A/N: Hello again! Trying to keep these updates super speedy, so here is Chapter 41. I already have Chapters 42 and 43 written, for the most part, but they need some editing… we are in Scotland for the Easter holiday, but I am hoping my family's distraction with the twins will give me a bit of time to get those finished up and ready to post as soon as possible.
In the meantime, enjoy 'The Shrieking Shack', and please read and review!
DISCLAIMER: Any and all familiar characters and/or story lines are the property of Joanne Rowling.
Chapter 41: The Shrieking Shack
Severus raced through the school with Lupin close at his heels. His wand hand was almost trembling with wrath and anticipation; his mind reeling. He could not believe they'd missed it: precisely what they had been awaiting for months.
It had been his job to watch that damn map. And Severus had known it was a terrible idea. He had known he was not up to the task – even without the moon to render him more incompetent than usual. It was their most crucial weapon, the watch of this Map. Their best chance for catching the traitor at last… and their best tool in defence of Lily's boy. Severus should have raised a fuss about entrusting it to the werewolf much earlier than tonight. If Potter was lost for his folly…
'What was he doing, in the grounds without supervision!' Lupin bemoaned, panting slightly as he caught up to Severus' stride. 'What were they thinking?! They know – Harry knows he is not permitted out on his own… and he knew Albus was out of the castle today. Why would he –'
'Do not ask me to contemplate the reasoning behind Potter's insufferable inability to follow directions,' Severus spat. 'It is a quality which continues to beguile me, and one which I have long resigned myself I shall never be able to shake from his thick skull.'
'Tonight, of all nights…' Lupin said in exasperation again. 'When Albus is out of the…'
'Shut up, wolf!' Severus snapped. 'Or I shall murder you as well before the headmaster –'
Severus halted. Lupin's heels scraped on the floor as he too came to a stop beside him.
'What are you doing?' he asked anxiously. 'Why are you stopping?'
'Sending a message,' Severus returned curtly. 'Expecto –'
Lupin lunged at him, grabbing his wand arm and stopping the spell. Severus wrenched it back with a snarl. 'Have you lost your admittedly feeble –?'
'You can't! You can't send a Patronus,' Lupin said, as though it was Severus who was out of his mind. 'Albus and Minerva are with the Minister. If you send a Patronus, Fudge and the others will come as well… they'll take Sirius. We can't, until we know – until we're sure – that the Rat has been captured.'
Severus stared. 'You would rather leave Potter without Albus' protection?' he challenged, disbelieving. 'You would rather chance his safety than your moronic mutt's?'
Lupin hesitated. But even as he ranted, Severus saw possibility in the suggestion…
Not that he cared what happened to Sirius Black. If the Ministry allowed those foul creatures their fun with him too… well, the better for Severus. But if Albus was not here, there was nobody to temper Severus' own wrath.
If Albus was not here… there was nobody to insist that taking Pettigrew alive was the only way.
If Albus was not here… there was nobody to spout the virtues of justice over vengeance…
If Albus was not here, Severus could have his revenge. Black and Lupin, he was sure, would not even fight him on it. They wanted the miserable little turncoat dead as badly as he did. If Albus was not here…
Severus could kill Lily's killer.
'… Sirius should be at the end of that passage. He'll find them; there isn't anywhere else that Peter could –'
'Fine,' he said loudly, over whatever nonsense the wolf was still spouting beside him. 'Fine, Lupin. Your way… for now.'
He started running again, embracing the cold fury that filled his soul with a renewed sense of vindictive pleasure.
The boughs of the Whomping Willow were frozen: at complete odds with the tree's usual vicious nature. As Harry was yanked beneath its roots, he wondered at the odd transformation. He had never before seen the Willow in a state of stillness… and he well remembered the pummelling he, Ron and Mr Weasley's car had taken when they'd unwittingly interrupted its repose at the start of autumn term in their second year. What had made it…
But this was not the time.
Harry snapped himself back to attention. He tried. But just as he had been unable to throw his paralysis for so long in Edinburg, so now he found himself unable to magically sever the ropes that bound him. He wished savagely that the traitor had used a padlock… then, perhaps, all those weeks of blasting open chests with Snape might do him some good. Unlocking spells, it seemed, were no use against ropes.
He was pulled down a narrow, muddy slide... and the opening at the base of the Willow faded from view.
The tunnel was damn and musty, and much smaller than the passage he had used to get into Hogsmeade through the one-eyed witch's hump at Christmas. He was sure Peter, even as short as he was, would have to stoop to pass through it.
His captor was grunting with the effort of hauling Harry's supine form behind him as they went, dragging him in starts and stops. Harry wondered whether the feather-light charm was wearing off…
Come to think of it, it was odd that Pettigrew had not used more advanced spellwork, even outside with Ron and Hermione. The Crucio he'd cast on Harry had been weak, and he'd resorted to intermediate hexes rather than deadly curses to stop Harry's friends from following. He wondered whether twelve years without practise had affected the wizard's magic, or if he was simply untalented.
Snape, of course, would have called him mediocre.
But it did not matter now.
Harry could not understand it. Why was it so hard to keep himself on task? Had Pettigrew's Cruciatus messed with his brain? He felt a rise of panic at the thought, remembering how Snape and Minerva had whispered of such a possibility in Edinburgh. But there was no way… was there? This spell had not been nearly so powerful.
Perhaps he was just in shock… yes, that would be it. After all, he had rarely been in more perilous straits.
He was sure Ron and Hermione would go for help – or he hoped they would, at any rate. He hoped they wouldn't come after him; that they would go up to the school, instead. But even if they did… could they make it, in time? Ron's leg had looked broken. And Hermione… she hadn't yet been on her feet, that Harry had seen. What if she was badly injured too? Albus was in London, Minerva with him. Remus would be transformed, or close there to. And Sirius…
Sirius would be in the Shrieking Shack. In Hogsmeade.
And his heart leapt.
The passages out of the school all led into Hogsmeade, according to Fred and George. This passage was one of them – it was on the Marauder's Map. He'd always assumed it had fallen into disuse because the Whomping Willow had been planted… but, clearly, there was a way around that obstacle.
Would this tunnel let out near Sirius? Would Harry – if he somehow managed to make his irritatingly unpredictable wandless magic kick into gear again – be able to break free and somehow find him? Would Sirius, perhaps, be able to find Harry?
After all… the Marauders had created that Map, hadn't they? Sirius was a Marauder, just like Pettigrew. He would know where it led. And Harry was sure he would come for him, if Ron and Hermione managed to alert someone at the school… if Sirius knew Harry was in trouble; if he knew Wormtail was here, he would come.
Somewhere beyond Harry's head, Wormtail was muttering to himself again.
'Not long. Not long… almost there,' he ranted as he heaved Harry along the filthy earthen floor. 'And then all will be forgiven… They wouldn't dare to whisper against me… All worth it… Harry Potter…'
Harry again realised that he'd been lying there, at war with his thoughts.
The lingering pain of the Cruciatus was naught but a ghost now, and Harry used the relief to begin his struggle again. He tried to concentrate on reaching his magical core… and, in the meantime, he resumed his writhing.
Pettigrew paused with a grunt of annoyance. Moments later, Harry felt a hard slap across his face.
'You're making this harder than it needs to be!' Wormtail complained in a hiss.
Harry did not stop his writhing. Wormtail slapped him again, but he seemed to feel motion was preferable to pausing in the damp and filthy passage. He resumed his progress with Harry.
Harry was just grateful that he hadn't been put under the Cruciatus curse again. He paid no mind to Wormtail's words, continuing to struggle and ignoring the sting where the mangled hand had struck. Pettigrew's breathing grew heavier still, as he pulled Harry along the passage floor.
After another ten minutes or so, Harry noticed that the tunnel was widening, and growing slightly taller. Pettigrew was wheezing outright with his efforts now, but he yanked Harry harder and faster all the same… they must be reaching the end.
Something pressed sharply against his back. Harry was hauled again, and a second stone joined the assault on his spine.
He realised they were moving up a flight of steps.
'Neearly there,' Wormtail muttered.
Harry's panic reached new heights.
Nearly there… Did that mean that, once they reached the top of this staircase, Pettigrew would be able to apparate away with him? Nobody had yet come… and he was nearly out of time.
With the surge of terror came the focus that had eluded Harry ever since Pettigrew had bound him. He felt the heat in his chest that he recognised, and he knew he could do it at last. He did not know the traditional spell, but he let his instincts guide him. Just as Pettigrew pulled him up onto what appeared to be the top step, Harry felt the ropes give way at last.
'What?!' Pettigrew stammered, apparently shocked. 'How did you –'
Harry did not waste a moment. He pushed himself hurriedly to his feet, and dove at the grubby little man. They struggled – both of them nearly toppling down the staircase again. All Harry could think was that he must get the wand. He must prevent Pettigrew from getting away. He must hold him, until someone came… or until Harry could reverse their positions and drag Pettigrew back down the passage.
'Harry – No! You don't… you don't know who I am. You don't understand –'
'I understand everything!' Harry ground out as he wrestled with his parents' killer. 'EVERYTHING! I can hear them… my mum and dad – dying – every time those Dementors get near me. And you did that! I know what you did – you snivelling, pathetic –'
A new voice interrupted, very close. Both Harry and Wormtail froze, turning toward it.
Sirius – inexplicably, wonderfully – stood framed in a doorway, the edges of a small sitting room just visible beyond. For a moment, no one moved, pure shock on all three faces…
And then Harry's hands were clutching nothing.
Pettigrew had transformed, again.
'NO!' Sirius shouted.
He slashed his wand through the air and Harry ducked, fleetingly sure that Sirius was aiming to kill the traitor. But then a shimmering barrier appeared in the middle of the stone staircase, blocking the Rat from his retreat down the long tunnel. The animal gave a squeal of terror and shot instead between both Harry and Sirius' legs – darting into the little room beyond the door.
Sirius tore after him, and Harry hastened to follow: blood pounding in his ears and trickling from his nose.
'GET HIM!' Sirius bellowed, racing through the room in pursuit of the rat. He himself was blasting the furniture apart with a dozen brightly-coloured spells, his face screwed up in fury and his eyes wild with rage.
'THERE!' Harry screamed, catching sight of the bald tail whipping round a corner.
Sirius dove for it but missed by inches, as the rat sped off toward what appeared to be an upper floor. Harry hurtled after him, stomping up the stairs.
'Move – out of the way!' Sirius was gasping, just feet behind him. 'I don't want to hit you when I kill –'
'We have to CAPTURE him,' Harry shouted, refusing to be deterred. He turned left at the top of the stairs after the rat. 'Not kill him, Sirius. If we kill him, you'll never be free!'
Sirius snarled, but did not reply. The rat dove through a cracked door, and Harry flung it ajar.
It was a tiny, windowless bedroom, where he surmised perhaps Sirius had been sleeping. The blankets on the little bed were mussed, and several candles were flickering: burning low in their holders on the night table and a small chest of drawers. A high wardrobe sat along the opposite wall. There were no other doors out of the room.
Harry slammed shut the one they'd run through, sealing them all inside.
'Under the bed!' Sirius growled, nodding Harry toward it. He himself began to blast the wardrobe apart the way he had most of the furniture downstairs. Harry threw himself to his stomach, wand out as he peered beneath the mattress. But the rat was not hiding in the space below. He straightened.
'He's not there, Sirius. Check the chest –'
Harry cut himself off, his heart sinking at the feminine summons. There were footsteps beyond the door – someone pounding up the stairs… voices, screaming his name.
'Go back!' he shouted desperately toward the corridor. Sirius too froze with his wand in the air, eying the back of the door warily.
'GO BACK!' Harry screamed. 'I'M FINE!'
But he had rarely spoken the phrase with less truth behind the words… and it was too late, in any case.
The door burst open once more.
'HARRY!' Hermione shouted again as she and Ron tumbled into the room. She launched herself at him at once, her face stricken. But Ron, limping in behind her, let out a bellow of rage.
'SIRIUS BLACK!' he cried, staring at Sirius in horror.
Though Ron had no wand; though Harry could see he was white-faced and panting dreadfully; he hopped between Harry and Hermione and Sirius, jaw set.
'Harry oh my God, OH MY GOD!' Hermione was ranting. Her own wand shook as she held it out, detaching herself from Harry and pulling at the back of Ron's robes to yank him back toward her cover.
'NO,' Harry screamed. He tried to bat Hermione's wand down. 'No, you don't understand. It's not what you –'
'ARGH!' Sirius growled, pelting toward the door.
And Harry saw that Pettigrew had taken advantage of the moment of chaos. His bald tail flicked out of sight round the edge of the way out, and he disappeared down the corridor again with Sirius close behind.
Harry threw himself after them – there was no time to explain to the others.
'Block the passage!' he shouted at Sirius, knowing that Ron and Hermione must have worked out some way to dismantle the barrier Sirius had installed before. He could hear Ron calling his name again behind him, but Harry did not stop in his own desperate haste to get back downstairs.
They were so close… SO CLOSE…
The sitting room was in shambles: bits of wood from the furniture, feathers from the sofa cushions and strips of the carpet littering the floor. It looked as though a rhinoceros had rampaged the house.
Yet Sirius was still blasting. He'd shut the door into the passage, and another that Harry thought might lead off to a kitchen. As Harry scrambled into the room, Sirius turned, making to cast some other spell at the small corridor to the staircase he'd just exited.
'NO!' Harry cried, lunging himself desperately back into the space. 'Ron and Hermione – you might hit them!'
As if on cue, both Ron and Hermione burst into the room after him. Ron looked as though he might be sick at any moment. His face had gone from white to green, and he was leaning most of his weight on Hermione's shoulder. Harry felt a pang of guilt for making Ron rush about in worry over him.
'Sit, Ron,' Harry said tersely. 'You'll only make it worse.'
'Harry, that's Sirius Black,' Ron said, as though Harry were being extraordinarily thick. 'You think I'm just going to sit by and let him –'
'Ron, he's not going to hurt me,' said Harry loudly.
'HAVE YOU GONE MENTAL?!' Ron retorted. 'Did you forget everything we've learned this year? Did you forget how he nearly STABBED YOU TO DEATH? Nearly KILLED ALL OF US?!'
Sirius was paying them no mind, busy upturning the sofa and muttering a stream of mixed oaths and curses.
'It's a long story,' Harry said, barely looking at Ron as his own eyes scanned the room for the rat. 'But Ron – it wasn't Sirius who betrayed my mum and dad. It wasn't Sirius who was working for Voldemort. That man… the one who was hiding as Scabbers; the one who took me… that was Peter Pettigrew. He's the traitor.'
'P-Pettigrew?' Hermione repeated faintly. 'But… Harry, that's impossible. You know it is. Pettigrew died. Black killed him, twelve years ago.'
'No, he didn't,' Harry insisted. 'Look – Dumbledore knows the truth. He's been helping me meet with Sirius, for months now. Ever since Easter break. I couldn't tell you,' he added, giving Ron in particular a guilty look. 'I wanted to. I've wanted to for ages… but I couldn't. If anyone had found out before we had captured Pettigrew, Sirius didn't have a chance. And I needed to –'
'Later, Harry!' Sirius cut in sharply. 'The Rat.'
Harry jumped, but obediently scrambled to help again with the hunt. He jerked his focus away from Ron and Hermione's frozen faces, upending the wreckage of the table to have a look beneath.
'Right here,' came the man's own squeaky voice.
Harry and Sirius both turned.
Wormtail had reappeared just where Ron had been standing. He'd thrown the red-haired boy to the floor, where Ron really did sick up at the jolt of the impact.
Harry, however, stiffened in horror as he eyed Pettigrew's arm… which was wrapped around Hermione's neck in a chokehold.
'Move an inch closer, and I will kill her,' the man threatened.
His beady eyes were desperate and darting; his breathing still coming in wheezes. But his hand, holding the tip of Ron's wand to Hermione's temple, did not quake in the slightest.
Sirius growled. 'Expell-'
'NO!' Harry shouted, diving at Sirius and forcing his wand hand down. 'No, Sirius. You can't.'
Sirius snarled again. Pettigrew began sidling toward the opposite wall, dragging Hermione with him like a human shield.
'There's nowhere to go,' Sirius told him coldly, shrugging out from Harry's grip. 'Nowhere left to run, Peter. You can't apparate inside this shack… Dumbledore put the wards up himself. And you can hardly escape the way you came. Even if you did manage to make it through the tunnel, I could have a message to the others in moments. You would never get out of the grounds alive.'
Sweat was glistening on Pettigrew's brow and the bald patch at the top of his head.
'Sirius,' he tried in a shaky voice, 'My friend… my old friend.'
'We are not friends, Peter' Sirius disagreed contemptuously. 'You ceased any claim to my friendship the moment you sold Lily and James to Lord Voldemort. Nothing would give me greater pleasure, Wormtail, than the chance to rip you limb from limb with my bare hands.'
Wormtail's small eyes flashed. Whether in anger or fear, Harry was not sure. He nodded his head toward the outer wall of the house.
'Put a hole through it,' he ordered Sirius.
Sirius gave a hollow laugh. 'You think I would help you to escape?' he mocked. 'That I, for even one moment, would listen to a fucking –'
'You, boy,' Pettigrew redirected, jerking his head at Harry instead. 'This one's your friend, isn't she?'
He shook Hermione roughly by the neck. She choked out a sob, her entire body shaking.
'Blast the wall,' he commanded. 'Or she dies.'
'Harry, don't,' Sirius said, taking one step forward. 'He's bluffing.'
'Bl-bluffing?' Pettigrew repeated, beady eyes glinting again. 'You really want to take that chance, Padfoot?'
'He hasn't got the skill for it,' Sirius went on, taking another step toward his prey. 'He never has done. That's a powerful curse, Wormtail. And I have never once seen you wield it successfully. No… you have always excelled at having others do the heavy-lifting, haven't you? Managed to stay alive, by keeping out of the difficult tasks...'
Pettigrew swallowed hard. 'There are other ways to kill, besides the curse,' he reminded Sirius with a nasty grin.
He pressed the tip of the wand harder still into Hermione's temple. She gave another hiccupped sob.
Harry raised his wand. He could not – he would not – take the risk. Would not let Hermione die at this man's hands too. Would not watch another person he loved stolen away through this man's treachery…
'Harry – don't –'
There was a blast hard enough to shake the whole house… but it wasn't from Harry's wand.
He spun, shocked, as the door from the passage exploded off its hinges; and two more men rushed into the room.
Severus had always hated this malicious tree. As he and the wolf drew close to range, the Willow began snapping its branches in anticipation, boughs swinging to block their progression.
'We should have run into Ron and Hermione by now…' Lupin muttered in confusion, a few steps back. 'In the grounds, if not in the castle. You don't think they've gone after him, do you?'
Severus did not pause to contemplate. In this moment, he could not care less what the other members of the Gryffindor golden trio had got themselves up to.
He shot a curse from the end of his wand, sending a pummelling hex directly at the knot at the base of the trunk. The death blows halted. Severus skirted a low-hanging branch and slid like a cricketer through the hollow between the tree's monstrous roots. He had only just moved aside when Lupin flumped down behind him, slightly out of breath.
'Where is he?' the wolf asked, rather stupidly.
Severus snarled, but did not bother to answer. Ignoring the wolf was becoming second nature – his companion's constant musings naught but vague humming in his ears as his mind swirled in wrath and destruction and death.
He flicked his wand again, igniting the tip. A faint glow from behind him told him Lupin had done the same at his back.
'There's no way to escape this passage,' Lupin informed him unnecessarily as they began to move down the long tunnel.
Both men were entirely too tall to make the journey quickly. Severus' spine was screaming in protest as he shuffled, bent-kneed and hunched at a near ninety-degree angle… but he absolutely refused to suffer the indignity of crawling with the wolf to witness. He suspected, from the four-limbed scrabbling he could hear behind him, that Lupin did not have the same reservations.
'The Shrieking Shack is at the only other way out of this –'
'I know where this wretched passage leads,' Severus interrupted testily. 'I have been here before, Lupin… or had you forgotten?'
He could feel the werewolf's scowl, even if he could not see him. 'Of course I haven't,' the man said quietly. 'I just meant to –'
'Shut up, you idiot!' Severus snapped. 'What if they have not yet made it to your precious mutt? Do you wish to give away our position?'
'It isn't as though there's much a chance of hiding our position in here,' Lupin pointed out.
And he was quite right. The passage was already so narrow that they were forced to move single-file. Should Pettigrew choose to chance a retreat from the Shack, they stood no chance of avoiding his notice.
Not that Severus cared to avoid him, in the slightest.
The passage was longer than Severus remembered; though admittedly he had not traversed the full length during his single previous visit. He had also been several inches shorter, nearly twenty years younger, and several dozen Cruciatus curses lighter on that excursion.
It seemed to take ages to reach an end… though, of course, the Shrieking Shack was on the very outskirts of the village. At long last, however, the tunnel began to widen and raise. Severus felt hot breath as the werewolf took the opportunity to move alongside him. There was a short staircase ahead, a shimmering purple haze obscuring the door to the house from sight. Severus moved toward it, wand out to dispel the barrier…
But he jumped back; pushing roughly into Lupin as he bit down on a cry of pain.
'What is it?' Lupin demanded, steadying Severus much to the latter's chagrin. 'Is the barrier cursed? Peter –'
'No,' Severus said through gritted teeth. He gave in to temptation, rubbing at the searing pain in his left forearm. 'This was not Pettigrew… it is Black's work.'
'Sirius?' Lupin repeated in confusion. 'But why would –'
'To stop Pettigrew retreating, you dolt,' Severus spat. He felt slightly humiliated having to give the request out loud. 'You may pass through without harm, I expect… but you will need to remove it for me. I could undo the enchantment, but it would take time that we do not have.'
'But why –'
'It is spelled against those with the Mark,' Severus ground out impatiently. 'An old Order barrier – surely you recognise it? I'm sure I do not have to lay out why I cannot –'
'No, alright,' Lupin said quickly. He stepped around Severus, brandishing his wand.
Lupin spun the weapon in an intricate pattern at the purple haze, and Severus felt the lingering pulse of heat in his arm dissipate. He grunted something that might have been gratitude, and brushed past the wolf to be first up the stairs.
The door, naturally, was locked. Severus did not feel in a mood for testing which charm might counter it.
'Confringo!' he bellowed instead, directing the blasting hex straight at the centre of the wood.
With a colossal explosion, the door was blown off its hinges.
The room – Severus registered in a split second's glance – was a complete disaster. The werewolf might have just left it after one of his monthly terrors. Potter was standing in the middle of the wreckage, his wand outstretched before him. Black stood a few paces in front of him, frozen like the boy with his face turned to the door. The Weasley brat was sprawled on the ground, clearly injured, his robes nauseatingly splashed with what appeared to be sick.
And the Rat was rat no longer.
He looked nearly the same as Severus remembered – though a bit thinner and with far less hair. He was poised adjacent to the exterior wall, Granger pressed to his chest with his wand at her temple. The girl was sobbing. Pettigrew's eyes – like the boy's and the mutt's – were fixed on the newcomers.
'Expelliarmus!' Severus cried at once.
The man's wand flew high into the air, and Severus caught it as he rushed into the room. Pettigrew gave a squeal of terror. He threw the girl in Severus' path and turned to run.
'Don't even think about it!' Lupin snarled, stepping in to block the traitor's escape. Pettigrew made to push past him, and Lupin shoved him roughly. He fell to his back on the ground, scrambling backward like a crab as Lupin loomed overhead, his wand trained on Pettigrew's chest.
Severus caught Granger before she could take them both down. He set her on her feet distractedly. The he turned, the cold fury building in his chest again as he stalked toward the cornered rat.
'Are you alight?' Harry asked Hermione anxiously. The adults were swarming Pettigrew's fallen form… but Harry knew he owed Hermione and Ron his attention for a moment.
She gave a tentative nod, wiping the remnants of tears from her cheeks. 'Fine,' she assured him. 'Ron?'
Hermione hurried over to check on him, hissing in sympathy as she lifted the robes over his injured leg.
'I'll live,' Ron said darkly. He gave a sardonic smile as he pushed himself a bit straighter on the floor, though he did not make any attempt to stand. 'Blimey, never have an easy end of term, do we?' he joked.
Harry managed the shadow of a grin. From the corner, he could hear Pettigrew grovelling. He left Hermione to fuss over Ron, moving closer to the others.
' – was never brave like you, or Remus or James,' the rat was sobbing, apparently to Sirius. 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named would have killed me! He tricked me, Sirius, he –'
'DO NOT LIE!' Sirius spat, as Harry came up behind them. 'The charm allows only the willing revelation of the Secret-Keeper, Peter. You knew precisely what you were doing. You were passing information to Voldemort for a year before James and Lily were killed. You betrayed the entire Order…'
'What's the Order?' Harry asked curiously.
Everyone ignored him.
'You were the spy,' Snape put in quietly. His obsidian eyes were glittering; his face full of suppressed triumph as he inched closer to Pettigrew. 'How the idiots in the Order did not see that I have no idea… but now you are hated everywhere, aren't you, Pettigrew? Your friends in the Order have learned your true colours; and your Death Eater comrades would want your blood just as badly, perhaps more so, if they knew you survived. You sent the Dark Lord to his destruction…'
'No!' Pettigrew shouted. He was looking at Snape with nearly as much fear as he had Sirius. 'No… I did not know!'
'Know what?' Remus challenged. 'Know that you were betraying your best friends; the people that would have died for you, and gladly, had your roles been reversed? Or known that you were leading your true master to his downfall?'
Wormtail gulped. His gaze darted between the three men and the door… but he did not reply to the query.
'The latter, I suspect,' Snape answered for him. 'He would not have stayed hidden these twelve long years, from a man believed to be entombed in Azkaban. No… he kept his pathetic existence in the shadows because he feared the Dark Lord's wrath; or his followers' quest for retribution. They are not so easy a lot to outrun,' he added with a malicious leer. 'They do not have the headmaster's compassion. They do not forgive…'
'Vengeance…' he crooned, sneering down at Pettigrew as he stepped closer, 'Is very sweet…'
'What you claim to have known does not matter,' Sirius said quietly. He too moved forward another step.
Remus mirrored the advance. 'What you should have known, Wormtail… was that if Voldemort did not kill you, we certainly would.'
He pushed back his sleeves, nodding once to Sirius, and once – almost shocking Harry with the oddly courteous gesture – to Snape.
In unison, the three men pointed their wands straight at Pettigrew's chest.
He whimpered again, shaking on the ground: nowhere left to run.
A thrill rose up Harry's spine.
This was it. This was the moment. This was the man – the pathetic, traitorous, worthless little man who had sent Lord Voldemort to his parents' home that night. The man who had stolen them from Harry forever; killed them, with his greed and his betrayal, just as assuredly as if he'd struck the fatal curse himself. Harry could get his revenge, in this moment. He could let Sirius and Remus and Snape avenge his parents' murders… His life, for theirs. A debt, repaid. Justice.
But… was it? Was this what justice felt like?
If it was, then why did Harry have a feeling in his chest as though someone were running electricity through his heart? If this was righteous – then why did he feel as though the world were about to burn?
Harry flung himself between the men and Pettigrew, his arms outstretched. Remus and Sirius paused, lowering their wands at once, but Snape pushed forward with a dangerous glint in his eyes.
'OUT OF THE WAY, POTTER!' he growled.
Harry refused to move.
'You can't kill him!' he pleaded. 'You can't! Albus says… he says it damages the soul forever, taking a life. And he's more use to us alive, anyway. His testimony can prove Sirius is innocent – the Minister will have to listen! Then he can go to the Dementors: can rot in Azkaban, like he deserves.'
'He deserves worse than that,' Sirius muttered darkly. 'He warrants no mercy, Harry. He deserves the Kiss, for the things he's done.'
'A fate worse than Death,' Harry remembered, acknowledging Sirius but not shifting his gaze from Snape. 'Let him have that, sir. Let them take him away. Let them take his soul, if that's what the Ministry decides to do to him. But don't… don't kill him.'
Even as he said the words, he was surprising himself – a little – that they came. Until this final moment; until the choice was really staring him in the face… he had thought he'd wanted Pettigrew dead just as badly as they did.
'You are the only one who truly has the right to decide, Harry,' Sirius opined, though he looked very much as though it cost him everything to spare the betrayer's life. 'But… are you sure? Quite sure? Don't worry about me; we can prove my case without the help of this vermin's breath. His body would be sufficient to –'
'No,' said Harry firmly. 'If he's dead, how can we be sure they'll believe your version of things? We've done what we meant to do: we've captured him. And…' he hesitated, unable to think quite how to phrase this next bit. 'I didn't know my dad, the way that you did,' he began, looking at both Sirius and Remus now. 'I'll never have the chance to –'
'Because of him!' Sirius interrupted viciously.
Harry held up a hand. 'Let me finish!' he insisted.
Sirius was breathing heavily again, but he nodded.
'I'll never know my dad,' Harry went on, 'Or my mum. Not like you did. But I…' he swallowed hard. 'I've seen them – bits of them, in memories. I've heard about them: from you, Albus, Minerva, Aberforth and even Bathilda. I know that they were good. They stood up for what was right. And… I can't imagine they'd want you to become murderers. Not like this. Not for Wormtail. This isn't a battle or a war… it isn't as though you haven't got another choice. So do what they would have wanted. Give Pettigrew to the Ministry. Get justice, the way it's supposed to happen.'
There was a moment of silence as he finished. Then Remus stowed his wand, laying a hand on Sirius' arm. He looked at the Potions Master.
'Harry is right, Severus,' Remus said softly. 'We'll take him back to the school; to Albus. He can handle the Ministry. Sirius – come on.'
He pulled Sirius away from the crouched, snivelling form upon the floor. Sirius let himself be dragged back and pushed into the one threadbare chair on the opposite side of the little room that had mercifully survived his rampage without comment, looking a bit ornery but resigned. Remus perched himself on the arm.
Harry relaxed just a fraction. But then –
'NO!' Snape cried.
His face was twisted – almost deranged. He looked beyond any level of fury Harry had ever witnessed before. Closing the distance in two long strides, he grabbed Harry by the shoulder and tossed him roughly aside. Harry skittered on his bum along the ground, his wand clattering away as he shot out his hands to save his face from impact.
All was chaos.
Remus and Sirius half-rose from their places again, Sirius reaching toward Harry from across the room and Remus turning to Snape…
Ron and Hermione gave identical shrieks of horror, rushing toward him too…
But Harry saw only the two at the centre of the conflict: Pettigrew, his arms over his face in terror, on his back upon the floor; and Snape – his wand arm raised, his eyes glinting, a deadly curse at his lips.
'Professor, STOP!' Harry bellowed.
It happened before he knew what, exactly, it was. Before he could even think about controlling it.
Snape's wand slashed through the air, his mouth spewing what Harry knew instinctively were fatal words… and Harry's magic reacted faster than his conscious mind. He flung out a hand from his place on the floor – and a powerful beam of light shot from his palm to do his bidding. The spell was pure white, and brighter than any Harry could remember casting before in his life.
It smacked Snape hard in the chest.
The Potions Master's wand spun clear across the room, falling to the floor at Hermione's feet. The man was blown backward with as much force as the door he himself had exploded off its hinges. His face flashed from rage to shock and back to fury again, before he crashed hard into the opposite wall… sliding to the ground where he remained, still and motionless.
'Merlin!' Ron exclaimed in a shaky voice.
'Oh my God,' Hermione squealed in terror. 'Harry – oh my God! You've attacked –'
'Severus,' Remus said, jumping up at once to go crouch at Snape's side. He started to shake his shoulder. 'Severus!'
Harry turned, shaken from his own numb contemplation of Snape's unconscious form as Pettigrew shuffled toward him on his knees.
'Harry… sweet boy… kind boy… you saved my –'
'GET AWAY FROM HIM!' Sirius growled. He too had jumped fully to his feet, though Harry had not noticed. Sirius pushed Pettigrew forcefully away from him, his face as furious as Snape's had been before the attack.
'You are lucky that Harry was here,' he hissed in a low voice. 'I assure you, Wormtail, I would not have been so generous. I would have let Snape –'
'Is he alright?' Harry asked anxiously over Sirius' diatribe. He scrambled off the ground, trying to get around his godfather to have a look at Snape.
'He's been knocked out,' Remus told him seriously. 'But I don't think he is in any immediate danger. You were just a bit… over enthusiastic. There shan't be any lasting damage.'
Harry's heart relaxed a tiny bit, though he doubted this assessment. He was glad that the professor would not be permanently disabled from Harry's surge of magic… but he was willing to bet everything he owned – including his new Firebolt – that Snape's reaction to Harry's show of temper would not be quite so empathetic. Not least because this sort of brute force wandless casting was precisely what Snape had been trying to deter Harry from using for almost the entire year.
'Harry, where the hell did that come from?' Ron demanded, as if following Harry's mental train of thought. He sat up a bit straighter, looking both impressed and wary. 'I knew you'd been taking those lessons, mate, but that was –'
'Really bad,' Harry finished, with another dark look at the professor's crumpled form. 'Really bad… Snape's going to kill me when he wakes up.'
'He won't,' Sirius growled. 'I promise you, Harry. I will not allow him to say a damn word about it.'
Remus' eyes softened as he looked into Harry's anxious face. 'Severus will understand, Harry,' he said.
Harry gave a hollow laugh. His adrenaline was fading now and – as he always had done after a particularly powerful bout of wandless magic – he was starting to feel rather drained.
'You should sit,' Remus opined, apparently picking up on this. Harry ignored him.
'Can't – can't you wake Professor Snape, sir?' Hermione asked tearfully. She was still sitting next to Ron on the floor. Her fingers trembled as she picked up Snape's wand from where Harry's spell had flung it against her trainers.
Remus shook his head. 'I could, but it would not be wise,' he told her gently. 'It is best not to disturb someone with a head injury… until either they come to on their own, or someone with more healing training has had a look.'
Harry was not sure whether this was true. He suspected, for all Remus' talk of understanding, that the Defence professor too recognised that Snape was likely to murder Harry the moment his eyes reopened. Perhaps he thought it would be unwise to unleash Snape's anger in the Shack again.
'In fact,' Remus went on, looking around the room, 'We ought to be getting back, Sirius. We must speak to Albus. Severus should see Madam Pomfrey, and the children –'
'Hang on!' Ron put in angrily. 'You aren't going to explain what the hell is going on here?! How did this all happen? Who knew about it? Why hasn't the Ministry been told? And how long –' he faltered, looking ill again. 'How long has this man been sleeping on my pillow?!'
Harry, Remus and Sirius all exchanged tense looks.
'We should tell him,' Harry said, when it appeared the others were not going to speak. 'They… they deserve to know. I can't stand keeping the secret.'
'Then do it quickly,' Sirius said in a clipped voice. He still kept his wand trained on Pettigrew, his eyes hard. He took one step forward and Harry wavered before he began, sliding himself toward the prisoner again.
'Relax,' Sirius said, laying his right hand on Harry's arm. 'I'm only going to bind him, I swear.'
Harry gazed into his eyes for a moment, trying to discern whether he was lying… then he nodded. Sirius waved his left hand at the man on the floor, and ropes – thicker and darker than those Pettigrew had used on Harry – wound themselves snakelike around the wizard's body. Sirius gave a second flick of his wand, and a gag wedged itself between Wormtail's teeth.
'Alright,' he said. 'Go ahead, Harry.'
So Harry explained – abbreviated, and with some help from Remus and Sirius – about everything. He told Ron and Hermione about the Fidelius Charm and the switch… how Pettigrew had managed to escape the Ministry and tricked them into blaming Sirius… how Albus had discovered the truth, and the weeks since. He even explained – after a significant look at Remus and with many muttered interruptions from Ron – about Remus being a werewolf, and how that had led all three of his friends into becoming Animagi. Remus and Sirius added some information Harry had not known: including that the house they were in was, in fact, the Shrieking Shack… and that this was where Remus had come to transform, when he'd been at Hogwarts as a student and the Wolfsbane Potion was not yet in existence.
When he'd finished, Ron looked down at the man who had been acting his pet for the past decade with pure hatred in his face. 'I should have let the cat have him after all,' he mumbled savagely.
Sirius grinned. 'Smart cat,' he said, giving Hermione a respectful inclination of his head. 'He might have a bit of Kneazle in him, that one. I managed to convince him I was trustworthy… he was helping me, trying to bring Peter to me.'
'Sirius, we need to go,' Lupin said again, watching Pettigrew with a frown. 'Albus should be back shortly…'
Sirius nodded, and Harry moved to help Ron.
'Wait,' Sirius called, stepping toward them. He pointed his wand at Ron's leg. 'Ferula.'
Ron allowed Harry and Hermione to pull him to his feet, testing his weight gingerly on the injured leg. He managed to put it down without wincing too badly.
'Thanks,' he said to Sirius. Then he looked around. 'My wand – Pettigrew was using it...'
Remus rummaged in Snape's robes for a moment. He held out the wand, and Harry passed it back. Ron took it gratefully.
Remus was pacing, rubbing at his chin. 'We'll have to drag him,' he muttered to Sirius.
Sirius nodded. He moved to hover over Pettigrew again. 'Fine,' he agreed. 'But if you transform, Peter, we will kill you.'
He looked at Harry as he said it. Harry nodded slowly, so that Pettigrew would see. Sirius bent down to gather up the robes that bound the traitor. Harry moved to help Ron and Hermione toward the door. He paused, looking at the Potions Master.
'Sirius,' Remus called, a bit softer.
'Sirius, what about Snape?' Harry asked.
Sirius hesitated. 'I can levitate him,' he decided. 'Here – you and Hermione drag this thing, and I'll –'
Harry, Ron, Hermione and Sirius all turned. Lupin was frozen in his pacing, suddenly bathed in a cool light from the window, creeping through the tattered curtains…
His body was rigid, yet shaking… his face arrested in an expression of mingled horror and pain…
And Harry realised with a jolt what was about to happen.
'No… potion…' Remus ground out, his eyes shifting from desperation to madness like a man fighting demon possession.
Sirius' jaw dropped in horror.
Harry's heart was pounding, every hair he had on end…
'He hasn't taken the Wolfsbane!' Hermione squealed, her hand flying to her mouth. 'He's… he won't be safe!'
'SIRIUS – GET THEM OUT!' Remus roared in a strangled cry. His hands were balled into fists, his very magic changing, shifting…
His face was elongating, his clothing ripping as fur sprouted out from his skin… his hands burst their fists, morphing grotesquely… growing claws long as daggers…
He was transforming.
And Harry could see that he couldn't control it. Not this time.
Remus was becoming Werewolf, before their very eyes.
Review Responses, Chapter 40
Anyeshabaner: Thanks for your review! Haha, yes… Remus, in fact, has been quietly losing his mind over the past few chapters. The potion mishap is sort of the culmination of that distraction. As to how the story will end – you know I can't tell you that ;). But hopefully you will enjoy it all the same. There are important developments for Sirius' character that I am excited to share. Enjoy Chapter 41!
Valkyrie-Sythe: Thanks for reviewing! Haha perfectly true… When Albus leaves, chaos doth often ensue. Hope you like the next chapter!
SPJaymo117: Thank you for reviewing! Haha, I completely understand… I often have to read straight to the end of what's available before reviewing too; it's difficult to pause. But I am glad to see your comments now, and very happy you're enjoying the books thus far! I actually quite like your theory… but I don't want to comment on quite how this tale will end. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing!
Mwinter1: Thank you for your review! I'm trying to keep the updates as quick as I can.
Leonore: Thanks for reviewing! I'm very glad you're enjoying the story so much and happy to hear you felt it was organic – I don't want to make this a 'deux ex machina' conclusion. Ah – Albus out of the castle never bodes well, does it? And on Cho – great to see you enjoyed her inclusion in the Trelawney scene. There is definitely a story to the bit about her mum, but it wasn't the right moment for that revelation. We will have it though, eventually. She's another character with more behind her story that what we've seen so far. The kidnapping is where we'll pick up this chapter… but I had to put the Sirius scene with Harry in this last one, for reasons that I think will become clear, even though originally I'd thought about sitting on that one. Glad you liked it here.
Enjoy Chapter 41!