Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals: Book Three.
Or, "Aspie Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."
Note: I do not own this. J. K. Rowling does. This is just fan fiction. No money is being made.
Note 2: There may be a few bits and pieces lifted word-for-word from the canon material. I tried to do that as little as possible, though.
Chapter Eight: Catching A Rat
McGongall was soon announcing to the whole school that there were concerns about a communicable disease among people's pets, and that everyone should bring their pets to the Great Hall at once for examination and possible quarantine. She and Hagrid made a good show of checking every pet brought them until they finally got to Ron's pet Scabbers, who of course was quarantined for showing signs of illness. It even made sense, given how ill Scabbers had been looking since getting back from Egypt. So Ron was none the wiser when Scabbers was put into a cage and carted off. He was, of course, very worried, and naturally McGonagall let him come with her as she took the rat into quarantine, so he could be with his beloved pet while they tried to make him better.
Which was, of course, how they got Ron and Scabbers securely into Dumbledore's office.
Ron watched in some confusion as Scabbers was transferred into an absurdly large cage for such a small animal. Once the cage was locked, McGonagall turned to Ron and spoke.
“Mr. Weasley, I'm sorry to say this, but we lured your rat here under false pretenses. We have very good reason to think he is not really a rat, but in fact an animagus.”
“You're mental! Sorry, Professor, but honestly, he's just a rat! Give him back!”
“A rat that's been alive for 12 years?” McGonagall asked pointedly.
“We... we just took really good care of him.”
“Mr. Weasley, even magical rats do not live for 12 years. Common garden rats only live about four years, and magical rats only live about six years. There is no way this rat is really a rat. And we have a harmless, painless way of revealing the truth. If he is really a rat, nothing will happen to him. You have my word on this.”
Ron sighed. “Fine, whatever. But I'm telling you you're wrong.”
“We shall see, Mr. Weasley, we shall see.”
Before anything else could happen, the fire in the grate turned green.
“Ah,” Dumbledore said, “here is Cornelius.”
A portly little man with rumpled grey hair and a lime-green bowler hat stepped out of the fire.
“What is this all about, Dumbledore?” he asked at once. “You called me on some urgent business and didn't even tell me why, and now... what is all this?” he asked, gesturing at the scene before him.
“Just remain silent, please, and watch, Minister,” Dumbledore said.
“Well alright then, I suppose. But I hope this doesn't take long, I'm rather busy at the Ministry, Dumbledore.”
“It will not take long.”
Dumbledore stepped forward and used a spell to hold Scabbers in place on the bottom of the cage. Then he and McGonagall both cast another spell on him at the same time. A flash of blue-white light erupted from both wands; his small gray form began twisting madly — Ron yelled. There was another blinding flash of light and then —
It was like watching a sped-up film of a growing tree. A head was shooting upward from the ground; limbs were sprouting; a moment later, a man was standing where Scabbers had been, cringing and wringing his hands.
He was a very short man, hardly taller than Harry. His thin, colorless hair was unkempt and there was a large bald patch on top. He had the shrunken appearance of a plump man who has lost a lot of weight in a short time. His skin looked grubby, almost like Scabbers’s fur, and something of the rat lingered around his pointed nose and his very small, watery eyes. He looked around at them all, his breathing fast and shallow. Harry saw his eyes dart to the door and back again.
“Galloping gargoyles!” Fudge exclaimed. Ron, on the other hand, yelped in surprise and jumped back.
Harry, who had considered his luck and thought ahead, raised the camera he had borrowed from Colin and with several flashes, took several pictures of the man, making sure to get Fudge or Dumbledore or Ron in the pictures, to date the images as being from the present.
“Peter Pettigrew,” Dumbledore said pleasantly, as though pleased to run into an old acquaintance. “How very good to see you. You look quite well for someone who is supposedly dead.”
“D-Dumbledore! You have to help me! Sirius Black is trying to kill me!”
“That is rather interesting, Peter, seeing as he already spent 12 years in Azkaban for killing you.”
“He tried to kill me, but he failed! He got all those Muggles, but he missed me. I've been hiding all this time. I knew when he broke out he would try to finish the job!”
“You knew he would break out when nobody else had before, in Azkaban's entire history?” Dumbledore asked.
“Yes! He has dark powers I can only imagine! Powers taught him by the dark lord!”
“As amusing as it might be to listen to your taradiddles, Peter, I think it would be much more efficient if Minister Fudge were to first authorize the use of the veritaserum I asked him to bring.”
“What? Oh yes yes. Of course, Dumbledore,” Fudge said, pulling out a small bottle of what looked like water and handing it to Dumbledore.
“Open your mouth, please, Peter.”
Pettigrew stubbornly refused.
“Open your mouth or I shall open your mouth for you, and I will not be gentle.”
Pettigrew opened his mouth reluctantly, and Dumbledore put three drops into the man's mouth. His face then relaxed, his gaze unfocused. When Dumbledore and Fudge interrogated him, he answered all questions calmly, in a monotone. Aside from hesitating now and then, he showed no emotion. He confirmed everything that Sirius had told Harry, and everything Lupin had said as well. The whole time, Ron – standing beside Harry – stared at the man with disgust all over his face.
When the interrogation was over, Fudge said, “Well I'd better get back to the Ministry and summon the Aurors, Dumbledore. He'll have to go straight to Azkaban pending trial.”
“No need to summon the aurors, Cornelius. I have already done so. In fact, I believe that is them approaching my door right now.”
The door opened, and a broad-shouldered black man, bald and sporting a single gold hoop earring, came in next to a tough-looking wizard with very short, wiry grey hair.
“Ah, Aurors Shacklebolt and Dawlish, welcome,” Fudge said.
“Minister,” Shacklebolt said, nodding.
Then both men noticed Pettigrew. Dawlish blinked at the caged man, looking rather foolish. Shacklebolt looked almost as surprised as Dumbledore had before.
“Now that they're here and have seen the situation, Cornelius, can I trust you will be suspending the search for Sirius Black, now?”
“Oh no, Dumbledore, he's not been proven innocent yet. He'll need to be re-tried before he can be released, or at least Pettigrew will need to be found guilty first.”
“You mean he'll have to be tried first, Minister, I assume?”
“What? No, I said re-tried, Dumbledore.”
“Yes, but you see, Mr. Black never received a trial in the first place. I will confess I rather forgot that myself, in all the excitement of those days, in addition to being a very old man.”
“Er, yes, he'll have to be given a trial, at any rate.”
“Excellent. And am I correct that you will, in the meantime, recall the dementors? Surely the aurors or the hit-wizards can bring in Black, now that it seems he might be a free man before long.”
“Yes, yes, I'll recall them. Auror Shacklebolt, how soon do you think we will be able to get the prisoner to Azkaban?”
“With the right messages to the right people, Minister, we can move him tonight. We'll have to take some precautions, of course. Anti-animagus spells, for one.”
“This cage was made precisely to keep the prisoner trapped, Kingsley,” Dumbledore said. “Now that he's been forced into his human form, the cage will keep him that way.”
“Good, good,” Fudge said. “Then I shall get to work on what needs to be done. See you again later, Dumbledore!”
With that, Fudge was going back through the green flames to, presumably, the Ministry of Magic.
As McGonagall led them out of Dumbledore's office, Ron turned to Harry. “I'm going to be sick. That man was sleeping in my bed with me for years! I think I need a mind healer.”
“I'll see what I can do about that, Mr. Weasley,” McGonagall said gently.
Danzia awoke to a dimly-lit Hospital Wing, in a great deal of pain. She checked herself over as best she could, and didn't seem to be bleeding, but it still hurt all over.
“Ah, Miss McCullough, you're awake. Good. I mended your cuts and bruises as best as I could, but those two beasts did quite a lot of damage. I mended many broken bones, but they'll still hurt until they heal the rest of the way, and I gave you some potions to stop the internal bleeding, but that takes time to heal as well. You'll be in the Hospital Wing for the rest of the night, possibly most of the morning as well.”
“How long was I out?”
“Only around an hour.”
“I need to talk to Professor Dumbledore!” she said. “It's urgent! I was on my way to talk with him when those two goons waylaid me.”
“I'm afraid that will have to wait. Professor Dumbledore is busy right now.”
“Can you just please go tell him to come talk with me? Tell him it's urgent!”
Madam Pomfrey sighed. “Fine, I'll go tell him. But don't you dare move from where you are. You need to heal. If I find you've gotten out of bed, I'll confine you there for the next two days, understood?”
“I understand and agree, Madam Pomfrey.”
“Good. Now rest up if you can. I'll be back shortly.”
Danzia sighed and watched the matron leave the room. She waited, thinking of plans to get back at those two goons once she was well enough. Looking around the room, she was pleased to note that they were there, too, both asleep. She wondered how badly she'd hurt them, and if Madam Pomfrey would tell her if she asked.
She was in the middle of wondering if she could get away with hexing them in their sleep when the matron came back. Dumbledore came in behind her.
“Dumbledore! I was with Professor Trelawney earlier, and she went all rigid and started talking all harsh and growly, then when she went normal again, she thought I was mad when I told her what she'd said! I think it was a real prophecy!”
Dumbledore, who had looked merely curious before, suddenly looked alarmed. “What did she say?”
“She said that the servant of You-Know-Who was chained for 12 years, but he's going to break out and rejoin his master tonight! And that You-Know-Who will rise again, greater and more terrible than ever before!”
“Tonight? You're sure she said tonight?”
“She repeated it at least three times. Tonight, before midnight.”
“I must be going. Thank you for telling me this, Miss McCullough.”
Quicker than she thought such an old man could move, he turned around and left. She blinked in confusion, wondering if that meant he was going to prevent the prophecy from happening, or what?
“You need to rest, Miss McCullough. If you don't think you'll be able to, I can give you a sleep potion.”
“I... but what if the prophecy isn't stopped in time?”
“There's nothing you can do about it either way, Miss McCullough. You told the headmaster, he'll take care of it. There's nothing more you can do but sleep and recover from your injuries.”
“I... well, okay, fine.”
“Careful, Dawlish. Mind your step,” Kingsley Shacklebolt warned his partner.
“Yeah, yeah. I made one misstep...”
“All it takes is one.”
“This cage was made by Dumbledore, I should hope it would take more than a single misstep to mess this up.”
Pettigrew, his hands and feet bound, his mouth gagged, was inside the large cage the two aurors were floating along with their wands. They were carefully making their way down to the gates of the castle so they could take Pettigrew to Azkaban. Just as they were passing Hagrid's hut, they heard a voice speak, a voice rough from long disuse.
“So you caught him at last,” Sirius said. “That means I can safely be taken in as well, pending his conviction?”
Kingsley – whose wand hand had shot to point the wand at Sirius, returned back to Pettigrew's cage once he processed that Sirius wasn't likely a threat.
“Yes, that's correct. Does this mean you're coming willingly?”
“Yes. But maybe you should tie my hands anyway, for appearances.”
“And confiscate your wand.”
Sirius barked once with wry amusement. “What wand? You lot still have my only wand, and I never stole one after escaping. I could never deprive another person of their only defense. Well, unless it was a Death Eater, I suppose. The lot of them can burn in Hell.”
“You mean you avoided capture this long without a wand?”
“Astonishing,” said Dawlish.
“I heard you wanted to kill this man. How were you going to accomplish that without a wand?”
“Oh, didn't they tell you? I'm an unregistered animagus, too. My form is a large black dog.”
“Maybe you should get in the cage, then?”
Sirius eyed Pettigrew with hungry anger.
“Just don't kill him. You kill him, it's back to Azkaban indefinitely for you.”
“Don't worry, I won't kill him.”
Shacklebolt unlocked the door to the cage, two wands on the door threateningly. Sirius approached the cage, but suddenly the temperature in the air dropped rapidly, an all too familiar sensation.
“DEMENTORS!” he shouted. “Quick, let me in!”
But he didn't make it to the door. The dementors being so near made him collapse to his knees.
“BACK, YOU LOT!” Kingsley shouted at the dementors. “We're aurors! We're taking these prisoners into custody! You're not needed here!”
But the dementors didn't slow down, as they were blind. All they knew was their prey was ahead of them, and they were hungry. As they kept advancing, the levitation spells on the cage went out, the cage crashing to the ground. Pettigrew jumped out of the cage as it fell, turning into a rat to flee his bonds, and running off.
“NO!” Sirius shouted. “YOU'RE NOT GETTING AWAY AGAIN!”
He tried to transform into a dog, but years in Azkaban had weakened him, and the dementors were too near. Instead, he fell onto his back on the ground, clutched his head, and wailed. There were just so many of them, over 100 of the foul non-beings, and his head was full of dark and depressing thoughts.
“EXPECTO PATRONUM!” two voices said simultaneously from a ways off.
Almost immediately after, a bright shining phoenix made of white light and a similar shining stag charged the dementors down and fought them off. The phoenix scratched at the faces of the monsters, and the stag attacked them with its antlers.
With many of the dementors fleeing, Kingsley was able to conjure a shining lynx patronus. Dawlish, for his part, could only conjure shining vapor. But with three patronuses in the fight, the rest of the dementors fled, leaving only the memory of their presence behind.
“Where's Peter? Where'd he go?” Sirius shouted, turning into a large black dog and sniffing madly to try to find him.
Dumbledore cast a non-verbal spell, but judging by his expression, it didn't yield any results. Sirius, though, began barking and running full tilt for the gates of the school. The three adults and Harry ran to catch up, and saw a rat running just in time to see it turn back into a human and disapparate with a loud crack!
Sirius howled and barked and growled, then turned back to a human and sat there with his head in his hands.
“He got away again! Damn him! Why didn't you two stun him when he was in the cage?” he demanded of the aurors.
“Excuse me, Mr. Black,” said Dawlish, “but I seem to recall you didn't stun him either.”
“I DON'T HAVE A WAND, YOU NITWIT!”
“Sirius, my dear boy, do calm down. It is disappointing, yes, even infuriating. And terrifying, if I'm honest; a Death Eater with nothing to lose and everything to gain, loose to look for his master. But it is not a total loss. Minister Fudge and two highly regarded aurors saw him alive and well, along with myself, Minerva, Harry, and Ronald Weasley, and many of us heard his confession under veritaserum. Their memories shall be enough to get you freed, Sirius.”
“Also,” Harry added, holding up Colin's camera, “I took pictures. At least one of the pictures has Ron in it, too, so there's proof right there.”
“Ah yes, that is correct. Excellent show of forethought, Harry.”
“Yes,” said Kingsley. “And if I can convince Fudge of it, we'll put you in Saint Mungo's instead of the prison or any of the holding cells at the Ministry. You shouldn't have to go back to Azkaban, between Pettigrew being exposed and the fact you turned yourself in.”
Dumbledore nodded. “And I shall be making sure that everyone at the Ministry knows you were never given a trial, Sirius. All of these things should make the Ministry very contrite. But in the meantime, aurors Shacklebolt and Dawlish, would it be too much to ask for Sirius to go to the Hospital Wing for treatment?”
“I'm not sure that's a good idea, Professor Dumbledore,” Shacklebolt said. “Until the Prophet can declare him innocent, he shouldn't be at the school hospital wing, it might panic the students and parents. We can take him to St. Mungo's, though, as I said. We'll just need to take him in to the Ministry first for permission.”
“That sounds reasonable. What do you think, Sirius?”
“Fine by me. But, er... can I say goodbye to my godson Harry first?”
“Harry? Harry Potter?” Dawlish asked, blinking foolishly, then turning to look at Harry.
“Yes, I don't see why not, as long as Harry is okay with it.” Dumbledore said.
Harry re-sheathed his wand and nodded. “I'd like that.”
Sirius came over to Harry and hugged him. Harry relaxed into the hug. When they pulled apart again, Sirius smiled at Harry.
“Thank you, Harry, for helping me out. It didn't go well, but that's nobody's fault, really. We should have thought to stun him. Ah well. With any luck, I'll be released before the summer is over so I can get my life back on track. And, well, if I do... Once my name’s cleared … if you wanted a … a different home …”
Some sort of explosion took place in the pit of Harry’s stomach.
“Yes! Yes, I would! I mean, they've been a lot better with the spells in place, and with Netty around, but honestly, yes, I'd rather--”
“I'm afraid I must slightly burst your bubble, as it were, Harry. There are powerful protective spells around your home, that also protect you elsewhere. You need to live there for at least two weeks out of the year to recharge those protections. But if Sirius is freed and finds somewhere acceptable for two people to live before the end of that two weeks, then you may stay the rest of the summer with him.”
“Oh. That's not nearly as bad as I feared. But, er... what if that doesn't happen by then? I know it's February, that's only about five months to have a trial and get a job and find a flat. And I read that trials can sometimes take a long time. At least, they do in the Muggle world.”
“Don't worry about that, Harry,” Sirius said. “Now that my parents and my brother are dead, and my cousin Bellatrix is in Azkaban, I inherit the Black family fortune. Including their house. Which is going to need a professional cleaning job after all these years, but that's fine, I'll have more than enough money to afford it.”
“Well that's a relief,” Harry said.
“Okay, this is taking enough time already,” Dawlish said. “I've got reports to file, and we've got to start the manhunt for Pettigrew. Which, by the way, it would help if you send us some copies of those photos, Mr. Potter. Anyway, say your goodbyes and let's go.”
Harry and Sirius hugged again, said their goodbyes, and Sirius went with the two aurors. They took him by the arms and side-along disapparated together with him.
“Well, Harry, time to return to the school. You need to get back to your common room, and I need to send an owl to make sure Cornelius is actually going to recall the dementors.”
Harry nodded, and the two of them headed back toward the castle together.
Since Harry had already set up a time to talk with the Slytherin girls about Lupin, he used that time to bring Draco in as well. He'd been up late last night telling Ron and Hermione, and was getting a bit tired of telling the story already, but Ron and Hermione would be there too, so they could help tell the story. Danzia would be there too, having gotten out of the hospital wing before breakfast, so she'd be able to tell them about her fight with Crabbe and Goyle.
“Yeah,” she said with a grin on her face after they asked her about it, “they won't forget that fight in a hurry. I was in the hospital wing with a bunch of broken bones and internal bleeding, but from what I was able to cajole out of Madam Pomfrey, they were hurt just as bad.”
“Wow,” Ron said, his eyes wide. “You took on Crabbe and Goyle both, at the same time, and hurt them as bad as they hurt you? Impressive.”
“Yeah, when you've got as many older male cousins as I do, it's second nature. Sometimes I pick fights with them just because I like a good tussle. It's a pity Hogwarts doesn't have a wrestling team. I know it's not the same as a proper brawl, but it'd be better than nothing. Hey, speaking of fighting, whatever happened to Dueling Club? Did they stop doing that this year?”
“I don't know,” Harry admitted. “I'd forgotten all about it, with everything that's been going on. I'll look into it. Apart from the first one last year, the rest went pretty well.”
“Yeah,” Antigone said. “Oh hey, with Sirius possibly getting his name cleared, and the dementors back in Azkaban, does that mean you get to go to Hogsmeade?”
“I don't know. I doubt I could get the Dursleys to sign the form, and there's only one Hogsmeade weekend left in the year anyway.”
“What about Sirius?” asked Danzia. “Couldn't he sign it? Might take a few days to get through the Ministry, as they're probably watching his mail pretty closely, but might be worth looking into.”
“That's a great idea, Danzia! I'll send a letter to him later and ask.”
“Good. Now that I've told you about my fight with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, I can tell you about the prophecy I heard from Trelawney.”
She proceeded to tell them all about it, in detail, because she had been surprised that Dumbledore had believed her so quickly, and knew she couldn't count on the same thing happening here, too.
“And Dumbledore believed you when you told him?”
“Yes. I was flabbergasted, to be honest. I just gave him the basic information about it, and all he asked about it was if I was sure she said 'tonight.' I told him that she repeated it twice, seemed to want to make sure whoever heard it knew it was happening before midnight.”
“Yes,” drawled Draco, “but Pettigrew wasn't exactly chained, was he? He was with Weasley by choice. He could have left whenever he wanted, even after finding out Black was loose. After all, a rat could easily escape Hogwarts even if Black was looking for him.”
“True, but Sirius is an animagus too, and he knew Pettigrew's scent. He could have hung around the entrance and kept lookout there if he wanted.”
“There were dementors by the gates, Harry,” Draco said, “at least until this morning, there were. He would've been mad to go so close to them. Plus, there are other ways into and out of the castle. Through the Forbidden Forest, for instance.”
“With acromantulas and centaurs and who knows what else in there? Possible, I suppose, but difficult and risky.”
“Black would've killed him, from the sound of it, if he'd caught up to the rat first. Maybe Pettigrew was hoping Black had given up.”
Danzia snorted with disbelief. “Not likely; clearly Pettigrew was smart enough to figure out that Sirius escaping not long after Pettigrew had his picture in the paper was no coincidence, I doubt he'd think Sirius would just give up. More likely he thought Sirius got killed by something on his way here. Like, eaten by an acromantula. Was he there with us when we were in there?”
Ron shook his head. “No, but he probably overheard us talking about it. Merlin, I still can't believe it. I might have nightmares for months.”
“Yeah. Just one more reason why there's an animagus registry: preventing creepy stuff like that,” Antigone said.
Everyone nodded fervently.
“But going back to Crabbe and Goyle, Danzia, should we hex them for you?”
“Oh no, I want to take care of it,” she said, something dangerous creeping into her voice.
“R-right. Okay, mate,” Ron said.
After that, the conversation mostly went back to MAC topics and other various things.
As it turned out, when he asked McGonagall, the Dueling Club had been continuing. Somehow, he and his friends had all missed the notices about it. He supposed that made sense, with the worry about Sirius Black being on the loose. Now that this was no longer an issue, he informed all his friends about this, and they all started going to it, even Luna. McGonagall was pleased by this; there hadn't been many people in the club during the first half of the year, and Harry and his friends made the club's numbers more than double.
Harry got another nasty letter from Draco's father after having sent a reply back saying that it really wasn't Lucius's business who his son was friends with. Harry had also pointed out that Voldemort was a classic serial killer but with magic, that he had no regard for the lives of other human beings and likely thought of everyone other than himself with no more regard than Lucius and many other purebloods thought of house elves. Harry's letter had also gone on to compare Voldemort to Adolf Hitler or Stalin at length, explaining how millions of Jews, homosexuals, transgender people, black people, political prisoners, and others had died at the cruel hands of the Nazis, and that Voldemort's reign would be similar, and that even if Draco went back to being a blood bigot, as soon as Mr. Malfoy made a big enough mistake, Voldemort would turn on him and treat him and his family with similar disdain and cruelty; perhaps a little better than others, given his blood status, but not by much. Harry suspected Mr. Malfoy knew this already, given his fear of Draco's association with Harry, but he'd thought it might be helpful to remind the man of this in a way that might nudge him over to defecting.
Mr. Malfoy had not responded well to this. His reply was quite polite and formal, but even Harry could practically feel the rage and malice oozing from the words. Among other things, he implied that he would withdraw Draco from Hogwarts and send him to Durmstrang instead if Harry didn't end the friendship. He also made a great many veiled threats, some of them so subtle that Harry only found out about them after Draco pointed them out to him.
Harry wrote back saying that even if he complied, Draco had made friends with many others, and while he was perfectly welcome to try to threaten Antigone, Danzia, Ron, and Hermione, among others that Harry insinuated existed but did not explicitly name, he wouldn't have a lot of luck convincing anyone, informed him that Draco had already started to regain some of his lost position in Slytherin, and that Lucius would have to be prepared for Harry, Sirius, Remus, and many of Harry's friends to hire solicitors to charge him with harassment and making threats. After this, Harry received only one more letter from Lucius, politely apologizing for losing his temper, claiming he had not intended any threats to anyone, and wishing him a pleasant rest of the school year, in a tone that even Harry knew implied Lucius hoped it would be Harry's last few months alive.
Harry and Draco shared these letters with their friends, Dumbledore, and Sirius, of course. Everyone was properly angry at Lucius, and most of them were amused by Harry's replies. Even Draco was amused, once he got past the feeling of panic anticipating his father's reactions.
Sirius did well in St. Mungo's, where the Ministry was keeping him pending the trial, which is where he likely would've been anyway, so bad was his dementor exposure and “trauma shock” as the Healers called it. Harry made a note to take Sirius to a Muggle psychologist for some help, as wizarding mind healers were not very good in his opinion.
His godfather's solicitor was pushing for a speedy trial, since it had already been 12 years, and they had enough evidence to release him, now that Harry's photos of Pettigrew had been dispersed and even printed in the Daily Prophet. A reporter named Rita Skeeter, who apparently rarely had anything good to say about anyone, had surprisingly been very complimentary of Sirius in her articles about the Pettigrew issue, but mostly – it seemed – as a way to make the Ministry look bad. But Harry only cared about the moment in the trial when he got to hear his godfather declared officially innocent of all charges.
Harry was at dinner on April first when he got another letter from Sirius. He opened it and read it at the table:
According to my solicitor, who has hired some people to help me get my life on track again as soon as I can after the trial assuming I get found not guilty, my parents' house is almost cleaned out now. I think they just have the drawing room left to get before they declare it habitable by humans. I'm still in St. Mungo's, recovering and awaiting the trial. They're trying some potions and charms to fix my memory, which has seriously degraded after twelve years in that horrible place. I don't think I'm nearly as bad as they think, memory wise. Anyway, the healers at St. Mungo's are trying to fix my memory, which has seriously degraded after... wait, what was I saying again?
Ha! Just kidding, pup. Gotcha! My mind is sharp as ever, I exaggerated things. The Healers are mildly concerned about memory issues, but not too much so. Honestly, I think half the damage they're worried about came from my childhood; my parents were pretty horrible, and my cousins weren't all that great, either. I'm still not sure what to do with Kreacher, my parents' old house elf. I don't want him around, but I'm afraid setting him free will kill him from shock. Though that might be best for him, honestly. Except that he might be too tough to die.
Kreacher hasn't taken to the cleaning well. He keeps trying to sneak things away, and he cried for six hours straight after they took my mother's portrait down. She had the blasted thing stuck to the wall with a sticking charm so powerful they had to remove and replace that section of the wall! When they're done, I'm going to decorate the whole place in Griffindor colors just to spite the lot of them.
Come to it, I might ask Dumbledore if I can sell Kreacher to Hogwarts. Not sure what use he'd be, but the other elves could keep an eye on him, keep him out of trouble. Yeah, I think I'll do that.
My solicitor is working on speeding up the criminal trial, but it's difficult because the event in question was so long ago. If that goes well, we plan on suing the Ministry for wrongful imprisonment, and holding me for 12 years without a trial. She's pretty sure they'll settle out of court rather than go to the expense of a civil trial. We're planning on asking for my Auror job back as part of the settlement, with the stipulation I don't have to work anywhere near dementors or Azkaban. As much as I'm angry at the Ministry, once I'm recovered enough, I want to go back to work, especially as Dumbledore thinks Pettigrew is going to help Voldemort get a new body. Only problem is that my mentor, Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody retired after the war was wrapped up, so I won't get to see him around. Oh well, I'll manage. But that'll be brilliant, won't it: Sirius Black, long thought an infamous mass murderer, working as an Auror. James would laugh his arse off at that!
I have included a signed copy of the permission slip for going to Hogsmeade. I understand there's one last Hogsmeade visit the weekend of June fifth. If I'm a free man by then, I'll be there to show you the sights. Assuming the trial goes in my favor, I get out of the hospital in time to be there for you, and my house should be re-furnished by then, so I'll be living there.
Let me know how you want your bedroom decorated, or if you want to do it yourself, or whatever. I don't know what you like and don't like. I suppose Griffindor colors might work, since you're in Griffindor and you see those colors all the time, but I don't know, that's also a very good reason why you might want something different for your room. Let me know, okay?
I may be getting rid of Kreacher, but I do need to get another house elf, because I can't cook to save my life. I can manage toast and scrambled eggs, but that's about it. Hey, you mentioned you freed an elf once, do you know if he needs or wants any work? He can remain free if he wants, I'll even pay him if he likes. Though now I think about it, I'm not sure how you'd even go about finding a freed house elf, since he's not bound to you in any way that I'm aware of, unless your getting him freed is good enough to call him. Try calling him sometime, and if it doesn't work, I'll add it to the list of things to have my solicitor look into.
Anyway, pup, I think that's about it. I'll keep you updated. See you on the last Hogsmeade weekend!
PS = Almost forgot, I've started paying my solicitor to help defend Buckbeak for Hagrid. It's the least I can do for him for keeping my motorbike safe all these years.
Harry made a mental note to try calling Dobby later, and put the letter away in his bag.
Later, in his dorm before writing a reply to Sirius, he tried it, tentatively.
“Doby the house elf!”
Strike three. He shrugged, and reached for his quill, but another thought struck him.
With a CRACK!, Netty appeared.
“Harry Potter is wanting something? How can Netty help?”
“You remember Dobby, right?”
She huffed disapprovingly. “I is remembering Dobby, sir. Why?”
“You wouldn't happen to be able to contact him, would you?”
Netty raised an eyebrow. “Why is you wanting Dobby, sir? He is making much nuisance of himself last school year. And now he is being free, and getting up to such hijinks, sir, as is unbecoming of a house-elf, from what Netty is hearing, sir.”
“So you've heard things about him since he was freed?”
“Yes, sir. Dobby is keeps trying to find work, and is finding no masters willing to hire him on. I is even hearing he is... he is wanting...” here, her face crinkled up like there was a skunk in the room, “paying, sir.” She shuddered with revulsion at the thought.
“Well try to see things from his point of view. For years, possibly longer, he was being abused by his masters. He doesn't want to risk being bound to abusive masters again.”
“Sixty years, sir. Dobby is being the Malfoy's house elf sixty years before he is being freed, sir.”
“He's over sixty years old?”
“Yes, sir. He is being sixty years old when he is being freed.”
“Wow. And I thought I had it bad living alone with the Dursleys for 10 years.”
Netty looked suddenly thoughtful at these words. Then, her expression softening, she sighed. “Netty is supposing it makes sense Dobby is wanting p-- is wanting fr--, er... is not willing to risk being bound again.” She looked shrewdly at Harry. “Does Mister Potter has an idea for where Dobby can finds work, sir?”
“Yes. My godfather and his house elf don't get along at all with each other, he's going to see about selling that elf to Hogwarts and getting a new elf, but he doesn't really agree with house elf slavery. He heard about Dobby from a letter I sent him, and is willing to pay Dobby. So, er... is there any way to contact Dobby?”
“Yes, sir. Bound house elves is higher up than freed elves, sir, so unless Dobby is being in the middle of being bound again, he is ought to come when Netty is calling him, sir.”
“Really? Why is that?”
“It is being so the masters can track down a freed elf if they is wanting to hire them, sir.”
“Oh, that makes sense. So, er... would you please call Dobby for me, Netty?”
She sighed again. “Yes, Harry Potter sir, Netty is doing that for you, even though Netty does not has to do that for students, and only because it is for you. DOBBY!”
A second later, there was another CRACK!, and Dobby appeared, looking bedraggled and bewildered.
“Dobby!” Harry said. “You look like you've been through heck!”
“Harry Potter, sir!” Dobby cried out excitedly, and started to jump toward him to hug him, but Netty grabbed him by the nape of his neck and kept him back.
“Dobby! You is filthy! You is living out in the outside, isn't you?”
Dobby nodded. “Yes. Dobby is wanting paying for his work, and is not finding any work.”
“Netty is not surprised at all. House elves is not working for pay.”
“Dobby is!” Dobby said proudly, folding his arms.
“And look where it is got you, Dobby! What is you been eating lately?”
“Dobby is finding food left out in odd, colored dishes outside Muggle houses. Don't worry, Harry Potter sir! Dobby is being very good at hiding himself from Muggles.”
“Dobby?” Harry asked carefully. “Did any of these colorful dishes happen to have a paw print shape on them in black? Maybe with a name?”
“Dobby is not knowing about a name, Harry Potter sir, as Dobby is not knowing how to read, but yes, some of them is having paw print shapes on them.”
“Pet food! You've been surviving all this time on cat food and/or dog food?!”
Dobby shrugged. “If Harry Potter is thinking that is what it is being, then Harry Potter is probably being right. But now you is mentioning it, Dobby is sometimes running from angry animals, and some of them is confined so they cannot give chase.”
Harry sighed, and wiped his face with his hands. “Dobby, my godfather is looking for a new house elf, and he's willing to pay. He just has to wait until after his trial, assuming he gets declared free as he should be. He knows you want to remain free, too, and he's fine with that. In fact, he prefers a free elf.”
Dobby stared incredulously at Harry. “Harry Potter is surely joking with Dobby?”
“No, I'm being serious. He really does. He inherited his parents' elf, but the two of them hate each other.”
“He is having a house elf he is not getting along with? May Dobby ask who is this elf?”
“An elf named Kreacher.”
Dobby's eyes went wide with terror, but sensing danger, Harry interrupted before Dobby could speak.
“It's a little complicated, but my godfather was falsely accused of being a murderer and traitor working for Vol—er, the dark lord. He's currently in St. Mungo's awaiting his trial, but the real traitor was caught but then escaped again, it was Peter Pettigrew! A whole bunch of people saw he was alive and heard him confess under veritaseum, so once he's been released from Azkaban after being given a trial and found innocent, he'll be able to hire you. He's a Black, but he was in Griffindor, and he hates blood purists and other bigots.”
“Is Harry Potter sir meaning Sirius Black?”
Harry turned; the question had come from Netty, not Dobby.
“Yes,” Harry said.
Her eyes went wide, but with astonishment, not fear. “He is being innocent this whole time? He is not killing all those people?”
“Exactly. The real killer was Peter Pettigrew, faking his own death. Everyone thought it was Sirius, because Pettigrew framed him, and Sirius was thought to have been my parents' Secret Keeper. But it was really Peter Pettigrew. You can verify it with Dumbledore if you'd like, Netty.”
“Okay, sir,” she said.
She disappeared with a CRACK!
“Dobby believes Harry Potter, sir. Dobby is not needing confirmation. Is Harry Potter's godfather being a nice man?”
“Well, he's willing to let you stay free and to pay you. And he's been nice to me when I've been around him this year. Don't ask, it's too much to get into now.”
“Okay, Harry Potter sir.”
“I think Dumbledore would also vouch for him. He can be a bit of a prankster, Sirius can, but it's all in good fun.”
“That is all being very good, Harry Potter sir. But, er... is it being good for Dobby to meet Sirius Black and make his own judgment before he is being Dobby's new master?”
“I don't see why not. I'll add it to the letter.”
“Thank you, Harry Potter sir. Dobby wants you to know he is not looking a gift Abraxan horse in the mouth, sir, but Dobby is wanting to make sure he is being with good masters, not like his old ones.”
Before Dobby could move, Harry grabbed him by the arm to stop him from punishing himself for speaking ill of the Malfoys.
“Thank you, Harry Potter sir.”
“Er... can I ask you another question, Dobby?”
“Why do you call me by my full name so often?”
“Oh, that. Well, Dobby's last master, er... he is wanting Dobby to say his whole name. Dobby is not knowing why, he is just obeying.”
“Ah, that explains it. Well you don't need to do that for me or Sirius. Netty just calls me 'sir' most of the time. Honestly, you don't even need to do that much, but, well... you do whatever you're most comfortable with, Dobby.”
Dobby saluted Harry. “Dobby understands, sir. Dobby is trying to not say sir's name so much. You is so considerate of Dobby's feelings, Dobby is repaying your kindness by being considerate of sir's feelings, too!”
Harry smiled at Dobby.
“Now we is on that subject, Dobby is curious of something. Is there being a reason why sir never looks Dobby in the eye? Dobby is not normally noticing such a thing in wizards, for Dobby is being familiar with being overlooked and looked down on, but Harry Potter is such a great and kind wizard... is Dobby doing something that displeases Harry Potter?”
“No no, Dobby, I'm so sorry for the misunderstanding. You haven't done anything wrong. It's just... looking in people's eyes is difficult for me. I do the same with other wizards and witches, and with Muggles. It's... it's not painful, per se, but there's a very strong pressure to look away, when I make eye contact. It's very uncomfortable to me. Like it's too intimate to do on a whim, or to do very often.”
Dobby nodded. “Dobby understands, sir. Dobby feels the same way whenever he is making eye contact with wizards by mistake. It is also different, though, Dobby thinks. Because wizards is your equal, but isn't Dobby's.”
Harry, feeling bad for Dobby, crouched down to Dobby's level and looked him straight in his large tennis-ball shaped green eyes, holding it as long as he could before turning away. Dobby was so touched by the gesture that he broke down crying, just in time for Netty to return.
“Dobby, what is you blubbering for?” she asked, but in a playful tone.
“It's too complicated to go into now, Netty. Maybe Dobby can tell you. I take it you got confirmation?”
“Yes, it is confirmed, sir.”
“Good to hear. Now, if it's allowed, would you help get Dobby to somewhere he can bathe. Oh, and, uh...” he took a pair of old, worn trousers out of his trunk and shrunk them to Dobby's size. “Er... I guess you couldn't take these for Dobby to cover his nakedness with, without being freed--”
“Begging sir's pardon, but sir is a student. House elves is to take orders from students, unless we think them unsafe or they breaks rules, but students is not our masters. Only the headmaster or deputy headmistress is being able to free us. We can takes clothes from you without problems, sir. Just don't makes a habit of giving clothes directly to us, sir, it is being offensive to try to free us.”
“Oh, okay. Well this is for Dobby. He won't want to wear a tea towel, I'm thinking.”
“Netty is thinking you is right,” she said, taking the shrunken trousers from him. “Come, Dobby, you is more dirt than elf right now.”
Sirius was awoken from his nap in Saint Mungo's by a knock on his door. Once he got his wits about him, he said, “Who is it?”
The door opened a crack. “It's Healer Davison. Your solicitor, Ms. Pennyroyal, is here to talk with you, Mr. Black.”
Sirius looked at the clock on the wall.
“At nearly midnight? I was sleeping.”
“She says it's urgent.”
“Fine, let her in then.”
The healer moved away, and soon his solicitor came in, carrying a briefcase that he knew had copies of every single file she might need for her work contained in its infinite depths. From his position on the bed, she seemed tall, her chestnut-brown hair and pleasant face looking down at him in the bed, but he knew she was short enough that in his youth he could have picked her up with one arm and carried her over his shoulder. She was also a bit plump. Lily had shown him and James a Disney cartoon called Sleeping Beauty once, and Ms. Pennyroyal looked like the short, fat fairy Merryweather from that movie, complete with the pleasant face. Despite that, and despite her normally pleasant personality, he knew her well enough by now that he'd sooner wrestle a manticore than try to pick her up without permission. And she looked grim and professional at the moment, projecting the sort of intensity she normally reserved for the courtroom.
“Mr. Black, you're awake. Good.”
“I am now that you woke me up. What's so important you're here at almost midnight to tell me about it?”
She turned and cast locking spells and anti-eavesdropping spells on the door and around the room, before turning back to him.
“The cleaners found something very dangerous in your parents' house that I felt you should know about immediately. I have already informed the Ministry and the Aurors. I will also be contacting Albus Dumbledore about it, with your permission. I feel it necessary, though, given the severity of the situation, and I believe you'll agree it was necessary, once I brief you about it.”
“I know my parents had a lot of dangerous stuff, but what could be so dangerous that the Ministry, the Aurors, and Dumbledore all need to know about it?”
“Since you were an Auror, and hope to be one again, I can tell you. Do you know what a horcrux is?”
Sirius went as pale as a corpse at the sound of the word.
“A-- a WHAT? A horcrux? WHAT? WHY? HOW? Shit... it's not my mother's, is it?”
“We don't yet know for sure who it belongs to, but given it's been cast into a locket that once belonged to Salazar Slytherin, we have a shrewd idea about the identity of the owner.”
“Voldemort?” he asked. He was intrigued to note she was one of the few people he'd ever met who didn't flinch at the name.
“Exactly. We don't know how he found it, but I understand from Mr. Dumbledore that Riddle was related to Slytherin via his mother, Merope Gaunt.”
“What was it doing in my parents' house?”
“That is an excellent question, Mr. Black, and one the Ministry is looking into. They've taken your elf, Kreacher, in for questioning. But obviously it's going to be impossible to get anything out of him without your help.”
“Kreacher? Well I suppose that makes sense, he was there. I don't know what he could possibly tell you, though.”
“We know he knows something. When we tried to take the locket away, he began crying very loudly, and banging his head on the floor.”
“Shall I call him here?”
“Yes. That is one reason I wanted to speak with you.”
“Kreacher!” Sirius called.
With a CRACK!, a very dirty, old, and wrinkly elf wearing rags appeared, crying and banging his head on the floor. His bulbous, snout-like nose was bleeding.
“Kreacher! Stop hurting yourself!”
Immediately, the elf froze. Then he relaxed a little before snapping his head around to glare at Sirius.
“The filthy blood traitor is back then, is he? Should've known he was the reason my mistress's house has been invaded and looted by common criminals!”
“It's called cleaning, Kreacher, perhaps you've heard of it?”
Muttering loud enough to be heard but quiet enough to pretend he couldn't be heard, Kreacher said, “What Mistress would say if she knew he was back, she always hated him, the foul little beast.”
“You will stop muttering right now and tell us why you were so upset at the sight of Slytherin's locket.”
“Kreacher does not know what you mean, Master. Kreacher knows of no 'Slytherin's locket,' Master.”
“The locket they took out of the house earlier, that made you start crying and beating your head on the floor when it was taken away.”
“It was gold, and had a shape like an S on it,” Ms. Pennyroyal added.
“Yes, what she said. Well? Answer me!”
“Kreacher was upset because the family treasures were being looted, Master, that is all.”
“Tell me the truth or we will destroy the locket!”
Kreacher stared impassively at Sirius. “Whatever Master feels is best.”
“Okay, different approach. Kreacher, tell me the truth of how that locket came to be in the house to begin with.”
Kreacher jerked, and frowned, fighting the geas he was under as a bound house elf, but he failed. He shuddered again, and began to cry.
“M-m-master R-regulus!” Kreacher sobbed. “He b-brought it! He gave it to Kreacher!”
Sirius's face grew tight with anger. “Regulus!” he spat. “I should've known! He always-- wait, what? Just a moment... Kreacher, did you say Regulus gave you that locket?”
“When did he give it to you? Tell me.”
“M-master Regulus gave it t-to K-Kreacher, many years ago!”
Sirius and his solicitor looked at each other in confusion for a moment.
“Tell me why he gave it to you. What did he want you to do with it?”
“He t-told Kreacher to d-destroy it, but Kreacher failed! Nothing would scratch it! Kreacher tired EVERYTHING!” The elf began sobbing into his hands with renewed vigor.
Sirius softened. “It's not your fault, Kreacher. Nothing short of basilisk venom or fiendfyre would have hurt that locket. My idiot brother clearly had no idea he'd given you an impossible task.”
Kreacher stopped crying, sniffing a bit, and looked up at Sirius. “Kreacher couldn't have destroyed it without basilisk venom or fiendfyre?”
“That's right, Kreacher. It's an immensely powerful dark object. House elf magic is no match for it. Very little is a match for it.”
Kreacher wiped his eyes with the back of his hands.
“Kreacher, tell us the whole story, from the beginning. Help us understand what my brother was doing in his final days.”
The old elf blinked, and actually smiled for a moment, before looking very sad again.
It took nearly a half an hour to get the whole story out of Kreacher, for he kept bursting into tears again. What they heard was horrifying. Kreacher had been forced by Voldemort to test the defenses of a secret chamber that was no doubt the hiding place for the horcrux, and had nearly died. He'd only come back because Regulus had ordered him beforehand to come back.
Kreacher and Regulus had always been very close. Upon finding out what Voldemort had done to his best friend, Regulus worked out that the thing placed in the cup at the center of the chamber had been a horcrux. Regulus turned on his master, took Kreacher with him back to the chamber, drank the horrible potion that protected the locket himself rather than hurt his best friend, gave the locket to Kreacher, ordered him to go home and destroy it, then got pulled into the water by inferi.
“Idiot. Why didn't he go to Dumbledore with this information? Damn fool got himself killed for nothing. Bloody locket went from one hiding place to another, and all this time we could've been free of that monster if Regulus had just taken steps to get this locket and the knowledge of what it is to Dumbledore!”
“Well don't worry, Mr. Black, we know now. We can take this information to Dumbledore. He'll have some way to destroy it.”
“Yes,” Sirius said, looking over at Kreacher, who was once more in tears. “Then we can avenge Regulus Black and all the others who died because of Voldemort.”
Ms. Pennyroyal nodded. “I'll head over there now.”
“Bring me some pastries when you come back in the morning, if you'd be so kind. The food around here is horrible.”
She laughed. “Will do, Mr. Black, will do.”
Once she left, Sirius got out of bed and knelt down beside Kreacher.
“Come here, Kreacher. Listen, I... I'm sorry for how I treated you growing up. I hated living there, I hated my parents' pureblood mania. But now I see I was wrong to hate you, you were as you were because of how my parents were. You and Regulus... you know, he really was an idiot. Not his fault, though. I'm glad you were there for him, Kreacher; he needed you. And thanks to his love for you, he finally pulled his head out of his arse and did something noble and brave for once, even if it was also stupid and got him killed. He's a hero, for trying to stop that madman.”
This was... a bit much. Kreacher stared at him, wide-eyed with disbelief and pride for his lost master, then burst into fresh wails of tears. But he let Sirius hold him like a man comforting a frightened child, crying into Sirius's robes.
Endnote 1: So there we are. I wasn't entirely sure where I was going with this, whether Sirius would be free or a fugitive still, but I'm a sucker for Sirius being free, so that's going to happen now, since I found a way to prove his innocence and still have Pettigrew out there to find Voldemort.
Also, the whole Kreacher/Sirius thing was unplanned. But once the locket was discovered, things took an unexpected twist and I went with it. I probably should've seen this coming once I decided Sirius was going to have his parents' old place professionally cleaned out.
I was also going to end book 3 here, but there's enough material for at least one more chapter before moving on to book 4.
Endnote 2: I'm torn about something. I would be astonished if canon Luna weren't on the autism spectrum, she shows so many signs of it, but there's already two autistic characters in this fic, so I don't know if I should say Luna is one, too. Granted, autistic people are, at least in my own experience, more common than most people think they are, and here in Portland, Oregon I am friends with at least two or three other autistic people. We tend to find our own kind quickly, since non-autistic people tend to be difficult for autistic people to get along with.(1) Britain is large, a lot larget than Portland, and Hogwarts appears to include students from Ireland and Scotland and Wales as well, so even if the wizarding community is small, three autistic Hogwarts students isn't out of the realm of possibility. Especially when Harry is a half-blood, Hermione is a Muggleborn, and I'm not sure about Luna. *Goes to look it up.* Okay, the wiki doesn't know either; it says “pure-blood or half-blood.”
Anyway, if I do end up going that route, it'll be a slower reveal. I'll also have to think about how both the Lovegoods would feel about getting a diagnosis from a Muggle doctor. Just off the top of my head, it occurs to me that Xeno might be the kind to not want a label for Luna, and Luna might agree with that. If anyone has any thoughts on Luna being on the autism spectrum or how she or her dad might react to the suggestion of being diagnosed, let me know. Please be courteous, as I don't have much tolerance for jerks in my inbox, and will block people if I feel they're being too rude.
(1) = Non-autistics tend to be at least as bothersome to autistic people as autistic people seem to bother most non-autistics. I do have plenty of non-autistic friends, so it's not a given, just a tendency.