getting ready for bed when he recalled something odd.
Minerva told the Freeman woman to give "everyone" her regards. Who is "everyone"? She has only the one daughter…
She probably means those dratted Muggle neighbors the woman’s always dragging around.
But why would Minerva McGonagall be sending her regards to Muggles?
Add it to the list of oddities, and keep watching, Severus, keep watching…
Being almost six, Neenie found, had distinct advantages.
She was taller than she had ever been. That meant she could reach higher, and that meant several things. First, she could reach more books without needing a stool. Second, she could get herself and the boys a snack, occasionally when Danger or Sirius wasn’t looking.
And third, for the first time in her life, she could really climb trees.
There were three trees in the yard surrounding the Den, one in front, two in back. One of the ones in back was fairly low and gnarled, and she’d been able to get up a short ways in that last summer. Now she could climb all over it, and she dismissed it within the first week of summer as â€˜baby stuff.’
The other tree in the back yard was nicely proportioned for climbing in, but she had never been able to reach the first limb without Harry or Draco to lift her up to it. Her new height allowed her to jump and catch hold of it. From there, she walked her legs up the tree trunk, swung herself over the limb, and sat on it. And then she was in a world of her own, where she could see everything and no one could see her.
Remus taught her how to tie a knot that would hold, and every fine morning after breakfast, she would tie a bundle of books together with a rope and lash the other end to her belt. Once she had established herself in her favorite sitting-place, about halfway up the big tree, she would haul the books up behind her, and no one would see her until lunchtime.
"She’s getting exercise, she’s reading and improving her mind, and she’s outdoors in this gorgeous weather. What more could we ask?" Danger said.
The boys enjoyed tree-climbing as well, but they were more interested in the process than the result. Neenie had a prior claim on the big tree in the back, so the tree out front became the boys’ tree, and the White boy and the Gray boy became neighborhood business as they chased each other up and down and around and around the tree.
Meghan, as usual, was put out that her brothers and sister were doing something she couldn’t. Not even graduating from her parents’ bed to the big bed in the cubs’ room, on her third birthday, could appease her. She distinguished herself highly at the playground, on the jungle gym, and indoors on the bookshelves (to Aletha’s dismay), but the trees were still, literally, beyond her grasp. So she would sit at the bottom of Hermione’s tree and play in the grass, or dig in the dirt in the little patch of garden that Aletha had given her.
Sometimes Neenie would come down to the first big limb and read a story to Meghan from there. The boys would hear her voice echoing around the house and come running back to listen too, and Harry’s presence would summon up his snake friends like magic (which it probably was, the adults admitted), and Hermione’s words would have a background of hissing to them as Harry translated the story.
"I can’t decide if it’s scary or cute," Danger told Remus as they watched the tableau through the back door. Draco sat cross-legged with Meghan in his lap, both of them looking up at Neenie and listening raptly. Harry was lying on his back with two snakes curled on his chest, his mouth moving as he repeated the story in Parseltongue.
"Go for cute," Remus advised. "Easier on the brain that way."
Because it happens so much, if it scares me, I’m going to burn out, right?
Got it in one.
Danger sighed. Tell me again that everything will be all right.
Remus pulled her close to him, feeling the flutter of her breath against his side. Everything will — eventually — be all right.
Thank you. You may kiss me now.
And I was wondering just the other day where Neenie gets her imperious ways.
I wonder if this classifies as a miracle — two whole years without a new Weasley at Hogwarts. I am certain that no one will ever be able to irk me quite as much as that red-haired twit and his color-changing sidekick…
Severus Snape, checking his class roster for the start of a new school year, was unaware of the existence of two eight-year-old bundles of dynamite, more commonly known as Fred and George Weasley.
The reverse, unfortunately for the Potions Master, was not true.
"Mis-ter Weasley!" a voice boomed. "What are you doing?"
"Just stirring my cauldron, Professor," whined another voice.
"You’re stirring too fast. Let me show you." A hand seized the stirring stick. "You must stir slowly. And gently. And with total concentration..."
"And then, while he’s not looking, boom!" said George Weasley exultantly.
"Yeah, boom!" Fred Weasley agreed, pulling off the voluminous cloak he was wearing. "Fireworks everywhere!"
"What kind of potion should we do it on?" George asked. "D’you think Swelling Solution would be good?"
Fred considered a moment, then nodded. "Especially if we get some on him. Make his nose even bigger than it already is!"
The twins had been using Professor Snape as their villain of choice ever since Bill’s first year at Hogwarts. He was ugly, mean, and unfair — what more could be desired in a villain? Moreover, they would someday get to meet him in person, and play real tricks on him.
Glancing at George, Fred saw that, as usual, his twin was thinking along the same lines he was — George’s face sported the same beatific smile Fred could feel on his own.
"So what should we do our first day?" Fred asked. "To make our arrival a memorable one?"
"Wake up the giant squid?" George suggested. "Drop a bag of Dungbombs under the Slytherin table?" Neither boy had any uncertainty about where they wanted to be Sorted, and Slytherin wasn’t it.
"Hmm." Fred considered. "Dungbombs would be good, except we have to eat there too. And the giant squid’s kind of risky. What about…"
The two continued their planning, unaware of the listening ears just outside their door.
"Any post today?" Aletha asked as she came into the front room one rainy October afternoon.
"Just a letter for you," Sirius said, holding it over her head. "Kiss me, then you get it."
"I’ll kick you in the shin, how’s that?"
"You can do that if you kiss me first."
"I was going to kiss you anyway, you idiot."
"Eeewwww," was the expressed opinion of all four cubs.
"You don’t have to watch if you don’t like it," Sirius said. "Shoo, go on."
"Oh, it’s from my aunt!" Aletha exclaimed as she opened the letter.
"Your aunt? The American one?" Danger asked, coming in.
"I only have one," Aletha said, swiping at Danger with the letter. "She’s still unmarried, still living in the same city, wants to hear from me — and she says if I ever want to come and visit her, with some of my â€˜young friends,’ we’re welcome. Any time, and as many as I want, she says. Love, Aunt Amy."
"You have an aunt in America?" Remus asked.
"Oh, yes, didn’t you know my father was American? He met my mother on a student exchange program at Oxford and decided to marry her and stay in England. And then they had me, and I turned out magic — which I’m fairly sure my aunt does not know," Aletha confessed. "And I’m not sure I want to be the one to tell her. My father must have sent her the Box 313 address before…" Aletha sighed. Her mother had died of cancer during Aletha’s final year at Hogwarts, and her father had not contacted her since.
Sirius embraced her. "I love you, Letha," he reminded her, stroking her hair. "We all love you."
"Yeah," Harry said, attaching himself to the outside of the hug. Meghan slithered between her parents as Draco and Hermione followed their brother’s lead. "Love you, Letha."
"Thanks," Aletha whispered into Sirius’ ear. "Though I would feel better if you weren’t standing on my robes."
"Is your family doing anything special over Christmas?"
"Nothing more special than usual. Why?"
"Well…" Charlie blushed slightly. "I just got a letter from Mum. And she says she’ll meet the three of us at the train station."
"Three?" Tonks asked. "Is Bill bringing someone home with him?" Then she caught on. "Oh."
"That’s if you want to come, of course." Charlie blushed harder and started talking very fast. "You don’t have to, you might not like it, it’s probably not what you’re used to, and my family might drive you bonkers, they certainly do me…"
Tonks laughed and pushed him down into an armchair. "Of course I want to come. And I want to go bonkers over your family. I love little kids."
"You say that now," Charlie said in a voice filled with experience. "You won’t after vacation."
Peace on earth I could deal with, but good will to men is not my department.
Snape stepped into the entrance hall and almost lost his balance.
Damn poltergeist’s been icing the floor again. He pulled his wand out and melted a path for himself. Of course, this meant that there was water all over. Still, wet feet were preferable to falling every two steps.
The outer doors opened and a mountain of fur stormed in.
And fell flat on its back. Snape was certain he felt the castle shake on its foundations.
Hagrid, in a hurry. Whereas I am not…
Yielding to one of his rare generous impulses, he melted his way to the gamekeeper’s side. "Do you need help?" he asked.
"Oh, hullo, Professor — if yeh could just have a look round an’ see where the res’ o’ these went, tha’d be great." Hagrid displayed a handful of small carved pieces of wood. "Christmas presents," he said in a tone of great confidentiality. "Made â€˜em meself, I did. For some kids I know. Gotta get â€˜em upstairs before the owl goes."
Snape picked up two carved letter R’s and an O and handed them to Hagrid, then looked behind him to find a C and a Y. "Is that all?"
"Er… yep, that’s all of â€˜em. Thanks, Professor." Hagrid got back to his feet and carefully picked his way toward the marble staircase.
"You’re quite welcome," Snape said under his breath, lest anyone hear him. He started walking toward the kitchens, with the letters teasing his brain. R, R, O, C, and Y…
"Oy, Professor!" Hagrid called from the top of the stairs. "I’m missin’ one — you see an A anywheres about?"
"Accio A," Snape muttered, and the small wooden carving flew into his hand. He tossed it to Hagrid, who caught it easily and waved his thanks.
R, R, O, C, Y, and A. There must be more than one name, or else it is unconscionably long and quite strange.
On impulse, when he got back to his office, Snape copied the letters down onto a scrap of parchment, which he used as a bookmark later that evening and promptly forgot about.