Living with Danger
Chapter 49: Unexpected
By Anne B. Walsh
March, as predicted, went out like a lion, and April dawned wet and stormy. Fred and George Weasley, wanting to celebrate their 13th birthday, sent Ron a letter which exploded and showered red ink all over him and his room. Molly Weasley responded in her trademark style—via Howler.
"—FRIGHTENED ME OUT OF MY WITS, I THOUGHT HE'D BEEN MURDERED, DRIPPING WITH RED THAT WAY, AND IT TOOK ME THREE HOURS TO GET IT ALL OFF THE WALLS—"
The twins immediately wrote Ron a very handsome apology note.
"The twins never apologize," Ron said in confusion, handing Harry the note. "Ever. Can I borrow Hedwig?" The owl had finally been named by Remus after the cubs had fought over names for a month.
"To ask them if they've gone out of their minds."
"I'll save you some time," Hermione said. "They don't have minds."
"They have to have minds," Draco objected. "They couldn't come up with as good of pranks as they do if they didn't have minds."
"Fine, they have minds," Harry said. "They're just not sane. Can we all agree on that?"
Nods all around. The twins were officially insane.
5 April, 1991
Dear Fred and George,
Why'd you apologize?
6 April, 1991
Because we felt like it.
Gred and Forge
7 April, 1991
Dear annoying brothers,
Why did you feel like it?
P.S. If you call me Ronniekins again, I'll hurt you.
8 April, 1991
Dear darling little brother,
We never explain ourselves – you should know that by now.
The Annoying Ones
P.S. You, hurt us? Feel free to try.
9 April, 1991
You told me once never to apologize for anything. And you also once discussed throwing fireworks around in Snape's class. Should I tell Mum about that, or not?
P.S. I'm trying.
10 April, 1991
We're touched. You're growing up. How can we tell? You're blackmailing us.
P.S. Mum threatened to stop our pocket money if we didn't apologize.
On 30 April, Arthur Weasley Flooed home instead of Apparating.
"Is something wrong?" Molly asked him, taking his cloak. "You look troubled..."
"Not exactly," Arthur said in a shaky voice. "Molly, I've just spoken with Amelia Bones. Apparently she didn't want to get my hopes up until everything was finalized. But it seems the Ministry wants to show its appreciation for people who help to catch criminals—and Ron and Ginny's role in catching Pettigrew makes our family qualified for a reward."
"Reward?" Molly repeated in surprise.
"A monetary reward," Arthur elaborated.
"Well, we can certainly use it," Molly said frankly. "How much?"
"You should sit down first..."
"Don't give me that, Arthur, if I can deal with learning our neighbor is Sirius Black I can deal with anything. How much?"
Arthur swallowed. "Ten thousand Galleons."
Molly sat down.
30 April, by coincidence, was also the date of the official Ministry apology to Sirius Black for his unjust imprisonment. There had been rumors of monetary compensation to be paid to him, but these never materialized. The rumors ranged from the possible to the absurd, but one of the most prevalent hinted at a thousand Galleons for every year of his life touched by the scandal.
Sirius consented to be reinterviewed in the wake of the apology, and when the inevitable questions about money came up, he told the absolute truth—"I told the Ministry I didn't want their money. I have plenty of my own, and if I don't I'd rather work for it than get handouts for something that I wish had never happened in the first place."
"But I notice you're not above making them pay out to someone else," Remus said later at the Den.
"The Weasleys need it, we don't. And they'll never know. Now they can afford to get Ron his own wand, Harry was telling me they were going to give him Charlie's, now that Charlie's been accepted as intern at that Romanian dragon colony and has a salary of his own..."
Aletha took the cubs to Diagon Alley in mid-May to buy some supplies she needed at the Apothecary. "Don't touch anything," she instructed them. "Look only. Understand?"
"Yes ma'am," four voices chorused respectfully.
Hermione stared wistfully at the shelves of advanced manuals on potion-brewing, while Meghan made a beeline for the potted herbs and Draco took a closer look at some of the sample potions on display in the window. Harry, left to his own devices, became aware of a faint noise. It almost sounded like someone crying...
He wandered through the store, concentrating on not concentrating on it (if that made any sense, he thought), just letting his feet take him where they wanted him to go...
They took him to a large bin in the back of the store. It was labeled "CAUTION: Live Animals", and the crying seemed to be coming from inside it.
Harry squatted down beside it and listened carefully.
"Too crowded in here..."
"I miss you, my heart's egg..."
Harry gasped. The last voice had been one he knew. "Siss? Is that you?"
"Harry?" The snake sounded aghast. "Harry, how did you find me?"
"It was just chance, I didn't know you were here—was that you I heard crying?"
"Yes, it may have been... I was so sad when you had to go away, and you were away so long... and now we are here and we do not know why, and I was very lonely and frightened..."
"I'm here now," Harry said, prying at the lid to the bin. "Just hold on another minute..."
The lid popped off. The snakes within were in such constant motion that the bin looked as if it were filled with boiling green water, but now every unblinking eye was fixed on Harry, and every hissing word was about him.
"A human who speaks our language..."
"My mother told me of such things, but I never thought to see one..."
"My cousin served one who could speak to snakes, and brought him many tales of what other humans did in their living places, and got many good meals as a reward..."
"Harry!" Siss' head emerged at the far edge of the bin. Harry picked her up quickly.
"When did you eat last?" he asked, feeling how limp she was in his hands and noticing the unnatural dullness of her scales.
"I do not remember. It was too long ago. Oh, my human eggling, I thought I would never see you again..." Siss coiled around his hand, her voice breaking again in her joy.
Harry bent down to pick up the lid of the bin. "I'm going to take you home," he said. "You can stay with me as long as you want to."
"What about us?" another snake protested.
"Sorry," Harry said regretfully, "but I can't take you all, and I'd get in trouble if I let you go. I might be able to get you fed, though. I'll try."
"All right. Thank you."
Harry snapped the lid back on the bin and went up to the counter.
"I thought I told you not to touch anything," Aletha began warningly.
"I'll pay for her myself," Harry said quickly. "And I'll take care of her and she won't ever go anywhere she shouldn't."
"She." Aletha looked musingly at the snake. "A friend of yours?"
"From when we lived in London," Harry said.
"The one you arranged the prank with?"
"It comes out of your pocket money," Aletha warned.
"How much is the snake?" she asked the wizard behind the counter.
"You only want one? We usually sell them by weight, for potion supplies... shall we say two Sickles?"
"That seems fair. Harry?"
Harry fumbled in his pocket and found two silver coins. "Thank you," he said, passing them over.
"Harry?" the wizard asked, looking at him again. "Not Harry Potter?"
"Yes, sir." Inwardly, Harry sighed. The dialogue had been repeated almost everywhere he went for the last four months.
Well, before then too, but before then I was saying no...
"Well, I'm pleased to meet you," the wizard was saying. "Happy to have been of service, Mr. Potter, just delighted."
"Thank you, sir." Harry beat a hasty retreat before the man could get any more effusive.
Maybe coming out of hiding wasn't so great after all.
Then he remembered.
"... seeing who you are, I might be able to knock a few Sickles off the price for you..." The wizard and Aletha both looked up as Harry returned.
"Sir, the snakes are hungry," he said. "The ones in the bin. I know they're only for potions supplies, but they'd be healthier if they got something to eat."
The wizard nodded thoughtfully. "I did have a complainer in here the other day," he said. "Hogwarts Potions Master, he was, and annoyed because a couple in his batch were dead when he got them home, and the other ones had started eating them, and then of course he didn't have enough for his potion... but how do you know they're hungry?"
Aletha gave Harry a warning look. Harry shot her back the "I'm-not-stupid" one.
"I like snakes, sir," he said. "I can tell if they're happy or not, and sometimes why, and the ones in the bin look hungry. This one – see how her scales are all dull? That means she hasn't eaten in too long."
"Well, I'll certainly look into that—can't have dissatisfied customers, can I now?" The wizard chuckled. "Thank you, Mr. Potter, always a pleasure."
"Go get her a mouse or something at the Magical Menagerie," Aletha said, handing Harry three Sickles. "Take the others with you and wait for me there."
"Where is your nest now?" Siss asked once they were away from the counter.
"In the country—and I have a new friend, his name is Ron, I think you'll like him..."
"I can smell your nest-mates," the snake said, winding up his arm. "They are nearby."
Harry grinned. "Do me a favor?"
"Anything, heart's eggling. You know that."
Draco yelped very satisfyingly when Siss slithered onto his neck. His glare warned Harry to beware of something cold and squishy in his bed that night.
"You're a Parselmouth?" Ron said in stunned tones. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Harry shrugged. "It never came up."
"So does that mean you have to be a Slytherin?"
"It had better not. I don't want to be a Slytherin. I'd be miserable there. Did you know their dorms are under the lake?"
Ron shivered. "Must be cold at night."
"So Hedwig has to be my owl, or Hermione's," Draco said. "Because of the one-pet rule."
"Will they even let you bring a snake?" Hermione worried. "It's not on the list."
"Neither is a rat, and Percy had one for four years," Ron pointed out. "As long as it doesn't bite anyone, it should be all right."
"She's not going to bite anything except her dinner," Harry said fondly. "Are you, Siss?"
"Am I what?"
"Going to bite people."
"Why would I do that? It would get you in trouble, and it wouldn't help me any. People are too big to eat."
"Just so you know, that's incredibly creepy," Ron said frankly.
"Do you want to hold her?"
"Who? The snake? Er... all right." Ron held out his hand, and Siss slithered from Harry's to his.
"She's not slimy," Ron said, stroking her gently with a finger. "She's kind of soft."
"I think he likes you," Harry said.
"I like him," Siss answered. "He is very warm and smells nice. He will make a good nest-mate for you."
"I'm glad you approve."
Vernon Dursley whistled cheerfully as he pulled up in front of his house. Things couldn't be better. He and Petunia had both found decent paying jobs and been able to keep their flat for the six months the Social Services people demanded, and in February, their family had been reunited. Dudley had been a little skittish around them at first, since his memories of Petunia were vague and he didn't recall Vernon at all, but when he discovered they'd let him do just about anything he wanted, he warmed right up to them.
And why shouldn't we spoil our son a little, now that we've got him back?
Vernon had been promoted quickly, and his promotion bonuses had enabled the Dursleys to buy a house—in the same town in Surrey where they had once lived, on the same street in fact. It had been sold to them by a family with a son Dudley's age, who was also going away to Smeltings in the fall, and the boys had hit it off right away.
Be good for Dudley to have a friend at school. We'll have to go to London soon to get him kitted up... but enough time to think about that later. Tomorrow's the big day—my son's going to be eleven...
With these pleasant thoughts in his mind, Vernon Dursley kissed his wife hello and clapped a hand on his son's shoulder on greeting, getting a grunt in return as Dudley stared at the television. A cartoon was playing, showing a man waving his hands and things floating about.
"Ruddy nonsense," Vernon grumbled, but without any real rancor. It didn't matter if Dudley watched such things, after all... he was in no danger of turning out like that freak of a nephew of Petunia's...
He wondered idly whatever had happened to the boy, and if he'd turned out as unnatural as his good-for-nothing parents...
Dudley went to get the mail the next day. He came bouncing back into the kitchen, grinning. "Look, I've got a letter!"
"That's wonderful, Dudders," Petunia said, accepting the rest of the mail from her son. "Who's it from?"
"Don't know, there's no return address. And it's written in green, and the paper's all funny..."
Vernon and Petunia looked at each other, transfixed with horror, unable to move, unable to stop Dudley from ripping the envelope open and pulling out the letter.
"You have been accepted..." he read aloud. "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry..." He looked at them. "Doesn't that mean magic?"
"It's not true," Vernon said quickly. "It's not true, Dudley, it's just a joke. Ha ha ha." He gave three jerky little laughs.
"That's right, dear, only a joke," Petunia backed him up. "Someone's trying to have you on, maybe it's those nasty boys from number four, they look like the sort..."
"If it was a joke, you wouldn't be scared," Dudley said, eyeing his parents.
"Scared? Us?" Vernon laughed jerkily again. "We're not scared, boy, we're just surprised. Surprised you'd think such a stupid thing was real—magic, ha ha ha..."
"We only want what's best for you, dear," Petunia said, trying to smooth things over.
The doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," Petunia said quickly, hurrying down the hall.
A brown-haired woman stood on the doorstep, wearing a long dress at least ten years out of date. "Mrs. Dursley?" she asked.
"Yes, that's me." Petunia felt an urge to slam the door in the woman's face, but it was broad daylight and something like that would be noticed.
"My name is Nell Perks—may I come in, please?"
"Of... of course."
"I believe your son, Dudley, has just been accepted to Hogwarts?" the woman said in a carrying tone as soon as the door was shut behind her.
"H-Hogwarts?" Petunia faltered, making frantic shushing motions with her hands. "Please, keep your voice down—I'm afraid I don't know what you're—"
"Is it real?" Dudley shouted, barreling down the hallway. "Is the magic real?"
"Of course it's real," the woman said soothingly. "My goodness, you're a fine-looking young man. I'm with the Ministry of Magic, Muggle Relations Bureau—I'm an Official Muggle-born Witch and Wizard Welcomer—so welcome, Dudley, to a brand new world." She shook his hand.
A little more than halfway through July, Andromeda wrote the Pack to tell them that Tonks' N.E.W.T. scores had come back satisfactorily, and that she'd passed her aptitude tests and been accepted as an Auror-trainee.
"Apparently she's over the moon," Danger said, reading the letter. "She was afraid she'd failed the stealth test when she tripped over the examiner."
"Why didn't she?" Aletha asked.
"The examiner was asleep at the time, so they gave her an automatic pass."
"Speaking of sleep, have you noticed that certain people are not sleeping well lately?" Remus asked, shooting a significant look toward the stairs.
"You can't blame him, Moony, his birthday's in two days." Sirius paused, thinking. "Or seven, depending on which one you're talking about."
"I meant all three, but any of them will do. I've never seen them this on edge."
"Well, it'll all be over in two days," Danger said with relief. "I'm grateful Professor Dumbledore was willing to do that for us."
On the morning of 26 July, the cubs woke up a bit later than usual.
"I didn't think I was going to be able to sleep at all last night," Draco said in surprise. "And it's 9:30 already..."
Harry ran his tongue around his teeth. "Does anyone else's mouth taste like orange?" he asked.
Three nods answered him.
"Sleeping Potions," said Meghan, pouting. "They made us sleep."
"It's better than lying awake all night," Hermione said practically. "Come on, let's get dressed."
It was only seven minutes before the cubs clattered down the stairs.
"Happy birthday, Draco," Remus said, standing near the bottom of the stairs with his hands behind his back. "I have something for you."
"Did it come?" Draco blurted, bouncing up and down on his feet on his excitement. "Is it here?"
"You mean this?" Remus said quizzically, withdrawing his left hand from behind his back. It held a parchment envelope, addressed in green ink.
"Yes, that!" Draco glared at his Pack-father. "You know what I mean, Moony. Gimme—please," he added quickly.
"Oh, but it's not for you," Remus said, looking leisurely at the superscription.
"What?" Draco looked astonished.
"No, this is addressed to a Miss H. Granger-Lupin."
Hermione squealed happily. Remus tossed the letter to her. "And I have one here for a Mr. H. Potter," he said, bringing his other hand out from behind his back. "Catch, Harry."
Harry had to press his lips hard together so as not to laugh as he caught his long-awaited letter and looked at Draco. His brother seemed like he was about to cry.
"You are a horrible mean man, Remus Lupin," Danger said from behind the cubs. "Here, Draco, I have it. They all came together."
"I love you, Danger," Draco said, grinning all over his face as he accepted the precious letter, with its "Mr. D. Black" written in emerald-green ink. "And I don't love you, Moony," he added with a scowl over his shoulder.
"You have to learn to take it if you're going to dish it out, little fox," Remus pointed out.
Draco growled lightly. "Do not."
"As scintillating as this conversation is, it's not getting that letter opened," Danger pointed out ever so politely.
"A silver potion, used for scrying," Severus Snape repeated, interested in spite of himself. "And you wish to know..."
"If exposure to it could cause a person to become in some manner clairvoyant," Aletha Freeman-Black said. "And if so, what type of exposure would do so."
Severus reached for one of his reference books, not even bothering to look. Freeman-Black looked fascinated. "Does this look familiar?" he said after a moment, handing the book to her, open at a certain page.
"Yes, I think that's the one. I know Anita used bay leaves, and this includes them, and I remember it having that blue tinge when she brewed it."
"The Sibyl's Mirror," Severus said, accepting the book back from her. "Rather intricate, and time consuming if made properly, but it gives a far clearer picture than many other scrying media, and has even been known to facilitate the extremely difficult business of scrying through time. But as to your question..." He studied the page, frowning in thought. "The active ingredients break down when exposed to acid such as the human stomach contains, so drinking it would be pointless. And the non-toxic rating means that casual contact with skin, such as would be caused by a spill, would not have an effect."
Freeman-Black rubbed her left elbow, thinking. "What if it somehow got into a cut, or passed the skin in some other way?"
"That... might well do it," Severus said, struck by the notion. "Yes. The usual bodily defenses are down, so the potion would take effect on the water-based human blood—I do believe that might be an answer. If the potion was somehow inserted directly into the bloodstream, perhaps in the manner of an injection." One of the many reasons I am so glad I have stepped beyond my roots.
"That's what I thought." Freeman-Black smiled. "Thank you, Professor, you've done me a great favor."
"You are welcome."
Freeman-Black was just at the door when someone knocked on it.
"Enter," Severus called out, and the door opened to reveal—
"Sirius!" Freeman-Black embraced her husband. "What are you doing here?"
"Business," the man said, dropping a kiss on her cheek. "See you at home?"
"Of course." Freeman-Black shut the door behind her.
"I have no business with you, Black," Severus said, letting his tone enter the wide and endlessly fascinating realm of sneer.
"Maybe you don't. But I have business with you. May I sit down?"
"No, you may not." Severus felt a surge of glee at making Black stand in front of his desk like a naughty schoolboy. To add to the image, he folded his hands and put on his most professorial look.
"All right, I'll stand." Black looked nervous, Severus noted, enjoying himself more and more. "I wished to speak with you about our school days, and some of the things that passed between us then."
He's reverting to pureblood formality—how interesting. He must be very nervous indeed. "What sort of things?"
"The things James and I did to you." Black was looking around the room, anywhere but at Severus.
"The things you and James Potter did to me," Severus repeated, allowing himself a small smirk at Black's obvious discomfiture. "Oh, perhaps you mean your constant crusade to humiliate me in public and make me lose points for my house and garner detentions for myself. Rest assured, Black, I haven't forgotten." And your precious children are coming to Hogwarts... easy prey, and quite legal, if they are anything like their parents...
"I'm sure you haven't." Black tore his gaze away from one of the specimens on the shelves lining the room and met Severus' eyes for the first time since he'd entered the room. "We were very much in the wrong when we did that. And I'm sorry."
The words fell into a dead silence.
He may never move again.
Sirius held himself very firmly in check. I am not going to laugh. It would ruin everything I came here to do.
I came here to close the book on my past, or at least to try. I finished with Wormtail, now I'm doing my best to finish with Snape.
Of course, Wormtail was in the wrong, so it was up to me to forgive him. I'm in the wrong here, so there's only so much I can do...
Snape began, harshly, to laugh. It echoed in the stone-walled room. "You. Sorry," he said between bouts of horrible, constricted laughter. "You must teach me sometime how you do that, how you look so sincere. You almost had me convinced, Black. For one moment, I believed you." He continued laughing, sounding as if he hadn't done so for years.
That's it. There's nothing more I can do here.
"I wish you would," Sirius said with a trace of regret. "I do mean it." He headed for the door, Snape's jarring laugh following him.
"You mean it," the other man was repeating. "You mean it!"
The door cut off the noise from within the office. Sirius leaned against it and sighed.
I tried. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I tried.
Good luck, cubs. You're going to need it.
Severus sank back into his chair, weak with laughter.
I almost believed him. For one second, I almost believed he might actually be sorry.
But that is impossible. He began calming himself, breathing deeply, restoring his usual serenity. Sirius Black, admit a fault, much less apologize for it? The sun would sooner rise in the west. So what gain can he expect from apologizing to me?
Of course—his children enter Hogwarts this fall—I thought of them myself, earlier. He hopes to placate me and make their road easier. But I refuse to play his game. I will not be bought off with his false apologies. I will have blood for blood, humiliation for humiliation, and I will enjoy it.
With a loud crack, a house-elf materialized in his office. "What do you want?" he snapped at it.
"Professor Dumbledore is sending you the list of students for the new year, Professor Snape, since it is being the beginning of August and the teachers is needing to prepare for their new students."
"Yes, yes, give it here and get out," Snape said, taking the scroll impatiently from the creature.
He unrolled it and began to read. Abbott, Black—no surprise, I knew about him—Bones, Boot, Brown, Bulstrode...
He almost choked when he got to the G's. Granger-Lupin? Oh, glorious. A Black and a Lupin, in the same class. And with Harry Potter, no less. He snarled silently. The Marauders live again.
Another familiar, and highly unwelcome, name caught his eye. And another Weasley. I've seen the mother, built for babies, so it's no real surprise...
His mind chose this moment to present him with a scene from Black's parody of a trial. Minerva McGonagall walking out onto the floor, being trailed by three children, two of them red-haired, the infamous Weasley red...
The younger brother of some of the most outrageous troublemakers I have ever known—and the children of the others—friends, allies in rule-breaking...
Getting drunk tonight was sounding more appetizing by the minute.