The Sugar Quill
Author: Persephone_Kore and Alan Sauer  Story: Grim Tidings  Chapter: Chapter 2/4: Tied Up With a Boa
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Grim Tidings 2

Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. No undue claim nor material profit is intended.

Grim Tidings
by Alan Sauer and Persephone
Chapter 2

Percy proved particularly difficult to awaken. "What is it, Ron?" he finally asked. "What are you doing out of bed? That's against the rules."

"We need -- Dumbledore. At least some professor." This was unexpected enough to bring Percy fully awake for, "Sirius Black's here and Scabbers is Peter Pettigrew."

"What are you babbling on about? Black -- here? What, in Gryffindor Tower? Are you having me on? It's -- Ron, it's four in the morning. If this is a prank, I'll take House points away from you myself."

"It's not. I'm completely serious. You can come look if you want. That boa constrictor pinned him."

"What boa constrictor? Really, Ron...."

Ron looked thoroughly exasperated. "You know, the one McGonagall took Harry to see because it was writing notes in Hogsmeade?"

"Professor McGonagall, Ron, she's our Head of House. I've half a mind to see what she thinks about you being out of bed."

"Please do! Maybe she'll do something about Black and Pettigrew, who are on the floor BESIDE MY BED!"

"All right, that's it, Ron, honestly, yelling and screaming at this hour, I hope you get detention out of this." He rolled over for his wand, whispered something Ron couldn't catch, and then spoke into the air. "Yes, Professor, I'm so sorry to wake you -- yes, sorry, I'm aware of the hour, Professor, it's just my brother Ron is making a ruckus in the dorms with some wild story about Sirius Black in his bed, and I really think -- yes, Professor, the third-year dormitory, I'll -- ah, all right, Professor, we'll expect you directly." He directed a glare at Ron. "I hope you're satisfied. Professor McGonagall sounded highly put out at being awakened."

"She's coming, isn't she? I'm satisfied," Ron muttered.

Percy was apparently the soundest sleeper in all of Gryffindor, because by the time Ron had emerged from getting him to call Professor McGonagall, everyone was awake and most of them were trying by turns to crowd into the doorway and get a look at Black and Pettigrew. It wasn't long before Professor McGonagall herself appeared, in a long grey bathrobe and with a few stray wisps of hair escaping her usual bun. "Percy, we did not teach you that spell so that you could disturb us at any little provocation. And as for you, Ronald, exactly what are you doing out of your bed?"

"Sirius Black's in the dorm, Professor," Ron explained stubbornly. "And he didn't kill Peter Pettigrew, apparently, because, er, the boa scared Scabbers and he turned into him.... Please just come see."

McGonagall sighed, but followed Ron up the stairs -- and froze in the doorway, her eyes going back and forth between the paralyzed Pettigrew and the besnaked Black. "I'll... just get Professor Dumbledore, then," she said faintly. "Well done, Weasleys."

Percy, for his part, was equally dumbfounded, and only managed a strangled "This is strictly against regulations...." before his knees gave out. Neville brought him a chair.

"We know," Harry said helpfully, "but we didn't really have time to ask permission." He paused, then added, "And it was Neville who petrified Pettigrew."

Percy stared a little wildly at Neville as he sank into the chair. "Good... good job, there, Longbottom, I, I, I think we should wait for Professor Dumbledore. That's what I think."

"We were doing that," Harry told him.

"Carry on, then...."

Harry lay back on his bed against the pillows, still holding his wand tightly and feeling quite as dazed as Percy looked. To the confusion of the other boys, the next thing he said was, "I don't suppose any of you have any rolls?"

"I've got some," Seamus Finnigan said, scrabbling under his bed. "Or I did. There's just crumbs here now. Here, which one of you stole my rolls? I was saving those!"

"Sssorry." The boa ducked its head apologetically. "I wass here for a while before thiss one ssshowed up."

"He ate them," Harry translated, waving his free hand at the boa. "I was asking about them for him anyway."

Seamus glared at the boa. "Don't think I'll ever get used to that. Tell 'im not to do it again, I like a snack when I'm studying."

Harry obligingly asked the boa not to swipe food stashes without asking first, then sighed. "Maybe Tom's not as hopeless with animals as we thought."

Ron glowered at Pettigrew. "I guess not."

Black tried to move. The boa hissed. Black eyed it warily and subsided, but asked hopefully, "Could I possibly have some circulation back? And who's Tom?"

"Ease off a little, but keep him there," Harry told the boa, and then in English added "Tom is a friend of mine. Scabbers -- or Pettigrew, I suppose -- was terrified of him and we didn't know why."

Black gasped and grimaced as the boa relaxed slightly and the pins and needles started in his numbed limbs. "And -- you do now? Why would he be somebody Peter was afraid of?"

Harry sighed and craned his neck to look out the door. Professor Dumbledore was conspicuous in his absence. "He seems to have recognized him. Tom's a sort of... alternate version, you might say, of the boy Voldemort used to be. Before he went dark. He's actually quite nice."

Black stared at him. "He's Voldemort?" he croaked.

"No, he's not," Harry snapped. "Let's get that quite clear at the outset. He chose not to be Voldemort, which is why he's here and Voldemort is, according to Professor Dumbledore, almost certainly dead."

Black apparently gave up and went limp in the boa's coils. "Well. You certainly do... miss out on the news, in Azkaban."

There seemed to be nothing to say to this, and Harry wasn't sure enough of this filthy, rail-thin stranger to ask any of the hundred questions he had about his parents -- even if Black had been right about Peter Pettigrew. He put his wand away, though, feeling a little embarrassed.

"Guess that means," Black added after another moment, giving Pettigrew a slightly strained grin, "there's nobody for you to go scampering off to, now, is there?"

Pettigrew, being paralyzed, didn't answer him.

Dumbledore's arrival ended the show but was a considerable relief to most of those directly involved. He sent everyone else back to bed, levitated Pettigrew, Black, and the boa, and quietly invited Harry and Ron to join in a "conference."

Harry decided that he could understand having rousted Lupin out of bed, since he was the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, even if he did look unwell. Snape, however, was in Harry's opinion entirely unnecessary.

"Sirius?" Lupin asked incredulously. "And -- who is that? It looks like... but it can't be Peter, can it? What's going on?"

"I suspect we'd all like to know that," Snape drawled, but settled after a quelling look from the headmaster.

"Why don't we allow Harry to explain," Dumbledore said, steepling his fingers under his nose. "Harry?"

Harry swallowed and took a deep breath. "Well," he began, "a little bit before four o'clock we woke up to thrashing noises and found that the boa had caught Sirius Black sneaking into the dorm."

The boa hissed -- wordlessly, even to Harry's ears, but sounding rather pleased with himself all the same.

"At least someone was on guard," Snape interjected, with a pleased smile for the boa.

Harry darted a nervous glance at Snape, then fixed his eyes on Dumbledore. "Then things started to get strange." As if having a serpent guarding Gryffindor students were normally considered... normal. "He, um, claimed that he hadn't come to kill me at all, he was after Ron's rat, Scabbers, who was actually Peter Pettigrew who had been an illegal Animagus and taken over as -- " His voice gave out and he had to swallow again before finishing in a peculiar strangled tone, "As Secret-Keeper for my parents."

"A likely story," Snape sneered. "Black would say anything to keep himself out of Azkaban."

Harry looked at Pettigrew. "It... seemed a lot more likely after... I asked the boa to pretend he was going to eat Scabbers. And... Scabbers turned... human."

"So it seems," Dumbledore replied. "And someone was very quick with a Body-Bind, considering the shock. You, Harry? Or Ron?"

"Neville, sir."

"Longbottom?" Snape laughed derisively. "I didn't know he was capable of magic without Granger whispering in his ear."

Dumbledore shot him another quelling look. "That will be enough, Severus."

"I believe Neville's managed to impress Professor Sprout," Lupin remarked pleasantly. "She mentioned that she has him helping with several of the more delicate herb beds."

The "more delicate" herb beds were those containing plants that were either difficult to grow, difficult to handle, or difficult to keep from interfering with their neighbors. They were inhabited by most of the locally grown potion ingredients.

Snape snorted quietly, but swallowed his words, and the headmaster returned his calm gaze to Harry. "And then, I gather, Ron went to wake his brother, who awoke Professor McGonagall, who contacted me, and so here we are. Perhaps it is time to hear Sirius's version of events -- I believe, in any case, that it is time Harry knew the full story, and it would appear there are elements even I do not know."

"The... whole story, Professor?" Lupin asked uncertainly.

"He is much like his father, Remus, as I am sure you have seen. If you will, Sirius?"

Black tried to sit up, hampered by the fact that he was still wrapped in a very large snake. "Where exactly," he asked raspily, looking at Lupin even though he was presumably addressing Dumbledore, "do you want me to start?"

"For Harry's sake, I believe... the very beginning. He has, I think, heard some rather distorted secondhand accounts." Dumbledore looked at them over his glasses.

"Then perhaps it's best I start," Lupin said heavily. "I almost didn't come to Hogwarts when I was young, Harry. When I was a small boy, I was bitten by a werewolf, and although my parents tried to keep it secret... well, there was no treatment for it in those days, as there is now. I think you saw Professor Snape bringing me a draught of Wolfsbane Potion that one day."

Ron made a soft choking noise. Harry's eyes went wide, but he managed weakly, "I wondered what that was."

Black's head jerked up and he looked horrified. "He -- what -- you let --"

Remus's mouth twitched. "Calm down. Do I look poisoned to you? At any rate, Professor Dumbledore personally sponsored me, and I was allowed to attend Hogwarts, on the strict condition that at every full moon I retreat into a sanctuary that would be provided for me, so that I could not hurt anyone. That sanctuary was the Shrieking Shack -- the shrieks were my own, you see, not those of ghosts -- and to conceal the entrance to the tunnel leading there, they planted the Whomping Willow."

"James and Remus and... Peter..." Black cast a look of loathing at Pettigrew, "and I were very close friends all the time we were at Hogwarts. When the rest of us found out about Remus... we wanted to help somehow. When we found out that a werewolf isn't a danger to other animals during the transformation... well, naturally we all decided to become Animagi."

Snape's sneer widened. "Illegally, of course. The rules were much too boring for James Potter and company."

"We couldn't have done it legally," Black retorted. "The spell's considered too dangerous for students. But we weren't about to desert our friend -- as you'd know, if you'd ever had any worth speaking of. Took us three years to work it out as it was."

"It would probably have been much quicker with proper training," Snape replied sharply.

Black snorted. "Stuck-Up Severus the Stickler. Some people don't change. Nobody would have given us proper training, obviously. We were second-years when we hit on the idea."

"Schoolboy misbehavior aside, could we possibly," McGonagall said sharply, "get to the point?"

"By the time anybody would've licensed us, it would have been too late to do Remus any good anyway," Black growled rebelliously. Then he took a deep breath and continued, "This is going to seem like quite a jump, but -- I wasn't the Potters' Secret-Keeper." He shut his eyes. "I was supposed to be. Then -- I got worried. I was the obvious choice. That was the problem." He opened them again and stared directly at Snape. "Any Death-Eater who'd seen us at Hogwarts could have guessed. I thought I could withstand the Cruciatus Curse -- Imperius I wasn't arrogant enough for. So... I suggested... Peter." The tired pain in his voice as he finished made Harry want to cringe.

"I would have done it myself," Dumbledore said, "but James and Lily refused to change their minds."

"I had the devil's own time convincing them," Black replied miserably. "And we resolved to tell no one -- not even you, Professor. A secret, we thought, was more a secret the fewer people who knew about it. And if nobody knew, the Death Eaters should have come after the wrong person...."

"You could have told me, Sirius." Lupin sounded a bit hurt.

Black winced. "Maybe we should have. Maybe --" He broke off. "I went to Godric's Hollow as soon as I heard. Hagrid -- Hagrid got there, I sent him off with the motorcycle when he said Dumbledore had told him to take you, Harry -- then I... went to find Peter." He shuddered. "I should have taken him somewhere else. But then -- even then, even knowing he'd betrayed his closest friends, I was too stupid to think he'd --"

"Kill all those Muggles," Lupin said softly. "I can't even imagine it now. For the longest time I couldn't imagine it of you, either, Sirius. I'm... sorry I ever came to believe otherwise."

"He cut off his finger before he cast the spell and turned into a rat," Black finished, sounding decidedly strained. "I didn't figure out what had happened until Fudge dropped off a newspaper in my cell -- it had a picture of Ron, there -- and he had Wormtail on his shoulder. One toe missing."

Ron shuddered, and looked disgustedly down at Pettigrew. "The chess tournament. To think that's what started all this."

"I was almost surprised he gave it to me... but anyway... I'd been spending a lot of time as a dog, in Azkaban. Couldn't feel the Dementors as much that way. And they couldn't sense me that way... so I finally managed to slip out. And come looking for him." Black slumped in the snake's coils. "I'd been planning to kill him, I admit it. Already served time for it, after all... I think, though, I'd rather see him in Azkaban."

"Perhaps we had better hear from Peter himself," Dumbledore said. "Harry, if you will please be so kind as to ask your friend to release Sirius and take a position near Peter, I will reverse Mr. Longbottom's spell."

The boa looked at Harry and was uncoiling before his first hiss. Harry stopped after "Would you please --" and shrugged. "Thanks." Black looked extremely relieved.

Dumbledore took out his wand and performed the countercurse, and Pettigrew collapsed in a mewling heap. "Please, Professor -- it's all lies, what Sirius is saying -- Remus, you believe me, don't you? He killed Lily and James, Remus, I've been hiding from him for twelve years!"

Black made an abortive lunge at Pettigrew; Harry started, but Black checked himself as surely as the boa would have and settled back, breathing heavily. "Little... lying... rat...."

"It would seem to be unusually prescient of you, Peter, to realize twelve years in advance that Sirius would make his heretofore unprecedented escape from Azkaban," Dumbledore said, his eyes unusually hard.

Pettigrew's eyes flicked wildly around the room. "Severus! Severus, you'll believe me, won't you? You know what Sirius is capable of, after all -- you know I could never hurt anyone...."

"I know no such thing as that last," Snape said precisely, surprising Harry considerably. "But perhaps he was aware of the effect -- or lack thereof -- the Dementors would have on a dog. I do know what Black is capable of."

Sirius growled "It was only a prank, Snape, and I never would have pulled anything of the kind on James -- or on innocent Muggles."

"It was only attempted murder!" Snape's voice rose.

"There will be time --" As Dumbledore's voice rose, Pettigrew tensed to spring -- and the boa whipped around him with a snake's speed. "There will be time, I say," Dumbledore continued, "for the rehashing of old grudges later. I believe for now we shall find somewhere to secure Mr. Pettigrew until the morning, when I shall escort him -- and you, Sirius -- to the Ministry for trial."

Black swallowed. "All right. That's -- good."

Pettigrew choked at the word "trial" and wriggled around to face Harry. "Please, Harry, your father was always a good friend to me -- Ron, I was a good pet to you, wasn't I? All these years? You'll help me, won't you?"

They were both silent. Finally, Ron said, looking desperately unhappy and not a little bewildered by the whole thing, "If you did know something to make you think Black would be able to get out, why didn't you ever want to warn anybody?"

"I was too frightened! I was -- I was --" He looked wildly around the room again. "My death was the only thing keeping me safe from Sirius's friends, the other Death Eaters! They would've pounced on me in a moment if they knew I was alive, after I tracked their lord's right-hand man!"

"Thisssss one ssssmellsss like he'ss lying," the boa remarked to Harry, lifting his head. "Jussst thought you might want to know."

"You were too frightened to warn anybody that the most dangerous man in Azkaban might be able to get out," Ron summarized flatly. "I thought you were in Gryffindor."

"He always was a little tagalong," Black grated. "Always wanted his strong friends to hide behind. What was your price, Wormtail? What did Voldemort give you to sell out James and Lily?"

"You don't know!" Pettigrew snapped, and Harry shivered at his sudden resemblance to a cornered rat. "How could you? Always the strong one, you were, never afraid of anything! But you weren't strong enough in the end, so of course you came to little Peter, gave him the burden with never a care that he might break! Oh yes!"

Black spat full in his face. "You were passing information to Voldemort for a year before James and Lily were killed. If it hadn't been for you, they never would have had to hide. Don't you dare blame me for your weakness."

"Harry?" Ron's voice broke into the conversation again suddenly, sounding anxious, just as Dumbledore and Lupin both moved to calm Black. "Harry? Are you all right?" Ron continued in an urgent whisper. "You've gone all white."

"The boa said Pettigrew was lying."

"Only qualitatively, I suspect," Snape, of all people, murmured. "I have no doubt that he really was hiding from the Death Eaters -- they certainly would be suspicious that Voldemort fell as a result of the information he gave them, and Death Eaters are not patient in their suspicion."

"You would know, wouldn't you," Pettigrew snarled.

Snape smiled. "I was fully exonerated, Pettigrew; by Professor Dumbledore's own word, the accusations against me were deemed baseless. I had no reason to pretend to be a housepet for twelve years."

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Sirius and Peter will both be questioned under Veritaserum. After we have all had a chance to get some sleep."

"...Why wasn't he the first time? Black, I mean," Ron asked. "Seems like it would've saved a lot of trouble."

"I believe," Dumbledore said, sounding very tired all of a sudden, "that there was considered to be too much evidence already to make it worth the risk of waiting to imprison him until a new batch could be created."

"And then, of course, they had their man," Black said levelly. "Don't sugar-coat it, Professor, the Ministry was out for blood." He laughed rustily. "Rather ironic, really, since I had been as well."

"Not too unusual a state of affairs, unfortunately," Snape muttered.

Black glared, but remained silent.

"I am glad to have you back, Sirius," Lupin said finally. He ignored the look Snape gave him.

"I am... glad to hear you say that, Remus," Black said, a tear trickling through the grime on his face. "Can you forgive me for not trusting you with the change in plans?"

"Yes," Remus replied unhesitatingly. After a second, however, he added, "But I might make you come explain to Sybil Trelawney that you are not a Grim, in revenge."

"Oh, ye gods, Remus, and I thought Azkaban was horrifying. Is she still predicting doom and destruction to anyone who walks through her door?"

"Apparently she predicts Harry's death on a weekly basis. Voldemort's destruction doesn't seem to have deterred her a bit."

Black doubled over with mirth. "Do you remember, she did the same thing to James! If it wasn't drowning, it was being hit on the head by a hail of frogs!"

Snape looked rather nonplussed at the latter image, then abruptly sour. "I'm sure she came in with betrayal at some point or another," he snapped.

The comment, as Snape surely had intended, cut through the laughter like a knife. Lupin sighed, and managed to cut Black's retort off. "We're all tired, Severus. I think perhaps we should take the headmaster's advice and get some sleep before we rehash any more of the past."

"I thought you were nocturnal," Snape muttered. "Don't forget your potion tonight. It's nearly the full moon."

"I didn't."

"Perhaps you should show Sirius to one of the guest suites, Remus," Dumbledore said softly. "I shall take charge of Mr. Pettigrew here. Severus, Harry, Ron: thank you, and sleep well."

The boa unwound himself from Pettigrew, rubbed his head against Harry's ankle, then started to slither off. "I think I'll head back down to Sssslytherin dorms now," he hissed. "Find ssssome ratsss I can actually eat."

"Good work tonight," Harry hissed back. "Thank you."

The boa gave the serpentine equivalent of a smile before sliding past the Potions master's feet.

*****

To Ozma: This is one of my favorite chapters of our stuff, actually--although I like Chapter 3 much better; wait a bit and we'll see if you agree. :) Thanks as always for pointing out your favorite parts--the boa always makes me laugh too. And if I'm remembering right, we meant "Tom's friend" to refer to Peony, so no real mystery there, I'm afraid.--Alan

Ozma: Thank you so much. Breathless? Wow. :) And a compliment from you on describing the castle is high indeed. We really enjoyed doing the revelations this way... well, and more of them in Ch. 2, at that. And yes, as Alan said, Tom's friend is Peony. But the boa is being just a bit sneaky with that line....--PK

To amulder: Thanks for the compliments and the speculation. You're right on some things, not on others, and I'm going to invoke authorial privilege and stay that vague so you keep reading. :) --Alan

amulder: Well, despite Voldemort's not having been the direct major villain in PoA, having Tom around and Voldemort gone does change things a bit. *coughs* And, er, so do the oddities resulting from not including some of the post-CoS summer details; the Weasleys not winning that purse required a little manipulation to get Sirius out of Azkaban and back into the picture, but frankly, that ended up being some of the most fun to write, so there we are. --PK

MrRobertsIII: We were going partly for cold and understated and partly for numb shock, on Harry's part. He's definitely angry, but he didn't really express that by shouting about it at that point. PoA Harry, not OotP. ;) If the tension didn't really come across for you, though, I'm sorry about that. But I quite agree that anything with the boa is fun. :) --PK

To MrRobertsIII: That's actually a valid point--but then, one of the major differences between our version and canon is that the Gryffindor dorms are a much less emotionally-charged atmosphere than the Shrieking Shack--and one in which Harry feels he's on his home ground, and more in control. And as PK says, he's in shock.--Alan

To Romm: Well, this chapter, I hope, answered your questions. :) It's amazing how handy a friendly twenty-foot boa constrictor can be to have around, isn't it? --Alan

Romm: Now, why on earth would we let Pettigrew go? ;) As is pointed out in this chapter, there isn't exactly a Voldemort for him to run to. The boa does tangle things quite nicely, yes. --PK

To Escher: Wow. That's quite a compliment; the Promises series is one of our favorites. We have plenty more on the way, and I hope you continue to enjoy the stories.--Alan

Escher: Full agreement with Alan here -- I do think that's one of the most flattering comparisons we've ever had. Thank you! And yes, there's quite a bit more on the way. --PK

To Stephanie: Oh dear. I hope it wasn't a school or work night or you don't have school or work--not that I can point fingers, as I've spent my share of nights up reading. :) Here is the next chapter, and if you're really impatient, we're a bit further along on FictionAlley. --Alan

Stephanie: Yikes. As Alan said, hope it was a night you could spare the sleep. Here you go, and don't worry.... I definitely wouldn't mind Peter-redemption in canon, but he hasn't got anywhere to go here. --PK

Myster web: Yes, all wrapped up in a boa.... Thank you so much for the art! I think it would probably be better to email one of us directly -- persephone_kore@yahoo.com (what a shock, huh?) or rexlapinii@aol.com -- PK

To Myster web: Yes, he's very proud of himself. :) PK gave you our addresses--thanks for the art, I'm sure it's great. :) --Alan

//
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