Living with Danger
Chapter 30: Confrontations
By Anne B. Walsh
Chapter 30: Confrontations
Remus’ thoughts came in short bursts as he stared at the scene before him.
Snape. Here. Now.
And he has Neenie.
The girl’s hazel eyes were filled with pure terror. Snape had his left arm across her chest, holding her firmly against himself. His right hand, of course, held his wand, pointed straight at Remus.
"I said, drop it," Snape repeated. "And I mean now."
"Or what?" Remus asked, astounded at the calm in his voice.
"Or I Disapparate with her. Straight to the Ministry. She could tell some interesting stories to the Aurors, I’m sure."
Slowly, Remus bent down and placed his wand on the floor. "Jane," he said, looking Hermione in the eye. "You’re going to be all right."
Neenie blinked hard, twice. "Yes, Daddy," she said in a trembling voice.
"Daddy," Snape repeated, sounding half-disgusted, half-amused. "You do seem fond of stealing children — first the Potter boy, then the Malfoys’ son. Where did you steal this one?"
"She was a gift," Remus replied calmly, masking both his astonishment that Snape knew about Harry and Draco and his elation that Hermione wasn’t panicking, was still thinking enough to give him the proper signal for yes and respond to her out-of-den name correctly. We might have a chance. But it all depends on her.
"A gift. How nice. A gift from whom?"
"Your wife? You tricked some poor woman into marrying you?"
"No, she tricked me into marrying her. It’s not quite the same."
Hermione’s right hand crept up to her mouth. "What are you doing, girl?" Snape demanded.
"She sucks her thumb," Remus said.
"And you encourage her, I’m sure. No doubt because you find it cute." Snape sneered. "I wonder what else you’ve taught her. Besides disrespect for the law."
"Disrespect, Severus? On the contrary. We hold the law in the highest regard in this house. What law are you obeying by breaking into our home and holding my daughter hostage?"
"I am committing a small crime to prevent a larger one," Snape said loftily. "Looking for a notorious criminal. Where is he, anyway?"
"Don’t play stupid with me, Lupin, you know I mean Black. Where are you hiding him?"
"I have no idea where Sirius Black is, Severus." Absolute truth. Depending on traffic, they could be just about anywhere right now. Remus rubbed his left hand, feeling the heat of his wedding band under his fingers. It shouldn’t be that warm, should it?
"You always were a terrible liar," Snape said with derision.
"And that, no doubt, is why, through my years at Hogwarts, only one person whom I did not wish to know found out about my, ah, condition."
Snape’s face twisted. "I would have realized sooner or later," he hissed. "If Black hadn’t tried to kill me by telling me how to follow you."
"I admit that was a foolish thing to do," Remus said, suppressing a highly unethical wish that James Potter hadn’t intervened on that night all those years ago. "But he was sixteen years old. Many people do stupid things when they’re sixteen. It wasn’t very intelligent of you to follow the advice of your known enemy."
"Don’t taunt me," Snape said venomously. "One more word from you, and your little Jane goes to the Ministry, and from there to an orphanage, when the Aurors come for you."
Remus inclined his head. "As you like." He allowed his eyes to drift down to Hermione.
Cautiously, the little girl extended the first two fingers of her right hand and rotated her hand in a half-circle horizontally, as if saluting, as much as she could with her thumb still in her mouth. Her eyes never left Remus’.
YES! Good girl! It was the hand-sign for "Tell me what to do."
"Where is your Floo fireplace?" Snape demanded. "Assuming you have one."
"We do. But I won’t show it to you."
"You are in no position to be saying what you will and won’t do, werewolf."
"You never could grasp that calling me what I am doesn’t offend me," Remus said mildly. "This, on the other hand—"
He held up his left hand, one finger upraised.
The ring finger.
Snape stared at it for a moment, then began to laugh. "You can’t even insult me correctly!"
Neenie blinked twice and pulled her thumb from her mouth.
"Oh, I think I can," Remus said quietly. "I think I just did, in fact."
Hermione drove her elbow backwards, hard.
Snape’s laughter was cut off abruptly.
The ring finger of the left hand upraised is the Marauder hand-signal for "Hurt him. BAD."
Snape doubled over, wheezing. Neenie stamped on his foot and twisted free of his hold, and Remus dove for his wand and shouted "Expelliarmus!"
Snape fell to the floor as his wand flew from his hand and into Remus’. He handed it to Neenie and whispered, "Hide." She nodded and dashed down the hall.
Snape snarled, his face still twisted in pain, and started to get up. Remus shot a Stunner at him, but Snape rolled out of the way, snatched a book from the floor, and threw it at his head. Remus ducked it, and Snape moved faster than anyone who’d just been hit where he’d been hit had a right to move, not toward the hall, which Remus was guarding, but through the wall of the front room —
Remus took off down the hall, knowing where Snape was headed —
The back yard. Where Neenie went with his wand. I hope she had enough sense to go where he can’t follow her...
Snape shoved the pain to the back of his mind. He couldn’t let it distract him now. He knew he would pay when he returned to his normal state, but that, like everything else, was pushed aside in the necessity of getting his wand back and beating Lupin.
He crashed out the door into the small green area at the back of the house.
Where did she...
A gasp drew his attention upwards.
The girl was clinging to one of the limbs of the large tree, probably about fifteen feet up or so. She had his wand clutched in one grubby hand.
"Give that back, you horrible little brat," Snape wheezed, glaring at her.
She stuck out her tongue at him. "Come’n’get it, Professor Grumpy."
The other back door burst open and Lupin catapulted into the yard.
Time seemed to slow. Snape found himself thinking in a leisurely manner, I can accomplish nothing now. I must depart before he harms me.
Lupin was starting to say something, but Snape had no fear. I can be gone from here before he completes his spell.
He imagined the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic, concentrating on it fully, creating its image in his mind, the walls lined with fireplaces, the fountain in the center, the blue ceiling covered with gold symbols.
Lupin had spoken the first two syllables of whatever he was saying.
Want to be in the place you are thinking of, more than anything. Snape trained his will on the Atrium.
The third syllable left the werewolf’s lips.
And now, move. Snape pivoted in place, beginning the process of Apparating...
Lupin completed his spell.
As the backyard faded into the squeezed sensation of Apparition, Snape felt something brush past his face.
He staggered slightly as he arrived in the Atrium, and wondered vaguely what on earth he was doing at the Ministry of Magic. He had no business that would take him there.
I should get back to Hogwarts.
He took one step and realized that he had a terrible headache. His right foot also hurt, as well as another portion of his anatomy.
What has happened to me? I am not usually absent-minded, or given to activities that harm me...
He reached into his wand pocket, intending to cast a self-diagnostic spell.
His wand was missing.
This is extremely troubling.
Carefully, he checked in the bag he was carrying, in all his other pockets, even up his sleeves in case he had, for some unknown reason, put it there. His wand was nowhere to be found.
He shook his head, and then wished he hadn’t.
I need a dark room, a strong headache potion, and a bag of ice.
Moving gingerly, he maneuvered over to one of the fireplaces.
"Severus Snape’s office, Hogwarts," he said, casting Floo powder into the flames.
It wasn’t until he fell onto his stone floor, retching painfully, that he remembered that many headaches also induce nausea.
The Memory Charm left a small crater in Hermione’s tree. Remus swore under his breath. It didn’t hit him. I wasn’t fast enough, he got away...!
Then he looked again.
That was a strong spell. Too strong to have left that small a mark.
Could it have taken partial effect? Hit him just as he Disapparated?
In which case...
"Moony?" said a quivering voice.
Remus blinked out of his trance and hurried forward to lift a shaking Hermione down from the tree. "Kitten, you were wonderful," he said to her, holding her close. "You were my brave girl-cub. My warrior princess. Everyone is going to be so proud of you. I’m proud of you. You did exactly what needed to be done."
"I was scared," Neenie whispered, shivering in his arms. "I was so scared."
"And you fought anyway. That’s what being brave is all about. Fighting through the fear. Hermione, you were brilliant."
The girl looked shocked. "We’re out of den," she said in a hushed voice.
Remus sighed. "That’s not going to matter in a few hours, sweetheart, but you’re right. Come on, let’s get inside."
WHAT is going on there? My wedding ring feels like it just came out of a furnace and this is the first instant I could take my mind off my driving long enough to talk!
Right on cue. Are you anywhere that you can park?
I can be. Why?
Everyone needs to be home. As in now.
Danger cursed, picking the reason why out of Remus’ memories of the last few minutes. We’ll be there in two minutes. Have to find somewhere sheltered to Apparate from.
Fine. Neenie and I are both all right. See you in a few minutes.
Danger had overestimated. In exactly one minute, nine seconds, she exploded out of the air in the den room, followed by Aletha with Draco clutching her leg and Sirius with Harry attached to his side and Meghan in his arms.
"Snape," Aletha said almost before she’d fully Apparated.
Sirius swore explosively, making Draco look at him appreciatively.
"Out," Aletha said firmly, making shooing motions toward the door. "All of you, upstairs. Go."
"Wait," Remus said. "Everyone needs to know that if it hadn’t been for Hermione, this would have been a lot worse. She deserves some recognition."
Everyone clapped. The boys and Meghan looked as if they couldn’t wait to get Neenie upstairs and ask her what had happened.
"Now out," said Aletha, and the cubs scurried out of the room down the hallway.
"So explain," Danger said, sitting down on the sofa. "Snape got in. He saw you. He made it pretty damn clear he knows, or suspects, Sirius is here. And he got away — but you’re not worried. Or you’re only half-worried. I’m missing something here."
"I tried to Obliviate him just as he was Disapparating. I know the spell didn’t hit him fully — there’s an impact crater on the tree out there — but I’m also sure that it didn’t miss him entirely either."
"So he’s been partially Obliviated?" Aletha asked. "What effect will that have?"
"One of three," Remus said. "One, he could forget part of what he saw here. But even one clear memory of me would be enough to get this place thoroughly investigated, and we are not up to that. Luckily, that’s the least likely thing to have happened."
Sirius nodded. "Definitely luckily."
"Two, he could half-forget about the whole thing. He’d have vague memories of seeing me and calling me names and threatening Hermione, but it would seem like a dream to him. That would be the best for us, but it’s still quite unlikely."
"Too bad," Danger said with a sigh.
"Three, and most likely, he could forget about us entirely for now, and regain his memories over time."
"How much time?" Sirius asked, voicing the question on everyone’s minds.
"Anywhere from hours to days. Three hours, minimum, would be my guess."
"So..." Aletha looked out the back door for a moment. "We have three hours to pack and get out. We cannot afford to be here when they come. And they will come. Now that Snape knows we’re here, he won’t hesitate an instant."
Sirius bit his lip, looking torn. "Letha," he said quietly. "They’re not after you. You haven’t done anything — well, nothing they can get you for. All they’ll have is Snape’s word, and that’s not enough to make you testify under verification. You don’t have to leave. You can stay here, with Meghan, give her security, a stable home—"
"You are dense, Sirius Black," Aletha said in annoyance. "Meghan will get all the security and stability she needs from staying with her Pack. So will I. You think it matters to me where we go, as long as we’re together?" She got a look at his face. "You do! You actually thought — hold still!" She launched herself onto his lap and blocked his face from view for the better part of a minute.
"For better or for worse," she said, tapping her wedding ring, when they were able to speak again. "I said it, I meant it. You don’t get rid of me that easily!"
"If that’s settled," Danger said delicately, "maybe we can discuss where we ought to go."
"I thought we knew that already," Sirius said, his matter-of-fact tone somewhat at odds with the slightly incredulous smile on his face. "America, to visit Letha’s aunt."
"And that’s another thing," Aletha said, poking Sirius in the shoulder. "How exactly were you planning to visit my aunt without me?"
"Letha, enough," Remus said, briefly invoking Pack-authority. "That’s our ultimate destination, but we can’t just buy tickets and fly out tonight. We need somewhere to go for one night, maybe two, to make preparations, somewhere they’ll never think to look..."
The Pack was ready to go within two hours, mostly due to the fact that the cubs were fully cognizant of what was going on, and had gone upstairs, not to play, but to pack their things.
"We should have known they’d listen in on us," Aletha said in amusement. "They are Marauders, after all."
"But they’re also cubs," Danger said. "Look. No toothbrushes."
"Wishful thinking." Aletha rolled her eyes and Summoned them from the bathroom.
Remus took a moment to write a note to Dumbledore and put it in a box into which he also put Snape’s wand. He Flooed to the Hogwarts kitchens and gave the box to Dobby, with instructions to give it to Dumbledore at six o’clock.
When it was time to leave, everyone spent a few minutes just walking around, looking at all the familiar things, saying silent goodbyes. Harry took his last slides on his favorite banisters. Neenie climbed to her favorite place in her tree and hugged the trunk hard. Meghan watered the garden, hoping it would survive the summer. Draco played his favorite song on the piano, which had to be left behind.
Good night, my someone, good night, my love,
Sleep tight, my someone, sleep tight, my love...
Aletha blinked back a nostalgic tear as she remembered teaching him that song. Like my father taught it to me when I was little.
"I know how you feel." Sirius had come up behind her at the window to the back yard. "It’s been a good Den to us. It’s a shame to leave."
Aletha shook her head. "Maybe, but the Den is where the Pack is. We have to remember that." She turned around. "You have to remember it. I will not run out on you when things get tough. I’m here for good."
"I just thought you should have the option..."
"Think again. I’m part of this Pack, same as you, and where we go, we go together. End of story." She hugged Sirius fiercely. "You, Remus, Danger, and the cubs are the only home I need. And you with your talk about stability — how stable would it have been for Meghan if everyone she loves left her?"
"All right, all right, you won already, you don’t have to convince me any more," Sirius protested, laughing a little. "Are you ready?"
"Probably as ready as I’ll ever be," Aletha sighed.
"Let’s go, then."
Danger sneezed as soon as she stepped out of the Floo. And sneezed again. Sirius had told them the Floo hookup was in the basement, so she had expected the darkness. What she hadn’t expected, but probably should have, was the dust. Harry, next to her, sneezed too.
She pulled out her wand. "Lumos." The wand-light showed a large table, surrounded by benches and chairs, and a large sideboard in the corner, with a few other odds and ends scattered throughout the room. A thick layer of dust lay on everything, and the whole place felt as if no one had lived there for at least a year.
Because no one has.
Green flames flared behind her, startling Harry and prompting them both to step forward, out of Remus and Draco’s way. "Creepy," Draco commented after he finished sneezing.
Somewhere in the house, a being awoke.
"Invaders," he muttered to himself. "Invaders in the house."
Remus Disapparated with no more than a nod to Danger. This was part of their plan — he and Sirius would be handling the trunks after Aletha came through with the girls — and Aletha’s form was already growing in the fire. Danger knelt down and snagged a girl on each arm as they fell out of the fireplace. "You two just don’t have that good of balance," she said ruefully.
"It comes with practice," Aletha said as she stepped neatly out. "And with a little more weight. The fire throws poor Meghan around like she’s nothing."
"I am not nothing," Meghan said with dignity.
"I didn’t say you were, Pearl," Aletha said, stroking her daughter’s head.
The being made his way down the first set of stairs.
Invaders must be removed. They will disturb the Mistress.
"So this was Padfoot’s house?" Harry asked, running his hand along one of the chair backs. "It’s dirty."
"It probably wasn’t this dirty when he lived here," Aletha said. "But it was probably just this gloomy."
"Why am I very glad we don’t have to stay here?" Danger asked rhetorically, turning to the fire in time to catch the end of one of the trunks. Sirius pushed the other end out and Disapparated without bothering to get out of the fire.
"Show-off," Aletha said with a smile.
Draco was looking at the door. "I hear something," he said quietly.
"What do you hear, little fox?" Danger asked affectionately.
Draco scowled. "It’s not a game. There’s somebody there." He pointed at the door. "He’s coming."
The being stopped. The child heard. Clever child, to hear so much. The child... His eyes narrowed, and he sniffed the air. The child is a Master! And one of the others too, one of the girls, she is a Mistress, in the direct line!
Then he scowled as he remembered what that meant. Only one is left in the direct line. This one must be his child. A nasty blood-traitor, to further the line, he should never have done it...
Aletha stepped cautiously toward the door, wand at the ready. "Hello?" she called. "We won’t hurt you. You can come out." Draco stepped partly behind her, watching the door, which suddenly opened.
Into the kitchen sidled a house-elf. It was wearing a filthy rag of some sort as a loincloth and looking very hard at Aletha. "Kreacher is hearing voices," he said in his squeaking voice. "Kreacher is coming to see who is in his Mistress’ house."
Sirius stepped from the fire behind the second trunk and shook his hair back. "Your Master is in your Mistress’ house," he said in a very controlled voice. "Listen carefully, Kreacher. You are to leave us alone unless we specifically call you. Do not come if the children call. And you are not to tell anyone we are here. Do you understand?"
"Kreacher understands," the house-elf said, edging along the wall, Aletha keeping him in her wand-light beam. "Kreacher wonders who these children are, that two of them are Kreacher’s new little Master and Mistress, and where Master has been, that he has been away so long..."
"That’s none of your business," said Sirius harshly. "Go on, then, get a move on. Back to wherever it is you hole up."
Kreacher moved back toward the stairs. "Should Kreacher tell Mistress, then, that Master has come back?" he asked.
"What are you talking about?" Sirius asked sharply. "My mother’s dead."
"Yes, of course, but Master has forgotten his mother’s portrait, which hangs in the hallway."
"Oh, hel... p," Sirius finished when Harry and Draco turned to him expectantly. "I did forget. And it probably screams just like she used to."
Aletha watched as an idea dawned in Sirius’ face. "What are you thinking?" she asked mischievously as she saw the Marauder rise again from beneath the arrogant pure-blood face he had briefly worn.
"I’m thinking... what would bother my mother more than you?" Sirius held out his hands to Aletha, who laughed and came to him in a run. "Beautiful, talented, the mother of my child — and Muggleborn. She’ll have a fit."
"And even though you couldn’t do it to her while she was alive..."
"I can still do it to her now," Sirius finished, grinning. "Care to come?" he asked Remus and Danger, who had finished getting the trunks out of the fire.
"Depends," Remus said. "Can the cubs hear this?"
"Only if they don’t mind being half-deaf."
"I mean language-wise."
Sirius sighed. "They won’t hear anything from her they won’t hear from pure-bloods everywhere. Not too much actual swearing, I don’t think."
"In that case, certainly," Remus said, offering his arm to Danger, who took it.
"Come on, cubs," Sirius said, taking Draco by the hand. "We’re going to meet your mean grandmother."
Kreacher scuttled up the stairs before them, muttering to himself.
"How dare you come back," the portrait snapped as soon as it realized who was in front of it. "After betraying the best hope of wizardkind, the only one who truly realized the crisis our people are in, how dare you reenter this house?"
"Because it’s my house now," Sirius said. "Don’t worry, we’re not staying. We’ll only be here a day or two. Then it’ll just be you and the mad elf again."
"He’s better company by far than you ever were. The shame of my flesh, that’s all you are."
"Now, is that any way to talk to your only son?" Sirius said in a coaxing tone. "And after I brought my family to meet you. My wife, my son, my daughter..."
"Wife? Son? Daughter?" Mrs. Black was wide awake now. "You, you who were disowned, you dared to have children, you dared to pass on our family name?"
"Well, one child," Sirius said. "We adopted the other one. But he’s a Black, all right. You remember Narcissa, don’t you?"
"Of course I remember Narcissa, don’t be a fool," Mrs. Black said curtly. "And I remember how she died. Stupid woman."
"Don’t call my mother names," Draco said angrily. Mrs. Black’s painted eyes oriented on him.
"So you’re Narcissa’s boy, are you?" she said with a bit less rancor. "Well, you have your father’s looks, no getting around it. But your blood is pure, and it’s Black. That’s what matters."
"Yes, ma’am." Draco was obviously trying not to laugh.
"Now, where’s this wife of yours?" Mrs. Black asked, looking at her son with perhaps a touch of favor.
"Here she is," Sirius said, gesturing to Aletha, who stepped forward and waved. "And here’s our little one. Meghan Lily."
"Why, she’s actually pretty," said Mrs. Black, peering at Meghan, who hid her face in Sirius’ robes. "Come on, girl, show some spirit, you’re a Black, after all. And what’s your name?" she asked Aletha abruptly.
"Aletha Freeman, ma’am. Well, Freeman-Black now, of course."
"Freeman," Mrs. Black mused. "I don’t recall any Freeman family in Britain."
"My father was American, ma’am."
"Oh, thank heaven. For a moment, I thought you were going to say he was a half-blood."
"No, ma’am. He was a Muggle."
A shocked silence fell. The cubs looked at each other and plugged their ears.
"My mother too," Aletha added helpfully.
"You..." Mrs. Black was having trouble finding words. "You... YOU ABOMINATION, YOU BLOOD TRAITOR! YOU MARRIED, YOU SLEPT WITH, YOU FATHERED CHILDREN ON A MUGGLEBORN!"
"Guilty as charged," Sirius said with a grin. "And I think that’s about enough of that, so I’m going to say something I always wanted to say. Shut up, you horrible old hag."
He and Remus pulled the velvet curtains shut over the portrait, cutting off another incipient howl.
"That was fun," Aletha said with a chuckle.
Severus Snape was lying in his bed, curtains drawn, with one cold cloth on his forehead and another one on a different part of him, when he heard someone come in.
Who could that be? Only the other Heads of House and the Headmaster knew his password, and they usually firecalled ahead to see if he was able to receive company...
Which I am not. He was about to say something to that effect when the bedcurtains were swept aside.
"Hello, Severus," said Albus Dumbledore very politely. "I wish to speak with you."
Snape squinted painfully at the light which flooded in. "Headmaster, I really am not well..."
Dumbledore flicked his wand. Most of Snape’s headache vanished, along with a great deal of the pain in other places. "Better?"
"Yes. Thank you." Snape got up and moved over to the softer of the chairs he kept in his room. Politeness dictates I offer the better seat to the guest, but prudence dictates that I keep it for myself today.
"You seem to have been injured," Dumbledore noted, watching him move. "And to have lost your wand. And yet you have no idea of how these events occurred..."
Snape put his hand to his forehead. "No. No idea." But he did have an idea, he realized as soon as he had spoken. A rather hazy idea, involving several impossible things and a very painful experience, but an idea nonetheless...
"Allow me to clarify," Dumbledore said. He pointed his wand at Severus and spoke an incantation.
It was as if someone had lit a torch inside his brain. The events of the day flooded back. Spying on Lupin, taking the girl hostage, his hideously painful defeat...
Dumbledore watched, his face impassive, as Snape assimilated the fact that he had been successfully Obliviated, and had returned merrily to Hogwarts, while Lupin and the girl remained at large, to sound the alarm to their band of outlaws...
"Let me tell you," Dumbledore said very calmly, "exactly what you have done, Severus, and what those actions mean."
Snape winced. That was not a promising beginning.
I have a feeling I will indeed remember this day for a long time.
Merely not in the way I had hoped.