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Chapter 38: Don’t Look Back

23 December, 1990, dawned cloudy, snowy, and late, being one of the shortest days of the year. The Pack, nonetheless, was up early.

"The earlier we’re up, the tireder the cubs are when we go to den tonight," Aletha said as she systematically removed the covers from Sirius, who was pretending to be asleep. "You know perfectly well that sunset’s around four tonight," the quilt came off the bed, "and moonrise is the same time," the blanket Danger had crocheted followed it, "and that makes for a long night," the woven blanket slid to the floor, "and the cubs tend to be calmer when they’re tired," the sheet was removed, "and Remus usually prefers it calm on his transformation nights."

Sirius did not respond.

Grinning wickedly, Aletha remedied that with one swift pull.

"Hoy! Gimme those back!"

"Come and get them."

"Why, you little..."

Aletha waved the purple pajama pants like a flag. "They’re right here. Come on, right here, jump for them, doggy."

Sirius growled, transformed into Padfoot, and did just that. Aletha jerked the pants away —

But Sirius had anticipated her, and landed where his clothes now were rather than where they had been, pulling them out of her hand with one tug. He retransformed and smiled smugly at her around a mouthful of pajama.

"Is that the new look this year, holding your pants in your mouth?" Remus asked quizzically from the doorway. Neenie and Meghan peered curiously around his legs.

"Fuh ug, oo," Sirius said around the mouthful of cloth.

"Sirius Valentine Black, in front of the cubs!"

"All I said was, ‘Shut up, Moony,’ " Sirius protested, taking the clothes out of his mouth.

"That is NOT what it sounded like. You—" Aletha rounded on Remus. "Out. You—" She turned back to Sirius. "Get dressed. And me—" She stopped.

"Yes, what will you do?" Remus asked.

"I’ll... make the bed."

"Sounds like a plan," Remus said with a small bow. "I leave you to it." He closed the door.


The cubs spent the morning out in the snow with the Weasleys and Luna. With all the Hogwarts-going Weasleys home for Christmas, there were enough people for a grand snowball fight, five on a side. (Percy disdained to join in anything so childish.) Once they were tired of that, there were snowmen to build and snow angels to make and sliding down the hill to do.

Wet, cold, happy cubs arrived home for lunch. "It’s snowing again," Harry announced as he came in. "Loads harder than it was."

"You can barely see anything," Draco put in, shedding his coat. "We almost got lost just coming back."

"We did not," Neenie said, flicking her mitten at Draco and showering him with half-melted snow. "But it is snowing hard."

"I got Fred in the face," Meghan said happily, bouncing into the kitchen. "Or maybe it was George. I can’t tell them apart."

"No one can tell them apart," Sirius said. "It’s part of the secret to their success. They confuse people simply by existing."

"Hmm, I don’t know anyone who does that," Danger said far too innocently.

Sirius threw his quill at her. She caught it and put it in her apron pocket.

"I need that back."

"Shouldn’t have thrown it at me, then." Danger turned back to the stove. Remus took a casual step closer to her, then lazily flicked his hand out towards Harry, who intercepted the missile and lobbed it overhand to Sirius.

"And it’s Lupin to Potter to Black — a classic combination, ladies and gentlemen, just classic," Draco said in his best announcer voice.

Danger checked her pocket, then smacked Remus on the back of the head. "Whatever happened to marital unity?"

"It was overridden by Marauder unity," Sirius said, pumping his fist in the air in triumph. "At last, a man with his priorities straight."

Neenie sidled up next to Sirius and laid her hand on the table, then handed something to Meghan, who skipped innocently out of the room.

"And a successful steal by the junior feminine contingent!" Draco put dismay into his tone.

"I notice you didn’t bother to tell me while it was happening," Sirius said just a trifle huffily.

Draco shrugged. "I’m just the commentator, I didn’t do it."

"Aiding and abetting is a crime, Draco," Remus said warningly.

"One you’re all guilty of, in fact," Sirius noted. "Just by virtue of having this conversation with me."

Remus spread his hands. "In this isolated instance, a crime I am happy to commit."

"Does this belong to anyone here?" Aletha asked, coming into the kitchen holding the quill. "It was just delivered to me by a certain little gem with a very smug smile."


Lunch over and dishes done, Danger caught herself yawning. I suppose a nap wouldn’t hurt. After all, no law says we have to sleep when the cubs do on den-nights. Or even when Sirius and Letha do. It’s not as if we’ll wake anyone by talking, certainly.

Oh, just go take your nap already, Remus said in mock disgust. Women. They always have to talk three sides around everything.

Danger stuck out her tongue at him and stretched out on the couch. She expected to lie there for a while, letting sleep drift slowly over her, as it usually did. Not today. Today, sleep ambushed her, hauling her away wholesale almost before her eyes were shut.

And once she reached dream state, she realized why.

Poems. Why did it have to be poems?


Not even five minutes after she had lain down, Danger snapped upright with a half-stifled scream that brought the rest of the Pack running.

What is it? Remus demanded. What’s wrong?

"Wait," Danger panted out, embracing him and holding on tightly. "Just... wait a second. You’ll know."

"I don’t like the sound of that," Sirius said darkly.

Danger turned her eyes to a high point in the room. Everyone followed her gaze.

There was a flash of flame there, making the cubs all exclaim. A red-and-gold bird appeared out of the flame with a scroll in its beak.

"Fawkes," Remus breathed, releasing Danger with one arm to offer it to the phoenix, who landed softly there and offered him the letter. He took it and scanned it quickly, and Danger felt his shock, a flare of fear quickly replaced by resolve.

"Why wouldn’t Professor Dumbledore just firecall us?" Harry asked, looking at the phoenix in awe.

"Because he can’t," Remus said grimly. "Listen. The Ministry knows where to find you. They have cut off your Floo connection and are making preparations to surround your house. I estimate you have eight to ten minutes before they will arrive. If you can escape, do so. If not, please try to avoid bloodshed. Remember, the truth is on your side, and I will stand your friend. If there is anything I can do, please respond via Fawkes. Godspeed. A.D."

Neenie had attached herself to Remus. Harry’s eyes were very big. Draco and Meghan were both pressed against Sirius, who had paled at the first sentence. "Did you dream this?" he asked Danger quietly.

"I did."

"And what to do now?" Aletha asked.

"Yes — but it’s very strange, I don’t understand it at all."

"Maybe we will," Remus said, as Fawkes crooned softly. "Time is short, love. Let’s hear it."

Danger nodded and began.

"The time of testing comes apace;

"A time when every wolf must face

"The greatest fear or dread he knows,

"And pay a debt to one she owes.

"The only born cub must away

"To first friend’s home without delay,

"The warrior will the others free

"With change and help — still, they must flee.

"But first that magic must be done

"Which takes the eight and makes them one —

"Take that which circles blood and flesh,

"Yet has no bottom. Make it mesh

"With blood from each, and then recite

"The oath the warrior knows to write,

"Which long ago was sworn by they

"Whose hearts beat true in you today;

"The singing of the fire’s bird

"Shall help remind her what she heard.

"The testing time does quickly near;

"It lies in you to conquer fear,

"O lion-hearted wolf; so call

"The wanderer home to save you all.

"The eagle-hearted truth must give

"The star the sound that helped him live,

"And royal stars will trust in him.

"So life, not death, will bring this Grim.

"If then this night you can endure,

"Upon the morrow is it sure

"That hiding shall be done for aye,

"And only one have cause to cry."

"That’s a riddle for good and sure," Aletha said with a vexed sigh. "And we don’t have time to figure it out. We need answers now."

"It was the same voice as usual?" Remus asked. Danger nodded, and he grimaced slightly. "I wish it would speak to you again. Maybe give you a little help..."

Fawkes sang again, one soft, penetrating note, and Danger gasped as a new wealth of information flooded her mind. The voice had spoken again after the poem, giving her interpretations, telling her everything...

"The singing of the fire’s bird — the phoenix — I know, I know what it all means, I know what to do — but there’s no time to explain—" Everything that had to happen, everything she had to do, unfolded before her, so simple, so sure — but could she do it? Not alone. She stared at her Packmates, meeting each pair of eyes in turn — grey, brown, blue and so familiar with the swirls of her own brown tinting them, and the cubs, green, grey, hazel, grey... "Will you trust me? Even if what I say sounds absolutely insane, will you trust me?"

The cubs nodded quickly.

"With my life," Sirius said.

"With theirs," Aletha added, gesturing to the cubs.

Remus tried to touch Danger’s mind, but she blocked him swiftly. Not this time, my love. God, I wish you could help me with this, but you have your own load to bear tonight...

"Did you have to ask?" he said softly, aloud, instead.

"Yes," Danger said on the release of a breath she hadn’t recalled holding. "I can’t explain why, there’s no time, but I did have to ask." Fawkes fluttered to the sofa beside Danger as she closed her eyes for a moment. "Now we can begin. First — thank you," she said with feeling, opening her eyes and looking at her Pack. Better friends, a better family, no one could wish for. But there is no time... "All right. Sirius, go get the key to your Gringotts vault."

Sirius nodded and got quickly to his feet.

"Aletha, write a note to the Weasleys. Say we’ve been called away suddenly and would they please take care of Meghan until we come back. We’re sending one of our vault keys so she won’t be a burden. Something like that."

"All right." Aletha was halfway to the kitchen as she spoke.

"She’ll need an overnight bag, love. Toothbrush, hair brush, a couple changes of clothes. And her lion. Can you do that?"

"Of course." Remus kissed his wife and followed Sirius up the stairs, leaving Danger alone with the cubs.

And now the hardest part of all.

"Meghan, little love." Danger embraced the girl. "Your job is one of the hardest. Are you ready?"

Meghan squared her shoulders. "I’m a warrior," she said. "I’m ready for anything."

"You must walk out of this house as if nothing is wrong. You must walk to the Weasleys’ house and keep your head high and your feet light. And you must not look back. No matter what you see, no matter what you hear, don’t look back. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Danger," Meghan whispered. "Do I have to go alone?"

No, no, I don’t want to have to tell her this, why me... "Yes. You do."

Meghan’s lip quivered as she nodded.

"I’ll go with her," Neenie said indignantly. "She doesn’t have to go alone."

"No," Danger said, a little harder than she meant to. She softened her tone. "No, Neenie. Not you, not Harry, not Draco. You three have a different road to take. Different from Meghan’s, different from ours."

Draco swallowed hard. "You’re not coming with us?"

"No, little fox. We can’t. You heard the poem — this is the time of testing. The time of proving." Danger leaned forward, getting all the cubs’ attention, as Fawkes began to sing softly. "This is the time when you prove that you are worthy to be called warriors. You have been protected all your lives. The time has come for you to be the protectors. You have been fought for all your lives. The time has come for you to do the fighting. Are you ready?"

Four fierce nods answered her.

God, I hope so. "Good. Come with me."

The Pack gathered in the kitchen. Danger quickly scribbled two notes — one to Dumbledore, which she gave to Fawkes, who vanished in another burst of flame, and one which she pocketed. "Sit at the table," she said, finding the materials she knew she needed. "Neenie, Remus, Harry, Sirius, Meghan, Letha, Draco." She pointed at each chair in turn. "And leave that spot for me." She indicated the chair between Draco and Hermione.

The Pack took their seats. Danger joined them, handing her second note to Remus as she did. He looked surprised and touched her mind, but she shook her head quickly, and he subsided.

"A sacrifice is required of us all today," Danger said once the Pack was all quiet. "We give up something we love, to gain something which will benefit us all and tie us closer together. Will you do this?"

"We will," the Pack answered, almost in chorus.

You may not, when you see what it is. Danger took a deep breath —

And pulled off her wedding ring.

A hush fell as she placed it in the middle of the table.

Remus stripped off his own and added it to hers.

Harry lifted the chain from his neck and placed it atop his Pack-parents’ rings. Draco did the same, first pressing the ring to his lips. Neenie followed him, and Meghan glanced at her mother before adding her own.

Aletha closed her eyes for one moment as if in pain, then pulled the sapphire ring from her hand and placed it on the pile. Sirius’ plain gold band went on top.

"We have given of our belongings," Danger said. "Now we must give of ourselves."

She picked up the knife she had taken from the counter and made a shallow cut in the flesh of her left hand. Blood welled up. She allowed it to drip onto the napkin she had ready. Then she extended her hand to Hermione.

The girl looked frightened, but slowly held out her left hand. Danger bit her lip and cut her sister’s palm. Neenie gave a small gasp, but did not cry out. Her blood joined Danger’s on the cloth.

Remus added his own blood and Harry’s. Sirius cut his right hand and Meghan’s left. Aletha cut Draco’s hand first, before her own, and handed the cloth back to Danger looking fiercely triumphant.

Danger wrapped the rings and chains loosely in the red-stained cloth and nodded to Remus.

"We now will swear an oath," Remus said, his voice seeming almost to deepen as his full authority became apparent. "Hear me speak it first, and then look around you. If there is anyone here to whom you cannot swear this, depart now. For this oath is binding by magic, and the one who breaks it will never find rest, by day or by night, in life or in death. Hear me now —

"My hand in yours,

"My wand with yours,

"My life for yours,

"Now and always.

"Is there any here who does not wish to swear?"

No one spoke. No one moved.

"Then join hands, and speak the oath with me, three times, to make it truly binding upon us all."

The Pack joined hands, adults with cubs, and began to recite.

"My hand in yours,

"My wand with yours,

"My life for yours,

"Now and always."

Danger felt a familiar tingling in her hands. Everyone else seemed to be feeling it as well. The cubs were wide-eyed, Sirius looked determined, Aletha had her eyes closed.

"My hand in yours,

"My wand with yours,

"My life for yours,

"Now and always."

The second recitation had been firmer and more together. The tingling increased. Remus was staring at the rings in the center of the table, his expression unreadable.

As they began the last repetition of the oath, the eight voices of the Pack blended into one, which resonated in Danger’s bones and sang through her blood, vibrating down her arms and into the hands she held, Neenie’s strong and rough from her tree climbing, Draco’s slender and callused from his music...

"My hand in yours,

"My wand with yours,

"My life for yours,

"Now and always."

The napkin burst suddenly into flame, was consumed in an instant, and flickered out as if it had never been.

Where the rings had been, gleamed a confused pile of something gold.

Danger released Neenie’s hand and carefully lifted a gold chain free of the pile. Four small medallions hung from it. "Everyone take one," she said, surprised at how tired her voice sounded. "Put them on. We’re finished."

Slowly, the Pack released one another’s hands, reaching out to the pile, disentangling chains and sliding them over heads. Meghan was the last to claim hers. Of the blood-stained napkin, not even ashes remained.

Danger looked once more around the table, meeting everyone’s eyes. "Now the hardest part," she said slowly, hating every word. "Now we have to say goodbye."

"To whom?" Remus asked.

Danger took a breath, but it was Sirius who answered. "To the cubs," he said, his voice rough. "We have to say goodbye to the cubs."

"What?" Aletha gasped.

Danger nodded, meeting her friend’s eyes, accepting and returning the anguish she saw there. "They must do — what they must do — by themselves," she said. "We cannot help them now."

Aletha smothered Meghan in a hug and gave one choked sob into her daughter’s hair. Then she lifted her head, her face once more serene as it was wont to be. "What must be, shall be," she quoted. "How long are we likely to be parted?"

Danger wanted to scream, Don’t ask, don’t ask that, you don’t want to know!

But she had to answer. "I do not know. It may be for as short a time as one night, or..."

"Or this may be the last time we ever see them," Remus finished very quietly. Danger hardly dared look at his face. He has to wonder why I keep blocking him... but I can’t let him see what I know...

"Each of us has a task this night," she said to Aletha instead. "Our future rests on how well we carry them out."

"I understand," Aletha said quietly. She knelt to look into Meghan’s face. "You will do well, my Pearl. You are a warrior, and a cub of the Pack. Make us proud."

The other adults each turned to a different cub and began to say their own goodbyes.

"I love you, Kitten," Remus murmured to Hermione, who was crying. "Remember to use your mind."

"You’re your father all over again, Greeneyes," Sirius said quietly to his godson, ruffling his hair. "So don’t do anything stupid."

"Be cunning and clever, my little fox," Danger whispered into Draco’s ear as he clung to her. "And even if you never see us again, remember, we’re as real as you are."

She felt him give a brief laugh.

We’ve done that much. We’ve taught a child to laugh and love. If we haven’t done anything else worthwhile, we’ve at least done that.

All too soon, each adult had embraced and scent-touched each cub, and it was time.

"Go quickly, little Pearl," Danger said as Aletha helped her daughter into her boots. "And remember what I told you."

Meghan held out her arms for her overnight bag. "I remember."

"We are all here," Danger said softly, touching the girl’s chest, where the newly created pendants hung beneath her coat and shirt, with Sirius’ vault key beside them on the chain so that she wouldn’t lose it. "Your Pack will always be with you, now. Our love will always be with you."

Meghan nodded.

"Go," Danger whispered, pointing at the door. "Go and don’t look back."

Meghan turned away, lifted her head high, and opened the door.

Aletha buried her face in Sirius’ shoulder, unwilling or unable to watch her daughter walk out the door for what might be the last time.

Once the door was closed, Danger straightened up with an effort. "You three, come with me," she said to the other cubs. "We’re going to the cellar."

"We’ll see you in a minute," Remus said, sitting down at the table.

Danger nodded.

Harry was first down the stairs. Hermione, her face still tear-stained, followed, with Draco behind her, and Danger bringing up the rear. Once they were down, Danger led the way to the back entrance of the cellar, which was a set of stairs up to a pair of sloping doors built into the back of the house. The cubs and their friends liked to jump and slide on them.

Danger drew her wand and opened the doors, allowing in a blast of cold air, making the cubs shiver.

"Here are your instructions," she said, looking at the cubs she loved so well and forcing herself to see only the warriors under her command, waiting for her orders. "Listen and remember."

She closed her eyes and began to recite, feeling power building in her.

"Love that binds you, sisters, brothers,

"Help you understand the others.

"Seek the one whose cry you hear,

"For where she is, your prey is near.

"Pack of seven, Pack-friends two,

"Shall bring him unto justice true.

"And for to help you in this chase,

"I give you each a hunter’s face..."

Power suddenly streamed from her wand, given purpose and direction by her words. She heard three cries of surprise change, twist into something she did not recognize.

What have I done? her heart cried.

What you had to do, her mind replied coldly.

Danger fell to her knees, her strength giving out. "Run, my loves," she whispered. "Run and don’t look back."

She tried to open her eyes, to at least see them one last time, but got only a vague impression of grey.

So tired, she thought vaguely. I’m so tired.

Remus, she called silently. It’s done.

Good. Why have you been blocking me?

I had to. Danger curled up on her side, pulling her knees to her chest. Orders, you know. Promise me something?

Anything, love.

Don’t forget to call me home. Otherwise I won’t know where to come back to.

I don’t understand.

I know. She felt the inward pull and sighed. I knew it had to come. But I had hoped I might be able to explain first...

Danger, you’re talking as if you’re going somewhere.

I am. I have to. And... if you don’t call me... I might not be able to come back...

Might not be able to?

Don’t forget...


Love you...


Danger slipped away, falling, flying, she didn’t know which, through whirls of color and sound, and starting to cry, as she heard her love calling her name, crying out for her, and knew he couldn’t hear her answering him...


Sirius blinked and put a hand to his chest. "That’s odd. This thing just got cold."

"Mine too," Aletha said, touching her chain. "Do you think it means something?"

"No," Remus whispered from across the table.

"No, you don’t think it means something?"

"No!" He sprang up, knocking his chair over, and Disapparated before it hit the floor.

The Blacks looked at each other in confusion.

Then, from the cellar, they heard a cry like the howl of a wounded animal. Like a wounded wolf.


Sirius Apparated directly to the cellar, Aletha right behind him. They both froze at the sight that met them there.

Remus knelt on the floor, holding Danger’s lax body to his chest. Snow from the open doors swirled around him, but he seemed not to notice. Hoarse sobs tore their way out of him as he rocked back and forth, cradling his wife like a baby against him.

"No," he was sobbing, over and over. "No, no, no. Danger." Her name was a wail. "You can’t leave me now. Not now. Please, not now."

Sirius drew his wand and closed the doors over his friend’s head. Aletha knelt beside Remus and gently took one of Danger’s hands in her own.

Remus looked up, as if just realizing that his friends were with him. "She’s gone," he half-whispered, his eyes filled with tears. And looking odd in some way, but Sirius couldn’t pinpoint it...

They were blue, Sirius realized with a shiver. Entirely blue, with no hint of brown. "She’s gone," he said. Oh Merlin, no...

"She’s gone," Remus repeated, his voice catching. "I can’t touch her. I can’t feel her mind at all. It’s as if she’s..."

"She’s not dead," Aletha said quickly. "She has a pulse, she’s warm, she’s breathing. She’s not dead, Remus. I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s not that."

"She said to call her," Remus said as if he hadn’t heard, staring at Danger’s face, relaxed as if in sleep. "To call her back. She told me to call her home. But how?" The last word was a cry of anguish. "How can I, if she can’t hear me?"

Sirius knelt behind his friend and placed a hand on his back. There was nothing he could say. Aletha brushed her fingers down her face and touched Remus’ cheek, offering him what small comfort she could in the way of the Pack.

They seemed to stay that way for a long time before the small pop of a well-accomplished Apparition drew Sirius’ attention. He turned, standing up as he did.

"Black," said a familiar growling voice. "It’s been a long time."

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