Author's Note: Okay, so this is actually the first chapter of the second story in this mini-series. Unfortunately, I haven't been having any luck getting the plot for that to agree with me. So... For those of you anxiously waiting after that evil, evil cliffhanger, I decided to post this to tide you over until my muse decides to cooperate again.
So, without further ado, I give you Chapter 1 of...
An Ill-Conceived Ritual
Severus started slightly as Albus incanted the final words of the ritual and every light in the room was abruptly extinguished. A gust of air swept through the room, and then all was silence.
"Lux," Albus incanted softly.
The torches and lamps along the walls flared into life. The low, sturdy table on which the ritual had been performed was no longer empty. Standing in the center of a circle was… It looked like the form of a man, but it was difficult to make out any details. Darkness writhed around the man as though he was cloaked in shadows. All that he could see of the face was dimly gleaming green eyes.
It really looked quite the opposite of the "hero" Albus had preached they would find.
The man stared at Albus for a long moment, then let his eyes sweep around the room briefly. They stopped on Severus and he fought the urge to fidget under the scrutiny.
Finally, the face was turned down as the man studied the circle in which he stood. After several seconds of silence, his head rose and those chilling eyes focused on Albus again.
"Albus Dumbledore," he spoke, his voice quiet and dark, but not as deep as Severus might have guessed. It still managed to be quite chilling. "Where did you learn this ritual?"
The question was a little surprising, since no one else had ever heard of the ritual when Albus had suggested it. Then again, making any assumptions about this man they'd summoned seemed inadvisable.
Albus straightened a little further under that stare, and spoke directly to the strange man. "It was necessary. For the Greater Good."
"I see," the man said in a quiet hiss. After a moment, he turned to look at the rest of the gathering again, his eyes touching each face assessingly. He stopped on Lily, which made Severus automatically tense. He stared at her for a moment, and she fidgeted uneasily before James moved to stand in front of her.
Finally, the man turned back and looked directly at Severus. "What is the date?"
Severus swallowed, but that was the only sign of unease he failed to contain. "It is the first of January, 1993."
Green eyes narrowed. "'93," he muttered thoughtfully. "And why have you brought me here?"
"May I inquire as to your name, sir?" Albus asked mildly.
The man slowly turned back to Albus, a sneer just visible on his lip. "You may call me Lord Azkaban," he replied, a slight emphasis on the word "you".
"I told you, Albus," Lily grated quietly, but loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. "I told you it was too dangerous to meddle in this kind of magic!"
The man's eyes returned to Lily, causing Severus and Potter to tense again. "Lily Potter?" he inquired.
Her eyes shot back to the shadowed man and she gulped, then nodded stiffly.
"James Potter?" he asked next.
Potter's mouth tightened stubbornly. He didn't answer.
The man they'd summoned, Lord Azkaban, nodded as though to himself. "Do you have a son?"
"You stay the hell away from Callen!" James snarled.
"Callen?" the man asked curiously. "Not Harry?"
Lily immediately paled. Potter drew his wand.
"Now, let's all calm down," Albus tried to intervene, but Potter didn't seem to hear him and Lord Azkaban didn't acknowledge him.
Azkaban watched Potter a moment longer, then turned directly back to Severus once more. "Harry was killed?" he assumed.
Severus glanced briefly at Lily, then nodded to the strange man.
"How?" he pressed.
"He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named killed him when he was a baby," Minerva supplied, her tone quiet but stiffer than usual.
Now Severus was sure he saw Lord Azkaban smirk. "Why must he not be named?"
"It is a superstition," Albus offered. "His name is Lord Voldemort."
"Is that why you've brought me here?" the man asked Albus, his tone unreadable, his expression unclear beneath the shadows that churned around him. "To kill this Voldemort for you?" Before anyone could answer, the man waved his hand and wandlessly conjured a throne-like ebony chair right in the middle of the circle and sat upon it regally. "Please, have a seat," he offered. Another wave of his hand conjured seven chairs in front of him. All were identical, ordinary oak chairs without cushions.
Albus gave a smile and seated himself in the center, which prompted everyone else to slowly meander into the other seats so that they were in a half circle facing the strange man. "I wonder if you might allow us to see your face," Albus said pleasantly.
Green eyes settled on him. "Not just yet." He looked at Severus again for some reason. "Why am I here?"
"You are right," Severus said slowly. "We have been unsuccessful in defeating the Dark Lord. His body was destroyed when he killed Harry Potter, but he was able to return this past June through the use of a Philosopher's Stone."
The man's eyes snapped back to Albus, "You let him get the stone?! You old fool," he practically spat, causing most in the room to bristle in indignation. Severus was merely surprised. No one except the Dark Lord dared to speak that way to Albus' face.
"It was not, of course, intentional…" Albus defended.
"No, of course it wasn't," the man sneered, his voice lowering in controlled anger. "It was arrogance and incompetence!" He bowed his head then and growled quietly, "If Tom used the Stone…" He sighed and it sounded almost… sad.
"Tom…?" Albus asked quietly, suddenly going rather pale.
"That's right," Azkaban replied with a very unpleasant smile.
"You knew him in your world," Albus gathered.
"He was one of my only friends," the man admitted pensively.
"Voldemort was your friend," Albus said, his shoulders sagging as though a great weight had just settled on them.
"Damn you, Albus," Lily growled again. Severus wished she would be quiet. He didn't want this Lord focusing any more attention on her.
Potter was evidently thinking the same thing as he leaned toward her to whisper something.
"No!" Lily snapped, standing abruptly. "I told you this could happen! Just because he's strong enough to defeat Him doesn't mean he will! I told you that!"
"Lily," the man spoke quietly.
She spun on him, her righteous anger fading slightly toward fear.
"You have nothing to fear from me," he informed her.
"Why not?" she ventured warily. "Did you… Did you know me in your world?"
"In my world, you were dead," he admitted plainly, ignoring her slight flinch, "but your son was alive."
Her eyes grew very wide. "Harry?"
The man nodded. "Yes."
"You knew him?" she asked hopefully. "What was he like?"
The man smiled slightly at that, visible for a moment before the shadows shifted and obscured it. "He was a good kid," Azkaban offered. "He always did what he thought was right. And it destroyed him."
"What happened?" she breathed, tears filling her eyes again as she listened desperately to any details about the son she'd lost.
"He was betrayed," he said quietly. "He was locked in Azkaban and forgotten. All for crimes he did not commit. All in the name of the Greater Good," he finished, returning his gaze to Albus for the last two words.
Everyone in the room seemed to stop breathing at the accusation. All eyes turning to Albus or fluctuating between him and Azkaban.
"You expect us to believe that Albus would do that?" Lupin finally demanded.
Green eyes turned to the werewolf. "I don't care what you believe, Remus," he said simply. "Albus has destroyed many lives. He has created more than one monster through his mistakes."
"You are speaking of another incarnation of myself," Albus pointed out. "I have not done these things."
"Truly?" the man sneered at him. "Can you truly tell me that you bear no responsibility for Tom Riddle? For all your Gryffindor courage, you failed where he is concerned. You scorned when you should have comforted. In the event that you discovered him beyond saving, you should have destroyed him before he had the chance to become the most powerful Dark Lord in five centuries."
"More like two," Moody grumbled.
Azkaban huffed a humorless laugh at that. "You believe that Mauricio del Castanza was more powerful than Voldemort? I assure you, he was not. Nor was Esperanza, nor Zatara de Medici. The last Dark Lord that may have been able to challenge Voldemort was Euchard."
"You know your history well," Albus noted neutrally.
"Indeed," the man agreed. "I know my recent history quite well, too. The disgrace of the Dumbledores after Percival's incarceration. Your 'friendship' with Gellert Grindelwald. The tragic death of Ariana-"
Severus flinched along with everyone else when Azkaban evidently pushed one button too many with Albus. The old wizard surged out of his chair with speed that should have been far beyond his years, and his wand came up at the self-proclaimed Lord.
Before his arm had fully straightened, Azkaban had lifted his hand, and Albus' wand flew into his grip.
The old man turned deathly pale as he stared at his wand in Azkaban's hand.
The man examined the wand thoughtfully, evidently unaware of Albus' reaction – clearly not bothered at having one of the most powerful wizard's in the world draw a wand on him. "Elder," he smirked and raised his gaze to the headmaster. "How… unique."
If possible, Albus paled further.
"I think I'll just hold onto this, shall I?" Azkaban smirked. "We both know it won't answer to you again."
Albus looked to have aged ten years as he lowered himself slowly back into his chair.
Azkaban looked at Severus again. "Do you teach at Hogwarts, Severus?"
As he'd expected, the man knew his name, as he seemed to everyone else in the room. "Potions," he admitted.
The man smiled again, but this time it was softer. Almost… pleasant. "Tell me, Severus, have there been deaths or petrifications at Hogwarts this year?"
"Y-yes," Severus admitted, caught off guard by the accurate question.
He nodded, "I see. I can take care of that for you if you'd like."
"You know what's happening?" Minerva inquired.
"As does Albus, if he is not a complete fool," the man nodded. "You were probably too young to have been there, Minerva, but this happened at Hogwarts once before. In the 1942-43 school year, I believe. Rubeus Hagrid was accused of the crime after a fellow student caught him with an acromantula in the school. Of course, Aragog was not to blame. Acromantula cannot kill or petrify in that way. No, the real culprit was a fifth year Slytherin by the name of Tom Riddle. He opened the Chamber of Secrets and unleashed a basilisk on the school, proving to his fellow Slytherins that he was the rightful heir. After Myrtle's death, however, when the school was in danger of being shut down, he framed Hagrid and sealed the chamber once more."
"How do you know this?" Minerva asked warily.
"Tom told me," the man explained simply.
"What is causing it this time?" Severus ventured cautiously.
"I know, but I will not tell you," the man said simply. "I will correct the problem if you wish. If not…" he shrugged, "at least one student will die this year."
"Why can't you just tell us?" Minerva demanded.
"Because you may well make the problem worse," he said matter-of-factly. "And you cannot access the Chamber anyway. If you were able to discover the individual controlling the basilisk and remove this person, the basilisk would have no restraint upon it. This must be settled within the Chamber."
"And you can get into the Chamber of Secrets?" Severus asked.
The man nodded.
"Then do it," Lily demanded, rounding first on Albus, who still looked stunned into silence, and then Minerva. "Let him, Minerva! I'm not willing to risk Callen for this."
Minerva too looked at the headmaster. "Albus!" she snapped.
The man flinched slightly, then blinked a few times, and focused with an effort. "Yes. Yes, of course. If you will give a binding oath to do no harm to the school or children."
Azkaban raised his right hand, "I, Lord Azkaban, vow upon my magic and my life to do no deliberate harm to Hogwarts or her current students while I am within the school or grounds except in defense of my life or defense of those I have sworn to protect."
Though he'd used no wand, everyone in the room could feel the magic swell and snap tight as it bound him to the promise.
"Good enough?" he asked.
Albus hesitated only a moment before nodding.
"Shall we go now?" the man asked, rising from his throne-like chair.
Albus rose as well.
"You'll need to summon Ginevra Weasley."
The headmaster's eyes widened while Minerva asked, "Why?"
"Because she is in possession of a dark artifact that I require," Azkaban answered mildly.
They left the shrieking shack in a small clump, everyone keeping their distance from the man who all but disappeared as they stepped out into the night. And then the man took two steps and he did disappear.
Severus blinked, stared harder, then lit his wand brightly and shone it in that direction.
He was gone.
Everyone else came to a stop as they, one-by-one, began to realize what he had.
Potter reached out and pulled Lily close to his side.
"Lord Azkaban?" Albus said curiously into the darkness that surrounded them.
Tom is here… seemed to be whispered through their group on the wind, though it was in Azkaban's voice.
There was a moment of stillness among them, and then every wand was raised, light turned out from their gathering to examine their surroundings.
And it was not a moment too soon, for the spells began flying at them at that moment.
Severus instantly fell into the very familiar motions of battle, defending and attacking while he took in everything revealed by the glow of spells flying around him. He identified the aggressors and their locations, and made a few guesses as to the identities of the Death Eaters by the spells they used, in what order, and with how much power. There was far too much magic being tossed around to get a feel for anyone's magical signature, but that was only one way to identify people that you knew.
He felt the spell coming at his back too late, and knew he wouldn't be able to avoid it, but he spun anyway, his wand rising too slowly. And then, an instant before the blood boiling curse would have hit him, the darkness itself seemed to lash out and consume it as though it had never been. He launched his retaliatory strike and continued to fight while a small section of his mind, segregated behind his Occlumency shields eventually managed to process the fact that Lord Azkaban had not abandoned them at the first sight of the Dark Lord, but was fighting for them from the shadows… rather literally.
And then the moon above them was blotted out by an impenetrable darkness that grew and expanded in an instant, plunging them into utter blackness.
A moment of panic tried to consume Severus at the thought of spells flying at him in a darkness so thick that he could not even see them coming, but it was shunted behind a mental shield before it could take hold and was almost immediately proven unnecessary anyway. He could both hear and feel that there were no spells being flung anymore. The darkness had forced both sides to cease the battle.
And then his left arm abruptly flared with pain as sharp as any he'd ever felt, and he sucked in a shallow gasp of surprise as much as pain, but it was gone in an instant. The dark mark branded into his flesh had been the source, and it throbbed dully still. There was a sound of multiple bodies hitting the ground with the graceless clatter made by a limp body simply falling.
The darkness slowly began to lift, and Severus immediately began casting his eyes around toward the shapes emerging out of the blackness. Black-cloaked, white-masked lumps on the ground. Evidently, every single Death Eater here was now unconscious, and Severus had some idea of how that must have happened. Something through the dark marks they all bore. What he didn't know, was why it hadn't affected him the same. He was sure that it hadn't been anything he had done. It had happened far too quickly and been far too painful for him to even have a chance to consider a course of action.
And then more shapes appeared out of the dark. The silhouettes of the Order members around him. Potter was down, evidently unconscious, and Lily was crouching at his side. Everyone else seemed to be okay. When he turned his focus away from them, another form became apparent. This one was standing a few meters away from them, his white skin almost glowing in the moonlight that shone on them again, his red eyes literally glowing in the night. His yew wand was lifted in front of him, and he practically radiated equal parts rage and fear.
Before anyone could speak – or attack again – Severus saw the shadows condense behind the Dark Lord. It took a moment to make out the green eyes within that darkness, and then the shifting form of a face around them.
"Sloppy of you, Tom," he said in a whisper that just carried far enough for Severus to make it out.
The Dark Lord spun on the spot, took a small step back, and lifted his wand.
A smile was fleetingly visible through the shadows, but those green eyes were hard. "Binding all of your servants directly into your magic through identical marks burned into their bodies and magicks without a single anchor to deaden outside influence. Did you truly believe that there is no one alive with a sufficient understanding of soul and unifying magicks to use it against you?" His tone was utterly conversational now, as though they were having a friendly chat over tea rather than a showdown at wandpoint.
The Dark Lord's entire form trembled with what Severus recognized as barely restrained rage. "Who are you?" he hissed, his voice so contorted through his fury that it was barely understandable.
Severus cautiously shifted his gaze back to Azkaban, only to find that those green eyes now shone with true sadness.
"Why did you use the Stone, Tom?" he asked in a voice that matched his eyes. "I know that you are not a patient man, but that was madness… And that is the very thing to which it has doomed you."
With a chill, Severus realized now what Azkaban had truly meant when he'd said that "Tom" was his friend. It was strangely unnerving to see someone look so calm in the face of the Dark Lord. No one had ever done that in Severus' memory. The Dark Lord's followers trembled in his presence, everyone else shook with terror. Even Albus had never faced him anything like Azkaban did.
The Dark Lord must not have liked that pitying tone, for his wand snapped up instantly.
Azkaban's hand rose, and Severus realized that he was holding the wand he'd just taken from Albus. Severus didn't know what silent spell he used, but it hit the Dark Lord's Cruciatus in the small distance between the two men, and both spells ceased to exist, as though Azkaban's spell had literally canceled out the other. Which really should not have been possible with an Unforgiveable.
"Not today, Tom," was all Azkaban said, before making a small stabbing gesture with his wand toward the Dark Lord.
And the Dark Lord vanished as if he'd just been forcibly disapparated – maybe he had been.
Azkaban stared at the place the Dark Lord had been for a moment longer, then slipped his wand back into his robe, and approached the group as though he'd not just faced down and utterly made a laughing stock of the man that not even Albus had been able to best.
"I… I can't stop the bleeding," Lily's trembling voice suddenly cut through the silence.
Everyone turned a lumos on where Lily crouched over the unconscious, blood-soaked, very pale body of James Potter.
"Allow me," Azkaban's quiet, smooth voice easily penetrated the rising exclamations from the gathering.
Lily watched him warily as he lowered himself to crouch at her side, but she didn't try to stop him when he settled his hands over the gaping wound sliced into Potter's side.
Shadows seemed to slither over the motionless body, and a choked eep of fear came from Lily as the tendrils of darkness plunged directly into the wound.
Severus himself gasped a moment later, and was joined by several others, when he felt the powerful surge of dark, seductive magic suddenly sweep out from the strange lord.
And then it was gone as abruptly as it had come, and Azkaban returned to his feet. "Severus, do you have a blood replenishing potion?"
Severus started slightly at being addressed. He wasn't entirely sure that he'd ever get used to hearing his name in that strange man's voice. It wasn't a strange voice by itself, but the inflections never seemed quite right. Too muted to sound quite real.
Still, he reached into his robe and located the small vial, enlarging it wandlessly before passing it over. The man's fingers brushed his in the process and an involuntary shiver raced up his spine. Azkaban seemed to notice that and a tiny smile brushed his lips for just a moment before he turned to pass the potion to Lily. She seemed to suffer no such difficulties as she snatched it up without a thought and quickly poured it into Potter, whose color began to return almost immediately, as it ought with a potion as concentrated as that one.
In the moment of stillness that followed while everyone watched Potter, the sun broke over the horizon, and Azkaban flinched slightly against the rays that touched him. It didn't look like pain, but maybe discomfort. It made Severus wonder how deeply the man's evident affinity to darkness ran. It also made him wonder about the fact that it had not seemed bright enough for dawn to be so close a moment ago. Perhaps Lord Azkaban's power had been increasing the darkness around them until the sun had finally risen enough to banish it? It was something that deserved further consideration when he had more time to devote to it.
"Well," Azkaban said briskly. "Shall we continue to the school?" It was the first time Severus had heard that brisk tone from him and it made him wonder if he was really that eager to get out of the sunlight.
"What did you do to Voldemort?" Albus asked.
"I just sent him home," Azkaban replied in what may have been a light tone had it not been muted with a somberness that seemed to mute everything he said. "You needn't concern yourself with him immediately. He'll sleep at least a day, and it'll be a few more before he's fully recovered."
"What did you do to him?" Albus asked again.
Azkaban raised one eyebrow at the repeat of the question.
Severus realized that he could see him more clearly now. The shadows still clung to him improbably in the growing light, but they were not as dark. He still could not make out the man's face clearly, but his expressions were coming through more distinctly now.
"I sent him home," he repeated a little more firmly.
"But how?" Albus asked, as though he thought the man truly had not understood the meaning of his question rather than obviously choosing to evade it.
For a moment, the man was motionless. Severus could see fire burning in those bright green eyes, and he couldn't help but think it quite unwise of Albus to deliberately prod him like that when the headmaster didn't even have a wand.
"Albus," he said finally, his voice quiet and more muted than usual, "You would do well to consider the fact that I am not your pawn. I chose to help you against Tom today because there are some among your companions whom I am not convinced deserve to die. Do not make the mistake of assuming that you are one of them."
Severus fought the urge to shiver at the ice now freezing that dark, detached voice. He wondered if he was one that Azkaban didn't think deserved to die. He had blocked that curse. Did that mean that he was? Potter certainly was, since the man had actually gone out of his way to save his life.
"Now," Azkaban continued. "The specifics of what I did are not your concern. Suffice it to know that it was a combination of soul and interrealm magic."
Albus actually blinked at that. "Most of those magicks have been lost for centuries," he said quietly.
"Misplaced and forgotten," Azkaban corrected. "Not lost. Never lost."
"What of the Death Eaters?" Severus risked asking, since they had not vanished with the Dark Lord, but remained unconscious heaps surrounding the clearing in which they stood.
"They are dead," Azkaban waved dismissively.
Several wordless exclamations rose from the gathering. Severus felt an icy chill trickle down his spine at the realization of just how close to death he'd actually come. "You deliberately spared me," he postulated.
"Of course, Severus," he said with a strange tone to his voice that Severus could not quite identify. His eyes were a little easier to understand. They held something that might have been warmth when they were turned on him.
"You killed them all?" Minerva found enough voice to ask.
Those green eyes turned hard and cold again as they focused on the older witch, "You, Minerva," he said with a tone that ran parallel to his eyes, but that there wasn't quite enough life in it, "are a disgrace to Gryffindor if you can truly summon an objection to killing your enemies."
"Would have been nice to question them," Moody inserted practically while Minerva sputtered indignantly.
Azkaban turned a faint smile on the scarred auror. "Your point is valid," he allowed, "but negated by the fact that they know nothing of real value."
"You can't know that," Moody snapped back.
"I suppose it depends upon your definition of valuable knowledge," Azkaban conceded amicably enough. "If it centers on the destruction of Tom, then my assertion stands. I already know where to find Tom, and am not concerned for my ability to defeat him."
"If you're so sure you can kill him, then why didn't you?" Moody pressed.
"Your esteemed headmaster knows the answer to that."
All eyes turned to Albus, who straightened a bit, and nodded, "Indeed, I believe that I do."
Azkaban just sneered at Albus when the headmaster didn't elaborate.
"Well, I suppose you'll need to deal with this mess now," Azkaban decided. "I will meet you at the gates at sunset."
"You cannot just leave," Albus said, looking rather alarmed at the prospect.
Azkaban chuckled quietly at that. It was not a comforting sound. "Who, exactly, is going to contain me, Albus? You? You do not even have a wand." He drew Albus' wand again as he said that, running his hands over it almost lovingly. "I do like this wand," he smirked. "It has… attitude. Powerful ancient artifacts are like that though, aren't they?"
Albus paled again, which as good as proved to Severus that Azkaban knew what he was talking about with regard to that wand. It was more than it appeared, maybe even a portion of Albus' esteemed power.
"Sunset," Azkaban said again.
Before Albus could attempt another complaint, the shadows seemed to lurch up from the ground to wrap around Lord Azkaban. His form faded into them, and when they slipped back into a pattern made naturally by the light of the day, Azkaban was gone.
Sirius Black woke from his nap feeling better than he could remember feeling in a very long time. He blinked drowsily, and rose for a languid stretch in his canid body. His tongue lolled out with a jaw-creaking yawn, and he finally opened his eyes, blinking around his cell for only a moment before the wrongness of it all hit him.
He was in Azkaban. That was why he was always cold, hungry, achy, and emotionally stretched beyond all limits.
But all of that was gone now. Well, he was still hungry, but he didn't feel achy. His cell was pleasantly warm. Emotionally, he felt as well as he ever had after waking from a particularly luxurious rest. Which meant… He didn't know what it meant. Something was wrong, but… in a good way. What. The. Bloody. Hell?
"Good morning," a smooth, tenor voice greeted.
Sirius was a little ashamed by the yelp that escaped him as he spun to face the direction from which the voice had come. It hadn't come from outside the cell, but within. How, exactly, was that possible? The hair on his back rose as he growled at the man seated in a chair, of all things, in the shadows across the cell. The man who'd seen his animagus form.
"Relax, Sirius," the man said with a smile in his voice that Sirius could not see on the face too hidden in darkness. "I already knew that you were an animagus, and I assure you that your secret is safe with me," he promised easily. "If you wouldn't mind, I would like to speak with you, however. I promise that the dementors will not approach without my permission."
Sirius stared at the man for a long moment, frustrated that he couldn't even attempt to identify him. Frustrated that the man claimed to know what he shouldn't. Frustrated that he didn't understand how or why the man could keep the dementors away.
Frustrated that he couldn't voice any of his questions.
With a low growl, Sirius summoned the necessary magic, which was much easier now than it had been since he'd entered this cell so many years ago, and resumed his human form.
"Who are you?" Sirius rasped as soon as he was able, his voice scratchy from disuse.
"I am Lord Azkaban," the man said casually, though the simple statement made Sirius flinch.
"Azkaban doesn't have a lord," he argued suspiciously.
"Not for a long time," the man sighed almost sadly. "Happily, that is no longer the case, for I am here. I imagine, however, that you require some form of proof." He lifted a hand at his side and torches grew along the wall of the cell, promptly springing alight, bathing the room more brightly than it was even during the middle of a cloudless day.
Wandless magic. In Azkaban. Even the warden could not work magic in this place.
Then the man rolled his wrist and conjured a table in front of him, and another chair opposite him. A snap of his fingers and the little table was overflowing with the most mouthwatering food that Sirius had seen since coming here.
When Sirius managed to tear his eyes away from the spread and actually look at the man, he instinctively recoiled from the form shrouded in shadow that met his eye. The shadows clung to him and wove themselves around him despite the brightly lit room that should have banished them all behind him. "Please, eat. I know how hungry you must be."
Despite having many more questions, and despite his natural wariness of taking food from mysterious strangers, Sirius' snarling stomach eliminated any possibility of refusal or delay. Before he had really thought about it, he was seated and scarfing down the food so quickly that he was more than halfway done before he began to appreciate how good it tasted.
When he'd at last washed down the meal with a tall glass of pumpkin juice – pumpkin juice in Azkaban – he leaned back, laying his hands comfortably over his stuffed belly, and assessed the man again. "How'd you do this?" he finally asked. "How'd you get in here?"
"As I said," the man said mildly, "I am Lord Azkaban. This place enhances my magic rather than dampening it."
"Okay," Sirius allowed, since he had little enough grounds or reason to continue arguing that point. "Why?"
"Are you, or have you ever served the wizard known as Lord Voldemort in any deliberate capacity?" he asked in that same mild tone.
Sirius blinked and his jaw dropped. Was he to be given a trial at last? "No!" he said hastily when he realized that he'd been silent too long. "No! Never! I'll kill that fucker if I ever get the chance! I'd have died to protect Harry and James and Lily! I swear it on my life! On my magic! My fucking soul!"
The man lifted one hand, palm out, in a gesture for him to stop, which Sirius did only by summoning the considerable effort to snap shut his jaw and hold it that way. After so many years, he didn't think anyone would ever ask him that question and he was terrified that the answer would be disregarded now that he'd finally been able to give it.
"I believe you."
"You do?" he almost cried.
The man nodded. "Yes. We are in Azkaban. Here, you cannot lie to me if I am looking for it. Besides, I'd mostly guessed that already. Can you tell me who did betray the Potters to Voldemort?"
The man said it without the slightest flinch, but then maybe this man was powerful enough that he didn't fear him. "Peter Pettigrew!" he hissed. "We both knew where the Potters were staying but Peter made it look like I killed him, and no one wanted to believe that sniveling little rat was capable of something like that…"
Again, a silent plea for him to stop, which Sirius forced himself to do.
"I suspected that as well," the man nodded. "Now, unfortunately, my authority does not extend beyond the shores of this island, so it is not within my power to grant you the trial you deserve to exonerate yourself."
Sirius sagged at that. "But can't you… convince someone? James or Lily? Or Dumbledore! If you could convince…"
"I will look into it," the man promised calmly. "He and I are not on the best of terms, but I may make headway with James and Lily since I saved his life tonight."
Sirius' brain ground to a halt as panic rushed through him despite the fact that his best friend had left him in this prison all these years. He didn't want to see him hurt. "You…? What happened?"
"He and some other Order members were attacked by Voldemort and some of his Death Eaters. James took a severing curse across the side of his stomach. Due to the nature of the curse, Lily was unable to heal it. I know a few more tricks when it comes to healing spells caused by dark magic."
Sirius' brain sputtered and struggled to make sense of all that. James was okay, he reminded himself. "You're a member of the…?" he asked instead, but immediately corrected himself, "No. You can't be if you don't get along with Albus."
The man chuckled darkly. "No, I am not a member of his little club. Albus actually summoned me here from another universe to fight his little war for him."
Sirius blinked slowly at the man who appeared utterly serious.
"It's true, unfortunately," the man huffed. "That's why you've never heard of a Lord Azkaban. I did not exist in this world until the early hours of this morning. After that little tussle with Tom, I came straight here, as it is my home in any universe. Happily, my beloved Azkaban did not need too much convincing to embrace me even here," he said that last a little dreamily and stroked his hand affectionately along the scarred wall of the cell.
If not for the fact that this man shouldn't be here, Sirius would have concluded by now that he was completely barmy.
Then again, perhaps Sirius was the one who had gone 'round the twist, and this man was here only in his own delusions. Of course, if that was the case, he wasn't inclined to fight it. His stomach felt full for the first time in years, and he didn't wish for death in the slightest at the moment. If his sanity was the price of this peace, it was one he was willing to pay.
"I knew you in my world," the man went on. "That's why I came here. Why I chose you."
"How did you know me?" Sirius asked, intrigued by this tale, be it real or an interesting figment of his twisted imagination.
"You were my godfather," the man said quietly.
Sirius flinched badly. "That's not…" he shook his head in denial. "No. My only godson was Harry…"
And then the shadows fell away from the man's face, and Sirius' jaw grazed his chest again. That face… It was James' face. But Lily's eyes. Sweet Merlin… His black hair was long and pulled back at his neck, but it was the same exact shade as James' hair. He had a few faded scars on his face, but none that were immediately noticeable unless you were doing your best to compare him to James. Probably the strangest thing though, was that the man looked about the same age as him. "You're too old," Sirius heard himself say before he could think better of it.
The man – Harry – just nodded. "I understand that it has just gone 1993 here. The time I left in my world was 2009. Ergo, I am twenty-eight instead of twelve."
Sirius thought on that a long moment before he spoke. "But you're…" He swallowed, "You're lord of Azkaban prison?"
Harry's face grew considerably more grim at that. "Yes. In my world, I did not die the night that Tom – pardon, Voldemort – found us. My parents were home that night. He killed them first. When my mother sacrificed herself, however, she granted me a protection woven of the very fabric of her love for me – or something like that. Anyway, Tom's body was destroyed, but I survived with just a scar to show for it." With that, he lifted his hand and tapped the silver, lightning bolt shaped scar on his forehead.
"I started fighting against Tom when I was eleven. When I was fifteen – nearly sixteen – Tom managed to possess me. Using my body, he tortured and murdered my five closest friends. I was convicted of those crimes and sentenced to spend the rest of my life in a cell not unlike this one."
Sirius shivered against the picture this person, this Harry, was painting.
"Albus was there, as he is here, the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. He could have shielded me, forced a real trial instead of that farce I received. He did not. It would have been politically damaging to him at the time. So, the man that I had come to see as a grandfather, condemned me to die here.
"Fortunately for me, I was very good at surviving, and I learned to do it, even here. After about a year, the dementors no longer caused me distress. After about three or four years, I began to feel the castle responding to me. Somewhere around six years, I think, I began to gain real control over the castle. Probably around the seventh year, I became Lord Azkaban in truth. At that time, this place became my home rather than my prison."
"How is that possible?" Sirius asked after what was probably several minutes of slowly digesting all of that.
Harry shrugged, "I am an incredibly powerful wizard. That, combined with the way I learned to control the dementors, endeared me to the castle. She accepted me as her master."
"Are you…?" he licked his lips, which was odd as they were chapped, but not dry for once. "Are you stronger than Voldemort?"
Harry tipped his head side to side a bit in what was neither confirmation nor denial. "Here, I am undeniably stronger. On neutral ground, our power is evenly matched. In this world…" he shook his head and frowned sadly. "I met Tom earlier, as I mentioned. Unlike the slightly mad dark lord of my world, this one is completely unhinged. Power can only do so much without intelligence, cunning, and knowledge behind it. The Tom Riddle of this world would not last two minutes against me in a duel. There are a few things I have to do to counteract his immortality before I can kill him, but nothing difficult."
"Why…? Do you know why Voldemort targeted James and Lily?"
"A prophecy," Harry said grimly. "There was a prophecy made in 1981 that named me as Tom's equal – the one who could vanquish him. Naturally, this was a frightening prospect for a man who feared death with such pathological obsession. Albus was witness to the prophecy, but Tom heard enough to want to kill me before I became powerful enough to return the favor." He smirked, "Obviously, he didn't expect me to have that power at fifteen months old."
"Is this real?" Sirius asked, dazed.
Harry nodded, "Yes. It is quite real, I'm afraid. Now, as I said, I cannot get you out of here just now, but I can make it a more pleasant stay."
With that, he rose, moved to the center of the little cell, and closed his eyes. He raised his hands at his sides, palms up, and froze.
Sirius leapt out of his chair when the cell began to tremble slightly. Then he watched in open-mouthed awe as the cell walls began to rearrange themselves. The space quadrupled in size. An arch formed in one wall and expanded into the next cell, which was also increasing in size as though with an expansion charm. Then a spiral staircase wound itself out of the floor and fitted perfectly into an opening that was forming in the ceiling. The tiny, high window grew in the outer wall until it was a huge picture window spanning half the wall with a sweeping view of the dark shore below and ocean beyond.
When the walls finally stopped moving, a massive four-poster bed crawled up out of the floor against one wall. A sofa sprung from the wall along another. A tea table and chairs sprouted in front of the window. Sconces popped out of the walls, adorned with already burning candles that began to fill the room with warm light. Rugs grew out of the floor like grass. A look into the next room revealed a huge tub sinking down into the floor, silver faucets and knobs aligning themselves to fill it should he wish.
When everything at last stilled, Harry opened his very green eyes and looked around with a satisfied smile. "It's not unlike my old suite after I got the hang of this place," he said. "Your magic is no longer being repressed, but I don't have a wand to offer you at the moment, I'm afraid. As for the dementors…" He lifted his hand to place it lightly atop Sirius' head, where he flinched only slightly, and began to mutter an incantation under his breath.
Though Sirius was nervous about what might happen to him, attempting to resist at this point seemed foolish. The man had made no hint that he meant Sirius any harm, and considering that Sirius was pants at wandless magic, anything he tried would have failed spectacularly anyway.
A moment later, a warm tingle fell down his spine, and Harry removed his hand. "The dementors will no longer affect you in any way. If anyone looks into this cell, they will see only what they expect to see – the cell as it was and you as you were, even if you speak with them. The illusion will only be broken if they physically come inside. When you want something from the kitchens…"
He turned his hand over and a small bell had appeared in his palm. He rang it lightly and a house elf popped in to the cell turned bedroom.
"How can Dizzy be helping Lord Azkaban his sirness?" the elf bowed.
Harry smiled pleasantly at the creature. "This man is Sirius Black," he introduced. "He is my vassal. You and the other elves will provide him with anything he needs and allow no one else to discover that he is anything more than an average prisoner."
The elf bowed and professed her desire to serve, then vanished when Harry dismissed her. He passed the bell to Sirius, who took it as the treasure it was. With that bell, he'd have unlimited access to good food and drink.
Harry's took a step back and looked at him appraisingly. "I nearly forgot," he smirked and twitched his hand at the wall, which obediently sprouted a wardrobe. "There you are. Now, I really do need to be going, as I've an appointment at Hogwarts to take care of their basilisk problem."
Sirius blinked, but Harry did not seem to realize he'd said anything unusual. He decided that it wasn't his most pressing inquiry anyway. "Will you come back?" he asked instead. All of this was amazing, but companionship had been even more so. Yes, he could admit that this Harry was strange and a little scary, but he was still his godson in some sense of the word. A godson he'd never had a chance to know.
Harry smiled warmly in response to that. "Of course. This is my home. I'll warn you though that I keep rather nocturnal hours. I generally sleep through most of the day, particularly this time of the year."
Sirius grinned, realizing that no amount of eccentricity could affect his glowing opinion of the man who'd just made his life not only bearable, but pleasant – at least, it would be if the dementors truly did not affect him. He still hadn't ruled out the possibility that he was mad, but he still wasn't dwelling on that. He just prayed that, if he was mad, he'd stay this way. There would be nothing worse than waking up to find all of this a dream. That in itself may destroy what remained of his sanity.
Harry gave him a friendly nod, and then Sirius yelped and leapt back when a shadow sprang from beneath the bed to wrap itself around Harry. He seemed to almost fade into it, and then he was gone and the shadow was back to being just a shadow under the bed.
Sirius eyed it for a long moment, then looked around in wonder at the place that hadn't changed with Harry's departure. With a feral grin, Sirius loped up the stairs to explore the rest of the suite before he partook of the tub and wardrobe to wash off the years of grime. Then maybe he'd have another meal before he curled up in that heavenly bed.
A/N: Please bear in mind that this installment is subject to minor changes if required by the evolving plot. If/when I am ready to post this story, I will remove this chapter and post a notice.