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Chapter 42: Debts and Deals

Danger awoke in light.

She lay in a patch of sunlight, on a smooth green lawn, by the edge of a very blue lake.

I know this place. I’ve been here before.

Or have I?

The place looked familiar, true, but as if she had seen a picture of it... a bad picture, dirty and discolored... and yet she knew she had been there, walked these grounds, skipped stones on this lake...

It’s Hogwarts. The castle should be... over there. And as she sat up and looked around, there the castle was, indeed, rising majestically into a sky as blue as the water of the lake, its stones gleaming in the sunlight...

Wait a minute. Something’s wrong here. It’s the middle of winter. Why is everything green and sunny?

She stood up, and discovered a few other odd things. She was wearing white, a gown made of flowing, filmy material and trimmed with lace. Her shoes were soft slippers, also white. She reached up to her hair and found it unbound, but surprisingly soft and submissive to her hands. Usually it had a mind of its own, springing out of whatever she tried to curtail it with.

An idea came to her. She pressed her foot down hard on the ground.

It recoiled ever so slightly under the pressure.

That explains a lot.

The place was a dream. Or something similar to a dream. At any rate, she wasn’t physically at Hogwarts, nor had she time-traveled into the middle of the summer.

"Wonder what I look like in this getup," she murmured. "Wish I had a mirror."

A full-length mirror materialized in front of her.

Of course. Dream rules. Get what you ask for. She scrutinized herself. Looks pretty good. I wonder what happens if I wish my hair blonde?

It abruptly was.

Danger studied her reflection. Nah, I look better brunette. She changed it back, then looked more closely at her face and frowned. Something’s wrong there.

She started at the bottom. Chin, no. Lips, no. Cheeks, no. Eyes — yes. Something’s the matter with my eyes...

But what it could be, she couldn’t imagine. The same as ever, frank and brown, her reflection’s eyes met hers in the mirror without shame or guilt...

Brown. All brown. No blue in them.


Danger whirled away from the mirror, searching her mind. The place in it usually filled by the dryly humorous and reliable presence of her husband, her love, her best friend, was echoingly, painfully empty.

No. This can’t be happening.

But she knew it was.

The last part of the instructions. After they told me what to say to the cubs. "You will then leave your home and your people behind you and come to be judged. You will be allowed no communication with those you leave behind. They must undergo their testing separately, as you must undergo yours."

And I never stopped to think that it included our connection...

God, he must be frantic, he’ll think I’m dead, I have to go back...

A sound like a bark, from the grass near her feet, drew her attention.

A black-and-white creature looked up at her with sharp, intelligent, black eyes. When it saw that it had her attention, it began deliberately to walk in the direction of the castle.

"Do I follow you?"

The animal nodded.

"All right." Danger vanished the mirror by willing it gone and followed the badger toward the castle. They had only gone a few yards before they were joined by another creature, this one long and thin and sinuous, who wound across their path in front of them and made Danger scream before she realized what it was.

"I’m sorry..." She pressed a hand to her racing heart and laughed weakly. "I wasn’t expecting you. But I should have been, shouldn’t I?"

The snake nodded, making a sound which Danger was sure Harry would have said was laughter. It fell into step (or slither) beside her.

She was more prepared for the scream which echoed out of the sky above her, and lifted her arm to receive the great bird quite calmly. "Oh, you are a beauty," she said admiringly, stroking the eagle’s plumage. "And not nearly as heavy as I would have expected. But I suppose that’s more of the dream working."

The bird bobbed its head yes.

As they approached the castle, Danger was, by now, completely unsurprised to see the majestic form which rose up to meet them. She bowed slightly, and was gratified when the big cat bowed back.

Escorted by lion, eagle, badger, and serpent, she ascended the steps of Hogwarts and passed through the great doors, which opened before her and closed behind her, like magic.

Which is, of course, what it is.

They entered the empty Great Hall. Danger glanced up, as she always did, to see the enchanted ceiling, today so incredibly blue, with the occasional fluffy white cloud scudding past.

Everything’s so bright, so clear and crisp. Usually dreams are less real than reality.

The eagle took wing, circling the Hall once, then folded its wings and swooped down, past Danger, who dodged almost involuntarily, and through a small door to one side of the teachers’ dais. The badger and the snake followed it in.

"I go in there?" she asked the lion, who nodded solemnly.

She took a deep breath and stepped forward, towards the chamber. One step. Two. Three.

She could see inside now. There were people in there. Men and women both, dressed in bright colors.

Four. Five. Six.

They were all waiting for something — for her...

Seven. Eight. Nine.

Oh God, don’t let me pass out now...

Ten. She was inside.

Three walls of the small room were lined with chairs — three to her left, three to her right, and four directly in front of her. Every chair was occupied, and every occupant was looking closely at her.

Am I blushing? I have to be blushing. I know I’m blushing, I can feel it...

"Gertrude Kelly Granger, daughter of David, daughter of Rose, we bid you welcome," said a man who sat almost directly in front of her, rising.

He looked rather like an old lion. There were streaks of grey in his mane of tawny hair and his bushy eyebrows; he had keen yellowish eyes behind a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles and (she noticed as he came forward and bowed to her) a certain rangy, loping grace even though he walked with a slight limp. His robes were red and fit him well, looking neither new enough to be uncomfortable nor old enough to be shabby.

She curtsied to him. "I thank you, good sir," she said, feeling the language of Sirius’ period stories coming almost naturally to her after six years of proofreading them for him. "You seem to know quite well who I am. May I in return know who you are, and why you have called me here?"

It was not quite a demand. The man smiled as a ripple went through the room, the sounds of people murmuring to their neighbors or readjusting themselves in their seats. "Direct — one might even say blunt — yet polite. Both are valued among us. You may know these things. Will you sit?" His wave created a chair behind her.

"I will." No sense standing all day. She seated herself and, under pretense of adjusting her skirts, had a good look around the room.

Besides the man who had spoken to her, there were two others dressed in red, another man, somewhat younger, and a woman, who both shared the tawny hair of the older man. The man reminded her slightly of Sirius — he had the same look of being relaxed, no matter what posture he was in. The woman redoubled her feeling of familiarity, for she had Aletha’s regal bearing and poise.

They sat next to a veritable gaggle of women in blue, all of whom were probably somehow related, if one could judge by their faces. The oldest of them, if her snow-white hair was any indicator, wore a soothing azure. The others ranged from a frail-seeming blonde woman in the palest and softest sky-blue imaginable, through a redhead in the homey color of faded blue jeans, into a dark-haired woman in stern but not unapproachable navy.

On the opposite wall sat a young man and an older woman, both brown-haired (though the woman’s was turning silver in places) and wearing a sunny yellow. They looked like people one could confide in, people whose word was their bond, and as Danger looked more closely, she spotted flecks of dirt under the woman’s fingernails, and a small greenish stain on the man’s right hand.

A black-haired man, no longer quite young but certainly not old, sat beside them, unique in his robes of grass-green. His face was confident and appraising, and he was the only one of the ten to have noticed that she was looking at them. His eyes, green as his robes, met hers frankly, and she blushed again and sat up quickly, facing the man in red who had spoken to her.

"You wished to know who we are, and what our business may be with you," he said, and Danger thought suddenly of Sirius and Narcissa, using formal speech to make a difficult matter easier to handle. "You know of three of us already."

He indicated himself, the white-haired woman in blue, and the older woman in yellow, both of whom rose and came to stand beside him, blue, red, and yellow somehow harmonizing rather than clashing.

"We are the Founders of Hogwarts."

Danger closed her mouth quickly, before she drooled on her dress. "But..." she managed to articulate.

"Let me guess," said the woman in yellow, who was surely Helga Hufflepuff. "We’re dead."

Danger nodded weakly.

"We did die, it is true," said the other woman — Rowena Ravenclaw, she must be. "But after our deaths, we chose — "

"We were chosen," Hufflepuff interrupted.

"We accepted being chosen," the man corrected further — the man who must, she realized, be Godric Gryffindor. "To remain close to the world we once dwelt in, and help to direct its day-to-day activities."

"These others are our children," Ravenclaw said, gesturing behind her at the three seated women — her daughters, Danger recalled. "They too were offered this choice, and one and all they joined us in it."

Danger turned to look at the man in green. He rose. "I am, as you may have guessed, the so-called ‘good’ son of Salazar Slytherin," he said with a trace of irony in his voice. "He and my brother Matthias quarreled with the other Founders about the subject of purity of blood — the story has survived to your day, I believe."

"It has," Danger said, surprised by the steadiness of her voice. "What has not survived is your name. If I may make so bold as to ask."

"Alexander. I alone, from the three Slytherin men who swore the oath, remain true to my given word. My father and brother broke their vows and deserted our company, and now they will never find rest, by day or by night, in life or in death." It had the sound of a ritual speech to it.

Abruptly Danger realized where she had heard it before. "The oath — you have sworn an oath to one another — "

"My hand in yours," Gryffindor said, extending his hands to the man and woman in red, who must be his son and daughter.

"My wand with yours," the rest of the company joined in, with Alexander and the darkest Ravenclaw daughter lifting their hands to one another, since they could not reach to hold them.

"My life for yours." The line seemed to hold a bitter double meaning for Alexander, as his face twisted into a wry smile.

"Now and always." The words rang in the chamber, seeming to echo far past the point they should have.

"None who have not sworn this oath may enter this castle," Gryffindor said, looking back at Danger. "We, the four Founders, so swore to one another before embarking upon our great task — the building of a school of magic. These, our children, so swore to one another and to us when they were of age and could choose to do so or not. May I make known to you my son, Paul, and my daughter, Maura."

Danger returned their half-bows.

"May I make known to you my son, Adam," said Hufflepuff, and Danger bowed to him as well.

"My daughters," Ravenclaw said, and each rose and curtsied as her mother spoke her name. "Sophia." The frail-seeming blonde. "Brenna." The dark-haired woman. "Margaret." The redhead.

"I’m still amazed that I was allowed to be part of this," Margaret said frankly, remaining standing where her sisters had sat down. "You may not know this, but I was a Squib. No magic at all. I married a Muggle, and none of our children turned out magic. I’ve always wondered if any of my later descendants did. You wouldn’t know, would you?"

Danger shook her head regretfully. "They say the records from your time are inconsistent," she said. "So no one can even tell if there are any descendants left, from any of the Founders, much less sort out who’s descended from whom."

"Well, there’s one sure way to tell," Paul Gryffindor said. "The family talents." He snapped his fingers, and was abruptly holding a handful of fire. "Know anyone who can do this?"

"Paul!" Maura Gryffindor snapped. "Forgive my brother," she said to Danger. "He’s still not entirely housetrained, even after all these years."

"I wish Salazar and Matthias hadn’t left," Adam Hufflepuff said ruefully, looking around the room. "Without them, we’re outnumbered."

"If we could return to the subject at hand," Gryffindor said, in a mild-seeming voice that nonetheless cut through the indignant feminine chatter at Adam’s remark. "We are now known to one another, Gertrude Granger. We shall address the second half of your question. Our business with you."

Danger sat up straighter.

"You must know that you are unique among witches and wizards. You have talents seldom, if ever, seen before. Your ability to tell the future or see the truth of the present or past in your dreams. Your ability to ‘tame’ a werewolf at his time of change, with the related mind connection between you and him. And your ability to do one otherwise impossible act which must be accomplished to save one whom you love."

"I do know this," Danger answered warily.

"We are responsible for these abilities."

The chamber was utterly silent. The lion, which lay beside Danger, lifted its head at the unusual lack of sound. The eagle, perched on the back of her chair, mantled its wings uneasily. The badger stirred beneath her, and the snake wound its way up the leg and onto the arm of the chair.

Automatically, Danger stroked the smooth scales. She was still trying to comprehend what Gryffindor had said to her. Responsible for my abilities? But I got my magic when...

"Does this mean that you are responsible for the deaths of my parents?" she asked in a deadly quiet voice.

"No." She had never heard something so definitely negated in her life. "We were not. Your magic, awakened by that most unfortunate happening, was wild and without form. We gave it form and definition. That is all."

Some of Danger’s tension left her. But not all, by a long shot. So why are they telling me this?

"I suppose I should thank you," she said tentatively. "You made my life, as it is, possible. I would probably never have started babysitting Harry if I hadn’t recognized him from my dreams. I would certainly never have met Remus. Sirius would still be in Azkaban — Draco would still be a Malfoy — Meghan wouldn’t even exist — and I don’t know what Aletha would have done. So thank you. From all of us."

"Your thanks are received and appreciated," Gryffindor said, with what looked like an approving smile. "And in recompense, we will show you something you have long wanted to see."

He gestured, and an area of the air before her turned opaque, first black, then silver, like a mirror. An image came into being there — the kitchen of the Burrow, Danger realized after a confused moment.

"Mum!" she heard a girl’s voice shout. Ginny. "Mum, where are you?"

"I’m in the living room," Molly Weasley’s voice answered. "Why?"

"I want to show you something!" Ginny came hurtling down the stairs, closely followed by a half-grown, dark grey wolf and a kitten on the verge of being called cat, a lighter shade of grey than the wolf. "Look, they do tricks!"

The scene froze. "Do you know them?" Ravenclaw asked gently.

"Who? The girl? I know her, she’s our neighbor..."

"The animals," Hufflepuff said. "Do you recognize your own work?"

"My work?" Danger looked again at the creatures, frozen in their places. "Does this thing move around? I mean, the scene? Can I see it from another angle?"

"Of course," Gryffindor said. "Direct it with your mind."

I want to see the wolf’s face, Danger thought towards the viewer, which obediently angled around to give her a look.

One look was all she needed. There was no mistaking those eyes.

"Harry," she said flatly. "And that would make the kitten Hermione — it’s Remus’ name for her, I should have realized — and is there a fox with them, by any chance?"

"How interesting that you should ask that," Ravenclaw said with a smile as the scene reanimated and Ginny charged through the kitchen, wolf and cat in tow.

"Watch, they play chase, and then they turn around and do it the other way," Ginny was saying excitedly. "And then the cat rides on the wolf..."

Another person came cautiously down the stairs, peering around. "Meghan," Danger said in relief. "She made it all right."

Meghan turned and waved at someone up the stairs. Luna Lovegood and a small white fox appeared, hurrying across the kitchen and to the outer door, stopping only long enough for Luna to don cloak and boots before exiting the house. "And that’s Draco," Danger said, shaking her head in disbelief. "Lord, when I do magic, I really do magic, don’t I?"

Ron Weasley was the next into the kitchen. He carried a wooden cage. Inside the cage was something small and gray and furry...

"Is that a rat?" Danger asked cautiously.

"Yes," Gryffindor said in a strange voice. Danger paused the scene and looked up at him. He looked... not angry, not quite, she thought. Possibly... annoyed? Put out?

"Have I done something?"

"No, not at all. It’s what you didn’t do."

"I’m sorry?"

"Do you remember the first dream you ever had?" Hufflepuff asked.

"My first true-dream? The poem? I think so. ‘Black to red and red to brown shall truly bring the darkness down. Find the red and find the rat whose cunning plot...’"

Danger stopped and looked back at the viewer.

"Find the red." And we thought it might mean red hair. And then we didn’t think about it any more. Not even when we moved practically next door to a notoriously red-haired family...

"How stupid should I be feeling right now?" she asked in a small voice.

"Very," Gryffindor said in thunderous tones that would have been much more impressive if Danger hadn’t had the impression he was trying not to laugh. "Three years — three years — you’ve been living practically on top of the man..."

"There’s a prohibition on us telling you things more than once in your dreams," Ravenclaw said. "So we couldn’t remind you of it. Luckily for you, your cubs are quite perceptive."

Danger restarted the scene. Ron handed the cage to Meghan, reached up onto the mantelpiece for a flowerpot, and removed two handfuls of glittering powder from it. He threw one handful directly into the fire, turning the flames green. "Hogwarts kitchens," Meghan said in hushed tones as she stepped into the fire, and the flames whirled her out of sight.

Ron pulled a tattered piece of parchment from his pocket and studied it. After a moment, he nodded in satisfaction, tucked it away again, and tossed in his own handful of Floo powder. "Hogwarts kitchens," he said, and disappeared in the green flames.

"They seek your friend Hagrid," Hufflepuff said as the viewer vanished. "He will help them. They plan to present the rat as evidence at the trial tomorrow."

"Sirius’ trial is tomorrow?" Danger said, coming back to her present reality with a jump. "I have to get back — they’ll need me — "

"That need may go unfulfilled," Ravenclaw said, a trifle frostily, Danger thought.

"What? Why?"

"As has been stated, the present form of your magic owes its life to us," Hufflepuff said. "But there is another debt owing between us. On the night of 12 April, 1982, you and your husband invoked a curse upon a pair of Muggles. Do you recall doing so?"

Danger didn’t even have to think about it. "Yes, of course — the night we rescued Harry, the night we cursed the Dursleys—"

"The Threefold Curse of the Righteous," Gryffindor said. "And it took its desired effect. It is an immensely powerful piece of magic. Did it ever cross your mind that some recompense might be required?"

"Recompense?" Danger repeated blankly.

"It’s quite a job, fouling up someone’s life that consistently," said Sophia Ravenclaw. "And doing it so they don’t realize they’ve been cursed — that takes finesse. We’ve had to spend an awful lot of time on those two over the past several years. You do owe us."

Danger stared at the blonde woman, an awful fear growing in her. "What, exactly, do I owe you?"

"You mean, in what coin can you pay us back?" asked Brenna, the darkest of the Ravenclaw sisters.

Danger nodded.

"Oh, I don’t know. A lifetime of service, perhaps." Brenna smiled at Danger’s astounded face. "You knit, I understand."


"Then you’re used to handling yarn and thread. You could help me with my spinning."

"Spinning." Danger looked at Sophia and Margaret. "Which of you measures and which one cuts?"

"I measure," Sophia said with an approving smile. "Margaret cuts. And I see someone knows her mythology."

"This is beside the point," Gryffindor said. "The point is, you do owe us a great deal, Madame Granger. Brenna is quite accurate — you invoked the Curse to last for the lives of its victims, so I would say you owe us your own life in recompense."

"You wouldn’t die, of course," Alexander put in, leaning forward. "You’d simply live out your life here. It’s a very pleasant place, nothing to harm you or frighten you, and work that truly means something. And when you die, if you’ve done well, you might be offered the choice to remain among us — you have sworn the oath, after all, even if you didn’t quite understand what it meant at the time."

Danger swallowed hard against a feeling of impending panic. I have to think. I have to think.

What can I possibly offer them instead of my life?

"What if I asked you to lift the Curse?" she said in desperation, looking at Gryffindor. "Would that affect how much I owe you?"

"It might," Gryffindor said slowly. "It might. Would you ask this?"

"I would. Even if it does not affect my debt." Danger spoke at a measured pace, giving her racing thoughts time to collect themselves. "The Curse has been in effect on Vernon and Petunia Dursley for nearly nine years. That is at least ten times as long as my Pack-son suffered under their care. It is enough, and past enough. I do ask that the Curse be lifted from them. So I speak, so I intend."

"And so it shall be done," Gryffindor said, looking thoughtful.

"Madame Granger, you place us in a dilemma," Hufflepuff said with a wry smile. "The fact is that with the Curse gone, your debt is diminished by a significant amount. By almost half, in fact."

"But half of it remains," Maura Gryffindor said. "And that half must be paid."

"So we offer you a choice," Ravenclaw said smoothly. "This choice. Listen well. You may return to your world and your people, bereft of those unusual talents of magic which were spoken of earlier — your dreams, your wild abilities, and your, what do you call it, your werewolf taming. You will, of course, retain the common magical power which is used by all wand-wielders. You will live out your life with no further intervention from us beyond that which is normal to the lives of all those who have magic in the land of Britain."

"Or," Hufflepuff said, "you could stay here, and send your magic back."

Danger stared at the yellow-robed woman. "I don’t understand."

"Your dreams warn your family, your Pack, of danger — no pun intended, dear — do they not? If you choose to send your magic back, they will always be warned of approaching peril in time to avoid or deflect it. Your wild magic holds them safe against unexpected disasters — something will always happen to avert those disasters from them. And your werewolf taming — well, that’s easy. Your Remus will simply no longer be a werewolf."

"If you chose this course, your Pack-brother’s name would be cleared right away," Paul said. "He and the rest of your Pack would be home and safe tonight."

"Your cubs would grow happy and healthy," Maura said.

"Your friends would prosper, and grow in friendship for one another," said Adam.

"Their children would be many," said Brenna.

"Their lives would be long," Sophia said.

"Their deaths would be painless," said Margaret.

"And they wouldn’t miss you," said Alexander quietly. "No one would grieve for you. They would either know you were somewhere better, or simply forget about you altogether."

"So the choice lies before you now," Gryffindor concluded. "To give up either your life, or your magic. The decision is yours, and yours alone, to make."

"May I have some time to think?" Danger asked in a voice she hardly recognized as her own.

"Of course. All the time you wish."

"And... may I be alone for it?"

"You may." Gryffindor clapped his hands once. Danger was abruptly outside, by the lake again, seated on a boulder instead of the chair.

She stared out over the lake, shivering, although the day was warm.

My life, or my magic.

Go back, and watch my love’s pain every month — or stay, and know that he will never hurt again.

Go back, and fight for my brother’s freedom — or stay, and by that action make him free.

Go back, and dry my sister’s tears — or stay, and ensure she never sheds them.

Go back, and battle over the custody of the cubs — or stay, and know they are safe and happy with the rest of the Pack.

She rose, pressing her lips together to deny herself tears.

I know what I must do. What I want must play no part.

As she turned, she found herself again in the chamber of the Founders.

"Have you reached a decision?" Gryffindor asked.

Danger looked him in the eye. "I have."

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