Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals: Book Three.
Or, "Aspie Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."
Note: I do not own this. J. K. Rowling does. This is just fan fiction. No money is being made.
Note 2: There may be a few bits and pieces lifted word-for-word from the canon material. I tried to do that as little as possible, though.
Note 3: My writing has suffered from my fear of the Trump administration. :( As if I needed more things getting in the way of my writing. But that's why it's been so long between chapters.
Chapter 5: Yuletide Surprises
Harry woke up the next morning feeling blue. He hadn't gotten an invitation to spend Yule and Christmas with the Weasleys this year because Sirius Black was after him (and had been spotted a few times in the area), so the Burrow wouldn't be safe. Ron and Hermione had decided to stay behind, though. They gave excuses for why, but he knew the real reason was to be with him during the holidays, since he couldn't go to the Burrow. He appreciated it very much.
Sighing, he finally dragged himself out of bed and got ready to go down to breakfast. As usual, he squirreled away some spare food for Shadow the stray dog, and went out after breakfast to feed said stray. Since he knew he'd be doing this, he had carried his winter cloak with him to breakfast, shrugging it on before heading outside, with a woolen hat on over his head. He hated the texture of wool, it made him cringe, but it was a warm hat, so he tolerated it.
Shadow didn't come out to meet him as usual. Harry found him in the doghouse Harry had made, with its warming charms. He lured the dog out into the cold with sausage and bacon, and while Shadow ate the food, Harry renewed the warming charms. He hadn't yet gotten far enough in Ancient Runes to put any runes on the doghouse, as they were just learning the runes for the first half of the year. Shadow, shivering, went back into the dog house as soon as this was done and went back to sleep. Harry smiled, though he was a little disappointed.
Instead of moping, though, he got up and went back toward the castle. He met Ron and Hermione on the way there.
"Where're you two off to?" he asked.
"Hagrid's hut. We thought maybe you'd gone there."
"Nope. Went off to feed Shadow. But going to Hagrid's sounds like a good idea."
Ron nodded, and the three of them set off to Hagrid's hut, trailing a trench through the thick snow as they did, the only marks on the snow except for the trail from Shadow's doghouse.
When they got there, they knocked, but there wasn't any immediate answer. There was, however, an odd noise from within, that sounded like a wounded dog. Concerned, they knocked again, harder.
There was a sound of heavy footsteps, then the door creaked open. Hagrid stood there with his eyes red and swollen, tears splashing down the front of his leather vest.
"Yeh've heard?" he bellowed, and he flung himself onto Harry's neck.
Harry made a noise like a squirrel being trodden on. Having a man as huge as Hagrid hanging onto you when you were a 13 year old boy who could pass for 11 was not a fun experience, and soon Ron and Hermione were helping Harry out from under the massive man.
"Hagrid, what is it?" said Hermione, aghast.
Harry spotted an official-looking letter lying open on the table.
"What's this, Hagrid?"
Hagrid's sobs redoubled, but he shoved the letter toward Harry, who picked it up and read aloud:
Dear Mr. Hagrid,
Further to our inquiry into the attack by a hippogriff on a student in your class, we have accepted the assurances of Professor Dumbledore that you bear no responsibility for the regrettable incident.
"Well, that's okay then, Hagrid!" said Ron, clapping Hagrid on the shoulder. But Hagrid continued to sob, and waved one of his gigantic hands, inviting Harry to read on.
However, we must register our concern about the hippogriff in question. We have decided to uphold the official complaint of Mr. Lucius Malfoy and Mr. Goyle, and this matter will therefore be taken to the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. The hearing will take place on April 20th, and we ask you to present yourself and your hippogriff at the Committee's offices in London on that date. In the meantime, the hippogriff should be kept tethered and isolated.
Yours in fellowship …
There followed a list of the school governors.
"Oh," said Ron. "But you said Buckbeak isn't a bad hippogriff, Hagrid. I bet he'll get off—"
"Yeh don' know them gargoyles at the Committee fer the Disposal o' Dangerous Creatures!" choked Hagrid, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. "They've got it in fer interestin' creatures!"
A sudden sound from the corner of Hagrid's cabin made Harry, Ron, and Hermione whip around. Buckbeak the hippogriff was lying in the corner, chomping on something that was oozing blood all over the floor.
"I couldn' leave him tied up out there in the snow!" choked Hagrid. "All on his own! At Christmas."
They gave one another significant looks. Hagrid had a fixation on monstrous beasts. Though by Hagrid's usual standards, Buckbeak was a kitten.
"You'll have to put up a good strong defense, Hagrid," said Hermione, sitting down and laying a hand on Hagrid's massive forearm. "I'm sure you can prove Buckbeak is safe."
"Won't make no diff'rence!" sobbed Hagrid. "Them Disposal devils, they're all in Lucius Malfoy's pocket! Scared o' him! An' if I lose the case, Buckbeak —"
Hagrid drew his finger swiftly across his throat, then gave a great wail and lurched forward, his face in his arms.
"What does Lucius Malfoy have to do with it?" Harry asked, confused.
"He's friends with Goyle's father, remember?" Ron said.
"Oh yeah. And still evil. So, er... what about Dumbledore, Hagrid?" said Harry.
"He's done more'n enough fer me already," groaned Hagrid. "Got enough on his plate what with keepin' them dementors outta the castle, an' Sirius Black lurkin' around —"
They continued to reassure Hagrid that they would do everything they could to help. Ron made everyone some tea as they talked. In the end, they got him to buck up. They began to speak of other things, then, like the boring flobberworms they'd had to do in class lately, which had all died from overfeeding. And, depressing as it was, the conversation turned to Azkaban, since Hagrid had to walk past the dementors to get to Hogsmeade for a drink. Harry briefly considered telling him about the secret passage into Honeydukes, but decided against it. Among other considerations, Hagrid would not have been able to fit through the entrance.
They assured Hagrid they would help him with research to defend Buckbeak, and tried to press on. But Hagrid was too depressed to be good at conversation today, so eventually they went back up to the castle and on to the library to do research for Hagrid's case.
They did a lot of research for Hagrid the week leading up to Christmas, with time-out on the 21st for Ron and Harry to do the ritual burning of the Yule Log, which Hermione watched on in fascination, her own parents being culturally Christian but not greatly religious. She'd never even heard of paganism still existing before Harry told her about it.
Shadow, when Harry visited him, was acting agitated for some reason. Harry would have said the dog was preoccupied, but he wasn't sure dogs could be preoccupied. But then, maybe Shadow was a magical dog; magical animals, be they owls, rats, or cats, tended to be more intelligent than Muggle animals. So for all he knew, the dog was preoccupied about something. He just wished he knew what it was.
About the only clue he had was that the dog seemed to get more agitated whenever Harry mentioned Ron. Something about Ron was bothering the dog. With this possibility in mind, Harry brought Ron over to Shadow one day, to see what the dog's reaction would be.
As they approached, Shadow appeared on a snowbank and looked curiously at them. When they got closer, he sniffed Ron with what looked like a concerned look in his eyes. He sniffed Ron's pockets the longest, with the most scrutiny, and even pawed at the pockets, but then looked disappointed when he didn't find whatever it was he was looking for.
"Oy, what's he sniffing me for?"
Harry shrugged. "No idea. Something's been bothering him for a while. Not sure what."
"I don't have any food for you, boy, if that's what you're after," Ron said.
But when Harry offered Shadow some sausage from breakfast, Shadow sniffed it, then took it and ate it with a reluctance that made Harry think the dog was disappointed, and was only settling for the offer.
"They didn't have any bacon today, sorry boy," Harry said.
Shadow looked up at him as though to say 'Don't patronize me,' but then shook himself and looked a little more relaxed.
On the day before Christmas, Harry went out on his own to Shadow again, giving the dog some ham from breakfast. The dog still looked worried, but didn't move around as much, as though thinking. Harry appreciated the calmer energy, and cleared the snow off his favorite stone with his wand so he could sit down and watch Shadow pace back and forth a little. It was odd, but the pacing did make it seem like he was thinking.
After a few minutes, Harry got bored. Wondering what Hermione and Ron were doing, he got out the Marauder's Map. When he said "I solemnly swear I am up to no good," Shadow froze in place, his head snapping around and ears perking up. Then the dog came over and looked, goggle-eyed, at the Map.
"You like that, boy? Well just remember to look, not touch."
The dog whined in a way Harry had a hard time identifying, and kept looking at the map, as though looking for something specific. Then the dog's gaze froze, looking at the Griffindor tower, and he whuffed several times, poking his nose at it.
"Oh yeah, that's my friend Ron. Wait a minute... what?"
Harry pulled the Map closer to his own eyes, to get a better look.
"Now that has to be a mistake. It says 'Peter Pettigrew.' But he's dead!"
Shadow barked at full volume several times.
"What's wrong, Shadow?"
The dog looked at Harry, then played dead, got back up, and ran off, before coming back, looking at Harry expectantly. Harry just looked confused. Shadow did it again.
"Yes, dead. That's what dead means. But dead people don't get back up again."
Shadow did it yet again.
"I told you, dead people don't- wait... unless he's not dead. Could he have faked his death? That would explain the oddity of only one finger and some robes being found. But that's silly. Even if he were alive, why would he fake his death? And he couldn't be here at Hogwarts."
Shadow barked, then got up close to the Map again and pointed, whuffing, at McGonagall in her office.
"What? What about Professor McGonagall?"
Shadow began, then, to act like a cat. It was confusing Harry even more, even when Shadow would pause this cat behavior to bark and point at McGonagall.
And then he got it, and gasped. "Wait, McGonagall is an animagus. What if Pettigrew was one, too? SCABBERS! He's missing a toe! And didn't Ron say he's at least 12 years old? That's an... interesting number, given what happened 12 years ago. And rats don't live that long, normally."
Shadow barked in a way that sounded like agreement.
Then Harry shrewdly looked at Shadow. "You know, if I didn't know a very clever cat, I'd almost suspect you were an animagus, too. But that would be a bit unbelievable."
Something about Shadow's body language made Harry suspicious. Then several things clicked into place in his mind. It was impossible, surely? But then, this was the wizarding world. If Peter Pettigrew was an unregistered animagus...
"Shadow? If... well, if you are an animagus, you can reveal yourself to me. I think I know who you are, anyway."
Shadow whined and cocked his head.
"Yes, I'm sure."
The dog nodded, looked around to make sure they were alone, then, suddenly, was a man. Harry had to work at not flinching, even though he had been kinda expecting this. For right in front of him was Sirius Black, who was kneeling in the snow with his hands in the air. Harry got out his wand and pointed it at the man, more as a just-in-case measure.
"I'm sorry for the ruse, Harry," said a voice that sounded like it hadn't been used in years, "but it's not safe for me out here. In fact, it's cold enough out here I won't be able to feel the dementors coming. I know somewhere we can talk in private, if you're willing to trust me."
Harry didn't say anything at first. He was still trying to rearrange his thoughts. This morning, he had been talking to his pet dog. Now he was faced with the truth that his pet was actually a man. And as weird as that was, if Harry was right about Pettigrew, Ron was in an extremely creepy situation that made his own look like hilarious hijinks by comparison.
Finally, he said, "No, I don't know you enough to trust you. Yes, you could have killed me at any time this year, but still, I don't even know you."
Sirius nodded. "I understand."
"Good. Do you have a wand?"
Sirius gave an unhappy bark of laughter. "Of course not. It's still in Azkaban, or wherever it is they put prisoners' wands. I don't need a wand to transform, though."
Harry nodded. "Immobulus," he said, gluing the man to the ground with a spell. "So you can tell me why you're here, explain the situation to me best you can, as quickly as you can, then turn back to a dog."
"Thank you. So, what happened. Well, to start, I wasn't your parents' secret keeper. I was going to be, but then I convinced your parents to switch to their other friend Peter at the last minute. I thought it was a great ruse. Nobody would suspect the weak, talentless Peter. The way the Fidelius Charm works, the secret keepers are chosen by the people who have to be hidden. We didn't even tell Dumbledore, who cast the spell, that we'd switched. The night it happened, I went to check on Peter, but he wasn't where he should have been. I'd had no idea til then that he was a traitor, but there was no sign of a struggle, so I figured it out. I rushed to your parents' house, but it was too late.
"Hagrid was there by the time I got there, collecting you from the debris. He told me Dumbledore said you were to go to your aunt and uncle's. I thought even then that was a stupid idea, but I trusted Dumbledore and Hagrid, and I was too beset by grief to object too strenuously. And then I made the second greatest mistake of my life, and went after Pettigrew without even telling Hagrid the truth. I could have; the house and two of its three occupants were dead, so the Fidelius Charm was not working anymore. But like I said, I wasn't thinking straight.
"I chased Pettigrew down, thinking to stop him and turn him in, telling Dumbledore the truth. But he called out for everyone to hear that I was the traitor, blasted the street apart, turned into a rat, and ran away. Between Peter outwitting me, the dead bodies and debris everywhere, and the fact I had almost no chance to find him after that, I had a bit of a mental breakdown and started laughing like mad. I think I was still laughing when they threw me in Azkaban.
"And then other things happened in the aftermath of Voldemort's fall. Several of his most loyal lieutenants went looking for him, and tortured the Aurors Frank and Alice Longbottom for information. They went too far, driving the pair of them insane, because of course nobody but Voldemort knew where he was at that time. That drew so much outrage from the community that between that and the rest of the post-Voldemort chaos, they forgot about me, and I never got a trial as a result. I think there was some kind of unofficial hearing where Fudge testified against me, since he was there when I was arrested.
"Now, I didn't know any of this at the time, I've only pieced it together since then from newspapers and eavesdropping and other scattered news sources."
"Okay," said Harry. "I have some questions. But before I ask them, we should go somewhere safer. You said you knew somewhere we could go?"
"Yes. But, er... it's daylight out. And there aren't as many students to keep track of. The entrance to the place I had in mind is kind of out in the open. You might want to go back for your father's cloak."
"You know about- of course you do, you were friends in school. But, er... it's kinda snowy out there, people might spot that."
"Right. But from a window? When all the light is bouncing around? Anyway, I'll be in front of you as Shadow, that'll disguise it somewhat. I'll wait here for you in dog form."
Sirius then turned into a dog again, and sat there waiting.
Harry wiped the Map, put it away, and went back up to the castle to fetch his invisibility cloak. He avoided the library, which he knew from looking at the Map before wiping it, was where Ron and Hermione were. Within 20 minutes, he was heading back to Shadow—er, Sirius with the Cloak in his pocket.
Shadow was there waiting. He waited for Harry to put the Cloak on, and then led the way. As soon as Harry saw they were heading toward the Whomping Willow, he had half a notion where they were going. Harry watched Shadow weave through the swinging branches and hit a knot, freezing them in place, allowing Harry to climb through the hole in the roots behind Shadow.
Once they were in and along the path enough to reasonably not be heard, Harry asked, "Where are we going?"
Shadow just whuffed in an annoyed sort of way.
"Oh yeah, changing in here might be a little painful. Sorry."
As they went along, Harry's mind was going, processing the strange situation. You are trusting an escaped prisoner, who was accused of mass murder, and a name on a questionable magical artifact, it said.
Yes, but he could have killed me at any time. He could have torn my throat out and it would just seem like an animal attack.
His mind didn't have an answer to that one yet. So he knew he was trusting his own understanding of the situation, and not just an escaped prisoner charged with murder.
The tunnel began to rise, until it got to the end. Shadow did something, disappearing, and suddenly there was a square of dim light shining down from the ceiling. It was a trapdoor, and led into a very disordered, dusty room. Paper was peeling from the walls; there were stains all over the floor; every piece of furniture was broken as though somebody had smashed it. The windows were all boarded up. He climbed up after Shadow/Sirius and shut the trapdoor behind him, very much aware as he did what Hermione and Ron would say if they knew he was here in what looked like the Shrieking Shack with Black.
Black, for his part, remained a dog until Harry was standing and had his wand out. When he turned back to a human, he was again kneeling and had his arms in the air in surrender. Though Harry realized now he only had the man's word that he was unarmed, and wasn't sure how good a wand would do against a 30-some year old Animagus. He stood back a bit from Black just in case.
"Expelliarmus!" he cast at the man just in case. Black was pushed back a bit, but managed to keep from falling over.
"Good thinking, Harry. Can't be too careful. I don't suppose you've learned the Summoning Charm yet?"
"Not yet. I am ahead of my year in a lot of things, but I haven't learned that one yet."
"Ah. Well I'd tell you how to do it, but it might take even you a day or two to actually figure out how to cast it. But I assure you I don't have a wand. Where would I get one? They don't let prisoners have wands."
"True. I believe you on that. Doesn't mean you couldn't have stolen one somehow. Anyway, I have some questions, as I said."
"I'll try my best to answer them."
"How did you escape Azkaban? For that matter, how did you keep your powers in Azkaban, after 12 years?"
"I'm not sure. But I think it's because I knew I was innocent. I stayed there because I felt I deserved it for convincing James and Lily to switch secret keepers to Peter, but that didn't change the fact I knew I was innocent. It wasn't a happy thought, so the dementors couldn't take it from me. So when things got to be too much, I would transform into a dog in my cell. Dementors are blind, sensing people by their emotions, and animal emotions are hard for them to sense."
"How did you know where Peter Pettigrew was?"
"Only by luck. It can get boring in Azkaban if you're able to keep your mind like I did, so one day I asked Fudge for the paper when he was inspecting the place. I told him I wanted to do the crossword, but really I wanted news of you, since you're my godson and all that's left of my best friend and his wife. That's when I spotted... well, if you'll let me pull it out of my robes, it's a newspaper clipping, I assure you."
Black cautiously pulled out a newspaper clipping from his robes and showed it to Harry. It was a picture of himself and the Weasleys in front of a backdrop that looked like sand, from just before their trip to Egypt.
"Ah... Fudge said you were saying, 'He's at Hogwarts.' You recognized Pettigrew?"
"Yes, I did. And from what else it said, I knew he was in a position to hurt you if any hint of Voldemort rising again reached his ears. He's a coward. He ran not from me, but from the other Death Eaters who thought he was the reason Voldemort fell. But if Voldemort rises again and Peter takes you to Voldemort, who would dare say he betrayed the Death Eaters? So I was worried for you, with that traitor so close to you."
"Makes sense. Now the biggest question: why are you and he unregistered Animagi?"
"It was because of a friend of ours in school, named Remus Lupin-"
"You know Professor Lupin?"
"Professor?" Black barked with laughter. "So Moony got a job as a teacher? Figures Dumbledore would let him. Not sure how he convinced the others, though."
"Moony? Wait! Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs?"
"Yes, we were the Marauders in our school days. We made that Map you were looking at earlier. Which is why I perked up when I heard you say the phrase that turns it on. We were rather clever in school. That Map took a lot of work; arithmancy, ancient runes, charms, even a potion or two. Took us longer than working out how to become Animagi."
"And why did you and Pettigrew become- wait, did you say you became an Animagus in school?"
"Yes. Took us most of three years to work it out, but we did. It was very dangerous and irresponsible of us to do, but we were young and full of ourselves at our cleverness. And we did it because we very quickly figured out that one of our best friends, Remus Lupin, was a... now, I don't want you to panic, but he's, well... a-."
"-werewolf, I know. I figured it out not long after my first class with him."
Sirius laughed again. "Why am I not surprised? You've got brains on both your mom and dad's sides, after all."
"So how did you and Peter becoming Animagi help Lupin?"
"Wasn't just him and me. It was James as well. He was Prongs. I'm Padfoot. Peter is Wormtail. Naturally, Lupin is Moony. So what's he teaching, anyway?"
"Defense Against The Dark Arts. And he's pretty good at it."
"Oh boy. That means he'll be out by the end of the year. That position is cursed."
"Yeah, I've heard that rumor, too."
"Not a rumor. Dumbledore verified it to me and a few others. Voldemort cursed it after being refused the job, back before the war started."
Harry's eyes went wide. "He wanted to teach here?"
"Yes. He wanted to use it as a recruiting tool. He might've gotten in if Dippet had been the headmaster still, but Dumbledore was headmaster by then, and saw right through Voldemort."
"Wow... so, getting back on track, you, my dad, and Peter became unregistered Animagi to help Moony somehow? How did that help?"
"Well werewolves, when they transform, are driven to bite or scratch humans, to infect them. But animals are immune to the disease. So too are animagi. We could keep him company, which calmed him a lot. And Prongs and I were such big animals we could keep a werewolf in check if he got too rowdy. We did a lot of stupid things back then after that, running around the grounds with Moony along for the ride. He could have escaped and bitten someone, but we were too young and stupid and carried away with our cleverness to care at the time, even after several near misses. Anyway, we got to know the castle and grounds so well we made the Marauder's Map. It never lies, and can see through invisibility cloaks and animagus transformations. If Peter's on the Map, that means he's alive. And he's hiding as your friend Ron's pet Scabbers."
Harry stood thinking, his wand wavering only a little. Then he slapped his face in sudden realization. "Luna's necklace!"
Harry reached under his robes and pulled out the necklace. "There's a button on this necklace Luna Lovegood, a friend of mine, gave me. The button in question drives animals nuts, but it never worked on Scabbers. Humans aren't supposed to be able to hear it either, but I can sort of hear it. It's not very annoying to me, at least not compared to what it does to animals."
"Ah, yes. Even in our animal forms, there are some things animagi can't hear, that animals can. The transformation isn't complete, after all. If it were, we wouldn't be able to turn back, nor to think like humans. Granted, our thoughts are kind of simplified in animal form, but we're still damn clever as animals."
"Anyway," Harry said. "So everything you've said so far makes sense, but there's the problem of proof; that is, you have none. Sure, you might be telling the truth that this Map was made by you and my dad, and that it never lies. But two other possibilities exist: you could be lying, and using a glitch in the map to give me a plausible excuse to get me in here. Or you really did help make the Map, and you can somehow affect it from a distance to make it lie for your benefit."
"But I don't have a wand, so how would I do that?"
"You could be lying about having a wand."
"True. But I'm a very large dog when I'm an Animagus. If I was trying to hurt you, I could have killed you that way."
"Yes. And that's the main reason I've trusted you this much. The other reason being that I've always thought something was off about the story of the crime you were accused of. And your story fills in the missing pieces perfectly."
"I swear to you, on my magic, that I didn't betray your parents. I as good as killed them by convincing them to switch to Peter, but I didn't know he was a traitor. I would have died rather than betray Lily and James. I would have been tortured into insanity rather than betray them."
"Hmm... I know aspies don't have a reputation for being good with body language and emotions, but I lived with emotionally abusive guardians, so I'm pretty good at that stuff."
"What's an aspie?"
"It's short for Asperger's Syndrome. It's a mental condition I have. It manifests differently in everyone who has it, but is usually characterized by social impairments, issues with certain sensory inputs, a hard time making and maintaining eye contact with others, a tendency towards honesty-even to a fault, obsessive interests, tendency towards rigid daily rituals, a tendency towards higher than average intelligence (but not necessarily so), and the ability to focus for hours at a time on tasks that others would consider monotonous and dull. There are other possible symptoms, but those are the big ones."
"Oh. That must be something the Muggles worked out. They're a lot better than wizards at that sort of mind-healing stuff."
"Yes, I read about it in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual at the library. Because the Dursleys don't like spending money on me, I don't have an official diagnosis, but I'm pretty confident in my self diagnosis. I'll get it confirmed as soon as I'm able. Though come to think of it, I could probably pay for the psychiatrist time from my Gringott's account."
"Ah, okay. I don't know what else to say to that, for now. So, er... do you have any other questions for me?"
"Yes, I do in fact. I take it you escaped to save me from Pettigrew. But what do you intend to do about him, anyway?"
"I was thinking I'd capture him and commit the murder I was imprisoned for. His, I mean."
"Well that wouldn't be very smart," Harry said. "You'd still be on the run if you did. We need to capture him and force him to become human again, if that's even possible."
"I don't know if it is or not, but Moony might know."
"That's another thing; if Lupin knows you're an Animagus, how are you not captured yet?"
"I've been wondering the same thing myself. I'm sure you'll have to ask him yourself, but my guess is that he's feeling guilty about violating Dumbledore's trust when we were in school. He was always the goody-two-shoes of the group, though he always made excuses for not turning us in when he should have."
"Okay. But you still have no proof. We have no proof. How should we proceed?"
"Well, we have to find a way to get proof. But we need allies for that. Unless you can capture Peter yourself."
"I'm not sure how I'd do that. If he was just a rat, sure. But an Animagus? I'd need help with that."
"Do you have any friends you can trust with this?"
"Hmm... I dunno. Ron and Hermione believe your guilt, they'd be harder to convince then me, and horrified I'd trusted you this much. Draco's on my side about being unsure of your guilt, so maybe he could help when he gets back after the holidays."
"Draco? Is that the Malfoy boy?"
"Yes. He's on my side now. I think I told you, in fact, when I thought you were just a dog."
"I remember. I don't like you trusting a Malfoy, but you're trusting me, so I'll withhold judgment of the Malfoy boy for now."
"Good," Harry said absently. "Well I don't have any plans at the moment, but I'll work on something. I have some other Slytherin friends who might believe me, too. But like Draco, they're all at home for the holidays. Something for later, then. In the meantime, I have another question."
"What's that, Harry?"
"Have you been getting enough to eat? I can't imagine table scraps is enough for a full-grown man, and you're pretty large as a dog, too."
"Oh, I've been supplementing my diet with rats and rabbits, the occasional snake. I know it's a bit risky, even as a dog, but I'll take the risk of parasites over the certainty of starving."
"Well I can get you some more food easily enough by going to the kitchens and asking for some dog food for my pet dog."
"Ah, well, I can't imagine it tastes very good, but has to be better than raw rats and other animals. But you know, wolves will often eat rats if they can't find larger prey, and they're surprisingly nutritious, at least in wild areas like this. I don't think even I could get hungry enough to eat city rats, though.
"By the way, Harry, I've been communicating with a bandy-legged Persian cat lately. He didn't trust me at first, but I've started to get through to him. He lives in Griffindor tower, I think. Might be an ally. He seems clever enough for humans to communicate with him, too."
"You've been communicating with Crookshanks?"
"Oh, is that his name? I didn't know. Animal language is mostly body language, at least with cats and dogs. And I'll tell you, it's not easy for a cat and a dog to communicate; cat and dog languages are very different. Wagging a tail, for instance. In dog, that's happiness or excitement, but in cat language, that's the equivalent of 'sod off.'"
Harry laughed. "No wonder cats and dogs don't often get along with each other. I can just see it now, a cat watching a dog bounding toward it, the dog's tail saying 'sod off, sod off, sod off' from the cat's point of view. Must be pretty intimidating."
"Yeah, it is. Which is why I was trying to speak Cat to Crookshanks before, but I think he must be part kneazle, because he knew I wasn't a dog from the off. I suspect he saw right through Peter's disguise, too."
"Now that you mention it, Crookshanks did attack Scabbers in the Magical Menagerie, and continues to attack him every chance he gets. And it hadn't occurred to me before, but it now seems obvious to be that cats don't normally fixate on one animal like that. Especially with all the rats that must live in this castle."
"By the way, what's a kneazle?"
"Magical creature a bit like a large cat with a lion-like tail. They're very loyal, intelligent, can detect untrustworthy people, and have an excellent sense of direction. But full-blooded kneazles tend to be aggressive, so they've got a triple-X rating from the Ministry when they're full-blooded. You need a special license to keep a full-blooded kneazle, so unless whoever owns Crookshanks has that, he must be at least half house cat."
"Yeah, I think you're right. He's Hermione's cat. And now I think about it, the sneak-o-scope was going off around Scabbers. Ron thought it was broken, because it's a cheap one he got in Egypt, but now I don't think so."
"You sound like you're coming around."
"Well there's still no proof, of course, but it is the most logical explanation. I'll double-check your words on kneazles, and owl the Magical Menagerie about Crookshanks. That'll help ease my mind even more while I try to think of what to do about Scabbers. Anyway, I should be heading back. If you could guide me back to your doghouse so I can make it seem I was in there the whole time, that would be a big help."
"Anything for my godson," he said, turning back into a dog and heading back into the secret passage.
"Where've you been all morning?" Ron asked indignantly when Harry finally got in for lunch. "We were in the library researching stuff to save Buckbeak, we thought you were gonna join us after you fed Shadow."
"Oh sorry, I was playing with him for a while and lost track of the time."
"Well alright, but you can feed him again later. Help us in the library after lunch."
He nodded, and they ate lunch. He asked them if they'd found anything yet, but they hadn't found a whole lot.
"I still reckon we should ask Dumbledore. Hagrid may not want to involve him, but it's worth at least asking him, isn't it?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, I guess so. But later. Maybe we can find something in the library first."
After lunch, they went together to the library, but Harry was having a hard time concentrating on researching animal attacks for Buckbeak's case, consumed as he was with the whole Sirius Black/Peter Pettigrew conundrum. Despite his words to Sirius, he was certain Sirius was right, because the whole story made too much sense to Harry to think otherwise, but the fact remained that they did still still need proof. The ultimate proof would be forcing Scabbers into his true form, but Harry didn't know how to do that, and it sounded like an N.E.W.T.-level spell at least. Plus, there was the matter of holding him down long enough to cast the spell without putting him in a cage.
If Harry had just needed to kill Pettigrew, it would be easy enough. Just take his pet snake out of the Room of Requirement and sic it on the rat; he'd just have to do it when Ron and Hermione were elsewhere in the castle. Those venomous fangs would take care of the little sod quick enough. But he couldn't risk using Cleopatra against Scabbers to capture him, because he wasn't sure Cleo would understand well enough to not bite the rat.
He wondered if he could enlist the Weasley twins in this. He momentarily thought it was very odd that they'd never spotted Peter on the Map, but usually there were too many people in Griffindor tower to spot one person in the chaos, and even when there were only a few people here, they might have thought it was a glitch in the Map, or else showing a ghost. Or maybe they didn't even use the Map during the holidays, when they were here?
Another possible ally was Lupin, of course. But he wasn't sure how his professor would take the news. Still, if he explained things properly, maybe Lupin wouldn't freak out. The only problem was that the full moon was approaching in a few days, and Lupin always started looking more ill than normal a few days before that. He didn't want to bother the professor during that time of the month.
He considered Dumbledore. Dumbledore would understand, and he had the suspicion the man had some way of knowing when he was being lied to, but it was still a daunting prospect, telling the headmaster. He had the power to sack Lupin and call in the minister and Aurors, if he didn't believe the story.
After a great deal of thought on the matter, Harry decided to talk with Lupin first, run some hypotheticals past the man. That would give him at least another week to think and plan even more.
Just before they gave up researching for the day, Harry asked Madam Pince for a few other books. He asked first about dog food recipes, then for anything about the Fidelius Charm, not caring if anyone knew that he knew about it. He could always say Draco told him about it, as it was the truth; he'd known about the Fidelius Charm since before school started, thanks to Draco's letter.
He also asked for books about Animagi, but Madam Pince refused flatly, saying that those books were in the Restricted Section. That made sense to Harry, but disappointed him. He had only wanted to see how likely it was for three Hogwarts students to be able to become Animagi on their own during school. But he didn't push it, since Lupin could confirm or deny the allegation.
"Whatcha got there?" Ron asked. "Dog food recipes and a book about the Fidelius Charm?"
"First book is for Shadow. He's a big dog, but it didn't occur to me to wonder how a few table scraps were making him gain so much weight, until I witnessed him eating rats. He's risking parasites that way, so I decided to see if I could get the house elves to make some dog food for him. I got the recipe book to see how nutritious the recipes are for dogs."
"And the other book?" Hermione asked shrewdly.
"I got curious about what all is involved with the Fidelius Charm. Everyone seems so certain they know how it works, but just from reading the first chapter, I can tell you that it's such a complicated spell that they don't even teach it at N.E.W.T. level. It's the kind of spell only Charms Masters know, and even then only the best of the best. I hate to say it, but I'm not sure even Flitwick is that good."
"What's that matter?"
"It matters, Ron, because it means not many people actually know how the spell works, so there may be something in here that contradicts the usual story about my parents' death."
"Oh, that again. Why can't you just drop it?"
"I can't drop it for the same reason I couldn't drop the mystery of the philosopher's stone, or the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets. It's a mystery to me, doesn't sit right. I mean to say, what kind of spell only leaves one finger and a bit of robes but also blasts the street apart, killing 12 other people? And don't tell me 'some Dark spell,' Ron. It doesn't make any logical sense. Spells may be magic, but they have rules, we've been learning that in Arithmancy. And I've done a bit of reading ahead in Transfiguration, too, and there are rules there as well. Like, you can't transfigure edible food, and you can't actually turn one thing into something else, just into something that looks and acts like something else. To even begin to approach something that might conceivably be able to rearrange the actual atoms of an object, you have to go into Alchemy, and even that has its limits. Though that may be more a conceptual limit than anything else. Since most wizards don't know about atoms, I wonder if knowing about atoms might change the rules of transfiguration or alchemy? Hmm... I'll have to look into that later, in 6th or 7th year or beyond; if I can make breakthroughs in that area, I could become famous for something I actually achieved myself."
"Whadda ya mean 'beyond'?"
"Well it is possible to stay in Hogwarts for longer than seven years, if you want to take some Mastery-level classes like Alchemy, from Dumbledore. You can't get an actual Mastery at Hogwarts, as N.E.W.T. is the highest qualification the school has, but you can get a head start on Mastery-level stuff here at Hogwarts, and finish up elsewhere."
"And you want to be that much of a swot?"
"Hey, if I can expand the range of wizarding powers with knowledge from the Muggle world, not only will that get me in textbooks and other books, maybe even win me awards, it should also put a sizable hole in the whole pureblood mania thing. Plus, I'd go from being just the Boy-Who-Lived to someone more like Dumbledore. You know, famous for some actual accomplishment. Plus, it might help if Voldemort ever rises again."
Ron flinched at the name. "Say You-Know-Who will you?"
Harry sighed in exasperation at Ron.
I don't remember if I told you this or not, but I wasn't looking forward to going home this Christmas. Well, seems I was right to dread it. I'm fine, but Father and I had another row. It was a bad one. Mother had to beg me not to run away from home, and she struggled to calm Father down. I suspect he'll be sending you a letter at some point demanding you stay away from me, but I want you to ignore him if he does. Not completely; you should still reply to him if he writes you. I don't know what you should say, but he'll be even angrier if you don't respond.
Anyway, I'm including my Yule gift to you in this package. Sorry it's late; I forgot until just yesterday that you don't really like Christmas. I hope you like it.
Harry set the letter aside and put Draco's package next to a small decorated Yule tree he'd bought at Hogsmeade. It was a sapling in a planter, and thus alive. He was planning to keep it until Spring and then plant it on the grounds somewhere, probably over near where Shadow's doghouse was. Sure, he preferred Yule, but since Christmas was what many of his friends celebrated instead, he didn't mind waiting to open his presents then.
As he set the present down with others from his friends, it occurred to him that Sirius had probably only used the doghouse to humor Harry, since he could get into the Shrieking Shack, which had to be a lot cozier than a doghouse, even if there were no warming charms there because of Sirius's lack of a wand. He made a mental note to cast some warming charms on the Shack the next time he was there.
He had finished reading through the book of dog food recipes. He had cross-referenced it with a book about what kinds of things dogs were allergic to. He didn't know if that would make a difference for an animagus or not, since transfiguration didn't really change what something was, just what it looked and acted like, but since he didn't know much about the animagus transformation yet, he decided it was better to be safe than sorry. He had found out enough, though, to come up with his own dog-food recipe that would hopefully taste better to Sirius.
Since he didn't want to be out past curfew, he called Netty the House Elf and asked her to give the recipe to the house elves, and why. Netty was only too pleased to help, as usual.
~ ~ ~
On Christmas, Ron and Hermione woke him up and the three of them opened gifts in their pajamas. Harry was pleased to note that his Slytherin friends Antigone, Angela, and Danzia had sent Ron and Hermione gifts as well. Even Draco had decided to give Ron and Hermione gifts as well. Harry was a little concerned about how Ron would react to this. Ron was suspicious, but after having Hermione do some tests on it with her wand, he opened it and looked to see what it was. He was surprised to find that Draco had sent him a brand-new Cleansweep 7 broomstick.
"WOW!" Ron said in awe. "My own broomstick! Hmm... maybe Draco isn't half bad after all."
"This must be his way of apologizing for making fun of your family in the past," Hermione said.
"Well if so, apology accepted. I'll have to send him a thank-you note."
"He knew enough not to get you a really expensive broom, too, in case you didn't accept something so pricey."
"Yeah. Wow, we'll have to take this to the grounds later so I can fly it. What'd he get you, Hermione?"
She searched around for her gift from Draco. As she did, Harry leaned over to Ron.
"You're not upset Draco got you such an expensive gift?" Harry asked Ron so only Ron could hear. "You don't usually like people to get you expensive gifts."
"Yeah, well... it's only because he got me a broomstick my parents could afford, if I did something to earn one, like becoming Prefect. If he'd gotten me something pricier, I might have thought he was trying to rub in my face that he's rich, even if he's gotten better."
"So if I had gotten it for you instead of him?"
Ron shrugged. "You could probably get me a Nimbus and I wouldn't have minded. It's you, after all."
"Yeah, I'm trying to be better about that kind of thing. Try to not be so prideful."
Harry blinked, surprised but pleased.
"Are you two done talking now? I was waiting to open my gift from Draco until you were done."
"Sorry, 'mione, go ahead," Ron said.
She nodded, and tore open the paper covering her gift from Draco, then opened the box. From inside, she pulled out... a book.
Ron chuckled. "He's got you pegged, 'mione."
She pulled out the large tome and Harry caught the title. "'Advances in Modern Arithmancy' by Archimedes Lancaster," Harry read aloud. "Oh yeah, you and Draco are the two top Arithmancy students in our year, aren't you?"
"Er, yes," she said.
"What, Draco's doing better in a class than you, Harry?"
Harry shrugged. "We can't all be good at everything. I struggle with maths. If I had a calculator that worked in Hogwarts, that would help me a lot. And I don't know how to use an abacus."
"Really? Well I could teach you, if you'd like?"
"Sure thing, Hermione. That would be useful. Can I look at that book a little?"
"Of course, Harry. I still have my other gifts to open."
Harry looked inside the large book. It was over 1000 pages long, and the pages were huge. He looked at some of the maths in it. He didn't understand any of it at all. But then, it looked to be Mastery level maths.
"This looks well past N.E.W.T. level, Hermione. Will you be able to understand it?"
"Probably not without help from Professor Vector. Even with her help, it'll likely be very challenging. But it'll be fascinating to try."
"What'd he get you, Harry?" Ron asked.
Harry opened his own gift from Draco. When he looked at it, he burst out laughing.
"Oy, what's funny?"
Harry managed to stop laughing, and took the gift out. It was a book.
"It's not really funny, it's just that I've been thinking lately about this subject."
He held up the book. It was called "An Introduction to the Animagus Transformation" by Asena MacLir.
"Oooh!" Hermione cried out all of a sudden, from her examination of the book Draco had gotten her. "Lancaster is a Muggle-born, and all of the maths in this book are taken from higher-level Muggle maths from his time studying at Muggle university, which are well beyond anything wizards have yet on their own!"
Harry chuckled. "I guess that proves Draco is taking Muggles seriously now."
"Anyway, Harry, is that book Draco got you about how to become an Animagus?"
"I think so. Hold on, there's a note."
Harry, the note read, I had a hard time getting this book for you without Father or Mother finding out, but I figured with You-Know-Who after you that it might be useful later. I'm given to understand he's still a spirit right now, but if it's true that he can get a new body, then you might need this. As the title suggests, it is a book about how to become an Animagus. I wouldn't recommend doing it on your own, but I also wouldn't recommend going through the Ministry. You-Know-Who went after the Ministry last time, so it might be best to keep it a secret if you become an Animagus.
"Wow, this is a really good gift. I'll be giving Draco a thank-you note when he gets back."
"What? Oh, right; his father might not appreciate us sending him things to his house. By the way, did you get him something?"
"Yeah. I gave it to him before he left."
"Oh? Mind telling us what you got him?"
"A few books about Muggle subjects. A used science textbook, a book about the history of science, and a few Muggle novels."
"Oh? Which novels?" Hermione asked with interest.
"Let's see... Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee, and 'White Fang' by Jack London."
"Ooh, we should do Muggle classics in MAC! We could start with those."
"Muggles write novels?"
"Yes. I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure they invented novels. I know about the people who invented novels, and they're probably all Muggles. They were all women, too, come to that."
"Yes. Mary Shelley wrote the first science fiction novel. Then Baroness Orczy wrote the first superhero novel when she wrote 'The Scarlet Pimpernell.' And the first ever 'modern' novel was written in 1007 AD in Japan, by Murasaki Shikibu. It was called 'The Tale of Genji.' And I seem to recall, also, that there may have been one even older than that. Some woman, I forget her name, wrote a book back in like, Assyria or Mesopotamia. But I don't remember any more about it than that."
"Wow, Harry," Hermione said. "Even I didn't know all of that. I knew about Mary Shelley and Baroness Orczy, but I didn't know about 'The Tale of Genji.' I'll have to look into that later, just to see for myself."
Harry shrugged. "The history of writing was a special interest of mine for a time."
They went back to their Christmas/Yule gifts, then. From Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Harry got a dozen home-baked mince pies, some Christmas cake, and a box of nut brittle, as well as a Weasley sweater. The Weasley twins got him a couple things from Zonko's. From Ron, he got a wizarding novel that took place back during the witch hunts in Europe. Hermione got him a copy of "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood.
The gifts he got from his other Slytherin friends came next. Antigone got him a catalog of magical glasses frames from a wizarding optometrist in Diagon Alley, which he appreciated because the cheap glasses he had, his aunt and uncle had only got him because he kept knocking over things and running into walls without them. It hadn't really occurred to him before to get new ones. Inside the catalog was a gift certificate for the place, in the amount of ten galleons. Harry thought that was a little pricey for glasses, but considering what some of the glasses in the catalog could do, the price made sense.
Angela had gotten Harry a nifty gadget that was like a portable Foe Glass crossed with a sneak-o-scope. According to the instructions, it would detect enemies like a Foe Glass and even showed them in a little mirror inside the device (which opened like a makeup compact), and would vibrate and heat up in his pocket if it detected they were close enough to see the whites of their eyes. It was so amazing and useful that Ron and Hermione both fawned over it, too.
He set that aside and opened his gift from Danzia. It was a box of 77% cacao dark chocolate, with a note inside saying 'I have it on good authority that dark chocolate makes a better dementor treatment than milk chocolate does. And it tastes better, too.'
Now there, all that was just was his gift from Luna. He opened the box and found a book about Crumple-Horned Snorkacks and other such creatures from cryptomagizoology. He shrugged and looked through it anyway.
"Ooh," Hermione said, looking at one of her own gifts; one from him, in fact. "Thank you for this, Harry!"
"Another book, 'mione? Between the two of you, you're going to have more books than the Hogwarts library before long," Ron joked.
Hermione stuck her tongue out at Ron briefly, then eagerly opened up the book from Harry and began reading it.
Harry reflected on what Ron had said, though. It was true that his trunk was getting to the point where he had to shrink most of his books to fit them in there. He was going to have to get a better trunk at some point.
Now that all the gifts were exchanged that he could be seen exchanging, that just left a gift for Sirius. Other than the dog food, that was. There wasn't much he could do on such short notice, but he did harvest a couple of the mince pies and some of the nut brittle from Mrs. Weasley's present to regift to Sirius.
After gift-giving was done, they went down to breakfast, and as usual Harry went out to feed Shadow, but this time it was with dog food the house elves got for him, as well as an extra Christmas ham as a special treat for his dogfather, along with the fudge and a bar of the anti-dementor dark chocolate Danzia had given him. The dog-food he gave Shadow at the doghouse. The other gifts he gave Sirius at the Shrieking Shack.
"You got me gifts? Even though we don't have proof of Peter being alive?"
"Yes, well... I do believe you. And even if that turns out to be false, you haven't tried to hurt me, so what's the harm?"
"Harry, you're a good kid. Your parents would be proud of you."
"Thanks. By the way, once term starts up again, Lupin is going to teach me to fight dementors. I gave it some thought last night, and I think I'll wait til the second lesson to tell him about Peter. I'll do it directly, by showing him the Map."
"What if Peter gets lost in the mass of kids?"
"Oh. Yeah, that could be a problem."
"Can't you show Moony the Map during the holidays?"
"I doubt it. The full moon is tonight."
Sirius frowned, confused. "Are you sure? I managed to check a calendar before I came to Hogwarts and looked up the dates of the full moon, and I'm certain it's the 29th this month."
"Really? Well the way he's been getting ill the last few days tells me it's tonight."
"Now that is odd. Of course, I don't know where Hogwarts actually is. I know the castle is Unplottable. I think Hogsmeade is, too. Not sure how that would influence the full moon's timing, or if it would. I can't think why it should."
"That is odd indeed. Maybe it's something related to the place being Unplottable?"
"I can't see how that would work. I know from my time in Hogwarts that the Unplottable spell messes up the times of the constellations rising to make it harder to find where Hogwarts is that way. But the moon is the same everywhere, as far as I know, so what would be the point to messing up when the moon is full?"
Harry shrugged. "Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he's only really starting to get sick now, and I misread things?"
"Maybe. But the full moon ought to be four days away. I've never known Moony to get sick so far from the full moon. And you said he's been looking peakier than usual for a few days now?"
"Yes. Ever since I figured it out, I've been paying attention. He normally gets peaky a few days before the full moon. It was happening again, so I assumed it meant Christmas was the full moon."
Sirius slapped his face suddenly.
"Yes?" Harry asked.
"I forgot something important. While the moon is technically only fully full for about a second or two, we can't tell without a telescope. The moon looks full for about three days."
"Yes, but that would be the 28th through the 30th if your numbers are right. And he's been ill for..." he paused to count from memory. "Oh. Only two days now."
"Counting today, or not?"
"Counting today. He started getting ill yesterday."
"That's still four days before the moon starts looking full."
"Does it make a different if it's only like, 75 or 85 percent full?"
"I think you'd have to ask Moony. It's been 12 years since I was around him enough to be paying attention. And who knows, maybe it gets worse as he gets older?"
"He's taking the Wolfsbane Potion. Would that influence it?"
Sirius shrugged. "No idea. It wasn't around when we were in school. In fact, I think it was invented while I was in Azkaban. Anyway, enough about that mystery. I, uh... I wanted to be able to say I got your a Christmas present, but I have no idea what you'd want. I've never seen you fly, so I figured I should find out about that before I assumed."
"That was a good move. I don't really like flying, so a broomstick would be wasted on me. But how would you even get me anything? You're an escaped prisoner."
"Oh, that's not a problem. I could take some money out of my Gringott's account by taking a signed request in as Shadow. The goblins don't care about wizarding legal matters enough to report money being taken from a known criminal's account as long as they can magically verify that the note was written by someone who's authorized to get into the account."
"Really? That sounds ridiculous."
"Well try to see it from their point of view. Would you care if a goblin who broke a goblin law having some business with you, as long as he or she was authorized and gave you some plausible deniability by not showing up in person?"
"Probably not. Ok, point taken.
"But back on track," Harry continued. "You don't have to get me anything for Christmas."
"I don't have to, but I would have liked to. I would have been getting you Christmas and birthday presents every year for the last 12 years if things had gone differently."
"We'll worry about that when we get this Peter thing taken care of, okay?"
"Yeah. And whenever Lupin gets better, that's when I'll start."
Then, struck by a sudden urge, Harry went over to Sirius and hugged the man, who – after looking shocked by the sudden show of trust – broke down crying.
Endnote: The idea for Draco's gift of the Arithmancy book by Archimedes Lancaster was inspired (vaguely) by an HP fanfic called "The Arithmancer" by White Squirrel, and the sequel, "Lady Archimedes." I highly recommend both fics, as well as the fic that inspired them, titled "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" by Eliezer Yudkowsky (formerly under the pen name "Less Wrong."). Slight trigger warning for HPMOR: character death, but it doesn't stick.
Endnote 2: The name of the author of the Animagus book Draco sent Harry is meaningful. I'll write a short fic taking place in this story's world for the first person to tell me what the correct significance is. If you win, feel free to give me a prompt for the short fic. It may or may not be considered canon to the main fic's story, depending on various factors.
Endnote 3: The books by women that Harry talks about in this chapter are true, to the best of my knowledge and Google skills.
Last endnote: Does anyone with better memory than me know if Harry got himself any decent Muggle clothes in this fic? My memory is crappy, my notes are disorganized and full of things that haven't happened yet or never came to pass, and I don't really feel like re-reading the whole thing to find out, so it would help me out. It's not for anything major, just curious. Feel free to ignore this request.