Chapter 1 : To Catch a Rat
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On Halloween evening a large black dog trotted along a quiet country lane that led to a ruined house that was concealed with spells from Muggles. Long stalks of nettles and thistles shrouded a collapsed wall and hid a soot darkened kitchen from the gazes of curious wizards. The dog slunk through weeds and the rubbled kitchen, pushed a door open with its wet nose and wandered to an abandoned sitting room where time sat still. It sneezed once when dust caught its nose, sat on its hind legs and then sighed mournfully.
The dog morphed into a thin bedraggled wizard with long black hair and a haunted look in his eyes. He stared at the sitting room with immeasurable sadness. It had been a cozy little room once upon a time, but its inhabitants were long gone. A flowery sofa had a thick grey layer of dust on it, and a tea service and a wooden table had been toppled on a rug in evident hurry. The last rays of setting sun coloured the room gold before the night overran the day and left the room in darkness.
Sirius Black sprang back to life as shades advanced and he abandoned his deep thoughts. He walked in front of a large fireplace, where years ago he had roasted chestnuts with his friends and laughed like only a twenty-one-year-old could. The times hadn’t been easy even then, but they had been a happy bunch. The little black-haired baby boy had swooshed around with his first toy broom, and the boy’s parents had told stories about his latest adventures with Daddy’s wand and the family’s cat.
He cast a silent Lumos spell with his wand and then touched a framed picture on the mantelpiece with trembling fingers. In it the happy family waved at a camera without a care in the world.
“Twelve years today,” he rasped with a voice that hadn’t been used for a while.
Hot tears burned in his eyes as he gazed the Potters with longing he hadn’t felt for ages. The years in Azkaban had stripped most of his feelings away and the few memories he had kept hidden from Dementors hadn’t exactly been happy ones. Now they were resurfacing little by little, and his soul, that had been sucked up nearly dry, was floundering with waves of emotions.
He wiped the corners of his eyes with a sleeve of his robes and cleared his clogged throat. The pain subsided some as he settled on the work ahead of him, protecting the boy from experiencing the same fate his parents had suffered.
“I haven’t been much of a godfather lately,” he confessed to his best friend who winked back at him from the picture. “But I’ll try. For you and Lily, I’ll try.”
Sirius touched the picture gently with his thumb to say farewell to his friends and then turned his back to the fireplace. He walked to a mahogany corner desk. An unfinished letter with Lily’s familiar spindly writing was still resting beneath a quill, as if she had just stepped away from it for a while, instead of leaving it there incomplete for eternity.
The mirror he had been looking for was right next to it. He blew dust off and put it in his pocket for later use. Maybe he could give it to the boy some day.
After a last look of regret he walked out to the darkened garden, where his nose caught a gentle whiff of horehound crushed under his boots. A star shot across the eastern sky and he remembered how simple life had been. Almost like everything good had been one wish away from coming true.
How many wishes he had squandered as a kid while watching stars? Wishing for insignificant things, like pumpkin pasties for breakfast. But he had wished for friends too and had gotten the Marauders.
Maybe it was time to make a one last wish. He closed his eyes and wished with his whole heart that little Harry was still safe. Safe until Sirius got to his side.
Then Sirius turned on his heel and Apparated into the Shrieking Shack.
The Halloween feast in Hogwarts was in full swing when Sirius changed back into dog form and went through the tunnel that connected the shack to the Hogwarts grounds. The Whomping Willow rustled its leaves angrily, as if it still remembered all the pranks Sirius and his friends had made it suffer through during his school years.
The thought of Peter Pettigrew made him see red and howl to the moon. The chase was on - little sucker. He would find that lying rat and rip him to pieces with his sharp teeth. It felt like very fitting end to someone who had ratted his best friends out to Voldemort. Sliced and quartered. Or maybe that orange cat he had made friends with would like to play with its food. That would work out well too.
He sniffed the air and trotted to the Hagrid’s hut. Some enterprising student had carved a serpent of Slytherin on the pumpkin. How unoriginal. The idiot had even left his pocket knife next to the jack-o'-lantern. ‘Theodore Nott’s property’ it proudly claimed. That was truly natural selection in process right there. The little dumbarses hadn’t learned anything since his school years. If you pranked, you never left evidence of your identity behind. When a professor would find the knife, the boy was going to get some one-on-one time with polishing wax and the trophies.
No sign of the rat near the pumpkins, though.
He continued his way to the castle doors. Someone had left them ajar and warm lights of the place he had once thought as his home invited him in. The spicy smell of soul cakes drifted from the Great Hall. If he knew anything about Peter, it was that he was easiest to find near the food source. Memory of the newspaper clip of the fat, well-fed rat on a red haired boy’s shoulder made him snarl. How had the sneaky bastard worked his way into a cozy care of the prominent Wizarding family befuddled him. He had gotten fatter and fatter, while Prongs had gone six feet under, he himself had spent years playing hide and seek with Dementors, and Moony battled his wolf traits and lived shunned from the Wizarding community. Very nicely done. From a friend.
That last thought made him growl out loud.
Sirius trotted across the entrance hall and down the stairs that led to the kitchens. He nearly knocked down a tiny Hufflepuff student who had her hands full of sticky pumpkin seed sweets and bat-shaped chocolate biscuits. The girl squealed something about the Grim and ran like a wind towards the entrance hall. Sirius took a moment to savor a biscuit which the girl had dropped while running. It tasted quite lovely after a steady diet of rodents, wild berries and raw fish.
He went around the corner and stopped in front of the painting. He nudged the pear with his nose and the door opened before him. There had been times when he had spent many sleepless nights traipsing around the castle, but his fondest memories always included the kitchens. The delicious scent of roast beef lingered in the air. In the middle of the kitchen was a big wooden table, where a rat sat on top of an upended gravy boat. The rat snacked happily on a big toffee apple when it spotted Sirius. If ever had a rat looked frightened, this definitely was a moment. It slipped off from the serving dish and ran through a meringue pumpkin pie, leaving tiny white footprints after it.
Sirius ran after it with ears flopping in the wind and the chase was on. They went through the kitchen door, up the stairs, down the other ones, through a secret passage behind the painting, past dancing skeletons and up the stairs again until they were near the corridor that led to the Gryffindor common room.
He cornered the rat between two statues of trolls with faces like slapped arses, and changed himself back to a human form to properly address Peter before ending his life. He had thought this moment so many times in his head, but now he simply couldn’t find any other words than a ragged whisper of, “Why?”
The rat’s whiskers wiggled in indecision, but it didn’t seem to have any answer for him. The coward was determined to stay in Animagus form ‘til the bitter end. So be it.
Sirius took a wand out of his pocket and pointed it at the rat. He hadn’t said the words which many had accused him of before sending him to Azkaban. He had never actually used the Unforgivable Curses, but this definitely felt as good a time as any to break the habit. He took a deep breath to steady himself. The idea of using the killing curse made him feel very hollow inside, but it was the only way to avenge Lily’s and James’s deaths.
The final decision was done for him by the meddling poltergeist. Peeves hit him with a bucketful of goo. Sirius’s concentration slipped for a fraction of moment while he spluttered stinking stuff out of his eyes and mouth. Peter used it for his advantage and sprung towards the half open portrait that led to the common room.
He scrambled after the rat, but the portrait swung shut just before him, putting Peter safely on the other side of it.
The Fat Lady stared at him incredulously.
“What are you doing here, Sirius Black?” She asked him, and took a note of his less-than-upstanding appearance.
“Let me in, Fat Lady,” he muttered angrily. “I need to go into the common room.”
“Not so fast mister,” she said and shook her chubby finger. “Do you have a password?”
“Then you have no business being here. You know the rules.” She crossed her arms below her ample bosom.
“I will go through you then,” Sirius said. “You leave me no choice.”
He grabbed a fringe of the painting and ripped it off the framing with cold-hearted determination. Fat Lady cried with frustration and then fear as he ripped the canvas further and further apart. He sensed faintly that Fat Lady had fled from the portrait and was sobbing somewhere further down in the corridor’s paintings, but his mind was on one thing only: to catch that bloody rat before it caused someone else’s death. But beneath the painting he met a stone wall. No hex or curse made even a dent on it.
He realized that students would be returning from the dinner soon. Clearly there was no way of catching the rat tonight. He slunk to the nearest shadowy corner and changed back into the dog. The way back to the entrance hall was filled with gloomy thoughts. He had failed James again.
Then, familiar laughter made him pinch up his ears and hide in the shadows. He watched as three students walked by his hiding place and chatted about the delicious dinner they had just had. James’s son looked so much like his father. Only his eyes were green, like Lily’s eyes had been. Sirius’s heart swelled with pride. He had seen Harry briefly in Little Whinging and even then it had been in middle of the night. To see him happy and healthy confirmed his resolve. The battle was far from over, he thought, while slipping back in the tunnel that led back to the Shrieking Shack.
He would find that rat even if it was his last act on this earth. And Peter Pettigrew could count on that.
A/N: Hi! This little fic is probably not your most typical Halloween story. But it wanted to be written, so here it is. Let me know how you liked it. Sound off below! =)
Betaread by wonderful caoty.
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