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A Conspiracy of Cartographers: Year Two [fic + podfic]

Chapter Text

EVENING PROPHET
23 December 1972

Village Destruction Result of "Hooliganism" Says MLE
At a press conference this morning Magical Law Enforcement spokeswizard Cornelius Fudge declared Tuesday's attack on the Muggle village of Dunheath to be "nothing more than hooliganism". The press conference was held in response to rumours that the attack was an act of terrorism.

"No individual or group has claimed responsibility for the incident," said Fudge, "and no further leads have been uncovered. If you ask me, it was probably an accident. Someone trying a spell they did not have the ability to control."

In response to questions regarding public safety, Fudge said, "As far as we know, this was an isolated incident that got out of hand. Let's not overreact. Fiendfyre is notoriously difficult to contain. The perpetrator or perpetrators are likely just as shocked by the results of their careless actions as anyone. This department does not anticipate any further incidents."

When asked if there was any truth to the rumours that the organisation known as the Death Eaters might be responsible, or that the attack might be linked to the Easter Murders, Fudge dismissed the idea.

"The Death Eaters are a respectable organisation dedicated to the promotion of Wizarding interests, and Voldemort is a respectable wizard. There is no evidence connecting the group to any sinister activity or acts of violence."

The wizard styling himself Lord Voldemort, who is rumoured to be the head of the Death Eater organisation, could not be reached for comment at the time of this printing.

Muggle officials are reporting the incident as a "gas leak", which is the sort of thing that can cause a large explosion under certain circumstances.


James threw the newspaper down onto the coffee table with a frustrated sigh, slumping lower on the sofa. He had spent the entire journey from Hogsmeade to King's Cross that day hoping that, when he got home, he would learn some real information about Dunheath at last. But his mother had come alone to collect him from the station, and the reports in the latest edition of the Prophet were unsatisfactory when it came to details, or even hard facts.

"Will Dad be home soon?" he asked as they set the table for supper for two.

"Probably not," said Ellie Potter. "He hasn't been home before ten since Tuesday, and there's a lot to do if he wants to take Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off."

She did not seem worried, at least, as she had when his father worked field assignments. The life of a desk Auror held far fewer risks than that of an agent in the field.

When his mother asked him how school was going over supper, James found himself unable to answer. The disruption of the past few days had pushed all other thoughts out of his head. The routines that made up his daily life seemed very far away indeed. He asked his mother how things were at home, but his thoughts drifted immediately, and he barely heard her answer.

After changing into his pyjamas, James brought a Quidditch magazine down to the sitting room and read, or tried to, while his mother knitted. He fell asleep on the sofa, still waiting for his father to come home.

His mother woke him. "Time for bed, Jamie-lad. You'll see your papa in the morning."

He did not argue, but stumbled up the stairs to his room. Barbarossa, his mother's ginger kneazle, was curled up on his pillow. James shoved him off and burrowed under the covers. It felt strange to be in his old bed in his small room. He missed the dormitory and the soft sleepy sounds that meant his friends were nearby. Even Peter's snores would have been more comforting than the silence that hung in the air.

When Barbarossa hopped back onto the pillow and leaned his bulk against the side of James's head, James did not push him away. A thunderous purr erupted in his ear as he stroked the cat-like creature's ginger fur, and he fell back to sleep with an arm curled around the warm, furry body.


"Your father is sleeping," Ellie Potter told her son the next morning when he arrived in the kitchen for breakfast. "He didn't get in until almost midnight, so we'll let him rest a bit longer."

After breakfast, James went back up to his room and rattled desultorily around until his mother informed him that if he could not be quiet, he could come downstairs and help out with the washing-up. They were putting away the last of the plates when Joe Potter finally made his appearance.

"Happy Christmas Eve, Son," he said, giving James a hug and a tired smile.

James watched his parents covertly as his mother set breakfast for his father. He was still uncomfortably aware of their age, but they seemed better than they had the last time he was home. His father did not look as if every movement hurt, at least.

"If your father needs anything else, be a dear and fetch it for him, Jamie," said his mother. "I'm for a bath."

James nodded, and sat in silence as his father paged through the morning edition of the Prophet.

Joe Potter appeared no more impressed with the paper's reporting than his son had been the previous evening. "Useless," he muttered with a sigh and a shake of his head.

"Is there anything new about Dunheath?" James asked.

"No," said his father irritably, "and there won't be, either. Magical Law Enforcement have called off the investigation. They think it's a waste of the Auror Office's time."

James stared at him. "So it was nothing? Just an accident, like that Fudge bloke said?"

Joe Potter shook his head again. "Impossible to say, without a proper investigation. But no, I don't think it was an accident."

"Did you see the village?" asked James.

"No. Not directly, at least. Until they assign me a new partner --" he sighed. "And maybe they won't. I think they're putting me out to pasture."

"They can't do that! You're one of the best Aurors in the whole place!"

Joe smiled. "I appreciate the vote of confidence, Son, but the people in charge of these things disagree. Magical Law Enforcement thinks the Auror Office is obsolete. They've treated us like a minor appendage of theirs for years."

James did not understand. "Professor Gandolfsson says they need Aurors more than ever right now."

"I don't know about 'more than ever', but I agree that we're still very necessary, and that there's a lot more we could be doing." He sighed again. "Maybe Gand can convince them. He's good at bullying people into doing what he wants."

"Isn't he at Hogwarts?" asked James, and immediately felt foolish. With classes cancelled, there was nothing to keep the Auror at the school.

His father confirmed it. "He's been the terror of the office again since lunch time on Tuesday. I think he sleeps there. Assuming he sleeps at all."

"Did they find out anything? Anything they're not saying in the papers?"

"You know I couldn't tell you if they did, Jamie," Joe admonished. "I can tell you that there's no way of proving anything, with no surviving witnesses. It doesn't take a skilled wizard to create Fiendfyre. Containing it is another matter. It doesn't leave much in the way of evidence, which is most likely why the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is downplaying it. They consider insoluble cases an embarrassment. If any wizards had been killed, it would be harder for them to sweep it under the carpet, but as it is ..." he trailed off with a shrug.

"Can't you do anything?" James asked plaintively.

His father shook his head. "Our hands are tied. If I were head of the Auror Office, maybe I could lean on them a bit, but the current head doesn't seem inclined to it. Unless something else happens, Dunheath is a closed case."


It was something of a Christmas Eve tradition for the Potter family to go for a walk together around the village of Godric's Hollow near sunset. Ellie Potter kept up a cheerful front, pointing out lights and decorations, but her husband and son remained sunk in distracted silence as they trudged through slushy, leftover snow. They greeted their neighbours automatically, with forced good cheer, waving to Bathilda Bagshot through the window of her warmly-lit sitting room. The walk ended at the Golden Griffin, where they enjoyed cups of hot mulled cider before turning homewards.

After icing the great cake and preparing the Christmas ham for baking the next day, Ellie Potter went up to bed, reminding them that if they did not sleep soon, Father Christmas might decide to skip them this year. It was a pleasant fiction which the family maintained, in spite of the fact that it had been three years since James had stopped believing.

In his room, James wrote a brief Christmas greeting to Sirius, and tossed Quaffle, the family owl, out the window, before changing into his pyjamas. When he went back downstairs, his father was still sitting on the sofa, staring into the fire with a tumbler of firewhisky in his hand, petting Barbarossa absently. It was a moment before he noticed that his son had joined him.

"Jamie," he said with a smile, startling out of his reverie, "I thought you'd gone to bed."

"Nah," James replied.

"I never asked. How are things at school?"

"All right."

"Are you keeping out of trouble?"

James shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He was not sure how much Professor McGonagall reported to his parents. "Mostly."

His father smiled again. "Mostly is good, as long as you're keeping up with your studies. Is Gand keeping you on your toes?"

"I guess."

Joe Potter's eyebrows rose. "What does that mean?"

"It's --" James frowned. He had not meant to air his grievances about the Defence master with his father, but when put on the spot, he could not lie about it, either. "He's sort of a rubbish teacher."

"He's an excellent Auror." His father's face betrayed none of his thoughts.

"But it's not the same thing, is it?" complained James. "It doesn't matter what you can do if you don't show other people how to do it properly, and he never does."

His father nodded. "He's used to working with people who already have their education, but he's not very patient with the trainee Aurors, either. Still, I hope you're learning something. Defence is important. Perhaps more so now than ever."

"D'you think there's going to be a war?"

"I hope not," his father sighed. "It was an awful mess last time, and most of that was fought on the continent. I shudder to think what it would be like with Britain as the staging ground. But men like Grindelwald don't come along often, thank Merlin. I'd be surprised if this Voldemort chap is half the leader he was. So far, it seems like the biggest danger is him not being able to control his own people." Joe gave his son a tired smile. "Try not to lose any sleep over it. But pay attention in Defence class, and learn what you can."

"I will," promised James. "But Gandolfsson doesn't think I'm up to much."

Joe's smile widened. "That's not always a bad thing. It can be an advantage, sometimes, to be underestimated, especially by one's enemies. Don't let them consider you a threat."

"Am I a threat?" asked James. "I don't feel like much of one."

"You are if you pay attention. Learn everything you can, and practise the things you learn as often as you can. Will you do that?"

James thought about his friends and the Junior Defence League. He thought about Remus's patience, and Evans and Bones and a dozen other students' determination to learn Defence. Children working as hard as they could to learn how to protect themselves and others, in spite of the fact that the man who was supposed to teach them precisely that did not think them worth his time. James was not certain that made them a threat, but underestimated they certainly were, and James knew they were capable of more than anyone thought.

"Yeah," he said. "I will, Dad."

His father ruffled his hair affectionately. "I know you will, Son."


It was a quiet Christmas at the Lupins' cottage. The family's holidays had all been small and quiet in recent years, but they had never been this tense. Even Natalie's usually-bubbly personality was subdued. The Lupins did not receive the Daily Prophet, but Remus read the reports on the Dunheath "gas explosion" in the local paper, and at night, he tuned in to the Wizarding Wireless Network, which was how he heard the Department of Magical Law Enforcement's official statement to the press.

It made Remus want to scream. The Ministry of Magic was utterly dismissive of any danger, but he could read the tight-lipped fear on his mother and sister's faces, and worry seemed to have aged his father ten years overnight. None of them were talking about it. They carried on as usual, playing old records of Christmas carols, making biscuits, wrapping the last few gifts, and putting the finishing touches on the small pine tree. Remus tried to push aside his anger, but it would not go away completely.

On Christmas morning, Remus unwrapped three new sets of school robes from his parents. His mother had sewn them by hand, and his father had spelled the fabric to resist stains and harsh potion ingredients. Unless someone looked closely, it was impossible to tell they were homemade.

"They still need to be hemmed," his mother told him. "I'm glad I waited. You've been growing again."

"Thanks, Mum," he said, hugging her. His old school robes had grown conspicuously short and shabby, and it would be a relief not to have to wear them anymore.

The high point of the morning came when Natalie unwrapped the red and gold scarf that Remus had owl-ordered for her.

"You're an honourary Gryffindor," he told her as she wound herself, beaming, in the soft, warm knit. "Brave and fierce."

"Is there anything you'd like to do while you're home for the holidays, Son?" Marcellus Lupin asked, once all the gifts were unwrapped, and they sat sipping hot cocoa beside the tree.

Remus hesitated, looking down at the mug in his hands. He knew that, once he asked, any illusion of a happy family Christmas would be over. But he could not remain silent on that account. It was too important.

"I want to go to Dunheath. I want to see it."

Natalie's eyes went wide, and their parents exchanged a look of alarm.

"No," snapped his mother, frowning. "It's not safe."

"It's no place for children," his father warned. "In any case, there's not much left to see."

"I don't care," said Remus. "I need to see it. I need to know what's happening. If you won't take me, I'll go by myself."

Marcellus Lupin gave his son a long, searching look. "We'll think about it," he said.


Dear Lily,

Dad took me to Dunheath. Nat wanted to come, too, but my parents wouldn't let her. They said she's too young. But so were the kids who lived there, and it didn't help them. You can't protect kids by not telling them things.

It was awful, seeing it. The whole village was burnt right down to the ground. You could see where the buildings were, and the roads, but everything else was just charcoal and ash. I can't even explain what it felt like, being there. I wanted to scream and hex things, but all I could do was look at it and think that the person who did it is out there somewhere, and they could do it again, and the Ministry is doing NOTHING. How can they act like this isn't happening? Like it was some freak accident?

I understand why wizards hate werewolves. I do. Werewolves can be dangerous. But sometimes I think they hate Muggles just as much. They hate anyone who's different from them. They don't need a reason.

Nat is so scared. She's brave, though, so she tries to hide it. I promised her I'd protect the family. Someone has to. Dad's not much of a wizard, beyond healing magic and household charms. The only really good Defence spell he knows is the Patronus charm. It's up to me to keep them safe, but I'm not ready. I don't know enough yet.

We have to get better. We have to become the best wizards and witches we can be. There's nothing that matters more than that. We need to learn everything we can. We need to stop them, whatever it takes.

Love,
Remus


Remus sat cross-legged on the floor in the narrow space at the foot of his bed, facing his sister, eyes closed, hands loosely linked together.

"Just breathe."

"Does it help?" she asked.

"It doesn't hurt," he told her. "It's good for calm and focus and for thinking about things clearly."

"You're not going to get into trouble, are you?" There was a sharpness in her tone that reminded him of their mother.

"I don't think so. Now, hush."

Obediently, she fell silent. For several minutes, Remus let himself simply exist. Air moved through his lungs. His heart bumped quietly in his chest. And under it all was the faint current of magic that flowed from his core to his head and fingers and toes. He focussed on the tingling of it, and opened his eyes. Letting go of his sister, he stretched a hand out in front of him, over the hair ribbon she had donated for the experiment.

"Wingardiam Leviosa," he whispered.

Slowly, one end of the ribbon rose an inch into the air, and hung there. Natalie gasped, and it dropped back to the floor and lay still.

"You did it, Remus! I didn't think you could do magic without a wand."

Remus tried not to feel disappointed. It was not a bad result for a first attempt. "The magic is inside the person. Otherwise anyone would be able to do it, if they had a wand. It's harder without, though. A wand focuses your energy. Without one, you have to focus with your mind. But it's really useful to know how, if you don't have your wand."

"Or if someone takes it away from you," said Natalie, biting her lip.

"Or if that," agreed Remus. There was no point in denying it. "Let's try it again. Close your eyes and breathe."


Peter was bored. His mother was even more anxious than usual. In the week that he had been home, they had barely left the house.

"It's only Muggles they're going after, Mum," he complained, but nothing he could say would sway her.

He tried reading the Daily Prophet to find out what was happening in the world, but it told him disappointingly little. Letters from his friends were better, but he had had few of those, in spite of having written to each of them multiple times. There had been one short letter from James, and two from Remus, one of them describing the devastation at Dunheath. Sirius had not written at all.

The highlight of his holiday had been a visit from his Uncle Constantine on Christmas Day. It was hard for Peter to believe that his mother and uncle were siblings sometimes, they were so different. Constantine was a jolly fellow, who delighted in giving gifts and cracking jokes. He had a vast and varied acquaintance, both among wizards and Muggles, and always had funny stories to tell about his friends.

"You should be more careful, Con," said Almira Pettigrew tartly. "It's dangerous to associate with Muggles these days, especially the sorts of Muggles you run around with."

"Those people will hate me no matter what I do, just for being who I am, and you know it, Mira," Constantine told her. "I'm not going to stop living my life for fear that someone else won't like it. We've spent enough time hiding and being afraid. What's the point of living if you can't enjoy it?"

It was an old argument. Peter knew that his mother worried about her brother. She had raised her younger siblings after their parents died, and had done her best to protect Constantine from a world that did not understand that he was not really a girl, and would no longer answer to the name "Constance". Almira Pettigrew loved her little brother, but she was a worrier.

"You won't enjoy it for long if foolhardiness gets you killed," Peter's mother said darkly. "Now, will you stay for supper or not?"

Constantine shook his head. "Some of my friends are having a party. You and Pete are more than welcome to come along, though."

"Can we please, Mum?" begged Peter. An evening spent with his Uncle's colourful friends would be miles better than spending one more night cooped up at home with his mother.

"I'll look after him if you don't want to come, Sis," Constantine promised. "You know I'd never let anything happen to him. He'll be perfectly safe."

Almira shook her head. "You can do as you like. I can't stop you. But I won't have you dragging Petey into risky situations, or filling his head with dangerous ideas. He's only a child."

"I'm almost thirteen," objected Peter. "I'll be of age in four years."

"A child," his mother repeated. "And you're not his father, Con. Until he develops a proper concern for how dangerous the world can be, he has no business being out in it."


Sirius lay on his belly, twisting the knobs of the transistor radio. Static. Twist. More static. Spin. A few fuzzy notes, but nothing more. He could never seem to find a clear station in the house. Sometimes the radio worked when Sirius took it into the back garden, but today, with grey sleet slapping down from the sky, that was not an option. Sirius growled in frustration.

If he could not find Muggle music, he wanted to at least hear what was happening on the Wizarding Wireless Network, but his parents had taken his wand on his first day home, telling him that he could have it back when it was time to return to school. His owl, too, had been locked away until the end of the holidays. His mother had passed on a short, unhappy note addressed to him from Peter, but if his other friends had written, their letters had not made it to Sirius.

"Aren't you dressed yet?" Regulus stood in the bedroom door, looking stiff in his new dress robes. "Mother and Father say we're leaving in ten minutes."

"I never asked to go to any stupid New Years party," grumbled Sirius, getting up off the floor and rummaging through the wardrobe.

He pulled his own grey velvet dress robes on over the tee-shirt and denims he had been wearing to annoy his parents, but did not bother to comb his hair before slouching down the stairs after his brother. His parents gave him a disapproving look, but made no comment as they cast Floo powder onto the parlour grate.

A moment later, they stepped out onto the hearth rug of a large, well-lit room, its walls lined with shelves of books. A tall, dark-haired young woman greeted them.

"Aunt Walburga! Uncle Orion! And my dear little cousins," smiled Bellatrix Lestrange.

"Bella," said Sirius's mother, embracing her. "What a lovely home you have."

It was exactly the sort of gathering that Sirius loathed. The adults stood around in groups, discussing business, politics, and current events, in the case of the men, while the women seemed to talk of nothing but clothing, household charms, and who had the best house elf. The younger guests had formed a pack at one end of the dining hall. Most of them were Slytherins.

"Come say hello to your little classmates," sparkled Bellatrix, clamping a hand each on Sirius and Regulus's shoulders, and steering her reluctant cousins across the room.

A few people greeted Sirius. They knew better than to appear openly hostile towards their hostess's family. Sirius gave them no more than a grunt in reply. A dark-haired young man of around Bellatrix's age had his sleeve rolled up, showing off a tattoo on his forearm of a skull with a snake protruding from its mouth. Evan Rosier and Rabastan Lestrange gazed with open admiration. Sirius privately thought that it looked ridiculous.

"Put that away," Bellatrix hissed. "This is not the place."

The young man rolled his eyes, but also rolled down his sleeve. He came over and shook hands with Sirius and his brother. "Antonin Dolohov," he introduced himself.

"That's a spiffing tattoo," said Regulus.

Dolohov grinned. "Thanks. I think they're going to be all the rage soon. Maybe you should think about getting one."

Regulus shook his head. "Mother would hate it."

That made Dolohov laugh. "What about you -- Sirius, was it?"

"I'd want something cooler than some old skull with a snake," said Sirius.

Dolohov raised his eyebrows. "Like what?"

Sirius shrugged. "Maybe a werewolf."

"That's unconventional," Dolohov said. "But you're what? Ten? You still have a few years to think about it."

"I'm twelve," Sirius informed him.

"I just turned eleven," volunteered Regulus.

"Plenty of time to consider your future," said Dolohov. "Are you in Slytherin?"

"Gryffindor."

"It happens sometimes," Dolohov said with a shrug. "No reason why we can't all get along."

The other Slytherins, standing nearby, did not look as if they agreed with this sentiment, and neither did Sirius. When Dolohov moved off to rejoin the adults, Sirius was relieved. The man's too friendly attitude made him uncomfortable.

"I'm going to go see if I can find out anything about Dunheath," he told Regulus.

Rosier overheard him. "What about Dunheath?"

"Just whether there's any more news on what happened," said Sirius. "Why? Do you know anything about it?"

"I know what everyone knows. Well, everyone but you, apparently, Black," Rosier smirked. "It was just an accident. It's in all the papers. Or didn't you think of checking there?"

Sirius flushed. He had tried to get hold of the Daily Prophet since coming home, but his parents had cancelled their subscription, saying it was turning into a pro-Muggle propaganda rag.

"It wasn't an accident," he scowled. "Things like that don't just happen. Someone did it. Do they know who yet?"

Rosier shrugged. "Who cares? It was just a bunch of Muggles. Good riddance, I say."

"So that's it then?" sneered Sirius. "That's the plan? This Moldywart bloke and his Death Suckers are just going to murder every Muggle, and you're going to stand in the sidelines and cheer them on?" Regulus was tugging urgently at his sleeve. Sirius ignored him.

Rosier frowned. "No one's saying they're behind it, Black. But yeah, whoever it is has the right idea. A world with fewer Muggles in it sounds all right to me." The Slytherins bunched behind him nodded, muttering agreement.

"You're a weird one, Black," said Rabastan Lestrange. "You'd be top of the heap in a world like Voldemort talks about making. You'd have everyone bending over backwards to do things for you. Why wouldn't you want that?"

Rosier rolled his eyes. "Soft in the head is what he is. It's wasted on him. He belongs in Gryffindor with the rest of the blood traitors.

Sirius's hands rolled into fist. "I'd rather be a blood-traitor and a Gryffindor any day than a smelly, slimy Slytherin snake."

If any of them had had wands, the situation might have spiraled out of control very quickly. As it was, Orion Black stepped in, stunning his son and dragging his limp form off of Rosier. Stiff and tight-lipped, he and his wife apologised to Bellatrix and Rodolphus for the disruption to their party, and promised that they and Evan Rosier could expect a full apology from Sirius in writing the next day.

Sirius was just beginning to regain control over his limbs when they arrived home. He steadied himself on a chair in the parlour, staring down his parents with dislike.

"What are you going to do to me?" he asked, defiant. "Spank me? Send me to bed without supper?"

"We are going to talk to you," said his father coolly. "Regulus, go to your room."

Regulus fled, and Sirius slumped into the chair.

"Talk, then."

"We are disappointed." Orion's voice was low and even. "That was unbecoming behaviour for a son of the House of Black."

"It was humiliating, is what it was," snapped his mother. "Brawling like a common Muggle in front of half the family! What must they think?"

"I don't care what they think," Sirius sneered.

"That's clear enough --"

"I'll handle this, Walburga."

Sirius and his father scowled at one another.

"It's those friends of yours," said Orion. "You were never this intractable before you started school. One can tell a great deal about a man by the company he keeps. You have allowed yourself to be unduly influenced by a bad element. They are turning you against your family and your peers, making you sullen and ill-tempered." He sighed.

"It's not that we don't want you to have friends, Son," he continued, voice reasonable. "As long as they are the right sort of friends. Pettigrew is all right. He comes from good family. Your mother and I have no issue with him. Potter -- his father has a good reputation with the Ministry, so we gave him the benefit of the doubt. But his mother -- who knows what's lurking in her people's background? Or what foreign ideas she's raising her son with?" He shook his head. "And then there's that Mudblood boy. Lauren? Llewelyn? Your time is valuable, Sirius. You don't need to be wasting it on people like that. We can only smooth the path for you so much. If you want to rise in the world, you have to meet us halfway."

Sirius ground his teeth together, rage pounding in his chest. "You don't give a toss what I want."

"Language, Sirius," his father warned. "Of course we care. We want to see you do well. But you're still young. You need guidance to keep you on the right path. Your mother and I can provide it at home, but if it looks like you're not getting it at school, we may need to revisit our options."

"What options?" Sirius frowned in confusion.

"Durmstrang," said Orion. "Blacks have always gone to Hogwarts. It's a tradition as old as the family itself. But perhaps under the current regime, tradition no longer serves the family's best interests."

Sirius stared at his father in open-mouthed shock. "You can't --"

"I can and I will," Orion said grimly. "If we do not see a marked improvement in your attitude, your mother and I will certainly consider it. Now, go to your room. Think about what I've said. And write your apologies to your cousin and that boy. I will read them tomorrow before breakfast."

Stumbling up to his room, Sirius lay down on the bed, feeling ill. He imagined what it would be like, being sent away to a strange place, never to see his friends again. No more James grinning over a finely-crafted prank. No more late night excursions to the kitchens with Peter for snacks. No more Remus.

Sirius could not breathe. He clawed the neck of his robes open. The room felt like a trap closing in on him. Anxiety coursed through him making his stomach muscles clench tight, and he could not will them to relax. Getting up, he opened the room's small window, letting in some of the damp winter air, but no matter how much of it he gulped, Sirius could not seem to catch his breath. He had to get out. He had to get out now.

In a panic, Sirius jerked open his door and flew down the stairs to the parlour. The jar of Floo powder was in his hands when something grabbed him from behind.

"Master Sirius is escaping!" crowed Kreacher.

Sirius yelled, trying to shake him off. He had to get away. He would suffocate if he stayed here. His arms flailed wildly. He was shouting, incoherent, clawing his way towards the fireplace, calling out for "James! James! Remus!" when his father's second Stunner of the night hit him squarely in the back of the neck, and he slumped to the floor.

The next thing Sirius became aware of was darkness, cold, and the pervasive smell of damp. The cellar. They had locked him in the cellar. Sirius drew his knees up to his chest, hugging them tightly, and began to shake.