I typed this up in a few hours while I was home from school sick. I hope you enjoy. Sorry for inventing the warden. Just kick him in the shins and pretend he's not there.


The Minister's Newspaper


Oh boy, the Minister's coming for one of his cursory inspections of Azkaban, and he expects humane treatment of the convicts! Quick, quick, polish up the prisoners, dust the locks, tone down the dementors! Mustn't have any of that despairing wailing from the new inmates, and make sure the long-time residents have a little perk left! Extra rations for the meal, and make sure there's at least one or two who can still speak, just in case he asks some questions! The Minister's coming!

oo

The notorious Sirius Black had just relinquished his more comfortable canine form when a loud click announced that the lock on his cell door had been opened. Not deeming it worth his time to actually sit up, he remained prone on the floor, guessing how many beings were outside the door by the sound of robes swishing. He nodded a passive welcome to the burly guard and smaller prison warden as they entered, flanked by a dementor. He had overcounted by one—but that wasn't really his fault, since dementors' robes don't generally make noise.

The warden, wand aloft, took a few steps toward the prisoner, giving him a look over. "All right, there, Black?"

Sirius propped himself up on one elbow and smiled sardonically, "Not to be rude here, Curast, but since when have you cared?"

Curast scowled. "I see you're talking still."

"Shame, isn't it? Are the Lestranges still talking? They arrived around the same time I did, you know," the prisoner smirked. He sat up fully, stretching his arms and waggling his fingers. Paws often made one forget how human digits felt.

"The condition of any prisoner but yourself is of no consequence. Now, can you stand?" the warden asked, glancing around the cell.

Sirius brushed the dust from his dirty and torn robes with a painstaking meticulousness. The action was not done vainly, for the prisoner knew that no amount of brushing could improve his appearance; rather, it was done to deliberately delay and annoy Curast. After a sufficient amount of time had passed, Sirius drawled nonchalantly, "Oh, I suppose so."

Exasperated, the warden snapped, "Well, do it, then!"

Sirius stood. The shorter Curast walked around him twice, judging him. It was true that of the prisoners housed in Azkaban, Sirius Black was one of the ones in the best shape. Unbeknownst to the warden, though, that was because Sirius avoided the dementors most of the day by 'hiding' in dog form. Nodding to the guard, Curast looked down at a sheet of parchment in his hand. "We'll be transferring you to a new cell for the day."

Quirking an eyebrow, Sirius allowed a binding charm to be placed around his wrists. A new cell? That could only mean one thing. "Ah, the Minister's coming, and I'm a showpiece in your little collection!"

"Yes, well, we all like to keep up appearances. Come now."

Sandwiched between the large guard and the dementor, Sirius's ravaged body shuddered with cold sweat. He still had not gotten used to the feeling of dementors in his human form. Two flights of stairs later, his atrophied muscles had given out and he was being half-carried by the guard.

At last the small party reached the new cell. Collapsing on the floor, the prisoner noted that is was considerably nicer than his normal room. The stone tiling was spread with a generous layer of straw, and the cell was fairly well-lit.

"A window! You must reserve this one for the very well-off dogs in this pound you're running," Sirius panted, noting the tiny patch of grey sky that broke the monotony of one bleak wall.

There was no answer from the two men, but the guard stripped Sirius of his filthy prisoner's robes and exited, followed by Curast and the dementor.

Some time later (Sirius could tell because the light coming from the window was different), he returned, bringing with him the robes—now slightly cleaner—and two bowls. One was full of broth, the other of water. "Wash," he commanded, handing the bowl of tepid water to Sirius.

After the prisoner had sufficiently washed his face, hands, and body, the guard handed him the other bowl. In it was a double portion of soup, and this particular recipe actually included recognizable vegetables and even a few small pieces of meat. Sirius downed it in a few gulps and instantly felt better. After he had put the mildly less soiled robes back on, he curled up on the comparatively soft straw and began to sleep.

oo

A few hours had passed when the prisoner again caught the sound of footsteps coming down the stone corridor. This time a large party was approaching, and he could hear snippets of conversation. Rising, he went to the door.

Unlike the door in his other cell, this one had bars through with he could see part of the hallway. Soon he caught sight of a short, rather rotund man with a lime-green bowler in his hand, flanked by wizards and witches. Curast was walking backwards before him, giving him specifics about the prison.

Shortly, the group reached Sirius's door. Curast, casting a glance at the prisoner's face (which, by this point, was pressed against the bars looking rather interested), proclaimed, "Sirius Black!"

The group of Ministry officials gawked at him like you might a famously lewd painting or a particularly ferocious zoo animal. To these appalled yet fascinated spectators, Sirius flashed a quick smile and added, "Convicted of murdering twelve Muggles and one wizard, of being a spy for Lord Voldemort-" (a collective shudder passed through the group on the other side of the bars) "-and of betraying the Potters to their deaths. Consequently sentenced to life in Azkaban without trial, and with no hope of parole. Not that any of it's true, but I'm sure the warden meant the mere mention of my name to imply the crimes with which I have been charged. How do you do, Minister?"

The Minister, while taken aback, managed to stutter, "F-fine. You seem to be doing well, Sirius."

Shrugging, the prisoner retorted, "As well as can be expected while being starved in prison, constantly having what little happiness I have left leeched away. Did you know I had soup with meat in it today? I don't believe I've had meat for a good five years now."

"Yes…er. I suppose that's good, then, isn't it?" Fudge laughed nervously.

"How's the wizarding community doing now? Rather good, I should hope, now that you have so many dangerous traitors rounded up?"

Avoiding the question, Fudge replied, "You do seem in fairly good spirits." Turning to Curast, he asked bluntly, "I thought the dementors were supposed to make them rather lifeless?"

"Our Mr. Black seems to be an anomaly in that respect, sir," the warden replied apologetically, rubbing his hands together.

"That's because I know the truth. It's not a happy truth, but it's what I cling to," Sirius responded, weaving his thin arms through the bars so he could prop up his head.

The group clustered a bit closer to the door. "What's that?" one witch asked. From the nervous looks on everyone's face, it was evident that they thought he might be referring to more Dark attacks yet to happen.

"I'm innocent," the prisoner responded simply. "I don't harbour the hope that any of you will ever believe me, but hey. It's what I've got."

A collective feeling of relief flowed through the group. A few people even laughed. Sirius glared at these rude souls, and they instantly silenced themselves. Even behind bars, his infamy had not lost any of its pungency.

"Anyway, I do thank you for visiting, Minister. At the very least it gave me a day of relative comfort. Do come to see me more often. It often gets very lonely with nothing but dementors and rats for company," the convict added after a moment of uncomfortable silence.

"Yes, very good," Fudge responded, with an ever so slight inclination of his head.

As the group turned to continue on with the tour, Sirius caught sight a something tucked under Fudge's arm. Immediately he called, "Minister! Fudge!" When he had their attention again, he indicated the object. "Is that a copy of The Daily Prophet?"

Looking down at the paper tucked against his body, the Minister of Magic nodded. "Why, yes, it is. Today's issue, actually."

Sirius's eyes gleamed. "May I…you know, have it? I haven't seen a paper since I was in here. I used to love doing the daily crossword puzzle. It would be…oh, it'd be wonderful to be able to do one again. In fact, you could just give me that page, if you wanted."

"You can still read?" another wizard spat.

Sirius turned a flat gaze upon the man. "The fact that I am imprisoned does not necessarily preclude that I am unintelligent, sir."

The other wizard quailed under the deadened look of the prisoner. Fudge contemplated the request for a moment. The man in the cell was little more than a living skeleton, but he seemed sane and rational, and even polite for a prisoner. A little pity moved Fudge's heart. What harm could come from letting the man do one last crossword puzzle?

"Certainly. Here, have the whole paper," Fudge smiled, slipping the issue through the bars. Sirius grabbed it eagerly, a true grin flickering briefly over his drawn features.

The warden, who had been silent until now, cleared has throat and said, "Actually, sir, we don't allow our prisoners to have—"

"Oh, shut up, Curast. What's the problem with letting the man have one newspaper?" Fudge asked irritably.

From inside the cell came a soft, "The Weasleys?"

The Minister turned his attention back to the inmate. "Yes! Good family. They won a nice prize not too long ago; used it to visit their boy Bill, who's working in the pyramids."

Sirius gave the ghost of a smile. "I was cousins with Arthur Weasley once. With Molly Prewett, too. Bill hadn't even gone to Hogwarts last I saw him." He looked back at the moving photograph on the front page. "I see they finally got their little girl." His hollow eyes flickered over the article and then went back to the picture. Suddenly he started a little.

"Are you all right?" Fudge asked, very uncomfortable about that little jump. The rest of the group moved uneasily; they too had noted Black's sudden keen interest in the paper. Any sudden movement on the inmate's part was a cause for suspicion.

"What?" the prisoner asked distractedly. "Oh. Oh, I just noticed the date on the paper. I didn't realize it had been twelve years since I was locked away here. Thank you for the paper, Minister. Very decent of you. I would shake your hand, sir, but given the circumstances…"

"Quite fine, quite fine," Fudge said dismissively. "Enjoy your puzzle, Black. Perhaps I'll bring you another on my next visit."

It was with a very different look in his eye that Sirius responded, "That would be wonderful, sir. I'll look forward to it."

The party finally moved on, Fudge minus a newspaper but feeling vaguely satisfied. No one noticed Sirius crouching down in the faint beam of light coming from his window, studying the picture again. No one heard his quiet, pained laughter as one grubby fingernail scratched at the tiny image of a rat with a missing toe perched on a teenage boy's shoulder. And no one thought that in just a few days, Sirius Black's cell would be empty.

No one but Sirius realized that the Minister had not just given him a newspaper: he had given him a reason to live, and a reason to escape. All thoughts of innocence fled the convict's mind; his new goal in life was to finally commit the murder for which he had been imprisoned.

oo

Less than a week later, a huge black dog slipped carefully out of Azkaban in the middle of the night. It swam desperately southward, and just when its thin muscles had given their last, it touched land. The first day was spent recovering strength from the frigid swim, but the next night the nearby fishing village had its butcher shop ransacked, resulting in large quantities of meat going missing. No clues were found except pawprints as big as a bear's and a few tufts of black fur amidst the broken glass of the window.

So while the furious search for the man known as Sirius Black was raging around the nation, an enormous canine was making its way covertly towards Little Whinging and a thirteen-year-old boy with very untidy black hair and a rather unusually shaped scar on his forehead. This dog left in its path a string of minor burglaries and several children who were scarred for life when a huge animal leapt out of the bushes in the local park and stole their ice-creams from their hands. But no one drew the connection between beast and man, so the dog was allowed to roam southward, in search of the Boy Who Lived.

And the rest, as they say, is history.