Living with Danger
Chapter 33: This Changes Everything
By Anne B. Walsh
Chapter 33: This Changes Everything
Ron Weasley lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling.
I’m so bored, he chanted to himself. I’m so bored.
Dad was at work. Mum was bustling around the kitchen like always. Bill, Charlie, and Percy were at Hogwarts, Fred and George were outside somewhere, probably snowballing each other, and Ginny was down in her room with Loony Lovegood, having a tea party.
And I can’t tell Mum I’m bored. Mum has one cure for boredom — chores.
Ron came to a decision. I’ll go up to the orchard. If I’m careful, I can avoid the twins. And I might find something to do out there. Anything’s better than just lying here.
He got up and went down the stairs, carefully skirting the door with the giggles coming from behind it. He wondered why anyone would want to make such a strange, high-pitched noise anyway. Girls were weird.
He retrieved his snow gear from the closet and climbed into it, automatically fixing the one strap on his overalls that always came undone and Spellotaping shut the boot that didn’t have a fastener anymore. Maybe, if I hurry, I can get out before...
"There you are!" Mrs. Weasley came out of the kitchen and surveyed her youngest son. "Where do you think you’re going?"
"Out," Ron said, hoping to get away with it.
"Just up to the orchard."
"Well, all right. I’ll call you when it’s time for lunch. Behave yourself, now."
"Yes, Mum," Ron said, hurrying out the door before she could change her mind.
My poor little boy, Molly Weasley thought sadly, watching Ron go. How much I wish you had a friend.
Harry Potter threw a snowball at one of the trees, just to hear the solid thump and watch the white splotch appear on the trunk. I like it here. Lots of space to run in, lots of snow to play in. The only thing that could make it better would be someone new to talk to...
Draco was lying down in the snow nearby, staring at the sky. Probably looking at the clouds. He likes doing stuff like that.
They had lost sight of Hermione, who had run ahead. She was most likely up one of the trees right now. Reading that book I saw in her coat pocket.
He fired another snowball at a tree, a big fat old monster. It struck with a hollow thud.
Ron looked for footprints in the snow and saw with relief that the only tramped path led in the opposite direction of where he was headed. So I ought to be alone.
Alone. He sighed as he walked. I am alone. Most of the time, anyway. Except when the twins need a guinea pig for an experiment or want somebody to tease.
He remembered another day at the orchard, a summer day, when he had been thinking much the same things. And I wished I had friends. But that was years ago, and nothing’s ever happened. I never even saw that boy again. What was his name — oh, I can’t even remember any more. And I don’t want to ask Mum about him, because that would be nagging.
He arrived at the orchard and leaned his forehead against a tree.
I guess wishes don’t come true. Not even for wizards.
"GET DOWN!" a high-pitched voice screamed from above him.
Ron dropped to the ground instantly. A snowball whizzed over his head and hit the tree trunk, exactly where his head had been a moment before. Somebody swore behind him. He rolled over into a sitting position in time to see another snowball go by, in the opposite direction, and score on the back of one of the twins, both of whom were in retreat down the hill.
"Get up, get up, they’ll be back in a second!" the voice said, and Ron scrambled to his feet and looked up.
A girl was climbing quickly down one of the trees. She was about his age, brown-haired and wearing a red coat.
I’ve never seen her before.
"Who are you?" he asked as she dropped to the ground.
"That doesn’t matter now, come on!" she said, and dashed into the trees. Ron followed, trying to keep her coat in sight. His heart was pounding. Why did she help me?
Suddenly he realized he couldn’t see her anymore. He looked around wildly. Where’d she go?
"Over here!" her voice hissed. She was sitting on a low branch of one of the trees. "Come on, get up!"
"How?" Ron asked.
She rolled her eyes. "Jump and grab the branch, then walk your feet up the trunk."
A bit awkwardly, Ron did as he was told, and was almost surprised to find himself straddling the branch, facing the girl.
She pulled off a knitted mitten and held out her hand. "Hermione."
"Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too. Do you live in the village?"
She nodded. "We’ve just moved in."
"Me and my brother Drake — we’re twins — and our mum and dad, and our aunt and uncle and cousins. What about you?"
"Ah-HA!" Fred shouted. Or possibly George. "There they are!"
"Brothers," Ron said in disgust, swinging his leg over the branch and dropping to the ground. "Lots of brothers. Come on."
Hermione followed him to the ground, and they ran, dodging Fred and George’s snowballs. After a moment, they broke into the open area where the Weasleys played Quidditch in the summertime. Ron turned left to get back into the trees, Hermione following him closely. "Wait here," he panted when they reached cover, then turned around and ran back across the field, being sure to leave clear footprints in the snow.
Now, how did she say to do it again? Jump and grab, then walk your feet up the trunk, that’s it.
He looked around. Those three trees that grew so close together were around here somewhere, he knew they were...
There. He ran heavily up to the first one and jumped for the lowest branch, just making it. His boots left snow on the trunk, but that couldn’t be helped. Quickly, he stood up on the branch and climbed around the tree, up to a higher branch on the other side, and then (he held his breath) between the trees — the branches flexed crazily, but they held his weight, and he was across.
He repeated the act to get to the third tree, then dropped as quietly as he could to the ground. He could see the twins, staring at the place where his trail stopped, near the base of the first tree — sooner or later they were going to figure out what he’d done, but it might give Hermione enough time to get —
Someone tapped his shoulder. He whipped around, managing to keep from yelling.
Draco sat up. "What was that?"
"I hit a tree with a snowball," Harry said.
"It sounded different." Draco got to his feet. "What tree was it?"
"That one right there," Harry said, pointing it out. "Want me to do it again?"
Harry scooped, packed, and threw.
"It sounds hollow," Draco said. "Like a drum. Listen." He went to it and thumped it with his hand. "Hear it?"
Harry frowned. "Sort of."
Draco pulled his mitten off and ran his hand up and down the bark. "There’s something here. It’s like a catch or a lock or someth..." He trailed off. "It is a catch. And there’s hinges on the other side. There’s a door in this tree."
"A door in a tree?" Harry laughed. "Wonder where it goes?"
"I don’t think it goes anywhere," Draco said, now with both his mittens off, hanging from his sleeves by their strings. "It’s a little door. Like someone keeps something here — ah!" He stepped back, and a section of the tree swung open.
"Wow." Harry came around to Draco’s other side to look into the tree.
A red leather ball sat within. Draco picked it up. "I know what this is," he said reverently.
"I know what it looks like," Harry said guardedly. "But is it?"
"Where’d you go?" Hermione asked in a whisper.
Ron rolled his eyes. "I was trying to lead them off you!"
"Because — I don’t know—" Ron racked his brain and came up with something. "Because we’re outnumbered."
Hermione frowned. "We are not. It’s two to two."
"All right, we’re outweighed then. They’re twice our size," Ron said, pointing at Fred and George.
"That can be remedied." Hermione cupped her hands around her mouth.
"Don’t," Ron started, but he was too late.
"Owwoooo!" The howl rang through the orchard.
"What are you doing?" Ron hissed, slapping her hands away from her mouth.
"Calling for help," Hermione said in an affronted voice, and repeated her cry. "Owwoooo!"
"Now they’re coming right at us!" Ron shouted, pointing at his brothers, who were doing exactly that.
Hermione flinched. "I hadn’t thought of that. Run!"
Draco let the ball go. Instead of falling at a normal speed to the ground, it sank slowly, as if the air were water. "It’s a Quaffle," he said, picking it up and putting it back in its hidey-hole. "It has to be. And you know what that means."
Harry nodded. "It means wizards live around here somewhere. Wizards who play Quidditch."
"And most wizards who play Quidditch," Draco finished, "are kids."
The boys grinned at each other. Then they heard a sound. A howl.
"Neenie," they said together, and started running as the howl was repeated.
Ron and Hermione broke into the open field again. "Split up—" Ron gasped out. "Less of a target that way—"
"Right." Hermione split off from him and ran into the trees on the left. Ron went for the ones on the right, just barely making it out of the field before Fred and George ran into it.
Need to breathe. He hid behind a tree and sank to one knee, panting and watching the twins look at the footprints. Come on, follow me, he willed them. Follow me, not her —
A mittened hand covered his mouth. He froze.
"You with Hermione?" a voice said in his ear. "Brown-haired girl?"
"Then we’re with you," the voice said, and the hand was taken away. Ron stood up and turned around.
Two boys about his own age stood there. One was dark-skinned and wearing glasses, the other was blond. "Harry Black," the dark boy continued, extending his hand. "I’m her cousin. This’s her brother Drake."
Ron shook hands with both of them. "Ron, Ron Weasley—" He glanced over his shoulder. "Here they come." Fred and George had made up their minds, and were following his tracks.
Harry and Drake both grinned. "Not a problem," Drake said, and faster than anyone Ron had ever seen, snatched a handful of snow, packed it, and flung it accurately through the trees and into George’s face. Harry’s snowball hit Fred only a second later. Ron joined in with glee.
The twins were forced back into the open, and it only took a few moments of hard fire by the three younger boys before they broke and ran. "Yes!" Ron yelled, pumping a fist in the air.
"Your brothers?" Harry asked, leaning against a tree.
"Yeah. Fred and George. Twins, in case you can’t tell."
"They pick on you a lot?" Drake asked.
"I guess just because I’m there, and younger, and all by myself." But I’m not all by myself. Not any more...
"How old are you?" Drake said.
"I’ll be eight in March."
"We’ll be eight in July," Harry said, grinning. "Drake and Neenie were born a couple days before me. Maybe we’ll go to school together."
Ron’s happiness deflated like a pricked balloon.
They live in the village. They’re Muggles. I can’t stay friends with them. They won’t understand.
"Probably not," he muttered, kicking at a clump of snow. "My family all goes to this boarding school up north. You’ve probably never even heard of it."
"What’s its name?" Harry asked.
"You’ll think it’s stupid."
"We’ll think what’s stupid?" Hermione asked from behind him.
"The school his family goes to," Drake told her. "He says it’s up north and we’ve never heard of it."
"His last name’s Weasley," Harry added. "And we found a red ball hidden in one of the trees."
Ron looked at the other boy in shock. They found our Quaffle? Oh no.
"A red ball?" Hermione repeated, smiling. "How big of a red ball?"
"About so big." Drake measured with his hands. "And it fell slow when I dropped it."
Ron winced. We’re gonna get in trouble, we should’ve hidden it better, Dad’s gonna be so mad, Muggles aren’t supposed to see enchanted stuff...
"Hmm," Hermione said. "Sounds like a Quaffle to me."
"Yeah," Harry said. "I think it was a Quaffle. Ron?"
Ron stared at them. A wild hope began to grow inside him. "You know what a Quaffle is?"
"The ball Chasers play with in Quidditch," Drake said promptly, with a small quantity of "well, duh" in his tone. "I want to be a Chaser when I go to Hogwarts. Harry wants to play Seeker."
"You know Quidditch?" Ron blurted, his hope magnified a hundred times. "You’re going to Hogwarts?"
All three of them nodded.
"You’re — you’re wizards and witches?"
"Our whole family is," Hermione said. "Our mums and dads, and us, and even Harry’s little sister Meghan. She’s four."
"And a half," Harry said. "Four and a half. Don’t ever forget the half."
"Like she’d let us," Drake groaned.
Ron barely heard them. It was all he could do to keep from jumping up and down screaming. A few, very basic thoughts kept chasing each other around in his brain: They’re magic. They’re my age.
And I think they want to be friends.
He jumped. "Huh?"
"I said," Hermione repeated, "do you want to come over to our house?"
"Er — I don’t know if I’m allowed," Ron said truthfully. "Can I run home real fast and check?"
"Can we come with you?" Harry asked. "So we can see where you live."
"Sure," Ron said, grinning. They do want to be friends. They want to be friends with me. I’m going to have friends...
"AMBUSH!" two voices screamed, and snowballs pelted the four.
"Follow me!" Ron yelled, and took off through the trees into the field. He didn’t dare to look back, but he could hear the sounds of other people running with him, and only hoped that all three of them were staying with him.
"What now?" Harry panted out, coming up even with him.
"Split up," Ron got out. "Two and two. Outflank them."
"Got it." Harry dropped back a pace to run beside Drake — Ron risked a glance over his shoulder to see it — and said something to him. Drake nodded, and Harry speeded back up to Ron’s pace. "Whenever you’re ready," he said with a grin.
"Now," Ron said as they passed into the trees. He turned left, Harry turned with him, and they found a semi-sheltered spot, where they both dropped to their knees and began packing snowballs. Drake and Hermione had disappeared; Ron fervently hoped they were getting ready as well. He watched Fred and George looking around cautiously from the other side of the field, then crossing it at a run, snowballs in hands.
Ron tensed, but Harry put a hand on his shoulder. "Wait till they get almost here," he murmured. "More of a surprise that way."
Ron nodded and readied his snowball. They were coming... they were closer... they were almost there...
"CHARGE!" Harry shouted, jumping up and catching the twins completely by surprise. As they turned to meet the threat of Harry and Ron, Drake and Hermione leapt out of cover behind them and barraged them.
Attacked from two sides, the twins chose the better part of valor and ran for their lives. Ron yelled gleefully and gave chase, and his friends joined in gladly.
My friends. I have friends. I really and truly have friends.
I guess wishes do come true after all.
Fred slammed the door against a last volley of snowballs and turned to George.
"This," he said, "changes everything."
George nodded ruefully. "Our little brother is no longer an easy target."
"And Ginny’s off limits." The twins had established that long since. Their little sister was not eligible for pranks. She was just too... cute.
"So I guess we’re back to experimenting on ourselves," George said.
Fred gave a short laugh. "Unless we can get his new friends to volunteer."
"Maybe if we tell them it’s candy..."
Two pairs of identical brown eyes met. Speculation lurked in both of them.
An idea had been born.
Four windblown, exuberant children arrived triumphantly in the kitchen of the Burrow ten minutes later. Fred and George had vacated the premises already, so the friends had the room to themselves while they removed their layers of snow-encrusted clothing.
Two pairs of eyes, one brown, the other silver-gray, watched them from the stairs.
"The blond one is cute," said the owner of the gray eyes dreamily.
"Are you crazy?" demanded the owner of the brown eyes. "The black one’s way cuter."
"I like the blond one better," the first girl insisted.
"You’re out of your mind," declared the second girl firmly.
"One of them’s a girl, you know."
"The one with the long brown hair."
"Oh. I thought you meant one of the boys was a girl."
Both girls giggled.
"Come on, let’s go up to my room," Ron was saying.
"We should ask your mother if it’s all right," the blond boy said dubiously. "Do you know where she is?"
"She’s around, we’ll find her — " Ron stopped at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at the two girls. "Hello, Ginny," he said resignedly. "Hello, Luna. Everyone, this is my sister Ginny, and her friend Luna Lovegood. Ginny, Luna, this is Harry, Hermione, and Drake Black. They live down in the village."
"Hi," said the black boy, whom Ron had indicated as Harry.
"Hi," Ginny said back.
Luna looked at him. "You’re Harry like Harry Potter," she said. "You’re the right age, too."
"Do I look like Harry Potter?" the boy demanded. "I hate my name. I wish my parents had named me anything else. Anything. But no, it was Harry, and then Harry Potter has to go and get all famous and then disappear, and now that’s what everyone says. â€˜Oh, are you Harry Potter?’ I’m sick of it."
Luna blinked, looking mildly startled by the vehemence of Harry’s reaction.
"Sorry," Harry apologized, looking shamefaced. "It’s just that I get it a lot."
"Excuse us, please," Ron said in a business-like manner, and started up the stairs between the girls. Hermione and Drake followed him, and Luna got to her feet and drifted up after them.
Ginny looked at Harry.
"You never actually said you weren’t Harry Potter," she said.
"Well, I’m not. Happy now?"
"Thank you." He started up the stairs.
"You crossed your fingers," Ginny said quietly as he passed her.
"You crossed your fingers when you said it."
"I did not."
"Yes you did. I saw it."
"No, I did not. You saw wrong."
Ginny shrugged. "If you say so." She went up the stairs past Harry, heading for her own room.
I know what I saw. And I did not see wrong.
Cute or not, I don’t think I like him very much.
Ron is great, but I don’t like his sister much.
Oh well. I don’t have to be her friend.
Harry gladly abandoned thoughts of Ginny and paid attention to Ron, who was waxing rapturous over the Chudley Cannons.
What is it about boys? You get two or three of them together and within a minute they want to talk about Quidditch.
Hermione was bored.
Maybe I’ll go and see if I can find the girls. His sister and her friend.
She slipped out of Ron’s room. Harry and Ron were in the middle of a spirited discussion, with Draco listening to both sides, probably intending to mediate like he did when she and Harry fought. Draco hated people fighting.
They’ll never even notice I’m gone.
She descended two staircases before encountering someone. A female someone. But not Ron’s sister.
"Who are you?" demanded a plump, red-haired woman in an apron, staring at the strange little girl on her stairs. She could only be Ron’s mother.
"Hermione. Hermione Black. Are you Mrs. Weasley?"
"Yes, I am."
"I’m pleased to meet you," Hermione said, offering her hand. "My family’s just moved to the village — I have a twin brother Drake and a cousin Harry who’s our age. They’re up in Ron’s room. May I—"
"Excuse me for one moment, dear." Mrs. Weasley stepped to the foot of the flight of stairs Hermione had just descended. "RONALD WEASLEY! YOU GET DOWN HERE THIS INSTANT!"
Molly Weasley wasn’t often flabbergasted. But that was the only word that could possibly describe her emotions at this moment.
How could he do this. Bringing Muggle children into this house. We use magic everywhere, there’s no way they could possibly miss it, and they’ll have to be Obliviated, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s using Memory Charms on children, it’s so easy to damage their minds permanently, and the younger they are, the worse it is...
Ron came thumping down the stairs, two other boys behind him, one of them blond — Hermione’s brother, most likely — the other one dark-skinned and bespectacled. "Hi, Mum," he said in confusion. "These are my new friends — this is Harry—" He indicated the dark boy. "And this is Drake, and that’s Hermione."
"I know their names," Molly said, stepping forward and pulling her son aside. "Ronald Weasley, how could you. How could you bring Muggles into this house. You know perfectly well you’re not to go making friends with Muggle children without your father’s or my permission—"
"Don’t you â€˜But Mum’ me. Do you have any idea how much trouble you’ve caused? Do you have any idea—"
"Mrs. Weasley?" said one of the other boys from behind her.
Molly turned to face him. "Yes?" she said politely. Being mad at Ron was no reason to shout at perfectly innocent children, who had no idea that their simply being in this house was criminal...
"May we use your fire?" the boy — Harry — asked.
"Our fire?" Why on earth would a Muggle child want to use the fire? "Whatever for?"
"To call our parents and tell them where we are," Drake said.
"My mum and my Aunt Carrie are witches, ma’am," Hermione added quickly, "and my dad and my Uncle Pat are wizards. We’ve just moved here from Canada. We all live in the same house in the village."
Molly released Ron’s collar. "I’m so sorry, dear," she said to him. "I spoke too soon. Forgive me?"
"S’alright, Mum," Ron said with a smile. How wonderful. I haven’t seen him smile almost at all lately. "Come on, Harry, Drake, I’ll show you my comic books."
"Of course you can use the fire, dear," Molly said to Hermione — what a lovely name. Shakespearean, isn’t it? — as the boys disappeared upstairs. "I’d like to meet your parents, if they’re free. And your aunt and uncle, you said? You share a house with them?"
The girl nodded. "Uncle Pat is my dad’s twin," she said, following Molly down the stairs. "And Mum and Aunt Carrie were best friends at school. So when they all got married, they wanted to stay together, and then they had us, and they had to stay together so we could be friends."
Molly laughed. She liked this girl, with her excellent manners and her matter-of-fact speech. Perhaps I can become friends with her mother or her aunt. Or both. If she is anything like the women who raised her, I should enjoy their company quite a lot...
"Where are you?" Sirius demanded.
"At the Weasleys’ house. It’s called the Burrow. Ron Weasley is just our age and Ginny is only a year younger. We’re friends with Ron already. And Mrs. Weasley says we can stay for lunch. Can we, please, Uncle Pat?"
"Well, if she says you may, you may, Hermione. Tell the boys to behave themselves, and be home by two o’clock."
"We will. Bye." With a whoosh, Hermione’s head vanished from the fireplace. The green flames that had been there sputtered and went out.
I can’t decide if this is good or bad. The cubs making a friend is definitely good. But that friend belongs to a magical family, who might recognize any one of us for who we are, and that would definitely be bad.
Ah, dammit, I’m not a deep thinker. I’ll go with good and leave it at that.
Someone was laughing. Sirius turned around and saw Remus leaning on the doorframe, chuckling. "What?"
"Just thinking. You sound so... fatherly, Padfoot. If anyone had told us about this ten years ago, you know we wouldn’t have believed it."
"Well, we wouldn’t have believed parts of it. Like you getting married, Moony, or us raising Prongs’ son."
"Or Lucius Malfoy’s son."
"True. That we would never have believed."
"And yet, here we are." Remus spread his hands wide. "And I honestly can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be."
"If James and Lily hadn’t died," Sirius said quietly.
"There is that. But that might mean we’d still have Voldemort to contend with."
Remus leaned his elbows on the windowsill. "All things considered, this really may be the best of all possible worlds..."
"If you’re going to get philosophical, I’m leaving."
"If you’re leaving, may I suggest the kitchen as a possible destination," said Aletha from the doorway. "Considering lunch is ready."
"The cubs just called, they won’t be home for it," Sirius said, standing up. "They’re eating at the Weasleys’ house. They’ve made friends with a couple of the children."
"That was quick." Aletha preceded the men out of the room.
"From what I could gather, they found the youngest boy, who’s their age, being teased by his older brothers and took his side."
"Like us and Peter?" Remus said lightly. "That is how we met him, if I recall correctly."
Sirius winced. "Well, yes. But I hope this friendship won’t end up like that one did."
"Since Voldemort’s gone, I find it highly unlikely," Aletha said thankfully.
"It’s always possible he could come back," Remus pointed out. "No one ever found a body. He just hasn’t been seen since that night."
"Must we discuss horrible things on such a nice day?" Aletha asked.
"Better than discussing them on a horrible day. Then they’d only make us feel worse. Now, when we feel horrible after discussing horrible things, we have the niceness of the day to cheer us up."
Aletha shook her head as they arrived in the kitchen. "Danger, do me a favor," she said. "Shut this raving maniac up."
"Gladly." "Speak, cousin, or if thou canst not, stop his mouth with a kiss and let not him speak neither."
And a nicer way of being shut up I’ve yet to encounter...