An Alternate Chain of Events

Volume 3 - Chapter 1 - To Old Friends

Volume Three

Chapter One – To Old Friends

"I will not have it, Cornelius."

"Dumbledore there is nothing else to be done."

It was very late, the light had long since left Fudge's office and yet he and Dumbledore were no nearer to reaching a consensus than they had been when the sun was up. The fire was roaring, it had been the only sound for most of their conversation, but neither could depart until an agreement had been made.

Dumbledore had interlaced his fingers and rested his chin on them. He could not permit Cornelius but neither could he deny him. There was nothing else that could possibly be done.

The grandfather clock in the corner chimed midnight, Fudge sighed and stood up from his chair. "If you have any other ideas I would love to hear them, if you don't then it's settled, I don't want to stay here all night, it's been quite a trying day." Fudge had returned from Azkaban many hours ago but he still looked drawn and pale, he was left with a chill that he couldn't quite shake.

Against all of his instincts, Dumbledore nodded. For once Fudge was right, it was the only plausible course of action. "I will not permit them inside the castle."

Fudge considered this and agreed. "Thank you." He reached for his cloak. "Goodnight Dumbledore, I'll inform the administration in the morning." Fudge was gesturing to the door and Dumbledore took his leave.

"Goodnight, Cornelius." Dumbledore did not share in Fudge's relief that they could go home. Although Dumbledore was weary he would not be able to sleep, there was too much to think about, too many things that needed to be done and too many questions that remained unanswered. Dumbledore was not as confident as Fudge that Dementors would prevent Pettigrew from entering the castle, but Fudge was quite correct that it would make the parents of his students feel safer. Although Dumbledore felt quite abhorred that Dementors would be around his school, he found Pettigrew much more worrying. Unlike the rest of the world, who were stuck on the shock of his impossible escape, Dumbledore was concerned about where he was going; the castle was only one of several terrifying possibilities.

When James arrived at work, on his first Monday morning back, the whole Auror office turned to look at him before hastily pretending to be busy. It wasn't just the attitudes of colleagues that had changed, the lead board on the far side of the room was now plastered with maps, notes and a hundred photos of Peter Pettigrew. James found this more disconcerting than the new attention he was receiving. He could feel Peter watching him wherever in the office he went. There was an unpleasant hush and tension running through the room which reminded James of the days of Voldemort.

"Ah, Potter." Scrimgeour greeted him. He was wearing an enormous pair of glasses and between that and his bushy beard there was barely any skin visible on his face. "Fudge wants to see you."

James grimaced. "I've already said I don't want time off."

"I'm aware of that Potter, but the Minister still wants you in his office." Scrimgeour repeated. "Go."

James sighed and made his way upstairs. He was immeasurably glad that the finer details of Pettigrew's crime weren't widely known; he was getting enough cursory looks as it was. Thankfully the metal grilled elevator was empty when he stepped in, only a middle-aged witch with a monocle joined him on the next floor.

"Good morning, Madam Bones." James greeted her.

"Good morning, Mr Potter." She gave him a fleeting smile and returned to her stern expression. "How are your family?"

She was the first person to actually ask James this, rather than skirt around it. "Well, thank you."

"Very good. Give my best to them." She said briskly as she departed for her floor, leaving James alone again. Amelia Bones really was an impressive person.

When James arrived on the top floor he found the junior minister staff all working hard at their desks, the brightly coloured memos they sent were flying around at an alarming rate. The energy of the office felt frantic, and if there was ever a good indicator to the Minister's mood it was the mood of his junior staff. James began to dread this interview more.

He knocked on the Minister's door because the secretary's desk was empty, and he could hear raised voices coming from the other side of the oak.

"- danger to the students, Minister you must see this." It was a sickly sweet voice that James dimly recognised.

"Not now, we have more pressing issues. Excuse me Madam I have business to attend to." Fudge replied, and he sounded to James as though he was losing his patience.

The door was flung open and a mutinous Dolores Umbridge left, James smiled brightly at her, he had a suspicion what that meeting might have been about.

"Potter," she muttered in greeting as she returned to her office. As she passed their desks, the junior workers kept their heads down and tensed their bodies, as if physically bracing themselves for her wrath.

"Ah, James." Fudge said kindly, "do come in."

James noted how harassed Fudge looked and wondered how often Dolores had plagued him about Remus's appointment at Hogwarts. Fudge offered James a seat behind his grand desk, while he took to his throne-like chair behind it. His pinstriped cloak was hung up in the corner with his usual lime green bowler hat; James thought his head looked oddly bare without it.

"Hello, Minister. You asked to see me?"

"Yes, yes I did." Fudge hadn't looked at him in this kindly manner for many years, the only other occasion he had met Fudge in the last decade he had shouted at James rather a lot. "How are you and your family?"

Here we go, James thought. Fighting not to roll his eyes, he replied in the most neutral tone he could. "We're just fine thank you, we've increased our security accordingly and my wife is taking some leave until Harry goes back to school."

Fudge's eyes were soft and compassionate as he nodded along. "It's Harry's return to school I would actually like to talk about." Fudge cleared his throat. "I know that you and Lily are close with Dumbledore, and it is wonderful given the … unusual circumstances of your family that you trust Dumbledore, and the staff, to care for Harry when he is away. But now that Pettigrew has escaped the ministry are putting extra security in place for Harry, and the other students', benefit."

James looked curiously at the Minister. "There's been no word in the office that anyone has been stationed there."

"For the moment it has been decided that the Auror office would be more effective searching elsewhere for Pettigrew, rather than guarding the school." Fudge explained. "The Dementors will guard the school."

James gaped at him. "Minister that's very extreme, I can't believe Dumbledore would allow that."

Fudge's tone hardened noticeably. "Actually Mr Potter, Dumbledore has agreed that given the circumstances it is the only thing which can be done. I can quite understand your dislike of them, but I assure you that the children will be safe."

James had only seen the Dementors a few times in his life and they had all been horribly unpleasant experiences.

"There is one more matter I would like to talk about." Fudge addressed him again. "Only a handful of people know Pettigrew's involvement in You-Know-Who's downfall, and I think it would be better for it to stay that way, for Harry's sake. The public know about the thirteen innocent people, that's quite enough to make them appreciate that he's dangerous."

James nodded; he was surprised to find how grateful he was for that information. "Thank you, Minister."

"Not at all, and if there's anything we can do for your family just say the word." Fudge looked kindly and fatherly again. "I would like to meet Harry one day."

"I'm sure we can arrange that," it was the last thing James actually wanted but he understood that the Minister was not making a request. "Also, Minister, thank you for supporting Remus Lupin's appointment at Hogwarts, Lily and I feel much more comfortable knowing that one of our friends is there keeping a closer eye on Harry."

Fudge looked taken aback at the gratitude and blustered that it was his pleasure. James was sure that if anything could undermine Dolores Umbridge's influence it would be this.

When James returned to his floor it was substantially emptier, his colleagues must have gone out on active duty. James could immediately tell that Sirius's bright-haired cousin had gone because the office was almost silent, normally her voice carried all around the room, (causing Scrimgeour to stand over her, demanding that she shut up). James glanced around to see if Sirius was still there and was happy to find him sat at his cubicle.

James glanced over his shoulder and saw that Sirius was not working on anything to do with Peter; he was reading wizarding genealogies of the twentieth century.

"What on earth are you doing?" James pulled up a chair from the empty cubicle next to Sirius and sat down.

"Searching for clues about Emilia," Sirius's tone was mildly apologetic. He knew that he should be fruitlessly pouring over Peter along with everyone else.

"Any luck?" James asked. It was a relief to talk about something other than the little rat.

"Nothing, and I mean there's actually nothing. I can't find a trace of her in here."

"What?" James said in surprise. "She wasn't muggle born, was she?"

"No." Sirius shook his head. "I'd say it was a printing error but what are the chances of that? I'm going to try the record office next."

"Have you tried going to her Mum's house?"

"Yes, and it was empty. Turns out the person that lived there wasn't called Maria Greenleaf, but the neighbour wouldn't tell me what her actual name was." Sirius was bewildered. "Prongs, I'm beginning to think that it was all an alias. According to all my information so far she doesn't exist."

"Merlin's beard." James whistled. "But why?"

Sirius leaned back on his chair and rubbed his eyes. "I really don't know." With a sigh he slammed the book shut and with a wave of his wand banished it to the department he stole it from. "What did Fudge want?

"To say that Dementors are going to guard Hogwarts next year."

"WHAT?" Sirius's voice carried around the quiet office so that a few heads popped up in curiosity. "Dementors?" He whispered. "Surely Dumbledore won't-"

"He said yes." James muttered. "And the more I think about it, I understand. What else can they do?"

Sirius shrugged. "I suppose. They didn't seem to stop him escaping though."

James leant in and spoke so quietly that his voice was barely audible. "Do you think we should put it out there that he's an animagus?"

Sirius sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "It's not a secret anymore is it? We had to tell the ministry when he was being prosecuted." Sirius looked at him. "You remember how close they came to arresting us for it? Thankfully your son saved the wizarding world and they thought it would be bad press to arrest us. Not even Barty Crouch could push it through, and he really tried."

"It was never really about Voldemort, Harry just did it all to save us from Azkaban." James said dryly. "The administration has changed so much since then, do you reckon that Fudge even knows he's a rat?"

"What good could it do to know? It'd just make everyone panic that every rat they saw was a death eater. There's nothing to distinguish him from any other rodent unless you've seen him."

"I suppose." James nodded. "But I haven't told Harry either."

"I think that's for the best. Remus is there to keep an eye on him and you know that he and Dumbledore will have their eyes peeled for vermin. No point in worrying Harry more."

"Well that's another thing, Harry doesn't seem that worried." James said fairly.

Harry was lying on the sofa at home with a book spread out on his chest. He was so bored that he'd resorted to homework just for something to do, not that it was going that successfully.

The sun was blazing outside and Harry wanted to go out and enjoy it, go flying on his broom or gnome chasing in the meadows, he just wanted to do something. (Something that didn't involve picking herbs with his mother, or visiting their elderly neighbour who smelled of cabbage.) To make things worse, none of his friends were around to visit. The Weasley's had won a fortune and had gone on holiday to Egypt to visit their oldest son, Hermione's family had gone away to France and even Neville had gone away to Norfolk with his Grandmother and Great Uncle. Due to their absence, Harry had had the quietest birthday of his life. He had still been sent presents, the weirdest of which had been a book from Hagrid that attempted to bite his hand off when he opened it, it was now belted and already in his trunk for school. He was so looking forward to being back at Hogwarts, he had never had a more boring or uneventful summer, despite everything.

After the camping trip with his father and Sirius, which had been very fun, Harry's life had changed. When he woke up one morning, he noticed how quiet both of his parents were, he asked them if something was wrong and they shook their heads. Harry assumed that they'd fallen out so he didn't push it. When he entered the living room that evening he found them sat on the sofa, wearing expressions that Harry associated with bad news. He sat on the armchair opposite them and waited for whatever it was.

"Ok mate," James began. "There's something we need to tell you." Harry didn't reply, he just waited, silently begging James just to come out with it. "One of Voldemort's supporters has escaped from Azkaban."

Harry was very surprised. "I didn't think that was possible."

"No one did." Lily agreed.

"So if he's a supporter of Voldemort, are you saying that he'll come after me?" Harry deduced this from their stricken expressions. It didn't shock or terrify him, if anything it just made him weary, every year there seemed to be something new to fight.

"There's a bit more to the story." Lily said gently and looked at James.

James took off his glasses and wiped them on his robes. "It's a bit of a long story, you should get comfortable." James reached for one of the photo albums on the coffee table and flicked to the relevant page. "In our year at Hogwarts there were five Gryffindor boys, like your year," James showed Harry a photo of a messy dorm room that could well have been his own, housed with five boys. There was his father, Sirius and Remus, another boy who for some reason looked familiar but Harry couldn't immediately realise why, and a small boy on the end who he had never seen before. "It was me, Sirius, Remus, Frank and Peter." James pointed to the relevant people. "Frank is Neville's dad and Peter is the man who has just escaped from Azkaban." Harry looked at that small and rather pathetic looking boy; he couldn't imagine him as a dark wizard.

James flicked over the page and this time four boys, who looked a few years older than the previous photo, stood in front of the Whomping Willow waving at the camera. "Frank was our friend, but Sirius, Remus, Peter and I were best friends, a group, like you, Ron and Hermione."

"Except they were a lot more trouble than you three, not that that's something to aspire to." Lily smiled despite herself.

"We were a tight-knit group all the way through school, Sirius and I were sort of the ringleaders, Remus was always a bit more sensible, and Peter followed us." James explained. "He wasn't as gifted as us, magically. We were always helping him."

Harry started looking through the album of his own accord; he had never seen it before. "Mum you're not in here." He was about three quarters of the way through.

"I'll be in nearer the end. I told you, we weren't friendly until our seventh year."

Harry carried on turning until at last he found a photo of nine people in the familiar Gryffindor Common room. There were the five boys that had appeared throughout, except now they looked much older and more adult, along with four girls. This must have been their seventh year. Harry could see his seventeen-year-old mother and father in the middle, two other women he did not recognise and a woman whose face he instantly knew. "Is that Neville's mum?"

He passed the album to Lily who smiled sadly. "Yes that's Alice. They look very alike don't they?"

"Yeah, they have the same shaped face." Harry looked up at his parents. "What happened to Neville's parents? I know you said they were ill but even Neville never talks about it."

James and Lily looked at each other sadly. "We'll get to that." James said in a defeated voice. "So," he continued as though Harry had never side-tracked them. "The four of us remained close all the way through school, you know that Voldemort was in the height of his power then. Gryffindor as a whole was resolute in fighting him afterwards, unfortunately lots of them had family members who he had killed, it was a very unstable and unpleasant time. Of course I'm generalising that every Gryffindor was determined to fight, it was just the general consensus of our house. The other houses had their own opinions too. The Ravenclaws were probably anti-Voldemort, most were never outspoken about them and a few calculated that their survival had better odds within the dark movement. The Hufflepuffs were probably the only house as resolute as the Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, for all the jibes they get, tend to be the most honourable people, they have good hearts. The trouble is, they're not as magically skilled as the other houses, but again I'm generalising. The Slytherins were the only house who outright supported Voldemort, not every Slytherin has turned out to be a dark wizard, and there were members of the house that were vital in bringing him down. But, as a whole, they're a nasty lot. The sorting is far from perfect you see, it's not a perfect or absolute character assessment, for the most part it works but there are exceptions to every house."

Harry wondered why James was lecturing him about the sorting process; he knew all of this from his own sorting. Although he had friends in Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, he had not yet met an amiable Slytherin.

"It's important that you understand this," James explained. "It was a lesson that we didn't learn until later." Harry looked at them more curiously and James continued his story. "After school had finished, the majority of our year group, with the exception of the Slytherins, joined the anti-Voldemort movement. Because the times were so dangerous, life sped up. People married and had kids younger, you qualified for vital jobs quicker, you get the picture, there was a sense of urgency everywhere. Not long after you were born, Dumbledore told us that Voldemort was looking for us and looking to kill us, so we went into hiding. We were contained in this house by the use of the Fidelius Charm, it confines the location of a house inside a living person, known as the secret keeper, and the house can only be found should the secret keeper disclose the location to you. Sirius was our secret keeper, and in order to keep the secret he maintained a low profile, he hid out here with us most of the time. One night, you were about a year old, Dumbledore gathered us and Sirius and Remus to tell us that there was a traitor, and it was our friend Peter. We didn't believe him at first but Dumbledore was right." James took a breath, remembering was more painful than he had anticipated; he looked to Lily who picked up the story.

"Dumbledore told us that he had a plan, but that it carried substantial risk. Voldemort was determined to kill us, and with Peter working for him it was all only a matter of time before he did it. So Dumbledore suggested that we let him try on our terms."

"You let him try to kill us?" Harry is in disbelief. "Why on earth did you do that? You couldn't have known that he wouldn't have been able to kill me!"

James and Lily looked at each other grimly. "Actually, we did."

"Sorry?"

"We knew that he wouldn't be able to kill you from the same source that told us he was targeting you. There was a prophecy made to Dumbledore that Voldemort overheard, or rather one of his supporters overheard, but he didn't get the whole story."

James took over. "You see, the prophecy spoke of a child, you, that was marked out as an enemy to Voldemort, but the spy was found before the rest of the prophecy was made. The rest of the prophecy said that he would mark you as his equal." Harry touched his scar and James nodded. "So Dumbledore deduced that this meant that he wouldn't be able to kill you."

"We had very few options, Harry, certain death was all around us and Dumbledore said that this was your best chance of survival." Lily was pleading.

Harry looked at them dumbstruck. "So what happened?"

"We swapped secret keepers, Peter took Sirius's place because we knew he'd tell Voldemort." James said.

"We knew when he was coming, so dad and I took a potion that gave us the appearance of being dead, as we'd hoped he thought we'd committed suicide and just stepped over us to get to you. When we woke up, the room had been blown apart, and you had a scar on your forehead, but he was gone."

"Dumbledore told us that he had been dangerously wounded, in attempting to kill you he had torn himself apart and fled. In the immediate future we were safe."

"Sirius cornered Peter, who tried to squirrel his way out of it, Peter killed thirteen people in the struggle, but eventually Sirius captured him, and he was carted off to Azkaban, where he's been ever since."

"Until now." Harry said slowly, and they nodded sadly. "So you think he'll come after me?"

Lily and James shared a meaningful exchange. "Dumbledore thinks he might, so he could prove that he didn't betray Voldemort." James watched Harry's expression; all he could detect was surprise.

"Try not to worry too much," Lily said earnestly. "We're going to tighten security, and once you're at Hogwarts you'll be with Dumbledore and Remus and you'll be just as safe with them. If not more."

"Remus?" Harry asked in surprise. "Remus will be at Hogwarts?"

"He's your new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher." Lily explained.

Harry smiled. "Well it's about time we got a decent teacher. We might actually learn something this year."

Lily and James watched Harry pick up more albums and flick through their school days.

"Harry, are you alright?" James asked.

"I'm ok," he said. "I didn't realise that you had so many photographs."

"Do you have any questions or concerns?" Lily ventured.

"Not really." Harry replied and they looked shocked. "He can't be worse that Voldemort himself, can he? And you said he's not very good at magic, and like you said, I'll be safe with Dumbledore."

"Right." James said. "But you know this means you will have to behave yourself, not go out at night after curfew and not to go on your own adventures."

"You say this every year."

"Harry," said Lily sharply, "this isn't a joke. He's dangerous and you need to be on your guard." Harry nodded but didn't look up from the albums. "You wanted to know what happened to Neville's parents?"

Harry looked up this time to watch Lily. She had a hard expression on her face that Harry had never seen before.

"Frank and Alice were tortured for information after Voldemort had fled. His supporters tortured them into insanity. Don't think for a moment that his supporters aren't dangerous."

This disturbed Harry more than anything else he had heard that evening. No wonder that Neville had never told him what had happened.

"What happened to them?" Harry's voice was an octave above his regular voice.

"They live on a ward at St. Mungo's Hospital, Neville and his Grandmother visit them and they don't know who he is." James said quietly.

"That's horrible."

"A fate worse than death." Lily said bitterly. "Some of his supporters are weak and just didn't want to stand against him, but others are pure evil and dangerously skilled."

"Which is Peter?" asked Harry.

James sighed. "We don't know. Which is why you need to be on your guard, Harry this really isn't a joke."

"I don't think it's a joke," he said quickly, he looked earnestly at both of his parents. "I really don't, it's just that it doesn't really change that much, does it?" James and Lily looked surprised so Harry added, "except that I have to be a bit more careful."

"That's right." Lily nodded. "Harry, the public know that Peter has escaped and the world is on watch. What they don't know is what happened in this house, they just know about those thirteen people."

"That's good." Harry nodded. "I wouldn't like people to know that."

"Harry," James added. "It's also not widely known about Neville's parents, so keep that to yourself."

"Of course." They had not needed to ask Harry that, he would never have told a living soul. He felt more sorry for Neville than anyone else in the world.

Since that conversation, Harry's boredom had begun and there was no sign of Peter Pettigrew, so his house arrest was not likely to end too soon.

Harry jumped up from the sofa when he saw a small shape flying towards the window. "Excellent." Harry said aloud, hoping the post the owl brought was for him. He was delighted to find the familiar Hogwarts seal.

"Mum," he wandered to the garden, "booklists are here." Harry read the list to find what he'd need. "That biting book Hagrid bought me is on here," he told her. There was another piece of parchment in the letter. He had forgotten that third years were allowed to visit the village of Hogsmeade.

"Why don't we go down to London the day before and stay overnight? That way we're nearer to the station, you won't need your things before then, will you?"

Harry wasn't listening, he was reading the permission slip. "Mum, you need to sign this."

Lily glanced over it and sighed. He wasn't going to like this. "No."

"What?" Harry thought he had misheard her.

"Dad and I have discussed it and we think it's best if you don't visit the village this year." Harry looked thunderstruck. "If Pettigrew is caught, we'll revisit the idea."

"But-"

"No, Harry." Lily insisted. "The answer is no. I'm sorry."

Harry stormed back into the house in a temper, just when he thought his life couldn't get anymore annoying.

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