Time had no meaning here. Only the thrice daily arrival of meagre meals signified its passing. Weeks, months and years had no importance when each day was the same, with only the screams coming from neighbouring cells varied between days. Some pleaded for death, others for innocence (though those usually faded out after the first few weeks) but it didn't matter – there was no one here to listen.
Even the screams weren't enough for Sirius Black to distinguish one day from the next. He had learnt how to block out the screams coming from the neighbouring cells and spent his days in silence, dwelling on his own thoughts in the corner of his own dark cell. The fact of his own innocence, which had burnt brightly as a flame inside him and keeping him sane during the early years, had now dulled and left only apathy: he no longer cared whether he was guilty or innocent, it only mattered that he would be living out the rest of his life on this cold rocky island surrounded by the people and creatures he hated. Except for one.
How had he been stupid enough to not see that Wormtail had been the traitor? Looking back now it was obvious: he had suddenly started turning up for every Order meeting whereas before he frequently forgot, he would rarely come back from missions injured when everyone knew him to be probably the person least proficient with magic in the Order, and he had started mentioning – hinting at – Moony's absences…
Moony. Sirius almost sighed at the thought. It was ridiculous to think that he had believed Wormtail over Moony, and yet he had done so, despite them growing closer than ever in those few short years before the night when Sirius' world had been turned upside down. He had been a fool to throw all that away. Sirius had never accused Moony outright of being the traitor but there were other things, things that had perhaps been more hurtful, that he had done. Brief accusatory glances in his direction, harsh acceptances of Moony's apologies that weren't acceptances at all, planning to meet up with him but never really intending to show. It truly was a miracle that he hadn't called Sirius out on it, if Moony had been acting like that to him, he would have cut the tether a long time ago. But Sirius had known that Moony would never choose to lose a friend and he had used that.
They had continued to see each other occasionally due to the bond they had formed but each other's trust had been lost, resulting in their company being like that of a strangers. And a stranger's company was not the same as the company of his Moony.
Darkness fell over Sirius and he jerked his head up to see who had blocked his light. Sirius chose to sit in that particular corner of his cell precisely because it was the only part that caught the sunlight and if he stayed there long enough he was sometimes lucky to get slightly warm. He was ready to tell whoever had stood in his light exactly where to go, until Sirius saw who it was.
Sirius grinned as he looked up into the face of Cornelius Fudge. He knew of the Minister for Magic's concern as to why he had not gone insane like the rest of them, having eavesdropped on a number of the conversations between the Minister and the Dementors. This gave Sirius the opportunity for a bit of fun whenever Fudge came on his infrequent visits to Azkaban Even now, he could see Fudge's expression falter as he grinned up at him.
"Hello, Minister," Sirius croaked, his voice was quiet from lack of use. Nevertheless, Sirius was sure that Fudge would be able to hear him.
Fudge didn't reply but merely continued to examine him. It seemed clear to Sirius that he had grown accustomed to his old tricks to try to unnerve him. Sirius would have to try a different tactic.
He stood up – with difficulty – and sauntered over to the shelf embedded in the stone wall that served as his bed. It was closer to the cell door so that the Dementors could keep a check on the prisoners while they slept; apparently emotions were harder to read while they were sleeping. Sirius sat on the edge of the shelf.
"Enjoying your visit, Minister? It's a nice day for it, with the sun."
It took Fudge a long time to reply, as if he was carefully going over every word of Sirius' to see if what he said meant something other than the obvious.
"Just a routine visit, Black. Making sure everything's in order."
"You're not taking comments, I suppose? It's just that I'd quite like a newspaper with breakfast. You haven't got one on you, have you? I miss doing the crosswords."
Sirius had possibly never told a bigger lie; he hated crosswords with a passion. He had scorned at Moony, and then Lily, for doing them and had frequently written the wrong answers in before anyone could get the chance to do it properly.
"I – yes, I do." Sirius appeared to have managed to unnerved Fudge, as the Minister put his hands wildly in every pocket before finally pulling out a Daily Prophet from the inside of his robes and pushing it through the bars of the cell.
"Are you sure you're finished with it, Minister?" Sirius asked, the politeness in his voice disguising the fact that he was laughing on the inside.
"Yes - yes, have it."
And with that, Fudge walked away.
Sirius sat chuckling to himself for a moment before grabbing the newspaper from the floor, at which point his laughter stopped immediately.
He was right there, in a photograph on the front cover. Not in his human form, obviously, but in his animagus, rat form, sat on a boy's shoulder who was blissfully unaware that a murderer was on him.
Sirius quickly scanned the article. It held no information of importance apart from the last line: "The Weasley family will be spending a month in Egypt, returning for the start of the new school year at Hogwarts, which five of the Weasley children currently attend." Sirius studied the photograph again. Wormtail was on the shoulder of what looked like the youngest boy. He looked about Hogwarts age, meaning that if Wormtail was this boy's pet, then he would be returning to Hogwarts in September too. His brain working faster than it had in many years, Sirius looked at the date at the top of the page; 1993. That would make Harry thirteen, and a student at Hogwarts…
Time had meaning again.
Suddenly, it was running out.
A new flame had ignited within Sirius – purpose. He had to escape and protect Harry; nobody else knew that he was in danger. It was his job to protect Harry, James and Lily had named him Godfather and so far he had been doing a dreadfully bad job of it. It was time to change that.
Sirius looked around his cell desperately, hoping that an escape plan would spring into his mind. No such thing happened. He would have to consume himself in thoughts of how to escape this impenetrable prison, the only one that no one had previously managed to escape from. This would take time.
Time wasn't something Sirius had much of anymore.