Sirius Black reveals himself to thirteen year old Harry after his escape from Azkaban and tells him a story. A short AU on how POA could have gone differently.
Then there was a growl from behind him and the next thing he knew a massive black dog had leapt over him towards Petunia—except between one blink and another it wasn't a dog but a man, a tall man with ratty, elbow length black hair. Petunia shrieked as the man wrenched the pan from her grip, tossed it aside, and then punched the woman hard across the face. Petunia grunted and dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes, leaving the garden silent but for the harsh panting of the man.
Harry swallowed. "Is she dead?"
The man snorted. "Not likely. You alright, Harry?"
He turned then, looking down at Harry, who gaped. "You're that bloke from the TV! The escaped criminal!"
The man—Sirius Black, Harry remembered—glanced around nervously. "Yeah, but I'm not going to hurt you, Harry, I swear."
Harry shuffled back as the man took a step forwards. "How do you know my name?"
Black hesitated, then answered, "Your aunt was shouting it. And... I'm a wizard. I know who you are."
"Oh." He licked his lips. "I, uh, I appreciate your help, mister, and I swear I won't tell anyone you were here. I won't call that hotline, so just... yeah. Thanks and please don't hurt me."
"I told you, I won't. Can you stand? We should get you out of here before she comes around."
Harry blinked. "What?"
"C'mon, before the rest of your... family come back. We'll be quick, hopefully no one will have seen me."
"You-you want to... get me out?"
Black nodded, reached down and grabbed Harry's wrist then let go again when Harry yelped with pain.
Harry tried not to whimper. "My hand," he said through gritted teeth. Black crouched, carefully taking Harry's hand and peering at it in the fading evening light.
"Merlin," he breathed. "She did that?"
Harry shook his head. "It was an accident."
Black didn't look as if he quite believed him, but he hauled him to his feet, glancing around nervously as he pulled Harry through the still open door into the kitchen.
"You get a trunk?" he asked. "With your school stuff and... stuff?"
Harry nodded, still somewhat baffled that he was being helped by an escaped criminal who was apparently a wizard and, if his eyes hadn't deceived him earlier, could turn into a dog. Could wizards do that by themselves? Didn't they need someone else to do the transfiguration on them?
"Uh... my trunk's in that cupboard," he told Black as they moved out of the kitchen and into the front hall. "I've got some stuff upstairs in my room though."
"Go get it. Quickly."
He didn't even argue, just headed up the stairs and wrenched aside the loose floorboard, pulling out the pillowcase that held a few books and the birthday presents he got just days ago, and grabbed Hedwig's empty cage then headed back downstairs. His hand throbbed horribly and his head pounded as he leant against the hallway wall, breathing harshly through the pain, and watched Black use the heavy clock from the mantelpiece to break off the padlock on the cupboard under the stairs. He hauled the trunk out, kicked it open and took the pillowcase from Harry, shoving it inside the trunk then taking Harry's wand from it. He hesitated, hands clenching around the wood, then handed it over.
"I can't—I'm not allowed—"
"Still best to—" Black broke off, driving a hand into the trunk again and this time pulling out Harry's Invisibility Cloak. Harry's heart twisted. It was his father's; he didn't want some filthy criminal stealing it.
As if sensing Harry's thoughts, Black shoved it back in and closed the trunk. "Keep the wand on you and follow me."
Then, with a pop, Black disappeared and the huge black dog was in his place. He came up to Harry, nosed him and gave a slight whimper, then pawed at the front door. Harry, thinking he must be mad, pocketed his wand, opened the door then grabbed his trunk with his good hand and left.
He followed the dog for several streets until the trunk became too heavy and the pain in his hand too unbearable, then collapsed on a low wall. Black noticed and came over, whining softly.
"Look, Mister Black, I'm hurt and I don't know where you think I'm going to go," he said to the dog, idly hoping there was no one to see him talking to an animal. Dark was well on its way and the evening was cold, so hopefully everyone would be inside right now. "I really appreciate your help but..."
He trailed off. He was going to say that he thought he should go back, but how could he? His aunt would probably kill him for letting her get attacked by an escaped convict, no matter that he hadn't asked said convict to punch her. He could probably never go back to Privet Drive again, except he had nowhere else to go. School wasn't for another three weeks and four days. Where could he go until then? He had a broom. He supposed he could fly to the Burrow, although he wasn't entirely sure where that was exactly, and he wouldn't be able to carry his trunk on the broom, not without a Lightening Charm or something, which would only get him expelled from Hogwarts for using magic in the holidays.
He jumped when Black transformed suddenly.
"Summon the Knight Bus," Black said quickly and quietly, eyes darting around for anyone who might see him. "Get to Saint Mungo's and get your hand fixed. Then get word to Dumbledore or someone. They'll come help you, I'm sure."
"The Knight Bus?"
"You don't know about the Knight Bus? Okay, just throw out your wand hand to summon it. You got some money to pay the fare?"
Harry nodded. "And you want me to go where?"
"Saint Mungo's. Wizard hospital," Black elaborated at Harry's blank look. "It's in London, the bus'll take you right there."
"What about you?"
Black looked at him and Harry was suddenly reminded that this man was an escaped convict who'd been imprisoned for murder.
"You really don't know who I am, do you?" Black asked.
"Uh... you're, um... you're an escaped convict and your name's Sirius Black?"
"You got one thing right, at least."
"What thing?" he asked, then could have kicked himself. Provoking escaped convicts wasn't a good idea!
"Well. Two, I guess. My name and the fact that I escaped prison. Saying I'm a convict suggests I was actually convicted and you need a trial to do that."
"Didn't you have one?"
"Ministry just tossed me in jail," Black growled. "They all just assumed I was guilty."
"Then... you didn't murder anyone? That's what the TV said."
Black looked at him and Harry swallowed thickly.
"No one ever told you about the night your parents died?"
"My... told me what?" he asked desperately. "They were killed by Voldemort. Everyone says so. That's... told me what?"
"They were in hiding," Black said, unfazed by Harry's anger and with more than a hint of fury in his own voice. "They knew Voldemort was going after them so they went into hiding under a Fidelius Charm."
"It's a powerful spell that hides a residence. You choose a Secret Keeper who's the only person to know where the residence is and as long as the Secret Keeper doesn't tell anyone, the people inside are completely safe. No one can get to them."
Harry's mouth was dry and his heart pounding. He barely noticed the pain in his hand. "And my parent's Secret Keeper betrayed them to Voldemort?"
"Who? Who was it?"
"A man named Peter Pettigrew."
Harry doesn't know the name but in that instance he absolutely loathes him. "Is he alive? I'll kill him if he is. Is he in Azkaban?" Then something else occurred to him: "How do you know all this?"
"I was your father's best friend. We were at school together."
"Then why weren't you his Secret Keeper? Why did they make this Pettigrew bloke their Secret Keeper instead of my dad's best friend?"
"They were going to," Black answered quickly, hearing the distrust starting to creep into Harry's voice. "James wanted to but I convinced—god, I was such an idiot—I convinced him to use Peter instead. Peter was our friend as well."
Harry shook his head. "You said Pettigrew sold them out to Voldemort. My dad would never be friends with someone like that."
"We didn't know, Harry," Black said urgently. "You don't understand—back then, during the war, there were spies everywhere. None of us suspected Pettigrew of all people would turn dark. He was a cowardly little shit. He practically worshipped the ground your father and I walked on. We never would have thought he'd betray us—I even thought Remus would, Merlin forgive me, but never Pettigrew. That's why I convinced your parents to use Peter as the Secret Keeper. I was James' best friend—it would have been too obvious and Voldemort would have come after me, but no one would have thought Pettigrew was the real Secret Keeper."
"How do I know you're not lying?"
"Because no one did /think Pettigrew was the Secret Keeper. Everyone thought it was me, that /I betrayed Lily and James, so they threw me in Azkaban without a trial."
"Why didn't you tell anyone the truth?"
"Because everyone thinks Pettigrew is dead and they think I killed him."
"I was going to. After Voldemort attacked Godric's Hollow, I went after Pettigrew and I confronted him. Before I got chance to kill him, he shouted that I betrayed the Potters and then he blew up half a street, killed a dozen Muggles, and faked his death."
"Faked it how?" Harry asked. The story sounded farfetched, but he was hooked. No one ever told him much about how his parents died. Not that he ever asked because hearing about his parents death was painful, but now Black was talking Harry found that he wanted to know more.
"He's an Animagus."
"What are they teaching you at Hogwarts? An Animagus, a wizard that can turn himself into an animal, like I can."
"So he turned into a dog? Surely everyone on the street saw that."
"Pettigrew didn't turn into a dog, he turned into a rat. That was his Animagus form. He cut off one of his fingers and transformed while everyone was blinded from the curse that killed the Muggles, and then ran off."
"Why did he cut off his finger?"
"It would have been suspicious if there was no body. He left behind a finger and everyone assumed I killed him and the Muggles."
It sounded plausible, Harry thought. Just.
"So where is he now then, this Pettigrew bloke?"
"Right now? I don't know exactly. But he'll be at Hogwarts in September."
Harry looked at him sharply. "How do you know that?"
Black dug into his pocket. "After he killed those Muggles, he went into hiding. He had to, of course. Voldemort was gone and he'd just betrayed your parents and framed me; he had to hide. But here." He pulled a crumpled bit of paper from his pocket and smoothed it out to show Harry in the light of a street lamp.
Harry stared at the picture on the paper. It was black and white and moving, one he'd seen before—Ron had sent a copy with his birthday letter. The photo was of Ron and his family in Egypt, where the Weasleys were on holiday after winning some money in a grand prize draw.
Black pointed to Scabbers, the rat sat on Ron's shoulder. "That's him. That's Pettigrew."
Harry shook his head. "That's Scabbers. He's just a rat."
Black looked at him sharply. "You know him?"
"Ron's my friend. We've been friends since we met in my first year. I know Scabbers. He's not an Animagus."
"It's not something he'd go around broadcasting, Harry. He probably found a nice wizarding family to settle down with and wait until he found some reason to come out of hiding."
"You said he betrayed my parents, and Voldemort was after me, wasn't he?"
"So Pettigrew must want me dead too."
"Harry, he..." Black trailed off, not knowing what to say.
"But if Scabbers is Pettigrew, and Pettigrew really wanted me dead, then he could have killed me anytime in the last two years. I've been sharing a dorm with him all this time. Why didn't he do anything?"
"Because Pettigrew was a coward. He never did anything if there wasn't something in it for him. If he killed you right under Albus Dumbledore's nose the only thing he would have got was a cell in Azkaban."
"Is this why you broke out of prison then? To come after him?"
Black nodded, taking the picture back and shoving it in his pocket. "I'm going to kill the bastard for betraying your parents. I spent twelve years in Azkaban; might as well at least commit the crime they locked me up for."
"How are you going to get him?"
Black shrugged. "Haven't figured that much out yet."
"Why didn't you tell anyone he was an Animagus?" Harry asked. "Then they'd have known to look for him."
"No one would have believed me, Harry. We never registered with the Ministry, like you're supposed to, and everyone thought I was guilty. No one even doubted it, not for a second, and no one would have believed that Peter Pettigrew could become an Animagus. He was never a strong wizard and he only managed it with help from me and your dad. He was one too, you know."
"He was? What did he turn into?"
"A stag," Black answered wistfully. "It took us three years to figure it out. We did it in school, see. We had this friend, Remus Lupin, who was a werewolf, so we all learnt how to become Animagi to stay with him during the full moons. It made it easier on him when he transformed if we were there too. It's not pleasant, being a werewolf."
"Aren't werewolves really bad?"
Black shook his head. "It's a curse, Harry. It's not a person's fault they become a werewolf and no one would ever want to be one, but it happens. They can't control what they do in their animal form."
"Is this Remus guy still alive?"
"So far as I know."
"Wouldn't he recognise Pettigrew then? In his rat form, I mean. Like you did. If you were really friends like you said."
"We were and he would recognise him, but if Remus thought I really killed Pettigrew, he wouldn't have been looking." He paused, a sad expression on his face. "He must not have told anyone about our Animagus forms either, or they'd have warded my cell in Azkaban."
"But if he didn't tell," Harry said slowly, "shouldn't that mean he still... I dunno. That maybe he doesn't think you did it. Wouldn't he have told everyone so they could ward your cell?"
But Black shook his head. "Werewolves aren't trusted and we learnt the transformation illegally. If he told anyone, they probably would have locked Lupin up as an accessory or something. The slightest excuse is all it takes for the Ministry to start coming down on a werewolf."
Black snorted. "The Ministry doesn't understand the meaning of the word 'fair'," he said, then sighed, looking at Harry's hand. The pain seemed to come rushing back as Harry's attention returned to it. "You really need to get to the hospital."
Harry nodded. "Saint Mungo's, right? London?"
"Yeah. Remember, just throw out your wand hand to summon the Knight Bus." Black looked at him once more and said, "Take care, Harry," then turned into a dog again and bounded away into the darkness.
Many hours later Harry was set up in a room at the Leaky Cauldron. His hand was wrapped in bandages, after having been slathered with an orange goo by a medi-wizard at Saint Mungo's. He'd also been given a potion for the pain, which left him slightly woozy and very agreeable when Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, said he was to spend the rest of the holidays at the Leaky Cauldron and not leave wizarding London.
Harry had no objections to this. It certainly beat staying at the Dursleys and by morning his hand was perfectly fine, without even a scar or itch of pain to suggest he'd ever been burnt. He spent the next few weeks exploring Diagon Alley and sleeping in, grateful not to be woken in the early hours of the morning by his aunt demanding he cook breakfast. He took advantage of the bookshop while he was there, taking a few books to read up on the night his parents died, but there wasn't much information, certainly nothing more than Black had told him. Everything said that Black had betrayed the Potters to Voldemort then killed Peter Pettigrew and twelve Muggles. He started looking at transfiguration texts instead, learning about Animagi. He found a spell that forced Animagi to return to their human form and promised himself he'd learn it once school started, then he read more. His dad had been one and he was quite interested in the possibility of becoming one himself.
He spent a while looking through the photo album that Hagrid had given him at the end of his first year. He'd not paid a lot of attention to the other people in the pictures before, focusing instead on his parents, but now he went through it, focusing on the few pictures from his parents wedding day. Black was in them as James' best man. He looked nothing like the gaunt, ragged, dirty man Harry had met, but handsome, happy, and, lively.
Hermione, Ron, and the rest of the Weasleys arrived the day before school started again. Harry accompanied his friends to the pet shop where Hermione bought a huge ginger cat and Ron got some tonic for Scabbers, who was looking ill. Harry scrutinised the rat, looking for some sign that it was really a man, but Scabbers looked as rat-like as he always did. Harry innocently asked about his missing toe, but Ron claimed it'd always been missing, ever since Percy owned him, which could support Black's story but was hardly definitive proof.
He decided not to tell his friends about his meeting with Black and the story he told. He didn't want Scabbers, if he really was Pettigrew, getting suspicious that Harry knew his identity. It'd scare the rat/man off, or drive him to finally decide attacking Harry was worthwhile. No, he decided, he'd just learn the spell that forced Animagi to transform then use it on Scabbers. If he was Pettigrew, the truth would be revealed; if he wasn't, then Harry would know Black was a liar and the true betrayer of Harry's parents, and then Harry would kill him.
But that evening Harry overheard a conversation between Mr and Mrs Weasley that made him think perhaps Black had been telling the truth. Mr Weasley seemed to think that Black had broken out of Azkaban just to come after Harry, but Black had proven himself to do the exact opposite. If he wanted to kill Harry, he could have the night he saved him from Petunia. He wouldn't even have had to do anything; he could have just let Petunia carry on.
The next morning found Harry, Ron, and Hermione having to take the very last compartment on the train, as everywhere else was already full. Even their compartment already had someone in it, a youngish man with grey in his brown hair and a face that looked ill and tired.
"Wonder who that is," Ron remarked as they sat. Harry shrugged but Hermione answered promptly, "Professor R.J. Lupin."
Harry dropped Hedwig's cage and Hedwig let out an indignant squawk.
"How do you know that?" he asked Hermione, who pointed over Harry's head.
"It's on his suitcase."
Harry looked up at said suitcase then at the man and worried at his lip. R. Lupin. Was that Remus Lupin? The Remus Lupin that Black had mentioned? If it was, he was currently sat next to a werewolf. Not that Lupin looked particularly threatening or vicious in his shabby robes, which have been patched up several times, but Harry recalled seeing the full moon out his window just a few days ago. Werewolves were really only dangerous on the full moon, he reminded himself, and his dad had been friends with a werewolf, assuming Black hadn't been lying about that either. If his dad could be friends with a werewolf, surely Harry could manage to be taught by one?
"Harry? What did you want to tell us?"
Harry blinked at Hermione's words, then remembered that he'd planned to tell them about Mr Weasley's belief that Black was coming after him.
The Animagus Restoration spell seemed simple enough. Harry had it working after a week. Or at least, he had a flash of blue-white light coming from his wand within a week. Whether it would actually work remained to be seen as he had no one to practice on. McGonagall was an Animagus—she transformed into a cat in their first Transfiguration lesson of the year—but Harry doubted he'd be allowed to practice it on her, and he didn't really want to try it on Scabbers and fail. If it was Pettigrew, the man/rat would definitely know Harry was after him then and Pettigrew would run or kill Harry. Or kill Harry and then run.
On the plus side, he did get the top mark on his Animagi essay that McGonagall had them write.
The first half of the term passed quickly. Hallowe'en brought the first Hogsmeade visit of the year, which Harry couldn't go on as Uncle Vernon had refused to sign Harry's permission slip prior to Harry's abrupt departure. Harry watched the rest of them leave then headed up to Gryffindor, only to get waylaid en route by Lupin, who called him into his office. Harry liked Lupin. His classes were fun and he was definitely the best of the three Defence Against the Dark Arts professors that they'd had, which made keeping the secret of his lycanthropy easier. He hadn't even told Hermione or Ron, after a conversation about werewolves in which Ron had made it clear that he didn't trust them, although Hermione was of the opinion that they should be given a chance just like anyone else, but Harry didn't think it would be fair to tell Hermione and not Ron.
They drank tea and discussed Boggarts, which Lupin had taught them about in their first class but hadn't let Harry fight, which lead to talk of the Dementors, but just as Harry was about to ask about ways to fight the soul-sucking creatures, there was a knock at the door and their conversation was interrupted by Snape bringing a gobletful of potion to Lupin.
"Professor Snape has very kindly concocted a potion for me," Lupin told Harry when Snape had left. "I have never been much of a potion-brewer and this one is particularly complex."
"Why—?" Harry began. Lupin looked at him and answered the unfinished question.
"I've been feeling a bit off-colour," he said. "This potion is the only thing that helps. I am very lucky to be working alongside Professor Snape; there aren't many wizards who are up to making it."
Harry wondered if the illness was related to his lycanthropy and he forgot about Dementors as a new thought took him.
"Sir," he ventures hesitantly, "did you know my dad?"
Lupin slowly lowered his goblet and looked at Harry carefully. "Why do you ask that?"
"I... I saw in an old year book in the library," Harry lied. "I looked up my parents and I saw that you were in the same year as him, and a Gryffindor. I figured you must have known him."
Lupin looked mollified and nodded. "We were friends. He was a good man, your father."
"You must have known Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew as well."
An expression of pain flickered across Lupin's face then and he looked down at his goblet, taking another mouthful and twisting his face at the taste before he answered Harry. "I thought I knew them," he said quietly. "I have a lot of work to do now, Harry. I will see you at the feast."
Harry got to his feet, but he couldn't resist asking one more question on his way out. "Sir, have you ever doubted that Sirius Black was guilty of what they say he did?"
Lupin looked at him very sharply then but his answer was careful. "I have never been given reason to doubt it. Sirius Black was and is a dangerous man, Harry."
Harry nodded. "Yes, sir. Goodbye."
Harry barely noticed Fred and George leaving the room after giving Harry the Marauder's Map. He knew they expected him to use it to sneak into Hogsmeade, and he had every intention of doing exactly that... as soon as he'd checked the portion of the map that showed Gryffindor tower first. As per usual, Ron had left Scabbers there as he and Hermione went down to Hogsmeade and Harry urgently scanned the map until he found the Gryffindor boys' dorm. There was only one name in it and Harry's breath caught when he saw it. All thoughts of Hogsmeade fled and he ran back to the tower as fast as his legs would take him, formulating a plan as he went.
He calmed down when he reached the tower, pausing a moment to catch his breath. It wouldn't do to put Scabbers—Pettigrew—on alert. So he walked calmly up to the boys' dorm, entering with a scowl as if annoyed at the fact that he'd been left behind for the Hogsmeade visit, and looked around the room. Scabbers slept on Ron's pillow and Harry ignored him at first, going to his own bed and rummaging through his things until he found a box of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. He emptied the beans then concentrated and transfigured the box into a small rat cage, suitable for carrying around. It wasn't perfect—the bars were still patterned with the design of the Bertie Botts box, but it was sturdy and good enough. That done, he went to Ron's bed and picked up the sleeping rat.
"You'll keep me company, won't you, Scabbers?" he said, stroking the animal's fur and wandering over to his own bed, keeping his back to it so Scabbers wouldn't notice the cage. "Everyone else has gone to Hogsmeade so it's just you and me. And Crookshanks. I'm sure he's around here somewhere but don't worry, I'll make sure he doesn't get you," he said, then turned and shoved the rat into the cage. It squeaked and nosed at the bars, but didn't suddenly transform and break through the transfigured cage.
"C'mon, Scabbers. Let's take a walk."
He took the cage to Lupin's office. He'd thought about going to McGonagall or Dumbledore, but decided that Lupin might believe him first, as he knew Pettigrew was an Animagus, then they could go to McGonagall or Dumbledore and Lupin could help convince them better than Harry could do it alone.
Lupin was in, thankfully, and greeted Harry with a warm but tired smile.
"Harry, how can I help you?"
Harry set the cage on top of Lupin's desk. "Could you look at my friend's rat please, sir?"
Lupin frowned. Scabbers was scurrying around his cage making loud, unhappy squeaks.
"If there's something wrong with it, Harry, your friend should take it to Professor Hagrid. He is the resident Care of Magical Creatures teacher after all."
"I know, sir, but I wondered if you might want a reason to doubt Sirius Black's guilt."
Lupin stared at him. Harry stared back. Scabbers squeaked. Lupin looked down, bent closer to the cage, and his eyes went wide.
"No..." His eyes snapped back up to Harry. "How did you know?"
"I met Sirius Black in the summer, professor," Harry said, figuring it was okay to tell the story now. "He told me an... interesting story."
Lupin's chair scraped as he stood up. "Harry, are you alright? Did he hurt you?"
Harry shook his head. "No. He didn't do anything to me, honest. But it's true, isn't it? The story he told me about you and him and my dad and Peter Pettigrew. I haven't told anyone about you," he added when Lupin's face went ashen. "Not even Ron and Hermione."
Lupin swallowed thickly. "I think, Harry, that we should go and see Headmaster Dumbledore."
Harry nodded. "Oh, do you know any spells to put on the cage? I transfigured it from a box and I'm not sure how long it'll stay like that. I wouldn't want him getting away."
Lupin drew his wand and cast a couple of spells on the cage that he told Harry would keep it from untransfiguring and stop Scabbers from being able to escape, then the three of them made their way to Dumbledore's office.
A week later it was Christmas and Harry was sat in the Gryffindor with Ron, Hermione, and Sirius, newly pardoned and no longer hunted. As everyone else but a Slytherin fifth year and two Hufflepuff first years had gone home, Dumbledore had allowed Sirius to visit for Christmas. His new status as free man was only recently revealed to the public and as such many people were still afraid of him, Ron and Hermione included, but they did a good job of pretending not to be, though it was easier now that Sirius had cleaned up. Ron was irritated that he no longer had a rat, but that didn't last when Sirius revealed that he'd bought the boy an excitable little owl as a replacement pet.
"It was sort of my fault you lost your rat, after all."
For Harry himself, Sirius had got a Firebolt to replace the Nimbus that'd been destroyed by the Whomping Willow during the first Quidditch match of the season, when Dementors had come onto the pitch and Harry had fallen from his broom. That evening found Harry and Ron taking turns on the Firebolt while Hermione and Sirius, as Padfoot, watched from the stands. Harry loved it, and he was immensely eager to see the look on Malfoy's face when he saw Harry riding a Firebolt, but in his opinion the best Christmas present he'd got was his godfather, who he would be moving in with now that the man was free. It was, without a doubt, the happiest he'd ever been.