Unofficial Portkey Archive

Alice Evans and the Prisoner of Azkaban by hermy_madness

Alice Evans and the Prisoner of Azkaban


A Tumultuous Day

The morning of the Hogsmeade trip Alice wasn't sure who was more nervous, Harry or Hermione. The two of them sat on either side of her, blushing furiously, barely touching their breakfast and avoiding eye contact wherever possible. Normally she would have pointed out how ridiculous this was, but it had taken them both so long to get to this point that she took pity on them and remained silent. It didn't stop her exchanging amused looks with Ron though.

Once they had gotten ready for their trip, and Harry had been dispatched through the tunnel, the three of them set off. Once or twice she and Ron tried to engage her friend in conversation but Hermione looked as though she would be sick if she opened her mouth, so in the end they gave up.

"What if it all goes hideously wrong?" She suddenly blurted nervously as the thatched roofs came within sight.

"Don't be daft," Alice reassured her. "What could possibly go wrong? It's not as though you don't know each other. Just forget that you're on a date and act normally."

Hermione glanced nervously from Alice's face to Ron who was now standing several feet away from them, attempting to gaze nonchalantly at the trees next to the path, and ruining the entire act by grinning idiotically. Seeing the direction of her gaze Alice tried to reassure her. "Don't worry, I'll keep Ron well away from you."

Hermione did laugh slightly at that, but continued to nervously tuck her hair behind her ears as she spoke. "Right, good… well… I'll see you two later then." She continued to nervously tuck her hair behind her ears.

"You look really nice," Alice whispered to her. "Just have a good time; and remember it's only Harry."

After giving her a tentative smile Hermione nodded brusquely and without a word set off down the path by herself. Alice had to admit she found it rather amusing, her friend was wearing the exact same expression that usually graced her features before an exam. It was sweet really.

"They better not muck this up," Ron observed as he appeared at her elbow.

"Oh lighten up," she chastised him. "Of course they'll have a good time. It's Harry and Hermione for goodness sake! They're made for each other."

Ron continued to watch their departing friend. "Yeah well," he muttered sceptically, "they've got a great knack for making a mess of things everyone else would find impossible to." He suddenly brightened comically. "Maybe we should follow them just in case! To make you sure, you know?"

"No." Alice elbowed him in the ribs as he stood on tiptoe to try and keep sight of Hermione. "Leave them well alone! You wouldn't want us constantly popping up if you were in their position would you?" She looked at him sternly. "Ron Weasley we are going to stay as far away from them today as possible, or you can go back to the castle right now!"

"Yes Mum!" He mumbled looking sheepish. At the sight of his face Alice finally cracked the smile she had been fighting against and laughed. "Come on idiot, let's go and have a look around the shops."

"Alright," he sighed in mock resignation, "I was thinking -"

"Uh oh - ouch!" Alice laughed as Ron elbowed her back for being cheeky.

"I was thinking," he repeated loudly, "that we could go to Honeydukes; I need to stock up on some Chocoballs and Liquorice Wands… oh and I want to get some Drooble's Gum too, and maybe some Peppermint Toads whilst I'm at it…" Without waiting for him to stop fantasising about the sweets he was going to buy Alice rolled her eyes and set off along the path. If she kept going he would notice he was talking to himself in a second or two and catch up. Sure enough a moment later she heard the pounding of feet behind her and in several long strides Ron was walking next to her - albeit it still reeling off a list which included nearly every single sweet available to wizardkind. Alice had to smile.

True to his word Ron spent a good hour perusing the shelves of Honeyduke's and left with a bag almost as big as Alice. "I've been saving up!" was his indignant reply when she looked askance at it. As they spent the day wandering around Hogsmeade she kept an eye open for their friends and did her best to steer Ron in the opposite direction whenever Hermione popped into view; he was far too nosey and would have tried to hang about and spy on them if she hadn't intervened. With Harry under the cloak it did look rather like Hermione was aimlessly trailing around the village on her own, but the enormous grin that was plastered across her face each time they saw her suggested to Alice that her day was going well. She was glad; her friends had spent too long skirting round each other, she wouldn't have wanted the day to go badly for them.

"Why don't we have a Magical Menagerie in Hogsmeade?" Ron mused after a while as they strolled back down the street towards the Shrieking Shack munching contentedly on the enormous bag of sweets he had purchased earlier. "I mean you would think that with all the pets at Hogwarts it would make sense to have one?"

"I -" Alice had to admit it wasn't something that she'd considered before, having only recently acquired a pet, and a perfectly healthy if anti-social one at that, it wasn't really something she'd had to give much thought. "Maybe they just expect students to take their pets to the Care of Magical Creatures Professor, so they wouldn't need a shop for it," she hazarded.

"Yeah, well," Ron glanced down at his jacket pocket which evidently contained his rat as it was almost splitting at the seams, "I don't really fancy Scabbers' chances if I took him to Hagrid, He'd probably try and feed him some home cooking and to be honest I think one of those rock cakes would finish him off altogether."

Alice thought this was a bit harsh and was about to say so when someone shouted behind them.

"Oi, Weasel!" Alice felt Ron stiffen beside her at the sound of Malfoy's voice. "Are you two on a date or something?" She shot her friend a warning look as they swung round to face the approaching Slytherins; the group was bigger than normal, in addition to Malfoy's ever present, hulking shadows, Pansy Parkinson, Blaise Zabini and a few others were lurking in the background too. "I saw you'd ditched Granger earlier, though to be honest who wouldn't?" He smirked unpleasantly as his cronies tittered behind him.

Alice was sorely tempted just to walk away, but with just the two of them alone on the path against a large group of Slytherins she knew she would be an idiot to turn her back.

"Give over Malfoy," Ron started going red, "do you never get any new lines? Those ones are getting boring." Instantly the group stopped smirking and every single one glared at them menacingly." Alice groaned internally; honestly would Ron never learn not to antagonise them?

"You know Weasel, now that Saint Potter isn't around for you to hide behind, I think it's about time we taught you some respect." Malfoy began to reach for his wand. Before his hand had even reached his pocket however Alice felt a rush of air as a spell flashed past her. A spell which had originated from Ron.

Snarling as the magic narrowly avoided him Malfoy countered with his own spell - the incantation muttered so quietly that Alice couldn't tell what it was intended to be. She didn't hang around to find out. Not quick enough to get her own wand in time to conjure a defence she threw herself flat on the ground as the spell whizzed harmlessly overhead.

Rolling and regaining her feet with the reflexes which made her a good Quidditch player she finally managed to conjure a shield to deflect the next attack, this one from several sides as the Slytherins began to close in. As she struggled to maintain her shield charm her gaze flicked from the smugly confident face of Blaise Zabini to the pug-like triumph of Pansy Parkinson's. She was mildly surprised at how quickly the situation had changed and the others were beginning to form a circle around them, advancing slowly. With each jinx their superior numbers drove the shields that Ron and Alice had created closer to the Gryffindors and forcing them to fight back to back. This gave them an opportunity to concert their efforts however.

"Ron," Alice hissed as she dropped her shield momentarily to hurl a stinging hex at Pansy Parkinson. "Do you think you can shield us both if I try and deal with them?"

"Knock yourself out," he spat back through gritted teeth as he performed a peculiar leap to avoid the Jelly-legs curse Malfoy had just gleefully aimed at him.

Even working together Alice and Ron quickly found themselves overwhelmed; they simply couldn't direct their spells everywhere at once. With a jubilant hiss Malfoy managed to dodge their defences and disarm them both in one fell swoop.

"Not so clever now are we?" He sneered at Alice as he brandished her wand teasingly just out of reach. "Did you really think a Mudblood -"

"Oi! Don't -" Ron's exclamation was cut short as Malfoy cast a silencing spell on him.

"I don't suppose you ever learned any manners in that house of yours Weasley but I was always taught that when my betters were talking I didn't speak unless spoken to. Anyway," he either ignored or didn't hear Alice's disgusted snort at this, "as I was saying: as though a Mudblood like you could ever outwit us, especially if that," he jerked his pale, pointed chin in Ron's direction, "is all the help you've got." He paused and looked at the two of them thoughtfully, clearly taking an evil enjoyment in having them at his mercy. "Now what should -?"

"Hey Malfoy!" Alice groaned as she heard the shout behind her. Not now - could he not stay out of trouble for five minutes?! "Don't you like fair odds?" The entire group of Slytherins circled around Ron and Alice swung almost in unison towards the speaker, just as Hermione rushed into view with Harry, whose voice it had been, slightly ahead of her. Both their wands were already drawn and as she turned Alice could see Harry quickly stuffing what she suspected was the cloak into a particularly deep pocket of the coat he was wearing.

"Potter!" Malfoy spat as soon as he had recovered from the unpleasant surprise of the interruption. His quick brain soon evaluated the situation and realised his advantage. "You're not meant to be out of the castle."

"And I you're not meant to be practicing magic outside, especially not on people who are outnumbered and defenceless!"

"Yeah well, Weasle-bee threw the first spell," a malicious grin spread across his face as he realised they couldn't argue their way out of that one.

"Quite right too!" Harry raised his wand as Hermione threw him a warning glance. From the corner of her eye Alice could see a few of Malfoy's less brave cronies beginning to back away. They may not have been outnumbered but they were still unnerved by the sudden change in odds.

"Expelliarmus!" Alice and Ron's wands went soaring through the air towards Harry and as though that was the cue for the fight to resume, spells were suddenly flying in every direction. Taking advantage of the Slytherins' momentary distraction Alice and Ron ducked through their ranks and dodged round the back of the bushes next to the path so that they came up behind Harry and Hermione.

"Here you go," Harry quickly thrust their wands towards them, "you might be needing those."

"Thanks," Alice grinned despite herself, "you are going to get into so much trouble now though!"

"When has that ever stopped me?" Harry sidestepped a jinx that hissed between them, making the unfortunate bush behind them that it hit look as though someone had sneezed particularly violently over it.

Alice looked at it in faint disgust. "Charming." As she turned back to the fight that was still ongoing she felt a sudden sharp twinge in her knee and looked down to see a long, though fairly shallow, gash had torn across her knee, the spell that had caused it ripping through her robes in the process. "Ouch!"

"Alice, are you alright?!" Hermione called across from where she was currently firing gobbets of orange gloop from the end of her wand with grim satisfaction in the direction of Pansy Parkinson. Alice had to admit she had very good aim.

"Yeah fine," she glanced up to see where the curse had come from and sure enough saw Malfoy grinning smugly, a gleeful glint in his eye. "Just -"

As she spoke a black, furry blur shot past her and launched itself snarling and spitting upon the blonde Slytherin, pinning him to the ground and growling menacingly in his face in an impressive show of razor sharp teeth. Malfoy let rip a shriek that would have been comical had not the dog, wolf, or bear - for it was big enough to be any of them - been inches from ripping out his throat. The group that seconds before had been battling fiercely was instantly still. Through the silence generated by the animal's abrupt arrival the only thing Alice could hear was the deep rumble in its chest, even the birds had fallen silent. No one moved as still growling fiercely the animal slowly shifted its weight from Malfoy's body, he whimpered pitifully as it moved. The dog, for now that she had gotten over her initial shock Alice could see that was what it was, backed up several paces and stopped, still staring with cold eyes at the boy. After taking a few seconds to decide it wasn't going to kill him instantly, Malfoy scrambled to his feet in a flurry of legs and robes, almost tripping over himself in the process and scrambled behind the protective bulk of Goyle who was a few metres behind him and already backing away too.

As the Slytherins all began following suit, none of them taking their eyes from the animal until they were far enough away to turn and run, Alice and her friends began, after glancing nervously at each other, to make subtle movements away from the beast too. They had gone no further than a few paces however when the animal seemed to suddenly lose interest in its initial quarry, with a flick of its head it fixed blazing eyes on the retreating Gryffindors. Alice heard Hermione's quick intake of breath and the snap of twig as Ron stumbled to a halt.

"No one move," Harry hissed, his lips barely moving. "Stay quiet." The four of them stared hard at the dog, each hoping that it would turn and walk away. Alice could feel her legs beginning to tremble with the effort of consciously not moving them and tried to stop the shaking. If she hadn't thought the notion was ridiculous she could have sworn the creatures eyes were slowly moving from one face to the next as though it was trying to memorise each one. She was aware that her breathing had slowed to the point that it had almost stopped completely.

It was at that moment that Ron's rat suddenly decided to begin squealing and shrieking from inside his pocket, almost as though it was desperate to show that he was in a rude state of health after all. As though this was his cue the dog lunged, bridging an impossibly large gap between them, and threw himself onto Ron.



Hermione screamed. But the dog simply bowled him over and dashed off along the path away from the village. With Ron lying dazed and shaken on the ground and his friends desperate to ensure that he was alright, it was a few seconds before anyone realised what was missing.

"Scabbers!" Ron wailed, looking first at his now empty pocket and then at the rapidly disappearing form of the dog. "He must have escaped."

"Ron, I'm sorry," Hermione began to console him, "I'm sure he'll be - Where are you going?" Her eyebrows raised in astonishment as Ron quickly scrambled to his feet and made off along the path after them.

"You don't think I'm going to leave him to get eaten by that monster do you?" He called back.

"I…" Hermione looked despairingly at Harry who gazed seriously back at her, then at Alice before shrugging in silent apology and sprinting after his friend. "Oh honestly," she huffed, "boys! Come on Alice, we better keep them out of trouble." Trying not laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, Alice obeyed.

As she pounded along the path Alice couldn't help but wonder at how rapidly the day had changed, not just once but several times, from an ordinary trip around Hogsmeade to the fight with Malfoy which seemed to have bubbled out of nowhere and dissipated almost as quickly, then the appearance of the terrifying dog which for some completely unfathomable reason they were now chasing - surely the logical response would have been to run away from it?

"Ron, where are you going?" she repeated Hermione's question as she saw him veer off into the trees, the others hot on his heels. "Oh for goodness sake," she muttered as she followed, "this is ridiculous!" Even running at her fastest, the fact that her legs were a lot shorter than the others and they had had a head start meant that she was losing ground. By the time she had entered the trees she had completely lost sight of them - where had they gone? As she slowed to a more normal pace she opened her mouth to shout their names when abruptly a terrified scream rent the air.

"Ron! No get off of him!" Alice felt her heart grow cold as she realised that was Hermione's voice.


She sped towards the sudden sounds of a struggle and snarling that had broken out ahead of her. Almost as quickly an eerie silence fell. What had happened? Alice tried to still her suddenly rapid breathing in an effort to pick up any noises that would guide her. Creeping forwards she was just about beginning to think she had gone the wrong way when she heard the sound of sobbing and began to run towards it. Pushing her way past several particularly thick branches she was momentarily aware of being in a clearing before her foot connected with something solid and she was catapulted head over heels, landing heavily with her face in a pile of leaves. Quickly spitting them out and rubbing dirt from her eyes with her sleeve she saw Hermione several feet away, her tear streaked face looking startled by her friend's unexpected entrance.

"Alice," she choked, rushing over to help her up. "Thank goodness you're alright!" As she gave her a hug it didn't escape Alice's notice that she had several scratches on one hand and looked rather dishevelled.

"What happened? Where's Ron? Where's Harry?"


Alice twisted round to see Harry, covered in dirt and looking grim emerging from a hole between the roots of a tree behind her - it dawned on her that it must have been his legs she had tripped over. "Ron's in there." He nodded towards the dark opening in the ground.

"What? I don't…" Alice glanced from one to the other.

"He caught Scabbers," Hermione sniffed, "but then that dog attacked him again. It grabbed his arm - there was blood everywhere - but Ron wouldn't drop that stupid rat, I tried to help him (which explained the scratches Alice realised) but the dog… It pulled him in there."

"We have to go after him." Harry looked determined and Alice knew there would be no dissuading him, not that she would even have suggested such a course; he was right after all. He glanced nervously at the dark opening between the roots, before that familiar determined expression that so often graced his features overtook it. His green eyes hardened. "Come on then."

Without hesitation the girls followed him into the darkness. Crouching down on all fours Alice squeezed through the narrow opening in the ground - it was just as well none of them were very large, she reasoned, otherwise they would never have fitted. After crawling in the pitch dark at a slight angle for a few seconds she felt the earth suddenly stop beneath her hands. Hearing her hesitation Harry spoke up. "There's a ledge. Lumos," suddenly light blossomed just below her to reveal a short drop onto an earthen floor and a more reasonable sized tunnel stretching off into the darkness beyond on either side. "Hold onto that," he motioned to the thick, arm-like root protruding from the ceiling above her, "and swing yourself down so you don't hurt yourself." Briskly she obeyed, before lighting her own wand.

"Are you alright?" She looked at his pale face in concern.

With a slight smile he nodded. She raised an eyebrow questioningly, not believing him for a minute. His lips stretched into a proper smile at her perceptiveness and persistence. "Well, I will be once we've found Ron."

"How do I get down from here?" Hermione's voice made the two of them look up.

"Here," Alice began to show her as Harry disappeared along the tunnel, he came back almost as quickly however. "They can't have gone that way," he said, "the tunnel's all caved in, there's dirt and roots everywhere. They must have gone that way." He motioned with his wand light behind Alice. "I'll lead," he added unnecessarily, evidently unable to not take charge in situations like this. Not wanting to waste time arguing she quickly flattened herself against the tunnel wall and let him squeeze past. As she followed however his words jolted something in her memory and she paused to root around in her pockets.

"Alice, speed up!" Hermione hissed from behind her.


She had just found what she was looking for when Harry suddenly cursed loudly.

"What's wrong?" she asked in concern, raising her own wandlight to help her see what they faced ahead.

"It's the tunnel, it splits up ahead. I don't know which way they went and I don't suppose either of you are good at tracking or anything?" His strained grin as he looked back at them with tight eyes told her his attempt at a joke was intended to mask his worry. It wasn't working.

"Not really," she smiled back grimly, "but I might have something, hang on." Pulling the Marauder's Map from her pocket she swiftly unfolded it and muttered the spell.

"Alice, what are you doing?" Hermione sounded more quizzical than chastising. "The Map only shows the castle."

"Actually, it shows the castle and the tunnels leading out of it." Alice looked up at them eagerly. "What Harry said made me remember what the twins told me when they gave it to me. There used to be seven tunnels out of the castle but some of them can't be used any more because they've caved in." She looked at them expectantly.

"You think this might be one of them."

"I know it is." She pointed down at what they had yet to notice on the map. Near the edge of the parchment, between two feathery lines clearly meant to denote a tunnel, were three little dots labelled Harry, Hermione and Alice. "And look," she pointed to the fork in the tunnel on the map, "that tunnel doesn't go anywhere either, see there's a dead end there. My guess is they went the other way."

"Alice, you're a genius!"

She shrugged.

Quickly, the three of them took off into the deepening gloom of the tunnel. The smell of damp earth filled her nostrils and she was aware that her hair must be full of dirt and spiders webs, she could feel the gauzy tendrils brushing against her cheeks as they walked. Moving itself also became increasingly uncomfortable as they were forced to crouch as the tunnel narrowed and shrank in upon them. In parts they were forced to crawl on their hands and knees, a task made all the less palatable by the fact that it caused her cut she had received from Malfoy to start bleeding again. As she scrambled along, dirt began to collect under her fingernails and she felt the rough grit of the ground under her palms. She tried to focus on the sensations as they helped keep her mind focused on the present and stopped her from speculating what had happened to Ron. Every so often she would glance down at the Map in her hand to see how far they had come; it seemed to be taking them forever, but then it was easy to lose all sense of time shut away under the ground like this. She had just checked it for what seemed like the hundredth time when the dots that represented herself, Harry and Hermione reached the edge of the parchment. As she watched they slowly winked out. They truly were in uncharted territory now.

Stuffing the now useless map back in her pocket she continued to follow her friends along the tunnel. Just as she was beginning to wonder if the tunnel stretched all the way back to London the compacted dirt beneath her feet began to slope upwards and within seconds the three of them were standing in the thick and dusty atmosphere of a clearly disused room.

"Where do you suppose we are?" Harry's eyes were darting quickly around the room looking for any sign of Ron, but the only evidence that their friend had passed through was an ominous looking drag mark in the dust beneath their feet. "Alice, is it on the Map?"

She shook her head with wide eyes taking in the smashed pieces of furniture and torn wallpaper that hung limply from the walls as Hermione tiptoed across the room. Peering through the slats of a boarded-up window her friend squinted into the darkness beyond.

"I think we're in the Shrieking Shack," the face that turned back to them was pale in the wandlight.

Looking grim Harry glanced towards the staircase that Ron's trail led towards and then back at the girls, both of them nodded resolutely and went to stand behind him. As quickly and quietly as they could the three of them crept up the stairs, the lights of their wands casting odd, flickering shadows on the walls. As they reached the landing it became perfectly obvious where Ron must be, the wide clean stripe on the floor went straight to one particular door and a faint thread of light was escaping beneath it. Extinguishing their wands they approached it and with another nod of assent from his friends Harry reached for the handle.

"One," he whispered, "two, THREE!" He flung the door open and the three of them thrust their wands through the space that was created. Coming from the gloom of the hallway into a room half-lit by a single lamp Alice was disoriented for a split second, then she caught sight of Ron hunched in a corner of the room between the wall and an enormous ragged looking four-poster bed. A smear of scarlet blood stretched from somewhere by his hairline, where it was thickest, to his chin and his right arm was being held at an awkward angle as though it pained him. What concerned her most though was the mixture of fear and horror he was looking at them with.

"Ron!" Hermione moved forwards into the room. "Are you alright?"

"No!" His voice cracked with the pain. "No, stay back!"

Hermione stumbled to a confused halt several paces into the room as Alice simultaneously heard an ominous creaking of floorboards from the dark recesses of the opposite corner. With a reluctance that made her feel as though the world was moving in slow motion she dragged her eyes across from Ron's terrified face to the shadowy figure that had rapidly materialised as if from nowhere. When her eyes finally connected with that hollow, gaunt face Alice felt her stomach contract and her muscles freeze up. Harry on the other hand had no such compunctions.

"Hermione!" He made a move, arms outstretched, to stand in front of her or drag her out of harms way, Alice wasn't sure which. Unfortunately he got the opportunity to do neither because with an irritated twitch of his head Sirius Black, for as little as she cared to admit it Alice had no doubt as to the man's identity, spoke.

"Stop!" The voice was harsh and croaky with disuse. "Nobody move." An emaciated hand, so pale that it really did look skeletal levelled Ron's wand at Hermione's chest. "Nobody move," he repeated menacingly. Dark, inscrutable eyes flicked between Hermione, Ron - still curled up in the corner, and Harry who was now partially blocking Alice from Black's view. The part of her that tended to get herself drawn into Harry's scrapes kept telling her to shift slightly so that she could see what was going on better, but she couldn't seem to get her feet to move. "You boy," the wand tip flicked in Ron's direction, "get -"

"Leave him alone!" Hermione's voice was a high-pitched, squeak but she was clearly fighting to keep the fear from her voice.

"Be quiet girl!" Black barked. His eyes, as shadowy as his name, which had been fixed on Ron gave a dismissive jerk in the tremulous brunette's direction before refocusing on their object.

"Oi!" Now it was Harry's turn to shout. "Don't speak to her like that!" Alice saw from behind his hand begin to inch towards the pocket that held his wand and she prayed that he wouldn't do anything rash.

Black however ignored him, abruptly becoming feverish in his intensity he jabbed Ron's wand at its owner to punctuate his sentences. "Where is he? Show me. I know he's here."

Fear and confusion mingled in Ron's eyes as they flicked towards Harry and then looked for help that wasn't forthcoming from his friends. None of them knew what to do. What was Black talking about? Harry was right there and he was practically ignoring him. Not that that was a bad thing, Alice's scared mind began to over-reason everything, obviously the longer the crazy, escaped convict failed to acknowledge that the object of his nearly year-long search was in the same room as him the better. Although not if you happened to be Ron she looked apologetically back at her red-headed friend. How on earth were they going to get out of this one?

So fortuitously in time with her thought that had it been someone else in this situation she might have found it comical Alice heard feet pounding on the stairs behind her. The three Gryffindors standing in the room shifted nervously as Black glanced towards the still open door. "Back against the wall," he hissed taking a step forward to force them to start moving.

Alice and Hermione didn't need telling twice, and as the latter's vice-like grip closed around a defiant Harry's wrist he was reluctantly forced to comply. With each step back she took Alice never allowed her eyes to leave Black for a second, he on the other hand had twisted his body so that he was half facing the children and half the empty doorway through which they could hear cautious footsteps slowing as they moved closer. As the brittle, aged wallpaper made contact with Alice's back she slipped her sweaty palm into the pocket of her jacket and began to inch her wand out. Black didn't seem to be paying them much attention anymore, but she didn't want to bet on it. From what she had seen so far he was certainly living up to his violent and unpredictable reputation and she didn't want to give him further cause for alarm. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Ron moving with an effort up onto his knees so that he had a clearer line of sight through the door, on her other side Harry and Hermione had also retrieved their wands and were trying to keep them concealed behind them. It seemed that everyone in the room had stopped breathing, the ancient dusty atmosphere of the Shrieking Shack had settled over the room like a shroud, smothering all sound other than the approaching footsteps. Alice wanted to shout a warning to whoever was out there, to tell them to run, or watch out or to rescue them, she wasn't sure what just something to lost them know that they were feet away from one of the most feared wizards in the world. She couldn't seem to make the thoughts whirring relentlessly inside her head transfer into any meaningful action though. Fear seemed to have plugged up her voice.

In the corridor the light of a wand fell across the dusty floorboards as the owner of the footsteps seemed to pause momentarily. Then they moved again, the sound more decisive now.

One. A cloak swished against the wooden floor. Two. The bright light of a wand entered the doorway blinding her to what lay beyond; she sucked in her breath. Three. With a final stride the figure entered the room. Alice could have cheered for joy.

"Professor!" Relief and delight were evident in Harry's voice as he caught sight of Lupin crouched defensively in the doorway.

"Harry, stay where you are." Lupin's eyes were fixed on Black's face, his own features devoid of all emotion although Alice could only guess at the conflict that must be going on inside him. To see his former friend again after all this time and all that had happened…

"Remus?" In Black's hand Ron's wand twitched slightly, but he didn't lower it. Surprise was evident on his gaunt and waxen face. "What…"

"Let them go Sirius." Lupin's voice cracked as he spoke and despite her fear Alice felt her heart go out to him. This must be so difficult for him.

In the gloomy, battered and dusty room the silence seemed to stretch endlessly as the two men stared at each other, sizing each other up, both trying to determine how the other would react. Pinned against the walls the four children had frozen in place, not daring to breathe lest they upset the precarious balance of the situation. "I can't," Black growled eventually, "not yet, not till this is finished."

Hermione resolutely stepped in front of Harry as Alice made a similar motion towards him. "We're not going to let you hurt Harry," her friend quavered in the strongest voice she could muster. "If you want to kill him you're going to have to kill is too!"

Black's eyes flicked dismissively to her face before refocusing on the teacher. "Kill him? I don't want to kill him girl, why on earth would I want to do that?"

"Why?!" Harry exploded as he forced his way between the girls. "To finish what you started. You killed my parents! Your best friends and you sold them out to Voldemort!" Black looked with empty eyes from Harry's face, white with rage, to the wand in his hand now pointed squarely at his own heart.

"I don't deny being responsible for Lily and James' death," Black's voice was grave and strangely calm, the sudden change was unsettling, "but I never betrayed them to Voldemort." He paused before his eyes flicked back to Ron again. "The one who did that is over there."

"What?!" Bewilderment swamped Ron's pale face. "He's lost it." He began shaking his head emphatically. "All that time in Azkaban; he's lost it." Alice made a mental note to warn Ron of the wisdom of insulting deranged mass-murderers afterwards, if she ever got the chance.

"Shut up!" Harry yelled again. "I know all about it; you were their secret keeper, you were the only person who could have told Voldemort where they were!"

"Sirius," Lupin's voice somehow still managed to be calm, "think about this. Ron can have been no more than a baby himself. Think about what you're saying."

Black's next statement however, confused everyone even more, if that were possible, and confirmed to Alice as though she had needed further proof that Azkaban really had unhinged him. "Not the boy Remus; the rat." His eyes, once again alight with a fixated mania, locked on the quivering mass in Ron's pocket.

"The rat?" For almost the first time since he had entered the room, Lupin sounded confused and allowed his gaze to be drawn away from Black's gaunt face as he glanced towards Ron.

"No! He's not touching Scabbers! He's mental!" Ron shifted his uninjured arm protectively over the pet in his pocket. Alice glanced in bafflement at Harry and Hermione next to her as they watched the bizarre exchange play out.

"He's not a rat… Look," something akin to tiredness washed across Black's skeletal features as he sighed - though it sounded more like the creaking whistle of air as it left an old set of bellows - "just give me the rat and I'll show you. Then you'll understand."

"No, he can't…" Ron sounded less convinced now, his voice almost pleading rather than adamant. The blood running from the cut on his scalp trickled down into his eye and he was forced to move his protecting hand to wipe it away.

"All I want is the rat Remus," Black repeated, "let me show you the rat and you'll understand. I don't want to harm the boy… either of them." He seemed pained as he spoke the words and there was a flicker of something, some emotion that had been absent before that made Alice think that perhaps things weren't as clear cut as they seemed. Lupin apparently agreed with her.

"Was it…? And you're saying…?" The professor allowed his unfinished questions to ask hang in the air, but evidently Black understood there meaning because he nodded. Lupin's eyebrows shot up, amplifying the wrinkles across his forehead, and he stared searchingly at the man before him before echoing his motion. "Alright," he sighed eventually, looking as old and careworn as Alice had ever seen him. "Show me. Ron," he held his hand out behind him never moving his wand or his eyes from Black's face, "give me your rat please. It'll be alright, I promise."

"I… I don't understand," he was confused even as he reached for the trembling lump in his pocket, "what's Scabbers got to do with anything?"

"What's he got to do with it?" The light began to re-enter Black's eyes as he raised his voice over the sudden squeaking that filled the room as Ron drew Scabbers into the light by his tail. "He's got everything to do with it." His voice cracked as he gazed upon the struggling rodent. "Everything." Abruptly he made a diving movement towards the rat causing both Lupin and Ron to yell in response. Swiftly the Professor stepped between them, his wand pressed sharply into what little flesh there was beneath Black's chin, as Ron cowered away and tried to shelter Scabbers with his broken arm. The effort had caused a thin sheen of sweat to break out across his pale forehead and the shadows under his eyes had begun to turn an unhealthy green.

"Sirius!" Lupin barked. "Don't make me use this on you. You still have to prove this to me." The two men glared at each other for what seemed like an eternity before Black eventually dropped his gaze. Gradually Lupin relaxed the pressure of his wand on his neck. "Hermione," he stretched his other hand out again, "would you be so kind as to pass me Ron's rat?"

Obeying teachers' requests must have been so deeply ingrained with Hermione that it overrode every other concern, Alice considered as she watched her friend hurry to do so, because if her friend was even half as scared as she herself was now then she didn't know how she could even move. The situation seemed to have changed rapidly again, although she wasn't sure how or what had provoked it. Lupin and Black seemed to know something that they weren't sharing with the children, or at least Black was trying to convince his friend of something. But what? And what on earth did Ron's rat have to do with it?

As Hermione handed over Scabbers, with some difficulty seeing as he was frantically twisting around her hand in an attempt to escape, Lupin returned the warning pressure on his wand to prevent Black from making any sudden movements. With her task complete Hermione scurried back to her place by the wall and Alice noticed her slip her hand into Harry's for reassurance.

"Professor I don't -" Harry was cut off mid sentence.

"Quiet a moment Harry. What makes you so sure that it's him?" As her teachers eyes had never left Black's face the entire time he spoke it took Alice a second to realise that this question had been directed at the skeletal figure in front of him rather than at her friend.

"Look at his paw." For the first time in minutes Black's eyes focused on something other than Scabbers and moved to Lupin's face, albeit with the same feverish intensity. "Think about it," he seemed to be willing his one-time friend to remember something, or to believe him, but what it was Alice wasn't sure; she had no idea what they were talking about. "What was the biggest piece of him they ever found?" She couldn't see enough of Lupin's face to see how he reacted to this equally cryptic question. It was almost as though she and her friends had intruded on some pre-existing conversation, all the pieces didn't seem to be there.

"What are you talking about?" Harry asked eventually, his frustrated and angry voice breaking through the silence that had descended across the room at Black's question.

For a moment Alice didn't think anyone was going to answer him. Eventually Lupin spoke in measured tones, although she suspected that it was an effort for him to keep whatever emotion he was feeling out of his voice. "I believe Harry, that what Sirius is implying is that Mr Weasley's rat is in fact… Peter Pettigrew."

A/N: Not exactly much of a cliff hanger I know, but if I didn't cut the chapter off somewhere it was going to go on forever. Next chapter will be full of much more in the way of revelations and new action for our heroes. Going off on a bit of a tangent I apologise to, and thank, those of you who have borne with this story during the massive gap since I last posted. So THANK YOU… and please R&R.