Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Read online

Page 18


Chapter 18 Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs

 

  It took a few seconds for the absurdity of this statement to sink in. Then Ron voiced what Harry was thinking.

  "You're both mental. "

  "Ridiculous!" said Hermione faintly.

  "Peter Pettigrew's dead!" said Harry. "He killed him twelve years ago!" He pointed at Black, whose face twitched convulsively.

  "I meant to," he growled, his yellow teeth bared, "but little Peter got the better of me. . . not this time, though!"

  And Crookshanks was thrown to the floor as Black lunged at Scabbers; Ron yelled with pain as Black's weight fell on his broken leg.

  "Sirius, NO!" Lupin yelled, launching himself forwards and dragging Black away from Ron again, "WAIT! You can't do it just like that -- they need to understand -- we've got to explain --"

  "We can explain afterwards!" snarled Black, trying to throw Lupin off. One hand was still clawing the air as it tried to reach Scabbers, who was squealing like a piglet, scratching Ron's face and neck as he tried to escape.

  "They've -- got -- a -- right -- to -- know -- everything!" Lupin panted, still trying to restrain Black. "Ron's kept him as a pet! There are parts of it even I don't understand, and Harry -- you owe Harry the truth, Sirius!"

  Black stopped struggling, though his hollowed eyes were still fixed on Scabbers, who was clamped tightly under Ron's bitten, scratched, and bleeding hands.

  "All right, then," Black said, without taking his eyes off the rat.

  "Tell them whatever you like. But make it quick, Remus. I want to commit the murder I was imprisoned for. . . "

  "You're nutters, both of you," said Ron shakily, looking round at Harry and Hermione for support. "I've had enough of this. I'm off. "

  He tried to heave himself up on his good leg, but Lupin raised his wand again, pointing it at Scabbers.

  "You're going to hear me out, Ron," he said quietly. "Just keep a tight hold on Peter while you listen. "

  "HE'S NOT PETER, HE'S SCABBERS!" Ron yelled, trying to force the rat back into his front pocket, but Scabbers was fighting too hard; Ron swayed and overbalanced, and Harry caught him am pushed him back down to the bed. Then, ignoring Black, Harry turned to Lupin.

  "There were witnesses who saw Pettigrew die," he said. "A whole street full of them. . . "

  "They didn't see what they thought they saw!" said Black savagely, still watching Scabbers struggling in Ron's hands.

  "Everyone thought Sirius killed Peter," said Lupin, nodding. "I believed it myself -- until I saw the map tonight. Because the Marauder's map never lies. . . Peter's alive. Ron's holding him, Harry. "

  Harry looked down at Ron, and as their eyes met, they agreed, silently: Black and Lupin were both out of their minds. Their story made no sense whatsoever. How could Scabbers be Peter Pettigrew? Azkaban must have unhinged Black after all -- but why was Lupin playing along with him?

  Then Hermione spoke, in a trembling, would-be calm sort of voice, as though trying to will Professor Lupin to talk sensibly.

  "But Professor Lupin. . . Scabbers can't be Pettigrew. . . it just can't be true, you know it can't. . . "

  "Why can't it be true?" Lupin said calmly, as though they were in class, and Hermione had simply spotted a problem in an experiment with Grindylows.

  "Because. . . because people would know if Peter Pettigrew had been an Animagus. We did Animagi in class with Professor McGonagall. And I looked them up when I did my homework -- the Ministry of Magic keeps tabs on witches and wizards who can become animals; there's a register showing what animal they become, and their markings and things. . . and I went and looked Professor McGonagall up on the register, and there have been only seven Animagi this century, and Pettigrew's name wasn't on the list. "

  Harry had barely had time to marvel inwardly at the effort Hermione put into her homework, when Lupin started to laugh.

  "Right again, Hermione!" he said. "But the Ministry never knew that here used to be three unregistered Animagi running around Hogwarts. "

  "If you're going to tell them the story, get a move on, Remus," said Black, who was still watching Scabbers's every desperate move. "I've waited twelve years, I'm not going to wait much longer. "

  "All right. . . but you'll need to help me, Sirius," said Lupin, "I only know how it began. . . "

  Lupin broke off. There had been a loud creak behind him. The bedroom door had opened of its own accord. All five of them stared at it. Then Lupin strode toward it and looked out into the landing.

  "No one there. . . "

  "This place is haunted!" said Ron.

  "It's not,' said Lupin, still looking at the door in a puzzled way. "The Shrieking Shack was never haunted. . . The screams and howls the villagers used to hear were made by me. "

  He pushed his graying hair out of his eyes, thought for a moment then said, "That's where all of this starts -- with my becoming a werewolf, None of this could have happened if I hadn't been bitter. . . and if I hadn't been so foolhardy. . . "

  He looked sober and tired. Ron started to interrupt, but Hermione, said, "Shh!" She was watching Lupin very intently.

  "I as a very small boy when I received the bite. My parents tried everything, but in those days there was no cure. The potion that Professor Snape has been making for me is a very recent discovery. It makes me safe, you see. As long as I take it in the week, preceding the full moon, I keep my mind when I transform. . . I'm able to curl up in my office, a harmless wolf, and wait for the moon to wane again.

  "Before the Wolfsbane Potion was discovered, however, I became a fully fledged monster once a month. It seemed impossible that I would be able to come to Hogwarts. Other parents weren't likely to want their children exposed to me.

  "But then Dumbledore became Headmaster, and he was sympathetic. He said that as long as we took certain precautions, there was no reason I shouldn't come to school. . . . " Lupin sighed, and looked directly at Harry. "I told you, months ago, that the Whomping Willow was planted the year I came to Hogwarts. The truth is that it was planted because I came to Hogwarts. This house" -- Lupin looked miserably around the room, -- "the tunnel that leads to it -- they were built for my use. Once a month, I was smuggled out of the castle, into this place, to transform. The tree was placed at the tunnel mouth to stop anyone coming across me while I was dangerous. "

  Harry couldn't see where this story was going, but he was listening raptly all the same. The only sound apart from Lupin's voice was Scabbers's frightened squeaking.

  "My transformations in those days were -- were terrible. It is very painful to turn into a werewolf. I was separated from humans to bite, so I bit and scratched myself instead. The villagers heard the noise and the screaming and thought they were hearing particularly violent spirits. Dumbledore encouraged the rumor. . . Even now, when the house has been silent for years, the villagers don't dare approach it. . . . "

  "But apart from my transformations, I was happier than I had ever been in my life. For the first time ever, I had friends, three great friends. Sirius Black. . . Peter Pettigrew. . . and, of course, your father, Harry -- James Potter. "

  "Now, my three friends could hardly fail to notice that I disappeared once a month. I made up all sorts of stories. I told them my mother was ill, and that I had to go home to see her. . . I was terrified they would desert me the moment they found out what I was. But of course, they, like you, Hermione, worked out the truth. . . . "

  "And they didn't desert me at all. Instead, they did something for me that would make my transformations not only bearable, but the best times of my life. They became Animagi. "

  "My dad too?" said Harry, astounded.

  "Yes, indeed," said Lupin. "It took them the best part of three years to work out how to do it. Your father and Sirius here were the cleverest students in the school, and lucky they were, because the Animagus transformation can go horribly wrong -- one reason the Ministry keeps a close watch on t