Author's Note: Fic #100! ...Ideally I'd have some brilliant masterpiece here. Eh. Maybe by the time I reach HP Fic #100.
Minerva sorted through her piles of mail. Some were letters ordering her to give some indulgent parent's darling a better grade on Transfiguration this year... the entitlement of wealthy Purebloods never ceased to amaze her. Then again, some had gotten away with murder. Her stomach curdled by that thought, she went to the next pile. Some were garbage that weren't worth the paper they were printed on... the crass commercialism of a flyer advertising a publisher's backlog of autographed Gilderoy Lockhart books as "collector's editions" made her roll her eyes, at least. Some were mildly useful, coupons for luxurious cat accessories... Well, one had to have some indulgences in life.
An odd letter caught her eye - one labeled only URGENT: Dangerous Criminal On The Loose. She cast several diagnostic spells on it to ensure it wasn't a trap, then magically unfurled it from a safe distance. Most likely, it was some 'public interest' notice about Sirius Black, but it didn't hurt to check.
When nothing adverse occurred, she approached and examined it more closely.
Dear Professor McGonagall,
I write to urgently inform you of a hardened criminal on the loose within Hogwarts.
Peter Pettigrew -
What? She blinked and polished her spectacles on her robes before putting them back on. Yes, that was definitely... What was going on here?
- is an unregistered rat Animagus. You may verify this information with Professor Lupin.
He is also a servant of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and will resort to violence if cornered.
Pettigrew is or was recently in possession of the youngest Weasley boy. He may be distinguished by a missing toe on a forepaw.
I have faith that you will do the right thing for the students of Hogwarts.
She stood and shook her head. Peter Pettigrew? Alive? But...
A missing toe - given that injuries to an Animagus's animal form were mirrored in their human form, and vice versa... She closed her eyes. Yes. The largest piece of poor little Peter they had ever found was a finger...
The anonymous "admirer" required little thought to unmask. The only people who were likely to know such a secret about Pettigrew were his intimates, and the mention of Lupin confirmed it. James Potter was buried in a hero's grave in Godric's Hollow, and Albus himself had confirmed that death. That left only...
It was insane. The odds were that Black's mind had broken under Azkaban and transferred his guilt onto the martyred Pettigrew - and yet. Ronald Weasley - and his brother Percy before him - did own a rat, a dozy little creature that had never distinguished itself in any way, but was missing a toe on its right forepaw...
She moistened her lips. She could verify the information with Lupin, as the letter had suggested, but first she wanted to know why. Pettigrew had screamed that Black had betrayed the Potters... hardly the act of an accomplice. What would he have gained by that? Especially since he faked his death immediately afterwards... He evidently hadn't done it for any benefit to his own person. Nor was hiding out as a rat the sign of a traitor stricken by remorse.
Could he have done it entirely to spite Black? Hard to imagine. And yet, what would be the gain of making his "dying" words that Black had betrayed the P-
Her eyes flew open.
Unless Black had not betrayed the Potters.
Someone had, certainly. Whose word did she have that Black was the Secret-Keeper? James and Lily Potter - neither of whom, come to think of it, had any particular reason to give out the true identity of their Secret-Keeper, particularly when the whole Order suspected a leak. Only them and Peter Pettigrew, and two out of three were dead.
If Pettigrew was the spy... if Pettigrew had been the Secret-Keeper who betrayed the Potters to their deaths, and Black had known...
She remembered Sirius Black from when he had been a student. Brave and loyal? If it had not all been an act - then yes. Stable? No. Not really. James Potter had always seemed to be the check on his worse impulses, and considering what they had gotten up to at school, that was saying something. If he wasn't the traitor, then... would it have made sense for him to have flown into a blind rage upon the death of the Potters and, without stopping to alert anyone as to the true state of affairs, devoted himself entirely to hunting down Pettigrew, heedless of a traitor's potential future treachery -
Who was she joking? It was exactly what Sirius would have done. And for him to spend the next dozen years in despondency in Azkaban after his failure, not even protesting his innocence, until he somehow received a lead as to Pettigrew's location -
She pinched the bridge of her nose. Hadn't the Weasleys been on the front page of the Daily Prophet? She had glimpsed them in passing. Had the pet rat been visible?
"Oh, Sirius," she murmured without thinking. To think she'd regarded Pettigrew as the poor, stupid, impulsive boy...
"It's about... Black."
Remus suppressed his flinch. Of course. How silly of him to think otherwise. "Well - what is it?" he asked, his stomach dropping. He prayed it wasn't about some innocent having been found assaulted by the traitor, the madman -
"James's old gang..." Minerva sighed heavily. "They were all Animagi, weren't they?"
He nearly dropped the papers he was carrying. "You - you knew?"
"Oh, not at the time," she murmured, gazing at something far away. "But they were, weren't they?"
"I knew it," she said, as much to herself as to him. "If one was, they would have all..." She shook herself and turned back to him. "What were their forms?"
"James was a stag," Remus said. "Black-" He lowered his voice and looked both ways, lest he glimpse a flash of black fur. "Black's was a dog - almost a Grim. Abnormally large."
"And Peter - poor Peter -" Remus choked on the memory. Poor Peter... He wished he could go back and say something kinder to him, give him the affirmation and reassurance he had so desperately craved - "Peter was a rat. Grey little thing. He was so disappointed - he was hoping it would be something big and strong, and then his form turned out to be just a rat - James and Sir- and Black made fun of him for it..." And yet, who had proven the hero in the end? Not Black... How could he have been such a fool, how could they all have been such fools...
He was silent. So was Minerva. "He shouldn't have felt so bad about it," Remus continued, more to fill the silence than anything else. "Animagus by fifteen... that was impressive enough on its-"
Remus blinked. "Er - yes," he said awkwardly. "Why? When did you think they became Animagi?"
Her lips compressed into a thin line. "Later." A few seconds passed. "I see. You must appreciate that I feel as though I've been played for the fool..." Another second passed. "As their Head of House, of course."
Remus smiled sheepishly. It did not need to be said that, as a prefect, perhaps he should have said something about his best friends indulging in strictly regulated magic. As so many things in his youth had, it had seemed like a good idea at the time...
"It would have been helpful to know that a murderous criminal had an Animagus form," she said sharply, and he couldn't maintain even a sheepish smile.
Feeling every inch the red-handed schoolboy, he stared down at his shoes. "Ah. Y-Yes." McGonagall - Minerva - or was he off of a first-name basis again? - sighed.
"No use weeping over spilled Potions," she murmured. "I appreciate the information, Professor Lupin. Thank you for your time."
She walked off, and he was left with himself. As he gathered the remnants of his dignity and shuffled off to his office, he wondered:
How had she known one of them was an Animagus, anyway?
As the students began to rise and leave the Transfiguration class, Professor McGonagall called, "Mr. Potter?"
Harry froze midway to his feet. It was never a good thing if a teacher called your name, in his experience.
"Please stay after class." She looked at Ron. "You too, Mr. Weasley."
Hermione stared at the two of them, and Harry just looked at her in confusion and shrugged. He hadn't done anything; this seemed quite odd... Wait, was this about that last essay? All right, he'd slacked a little on it, but -
Accepting that he had no idea, Hermione left with the rest. Harry sighed and turned to face Professor McGonagall, feeling as though he were being invited to rehearse his own funeral. Ron looked worse; even his rat seemed a little nervous. With no better option, Harry stood at attention and awaited whatever hard talking-to he might get.
"It's about Sirius Black, Mr. Potter," their professor said, walking closer to them. "As you may be aware, there is a rumor he is specifically targeting you, and I want you to demonstrate the utmost caution. Mr. Weasley, I expect you to be on the lookout too. I'm sure a treacherous criminal is not above harming others to get at his target."
Fear and indignation warred in Harry. Oh, now a teacher cared for his welfare? Now? He knew he ought to appreciate it, but - "Yes, Professor," he and Ron chorused, nodding their heads in unison. She seemed pleased.
"Very good. Now, I'd also like to talk to you about your homework assignment from next week." Now they could not quite suppress their groans in unison. "Mr. Potter, I'd like to discuss your approach to the problem posed in the essay question." This time, Harry suppressed his groan, if barely. Ron just seemed relieved he wasn't her target - for the moment. "While it may be technically correct, I found your summary was over-simplistic and not indicative of a proper grasp of the mat- Stupefy."
A bolt of red light shot out of her wand, and there was a soft thump as something hit the floor. "I'm sorry about that," she said to the boys, and Harry's muscles unfroze; he took a great, gasping gulp of air, and so did Ron. "I had to take him off guard."
"Who?" Harry asked, whirling around and expecting to find Black stretched out behind him, full-length on the floor. But there was no one, just empty desks and... His gaze trailed downwards, and uncomprehendingly, he beheld Scabbers, lying on the ground just behind Ron's shoulder, knocked out cold.
Professor McGonagall was murmuring something, and her wand moved in strange patterns. As Harry watched, Scabbers convulsed and shifted, fur melting into fabric, snout spreading out and becoming a man's face, and body expanding until a man did lie stretched out full-length on the floor - but not Black. Professor McGonagall let out a hiss better-suited to a cat than a woman and followed up with a barrage of spells; by the time she was done, the man was trussed up, bound, gagged, and doubtless a good deal of other things. She took a deep breath and shook her head.
"You may go now," she said to the two of them. "I need to inform Professor Dumbledore of this, and then the Ministry."
"The Ministry?" Harry repeated. Ron was just gawping at the man formerly known as Scabbers.
"He is, at the very least, guilty of being an unregistered Animagus," she said dryly. Harry noticed her wand-hand was shaking. "I received an anonymous tip that leads me to believe he may be guilty of a good deal more." She took another heavy breath. "And I would like to apologize to you, Mr. Weasley."
"T-To me?" Ron stammered, tearing his gaze away from the former Scabbers. "Why?"
"For not inspecting your - pet - as soon as you walked in the door," she replied. "As an Animagus myself, I've thought for years I ought to check every animal that enters Hogwarts for being a witch or wizard in disguise. I have been assured, for years, that I am being needlessly paranoid and worry much too much about wild possibilities." Her gaze moved from Ron's face to the unconscious man behind him. "I did not wish to be vindicated in this way."
Lost for words, Harry and Ron decided then would be a good time to leave. Harry thought Ron looked as bad as he felt: the other boy was as white as a sheet and nearly walked straight into the classroom doorway on their way out. Neither could speak until they reached the end of the corridor.
"Of all the..." Ron said under his breath. "Hermione's cat..."
"What?" Harry asked, alarmed. "You think it's a - what did she say - Animalgus, too?"
"Animagus," Ron corrected automatically, then shook his head. "No, I mean - after all the moaning I did about that thing? She'll take this as a sign it was right all along!" He clutched at his head, seizing at his hair in great red fistfuls. "Cor, if I thought it was insufferable before - after this? She's not going to let me hear the end of it until graduation!"
PERFIDIOUS PETER: New Leaks From Ministry Claim Pettigrew Lived - Was He The Real Traitor?
FIDELIUS FIB: Black WASN'T The Secret-Keeper?
A RAT AMONG LIONS
THE DARK LORD'S SECRET SPY
VENOMOUS VERMIN: How Pettigrew Fooled Us ALL For Twelve Years
"ANYONE WOULD HAVE DONE IT": The Leaked Transcript Revealing True Depths Of Pettigrew's Depravity
SNIVELING SNITCH RATS OUT ROTTERS: New Testimony Leads To Shocking Breakthroughs On Cold Cases
UPROAR OVER PROSPECTIVE PLEA DEAL FOR HUMAN RODENT
HEADS TO ROLL AT MINISTRY?
DEMENTED JUSTICE: Anti-Azkaban Activists Call For Retrials
DUMB DUMBLEDORE: Grand Warlock Admits To Being "Deceived" By Traitor Pettigrew
A BLACK DAY FOR THE MINISTRY
A SIRIUS ERROR: Minister Makes Formal Apology For Bagnold's Mistake...
Rosmerta read the evening edition of the Prophet and sipped at her tea. Beside her, the stray she'd half-adopted nosed at the paper; she absently scratched it behind the ears. "I just don't know what to make of the papers these days," she sighed. "It seems like every day there's a new headline, and I don't know whether to believe the half of them..." She petted the dog and continued to browse the paper nonetheless, then blinked. "Goodness, will you look at that? Says here Pettigrew's bound for Azkaban, Black's been issued a full pardon, and all he's got to do now is formally-"
The paper was torn from her hands and promptly went flying into the air with a human whoop of joy. "Finally! Praise Merlin! Free! I'm a free man! At last, I'm-"
Sirius stood before his mother's portrait, hands clasped behind his back, and waited for the ranting to conclude. "Well, Mother," he said when the portrait affected a pause for breath, "you were right about one thing."
"Despicable blood-traitor, disgrace of - What?" She stopped ranting and peered at him suspiciously. "You paid attention to anything I taught you?"
"Yes," he said, smiling despite himself. "In this life, a politely-worded letter to the right person will get you everywhere."
Author's Note: Pettigrew survives as long as he does in canon because he has a keen understanding of the foibles of his former "friends". If Sirius had acquired a bit of forethought over a dozen years with nothing to do but contemplate his past errors, Pettigrew could have found himself caught out unawares quite quickly.
Hope readers enjoyed.
Professor McGonagall's persistent nervous twitch started up as a beetle buzzed overhead, and she pointed her wand, narrowed her eyes, and swished her wand through a complex pattern. A moment later, a blonde woman fell out of the air and hit the stone floor with a painful thump.
"Constant vigilance!" the professor bellowed at the three gawping Champions as she conjured a flyswatter and set upon the reporter, who took to her heels with admirable resilience.
"Ees zees normal for Eengland?" asked one Champion, frowning after the two of them. The Hogwarts representative took a moment to respond.
"It's... a long story..."