Staring at the copy of the Daily Prophet spread out on the old, ink-stained kitchen table, I don't know what to feel. I've been here all night. My traveling cloak, the rain that had soaked it when I entered now long gone, is slung over the back of the chair. I wasn't expecting the owl. My Prophet subscription usually only comes every morning. Night papers are for special news. What happened last night certainly qualifies.
For what must be at least the thousandth time since the paper arrived, I stare at the face of the man on the front page. He's changed so much in the past twelve years, he might as well be a stranger, but he's many things to me, some of which seem to clash. Traitor—murderer—dangerous escaped convict—old friend. It's hard to recognize the Sirius I knew in the gaunt face I see in the photograph now. But then again, the Sirius I knew was never the real one. I still find it hard to believe, and it still haunts me, even now. I've tried to close the door on all my memories of the four of us, even though it's nearly impossible to just shut off entirely when the people you're trying to forget were almost family to you.
It's painful to remember anything from before it all happened. James and Peter are dead now, but if they'd died any other way, it wouldn't hurt so much. They'd be like my parents. Though they're gone, I look back on my memories of them with happiness as well as sadness. The things I remember of my family are bittersweet. The things I remember of my friends sting like the cut of a knife. Like bloody wounds left on my body after a particularly violent transformation. Because every time I picture us, he's there too.
In every memory I have, it's all four of us. Me, and James, and Peter, and him. The first friends I'd ever had. The first who had known what I was and still loved me for who I was. And one of them killed the other two. For no reason. I'm the left over one, the one who had to pick up the pieces and go on.
I can't see it. I can't see him killing Peter—mousy, nervous, sweet, tagalong Peter. He'd always teased Peter, the sort of gentle ribbing that a boy with some of the best marks in the year would throw out at a less talented friend. Arrogant, yes, but not mean-spirited. Did none of that matter to him? He'd blasted Peter almost to nothing. And stood laughing in the street afterward. The Sirius I thought I knew would never have done that to anyone.
The Sirius I thought I knew would never have betrayed James either. The two of them were like brothers. We were all close to each of the others, and close as a group, but I knew they were the best friends among us. Everything they did, they had done together. I'd been jealous, sometimes, and so had Peter. They'd come up with plans together, all the pranks and tricks and escapades we'd done. From the first day of first year, they'd gravitated towards each other. When Sirius had run away from home, he'd gone directly to James. James had put his life in Sirius's hands. Not just his life, but Lily's, and Harry's. And Sirius had handed the three of them straight to Lord Voldemort.
The Sirius I thought I knew had hated Voldemort like he hated his family. He'd been revolted when he'd found out his cousin had joined the Death Eaters. Angry and ashamed, he'd been unnaturally silent until it all came pouring out to us. We decided, then and there, fifth-year students on the Hogwarts Express coming back from Christmas break, to fight. We'd join the Order of the Phoenix as soon as we left school. We'd fight in the war, because there are things worth fighting for. Things worth fighting against.
Where had his fight gone? Had he changed so much, or was it there all along? Had the brave, even reckless, daredevil I thought I'd known been just an act? Or was sneaking out at night, learning the dangerous spells to become an Animagus, standing up for any of the three of us, an easier sort of bravery than facing your own death?
But now, staring at the front page of the Prophet, the exclamatory "First Ever Escape from Azkaban! Dangerous Mass Murderer at Large!" headline blurring in my eyes, I can't feel just hatred or sadness. I still feel pity, despite the fact that I shouldn't, and I don't want to. Because after all, I had thought I knew him. I had seen his bearlike dog form, at the side of my dormitory bed, wagging his tail happily, and licking my face, changing back into a human long enough to wish me a happy birthday. I had seen the look of wild excitement on his face when the motorcycle he'd carefully enchanted first flew, and heard his giddy laughter as he soared into the sky.
There are only a few traces of the handsome, bright-eyed, usually smiling boy I remember in the photograph. The dangerous mass murderer who was my friend is broken now, no longer smiling. His high cheekbones stand out in stark relief against an emaciated face. The glossy dark hair the rest of us teased him about and were secretly jealous of is tangled and matted, not elegant. Azkaban has not been kind to Sirius, but the dementors are not known for kindness. His eyes are sunken and shadowed. Looking closely I can see some emotion there, but not enough of it to recognize. His expression, in contrast, is blank and closed-off. I wonder if he's mad. They all go mad in there. He doesn't look mad. Desperate and ruined, yes, but mad, no.
All of a sudden I can't take it anymore, and I flip the Prophet over. My head in my hands, I'm breathing hard, trying to gain control of the carefully crafted mask that's been my shield over the years.
Suddenly I think of Harry, the only thing that's left of my friends. Little black-haired toddler Harry, cheerful, and innocent, and unsuspecting. I haven't seen him since before his parents died. Thirteen now, almost—his birthday's in just a few days. I wonder if he looks like his father, and if he still has his mother's eyes. He's been living with Lily's sister, whose name I can't remember—another flower, I think. I doubt she's told him much about his family. I've never met her. Harry won't know who I am.
Will Harry be safe now, now that Sirius is free? What if he wants to finish off the family he betrayed? I choke down my mental protest—"Sirius wouldn't do that."
The truth is you never know what somebody would do. Even if it's somebody you thought was your friend. Even if it's somebody you thought you knew better than almost anyone.
You never know what somebody's capable of.