Thank you again for all the reviews! While this is the last chapter of "Fruit of the Golden Tree," I hope to write more of this story in the future.
Fleamont Apparated into place outside the Weasley home, and stood studying it for a moment. He reckoned it was a clever place, sort of, for Pettigrew to have gone to ground. No one was going to look at the Weasleys and suspect them of sheltering a fugitive Death Eater.
But rational thought was being eaten by the slow, intense rage that moved slowly through Fleamont. He clenched his hand around his wand and moved towards the house, tugged by the potion he had ingested along with Sirius's memories of Pettigrew's Animagus form. Inside that house lay the man who had betrayed his son and his daughter-in-law. Inside that house was the reason Sirius had been in Azkaban.
Inside that house was a threat to his grandson.
Fleamont covered himself with a Disillusionment Charm as he walked through the weak protections around the house, regretting, yet again, that he'd allowed James to lend their Cloak to Dumbledore. Fleamont couldn't claim it yet without revealing his own severe liveliness for a corpse. Getting it back would have to wait, no matter how useful it would have been for missions like this.
He moved slowly into the kitchen, the insistent tugging of the potion getting worse. As he looked around, he noticed the towering stacks of crockery, and narrowed his eyes. No one was here right now, but she might come back any second.
He turned and rapidly walked towards the stairs.
The tug led him to the half-closed door of a bedroom. Fleamont peered around it and saw a ginger-haired boy a few years older than his Harry tucked firmly into bed, a pillow almost covering his head. A rat dozed in a cage on the table next to the bed. From here, Fleamont couldn't see if the rat was missing a toe, but he was convinced it was. The image of the rat matched the one in Sirius's memories perfectly.
Fleamont raised his wand and Disillusioned the cage, then Summoned it. The boy in the bed never noticed, particularly as Fleamont Silenced Pettigrew before he could start squealing in alarm.
Fleamont held the cage towards his face. Pettigrew was trembling, his attention fixed on Fleamont even though he couldn't see him. Of course, a rat's sense of smell wouldn't be fooled by the charm.
"Hello, traitor," Fleamont said softly.
He got Pettigrew home to Potter Place without more than a few tiresome adventures where Pettigrew tried to escape. Finally he Stunned the creature and dumped him out of the cage when he got him into the entrance hall of Potter Place.
Sirius came out of the nursery, holding Harry's hand. "There," he said, bending down so that his mouth was near Harry's face, "is the dirty rat who betrayed your mum and dad."
"Is he a man?" Harry looked doubtful about that, but not disbelieving as he would have a week ago, before he had witnessed Sirius's transformation for the first time. It heartened Fleamont to know that his grandson was adapting well to the world that should have been his all along.
"Yes, he is." Sirius turned to Fleamont, eyes bright enough that Fleamont almost expected his tongue to loll out. "Can I turn him back? Can I?"
Fleamont laughed. "If you want."
Sirius had found a wand that suited him in the Potters' old armory, an oak and unicorn hair one that had belonged to Fleamont's great-grandmother. He waved it now, murmuring the Animagus reversal charm.
The sprawled rat turned into a sprawled man, no handsomer than in Sirius's memories. Sirius lowered his wand and trembled for a moment.
"You want to hurt him, Padfoot?" Harry pressed back against Sirius for a moment.
"Yes, I do, pup." Sirius sighed and put his wand away. "But we're going to leave that up to your Grand."
Fleamont nodded as Harry met his eyes. His grandson was kind and loving, qualities that Fleamont had every intention of preserving. On the other hand, he wasn't going to hide the nature of what he did to protect Harry from the boy, either. "I'm going to make sure that he can never hurt you again. And we're going to stop other people from hurting you, too."
"Oh." Harry considered it for a moment, and then grabbed Sirius's arm. Sirius obligingly held it higher so Harry could use it as a swing, a few of the Azkaban lines easing from his face. "So I can watch?"
"You'll need to watch some of it," Fleamont said, and his eyes quietly met Sirius's.
"You're going to use a potion? Well, of course you are."
Fleamont smiled at Sirius as he scattered drops of the potion on the sleeping Pettigrew lying in the center of the enormous rune of sacrifice. Then he put down that empty vial and pulled out another that he would use to fill in the outer lines of the rune. "Potters have been Potions geniuses for hundreds of years, Sirius. And this is the best way to do it, besides."
"What's that smell?" Sirius abruptly backed up, his hand clamped over his nose. The lines of the rune around Pettigrew, inscribed in the floor of the Potter's ritual room, were beginning to glow a dull green, the color of the Killing Curse.
"The smell of the bodies that he's left in his wake," Fleamont said, and finished filling the lines of the rune. He broke this potions vial, flinging it against the far wall. Shards of glass fell to the floor, but Fleamont ignored that. He knew from the protections he had set up that none of them would get anywhere near Harry. "The smell of his soul. It's rotting in his body."
"A soul can't literally rot…"
"But symbolism and associations are important in a ritual like this," Fleamont said, and gave one more glance at Harry, asleep on a small bed. It had taken only a tiny portion of an altered Calming Draught to put him out. Being underweight was responsible for that, more than the fact that he was a child.
Fleamont closed his eyes and summoned his memories. Lily had been demure the first time he met her, but only until she looked up, met his eyes, and realized that he wasn't going to be a stuffy father-in-law. Then her eyes had laughed to match his own.
They were closed now, closed forever. Because of Pettigrew.
His James. His bright, laughing, clever son. His spirit that no one could dampen or put out (much to Euphemia's despair when none of the punishments they tried when he was a child worked). His magic leaping and sparking around him in copper fire the first time he picked up his wand.
But his magic had burned out and his spirit had been dampened forever. Because of Pettigrew.
Sirius in Azkaban, mourning what he believed was the death of everyone he was connected to. The years he had suffered, and believed he was never getting out.
Because of Pettigrew.
Even Snape's broken soul weighed in the balance, and the lies the wizarding world had believed.
But most of all Harry. Who never would have lived in a cupboard if not for Pettigrew, or been called freak, or had to grow up thinking his whole family had abandoned him and magic wasn't real.
Fleamont opened his eyes. He heard Sirius take a long step back from him, but he didn't care. He had eyes for nothing but Pettigrew and the glowing rune of sacrifice in front of him. The smaller rune around Harry's bed glowed and pulsed in return, not green but blue, the color of spring skies.
That was the sign that the rite was going to work. Fleamont had used no potion on that rune. It was responding to his true desire.
"I command," Fleamont said, his voice rolling through the room, "that the Horcrux be taken from my grandson and be put into Peter Pettigrew."
The room fractured in his sight, as something like black lightning crackled down the middle of it. Fleamont saw a glimpse of the abyss waiting to take him if he failed. The powers summoned by this ritual would turn on him with as much delight as they would devour Pettigrew, should he falter.
This was where most people did falter. They balked at the thought of sacrificing someone else's soul, and so, lost their own.
Fleamont didn't care. His hatred roared in an answering flame, the Potter rage rising up around him. It wasn't known in the wizarding world, not like the Black madness. But that was because it didn't leave behind the twisted shells of tortured enemies that the Blacks tended to favor. It obliterated its enemies.
Fleamont distantly heard the scraping and the panting as Sirius pressed himself against the wall, further and further away. He ignored it. If Sirius was upset enough by this that he chose to leave, that was indeed his choice, but it meant he would lose his memories before he did.
Harry would not be harmed.
The rage and the hatred and the desire lashed across the space between Pettigrew and Harry, and for a second, the air turned to coruscating fire, red and black. Harry screamed, even though he never awoke. Pettigrew lifted into the air, floating perhaps a foot above the rune of sacrifice.
On his head, lightning inscribed a scar. Black blood burst out of it and scored his face. Something far away screamed and screamed and screamed, a distant, unending sound of pain.
Voldemort. Fleamont felt no pity for him, either. He moved forwards a step, until he was standing directly next to Pettigrew and looking down at him.
"I give up his soul for the good of my grandson, Harry Potter."
Sirius swore aloud as the fire spoke. The noise was like someone speaking through a throat clogged with blood and meat. "Name the terms of the bargain."
Fleamont looked up into the fire, and again knew the eyes of the abyss were looking back at him. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered except Harry's safety. "Inviolable protection for my grandson. A version of the Potter wards around him at all times, bound to his skin, so that he cannot be harmed by any force, magical, physical, or spiritual, that would not be able to harm him behind our wards."
"In return, you grant us—"
"The soul of this man, Peter Pettigrew."
The voice laughed, and Fleamont heard Sirius throw up. He didn't care. He stood and watched, and something too primal to be a hand reached out the fire and straight for Pettigrew. In seconds, he was gone, but another scream of pain joined the one that lingered in the distance.
"Done. And for the sake of the appetizer, one gift more."
Fleamont turned his head in time to see the protection settle softly around Harry, the same blue color as the rune glowing underneath his bed. It twined into his being and settled there, the glow fading. Not even Harry's skin would feel different to the touch, Fleamont knew. But the protections would be there.
Something else formed outside the rune, near Harry's feet. Fleamont stared. It looked like a leopard, but in reverse, with a black coat and golden spots glowing all across it. It lay down in silence and stretched out like a shadow.
The fire vanished. The screams ended. The rune of sacrifice lay in a messy, unreadable burst of green on the floor.
"You s-sacrificed…" Sirius's voice was unsteady.
"Yes." Fleamont walked towards his grandson. The leopard raised its head and showed its teeth in silence. Fleamont ignored that and reached out to put a hand on Harry's forehead. His skin was entirely smooth beneath Fleamont's fingers, with no trace of a scar.
"I don't understand. I know about those rituals. It shouldn't have worked. The voice shouldn't have added anything."
"Most of the time," Fleamont murmured, as he waved his wand to end the light pouring from the rune and picked up Harry, "those rituals don't work because the people who made them hesitate. They don't really hate someone enough to sacrifice their soul. They think they want what they're bargaining for, but they hold back, and the power eats them instead."
"I hated Pettigrew enough to summon a power that would eat his soul. I loved my grandson enough to bargain for protection like this. What's done is done, Sirius."
Sirius swallowed noisily and came forwards to stand next to Fleamont. The leopard tracked their movements in silence, but didn't move. "And that thing? What did the voice mean by an appetizer?"
"The shard of Voldemort's soul that I gave it as well," Fleamont said absently, running his hand over Harry's face. No, he didn't have a fever. It was only the lingering residual heat from the ritual. "As for this thing, it's here to protect Harry."
"So—no one's going to touch him."
Sirius was silent long enough that Fleamont glanced at him, wondering if he would have to Obliviate him after all. Sirius said, "I could never do what you did," and Fleamont's free hand tightened on his wand.
Fleamont nodded, and let his wand go, and carried Harry to bed. He had to admit, he felt even more secure, when he shut the door of the nursery that night, for the monster that lay under Harry's bed, watching for other monsters.
"This is really going to be the day, Grand? This is the day?"
Fleamont grinned down at Harry and adjusted the collar of his pale blue child's robes. Harry liked wearing them, saying they were a lot more comfortable than Muggle clothing. Given that he had worn his cousin's castoffs in his aunt's house, Fleamont wasn't sure that that opinion would hold true for every single Muggle garment, but he loved Harry's love for his heritage.
"Yes. It is. Do you think you can act like a big boy when we go to Diagon Alley?"
"Yeah!" Harry tilted his head back and strutted around for a minute, so like James at six that Fleamont's eyes clouded for a second. But he reminded himself that, even though James was dead, Harry was alive, and he was going to live to be much older than his father. "Diagon Alley! We're coming, Diagon Alley!"
He ran out of the nursery into the sitting room where the Floo-connected fireplace waited. Fleamont rolled his eyes and followed. Between his legs and along the wall flowed the leopard-thing that Harry had insisted on naming Monster.
"That thing is going to give us away," said Sirius gloomily as he flung his own cloak on and bounded down the stairs after Harry.
"No, I'm sure that Monster is perfectly capable of being invisible in open sunlight," Fleamont disagreed calmly. Sirius made a face at him. He kept trying to call the leopard-thing Softpaws or some other Marauder-friendly name, but Monster never answered to it.
Then again, Monster doesn't answer to any of us, Fleamont reflected, and smiled again as he came into the sitting room. Harry was leaping and spinning in place, his own small cloak floating behind him, and Sirius was pretending to pick up the bowl of Floo powder and then pretending to put it back. Harry's giggle filled the room.
Fleamont didn't think it was his imagination that Harry's giggle was more frequent and lighter since the Horcrux had been devoured.
"Let's go," Fleamont said, and retrieved the Floo powder, mentally braced for the reaction they were going to stir when they appeared. "The Leaky Cauldron!"
Sirius grinned at Fleamont over his shoulder as he led the way. They had sent Pettigrew's body to the Ministry a fortnight ago, accompanied by a vial of Sirius's memories of the day when he had suggested the Secret-Keeper switch to James, and the day when they'd actually performed the switch. Fudge had tried to destroy them, but Fleamont had prepared for that and put contingency spells on both the corpse and the vials of memories. The minute Fudge had raised his wand against them, they'd vanished and reappeared in Potter Place.
Fleamont had found a more accommodating audience in Amelia Bones, and, surprisingly, Rufus Scrimgeour. Then again, the new Head Auror seemed to relish anything that made Bartemius Crouch, Sr., look bad. Apparently the man had refused to promote Scrimgeour for far too long.
The upshot was that Sirius was now officially a free man, although they'd held a posthumous trial for Pettigrew and issued an apology and pardon to Sirius in his stubborn absence. Today was the first time that any of them were venturing out of Potter Place in public.
The Floo glowed around them, and Fleamont kept a hand on Harry's shoulder the whole way through, to make sure they couldn't be separated. They stepped out into the middle of the Leaky Cauldron, where the gaping people who surrounded Sirius quickly turned their attention to Fleamont and Harry.
"Who is that?" more than one person exclaimed. Fleamont rolled his eyes. It seemed keeping his face out of the papers since he was younger had worked even better than he'd expected.
"Fleamont Potter!" That was a woman Fleamont would have recognized if he was an Inferius, spinning away from the bar and staring at him with her mouth open further than Fleamont had ever seen it go. She reached up to move the beak of the vulture mounted on her hat out of the way. "But you're dead."
"Pretty lively for a corpse. Hello, Augusta." Fleamont gripped Harry's shoulder harder, as other people leaped from the "Potter" at the end of his name to conclusions about who the small boy accompanying had to be. Harry gulped a little, but lifted his chin and reached down to pat a gloomy clump by his feet that had to be Monster's current guise.
People poured towards them. Fleamont readied his wand, but he was pretty sure he wouldn't need it, and he was proved right a moment later.
The first person reached out to touch Harry's hair, probably to brush it back and see the scar that didn't exist any longer, but which Dumbledore claimed to have seen on Harry's forehead before he was "buried." But the woman wound up reeling back with a cry as the floor at her feet rose up and coalesced into a shadow shape of a maw with jagged teeth.
The other people in the Leaky Cauldron fell silent, staring. The ones who had been moving towards Harry stopped all at once, some of them in the middle of a step, so that they fell over.
The maw didn't bite the woman who had been reaching to touch Harry. It just loomed there, and loomed some more, and finally when she fainted it shut and Monster wavered back into blurriness near Harry's face.
The silence that followed that was broken by Harry's soft giggle. He looked up at Fleamont and said, as if confessing a great secret, "Monster won't let them touch me, Grand."
"No, he won't," Fleamont said, although he was privately unsure if the leopard-thing was actually a he or not. He smiled genially at the people in the pub and led Harry and Sirius towards the bricks that would let them out into Diagon Alley. "But he is a good lesson." Over his shoulder, he added, "Don't touch my grandson without permission. Spread the word. Have a lovely day."
Sirius waited to start laughing until they were in the Alley, at least, but then he leaned against the bricks and wheezed and clutched his sides and pounded the wall and in general acted as though that particular trick was much funnier than it was. Fleamont rolled his eyes but smiled when Harry began to giggle along with Sirius, jumping up and down the way he had before they left. "You are ridiculous," Fleamont told Sirius.
"Then we're ridiculous together!" Sirius flung his arm around Harry and picked him up. "Come on, pup. Let's see the Alley together, the way your parents intended."
James and Lily would have loved to be here, Fleamont thought, but he forced himself to put the thought aside as he followed Sirius and Harry (and the darting line of darkness that was Monster) down Diagon Alley. Yes, they would have loved to be here. But since they couldn't be, the least Fleamont could do was rejoice in their place as Harry reclaimed part of his heritage.
It actually took several hours in the Alley for someone to contact Dumbledore, or maybe for Dumbledore to hear the news. Fleamont was mildly impressed.
They were having ices at Fortescue's when Dumbledore walked towards them, smiling with a gentle, quizzical air that Fleamont remembered well. He made sure that he was sitting between Harry and Dumbledore, that his wand was within reach, and that Monster lay stretched out near his feet before he stood. "Good afternoon, Albus."
Dumbledore sighed gently at him. "You never told me that you survived, Fleamont."
"It was an experimental cure, and it only recently returned me to full health." Fleamont shrugged. "Then again, you seem to have a fondness for declaring living Potters dead. I didn't see the point in contacting you."
"I did what I thought was best."
"I'm glad to see that you've at least learned to add I thought in front of that phrase."
Dumbledore lowered his head a little, as though preparing to receive a blow on the mouth. "There were Death Eaters looking for vengeance. I thought it best if they could not know that Harry was even alive to seek vengeance on."
Fleamont shook his head slowly. "And there were no wards that you could set up to protect him, of course. You couldn't take him to Hogwarts. You couldn't give him to the Longbottoms. You couldn't let my distant cousins adopt him. You couldn't listen to Sirius's story and figure out that he was innocent. You couldn't do anything but what you did."
Dumbledore considered in silence, his eyes on Harry. Harry was ignoring the man and continuing to eat his chocolate ice while chattering away to Sirius. Sirius was trying half-heartedly not to get Harry to talk with his mouth full, a task that wasn't helped by the way he kept looking at Dumbledore.
"There are things you do not know about the situation."
"Did you ever intend to tell anyone?"
"I did intend for Harry to attend Hogwarts," Dumbledore said. "I would have made it clear who he was, and that he had defeated Voldemort. When he was eleven, then Hogwarts's wards and the devotion of the whole wizarding world would have protected him. But he had to remain hidden and safe. He was safe with the Dursleys."
Fleamont smiled, and rather enjoyed the way Dumbledore looked at him when he did. He could go ahead and tell the truth now. Dumbledore had no power to hurt his boy. "He wasn't safe. He was starved and locked in a cupboard."
"I meant safe from Death Eaters."
"You tend to define words differently than I would. Trust me when I say that my definitions are the ones that matter now."
"And is one of those words murder, Fleamont?" Dumbledore's eyes sparked with the righteous anger that Fleamont had expected to see first thing. Maybe Dumbledore had wanted to wait and see how the situation played out before he expressed it. "You killed Harry's aunt and uncle!"
"You can try bringing me up on charges, if you want. You'll have the lack of evidence to contend with first, next the fact that you lied to the wizarding world at large and hid Harry with people who didn't have a legal right to him, and finally the fact that they were abusive to a magical child. There are still people on the Wizengamot who take a dim view of that."
"Are you so bloody determined to think of all Muggles as innocent and harmless that you would deny it was abuse, Albus?"
Fleamont reined his temper back in before it could really explode, much though he didn't enjoy that. Honestly, he had nothing to worry about. He would be able to say under Veritaserum that he hadn't committed murder, and his protections meant Dumbledore couldn't touch Harry in any way.
"They didn't deserve to be murdered for it!"
"Really?" Sirius asked, his voice as quick as a rasp. "So they deserved the fair trial I never got?"
"I am sorry about that, Sirius. But I heard you saying that you were guilty, and I only took you at your word."
"No one ever questioned me deeply enough," Sirius said, his voice near a growl. Harry looked up at him and put a hand on his arm. Sirius's voice got softer, which Fleamont was glad of. Dumbledore would never be able to touch Harry physically, legally, or magically, but he shouldn't cause Harry a moment's emotional distress, either. "Hell, they didn't question me at all. They relied on Lucius Malfoy and other Death Eaters."
"They said they had seen you at the meetings."
"And you never considered that they were saying that to spare their own necks, Albus? Not once."
"I had to consider—"
"Well, you made the wrong decisions and the wrong considerations," Fleamont interrupted. He saw no reason for the conversation to continue when it would only cause distress to Sirius, and through him, to Harry. "Harry is my grandson, which means he belongs with me, and he has protection in case any Death Eaters come after him. Come on, Harry. You can finish the ice at home."
Harry yawned. "All right, Grand." He picked up the small bowl. Fleamont caught Fortescue's eye and laid some Galleons on the table to pay for the bowl. The man waved him off, beaming.
"I'm afraid that I must insist," Dumbledore said, and reached out to touch Harry's arm.
Monster didn't rear up this time, perhaps because he knew there was no need. Instead, a spark flared and knocked Dumbledore back three feet before his fingers could come to rest. Dumbledore stared in total shock, even his multicolored robes seeming to droop.
"I don't think I want you to touch me," Harry told him, and walked over to take Fleamont's hand.
"For you to—you did—"
Dumbledore was actually stuttering. Fleamont smiled. One of his private dreams had come true, then. "Yes. I gave him the most powerful protection possible. And the reason you might have hidden him—because I don't believe it was from Death Eaters with vengeance on their minds—is gone."
"You cannot have…"
"Just because you don't know how or would never do it does not mean that it can't be accomplished, Albus."
Dumbledore fell back from them both as Fleamont led Sirius and Harry up the alley to the Apparition point. His eyes were dark with fear. Fleamont smiled a little. Dumbledore might not have knowledge of the kind of ritual that could remove a Horcrux from a living being. But Fleamont thought the fear probably came from the fact that he did, and that he never would have made such a sacrifice, himself.
But Albus Dumbledore's fears and beliefs no longer mattered.
"I don't know. He's still the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot."
"He can't touch Harry." Fleamont didn't look up from studying the Potions book in front of him. He thought it was low-level enough for Harry, but he wanted to remove a few of the Darker potions from it. Harry would grow up to learn about reality, but they could do it slowly, without Fleamont having to dump it on his head all at once. "Legally, he has no claim. And I meant what I said about the Wizengamot not being pleased with him if he tries."
"You can actually use blood purists?"
"Of course." Fleamont gave Sirius an edged smile as he set that book aside and moved on to the next one, a wizarding history book. He touched on his memory of the things in it, then shook his head. He would have to find another one after all, probably a children's edition. "I'm a pure-blood. Dumbledore is a half-blood, and one who's done a lot of things that irritated them. Of course they'll side with me over him."
"I don't know if I should be scared of you or not."
"Be grateful to me for rescuing you from prison," Fleamont suggested, and Summoned a few more books from the shelves. "That's all I need."
"Yes, of course. What I really need is Harry, and the chance to restore my family."
"Grand!" Harry ran into the room, and this time there was a real snake in his hands, a softly grey one. Sirius jumped with a shout. Harry ignored him. "Listen, listen!"
He hissed out a stream of Parseltongue that made Sirius blanch. Fleamont watched Sirius's eyes dart to Harry's unscarred forehead, but he didn't flinch, himself. He knew he had utterly got rid of the Horcrux; the power he had summoned would not have granted Harry Monster if there hadn't been that extra bit of Voldemort's soul to devour.
"I suppose that he just has it naturally," he murmured to Sirius when Sirius turned to him, and then crouched down in front of Harry. "Now, is that a snake you found in the garden, or that you found by going outside the wards?"
Harry hung his head. Fleamont just waited. He knew Harry was afraid of being punished, the way he had been with the Muggles, but on the other hand, he had been bold enough to defy a rule in the first place. That showed, honestly, excellent progress.
Harry finally muttered, "Outside the wards."
Fleamont nodded. "You do have your own protections with you, Harry." He glanced towards the door of the library, where the blur that was Monster waited. "But I'm going to ask you to tell me when you want to go outside the wards. And because you found this snake there, you can't keep it as a pet. We're going to let it go."
Harry looked up. "That's—it?"
"That's it," Fleamont said, and held out his arms. Harry flung himself into them. Fleamont held him gently. He ignored the snake writhing in confusion next to him. It was an ordinary grass snake, not venomous.
"I love you, Grand," Harry whispered.
"I love you, Harry," Fleamont said, and held on. Harry wasn't wriggling to be let down yet, the way an ordinary little boy would have been. Those Muggles had damaged him.
But Fleamont was right here. He was going to help Harry learn to be that ordinary little boy again, in the world of magic that had been so nearly stolen from him. He was going to connect him with his heritage. He was going to let Harry play with his godfather, and Severus Snape if he came back, and maybe Augusta's little grandson, and Remus Lupin if they could ever find him.
He wasn't going anywhere.