It was because of their planned Christmas shopping that Harry and Ron followed Hermione down the snowed in Hogsmeade high street to the little apothecary, instead of heading in the opposite direction to the Three Broomsticks, as Ron had suggested.
"We wanted to buy a very – sturdy – vial," Hermione was explaining to the bored witch behind the counter, "something that'll safely hold a… a poison—" Hermione shook her head as the witch pointed at the standard display of little vials across the shelf. "No, something sturdier – for a stronger poison – something like basilisk venom," she finally came out and said it.
The bored expression left the witch's face for a moment. She looked surprised, then doubtful, then her lack of interest reasserted itself, and she handed over a small vial that looked exactly like the other ones, but she had to open a locked shelf to get it. Hermione showed Harry the price tag, they had a silent debate, then she asked for a second vial as well, and the two of them split the cost.
They were about to step out of the apothecary when they saw Dumbledore, of all people, hurrying down the street. Harry was frozen on the spot, well aware that he was breaking school rules, and this time it really was purely for fun. He belatedly grabbed his invisibility cloak, then realised the headmaster had passed them without even looking in the direction of the apothecary window.
"Wonder what he's up to," said Ron. "The Hog's Head is in that direction, isn't it?"
They slipped out of the shop.
"The Hog's head's owned by Dumbledore's brother, isn't?" said Harry. "And Sirius was thinking that might be a place to look for whatever it is Dumbledore's hiding…"
Hermione opened her mouth to argue, then deflated. "At least let us go, Harry. You're not supposed to be in Hogsmeade at all—"
Ron also repeated the offer, but Harry disagreed. It was precisely because no one knew he was in Hogsmeade at all that he was the best person for the job. Harry had little time to prepare, but he made sure to have his foe-glass at hand – just in case. Then he handed his not-so-sneaky sneakoscope over to Ron, because he did not want to give himself away if it went off again. He stepped off the street, concealed himself as well he could from the passers-by, so he could wrap himself in his invisibility cloak. Resigned, Hermione cast the disillusionment spell on him as well.
There were a lot of people on the high street, which was both useful for going unnoticed, and difficult to navigate when one was in a hurry – and invisible.
Harry really did not want to be discovered by the headmaster, he thought nervously as he followed Ron's directions that led him away from the high street, to a small side street, where the dingy little pub owned by the younger Dumbledore was located. It did not look like the sort of place usually frequented by children, and indeed, there was a strange absence of Hogwarts students there, who were filling every other crevice of the small village centre.
Harry waited until a rather unfriendly-looking customer had stepped outside before slipping in through the door. Before even taking in the dark room, he checked his foe-glass again. Still nothing. Harry reflected with some frustration that the foe-glass was made to warn against foes – not someone like the headmaster, who may not be a foe, but who could still get Harry into a whole lot of trouble, if he caught him.
Not that Harry was doing anything really bad, like spying. The Hog's Head was a pub – a public space. Harry was just… going to listen to what was being said, without anyone knowing that he was there. People who did not know they had an audience could say interesting things sometimes.
As Harry took in the small, dingy, dirty room with its questionable visitors, he almost reconsidered his spur-of-the-moment plan to not-quite-spy on the headmaster. It was a breach of trust, and Dumbledore certainly had not deserved that. Harry could have spent the day having fun, exploring the village, as he had wished for months. Besides, what did he hope to get out of this ill-thought-out attempt to get more information out of the headmaster? Only, Dumbledore's cryptic remark about a hidden object was the only lead he and his friends had—
Harry nearly jumped when he heard the headmaster's voice, so surprised that he had actually found him, that he almost ran into another unpleasant fellow leaving the pub, who was doing his best to hide his face from the other people – at least those he could see. Harry got a good look at the pockmarked, dirty face and gulped.
Hastily, he made his way behind the deserted counter, from where he had heard the headmaster's voice. There was a doorway there, he saw, left ajar, and behind it in the back room Harry could make out a rickety wooden staircase.
The voices were drifting down from the upper floor.
Harry hesitated, aware that his excuse of a public space ended at the door behind the counter. He tried to make out the words from there, but all he could hear were the raised voices of two men.
The word drifted down from upstairs among more unintelligible arguing. It immediately made Harry jolt with a nervous sort of excitement. It took him a moment longer to recall the break-in at the hospital and the speculation that Pettigrew might have been responsible. He knew then that he would not be able to turn back without hearing more.
Carefully, he slipped through the door. The wooden staircase looked like it might creak at the slightest step. But Harry had had a fair amount of experience at sneaking around – both at home, at night at Privet Drive, and at Hogwarts, where the enchanted staircases could shift from one corridor to another, but were still prone to creaking. Carefully, he trod on the very edge of each step, making his way slowly upstairs. The stairs remained thankfully quiet.
"Did you even see that wretched fellow? Ask him how he is? Or did you just talk to the healers for a bit?" Harry heard drifting down from the upper floor. It did not sound like the headmaster, so it must be his brother.
Finally, Harry reached the top of the stairs, which opened on to a sitting room with a threadbare carpet, which was currently strewn with all sorts of objects, and a small fireplace, above which hung a single large oil painting of a blonde girl, around Harry's age, who gazed out at the room with a kind of vacant sweetness.
From his vantage point Harry could see the headmaster pacing across the room. Another man was tidying up and rearranging the chairs in front of the fireplace. The younger Dumbledore was a grumpy-looking old man with a great deal of long grey hair and beard – by no means appearing to be any younger than his elder brother. He was tall and thin and there was a vague resemblance to his brother, Harry decided.
"—messed up the entire house – even the stalls!" he was saying, gesturing widely with his hands.
"But nothing was damaged—" the headmaster began to say.
"How'd you know?" the other man retorted. "Not that you'd ever concern yourself with the state of this house. Never mind how the goats are doing. All you care about is that your—" Here he waved vaguely with his hands. "—contraption was kept out of harm's way, so you can keep monitoring him. Does it even matter at this point if it's going to be of any use to Quirrel's—"
"Will you keep your voice down," his brother cut across him. Stopping his pacing, he looked towards the stairs, his gaze almost sweeping over Harry.
"What for? Clearly, someone knows enough. They know what they're after and that you're involved, at any rate. Not that that last part would be difficult to guess. What they didn't guess was just how safely you'd want it kept. Or they just didn't mind ransacking my house—"
The elder Dumbledore stopped his pacing at that point right in front of Harry, facing the fireplace and his brother in front of it. A moment of silent communication passed between the brothers that Harry could not make out. He could not see their faces – the headmaster had his back turned to him, and his brother was hidden behind him.
"And very safely kept it is indeed," the elder Dumbledore said quietly.
Harry was not sure if he had read the tone correctly, but to him it had sounded like gratitude. There was another pause.
"Yes, well," the barman then said gruffly, for once not sounding critical.
"As I said, I'll help you with whatever was left in disorder – even the goat stalls," the headmaster then said with a sigh. "But I really need to be going now. Fudge said he'd arrive for dinner—"
Harry turned back around, readying himself to leave. He needed to get out of the way before the elder Dumbledore was walking down the stairs.
"Dinner with the minister – how novel," the barman's voice followed him down the stairs, once again back to sounding critical. "Fancy bringing him here?"
Harry did not hear the headmaster's parting reply, making sure to leave as quickly – and quietly – as possible. He did not slow down, even after he heard the sound of floo powder hitting the fire. He doubted, though, that Fudge would be made to dine at the Hog's Head, he thought as he walked through the filthy sawdust-covered floor of the pub and stepped into the street once again.
Remembering his friends' instructions as best he could, he walked towards the high street, then followed it to the Three Broomsticks. The Hogsmeade centre was small enough that it was virtually impossible to get lost. He easily found the pub he had never been to before.
The tiny inn looked much more inviting than the Hog's Head from the outside, and inside it was even more so – crowded with Hogwarts students, noisy, warm and smoky.
Harry was looking for Ron and Hermione when instead he caught sight of the huge form of Hagrid sitting at a table at the back of the room. He almost waved, but then he spotted Professors McGonagall and Flitwick sitting next to him. Worse, he caught a glimpse of a lime green bowler hat peeking through Hagrid's side. Harry almost panicked, before remembering that he had been in too much of a hurry to take off his invisibility cloak.
He finally spotted Ron and Hermione sitting at the table next to the one with the teachers and the Minister for Magic, of all places. Reluctantly, he walked over to join them. They were at least somewhat shielded from their neighbouring table by a huge Christmas tree. Harry ducked around it before carefully tapping his friends on their shoulders, to get their attention.
Hermione jumped, but thankfully did not make much noise. Ron handed Harry the third foaming tankard at the table, with a whispered, "Butterbeer," before they both gestured for him to be quiet. They were listening in on the conversation at the other table.
There was a fifth occupant at that table, Harry noticed. A curvy sort of woman with a pretty face he had no trouble identifying as Madam Rosmerta from his friends' descriptions was complaining to the minister about the dementors searching the village and scaring away her customers. The teachers soon joined in the complaints.
"They were talking about what happened at Hogwarts at Hallowe'en," Hermione whispered to Harry. "That's why Fudge is here, apparently."
Harry made himself as comfortable as he could standing up. He was itching to tell his friends what he had learned, but told himself to be patient. He slipped the tankard under his cloak so he could sip at the delicious, warm butterbeer, while the three of them listened to the conversation next to them.
Fudge was defending his hare-brained idea to have dementors permanently stationed around Hogwarts by reminding everyone what dangerous and ruthless people Sirius and Pettigrew apparently were. Madam Rosmerta admitted she was still struggling with the idea that she could have been so mistaken in those men, whom she had known from when they attended Hogwarts.
The conversation became difficult to listen to for Harry at that point, as Fudge began retelling the usual faulty version of the events surrounding Harry's parents' deaths. It was apparently not well-known that Sirius had been their secret-keeper. Like many people, Madam Rosmerta had never even heard that Pettigrew had been in any way involved, until he was discovered to be alive that summer. In the following month, the Daily Prophet had run a number of articles about him.
"I was so surprised to read in the papers that it was Pettigrew who found Black and accused him of being a traitor," Madam Rosmerta was saying. "I remember him. That fat little boy who always tagged after Potter and Black. And through all these years you all thought he'd died a hero's death?"
Fudge nodded reluctantly. "The hit wizards found Black laughing after he had destroyed the street and killed all those muggles. There was no sign of Pettigrew left at that point, but there were eye witnesses – muggles, who described the confrontation before being obliviated. I was a junior minister in the Department of Magical Catastrophes at the time, and I was one of the first on the scene after Black murdered all those people. As for Pettigrew, we only found a heap of his bloodstained robes and a few – a few fragments…"
It was at that point that the conversation shifted somewhat. First, McGonagall brought up the Order of Merlin that had gone to Pettigrew's mother, and how she must have reacted at the news of her son's reappearance. Fudge visibly shifted in his seat, and then reluctantly admitted that first, she had been questioned, and then she had been informed that the Order of Merlin had to be returned, on top of everything else.
Then Hagrid said, "I met him – Black. I musta bin the last ter see him before he killed all them people." He told the others how he had rescued Harry from the rubble of his destroyed home, before Sirius had arrived on his flying motorbike. He recalled how long it had taken to comfort the extremely upset Sirius, and that the first coherent thing he had said was that he wanted to take Harry himself, being his godfather. Hagrid also told them how Sirius had left him with his flying motorbike, saying he would no longer need it, after Hagrid had refused to hand Harry over on Dumbledore's orders.
Harry haphazardly put his tankard on the table at that point, making Hermione shush him. She looked guilty a moment later, aware how upsetting the conversation was for Harry to listen to.
"I shoulda known there was somethin' fishy goin' on then. He loved that motorbike, what was he
givin' it ter me for? Why wouldn' he need it anymore?" Hagrid went on. "Fact was, it was too easy ter trace. He musta bin plannin' ter get away with Pettigrew, I reckon. Instead, Pettigrew musta double-crossed him. Little Peter Pettigrew, outsmartin' Sirius Black…"
As they were all contemplating this, Hagrid shook his head, and finally – finally – made the sensible point, "Wonder if it was only Black that killed those muggles, though. They musta fought, him an' Pettigrew, once he figured out he'd been had. But who's ter say which of them did it?"
McGonagall was first to answer, preempting the minister. "That's a good point, actually. It was Pettigrew who needed the destruction to get away unnoticed in his animagus form," she said. "Why would Black have attacked Pettigrew at all? He and Pettigrew had been conspiring together, after all—"
Fudge then brought up Sirius' questioning by Veritaserum, in a loud, defensive tone, like a trump card, not to be argued with. That was another point Madam Rosmerta had not known about, and for a moment Fudge seemed to regain his knowledgeable, assured tone of before, as he explained the circumstances of Sirius' questioning to her.
But McGonagall cut across him once again. "The same Veritaserum questioning that failed to uncover Pettigrew's involvement altogether? How much can it be relied on, I wonder? Black never did get an actual trial, did he? "
This had also been news to Madam Rosmerta, much to Fudge's chagrin.
"Well, now, Minerva, you can't invalidate something like a Veritaserum questioning because the aurors maybe failed to consider every detail," he said. "Black might've decided to turn on Pettigrew first, attacked him first. In fact, the eye witnesses did say something of the sort – that Black had confronted Pettigrew, rather than the other way around. Back then, we thought they might've been confused, but—"
"No. No way," said Flitwick in his squeaky voice. "I taught them both for seven years, Minister. If Black had decided to turn on Pettigrew, he'd have won. The only way it could've happened is if Pettigrew's plans had come as a surprise to Black – if he acted rashly in his rage, for example, like the proverbial Gryffindor he was—"
McGonagall waved off his apology, agreeing with him. When even Madam Rosmerta admitted that Sirius' behaviour seemed 'mysterious' to her, Fudge had finally had enough. With ill grace, he reminded them that he was expected for dinner by the headmaster, and they broke up.
Remus was no longer surprised to be running into Tonks in Hogsmeade, especially on a Hogsmeade weekend. But he was feeling quite proud of himself for having recognised her under her disguise – she had looked elderly, unkempt, with flyaway white hair and threadbare grey robes, as he had spotted her stepping out of Gladrags Wizardwear. She had turned back to her usual, younger self at his greeting, this time with short, lime green hair – to contrast the robes, she said. Remus was yet again tempted to say something admiring about her outstanding transfiguration skills, but refrained himself, because every time he had tried in the past, she had switched topics.
"Why, Professor Lupin. However did you recognise me?" she asked playfully, already knowing the answer.
Slowly, she meandered down the high street, Remus falling in step with her.
She still called him by his title from time to time, though he had since asked her to call him by his first name. (He had yet to learn Tonks' first name, however, who apparently preferred to use her last name instead.) But Remus supposed she was not unaware how fond of his title he was.
"Would it speak ill of me if I admitted that I always keep an eye out for auror badges?" replied Remus.
Despite his light tone, he was speaking the truth. It was hardly usual for him to be on good terms with – most – aurors. Before beginning to work at Hogwarts, he had gone out of his way not to attract their attention, which had led to his ability to recognise them even when disguised. Tonks was an exception, even under the current circumstances, he knew. She had been introduced to him by Mad-Eye – the other auror who was an exception – but Remus was aware that that was only a partial explanation.
"I got these robes from an actual hag," she told him proudly, pointing at her getup. "I met her in Knockturn Alley. It's to do with my new case, and – Anyway, she agreed to trade it for a pound of raw liver." She wrinkled her nose.
Remus was not sure the trade had been in her favour, but still congratulated her, because she clearly thought of it as an accomplishment. Then he asked her about her new case. She did not give many details, but told him it involved a shady business agreement in Knockturn Alley that had ended in a physical altercation. Remus had witnessed similar situations often enough not to want any more details.
Remus was aware that the pride in Tonks' tone went back to the odd notion she seemed to have acquired that Remus' own shabby attire was somehow voluntary – or at least a reflection of his uncaring attitude, rather than necessity. At least she seemed admiring of his supposed lack of care for his appearance.
Remus supposed he could afford to dress better with the salary of a Hogwarts professor, but he did not know how long the appointment was going to last, and for years now – ever since its invention, in fact – he had weighed every expense against his need to pay for Wolfsbane. The more Wolfsbane he could purchase, the less medical treatment he required, the more he could work. The more money he could potentially earn. It had simply become second nature for him not to even consider frivolous expenditures, like new clothes.
Tonks, herself, Remus was aware, liked to dress like she belonged to a muggle musical subculture – though he was unsure which one. It had been some years since he had been up to date on such trends. His mind jumped to Sirius for a moment, who used to be his main source of such information.
Tonks was well-informed, however. In fact, he had a vague suspicion that she thought his appearance reflected a strange musical subculture as well. During one of their previous meetings, she had talked at length to him about some muggle band with an odd name – something to do with Eastern philosophies, as far as he recalled. She had been astonished that he had never even heard of them, insisting he listen to them.
"I'm glad to have run into you today, Remus," she said.
Remus felt himself wanting to return the sentiment, but became aware of it before he had blurted out a reply. It was unusual enough to be noteworthy for Remus with his hairy heart to look forward to meeting someone. To him, it was not a casual sentiment, and with that realisation he began to doubt his ability to say so in a casual way. He found himself hesitating with his answer.
She seemed unaware of the pause, as she went on, "I kept forgetting to ask you about your Christmas plans. You're probably not staying at Hogwarts, are you?"
"I am, actually."
Noticing the surprise he had not been able to fully mask, she grinned awkwardly at him. "I was going to ask you whether I'd be able to reach you over the holidays."
"Oh? Do you think something might come up that you might need help with?"
Remus tried not to sound too eager, though he did not think he had been entirely successful. Guilt gnawed at him. Once again, he was doing his best to find out as much as he could from her. Ever since letting Harry know that the aurors were reading his mail, he could no longer delude himself that what he was doing was anything other than snooping – spying, even. On Harry's behalf, to some extent, but likely on Black's behalf as well—
"Well, no," Tonks said slowly. "I was just thinking, once the holidays begin, we'll probably be told that we don't need to patrol Hogsmeade any longer. I doubt any students would remain at school in a situation like this—"
"Actually, some are staying – including Harry," said Remus.
"Oh, bother," she groaned. "I was looking forward to having more time for my actual case. But Harry Potter's still thought to be Black's target, so if he's here, then we'll have to keep patrolling…"
"Lucky for us, then. We'll get to enjoy your company for longer." Remus did manage a nice, easy tone this time.
Her hair turned a sudden vivid pink. "Yes. About that. I was going to ask if you'd have time over the holidays to meet up."
For a moment, Remus was confused – and looked it. "I thought you said you wouldn't need any help—" he began to say, but his brain caught up with the situation before he had finished speaking, while he watched Tonks' face fall a little at his words.
"No, I meant socially," Tonks said quietly, awkwardly. She slowed, skipped a step, then halted in front of him, turning to face him. Her shoulders went up and dropped down and she made a charming little sweep with her arms, her apparent embarrassment making her look endearing rather than awkward. "I meant… Do I need to come up with excuses to meet with you?"
Remus felt as if the moment was happening to someone else. There was a rushing in his ears, his thoughts were fleeing him, and he felt oddly detached, cleared of all emotions. Most damningly, he was aware that he was not surprised. He had been seeing a lot of her recently. First, he had been genuinely curious about the Wagga Wagga Werewolf – uncomfortable though the tale was to listen to. Then he had told himself that he was keeping an ear out, staying up to date on the investigation of Black and Pettigrew (and Harry as well).
But besides all that he had found himself enjoying her company, and her surprisingly positive opinion of him, untainted by her knowledge of his condition, only knowing of him from Mad-Eye and his current position at Hogwarts. When viewing himself through her eyes, he could almost believe himself to be normal. But even though she seemed to be enjoying his company as well, he had thought that being considerably older than her, there would be no risk, no harm in their casual acquaintance—
Remus almost made himself pretend he had misunderstood. But as the moment dragged on, as he watched Tonks take in his response – or lack thereof – as he watched her face fall, he made himself face her.
"A social get-together wouldn't be a bad idea," he said finally. The affected levity sounded fake to his own ears. "But I'm not sure when next I'll be coming to Hogsmeade—" He almost stopped there, aware that his rejection of the two of them becoming closer had been understood. But he still had to add, "I have to be dragged here by the other teachers when we go out. But I suppose I could invite you to join us…"
Ron and Hermione wanted to go along with Harry to talk to Sirius after dinner, because they had much to tell him. They had to work their way around everyone else eagerly talking about the Hogsmeade trip and the Christmas shopping they had done before they all went back home the next day. Fred and George were even setting off Dungbombs in the common room. Once they were sure they could sneak away, the three friends left the common room for an empty classroom, as so many times before.
Sirius, they found, was just as eager to tell them something of his own, but he shook his head when they asked him about it, wanting to hear from them first.
Harry felt himself hesitating, aware that spying on the headmaster was a questionable thing to do. He finally got the words out, but was still taken aback by the horrified, scandalised face Sirius made. It did not help that he then proceeded to make the same points that had occurred to Harry himself – namely that Dumbledore did not deserve such a breach of trust.
"Besides all that, Harry, what would you have done if you had been found out?" Sirius went on. "Dumbledore more or less told you that he doesn't trust you enough to explain more of what's going on. Did you think at all how it'd look to be caught snooping around in his private sphere?"
Hermione grimaced. "He might've thought Sirius had put you up for it…" she said quietly, guiltily. "I didn't think of that this afternoon…"
"That's not the point—" Sirius began to say, seeing the boys' stricken looks as well.
"No, no." Harry shook his head. "I know it was a huge risk, but it was necessary—" Harry scoffed at the dubious looks he received. "It was! We had zero other leads! And you tried, Sirius. You went after Pettigrew. But he's hiding out with Malfoy, and you can't possibly take on Pettigrew, Malfoy and all his cronies all on your own."
Harry had been thinking about that ever since listening in on the teachers talk to the minister. He had known the facts for well over a year, but hearing Hagrid's account of the aftermath of his parents' deaths had cut deeply. Perhaps it was because the dementors had recently brought back the memory of his mother's last moments. Or perhaps it was the details of Sirius' reaction that Hagrid had recalled. What Harry knew was that he could stand the thought of Pettigrew getting away unpunished less and less. He was ever more resolved to do what he could to change that.
Sirius looked like he was about to say something, but then his jaw set and he grimaced.
"Harry did find out loads," said Ron in his friend's defence. "Whatever's going on is connected to Quirrel in St Mungo's."
"He's been there all this time…" said Harry, not sure what he felt about that.
"What could it be, though?" said Hermione. "It sounded like Professor Dumbledore's hiding an instrument that's somehow keeping track of him. But what for? He can just go to the hospital and check up on Quirrel, can't he?"
Sirius drew a deep breath, then exhaled. He let go of his attempt to admonish Harry. "I don't know. I can only think of one thing, and that's Quirrel's connection to Voldemort. If, somehow—" He shook his head. "I don't even know if such a thing could be done, but even supposing that remnant of a connection from the possession could lead to information about Voldemort… What for?"
"You mean they might be able to track Voldemort somehow?" said Hermione. "Like where he is, or how he's doing?"
Sirius frowned. "Nothing that concrete, I'm pretty sure. It might be possible to track whether Voldemort's still alive through Quirrel – whether the source of the magic that possessed Quirrel still exists. And even that'd be very complex magic. The question is what for. Why would Pettigrew risk his hide for something like that? He spent over a decade living as a rat, to make sure he'd be safe. More than that, why would Malfoy organise what seems to be a large-scale operation?"
"Maybe that instrument of Dumbledore's is more powerful than that? What if it can tell them how to find You-know-who?" said Ron.
This led to a moment of stillness, of silence. The possibility was a rude, sudden intrusion in their lives. Unwelcome.
"I wonder where it's hidden," Ron muttered. "It's safe to say it's not in the Hog's Head, now, isn't it?"
Harry hesitated. "Probably. But… I did get the feeling that Dumbledore's brother might be involved somehow."
"I still say it can't be done," reiterated Sirius after a moment's pause. "But even if we allow the possibility that that instrument can tell them about Voldemort's whereabouts – it still doesn't explain what Pettigrew's after. Voldemort in his weakened state wouldn't want him back right now, not when he's being searched for by the law. And if Malfoy had wanted to find Voldemort, he could've done so quietly before all this. He's had more than a decade to do so, but didn't bother…"
Hermione moved the conversation along at that point, after it became clear that none of them had any more to say on the matter. She told Sirius of the other conversation they had overhard, between Fudge, the teachers, and Madam Rosmerta.
Sirius did not admonish them for that. Instead, his face pulled into something between a grimace and a grin. Harry did not even bother trying to defend their actions. What had Sirius been expecting from them, anyway? Without even the prospect of broom shopping, of course they were going to find other things to do to make their trip to Hogsmeade worthwhile.
Hermione then mentioned Pettigrew's mother. "Do you think she might've known that her son was alive and hiding?" she wondered.
Sirius hesitated, but then shook his head. "No. I saw a picture of her in the Daily Prophet, taken after Peter was found out. And she's always been dramatic, but I doubt she was faking the—" He did not put a name on her emotions. Then he snorted. "She does still work as a seer, though. You'd think the fact that she hadn't been able to predict her son's actions might've put an end to her career, but I guess some people do like theirs with a tragic backstory—"
"She's a seer?" Hermione's tone gave away much of her opinion of seers.
Sirius nodded. "She still has those little leaflet advertisements everywhere – on the Knight Bus, in Diagon Alley, even in some of the Hogsmeade shops and pubs. Back when we were adolescents, Peter never quite seemed to grasp why that ought to have embarrassed him. She used to do all the standard readings, but especially used to like divining fitting names for children." He snorted again. "Whenever she met James, she'd comment on his parents' choice not to do that – what with him having such an ordinary name, and all—"
"Well, so is Peter, isn't it?" said Harry at once, who himself had never enjoyed comments from the Dursleys about his own ordinary name.
His godfather nodded with a smirk. "James told her the same thing. Her reply? Apparently she wanted Peter to choose his own path."
They all enjoyed that moment of levity, and then it was Sirius' turn to give them an update on what he had been up to.
"Talking about Voldemort – I may not have been able to find Pettigrew, but I found out a few interesting things about Riddle." It turned out, he had been following the lead of the old newspaper clipping he had discovered in his brother's room, which had led him to a little village called Little Hangleton. "It's fortunate that the Gaunts lived in a mostly muggle village. I may not be able to investigate in the magical parts of the country right now, but I was able to have a look at the muggle archives—"
"Legally?" Hermione asked dubiously, though once again she followed it up with a rueful look.
"Almost," Sirius said after a moment of hesitation. "The archives are – mostly – public, though awkward to get access to. I did have to confound someone – to make sure I wasn't making anyone suspicious. But, er, I didn't need to break in anywhere," he ended on a slight grin.
"So, what did you find?" Harry asked impatiently.
Sirius sobered. "It was a triple murder. A muggle family of three – a certain Tom Riddle and his parents – were murdered. Their maid found them the next day in the drawing room with looks of terror on their faces. Their muggle gardener, Frank Bryce, was initially suspected, but then let go, because there was no evidence to convict him. There weren't any traces of what had killed the Riddles – according to the muggle newspaper. It's easy to guess that it must've been the killing curse. There's no mention of Morfin Gaunt in the muggle newspapers that I found, though."
"The aurors must've guessed that a wizard'd done it," said Ron.
"I guess so," said Sirius. "There were a few articles in a couple of muggle newspapers. They all insinuated Bryce had done it, evidence or no evidence. Bryce, himself, interestingly claimed to have seen a dark-haired, pale, teenaged boy climbing the hill that the Riddle house stood on, on the night of the murders, but the muggle police didn't seem to have believed him—"
"You think that was Morfin? Or—" Harry did not finish the thought.
Sirius carefully shook his head. "I did find some records of the Gaunt family in that village. Unrelated to that murder. The Morfin Gaunt who lived in that village was certainly not a teenager at that time. This happened in the summer of 1943 – almost fifty years ago—"
Hermione drew in a sharp breath. "That's one year after Moaning Myrtle's murder. You think it was Riddle? I mean, you-know-who."
Sirius nodded. "He certainly would've been a teenager at the time." He was scowling. "The Riddles were apparently quite well off – at least compared to their neighbours. They weren't very well liked, their neighbours describing them as snobbish and disagreeable. There were barely any traces of the Gaunts, barely any records of them in the village. They apparently lived in the most run-down, ramshackle little hut…"
"So, you think you-know-who somehow got his uncle to kill his father and grandparents?" said Hermione.
Sirius shrugged. "Something like that." He sighed. "I'll see if I can find out some more. I haven't been able to find out much of anything about Riddle's mother, for one." He shrugged again, as if to shake off the topic altogether.
Harry, Hermione and Ron began saying their goodbyes at that point, but Sirius held them back.
"What you said before, Harry – about Dumbledore being your only lead." He grimaced, hesitated, weighing his words. "You talk about Pettigrew as if he's your problem—" He held up his hands to forestall the arguments. "And I'm not telling you that you shouldn't be involved, but remember that he's also my problem. I can't talk to Dumbledore, or Remus, or the various aurors floating around Hogwarts. News from the magical world are difficult for me to access. So there are plenty of things that you three can do better than me right now. At least let me do the—" He searched for the right word for a moment, before settling on, "—the legwork when it comes to Pettigrew. I promise to tell you everything I find out."
Harry expelled a breath in annoyance, though neither he nor his friends argued. This was not because he agreed, however. He merely did not have any immediate plans – leads to follow up.