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SIYE Time:8:05 on 27th July 2021


Excess Baggage
By cwarbeck

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Category: Hogwarts Express Challenge (2006-3)
Characters:None
Genres: General
Warnings: Death, Sexual Situations
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 31
Summary: ** Honorable Mention in the Hogwarts Express Challenge **
All aboard the Hogwarts Express... Hermione peered concernedly at Ron, who was white as a ghost. “Are you alright?” she asked. Ron pointed a trembling finger at something lying on the floor not two feet from them. Hermione’s hand flew to her mouth in surprise. “Oh! Is that–?” He nodded weakly. “You’d better get Harry.” Written for the Hogwarts Express (3-2006) challenge.
Hitcount: Story Total: 11543



Disclaimer: Harry Potter Publishing Rights © J.K.R. Note the opinions in this story are my own and in no way represent the owners of this site. This story subject to copyright law under transformative use. No compensation is made for this work.



Author's Notes:
Ignores the events of HBP.

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling.




ChapterPrinter


Excess Baggage



The sound of harsh breathing filled the air. His heart was pounding uncontrollably, threatening to leap up his throat and choke him. He searched wildly for somewhere to hide, somewhere he could conceal himself, somewhere he could escape.

He spotted a gap between two large school trunks and dove into it, gasping as he hit his leg hard on a corner of one of the trunks. Trying to slow his rapid heartbeat, he concentrated on keeping as still as possible, in order not to attract attention.

Miserably, he reflected on his current predicament. He had given up all potential happiness during that one weak moment so long ago, when he had been seduced by the power that the Dark Lord had promised him. He smiled grimly to himself. What a fool he had been.

Why did he ever think that he could be a Death Eater? And what kind of stupid title was “Death Eater” anyway? Was death some kind of main course, to be taken with a side salad and a glass of vintage red wine?

A nearby crash made him look up. All of a sudden, he knew what death tasted like.

It tasted an awful lot like regret.

* * *


“No!”

The girl broke off from a heated kiss and swatted at the hands that were slowly feeling their way up her jumper. “We can’t do this!”

The boy groaned in frustration. “You can’t stop now! Please, luv?” He put on his best wheedling expression. “I thought you agreed that since there’s a war going on, we owe it to our country not to die as virgins.”

Lavender Brown smoothed down her hair and smiled seductively at Seamus Finnigan.

“What I meant was that we can’t do this here.” She waved a hand around the carriage they were in. “Dean and the others might come back soon. Plus, the Prefects are probably doing their rounds, and I don’t want Hermione Granger to spout off her priggish nonsense at me.”

The sandy-haired boy grinned back at her. “Alright, where do you propose we go?” He rearranged his dishevelled shirt and robes just in case someone did look into the compartment window.

“Hmmm…” Lavender looked thoughtful. “How about the baggage compartment? Nobody’s there right now. Everyone’s off visiting before they have to say good-bye for the summer. ”

“Lead the way then.” Seamus stood and held out his hand to help her up from the seat.

Giggling madly, Lavender exited the carriage with Seamus in tow. They passed several students making their way down the swaying corridors of the Hogwarts Express as it slowly made its way to King’s Cross station. Another term was over at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

As Seamus followed Lavender into the compartment at the very end of the train, he hastily cast a locking charm on the door. Before he had even completed the spell, the blonde girl flung herself into his arms. They stumbled around the small space, kissing passionately until Lavender suddenly fell over backwards, sending both of them tumbling to the ground.

Their fall was broken by something soft.

And warm.

And man-shaped.

Lavender’s screams could be heard all throughout the train.

* * *


Ron and Hermione were currently in the middle of one of their infamous rows.

Most of their quarrels were sparked by something trivial — like the numerous Droobles wrappers Ron had “accidentally” left lying around their compartment, or Hermione acidly commenting on Ron’s abysmal lack of motivation to do homework, or Ron constantly moaning that he only need Agrippa to complete his Chocolate Frog card collection.

Today, Ron had not wanted to go on Prefect rounds just yet, as he had been in the middle of a fierce game of Wizard Chess with Harry. The squabbling only ended when Harry had speedily shoved Ron out into the corridor after Hermione threatened that she would never help him — or Harry — with homework ever again.

“I don’t need your help with homework all the time, you know.” Ron sulkily stomped beside a smug Hermione. He accosted a fourth year Slytherin boy who was trying to levitate a frightened second year Hufflepuff out of one of the moving train’s open windows.

Ron held the squirming boy by the robes and frowned at him. “What is wrong with you, Harper?” he snarled in disgust.

“Really, Ron, why can’t you take your responsibilities seriously? You’re still a Prefect while we’re on the train, you know,” Hermione scolded him as she made sure the Hufflepuff was okay and sent him along his way.

She turned to see that Ron had twisted the Slytherin’s hands behind his back and had shoved his face against the corridor wall. “And what, may I ask, do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.

“Huh?” Ron said absentmindedly, as he searched his robes for something.

“Ron, let go of him at once!” Hermione shouted.

“Relax, will you? I’m not going to do anything bad to him.” Ron pulled something metallic out of his pocket, but Hermione swiftly confiscated it.

“So how come you have these handcuffs, then?” Hermione retorted. “You’re not authorized to use these things.”

Ron opened his mouth to argue when a blood-curdling scream rent the air. Startled, he released Harper, who made a rude hand gesture before scuttling away. The two Gryffindors looked at each other in alarm.

“That sounded like it came from the back of the train,” Hermione said, already spinning around to head in that direction.

“Yeah, come on!” Ron strode forward, leaving Hermione to catch up with him.

A large knot of students was already gathered near the entrance to the baggage compartment. Hermione could see that most of the other Prefects, including Hannah Abbot, Ernie Macmillan and Anthony Goldstein, were already there. They surrounded an ashen-faced and sobbing Lavender, who was clutching at Seamus’ robes. The Irish boy was looking rather pale himself.

Ron and Hermione pushed their way through the mob until they were directly in front of Lavender and Seamus.

“What’s the problem, Lavender?” Hermione asked gently.

The blonde girl raised her head. Hermione was troubled to see how terrified she was.

“There’s — there’s a — ” Lavender stuttered but could not continue. She buried her face into Seamus’ shoulder.

Hermione looked questioningly at Seamus, who swallowed nervously before answering.

“There’s a dead body in there,” he whispered, jerking his head towards the compartment.

A gasp rose from the crowd and terrified whispers and muttering broke out. Some of the younger students started crying.

Hermione was surprised and more than a little dubious. A dead body on the Hogwarts Express? “Are you certain that’s what you saw? You might have been mistaken—”

“It’s a dead body, Hermione!” Lavender shrieked hysterically. “I was practically lying on top of it!” Seamus rubbed her back to calm her down.

Ron’s eyes widened and he cast a worried glance at the closed door. “Is it — is it a student?”

“No,” Lavender answered, her voice tremulous. “It’s a man. I’ve never seen him before.”

Everyone gave a startled jump when Hermione suddenly spoke up loudly.

“All of you — get back to your carriages and stay there.” She made flapping motions with her hands, shooing the scared students away. Hermione turned to Ernie, one of the Hufflepuff Prefects. “Could you go up to the engineer and tell him we have a situation here?” The boy nodded sombrely and turned to go.

“Hannah, Anthony, can you two escort Seamus and Lavender to the Prefect’s carriage? Tell the Head Boy and Girl what happened.” Seamus put his arm around a still sniffling Lavender and they followed the other two students.

“Alright, Ron, let’s go inside,” Hermione said. Only a slight quiver in her voice betrayed her nervousness.

“Are you completely mad?” Ron asked incredulously. “Why the bloody hell are we going to do that?”

“Because,” Hermione said patiently, “We need to find out who that dead body is.”

“Why can’t we wait for the bloody Aurors to arrive?”

“Because no one can Apparate onto the Hogwarts Express while it’s on its way to or from the school,” Hermione sighed exasperatedly. “Honestly, don’t you know that yet? We’ve only been going to Hogwarts for the past six years.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “What’s the matter, Ron — scared?”

“Me? Scared?” Ron looked indignant. “Of course not! Let’s go.” He flung open the compartment door, stepped inside, and promptly fell down in a tangle of limbs as an orange blur shot between his legs and launched itself into Hermione’s arms.

Hermione staggered and gave a startled squeak. “Crookshanks! You naughty cat! What are you doing here?” She gave the bandy-legged cat a little hug before putting it down. “Go on, go back to our compartment. You’re supposed to be with Ginny.”

Giving her the kind of supercilious look only a cat could manage, Crookshanks flicked his bottle-brush tail haughtily and slinked off.

Hermione peered concernedly at Ron, alarmed at his countenance. “Are you alright?” He was as white as a ghost. “What's wrong?”

Ron’s reply was to point a trembling finger at something lying on the floor not two feet from them.

Hermione’s hand flew to her mouth in surprise. “Oh! Is that—?”

Ron nodded weakly. “You’d better get Harry.”

* * *


After Ron and Hermione had gone off to make rounds, Harry had continued his abandoned chess game with Neville Longbottom until the round-faced boy discovered that his toad had gone missing again.

Neville left in search of Trevor and the only other occupant of the compartment — Luna Lovegood — soon wandered off, murmuring vaguely about looking for Aquavirus Maggots. Harry had started reading Quidditch Through the Ages when he apparently dozed off.

He awoke with a start when the compartment door slid open with a bang. Harry sleepily noted a faint aroma of something flowery and looked up to see Ginny Weasley enter the carriage, her long red hair swept up in a sleek ponytail.

“Oops! Sorry, Harry,” Ginny said, carefully closing the door behind her. “I didn’t know you were taking a nap.”

“That’s okay.” Harry yawned and picked his book up from the floor. “What’s up?”

“I’m looking for Crookshanks,” Ginny explained, bending down to peer under Harry’s seat. He again caught the scent of wildflowers as she straightened up and took the seat in front of him. “I was supposed to feed him for Hermione while she went on her rounds, but I can’t find him. I brought him over to Dean’s compartment, and he must have gotten out of his cage. Crookshanks, I mean. Not Dean.” She smiled at Harry as she made the distinction.

Harry grinned at her. “Well, he’s not here. Crookshanks, I mean. Not Dean.”

Ginny laughed and swatted his arm. “Prat.” She leaned back. “I think I’ll just stay for a while. I’m sure Crookshanks will show up sooner or later and I’m tired of searching for him. Do you mind?”

“Of course not,” Harry assured her. Actually he was kind of glad she was there.

They had developed a great friendship during the last term. Harry often came down from a troubled sleep to find Ginny hard at work revising for her O.W.L.s. in the common room. Harry had been pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it was to talk to Ginny. Their late-night conversations soon turned into something Harry looked forward to, and Voldemort seemed a distant threat as he and Ginny talked well into the wee hours of the morning.

“Good. I kind of missed talking to you guys — even my git of a brother,” Ginny said, beaming at Harry. “I mean, Dean and Seamus are alright, but Lavender and Parvati were starting to get on my nerves. They keep giggling inanely at anything and everything.”

She rolled her eyes and did a fair imitation of a brainless giggle.

Harry chuckled at her antics. “I know what you mean.” He watched as Ginny made herself more comfortable. He was suddenly overcome with curiosity about her lovelife. She had gone to Hogsmeade with Dean Thomas several times, but Harry had never actually asked if they were officially a couple. The thought of Ginny having a boyfriend unexpectedly bothered Harry for some reason and he felt a twinge of jealousy.

Where did that come from? Harry wondered, looking down hastily at his lap to cover his sudden confusion, but something compelled him to hesitantly ask her, “Are you and Dean—?”

Ginny looked strangely at him but before she could answer, a high-pitched scream made them both jump out of their seats, their wands drawn and at the ready.

Ginny stared at Harry. “Who — or what — was that?” she whispered.

“I don’t know.” Harry made to leave the carriage. “You stay here while I find out.”

“Oh no, Harry, I’m going with you.” Ginny thrust her jaw out determinedly.

“No, Ginny. It could be dangerous,” Harry protested.

She frowned at him. “I am not a child, Harry. I can take care of myself.”

Harry was about to object some more when the door slid open again and Hermione barged in, looking unaccustomedly flustered.

“Harry!” she said frantically, wringing her hands.

“What is it?” Harry asked worriedly.

“You’ve got to come with me!” Hermione grabbed his hand and all but dragged him out of the compartment.

Ginny quickly followed the two of them as they ran down the strangely deserted train corridor. Normally, there would be students milling about, joking and letting off high spirits with classmates that they would not see during the summer. Harry noted frightened and panicky faces staring out at them through open compartment doors.

“Where are we going?” Ginny called out as she endeavoured to keep up with them.

“You’ll see soon enough,” was Hermione’s only reply.

They skidded to a halt in front of a dismal-looking Ron. Hannah and Anthony had come back and were standing beside him.

Harry stared at them in turn, taking in their solemn and frightened faces. Feeling distinctly unsettled, he finally asked Ron, “What’s this about then?”

Ron moved aside to let Harry inside the baggage compartment. “I really don’t know how that got there, mate,” he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

Harry stepped into the carriage with trepidation, absently noting that Ginny was right behind him. His eyes immediately went to the sprawled body on the floor in between two school trunks.

An ominous sensation settled into the pit of his stomach as he gazed from the Dark Mark branded on one arm to the shining silver hand that was splayed on top of the dead man’s chest.

“Harry?”

Ginny’s tentative touch on his elbow jerked Harry out of his shocked contemplation of Wormtail’s body. He turned to see that the rest of the group had also entered the space and were all looking at him expectantly.

“Do you know who—” Ginny asked haltingly. She was a little pale but did not seem to be scared. Harry patted her hand comfortingly.

“It’s Wormtail.” He saw the puzzled look on Ginny’s and the other students’ faces. “Peter Pettigrew,” he clarified for them, even as Hermione and Ron nodded grimly. “He was a Death Eater and was the one responsible for giving Voldemort back his body.”

Ignoring the shudder that ran through the group at the mention of the Dark Lord’s name, Harry bleakly added, “He killed Cedric.”

There was a sharp intake of breath from Hannah, who was in Hufflepuff, Cedric Diggory’s old House. “But… what’s he doing on the train?” She looked extremely frightened. “And why would someone kill him? Who killed him?”

“What’s going on here?” A portly man with dark blonde hair who reminded Harry eerily of Uncle Vernon — he even had the same walrus-like moustache and the quivering jowls — came into the room, Ernie Macmillan behind him.

Hermione almost sagged in relief at the sight of an adult. “Please, sir, someone’s been killed.”

The man bristled angrily. “Eh? What are you kids playing at? Is this somebody’s idea of a prank? Are those redheaded twins behind this?”

He stared hard at each of them, his small eyes gleaming menacingly as he took in Ron’s and Ginny’s red hair.

Ginny glared at the engineer and Harry could feel her tensing beside him. He reached out to hold her arm down, just in case she decided to hex the man.

“No sir, it’s not a prank. There’s really been a murder. Look.” Hermione pointed to Wormtail’s body.

The man’s eyes bulged out and he let out a strangled cry. “What the—! That’s a dead body!”

Ginny muttered under her breath. “Smart as a whip, this one.”

Despite the gravity of the situation, Harry found himself biting back a smile at Ginny’s remark.

He cleared his throat. “Sir, is there any way we can contact the authorities? Or can we turn the train around and go back to Hogsmeade?”

The man tore his horrified gaze from Wormtail. “It’s impossible to go back at this point. The train’s been enchanted to go only one way — towards King’s Cross.”

“Well, can we get word to someone then, so they can come and investigate the murder?” Harry persisted, trying not to get irritated at the man’s seeming ineptitude.

“I can send an owl to Hogwarts to alert them, but no one can Apparate to or Disapparate from the Hogwarts Express while we’re in motion,” the man said, his voice shaky.

“Please, sir,” Hermione said again. “What do you plan to do with the body? Do you want to go over it for clues?”

The man backed away from them, his eyes a little wild. “What? Of course not! Don’t you kids touch anything. I’ll go send that owl right now.” He turned on his heel and ran out of the carriage.

Ron stared after the man then shrugged his shoulders. “Right, well, let’s get back then.”

“We can’t just leave! We need to find out who killed Wormtail!” Hermione cried out.

“Why?” Harry objected. “Let’s do as the engineer says and leave the body alone.”

“Yeah! Leave it alone,” Ron echoed, looking at the body in distaste.

Ginny however, was shaking her head slowly. “I agree with Hermione.”

Seeing the others looking at her as if she were mental, she added, “Listen, like the engineer said, no one can Apparate or Disapparate from here, so it stands to reason that the killer is still on the train.”

An uneasy silence fell as the impact of Ginny’s words hit them.

“You mean — you mean —” Ron stuttered. Ernie and Anthony shifted fearfully. Hannah stood pale and silent.

“She means that Wormtail’s attacker is mostly likely wandering around the corridors, mingling with the students,” Hermione said.

“You mean the killer could actually be one of the students,” Harry stated grimly. “I haven't seen any adults on board except the engineer.”

Now everyone looked even more disturbed.

“Harry, you’ve got to take charge of the investigation,” Hermione said earnestly.

“Me? Why me?” Harry was astonished. “You do it, Hermione. You’re the cleverest witch among all of us.”

“You’ve got the most experience with the Death Eaters, Harry,” Ginny pointed out.

Harry shook his head adamantly. “I don’t know anything about investigating a murder!”

“We’ll help you,” Hermione said quickly. The others nodded eagerly. “You just need to tell us what to do.”

Harry looked at them in disbelief. He had no idea what he was supposed to do! He was about to refuse again when he caught Ginny’s eye. Seeing the trust and encouragement in her brown gaze, he heard himself saying, “Fine.”

Hermione sighed in relief. Ginny offered Harry a brilliant smile which made his heart suddenly do a funny little somersault.

Harry shook his head to clear his thoughts. “Erm… okay. I guess someone should go to the students and make sure that none of them are acting funny or are attempting to leave the train.”

Ernie raised his hand. “I’ll do it.”

Anthony spoke up. “I think Hannah and I should go too. We can cover more ground that way.”

“That’s a good idea. Could you round up some of the other Prefects and maybe some members of the D.A. to help you patrol the corridors?” They nodded at Harry and left the room.

Once they were gone, Hermione cautiously said, “Harry, there’s another reason why you’ve got to be the one to find out who killed Wormtail.”

Seeing Harry’s puzzlement, Hermione started wringing her hands again. “Well, if word got out that it was Pettigrew who betrayed your parents…” She left the sentence unfinished but Harry rapidly realized what she was driving at.

“You think I’m the one who killed him,” Harry said flatly, his green eyes blazing at her.

“No! Of course not!” Hermione exclaimed, aghast, and she covered her mouth with both hands. “I never said it like that!”

Ginny and Ron also glared reproachfully at Hermione, who looked mortified.

“Harry, you know I would never think that!” she pleaded. “It’s just that — you’re the only one with a connection to Pettigrew, and the authorities might think that’s enough to blame you for his murder!”

Harry took a deep breath to control his irritation and sudden fear. He knew Hermione was only being her usual logical self, and she did have a point. He would be the prime suspect in Wormtail’s death unless he could prove otherwise.

“It’s okay, Hermione, I understand. Although I can’t say that I’m sorry that he’s dead.” Harry ran a hand through his hair. “Why don’t we take a look at the body and see if we can find any clues.”

Ron suddenly looked eager and fished for something in his pockets, finally bringing out a magnifying glass with a flourish. “Aha! I’ve got just the thing for that!” Ron grinned, switching the lens from one eye to another.

They all burst out laughing and the tension in the room suddenly dissipated.

“Ron, put that magnifying glass away,” Ginny chuckled. “You look like Mad-Eye Moody with one eye bigger than the other like that.”

“What is it with you, Ron?” Hermione asked in amusement. “First handcuffs and now this. Where did you get those things?”

“Nicked it from Filch’s office when he gave me detention for ‘excessively loud chewing’ during dinner.”

They made their way to the body, their good mood rapidly evaporating as they stared at it. Wormtail looked small and pitiful, and there was an expression of what looked like resignation on his slack face. Harry wondered about that.

As Harry gazed at the body, he suddenly noticed that there was something on the dead man’s face. He squatted down to take a closer look. There were several long scratch marks that started from the right temple all the way down to the jaw.

“So, was it the Killing Curse?” Ginny’s voice made Harry look up from his inspection.

Hermione and Ron had moved away from them and were searching the compartment for other evidence.

“I don’t think so, Ginny. From the funny angle of his head, I’d say someone broke his neck.”

Ginny stooped down take a closer look. Harry stared at her vivid auburn head as it bent close to him. He was a little unnerved to see how near she was. If he reached out just so, he would be able to feel the soft skin on her cheek…

Focus, Potter, focus. You’re in the middle of a murder investigation. Now is not the time to think about your best friend’s little sister that way!

Confused as to where these strange feelings about Ginny were coming from, Harry determinedly pushed the matter to the back of his head for now.

“Harry, what are these?” Trying very hard to ignore the intoxicating flowery fragrance emanating from Ginny, Harry concentrated on what she was pointing at. Wormtail’s neck was covered in a curious pattern of crescent-shaped marks and streaks of some reddish-brown substance. Harry realized with dismay that it was dried blood.

Harry squinted at the pattern. “Those look like…”

“Bite marks,” Ginny and Harry said at the same time. They stared at each other in bewilderment. What were they dealing with?

“There’s also a lot of hair on his robes, Harry,” Ginny said, picking one up and scrutinizing it closely. “This seems familiar…” Her voice trailed off as she rolled the short reddish-brown hair between her fingers, lost in thought.

Hermione and Ron came back, the former looking apprehensive while Ron seemed disappointed.

“Find anything?” Harry asked, as he helped Ginny to her feet.

“There’s lots of litter lying around here, Harry, so I’m not really sure if this is significant.” Hermione opened her hand to reveal a butterbeer cork with a piece of string through it.

Ginny did a double take. “That’s just like the corks from…”

“…Luna’s necklace,” Hermione finished solemnly. “Or part of it anyway.”

Ron made a face. “I know Luna’s a loon from Loonland, but I can’t believe she’s capable of murder.”

“Luna is not a loon, Ron,” Ginny defended her friend. “This probably doesn’t mean anything. Maybe she got something from her trunk and the cork got loose from her necklace.”

“Still, it might be an important clue. You better hang on to it. We’ll ask Luna about it later.” Harry frowned. “Does anyone have a bag we can put the evidence in?”

Ron produced a beautiful black velvet pouch with silver embroidery from his pockets and handed it to Hermione. “Will this do?”

“How lovely! I didn’t know you had this.” Hermione admired the bag, opening it to drop the butterbeer cork inside. “Wait, there’s already something in here.” She reached in and brought out a slightly flattened Cauldron Cake.

“Hey! That’s not evidence! That’s my lunch!” Ron made a grab for the pastry. Hermione gave a startled cry and dropped the bag. Instead of plummeting to the ground, it hovered in mid-air, spinning slowly like a top.

“Ron? Why is the evidence bag floating like that?” Hermione asked suspiciously. “And do I even want to know where you got it?”

Ron guiltily evaded Hermione’s gaze. “Erm, I nicked it from Filch’s office, along with the other stuff,” he mumbled.

Hermione made a disapproving sound. “Just how many things did you steal?” She retrieved the bag and stuffed it into her robes.

“I didn’t steal them! I just borrowed them for a while,” Ron said defensively.

Ginny cut in before they could start screaming at each other. “Come across anything useful, Ron?”

“Nothing back there except school trunks and loads of rat droppings, among other things. This place needs to be fixed up. It’s falling apart. There’s even a hole in one of the walls over there,” Ron gestured to a corner of the compartment with his magnifying glass.

“Anything on your part?” Hermione inquired.

Harry showed them the bite marks on Wormtail’s neck and the slashes across his face. Ginny offered the hair for examination.

Hermione placed a finger on the body. “It’s still warm. That means he was killed not too long ago.”

“Blimey, d’you reckon the killer’s a werewolf?” Ron asked, his blue eyes fixed morbidly on the bite marks. “D’you think one of the students is a werewolf?”

“Don’t be silly, Ron,” Hermione scoffed. “It’s the middle of the afternoon. How can there be a fully transformed werewolf on the train?”

Ron flushed. “Excuse me for asking, Miss Know-It-All.”

Hermione clucked her tongue at him, and Ron scowled back. “What about an Animagus, then? Maybe there’s an Animagus on board who transformed into an animal of sorts and after he killed Pettigrew, he changed back into a human again,” he challenged her.

“Ron, becoming an Animagus requires the highest level of training. I am sure no one in school has achieved that degree of magic,” Hermione said condescendingly.

“Harry’s dad and Sirius became Animagi to help Professor Lupin,” Ron pointed out smugly. “Even Pettigrew here managed to become one. And they were all still in school at that time!”

“Yes, but that was ages ago,” Hermione countered. “And they were brilliant students. I’m telling you, there is no current Hogwarts student who can do Animagus transformations!”

Ginny leaned over to whisper to Harry as the two continued to bicker. “Wormtail was an Animagus?”

“Yes, he turned into a rat,” Harry whispered back, suddenly feeling sad upon hearing his godfather’s name. “Fitting, really.”

Ginny looked at him and squeezed Harry’s arm, seeming to understand that he was greatly affected by the mention of Sirius. She knelt down again and started rummaging through Wormtail’s robes. She pulled out a piece of parchment from one of the pockets and glanced at it.

“Is there something written on it?” Harry asked. Ginny hesitated before wordlessly handing it to him. Ron and Hermione stopped quarrelling.

Harry looked at the parchment. It was a map.

“Turn it over,” Ginny instructed.

Harry did so and saw the words ‘Godric’s Hollow’ written on top of the paper.

“Why does Wormtail have a map to my parents’ house?” He held out the parchment for them to see.

Hermione stared thoughtfully at it. “Give it to me, Harry.” Taking it from his hands, she took out a large pink eraser from her pocket.

“It’s a Revealer,” she explained, in answer to their questioning gazes. She rubbed the back of the parchment with it and words written in a cramped script gradually appeared on the previously blank space.

Harry,

I know that I cannot hope to make amends for what I have done to you, Lily, and James, but I would like to try anyway. This map shows the way to your parents’ house, where the Dark Lord has buried something of great importance to him. I do not know what it is but from what I have gathered, it may help you in destroying him, once and for all. As for me, I am going into hiding — how long I can avoid his wrath, I do not know. But I wanted to make sure that I correct the grave mistakes that I made many years ago.

Good luck.

Regretfully,
Peter


“Well, that explains what he was doing here,” Ginny said softly. “Do you think V-Voldemort tracked him down and killed him?

“I doubt it. I would have felt something if Voldemort was on the train,” Harry said, rubbing at his scar.

“Keep the parchment, Harry,” Hermione urged. “It may come in useful someday.”

Harry nodded shortly and stuffed the map into his robes. “It still doesn’t help us solve the mystery of who killed him. Let’s roll the body over. Maybe we’ll discover something else. Help me, Ron.”

Ron grimaced but moved forward to help lift Wormtail. “Blimey. Bugger’s heavy.”

There was nothing underneath except carpeting. They laid Wormtail back down.

“Well, that’s that.” Harry sat back on his heels, frustration evident on his face. He pushed his glasses up his nose.

“Hullo.” A dreamy voice caused them all to look up in surprise.

“Luna!” Ginny exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

“I came here to find you, Ginny. Crookshanks here seemed peckish. I rescued him from the engineer. Apparently, he didn’t like the fact that Crookshanks ate his lunch,” Luna said sadly, holding out the grumpy-looking cat, who hissed before leaping into Hermione’s arms.

“Oh blast, I left his food in Dean’s carriage,” Ginny guiltily said. “He’d escaped — Crookshanks, I mean — and I got tired of looking for him and visited Harry for a while. Then all this commotion happened, and I forgot all about it,” she apologized to Hermione.

“I offered Crookshanks my Gurdyroot, but he didn’t seem to want it. He took one bite and spit it out. See?” Luna offered the strange-looking vegetable to Harry, who took it without thinking.

He looked down at the odd-shaped plant, his fingers absentmindedly tracing the outline of where Crookshanks had attempted to bite it. His brain was trying to tell him something, but he couldn’t quite grasp it.

He was distracted when Ginny, who was looking intently at Crookshanks, unexpectedly gave a yell of excitement. She whipped out the hair that she had been intently studying just a few minutes before.

“Harry, this is from Crookshanks!” Ginny placed the hair against the cat’s fur. “Look! It matches!”

As Hermione and Ron gawked at Crookshanks — who seemed very bored with the entire thing — something clicked in Harry’s mind. He stared at the bite on the Gurdyroot and then at the bite marks on Wormtail’s neck.

Harry shook his head dazedly. Could it be possible?

“Oh, who is this?” Luna asked interestedly, as if noticing Wormtail’s body for the first time. “He’s quite dead, isn’t he? How remarkable.”

Harry stood up, thinking hard. Vaguely, he recalled something he had read from a Muggle book in his old school library. If you eliminated all the possibilities, then whatever remained, however impossible, was the solution to the mystery. Or something to that effect.

“I know who killed him,” he announced, then flushed self-consciously as four pairs of eyes swung towards him. “I mean, I think I know who killed him.”

“We’d better sit down then,” Luna chirped happily, perching on top of a trunk. The others followed suit, Hermione still clutching Crookshanks in her arms.

“I think what happened was something like this,” Harry took a steadying breath before continuing. “What if Wormtail here snuck on board the train to deliver the map to me? Maybe he was here in the baggage compartment because he was going to slip it in my school trunk. He wouldn’t have risked giving it to me in person, would he?”

“But how could he sneak in without being noticed?” Ginny looked sceptical.

“Ron said that there was a hole in that wall over there,” Harry pointed to the corner where the red-headed boy had been searching earlier. “In his Animagus form, Wormtail could have easily slipped in without being noticed.”

“Okay,” Hermione acknowledged. “That’s plausible. But what happened then, Harry? Who killed him?”

“I’m afraid you’re guilty of coddling a cold-blooded murderer, Hermione.” Harry gave her a wry smile.

Everyone stared at the brown-haired girl, and then at the cat nestled comfortably in her arms, something suspiciously resembling a satisfied smirk on its squashed-up face.

“CROOKSHANKS?” Ron yelped. “The bloody CAT is our killer?”

Ginny looked bemused. “That’s why his fur was all over Pettigrew’s robes?”

Harry nodded. “And the scratch marks over his face were caused by Crookshank’s claws. Plus, the bite mark on his neck is similar to the bite mark on this Gurdyroot.” He passed the onion-like vegetable to Ron, who handled it like it was a spider about to bite him. Ron quickly returned the Gurdyroot to Luna, who promptly put it in her pocket.

“I don’t believe it, Harry,” Hermione objected. “Why would Crookshanks kill Wormtail? How could Crookshanks kill him? Wormtail’s a human, for goodness’ sake!”

“I reckon that Crookshanks caught Wormtail while he was still Scabbers. He pounced on Scabbers, breaking his neck in the process.” Harry shrugged. “I’m not really sure, but I’ll bet that once an Animagus dies, he’ll revert back to his human form. Probably shocked the hell out of Crookshanks when the rat he was trying to eat transformed into a full-grown man.”

“Wormtail was SCABBERS?” Ginny shrieked, her eyes round with surprise.

“Oh yeah, I guess I forgot to tell you, Ginny,” Ron said offhandedly. “We found that out in our third year.”

Ginny simply stared at her brother, at a loss for words.

“I still can’t believe it,” Hermione stubbornly insisted, hugging Crookshanks until the cat yowled in protest.

“Wasn’t Crookshanks in here when we opened the door the first time we saw the body?” Ron reminded her. “Bloody cat almost killed me too, bowling me over like that.”

“But why would Crookshanks do that? He’s really such a sweetheart, you know. He’d never hurt a fly!”

Ron snorted derisively. “Crookshanks probably remembered what a traitor Wormtail turned out to be and wanted to avenge Sirius.”

Harry’s heart constricted as he was reminded again of his godfather, but he was comforted when Ginny slipped her small hand into his to give it a reassuring squeeze. He tightened his own hold on her, enjoying the warmth of their clasped fingers.

“I think he was just hungry. Weren’t you, kitty?” Luna crooned out.

To their astonishment, Crookshanks gave a small meow as if he was agreeing with Luna and wriggled free from Hermione’s grip. He climbed into the eccentric girl’s lap and began purring contentedly.

Hermione looked slightly insulted that her pet preferred Luna over her. She brought out the butterbeer cork she had found earlier.

“Is this yours, Luna?” Hermione asked, looking at the other girl intently.

Luna clapped her hands in delight. “Oh, you’ve found it! I knew I had dropped one earlier.” She brought out a long string with butterbeer corks threaded through it. “I needed one more so I could complete this necklace for you, Hermione.”

Luna deftly attached the cork to the rest of the necklace, knotted it all together and placed it over the brown-haired girl’s neck.

Hermione’s jaw dropped open. “Fo-For me?” she spluttered, completely flummoxed. Ron started laughing loudly.

“Yes,” Luna said pleasantly. “I thought I’d make one for each of my friends. I’ve already made one for Neville. I’m working on yours next, Ronald.”

She smiled mistily at Ron, who choked on his laughter, his ears pink and a horrified look on his face. Harry and Ginny chuckled at him.

Ron gave a little cough, avoiding Luna’s unblinking gaze. “So, Harry, what are we going to do now? Are we going to tell anybody what really happened?”

“Somehow, I don’t think anyone will believe our story,” Harry said regretfully. “I mean, I have a hard time believing it myself.”

“So, let’s not say anything then,” Ginny declared. “The Aurors will never realize the significance of the fur on the robes. They’ll just think that Wormtail came across a cat somewhere. Let them try to figure it out themselves.”

“Right,” Harry agreed. “They don’t even know he was an Animagus. And anyway, we all have alibis, don’t we?”

“Hold on, what alibi?” Ron said in a panic. “Do I have an alibi?”

“Ron, you were either with me or Hermione the entire time,” Harry wearily said. “And everyone else on the train can give their whereabouts at the time of the murder. None of the students can be blamed for this.”

Ron and Luna nodded, but Hermione looked torn between the desire to tell the authorities the truth and the knowledge that they would probably be laughed at if they tried to give their version of what happened. She finally bowed her head in agreement. “What do we tell the other students?”

“That we have no bloody clue,” Harry said. “It’s almost the truth anyway. Unless we can get Crookshanks here to talk, we may never find out if that’s what really happened.”

They all stood up to leave the compartment. The train seemed to be slowing down; they would soon be arriving at King’s Cross. Luna led the way, bobbing her head to a tune only she could hear, a purring Crookshanks weaving in and out of her legs. Hermione and Ron followed next, the beginnings of another quarrel already apparent from the looks on their faces.

Harry suddenly realized that he was alone with Ginny (aside from the dead body, of course) and that he was still holding her hand. Reluctantly, he let go of it, blushing slightly. He looked up to find Ginny smiling at him.

“Well, I guess it’s time to get back to the carriage.” She turned and headed for the door, pausing when she noticed that he had not followed her. “Harry?”

Harry glanced at Wormtail’s body. “There’s something I need to do first, Ginny.”

“Okay. I’ll wait for you outside.”

“Thanks, Ginny.” He turned to Wormtail’s body and addressed it in a firm voice.

“I’m not going to lie and say that I’m not happy that you’re dead. After all the horrible things that you’ve done to me and my family and friends, giving me the map doesn’t mean you’ve absolved yourself. Not by a long shot. But if you were daring enough to try and help me get rid of Voldemort, then maybe I can at least try and understand why you acted the way that you did.”

Harry took one last look at the lifeless form of Peter Pettigrew and left the compartment, feeling an odd sense of closure.

He answered Ginny’s questioning gaze with a smile of reassurance. They walked back in companionable silence, Harry opening the door for Ginny when they reached their carriage. Ron was grouchily picking up empty Droobles wrappers under Hermione’s watchful eye. Luna was feeding Crookshanks the Cauldron Cake from the evidence bag.

“I've already told the Head Boy and Girl that we didn't find anything useful back there. I think they believed me,” Hermione stated as Harry closed the door behind him.

“Of course they did. Who would ever think that Hermione Granger would be less than truthful about anything?” Ron said, his voice muffled as he fished out another wrapper from under the seat.

Harry sat down by the window and took the map from his pocket. He went over Wormtail’s letter again as Ginny took the seat across from him.

Ron disposed of the final wrapper and deposited himself beside his sister with a dramatic sigh. Hermione gave a satisfied nod and sat next to Harry.

"What are you going to do with the map?” Hermione asked, eyeing it curiously.

Harry thought for a while. “I think I’ll ask Professor Lupin to take a look at it. He can probably verify if this is really Wormtail’s writing and if the map is accurate.”

“I wonder what’s buried in Godric’s Hollow,” Ginny mused. “It must be something important. Do you really think it can help defeat Tom Riddle?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t want to get my hopes up until I talk to Professor Lupin.”

“Well, you can ask him when you come to the Burrow,” Ron said, yawning widely. “Mum’s throwing a huge party for your seventeenth birthday, so you can talk to him then.”

“She doesn’t have to do that!” Harry said, embarrassed.

“Harry, she’s been planning the party for ages,” Ginny chuckled. “You couldn’t stop her if you tried. She’s already sent out the invitations and everything.”

“Oh.” Despite his protests, Harry was secretly delighted that Mrs. Weasley was going through all this trouble for him. He stared out the window to hide the sudden moisture in his eyes.

“We’re here,” Luna sang out, as the Hogwarts Express pulled into King’s Cross station.

They stood up to get their cloaks and other possessions. Harry could see several grim-faced Aurors on the platform as the train came to a halt. The Aurors quickly boarded the train and made their way to the luggage compartment.

As his group disembarked, someone called out to Harry.

“Harry! A word with you, if you please.”

Harry turned to see Nymphadora Tonks walking to him. Hermione, Ron and Ginny waited by his side as the pink-haired Auror reached them, a cheeky grin on her heart-shaped face. Luna floated off to meet her father after handing Crookshanks back to Hermione.

“Wotcher, Harry,” Tonks greeted him. She winked at the others.

“Tonks,” Harry said warily. Was she going to question him about Wormtail’s murder? Harry wasn’t sure how much Tonks knew about his connection with the former Marauder.

“Just wanted to say hello.” Tonks grinned, then her expression became serious. “You lot don’t happen to know anything about the dead body in there, do you?” She looked at them shrewdly.

“We don’t have the faintest idea what happened, Tonks,” Ginny answered in an innocent tone.

Harry willed himself not to appear like he knew something, but he mentally groaned when he saw the guilty flush that was slowly making its way across Ron’s neck.

At that moment, Crookshanks suddenly jumped at Tonks. The Auror fumbled clumsily before managing to hold the cat awkwardly in her arms.

“Ruddy cat! What’s wrong with you, eh?” Tonks scratched Crookshanks’ ears then gave him back to a wide-eyed Hermione. Tonks seemed not to have noticed Ron’s incriminating blush. “Well, I’m off! Mustn’t keep my adoring fans waiting,” she joked, nodding at the other Aurors swarming the train.

Hermione and Ginny giggled a little wildly, earning them a penetrating look from Tonks. The young Auror eventually shrugged and smiled at them. “See you at your birthday party, Harry!” Tonks yelled out before disappearing into the train.

“Good thing Crookshanks distracted Tonks!” Ron wiped his brow.

“You almost gave us away, Ron!” Hermione exclaimed.

“Hey! I turn red when I’m nervous!” Ron growled out, turning to drag his trunk towards the barrier between Platforms 9 and 10.

“You turn red all the time!” Hermione screeched as she hurriedly followed him.

Ginny and Harry gaped after the two and started laughing.

“I can’t believe it. They’ll fight over anything,” Harry said in disbelief. Their laughter gradually died down and they stood there looking at each other.

“That was a brilliant piece of deduction back there, Harry,” Ginny said admiringly, breaking the sudden awkward silence.

“Erm, it was nothing, really.” Harry couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from her bright brown ones. “It was all just guesswork, actually.” He sounded unnaturally breathless, even to his ears. Hoping Ginny wouldn’t notice, he also started walking towards the barrier.

“Alright, brilliant guesswork then,” Ginny teased him, her mouth curved in a generous smile as she fell into step beside him.

“Right...” Feeling ridiculously tongue-tied and shy, Harry couldn’t think of anything else to say after that. He settled for smiling back at Ginny.

They crossed through the barrier to find the Weasleys talking animatedly to Hermione’s parents. Harry could see the Dursleys glowering at him from the entrance to the station.

Mrs. Weasley bustled over to envelop Harry in a tight embrace and made him promise to come to the Burrow as soon as possible. “We’ll have a party for your birthday, my dear.”

Mr. Weasley shook his hand, Ron clapped him on the back and Hermione hugged him, promising to write to him everyday.

Harry turned to Ginny to say his farewells. To his utter amazement, Ginny stretched up and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek. “Bye, Harry. See you soon.” Ginny smiled and went to join her parents.

Harry reached up and wonderingly touched his face where she had kissed him.

“Oh, and Harry?” He glanced at her, flushing a little when he saw that she was looking at him in amusement. “To answer your earlier question — Dean and I — well, we're just friends, nothing more.” Ginny smiled again, raised her hand and waved good-bye.

Harry felt absurdly pleased at Ginny’s revelation but decided that he would think about that later, when he had time to sort out his feelings about her. A wide grin on his face, Harry grabbed his trunk and Hedwig's cage and headed towards his aunt and uncle.

He was already looking forward to this summer.

-end-


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A/N: My first challenge story, folks! Thanks to Chreechree, beta reader extraordinaire. The title of this story was her idea.
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