AN: Just a bit of revision. I finally have time to work on this, and am doing so slowly. I hope to possibly finish it this summer.
Disclaimer: The characters are most certainly not mine. They belong to J. K. Rowling. There are parts in this story that will very closely resemble the book as I did try to get the beginning of it to follow along. Those parts obviously belong to Rowling as well. I own nothing, other than perhaps a general idea.
Kindness of Strangers
Emerald Eyes looked up from the worn trunk, glancing around into the darkness that surrounded their owner, the hairs on his neck standing on end. The young wizard was sure there was someone... or perhaps even something watching him. He looked down at his trunk again when he could not locate the source of the gaze, thinking that perhaps in his frazzled state that he had imagined it. Almost immediately, however, he felt the eyes boring into him again and he glanced up towards the alleyway, sure that that was where the gaze was originating from. You could call him paranoid, but after having Voldemort trying to actively kill him, he thought he was allowed to be a little bit paranoid. Harry was no ordinary wizard. Long ago, his parents had died, and the present headmaster of the school he attended had thought it best to give him to his Aunt Petunia and her husband. The older wizard had tried to explain to him that it was for his own well being and protection, but when Harry found himself half starved on a regular basis, really how much safer was it than it would have been had he been allowed to remain at the school. Besides, he had never heard of there being a secret keeper for his home. What was stopping Voldemort from attacking Privet Drive? Harry had a sneaking suspicion that the lizard simply didn't care enough yet to attack him there. After all, he still needed his own body. Harry was sure that that took priority over him for the time being. He held no doubts that the megalomaniac knew where he lived each summer or could find out if he so chose. It wasn't as if he had noticed anyone taking great pains to hide the address. No, it was more than likely that Voldemort didn't care. The youth sighed, shaking his head a bit to get it back on track. Somehow his thoughts always turned to Voldemort one way or the other if allowed to wander enough. For some reason, his family always reminded him of the dark wizard, and it really was no stretch of the imagination to guess why.
Emerald eyes narrowed as he tried to see into the shadows of the alley without much success. There just wasn't enough light for his already less than perfect eyesight to make anything out clearly. "Lumos," Harry whispered holding his wand in front of him to see better. There! Two large, gleaming, silvery grey eyes peered at him from the shadows. Even with the light of his wand it was difficult to make out the exact shape, but it appeared to be a, 'a bear?' he thought. 'Odd.' He hadn't heard about any escaping from the zoo and they certainly weren't native to the neighborhood.
Neither moved for a few loaded seconds of silence, only soft blare of a car horn somewhere off in the distance was heard. Suddenly there was a loud bang, and in the next instant, a violently purple bus was hurtling towards him, forcing Harry to jump out of the way in order to avoid being hit. He ignored the conductor speaking to him, turning his back to the young man to glance back at the space next to the garage. The dark figure and shining eyes, however, were nowhere to be seen.
Harry quickly slammed his trunk shut, cast a quick charm for it to float after him, and took off running after the animal, what he assumed had to be a dog as there was no way that it could have been a bear, ignoring the confused calls of the conductor. If anyone had asked why he was chasing after the stray, he wouldn't have been able to answer them. He honestly didn't know, only... there was something in those eyes that called to him. He never even heard the outraged protests follow him for wasting the driver's time. It didn't matter. All that mattered was catching that dog.
What Harry didn't know, was that it hadn't been an animal at all. It was a wizard, a very panicked one at that. "Shit! He's seen me! Oh, shit, where do I go? What do I do? Oh shit, shit, shit, shit, shit," Sirius thought frantically as he turned tail and began to race off back through the alleyway. He'd only wanted to catch a glimpse of his godson, just to be sure that the boy was truly safe with his Aunt. He had never liked the woman, knowing how she had felt about Lily. He had wanted to be sure that Harry was healthy and well. The wizard knew that things could not have been going well as it looked as if his godson were in the process of running away. He wished he knew why, but he knew there was no way he could simply just ask. Petunia would have told the boy all about him, all about how he had murdered Harry's parents and had planned to murder him. Surely she would have told him that just to make the boy miserable. Silver eyes looked back every so often checking to see if he was still being followed. As far as he could tell, Harry had not given up the chase. He found it odd that his godson had not given up yet. As far as Harry knew, he was just an ordinary stray. Why bother wasting time and energy to follow him. The knight bus had been there. He could have gone anywhere he wanted, and yet he was running after a dog.
Unless... unless somehow he knew. Perhaps he chased after him to obtain his revenge for his parents' deaths. Maybe Lily had mentioned it in passing to Petunia that he was an animagus and she in turn had told Harry about his godfather. He doubted it, but it was the only excuse he could come up with at the moment. Er... Well, it was either that or Harry was cruel and liked to beat up dogs, but that idea was swiftly tossed aside as impossible. No son of Lily Potter would be cruel no matter who he was raised by.
Harry was thinking along the same lines as he followed the dog further out of the city towards the vast rolling hills just past its outskirts. It made no sense. He should be worrying about the Ministry swooping down on him to send him off to Azkaban! Instead, he was following a large black dog to Merlin only knew where. In the process he was becoming increasingly more worn out and exhausted, pain stabbing his lungs as he struggled to take in oxygen as he kept up the quick pace the dog had set. With all of his quidditch practice, he thought he would have had a better endurance, but apparently, it was far more difficult to run than fly.
"WAIT! Please, wait!" Harry called after the dog, his chest heaving as his lungs worked to suck in much needed air. He couldn't go on much longer and began to slow down, eventually stopping all together and collapsing back onto his trunk when his legs gave out. He was exhausted, his lungs burned, his head too heavy to keep up any longer. He'd really screwed up this time. He had been so focused on the dog that he hadn't been paying attention to where they were going. He had to be lost.
He blinked, starting a bit as something cold and wet nudged his cheek. He turned his head slightly to see the large, black dog sitting next to him patiently. He gave it a small, tired smile and patted its large head. It gave a low pleasured rumble as Harry began to scratch the soft ears. "Thanks fer waitin'," he murmured offering the beast a weary smile. His mind was too exhausted to even begin to question why the dog had come back for him instead of continuing on whatever path it had been on as it ran from him.
The dog panted from its own exertion, but happily licked the side of the boy's face. It glanced around nervously, taking hold of Harry's sleeve in his mouth and gently tugging. It seemed to Harry as if the beast wanted him to follow. He struggled getting up, limbs weak from his long run. "Why not? I've already gone this far, though I'm surprised the Ministry hasn't gotten me yet," he muttered almost dejectedly, not looking forward to when the Ministry finally did find him, positive that he would be expelled from Hogwart's at the very least. It wasn't his first offense. Well, it was, but they didn't think so. They still blamed him for Dobby's use of magic. You would think that they would give their supposed savior a little more leeway.
Harry quickly realized that it wasn't the right thing to have said. As soon as the Ministry was mentioned, the dog gave a sharp bark and growled, tugging more incessantly on his sleeve. Apparently it was understood that Harry was in some sort of trouble and that it was the Ministry who were the cause of it. He just assumed that the canine had picked up on the displeasure in his voice, rather than the actual words. He'd heard that some animals were actually quite intelligent and in tune with their master's emotions.
What Harry didn't know, was that the dog understood each word spoken quite clearly and was not overly fond of the Ministry himself. After all, they were the ones he himself was hiding from. They were the ones whom had wrongly imprisoned him without a fair trial. He'd never even had a chance to explain about Peter and what the rat had done. He briefly wondered what his godson had done to be on the run from the ministry. How did a thirteen year old boy attract the sort of attention from them that would cause him to fear being found?
'Oh, for Merlin's sake! I need to get him out of here!' Sirius glanced around, his eyes lighting on the dark trees to their left. If he could get Harry there, he'd be able to apparate them somewhere closer to his own home. He knew it'd need cleaning, but it was better than nothing, right? They couldn't very well remain out in the open just waiting for ministry officials to pick them up. He wanted his name cleared, and knew without a doubt that that would never happen unless he got his hands on that damned rat. Not to mention that there was the very real possibility that Peter would hurt his godson if the right prompting came along.
His sigh of relief was released as an odd snuffling sound which caused the boy following along beside him to snicker. He wasn't sure whether it was the noise that had caused his godson to laugh or the pure absurdity it must seem like to leave one's life in the hands, paws, of a mere dog. Sirius attempted to snicker, but the sound came out as something similar to the unusual snuffle from before.
He watched out of the corner of his eye as Harry looked down at him, mirth in his eyes. His godson was laughing at him! Sirius snorted haughtily, holding his head high, and trotted ahead a little bit hoping the boy would understand the message. He seemed to because the laughter died down as Harry caught up with him again.
"Sorry... um, I was... is... can you understand me?" Sirius thought there was an underlying tone of nervousness to the question. He nodded turning his canine face up to the boy to look him in the eyes. He did his best to give Harry a reassuring smile before nuzzling the boy's hip. Emerald eyes gazed back at him for a few moments before his godson sighed as well. "Well, if I can talk to snakes, I guess it isn't that far of a reach to find a dog that understands me," Harry chuckled softly to himself, causing Sirius to give a quizzical tilt of his head. His godson could talk to snakes? As in a parseltongue? How in Merlin's name had that happened?
Another snuffle escaped as Sirius once again attempted to sigh in his grim-like form. He was satisfied that they were far enough into the woods to apparate to his mother's house safely. He concentrated all his energy on the task and just as Harry placed his hand on the top of his head, he completed his thoughts, sending them both to the room he saw in his mind's eye.
Harry gasped jerking his hand away from the dog again as if burned. What had just happened? He had just been in the forest the moment before and now he was hurtling through space. He landed with a hard 'thunk' onto a dusty wooden floor. Where was he and where was the dog? "Ow," he groaned, rubbing at his elbow as his sat up. He reached out, sighing in relief once he had located his glasses nearby, bringing them up to settle them comfortably on his nose. There was a slight crack in one of the lenses, but there was little he could do about that as he couldn't use magic. He'd have to wait until he stepped onto the Hogwart's Express to fix them. Emerald eyes blinked, adjusting to the dimness of the room he found himself in now that he was done determining the damage to his glasses. At least they were still usable. The room he was in wasn't one he recognized, and he somehow doubted that many would if the thick layers of dust were anything to go by. It was clear that no one had stepped foot into it in years.
Sirius panicked, resuming his human form shortly after Harry broke contact with him. If anything had happened to the boy... James would never forgive him. What if Harry had been splinched? He should have changed forms before apparating so that he could grab a hold on the boy. He never should have tried it while in his canine form. He had broken out of Azkaban to protect Harry and now he had probably gotten him splinched. Some godfather he was turning out to be.
He shuddered at the thought, searching the house frantically. He was upstairs in his room, just as he had planned to be, but he had no idea where his godson had gone to. He shouldn't have broken the contact. He should have made sure he couldn't! He'd never forgive himself if anything bad had happened to Harry. He'd send himself back to Azkaban.
"Harry!" his voice came out raspy and cracked due to years of disuse. He swallowed, trying to wet his throat a bit and tried again. "Harry!" He turned his head sharply as he heard something fall and break downstairs. 'Harry?' Sirius didn't waste his time, and quickly took off running for the stairs.
"Harry!" Sirius called in relief as he burst into the living room and spotted his godson on his hands and knees off to the side of the room. It appeared that Harry had knocked a vase off the coffee table as he crawled around in the semidarkness. "Harry, are you alright?" he swiftly lit the candles in the room and cleaned the porcelain shards from the floor so that his godson wouldn't accidentally cut himself with them.
Vibrant eyes darted up towards the direction from which the voice had come from. "Wha... who are you?" Harry stammered, his eyes growing wide as recognition sank in. "You're, you're..." his voice trailed off as he scuttled backwards towards the wall, away from the mass murderer he had seen on the television just that morning. His Aunt didn't seem so crazy anymore to have been staring out the window as if the murderer were skulking around in their garden.
Sirius gave a deep sigh. "Yes. I am who you think I am... but I am of no danger to you," he added softly, coughing a bit. "Come here," he commanded firmly, yet with no trace that he was doing so to establish superiority. His tone was almost… consoling.
Harry carefully pushed himself to his feet, clutching his wand tightly in one hand and cradling his injured one close to his chest. He did as he was asked, not because he believed Black, but because he was afraid not to. If the man could kill all those people, what was stopping the man from killing him?
"This way. I'll take care of your hand... then we need to talk," he rasped hoarsely as he led the way to a large kitchen and pulled out a chair for Harry who immediately sat. Harry watched as the man conjured up a pair of clean rags. One he wet and used to clean Harry's wound after he was sure there were no foreign objects still embedded into his palm. The other he used as a bandage, wrapping it tenderly around Harry's outstretched palm.
He nodded, apparently satisfied before turning and fixing himself a glass of water to soothe his throat. "Harry... I'm not sure how much you know about me, so I will ask you to tell me what you know first. I will be able to fill in the gaps from there," He pulled out a chair and sat across from the boy, grey eyes intense as he looked across the table at him.
The young wizard glanced around nervously before finally deciding to focus his eyes on an indentation in the table. The table by far was less disconcerting to look at than the man's haunted eyes. "I, uh, you were on the Muggle ne... I mean you were on the news."
"I know what 'Muggles' are Harry," Sirius interrupted softly causing the boy to look up sharply. "Go on."
After taking a deep breath, he nodded. "Well, all they really said was that you'd killed thirteen people and broke out of where ever it was that they had been keeping you. They said you were armed and dangerous," he told him quietly, still adverting his eyes.
Sirius chuckled humorlessly. "Amazing," he deadpanned, shaking his head.
"Pardon?" Harry asked tilting his head a bit, clearly confused.
"They only got one thing right. Yes, I did break out of Azkaban. And well, I guess they've got me on armed since I have my wand. And I guess they're right about my being dangerous, too, but... only to one person," Sirius sneered to himself, nearly forgetting that he wasn't alone and could possible be scaring his godson. He casually took another sip of water, the slightly crazed look fading almost instantly.
Harry swallowed nervously, fidgeting in his seat. "Azkaban?" Harry nearly squeaked. Now he was most certainly not consoled by the information, and the look the man had had in his eyes had been of no help. It only served to heighten his desire to flee. "So then, you're a wizard?"
"Naturally," he nodded with a confident smile, the smallest trace of light burning in his eyes for a moment.
Of course the man was a wizard. He had just seen him conjure the rags from thin air. No Muggle could do that. Somehow, the thought didn't console him that the murderer was also a wizard. "Er... Mr. uh... Mr. Black? How did you know my name if I may ask that is?" he hastened to include, not being sure whether or not questions were allowed, or if they would set off the convict.
Sirius frowned. "No need to call me Mr. Black. Sirius will do nicely. And as to how I know your name, I'll get to that," the man frowned as he surveyed the room. It really was filthy. He conjured up another wet cloth and began wiping off the table at which they were currently seated, upon which Harry had been absentmindedly been doodling small designs in the thick layer of dust.
Harry blushed when Sirius chuckled softly. He hadn't realized he'd even been doing it. It had just helped to soothe his nerves, giving his hands something to do other than fidget. His hands quickly found a home in his lap as the convict wiped away the thick dust, effectively erasing his doodles.
"Relax, Harry. I would never hurt you. I would die before I even considered it. I've been forced to neglect my duties for far too long as it is," Sirius murmured, resting a hand on Harry's shoulder as he came up behind him. He waited until the tension disappeared beneath his hand before he removed it. He wanted to earn the boy's trust, and proving to him that he meant him no harm was high up on his list of priorities.
"Duties?" Harry turned in his seat to look up at Black questioningly, wondering what duties the man could possibly have that concerned him. Was he a death eater on a mission to kill him? Was it that kind of duty?
Sirius offered a weary smile, having a pretty good idea of where his godson's thoughts were venturing if the expression on his face was anything to go by. "Yes. Your father appointed me your godfather in case anything were to happen to him. Unfortunately something did," a pained expression flitted across the hollow features for a split second before being replaced by one less readable.
He worked his way around the kitchen giving each surface a preliminary cleaning. He would ask Harry to help him truly clean the house. That was, if Harry wished to stay which was something he was not entirely sure would happen. He spared a glance at the almost teenager and found him staring at him in disbelief.
"It's true. I was his best friend, even before we went to Hogwarts together. After school got out, he married your mother. I was happy to stand as his best man at the wedding. About a year later, you were born and they asked me to be the godfather. Of course I readily agreed. I loved James. He was like a brother to me. Unfortunately, Voldemort decided to make your family his next victim.
"We knew there was a spy telling Voldemort all of their moves. They wanted to protect you and asked me to be their secret keeper. At first I agreed, but then I changed my mind. You see, I would have been the obvious choice. I didn't want to risk Voldemort coming after me and succeeding in gaining their location. I wasn't scared mind you, but I will not pretend to be an equal to Voldemort. He would have found some way to get the information he wanted.
"So, I suggested that Peter be their secret keeper instead," here Sirius paused, taking a sip of water, but Harry was positive that was just an excuse. Whatever came next would not be easy for the convict to say and therefore would probably be difficult for him to hear as well.
"Peter was a screw up. Practically a squib. He should have been perfect for being a secret keeper. No one would have suspected him," Sirius clenched his hands tightly about the rag in his fists, nearly tearing it in half. "We never suspected him to be the spy either. We had no idea he was the one selling Lily and James out.
"The night after the charm had been placed, I went to check on Peter. When he wasn't there, I knew something was wrong. I went straight to Godric's Hollow, but it was too late," he said quietly, bitterness leaving his mouth dry once again. If only he had been the secret keeper. He would have gone into hiding and would have never seen James, Lily, or Harry again if that was what it took to keep them safe.
"It was your motorcycle wasn't it?" Harry asked inquisitively. He remembered it from his dreams from long ago.
Sirius had to chuckle at the question, finding it to be rather out of the blue. "Yes, I loved that thing. Hagrid was already there when I arrived and he was holding you. I tried to beg him to let me have you, but he refused so I let him borrow my bike and take you to Dumbledore. I was furious. I knew they suspected me. Last Dumbledore had heard, I was supposed to be the secret keeper... Of course I was the first suspect.
"I went after Peter. I was going to kill him, but little Petey got the better of me. He destroyed a Muggle alleyway, killing twelve people and all the while shouting about how I had betrayed them. I didn't Harry. You've got to believe that!" Sirius looked almost desperate as he turned silver-grey eyes to his godson. It wasn't enough to know that James understood. He needed Harry to accept the truth, to forgive him for not being able to save his parents.
"I... I believe you," he wasn't sure why he did, but he did. Black was too sincere for it to be a lie. He had also felt a lot of his apprehension drain away as he listened to the man's story. No one could be that good of an actor. Well, it was possible, but Harry doubted that this was an act, and he was generally pretty good at reading people.
The man closed his eyes in relief. "You have no idea how much that means to me," he murmured before resuming both his cleaning and his story, albeit at a much slower pace. Now that Harry believed him, the urgency of relating what had happened didn't seem so dire. "Peter then cut off his own finger and after turning into a rat, scurried down into the sewers leaving me to blame. I... I just stood there laughing. I thought I... I thought I had killed Peter, that I had given him what he deserved.
"I was wrong," Sirius pulled out a clipped photo from the Daily Prophet out of his robes and handed it to Harry. "That's Peter Petigrew on that boy's shoulder. Look at his front paw. I knew as soon as I saw him what he must have done, that you were in danger and I managed to escape to come to Hogwarts to protect you, to get rid of Peter."
Harry did as he was asked, gasping softly in surprise when he recognized those in the photo. It was of the Weasleys and the rat in question was Scabbers! He looked up at his godfather almost in horror. "I know them. The boy's Ron. He's my best friend. That's his pet rat..." Harry trailed off staring at the picture again. He'd been sleeping in the same room as the man responsible for his parents' deaths and he hadn't had any clue! He had to take several moments to regain control of the emotions suddenly welling up.
Sirius moved to place his hand back on Harry's shoulder offering what comfort he could.
"You've been in Azkaban all this time because of him. Because of something he did," Harry stared dazedly up at the owner of the hand who just nodded silently. "We have to do something. We have to prove you're innocent," he said emphatically, a new respect rising for the man who had more than likely seen worse things than he himself had, and that was saying something.
"If... if I am proven innocent. Would you, would you like to stay with me here? I know it's not much, but I thought maybe we could fix it up before you went off to school if you were interested," Sirius fidgeted nervous looking positively afraid of hearing Harry's answer.
"You mean...?" Harry's eyes went wide.
"I understand if you wanna stay with the Durselys. They got a nicer place and all, but I just thought I'd offer," he finished quietly beginning to turn away, using cleaning as a handy excuse for putting distance between them.
Harry lunged up from his seat, launching himself at his godfather. "Are you kidding?! I'd love to stay with you!" Harry's voice cracked and he blushed. "I hate the Dursleys! Anywhere with you is better than there with them." Harry clung onto the wraithlike convict smiling, ridiculously happy. This was the best day of his life!
Sirius smiled to himself, wrapping his arms around his godson. He was glad Harry had accepted him into his life so easily. He just hoped he could make it up to the boy for all the years he hadn't been there.