Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to Harry Potter. It belongs completely to JK Rowling and WB.
Walking past the cold iron gate of cell 563, you might have thought it was empty. There was no arms thrown limply round the bar, no poor soul sitting bolt upright on the narrow bed with wide eyes; not even a curled up body on the floor which trembled and muttered to an invisible rescuer.
But if you looked, and by looked I mean really looked, into the darkest corner, you may have been rewarded by a shadow which was darker than the rest. If you'd stared for so long the space behind your eyes and the muscles in your face began to ache, that shadow may have taken a form. The form of a man with his knees drawn up to his chest and his thin arms clutching them even closer. A man whose shoulders were tense, as if facing down a formidable foe, and who had hair that was long and matted beyond reprieve. If you'd looked for long enough, and hard enough, you might have seen Sirius Black hiding from your prying gaze.
Had it only been a month?
Sirius' body ached, as if his bones had leeched the bitter cold of the rock wall surrounding him and taken it to their very cores. Even the throbbing of his lower back, carefully nurtured from days of sitting in one space, one position, had ebbed to this unimaginable cold. If he was still enough, cold enough, he could stop thinking altogether. He wouldn't see Prongs, and for a few minutes there would be relief from this searing pain in his gut. The empty space in his chest, where James had once been, would be forgotten for those miraculous few moments.
A voice hissed from the darkness, a female figure standing in the darkness opposite his cell. He vaguely recognised the voice as that of his cousins, but didn't say anything.
"Black!" taunted the voice, cruel and unfeeling. It was soon joined by others, all hissing at him from behind their own prison bars. "What are you doing here Black?"
"You don't belong here Black!"
He knew what they were doing. They wanted him to break down, to crack and scream his agreement into the sea beyond. They had played this game before, calling out to the weaker inmates. The common criminals, thieves and conmen. But they always came back to Sirius. They came back to him because he didn't belong here, and they all knew it.
"When's Dumbledore coming to save you, eh Black?"
But he didn't speak a word. He never did.
Time began to have no meaning to Sirius anymore. The days, which he had once counted religiously, turned to months. Then, as these months began to stretch further and further into eternity, they blurred into one long night. Because after all, there was no day here. Even when the sun shone softly, it was always just out of reach. That was the cruelty of Azkaban – nothing could enter here. Nothing but the cold and the dark.
Sirius was sitting on the bed. Or what worked as a bed in this hellhole. He found he couldn't remember a time when the bars hadn't been there. He couldn't remember much anymore. The walls, the damp and rotting walls, seemed to have grown inside his head as well as surrounding his body. An invisible barrier he couldn't break through as much as he tried, keeping those days playing with the baby and laughing with his friends hidden away from him. His own past kept under lock and key in the back of his head.
But there were some scenes which he had access to, and these played over and over in his mind. His mother screaming at him from across the table, his father spitting swears at him. James' dead eyes and Lily's cold hands. The baby calling to him as he handed him over to Hagrid. And Peter. Peter's pale, sweaty face as he had looked into Sirius' and handed him over… to here.
At night the screams still echoed through the prison. Newcomers every time. They had given up baiting Sirius now, preferring to turn to the younger, more vulnerable wizards. One night a kid came in, a boy of about nineteen forced into a cell not far from Sirius' own. He was young and blonde, with a pale face, and by the time the Dementors had been past a few times he was sobbing for his mother.
People like this boy were the ones who were targeted. They screamed out swears in the dead of night, called for their parents and added to the damp with their sobs. Sirius would sit there and listen, his own dry eyes gleaming in the dark. After they had been here a week or two they tended to quiet down. They all did, in the end.
People didn't visit Azkaban. Maybe they weren't allowed; maybe they just couldn't bear to step one foot into the stinking fortress. Whatever the reason people, normal, everyday people, didn't visit Azkaban. Except once.
Once Sirius saw a couple passing his bars. He was like the others now, and for the first time he really saw it. He stood with his back sloped, his arms thrown heavily past the bars and hands hanging to the mouldy floor. He watched through the same dead eyes as everyone else as a man half-carried his sobbing wife away from the kid's cell. Out of all the people who had called for their mothers, his was the only one who came.
How long had it been? He had no idea. He spent days sitting by the bars, watching the Dementors gliding past, otherworldly and detached. God, how he hated them. He hated the way they moved, the way they breathed, the way they were. He hated the cold that seemed to grow around them and embed itself into his very soul. He hated the way they made him feel – how he felt sick to his stomach whenever he caught a glimpse of his own hand or arm. The marks etched into his skin without his permission or consent. He hated them because they made him hate himself.
One night there was a death. One of the few individual events that happened – one of the only things that broke from the routine that was carried out faithfully every day, every month, every year.
The Dementors felt it first. They swarmed around a cell a few door along, passing it more often than was necessary, their rattling breathes heavy and almost lustful. Padfoot had spent that day pressed as far away from the bars as possible, face pressed into the cold stone and praying that it would soon be over. And, eventually, it was. Sirius watched them bury him in the dirt outside the prison. A limp rag-doll thrown into a gaping chasm while its cellmates watched and envied his fate.
Was he mad? Padfoot wasn't even sure anymore. He was innocent, but was he sane? Did sane people spend days at a time watching an unmoving wall? Did sane people while away their sleeping hours by replaying their best friend's betrayal over and over again behind their closed eyelids? He didn't think so. But sometimes, being insane was the only way to keep yourself normal.
Another person visited the prison, an eternity after the first pair. He wore a stupid hat, and carried a newspaper in his arm. His name was Fudge. As he walked he spoke to the Dementors and peered through the bars at Padfoot's companions. They muttered to themselves, some of them, and unnerved their guest. Perhaps that was their aim, or perhaps they were mad. Padfoot neither knew nor cared. When the man stopped outside his cubicle Padfoot stood. He asked him, in a voice that cracked and rasped with neglect, whether he could have that paper.
"I miss doing the crossword," he grinned, more to upset the man than anything. It worked - Padfoot got an alarmed look and a paper for his trouble. It was the first bit of amusement he'd had for what seemed like an age, and it was taken from him the next time a cloaked figure hovered outside his door.
That slimy, backstabbing traitor stared out at Padfoot for weeks through that photo in the paper. The caption drilled into his skull, the words imprinting themselves a thousand times over in his mind.
"… The start of the new school year at Hogwarts, which five of the Weasley children currently attend."
He was at Hogwarts.
He was at Hogwarts. With Harry.
Wormtail was in the same place as Harry. As the baby.
Sirius knew then, that he needed to get out. And, suddenly, he knew how.
A/N: Yes, I know. I have no idea of Christmas Spirit. Sorry. But please review?