Return to Godric's Hollow
Author's Note: Annnd — We're back! Apologies for the delay, but one of the characters went on vacation and refused to provide dialogue.
This whole chapter sort of made a left turn at Albuquerque, but even with the detour it wound up where I wanted it to be, and I found out some interesting things about the Department of Mysteries on the trip. Hope you like it!
Disclaimer: As always, anything you recognise is not mine, but belongs to the nice blond lady with all the money. The plot is mine.
Return to Godric's Hollow
November 7, 1985 — The Department of Mysteries
By and large, Sirius Black loved his work. The Department of Mysteries had turned out to be just the place for him, just as Algernon Croaker had promised. There was excitement, and adventure, and just enough danger to keep him on his toes, but it also made him think more than he had been used to. In school, he'd mostly relied on James, Peter, and Remus to do that for him. In the Aurors, you weren't really supposed to think; that's what rules and regulations were for. In the Department of Mysteries, now, he never knew what would be coming at him on any given day. The Department was an uncategorizable melange of magical research and development organization, espionage agency and vigilante group. They did their own research, worked on adapting Muggle ideas to magic in a way that the magical community could accept, kept an eye on other groups that might be messing with Things Wizardkind Was Not Meant To Know, and quashed them if necessary (while stealing all their notes, of course). It had a budget that would have made the Department of Magical Law Enforcement turn green with jealousy if they'd known about it, and it was the considered opinion of the Department of Mysteries personnel that the Minister answered to them instead of the other way around. They also had fingers in other organizations, as Sirius had discovered that there were no less than six Unspeakables who had enlisted in the Order of the Phoenix apparently without Dumbledore's knowledge, not to mention the three that he had known about, and one had successfully managed to infiltrate the Death Eaters, though apparently not producing the quality of information that Snape had. Sirius had muttered to himself that he was surprised the Department hadn't tried to recruit Snape, at which point Croaker had given him a look that made him wonder if perhaps they had.
Sirius's official job title was "Field Agent", although office opinion was that it should probably have been "Test Pilot." On any given day, he could be Sirius Black, playboy, circulating at a society gala and picking up the odd bit of information (not to mention the occasional attractive witch — the job was not without its perks), or he could be the guinea pig for a new potion or spell, or even sent time travelling to see just how far back the new and improved Time Turner could send someone. The answer was three years — much farther than any previous Turner. But like all other Time Turners, it wouldn't bring you back — you had to do that at one second per second, just like anybody else. He'd spent those years travelling abroad, and was rather peeved at first that the fall of Voldemort was just outside that range, but admitted to himself that he probably wouldn't have been able to resist interfering if he had gone back that far, so it was just as well. He really didn't understand about Time Paradoxes, but his training had insisted that causing one would be a Bad Thing. He did have three years' credit added to his pension, though.
In the centre of the Department of Mysteries was an artefact of stunning power that predated Hogwarts and probably even Stonehenge in antiquity. No one knew who had built it, or how, or why. It was simply there. It could not be moved, and so the Department, back in its early days, had simply built their offices around it, and the rest of the Ministry was built around the Department so as to protect it. It was an irregular stone archway, smoothly moulded of native stone instead of built, with what looked like a veil woven of multicoloured clouds hanging across it. From time to time images would flit across the veil, and for that reason, there were always at least three Observers on duty in the room at any given time. At least one of them, hopefully more, would see the images, and then they could be put into a Pensieve and reviewed at the convenience of the researchers. After many years of study of these images, it was believed that the Veil showed images, not of the past, present, or future, but of alternate dimensions where other things had happened. Some of these places were very strange, where history had gone very differently. There had been a few visions of worlds where even the basic definition of what was human was different. But those were few and far between. Mostly the Veil showed images of worlds similar to the real world, but with historical and cultural differences.
Once the function of the Veil was understood, it was natural for the Department to want to tinker with it, and so they had. So far, they had been able to figure out how to trigger images, and how to make them last longer, but there was, so far, no way to select a particular dimension, alternate history, or whatever it was, and no way for anyone to pass through. Any time something more material than air came into contact with the Veil, it disappeared in a burst of light and magical energy. There was considerable internal debate in the Department as to whether the item was destroyed completely or just transmitted to the other dimension, but either way, nobody particularly wanted to be the first one to find out. About a year ago, however, something remarkable had happened. What appeared to be a ghost or an astral traveller of some sort had come out through the Veil. The visitor was apparently an elderly Chinese man, clad in old-fashioned robes and wearing his hair in a long silver pigtail. A silver cord ran from under his robes, back through the Veil. The Observation detail at the time had almost had a collective heart attack. The old man had floated about the room for a bit, then passed through the wall and into several of the other rooms of the Department, with the Observation detail and soon everyone else on duty at the time in hot pursuit. The cord kept stretching behind him, not breaking. A few random hexes went off, and some shields were set up, but nothing seemed to disturb the old man's progress, and after about half an hour he had floated back into the Veil Room, bowed solemnly to everyone, and disappeared back through the Veil.
Now that they had a clue on how to do it, the Department researchers tore after the problem with a vengeance. Astral travel was not a very common talent, and nobody currently employed by the Department knew how to do it. Several staff members were sent on fact-finding tours to Australia and Tibet to find out how the wizards of those cultures did it, but they sent back memos saying that it would be several years before they managed to learn satisfactorily. So the research teams decided to make a shortcut.
"You're sure this potion is safe?" asked Sirius.
"Oh, yes, completely," said the Department Potions Master and Head of Research, a rather strange fellow who looked much like Nearly Headless Nick and insisted on being called 'Doctor M.' Sirius reflected that if his last name were 'de Mimsy-Porpington,' he'd rather be called almost anything else as well. "We've tried it on a number of volunteers. One hour's astral travel, guaranteed return to your body. The Tibetans will be livid." Doctor M.'s glee was almost palpable.
"I should think they would be. Now how about the combination of the potion and the Veil? I will be able to get back, won't I?"
"We've tested that, too. We gave the potion to a cat, then chased the astral cat through the Veil. It came back just fine and reintegrated with its body when the potion wore off. Of course, it's been hiding under my desk ever since, but I'm sure I'll be able to lure it out eventually."
Sirius shot Doctor. M. a suspicious look. He'd never been able to tell whether the man was pulling his leg or not.
"So you want me to take this potion, go through the Veil in astral form, explore what's on the other side for an hour and come back."
"You have a keen understanding of the situation, Mr. Black."
"What if all I want to do is hide under your desk afterwards?"
Doctor M. looked blank for a moment. "I doubt you could fit. But no matter, we'd Stun you, get your memories in the Pensieve, and then build a desk big enough for you to den up under, if that's what you wanted."
Sirius glared at Doctor M. and wondered if the man thought he was being reassuring. "Why do I always get the jobs like this?" he muttered to himself.
"Because you're the junior man, Mr. Black. When we recruit somebody junior to you, he'll get all the interesting assignments. I assure you, I did my fair share of them in my day."
Sirius thought that explained a lot about Doctor M. right there. But he had to admit to himself, he was kind of excited and proud to be the first one who would explore a whole new world, even if it was only for an hour. He wondered if those Muggle fellows who sat on top of explosives to be blasted into space felt the same way.
The time had come. Virtually everyone in the Department was seated in the banks of stone seats, supplementing the seven Observers in the front row. A cot was set up in front of the Archway, and Sirius, wearing only his trousers, lay down on it. The Research team used temporary sticking charms to fasten a number of small magical monitors to his chest, neck, and temples, and then raised himself up on one elbow so he could drink the potion. "Bottoms up," he said, then knocked the sparkling red liquid back all at once, as he'd been instructed. "Merlin, that's foul! Why can't you … ever …" The room spun around him, his eyes rolled up in his head, and he fell back onto the cot, unconscious.
After the moment of dizziness passed and the nasty taste disappeared, Sirius pulled himself together and sat up the rest of the way. He felt … odd. He could see everything clearly, perhaps more clearly than he'd ever seen anything. The patterns the dust motes were making were particularly fascinating, but he pulled his attention back to Doctor M., who was saying something. He was close enough that Sirius should have heard him clearly, but it sounded like he was calling from a great distance, the sound muffled and indistinct. Sirius realised that his sense of hearing was almost completely gone, and that he'd never been aware of the sound of his own heartbeat and breathing until he couldn't hear them any more. It was quite unsettling. He tried to get up off the cot, and found himself floating above it as if he was weightless. Attempting to turn resulted in him flipping over so that he hung face down, looking down at his own unconscious body. A silver cord ran from his body's right wrist to his astral self's right wrist; it seemed to merge with his astral flesh rather than being tied or otherwise fastened around his wrist.
Doctor M. was looking up at him and pointing at his watch now.
Oh, right. I only have an hour. Better get on with it, then. Movement seemed to be accomplished by simply thinking about it, so he cautiously floated over to the Veil. In his current condition, he had a much better perception of the visions that flitted across it, as what had been flashes of colour resolved into images. Some of them were almost indistinguishable from his own dimension, some were indescribably odd. Suddenly one flashed by that caught his interest: a small boy, wearing a baggy t-shirt, jeans, and a loose jacket, running pell mell down the street, clutching an odd-looking stuffed animal. Sirius remembered running for the sake of running when he was that age himself. But the thing that attracted his attention was the child's face and hair. He was the image of James Potter — or as he imagined James would have looked at that age, since Sirius hadn't known him then. So, in that world, he realised, Harry hadn't been lost — or perhaps he had, but in a different way, since he seemed to be in a Muggle environment.
In that instant, he decided that that was the world he wanted to visit. Perhaps finding out what had happened in that world might give him a clue as to what had happened in his. The Veil stabilised easily, and Sirius realised that even if no one ever went through it again, this was worth the experiment — the knowledge that the thing could be controlled, the visions seen more easily, by someone in astral form. Maybe it was the purity of the magic this way? He'd leave that to the theorists. He was a man of action, and he had a boy to visit.
Suiting the action to the thought, he dived through the Veil.
November 7, 1985 — Somewhere Else
There was no sign of the boy, or of the street. At first, once the swirling colours stabilised into the material world again, Sirius thought he hadn't gone anywhere at all. He was still in the Room of Probabilities, still in the Department of Mysteries. But then he took a better look, and realised there were some major differences. For one thing, he was the only one in the room. His body was not there, or Doctor M., or any of the Observers or other staff. The platform in front of the veil was flat and empty, and no one at all sat in the tiers of seats. Did this dimension have no Observers?
The light was dimmer than he was used to, coming mainly from torches in brackets affixed to the wall, and an eerie glow from the archway itself, which was made, on this side, of ancient but neatly dressed stones fitted carefully together. The keystone bore a complicated rune on it, and the Veil — the Veil hung dark and menacing, without the light and visions he was used to. Somehow this version of the Veil terrified him, and the sight of his silver cord leading back through it, as the only connection to his own world, make him realise just how tenuous a link it was.
He had to remind himself of his mission. He had been focusing on the boy — where was he? With that thought, he found himself flying up and out of the room, passing through the building so fast no one even realised he was there. He flew over the afternoon streets of London faster than any broom could have taken him, southwest, leaving the city behind in only a few seconds.
One of the Muggle suburbs loomed large in front of him, and suddenly he found himself on the street. The little boy who looked like James was still running, although now he was panting and beginning to slow down. Still he kept going, and Sirius suddenly realised that he was being chased by a group of other boys about his age.
Sirius had grown up as the oldest son of an aristocratic family. He had been pampered and spoiled, and his parents had only permitted him to play with similarly privileged children. At Hogwarts, he and James had been cocks of the walk; any bullying that was going to be done would be done by them. He had never known what it might be like to be on the other end of it. He had never known the fear, the burning in the chest as one ran, the knowledge that whatever you did wouldn't be enough, that you'd be cut off and surrounded anyway, and whatever the bullies had planned would be worse, far worse, because you'd run. The little boy pelting down the walk, whether it was Harry or someone else, was frankly terrified, and his fear was almost a solid thing to the astral Wizard. It struck through him like a blade, chilling him through to the core.
Then the child ran right through him. Even if the boy hadn't seen him before, that made him aware of Sirius's presence, but not in a good way. With a scream, the little boy tripped and tumbled on the sidewalk. The boys behind him crowed with triumph; in only a moment, they would be on him.
Wizards could see ghosts, dementors, astral travellers, and such like. It was commonly accepted that Muggles couldn't. Nevertheless, Sirius crouched down to intercept the boys in an instinctive and desperate attempt to fend them off. He made a terrible face and hooked his hands into claws and yelled "YAAAARGH!" at them, as he might have if he were solid, and apparently it was enough. Judging from the boys' reaction, they could see him … or they could see something, at any rate. The pack of them came to a shuddering halt, tripping over each other, and then they turned and ran away, screaming in panic.
Sirius turned to face the other boy, who was still sprawled on the sidewalk but had rolled over to see what was happening. On closer inspection, the resemblance to James was even stronger. The child was thin and pale, but the wild black hair and the shape of the features were all James's. Only the eyes were different; they were a clear green like Lily's. If James and Lily existed in this world, this was definitely their child. Sirius drank in the details; he could use this boy's description to provide a description of Harry for those who were still looking for him. The boy's face was scraped slightly from his fall, and an older scar, in the shape of a lightning bolt, marred his forehead. His jeans leg was torn now, and a bloodied knee poked through.
"I'm sorry," Sirius said. "I didn't mean to frighten you." He knelt down so as to appear less threatening, but it didn't seem to help matters any. The boy sniffled and crawled backwards, glancing at the stuffed toy that lay on the walk near Sirius, then up at the menacing Wizard, then at the toy again. It was a rather flattened frog, of the cheap sort one would win at a carnival game. Its green plush was worn thin in places, and one seam had opened and the stuffing poked out. It wore what had apparently once been a yellow felt crown sewed to its head, which was now flattened down and resembled a starfish more than anything else. "Do you want this? Is this your frog?" Sirius asked, not even sure if the child could understand him. He reached down as if to touch the frog, but of course his fingers passed right through it. The boy made a sudden move towards the frog, but was too frightened to complete it and touch the toy.
Sirius backed away to a safer distance, and the boy grabbed his frog, scrambled to his feet and ran off, limping slightly.
Sirius frowned as he watched him go. In this world, Harry was living like a Muggle, dressed like a Muggle, and was chased by Muggle bullies, but he was obviously a Wizard or else he wouldn't have been able to see Sirius. That meant … that meant what? Were the James and Lily of this world Muggles, or at least living as Muggles? He closed his eyes and willed himself to be near James. Nothing happened. Then he tried Lily. Nothing happened. He thought, "Harry James Potter", and found himself near the boy again. The child shrieked and ran up the path to one of the houses. As he approached, the door slammed open, and a beefy moustachioed man appeared on the front step. One of the boys who had been chasing Harry peered out from behind the man. The little boy came to a halt again, looking back at Sirius and then at the man, clearly unwilling to go in either direction.
"Get in here, you little brat!" roared the man. "I heard what you've been doing again, and it stops now, do you hear me!" The boy hung his head and proceeded slowly to the house. "What is that? Have you been picking things out of the rubbish bins again? We'll have none of that, either! Decent people don't take things out of the garbage!" Harry walked into the house and the door closed behind him. Sirius realised that he could walk right through the wall himself, but he didn't want to frighten the child again. He settled for peering in the window, just in time to see the big man clout the boy on the ear and roughly take the plush frog away from him. The man went to the kitchen door, opening it just long enough to roughly thrust the frog into the rubbish can, while still yelling at the boy. "Now get cleaned up, boy, you're filthy and your aunt will want your help with dinner!" The kitchen door slammed shut, cutting off the boy's reply. Sirius waited a few minutes to see if anything else would happen. The boy stealthily opened the kitchen door, sneaked the frog out of the rubbish, and took it back into the house.
Sirius thought furiously. The boy was definitely Harry, but Lily and James were nowhere in evidence, and the boy was living with these people — his aunt? And the big man must therefore be his uncle, which meant … which meant that after his parents' deaths, Harry must have been sent to live with his Aunt Petunia, Lily's sister, who Sirius only vaguely remembered meeting at the wedding. He had an even more vague recollection of her husband, Vernon; over the years Vernon had grown thicker and redder, and a good portion of his hair appeared to have left the top of his head and moved down to his upper lip, which is why Sirius hadn't recognised him immediately.
So if Harry was staying with these people … where were the Marauders? Surely they couldn't all have died? He decided to see where they were, and concentrated on one Remus Lupin.
In his own world, once Remus started to make a little money from the sales of his books, he'd renovated his father's old cottage into a snug retreat. He still spent most of his time living in London, where he now kept a rather more spacious flat, but weekends he stayed in the country. The old stone barn had also been renovated into a much more comfortable sanctuary for the nights of the full moon, with insulation to keep it from getting chilled in the winters, and the flagstone floor softened with old rugs and heaps of pillows that a wolf (and sometimes a large black dog) could sleep on comfortably. The grounds were nicely kept up, as Remus liked to do a little gardening now and then.
Sirius arrived in the back garden, and it looked like none of those renovations had happened at all. The glass panes in the windows were cracked, and shutters hung crookedly. The house had not been painted in ages. The vegetable garden had been cleaned up for the year, but it looked to be more extensive than Sirius was used to seeing, which probably meant that Remus was relying on it for a good portion of his food supply. A dull thudding sound drew Sirius's attention to Remus. The werewolf was using an old axe to split wood, presumably for the ancient wood-burning stove that Sirius and 'his' Remus had gleefully disposed of and replaced with a more efficient gas stove. Remus was wearing worn pants and a sweatshirt that had seen better days; a threadbare jacket had been removed and draped over the woodpile as he worked up a sweat. His face was thinner and more careworn than Sirius remembered; there was old sorrow in the eyes and the beginnings of grey in his hair, despite the fact that he was only thirty. He looked older.
Having apparently split enough wood, Remus filled his arms with it and turned to enter the house, and that's when he caught sight of Sirius's white form, floating shirtless over the cabbage patch.
He dropped the wood and staggered back in shock, gasping, "Oh, no. No. After all this time …" Sirius barely heard the words.
"Remus, it's me! You have to tell me what happened! You have to tell me …"
But Remus either couldn't hear him or didn't choose to answer. His face contorted with grief and pain, and he staggered into the house.
Obviously Remus was under the impression that Sirius was, in fact, the ghost of this world's Sirius, which only raised more questions. Maybe Peter would have some answers. And maybe finding out where Peter was in this world would solve the problem in his own. Expecting the rush of movement, he concentrated on Peter.
He was on a rickety landing at the top of a crooked flight of stairs. There seemed to be no one in evidence at the moment, for which he was grateful. He didn't particularly wish to scare the daylights out of any more people if he could possibly avoid it. The murmur of voices came from below, however, so there were definitely people in the house, wherever it was. Cautiously, he drifted down the stairs and stuck his face through a wall to see into the next room, ready to pull back in a second if it looked like anyone was about to notice him. In his experience, however, people generally didn't notice what was happening up by the ceiling. It had been a useful blind spot that had been instrumental in the success of several of their best pranks.
Sirius had never been to the Burrow, but it was obvious that that was where he was. Molly Weasley, like many Wizarding mothers, schooled her children at home, and it appeared that she also took in a few others from the area, probably to supplement Arthur's income. A Ministry salary only went so far, especially with a large family. The living room furniture had been transfigured into school desks, and five boys, four of them with red hair and one with brown, were working away at various tasks. The oldest redhead and the brown haired boy were about nine or ten, Sirius would guess, the youngest about five. Seven year old twins were attempting to bean their older brother with small wads of parchment when their mother, who was supervising their work, wasn't looking. From where Sirius was looking, he could also see two little girls, one red haired and one blonde, playing with dolls in a side room.
With the Weasley family plus two occupied downstairs, he would be able to do a quick search of the upper storeys of the house. Thinking of Peter and being here meant his friend had to be in the vicinity, didn't it? He went through all the rooms of the house, being able to identify pretty much which rooms belonged to which children. This was the little girl's room, this the room shared by the twins, this one by the oldest and the youngest boy who were downstairs. There was practically a line drawn down the middle of that room, one side neat, the other side a welter of discarded clothes, toys, and sweets wrappers. An old empty fish tank occupied the windowsill, its screened lid askew. No fish were in evidence; it was quite dry, and someone (probably the younger boy) had been stuffing it full of parchment scraps. The other two bedrooms were Molly and Arthur's room and a room with neatly made up beds and that air of disuse that suggested it belonged to the two older boys, both of whom would be at school now.
Sirius drifted up the last flight of stairs and found himself in an attic full of boxes, furniture that was too old to use but not so broken that it had to be thrown out, piles of ancient bric-a-brac, and the assorted other effluvia that collects when a family lives a long time in one place. Most of it was covered with dust and cobwebs, disturbed in places by the passage of some small rodent or other. Sirius heard something scrabbling in the far corner of the attic, and came across a squirrel hiding acorns in an old school trunk. That explained the footprints in the dust quite nicely.
A sudden moaning and banging startled Sirius quite badly and he jumped — if he'd had a pulse in this form, it would have been pounding. It was the ghoul that the Weasleys allowed to live up here for some unknown reason — probably because no Weasley had ever had the cowardice to become a ghost, so they kept the ghoul as the next best thing. Sirius's presence seemed to have upset it; perhaps it felt its territory was being encroached upon. He heard Molly Weasley yelling up the stairs, "Will you quiet down up there?" and then start heading upwards, apparently bent on silencing the ghoul. Sirius took this as his signal to leave; there was no sign of Peter here.
There was one more Marauder left to visit, although Remus's reaction did not bode well for whatever he — or rather, this universe's Sirius — might be doing. Just before Molly burst into the attic, he closed his eyes and thought, "Sirius Black!" and zipped away in rapid astral flight.
Wherever he was, it was dark, which was odd, because it was the middle of the afternoon. Given his lack of sense of feeling and hearing, he found himself quite disoriented in the darkness, having no sense of up, down, or whether or not he was moving. Suddenly he felt a tug in some indescribable part of himself, and with a pull and a jerk, he became aware of gravity again, and touch and sound and smell and taste, and almost immediately wished he hadn't. He lay on a thin pallet on a stone floor, covered with a rough scratchy blanket. His skin crawled and he itched, feeling as if he hadn't bathed in weeks, possibly longer. The air was cold and damp, and filled with the odours of mould and mildew and spoilt cabbage and stale urine and faeces and other things even less wholesome. Somewhere in the distance, a man was moaning, over and over again, a wordless sound of desolation and despair. Sirius sat up, wrapping the dubious comfort of the blanket around himself. His muscles ached as if he hadn't moved in a long, long time, and he was weak and shaky. Nonetheless, he remembered the training he had received as a field agent — if captured, find out as much as you can about your surroundings as fast as you can. Crawling at first, and then standing when his joints had loosened enough, he found the wall and then made a tour of the room. It was definitely a cell, being quite small, with rough stone walls and floor, and a door made of bars set too close together to slip through. There was a very narrow window set high in the wall, which provided a little fresh air and, now that his vision was adjusting to using only human eyes again instead of astral vision, a little light. He held up his hands so he could see them, noting the cracked and shredded nails, the skin stretched taut over his knuckles, caked with grime. Those weren't his hands. Those were the hands of a desperate man. A prisoner. Grimly, he realised that he, the astral Sirius Black, had somehow taken over the physical body of this universe's Sirius Black. He was being held in captivity somewhere, and had been for a long time.
If his physical counterpart hadn't been able to escape in however many weeks or months it had been, it was highly unlikely Sirius would be able to now. He could no longer see the thin tie that had connected his astral body with his real body. He hoped it hadn't been broken; if it had, there was a good chance his body was dead, back in the Room of Probabilities, and Doctor M. would be trying to find out what had happened. If the cord had snapped, he was trapped here, in this body, in this room. And quite possibly would find himself in conflict with the mind and soul of the physical Sirius Black whenever he woke up — if the catatonic state which allowed the astral Sirius to take over as a walk in wasn't permanent.
From somewhere outside the cell, beyond the barred door, came sound. First, a dry, whispering sound, like old cloth being dragged across the stones. Then moans, whimpers, and finally screams from, Sirius presumed, the inmates in other cells. The air in his cell became cold, even colder than before, and he huddled in a corner, pulling the blanket tight around him as whatever it was outside approached. An intense cold swept over him, and he felt his breath catch in his chest. The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart... his eyes rolled up into his head. He couldn't see. He couldn't breathe. His heart was pounding hard enough to shake his whole body with its frantic rhythm. He was drowning in cold. There was a rushing in his ears like a torrent of water, drowning out the sounds from the corridor. He was being dragged away from his borrowed body, outward, the roaring growing louder, and he suddenly knew where he was, what was happening to him, as a skeletal hand reached through the bars as if to grab him. It was a dementor, and that meant that he, Sirius Black, was in Azkaban. The dementor sensed him, was searching out his emotions, his feelings, would feed on him as if he were fresh prey, not the dried up and most likely insane wreck of a man who had been imprisoned here for Merlin only knew how long.
And since he was not really the correct soul for this body, it was succeeding in pulling him free; it would suck him in and destroy him, and somewhere back in the Department of Mysteries he would die if he hadn't already, and nobody would ever know what happened to him at all. Desperately he fought back, but the terrible draw pulled him loose, inch by agonising inch, and bits and pieces of memories of the real Sirius came to him, making it ever harder to hold on. His own insane laughter. Screams of men and women and the crackling of flames. A street blowing up. Peter cutting his own finger off. James and Lily lying dead in the ruins of the house at ... House at … wherever it was. The memories came faster, going backwards now, but each one bringing with it its own pain, its own despair. Suddenly he came loose, he was fully astral again, and while the bodily senses went away, the astral vision snapped back into focus, and against the background of blackness that was Azkaban stood the dementor, in a way that perhaps no one living had ever seen, its true form hidden by physical robes and its ugliness visible only on the astral level. It was horrifying. It was dragging him in. He was going to die …
And the silver cord came taut, with a summons that was even more irresistible than that of the dementor. The hour was up, the potion was wearing off. Sirius's body still lived, and his own world waited for him. With tremendous speed, he burst out of Azkaban, swooped across half of Britain, back into the deserted chamber, and through the dark Veil in the Archway.
His eyes snapped open again, and he was blinded by the light. Sound pounded in his ears. He could feel every crease, every thread in the mattress cover of the cot he was lying on. Curling into a foetal position, Sirius screamed.
Still November 7 - Back in the Department of Mysteries
Sirius didn't wind up under the desk with the cat, but it was a close thing. Between the temporary hypersensitivity after the long period of reduced sensation, the medical team trying to check him out while Doctor M. was simultaneously trying to get his memories for the Pensieve, and the lingering effect of the dementor, he wanted nothing more than to run and hide in the dark. Fortunately, one of the Healers jumped on Doctor M. and threatened to drag him down the hall and lock him in the planet room if he didn't behave himself, and one of the other Healers recognised the symptoms of dementor exposure and pulled an emergency Honeyduke's bar out of the medical kit. The chocolate was incredibly sweet to his enhanced senses, and by the time he'd finished choking the bar down, he thought he would never want to eat the stuff again, but the dreadful chill was beginning to fade. The monitoring team removed the silver instruments from his chest and he was able to put his shirt and robe back on, which also went a long way toward warming him up.
By the end of his shift, Sirius had recovered enough to put his memories in the Pensieve, which got Doctor M. off his back, and to Floo home, where he staggered off to bed.
November 8, 1985 — 12 Grimmauld Place
His dreams were haunted by the other Sirius's memories, which were almost the same as his own, up to a point. But that point was terrible. In his dreams he relived that that Halloween, feeling the events as if they were happening to him. He felt the Fidelius break just before midnight, the sudden knowledge that he knew where James and Lily had been hiding pouring into his mind. He was out at a Muggle bar that night, and it wasn't safe to Apparate. He knew James had some vicious anti-Apparation wards up that he didn't want to run afoul of — he'd helped put them up himself. But his motorcycle was parked out in the lot, and he had the invisibility and flight boosters kicked in the second he got it started. He'd never pushed the Bonnie to its maximum speed before, but he did so now, making it all the way from London to the house in less than an hour, his face wind burned and raw when he got there. Hagrid was there already, which meant to Sirius that Dumbledore had also felt the spell break, and had already removed Harry from the ruined nursery. Harry at fifteen months was not a small baby, but he looked like a newborn in the half-giant's hands.
"Hagrid, what's happened? Where are James and Lily?" Sirius asked, leaping off the motorcycle before it had come to a complete stop. In the light from the headlamp of the motorcycle, he could see tears on the big man's face and sparkling in his beard.
Wordlessly, Hagrid nodded toward the house, where flames still flickered along the roofline. Amazingly, the lights on the ground floor were still on, and Sirius looked into the foyer through the hole where the door had been blasted from its hinges. James's body lay sprawled in the wreckage of the room, his face twisted in the terror of his last moments.
"Ah, Merlin, no!" Sirius cried in protest. "You can't be …" He sank to his knees on the steps, unwilling to go inside the house. Hagrid placed a huge hand comfortingly on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, lad. James was a good man."
"Hagrid, is Lily…?" He was unable to finish the question.
"Upstairs," said Hagrid, nodding his head in sorrowful confirmation. "Me 'n the Headmaster found her upstairs, in the li'l tyke's room. We thought for sure he was gone too, but then he just up an' starts crying. Gave us quite a shock, le' me tell yer. Quieted right down when I picked him up, though."
"Give Harry to me, Hagrid. I'm his godfather, I'll look after him."
Hagrid held Harry so that Sirius could confirm for himself that the boy was alright, but refused to let Sirius hold him. "Dumbledore told me to stay with him and not let anyone else take him, not even you, until he got back. He's ter go ter his aunt and uncle, Lily's family. They're his blood kin, after all," said Hagrid.
"Where did Dumbledore go?"
"Went to get Aurors an' a Healer or two fer Harry. This place is unPlottable, and we didn' know if it would be safe ter Apparate with him. He's got a bloody great mark where some kind of curse hit him an' he needs ter be checked out."
"It's safe to Apparate? I was afraid the wards might still be up."
"Firs' thing the Headmaster checked. Wards 're completely down."
"Then you'll probably be getting Muggle attention here soon. We're not very far from town, and somebody is bound to notice the fire, if nothing else. Here, take my bike in case you need to get Harry out of here in a hurry," said Sirius. He flicked his wand at the shining black motorcycle. "Engorgio! There, now you can use it comfortably. It handles just like a broom. I have things to do and I won't be needing it."
"Where are yer goin'? What do yer want me ter tell Dumbledore?"
"Tell him I smelled a rat. I'll be back when I can." Sirius smiled, a vicious, humourless grin, and Apparated away.
The memories of the dream Sirius flickered through the events of the next several hours, showing Sirius how his counterpart had tracked down Peter Pettigrew, cornering him in a Muggle neighbourhood near where his mother lived.
"Face me, Peter!" dream-Sirius yelled at the fleeing man.
Realizing he couldn't get away from Sirius on foot, Peter stopped and turned. Sirius saw an evil grin on his face which disappeared just before he spoke. "Lily and James, Sirius! How could you?"
"Wha-?" Sirius was surprised for just a second, which was long enough for Peter to get off a series of curses that made Sirius duck and roll before he returned fire. For a few moments, the quiet Muggle street rang with shouts of "Reducto!" and "Diffindo!" and spell blasts sizzled through the air. It ended with a tremendous explosion that knocked Sirius off his feet and stunned him, split the street open, and blew the tops off all the fire hydrants on the block. The cold water pouring down on him revived Sirius, but by that time, Peter was gone. Sirius crawled to the edge of the hole and looked down. What looked like a large pipe under the street had been exposed and cracked open, and the distinct odour gave away the pipe's identity as a sewer. Part of Peter's robe (conveniently the part with his monogram on it) was snagged on a piece of rubble nearby.
Wearily, Sirius got to his feet. At that moment, someone poked a wand into the back of Sirius's neck. Moving very carefully, so as not to risk them accidentally blowing his head off, he turned his head to see someone in the distinctive tangerine robes of the Department of Magical Catastrophes. "Don't move, Black! You're under arrest. The Aurors will be along any minute to take you in. Who was that poor sod you just blew up, eh? And all these Muggles! Never mind, we'll find out." The person with the wand raised his voice to address someone else. "Blankenship! Get the memories of those Muggles before you Obliviate them! We need to find out what happened here!"
"Of course, Mr. Fudge," came someone else's voice. "It's standard procedure; we're already doing it."
Sirius knew what those memories would reveal: Peter accusing him, their duel, ending in an explosion which presumably killed Peter as it destroyed the street. This was classic Peter, all right, the ultimate cover your arse ploy. And no one would believe him. A hysterical giggle rose as he realised how badly they'd all screwed up. He couldn't hold it back. The giggle gave way to chuckles, then to guffaws and full throated laughter. He realised it sounded insane, but he couldn't help it. He just stood laughing at the injustice of it all as the Aurors arrived, removed his wand from his hand, and snapped it. He only stopped laughing when they Stunned him for transport to the Ministry.
Sirius woke half-laughing, half-crying, to see Peter Pettigrew's white face looming over him.
November 7-8, 1985 — 12 Grimmauld Place
Peter had not been in any particular hurry to return to England and take up the perpetual haunt to which he knew he was doomed. Accordingly, he let the spell cord that bound him tug him gently eastward and drifted along. The passage over the United States, Canada and the North Atlantic had been rather boring, but it did allow him time to think. Most of his life had been governed by fear. Fear of being picked on at school (solved by finding the guys who were most likely to do the picking, and joining them). Fear of getting caught during their pranks (solved by becoming the guy who covered their arses most times). Fear of Voldemort (solved too late by Harry blowing him up). Fear of death (solved, paradoxically, by dying — so far, it didn't seem to be too bad). There was really very little for him to be afraid of, at this point. Nothing much could hurt a ghost, after all.
He stopped in Ireland to visit Martha. He didn't dare become visible, just in case there might still be some Death Eaters in the area. And he really didn't want to distress his sister any more than necessary. Carefully keeping himself hidden, he spent some time watching Martha playing with Seamus, now a stocky five-year-old who enjoyed careening around the house screeching at the top of his lungs. A little of that went a long way, so at sunset Peter drifted off to check on his mother.
His mum was still living in the Muggle neighbourhood she'd retired to, enjoying her role as a widow of indeterminate age and more than adequate income, which allowed her to meddle happily in the lives of her neighbours, and he spent the evening watching her try to play matchmaker between the son of her next door neighbour and a young woman who had moved in down the block. Some things never changed, and Peter was glad she was happy. After she went to bed, he decided to check up on the other Marauders.
Peter had no idea where Remus's apartment was, since James hadn't told them the Muggle address and the Marauders had always used owls, mirrors, or in an emergency their patroni to communicate among themselves rather than Muggle post. That meant Sirius was the only one Peter could contact, as he had been to Sirius's flat many times and he had the Apparation coordinates memorised. He could undoubtedly tell Peter where Remus lived. Unfortunately, when he got to the flat, he found a Muggle family living there instead, and they had apparently been here for a while. Sirius had moved out. Peter considered the issue while floating in mid-air in the Muggles' living room. Where might Sirius have gone? He could be anywhere in England at this point.
Peter did know that the Blacks had owned a house in London, at Grimmauld Place. Peter had spent an uncomfortable week there the summer after fifth year, when his mum had been trying to foster the connection between him and the influential Black Family, before Sirius had decided he'd had enough and they'd both gone to James's for the rest of the summer. At the time, Sirius had sworn he would never go back, but Sirius's father had died and left him the Head of the Family. Perhaps he'd gone back to the old place? At the very least, someone there, perhaps a portrait or a house elf, might be able to tell him where Sirius was. His mind made up, he drifted off in search of a house whose location he only partly remembered.
It was past three in the morning when he found the house, aided by the fact that to a ghost's eyes, magical places stuck out like a sore thumb. He poked about a bit on the ground floor, noting that all the public rooms had been redone, and the aura of Darkness that had given him the willies so many years before had lightened considerably. It wasn't quite gone yet, but there had been a vast improvement. As he drifted up the stairs toward the family quarters, he heard a man's voice crying out. Was that Sirius? It sounded like he was in pain, or at least in the middle of a horrendous nightmare. Moving more quickly now, he followed the sound and passed through the door to the master bedroom.
Sirius lay in the huge four-poster bed, twisted in sweat-soaked sheets. "Peter! PETER!" he cried out, following that with sobs that could have been laughter or grief.
Peter had no idea why Sirius would be calling his name, but he floated over. Instinctively, he tried to put his hand on Sirius' shoulder to shake him awake, but his hand passed right through the other man's shoulder. Well, talking to him would have to do. "Sirius! Sirius, wake up! You're having a nightmare! Wake up!" He felt some satisfaction as Sirius stopped sobbing abruptly, and his eyes snapped open.
"Who … what … Peter! YOU FUCKING TRAITOR!!" Sirius came up off the bed with his hands reaching for Peter's throat, but the violence of his attack sent him staggering right through the ghost. Whirling, Sirius snatched up his wand from the night stand and fired a Cutting Curse, then a Blasting Curse, through the silver-white form. "You betrayed James! And Lily! And what the hell did you do with Harry?!" he screamed as the curses blasted through Peter, destroying the wall behind him.
Peter discovered that there were, in fact, things that could cause a ghost pain, and that he could still fear. Perhaps it was just that he was such a new ghost, but the concentrated rage and disgust that Sirius was sending at him hurt him almost as much as Voldemort had years before, the raw emotion searing his ectoplasm with agony. And Peter was still as afraid of rejection as he had ever been, and was now faced with total renunciation by one he had loved — even idolised — while they were growing up. The onslaught of Sirius's emotions flayed Peter the way his spells would have, and with a shriek of pain and despair, he vanished, leaving Sirius panting, and the air of the bedroom at 12 Grimmauld Place filled with plaster dust.
November 8, The Dower Estate, Godric's Hollow
Awareness returned to Peter as he materialised on a country road with the first light of dawn. In a panic, he looked around to see if Sirius was anywhere in the vicinity, but he wasn't. The only living thing was a hedgehog rooting about in the fallen leaves at the side of the road. Woods encroached on either side of the road, and the naked branches of the trees arched overhead gracefully. Through the trees on the side of the road he was facing, he could see a farmer's meadow. Slowly he turned to face the other side, dreading what he would see. The site of his haunt. The place where he would be bound forever as expiation for his crimes.
The other side of the road was deeper forest, with trees and evergreen underbrush thick enough that even in daylight someone standing on the road couldn't see in more than twenty feet. But as Peter expected, once he was focused on the forest itself, it rushed away to either side, revealing … the well-kept gardens of the Dower House? Peter was astounded. He had expected to see the house, already damaged That Night, to be in ruins, the gardens overgrown and neglected. It was certainly all he deserved as a haunt. Instead, the house had been repaired, the fence that had taken James's Blasting Curse had been fixed and repainted, and the gardens — well, the gardens were manicured to within an inch of their lives, the evergreen bushes clipped into elaborate shapes, the perennial gardens and annual borders cleaned up and mulched for the season. The grass on the lawns was absolute perfection, groomed, trimmed to exactly two inches in height, and with not a weed to be seen.
Peter drifted through the fence, feeling the wards — still functional wards! — as he passed through them. Hesitantly, he approached the house, but before he could work up the nerve to go through the front door, he heard the sounds of activity coming from elsewhere — possibly behind the house? He floated around the side of the house, through a topiary hedge, and stopped to gawk.
The entire back garden had been taken over by an elaborate series of raised bed gardens, all neatly framed with thick wood planks. Most of them had already been cleaned up and mulched heavily for the fall, but a band of busy house elves were harvesting late root crops and cabbages from a few still-active beds. Some of the beds had been set up with glass-covered boxes to keep whatever grew there warm and growing later into the season than they probably should have. And off to the side of the garden were several greenhouses, with elves busy there as well.
All of the elves, to Peter's surprise, were properly dressed. Each and every one of them was wearing blue jeans and a denim jacket over a bright red jumper, with white trainers and a blue knit cap. And every one of them, in the outer gardens at any rate, had paused in its work and was staring at him with wide eyes.
He drifted slowly forward, and one of the elves came forward to meet him, bowing nervously. "Excuse me for asking, sir, but are you a wizard? Can you see us?"
"I … I was a wizard. Now I'm a ghost. And yes, I can see you. Shouldn't I?"
"You see, sir, nobody has been able to see us for years now, and we were hoping a wizard would come to help us, and teach the young Master."
"The young … Master? Would that be Harry? Harry Potter?" Peter's voice was weak, with shock and joy and disbelief all mingled.
The elf nodded vigorously. "Yes, Young Master Harry Potter! We has … I mean, we have been doing the best we can. Can you help us?"
"I just might be able to," said Peter, beginning to feel hope for the first time in years. "Where is he, do you know?"
The elf gestured at the greenhouse. "In there, sir. He's planting lettuces with Ferny."
"Thank you. You've been very helpful," said Peter, and he drifted across the gardens toward the greenhouses, with the elves scampering out of his way and chattering among themselves as he passed them. The elf he'd been talking to followed in his wake, going around the boxes instead of across them.
Inside the greenhouse, it was warmer, and the elves had mostly taken off their caps and jackets. A row of shallow growing boxes on short legs ran down the centre of the greenhouse, and an elf and a young boy were bent over one of them. The boy was dressed the same as the elves, although he was still wearing his jacket, with his cap stuffed casually into one pocket. His hair was dark and tousled in a way that was so familiar it would have broken Peter's heart if he'd still had one to break. The elf was making little depressions in the soil with his fingertips, and the boy was carefully placing a single seed in each tiny depression. "You see, Master Harry, we plant each seed just the correct distance from the other seeds, so that they will be the right distance apart for the grown plant. Then cover with just a little bit of compost, and sprinkle with some water." The elf rapidly demonstrated how to do this, the boy paying rapt attention. "When the entire box is done we'll cover it with glass so it will stay warm and moist and the baby plants can sprout."
"And then when the baby plants grow up into lettuces, Brandy can make them into salads for dinner, right?" asked the boy.
"Some of them, yes. And some we let go to seed so we'll be able to plant more later."
"Wow!" There was awe in the boy's voice. "All by themselfs? That's the best magic ever!"
"All by themselves, Master Harry. And yes, it is the best magic." The elf Peter had been talking to scurried up to the elf who had been directing the planting and got his attention.
"Ferny, there is a ghost here — a wizard ghost. He has come to help us!"
Ferny turned with a gasp, to see the tall silver-white shape of the ghost hovering in the doorway. The ghost was not dressed like any wizard Ferny had ever seen; he was wearing Muggle clothes instead of robes, and not very good Muggle clothes at that. He had no wand. But if he was a ghost, then he had to have been a wizard, and Ferny accepted it at face value. He stepped forward, bowing and pulling his cap from his head in respect. "I remember you! You are Mister Pettigrew, one of Master James's friends! You've come back! It's been such a long time, we thought we had been forgotten."
"Not forgotten. Just hidden, perhaps too well. Your name is Ferny?"
"Forgive me, sir, I'm forgetting my manners. I'm Ferny, the Head Elf for the Potter Family. Master Harry, this is Mister Pettigrew, he was a friend of your parents, although you probably don't remember."
Harry came around the box, wiping the dirt from his hands on his pants, and held out one grubby hand in greeting. "Pleased to meet you," he said carefully. Then, to Ferny, "Did I say it right?"
"Yes, Master Harry," said Ferny.
Peter reached down, but his ghostly hand passed through Harry's fingers, and the small boy pulled his hand back in surprise at the chill. "I'm pleased to meet you, too, Harry. The last time I saw you, you were …" dead, he thought. "… very small."
"You knew my Mum and Dad?" asked Harry curiously. "Can you tell me about them? The elves have told me all the elf stuff about them. Nanny says I should talk to a wizard about them, too."
"Your Nanny is right," said Peter. He was quite impressed with the little boy so far. If he'd had to predict how a child raised by house elves would turn out, he wouldn't have thought it would be this well. "Your father and your mother and I were all at school together, and then we stayed friends after that. So I can tell you some good stories."
"Can you teach me how to use my magic? I can use a little house elf magic, but it's really hard. Nanny says it will be better if I can use wizard magic."
"I've never heard of a wizard who could do house elf magic before," said Peter, whose eyebrows had shot up at Harry's ingenuous statement. "So I do imagine it's very hard. You're a little young to be doing wizard magic …" Here the little face took on a woebegone expression. "But I'll do the best I can. There isn't much we can do without a wand."
"But I have a wand!" said Harry, his face lighting up again. "I have three wands! Nanny put them in a box for me for when I got big enough to use them. Can I try one now?"
Peter looked up at Ferny. This was going very fast, perhaps too fast. Ferny seemed to think so, too. "Now, now, Master Harry. What is the Third Rule of Tasks?"
"'Finish what you start'," recited Harry.
"We have lettuces that we need to finish planting, and then Brandy will have breakfast ready for us," said Ferny. "After that it will be time for lessons, and Mister Pettigrew will talk to Nanny about teaching you magic."
The little boy pouted for a moment, but then returned to his lettuce planting. "'The sooner begun, the sooner done'," he said.
Ferny smiled in acknowledgment. "The Second Rule of Tasks. Very good, Master Harry. Gobbly, you stay with Master Harry and help him with his lettuces. Mister Pettigrew, would you like to come talk to Nanny about Master Harry's lessons?"
Rather bemused by the elf's take-charge attitude, which was something he'd never seen before in an elf — not that he'd ever had any long conversations with house elves before — Peter allowed himself to be led into the house, where he was introduced to Brandy, who was supervising three younger female elves who were making a large breakfast, and to Nanny. The female elves were wearing denim skirts and white aprons instead of the jeans along with their red jumpers and white trainers. Ferny and Nanny escorted him into what had been the front parlour of the house, which was now done up as a classroom with one child-sized desk and seven smaller ones, which Nanny proudly announced were for the elflings. Peter was astonished that the elflings were taking lessons too, but Nanny and Ferny explained how Master Harry would not take lessons unless the elflings were, too. He was quite pleasantly surprised to learn that Harry and all of the elflings now knew their numbers and letters and how to write their names, and they were all learning how to read simple books. Harry was also learning how to do tasks around the house and garden, because he didn't want the elflings to do things that he couldn't. The elves were quite nervous when they made this admission.
"We hope that is all right, Mister Pettigrew. We know that wizards don't normally do housework, but Master Harry was not happy not doing anything."
"That's perfectly all right," said Peter reassuringly. "When he goes to Hogwarts, gardening skills will help him in Herbology, and cooking in Potions." The elves brightened and their ears perked up in relief. "I will take care of teaching Harry his magic, and Nanny, I'll help out with the other things a young man will need to know. Does he have any friends other than the elflings? Human friends?"
Nanny shook her head sorrowfully. "We has … have not dared to take Master Harry away from the Estate since we are all invisible. Not even the wizard who lives in the town can see us. We were afraid to take Master Harry out in case he stopped being able to see us, too."
Peter was quite puzzled by this. "I'll have to see what I can find out about that. I'm pretty sure the spell wasn't supposed to work quite that way. I'll have to get it worked out before Harry is ready to go to Hogwarts, or else he might be invisible there. Are Lily's — I'm sorry, Mistress Lily's books still in the house?" The elves showed him the library where Lily's books were, and told him an elf would be assigned to him to move books and turn pages for him whenever he needed help, since he couldn't handle them himself.
The elves also showed him the boxes in which the three wands and the three rings were kept. He shuddered at the sight of Voldemort's wand and ring. "Take that ring and put it in a special box. It will have to be destroyed eventually, but there are probably spells on it that will have to be taken off first." He could tell there was something Dark about that ring; perhaps being a ghost made him more sensitive to it. "The second ring is for Master Harry when he grows up. He can start to wear it when he goes to school. The third ring …" he paused, looking at his own signet. The last time he'd seen it, his own bloody finger had been stuck through it, but the elves apparently hadn't connected him, with his missing finger, with the gory digit abandoned by the Death Eater that night. "The third ring should be saved in case its owner can be found. As for the wands, we should see if Harry can use any of them. If not, he'll have to wait until he can go to Diagon Alley to buy a wand when he's eleven."
"Even the Dark Wizard's wand?"
"There aren't any spells on the wand itself to make it Dark," Peter explained. "If it's compatible with Harry's magic, there's no reason why he shouldn't use it. But I doubt it will be compatible at all, so you don't have to worry."
Peter had it all wrong, though — after breakfast and his writing lesson and story time, Harry would not be put off any longer and insisted on trying the wands. Reluctantly, Peter had him try one at a time, giving each a wave the way Ollivander had him do it years before. To his surprise, Harry managed to get sparks to shoot from all three wands; gold from his father's, silver from his mother's, and red from the Dark Lord's yew wand. "Well, that's unusual. We'll have to try each of those wands out as we go. We may find you're better with one of them than the others."
The little boy was delighted. "That was way easier than using elf magic! Did you see, Nanny? I shot sparks! Wow!" That was the end of lessons for the day, as Harry was so enamoured of his new ability that he couldn't focus on anything else until lunch time, practicing with all three wands one after another, and sometimes with one wand in each hand.
After a week, Peter had settled into the household as if he had always been there. During the day, he taught lessons to Harry and the elflings, and even to the older elves where he had exceeded Nanny's ability. In the evenings, one of the elves turned pages for him while he read Lily's books, and at night, after the elves had gone to sleep, he drifted about the grounds of the Estate keeping watch. He discovered that he was, as he had feared, now bound to the grounds of the Dower Estate, but it really wasn't so bad. The elves could bring him any books or anything else he needed, and he didn't require food, drink or sleep. He was rapidly learning to love Harry like his own child, and had made a private oath to protect him to the best of his ability. He had failed in his duty to his friends once; he was not going to fail their son.
By Christmas, he thought he had found out why the elves were invisible. It was because he, the Secret Keeper, had never told them where they lived. They were in the unusual position of being both beings who were part of the Family by oath, but also were part of the Potter property, and as such were hidden under the Fidelius. On Christmas Day, he gathered all of the elves and Harry in the parlour, and repeated the Secret while they all listened solemnly. The next day, Brandy took her shopping basket into the village and delightedly found that the greengrocer could see her now! She was so happy she started weeping and hugged the man's knees.
They also experimented with taking Harry into the village. While the elves were invisible to Muggles, Harry could be seen quite clearly, but nobody seemed to care terribly much that a young boy, without parents in sight, had suddenly appeared. While he was there, the children accepted him and their parents kept an eye on the black haired boy who was learning, for the first time, how to play with human children his own age. When the elves took him back to the Estate, children and parents alike simply assumed he'd gone home (which, in fact, he had). This relieved Peter considerably. It meant that Harry was going to be able to go to Hogwarts after all.
Peter thought very carefully about Harry's safety, and discussed it with Nanny and Ferny, who were the elves all the others looked to regarding Harry. More importantly, Harry looked to them almost as surrogate parents, while Peter himself had taken on the role of beloved Uncle. The elves brought Peter copies of the Daily Prophet and assorted news magazines so that he could get caught up on things in the wizarding world. What he saw concerned him greatly.
Not all of the Death Eaters had been caught. While Severus Snape had been instrumental in capturing the most dangerous ones, the ones whose thirst for blood and pain had stained the nights green with the light of the Morsmordre, many of the others had either escaped or been given reduced sentences in return for their cooperation and provision of information. Some, such as Lucius Malfoy, had regained positions of prestige in society. Malfoy was being very careful always to be seen as a strong partisan of the Light, supporting the Ministry politically and giving generous donations to charitable organizations, but Peter didn't trust him as far as he could throw him.
Snape himself had been given the Order of Merlin, First Class, for his efforts. He was reclusive, rarely leaving the grounds of Hogwarts except for a few required Ministry functions during the year, some said because he feared the remaining Death Eaters, and some said because he didn't like publicity. Peter thought it was a combination of both. He still didn't like the man, and never would, but Merlin willing, they'd never come into contact with each other again. Peter was surprised to find out which side of the conflict Snape had come down on; like the others, he'd been quite sure Snape was firmly on Voldemort's side. Everybody else seemed to be quite sure he had been working for the Light. Peter still had his suspicions.
The papers and magazines also mentioned Sirius, although not Remus. Apparently the Head of the Black Family was a bit of a social butterfly, appearing at society functions with different witches on his arm each week. He had returned to the Black Family seat, as Peter already knew, and freely associated with everyone, even former Death Eater families. Peter no longer knew which side he was on, and he still remembered the pain of Sirius's attack on him in the bedroom at 12 Grimmauld Place. Of course, he'd been justified, Peter reflected, but still … the Sirius he knew had not been so quick to curse, or so prone to use deadly force. No, Sirius might be Harry's godfather, but Peter was past his boyish hero-worship. He would withhold judgment, and if he saw signs that Sirius was reliable, he would allow him back into Harry's life. On the other hand, he didn't want to leave the man for years wondering if the boy was alive or not.
Remus also deserved to know. Peter knew nothing about the werewolf that indicated he might be unreliable, aside from possible continued association with Sirius. Remus had always been the steadiest of the four of them, and had loved Harry like the son he would never have himself, given the Ministry's rules prohibiting them from marrying.
There was also the question of Dumbledore and Voldemort. While Peter had no reason to distrust the elderly wizard, exactly, he also had shared the misgivings that the others had. Dumbledore was not cautious enough; he trusted too many. Peter, who had become professionally paranoid the last few years, agreed with Alastor Moody that Dumbledore shared his secrets too freely. Dumbledore had vouched for Snape, which was a point against him. Still, Dumbledore had been, and still was, the leader of the Light (regardless of what the current Minister might say about that), and should know that Harry still lived. He had to be able to take that into consideration for future plans.
Accordingly, Peter decided to send an elf to the Hogsmeade Owl Post station with letters for Sirius, Remus and Dumbledore, telling them that Harry was well and would be attending Hogwarts when the time came. In the meantime, he was safest where he was and they should not look for him.
Because Peter knew something that no one else did.
Voldemort was not dead.
The plush frog Harry carries in this chapter is a tribute to Harry's toy, "Frog", in "Stealing Harry" by Copperbadge.