A/N: General notice: Not mine, just borrowed to play with. I want to thank Les Dowich for, once again, pushing me to publish this - thanks my friend I'll send all the trashy reviews your way to skewer with your pen. Just kidding. If you are a steady reader of my stories, you will notice that this one is compilation of sorts. There will be two older stories of mine mixed in with this one, just because they fit perfectly and I get off on playing with the POV. It is a distinct failing of mine. So if you recognise those bits, you are not hullicinating, nor is it a stange form of de ja vue. Some of those bits will be tweaked a bit to fit this story and it's outline. So, without further adieu, here is:
Water slowly dripped down the dark, mossy stone walls of the cell; cold and acrid in its feel and smell. The occupant sat hunched in a corner, his limbs twitching from the pervasive cold that always surrounded the North Sea penitentiary as well as the chill that preceded the Dementors that made the daily rounds of the numerous levels of small cramped cells. The dreaded wraiths also would make an extra round ahead of Ministry visitors to make sure the occupants were in no shape to attack the visitors through the bars of their accommodations.
Today was such a day: the yearly inspection visit from the Minister of Magic himself. The prisoner shivered as a Dementor swept the corridor, but he crept forward to crouch near the bars, watching the long hallway; waiting to see why the Minister of Magic was walking down his corridor. He didn't have long to wait and a few minutes later the familiar lime-green bowler was striding past the cells atop its owner's head, a small rabbit patronus circling his legs. The hat seemed to glow with an unearthly light, a beacon of neon colour in this monochromatic grey world. Fudge was accompanied by several officials and Aurors as they seemed to be making a detailed inspection of all the prisoners.
Grabbing with all his strength, he hoisted himself up to his feet and managed to lean casually against the iron wall as the party made its way to his cell, letting the bars hold him up. It was false bravado, as anyone who could clearly see would obviously detect; but Fudge was known to see only what he wanted to see – and thus would be taken off guard by a seemingly un-affected prisoner. If anyone who had known this prisoner in his prime thirteen years ago could see him now – they would barely recognise him. His emaciated form was clothed in prison rags, and self inflicted tattoos covered his torso and hands. His once brightly shining mane of seventies fashionable hair, was now a tangled mess that hung halfway to his waist and his once well trimmed beard and moustache were scraggly reminders of their former glory, covering a face that was streaked by grime and had aged seemingly thirty years in the last decade of incarceration in the Hell Hole know as Azkaban.
The convict licked his cracked and bleeding lips as he espied a newspaper tucked under the Minister's arm. What he wouldn't give for a good read, something to occupy his mind while he sat in this god-forsaken hole year after year. His eyes snapped up to stare at the group as they stopped in front of his door.
"Sirius Black," the short pudgy politician announced, saying the name as if it stank like last week's net of fish. He kept an eye on the mass murderer and traitor as he accepted a thick file from one of his aides. He removed a pair of half-spectacles from his cloak pocket and perched them on his nose as he opened it up to read the latest entries.
"Fudge," Black croaked, his voice straining with under-use. A flick of the eyes in his direction was the only indication the Minister gave of acknowledging he had spoken.
"Well, everything seems to be in order," Cornelius Fudge stated as he flipped the file closed and handed it back to his aide before pocketing his spectacles again. "Prison seems to be mellowing you, Black. No major tantrums this year, no un-ending requests for a trial or to speak to Dumbledore. Are you finally giving up? You used to have much more spirit," he taunted.
Sirius had crossed his arms in front of his chest as he'd leaned against the bars, to keep them from visibly trembling, and so he only shrugged his shoulders at the Minister's jibe. "Perhaps after twelve years, it's finally sinking in that I'm stuck here. Can't complain, I have running water," he flicked a finger toward the steady stream of moisture along the far wall, "a place to lie down at night," the finger moved to indicate the pile of grey, rotten cloths piled in a corner, "an en suite," a point towards a self-emptying bucket in the opposite corner, "and three meals a day." A final sweep of the finger to a cracked, wooden bowl set near a slot in his door. He even managed a chuckle at the incredulous look on the politician's face.
"By the way, Minister, if you're finished with that, might I have your Prophet? I really miss doing the crossword." He leaned as close to the Minister as he could get until he was stopped by the bars. He crooked his finger at Fudge to lean in closer himself, which the man – after a discrete look around him – complied with, at least by a few inches. "I had to argue with the sorting hat, you know. It wanted me to go into Ravenclaw – but I wanted more fun than that! I insisted on Gryffindor!" He laughed outright, a hint of madness making it shriller than a normal hearty guffaw would have been.
Fudge shivered as he let his gaze wander over this obviously unhinged individual – and yet the man acted as if it was just a normal day and he was contemplating taking a walk in the park. Fudge finally waved a hand dismissively and levitated the prisoner his paper and a conjured up pencil stub as well, passing them through the bars. He was rewarded with a smile that could have passed for a grimace.
"Thanks, guv'nor!" Sirius said, tipping an imaginary hat to the group as they wandered on to the next set of cells. He waited until they were well on their way before retreating to the pile of cloths that alternated between acting as his couch or his bed. He opened up the paper, quickly flipping it back to its original order of pages, settling the folds into place before really looking at the contents in the dim light that filtered through the ventilation slits in the high walls.
A picture of an entire family of red-heads graced the centre of the page, all of them posing in front of the Egyptian pyramids. A nice looking family, he noted as he read the accompanying story. A minor ministry official had managed to win the Lottery and had celebrated by taking the entire flock of ginger-hairs to visit their oldest son in Egypt.
Most of the children looked old enough to be in Hogwarts, probably contemporaries of Harry's. He wondered if they knew him... He knew from the mutterings of the guards that Harry had sorted into Gryffindor; that had been big news along the block two years ago. He had felt so proud when he'd heard. He read more of the story and realised that the youngest boy was the same age as his godson and that the entire family were Gryffindors. He noted a head boy's badge gleaming on one of the older boy's Fez and watched as a pet rat peeked its nose out of the youngest boy's pocket and climbed onto his shoulder, washing its face with... he stared closer, not believing what he saw! The rat's paw had only four fingers! It was impossible, but there it was in front of him: Peter was alive! The man he was in prison for killing was alive and was staying in the same dormitory as Harry Potter!
Memories came flooding back to him, but he snapped out of them as he heard voices along the corridor again. He quickly flipped to the back page and started to work the crossword as he surrounded himself with an air of nonchalance.
"Enjoying the crossword, Black?" came the voice of the Minister at his door.
"Quite challenging, Minister, thank you!" Sirius replied as he pencilled in a few more boxes. He listened as the footsteps faded away then flipped the paper back around to stare once more at the traitorous little rat.
He had to escape, he had to go find Peter and make him finally pay for all he had done.
Remus Lupin huddled in the shadows of his cloak, letting the dark grey wool hide his scarred visage from idle glances. A faint odour of wet goat permeated the room, and a film of dust covered the bottle of Butterbeer that sat in front of him. He unconsciously pushed the bottle around on the table, creating wet tracks of condensation on the ancient wooden trencher.
Looking around at his fellow customers, he catalogued and strategised their risk as he waited for his contact to arrive. These people would be horrified if they knew he was amongst them, a beast among men. But they didn't know, and he held the advantage. He took a small sip of his drink before placing it back on the table to resume its wanderings as he listened to the oldies station that was pouring out the warbling voice of Celestina Warbeck on the wireless.
A touch on his shoulder from the proprietor let him know that his patron had arrived and was waiting in the back room. He rose quickly from his seat, left a scattering of coins near the abandoned bottle of flat ale, and silently wove himself between the shadows of the room, eventually slipping down a rarely used hallway and into the storage room. The smell of goat truly pervaded the air back here and he wasn't surprised in the least when the horny head of a garbage scarfer emerged from around a corner, being led by none other than Albus Dumbledore.
"Ah, Bessie, that's a good girl – get a move on now, that's it... I'll see you next month, alright?" asked the distinguished headmaster. A short bleat was his only answer and he smiled as the goat nibbled a treat from Dumbledore's hand.
Remus let his hood fall back onto his shoulders as the goat made a dignified exit from the room, bell tinkling as it walked. "Are you a father confessor to ruminants now, Albus?" Remus enquired, a small smile seeming to erase many of the scars that criss-crossed his lower jaw.
"Ah, my dear Remus! Yes, well someone has to take their side while they live with my brother!" he acknowledged as he conjured two chintz-covered easy chairs that faced a tea table set for High Tea. He took a seat and indicated that Remus should take the opposite while he poured out and chose an assortment of sandwiches to set on his plate.
"Remus, I'm glad you could meet with me. I wish it could be in airier quarters, but for now this will do." Lupin took a sip of tea, letting the caffeine combat the depressive qualities of his previous beverage. He waited for Dumbledore to continue. He didn't have long to wait. "As you know, having attended Hogwarts yourself, I am constantly in need of replacing DADA professors; and I find myself in the same position once again." Remus perked up a little. This sounded promising, but he wouldn't get his hopes up.
"Yes, once again, I am in need of a new DADA professor for next term and I was wondering if I could interest you in the position?"
Bingo! "I'm flattered, Albus. I would love to help you out – it would let me be closer to Harry... but what about…" he waved his hand vaguely in the air. "How would we deal with that?" he asked honestly. This was the only reason he hadn't applied in the past.
"Severus has agreed to continue making your potion; we will have a secure room put aside for you... Really, it is much easier to deal with this now than it was, say, twenty years ago when you first started at Hogwarts; much safer for all concerned."
"Well you don't have to convince me, I would love to take on the job – curse or not. One year teaching Harry would be well worth having to leave at the end of the year; but what about Severus? Will he allow me to see Harry?"
"That is something you will need to discuss with Severus. He is quite protective of both of his boys – as you have seen."
"Both? Ah, he adopted Lucius' son, did he?"
"At Christmas," the headmaster acknowledged.
"They get along well?"
"As any pair of brothers do," Albus said, chuckling. "Severus is at wits ends trying to keep them entertained and out of his hair while they are home for the summer. But they only have a few weeks to go, I think they will all survive..." he cut himself off as the sound of raised voices reached them from the main room of the tavern. "I wonder what has happened." He rose from his chair and began to walk across the room towards the door when it crashed open and the wild looking owner of the bar stumbled in, fear in his eyes as he sought the matching blue pair that were standing directly in front of him.
"Just announced on the wireless..." he panted breathlessly. "Sirius Black has escaped!"
A crash of china was the only answer he received.
Severus crumpled the slip of parchment in his fist. He thanked Merlin the boys were already outside, having bolted their breakfasts and grabbed their brooms to go practice over the garden before their guests arrived this afternoon for Harry's birthday party.
He had no need of opening the paper lying next to his saucer. He knew what it would say in the boldest type the Prophet could scrounge up: Notorious murderer and traitor, Sirius Black, has escaped from Azkaban. Just the thought of it caused him to lose any semblance of an appetite. He fed the two owls - who had delivered his mail to him - some bacon rinds, placed a knut in the pouch for the paper delivery owl, then stood abruptly from the table and left the dining room heading for his personal lab.
When he reached there, he grabbed his favourite number six pewter cauldron, lit a fire underneath it and poured a standard healing base into it to begin simmering. The news that Black had escaped only brought back memories to the Potions Master. Memories of a titian-haired, firebrand of a friend – who, for a short time, was more than a friend. Remembrances of the past year; rescuing Harry from his relatives, discovering that Harry was his son, healing that son's mind with the help of a friend and his godson's love. Adopting the godson when it became apparent that his own home-life wasn't the ideal fiction that Lucius let the public see.
Severus added ingredients automatically; this particular brew being one that he could brew blindfolded and with one hand tied behind his back. It was a draught that he made when he needed to think – and he had been raised with the 'idle hands do the demon's work' philosophy, so it was abhorrent to him to actually sit and ponder. Twenty minutes later a discrete pop alerted him to a House-elf's presence and he turned to see Runeskin standing nearby with his unopened copy of the Daily Prophet in his servant's hand.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Master Severus, but I don't think you intended to leave this out where your sons could see it."
Severus acknowledged the Chief Elf with a nod of his head. "You are correct, Runeskin, I would rather they hear the news from me. I'm not even sure Harry is aware that he has a godfather – much less that the man was responsible for the deaths of his parents," he mused out loud while delicately stirring in his latest ingredient watching as the brew changed and bubbled contentedly.
"If I may be so bold, Master Severus, you might wish to discuss it with him before his friends tell him this afternoon. It is sure to be the talk of the party..." Severus snapped his head up at this reminder and nearly hit himself in the forehead for being such a dolt. He quickly evanesco-ed the half-finished potion, levitating the cauldron to the sink for later cleaning, and headed out the doors in search of his sons. How could he have been wallowing so long in his own remembered nightmares from that time and not realise that the rest of the Wizarding world would be sensationalising the story and that it would have gone through several permutations and twistings by the time it arrived at his doorstep at three pm? He gave himself another mental shake as he exited the back of the manor and searched the sky over his vast property. Ah, there they were!
He gave a mental tug on his bond with Harry and, when the boy turned in the air towards him, waved him down to the ground. The two boys raced each other back to him, hugging their brooms and making themselves as aerodynamic as possible as they flew faster and faster, only to come to a screeching halt in front of their father.
"Who won?" Harry asked breathlessly.
"Draco won by a hair," Severus smirked as Harry pouted for a second then let the defeat roll over him.
The boy shrugged a bit before he retorted "I'll beat him next time." He peered up at his father, noting the worry lines in the older wizard's face. "Why did you call us in? We've only been out here for three quarters of an hour."
"I received some news this morning that I need to discuss with you two before your party guests arrive. You will need to know the truth before you hear some wild accusations, so you will know what rumours to put to rest. Go wash up, please, and join me in the Solarium in ten minutes."
The two boys nodded and headed towards the house.