Chapter 16

By Marina

October 31, 1981

Peter’s fireplace was blocked off. Sirius stood with his feet planted in a pub in Ballydesmond and his head stuck in the flames, and tried to push through, but to no avail. Finally, the heat got too stifling and he ducked out of the fireplace back into the pub, brushing stray bits of ash from his hair.

This was his third attempt to reach Peter, forty-five minutes past their prearranged time, and the mild unease Sirius had felt at first was slowly turning to panic. Peter did ward his fireplace, like any other sensible person, whenever he left the house, but he had known Sirius would be calling. Peter was not the world’s most punctual person, perhaps, but he should've been home from work over two hours ago.

They couldn't have found him. They haven't even found me yet.

Barely a week had passed since Sirius had packed up his things, said an awkward goodbye to Remus and flown the bike from London to Schull. That night, sitting alone in his room in a Muggle bed-and-breakfast, he had felt the tiny, subtle shift in his mind as, miles away, Peter, James and Lily performed the Fidelius Charm. Such a small change: one moment he'd known exactly where James and Lily were, and the next… the next moment he still knew, but somehow he just couldn't focus on it. Every time he tried to picture the house in his mind, to recite the address to himself, to imagine traveling there, his thoughts would scatter, and he would find himself suddenly fascinated by the spots on the wallpaper or gripped by the inexplicable desire to solve Arithmancy equations in his head. An unsettling feeling, but Sirius had learned to take comfort in it: it meant that James and Lily and Harry were still hidden, still safe.

Buoyed by that knowledge, Sirius had spent a pleasant week meandering vaguely northwards across County Cork, just another Muggle tourist on a motorbike, stopping in a new place every night. At a prearranged time every day, he would find a wizarding pub (they seemed even more numerous than Muggle ones in Ireland) and use their fireplace to contact Peter. So far, neither one of them had had any trouble to report. Sirius did think he had been followed once or twice, by nondescript, harmless looking motorists in Muggle clothes. He'd evaded them by the simple method of taking the bike off the road and into the clouds. Other than that, no one had bothered him, just like no one had bothered Peter.

So where the hell was Peter now?

Sirius finished brushing himself off, left his empty beer mug at the bar, and walked out of the pub. He climbed onto his bike and sat drumming his fingers on the handlebar, wondering what to do next. He considered getting in touch with Dumbledore and asking him to check up on Peter, but Dumbledore would want to know why, and that was one conversation Sirius really didn’t want to have. There was no way to contact James and Lily, and no one else he could trust with the information. Yet going back to London himself carried its own set of risks.

I’ll go and come straight back. It’ll only take a couple of hours. If he took the bike, there’d be no Apparition signature to trace, and no way for anyone to follow without him noticing. If anything, his sudden change of direction might confuse anyone who happened to be searching for him.

I can go, or I can sit in that pub and keep worrying.

Once he phrased it like that, the choice was obvious. Sirius put on his helmet, gunned the engine, and took off into the sky.

The rest of Peter's flat was as empty as the living room. Sirius went from room to room calling Peter's name, but received nothing but silence in response. There was an empty teacup on the kitchen table and a dirty plate in the sink. The bed was made. Peter's comb was on the shelf over the bathroom sink; his shoes were lined up in a neat row in the hallway, with a gap for the pair he must've been wearing when he left. No sign of struggle or hasty departure. By all appearances, Peter had risen in the morning, eaten his breakfast, and gone off to work as usual.

Except that he should've been back hours ago, and he wasn't.

It doesn't have to mean anything. Sirius turned around slowly, peering into every shadow, willing Peter to Apparate out of thin air with some simple, harmless explanation. He could've been held up at work… or gone for a pint and lost track of time... or... or...

If Peter was in danger, what would he do? Who would he go to? Not to Sirius himself, obviously. Not Remus; Sirius had told him enough to make sure of that. Dumbledore? The Aurors? If he had gone to the Aurors and one of them was the traitor… But Peter couldn't be in danger, because nobody knew. It was stupid to panic. Any second now, the front door would to open, and Peter would walk in, and they would have a good long laugh about Sirius and his paranoid fantasies.

Sirius stared at the door. It didn't open.

He could go to the apothecary shop where Peter worked. Or check the pubs. Or contact Dumbledore. Pity he couldn't just go and check on James and Lily in Godric's Hol--

In Godric's Hollow. In Godric's Hollow. On the Muggle side of the village. In a little Tudor-style house, half a mile from the nearest neighbors, with a birdbath in the garden and a big elm tree by the front gate...

He shouldn't have been able to recall all those details. Shouldn't have even remembered the name of the village.

Peter... Oh, God...

Sirius didn't remember running outside, didn't remember mounting the bike and taking off. He was less than five miles from Godric's Hollow, and a mile above ground, when he remembered that he could've Apparated. By then it made no difference. Sirius leaned low over the handlebar, pushing the bike into a steep descent. From this high up, his helmet's charmed faceplate created a spotlight effect -- a broad, daylit circle on the ground below, with darkness all around. The spotlight skimmed over fields and trees, picking out the thin, spidery lines of local roads, the winding ribbon of the river, the little matchbox houses that made up the village. Sirius increased speed. Wind howled in his ears, mingling with the engine's roar. The houses grew bigger and further apart as he came closer. He could make out the main street now, the war monument in the town square, the church tower...

The spotlight's edge hit a pile of smoking rubble on the far edge of the village. Sirius almost swerved away from it before he realized what it was. He descended in a near-vertical plunge, pulling up at the last moment just enough to make it a landing and not a crash. His fingers ached when he unclenched them from the handlebar. It took forever to get his helmet off. Sirius threw it aside and immediately wished he hadn't. Without it, the darkness closed in, and the smoke stung his eyes. No time to look for it, though. Sirius staggered toward the wreckage, yelling James' name.

Part of one wall still stood, jagged holes gaping where the windows used to be. Everything else had collapsed. The air was thick with dust and smoke. Sirius scrambled through the wreckage, tossing chunks of wood and shards of roofing slate out of his way, not noticing that some of the pieces were still smoldering and that his hands were becoming torn and blistered. They might've got out, he kept telling himself. There was no Dark Mark over the house, James and Lily must've put up a hell of a fight to leave all this mess behind. They didn't have to be dead, they might've got out with Harry...

Someone coughed in the darkness. The rubble shifted with a harsh, grinding noise, and Sirius felt a momentary surge of hope. But the massive black shape that loomed out of the darkness above him couldn't possibly be James. Sirius backed away a step, lost his footing, and keeled over in a dusty heap, grabbing desperately for his wand.

"Who's there?" The black shape lumbered forward a few steps. "Speak up for yerself, or-- hullo, is that Sirius Black?"

"H-Hagrid?" Sirius wobbled to his feet, clutching his wand with a trembling hand. What the hell was the Hogwarts groundskeeper doing in Godric's Hollow? "Lumos."

The glow from his wand illuminated Hagrid's grim, soot-smudged face. He was covered with dust and grime, bits of plaster stuck in his beard. Sirius blinked at him, too stunned to think for a moment.

"Hagrid, what are you doing here?"

"Dumbledore sent me," Hagrid said, and coughed again as a cloud of smoke drifted past him. He was holding one hand against his shoulder, his coat bunched up beneath it in an odd lump. He lurched closer, and Sirius saw the tears on his face, streaking through the grime. "He got wind of the attack somehow. Asked me to look for survivors."

Sirius' throat felt as if something sharp was stuck in it. Just getting enough breath to speak was a struggle. "D-did you find anyone?" He had to ask, even though he knew, just from the look on Hagrid's face, what the answer must be.

"Only the little 'un here." Hagrid moved closer, drawing back a fold of his coat, and Sirius saw that he was cradling a small, blanket-wrapped bundle against his chest. The bundle squirmed and reached out to tug at Hagrid's collar with a tiny pink hand.

"Harry..." Sirius reached out unsteadily to peel back one corner of the blanket. Harry's face was even wetter and dirtier than Hagrid's. He was making little hiccupping noises, the kind he always made when he was too tired to keep crying but not ready to stop yet. There was a smear of blood on his forehead, but he was moving, and breathing, and his eyes were wide open. The sharp pain in Sirius' throat receded just a little. "Harry," he repeated in a voice that didn't sound at all like his own. "Harry. Harry."

"He's all right." Hagrid draped one enormous arm around Sirius' shoulders. "He's safe now, Sirius. It's all right."

Sirius wanted to say that it sure as hell wasn't all right, that it would never be all right, that it was about as all wrong as life could possibly get. But Hagrid's voice was so earnest, and the giant hand patting his back was so gentle, and Harry was staring at him with big, trusting eyes... He tried to get the words out, but they wouldn't come, and the next thing he knew, he was sobbing into a fold of Hagrid's sleeve, while Hagrid patted his back some more and rumbled, "There, there..." into his ear.

It was humiliating, but it helped. After a couple of minutes, Sirius stepped back, sniffed loudly, and was able to say in a reasonably steady voice, "Did you find James and Lily?"

"Back there." Hagrid stepped aside to let Sirius brush past him.

There was a small, clear space towards the back of the house where Hagrid had pushed the rubble aside. He had laid the bodies there, side by side, and apparently made some attempt to clean them up, because there wasn't as much dirt on their faces as there was on everything else. James' glasses were missing. Without them, his face looked naked and unfamiliar, nothing like James at all. Sirius shuddered and lowered his wand, extinguishing the Lumos spell with a flick of his wrist, but even in the dark, he could feel those empty, accusing eyes staring at him.

Behind him, Harry gave another hiccup, followed by a small, tentative yelp. He seemed to be about to get his second wind. Sirius tucked his wand back into his belt, turned around and raised his arms.

"I'll take him, Hagrid."

"'Fraid you can't, Sirius." Hagrid shook his head and took a step back. "Not yet, anyways. Dumbledore's orders."

"I have to take him," Sirius insisted. "I'm supposed to take care of him. I promised James. I gave my word. I have to make sure he's all right."

"He'll be fine," Hagrid said stolidly. "Dumbledore'll make sure he's safe." His face softened a little, and he laid one hand on Sirius' shoulder. Sirius had to lock his knees to keep his legs from buckling. "Look, it don't have to be forever, right? Maybe you can come an' get him later, once everthin's settled. Right now, we just have to keep the boy hidden for a bit, until Dumbledore finds out what happened here."

But I know what happened... Sirius clenched his fists, noticing for the first time that his fingers were sticky with blood. The truth was sinking in now, a cold, crushing weight in his chest. The Death Eaters had never caught up with him, had never even really tried. Yet Peter was missing. Peter had talked. It must've been Peter all along.

Peter the traitor. Little Peter, always overlooked, not above suspicion but below it. And Sirius had handed James and Lily's lives to him, all puffed up with pride at his own cleverness.

I might as well have killed them myself...

He could speak up now. Tell Hagrid, tell Dumbledore, set the Aurors on Peter's trail. But it was Sirius' mess, wasn't it? He had to clean it up. Besides, you never could tell with the Aurors; they might actually take the little bastard alive.

Harry stirred restlessly in Hagrid's grip, letting out another, more emphatic yelp. Sirius automatically reached for him, but Hagrid's hand tightened on his shoulder, holding him in place.

"I told you, Sirius, it's--"

"Dumbleldore's orders, yes, I know. Just let me hold for a minute, all right? He knows me. I'll quiet him down for you."

Hagrid looked down at the increasingly agitated toddler in his arms and shrugged. "I suppose you'd better," he admitted, and bent down. "Here, take him."

"Shh." Sirius cradled Harry against his chest and did his best to think soothing thoughts. "Shh, Harry, it's all right. Don't be afraid. It's me."

"Mmmmph..." Harry wriggled sluggishly, and sniffled into his blanket. "Pafoo..."

"That's right. It's Padfoot. Nothing to be afraid of, see? I've got you."

He stood there and whispered comforting lies until he was reasonably sure Harry wasn't going to start screaming again, then reluctantly handed him back to Hagrid.

"Here; he should be all right now. If he starts to fuss, just hold him like you saw me holding him, and talk to him for a bit. Sing if you can. He likes that."

"Thanks." Hagrid was watching him with a concerned frown. "You going to be all right yerself, Sirius?"

"Yeah. I'll be fine." The lies were coming easier all the time. "Uhm… How are you planning to get out of here?"

Hagrid shrugged. "Muggle train, I s'pose. It's not that far of a walk, I think."

Sirius pondered the likely Muggle reaction to a seven-foot-tall, soot-covered man carrying a baby, and shuddered. "I think you'd better stay out of sight, Hagrid. Take my bike. It'll be faster, too."

Hagrid's frown deepened. "Are yeh sure?"

"Take it. I don't need it anymore, I can Apparate to where I'm going." And I can't have Peter hear me coming, can I?

"All right, then. Thanks." Hagrid took a step toward the bike, then stopped and awkwardly patted Sirius' shoulder again. "I'm sorry, Sirius, I really am. I know how close you were to--"

"Go, Hagrid!"

"Yes. Well... I'll be going, then." Hagrid walked away, shoulders hunched. Sirius found he couldn't stand to watch him go. He waited just long enough to hear the bike's engine roar to life, then Apparated.

Now that he knew to look for them, he could see the signs of a hasty departure all over Peter's flat. Peter had always been hopelessly disorganized when it came to packing. Every Hogwarts term would start out with his mother's exhausted owl trudging back and forth for at least a week, delivering all the essentials he'd forgotten to pack. Now he'd gone off with clothes but no shoes, a toothbrush but no comb, a set of old schoolbooks but none of his apothecary supplies. Sirius carried the comb from the bathroom into the kitchen and took a clean bowl from the cupboard.

He ended up having to look up the tracking spell. Fortunately, Peter hadn't packed all his books, either, and the N.E.W.T.-level Defense textbook was still on the shelf. Sirius was surprised at how calm he felt as he read the instructions, worked out the correct sequence of runes on a scrap of parchment, repeated the incantation over and over until he was sure he had the pronunciation right. It was as if he'd splinched himself somehow when he Apparated out of Godric's Hollow, but mentally instead of physically. Part of him had remained behind, weeping in the wreckage, and the rest was here, going through the motions of a Dark ritual, feeling nothing at all. Even when he stood at the kitchen table and sliced a silver knife across his hand, the pain barely registered.

Sirius clenched his fist, letting his blood drip into the bowl for a few seconds, then quickly healed the cut and fetched one of Peter's quills from the desk in the living room. He used the blood to write out the runes on the table, flicked his wand over them and spoke the incantation. Both his hand and his voice were perfectly steady. The runes glowed a deep, garnet red as the spell activated. Sirius picked up Peter's comb, plucked a few mousy-brown hairs from its teeth, and set them alight with a quick Incendio. They gave off a bitter smell as they burned.

When the ashes fell onto the runes, the glow intensified, slowly coalescing into a shimmering sheet of red light above the table. Shadows appeared, blurry and formless at first, then resolving into buildings, trees, moving people and vehicles. A busy city street, traffic lights flashing, Muggles hurrying back and forth across a junction. And in the middle of it all, Peter Pettigrew in Muggle clothes, dragging his battered old trunk along the pavement behind him. The image didn't last long, flickering out as soon as the last of Peter's hair burned away, but there was time enough for Sirius to recognize the looming iron-and-stone bulk of Victoria station in the background. He paused just long enough to fix the visual reference firmly in his mind before he Disapparated from the kitchen.

People screamed when he appeared in the middle of the street. Brakes screeched and car horns blared. Sirius didn't care. The calm that had carried him through the spell preparations earlier was gone, shattered by the sight of Peter slinking down the pavement, and the rage and grief were flooding back in a molten wave.

"Peter!" he yelled.

Peter let go of his trunk and spun around. His face was pasty-white and beaded with sweat, his fringe sticking damply to his forehead. For a moment he froze, trembling, eyes bulging in panic, and in that moment, Sirius knew. He hadn't been completely certain before. Some small part of him had still hoped that there was some sort of mistake, a misunderstanding, some obvious angle that he was overlooking. That if he just caught up with Peter and made him explain, then somehow it would all make sense and there would be no need to avenge a betrayal. But one look into Peter's eyes was enough to dispel all doubt. Sirius had had infinite opportunities to learn exactly what Peter Pettigrew looked like when he'd been caught doing something wrong.

"S-Sirius." Peter fell back a step. His fingers plucked nervously at his shirtfront, a fidgety habit he always fell into when he was frightened. The gesture was as familiar as the look on Peter's face, and just as suddenly alien. How could it happen, Sirius wondered. How could you know a man for over a decade, know his favorite color, the punch lines to all his jokes, the exact date he lost his virginity -- and still not know him at all?

Sirius' wand was in his hand, though he didn't remember drawing it. He raised it level with Peter's chest and advanced. Frightened Muggles scurried out of his way. Somebody screamed. Sirius imagined he made a frightening sight, wild-eyed and panting, face and hands still smeared with ashes from Godric's Hollow. Peter certainly looked horrified enough. Sirius bared his teeth at him, and he whimpered as he retreated a few more steps.

"Please, Sirius, you don't understand... please d-don't hurt me!"

"Don't worry," Sirius snarled, "you won't feel a thing."

Peter turned and ran, abandoning his trunk. Sirius had no choice but to follow; there were too many people in the way for him to get a clear shot. He sprinted across a road, scrambled over the bonnet of a black cab while the driver shouted obscenities, knocked a pile of newspapers off their crate as he scrambled past a kiosk. Some damned fool actually tried to grab him -- thinking to apprehend a dangerous lunatic, no doubt. Sirius wrestled free and raced around a corner to find Peter standing with his back against a red phone box, one hand flung out in a pleading gesture.

"Lily and James, Sirius, how could you?"

The question, coming from Peter, was so utterly insane that Sirius stumbled to a halt for a moment. And in that moment, the world turned to fire.

A blast of scorching heat lifted Sirius right off the pavement and send him tumbling head over heels. Street and sky jumbled together, then disappeared behind a smothering cloud of dust and smoke. Sirius landed flat on his back on the pavement, the impact violent enough to knock the air from his lungs and leave him too stunned to move for a minute or so. Through the ringing in his ears, he could hear screams and the shrill, hysterical wail of an alarm somewhere nearby. When Sirius finally sat up, his whole body ached with a deep, dull throb, as if every muscle was bruised. He lifted his arms to inspect the damage, and realized for the first time that he was still clutching his wand. Or half his wand, rather -- it had broken off two inches above the carved grip, the remaining piece so thickly coated with dust and ash, he couldn't even see the unicorn hair at the core.

Sirius shuddered and dropped the broken wand, then forced himself to stand and look around. There was a ten-foot crater in the middle of the street, still billowing black smoke. The walls of the surrounding buildings were scorched, all the windows blown out. A lamppost was bent double, its top nearly touching the ground. A car sat upside-down on the other side of the crater, its tires still spinning uselessly. The phone box Peter had been cowering against had lost its door and most of its roof. Peter himself was nowhere in sight.

Sirius staggered toward the edge of the crater, kicking chunks of broken pavement out of his way. He could see at least four bodies in the rubble, all of them bloody and broken, all of them strangers. The bottom of the crater was filled with oily black water. Something was moving down there, squirming and splashing. Sirius bent down for a closer look and saw a long, thin tail wriggle out of the water for a second before disappearing again. Another, nearly identical tail darted into a hole; a tiny, whiskered face glared with beady eyes from beneath a jagged chunk of cement. Rats. Dozens of them, scurrying away into the shadows.

Peter. Wormtail. Scurrying in the shadows all this time, betraying them all with no one the wiser. James, Lily, Harry, all the dead and injured Muggles in the street... how many lives had he wrecked in a day? In a year? How long had he been doing this? How could none of them have known?

No one ever suspects Peter. His own words to James, so idiotically confident, so deadly. How pleased he had been with his own cleverness. People underestimate him. We know what he's capable of, but hardly anyone else does.

Sirius felt the laughter bubbling up in his chest, and tried to force it down. He knew it was wrong to laugh. But really, the irony was just too perfect; he couldn't have done it better if he'd scripted it. Use Peter, James. Poor, underestimated little Peter. No one knows him like we do.

It hurt to laugh, but it hurt more when he tried to stop. Sirius wrapped his arms around himself, pressed his hands against his aching ribs, and laughed until his eyes watered, until his voice cracked, until his sides cramped so that he couldn't stand up straight. He didn’t hear the Hit Wizard squad Apparate into the street, didn’t realize that the shouting voices were directed at him until rough hands grabbed his shoulders and he found himself standing upright, with a wand pressed against his chest.

"Sirius Black." The blue-robed wizard holding the wand was a stranger, grim-eyed and angry. "You are under arrest." "For what?" Sirius said blankly, but as soon as he got the question out, he knew what the answer must be, and the knowledge triggered another bout of helpless laughter until the wizard in front of him broke off his recitation of charges and backhanded him across the face. The pain and the taste of blood startled Sirius into silence. He stood there, panting and speechless, while another wizard patted him down, searched through his pockets and conjured irons onto his wrists and ankles. You don’t understand, he wanted to say, I didn’t do it. Except that he had done it, just not in the way they thought. James and Lily were gone, and Peter was gone, and when he thought about trying to explain it all, the words stuck in his throat. It would be a long time before he trusted himself to speak again, and by then it made no difference.

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