(A/N: Standard disclaimers apply; if JKR wrote it, I didn't. Same goes for other sources I quote, such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Clark Gesner (writer of the musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown").
My apologies to everyone who's already up on the Dangerverse for all the possibly boring background in this first chapter. For those who've never read the Dangerverse before, I hope it's sufficient to allow you to enjoy the story, but there may still be things you don't get. This is, after all, the final segment of a large AU universe, beginning with Living with Danger, continued in Living without Danger and Dealing with Danger. You might want to start with those. If not... good luck.)
Chapter 1: The End of the Beginning
"Elladora, Corona, loves, do come and meet darling Sirius," caroled the wizened witch. "These are my precious granddaughters, Sirius dear. They were at Hogwarts after your time, but being as close to the school as you are, perhaps you've heard of their accomplishments..."
Sirius Black bowed, acknowledging the women's curtsies and thinking hard about the dossiers he'd been supplied on the current crop of young purebloods. "Ravenclaw," he hazarded to the darker one, Elladora, who was probably about twenty-five. "You took the Transfiguration prize five years running."
"Oh!" Her hand went to her mouth. "Imagine you knowing that!"
"And you were Slytherin," Sirius went on, turning to the fairer sister, Corona, who couldn't be more than twenty. "Care of Magical Creatures, wasn't it? You calmed that berserk unicorn in your sixth year?"
The young woman inclined her head. "Are you a Legilimens, M'sieur Black, that you know so well what we pride ourselves on?" she asked.
"How could I forget what I have heard of such intelligent, beautiful ladies?" Sirius hedged. After two weeks, the speech and manner of pureblood interaction was beginning to come easily to him again.
Not that it's something I was eager to remember how to do, but it's necessary right now.
The social season for purebloods, a round of house parties, hunting, concerts, and other high-cultured delights, was hosted at one luxurious manor after another. It began in July, when children of marriageable age returned from Hogwarts, and in most years lasted through mid-August. This year, something that no one would discuss openly had cut the season short.
Maybe a lack of males, since most of them are off either doing Voldemort's bidding or courting his favor? And quite a few of the females, too. I get the feeling Voldemort doesn't care about sex. As long as they can hold a wand and shout "Avada Kedavra," they're in.
"Your eyes are far away," said Corona, startling Sirius into a jump. "May I know where?"
Sirius recalled himself to the present moment, and his duties. "Nowhere that so fair a lady should be troubled with," he said gallantly.
Corona pouted. "I had hoped you would be different than the men Grandmother shoves into my face, day in, day out," she said. "She's constantly casting it up to Elladora and me that we're old maids, that the line will never continue, that we've failed in our duty. But how can we do our duty when half the men are our cousins and all of them are horrid?"
"Does my lady desire that I be different?"
A smile tugged at one corner of Corona's mouth. "I doubt I am your lady, M'sieur Black. Or is Grandmother right about you? Does your appearance here mean that you have at last grown past your 'childish fantasies of true love'?" She mimicked her grandmother's speech admirably.
Sirius sighed. "Mam'selle Corona, I know not what to say," he answered. "I have always been taught that it is wrong to call a lady a liar."
"Grandmother is no lady," said Corona frankly, "and I want the truth."
"As do I." Sirius smiled darkly, appreciating for a moment the double meanings in Corona's words, the meanings she was surely not aware of.
God, Aletha, I miss you. You and Pearl. Thoughts of his beautiful wife and daughter flooded him, quickly joined by others. Moony and Danger, my Wolf, Neenie and Fox...
He shook himself out of his reverie. "The truth may be a dangerous thing, Mam'selle," he said. "Particularly in such company as we keep." He nodded towards the dancers on the floor and their elders sitting and standing around it, some sipping at drinks or nibbling chocolates and fruit. Talk and laughter rose above the genteel music to which the dancers moved, but to Sirius' ear, the talk was shrill and nervous, and the laughter held a brittle, frightened edge.
I'd give anything to be home. Eat a decent meal, even if Danger makes me do the dishes afterwards. Tell the cubs dirty jokes until Letha beats me up for it. Romp with Moony under the full moon...
That had been hardest of all, spending a den-night away from the Pack. The house-elf must have wondered when she found his bedding on the floor the morning after full moon, but proper pureblood-owned house-elves never asked their masters or their masters' guests anything, unless it was a question of how they should punish themselves today.
"You say that the truth is dangerous," Corona murmured, stepping closer to his side. "But I fear neither death nor pain."
"What do you fear, then, my lady?" Sirius returned in the same quiet tones.
"A cage." Corona's gaze darted about the elegant ballroom as if the windows were barricaded and the doors locked against her leaving. "To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them, and all chance of valor is gone beyond recall or desire."
Sirius remembered with sympathy his own days trapped in the expectations of a pureblood family, but remained wary. Purebloods were adept at lying, and at saying one thing and meaning another. "You quote prettily, Mam'selle."
"I mean every word." Corona dropped her fingers onto his arm. "Will you escort me outdoors? I feel a need for fresh air."
"Gladly." Sirius made for the nearest door, Corona beside him.
Across the room, Elladora Gamp leveled a glare of pure hatred toward her sister and the returned prodigal of the Black family.
"Out, out, out!"
Danger Granger-Lupin winced as she Apparated into the living room of her family's home, the Marauders' Den. What's Neenie mad about now?
"You're scaring her, leave her alone, get out!"
Her. Danger began to catalogue current female residents of the Den. Her baby sister was out, since not even Hermione Granger-Lupin referred to herself in the third person. Ginny Weasley had inherited her mother's lungs and a good deal of Molly's famous temper, and was thus perfectly capable of defending herself. Something similar could be said of Hermione's Pack-sister, Meghan Black, at twelve the youngest child in the house but far from helpless. Even dreamy Luna Lovegood usually wouldn't need Hermione to be screaming in her defense.
Usually, of course, being the key word. Nothing about this particular set-up is usual. The members of the Order of the Phoenix who had underage children – Arthur and Molly Weasley, Gerald Lovegood, and Frank and Alice Longbottom, along with Danger, her husband, and their two best friends, the foursome commonly known as the Pack – had agreed that those children should be housed together in the safest of the family homes until a Headquarters of the Order could be found and made safe and marginally habitable.
And rebuilding the wards on Hogwarts leaves us with very little time to go house-hunting. Though I liked Sirius' suggestion in his latest letter, and I think Albus does as well...
Her thoughts had carried her up the stairs towards the source of Hermione's shouts. Two identical faces lifted at her approach. "We didn't do it," said Fred and George Weasley in unison.
Danger crossed her arms. "You never do."
"Honestly, we didn't do anything," said Fred.
"We just walked in the room, and Luna started screaming," George picked up.
"Then she went out the window into the tree."
"And now she's sitting out there, and she won't let anyone near her."
"Draco tried to calm her down, but she just screamed at him too."
George frowned. "She actually screamed louder at him. I thought she liked him."
A door to Danger's left opened. "I thought she liked me too," said Draco Black, leaning against the doorframe. "But she drew blood. Look at this." He held out his arm. His usual summer sunburn was peeling, but beneath it Danger could see three scratches, recently healed.
"Meghan?" she asked, running a finger along her Pack-son's arm.
Draco nodded. "I don't get it. I didn't do anything."
"Anything you remember, you mean. Or nothing you're willing to tell me about."
"No, I mean I didn't do anything." Draco jerked a thumb behind him. "Ask them, or the girls, if you don't believe me."
Danger looked over Draco's shoulder. Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom looked up from their game of wizard chess. "He really didn't," said Neville. "It'd be hard to hide it, with us all in close quarters this way."
"Even going outside doesn't help," Ron added, looking out the window at the almost-darkness of late evening. "We still know everything we're all doing."
Danger turned at the sound of another door opening behind her. Ginny and Meghan stepped out, Meghan dodging past the older girl to claim a hug from her Pack-mum. "Luna won't let anyone close," the dark-skinned girl said, her voice muffled against Danger's robes. "Her body isn't hurt, but I think her soul is, and I don't know if I can fix it."
Danger refrained from mouthing platitudes at Meghan. Aletha Freeman-Black had insisted her born daughter not be sheltered from the truths that the girl's three adopted siblings had learned early, so Meghan knew well that although her talent for healing was remarkable – it had been largely responsible for the restoration of the Longbottoms – it couldn't do everything. Instead, she hugged her goddaughter closer and met Ginny's eyes. "Anything to add?" she asked.
"I think it might be something she Saw." The slight emphasis on the word made Ginny's meaning unmistakable. Luna had recently reclaimed her ability to see things that other people couldn't, an ability she had renounced after watching an evil spell try to harm Draco more than a year ago. Danger, saddled with yearly prophetic dreams and occasional unscheduled ones, could sympathize.
"And you want me to do something about it," she asked the crowd in general.
Heads nodded up and down the hall.
"I can certainly try." Danger gently disengaged Meghan and stood up just in time to catch Draco holding his hands above his head like ears. "Don't even start, fox-boy," she said, flicking one of his real ears. "That joke is dead and buried, and we are not making an Inferius out of it."
"Aww," Draco complained half-heartedly.
"If you still want that treat tomorrow..."
Draco zipped a finger across his lips.
"That's my boy." Danger moved up the hall, contemplating the strange way in which the phrase had become truth. Two weeks shy of eleven years earlier, the Pack had been kidnapped from their home by Lucius Malfoy. His various uncouth plans for them had never come to pass, mostly because of the courage of one woman.
Narcissa. Danger could still see the aristocratic face, wondering and frightened, as the pureblood woman admitted that she loved her four-year-old son. Narcissa had made a bargain with the Pack – she would free them, and remove the threat of Lucius from their lives, if they would take Draco and raise him with their other three children.
"Teach him what I never could," Narcissa's voice echoed in Danger's memories. "Teach him to love and be loved."
And I like to think we have.
Danger tapped on the door. "I said, go away!" shouted Hermione from within. "You're not helping!"
"How do you know? I just got here."
The door opened. "Sorry," said Hermione, stepping back to let Danger into the room. "I thought it was the twins again. Or my stupid twin again, for that matter."
"What happened?" Danger directed the question to both Hermione and the open window, where she could see a flash of white in the juniper tree growing by the corner of the Den.
"We were talking," said Hermione. "Then Fred and George came in, and Luna stared at them. They made some crack about her, and George started to come closer, and Luna screamed and climbed out the window before I could stop her. I think they may have seen what she can do now."
Danger sighed. "They were going to find out eventually. As Neville said, it's close quarters here. I'll remind them exactly what's at stake if they spill. What then?"
"Draco heard her screaming and came running in. He tried to get her to come back in, but she just scratched at him and went on crying, or whatever you want to call it. She's still doing it." Hermione fell silent, looking towards the window. Quiet noises like a girl's sobs drifted in, holding the desperation of a wild creature caged.
"Do you want me to try?" Danger asked softly.
"Please." Hermione crossed the room, never taking her eyes from the window, and Danger held her. "I don't know what else to do."
"I know. You did very well with what you had. And I'll need to ask you something later tonight, so don't disappear on me."
"I won't." Hermione laid her head on Danger's shoulder for one moment, then pulled away. "I'll go find something to do. Maybe we can get Winky to make us some popcorn and watch a movie." Molly Weasley had sent her recently hired house-elf to take care of the Den and its young inhabitants, since she, her husband, and Percy could fend for themselves more easily than could her twins and seven-eighths of the rambunctious group known as the Pride.
I wish we had them all here, but he's safer where he is...
Danger shook her head as Hermione slipped out of the room. And I need to be concentrating on what's in front of me. Finding out what has Luna so on edge, and calming her if I can.
Sitting down on one of the four beds in the room, Danger began to sing, a light-hearted song from a light-hearted musical, beseeching the hearer in over-the-top tones to come to the singer and be comforted.
The sounds from the tree outside diminished, then were gone. As Danger came into the last verse, small scratches on the windowsill told her that her quarry was moving closer. She held the last note out until her voice quavered from lack of breath, then ended it and turned to see what was behind her.
A white owl perched on the next bed over, her talons embedded in the afghan Danger's mother had crocheted long ago.
"Do you want an Owl Treat?" Danger asked, letting only the most gentle of teasing tones into her voice.
The owl shook her head.
"Sit with me, then?" Danger patted the space beside her.
The owl waddled to the edge of the bed, then flapped awkwardly across the space between beds. Danger blinked as wing feathers brushed her face. "You're doing well," she said.
The bed sagged slightly as the weight on it increased. "No, I'm not," said Luna, pushing her hair out of her face. "Why is everyone lying to me today?"
"I wasn't lying to you. Flying is hard. You're doing well for a beginner."
"Ron flies very well when he's Redwing."
"Ron learned to fly as a hawk by falling out his dorm window. I don't think you want to go that far."
Luna stiffened, quivering. "He'll fall again," she whispered. "He'll fall with a friend, and he'll have to decide which of them to save – he could do magic and save his friend, or he could transform and save himself..." She clapped her hands over her eyes with a little cry.
Danger reached out and pulled the girl close. Enough, she said sternly and silently, though not to her husband, with whom she most usually spoke silently. Didn't any of you think to show her how to moderate this? Or isn't there a way?
There is, answered a female voice, cool and calm. But because Luna's power has been so long denied, it is overwhelming her attempts at moderation. Also, she has lost her skill at moderating it through lack of practice.
Quit trying to guilt-trip her, she can't hear you, Danger retorted. I think it's pretty low of you to do this to her.
I never intended my statements to make anyone feel guilty. They are merely facts.
Yes, well, intended or not, she's being torn apart by this, and I don't know of anyone who can help her. Are you going to do something about it, or not?
A silent sigh. What would you have us do? We cannot put the power to sleep again now that she has reawakened it. She knew this.
Yes, but there has to be some way to limit it. To tell it when and where to come, and how much to show her. She won't last long if she's seeing every bad thing that's going to happen to us until this war is over.
A long pause. We must think on this, the voice said finally. You have the power to provide a stopgap measure, if you wish.
I do wish. Danger couldn't keep a sarcastic tone from her mental voice. How long will you need to think?
Three weeks should be sufficient, the other answered, seemingly unaware of Danger's sarcasm. The price to you will be nine hours.
Danger checked her wristwatch. Nine o'clock. Begin it at nine-thirty, then, she said. I want to talk to her before I pass out.
Very well. The connection shut off abruptly.
"Ravenclaws," Danger grumbled. "Luna, look at me."
Luna shook her head frantically, her eyes shut tight. "I can't," she said. "I'll See something terrible. I do when I look at everyone, or when I think about them even..."
"In half an hour, you won't anymore. At least not for a little while."
Luna's head came up. "How long?"
"A few weeks. If you were having this much trouble with your Seeing, why didn't you tell someone?"
"I thought it would go away," Luna said shakily. "But it just keeps getting worse..."
"We're in for a rough time, Luna. A war. Do you want to talk about any of what you Saw?"
"Do you think that would help?"
"It helps me to talk about frightening things. I can look at them honestly, with another person's help, and see what frightens me about them. But if you don't want to, I'll respect that."
Luna looked down at her feet. "Blood," she said softly. "I see blood on everyone. On their hands and feet, on their wands, on their daggers." One hand rose to her lips. "On some people's mouths."
Danger swallowed, careful not to let the girl hear it.
"And I think... I think I see who will die. At least some of them." Luna's eyes were bleak. "And the things that will happen before they die, and those are worse."
"Oh..." Danger held Luna again, silently cursing the fate that had forced itself on a fourteen-year-old girl.
"I could stand it if they just died, but some of them are tortured." Luna's voice shook. "And some of them have to decide whether they live or die, and they decide to die. And one..." A sob. "One of us changes sides."
"What?" Danger pulled back quickly to look Luna in the face. "Are you sure?"
Luna's face twisted once, then she nodded.
"And you know who it is."
Another nod, which turned into frantic head-shaking as Luna realized what the next question would be.
"Luna, I have to know." Danger pinned Luna's arms by her sides and held the girl where she was. "It could mean all our lives – please, Luna, you must tell me..."
"No!" Luna cried, twisting beneath Danger's hands. "No, no, no!" She began to shrink into the form of the white owl again. Danger let her go and drew her wand just in time to shut the window and lock it. Luna loosed an almost human scream and flung herself at the door, reaching it a moment too late.
Danger held her wand loose but ready. "Neither of us is leaving this room before you tell me," she said with quiet determination. "So we might as well get it over with."
The owl screeched again and launched herself from the floor, swooping at the woman. A tan wolf reared up to pluck the owl from the air, and a human girl landed on the ground, yanking her arm away from the wolf's jaws.
Danger regained human form and backed up several paces. "Never do that again," she said, shaking. "Don't you know what could have happened if I'd bitten you?"
Luna turned her back and sank to the floor between the beds, disappearing from Danger's view. Danger moved cautiously closer, but instead of preparing to attack, Luna was curled into a ball, her hands over her eyes once more, sobbing. Danger frowned as certain words made themselves clear.
That would explain why she's so upset...
She sat down. "What exactly did you see?" she asked quietly.
Aletha Freeman-Black Apparated into the music room of the Den and immediately raised a storm of protest.
"Down in front!"
"I can't see!"
"Hello to you too," Aletha said wearily, stepping out of the way of the television screen.
"Mama Letha!" Meghan leapt up to hug Aletha. Draco did the same, as the rest of the Pride and the twins waved.
Hermione hit the pause button before she joined the hug. "Danger's upstairs with Luna," she said. "Luna's unhappy about something, but we don't know what yet."
"I'm sure Danger's dealing with it. Or will deal with it." Aletha broke off as something beeped in her pocket. She reached in and withdrew a shiny metal lighter, which she flipped open, revealing a green flame. "Freeman-Black," she said.
"Are you home yet, Letha?" asked Remus Lupin's voice from the flame.
"Yes, I'm here."
"Hi, Moony," Hermione called.
"Hello, Kitten. I'll be home myself soon. Letha, would you mind running upstairs and letting Luna out of the girls' bedroom? Danger locked it up magically and took a nap."
"Grand." Aletha smiled one-sidedly. "I assume there's a reason."
"Yes, but it's complicated. I'll explain when I get there."
"Understood. Freeman-Black out." Aletha snapped the Zippophone shut. "Had an eventful day?" she asked the children.
George shrugged. "We've had worse."
"How informative. Love you, Pearl." Aletha hugged Meghan once more, then started for the stairs. "Turn that down," she called over her shoulder as the movie started again.
Two or three of the Pride booed her.
Luna was gazing out the window when Aletha opened the bedroom door, and turned to greet the woman with something like her usual serenity. "Thank you, Mrs. Letha. I didn't know how long I'd have to wait."
Aletha looked at Danger, asleep across one of the beds. "May I ask?"
"Mrs. Danger wanted to help me with my Seeing," Luna explained. "To stop me from Seeing all the time, even when I don't want to. But she had to pay the price for it, and she wanted to start it as soon as she could. We started to talk, though, and the time she set ran out before she realized it. She apologized, and told me someone else would be here soon, but she didn't know how soon."
"You seem a bit calmer than you were," Aletha commented, not sure if she should, but needing to say something – Luna had been crying in corners, eyeing people oddly, and staring at nothing in the middle of conversations for the two weeks she'd been at the Den.
"Oh, I feel much better. Mrs. Danger reminded me that some of the things I See might not happen, and that I might be coming to the wrong conclusions about others of them." Sadness flickered across Luna's face. "But I still need to do something about one of them. Not tonight, though. And not tomorrow. The day after."
Aletha nodded, but held her peace, instead drawing her wand to levitate Danger down the hall into her bedroom.
There's only one person who won't be here tomorrow. And he's just the person Luna would least want to hurt.
This war is going to change us all.
Harry Potter sat at his window, chin resting on one hand, staring down at the streetlights of Privet Drive and letting his mind wander to all the places he'd lived. From Godric's Hollow to Privet Drive, from Privet Drive to Crozer Street in London, from Crozer Street to Ottery St. Catchpole, from Ottery St. Catchpole to Hogwarts, and now he was back again to Privet Drive...
And both times I've been here, it's been because someone's after my arse. Coincidence? I don't think so.
He sighed, getting up. Two more weeks, that's all. After that, I don't ever have to come back. I'll spend term at Hogwarts, and holidays at Headquarters, until...
His mind tried to shy away. Harry caught it and dragged it back to topic. Until I kill Voldemort. That is what I have to do. There's no good trying to ignore it.
As expected, the memories of the graveyard surged up into his mind. Sour fear and bitter hatred filled his mouth as he watched Cedric try to escape – Voldemort would never really have let him go, Harry realized, he'd been playing cat and mouse with him, playing with both of them.
The only difference is, I beat him. And it wasn't even because of anything I did – it was because he was distracted, because Luna was Looking at him. If she'd Looked earlier, could we both have got away?
Harry broke off that train of thought with an angry growl in his throat. It's over. Playing "would have, could have" won't help anything.
Dropping onto his bed, he shut his eyes and called up the mental fire he used for Occlumency. Somewhere in between the imagining and the willing, he found himself actually sitting on his broomstick, high above the graveyard. The fiery shield around him started to flicker and waver.
I need to get down. Harry dived and got his feet onto the grass just as his shield went out. Around one gravestone appeared Voldemort, laughing quietly; around another, Wormtail, gasping and sobbing as his wounded arm bled onto his robes. Nagini slithered up to her master's side, her eyes glazed over in death, the ragged wound on her neck no longer bleeding. Cedric stumbled past, and Voldemort's spell, unspoken, dropped him to the ground almost at Harry's feet.
That's it. I have had it. Harry called fire again, but this time with a difference. This time, instead of simply englobing himself with the flame and pushing the memory outside it, he gathered the memory in his hands, crumpling it like parchment, and summoned fire to and around it, directing the flames to consume it.
You will have no more power over me, he told the memory as it struggled to escape. You are past. I will learn from you, but you will not haunt me anymore.
The memory shredded in his hands, trying to save pieces of itself. Harry wasn't having any. He freed one hand and snatched each piece as it tried to fly past, thrusting it back into the fire and naming it as it was consumed.
Voldemort – burn, you bastard, burn. You will, when I get my powers unbound as Heir of Gryffindor, and when I catch up with you. His lips curled back off his teeth. You fooled me once. Too bad you're not getting another chance like that.
Nagini. An Inferius now, are you? Shame corpses don't eat. I hear they burn very nicely, though. I guess I'll get a chance to find out at some point.
Wormtail. Wonder how to barbecue a rat? Maybe a nice teriyaki marinade, or a honey-mustard glaze. He snickered. I'll just have to find out what you hate, and work from there.
Cedric. This was chancier territory. Harry nodded a salute to his memory of the older boy. I hope you don't mind, but I'd rather remember you alive. I liked you, and I'm sorry you're dead, but it wasn't my fault and I can't let it hang on me. Please take this in the spirit it's meant – cremation, I guess – and thank you for everything you ever did for me, and everything you ever tried to do.
The memory of that night shivered once and fell into ashes in Harry's hands. His open left hand held a huge heap of filthy black soot with green tinges to it, while his right hand was closed around a smaller pile of honest gray ash such as might come from wood or charcoal.
Slowly, Harry knelt, and set both piles down, noticing how all the ash fell from his hands in a way it never would in the real world. He dug a small hole in the ground and swept the ashes of Cedric's memory into it. "Rest in peace," he said aloud, and filled in the hole, tamping the dirt down with the heel of his hand.
Then he stood up, changed forms, and let the rest of that night know how little he valued it.
And that's the end of that...
Well, no. Wolf changed forms again, and the human Harry sat down and leaned his back against a granite mausoleum. Probably not the end.
But it might be the beginning of the end.
Or the end of the beginning. Who knows?
The graveyard blurred, and Harry let it. The memory was unlikely to be back tonight. Tomorrow, possibly, or the day after, but not tonight...
His white, thin, long-fingered hand was clasped around another's, the palm unpleasantly wet. He was speaking.
"...not to let anyone, no matter their rank or degree, kill any of them?"
The other man swallowed nervously. "I will," he said shakily.
There was a wand against their hands. A bright line of fire issued from its tip and wound around the clasped hands, intertwining itself with the two already there.
"Excellent," Harry said. His high-pitched voice echoed in the stone room, as though nothing else were present. "You are the third, Macnair. All of you are sworn. The only thing we must do now is wait. They will be moved eventually, and when they are moved, then you must strike. They should give you little trouble in and of themselves, but remember, if they know that anything is wrong, then help will come and this will all be in vain... and I do not care for having my plans set at naught..."
"Yes, Master," said three voices together, one cultured, one a beastlike growl, the third the voice he had already heard. Harry felt a smile stretch his face as he looked at the three. As different as could be found, and yet they all served him...
He turned away from their bowed heads, their bent knees, and looked around the room. A gleam of mirror caught his eye, and his smile widened as red, slit-pupiled eyes met their counterparts –
Harry bolted awake, biting back on a yell just in time. His scar pounded in time with his frantically racing heart.
Not real. Not real. He closed his own suntanned hands around the sheets, then freed one to find his glasses. Need to write that down...
He scrambled out of bed, found parchment and quill, and began to scribble sentences, barely stopping to dip the pen (though he did take a second along the way to glance at his reflection in the glass over the framed photograph of the Pack on the desk). Three men, one named Macnair, took Unbreakable Vow not to kill someone – more than one person, V. said them – I was V...
Harry stopped, staring at that for a moment.
I was Voldemort. I was in his head.
That was an accident. But what if he could make me do that? What if he could make me watch some of the things he likes to do?
Suddenly the Dursleys didn't seem like so high a price to pay.
He went back to scribbling.
Something about moving, and striking when they move – if they know something is wrong, help will come – they aren't supposed to be much trouble themselves...
Finally, when he had everything down he could remember, he added a few lines of explanation at the bottom and folded the parchment. He'd give it to Moony when he saw his Pack-father tomorrow.
He glanced at the clock. Make that today.
Somehow that put the dream into perspective. It had been strange and horrible to be inside Voldemort's head, but he'd been warned it might happen, and although they were connected, he wasn't just part of some Dark wizard. He was himself, Harry James Potter, Marauder of the Pack and alpha Warrior of the Pride.
And damned proud of it, too.
Movement in the photograph caught his eye. His photographic self was down on one knee, letting Meghan use him as a human stepping stool to get to Draco's shoulders, with Hermione steadying her. They'd done something like it once in real life, Harry recalled, the day Snape –
Harry let his face rest on the desk. Get out of my head, Moony.
Be polite, then, admonished the memory voice.
The day Professor Grumpy had come to the London Den, discovering the hiding place of the "criminal" Sirius Black and his family.
If I have to call him Professor, I'll do it my way.
The four cubs of the Pack had used the human tower to get down the key to the attic, where the trunks were stored, while the adults were still talking over what they should do. By the time the decision was officially reached that they would have to run for it, the cubs were three-quarters packed.
I had a weird childhood. Besides always being ready to run away from the Ministry, I told stories to snakes, I slept in the same bed as my sisters and brother, and my guardians told me I had to grow up and save the world.
Maybe I need therapy.
Harry burst out laughing, muffling the sound first with both hands, then getting himself under control long enough to get to his bed and fall face-first onto his pillow.
I think I'd probably drive a therapist insane. Either that or give her enough material for a dissertation. And if I didn't, Neenie and Draco would!
The laughter bled off the last of the tension that had lingered from the dream. Yawning as he turned over, Harry imagined not a shield made of fire, but a mattress and sheets, and a soft pillow into which his head could sink. He barely had time to pull off his glasses and set them aside before sleep overwhelmed him again.
He dreamed of Wolf tearing a therapist's couch to pieces, ripping the leather off with his sharp teeth and worrying each chunk, while the doe Pearl grazed on the papers from the desk, Snow Fox gnawed at the legs of the chair, and a feline Neenie daintily batted books off the shelves.
Harry's alarm went off at seven. By seven-twenty, he was in the kitchen, chopping herbs for an omelet. If he closed his eyes and sniffed, he could almost believe he was home...
All right, scratch that. "Yes, sir?" Harry called up the stairs.
"Where's my gray-striped tie, boy?"
Harry bit his lip to keep from laughing aloud. "You mean the one with gray stripes on dark gray, or the one with gray stripes on light gray, sir?"
"Gray on dark gray, boy, don't be rude. Where is it?"
"It should be in the airing cupboard, sir."
A few moments of footsteps and scuffling, then satisfied mutters as Uncle Vernon retreated to his bedroom.
"Ever heard of thank you?" Harry mumbled. But after two weeks, he thought he understood. The Dursleys' memories of him couldn't be pleasant, although he had no intention of ever letting them know exactly why their lives had gone so sour. Still, they were letting him make his home with them for a month, and he was costing them money. Not much, he knew, and they were probably getting more than their worth out of him in housework, but he was still there on sufferance. If they wanted to be rude to him, he could handle it.
Besides, I'm getting material for years to come. The man with the most boring ties in the world...
At seven-thirty, the Dursleys were in the kitchen, and Harry was serving breakfast. The mail slot clicked, and letters fell onto the doormat with a flop.
"Get the mail, boy," said Uncle Vernon from behind his newspaper. Harry set the frying pan back on the stove and went to the front door.
He grinned to himself. Mixed in with the regular post was a tiny letter with no stamp, addressed to him. He tucked it into his pocket and brought the rest back into the kitchen.
"Got my own, Potter," said Dudley, setting down the empty frying pan. "Thanks for making it."
"You're welcome." And thank you, for eating it all. Pig.
Harry told his stomach to be quiet. He'd make himself breakfast later.
"We're going out," said Aunt Petunia abruptly. "Dudley and I. We'll be gone all day. I want the house clean by the time we're back."
"Yes, Aunt Petunia." Harry retrieved the frying pan and set it to soak in the sink, then ducked around the corner to read his letter. It consisted of one sentence – Hang a red sock out your window if you won't be alone at noon – and wasn't signed, but Harry knew Moony's handwriting.
Why he couldn't just send it by owl...
But Moony had been as much a Marauder as Padfoot. Harry sometimes forgot that. And Marauders went out of their way to remind you that you were never safe.
Hmm. I wonder what would be a good prank to play on Voldemort...?
Thinking of that amused him for about a minute, until he remembered. Voldemort's rules of engagement were different than the Pack's. When he got back, he got back for keeps.
So... make him think someone else did it?
That idea had possibilities. Harry did the breakfast dishes in a fog, thinking about ways to make a Dork Lord look foolish and put the blame on somebody else. Preferably, somebody on the Dork Lord's side.
I wonder if I could pin something on Dudley?
Of course, that was assuming Dudley was even involved with Voldemort. Harry sneaked a look at his cousin over his shoulder. Dudley was rude, self-interested, and had done some mean things to the Pride in the past, but was he really evil? Or had evil just been using him, as a convenient means to an end?
I can't read his mind, so I don't know. I'll just stay careful, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. He chuckled under his breath. Constant vigilance!
Finally, Uncle Vernon was gone, off to shout and be shouted at. Dudley went out to the car first, and Aunt Petunia began to follow, then stopped and ducked back inside. "Harry."
Harry jumped a little. As far as he could remember, this was the first time any of his relatives had addressed him by his first name. Uncle Vernon called him boy, Dudley favored his surname, and Aunt Petunia, up until now, hadn't called him anything at all. "Yes, Aunt Petunia."
"I just wanted to say." Her eyes roved around the kitchen, then fixed on his. "You've... not been a burden. I thought you should know."
And she was gone.
"Thank you," Harry said to the sound of car tires squealing on asphalt. "I think."
Yes, definitely a compliment.
He fixed himself breakfast and swiped Uncle Vernon's newspaper for a look at what was going on in the Muggle world. No death and destruction... of course, Voldemort's going to take advantage that the Ministry doesn't believe he's back, build up a base before he has to come out and fight, maybe even steal things because there won't be any increased security on them...
Harry wondered idly if he would have understood that, without the Pack to teach him. If he'd lived his whole life before Hogwarts here, or in another house just like this, would he now be shivering in anticipation, waiting anxiously each day to hear if the mass murders had started yet?
Ah, doesn't matter. I didn't, so I'm not. And I wanted to get some of the cleaning done before Moony shows up, and maybe some homework...
Two paragraphs of a Charms essay and the kitchen later, the doorbell rang. Harry checked his watch. 11:30. He's early.
He opened the door. "We don't want any," he began, then stared.
The stoop was empty.
Harry reached out a cautious hand and brushed a familiar, satiny fabric. "Har har," he said sarcastically.
"Glad you like it," said a voice.
Harry backed up three steps and felt for his wand.
"Don't bother, Harry, it's me," said the voice again, and a hand extended from under the Invisibility Cloak, turned hot pink, then deep brown, then back to its original pinkish-brown shade. "Besides, with these wards, I couldn't even have got on the property if I had bad intentions, right?"
"Anything can fail," Harry retorted. "Mind coming in before the neighbors wonder why I'm standing here with the door open?"
"Ooh, touchy. They're rubbing off on you." Tonks stepped in through the door, shut it behind herself, and pulled the Cloak off her spiky blue head. "Wotcher, Harry."
"Hi." Harry tried to think of a polite way to ask his question and failed. "Er, Tonks, what are you–"
"Doing here?" Tonks finished, grinning at him. "Don't worry, I'm not your official visitor. Just came by to tell you Remus'll be a bit late. Ran into a little snag at Headquarters."
"You've found a place, then?" Harry said eagerly.
Tonks grimaced. "I can't tell you anything, you know that."
"I don't want to know anything about it, I just want to know yes or no, did you find one?"
Tonks raised her hands in surrender. "Yes, we found one. And no, I don't know how long it's going to take to get all the charms in place," she added. "I may never get married at this rate."
Harry frowned. "But... I thought the wedding was supposed to be this month."
"Well, it was," said Tonks, starting back towards the kitchen. "But a wedding with no bridesmaids or maid of honor and only one groomsman besides the best man is going to look a bit dodgy. Your Pride really sticks together, don't you?"
Harry turned this over in his head for several seconds, then thought he saw what it meant. "Ron and Ginny, and Hermione and Meghan. They wouldn't be in your wedding..."
"Unless you could come," Tonks finished, sitting down at the kitchen table. "You and Sirius. I want you there too, of course, so does Charlie, but the walking-out bit clinched it for us. We've set 19 August as a very tentative date..."
Tonks was full of stories Harry hadn't yet heard from any of his regular correspondents, and eager to hear stories about the Dursleys and the ones Padfoot had sent in his letters from 'purebloodland,' as Tonks put it. "Mum always told me I was better off out of it," she said. "She said it was like something out of a romance novel, except more cutthroat than romantic."
"That sounds about right," Harry admitted, and smiled to himself. He and Tonks, between them, might just have cracked some of the reasons behind Padfoot's unusual hobby.
He offered to make her lunch around noon, but Tonks looked at her watch and jumped to her feet in dismay. "I didn't realize... damn, I have to get back... sorry, Harry, another time. See you in August if not sooner..."
"Bye," Harry said as Tonks flung the Invisibility Cloak over herself. He opened the door for her and stepped out onto the lawn, looking up at the cloudless sky and basking in the sunlight.
Beautiful day, he thought distantly, as a crack sounded at the end of the street. Too beautiful to spend it all indoors.
He sped through the cleaning in the rest of the house – luckily, there wasn't much that needed doing, as the Dursleys were almost obsessively tidy – made himself a small picnic, and took it out into the back yard. He was just licking the last drips of juice from a peach off his fingers when he heard the doorbell ring. Getting to his feet, he trotted around the house.
"Looking for someone?" he said.
Moony must have heard him coming, as he didn't jump at all, only turned his head and smiled. "I think I am. How are you, Harry?"
"I'm all right. Come around back?"
"Follow me, then..." Harry blinked. Had he just seen something small and brown streak around the other corner of the house?
Nah. It's just the heat. I'm seeing things.
"I remember the first time I ever saw this house," said Moony reminiscently. "It was my twenty-third birthday..."
"And I was a baby who couldn't say the letter N, I know," Harry cut him off. "Just do me a favor and don't tell me what rooms you and Danger had fun in when you were first married. I'd never get the images out of my head."
"Harry, I couldn't possibly remember them all. There were so many, you see."
"Oh, God." Harry clutched his head. "That's exactly what I didn't want to hear."
They teased each other for a little while longer, then Harry recalled his dream and the letter he'd written. "Wait here, I have something to show you," he said. "I dreamed I was Voldemort last night..."
"You dreamed you were Voldemort?"
"I wrote everything down, I'll get it." Harry ran into the house and was back almost as fast as Wolf could have done it, parchment in his hand.
Moony scanned the account of the dream, then looked up. "We should find out if Voldemort was aware of your presence," he said. "If he was, then he might try to replicate it."
"And if he tries after I leave here, he might do it." Harry twisted the fringe on the small blanket he'd brought outside to sit on. "I'm not having a lot of success with Occlumency. I did something last night that helped a little with the memory, but it was right after I did it that I had the dream. Maybe I'm just not Occlumency material."
"That's possible..." Moony seemed to be debating something with himself, and for once, only with himself. His eyes were almost entirely blue. "Harry, I'm going to tell you something that Albus wasn't sure we should tell you yet. I think you're old enough to weigh the pros and cons of this, really weigh them, and make your own decision."
Harry straightened his shoulders. "I'm listening."
"There might be a way to block Voldemort's direct access to your mind permanently. However, it does come with consequences. One of them is to your health. You would become mildly ill if you decided to go through with this... procedure. The illness is treatable, and almost never goes beyond the stage of a nuisance, but you would have it."
"What is the procedure, exactly?" Harry asked.
"I suppose you could call it beating Voldemort at his own game," Moony said with a smile. "He took your blood forcibly, which created the connection between you."
"But I already had a connection with him," Harry argued. "My scar hurt way back in first year, and he didn't have my blood then."
"True enough." Moony frowned. "But this new connection, this wide-open thing, that came as a result of the blood link between you. This procedure that I'm telling you about might return the link to what it used to be, just a way for you to know if Voldemort is nearby."
"But what is it?"
"I'm coming to that. So Voldemort took your blood. But he gave you nothing in return. You don't have any part of him in you. That makes your link necessarily weaker than a link made with parts of both the people involved."
"Like Draco and Hermione," said Harry, nodding. "Malfoy blended their bloods, both of them, so they're full twins."
"Almost exactly like Draco and Hermione. They were the next point I was going to bring up." Moony looked unaccountably nervous. "The spell that Malfoy used is not a Dark spell, Harry. It was only Dark because he used it without their permission. Back when there were more wizards in the world, when it was possible that you might not know all the purebloods around, young wizards used to get their Muggleborn sweethearts adopted by wizarding clans with that spell, with the permission of both people involved. The Muggleborns tested as blood relatives of the clan, and the parents were satisfied."
"So... you want me to get adopted by somebody?"
"In a way." Moony seemed very interested in his fingernails. "We hope that, if you forge a full blood bond with someone else, that bond will supersede the one you have with Voldemort, and block his access to your mind."
"But how would a blood bond make me..." Harry trailed off. "It has to be with a wizard, doesn't it?" he said. "The blood bond. It has to be with a grown-up wizard, to make it as much like Voldemort as you can."
"And you want it to be with someone you trust."
Moony met his eyes. "Harry, if you do this, whoever you make this bond with would have access to your mind with a simple touch." He reached across and laid his hand on Harry's wrist. "Yes, I'd say trust is fairly essential. And since the bond is adoptive, the trust should be at a familial level."
"And Voldemort could trace it back through me, to whoever I bond with, right?" Harry felt like Wolf, following a game trail in the forest. "So the fewer relatives he has, the better."
"We think – we hope – that he can only work through ties of blood, the same way he is tied to you. But yes, he could theoretically attack any blood relatives of the man you bond with."
"So I'd need to make a blood bond with a grown-up wizard, somebody I trust like a father, and somebody without any blood relatives around." Harry numbered off the points on his fingers, then grinned. "Why didn't you just say it was you to begin with?"
Moony looked terribly earnest. "Harry, I don't want you to take this lightly. If you went through with this, you'd have lupus, as Danger does. Your case would not be nearly as severe, and you certainly wouldn't die if we were separated for three days, but you would have lupus, so you'd need to have it treated regularly."
"But Voldemort couldn't get into my head."
"So we think." Moony sighed. "So we hope." He stood up. "Don't give me an answer now. Think about it until you come to Headquarters. Then we'll make a final decision."
"OK." Harry started picking up the dishes and handing them to Moony. "Want to see my room?"
Moony stayed most of the rest of the afternoon, telling Harry only a little more about Headquarters than Tonks had, but giving him a more definite estimate of the time needed to make the place secure – two weeks or less. "I won't promise, but there's a very good possibility you could have your birthday there instead of here," he said. "Mind you, that's only if everything goes well. I wish Sirius were with us, but he's needed where he is. The more purebloods we can convince to be on our side, or at least stay neutral..."
"Yeah, and what about the werewolves?" Harry asked. "Are you going to have to go talk to them?"
"At this point, Harry, I doubt if they'd listen." Moony sat down on Harry's bed. "I was obscure during the first war. Now I'm a celebrity, a famous 'passer.' I've done things in mainstream wizarding society most werewolves only dream about. I'd be lucky to get anything but growls and rocks. But we have found a replacement, a young man who's just as obscure as I once was."
"Tell him to run for his life," Harry advised.
"Do it yourself. His name's Brian Li, and he'll be moving into Headquarters as soon as it's habitable, so you'll get to know him before you go back to school. About the same age as Tonks, and very personable, very nice young man..."
Finally, Moony had to go. Harry hugged his Pack-father for a long moment in the front hall, noticing that he could see more over the man's shoulder than he used to. Then Moony smiled at him, turned, and walked out the front door.
Just in time for Aunt Petunia to pull into the drive.
Moony nodded to her politely and kept walking.
Aunt Petunia stared after him, her mouth a perfect O. Dudley said something to her, but she didn't seem to hear. Instead, she got out of the car and kept staring, watching Moony until he turned the corner. Her face seemed to say she was trying to remember something that had happened a long time ago.
Harry slipped back inside and up to his room, where he took the photo of the Pack off his desk and hid it under the socks in his cauldron. If his aunt found it, it was even odds she'd recognize either Danger or Hermione, and he wasn't up to explaining.
Yes, your neighbor whom you used to call a slut stole me out of your house, along with her werewolf husband, and together they put a mysterious curse on you that ruined your lives...
Though the expressions on the Dursleys' faces would be rather funny.
Harry awoke muzzily in the middle of the night, aware that he'd kicked off the covers.
My hands are cold. My feet are cold.
Why is the back of my neck warm?
He reached behind him and felt.
Oh. Fur. Right.
His eyes drifted shut again. Then snapped open.
He switched on the light and sat up.
The small brown fox curled up on his pillow opened one eye and gave a protesting whine.
"What the bloody hell?"
The fox yawned, then opened its other eye and stared at him.
Harry blinked blearily and squinted. The fox's eyes were gray.
"Oh," he said as the truth dawned on him. "Summer coat, right?"
The fox nodded, then yawned again, ostentatiously.
"All right, already." Harry shut off the light, snagged the sheet from its place on the floor, and lay back down.
A paw scraped along the back of his neck, making him shudder with a sensation halfway between scratching an itch and being tickled. Before he could say anything, someone else did.
Move your big hairy head, you're hogging the whole pillow.
"It's my pillow, I can hog it if I want to." But Harry scooted over a little. "Better?"
Much. Thank you ever so.
Harry yawned himself. "Don't be so sarcastic," he muttered as sleep crept back up on him. "You'll stick like that."
Harry turned around. Draco grinned at him and took off running. "Come on, slowpoke," he shouted over his shoulder. "This way to the den-night!"
Harry transformed into Wolf, howled with glee, and gave chase.
(A/N: And I'm back! Did you miss me?
Yes, I told terrible lies when I said I wasn't going to start this right away. I'm sure you're all just as horrified as you were when I had to continue "Truth Amid the Lies" a few more chapters. (That one's in the works, by the way.)
I am going to be one busy little grad student this fall, but as you all know, every time I try to predict how much I'll update in the near future, I'm wrong. So let's just say I'll update as soon as possible and leave it at that, eh?
Here's to Facing Danger – may it be better than all its prequels!)