Living with Danger
Chapter 44: Negotiating
By Anne B. Walsh
Chapter 44: Negotiating
All her senses were fully engaged, leaving no room for real thinking. Relief and joy consumed her, and all she could articulate was the one word, the name of the man who held her as if she were his life entire.
His image burned in her eyes, even though all she could currently see was the shoulder of his robes, into which she was crying, tasting the salt of her own tears on her lips. One of his arms held her tightly against him, while his other hand caressed her, the curve of her face, the tangle of her hair, her arm, her shoulder, her back. His scent evoked security and excitement at the same time, like the spices she used in her baking; it lingered in her nose and mouth, sweet and familiar and safe. His voice murmured words of endearment to her; she barely heard them, except that they included her name: "Danger. Danger. Oh, Danger."
No one here calls me that, she realized as if from a long way off. They always use Gertrude or Madam Granger. Never Danger. And never Granger-Lupin.
I wonder why not.
"Remus," she answered aloud finally, pulling back just enough to look into his face. He was crying too, but at the same time he was smiling so hugely that his face barely seemed able to contain it. "You… you called me. I thought I imagined it. But it was you."
"You told me to call you home. I gave it a try, but you wouldn’t answer me, so I came to you." He pulled her close again, burying his face in her hair. "I’ve missed you," he said indistinctly. "Which, considering it’s only been about three hours since the last time I saw you, is rather sad. I think I may be addicted to you."
Danger shuddered. "It should be an easy habit to break, then," she said, forcing herself to pull away. Her body complained — it liked being in Remus’ arms. It was a comfortable place, and experience proved that if she stayed there, enjoyable things began to happen. Her heart registered a protest as well. But her mind was firm. The decision was made.
"Why?" Remus asked in a light tone, but Danger noticed his posture altering slightly, from the fully relaxed pose that only she and the Pack ever saw into his more controlled public mode, and further even — into almost a fighting stance…
Danger took a slow, deep breath — and then words began to pour from her, a torrent she had almost no control over. She explained in a rush about the Founders, their role in her magic, her debt, and her decision, and she wanted to scream as she saw Remus’ face close down, watched her love retreat behind the mask he had worn to most of the world for most of his life.
He hasn’t been masked to me since the first day we met. It hasn’t been possible. We’ve been in each other’s minds almost constantly — our only secrets have been presents and pranks — and now we’re divided, closed off, and after this we’ll never see each other again…
"They’re saying you owe them for the Threefold Curse on the Dursleys," Remus said calmly, as if he were a commander, repeating the intelligence one of his men had just brought to him to make sure he had it correct.
"And they’re claiming you have to pay this alone. You, and only you. Either with your life, or your magic."
"And you chose to pay with your life."
Remus gave a slow nod. "That bargain is invalid," he said deliberately. "It cannot hold you."
"Invalid?" Danger breathed incredulously. "How?"
"Yes, I too would like to know how," said another voice — a man’s voice.
Every candle in the Great Hall flared to life. Godric Gryffindor stood at the entrance to the Great Hall, looking up towards them. "Remus John Lupin," he stated flatly. "Son of John, son of Katherine. You were not invited."
"I am aware of that," Remus answered. "But I have an interest in this debt you claim is owed to you."
"What interest might that be?"
"Can the others of your party join you?" Remus asked, lifting his chin very slightly, as if he considered the other man a bit below his notice. "I would prefer to state this only once, if I might."
Abruptly they were in the small antechamber, with the Founders and their children once again lining the walls, and two chairs for Remus and Danger. "We are assembled," Gryffindor said, leaning back in his chair. "Speak."
"You had no right to make demands on Danger for payment of a debt in regards to the Threefold Curse invoked on the Dursleys," Remus said smoothly.
"Why not?" asked Ravenclaw, in a rather chilly voice.
"Because the Curse was invoked, not by one, but by two people. Any debt owing from it should be paid by both of them — both of us." Remus looked around the room, as if seeking someone who would dare deny his claim. No one spoke. "I therefore submit that your bargain with Danger is null and void, and that a new deal must be struck — a deal with both of us."
"No," Danger said quickly, rising from her chair. "Don’t cancel the deal. I’ll pay, I’ll do what you want."
"He has a point," Hufflepuff said reasonably. "In all fairness, we should do what he asks."
"No," Danger said, feeling panic rising in her again.
"The deal is voided," Gryffindor said, making a small motion with his hand. "We will now begin discussion of a new payment for this debt. Pardon us, please."
Remus and Danger stood in the Great Hall, lit now by only the single candle on the dais. The door to the antechamber was shut.
"What was that?" Danger demanded, whirling on her husband. "What do you think you’re doing?"
"Getting you back," Remus said, as if it should have been obvious.
"And what if I don’t want to go back? Did you ever think of that?"
The Hall was utterly silent. Danger felt frozen in place. Did that come out of ME?
"Have I done something?" Remus asked her, quietly, so quietly she could barely hear him, even though he was only a few feet away and no noise masked his voice. She couldn’t meet his eyes — the pleading in them was too strong, she knew she’d give in if she looked at him. "Is it something I’ve done, to make you not want to come back?"
"No," Danger said, hearing her voice come out high and shrill, like Hermione’s when she was trying to lie — Neenie was a terrible liar, always had been, but she was excellent at telling only that part of the truth which she wanted you to know…
Remus heard it too, she could tell. "I don’t believe you," he said, advancing on her. She backed away, feeling her breathing coming harder. "Let’s try again. Why don’t you want to come back?"
"If I come back, I’ll be without any of my powers. I couldn’t warn us of trouble, I couldn’t help if anything went wrong — I’m a terrible wand-user, you know that — I’d be a liability, you’d have to defend me instead of me helping to defend—"
"We could work around that. And most people get along just fine without knowing the future. Try again. Why don’t you want to come back?" He was closer to her than he had been, and she realized with a mild shock that she was backed into the wall, cold stone against her back and arms, making her shiver.
"I wouldn’t be able to tame you. You’d have to transform uncontrolled. You’d be back to where you started."
"Nice try, but no. I lived with what I am for years before I met you."
"And you couldn’t hold down a job, you could barely put food on the table — at least then you had a house and a car of your own, now you don’t even have that—"
"And you think the Pack’s just going to fall apart and leave me out in the cold? Danger, there’s something more here. Something you don’t want to tell me. Why not?"
"I don’t want to hurt you. Not like this. Please, don’t make me. Don’t make me."
"I want to hear whatever this is you have to say. You have to let it out. What has you so scared that…" Remus stopped, understanding dawning in his face. "Your fear," he said in tones of comprehension. "Your greatest fear. I’d almost forgotten. That’s what we all have to face tonight. Our greatest fear. What is it? What has you so frightened that you’d leave everything you love rather than face it?"
"No," Danger breathed, shaking her head, shivering harder than ever. "No. No. I can’t. I can’t do this to you. I can’t tell you this. Please, not this. Not this. Don’t make me do this. Please. I don’t want to hurt you this way, please, don’t make me…"
It was her alpha, not her husband, who stood before her now. It was the leader of her Pack. And he had given her a command.
She had to obey.
She was shaking so badly she could barely speak. "I’m… I’m afraid…"
"Now," Remus said harshly.
"I’m afraid you won’t love me," Danger cried, her voice breaking, along with her heart. "I’m afraid you won’t love me without my powers. I’m afraid you only loved me because of what I could do for you. And now you’ll hate me for thinking such awful things about you, and you’ll listen to me and go back and leave me here and forget me, and I’ll stay here and find someone for you to love, someone who’s good enough for you and wouldn’t ever think these horrible things…"
She sank to the floor, weeping.
There. It’s done. I’ve said it. It’s over.
And now I never have to face him again.
But he, it seemed, had other ideas…
"I never knew," his voice said slowly from above her, then again from her same level. "I never knew you were afraid of that."
"I hid it," Danger sobbed out, her face on her knees, so she wouldn’t have to see his face, wouldn’t have to see how much he hated her now. "I always hid it from you. I didn’t want to hurt you. You’re too good. I don’t deserve someone like you…"
His hand cupped her chin, lifting it gently, forcing her to look up into his eyes.
There was no hatred there.
Only understanding, and a love so deep she could have drowned herself in it — and I want to, so much, but…
"Would it help if I told you mine?" he asked softly. "My greatest fear?"
Her voice choked with tears, Danger nodded.
"It is what it’s always been," he said, still holding her eyes with his own. "Ever since that first night we dreamed together, when I realized what you were saying to me. It took me a moment to connect my name with the words â€˜I love you,’ coming from a woman like you. I’d never expected anything like it to happen to me. And from that moment on, I was petrified that one day, you were going to wake up out of the dream you’d been walking around in and realize how much better you could do than me."
Danger blinked at him, lifting a hand to wipe her eyes so she could see his face. He was as serious as she had ever seen him. No trace of humor was anywhere in his expression or his voice.
But he has to be joking. He can’t mean this.
"I’ve always been afraid that you would leave me. That you would figure out that you didn’t need all this stupid werewolf crap. That you didn’t have to spend the best years of your life hiding like a criminal because your husband’s best friend was on the run. That you deserved better than me. And when you did, you’d pack up, take Kitten, and go." Now he gave a quiet chuckle. "Imagine my surprise now, when you’re telling me exactly the same thing."
Danger’s breath was coming in shaky gasps, her mind was in turmoil. If it’s true — if it’s true —
Oh, God, please let it be true!
"Danger, I would go through an uncontrolled transformation every night, if I knew I would see you in the morning. You’ve changed my life in so many ways, and the taming is one of the least important of them." He smiled wryly. "It’s very nice, very convenient, I’ll admit I like not having to patch myself up every month — but I would do it again in an instant if it meant I got you back."
It was beginning to sink in. He loves me. He still loves me. He wants me back. Without my powers, he wants me back.
Because he loves me. Not my powers. Me.
Remus slid his hands around her face and held it, his thumbs caressing her cheekbones, his eyes still locked on hers. "When you left, something happened to me," he said softly. "Andy had to hit me over the head with it before I could see it. I wanted to die. Without you, I didn’t want to live. And that scares me a lot." His hand traveled down her face, gently returning a stray strand of hair to its place. "I’m afraid. I need you. Please, help me."
How the hell does he remember things like that?
"You know me too well, love," Danger murmured back, letting what she was feeling show on her face — shock, relief, astonishment, joy, and love indeed, a love to match his own, more than she had ever dreamed she could hold. "I can’t not come, if someone needs me."
His eyebrows went up momentarily in recognition. Otherwise, his face didn’t change from its look of determination. "Then you’ll come back?"
Danger took a deep breath to answer the most important question of her life.
"Yes. I’ll come back."
And then she was being more thoroughly kissed than she could remember being in roughly the past decade or so.
And since before then I’d never even had a date…
Yes, I’d say this is my best kiss ever.
Alexander was right. I was being selfish. I was letting my fear play with me. I wasn’t thinking about what the Pack would want. Of course they’d want me back, powers or no powers. That’s how they are.
I was just being stupid and selfish and scared.
"Do you love me?" Remus asked her as he lifted her off her feet and twirled her around, laughing.
"I do," Danger answered, laughing with him. "I do!"
It was the work of a moment to will a veil onto her head, and once she had, they both laughed harder than ever, as Remus put her gently down in the correct spot, the place where they had stood together in their first ever shared dream.
"You may now kiss the bride," Danger said coyly, tilting her head back.
"Not yet," said a tart female voice, making both of them jump.
The candles ignited again. The Founders, both original and second generation, were standing in a semi-circle below the dais, looking up at the two of them. Rowena Ravenclaw stood slightly forward. It was she who had spoken.
"Our business with you is concluded," she said, her tone softening slightly. "You have learned what you needed to learn."
Danger’s free hand (the one not holding Remus’) went to her mouth as she comprehended. "This… this was a test. You were testing me — us — to see what we’d do — weren’t you?"
"Very good, dear," said Helga Hufflepuff approvingly. "I do hope you won’t hold it against us, it is what we do. And you’ve both passed with full marks."
"We haven’t had anyone do so well in over a hundred years," said Margaret Ravenclaw, rubbing her left elbow in thought. "Oh, what were their names? Those little red-haired boys, the brothers, you remember them, don’t you?"
"Yes, of course I remember them," Sophia said. "I remember you asking me if I’d made a mistake with their threads. When you know perfectly well I don’t make mistakes."
"Oh, no?" Brenna challenged. "What about that time in the other universe when you measured one sixty-five years too short?"
The other universe? Danger wondered as the sisters began to squabble. Then she shook her head. Never mind.
"Girls, enough," said Rowena in a carrying tone. The sisters subsided.
"Because you have done so well, all conditions are lifted," Godric continued. "You will return to your own world, at close to the time when you," he looked at Remus, "left." Then he turned to Danger. "With your powers intact. You have earned them honestly by facing your fear and defeating it."
Danger closed her eyes in relief. Thank heaven, Remus won’t suffer for this.
I guess being willing to suffer for me was enough.
"As well, we offer you a boon," Godric concluded. "Anything within our power to grant. And our power is considerable."
Remus looked at Danger. Ideas? he mouthed.
Go ahead, his hands said, right forefinger tapping left knuckles.
Danger turned to the Founders. "Give us what we need," she said.
"Ooh," Adam Hufflepuff said admiringly. "Nice one. Alex, you sure she’s not related to you?"
Alexander Slytherin sighed. "Sadly, yes. You know who is."
The Founders all nodded grimly.
"But no more of that now," Paul Gryffindor said, grinning at Remus and Danger. "The gifts, esteemed friends, the gifts. In order — Gaga, you’re first."
Helga folded her arms and tried to look stern. Unfortunately, her face wasn’t built for stern. "What have I told you about calling me that, young man?"
"Hmm." Paul looked up at the ceiling as if seeking answers there. "Don’t rush me. Oh yes, it was â€˜If you ever call me Gaga again, I’ll throw you in the lake.’"
Alex began to chant. "Lake, lake, lake, lake…"
Adam and the Ravenclaws joined him. "Lake, lake, lake, lake…"
Paul looked unsettled. "Maura, a little help here?"
Maura smiled innocently and joined the chant. "Lake, lake, lake, lake…"
Paul whimpered slightly.
"Later," Godric said severely, but Danger saw his lip twitch upwards. "Alex, would you begin?"
"Gladly, sir." Alex came forward and placed a hand on Danger’s breastbone, directly over the pendants she wore, pressing them gently into her chest. His other hand went onto Remus’ chest in the same place. "My gift to you," he said. "The chains and pendants you wear shall be tangible only to those people and things for whom you wish them to be tangible. So that no one shall ever take them from you."
He stepped back and bowed to them, as Rowena Ravenclaw stepped up.
"My gift to you," she said, placing her hands in the same position. "The pendants you wear shall act in the manner of a Pensieve, recording your memories. And if two or more share a chain, they shall be able to view the memories using spells which you shall know, and their minds shall be linked, allowing silent conversation."
Well, that’ll be useful.
Ravenclaw stepped away with a dignified curtsy, and Helga Hufflepuff took her place. "My gift to you," she said. "The chains you wear shall grow or shrink as you will them to, and the ends of the chain shall grow together or apart as you wish, with no need for a clasp." She smiled at them. "So that you may share your memories more freely."
Godric Gryffindor was last, and as he stood before them, Danger almost — but not quite — figured out who it was he reminded her of.
I think it’s more than one person. Maybe two. Or three…
"My gift to you is already partially given," Gryffindor said, his hands on their chests. "It was in the original materials you used to make these pendants. They grow warm or hot when another who wears them is in emotional distress, and cool or cold when one who wears them is in mortal peril. To this, I add that the carving which represents that person will glow, so that you may know who it is you must aid." He smiled slightly. "After all, a warning doesn’t help much unless it’s specific enough to work from."
He stepped down, and to Danger’s surprise, Maura Gryffindor came forward.
"This gift is for the two of you, alone," she said. "The other gifts have been for your entire Pack — all your pendants will behave in this manner. But I have a gift for you and only you."
She took Danger’s right hand and Remus’ left, forming a rough circle. "May the power that descends from my father through me be shared between you as all things are shared," she intoned. "From this day forward, power over fire is yours to command."
She dropped their hands and returned to her place. Danger stared after her. Did she just…
Experimentally, she looked up at a candle. Go out.
It went out.
She stared at it. Relight.
"Wow," she breathed.
"That’s an understatement," Remus murmured in answer.
"Now it is time for you to return," Ravenclaw said. "You must go first," she said to Remus. "Alone. And you must play the part of Orpheus."
"Don’t look back." Remus smiled. "I’ll manage. I trust you." He looked at Danger. "See you at home, Eurydice," he said softly. "I love you."
"Don’t jinx it now," Danger said, rolling her eyes. "I love you. See you there."
Remus turned away from her, took one step — and vanished.
The Founders faced Danger, separating themselves into four distinct groups.
"Savior of the Savior, we bid you farewell," Helga and Adam Hufflepuff said in the tones of a ritual.
"Beloved of the Heir, we bid you farewell," the three Gryffindors spoke together.
"Bearer of Hope, we bid you farewell," intoned the four Ravenclaw women.
Alexander smiled at her. "Go in peace, Danger Granger-Lupin," he said softly.
Danger lifted her hand in farewell as the whirls of color enveloped her.
For the first time in a long time, Danger saw a coherent scene as she fell.
"Letha, can I talk to you?" Sirius asked. Over his shoulder, Danger could see bars, and indistinct forms — this must be right now. Or just a little while ago. After Sirius got us all moved in together. Remus’ memories of the last three hours had activated in her mind just before the scene had started to play, so she was more or less up to speed.
"I don’t really want to talk to you right now, Sirius Black," Aletha answered, turning away from him coldly.
"Why not?" Aletha hissed, spinning around and showing him a face so furious that Sirius took an involuntary step back. "Why not. You can do something like that, and then ask me why not. How could you do that? How? Do you know what you’ve done?"
"I got us put in together," Sirius protested. "It had to happen. We need each other."
"But — at what price, Sirius?" Aletha’s voice was half-pleading, half-furious. "You betrayed Andy — she has to have trusted you to come close enough for you to get her — she’s not stupid — and you betrayed me. Because I told her she could trust you. And now I don’t know if I can trust you any more."
She turned away and leaned her forehead against the wall.
"Oh," Sirius said in what sounded like relief. "Oh. If that’s all it was—"
"All," Aletha repeated venomously, making Sirius wince. "Yes. If you want to put it that way. That’s all. You’ve only made me think of you the way the rest of the world does — and consider that maybe it’s not quite so big a leap as I’ve always thought it was. That’s all."
Sirius moved like lightning, pulling Aletha away from the wall, spinning her around, and pinning her in the nearby corner, facing him. "Do you want to know what really happened?" he hissed into her face. "Do you?"
Aletha glared at him in mingled fear and loathing. It made Danger’s stomach turn. She’s losing it — it’s getting to her, being locked up like this, it’s affecting her, she’d never doubt Sirius if she was normal —
"Andy knew what I was doing the whole time," Sirius said in a breathy whisper, his lips close to Aletha’s ear and barely moving. "She let me do it, Letha — hell, she practically gave me her wand — and she knew I wasn’t going to hurt her. She was acting. We both were. Think back. What hand was I holding the wand in?"
Aletha, now shaking slightly, closed her eyes. "You had it in… your right hand," she said slowly. "But…" Her eyes opened, and she stared at her husband, her face clearing. "Oh."
"Yes," Sirius said, heaving a sigh of relief. "Yes. Exactly. I’m so sorry, I never meant to scare you—"
Aletha’s face crumpled. "Hold me," she whispered, an instant before she burst into noisy tears.
Sirius slid his arms around her and held her against him as she buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed.
And that’s her worst fear — that somehow, everyone else is right and she’s wrong, and Sirius really is some kind of insane murderer — and there it goes, confronted, defeated, and gone.
And Sirius managed to fight off his somehow — since he’s obviously operating normally, if he can figure out a way to get us what we need most — each other —
Danger smiled triumphantly. The Pack wins again. Four-and-oh, we are undefeated, ladies and gentlemen.
The scene vanished. Everything vanished. The world was dark.
That’s because you have your eyes closed, chuckled the voice she wanted most to hear.
Danger opened her lids and saw what she most wanted to see — a pair of blue eyes, swirling with brown, inches from her own, and the face they belonged to, the face of her beloved, smiling at her.
Welcome home, he said softly.
Thank you. Danger sat up slowly, testing her body. Everything seems to be working, she reported.
"Hoy, I know you," said the voice she second-most wanted to hear. "Decided to come back and join the fun, did you?"
"Hey there, mangy mutt," Danger greeted her Pack-brother, grinning at him. "Ready for your happy ending?"
"Anytime now," Sirius said with a wink, slapping Remus on the back as Danger and Aletha embraced. "Good work, Moony," he said to his friend.
"Thanks for helping me, Padfoot," Remus answered. "But I have to ask — how the hell did you know what to do?"
Danger and Aletha both looked up at this.
"Danger told me," Sirius said. "And royal stars shall trust in him. So life, not death, shall bring this Grim. When I thought about it, I realized it meant that I had to do something that made Andy have to trust me, and that whatever it was, it would work, even if it didn’t look like it would. Does that make any sense?"
"No," Aletha said frankly. "But it did work, and that’s the important part." She smiled tearily. "It really worked. We’re together again."
Danger looked at her watch and winced. "And we have about two minutes to moonrise. Let’s get that out of the way, and then we can swap stories."
"We’ve got a few you won’t believe," Remus said with a grin. "And a whole new way to tell them, too."
"Don’t look now," Sirius murmured, "but there are some severely confused people out there."
As if it had been choreographed, the rest of the Pack turned to look.
Andromeda Tonks was smiling hugely. Auror Halcyon’s mouth was open. Amelia Bones looked suspicious. Kingsley Shacklebolt seemed calmly satisfied. The other two Aurors were gaping openly.
"Here, get off the bed," Aletha said, coming back to life. "Let me have the sheet. We’ll hold it for you. You can at least have some privacy, Remus, even if we are in jail."
Do me a favor, love? Remus said privately.
Tell Andy, if she wants to, she can watch.