OFF in the distance, far up near the surface of consciousness, a persistent rumbling sound was finally reaching down into the depths of sleep and tugging at the sleeve of awareness that belonged to the great black dog.
One sleepy pale eye opened and then the other, and it was a good ten seconds before foggy recollection of where he was began to slide into focus.
He'd been desperate to avoid a confrontation (and another marathon run) with the airport security vehicle, so he'd plowed up a set of rickety roll-away stairs into the closest dark space, and had spent the better part of half an hour hunkered down between a lot of large crates and boxes.
When it became clear that it was unlikely anyone would find him there, (someone had eventually slammed the door home with dull 'boom') exhaustion from his adventure caught up to him even if none of his pursuers had. Curled up in a corner behind a large packing crate, he'd dozed off, undisturbed until now.
The dog felt a faint shudder of his surroundings, and then a second, and sat up to take a look around. It didn't take him long, as the intermittent tremors continued, to decide that he was moving.
Panic slapped him in the face, snapping him into complete awareness, and he jumped to his feet trying to decide what to do. After the initial instinctive alarm reaction of the dog, the animagus forced the rational part of his mind to think things out, one step at a time. He was on a plane. The plane was moving. A moving plane was probably about to take had no idea where he was going. He was hungry.
Ok, so not so much had changed since he first woke up earlier that morning, except the decision about where he was going to head next had obviously been taken out of his paws.
Maybe this wasn't such a bad thing. He was sure by now that the two women at the bakery had long since called the police, and it would only be a short time before news made it to the wizard authorities as well. That meant it should probably only be a day or so before Hogwarts was out from under Ministry security, and life would become a tiny bit easier for his godson.
The jet black dog plunked his hindquarters down and turned his thoughts to James's son again, and how much the boy had been through last week.
How much they'd all been through last week. The dog let his front legs slide forward until the front half of him came to rest on the ground with a 'thunk' as well.
As much as things were a frightful mess right now, he was better off than he'd been a week and a half ago. True, he was still on the run, and Pettigrew had gotten away, ('Damn you, Wormtail!') but now Harry, his godchild, and son of his best friend, knew he was innocent. And on top of it all, Remus now knew the truth.
Sirius appeared, lying on the floor, propped up on one elbow, where the dog had been. 'Ah, Remus old pal,' he thought, and reflected more on the werewolf that was his closest remaining friend.
It pained him, as always, to consider the fact that up until the night in the Shrieking Shack, Remus had thought he was the one to betray Lily and James. Of course, he felt guilty about the fact that he'd thought Remus was untrustworthy for a period of time as well.
Not that it wouldn't have been an easy thing for someone else to assume. Too much information that only a handful of the closest wizards around Dumbledore knew was being leaked to the Dark Lord. Of course, Remus was the easiest one to suspect, (Sirius cringed again, mentally) being a werewolf, a dark creature that stood a great deal to gain if he aligned himself with Voldemort. It was only too simple to draw such a conclusion.
'But it shouldn't have been, damn it!' Sirius thought, angry at himself once again. 'It was REMUS we were talking about. Of all people! Why I could ever have thought that thoughtful, helpful, tolerant, understanding Remus would have ever gone over to the other side, I just don't know.'
Sirius sighed. 'Don't beat yourself up over that too, Padfoot. Remus understands.' The thought actually made him feel worse. Remus was always understanding. He'd forgiven Sirius on the spot the moment he knew the truth about the rat, but Sirius still had trouble forgiving himself.
By the way the cargo hold around him lurched, Sirius guessed that they were now airborne. It felt as if they were climbing.
'But at the time, why would any of us have ever suspected Peter?' Sirius argued with himself for the thousandth time. 'I mean, Peter? Ha! Could barely get out of the way fast enough if his own shadow spooked him. Who would have ever thought that he'd have the nerve to deal with Voldemort? Certainly no one if not even his three best friends did.'
Two of his best friends knew better now, didn't they? Sirius moaned, and laying his head on the floor, covered his face with his hands. 'And James would have, but it was too late by the time James realized that Peter was the traitor.' Sirius could hear the elder Potter's perpetually jovial voice in his head. "We shoulda known, Padfoot ol' chum. I mean, have you ever seen the size of the balls on a rat?"
Sirius snickered to himself as he imagined what James would have said. The thought had struck him funny, and he continued to chuckle with his head in his hands until at last, he realized that his hands were damp. He sat up abruptly, and shook his head, blinking back the tears that were stinging his eyes, and then he cleared his throat.
He could tell by the way the cargo hold leveled out that they had stopped climbing so much.
'Enough of that,' he admonished himself. 'What's done is done, and now it's up to me to do what I can to put things right.'
"I won't let you down again, James," Sirius said softly to the dimly lit chamber.
If you're hungry and there's nothing to eat, and the thoughts in your mind that play over and over just make your head hurt, then the best thing to do is take a nap. A long one if you're stuck in the cargo hold of a chartered plane destined for an unknown location.
Sirius was used to passing long periods of time away, and it was nothing for him to curl up as the great bear-like dog, and let his mind drift into blissful canine blankness. The hours that crept by were nothing to the months and years he had done the same thing over.
He remembered waking twice, briefly. Once to get up and turn in a circle three times before finding a comfortable new position, (which to the untrained non-canine eye might appear to be the same one he was just in) and once when he felt the plane shudder for a few moments with some passing turbulence.
This was the third time he had woken since his little airborne adventure had begun, and he sat up in human form, to consider what had awakened him. He yawned and stretched, and suddenly he felt a popping sensation in his ears. He knew that meant that they were changing altitudes. He'd rarely risked flying high enough on a broom in his younger day to have experienced the popping feeling, but then again, a broom wasn't the only way he'd ever flown, now was it?
Sirius leaned back to prop himself up against the wall, and smiled as he reminisced about one of his true loves.
She was a beauty, alright, and he'd poured his heart and soul into that bike, "customizing" it just the way he wanted.
Sirius smiled, thinking back to the day he'd finally brought her over to introduce her to James and Remus. She was a 1980 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra Glide -1340cc, custom pipes, SU carb-fitted, midnight blue and downright GORGEOUS.
He remembered parking her outside the Potters' house one visit, and draping a matching cover over her for a dramatic unveiling. Remus knew he was up to something with the motorcycle, but she'd been his little secret from the others until then.
That particular evening, he, Remus and Peter had all been invited for dinner by the Potters.
Sirius made sure the cover was draped over the bike and went to the door and knocked.
James's muffled voice came from inside. "Get in here! You're late, Padfoot."
He grinned and flung the door open, striding inside and looking like the cat that ate the canary.
Peter looked up from where he was examining the crib that James was about to put together. "Uh oh. I know THAT look," he teased. "What've you done, now?"
"Done? Why whatever do you mean, dear Peter?" Sirius gave them all the most innocent look he could muster, which was immediately replaced by the grin again.
Lily poked her head out of the kitchen. "I thought I heard you, Sirius." She came into the living room to greet him, walking a bit slower than normal with one hand supporting her lower back.
Sirius's eyes went wide. "Merlin's beard, woman! Are you sure there's just one in there?" He indicated her very large belly under the apron she wore.
"That's what I keep asking the medical witch," she said with a smile. "How are you, Sirius?" She stood on tiptoe to give him a peck on the cheek, and he hugged her gingerly so as not to squeeze her too hard.
"Where's Moony?" he asked, looking around.
"He's lying down in the guest room until dinner," James answered quietly from where he had the crib's instructions in his hand.
"Migraine," Peter whispered.
Sirius frowned as he remembered the full moon was not far off. "Is it a bad one?"
"Nah," James replied, "he's fine. Okay, I think I've got this now." He raised his wand and cleared his throat.
"James, you've barely glanced at the instructions," Lily admonished him. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
James rolled his eyes a little as Peter and Sirius smiled at each other. He ignored his wife, and uttered the spell to assemble the crib. Bars, and legs, and a headboard all rose up from the floor and began locking in place as the crib assembled itself.
He turned triumphantly to his wife. "There," he said with a smile, "good as done."
Lily stood there, tongue in cheek, trying not to laugh. "I think you'd better give those instructions to Sirius," she said wryly. She went back to the kitchen.
James turned around to glance at the tangled monstrosity he'd created in the middle of the living room and started to laugh, along with Sirius and Peter. "Never was very handy about the house," he said, wrinkling his nose up a little. He put the instructions aside and his wand in his pocket.
"Speaking of handy," Sirius said, "how long before dinner's ready?" he asked very quietly.
"Ten minutes," Lily called from the kitchen, (where she still heard him) before James could reply.
James rolled his eyes again and dropped to a hushed whisper. "If you thought they hear everything before..." he glanced furtively at the kitchen and spoke softer still. "She hears everything now."
"I heard that," Lily called from the kitchen.
Sirius and Peter snickered, and then looked up as Remus walked into the room.
"Hi, Sirius," he said with a tired smile.
"Moony, you look like shit," Sirius said, crossing to the werewolf and putting his arm around his shoulders.
"Thanks, Padfoot. Good to see you too," Remus chuckled.
Sirius looked Remus in the eye for a moment. "She's done," he announced quietly.
Remus looked blankly at him for a second and then his eyes went wide. "Really? Is she here?"
Sirius nodded, back to wearing the grin again.
"Is who here?" Peter asked.
Remus managed a grin. "Padfoot here has a new lady in his life."
"Not another one!" James and Peter said together.
"Outside?" Remus asked.
"Who's outside?" Lily asked from the kitchen.
"Sirius has a new..." James broke off as he saw Sirius and Remus shaking their heads and waiving at him to shut up.
James knew better than to ask at that moment. He ignored Lily's question and called to her in the kitchen. "We're going outside for a minute, Lil."
"Okay, but dinner's in five," she called back.
The four wizards went out into the front yard.
"What is that?" Peter asked, spotting the blue drape over something in the yard.
James stood there quietly, knowing something big was up.
Sirius went to stand next to the blue drape, and drew his wand. "Gents," he said proudly, "I'd like to introduce you to... Jolene."
He pointed his wand, and the drape flung itself off, revealing the motorcycle underneath.
"A motorcycle?" Peter asked, looking a bit confused.
James raised his eyebrows behind his glasses for a moment and then started to smile. "Just what have you done, Padfoot?"
Sirius grinned. "Isn't she a beauty? She's custom job, from her pipes to her climate control charm."
"You've charmed the thing?" Peter asked.
Sirius nodded. "Uh huh."
Remus spoke up next. "Climate control charm? And what else?"
Sirius opened his mouth, and then shut it and glanced warily at the house. "Can Lily..?"
James held a finger up to his lips, and all four huddled.
Sirius dropped his voice. "She flies," was all he said.
"No!" Came three hushed replies.
"Oh yes," Sirius said.
"Truly?" James asked, studying the bike.
Sirius nodded. "Wanna go for a spin?"
The eyes lit up behind the dark-rimmed glasses. "That would be so..."
"What is that?"
Lily's voice came from behind the men huddled around the Harley.
All four stood bolt upright and stepped in front of the bike.
"A motorcycle?" offered James.
Lily looked from face to face, assessing the looks that each of them wore, and then she stepped forward to get a closer look at the bike. "This is yours?" she asked Sirius.
Lily scrutinized the blue and chrome contraption for a moment longer, and then looked directly back at Sirius. "It flies, doesn't it?" she asked accusingly.
Sirius's mouth fell open. "Did you hear us from the kitchen?" he asked in awe.
"My hearing's not that good," she said, now starting to smile. "I just know you, Sirius Black. It would be just the sort of thing that would amuse you."
Sirius smiled to himself. Lily had been right - it was just the sort of thing that had amused him.
Had amused him.
He wondered where Jolene was now. Last he saw her, it was...Halloween. That fateful, terrible Halloween. He'd given the bike to Hagrid and...
'I wonder if Hagrid still has her?' he asked himself, trying to keep his mind on the Harley and from wandering to the events of that night.
Sirius felt his ears pop again, and he knew that they must be dropping even lower. He'd been on the plane for quite a while, but more than that, he didn't know.
'Should be interesting to see where we end up,' he mused, and then he realized that there was a chance he could be spotted when they came to unload the cargo hold. Well, the dog would have to be ready to make a run for it, wherever they landed.
It was near dinnertime when Matilda finally woke on the beach.
She looked around her blearily, noting that there were a lot fewer people out here by the water than there were a few hours earlier. Thank goodness she had given herself a good coating of the sunscreen, or she would have been roasted after falling asleep for so long.
She sat gazing at the turquoise water for a few minutes, deciding that she would head back to her room to shower and then go in search of something to eat. She threw her book back in her bag and headed back to Sebastian's.
She was nearly off the sand when the low-flying plane passing overhead caused her to look up. 'Must be another charter heading into Beef Island Airport,' she thought, and she walked back inside her room.
Matilda showered quickly and changed into a teal silk shirt and white linen pants, and headed for the dining room. Eating by herself in a restaurant wasn't something she did often, and it took a bit of courage to get over the awkwardness of asking for a table for one. Thankfully it wasn't crowded, and she saw that there was at least one other person dining solo.
Sebastian's was know for some of the finest Caribbean cuisine on the island, and Matilda ordered a conch salad and the chef's special ginger chicken that turned out to be fantastic. She was too full to indulge in dessert, but she took some of Sebastian's rum coffee out onto the palm- fringed terrace where she found a seat that looked out over the ocean.
She took a sip of coffee and laid her head back against the chair and sighed contentedly as she closed her eyes. Excellent dinner, great coffee, wonderful breeze, the sound of the waves...the perfect relaxing evening. This was just what she needed, and...
"Scuse me, but is this seat taken?" a man's voice.
Matilda hesitated for just a moment and groaned inwardly. This was just not what she needed. All she wanted was to sit and relax.
She opened her eyes and then lifted them to meet the gaze of one of the tallest men she'd ever met. He must have stood six foot six, and had a thick mustache and a hat that he held in his hands politely.
A cowboy hat.
"Sorry, if I'm disturbin' you, but I couldn't help noticin' that you were out here sittin' alone on this beautiful ev'nin'." He flashed her a sweet smile and then moved to sit in the chair across from her before she'd even had time to react.
"Name's Bill. Bill Travers."
He held out one extremely large hand, and Matilda saw hers disappear as she shook it.
"Matilda Dyer. Nice to meet you," she said politely, even as she screamed in her head 'go away, go away, go away!'
"Well, now, Matilda you sound like you must a good ol' 'merican girl to me." Bill leaned much closer and lowered his voice a little. "Where all are you from?"
Matilda smiled patiently. "Maine."
"Maine! Why you're a-way up there in the corner!" Bill announced jovially. "See if you can guess where I'm from."
Matilda didn't even have to look at the boots he wore with his wranglers.
"Texas?" she ventured.
"HA!" Bill slapped her playfully on the knee. "How'd you guess?"
Matilda's eyes went from the embroidered shirt back to the hat he held. "I guess it's because you have a little bit of an accent." She smiled the most tolerant smile she could muster as she rubbed her knee.
"So, can I get you another?" Bill indicated the mug she was holding.
Matilda's first reaction to another rum coffee was 'no', but as it occurred to her that Bill was settling in to his own chair comfortably, she realized it was probably going to be just the thing she needed.
Oblivious or uncaring as to whether he was welcome or not, Bill ventured on forward. "So what's a perty lil' thing like you doin down here all by yer lonesome?" He scooted his chair a bit closer.
She sighed. It was going to be a long evening, and she was getting the impression that they grew some awfully big amphibians in Texas.
A/N: "Bill" is the spitting image of a guy that I went to college with and absolutely adored, and his appearance is in no way intended to make fun of Texans or Texas. I am not one to say anything about other people's accent since I have been informed that I now am starting to sound at times like a true Mainer.