The Potter and the Kettle Black
Another Sirius talks to Harry in Little Whinging Story. AU Prisoner of Azkaban onwards.
I do realize that this has been done a hundred times before. My favorite versions are probably Midnight Guardian and Grim Dawn. But I wanted to take a crack at it as well.
Harry was several streets away before he collapsed onto a low wall on Magnolia Crescent, panting from the effort of dragging his trunk. He sat quite still, anger still surging through him, listening to the frantic thumping of his heart.
But after ten minutes alone in the dark street, a new emotion overtook him: panic. Whichever way he looked at it, he had never been in a worse fix. He was stranded, quite alone, in the dark Muggle world, with absolutely nowhere to go. And the worst of it was, he had just done serious magic, which meant that he was almost certainly expelled from Hogwarts. He had broken the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry so badly, he was surprised Ministry of Magic officials weren't swooping down on him where he sat.
Harry shivered and looked up and down Magnolia Crescent. What was going to happen to him? Would he be arrested, or would he simply be outlawed from the wizarding world? He thought of Ron and Hermione, and his heart sunk even lower. Harry was sure that, criminal or not, Ron and Hermione would want to help him now, but they were both abroad, and with Hedwig gone, he had no means of contacting him.
But he could still go to the Burrow, the Weasleys' home. The Weasleys had not returned from Egypt, but he would still be able to enter the house, and he did not think the Weasleys would mind if he stayed in Ron's room until they returned. The only question was how he would get so far. Last summer, Ron and his brothers, Fred and George, had come to get him in a flying car and they had flown for most of the night to return to Ottery St. Catchpole. That certainly wasn't an option tonight. He would have to find another way to travel.
He didn't have any Muggle money, either. There was a little wizard gold in the money bag at the bottom of his trunk, but the rest of the fortune was stored in a vault at Gringotts Wizarding Bank in London.
He looked down at his wand, which he was still clutching in his hand. If he was already expelled (his heart was now thumping painfully fast), a bit more magic couldn't hurt. He had the Invisibility Cloak he had inherited from his father – what if he bewitched the trunk to make it feather-light, tied it to his broomstick, covered himself in the cloak, and flew to Ottery St. Catchpole?
Then he'd wait for the Weasleys to return and… begin his life as an outcast. It was a horrible prospect, but he couldn't sit on this wall forever, or he'd find himself trying to explain to Muggle police why he was out in the dead of night with a trunkful of spellbooks and a broomstick.
"I guess I'm off to the Weasleys' then," he said to himself, to break the silence of the night.
Harry opened his trunk again and pushed the contents inside, looking for the Invisibility Cloak – but before he had found it, he straightened up suddenly, looking around him once more.
A funny prickling on the back of his neck had made Harry feel he was being watched, but the street appeared to be deserted, and no lights shone from any of the large square houses.
He bent over his trunk again, but almost immediately stood up once more, his hand clenched on his wand. He had sensed rather than heard it: someone or something was emerging from the narrow gap between the garage and the fence behind him. Harry squinted at the black alleyway. If only it would move, then he'd know whether it was just a stray cat or – something else.
"Lumos," Harry muttered, and a light appeared at the end of his wand, almost dazzling him. He held it high over his head, and the pebble-dashed walls of number two suddenly sparkled; the garage door gleamed, and between them Harry saw, quite distinctly, the hulking outline of something very big, with wide, gleaming eyes bounding towards him.
As the creature approached him, more cautiously as he came closer, Harry realized that this was the largest dog he had ever seen. It was black, its fur was ragged, and even in the dark, Harry could tell that it was utterly emaciated. That was no wonder, after all. No one on Privet Drive would feed a stray; it was remarkable that no one had called the authorities on it yet. But the strangest thing about it was its fathomless grey eyes, which were fixed on Harry's face as though transfixed.
"Here, doggy," Harry said uncertainly. The dog whined mournfully, and came closer. Harry petted it, not sure of what he was supposed to do, but definitely unwilling to anger such a large creature.
He went back into his trunk, looking for the cloak once again, and located it below his copy of Fantastic Beasts. He pulled it out and started to shut the trunk, but found that the dog had inserted its muzzle, looking inside.
"Come on. I have to get out of here. The Ministry's after me."
The dog yelped rather violently at that, and Harry took the chance to shut the trunk. But as he moved to put on the cloak it approached him once again, tugging at the cloak.
"Hey, let go. It was my father's. It's all I have left of him."
The dog whined again.
"Yeah, I know. I feel like that too. But I really do have to get going, you know. And I really can't take you with me. I don't think we can share a broomstick."
Harry turned, draping the invisibility cloak over himself. Before he drew the hood he turned back, to say goodbye to the dog, when before his eyes, it turned into the filthy, gaunt figure of a man with long matted hair and sunken eyes, wearing robes that were practically falling of his body. When he spoke it was in a voice that was scratched and broken from years of screaming.
"There's a better way to travel than that, Harry."
Harry stared in shock, instinctively drawing his wand.
"You're that man, Black. You were on the news earlier. How do you know my name? Did Voldemort send you after me, or Malfoy again?"
"I don't work for Voldemort."
It was rare enough for Harry to hear that name spoken, for apart from himself he had only known Professor Dumbledore to use it. What he had never heard, however, was the bitter and icy contempt in this man's voice in speaking the name. Whatever else he was, and Harry could by no means discount him as a threat, he was no minion of the Dark Lord.
"Why are you here then? How do you know me?" he asked again.
"I... you look just like James. It's like none of it ever happened, to see you standing here like this."
"You knew my father?"
"He was my closest friend... my brother."
"Why were you in prison, then? Why haven't you come to see me before, when I was little?"
"I've been in Azkaban for a very long time, Harry. Didn't they tell you anything about me?"
"I've never heard of you in my life."
"I suppose once they locked me away they thought you didn't need to remember. I'm your godfather, Harry. James wanted me to take care of you if anything happened."
"Is that why you're here? Because I can't go back to the Dursleys again?"
"I just wanted to see you, Harry. What are you doing out here at night? Why are you leaving your aunt and uncle?"
"I had to," he said disconsolately. "I blew up my Aunt Marge, Uncle Vernon's sister. I couldn't help myself, she said my mother had bad blood and that my father was a drunken wastel. I just... she just blew up like a balloon and started to float away."
Black just laughed. It was an unexpected sound, not the hollow, hacking sound that Harry might have expected from his voice, but rich, and infectious, if Harry hadn't been quite so miserable.
"It's not funny. I'll be expelled; the Ministry's probably after me already."
"You really are just like your father. He did the same thing when anyone said anything about Lily."
Harry looked up. Black was smiling, a true smile, and his face was transformed by it. All of a sudden, Harry glimpsed something familiar in that smile.
"I've seen your picture. You were at my parents' wedding."
"Yes, I was James's best man."
Harry was filled with a hundred questions that he was bursting to ask. Here was someone who knew his parents, who had been best man at their wedding, his godfather. He started to speak, but Black interrupted him.
"Put on your hood, Harry, and hide the trunk under it."
Harry didn't think to question Black, and sat on the trunk, making sure it was completely covered. He looked back towards Black, but saw that he had turned back into a dog, and was sniffing at the hedges quite convincingly. A moment later, he saw why Black had instructed him to hide. Half a dozen wizards in matching khaki robes were patrolling the street with lighted wands. Harry knew that they had to be looking for him; they must have appeared at the Dursleys' house once they traced the magic. Harry was very glad that he had not been in there when they had come for him. He wondered just what they had made of Aunt Marge, and what state they had found her in.
The Ministry wizards evidently didn't really expect to find Harry still in the neighborhood. They were walking at a rapid clip, and their scan seemed to be fairly cursory. Even so, Harry was a bit nervous as he realized how close to the pavement he and his trunk were. He couldn't really afford to move it at this stage, in case it made a noise, or a corner showed through by accident, so he remained in place, hoping for the best. It was a bit of a close call, but Black barked at just the right moment, and distracted the wizards, who moved on to the street in evident apprehension of the large, if underfed, dog. Harry breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear that none of the wizards would manage to stub their toe on the invisible trunk. He looked on as they passed through to Wisteria Walk, and then, saw the lights disappear as they left, having called off the search.
"That was a bit of a close call. We'd better get out of here in case they return."
Black had reappeared before Harry, seeming to know exactly where he was sitting. Harry pulled off his hood once again. If it occurred to him for a moment how odd it would be for any of the Muggles who looked out of their windows to see a bedraggled escaped convict talking to a disembodied head, he shelved the thought to focus on more immediate matters.
"You're coming with me?"
"You'd rather I didn't?"
"No, look, I... you just saved me, and it's not that I don't appreciate it, but, maybe I'm not the best judge of character. I mean, last year I trusted this stupid diary and that turned out to be a sixteen-year-old Voldemort, and the year before that I never suspected that Professor Quirrel had Voldemort sitting on the back of his head just because Snape was going around being a great big git as usual..."
"Wait a minute, what's all this about Voldemort? He's not back, is he? They don't exactly keep us up to date on the news in Azkaban."
Black said it lightly, but there was a shadow of something in his voice that reminded Harry of the previous year, when Hagrid was being taken off to the prison as a precautionary measure. He remembered the fear in Hagrid's voice, and wondered for a moment what exactly it meant to have spent so long in Azkaban.
"No, he hasn't. He tried to come back my first year by stealing by stealing the Philosopher's Stone, but I went after him, and they've destroyed that now. Last year was just a diary in which he had implanted his memories of Hogwarts."
"You've escaped him three times already? Just like James and Lily."
He said it wistfully, as though he were still in mourning. Harry was again tempted to ask this man about his parents, but he also held on to his own doubts.
"Look, I really have to be going now. Umm, thanks for everything."
"And you really don't have any reason to trust me, so you rather hope I'll take the hint and fade away. You're probably right. But I can't let you go where you're planning to just like that. I'm going to have to try and convince you."
"How do you know where I'm going?" asked Harry, suddenly feeling a bit apprehensive.
"I was listening when you were talking to yourself. That's why I came closer; I hadn't planned it like that.I just came here to have a look at you and then head on back up North, but when you mentioned the Weasleys I couldn't just let you go. Not by yourself."
"Why not? The Weasleys are great; Ron's my best friend. Even if I can't go back to Hogwarts they'll help me. Once they get back from Egypt, that is."
"Harry, you're not going to get thrown out of Hogwarts. This will blow over; it's just accidental magic."
"Yeah, but I already got a warning last year, and that wasn't even me; it was a mad house-elf. You saw how they were looking for me!"
"Harry, they wanted to make sure you were safe from me."
"You know, if that's your reason for why I should go with you you're going to have to do a lot better."
"You've got your father's sense of humor. And your mother's stubbornness, if I'm not mistaken. Look, Harry, it's a long and ugly story. I wasn't really planning on getting into all of this with you. I escaped from Azkaban to commit the murder I was imprisoned for, and as soon as that's taken care of the ministry can have me, for all I care. I just want to make sure that you're safe from that rat."
Harry stared at Black, wide eyed.
"You're completely bonkers."
Black smiled, but this was a wretched, haunted parody of the smile Harry had earlier seen.
"Oh no, I'm as sane as I ever was. Much to the surprise and the disappointment of the wizarding world, I'm sure. They think I'm after you. They think I betrayed your parents to Voldemort. They think this is all my fault – and I suppose they are right about that."
Harry felt a wave of nausea as he heard this admission, yet he could not look away from the sunken hollow pools that were Black's eyes. He had done it again, he supposed, somewhere in the back of his mind. He had decided to trust an unknown convict instead of letting the Ministry wizards take him, and now he was trapped on a dark street with a man who had just admitted that he had led Harry's parents to their death. Somehow, Dumbledore's words from his first year came trickling back to him, but he simply did not feel ready for death, the next great adventure.
"You betrayed my parents?" he asked, in a sort of horrified awe.
Black's eyes were suspiciously bright now, and if Harry had thought about it he would have realized that he was blinking back tears.
"I as good as killed them, Harry. They trusted me. They asked me to be their secret-keeper. I could have kept them safe from all the world. And I told them to switch. I delivered their fate into the hands of a man who betrayed them to Voldemort."
"And that's why you were in Azkaban?"
"Not exactly. They think I killed Peter Pettigrew. Poor brave Peter Pettigrew, who was mad with grief for the Potters. Lying, betraying Peter Pettigrew, who blew up a street full of Muggles and framed me for his murder."
"So he killed himself?"
"If he had I don't think I would have bothered escaping. No, he just cut off his own finger, transformed into a rat, and ran away into the gutter. That finger was the largest piece they ever found of him. And he's been living as a rat ever since, while I've been rotting in Azkaban."
"Do loads of wizards turn into animals, then? I've never seen anyone do it."
"McGonagall hasn't transformed for you yet? She's an animagus; she'll show you sometime, if she's still at Hogwarts. But it's not very common at all. It's just something your father and Peter and I did, while we were at school. It was a secret. We needed to, to help a friend. But nobody knew Peter was capable of such a thing. Nobody would have suspected."
"So that's why you can get around? Because no one knows you're a dog either?"
"But what does this have to do with the Weasleys? Why can't I go to my best friend's house?"
Sirius scrambled around in the pocket of his filthy robe, and took out a crumpled and stained piece of paper, torn roughly around the edges, and handed it to Harry.
"Yeah, that's them. They're in Egypt now. The house must be empty, but that's okay. They won't mind, and I'm used to being by myself."
"No, look, Harry," said Black, pointing at Ron.
"That's Ron, my friend. What's the matter, why are you pointing at him?"
"Not him. Look at the rat."
"What, Scabbers? He's just a stupid rat."
"He's not just any rat, Harry. Look at his left foot."
And Harry looked, as though for the first time. And sure enough, the rat had a toe missing.
"But that's impossible! That can't be your friend. He's been in the same dorm as me for the last two years. And he was Percy's rat before that. Why would he stay like that? He's never done anything to me."
"He wouldn't, if there wasn't anything in it for him. He didn't have a master to serve. But he's biding his time. Why do you think he's in a wizarding home, in Britain?"
"Look, I don't know if I can believe you."
"If I were making up a story, Harry, I think I could do better than that."
Harry snorted. "That's probably true."
"So you believe me, then?"
"Well, maybe I won't call the Ministry just yet. But if Scabbers is who you say he is, why can't I go to the Burrow? He's not even in the country right now."
"He will return, Harry, and I don't want you any nearer him than I can help. Besides, he'll be worried enough when he sees me with you."
"Wait a minute, I never said you could come with me."
"I'd like to see you try and stop me, Harry. Besides, why would you want to? Padfoot's charming."
"Is that what you call yourself, then?"
"It's what your father used to call me. But you should call me something else in public. There are still some people who know that name."
"What should I call you then?"
"Snuffles? That's a silly name for a big old dog like you."
"Do you have any better ideas?"
Harry considered for a moment.
"Snuffles it is, then."
"Where are we going, anyhow?"
Sirius considered for a moment.
"We could go to my house, I suppose. I heard my darling old Mum is finally dead. But I'd really rather not. Or we could just go to the Leaky Cauldron for the night. Unless you'd rather go all the way to Hogsmeade? They really do have the best butter beer there, and Rosie's a lot nicer than old Tom."
"Hogsmeade? Really? I thought I'd never get to go there!"
"Why not? You're a third year, aren't you?"
"My uncle didn't sign my form. He said he would if I behaved myself in front of his sister. And then I went and blew her up, and had to run away. There's no way he'll let me go now."
"So you'll have to take the secret passages, then. You have the invisibility cloak, what's the problem?"
"There are secret passages out of Hogwarts?"
"Loads of them. I'll tell you all about them, later. We should really get going."
"How are we going to get all that way? It takes the Hogwarts Express nearly a whole day."
"We'll take the Knight Bus, of course. Didn't I tell you earlier? It's a bit jumpy, but it's a lot easier than two people to a broomstick, I'll tell you that much."
"The Knight Bus."
"Yeah. Look, just stick out your wand, like that, right. Hold on, let me just..."
He disappeared, and the great big hulking dog appeared once more in his place. Harry stuck out his wand, just as Black had showed him. And sure enough, a second later, a gigantic pair of wheels and headlights screeched to halt exactly where Harry had just been lying. They belonged, as Harry saw when he raised his head, to a triple-decked, violently purple bus, which had appeared out of thin air. Gold lettering of the windshield spelled The Knight Bus.
A conductor in a purple uniform leapt out of the bus and began to speak loudly to the night.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board, and we can take you anywhere you want to go. My name is Stan Shunpike, and I will be your conductor this evening."