Author: Iniga PM
Between the reigns of Voldemort, Peter Pettigrew spends twelve years as Scabbers Weasley. Harry drags up memories for Remus. Sirius knows he left his sanity around here somewhere. If only he could remember where. Plotless. Written before OotP, HBP, DH.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Remus L. & Sirius B. - Chapters: 3 - Words: 64,994 - Reviews: 120 - Favs: 87 - Follows: 7 - Updated: 01-15-02 - Published: 12-18-01 - Status: Complete - id: 501783
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
June 1994-June 1995
Padfoot glared into the darkness. Wormtail. He had had only one thought for as long as he could remember, and that was the thought of catching the rat and disposing of it as it deserved. Wormtail. Wormtail Wormtail Wormtail Wormtail Wormtail Wormtail Wormtail Wormtail Wormtail Wormtail.
The name beat out an ugly tattoo on his blood. Wormtail. It pulsed with each heartbeat and sounded with each breath. Wormtail.
The time was near and Padfoot knew it. Wormtail was in the groundskeeper's residence, and Wormtail knew that Padfoot knew.
Padfoot would not be tricked.
He had all the time in the world. He could wait. Time lost meaning in the place from which he had come.
For something with no meaning, however, time was an obsession. What was the year? And how old did that make-- James' son? He remembered James because he saw him, dead, dying, bleeding, accusing every day. Lately, though, he had had days in which he could not remember the given name of James' son. It made sense. Azkaban called for the abandonment of all hope, and a child was the embodiment of hope. A child meant that James would not truly die, not for many, many years.
How many years had it been? Sometimes he could keep track of the months by the full moon. The full moon was something he would never forget, not as long as he knew who he was and what he could do. Full moons meant wrestling with werewolves and wrestling with werewolves meant becoming a dog. Becoming a dog meant a temporary reprieve from the guilt and even the cold.
It was easier to keep track of the years. Each time the Minister of Magic inspected the prison, that was a year. The visits broke the monotony. It was interesting to see real human beings rather than dementors. It was interesting to see how they shook and shivered even though the dementors were kept out of their ways as they inspected their precious torture chambers. It was interesting to realize that Cornelius Fudge, and not Barty Crouch, had been given the job as Minister of Magic; it was nice to see that the public did not support sending your own son to Azkaban to die. Sirius liked to think that it was the secret, unmarked death of the younger Crouch that had somehow lost his father his lifelong goal.
Unfortunately, visits from the Minister of Magic required human form, and so Sirius found himself lying boredly in his cell. It was not difficult to tell when the Minister was to arrive. On the day before a visit, magical mops and brooms flooded the corridors of Azkaban and attempted to make the edifice look as if it were not full of prisoners entirely abandoned to the dubious mercy of the dementors. In some cases, cells were cleaned as well and even the odd prisoner found himself hosed down with icy water.
As Sirius had his wits about him, he was ignored in such hasty clean-up operations. He looked just as the model Azkaban prisoner should with the exception of the fact that he did not rock back and forth in the corner of his cell, wrists locked around knees. He rarely cried. He had not screamed for years. Though his hair was matted and his person filthy-- why attempt to have things otherwise when no one saw you?-- he was healthy, and his eyes were relatively bright. He was clearly aware of his surroundings.
Come to think of it, he was not such a model prisoner. Though he had grown more forgetful (what was the boy's name?) over the years, he showed few signs of mental decay. He knew his name. He knew where he was, and why.
Fudge would find him quite disturbing.
Sirius did not remember that, years ago, he would have thought it great fun to disturb Fudge. Great fun had vanished long ago; fun was happiness, and happiness called the dementors, and one never deliberately called the dementors.
When Fudge's footsteps, and the footsteps of his escorts, at last sounded down the corridor, Sirius sat up slightly. Fudge peered into the cell directly across from Sirius. The man inside had been there for five years--had murdered a Hit Wizard-- and was babbling incoherently to himself. He shrieked in his sleep on occasion but was otherwise of no interest to Sirius. He never looked up, though, and was therefore never able to see the large black dog that often took Sirius' place. However, it was unlikely that he would be believed if he did claim that Sirius had such a "pet."
Fudge turned abruptly from the moaning, gibbering lump of flesh. "No less than he deserved," he said firmly. "And here we have… Sirius Black."
"That's correct," said Sirius.
Fudge stared at him. "What did you say?"
"I said you were correct. I'm Sirius Black. I see you've done your homework."
Fudge whirled on his escorts as if Sirius were no longer present. "Do they often speak rationally? Have any of the others seemed lucid to you?" The junior ministers only shook their heads dumbly.
"Not usually," Sirius interrupted. "You could have gotten a good conversation out of the Lestranges a few years ago, but they're quiet now."
"Just trying to be helpful. I know you'd like to make a thorough inspection and I know you're pressed for time. Things going well at the Ministry?"
"Well enough." Fudge gestured at his companions. "Let's go."
"Wait!" Sirius' eyes lit on the copy of the Daily Prophet under Fudge's arm. "Are you done with that newspaper?"
Nervously, Fudge looked at the paper as if he had never seen it before. "Can't do any harm, can it?" Sirius did not respond, and Fudge slowly pushed the paper through the bars, recoiling when Sirius grasped it in his own hand. "Easy."
"Thank you. It's been a long time since I've done the crossword."
Fudge walked off as if in a haze and Sirius celebrated his new possession. He glanced down at the date. July, 1993. That meant . . . ninety-three minus eighty . . . the baby had been born in July . . . thirteen . . . almost twelve years in prison and thirteen since he had become a godfather. It was easier to do math when the dementors had settled down for Fudge's sake. If the dementors were present, mental calculations involved a monotonous train of "three I am innocent minus I am innocent zero I am innocent is three I am innocent and nine I am innocent minus I am innocent eight I am innocent is one I am innocent making thirteen. Almost thirteen, but still a baby in Sirius' mind.
He casually opened the paper and almost immediately dropped it. There, emblazoned on the parchment, was a photograph of nine smiling, waving wizards and witches. Sirius' attention was drawn not to them but to the rat perched on the youngest(?) boy's shoulder.
He looked familiar.
He had a missing toe.
And Sirius knew bloody well how that toe had gotten to be missing.
He looked at the caption that matched the photograph: "The Weasley family will be spending a month in Egypt, returning for the start of the new school year at Hogwarts, which five of the Weasley children currently attend."
Wormtail was going to Hogwarts.
Wormtail would be at Hogwarts with HARRY! HARRY!
Sirius paced furiously about his cell until he fell asleep on his feet. Because the dementors could not feed off of fury, Sirius did not notice their return. He awoke full of ideas.
It was simple. He knew that now. He had never applied himself to escaping before because the danger Wormtail presented to Harry had not been foremost in his mind. The dementors could not see, and they could not truly sense his canine form. He was thin enough to slip between the bars of his cell… it could work! Carefully, doing his best to make no noise, he left the room that had been his home for twelve years without a backward glance.
Padfoot was glad that it was summer. His coat was thick, but the water that needed to be swum across was too cold even so.
The one person in the world who remembered him and might hear him out was Remus. It would be difficult to find Remus; but luckily, the back dog was inconspicuous, and when a Gringotts record book, complete with current addresses, passed his way, he had no trouble finding his much desired information.
The travel was long and hard, but Padfoot knew Moony and could find him-- and find him he did, in a cottage on the outskirts of a wizarding village. He transformed.
Remus turned slowly, clearly recognizing his old friend's voice. "Sirius." He raised his wand.
"No, no, Remus, listen first! We-- we switched Secret-Keepers. Wormtail-- Wormtail was the one who betrayed them and served the Dark Lord and blew up the street and framed me and now he's after Harry and he can get to him--"
"Be quiet, Sirius," Remus interrupted in an icy voice. "That is the single stupidest story I have ever heard. If you're going to lie to me, you could at least have a bit of respect for my intelligence."
"NO!" Sirius reached for the newspaper with the photograph, but he seemed to have lost it. "I-- I--"
"Even if I believed you, you disgusting excuse for an excuse for a human being, I would still kill you. Changed Secret-Keepers? Didn't tell me? Didn't trust me? Changed to someone who betrayed them? Means you as good as killed them. And now I'll kill you. Goodbye, Sirius."
"NO! NO! KILL ME, FINE, I'LL DIE, BUT YOU HAVE TO LOOK OUT FOR HARRY! PETTIGREW! HE'S AT HOGWARTS! HE'S AT--"
"AVADA KEDAVRA! I WON'T MISS YOU, SIRIUS! NO ONE EVER DID!"
Sirius awoke again and slapped himself across the face to make certain that he was truly awake this time. He was.
His real escape went much as his dreamed escape had. He was unable to slip through the bars, but when the door was opened to allow the delivery of food, he moved easily past the dementor. He decided it best, though, to forget about Remus. It was Wormtail and Harry who were important.
And so, after a quick detour to the house in which Harry had spent his formative years, Sirius traveled to the Forbidden Forest. He emerged only to watch Quidditch matches-- priorities, after all-- and to rummage for supplies. His most useful acquisition turned out to be a Muggle pen, which was easier to transport than its wizarding equivalent. The pen allowed him to send a note with a most impressively magical cat to the shop in Hogsmeade which sold broomsticks. A new broomstick for my godson, please, the most impressive one you've got-- seeing as the last one hit the Whomping Willow. A Firebolt, a Firebolt, who wouldn't want a Firebolt?
Twice he broke into the castle, and twice he failed to capture Wormtail. Still failing James after so many years. The cat said that Wormtail had faked his death and framed it-- and Sirius felt a strong kinship for the animal.
But he was secure in the knowledge that Wormtail would pay.
And then there was a hideous, long-awaited squeaking. Wormtail. Wormtail's blood. Now! Padfoot rapidly closed the distance between them. A heavy object had thrown itself atop Wormtail, and Padfoot did not care. If the thing-- the boy-- thought he could protect the rat, he was sadly mistaken. Another figure, vaguely familiar, rose in his path, and he barreled over it, barely feeling it. Wormtail was near. Wormtail! The rat's protector was hollering, and they drew nearer and nearer the Whomping Willow.
Just in time, Padfoot clamped his jaws around the boy's wrist and dragged him into the depths of the tree. He did not bother to poke the knot at the tree's base, as he once would have done. Pain was meaningless to him now, and he had no intention of delaying and losing sight of his prey. For a moment, something held him back, but then there was loud, satisfying crack and he was running, running, running down the tunnel. No one would find them here and the deed would be done.
He dragged his prey up the stairs and then transformed. He needed to have some final words with Wormtail. In human form, it became more obvious that the boy-- Weasley-- had broken his leg during the rush through the tunnel. Damn! The snap… But Weasley was a magical child and he would heal.
Sirius gathered the injured boy into his arms. Weasley's mouth had opened, but at first he did not speak. The silence did not last long. "YOU! YOU'RE AN ANIMAGUS! SIRIUS BLACK! GET OFF OF ME!"
"I'm not going to hurt you," Sirius said in a raspy voice even as he wrenched the wand from the boy's hand and threw it across the room.
"I'm just going to put you on the bed. Your leg--" Sirius placed Weasley on the bed as gently as he could.
"STAY AWAY!" The boy, struggling against Sirius, lost his balance and slipped from the bed. He landed hard on his wounded leg and was temporarily silenced by pain.
The great cat leapt into the room and landed on the bed. The other two can't be far behind. It's what James would have done. For, partially freed from his blood-lust, Sirius had realized that one of Weasley's escorts had been none other than Harry. It made sense. They shared a dormitory, after all.
Sirius collected the wand and then slid into the shadows near the half-open door to await their arrival. It came.
"Ron-- are you okay?" cried the girl.
"Where's the dog?" added Harry.
"Not a dog," Weasley-- Ron-- moaned. "Harry, it's a trap--"
"What--" All three were well inside the room, and Sirius stood on his toes, ready to act.
"He's the dog. He's an Animagus…"
Sirius threw the door shut and stepped out of the shadows. "Expelliarmus!" he cried. He had waited for this moment for more than twelve years. I'm in control, Wormtail. Every wand in the room in my hand. Harry right here for the explanation. Harry.
"I thought you'd come and help your friend. Your father would have done the same for me. Brave of you, not to run for a teacher. I'm grateful… it will make everything much easier…"
Any illusions Sirius might have harbored about Harry's somehow remembering long-ago days of playing with his godfather vanished as Harry started forward, a look of pure loathing on his face. It was the same expression of hatred that James' face always wore in Sirius' dreams. Ron and the girl, though, pulled Harry back, and Harry did not right away get the chance to tell Sirius what Sirius already knew: that he had killed Lily and James.
"If you want to kill Harry, you'll have to kill us, too!" Ron exploded. Through his hate, Sirius felt something akin to amazement. Standing on that leg again? He reminds me of me… but they didn't have to kill me to kill James, did they?
"Lie down," he told Ron, although he did not truly expect Ron to obey. "You will damage that leg even more."
"Did you hear me? You'll have to kill all three of us!"
Killing. Wormtail. Time was running short. "There will be only one murder here tonight." He smiled, and the smile made his face ache. He hardly cared.
"Why's that?" Harry was struggling against his friends. "Didn't care last time, did you? Didn't mind slaughtering all those Muggles to get at Pettigrew! What's the matter, gone soft in Azkaban?" The girl was begging him to be quiet, but Harry was unmoved. "HE KILLED MY MUM AND DAD!" There it is. About time you said it.
Harry, like James, was exceedingly stubborn. He wrenched himself away from his restraints. Wandless though he was, he ran forward toward Sirius. Sirius raised the wands, but not quickly enough, and suddenly a bundle of punching, screaming, clawing thirteen-year-old had thrown itself onto him. He was underweight and he had not braced himself properly, and so Harry was able to knock him backwards. Sirius could do little but hold tight to the wands until he pulled his left hand free and closed his fingers about Harry's throat. "No," he hissed. "I've waited too long."
A sudden kick caused him to lose control of Harry, and when hands clawed at the wands he loosened his grip for just a fraction of a second-- and that was enough. The wands rolled free, and Harry, whose friends were still clutching madly at Sirius, scrambled after them. "NO YOU DON'T!" he yelled. "GET OUT OF THE WAY!"
Harry's command was followed so that Sirius was left lying alone against the far wall. Harry drew his wand. "Going to kill me, Harry?" Sirius whispered.
"You killed my parents." That was true enough.
"I don't deny it. But if you knew the whole story."
"The whole story? You sold them to Voldemort. That's all I need to know."
Sirius had always been in favor of acting first and asking questions later, but if Harry followed suit, the results would be his undoing. "You've got to listen to me," he begged. "You'll regret it if you don't. You don't understand."
"I understand a lot better than you think. You never heard her, did you? My mum… trying to stop Voldemort killing me… and you did that … you did it …"
Harry had no intention of changing his mind, it seemed. Frantically, Sirius tried to find the words that would make Harry wait until he had seen Wormtail, and then, if he still wanted to kill Sirius, Sirius had no real reason to live… A heavy weight fell on Sirius' chest. It was the cat. "Get off," he told it. There was no use in ending the life of one of the most magical creatures he had ever come across.
Harry you have to listen the boy has a rat that's an Animangus Harry I would never hurt you I never meant to hurt you I want to protect you just let me do it just this one time let me kill the rat and you'll do with me as you wish Harry just let me Wormtail Wormtail Wormtail has to die you're in danger why didn't I start thinking before he's hesitating I had enough time if I'd started then but now it's too late Wormtail Prongs Harry live you have to live but you have to let me stop him tell Dumbledore tell Dumbledore stop him stop him before he does it again why can't I talk why can't I breathe Merlin this is it by Harry's wand I deserve it but I have to tell him and I can't why can't I tell him please why why I have to speak stop Wormtail too long too long--
And there were footsteps.
That's Remus I know Remus Remus will fix everything Remus will be all right just another full moon we'll become Animagi a werewolf a werewolf a werewolf in the bed next to mine can you believe it and they tell us the Forbidden Forest safe in the Forbidden Forrest I'll wait and I'll find Wormtail I'll go back to the Forest I can't I'm here James Harry the wand the rat--
"WE'RE UP HERE! WE'RE UP HERE-- SIRIUS BLACK-- QUICK!"
The footsteps are real! Sirius started. It couldn't truly be Remus, but if the distraction lasted long enough he would be able to get out of the house. Surely he knew it better than anyone else.
That's it. Azkaban didn't snap me but something else obviously has. Sirius blinked and shook his head, but no matter how he squinted, the new arrival looked like Remus Lupin.
"Expeliarmus!" That was Remus' voice. And Remus was looking him in the eye. "Where is he, Sirius?" How can he know? He doesn't mean-- but he can see everyone else-- Not trusting himself to speak, Sirius pointed at the other boy. Weasley. Ron? He'd known … he couldn't recall … memory like a sieve sometimes … "But then … Why hasn't he shown himself before now?" Remus' eyes widened. "Unless he was the one … unless you switched … without telling me?" Thank Merlin coherency is optional with him! Slowly, Sirius nodded.
As if in a dream, he saw Remus lower his wand and cross the floor. Believe me don't hurt me don't kick me forgive me don't touch me don't-- Remus took Sirius' hand in his own. Warm. Strong. Safe. Remus' touch did not feel like Harry's. It felt good, and it had been a long, long time since Sirius had felt good. Confusedly, he found himself on his feet. He had barely had time to register that Remus must have pulled him up when he felt himself pressed against the other man's body. Robes were in contact with robes and skin was in contact with skin. For seconds that felt like hours he leaned against his solid support, surprised and unable to stand on his own. He was just recalling that the classic response to a hug involved hugging back when a shrill scream pierced the air.
"I DON'T BELIEVE IT!" It was the girl. Remus let go of Sirius, and while Sirius had not entirely understood the sensations that the hug had carried, he now felt utterly bereft. He decided that he hated the girl. "YOU-- YOU-- YOU AND HIM!" Her screeching would not have been out of place in Azkaban. Perhaps she was part banshee.
"Hermione." Remus' voice was different. Remus was composed. "Hermione, calm down."
"I DIDN'T TELL ANYONE! I'VE BEEN COVERING UP FOR YOU!"
"HERMIONE, LISTEN TO ME, PLEASE!" Now Remus was yelling as well. "I CAN EXPLAIN--"
And Harry broke in. "I TRUSTED YOU, AND ALL THIS TIME YOU'VE BEEN HIS FRIEND!"
"You're wrong. I haven't been Sirius' friend, but I am now-- Let me explain …"
"NO!" Hermione the Azkaban Banshee was shrieking again. "Harry, don't trust him, he's been helping Black get into the castle, he wants you dead too-- he's a werewolf!" Sirius stared at Remus. Unless he had changed greatly since their school days … how could this girl have seen through him? Would he lie? Sirius wanted to say something to protect Remus, but words still refused to come.
"Not at all up to your usual standard, Hermione. Only one out of three, I'm afraid. I have not been helping Sirius get into the castle and I certainly don't want Harry dead." Remus shivered, and Sirius knew that he was about to tell the truth. "But I won't deny that I am a werewolf."
The children reacted as if in shock, and the boy with the broken leg whimpered in pain. Remus made a move as if to help him, but the boy pulled back. "Get away from me, werewolf!" I don't like him, either. Harry needs some new friends. Boy probably knows he's harboring Wormtai … Remus was asking Hermione how she'd known, and though Sirius had wondered the same thing himself, he suddenly lost the ability to follow the conversation. The words flowed over him, meaningless as the thousands upon thousands of screams of maddened prisoners.
Wormtail have to get to Wormtail Remus help me help me please please I'm sorry Remus Wormtail he's here don't know what to do have to stop him make them stop stop ignoring me I'm here I'm here I'm not mad don't put me in there I'm innocent I'm Sirius Black and I'm innocent Harry I'm sorry I just want to help you Harry please forgive me please please trust me trust him he's right he'll fix it can't think anymore
"HE WAS WRONG!" Harry pointed accusingly at Sirius once again. "YOU'VE BEEN HELPING HIM ALL THE TIME!"
No, Harry. I wouldn't hurt you. I wouldn't hurt Remus. I wouldn't hurt your parents.
But I did.
Sirius had been shaking since before Remus' arrival, and now the tremors worsened. If he could just make it to the bed, to the bed, one step, two, three, four. There. He buried his face in his hands and tried to will himself away from the place, from the shouting, from the noise. He half-understood Remus' explanations of Marauder's Map and Invisibility Cloak. Don't forget what's important.
He did not. "Do you think I could have a look at the rat?"
"What?" asked the bigoted boy. "What's Scabbers got to do with it?"
"Everything. Could I see him, please?"
And the bigoted boy pulled Wormtail from his robes. Sirius felt blood pound in his ears and saliva pool in his mouth. It was here.
"What?" the boy repeated. "What's my rat got to do with anything?"
Suddenly, Sirius again recalled how to form words. "That's not a rat."
"What d'you mean-- of course he's a rat--"
"No, he's not," Remus took over. "He's a wizard."
"An Animagus," Sirius completed. "By the name of Peter Pettigrew."
There was a pause before the Bigot asserted that Sirius and Remus were insane and the Banshee proclaimed the entire situation ridiculous.
Harry, for his part, was pointing at Sirius again. "Peter Pettigrew's dead! He killed him twelve years ago!"
Twelve years of rage made Sirius entirely forget his difficulties in speaking. Suddenly, his feelings were quite easily verbalized. "I meant to, but little Peter got the better of me. Not this time, though!" With new strength, he lunged across the bed, straining toward the rat. He was inches away, and then he felt strong arms restraining him. He had decided that he had enjoyed the hug. This, however, he did not appreciate in the slightest.
"Sirius, no! WAIT! You can't just do it like that-- they need to understand-- we've got to explain--"
"We can explain afterwards!" Sirius twisted in Remus' grip. Damn the weight he had lost in Azkaban and on the run! He had never been able to out-wrestle Remus when he didn't out-weigh him.
"They've got a right to know everything! 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!"
Damn. Remus would know exactly what to say. Sirius stopped moving but kept his gaze fixed on the rat. "All right," he agreed begrudgingly. "Tell them whatever you like. But make it quick, Remus. I want to commit the murder I was imprisoned for." He then grew silent. He enjoyed listening to Remus' voice; it had been too long absent. Nonetheless, Remus was trying his patience. "Hurry up, Remus!" he snarled, but Remus put him off. Remus was in perfect control. And he had bloody well better stay in control of the rat, or Sirius… well, he did not know what he would do. But Remus would be sorry. Though not as sorry as Wormtail.
At long last, Remus ended his tale. "… So in a way, Snape's been right about me all along."
In spite of his best attempts to glare at the rat, Sirius' head snapped up. "Snape? What's Snape got to do with it?"
Remus did not look especially happy. "He's here, Sirius. He's teaching here as well." Remus turned to Harry, the Bigot, and the Banshee. "Professor Snape" Sirius cringed at the title "was at school with us. He fought very hard against my appointment to the Defense Against the Dark Arts job. He has been telling Dumbledore all year that I am not to be trusted. He has his reasons … you see, Sirius here played a trick on him which nearly killed him, a trick which involved me--"
Way to make the git sound human, Remus, Sirius thought derisively. The news of Snape-- Snape-- being allowed to teach at Hogwarts-- Hogwarts-- did not sink in easily. Astonishing. Absolutely astonishing. "It served him right," Sirius reminded Remus. "Sneaking around, trying to find out what we were up to… hoping he could get us expelled …"
"Severus was very interested in where I went every month." Because he was a slimy, nosy git. "We were in the same year, you know, and we-- er-- didn't like each other very much." Understate often? "He especially disliked James." James. The rat! Hurry up, Moony! "Jealous, I think." With good reason, I'll admit. "Snape had seen me" Spy! "Sirius thought it would be-- er-- amusing, to tell Snape that all he had to do was prod the knot on the trunk with a long stick, and he'd be able to get in after me. Well, of course, Snape tried it" His own fault, all of it! "if he'd got as far as this house, he'd have met a fully grown werewolf." Why would anyone think that's a bad thing? "Your father, who'd heard what Sirius had done, went after Snape and pulled him back, at great risk to his life. Snape glimpsed me, though, at the end of the tunnel. He was forbidden by Dumbledore to tell anybody, but from that time on, he knew what I was…"
"So that's why Snape didn't like you," asked Harry, finally calmed down, "Because he thought you were in on the joke?"
"That's right." Snape! Sirius jumped to his feet. Snape was there, and he had an Invisibility Cloak, probably James' Invisibility Cloak. How dare he put his dirty hands on it? Twenty years had passed and Snape still had nothing better to do than lurk about after Sirius and Remus.
"I found this at the base of the Whomping Willow," Snape gloated as he threw away the Cloak. "You've been wondering, perhaps, how I knew you were here? I've just been to your office, Lupin. You forgot to take your potion tonight." What? "And lucky I did. Lucky for me, I mean." Who else have you EVER cared about? "Lying on your desk was a certain map." Not… "One glance at it told me all I needed to know. I saw you running along this passageway and out of sight."
"I've told the headmaster again and again that you're helping your old friend Black into the castle, Lupin." I'll bet you have. "Not even I dreamed you would have the nerve to use this old place as your hideout--"
"Severus, you're making a mistake." As always. Sirius wondered why Remus was bothering to explain. Snape was not overly likely to listen, was he? "Sirius is not here to kill Harry--"
Snape refused to let Remus finish. "Two more for Azkaban tonight! I shall be interested to see how Dumbledore takes this… He was quite convinced you were harmless, you know, Lupin, a tame werewolf--"
"You fool," said Remus softly and Sirius inwardly rejoiced that his old friend was getting to the point. "Is a schoolboy grudge worth putting an innocent man back in Azkaban?"
Remus had always been quick, and a talented duelist, but he was not prepared when Snape set forth a binding curse. Remus fell to the floor, and Sirius rushed forward PROTECT REMUS!, but Snape had already directed his wand at Sirius. "Give me a reason. Give me a reason to do it, and I swear I will." Since when has Snape needed a reason? Sirius could do nothing while a wand covered his heart.
Hermione stepped toward her professor. "Professor Snape-- it-- it wouldn't hurt to hear what they've got to say, would it?"
Snape rounded on the child as if she had just suggested that he smile, or wash his hair. "Miss Granger, you are already facing suspension from this school. You, Potter, and Weasley are out-of-bounds in the company of a convicted murderer and a werewolf. For once in your life, hold your tongue!"
"But-- if there was a mistake." Hermione was not to be dissuaded. Sirius changed his mind. He liked Hermione. He liked her a lot. If he survived the night, he might tell her as much.
"KEEP QUIET, YOU STUPID GIRL! DON'T TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!" Hermione was suitably quieted, and Snape turned back to Sirius. "Vengeance is very sweet. How I hoped I would be the one to catch you…"
Sirius sneered. "The joke's on you again, Severus. As long as that boy brings his rat up to the castle, I'll come quietly."
"Up to the castle?" Snape did not look disheartened. "I don't think we need to go that far. All I have to do is call the dementors once we get out of the Willow. They'll be very pleased to see you, Black… pleased enough to give you a little kiss, I daresay…"
Sirius felt himself pale. All else having failed, he searched for a last resort. Begging Severus Snape. "You-- you've got to hear me out. The rat-- look at the rat--"
Snape did not react. He's mad. More mad than I am. This can't be done safely… But Snape did not know the grounds or the Shack the way Sirius did, and while Ron was indisposed, Harry and Hermione would surely react if Sirius got the upper hand… maybe even on the stairs… Sirius planned as Snape ranted at Harry. Is he even aware that Harry isn't James?
And then, as if they shared a telepathic connection, Harry, Ron, and Hermione raised their wands. "EXPELIARMUS!" Snape slammed backwards into the wall.
An unconscious Snape had always been Sirius' favorite sort of Snape, but he hardly needed thirteen-year-olds to fight his battles for him. Harry was to some degree at Snape's mercy. "You shouldn't have done that," he told Harry. "You should have left him to me." Freedom, however, was freedom, and Sirius knelt beside Remus. His thin fingers fumbled for a moment about the ropes that bound his friend.
"Thank you, Harry," said Remus when Sirius had released him.
"I'm not saying I believe you," said Harry uncertainly.
"Then it's time we offered you some proof. You, boy-- give me Peter, please. Now."
"Come off it," said the Troublesome Bigot. "Are you trying to say he broke out of Azkaban just to get his hands on Scabbers? I mean… Okay, say Pettigrew could turn into a rat. There are millions of rats. How's he supposed to know which one he's after if he was locked up in Azkaban?"
Sirius opened his mouth to suggest that they put a binding curse on Ron, just temporarily, but Remus looked thoughtful and repeated the question. In response, Sirius removed the crumpled photograph from his robes. "How did you get this?" Remus demanded.
"Fudge. When he came to inspect Azkaban last year, he gave me this paper. And there was Peter, on the front page…" Haltingly, Sirius explained some of the events that had brought him to the Shrieking Shack. Peter's wand… his finger… the cat… fake deaths… It was not as hard as he had thought it might be, not with Snape out of the way and Remus there to guide his words…
And then Harry yelled. "AND WHY DID HE FAKE HIS DEATH? BECAUSE HE KNEW YOU WERE ABOUT TO KILL HIM LIKE YOU KILLED MY PARENTS!"
"No," Remus said, trying to explain, but Harry was having none of it.
"AND NOW YOU'VE COME TO FINISH HIM OFF!"
"Yes," Sirius agreed. "I have."
"THEN I SHOULD HAVE LET SNAPE TAKE YOU!" How can he not understand? Harry… "THAT'S NOT TRUE! HE WAS THEIR SECRET-KEEPER! HE SAID SO BEFORE YOU TURNED UP! HE SAID HE KILLED THEM!"
He's right about that. Sirius shook his head, and tears filled his eyes. "Harry… I as good as killed them. I persuaded Lily and James to change to Peter at the last moment, persuaded them to use him as Secret-Keeper instead of me… I'm to blame, I know it… The night they died, I'd arranged to check on Peter, make sure he was still safe, but when I arrived at his hiding place, he was gone. Yet, there was no sign of a struggle. It didn't feel right. I was scared. I set out for your parents' house straight away. And when I saw their house destroyed, and their bodies… I realized what Peter must've done… what I'd done…"
As it so often had in Azkaban, the ruin of Godric's Hollow rose before Sirius' eyes. Blinking away the tears, he collected Snape's wand, and when he turned around, Remus held the rat. "Ready, Sirius?"
"I think so."
They began the reversal spell. Sirius had not used it for many years; once he and James and Peter had learned to transform properly, there had been no need.
Suddenly, before them, was Wormtail in human form.
"Why, hello, Peter," said Remus. "Long time, no see."
Even Sirius was briefly amused. Only Remus . . . "S-- Sirius… R-- Remus … my friends, my old friends…"
Sirius had heard enough. He raised his wand, only to be retrained and favored with a warning look from Remus. Remus apparently wanted to do the thing thoroughly. As long as the thing gets done…
"We've been having a little chat, Peter, about what happened the night Lily and James died," Remus continued. "You might have missed the finer points while you were squeaking around down there on the bed--"
"Remus," groveled Wormtail pathetically. "You don't believe him, do you? He tried to kill me, Remus."
"So we've heard. I'd like to clear up one or two little matters with you, Peter, if you'd be so--"
"He's come to try to kill me again! He killed Lily and James and now he's going to kill me, too." Wormtail continued to spout streams of unbelievable rubbish until at last he dissolved into pathetic sobs. "Remus! You don't believe this… Wouldn't Sirius have told you they'd changed the plan?" Don't listen to that, Moony, Merlin, that's it, maybe he hasn't thought of it, of course he's thought of it!
Remus still looked calm. "Not if he thought I was the spy, Peter." He gave Sirius a look that could not possibly have been as casual as it seemed. "I assume that's why you didn't tell me, Sirius?" He can't intend to let me off that easily.
"Forgive me, Remus," he said, wondering if Remus heard the elaborate plea behind the three simple words. I'm sorry. I've been sorry for a long time. I miss you. Forgive me for suspecting you. Forgive me for not appreciating your loyalty or your intelligence. Forgive me for taking your friends from you. Forgive me for orphaning Harry. Forgive me for every second you've spent thinking about this mess year after year. Forgive me for the damn Whomping Willow thing!
"Not at all, Padfoot, old friend." Friend? Remus was rolling up his sleeves as if ready to be both judge and executioner. Sirius nearly missed the end of Remus' statement. "And will you, in turn, forgive me for believing you were the spy?" As if there was a comparison. Was Remus honestly suggesting that they were in this together? He honestly meant it to be that simple?
"Of course." It was that easy! Sirius almost grinned. "Shall we kill him together?" he offered.
"I think so."
Wormtail interrupted them with a gasp. "You wouldn't. You won't!" We would. We will! "Ron," he appealed to the Bigot, "haven't I been a good friend, a good pet? You won't let them kill me, Ron, will you? You're on my side, aren't you?"
The transformation must have erased all doubts from the Bigot's mind, because he looked horrified. "I let you sleep in my bed!"
Wormtail must have lost his intelligence along with his dignity, morality, and loyalty, for he continued to plead with the boy. "Kind boy… kind master… you won't let them do it… I was your rat. I was a good pet."
"If you made a better rat that a human, it's not much to boast about, Peter," Sirius broke in, and Wormtail turned his attention to the Banshee.
"Sweet girl … clever girl… you-- you won't let them… help me…" But the Banshee was silent, and Wormtail crawled to Harry in turn. "Harry… Harry… you look just like your father… just like him…"
Begging the Bigot and the Banshee had been bad enough, but this! This defied expression. "HOW DARE YOU SPEAK TO HARRY? HOW DARE YOU FACE HIM? HOW DARE YOU TALK ABOUT JAMES IN FRONT OF HIM?"
The rat was undeterred. "Harry, Harry, James wouldn't have wanted me killed." It's hard to say that, thought Sirius in disbelief, what with James being dead and distinctly unable to tell us what he thinks about anything. "James would have understood, Harry v he would have shown me mercy." Sirius shook with rage. HOW DARE HE EVEN LOOK AT HIM? HOW DARE HE SUGGEST HE KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT JAMES? GET AWAY FROM HARRY! Unthinkingly, Sirius strode forward with Remus beside him. As one, they seized Wormtail's shoulders and threw him backwards. He landed with a not-satisfying-enough thunk.
"You sold Lily and James to Voldemort," said Sirius. "Do you deny it?"
Wormtail began to cry. Somehow, Sirius was unmoved. "Sirius, Sirius, what could I have done? The Dark Lord… you have no idea… he has weapons you can't imagine… I was scared, Sirius, I was never brave like you and Remus and James. I never meant it to happen… He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named forced me--"
"DON'T LIE! YOU'D BEEN PASSING INFORMATION TO HIM FOR A YEAR BEFORE LILY AND JAMES DIED! YOU WERE HIS SPY!" Briefly, Sirius remembered the Rally of Light, remembered the obvious passage of information, remembered his worry for his dear friend Peter…
"He-- he was taking over everywhere! What was to be gained by refusing him?"
OF ALL THE IDIOTIC-- "What was there to be gained by fighting the most evil wizard who has ever existed? Only innocent lives, Peter!"
"You don't understand! He would have killed me, Sirius!"
That was the final straw. Somehow, the whining was even worse than Pettigrew's earlier accusations and inane assertions. Whining, when he had done the indefensible. Whining, when he was alive! Whatever slim amount of self-control Sirius had retained vanished. "THEN YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED!" he bellowed. "DIED RATHER THAN BETRAY YOUR FRIENDS, AS WE WOULD HAVE DONE FOR YOU!"
Remus was by Sirius' side, and both raised their wands. "You should have realized," said Remus, his quiet voice a sharp contrast to Sirius' thunderous one, "if Voldemort didn't kill you, we would. Good-bye, Peter." Eternity in Azkaban with Remus. We'll go mad together. It will be great fun!
And as they drew breath to end the miserable saga that had begun long ago, one Harry James Potter threw himself in front of Wormtail. "NO!" he cried. "You can't kill him! You can't."
Sirius was reasonably certain that he could. "Harry, this piece of vermin is the reason you have no parents. This cringing bit of filth would have seen you die, too, without turning a hair! You heard him! His own stinking skin meant more to him than your whole family."
"I know," said Harry, and Sirius wondered if he truly did. "We'll take him up to the castle. We'll hand him over to the dementors. He can go to Azkaban, but don't kill him."
Harry sounded just like James always had when he had been in charge. Sirius would not argue, and Wormtail must have known this as well as Sirius himself did. "Harry!" exclaimed Wormtail. "You-- thank you-- it's more than I deserve!" He crawled closer to Harry and threw himself at the boy's feet.
"Get off me!" Harry bellowed. "I'm not doing this for you. I'm doing it because I don't reckon my dad would've wanted them to become killers, just for you."
Sirius sighed inwardly. Only one human being in the world could have stopped his quest, and he was now before him. "You're the only person who has the right to decide," he admitted. "But think… think what he did…"
Harry's decision was made. Manacles were conjured, and the odd group made its way out of the Shrieking Shack. Sirius made up for his disappointment by banging the still-unconscious Snape's head against the low ceiling of the tunnel. One. Two. Three. The steady sound of bumps and bruises was soothing, and perhaps its calming effect was what allowed an odd thought to occur to him.
He had not committed the crime for which he had been in prison. There was definitely a way to look at this situation that suggested that he was still innocent. "You know what this means?" he asked Harry. "Turning Pettigrew in?"
"You're free," said Harry, who was not so thick when Animagi, werewolves, and vengeful professors were not clouding the picture.
"Yes," Sirius agreed. He has to know sometime. You've waited long enough, if not by choice. "But I'm also-- I don't know if anyone ever told you-- I'm your godfather."
"Yeah, I knew that."
He knew. Bit of mindless trivia for him. He didn't spend twelve years waiting to see you… but you have to offer. He has the right to spit in your face, doesn't he? Why is this more frightening than anything else? Anger is certainly strength-giving. "Well, your parents appointed me your guardian. If anything happened to them… I'll understand, of course, if you want to stay with your aunt and uncle." It was amazing, really, that Harry even tolerated Sirius' presence. Lily's sister had been very different from James and his friends, and that was all Harry had known. Sirius had lost any claims on the boy's heart long ago. "But, well, think about it. Once my name's cleared… if you wanted… a different home…"
"What-- live with you?" Harry was outraged. He had every right to be, of course. "Leave the Dursleys?" Understand, I'd never force you.
"Of course, I thought you wouldn't want to. I understand, I just thought I'd--"
"Are you insane?" It was just a suggestion, don't be angry! "Of course I want to leave the Dursleys! Have you got a house? When can I move in?"
WHAT WAS THAT? Sirius turned sharply. "You want to? You mean it?"
"Yeah, I mean it!"
Sirius fairly floated the rest of the way out of the tunnel. He was unable to believe his luck, and then-- "He's not safe!" gasped Hermione. The full moon!
He was years out of practice when it came to werewolf-wrestling, but old skills were never forgotten, and all would have been well-- had it not been for the dementors. His blood seemed to freeze as the dementors all at once focused upon him. He forgot Harry. He forgot Remus. Nothing but blood and death . . . Not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now not now no no no no no no no no no no no no . . . "No . . . please . . . ."
And all went dark.
When he awoke, he was bound and gagged and behind a heavily locked door. Flitwick's office? Been a long time since Hogwarts . . . .
Cornelius Fudge's voice wafted from beyond the room. "Yes, we have Black. Bring a dementor-- we'll administer the Kiss." Someone took off running down the corridor.
NO!! He struggled, but the bonds were solid.
"Headmaster! Where has Professor Snape gotten to?"
"He's down by the hospital wing, I believe."
"Seeing to the children, no doubt. What an excellent man! You're lucky to have him working here, Headmaster."
"Yes, I believe I am." For Merlin's sake, WHY?
"You'll be coming along to speak with him, then?"
"I'll speak with him later. I'd like to see Black first." Sirius stiffened.
"Headmaster, I'm afraid-- no, it's much too dangerous."
"I feel quite confident that I'm able to take care of myself, Minister."
"But-- no, no, there's not even a guard-- he's much too dangerous-- I can't allow--"
"Then I suppose it is lucky for me that this is my school and not yours."
"Headmaster, I must strongly protest--"
"Black is bound and gagged and without a wand. Now, I believe that Professor Snape is awaiting you downstairs." Sirius heard Fudge's grumblings retreat, and then he heard the removal of physical locks and locking charms. He raised helpless eyes as Dumbledore stood before him. "If I remove the gag, will you speak to me? Will you answer my questions?" Sirius nodded as much as he was able, and aged fingers removed the cloth from his mouth. He choked as it peeled away a thin layer of skin.
"Th--" His intended thanks died in the air as he found his mouth too dry and stiff to form words. The smallest flick of Dumbledore's wand brought a glass of water to rest before them. Dumbledore nimbly pulled it into his hand and held it to Sirius' lips. Awkwardly, Sirius swallowed. "Thank you," he managed this time.
"You are welcome."
"How soon will the dementor be here?"
"In perhaps fifteen minutes." A corner of Sirius' mind began to count. How ironic; it had been hard to count in Azkaban, when time stretched on indefinitely, and easy to count here, when time was so short. "I find it most interesting that you did not do any harm to Harry when you had the opportunity. Madam Pomfrey says he is merely unconscious as a result of the dementors' attack."
"I would never do anything to hurt Harry," said Sirius fervently. "Not knowingly. Headmaster--" He broke off. Asking Dumbledore to save his soul was a bit much. He was no longer a fifteen-year-old in trouble for using magic in a corridor.
"I never recall your being so hesitant to speak when you were younger. I would like to hear anything you have to say."
"I should warn you that this story is rather . . . unbelievable. Strange."
Desperately, Sirius wondered where to begin. "When we were second-years here, Peter and James and I came to the conclusion that Remus was a werewolf, and when he told us we were right we wanted to help him. Werewolves aren't a danger to animals so we became Animagi. Unregistered, obviously." Dumbledore raised his eyebrows but gestured for Sirius to continue. "So when James was in danger from Voldemort, later, I-- I couldn't go through with being Secret-Keeper. It was obvious. They'd have found me and tortured me and I'd've talked. And we'd always trusted Peter, and no one would have suspected Peter, so I asked James and Lily to switch without telling anyone. But Peter betrayed them, and when I tracked him down he yelled for the whole street to hear that I'd done it, and then blew up the street. Cut off his own finger when he did it. Took his animal form-- a rat. So when the Minister of Magic came to Azkaban last year, he gave me his newspaper. And there was a story about a family that had won a prize, and one boy-- Harry's friend-- Ron?-- had a rat with a missing toe on his shoulder. The photograph is still in my pocket."
Sirius squirmed against his bonds, and Dumbledore summoned the crumpled piece of paper. He stared at it for a long second. "Go on."
"I-- I slipped out when the dementors brought food. Dementors can't see, and they're confused by the emotions of a dog."
"Your Animagus form." Sirius wondered if Dumbledore was mocking him.
"I traveled as a dog to the Forbidden Forest. The caption on that photograph-- it says the children attend Hogwarts. And I knew Harry would be here as well. And I had to get to Wormtail-- that was our nickname for Pettigrew, in rat form-- before he did anything to hurt Harry." It was more easily explained, but sounded more ridiculous, the second time around. Sirius looked pleadingly at the old wizard.
"How did you manage to spend twelve years in Azkaban without going mad?"
"I-- I-- I knew I was innocent. I wasn't happy to be innocent, and the dementors didn't want the thought, but as long as I was innocent and knew I was innocent, I knew who I was and what I could do. Dementors don't bother a dog much. That's my guess. I don't really know."
Dumbledore nodded. "I'm going to release you from the bonds. I trust you won't attack me?"
"Good." The bonds were removed and Sirius gingerly tried out his arms and legs. They worked. "Now, I would like a demonstration of your Animagus abilities, please." Sirius obeyed. "Fascinating. Resume your usual form." Sirius did as he was asked. "I very much want to hear more about how you managed this under my nose, but your time is running short and Remus has all the time in the world to give me details. Remus knows all about it, I assume?"
"Yes," Sirius agreed, and then rushed on. "But it wasn't his idea. He didn't want us breaking laws, and he didn't know anything about what I did this year, I didn't even know he was here. Snape was threatening him with a Dementor's Kiss, but none of this is his fault. You don't have to believe my story, but--"
"Oh, I believe you."
The room spun around Sirius. "You do?"
"Yes. But I have no control over the Ministry, and the fact remains that you have not behaved as if you were blameless."
"No." Sirius' last hope drained away. "But Remus--"
"I will see that no innocents are punished." Sirius breathed a sigh of relief. Remus was all right. Harry was all right. "I must leave you now."
"Thank you, Sir," said Sirius. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
"The Fat Lady will be glad to hear it," Dumbledore called over his shoulder as he relocked the door. Sirius sank back into his chair to await his death.
A sharp rap sounded on the window before he could sink into a last reverie, however. He looked up and felt his jaw drop as he saw, of all things, Harry and Hermione astride a hippogriff. He leapt up and tried to force the window open-- locked, no wand!
"Stand back!" called Hermione. "Alohomora!" The window opened. Hadn't Remus said something about Hermione being among the smartest in the school?
"Get on! There's not much time," Harry commanded. "You've got to get out of here. The dementors are coming. Macnair's gone to get them." As if in a dream, Sirius climbed through the window-- he had performed a similar stunt with a broom many times in his youth-- and flung himself onto the beast behind Hermione. "Okay, Buckbeak, up!" Up to the tower-- come on!" Among his other talents, it seemed that Harry was a skilled handler of hippogriffs. Hermione and Harry dismounted almost before the beast had landed. "Sirius, you'd better go, quick. They'll reach Flitwick's office any moment, they'll find out you're gone."
Sirius slid further forward on Buckbeak. "What happened to the other boy? Ron?" With a sinking feeling, Sirius realized that it was probably most rare to see Harry and Hermione without Ron.
"He's going to be okay," Harry answered urgently. "He's still out of it, but Madam Pomfrey says she'll be able to make him better. Quick-- go--"
He's spoken to me once. Once. And here he is, risking everything, doing the impossible, when he knows that his parents-- "How can I ever thank--"
"GO!" Harry and Hermione shouted together.
His father's son. Oh, his father's son. "We'll see each other again," Sirius promised. "You are truly your father's son, Harry." He forced the hippogriff into the air, and did not look back to see if Harry was as infuriated by Sirius' last remark about his James as he had been by the first.
The hippogriff was well cared-for and exceedingly powerful, and as they flew through the cool air to freedom, Sirius felt himself relax. Pettigrew is exposed, if not punished. Dumbledore knows what to look for. Harry forgives me. Remus forgives me. I can-- I can write to them even if I can't see them right away. Harry has friends and I know their names. Ron. Hermione. They're wonderful. The cure for the disconnected thoughts and the constant emotional flickering had been exceedingly simple: a group meeting in the old Shrieking Shack. Cured. I'm cured. I must have been mad, because now I'm cured.
Flying at night was wonderful. He'd forgotten how wonderful.
It occurred to Sirius that he needed to write Remus quickly. Remus' judgment had never been at its best on the morning after a transformation when he was just too tired to think clearly. Oh, Remus could think clearly enough about important matters and Sirius trusted his friend with his life on any day of the year, but Remus' self-esteem seemed to take a hit in the hours after wolf became man. While he was confident as usual in a professional sort of way, his sense of self was sent reeling by the undeniably degrading experience of becoming a monster in the most painful possible manner.
And it would be just like Remus to decide that he was entirely at fault for any danger in which Harry, Ron, and Hermione had been placed. Once this decision was made, he would leave Hogwarts and it would be difficult for Sirius to track him down.
Sirius had no intention of falling out of contact with Remus again if he could possibly avoid it.
He pulled the pen and a scrap of parchment from the depths of his ragged robe and balanced them against the neck of the hippogriff. Please excuse my penmanship, he thought wryly. Not only am I using a Muggle writing contraption, but I'm writing on the back of a flying hippogriff.
He put pen to parchment. Dear. And he froze. Dear who? His name is Remus, you unbelievable idiot! a familiar and almost comforting sarcastic voice screamed from inside his head.
It was the more insidious voice, the voice that sound less like himself and almost like the Minister of Magic, that bothered him. What makes you think he wants anything to do with you? You accused him of the most horrible crime you could contemplate, and you may have just lost him an awful lot.
"He's my friend. He said he was my friend. He hugged me," Sirius said aloud, hoping that the sound would calm him down. "And he didn't hug me because I look so huggable in my current state." He glanced at his robes with something akin to rue. Was it his imagination, or was he so filthy that the hippogriff's wings were beating dust from his body? "And he didn't hug me because he hugs everyone. He hardly touches anyone. At least he didn't used to." It had taken the better part of their first year at school for Remus to stop flinching when he was touched unexpectedly.
"Remus wants me to write to him," he continued, addressing himself to Buckbeak so that he would sound almost like a normal wizard riding a stolen mystical beast through the night. "And I'm going to do it." He drew a deep breath. Calm down! A lot has happened and you're just excited. Don't do anything rash. Calm down. Once he began, he found that he was able to write quickly.
I hope this letter finds you well. In fact, I hope this letter finds you at all. I am writing from a location which must remain undisclosed for obvious reasons, but I am writing soon after leaving you in the hopes that even a stupid owl will be able to find you. I hope that you have not done something ridiculous such as resign from Hogwarts over the events of a few hours past. I know that when we were students, you were always pre-occupied with the possibility of harming someone, and I suppose that recent activities qualify as another "close call." But I feel the need to remind you, hopefully without sounding condescending, that you are very much unlikely to run into an old friend you had thought dead for twelve years as well as a fugitive as well as dementors as well as a psychotic Snape (he hasn't changed, has he?) on the night of a full moon twice in a lifetime. I am certain that you are the finest Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Harry and his friends have ever had. They deserve you.
(You do teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, don't you? I was somewhat distracted by my desire to murder Pettigrew, my attempts to escape the Dementor's Kiss, and the fact that Harry looks JUST LIKE HIS FATHER to pay a great deal of attention. No comments about how much attention I paid when I was in school, please. Even if I hadn't been distracted, though, I probably would have been busy laughing at the concept of Harry and his classmates calling you "Sir" and "Professor." You must admit that it's at least slightly amusing.)
He halted suddenly as Buckbeak gave a mid-air jump. "All right, Buckbeak?" he asked. The hippogriff huffed indignantly and changed course sharply. Through the darkness, Sirius saw why. A Bludger-sized mound of feathers had had the gall to interfere with the beast's course. Sirius reached out and scooped the owl up with a claw-like hand. It did not have a letter tied to its leg, and while it looked slightly dazed, it appeared to be unhurt. "Can you carry a letter to Hogwarts for me?" he asked, hoping that his Animagus charms would convince the bird to do his bidding. The owl seemed to agree, and Sirius wrapped it in a fold of his robe as he hastily finished his task.
I also want to apologize for any trouble to which I may have led you and for any injuries I may have given you during our last exchange. And I want to thank you for your part in saving my soul. Yes, it has taken me most of a piece of parchment to get around to thanking you. You see that the years have not improved my manners any more than they have improved my attention span. My thanks are no less sincere for their lateness, however. Thank you for listening to me and thank you for understanding me and thank you for being willing to deal with Pettigrew and thank you for having/sharing the trust of Harry and his friends and thank you for being perceptive enough to know what would happen and thank you for taking the risk of being seen with a fugitive and thank you for coming outside even on the night of the full moon. Thank you. I am deeply in your debt and I owe you my life, such as it is.
If you would like to write back to me, do it by return owl so this dim-witted bird is able to return to me. I will not write back right away; I need to message Harry first. If you do want to reply, will you tell me about Harry? Anything? Is his friend Ron all right?
The letter was formal in places, but that was probably good. He could not jump into the letter mid-conversation as he had in younger years.
Detaching the owl from his robes, he sent it off toward Hogwarts and once again leaned low over the neck of Buckbeak. Hours passed, and as the light grew stronger, Sirius began to ease his mount downwards toward a patch of trees. "We can't let ourselves be seen in the daylight. We're very conspicuous, and half the world is looking for us right now," he explained. Buckbeak seemed to understand, and he thudded to an awkward halt in the grove. Sirius dismounted stiffly. "You stay close," he ordered the hippogriff, which had begun to nose about the ground. "There might be Muggles around."
As he settled into the shadows to begin the long wait for dusk, the quiet double-beat of an owl's wings sounded in his ears. Hoping against hope, he looked up. It was indeed the same owl he had appropriated hours before. Hastily, hardly remembering to thank the bird, he tore the letter from its leg. It felt heavy, so it probably said more than "go away, Sirius." He was thrilled but nervous as he began to read, scanning the letter for any harsh words before reading it more completely.
You are not in my debt. You owe me nothing. Let's dispense with that theory right away. I did nothing of consequence last night. If I were as perceptive and able to hear people out as you say, I would have known that you could never have been the spy. Besides, magical debts are most often binding when they connect enemies. You are not now and shall never be my enemy. We do not need to keep track of who has done what for whom; this is not a Quidditch match. (We would of course be keeping track if you weren't so far ahead of me in the department of going out of one's way for a friend, but you are and we're not. You understand.)
Yes, I taught Defense Against the Dark Arts and I will grant you that it was a bit odd to be referred to as Professor. It was a wonderful experience nonetheless. The students-- most of them-- are friendly and eager to learn and a joy to be around. Classes are much smaller than they were when we were here for obvious reasons, although there is a baby boom beginning with the class that just finished its first year. Do you remember the Rally of Light Dumbledore held when Harry was a baby? He said that Harry's class might be as much as half Muggle-born. He was right; not quite half, but over a third, of Harry's classmates come from Muggle families. And you are correct. I did resign the position this morning. It is too dangerous for me to be around the students. I'm little better for them than dementors, and I could never under any circumstances take the risk of subjecting one of them to the werewolf curse. The damage would be life-changing and irreparable.
In any case, the choice was not mine to make. This morning, Severus "accidentally" revealed to his students that I am a werewolf. Did we mention last night that he is not only a professor but the Head of Slytherin House? I would have been removed by popular demand of the students' parents had I not resigned first. Dumbledore had to work very hard to convince the board and the staff that I was safe at the beginning of the year, and as he has now been proven wrong, there is very little chance that they would ever consider allowing me to remain here.
I am not whining. I have no right to whine, especially when I consider your situation. It is disappointing for me, but I can only be grateful for the year I spent here. In some ways, Hogwarts is even more magical to an adult than to the students. (And professors are allowed into the restricted section of the library without a note.) I am glad to have seen you again. And of course, there was Harry.
I don't know what to say about Harry. The easy way to begin is that he is very like James. He's not as much of a trouble-maker; he claims that trouble finds him all by itself, and I'm under the impression that he's telling the truth. He does not have much ability to lie and is not terribly subtle. "I like butterbeer! Not that I've been sneaking into Hogsmeade to taste it." He's a bit shy and not prone to drawing attention to himself by pulling pranks or speaking out in class. Slightly insecure. Tends to be embarrassed by the attention some of the younger students pay him. More comfortable with his best friends than in a crowd. Other than that, he is, as I said, like James. More considerate, I think, than James was at thirteen. More careful of the feelings of people around him. He's clever and always asks the difficult questions. He's endlessly loyal to Ron and Hermione, as I'm sure that you noticed. He's very protective of them and is as a rule more concerned for them than for himself. He loves Quidditch. (Isn't it disconcerting to watch him play? That's when he looks most like James.)
When you write Harry, may I suggest giving him permission to go to Hogsmeade on the weekends next year? His aunt and uncle refused to sign the form, and the faculty was delighted to enforce the rule in order to keep him away from you. He did, as I mentioned, sneak out. He had the Invisibility Cloak and the Marauder's Map, so I suppose that was to be expected. The last time he did it, I had to play the "dead parents" card. It felt terrible but it worked. (Severus got his hands on the Marauder's Map during this incident and when he tried to make it reveal itself, Mr. Padfoot "registered his astonishment that an idiot like that ever became a professor." We must have done a very good job with that charm. You should have seen your face when you found out about his professorship last night. Astonishment, indeed!)
Madam Pomfrey says Ron will be fine. He is still sleeping as far as I know, but he has been completely healed. The only harm done was to his ego; the revelation that your pet rat is an Animagus must be rather a lot to swallow. Harry and Hermione are fine as well. I suppose it's telling that you did not ask about them. Would I get an answer if I asked how in the name of Merlin you escaped? Dumbledore was speaking in riddles when I resigned this morning. I know that you were taken into custody because Dumbledore had to convince the Ministry that I had nothing to do with your escape (I wish I had) as well as that I did not go out to the Shrieking Shack with the intention of helping you.
I will end this letter now, as requested, so that the owl will be able to find you. To find me when you have another chance to write, I suggest either a smart owl or asking Dumbledore. I will see that he knows.
Please take care of yourself and don't do anything stupid.
Sirius became Padfoot, but nonetheless he re-read the letter sporadically throughout the day as he listened for signs of human presence and looked for anything that might possibly be edible. The following few days passed similarly. He rarely slept; the Forbidden Forest had afforded him some protection that no other place in the world could provide. There were a few powerfully magical wildlife reserves and conservation areas, but he did not know their secrets as he knew the secrets of the Forbidden Forest. "I suppose I could learn," he told Buckbeak when they had nearly reached the Southern coast of England.
That night, they were lucky enough to pass near a wizarding enclave. Sirius left Buckbeak near the small community's edge and slipped, in dog form, down the town's one street. In one yard, the remains of a picnic lay abandoned next to a plethora of empty bottles of butterbeer and stronger. Ravenously, he devoured the scraps of food before seeing if the family had felt the need to dispose of ink, quills, or parchment in the recent past. They had not, but their neighbors had.
Padfoot bared his teeth in delight. He needed to contact Harry before the term let out; there was no telling whether his aunt, uncle, and cousin approved of owl post. Lily had always reported that Petunia was averse to all things magical.
Now he only needed to find an owl to borrow. There was a slim chance of catching a wild one, and an even slimmer chance of coming up with the means to purchase one. "Appear, owl!" he commanded. In his canine form, his command sounded like a soft bark. That was of little importance, as he had not expected an owl to appear in any case.
A squawking, fluttering noise interrupted his thoughts. "Who do you belong to?" he did his best to inquire with universal animal body language.
With screeches that Padfoot was certain would awaken the sleepy town, the owl explained that he belonged to no one, that he had been hatched and the family had not wanted to keep him, that he had tumbled from a window on the day he was to be brought to the marketplace. Padfoot eyed the owl. He was tiny, and his brain must have been even more so. His wings flapped madly and he never stopped moving as he swarmed about Padfoot's head. Padfoot felt a deep appreciation for Buckbeak, who had managed not to maul the bird that had delivered Remus' letter so many days ago.
Pulling parchment and ink carefully into his mouth, Padfoot nodded at the owl and then at the quill. Hooting eagerly, the owl grabbed the quill in its beak and proceeded to drop it at least six times as he followed the dog from the town.
Reunited with Buckbeak, Padfoot changed his form once more. "Would you like to work for me?" he asked the owl. The owl bobbed up and down enthusiastically. "Fly beside me," he ordered. "Up, Buckbeak."
For the rest of the journey, as the owl flew happily and Buckbeak flew resignedly, Sirius internally composed his letter to Harry. He had to make himself sound like someone Harry could trust. Like someone he would like, but someone who should be taken seriously. He had to sound godfatherly without forcing anything on his godson.
They stopped their travel earlier than was their wont because the next leg of the voyage would involve traveling to mainland Europe, and they could not risk failing to finish before the sun was high in the sky. Sirius settled down to write.
I hope this finds you before you reach your aunt and uncle. I don't know whether they're used to owl post.
Buckbeak and I are in hiding. I won't tell you where in case this owl falls into the wrong hands. I have some doubt about his reliability, but he is the best I could find, and he did seem eager for the job.
I believe the dementors are still searching for me, but they haven't a hope of finding me here. I am planning to allow some Muggles to glimpse me soon, a long way from Hogwarts, so that the security on the castle will be lifted.
There is something I never got around to telling you during our brief meeting. It was I who sent you the Firebolt. Crookshanks took the order to the Owl Office for me. I used your name but told them to take the gold from my own Gringotts vault. Please consider it as thirteen birthdays' worth of presents from your godfather.
I would also like to apologize for the fright I think I gave you that night last year when you left your uncle's house. I had only hoped to get a glimpse of you before starting my journey north, but I think the sight of me alarmed you.
I am enclosing something else for you, which I think will make your next year at Hogwarts more enjoyable.
If you ever need me, send word. Your owl will find me.
I'll write again soon.
P. S. I thought your friend Ron might like to keep this owl, as it's my fault he no longer has a rat.
When he had finished his letter was uninteresting but hopefully reassuring. "It doesn't matter that it isn't interesting," he told the owl as he tied it to the parchment. "I'm an escaped convict. That's interesting enough. And I might have stretched the truth about how safe I am, but it will be true soon. The dementors will never get into a reserve outside the United Kingdom." He held the owl in his hand before letting it go. "Now, I owe a great deal to the boy I'm sending you to meet. His name is Harry Potter. He's almost fourteen years old. He's a student at Hogwarts School and he'll probably be on the Hogwarts Express by the time you get that far north. All right?" The owl hooted with a confidence that Sirius did not share.
"I'm going to give you as a gift to another boy, a friend of Harry's. I owe him a great deal as well. The last time I saw him, I broke his leg and … was the cause of his pet's running away. I want you to be a good pet for him. Understand?"
The owl hooted again and vanished to the north.
Sirius strained his eyes, hoping to catch a last glimpse of the bird, but he did not. Sighing, he transformed once more into Padfoot and set out looking for Muggles. It would not do not to keep his word to Harry, especially as Harry had saved his soul. I ought to be helping him, not the other way around, he growled to himself as he trotted along.
The task of finding someone to frighten was startlingly simple, and it gave Sirius a warm feeling of confidence that perhaps he had not lost his trouble-making touch. His name and photograph must have been in the Muggles papers over the past week as he had once more evaded custody. The three young women pointed and screamed, but before they could draw much attention, he was off, around a corner, and in his canine form.
The remainder of his journey was almost relaxing. He was far from Hogwarts and Azkaban and dementors, and in Buckbeak he had a living thing that did not flinch at the sight of him.
The tropical climate of the reserve was welcome, and the wildlife provided meals for both Sirius and Buckbeak. They did their best not to devour any protected species, although Sirius could not say for certain what sorts of animals had been placed on the endangered lists over the past thirteen years. To some degree, he was even able to clean himself in the river that flowed through the reserve although he harbored no illusions about his appearance.
When he and Buckbeak were recovered from the hard weeks of traveling, Sirius began his quest for parchment. Parchment had become the great desire of his life; it was more important than anything but food. The great joy of my life: writing letters. It's not the same as Quidditch, but I'll admit that there's a lot to be said for it. He smiled, and his face seemed stiff as it adjusted to the odd expression.
The witches and wizards who lived near the reserve to keep the grounds and tend to any wounded animals seldom bothered to lock their windows and doors, but Sirius trained a parrot to steal his writing supplies rather than go after them himself. The training passed enjoyably; magical parrots were quite intelligent and would long ago have made owls obsolete had they not been so expensive and conspicuous.
He had already memorized Remus' letter and did not need to drag it from the safe folds of his robes to reply.
Dear Professor Moony, Sir,
I know that you said I should use a smart owl to find you, but how do you feel about a smart parrot? I like this one. He speaks more English than your average Slytherin Quidditch player. And you wouldn't think that colors like these would occur outside a potion gone wrong.
Thank you for the suggestion about Hogsmeade form. It's just like Dumbledore to accept the signature of a fugitive who has only once spoken to his godson as valid permission. And thank you for your part in my escape. You did play a part, Moony. If Harry had not been able to conjure a Patronus, we would all have lost our souls on Hogwarts grounds. No one but you would have managed to teach a thirteen-year-old that kind of magic. No one but you would have tried.
Harry and Hermione flew a purloined Hippogriff by the name of Buckbeak to the room where I was being held and unlocked the window. That is the short version of my escape. I would give you the long version if I knew it, but Harry and Hermione refused to explain anything to me. They were under the impression that because I was moments away from receiving the Dementor's Kiss and the castle was full of Ministry types and schoolboy rivals, I should not ask what was going on. Harry is truly is father's son, and I see wgy he chose Ron and Hermione as his friends.
If I hadn't sworn off murderous grudges for Harry's sake, I would be plotting Snape's demise as you read. "Accidentally" revealing that you are-- I could kill the man, I honestly could. It took him twenty years, but he finally had you thrown out of Hogwarts, and never mind the effect it had on the students. Why does Dumbledore let him stay there? Does he have any ability to teach at all? I can't imagine that he does. Has he taken up washing his hair yet? Never mind, I don't want to know. I should not be wasting my ink on him. Never was anyone worth less. Do stop calling him Severus, by the way. It makes you sound like old friends.
I did not think you were whining in your last letter. I wanted to know what happened and you told me. If you do feel like whining, go ahead. You have every right. You were treated unfairly, and I take it that you have been treated unfairly all the while that we have been apart. In many ways, these past almost-thirteen years must have been harder on you than on me. You lost almost everyone you cared about in one fell swoop, and when the war was over you would have been forced out of proper wizarding society. Moving every time you were discovered at exactly the time that you barely had enough energy to begin with and never holding steady employment . . . it must have been terrible. One thing about prison is the promise of food and shelter. Besides, I knew the truth. I did not have to waste any effort mourning the rat, as I'm sure you did. And as for James and Lily, their deaths can be placed squarely on my head, and knowing this, I also knew I was deserving of my guilt and grief. You were an innocent victim. I hate the thought of what you must have gone through. If I had any means at my disposal, I would try to make it up to you. I know that I never can "make it up to you," of course, but something would be better than nothing. Not that I would know what to do if I were Dumbledore himself. I was almost surprised when you wrote to me. I would not blame you for hating me. I'm not crazy about me.
I am considering resenting the last line of your letter. I mean it. "Don't do anything stupid?" As if I ever would. To whom do you think you're writing, Professor?
He messaged his belated thanks to Dumbledore as well, and eagerly awaited a response from one of his three correspondents.
The three letters arrived on the same day and that gift pleased him more than any he had received on Christmas or a birthday as a child.
Hedwig, Harry's owl, came first. Her snow-white feathers looked out of place amidst the sweltering jungle.
Thank you for your letter and for permission to go to Hogsmeade. My aunt and uncle would never have signed the form and even though I tried not to be too jealous of Ron and Hermione, it was hard. I don't think I'll spend my time visiting the Shrieking Shack and wondering who haunts it, though. And of course, thank you for the Firebolt! It is the best present anyone has ever given me. I love Quidditch and as you know, I really needed a broom when this one arrived. Most of the owl-orders were recommending the Nimbus 2001, but I couldn't get one of those because that's what the Slytherin team uses.
Ron says thank you for the owl, as well. He was thrilled when we got the letter on the Hogwarts Express and you said he could keep it. Ron was fine the day after you left, by the way. Madam Pomfrey can fix almost anything. We're just sorry that Wormtail got away so that you have to hide. We're also sorry that Professor Lupin resigned. He was the best Defense Against the Dark Arts professor we ever had. He might have been the best professor we ever had at all. Everyone in the school except the Slytherins was miserable when word got around that he was leaving. Some people even had their parents write letters to Dumbledore in support of him. I tried to talk him into staying but he said no.
Things are all right here. The Dursleys don't like magic very much, but the summer isn't that long. My cousin Dudley is on a diet. It's about thirteen years too late, but Aunt Petunia would never admit that he needed one until his school (Smeltings) said that they couldn't make a uniform big enough for him. He throws a tantrum every day that makes the whole house shake.
Thank you again for everything. I hope you are enjoying yourself at least a little bit.
The letter was just a step above impersonal, but Sirius cherished every word. It was a pleasure to know that Harry flourished the "y" when he signed his name and that he refused to ride a broom approved by Slytherin House.
Hedwig looked at Sirius as if waiting for instruction. Sirius waved her off. "Go ahead. I'll send the reply with one of the native birds." Hedwig gave a disdainful hoot and left, but Sirius thought that Harry might enjoy seeing a tropical bird outside his window.
Almost as soon as Hedwig had left, two more owls swooped downward. One was clearly a Hogwarts owl, and one was a more nondescript post owl. Sirius reached for the Hogwarts owl first. It ruffled its feathers importantly and took off after Hedwig.
I am delighted to know that you and your companion are safe and sound. Hagrid is still celebrating Buckbeak's freedom and those of us who are aware of certain facts are still celebrating yours.
Do let me know if there is anything I can do to help you. As you know, there is little chance that you will be proven innocent until we can find Wormtail. Again, I congratulate you and James for achieving such a feat as you did during your time as students here. Remus has given me the details that you did not. As you may already know, he has left Hogwarts. The loss is ours and we all wish he would have done differently. He greatly entertained his students with tales of boggarts and beautiful vampires.
I would like to ask one favor of you before I close. You seem to be in the process of developing a close relationship with your godson. Sometimes he is reluctant to confide important information to me; should he tell you something with bearing upon his safety or a potential power gain by Lord Voldemort, please let me know.
Finally, Sirius reached for the last letter. His excitement reached a fever pitch at the mere sight of Remus' handwriting, although he knew that the letter was likely to be filled with news he would not want to read.
I most certainly do not hate you and I hope that you were only being melodramatic when you said that you did not especially like yourself. Receiving a letter from you is always the highlight of my week. THIS IS NOT BECAUSE THE REST OF MY WEEK IS AWFUL BY COMPARAISON. I am FINE. I am HAPPY. The last thing in the world that you ought to be doing is concerning yourself about me.
For one of the brightest students who has ever passed through Hogwarts, you manage to come up with some galactically stupid ideas. One is that Lily and James' deaths are on your head. Voldemort killed them. Wormtail betrayed them. You did not. You were a victim-- more so than I was. This brings us to another of your inane suggestions: that my life over the past decade was in any way comparable to yours. It was not entirely pleasant, but I have never heard of a life that was.
My friends were taken from me and I was sad. I would not have been human if that had not been so. (All right, I'm not human, but you know what I mean.) I grieved for them, James and Lily and Peter, and for you, too. I was sad for Harry and I was sad for myself because I had lost all of you. But I was not placed in a time warp by the dementors. I did not relive the worst experiences of my life over and over again for twelve years. I met interesting people and saw interesting things even if my life was not idyllic. And I reached a state of mind where I could only be grateful that I knew James and Lily. It was an incredible stroke of luck and an unbelievable blessing to have had them in my life for any amount of time at all. You remembered your worst experiences with them, and I remembered my best. I hope that you can give me enough credit to accept that I have not remained miserable during every day that has past since that Halloween. I had bad days, of course, and spending time at Hogwarts was a wild emotional ride. I remembered so many things I'd not known I'd forgotten, and I can't say that I was eager to come face-to-face with you.
I never could wrap my mind around the idea that you'd been the spy. I believed it because I thought the evidence incontrovertible. Nonetheless, it never made sense. And I did my best to write off "betrayal by Secret-Keeper" as something I would never be able to understand while I focused on other things.
Now I know that I was wrong to believe you guilty, and for that I am sorry. I was not harmed by lack of information but protected by it. If I had known that you were being subjected to Azkaban while the traitor went free, I don't know what I would have done. Tried to help you and gotten killed in the process, I expect. But I did not know until after the fact. The thought of you being cold and alone and dirty and bored for so many years on end makes me sick, Sirius.
That's enough of that. About Snape-- I have no idea why Dumbledore trusts him. I don't doubt that he has a reason, but your guess is as good as mine as to what it might be. His hair looks the same as it always did. (Snape's, that is. Well, Dumbledore's, too.) He may be a good teacher to the Slytherins, but he habitually reduces the other students-- especially the Gryffindors-- to tears.
I even had one student in Gryffindor (Neville Longbottom, Frank's son) who saw Snape in a boggart. Boggart-Snape cross-dressing ensued. Everyone in the school, except for one person, thought this hilarious.
Please take care of yourself and don't do anything stupid.
Sirius dropped the precious letter on the ground as a fit of laughter seized him. Severus Snape, cross-dressing! He tried not to imagine it too clearly. Instead, he did his best to picture the expression on Snape's face when he heard what had happened. Still laughing, he stretched himself out carelessly on the ground, temporarily forgetting that he ought not make so much noise, particularly in broad daylight. Moony had always had such a wonderful sense of humor; he had surely given Neville a nudge in the cross-dressing direction during that lesson.
Suddenly, Sirius heard his gales of laughter turn into sobs and realized belatedly that he was not so much breathing as choking and gasping. STOP IT! he reprimanded himself harshly. YOU'RE OUT OF AZKABAN AND HARRY KNOWS THE TRUTH AND DUMBLEDORE AND MOONY AND YOU'RE FINE NOW SO STOP CRYING! He wasn't especially ashamed of the tears; he had heard a great deal of sobbing in Azkaban, and even before. The Dark Lord's reign of terror had caused many fine wizards and witches to cry. But he knew that making so much noise, even in a secluded place, could be the cause of his death. Even if he did not attract a human, he might attract a dangerous animal from which he could not defend himself without a wand.
The knowledge that he was placing himself in danger did not stop his sobs from echoing off the trees. YOU'RE FREE! YOU'RE ALIVE! YOU'RE SANE! Never mind those who aren't.
On the night of a full moon, perhaps a month into his stay in Azkaban, Sirius had regained the slightest bit of awareness. He had then realized that he had the ability to transform into a dog, and had thus been able to simplify his feelings. The more time he had spent in his canine form, the stronger his ability to hold a train of thought or control himself had grown. He had stopped yelling, screaming, swearing that he was sorry and begging James to forgive him. He had stopped howling for Pettigrew's blood, although the rat had never been far from his thoughts. The whole of his energy had been focused on control, and so he had rarely lost control. Rarely.
One day, when Sirius had been in Azkaban for more than a year, a commotion drew him to the bars of his cell door. It was odd that he had heard anything unusual; the prisoners were screaming and howling as always. Perhaps he was learning to tune out screaming. Was a new prisoner arriving? Or even several? The dementors were certainly agitated.
With a pop, Sirius became human. He could not allow a wizard or a witch to take note of his alternate form.
"NO! I DIDN'T DO IT!" The voice was new; Sirius had not heard it before. He leaned against the bars, straining his eyes through the dusty darkness of Azkaban for a better look. The boy was pure white; even his hair was what must have been in sunlight a beautiful shade of blond.
The dementors were un-moved by the plea as they dragged their prey along. The boy seemed too frightened to look into the cells that lined his path, and so Sirius could not glimpse his face. Still, he could tell that the boy was, in fact, a boy. He was even younger than Sirius himself. He could not have been a day over the age of nineteen, and his fright made Sirius feel very, very old at twenty-two. No longer was Sirius "the pretty boy barely out of his teens" who was not expected to last a week in Azkaban after the crimes for which he had been committed. "NO! I didn't do it!"
A heavyset man was next. His dull gaze was fixed on the ground as he moved along without fighting the dementors. Sirius imagined that he had looked much the same when he had first entered Azkaban. He had been thought already mad, and had behaved docilely, as this man did now.
Next was a thinner man, and Sirius was so startled upon recognizing him that he let out a gasp. The man's head turned, and though he looked worn and fearful, he met Sirius' gaze. "I always said I'd see you in hell, Black," he said.
Sirius let go of the bars and stepped backwards into a low, sarcastic bow. "Welcome, Lestrange. I hope you enjoy your stay. Did you bring along your lovely wife?"
"I am proud to come to Azkaban for my Lord," a clear, female voice answered. The dementors may as well have been escorting her to a Yule Ball; it seemed that they hung on her arms rather than restrained her.
"Your Lord is gone!" Sirius informed her.
"He shall rise again." Her supreme confidence might have sent chills down his spine had he not been in a state of permanent coldness. "It does not matter what your little friend's little boy did. My Lord will return." She was placed in a cell almost directly across from Sirius' own. Sirius could not see her, but he could hear her clearly. "Pity your friend Jimmy shan't."
Sirius clenched his teeth. No one had ever called James "Jimmy" unless he or she wanted to be hexed. James had regarded his name as something of a cross to bear until he decided that he liked how Lily said it.
The dementor that had just closed the door of Mrs. Lestrange's cell sensed Sirius' pale bittersweet melancholy at his memory of the beginning of James and Lily's romance. It lunged toward Sirius, and Sirius fell to his knees rather more quickly than he would have liked to admit. James' voice rang in his ear. "You killed me! You killed Lily! Killed us! Killed us!"
Panting, Sirius transformed. His new prisonmate called out to him several more times before turning her attention to her husband. Somehow, Padfoot managed to fall asleep curled against the thin, hard slab that was meant to serve as a bed.
When he awoke, it was night. He shook himself, wanting to shake off the dream. As a nice change of pace, he had dreamed of Remus being slowly tortured to death as punishment for killing Snape when he, Sirius, had been the one responsible. "MUMMY! I WANT MY MUMMY! I'M SORRY, MUMMY, SAVE ME, SAVE ME! PLEASE, PLEASE, I'M COLD! I'M SCARED. I DIDN'T MEAN IT! MUMMY!"
"What's his name?" he asked in the general direction of the Lestranges. They were unlikely to be asleep. New prisoners did not fall asleep in Azkaban; they passed out after being kept awake for a few days or a week.
"That's Barty Crouch," Mrs. Lestrange offered in her usual controlled voice. "Pathetic, isn't he? Though I'll reckon you were just as bad."
"Thanks for your concern."
She laughed. Sirius did not remember hearing her laugh previously and it was not a pretty sound. "Oh, you do seem to be doing quite well for having been in here a year."
"Again, thank you." It seemed odd that she was striking up a conversation with him. They had never been friends; quite the contrary. Somehow, though, he was not surprised that the dementors were not affecting her. She was a true believer in her cause, and she obviously felt Azkaban a worthy alternative to ruling the world by Voldemort's side.
Sirius was still reeling from the revelation that the pale boy had been Barty Crouch-- presumably the son of the Barty Crouch who had sent him here: You scum. You filth. You don't deserve a trial. A waste of time in any case.
"Aren't you going to ask what I'm in for? I'd ask you, but I already know. Poor Jimmy and-- was it Lilypad? Lilyliver? Liliputian? Betrayed by their dear Sirius."
"I never betrayed them," said Sirius, furious that his voice was shaking and hers was not.
"Of course not. It would be to insult myself to suggest that you were on my side. Now be the chivalrous gentleman we all know you used to like to pretend you were and ask me what I'm in for. And maybe I'll be kind enough to answer your later questions. You got Crouch's name for free."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Very well. What did they catch you doing?"
"You remember Frank Longbottom? He tried and failed to train you into something that might actually have been a thorn in our side?"
"What about him?"
"He'll not train anyone else! He wouldn't help us find Our Lord, and so we punished him. CRUCIO!"
"CRUCIO!" echoed her husband's voice, and the voice of the heavyset man.
"Superb, model, Gryffindor, Head Boy, perfect Frank Longbottom a blubbering mess on the floor of his house with his wife twitching beside him and his little brat screaming from across the room!"
"If we were going to come here, that was the way to do it!"
"Almost worth it."
There was great pride in the three voices. Sirius began to feel ill, even by Azkaban standards. He had forced himself to eat, as he often did, because he had a vague plan of living long enough to escape and tell the world-- or at least James' son-- the truth. Now he was sorry he had eaten as his stomach wrenched.
"Cried!" The new prisoners were still bragging.
"Lost his voice screaming!"
"That's your role model, Black!"
"That's your mentor!"
"And you know why we did it? Other than to find Our Lord?"
"Want to know?"
"Of course he does!"
"We did it because in our first year the big-shot Head Boy thought he'd take points because we caught little Pettigrew and stuck him the ceiling of the Great Hall. I told him one day he'd pay, and now he has."
"PETTIGREW!" howled one of the older prisoners.
"We never should have trusted something that weak," Lestrange said scornfully. "But he will pay!"
"When Our Lord returns!"
"At least he took the Potters with him when he died."
Sirius was lucid enough to know simple bullying when he heard it. He was powerless, though, and did not respond.
"Suppose Jimmy cried like Longbottom when he died?"
"No, no, don't kill me! Kill my wife and baby, but let me live!" Lestrange could do a cruel imitation of James' voice.
"Don't hurt me! Please! Please!"
"I wonder if Black will come to save me!"
"No, no, I'll have to die slowly and all alone!"
"Slowly and painfully, failed by my friends!"
In spite of himself, Sirius felt tears spring to his eyes. He drew in a shaky breath and transformed, trying to stretch his tail to cover his ears. The impromptu theater performance looked set to continue a while longer; the new prisoners were strong because they had all come in together. Mrs. Lestrange in particular believed herself to have done no wrong, and so the dementors were not affecting her terribly. Besides, the inhuman guardians were focused on the weak boy further along the corridor. Sirius wondered if the boy was dying already. The dementors seemed very excited.
No, the dementors were excited by the Lestranges. They drew nearer, and soon the men's voices became moans. Even the woman quieted slightly.
It did not matter. The images of James dying had never been far from Sirius' eyelids, and now they were added to the new images of Frank, slowly succumbing to the Cruciatus Curse as the son he so loved watched.
"MUMMY!" Young Crouch had never ceased his shrieking. Sirius had never been one to seek the protection of those stronger than he. He detested those who did. But now, he almost wished, like young Crouch, that someone would come and save him.
No one came.
He was glad that dogs could not cry.
Humans, of course, could cry, and Sirius' tears did not slow. He dragged himself to his feet, knowing that he should not be lying on the ground in such an exposed position, but once on his feet he did not know what to do. He took a single halting step only to find that his long, matted hair had become entangled with a vine that had been growing up the trunk of a tree. Infuriated, he ripped the hair free, tearing it as he did so.
And to punish the tree, he punched it. He punched it with his right hand and then with his left, and then with his right again. He kicked the tree, and hit it until blood ran from his knuckles down to his elbows.
It was the tree's fault that James was dead and Lily was dead and Frank and his wife had been tortured. Sirius told it so. He even yelled once or twice, not caring that to attract attention meant suicide. He struck his head against the tree's rough trunk.
I hate you hate you hate you how could you you killed them I killed them Lily and James Lily and James Sirius how could you come along Azkaban for you Azkaban for life so young dead after a year how many years years they didn't get him have to get Wormtail Harry doesn't know hates me orphaned him my fault with his aunt and uncle no magic not happy there because of me not safe from Wormtail went free and Snape why Snape inside the Whomping Willow made Remus a killer going to kill me Harry just a baby how could he live just a baby in the room Crucio Crucio Crucio in front of him no parents like Harry . . . .
Thoughts and words were incoherent and the streams of blood multiplied.
As in Azkaban, he wanted someone to come and save him.
No one came.
"No one is going to come," he said aloud in a wet but clear voice. "I have to take care of myself. Like Moony said." Who was Sirius to refuse Remus anything? How could I have suspected him? he asked himself for the umpteenth time. He was too tired to wonder about an answer now. Surely, though, Remus would one day ask.
Methodically, he walked to the river and rinsed his hands. He had done himself some damage, and he longed for a wand or at least a healing potion. It would not do to get an infection.
He cupped water in his hands and splashed it on his face. As he did, his fingers once more tangled in his hair. He shook his head ruefully. He had been ignoring his hair and beard, and it now occurred to him that he would be much more comfortable if he rid himself of them. At the rate he was gaining weight, he might even render himself unrecognizable from the escaped convict whose picture had been printed in every journal in the world.
Unfortunately, Sirius had lost his knife in the fiasco at Hogwarts. He allowed his eyes to stray in the direction of the groundskeepers' homes. Everything he needed would be found there. He had not borrowed anything since the parchment, and as he had been a very well-behaved fugitive, he expected that they owed him.
As Padfoot, Sirius approached the small cluster of houses. He cocked his head to listen, wondering if one structure or another might be empty even now. It seemed that the three closest to him were. It would be a risk to rush in without a plan, but not a grave risk. He would almost certainly have time to transform if he was interrupted. Besides, now that he had made a decision, he was eager to act.
Padfoot nosed the door open carefully and looked about the tiny house. It was clearly empty, and would likely remain so until its inhabitant's workday ended. Nonetheless, Sirius lost no time in transforming and seeking out a pair of scissors, another roll of parchment, and the shower. All were found with relative ease, and he stood before the mirror beside the shower within seconds.
"Oh dear," said the mirror. "Are you all right?"
"Getting there," replied Sirius. He raised the scissors to his head and began to cut haphazardly. There was no reason to wash hair he had no plans to keep. The beard followed, although he had to complete that job with a razor. It was odd that the razor was present; most wizards simply cast spells on themselves in lieu of physically shaving. The concept of raking a blade across one's face had always struck Sirius as slightly barbaric, and it was one Muggle custom he had never attempted to adopt.
He cut himself more than once, but when he was done the ridiculous hair was gone and deposited almost neatly on a square of parchment for later disposal. Then, hesitantly, he stepped into the shower. As a Hogwarts student, he had once enchanted the showers in the Quidditch changing rooms to sound a shrill alarm should they be entered by a Slytherin player, and since then he had felt an odd pang of apprehension when he began to wash in a strange place.
His worry was groundless. The shower had been perfectly enchanted, and he raised his hands to his head to begin to remove the filth from his hair. The shampoo refused to foam; perhaps he should have shaved his head as well. His hair seemed to be a lost cause. He nearly shouted with frustration and repeated his actions. At last, his fingers touched foam as they caressed his scalp, and an odd feeling of cool nakedness that he could hardly remember as "clean" began to cross him. Meanwhile, the rivulets of water that tracked down his body left the floor on which he stood blackened.
It took long moments of scraping and rubbing to eliminate even the first level of filth from his body. He had been swimming in the river, but this sort of washing did not produce the same clinically clean results as a real shower with soap.
The water temperature had been perfectly regulated, but suddenly Sirius felt cold. I wonder if the dirt was keeping me warm, he thought darkly. "Hotter," he ordered the shower, which complied. He could feel the change, but it was not great enough to chase the new chill from his bones. "Hotter," he repeated, as if to establish that he could be warm, that he could be hot, even after twelve years in Azkaban. "Hotter."
It was not until he took a hard look at his skin that he realized he had scalded himself. He had forgotten that such a thing could happen. "Stop." The water stopped, and Sirius tremblingly wrapped a towel around his body. He did not think it likely that he could clean his robes particularly well without magic, and he was loathe to put the dirty rags back on his body. Instead, he crept through the house, barely mindful that he was dripping, and looked for replacements.
He was pleased to find Muggle clothing in the small bedroom. This would disguise him better than clean robes. "I'm sorry," he said to the unknown owner of the house. "But I need them more than you do." He gathered up his belongings and left the house in dog form before returning to his hiding place.
Once there, he leaned against a tree, his skin still sore where it had been burned, and began to write. He needed to do something at least slightly productive, and he needed to begin by reassuring Remus lest Remus worry that his letter had triggered a memory that sent Sirius down the path to temporary lunacy.
I am backing off. All right? You can take care of yourself and you are leading a perfectly wonderful life. However, I refuse to stop concerning myself with you. And my backing off in no way constitutes an admission that I was not at fault for Halloween, 1981.
Azkaban is miserable, as everyone knows. But the cold-- it's something you get used to. You adjust. The same with washing. It's more of a problem for people who run into us. And I wasn't so lonely. It took a good long time for the Lestranges to go mad, probably because they were in there together, and for those years it was just like being back in a potions lesson. Don't ever trouble yourself about my time in Azkaban, Moony. Prison is not meant to be pleasant but no permanent damage was done.
You have no need to be guilty for believing I was the spy. The whole world believed I was the spy. I laid the trap for myself. And to slightly twist the immortal words of arguing childhood friends, I started it.
Now, on to the important news: HOW COULD YOU HAVE WAITED THIS LONG TO TELL ME ABOUT THE CROSS-DRESSING? Honestly. You need to get your priorities straight. I'm not sure whether I should ask what he was wearing or not. Would it give me a laugh or would it just give me night terrors? Perhaps I should ask about Neville as well-- is he in Harry's class, then? Has he grown up well? I heard a lot of bragging about torturing Frank. Did Frank live? The lengths to which one human being will go to harm another will never cease to amaze me.
The weather is quite lovely here. The air is clear and the sun is warm, and hopefully no unwelcome reader of our correspondence will be able to pinpoint my location from that description. Please note that I am not enjoying clean air and warm sunlight because I did not get much exposure to them in Azkaban. I would have enjoyed them anyway. They are commonly thought to be good things. And while I know that I'm not common at all, sometimes I like to pretend.
I received a message from Dumbledore the other day. (We correspond so that I can grovel before him in thanks for all he has done for Harry.) He says that you were an exceptional professor (as does Harry) and that the classes were entertained by your tale of a beautiful vampire. Care to elaborate?
Please take care of yourself and try to have a little bit of fun.
Sirius decided to respond to Harry as well. He did not want to pressure the boy into accepting him into his life-- but he did want to be accepted, as much for Harry's safety as for his own peace of mind.
Thank you for your letter. You and Ron are very welcome; but you were only given your due and there was no real reason to thank me.
As I recall, your aunt was never especially fond of magic. If it would make things easier for you, please do not hesitate to tell your family that your convict godfather will hunt them down and attack them if they do anything to make you uncomfortable or unhappy. This is not far from the truth, incidentally. I know that I have said this before, but please let me know if you need me.
I am sorry that Professor Lupin resigned as well, and I do not doubt that he was an excellent teacher. However, convincing him to change his mind once it has been made up is something of a Herculean task.
As promised, I allowed some Muggles to see me and I am certain that the dementors have been removed from Hogwarts grounds. I sincerely doubt that Dumbledore would have allowed them to remain in any case.
I will write again in time for your birthday.
Sirius smiled. Harry's birthday was at the end of July, and not so far away. Now that he was almost presentable, he wondered if there might exist some way to obtain his godson's present without resorting to theft.
After checking to see that Buckbeak was properly bedded down, Sirius returned to dog form and fell asleep.
The next morning, he began exploring the reserve and its surrounding areas more completely than he had done before when he had been buried by the need for food and letters. The nearest Muggle town was not far away, and within a week he had found some employment as a day laborer. He began to scan the area for Muggle shops and wizarding ones and planning the best way to spend his windfall. Living as he was off the land, he had no real expenses, but he could not risk buying that which he most wanted: a wand.
He was almost surprised when he found that enough time had passed to expect news from his correspondents.
This letter is shaping up to be a depressing one. You picked the wrong questions to ask. Frank and his wife are not dead. They are permanently confined to Saint Mungo's. They have never shown any signs of being aware of the world around them. Neville lives with his grandmother. He is indeed a Gryffindor and one of Harry's roommates. He struggles in classes (except for Herbology) and seems to be convinced that he is almost a squib. The general consensus among the professors is that he is actually suffering from the after-effects of losing his parents the way he did. He is apparently repressing his natural magical talent. He's not naturally powerful the way Harry is, of course, but there is something there that he isn't yet ready to use. He's a very nice boy in any case.
It was his grandmother's clothing into which Neville forced his boggart Snape: a hat with a vulture, a big red handbag, and the like. I think the news spread from one end of the school to the other in less than ninety seconds.
All of Harry's classmates are exceptional in one way or another and I was very impressed with them. (Speaking of Harry's friends, I don't know if you worked out to which branch of Weasleys Ron belongs. His eldest brother Bill attended Hogwarts at the same time as us; he is five years our junior and was a Gryffindor. I think he may have been the victim of one or two of our pranks, but I can't be certain. We tormented a lot of the younger students. There are four brothers in between Bill and Ron and one little girl named Ginny who is helplessly in love with Harry. I'm not certain whether he knows how badly smitten she is, but he has never encouraged her.)
The vampire was not particularly beautiful.
I am changing locations again. I'm not going far; just to a cottage well outside this town. Dumbledore owns it and has asked me to take care of it. Ordinarily, I would attempt to find a way not to accept this kind of help, but I've seen the place and someone ought to be living in it. It might as well be me.
I will send this out now because the moon will be full tonight.
Take care of yourself and don't do anything stupid.
Sirius moved on to Harry's letter.
I actually have already taken you up on your offer to help me with the Dursleys. When they met me at the Hogwarts Express last month, I told them about you and that you broke out of wizarding prison. (I might have forgotten to say that you were innocent.) When I told them that you wanted me to be happy, they let me keep my school things in my room instead of locking them away for the summer. Hopefully I will get to visit Ron for the end of the summer, anyway. He says that his father (who works for the Ministry of Magic) might be able to get us tickets to the Quidditch World Cup!
Even if we can't go see the World Cup, I will probably visit Ron anyway. Hermione will be there as well, although I think it's technically Ron's sister Ginny who invites Hermione since Hermione has to share her room. And Ron's brothers Fred and George, they're twins, are Beaters on Gryffindor's Quidditch team. So we'll get to play Quidditch even if we don't get to watch it.
Mostly I've been doing my homework so far this holiday. Was History of Magic boring when you were at Hogwarts, too?
I hope you and Buckbeak are doing well.
Sirius knew that Harry's birthday was drawing ever closer, and so he sent a parrot with a packet of Muggle money to a bank with instruction to exchange the Muggle currency for the wizarding sort. Then, he purchased a cake for Harry and a set of robes for himself. He began to feel almost human again with his rhythm of paid physical work, taking care of Buckbeak, hunting, and writing. He still slept only in canine form, and therefore was not subject to the nightmares he was certain he would have had had he attempted to relax completely in his usual shape.
However, odd snatches of news were beginning to reach him. Remus mentioned that Dumbledore had pulled Mad-Eye Moody from the depths of retirement to fill the Defense Against the Dark Arts position. Assorted wizarding newspapers mentioned cursed dustbins, Dark Marks, and attacks on Muggles that seemed suspiciously magical. He tried to remind himself that the world had not stopped when his life had been interrupted by Azkaban, and that Lord Voldemort had not been considered a threat for many years, but nonetheless, an odd fretfulness took up permanent residence at the edge of his consciousness.
His anxiety intensified with a letter delivered by Hedwig. Harry had grown more familiar in his correspondence over the summer, and this note was the longest he had yet written. However, one paragraph thrown in with mock-carelessness set Sirius into a fit of trembling:
A weird thing happened this morning, though. My scar hurt again. Last time that happened, it was because Voldemort was at Hogwarts. But I don't reckon he can be anywhere near me now, can he? Do you know if curse scars sometimes hurt years afterward?
Sirius groaned inwardly. He doubted that Harry was telling him the entire truth; he must have been in a considerable amount of pain to become frightened enough to write the godfather he barely knew for advice. This must have been what Dumbledore had meant when he had asked Sirius to keep him apprised of the workings of Harry's mind.
He had no right to remain in hiding while his godson was in danger.
He detained Hedwig and scribbled out three hasty notes:
I'm flying north immediately. This news about your scar is the latest in a series of strange rumors that have reached me here. If it hurts again, go straight to Dumbledore-- they're saying he's got Mad-Eye out of retirement, which means he's reading the signs, even if no one else is.
I'll be in touch soon. My best to Ron and Hermione. Keep your eyes open, Harry.
Harry tells me that his scar hurt last night. He wanted to know if curse scars sometimes hurt for no reason. I am flying north tonight.
Harry's scar hurt. Coming north.
He regretfully burned the letters he had received lest he lose them and accidentally incriminate someone during a close call on his journey, and whistled for Buckbeak. There was no time to lose.
"We're about to start a long journey, Buckbeak," he told the hippogriff. "Sorry. But it's for Harry." He bowed low, and the hippogriff returned the gesture, as if in understanding of Sirius' feelings for Harry. Sirius mounted the animal hastily. "Let's go."
They flew almost without a break for nearly a week, and while Sirius dared not mock his beast's endurance, he clenched his fists and wished painfully for a wand and the ability to Apparate.
Hedwig intercepted them just as they entered England. She flew gracefully beside Buckbeak as Sirius scanned the letter.
I reckon I just imagined my scar hurting, I was half asleep when I wrote to you last time. There's no point coming back, everything's fine here. Don't worry about me, my head feels completely normal.
Sirius began to laugh. He had always been prone to laughing at inopportune moments (injuries, funerals, murders), and if Buckbeak had cared to throw his rider from his back, he could easily have done so.
"Remus is right. Your owner is a lousy liar," he chuckled to the bird, which was glaring at him and waiting for him to reply. "All right. I'm answering right now. Don't be impatient. It's not easy to write on a flying hippogriff, although I happen to be the world's leading expert."
He fished quill, ink, and parchment from the small bag in which he carried his few non-descript possessions.
Nice try, Harry.
I'm back in the country and well-hidden. I want you to keep me posted on everything that's going on at Hogwarts. Don't use Hedwig, keep changing owls, and don't worry about me, just watch out for yourself. Don't forget what I said about your scar.
Within a day, Sirius actually had managed to hide himself in an abandoned Muggle warehouse. He again commenced taking small jobs of short duration and slipped into a wizarding village nightly to steal copies of the Daily Prophet. Stealing food was not terribly difficult, either, and he managed to keep Buckbeak well-concealed.
Dumbledore repeated what Sirius already knew; that Mad-Eye Moody had come to Hogwarts and that surely Harry and the other students were safe. Remus, though, mentioned that rumors were swirling that the Tri-Wizard Tournament was to be re-instated.
… I expect that the students will be most excited. Some of them may know that the Tournament was originally cancelled because of the high incidence of champion deaths, but I'm sure that very few of them understand the ties that the Tournament has to Dark Magic. Cheating was of course a time-honored part of the tradition, and the cheating became more dangerous and unethical as time passed. To make things worse, we know that Wormtail is out there somewhere with the intent to rejoin the Dark Lord. Finally, one of the schools set to participate in the Tournament is almost certainly Durmstrang. The Head of Durmstrang is none other than our old friend, Karkaroff. Durmstrang is no less notorious for teaching its students Dark Arts now than it was twenty years ago.
It concerns me that the Hogwarts students know none of this. The wizarding community of England has buried its head in the sand ever since the fall of Lord Voldemort. The adults have done their best to forget what they knew and saw and have not passed their knowledge on to their children. What can we expect from a society that places a taboo on the mere uttering of Voldemort's name? The only children who know anything of the Unforgivable Curses or the habits of Death Eaters are those who were directly affected. While we know exactly who supported Lord Voldemort, we refrain from admitting as much and so give them the freedom to repeat history… I hope that the rumors are wrong, and that Harry will have the good sense to stay far away from the Tournament should it actually be held at Hogwarts…
But it seemed that Harry's good sense was irrelevant.
You told me to keep you posted on what's happening at Hogwarts, so here goes-- I don't know if you've heard, but the Triwizard Tournament's happening this year and on Sunday night I got picked as a fourth champion. I don't know who put my name in the Goblet of Fire, because I didn't. The other Hogwarts champion is Cedric Diggory, from Hufflepuff.
Hope you're okay, and Buckbeak.
Sirius tossed his godson's letter to the ground and did some creative swearing. His anger was directed not at Harry but at the world in general. Harry himself was nothing short of amazing. In fact, Harry's development into a young man had dealt parenting a serious blow; Harry had grown up to be practically perfect without having any parents at all. That Harry had bothered to ask after Sirius and Buckbeak when his was the life in danger was indicative of his character.
There was no doubt in Sirius' mind that whoever did know how Harry's name had found its way into the Goblet wanted the last Potter to become the most recent Triwizard Champion to die in the line of duty.
Remus was right. It was dangerous for Harry not to know any of the history of the first war against Voldemort, but Sirius could hardly put the information Harry needed in a letter. It had been bad enough for Remus, who was neither on the run nor famous, to write vagaries in a letter to Sirius; Sirius writing a more detailed letter to Harry could be disastrous. The only thing to do was ask Harry to clear the Common Room of other students and contact him through the fire. Hogwarts fires were not meant to allow such contact from outside the school, but Mr. Padfoot, purveyor of aids to magical mischief-makers, had long ago learned a thing or two about manipulating Hogwarts' communications systems.
Harry agreed, and on the appointed night Sirius casually wandered into a deserted wizarding home that he knew always stood empty at this hour. So concerned was Sirius about the behavior of the Goblet of Fire that he forgot to be nervous about the prospect of meeting his godson face-to-face for only the second time since Harry's babyhood.
Throwing powder and then his head into the fire, Sirius blinked into the once-familiar Gryffindor Common Room.
"Sirius-- how're you doing?" asked Harry, true to form.
"Never mind me, how are you?"
"I'm--" Harry paused, and the smile on his young face disappeared to be replaced by a cross between stress and agony. "I'm-- you know I didn't put my name in the Goblet, but no one believes me, and now everyone hates me. Well, not everyone, a couple of the Gryffindors think its great that there's a Gryffindor champion, but, well, I'd expect it from the Slytherins, but the Hufflepuffs, they all love Cedric-- he's the real champion-- because you know everyone says Hufflepuffs are thick and duffers and squibs. They think I did it on purpose, and when I go to class with them they won't speak to me, they glare at me, even Professor Sprout does, she hates me now. Everyone has badges and signs that say 'Potter Stinks' and people point at me and laugh or try to trip me in the corridors, they try to dump food on me in the Great Hall, they snicker and they tell jokes and talk about how all I want is publicity and I'm a thief, and then Rita Skeeter wrote an article. She had a quill that made things up, she told everyone I cry over my parents and I don't even remember my parents so I can't cry over them, and she said I was in love with Hermione and it's not true, and so everyone's after Hermione, and it's not fair that she's getting teased for being my friend and I don't want anyone to hurt Hermione and she's the only one who'll have anything to do with me because Ron doesn't believe me and Hermione's probably going to hate me soon, too. Ron thinks I did it on purpose and he's just jealous and Hermione says I should make up with him but I don't want to make up with him because he started it and if he's like the rest of the school and wants not to speak to me and to have me dead, then that's fine, and I don't know why he's jealous because I don't know why anyone would want the whole school to hate him or why anyone would want to get killed or made fun of, and I just want to be left alone, but no one will leave me alone, and everyone cheats in this contest and everyone's getting together to watch me fail and laugh when I do and I don't think I really want to stay at Hogwarts. But they're getting ready anyway and I'm magically bound to stay and now Hagrid's just shown me what's coming in the first task and it's dragons, Sirius, and I'm a goner."
Harry had spoken almost without drawing breath, and it was clear that he had been saving his words for days if not weeks. Sirius wanted nothing more than to give his godson the reassurance he needed, but time was short, and Harry had not yet had the opportunity to get used to trusting Sirius. The back of Sirius' mind took up the familiar chant of THIS IS ALL WORMTAIL'S FAULT, but he forced those thoughts away as he looked at Harry's anxious face.
"Dragons we can deal with, Harry," he began, but dissertations on a dragon's eyesight could wait. Surely someone would be monitoring the task to make certain that Harry did not burn to death, but no one was monitoring the Death Eaters to make certain that Harry was not dragged to Voldemort's lair. "We'll get to that in a minute-- I haven't got long here… I've broken into a wizarding house to use the fire, but they could be back at any time. There are things I need to warn you about."
"What?" asked Harry. His face paled further, and he began to look genuinely ill. Sirius wondered if there was any possibility of yanking Harry through the fire alive without Floo Powder and proceeding to lock him up in a tower where he would be safe.
"Karkaroff," Sirius spat. "Harry, he was a Death Eater." Sirius told his godson about Karkaroff's past and about his suspicions as to why Harry's name had been placed in the Goblet. But just as he was about to alleviate Harry's fears about getting past a dragon, Harry raised a hand.
"Go! Go! There's someone coming!"
He paced angrily about the edge of the town in dog form for three days. At last, Daily Prophets began to fall from the sky with news of the Triwizard Tournament. He caught one in his mouth and bounded out of sight, but thanks to his resemblance to a Grim, no one pursued him. He tore at the paper with teeth and claws, and then, desperately, transformed to unfold the paper and see the declaration that the youngest champion's performance had been the best. Not long afterwards, the tiny owl which he had sent to Ron arrived bearing a letter that must have weighed nearly as much as the owl itself. It was full of praise for the Firebolt and vivid descriptions of flying past a dragon.
Sirius assumed that Harry's use of Ron's owl meant that the boys had mended their fences. Nonetheless, Sirius could not help feeling a small bit of anger toward Ron-- toward anyone who dared make Harry unhappy-- as well as a small bit of irony that Harry had once again done better without parental advice than he would have done with it.
He sent Harry a letter of congratulations and set about planning a way of obtaining a good, godfatherly Christmas present now that he was certain Harry would see Christmas. At last, he decided to steal a useful penknife with attached knot- and lock-pickers that he rather liked himself. He knew that Harry would not approve of a stolen Christmas present, but decided that what Harry didn't know would not in this particular case hurt him. He and Harry could wait a few years before discussing situational ethics.
He then sent a letter to Remus. Inspired by Harry's description of the first task, he made note of every twist, turn, and glance that stealing the knife had involved.
The months which followed held the potential to be relaxing. Apparently, Harry harbored no fears about the second part of the Tournament, for he made no mention of it and indeed stopped writing except to inquire after Sirius and Buckbeak's well-being. But Sirius did not relax. He gave up his habit of occasionally hiring himself out as a Muggle. His habits of shaving and trying to keep his hair from matting were also discontinued. There hardly seemed to be a point. Instead, he devoted the whole of his time to scrounging Daily Prophets and waiting for the storm to arrive.
Arrive it did, in the form of a convoluted story about the unholy trinity of Snape, Crouch, and Mad-Eye Moody. Sirius was unable to report this information to Dumbledore, and so wrote the aged Headmaster a letter requesting permission to come nearer to Hogwarts. As soon as Dumbledore had described the location of a cave in Hogsmeade, Sirius and Buckbeak relocated and arranged a meeting with Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
Padfoot scrambled down the steep embankment to wait for the trio, and he smelled them before he saw them. They had chicken. They had chicken and for that he liked them even more than he had on the day that they had saved him from the dementors.
They came into sight looking much as Sirius had remembered them. They were a bit taller, naturally, and the bright sunlight emphasized sparkling eyes and shining hair. All three had thrown their cloaks casually over their shoulders, and they looked the picture of that which they were not: ordinary school children.
"Hello, Sirius," said Harry.
I have to remember to remind him not to call me by name, Padfoot thought to himself. He wagged his tail and led them up the mountainous path.
Once inside the cave, Padfoot transformed. Hermione threw herself at Buckbeak, to whom she was apparently quite attached despite her dislike for flying, but Harry stared at Sirius.
"Chicken," Sirius reminded his godson. Obediently, the boy handed over the food. "Thanks. I've been living off rats mostly. Can't steal too much food from Hogsmeade; I'd draw attention to myself." He smiled at Harry, who only forced a smile in return.
"What're you doing here, Sirius?" Sounds more paternal than I do. How does he manage that?
"Fulfilling my duty as a godfather," he answered at lightly as he could. "Don't worry about it, I'm pretending to be a loveable stray." Harry still wore a patented "I-am-not-amused" expression on his face. The expression had surely been inherited from Lily, but Sirius deemed it best not to mention as much for now. I suppose I have to try the truth without any jokes. "I want to be on the spot. Your last letter… let's just say things are getting fishier. I've been stealing the paper every time someone throws one out, and by the looks of things, I'm not the only one who's getting worried."
Harry was not prepared to let up. "What if they catch you? What if you're seen?"
First of all, I'm not stupid, and second of all, my life is worth nothing without yours. "You three and Dumbledore are the only ones around here who know I'm an Animagus."
Harry did not look prepared to let up, but Ron, who had been sorting through Sirius' collection of Daily Prophets, distracted him with an article about Bartemius Crouch. "They're making it sound like he's dying," Harry said thoughtfully. "But he can't be that ill if he's managed to get up here…"
"My brother's Crouch's personal assistant. He says Crouch is suffering from overwork," Ron picked up.
"He did look ill, the last time I saw him up close," Harry added. "The night my name came out of the Goblet…"
"Getting his comeuppance for sacking Winky, isn't he?" Hermione spoke at last. Her voice held disdain bordering on hatred for Crouch, and Sirius was reminded of how thoroughly he liked Harry's second-best-friend.
The next few moments were a flow of information involving Crouch's house-elf, an empty seat in the Top Box at the Quidditch World Cup, a stolen wand, Ludo Bagman and his alleged affection for Harry, and Hermione's dislike for Crouch.
"Hermione, will you give it a rest with the elf!" Ron snapped at last.
"She's got the measure of Crouch better than you have, Ron," Sirius interrupted, trying not to sound too harsh. "If you want to see what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." And this concludes today's portion of godfatherly advice. "All these absences of Barty Crouch's," Sirius mused aloud. "He goes to the trouble of making sure his house-elf saves him a seat at the Quidditch World Cup, but doesn't bother to turn up and watch. He works very hard to reinstate the Triwizard Tournament, and then stops coming to that too… It's not like Crouch." The bloody, arrogant, heartless, stupid bastard! "If he's ever taken a day off work because of illness before this, I'll eat Buckbeak."
"D'you know Crouch, then?" Harry asked keenly.
Sirius dropped all pretense of objectivity. "I know Crouch all right. He was the one who gave the order for me to be sent to Azkaban-- without a trial."
Not even Ron, the Ministry Brat, had known of this. "You're kidding!" Harry exclaimed.
Because it's so amusing. "No, I'm not. Crouch used to be Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, didn't you know? He was tipped for the next Minister of Magic. He's a great wizard, Barty Crouch, powerfully magical-- and power-hungry." The three young faces paled. Harry, Ron, and Hermione obviously subscribed to the view that ambition meant Dark tendencies. "Never a Voldemort supporter. No, Barty Crouch was always very outspoken against the Dark Side. But a lot of people who were against the Dark Side… well, you wouldn't understand… you're too young…"
Ron scowled. "That's what my Dad said at the World Cup. Try us, why don't you?"
As in the Shrieking Shack nearly a year earlier, Sirius was reminded of himself as a teenager. "All right, I'll try you…" He did his best to explain with words the virtually indescribable atmosphere of the world before Voldemort's first fall. The three students listened intently, and proved themselves well worth trying. Still, Sirius wished that he could have spoken about Quidditch and school dances with his godson and political concerns with someone more likely to recognize real clues for what they were rather than mention them accidentally. He rubbed his eyes tiredly. "What time is it?"
"It's half past three," Hermione informed him
"You'd better get back to school. Now, listen." Let's hope you're better at listening than I used to be. "I don't want you lot sneaking out of school to see me, all right? Just send notes to me. I still want to hear about anything odd. But you're not to go leaving Hogwarts without permission; it would be an ideal opportunity for someone to attack you."
"No one's tried to attack me so far, except a dragon and a couple of grindylows," said Harry.
Sure, now you remember your sense of sarcasm. Where do you get off worrying about me and not yourself? Is this some sort of inbred Potter trait? "I don't care. I'll breathe freely again when this tournament's over, and that's not until June. And don't forget, if you're talking about me among yourselves, call me Snuffles, okay?"
He walked them back to the village and resumed scrounging papers and thinking troubled thoughts.
If Snape really was associated with Death Eaters, I can't imagine why Dumbledore allowed him in. It would be like Mad-Eye to be paranoid about anything, but Crouch never bothered looking for evidence. I suppose if Snape is under Dumbledore's protection, he'd have to… If he's looking into the sabotage of the Triwizard Tournament… or if he initiated the Tournament with the intent of taking down someone in Hogwarts, no, that's too far-fetched, but perhaps one of the other supporters… can't imagine Ludo Bagman's got the brains, might just be fascinated with Harry because he's James' son, might have played against James, can't remember… someone's doing Dark Magic at a high level, Bertha Jorkins was NEVER stupid, at least not that way… is the Dark Magic even connected to the Tournament?... I can't see Karkaroff going back, not after the way he turned on the Death Eaters… not popular in Azkaban, that one… not Karkaroff, someone else, but how does he know Snape…
The thoughts refused to take an exact shape in his mind. He wished again for someone off of whom to bounce ideas, but he was trying to stay hidden in a fairly public place and wanted to save any conspicuous correspondence for Harry:
You aren't going to like this very much.
Sirius did not find this the most comforting opening to a letter that he had ever come across.
I was just called outside with the other champions. They wanted to tell us about the final task. It's to be a maze, and they claim it will be fun, but Hagrid is providing some of the obstacles so I have my doubts. That isn't what you aren't going to like very much.
So it got worse?
I expect you read or heard about the article about Hermione and Krum and me. To be clear, Hermione and I have NEVER dated. She's my friend, the same as Ron. I know you know this, but some people I thought would have put more thought into things have been horrible to Hermione. Ron's mother sent Ron and me eggs for Easter and only a small one to Hermione, and you'd think she'd know that if anyone fancies Hermione it's-- never mind. I'm not getting to the point.
Krum pulled me aside to talk about Hermione-- wanted to know, like everyone else, if there's ever been anything between us. We were wandering into the forest when we heard a noise-- and it was Mr. Crouch! He looked awful, was talking like he was mad, raving about his son and Ron's brother. He said things about Voldemort and a mistake and me, and that he needed to warn Dumbledore. I left Krum there with him and went to find Dumbledore, but Snape slowed me down, and by the time we got back Krum was alone and unconscious.
This qualifies as something unusual, but don't worry too much. Ron and Hermione and I are always together and we're fine.
Furious, Sirius wrote the fastest letter of his life.
Harry-- what do you think you are playing at, walking off into the forest with Viktor Krum? I want you to swear, by return owl, that you are not going to go walking with anyone else at night. There is somebody highly dangerous at Hogwarts. It is clear to me that they wanted to stop Crouch from seeing Dumbledore and you were probably feet away from them in the dark. You could have been killed.
Your name didn't get into the Goblet of Fire by accident. If someone's trying to attack you, they're on their last chance. Stay close to Ron and Hermione, do not leave Gryffindor Tower after hours, and arm yourself for the third task. Practice stunning and disarming. A few hexes wouldn't go amiss, either. There's nothing you can do about Crouch. Keep your head down and look after yourself. I'm waiting for your letter giving me your word you won't stray out of bounds again.
The reply was swift.
I will do as you asked. You have my word. Don't worry.
Don't worry, indeed!
Sirius wrote to Harry every day thereafter. All thoughts of solving the mysteries of Crouch and Bertha Jorkins, all memories of Azkaban, all fears of pushing Harry to quickly to accept his godfather into his life, and even all plans for vengeance against Pettigrew were forced from his mind. All that mattered was Harry's safety, and while the letters did nothing to protect him, they were better than nothing.
The letters varied little from day to day, as they shared a common set of phrases.
I'm worried about you.
Your safety is the most important thing.
Stay near Ron and Hermione.
Stay within Dumbledore's protection.
Don't talk to anyone you don't know well.
Worry about the maze before you worry about anything else.
Take no risks.
On the morning of the final task, Sirius could not even connect his thoughts to write his usual letter of warning. Instead, he sent a scrap of folded parchment that could pass as a good-luck card and set out after the owl for Hogwarts. He lay in Hagrid's pumpkin patch as inconspicuously as possible and awaited the sound of screams.
He had a long wait. Around noon, Dumbledore himself strolled down to see him. "I see you're already here," he said, his sharp eyes dancing across Padfoot's body. "Don't transform. Ron's mother and brother are here to support Harry, and the contest isn't until this evening. As soon as it's over, I'll send him down to see you. All right?"
Padfoot nodded, feeling everything in the world other than "all right." He would have loved nothing better than to stand up and pace the length of the pumpkin patch, but doing so would have caught the attention of passersby.
As the sun fell lower in the sky, Padfoot grew more anxious, and each exhalation became a whine. Every shout of every student who ran down to the Quidditch Pitch added to the horror of the wait.
By the time the screams and shouts of the crowd turned to a collective gasp, Padfoot had stopped breathing entirely.
He's dead, he's dead, he's dead. He didn't come to see me, so he must be dead, and something made the crowd calm down so he must be dead. The last Potter… James…
When footsteps at last approached Padfoot, they belonged not to Dumbledore but to McGonagall. "Dumbledore says you're to come with me," she informed him. She eyed him as he scrambled hastily to his feet and awaited her direction. She looked him over, but, never one to ignore Dumbledore's wishes, she led him to the Headmaster's office. He was not aware of his claws clinking against the floor of the corridors or of any of his surroundings. "He'll be with you shortly."
TO TELL ME HARRY'S DEAD! I'M SORRY, HARRY, I'M SORRY!
He changed back into human form to greet Dumbledore and thank him for his help before he served himself to the dementors. A cool wave of understanding passed over him, a wave of understanding he had felt just once before, on the day in 1981 when he had tracked down Peter Pettigrew with the intent of avenging Harry's parents' deaths.
But when the door was opened, Dumbledore was accompanied by Harry. Sirius crossed the room in one jump. "Harry, are you all right? I knew it-- I knew something like this-- what happened?" Any relief Sirius had felt was short-lived. Harry was a disheveled mess and one leg was not bearing his weight. Sirius shook as he pulled out a chair and half-placed Harry in it. The desire to do more was palpable, but he could not know the extent of Harry's injuries, and his eyes… his eyes… "What happened?" he repeated.
It was Dumbledore who answered. "You came closer than you would have hoped when you tried to analyze the situation. Professor Moody was not Professor Moody; it was Barty Crouch, the younger, under the influence of Polyjuice Potion. You were not the first Azkaban escapee." Sirius nodded numbly, his still shaking hands gripping the back of Harry's chair. "His mother came to visit him, dying, and with Polyjuice Potion she took his place. His father kept him confined, but as the years passed, he gained strength and placed his father under the Imperius Curse. It was he who conjured the Dark Mark at the World Cup. It was he who put Harry's name in the Goblet with the intent of handing him to Voldemort. The Cup at the end of the maze was a Portkey, and while Harry came back alive, our other champion did not."
As Dumbledore completed his brief explanation of events, Fawkes the phoenix perched himself in Harry's lap.
"'Lo, Fawkes," Harry whispered. It was the first time Harry had spoken, and his voice sound world-weary and raspy.
Dumbledore crossed the room to look Harry in the eye. "I need to know what happened after you touched the Portkey in the maze, Harry."
Hot ire rose in Sirius. His hand crept from the back of the chair to Harry's shoulder which, while thankfully warm, did not feel as if it belonged to a living thing. "We can leave that till morning, can't we, Dumbledore? Let him have a sleep. Let him rest." It was the very least Sirius could do to keep Dumbledore from interrogating Harry just yet. James and Lily ought to be here, comforting Harry. Harry ought to have grown up with Sirius so that Sirius would have had the right to pull him into his lap, and let him fall asleep, and take him home where he could be a child instead of a part of Voldemort's insane plan for world domination.
Dumbledore ignored Sirius and directed himself to Harry. "If I thought I could help you by putting you into an enchanted sleep and allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think about what has happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better. Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it. You have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you. I ask you to demonstrate your courage one more time. I ask you to tell us what happened."
Harry took a deep breath and began haltingly. "We-- we slammed into the ground and I asked where we were, but Cedric just shook his head. We looked around, we were in a graveyard by an old house. Cedric asked if I knew the Cup was a Porkey, because we'd been telling each other things about the Tournament all year, because everyone was cheating, but I said I hadn't known. And he said we should take our wands out, and I was really glad because-- because I didn't want to be the one to say it. Then we saw someone coming, carrying something, and then my scar exploded. I-- I-- dropped my wand and I almost passed out, but I heard someone, Voldemort, say 'Kill the spare,' and someone else yelled Avada Kedavra, and then Cedric was dead. Wormtail-- Wormtail tied me to Tom Riddle's headstone. They threw this thing into the cauldron-- bone of the father, Wormtail said, and then flesh of the servant, cut off his own hand… and then blood of the enemy, and he cut me…"
Sirius swore aloud, though he had not meant ever to swear before his godson, and gripped Harry's shoulder more tightly. "Show us," commanded Dumbledore. Harry moved almost painfully to draw up his sleeve.
"He cut me there. He said my blood would make him stronger than someone else's. He said the protection my-- my mother left in me-- he'd have it, too. And he was right-- he could touch me without hurting himself, he touched my face."
"Very well," said Dumbledore. "Voldemort has overcome that particular barrier. Harry, continue, please."
"He-- he explained about his parents, and that the Death Eaters were his real family. They Apparated in a circle and they fell on their knees and kissed his robes. He said they should have come to him sooner. He said he was disappointed. He said-- he didn't forgive them. He put the Cruciatus Curse on-- I think it was Avery. And then he gave Wormtail a silver hand to repay him for helping him rise again." Sirius felt his blood rise at the repeated mention of Wormtail's name. "Then he went through the other Death Eaters, asking them to do better… he said they should have helped but he still had the power to possess other bodies… he talked about Quirrell, and how Wormtail captured Bertha Jorkins so they could use her information… he said a lot I can't really remember and then he put the Cruciatus Curse on me…"
Sirius tried his best to relax his grip on Harry's shoulder as it occurred to him that he might be making Harry's pain worse. But relaxing had been an impossibility for a long while.
Harry gallantly resumed his narration. "Wormtail untied me and gave me my wand, Voldemort wanted to duel with me, he did something to make me bow to him. And the Cruciatus Curse again-- then he tried the Imperius Curse but that doesn't work on me, and he yelled Avada Kedavra and I yelled Expeliarmus because it's the only dueling spell I know-- the wands connected--"
Harry's mouth moved uselessly a few more times, but he was clearly unable to speak. Sirius inwardly cursed Dumbledore for forcing Harry to relive this so quickly, for good reason or not.
"Their wands connected?" he asked, addressing himself to Dumbledore to give Harry a break. "Why?"
"Priori Incantantem," Dumbledore muttered.
"The Reverse Spell effect?" Sirius translated. He knew he had learned about it, once, probably the day before he took his NEWTs. It was an obscure bit of magic.
"Exactly," said Dumbledore. "Harry's wand and Voldemort's wand share cores." The headmaster went on to explain that none other than Fawkes had donated the cores of the wands. Somehow, Sirius was unsurprised.
"What happens when a wand meets its brother?" he asked.
"They will not work properly against each other. If, however, the owners of the wands force the wands to do battle, a very rare effect will take place. One of the wands will force the other to regurgitate the spells it had performed-- in reverse. The most recent first… and then those which preceded it… Which means that some form of Cedric must have reappeared."
Harry nodded in confirmation.
"Diggory came back to life?" asked Sirius, startled. He had always been told that no spell woke the dead, but he really had not remembered much of the NEWTs by the time he had gotten his results.
"No spell can reawaken the dead. All that would have happened is a kind of reverse echo. A shadow of the living Cedric would have emerged from the wand… am I correct, Harry?"
Harry's trembling intensified, and Sirius again beat down the urge to pick him up as if he were much younger than fourteen. You hardly want to add abject humiliation to this, do you? You can't make things any better. "He spoke to me," Harry's voice shook. "The ghost Cedric, or whatever he was, spoke."
"An echo," repeated Dumbledore, "which retained Cedric's appearance and character. I am guessing other such forms appeared… less recent victims of Voldemort's wand…"
"And old man." Harry's voice was thick with unshed tears. "Bertha Jorkins. And…"
Harry trailed off, but Dumbledore completed the phrase. "Your parents?"
"Yes." Harry was almost inaudible. Sirius had never felt more helpless in his life, but Dumbledore methodically continued the interrogation. "Ced-- Cedric told me to hold on, and so did Bertha Jorkins. The old man… my-- my mother--"
Lily. Sirius' hand slipped limply and unwillingly from Harry's shoulder.
"She said my father was coming. She said-- it-- said it would be all right--"
Had Lily taken up lying in the afterlife? The absurdity of the thought caused something to snap inside Sirius, and the tears that Harry had been able to restrain threatened to fill his eyes. He buried his face in his hands and drew in a deep breath. Focus… Harry's here… help Harry…
"My father said that when the spell broke, they-- they-- would stay-- for just long enough-- for me to get to the Portkey."
Good plan, James. You're dead and you protect him better than I do. I'm so sorry, Harry.
"And Cedric asked for me to take his body to his paren…" Harry lost all ability to speak and Sirius looked up as Dumbledore at last agreed to let Harry adjourn to the hospital wing.
"Sirius, would you like to stay with him?"
It seemed odd that Dumbledore would even ask. Sirius nodded, not yet trusting his voice, and transformed.
The Weasleys and Hermione pounced upon Harry when he arrived, and Padfoot felt a mix of deep gratitude and petty jealousy toward them. Harry was dosed with sleeping potion, and Padfoot sat with his head resting on Harry's cot. Hermione and Ron temporarily tore their eyes from Harry to give the dog knowing, sympathetic looks, and he wagged his tail once in response.
"Do you know that animal?" Mrs. Weasley asked sharply.
"He's fine, Mum," said Ron in a low, non-committal voice.
"I know that, or Dumbledore wouldn't have let him stay."
"Harry's very fond of him," Hermione jumped in, her voice more convincing than Ron's had been. "And he's very protective of Harry. We met him in Hogsmeade, you know, and it just makes Harry… safer when he's here."
Mrs. Weasley seemed to accept the explanation, and they waited together in complete silence from then on.
The silence was broken by the arrival of Cornelius Fudge, Minerva McGonagall, and, to Padfoot's disgust, Severus Snape. Snape, for the first time in memory, lost his position at the top of Padfoot's list of people he did not like when Fudge revealed that he had had Crouch's soul removed and questioned Harry's sanity.
Padfoot growled. Fudge ignored him. "You are prepared to believe that Lord Voldemort has returned on the word of a lunatic murderer and a boy who… well…"
"You've been reading Rita Skeeter, Mr. Fudge," said Harry quietly. Padfoot had not realized the boy had awakened. But nothing Harry and Dumbledore said would convince Fudge that Voldemort had risen.
And then Snape strode forward and pulled up the sleeve of his robe. Padfoot stood up out of reflex as Snape spoke. "There! There. The Dark Mark." He was a Death Eater! But I never heard a word… "It is not as clear as it was an hour or so ago, when it burned black, but you can still see it. Every Death Eater had the sign burned into him by the Dark Lord. It was a means of distinguishing one another, and his means of summoning us to him." The things I don't know! "This Mark has been growing clearer all year…"
Padfoot was in shock, and Fudge must have been as well, because he stormed from the room accusing Snape of playing games when he should have realized that Snape had no sense of humor. Dumbledore proceeded to give orders to the others, and Padfoot had settled down to stare at Snape and reconsider him when Dumbledore looked him in the eye. "Resume your usual form."
Mrs. Weasley screamed. "Sirius Black!" I suppose I'm still on the recognizable side.
"Mum, shut up!" Ron yelled. "It's okay!"
Sirius could not contemplate what Ron's mother might do to punish her youngest son because he was busy glaring at Snape, who was busy pretending righteous outrage.
"It is time," Sirius heard Dumbledore say through the haze of his glare, "for the two of you to lay aside your old differences and trust each other." And perhaps I'll also start trusting Wormtail to look after Harry! "I will settle in the short term for a lack of open hostility." That's a more likely goal for the long-term, that. "You are on the same side now. Time is short, and unless the few of us who know the truth stand united, there is no hope for any of us."
Sirius, careful to move no more quickly than Snape, reached out and brushed his hand against the other man's. He vowed to cleanse his hand with boiling oil at the soonest possible opportunity.
"That will do to be going on with," Dumbledore continued. "Now I have work for each of you. Fudge's attitude, though not unexpected, changes everything. Sirius, I need you to set off at once. You are to alert Remus Lupin, Arabella Figg, Mundungus Fletcher-- the old crowd. Lie low at Lupin's for a while; I will contact you there."
"But--" Harry put in.
Sirius turned to his godson. Harry knew that there was no way a convicted criminal could remain for too long a time at Hogwarts. Harry further had the support of more people than he knew what to do with, considering that he thought all affection and fussing to be smothering and embarrassing. The best thing Sirius could do for Harry was follow Dumbledore's orders. He was of no good to Harry now-- it seemed that Mrs. Weasley had a better chance of helping him. "You'll see me very soon. I promise you. But I must do what I can, you understand, don't you?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "Yeah, of course I do." Sirius briefly took Harry's hand-- surely this simple gesture was not enough to set off Harry's fourteen-year-old anti-fussing alarms-- and left swiftly.
He bounded from the castle and ran in dog form down the familiar path to Hogsmeade. The hike to his cavernous hiding place had never seemed so steep. Changing back, he half-shouted "Buckbeak!" He barely bothered to bow, but the hippogriff accepted his offering. A year of co-habitation had convinced Buckbeak to grant his fellow fugitive some leeway. "We're going to Surrey. Little Whinging. And we're going now, before we lose the darkness."
He led Buckbeak from the cave and then mounted the animal, glad to be riding and not running. "I know we're doing something for Harry now," he told the animal as they took off, "but it doesn't feel like it. I wish… I almost wish I could have hugged him. I just want to take him home. But he has people he trusts more than me, and I don't have a home to take him to."
They flew almost halfway to their destination before the bright sky forced them to stop. "We'd do better if I had a wand," Sirius grumbled, but Buckbeak gave him a look of obvious disagreement. "All right, I know you're doing all the work." Pleased with this admission, Buckbeak lay down to sleep. Sirius was unable to join him; he was in fact unable to do anything but remember the pain on Harry's face. "I'm a hell of a good godfather," he told himself sarcastically. "And perhaps I'll stop talking out loud now as I don't want to be caught before Harry turns fifteen."
The next night took them to the house from which Arabella Figg had reported on Harry's growth during the long years before the boy started Hogwarts.
Sirius dismounted Buckbeak and promptly had to grab onto him for support. He had neither eaten nor slept since before the Third Task, and now he was dizzy and sore from long hours of riding. He looked around the quiet street, but no one had noticed the commotion.
He decided that he had best ring the doorbell. Then he decided that he had best ring the doorbell many, many times to ensure that Arabella would arise. He heard footsteps on stairs, and then the door opened.
"Who do you think you are, leaning on-- Sirius Black!" She jumped back in alarm, but Sirius did not feel the need to be delicate in his explanations.
"Dumbledore sent me to speak to you."
She stepped backwards once more. "He-- he contacted me and said not to be alarmed."
"Then perhaps you should take his word for it."
"Of-- of course. Won't you come in?" She looked reluctant, and he felt reluctant. He was no longer used to the insides of houses, and this one smelled of cats and cabbage.
"I need to hide my hippogriff." He gestured at Buckbeak.
She looked around anxiously. "Bring him inside, too."
Sirius shrugged. It seemed the only solution in a densely populated Muggle neighborhood. "Come on, Buckbeak." The hippogriff froze. He had not likely been invited inside a house before. Or perhaps he has. One never does know with Hagrid. Perhaps he doesn't like cabbage… "Come along," Sirius repeated.
"Yes," Arabella urged the great beast. "Come in, visit Smokey and Chester and Spike."
Sirius briefly flicked his eyes from Buckbeak to Arabella. "Your cats?"
"Yes," she said proudly. Once the hippogriff was inside, he lay down contentedly on the living room floor. Sirius merely glanced about, wondering how much time Harry had spent in this very room as a young boy. He felt a familiar lance of jealousy, and an added jolt of anger. I can't imagine Arabella did much to make Harry's visits here more pleasant than living with his miserable relatives.
She had also been scarred by the last war, he knew. Everyone who had been close to Dumbledore had been hurt, but everyone accepted the hurt as mitigated by the results of the war.
"Get your rest, Buckbeak," Sirius said, more comfortable talking to the familiar hippogriff than the unfamiliar human. "We're leaving tonight."
"Tonight?" asked Arabella. "Don't you need more time to take care of yourself?"
"I'd never impose myself on you."
"What do you know about the Triwizard Tournament?"
"Very little. Dumbledore has sent me messages, but I don't subscribe to the Daily Prophet-- it would be too suspicious around here-- and I like living as a Muggle."
Sirius nodded and steeled himself for a detailed explanation. "Things went badly, to say the least…"
"I see why Dumbledore had to send someone to speak to me in person," she said wryly as she wandered into her kitchen and returned with food for both Sirius and Buckbeak. Sirius was most of the way through his meal before he realized that it was quite stale. When he did realize it, he did not care. "Are you certain that you need to leave tonight?" Arabella asked when he had finished.
"Yes. A whole list of people to speak to-- the old crowd."
"Do you want me to speak to some of them for you? It would speed things along."
Sirius nodded. "Yes, thank you." They divided up the list over cups of tea, and Sirius felt his initial anger at the old woman fading. It was not her fault that she had watched Harry grow up and he had not. Harry. The sooner this task was completed, the sooner Sirius would see Harry. If he had delayed, he might have visited Harry while informing Arabella of the problems, but time was of the utmost importance, and so he had arrived here before Harry had even left Hogwarts. In a way, it was comforting to Sirius to breathe the air Harry had breathed and drink from a teacup he might have touched.
You're obsessed, Black. But it's not a bad obsession.
Sirius was given a bedroom in which to sleep the day away, but as soon as Arabella left he turned himself into a dog and curled up on the floor. He was not going to risk suffering a human night terror in the home of a woman he barely knew. Sleeping as a human was unfamiliar and left him feeling defenseless.
Arabella woke him at dusk and sent him on his way. It was a hard journey to Mundungus, but the results were much the same. Mundungus agreed to help Dumbledore in any way that he could.
And then Sirius was on his way to Remus. Neither Arabella nor Mundungus had known Remus' exact address, and so Sirius left Buckbeak tethered in a convenient cave and went searching in dog form. The travel was harder than he had expected; he was as worn as he had been since escaping Azkabam. I'm going to collapse as soon as I get to his house, he thought ruefully. Perhaps it would have been better to let Arabella or Mundungus do more for him. He did not want to embarrass himself in front of Remus… he missed Remus… but he was nervous… and then a scent caught his animal nose.
He could only hope that this meeting with Remus would be better than his last.
That there was hope at all was at least a start.
(To see Sirius meet up with Remus, go on to Innocence Lost and Found. You can find it here at ff.n on my author page. It's better than its title—and yes, I know that isn't saying much.)
Answer to comment from review:
Too many authors have had Dumbledore giving Remus the job offer the day after the full moon. I'm still trying to see the sense in that.
I can't see it happening any other way. Firstly, Remus is easiest to find on the day after a full moon. There are a limited number of places he could be. Secondly, he's easier to argue with when he's exhausted. It's not that you'd win an argument with him you'd normally lose, but you might win an argument faster than you usually would. Wolfsbane Potion is probably a more powerful bribe right after a transformation than when a transformation is weeks away. Thirdly, if Dumbledore goes to see him the morning after a transformation, he "just happens to be there" to take care of him. Fourthly, in this case, Dumbledore wants to be the one to tell him that Sirius broke out of Azkaban, and I firmly believe that Sirius did that when the moon was full or nearly full (because his big advantage over dementors is that he can see and they can't, and because full moons are indirectly connected to his sense of dog/self/reality).
Note of Revision: I reposted this story in October 2007, 6 years after the original writing (this was written when there were only 4 books in the series). As you can see, I did not make it canon-compliant; I mostly improved the formatting. I'm surprisingly fond of my plotless wonder here 6 years later; my fifth year trilogy makes me want to poke my own eyes out.
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed over the years.