Changes, Part 3
Everything moved so fast that Remus' head spun. Within moments Dumbledore had the head of the D.M.L.E. and Cornelius Fudge into his office by the floo, within the hour Peter was in Ministry custody in a cell deep under its headquarters awaiting trial. The idea grated Sirius. Wormtail got a trial. But, as Remus pointed out, it indicated the Ministry was learning from its mistakes. Before he knew it, he and Sirius were installed in the Hospital wing and within a few hours, every single dementor was gone from Hogwarts and its surrounding areas.
Poppy Pomfrey was furious, Remus could tell. After so much time spent in her care over the years, her professional mask concealed little from him. He'd made a game of reading people when he was a child, but found it essential to his survival as he grew older. He'd watched for the slightest sign that anyone had guessed his secret or even harboured suspicions. Now he saw the too-blank look on her face, the slight pursing of her lips and the narrowing of her eyes at times, heard her quick steps across the infirmary floor, and heard her setting down instruments with rather more force than necessary.
She was pleased to find Remus relatively unscathed after his monthly ordeal, but her inspection of Sirius had left her muttering curses at the Ministry when she thought no one was listening. She wasn't entirely happy with him for his own treatment of Sirius either. He knew that she wasn't totally convinced of his friend's innocence, but had put aside her reservations in favour of staunch professionalism.
Sirius was horrifyingly thin. His shoulders when Remus embraced him felt like the skin was merely draped over his bones with nothing to hold it there or keep it from sliding off. His metabolism had long ago consumed every ounce of fat he'd ever possessed. Before they had been betrayed, he'd been quite sought-after, and cocky with it, but today his appearance would turn heads for quite a different reason.
Several potions and spells later, Poppy decreed they were finished for the evening. Remus could have gone back to his rooms, but he chose to stay.
Sirius wanted to meet his godson. Remus would have been all for the idea, but was interrupted by insistent yawns. He looked at the clock, unsurprised to find that it was past midnight, and pointed out that were the two to meet tonight, none of them would get any sleep. Gryffindor would be out a seeker, which would in turn make them very, very unpopular. Sirius reluctantly agreed, and they fell asleep before they could make any plans.
Morning came all too soon. Remus woke to the soft scritch, scritch of a comb being worked through resisting knots of hair. He opened his eyes to see Sirius sitting on his bed, attempting to drag a mangled comb through equally mangled hair.
It was storming outside again.
"You know," he said, making Sirius start and drop the comb. "It might be easier if you cut some of that off." Sirius' fingers tightened around the strands and he tensed.
"I'm not shaving my head, Moony." Remus sighed and got up, retrieving the comb from the floor, his hands clumsy with sleep. Taking over the task, he picked at a few of the knots before speaking, allowing his fogged brain some time to become functional.
"I didn't say cut all of it, Padfoot. Most of this," he tapped Sirius' back to indicate where, "is rather damaged. You'll break a lot of it getting these knots out, and that's where most of them are." It had been washed, and Sirius was wearing a clean robe. He must have borrowed someone's hair potions and gotten Pomfrey to spell his hair dry, for the top gleamed almost like it had twelve years ago. "Not all of the dirt came out," he teased, removing a rotting blade of grass and dangling it in front of Sirius pointedly. His friend reddened and snatched it with a glare, throwing it on the pile of hair beside him. Remus eyes crinkled, inviting him to laugh instead.
"All right," he muttered, smiling reluctantly. Remus squeezed his shoulder and walked to knock softly on Poppy's open door. She looked up from her desk, surprised.
"Poppy, might I borrow a pair of your scissors, please?" he asked.
"Of course, dear," the matron said, pointing. "Second drawer on the right."
"Thank you, Poppy."
True to his word, Remus began cutting no higher than the split ends he'd shown Sirius, but Sirius had gotten used to the idea of cutting his hair, and said glumly,
"If you're going to cut it, Remus, you might as well cut a lot."
Remus laid down the scissors and gathered Sirius' hair in his hands, finding the bulk of the knots with his fingers, the backs brushing against the lent robe.
"All right," he said. "Where?"
Sirius hesitated, then gestured with his hands. Behind him, Remus raised his eyebrows.
"I don't want to look like the Wanted posters, Remus."
"All right," his friend agreed, taking up the scissors and beginning to cut again, this time much higher.
"I'm leaving some room to even it out later, once I'm through with these knots." Sirius started to turn around and Remus pushed him back.
"Hold still," he ordered. Sirius squirmed impatiently and asked,
"You know how?"
"Know how to what?"
"Even it out."
"Can't make too big of a mess of it. I've been cutting my own for years, Padfoot." There was a pause as Remus laid the cut hair on the discard pile. "And I daresay it's a bit harder to cut what I can't see." Sirius was silent, mulling over the implications of this.
Hair was a tricky thing to use magic on. For most people, it was simply safer to do things the Muggle way. But to take a pair of scissors to one's own hair… the part of him that was very, very vain shuddered at the idea. He wondered why Remus would find it necessary to learn a skill like that… and then he mentally cursed himself. He'd seen the signs; the too-thin, frayed and patched garments from the locked cupboard, and the relative ease with which he'd pulled up his dazed friend yesterday morning.
Even with more than half the hair lopped off and quite a few detangling charms, it still took more than an hour before he could pass the comb through it without hitting snarls. When Remus had cut it, he'd cut through many of the knots, causing them to come undone and making the task much easier. It was an incredible thing, to feel his hair smooth under his hands again, to be able to run his fingers through it.
He left to wash out the rest of the dirt and returned shortly, dripping and grinning. Remus shook his head,
"Doesn't take much to make you happy, does it?"
"Never did, Moony," he said, settling once more on the low hospital bed. Sirius picked up the comb again and parted his hair, combing out the now blessedly knot-free length, delighting in the comforting smell of soap and clean hair and the soothing task. He got it straightened out and Remus took over. Soon the crisp snip, snip sound of sharp scissors through wet strands filled the room. When he was done cutting, he offered him his wand and asked,
"Do you want to dry it, or shall I?"
He badly wanted to use magic again, but said "You'd better. I don't think I should try that charm with someone else's wand. I might fry all your hard work." The charm Pomfrey had used earlier had been a simple multipurpose drying charm, but the one Remus used now was much more complex.
Soon he was done, and Sirius gathered up the discarded hair and went to dispose of it in the fire. Remus stopped him before he could throw it in.
"Poppy would kill you if you did that."
"Why?" he asked, puzzled.
"Do you remember what burning hair smells like, Padfoot?"
What? Oh. He turned a little green at the thought. Davey Gudgeon, the same boy who'd nearly lost an eye to the Whomping Willow, had caught his own hair on fire one day in Potions class. Davey had been completely bald for a week, and his eyebrows had taken even longer to grow back. But the smell… that was something he'd thought he'd never forget. Apparently he'd been wrong.
Remus was grinning, amused at his mistake. Sirius scowled and threw the hair in the bin instead.
Breakfast was a casual affair at Hogwarts. Students filed in anytime after dawn and left just before classes started. The entrance of the worn-looking stranger with Professors Lupin and Dumbledore caused a bit of a stir, but none of the students recognized him and their attention returned to the quidditch match for the day. The stranger, however, often stole odd glances in Harry Potter's direction. When Professor Snape appeared at the side door, it was apparent that he did recognize him, for he rushed to the headmaster's side and hissed in his ear. Dumbledore shook his head and stood, waiting until he had the hall's attention. Professor Snape stepped back, looking murderous.
"For twelve years, the wizarding world has believed Sirius Black a follower of Voldemort." Gasps rose throughout the hall at hearing the dark lord's name spoken so boldly. A few of the first-year Muggleborn students looked puzzled at the shock displayed by their peers.
"He was believed to be the murderer of one Peter Pettigrew. Last night Mr. Pettigrew was found hiding in Gryffindor tower as a rat." A murmur ran through the hall and a few heads turned in the stranger's direction, studying him and turning to whisper to others, who in turn stared.
"Mr. Pettigrew confessed to the crimes for which Mr. Black was thrown into Azkaban twelve years ago." Many of the staff and students now wore expressions of dawning horror, others of dismay. Professor Snape turned on his heel and strode from the hall, his robes whipping around him, nearly knocking over tiny Professor Flitwick in the doorway. From the Gryffindor table, Harry Potter was studying the stranger intently, an odd mixture of relief and confusion on his young face.
"Most of you were very small children when these events occurred, but they affect us today. We have with us this morning a most honoured guest." Dumbledore gestured for the stranger to stand. The man glanced warily around the Hall as he slid back his chair and got to his feet, thick black hair falling about his bony shoulders.
"I would like to introduce to you Mr. Sirius Black." The murmur swelled to a roar.
Sitting beside Sirius, Remus was inwardly smirking. Last night's confrontation with Fudge had been precarious. Even when presented with the evidence, the minister had hesitated, hemmed and hawed over making things official. Remus was certain the man was concerned only for his own career and wanted to be sure the move would reflect positively on himself. It had taken all of Dumbledore's considerable skill to subtly persuade him that it would. Introducing Sirius this morning had to be one of the headmaster's more brilliant ideas, he mused.
Sirius sat down again and Dumbledore continued his speech, something about the day's quidditch match. When he finished, Remus grinned at Sirius and said,
"That ought to keep Fudge from backing out."
"Moony…" Sirius began, his voice troubled. "Harry is staring at me." Remus glanced at the boy and grimaced.
"I don't blame him. He thought you were out to kill him."
"What?! Why?" Remus hesitated before responding.
"Apparently he overheard Arthur Weasley say you'd been talking in your sleep in Azkaban, saying things like, 'he's at Hogwarts.' We all thought you'd go after Harry, Padfoot."
"Oh." Sirius' shoulders drooped.
"I don't think he knows anything about the Fidelius Charm." Sirius gaped at him.
"Anything at all? How could he not?" Remus squirmed under his bewildered gaze. "How much does he know, Moony?"
"I'm not sure," he replied. "Precious little about his parents. Dumbledore hasn't told him much, I don't believe the Dursleys have told him anything. He had no idea who I was, and…" He stopped and gave Sirius a pleading look. "I'm his professor, Padfoot. I can't exactly have a heart-to-heart chat with the boy, and really…" he passed a hand over his eyes. "Maybe I'm just a coward, Sirius, but somehow I didn't feel it was my place."
Sirius sighed in frustration. "For once I couldn't care less about quidditch, Remus. I want to meet my godson." Remus shook his head, smiling bemusedly.
"Distract that boy from his game, Sirius, and Wood will have your head on a pike." Sirius looked puzzled.
"Who's Wood?" he asked.
"Gryffindor's captain. Mad for quidditch, that one. Nah, we'll let Harry play his game, and then we turn his world upside down." Sirius frowned, and Remus shoved him.
"Sure you weren't." The students were filtering out, heading for the pitch. "Com'on, we've got a game to watch." Sirius' eyes lit up, and suddenly he was as excited as any of the first-years.
"Moony, have you seen him fly?" he asked, towing Remus out of the hall, peppering him with questions. "Is he good? Does he fly like James?" The barrage of queries left no gaps, and Remus had to wait until he'd run out of breath before he could answer.
"I haven't seen him fly much, Padfoot, but he seems to be quite the legend here. Do you know McGonagall made him seeker his first year?" Sirius stopped in his tracks and gave a whoop.
"I knew it!" he said, catching up to Remus, his pace not slowing a bit once he had, forcing Remus to rush in order to keep up.
They arrived at the faculty box early and found seats. It was pouring rain and a fierce wind drove it almost horizontal so that none but the very largest of umbrellas offered any protection from its assault. Remus gave up on his and put it away. Sirius didn't seem to notice. He jumped up almost as soon as they sat down and ran to the rail, pointing at things they could barely see for the rain and talking loudly through the storm. Remus couldn't hear half of it, but he sat and watched, a quiet joy filling his heart.
Slowly the box filled, and Remus dragged Sirius to his seat. The commentator was a cheeky boy with dreadlocks whom McGonagall scolded regularly throughout the game. He'd arrived early, and allowed Sirius to pick his brain for information regarding the teams.
At last the players flew out onto the field, circling the pitch in laborious laps. Madam Hooch released the quaffle and the game began.
Harry flew like one blind, the smallest player on the field. Halfway through, a time-out was called, and Hermione could be seen through the rain, jogging across the field. A few minutes later she left, making her way back to the stands and the teams pushed off. Harry's flying improved. One gruelling hour later, he caught the snitch and the teams touched down, straggling wearily to the locker rooms. Gryffindor had won the game, but both teams were too beat to care much for several hours.
McGonagall found Harry as he came inside with Ron and Hermione, his broom over one shoulder.
"Harry, you're to go to the Headmaster's office." The other two wore concerned expressions.
"You're not in trouble, Harry. Now get on with you." Harry glanced at his friends, then turned to go, his posture disgruntled. McGonagall shook her head. "You two might as well go also." He'd probably need all the support he could get, and there was no point in leaving them out. The three got into more than their share of trouble, but they were good kids and she liked them. She watched them go, then turned her steps towards Gryffindor tower.
Sirius was pacing again.
Five steps forward, five steps back.
Nervous energy seemed to crackle through the animagus and every time he reached up to run his hands through his hair he would start in surprise at finding it clean and untangled. Then he would glance toward Remus as if to confirm that this truly was real, before beginning the whole cycle over again.
Five steps forward, five steps back.
Extra chairs had been set out in front of Dumbledore's desk, two more than Remus thought was needed. He'd given Dumbledore a questioning look, but had gotten no answer. The headmaster sat behind his desk, staring into space. Remus was seated in one of the chairs, watching his friend with sharp eyes.
The door opened.
Harry stood on the threshold, looking uncertain and still carrying his broom. Behind him, Ron fidgeted and Hermione peered into the brightly-lit room in open curiosity. Her eyes lit upon Remus and studied him for a long moment before continuing around the room. He shifted uncomfortably. Why had her gaze burned into him so? It was as if she knew something he did not wish her to. That thought made his blood run cold.
Dumbledore's voice startled them all.
"Come in, come in. Please, sit down, all of you." A pointed glance at Sirius said he was most definitely included in the request. The old man insisted on tea and in a moment a platter of biscuits had appeared on his desk in easy reach.
Harry laid his broom by the door and moved to a seat, followed after a moment by Ron and Hermione. Sirius stood behind one of the chairs for a minute before circling it to sit on its edge as if afraid it would break. All three teenagers eyed him warily.
It had been decided that Remus would do most of the talking. Sirius had wanted to, but wasn't confident he could stay calm throughout the tale. So he sipped his tea and asked,
"Harry, what do you know about the events surrounding your parents' death?"
"I… not much, Professor. Hagrid said Voldemort killed them." Ron flinched at the name and Hermione gave the redhead a warning look. "Professor Dumbledore told me a little. He said my mum sacrificed herself for me, and that's why I've got this," he gestured to his scar, "and why Voldemort died instead of me." A frown creased his face. "Or whatever it was that happened to him. And that's why I've got to stay with my aunt and uncle," Harry said miserably, clutching his cup. "He said their blood protects me, because of what my mum did. That's about it, really." Remus sat back and rubbed the crease between his eyebrows that was starting to ache. Harry knew so little. It made his job both easier and harder.
Sirius looked unhappy at this confirmation of Harry's lack of knowledge, but didn't say anything. Instead he reached over and slowly removed Harry's tea before he could spill the hot liquid, setting it on a convenient table.
"Harry, twelve years ago we all made some rather grave mistakes. The man Professor Dumbledore mentioned this morning, Peter Pettigrew, betrayed your parents to Voldemort. Everyone thought Sirius had done it, including me." He didn't mention that Sirius had thought him a spy.
"There is a spell called the Fidelius charm which hides a secret, in this case your location, inside a living soul. Sirius was the most obvious choice. We were all good friends; Sirius, your dad, Peter and I, but Sirius and James were closest and everyone knew it. James even told Professor Dumbledore that he would have no one else as Secret Keeper."
Sirius took over, his voice unsteady, turning one of the biscuits over and over without eating it.
"But I was afraid, because I was the most obvious choice, that Voldemort would find me and get the Secret out of me. So I convinced James to switch to the least obvious choice: Peter. Just a few days later, your parents were killed." Sirius paused, and Remus knew he was seeing the burning house in his mind's eye.
"I'd gone to check on Peter, to make sure he was all right, but he wasn't there, and I knew something was wrong. I was so scared; he had said he would be there. So I went to Godric's Hollow, and I wasn't supposed to be able to see the house, but there it was, destroyed, and bits of it were on fire. Then Hagrid came and found you, and you were alive. I'd thought you were dead too and it never even occurred to me to tell him what had happened; I just gave him my motorbike and took off after Peter.
"When I found him, he yelled for the whole street to hear, 'James and Lily, Sirius! How could you?' I was… I don't know. I couldn't believe the nerve of the thing… and then he blew up the street and disappeared into the sewers as a rat." He closed his eyes against the memories. There was silence for a moment. Then,
"Stan said you laughed," a small voice intruded. Sirius looked at the boy.
"Stan Stunpike, the conductor on the Knight Bus. He said you laughed." Sirius sighed and rubbed his eyes.
Sirius considered the question. "I don't think I was really sane from the moment I found Peter gone, maybe I'm not now. When I saw what he'd done, how he'd done it… Peter would never have come up with a plan like that in school, never. No one gave him much credit for brains. I cracked. I totally completely cracked and broke down in giggling hysterics like a woman." Hermione scowled and Sirius shrugged. "I didn't think it would really matter at the time. I thought I'd straighten it all out at the trial, but then one day I woke up in Azkaban and realized I wasn't getting one."
Remus looked at him. "You might as well tell them, Padfoot, you're going to have to register anyway, now that the Ministry knows." Sirius sighed and ran his hand through his hair.
"All right," he agreed. "Harry, Peter wasn't the only animagus among us. He learned because James and I helped him to."
"My dad was an animagus too?" Harry asked eagerly. Sirius smiled and finally bit into the sweet he'd been mangling, talking with his mouth full.
"What was he?"
"A stag, Harry. Mmph, Lily thought it was adorable."
Remus started to laugh and turned it into a cough, saying something that sounded like, "Sirius is a dog."
Sirius glared at him in mock-offence and opened his mouth to retort, but Harry said, "That was you!"
"What?" Sirius turned to him in confusion. "What was me?"
"That night near the Dursley's. I saw you. You scared me."
Sirius swallowed and looked remorseful. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to."
"It's okay," Harry said, picking up his tea again. "What about Professor Lupin?" he asked. Both men suddenly went very still. It was Hermione who spoke.
"Harry, Mr. Black said only he, Pettigrew and your father became animagi," she remonstrated, her tone patient.
"Oh," Harry muttered, abashed.
That wasn't what Sirius had said at all. Remus gave the Muggleborn witch a keen look, which she returned evenly.
"You knew my parents!" Harry said suddenly.
"Yes?" Sirius responded, his brow furrowing. Remus considered that they had been telling him this for quite a while now.
"Can you tell me about them?" he asked eagerly.
"Of course, Harry," Sirius managed, looking truly frightened, yet relieved at the same time. Harry opened his mouth to speak and his stomach growled, despite the biscuits. Sirius laughed and said,
"But perhaps later. I'm starving too. What do you say we talk over lunch?" he asked, rising.
"Sure!" Both boys greeted his suggestion with enthusiasm. They moved to follow him out, but paused in the doorway to look back. Hermione was still seated across from Remus, apparently lost in thought.
"Hermione?" Ron asked.
"I'll be along in a minute, Ron," she said. He nodded and left, closing the door behind him. Dumbledore shifted behind his desk and fastened sharp eyes on her.
"Did you have a question, Miss Granger?" he asked. She glanced up at Remus.
"Professor Snape gave us an essay for homework this weekend, Sir," she said. Remus looked at her; saw the fisted hands and observed the way her right foot seemed to fidget.
"Really? What on?" he asked. She wasn't complaining about the work, not Hermione. No, this was something far different, and he had a sneaking suspicion he knew what it was.
"Werewolves, Sir," she said softly, staring at the floor. He glanced at Dumbledore, whose face had hardened. Remus was devoutly thankful he was not in Snape's shoes today.
"Ah. I see." He crossed his arms in what she was sure to recognize as a defensive posture, but he couldn't help it, he was nervous. "And did you learn anything interesting during your research?" he asked carefully.
"Yes, Sir," she whispered, then looked up, her expression confused, a rare thing for the young scholar. "But there's a lot of material the books don't agree on, so much that I can't tell what is real and what is superstition."
He raised his eyebrows. Even Hermione couldn't get through that mess? That was rather bad. But she was continuing, winding down from what was nearly a rant, sounding disconsolate.
"There are some constants, but there are almost no primary sources on the subject, and fewer that don't sound extremely biased."
Remus had to suppress a smile. It wouldn't do for her to think he was laughing at her.
"I just… I had an idea you might know a little more about the subject." There it was. Still safe territory, giving him the freedom to deny it if he wished, and maybe she wasn't quite sure, but it was that very courtesy which compelled him to cautiously reply,
"I mean," she said, nervous, "I didn't want to ask you if you weren't comfortable talking about it…"
"It's all right, Hermione."
"It… is?" she asked uncertainly. He smiled and nodded.
"You're correct, actually. Hogwarts' library is sadly lacking in that area." Perhaps because someone removed the texts and neglected to replace them when I was a student here? "I wasn't going to cover werewolves until the end of the year, but since my esteemed colleague has seen fit to start my classes on them, I suppose I shall have to finish that chapter on Monday, if only to repair any… misconceptions that may have arisen from the material."
Dumbledore inclined his head, his eyes now twinkling. "I will see that appropriate materials are added to our library, Miss Granger. In the meantime, your discretion is to be commended." The man was being purposefully obtuse, Remus decided. Hermione blushed. The poor girl probably wasn't sure if she had been complimented or chastened.
The headmaster stood and went to open the door, "Now, I believe your friends are waiting for you. Shall we?"