Well, finally. This character has been haunting me in one form or another since PoA was first published and I'm not joking. Elen most definitely belongs to me, as do all my other OCs. Everything else (i.e. everyone and everything you recognise) belongs to J.K. Rowling. However, this entire story as a whole is dedicated to Anne B. Walsh, aka "whydoyouneedtoknow", whose Dangerverse kept me in the Harry Potter fandom and whose slight alteration of the Dementors in her beautiful story Be Careful, years later, enabled this story to actually GET WRITTEN past the start of Chapter Two... which is the point where I abandoned it ten years ago, when I found that I could no longer ignore the implications of the Dementors being able to literally destroy a person's immortal soul. A great big thanks to her – and if you haven't read her stuff, go check it out!
If you've come here because you liked my other story, be warned. My imagination only seems to have two modes: utterly ridiculous... and very dark, which I try to keep tamped down to avoid terrifying myself. In Death's Horcrux, "ridiculous" had complete control. In Dilemma's Horns "darkness" has the emphasis, although I can read it without scaring myself so hopefully you enjoy it too.
And now that all that is said... onwards!
"Its skinny spires looked nothing like a bull's horns, but rather like those on a jester's cap. Or like the horns of a dilemma, Schmendrick thought: they never have just two." – The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle
A single choice, a single turn left instead of right at the fork in the passage after temporarily losing the Dementors (he had no hope that it would be for long) on the fourth level, and he was faced with a situation where whatever he did was going to create problems. Padfoot took a disbelieving step closer, toenails scraping on ice-sheer granite, staring.
The boy was young, possibly fifteen but certainly no older; far too young to have been thrown in Azkaban even at his age. The idea of his having been there for quite some time was technically ludicrous, but Sirius was in no mood to laugh. Ludicrous idea or not, it was pitifully obvious that the child had been. The emaciation. The tangled, matted hair. The constant trembling even with no Dementor in range. The old yet raw pain in the eyes. Most disturbing of all was the sanity smouldering there, being clung to as the only lifeline in a sea of nightmare. Sirius knew that the same battle between darkness and truth could be seen in his own eyes, and he was sure that there was no such fight in the eyes of the other inmates. Whatever the boy was imprisoned here for didn't matter because he was also innocent of it, and as he raised his head and looked straight at Padfoot for the first time before dropping his gaze to the ground again, Sirius knew that abandoning him to Azkaban was not an option. He grasped the bolt with his teeth and pulled. Expediency be damned. He'd take the logistical nightmare this was sure to become over not ever being able to look himself in the face again.
Padfoot's hackles rose as he placed one paw inside the cell, and he risked a low whine to attract attention. The boy looked up again, and then managed to stand up – barely able to catch himself on the wall to avoid falling. He began to stumble towards Padfoot, who backed away and glanced down the passage. Mist was forming. The torches along the wall went out, and it was suddenly colder. As the Dementors drifted into view from both ends of the passage, the boy's fingers grasped Padfoot's scruff and pulled him close. Sirius didn't pull away. There was no way that either of them could get past now that the Dementors were three ranks deep; if touching him comforted the boy somewhat, it was better than nothing. He licked the boy's face, trying to apologise as the boy shrank against him, flinching from the putrid, grasping hands.
It was the close contact that let him feel the sharp shudder of power, of magic against all odds, flaring up, and it took only an instant for Sirius to realise that the boy had no control whatsoever over it. No controlled magic ever brought on a spasm, and the boy's body was on the ground and jerking out of control, his eyes incredibly blank and staring inward. Sirius was suddenly sideswiped by a cacophony of voices screaming and sobbing without pause, his mind almost breaking with a ghastly certainty that these voices, whoever's memory they were, did not belong to the boy. The Dementors instantly fled.
What in the world was that? Sirius shook his head and staggered to his feet, blinking rapidly to clear his doubled vision. If it were under control I'd guess Legilimency, but that – horror – was not under control. Far from it. If I'd been hit full-on it would have torn me to shreds... oh no. Oh, Merlin. If his instinctual magic's taken the form of Legilimency and the Dementors drove it wild... no, Padfoot, don't think like that, it has to be something else. It has to be. And whatever it is we can't stay here to figure it out. He looked over. The boy was in no shape to stand, although he was trying. Padfoot grasped the ragged robes in his teeth and pulled him half across his back, and after a moment, he felt the boy's arms close around his chest. The stairs were difficult, but with the boy pushing as hard as he could and Sirius straining likewise, they finally managed to scrabble up into the sunlight. Faint as it was, it was stronger than any light that ever entered the underground dungeon of Azkaban, and both escapees felt a faint twinge of strength for the long swim ahead.
Sirius tried to get a handhold on the slick rocks and the boy – whose name he still didn't know – grabbed at him from slightly higher, missing his hand but catching his robe... which promptly tore, sending Sirius sliding back into the surf. A seagull yarked overhead and wheeled above them, making them both jump. Sirius swallowed a large mouthful of water, gagged, and cursed. Both of them were bone-cold and the weather was not helping – it was pouring with rain and they could barely see a foot in front of their faces. They wouldn't be able to see any pursuit until it was too late. On the other hand, the pursuit wouldn't be able to see them very well either. The boy managed to grab Sirius on the second try and somehow they managed to get out of range of the waves, huddling on the leeward side of an overhanging rock and trying to wring some of the water out of their robes.
"Who..." Sirius could hardly hear the boy's voice over the wind, and it'd dissolved into a fit of coughing before any more words could get out.
"Sirius Black." He felt a raw scratching in his own throat. "You?"
Sirius blinked. I thought I had a strange name.
Elen curled up against him, too cold even to shiver. Sirius massaged his throat. A single question blurted its way out.
"What the hell were you locked up for?"
"I..." Elen hesitated and looked thoughtful, but the look passed straight into confusion. "He said... a mother... father? – um... Vol-something... crazy..."
Sirius froze at the syllable. Merlin's beard...Voldemort. And this means that I was right, it almost certainly is Legilimency, he's inherited the talent, and I've never wanted so much to have been wrong in my entire life...
"Voldemort." He sighed and put his arms it's not his fault stiffly around Elen and if I say it often enough I might believe it and tried to keep his gut reaction – to shove Elen as far away from him as possible – under control. "This is bad. This is very, very bad."
You saw his eyes, Padfoot. He's nothing like Voldemort.
Oh yeah? He's inherited the mind-magic – what else has he inherited?
Shut up. Dumbledore has mind-magic too, and he's hardly evil incarnate.
The sadistic traits? The love of torture?
Or saving me from the Dementors when they had us cornered and pulling me up the rocks, not to mention how he's curled up against me. We're a team of sorts, and if you don't like it you can stuff off.
You'll never convince Harry of anything if you have the son of his parents' murderer in tow...
Well, if we're talking families I hardly have a hope anyway. Give him a chance at least. He's obviously never been given one before!
Suit yourself... The voice laughed softly and fell silent.
Sirius closed his eyes, tempted to break into hysterical laughter. I don't believe this. He doesn't know who Voldemort is. Sweet mother of Merlin – how on earth could he not know? And more to the point... how do I tell him without him freaking out?
"You don't know?" Strategy: buy time.
Sirius sighed. So much for that bright idea, and I don't think there is a way to say this tactfully. "Voldemort is a near-immortal megalomaniac. He's killed more people than you could count..."
Elen was starting to shake his head. Sirius continued quickly but tightened his grasp as a precaution.
"...tried to take over Britain about twelve years ago. Imagine the worst person you can and then multiply it by about a thousand, and you'd be about halfway there. Maybe."
Elen tried to yank loose. "No!" He struggled for a few moments, and then bit Sirius in the arm, hard. Sirius released his grip out of pure shock, and Elen scrambled away. "No, no, no, no..."
Sirius transformed and gave chase. Obviously not at all like Voldemort. You can't count the bite – he was trying to get away, not trying to hurt me. Anything smart to add now, O Voice Of Blinkered Wisdom? No, I didn't think so. So you can just stay right out of my head from now on!
Padfoot pinned Elen not far from where they had been. He wagged his tail and licked Elen's hair and tried to be as gentle as possible. I don't hate you. You're a child and you cannot be held responsible for anything he's done.
Elen was calming down, and he tried to get up. Sirius moved off him and transformed back, but grasped Elen's wrist, preventing him from standing. Do not run off again, please.
"You're nothing like him." He was glad to hear that he sounded convincing. "Voldemort wouldn't have reacted like that. Not a chance."
Elen looked at the bleeding marks his teeth had left in Sirius' arm.
"Oh, that. Don't worry about it. I've had worse bites."
Elen's eyes gleamed, making him look slightly sinister. The raised eyebrow didn't help dispel the impression. "Often?" He tilted his head towards the sea, and Azkaban.
"Oh, yes." He paused for a moment, and smiled wolfishly, with bitter humour. "No, this is my very first jailbreak. Come on – they'll know we're gone by now, and if we want to avoid pursuit..." He got to his feet, and sighed. "Can you control it at all?"
Elen used Sirius to pull himself up by. He was shaking. "What?"
"What you did to... them. Back... there."
A moment of sheer panic. "I didn't do anything!"
Oh... Sirius mentally censored the long list of swearwords that had blossomed in his mind ... so very much not good. His first fully-coherent sentence is almost the most horrifying thing he's said so far.
I need a wand. I need a wand to Apparate us both out of here really, really fast. If he fells the pursuit it'll enrage the whole Ministry – assuming they're not as pissed off as they possibly could be already... there's a town up ahead; it's night-time; if we stick to the shadows... does his magic work on humans or just Dementors?... what on earth will I do if he fells anyone and everyone within range? Merlin forbid...
As if to prove this final fear true, Elen stopped nervously at the first corner of suburbia, hesitating to emerge from the rocks. The street was dead calm except for a man walking his dog very quickly under a large umbrella, almost out of sight at the far end, and there was no light coming from any houses, but Elen was still skittish. Sirius stopped.
"Elen, in this rain nobody would notice us if we were waltzing together down the street wearing pink bathing suits. Frilly ones." The absurdity startled a faint laugh out of Elen, which Sirius found reassuring, but he didn't look away from the far-off man. Sirius glanced over. "Besides, he's not looking this way." Technically unable to be proven one way or the other, but it was a fifty-fifty chance. "The sooner we get what we need, the sooner we can leave. Merlin knows I'm not looking forward to this either." He took Elen's hand. "Come on."
Elen dug his feet in, rigid.
"Look..." Sirius tilted Elen's head towards him so he could look directly into his eyes. "Odds are there's a..." he bit off the word wizard "... somebody living here who... has the means... to get us out of here fast. We have to get out of here, so we have to go in." And I only hope that I can disable the poor sod before you do.
Finally, finally, Elen began to move, but his grasp was so tight that Sirius began to lose sensation in his fingers. He kept very close and Sirius decided to withdraw his hand before it became utterly useless in favour of putting his arm around Elen's shoulders. Elen's nervousness and extreme jumpiness were putting him on edge, and whenever Elen glanced around sharply, startled by another stray cat or garage light, Sirius found himself going into a defensive crouch. Merlin. Is absolutely everything strange to him? Don't answer that.
The voice ignored him. Yes, most likely. How much would you remember if you were him?
"Sirius...?" Elen hissed.
"We're looking for anything odd. Fairies, gnomes, a chimney with green smoke, purple carrots..."
Elen looked at him sidelong and then turned to look around for odd items, but Sirius strongly suspected that his sanity was being doubted. He might have a point there... wait. What's that?
"Yes. Here we are. Apple and grape in fruit at the same time – on the same tree, even – equals wizard."
Elen whirled. "What? No. No. Sirius..." He pulled back on his arm, trying to stop him going in.
"Elen. Nothing's going to happen – we're going to go in, get what we need, and go out again. Nobody's going to interfere." Because either I will stop them or you will half kill them. Best case scenario is that nobody's home at all, all things considered... "Trust me." He dragged Elen across the lawn and into the alcove by the back door. When they were fairly well hidden, he pulled a length of wire out from a rose trellis and began picking the lock, while Elen kept watch against people, bats, backfiring car engines and trees.
I am going to have to teach him to be slightly less jittery.
"We're in," Sirius hissed as the lock gave way. "Look for wands, food, blankets, anything, and stay close..."
Nobody was home. Thank Merlin. On the other hand, it meant no wand – they'd just have to take what they could get. A rapid search turned up half a loaf of bread, one spare blanket in bright pink, a pale pink fluffy cardigan with frolicking kittens embroidered on the collar, several sets of neon pink robes which Sirius vetoed on sight as being far too visible, a small apple pie brushed with pink glazing – why on earth? – and a lurid pink pot of Floo powder.
Sirius looked dubiously at the cardigan. "I think we might leave that." He pulled Elen down into a crouch beside him and wrapped the blanket around both. I never imagined so much pink. This person has absolutely no taste. "Eat now, as much as you can." The Floo powder's going to be our best bet, and if we go to Grimmauld – curses! – we should be able to tangle the trail if my late unlamented mother didn't change the keywords...
Neither of them could eat very much; the pie remained untouched. Sirius put everything back approximately where they'd found it – might as well try to hide that we've been here – and then threw some Floo powder on the fire. It flared green, as high as a man, and Elen leapt backwards with a startled cry and fell over.
I should have known. Naive of the world to the nth degree...
"It won't hurt, I promise. I'm going through with you – if you get burnt, so do I."
Elen backed away, alternating between looking nervously at the flames and looking nervously at Sirius. He hesitated, and came slowly towards Sirius again, and then to within reach.
The front door opened, and Sirius reacted instantly, yanking Elen off his feet and sprinting for the fire. Elen twisted in his arms and buried his face in Sirius' shoulder as the fire flared green about them and they were gone, barely an instant before the curse hit the back of the fireplace where they had been a moment earlier.