An Alternate Chain of Events

Chapter 4 - The Return of the Rat

Chapter Four – The Return of the Rat

When James got home from work late one night in October, he flopped on the couch, feeling the weight of defeat and exhaustion.

"You're back," Lily said happily, she was already in her pyjamas, it was very late. She crawled onto the couch next to James and snuggled into him. "How was your day?"

James grunted in response.

"That good?" She rested her head on his shoulder.

"I feel so useless. We're getting nowhere with any of it. It's like he escaped and dissolved into the wind." James sighed. "We've checked everywhere he used to go, not that I expected him to be there, his mother is dead, the only family he has left are a few cousins, who we can't track down, but I don't think he'd be stupid enough to go to family. The only options we keep running to are Hogwarts or Albania, where Voldemort was last said to be."

"I see," Lily said softly. They sat in silence, the only sound was the wailing wind outside and the crackling fire warming the room. "He's in my dreams nearly every night, I see him plotting with Voldemort, and creeping around your dorm room at night except it's not you and Sirius, it's Harry and his friends sleeping in there."

"I know," James muttered. "I'm having similar dreams, except he's not plotting in mine, he's being threatened and tortured. It's the only thing that makes sense, I have to trust that he wasn't evil, just weak."

"Does that make it better?"

"No, it just makes it easier for me to understand."

In her imagination, Lily watched the Peter she knew in their school days, he was laughing with James. In the last picture she had seen of him he had been barely recognisable, she tried to dissociate the schoolboy from the ravaged man, this was the only way it could make sense for her.

"I think if he were to go to Hogwarts, he'd hide in the Shrieking Shack." James was talking out loud, airing his thoughts.

"Remus would check there, and so could Dumbledore."

"Not every day though, he could be there at any moment Lil." This was the thought that plagued James in the hours when he couldn't sleep, before drifting into dreams about Peter. "It would be so much easier if Remus had the map."

"What map?" Lily yawned.

"The map we made in our fourth year. Our map of Hogwarts."

"I still don't know what you're talking about."

"You must do." James insisted, "the Marauder's Map."

"Are you being this infuriating on purpose?"

James laughed. "I can't believe I never told you, we made a map of Hogwarts in our fourth year, it showed the entire castle and grounds, including all the secret passages out of the castle. And the best part of it all, it showed every person in the castle."

Lily looked up at him in amazement. "That's incredible."

"Are you actually impressed with me?"

"Don't let it go to your head. What happened to the map?"

"Filch confiscated it, of course." James sighed. "I don't think he ever found out what it did, mind."

"Remus is a teacher now, I bet he could get it back." Lily suggested.

"He wouldn't be able to ask for it, Filch has a long memory." James mused. "He could always sneak in, we used to do it all the time, it wouldn't be difficult."

"There you go then." Lily said sleepily. "Now, can we go to bed? I'm knackered and I swiped the potion for a dreamless sleep from work."

"Of course." James agreed and they stood up. "Why didn't you just go to bed earlier?"

Lily felt embarrassed, she wasn't a timid person by nature. "I don't like sleeping on my own in the house at the moment."

James didn't tease her. He completely understood.

"James?"

"Yeah?"

"Is the map how you always used to find me when I was trying to avoid you?"

"At first," James admitted. "But after a while your hiding places just got predictable."

"If we hadn't ended up married I think I might have had to take legal action."

James chuckled, even though Lily wasn't entirely joking. For the first time that week they went to bed in good spirits.

"Oh Harry, cheer up." Remus sighed. It was the day of Halloween and all the students in third year and above had gone to Hogsmeade, all the students except Harry. Harry was having a cup of tea with Remus in his office. It was better than hiding in his dormitory from the annoying second years that wanted him to sit with them.

"Sorry." Harry said, he knew he was being a misery, but he really wanted to go to Hogsmeade, he couldn't help feeling sorry for himself. "How's your first term going?"

Remus smiled wryly. "Why don't you tell me?"

"I'm really enjoying your lessons," Harry enthused. "Apart from the fact you didn't think I was capable of handling the Boggart."

"Why on earth do you think that?"

"You stepped in before I could have a go with it," Harry was rather sensitive about the matter; it had been bothering him for weeks.

Remus looked upon him in surprise. "That's not why I stopped you. Harry, I'm so sorry, I thought you understood. I stepped in because I didn't want the Boggart to turn into Voldemort and terrify everyone." Harry's surprised mouth formed a comical o. "Come on Harry, I've known you since you were born, I know that you're more than capable of fighting a Boggart."

"I thought after the incident with the Dementors . . ." Harry trailed off, it was still too embarrassing.

"Oh don't be silly." Remus smiled. "Dementors affect everyone, you've had a particularly traumatic event in your past which is why they effect you so much worse. It's really nothing to be ashamed of."

Harry felt like a weight had been lifted. He relaxed and began speaking to Remus normally again. "So, has Snape tried to poison your potion yet?"

Right on cue, Snape entered Remus's office with the steaming Wolfsbane potion. Remus watched Harry with a look reminiscent of Lily, it was plainly a warning to behave. When Snape had closed the door again Harry grinned.

"Oh come on, you can't say that you like him." Harry insisted while Remus grimaced at the potion.

"I'm neutral towards him, Harry." Remus insisted. "You should be too, we're all on the same side."

"Dad and Sirius-" Harry began but Remus cut him off.

"Silly old school grudges. And trust me, their actions towards Snape haven't been their finest either." Remus looked at Harry seriously. Harry shrugged and wandered round the office, observing the Grindylow in the tank.

"Has Sirius found out what happened to his girlfriend yet?"

"I don't think so." Remus answered. "You don't miss anything, do you?"

"If you don't want me to know things, you shouldn't talk about them while I'm in the house." Harry pointed out. "I better go Remus, I've got a stack of homework to get through and Ron and Hermione will be back soon."

"Alright Harry," Remus patted him on the shoulder. "It was nice to see you, pop by whenever except-"

"- at the full moon, I know, don't worry." Harry smiled. "And you can report back to mum and dad that I'm being perfectly well behaved." Harry waved and set off towards Gryffindor tower, Remus watched until he was out of sight before going back to his office. To his enormous surprise, James's head was floating in his fire.

"Blimey Prongs, you nearly gave me a heart attack." Remus knelt down so that he was eye level with James. "What's up?"

"Lily's had a brilliant idea." James's eyes were lit up. "We were sat up worrying about Peter when I remembered the map."

"Filch took the map just before we left school." Remus reminded him.

"This is where Lily's brilliant idea comes in, Remus you're a teacher now, you can get it back."

"No I can't!" Remus objected. "I might be his equal now but Filch still hates me, he wouldn't let me take something from his office."

"I know that," James replied, Remus was being remarkably slow on the uptake. "Which is why you have to wait for a diversion and nick it."

"Are you mad?" Remus exclaimed. "If he found me I'd lose my job!"

James looked at him in surprise. "Remus come on, breaking into Filch's office is easier than getting into the kitchens. One disillusionment charm and you're home free."

Remus shook his head in disbelief. "Do you realise what you're asking me to do? It's unethical."

"But think about it," James insisted. "I would be so easy to search for Peter with the map, it'd show where he was."

Remus couldn't deny this. "I'll consider it," he said finally.

"Thanks Moony, you gem." James smiled as though he'd already won. "How's it going?"

"Well, thank you." Remus replied. "How is everything your end?"

James shrugged. "As well as can be expected, work is bloody depressing though, I feel like Peter's haunting me."

"I have a bit of that here," Remus agreed. "All my memories are flooding back and there he is, in every one. But, on the upside, there's no sign of him in the flesh." James nodded in appreciation. "How's Sirius getting on?"

"Nothing there either, it's all very strange." James's mind was far too concerned with Harry's safety to spare too much thought for Emilia, he was just thankful that she was gone. "How's Harry?"

"Alright, he's just been here actually." Remus smiled. "He's not thrilled about the Hogsmeade situation."

James frowned. "I know, but what can we do? He'd just be so much more exposed there."

"I understand James." Remus nodded. "I just never thought I'd see the day you'd be so sensible."

"I know," James agreed in disgust. "Lily's been a terrible influence on me."

Over the next few days Remus debated what to do about the map. He'd foolishly hoped that Peter might have been caught but the papers were empty as ever and the Dementors were still guarding the school. Unfortunately, James was right, the map was their best solution. Remus pondered for days about the safest way to go about it. He'd always been uncomfortable pulling these stunts as a student, so doing it as a teacher made him feel sick. One evening he decided he just needed to act, he cast the perfect disillusionment charm and snuck down to the dungeons. The corridors were no longer big and bright, but dark and with the unmistakable smell of damp. Remus didn't understand how Filch, Snape or the Slytherins managed down there.

Remus walked slowly, careful that his tread didn't echo. It was past the student's curfew so the corridors were empty. Just as Remus touched Filch's door handle the door flew open, Remus quickly flattened himself on the wall opposite the door and held his breath. Filch stormed out of the office with his awful cat creeping behind him.

"Come on, my sweet. We've got Peeves this time, disturbing the towers. Oooh we'll get him kicked out this time for sure."

Remus didn't exhale in relief until Filch was out of sight. Surely he couldn't be that lucky? He decided now wasn't the time to question his fortune. Remus hurried into Filch's open office, "Accio map!" he whispered. Nothing. Remus couldn't remember whether they'd charmed it so that it wouldn't respond to a summoning charm and thought it best to search manually. He found boxes of old toys that Filch had confiscated from years of previous enemies (or students), files on what Filch deemed particularly threatening trouble makers, Fred and George Weasley's file was open on his desk along with another, rather larger one, saying Peeves. Remus was sure if he continued his search he'd find a sizable folder on James and Sirius, but he didn't want to push his luck. He quietly closed the oak cabinet. The map wasn't there.

As he walked back up to his office he mused about where the map could possibly have gone. Had a student taken it? Would they know how to work it? Remus was so lost in his own thoughts that he didn't notice all the portraits on the walls seemed to be empty until he was nearly at his office. Remus realised that in all his years at Hogwarts he had never seen this happen, something was wrong. He followed the portraits on a whim, realising that they must all be travelling up somewhere. He was nearly on the seventh floor when he heard the screaming and broke out into a run.

The Gryffindor common room was full. A few students had retired to bed early but since it was only evening, the majority remained closeted in the cosy room, fighting to get closest to the fire.

Harry, Ron and Hermione were sat in the corner wondering how long it would be until Percy stormed down from his dorm (probably wearing his Head Boy badge stuck to his pyjamas) to tell Fred and George off for being too loud.

"Ahh can anyone do McGonagall's latest essay?" Seamus asked the third years at large from his table. They all unconsciously looked to Hermione, who to her credit blushed.

"Forget McGonagall, can anyone do Snape's work?" Neville moaned. "I think he might murder me if I get less than a five again."

"I'll explain it Neville, it's really not complicated once you understand the theory." Hermione said moving over to where he was sat.

"Or if it still is really complicated and you still don't understand it, at least Snape won't murder you." Ron said over Hermione's head. Hermione gave him a withering look as she went to sit with Neville.

"FRED!" Percy suddenly roared, drawing everyone's attention to him. "If you set off those fireworks indoors I'm going straight to McGonagall!"

"Calm down, Perce." Fred rolled his eyes at George.

"We didn't say we were going to set them off," George assured him.

"We were just musing about what would happen if we-"

But the rest of Fred's sentence was drowned out by a terrible scream coming from outside the Gryffindor common room. The closed portrait hole was violently rattling. The Gryffindor's looked at each other in surprise.

"I think someone's trying to get in!" Hermione exclaimed and a few first years scampered to their dormitories.

"It's Peter Pettigrew!" Lavender exclaimed shrilly, looking at Harry as she said it. Harry couldn't contradict her, whoever was forcing their door didn't seem like someone they would willingly invite in.

"Perce?" Ron's voice was unsteady. "What do we do?"

For once Percy was speechless, everyone was looking at him to take action and he froze.

"Well whatever we do, we don't open the door." Harry said decisively. All the eyes in the room shifted to him.

"We should send a message to McGonagall, or Dumbledore." Dean suggested.

The screaming had gone but the banging remained.

"Has anyone got an owl?" said Neville.

"That would take too long," Parvati dismissed the idea.

"Can anyone send a message magically?" Hermione asked, directing her comment towards the sixth and seventh years.

"Percy! Do you have a wand?" Fred practically shook the frozen Percy who seemed to come to his senses.

"Right, yes, er I-" but before he could do anything but bluster the banging stopped and muffled voices were on the other side. There was a loud bang and then no more noise.

The Gryffindors stood stock still, listening. Neville was the first to break the spell. He turned to Harry and said in a small voice. "Should we check outside now?"

When Remus arrived on the corridor that lead to Gryffindor tower he saw all the paintings crammed into only a few frames. "What's going on?" He asked Armando Dippet.

"There's someone with the Fat Lady that shouldn't be here." He replied, pushing the headmaster in front of him so he could get a frame nearer.

Remus's stomach dropped. "Have any of you told Dumbledore?"

"He wasn't in his office." Dippet said.

"Don't you think you should find him?" Remus was impatient, and then the Fat Lady's scream was unmistakable, she flew through the portraits as fast as her stumpy legs could carry her. Remus sent silvery messages to McGonagall and Dumbledore and ran until he caught side of the empty portrait guarding Gryffindor tower, and the small man attacking it with a knife.

"Peter!" Remus exclaimed and reached for his wand.

The small man glanced at Remus in surprise and began to shrink.

Remus had already hesitated too long, he attempted to force Peter back but his target was shrinking in size and he missed, he merely managed to blow a hole in the stone floor. The little rat scampered along the corridor, the knife landed where he had been with a clattering thud. Remus chased after the rat, shooting spell after spell but Peter was too fast and Remus kept missing. "ACCIO!" Remus shouted in sudden inspiration and the rat began to shoot towards him, squeaking wildly in protest but before Remus could clasp it, Filch's cat bounded out of nowhere clamping it between her teeth. The rat squealed. Remus grabbed the cat and began yanking the rat away from her, but at the moment he had freed Peter from her teeth Remus was launched sideways against a wall, hitting his head and dropping his quarry.

Stars popped into view in front of his eyes. He groped around on the floor unseeing, and it appeared Peter had gone.

"You fool! Why on earth did you do that? He's escaped!" Remus shouted at Filch who was stroking his cat and holding her close.

"NEVER ATTACK MY CAT!" He roared. Remus jogged to the end of the corridor and looked both left and right, there was no sign of Peter. Remus's beating heart subsided in disappointment. He had held Peter in his hand and he had escaped.

"I wasn't attacking your cat you moron, your cat had Peter Pettigrew clamped in its jaws and now he's gone!" Remus's voice rose in pitch.

"Remus what is this?" Dumbledore stood at the end of the corridor watching the scene.

"Pettigrew was trying to get into Gryffindor tower, I cornered him and I nearly had him until I was knocked into a wall by Mr Filch." Remus explained. He could feel a wet patch on his head and he dimly wondered if he was bleeding.

"Where is Pettigrew now?" Dumbledore said urgently.

"I don't know Headmaster." Remus apologised. "I nearly had him," he repeated. Now that the adrenaline was subsiding Remus could feel his head throb, he leant on the wall so as not to lose his balance.

Dumbledore nodded gravely. "Remus, go to the hospital wing."

Realising that he was dismissed and feeling the weight of his shame, Remus left.

Dumbledore turned to Mr Filch who immediately began rambling about his cat. "Argus, this is not the time. Go and search the dungeons and alert Professor Snape." Filch too wandered off.

Dumbledore sent messages to the rest of the teachers to join the search, but he did not believe that it would be fruitful. It was not Remus's fault that Pettigrew had escaped. Dumbledore was much more concerned about how he had gotten into the castle so easily. With a heavy heart he went to search the secret passages that he knew.

"Are you all alright?" McGonagall asked her house, who were all still standing dumbstruck in their common room. "Percy what happened?"

Percy's cheeks flushed with the shame of his actions, or more precisely, his lack of them. "Well professor-" he began, it was most unusual to hear Percy mumble.

"Professor," Harry said and McGonagall turned to address him. "We heard a scream and then a lot of banging, we were just going to send a message to you when the banging stopped. We didn't think it was safe to go outside yet, and we were debating what to do when you arrived."

McGonagall nodded in relief. She cared very much for every member of her house and was happy they were all safe.

"Who was it professor?" asked Lee Jordan.

"Tell Lavender that it wasn't Pettigrew, miss," Seamus called. Seamus was convinced it was an aggressive Slytherin and that everyone had overreacted. He himself had barely jumped.

When McGonagall didn't answer everyone knew his or her fear was confirmed. Harry felt a swooping sensation in his stomach.

"What happened?" George asked.

"Where is he now?" added Oliver Wood.

"Professor, did anyone catch him?" Angelina called.

"Who caught him outside the portrait hole?" asked Dean.

"What happened to the Fat Lady?" Little Colin Creevey wondered.

"Please, Miss, what did he want?" Parvati insisted.

Harry, Ron and Hermione stayed silent. Harry had told Ron and Hermione everything and they looked at him in horror, knowing exactly why he had come.

Minerva McGonagall felt overwhelmed, she didn't know what to say for the best. "Calm down everyone." The whole house fell to attention watching her. "The castle is being searched as we speak, you are all safe. We will find a replacement portrait for you in the morning, now please go to bed."

There were moans echoing around the room that she hadn't told them anything. "Mr Weasley!" She shot at Fred. "I do not have to answer to you. Now go to bed, all of you." She turned to Percy. "Make sure that they retire for the evening and alert me if anyone should not comply." Although her tone was strict, and she knew they would resent her for it, she was convinced it was for their own good to know no more tonight. Before they began the slow tread upstairs McGonagall said one more thing. "I am very proud of you all for the way you have acted tonight." And before anyone could really register her praise McGonagall had gone.

"You heard her!" Percy had regained his voice. "Off to bed, all of you! Prefects are to remain here to patrol."

Hermione knew they would not be able to talk when she was in her own dorm.

"Harry are you-"

"Fine, Hermione. Really." He looked at her earnestly. "Go to bed, we'll talk in the morning."

She nodded, Harry registered how shaken she looked as she walked towards the girls' rooms. Ron and Harry trudged up their own stairs, Dean, Seamus and Neville were all already there and debating what had happened.

"Told you it was him," Dean said pointedly to Seamus. "Why would a Slytherin want to come into our common room anyway? They'd be annihilated."

"What were the chances of it being Pettigrew though?" Seamus insisted. "Like a million to one."

"You should never underestimate death eaters," Neville said it so quietly that Harry wasn't sure that anyone but himself had heard.

"Well, he didn't get in, did he?" Ron said, flopping on to his own four-poster while Harry went to his bed.

"How did he get into the castle?" Harry asked. "The place is crawling with Dementors."

The other four boys looked blankly back at him.

"Maybe he could fly in?" Dean suggested.

"Or apparate?" Seamus put in.

"You can't do that inside Hogwarts," Neville replied. "Hermione was saying it downstairs," he mumbled when everyone looked at him in surprise.

"I can't believe that he escaped." Ron sighed. "Someone saw him and everything, how did he get away?"

Their dormitory door burst open, making all five of them jump. It was Percy Weasley telling them off for talking. Harry was amused to see that he had indeed pinned his badge to his pyjamas.

"Worse than my mother." Ron muttered as he extinguished the light.

"Harry," Neville whispered.

"Yeah?"

"Is he really after you?"

The whole dormitory was silent, listening for a response.

"I think so." Harry said finally. For an instant he worried that the boys wouldn't want to share a room with him, knowing that he was such a dangerous target.

"Then it's good you told us not to open the door," Neville said promptly.

"Good to know that our door holds." Seamus agreed.

"Here, here." added Dean.

Harry felt overwhelmingly relieved by their kindness and had never been so happy to be a Gryffindor.

Agitated and muttering to himself Peter walked into the quiet, moulding living room of their dilapidated accommodation.

"So nearly had it … so close … too protected …what to try next…"

"Peter, is that you?" Emilia emerged from the darkness holding her wand high. He didn't answer her but continued to mutter mutinously, a side effect from Azkaban. He reminded her of the Black's house elf. "Where did you go?"

He continued to mutter madly, Emilia hugged herself uncomfortably wishing that she had never found him and that she had never helped him. She couldn't pick up a coherent thread of meaning in anything he was saying. The lank mousy greying hair he sported, that had matted at the ends, flounced ridiculously as he paced. She did not dare move from the corner of the room for fear of him attacking her. He was currently wandless but that didn't make him any safer, just more desperate and frightening.

"Must get it … must, I must… Dark Lord … angry … Harry Potter."

Emilia's head shot up and her stomach lurched uncomfortably. She thought of Sirius. What had she done?

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