A/N: Sirius opens the year for us by opening his eyes.

Warning: Cliffhanger. Potentially triggering scenes of mostly non-explicit violence and sex that is of dubious and/or non-consensual nature. If you want to read this but wish to be warned for the specific scenes, please see my journal for the commented version.


Chapter 1: Black Redeemed

It really was odd, how clear-headed one could be after sex. Sirius, despite everything, could not remember having experienced such acute clarity before now. Somehow, it did not make sense, even when the only passion in the vicinity was very much not his own. Sex had always fogged his mind, weakened his will, distracted him. Even here, where it was a commodity, he'd been able to lose himself in it sometimes, and it had never been quite this cold, this disconnected.

He was painfully alert when Dolohov finished, slumping on top of him. Sirius, thinking absently of the very inappropriate people he'd fucked in the past— some of them warranting real caution— could not help but compare how careless he'd got used to being to how he was behaving now.

When Dolohov began to move again, Sirius forced himself to relax. Despite his efforts, it hurt. Considerably. Years of forced practice kept down the urge to cry out; not only highly unwise in this situation, a scream or groan might have alerted the Dementors. Especially coming from him.

Sirius grimaced, letting the pain make him shiver instead. There were good things about being close to sane here, as he'd found out over the years. Whenever he'd chosen not to suffer through sanity, life was almost bearable. Azkaban was not just the Dementors, never just the Dementors. There were always wizards and witches within, on both sides of the bars, and though many of the inmates were permanently insane, most had periods of clarity. Most of them made use of those periods, slaking desires, maintaining contacts, building alliances.

Sometimes, it was easy to do so— if your contacts were sane, alive and still interested in trading, it was often easy to slip back into making the rounds. This last month, things had begun easily for Sirius, so much so that it had not surprised him in the least to find out that Bellatrix was in the news again. The last time she'd been steadily featured in the papers, Sirius had been suffering through his first and shortest sane period. Those three weeks had been full of people willing to fight past every obstacle to thrust newspapers in his face and call his family the cesspit of wizarding Britain. It had also been the first time Sirius had heeded advice from someone he hated.

"If you really want to die, go ahead," he could almost hear now. "This is Azkaban, Black. Death is easy…and no one gives a shit."

At first, Sirius had survived because it was hard, and he didn't feel he deserved easy. When near, the Dementors managed to leach all the hope out of every accomplishment, and that was harder to bear when he was sane. Being fed more often because of…arrangements he'd made meant he felt marginally warmer in the mornings, but also meant that he could scream and imagine and see for hours on end when the Dementors floated by.

Listening to Dolohov moving nearby, Sirius could not quite remember when the reason for surviving had been reduced to just that. He did remember that first time he'd woken sane and beneath the blanket obtained months before the usual descent. The fragile sweetness of that moment had held him frozen in bed for hours, acutely feeling his suspension between light and dark, warmth and cold, fear and expectation.

Sirius took a deep breath. The grey-and-black, his personal landscape of insanity, had always seemed close; it was close now. But not like that, never like that, soft and insistent, crowding around him. His entire world a wash of grey fractured by black, save for the blanket and its equally insistent warmth, enduring even in the darkness of his mind.

Soft, scratchy darkness descended, almost making Sirius smile. Speak of the devil, he thought, but forced the smile away as the usual blindfold was tied tightly across his eyes. Dolohov did not like his smiles. Sirius accepted the hand up, tolerated the groping, every bit of him tensing as he felt and heard the man move away. Distance meant danger, he knew, but he stayed still, pretending not to care.

"Here," Dolohov said, and then he was close by again, his hand curling into Sirius' dirty hair even as the wadded newspaper was tucked into his hands. The kiss started without any warning; Sirius, remembering just how much Dolohov had talked up this particular paper, responded in kind. Acidic thoughts about the kisses Sirius had shared with men he actually cared about seemed to pool in the pit of his stomach, burning through to some of the anger beneath.

Dolohov, as always, enjoyed the effect. "Such sharp teeth in such a soft little thing," he whispered, thumbing the jutting collarbones that made his false compliment even more of a mockery. "You'll know who to thank for this, of course," he said, stroking the paper. "Let me know when you're done."

Sirius nodded, not liking the veiled excitement in Dolohov's tone, but knowing far better than to show it. Unless unease was what Dolohov was after at that moment, of course. Despite knowing the rumours of what he was here for, Sirius still could not quite picture the man expressing more than the normal run of cruelty that washed through the cells here every day.

It was hard to keep back a smile at that. It had not taken very long for Sirius to learn that being billed as the most dangerous man in Azkaban and actually being that man were two very different things. While Dolohov was also definitely not that man, who apparently directed owl traffic for the entire island by means unknown and unspoken of, he was high enough in the Azkaban's complex pecking order to have had one of the guards let him into Sirius' cell a few months ago.

It had been an unpleasant day, one of those in which Sirius could almost believe himself to be what the wizarding world had made him in their minds. And yet, despite the very real bite lurking behind them, none of the bloodthirsty threats Sirius had directed at Dolohov had had more effect than to put him off talking to Sirius at that moment.

"Waste of my time," he'd said then, calmly, sounding almost bored. "If you keep this up, you'll be Summoning for the Dementors again in no time."

That had enraged Sirius just then, to have his rage taken so lightly. To feel almost part of the barren scenery of his cell, as Dolohov raked uninterested eyes over him and everything else. "I could Summon them sane, you bastard. How about now?"

Dolohov had shrugged then, as he was likely shrugging now. "Be a waste, seeing a lovely young thing like you get Kissed." Sirius could hear him speaking now, sharp amusement colouring his low tone. "He gets like this sometimes, Travers. Move him, he'll walk." Travers, not one of Sirius' usual escorts, said something, low enough that Sirius couldn't make it out. "Not now, I said. When I'm done, you'll be the first to know."

Someone took hold of him, their firm, unyielding grip shifting only to propel him carefully through the door he could not see. Sirius clutched at the newspaper he'd earned and decided to pretend unawareness for some moments more. He dearly wished he'd been able to hear what this Travers had said; he wished even harder that he'd not begun to think of what Dolohov might have done. Many memories he'd suppressed entirely had begun to leak back in fits and starts— another sign of his newly returned sanity— and the raw fear he now instinctively felt at that little exchange might trigger some of the worse ones. Bring them back, with insanity running by them, cheek by jowl, its smell as familiar as the smell of his own piss.

They turned a corner— despite the blindfold, Sirius could always feel that kind of change— and soon enough, Sirius was hearing the rattle-rattle of his bars drawing themselves across. He stood straight, thumbing casually at the page edges he could feel, gripping his renewed fear tight to himself. That last grope from his escort had not been a mistake, that rough, firm hand sliding down as it pushed him in, briefly gripping the bars as its owner said yet another locking password that Sirius knew from experience would not work for him. There was something afoot.

And, as the blindfold fell, released from its spell from a distance Sirius hated not knowing, he quickly found out what. Weak in the knees, Sirius sat down hard, the grubby but legible newspaper spread across his aching thighs.

The headline was just two words: BLACK REDEEMED.


Sirus' first reaction, as ever, had been fear. He'd curled up for a few moments, shaking with fear and anger and fear again, barely able to bring himself to read the newspaper he'd worked so hard for. By the time he finally picked it up again, his mind was running high and hard, the only thought that stayed constant being the heavy, panic-inducing one of what Dolohov expected his reaction to be.

Now, at the end of the damp pages of the Prophet, Sirius could almost taste that expectation, could feel it in his aching arse, his bruised sides. Used, his brooding mind supplied. Humiliated. Sirius turned the Prophet over, looking at the picture on the front page for what now seemed like the thousandth time in the last few hours. The intense determination, the possession that flitted across Bella's face as she looked down at her son. Obsession, the near-destructive sort that Sirius instinctively understood.

And suddenly there it was, the most important one, hovering in his mind, side-by-side with Bella's angry, helpless expression— the one that featured prominently in the pictures of her during her son's trial. Unable to walk away.

Sirius smiled tightly, hugging the hard-won knowledge to himself. It was coming together now— the way Dolohov had sought him out this time, the way he'd gently and not-so-gently been encouraged to need more, ask more, it all fit. Seeing Bella humiliated and scorned week after week in the Prophet and in the cells before now only seemed to highlight the passion this story told in pictures, in long, excited accounts, in letters from avid readers.

"No one ignores a Black," he remembered hearing; from Bella, from his mother, from everyone around him. It had been in their faces, in their smiles, in their howls as he was dragged away. Sirius breathed slowly, carefully, trying to let the next thought settle around him: they will notice if I tell the truth. Agree, disagree; call him a liar, a murderer, the thousand things he'd been in small and large ways, the unpleasant things he always bound to himself while he saw the world in black and grey.

They would notice. No one could ignore a body that wasn't dead and in pieces; no one would ignore it if a Black was standing over it, telling that body's wretched, treacherous story.

Sirius let a deep breath out, and took another one in. He knew, knew well that these were foolish thoughts. Useless to him, if he couldn't find that body, or, more importantly, find his way out of this accursed place. But he could very well hope. Quietly, so as to draw no notice.

He folded the newspaper in half, putting away Bella's picture for another day. It helped, of course, that he'd likely had the entirely opposite reaction to this edition of the Prophet than Dolohov had been expecting. It was relatively fresh, for god's sake, and too full of stories about Bella and her son's progress over the 'last few months' to be anything but one of those rare issues they put out to talk up some public figure. Bella suddenly seeming to become that revered figure in the blink of an eye would have enraged Sirius— years ago, when he had not swum so merrily in madness' sea, his mind so actively despairing that he regularly stood in as one of the unfortunate souls whose misery was used to control and summon the Dementors.

Now, though? Sirius smiled, thinking of how shocked he would have been years ago, to know that Bella's success— no, redemption, had given him hope. How…insulted.

Sirius' smile deepened. Hope followed it, spreading traitorous warmth into places where such warmth felt like hurt. Quickly, Sirius changed, thinking that the quick, familiar pain would stop the progress of his painful hope. When it did not, he nipped at his foreleg as hard as he dared. Save your howls, he told himself sharply. Tears are for those who are free.

The pain of the self-inflicted wound kept the hungry smile out of his frame, but only just. Sirius turned round and round, restless, and finally flopped down next to the newspaper, which he barely remembered dropping. Dolohov would need to be dealt with first, of course. Hopefully, he would give in to the lure of the humiliation he'd hoped to cause, and come to Sirius' cell to bask in it. Or perhaps he'd send for Sirius as always.

Sirius shook his head, panting with anticipation. Either way, someone would be opening Sirius' barred cell within days. Sirius licked his teeth, tasting the sharp tang of his own blood. The guards here didn't carry wands, not inside the prison walls. And there was no prisoner here that would not flinch from a Grim, however gaunt and tired it was.

There were the Dementors, of course; their chill was everywhere. It was easier to bear it as a dog, a trick he'd learnt after surfacing from insanity just after they'd switched to using someone else as a Summoner. A few Dementors had been slow to answer the call of that poor soul's mind, and by desperate experimentation Sirius soon found that they lingered less when he changed. He'd used the respites it gave him sparingly, fearing to be caught and punished or worse, exploited for his secret.

Now, his last truly dangerous secret would serve him.

The hope in Sirius' heart continued to sting as it rose, following him quietly as he returned to human form. Panic boiled beneath his hope, reminding him of the few important things that could go wrong. The Dementors might still want him, dog form or no. Once out of the prison and out of their immediate reach, he would still be on the island, surrounded by sea, nothing to direct him home. There might even be a guard wandering the island— from the little he knew, the island was patrolled at least once a day— but that might be good, too, if the guard still had their wand. But if there was more than one, it wouldn't go well. Frightened or not, they'd at least try to cut him down, or immobilise him and fetch a Dementor to sort him out on their behalf. And where would he be then?

Still, Sirius hoped, eyes open, mind in the sky. It was hard not to, with freedom feeling so close. His mind painted pictures of it, and they stayed with him, even when they turned bad, filling with blood and despair. When he woke screaming but sane, he knew the Dementors were near, and wished he'd been able to afford to stay changed until Dolohov or his minions came to fetch him.

Sighing, Sirius lay still, stiff with fear, his mind numb with the cold of the Dementors' passing. He did not feel the time go by like that. One moment, he was shivering on the dank stone floor, itching madly for freedom and shivering with the certain knowledge that he did not deserve it. And then there was someone outside his cell, someone he hadn't heard approach it.

"Black." Sirius, shaken abruptly out of his cold, fearful thoughts, could nearly taste the anticipation in Dolohov's tone. Drawing in the sharp breath that was expected of him, Sirius tried not to think of what the man tasted like. Remembered sourness seemed to fill his mouth.

Good, the mullish, mad-eyed fighter in him said. Better sourness now than the sweetish taste that told of impending nausea. Being sick would spoil the effect of what he was about to do, without a doubt. Drawing recklessly on his bloodthirsty hope, Sirius managed to be more than still as the bars of his cell rattled and let Dolohov in. To his chagrin, they closed behind him immediately, though he had not taken more than a step inside. "Don't look so down," Dolohov said, smiling. "I've another for you."

"You do, do you?" Sirius said, putting the dog into it. Hunger gripped him suddenly, sharp, out of the blue. Fuck, it's feeding time. Feeding time meant his mind would be less sharp, that he would be more vulnerable to suggestion, more likely to be goaded into betraying his one last secret here.

Sirius straightened anyway. He was on a roll, wrapped in mystery, fully "one of those mad Blacks" for perhaps the first time in too long; there was no way he'd back down now. "Tell me if it has my cousin in it." Dolohov would surely dissemble now, perhaps tell him he needed payment for the answer. Sirius did not mind paying, not if it meant that Dolohov would open the bars again, and let him outside. "Tell me!"

"Why?" Dolohov asked, tapping gently at the bars, but saying no password. It was hard not to speak then, but Sirius managed it, forcing a scornful expression onto his face. Dolohov was watching him closely now, a smile on his face, unnerving as anything. Just as Sirius began to think he would leave without asking anything, the other man began to move towards him. As he came closer, Sirius barely glimpsed the look on his face before the shadows of this part of his cell blotted it out, but that glimpse was enough. The man's face was alive with the need for destruction, and his eyes gleamed briefly in the darkness, full of malicious intent.

Obeying instinct, Sirius attacked, drawing strength out of the fetid air around them. Dolohov turned the struggle on its head in minutes, laughing softly as Sirius fought him ineffectively. The man's frantic pants thundered in the cell as he finally bent Sirius' already bruising body onto his bed. Relief raced through Sirius then, doubling as he felt Dolohov press his hardening cock against him. Cold and pain mingled horribly for a moment as his threadbare trousers were tugged violently off, but when Dolohov's hand closed like a vise around his hip, Sirius was prepared for what he now knew was certainly to come.

He screamed anyway, biting his tongue through the worst of it. It was hard to keep fighting, then, though he knew Dolohov would expect it. Sirius compromised as best as he could, trying hard to focus on getting Dolohov's other hand away from his throat instead of getting away from him entirely. Pain made his fingers shaky and useless, and the effort earned him painful thrusts that made him cry out.

It was worth it, however, for Dolohov, laughing harshly, began to slow down. Sirius, gritting his teeth, tried not to hope for more. But the hand that had been choking him let go, moving down to his other hip. The sigh that came to him at that was thrust apart into short, desperate-sounding pants, but the relief behind it was whole. The real violence was over now; soon enough, Dolohov would finish, slump, insult him to the core and leave. Sirius, knowing he would need strength to follow him out, finally allowed himself to go limp.

The breathless laughter that caused gave him panicked pause. Dolohov shifted suddenly and stopped, one hand leaving Sirius' hip and feeling around to the front. Sirius' fearful confusion fell away with the first squeeze; humiliation took its place with the second. And the third—

"Fuck!" Sirius couldn't stop it, couldn't keep it back. He bit his tongue, fighting the urge to speak, to beg against the unfamiliar pleasure knifing through him, but it wasn't enough. Desperate, useless curses continued to slip from his bloody lips, punctuated by the bursts of pain from the bruises inside him that Dolohov had began to work again.

"Is that all you have to say?" Dolohov whispered to him, his hand still moving, stroking— "You're going to enjoy this if it kills me," he continued, into Sirius' aching shoulder. The involuntary shudder that caused made him laugh. Sirius began to struggle again, uselessly, but the humiliating assault didn't stop. Dolohov's fingers were everywhere. His taunts were everywhere too, accompanied by groans and snickers that hurt more than the slippery pain that was now bringing stinging tears to his eyes.

Then Dolohov swore and thrust hard, his fingers forgetting Sirius in his own release, and it was finally over. Smelly, familiar warmth filled him, another mockery. Sirius jerked himself out of Dolohov's slack grip, though the damage was already done. Dolohov let him go, the death-grip on his hip loosening like it always did after. After.

Usually, after meant Sirius could shiver in peace. He lay still despite the pain and lack of space, determined not to give that ground. How could I have been so stupid?

As always, there was no answer for that, none but the pain. Sirius tried to breathe it out silently, failing when he tasted blood in his mouth. A moment later, Dolohov was rolling him over and tasting it too; the final insult. He let Sirius fall limply back to his hard, narrow bed, smiling contentedly down at him. Sirius barely noticed that he left, barely registered the soft thump of the newspaper that Dolohov let fall to the floor beside him. The aches, all of them, all of them occupied him. He wanted to bite something, wanted to tear at someone until they felt like this, broken apart. Used. Humiliated. No longer faking a shake, a shiver, a tear.

Grey, ghostly waves were pushing at him, surging up to smear the dirty words on the walls into nothing. Shaking, Sirius crawled off his bed and reached out across the floor, hoping to find sanity. The bloodied paper, smeared with— I can't do this, I didn't, I didn't let him

Sirius shook his head, forced himself to look. It's for your own good, he was able to say, until he dimly realised Remus was on the cover. He bit his tongue again then, slashing the paper open. There had to be sanity within these pages, something, anything he could hold onto while this wound closed and let him sleep, let him walk, let him leave

The paper was crumpling, tearing in Sirius' hands. His throat was hoarse, but he could not hear a sound. Peter, he told himself. Find Peter. Have to.

As the next page turned, Sirius could have sworn he heard a swish— a wave—

And suddenly, improbably, he'd found him. That…tail, looping and unlooping around some fool boy's wrist— the caption said Weasleys, that they were on holiday—

Footsteps.

A vaguely familiar-looking man entered the cell quickly, quietly, hunger on his face. When he jeered at Sirius, laughing at his state, Sirius recognised his voice, the still-familiar accent of his words. Dolohov had called him Travers, had told him to wait. For this, no doubt.

Travers touched him, and Sirius saw his face become Peter's, his hands become closing bars, and changed. The screams that filled his ears after that seemed oddly disconnected with the dirt and skin and blood in his mouth, and even more so from the predatory howl that sprung from deep within his chest. His eyes watched the bleeding, dying man struggle for the door, pat a bar, open—

Sirius leapt over him, ignoring the scrape, ignoring the blood and death that called him back to his cell.

Peter first, he heard that predatory part of himself say. He will die.


The guard was slowing him down. Sirius, scowling, decided to take another break, to let them just float aimlessly for a moment. Looking around at the endless-seeming, eerily familiar grey waves, he found himself wondering whether he would have survived the crossing on his own, dog fur or no dog fur. It was the one thought that had kept him from Disapparating and leaving the guard to his fate earlier on, a thought that had blossomed in his mind from the moment he'd run the man down and taken his wand.

He couldn't help scratching at the thought now, with the wind biting his skin, and freedom all around him. Sirius rubbed uselessly at his eyes, forcing himself to pocket the stolen wand. Without him, the man would be unable to move the boat— it was one of those self-propelling models, one that was only partially self-guiding. Such boats needed assistive, wanded magic to make up the shortfall, and would only go so far without steering and other navigational spells.

And, of course, there was the fact that the guard had stayed down once run down. Unconscious and badly wounded, the unlucky bastard was in no fit state to perform any sort of spell. And considering that Sirius would bloody well be taking his wand along with him if— when he Apparated, it was almost certain that the guard would die if left behind.

Still, it rankled. Moments later, propelling the boat south once again, Sirius wondered how on earth the night he'd been transferred over here to Azkaban had gone by so fast. Perhaps the darkness had helped; it was light now, barely so. And perhaps the boat they'd used to ferry him into hell had been in better condition. He'd not taken time to examine the boat that led him to unending captivity, of course; hadn't seemed remotely possible at the time. Two hours ago— Sirius smiled, thinking of that first, shaky Tempus and the ones that had followed— it had not seemed even slightly important.

Now, however… Sirius sighed, looking down at the guard. At least I have a wand.

An hour later, land was in sight. Barren, deserted land, to be sure, but land nonetheless. Sirius hadn't been in the frame of mind to turn his frozen nose up at any land two and a half hours ago, after becoming half-frozen and completely soaked within minutes of his setting out away from the prison, and certainly wasn't about to do so now.

As the boat drew closer to land, Sirius' spirits soared even as his eyes scanned the rocky beach and its surroundings for signs of…anything, really. Paranoia made him slow the boat down and try to Disillusion himself, before belatedly realising that anyone he could see from out at sea would definitely have seen him by now.

So it was that Sirius set foot on British soil for the first time in twelve years, hungry, thirsty, his robes beginning to stiffen with salt. His prisoner soon bobbed along behind him, suspended awkwardly in the air, stunned, his clothes charmed to keep him warm and bound. Settling him down, Sirius proceeded to bring the old boat ashore, using a lightening charm and wadded strips from his tattered robe sleeves to keep his already trembling hands safe from the freezing wood.

He worked slowly, carefully, relishing the feel of a responsive wand in his hand, savouring the mental stretch of remembering which spell to use. Even so, the task was done too soon; hands itching, Sirius picked out the nearest flat-topped rock and sat down, feeling aimless. The cold wind soon gave him an idea, one he excitedly seized upon.

Fire, Sirius thought, eyeing the boat. Not like he needed it now. And really, the guard needed thawing, as did he himself. His fingers closed numbly around the precious wand, which had fallen into his lap. Raising his arm purposefully, Sirius flicked it hard, habit keeping the incantation silent. Incendio!

Nothing happened. Somehow, instead of crushing him, the new impossibility got him to his feet, got him moving. Sirius walked around the beaten old vessel, touching it carefully in places, feeling for the spells that likely preserved it from the common destructive charms and curses.

The sun rose high, its rays never quite reaching the little tableau on the shore, the strange triangle of men and boat. Sirius, mindful of how much, or rather, how little time had passed since they'd landed, refrained from stunning the guard again. Instead, he watched the man's fretful, stiff movements out of the corner of his eye, and only stunned him when he'd rolled over for the second time in half an hour.

The low, feverish mumbling that Sirius heard from the guard during that time began to worry him as he broke down what seemed to be the final spells on the boat— the last thing he needed on hand right now was a body to bury. Still, the boat was a pile of damp, icy wood before he'd decided that a diagnostic spell or two would be a good idea.

"Scio integra," Sirius said. Out loud, this time, because he'd never been very good at these— "Blue…blue for fever, I remember that much." Lots of blue, Sirius found, carefully extending the spell to cover the man's whole body. "Fuck." It was clear, now, that there'd be no time for a fire, time for nothing but some hasty transfiguration of the wood he'd mined from the boat.

Blankets, probably, and robes. Sirius looked critically over his stiff, torn clothes. Definitely robes.

Still, it was a moment before he spoke the first spell, heavy as it was on his tongue. There was something about facing that pile of wood, about knowing that it had been a boat charmed to take on everything.

Everything, it seemed, except for him. A slow, strange smile spread itself on Sirius' face, seemingly of its own accord. But hope answered within him, surging up, feeling stronger than anything he'd ever repressed in Azkaban.

Lifting his wand, Sirius grudgingly let the hope soar. Better than a fire, he told himself, since there was no one around to see it. Better than anything.


Days later, the hope was still around, filling Sirius' chest like a giant balloon. It was getting to be rather irritating, especially when alone, when his mind would dance feverishly on Peter's future grave, occupying itself with thoughts of how to put him in it instead of thoughts of how he would keep from getting caught in the doing of it.

Not that he was that far from getting caught now, even hidden as he was in a muggle Manchester motel. The idea about memory charming the prison guard before abandoning him at a Muggle hospital in Edinburgh had entirely escaped him until about an hour after he'd watched the shivering man taken into the Hospital by a concerned passer-by. After swearing for a quarter of an hour while trying to see if he could find the man again, Sirius had given it up and Apparated to three places in quick succession, hoping to cover his magical trail.

So far, it seemed to have worked. Getting set up in Manchester hadn't been too hard to do once he'd uncovered a forgotten little stash in Leeds, a hollow in an oak tree that contained some rotten canned beans, a tightly folded threadbare robe and— most importantly— money. Sirius, fingering the ratty little sack, could acutely remember the day he'd stashed this away, thinking to provide another quick, useful stop he could easily get to on the run from Voldemort.

Slowly, he shook his head, turning his attention to the busy street below his tiny window. I was so smart then, he thought bitterly. Brilliantly useless.

The tinny, familiar pecking at the window was a welcome distraction. Scanning the street, Sirius stood well out of sight as he opened the window, taking care to do it slowly and quietly enough that it looked mostly normal. The owl zoomed in regardless, flapping and squawking and staring down at him with its beady, disdainful eyes.

Frowning, Sirius cleansed the Knuts he slipped into its payment bag of his magical signature as well as he could, not making a move to touch the fresh, crisp pages of the Prophet until the owl had left. No stranger to paranoia, he shook off the feeling that the owl had known who he was as best as he could. No profit in wasting time in wallowing in that when there was such goodness on offer in the paper.

'THE GREAT RAID: MALFOY MANOR RANSACKED' caught his eye, as did the usual little side story on Bella's son, Antares. Sirius didn't hesitate a moment, turning quickly to the second page to see what— ah.

He stared. Good, great Merlin— that's almost more Dark objects than I've ever seen in my life. Which explained why the picture of the heavily laden dining table at Malfoy Manor took up more than half of the page despite a much smaller headline at the top. Sirius, examining it, counted four wands of varying length, two large coils of grubby rope, and fifteen mounds of largely innocent-looking jewelry before he gave up. A pair of manacles still struggled and snapped within a spell barrier on the right side of the table; some of the grislier items scattered around looked like they were giving off some noxious gas.

Behind it all stood the twitching, barely restrained form of Lucius Malfoy. It was a strategic photograph if Sirius had ever seen one— condemning from top to bottom, from the squirming mink coat that seemed to be eating the cup next to it to the hatred and rage in Lucius' eyes. The article that went with everything was very nearly masterful in construction, with its author adopting a hushed, confidential tone that bled truth and dropped quotes and descriptions realistic enough that she had to have had a source that had been there during the raid.

A page later, Sirius' suspicion was confirmed. A picture of a grimly smiling Arthur Weasley had been placed smack in the middle of a section titled "THE INSIDE STORY: BREAKING MALFOY MANOR".

Smiling incredulously, Sirius settled down onto the stiff bed nearby. Since when had actual Ministry employees been allowed to gab off about even halfway public raids?

"…a week ago, we'd have had only an hour to find Dark Objects before British wizarding law would require us to surrender the Manor back into Mr. Malfoy's possession," Mr. Weasley said. Understandably, the Ministry changed its stance on the interpretation of the Law of the Castle, as it is allowed to do when the owner of the suspect dwelling has recently been tied to Dark dealings— which, as many remember all too clearly, exactly describes Mr. Malfoy's situation.

"An hour was more than enough to find almost all of the things on our evidence table," Mr. Weasley confided, when asked. "If we'd had only that, however, we would have missed some very, very significant finds." It did not take much pressing to find out some details about these finds; they include an anonymous, powerful yew wand and a filthy golden cup. Both of them greatly exuded Dark Magic, and were the first of the batch of seized items to land themselves high-security strongboxes in the Department of Mysteries.

The excitement over the raid's unprecedented success is already having a profound effect. Department Heads at the Ministry are calling for the same depth of scrutiny to be levelled at any and all involuntary members of You-Know-Who's illegal, ruthlessly sadistic organization. According to anonymous sources, the split that has engendered amongst top Ministry officials deepens by the hour, and though there has been a lot of talk about raiding the homes of families like the Malfoys, it seems highly likely that such plans will never crystalize into concrete, successful action.

"A great waste," according to Weasley. "The Malfoys cannot have been the only family to lie their way out of trouble. Searching the houses of old, supposedly involuntary members of the Death Eaters would doubtless yield."

A small picture of Arthur winked up at Sirius, his face bright with enthusiasm despite his dishevelled and burnt hair and person. Sirius scanned the fat caption beneath the picture out of habit, and stilled when he finally began to sense the implication of…well, everything. The cheery, flattering photograph, the sprinkling of authoritative quotes, the 'profound effect' of the raid on the Ministry, an effect the Prophet was obviously helping to magnify.

Sirius, thinking hard, barely felt the fresh newspaper drop from his hands. Soon enough, he had the picture in his hands, the one that had drawn him out of Azkaban. This time, instead of glaring at Peter's fat, glossy coat, he searched for the caption.

The words were nearly too faded and blurred to read, and a few were missing. But the meaning was clear; it was a not-too-recent shot of the family on a rare holiday. And the mostly intact article above it was clearer still: A TRUE WIZARDING FAMILY: Scarred by war but healing cheerfully, the Weasleys are the antithesis to the corrupt, relentlessly politicking Malfoys. Molly Weasley, the matriarch of the family, lost two brothers and several friends in the struggle against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,. Arthur Weasley gave up ambitions of becoming an Auror, channelling his time into supporting family and friends hard-hit by the chaos and fear. Remus Lupin, controversial surrogate father to the Boy-Who-Lived spoke of how the Weasleys helped him several times during and after the war…

Sirius, head spinning, folded away the picture. Promotion, he said to himself, weighing the word in his mouth. With the recent backlash against the Malfoys, anyone Lucius had been leaning on to put obstacles in the way of Arthur's career might have decided to retaliate by removing their objection to his advancement. Suggesting the first article favourably comparing them to the Malfoys couldn't have been hard to do, with the Prophet so receptive to even the smallest and cleanest handful of mud that could be flung in their direction. This raid and the following interview would merely have been icing on the cake.

Sirius rose, the urge to pace overpowering him. After passing it several times, he realised that window the owl had come through was closed— something he couldn't remember doing. Familiar fear squeezed at his gut, fear of the waves, of the mad sea pulling him down even here, where he was free.

Sirius sat down hard, forcing himself to think. So, just now, Arthur was unassailable. That was good, that was obvious; if he found Peter hiding in Arthur's home, it would be a plus in his favour, especially if Sirius' recapture came along with it. Though nothing about his escape from Azkaban had been in the Prophet for the last week, he knew the Ministry had to have found out by now. They'd keep it back, of course, and Arthur would become even more of a golden boy by handing Sirius in.

Then again, if Peter wasn't there…Sirius began to laugh. It was horribly ironic, really; that his only lead, his only fucking clue as to Peter's whereabouts being an old photograph was too ridiculous for words. The sea began to pound against his mind, whispering of comfort, of forgetfulness.

Reluctantly, Sirius refused. "I have to check," he told the sea, earnestly. "Have to." The sea receded slowly, leaving him high and dry. Sirius opened his eyes, wondering when he closed them, and realised he'd taken the picture out again. Fear froze him as his mind sluggishly replayed the little conversation he'd had with— with—

"Get up," Sirius told himself. He put away the picture as he did so, crumpling it heedlessly; there was no need to protect it now. Now, he needed to protect himself. He drew in a deep breath, casting the charms he needed as they came to mind. Dissimulo. Celo sonavi. He paused automatically, almost able to hear what Moody had always said. "Let the spells marry before you charge off," he muttered to himself, the words rising from deep memory. "Let them settle. Celo essentia."

The last spell, as always, was said out loud to test the Self-Silencing Charm's efficacy. Nothing disturbed the dim silence of Sirius' empty motel room, nothing but the slight muffling of sound that came with trying to completely conceal his magical signature. There was no way to test the strength of that, especially since anyone highly sensitive to the presence of magic would be able to sense something of his presence.

Sirius took another deep breath, trying not to feel it could be one of his last. But the weight of a war he'd only barely seen the end of settled on him anyway, like an old friend. "Nox," he said, feeling the fear within him weave with determination. The war had never really ended for him— Peter had seen to that.

Now, it was his turn to be seen to. And Sirius would relish the seeing.

The new, crisp newspaper was examined for the last time, then burnt to ashes within a shaky but sufficient Spell Confinement Bubble. The scent of ashes followed Sirius through the familiar tunnel that was Apparation, dispersing rapidly once he found himself in Arthur's musty toolshed. Breathing a little faster, Sirius loosened his grip on his wand before casting the first spell he would need. Point me Pettigrew.

It was hard not to laugh when the wand shifted and spun, and settled, pointing directly to his right. Alive, then.

Mine. The dog in Sirius wanted to howl in hungry triumph. He allowed himself a nasty smile, and proceeded to Apparate again, thinking hard of Peter's familiar grey coat.

Peter never saw it coming. Napping on his innocent owner's garish orange bed, unaware of Sirius' silent presence…it was almost too easy. Sirius stared for a moment, noting how healthy his old friend looked now. Fat. Glossy. Well cared for.

Sirius' hand tightened around his stolen wand. A moment later, it was visible, as was the rest of him. Only fair; only right that Peter could see what Azkaban had done to him.

Now, then, to wake him. "Reverso animagus," Sirius whispered, infusing the spell with hate. Cool, blue light flared from his wand, blinding him momentarily. And then the rat, half-hidden in the orange covers, began to expand in size, transforming into an alien-seeming form.

Sirius, shaky with surprise, took a step back. The man that had outrun him in that alley was gone; a fat, vaguely familiar-looking middle-aged man in dirty clothes was all that remained. That man was awake, now, rubbing at his eyes instinctively. It did not take long for him to realise what had happened to him, of course— Peter had always been able to scent danger, to feel the change in his situation.

That sense would not save him today. "Merlin," was the first thing Peter said, seeing Sirius. "Oh god—"

"Consero magica," Sirius said immediately, savouring the way the fear on his old friend's face deepened into terror. "Silencio." Now, Peter would be unable to perform a spell without him knowing it. Smiling, Sirius removed the Silencing charm, replacing it with burning links of steel that bound tighter with each struggle. Peter screamed as the first chain curled around him, doubtless recognising the spell. Sirius grinned when he saw his struggle to remain still; a flick of his wand had the chains tightening on their own.

For a long moment, Sirius felt…centred. The chains were beginning to draw blood, burning swiftly through the tattered clothing on his old friend's back no matter how still he remained. The sweat stood out on his forehead; tears streamed from his eyes. His screams were the sweetest sound Sirius had ever heard, filling the room, irrevocably twined with the smell of burning flesh and the stink of Peter's fear.

The moment, of course, did not stand. The door behind him exploded without any warning, spraying the room with shards of wood. Sirius spun round to face it, and felt his heart sink.

Molly Weasley stepped through the door, wand out in front, her clenched white hand elevating it in perfect duelling style. The determined look on her face drained away as soon as she saw them. The point of her formerly spell-steady wand drooped, giving Sirius time to raise a shield, any shield. The Scissoring Hex whipped around his shaky shield harmlessly, but Peter's scream was punctuated by short, terrified yelps. They stirred vicious amusement in Sirius heart even as he blocked the powerful Stunner that followed on the heels of the first hex.

The amusement disappeared suddenly, replaced by a faint squeezing and the brief, viscerally familiar sense of entering a miniscule tunnel. Sirius' body recognised the feeling of Apparation first, turning him towards Peter automatically. He felt his shield drop a moment after he flung the desperate Placement Charm at Peter's already disappearing body, but could not care less that another Scissoring Hex was now carving its way into his back. Peter remained in the room, unconscious; his left arm was missing, torn away from him by the force of the Charm that now rooted his quavering body to the floor nearby.

A thick, strange feeling surged in Sirius' throat, muting the pain in his back. The air in the room was heavy with failed magic, Peter's magic; it spurred Sirius on, turning him around again, lending his now blatantly offensive spells an unmistakeable edge. Molly was faltering visibly now, unable to take her frightened gaze off the spatters of blood that now decorated the orange bed. Her shock destabilised her aim and made her careless, and soon enough Sirius had carved her into a corner, subduing her with spelled ropes.

"Sistere," Sirius said, pointing his stolen wand in Peter's direction. Molly's wand felt strange in his left hand, ordinary and somehow wrong. He could feel her fearful eyes skewering his back as he bent diffidently over his enemy's still body, examining the damage he'd done to it. Some of the chains were gone; he replaced them. Those that remained were bright with blood, but the flow was slowing, stanched by his indifferent healing spell. "Death's not enough for you, just yet," he said quietly. "Not yet." Peter did not move. Even so, Sirius cast a quick charm, anticipation gripping his heart until the spell confirmed him as unconscious.

Suspicious but satisfied, Sirius finally straightened. Molly's quiet pants sped up; her face now glistened with tears. Stilling for a moment, Sirius could soon hear the source of her increasing fear— faint, nervous footsteps, doubtless belonging to one or more of her children, could be heard through the gutted door. A frightened, unintelligible whisper was soon cut short, followed by fainter, more careful footsteps that sounded as if they were moving away from the door.

"I'm not here for you," Sirius found himself saying, his voice alarmingly loud in the silence of the room. Clearing his throat in an effort to get rid of the tightness in it, he tried again. "I'm here for him," he said, gesturing stiffly at Peter's prone form, "and only him." Molly was silent now, eyes flitting from him to Peter and back again. "I'll leave your wand behind," he continued, quietly. "Peter will come with me. Spread the word, will you. I…no, we," he savoured the word for a moment, "won't be back."

A long, strange moment later, Molly nodded. Her eyes had fallen to the ground, and a fierce expression was on her face. Sirius found himself speaking again. "Sorry about the room." No more words came, after that. It was time to leave, and Sirius' body sensed that better than he did, moving him mechanically towards Peter. His old friend's skin was clammy and slick, bringing back the memory of strange, foolish nights. Nights when trust had bound them just as tightly as lust.

Shaking his head, Sirius tried to collect his thoughts. Flinging Molly's wand towards her, he fought to conjure up the outline of that room in Manchester, hoping no one would be there by now.

Water began to gather instead, replacing the solid memory of the motel with grey. Sirius heard a splash, and tried not to think that it was the wand that he'd thrown. A look down at his feet drove the motel room out of his mind— water was beginning to fill the room, lapping around his ankles. The walls were bleeding grey water in spots, mingling with the blood and orange of the room.

Swearing, Sirius laid hand on a chain, ignoring the burn as he fought to pull the spell he needed out of the black and grey. It came to him suddenly, along with the memory of a day long past, when rain had beat against the dormitory windows, and four boys had learnt a new charm. "Portus," Sirius said hoarsely, forcing the magic into the chain he held. He jabbed his wand into a robe pocket and scrabbled for Peter's remaining limp hand, uncaring of where they ended up.

The spell finally took, sliding into place, settling into a few links on the other side of Peter's bleeding body. Sighing with anticipation, Sirius felt towards them, his reluctant, aching fingers clumsy with pain.

Nothing happened. Sirius bit his lip hard, drawing blood. A look around showed no sign of water, no sign of anything. Molly was still shaking in the corner. Peter was still limp and within his mercy. So why—

"ATTENTION, WRONGDOER; THIS DWELLING HAS BEEN PLACED UNDER TRAVEL-INHIBITING CHARMS." Sirius' heart stopped at the familiar drone of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement Warning System. The familiar, dispassionate words were loud enough to hurt, freezing him in cold, shaking sanity. "ATTEMPTS TO ESCAPE ARE DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH." That explained the failure of his hastily made Portkey. Dispirited, Sirius let go of the chain, now barely listening to the droning voice. "CO-OPERATION IS IN YOUR INTEREST. DISCARD YOUR WAND AND STEP OUTSIDE, AND YOUR INJURIES WILL BE TREATED."

Sirius sighed— if he remembered correctly, that was the last phrase of the recording. Sure enough, silence settled on him, filling the room.

"Go," Molly said, making him jerk with surprise. A quick look at her put a faint smile on his weary face; she'd wriggled to her wand, and was struggling to pick it up. "Didn't you hear what they said?"

"They'll blast me to the ground," Sirius said. He looked down at Peter, unable to stop his grip from tightening on the soft, bloody hand. "And he'll get away. Again."

"I'll watch him," Molly offered, but Sirius was already shaking his head.

"You go," he said, firmly. "Take— take the children." The ropes fell away from around her, sliced neatly by a spell from her own wand, but she did not move. "This is mine. I waited, Molly. I won't…" his voice cracked, putting an end to the words he could now barely feel. "Go."

Shaking, Molly got gingerly to her feet. She weighed her wand in her hand for a moment, the urge to say something clear on her face, then turned away, making for the door. Sirius turned his frozen-feeling mind back onto the subject of what to do; it continued to elude him. It occurred to him that he could kill Peter now, take his revenge now, before anyone could wrest it from his grasp.

Sirius raised the wand, the old fantasy coming back. He pointed it at Peter, seeing him dead, seeing his pale face turn blue and black with rot. But the orange and red of the room intruded on that old vision, and the shallow, laboured breathing— a clear reminder of the life that still struggled nearby— destroyed it. The Killing Curse was on the tip of Sirius' tongue, but he could not feel either of his arms now, and his wand was shaking. He thought dimly that he was at the last of his strength, and that the Killing Curse he badly wanted to unleash might kill him too. And there was, of course, the fact that the last time he'd cast it— the only time he'd ever used it in earnest— Peter had got away.

Slowly, he turned until his shaking wand was pointed at the doorway. "Delimitas," he said, as forcefully as he could, the condition governing the ward he would need uppermost in his aching head. The doorway glowed, and fingers of light spread their way around the room, making Sirius smile again, despite the weariness that was dragging him down.

One more spell, he told himself, turning again, moving his hand so it gripped Peter's upper arm. The Sticking Charm flowed easily, as it had begun to do in the middle of third year, when they'd all gone mad for using them in pranks. When they had been together, when they had been strong.

Black and Potter, Lupin and Pettigrew, Sirius thought, as darkness ate away the world around him. All four of them fools. ONLY


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