(A/N: J.K. Rowling invented Harry Potter and his world. I did not. She owns them. I do not. She has said writers may borrow them. I did. Please enjoy what I've done with them—I do!)

Chapter 1: Memories and Choices

Aletha Black, one train ride away from taking up her new post as Professor of Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, flattened herself against the corridor wall of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, as a shaggy black form streaked by at knee level, followed closely by a woman near Aletha's own age of thirty-mumble, the face which so resembled her twenty-years-younger sister contorted with fury, the bushy brown hair they shared in more disarray than usual, and one hand clutching a wooden spoon.

"Need any help with that, Danger?" Aletha called after the pair, stifling a smile.

"No, I think I can kill your husband all by myself." The words came back in a breathless snarl, underlain by piteous whimpering. "He'd better be grateful Animagi don't respond to chocolate the way real dogs do, or I wouldn't have to bother. Twelve triple chocolate fairy cakes this time, a full dozen—oh, don't give me that look, Sirius Valentine Black!" A loud whack and a yelp were almost simultaneous. "I was only sending eight of them on the train with Harry and the Pride! Well, nine, since Letha's going with them, but that still left the other three for us, including one for you! You had absolutely no call to eat every last one of them!"

Aletha leaned against the wall, grateful she'd seen Dobby and Winky out here cleaning earlier today, so she knew she wouldn't get marks on the new blue robes she'd chosen for the Opening Feast. "If you kill my husband, I get to kill yours. Pack rules, you know. You can give Remus fair warning if you like, but I'm going to insist on my rights. Unless… were those the chocolate fairy cakes I like? The ones with the dark mocha icing, where you can't tell if I steal a fingerful to eat?"

"You'd better not have your fingers in my icing bowl before I'm done with it. But yes, those are the ones. Or I should say, were the ones." The last three words emerged in a threatening growl. "I thought, Mr. Padfoot, that we had discussed the proper times, places, and quantities for filching food out of my kitchen…"

Chuckling under her breath, Aletha strolled away. She'll put the fear of God into him, or better still, the fear of Gertrude Granger-Lupin. And it'll last, like it always does, just as long as it takes her to bake something else that smells good to his dog form. It's a good thing he has a cast-iron stomach, or his gluttony would have killed him before he left school.

She turned in at the door of the guest bedroom she had occupied for the final two weeks of the summer, glancing automatically at her reflection in the mirror to make sure the whirlwind encounter in the corridor hadn't left visible marks.

If there's one thing that would destroy my credibility at Hogwarts before the year begins, it would be turning up at platform nine and three-quarters looking like I'd already been through a war.

But her skin, the color of that same dark mocha icing she had mentioned to Danger, was still unblemished, her hair unruffled in its close-cropped natural frizz about her head. Her eyes, a warmer and darker shade of chocolate brown, met their reflected counterparts sparkling with a rueful smile.

How did I end up with this pack of rowdies again? Oh, that's right. It all began nearly thirty years ago, when one of my friends, who hated her given name, had a ridiculous roller skating accident, and I made up a silly little rhyme that ended in her getting tagged with the nickname "Danger." And then three years later I turned eleven, and discovered that magic was real, and that I was expected to go away from home and study it in an honest-to-goodness castle…

Crossing the room, she sat down at the vanity and placed a hand on the elaborately carved wooden box which reposed there in solitary splendor. Rather than try to intervene between Sirius and Danger, or fret about whether or not she was fully packed for her upcoming year of teaching, she thought she might as well pass the time here until she helped shepherd the junior contingent of the Order of the Phoenix safely to King's Cross.

Remembering my life. Or rather, the life I know ought to be mine.

Her fingers, about to flick open the box's catch, halted in place. I'm still not used to it. There are times I wonder if I ever will be. I do so well, I forget for hours at a time, even a full day once, but then it all comes rushing back, and I wonder if I made the right decision after all.

"I made the only decision which wouldn't have broken Sirius's heart," she said under her breath. "Bad enough that Lord Voldemort forced him to use a Memory Charm on me and make me forget my life when we were both captured last month." She spat the name, pronouncing it with hatred. "Even worse, in some ways, that I could get back a copy of the memories, but only a copy, so that they don't feel like mine. It makes me neither fish nor fowl, neither truly his Aletha nor a complete stranger. But taking away even what little he has left of his wife, of Meghan's mother, in me?" She shook her head. "No. That would be unforgivable."

Not to mention, I fell in love with him all by myself, long before I ever knew we'd been married for fourteen years and had the teenage daughter to prove it. And Meghan, our little Pearl, is delightful in her own right. As evidenced by the gift she had ready for me when I got home.

Aletha smiled without constraint at the thought of the daughter she'd found no trouble loving and flipped back the catch of that gift.

A memory box. Filled with tangible reminders of the life of Aletha Carina Freeman, later Aletha Freeman-Black.

She had decided to drop the hyphenation from her name after much deliberation. It was a simple step, but a clear one, her personal way of proclaiming that although she was willing to accept the life which circumstances had thrust upon her, she was going to do so on her own terms.

It will make life easier for the students, too. Shouting "Professor Black!" across the classroom is much quicker than "Professor Freeman-Black!" and will give me a chance to get there before the cauldron blows up. Some of the older students, from Ginny and Luna's year on up, might have trouble with it at first, since they were there the year Sirius and I team-taught Defense, but they'll get used to it.

She removed a carved wooden talisman from the box, smiling at it. And here we have a piece of that same year, one of the little knickknacks we taught them how to make. I'm not sure if this one is Harry's or Hermione's, but I'd bet on Harry. Even at twelve, Hermione was a stickler for neatness, and there are some sloppy lines on these runes.

A long, slender rod of wood followed the talisman. From the next year, when Remus took the Defense post. A Combat Club wand, one of the ones the Weasley twins made for him, that squirt washable dye rather than casting spells. He enjoyed that year so much, I think he was born to be a teacher, and then the summer came and his secret came out so that he couldn't go back…

She scowled, setting aside a thick sheaf of sheet music. "Damn cursed Defense post. I could wish he'd never taken it, but who knows which of those students might live through this war because of the practice he gave them in real fighting? Besides, it made him happy for that year. That's not nothing."

Though it did cause us problems all through the first half of the school year after that, our older three's fourth and my Pearl's first, while we were hashing out through the courts whether or not it was safe and legal to have a man with Remus's "furry little problem" living in a house with four children. Thank God they finally came down on our side. I'd hate to go back to the bad old days of hiding from the law.

"Though those days did have their attractions." Aletha traced the raised lettering on the cover of a paperback book thoughtfully, letting her fingers spell out Long Journey Home without input from her mind. "They certainly sparked an unexpected talent in Sirius."

Even with Harry and Hermione, and later Meghan, to take care of, he would have gone mad being stuck in the house all day with nothing to do, and he was the only one of us at that point without an indoor hobby. I've always had my piano, Remus has his violin, Danger cooks, and all of us love to read. Sirius was used to being active, out and about. So he decided, if he couldn't go out himself, he could make up people who would go out for him.

"Which sounds like he did go mad, and I'm sure most of his acquaintances at the Auror Office would have thought he had. Still would, if they found out about it today." Aletha grinned, lifting the book out of the box. "Who would ever imagine, in a million years, that Sirius Black, the original manly man, writes romance novels under a female pen name?"

The only thing that might save him is that they're good romance novels. The characters are well-drawn, the plots hang together, and there are never any scenes we couldn't read to the cubs, even when they were little. There's plenty of innuendo, but it's always stated in such a way that anyone old enough to catch it is old enough to understand. And he channels the darkness he brought back from Azkaban to write chilling moments of despair, and everything he learned from his relatives to get further inside evil minds than I ever wanted to be…

Laying the book down on top of the sheet music, she extracted a hinged photo frame with three slots, all of them filled, swinging the hinges open to an angle where she could see all three pictures and setting the frame on the vanity's tabletop. The people in each portrait posed for her as she looked at them, six of them in the shot farthest to the left, eight in the other two.

The first one was taken the day after our wedding, Sirius's and mine, not even six months after James and Lily died. It would have felt disrespectful, if I hadn't learned perfectly well after nearly ten years of being Lily's friend that the one thing she hated more than anything else was wasting time. I'm sure she would have felt even more strongly about it if she'd known how little time she had herself.

Though Sirius's cheeks were sunken in this oldest photograph, his eyes deep-set from his several months' tenancy in Azkaban before his assisted escape, his tender smile as he looked at the photographic Aletha, then down at the messy-haired toddler he held on one hip, did much to counteract the frightening aspects of his countenance. Beside him, Remus Lupin listened gravely to the excited babbling of a little girl with a curly brown mane similar to that of the woman beside her, who was hiding a smile behind her hand.

I wonder if Hermione's parents would have waited quite so long to have her if they hadn't had Danger so young? Maybe they would've started a lot earlier, or maybe just a little, a year or two. Aletha sighed, stroking one of the flowers carved into the frame. Or maybe, if they had known what was going to happen, they would never have had her at all.

The older Grangers had died by the hands of Death Eaters a few months before the fateful Halloween which had, as Aletha thought at the time, shattered her life beyond recognition. She had never expected to have her hopes, her desires, and most especially her love for the man she had thought was a traitor and a murderer suddenly renewed by a friend from her past.

But her parents' deaths released Danger's latent magic, started to give her true dreams, and from those dreams she put together the truth about Sirius and Wormtail. And then one night she dreamed of Remus, of meeting him and marrying him, and the next day, when she took her sister and the little boy from down the street she minded for his aunt and uncle out to the park, there he was…

"And one whirlwind month later, there we were. Living in the two halves of my semidetached in London, by all appearances one single woman—me—and one young couple with a pair of not-quite-two-year-old twins and a big black dog." Aletha laughed aloud. "And in reality, two young couples holding the children they were raising in common, to make up for none of them being entirely emotionally stable."

And there we stayed for five years, hiding a wanted criminal and a kidnapped child, and later two kidnapped children, in plain sight. She smiled at the boy who was present in the later two photographs, but not in the earliest one. We moved house later, changed our names around a bit, gave the cubs a chance to make some friends before Hogwarts, and finally got our hands on Wormtail just in time to have our last Christmas at home together.

"Which is when this middle shot was taken, a day or two after Sirius's trial. Our trial, I should say." Aletha repressed a shiver. Some memories, such as that of sitting at the center of attention, held in her chair by golden chains, she was just as happy to have at one remove. "We were all cleared when Sirius was, and we were able to go home and celebrate. For the first time ever, the Pack was really free."

I think the name was inevitable. What else would you call a family with two mothers and two fathers, which never got out of the habit of taking care of their children communally, and in which both adult males have some connection with a canine animal form?

The final photograph had been taken only two months before at a den-night, one of the Pack's holdovers from its earliest days, when both Harry and Sirius had still been badly traumatized enough that it had been decided the group should sleep all in the same room. Not only had this made dealing with nightmares quicker, but the combination of scents and sounds from the multiple sleepers made them less frequent, as Sirius's unconscious mind analyzed his surroundings and found them incompatible with a frigid cell in Azkaban, and Harry's did the same with a locked cupboard under the stairs.

Once they were both sleeping better, we went back to normal sleeping arrangements—semi-normal, the cubs continued to share a bed until we left London when they were seven—except on full moon nights. Then we would gather for the night, and tell stories before we went to sleep, stories about the way we became who we were, and the people we met along the way.

The central figure of the den-night photo was a blue-eyed wolf, his tail, tufted after the manner of a lion or a kneazle, wagging slowly back and forth. Curled next to him, one on either side, were two other wolves, though these bore the sleek straight tails of true wolves rather than the distinctive tuft which marked the werewolf. One's fur was long and shaggy, tan rather than her mate's gray, and her eyes were brown.

Or rather, brown with bits of blue, the way Remus's are blue with bits of brown. Danger's magic was never normal, and it's the only reason any of this worked to begin with. Without her "taming" powers to link their souls together and spread his werewolf curse across them both so that it doesn't drive him mad, Remus wouldn't even have dared live in the same house with children, much less show himself to them on the full moon.

The other wolf had darker fur, bright green eyes, and a distinctive set of black markings on his face, resembling round glasses and a lightning bolt scar between and above his eyes. In front of the three, the black dog Danger had been chasing down the corridor rolled on his back, waving his paws in the air.

Dignity? My husband? Why no, I don't believe he does know the meaning of the word. How kind of you to notice.

Between the werewolf's front paws sat a tricolored cat, patched attractively in black, orange, and white. Next to her, shoving his head affectionately against the tan wolf, was a big-eared brown fox, one of the Arctic kind in his summer coat. Lying on the flank of the darkest wolf like a picture of the peaceable kingdom, a yearling deer, her spots just fading, bent her head to nibble at the fringe of one hoof.

Apparently, Pearl inherited the basic shape of her form from me rather than her father, because there in the back, looking like some kind of redeemed guardian angel for animals…

At the rear of the photograph lay a black winged horse, not skeletal as a thestral would have been but normally fleshed, feathers and fur both glossy with health. As Aletha watched, her photographic form raised its wings, arching them protectively over the rest of the Pack.

She loved them. But then, I love them too. I just don't feel that I fit into her place, which is one of the reasons I accepted the Potions job. It's work I understand, work that's related to the things I was always good at and the studying I did to become a Healer, and it's still within their world, but I won't be bumping up against the adults, at least, every hour of the day. And when I come into contact with the cubs, I'll have a framework I can follow, teacher to student, and from there I can build outwards.

"Here's to a good year," she said to the den-night photograph, raising an imaginary glass. "May this be the truth again by the end of it."

Or if not this, something better.

Quickly, she repacked the memory box, then opened her trunk with her wand and fit the box into the space she had left for it.

Now let's get that year started. The sooner we leave, the sooner we're there.

Relocking her trunk, she went in search of the Pack's four cubs and their four best friends, collectively known as the Pride.

What better name for an octet of Gryffindors?

Ginny Weasley, alpha female of the Pride, perched on the end of her bed, twisting the silver ring she wore on her left hand.

This time next year, I'll be married. I'll be Mrs. Harry Potter, and we'll be working on making that one prophecy of Mrs. Danger's come true. The one about Slytherin's line ending when Gryffindor's continues.

"It's an awful job," she murmured aloud, "but somebody's got to do it."

Thank goodness Mum insisted I wait until I'm sixteen. Being pregnant through O.W.L's would be the outside of enough.

"—know she was around here somewhere," a voice broke into her musings. "Ginny?"

"In here, Ron!" Ginny sat up straight as her brother came around the doorway. "Time to go?"

"Not quite yet." Ron leaned against the doorframe, and Ginny hid a little thrill at the easy way his eyes moved around the room. Halfway through the summer, after an attack on Diagon Alley, the two of them had set off with their brother George and his Muggle girlfriend Crystal on an unauthorized rescue mission.

Fred would have come too, but he was in St. Mungo's on account of that same attack…

Although they had managed to infiltrate a hideout of Voldemort's Death Eaters and retrieve their brother Percy and a pair of Muggle women, Terry Boot's grandmother and his Housemate Amanda Smythe's mother, Ron had been caught and blinded by one of the Death Eaters before his siblings could locate him. It was only within the past two weeks that Mrs. Letha—Professor Black, I should say—had found a way to give him back a form of sight.

Which is occasionally a little creepy, because she couldn't fix his eyes, so she had to change them. He doesn't see by the same sort of light that we do now. It means he can see in the dark, and he's working on figuring out how to tell when someone's lying by the way their face changes to his new sight.

I'd be jealous, if I didn't know that he can't see colors at all and has to work a spell on anything written before he can read it. Even with magic, nothing's perfect.

"We're still waiting on Pearl and Snow Fox to say their goodbyes," Ron continued, unaware of Ginny's thoughts. "Luna's with her dad right now, and Neville said his to his mum before she left for work."

"Like we did Dad, and Mum is helping take us to the station." Ginny let the smile prompted by mention of her parents linger on her face, hoping it would mask the bloody, vicious thoughts she harbored towards a certain female Death Eater on the subject of the Longbottoms.

Driving them both mad and making them miss most of their son's life wasn't enough for you, was it, Bellatrix? You couldn't stand that they'd been healed, that they'd had two and a half years with each other and with Neville, that one of them was training his fellow Aurors on the new techniques his son was teaching him and the other one was nearly the best Defense professor we've ever had. So you had to tear them apart again, to kill Mr. Longbottom and take our Captain's dad away from him just when he was getting used to having one…

"What's got you so angry?" Ron asked.

Ginny started to deny it, then sighed. "Just thinking about Captain. He's lost both of them again, really, hasn't he? His mum is never going to be the same without his dad."

"He's not the same without his dad." Ron glanced up and down the hall to make sure no one else was within earshot. "Honestly? He scares me. He was always good with that potion piece, but he's been practicing with it like crazy ever since Diagon Alley, hours every day up in that attic he and Pearl took over for a range. If it came to a fight, I think he'd go for his piece before he would his wand."

"Would that be so wrong?" Ginny reached through the slit in her robes to touch the handle of her own potion piece, holstered around her waist within easy reach. "You have to say a spell with the wand, and that takes time. With a piece, it's just…" She drew her own swiftly, keeping the muzzle pointed away from Ron and her finger outside the trigger guard. "Draw, arm, aim, and shoot. It's fast and it's easy. Isn't that why we sent these out to people's Muggle relations?"

"We sent them out to people's Muggle relations because they were Muggle things to start with," Ron pointed out. "Kids' toys, for shooting water at each other in the summertime. And that's still what they do, but now they're a little bit… improved." He grinned briefly. "Who'd have thought all those years listening to Dad talk about what you can and can't legally do to Muggle things with magic would pay off?"

Ginny returned the grin. "He did write most of the laws about it, so he knows exactly where the loopholes are. Which means we do too. And what we know, Harry knows."

"Someone call me?"

The person who stepped into Ginny's line of sight was many things to many people. He was the leader of the Pride, alpha male to Ginny's alpha female, and coincidentally the love of her life. He was Ron's best friend, a position he'd held since a snowy day in the Weasleys' orchard more than eight years ago. He was the head of the Hogwarts Defense Association, a recognized student organization since the previous Christmas and already one of the largest in the school.

To Lord Voldemort, he was five feet, ten inches of black-haired, green-eyed, bespectacled irritation.

Assuming he hasn't been upgraded to threat level by this point.

"No, but I suppose you can come in anyway," Ginny answered her fiancé's half-teasing question, pretending to cover a yawn with her hand. "If your company gets too boring, we can always chase you out."

"No need for that. Just drop a hint or two." Harry came into the room and sat down on the bottom of the bed beside Ginny's. "They might have to be bigger than usual, maybe about the size of an anvil, but I'll get them eventually."

"And ignore them, if you don't want to do what she's hinting about," Ron said with a hint of a laugh under his words. "That's what I always do, and she just thinks I'm too thick to understand."

"Thank you so much for telling me." Ginny favored her brother with her sweetest, most predatory smile, the closest she could come in her human form to the wildcat grin of her lynx Animagus. "Now I don't have to bother with hinting. I'll just tell you straight out what I want, and if you say you don't understand, I won't believe you."

Ron groaned and thumped his head once against the doorframe. "When am I ever going to learn?"

"Good question," Harry said, leaning back on the bed. "Not one I think has any answer, but it's a good question. Now I have one. How would you like to help me roust a certain person out of the loo before we miss the train on that account?"

"In there again?" Ginny asked, then recalled the habit which Harry's 'certain person' had become prone in the final week of the summer. "Oh, of course. Vanity, thy name is Fox."

"It is. And I have a plan." Harry chuckled. "We'll need the rest of the Pride, a camera, and every bit of practice in sneaking around we ever had…"

The pale-blond boy grinned at himself in the mirror. His pointed features, fair skin, and sharp gray eyes contrasted well, he thought, with the bold color of the school robes he'd charmed to resemble his Quidditch uniform.

And especially well with this.

Folding a bit of sleeve over his hand, he buffed the metallic C which he now had the right—no, the duty—to affix to those robes, and by virtue of it, to lead his team to victory.

"My name is Draco," he said aloud, "and I'll be your captain today."

Experimentally, he held his hands out in front of him, at about the width he thought would be necessary to grasp the Quidditch Cup. He would let the rest of the team have a chance eventually, of course, but as captain, the first right would be his.

This is going to be the best year ever.

He hoisted his imaginary cup over his head, then hissed and brought his hands back down to rub at the sore spot on his left forearm. I can't believe it's still hurting. Shouldn't it feel better by now?

It had been a risk, he knew, but the prize was worth the pain.

But you don't have your prize yet, whispered a little voice at the back of his mind. How does that make it worth anything?

"I'm going to get it." Draco gripped both sides of the sink and stared at his reflection. "I won't let anything stand in my way. Pain is temporary. Glory lasts forever." Taking a step back, he stroked a finger along the gleaming C once more. "I'll start with this sort of glory, and move on to the greater kinds from there…"

Movement in the mirror caught his eye. The bathroom door behind him was inching open, and through it he could see edges of robes, dark hair and light, a glint of glass—

He whirled in dismay. "Don't you dare—" he began.

The flash of the camera momentarily blinded him.

"Pain," a girl's voice mocked from somewhere in front of him, "is temporary. Glory lasts forever. And guess what? So do photographs!"

"Oh no they don't." Blinking furiously to clear his vision, Draco sidestepped to keep the movements of his right hand hidden from both direct and mirrored sight by his tormentors. "Not if I get hold of them first!"

Yanking his wand free of its pocket, he charged into the corridor in a swirl of red, dodging around his giggling baby sister and her smiling (for once) boyfriend, resisting the urge to aim a kick at his blood-twin's sniggering ginger male appendage only because said appendage was currently holding said blood-twin upright while she hooted with laughter, aiming himself squarely down the hall at his brother and the two girls flanking him.

None of whom were holding a camera.

"Give it," Draco said, halting at about three paces' distance and holding out his left hand. "Or I'll call Kreacher up here and have him take it off whichever one of you's got it."

"Call Kreacher, will you?" Ginny smirked at him. "Can't fight your own battles, O high and mighty Gryffindor Quidditch Captain?"

"More to the point, is he going to listen to you?" Harry wanted to know.

"Hello, last name Black." Draco tapped himself on the chest. "Not direct line, but still with a full share of the blood through Mother, and brought up by the full heir since age four. Check the tapestry sometime. And I could if I needed to," he said to Ginny. "It's more a matter of saving effort. So, are you going to hand it over or what?"

"Or what," said the girl on Harry's other side, her dark blonde hair rippling as she shook her head. "Unless you ask more politely than that."

"I do beg your pardon." Draco went down on one knee and extended his hand to the girl. "Most beautiful and exquisite Lady Luna Lovegood, please will you give me that camera? Or tell me who's got it, if you don't?"

"I might." Luna smiled down at him. "But only if you're willing to pay the price."

"Name it," Draco said promptly.

Anything to keep my loving siblings and friends from blowing up those photos to ten times life-size and hanging them all over the Tower. Which they will, if they get half a chance.

Besides, I like paying prices to Luna. Unlike paying prices to Danger. He rolled his left wrist once or twice, stretching the spot which had been bruised when his Pack-mother had caught him trying to sneak a fairy cake and scored a direct hit with a wooden spoon at five paces. I know she said we could have them when we got on the train, but I didn't want one when I got on the train, I wanted one right then…

"The first piece of the price is that you have to be a little more grown-up about Professor McGonagall naming you Quidditch Captain." Luna looked as stern as her features allowed, which wasn't much. "It's for your own good, really. If she sees you walking around and polishing your C all day long, she might think all you care about is showing off and decide someone else should be captain instead."

"Good point." Draco stood up, removing the Color-Changing Charm from his robes as he did. "What's the next piece?"

Luna angled her face upward rather than answering in words.

"That, I can do." Draco stepped forward, slid his arms around her, and gave her a gentle but thorough kiss.

I had a feeling this would be involved somewhere along the line. Not that I mind. Kissing Luna has been on my list of fun ways to spend time for quite a few years now.

Now if I could only figure out what, exactly, she wants from me, and what Amanda does, and what I want from each of them…

"The third piece of the price is the hardest," Luna said as they broke off. "Do you think you can handle it?"

"After getting that much luck from you?" Draco planted a light kiss on her forehead for good measure. "I'm ready for anything."

"Even finding out Mr. Padfoot ate all Mrs. Danger's fairy cakes so we won't have any for the train?"

"What?" Draco yelped, all worries about girls, desires, and emotional entanglements temporarily banished in favor of this greater crisis. "How could he do that to us? And he calls himself a father!"

"Dad?" Amanda Smythe poked her head into her father's study. "You in here?"

"Yes, love, just a moment." A click, and the dimly-lit room was flooded with light. "Your mother sent you up to tell me it's almost time to take you and Matt to the train, didn't she?"

"How did you guess?" Amanda noticed the open book on her father's desk and glared at him. "Dad. You promised you wouldn't read in low light anymore. Remember what the doctor said about your eyes!"

"Oh, I think my eyes will be just fine." Ezra Smythe looked up, directly into his daughter's face. "Don't you?"

Amanda took a step back, covering her mouth with her hand. "You didn't," she breathed. "Dad, you didn't."

"Clearly, I did." The man across from her bestowed a green-eyed glare of annoyance on her. "Don't talk nonsense, 'Manda, we've got little enough time as it is."

"What if Grandpa G catches you?" Amanda pulled the door of the study shut behind her. "You know how he feels about unwarranted interference, he could ground you for the next hundred years for something like this—"

"Are you planning on telling him?" her father interrupted. "Because he certainly won't learn about it from me. Now, hush and let me talk. The sooner I can get my message across, the sooner I can get out of here and let you get on with business as usual."

"Usual," Amanda muttered, the word leaving a nasty taste at the back of her mouth. "There's nothing usual about me."

"Yes, well, you won't have to keep up your pretense too much longer." The man's voice was tight with strain. "This is it, Amanda. Your last year. Unless you get it done this time, you won't be able to do it at all."

"You're saying that like I've tried this a hundred times before," Amanda snapped. "I always knew this was my only shot, so don't worry, I'm not planning on muffing up. Is that the only thing you came to tell me?"

"No." Her father sat back in his chair, arms folded. "Why don't you explain to me this little game you've got going on with Draco Black and Luna Lovegood."

"I didn't think it was that hard to understand." Amanda crossed her own arms, hoping the pressure against her stomach would keep her voice from quivering. "Luna gets two months to see how well she can fascinate him, how deeply in love she can make him fall, and then she steps back and I get two months to do the same. Her two months are up today, since she gets to spend summers around him and I don't. What's the matter with that?"

"Besides the fact that you're playing with this poor boy's emotions at a time when he least needs it?" The hissed words gave Amanda an uneasy sense of just how important this was to her father. He almost never used this one of their family gifts, since it reminded him too painfully of his own father, the best-known bearer of that gift to the modern wizarding world. "What right do you have to make anyone fall in love with you? Or are you going to claim that all your vows were broken when you—"

"That's how they're worded, isn't it?" Amanda cut in, her shoulders rising and her breath coming faster. "I was faithful while they applied to me. I never so much as looked elsewhere. And I'm young now, I have feelings, I have needs, just like anybody else. He's kind, he's handsome, and he makes me happy."

"And how do you plan to help him when your story ends the way you've always known it will?" her father retorted. "Or will you leave that part to Luna, and hope enough of his heart is still hers that she can give him some measure of comfort?" He stood in one swift, fluid motion. "Nothing you have ever done has made me ashamed of you, daughter. Until this. Until today. Now I know how my father must have felt, when I turned away from his teachings to remain faithful to your mother."

Amanda swallowed a sob and lifted her chin defiantly. "Call me all the names you want to. This is my game, and I'm going to play it my own way. And I'm going to win, too. Now, it's time for you to go," she continued in English. "I can't miss the train."

"Of course not." Her father seated himself again, his movements oddly ceremonial. "Farewell, my daughter. May your chosen path lead to all the happiness you deserve."

"You too," Amanda whispered, in the last moment before the eyes facing hers changed from green to brown.

"Goodness sakes." Ezra blinked several times. "I must have been daydreaming. Time to go for your school train, love, isn't it? We wouldn't want you and Matt to be late." He got to his feet, smiling fondly. "Funny world we live in, isn't it, where plain, ordinary people like your mother and I can end up with a wizard and a witch for son and daughter?"

"Yeah." Amanda summoned a smile and hoped it looked passably natural. "Funny world."

Funnier than I hope you'll ever know.

Holding her head high, she opened the door and stepped out into the corridor.

The destiny she had chosen was waiting. It wouldn't do to be late.

(A/N: Greetings, readers! My name is Anne B. Walsh, and I'll be your author of the Dangerverse today!

If you are new to the DV, I do apologize for any confusion. I've tried to make things as clear as possible in this chapter. Well, except for the final section. That was somewhat cryptic on purpose. Even experienced DV readers may have had some trouble with that one. But, then again, maybe not.

Should it happen that you can't remember, or don't know, what has transpired in the Dangerverse to this point, your reading list is as follows: Living with Danger, Living Without Danger, Dealing with Danger, and Facing Danger. LwD covers Harry and company's pre-Hogwarts years; LwoD is first and second year; DwD is third and fourth year; and FD is fifth year and the summer before sixth.

Originally, FD was going to be the last DV story, but it got a little out of control (story of my life) and thus Surpassing Danger was born. I do have a fairly good idea of the overall plot of this story, which will last from the beginning of Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts to Halloween of his seventh year (my final battle is going to be a bit earlier than JKR's was), but the little things are still coming clear, so I can't guarantee updates will come regularly. I'll try, though!

Also, in case anyone still doesn't know, I left my office job at the end of July and am now a full-time writer. Further information can be found on my Facebook page (search for "Anne B. Walsh Writer") and on my blog, "Writing Outside the Cube." Although I cannot be paid for writing the DV, or any other fan fiction, it still has a role to play in my life… see my currently updating fanfic "He Nearly Killed the Cat" for more details!

I think that's about everything I have to say…oh, wait, there is one more thing. Two, actually.

One: Happy birthday, Hermione!

Two: Happy International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

And three (insert Spanish Inquisition joke here): Don't forget to review!)