The next morning, Twilight got up early, and ate before almost anyone else in the castle was awake.
Kettleburn accosted her almost as soon as she finished. "Ah, miss Sparkle. Good morning!"
"Good morning, Professor," she replied. "I'm looking forward to this."
"Good, er, mare. Follow me."
As he turned to go, Twilight cleared her throat. "Er – Professor, have you had breakfast?"
"Eh?" Kettleburn glanced back at her. "Oh, no – but don't mind me. If we can get you sorted out, then I can just have a late breakfast. Better to get it done sooner, in my opinion."
"Okay." Twilight acceded to that – she did want to try flying. That was the whole reason she'd gotten up so early, after all. "Where are we going?"
Kettleburn chuckled. "Outdoors!"
The broom looked a lot like the ones she'd seen the others using. It was a middle-aged Cleansweep, with nothing visibly remarkable about it – the handle was worn, the brushes stuck out a bit and the binding that held it together was recently repaired.
"Right," Kettleburn said. "On you get."
"Er... okay," Twilight stepped over the broom shaft. "How do I do this?"
"Oh..." Kettleburn tapped his chin. "Say 'up'."
"Up," Twilight complied, and the broom rose to press softly against her chest.
"I think I can feel the cushioning charm," she volunteered, prodding at it experimentally.
"Good, good. Does it feel uncomfortable?" Kettleburn crouched down to check how it was seated. "Good, it looks like it's up against your breastbone – that's automatic. Should be supporting your weight evenly, so let me know if it starts to feel uncomfortable."
"Right. What now?" Twilight asked, apprehensively.
"Hmmm... how to do this..." Kettleburn mused. "Try clamping your legs around the broom shaft."
Cautiously, Twilight lifted her legs one by one to grip the broom, opposite sides first. When the third leg lifted and she didn't fall over, the broom smoothly taking her weight, she let out an unconscious sigh.
"That's good!" Kettleburn grinned, as she rested entirely on the hovering broom. "Now, brooms are a bit like wands – they channel magic, and they rely on intent. Think forwards – slowly, mind!"
Twilight thought for a moment, then concentrated on the broom and on moving like she would make a telekinesis spell move something forwards. Slowly, the broom slid through the air.
"This feels very strange..." she muttered.
"I'm not all that surprised," Kettleburn replied, pacing alongside her. "Okay, now, up – gently!"
Twilight, it transpired, was not particularly good at flying.
She could go in a straight line, though slowly, and turn in mid-air – though doing both at once resulted in a wobbly curve and a racing heart as she clung grimly to the broom.
"I don't know how pegasi manage..." she said through clenched teeth, coming unsteadily down to the snow-covered grass at a little above walking pace.
"Hm." Kettleburn frowned. "Well, if they're at all like winged horses, they're held up by their wings – which are above the centre of gravity, not below it – and they've got muscles which attach to a flight keel. Both of those are going to make them much more stable, and then there's instinct on top of it – they're built for flight."
"Go on," Twilight asked, looking for something to distract her from her stomach. "What about humans? How do you all manage?"
"Some of us don't." Kettleburn readied his wand, just in case Twilight needed assistance. "Part of it is that we have our legs down around the broom, and often crouch over it – which lowers our own centre of mass." He broke off as Twilight skidded in the snow, then continued when she slowed to a stop. "I'd hoped the same would apply with you, but your body barrel is too large. We might need to tweak the cushioning charm..."
Twilight nodded, swallowing uneasily, and put her legs down. "I think I'd like to stop now."
"Oh, by all means." Kettleburn waited until she'd walked forwards off the broom, then collected it. "As I say, we'll have Rolanda work with you – obviously, flying isn't essential, but it's certainly useful."
"Thank you." Twilight regarded the broom uncertainly. "I think. Maybe Spike can help..."
Actually, Spike was probably up by now. Maybe he'd have some advice.
As Twilight trotted back along the corridors, she heard voices ahead of her.
"...surprised, I have to..."
Her ears pricked up involuntarily, and she continued forwards at the same pace.
"...didn't expect you to come to me..."
The voice took only a moment to recognize – it was Professor McGonnagall.
"...Professor," a different and more male voice replied. "...serious."
Twilight considered casting a spell to allow her to hear better, but almost instantly discarded it. She wasn't an eavesdropper, after all. What she was overhearing was entirely accidental.
The next word she heard a little more clearly, as Professor McGonnagall said 'Giblets' to the Fat Lady.
Twilight checked her stride slightly, not wanting to crowd them, and ended up coming around the corner only as the paining swung closed.
"Giblets," she informed the Fat Lady, trotting up.
"I've been hearing that a lot lately," the portrait replied, opening again and admitting Twilight.
"Hi, Twilight," Spike waved. "Where were you?"
Twilight slowed to a stop next to him. "Oh – sorry, I got up early and ran into Professor Kettleburn. He wanted to check on his work with that modified broomstick."
"He did?" Spike grinned. "Cool! So, how did you find it?"
Twilight winced. "Not great..." she admitted. "I don't really have the stomach for flying, I think. Not on my own, anyway."
Spike's grin morphed into a frown. "Don't we go around in a balloon? How's that different?"
"Well..." Twilight blushed. "Basically, I trust pegasi to know what they're doing. I know I can't fly, and all the books I've found here are about learning to fly a broom if you're human." She shrugged, embarassed. "So I can't do what I usually do, which is read a book."
"Oh." Spike digested that. "Well... can't I teach you? I did say."
Twilight forced a smile. "You can give it a go. I might just not be cut out for flying, though..."
A snigger. "Actually, I just thought, if I had wings then I'd be more confident because I wouldn't be in danger if I fell off..."
Spike saw where she was going. "But if you had wings you'd be a pegasus anyway and you wouldn't need a broom. Right."
"Yes." Twilight sat down next to him. "Maybe, if this doesn't work, when we get back home we can give a broom to Dash and see what she thinks."
They contemplated that for a bit.
"I... actually don't know how she'd react," Spike said.
Any further conversation was cut off by a commotion from up the left stairs.
"What's that?" Twilight asked, frowning.
"Not sure," Spike replied. "Professor McGonnagall and the twins went up there a moment ago-"
He was interrupted by the sound of the Professor's raised voice, then the sound of a spell hitting something.
"That was a stun-" Twilight began.
More shouting, and more spellfire. Red and blue light flickered in the stairwell.
By now, all the students in the common room were standing. Most looked puzzled, some warily walking away from the stairs, and a few had drawn their wands.
Twilight, for her part, lit her horn and cast some shield spells.
"What's going on?" she asked, looking quickly over at Percy.
"I'm not sure," Percy replied, looking lost. "The Professor took Fred and George upstairs – I was wondering if she wanted to have a word with them about-"
Something small came darting down the stairs, chased by a jet of yellow light.
"Stop him!" McGonnagall shouted, hurrying down herself.
"What?" Ron asked, frowning. "Isn't that Scabbers?"
The rat scurried across the floor, through the cleared lane between chairs, making a rat-line for the portrait hole. A grey spell hit next to it, making a small crater-
And a bolt of red light hit it squarely, sending it flying into the wall unconscious.
All eyes in the room turned to Harry, who had his wand out and levelled, and was looking rather surprised with himself.
Over the course of the next few minutes, Albus Dumbledore, Filius Flitwick and Quirinus Quirrell turned up in Gryffindor Tower. The rat was lifted by magic, placed inside the same cage Ron had kept him in for months, and then carried out of the room – still unconscious.
Once the procession of teachers had left, silence reigned for a few seconds.
"What the bloody hell just happened?" Ron burst out, breaking it. "Did they just confiscate Scabbers?"
The boy rounded on his friend. "And Harry – why did you stun Scabbers?"
Harry looked uncertain, and shifted his grip on his wand. "I... McGonagall said stop him, so I thought... it had to be important, right? And after all those reviews we've done on the stun spell, it's what came to mind..."
"He wasn't Scabbers," Fred replied, unusually sober.
George nodded. "He wasn't even a rat."
Ron gaped. "But... what the hell, guys?"
"I'm inclined to agree," Percy said. "Especially if this is one of your pranks-"
"Shut up, Perce, we wouldn't joke like this," George snapped.
Fred gestured to a table. "Sit down, we'll explain."
After a few more stares, the other Weasleys sat. Harry did as well, still looking a bit numb, and Twilight and Spike watched along with most of the present Gryffindors.
Fred rummaged in his robe pocket, and pulled out a sheet of blank parchment. "This is the Marauder's Map. We found it-"
"Well," George interrupted, a ghost of his normal grin playing across his face, "It was found. By us."
"Somewhere no-one else ever looks."
"Well, Filch might, because it's his-"
Percy cleared his throat. "Fred? George?"
The twins looked abashed. "Sorry, Perce."
"Right. Anyway, this is the Marauder's Map. Watch."
Fred cleared his throat, placing his wand on the sheet. "I solemnly swear I am up to no good."
Twilight watched in astonishment, as the parchment... sprouted lines from the tip of Fred's wand. The lines curled together, branched out, and formed into words.
"Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs..." she read aloud, along with several other Gryffindors, "are proud to present the Marauder's Map."
The words cleared, turning into a large diagram showing a map of Hogwarts.
"Wait..." Ron said, uncertainly. "Are those us?"
He pointed to a collection of dots around Gryffindor tower.
"Yep." Fred nodded. "It tells you where people are. That's the cool thing."
Percy gaped. "So this is how you keep sneaking around all the time!"
"That's right," George confirmed.
"Makes it easy."
"Bit too easy, really."
"No challenge," Fred said, before pointing back to the map. "Anyway. Notice anything important about who it shows?"
Twilight leaned closer. Herself, Spike, Harry, the Weasleys...
"Where's my tarantula?" Lee Jordan asked.
"Spot on, Lee," Fred said, pointing at him. "It doesn't show pets."
Several other voices raised. "But it shows-"
"I can see-"
Spike joined in. "Peewee's right there!"
"Yeah." George nodded. "It shows familiars. And when we were first learning to use it, there was a name we kept seeing who we thought was a familiar."
"Stupid name for a cat or whatever," Fred said, shrugging. "But we don't know Percy's year-mates or anyone older well enough to say."
"And when we looked back on Christmas day," George took up the story. "It was in Ron's room. Had been the last few times we looked, but this time it was the only one there."
"What?" someone asked. "Why is that-"
"So I went up," Fred continued. "To make sure there wasn't a cat about to try to eat Scabbers, 'cause we were all down here and there was no-one else there. But when I got there... no cat. Just a sleeping rat in a cage."
"But..." Ron frowned. "Scabbers isn't a familiar... he used to be Percy's, right?"
There was an intake of breath. Twilight frowned – she could almost feel the answer, just out of reach...
Fred dropped his firecracker. "He's an Animagus called Peter Pettigrew."
Dead silence greeted that sentence.
"...what in Merlin's name..." someone murmured.
Percy had gone chalk white.
"So..." Ron gulped. "You mean that Scabbers... was a person? A man?"
"A man with an Order of Merlin," Percy said distantly. "Who's supposed to have died ten years ago."
"Oh, bloody hell..." Ron had gone slightly green. "I feel ill now – he shared my pillow some nights!"
"How do you think I feel?" Percy snapped. "I was the one who found him in the garden!"
The older boy took a deep breath, then sighed. "Sorry, Ron. I apologize – I just feel..."
"Yeah," Ron replied. "I can guess."
"Who was this Pettigrew?" Spike asked. "I mean, if he's supposed to be dead... couldn't it be good he's still alive?"
"Not when the worst of You-Know-Who's lieutenants, Sirius Black, is supposed to be the one who killed him," Percy replied. "All they found was his finger – and Scabbers has always had a missing toe."
"I think I'm gonna be ill," Ron mumbled.
The common room was full of a buzz of speculation for the next few hours. Twilight didn't have much to contribute, still not being entirely up-to-date on who these people were, but what she overheard filled her in quite quickly.
And made her feel very confused.
"Excuse me," she asked a seventh year, "but... I'm not sure who Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black were. Can you explain?"
"Oh?" The girl frowned. "Sure. Hold on, let's see... okay. So Sirius Black was a wizard from a really nasty family – Black by name, Black by nature, you know?"
"I'm afraid I don't, much," Twilight replied, thinking that over. "But go on."
"Well..." the student hissed through her teeth. "He was supposed to be this big friend of the Potters, I think – not sure about that – but he betrayed them to You-Know-Who."
"Anyway, Peter Pettigrew confronted him about it – called him out in the street – and Sirius just... blew him up. Him and at least five Muggles."
That elicited a frown from the Equestrian. "But... if he was the rat..."
"Yeah..." The girl looked thoughtful. "I don't know, actually. Doesn't seem to make sense..."
She shrugged. "Sorry, that's about all I know. It happened when I was only about seven years old, so I didn't follow everything."
"Right." Twilight turned the information over in her mind.
It all seemed to make very little sense, to her. There just wasn't enough information to tell what was going on, except that what everyone thought had happened wasn't what had actually happened.
Very little got done for most of the day. The talk eventually died out around lunch, but nothing really replaced it – a few desultorily did a bit of homework, but no-one really seemed inclined to do much.
Twilight wanted to help – especially Ron, for whom all of this seemed to be really sinking in – but... this wasn't really something she knew how to help with.
It wasn't as if she hadn't encountered problems as bad as this. Discord, who had manipulated the emotions of her friends to twist them into bad ponies, sprang to mind... but even then, he'd used magic, and magic had been part of the answer.
This was just... betrayal.
She asked Spike what he thought, and he didn't have an answer either.
Around four, the portrait hole swung open.
"Ron?" asked a short woman with brown-red hair, climbing through. "Ronniekins?"
"Mum!" Ron half-stood, startled, then blushed. "Don't call me that, mum!"
The woman – Mrs. Weasley – stood up as she got past the door, and let it swing closed behind her. "I came as soon as I heard, dear. Are you alright?"
Ron frowned, uncertain. "I... not really." His voice trembled. "I'm still... trying to really get it. I mean..."
The woman moved quickly towards her youngest son, and swept him into a hug. "It's okay, Ron."
Ron resisted for a moment, then leaned into the embrace. "Mum," he whined, half-heartedly. "All my friends are watching!"
Mrs. Weasley ignored him. "It's alright, Ron. He's gone now."
"I-" Ron began, then fell silent. Another try got no further, and then he sighed. "...thanks, Mum."
Everyone tried to pretend they hadn't been watching.
"Mother?" Percy began.
"Yes, dear?" Mrs. Weasley replied, still hugging Ron.
"What's going to happen with... well, with Pettigrew?" Percy swallowed.
She released Ron, who sat back down with what looked a little like gratitude, and frowned. "I don't know, dear. It's all very sudden. It might go to trial – I hope neither of you will be called up, but it might be necessary."
"What about us?" Fred – well, probably Fred – asked, nodding to his twin. "Will they ask for us, too?"
Mrs. Weasley turned towards her other two sons, and her expression softened. "I don't know that either. Sorry, darling." She paused. "And – George, whatever else I say about you two, and I know I do say a lot – thank you. You've done the right thing, shown you do know what to do when it's serious, and I'm proud of that."
The twins both went red.
"Arthur couldn't get away, I'm afraid," she added, now turning back towards Ron and Percy. "He's at work, and there's been a lot of activity all over the Ministry today. But he did find time to Floo me, and he'll try to come up on Saturday. In the meantime – if you ever need to speak to me or your father, just let us know by post or by Floo and we'll come as soon as we can."
"Thank you," Percy said solemnly.
"Yeah." Ron's eyes were perhaps a little wet, but he looked up at his mother with a wan smile. "Thanks, Mum."
After Mrs. Weasley had left, Twilight saw Spike approach Ron.
"Uh..." Spike scratched the back of his head. "Just so you know, er... if you need to send a letter quickly, I can try using Peewee. He wants to give it a go, I think, so... er, it might help."
Ron nodded. "Thanks."
Percy put an arm around his brother's shoulder. "Thank you, Spike. I'm sure it'll help."
Ron shrugged the arm off half-heartedly. "Gerrof, Perce."
The elder brother dropped his arm, and didn't put it back again. "Okay. If you need me, just ask."
"Me, too," Lee Jordan volunteered. "Griffs stick together."
A low rumble of approval spread around the common room. Twilight joined in as much as anyone.
I'm well aware this is quite a risk...