As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I take a look at my life and realize there's not much left
'Coz I've been blastin' and laughin' so long, that
Even my mama thinks that my mind is gone
But I ain't never crossed a man that didn't deserve it

~ Gangsta's Paradise x Coolio

Chapter 62: Heart

The party was already in full effect when Draco and Hermione arrived. The Slytherin common room was packed with students from all houses—even the Ravenclaws. The blonde Slytherin spotted a few Gryffindors, including Fred and George Weasley, who were dumping a large and hearty sack of Honeydukes's candy on the table, as well as a case butterbeer from the Three Broomstick's.

"Thought you lot didn't like Slytherins." Said Alex Darcy, opening a bottle of butterbeer.

George smirked. "We don't."

"But we never miss a good party." Said Fred.

"And how did you get all of this stuff?" asked Angelina Johnson, another Gryffindor.

"Just a gift from our friends." Responded George, throwing Chocolate Frogs into the crowd.

Fred laughed. "Merlin bless Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs." The twins winked at someone across the room, and Draco saw that it was Tobias. His cousin was sitting beside Marcus Flint and Adrian Pucey, no doubt discussing the previous match.

"I really don't want to be here, Draco." Hermione whispered. "I have homework due by Monday. And I can't speed read through four hundred and twenty-two pages."

"And this is why I brought you here." The Slytherin responded. "You've been stressed out about these classes since the term started. Not to mention your other activities. You need to have some fun."

Hermione sighed. "I guess you're right. Could go grab me a bottle of Pumpkin Fizz?"

"Of course."

The blonde Slytherin made his way to the table where the Weasley twins had set up shop. He grabbed a bottle of Butterbeer for himself and a Pumpkin Fizz for Hermione, but not before he shoved a few handfuls of sweets down his robes. He was just about to leave when he saw Ron standing beside his brothers, his eyes focused angrily on Hermione.

"Who invited her?" Ron said.

"It's a party, Ron." Draco said. "Everyone's invited."

The boy scoffed. "I hope not everyone. If that bloody cat shows up, she's going to ruin everything."

"Give her a break, Weasley." Draco snapped. "Theodore told me about your little search. How you didn't do anything when you found Crookshanks." He saw Ron's face turn red with embarrassment. "So watch yourself. You're in my house."

Ron scoffed. It was like the others didn't even care that Scabbers was gone. All they cared about was Hermione and her stupid cat. Yes, Neville and Theodore had helped him look for Scabbers, but Ron had initially protested. But he knew why they really volunteered—to try to change his mind. But it wasn't going to happen. Crookshanks ate Scabbers, and that was final.

"Up to no good, Weasley?" Tracey asked him. Ron hadn't noticed that the Slytherin-girl was standing beside him.

"Uhhhh…" Snap out of it. A voice in his head screamed. Ron quickly listened, crossing his arms over his chest. "Not me. Her." He pointed to Hermione. "If she just acted like she was sorry, instead of hiding behind Malfoy. But she'll never admit she's wrong. She's still acting like Scabbers is on vacation or something."

He popped open a bottle of Butterbeer, but Tracey took it out of his hands. She took a sip of it, daring the Gryffindor boy to protest. "Maybe because every time you two talk about it, you never have anything nice to say."

"And why would I?" Ron grumbled. "It's not like she ever said anything nice about Scabbers."

"And it's not like you've ever said anything nice about Crookshanks."

Ron dropped his arms. "Because there isn't anything nice to say about that cat."

"If you say so…" said Tracey. She then left Ron fuming at the table, slowly becoming the grinch of the party while everyone was enjoying themselves.

Atlas woke up…in a bed? It wasn't as soft as his bed in LeStrange Manor, but it was close enough. He looked around the room, and it seemed that the rest of his surroundings were similar to his father's mansion. Was he in another manor? Or was he dreaming?

He had been caught by the Order. He knew that. He knew it when he had hesitated to kill Quirrell. But, surely, they hadn't kidnapped him—Lord Voldemort's son—to let him sleep in a bed. He should be in a dungeon. Or locked away in Azkaban. He had murdered thirty people. Surely, they were aware of his crimes.

Something wasn't right.

He got out of the bed, and he realized he was no longer in his Death Eater robes. They had undressed him as well? All of this strangely reminded him of the times when he was younger, when he would fall asleep watching tv, only to wake up in his bed, dressed in his pajamas. Yet the idea of who had done it and why…it didn't sit with him well.

He creeped out the room, his head on a swivel as he checked the hallways. There was no one there—no guards or sentries. Nothing. But he did hear voices. They were coming from the staircase, meaning that his captors were downstairs. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but it wouldn't do him any good to try to eavesdrop from upstairs.

So, he walked downstairs. If his captors didn't find him dangerous enough to lock him away, he was sure that he would have no problem roaming around…wherever he was. Just like LeStrange Manor, there were portraits on the wall. A family with many sons. Atlas didn't recognize any of the faces—except one.

Sirius Black.

This was Black's Manor? That's where the Order took him? Or was it even the Order? Could be possible that he had been abducted by Sirius Black. And if that was true—how much danger was Atlas in?

His mind told him to run, to find a way to contact Crouch Jr. Or even his father. To tell them where he was so they could rescue him. But his feet kept following the voices. His heart beating faster and faster as they became louder. He stopped beside an archway, listening to them.

"We didn't get the list!" He heard someone yell. "That was the objective of the mission!"

"One of the objectives." Someone else said. "We saved Quirrell and we have Atlas."

"And we could have the list, as well." Another voice. "This isn't just Voldemort's son—this is the Hound."

"No." This voice he knew. Professor McGonagall. He had no idea that she was apart of the Order. She never told him about it during her visits at his old home, and it now it was obvious why.

"You care very much for this boy, Minerva." Said another voice. This one calmer than the rest. "Care to tell us why?"

There was a silence, and Atlas could hear his heart beating as he waited for the answer. Why did Professor McGonagall care so much about him? She didn't visit him as much as his father and Atlas assumed it was because Demetric wouldn't let him go to Hogwarts.

"…because he's my son." She said.

Atlas felt his feet move before he could process the news. He stepped into the room where the Order was, finding himself in a kitchen. He didn't pay any attention to the other's reactions, only the woman sitting towards the end of the table.

His blue eyes meeting hers.

Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. Nobody even wanted to look across the table. Atlas Riddle, the true heir of the Dark Lord, had be taken by the Order of the Phoenix. But they didn't know the real reason behind their lord's anger. Not only had his son been abducted by the Order, but he had been taken by his mother, who no doubt would try to undo everything he had instilled in the boy.

"They took my son." He said, almost hissing. "They took my son."

Snape was first to speak. "It was an ambush. Created by Sirius Black. He had been following Crouch Jr. and Atlas for quite some time. He alerted the Order once he had Atlas alone."


"That's what the Order is finding out now."

"And you knew nothing about this?" Lucius Malfoy asked, also disappointed that his star pupil had been taken.

"Black doesn't trust me." Snape said dully. "He barely trusts the Order because of what happened to his godson. No one was expecting him to call."

Lord Voldemort didn't know what else to say. He wanted to punish someone—no not someone. He wanted to punish the Hunter. Bartemius Crouch Jr. Who, coincidentally, had chosen not to attend this meeting.

Crouch Jr. had sworn to protect his son. To make sure no harm came to him. And to make sure that she didn't get to him. He had failed all three. And now he had the gall not to face Lord Voldemort.

"Where is Crouch?" He asked.

"We aren't sure, my lord." Terrell Nott said, adjusting his glasses. "The Riddle House in Little Hangleton is empty. As well as Crouch's safehouse in London."

"So, he's decided to run…"

"Or." Said Nott. "He's looking for your son. Crouch Jr. understands the consequences of losing his counterpart, even more because of who he is. He could be pursuing the Order as we speak."

The Dark Lord licked his teeth, pondering Nott's words. If Crouch was looking for his son, it would make up for his actions. Crouch Jr. was one of his most faithful followers, he wouldn't desert him. He had never failed a mission—doing whatever it took to complete it.

"Crouch has my mercy. For now."

He then looked to Snape. "I want to know what the Order intends to do with my son. Do not let him leave. It is Crouch Jr.'s task to retrieve my son. Understood?"

Snape nodded. "Yes, my lord." But he knew exactly what the Order intended to do with his son, and Severus Snape had no intention of letting the boy leave. Not yet. If Crouch Jr. was to find where Atlas was being hidden, it would be up to Snape to let him retrieve the boy.

In due time.

The Slytherin party was coming to a close, and everybody began to say their goodbyes and return to their common rooms. Tobias and the rest stayed behind to help clean up, yet each of them started to regret their good deed when Ron began his last act of the night.

"You know, Tracey," Ron said aloud, picking up an empty candy wrapper. "Fudge Flies have always been my least favorite candy, but you know whose favorite they were?"

Tracey rolled her eyes, already seeing where this was going. "Ron…please don't."

"No, seriously." He said. "Don't you want to know?"

Draco balled his fist, glaring at the Weasley boy. Despite his warning, Ron was going to do whatever it took to make Hermione feel bad about Scabbers. And whether Ron knew it or not, Draco was going to do whatever it took to make sure he never did it again.

"Weasley…" He warned.

Theodore walked over to Ron, knowing what was about to come next.

"Let's go, buddy." He said cautiously. "I think you've had a bit too much sugar for one night."

But as the Slytherin tried to lead Ron out of the common room, Ron snatched Theo by his side, holding him closely with a strong grip.

"You know who liked Fudge Flies?! My old rat…Scabbers!" He said with much emphasis. "If he hadn't just been eaten, he could have had some of those Fudge Flies. He used to really like them—"

Hermione stood up from her seat, her eyes filled with tears. "That's enough, Ronald!" The witch then burst into tears, and before anybody could do anything, Hermione ran out of the common room, still sobbing.

Theodore fought his way out of Ron's hold. "You just couldn't leave it alone, could you?"

"No." Ron said flatly.

But the night wouldn't end there. As soon as Ron said it, he was being pinned against the Slytherin walls. Draco had grabbed his robes tightly, glaring at him as if he was Blaise Zabini himself. Ron immediately pushed him off, and the brawl was set to begin.

"Enough." They heard a voice boom.

No one had seen him come in, but nobody moved as Professor Snape stepped into the Slytherin common room. Draco quickly got his act together, but Ron still looked as if he was ready to throw some punches.

"Mister Longbottom." Snape continued. "Please escort Mister Weasley back to Gryffindor Tower."

Though Neville looked hesitant, he couldn't disobey the Professor. He slowly walked over to Ron, grabbing him by his arm and leading him out the common room. Everyone was sure Ron wouldn't budge, but one stern and deadly look from Snape gave him enough influence to let Neville guide him out. But everyone knew this war with the Gryffindor boy wasn't over.

Snape went on. "Everyone else who is not of Slytherin house…leave. Anyone caught in the corridors will be given detention."

The rest of the Slytherin fans cleared out, leaving only Draco, Tobias, Theodore, and Tracey. Draco's face went whiter than usual when Snape's eyes met his.

"If I ever see you put your hands on another student, Mister Malfoy," His voice was grave. "you will be in detention until the day you graduate. Is that understood?"

Draco gulped. "Yes sir."

Professor Snape walked through the remaining mess, heading towards his house quarters. Everyone watched him step through small piles of glass bottles and candy wrappers. Green and silver streamers.

"If this mess isn't cleaned by morning," He said lowly. "You all will share a fate far worse than death."

His door closed with a slam, and everyone immediately started to clean up. Whether Snape was bluffing or not, nobody truly wanted to find out.

Tobias, Draco, Theo, and Tracey decided to take on separate corners of the common room. As they picked up the remnants of the party, Theodore was the first to speak on the situation with Ron.

"Nice going, Tracey," He said. "Your boyfriend ruined the party."

Tracey rolled her eyes. "He isn't my boyfriend." But as she said it, a blush rushed upon her cheeks. She was lucky the other boys hadn't seen it.

"Plus, he's your friend." She went on.

"I honestly wish he would get over that stupid rat," Draco growled. "He's gone from making Granger's life miserable to making everyone else's life miserable."

"He's grieving." Said Tobias. "He'll get over it soon."

"And how many more parties will he ruin before then?" Theo mumbled under his breath, frowning as he grabbed a sticky wad of chocolate frogs.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

It was a question the Minerva McGonagall had been preparing herself to answer for the past twelve years. Yet each time she asked herself the question, she didn't have an answer. Why didn't she tell him? Why, after all these years, wouldn't she tell her son who he was? Who she was?

"I…." She started. "I don't know."

She could tell her son didn't understand. "Were…were you ashamed of me? Did you not think I would be a wizard?"

"No! No…it wasn't that, Atlas, I—"

"Did you think I would be just like him?"

Yes. She answered, but of course she wouldn't say it out loud. But that wasn't the reason why she didn't tell him the truth. But it was no denying his features, no denying the blood that ran through his veins. He was a spitting image of Tom, yet the only thing of her that shined was his eyes.

"That isn't the reason I didn't tell you." She said quietly, small tears running down her cheeks. She couldn't lie to him. She had always been afraid of what her son would become. When he would learn the truth about who his father was. The power and the fear that made him.

And she wouldn't know, not yet at least, that Atlas understood. From the moment he met Mister Riddle, and the day the wizard had told him he was destined for greatness, Atlas had always been hungry to know what that greatness was. And as the visits continued, he continued to learn what and who the man was. Power hungry—a man to be feared.

He didn't truly understand what all that meant—until the Death Eaters came to take him away. When he learned the true nature of Tom Riddle. That he was Lord Voldemort—with hundreds of followers at his feet. And with that brought hundreds of followers at Atlas's feet, along with a heavy burden.

A burden that he didn't want. Not truly.

He wanted greatness, not power and fear.

"Then…why?" He asked.

His mother hesitated, carefully taking his hands in hers. He should have felt strange—he should have felt odd. Letting this woman, despite who she was, take his hands. He should have tensed in her touch, as he did his father, but he didn't. As their skins touched, he only felt warmth.

"I am your mother." She said, finding her words. "But I didn't raise you. Demetric did. He was a better parent than I ever could have been. You were so young when we left you…and you had grown so much when we returned."

Atlas remembered. He was eleven-years-old. The past months he had been able to do things—unexplainable things. He remembered telling Demetric he thought the house was haunted. That something was out to get him. Making his hair grow. Moving his toys around. Making the lights flicker on and off. But Demetric didn't seem so surprised—Atlas never knew why until he met them. Mister Riddle and Professor McGonagall.

"I wanted you to go to Hogwarts, so you could learn how to control your magic. Learn all the things other wizards were learning. But Demetric wouldn't let me take you…"

Her son frowned. "Why?"

Minerva studied her son. With each word that came out, she felt guiltier than she already had. She felt like it was her fault. Voldemort had taken their son. Turned him into the Hound. Sent him on this god-awful mission. Her son—her baby boy—had murdered thirty people. She had to make him understand.

"You understand that your father and I have different views on the world?" She asked him.

Atlas nodded. "He told me you were part of the Order. That you stood against his vision for the world. That you…that you were the reason I was given away."

The blue flames in her eyes flared but calmed quickly. "Of course, he would tell you that. To mold you into what he wanted you to be. Which is the reason Demetric wouldn't let us take you. Not because of your truth, because of what we would've done with that truth. It does not please me to say it, but I wanted you to become a member of the Order."

"Do you still want that now?"

"No." He voice rang with truth. "I want you to be who you want to be. If it's the Hound, so be it. If it's with the Order, so be it. If it's to be like everyone else, despite what's in your blood, so be it."

"I just wanted to give you that choice." She continued. "Something your father hasn't given you. You have a gift, Atlas, and it should be up to you what you do with it. As long as it lies within your heart."

It was then Atlas had to ask himself, what was in his heart? For a time, he thought it was to be by his father's side—but a part of him knew he would never really be. Not while Tobias LeStrange was Heir to the Dark Lord. He craved greatness, he craved his father's approval—because…

It's the mission. He heard Crouch Jr.'s words echo in his head and his heart ached as he thought about him.

Even as he took on his duty as the Hound, it never felt like a part of him. It didn't truly sit in his heart. And he knew the Order of the Phoenix would feel the same way. Two sides of the spectrum, though he didn't truly feel like he belonged in either.

"I don't know what lies in my heart…" He said.

"You will," His mother said, a faint smile on her lips. "One day."

Dear Tobias and Friends,

How about having tea with me this afternoon 'round six? I'll come and collect you lot from the castle. Wait for me in the Entrance Hall; You're not allowed out on your own.

Cheers, Hagrid.

Tobias read the note aloud to the group. All of them had found their usual seats at the Gryffindor table Monday morning. All except Ron, who no one had seen since his outburst at the Slytherin party. Neville had informed them that he'd been locked in his dormitory since that night. They all knew the Weasley boy had to come out soon. The Gryffindors and Slytherins had Potions today, and it wouldn't be wise for Ron to miss that lesson.

"We're not actually going to wait at the entrance for Hagrid, are we?" Theo asked, his mouth full of bacon.

"He said 'and friends'," said Draco. "Meaning Ron…" He cast a look at Hermione.

The girl shrugged. "Then, invite him."

"Really?" asked Tobias, stunned by her response. "You want to be in the same room as Ron…again?"

"Granger, I don't think that's a good idea." Draco said.

Theodore nodded. "He's only going to rave about Scabbers again—this is the second time he's made you cry."

"Don't remind me." Her boyfriend responded, tightening his fists. "And Snape's been watching me like a hawk since the party. I couldn't put my hands on Weasley even I wanted to."

"It's fine." Hermione said. "Hagrid would want to see all of us. All of us."

"So, who's going to convince him to come?" Neville asked.

Theodore immediately touched his nose. "Not it!" Neville quickly did the same.

"I'll pass." Said Hermione, taking a bite into her toast.

"Same." Draco growled. "If I have to do it, he might not make it to Hagrid's in one peace. Detention be damned."

Which left Tobias. The boy sighed, not looking forward to facing Ron's wrath.

"Wish me luck." He said, rising from his seat at the table.

Neville smiled meekly. "Good luck."

And the search of Ron Weasley began.

"Quite a show you put on Saturday, Weasley."

Tracey found him at the Astronomy Tower, which was now becoming Ron's favorite place to think and be alone. He knew everyone would be at breakfast, giving him time to get dressed and head to the tower before Potion's. He should have known the Slytherin girl would come looking for him.

"I wouldn't call it a show." Ron said, bitterly. "A moment of truth more like it."

Tracey rolled her eyes "More like you being a bloody idiot."

"Really?" The boy narrowed his eyes. "You're taking her side?"

"I'm not taking anyone's side, Weasley. But you were a bloody pain in the ass that night, and it wasn't okay."

Ron snorted. "The only thing that was a pain in the ass was Hermione being there, acting like everything was fine. Meanwhile Scabbers-"

"Enough with the rat." Tracey snapped. "I get it, Ron. I do. Scabbers was your friend, and now he's gone. But you're going to lose a lot more friends if you keep acting like this. You can't keep blaming Hermione for what her cat did."

"Then, who am I supposed to blame?!" Ron snapped back, his face red with anger. "I've tried separating the two, but every time I see her, I think of that bloody cat."

"Why do you have to have someone to blame?" The girl shot back. "You don't even know if Granger's cat actually ate Scabbers. For all we know, both Granger's cat and Scabbers could be missing."

"He isn't missing." Ron said harshly. "Me, Theodore, and Neville found him near the Quidditch pitch the night before the game."

"And you didn't skin him alive?" He knew Tracey was mocking him.

Ron frowned. "I threw a rock at him. But it missed. But if it would've hit him, I definitely would've done it." Though they both knew that wasn't the real reason Ron didn't keep his promise.

"Or…" said Tracey. "You were worried about Hermione, so you didn't skin her cat for something you had no proof of?"

"The only thing I was worried about was not being mauled alive by that wretched beast!"

"You. Are. Hopeless." The Slytherin girl shook her head. "Do you hear how stupid you sound? Or do your ears tune out everything that comes out of your mouth?"

"That wasn't stupid!"

"Says the idiot. Granger should have hexed you into a dung beetle for the things you've been saying to her. Instead, she's probably down there trying to understand why you said it. Or trying to convince Malfoy not to beat you into a bloody pulp."

Ron didn't respond. He was less than a second away from brawling with Malfoy before Snape walked in on them. Hermione had left in tears—and he had to admit, a part of him did feel bad.

"All I'm saying, Ron, is that friends aren't easy to come by." Tracey continued. "Especially not the friends you have. Do you really want to throw all of that away over a rat?"

Ron huffed. "He wasn't just any rat. He—"

"I know. I know. He was Scabbers. But these aren't just any friends. These are your best friends. Granger is your best friend. And friends forgive each other."

Ron pondered Tracey's words. He was still upset about Scabbers, true enough, but the now the question was – how long would he stay mad? And Tracey was right, those were his best friends. And as much as Scabbers's death pained him, the idea that his friends didn't want to be around him was worse. And suddenly he felt alone.

"But don't listen to me." Said Tracey. "I'm just a Slytherin." She then leaned to kiss Ron on his cheek. She smirked as the boy's face burned red.

When Atlas returned to the room he woke up in, he noticed that he wasn't the only one who had decided to retreat there as well. His body froze again, just as it did at Quirrell's apartment building. He recognized that black curly hair. And that thin physique. It was a face he would never forget. Ever.

The convict turned around, as if he had sensed Atlas's presence in the room. An action that eerily reminded the boy of his father.

"So, you met her." He said. But when he spoke this time, he didn't sound dangerous. He didn't sound like the notorious mass murderer Sirius Black. He sounded composed and generous.

Atlas nodded, not sure what to make of it.

"She's a good woman." Black said next. "Better than my mother. My mother was an evil, vile woman. But I loved her all the same."

The boy then thought of the portraits he saw of Sirius Black and his family as he came down the steps. Black's description matched his mother's image. She looked strict and cruel. Yet she was dressed like the dutiful mother, surrounded by all her sons. Black included.

"This is your mother's house?" Atlas asked.

"Was. When my mother died, it went to my older brother, Regulus. And then he died, which left the estate to me."

"Regulus." Atlas said, not even realizing he said it. He knew that name. "Your brother was the Hunter before Crouch Jr."

Black nodded, though small pieces of a frown could be seen. "My brother was a Death Eater, like his brother before him, and so on. If you know that much, then you know I was destined to be the Hound. But I rejected it, and the title went to my cousin, Bellatrix LeStrange."

LeStrange. "Tobias LeStrange's mother?"

And Black's frown went deeper. "Yes." He said, but words sounded unnatural leaving his mouth.

Seeing that this topic wasn't favorable to him, Atlas diverted. "Why did you reject being the Hound?"

"It wasn't my calling."

"But it was your duty. The mission."

Black laughed, almost hysterically. "Duty? My duty was to protect the wizarding community, something your father and his army had no concern for. My mission was to stop the Hound and the Hunter from murdering innocent men, women, and children. To do what was right."

Atlas was taken aback by his response. Sirius Black had grown up in the Sacred 28, lived the life that Atlas was living. That Tobias LeStrange was living. Yet he spoke on it as if he hated it.

"I rejected the Hound because I'm not a senseless murderer. I'm not some bloody dog that Lord Voldemort can kick around." His eyes then locked on Atlas's. "Tell me, boy, do you feel like what you're doing is right?"

There it was again. The question of what was in his heart. A question of his morality. A question of his loyalty. But still, he didn't know how to answer.

Sirius sighed. "You don't understand it now, cause you're young. But the world isn't always black and white. Sometimes the blood that runs through your veins, is just that. Just blood. It doesn't entitle you to anything. It doesn't define your duty, your mission."

But Atlas did understand. He saw how the Order spoke about the Hound and Hunter, yet Crouch Jr. was his friend. A friend that would have risked his life for him—not because of the mission, not because of duty, no matter how hard he tried to make Atlas believed. How could he find a person like that, in the position he was in?

"Cause when we die, Atlas, we all bleed the same way."

It was then Sirius decided to leave, though Atlas had many more questions to ask him. Questions about his childhood. Questions about how he joined the Order.

All of it centering around how a man of the Sacred 28, could turn his back on everything he's ever known.

Tobias caught Ron after Charms. He knew Ron would show up to Potions, but the Slytherin heir used that time to plan his approach. He needed to think of a way to convince Ron to sit in the same room as Hermione. Because if the Gryffindor still felt the same way he had a few days ago, they all had a long fight waiting for them later.

But as Tobias stated his case, it seemed that their fight would be a short one. If there would even be a fight at all.

"Okay." Ron said, adjusting his shoulder bag.

Tobias frowned. "Okay?"

"Yeah," The Gryffindor said. "I'll come to Hagrid's tonight."

"You do know Hermione will there as well?" Tobias asked, his face in one of complete surprise. "Meaning that you two would be in the same room."

Ron shrugged. "Well, you said Hagrid invited everyone. Why wouldn't she be there?"

"What I mean is—because of what happened Saturday…"

"Hagrid invited everyone. So I'm coming."

Tobias stared at Ron long and hard, trying to see what the boy was playing at. But Ron looked like his usual self—casually walking to their next lesson. As if Saturday didn't happen, or Ron had finally decided to get over Scabbers.

"Well, ok." Tobias finally said. "See you tonight. Hagrid's going to get us from the entrance hall."

"See you then." Ron said.

Ron continued his walk down the corridor, while Tobias took this moment to recollect on what had just happened. He had expected Ron to protest coming to Hagrid's. To go into another rant about Crookshanks and how he believed the cat ate Scabbers. Yet there was no mention of either. While it should have eased Tobias's worries, his previous conversation with Ron only made those worries intensify.

Six o' clock finally came, and the six third-years met in the entrance hall as instructed. Hermione became nervous at Ron's arrival, but the red-haired boy seemed calm. Hermione bit her lip, trying to dissect Ron's new behavior, but finally had to admit that he looked fine.

The doors opened, and Hagrid stepped through. He greeted them all with a big smile.

"Wonderful, yer all here!" He said excitedly. "I'm glad made enough tea."

When the six third-years entered the hut, the first thing they noticed was that Hagrid wasn't the only one sleeping inside. Buckbeak was inside as well, stretched out on one of Hagrid's quilts. The creature was enjoying a large plate of dead ferrets. Theodore immediately ran over to Buckbeak, performing the proper procedures, before petting him.

"What's this for, Hagrid?" Neville asked, and everyone directed their attention to a hairy brown suit hanging on the wall. Beside it was a large yellow and orange tie.

"The trial." Hermione gasped. "It's this week, isn't it?"

Draco looked worried as well. "I thought it wasn't until April?"

"And was." Said Hagrid. "But it's been moved. This Friday. Him an' me'll be goin' down ter London together. I've booked two beds on the Knight Bus…"

The six friends suddenly felt a pang of guilt. They had all completely forgotten about Buckbeak's trial. All of them had been focused on other things. Firebolts. Alternate timelines. Investigations. Missing rats. Broken friendships. It had cleared their minds of Hagrid and Buckbeak.

"But enough abou' me." He said, pouring everyone a cup of tea. "You lot haven' come ter visit in a while."

"We're sorry, Hagrid." Tobias said immediately. "We should've been helping you with Buckbeak's case and—"

"Stop it, Tobias!" said Hagrid, waving off his apology. "Hermione helped me some over the Christmas holidays. Gawd knows yeh've had enough ter be getting' on with. You and Draco. I've seen yeh practicin' Quidditch ev'ry hour o' the day an' night."

The two Slytherins nodded, though they still felt guilty.

"So, tell meh." Hagrid said cheerily. "How yeh all bin? How's yer lessons?"

"Fine." Neville answered first. The first to lie. He had been caught in the middle of Ron and Hermione's feud. And to keep their friendship at bay, he had tagged along with Theo on Ron's investigation of Zabini.

Tobias was next. "Everything's been good." He didn't dare mention the Heir Alliance. He didn't mention his mission against Sirius Black. The fact that he was lying to three of his best friends. He didn't mention his broken friendship with Pansy because of his Firebolt.

"Same." Draco said, not mentioning the web of lies he was caught in. The fact he was keeping a secret from Hermione, though she had her own.

Theodore nodded, hiding the same. "Ditto."

"Lessons have been great." Hermione was next. Though she was in over her head from the amount of classes she was taking, and that her time turner was becoming a burden. She didn't mention the alternate timeline, or her alliance with Blaise. Or the fact that she had ask Draco to spy on Ron's investigation.

Everyone had answered, except Ron.

"Wha' about you, Ron?" asked Hagrid. "I don' see Scabbers wit yeh."

The mention of Scabbers put the other five on their toes. Their meeting with Hagrid was going well, despite a few white lies. But now, their worst fear was inches away.

"You wouldn't…" Ron said. "Scabbers is gone."

"Wha' happened?"

The Gryffindor shrugged. "I'm not sure." And for some odd reason, it sounded like the truth.

"You don't know?" asked Theodore, startled at Ron's answer. "You've been throwing cheap shots at Hermione since the Scabbers disappeared! And now you don't know?!"

"Theo, stop." Hermione said, yet she was feeling the same anger.

"You've been acting like a total arse, Weasley." Draco spoke next.

Ron went red with shame. "I know I've been a bit rude—"

"Rude isn't the word." Tobias said. He had a feeling Ron had something up his sleeve, but surely it couldn't be this.

"I know." Ron groaned. "I know. But you guys don't get it. I have five older brothers and one sister. If something isn't happening with Bill, it's happening to Charlie. And if it isn't Charlie, it's Percy. And if it isn't him, it's Fred and George. And if it isn't them, it's Ginny. I'm always overlooked."

Everyone listened as Ron spoke. They hadn't thought about how life at home was for Ron, or why he always did things for attention.

"Before I came to Hogwarts, and met you all," He continued. "Scabbers was all I had. He was the only one who made me feel like I wasn't someone else's brother. I was just Ron. And now…he's gone. Without a trace."

To his surprise, Hermione was the next to speak. "I'm sorry, Ron. I really am."

"Don't be. I should be the one who's sorry. The way I've treated you. The things I've said…" He then thought about what Tracey told him this morning. "Friends aren't easy to come by."

Friends aren't easy to come by. The statement meant something different to the other five friends. And it made them all feel more corrupt than they already had. All the lies. Everything they were hiding from each other. It wasn't hard to imagine what would happen to their friendship if it all came out. Could they find new friends?

"Can you forgive me?"

Hermione bit her lip, nodding in response. Yet she thought about his investigation, and what she had asked Draco to do. But can you forgive me? She thought.

Yet, unbeknownst to her, everyone else was asking the same question.

"Voldemort has elected for the boy to stay here." Snape announced to the Order. "Until I find out what you all plan to do with him." His eyes went straight for McGonagall.

Mad-Eye grunted. "Well, we aren't planning on giving him back. Go tell your Dark Lord that."

Molly Weasley nodded. "We've already lost one child to Voldemort's influence. We can't lose another one."

"What about Crouch Jr.?" Arthur Weasley asked. "Where is he?"

Snape shook his head. "No one knows. He didn't return to LeStrange Manor after Atlas was taken. We can only assume he's looking for the boy."

"He'll have a hard time doing that." Said Lupin. "But knowing Crouch…"

Tonks agreed. "He won't give up. And with his life at stake, he's more dangerous than ever. More desperate."

"If he's looking for Atlas," said Kingsley. "That could work in our favor. He won't be focused on the list anymore, now that we have his Hound."

"Which means we can prepare to go back in change the timeline." Said McGonagall.

The conversation continued, but it seemed no one had noticed that one member of the Order wasn't in attendance for the meeting.

Well, no one but Dumbledore of course.

"Where is Sirius?" The old wizard asked. "He should be here as well."

"He left." Said Atlas, having snuck into another Order meeting.

His mother frowned, but she wasn't the one to ask the next question of the night.

"And went where?" The man known as Remus Lupin asked.

He snuck back in the castle the same way he had before. If he was caught, Dumbledore would be quite disappointed that his extra security had failed him…again.

His conversation with Atlas reminded Sirius of why he had captured the boy in the first place. His godson. And no, Sirius wasn't about to abduct Harry from the Hogwarts castle. But he was going to settle the score with the person who deprived him of everything he ever wanted.

Tonight, he would be a free man.

Tonight, Peter Pettigrew would die.

And his killer? Who other than the notorious Sirius Black? Who had been charged with murdering Peter the first time. But this go-round, it would be the truth. Sirius had missed so much in his life—so much in his godson's life. All because of one man—one cowardly, measly little man.

He snuck up the steps to Gryffindor tower for the last time. In his pocket, a list of the passwords to the Gryffindor common room. He assumed that whoever lost it, would be in the worst of troubles-should his plan go wrong. His knife was burning in his pocket, ready to be used on the man who cost him twelve years of his life. It was the reason he broke out of Azkaban. The task that sparked in him at the sight of Atlas Riddle.

"The password, my good man." Sir Cadogan demanded promptly. Black recognized the incompetent man in the portrait, diving deeper into the victory that would soon be his.

The ex-con pulled out the list, noticing there were seven passwords—each one for the day of the week.

"What is today?" He said casually.

"It is Monday." The portrait responded.

"Excellent." Sirius responded. "Gurgleflirt."

Sir Cadogan smiled. "Correct, my dear lad. But if don't mind me asking, don't I know you from somewhere?"

"Well, of course I'm a student." The ex-con lied smoothly. "Otherwise, where would I have gotten this list?"

"Of course, you are! Silly me. These late nights…have me seeing any and everything. You couldn't possibly imagine—"

But Sirius did not stay to listen to what else Sir Cadogan had to say. He transformed into his dog form, sneaking his way up the steps to the third-year boys' dormitory. The door was unlocked, making his job easier. Now, all he had to do was figure out which bed belonged to Ronald Weasley.

He should have known Wormtail had been hiding with the Weasleys all this time. Nobody would suspect the ginger family of hiding a cowardly Death Eater in their own home. Even the Weasleys wouldn't have expected that their precious pet rat was a grown man in disguise. It was the perfect hiding spot. But now Sirius was going to expose him for who he was. And send him where he belonged.

In hell.

He stood in the middle of the five beds, trying to pinpoint which one belonged to the red-haired boy. He tried to look for a sign that reminded him of Arthur, or even Molly. But it was too dark and too risky to go snooping through the boys' things. But, just as everything else tonight, the answer presented itself.

"Spiders…." He heard the someone say in their sleep. "Get them away…the spiders…"

Something in his gut told him that this voice belonged to the Weasley boy. And the fact that he knew Arthur Weasley also talked in his sleep. It was worth a shot, and the ex-con hoped that it would be the right shot. Otherwise he would've just signed his own death sentence. He creeped to side of the bed, and there he saw him. Ronald Weasley, his red-hair unfurled across his pillow, his freckles shining in the pale moonlight.

Now. Sirius thought to himself. Where is that damn rat?

He assumed that Peter would be tucked away in the bed with the boy, but he couldn't tell from where he was positioned. So, against his better judgement, he transformed back into himself and walked to the end of the boy's bed. Using his knife, Sirius slashed as quietly as he could through the curtains, making his entrance to Peter's doom.

And as he got closer, the one thing Sirius hoped wouldn't happen…happened.

Ron blinked his eyes opened, and his blue eyes met Sirius's black ones. But all Sirius Black could see was the Dementor's kiss sucking the life out of his soul. Because there was no Peter tucked away in bed with Ronald Weasley. There was only him. Sirius Black, notorious murderer, standing above a third-year's bed…with a knife.



"Ron!" He heard another boy say. "What's going on?!"

Sirius quickly transformed, running out of the dormitory, out of the Gryffindor common room, and out of the Hogwarts castle. He couldn't stop. He wouldn't stop. Not until he was as far away from Hogwarts as he could get. Once he was hidden safely away in the Forbidden Forest, he transformed back into his human form.

"FUCK!" He screamed, punching the nearest tree. His mission had failed. And he knew once the news got to the Order, he would be in a boatload of trouble. And there would be no one to blame by himself. As once again, he let his impulses get to him once more.

Author's Note:

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