Padfoot snarled and launched himself at Rookwood, heedless of the brandishing of the wand in the hand of the wizard.
The first spell caught him on the flank – a cutting hex; a second on the shoulder – a burning hex. He paid no attention to either hit nor to the others that landed as he focused on his target; Rookwood's throat.
He was vaguely aware of Neville, huddled further into the wall, eyes wide taking in the fight in front of him. Neville knew about Sirius's animagus form; but Sirius had always been careful to ensure that no-one had ever seen Padfoot as anything but a friendly, affable dog, not the full-on magical Grim with the strength and power that the creature was fabled with possessing. He only hoped Neville knew that he would not hurt him.
Padfoot's jaws snapped in the air by Rookwood's neck as the wizard finally threw himself backwards to evade the attack and sent a weak blasting hex to push Padfoot away.
He yelped as the spell hit him and sent him flying but he ignored the pain in his chest from the blow and leaped up as soon as he hit the ground. He rushed at Rookwood again; dodging spell after spell, ignoring those that had landed.
He was forcing Rookwood backwards towards the fire; further and further away from Neville.
Rookwood aimed a deadly purple coloured spell towards him and Padfoot jumped…
He landed on Rookwood, sending them both crashing to the floor.
Before Rookwood could recover, Padfoot attacked – not going for the man but the wand, it snapped in two as Padfoot's teeth clenched around it and he spit out the wood and the taste of something vile.
Rookwood scrabbled back, panting hard, his eyes wild as he realised that he was losing.
Padfoot stalked after him and sprang; he landed on the other man's back and his jaws closed on Rookwood's head, teeth sinking into the scalp as he bit deeply; satisfied as the bitter iron gush of blood soaked his tongue.
Rookwood howled and screamed as he bucked wildly, sending Padfoot flying. But Padfoot recovered quickly and jumped on him again; this time Rookwood was on his back, his eyes wild and shocked as they registered the reality of his situation.
Padfoot used his magical strength to pin the wizard to the ground, some part of him – the Sirius part – still arguing that he could render Rookwood unconscious; give him mercy; see justice done with the return of the Death Eater to Azkaban…
But Padfoot was a Grim and Rookwood had threatened an innocent, was still a threat if Padfoot were to let him up…
He growled and sank his teeth into Rookwood's throat.
Rookwood gurgled as he tried to scream. The Grim kept hold of his prey. Finally, Rookwood stilled and Padfoot let go, his jaw aching, his mouth and muzzle soaked with blood.
Mulciber was cowering in a corner of the room; arms and hands over his head, mumbling as he rocked himself back and forth.
Padfoot staggered off Rookwood and slowly crawled back to Neville. They had to get away, escape, but his wounds were finally making themselves known and his body hurt in a way that he didn't think was a good thing. He slumped to the ground in front of the boy he had protected and whined helplessly; desperately trying to keep conscious.
He had tracking charms.
Neville was safe and someone would come soon.
The pain of his injuries cascaded through him in waves of agony.
And all Sirius could do was hope help was on the way and try to hold on…because the truth was that his strength was gone.
The Headmaster's office was filled with people all yelling at each other.
Harry had wandered over to Fawkes as soon as he'd entered the office and he figured people had forgotten that he was there as it had filled with others. Dumbledore, Bertie and Amelia, Snape and Remus, Moody and Tonks were all gathered around the Headmaster's desk. Minerva, Bill and Caro had been sent to watch over the Potter alliance kids all gathered into Harry's quarters.
Augusta Longbottom had been called back to Hogwarts and she'd arrived white-faced and anxious. She was currently arguing with the Headmaster over how someone had managed to get Neville on Hogwarts' grounds. Harry kind of thought she should be yelling at him for that one. He'd been the one who had allowed Neville to go out to the greenhouse with Hannah; who'd taken his eye off the Snitch by not even thinking of having the map with him.
The map was currently spread out on the Headmaster's desk and continued to show a complete absence of either Sirius or Neville. Everyone else was arguing over how the tracking charms Sirius had worn were being magically blocked somehow, each putting forward their own theory and trying to argue for it.
All of the back and forth wasn't getting them anywhere though.
And why they were more focused on the map of Hogwarts then on actually finding Sirius and Neville elsewhere wasn't something that Harry was going to understand any time soon. What did it matter about the map? Sirius and Neville weren't in Hogwarts. Snape had seen Sirius portkeyed away and he'd told everyone that before the arguing had broken out.
Harry rubbed the side of his temple where a dull throb of a headache had set up home as soon as he'd realised Neville was missing. He felt his magic stir in anger and frustration. It had been almost an hour since Crouch had grabbed Sirius. They were wasting time – time Sirius and Neville might not have.
And with that thought his magic slipped out of his control and lashed out in a violent whip, shattering the window behind him and silencing the room.
"Harry." Remus said hesitantly as Harry fought to regain control. "Deep breaths."
Fawkes flew over to Harry, crooning at him gently. Harry felt the waves of the phoenix's empathic calm settle over him. His magic stopped churning a touch.
"Perhaps you should…" The Headmaster began.
"What?" snapped Harry, his control on a knife edge despite the warm weight of Fawkes on his shoulder. "Go wait with the other kids while you lot continue arguing about something that isn't helping to find THEM?"
They all flinched back from him. Some adopted sheepish expressions though as the truth of his words swept away the embarrassment of being called out on their behaviour.
"This isn't helping!" Harry said. "Crouch has them and…"
A strong feeling of déjà vu rushed through him, halting the words in his mouth, and for a moment it was as though he was suspended in another time, the memory so strong it replayed in front of his eyes…
His mother standing with magic swirling around her in a room in the Ministry as others had argued about finding Sirius, and Harry assuming control to find him…to find him with the family magic…
And the moment he became Heir…the silver snake of the Black family magic promising him that they'd brought Sirius home to Harry once before…
Harry's hand was out before he consciously registered the decision to call the magic, the pooling swirls of gold and silver on the floor of the Headmaster's office a testament to his inner decision.
"Oh," Bertie said in gleeful comprehension, "good thinking!"
And from the corner of his eye, Harry could see Remus sagging against the edge of the desk as he too remembered the memory they'd been shown of how Sirius had been found when he'd been captured by Death Eaters in the war.
Harry wasn't surprised to see the Longbottom bear appear as the griffin and snake took form – he'd known instinctively that the bear would come because of Neville – but Augusta's gasp gave away her shock.
"Find them and bring them home!" Harry ordered urgently. "Hurry!"
The griffin spread its wings, taking the bear in one claw and the snake in another before it lifted up and flew out of the open window.
Harry felt a flutter of embarrassment at the damage and with a wave of his hand and a muttered 'reparo' the window repaired itself.
"What…" Augusta began to ask.
"The family magic will find them and bring them home." Harry explained quickly.
The Headmaster reached for his chair and sat down with a thump. He looked pale.
"Are you alright, Albus?" Amelia asked.
Dumbledore glanced at Bertie before nodding. "Yes. Just an old memory making itself known."
The obliviation must have broken, Harry mused.
Augusta frowned. "Are you certain…"
Harry nodded. "I've done it before." He muttered.
"He has, Augusta." Bertie confirmed. "He brought Sirius back once. I'm sure it'll work again."
"I should have thought of it earlier." Harry said apologetically, guilt surging through him again.
"Since you were only a baby the last time you did it and have no memory other than the memory Arcturus left behind of the incident," Remus said walking over to him and placing a comforting hand on his shoulder, "it's a wonder that you thought of it at all."
"I should have remembered." Bertie said with a sigh. "I was there."
Something flickered at the edge of Harry's awareness; a pull on his magic. "They're coming."
And they were.
The totems suddenly appeared in the centre of the office, the bear dropping his burden of a pale but apparently unharmed Neville onto the floor before the griffin and snake relinquished their burden; a bloody and battered Padfoot.
"SIRIUS!" Harry wasn't aware of taking the few steps to gather the Grim into his arms but he must have done because the next thing he knew he was gathering the whimpering animal up heedless of the damage to his own smart dress robes.
Padfoot whined deep and low but he burrowed into Harry's embrace.
"He needs a healer!" Remus said anxiously, hovering beside them.
Tonks moved to kneel beside Harry and put her hand on his shoulder. "He's alive though. That's good, right?"
"I'll get Doctor Jordan." Dumbledore confirmed swiftly.
Neville raised his head from his Gran's relieved embrace. "I'm sorry, Harry. He got hurt saving me."
Harry figured Sirius preferred that he had gotten hurt over Neville. "'S OK, Neville. He would have hated it if you'd gotten hurt on his watch. I should never have let you go outside of the Hall…"
"No, no!" Neville said hurriedly. "It was my fault for going outside the greenhouse on my own! I got distracted and…I was knocked out before I could get my wand or call for help and…"
Doctor Jordan hurried out of the floo and towards them, cutting off their conversation. She raised her wand and…
"Stop!" Bertie caught hold of her wrist. "Wait! He's wearing an obedience collar."
"A what?" Harry made to touch the heavy leather object around Sirius's neck.
"NO!" Bertie shouted. "Do NOT touch it! If you're not the person who put the collar on him, touching the collar will probably send a magical charge through Sirius causing him a great deal of pain."
"I think it did that when he tried to change back." Neville said thinly. "And when he bit Crouch."
"He bit Crouch?" Amelia prompted. "Perhaps you should tell us what happened, Neville, and we can work out a way to help Sirius."
"Well, I got knocked out like I said and when I woke up I was chained to this wall in a room – I think it was a basement? Sirius was there. Anyway, not long after I woke up so did Sirius. Only when Crouch spotted him, Sirius tried to turn back I think and the collar hurt him." Neville swallowed, his eyes shining brightly with repressed tears. "I said something to Crouch and he went to hit me and Sirius…he just grabbed Crouch's arm with his mouth and even though the collar was hurting him he held on. One of the others had to knock him away with a spell."
"And Crouch?" asked Amelia urgently.
"Left. One of the Death Eaters was going to hurt me but Sirius broke his chain and put himself between us." Neville brushed away the tear that had gotten free. "They fought and…" he gestured at the Grim. "He wouldn't give up and he won but he was in a bad way and then the totems arrived. I think the snake ripped apart the Death Eater that was, uh, dead. I, uh…" he looked bemused, "I don't know how but one minute we were there and then we were here." His face took on a downcast expression. "I didn't think to call the family magic."
Harry stroked a hand over Padfoot's head. "Are you sure we can't start healing him?" He asked anxiously to the room.
Bertie shook his head. "I'm sorry, Harry, but any magic but that done by the master of the collar will simply cause him pain."
Jordan pushed Tonks away to sit beside Harry. "I can start a visual examination at least." She placed a hand on Harry's. "You'll need to set him down, Harry."
Padfoot whined unhappily.
Harry's hold tightened on him but he slowly lowered the Grim to the floor. He kept a hand stroking across Padfoot's head though. He was vaguely aware of Amelia moving Neville and Augusta to the side of the room and Moody following; snippets of her questioning Neville about the location drifted over as Harry watched Jordan carefully make a tally of all the hurts Sirius had suffered.
"Bertie," Dumbledore said, "what do you know of these collars?" The Headmaster had crept closer while Harry had been distracted and had made a visual examination of the collar while Jordan had examined Padfoot's wounds.
"Not much." Bertie admitted. "Just that an animagus wearing one shouldn't be subjected to magic from someone other than the owner of the collar, and that they cause a great deal of pain when set off."
"Perhaps then we should try to banish it?" Dumbledore said.
"It would be risky." Bertie said. "It could set it off."
Padfoot gave a bark.
"You want to try?" asked Harry, looking into the unhappy grey eyes of the Grim.
Padfoot barked again.
Harry looked up at the Headmaster eagerly. "Please?"
Dumbledore nodded and motioned for Harry to move away from Padfoot. "Stand back, everyone."
Harry stood up but didn't move too far. He kept his eyes on Padfoot's.
Dumbledore raised the Elder wand and without saying the spell aloud, light burst from the tip, arced across the room and hit the collar.
Padfoot howled, his body shaking furiously.
"STOP!" Harry ordered, not even aware of how the wand responded to him, cutting the spell dead, he was so intent on falling to the floor again and gathering an unconscious Padfoot up as though his physical presence would keep the Grim safe.
"I'm going to ask Minerva to join us. She may know something being an expert on being an animagus." Dumbledore said quietly.
Harry nodded and stroked a hand over Padfoot's head. "It's going to be OK, Padfoot." He murmured.
Minerva came through the floo and paused at the sight in front of her. "Merlin!" She breathed. She walked over and crouched down, examining the collar carefully without touching it. "It is an animagus control collar. They were once used in training animagus to maintain their forms but they were outlawed a long time ago."
"How do we get it off him?" Harry asked bluntly, frustrated that they hadn't come up with a way to help Sirius.
"They were usually designated for family use only." Minerva explained quickly. "If this is the Crouch collar, only someone related could touch or interact with the animagus without it setting off the magical charge."
"It's allowed Harry to touch Sirius without any problems." Remus said slowly.
"Of course, both the Blacks and the Potters are related by marriage to Crouch." Bertie said with a sigh of relief. "Harry, maybe you would be able to unlock the collar."
Harry drew his wand nervously. He didn't want to hurt Padfoot again if it didn't work. He positioned himself carefully. "Alohomora!"
The collar shook but it didn't unlock.
Harry frowned and tried again, pushing more of his power through his holly wand. It didn't work.
"Maybe there isn't enough of a relationship." Remus theorised out loud. "Harry's related through marriage but the blood connection is very weak."
"Well, we have to find some way of getting this collar off." Minerva said briskly. "He'll remain in his animagus form otherwise."
Harry turned the problem over in his head. "It feels like it could work." He said. "I just can't push enough power through the wand to make it happen without burning my wand out."
Because his wand wasn't powerful enough.
His eyes flew up to meet Remus's knowing gaze as they both reached the same conclusion at the same time.
Dumbledore coughed politely. "Perhaps you would like to borrow my wand, Harry?" His gaze was nothing but understanding and compassionate as he offered the Elder wand to Harry.
The office had fallen preternaturally silent.
Harry reached up and took the wand. Its power sang through his veins as it settled into his palm; a heady rush of glee as though it was pleased to be with him, to belong again. He felt its presence wrap around his core, mutter about the Goblet binding and the scarring, and settle into him with a happy squirm like someone getting comfortable in a favourite chair.
"Harry." Remus said worriedly.
He'd closed his eyes, Harry realised opening them.
Magic was pooling around him like thick honey, gold dust swirling into the air. He swallowed hard against the sense of rightness as he aimed the wand and thought the spell. It leaped from the Elder wand immediately, diving across the small space.
The collar unlocked with a loud click.
And Padfoot became Sirius in a blink of an eye.
A bloody, battered unconscious Sirius.
Harry immediately fell to his side, his shaking hand landing softly on Sirius's head.
Remus kicked the collar into a corner of the Headmaster's office as Jordan hurried forward again, casting a diagnostic. She shook her head.
"We need to get him to Saint Mungo's." She said. "I'm going to need assistance healing all of the damage and…" her head whipped up and she looked directly at Minerva, "we'll need your expertise I think as the injuries were sustained while he was in his animal form."
"Of course." Minerva said immediately.
Jordan conjured a stretcher. She waved Harry off and levitated Sirius onto it. Dumbledore was already constructing a portkey which he handed to Minerva.
Remus pulled Harry away from the stretcher. "You'll need to stay here, Harry."
"But…" Harry began to protest.
"No buts." Remus said firmly. "It's too risky and Sirius would kill me for allowing you to go to Saint Mungo's. You'll stay here where you're safe." He placed a hand on Harry's arm. "I'll go with him and take care of him. I promise."
And Harry reminded himself that Remus loved Sirius as much as he did. Moony would take care of Padfoot.
He nodded jerkily.
Remus motioned at Tonks. "You'll stay with Harry?"
"Consider that your assignment for the rest of the night, Tonks." Amelia said crisply. "I'll go with Sirius and Remus. Hopefully when Sirius is awake, he'll be able to provide more information on where they were."
Tonks placed her hands on Harry's shoulders as they watched everyone gather around the stretcher.
"Madame Longbottom," Jordan turned to Augusta, "Neville needs to be checked out by Poppy."
Augusta nodded. "We'll see to it."
"I'll escort you to the infirmary." Moody said. "You need to come along too, lad." He caught Snape's arm as he manoeuvred them out of the office.
Snape bristled but Harry wasn't surprised when he went. Nobody refused Moody's orders for very long.
Remus caught his eye once again just before the whirl of the portkey had them disappearing.
And suddenly the office seemed incredibly empty.
Harry fingered the wand he held and slowly placed it on the desk. Something inside of him keened at the loss.
I need you safe for when I really need you, he thought at the wand, at the bonds it had already wrapped around him. Professor Dumbledore will keep you safe.
It quieted. A sleepy happy tingle around his core; it was being kept safe not repudiated. It belonged to Harry and there was no question of that now; it could stay with the old wizard until it was time.
Harry stepped back from the desk.
"Thank you, Harry." Dumbledore said softly. "I'll come with you and ensure that the students return to their own dormitories."
"I'll deal with the collar." Bertie grimaced. "And I'll drop by Cornelius and give him an update on the situation."
The walk to his quarters seemed long and all Harry could think about was how pale Sirius had looked; the blood matting his hair, streaking down the side of his face, long painful scratches across his body…
Hermione rushed to hug him as soon as he was inside. He hugged her back, all too aware of how many eyes were watching them.
Dumbledore clapped his hands. "Everyone! Lord Black and Mister Longbottom have been recovered."
"What happened to them?" Ron asked bluntly as the students shifted restlessly, relieved but not reassured by the Headmaster.
"Crouch took them." Harry stated before the Headmaster could say anything. "Neville's fine. He's getting checked out in the infirmary now. His Gran is with him." His eyes went to Hannah and saw her smile tearfully back at him and silently tried to convey just how OK Neville was.
"And Lord Black?" asked Draco pointedly.
"Sirius was injured protecting Neville." Harry didn't want to tell them about the collar and since the Headmaster shot him an approving glance he figured it was a good thing not to say anything about it. "He's been taken to Saint Mungo's." He lifted a hand before the questions could start. "He managed to injure Crouch according to Neville so it's unlikely anything else is going to happen tonight." His eyes flashed. "We still haven't determined how Crouch got Neville without being seen so…make sure you're with someone at all times for the next few days until we learn more."
"Wise words indeed, Harry." Dumbledore said smoothly. "Bill, if you could escort the Ravenclaws to their tower? Caro, if you could take the Hufflepuffs? And if the Slytherins would like to follow me? Tonks, if you could see to the Gryffindors before settling in with Harry?"
They all started to traipse out and Harry let Hermione pull him away from the door into a quiet corner, Ron following them less than discreetly.
"How's Sirius?" She asked, getting to the point remarkably quickly.
Harry shook his head. "He's…he was in bad shape." Tears prickled at the back of his eyes. "They wouldn't let me stay with him."
Hermione squeezed his hand.
Ron patted his shoulder clumsily. "He'll be fine, mate."
"Hermione, Ron." Tonks called for them.
Hermione hugged him again. "Try not to worry, Harry. I'm sure Sirius will be up and about in no time."
"I'm sorry tonight got ruined." Harry said.
"Don't worry about it." Hermione kissed him briefly, nothing more than a press of her lips against his but it had Ron turning away in embarrassment. "We'll come by tomorrow."
And then they were gone.
Harry wandered listlessly into the living room. The bright cheerful decorations seemed out of place with everything that had happened; without Sirius there. He touched a hand to the stocking with the name 'Padfoot' stitched onto it and blinked back tears.
They'd had such a good day and…
He shook his head and tried to regain some composure. Sirius had been taken but Harry had gotten him back. And Sirius was going to be fine. He was hurt but he'd get better.
Harry just had to hang onto that.
Another failed attempt to get to Potter's camp…another minion feeling the blunt consequences of their failure, Peter mused.
Mulciber whimpered and tried to crawl away to safety but Barty's Crucio lanced across the room and slammed him back onto the concrete floor.
Peter watched with detached interest. Barty had turned up at the new hide-out a couple of hours before with his wrist a bloody mess and a request for help in healing his injury. It had been heartening that while the Dark Lord had been gleeful at Barty's successful capture of Black and the Longbottom boy, he had been just as unsympathetic to Barty's injury as he had been to Peter's.
Of course, the Dark Lord was going to be furious at what Peter and Barty had found when they'd returned to get Sirius and Longbottom for a brief meet-and-greet with the Dark Lord himself; namely, that both had escaped.
Peter let his eyes roam over the basement of the muggle house Rookwood had apparently bought years before as a bolt-hole. It was located in one of the central suburbs of muggle Birmingham. The entire house was magically warded by Rookwood himself to ensure the muggles never noticed it. Peter was grateful for the magical sound-proofing element of the wards as he was certain Mulciber's screams would not have gone unnoticed otherwise.
Rookwood's body lay sprawled by the fire. It looked like he had been torn apart by a wild animal; bloody rents and tears littered his torso; his face was a frozen rictus of terror. Bloody smears along the concrete floor and splatter across the walls gave away that the battle had been terrifying and difficult.
Peter knew he would have ran and hidden like Mulciber apparently had. They had found him cowering in a corner of the room and blathering about ghostly snakes and griffins and a bear of all things appearing from nowhere to spirit away the prisoners.
More likely, Peter mused, Sirius had killed Rookwood himself and found some way to get Longbottom out of the house and back to the wizarding world. Sirius was a formidable wizard.
"Bastard!" Barty snapped and Peter flicked his gaze back to where the other wizard was torturing Mulciber only to realise Mulciber had finally succumbed to unconsciousness.
Peter's gaze drifted to the body of Rookwood again. "The Dark Lord isn't going to be pleased."
"I'm not pleased!" Barty barked furiously. "I left them for an hour! An hour! And I left them specific instructions and did they listen? No!" He kicked out at Mulciber landing a blow in his stomach. "No! They did not!"
Mulciber had been very talkative about how Rookwood had decided to play with Longbottom causing Sirius to somehow find the strength to break the chain tying him to the wall in order to fight.
Typical Sirius, Peter thought almost fondly. It didn't explain the rest of Mulciber's babbling but Peter got the impression that Mulciber wasn't quite with it.
"AHHH!" Barty whirled around and sent a forceful blasting hex at Rookwood's body. "IDIOT! MORON!"
Peter watched dispassionately as the body blew into pieces. "This place is a mess."
Barty shot him a sneering look and whirled away. "How did this go wrong? It was perfect! Perfect!" He paced back and forth, gesturing with his wand. "I had Dennis and his father make sure Karkaroff grabbed a kid for me and Longbottom was a perfect, perfect choice! It was fate giving me back the son I would have had with Rabastan!"
Peter's eyebrows arched in surprise.
"You should have seen him as a baby, Peter." Barty stopped and simpered suddenly. "He was so perfect! Tiny little toes and fingers and so rosy-cheeked! Just perfect!"
He wasn't going to admit that he'd seen Neville Longbottom as a child, Peter decided firmly. With Alice and Lily being such a good friends, it hadn't been unusual for one to be found with the other, especially as they were both young mothers together.
"And Rookwood thought he could hurt my son!" Barty vibrated with fury again. He turned and paced back to the fire, his shoe squelching on some bloody portion of Rookwood's body.
Cuckoo, Peter thought with wearily, Barty was completely cuckoo.
"If he wasn't dead I would kill him again, bring him back to life and kill him again!" Barty snarled.
Peter sighed. "We should return to the Dark Lord." He gestured at Mulciber. "Are we taking him with us?"
Barty glowered at him before a grimace made its way across his features and he shook his head. He flicked his wand. The Killing curse sang out in deadly green and Mulciber didn't even twitch as he lost his life.
They apparated back to the small holiday cottage in the Lake District which was their latest hiding place. The cottage was an old farmhand's dwelling. It was made of thick stone, had a thatched roof and nobody lived for miles around it. It was perfect.
Peter had idly wondered how the Dark Lord had found the property but he had decided long ago never to question the Dark Lord and it was working as a plan.
They entered the cosy kitchen by the back door. The Dark Lord sat at the table balanced on two large cushions. His appearance had deteriorated further with much of the small child's hair now gone completely bar a few wisps. His eyes glittered red and his face was as pale as sour milk.
"You have returned but without the guests I thought you were bringing me." The Dark Lord said evenly.
The tone of his voice meant bad news; Peter recognised it instantly. He immediately went to his knees.
"Forgive us, Master, but Mulciber and Rookwood have failed you." Peter said, prostrating himself.
Barty proved not to be stupid. He followed Peter's example and got to his knees, bowed his head and asked for forgiveness. "I should never have left them!" He wailed.
"SILENCE!" The Dark Lord ordered. "Tell me exactly what happened."
Barty hesitantly told the story Mulciber had told him; of Rookwood's disobedience, the fight with Sirius and how they'd been spirited away.
The Dark Lord's eyes narrowed at the description of the snake, griffin and bear. "An unusual description."
"The totems of the family magic." Barty said dismissively. "But I don't believe Mulciber's ramblings…they don't have the ability to act independently and just show up! Black probably called for the protection element silently and my…the boy followed his example; Rookwood died; Black apparated them out."
The Dark Lord's fingers tapped restlessly on the arm of his chair. "I would speak to Mulciber about what he saw."
Peter darted a look at a suddenly very pale Barty.
"He, uh, I punished him with death, Father." Barty murmured, his voice barely raised above a whisper.
The Dark Lord's eyes flashed with anger. "And when did you decide that you were the arbiter of who should be punished and by whom?"
Barty lowered his head. "I'm sorry, Father. I was so angry at him for ruining your Yuletide gift that I simply acted."
"I warned you, Barty, that my indulgence would not last forever." The Dark Lord said tersely. "You have failed me tonight. You failed me when you allowed an injury to divert you from guarding your prisoners. You failed me when you failed to ensure Rookwood's compliance to your orders. You failed me when you killed Mulciber the only witness to what occurred before I had the chance to speak with him!" He pointed his finger towards a small door to their left which led to the cellar.
Barty looked at the Dark Lord with horror. "Please, Father! No!"
"GO!" The Dark Lord ordered. "Or it will be two nights you spend down there!"
The shout was enough to have Barty scuttling towards the door. He opened it and walked through it, closing it softly behind him.
A spell immediately impacted the wood, looking the door tight. Peter tried not to flinch.
"Idiots!" The Dark Lord snarled, slamming the small fist of the child he occupied onto the table. His gaze landed on Peter who immediately lowered his gaze to the floor. "This is a disaster!"
Peter decided to stay silent rather than risk drawing attention and being tortured.
"I need to know what happened!" The Dark Lord snapped. "I had Travers return to Hogwarts to get Karkaroff to report on what was happening there. Go and find out what is going on! NOW!"
Peter glanced at the cabinet with foreboding but bowed his head and went. He wasn't foolish and he knew it was more than his life's worth to disobey an order from the Dark Lord in such a mood.
The inside of the cabinet stank of mould and decay. Peter hurriedly opened the other side and stepped out into Karkaroff's private quarters aboard the Durmstrang ship. Dennis Travers and his father sat at Karkaroff's desk, playing cards.
"Where's Karkaroff?" Peter asked bluntly. "Our Lord wants the report now."
Dennis looked at his father and Peter had a brief moment of panic when the thought that the two had killed Karkaroff popped into his head.
"Well?" Peter demanded.
"He has one more minute to get back here before he loses a toe so…" Travers Senior said flatly.
As though to underline the point, Karkaroff chose that moment to burst into the room, sending the door flying as he hurried inside.
Dennis waved his wand absently to shut the door again, sealing the room in a privacy bubble. "Well?"
"Do you know how close I came to being apprehended by Moody again?" Karkaroff snapped, a dull red colour suffusing his cheeks.
"Do we look as though we care?" Travers Senior sneered. He pointed at Peter. "He's here for your report. You'd best give it to him since he was sent by Our Lord."
Karkaroff flushed again and sat in an empty chair, deflating. "I was able to sneak into the infirmary. The Longbottom boy was there with his grandmother, Moody and Snape. From what I managed to overhear, Potter managed to rescue him and Black with the family magic somehow, although Black was apparently injured getting in between Longbottom and Rookwood. Potter's in lockdown in his rooms and Black's been taken to Saint Mungo's by the werewolf."
"He was supposed to have a collar on him…" Peter began hesitantly.
Karkaroff shook his head. "Potter got it off him. He's distantly related to Crouch, isn't he? Maybe the collar responded to him."
Peter frowned but didn't argue. He'd never been overly interested in magical theory. "I should check out Saint Mungo's." He muttered. Merlin knew he'd do anything to delay his return to the Dark Lord with more bad news. "Do you have any of the Polyjuice left?"
Dennis was the one to reply with a nod. He moved to a small bureau and withdrew a vial. He also extracted a small bag of hairs. He made a big show of removing one with a pair of tweezers and adding it to the potion.
Peter's lip twisted into a grimace as Dennis handed him the glass vial. He accepted it and drank it down. The transformation into a non-descript brown-eyed brown-haired middle-aged wizard with a small moustache was quick.
"Here." Karkaroff handed him a portkey. "It's one of the emergency ones the Ministry gave me in case a student needed medical attention and we couldn't get to the infirmary for some reason."
Peter took it and said the trigger word written upon it. A moment later he appeared in Saint Mungo's emergency transport room.
A stern looking witch was manning the triage desk and she looked at him with a hard glare. "The nature of your emergency?"
"Oh my," Peter wittered, "I found this on a street in Hogsmeade and read the word by accident…" he handed her the portkey. "I'm so very sorry to have disturbed you."
The witch sniffed and Peter hurried out of the door into the main waiting area of the hospital reception. It was bustling with activity but he couldn't see anyone he could recognise. He was considering his options when he saw Rufus Scrimgeour arrive with another Auror. Peter followed them surreptitiously to the Magical Trauma ward.
He quickly darted into an alcove out of the way when he caught sight of a group of huddled wizards and witches by the nurses' desk. He could see a worried Remus pacing; McGonagall close by; Andromeda Tonks and her husband talking quietly together. Scrimgeour approached Amelia Bones and began a discussion that Peter could barely hear. Snippets drifted over to him of searching all of Mulciber's old properties…and Bones replying to begin searching the properties of Rookwood and Travers. Peter shuddered slightly at the close call. If the Dark Lord hadn't wanted to see Sirius and Longbottom immediately…if he and Barty had gone back at the wrong time…
Well, if the Aurors did search the house in Birmingham they'd find nothing of value there. They'd find the bodies of Mulciber and Rookwood and the evidence that it was where Sirius and Longbottom were held but it was a dead end otherwise…
Peter darted further down a corridor away from the gaggle of people waiting for news of Sirius. He pushed open a door and entered what looked to be a doctors' locker room. It gave him an idea and he quickly transfigured his clothing into Healer robes. Confident that he would blend in with the scenery of the hospital, he quickly strode out and walked swiftly past Remus and company past the nurses' desk and into the main patient area of the ward.
Nobody gave him a second glance. He was merely another Healer hurrying about his business.
Peter gave a quick smug smile as he began to search for Sirius's room. He dived out of sight when a door opened suddenly and a few Healers emerged talking excitedly about injuries sustained as an animagus. He watched them for a long moment and saw one of them break away to update Remus.
The open door beckoned to Peter and he went inside to verify that it was Sirius's room.
His old friend lay curled up and still on the hospital bed. Sirius had been dressed in a hospital gown and his injuries treated since, as far as Peter could see, there was no sign of bruising or blood on the visible parts of Sirius's face and arms.
He picked up the clipboard at the end of the bed and tried to read the notes.
Contusions and scrapes…
Unresponsive to stimuli…
It looked like the effects of the collar and Sirius's fight with Rookwood had taken their toll on him. Sirius wasn't out of the woods, mused Peter, and their security was appalling. He could easily raise his wand and…
He hesitated, wand out and pointed at Sirius's still form.
The memory of Sirius's words both the day in the Shack and in the tunnel echoed in his head. Sirius had been his friend. He had loved Peter. Perhaps not as fiercely as he had loved James but Peter had never questioned the other man's friendship and loyalty to him. And perhaps once upon a time, Peter had felt the same friendship and loyalty towards Sirius…flashes of their time at Hogwarts tumbled through his head…of Sirius stepping in front of him to protect him, of conspiring gleefully on a prank, of Sirius helping him become an animagus and never giving up on him…
Peter lowered his wand.
He carefully unclipped a piece of paper from the clipboard, turned it over and wrote a warning on the back.
"Moony, you should be more careful with Padfoot's safety. It might not have been me who was sent to get news of him.
P.S. Tell Harry Merry Christmas."
He poked his head out of the room and a quick glance saw the healer still deeply in conference with Remus and the others. He hastened away in the opposite direction, taking the back stairs down to the main entrance.
He was almost out of the main door when he heard a commotion by the stair door he had just exited as it was thrown back against the wall and Remus ran out with the Aurors on his heels. Peter could see the crumpled note he left held tight in one of Remus's hands.
Remus's amber eyes met his across the busy reception and Peter knew, he just knew that Remus knew it was him. He gave a half-hearted nod and pushed the door open, hurrying into the bustling street outside and apparating almost immediately.
He apparated a few times more to hide his trail before finally returning to the cottage. The Dark Lord was where Peter had left him, sat at the table with an expectant and impatient look.
Peter knelt before him and ignored the whimpering sounds from Barty that were drifting up from the basement as he reported to the Dark Lord. Peter stayed still as the Dark Lord considered the news. He was half-afraid that he'd be crucio'd anyway.
"You have done well, my most faithful servant." The Dark Lord said finally. "Perhaps this was not the victory Barty had planned but we have dealt them a crippling blow if we have put Black out of action even for a handful of days."
He nodded his agreement with the Dark Lord's positive spin on events and was grateful when the next order was for him to put the Dark Lord to bed. He'd survived the day and maybe, just maybe, Sirius would too.
Hermione turned at Ginny's shout – and the entire Common Room did the same. Neville was in the process of climbing through the portrait hole and had to hurriedly get himself straight as Ginny threw herself at him, hugging him tightly. Hermione was pleased Hannah wasn't there to see the embrace; she didn't think Neville's girlfriend would take too kindly to Ginny's way of welcoming Neville back from the infirmary.
Neville patted her awkwardly on the back and extricated himself as everyone seemed to gather around him.
Ron gave a huff of impatience and wrangled his way through the press of people, pulling Neville out of the huddle and towards the sofa Hermione had commandeered for them that morning. "Oy!" He shouted. "Let him have some space!"
Neville shot him a grateful look as the crowd dispersed, floating back to their previous positions in the Common Room. "Thanks for the rescue." He sat down next to Hermione as Ron sprawled in the chair beside them and Ginny followed him over and sat down on the floor in front of them. "Any news?"
Hermione shook her head, her curls bouncing against her shoulders. "Professor Dumbledore told us at breakfast that Harry's still in his rooms under guard but he didn't say anything about Sirius." Her teeth worried at her lower lip. "He told us to let Harry rest this morning and give him some space to come to terms with what happened."
Ron snorted which accurately conveyed his feelings on the subject.
Neville frowned. "I would have thought space was the last thing Harry needed."
"Exactly what I said, mate!" Ron agreed enthusiastically.
Hermione shot him an exasperated look. She didn't like not seeing Harry either but Professor Dumbledore had made it clear that his suggestion was more like an order. "What about you, Neville? Are you OK?"
"Fine thanks to Sirius." Neville said dismissing his experience with a wave of his hand, although Hermione could see a shadow lurking in his eyes. "It was scary and horrible but Sirius didn't let them touch me."
Guilt coated his voice and Hermione reached out to pat his arm consolingly.
"It's not your fault." She said softly.
"I shouldn't have gone outside of the greenhouse." Neville said miserably. He'd screwed up and allowed himself to be vulnerable; an easy target for someone to grab. "I don't even know who grabbed me."
"I doubt it was Crouch." Hermione said, thinking out loud. "It would have been too risky for him to have been on the grounds. He must have sent someone else."
"I overheard my Gran talking with Moody; Snape thinks it was Karkaroff." Neville said.
"Karkaroff was the only one who could have gotten close enough to have done it." Hermione nodded slowly. Of course, there was Snape himself. He could have suggested Karkaroff as a way of diverting attention from himself even if he'd done it as a spy…
But then the timing didn't add up.
Snape couldn't have grabbed Neville and gone with Sirius to the clearing. So maybe it really was Karkaroff.
Not that they were going to be told either way it seemed.
Hermione gave a huff of frustration.
"Neville?" Ginny asked gently. "What exactly happened? Do you…I mean, if you want to talk about…" she trailed off hesitantly.
Neville sighed and rubbed his head. He sketched a privacy bubble around them and Hermione was impressed at its strength. She could see the rest of the Common Room frowning as they found they could no longer earwig in on what they were saying.
"I remember going outside to give Susan and Hannah some privacy and I heard a sound and that's it. I woke up chained to a wall with Sirius beside me in his animagus form and Crouch and a couple of other Death Eaters guarding us." He swallowed hard. "When they noticed we were awake, Crouch came over and…he was hurting Sirius so I told him to stop and when he went to hit me, Sirius bit him. Crouch went to get himself medical attention and told the other Death Eaters they could play with Sirius but they were supposed to leave me alone."
"Only they didn't?" Hermione guessed.
"One of them didn't want to follow Crouch's order so he was going to…" Neville stopped abruptly before breathing in sharply, his eyes not meeting theirs. "Sirius…he just went ballistic. He chased away the other Death Eater and started fighting to keep me safe."
"How did you escape?" Ron asked bluntly. "Dumbledore only said you were recovered but not how."
"Harry." Neville said simply. "He called on the family magic to find us." His face changed from relief to chagrin. "I wish I'd thought of that." He frowned. "I thought Harry would have told you."
Ron snorted again. "He didn't get a chance to tell us much of anything before they hurried us out last night and this morning, well, you know; space." The sarcasm on the last word was heavy and bitter.
"We've talked about this, Ron…" Hermione began.
Ron pointed at her. "No," he said sharply, "you talked and wouldn't listen. You don't honestly believe leaving Harry alone is best for him do you?"
Hermione bit her lip. "Professor Dumbledore…"
"Left Harry with the Dursleys for years so I don't think his opinion should count." Ron shot back.
She couldn't refute that. She sighed. "And as I've said already, Professor Dumbledore was only the messenger. Remus no doubt has a good reason for keeping Harry under guard and not letting us see him, Ron." Maybe Harry was magically exhausted again after rescuing Neville and Sirius…but he had seemed alright the night before.
"But Remus is at the hospital." Neville said, breaking into her thoughts.
They all turned to look at him with varying expressions of confusion.
"Neville, we know Remus went to the hospital last night with Sirius…" Hermione said, folding her arms tightly across her chest. "Harry told us. But obviously he would have come back by now and…"
Neville shook his head furiously. "He's still there."
Her mouth dropped open and she snapped it shut again in a hurry. "What?"
"Nobody's returned." Neville explained. "Madame Pomfrey told Gran this morning."
"But then…" Hermione began worriedly.
"Who's with Harry?" demanded Ron forcefully, sitting forward and glaring at Neville.
Neville shrugged. "I think Tonks was with him last night?"
"But she left this morning to go to work." Hermione said. "I saw her leaving when I came down for breakfast."
They all exchanged a silent anxious look.
"Bollocks to this!" Ron proclaimed, standing up. "We should just go and see him." He glared at Hermione as though expecting her to argue.
"I thought Remus was with him." She said defensively. "If I'd known I would never have agreed to leave him alone!"
"Let's go then." Ginny said, getting to her feet.
Hermione felt a frisson of irritation skitter down her spine. She was Harry's girlfriend not Ginny. She got up and led the way out of the Common Room. They clattered out of the portrait hole and almost stumbled over Luna.
"There you all are!" Luna said brightly, twirling one long strand of blonde hair around her finger. "Are we going to see Harry now?"
"Yes." Hermione said firmly.
They trooped along to the rooms Harry usually shared with Sirius and rang the door chime. The portrait opened up to reveal Professor Trelawney on the other side.
Hermione stared at the Divination Professor who was decked out in layers of red and green.
"Professor Trelawney!" Luna cooed. "What a wonderfully festive outfit!"
The Divination Professor blinked owlishly behind her glasses before smiling vaguely at the group. "It is important to keep harmony with nature!" She declared and hiccupped.
Was she drunk?
Hermione glanced in horror at Ron who sported an impressive scowl.
"We're here to see Harry!" Luna said cheerily, moving forward into the rooms and forcing Trelawney to step back and allow them all to enter.
Trelawney swayed slightly as the portrait closed. "Children, I'm not certain…"
"Harry's upstairs in his room?" Luna continued, walking briskly to the staircase before Trelawney could utter more than a token 'but' as a protest.
Hermione ignored the ditzy Professor and followed Luna. "How could Dumbledore or anyone with half a brain think leaving Trelawney to guard Harry was a good idea?" She muttered under her breath.
"Well, who better to guard someone than a witch who can see the danger before anyone else?" Luna murmured, her eyes twinkling. She tapped lightly on Harry's door and entered as soon as Harry responded.
Harry got up from his seat on the bed as soon and made his way over to Hermione immediately. She hugged him back as his arms tightened around her.
Neville and Ron took seats on the bed while Ginny made her way over to the window ostensibly ignoring Harry's embrace with Hermione.
Luna wandered over to Hedwig's perch and started stroking the owl's feathers. Hedwig nuzzled into Luna's gentle touch appreciatively.
Hermione patted Harry's back and eased away gently. "How are you doing?"
"Nobody's telling me anything!" Harry proclaimed. A flash of anger stormed through his green eyes. "Dumbledore came by first thing this morning to tell Tonks that Remus wasn't coming back yet and that I wasn't allowed to go to the hospital. That's it!"
He lurched away from her and paced.
"Then Tonks goes to work and Trelawney turns up and tells me that she's going to be watching me for the rest of the day." Harry threw up his hands. "Trelawney!"
"I hear you, mate." Ron commented.
Hermione couldn't blame him for his incredulity; it was a weird and absurd choice.
"I know." Hermione murmured. "What was Dumbledore thinking?"
He pointed a finger at her. "Exactly! I mean, she's not exactly with it. In fact, she's even worse than the batty old woman who used to babysit me when I was a kid!" He slumped down into the chair by his desk. "And the worst thing is that Dumbledore wouldn't even tell me if Sirius is OK! He just gave some rambling answer that time would tell and a whole load of other stuff that tells me absolutely nothing!"
"Oh Harry!" Hermione went over and perched on the arm of the chair, placing her own arm around Harry's shoulders.
"I, uh, heard Madame Pomfrey tell my Gran that Doctor Jordan had sent word last night that Sirius was still unconscious and would be receiving treatment for at least a week." Neville said quietly.
Harry's head whipped up and he stared at Neville for a long moment. "Still unconscious?"
Harry's lips thinned but his eyes softened as they took in Neville's anxious expression. "What about you? Are you OK, Neville?"
"Yeah," Neville waved a hand at him, "Sirius never gave them a chance to touch me really. I just had some bruises and Madame Pomfrey sorted those out." He took a breath. "Oliver was imperiused. He was brought into the infirmary last night."
"It must have been a set-up!" Ron proclaimed loudly. "They had Oliver pressure Susan knowing she'd scream and cry and have to have a girly moment with Hannah!"
"Or that Oliver would run off and leave Susan alone." Hermione offered slowly, a shiver running through her. She was grateful when Harry reached over and took hold of her hand.
Neville nodded, understanding Harry's point. "I guess it didn't matter which of us they grabbed; they just wanted to engineer one of us being alone."
"Bloody clever." Ron complained.
Harry sighed and nudged his glasses up his nose. "I don't understand why they won't let me see Sirius!"
The sound of the door chime echoed through the room.
Harry immediately shushed them and moved hastily across the room to open his bedroom door enough that they could listen to whoever was downstairs.
"Ah, Sybill!" Dumbledore's bright cheery tone had Harry's face settling into a cold fury that Hermione hated seeing. "I just wanted to check on our young Harry."
Harry yanked his bedroom door open and ran down the stairs before they could stop him. Hermione went to follow him but Ron yanked her back and placed a finger on his lips, his blue eyes shooting her an anxious warning look. She looked around the others for support to join Harry but found none – Luna shaking her head emphatically. Hermione settled back and tuned back in to the confrontation downstairs.
"…I don't see why I have to be locked up here when Sirius is in hospital!" Harry's strident tone carried easily up the stairs.
Hermione winced and wrestled with her immediate thought that Harry shouldn't speak to Dumbledore in such a way when deep down she could understand his anger.
"Sirius would not want you putting yourself in harm's way, Harry." Dumbledore remonstrated gently. "Remus was very clear that you were to remain here and out of danger."
"Then why can't I speak with Remus?" Harry demanded.
"Alas, he remains at the hospital, and I am certain that you would not wish to deprive your father of the comfort of his oldest friend." Dumbledore continued.
"Manipulative old bastard!" Ron muttered in Hermione's ear.
She sent him a disapproving look but couldn't really argue with him.
"Well, why hasn't Remus called me on the floo to say how Sirius is?!" Harry snapped angrily. "He's my father! I'm the one who rescued him! I deserve to know!"
Dumbledore's sigh was heavy enough to travel up the stairs. "I am certain as soon as there is good news to share, Remus will let us know at once."
"Now, Harry, I must have a quick word with Professor Trelawney so if you could give us a moment alone…"
Hermione wasn't surprised at the stomping sound of feet on the staircase a moment later as Harry stormed back up to them. He lifted a finger to his lips when she would have spoken and hovered outside of his bedroom, listening intently to Dumbledore.
The words suddenly became muffled and Hermione realised that Dumbledore must have erected a privacy bubble. From Harry's sour expression, he'd realised the same. Only moments passed before their voices became audible again.
"….and so I shall leave Harry in your capable hands and take my leave!" Dumbledore said cheerfully.
The sound of the door closing echoed up the stairs.
"Elf! Elf!" Trelawney's shrill tone called suddenly breaking the silence.
"Dobby here, Professor!" Dobby said loudly.
"Eggnog! Bring me more eggnog and…" Trelawney stopped abruptly.
"Professor…" Dobby enquired hesitantly.
Harry took a step toward the stairs to investigate and Hermione followed him automatically, aware the others were also just behind them. They crept to the top of the stairs and peered out through the wooden bannisters. Trelawney stood swaying just in front of the portrait door, her eyes fixed and staring. Dobby hopped madly from one foot to another in front of her, clearly worried. His large round eyes sought Harry's and Harry had just opened his mouth to say something when…
"He who wore the cursed object finds eternal peace this day and the loved ones he has grieved for welcome him to their bosom. He who wore the cursed object finds eternal peace this day and the loved ones he has grieved for welcome him to their bosom…"
Trelawney suddenly snapped out of her trance and pointed at Dobby. "Eggnog!"
Dobby glanced upwards to Harry and Harry nodded almost imperceptibly before getting up, pushing past them all and racing back into his bedroom.
"Harry…" Hermione followed after him hurriedly. She found him pacing back and forth, furiously agitated. "Harry, she was probably…"
"She had a vision!" Harry snapped, whirling around and waving his hands passionately back towards the downstairs. "Sirius is going to die!"
"You don't know that!" Hermione countered. "She might not have been talking about Sirius at all!"
"Hermione is right, Harry." Ginny chimed in, folding her arms over her chest as she hovered by Hermione's side.
"Luna?" asked Harry, turning away from them to pin Luna with a fierce questioning gaze.
"I don't know if it is Sirius," Luna admitted quietly, "but her vision was truth."
"See!" Hermione eagerly seized on Luna's initial comment. "It might not be Sirius, Harry."
"But it could be Sirius." Ron stated loudly.
"Exactly!" Harry shot her a triumphant look, and darted a grateful smile in Ron's direction.
Hermione shot Ron a frown in response. "Harry…" she began.
"I have to go to him!" Harry interrupted her. "I have to go and see Sirius. Maybe I can stop him from dying!"
"How?" asked Hermione plaintively.
"I don't know!" Harry admitted passionately. "But I can't stay here and do nothing!" His green eyes met hers and Hermione felt her resolve to be logical and rational and not give in to Trelawney's wild meanderings weaken under Harry's pleading gaze for support.
"What do you want to do, Harry?" Neville's quiet statement had both of them finally breaking the intense moment between them.
Harry took a deep breath. "I want to go and see Sirius. Maybe her vision wasn't about him but I can't risk it! If there's any chance that I can save him…I have to take it."
"Well," said Hermione, forcing herself to focus on helping Harry rather than arguing against his plan, "if you want to see Sirius there are a couple of obstacles…"
"Like the patrols," jumped in Ron.
"And Trelawney." Ginny added. "You are locked in here. The Headmaster's going to know if you sneak out through the front door."
"How are we going to get to London?" Neville asked, a crease forming between his brows.
"We?" asked Harry frowning.
"You don't honestly think we're going to let you go alone?" Hermione looked at him sternly.
There was a chorus of agreement from the others in the room.
Harry's expression softened and he shook his head. "I guess not." His expression sobered. "But you know it's going to be dangerous? Voldemort could be watching the hospital for me and…he won't hesitate to try and grab one of you again."
Neville nodded grimly. "We stick together and we protect each other."
"Agreed." Ron stated. He walked across the bedroom and plucked Harry's new broomstick away where it was leaning against the wall. "And I think I know how we get out." He pointed the broom at the open window.
"Ron, you're brilliant!" Harry slapped his best friend's back with gusto.
Hermione blanched. She was better at flying than she had been but the thought of flying out of the high window and all the way to London…
"I'll take the new broomstick," Harry said to Ron, "you can have my old broomstick and I'll get Dobby to bring up Sirius's broomstick." He nudged Hermione, drawing her attention. "You can fly with me; Ron can take Luna and Ginny can take Neville."
Luna beamed at Harry, twirling a strand of blond hair around her finger. "What about invisibility?"
"I can disillusion us so no-one can see us but we can see each other – Professor Flitwick taught me the spell." Harry said firmly. "And nobody's going to be looking up."
Harry called for Dobby and the elf's ears waggled unhappily as Harry gave him instructions to fetch food, another broom and outerwear for them all.
"Dobby bes coming too!" Dobby wailed.
Harry shook his head. "We need you to stay here and watch Trelawney, Dobby; keep her drunk and distracted."
Dobby's eyes took on a glint of mischief as he nodded wildly.
"And if we don't come back by midnight," Harry continued soberly, "you'll need to go and find Remus and tell him."
What seemed like only moments later, Hermione found herself bundled into her winter cloak, her Gryffindor scarf wrapped around her throat and thick gloves on her hands. Sandwiches and bottles of pop had been secreted into her pockets by Dobby.
Harry finished making them all invisible before he mounted his broom. Hermione climbed up behind him, vaguely aware that the others were doing the same.
The memory of the ride on Buckbeak flashed through Hermione's head as she wrapped her arms around Harry. She squeezed him tightly and Harry turned around to give her a reassuring nod. They'd been going to save Sirius that night too, Hermione remembered. She gave him one back and with a push, they were off – flying through the open window and into the thin Winter sunlight.
She set her lips in a thin line.
They'd saved Sirius then and they'd save him again. She wouldn't let Harry lose another parent.
The flight to London was cold and tiring.
Harry felt it in every one of his muscles and a quick look at the others showed the same physical stresses on their bodies. Luna was almost entirely curled into Ron's back and Neville's countenance was grim as he held onto a weary looking Ginny.
Hermione had helped navigate the city's landmarks to find Saint Mungo's. They landed on the roof with more speed than finesse, stumbling off the broomsticks and onto the concrete surface. Harry checked out Hermione's condition as soon as he could; his girlfriend looked cold and tired but her eyes were filled with determination. He breathed a sigh of relief.
"Everyone alright?" He asked.
They all nodded but he noticed Ron was rubbing his upper arms, trying to get the aches out and Ginny's expression was pained. The sooner they got into the warmth the better.
Harry shrunk the broomsticks and placed them in his pocket. He pointed at the roof door and they all walked over stiffly.
It wasn't even locked.
Hermione made a moue of disapproval at the evident lack of security. "What are they thinking?"
"Easy access for the injured?" suggested Ginny, huddling inside her cloak.
"Doors like this are routinely locked and alarmed in muggle hospitals." Hermione informed her briskly.
"Well, this isn't a muggle hospital!" Ron hissed, bristling.
Harry ignored them. He checked for a trip alarm the same way he'd seen Bill do but his spell came back with a negative response. He frowned again. He had to agree with Hermione; the security was appalling even if it was making their lives easier.
"Where to?" Harry asked, waving down the stairs.
"We should probably try the Magical Trauma ward." Neville whispered. "It's on the fourth floor."
Harry nodded sharply in acknowledgement and started down the stairs. They all paused in the stairwell as they got to the right floor. Harry peered out at the bustling corridor and his heart sank. It was going to be nigh on impossible to sneak into Sirius's room. Sure, they were disillusioned but it wasn't a hard spell to break since an eye could catch the distortion in the visual field and all six of them made it more than likely that someone would spot them.
"Now what?" asked Ron impatiently.
"Well, we can't just walk out there." Hermione pointed out logically. "There are too many people."
"We split up and go out in a staggered way." Harry said decisively. "Ron and Luna can take the right corridor; Neville and Ginny will take the left, and me and Hermione will take the corridor right in front of us. We go and search for Sirius; meet back in thirty minutes."
"Right you are, mate." Ron said.
Neville gave a nod of agreement as did Ginny.
"Good plan, Harry." Luna remarked with a bright smile.
Harry and Hermione went first. Harry caught hold of Hermione's hand and held it as they walked slowly and carefully through the open double doors and down the corridor, carefully keeping to the sides to ensure they didn't bump into anyone.
Hermione tapped Harry's hand and pointed to the nurses' station. He got her message straight away; hopefully they'd have some record of Sirius's room. The only problem was that it was very busy. Two nurses – one young, blonde and bubbly and one old grey and grim – stood behind the desk while three healers chatted in front of it, clearly debating something. An Auror leaned on the counter at one end, a cup in his hand and his eyes on the young nurse rather than on the corridor.
Hermione nudged him again and he mouthed the word distraction at her. Hermione's lips thinned as her eyes narrowed at the scene in front of them. She pointed her wand at a large picture on the far side of the station and whispered a spell.
The picture fell off the wall with a loud clatter, eliciting a shriek of surprise from the young nurse. Suddenly, they were all rushing away from the desk to the fallen picture.
Harry and Hermione moved swiftly. Harry kept watch on the crowd around the picture who were theorising about why it had fallen off the wall while Hermione looked through the records. The sound of rapidly approaching footsteps from further down the corridor heralded the arrival of another Auror – Tonks – and Remus.
Moony looked tired and drawn; he wore the same clothes he had done the day before, wrinkled and dirty. There was stubble along his jaw and his eyes looked bloodshot.
Harry moved to the back of the desk and pulled Hermione down. His heart pounded in his chest, fast and furious. The faintly antiseptic smell of the hospital had him feeling nauseous but he realised that it was probably helping to mask his scent from Moony.
"What the hell is going on out here?" Remus growled.
Tonks lay a hand on his arm, a gentle restraint. "Remus, calm down."
"I won't calm down!" Remus snapped. "We've just lost – and Sirius is…" he stopped abruptly, a choking sound lodged in his throat.
Harry's tripped over in his chest. Was Sirius…was Harry too late to save him?
Tonks' hair went from her normal pink to blue then black. "Remus…"
Harry cringed as Remus jerked away from Tonks and stormed back up the corridor.
More footsteps had Harry instinctively ducking back behind the desk as Bill Weasley arrived. Bill looked shocked, pale under his freckles.
"Tonks!" Bill called out. "Is it true about...?"
Tonks nodded sadly. "Caro took him down to the morgue."
Harry's whole body froze at her words.
Bill's face dropped and he shook his head, grief roughening his tone when he talked again. "This is turning into a right old day."
Tonks nodded. "Look, Remus and Croaker are back in Sirius's old room. Do you want me to take you?"
"Harry…" Hermione's shocked whisper pulled Harry out of his frozen state. Her eyes met his in stunned disbelief.
It sounded like Sirius was dead!
Harry couldn't believe it – he didn't believe it.
Sirius couldn't be dead!
He had to see Sirius. He had to see if his father was dead for himself…until then as far as he was concerned, he wasn't dead!
He stood up and Hermione snagged his hand. She kept beside him as they trailed Tonks and Bill up the corridor. Harry gave a sigh of relief as they left the room door open when they went through it.
Remus stood at the window and Bertie Croaker stood beside him. Both men were pale and silent, staring out into the wet weather that had turned the London skyline grey and foreboding. A stripped bed stood to the right of them; empty and ominous in its nakedness.
Bill cleared his throat. "Bertie, I just heard…"
Bertie sighed heavily. "It's a rotten day." He shook his head sadly. "The pain…the pain was just too much for him and we couldn't do anything for him."
"So Sirius..." Bill murmured.
"Sirius is gone." Remus replied without turning around. He lowered his head. "How am I going to tell Harry?"
Bill reached back and closed the door, shutting out the rest of the conversation.
Harry staggered back against the wall of the alcove and rubbed at his chest; his heart ached, clenched in denial and pain and so much sorrow he could hardly breathe. Sirius couldn't be dead…
He couldn't be.
Hermione's arms encircled him and he rested his head on her shoulder, accepting her comfort.
"We have to…we have to get back to the others." Harry whispered, fighting back his tears and anguish. He clung onto the thought that he wouldn't believe Sirius was gone until he saw it for himself.
Hermione nodded and the tears in her eyes fell. She brushed them away and the two of them walked slowly back to the stairwell.
Their friends were already there but their animation, their excitement from their adventures in exploring the hospital, faded as they took in Hermione's and Harry's devastation.
Harry let Hermione fill everyone in, lost in his own melancholy, he was only vaguely aware of the horror, pity, sorrow and guilt that flitted over Ron, Ginny, Luna and Neville.
"I won't believe it until I see him." Harry said grimly. He wasn't going to believe it; he wasn't.
"You…you want to go to the morgue, mate?" whispered Ron, clearly horrified at the idea.
"I want to see him." Harry insisted quietly. "I don't…I can't believe it until I see him."
"If that's what you need to do, then you should do it." Luna agreed softly. Her eyes glimmered with an all too compassionate understanding. "When I lost Mummy…"
Harry reached out and stopped her talking, just folding his hand over hers.
"I'm…I don't know what to say, Harry." Neville murmured. "It's all my fault and…"
"It's not." Harry stated firmly. It wasn't Neville's fault. It was Harry's. He was the one Voldemort wanted to hurt and weaken; he was the reason why both Neville and Sirius had been targeted. "It's not your fault, Neville."
"The morgue is in the basement." Ginny said quietly. "I saw a sign…" she waved back at the door indicating the bustling corridor outside.
"Basement it is." Harry said.
Hermione nodded briskly. "It might not be him, Harry." Her tone was crisp and bright; evidently intended to be positive and to cheer him, bolster his confidence.
But he could see the doubt in her eyes that Sirius was alive and well. It tore something in him; something fragile that was trying to hold on as much as he could to the refrain that until he saw him….until he saw Sirius dead with his own eyes…
He avoided her gaze and started down the stairs.
Peter fiddled nervously with his tie and tried to look as though he belonged in the corridors of Saint Mungo's. He shivered. He'd had to change into his animagus form to sneak inside the building since his appearance the day before had clearly caused them to increase the security on the front door. The two Aurors had been stopping people at random and doing spot identity checks. It was unnerving and if Peter had had any choice in the matter he wouldn't have stepped foot in the hospital again.
But he had no choice.
Barty Crouch had been a whimpering mess when he'd been released from the cellar that morning and the Dark Lord had indulged him, wiping away his tears and pandering to his 'son's' heartfelt protestations that he would never disappoint the Dark Lord again. With Barty out of action, the Dark Lord had turned to Peter and ordered him to return to the hospital and preferably kill Black while the wizard was weakened and vulnerable.
Peter really didn't want to kill Sirius. He hadn't wanted to kill Sirius when he'd blasted the street to pieces back in 'eighty-one. He hadn't wanted James and Lily dead. Certainly he'd been ambivalent about Harry but his friends…Sirius had been his friend.
Well, not wanting to kill Sirius was a problem but he'd get over it because the alternative – going back to the Dark Lord and admitting he hadn't killed him – wasn't going to happen. Peter knew he'd be the one locked in the cellar if he did that and no doubt locked in the cellar after being tortured for a while.
No, he would kill Sirius.
Given a choice between his own life and Sirius's the choice was easy.
But the more pressing problem was that after his poking of the werewolf the day before, he feared that he wouldn't be able to get near enough to Sirius to kill him. Remus had clearly already instigated extra security at the front of the hospital and Peter knew his old friend would be stationed near to Sirius, guarding him.
The Dark Lord had helped him put together a potion that would temporarily mask his scent but Peter knew it wouldn't be enough. He stared down the corridor towards Sirius's room and took cover behind a large plant while he debated how he could get past the Auror stationed by the desk.
He almost jumped out of his skin when a picture fell. He was about to take advantage of the distraction and move when he realised that there was a file floating from mid-air back to the station desk as though someone invisible searched for something at the abandoned desk.
He narrowed his eyes, trying hard to catch where the light distortion would give away a disillusioned wizard or witch and was satisfied as he made out two forms; two young people. He gave a cautious sniff and as the pair moved, a familiar scent drifted through the air…it was Harry!
No sooner had he made the discovery when Remus stormed in.
Peter frowned at Remus's words…
Surely Moony didn't mean that Padfoot was already dead?
Peter felt his spirits brighten with the thought that he wouldn't have to kill Sirius before a twinge of the boy he had been felt a flicker of guilt and pain at the loss of his old school friend.
He hunkered down behind the plant as he sensed the air shift as the young couple moved to follow Remus down the corridor. Perhaps they were trying to find out if Sirius was dead too. He aimed his wand carefully and placed a listening spell on Hermione. Immediately, his ears caught the conversation the pair was overhearing; the body had been already been removed.
It was probably in the morgue.
He wasn't surprised when the door was closed the pair made their way back along the corridor and out towards the stairs where they were reconciled with even more Hogwarts' stowaways. Peter took a moment to wonder at Dumbledore's stupidity in allowing so many students to run away from the school while he maintained his position. He carefully listened to the kids' conversation until almost fifteen minutes later he overheard Harry insist he have proof of Sirius's death.
Peter considered his options quickly. He needed proof that Sirius was dead himself and he could win even more points if he somehow managed to capture Harry's reaction. The Dark Lord would be pleased. It was more than enough to send him running for the elevator, eager to get to the morgue ahead of Harry and his cohorts.
As soon as he got downstairs, he hurried to the morgue; the wide double doors were signposted and slightly ajar. After a quick look to make sure nobody was round, he changed into his rat form and sneaked through the gap. He stopped at the sight of the morgue attendant talking with a woman in the robes that designated her as an Unspeakable. There was a body in front of them of an old man, one of his arms wasted away from a curse. He scurried underneath a nearby table before they spotted him.
"…and you shouldn't worry, Miz Caroline, we'll take good care of old Lawrence." The elderly smiled toothlessly at the young woman. "He was a good 'un. Such a shame he went the way he did. Thought he knew better than to pick up cursed objects! You can tell old Bertie that I'll take care of him!"
"I will do."
"Is it right that Lord Black's gone to the Valley for healing?" The attendant continued blithely unaware of the listening rodent nearby.
The Unspeakable sighed. "So Bertie said. I can't say I'm surprised. They were struggling last night to deal with his pain and the Valley clinic is the best. Not to mention it's probably safer for Lord Black there than here. Security in this place is a joke. You heard we had an unwanted intruder last night?"
And suddenly, Peter got it.
Sirius wasn't dead.
Someone had died – the dead man on the gurney in front of him – but Sirius himself had been taken away for healing. The Valley clinic was almost mythical with its location kept very secret. And the time bubble aspect meant that it would be another week before Sirius returned.
"Poor Lawrence. I didn't know him well but he was a good man." The young woman sighed. "My partner, Bill, is going to be disappointed that he missed saying goodbye. I should go and find him."
Peter's mind whirled with the possibilities. Sirius wasn't dead which was a problem because Peter was supposed to kill him but on the other hand Harry thought Sirius was dead which was even better because how destroyed both father and son would be by that? Would the Dark Lord be pleased if Peter simply ensured that Harry continued to believe that his wonderful new father was gone from his life?
It was a tricky decision. Peter dithered and dithered as the morgue attendant left with the young Unspeakable. Finally, Peter changed back and drew the sheet back on the body. He knew he was running out of time. It only took a moment to change the features on the wasted body to mimic those of a battered Sirius Black.
The door beginning to open as though by magic by itself was enough to alert Peter that he had run out of time and he changed back into his rat form, diving back under the table.
The trip to the morgue had been quiet, all of the teens lost in their own thoughts, and none more so than Harry. His mind whirled with the idea of Sirius's death. He just couldn't believe that Sirius was gone. The picture of his father alive in his arms after Harry had removed the collar played continuously in his head.
Yes, Sirius was hurt and in pain but he hadn't been near death. Harry was certain of that.
And there was a but...Harry also couldn't shake the sight of Remus looking so devastated; the empty bed in the infirmary room; Trelawney's vision of someone dying.
He pushed uncertainly at the doors to the morgue and stepped inside the frigid space. He was aware of Hermione just behind him, Ron and the others at her heels.
There was a body in front of him on a gurney but it was covered by a sheet. Harry moved to stand beside it without conscious thought. Hermione stood to his left and Ron to his right. Neville, Luna and Ginny stood on the other side. Everyone stared at the body.
There was a ripple as Harry's spell fell and they all became visible.
Ron exchanged a less than subtle look with Neville which Harry ignored. Still, he wasn't surprised when Ron noisily cleared his throat.
"Shall we...I mean you want to see him, right?" Ron said.
Harry gave a jerky nod. He could hardly hear anything over the pounding of his heart. He took a deep breath and reached for the sheet. Hermione stepped closer to him.
Everyone seemed to stop breathing completely as the sheet peeled back.
It was Sirius.
Hermione lifted a hand to cover her face and Harry vaguely heard Ginny's soft cry and Ron's murmur of horror.
Harry moaned a low denial. He felt his legs turn to water and momentarily gripped the edge of the gurney to stop himself from falling, before letting go abruptly. Harry backed away from the gurney, from the horrifying sight of his father dead. Harry wasn't sure how he was still breathing - why he was alive when Sirius lay dead in front of him; Harry's heart hurt so much he was sure it was breaking.
His magic roared up.
"Harry..." Hermione reached for him and he sidestepped her hand.
Harry tried to keep control but his magic slipped and slid through his desperate mental fingers. The air stirred around him, a hard wind suddenly swirling through the morgue. It ripped the sheet from Harry's numb fingers and sent it whirling. He knew he was going to lose control. He wasn't certain he wanted to stop it. He wanted the pain to stop.
It was all his fault. He was the reason Sirius was dead. He was the reason why Neville had been hurt. He would be the reason why Hermione would get hurt in the future. Voldemort would come after her too. And Ron. Anyone who Harry loved.
Through the haze of his grief his gaze fell on Hermione's scared face, pale and frightened.
She was frightened of him.
And she should be. He'd only hurt her or get her hurt.
He had to let her go.
Had to keep her safe.
"I'm sorry." Harry said roughly.
Something must have shown on his face – something through the maelstrom of magic that surrounded him – because her expression shifted swiftly from fear to shocked understanding to panic.
"Harry!" Hermione said urgently. "Don't do this…don't…"
"NO!" Harry shouted backing away from her, backing away from a shocked looking Ron and a nervous looking Neville, from a confused Ginny and an understanding Luna…
"You don't have to do this!" Hermione said. "You don't…"
"I have to keep you safe!" Harry cut in sharply. "I…look at me! I've managed to put you all in danger dragging you out here and…Sirius is dead! Sirius is dead because of me! I won't let…" his throat closed suddenly on the words and he gave a choked back sob as he struggled for breath.
His magic swarmed over the room, twisting the metal on the tables, turning the walls grey and foreboding as they rewrote the world to show Harry's pain. Harry was oblivious to it, and oblivious to the fact that it never harmed a hair on anyone's head – not Hermione, not Ron, not the others who'd so faithfully followed him to London, nor the body on the table.
Harry straightened his shoulders, his jaw tight as he made his decision. His eyes met Hermione's again and he saw her read his determination because her lips turned stubborn and her brow lowered.
"You don't get to make a decision for me!" She snapped at him angrily. "I know what it means to be your girlfriend and I'm OK with it!"
He smiled sadly at her, his eyes flickering to the body and back, a silent message of what could happen to her. "But I'm not." He held up a hand to stop her from arguing and with a silent thought wished her and his friends back to Hogwarts, to safety.
The wards on Saint Mungo's shattered like glass as his magic tore through them, transporting his friends away.
The building shook as Harry gave a sob, control slipping rapidly as his grief took hold. He took one hesitant step towards Sirius, and then another, and another still until he placed a shaking hand on the gurney.
"I'll stop him, Sirius. I'll stop Voldemort and then we'll be together again. I promise." Harry stepped back, trembling and uncertain of where to go…
He couldn't return to Hogwarts.
He'd just be placing everyone there in danger.
He had to leave and hide; track down Voldemort on his own somehow and then…
And then he could be with his family; with his Mum and Dad, and Padfoot.
Harry swiped at the tears cascading down his face and apparated away.
Peter slunk out from under the table and quickly made his way out of the hospital before he was discovered.
He was almost dancing with glee when he returned to his human form.
His ploy had worked so much better than he had expected.
Harry thought Sirius was dead and gone off alone. Not only that but Peter had witnessed the strength of Harry's power and could report it to the Dark Lord.
His Master would be pleased.
Peter cackled almost hysterically and apparated back to the hideout.