Sorry for the delays. Life, work, travelling and competitions have stood in the way in me and writing. Thanks for sticking with me!

A massive thank you to Ambush99 for her amazing betaing skills! Thank you.

Chapter 15

Sirius sat, his knees drawn up to his chest, as the early morning light slowly filtered into the room. Another night done. Another night plagued with nightmares. Another night he'd barely slept more than a couple of hours. Another night he had awoken, bathed in his own cold sweat. He wondered how much more he could take of this. Would the poison claim him first, or would he be driven to the point of insanity, from which there was no return? James' dad had assured him that everything was in place, that his parents couldn't touch him, that he was safe at Hogwarts. He wanted to point out that his cousin still attended the school, and nothing would please her more than to end his wretched life. He considered that life, and what he had done. Did he deserve what was happening? Mr Potter, James, Remus, Pete, McGonagall, Flitwick, even Dumbledore had tried to reassure him he was safe, that no one could hurt him at Hogwarts. But they didn't understand his family's reach. They didn't understand whatever his family touched was theirs and as their eldest he would only be free in death.

James yawned and rubbed his eyes. He reached a fumbling hand for his glasses, blinking several times as his half awake vision cleared. He looked at his watch and silently groaned; it wouldn't be long before he had to get up. Sitting up slightly, he looked towards his friend's bed. He couldn't help but worry about Sirius. They still hadn't identified what was poisoning his best friend, and it was increasingly taking its toll. He knew there would come a time when there would be no other choice but for Sirius to be admitted to St Mungo's, and he knew the very thought of it terrified Sirius. He knew Sirius didn't feel safe at Hogwarts, despite everyone's assurances, but to go to St Mungo's, he knew his friend would feel utterly exposed. Reaching into his drawer he pulled out a couple of chocolate frogs, and made his way over to his friend's bed.

"Morning mate," he whispered through the gloom.

"Morning," Sirius replied in a hollow, lost sort of voice.

"Chocolate frog?" James offered, as he sat down next to his friend, pulling the blanket around their shoulders.

Sirius frowned. "First thing in the morning?" he managed.

"Yeah, why not?"

"Because, it's, I don't know. It's weird."

"Weirder than the time you had curry for breakfast?"

"I guess not," Sirius replied, taking the offered sweet. He stared at it for a moment, before putting it down.

"Sleep okay?"

For a moment Sirius considered lying to his best friend, but he knew James would see right through it. "Not really," he admitted.

"Nightmares?" James asked. He watched his friend nod. "Want to talk about it?" He watched Sirius slowly shake his head. "Okay," he replied slowly. "You know if, when you ever want to talk about them, I'll listen. You know that don't you?" He watched Sirius nod again. A few months ago he would have been shocked by his friend's painfully silent nature, but now he was, well, not used to it, he had just grown accustomed to it. It didn't mean he didn't hate it. He didn't blame Sirius, no, not for one second. It just scared and upset him, not knowing what Sirius was going through.

"So," he tried again. "Double Divination and Ancient Runes first thing. I can skip Divination if you want mate, it's not as if I learn anything anyway. Last year you did my homework and I still got an O. So, if you need me to sit in Ancient Runes with you, that's cool. I'm sure Professor Collins wouldn't mind."

"I'll be okay."

"Are you sure? Seriously, it wouldn't be any hassle."

"I'm sure," Sirius replied, adding a smile for good measure.

"Okay," James replied, nodding. "I tell you what, why don't you try and get some sleep now. We can get Moony and Pete to steal food from the kitchens. Then we can go straight to lessons from here."

"James, I-"

"Mate, you look like shit. You obviously didn't sleep last night. If you-"

"No," Sirius replied, shaking his head. "No, I'm not taking a Dreamless Sleep Potion!"

"Mate, you're safe here," James argued.

"You forget my deranged cousin and her 'friends' still go to school here," Sirius laughed dismissively. "No James, I am not safe here."

"You are safe in the tower," James countered.

"You don't understand how much power and influence my parents have," Sirius exclaimed desperately. "They'll demand to see their heir."

"They can demand all they bloody like, but they can't. They aren't allow anywhere sodding near you!"

"People can be bought, James," Sirius replied tiredly. "I'll just, well, I'll figure it out. I don't think my parents have any connections in South America. Maybe I'll be able to hide out there, go unnoticed."

"What?! No, no way. If you do, I'll come with you!"

"No James, you have your whole life in front of you. You-"

"So bloody well do you! We'll find whatever they've bloody poisoned you with, and the healers will cure it. My dad will sort everything out with your parents. But you've got to trust us. You've got to trust me."

Sirius looked at his friend for a moment, before nodding. "Okay. Sorry, it's just-"

"Your family are a bunch of deranged, evil psychopaths. You're the only one who isn't."

"Reggie is good, he's just soft and he's too scared to stand up to them. And do you blame him?"

James shook his head. "No mate, I can't say I do. But it's the reason you are going to live. It's the reason you are going to escape them. Now, try and get some rest, okay. I'll see if the others can steal some food for us."

"Thanks mate," Sirius said quietly, resting his head on his friend's shoulder. He closed his eyes, and tried to relax, knowing sleep wouldn't come easily.

A few hours later, Sirius found himself carefully wandering down the corridors towards his Ancient Runes class. His brief nap earlier had been anything but restful. If anything, it had left him more disturbed, more anxious than before. The recurring nightmare had been more vivid, yet more fragmented than ever before. It left him confused and scared, struggling to cope with the day that lay before him. He stopped and looked down the corridor for a moment, before turning on his heel and walking away from the Ancient Runes class. He knew he should attend, he'd already missed so much this term. However, he was struggling to see any point in going to lessons anymore. What point was there, when he would be dead in a few weeks? He guessed he had been attending for some form of structure. Something to keep his confused, traumatised mind occupied, but now he knew nothing would. He felt as though the walls were closing in on him, suffocating him. He picked up his pace, not wanting anyone to see the breakdown they had all been waiting for. He should have listened to James. His best friend seemed to know him better than he did himself these days. James told him to miss Ancient Runes today, or at the very least come to Divination with him. He somehow knew he was about to fall apart. Finally, after what felt like a lifetime, he arrived at the painting of the one-eyed witch. Muttering the password, he stepped through and sank down to the floor. Alone and in the darkness, he felt his body shake as he drew his knees up to his chest.

It felt as though he was drowning, surrounded by grey, lifeless bodies, trying to pull him to his watery grave. He could see their faces now, vivid as the day it had happened. He could smell the damp and stagnant water. He could feel their cold, dead, rubbery hands clawing at his legs. He could hear their ghostly voices, and the water slapping against the rocks. He just wanted it to stop. He just wanted to escape from it all. Without thinking, without caring, he stood and ran up the corridor, away from the school. He didn't care where he ended up, or what happened. He just wanted to escape from it all. He stumbled through Honeyduke's Sweet Shop, and onto the snow-covered and icy streets. He barely felt the freezing wind as it cut through his sweat soaked shirt. He just ran.

Fleamont Potter pulled his thick cloak tightly around his body, pulling the collar up around his neck. It was turning out to be a ghastly winter, unrelenting and seemingly never ending. He'd just finished with one of his clients. A simple property contract, nothing more, and something he could easily mentally file away at the end of the day. Unlike one of his other clients, young Sirius Black. The boy had barely spoken to him since the day he'd somewhat reluctantly agreed to accept help.

His son was beside himself with worry, and he could see why. The boy looked as though he barely slept. He seemed miles away from the loud, wild child his son used to bring over for school holidays. It was obvious his parents had abused him, yet that word abuse seemed so tame for the horror he suspected Sirius had sustained. Yet he didn't think Sirius' quiet, painfully thin, sleep deprived state was wholly his parents doing. No, there was something far greater at play. The attempted poisoning a few days ago had a completely different chemical compound to the one still coursing through the young boy's blood. The healers both in the wizarding and muggle world had yet to identify what it was. And with Sirius' continued silence, it felt as though they had no hope. Not that he blamed Sirius, he felt the boy truly couldn't remember. The memory was so closed off and buried deep in his traumatised mind. He wondered if the school was doing enough to help him. He wondered if the school was the right place for him, but what place would be right for him? Physically, without a doubt, St Mungo's would be the best place for him. But for someone as terrified as he knew Sirius was, he couldn't think of a worse place. He considered, and still was considering, bringing him home for a while. The quiet and calm atmosphere of Potter Manor could work wonders for the child, yet he somehow knew familiarity was something he needed. Being surrounded by people whom he hoped Sirius felt he could still trust. James had said Sirius barely spoke now, nor did he sleep. James suspected Sirius was in a lot more pain than he was letting on.

Fleamont sighed, as he made his way to the door and out onto the cold, windy streets. He had no idea how he was going to help Sirius. He needed more information, but he was terrified of pushing him too far. The restraining order was working thus far, but it was only a matter of time before it would falter. The Blacks were already challenging it, demanding their heir back. Without Sirius' evidence, it would be increasingly difficult to meet that challenge. But pushing the boy too far, too early, when he clearly wasn't ready, could do far more harm than good. He staggered slightly as someone collided into him, pulling him out of his thoughts.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Sirius?" Fleamont questioned as he looked down at the shaking boy.

"I'm so sorry," Sirius repeated, as he struggled to breathe. It was worse than before, he felt as if the whole world was closing in on him. He didn't know where he was or how he had got there, or how he was going to get back to the castle. He could hear someone, it sounded as though they were calling his name, but it sounded so distant he could barely make it out. Black spots started to invaded his vision. He knew he should fight it but he just didn't have the strength anymore. Part of him wondered if it would be better this way, just not to fight anymore. He was a dead man walking, in reality he had been for a while. He was going to die soon. He knew just giving up was the weak option, but he just didn't think he had the energy to fight anymore.

"Sirius!" Fleamont said urgently as he caught the falling boy.