It was a hot, muggy day that found Remus Lupin walking through the extremely overgrown garden of a dilapidated house outside of muggle London, thinking longingly of his own ramshackle residence clear on the other side of town.
Remus' condition had always made life hard despite the fact that he was a fully trained wizard. Fear of anything that was different from themselves was prevalent among wizards, so Remus often found himself suddenly without work or shelter when someone caught on to his illness, much like his landlord who had suddenly confronted him about his absences on the full moon.
Knowing that he could not afford for it to happen again, Remus had let his landlord in on a little secret: that he, Remus Lupin, hunted werewolves every full moon. The old man had been very impressed and from then on delighted in seeking Remus out after the full moon and saying, "You look a mess, Rem… I bet you caught one last night!"
And so it had gone for several months until Remus found himself out of a job yet again and mentioned to his landlord the need to move. The old man had been understanding and put Remus in contact with a cousin of his who dealt in the restoration of abandoned properties. Though Remus had been doubtful of any employment they could offer him, he had been relieved to find out that he would be working freelance for Mr. Randal's cousin, doing a preliminary walkthrough of old buildings and taking care of any nasty creatures he would encounter, as they were constantly halting progress.
Remus had taken the job for lack of better prospects, but soon found that business flourished and provided a steady income. The job was flexible enough to allow Remus to take on other odd jobs if need be, and new projects were mysteriously never scheduled to start around the full moon, so Remus had those necessary days free.
Remus was doing so well that he had finally managed to acquire a small house at the very edge of the woods, where he lived pleasantly. And though Remus was more than pleased at finally having something that resembled steady work, he had received an owl from Dumbledore at dawn requesting they meet that very day and Remus was anxious to find out what could what could be so important that the headmaster demanded such haste.
A less than diligent search of the garden revealed no threats to Remus, who considered his work finished and promptly Apparated to his own backyard. He rushed into the house to change for his meeting with Dumbledore, but was surprised to find the headmaster already waiting for him inside.
Sitting calmly on the couch and looking quite at home was Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, wearing robes in a subdued shade of maroon and a grave expression.
Remus did not bother to greet him, instead heading to the kitchen to brew a pot of tea. Once served, he carried both cups and saucers to the kitchen table where Dumbledore had settled into a seat.
"I know you must be wondering what brings me here, Remus."
Remus nodded. "I know it must be something significant."
"I am afraid it is, and it is not good news." Dumbledore handed Remus a newspaper and added sugar to his tea as Remus read it.
Emotions flickered on Remus' countenance, ranging from sorrow, to anger, and perhaps even a hint of defeat. He closed his eyes for a minute, sighed heavily, and looked at the newspaper in his hand, then at the old man now standing in front of his kitchen table.
"So this is it?" Remus asked quietly.
Dumbledore nodded. "I'm afraid the Ministry has lost all hope of finding him," he replied. "We have had five years of relative peace, without even a hint of Voldemort and now Fudge is ready to honour Harry's memory and simply move on. I believe this is why they have officially called off the search."
Remus set the newspaper down next to his now forgotten mug. "But you, of course, are still searching? You haven't given up?" the young man spoke so quietly that Dumbledore almost missed his question.
Dumbledore shook his head slowly. "No. I have not stopped searching. But you have to admit, Remus, it has been five years and we are no closer than we have ever been."
Remus nodded. "I know it's been five years, but I suppose one never loses hope..."
Both men sat in a silence for a few minutes, each absorbed in their own thoughts. Dumbledore cleared his throat and opened his mouth to speak, but Remus lifted his head unexpectedly and was looking at Dumbledore with a peculiar expression on his face.
"What do you believe?" The question was sudden, though the interruption had not been meant to be rude. Remus thought Dumbledore looked slightly surprised, but if it was so, he quickly hid it.
"I believe in a lot of things, Remus. You have to be more specific." As old as he was, Dumbledore held Remus' gaze steadily.
"Do you have any hope at all that he is alive? Do you believe there is a chance…?" Remus did not need to complete his train of thought. He was almost staring at Dumbledore now, something like urgency lurking in his eyes.
Dumbledore gave a heavy sigh and took a seat once more. "I can find no other explanation for Harry's disappearance other than that which we know is most likely. I believe that he was indeed taken by Voldemort's followers, and though we know Death Eaters to be cruel and not above harming a mere child, they are also clever and cunning and would be more likely to use him for gain."
"But if they had something planned for Harry, wouldn't they have set their plan in motion by now?" Remus asked.
Dumbledore considered this for a moment. "Without knowledge of the plan, we can do nothing more than make an educated guess. The lack of dark activity directly related to Voldemort tells us that whatever their plan is, it likely has not succeeded, and considering Voldemort's particular interest in Harry, I do not think the plan was to kill him, much less so discretely. No, this was carefully orchestrated by someone close to Voldemort, if not by Voldemort himself before his downfall.
"We have seen the rash actions of those who followed him and were left with nothing, and if Harry had been in their hands, we would have seen the tragic result by now. I am optimistic that this lack of closure is a good sign that Harry is still alive and whoever has him is doing a very good job of hiding him. Perhaps now that the search has ended they will let their guard down, and become careless."
Remus gave small nod and his face was impassive once again. "That's always a possibility, I suppose," he began quietly. He sat there silently for a few seconds before speaking again. His voice was hesitant and he refused to meet the Headmaster's eyes. "Do you think... is it possible that Sirius was the one who took Harry?"
Dumbledore replied with a slight shake of his head. "Don't you think if Black knew where Harry was, he would have tried to make a deal with the Ministry by now?"
Remus nodded. "Of course. Unless he…" Remus trailed off as he glanced at his old teacher and noted the sad expression on his face. "You don't still blame yourself, do you?" he asked with a frown.
Dumbledore gave him a sad half-smile. "Who else is there to blame? Young Harry's kidnapping that night was entirely my fault. I failed to protect the Potters and Harry."
"There was no way you could have known." Remus answered quietly. Dumbledore shook his head.
"No... I suspected that we had a spy among us, of course, but..." he trailed off, and Remus winced when he realized just how old and tired Dumbledore looked. "Well, the time has come for me to leave. I merely felt that it was best if you heard the news from me. If you'll excuse me, I do need to return to Hogwarts."
"Of course... Thank you for coming by. Will you let me know if..." he hesitated for a moment, "...if anything comes up?"
Dumbledore nodded and moved towards the fireplace. Remus did not bother to accompany him. The light in the living room flared a brilliant green, and illuminated the kitchen slightly. Remus, sure that Dumbledore was gone, picked up his mug and in a surprising show of frustration, threw it against the wall. Then slowly, as if nothing had happened, he stood up and moved towards the wall, occupying himself with cleaning up the mess by hand.
. ~ . ~ .
. ~ . ~ .
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Sirius Black watched drops of water fall from the ceiling of his darkened cell onto his stone floor. He started counting before long, wondering just how much water fell into his cell on a daily basis. And, was it possible, that on a particularly rainy day the water would fill his cell completely?
'One... two... three... four...five.' he counted in his head.
There was a story he vaguely remembered. Greek mythology, he was certain, about a girl who was forced to carry water from a well in a leaky jug. Or was it a pair of girls? He thought they may have been sisters. Come to think of it, had there not been more than two? Or were they trying to fill the well with a leaky jug?
Had he, Sirius, angered some Greek deity who had thus sentenced him to the same fate? Was his punishment to sit in a cell that would never fill, like the water jug, and await the day water would finally replace the air and let his soul find peace? As quickly as the thought had come, however, it had gone. It was a while before sleep came in its stead.
. ~ . ~ .
. ~ . ~ .
Sirius woke up disoriented and unsure of the time; his cell was as dark as ever. He closed his eyes again, but he knew sleep would not come. A pity, really, since it was the only thing that passed the time. With a heavy sigh, Sirius sat up and leaned against the wall. There was no water dripping into his cell, so he was left without his usual form of entertainment. He would not, however, allow himself to think. Thinking was the worst possible way to pass the time in Azkaban. Any positive emotion that came from it was quickly taken away, and every mistake and negative feeling was amplified.
Sirius turned his attention to the countless marks on the wall. He had made some himself in the beginning, in an attempt to not lose track of time. It had been a waste, however, as the days quickly blended together in a haze of guilt when he was awake, and nightmares when he slept. Many others had occupied the cell before, he knew. There were many other scratches on the walls, mixing with his to create a grotesque work of art that would have been right at home in his mother's house. Counting them would not by any means give him a precise account of his time there, so instead he looked for figures and shapes in the scratches, like a morbid parody of the games he had played as a child, staring at the clouds in the sky.
Sirius tried to ignore the bitterness swelling up in him as he remembered how he had dutifully gotten up each morning and made his mark on the furthest wall until he had realized that what he often counted as three nights had only been one long, unending day. And Sirius stopped counting then. He quickly lost interest in reminiscing as well and slowly but surely, depressing thoughts were finding their way into his head. Sleep sometimes offered relief, taking him back to the street where he had cornered the rat that day and-
Sirius recalled his dreams with a shudder; the last few dreams had not taken any turns in his favour. He groaned in frustration and slammed his head against the wall. "Quit it," Sirius muttered to himself. The thoughts seemed to keep coming, however. He slammed his head against the wall again. "Quit it."
In a merciful twist of fate, this daily torture was interrupted by what he could almost swear were two men's voices. At once Sirius realized the prison had been un-naturally quiet. He could hear footsteps approaching and pieces of their conversation become clearer.
"...true…called off?" A male voice asked softly.
A second man spoke, "...afraid so…five years...no choice. We have no hope."
Sirius strained his ears to listen, unsure of who the speaker was and why he would be taking a casual stroll through Azkaban. He knew that the ministry conducted inspections periodically, though he could not remember ever witnessing one himself. It would most definitely explain why his neighbours were all being so quiet. Sirius could not be sure, as he had been sleeping himself, but he was willing to wager half of them had been stunned.
"Sad state of affairs... lost... shame." the first voice was saying.
Sirius felt the air in his cell get colder as the voices came closer. These men the voices belonged to were, no doubt, accompanied by Dementors.
"Yes, sad, indeed." The second voice sounded familiar, almost like someone Sirius had met in another life… "Azkaban," the voice continued, "I hate it."
Sirius laughed bitterly, though he hardly realized it at first. The sound had been sudden and muffled, and quite unrecognizable. The footsteps stopped for a second, but resumed when nothing else was heard. It was not long before the men reached his cell, and Sirius was able to recognize the second man as Cornelius Fudge.
Fudge glanced inside the cell briefly, and did a double take when he realized Sirius was awake and looking at him with a faintly curious expression. Fudge faltered for a second and his eyes widened slightly but he turned suddenly and made to keep moving.
"Good morning, Fudge." Sirius managed to choke out raspily. The words had the desired effect; Fudge stopped.
"How dare you address the minister like that?" The first man spoke angrily.
Sirius, perhaps attempting and failing to look impressed, gave Fudge a rather mocking look and said, "Pardon my manners, Minister."
Ignoring the taunt, Fudge muttered with disgust, "Sirius Black...Still sane?"
"Just barely, I think."
Fudge looked at a loss for words. He turned to his companion as if for strength and said, "There's nothing good about this morning, Black. Why, it's not even morning… I would say it's nearly nightfall."
Sirius Black shrugged. "My mistake, of course. You can never really tell time in here..."
Silence followed Sirius' statement, and Fudge made to keep moving, but Black spoke again.
"Anything interesting, besides the crossword?" Sirius asked motioning to the rolled up newspaper Fudge was nervously squeezing.
The Minister's desire to run out of the building had almost doubled during their brief conversation, but he knew he must complete his tour of the prison. He absolutely refused to be anywhere near Azkaban when night fell, and standing there talking to a mass murderer would not speed matters up at all.
Without even glancing at the newspaper, Fudge folded it in half through the bars and tossed it at Sirius, who caught it easily. "Read for yourself," Fudge muttered in frustration, and kept walking.
Sirius watched the two men walk away and waited for their footsteps to fade, though he thought he could still hear the echo of angry voices. He felt as if the newspaper was burning in his hand, the only link he might ever have to the outside. Looking around the cell desperately, he unfolded it hesitantly.
Did he really want to know what was going on in the outside world?
Contemplating that maybe he had always been a masochist at heart, Sirius Black stretched out the newspaper in front of him. He quickly regretted it, however, as he almost choked at the picture on the front page. It was a picture of young Harry Potter, standing by a coffee table, smiling and looking up at the camera curiously. Sirius had taken that picture, if his memory was correct; Harry had been only a baby, taking his first steps. Sirius moved his eyes to the headline, a feeling of dread creeping up on him.
Search for The Boy Who Lived Officially Terminated
Sirius' eyes widened in shock. Had something happened to Harry? He moved closer to the cell door in search of more light to read, held up the newspaper as close as he could to the torch outside his cell, and began to read.
It seems that after almost five years of searching for Harry Potter, the Ministry has finally had enough. The Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, announced only last night that he was officially ending the search for the missing boy. "It's been five years, you know," a very flustered Fudge told reporters, "If we had any hope... What I mean is, we have been looking for him for almost five years, and we haven't found a single trace of him. Or anything to suggest that he's even... you know, alive."
Harry Potter, who managed to defeat the most powerful dark wizard this century when he was only a baby, disappeared the same night that his parents died. Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School, had the child picked up from the ruins of the Potter home that same night and delivered to the boy's only surviving relatives, a muggle aunt and uncle. The muggles, however, claim to have no knowledge of the child's whereabouts, insisting instead that he never arrived at their home.
The entire affair was highly embarrassing for the Headmaster, and he has presumably been searching for the boy endlessly since the discovery that he had gone missing. There is nothing for the Ministry to go on. No witnesses or clues to his whereabouts have surfaced in the past five years. "It's as if the boy just vanished into thin air!" The Minister exclaimed when asked why there had been no result from their search.
The Ministry of Magic has announced its intention to hold a public ceremony in honour of Harry Potter, though the exact location has yet to be decided. Early reports, however, state it will be held on Halloween, the anniversary of his disappearance.
Sirius folded up the newspaper and threw it against the cell's wall, feeling repulsed by it. His heart was racing, and he knew the Dementors were slowly working their way over to his cell. He had to calm down.
'Calm down,' Sirius thought bitterly, 'how can I?'
It was all Dumbledore's fault. Hagrid had told Sirius that Dumbledore would take care of Harry, so Sirius had gone off and chased little Peter, thinking Harry was safe. But Harry had not been safe. Harry was gone...
Sirius looked up, noticing no less than six Dementors outside his cell. Drawn by his sudden burst of strength and unyielding fury, the Dementors were now gathering outside his cell. It was obscene, how they managed to convey excitement with no voice or visible face. Without thinking, he jumped to his feet and threw at the Dementors the remains of a questionable substance that had been his dinner. Absently noting that he had hit the front three, he then finished his act of rebellion by kicking out blindly through the bars in his cell. Sirius' foot made contact only three times before he felt it being detained and he threw the newspaper at the offending Dementor, who let him go.
Sirius then threw himself on his battered cot, breathing heavily. The Dementors were certainly angry, and the little bit of satisfaction he had gotten out of the whole ordeal was vanishing quickly. But what was the worse they could do to him? Other than keeping a closer watch on him and making his life more miserable than usual, they were powerless.
A brief moment of confusion gave way to panic as Sirius realized that the Dementors would not be content with letting the matter go. Sirius's eyes widened as his cell door opened; The Dementors seemed to be growing excited as one slowly glided towards the open door, reaching up with one hand to grasp its hood while the other hand stretched out toward Sirius.
Sirius Black was rarely an idiot. He looked around, terrified. Finally, his eyes fell on the still open door. In a split second, he transformed into a shaggy black dog and ran out of the cell with as much speed as he could muster. Dementors, Sirius knew, did not have eyes. Nevertheless, they quickly caught on to the fact that their target was different, but still escaping them. The second their confusion had given Sirius, however, had made all the difference.
Sirius did not know how many Dementors Azkaban housed, all he knew was that he was fortunate enough to not have found very many in his path. Some sensed he was coming, but he managed to avoid a collision with them at the last second, running on pure adrenaline and a refusal to give up. Sirius was not thinking of it as escaping Azkaban at all, which was perhaps the biggest irony of all.
Sirius did not know how long he had been running, or how he had managed it, but he made it out of the prison and ran straight off of the island and into the cold water...