Chapter 7 - Confronting the Problem
Chapter Seven – Confronting the Problem
The New Year at Hogwarts brought harsh and unpleasant weather. Students were relieved when the day in their draughty classrooms was over and they could return to the warmth of their common room.
"You'd think they could light the fires a bit higher," Ron grumbled as he warmed his hands. "Too bad they won't let you carry those blue flames you make, Hermione."
Hermione wasn't listening, she was already starting on her enormous pile of homework.
"It's just started to rain," Neville noted, looking out of the window. "I wouldn't want to be on the Quidditch team right now."
Ron chuckled. "Wood's a madman, he won't let them come in for ages, they're all going to be so miserable." Neville agreed and joined Ron by the fire. The common room was surprisingly empty, with only years 1-4 filling it, the students in the higher years had already begun the work for their exams, well all except Fred and George.
"How were your holidays, Neville?" Asked Ron.
"Oh, alright." Neville shrugged. "Just the usual really. How about you?"
"Yeah, good thanks, not too eventful."
"Not too eventful?" Ginny cut in, scoffing. "Where you when the twins kept putting fireworks in Percy's bedroom?"
"Yeah, but that's nothing unusual is it?" Ron explained. "Nothing eventful out of the ordinary happened, did it?"
Ginny thought about this for a moment. "I suppose not." She shrugged.
"Even mum is ready for Percy's exams to be over," Ron told Neville. "He's even more uptight at home, if that's at all possible."
Percy had recently shouted at Neville for shutting his dormitory door too loudly, so he was more than able to believe he had been unpleasant over the holidays.
The portrait hole opened and the Gryffindor Quidditch team, drenched and unhappy padded in. All the Quidditch team came in, except Harry.
"Oi Fred." Ron called.
"I'm George." The figure that had one step on the boys stairs grumbled.
"George," Ron continued.
"Just kidding it is, Fred." He ambled over. "What do you want?'"
"Hospital Wing." Ron, Hermione and Neville looked up in surprise. "Don't panic." Fred said quickly. "Madam Pomfrey's just sorting him out, he'll be back in a minute."
"What happened?" Hermione asked, thinking of Dementors.
"We were on our way back into the castle, Wood admitted defeat and let us go in before we died of hypothermia-"
"Get to the point-" Ron cut in.
"And we bumped into Malfoy in the Entrance Hall, he held Harry back and the next thing we know Harry's covered in boils," Fred explained. "He didn't have his wand with him. But George, Angelina and I did, so they backed off before they could do anything worse."
Hermione looked appalled. "Why would he corner Harry?"
"Because he's an evil git," Ron replied.
Fred shrugged, "he's an unpleasant specimen, but Harry will be fine, ah-" the portrait opened. "There he is," Fred noted. "Now if you don't mind I'm off to regain the feeling in my extremities."
"Hey," Harry said slumping down and Hermione threw him her blanket so that he could warm up.
"Oh Harry," Hermione said. "Fred just told us what happened!"
"It was really weird," Harry started, "not that he attacked me, that isn't unusual, it's what he said."
"Was it more about the Dementors?" Neville asked.
"No," Harry shook his head. "It was about Sirius, you know, my Godfather." Neville, Ron and Hermione nodded. "He said that I'd better warn him to keep his nose out of Malfoy's family if he knows what's good for him." Ron, Hermione and Neville all looked as perplexed as Harry felt.
"What does Sirius have to do with the Malfoys?" Neville asked in confusion. Next to Harry, he knew Sirius the best.
"Well, he's Malfoy's mum's cousin." Harry replied. "That's the only thing I can think of, but my dad said that they haven't spoken in years."
Neville's face blanched slightly, Harry knew what he was thinking, Neville knew if Narcissa Malfoy was his cousin who his other cousin must be. Harry tried to keep his face impassive, so as not to make Neville uncomfortable.
"I can't imagine Sirius being intimidated by a Malfoy," Ron noted.
"Yes," Hermione agreed. "Why would Malfoy bother warning you?"
Harry shrugged helplessly. "I have no idea, I guess something must have happened."
"Are you going to tell Sirius?" Neville asked.
"No." Harry replied. "He's been acting really weird lately, he's obsessed by this woman he was seeing who left him and vanished. He's really serious at the moment and absolutely no fun, even dad agrees." Harry told them. "I think I'll ask Remus after Defence, maybe he can make sense of it."
Hermione nodded and started to return to her mound of notes. "Are you still having those other lessons with him?"
"That's the other thing I need to ask him."
"Harry you're being too hard on yourself," Remus insisted. "You're doing very well."
Harry didn't feel like he was making good enough progress at all. "The match is next week and I still can't do it properly."
"You achieved a lot in a short space of time, this is NEWT level magic."
Harry didn't argue and ate the chocolate Remus offered him. "Remus, did Peter Pettigrew have a nickname too?"
Remus's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"Well you're called Moony, dad is Prongs and Sirius is Padfoot, not that I understand their names, and dad said he was the fourth member of your group."
"Oh I see." Remus nodded. "Yes he did, we called him Wormtail."
Harry nodded, trying not to smile about his suspicions being correct. "Are they ever going to tell me why they're called that? And why doesn't mum have a nickname?"
Remus's mouth twitched. "If we'd tried to allocate your mum a nickname she would have hexed us, and I expect James will tell you about the nicknames one day."
"You're all so secretive sometimes." Harry rolled his eyes. "Isn't Wormtail appropriate? It really makes him sound like the rat he turned out to be."
Remus had special permission from Dumbledore to leave the castle the evening after the Ravenclaw/Gryffindor game. He tightened his cloak against the howling wind and once he was clear of the winged boar flanked gates, he apparated into the wild Yorkshire countryside, close to a single modest house. He waited three minutes before there was a loud crack and Lily and James appeared beside him.
"Ready?" Remus said grimly.
"Let's just get it over with." James replied. And three of them walked towards the house, Lily was the first to the door and knocked twice. Andromeda quickly ushered them into the sitting room, which was already full of people. There was Ted and Tonks, along with Mad-Eye Moody, Hagrid and Kingsley.
"You know he's going to go mad, don't you?" James told the room at large. "I give it ten minutes before he storms out."
"He's gonna stay and listen if he knows what's good for him," Moody growled.
"James, we all care about him and we're running out of options." Andromeda sighed. "He's become too obsessed."
"It's worth a try." Lily agreed, grasping James's hand.
"We're ambushing him," said James.
"He would never have agreed to come if he knew." Tonks shrugged. "He needs a shakeup, he's become so dull."
"Dora," Andromeda said reprovingly.
James chuckled despite himself. "She's got a point."
Everyone fell silent when there was a knock on the door. Andromeda brushed imaginary dust from her robes and went to answer it.
"Hey, Dromeda." Sirius's voice carried from the corridor into the sitting room.
"Hello, dear. Come in, it's freezing out there. Do you want a cup of tea?" Andromeda's hand was resting on the handle of the living room door.
"A cup of coffee would be brilliant thanks." Sirius replied. Andromeda nodded and opened the door letting him in before her. Sirius froze for a moment. "What are you all doing here?" He looked around the crowded room. "It's not my birthday."
"Sit down, Padfoot." Remus gestured to the wooden chair beside him.
"What's going on?" Sirius still hadn't moved.
"You heard Lupin, sit down Black." Moody barked.
Sirius moved to the chair, shooting James and Andromeda wary glances.
"Sirius we're here to talk to you about Emilia." James began. "You need to realise that she voluntarily left and there is nothing you can do about it."
Sirius began to protest but Remus spoke first. "We care about you and we're worried by how obsessed you've gotten by her disappearance. You need to let her go."
"I'm fine," Sirius protested.
"Son, when was the last time you looked in a mirror?" Ted put in. Sirius didn't reply immediately, almost unconsciously he touched his face, his cheekbones stuck out more than they had done months ago. "You look permanently knackered."
"Scrimgeour hasn't shouted at you in months, because you sit there quietly," James added. "You're just not acting like yourself."
"Sirius, we're not trying to tell you we know how you must be feeling, we just think you need some perspective." Lily said gently.
"We'd like the old you back," Andromeda said earnestly.
Sirius didn't speak. He looked at the concerned faces around the room. He had been so consumed in searching for Emilia that he had forgotten any other aspect of his life.
"Mate you haven't even tried it on with anyone else since she left," James reminded him. "You need help."
The corners of Sirius's mouth began to rise. The muscles burned with the effort, it felt like so long since he had smiled.
Once it became apparent that Sirius was not going to shout or storm out, the atmosphere inside the Tonks's cosy house lightened considerably.
"I'll take it under advisement." Sirius smiled wearily. "So how's teaching going?" Sirius asked Hagrid, who launched into the saga with the Hippogriff.
"Malfoy is such a despicable man," Andromeda shuddered, sharing a significant look with Sirius.
"You'll never guess what his son did today!" Remus suddenly remembered. "He tried to sabotage Harry in the Quidditch match by dressing as a Dementor."
"WHAT?" James, Lily and Sirius said in unison.
Remus chuckled. "Harry was brilliant, he shot a corporeal Patronus at them and caught the Snitch. I'd imagine that Gryffindor are still celebrating the win."
"That's my boy." Lily said approvingly, nudging James.
After everyone had left Andromeda's Sirius, James, Remus and Lily went back to Godric's Hollow and carried on laughing, they hadn't been together in a long time.
"Padfoot, Slughorn brought up the incident about the Shrinking Solution at his party."
Sirius gave his familiar barking laugh. "I'd forgotten about that." He wiped his eyes at the memory. "It wasn't as funny as when you charmed a bottle of shampoo to chase Snape around the Great Hall, Prongs."
"I knew that was you!" Lily said, fighting not to laugh.
James smiled. "Well I could hardly have admitted it at the time."
"And was it you lot that got into our dormitory and put sticking charms on all of our beds?"
Remus shook his head. "I had no part in that, it was just those two."
James and Sirius were rolling around laughing. "I'd forgotten that we did that!"
"How did you even get up there?" Lily asked incredulously.
"You can't know all our secrets, Lily." Sirius smiled, still hiccoughing with laughter.
"That wasn't remotely funny at the time," Lily laughed despite herself. "We couldn't move to get our wands, we couldn't even go to the loo until McGonagall appeared at lunchtime to see why we were all skiving." The boys all laughed harder, James had actually rolled on to the floor clutching his sides.
"Then Alice and Mary chased us round the common room threatening disembowelment." Sirius smiled merrily. "I don't know why they just assumed we did it."
"It was probably because when we were finally released you asked why we were so glued to our beds that we couldn't make it to class." Lily chuckled. "Ooh we could have killed you and we could never prove that you'd done it."
"I think we'd have been expelled if they could prove half the things we did," James tittered.
"Well I like to think we got you back for that one." Lily smiled smugly.
"And how's that?" Sirius asked.
"We charmed your pillows to bite you when you went to sleep."
"That was you?" Remus asked incredulously. "You got the wrong beds! They only attacked me and Peter!"
James and Sirius laughed harder whilst Lily muttered, "bloody Alice. We trusted her to know whose bed was whose."
They were all so absorbed with stories about their school days they could visualise their absent friends. "We haven't done great with numbers, have we?" James noted sadly.
It was true. Out of Lily's dormitory, only her and Mary had survived the war in any fit state, the boys had fared better, but their numbers were still reduced.
"I meant to tell you," Lily remembered. "Mary wrote to me, she's coming home from America."
"Excellent." Sirius grinned. "That's definitely cause for a celebration."
Peter crept into the castle. He had been trying for months and this was the first time he had successfully gotten past the Dementors since November. Fate was on his side tonight, he found a loose scrap of paper outside the common room with lots of odd words on it, he smiled like the Cheshire Cat, he knew exactly what this was.
Checking that the coast was clear Peter transformed from his rat into his human self. Peter vaguely remembered the picture of the Knight from his old school days, he used to be housed by Divination but now he appeared to have taken the place of the Fat Lady. He didn't bat an eyelid when Peter read out the week's passwords.
"I am most impressed, worthy traveller, do enter." The portrait swung forwards to reveal the thankfully empty common room, although it was covered with debris from a recent party. Peter shrunk back to a rat as he crossed the warm and familiar room, and hopped up the steps, he just needed to find the door that said third years, he would be in there. Peter transformed back into himself, and as stealthily as he could, opened the door; he was still wandless so he had brought a sharp, short knife. It would be all he needed. Peter moved soundlessly around the room, there were five beds, all their hangings were drawn and only the sound of snores filled the air. Peter glanced a pair of glasses on a bedside table between two of the beds, this was it, that must be James's son. He yanked the hangings on the left-side bed.
"Aarrgh!" A ginger haired boy screamed.
Peter registered that it was not Harry Potter, and then other noises started.
"Ron?""Did you scream?"
Peter heard movement from other beds and hangings were drawn back, he was gone in an instant shrinking back down and running back to where he had come from.
Ron was still pale as a ghost.
"Ron," Harry shook him, "Ron what was it?"
"Peter Pettigrew," he squeaked.
Harry didn't hesitate, he, Neville, Seamus and Dean rushed down to the common room. Ron trailed behind feeling punch-drunk.
"No one's here." Seamus noted, rubbing his eyes. "Are you sure you didn't dream it, Ron?"
"NO!" Ron shouted, "he was stood over my bed holding a knife!"
"A knife?" Dean asked in surprise. "Did he do anything to you?"
Harry was searching on the floor as if he would see him poking out from under a coffee table.
"Now really!" Percy announced loudly from the bottom of the boys stairs, and it had the opposite effect he intended. Slowly the rest of the house began creeping down, listening eagerly to Ron and Percy's argument.
"Children!" McGonagall shouted as she flung open the door. "This is ridiculous, I have already told you to go back to bed."
"Professor!" Ron rushed forward. "Peter Pettigrew was stood over my head holding a knife."
"Weasley, have you been drinking?"
"No professor it's true!"
McGonagall still looked sceptical, "well why don't we ask our guardian." Harry had never seen McGonagall look less composed than when Sir Cadogan admitted that he had in fact let a man in. And that he had a week's worth of passwords that Neville had left lying around.
James, Sirius and Remus appeared at the school, via floo, immediately. Dumbledore was waiting for Remus in his office, and was most surprised to see his guests.
"We thought we could help." James said.
"No one knew him better at school than the three of us." Sirius added.
"Quite right." Dumbledore nodded. "The children are perfectly safe in the tower. The portrait has been cautioned to admit no one but Hogwarts staff."
The men ran in different directions and searched each of their most used hideouts and passages and found nothing. They gathered at the Entrance Hall.
"There's only one more place," Sirius sighed and the two others followed him. Sirius transformed to touch the knot of the tree. When they had all crawled to the house nothing looked out of place. Remus confessed that he hadn't been spending his afflicted nights there but in his office under the Wolfsbane potion.
"There's definitely no one here." James shook his head.
"He must be getting in through Hogsmeade though." Sirius insisted.
"Do you think it could be through the witch?" Remus asked hurriedly.
"I thought that was guarded?" James said as they emerged back into the grounds of Hogwarts.
"It's guarded by Filch, James." Remus said significantly.
"But he'd need a wand to get in that way, Remus." Sirius pointed out. "And didn't McGonagall say he had a knife?"
Remus shrugged helplessly. He had no more suggestions.
It took Remus ten minutes to convince the portrait of Cadogan that he was a teacher and the two people with him were allowed to access the room.
"Stupid bloody portrait," Sirius muttered as they were finally let in.
The common room erupted in noise and questions.
"Professor, what's going on?"
"Did you catch him?"
"Was it really Pettigrew?"
"Professor," Sirius elbowed James and smiled.
Remus squinted as the dawn light hit his eyes. "I'm sorry everyone there's no sign of him. You should go to bed, there's no more to be done this morning."
Groaning, the students gradually dragged their legs up to their dormitories, only Hermione and the third year boys remained.
"Why are you two here?" Harry asked, he feared something awful had happened.
"We were all together when we got Dumbledore's message, we thought we could help." Sirius explained.
"Ron, would you mind telling us again what happened?" James asked kindly and listened intently to his story.
"I'm so sorry!" Wailed Neville. "It's all my fault, James."
"Don't worry Neville," Harry said for the tenth time. "Anyone could have made that mistake." Everyone nodded, even the adults.
"Are you alright, Ron?" Remus checked, and Ron nodded. In truth he had rather enjoyed the excitement, or at least he did once the actual danger was passed.
"Looks like there's nothing else we can do," Sirius yawned.
"You should all go back to bed," James said to the boys and Hermione. "Sirius is right, there's nothing to be done."
Only Harry loitered a further moment. James gave him a massive hug, he was so relieved that he was okay and that Pettigrew had picked the wrong bed.
"Dad, why did he hesitate? If he killed all those people, what's a few more?"
James thought for a moment. "I can only think that Ron confused him, and that without a wand he knew he wouldn't be able to get away once Ron had made noise."
"Harry, I don't think he's entirely sane." Sirius offered his explanation. "He can't think rationally and he was never a good thinker anyway."
"But," Remus cautioned. "This makes him more dangerous."
Harry nodded seriously, but his yawn gave him away. "Go to bed." James instructed and Harry didn't argue.
"How did you get away without mum?" Harry asked with one foot on the staircase.
James and Sirius smiled. "We left her asleep on the sofa."
Harry chuckled. "She's going to kill you."
"She'll be fine," James wasn't entirely sure this was accurate. "Congratulations on the match."
"Thank you," Harry replied. "Well, goodnight."
"Night." The three men replied.
When they arrived in Remus's office, where James and Sirius were departing from, Dumbledore surprised them.
"I just wanted a quick word before you left," Dumbledore began.
"What is it Professor?"
"Actually James, it's Sirius I would like to speak with."
The first thought that popped into Sirius's head was, it wasn't me, but he thankfully kept his thoughts to himself. "What is it?"
"I'm sorry to delve into your personal life, but I had wondered if you'd had any luck finding Miss Hinkerton?"
"Who?" Sirius, James and Remus said in unison.
Dumbledore looked at them all curiously. "Miss Emilia Hinkerton, the school mate of your brother's."
Sirius didn't reply, he looked to Remus and James who looked equally as astonished. "I have a feeling the search is going to take an upward turn, thank you Dumbledore."