(A/N: If you think this chapter seems a bit stilted, you're right. It originally had song lyrics in it, but they have had to be edited out. If you want to read the original version, go to fanficauthors dot net. I do recommend it, it's much better with the lyrics in it.)
Chapter 50: September 1, 1991, London
On 3 August, the fireplace in the Leaky Cauldron got quite a lot of use, as five Weasleys (Molly, Percy, Fred, George, and Ron) and eight Marauders Flooed into it one after another.
Hermione was almost jumping out of her skin with impatience to get to the bookstore, while Draco wanted to see himself in Hogwarts robes at long last. Ron was interested in Quality Quidditch Supplies and the latest broomstick models, even if he couldn't have his own broom at school until next year, and the twins, of course, were afire with enthusiasm to visit Gambol and Japes now that they had what Fred called "some real pocket money".
Harry was looking forward to something a bit different.
"Your mother and father knew this day might come," Padfoot had told him the night before. "One of the last things they did before they went into hiding was leave you a letter in their Gringotts vault." He smiled a bit wryly. "It was James' idea to bury it under some of the money. I think he was hoping you'd never have to dig deep enough to find it."
Now, waiting for whichever adult was at the front of the group to open the archway to Diagon Alley, Harry pulled his Pack-pendant chain from his shirt and looked again at the four small medallions.
The first one had a carving of a stag on one side and a tiger on the other—Harry traced the stag's outline reverently with his finger. The second one showed a male lion and a wolf side by side, and a large dog and a winged horse on the reverse. The third, on one side, had a dragon and a cat, and on the other, a bird surrounded by things Moony said were flames, which made it a phoenix, and another bird no one could identify, though Harry thought it looked a bit like a crow. The last one had three pictures on one side—a cat, a fox, and a doe—and nothing on the other.
Everyone's pendants were a little different—the first pendant was very different for everyone except Hermione and Danger, who both had a book and a rose—
Ron waved his hand in front of Harry's eyes. "Hello, anyone home? Come on, they're leaving without us!"
"Hagrid!" Harry called as they entered Gringotts. He sped off to greet the Hogwarts gamekeeper, who had just emerged from the door leading to the vaults, looking rather green.
"Hullo, Harry," Hagrid said a bit weakly. "Blimey, I hate them carts. All righ', Sirius?"
"All right, thanks. What brings you to Gringotts today?"
"Oh, I can't tell yeh that. Very secret. Hogwarts business." Hagrid patted his pocket confidently. "Dumbledore's trusted me with it."
"No one better," Sirius said with a smile. "Come on, Harry, we've got business of our own. Tom's not too busy now if you need a pick-me-up, Hagrid," he added quietly.
Nearly an hour later, Sirius held a tearful Harry in one of the private parlors in the Leaky Cauldron, to which Tom had kindly escorted them upon seeing the look on Harry's face after he'd read the letter the first time.
"Better now?" Sirius asked quietly.
Harry sniffled. "Some," he said into Sirius' robes. "Tell me again?"
"They loved you more than anything," Sirius recited. "More than your dad loved flying, more than your mum loved reading, more than either of them loved life itself they loved you."
Harry emitted a deep, shaky sigh and wiped his eyes with Sirius' handkerchief. Siss poked her head out of his shirt and (Sirius assumed) said something to him, since Harry answered in a sibilant hiss, paused a moment, then gave a small smile. "I think I'm ready now," he said, standing up. "Thanks, Padfoot."
"Anytime, Greeneyes." Sirius scent-touched his godson, and received one in return.
Because I love you just that much.
And that's the highest compliment possible to James and Lily.
" – looked a little like a rabbit," Draco was saying as Harry and Sirius rejoined the main group, who were standing outside Flourish and Blotts. "And he would not leave me alone—he kept asking me questions about what House I wanted to be in, and did I play Quidditch, and on and on, and finally he got offended because I was ignoring him, and he said, 'Honestly, were you raised by wolves?' And I said, 'Yes,' and by the time he recovered I was already gone."
"Don't go in there," Aletha said over the laughter, holding out her hand to bar Sirius and Harry from entering the bookshop. "Gilderoy Lockhart's holding a book signing, and the last thing either of you needs is to have your picture taken with him."
"We've got all his books on our lists this year," Fred Weasley said. "The new teacher must be a fan—bet it's a witch."
"Mum fancies him," George added, grinning. "Thinks he's so handsome and special and all."
"That's probably what's taking her so long," Ron said in tones of disgust. "Getting all of ours signed."
Molly Weasley emerged from the bookstore, Percy beside her, both of them carrying teetering piles of books. "Here, Fred, George, these are yours," she said, shoving the books into the twins' arms. "Ron, Percy has yours."
Remus was right behind her, also with a stack of books, which he handed to Draco. Danger gave Harry his, and Hermione was carrying her own and beaming. "He thinks I'm pretty," she said in a voice which reminded Harry a bit of Luna.
"Who?" Harry asked, rearranging his books so they didn't squash Siss.
"Gilderoy Lockhart," Hermione said, her eyes half-closed and a rather silly smile on her face. "He called me a pretty young lady and asked if I wanted my books signed 'With Love'."
Draco caught Harry's eye and twirled his finger next to his temple. Ron made a "someone-get-me-a-basin" face.
"Last stop of the day, Ollivander's," Remus said quickly before Hermione could notice the boys.
"No, wait, Harry doesn't have his robes yet—" Sirius started.
"I'll take his books," Danger said, reclaiming the stack. "You two go to Madam Malkin's, Sirius, and catch us up at Ollivander's."
"No, even better," Molly Weasley said. "I can take all these home for you, so you don't have to be carrying them about, and you can take Ron with you to get his wand."
"If it wouldn't be a problem—" Aletha said.
"Not at all," Molly assured them. "I need to get these two home before they destroy something anyway," she added in a low tone with a glance at Fred and George. "And if they're carrying books, they won't have free hands to do it with."
"I'm not giving these to them," Hermione said in a disdainful tone, glaring at the twins.
"I'll take yours, Hermione dear," Molly said quickly, holding out her arms for them. Danger handed Harry's to Fred, and Draco dumped his pile in George's arms.
"Robes, then a wand?" Sirius asked Harry.
Harry grinned. "Sounds like a plan."
They set off for Madam Malkin's together.
The object we were discussing arrived safely at Hogwarts today. Thank you for providing the extra security around Gringotts for the past month. It may have made the difference.
You're welcome, and thank you, on behalf of my department as well as myself. Now my staff can finally get some sleep (I've had reports of people falling asleep on the job from the overload). After all, if it's not safe at Hogwarts, where is it safe?
A. S. Bones
P.S. Any truth to the rumors you're hiring an adjunct Defense professor this year?
The boys lay in the sun outside the Weasleys' orchard, each ruminating silently on the beauties of the gorgeous things belonging to them—Harry's eleven inches, holly and phoenix feather, Ron's fourteen inches, willow and unicorn tail hair, and Draco's twelve and a half inches, hazel and dragon heartstring.
They could hear, from around the corner of the trees, Hermione's voice, reading something aloud to the other girls from her favorite perch in the fork of an elm. Harry was sure that her eleven and three quarter inches of vine wood, containing one dragon heartstring, was safely tucked into her pocket, ready for anything.
"Do either of you know any spells?" Ron asked lazily.
"We've heard them, but we don't really know them," Draco answered, stroking his wand as Padfoot sometimes did. "Things like Alohomora and Scourgify that everyone uses day-to-day. How about you?"
"George taught me one—at least he says it's one, but I think he's lying. It goes like this:
"Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow,
"Turn my sister's hair bright yellow.
"But I tried it on Ginny and nothing happened."
"Speaking of Ginny, where's she been lately?" Harry asked. "I never see her anymore."
Ron sighed. "I don't know what's wrong with her. She keeps watching you, but every time you start coming anywhere near her, she runs away and hides. And if she has to be around you, she never says anything, just blushes and gets away as soon as she can."
"Did I offend her somehow?" Harry asked perplexedly.
Draco sighed. "No, Harry, you didn't offend her. You didn't do anything—except exist."
"She likes you," Draco elaborated. "She's got a crush on you. You're The Boy Who Lived—get used to it. Girls are going to be all over you."
Harry shuddered. "Remind me again why we wanted to stop hiding."
"I've got a better idea," Ron said. "Let's talk about something else."
"Fine with me," Harry said heartily. "Let's talk about... spells. I bet we could make up a better one than that one."
"Flames and blankets on my bed," Draco said, sitting up. "Turn my sister's hair bright red."
The other boys laughed. "But you have to have your wand out or it doesn't work," Harry said, pulling out his own.
"And besides, that one wouldn't do anything to Ginny," Ron pointed out.
"I've got one," Harry said, still laughing.
"Ocean water, sky so true,
"Turn my sister's hair bright blue."
A jet of light shot from the end of his wand and into the trees. There were several gasps and a little scream.
"Uh-oh," Draco said, staring at Harry's wand.
"WHO DID THIS?" Hermione's voice screamed.
"What do we do now?" Harry said in a panicked whisper.
Ron gulped. "Run?" he suggested weakly.
They needed every bit of the head start they got to make it to the Den before the absolutely furious and bright-blue-haired Hermione could catch them (Meghan, Ginny, and Luna had been slowed down by laughing). Once there, they were able to hide behind Moony and Danger until Harry managed to get Hermione to understand that it had been an accident, he really hadn't meant to turn her hair blue, he was really, really sorry, and he was going to turn it back right away.
"No more experimenting," Moony said sternly, holding out his hand for the boys' wands. "Hermione, you too. You don't need these until you leave for school."
Draco and Hermione wouldn't speak to Harry for a day and a half. Ron was sympathetic. "I told on Fred and George once for hexing Ginny's dolls, and all three of them stopped speaking to me," he said as the two practiced close formation flying. "I guess Ginny thought she could take care of it herself."
By the end of August, everything was made up between the cubs, though Draco was still spending a lot of time with Luna and Hermione with Ginny. "Don't push them," Letha told Harry. "Remember, they're leaving the girls behind when they go to Hogwarts. Ron's going with you."
Harry nodded. "They're going to wear Hedwig out with all the letters I hear them promising to write," he said. "She's going to be stretched so thin you'll be able to see through her."
Padfoot started snickering. "Owl stretching time," he said mysteriously.
Letha threw a wad of parchment at his head. "Why is it you can remember things like that, but not to pick your towel up off the bathroom floor?"
Draco and Luna sat in the music room of the Den. It was 4:50 on 31 August. Draco's trunk was packed and ready for the next day's departure. Neither of them knew quite what to say, and Luna was expected home at five.
Luna's hands began to move across the keys, playing an introduction. Then she sang, simply and naturally as Aletha had taught her, asking him to think of her when he was far away...
After eight lines of music, Luna modulated the chords into a finish, although Draco knew that was only a small portion of the song.
I guess that's all she needs to say...
"I'll owl you every week," he said. "I promise."
Luna smiled at him. "I'd like that. Goodbye, Draco."
It was enough.
Later that night, the Pack gathered in their Den, for the last time for what suddenly seemed like a very long while.
"Something you'll need to remember," Aletha said. "Wherever you go, whatever you do." She hummed a note, then began to sing. The words of the song spoke of courage in troubled times, of walking through a storm without fear.
Sirius joined her, adding a harmony line, as the song promised calm after the storm, even beauty.
Remus and Danger joined in, making it full four-part harmony, and the Pack-parents gave the cubs their word that even though their dreams might be shaken by the troubles of life, if they only kept on, they would never walk alone.
"That's what Pack means," Remus said softly into the silence after the song. "None of us are alone. Never forget it."
After that, it could be something resembling a normal den-night, with stories, jokes, cuddling, and eventually sleep.
Danger awoke halfway through the night, got up, scribbled something down, put it in the pocket of her jeans, and went back to sleep.
I am eight years old and a Black, and I knew this was coming. I am NOT going to cry.
Dadfoot surreptitiously handed her a handkerchief.
All right. Yes, I am.
Meghan howled unabashedly as she watched Harry and Draco bang their trunks down the stairs. "Pearl, we're only going to school," Harry said, looking uncomfortable. "We're not dying."
"And we'll owl you every week," Draco added. "Promise."
"You'd better," Meghan said, blowing her nose. "Or I'll steal Mama Letha's wand and hex your flute so it makes you sneeze every time you play it."
"How'll you do that if you're here and I'm there, silly Pearl?" Draco teased.
"I'll Floo there and sneak into your dorm and do it."
"And she will, too," Hermione said from the top of the stairs. "Don't worry, Meghan, I'll make sure they remember."
A horn honked out front. "Oh, Remus must be back with the car," Danger said, hurrying to the front door. "Come on, everyone, let's get loaded up – "
Mrs. Weasley didn't drive, and Mr. Weasley had to work, so Moony would be driving both families to Kings' Cross. The Weasleys' old turquoise Ford Anglia didn't look large enough to hold six Weasleys (Ginny had insisted on coming) and eight Marauders, let alone seven Hogwarts trunks and two owls (Hedwig and Percy Weasley's Hermes), but Mr. Weasley had been working on the car for a few years and had magically expanded both the boot and the seats. It was a tad crowded, but everyone fit.
Meghan sat next to Mama Letha all the way there, trying hard not to think of how unfair it was that she didn't get to go to Hogwarts. She was smart enough. She could keep up. Neenie got to go early. Why not her?
Her frown lasted all the way through the ride and into the station, where Moony greeted an older woman with delight. "Sue!"
"Remus," she said in reply, shaking his hand. "Just said goodbye to Terry—the security on your platform won't let me through, Dorothy's getting him aboard. Are all these yours?"
"No, just the ones without red hair—"
Introductions were made all around, and a little of Meghan's bad mood was gone by the time the woman left. The group was just approaching the barrier between platforms nine and ten when Danger gasped, grabbed Harry, and pulled him behind a column.
"What—" Dadfoot asked.
"Tell you in a second," Moony said, looking towards the barrier.
A man, woman, and boy stood there, staring at it. The boy had a trolley with what looked like a Hogwarts trunk on it. "Have a good term," the man said brusquely and strode away.
The boy, who was blond and rather heavyset, watched him go. "Mum, why does Dad hate me?" he asked, a trifle plaintively.
"Your father doesn't hate you, Dudley, he's just a little surprised by all this. I am too—it all happened so fast—" The woman kissed the top of the boy's head. "Have a good time at school, dear, and don't forget to write." She turned and walked quickly away, her face wooden.
The boy stared at the barrier as the Weasleys, who had not hung back with the Pack, approached it. Then he stared at Percy as that young man marched towards the barrier—and vanished through it.
"Excuse me," he said shyly to Mrs. Weasley.
"Hello, dear," Meghan heard her say. "First time at Hogwarts?"
"Yes—the thing is, I don't know how—"
"How to get onto the platform? Not to worry, all you have to do is walk straight at the barrier—don't stop and don't be scared you'll crash into it, that's very important—go on, go now before Ron."
The boy visibly marshaled his courage and walked slowly, and probably with his eyes shut, towards the barrier—and went right through.
"Dudley," Mama Letha said slowly. "Not—"
"Yes." Danger emerged from behind the pillar. "Be careful of that boy, you three," she said to the other cubs, and Meghan's annoyance was back full-force.
They have to be careful and not me. Because I'm not going.
Not even passing the magical barrier, holding tightly to Mama Letha's hand, could lift her spirits. She sat down on a discarded crate and pouted.
A thought struck her. What if I sneaked on board? They wouldn't stop the whole train just for me—
She sighed at her own stupidity. No, they'd just send me home by Floo as soon as I got there. And I'd be in trouble.
A sound drew her attention. It sounded like a croak. She looked around for the source, and finally realized it sounded as if it was beneath her...
A toad sat under her crate, blinking stupidly up at her. "I suppose you belong to someone," she said. "I should find out who." She got up, moved the crate, and picked the creature up. Dadfoot was attracting some attention from the other adults on the platform—Meghan skirted that group and walked along, her eyes searching for someone who looked as if they might own a toad. She asked a few people, but the answer was always, "No," usually with the slightly disdainful tone of an older child to a younger.
Suddenly she saw him. It must be him. Why else would someone be on his hands and knees, peering under luggage trolleys?
"Excuse me," she said, coming up behind him. The boy yelped and banged his head, trying to get up. Meghan winced. "Sorry. Is this your toad?"
The boy turned a round, sweating face in her direction. "Trevor!" he cried happily, holding out his hands. "Thank you so much—Gran, here he is!" he called to an older witch with a stuffed vulture on her hat. He put the toad carefully in his shirt pocket and held out his hand to Meghan. "I'm Neville. Neville Longbottom."
Meghan squealed in recognition. "You have to meet my family!" She grasped his hand, still outstretched, and dragged him down the platform to where Dadfoot was just getting rid of the last of the people who wanted to talk to him. "Dadfoot, look who I met," she said breathlessly. "It's—"
"You're the Longbottom boy, aren't you?" Dadfoot said before Meghan could finish. "Moony, what was Frank and Alice's boy's name again?"
"Neville, I think—and that's you, isn't it?" Moony asked, holding out his hand to Neville, who was goggling at them.
"You knew my parents?" he blurted.
"Not only that, we've met before," Dadfoot said, shaking Neville's hand in his turn. "But I doubt you'd remember, since you were one day old at the time."
Neville was staring even harder now. "You're Sirius Black," he said in almost a whisper.
"That I am, and this is my wife Aletha, and you've already met Remus Lupin. We all knew your parents during the war."
"So you did," said another voice from behind Meghan and Neville. "Augusta Longbottom, Mr. Black, pleased to meet you. Frank always spoke highly of you and Mr. Lupin, and Miss Freeman, as you were then," she said to Mama Letha. "This must be your daughter."
"Yes, this is our Meghan, and Remus' wife Gertrude, though everyone calls her Danger—and the other children are on the train already, let me call them—HARRY!"
Neville's eyes didn't look like they could get any bigger without falling out of his head. Meghan wanted to laugh, but that was rude. Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Draco spilled off the train and came running over, and were introduced to Mrs. Longbottom and Neville.
"Do you want to sit with us?" Harry asked when they all knew each other's names. "There's still some room in our compartment."
Neville nodded, seemingly unable to speak.
"Let's get your trunk aboard, then," said Moony. "Where is it?"
"You're Sirius Black's daughter," Neville said weakly to Meghan while Dadfoot and Moony hauled his trunk aboard the train. "And Harry Potter's little sister."
"And you gave me my toad back."
"I don't know," Neville said. "I don't know a lot of other kids." He smiled shyly at her. "I guess that's going to change."
"Do you have anyone to write letters to?" Meghan asked, struck by an impulse.
"Not really. Just Gran, and she won't want me to write too often—she'll think I'm slacking off work if I write her letters all the time."
"Would you write to me?"
"You want me to write to you?"
Meghan nodded. "It's Meghan with an H," she said. "Meghan Black. Or you could ask Harry or Draco or Hermione how to spell it. They all know. And I'll write to you—how do you spell your name?"
Neville spelled it out for her. "I never had a pen-pal before," he said, smiling a little bigger now. "Do you like plants?"
"Oh, I love them. I love watching things grow and be beautiful. Do you?"
"I have my own garden at home," Neville said, sounding almost excited. "I grow all kinds of things."
The train whistled. "You'd better get on," Meghan said quickly. "Go on, get on. You can write me about it, and I'll write you about mine. Goodbye!"
"Goodbye!" Neville got quickly aboard the train with one hand, the other clutching Trevor in his shirt pocket. Dadfoot and Moony jumped off at another door. Meghan hurried down the platform until she was near them, Mama Letha, and Mrs. Weasley. Ginny and Danger seemed to have disappeared somewhere...
Ginny was sniffling hard when Danger pulled her aside. "Some advice, Miss Weasley," she said quietly. "Alpha females don't cry in public unless they can't help it."
Ginny froze in mid-gulp. Danger was well aware that the red-haired girl knew Pack speech, knew that an alpha female was almost always the mate of the alpha male. And that she knew very well indeed who the alpha male of the cubs' pack was.
"Just a reminder," Danger said casually, and strolled back towards Remus.
Yes, I'm making trouble. As I've said before, it's what I do best.
Her hand caressed her pocket, and the lines within.
O warrior woman, tell the maid
Of fiery hair that if she wade
In tears so deep for all to see,
An alpha she will never be.
His warty friend returned by Black,
The might-have-been completes the Pack,
And future dangers they will dare
Perhaps without their Danger there...
Danger looked up suddenly to see Harry hanging out the window. "Get back inside that train this instant, Harry James Potter!" she shouted.
"Fine!" Harry yelled, sliding back in and sitting down.
Draco snickered. "Don't even start," Harry warned him.
With a jerk, the train began to move. Everyone waved furiously at the Pack and Mrs. Weasley and Mrs. Longbottom and laughed a bit at Ginny and Meghan, who were chasing the train together. Aletha had traces of tears on her face, Padfoot's smile was a little shaky, Moony looked incredibly proud, Danger was laughing a bit herself, as they waved goodbye...
They all disappeared as the train rounded the corner. Harry felt a great leap of excitement, but there was a little tinge of sadness to it.
He knew what he was going to—but it couldn't be better than what he was leaving behind.
(A/N: For the last time in this fic (sniffle) the songs aren't mine, and if anyone can tell me what "Owl stretching time" refers to, I'll give them a cookie on my Facebook page, facebook dot com slash annebwalsh dot page!
Thank you to all my WONDERFUL reviewers—I never dreamed this story would break 500, much less 1500, which is what I'm thinking I'll have once this chapter (the last chapter—sniffle again) goes up! And remember, Remus' birthday (LwD style) is coming up... wouldn't a wonderful present for him be the first chapter of "Living without Danger"?
Goodbye for now, everyone, and thank you all again! Please don't forget to review and tell me if you liked it or not!
Update as of June 2012: I am now a published author! Go to Amazon or Smashwords dot com to check out my first original novel, A Widow in Waiting, an exciting historical fantasy about a noblewoman who has to keep the truth about her husband's death a secret if she ever wants to marry the man she really loves...
Second update as of February 2013: If you enjoy the Dangerverse, please check out the first original Dangerverse-based fantasy novel, Homecoming, a Cinderella story with a twist... what would you choose? A life of luxury filled only with loneliness, or one of hard work where there nonetheless is love?)