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Chapter posted Nov. 28, 2010
Sirius? Already? Harry thought, shocked. Before he and Remus had even had the chance to bring Pettigrew to Dumbledore's attention? Then he realised what must have happened.
"Bloody hell." He stumbled a step back, then glanced up and down the corridor, looking for the tapestry that marked the Room of Requirement; he knew they were close, and didn't want to have to run back to the fourth floor for a bit of privacy. He gestured for Remus to wait a moment, then summoned the first comforting place that came to mind: a duplicate of the first year Gryffindors' dormitory.
"The dreams," he prodded, as the door closed behind them. If Remus had been having them--
Remus sighed, and nodded. "It's just as I dreamt it happened," he confirmed, "except that it's happening a year and a half too early. They heard him saying your name in his sleep, and he broke out of Azkaban this morning; there'll be dementors at the school by dusk."
"So much for the easy route," Harry muttered, then reached up to rub at the back of his neck, thinking furiously. "I almost hate to ask, but-- what did he say about Quirrell?"
Remus shook his head, frustration drawing his expression into grave, forbidding lines. "I only got as far as telling him that a magical artefact in my possession shows Professor Quirrell to have a second name. Dumbledore insists that he already knows there's something the matter with your Defence professor, and that he's keeping a watchful eye on him."
"Naturally," Harry replied, soured hopes thick on the back of his tongue. "And-- Wormtail?"
Remus grimaced and glanced down at the letter still absently clutched in his hand. "I mentioned that I also had reason to believe that Peter might still be alive. There was no time to discuss it further-- he was expecting imminent visitors from the Ministry-- but he told me that if such did exist, I was to bring it to him later. Then he dismissed me, with the instruction not to discuss any of this with you."
Harry sighed and forced himself to calm down a little. Getting angry at Remus would solve nothing; and in the meantime, Remus was risking Dumbledore's good opinion to include Harry anyway. "Thank you for telling me," he said.
"Yes, well." Remus gave him a wry smile. "I wouldn't have, if it hadn't been for the fact that I knew you'd involve yourself regardless. I know I agreed, but I'm still not fully persuaded that Dumbledore ought not to be told about your foreknowledge, for your own safety."
Harry took a deep breath, then let it out in a rush. "I know you think I'm not mature enough to handle what's going on, or to know what I really want," he said carefully. He had to hope he could do a better job convincing the older man this time than he had earlier.
"Harry--" Remus began to reply, a slightly reproving tone in his voice.
Torn between conflicting impulses-- the desire never to let anyone, even someone he loved, control his life without his consent ever again, and the need to keep Remus on his side-- Harry struggled to find a compelling explanation. "I know I must look like any other self-centred eleven year old right now," he continued. "But I'm no Ron, nor Malfoy, nor even Hermione. I know you must have seen a little of what it's like for me at the Dursleys', you were there at least twice that I've-- dreamed about. But it was worse before my Hogwarts letter came. Much worse. You were right, before."
He gestured toward Remus' letter. "It's not just that I think it would be dead easy for the Death Eaters to find me, if they only knew how to look. Or that I'm frightened by the dreams. I do want to live with Sirius-- but not just because he's my godfather, because I'd be willing to live with almost anyone who wanted me around, no matter what sort of protection my mother's charm is supposed to give me. I've never been a child at the Dursleys'. And I never will be, no matter how much Dumbledore might like to pretend he's sheltering me. Any chance I ever had of being normal died when my parents did, whether he wants to admit it or not."
Remus's expression was sympathetic, but not yielding, so Harry lowered his voice. He hadn't wanted to hurt Remus; but there was one more thing he knew he could use. "That may have been what you needed when you were here, and I respect that you're grateful to him, as I've said. But it's not what I need. I'm not as much like my dad as I look; I don't want danger, or glory. I just want to live, and not endanger everyone around me because all the adults are too busy shielding me from reality to deal with it themselves."
Remus looked away, rubbing his free hand over an old set of scars beneath his shirt. He stared toward one of the false windows for a moment, then reached out to stroke his fingertips down the fabric of one of the red and gold bed hangings. "That's unkind, Harry," he said. "But I suppose you've carried your point. I can't think of any other eleven-year-old-- not even Snape, back when we were First Years ourselves-- who would have spoken to me as you just did."
Harry grimaced. "I'd say I'm sorry, but...."
Remus shook his head. "Don't ever say anything to me that you don't mean; that was one thing I valued very much in your mother, and believe it or not, something I respect in you, even in the dream where you call me a coward." Then he turned to look at Harry again, a glint of amber in the depths of pale eyes. "You will tell me everything eventually, don't think you won't. But for now, I'll hold to my promise. Where is Ron likely to be at this hour-- and will 'Scabbers' be with him?"
After determining that Ron would probably be in the Great Hall by then, and coming up with some reasonable excuses for Harry to draw him aside depending on the circumstances they found him in, Harry and Remus left the Room of Requirement and headed directly for the main staircase. It definitely wasn't Harry's day for luck, though, for nearly halfway down they encountered Professor Snape walking in the opposite direction.
Harry swallowed at the malevolent look on his Potions' professor's face as the man caught sight of Remus. If he'd thought Snape disliked Harry... he really must have softened his attitude toward him a little in the new timeline, because the harshness of the glare directed over his head went beyond anything Harry had seen from him in weeks.
"Lupin," he said sourly, then dropped his gaze temporarily to Harry's face. "With... our resident celebrity. I might have known I'd find you here, considering the latest news. Does the headmaster know you're in the castle?"
"Severus," Remus replied, calmly. "As a matter of fact, he does."
Harry stared down at the ornate buttons on Snape's robes, hoping to avoid further trouble. He pleaded silently with Remus to leave it there so they could get on with it.
But while Remus may not be as reckless as Sirius, and his polite manner had disguised some of his needling of Snape from Harry's eyes back in third year, there'd been plenty of conversational nose-thumbing going on under the surface at the time. And this Remus was just as unable to resist the urge to score verbal points in front of Harry.
"It seems there may be evidence that Sirius Black was not guilty of the crimes for which he was sent to Azkaban," Remus continued, smiling placidly in Snape's face, "and Dumbledore has asked me to bring it to him."
Harry winced as the mild tone of voice brought up echoes of Remus refusing to drink his Wolfsbane in front of Snape, when he bloody well knew how paranoid Snape was about werewolves. Not that Snape had been-- was-- any nicer.
"That is a lie," Snape hissed, half-raising his wand and staring at his former classmate with a venomous expression. "As if the headmaster would believe the word of one of his little friends over a street full of eyewitnesses! What evidence could you possibly have that would outweigh testimony given-- and never questioned-- a decade ago?"
"Excuse me, Professor Snape--" Harry spoke up, determined not to let the confrontation end in a forced march back to the headmaster's office.
"Not now, Potter," Snape hissed, though from the startled glance he threw him Harry rather thought he had forgotten he was there.
"I'm sorry, Professor," Harry insisted, "but he says there's a man's been hiding in our dorm, pretending to be Ron's rat all year. Someone called Peter Pettigrew. I don't know what's going on, but if it's true...."
Snape's eyes widened, then narrowed to dark slits, and his fingers tightened on the grip of his wand. "Pettigrew?" he repeated, staring intently into Remus' face.
Remus swallowed, but did not look away. "Yes," he said. "It seems that Peter's still alive. And if you don't mind, I'd like to catch him and question him before he hears that Sirius has escaped."
"A rat," Snape said next, lifting his lip in a sneer. "An illegal Animagus. A likely story. Don't tell me; your other little friends were Animagi, as well? I ought to drag you straight back to the headmaster's office and turn you in as an accomplice in Black's escape. If the DMLE had known about this...."
"Please, sir," Harry said, the words bitter on his tongue as he edged in front of Remus to recapture Snape's attention. "If there is a man hiding in our dorm, he's been watching us for months! What if he's dangerous? What if he's the one that let the troll into the castle?"
Of course that wasn't true; but Snape might not know that for sure yet. He already suspected Quirrell was behind the attempts on the Stone, but did he have any proof? And he could hardly insist to a student that he thought the Defence professor was up to something dodgy if Dumbledore himself had declared the subject off limits.
But Snape didn't even pause to consider it. "Pettigrew? Dangerous?" he snorted. "Even if he is still alive, there's little chance of that. It's much more likely that he ran the day Black betrayed your parents and killed all those Muggles, and hasn't stopped running since, pathetic coward that he is."
That's right, Harry realised in dismay: Snape probably didn't know that Wormtail had been a Death Eater, yet. If Voldemort had shared the double-crosser's identity with some of the inner circle, Snape must not have been among them, else he would have reacted rather differently when he'd had Sirius under his wand third year. Blast.
"Still...." Snape drawled, glancing back and forth between Harry and Remus. "I suppose his testimony could serve as another nail in Black's coffin... and his presence in a student dormitory does violate several school rules." He stepped aside on the stair, gesturing downward with a scornful expression. "Very well. Let us apprehend this unexpected visitor, if he exists; and then we shall see how long Black runs free with his method of concealment exposed."
Remus grimaced at that, but inclined his head in acknowledgement and started back down the staircase, ushering Harry ahead of him as he went.
Harry's heart was in his throat practically the whole way to the Great Hall. So much for all his hopes about freeing Sirius; it was third year all over again. All they were missing was Padfoot himself, dragging Ron off under the Whomping Willow. Even if they did catch Wormtail now, Sirius' escape complicated things immensely. And what if the dementors got to him before Harry did?
They paused just inside the open doors to cast an eye down the Gryffindor table. Ron was sitting there, eating something as usual and frowning over a roll of ink-spattered parchment while Hermione flipped pages in a dusty tome beside him. It could have been any other study session, but for Remus' presence at his elbow. Even Snape looming behind him fit the atmosphere. Harry put that out of his mind as he searched for any sign of Scabbers; finally, he spotted a tail protruding from one of Ron's pockets.
"All right, then. Pull Ron aside, as we discussed; we'll do the revealing spell out here in the corridor, where there will be fewer chances for him to use the other students for cover."
"Or fewer witnesses to the failure of your absurd insinuations," Snape said silkily, behind them.
Remus turned to him, exasperated. "If Peter sees me, I fear he'll run before we can contain him...."
"Then by all means, wait out here," Snape said, "and let me ascertain the truth of this sorry business." Then he swept past Remus and Harry both, staring down his nose at all the seated students like some great predatory bird.
Harry gaped after Snape a moment, then bolted after him, leaving Remus protesting in the corridor.
"Mr. Weasley," Snape said, stopping at last behind Ron with his hands clasped behind him.
Ron froze in the act of reaching for another sweet, and the colour ran out of his face. "Professor Snape?" he blurted, looking up at the figure looming over him.
"If you would please turn out your pockets?"
"Professor-- what is this all about?" Hermione piped up, next to him. "He hasn't done anything."
"Professor Snape? What is the meaning of this?" Professor McGonagall asked, hurrying over from the seat where she'd been supervising the students.
"Mr. Weasley, I will not ask you again," Snape said, ignoring the others. "Turn out your pockets."
"Just do as he says, Ron," Harry said quietly, his eyes intent on the visible bit of Scabbers.
Ron turned round eyes toward Harry, surprise and offense written all over his face, then gulped and started doing as he'd been told. He emptied his trouser pockets first: a handful of his brothers' trick sweets joined a bit of string, a familiar chocolate frog card, a scrap of parchment, and a couple of knuts on the table. Then he paused, looking up at Snape's implacable expression, and hesitantly started emptying his robe pockets as well.
Several Zonko's products, a sugar quill, his wand, and a battered chess piece contributed to the pile before he lifted Scabbers under Snape's watchful, glittering eye and gingerly placed the rat on the table with all the other detritus of a schoolboy's day.
Scabbers squeaked, shivering as he took in his changed environment. His quivering nose turned toward Snape, then Harry-- then with a surprisingly swift leap, he dove off the table and ran toward one of the side doors.
Snape raised an eyebrow and aimed his wand, and a flash of blue-white light leapt to illuminate the scurrying figure.
Ron swore and nearly reached for the professor's arm, but Harry intercepted him before he could get them both in serious trouble. Then he swore again, sagging as his erstwhile pet suddenly twisted and sprouted into the shape of a cringing little man, wringing his hands together where he crouched between tables.
Gasps went up around the room as students climbed on their seats for a better look.
McGonagall pressed a hand to her breast and hastily drew her wand with the other. "Dear me. Who is-- no. It can't be Peter Pettigrew?" she asked, in tones of disbelief.
Snape-- just stood there for a long moment in shock, looking nearly as pale as Ron. Then something ugly curdled in his expression under the usual condescension and bitterness, and two more spells leapt from his wand: a Petrificus Totalus and an Incarcerous, judging from the effects. The hunched man cried out as he went stiff as a board, then toppled onto his side while conjured ropes wrapped him from head to toe.
"Contact the Ministry," Snape said harshly, staring down at him. "And clear these children out of here!"
McGonagall blinked at him, then shook her head and started calling on prefects to clear the Hall; Harry paid her little attention, concentrating on Ron at his side and Remus, hurrying up between the tables to stare down at his former friend.
Snape had limited the petrifaction so that Wormtail's face was still free; probably so the Aurors could administer Veritaserum. That meant everyone still gathered round got a good look at his reaction to Remus: the flinch, the cringing shame, and the desperation in his voice when he opened his mouth to speak to his former friend.
"Remus," he said, pleadingly. "Sirius tried to kill me, Remus. You don't blame me for hiding, do you?"
Ron flinched at the sound of Wormtail's voice; Harry tightened his grip on Ron's arm in apology. Hermione did the same on his other side, staring in fascination at the tableau before them.
Remus shook his head, knuckles whitening on the grip of his own wand. "It's been ten years, Peter. Ten years. Why didn't you come to me after he was captured?"
"I knew it wouldn't stop him from coming after me! I've always known he'd be back for me! I've been waiting for him ever since-- since--"
Snape interrupted then. "You knew Black was going to break out of Azkaban?" he asked, throwing a sharp look in Remus' direction. "When no one has ever managed it before?"
Wormtail squeaked at that, sounding remarkably like his rat form, and the sharp scent of urine suddenly filled the air. "He's out? He's going to kill me! Remus, old friend, please, you have to protect me!"
"You-- you were my rat?" a young voice broke in, sounding utterly betrayed.
It wasn't Ron, though; Harry, Hermione, and their redheaded friend all looked up to see Percy standing several paces away, having returned after shooing the rest of the Gryffindors out of the Great Hall.
"Percy," Wormtail cried, rolling his eyes in an effort to get a better look at his former owner. "Kind boy. Kind master. Wasn't I a good friend to you? A good pet? Ron!" he added, as he caught sight of Harry and his friends. "You'll protect me, won't you?"
Ron stood up and took several hasty steps toward his brother, stopping at Percy's side, their faces equally ashen with distress. McGonagall hurried over to them, then beckoned to Hermione and Harry; Hermione scrambled to her feet at the professor's gesture, but Harry tugged his arm away when she would have pulled him along. McGonagall gave him a sharp look, but ushered the other three toward the hall doors without waiting for him; apart from Harry, no other student remained in the room.
"Harry!" Wormtail said next, catching sight of him as the others left; it was uncomfortably like the scene in the Shrieking Shack all that time ago. "Harry... you look just like your father... just like him..."
"Don't speak to Harry," Remus growled, wordlessly casting a charm that lifted Wormtail and turned him in mid-air until Harry was no longer in his line-of-sight. "You sold Lily and James to the Dark Lord, not Sirius. Didn't you?"
"Why would you say such a thing, Remus? He's the one that came after me!"
"Don't lie to me, Peter!" Remus replied, cutting off the charm and dropping Wormtail's still-rigid form atop the Ravenclaw table. "You were the one who betrayed them. Admit it!"
Wormtail replied with only a wailing noise, and Snape made a sound of disgust. "Veritaserum will get it out of him," he said. "Although I assure you, whether or not he's guilty of this particular crime does not mean Black is innocent."
"We'll see what the Ministry has to say about that," Remus replied, as McGonagall returned to the Hall one more time with a flock of sternly robed wizards at her heels. Harry looked, but didn't see Tonks among them; because of course, she was probably only a trainee yet. Shacklebolt was there, though, and Harry was relieved to see him.
With an Order member involved, Wormtail was a lot less likely to get suspiciously lost or Kissed on the way to the Ministry's holding cells, like Barty Crouch, Jr. Surely Fudge could find some way to spin Sirius' innocence to his benefit. Wasn't he still taking Dumbledore's advice?
Dumbledore himself was the last one into the Hall. He took in Remus' position, and Snape's, standing almost side-by-side as they confronted Pettigrew, and an unreadable expression crossed his face for a moment. Then he glanced down at the dishevelled, reeking form sprawled across the Ravenclaw table, and immediately took on an air of grave, grandfatherly disappointment. He walked slowly up to Pettigrew's side as the Aurors checked the man's bindings and cast their own levitation charm; Wormtail cringed under the headmaster's regard and turned his head away, refusing to meet his gaze.
"How curious to see you here, Mr. Pettigrew," Dumbledore said. "This does raise a few interesting questions regarding the matter of Sirius Black."
Harry held his breath-- but before anyone could say anything else of interest, Professor McGonagall finally snuck up and ushered him away from the scene. "This is not a situation a student should be involved in, Mr. Potter," she said, sternly.
"But professor," Harry objected, trying to shrug off her hand. "Mr. Lupin said that man was responsible for what happened to my parents!"
"Did he, now," McGonagall replied, her lips pursed critically. "Well, I'm sure Professor Dumbledore will get to the bottom of things. In the meantime, I'll have to ask you to remain in Gryffindor Tower. The house elves will bring supper; word will be sent to the prefects when the current upheaval has been resolved. Do not attempt to sneak out, or the consequences may be far worse than the loss of a few House points. Do you understand?"
Harry swallowed. "Yes, professor," he said. Two steps forward and one step back, again. What was he supposed to do now? Other than send an owl to Remus, next time he was allowed out of the Tower? Just go on with classes as though everything were normal?
He cast a last glance back as they ascended the stairs to the next floor-- and caught a glimpse of Quirrell, standing in the shadows still as death, staring after them.
Harry swallowed. No; everything wasn't normal. He'd taken one of Voldemort's most devoted minions away from him, right from under the evil git's nose. Quirrell wouldn't dare do anything to rescue Wormtail now, as he hadn't yet snuck Hagrid the dragon's egg to coax the secret of Fluffy from him and thereby bypass the Stone's protections. But that didn't mean he wouldn't find some other way of making Harry pay for it.
The Map gambit hadn't worked; as he'd feared, Dumbledore had shut Remus down on that subject. He would have to find another way to solve the Quirrell problem, soonest. But he couldn't afford to mess it up like he had his correspondence with Remus.
He needed help. Perhaps it was time to slip his friends a few more clues.
© 2010 Jedi Buttercup.