Prologue: The Chamber and the Shack

Chapter Summary

This chapter explores two major changes to the canon: 1) Harry is defeated in the Chamber of Secrets and a 16-year-old Tom Riddle is set loose on an unsuspecting world. 2) Sirius Black really was a death eater and successfully captures Harry in the Shrieking Shack.

Chapter Notes

See the end of the chapter for notes

Time: Spring 1993

Ron looked up at the tunnel ceiling. Huge cracks had appeared in it. He had never tried to break apart anything as large as these rocks by magic, and now didn't seem a good moment to try - what if the whole tunnel caved in?

There was another thud and another "ow!" from behind the rocks. They were wasting time. Ginny had already been in the Chamber of Secrets for hours ...

"Wait there," Harry called to Ron. "Wait with Lockhart. I'll go on... If I'm not back in an hour. . ." There was a very pregnant pause.

Ron wanted to protest. It was his sister after all, not Harry's. Harry may be the boy who lived, but if someone was going to save Ginny, it should be him. Then again, with no wand and without Harry's unique gift of parseltongue, what use would he be to his sister? It had to be Harry. He just hoped that Harry would be as lucky this year as he had been last year. "I'll try and shift some of this rock," said Ron, trying to keep his voice steady and not let his resentment shine through. "So you can - can get back through. And, Harry -"

"See you in a bit," said Harry, he seemed to be trying to inject some confidence into his shaking voice.

~.~

Harry approached his throat very dry. There was no need to pretend these stone snakes were real; their eyes looked strangely alive.

He could guess what he had to do. He cleared his throat, and the emerald eyes seemed to flicker.

"Open," said Harry, in a low, faint hiss.

The serpents parted as the wall cracked open, the halves slid smoothly out of sight, and Harry, shaking from head to foot, walked inside.

He was standing at the end of a very long, dimly lit chamber. Towering stone pillars entwined with more carved serpents rose to support a ceiling lost in darkness, casting long, black shadows through the odd, greenish gloom that filled the place.

His heart beating very fast, Harry stood listening to the chilling silence. Could the basilisk be lurking in a shadowy corner, behind a pillar? And where was Ginny?

He pulled out his wand and moved forward between the serpentine columns. Every careful footstep echoed loudly off stone floors. Harry kept his eyes narrowed, ready to clamp them shut at the smallest sign of movement. The hollow eye sockets of the stone snakes seemed to be following him. More than once, with a jolt of his stomach, he thought he saw one stir.

Then, as he drew level with the last pair of pillars, a statue as high as the Chamber itself loomed into view, standing against the back wall. Harry had to crane his neck to look up into the giant face above. It was ancient and monkeyish, with a long, thin beard that fell almost to the bottom of the wizard's sweeping stone robes, where two enormous gray feet stood on the smooth Chamber floor. And between the feet, face down, lay a small, black-robed figure with flaming, red hair.

"Ginny!" Harry cried, sprinting to her and dropping to his knees. "Ginny - don't be dead - please don't be dead-" He flung his wand aside, grabbed Ginny's shoulders, and turned her over. Her face was white as marble and as cold, yet her eyes were closed, so she wasn't Petrified. But then, she must be...

"Ginny, please wake up," Harry muttered desperately, shaking her. Ginny's head lolled hopelessly from side to side.

"She won't wake," said a soft voice.

Harry jumped and spun around on his knees.

A tall, black-haired boy was leaning against the nearest pillar, watching. He was strangely blurred around the edges, as though Harry were looking at him through a misted window. But there was no mistaking him.

"Tom - Tom Riddle?"

Riddle nodded, not taking his eyes off Harry's face.

"What d'you mean, she won't wake?" Harry said desperately. "She's… not - she's not- ?"

"She's still alive," said Riddle. "But only just."

Harry stared at him. Tom Riddle had been at Hogwarts fifty years ago, yet here he stood; a weird, misty light shining about him, not a day older than sixteen.

"Are you a ghost?" Harry said uncertainly.

"A memory," said Riddle quietly. "Preserved in a diary for fifty years."

He pointed toward the floor near the statue's giant toes. Lying open there was the little black diary Harry had found in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. For a second, Harry wondered how it had got there - but there were more pressing matters to deal with.

"You've got to help me, Tom," Harry said, raising Ginny's head again. "We've got to get her out of here. There's a basilisk... I don't know where it is, but it could be along at any moment ... Please, help me"

Riddle didn't move. Harry, sweating, managed to hoist Ginny half off the floor and bent to pick up his wand again.

But his wand had gone. "Did you see -?"

He looked up. Riddle was still watching him - twirling Harry's wand between his long fingers.

"Thanks," said Harry, stretching out his hand for it.

A smile curled the corners of Riddle's mouth. He continued to stare at Harry, twirling the wand idly. This boy that Ginny told him so much about seriously thought he would just give him back his wand? He just spent 50 years in the total sensory deprivation, a solitary life trapped inside a diary. He had finally regained a physical form, and now he had a wand. Here in front of him was the boy wonder who Ginny claimed was the cause of his future self's defeat. Tom looked him up and down. How was this scrawny, seemingly normal child capable of bringing down a Dark Lord? He didn't even seem capable of understanding the danger he was currently in.

"Listen," said Harry urgently, his knees sagging with Ginny's dead weight. "We've got to go! If the basilisk comes- "

"It won't come until it is called," said Riddle calmly. "and I don't plan on calling it. I would love to finally get to talk with you Harry, but there isn't time."

Harry let Ginny's body slump to the ground, her weight too much for him to bear any longer. "What do you mean you don't plan on calling it? How did Ginny get like this?"

Riddle looked him up and down again. There really was no explaining how this clueless boy was supposedly capable of so much. Ginny had told him how he had defeated his future self a year prior. It couldn't be possible. And yet ... There was something about him. He could feel something. A humming. But there wasn't time. He was in Hogwarts. Dumbledore was here. If Harry had gotten into the Chamber, he couldn't possibly have been stupid enough to come down here alone. Someone would find them. He didn't have time. "Another time, Harry. Someday I'll explain everything... Stupefy!"

Harry's body slumped to the ground next to Ginny's dying form. Tom stood there for a while watching as Ginny's body slowly faded. It seemed that as he himself became more solid, more tangible, more real, more alive... She was losing corporeal form. Would she go into the diary? Would she be trapped like he had been?

Minutes ticked by painfully slowly. Tom waited until Ginny's body had completely disappeared. He bent down and closed the diary, leaving it on the ground. Harry was still unconscious on the stone floor. Tom turned to the great stone statue of Salazar and walked to a small door between its ankles. "Open," he hissed. The stone door slid away, revealing a narrow passage that led under the lake and out beyond Hogwarts' wards.

After 50 years of imprisonment, he was finally free, and the only thing he wanted to do was make up for lost time. He twirled his newly acquired wand in his right hand as a smirk spread across his face. He had work to do.

~.~

Ron watched as Harry went on past the great snakeskin and shortly after he could no longer hear him.

Ron started busying himself by clearing rocks out of the way. It proved to be much harder than he had first imagined. As soon as he moved one rock, another rock fell down into the place the first had been. Instead of simply removing the boulders he endeavored to construct an archway. He failed several times before he managed to make a doorway big enough for him to fit through.

Lockhart wasn't much help. The bumbling idiot tore down his construction multiple times in a halfhearted attempt to help the total stranger that he saw in Ron.

The minutes passed like hours. Ron attempted to cast a time spell several times but his useless wand proved to be more trouble than it was worth. How long had they been down here? How long had Harry been in the chamber? Had it been an hour? Had it been two? Should he leave the bumbling moron behind and go off in some half-cocked attempt to save Harry and his sister?

He was starting to make some progress. He had made a whole large enough to shimmy through. Well… Large enough for Ron to shimmy through. He would have to leave Lockhart behind. It would serve him right to be eaten by the damned snake.

Ron kept up his efforts, clearing the boulders as best as he could to make the whole as large as possible. When he couldn't stand waiting anymore. When he couldn't stand Lockhart anymore, he decided to risk it. After all, he would only blame himself if his sister and his best friend were dead in there and he had just sat here waiting like a child for someone else to rescue them. He was a lion of Gryffindor house after all wasn't he? Why was he lacking the bravery that was the characteristic of his house?

Ron slipped through the rocks, their jagged edges slicing his robes as he crawled through on his belly. It surely had been well over an hour. Had it been three? Where they dead? It seemed unrealistic to think that they could still be alive after all this time. They were in there with the Heir of Slytherin after all. Who knew who it was, or what insane, murderous plot he had working for them.

Ron emerged on the other side of the rocks bleeding slightly but no much worse for wear.

The tunnel turned and turned again. Every nerve in Ron's body was tingling unpleasantly. He wanted the tunnel to end, yet dreaded what he'd find when it did. Where they dead? The question kept bubbling to the surface of his mind and no matter how hard he fought to keep it down... And then, at last, as he crept around yet another bend, he saw a solid wall ahead on which two entwined serpents were carved, their eyes set with great, glinting emeralds.

They were parted allowing for a small opening between them just large enough for someone to slip through. Ron imagined that they must've been closed before Harry opened them.

Ron was standing at the end of a very long, dimly lit chamber. Towering stone pillars entwined with more carved serpents rose to support a ceiling lost in darkness, casting long, black shadows through the odd, greenish gloom that filled the place.

His heart beating very fast, Ron stood listening to the chill silence. Could the basilisk be lurking in a shadowy corner, behind a pillar? Where was Ginny? Harry?

And then he saw Harry, lying unconscious on the stone floor next to a small black book. He rushed to his friend's side. Ron knelt down next to him. He was at first terrified that he was dead, but when he got closer he saw that his chest was rising and falling as he took in air. He searched for Harry's wand, not wanting to risk waking him with his own. When he couldn't find it he resorted to shaking him violently like a muggle.

"Come on mate! Wake up! What happened? Where is Gin?" He asked the sleeping form of his friend.

It took much longer than Ron would have liked, but he finally woke his friend.

"Tom?" Was the first word out of the dark haired boy's lips.

"Ron," he corrected. "Harry, what happened? Where is Gin?"

"She..." He looked around wildly. "She was here! Ron, she was right here! She was asleep, or unconscious... Tom... He must have knocked me out."

"What?! Who?"Ron asked in disbelief.

"Tom Riddle, from the diary. Genny has been talking to him for months." Harry explained.

"No. No. Where is she? " Ron asked not wanting to believe Harry. His dad had always warned them against any magical artifact that could talk. Genny knew better than this. What had she done? What had he failed to protect his little sister from? Where was she? His eyes fell down on the diary laying next to Harry.

"I don't know," Harry said very sadly.

"Right. She's not here. Let's… Look around for her." Ron said distractedly clambering up so that he was standing again. He made to walk off to search the chamber.

Harry sat up and grabbed ahold of his wrist. He looked down at the diary next to him.

"No," Ron said flatly.

"Tom was real Ron. He was standing over her watching her. She was so pale." Harry said in a quiet voice.

"No," Ron repeated firmly.

"I think... I think he was draining her... I think...could they have switched places?" Harry asked.

Ron went as white as Nearly Headless Nick. "No."

"Ron..." Harry said his voice trailing off.

"No, Harry. My sister is fine, she's just hurt. Behind one of these pillars or something. Let's go look." Ron said in denial of what Harry and his own gut was telling him.

"Alright, mate, let's look," Harry said. And they looked for over an hour, searching the chamber for any sign of Ginny. When there was none Harry pulled out a quill and some ink from the pocket of his robe and handed them to Ron.

"No," Ron said shaking his head, tears running down his cheeks.

Harry pulled the offered writing emblements back and opening the ink jar, dipped his quill and wrote:

'Hello, My name is Harry Potter.'

He waited and for a moment, nothing happened and he wanted to jump for joy. He pleaded that nothing would happen, begged. And then the ink sank into the paper and letters started reforming in a familiar script. Tears flowed down his face, unrestrained.

'Harry! You have to help me! It's me, Ginny! It was Tom, he trapped me in here!' The script looked desperate, as though the writer was scribbling as quickly as they could.

Harry looked up at Ron gravely, but when he received a stiff nod he kept writing.

'Gin, I'm here in the chamber with Ron. I saw Tom, but he knocked me out. He's gone now. We will take you to Dumbledor. Maybe he will be able to get you out.' Harry wrote. He wrote slowly, trying to think of the most reassuring things to say.

The ink sank into the paper before Ginny's handwriting surfaced on the page.

'Hurry. I'm so scared. There is nothing in here, it's ... It's horrible.' The handwriting was less hurried, with more hesitation marks.

Harry looked back up at Ron who had been reading over his shoulder. "You should say something." He told his friend.

"What could I possibly say? She is in her first year and I've gone and gotten her trapped in a sodding book." Ron cried. He didn't care that Harry could see him as the tears rolled down his face. He was so scared. He wanted to run. He wanted to run all the way back up to the tower and climb into his four poster bed. He wanted this all to have been some horrible dream.

The black haired boy held out the book and quill. "You are her brother, tell her it's going to be ok. Tell her that you're going to keep writing to her. Tell her anything, just let her know you are here." Harry said with a pleading look in his eyes.

Ron took the offered book and quill. With shaking hands, he began to write.

'Hey Gin, it's Ron. It's going to be alright. We can get you out of there. Dumbledore is the greatest wizard there has ever been. He'll think of something.' His script was jumpy and jagged as he tried to keep his hands from shaking.

He tried to be optimistic. He tried to believe his own words of encouragement.

'We have to shut the book for a minute. We need to get out of the chamber before that snake finds us.' He wrote.

The ink was sucked into the page much faster at that.

'Don't leave me! Write to me as soon as you can.' Ron saw the ink go blurry as it mixed with a tear that fell onto the page as he wrote before it faded back into the pages of the book.

'I will. I promise.' He wrote, whispering the words aloud.

Ron and Harry traveled back down the winding tunnel towards where the had abandoned Lockheart in silence.

They turned the last bend and saw an eager face staring through the sizable gap Ron had managed to make in the rock fall. Lockheart was beaming at them and humming to himself without a care in the world. Ron pushed past him, holding the diary close to his chest. Harry followed right after him.

They walked all the way back to the mouth of the pipe before Ron spoke. "His memory's gone," said Ron. "The Memory Charm backfired. Hit him instead of us. Hasn't got a clue who he is, or where he is, or who we are. I told him to wait here. He's a danger to himself"

Lockhart peered good-naturedly up at them. "Hello," he said. "Odd sort of place, this, isn't it? Do you live here?"

"No," said Ron, raising his eyebrows at Harry.

Harry bent down and looked up the long, dark pipe.

"Have you thought how we're going to get back up this?" Harry asked.

"Yeah, I think there is a lift of sorts. Or maybe just stairs... I don't know. I found it a few hours ago." Ron walked over to a very dark corner of the already dark tunnel. There on the wall was a very small image of a snake in a neat circle.

Harry knew the drill and hissed "open" and the snake began to shift. Then the wall shifted. And then it opened with a great rumbling of stone that made to two boys fear for another cave collapse. When the stone wall had parted they saw a simple rope hanging from the unseeable heights of the pipe. At the end of the end of the rope was a knot. Harry, Ron, and Lockheart all stared at it.

"I think we pull it," Ron said.

"Worth a try." Harry agreed.

When they were all gathered together in the tight space that was obviously meant to transport only one, they pulled.

In the next second, they were flying upward through the pipe. Harry could hear Lockhart saying, "Amazing! Amazing! This is just like magic!" The chill air was whipping through Harry's hair, and before he'd stopped enjoying the ride, it was over - all three of them were hitting the wet floor of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, and as Lockhart straightened his hat, the sink that hid the pipe was sliding back into place.

Myrtle goggled at them.

Harry, Ron holding Ginny's Diary, and Lockhart stood in the center of the room, covered in muck and slime and (in Ron's case) blood.

~.~

Ron and Harry made their way to the hospital wing. They had decided that they couldn't risk Lockheart wondering around on his own and that they better deposit the babbling idiot with the medi-witch before he hurt himself or someone else.

When they opened the door to the hospital wing they heard a scream.

"Ron!"

It was Mrs. Weasley, who had been sitting crying in front of the fire. She leaped to her feet, closely followed by Mr. Weasley, and both of them flung themselves on their son.

"Oh, Ron! We are so glad that you are alright!" And then she pulled back from her hug with a look of confusion on her face. Ron openly sobbed into his mother's arms. "Ron, where is Ginny?"

Ron with shaking hands handed his father the dairy.

~.~

Time: June 6, 1994

"Where does this tunnel come out?" Hermione asked breathlessly from behind him.

"I don't know... It's marked on the Marauder's Map, but Fred and George said no one's ever gotten into it... It goes off the edge of the map, but it looked like it was heading for Hogsmeade..." Harry replied, holding his walnut and unicorn hair wand out in front of him for light. His new wand had never fit him as well as his first, but it was good enough for now. Ollivander had suggested he come back next summer with an appointment, and he would make a custom wand for him.

They moved as fast as they could, bent almost double. Ahead of them, Crookshanks's tail bobbed in and out of view. On and on went the passage; it felt at least as long as the one to Honeydukes... All Harry could think of was Ron and what the enormous dog might be doing to him. He was drawing breath in sharp, painful gasps, running at a crouch…

And then the tunnel began to rise; moments later it twisted, and Crookshanks had gone. Instead, Harry could see a patch of dim light through a small opening. He and Hermione paused, gasping for breath, edging forward. Both raised their wands to see what lay beyond.

It was a room, a very disordered, dusty room. The 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.

Harry glanced at Hermione, who looked very frightened but nodded.

Harry pulled himself out of the hole, staring around. The room was deserted, but a door to their right stood open, leading to a shadowy hallway. Hermione suddenly grabbed Harry's arm again. Her wide eyes were traveling around the boarded windows.

"Harry," she whispered, "I think we're in the Shrieking Shack."

Harry looked around. His eyes fell on a wooden chair near them. Large chunks had been torn out of it; one of the legs had been ripped off entirely. "Ghosts didn't do that," he said slowly.

At that moment, there was a creak overhead. Something had moved upstairs. Both of them looked up at the ceiling. Hermione's grip on Harry's arm was so tight he was losing feeling in his fingers. He raised his eyebrows at her; she nodded again and let go.

Quietly as they could, they crept out into the hall and up the crumbling staircase. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust except the floor, where a wide shiny stripe had been made by something being dragged upstairs.

They reached the dark landing.

"Nox," they whispered together, and the lights at the end of their wands went out. Only one door was open. As they crept toward it, they heard movement from behind it; a low moan, and then a deep, loud purring. They exchanged a last look, a last nod.

Wand held tightly before him, Harry kicked the door wide open. On a magnificent four-poster bed with dusty hangings lay Crookshanks, purring loudly at the sight of them. On the floor beside him, clutching his leg, which stuck out at a strange angle, was Ron.

Harry and Hermione dashed across to him.

"Ron - are you okay?"

"Where's the dog?"

"Not a dog," Ron moaned. His teeth were gritted with pain. "Harry, it's a trap -"

"What -"

"He's the dog... he's an Animagus."

Ron was staring over Harry's shoulder. Harry wheeled around. With a snap, the man in the shadows closed the door behind them. A mass of filthy, matted hair hung to his elbows. If eyes hadn't been shining out of the deep, dark sockets, he might have been a corpse. The waxy skin was stretched so tightly over the bones of his face, it looked like a skull. His yellow teeth were bared in a grin. It was Sirius Black.

"Expelliarmus!" he croaked, pointing Ron's wand at them.

Harry's and Hermione's wands shot out of their hands, high in the air, and Black caught them. Then he took a step closer. His eyes were fixed on Harry.

"I thought you'd come and help your friend," he said hoarsely. "It's what I would have done at your age. It's what I would've done for James."

The previous terror that had been welling up inside Harry dropped away at that. It was replaced with a boiling hatred, "Don't you dare say my father's name! You have no right! You betrayed him!"

The corpse-like man's chest started to move up and down as a low rumbling laugh began, "How little you know of the truth. I could never betray your father, Harry; I am your father. And I wasn't the one to tell the Dark Lord where James and your mother were." His beady eyes fell to Ron on the floor. "That filthy rat was."

For the first time in his life, he wanted to attack, not to defend himself, but to attack. To kill. How naïve did this monster think he was? Did he honestly think that Harry was so desperate for a family that he would believe him? He couldn't possibly be Harry's father. Everyone had always said he looks so much like James. What was he playing at?

"That's rich! You honestly expect me to believe that?"

Black's long hair was pushed to the side by his rough hands. His eyes looked less hardened, almost sad, desperate, "It's the truth. You will believe me. I'll make you believe me. I'll kill him, and then I'll make you believe me." His words got faster and more desperate as he went on. Making them sound even more like those of a madman, making his voice match his appearance. He saw the rage in Harry's eyes and then a hint of fear and skepticism. Black knew he was losing ground. This wasn't going at all as planned. His son thought he was crazy.

"If you want to kill Harry, you'll have to kill us too!" Ron said fiercely, though the effort of standing upright was draining him of still more color, and he swayed slightly as he spoke.

Something flickered in Black's shadowed eyes.

"Lie down," he said quietly to Ron. "You'll damage that leg even more."

"Did you hear me?" Ron said weakly, though he was clinging painfully to Harry to stay upright. "You'll have to kill all three of us!"

"There'll be only one murder here tonight," said Black, and his grin widened.

"Why's that?" Harry spat, trying to wrench himself free of Ron and Hermione. "Didn't care last time, did you? Didn't mind slaughtering all those Muggles to get at Pettigrew... What's the matter, gone soft in Azkaban?"

"Harry!" Hermione whimpered. "Be quiet..."

"HE KILLED MY MUM AND DAD!" Harry roared, and with a huge effort he broke free of Hermione's and Ron's restraint and lunged forward -

Black shot a stream of blue light out of his wand. Invisible rope seemed to wrap around Harry's chest, binding his arms to his body. With another swish of his wand, Ron and Hermione were similarly bound. "I don't want to hurt you. This will prove everything."

Black shot a summoning charm towards Ron and a large, fat, fluffy rat started floating towards him.

"That is not a rat," croaked Sirius Black.

"What d'you mean - of course, he's a rat -" said Ron.

"No, he's not," said Sirius quietly. "He's a wizard, an Animagus, by the name of Peter Pettigrew."

Hermione's face twisted with confusion. "But you killed him."

"No, I didn't, but I'm about to," Black growled, pointing his wand at the rat.

"Peter Pettigrew's dead!" said Harry. "You killed him twelve years ago!" He pointed at Black, whose face twitched convulsively.

"I meant to," He growled, his yellow teeth bared, "But little Peter got the better of me... not this time, though!"

"There were witnesses who saw Pettigrew die," Ron said. "A whole street full of them..."

"They didn't see what they thought they saw!" said Black savagely, still watching Scabbers struggling in mid-air. These kids weren't listening to him. He would have to prove it.

"Come off it," Ron said weakly. "Are you trying to say you broke out of Azkaban just to get your hands on Scabbers? I mean..." He looked up at Harry and Hermione for support, "Okay, say Pettigrew could turn into a rat - there are millions of rats - how are you supposed to know which one you're after if you were locked up in Azkaban?"

Black put one of his claw-like hands inside his robes and took out a crumpled piece of paper, which he smoothed flat and held out to show the others. It was the photograph of Ron and his family that had appeared in the Daily Prophet the previous summer, and there, on Ron's shoulder, was Scabbers.

"Fudge," said Black. "When he came to inspect Azkaban last year, he gave me his paper. And there was Peter, on the front page on this boy's shoulder... I knew him at once... how many times had I seen him transform? And the caption said the boy would be going back to Hogwarts... to where Harry was... Just before he transformed he cut off his finger," said Black. "When I cornered him, he yelled for the whole street to hear that I'd betrayed Lily and James. Then, before I could curse him, he blew apart the street with the wand behind his back, killed everyone within twenty feet of himself, and sped down into the sewer with all the other rats..."

Harry wasn't listening anymore, his rage was consuming him. "And why did he fake his death?" Harry said furiously. "Because he knew you were about to kill him like you killed my parents! And now you've come to finish him off!"

"Yes, I have," said Black, with an evil look at Scabbers. Then he turned to Harry and his eyes softened.

"Harry... I didn't murder Lily and James, but, I as good as killed them," he croaked. "I persuaded them to change to Peter at the last moment, persuaded them to use him as Secret-Keeper instead of me... I'm to blame, I know that... The night they died, I'd arranged to check on Peter, make sure he was still safe, but when I arrived at his hiding place, he was gone. Yet there was no sign of a struggle. It didn't feel right. I was scared. I set out for your mother's house straight away. And when I saw their house, destroyed, and their bodies... I realized what Peter must've done... what I'd done... But I can fix some of it! I can kill the man who betrayed your mother and James."

A flash of blue-white light erupted from his wand; for a moment, Scabbers was frozen in midair, his small gray form twisting madly - Ron yelled - the rat fell and hit the floor. There was another blinding flash of light and then - It was like watching a speeded-up film of a growing tree. A head was shooting upward from the ground; limbs were sprouting; a moment later, a man was standing where Scabbers had been, cringing and wringing his hands. Crookshanks was spitting and snarling on the bed; the hair on his back was standing up. He was a very short man, hardly taller than Harry and Hermione. His thin, colorless hair was unkempt and there was a large bald patch on top. He had the shrunken appearance of a plump man who has lost a lot of weight in a short time. His skin looked grubby, almost like Scabbers's fur, and something of the rat lingered around his pointed nose and his very small, watery eyes. He looked around at them all, his breathing fast and shallow. Harry saw his eyes dart to the door and back again.

"Well, hello, Peter," said Sirius pleasantly, as though rats frequently erupted into old school friends around him. "Long time, no see."

"S - Sirius... " Even Pettigrew's voice was squeaky. Again, his eyes darted toward the door. "My friend... my old friend..."

Black's wand arm rose "Avada kedavra!"

Hermione screamed. Peter Pettigrew was hit by a sharp green light and fell to the floor.

Harry stumbled backward in shock. His mind began to race and settled on the realization that it was time to flee. Hands came out and grabbed his wrist abruptly before he could make the attempt. "Harry, I mean you no harm. Please, you have to believe me now. You have to come with me," Sirius said, his eyes full of pleading.

Harry struggle to get his arm back out of the man's grasp. "You can't be serious! I'm not going with you! You just killed a man in front of me.… Rat, Ron's rat."

A pained expression appeared on the man's gaunt face. "I would have loved to raise you. Even if your mother never told James. I would have loved to watch you grow up. I couldn't. I was locked up. I escaped to see you. I couldn't take it anymore. I had to know you were alright. But now, I finally have the chance! We can be a family; I can show you. Just come with me."

Harry looked from the madman's gray eyes to his tattered clothes to his waist length, greasy hair. He was mad. He had to be. But, he'd been right about the rat. Pettigrew's body laying on the floor somehow felt even more present. A sign of the man's credibility. Could he trust him? Could he trust this disheveled man who just killed the man at his feet but promised him, family? All he'd ever wanted was a family.

Sirius was looking beseechingly at his son. It had been so long since he'd escaped Azkaban. He had been on the run so long, looking for his son. This wasn't how he expected things to go, but he wouldn't give up without Harry coming with him. Sirius's resolved strengthened.

"Harry, I can explain everything once we settle in," he pleaded. "We can't stay here. Just come with me to my house and I'll answer any questions you have."

Ron looked up at the two of them. Harry couldn't be seriously considering this. "What about us? What are you going to do with us?" He said, reminding the escaped convict that the two of them were still there.

"We can stun you. That way it will look like you were knocked out during the struggle," Sirius said, a plan forming in his mind. Just then, a knocking noise was heard. Sirius's head turned as if listening very intently.

"This place is haunted," said Hermione.

"No. It never was. We have to go now." And with that, he pointed his wand at her and Ron and stunned them. As their bodies slumped to the floor, he spun around, grabbing Harry by the waist and apparating them away. Their forms dissolved right as Remus Lupin burst through the door.

The door of the room burst open in a shower of red sparks. Professor Lupin came hurtling into the room, his face bloodless, his wand raised and ready. His eyes flickered over Ron, lying on the floor, draped protectively over Hermione, as if they had been cowering next to the door. And then his gaze landed on the dead body on the floor in front of them.

Lupin cautiously moved into the room, staring at the body lying on the floor, and then at Crookshanks the sole conscious occupant of the room. The cat walked carelessly over the dead body and rubbed it's side against Lupin's leg.

Then Lupin spoke, in a very tense voice. "Innovate." His wand was pointed in the direction of the two stunned students. Slowly a head of bushy brown hair raised and curls tumbled over one another as the girl shook her head to wake herself up more fully. Ron copied her movements a moment later.

Hermione looked up at the professor a question clear in her eyes but then her gaze skipped down to the dead body and then around the room. Her expression changed to fearful as she seemed to remember where she was. It had not been a dream. They really were in the shrieking shack, Harry was gone, and there was a dead man lying only a few feet in front of them. How in the world were they ever going to explain this? Where was Harry? Where had Black taken him? "Professor?"

"So he finally got Peter," Lupin said, looking down at the dead body. He wanted to kick it, but the man inside him calmed his wolf enough to resist the urge. "Where was he?"

Recognition finally dawned on Hermione's face. "Ron's rat." Hermione glanced around at Ron, who looked bewildered.

"But then..." Lupin muttered, staring at the corpse of Petter Pettigrew so intently it seemed he was trying to read his empty mind, "... why hasn't he shown himself before now? Unless" - Lupin's eyes suddenly widened, as though he was seeing something beyond the body, something neither of them could see, "- unless he was the one... unless Sirius switched... without telling me?"

"It's true then?" Hermione asked the wilderness. Was the wild man right? Could he possibly have been telling the truth? Did that mean Harry was safe? Very slowly, her gaze never leaving Lupin's face, Hermione asked. "Professor, what's going on -?"

Her question was cut off by Professor Lupin running his hands down his face and laughing. A man was dead. Harry was gone. A violent mass murderer had taken him and their professor was laughing?

She felt as though the bottom had dropped out of her stomach. "I DON'T BELIEVE IT!" Hermione screamed. She had raised herself off the floor and was pointing at Lupin, wild-eyed. "You - you -"

"Hermione -" Ron said hesitantly. He reached out to hand to grab her as she stood from the floor. Somehow he didn't feel like challenging the Professor was the best thing to do when they had just been found in a room alone with a dead body.

She shook Ron off of her, her eyes never leaving Lupins "- you know him! Have you been helping him? Do you know where he took Harry?"

"Hermione, calm down -" Lupin pleaded.

"I didn't tell anyone!" Hermione shrieked. "I've been covering up for you, I didn't tell anyone you were a werewolf -" She ignored Ron's gasp of shock. She was shaking her head, her hands on either side. She was so confused.

"Hermione, listen to me, please'" Lupin said softly. "I can explain -"

"We trusted you," she said in a voice just over a whisper. Her voice was wavering, as though she were near to tears. "and all of this time you have been helping him kidnap Harry."

"You're wrong," said Lupin. "I haven't been Sirius's friend, I'm not a death eater, but if Peter is alive... Or was... Then Sirius wasn't the one to betray Lilly and James, was he?" Lupin, looked remarkably calm, though rather pale.

"Black said he was Harry's dad -" Ron made a valiant effort to get up again but fell back with a whimper of pain. Lupin made toward him, looking concerned, but Ron gasped, "Get

away from me, werewolf!"

Lupin stopped dead. Then, with an obvious effort, he turned to Hermione and said, "How long have you known?"

"Ages," Hermione whispered. "Since I did Professor Snape's essay..."

"He'll be delighted," said Lupin coolly. "He assigned that essay hoping someone would realize what my symptoms meant... Did you check the lunar chart and realize that I was always ill at the full moon? Or did you realize that the boggart changed into the moon when it saw me?"

"Both," Hermione said quietly.

Lupin forced a laugh. "You're the cleverest witch of your age I've ever met, Hermione."

"I'm not," Hermione whispered. "If I'd been a bit cleverer, I'd have told everyone what you are!"

"But they already know," said Lupin. "At least, the staff do."

"Dumbledore hired you when he knew you were a werewolf." Ron gasped. "Is he mad?"

"Some of the staff thought so," said Lupin. "He had to work very hard to convince certain teachers that I'm trustworthy -"

"AND HE WAS WRONG!" Ron yelled. "YOU'VE BEEN HELPING HIM ALL THE TIME!"

"For the last time, I haven't. I have been attempting to protect Harry from Black as much as anyone else, but I'm beginning to think I shouldn't have. It makes sense, doesn't it? Sirius would never have betrayed Lily if she were the mother of his child." He looked down at the corpse at his feet. "I think it seems fairly obvious that it was Peter here who should have gone to prison for the crime Black was convicted of."

Ron cut him off, "If you haven't been helping him," he said, with a furious glare, "how did you know he was here?"

"The map," said Lupin. "The Marauder's Map. I was in my office examining it -"

"You know how to work it?" Hermione asked looking interested.

"Of course I know how to work it," said Lupin, waving his hand impatiently. "I helped write it. I'm Moony - that was my friends' nickname for me at school. The important thing is, I was watching it carefully this evening because I had an idea that you, Harry and Hermione might try and sneak

out of the castle to visit Hagrid before his hippogriff was executed. And I was right, wasn't I?" He had started to pace up and down, looking at them. Little patches of dust rose at his feet. "I assume you went under James's invisibility cloak?" He looked over at Hermione and saw her nod before he continued. "I watched you cross the grounds and enter Hagrid's hut. Twenty minutes later, you left Hagrid and set off back toward the castle. But you were now accompanied by somebody else. And now I can see I wasn't wrong. My dear friend Peter has been masquerading as your pet rat for years, I assume?" Ron nodded. "And then I saw another dot, moving fast toward you, labeled Sirius Black... I saw him collide with you; I watched as he pulled two of you into the Whomping Willow -"

"Lupin? Where's Black?" sneered a cold voice from the wall behind Lupin. Severus Snape was pulling off the Invisibility Cloak, his wand out as he scanned the room searching for the escaped convict. In his hand, he held a goblet that seemed to be smoking. Then his eyes fell to the body on the ground. "Peter Pettigrew…" The words came out in a surprised whisper.

"I found this at the base of the Whomping Willow," said Snape, throwing the cloak aside, "How in the world is Peter Pettigrew…" Snape looked up at him with wild confused eyes.

"It wasn't Black, Severus. It was Peter. It was Peter all along. He was innocent." Lupin explained.

"It wasn't Black…? Then where – –" Snape said his eyes still wide and staring.

"Sirius took Harry. I don't know where. They were gone before I got here." Lupin said and turned to look at Ron and Hermione. "Did he give any indication, did he say anything at all, anything that would help us find Harry?"

Hermione looked like she was thinking hard. Was there anything? Did he say anything? She shook her head. "He kept saying that he was Harry's father, that he didn't betray Harry's parents, he killed Ron's rat – Peter Pettigrew – he said he would explain everything once they settled in."

Lupin looked thoughtful. He was nodding slowly to himself as though putting pieces together in a mental tabletop puzzle that was missing the vast majority of its parts. "Settled in… He has been planning this then. He has a place for them to live. But where? He wouldn't go home, not to his parent's house… He hated them."

Snape cut him off, "We need to get the corpse up to the headmaster. There's going to be a lot of questions. They," he jerked his head towards Ron and Hermione, "will need to get their story straight. They were found alone in a room with the dead body of a man who was awarded the Order of Merlin."

"Not to mention they were the last ones to see the boy who lived before he was captured by a mass murderer," Lupin added.

Ron and Hermione's faces went even paler if that was possible. Were they going to get blamed for this?

He thrust the goblet towards his colleague. "You forgot to drink your potion. I have no interest in you transforming and ripping my throat out, Lupin."

Lupin smiled. "Thank you, Severus."

The unlikely four made their way out of the shrieking shack, Crookshanks led the way down the stairs; Lupin, Severus, and Ron went next. Lupin had drawn up a splint for Ron's leg. Then came Peter Pettigrew, drifting creepily along, his toes hitting each stair as they descended, Hermione brought up the rear. Getting back into the tunnel was difficult.

Hermione, he was in shock. No one was talking. Even Ron seemed too thrown by the night's events to say anything. Harry was gone. So much of how she defined her life in the wizarding world revolved around being friends with Harry Potter. He was gone. What if Black was lying? What if he was right now killing Harry...or had he already? And if he were telling the truth? Would she ever see him again? She looked over at Ron. He looked like he was about to cry. She couldn't blame him. A year ago he had lost his sister in the chamber of secrets, and now his best friend had been kidnapped. She couldn't help thinking that her life would've been much easier if she had never gotten her Hogwarts letter. If she had just stayed a muggle and lived with her parents in the muggle world.

The silence wasn't broken as they approach the castle, climbing the stone steps towards the doors that would lead to the entrance hall. She looked back over her shoulder at the quiet grounds. She saw dementors gliding in the distance across the lake. Some help they had been. Where were they when Harry was kidnapped? They were here to protect him and yet all they seemed to have done was make his year terrifying.

They walked through the entrance hall in silence. And then the silence was broken, "I should take Weasley here to the hospital wing –" Lupin started.

"I have a pain reliever. It will get him through the meeting. He needs to meet with the headmaster before the Minister shows up. You know he will. Fudge will want all the details so he can start figuring out how to spin this. A galleon says he will brand Potter as a dark wizard to save face." Snape sneered.

"Surely he wouldn't do that!" Lupin almost gasped.

"I assure you, he would. If it's not that, it will be something else equally atrocious." Snape said fishing a vile out from the inner pocket of his robes and handing it to the uncharacteristically silent redhead. "Drink this, Weasley."

Ron gulped down the liquid after a cursory sniff. Snape rolled his eyes. Weasley had never been good enough at potions to know whether he was being poisoned right now or not. Ron gave a look of disgust as the potion trickle down his throat.

"Gobstoppers" Lupin said and a gargoyle hopped away from the wall, the stones revealing a doorway, behind which a spiral staircase presented itself.

It led to the headmaster's office. When they reach the top they were greeted by Albus Dumbledore's voice coming from beyond the door "Enter."

They entered the office and were surrounded by the glimmering candlelight reflecting off of the glass and polished brass of the many magical instruments that littered the headmaster's private office. "Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley, Professors Snape and Lupin," he nodded to them all in turn, "I believe you have had an interesting night. Whom do you have floating behind you, Severus?"

"Peter Pettigrew." Hermione and Lupin said in unison.

The headmaster raised an eyebrow. "I thought… But I could never be sure…" His gaze traveled from the floating corpse to Lupin. " and where is Sirius? Harry?"

Hermione spoke up. Lupin had not been there. It was her story to tell. "Professor, I think I should tell you what happened before Professor Lupin found us in the shrieking shack." He gave her a nod and she began telling the convoluted tale of how the boy-who-lived had been captured and a man who should have died over a decade ago had been living with the Weasley's for years. The headmaster sat and listened to the whole of her story without a single interruption. She kept her gaze fixedly at him not wanting to look away for fear that the expression on Snape's face might make her hesitate. If she had turned to look she would have seen both of her professors wrapped with her story. Of course, even Lupin hadn't been told everything. There hadn't been time.

When she finished telling the tale Snape had a look of disbelief on his face. She couldn't read the headmaster's face nearly as well, but his eyes were not twinkling. They were hard and cold. Obviously losing Harry to a mass murdering escaped convict was a blow but did he believe her? When neither man spoke for a long while she spoke in frustration "There has to be a better way for me to tell you what happened. Professor Dumbledore, is there a way you can see my memories?"

The two men looked at each other and then back to the bushy haired girl and Dumbledore nodded slowly, "Very clever, yes there is."

The aged man stood up and walked over to an ornate cabinet of glass and gold. When he opened it a stone basin stood on top of a beautifully carved pedestal. He turned back towards her and indicated that she should walk towards him and the mysterious object. "This, Miss Granger, is a pensive. A rather beautiful and complex bit of magic that allows the storage and viewing of memories."

Hermione stared at the glittering, silvery liquid inside the basin. It seemed to be stirring itself, swirling allowing the candlelight to bounce off of its metallic surface creating alluring colors. "How do I use it, professor?"

"Like this." Dumbledore raised his wand to his temple and closed his eyes obviously thinking deliberately. When he moved his wand away from his temple slowly a long hair-like stream of silver came out. He placed the strand in the pensive and a tiny spectral figure of Hermione rose from the glittering surface. The little figure spoke. "How do I use it, professor?" It parroted back.

"That's amazing." She said staring at the small figure of herself as it collapsed down into the surface of the basin.

"It is. And now it is your turn, Miss Granger. Simply take your wand to your temple and think very clearly of tonight's events. When you have the memory constructed in your mind pull your wand away and place the memory on the surface." Dumbledore instructed.

It took Hermione much longer to think through the entirety of the night's events than it had for Dumbledore to simply remember words spoken to him a few seconds earlier. When she had the memory clear in her mind she moved it into the basin but no figure emerged this time. "Did I do something wrong, Professor?"

"Not at all, Miss Granger. Now, Professor Snape and I will view the events as you remember them. We will return shortly." And with that, Professor Snape rose from his chair and walked over to the pensive. They stood side-by-side before plunging their faces into the basin.

When they reemerged almost 20 minutes later they looked very serious and grave.

"Professors?" Hermione asked.

Dumbledore sat down with a heavy sigh in the chair behind his desk. Snape stood behind him. "Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley, I am going to have to ask you to refrain from sharing certain elements of your memory with the authorities when they come. We cannot allow it to be common knowledge that Harry Potter is the son of a dark wizard."

"Then you believe Black? He really is Harry's father?" Ron asked. He had been nearly silent for most of the night.

Dumbledore turned to look at Ron. "I believe it is a possibility. Sirius Black was a very dear friend of Lily and James Potter. He was also, in his youth, and extraordinarily handsome and charismatic young man. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Lilly might have… That she could have succumbed to his charms."

Snape gave a derisive snort and tossed his hair at the description of Black.

The four discussed the memory at length until they were finally interrupted by a ministry official come to investigate the events of the night and the surprising appearance of Peter Pettigrew.

~.~.~.~.{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}.~.~.~.~

Ron and Hermione were sitting in the headmaster's office for the sixth time in so many hours. They were explaining what happened in the shack to what felt like the 100th person. This time it was to the head of Magical Law Enforcement.

"No, like I said, the dog dragged me there," Ron said, exasperated.

"...and by the dog, you mean Black. Who I am supposed to believe is an unregistered animagus, that Harry Potter has seen several times this year on the school grounds." The ministry official scoffed.

"Exactly, and then Harry and I followed them through the tunnel under the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack," Hermione added.

"Where Black transformed back into a man and had Pettigrew with him." The ministry official continued.

"Well, no. I mean, Scabbers had been living with us for years. So, I guess, technically I had him," stammered Ron.

"So you were the one harboring a Death Eater? Were you also the one who killed him?" It had taken a while to convince the authorities that Pettigrew was the Death Eater, but the faint dark mark on his arm seemed to convince them eventually.

"You can't be serious! For the millionth time, Black killed Pettigrew! He killed him, then he grabbed Harry, then they disapparated. Then, Professor Lupin got there and started fixing me up. Then Snape came and gave Professor Lupin a drink, for some reason, and we all came back to the castle." Ron explained.

Hermione started to look nervous and fidget in her chair in front of Professor Dumbledore's desk.

Looking not at all convinced, the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement sent them back to Gryffindor tower. He turned to Dumbledore who had been sitting quietly, patiently waiting for the children's interrogation to end. "Well, it's the same story that they told the last three officers I sent. I don't really know what you and the minister expect me to do at this point. The tracer on Potter's wand isn't picking anything up. Either he's left the country, Black has snapped his wand, or it's been abandoned. We simply have no way of tracing him. I'm sorry Albus, but he's gone... and considering who captured him, he may very well be dead."

"That's not good enough! He's the boy who lived. Don't you understand? We need him!" Dumbledore said, voice rising as he stood.

The DMLE head sat down in Ron's vacated chair, staring glumly at the floor. "Albus, I understand well enough. He may have defeated Voldemort when he was a baby, but the ministry has no more tools to find him than any other lost teenager. We will keep a lookout for him, but that's all we can do. My hands are tied."
~.~

Chapter End Notes

Author's Note: Thank you for clicking on my story. I appreciate your interest and hope that you enjoy the story. I know that this first chapter seems to be … basically a C&P of the climax of the second and third books… it gets better from here lol! I just needed to establish a few events before the story really started. Please give it a couple chapters before judging it too hard :) This is my first fic.

I would like to give you fair warning. I have been told there are spelling errors that are very annoying to some readers. I am dyslexic and I honestly do not see the errors when I am staring at them. If you feel the need to tell me when you see typing/spelling errors, please be kind enough to limit yourself to private messaging rather than reviewing and please point out exactly where the errors you find offensive are. This way I can fix them for you. Simply posting a review that my spelling is poor and that I should proofread is unhelpful (it's bullying) and counterproductive as it only serves to make me sad and want to give up.

I have a team of betas (See my profile for a list of these wonderful people! They are fabulous!) but this is a big project and I can use all the help I can get. If you like the story and would like to beta, please private message me. If you like the story and you would like to offer to beta one, two, or a handful of chapters, please private message me.

Also, I would love input on how readers would like the story to progress so please feel free to review with suggestions. I hope that you continue to read (and review) and enjoy the story.