"Oi! Give Scabbers back!"
Fred ran down the hallway, laughing, as his younger brother chased after him. "Don't you want a better pet?" he called over his shoulder as he waved the rat he had plucked off Ron's shoulder in the air. "I might get someone to trade – like Lee for his tarantula –"
"Aw, is ickle Ronniekins fond of his rat?" As they neared the corner, Fred halted, turned on his heel, and held out the terrified rodent to his brother as Ron caught up. "Well, if you really care about him, I suppose I couldn't deprive you of him," he said, dramatically placing a hand over his heart. "It's not my place to interfere with true love."
Ron glowered as he took back Scabbers and inspected the rat, which seemed about ready to pass out. "Poor Scabbers," he mumbled as he petted it and let it scamper back onto his shoulder, where it clung on with all its might. "I know, he's awful."
"Ah, I knew it was too much to expect gratitude for my nobility of heart," Fred sighed theatrically. "The life of an older brother is a thankless one."
"You could have given him a heart attack!" Ron yelled. "He's old, you know! If he'd just been a rat who'd grown up in a Muggle area, he'd be dead by now!"
For an instant, Fred forgot to keep up the act. "Yeah, he really ought to be," he said quietly. What Ron said was what their father had supposed, after Scabbers had lived beyond his time, and told them. Some animals that grew up around magic endured far beyond their normal span of years, and occasionally exhibited magical properties themselves. A simple answer to a strange question.
Just the sort an Oblivator might provide to Muggles who had been at the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Trying to speed that up, are you?" asked Harry Potter, who had somehow become Ron's friend, and was giving Fred a look that, if possible, was even fouler than Ron's. He was a quiet, broody sort, not at all the boy hero Ginny daydreamed about; she'd have to find that out for herself next year, assuming she could manage not to pass out just from entering his presence. With a shake of his head, he turned his back on Fred and beckoned to Ron. "Come on – I think we're done here."
Ron glared at Fred a final time, then walked away at Harry's side. Fred, too, turned away and headed off.
As he rounded the corner, he nodded to his twin, who was slouched against the wall and inspecting a piece of parchment, and asked quietly, "So – was it as we thought?"
George wordlessly showed him the Marauder's Map, where the dot labeled Peter Pettigrew was accompanying Ron and Harry's dots as they marched off. "When you moved, so did it," he said, placing his finger on Pettigrew's dot and swiping it down the corridor to where the dots of Fred Weasley and George Weasley now stood.
Fred closed his eyes. "Funny thing," he said. "Do you know Ron's rat is missing one of its claws? Right forepaw. Just where the little finger would be on a human."
When he opened his eyes, he and George exchanged sick glances.
A few weeks into term, they'd finally realized where they'd heard the name Peter Pettigrew before. It hadn't bothered them their past two years of holding the Map, since perfect Percy had various hangers-on and sycophants, and nothing struck them as peculiar about one in particular following him around at all hours of the day and night. This year, however, that same hanger-on had stuck to Ron, and their sullen little brother wasn't the social butterfly Percy had been; no, his only constant companion was Harry Potter, and his dot was quite distinct from Peter Pettigrew's.
Besides, there was something horribly wrong about the boy they'd presumed to be a fifth-year spending every night in the first-years' bedroom.
Their increased scrutiny had found that Mr. Pettigrew was, in fact, invisible. That was, one twin could track Ron and Harry in person and observe that no third person was accompanying them, while the other found Peter Pettigrew's dot following theirs as faithfully as ever. They had initially puzzled over that – the map had never given false readings before – until they came to the horrifying, insane realization that there had been one possession that had passed directly from Percy to Ron:
And the Map did not pick up nonhuman entities. They'd verified that long before Scabbers had come to their attention, particularly through unexpected run-ins with Mrs. Norris.
They'd also verified that Professor McGonagall showed up just as well regardless of her shape – she sometimes went on her own nighttime patrols in Animagus form, ambushing students sneaking out for midnight trysts or making an unauthorized run at the Restricted Section, and the Map had spared them unexpected run-ins with her. If the dot labeled Peter Pettigrew indeed corresponded to the rat that had been Percy's constant companion, and then Ron's, that led to a very, very ugly conclusion.
So, before verifying it, they tried to get a grasp on who this Peter Pettigrew fellow was. A belated check revealed that there was no student named Peter Pettigrew currently enrolled at Hogwarts, nor any staff member by that name. Yet, when they wracked their brains, they knew they remembered the name from somewhere, and that it should have been important.
After over a week of debating with each other where they might have seen or heard it, and anxiously watching the mysterious dot follow their little brother everywhere he went, it hit them. Their parents talked about the war very little, but, from time to time, they would mention brief anecdotes: their uncles Fabian and Gideon's valiant last stand, the treachery that had brought the death of the McKinnons, and Alastor Moody's brilliant escape from the dungeons of Travers Tower.
Among those had been how Sirius Black, whom everyone had thought to be the one good wizard from a family whose vileness and corruption made the Malfoys seem like Pygmy Puffs, had betrayed the Potters to their deaths, and slaughtered both the former friend who dared to challenge him and a dozen unfortunate Muggles. Their father had used the story to warn them not to set aside their caution just because someone seemed charming and had a good sob story: James Potter had been the greatest champion for Black's valor and goodness of heart, and paid for it with both his life and his wife's.
Beside such shocking treachery, the actual name of the dead friend was a trifling detail. The reason it had even stuck in the twins' memory in the first place, before it was buried beneath a hundred more interesting things, was his fascinatingly gory end: after Black had blown up the street, there hadn't been very much left of his poor valiant challenger at all.
The largest piece they ever found of Peter Pettigrew was his little finger.
"So," George said at last, "what do we do?"
Both Ron and Harry leapt to their feet, yelling, as Fred ran off with Scabbers. This time, however, all the eyes at the Gryffindor table turned to follow them. Those of the other Houses joined them as Fred raced to the staff table, where he swept a deep bow as he came to stand behind Professor McGonagall.
"Mr. Weasley, what is the meaning of this?" she demanded as she turned in her seat to glare at him. "Resume your seat immediately!"
"Minnie – may I call you Minnie? – you are the loveliest, most intelligent woman I have ever met," he proclaimed loudly enough for the entire Great Hall to hear him. As George arrived beside him, he continued, "As such, my brother and I have decided to favor you with the most delectable treat we could obtain, one perfectly suited to your unique tastes–"
And he thrust Scabbers at her.
Incredulity, then fury, swept across her features; as shocked laughter came from the Great Hall, she slowly stood and loomed over them, fixing them with the most baleful gaze this side of a basilisk. "Detention for both of you," she breathed, "and twenty-five points from Gryffindor. Each. Now, resume your seats, or I shall personally–"
"And a poem for you, our sweetheart," George interrupted smoothly, holding up a piece of parchment. She began reading it with preemptive fury, then blinked rapidly at the message it actually contained.
RAT'S AN ANIMAGUS! PETER PETTIGREW! HE'S NOT DEAD!
They had underlined Pettigrew's name three separate times.
Her gaze moved from the parchment, to the rat, to the increasingly-anxious boys, and then back to the rat again. She turned away briefly, shaking her head in seeming disgust – and, when she turned back around, her wand was in her hand. "Stupefy."
The red bolt hit Scabbers, who slumped and was still. "And now for the test," she said quietly, taking the rat from Fred's hand, placing it on the floor, and aiming her wand at it again.
Whatever spell she used was nonverbal, but it took effect immediately: the rat's body warped and grew, its proportions changing radically as fur turned to worn fabric and a rodent's snout shifted into a man's face. Before the transformation had even finished, the man began to shift and groan, and Professor McGonagall snarled "Stupefy" again. It was followed by several more spells, until her target was simultaneously unconscious, Full-Body Bond, tied up by ropes, rendered mute, and a few other things Fred and George didn't recognize. One thing they did know, however: barring an act of Merlin, he wasn't going anywhere under his own power any time soon.
Luckily, Merlin had been dead for centuries anyway.
"Huh," George said finally as he took in the sight of the apparent Peter Pettigrew. The man had greying blond hair, deep lines on his face that looked like they had been prematurely etched by a life of fear and strain, and a few folds of skin that indicated that, while now thin, he had once been fat. "I thought he'd be taller."
Professor McGonagall was staring at Pettigrew, too, and she looked about to pass out or be sick. The other professors were joining in, with various exclamations and sounds of confusion, but only the Headmaster himself looked comparably ill. Fred and George were keeping an eye out for something else entirely.
As Lee Jordan and Angelina Johnson rounded the edge of the staff table, the twins gave them simultaneous nods of acknowledgement. Fred held up three fingers, and as he lowered them one-by-one, the four Gryffindors surreptitiously aimed their wands at Professor Quirrell's turban; the professor did not notice, distracted by his own consternation over Pettigrew.
When Fred lowered the final finger, the twins simultaneously screamed out "Finite Incantem!" as Lee and Angelina yelled "Wingardium Leviosa!"
Professor Quirrell's turban began to unfurl, and he let out a shriek of distress and grabbed at the loosening coils of fabric, which Lee and Angelina were doing their best to pull out of his reach. The twins continued to chant "Finite, Finite, Finite" as he flailed, and whatever spells he had keeping it in place weakened; cloves of garlic tumbled out as the turban came undone, and Lee and Angelina waved their wands faster as they dodged around professors' efforts to restrain them.
"Mr. Weasley and Mr. Weasley!" Professor McGonagall demanded as Professor Quirrell gave up trying to keep his turban contained and resorted to pressing his hands against his head. "What is the meaning of this?"
They did not miss that, this time, she was giving them the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, they didn't dare stop chanting; George paused only long enough to stammer out, "Er – 's about that appointment we made with you–" before resuming with redoubled fervor.
She stared at them in bewilderment, but turned towards Professor Quirrell with her wand at the ready.
Pettigrew hadn't been the only anomalous name they had noted. Though the label had been so light and indistinct they had thought they were imagining things at first, their Defense professor also had a constant companion.
The problem had been that the Map itself seemed to struggle to get a read. The second name faded in and out of view, and sometimes overlapped Quirrell's own label; once, clear letters had appeared, but Fred and George's excitement had been short-lived as it turned out to be a message reading "? – PADFOOT, PLEASE CHECK THIS". Similar hitherto-unseen placeholders appeared intermittently, including "MOONY, RUNE FIX NEEDED" and "PRONGS, THAT CHARM'S GONE BAD AGAIN". Even the Map seemed to have trouble deciding what was wrong, however, because the placeholders kept vanishing soon after they appeared, and the messages were completely inconsistent as to the likely cause of the failure.
Getting out a magnifying glass, lighting the Map as brightly as possible, and squinting as hard as they could enabled them to make out a few consistent shapes whenever the name was semi-visible, however. With great effort, they managed to determine it appeared to be nine or ten letters long, and conjectured, from the shapes, a series of letters something like "Fan Piddle".
The breakthrough had come when they saw, while in detention for a prank Filch hadn't found half so funny, a trophy labeled with the name "Tom Riddle". Upon later eager inspection, they had decided that the name on the Map could be Tom Riddle, and tried to figure out why it would be so indistinct. They had just figured out Peter Pettigrew's identity, and thought at first Riddle might be another Animagus; however, that couldn't explain why the Map was suffering so badly trying to detect him. So they gave in and decided to look into Riddle.
They'd gone to Professor McGonagall, since she was their Head of House, and Riddle's trophy was from long enough ago that she might actually remember it. Nominally, their appointment had been to ask her about something they'd read in one of their books about Transfiguration experts actually being able to "animate the inanimate". The discussion that followed had been surprisingly interesting, though she'd been suspicious of their motives, and, at the end of the conversation, they'd casually dropped a line about the fancy trophy they'd seen, and whether she knew what one had to do to get an award for "Special Services to the School".
After assuring them firmly that they had little chance of ever receiving one, she had explained that Tom Riddle had been an incredible prodigy from Slytherin who had graduated a few years before she came to Hogwarts, but had been a byword for brilliance for a full decade after he left. He would have been one for even longer, but – alas – he seemed to have fallen in with a horrid crowd after school, and frittered away his talent in some sort of dubious dead-end job before going on a trip abroad, and there wholly disappearing from view. The rumor mill had never decided whether he'd died, taken up a teaching position at one of the lesser Eastern European magical academies, or become the sort of vile dweller in the woods that tended to inspire the nastier sort of fairy tales. It ought to be a lesson, Professor McGonagall had said sternly, that even the brightest and most promising young men could throw their potential away through recklessness and criminal behavior, and such a course invariably brought them to no good end. She had looked at them very pointedly as she'd said it.
The moralizing had, of course, gone right in one ear and out the other, as Fred and George were too busy mentally filling in the chain of events. Brilliant Slytherin wizard goes Dark, heads off to Eastern Europe, and is never seen again. Decades later, timid Hogwarts Professor goes to a country in Eastern Europe, comes back with that same wizard attached, and takes to wearing a turban filled with enough garlic to disguise the shape or smell of anything else in there. The exact details probably couldn't be figured out except by someone up to their eyeballs in Dark Arts, but the outline was alarming enough, and that turban was the big target. Could be a decoy, but really – if Riddle had gone to the trouble of having Quirrell construct the "terrified of vampires" alibi, and the Dark spells concealing him were so powerful that even the Marauder's Map was struggling to perceive him, what were the odds that the turban was a second bluff?
In the here and now, the plan to dramatically reveal the hidden Riddle was failing; the turban had come undone, but nothing except garlic had fallen out, and the strips of fabric which Professor Quirrell had desperately retained seemed to be pressed flat against the back of his head. Fred and George supposed Riddle might be disguised as one of the garlic cloves, but they didn't think Animagi could be plants.
Unfortunately, the professors had gotten all of them, and the only reason they might not have been hauling them off to detention at that very moment was that the removal of the garlic had made apparent a sickly-sweet, yet pungent smell, like meat gone very bad. And it came from Professor Quirrell.
"Boys, what is the meaning of this?' Professor McGonagall asked, her voice midway between indignation and curiosity. Madame Pomfrey had circled around and began to inquire if "Quirnius" was well, to which he kept responding, in an increasingly shaky tone, that he was quite all right and he just needed to go back to his quarters. "I cannot fathom, for the life of me, what this had to do with our appointment. Were you attempting to animate his turban?"
"Don't bother, Minerva – it's evident that these would-be heroic pranksters simply couldn't resist revealing themselves as vulgar bullies," Snape said, sneering as he paced around to stand by them. He had helped restrain Lee and Angelina, who were protesting that they really needed to undo the turban all the way. "Their excuses are pointless. I fear, however, that they won't like the punishment for rising above their usual fare, and daring to assault a teacher–"
Unable to find where Riddle might have been hiding, George cursed, and Fred gave an angry jerk of his head; looking right at Professor Quirrell as he passed them, hands still clamped to the back of his head, he yelled, "We know you're in there, Mr. Riddle!"
The change was instantaneous. A vicious hiss came from the back of Professor Quirrell's head, and the professor's wand was in his hand immediately, swinging around to point at them; for one horrible instant, the twins were staring at the tip of his wand, which glowed an ominous green, and time itself seemed to stop –
Then Quirrell collapsed forward as a spell took him from behind. More followed, in every color of the rainbow, and the figure before them convulsed, man and – snake? – screaming alike in fury as binding after binding landed upon Quirrell. The Headmaster himself strode forward, wand outstretched and his face like thunder.
"Dumbledore," hissed whatever lay beneath the turban, and the fabric shifted subtly as though distorted by – lips? "Old fool. You believe you can hold me?"
Quirrell arched his back and screamed. "No, master – NO, MASTER, DON'T–"
The last strips of fabric abruptly sank and began turning black, and something like a dark mist shot up from the back of Quirrell's skull; the man's tense body went slack, and his head lolled against the ground, eyes wide and unseeing. The mist rose up, up, up towards the ceiling of the Great Hall, weaving and dodging around every spell the Headmaster cast in its direction, and hovered briefly at the apex. "I shall return!" it called in a thin, reedy voice down to the gawping faces of every student in the Hall, then fled through the ceiling. A final spell impacted the ceiling just as it disappeared, briefly plunging the entire Great Hall into darkness; the image of the morning sky returned a moment later with a wave of the Headmaster's wand.
The Headmaster lowered his wand, still gazing up towards where the dark mist had departed, his mouth set in a grim line. "Albus?" Professor McGonagall asked in a shockingly tremulous voice; not once in the three years that the twins had been attending Hogwarts had they ever seen a sign their Head of House was even capable of fear. "Was that…"
The Headmaster did not respond, but she evidently took the absence of response as one in and of itself; she gasped, her face paling – and then rounded on Fred and George. "Why did you call him Tom Riddle?" she demanded, her voice rising with emotion. "Is that why you asked me about him? How did you know? What do you know? Do you know who that was?"
"Er…" began Fred.
"Tom Riddle?" George said, shrugging.
Snape, who looked absolutely thunderstruck, at last gathered his wits and turned to the Headmaster, an eyebrow raised. "I know you are opposed to my assuming the professorship of Defense Against The Dark Arts, Headmaster," he said in a droll voice, "but I must say, I did not realize you were so desperate to ensure that, and so lacking in candidates, that you would accept him…"
"This is no laughing matter, Severus," the Headmaster said coldly, and was seconded by a sob from Madame Pomfrey, who knelt beside Quirrell's prone body, casting complicated charms Fred and George had never even heard of before. His eyes still remained wide and unseeing, but the occasional shuddering, agonized breath now came from his gaping mouth. She had uncovered the back of his head; the twins glanced at it, then hastily looked away and tried to scrub the ruin they had seen from their memories.
"If that was who I believe it was, gallows humor is the only conceivable response that does not involve my shaking you by the shoulders and asking when you went terminally senile," Snape snarled, drawing an indignant cry from Professor McGonagall. His breaths came short and fast as he stared at the Headmaster, eyes wide like a rabid animal's. "Or am I to believe that you, the greatest wizard of our times, were unable to detect him, when these two imbeciles could?"
"Hey!" the twins objected in tandem. They froze as the Headmaster swept his gaze over them, his expression as unfathomable as that of a sphinx.
"Indeed," said the Headmaster. "I would very much like to know how you became aware of his presence, Mr. Weasley and Mr. Weasley, especially under that name. It is one that he likes to keep a secret, and which I believed before this was known only to the most intimate of his followers."
"Why? He's got another one?" George asked, feeling as though he were privy to a conversation in which everyone but him and Fred knew what they were actually talking about.
"Did he have any followers?" Fred asked in equal bewilderment. "I thought no one'd heard of him for decades, after he ran off to Albania?"
Snape let out a long, loud, and deeply embittered laugh. The Headmaster looked at him disapprovingly, and then said to Fred and George, "Mr. Weasley and Mr. Weasley, see me in my office." He looked at Professor McGonagall. "Minerva, please contact the Ministry immediately. And keep a close eye on Mr. Pettigrew." Finally, he turned to Snape. "Severus, please meet me after I am done with Mr. Weasley and Mr. Weasley. It seems we have much to discuss."
He strode off, and, after looking towards the rest of the Great Hall, which buzzed with discussion and speculation, and the other staff, who were in a similar state, Fred and George turned to each other, nodded, and scampered after him.
They halted and looked back at Professor McGonagall, who, while still pale, had regained her composure. "I believe you asked me how you might go about obtaining an Award for Special Services to the School?" She inclined her head. "Today, you may well have earned yours."
They got both that and the Order of Merlin, First Class.
Yes, it was a shock to them, too. Quite possibly to a lot of other people as well: they overheard discussions after the ceremony that they were only supposed to have each gotten an Order of Merlin, Second Class, but Dumbledore himself had personally petitioned to raise it to First Class. The Second Class went to Lee and Angelina for assisting them.
It just barely made up for the loss of the Marauder's Map. They'd gone into the Headmaster's office vowing to never give up the secret, but he'd fixed his piercing blue eyes upon them, and somehow they'd found themselves giving up its existence, its current hiding-place, and its password. Mr. Prongs, Mr. Padfoot, Mr. Wormtail, and Mr. Moony would never forgive them. On the other hand, the twins hoped whoever those brave, brilliant souls had been could understand; it was surprisingly hard to resist Dumbledore. Maybe that was why You-Know-Who had been afraid of him.
Speaking of You-Know-Who, rumor around the school had it that the spirit which had emerged from Quirrell had been him – Harry Potter had suffered blinding pains in his scar, the one he got from You-Know-Who, the moment he laid eyes on the dark mist, and nearly passed out. Of course some people said he must have been faking it for attention, but those same people were seen sending an unusual volume of correspondence to their parents over the next few days, and received just as much back. The speculation multiplied when the Ministry officially denied that Quirrell had been possessed by anything more than the sort of thing one encountered when one delved into the Darkest areas of certain countries, and refused to clarify what that sort of thing might be.
Professor McGonagall did nothing to clarify the rumors, but could be overheard muttering, in unguarded moments, "Tom Riddle! Really! But I don't understand… they all said he was a Half-Blood – some said a Muggleborn with pretensions… so how could he… I just don't understand…"
Snape gave no sign of what was going through his mind, but remained on edge through all his lessons; peculiarly, though he was quicker to snap, he also seemed more inclined to tolerate the existence of Gryffindors, and, very reluctantly, Fred and George in particular. They repaid the favor by shelving their plans to forcibly shampoo his hair when he least expected it. Maybe next year.
As though in payment for Professor Snape's relative benevolence, students soon found they could not sneak out at all; the professors seemed to have gained a preternatural awareness of where they were at all times, and were quick to ambush students who thought themselves undetected. Fred and George listened guiltily to complaints and prayed once more for the makers of that brilliant map to forgive them. Surely they had never wished for their fabulous invention to be put to such a dreadfully legitimate use.
Days after that eventful breakfast, they had received a bright red letter from their mother. It began as Howlers usually did, bursting into flames and screaming for all the Great Hall to hear that they had been incredibly reckless, foolish, and heedless of their own safety; they should have informed a professor, they should have contacted the authorities, they should have –
Then her voice burst into tears and sobbed that they were wonderful, brave boys, and both she and their father were more proud of them than they could possibly imagine. Fred and George had been mortally embarrassed, but the entire Great Hall had cheered for them.
The Ministry would announce soon after that Peter Pettigrew, who had been personally guarded by Professor McGonagall until he was led off to be interrogated by the Aurors, had actually been responsible for the crimes for which he had framed Sirius Black. After insinuating himself as a secret Secret-Keeper, he had sold the Potters out to You-Know-Who, then cold-bloodedly baited Black into confronting him, sliced off his own finger, and slaughtered the Muggles himself before changing into his Animagus form and fleeing. Black, unfortunately, had suffered a nervous breakdown at the landscape of horror before him, and been in no state to resist arrest or testify as to his own innocence when the Aurors came to the scene. Though both the Ministry's official statement and The Daily Prophet's report skimmed over the matter, apparently he'd received no trial in the pandemonium after You-Know-Who's disappearance, and been sent off to Azkaban still screaming, laughing, and sobbing that it was all his fault "James and Lily" were dead.
Surprisingly, Azkaban's dire conditions seemed to have agreed with him, because the Ministry proudly announced that Black had been found more-or-less sane when the guards came to his cell to escort him out, and was receiving treatment by the best Mind-Healers England had to offer. Reportedly his condition continued to improve by the week, except for a brief relapse when informed of how, exactly, those intrepid young Hogwarts students had discovered the rat's true nature; that sent him off in fits alternating between hysterical laughter and crushing grief for the better part of three days, though he recovered and resumed his treatment soon after. No one had any idea why.
Speaking of trauma, Percy and Ron were both unsettled by the knowledge that they had blithely strolled about with a double-crossing, You-Know-Who-loving mass-murderer on their shoulder, and Percy had weakly joked that he blamed the twins if he got anything less than an O on any of his O.W.L.s this year. Ron's weak joke had been that it just figured that he couldn't even be the first Weasley to unknowingly have a traitorous, murderous Animagus for a pet. Aside from that, both of Fred and George's brothers kept quiet about it, except when Ron would occasionally look up from his homework and shriek, apropos of nothing, "I slept with him!" – only to be immediately answered by Percy snapping, "Don't remind me!"
Fred and George themselves basked in their fleeting fame more than anything else, though it did get tiring after the umpteenth time they were asked how they did it, what secret powers they were concealing, and who that "Mr. Riddle" had been, anyway. That was being kept secret, on Dumbledore's command, so as to forestall mass panic in the school. The twins really thought that having You-Know-Who strolling about on the back of a teacher's head merited mass panic, but they couldn't figure out a way around their vow of secrecy. Well, they could work on that over the summer.
Speaking of Quirrell, he remained comatose. Madame Pomfrey's efforts had saved his life, but there was no telling whether he'd ever wake up. He had been moved to St. Mungo's Sealed Ward, and placed under guard around the clock in case his former passenger decided to return or act to render him silent forever. Until he regained consciousness, if he ever did, there was no telling whether he'd consented to his possession; even if he technically had, consent was an iffy thing when it came to the will of powerful wizards. Fred and George could testify to that, after the tragic confiscation of the Marauder's Map.
The Defense professorship was taken over by a loose coalition of correspondence-course tutors, older students, and eventually some shabby fellow Dumbledore had gotten on short notice. Apparently he'd needed to return to Britain to testify in Pettigrew's trial anyway, and he needed the money. The tragic thing was that this shambolic assortment of teachers, tutors, and trolls still resulted in the highest Defense grades seen in years.
Overall, most was well – the only pity was that they weren't likely to have a year this exciting ever again.
Fred and George enjoyed a peaceful ride on the Hogwarts Express – once they, Angelina, and Lee had sufficiently pranked randomly-selected other compartments, of course. They had standards to maintain.
The end-of-year feast had featured dual Slytherin and Gryffindor colors, thanks to a decision based on the "extraordinary circumstances" of this year. Gryffindor had been withdrawn from the running for the House Cup on the grounds that, very simply, the amount of House points one would get for services worthy of an Order of Merlin would render the House Cup competition pointless not a full month into the term. Thus Slytherin technically maintained their streak for a seventh year, but Gryffindor shared the Cup, and its members were not above rubbing it into their rivals that they even had a shot due to Gryffindor's extreme graciousness.
Diluting their smugness somewhat had been the Headmaster's ominous speech about darkness hiding even in the most innocuous of guises, and the need to stand fast, stay vigilant, and take care in the foreseeable future. The various Defense semi-professors could agree with that, as the students who had taught had suffered an unusual amount of break-ups, break-downs, and broken bones, the correspondence-course tutors had racked up a fantastic amount of totally unrelated injuries via repeated lightning strikes, unpaid Gringotts loans, and dysentery-afflicted dragons, and the shabby fellow had been hospitalized after a terrible accident with an enormous amount of sterling-silver utensils, incidentally revealing his werewolf status in the process. With all who participated having essentially earned honorary Chudley Cannons membership, the distributed Defense professorship would not be continued next year, and the students gloomily speculated who they might get next time. Since it was widely believed Dark Lords might have entered the running, a few wags brought up Gellert Grindelwald, who technically wasn't dead; the Headmaster, though he had recovered his usual good humor, would begin to look most sour whenever the notion was mentioned, which of course only egged such rumormongers on.
Not everyone was gloomy. Harry Potter had approached Fred and George to apologize for thinking ill of them, and fervently thanking them for having started the chain of events that led to Sirius Black's freedom; apparently the man was his godfather, and, though he'd spend a few more weeks with his relatives before the paperwork went all the way through, he'd be staying with Black from now on rather than them. Fred and George were a little bothered by how desperately glad the boy was at this turn of events – one'd think he'd been the one in Azkaban, and not Black. Nonetheless, it was none of their business, and so they'd accepted his thanks and shaken his hand. Harry had been so happy that he hadn't even minded when his skin turned bright red, crudely-drawn whiskers appeared on his face, and his hair puffed out in a golden mane. Again – reputation to maintain. If they didn't keep up regular pranks, people might start thinking of them as heroes rather than jokesters, and that would be awkward.
Professor McGonagall had also spoken a few words to them before they'd departed, telling them that, while promising boys like Riddle had sometimes gone bad, so too had some rogues turned over a new leaf as they matured and become heroes, like James Potter and Sirius Black. She'd sniffled a bit at that, and they'd pretended not to notice. Then she'd told them she hadn't forgotten that little jest about rats being her favored food, and, as they'd quickly excused themselves and fled, they thought they heard a little chuckle.
Their Head of House? Have a sense of humor? It must have been their imagination.
Aside from that, the end of their third year at Hogwarts passed without incident, and they dismounted from the Hogwarts Express in good humor. "Thanks again for the help with Quirrell," Fred said to Angelina and Lee as the four of them began looking for their respective parents.
"No problem," said Angelina, smiling.
"I have a problem," Lee said jokingly, punching Fred in the arm. "I mean, we go to all that trouble, and all we get is a lousy Second-Class Order of Merlin?"
They had a good laugh over that, and then Lee caught sight of his parents and, after a brief farewell, went running over to them. "I've got to go – that's my mum," Angelina said, squinting into the distance and pointing to a vaguely familiar woman.
"All right – see you next year," George said.
"Don't forget to – mmph!" Fred managed, having been abruptly hugged from behind by a cave bear. Angelina chuckled.
"I'll leave them to you, Mrs. Weasley," she said, grinning, and then went running towards her mum.
"I'm so glad you made it through this year all right," she said to them, apparently attempting to fix that by crushing their ribs; around the time they feared they might be beginning to creak, she released them and clapped them both on the shoulders. "And don't you ever do anything that risky again. Do you hear me, young men?"
"Yes, Mum," they chorused, looking over her shoulders. Percy and Ron had already joined her, and a quick glance about found Harry nearby with a pair of mean-faced people who, nonetheless, seemed increasingly discomforted by what he was telling them.
"–been in wizard jail ten years, real tough sort – I haven't seen it myself, but they say he can turn into a big, black dog, size of a pony with teeth and claws to match, pretty scary – and he was my dad's best friend, can you believe it? He said in his letter that, if anything happened to me, he'd hunt the people who did it down, and pay them back double–"
"That's nice, boy," the woman of the two said anxiously, looking as though she was seriously reconsidering a whole slew of plans she'd had in mind. "Ah – you did say you'd only have to be with us a few weeks, didn't you? That's all? He'll be picking you up after that?"
"That's right – Oh! And you should know, he's a little jumpy after all those years in prison, and he said that, when he comes to pick me up, if he doesn't like what he sees–"
Fred and George turned away, and raised an eyebrow at each other. Ron caught their eye, gave a jerk of his head toward the couple Harry was regaling, and said in a low voice, "They deserve it. They really, really deserve it."
"What's that, Ron dear?" their mother asked, looking over at him.
"Well, all right," she said, turning back to Fred and George. "Now, we've got to get home quickly – there's a man waiting for us –"
"Is it about Dad?" George asked, suddenly feeling his stomach twist. Their father had briefly been under investigation for harboring a rogue Animagus in his house, but the letters from home said it had blown over. But the Ministry sometimes reopened cases when people least expected it. What if –
"No, no! Gracious, no. Though he's involved, as the head of the household." She beamed down at them. "It's about you."
When they entered the Burrow, Ginny came sprinting up to them immediately. "What took you so long?" she demanded, tugging at Fred's arm. "They've been waiting so patiently, and –"
"It's all right, girl," called a laughing voice. "Believe me, I could sit in a sunlit room all day."
"What's going on?" Ron asked as they were shepherded toward the dining table, where their father was sitting with two other men – one a stranger, but a vaguely familiar one, and the other their shabby part-time Defense Professor. "Oh, Mr. Lupin! You're out of the hospital already?"
"Ron!" their mother scolded, but Mr. Lupin only gave a pained laugh.
"I was fortunate enough to come under the care of an expert in silver poisoning," the werewolf said, giving the boy a tired smile. "Alas, I fear that my boggart has become a clumsy House-Elf burdened with more than he could reasonably carry."
Fred and George, who had learned about boggarts as part of their year's Defense curriculum, chuckled at that. Ron only nodded and frowned at him. "That's great to hear," he said. "Er – what are you doing here?"
"It's a reasonable question," Mr. Lupin said before their mother could scold him. "But that's really for my friend to answer. I came along for a secondary reason." He winked at Fred and George, who stared back at him in puzzlement. He'd been a better teacher than they had for their prior two years of Defense, even part-time, but they hadn't been particularly close to him.
"I think I'll leave it to Arthur," the stranger said breezily, giving a nod towards their father. "This is his home, after all, and you're his kids."
Their father looked as though he'd been recently smacked about the head with a Bludger. "I – Ah – Where are my manners?" he babbled. "This – I believe you've made his acquaintance at Hogwarts – is Mr. Remus Lupin. And this – this incredibly generous man – is Mr. Sirius Black."
All four of the Weasley boys gawped at him. That's where they'd seen him! But the rail-thin, prematurely-aged, unkempt man in the photographs in the papers, who had shielded his dark-adjusted eyes every time the bright flashbulbs went off in his face, looked hardly anything like the well-groomed, well-fed, youthful-faced man who greeted them now. Sure, he'd had the better part of a year to recover, but he didn't look like someone who'd been in Azkaban for a decade. Honestly, he looked better than Mr. Lupin did.
"What's the matter?" Mr. Black said, seeming offended. "Get a bit of a wash, and no one recognizes you any more? Honestly, young people these days."
The four looked at each other, each awkwardly wondering if he should be the first to offer an apology, when Mr. Black laughed. "Just joking. I know I was in a – bad state." A haunted look entered his eyes, and for just that instant, they could believe he'd survived a full decade in that place. Then it was gone, and he was grinning again. "But don't mind this old man's woes," he said, standing and propping his elbow on the chair. "I owe you boys. More than I honestly could ever repay." He nodded to their father. "So I've tried to repay all of you a little. I've been talking to your dad about that…"
"I would not call your offer," their father said faintly, "a 'little'."
"My reward," Mr. Black corrected. "Look. Those two sons of yours saved me from – a very bad place, and made sure the bast– man who should have gone there did. I'm not joking when I say I probably would have remained there for the rest of my life without their actions. I owe them my life, or any life worth living, and you understand what that means."
"You never struck me as one to hold to the old ways back in the or– the, er, old days," their father said, with a hasty glance at the boys. Fred and George couldn't speak for Percy or Ron, but they were just confused as to why he'd stammered like that.
"Doesn't mean I think all of them should be thrown out. Just nine out of ten of them… on a good day…" Mr. Black turned back to the boys. "Let's just say your family's finances have improved a bit." Their father made a choking noise. "Half of it's in individual trust vaults, though – I, er, know from experience that people who come into money suddenly, erm, need a bit of time getting used to it, and some kept back for, ah, once they've finished getting used to it." He shook his head, his gaze fixed on somewhere far away. "I don't regret that motorcycle," he mumbled under his breath, "but I do regret rushing the job. I could have gotten it done for half the price. At least. And did I really need the dragonfire?"
"Uh, nothing," he said, blatantly forcing a smile. "Just reflecting on the follies of youth." He glanced at Ron. "By the way, kid – I think I owe you a new pet. So what do you want? Owl, cat, or toad? Or something else? I know Hogwarts is pretty strict about pets, but if it allowed Wormtail, I'm sure you can bargain–"
"I, um. I – I dunno where to start," Ron said, looking as gobsmacked as their father. "I – I've never, um – I've never gotten to choose before." He went pink and stared at his shoes.
But that wasn't what Fred and George were focused on. "Hey," George began slowly.
"How do you know the name 'Wormtail'?" Fred said, staring up at Mr. Black.
Mr. Black inclined his head and raised his eyebrows. "Ah," he said. "Right. That's the other thing I came here for." He walked forward until he stood in front of Fred and George; Mr. Lupin followed suit. "Your father introduced us as Sirius Black and Remus Lupin," he said. "But you know us by different names."
"We do?" asked Fred.
A broad, genuine smile broke across Mr. Black's face. "Mr. Padfoot, at your service," he said, bowing at the waist.
"And Mr. Moony," Mr. Lupin said brightly, giving a short little wave. For that moment, he looked a decade younger.
Fred and George stared at them, their mouths open. "No," George breathed at last.
"James Potter was Prongs," Mr. Black – Padfoot – said. "And you captured Wormtail." A grim look passed over his features, but was gone a second later. "I understand you two and your friends took up the mantle of Hogwarts' chief pranksters."
"You can't be serious," Fred said, unable to keep the reverence out of his voice.
"I am, actually. Says so on my birth certificate and everything."
"You know what I mean. You – You?"
"I believe you used – this?" Padfoot said, producing a familiar parchment from his pocket. The twins goggled. "Dumbledore had it, but I wheedled my way into getting it back from him. It's my rightful property, after all."
"And mine," Moony said, nudging him.
"And Harry's, don't forget him," Padfoot said, elbowing him back. He extended the Map to the twins. "But I have a funny feeling he'd agree, so, as the surviving makers – Wormtail no longer counts – we now formally bestow this treasure upon you." He winked at them. "Try not to get it captured this time."
"Oh, Merlin, sir," George said, taking it from Padfoot's hands with as much care and tenderness as if it were his firstborn child, "we – we are honored beyond what words can express–"
"The real Mr. Padfoot and Mr. Moony," Fred choked out, "we – we don't even know what to say –"
"Well, I do." Without warning, Padfoot dropped down to one knee, and Fred and George stared him in the eye. "Mr. Fred Weasley… Mr. George Weasley… As part of my life debt to you, would you do me the honor of becoming my and Moony's apprentices as Hogwarts' finest pranksters?"
Their twin squeals of undiluted joy almost drowned out their mother's cry of "Mr. Black, don't encourage them!"
Author's Note: And thus the plots of the next three books hit a brick wall.
In their fourth year, Fred and George see Mr. "Fan Piddle" lurking around Hogwarts again – this time, around their little sister – and take appropriate actions. The year after that, absolutely nothing happens, thanks to Wormtail already having been put away and Sirius released. The events of the Triwizard Tournament might play out, but this Fred and George are far more obsessive about the Marauder's Map than Harry was, and they'd notice that one Bartemius Crouch seemed to be teaching Moody's lessons for him.
If, through some freakish chain of coincidences, the graveyard resurrection still occurred, their seventh year might remain somewhat as its old self, but Harry having a guardian willing to go to bat for him would probably stymie the Ministry's efforts to discredit him, and Sirius would be more than happy to remind the public that the Ministry's fantastic verification skills once put him in Azkaban for ten years for a crime he didn't commit. If Fred and George found a way around their vow of secrecy and went further into plumbing the Riddle-Voldemort connection, The Quibbler would be delighted to wax poetic about the Dark Lord's Half-Blood heritage; even if they could just come out with the information that the spirit possessing Quirrell was Voldemort, it would direly impact his reputation to have "Served as a lousy Defense teacher for about three weeks, then was thwarted in his grand plans by four thirteen-year-olds who didn't even realize it was him" added to his resume. Finally, it would be a bit hard for Voldemort to bait Harry into coming to the Ministry for Sirius's sake if he could legally be in full-time communication with his guardian, eh?
From that point on, how things play out depends on the butterfly-effect consequences of the multiple major divergences. Sirius was freed from Azkaban before 1991 ended, the Wizarding world became aware at that time that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named might yet live (albeit in very bad shape), people other than Albus Dumbledore became aware that the Pureblood-supremacist Dark Lord had once been the Half-Blood Tom Riddle, the Weasleys came into money, Fred and George were apprenticed to two very capable wizards, Harry got a decent guardian after the end of his first year, and the crises of the next two years were averted – possibly the next three, if Fred and George discovered the false Moody before the Goblet was opened for entries. On the negative side, Hermione Granger was never cornered by a troll in the bathroom, so she didn't befriend Harry and Ron at that time; the repercussions of that could be severe, considering that she did all the heavy lifting in canon Deathly Hallows.
Voldemort's presence gave the Marauder's Map difficulty because he's only a part of Tom Riddle, and so failed to give off anywhere near the same "signal strength" as an intact soul. This might tip Sirius and Remus off to the existence of Horcruxes early, as they attempt to determine what could possibly cause the confusing behavior Fred and George report it as having shown, or it might not. Being able to personally observe the same phenomena next year, with an entirely different Tom Riddle contained in an object which they might choose to confiscate for their own examination before turning it over to Dumbledore, would go a long ways toward their figuring it out.
I make no statement as to Dumbledore's reason for continuing to keep the Riddle-Voldemort connection a secret. He did it in canon, so he continues to do it here.
Hope readers enjoyed.