Living with Danger
Chapter 35: But Keep the Old
By Anne B. Walsh
Chapter 35: But Keep the Old
26 January 1988
Dear Aunt Andromeda,
I take up my quill on this, my seven-and-a-half birthday, to tell you that I am well and in good spirits. My guardians take excellent care of me, and I wear my mother’s ring always.
I have made a new friend recently. We will be in the same year at Hogwarts. He is very good at playing chess and beats me a lot of the time. But I can play the piano much better than he can. Of course, he has only begun lessons and I have been playing for three years.
My guardians say that I may begin flute lessons when I turn eight. I look forward to this very much. I play the recorder now, which is like the flute because it is a wind instrument, but is very different from the flute in many other ways. I will have to work hard to get good at playing the flute.
Please give my best wishes to my Uncle Ted and my cousin Nymphadora.
30 January 1988
Dear Letha and everyone,
I was thrilled to get your letter. Glad you’ve found a place to settle down, and that the disguise I recommended for Harry is working. If you ever need a place to hide in a hurry, remember my door is always open. Not too much is happening on this side of the pond — the state of the Muggle economy makes work interesting, but then, doesn’t it always...
Of Aletha’s three new music students, one showed promise more as a pianist, another more as a singer, and the third... well, he was doing his best.
Luna always listened closely to the directions Aletha gave, even when she appeared to be paying attention to something else entirely. According to her mother, she practiced assiduously, sometimes for an hour or more. "This seems to be what my girl’s been looking for," Anita said. "Something that gives both her mind and her imagination work to do. Bless you, Carrie."
Ginny was less interested in piano than in voice, but Aletha stuck to her principles. "Piano comes first," she said firmly one day in late winter. "You’ll always have use for it later. To help you learn tunes, to accompany yourself — and it’s one of the best ways to learn to read music. So keep working on piano, and you’ll be ready for voice soon."
Ron was the least enthusiastic of the three, though he did his work and learned his music. "He has a good ear and a good sense of timing," Aletha said in frustration. "And he sings perfectly well. His fingers just don’t seem to want to work together."
"So maybe he’s not cut out to be a keyboard player," Danger suggested. "Or woodwind, or strings. What else could he do?"
"He could be strictly vocal, but I’ve always felt that’s a mistake myself," Aletha said. "Too limiting. You should have at least one instrument if you’re at all serious about music."
"I’m not about music," Sirius said, looking puzzled. Aletha reached across the table to flick him on the forehead with her fingers.
"What about percussion?" Remus suggested. "He could teach himself the basics of that, and I’m sure there are books on how to do some of the more complicated things."
"That sounds about right for him, actually," Aletha said with a laugh. "Ron is pure boy. Being allowed — encouraged, even — to bang on things would make him blissfully happy. I’ll have to suggest that to Molly."
Ron woke up on 1 March excited. The twins and the Black boys had been dropping hints for three weeks about his birthday present. He knew that he would only get one present, a joint effort from his family and his new friends, but that it was a large one. He knew that it was something he wanted. He knew that it was something that might sometimes annoy his mother. And he knew that it was something that had made his father put charms on his room so that noise could get in, but not out.
He had purposely not tried to put the pieces together. But he couldn’t help wondering anyway...
That afternoon, after the song and his birthday cake, he found out.
"For me?" Ron stared, awestruck, as Fred and George pulled the sheet off a handsome drum set. He could tell it wasn’t brand new — there were use marks on some of the drums, and one of the cymbals was ever so slightly dented — but it would work just fine.
Hermione handed him a wrapped box. He tore it open and found a pair of gleaming drumsticks, which he lifted reverently. The wood was smooth beneath his fingers, and he found himself imagining all the fascinating sounds he could make with these...
"This is so great," he said, unable to stop grinning. "This is my best birthday ever."
"We’ll help you get them all upstairs after dinner," said Drake’s dad. "They ought to just fit along the bottom of your bed."
And they did.
As soon as most of the snow had melted, the boys were out on their brooms every day that was even approaching fine. Hermione had generously offered Ginny the use of her broomstick on a more-or-less permanent basis, since Ginny was far more interested in flying than Hermione was.
Ron was astounded at the ease with which Ginny learned to fly. Hermione confided to Harry and Draco that Ginny had been "borrowing" her brothers’ brooms all the previous fall when they weren’t looking.
With the Weasleys, the Lovegoods, and both Black couples involved, it was discovered to be possible to permanently charm the orchard where the children practiced flying and played Quidditch. The Weasleys had never been able to use any real Quidditch balls other than their much-patched Quaffle, since the Golden Snitch and the Bludgers moved on their own, and there was the very real possibility of them escaping and respectively puzzling or terrifying the village. Now, however, a permanent Repelling Charm, such as real Quidditch pitches had, could be put in place.
Remus had bought Sirius a full set of Quidditch balls for his birthday, and Sirius had reciprocated a month later with a set of Beater’s bats and a portable goal hoop set with attached automatic scorekeeper. Both men, at the time, had laughingly bewailed the fact that their Quidditch-playing days were behind them.
"So I guess I’ll have to take them back, then," Remus said regretfully on Sirius’ birthday, glancing at Harry, whose eyes were fixed on the Snitch.
"Nah, keep them around. We might find a use for them," Sirius said casually.
The same conversation, almost in the same words, was repeated on Remus’ birthday.
Two days later, the Quidditch equipment, the cubs’ brooms, and the cubs all turned up missing directly after breakfast.
Unconcerned firecalls to the Weasleys’ and the Lovegoods’ revealed that their children, too, had left early and without saying where they were going. "Just that they’d be home for lunch," Molly Weasley said. "And I’ve just had a look — their brooms are gone."
"Then I think we can guess where they are without much trouble," Danger said in satisfaction. "Thank you, Molly, I just wanted to be sure."
The disappearance became a regular morning occurrence, and the cubs invariably arrived home sweaty and exhilarated — some times more than others, of course, depending on whose team had won. Hermione, Luna, and Meghan were the regular spectators of the group, leaving Fred, George, Ron, Ginny, Harry, and Draco to play. The only invariable rule about team formation was that the twins weren’t allowed to be on the same side. Other than that, anything and everything went.
The rules the six played by also varied. Sometimes they would play the way they had before the Blacks moved in, using just the Quaffle, two Chasers and one Keeper to a side, and the match ended at a predetermined time. The matches were also timed in which they let one of the Bludgers loose and played with two Chasers and one Beater per team. Those could get messy, but no one ever got worse than a bloody nose or black eye.
Harry’s favorite, though, were the games in which they got an adult to charm the Bludgers to act as Keepers, chasing players away from the goal hoops, and played with two Chasers and a Seeker on a team. He always played Seeker, and almost always won, though Draco occasionally gave him a run for his money, and Ginny was very put out about the time Harry had won against her by dint of having a longer reach.
Mornings were thus fully occupied for everyone, because Meghan and Luna were just as interested in watching as the boys and Ginny were in playing, and Neenie always had a book with her, so if she lost interest, no one minded. Afternoons were devoted to lessons and indoor play at one house or another. Molly Weasley found the Black children to be quite well along in all the things they would need to know for Hogwarts, except that Draco’s reading comprehension was still a touch shaky and Harry needed some help with fractions.
"I can’t tell you how much your children’s friendship has meant to Ron," she said one May day over tea. "He tries harder now that he has peers to compare himself with — especially Hermione, my goodness, that girl is astonishing. So intelligent, and so willing to help him when he needs it — his writing’s improved beyond all recognition, he actually understands what a paragraph is now, and heaven knows I’d tried to explain it to him so many times I lost count."
"She gets it from Danger’s side, I’m sure," Sirius said. "John isn’t that smart."
"Nor is he here to defend himself, I notice," Danger said, smacking her Pack-brother lightly on the arm. "Say that to his face and see what happens."
"Do I look suicidal?"
Remus was, at that moment, unpacking and shelving the latest arrivals at his workplace.
If it’s not one of us, it seems, it’s another. The first job that he had seen advertised for that he was both qualified for and interested in had been at the village’s bookstore, a small independent place instead of a branch of a chain. Exactly how independent it was became apparent within the next few seconds.
"Mrrraw?" said a voice from around Remus’ ankles.
"Hello, Aslan," he said, placing the last book from his armload on the shelf and stooping to pet the store cat. A tawny creature with a sort of ruff around his face suggesting a mane and a tail that made Remus suspect kneazle in his ancestry somewhere, Aslan had earned his name honestly. He was listed on the store payroll as "Mr. Aslan F. Domesticus, Vermin Control" and received his pay every two weeks with the rest of the staff. The money which didn’t go for his food and upkeep went into a bank account to see him through his old age.
There are people who aren’t as well taken care of.
It was a common idea among those who studied Dark creatures that cats reacted badly to werewolves, because of their basically canine nature. Even some of the other werewolves Remus had met, by chance or while doing work for the Order of the Phoenix, had mentioned that their neighbor’s or their sister’s or their mother’s cat didn’t like them. But Remus had never noticed that about himself.
It might be just me, though. I’ve always liked cats. They may be able to tell.
He turned back to the cart, which now had two shelves full of books and one full of cat, and continued working.
Meghan turned five at the beginning of June, and Luna seven in the middle of it. The three oldest Weasley boys arrived home at the end of the month and were duly introduced to the Blacks. Bill and Charlie incorporated themselves into the Quidditch matches, making everything a great deal more exciting, since there were a lot more ways to play when the games were four on four. And Mrs. Weasley laid down the law to her third son.
"Percy Ignatius Weasley, for the last time, keep that dirty creature out of my kitchen!"
"Mum, Scabbers isn’t dirty."
Molly went on as if she hadn’t heard. "What would Mrs. Black or Danger think if they saw you toting that filthy thing about? That rat stays in its cage and in your room or it goes out of this house. Is that understood?"
Percy sighed. "Yes, Mum." He went up the stairs to his room and placed Scabbers in his cage. "Don’t worry," he said to the rat through the bars. "We can still play in here. And I’ll bring you some scraps from dinner."
The rat squeaked, exactly as if he’d understood, Percy thought with pride. Scabbers was a very smart rat. Percy sometimes read aloud to him, and the rat listened exactly as if he knew what the words meant...
July was the month of birthdays in the Black house — two were celebrated on the 26th and one on the 31st, even though one of them wasn’t really until two months later.
"You do realize, this may cause problems when it comes to Hogwarts time," Sirius said on the 25th, looking up from the illustrated Child’s Guide to Potions he was wrapping.
"What do you mean?" Remus asked.
"Technically, you have to be at least eleven to go to Hogwarts. And Neenie won’t actually be eleven until after term starts the year Harry and Draco and Ron go."
"That is true," Aletha said. "The letter comes on your eleventh birthday, or a little earlier for Muggleborn students, so they don’t miss it in the excitement of the day, because they won’t be expecting it." Her eyes flickered into "far-away" mode, probably recalling the day her letter had come, the day her life had changed forever...
"You said, technically," Danger said to Sirius. "You think an exception could be made?"
"There’s no doubt she’d be able to handle the work, that’s for certain," Remus said, smiling fondly. "Kitten can handle just about anything you give her." It was his particular pet name for Hermione — she allowed no one else to call her that, not even Danger.
"And Dumbledore knows that," Aletha said. "So I think he’ll be willing to let her come a year early."
The Headmaster himself confirmed this when he arrived for the Pack-only party on the 28th, which was for all three cubs jointly. "If Hermione remains as mature and intelligent for her age as she is currently, I see no problem with letting her enter school along with her brothers and her friend," he said, watching the cubs wrestle with Hagrid on the living room floor. "The problem, indeed, might lie in trying to keep her back a year — she might inflict damage on the one who suggested or tried to enforce such a thing."
"Might, nothing," Danger said. "She would hurt anyone who even suggested it."
"So, we won’t suggest it, it won’t happen, everyone’s happy," Sirius said, taking another grape from the bowl on the coffee table. "My question is, how are we planning to handle Hogwarts, period? Are they going to have to be out-of-den and disguised the entire time they’re there? That’s an awful lot to ask of eleven-year-olds. Especially with the added strain of being away from us."
Dumbledore nodded gravely. "I have thought about that very thing, many times, as has Minerva."
"One solution I’ve considered is having you all move to Hogwarts, and having the cubs sleep in your rooms rather than in the dormitories," Minerva said from her seat across the room. "It would be irregular, certainly, but we’ve made arrangements for students with special needs before." She shot a look at Remus.
"The problem with that is that it would cause talk," Aletha said. "People would wonder, who are they, that they can live in the castle with their children? Why them and not me?"
"As I said, it is only one possibility I’ve considered," Minerva repeated.
"What we really need," Sirius said quietly, "is to find Wormtail and come out of this bloody lie we’re living."
Danger nodded sadly. "I hate deceiving the Weasleys and the Lovegoods. Every day we lie to them is another day before they’ll really be able to trust us once the truth comes out. And I don’t want the cubs to lose the first real friends they’ve ever had."
"The cubs will be fine," Aletha said. "Their friends will think it’s just wonderful that they’re actually celebrities in disguise. What I worry about is the adults."
Remus smiled slightly. "Molly Weasley’s face when she discovers she’s been having Sirius Black and his wife over for tea ought to be a sight."
The rest of the company chuckled in agreement.
The impromptu Quidditch league got another member in the last two weeks of August, when a friend of Charlie’s came to stay. "Her name’s Tonks," Ron said. "Well, that’s her last name, but everyone calls her by it because her first name’s something long and funny that she hates..."
"Nymphadora," Draco said under his breath.
"Nothing, I just coughed."
"It sounded like you said something."
Ron shrugged. "All right."
"Andy’s daughter Dora?" Sirius repeated when Draco told him the news. "Well, it is a small world."
"Smaller for magical folk than for others," Danger said. "The girl’s your cousin, isn’t she, Sirius, same as Draco?"
"First cousin, once removed. I wonder if she knows anything?"
"Her mother surely wouldn’t have told her," Aletha said. "Not a child that young. She can’t be more than fifteen."
"And we trust eight-year-olds with our lives every day," Remus pointed out. "Be careful around her, cubs. Doubly careful."
15 August 1988
I saw the person who wrote you a letter in January today. He lives down in the village here; he’s friends with Charlie’s little brother. Instructions?
16 August 1988
The same as ever. Do nothing, say nothing.
P.S. Does he still appear happy?
17 August 1988
Very happy. He plays Chaser when we play Quidditch, and he’s really good. His cousin Harry plays Seeker. He’s good too.
P.S. How’s Dad?
18 August 1988
Your father is fine. Is this Harry the same age as the person we were previously discussing? And does he also appear happy?
19 August 1988
Yes, and yes. Why?
P.S. You don’t think...
20 August 1988
Yes, I do think. Silence has just become doubly important. Lives may depend on it. So guard your tongue, my daughter. If you must tell the secret, tell it to only the person you told last time, and do it quietly. You were overheard previously.
P.S. And of course I know about that. Mothers know everything.
In October, the Pack hosted a party — a Shakespeare party.
"We take parts and read the play aloud," Danger explained to Molly and Arthur. "I’m sure you’ve heard of it or seen it somewhere."
"My parents used to have reading parties," Molly said musingly. "But I had no idea anyone did it anymore."
"Maybe they don’t," Danger said. "But we will. It should be fun — Patrick’s editing A Midsummer Night’s Dream for us, cutting down a few of the really long speeches and leaving in all the humor and the playfulness. Will you come?"
"Of course, we’d be delighted," Arthur answered for them both.
"And, of course, the children are welcome. Fred and George can read if they want to, or play upstairs with the others."
"They ought to read Puck," Molly said with an affectionate grimace. "They certainly make enough trouble."
Gerald and Anita were also intrigued by the idea, and the eight adults gathered in the Den’s living room on one brisk night in late October. The children had all retired to the cubs’ bedroom with large amounts of food and two decks of Exploding Snap cards.
"Our scene is Athens," Sirius announced. "Enter Duke Theseus and his fiancÃ©e, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons."
"Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour draws on apace," Arthur began.
A door closed quietly upstairs.
As Duke Theseus heard the case of Hermia, the rebellious daughter of Egeus, who wished to marry her love Lysander instead of her father’s choice Demetrius, Danger noticed a small pair of feet appear on the stairs. By the time Hermia and Lysander had planned to run away to the forest, the feet had grown legs. And as Hermia’s friend Helena, who loved Demetrius even though he scorned her, planned to win his gratitude by telling him of Hermia’s flight, the legs developed a torso and head. A blond head.
Draco was listening, apparently utterly enrapt by the story.
The rude mechanicals, unlearned working men of Athens, planned the play they would put on for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding, with many amusing slips of speech and turns of phrase.
Hermione joined Draco on the stairs.
"Our scene is now the forest outside Athens, where the fairies dance on nights like these," Sirius said. "Enter two fairies, one of whom is called Robin Goodfellow."
"Wait," Danger said, forestalling Gerald, who had been about to speak Puck’s first line. "We have visitors." She beckoned for the children to come down.
"Do you three want to read?" Aletha asked Draco, Hermione, and Luna, who had been just out of Danger’s view.
They all nodded.
"Drake, why don’t you be Puck," Gerald said. "And Luna, you can be the other fairy, if that’s all right with you, dear," he said to his wife, who had that part assigned to her.
"Oh, that’s fine," Anita said, making room for her daughter beside her.
"And Kitten, why don’t you read Titania, the Fairy Queen?" Remus asked. If you don’t mind losing your main role, love.
Far be it from me to suppress a budding interest in Shakespeare for personal gain. Besides, there will be other nights.
"If we’re all ready, then, I think we can begin," Sirius said. "Drake?"
"How now, fairy, whither wander you?" Drake read proudly.
"Over hill, over dale,
"Through bush, through briar,
"Over park, over pale,
"Through flood, through fire,
"I do wander everywhere," Luna answered,
"Swifter than the moon’s sphere,
"And I serve the Fairy Queen,
"To dew her orbs upon the green."
The Fairy Queen and her King Oberon wrangled over a changeling boy. A love charm was procured and applied inappropriately, tangling the lovers and making Titania fall in love with Bottom, one of the rude mechanicals, whom Puck had charmed to have an ass’s head. In the end, though, the true lovers found each other, everything came out all right, and the epilogue of the play fell to Draco to read.
"If we shadows have offended,
"Think but this and all is mended,
"That you have but slumbered here
"While these visions did appear..."
He’s good, Remus said.
"And this weak and idle theme,
"No more yielding but a dream."
He is, and Neenie too, Danger answered.
"Gentles, do not reprehend.
"If you pardon, we will mend."
Luna’s not half bad either.
"And, as I am an honest Puck,
"If we have unearned luck
"Now to scape the serpent’s tongue,
"We will make amends ere long."
Of course, it helps that she took a fairly small part. Puck and Titania are big roles.
"Else the Puck a liar call.
"So, good night unto you all.
"Give me your hands, if we be friends,
"And Robin shall restore amends."
They joined the rest of the adults in applauding Draco, who looked a little startled.
"You can’t ask for applause and then look shocked when you get it, Drake," Remus teased. "Good work."
"Yes, excellent, all three of you," Molly said, looking around. "That was enjoyable — I admit I was a little shy about the idea at first, but it grew on me."
"And it seems you’re not the only one," Anita said. "Lumos!"
The beam of wand-light illuminated the stairs and reflected from six pairs of eyes.
"And how long have you all been there?" Sirius demanded mock-indignantly.
"A while," Harry said defensively. "It’s a funny story."
"You didn’t have to hide, you know," Aletha said. "You could have come and listened."
"Maybe next time," said Danger. "I assume there will be a next time."
"Oh, by all means," Gerald said. "I can’t recall when I’ve enjoyed an evening more."
"Tell us a story, Moony?" Hermione asked that night.
"Why me? Padfoot always tells you your bedtime stories."
"That’s why," Harry said. "We want a different one. Please?"
"Yeah, please?" Draco and Meghan echoed.
"Well, what kind of story did you have in mind?"
"Something with adventures," Harry said.
"Something with a bad guy," Draco contributed.
"Something with a family," was Hermione’s request.
Meghan yawned. "Something about us," she said sleepily.
Remus closed his eyes and thought for a moment, and then began.
"In ancient times there lived a great and evil wizard, so great that most feared even to speak his name..."
Playing with the language Sirius liked to use in his period stories, and with the events that had shaped his life and the lives of those he loved over the past years, Remus told the cubs a tale with everything they had asked for.
"For a time, they traveled, and came back to their homeland to settle anew. And there they lived, and thrived, and made friends, and were happy." He noticed that most of his audience was asleep or nearly so. "And there we will leave them for tonight."
He rose and gave each of the cubs a kiss and a scent-touch before leaving the room.
And they are happy.
I only hope they stay that way.