Chapter 36: Agreements and Anticipations
"I followed her home," said Harry brightly, pointing to Sangre. "Can I keep her?"
"Well, that depends. Is she going to Petrify people?"
Harry shook his head. "Not anymore. Fawkes made it so she couldn't." He frowned. "Sangre, don't your eyes hurt?"
"The phoenix's healing stopped the pain," answered Sangre. "Who is the female who has just come? I can smell her."
"She's my nest-dam. Her name is Danger." Harry looked down at his hands. Why were they trembling?
"Come here, you two," said Danger gently, just as Sangre said, "Go to her, Harry. You are weary and frightened. She will help you."
Ginny was halfway across the Chamber already. Harry's legs were suddenly wobbly. He made them hold him up until he got to Danger's side. Why is this happening now?
"Shh," soothed Danger, stroking Ginny's hair as the girl wept into her robes. "It's going to be all right now. I think." She led Ginny to one of the pillars and sat down with her back against it. Harry half-collapsed beside her, now shaking all over. "It's a normal reaction. You didn't have time to feel any of this while it was happening, so you're feeling it all now that it's over. Just let it out." She put an arm around Harry, who leaned into her gratefully.
"Is it all right?" she asked him quietly. "As far as you know?"
Harry nodded. "The Heir of Slytherin's gone," he said. "It was Voldemort, but when he was young. He made a diary that could possess people. It's been possessing Percy."
"Percy, that's right. Is he here too?"
"Is he all right?"
"He's alive," said Ginny, raising a tear-splotched face. "And he doesn't look hurt. But Riddle made him do horrible things."
"Tom Riddle," said Harry. "It was Voldemort's name, before he was Voldemort."
"All right. And what about the snake?"
"Her name's Sangre," said Harry. "She's a basilisk. I made friends with her, and she fought Riddle for us. She wants to see the outdoors – well, not see, she can't, not anymore, but go there. She's never been. Do you think she can?"
Danger frowned. "She Petrifies by looking at things? Or she did?" Her eyes blurred blue for a moment, then cleared to brown again. "Oh. She kills by looking at things directly, and an indirect look – through something, or a reflection maybe – that Petrifies. I understand now. How did her eyes get injured?"
"Fawkes," said Ginny. "He came and fought for us."
As if hearing his name, the phoenix fluttered to a landing in front of them. Danger held out her hand, and Fawkes nibbled one finger in greeting. "Thank you," she said gravely. "That was very kind of you, to help them that way."
Fawkes gave a chirrup.
"I have an immense favor to ask you. I know you can travel through fire, and sometimes even take a passenger. Do you think you could take Sangre out to the Forest?"
Fawkes bobbed his head up and down.
"Harry, would you explain to her?"
"All right." Harry got up. "Sangre," he called. "Would you like to go outside?"
"Of course I would. But how will I get there? I would frighten people if I went through the castle."
"Fawkes can take you outside through magic. You can go out in the Forest, and hunt, and find a place to sleep..." Harry hesitated. "Is it going to be all right, though?" he asked Danger doubtfully. "What's Dumbledore going to say?"
"He says," said Danger, winking at Harry with one blue-brown eye, "that it's all right for the moment, as long as she promises not to hurt any humans. He'll want to have a talk with her later, if you'd serve as translator."
Harry nodded eagerly. "My nest-head says you can go," he told Sangre. "As long as you don't hurt humans."
"If that is the price of freedom, I will pay it gladly. There will be many other kinds of prey." Sangre flicked her tongue. "When will I go?"
"Right away, I think." Harry turned to Danger. "She says she won't hurt anyone," he said. "And she wants to go right away."
Fawkes trilled and opened his wings, lifting off from the ground. He soared through the air of the Chamber and landed on Sangre's back. Fire flared around phoenix and snake, and they were gone.
"Well, that's that taken care of," said Danger, standing up and helping Ginny to do the same. "You two had better get going. Ron's probably bitten all his nails off by now. He's waiting in the bathroom, you know."
"But how are we going to get out?" asked Ginny. "We can't slide up the pipe like we do for–"
"We can't slide up the pipe," interrupted Harry, hoping Danger hadn't noticed that Ginny was about to say something else. "And it's all slimy, I don't think we can climb it."
Danger smiled at them. "You'll find a way, I think. Go on, I'll be right behind you. Oh, and Ginny, your parents are here. Professor McGonagall's office."
Harry picked up the diary and pulled his dagger out of it, wiping it clean on his robes and pulling them tight over the sheath to put it away, then remembered something. "Our wands – mine and Ginny's – Riddle disarmed me, and we don't know where Ginny's is–"
Danger drew her own. "Accio Wands," she said.
Three pieces of wood zoomed towards her from three corners of the Chamber. She caught two of them, and Harry snagged the third, which was Ginny's. He handed it to her and claimed his own from Danger, who pocketed the third. "Now go," she said, making shooing motions. "Out."
Harry took Ginny's hand to help her along, and they left the Chamber together, walking back along the tunnel by the light of their two wands.
Alone in the Chamber, Danger shivered a little.
I hope I can do this...
She started walking towards the still figure of Percy Weasley. His glasses, she saw in the dim greenish light, lay several feet away from him. She picked them up when she got to them and bent over him, putting them on his face, then sat down at the base of the nearest pillar.
"You can stop pretending you're asleep now," she said. "You do a very good impression, but you tensed a little when I bent over you. I know you're awake."
Percy drew a deep breath, but did not otherwise reply.
"I didn't really get a very good idea of what's been going on from Harry," Danger went on. "But one thing I think I understood was that whatever's been happening, it's not your fault. Am I right?"
Percy rolled onto his side, his back facing her. "Go away," he said in a muffled voice.
"No. Or if I do, you're coming with me."
"Why should I?" Percy sounded unusually young and scared. "If I leave here, I'll just go to Azkaban."
"The only place you're going is the hospital wing."
"I Petrified people! I would have killed my own sister!"
"Was that you, or was it the person who was possessing you?" Danger hoped she had the story straight. "Because that doesn't sound like something you'd do at all."
"But I let him. I let him possess me. I didn't fight hard enough – if I'd just been a little stronger, or smart enough not to write in the diary..."
"Was it really Voldemort who was using you?"
Percy winced at the sound of the name. "Yes."
"In that case, it's something close to a miracle that you were able to fight at all. Voldemort killed witches and wizards a lot older and stronger than you as a routine thing."
"He didn't want me dead," mumbled Percy. "Not until the end. He wanted me to keep acting normal."
"You know, most stories work better if you start at the beginning and tell them all the way through," said Danger as neutrally as she could manage. "I'll try not to ask stupid questions, and I promise not to jump to conclusions. I really do want to understand this."
Percy craned his neck to look over his shoulder at her. "You do?"
"Yes. I do." Danger offered him a small smile, hoping it looked natural, not forced.
Percy turned away again and sat up. "I didn't know the diary was magical at first," he said, still facing the opposite wall. "I confiscated it from a Slytherin in Ron's year, Dursley. You know him."
"I tested it for magic, and I found out that when I wrote in it the ink disappeared. So I started using it as a diary. I should have realized something was wrong when it started writing back. But Tom Riddle understood me. He understood what it was like to be embarrassed by where you come from, and he didn't treat wanting power like something shameful."
Percy sounded challenging, as if he expected Danger to scold him for this. Danger deliberately closed her lips over both her indignant and her reassuring response, and simply said, "Go on."
"I didn't know anything was wrong until after Halloween. One of my robes started to smell terrible, the same way Professor Snape did, and nothing I did could get it off. I finally just left it in the out-of-order girls' bathroom on the second floor. I thought no one would find it there."
Oh, now that's ironic. Left it where you picked it up. Danger knew quite well what had caused the smell on Percy's robes. He must have brushed against a patch of that potion the cubs brewed in there while he was opening the Chamber.
"I started worrying a lot about Ron and Ginny. Trying to keep them safe. Tom told me I was overreacting, that I shouldn't worry so much, that we're purebloods, we wouldn't get attacked. But the more I thought, the more I worried. I realized there were little gaps in my memory. Times when I didn't know what I'd been doing. One of them was on Halloween. One was the night before the first Quidditch match."
Percy looked at Danger, his eyes pleading. "I hexed Dursley's bat. To turn the Bludger into iron. I'm the reason Harry got hurt."
He looks as if he wants me to shout at him. Maybe he does. But I'm not going to. Danger kept her face and tone neutral, in listening mode. "Go on," she said again.
"I swore over Christmas that I wouldn't write in the diary again. But by then I didn't have to anymore." Percy looked miserable. "By then he could just use me whenever he wanted, as long as I had the diary. So I tried to get rid of it. I threw it away, right after I'd Petrified the Hufflepuff boy, Finch-Fletchley. And I grabbed my robes while I was there. They didn't smell anymore, and I didn't know why, but I needed them. I don't have a lot."
It's costing him to admit all this. He hates his family being poor, even though they're better off than they were.
"I swear I didn't know Ginny would pick up the diary! I didn't know he could use her the way he used me!" Percy was pale and sweating now. "When I saw her coming out of the bathroom, when I saw her face, I knew Riddle was using her – it was the way she smiled, the way she looked at me – Ginny never looks like that. I Stunned her. I took the diary back – I couldn't let her keep it. I put it away and said I wouldn't use it anymore."
"But..." Danger prompted gently.
"But I couldn't stop! I had to write in it – if I didn't, I kept thinking about it more and more, it was like an obsession – I couldn't tell anyone. Who would believe me? And if I told, they'd take the diary, and I'd go mad..."
"How do you know that?"
"He told me."
Danger nodded, forcing herself not to shake the boy. "Do you believe it?" she asked instead.
"I... I don't know." Percy swallowed hard. "I wrote the complaint letters," he said. "About Professor Dumbledore. I heard Luna Lovegood say something about it in the common room, and Riddle made me write a letter to the Ministry, and to someone else, I don't know who, arranging for other people to write letters..."
"Did you have anything to do with Hagrid's dragon?"
"No. I don't know who did that. It was someone who wanted Hagrid in trouble, to discredit Dumbledore, because he let Hagrid stay. The attacks were supposed to do it, but I'd thrown the diary away, so there hadn't been any attacks for months, and they needed something the Ministry couldn't ignore. When there was another attack right on top of the dragon..." Percy laughed bitterly. "That was just perfect."
"But you knew about the dragon."
Percy nodded. "Afterwards," he said. "Riddle thought it was funny, he wrote whoever did it a letter of congratulations – I just can't remember who..." He looked away from Danger. "This could all be wrong. I don't remember any of it, really. All of this is what Riddle told me, while he was making me bring Ginny down here. He was going to make me kill her and Harry, and then he was going to use me to come alive again. Take my life to feed his."
Danger wished she could hold Percy, try to comfort him and take the horror out of his eyes, but she knew he wouldn't take it well. "He didn't," she reminded him quietly instead. "None of that happened."
"I tried to fight him," Percy whispered, his eyes closed. "I tried to give them enough time to get away. But he was so strong, I couldn't fight hard enough – I thought I was going to die, I thought everyone was going to die, and it would all have been my fault..."
"You still fought. You still tried. That counts for something. And now it's over. Nobody's dead, and the Petrified people are waking up right now. And your parents are here."
Percy looked panic-stricken. "They'll hate me," he blurted. "They'll hate me for what I did, they'll say I was too stupid to be their son, they'll disown me..."
"They're out of their minds worrying about you," corrected Danger. "They want to see you and make sure you're all right. Your mother, especially. I don't think she's going to let go of you for at least an hour."
"You don't know that," said Percy dully, staring at the floor.
"Yes, I do." Danger made her tone very firm, because she was, in fact, quite sure of what she was saying. "Now come on. We're leaving."
He's used to listening to authority and not arguing, thank heaven – if this was one of the cubs, and an adult not of the Pack, they might well not come...
But Percy got up and followed her out of the Chamber, back along the tunnel, to the pipe they had all slid down to get here. "What's that?" he asked, pointing at a thin line of gold extending out of the pipe.
"It's how we're going to get out of here. Hold still." Danger lifted up a loop of her chain and passed it around Percy's waist. It joined onto itself seamlessly as Danger pressed it together. "Sit in it," she instructed Percy, looping it around herself and joining it. "Like a swing."
Percy edged the loop farther down himself and awkwardly sat. Danger twined her hands around the chain and gave it a mental instruction. Shorter.
Percy made a noise of surprise as the chain began to pull them upwards. Danger gave him a reassuring smile, before the first twist in the pipe meant she could no longer see him. Instead, she thought over what had just passed.
Deciding to stay with Remus until the moon rose had been one of the hardest things she'd ever done. What had finally tipped the balance was her recalling what Dumbledore had once told her about their Pack-magic – that it would bring the help that was needed, and bring it in time. Someone else would help Harry, if he needed help, until she could get there.
Or that was what she'd told herself, and what Remus had told her. She had sensed his relief at her decision, and his guilt for being so selfish, and had kept her mouth shut about both. Neither of them needed anything else to feel bad about.
I'll get to work in the morning on a safe room, he'd told her. So you're never caught like this again. It was his way of apologizing for her being caught at the moment.
The instant his transformation was complete, she had run for the Floo. She'd come in through the Gryffindor common room fire, and Draco had directed her to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Ron had been so thankful to see her that his response to her request to tell her everything had included a few things she didn't think he'd originally intended to tell anyone. For instance, what the cubs had discovered about the jewels in their pendants, and how they'd used three of them already.
And extrapolating from that, I thought my Hufflepuff jewel could be used to make my chain long enough to reach down here, and strong enough to take several people's weight at once...
She'd tied off her chain at the top, taken a loop of it in her hand, and begun to slide. Halfway down, she'd gotten two surprises. The first was Remus telling her he was in Hogsmeade, and the second was the metal in her hand losing its icy coldness and returning to normal temperature. She'd nearly been startled into dropping it. Instead, she'd yelled at Remus.
What do you mean, you're in Hogsmeade?
I didn't think it was that hard to understand. Remus showed her his point of view – the main street of Hogsmeade village, moving past him rapidly. I'm on my way up to the school.
Who's going to let you in?
You will. When you get back. Because it seems that Harry's taken care of whatever it was himself. Remus stopped, turning his head in response to something Danger hadn't shared with him. Or maybe Albus will.
He turned a little more, and Danger saw that sure enough, Albus Dumbledore had just Apparated onto a corner in Hogsmeade. Remus ran up to him and sat down beside him, and Dumbledore looked down gravely into the werewolf's eyes. Danger withdrew, so as not to be in the way while Dumbledore gathered what he needed to know from Remus by Legilimency.
She had arrived at the bottom of the pipe while this was happening, and been most of the way down the tunnel before Remus reported the arrival of Arthur and Molly Weasley, both of them highly distressed by the message they'd received from Minerva McGonagall at the restaurant where they were having dinner. From this, Danger had learned that not only Harry and Ginny, but Percy Weasley as well, were missing, and had feared the worst. Just because Harry was out of danger didn't mean Ginny and Percy were as well...
The chain had stopped shortening. Percy was climbing out of the hole in the wall above her. Danger waited until he was safely on the floor, then swung herself out as well and detached her chain from the pipes she had wound it around.
"Was it interesting down there?" asked Moaning Myrtle as the sink slid back into place.
"You could say that," said Danger. "This way, Percy." She led him down the halls, as if he were six rather than sixteen, until they reached the door of Minerva's office. She didn't bother to knock, instead pulling the door open and gently propelling her charge inside.
"Percy!" Molly Weasley ran to her son, flinging her arms around him.
"Mum," Percy mumbled, beginning to shake. "Mum, don't... you don't know, you don't understand..."
"We understand," said Arthur, embracing his son from the side. "Harry and Ginny explained everything. You were tricked, son. Taken in. It happens to the best of us."
"If You-Know-Who could put fully-grown wizards under the Imperius Curse, he could certainly do it to you," said Molly, looking up at Percy fiercely. "It's no more your fault than it was theirs."
Percy looked as if he couldn't believe his ears. "You... you mean..."
"The only thing of which you are culpable, Mr. Weasley, is making a mistake," said Dumbledore, who was standing by the fireplace. "And if that were a crime, we would all be criminals. You will not be punished for this. To the hospital wing with you, and then, if you are feeling well enough, perhaps you will join us at the feast. I believe we have quite a lot to celebrate tonight."
You bet we do. Danger slipped out of the room, satisfied that everything would be all right eventually.
There was a party in the hospital wing with her name on it.
Severus Snape, although he tried not to show it, was pleased. The Mandragora Potion was working to perfection. No sooner had Poppy Pomfrey administered it to the victims than they began to stir, as if awakening from a deep sleep.
He rather wished he could have had an excuse for the potion not to be used on Black, though. It was delightful to see the man, for once in his life, unable to make smart remarks. But he knew Freeman-Black would want her husband back.
Though why, I cannot fathom.
And so he watched as Black, like the rest, came awake, yawning and stretching, allowing Granger-Lupin to drop to the mattress beside him, where she too began to move. Freeman-Black stood beside them. Severus turned away, slightly sickened by her adoring expression.
Unfortunately, this put him in prime position to watch the doors of the hospital wing burst open. Shouting people raced past him – first year Gryffindors, second year Hufflepuffs, and a number of ghosts, here to congratulate Nearly Headless Nick, no doubt. And then, inevitably, the bunch of Gryffindors who more than any others made his life a misery.
But only some of them. Severus frowned, taking a quick head count. Four. Potter and both Weasleys were missing. Where would they be?
Black was hugging his wife and daughter both at once. Granger-Lupin was trying to talk to three of her friends at the same time, which with the loud conversations from three other corners of the room made for quite a lot of noise. Severus was the only one who noticed the animal entering the hospital wing, until it bounded past him and leapt onto the bed Black still sat on.
Granger-Lupin squealed in delight and embraced it. "Moony!"
The wolfish creature licked her once, then turned to Black, knocking him flat with its front paws on his chest.
"Gerroff me!" shouted Black, shoving it to the floor, laughing. "What, you wanna play rough? Fine!"
And where Black had been, suddenly a huge black dog sat, which sprang on top of the other animal and began to wrestle with it, growling playfully.
Severus sat down hard on the bed behind him as two insights struck him at once.
Lupin had come to Hogwarts to greet his restored friend and adopted daughter despite the full moon, no doubt taking advantage of his wife's "taming" abilities.
And the dog which had once licked his face in public, which he had thought to be owned by Aletha Freeman, was none other than Sirius Black.
I had best remove myself from the premises before I murder him.
The Headmaster would not appreciate it.
He stood up and left, passing Potter and the two youngest Weasleys on the way out. He noticed that Potter and the girl were both covered in muck, but was in no mood to ask why. His mind was occupied with plans to repay Black. Most of them, he knew, were unfeasible, such as his idea of suspending Black naked upside down from the Astronomy Tower and leaving him there for several weeks.
But they were enjoyable to think about.
Explaining everything to everyone who didn't know about it took quite a while, and was accomplished partly in the hospital wing and partly at the promised feast, which lasted all night long.
"Can't even leave you people alone for two months," said Sirius in mock disgust.
"We owe you a lot," said Danger quietly. "If you hadn't hit the basilisk with that curse, you and Hermione would both have been killed."
"It's her you owe, not me," said Sirius, pointing at Hermione, down at the Gryffindor table. "I'd never have known what spell to use if she hadn't figured out what the thing was. We were just leaving to tell someone what she'd found out when we heard it around the corner."
Hagrid arrived at half past ten and lifted Ginny off her feet to make certain she was unharmed before giving Harry such a hearty pat on the back that he set a new fashion in strawberry trifle face cream. Fang joined Remus under the table, though it wasn't Fang who went around stealing people's napkins off their laps.
That's not very polite, you know, said Danger around midnight, looking down to see Remus curled up on a pile of at least thirty slightly stained serviettes.
You celebrate your way, I'll celebrate mine.
Dumbledore got up to explain to the school that he had been reconfirmed as Headmaster by the school governors. Danger knew from what he'd told Remus that the governors had been falling over themselves to do something about the kidnapping and possible death of two of Arthur Weasley's children.
Arthur's better respected than he knows.
Dumbledore also announced that, as a treat for the school after a rather harrowing year, there would be no final exams. The students went wild, all except Hermione, who looked disappointed. Danger nudged Aletha and Sirius and pointed, and the three of them all cracked up, with Remus sniggering as well from his place by Danger's feet.
Students kept coming up to tell Sirius how much they'd missed having him in class. "It's like being dead," said Sirius during a lull. "Only reversible."
Aletha hit him on the head with her soup spoon.
"I bet that was what you missed most when I was Petrified," said Sirius. "You couldn't hit me."
"No, only second most. This is what I missed most." Aletha wound her arms around him and took possession of his mouth for a long, heated kiss.
The students broke into cheers and wolf whistles. A chant went up from somewhere in the hall: "Snog! Snog! Snog! Snog!"
This from Sirius "I will never kiss a girl in public" Black.
When did he say that?
Fifth year. James asked him if that meant he'd kiss a boy in public. I'm not sure he ever found all his teeth.
Danger had to put her head down on the table, she was laughing so hard.
All in all, it was a memorable night.
Albus Dumbledore met with the basilisk Sangre the next day, with Harry Potter as interpreter. They came to an agreement. Sangre would remain in the Forest, fairly far from the school, both to avoid any unwanted contact with humans and to keep herself from accidentally being killed by a crowing rooster. Dumbledore offered to restore her sight, with spells to keep its lethal effects at bay, but Sangre refused.
"Magic can be broken," she said in her hissing voice. "And if Harry tells me true, my former master remains in the world. I will not be used as a weapon again. I can hunt well enough with my nose alone to keep myself fed."
"As you wish," said Dumbledore, bowing to her.
Harry and Sangre experimented, and found that shouts in Parseltongue traveled over greater distances than would have been expected. "Simply further confirming that Parseltongue is a very magical gift, Harry," said Dumbledore as they were walking back up to the school together, with a place for Harry and Sangre's future meetings established. "You see, in Muggle terms, snakes are deaf."
Hagrid reported that Aragog and his colony were a little unhappy about the Forest's newest occupant, as were the centaurs and the unicorns, but they all settled down when it became clear that she was not interested in killing for killing's sake, nor in hunting any of them specifically, and really wanted nothing more than to be left alone.
Harry visited Siss' grave at the edge of the Forest, and wasn't surprised to see that the flower Neville had planted there was a lily. He kept what he had learned about her name to himself. It was his and Sangre's secret.
Another meeting was held that day, this one involving Meghan Black, her parents, Andromeda Tonks, and Poppy Pomfrey.
"What you did to your father could be dangerous, Meghan," Poppy told the girl. "Not this time, but in the future. And not to him, but to you. You didn't mean to heal him, did you, not even a little?"
Meghan shook her head. "It just kind of happened," she said.
"And an unscrupulous person could force it to 'just kind of happen,'" said Andromeda. "If they were ill or wounded, they could force you to heal them, just by touching you. You need to learn to control this power, and you need to learn all the usual methods of magical healing. If you have other tools to use, you're less likely to need your power."
"Don't ever get dependent on it," advised Sirius. "If you depend too much on one thing, someday you'll be in a situation where it doesn't work, and you won't have any other options."
"But you said you're leaving at the end of this year," protested Meghan. "I can't come back until I'm a student, if you're not here."
Aletha smiled. "Don't count your dragons before they hatch, pretty Pearl," she said, kissing the top of her daughter's head. "Tell me this. If you could come back again and learn from Madam Pomfrey, would you?"
"Then you will," said Sirius. "And then, when you've left Hogwarts, you'll probably be able to take an accelerated version of Healer training. Right?"
"I'd think that could be done," said Andromeda. "You could be finished in three years, or even two, if you prove you have the knowledge and the skills that you need."
The enraptured look on Meghan's face was all the reward the adults needed.
The rest of the term went by quickly. Classes were still held, but the teachers were less strict than usual about homework, since there would be no exams. The students spent a great deal of their time enjoying the gorgeous summer weather. Remus and Danger visited the school often, lazing about on the grounds with the Pride or chatting with Sirius and Aletha.
Percy Weasley was seen everywhere with Ravenclaw Penelope Clearwater on his arm. Not even his twin brothers' teasing could bother him these days. He had all his old confidence back and then some.
"Couldn't have left him down there, could you?" Fred asked Danger one day.
George nodded. "He's worse than ever."
"Don't be so sure," said Remus, who was having a stone-skipping contest with Sirius. "He might yet surprise you."
Dudley Dursley was questioned about his part in the attacks, since Percy had admitted to confiscating the diary from him. He claimed he had just found it in among his things, and had no idea how it had gotten there. He had known it could write by itself, and had been laughing, the day it had been taken, at jokes it had been writing for him. He had no recollection of any blanks in his memory and showed no trace of being possessed. It was decided that he bore no responsibility for what had happened.
He sat down on his bed and twisted a scrap of parchment. "It's all your fault," he said moodily. "If you'd just been a little quicker about getting in with them, you could have pulled it off the way you were supposed to."
"How was I supposed to know he'd take it?" retorted the other, piling books into his trunk. "And I was working on getting in with them. I did pretty good getting the Weasley girl to feel sorry for me. Another week or so, and I could have gotten it to her easy as anything. And she's not even one of the ones who was supposed to be nice to me." He pulled out a creased sheet of parchment.
"Don't read from that damn letter you found again," said Theodore Nott wearily. "I know what it says. They're supposed to be nice to you if they can, and watch out for me. And I know we were going to use that to get you in with them, so you could pass it off to one of them. But that's not how it worked, is it?"
"You thinking about turning me in?" challenged Dudley Dursley.
"Good, 'cause I can tell on you if you do. I can tell them how you had Crabbe and Goyle push me down in King's Cross to plant the diary on me, so no one would be able to trace it back to your father."
"Shut up, Dursley."
"And I can tell them how your father gave Hagrid that dragon egg and had us write the letters to the Ministry. Even though you 'didn't want to lie.'" Dudley forced his voice into a little-boy whine for the last few words.
"Shut up, I said."
"And how you knew it was Percy Weasley being possessed, because he ordered you to use that spell at the dueling club, and you obeyed him..."
"Shut up!" Theodore was on his feet, fists clenched. "Shut up, shut up! Someone could be listening!"
Dudley mocked his tone. "'Someone could be listening.' Someone could always be listening. What are they going to do? Arrest us? We're kids. They'll think we're just fooling around. They always do. You shut up for a while. Sissy." He went back to packing his trunk.
Theodore stomped out of his dorm, glowered back at the entrance for a good minute, then threw himself into a chair in front of the fireplace.
I'll never be the son my father wants. Half the time I hate what it is that he wants from me, and the other half I do it wrong.
He glared at the spot where Draco Black had disappeared into the wall in their first year. He suggested I do that, get them to bring Black here to the common room. And it went all wrong.
And this year he made me lie for him. And it was because he told me to obey whoever gave me orders that I cast that spell at the dueling club. Now the whole school thinks I don't have any honor.
He stared into the fire. And I don't. Not really. Not after sending that note to Potter.
I hate my life.
Neville got a letter on the last morning of school. He opened it and scanned it, and his face lit up. "Harry! It's from Gran – she said yes!"
Harry whooped, startling several owls into flight. "Yes!"
"Said yes to what?" asked Meghan from down the table.
Neville smiled at her. "I can stay the whole summer with your family!"
Meghan squealed in delight. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because we weren't sure about it until just now," said Draco through a mouthful of sausage.
"May I assume this means your gran's letting you come?" asked Letha from behind them.
"Yes, ma'am," said Neville, turning around.
"If we're going to be in the same house for the summer, you'd better drop the ma'am. Call me Letha, the way these bufflebrains do."
The cubs all made faces at her.
"That's excellent news," said Padfoot, coming up behind her. "It means we'll have even teams."
"Teams?" asked Hermione. "Teams for what?"
"Well," drawled Padfoot. "Since you lot keep on getting yourselves into trouble, we thought we might as well teach you a little about getting out of it. We're going to be running war games."
"War games?" asked Ginny. "What's that?"
"We split you up into teams," explained Aletha, "and give you a scenario where you might have to fight. Indoors, outdoors, attacking, defending, that sort of thing. It's your job to outthink and outfight the other team."
"We'll teach you the basic spells to use," said Padfoot. "They won't hurt, but they'll leave a mark where they hit, so we can check your accuracy. When all your opponents are 'dead', your team wins."
"But learning new spells is definitely advised," added Letha. "Learning to craft objects to help yourselves, likewise. We'll provide the reading and the raw materials. The more your team studies, the more advantages you have." This was addressed to Hermione, who was looking distinctly panicky.
"No fair," said Ron. "Whoever gets her has the biggest edge."
"We'll be shuffling you around, never fear," said Padfoot. "New teams every couple of days. Sound like something you could enjoy doing for a summer?"
"Yeah!" said the Pride almost in unison, most of them grinning hugely.
"Bet we can use whatever we learn on Fred and George," muttered Ron to Harry as Padfoot and Letha went back to the High Table. "Turn them orange or something."
"Sounds like a plan." Harry took a gulp of milk and belched.
"That's disgusting," said Hermione.
"Good one," said Draco.
Ginny and Meghan giggled.
Harry sighed happily. I love my Pride.
Severus Snape returned to his quarters after getting the last of the Slytherins on the train to find a mysterious box on his desk. There was a note on top of it.
With thanks for a job well done, SB
He frowned, nonplussed. SB. I know an SB, but I cannot think for what he would be sending me a thank-you gift...
Perhaps for the potion. But his own wife and Poppy Pomfrey had to do with that as well. He would be far more likely to send gifts to them.
And any gift he gives to me is likely to be booby-trapped.
But I am no booby.
He began to investigate the package in every way that he could, and ended up more baffled than he'd started. There was no evidence that the contents had been altered in any way. In fact, there was no trace of magic on them at all, besides the normal traces one would find on a magically-made product. The box and its wrappings, too, were free of spells.
Cautiously, in case he had somehow missed one, Severus unwrapped the brown paper from around the box.
The label of Honeydukes Sweetshop met his eyes. Underneath the store's logo was written Dark Chocolate Truffles. The seals on the box were the original Honeydukes seals, showing no signs of tampering.
Severus could wait no longer. Just the smell from inside the box had started his mouth watering. Defiantly, he tore it open, picked up one of the confections, and took an enormous bite.
Whatever you have done to these, Black, I do not care. You spent the money, and I plan to take full advantage of it.
He waited the rest of the day for something to happen.
So what did you do to that candy you bought for Snape?Aletha asked Sirius through her pendant chain as they flew above the Hogwarts Express, waving at the students, who had their heads all out their compartment windows to look up at their teachers on the flying motorcycle.
Nothing. And that's the best prank I could have played on him. He'll be all suspicious about it, test it twenty ways from Sunday – he might not even eat it, he'll be so suspicious. And he doesn't have to be. It's his favorite kind of candy, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.
How did you know his favorite kind of candy?
It's amazing what house-elves notice.
Aletha laughed aloud, the wind past her face through her open helmet whipping the sound away. So what are we going to do with all this free time, now that we're no longer teachers?
Oh, I have an idea or two for me. How about you?
I've got something in mind. But this isn't the best place to talk about it.
Mine neither. Who do you think Albus will get to replace us?
I have no idea, said Aletha innocently.
Nor do I. Sirius chuckled mentally. How do you think they'll do?
Just fine, I'm sure. They might even have better luck keeping the cubs in line.
Below, the train wove its way south like a glittering red serpent.
Danger napped on the couch in the living room, taking advantage of the last peace and quiet she was likely to have for the next year (Remus' banging around in the basement didn't count), and dreamed of whirling colors and ringing words.
O warrior woman, speak to she
Whose name is stars and royalty,
Of those whose minds and souls are caught
In pain-made traps of bodies wrought.
Her thoughts are right, and good her goal,
But she has not the answer whole.
The badger's son, his lady bright,
Both wander now in endless night,
And from that night they must be freed.
The eagle's daughter help shall need;
From badger's younger son, whose heart
From hers shall ne'er be torn apart;
And from the other lions young,
The help of hand and voice and tongue.
And this I tell you now as well;
The lion's son, with whom you dwell,
Calls eagle's daughter "sister"; yet
Their blood is nothing like. But let
That pass for now, it matters not.
Your task must never be forgot;
For Pack and Pride, to great renown,
Must one day bring the darkness down.
Far to the north, a man struck a rock wall, over and over, with another piece of rock. He had been doing it constantly for more than two and a half years. Unsurprisingly, the wall where he worked was pitted and chipped, with a sizable hollow at floor level, almost large enough to fit a can of soup into.
In less than two months' time, that hollow would change hundreds, even thousands of lives.
But that's another story.
(A/N: OK, I lied. This is the last chapter. But it's a good one, isn't it? Clearing everything up, and such? And yes, there WILL be another story! "Dealing with Danger" will be posted when I can't stand having it inside my head anymore, which could be any time from tomorrow to three weeks from now. So no, I don't know when it will be going up, so you don't have to ask.
I might well work on Roman a Clef in between times. Or I might not. I do start school on Thursday. (I know, that never stopped me before.) But I'm likely to be really busy this semester. So I don't know how often I'll be updating. Once a week at least, I hope. But we'll see. Please do send me all the review love you can! I'm going to need it!
Update as of June 2012: After working on lots of other things in between times, 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?)