Idea 3 – The Minister of Magic crawling down a tree?
Dumbledore froze. He'd seen some movement near the Whomping Willow, which was unusually agitated.
"I think there's something I have to look at, Cornelius. Could you go ahead? I'll be right with you!"
"You're not going anywhere with that Black still on the loose, Albus, I'm coming with you! McNair, accompany old Casimir back to the castle and then you are dismissed for the night," Fudge ordered.
They parted ways and even if Dumbledore didn't like the company he had to accept it. They went over to the willow and Dumbledore found a stick to still it. Fudge stared, but followed Dumbledore under the now still branches. As soon as they were close to the trunk the branches went back to flailing.
Albus immediately spotted the silvery fabric of Harry's Invisibility Cloak. He picked it up, folded it and put it in his pocket.
"What's that?" Fudge wanted to know.
"Belongs to one of my students. I'll have to put it safe, because it's a rare object. For some reason they obviously went down the passage to the Shrieking Shack. I suspect something is up, we have to follow them."
Just then they heard the heavy breathing of someone who came running from the castle. Dumbledore pressed the knot and stilled the tree, only to find Remus closing in on them.
"Remus! What has you in such a hurry?"
"Albus! – Minister… I suspect that there has been an enormous error of justice concerning Sirius. We need to go down the tunnel and to the Shack, please, hurry! Hermione, Harry and Ron are in there."
"Then we must hurry!"
"Should I call the Dementors?" Fudge asked, scared.
"Under no circumstances! I first want to know the truth. We're enough people to subdue Sirius if we really need to, but if what I just saw is right then we most probably will need our strength for someone entirely different. Let's go!"
Remus almost pushed the Minister down the slide, followed him and made some light with his wand. The three men hastened through the tunnel, in pursuit of the children.
"Seen, Remus?" Dumbledore asked.
Remus almost smiled. While they started to walk he explained:
"When we were still at school we made a map of Hogwarts – a map that not only showed the castle, but was enchanted to show everyone in the castle and on a large area of the grounds. Little dots represent people, ghosts, animals, you name it; and that map never lies. I have come across it recently and was looking at it tonight. What I saw on it made me doubt it still functions correctly, but the fact remains that it never lies. It showed me Peter Pettigrew. I have to confess that my three friends did something for me back then and became Animagi, Albus. Because of the war they didn't register as Animagi, and Pettigrew's form is that of a rat. It is quite easily possible that he was the traitor – I want to ask Sirius whether he knows where the rat is and if it really is Peter, I want to reveal him!"
"That story sounds more than farfetched!" Fudge growled.
"Mr. Fudge, you didn't know Sirius as I did. It was so far out of Sirius' character to kill you wouldn't believe it. I know he was never questioned, we have to grant him that at least."
"So you think he's up there?"
"I know he is. Let's hurry, some accident could still befall the children, even if he'd never hurt Harry willingly. They don't know him at all."
They rushed on and reached the trap door, Remus lifted it and climbed up, helping the two elder men up. Then he hurried on and heard Hermione's voice:
"Help! We're up here! Sirius Black!"
Remus was just ahead of the two other men when he ran into the room, taking in the sight of Harry training his wand on Sirius, who lay there, obviously completely out of his breath.
"Expelliarmus!" Remus called, deftly catching the wands of the three children.
The three were consternated to say the least, even more so when Dumbledore and Fudge followed on Remus' feet. Remus turned to the convict and said breathlessly:
"Where is he, Sirius?"
Black looked shocked for a moment, but then he lifted his hand and pointed to Ron.
"But… but, why hasn't he shown himself? If he lived past the blast on that street? Unless you… you switched?"
Black nodded, looking up to Remus with so much fear and at the same time passion in his eyes that Remus froze momentarily, but then stepped close, pulled Sirius up and enclosed him in a hug, holding him close and crying:
"I'm so sorry, Sirius, I'm so sorry! I thought you were guilty, I can't tell you how sorry I am!"
All else just stood around them and stared at them. Dumbledore kept Fudge from doing anything. He took in the scene of the children: Ron, on the bed, with a squeaking rat in his hand and Harry and Hermione, both breathing hard, with open mouths, staring at their Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher as if he'd gone mad.
"I don't believe it!" Hermione screamed.
Lupin let go of Black and turned to her. She had raised herself off the floor and was pointing at Lupin, wild-eyed. "You – you – "
"– you and him!"
"Hermione, calm down – "
"I didn't tell anyone!" Hermione shrieked. "I've been covering up for you – "
"Hermione, listen to me, please!" Remus shouted. "I can explain – "
Harry could feel himself shaking, not with fear, but with a fresh wave of fury.
"I trusted you!" he shouted at Remus, his voice wavering out of control, "and all the time you've been his friend!"
"You're wrong," said Remus. "I haven't been Sirius' friend for twelve years, but I am now … let me explain…"
"No!" Hermione screamed, "Harry, don't trust him, he's been helping Black getting into the castle, he wants you dead, too – he's a werewolf!"
There was a ringing silence. Everyone's eyes were now on Lupin, even those who knew about his affliction, but Lupin looked remarkably calm, though rather pale.
"Not at all up to your usual standard, Hermione," he said. "Only one out of three, I'm afraid. I have not been helping Sirius getting into the castle and I certainly don't want Harry dead…" an odd shiver passed over his face. "But I won't deny that I am a werewolf."
Ron made a valiant effort to get up again, but fell back with a whimper of pain. Remus made a move towards him, looking concerned, but Ron gasped: "Get away from me, werewolf!"
Lupin stopped dead, but Dumbledore interfered, unusually strict:
"Mr. Weasley that was uncalled for and extremely rude. Nothing in Remus is different than five minutes ago. You should be ashamed of yourself."
Remus turned back to Hermione and asked:
"How long have you known?"
"Ages," Hermione whispered. "Since I did Professor Snape's essay…"
"He'll be delighted," said Remus coolly. "He set that essay in the hope that someone would realise what my symptoms meant. Did you check the lunar chart and realise that I was always ill at the full moon? Or did you realise that the Boggart changed into the moon when it saw me?"
"Both," Hermione said quietly.
Remus forced a laugh.
"You're the cleverest witch of your age I've ever met, Hermione."
"I'm not," Hermione whispered. "If I'd been a bit cleverer, I'd have told everyone what you are."
"But we already knew, Hermione," said Dumbledore with a soft voice. "All the staff do."
"What? You hired him when you knew he was a werewolf?" Ron gasped. "Are you mad?"
"One of the staff definitely thought so and fought the appointment with fervour, but I do not think I heard any complaint about your teacher all year round from the students or the other professors, on the contrary."
"And in the end you were wrong to trust him!" Harry yelled. "He's been helping Black all this time?"
"I have not been helping Sirius," Remus, repeated once again. "If you give me a chance, I'll explain. Look – "
He separated Harry, Ron and Hermione's wands and handed them back to their owners, while he pocketed his own.
"There – you're all armed, we're not. Now will you listen?"
Harry didn't know what to think and looked questioningly at Dumbledore. How could the old headmaster still trust Lupin?
"If you haven't been helping him," he said, with a furious glance at Black, "how did you know he was here?"
"The map," said Lupin, "the Marauder's Map. I was in my office examining it – "
"You know how to work it?" Harry said suspiciously.
"Of course I know how to work it," said Lupin, waving his hand impatiently. "I helped write it. I'm Moony – that was my friends' nickname for me at school."
"You wrote – ?"
"The important thing is, I was watching it carefully this evening, because I've had an idea that you, Ron and Hermione might try and sneak out of the castle to visit Hagrid before his hippogriff was executed. And I was right, wasn't I?"
He had started to pace up and down, looking at them. Little patches of dust rose at his feet.
"You might have been wearing your father's old Cloak, Harry –"
"How d'you know about the Cloak?"
"The number of times I saw James disappearing under it…" said Remus, waving an impatient hand again.
"The point is, even if you're wearing an Invisibility Cloak you show up on the Marauder's Map. I watched you cross the grounds and enter Hagrid's hut. Twenty minutes later, you left Hagrid, and set off back towards the castle. But you were now accompanied by somebody else."
"What?" said Harry. "No, we weren't!"
"I couldn't believe my eyes," said Remus, still pacing, and ignoring Harry's interruption. "I thought the map must be malfunctioning. How could he be with you?"
"No one was with us!" said Harry.
"And then I saw another dot, moving fast towards you, labelled Sirius Black… I saw him collide with you, I watched as he pulled two of you into the Whomping Willow – "
"One of us!" Ron said angrily.
"No, Ron," said Remus. "Two of you."
He had stopped his pacing, his eyes moving over Ron.
"Would anyone here care to explain what actually goes on here?" Fudge finally yelled, getting impatient.
"Yes, but first, if you don't mind, I'd like to secure Peter. – Ron, could we have a closer look at your rat, please?" Remus said, letting go of Sirius.
"What! What's Scabbers got to do with anything here?"
"A lot, I'm afraid, everything, actually. – Could I see him, please?"
Ron hesitated, then put a hand inside his robes. Scabbers emerged, thrashing desperately. Ron had to seize his long bald tail to stop him escaping. Crookshanks stood up on Black's lap and made a soft hissing noise.
Remus moved closer to Ron. He seemed to be holding his breath as he gazed intently at Scabbers.
"What?" Ron said again, holding Scabbers close to him, looking scared. "What's my rat got to do with anything?"
"That's not a rat," croaked Sirius Black suddenly.
"What do you mean – of course he's a rat – "
"No, he's not," said Remus. "He's a wizard."
"An Animagus," said Black with his hollow voice, "by the name of Peter Pettigrew."
"You're both mental! That's Scabbers. He's been a bit off for a while, since Hermione brought that cat with her, that's why he's squeaking!"
"I'm afraid he's rather afraid because Sirius and I are here, believe me. I would like to hear what he has to say."
"Ridiculous," said Hermione.
"Preposterous," threw in Fudge.
"Peter Pettigrew is dead!" said Harry and added: "He killed him twelve years ago!"
He pointed at Black, whose face twitched convulsively.
"I meant to," he growled, his yellow teeth bared, "but little Peter got the better of me!"
"You mean to tell me that Black broke out of Azkaban to attack my rat?" Ron yelled.
"Yes, that's what I did," Sirius said.
"How crazy does that sound? How would he know about it in the first place?" Ron argued.
"That's a valid question, Sirius. How did you know about it?"
Black went into his dirty robes and brought out a crumpled piece of paper, which he unfolded and showed to everyone.
"Last summer – when the Minister came around Azkaban I asked for his newspaper and he gave it to me. It so happened that I saw this photo. There's the rat, I recognised him immediately."
Everyone looked at the photo and even Ron had to admit that the rat was clearly visible. But then he protested.
"Okay, I can believe that this Pettigrew fellow is an Animagus, but how do you know it's my rat?" Ron pulled Scabbers closer and held the rat tight.
Sirius was just getting ready to speak when they heard a slight noise on the corridor. Dumbledore was there in two steps and pulled the door fully open. It was Snape!
"Come on inside, Severus," Dumbledore said with a sigh.
"We are just finding out, Severus. We do have things under control, please hold back."
"Headmaster, that's obviously Black! What do these students do here?" Snape stopped short, finding Dumbledore and the Minister here meant he would have to tread carefully in accosting Lupin and Black. He was disappointed that he wasn't the first to catch up with Black. He would not get revenge!
"Patience, Severus. We'll find out. Would you please continue with your explanation, Sirius?"
Sirius threw a very dark glance at Snape, but turned back to Ron:
"I can tell you why I know. When I caught up with him on that street he started to yell around that I had betrayed Lily and James and then cut off his finger and blew the street apart with the wand hidden behind his back! So – check your rat – missing exactly that toe!"
"Still – he was probably in a scuffle with other rats. He's dead old," Ron insisted.
"Dead old… in your family for about 12 years, wasn't he?" Remus asked.
"We were looking after him well!"
"You probably were. Ron, hand him over, we will cast the spell that would force him out. If he's not an Animagus after all then it won't hurt him."
Reluctantly, Ron handed the rat over and Remus gripped his wand tighter. He asked Harry:
"Would you lend Sirius your wand, Harry?"
"I'm not sure I should…" Harry hesitated.
"Trust him. I recognise the rat, even though he looks thinner and out of his mind, but I've seen him transform so often I'm as convinced as Sirius is that it is Pettigrew."
Harry gave Sirius the wand, handle first and Sirius looked at Remus:
"Together?" he asked.
"Together – on three. One – two – three!"
There was a flash with blue and white streaks of light and the rat fell to the floor, twisting and twitching and by the time it reached the ground it started to change. Like a plant growing in time-lapse in a film a small man rose up from the floor and started to wail immediately.
"Well, hello, Peter," said Remus pleasantly, not caring for the stunned looks from everyone else in the room and as though rats frequently erupted into old school-friends around him. "Long time, no see…"
"S-Sirius… R-Remus…" even Pettigrew's voice was squeaky. His eyes darted towards the door. "My friends… my old friends…"
Black's wand arm rose, as he still held Harry's wand, but Lupin seized him around the wrist, gave him a warning look, then turned again to Pettigrew, his voice light and casual.
"We've been having a little chat, Peter, of which you might have missed the finer points while you were squeaking around there on the bed –"
"Remus," gasped Pettigrew, and Harry could see beads of sweat breaking out over his pasty face, "you don't believe him, do you … he tried to kill me, Remus…"
"So we've heard," said Remus, more coldly. "I'd like to clear up one or two little matters with you, Peter, if you'd be so – "
"He's come to try and kill me again!" Pettigrew shrieked suddenly, pointing at Black, and Harry saw that he used his middle finger, because his index was missing. "He killed Lily and James and now he's going to kill me, too… you've got to help me, Remus…"
Black's face looked more skull-like than ever as he stared at Pettigrew with his fathomless eyes.
"No one's going to try to kill you until we've sorted a few things out," said Lupin.
"Sorted things out?" squealed Pettigrew, looking wildly about him even more, eyes taking in the boarded windows and, again, the only door. "I knew he'd come after me! I knew he'd be back for me! I've been waiting for this for twelve years!"
"You knew Sirius was going to break out of Azkaban?" said Remus, his brow furrowed. "When nobody has ever done it before?"
"He's got Dark powers the rest of us can only dream of!" Pettigrew shouted shrilly. "How else did he get out of there? I suppose He Who Must Not Be Named taught him a few tricks!"
Black started to laugh, a horrible, mirthless laugh that filled the whole room.
"Voldemort, teach me tricks?" he said.
Pettigrew flinched, as did Ron and Fudge, as though Black had brandished a whip at him.
"What, scared to hear your old master's name?" said Black. "I don't blame you, Peter. His lot aren't very happy with you, are they?"
"Don't know – what you mean, Sirius," muttered Pettigrew, his breathing faster than ever. His whole face was shining with sweat now.
"You haven't been hiding from me for twelve years," said Black. "You've been hiding from Voldemort's old supporters. I heard things in Azkaban, Peter… they all think you're dead, or you'd have to answer to them… I've heard them screaming all sorts of things in their sleep. Sounds like they think the double-crosser double-crossed them. Voldemort went to the Potters' on your information… and Voldemort met his downfall there. And not all Voldemort's supporters ended up in Azkaban, did they? There are still plenty out here, biding their time, pretending they've seen the error of their ways, the Malfoys, the Averys, the McNairs and many more… if they ever got wind that you were still alive, Peter – "
"Don't know – what you're talking about…" said Pettigrew again, more shrilly than ever. He wiped his face on his sleeve and looked up at Lupin, and at Dumbledore.
"You don't believe this – this madness, Remus, Professor!"
"I must admit, Peter, I have difficulty in understanding why an innocent man would want to spend twelve years as a rat," said Remus evenly.
"Innocent, but scared!" squealed Pettigrew. "If the Dark Lord's supporters were after me, it was because I put one of their best men in Azkaban – the spy, Sirius Black!"
Dumbledore was thinking that only Voldemort's supporters ever called him the Dark Lord. Black's face contorted.
"How dare you," he growled, sounding suddenly like the bear-sized dog he had been. "I, a spy for Voldemort? When did I ever sneak around people who were stronger and more powerful than myself? But you, Peter – I'll never understand why I didn't see you were the spy from the start. You always liked big friends who'd look after you, didn't you? It used to be us… me and Remus… and James…"
Pettigrew wiped his face again; he was almost panting for breath.
"Me, a spy… must be out of your mind… never… don't know how you can say such a – "
"Lily and James only made you Secret Keeper because I suggested it," Black hissed, so venomously that Pettigrew took a step backwards. "I thought it was the perfect plan… a bluff… Voldemort would be sure to come after me, would never dream they'd use a weak, talentless thing like you… it must have been the finest moment of your miserable life, telling Voldemort you could hand him the Potters."
Pettigrew was muttering distractedly; Harry caught words like 'far-fetched' and 'lunacy', but he couldn't help paying more attention to the ashen colour of Pettigrew's face, and the way his eyes continued to dart towards the windows and door.
"Professor Lupin?" said Hermione timidly. "Can – can I say something?"
"Certainly, Hermione," said Lupin courteously.
"Well – Scabbers – I mean, this – this man – he's been sleeping in Harry's dormitory for three years. If he's working for You Know Who, how come he never tried to hurt Harry before now?"
"There!" said Pettigrew shrilly, pointing at Hermione with his maimed hand. "Thank you! You see, Remus? I have never hurt a hair on Harry's head! Why should I?"
"I'll tell you why," said Black. "Because you never did anything for anyone unless you could see what was in it for you. Voldemort's been in hiding for twelve years, they say he's half-dead. You weren't about to commit murder right under Albus Dumbledore's nose, for a wreck of a wizard who'd lost all his power, were you? You'd want to be quite sure he was the biggest bully in the playground before you went back to him, wouldn't you? Why else did you find a wizard family to take you in? Keeping an ear out for news, weren't you, Peter? Just in case your old protector regained strength, and it was safe to re-join him…"
Pettigrew opened his mouth and closed it several times. He seemed to have lost the ability to talk.
"Er – Mr. Black – Sirius?" said Hermione timidly.
Black jumped at being addressed like this and stared at Hermione as though being spoken to politely was something he'd long forgotten.
"If you don't mind me asking, how – how did you get out of Azkaban, if you didn't use Dark Magic?"
"Thank you!" gasped Pettigrew, nodding frantically at her. "Exactly! Precisely what I –"
Secretly Fudge was wondering what Black would reply to this question, too. He had so far kept his mouth shut, also because Dumbledore was keeping them all silent observers of the proceedings. Dumbledore thought that Remus handled the affair perfectly well and would most probably sort the truth from the lies if he was left doing so.
Lupin had silenced Pettigrew with a look. Black was frowning slightly at Hermione, but not as though he was annoyed with her. He seemed to be pondering his answer.
"I don't know how I did it," he said slowly. "I think the only reason I never lost my mind is that I knew I was innocent. That wasn't a happy thought, so the Dementors couldn't suck it out of me… but it kept me sane and knowing who I am… helped me keep my powers… so when it all became… too much… I could transform in my cell… become a dog. Dementors can't see, you know…" he swallowed. "They feel their way towards people by sensing their emotions… they could tell that my feelings were less – less human, less complex when I was a dog… but they thought, of course, that I was losing my mind like everyone else in there, so it didn't trouble them. But I was weak, very weak, and I had no hope of driving them away from me without a wand…
"But then I saw Peter in that picture… I realised he was at Hogwarts with Harry… perfectly positioned to act, if one hint reached his ears that the Dark Side was gathering strength again…"
Pettigrew was shaking his head, mouthing noiselessly, but staring all the while at Black as though hypnotised.
"… ready to strike the moment he could be sure of allies… to deliver the last Potter to them. If he gave them Harry, who'd dare say he'd betrayed Lord Voldemort? He'd be welcomed back with honours…
"So you see, I had to do something. I was the only one who knew that Peter was still alive…"
Harry remembered what Mr. Weasley had told Mrs Weasley. "The guards say he's been talking in his sleep … always the same words … 'he's at Hogwarts'".
"It was as if someone had lit a fire in my head, and the Dementors couldn't destroy it… it wasn't a happy feeling… it was an obsession… but it gave me strength, it cleared my mind. So, one night when they opened the door to bring food, I slipped past them as a dog… it's so much harder for them to sense animal emotions that they were confused… I was thin, very thin… thin enough to slip through the bars… I swam as a dog back to the mainland… I journeyed north and slipped into the Hogwarts grounds as a dog… I've been living in the Forest ever since… except when I come to watch the Quidditch, of course… you fly as well as your father did, Harry…"
He looked at Harry, who did not look away.
"Believe me," croaked Black. "Believe me. I never betrayed James and Lily. I would have died before I betrayed them. I couldn't have done it, I loved them too much, Harry, just like I always loved you! They were my second chance at having a family, how could I have betrayed them?"
And at long last, Harry believed him. Throat too tight to speak, he nodded.
Pettigrew had fallen to his knees as though Harry's nod had been his own death sentence. He shuffled forward on his knees, grovelling, his hands clasped in front of him as though praying.
"Sirius – it's me… it's Peter… your friend… you wouldn't…"
Black kicked out and Pettigrew recoiled.
"There's enough filth on my robes without you touching them," said Black.
"Remus!" Pettigrew squeaked, turning to Lupin instead, writhing imploringly in front of him. "You don't believe this… wouldn't Sirius have told you they'd changed the plan?"
"Not if he thought I was the spy, Peter," said Lupin. "I assume that's why you didn't tell me, Sirius?" he said casually over Pettigrew's head.
"Forgive me, Remus," said Black.
"Not at all, Padfoot, old friend," said Lupin, who was now rolling up his sleeve. "And will you, in turn, forgive me for believing you were the spy?"
"Of course," said Black, and the ghost of a grin flitted across his gaunt face. He, too, began rolling up his sleeves. "Shall we kill him together?"
"Yes, I think so," said Lupin grimly.
"You wouldn't … you won't…" gasped Pettigrew. And he scrambled around to Ron.
"Ron… haven't I been a good friend… a good pet? You won't let them kill me, Ron, will you… you're on my side, aren't you?"
But Ron was staring at Pettigrew with the utmost revulsion.
"I let you sleep in my bed!" he said.
"Kind boy… kind master…" Pettigrew crawled towards Ron, "you won't let them do it… I was your rat… I was a good pet…"
"If you made a better rat than human, it's not much to boast about, Peter," said Black harshly.
Ron, going still paler with pain, wrenched his broken leg out of Pettigrew's reach. Pettigrew turned on his knees, staggered forwards and seized the hem of Hermione's robes.
"Sweet girl… clever girl… you – you won't let them… help me…"
Hermione pulled her robes out of Pettigrew's clutching hands and backed away against the wall, looking horrified.
Pettigrew knelt, trembling uncontrollably, and turned his head slowly towards Harry.
"Harry… Harry… you look just like your father… just like him…"
"How dare you speak to Harry?" roared Black. "How dare you face him? How dare you talk about James in front of him?"
"Harry," whispered Pettigrew, shuffling towards him, hands outstretched, "Harry, James wouldn't have wanted me killed… James would have understood, Harry… he would have shown me mercy…"
Both Black and Lupin strode forwards, seized Pettigrew's shoulders and threw him backwards onto the floor. He sat there, twitching with terror, staring up at them.
"You sold Lily and James to Voldemort," said Black, who was shaking, too. "Do you deny it?"
Pettigrew burst into tears. It was horrible to watch: he looked like an oversized, balding baby, cowering on the floor.
"Sirius, Sirius, what could I have done? The Dark Lord… you have no idea… he has weapons you can't imagine… I was scared, Sirius, I was never brave like you and Remus and James. I never meant it to happen… He Who Must Not Be Named forced me – "
"Don't lie!" bellowed Black. "You'd been passing information to him for a year before Lily and James died! You were his spy!"
"He – he was taking over everywhere!" gasped Pettigrew. "Wh- what was there to be gained by refusing him?"
"What was there to be gained by fighting the most evil wizard who has ever existed?" said Black, with a terrible fury in his face. "Only innocent lives, Peter! - Only innocent lives..."
"You don't understand!" whined Pettigrew. "He would have killed me, Sirius!"
"Then you should have died!" roared Black. "Died rather than betray your friends, as we would have done for you!"
Black and Lupin stood shoulder to shoulder, wands raised.
"You should have realised," said Lupin quietly. "If Voldemort didn't kill you, we would. Goodbye, Peter."
Hermione covered her face with her hands and turned to the wall. Dumbledore got ready to intervene, finally, but then there was an outcry:
"No!" Harry yelled.
He ran forwards, placing himself in front of Pettigrew, facing the wands, Lupin's and his own. "You can't kill him," he said breathlessly, "you can't!"
Dumbledore smiled. Black and Lupin both looked staggered.
"Harry, this piece of vermin is the reason you have no parents," Black snarled. "This cringing bit of filth would have seen you die, too, without turning a hair. You heard him. His own stinking skin meant more to him than your whole family."
"I know," Harry panted, and looked over to Dumbledore and Fudge. "Can't we take him up to the castle and hand him over to the Dementors, Professor, Minister? He can go to Azkaban, can't he? Just don't kill him yet."
"Harry!" gasped Pettigrew, and he flung his arms around Harry's knees. "You – thank you – it's more than I deserve – thank you – "
"Get off me!" Harry spat, throwing Pettigrew's hands off him in disgust. "I'm not doing this for you. I'm doing it because I don't reckon my dad would've wanted his best friends to become killers – just for you."
"Well, you're the only person who has the right to decide, Harry," said Black. "But think… think what he did… we're stepping back if you say the word."
"He can go to Azkaban," Harry repeated. "If anyone deserves that place, he does…"
"I think we're called up now, Cornelius. What do you say? There is no other way than accepting that it was not Sirius after all and that we have done him a great injustice."
"I suppose so. How shall we proceed?"
"It's a full moon and Remus will transform any moment now, so I suggest we all leave. If I am right you haven't had your last dose of the Wolfsbane Potion tonight, Remus?"
"No. You had better all leave! I won't be fully unconscious, but I don't know how much allowance I have with the doses, so I'll still be dangerous."
Dumbledore stunned Pettigrew and turned to Ron.
"I am nowhere near as good as Madam Pomfrey in healing bones, but I can help you by adding a splint. – Ferula."
Ron got up and put his weight on his leg. He didn't wince and thanked Dumbledore.
"Then let's go. Have an easy one, Remus, and we'll see you again in the morning."
"See you on the flip side! Hurry up!"
Dumbledore levitated the unconscious Pettigrew and they all left the room and then the house. As they walked through the tunnel, Crookshanks merrily ahead, then Fudge and Dumbledore with Pettigrew, then a sulking Snape, followed by Ron, Sirius, Harry and Hermione.
As they walked, Sirius turned to Harry:
"I don't know if they told you, but I'm your godfather, Harry…"
"Yeah, I know…"
"Well, your parents, they wanted me to look after you, if something happened to them, I thought, if you wanted to leave your aunt and uncle… once my good name's restored… if you wanted a new home, I'd offer you to live with me…"
"Really? Leave the Dursleys? You mean it?"
"Yes. Of course, I understand that you'd rather stay with them…"
"Are you mad? Leave the Dursleys? I've been dreaming about that just about forever! Do you have a house? When can I move in?"
The smile that appeared on Black's face now took ten years off the weary face. He looked a bit more like the smiling young man who had been at Harry's parents' side at their wedding. Sirius felt lighter than he had ever done before. At first he'd been shocked and scared to death to see that his trap hadn't only called in Harry and his friends, but also Dumbledore and Fudge. But then Remus had been the bonus, especially when he had taken charge of the situation.
As he was talking with Harry on the way out of the tunnel he thanked the gods for the appearance of the two top men in their society. Witnesses like these were a guarantee that he would be set free now.
Hermione listened to them as she walked just a short bit behind them. She was happy for Harry; he would finally have a home that actually was a home if he was allowed to live with his godfather. Harry sounded so happy! She smiled.
Once they had left the Whomping Willow they crossed the grassy plain between Hagrid's hut and the castle. Hogwarts was ahead of them, slightly higher up, and they started to walk up the soft slope to its entrance. As they were out on the green Harry froze and Sirius next to him. He could feel the air freezing and he recognised this as the approach of the Dementors. Harry didn't think, he pulled his wand out, which Sirius had given back to him just minutes before and shouted:
And a huge, brilliantly white stag broke out of the tip of his wand, lighting up the whole area and galloping in the direction of the Dementors, kicking them and biting them away. Within minutes they turned and left back to the gates. The Patronus returned and Harry stood there, admiring it. But others were admiring it even more. Dumbledore smiled, Hermione looked baffled and Sirius – Sirius stood there with his mouth hanging open, staring at the majestic stag.
"Prongs…" he whispered. "He looks just like Prongs."
"Dad? Dad was a stag?" Harry asked.
"Yes, he was. We called him Prongs – for his antlers – we all feared them, believe me. He was magnificent, was James."
"You're not half bad either, Sirius," Harry replied, with a smile.
"What a Patronus – how did you do that, Harry?" Fudge wanted to know.
"Professor Lupin taught me – when the Dementors ruined our first Quidditch game in November… I asked him for help and he taught me this. But I took a long time to learn it."
"You conjured a fully corporeal Patronus at your second match, Harry," Hermione threw in.
"That's right. Though I hadn't seen that one myself. This one – it was easy to conjure, because Sirius offered me a new home. Anything is better than the Dursleys, hence this Patronus went easily…" Harry said.
Sirius pulled him into a hug. Apart from Mrs Weasley and Hermione no one had ever hugged Harry and he loved it, even though it scared him a bit.
"I'll have a look at my situation, Harry, I'll talk to the goblins at Gringotts, my family had many houses and all of them are warded extremely well, or we could even move into your family's ancestral home, which is just as safe…" he whispered.
Harry couldn't hide his smile. He felt so elated.
"Thanks, Sirius. Do you think Hermione and Ron could visit me there?"
"Of course. Any time!"
The rest of the distance to the castle was now covered without any further incidence. Dumbledore called for McGonagall and asked her if she could give Sirius a guest room. She was shocked at first, of course, but a short assurance of her superior that Sirius was innocent later she actually smiled a bit and said:
"Well then, Black, come with me. But I warn you – any prank at all and I'll throw you out to the wolves in the middle of the night."
Sirius grinned. That's how he liked Minerva the best. Always with a good threat on her lips. She didn't mean half of them, but they were usually quite effective.
"You don't really mean that, Minnie, I've had that for roughly a year now…" he mumbled.
"Try me! Come with me, I give you a guest room. Potter, you can see him at breakfast in the morning. You two had better return to your dormitory again and Weasley, I'm taking you to Madam Pomfrey."
"Yes, Professor. Good night, everyone. Thank you for giving Sirius a chance, Minister," Harry said politely and followed Hermione up the stairs.
"A tea or something stronger while you sign a pardon for Sirius and wait for the Aurors to take Pettigrew to the Ministry, Cornelius?"
"Yes, why not… I suppose there's nothing else we can say, is there? That'll be a field day for the press tomorrow. First the hippogriff who shouldn't have been executed… and then it turns out Black is not even guilty."
"We have the real perpetrator instead, that's worth much more, Cornelius! The press will jump on the capture rather than the error of justice. I told you that Lucius should not have been allowed to influence the Committee, Cornelius. If you ask Sirius he'll most probably many more names apart from Lucius' as one of the many Death Eaters still around."
"He was formally acquitted, Albus. What could we have done? He claimed to have followed You Know Who under the Imperius."
"You could have asked the court for the use of Veritaserum, Cornelius. But you've taken too much of his money by now. For this you'll need to step down."
Fudge had the decency to blush, but he remained silent, of course. He knew that Dumbledore could have him thrown out of his office, if he really set out to do it.
The Minister called the Auror on night duty and told her to send a few of her colleagues. Not ten minutes later a contingent of five Aurors came through the fire. The Aurors were astonished about the prisoner they had to take to Azkaban. Dumbledore warned them to do everything to keep the prisoner under a stunning spell until he was going on trial.
The Deputy Headmistress took her two charges and first passed at the hospital wing, where Poppy almost collapsed of shock seeing Sirius in her company.
"It wasn't Sirius after all, Poppy, he's been proven innocent of all charges. Could you first take care of Weasley and then see if Sirius needs anything?"
"I'd say he needs a bath first of all..." Poppy said, sniffing the air with a disdainful grimace.
"It's not like there are showers in the Forbidden Forest, Poppy!" Sirius protested. "And I intend to spend the next few hours in the tub, thank you very much!"
Poppy smiled. She knew very well that Sirius had always taken great care of his personal hygiene and must have suffered badly having no access to washing facilities for so many years. She turned to Ron:
"What's happened to you then, Weasley?"
"Big black dog! Broke my leg and there are these scratches here on my wrist!"
"Oh dear! Let's start giving you a potion to prevent possible rabies! Your leg has been well splintered, that will be fixed in a few seconds."
"Pardon me! I may be filthy, but I do not have rabies, Madam Pomfrey!" Sirius said.
"He said Black dog, not Sirius Black, Sirius!"
Instead of an answer Sirius transformed and gave Minerva the shock of her life. She screamed:
"Sirius Black! When did you become an Animagus? You can't have done that in Azkaban!"
"Nope. Finished the transformation in fifth year - we wanted to help Remus, Minnie. He wouldn't hurt us while being Animals ourselves. We were bitten in play loads of times, but being animals it didn't curse us!"
"Potter and Pettigrew, too?" Minerva whispered.
"James was a stag and Pettigrew was a rat. You have probably seen him loads in the past years - he hid as the Weasleys' pet rat and Ron has carried him around for three years already."
"Merlin, if I'd only have had an idea..."
"No one knew that he was still alive, Minerva, no one but myself and himself. I couldn't and he certainly didn't advertise it."
Poppy sighed and treated Ron's wounds. Then she came back to Sirius and checked him over.
"Too thin and teeth of the worst, otherwise I'd say there's nothing wrong with you, Sirius. I shall fix your teeth now, okay?"
"Yes, please, Poppy!"
She performed the cleaning and repairing spells for his teeth and then said:
"There we are. Do you want some nutrition potions to support your food in the next few weeks? It would help you regain your weight in a more healthy fashion than if you just stuff yourself with all sorts of things."
"Maybe for a week or so?"
"That'll prevent the worst damage. Here you go! You need a full glass before every meal. Eat as wholesome as you can. Have Remus watch over the regime!"
Sirius pouted in a way it made Ron laugh. He guessed that Poppy must have known Sirius quite well to hand his regime over to his best friend. That made him falter. Remus was a werewolf. Apart from him no one in the Shack had thought it necessary to recoil from the man, not even the Minister, but he knew that werewolves were not to be trusted, his mum and most everyone had told him so.
Minerva grinned when she took Sirius not to a guest room but to Remus' quarters. She called a house-elf and asked him to assist Sirius in all his needs. Sirius' eyes lit up when he recognised the room's interior as typical Remus in style. Being in the staff area would be very useful for...
"Remember, Black - any pranks..." Minerva said.
"How unfair is that, Minnie, you present me with the honey pots and won't allow me to lick some of it?" he pouted.
"Nope! You know the rules."
When she left her charge, Minerva thought: 'revenge is sweet!'