Grim Tidings 1
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling. No undue claim nor material profit is intended.
by Alan Sauer and Persephone
Hogwarts looked, from the outside, like a quite sturdily built castle.
Stone was, after all, generally rather solid.
Sturdy was, in fact, quite accurate. The construction however, being magical, was in some ways very... fluid. For one thing, of course, it rearranged itself in many ways both regular and ir. Then there were the secret passages... and then again there were the passages that didn't need to be secret, but no one ever noticed them anyway.
Most of those were too small for humans. The castle did suffer from a continuing plague of rats, though some unidentified individual who should have been more often blessed than was the case had managed a permeating charm that destroyed all fleas on the premises.
The boa constrictor poked his head out into the Gryffindor common room and flicked his tongue once, then proceeded up the stairs to the third-floor boys' room.
Some of the passages were just the right size for a reasonably large snake.
He didn't really think the basilisk would have fit through that one, though. The boa had found his way down to look, once -- not intentionally, though, as he'd only realized where he was when he heard the stones whisper to hold his peace about them, and he'd found a shed skin he could have fit into at least six times over.
He slithered quietly under all the beds, pausing to nose into a box beneath one where someone seemed to have kindly saved him a few rolls. Humans really were handy creatures....
Then he settled himself comfortably in the middle of the room, where he could move swiftly to any plausible entrance unless someone managed to come through the ceiling, and drifted off to sleep.
Unlike the last few rather dull evenings, however, this time the boa was startled out of sleep by someone very large and heavy tripping over him. Since he'd been expecting something like this -- Tom had explained the situation at great length -- it was a simple matter to whip coils around what smelled like an absolutely filthy man, and even simpler to tighten the one around his right wrist until, with a pained gasp, he dropped a long knife on the floor.
"Sstop sstruggling," he hissed irritably, despite being fairly sure his captive wouldn't understand. Then, because some languages were universal, he put enough squeeze on the filthy man to make his ribs creak.
The captive wheezed and briefly redoubled his efforts, then collapsed as he ran out of breath -- and all around the circular room, bedcurtains parted and wands began to light.
Harry's sleep had been fitful since the attack on the Fat Lady, his dreams full of the Dementor-visions he'd been having regularly ever since Professor Lupin had started trying to teach him the Patronus charm. It took him a moment, therefore, to separate the struggles outside his bedcurtains from the one inside his head.
Dean's shout of surprise dragged him fully awake, however, and he pulled open his bedcurtains to reveal his four roommates training shaky wands on a fifth figure, long-haired and filthy, wrapped up by the boa constrictor like the world's largest, ugliest Christmas present. He snatched his own wand from his nightstand without taking his eyes off the man; all the curses he knew tangled on his tongue, and came out "Sirius Black" in a hard voice he barely recognized as his own.
"Hello," Black croaked. "Did they move the dormitories while I was gone?"
"Then what's a Gryffindor doing with a giant snake?"
"I was," Harry said irritably, "sleeping. Until I was interrupted by a wandering murderer." He paused and shifted to Parseltongue. "What are you doing here, anyway? I mean, why did you come here? I can see you're pinning Black, don't think I'm not grateful...."
"Tom'ss being boring. Buried in his bookss with that friend of his. I thought maybe you'd have some leftover rollss. And then I fell assleep. And then thiss one tripped on me."
"I'm not a -- oh, for crying out -- Harry, didn't anybody ever tell you about me? I wouldn't kill you, I'm your godfather. And I didn't kill anybody else, either."
"I know you were my godfather," Harry said stonily. "My parents trusted you."
"They did. And we all trusted the wrong person. I didn't betray them, Harry, I swear to you, I loved your father like a brother." Black sighed. "Then again, I suppose you might say I did betray them. God knows I'm responsible for their deaths. But the real traitor, the man I trusted with your parents' lives as they'd trusted me, walked free, and that's who I came to kill. Not you. Never you."
The audacity of this was -- mind-boggling. "And you're looking for him in the Gryffindor dorm. Where nobody who was over five when that happened happens to be."
"I have good reason to believe you're wrong. How much do you know about your parents' time at Hogwarts? And can you please tell your friend the very large snake to relax? I have no feeling below my knees."
"Good. That means you can't run." Harry frowned for a minute. The rest of the boys were silent, as this seemed to be primarily Harry's... conversation. Finally, he admitted, "Not much."
"I didn't think so." Black glanced around the room. "Some of what I'm about to tell you isn't strictly mine to reveal, at least not... publicly, to anyone but James Potter's son. I'll trade the rest of the feeling in my extremities for a little privacy."
"We," Harry said stubbornly, conquering his curiosity temporarily, "are all supposed to be here."
"Then briefly and vaguely, your father had three particularly close friends during his time here. I was one, the traitor was another, the third... is the reason we came together in the first place. We used to get into a lot of trouble -- pranks, rulebreaking, the usual kid stuff. One of the things we did, as a sign of unity, was -- well, we all became Animagi. Unregistered, because it was more fun that way. Even had nicknames for our animal forms. I believe the man who betrayed your parents is here, in this school -- perhaps in this room -- in his Animagus form."
"I daresay we were infamous enough to be remembered... have you ever heard of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs?"
That map. Harry swallowed and tried to keep his expression from changing. "Yes."
"I was Padfoot, your father Prongs. Peter Pettigrew," and Black's face contorted into a snarl at the name, "was Wormtail. He came to me soon after your parents had decided to hide, and convinced me to let him be the Secret-Keeper in my place-because, he said, of the three of us I had been James' closest friend, and was therefore the most obvious choice."
"So you're accusing somebody else. Who is supposedly hiding in here. I suppose you're going to say it's the boa, next."
"No. Pettigrew was a rat. Literally. Believe me, the irony was not lost on me in Azkaban."
Harry floundered for a moment. As the officially recognized pets were currently owls, cats, and toads, there was only one rat in the Gryffindor dorms... well, one pet one... and the memory of Scabbers's tendency to panic at Tom's presence was coming unbidden to mind. "You can't recognize a rat," he said with half-hearted incredulity.
"I'd know him in an instant by scent, in my animal form. You'll likely want proof you can verify independently. Wormtail will probably be balding, by now -- he had a receding hairline already in seventh year; we gave him endless grief about it -- and he cut off a finger to leave as evidence I'd killed him. Seen any balding nine-toed rats about?"
Harry slowly and reluctantly took his eyes, though not his wand-point, away from Black. It was probably safe. There was, after all, a very large snake wrapped around the convict, and the boa had thoughtfully removed Black's knife.
He hadn't consciously noticed the knife before. He really didn't like the look of it.
"Ron," he said slowly, "Scabbers always has been kind of mangy.... "
Ron spluttered. "You can't possibly think --"
"If that was why he was so terrified of Tom...." Harry stopped and eyed Black suspiciously. "And don't think we'll let you near him, either."
"I don't care about him. I want Pettigrew."
"You killed Pettigrew!" Ron burst out.
"No, I failed. Once. He threw a curse that slaughtered several Muggles, then disappeared in the confusion, and I was blamed. Does your rat have nine toes or not?"
"...Nineteen," Ron admitted a bit sulkily.
Black grinned toothily. "Do you know where he is right now? I wouldn't be surprised if he sneaked out in this commotion, that being a specialty of his -- but bring us face to face and his reaction will tell you all you need to know. And then I'll kill him."
"If you're innocent," Harry said sharply, "don't you think it'd do you more good to have him alive to prove you didn't kill him? And for interrogation?"
Black's grin vanished, replaced by a look of old pain. "I don't care what happens to me, Harry. Azkaban... does things to you, and none of them are very nice. Just let me avenge Lily and James... whatever the Ministry can do to me, I failed your parents first, and there's no worse punishment than that."
"You're still not going to kill anybody." He added to the boa, "Don't let him up, okay?"
"That'ss eassy, he'ss not fighting."
Ron yelped suddenly in pain. He had been clutching his squirming pet very tightly in one hand (of course, his wand was in his right) ever since they'd been awakened by the altercation between intruder and boa. He regarded Scabbers ruefully without letting him go. "I know where he is, all right...."
"Hallo, Peter," Black said, his voice low and deadly. "Did you think you were rid of me at last, and safe as a pampered pet? That rat's shape has to be getting confining by now, I daresay. Won't you greet an old friend?"
Scabbers seemed less than enthusiastic. The boa lifted his head from Black and inquired of Harry, "Are you sssstill sssure I can't eat him?"
"I don't know if I believe Black." Harry hesitated, then suggested, "Pretend. See if it scares him into transforming."
"The boy's got a good grip on you either way, Petey old boy. You've been listening in; do you really want to bet I haven't been convincing enough to at least appeal to Dumbledore? Or that Dumbledore doesn't know a charm or two to discover an Animagus in hiding? Why not make it an old school reunion? Remus is here, it'll be almost like old times."
At this point, the boa made a lunge for Scabbers. If the distance had been much greater, the attempt wouldn't have been credible without letting go of Black; as it was, the boa had at least a few inches of length to spare when Scabbers squealed and, in the face of wide-open jaws, turned human.
Ron grunted, abruptly squashed. Black roared and made an abortive lunge for his knife, cut short by the boa's coils. "Damn this snake -- Harry, stun him! He betrayed your parents! Stun him now!"
To everyone's astonishment, however, it was Neville who came out with a slightly shaky "Petrificus Totalus." Pettigrew went rigid and toppled off Ron's bed onto the floor. The boa nosed at him with a disappointed air.
"Well, I don't want him now," it grumbled to Harry. "Too big. And he can't run."
"I'll bring you lots of rolls," Harry promised a bit weakly. "Anyway, we have to show him to -- to Dumbledore."
"Please do," Black said, eyes still fixed on Pettigrew's motionless form. "And I take it back, I don't want to kill him. I want him in Azkaban. Let him die slow."
Harry shivered, thinking of the Dementors. It suddenly occurred to him that now they could leave, couldn't they.... That would be a relief. He felt oddly cold inside anyway. Not a Dementor sort of cold -- more of the feeling that someone had dashed cold water over him, from inside his stomach.
"I'll -- um -- go wake Percy," Ron volunteered. He gave his erstwhile pet one more highly disturbed look, then went to find his brother.
Review responses from "Life Study" chapter five:
Ozma: Cliffhanger over. :) Sorry it took us so long to get this next chapter over here. My fault entirely for dawdling. I suspect Tom's opinion of Hagrid's teaching is a little biased by association with Ginny, but really, it's quite possible that learning how to deal with the dangerous ones without getting yourself killed is just as legitimate an approach to the course as learning how to look after the better-behaved ones.... The Gryffindor no-show really didn't look very good, but Tom knows making a joke of it just wouldn't fit. ...And Colin's just fun sometimes. :) --PK
To Ozma: Well, considering the only major injury in that class occurred when someone was directly contradicting instructions . . . :)
Getting Colin in situations where he's acting "like usual"--I've thought ever since my first reading of CoS that people shouldn't take his behavior around Harry to be representative--is very fun. But then, getting another perspective than Harry's on Hogwarts and the people in it is one of the neatest things about doing this series, to me. :) --Alan
Amulder: Well, cliffhanger over. :) I'm glad you like our series! Summer will be... interesting, although no details on the QWC right now. We'll discuss the Gringotts goblins and how we think they relate to wizarding law a little further along.... Speculate away; we do have some of the answers written already. --PK
To amulder: That one we did on purpose. Bad us. Worse us here, really, since when we originally posted these we had this chapter nearly ready when we posted the cliffhanger, and there wasn't as much of a wait!
And as PK said, feel free to continue speculating, and we hope the eventual answers won't disappoint. :) --Alan
Myster web: Well, as we've mentioned before, the series is actually rather further along than this; we're catch-up posting here. And this one was an intentional cliffhanger. ;) Fan art is delightful, but I'm not an artist myself and am a bit lost -- what do you mean about drapery? You've been working on depicting the way fabric falls, or something more esoteric? --PK
To Myster web: We never say no to fan art, and I'd be interested to see what you come up with. Thanks for the offer! --Alan
Romm: Well, it's certainly causing chaos! This timeline left canon after CoS, though, so it's worth remembering that at this point Sirius isn't exactly like an uncle to anybody. ...Well, I suppose Harry's idea of what uncles are like isn't exactly complimentary, but even so.... --PK
To Romm: As PK mentioned, Sirius is still very much in the bogeyman camp for everyone--we shifted the timing around a bit, but the attack at the end of the last story is the one, in PoA, where he ends up standing over Ron's bed. Bit different ending this time around, though. :) --Alan