(Disclaimer: If you recognize it, it ain't mine, unless you recognize it from my other work and nowhere else. Basically, I own three characters, the situation, and the plot. Nothin' else. And if you want to borrow something, ask!
Warning: If you have to go to the bathroom, I suggest you do it now. This story contains humor. And now that I've said that, no one will find it in the least funny. Sigh.
Oh well. Enjoy.)
Tuesday, March 31, 1987
The dark-haired, rakishly handsome man cautiously opened the door and looked down the hall. No sign of anyone else. He took a moment to change forms and sniff. Only his own scent and that of his partner in the noble and most ancient art of prank. They had not been detected.
"Are we clear?" his partner asked from behind him.
Sirius Black changed back to human and grinned. "Yep. My turn."
"Act casual," Remus Lupin advised him as they strolled down the upstairs hallway of the house known (to its inhabitants) as the Marauders' Den, which the two remaining true Marauders shared with their wives and the four children they were raising. "We have a perfect right to be here, after all."
"Not according to the law," Sirius pointed out with some justice. "If the Ministry ever got wind of where we are…"
"That's not what I meant and you know it, Padfoot. And tell me the truth, what are you more afraid of—the Ministry finding us here, or Aletha finding you setting up a prank for her?"
"You have a point—but it goes both ways, Moony. Would you rather face an Auror, or Danger in one of those moods of hers that makes it really clear how she got that nickname?"
Remus winced. "As you said, it goes both ways." His wife's temper was formidable when it got going.
"They're going to be mad when they figure out what we pulled, aren't they?"
"Yes, for about twenty seconds, until they start laughing. That's the way it always works."
"Yeah, but a lot can happen in twenty seconds."
A life can change in twenty seconds, Remus reflected as he leaned against the doorframe, keeping watch while Sirius worked. That was all the time it took for me to recognize that little boy in the park five years ago. And that led to this—a household in hiding, a Pack of eight, where only the youngest child was actually born to any of the people raising her—her older siblings having been inherited, stolen, and given to us, in that order...
I love my life.
Two of the four children of the household ("cubs of the Pack", in family parlance) were currently in the back yard, making arrangements for their own celebration of the first of April.
"Reggie, this is Hesseh," said the blond boy to the black-haired one, holding up a long, thin, green thing that might have been mistaken for a thick piece of string, except that it was moving. "He's a friend of Siss'—you remember Siss, right?"
"Sure. Hi, Siss. Hi, Hesseh." Reggie waved at the similar green thing coiling itself around his brother's leg and extended his arm so that Hesseh could slither onto it. "He's soft."
"Yeah, they're not slimy like people think they are. And they're really nice once you get to know them. Come on, let's show them the bedroom. Are you sure they're using Padfoot's?"
"Positive—think about it, Jamie. Who sleeps heavier, Moony or Padfoot?"
"Right. So Danger and Letha can pull the move on him loads easier."
"Okay, I get it. If we're going in, I gotta tell them to hide. You ready?"
Jamie leaned over to whisper something to Hesseh, who promptly slid down the front of Reggie's shirt, making him laugh. "That tickles!"
Jamie repeated his whisper to Siss, who slithered up his offered arm and inside the sleeve of his T-shirt. "Now we're ready," he said, straightening up.
In the bedroom the two Marauders had vacated a few minutes earlier, a brown bushy head peered cautiously around the door.
"What you see?" whispered the smaller girl behind her.
"It's empty. Come on."
The girls made their way, on tiptoe, across the bedroom to the door of the master bathroom beyond, and inside. There, the four-year-old climbed onto her sister's back and snagged a certain bottle from the high shelf inside the shower.
"You have the stuff, Meg?" the bigger girl asked, lowering her sister to the floor.
Meghan Black produced two small bottles from one of her pockets. "Which one, Neenie?" she asked.
"Let's use the strawberry. Save the other one for Padfoot."
The girls shared a giggle, then went to work.
Jamie and Reggie came in through the back door. "Everyone still with us?" Jamie asked in the peculiar hissing whisper that only he could manage.
"I am fine, my heart's egg," Siss answered indulgently from her position coiled around his shoulder.
"I like it here," Hesseh said from inside Reggie's shirt. "This is a nice place to bask. Very warm. Can I stay here?"
"What's so funny, Harry?" his brother demanded.
"Hesseh likes it inside your shirt, Draco. He wants to stay!"
Draco Black was about to make a blistering retort, but his eyes widened. "Ssssh!"
Footsteps were coming down the stairs, on the same side of the house they were on.
"Don't come out," Harry Potter hissed to the two snakes. He and Draco ran down the hall into the front room, where the stairs ended, and into their Pack-fathers' arms.
"Oof," Padfoot said, absorbing Harry's hug and swaying a little. "You're getting too big to run at people like that, Greeneyes."
"Oh, you most certainly are," Padfoot said, knuckle-rubbing Harry's head. "You're going on seven now, and you were big enough to do some damage when you were just four. Remember, Draco?"
Draco nodded, eyes solemn. "Uncharm us?" he asked Moony. "Please?"
"Are you going back outside?"
Both boys shook their heads.
"All right. Don't forget, now." Moony pulled out his wand and removed the glamour charms the boys wore, returning Harry's hair to its natural black and Draco's to its silver-blond.
"Now you boys go and play," Padfoot said, "and don't get into mischief."
Moony sighed. "Padfoot, that's like saying, 'Water, don't be wet.' They're our sons. How can they not get into mischief? The day before April Fool's, no less?"
"We'll be good," Draco said. "Promise. No pranks on you."
"What about the girls? Are you planning on pulling anything on Neenie and Meghan?"
"No way," Harry said quickly. "Neenie's too smart. She'd figure it out."
"B'sides," Draco added, "it's hard to prank someone when you share a bedroom with them."
The Marauders laughed. "We managed pretty well when we shared a dorm," Moony said reminiscently. "But all right. Go on, boys, and please at least try to be good."
The boys waited until they were at the top of the stairs to laugh.
"They never asked us about Danger and Letha," Draco said exultantly.
"And we're not gonna prank Moony'n'Padfoot," Harry finished, grinning. "That's the girls' job."
"Ouch," said a faint voice from the vicinity of Draco's stomach.
"Hesseh, are you all right?" Harry asked.
"I do not think I like it so much in here," the snake said ruefully. "I was squashed when you greeted your sire, human boy who does not speak my language."
"I told you to stay on the arm!" Siss scolded her friend, sticking her head out of Harry's collar. "You don't get hurt when you do that."
Harry translated the conversation for Draco, making both boys laugh again, as they made their way down the hall toward Padfoot and Letha's bedroom.
Meghan restored Padfoot's bottle to its original place, then froze. "You hear that?"
"Hear what?" But just as Neenie asked, she did hear it. Voices from the bedroom.
"Uh-oh," Meghan said, sliding off her sister's back, a worried look on her face. "We gonna get in trouble?"
"Don't know." Neenie followed Meghan out of the shower stall and closed it carefully. The voices stopped at the ka-chunk sound it made. Very slowly, Neenie reached for the handle of the bathroom door—
Only to have it open before she touched it.
"Neenie!" Harry exclaimed in relief. "We were afraid Padfoot Apparated upstairs or something."
Hermione shook her head. "Nope, just Meghan and me, and we're all done."
"Perfect. I'm about to tell Siss and Hesseh what to do—you want to listen?"
"Okay," Meghan said, climbing up on the bed. It fascinated her when Harry spoke Parseltongue.
The two small garden snakes were coiled at the bottom of the bed. Harry, Draco, and Neenie gathered around them, and Harry began to speak.
"Tonight, after darkness, a man with dark head-fur and a woman with dark skin will come to this bedroom. You need to stay under the bed and out of sight while they are here. Near the morning, a woman with head-fur like this—" Harry indicated Neenie's brown mess. "—will come in. She and the dark-skinned woman will use their magic sticks to float the man out of the room. Then she will get in the bed with the dark-skinned woman. Any time after that happens, you can climb up into the bed. But only go up their legs to the knee, please. Understand?"
Both snakes hissed an emphatic yes.
"Great. Thanks again for doing this for me, Siss, Hesseh."
"Anything for my little human eggling," Siss said, weaving her tail around Harry's fingers.
Gertrude Granger-Lupin, known to her Pack and their friends as Danger, parked her truck in the driveway and climbed out.
Must watch my back tomorrow. Just because our fifth wedding anniversary was two days ago does not mean I get any mercy from that prank-happy husband of mine, or his even more prank-happy best friend.
And to think I used to wonder what a more exciting life would be like.
Living in the same house with a supposed criminal, married to a werewolf, and helping to raise my baby sister, my best friend's daughter, and a pair of boys who are officially missing—yes, I would call that exciting.
Not to mention magic. It's so much fun, when you're twenty-one years old, mostly normal, and just trying to get by, to discover the reason your dreams have been weird lately is because you've become a witch.
But it's not without its rewards.
She let herself into the house. "I'm home!" she called.
"Danger!" The cubs scrambled down the stairs and mobbed her, hugging her from every angle. Remus came in from the kitchen and unceremoniously levitated two of them out of the way so he could get a kiss.
How was work? he asked her mentally.
Work-like. Customers all want the latest romance novel by Valentina Jett, and of course the manager in his infinite wisdom decided it wasn't going to be a big draw, so he didn't order many of them.
Was it bad?
No, because a foresighted employee who shall remain nameless ordered three boxes on her own initiative, and even got "Ms. Jett" to autograph a few for her.
I wonder who that could be, Remus said dryly.
Danger gave Sirius a thumbs-up. "You saved my life with those autographed copies," she said. "Oh, here." She fumbled a packet of letters out of her handbag. "Catch."
"Ah, mail from my devoted fans." Sirius chuckled, flipping through the letters. "The only problem with writing under a female pen name is that I don't get any marriage proposals. At least not any I'm inclined to take."
"Dadfoot, you can't get married," Meghan said. "You already married."
"I am?" Sirius pretended astonishment. "Well, who's the lucky girl?"
"Mama Letha!" Meghan laughed, just as a pleasant chiming sound—the signal for a Floo connection being made into the Den's fireplace—rang out from the other side of the house.
"She's home, she's home!" The cubs started for the music room, where the Floo fireplace was, but Remus clapped his hands twice and they all stopped in their tracks.
"What's the rule?" he asked them sternly.
Neenie sighed. "We wait until she calls us, because she might have someone with her, or it could be a firecall from someone who isn't a Pack-friend and shouldn't see the boys without their glamours on," she recited.
"I'm home!" called Aletha Freeman-Black's musical voice.
"Now you can go," Sirius said to the cubs' rapidly departing backs.
The rest of the night was peaceful, as much as it ever was in the Den. There was a certain mood of suppressed excitement, however, and everyone was being very carefully polite to everyone else. The cubs, in particular, were very polite at dinner and afterwards, clearing their places without being told and offering to help with the dishes.
The adults were cautious while trying to look nonchalant, just in case someone had decided to anticipate the holiday. Offered food was given a careful second look, chairs were double-checked before they were sat on, and everyone shook out their nightclothes before donning them.
No one found anything, and the Pack settled in for the night, the two married couples in their bedrooms and the cubs all in the same room, in their one enormous bed, which was retained by popular demand. They knew perfectly well that in a so-called normal family, two almost-seven-year-old boys, a six-and-a-half-year-old girl, and an almost-four-year-old girl would not even share a room, much less a bed. But they were not a normal family. They were the Pack.
And that was the way they liked it.
At six-thirty, the alarm clock Danger had charmed to be audible only to her went off. She came awake immediately, careful not to broadcast her excitement through her mental link with Remus. He was a fairly light sleeper, and if he woke up, everything would be spoiled.
Ever so carefully, she slid out of bed, leaving the covers down, and padded down the hallway, passing through the concealed archway in the wall between the two halves of the house, which had been a duplex before they had bought it and made it into their Den. Aletha met her on the other side of the wall, grinning wickedly. "Let's do it," she whispered.
Aletha conjured a stretcher, and Danger levitated the sleeping Sirius onto it. He grunted, but didn't wake up. Aletha maneuvered the contraption through the hallways to Remus and Danger's bedroom, where she dotingly tucked Sirius into bed next to Remus.
The women made their way back to the other master bedroom, where they exchanged high-fives. "Now we just wait for them to wake up," Danger said, sliding into bed next to Aletha. It was early morning, after all, and still chilly, and she had brought her current book.
Meghan woke up at the sound of Danger passing their room. Quickly, she began to wake the others, covering their mouths with one tiny brown hand until she was sure they were awake enough to stay quiet. Draco slid out of the bed and retrieved everyone's dressing gowns, and Harry hung over the edge of the bed to hunt for slippers underneath it.
Then they waited for the screaming to start.
Sirius dreamed. He was holding Aletha tightly against him, her back to his chest, and stroking her hair.
"You need a haircut," he murmured. His hands moved down her face. "And some new earrings." Down some more. "And you need a shave..."
Have your hands gotten bigger overnight? a groggy voice said in Danger's mind. She giggled and didn't answer.
"Are they waking up?" Aletha and Sirius lacked the connection Danger shared with Remus.
"Oh, they're starting. I think another couple seconds ought to do it."
Aletha, about to answer, instead stiffened. "There's something on my leg," she said in a tight voice. "There is something crawling up my leg!"
Danger was about to laugh when she felt it too.
The women looked at each other and flipped the covers back simultaneously.
A green snake was wound around Aletha's left leg. Another was coiled around Danger's right.
In perfect unison, they screamed.
"Yes!" Harry and Draco slapped each other's hands, high, low, and sideways.
"The idea-master scores again," Draco said, looking highly pleased with himself.
Remus bolted awake, certain of two things.
First, Danger was in trouble. Her mental touch was panicked, and she was screaming.
And second, something was wrong with his ears. Her screams sounded far away, but he knew she was next to him.
He rolled over, frantic to see what was wrong—
And met a pair of very startled, very familiar gray eyes.
Which did not belong to his brown-eyed wife.
Both of them yelled and pulled away from each other. Sirius actually fell out of the bed onto his rear, trying to get up too quickly. Remus pulled a last-minute save, landing mostly on his feet. What is going on? he demanded.
"Score one for our Pack-mums," Neenie said with a grin as Meghan squealed with glee.
I'm fine, I'm fine, Danger assured Remus, though her voice "sounded" a bit shaky. I'm going to throw our younger son out the window, but I'm fine.
What did he do?
Oh, nothing. Just persuaded a pair of snakes to climb our legs.
Remus burst out laughing.
"What?" Sirius asked, pulling himself upright.
"Harry's done us one better. Talked a couple of his long and slender friends into climbing the ladies' legs."
Sirius snorted with laughter. "I love it. The boy's a true Marauder."
The wife of your uncouth friend there wishes you to inform him that she is coming over to demonstrate to him first-hand how very amusing the prank was.
"I wouldn't be laughing if I were you, Padfoot. Letha's on her way over. With one of the snakes."
Sirius' eyebrows went up, and he scrambled to his feet in time to dodge Aletha's first lunge at him through the door. There followed a rather furious chase, Sirius always just out of Aletha's reach, until finally he made it into his own bathroom and locked the door.
"I'm taking a shower," he shouted through the door. "Leave me alone."
Neenie and Meghan, listening through the wall, developed a full-fledged case of the giggles.
With the hot water cascading around him, Sirius began to relax from the adrenaline high of waking up in bed with his best friend, instead of his wife. It had been a good prank, he had to admit. That woman he'd married had style. And Danger was no slouch either.
He grabbed his shampoo, squeezed a good squirt into his hand, and began scrubbing his hair. Then he paused, sniffing the air.
I should definitely have checked that before I used it.
But it was too late.
I just hope it was the cubs who pranked it, and not Moony. Because if Moony did it, there will be visual effects along with the, ah, aroma…
Remus was just about to get into the shower himself when he heard someone knocking.
"Who is it?"
"Sirius." The voice was not coming from the door.
Remus opened the mirrored medicine cabinet over the sink and looked through at his friend in the other bathroom. "What part of 'lather, rinse, repeat' are we missing here?"
"I know, I know. Check your shampoo. Somebody scented mine."
Remus sniffed. "Raspberry. Very nice." He reached into the shower stall and opened his own bottle. "Sure enough. Strawberry. I think I'll use it anyway, just to make them happy."
"The girls. This is probably their prank, where the snakes were the boys'."
"Makes sense. So that's everyone, isn't it? The ladies, the boys, the girls, and you and me…"
"SIRIUS VALENTINE BLACK!" a furious voice shouted from behind Sirius. He turned to look.
Aletha stood in the doorway of the bathroom, hands on hips. She was wearing the everyday robes that she wore to work. But they were just a little different today. Remus gave an appreciative whistle.
"Save it for your wife," Aletha snapped, and fixed her husband with her famous "dragon glare". "I have to go to work. And if you think I am going to work in semi-transparent robes, you are out of your mind. Fix it. NOW."
I think I'll stay out of this. Remus closed the medicine cabinet, turned around, and had a hard time keeping his mouth shut. Danger's jeans and T-shirt, like Aletha's robes, currently appeared to be made of gauze. Thin gauze.
"So, do I get a whistle?" she asked, striking a pose.
Remus looked over her shoulder at the bedside clock. "Considering it's seven in the morning and I don't have work until ten…" He gave her a slow smile. "I think you rate a little more than a whistle."
Danger returned his smile. "I was hoping you'd say that."
Overall, it was a most satisfactory day for everyone involved.
(A/N: I couldn't find a decent place in "Living with Danger" to get this in—the period it's set in is kind of glossed over—so I decided to make it a one-shot. Hope you enjoyed it! And the link for said story is on my profile page if you want to know more about what is going on, who all these people are, and how the heck they got together! Thanks go to emikae for the raspberry-scented Padfoot and to Alligator355 for insisting on a story with snake action!)