"A Christmas in Azkaban"
Disclaimer: I do not own anything in the Potter universe. Though getting the ownership would be a great Christmas present, I doubt it is something I will receive anytime soon.
'Footsteps, so not the Dementors. Not this time, at least...'
A large black hound lay huddled in the shadows of a cell, muzzle on paws. Wails of madness could be heard echoing through the prison's stone corridors, cries of the hopeless, of the insane, of people so far gone it would be a stretch to even call them human. By now, he'd learned to ignore them. This was Azkaban, and the dog inside was one of the most feared and prisoners to be housed within its walls, and he was innocent. Not only innocent, but framed. Framed and thrown into prison without so much as a trial.
Suddenly, the dog twitched and began changing. Its cracked, dirty paws slowly stretched into grime covered hands and feet, its spine lengthened out and straightened, and what was before a large black hound now sat the skeletal figure of a man, his drawn, gaunt face sickeningly pale and wax-like under black matted hair tangling to his waist.
The prisoner shivered and tugged his tattered robes a bit tighter around him. It was dark, the blackness almost tangible...and so cold. Yet, tonight it was even worse than usual, and Sirius Black was almost tempted to drag himself to the sorry excuse for a "bed", to crawl under the coarse, itchy fabric that only just passed for a thin sheet, but only almost. But he couldn't find the energy to move the few feet necessary if he tried. So he stayed, huddled against the wall, listening closely as the echoing steps drew ever closer.
"-and here we are doing a routine patrol in Azkaban on Christmas eve! Shouldn't this be a rookie job? We already have the warden stuck on this blasted rock, what's the point of us being trapped with him? And on Christmas bloody Eve!"
"I hear you, and after Amanda invited the squad over for dinner, too. There's no bloody reason to be stuck in here with all these nutters, but it's not like we..."
Sirius tuned the conversation out. The voices were both male, young, Sirius observed, the first higher pitch than the second, and In moments they would be passing right by his cell.
Sirius stared blankly at the wall opposite him, looking at the numerous jagged marks scratched into it, and let his mind slowly process the snatch of conversation he'd just overheard. Christmas, had it already been another year? What did that make it then? Ten years? Eleven? Twelve? Twenty? Sirius didn't know, nor did he have the drive to try and remember. He'd lost count too long ago to spend any of his remaining energy trying. Hours, days, even weeks blended together, meaningless. In Azkaban, time was all but lost. Sometimes he almost managed to forget his own name. Sometimes he'd even wanted to.
He exhaled slowly, watching as his breath curled into a cloud of mist that drifted up into the stale prison air. The footsteps were coming closer now, slowing down, and then they stopped all together. Sirius sighed, knowing what was coming before it ever began. He'd become used to it a long time ago. The countless looks shot at him from Azkaban's infrequent visitors, the taunts thrown, the way they laughed. He'd seen it far too many times not to expect it. Not that he really blamed them at this point. He probably would have acted the same.
Sirius leaned his head back against the cold stone wall and silently waited for it to begin. It was always the same, and it always would be. That wouldn't change just because tomorrow was Christmas.
As predicted, they didn't disappoint.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't Sirius Black. I guess we should consider ourselves honored. After all, it's not every day you're graced with the presence of You-know-who's second in command." Sirius turned his head to look out the metal bars, grey eyes landing on two men in their Auror robes, wands lit to see through the dank darkness of the prison night.
"I've heard a lot about you back home, you know. Bet you're regretting what you did now, aren't ya', you stinkin' git?" The man laughed and lightly kicked at the bars, but if he was looking for a reaction, he was to be sorely disappointed. The man who'd spoken sent him a mocking smile, one which he pointedly ignored. It was just a game to them, and it was a game Sirius wasn't going to play. Years ago he might have, but he'd learned. It would only encourage them. The sooner they grew bored the sooner they'd leave.
Sirius' eyes slid slowly over the two faces in a way any outside observer would see almost as bored. The first was a blond with eyes colored a sharp ice blue, standing at about medium height with a pointed face that reminded Sirius keenly of a jackal…or maybe another rat. The other Auror's hair was a light sandy brown, had hazel eyes that held a cocky glint to them, and was at least a head shorter than average size with an egotistical air far too large for his small stature. They were new faces, quite possibly first timers to the prison. He studied them, noting the lazy stances and inexperience that no-long time Auror would ever be caught showing. Neither one could've been a half day over twenty-five, complete amateurs. Even now he could see the slight shaking in their hands, the only outward sign they weren't as brave as they were trying to make themselves out to be. The Dementors weren't even on the same side of the island at the moment, not now that they had guests in their home. Sirius had seen much more experienced Aurors than those two walk by his cell's bars swearing up and down never to enter through Azkaban's gates ever again. They'd be like that soon enough, he gave them three hours before they cracked.
Sirius inwardly laughed, but even in his head it came out as humorless and bitter. He had been even younger than they were when he started out as an Auror with James. Probably as naïve, too...and just as prideful. It wasn't a kind reminder.
Sirius was drawn out of his thoughts as the blond chuckled.
"Merlin, It's hard to believe someone so pathetic looking did so much damage. So did you hear the news, Black? Your dear old mum finally decided to kick the bucket last month. Heart attack or something of the like, wasn't it, John?"
The other Auror nodded, grinning. "That's what the paper printed out. How's it feel, being the last Black alive? Or, half alive at least…" The man shot him a nasty smile, and when Sirius didn't respond he snarled and kicked at the bars, a cold glint flashing through his hazel eyes. Sirius watched him as he leaned in, his face suddenly bright with anger.
"Well, don't you have anything to say to that, or do you not care about her either? What does it matter if she was your mum, who cares when you already murdered your so called 'friend'?" The man sneered through the door, and Sirius fought the urge to wince. That one actually hurt, not that Sirius would show it. Later, maybe...not while they were there. No, he wouldn't give them that satisfaction. He never did.
The Auror, John, leaned back, face hard and cold as the stone walls around him. Every ounce of his earlier cockiness was gone as he looked down at Sirius, arms crossed.
"Pathetic," he spat, sneering. His voice grew quieter, bitter. Sirius continued to hold his glare, watching as the Auror's still lit wand sent shadows shifting across the younger man's face.
"I used to look up to you, did you know that, Black? My older brother was only one year below you and your little group. I was just a second year when you were Seventh. He'd always tell me how he watched you, how different you were from your family, but you're just like the rest of them. And he died thinking you were some bloody hero. Died fighting you and those Death Eaters. That's why I became a Auror, joined to get rid of people like you. He'd just gotten into Auror training, said he wanted to be like you, the rising star. I joined after he died I just wish I had been there when you were taken... You have no idea how many times I've played out this conversation, but this..." He shook his head. "You really are pitiful."
John turned his back and started off, but not before he hurled one last remark over his shoulder.
"I hope you die in this rat hole, Black. Do us all a favor."
The other Auror shook his head in disgust, his gaze holding just as much venom as his partner's. "You're a disgrace to everyone in the Aurors, to think you used to be one of our best. Then again, what else could be expected from a man who grew up in a family full of pure blood supremacists? You didn't deserve the friends you betrayed. They trusted you, and you stabbed them in the back. You deserve this and more." The young man sneered and sent a rude gesture his way. "Rot in hell with your mother, I'm sure she'd enjoy the company."
Sirius turned away as the man followed his partner's exit, listening silently as the booted footsteps bounced off the halls faded away to nothing, leaving him alone in the darkness. In a way he did deserve this, Sirius thought, and, in a way, they were right. He might as well have been the real murderer.
He shifted his weight, moving further back into the shadowy corner. Sirius might never have liked his family, but at least before he knew someone was still out there. Now, Sirius knew, he was truly alone. He wanted to go back to Padfoot, to escape the emotions the encounter had brought rushing back to. It was so much easier to be a dog, so much less painful. But he couldn't. If they came back, they'd find out and find some way to take it from him, and his animungus form was the last refuge he had.
Sirius barely felt the cold wall at his back past the numbness taking over his body. He gazed out at the thin chink of sky he could see through his cell's small window, watching the tiny white specks swirling down outside, such a change from the constant storms the island was known for. He was one of the few who had a window, which was both good and bad, he supposed. It helped to remind him there was still a world outside that hell, but at the same time it only let in more cold.
He closed his stormy grey eyes.
'Christmas, what I'd do to go back to how it used to be…'
He instantly envisioned a candle-lit table full of Christmas dinner, all the Marauders gathered together around it at James' house and laughing as Lily chastised her new husband for setting off a dungbomb in the kitchen or some other thing of the like. It was their second Christmas after leaving Hogwarts, and he remembered fondly sitting around the crackling fireplace, filled-to-the-brim stockings hanging cheerfully on the mantle as they exchanged gifts next to the brightly lit Christmas tree. He could see all the green and red decorations, the holly and enchanted mistletoe, and the hastily wrapped presents sitting there, just waiting to be torn open the next morning in the warmth of the Potter's fire-lit living room
For the shortest of seconds, he could have sworn it had gotten warmer as he thought about that Christmas Eve memory, and he felt something, something he hadn't felt in years. Peace, and maybe even the smallest spark of hope. Somehow, for the briefest of moments, Sirius could almost make himself believe he was back there, make himself believe that it was exactly how it used to be, exactly how it was supposed to be . He imagined telling all the wild stories from their Hogwarts glory days, imagined sitting on the couch watching cheesy muggle Christmas movies starring talking snowmen and red-nosed reindeer with Lily, imagined planning the next grand scheme with James, Peter, and Remus around the kitchen table the moment the fiery woman was out of earshot. But most of all, he imagined the laughter, the smiles, and his friends.
No, not just his friends. They were his family. It never mattered that none of them were related by blood, and he'd made that family, his real family, all on his own.
He remembered the time Lily got caught under enchanted mistletoe with Remus, and a small shadow of a grin found a way to his face as he also remembered how James had almost punched his werewolf friend's teeth out for the peck on the lips he'd given the redhead to escape from under the charmed plant, and then the howling barks of laughter that came right after. They never did let James or Remus live that one down.
Sirius smiled wistfully. It was his first real smile in a very long time.
'Happy Christmas, mate, I miss you.'
Then, Sirius was abruptly jerked back into reality, grey eyes shooting open in panic as he felt the cold filthy stones beneath his numbing fingertips.
Out of nowhere, an all too familiar chill shot up his spine, and e watched as frost crept under the iron door before slamming his eyes shut again, his hands clutching into shaking fists at his sides and scraping against the stone floor as the room's temperature plummeted.
The Dementors were coming.
' No, not yet! Damn you!'
It was too late. He felt the darkness grab at him, pulling and tugging like a living presence as the creatures, gliding like shadows down the dark, slime-covered corridors, grew ever closer. Sirius sucked in a sharp breath as he felt the coldness growing, filling him, drowning him.
Sirius screamed out as he tried desperately to cling on to the memories, to lock them away before they could be taken from him, to struggle against the visions, but he knew it was a pointless fight. It was always the same.
Images changed, flashing through his mind rapidly as the brightly lit living room morphed into the blazing wreckage of the Potters' destroyed cottage, and the bright laughter of his best friend vanished, hazel eyes glazed over, seeing out into nothing. He saw it as clearly as he first did that night, the thirteen charred bodies lying still in the rubble and raw sewage covering the street, heard Muggles screaming in wild terror as the man that he'd once called friend, family, vanished in the explosion. Then he heard his own mad laughter as he was chained, shackled, and dragged away. Betrayed.
Sirius had been laughing. Not crying, not screaming, laughing. It was a bitter laugh, a angry one, remembering all the times Wormtail, clueless, hopeless Peter, had screwed himself over. It was the first time he had actually done something right, and yet it had been so very wrong..
Even through the foggy numbness Azkaban brought, the memory of that night pierced him like a blade, twisting at his heart until every part of him blazed with agony, and somewhere, in faraway reality, he heard himself screaming, the metallic taste of blood rising in his mouth as his cries tore at his throat.
He could remember it all. Every single horrid detail.
He had found them, found them dead.
He had felt the hard ground as he fell to his knees in the rubble.
Then numbness. The anger. He knew James had changed Secret Keeper. Knew he changed it to him. To Peter.
Vaguely he remembered giving his motorbike to Hagrid, and could still hear his own deadpan voice as though from someplace far away from where he lay screaming. He knew then, one way or another, it would end that night. It was all gone in that moment. Everything was gone. All that he'd had, all that he'd wanted, vanished in one hellish second as cold reality struck. James and Lily were dead. Peter had caused it, had done it, had—
Sirius was drowning, but no one could see.
Then it stopped, and Sirius went slack, the small spark of happiness he'd only just begun to experience extinguishing like the flickering flames of Christmas candles as he slumped limply to the ground, the shadows closing in around him once more.
He welcomed the release with open arms.
The hooded figures retreated from the prison cell as silently as they came, black cloaks bellowing as the iron door clanged shut. Left behind was an innocent man, lying unconscious on the cold stone floor.
One more Christmas had come and gone, and one more moment of happiness was crushed by shadow, but somehow Sirius would find it again. Someday he would find himself back around a brightly lit tree, laughing with people he'd give anything to protect. It wouldn't always be the same, and one day, he would have a merry Christmas after all. This is because hope, in the end, is like the flickering flame of a candle. It can always be put out, but it can also be relit. Somewhere, deep in the recesses of his mind, another small spark was slowly forming, just waiting for that last small push to ignite it into a raging flame. After all, it's in the shadows that flames shine brightest.
Outside the small window, a single star broke through the overhanging clouds high above the grey stone fortress. A single force daring enough to shine through the cold Christmas Eve night. A single speck of light penetrating a sky full of darkness.
Sirius, The Dog Star.
A/N: I know this is dark for a Christmas fic, but I've been feeling sorry for Sirius lately. Twelve long years on that island, holed up in a cell while the rest of the world was opening gifts and eating hot food with friends and family. And it's not just Sirius. There are plenty of people in real life cold and starving on the very holidays we're sitting here stuffing our faces. There are people who, like Sirius, never deserve any of what they have to endure this holiday season.
It doesn't matter who you are or where you live, because at times we all feel like giving up at times, like we're empty inside. I've always seen Azkaban as a sort of representation of these negative feelings. Sirius, though, has always been the one who represents those who fight them, those who overcome.
Words have power, and that's one of the reasons I write. Yes, it's a story, but to many it's also so much more than that. I don't think even J.K. could have imagined the effect of these books when she wrote them, but nevertheless they're there. Her characters have touched the lives of so many people around the globe. What if we continued the message they sent us in those books, but instead spread it right here in real life?
I'll stop now before I ramble any longer, but if nothing else I hope you think of those people, and I have a challenge for you, whoever you are. If you see someone this season that needs that extra push to keep going, then I ask you to be the person who ignites that spark, because one spark is all you need to make a flame. Merry Christmas to all of you and I wish everyone luck for the coming year!