Sirius thought someone must have cast a charm or a curse on him, because he couldn’t stop laughing.
It wasn’t as if he had anything to laugh about; James and Lily were dead, Harry was an orphan, Peter was a traitor and it was all his own fault. His thoughts raced as he stared blank-eyed at the blasted street. If he hadn’t tried to be so damned clever, if he had just gone along with the original plan, if he had been the Secret Keeper, none of this would have happened. His fear of betraying the Potters under torture seemed almost childish in hindsight. Now that it was too late, he knew with a cold-iron certainty that he would have died before giving up their location.
The laughter was still welling up out of the chasm that had opened in his soul, a twisted and hollow echo that sounded insane even to Sirius. Maybe I am insane, he thought, eyes drifting across the flooding hole in the street. Terrified faces peered at him from the shelter of nearby buildings. Certainly wouldn’t be the first Black to completely lose their marbles.
That pulled more harsh barks out of him, heavy and gulping like sobs. Crazy old Sirius, life of the party. Such a shame now that he’s standing up to his ankles in broken-down rubble and pieces of muggle and laughing his head off. James would be so very disappointed.
There was a loud bang nearby, then another and another; Sirius didn’t look around to see who was Apparating in. If it was Aurors then there was no point and if it was Death Eaters… well, then there was even less. Besides, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the carnage on the street, the blood-drenched wreck that Peter had caused.
Peter always did have a talent for mayhem and ruin. It had been brilliant at Hogwarts. Without Peter’s flair for collateral damage the Marauders would have been positively tame, their first-rate pranks limited to a handful of targets and their legend little more than a footnote in the annals of the school. No-one would have thought it to look at him, but behind mild blue eyes and a shy, ready smile Peter had an evil, evil mind. Literally, it seemed.
Realisation stabbed through Sirius’ heart like a knife. The clouds of raw anger and grief for James and Lily parted just far enough to let Sirius realise that he had lost another friend today. It was hard to say which was crueller, treachery or death.
“Drop the wand, Black!”
Sirius raised his eyes from the heap of bloodied clothes Peter had left behind to see familiar faces surrounding him. It looked like most of the Auror department had arrived at once. Confusion settled over grief and anger as Sirius saw the wands levelled at him from every direction. In front of him was his fellow Order member Shacklebolt- good old reliable Shackleblot, who had watched his back when they cleared out a vampire den three months back and dragged a reeling-drunk Sirius home from the pub five times since then. The man was glaring at Sirus with a fire he usually reserved for Death Eaters, wand held steady towards Sirus' chest. Out of the corner of one eye Sirius could see Mad-Eye Moody skulking around towards his blind spot. The old Auror was watching like he expected a curse to be flung at any moment.
Sirius’ gaze flicked down to his hand, where his wand dangled from his fingers. Fat lot of use that had been to him, in the end. If Pettigrew had wanted him dead, he would have been able to spread Sirius across the street just like the poor Muggles.
Only Pettigrew hadn’t wanted him dead, had he? Damn.
“I said drop it, Black!” Shacklebolt’s voice was harsh in the same way Sirius’ had been not ten minutes before, when he demanded answers from Peter. “You’re completely surrounded; try anything and you’ll be down before you can blink!”
Sirius’ fingers loosened and his wand slipped out of his grasp as he doubled over, more laughter spilling out of him. The hole inside him was unaccountably amused by the realisation that he had been set up. Peter had made sure there were witnesses to his speech and turned Sirius' clever plan to protect the Potters against not only James, Lily and Harry but Sirius himself, too. His free hand came up to cover his face as he gasped for breath, and he didn’t even hear the clatter of his wand hitting the asphalt.
The Aurors rushed him, grabbing him from every direction at once with hands that were anything but gentle. Moody was the one who hauled him upright but it was another fist that knocked the wind out of him. Sirius wheezed and spluttered as he was dragged away from the scene of the destruction. His limbs didn’t want to work and his vision was fuzzing in and out of focus. He put up no fight when they dragged his arms behind his back and manacled them together. The proof that they saw him as guilty set him howling again and his laughter grew with every rough shove that the Aurors used to steer him. Sirius’ head was spinning when someone grabbed his arm and he felt the distinctive lurch of a side-along Apparition taking him elsewhere.
The magic shook his already rattled head even further. As soon as his feet were touching solid ground Sirius retched, covering his boots and those of the Auror next to him in bile. There was a shout of disgust, but Sirius couldn’t keep track of it. The whole world was fading into red and black static and the moment the grip vanished from his arm he fell. He was unconscious before hitting the ground.
When Remus got the emergency recall message, it was anything but good timing. After weeks of patient undercover work he was where he had wanted to be all along; lurking in a derelict warehouse with five other werewolves, all of whom were on edge and on alert as they waited for their mysterious contact to arrive.
It occurred to Remus that at some point over the course of the war, his priorities had taken a strange turn. He rather hoped it wouldn’t be a permanent state of affairs.
Fortunately for his continued health and wellbeing, he spotted the flash of silver before any of his present company. A lifetime of making excuses to hide his secrets brought an easy lie to his lips. Turning away from where he had seen the patronus, he fumbled in his pocket for a cigarette and lighter.
“Hey, I’m going to head out for a smoke,” he said, holding up the apparatus as proof. The reaction from his fellow lycanthropes was, as usual, mixed. Lowell and Conor only glanced at him for a moment, while Rudy looked almost longing. Hattie narrowed her eyes in suspicion and Boris rolled his.
“You think this is a good time?” said Boris, his accent mild. “Maybe you should think about quitting, Lupin.”
Boris was a hairy, burly man, six foot six without his boots and hale for a werewolf. They all were; scars and stress aside, Remus didn’t think he’d ever been healthier than with this “pack”. After months undercover it was sometimes hard to remember that he wasn’t going to be staying.
“Had a friend who smoked, in school,” Remus said, shrugging. It was true enough, although his own smoking was more recent. It owed more to needing a regular excuse to leave than how Sirius chose to annoy his parents. “Picked up his bad habit, I guess.”
“What happened to him?” asked Rudy, drawing a few sharp glares from the others. He hadn’t been a werewolf long, Remus knew, and he’d been a Muggle optician before the bite. It was Lowell he felt sorriest for, though. The wizard had been a healer at Saint Mungos, before an accident with an unidentified patient cost him his job and his humanity. He’d saved ten other people’s lives, and they’d thanked him before giving him the sack. Lowell had told the story one night when they were all gathered in Hattie’s flat, then asked Conor to pass the whiskey in the same flat monotone.
“What do you think happened?” Remus said, and it was too easy to let a hint of bitterness seep into the words. None of the others pushed further and Remus made his escape, lighting the cigarette as he stepped out onto the dockside. Although he kept his posture casual, his eyes didn't stop moving. Besides the werewolves behind him and the mysterious, probably-a-Death-Eater contact who could show up at any time, he had the Muggle authorities to worry about. As outcasts in the magical world the gang had made their way as criminals in the muggle one. Even though the authorities would be in for a nasty shock if they caught their targets, Remus had no intention of being there if and when that happened.
The docks were still and dark and silent, the distant lights of the city sparkling off to the right. Remus ducked around behind a pile of crates. If anyone asked, he was trying to stop the smoke from drifting back into the warehouse. He took a long drag from his cigarette, and waited for the glowing patronus to find him; it didn’t take long. The tip of the cigarette had just begun to crumble when the silvery cat strolled around the crates from the opposite direction. It fixed him with a solemn look, and Remus sighed.
“Whatever it is, make it fast,” he said, shaking ash from the glowing tip. “I’m right in the middle of something here.”
The cat opened its mouth, and the voice of Professor McGonagall- he couldn’t think of her as Minerva, even now- came pouring out. “You need to go to the basement of the Hogs Head right away. Albus needs to speak to you on a serious matter.” She paused, as if considering adding something. “It concerns the Marauders.”
Remus didn’t even need to hear the exhaustion wavering in her voice. He was gone in an instant, the crack of his Disapparition echoing across the empty docks. His cigarette dropped forgotten to the ground.
For a few moments when he woke up Sirius was disorientated, staring up at the smooth black ceiling overhead in confusion. Then the memories of the last few hours delivered themselves like a punch to the gut, and he covered his face with his hands, groaning.
James. Lily. Harry. Peter. He was going to kill that… that rat.
His mouth was dry and gummy, and his head pounded. Sirius risked a peek out from between his fingers to see if there was any water. He saw nothing but a toilet bowl protruding from the wall across the room.
Not that desperate yet, he thought wryly, swinging himself upright. He was sitting on a black stone plinth, the only other feature in the cell besides the toilet bowl. Even the light didn’t appear to be coming from anywhere, the entire room a featureless black enclosure. Sirius had been inside the holding cells at the Ministry of Magic many times before, but never as a prisoner.
A quick check told him that he was intact; there were shackles on his wrists and ankles, his clothes rumpled from a search. There were a few bruises and scrapes, but nothing serious or life-threatening. Sirius stood from the bed, pausing a moment when he wobbled, then shuffled around the perimeter of his cell. It didn’t take long. He was tempted to walk it again and give the walls closer scrutiny, but it was pointless. He already knew everything about the cell, including where his wardens were watching from.
“Hey!” he yelled at the wall opposite the plinth- the same one that held the toilet bowl. His voice cracked on the word, came out quieter than he wanted. Sirius coughed and tried again. “Hey, where’s my interrogator! Shouldn’t there be someone from the Auror’s office in here?”
He wasn’t going to start shouting what he knew into the air, not without knowing exactly who was listening. Voldemort might be gone– oh, god, James- but his followers still infested the Ministry. He had to be patient and wait until someone he trusted arrived to talk to him. If he had any kind of luck left, it wouldn’t be too long a wait.
“Is anyone there?” he shouted, although he was sure there was. “Come on, already! James Potter and his wife are dead, don’t you bastards care about that!?”
There was no answer, and with a sigh Sirius slumped back down onto the bed. His head fell back against the wall, eyes closing. It wasn’t as if it mattered whether they listened, not really. The Ministry cells were holding only. Sooner or later, someone would have to come to take him to his trial, and even if that someone wasn’t a member of the Order he would be quickly exonerated by veritaserum testimony and a simple wand check. Then he just had to track down Dumbledore- assuming the old man wasn’t there already- and tell him that Peter was the traitor.
Of course, Sirius was far from patient at the best of times, and being left alone with his own mind right now was close to torture.
The rat’s getting further away every minute I spend locked in here, he thought bitterly, running his hands through his hair and tugging at the tangled strands. He could feel the grit and grime in it from the ruined street. Maybe he could persuade his guards to let him clean up before they dragged him before the Wizengamot. How am I supposed to sit here and do nothing? What if he goes after Moony while I’m stuck in here?
“Oh, Merlin. Moony.” Sirius eyes flew open and he froze in horror. He hadn’t told Remus about the switch- hadn’t wanted to, not when he thought the werewolf was the traitor. Guilt stabbed at him; he should have known better. Remus had been acting odd since he started spending his time with dodgy werewolves and in dark dives. Still, even though he sometimes slipped up and talked about Voldemort’s allies like they were his friends, Sirius should have known Moony would never turn his back on the Marauders. And now his last true friend had no idea that Wormtail was the turncoat; no idea that he had to watch his back, watch Harry’s back. Groaning, Sirius covered his face again.
Me and my bright bloody ideas! If I’d just told someone before chasing off after Wormtail- I could have said something to Hagrid, then none of this would be happening!
He hadn’t been thinking straight, but that didn’t change the fact that his sole surviving friend and his godson were in deadly danger. Cold terror shot through Sirius as wild as hot anger had been earlier; he jumped back to his feet and started waving at the far wall.
“I need to talk to Dumbledore!” he shouted. “Dumbledore or Remus Lupin, either one of them, you need to call them down here!”
There was no response, and Sirius flew forwards, beating his fists against the stone. “It wasn’t me!” he screamed, skirting the edge of what he was willing to say to someone who might be a Death Eater- or at least a Muggle-hating git with Death Eater sympathies. “You have to tell them- Harry isn’t safe! None of you are safe!”
He kept pounding on the wall until his fists were bloody and his voice was hoarse, but no-one came.
The sound of the Halloween party in the Hogs Head echoed through the floor and into the basement. It provided a deep rumble of background noise that assaulted Remus’ ears the moment he Apparated in. He had been to the location before, of course. The Order of the Phoenix had gone through several headquarters over the course of the war, and the Hogs Head had been one of them. Remus had celebrated Harry’s birth there, drinking long into the night with Sirius and Peter. James had alternated between fretting about his wife in St Mungos- a very frustrated matron had banned him from the maternity ward that same afternoon- and dozing by the fire.
Tonight there was no sign of merriment in the dark basement room. Next to a lit stove, Albus Dumbledore sat in a battered armchair, staring at the flames with a thoughtful expression. On two other mismatched chairs nearby sat Professor McGonagall and Hagrid. The former was comforting the latter as best she could, although her own face was teary. Hagrid was a wreck, bent double, his large shoulders shaking with sobs.
“What happened?” asked Remus, heart racing at the sight of the grim scene. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good news. Almost on automatic his mind began to construct scenarios full of blood, pain and loss.
Dumbledore looked up, seeming almost surprised to see him there. “Ah, Remus,” he said, voice heavy with sorrow. “I rather think that you should sit down for this.”
Alarmed, Remus grabbed a fourth armchair and dragged it closer to the fire, sinking down into it. “Just tell me,” he said, forcing himself to be brusque. “It can’t possibly be worse than what I’m already imagining.”
There was a sudden howl of grief from Hagrid, and Dumbledore seemed to droop a little further. “I am afraid, Remus, that it may well be just that,” he said, meeting Remus’ gaze. “There is, sadly, no easy or kind way to say this. James, Lily and Peter are all dead.”
Remus was aware of McGonagall’s eyes on him, waiting for a breakdown, but where there should have been grief there was only confusion. He wanted to point out to Dumbledore that it was impossible for them to be dead when he had seen them alive and well less than a week before. Instead he just stared in silence at the old man, his entire being stuttering to a complete halt.
Seeing that Remus wasn’t going to react any time soon, Dumbledore cleared his throat. “There is worse, I am afraid.”
Worse. Worse than three of his best friends dead. Remus’ hands tightened into fists, nails digging deep into the palms. Upstairs, something made a loud enough thump to be heard clearly through the floor, and a raucous cheer went up.
“As I am sure you are aware, Voldemort had targeted James and Lily and they chose to go into hiding,” said Dumbledore. “And as I am equally sure you knew, they were to be protected by a Fidelus Charm.”
Remus knew both the plan and the spell, and his blood froze. “Sirius?” he asked, mouth dry as he named the only person James and Lily would have chosen as their Secret Keeper. “What did they do to him? Is he- will he recover?”
Visions of St Mungos flashed in front of his eyes. He didn’t dare ask if Sirius was alright, not when he knew what it must have taken to pry the secret out of him. But Dumbledore was shaking his head, looking as solemn as Remus had ever seen him, and Hagrid was wailing again. Professor McGonagall patted the large man’s shoulder and dabbed her own eyes with a handkerchief.
“I am afraid that Sirius was not captured by Death Eaters, Remus,” the old wizard said, his voice gentle and weighed down with age. “Nothing forced him to give up the location of the Potters, and when Peter Pettigrew tracked him down, Black killed him in cold blood along with thirteen Muggles.”
There was another cheer from upstairs, this one accompanied by an upsurge in the music seeping through from above.
“No.” Remus wasn't sure he recognised his own voice. It didn’t seem like it could belong to him at all. “No, there has to be some mistake. Sirius wouldn’t-”
“Sirius did,” said Dumbledore, flatly. “The Aurors report he was laughing when they arrested him; so far all they’ve found of Peter is a finger.” He leaned forwards and rested a hand on Remus’ shoulder. “I am so, so sorry, my boy.”
Remus stared at the floor, trying to force it all to make sense. He had known, like everyone, that there had been information leaking out of the Order for some time. He had known, because of what that information was, that it had to be one of the Marauders. Unlike some, though, he’d never thought there was a spy. The idea of any of them betraying the others to Voldemort by choice had seemed ridiculous. He knew he wasn’t the leak and he had been sure of James and Lily, but he’d been torn over Sirius and Peter. Peter, eager to please and quick to rush in, and Sirius, large of mouth and small of sense. Either of them could have been unwittingly spilling secrets to a spy; Remus had started to be careful what he said in their earshot.
But breaking the sacred trust of the Fidelus Charm, leading Voldemort to James and Lily, killing Peter and more than a dozen muggles and laughing about it… those were acts of deliberate cruelty and duplicity.
Sirius Black was a traitor.
Remus’ stomach churned and the blood leeched from his face as the truth began to settle over him. When, he wondered, scrabbling back through ten years of memories to try and pinpoint the exact moment when the betrayal had gone from impossible to inevitable. It still seemed insane; Sirius Black couldn’t have led Voldemort to the Potters. Not Sirius Black, the best friend and best man of James Potter; not Sirius Black, the Godfather of his child; not Sirius Black who hated the Dark Arts with all the fire in his blood. Not the Sirius Black who had suggested becoming Animagi for Remus’ sake, who had run away from home and renounced his family rather than turn from the Light. It was not Sirius Black the Auror, or Sirius Black the Marauder, or Sirius Black the friend…
…but there was another Sirius, wasn’t there? whispered Remus’ thoughts, stirring up darker memories. There was the Sirius Black who sent a student to die in Moony’s jaws. The Sirius Black who egged James on to torment the Slytherins, even helpless first years. The Sirius Black who shook off the feelings of others then plotted vengeance for his own hurts with dark eyes. He’d always had that vicious streak buried under the laughter. Now it was too easy for Remus to see Sirius, angered by some half-imagined slight, falling into Darkness to get his revenge.
Remus closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, feeling his world resettle around him into a new, lonelier one that was cold and bitter by comparison to the old. A thought struck him and opening his eyes again, he looked back up at Dumbledore.
“What about Harry?” he asked, proud of the calmness in his voice. “You didn’t mention him.”
A trace of a smile crossed Dumbledore’s face. “There, at least, I have some good news to impart. Harry is not only alive and well, but appears to have ended the war against the Dark Lord.” Seeing Remus frown, he clarified. “Voldemort is gone; defeated by his own killing curse as it reflected back off Harry Potter.”
Remus couldn’t gasp- he was too paralysed inside- but he did blink in suprise. “How is that possible?”
“We don’t know,” said Professor McGonagall. Remus turned to face the old witch- he had almost forgotten she was there at all. “It shouldn’t have been, but it did happen. The entire wizarding world is celebrating the fall of Voldemort and the survival of the Boy Who Lived.” Her face creased in distaste, which Remus found himself sharing as he thought of the raucous party upstairs. Not for Halloween, after all.
“Can I see him?” he asked, turning back to Dumbledore. “I know I’m not his godfather-” he almost choked on the word, but managed to forge on- “and the Ministry would never let me take a child, but…”
His voice trailed off as Dumbledore shook his head. “I’m sorry, Remus,” the old wizard said, peering over the tops of his glasses with sympathetic eyes. “But that won’t be possible. I have arranged for Harry Potter to grow up somewhere hidden and protected from any remaining followers of Voldemort. I do have a watcher in place, but a constant parade of visiting wizards might well lead his surviving enemies to his door.”
“Just one visit,” pleaded Remus. “One time, and I’ll go alone, or with an Auror, anything. Please, I just need to see that he’s safe.”
Dumbledore’s eyes glowed in the light from the wood stove. “Even I cannot make such visits, except in case of dire emergency,” he said. “It is not a matter of trust, but one of security. You of all people should understand the need for secrets.”
Silently Remus nodded. He stood with an abrupt scrape of his chair across the tiles. “I’m sorry, but I think I need some time at home to let this all sink in,” he heard himself saying. “If you will excuse me, Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, Hagrid.”
He Disapparated without waiting for their reply, the sounds of the party upstairs still ringing in his ears.
Sirius was kneeling slumped with his forehead against the wall, but when several of the black stone blocks across the room slid aside he scrambled to his feet and backed off. With a crunch of stone they formed a doorway and two Aurors strode in- O’Rourke and Bones, not members of the Order and, Sirius noted, known for their sternness. Behind them was a man who wore pressed robes and whose mustache was as straight as a spirit level.
Sirius let the Aurors grab him, one to each shackled arm, and focused on the third man. “Crouch, has anyone contacted Dumbledore or Remus Lupin? I need to warn-”
Bartemius Crouch fixed him with a cold glare. “I can assure you, Black, your warnings have been noted.” He looked at the Aurors, who both gave him a nod, and then turned on his heel and walked out of the cell. Sirius found himself dragged along between the Aurors as they followed. He growled as the speed, too fast for his chained ankles, made him stumble. O’Rourke twisted his arm in response and Sirius locked his jaws together, pressing his lips tight. He had waited this long; he could be quiet until they got to the Wizengamot.
The corridors of the Ministry were mostly clear, but Sirius caught sight of a few terrified employees who had clearly missed the memo diving for cover. The sight only darkened his mood. Fuming, he didn’t notice until too late that they were heading in the wrong direction for the Wizengamot.
“Where are you taking me?” he demanded, then grunted when O’Rourke yanked his arm. Crouch didn’t even look back, leading them on through the halls until they reached a small black door at the end of a narrow corridor. Reaching into his robes, he pulled out an iron key on the end of a chain; Sirius blanched as Crouch unlocked the door.
“No,” he said, digging his heels in as the Aurors tried to shove him towards the door. “No, you can’t do this! I know my rights! I’m supposed to have a trial before you can send me there!”
O’Rourke and Bones heaved up, trying to bodily lift him, but Sirius thrashed and kicked in their grip. Years of fighting Dark Wizards had made him dense with muscle and all three of them went sprawling. O’Rourke’s wand skittered across the floor and Sirius scrabbled for it, heart pounding in his ears.
A boot slammed down on his hand and Sirius howled. Crouch twisted his ankle, grinding Sirius’ hand into the floor until O’Rourke had grabbed his wand and Bones had Sirius safely restrained again. Crouch stepped back and let the two Aurors drag a thrashing, yelling Sirius into the small room. The door closed behind them, the click of the lock drowned out by Sirius’ yells as they dragged him over to an unadorned fireplace. It was the only furnishing inside the small chamber.
Crouch lit the fire with a swish of his wand, then pulled a pinch of Floo powder out of his robes and threw it into the flames, which turned green. Despite Bones’ firm grip on his shoulder Sirius made one last attempt to throw himself backwards. Instead he was shoved forwards and tumbled head-first into the fireplace.
He dropped out the other end gracelessly, a tangled mess of limbs and chains that landed sprawling on the floor of the other side. Twin thumps beside him told Sirius that the Aurors had arrived. They seized him again and hauled him upright, giving him a clear view of the ruined, topless tower that the one-link Floo had spat them out into. A pair of black-clad guards sat on the other side of a barred gate. One raised his mug of tea in greeting while the other grabbed a ring of keys to let them out of the barbican.
“Back again, Mister Crouch?” he said, as the Aurors dragged Sirius forward. Then he seemed to see the face of the prisoner, and his expression slackened into shock. “Auror Black?”
“Not any longer,” said Crouch. “It seems that Black decided to follow his family into Voldemort’s service after all. You heard about Pettigrew, and the street full of muggles?”
The guard whistled. “That was him?”
“No, it bloody wasn’t!” Sirius yelled. “I was framed! I haven’t even had a trial!”
“We’ll be back to pick him up when the Wizengamot isn’t so overloaded,” said Crouch to the guard, who was standing back a little and looking from Sirius to Crouch like he didn’t know what to think. “There’s no doubt that he’ll be convicted, though, not with that many witnesses.”
To Sirius’ dismay, the guard nodded and stepped back. “Ferry’s waiting,” he said, and the guards hustled Sirius off again. The guard holding a mug of tea spat at him as he passed. Sirius made a lunge towards him, and felt a deep well of bitter satisfaction when the man flinched back.
“I need to speak to Dumbledore!” he hollered as they dragged him onwards. “It wasn’t me! I’m not the traitor!” Sharp fingers dug into his shoulder-blades. They pulled him down a narrow and winding path towards the mist-shrouded shore and the ferry that waited there.
There were two more guards waiting by the ferry. Sirius swore and struggled as Crouch once again trotted out his supposed crimes and the promise to “pick him up later, when the Wizengamot has time”. The keys to his shackles changed hands and the black-clad guards threw him into the prow of the boat. Sirius rolled over and stared up at the ferryman, whose face and body were shrouded in a grey cloak. The dark hollow of the hood turned towards him, and he shivered, curling in over his knees as the guards took seats on either side of him. It was cold out; colder than Sirius was dressed for.
The journey across the waters was surreal, like a passage into an otherworld. Tucked in the prow of the boat Sirius couldn’t see anything but the mist and the grey sky overhead. His only companions were the glares of the guards and the silent, impassive presence of the ferryman as he stood at the tiller. The boat glided over the water, magically smooth, and a thousand words of explanation and pleading passed unsaid behind Sirius’ lips. He had got himself into this mess by being hot-headed and impatient. He could wait until the trial, or until Dumbledore or Moony came to see him. Until it was safe for him to speak.
He felt Azkaban before he saw it, a cold, heavy presence on his back. Craning his neck he saw a looming black shadow in the mist ahead, ominous and unreal.
“If you want to jump in the ocean, you’re welcome,” said one of the guards. Sirius whirled around in surprise, and she snickered, kicking the chains that dangled on the deck. “We can take bets on how far you make it before you drown.”
Sirius didn’t remember what he said to her, just that it was hot and angry and earned him a few more bruises for his trouble.
As they grew closer to the black rock he started to have trouble breathing. His thoughts seemed to spiral downwards, sucked into a bottomless pit of despair. Before long he had to press his face into his knees just to push away the weight of grief that had settled on his chest.
“Dementors,” commented one of the guards. There were two flashes of silver, and the pressure lifted. Sirius looked up to see two patronuses, a hawk and an Alsation, settling on the deck of the boat. He stared at the dog for a long time, until a gentle bump through the hull told him that they had arrived.
The guards unloaded him to the cold stone dock, dragging him away from the silent ferryman and up the narrow steps carved into the rock of the island. They were smooth and worn, dipped in the centre where thousands of feet had ground down the rock. Sirius’ head soon spun with the dizzying drop to one side. He didn’t dare struggle in case he pitched them all onto the stony shore below, which he supposed was the general idea.
At the top of the path was a gatehouse, the entrance closed by a black door three times the height of a man. Sirius stared up at it, at the towers behind it that reached into the sky like claws. He’d never been to the wizard prison before; as an Auror, his duties had always stopped at the ferry and the far shore. The whole place looked like the fortress of a madman, sprawling and twisted and home to unimaginable horrors.
“Ho, the gates!” shouted the guard on his right. “Prisoner approaching!”
With a terrible coffin-lid creak, the great black door opened to reveal a bleak grey courtyard beyond. The guards dragged Sirius inside, still stumbling over his chained feet, and the gates of Azkaban swung shut behind him with a final, echoing bang.
The village of Godric’s Hollow was dark and silent, but nowhere moreso than the formerly sleepy little cottage on the outskirts. Remus knew he shouldn’t be there. The Aurors were still investigating, and they could come back at any moment, but he needed to see for himself.
The windows stared at him like empty eye-sockets as he walked up the path, and the front door swung inwards at a touch. Remus hesitated on the threshold then stepped into the house, fighting back the ridiculous urge to call out for Lily or James. The doormat was out of place, knocked across the floor by a careless shove of the door. It was so dark inside that Remus couldn't make out anything else.
“Lumos,” he whispered, raising his wand. A cool lemony glow spread around him from its tip and he began to edge forwards, heart in his mouth. The glowing charm illuminated half a shattered door at the end of the hall, and Remus walked through it. On the other side was the Potter’s sitting room, which was a wreck. The furthest end of the room was almost untouched aside from a scorch-mark on the wallpaper, but close to Remus everything was ruined. The table, the carpet, the sofas- everything was torn and burned and overturned across the floor.
He started towards the stairs and froze when something crunched underfoot. Stooping down, Remus picked up a pair of round, wire-framed glasses. The lenses were shattered and the frame warped and twisted. Gently, he teased the thin metal back into shape with his fingers, until the glasses were only a little wonky and he could almost imagine them on the face of their owner. The James in his thoughts smiled at him with the same energy and mischief he had always had.
Sighing, Remus folded the glasses and set them down on the nearest table. He watched his footing as he walked over the far end of the room and into the small hallway beyond. There were some more scorched curse-marks on the wall by the stairs. Remus let his hand trail along the banister as he climbed. For a few moments on the first floor landing the house seemed almost peaceful, like his friends were just sleeping in their rooms.
Then he saw the nursery.
The door was a blasted wreck and from a distance all he could see inside were dark, formless shadows. Then he stepped closer and his light fell through the broken doorway onto a room that was almost intact. Almost, because of the black scar on the carpet and the crooked bars of the crib. Almost, because of the crushing sense of evil that choked Remus.
He could reconstruct the scene in his head. Harry in his crib, there; Voldemort at the door, wand in hand and inhuman eyes full of murder. Lily standing between them, her wand ready and tears in her eyes because she would have known that James was dead. Even if she hadn’t heard him fall, there was no way Voldemort would have reached her and her son while her husband was alive to hold him off.
Remus wondered what they said, if anything. Perhaps for once Voldemort had abandoned his love of grand speeches and simply cast his curse. Lily had fallen by the crib, crashing into the bars and cracking them, her wand- Remus crouched to check- rolling away under it. And then…?
Try as he might, Remus couldn’t imagine the next part. The idea of a creature as evil as Voldemort trying to murder an innocent, unprotected baby was too vicious to picture, and how Harry had survived he had no idea. Remus walked across the nursery and sank into the wicker chair by the crib, staring at the dark scar on the ground where he judged Voldemort had been standing. Whatever the rebounding curse had done, it hadn’t been a simple Avada Kedavra effect. A dark part of Remus was altogether glad of it. He hoped Voldemort had suffered.
He sat for a long time in the darkness, staring at the place where his friends had died and thinking of nothing in particular. There were birds singing outside when he finally convinced himself that it was time to leave.
Sirius was taken to a white-painted room in the small keep for what the guards called “processing” and he called “humiliation”. When he refused to strip they cut the clothes off him with a wave of a wand. He had a choice between taking the striped shirt and trousers of a prisoner or going naked. He considered the latter just to piss them off, but in the end the cold decided him. Even with the silvery bull and goat of his guards keeping the Dementors at bay, a physical chill suffused the entire island.
In the next room Sirius was handed a sign with a number on it, which he promptly tried to break over the head of the nearest guard. Three of them jumped on him and held him down as he fought, grabbing and kicking and biting at anyone who came near enough. He was still screaming at them when they managed to take his photograph.
“I didn’t do it!” he hollered, heart racing as they hauled him back out into the labyrinth of courtyards and cloisters. “I’m innocent! I haven’t had my trial yet!”
One of his guards, the one he had tried to brain with the number board, snorted. “You and every other Death Eater in here,” he said, hauling Sirius down a set of dusty steps into the shadow of more colourless buttresses. “Tell it to the Dementors.”
Sirius tried to wrench his arm free and hissed in pain when he almost dislocated it instead. “You don’t understand! I have to talk to Dumbledore! My godson…”
“Shut it, Black,” snapped the other guard, shoving him so that he stumbled again. Sirius lunged towards him and was brought up short by the other man’s grip.
Without Sirius’ protestations of innocence, the only sound was the crash of the waves and the echo of distant screams. Still, Sirius managed to stay sullenly calm until they arrived at a square iron door in the wall. When one of the guards unlocked it, it swung open to show a rectangle of solid darkness. It was a maw that led into a chill pit and the screams grew louder.
“No!” As they tried to carry Sirius through the door, he jumped up and braced his legs on either side of it, pushing away from the interior. “You can’t put me in there! I didn’t do anything! It was Peter! It was all Peter! I’m supposed to have a trial!”
An arm crossed his chest, pulling him back, and Sirius bit down on it. His mouth filled with hot iron blood and the guard bellowed in pain, but didn’t let go. Sirius kicked out at the other man and knocked him back, then tried to unbalance the first. They lurched from side to side, staggering across the narrow path.
The curse hit Sirius in the hip and immediately his joints all locked. The guard behind him, not expecting the sudden lack of resistance, went sprawling with Sirius on top of him. Sirius was forced to watch as the second guard put away his wand and helped his friend up. Lifting Sirius between them, one at the head and one at the feet, they carried him through the door and into Azkaban proper.
The silvery glow of the Patronuses lit their way through the cold stone corridors. Paralysed as he was, Sirius couldn’t make out more than glimpses of the prisoners in the cells they passed. He could hear them though; sobbing, screaming, pleading, jeering.
I’m innocent. It’s only until the trial.
At the end of the maze of corridors was a staircase, a square spiral that wound down deeper and deeper into the rock of the island. The guards paused at the top to rearrange Sirius, carrying him with one arm slung over each of their shoulders. The arrangement gave him a spectacular view down into the abyss.
They descended for what felt like hours, the air full of the stench of damp and misery, until they came to another iron door. This one led onto a corridor of cells that were little more than square caves hewn into the rock. The prisoners inside mumbled to themselves, rocked in corners and laughed manically. Sirius was half-dragged, half-carried to the end of the hall and left leaning against one guard while the other opened a cell that faced nothing but a blank wall. They hauled him in and dumped him on the floor; it was cold stone, slick with something slimier than water. Sirius stared at the dripping ceiling while the guards unlocked the chains on his wrists and ankles. Silent panic filled him as they walked back out of the cell without unpetrifying him. The door slammed closed with a final echoing thud.
They can’t leave me here like this!
A wand poked back through the bars. “Finite Incantatem,” said the guard, and Sirius could move again. He flopped to the ground in a gasping heap, fingers curling against the floor. Behind him he heard footsteps, and his head snapped around just in time to see the fading glow of the Patronuses leaving his line of sight.
A knot of raw, cold fear settled in Sirius’ chest. Scrambling to his feet, he paced the cell. It was small, only just long enough for him to lie down in. The only furnishings were a wooden shelf chained to the wall, a suspect blanket, and a drain-hole in the far corner. Light filtered in through a tiny barred window near the ceiling, too small for Sirius to squeeze even his hand through and high enough that he couldn’t see out of it even on tiptoes. Everything in the cell was damp and grimy, sucking the heat out of anything that dared set foot within.
“It’s just until the trial,” Sirius said, sitting down on the bed. “I’m innocent… oh, Merlin.” He buried his face in his hands, fingers winding into his hair. It was still slick with soot and dust from the street Wormtail had blown up. His shoulders started to shake as the full, terrible truth hit him.
James was dead. Lily was dead. Harry was Dumbledore-knows-where. Peter was a traitor and on the loose. Remus hated him. And he, Sirius, was stuck in Azkaban waiting for a trial that might take an age to arrange, given the number of Death Eaters that would be caught now.
What a brilliant plan it was, Sirius, he told himself bitterly. Mother was right. If you’d been at all Slytherin…
Sirius shuddered, then shook himself like a dog shaking off water. What was he doing, agreeing with that harpy? Wanting to be more Slytherin? That wasn’t like him at all! Why would he even think…
Understanding dawned. Sirius lifted his head and stared out of the bars of his cell at the dark, hooded shape that hovered beyond them. The Dementor’s foul presence stared back, fingers of a deeper cold than any natural frost drifting towards Sirius. The air took on a rotten texture, old and heavy, and Sirius felt tired to his bones.
It’s all my fault anyway.
“Get away from me!” he shouted, scrabbling back along the bed. “It’s not my fault! It wasn’t me! Wormtail’s the guilty one!”
A second Dementor drifted into place beside the first, and Sirius slipped off the end of the bed. He kept backing up until he hit the wall, pressing himself against it. “I’m innocent, do you understand that? I’m not supposed to be here!”
A third Dementor joined the first two, and Sirius sunk to the ground under the crushing weight of their eyeless stare. Memories flashed across his thoughts- James’ eyes, dead and staring. Lily’s hand, outstretched and bloody. He squeezed his eyes closed and tried to summon images of happer times, of Hogwarts and playing with Harry. The memories slipped away from him like stones sinking into a still lake.
“I’m innocent,” he whispered. His thoughts replayed the night he had convinced James and Lily to change their Secret Keeper. His own words echoed through his mind, mocking him.
It’s perfect- nobody will suspect the switch, and they’ll all come after me instead of Pete. You know Wormtail would do anything you asked.
“I didn’t mean… I’m innocent,” Sirius muttered, hands pressing down over his ears. It was a useless gesture; the words were between his ears, not outside them.
I guess so, Padfoot, if you think it’s a good idea. I don’t like the thought of you getting hurt for us, but I trust you.
“I’m innocent,” whispered Sirius Black, but only the Dementors were there to hear him.
Remus’ cottage was cold when he Apparated in, the furniture covered by heavy sheets to protect it during his absence. He had taken to staying with one of the other Marauders between his lengthy missions. It was easier than having to keep re-preparing everything, and as chaotic as it could be he preferred the company of his friends to the silent memory of his parents.
I suppose I have nowhere else to go now. Remus slumped down onto a large armchair without bothering to remove the dust cover. It had been his father’s favourite seat. Remus’ had been in the middle of the sofa in Sirius’ flat; it was an old, second-hand sofa with a saggy middle cushion, and he could sit there for hours reading until James dropped in on one side of him, Peter on the other, and Sirius leaned over the back to steal Remus’ book off him. He had always felt safe there, surrounded by his friends. Welcome in a way he never had without them.
Restless, Remus got back to his feet and walked through to the kitchen. His boots echoed against the tiles and he didn’t bother looking for the light. The kettle was exactly where he had left it, months before. Remus picked it up to fill it at the tap and cursed when he found the water wasn’t running.
“Aguamenti,” he muttered, shoving his wand into the kettle until it was half-filled. Leaving the water on the side until he was ready to heat it, he went back to the cupboard for a mug and some tea bags.
“Never make proper tea with these things,” he muttered, staring at the PG Tips. But he didn’t have time for loose tea most days, and he’d stopped keeping it a while back. Sirius…
Don’t think about him.
Remus reached up for the teabags and fumbled his grip. The box tumbled off the shelf and landed on the counter, spreading teabags everywhere.
Remus set the mug down on the counter and started gathering the teabags back up, but his eyes were unaccountably fuzzy and his fingers grasped thin air. Growling, he scrubbed the sleeve of his robe against his eyes. His vision cleared and he looked back at the strewn tea-bags just in time to see one finish rolling off the counter. It plopped down onto the kitchen floor and landed by his foot.
With a scream of raw fury, Remus swung his arm across the counter, sending the teabags flying and the mug rocketing off into the wall. It exploded in a shower of ceramic, and then Remus was scrabbling through the cupboard for more to throw after it. Crash after crash filled the small cottage, shards of a dozen mugs littering the floor and a gouge forming in the plaster.
Running out of mugs, Remus slammed the cupboard hard enough to splinter the door. Seeing the kettle across the room, he seized it and raised it two-handed above his head before hurling it down. It crashed against the tiles, cracking them and buckling under the force. Water seeped out over the grouting, but Remus was already looking for another victim.
The corkboard on the wall came off easily when he yanked it. Old school letters and shopping lists of his parents’ that he hadn’t had the heart to throw away fluttered like panicked old ladies. Yelling incoherently, Remus slammed the edge of the corkboard into the kitchen table. He bashed it over and over again until the wood of the table dented and splintered and the corkboard broke with a resounding crack.
Remus kicked the table and a couple of the chairs for good measure. They toppled to the floor, then he started tearing the paper off the corkboard with one hand. The lists and letters floated down in a thousand tiny fragments, drifting like snow over the wreckage of Remus’ kitchen.
He was about to throw the board down into the middle of the mess when he saw the one thing he hadn’t torn off in his rampage. In the middle of the corkboard, in pride of place and pinned down at each corner, was a photograph. In it four laughing teenagers in Hogwarts uniform goofed around in front of the camera, laughing and slinging their arms around one another.
As fast as it had built the anger leached out of Remus, and in its wake left an empty hollow. Unconcerned by the water and the shards covering the floor, he sunk down to his knees. He leaned against one of the fallen chairs, eyes still fixed on the picture as he meticulously unpinned it from the board. The edges crumpled in his hands as he stared into the faces of the best friends he had ever- would ever- have.
Remus’ head bowed forwards. He pulled his knees up and his free hand covered his eyes as his shoulders began to shake. The tears came faster and he let his head slump, burying his face in his sleeve instead and not caring that the thick wool was starting to soak through. He cried like a child, in great tearing sobs that choked up his throat, nose stuffy and pleas for comfort escaping his lips. Mum. Dad. Lily. James. Peter. Sirius. He wanted them more than anything, needed them to tell him it would be okay, and knew with a terrible finality that none of them would ever be there for him again.
He was still there when someone Apparated in shortly after dawn, curled up against the fallen chair with his face pressed against his knees. He wasn’t crying, but only because he had run out of tears. Hearing the crack, Remus lifted his head in time to see Professor McGonagall appear in his kitchen doorway. Her hand raised to her mouth in shock when she saw him.
“Lupin…” Her voice trailed off, but she took a couple of steps in, her hand outstretched. She stopped when her foot crunched on a fragment of broken mug.
“They’re gone,” said Remus. It was the first thing that came into his head. “They’re just… gone.”
Professor McGonagall’s face melted into the softest expression Remus had ever seen her wear. “Oh, you poor boy,” she said, and resumed her stride. With a flick of her wand she cleared the puddle and shards away from the floor around Remus. Without a thought for the state of her robes she dropped to the ground next to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulder.
Remus collapsed into her hug, pressing his salt-tracked face into her shoulder and letting out a few more quiet, dry sobs. Professor McGonagall rubbed his arm and made shushing noises. She smelled like parchment and wood polish, and Remus drank it in, shaking and ragged and still clinging to the photograph. She let him lean against her until his breathing evened out and he pulled away of his own accord, trying to mop his face dry on a sodden sleeve.
“Sorry, Professor,” he mumbled, face reddening as he realised he had just been bawling on the Head of Gryffindor House. “I, uh… I’d offer you some tea, but, well…” He waved his free hand at the mess in the kitchen, then ran it through his hair. It stood up in tufts after the passage, but he didn’t suppose he could look much more foolish than he already did.
Professor McGonagall chuckled and got to her feet, brushing off her robes. “It’s quite alright, Remus,” she said, and he didn’t think she just meant the tea. “And you can call me Minerva.” She held out a hand to him and Remus let her help him back up to his feet. Swaying where he stood, he looked in open-mouthed horror at the ruin he had made of his own kitchen.
“Oh, bugger,” he said. It was the only word that seemed to sum up the situation, but Professor McGonagall- Minerva- chuckled.
“I’m sure we can fix this, at least,” she said, raising her wand and jabbing it at a fragment of ceramic. “Reparo!”
Hand shaking, Remus drew his own wand, and between the two of them they soon had the kitchen looking like nothing had ever gone awry. A few of his parents old shopping lists had proven irretrievable, but Remus could admit he should have thrown them out years ago. Still, seeing his guest throw the scraps in the bin had almost brought him to tears again.
A shame that everything else can’t be repaired so easily, Remus thought, hands wrapped around the mug of tea that Minerva had made for him. They were both sitting at the kitchen table, right where the morning sunlight fell through the kitchen window. He couldn’t help but think that it was too pleasant a morning for such a terrible day.
Minerva set her mug on the table and coughed delicately. “As much as I hate to bring this up, I came here for a purpose.” Remus raised his head to stare at her across the table, and she met his gaze over her spectacles. “I know this is hardly the time, but the question must be asked. Do you know if James and Lily- would they have any preferences for their funeral?”
He almost demanded to know why she was asking him, when it struck him; there wasn’t anyone else. James and Lily’s parents had all died over the last few years, Lily wasn’t at all close to her sister, and James was an only child. Their friends had been their family, and Remus felt like he was letting them down when he shook his head. “I don’t- not that I know of. If they did, then they never told me.” He broke Minerva’s gaze, studying his tea instead. The ripples on the surface gleamed in the light.
“I can make the arrangements, if you are alright with that,” said Minerva. “I’ll make certain the ceremony isn’t too close to the full moon.”
Remus’ heart clenched. “That’s alright,” he said, softly. “I don’t expect people will want to see a werewolf there anyway-”
There was a loud clatter as Minerva jumped to her feet. “Remus John Lupin!” she snapped, slamming her hands down on the table hard enough to spill Remus’ tea. He leaned away from her, gripping at his chair as she glared at him over the kitchen table. “Are you a Gryffindor or not? This is James and Lily’s funeral, and you will never forgive yourself if you do not attend! And if anyone- one single person, Remus- dares complain about your presence there for any reason, then I shall escort them out myself!”
Remus stared at Minerva, her shoulders squared and her eyes blazing, and nodded. “Alright,” he said, and was surprised to find at least some relief in it. “I’ll go. Just let me know when and where.”
The old witch nodded and sat back down, her lips curling into a smile that was without any trace of joy. “Thank you, Remus, for seeing sense,” she said, taking a sip from her mug.
“Well, how could I do otherwise, with such excellent teachers,” said Remus. He smirked when she spluttered into her tea.
“I always forgot that you were as bad as your friends,” Minerva said, lowering her mug. Her smile faded a moment later when she saw the shadow pass across Remus’ face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to remind you.”
Remus held up a hand in denial. “No, don’t apologise. I can’t spend my entire life avoiding what happened. People are going to mention them to me and I’m going to have to come to terms with that, sooner or later.”
“Yes, but it doesn’t have to be right now!” Minerva shook her head and took another sip of tea. “Next you’ll tell me you plan on visiting Black in Azkaban tomorrow!”
A shudder ran through Remus, and he set down his mug. “I don’t think there’s any danger of that,” he said. Catching an odd look from Minerva, he shot her a grim smile. “Don’t worry, there’s no need to repeat the Gryffindor speech. And I already know what everyone is going to say: it’s too soon to make that decision, Remus. You need closure eventually, Remus. Don’t you want to know why he did it, Remus?”
Minerva raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you? It was so sudden…”
“No,” said Remus, lifting his head to stare out of the window at the golden autumn light. “This wasn’t sudden. We didn’t see it coming, but it didn’t happen overnight either. The more I think about it the more I realise that the Sirius Black who was my friend must have died years ago, without us even seeing it.” He paused for several seconds, lost in memory, before turning back to face Minerva. “The man they have in Azkaban is a servant of Voldemort. He served his master by helping to eliminate his enemies, who also happened to be my best friends. That man took everyone I loved away from me and made an innocent child into an orphan. That he indirectly caused the downfall of his master was an accident on his part, and a happy one for us.”
Minerva nodded, understanding. “So, you have nothing to ask him.”
“Nothing at all,” Remus agreed, wrapping his hands back around his mug. The tea inside was cooling, but still warm. He felt calm for the first time since Dumbledore had given him the news. “In fact, as far as I am concerned, Sirius Black can rot in Azkaban until he dies.”
The wind howled over the ocean, whipping the waves into mountains and pushing the storm clouds onwards in their march across the sky. Rain hammered down and was blown sideways into the craggy fortress through the tiny barred window of the cell. It ran in icy fingers down the cold wall through tally marks scratched in the stone, and collected in a small puddle on the floor. There, it reflected the bright flashes of lightning outside.
“Worthless brat! Shame of my flesh!” Walburga punctuated every word with a slap. The blows themselves barely stung, but each one sank deep past Sirius’ skin and left another scar on the hardened mass in his soul. “Traitorous mudloving filth, humiliating me under my own roof!”
“Shut it, you mad old hag!” Sirius bellowed, pushing forward so that they were almost nose to nose. He was vaguely aware of Regulus and his father watching the argument, but by now it was habit to respond in kind to his mother's fury.
A maddened gleam entered Walburga's eye and with a flick of the wrist, her wand was in her hand. She raised it, lips parting in a sneer.
In the furthest corner of the cell, curled up in the shadows, a black dog watched the small pool growing through tired eyes. It was painfully thin, its fur tangled and matted and its tail and ears drooping. Animal minds were simpler than human ones, less inclined to get wrapped up in misery and regret, but in Azkaban there was no escaping the Dementors. Thunder rumbled and the dog whined, resting its nose on its paws.
Sirius hit the wall hard, Malfoy's hands gripping the front of his robes. The teenager didn't need his wand to overpower a first-year and despite the fierce snarl he was wearing Sirius could feel his stomach sink. The corridor was all but deserted, everyone else in Hogwarts already at their classes. He was alone with Malfoy and his cousin, with no means of escape.
“You must have seen this coming,” said Narcissa, practically purring as she stepped around her boyfriend. “A Black in Gryffindor? Who do you think is going to stand by you?”
Sirius didn’t remember how long it had been since he had realised no-one was coming for him. The thought had been stuck in his head since the first day inside. It was impossible not to have it with the Dementors jostling for space around their new morsel. At first he had been able to fend it off with reason. He still hadn’t had a trial and he was sure Moony and Dumbledore would want to ask him questions even if they didn’t believe him. But as time had passed his certainty had crumbled; he could still remember with absolute clarity that awful moment when he had looked up at his window, seen the summer sun, and known that it was too late to cling to artificial hope.
The look Regulus gave him was blank and unfathomable, his eyes staring deep into Sirius' own. A shiver of uncertainty ran down Sirius' spine.
“You don't mean it, do you, Reg?” he asked, searching the Slytherin's face for any sign of the brother who had been his only friend and ally until he was eleven.
Regulus' lips tightened. “I think it would be better if you and I kept our distance in future, Sirius,” he said. Turning, he started walking away, leaving Sirius to gape after him. Confusion warred with anger, and lost.
“Hey, Reg!” yelled Sirius, fingers closing around his wand. His brother turned, and took a tripping hex squarely in the chest.
“Slytherins don't turn their back on me,” said Sirius, as the laughter started around them. He smirked, playing the part, but as he watched Regulus scramble off red-faced all he felt was cold.
It was always cold in Azkaban, always dark and lonely. Screams and laugher echoed from the deep cells around him, and the black dog curled around the tin plate between its paws. Sirius licked at the bare metal in search of any missed scraps. He spent as much time as he could being Padfoot, adding a layer of insulation between him and the Dementors, but even as a dog he was miserable.
“What the hell did you think was going to happen!?”
Sirius had never seen Remus so angry; his face had turned white, with red splotches on the cheeks. Combined with the heavy bruising and the dark smears under his eyes, it gave the impression that Remus was badly ill.
“I trusted you!” Remus was yelling, and Sirius was glad that James and Peter were holding him back. He looked like he would strangle Sirius, if he could. “I trusted you to keep everyone safe from me!”
He was forgetting things daily now. Not memories, as such, but the feelings attached to them. James’ laugh without the joy. Lily’s hug without the warmth. Remus’ smile without the fondness. It was as if all the good parts of his life had happened to someone else, and it was getting harder and harder to remember what had been good about them in the first place. The only memories that made sense to him were the darker ones full of pain and misery. With nothing else to do his mind wallowed in them, torturing him by replaying his every mistake and fault.
Sirius stormed away from Grimmauld Place, fists clenched tight enough to hurt. His vision was misty with tears, but they were all but invisible in the rain.
He didn't know why he was crying. He hated the place, hated the people in it, hated everything it was and everything it represented. It hadn't been home since he found his place at Hogwarts, if not before. He knew that even if he had to spend the rest of the summer sleeping in the Shrieking Shack and living off Peter's stash of Bertie Botts it would be better than being stuck with his family.
He cried anyway, and when he raised his wand hand to signal the Knight Bus it was shaking.
Padfoot pulled back further into the corner as a Dementor drifted past his cell. It trailed a cloud of misery and madness behind it, and he fought to keep his mind away from the wave of grief that poured over him. Even in his brightest moments he knew that he had been forgotten, cast aside, left as fodder for the Dementors. Azkaban was more than guards and cells and walls; it was regret and fear, grief and madness. It was every last scrap of your real self being drained away, siphoned out and replaced by the nightmares of your past. Sirius could feel it all around him; the never-ending sensation of being emptied out into a shell, trapped in a world that would be lifeless and grey even without the damp stone and overcast sky.
“I trust you,” said Prongs, before his smiling face became broken and bloodied. Wormtail was standing there, eyes wide in feigned fear as he lied at the top of his lungs.
Except Sirius wasn’t empty.
“How could you, Sirius?” Wormtail cried. The street exploded and in the chaos Sirius saw the flash of a rat’s tail vanishing into the newly-blown hole in the street.
He was innocent, and the Dementors couldn’t take that from him. Couldn’t steal the heartbreak at seeing James and Lily dead. Couldn’t eat the guilt from having persuaded them to change Secret Keepers. But that wasn’t what he was hanging on to.
It wasn’t me. Wormtail was the traitor.
The Dementors couldn’t take rage or hate from him, either, and he had plenty of both for Peter Pettigrew. Dark fantasies spun out behind Sirius' closed eyelids, daydreams of committing the murder he had been imprisoned for. The Dementors took that joy where they could, but he could always weave more. He could always imagine his former friend broken and begging for mercy at his feet- mercy that Sirius had no intention of giving.
One day, I’m going to kill that rat.
Deep in the forgotten bowels of Azkaban, the dog’s lips lifted in a snarl that was almost, but not quite, a smile.