Living with Danger
Chapter 39: Open Doors
By Anne B. Walsh
Chapter 39: Open Doors
Aletha was furious with herself.
I’m supposed to be the level-headed one around here. I’m supposed to be the one everyone turns to when they need something. And I acted like a complete and total airhead.
Danger practically told me the cubs had to leave. Or at least that Meghan did. She asked me to write the note to the Weasleys, for heaven’s sake! How could I not have realized?
But somehow or other, it went completely over my head, and then when she told me straight out that we had to say goodbye, I made a big fuss and cried and acted like an idiot...
She was carefully ignoring the fact that most mothers, confronted with the stark fact of their children having to leave them, perhaps forever, would have been unabashedly hysterical. She couldn’t afford to be hysterical now. Being angry was better.
At the very least, it stopped her from having to think about the fact that her cubs were gone, and the rest of them were just waiting, waiting for...
A faint popping sound drew her attention, and Sirius’. He turned away from her and Remus to face the newcomer.
"Black," said Alastor Moody’s growling voice. "It’s been a long time."
"Moody," Sirius said neutrally. "So it has."
Moody regarded the tableau with his mismatched eyes and grunted. "Should have expected this, I suppose. Never did find you boys far from each other. And you, Freeman. How long’ve you been with this flying circus?"
"Eight and a half years," Aletha answered after a quick calculation. "Nine in April."
Another grunt. "Who’s the other one?"
"Her name is Danger," Sirius said. "She’s Remus’ wife."
"No. But we don’t know what happened to her."
Moody nodded. "Fine. That accounts for the adults. Where’s the children?"
"Gone," Remus said unexpectedly, hoarsely, still staring down at Danger. "They’re gone. All of them. You won’t find them. We sent them away."
"Nice try, Lupin, but it won’t work. We’ve been surrounding this place for five minutes. No one’s gone in or out in that time. One of our men did report tracks in the front lane, but they were covered by the time I got there. One set, he said, going straight out the door and up the road. Small tracks. Child-size."
"My daughter," Sirius said. "We sent her to a friend’s house to stay. She’s no part of this, please, just leave her alone."
"Fine. But our sources say you had four children living here, not just one. So where’s the other three?"
"Were these doors open when you got here?" Sirius asked, pointing at the overhead cellar doors.
"Just wondering. And no one left that way."
"No. We would’ve seen them. It’s snowing hard, but not that hard."
Aletha closed her eyes as a brief wave of fear swept her. Oh, God, Danger, what did you do with them?
Sirius sounded tired as he answered Moody. "We don’t know where the other children are. Danger brought them downstairs, and we found her like this a minute or two later."
"Long enough to kill them and hide the bodies, then," Moody said, his magical eye sweeping the cellar. "Or Vanish them."
Remus turned half-around, still holding Danger against him. "Don’t say that," he spat, his voice filled with grief and anger. "Danger loves the cubs as if they were her own, she wouldn’t, she couldn’t do that."
"You’d be amazed what people can do," Moody said levelly, turning to look at Sirius. "I was. Still am, for that matter. Don’t suppose you’d care to take a moment and explain."
"Will you believe me if I do?"
"Depends on what you say."
Sirius explained, keeping mention of Pettigrew’s Animagus abilities out of the picture, Aletha noticed. He made it sound instead as if Pettigrew had Apparated away from the scene of the crime. Which could have been another way it happened, I suppose. But you’d have to have iron control, Apparating’s never easy, and it gets harder when you’re worked up or scared...
Moody listened with skepticism plain on his scarred face.
"Your turn," Sirius said after he’d finished. "You’re retired. What are you doing here — and why are you talking to us instead of tying us up and bringing us in?"
"Second question first — because Dumbledore asked me to. Flooed over to the Ministry and caught me just as I was leaving. Told me I could save myself time and trouble if I went in first and alone. As usual, he was right. Someday I’ll figure out how he does that. As to the first, I had my name down for your case before I retired, Black, and they called me up when they got their first real lead on you in seven years. And here we are."
"Yes. Here we are."
"So why don’t you get your wand out, nice and slow, with your right hand."
Sirius gave a small smile. "Should’ve known you’d remember that about me." He slowly drew his wand out and extended the grip end to Moody.
"Remembering things like that keeps me alive," Moody growled, pocketing the wand. "You too, Freeman. Use your off hand, and take it slow."
Aletha disarmed herself, then rose and joined Sirius behind Moody, who stumped forward and held out his hand to Remus. "Your turn, Lupin," he said, almost gently. "Hers, too." He indicated Danger.
Remus pulled out his own wand awkwardly and handed it over. He slid his hand into Danger’s pocket, then frowned. "She doesn’t have it."
"Probably because she was using it," Moody said grimly.
Aletha stifled a gasp.
"There’s lots of things you can do with a wand," Sirius said soothingly, half to her, half to Moody.
Moody’s blue eye whirled in its socket. "You’re sitting on it, Lupin," he said with a trace of humor. "Move."
Remus moved to one side, and Moody Summoned Danger’s wand with his own. "I assume this means you’re planning to come quietly," he said, turning back to face Sirius.
Sirius shrugged. "We wouldn’t get far if we ran," he said. "Danger’s unconscious, and tonight’s full moon."
Moody looked at him searchingly. "Something strange about you, Black," he said slowly. "Are you telling me it never even crossed your mind to go alone?"
"Would you have arrested everyone else if I hadn’t been here?" Sirius countered.
"Then there’s no point in me running. Is there?"
"If Dumbledore hadn’t intervened, there would have been," Moody said grimly. "The original plan was to send dementors in. With orders to Kiss you if they found you."
Aletha found herself in front of Sirius, with no recollection of moving. It was stupid and pointless, given that he was the taller of the two, but memories of that July day in London kept sweeping through her, and she couldn’t stop shivering. And I don’t have my wand now, none of us do, we’re helpless, we can’t do anything...
If you don’t have anything helpful to say, shut up, she told her fears firmly.
"Should I be flattered that I’m so terribly dangerous as all that?" Sirius asked lightly, sliding his arm around Aletha and holding her gently against him.
"I see that thing you call your sense of humor is still intact," said Moody dryly.
"To my friends’ sorrow, yes."
Moody seemed about to smile, but instead he scowled. "Enough chit-chat," he said decisively. "Upstairs, all of you. Lupin, I’ll take the woman."
"No," Remus said roughly. "She’s mine, I’ll take her."
"Don’t be stupid, you’ll hurt yourself. Let me make a stretcher for her."
"No," Remus said with finality, lifting Danger into his arms. Aletha marveled, in the part of her mind that wasn’t screaming in terror, that Remus could still sound authoritative, even worried sick about his wife, and even to someone who had a wand pointed at him.
And Moody, to her further astonishment (and, quite possibly, his), responded to that authority, stepping back and letting Remus carry Danger up the cellar stairs and into the kitchen. Aletha followed him, Sirius her, and Moody finished the procession, his wand never wavering from Sirius’ back.
It’s like a nightmare. Absolutely logical, except for the detail of being completely insane. We don’t deserve this, none of us do, we haven’t done anything!
Fear threatened to swamp her. Quickly, Aletha summoned anger to force it down. It must have worked — the young Auror who was first in from the yard in response to the green sparks Moody sent out the kitchen window looked absolutely terrified when he saw her face.
That’s right. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
I’m a Pack-mother. Threaten my cubs and die.
She stared down at her hands. Oh, my little Pearl, go quickly, and don’t look back...
Anger didn’t work as well against tears.
Molly Weasley looked up as a knock sounded at the kitchen door of the Burrow. She got quickly to her feet and hurried into the kitchen. "Meghan, good heavens," she said, opening the door. "Come in, out of the snow. Why on earth didn’t you Floo over?" She took the girl’s bag and looked behind her. "Where’s Harry, where’s Drake and Neenie? It’s not like you to come alone."
"My mum said not to Floo," said Meghan, her voice sounding oddly strained. "She sent you this." She extended a small envelope. Molly took it and opened it, vaguely aware of children arriving from various corners of the house, drawn by some innate trouble sense her brood seemed to have...
We’ve been called away unexpectedly, and we can’t take Meghan with us. I’m afraid I can’t explain, it being a matter of some delicacy, but it’s also fairly urgent. By the time you get this, we’ll almost certainly have left. I’m terribly sorry to simply foist her off on you like this, but we truly didn’t have anywhere else to send her. She has the key to the Black vault, number 711, on the chain she’s wearing, to defray expenses in case we’re gone longer than we expect. Once again, our apologies, and we’ll be back for her as soon as we possibly can.
Molly stared at the note. Strange. Very strange. Where on earth could they be going that they can take all the other children, but not Meghan?
"Where’s everybody else?" Ron asked, and Molly was pulled out of her thoughts.
"They’re all gone," Meghan said in that same strange voice, the one that sounded too old for her years. "I’m all alone now." Her eyes were beginning to fill. "I’ve never been all alone before."
"You’re not all alone," Luna said matter-of-factly, drawing Meghan’s attention. "We’re here."
Ginny picked up Meghan’s bag from where Molly had slung it over the back of a chair. "Is she staying overnight, Mum?" she asked.
"Yes, she is," Molly said.
"Let’s go up to my room, then," Ginny said, holding out a hand to the younger girl. "You’ll sleep in with me. We can talk up there."
Meghan nodded and took the offered hand, and they went up the stairs after Luna. Ron lingered in the kitchen for a moment, then followed them.
Molly opened the note and read it over again. A vault key. But they know our feelings about charity. They would only send us money if they thought they might be gone a very long time.
She shook her head, puzzling over the mystery that was the Blacks.
Never mind now. There’s work to do. An extra bed to set up, and an extra place at the table, and it’s two days to Christmas, if she’s staying for the holiday we’ll have to get her some presents somehow...
Having something to fuss over, as always, made her feel better.
Meghan sat with her face in her hands in Ginny’s room as Ginny and Luna decided where to put her things, trying her hardest not to cry.
Mama Letha. Dadfoot. Moony. Danger. Neenie. Draco. Harry. Their faces floated through her mind, their voices rang in her ears. She wanted them. She wanted them back so much.
She had, literally, never been alone. Every moment of her life that she could remember had been spent with her Pack. The only time she even knew about that she had been alone was when the Pack had been taken by Lucius Malfoy, and even then Dobby had taken care of her. And that hadn’t lasted long. Only a few hours.
And I was too little to know.
Why couldn’t I go with the others? Because I’m too little?
Fury filled her at the very thought. Ever since she had been big enough to understand what the difference was between herself and the other cubs, she had resented it. Why couldn’t Dadfoot and Mama Letha have had the common courtesy to get married when Harry’s dad and mum had, and have her at the same time as Harry?
Then we’d all be the same age. Then I could go to Hogwarts with them. As it is, I have to stay home three years — three years — after they go. That’s almost half my life!
Meghan was very like her mother in many ways. One of them was the way in which they dealt with fear.
Meghan, though, was much younger, and had had much less practice in keeping her fear at bay.
If the others ever go to Hogwarts, her fear whined in her ear. If we ever see each other again.
Harry, she wailed silently. Neenie. Draco. I want you, I want you, I want you here, I want you now...
Her thoughts disintegrated into mental sobs, and she fought with all her might to keep them purely mental, not to cry in front of Ginny and Luna and Ron...
The cubs ran in silence.
Characteristically, Neenie was the first to break it. What are we going to do now? she asked, shivering as she ran and limping slightly. I’m cold and I’m getting tired.
We need to find somewhere to get inside before we freeze, Draco said. Harry? Where are we going?
Why are you asking me?
Neenie sighed. Because you’re the alpha now, she said as if it should have been obvious.
What? Harry skidded to a halt and stared at his sister, her form barely visible through the blowing snow. I’m not the alpha. Moony is.
But he’s not here, Draco said, sounding like it hurt him to say. And we might never see him again. We might never see any of the Pack again.
We are the Pack now, Neenie said with a slight quiver in her voice. And you’re the alpha, Harry.
Why me? Why not Draco? He’s older.
Oh, by five days, big deal! Look, Harry, I wouldn’t make a good alpha. I make a good beta, like Padfoot does. Not an alpha. You’re the alpha now. You have to be.
Why? Harry demanded again.
Neenie looked at him beseechingly. Because we don’t know what to do, she said very softly. We’re scared.
Yeah, well, so am I, Harry said roughly.
But you’ll find a way to work around it. You always do. You can figure out what to do. We can’t. We need someone to tell us.
Please, Harry, Draco said quietly. We really need you.
Harry sighed. Fine. All right. I’m the alpha. And my first decision is that we need to get inside. We’re all going to freeze out here if we don’t.
I thought I said that, Draco grumbled.
You made me the alpha. That means all the good ideas get to be mine too.
Is it too late to change my mind?
Neenie, what was that poem Danger said? That might tell us where to go or what to do.
Neenie tipped her head back, thinking. "Love that binds you, sisters, brothers, help you understand the others. Seek the one whose cry you hear..."
Wait! Draco said suddenly.
I thought I heard something. Listen.
The cubs were silent.
All I hear is the wind, Harry said finally.
It wasn’t an outside sound. It was like one of you said something, but it didn’t sound like a word.
What did it sound like?
Like... someone crying.
But none of us are crying, Neenie said in bewilderment.
So we have to go find out who is, Draco said. "Seek the one whose cry you hear."
And I know who it is, Harry said with the sound of his grin in his voice as the answer came to him.
Who? the others asked simultaneously.
Meghan, Harry crooned in the way he used to do when Meghan was a tiny baby trying to grab his hair. Little Pearl-girl, can you hear me?
Meghan, cooed a voice she knew. Little Pearl-girl, can you hear me?
Her head jerked up. "Harry?" she whispered.
"What?" Ginny said, turning to her.
"Nothing." Meghan bit her lip, fighting her tears even harder. I just imagined it, it was just my imagination, it wasn’t real, it can’t have been real...
I just imagined it, Meghan’s voice whimpered in their minds. It was just my imagination, it wasn’t real, it can’t have been real...
No, it’s real, Neenie answered quickly. It’s like Moony and Danger have. Danger gave it to us. Meghan, where are you?
I’m at the Burrow. Where else would I be?
I didn’t know, maybe you got lost.
I did not get lost. When did I ever get lost just going to the Burrow? Meghan’s voice had lost all trace of tears and become indignant.
Stop it, Harry said. Meghan, stay there. We’ll come to you. Come on, Draco, Neenie, let’s go.
The three cubs raced along the snowy road. They knew where to go, and they were going to get there in record time.
After all, their sister was waiting at the end of the road.
Ron shook his head in bewilderment. Meghan had been all calm when she first arrived at the Burrow. Then she had cried when she got upstairs. Then, for a moment, she had looked totally shocked, then almost mad about something, and now she was smiling and happy and playing Exploding Snap with them at the kitchen table like nothing was wrong.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand girls.
Albus Dumbledore descended the staircases of Hogwarts, rehearsing what he was going to say. He was unaccountably nervous.
Perhaps because I know my actions could have an enormous effect on the lives and happiness of people I have come to care about. To care a great deal about.
It may have been a mistake to become so involved in the life of the Pack. This day was almost inevitable. And almost every outcome for it that I can anticipate is bad...
But not every consequence of it is inescapable. Not if a certain person will cooperate.
And it may be within my power to persuade him to that cooperation...
He knocked at the door.
"Enter," called the man’s voice.
"Good afternoon, Severus, are you busy?"
Yes, of course I am busy. I am always busy. That question means he has something he wants me to do. "Not particularly, Headmaster. Do come in."
"Thank you." Dumbledore closed the door behind him. "Severus, I have a favor I wish to ask of you."
I knew it. "What sort of favor?"
"A potion I would like you to brew, if you have the time, and if you are so inclined. It would be needed by three-thirty this afternoon, if you could do so."
Snape checked the clock on the corner of his desk. It was just after twelve-thirty. I can brew most common potions in two hours or less, unless they specifically need a longer simmering time. "What sort of potion?"
Dumbledore met his eyes. "The Wolfsbane Potion."
Snape allowed his eyebrows to rise. "Indeed." That is not a common potion at all. In fact, I doubt there are ten wizards in England who could brew it correctly. Or in under three hours.
However, I have no doubt that I can.
But will I?
"A... mutual acquaintance of ours finds himself in need, Severus. You could help him greatly, if you so desired. I cannot and will not force you to do this." Dumbledore left the sentence hanging.
But it would please him.
And it would put Lupin and his little family in my debt.
On the other hand, why should I exert myself to help him, given the manner in which we last parted?
"Did our mutual acquaintance desire you to ask me for this?"
"He did not. I am acting purely on my own initiative here. He plans to pass this night without aid. It will tax his strength greatly. Strength which he will need for tomorrow."
Dumbledore sighed. "It will be common knowledge soon enough, and your position as Pack-friend entitles you to know."
I would gladly give up position and knowledge to be able to drop that ridiculous title. Still, Snape listened. Knowledge was knowledge, no matter how come by.
"The adults of the Pack have been arrested. Their trial is tomorrow. They will be spending tonight in the Ministry holding cells."
"Not in Azkaban," Snape said, allowing just a hint of his disappointment to show.
"No. Not in Azkaban."
"And you wish me to ease Lupin’s night in prison," Snape said, making up his mind. Pack-friend indeed. You forced me to become such a thing, old man, and I will not dance to your piping any longer. "No. I will not."
Dumbledore’s eyes acquired the quiet sadness that so daunted most people. Snape carefully Occluded his mind and met the Headmaster’s eyes straight on. I am no puppet of yours, and no friend of Lupin’s or Black’s. Lupin can kill himself tonight for all I care.
Or, even better, kill Black.
"As you wish, Severus." The Headmaster rose and left.
Snape closed his eyes and ran through his itinerary for the Christmas holiday. I have nothing tomorrow that cannot be put off. And if I did, I suspect I would put it off anyway.
Tomorrow, I will see Black and Lupin humiliated at last.
He wondered why that did not make him as happy as it should.
"Well, your bed’s all made up, Meghan, love," Molly Weasley said, bustling into the kitchen where the children were sitting at the table playing cards, "and we’re having chicken for dinner, and I know you like that."
"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley," Meghan said, smiling shyly.
She is such a well-mannered child. And so sweet. It might not be so terrible if her family never did return...
Shame on you, Molly. The girl would be devastated if her family didn’t come back. And rightly so. I’ve never seen so devoted a family. The adults all dote on the children, and the children don’t take nearly as much advantage of that as I would have expected them to...
There was a scratching sound at the door.
"What on earth?"
A pitiful whimper joined it. Then another, and a low yowl.
"It sounds like animals," Luna said. "Like a dog and a cat that want to come inside."
"Well, I wouldn’t leave anything outside on a day like this," Molly said with a glance at the window. The snow was still blowing past thickly. "Let me see what it is..."
She pulled the door open just a fraction. Two small things brushed by her ankles, and Meghan let out a glad cry. Molly turned to look.
Meghan was on her knees on the floor, brushing snow from the coats of a half-grown gray kitten and a white fox kit of similar size.
Odd to see a cat and a fox together...
Something brushed Molly’s fingers. She looked down.
A large, dark-grey — dog? — looked up at her hopefully.
"Do you belong with them?" she asked it. "All right, come along." She opened the door enough for it to pass by her, which it did, then pulled out her wand and conjured towels. "Dry them off," she said to the three staring children. "Come on, don’t just sit there, if we don’t get them dry they’ll shake all over the kitchen, and you’ll have to clean it up..."
Ron and Ginny grabbed towels immediately. Ginny went to work on the dog — no, it was almost certainly a wolf, now that Molly got a good look at it — and Meghan came to help her. Ron approached the cat gingerly, but seemed to gain heart when it started purring as soon as the towel touched it.
Luna took the last towel from Molly and gently wrapped up the fox, lifting it from the floor and carrying it over to the fire. "Mrs. Weasley, do you have any ointment?" she said. "Its paw is hurt."
The wolf whimpered and lifted his front left paw. "Aw, yours is too," Ginny said. "Mum, where do we keep the healing stuff?"
"I’ll get it," Molly said, glad to see her children showing compassion for the creatures.
Though what we’re to feed them I don’t know... but I couldn’t have left them out in the cold...
Luna looked carefully at the fox kit, now dry, with a bandaged paw, and curled in her lap. It looked back at her with eyes very like her own...
Eyes like mine?
She blinked slowly, allowing her eyes to drift out of focus, and thought hard about nothing. She had never been able to do this before, but ever since her mother had died, things had started appearing differently to her, as if she could see things now that she couldn’t before...
The fox seemed to disappear in a mist. Out of the mist, stepped a figure. A human figure. A boy. He raised his head, and Luna looked into warm grey eyes, the fox kit’s eyes, familiar eyes...
"Meghan?" Luna asked quietly. "Are these animals your family?"
Meghan, who had the wolf lying next to her and the cat in her lap, stiffened.
"Her family?" Ron asked, sounding bewildered. "How could they be her family?"
"If they were transfigured," Ginny said. "But why would you think they were transfigured, Luna?"
"Are they?" Luna asked again, ignoring the Weasleys.
Meghan closed her eyes for a moment, then looked at Ron. "Is your room still soundproofed?" she asked.
Ron nodded. "Mum and Dad don’t want to hear me practicing in the mornings," he said. "Why?"
"I have to tell you a story," Meghan said. "And it has to be secret." She looked at Luna and took a deep breath. "Because yes. They are."