|Living without Danger
Author: whydoyouneedtoknow PM
AU, second in main Dangerverse, complete. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger–Lupin, and Draco Black were raised by the Marauders and their wives. Now they and their friend Ron Weasley are off to Hogwarts. Heaven help Hogwarts. Years 1 and 2, twisted canon.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Humor - Chapters: 36 - Words: 242,469 - Reviews: 2,190 - Favs: 1,131 - Follows: 233 - Updated: 08-29-05 - Published: 03-15-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2306529
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 18: As Soon As We Can
Some time later – Remus wasn't sure if it was a long or a short time – he looked up as the black flames in the doorway of the room ceased. Albus Dumbledore entered the room, with Sirius close behind him.
"It was Quirrell," said Remus quietly, so as not to awaken Danger, in response to Dumbledore's questioning look. "He's dead."
"Harry got knocked out, something's wrong with my knee, and Danger just needs to be taken care of for a while."
Dumbledore nodded. "The Stone?"
"In Harry's pocket." Remus slid his hand into said pocket and pulled out a blood-red stone, about the size of his palm, which he handed to Dumbledore, who slid it carefully into an inner pocket of his own.
"Is she asleep?" asked Sirius in amazement, looking over at Danger.
"Well, not now I'm not," answered Danger waspishly, her eyes opening. "Didn't anyone ever tell you it's not polite to talk loud around sleeping people?"
"Didn't anyone ever tell you it's not normal to fall asleep right after you fight with an evil Dark Lord?"
"Who wants to be normal?"
Sirius conjured a stretcher under Harry, Danger got to her feet, and they walked out of the room together, arguing as they went. Dumbledore watched them go, shaking his head, then helped Remus to his feet and supported him back through the chambers, now devoid of their special accoutrements.
"When you are able," said Dumbledore quietly to Remus as they mounted brooms at the bottom of the shaft, "I would like a few words with you."
They flew upwards and out of the trapdoor, greatly puzzling Fluffy, who even forgot to bark until they were out of his reach. Once out of the room, Remus was about to land and dismount, but Dumbledore waved him onward.
"I seem to recall a certain quartet of young gentlemen whose stated goal it was to have the school rules amended so that riding broomsticks in the hallways would be permissible," he said, his eyes twinkling. "This once, I believe the rule can be bent."
Remus chuckled and directed his broom down the hallway. It was an exercise in precision flying, but he made it to the hospital wing without crashing into anything too badly. Sirius and Danger were already there with Harry, as well as Aletha and the other cubs – even Meghan, who must have come with –
Molly Weasley. Who no sooner saw him than she ran to him and embraced him, nearly pulling him off the broomstick.
"Thank you," she said fervently, looking him in the eye, something she hadn't done for months. "For what you did for Ron – I looked at the clock as soon as you'd gone, his hand was on 'mortal peril', I might not have noticed it for hours – and Sirius told me how you saved him – thank you so much. I've been wrong. Forgive me?"
It's about bloody time, said a caustic voice.
Not everyone can be you, dear heart. And Molly's friendship is worth a little wait.
You are aware that you're so patient and forbearing it's ridiculous?
And here I thought you liked it.
Aren't I allowed to like it and still think it's ridiculous?
If you insist.
"Off that thing immediately," ordered Madam Pomfrey, coming out from behind the screens that now masked the bed with Harry in it. "What's the matter with you, then?"
"My right knee had a disagreement with a wall." Remus lowered the broomstick enough so that he could transfer himself from it to the bed, then pulled his robes aside to display the afflicted part.
Madam Pomfrey poked at it for a moment, her hands gentler than they looked, then sent Meghan off for two potions from her office and conjured bandages with her wand. One of the potions was poured onto the bandages, which were then affixed to the knee, and Remus was handed a gobletful of the other with instructions to drink it all and not go making faces about the taste.
It's not quite as bad as the Wolfsbane, he reported when he'd finished it. But I still wish there was some way to make pain relievers taste better.
To quote a certain little Pack-daughter, "If it didn't taste horrible, how would you know it was a potion?"
Madam Pomfrey bustled behind another screened-off bed at the end of the ward, which Remus assumed contained Ron, since Molly Weasley had disappeared behind it a few moments before, and he didn't see the redheaded boy anywhere else. Meghan too vanished behind the screens, following Madam Pomfrey as devotedly as any acolyte behind her priest.
Draco would have been in danger of falling off his bed if he hadn't been so firmly pressed against the side of the huge black dog sharing it with him. His eyes were closed, and his hand was running along the dog's side over and over, as if he were hypnotized or under Imperius to do only that. As Remus watched, Sirius lifted his head and gave Draco's ear a gentle lick.
One bed over, Aletha sang softly to Hermione, carefully running a comb through the girl's tangled hair. When she struck a snarl, she untangled it bit by bit instead of yanking at it as Hermione herself often did. The song was one of Aletha's own compositions, written for a restless Neenie who had hated to have her hair combed and would only hold still if the funny song were being sung to her.
Good. Wonderful. Thank you, Sirius, thank you, Letha. This is what a Pack should be – you're taking care of the cubs, because Danger and I can't right now.
And while I'm on that subject...
Remus flexed his knee, discovered it would take his weight, and made his way cautiously over to Danger's bed, where she was lying curled up on her side, knees drawn up to her chest. Is there room for me?
I might be able to find some. Danger uncoiled and rolled over, looking up at him. How's your knee?
Better – it'll probably be healed by morning. Remus sat down on the edge of the bed, kicked his shoes off, and swung his legs up onto it, facing Danger. How are you?
I... don't know. Her hand sought and found his. I have this awful feeling I'm still in shock, and it's going to be worse tomorrow.
Very likely. Do you want to sleep?
Again, I don't know. But yes, probably. Will you stay with me?
I always do, unless you specifically tell me to go away and start mentally smacking me to back it up. Remus turned himself around and lay down beside her, sliding an arm under her shoulders.
I did not do that.
Oh really? Who was it shooing me off to the Quidditch victory party even though she'd been unconscious a few minutes before?
I didn't smack you.
Yes, you did.
No, I didn't.
Yes, you did.
No, I didn't. It was a gentle shove, not a smack.
So you admit you did something.
I've never denied it.
Yes, you have.
No, I haven't.
Yes, you have.
No, I... what was that?
I thought I heard something...
The slayer hated all wolves and wanted them dead. He had killed the cub's own sire and dam, long ago, and would gladly have killed the cub as well. The cub couldn't remember why he had gone out to fight with the slayer – there must have been a reason, an important reason, or he would not have gone – but he wished that he had not. The slayer had hurt him, but he had managed to hurt the slayer as well, and then...
He remembered the sounds of a battle. The alpha male and female of his Pack had come, had taken the slayer's attention from him and focused it on themselves, forcing the slayer to fight them rather than their cub. The cub thought he must have run away while the battle was going on, since he could not remember how he had come to this dark place, or where it was, or what had happened to him.
A sudden fear struck into him. What if the slayer had won the battle? What if the darkness in which he lay was the darkness of a cage?
Caged wolves went mad, the cub knew. They lost their knowledge of their Pack and their Den, they forgot all that made them who they were, and at the end they tore at themselves in their wild rage, wishing only for death to end their misery. They would strike down even their Packmates if they met them, for no scent, no sound could reach through the madness to tell them that this was a friend and not an enemy.
The cub whined under his breath. More than anything, he wanted to be back in his Den, surrounded by his Pack, playing with his littermates, learning from the adults how to stalk and hunt for prey, how to sleep all day and sing to the moon at night. The Den was sometimes dark, but it was a friendly darkness, safe and known, where there was nothing which was not there in the light. This darkness was hostile and frightening, pressing on him all around, as if it wanted him to be trapped in it and never return to his Pack.
I must be caged, he thought despairingly. I must be caged, and this is the beginning of the madness.
His fear overcame his caution, and he whimpered as if he were still so very small that his eyes were not yet open, begging his dam to come to him, to bring him warmth and life and a scent that he knew...
Danger was off the bed and around the screen so fast Remus could have sworn he saw smoke. He got to his feet as quickly as he could himself, swearing silently at the restriction of his injury as the rest of the Pack flooded past him. Harry's wordless cries were now clearly audible, and the boy sounded terrified... but of what, Remus wondered?
He finally made it around the end of the screen to see Harry twisting in his bed, moaning, with Madam Pomfrey running her wand over him, doing some sort of diagnostic spell, and the rest of the Pack standing all around the bed, the cubs looking frightened and worried, the adults worried and frustrated.
"There's nothing wrong with him that I can tell," said Madam Pomfrey finally, shaking her head. "With the stress put on his system, he should still be unconscious–"
"But obviously, he's not," interrupted Aletha. "Poppy – may we try?"
Madam Pomfrey nodded. "Do your best not to make it worse, though," she said with a slightly ironic twist to her mouth.
Aletha was kneeling beside Harry in an instant, capturing the thrashing hands between her own and calling his name in a quiet voice. "Harry... Harry... Harry, listen to me. Everything is all right. You're safe now."
Harry's whole body stiffened for an instant as if in surprise, then relaxed somewhat, although he was still making odd little noises – he sounded like a puppy, Remus realized, like a frightened puppy.
"That's enough, now," said Sirius soothingly, coming to stand beside Aletha and stroking Harry's hair. "That's enough of that. You're all right now. It's all right, Greeneyes..."
Harry's head turned suddenly, so that his face was against Sirius' hand. Sirius didn't remove his hand, and after a moment Harry sighed and relaxed a bit more, turning his face back the way it had been.
"On the bed, you three," instructed Aletha quietly without taking her eyes from Harry. "Find room."
The cubs obeyed with alacrity. Hermione lay next to Harry as they had done when they were toddlers, black hair and brown spread out on the same pillow. Meghan draped herself across their legs, and Draco curled up at their feet, lifting his head to glare at Hermione. "Kick me and..." He stopped suddenly.
"And what?" asked Hermione.
"I'll kick you back."
Why do I have a feeling he was about to say "you're dead"? inquired Danger, the corners of her mouth turning up, but only the smallest iota of humor in her tone.
This night has changed us all. Even with magic, there's no way to undo what happened tonight. Remus looked back at Harry, who was no longer thrashing but still seemed a trifle unsettled. But I think we'll be all right eventually.
"Is he going to be all right?" asked Molly worriedly, coming over from Ron's bed, where Remus could see the red-haired boy either still unconscious or asleep.
"I think so." Remus smiled to himself at the unintended repetition of his conversation with Danger. "Eventually."
"Remus," said Aletha, her eyes still fixed on Harry. "Danger. Come here. Touch him, say something to him, let him know you're here. He won't rest until he knows we're all safe."
Our young alpha. Good for him.
Danger reached across Hermione to stroke Harry's face, and he turned towards her touch with a little whine. "I'm here, little wolf," she said quietly. "Everything's going to be all right."
Remus joined her, first pressing Draco's shoulder and taking Hermione's hand in his own. He laid his other hand on Harry's head. "You fought bravely, Harry," he said softly. "Rest now and heal."
He could feel his littermates around him, could scent the adults of the Pack not far away. Their voices and their scents and their touch had soothed his fears away, had told him silently that the battle had been won. The slayer, for this day at least, was defeated.
The darkness claimed him again, but this time he did not resist. It was not the darkness of a cage, which would mock and madden him, but the darkness of the Den, where he might lie safely to rest and heal, as his alpha had instructed.
All was well in his world.
Hermione woke once with a nightmare, which Remus dealt with by giving her a late night lion-ride through the rest of the suite. "Like Susan and Lucy," she said when they were finished. "Did Danger really scream when you did it to her?"
"She wasn't expecting it, so you can't blame her, and you're not to tell her I told you this – but yes, she did."
In the morning, after everyone had breakfasted, the cubs went off to find their friends, and the adults made their way up to Dumbledore's office. Dumbledore himself was not in at the moment, the portraits told them, but had said to say he would be back in a few minutes. Sirius and Phineas Nigellus soon engaged one another in a verbal sparring match which kept everyone entertained until the Headmaster returned.
"Have you broken your fast, or would you care for refreshment?" he asked, chuckling at Phineas' last quip, which had Aletha and Remus laughing heartily and Sirius blushing, and even Danger had cracked a smile.
"I can always handle a cup of tea, Professor," said Aletha, wiping her eyes.
"That brings up the first issue I wish to speak with you about," said Dumbledore, ringing a small silver bell on the corner of his desk. "But in a moment."
Dobby appeared and took drink orders from everyone. "Is Harry Potter going to be all right, ma'am?" he asked Aletha anxiously.
"We're not sure, Dobby, but we think he'll be all right once he's had a chance to rest."
Dobby smiled and nodded vigorously. "If Mrs. Freeman-Black says so, Dobby believes it. Dobby will be back in a minute." He vanished.
"Are all house-elves this strange?" Aletha asked Sirius.
"You're asking the wrong man – I hated our house-elf, and the feeling was mutual. You remember him from Grimmauld Place, Kreacher – disgusting little thing, I always secretly wanted to see if he'd fit down the toilet... I'm sorry, Professor, you had something you wanted to tell us."
"Not exactly something to tell you, Sirius, this is more along the lines of a request." Dumbledore sat back in his chair. "Over the course of my life, I have found one thing harder to come by than any other, and that is a true and loyal friend. I count myself lucky in these, my waning years, to have found not one but four. You have all of you earned the right, many times over, to address me as Minerva does." He smiled suddenly. "And I do wish you would avail yourselves of it – I get quite enough of being called 'Headmaster' and 'Professor' by the students."
Sirius closed his mouth. "This is going to be a hard one," he said to no one in particular. "I still get the urge to call Minerva 'Professor' half the time – give me a little while to get used to this, sir – Albus?"
"There, you did it quite nicely," said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. "In three or four years, you may even do it without thinking about it." His smile was replaced with a more somber expression. "But there are other things we must discuss. Such as questions Harry is likely to ask when he awakes, and what answers you will provide for him."
They gave me these powers. To protect the ones I love, they said. But if that protection takes the shape of death...
She was on her feet, running, but it didn't matter. She couldn't run fast enough or far enough to escape the memory. Quirrell, screaming as the fire burned his life away. As she killed him.
I understand Lady Macbeth much better now. "What, will these hands ne'er be clean? Yet here's a spot. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand..."
She didn't really come back to herself until she was curled up under a tree on the outskirts of the Forbidden Forest, head on her knees and tears soaking her robes, shaking with her sobs.
"Yeh all right there?" asked a rough voice.
Danger turned to see Hagrid looking at her with concern. "You look awful," she remarked shakily.
Hagrid grimaced. "Feel awful. Bin up ter the castle – got a potion ter help bring my memories back – an' it turns out I did tell Lockhart how ter get past Fluffy. Drew me out, he did, flatterin' me." He growled slightly, pounding a massive fist into his other hand. "If he weren't already dead..."
Danger smiled in spite of herself. "Remus said the same thing." She rummaged in her pocket. "Oh, botheration, I've lost my handkerchief..."
Hagrid offered her his, and she took it with a nod of thanks. It was enormous and coarsely woven, rough on her face, but it dried her tears. She looked Hagrid over as she handed it back. "May I ask you something?"
"Have you ever... killed anyone?"
Hagrid sat down beside her. "I have," he said solemnly. "Just once. Durin' the first war, it was. We were tryin' ter stop a load o' Death Eaters playing their damn games with a busload o' Muggle kids." He scowled. "I got a hold on one of 'em. Big feller, he was, an' fast with his wand. I busted it first thing, then I got my hands 'round his neck..." He stopped, looking at the ground. "He was dead pretty quick. Guess I didn't know me own strength then. Least not well's I do now."
"I'm sorry," said Danger, looking up at Hagrid – even had she been standing, looking up would still have been necessary. "About last night. I shouldn't have said those things to you."
"'m sorry meself," said Hagrid, meeting her gaze. There was honest pain in the black eyes – Danger knew as few people did how deeply Hagrid cared about the cubs. "That was ruddy stupid. Blurtin' it out like that. They could've been killed – all of 'em – and it would've been my fault..."
He looked away from her, up towards the castle. "I saw Harry," he said quietly. "In hospital. Looks right bad, he does. All pale an' lying so still, him that's always so full o' life. Madam Pomfrey chased me out before I got a chance ter ask – do yeh know anythin' yet? Will he be all right?"
"Aletha says he just needs rest, and I trust her judgment. I think the real crisis was last night, and he pulled through. So he just needs to recover."
"Do yeh really believe that?"
Danger sniffled. "I don't know."
Crying on Hagrid's shoulder wasn't much like crying on anyone else's, Danger reflected. For one thing, you would have to stand on your tiptoes to reach his actual shoulder, so it was more crying on his chest. And his idea of a reassuring pat on the back tended to knock the wind out of ordinary people.
Still, he was doing his best. Just like everyone else.
He groaned and rolled over. It didn't help, as the voice continued in the other ear. "Two full nights and days is enough for anyone to sleep when it is not winter, heart's egg. Up with you, now."
"But I don't want to."
There was a small shriek nearby. Harry's eyes flew open.
Two or three blurry figures were moving around. He blinked once or twice, then realized he didn't have his glasses on. Before he could start looking for them, someone had handed them to him. He put them on and looked up to see Padfoot.
"We were starting to think you'd never wake up," said his godfather lightly, but Harry could see worry lines on the man's face. "How do you feel?"
"All right–" Harry sat up suddenly, making Padfoot jump a little. "What happened to the Stone? It was Quirrell – and Voldemort – did he get it?"
"Everything's all right, Harry, no need to panic – Madam Pomfrey's under enough stress at the moment, since it seems no one told her about that particular ability of yours." Padfoot indicated Siss, who was coiled up on Harry's pillow looking smug. "It seems Draco was right. He was the one who suggested bringing Siss down here to see you – although Ron says it was just to get her out of the dorm, she was starting to nip the other boys."
"Siss, you didn't..."
The snake gave the serpentine wriggle that equated to a human shrug. "I was worried about you."
"That's still not nice."
"It got me what I wanted."
Harry sighed. "What do you call it when somebody doesn't care what they do as long as it gets them what they want?"
"Ruthless?" suggested Padfoot, sitting down in the chair by the bed. "Egocentric?"
"I like the second one better." Harry looked down at Siss. "You're egocentric," he said.
Siss flicked her tongue out at him in a human gesture she'd picked up. "I would be more offended if I thought you knew what that word meant."
Harry laughed. "So what happened?" he asked, looking back up. "Where's everyone else? Are they all right? Draco was having trouble breathing after he beat the boggart, he said he'd wait in the key chamber so he wouldn't slow us down – and Ron got hit pretty hard by the white queen – I don't think Hermione got hurt at all, did she?"
"No, she's fine. They're all fine now, Draco just had a cracked rib, and Ron a mild concussion – and after hearing what Draco and Hermione had to say about what you four – five, I can't forget Neville – what you five figured out about Halloween, Poppy tried him on a dose of Memorare Potion, and it worked perfectly. They said you'd recovered your memories on your own – is that true?"
"I think so," said Harry, closing his eyes for a moment. "Yes. It feels a little fuzzy still – like I watched a movie of it instead of doing it – but I remember."
Padfoot nodded slowly. "You are aware that's supposedly impossible? Breaking a Memory Charm from the inside?"
"Surviving the Killing Curse was supposed to be impossible too," retorted Harry, tapping his forehead. "I ought to be a superhero. Impossible Boy."
"You are impossible," said Padfoot, shoving him affectionately down onto the bed. "And you practically are a superhero. What you did was probably the dumbest, and the bravest, thing you could have – and it worked. Quirrell and Lockhart are both dead, Voldemort is, as far as we can tell, gone, and the Sorcerer's Stone has been destroyed."
Harry sat up again. "Destroyed? But – what about Nicolas Flamel?"
"Well, that's a bit of a long story–"
"I want to know."
"Manners," said Letha acidly, coming around the screen. "Just because you've just woken up and we're all over the moon that you didn't manage to get your fool self killed, doesn't mean you can go around being rude, Harry James Potter."
Harry would have been more convinced if he hadn't been able to see tears in her eyes. She hugged him once, hard, then sat down in the chair on the other side of the bed from Padfoot.
"Please, will you tell me what Nicolas Flamel is going to do if the Sorcerer's Stone has been destroyed," said Harry politely.
Letha nodded. "Much better. Harry, Nicolas Flamel is almost seven hundred years old. You can do an awful lot of living in seven hundred years. And you can get very tired... what was that phrase Albus used, Sirius?"
"'Like going to bed after a very, very long day,'" recited Padfoot.
"He's going to die, then."
"Yes. He and his wife Perenelle are going to die."
"But – why?"
"It's hard to explain, Harry," said Padfoot slowly. "I think you have to grow into some of this – I know you're going to hate hearing this, but you're really too young to understand some of it. But tell me this. Are there things worth dying for?"
"Nicolas Flamel feels that he would rather die," Letha took over, "than see his Sorcerer's Stone, which took him his whole life to make – or what would have been his whole life – in Voldemort's hands. Even the safest place in the wizarding world didn't turn out to be safe enough. So instead of keeping it and taking the risk that Voldemort would take it and use it to return to power – to become the strongest and worst Dark wizard ever – he's destroyed it. Even though that means he has to die himself."
"I... guess I understand," said Harry. "Sort of." Something occurred to him. "What happened to Quirrell? I mean, why couldn't he touch me – and what happened to him at the end? All I remember is holding onto his arm, he was screaming, my head was hurting more and more and more, and then Danger yelled something and there was this big bright light..."
"That's more of two separate questions," said Padfoot, "and we're really not qualified to answer them, since we weren't there. But someone who was is on her way..."
Danger skidded around the end of the screen and visibly restrained herself from jumping onto Harry's bed. "Thank God you're all right," she said a bit hoarsely into his ear, hugging him tightly instead. "If you'd been hurt any worse – but you're not, you're going to be fine, you understand me? You're not allowed to be ill any more after tomorrow – it's already got half the school in an uproar–"
"Harry, do you know what day it is?" asked Letha.
"No. Not really. Why–" Harry looked out the window at the late afternoon sunlight and had a horrid realization. "I've missed the last Quidditch match, haven't I."
"I'm afraid so," said Danger. "It was yesterday. Gryffindor had to forfeit, since they couldn't field a Seeker, but at least that means no one else gets any more points over you."
Harry nodded sadly. "We're in last place as it is." He noticed Padfoot wink at Letha, and was about to ask about it, but Moony came around the screen at that moment and claimed his attention and a hug.
"Harry was just asking why Quirrell couldn't touch him," said Padfoot when the adults were all seated.
"Couldn't touch him?" repeated Moony with a slight frown. "Harry, you're going to have to fill us in on a few things. What went on down there after Hermione left?"
Harry told them the story, as best as he remembered it – the shock of discovering that Quirrell, as well as Lockhart, had been working for Voldemort; Quirrell trying to use him, Harry, to get the Stone out of the Mirror of Erised; and Harry's success – "Why did that work?" Harry asked, interrupting himself. "I mean, how could I get it, and not him?"
"We'll tell you later – go on," said Padfoot, who looked enthralled. Harry grinned to himself and continued, though there wasn't much more to tell, since Moony and Danger had overheard most of his conversation with Voldemort.
"But when he tried to touch me, something happened," Harry wound up. "He tried to choke me, and his hands got all burned-looking – I grabbed his face, and it happened there too. Then you came in, Moony, and knocked him off me, and he threw you across the room–"
"That goes on my list of lifetime stupid moments," said Moony with a rueful smile. "I was thinking, 'You idiot, he did this to Sirius in the Forest, why couldn't you have remembered!'"
Harry laughed with everyone else. "Then he started trying to hurt you, Danger, and I realized if I hurt him he couldn't hurt you, so I did. I grabbed his arm and held on, and it made my scar hurt a lot – I guess that was being close to Voldemort like that – but it hurt him too. And then you shouted," he said to Danger, "and there was a lot of light – and that's all I remember, until waking up here."
Danger shifted in her seat uncomfortably.
"We'll cover what that was in a minute," said Moony. "Harry, I can't be certain what caused that, but I can make an educated guess – do you want to hear it?"
"I think it may well have been your mother's sacrifice that did it. She loved you enough to die for you, and that love was so strong that it's stayed with you all this time – it will probably stay with you all your life. She wanted to protect you so much that her protection continues even now, so much so that anything as evil as Voldemort simply can't touch you."
Harry pressed a hand to his chest, feeling the Pack-pendants under his palm, thinking of the wedding rings he had sacrificed to make them, and of the tiger shape on them, which was reared up as if striking at something, and the stag, head lifted proudly... the parents he had never known, except through pictures and stories, and all because of one man...
"Why did Voldemort want to kill me?" he asked.
The looks the Pack-parents traded were laced with – was it alarm? Harry frowned.
"This is one of those questions I'm afraid I was hoping you'd never ask," said Padfoot finally. "Harry, we can't tell you that. At least, not today. But please trust us – we will tell you. As soon as we can."
Harry considered arguing, then let it go. The Pack was usually good about keeping promises like that. "What happened to Voldemort?" he asked instead. "He's not dead, is he?"
"No, I doubt it," said Letha. "Since he's not exactly alive at the moment, he can't be killed. So he's probably still out there somewhere, waiting for another chance."
"Another chance at what?" asked Harry, confused. "The Stone's been destroyed."
"There's a lot of Dark magic out there, Harry." Moony looked grave. "And Voldemort knows a great deal about it. He'll keep trying to return to power until he either succeeds or is destroyed."
"And... will he still want to kill me? You don't have to answer if you can't," Harry said quickly. "But I kind of want to know."
Padfoot nodded, his eyes shadowed. "Yes, Greeneyes, I'm afraid so. Voldemort's not the forgiving type."
"But we'll be here to help and protect you," said Letha decisively. "Until the day you can fight on your own, and then we'll fight beside you."
Harry smiled, liking that image.
"You asked about getting the Stone out of the Mirror," said Danger. "Dumbledore set that up – he's rather proud of how he did it. He set the enchantment so that what the person saw in the Mirror triggered whether or not they got the Stone. Only a person who wanted to find it, but not use it, could get it. So you counted, since all you wanted to do was keep it away from Voldemort. Quirrell was probably hoping for a little taste of that immortality himself."
"But now he's dead," said Harry.
Danger jumped a little. "Yes. That's true – how did you know?"
"Padfoot told me."
Danger glared at Padfoot.
"He was all worried about the Stone – what was I supposed to tell him?" Padfoot raised his hands in mock-surrender. "Don't kill me, lady, please, I got a wife and kids..."
"Sirius!" snapped Moony as Danger turned away.
"Oh, Merlin, I didn't think – I'm sorry." Padfoot looked pained. "Me and my big mouth..."
The bottom suddenly dropped out of Harry's stomach as he remembered Quirrell screaming in pain. He looked down at his hands, then back up at his Pack-parents. "Was it – me?"
"Was what you?" asked Letha.
"Did I – kill him?"
"No," said Letha quickly, covering his hand with her own and squeezing it reassuringly. "No, Harry, you didn't kill him. You defended yourself, and you did it well."
"Then... how did he die?"
Letha looked at Danger, who had turned back around, tear-marks tracking her cheeks. Padfoot and Moony were looking at her as well, Harry noticed. Suspicion began to grow in him.
"I did it, Harry," said Danger very quietly. "I killed Professor Quirrell."
Harry nodded, his suspicion confirmed. "You burned him," he said. "The light I saw was the fire."
Danger nodded mutely.
"I understand only a little human speech," said Siss, winding her way onto his lap and making him jump, "but the flat one has taught me some more words, and the word with all the hard edges is one. Do I understand correctly, that your dam with the brown head-fur killed a predator who sought your life?"
"Yes, that's right," said Harry, seizing on the snake as a polite reason not to meet Danger's eyes at the moment.
"And that you were frightened at the thought that you might have destroyed this predator yourself?"
"I guess so... Siss, what am I supposed to do now?"
"What do you mean?"
"She killed someone, Siss! I think... this is stupid, but I think I'm scared of her! What am I supposed to do?"
"I believe I can help. Will you convey a message to her for me?"
"Er... all right."
"You must promise one thing – to speak it in human-speech as quickly as I do in this language, without thinking overmuch about it. You will understand when we are finished. Will you promise?"
"I promise." Harry looked up. "Siss says she has something she wants to tell you," he told Danger.
Siss began to speak in Parseltongue, and as she had requested, Harry translated without thinking too much about it, and listened to himself talk. "She says, thank you for killing the predator who wanted to kill me. She knows it wasn't easy for you, because mothers want to protect life, not end it, but she says thank you for doing it so I didn't have to, because egglings grow up too soon anyway, and she hates to think of me needing to kill so young..." Harry stopped, and not just because Siss' message was finished, although it was. Mentally, he was kicking himself.
She didn't want to kill him. She would rather almost anything else. But she didn't want me to die, and she didn't want me to have to kill him. So she did it herself – she did it so I didn't have to...
Harry launched himself out of the bed and into Danger's arms. "Thank you," he whispered to her. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Danger whispered back, her voice catching.
A few blurry minutes passed, involving a lot of tears and hugging, until Harry found himself back in his bed, laughing at some stupid joke Padfoot had cracked, watching Moony and Danger tease each other, listening to Letha's stories about what had been happening with the other cubs, and he discovered he was happy.
Everything's going to be all right now.
"We were worried, mate," explained Ron. "Everyone's been on edge ever since it happened – and then Siss started biting people – Dean's got a blister on his heel where she nailed him."
"I thought she might be worried about you," said Draco. "So I got Meghan to bring her down and put her in beside you – they haven't let any of the rest of us in, just the Pack-parents and her."
"That's because Madam Pomfrey can trust me to behave myself around a very sick person," said Meghan with dignity.
"Oh, you behave yourself, do you?" asked Hermione. "And who was it painted all my clothes with pudding one year at Christmas?"
"You weren't sick then."
"Exam results are in," said Draco, distracting the girls with the ease of long practice. "I brought yours with me – here they are."
Harry accepted the parchment and looked the grades over. "Are you sure these are mine and not yours?" he said in surprise.
"Says 'Harry Potter' at the top. Why?"
"Oh, stop being so modest," said Hermione. "You've passed everything, and done well, that's what's important."
"This from the head of the class," grumbled Ron, making Hermione turn a faint pink.
"How did everyone else do?" asked Harry.
"I passed Potions," Neville volunteered. "One point above failing."
"Better than one point below," said Meghan practically.
Harry is doing just about as much for himself as he ever does in canon. The Pack-parents are doing, with very few exceptions, only what other types of help did for Harry in canon.
For instance: during the Quidditch match in canon, Hermione stopped Quirrell hexing the broom, and in LwoD Remus got rid of the Bludger. In the Forest, Harry is saved by Firenze in canon, and by the Pack-parents in LwoD, at the same time. And if Danger had not killed Quirrell, he would shortly have died anyway, from Harry's inflicting pain on him, or from Voldemort killing him (whichever is the actual canon explanation). Otherwise, Remus and Danger take the place of Dumbledore, who (in canon) arrived and pulled Harry off Quirrell.
So: The Pack-parents are not just showing up and pulling Harry out of trouble – or if they are, they're doing it in a canon fashion. So will you people please lay off! Grumble! ;-)
Today's review topic is fur. Interpret it how you will. And review responses – along with a "here's what you should have noticed" post, where I detail all the little clues I slipped in along the way – will be up on the Yahoo group some time tomorrow!)