~ kittykittyhunter ~
There was no such thing as silence.
Sirius Black's ears prickled as they drank his inmates' moans. He was accustomed to the constant bubble of noise. Sometimes it petered into a near-stillness, interrupted only by a soft giggle. Sometimes, the air was rent with screams.
Sleep came and went in fitful bursts. He would wake to find his filthy garbs and waxing skin damp with sweat. Then, because he was bored, he would settle against a stone wall.
And he would whisper.
"I am innocent."
When his voice cracked, the murmur became internal. I am innocent.
He did not know how many days passed or how many times he saw the same visions behind his eyelids: James, disappearing beneath a swirling cloak; Remus, marking a square of parchment; Lily, arms wrapped around her infant son.
It was the first sliver of clarity. Sirius stood up. Though James and Lily were gone, they had left part of themselves behind. Harry was out there, somewhere, taken into custody by Dumbledore.
Harry was out there – and so was Wormtail.
Though it was sickening to admit, Remus Lupin was afraid.
Newspapers, wizarding and Muggle alike, had been swarming with the same news: the mass-murderer Sirius Black had escaped from Azkaban, despite being held captive for five years. The Ministry of Magic were under heavy criticism. It was a national security scandal verging on becoming an international debacle. Just how had Black broken free?
Remus sat on a creaking chair opposite the window. He was doing well. He'd eaten two meals a day for an entire fortnight and had already paid the rent for his shabby apartment. His eyes rested on the moon, entering its third quarter.
There was a knock on the door.
Before he answered, Remus seized his wand. He held it out as he advanced.
He met the expected sight. An enormous dog waited on the step, fur matted with dirt.
The beast was fast. It ducked to evade the strobe of blue light and attacked, knocking the man to the floor; they grappled for some moments until Remus' fingers found the wand once more – the dog growled and snapped, nipping the man's arm before bounding aside. Remus stood, massaging his elbow and cursing. This time, the red flash was avoided by a skeletal figure.
"It's been a while," croaked Sirius Black.
"What do you want?"
Black raised grimy palms. He stared across at Remus. Instinct screamed to attack, attack now… but Gryffindors did not assault the defenceless and Black was clearly unarmed.
After everything, Remus wanted an explanation.
"You've been making headlines," he said coolly. "Quite the feat, escaping Azkaban." Black gave a faint smile. Remus' hand twitched and he repeated, "What do you want? It wasn't enough to kill Lily and James – you're after Harry, too?"
"Remus," Black shook his head. "I didn't do it."
A blast narrowly missed his jaw.
Remus was shaking. "You don't have any boundaries," he hissed. "How dare you stand here before me and say… but that's what I'll never understand. They gave you everything and you –"
Still Black was saying nothing, making no move forward. A new doubt mumbled at the nape of Remus' neck.
If Black was after Harry... why the detour?
The answer came in a blaze. "You're here to kill me," said Remus, "because I know."
"That's not it."
Every word was taking Black effort. "Alright," he said quietly, "I will. Wormtail's alive, Remus."
When Remus Lupin began to laugh, he sounded like a stranger.
"Wormtail's alive," he said again. "Peter. The same person you blasted into nothing." The muscles on Remus' face twitched: he launched another curse; Black shifted away from the ray. As it passed, it illuminated his face.
"Don't get me wrong," said Black evenly. "Given the chance, I'd strangle that rat. I didn't kill him, Remus, though I plan to.
"But I didn't betray Lily and James."
Remus lowered his wand.
He did not understand. Black spoke with conviction and wasn't trying to retaliate. Remus' stomach was writhing.
"Why are you here?"
The longer Remus listened to Black's story, the more strength he found being sapped from his limbs. Remus sat on the thinly-carpeted floor. Black spoke of Animagi. Secret Keepers. Sewers. It was an extraordinary tale, but they, of course, had always been extraordinary people.
There were parts that Remus had filled in for himself. Black's escape from Azkaban, for example, could only have been due to his ability to change form… but Black hadn't been in league with Voldemort, was swearing that he would have rather died than let anything happen to James.
At that, Remus raised his head. Black was crouching on the floor.
"It was your choice to change Secret Keeper," said Remus. "You're responsible."
Black inclined his head.
"That's why I must find Wormtail," Black muttered. "I've wasted years, Remus, years I should have spent making sure that Harry was safe and secure. I can't do anything for Lily and James anymore, but… I'm a convict. There are few places I can go."
"I'm a werewolf," said Remus shortly. "My doors aren't wide open, either."
Remus sighed. He was exhausted. "Get out. Even if I believed you, that doesn't change the fact that it's your fault. Just… leave."
Black got up. He crossed the room and hovered for a moment.
"There's a full moon soon. Be careful."
Remus slammed the door shut after Black had gone. Then he sank against the frame, clutching the handle and closing his eyes.
During the following weeks, Remus continued to glimpse a stray dog on street corners. Sometimes it wagged its tail and gave a small bark. Schoolboys occasionally threw the dog loaves of bread and it tore into them, ravenous. Mothers pushed prams far away from the canine, quickening their steps.
The weather, at least, was mostly dry.
One afternoon, Remus stood on the step outside his apartment. His blew through his fingers, emitting out a long, low whistle.
They were in a small town on the outskirts of London. They were doing well. The goblins at Gringotts had no qualms about withdrawing money from the vault of an escaped prisoner: it had taken little effort for Remus Lupin to make a trip to the bank and collect enough funds for their purposes. He'd eaten three meals a day for the past fortnight and was feeling a lot better for it.
Now that he was clean-shaven and had gotten around to cutting his hair, Sirius Black was almost back to the swaggering male Remus had known in his youth. "Alright," said Sirius, swigging pumpkin juice as he studied a sheaf of parchment, "once we manage to track down Wormtail, we'll need –"
"Veritaserum," provided Remus. He was leaning against a counter, drinking tea. They had taken up residence in a Muggle street, one that allowed tenants to keep pets. "There's also the matter of when Wormtail tries to escape."
Sirius snorted. "Unbreakable Charm, Moony. Trouble's going to be finding the damn rat."
There was a small thud as, out in the hallway, post hit the doormat. Remus sighed. He was rather tired of throwing away adverts from the local businesses, usually greasy takeaways.
They were meandering along without any real direction, simply hoping that they would be successful and come out of the ordeal alive.
Sirius twirled a wand between his fingers, staring. "Have you got any leads on where he is?"
At last. The question Sirius had been wanting to ask but as of yet, hadn't quite dared to. Remus was happy to give his friend the answer.
"It's called Privet Drive."
It's been too long since we last conversed.
A small, thin boy with black hair and green eyes shuffled past the school gate. Several children elbowed him as they went by. The dog barked loudly – the others hurried away.
The boy smiled.
You should see Harry. I'll admit, he could do with some growing and needs more meat on his bones. But he's –
He crossed the street and patted the dog's shoulder. Though at full height the canine would tower over the child, it lowered itself until its head was resting on the ground. Delighted, the boy rubbed the dog's head.
Prongs, I know you'd be proud.
I'm sorry that it took me all this time to wake up and realise where I should have been. But I've got Moony on my side, and between us… we stand a chance.
Lifting his hand, the boy sighed. "I have to go home," he said, "or Aunt Petunia will be mad."
He began to walk away.
We'll protect him.