I was gone – before Dumbledore gave the order for the Professors to search, before Remus could stop me, before the students had stopped gasping, I tore down the castle stairs and through the halls and sprinted out the front doors. I was halfway down the grand sloping lawns of Hogwarts when I heard someone shouting by name from back at the castle's entrance. I ignored them and ran faster towards the Whomping Willow. I knew that my chances of finding Sirius there were slim, as he knew that Dumbledore knew about the Shrieking Shack, but it seemed foolish not to check.
I raced down the tunnel and into the Shrieking Shack. "Homenum Revelio!" I shouted. There was nobody there. I ran back out. I saw Remus running after me, but McGonagall managed to catch him and persuade him back inside the castle, where he was needed. Behind them both, Snape appeared at the front doors, watching Remus suspiciously.
Before Snape could spot me, I quickly ducked behind the Whomping Willow. In a split second, I transformed into Crookshanks. Then, before the Whomping Willow could strike me with one its branches, I jumped lithely out of reach of its vicious branches and disappeared into the Forbidden Forest.
I put my nose to the ground and sniffed. It was difficult to detect the different smells present here, as I was not familiar with the forest, but then I caught it – a dim scent of metal. The knife! And there was tiny fleck of dried paint on the ground. Paint from the Fat Lady's canvas.
I tried to follow the scent as best as I could, deep into the Forest. It led me to a solid wall of ivy. I paused, confused. There's nowhere to go from here.
However, as the ivy swayed gently in the wind, my cat eyes detected how the shadows were absent in one part of the rock. It's an alcove, I realized. There's an opening in the rock. It's just hard to see because of all of the ivy branches in the way.
I hesitantly pawed at the wall of ivy and leaves in front of me. I gave it a couple swats. I thought I heard something like a low growl. I pawed at the wall again, this time much more aggressively-
A loud bark shattered the buzzing, but altogether silent forest air, as a large black dog, easily three or four times larger than me, barreled into me.
I hissed and when he tried to pin me down to the ground with his paws, I swiped at him. He backed off slightly, not wanting to be scratched by my claws. Spitting madly, fur on end, I shot up and jumped about five feet away from him. For a long, tense moment, we were at a standstill, sizing each other up – and we both immediately calculated that I was the obvious loser in a fight between us.
The leaves crunched as the dog took a step forward towards me. My cat instincts, which did not at all take well to dogs and were in an absolute frenzy after having been knocked over and nearly pinned down by one, kicked in and I immediately took off and scampered up a tree, where he couldn't get to me.
I perched myself on top of a high branch and waited, buried in my tail. I looked rather like a bird's nest. I was trembling, both because as a cat, I'd nearly been killed by a huge, aggressive dog and because… because it was him. Sirius. In Padfoot form, but still. Sirius. During that second of standstill, I'd looked him over and it was undoubtedly him- starved, gaunt, and ragged- but it was him. Sirius. I shivered violently, afraid to look again and see him gone.
There was something about having actually seen him that felt like a release. For so long, the anxiety had plagued me until it had made a home in me. You could see it in the way my hands trembled these days. And now, upon actually seeing him, it was as though that energy had burst within me and was all coming out at once. I felt hyper-alert, almost lifted out of my own body, but the rational part of my mind was scared, scared at what was happening to me. And the cat part of my mind was focused solely on survival, on instinct, on maintaining a safe distance between myself and this large, aggressive black dog.
I was torn. Should I show myself? Should I reveal who I really am? I want to see him, as Sirius.
But he didn't come to you, the rational part of my mind whispered. He never came and found you. And think about the way he acted tonight. He attacked the Fat Lady with a knife! He might be unhinged. He might not really be himself.
I heard a low whine from below. I carefully peered down. Padfoot was standing at the foot of the tree, pawing at the trunk and whining while looking up at me. He obviously didn't know who I really was, as I had never told him about my Animagus form. But, though I did not know it, he remembered me from that night when there had been a winter snow storm and both he and I had had to save ourselves from Remus in his werewolf form. Based on that old memory, Padfoot was inclined to trust me. When he saw my bright orange head poke out from atop the branches, he whined again, plainly wanting me to come down.
Seeing my general anxiety and unwillingness to come closer, Padfoot sat down on his haunches and tucked his tail between his legs to show that he meant no harm. He waited patiently as I got the courage to drop down the tree branch by branch. Finally, I dropped down next to him. Again, his size intimidated me. I quickly slunk around the trunk of the tree so that the tree was in-between us, and poked out only my head to look at him. When Padfoot, clearly excited, got up on all fours, I cowered and slunk back to hide myself behind the tree. He quickly sat down again.
Slowly, I approached him, sniffing him and all around him. The scent of metal lingered on him. The sharp, metallic scent was particularly off-putting for my cat senses, but I fought the desire to run away. I remained near the base of the trunk, ready to scamper back up it as needed, but I finally sat down in front of Padfoot. Padfoot's tail slowly slid out from under him, as he slowly wagged it. It was a bit stiff as he, too, was trying to assess the situation, but he didn't feel too threatened by me anymore. We stayed that way for a while, just gazing at each other.
Why didn't he come to me? Seeing him before me now, even in dog form, I could tell that Sirius had, in fact, managed to keep his mind despite twelve years in Azkaban. Of course, it must have changed him. And I still wasn't sure why he had acted so aggressively tonight. I wanted to ask him why he attacked the Fat Lady with a knife, instead of taking a multitude of other actions, not the least of which would be to come find me and Remus for help. I just couldn't understand. I had spent all of these past years wanting to see him, the way he was before me now. And he had escaped Azkaban now, and seemed to be in his right mind, and didn't give a single thought to Remus or me. What was he thinking of, then? Why was he back? Why was he at Hogwarts? Perhaps the dementors had changed him in a way that was deeper than I could guess. What if he really is after Harry? That's the only thing that could explain his actions. Why else would he enter Gryffindor Tower with a knife, if it wasn't to go after Harry? But he wouldn't. He wouldn't hurt Harry. A tumult of emotions was rising within me, only tampered down by the fact that I was cat and my emotions translated into something simpler. There were so many things that I didn't understand, as Sirius' actions did not at all line up with an innocent man's, even though I believed him to be innocent, even though I had spent so many years arguing for his release. And then there was a sharp and bitter pain that was cutting deep within me, arising from the simple fact that he had not relied on me, that he had not come to find me.
After some time, one of Padfoot's ear cocked up as he turned his head in confusion. He was thinking of how to communicate with me. He finally jerked his head towards the north, and then slowly got onto his feet. He turned and began to trot away. He had gone forward a little ways before he stopped and looked back at me. Slowly, I rose up and began to follow him, though keeping my distance.
He led me all the way back to the outskirts of the forest, until we could clearly see Hogwarts. He looked at it pointedly and then looked at me. When I didn't react, he repeated the action, pointing his nose at the castle before drawing a line through the air with his nose to me. I wondered if he was asking me if I came from the castle. Slowly, I nodded. He seemed giddy at this, though he tried to control himself. He shifted on his haunches and then he got up and turned in circles a few times before finally coming to sit closer to me. I tilted my big bushy orange head up at him. What are you up to, Sirius?
In truth, my mind was screaming in desperation. I wanted so badly to transform into my human self and to ask him to confirm what I had so desperately asserted for the past twelve years. You weren't the one responsible for Lily and James' deaths, right? Tell me you weren't. Tell me it wasn't you. Tell me it wasn't you that killed Peter. Tell me you remember me, and that you really loved me. Tell me… My heart thrummed loudly.
Padfoot could hear it. He looked at me, a bit startled. His ears came up and he tried to approach me again, but I found myself skittering backwards from him. He whined softly and putting his head down, came closer to me. I hissed and swiped at him with my paw, warning him to stay away. He stopped in his tracks. I jumped into a pile of bushes, shivering violently. Do cats cry? I was about to find my answer.
I heard Padfoot plod up to the pile of leaves I was in, and I could hear his panting as he waited for me. But time passed, and I didn't move. Eventually, I heard him leave, his heavy paws trotting through the forest, back to that alcove that was his hiding spot. He had no sooner disappeared, than I found myself thinking: Come back. Come back to me.
I'd sent Mad-Eye my report on the pureblood families I had been asked to infiltrate and investigate. My report concluded that Sirius Black had not contacted any of them. Mad-Eye's reply to my report was simply four words scrawled out on paper: Get out of there. I let out a half-amused, half-resigned sigh as I read his note. Good old Mad-Eye, always to the point.
I stuffed the note inside my cloak. As I did, I felt the edges of another envelope inside my cloak. I didn't have to re-open it to remember what it said. It was from Raylynx. Phrases from her letter flashed through my mind:
I'm all right, Jasper. Please don't worry about me.
I don't know what your work entails, but please stay safe.
I miss you…
I remembered the conversation we'd had on our very first date. Although she tried very sweetly to be present for me, I could tell quite easily that she was distracted throughout the entire evening. Finally, I had walked her home. Just before we parted, Raylynx had said to me: "I didn't lose him. Not yet."
And I recalled what I had said to her: "Sirius Black may never leave Azkaban."
Clearly, I had been wrong, I thought wryly. But the irony lost its effect on me quickly as I considered what Raylynx was going through now.
I couldn't imagine how I would feel if I discovered that my ex-wife, who had passed away many years ago, shortly after our marriage, had returned to this world. If I was given the opportunity to start over, to lover her again, wouldn't I take it? It was all I wanted for so long – to see Annabelle's face again, to caress her face, and kiss her. Annabelle had been a Healer and as her uncle had been good friends with my uncle, whenever I was injured by another animal or whenever I injured myself during my transformations, she was there to take care of me. It was a fairytale love, the kind most people only get to dream about. But it shattered, like a crystal piece that falls onto marble – it never stood a chance. She contracted a disease from one of her patients, only it mutated in her in a way that made it impossible to save her. She wouldn't let me come see her, for fear that I would catch it too. I didn't care. I wouldn't regret it if I died with her, after all. But she won, and she died while I was standing outside her door, begging her to stay with me or at least to let me in. When I returned home, I found that she had left me a letter. The last words of the letter were: Jasper, you have to live your life. Keep moving forward, for the both of you. I will be with you, and I will be happy when you are, always.
Despite her words, I never thought happiness would find me again. I did try to keep living. I accompanied my uncle on his journeys. I also tried to be kinder, to go out of my way to help people, to talk to more strangers, and to show the world around me even a little of the gentleness and kindness that Annabelle had taught me. But I never believed that I would another person like her. And I was right. There was no one in the world like Annabelle. There still wasn't.
But Raylynx Kingsley was a force unto her own. And something about the headstrong way that she approached life made me re-think my own life, forced me to re-examine the manner in which I was living, and to think harder about whether there was more I could do to be a part of this world. And I saw in her the same grief that had captured my life for so long. All of her protesting and locking herself away – that was what I did after Annabelle died. It was only years later that I discovered that the world moves on without you, whether you protest it or not. And I wanted to save Raylynx from the grief she was heading into. I could see it sinking its teeth into her, and stranger though she was, I felt some kind of responsibility for her, simply because she appeared before me. But then, day by day, she shattered all my presumptions about her, and I began to realize the quiet, but unshakeable bravery and conviction within her. Her courage was tied to grief, undoubtedly, but it was more than that – something beyond logic or reality or even hope. Hers was a courage that could exist even in the face of total darkness and utter denial. It was the simple notion of doing what was right.
After meeting Raylynx at the Kaiuses for the first time during our discovery of the Wolfsbane Potion, the next time I met her was at the Ministry of Magic. A guard was handling her rather forcefully, and recognizing her, though a bit vaguely, I'd stepped in to see her out instead.
As she headed out, she'd said to me: "But don't be surprised if you see me again."
"Are you protesting something?" I'd asked.
"I'm protesting the imprisonment of Sirius Black."
"You don't think a mass murderer should be locked up?"
"I don't think he is a mass murderer."
After that, by going on Auror undercover missions with her, I'd quickly learned to admire and trust her sense of magic. She had a different way of thinking about magic and sometimes it hindered her, but when she was allowed to shine, she did so brilliantly.
And then, there was that fight at the opera house that cemented my respect for her.
Gregory, the Head Auror at the time (and my mentor who I was currently trying to get re-instated), sighed as Raylynx ran off to St. Mungo's to see Alice and Frank before we headed out to capture the Lestranges. "Jasper, m'boy, will you keep an eye on her? Bring her back to Auror headquarters," Gregory requested. I'd obliged, not really understanding what was going on. But then I saw Raylynx approach her friend's bed and call her name, "Alice," with such certainty that Alice would respond, only to see that her friend Alice had been affected in such a brutal, cruel, and irretrievable way.
Only a few hours later, the fight at the opera house had broken out between the Aurors and Lestranges. Mad-Eye and I ran out of the inner chambers of the opera house into the grand entrance hall. It was clear that the marble columns had collapsed into a circle, trapping in the two witches – Raylynx Kingsley and Bellatrix Lestrange, who both wanted nothing more than to kill each other.
There was dust everywhere, but just over the fallen columns, I could make out Raylynx's silhouette. Her arm was stretched out and her wand was pointed at a fallen figure, lying against the columns - Bellatrix. So, Raylynx had bested Bellatrix.
My eyes focused in on her face, and I could see the pain and fury etched in her face. And yet, I saw her eyes flash with a deep, painful vulnerability. She trembled all over as she wavered between whether or not to kill Bellatrix Lestrange, the criminal who had just driven her best friend to madness. I had no doubt in my mind that if Raylynx choose to cast the Killing Curse on Bellatrix, she would be successful. But then, Raylynx lowered her wand. I had never respected someone so deeply as I respected Raylynx in that moment.
The respect I felt for her pushed me to advocate on her behalf by suggesting to Ahmed that she come with me on my mission to Albania. There, her quickness with helping me to secure the folder in the target's room, her brilliance with creating a powerful Ancient Runes circle with the dust on the basement floor, and her compassion in accepting that I was a werewolf despite the fast-approaching tragic consequences, stunned me.
From there on, on our other missions, I found myself slowly growing more and more curious about her. Her sharp focus, contrasted with her sudden bouts of shyness or awkwardness, made her endearing to me. This surprised me because I was a much more formal person, as was Annabelle, and people like Raylynx, who stumbled through her insecurities in front of everyone, tended not to be too close to people like me. I started to feel something change in me, and it was this change, more than her, that I initially craved. Thus, I was very open about it. I asked her for "a chance- if something were to happen, a chance to let it take its course…" and if this chance was to unfold, it would be with her. I could feel it.
It wasn't until Albania, when I saw her again, and she let me hold her and kept me warm as I recovered from the vampire venom, that I found myself realizing that it wasn't just the change I was after, that I so craved - it was her. I was already in love with her. Most likely, I had been, without even knowing it, for the past six years. I'd been so focused on re-starting my own life, chasing some spirit of animation, that I never questioned exactly where it came from. I understood now that it didn't come from her, or from me, but for what I felt for her, and the way I felt when she was with me. And when she kissed me on the train ride back, her lips were trembling against mine, and even though I knew it was her fear, I accepted it easily because I recognized it as the movement that would animate my life again - not through her, but with her.
And now, even though I loved being an undercover agent, even though I still got lost in the mission when I was carrying out, in quiet moments like this, I wondered if I had made the right choice to re-enter into such a consuming and cover position. Shouldn't I be by her side? Not just because of Sirius Black, but because…. because I want to see her more often. Every day, if possible.
And suddenly, in the depths of my heart, I knew what I would do if I had heard that Annabelle had returned to the living world. I would go and see her and greet her as an old friend and do all I could in my power to help her, but I would choose Raylynx. I would choose Raylynx Kingsley to spend the rest of my life with.
I made my way back up to my room, only to find Remus sitting beside my door, dozing off. I knelt down and said tiredly, "Remus."
His eyes fluttered open. He looked at me and frowned. "Where were you?" His voice caught, and he turned his face away from me and coughed.
I didn't reply to his question. "Were you here all night?" I asked Remus.
"Well, between shifts," Remus replied. "All of the professors were on guard. Except you, of course. Er, I must warn you, McGonagall's a bit irked at you."
"Maybe she'll lock me in with Snape to sort out a chimera this time. At some point, I hope she sees fit to lock me in with some animal that can eat him and we can all be done with Snape," I said wryly. Suddenly, my vision wavered slightly, and a high-pitched ringing started to grow in my ears.
"Where were you all night?" Remus asked me. "Are you just getting back?"
I swayed slightly, nearly falling forward. My hand shot out and hit the wall besides Remus. My mind felt dizzy.
"I'm all right," I said, and pushed myself up. Remus stood up, too.
"I imagine you were also searching for Sirius," Remus said to me.
I nodded once.
"Did you find him?" Remus asked me, his eyes studying my face.
I was silent for a moment. Then, I shook my head.
"He won't be easy to find," Remus said quietly. "Not if he's using Dark Arts."
"He won't be using Dark Arts," I retorted dismissively.
Remus sighed. "Perhaps not. He won't be using Dark Arts..." Then, he confessed the thing that was truly bothering him, "Not when he's an Animagus."
I paused, and I turned my head to look at Remus. His eyes were deeply haunted. In that moment, I understood why Remus preferred that Sirius be using the Dark Arts to get inside Hogwarts as opposed to using his dog form – because it came back to the idea that Remus was a werewolf. That, in Remus' mind, was where this all started. Not with Lily and James' death. Not even with Voldemort's rise. But when, he, Remus, was taken in by Dumbledore to attend Hogwarts and when Remus allowed his friend to become Animagus to accompany him as a werewolf. Remus was terrified of telling Dumbledore, the one man who had, time and time again, given him shelter when no one else would, that he had betrayed his trust.
I fell silent. I felt Remus' guilt deeply because, I too, had spent all night suffering from a parallel guilt. Some part of me, however small, wished that Sirius had gone mad, as opposed to the fact that he simply didn't care about me anymore, that he didn't trust me, or that he never had. I knew that it was ridiculous. After all, all I had wished for these past twelve years was Sirius' release and that when Sirius left Azkaban, that he would still be himself. And yet, even though that had clearly happened (at least from what I could tell), the utterly selfish part of me realized that I had not just been wishing for Sirius' return and well-being, but for his return to me – for him to hold me, and for me to hold him. It was so selfish, and yet…
In a slow and pained voice, Remus said, "I have been thinking… about telling Dumbledore that he is an Animagus. It seems to be the right thing to do." In Remus' eyes, I saw the heavy guilt weighing him down. But it flickered, and was replaced by an unwillingness to follow through.
"But it… it doesn't matter, right?" Remus said uncertainly, trying to persuade himself. "Sirius is likely using Dark Magic to keep himself hidden. It's not… It has nothing to do with being an Animagus. Right?"
I looked at Remus with pitying eyes.
"Maybe Snape is right about me," Remus whispered in a voice that was almost frightened. "If I don't tell Dumbledore about Sirius being an Animagus, aren't I just helping Sirius?" He reached up and covered his eyes with his hand, his fingers on his temples.
"Remus…" I reached out and touched the back of his hand. "Please don't think that way. You mustn't keep blaming yourself for everything."
Remus abruptly grasped my hand in his and pressed his other hand to my forehead. "Raylynx. You have a fever."
"I'll be all right. I am all right," I said, shaking my head a little and stepping away from him. "I just… need to sleep a little."
Remus weighed what he wanted to say in his mind. He didn't want to make me feel uncomfortable by revealing that he knew how much I was suffering – that he noticed my tremors, the marks on my hands, the dullness of my skin, the dark rings under my red eyes, and my sunken cheeks. But it had gone on for too long.
"Can you?" Remus asked me. "Can you sleep?"
I shot him a defensive, vexed look.
"When's the last time you slept properly?" Remus challenged me.
I gave an annoyed sigh. "Does it matter?" I said roughly.
"It does," he replied simply. His tone, though patient, was totally matter-of-fact. He pulled me along all the way to the Hospital Wing, where he asked Poppy to concoct me a Dreamless Sleeping Potion. When I protested, Remus turned to me and raised his eyebrow and said, "Would you prefer I ask Severus to concoct the potion for you?"
That shut me up, though I managed to glare at Remus all the up until my eyes slipped shut. The last thing I remember saying to Remus, "You're going to be worse than McGonagall in a month's time, I can see it already..." His lips twitched as he watched me fall asleep.
For the first night since Sirius' escape, I slept for more than a few hours and without my usual dreams of the deep, black ocean, a swarm of Inferi, a locket, and two figures lost in the waves, reaching for each other, and a hissing voice coming from the dark, stormy sky above, asking me how I could have failed so horribly as to let such a life befall all of those I loved around me.
I returned to my classroom on Monday morning, only to find it plastered once again with unfriendly posters, this time bearing phrases like, "Traitor" and "Back-stabber." In addition, someone had used either their wand or quill to scratch shallow, but long gashes all across my door, to imitate what Sirius had done to the Fat Lady's canvas.
I sighed and stepped up in front of my door. "You're taking a lot of abuse this year, aren't you?" I muttered to it. I traced my fingertips along the gashes, and I wondered yet again why Sirius had taken it upon himself to attack the Fat Lady. What did he want from Gryffindor Tower? I knew what the others thought, at least, those who knew Sirius' past in the Order – that he had infiltrated Gryffindor Tower with a knife to get to Harry. I still didn't believe that Sirius would ever do such a thing, but even I had to admit that it was difficult to understand why Sirius would act that way otherwise. What are you thinking, Sirius? What is your plan? Why have you come back?
As I ripped away the posters, I steeled myself mentally. Next time, Raylynx, when you approach him as Crookshanks, don't let your emotions get in the way. Figure out what he wants and why. You can't let your feelings get in the way. Not yet. Perhaps not ever.
But it was difficult to ignore that sinking feeling and the ever-nagging thought: Why didn't he trust me enough to come and find me?
Ironically, the night that Raylynx finally got some sleep, I did not. I paced back and forth in my office, arguing with myself about whether or not to tell Dumbledore about Sirius' Animagus abilities and form.
This is what you get, Remus John Lupin, I told myself. You spent all of those years excusing- no, encouraging his darkness, his rule-breaking. This is what you get.
A nagging voice in the back of my head said, "But Raylynx believes in him. And right around the time everything fell apart, she was probably closest to him."
Yes, I replied to myself, but Raylynx... She doesn't understand what the war was like for Sirius and me. Of course, it was most difficult for her because the war was centered on blood purity, and she was a Muggle-born, whereas Sirius was a pureblood, and I was something more than a half-blood, as my father, Lyall John Lupin, was a pureblood, and my mother, Hope Anne Lupin, was a Muggle-born witch. But the war brought out deep prejudices other than just based on blood status.
Sirius came from a deranged family, famous even among purebloods, and he grew up in that environment and he carried traces of it – in his demeanor, his temper, his recklessness, and the type of magic he used. If he let down his guard even a little, he was a madman to the rest of the world. And I was a werewolf. If I let my guard down even a little, if I ever slipped up, I was a beast.
The Wizarding World was entrenched in division and exclusion and the fault lines ran deep. And it messed with Sirius' head and my head. Even though the war was not about us, it got into our heads – who we were, and who we were not ever allowed to be. There was no story where we came out as heroes, regardless of whether we won the war or not. And things became harder the more we became separated. And we did. With everyone under either a Fidelius Charm or some other protective enchantment, we broke apart and allowed mistrust to de-tangle all of our relationships.
But there was truth and reason behind that mistrust. Because being a good person is a point of view. And you can only be good if you can afford to align yourself with what others see as good. For others, things like getting married or getting a job is a good thing, an act that not only brings happiness to your life personally, but also benefits society. For me, such acts are a crime and can only bring misery to everyone involved in my life, including myself.
And on top of that, I had committed an actual crime: I had allowed my friends to break the law and become Animagus - all because I didn't want to be alone anymore. How could I bring myself to tell Dumbledore what Sirius had done? What I had done? I sat down at the edge of my desk and leaning forward, I buried my head in my hands. If normal behavior was a crime for me, then to actually commit a crime… it was unforgivable. It was totally, utterly selfish. Remus Lupin, what did you allow yourself to become?