Harry's eyes bulged in surprise as the dog turned into the very man whose face had been in the Daily Prophet. Judging by his exclamation, Draco was no less surprised than he was. It was reasonable, however; who expected the stray dog they'd been feeding to turn out to be a convicted murderer?
The man had been bound by Remus, but he was still able to speak, which he took advantage of by snarling at the Potions Master. "You keep your hands off him!"
And now it was the professors' turn to look surprised. Snape arched a brow at the man, deliberately placing a hand on Harry's shoulder to move him back a bit farther. The man on the ground growled at this.
"Odd that you should be worried about me harming the boy when you're the one who escaped Azkaban to search for him," the Potions Master silkily intoned.
"What?" Harry squeaked in alarm. The man had been searching for him? Bloody hell – he'd been alone with him!
Sirius Black struggled against his bonds and both Harry and Draco felt it prudent to take a cautionary step back. "For the – I wasn't looking for him, you greasy bastard!" he snapped. "Yes, it was good to see my godson, but I... Remus, he's here!" He turned his attention to Remus, instead, more hopeful that his words would actually get through. "Peter is still alive. They swapped secret keepers at the last moment. Peter's the one who betrayed Lily and James and he's here, in the castle this very moment. Surely, you must have smelled the filthy rat!"
"Sirius..." Remus had began, only to trail off uncertainly as the man continued.
"Lupin?" Severus prompted.
"Well, there have been a couple times when I thought I'd caught his scent, but I thought I'd imagined it," the werewolf admitted slowly. "To be fair, Peter's scent never was very distinguishable from that of an actual rat. He's dead, though – Peter's dead. All that was left of him was a finger!" His expression did not hold as much conviction as his words.
"But there is a chance his is telling the truth?" queried the Potions Master. "From your words, I take it that Pettigrew was a rat animagus?"
"Yes," the Defense professor answered. "Peter was an animagus, also. A rat. But..."
"And you," Snape took a half-step closer to the convict, "what evidence do you have that this... rat... is still alive?" His lips pulled back from his teeth in a sneer.
Sirius gave a derisive scoff. "What? You expect me to believe that you will listen to me?"
"Harry, Draco – how long has the stray been coming to beg for scraps?" Severus asked the teens instead of answering the man directly.
"A couple months, sir," Draco responded, even as Harry replied, "Since January."
"Loathe as I am to admit it, had you any designs against Harry or any of the other students, you have had more than ample time to pull them off. Now, tell us what evidence you have that Pettigrew still lives before I simply call the aurors to take you back to Azkaban, no questions asked." Snape's dark tone implied that he wouldn't be terribly upset to see the other man return to prison.
"I saw his picture in the paper last summer," Sirius finally answered. "One of the Weasley boys was holding him – I'd recognize him anywhere."
Harry sputtered incredulously. "You mean Scabbers?" he asked. "He doesn't even do anything. He's old. Ron said he's been in his family for-"
"Twelve years?" suggested the man on the ground. "Rather long life for a rat, don't you think?"
Remus lowered his wand a bit as he regarded his old friend. "Harry, why don't you see if you can find Ron and get him to bring Scabbers here? Don't tell him what's happening, just... bring him." Harry looked from the Defense professor to the Potions Master, moving to obey when he received a nod from the latter.
"Return to your common room, Draco," Severus commanded the blonde.
"But, sir," Draco began to protest.
"Now, Mr. Malfoy."
All further argument died on the boy's lips at that tone. Not even he was foolish enough to cross the man when he spoke like that. Shooting a furtive glance at the dog-turned-man over his shoulder, he hastened towards the entrance of the castle, desperately wishing he could see what happened next.
"You disgust me," Sirius sneered up at Snape once the boy was out of earshot. The Potions Master gazed blandly back at him, unimpressed. He continued. "I don't know what you're playing at, pretending to be Harry's father, but as soon as I'm exonerated-"
Snape's wand shifted so that it was pointed directly into the fugitive's face. "You don't want to finish that sentence," he stated, tone soft and dangerous. "Especially not words you shall be made to eat later on."
"Severus is Harry's father," Remus interjected before Sirius could put his foot in his mouth. Not that it did any good.
"You can't really be on Snivellus' side!" the man exclaimed.
"Severus!" the werewolf spoke sharply before the Potions Master acted on his impulse to hex the bound man, then turned back to Sirius. "It is not a matter of picking sides, Sirius. Whether or not you want to believe it, Harry really is Severus' son."
Sirius stared at Remus incredulously, betrayal flashing across his features. Then, his jaw set in defiance and he turned his head to look away, refusing to say anything more. It was just as well, however; if he hadn't shut up, Severus really would have hexed him, and nothing the wolf could say would have stopped him.
"Hey, Ron," Harry greeted his friend, glad to have found the other boy in the common room. It would save time having to look for him.
"Where've you been?" Ron asked, looking up from a one-sided game of chess. Apart from a seventh-year studying in the corner, the room was otherwise empty.
"Outside," Harry replied, looking about the room. "Where's Hermione?"
"Studying," said the redhead, wincing as one of his bishops were taken.
"Oh." Harry moved closer to his friend, playing with the straps on his wrist band. "Say, Ron – is Scabbers still in his cage?"
"You didn't really think I'd let him out with Hermione's beast hunting him all the time, did you?" Ron replied, turning away from his game.
"I guess not. Can I... do you think I can borrow him a moment?"
Blue eyes blinked at him in surprise before his friend looked at him incredulously. "You want to borrow Scabbers?"
"Er, yes. I know it sounds weird," Harry said. "Professor Lupin wanted to take a look at him."
"You think the professor might know what's wrong with him?" Ron asked. "He's been looking dreadful for months.
"Maybe," Harry replied carefully. He might just be a man pretending he's a rat, he added silently.
"Right, then. I'll come with," the redhead declared, rising to his feet.
"What? No. You can't-" his friend began, breaking off when he realized he didn't have a very plausible reason why he couldn't.
"Why? He's my rat," pointed out Ron.
"Fine," Harry conceded. "Just... don't mention where we're going in front of him. In front of Scabbers, I mean. And maybe leave him in his cage. Definitely leave him in his cage."
Ron frowned at him. "You're acting a bit funny. Is everything all right?"
"Yeah. Fine. I'll explain after we take Scabbers to see the professor," the dark-haired boy promised. "Just – make sure you don't say anything to make him suspicious."
Giving his friend another uncertain glance, Ron hurried up the steps to the dorm to fetch his pet. Harry made a point of not even looking at the cage, lest he give himself away. The two boys made their way down the many steps of the castle, managing a few bouts of somewhat awkward conversation. Ron was at a loss as to just what was going on, his curiosity eating away at him. He was dying to ask why they couldn't say where they were going in front of Scabbers – he wasn't a particularly bright rat, after all. That, of course, only added to the awkwardness.
"Aren't we-" Ron started to ask when they continued down the steps instead of stopping on the second floor where Lupin's office was.
"No," Harry interrupted him. "Why don't you let me hold him?" He stopped to hold out his arms and Ron reluctantly handed the rat's cage over. Harry did take a moment then to look in on the creature. Could he really be an animagus? The boy decided it was probably best not to ask his friend any questions about how his family had gotten Scabbers, in case he really was a person in disguise. Either way, the rat seemed to know that something was going on because he kept shuffling about in his cage.
It was not until they had reached the ground floor and had gone out to where the professors and Sirius Black were waiting that all doubt was removed from Harry's mind. The moment the three men were in sight, Scabbers began to squeak in panic and thrash within the confines of his habitat. Ron immediately moved to try to soothe his pet, but Snape had brushed him aside as he pointed his wand at the creature and cast petrificus totalus.
"Scabbers! What are you going to do to him?" Ron demanded, eyes wide with worry. "And who's – bloody hell! That's Sirius Black, that is! What is..."
"Ron," Harry put a hand on his friend's shoulder, watching as the Potions Master took the immobilized rat from the cage and put him on the ground. "Shut up."
Snape uttered the same spell that was used to change Sirius Black from his animagus form and a moment later, 'Scabbers' turned into a rotund little man with oddly rat-like features. Ron's expression went from worry to confusion and finally to horror in the matter of seconds. In fact, he now looked a bit green, like he was about to sick up.
"I let you sleep in my bed!" the redhead squeaked in dismay.
"I told you it was him!" Sirius declared a bit savagely.
"Harry, Mr. Weasley," Snape directed them as Remus eyed his petrified friend with a grave expression, "go fetch the Headmaster. Tell him we have Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew in custody."
After telling Dumbledore about the professors having Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew, the man had instructed Harry and Ron to return to their common room. Neither was very happy about this, wanting to know more about what was happening. Nonetheless, the two boys obeyed, taking over the sofa in front of the fireplace when they reached their destination.
"I can't believe Scabbers was an animagus," Ron murmured a bit faintly. Harry had wondered how long it would take the shock to hit his friend. "I mean… all this time I thought he was just a boring old rat, but he's been a person all along. A person, Harry! And I let him sleep with me." The redhead had gone very pale.
Harry grimaced. "Sorry, mate," he offered.
"Bloody hell! This means that stupid cat was probably right to go after him! Hermione will never let me hear the end of this," he groaned, basking in his misery over the thought for a moment before giving Harry an inquisitive look. "How'd the professors end up catching Sirius Black, anyway?"
"He's the dog I've been feeding," answered Harry, causing Ron's eyes to bug out. Harry proceeded to tell him what he knew, starting over when Hermione arrived a few minutes later.
"That could have been really bad!" the girl exclaimed. "Harry, if Black had wanted to hurt you-"
"I know, Hermione," he cut her off. Fiddling idly with the straps on his wrist band, he tried not to think about how badly things could have gone if that had been the case.