Title: Absurdist’s Road
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Time Travel, Established Relationship
Relationship(s): Sirius Black/Caradoc Dearborn
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Canon character death, Discussion -historic child abuse, Torture – non-graphic, Canon level violence, Murder and Temporary character death
Author Notes: I had a great time during this challenge, I didn’t think that I would enjoy writing a secret story quite so much!
Beta: PN Ztivokreb
Word Count: 67,916
Summary: When offered the choice do you go back to protect those around you or save yourself?
Thrown into Death before his time, Sirius Black is told he must choose a single moment to return to. But instructions shouldn’t be followed blindly and a single moment isn’t enough to fix a lifetime of errors.
“Sirius! Sirius…” the first word was shouted and the second a broken scream.
Sirius hit the ground hard, the tattered grey cloth he had fallen through fluttering shut in a gentle motion. Sirius rolled to his feet clumsily, his entire body harshly reminding him of the lack of care he had taken of himself over the last couple of years, his arms and chest aching as his magic core burnt out weakened veins.
Blind to his surroundings, focusing in only on the fight that continued on just feet in front of him. Lupin reacting to him disappearing behind the veil with a well-practiced volley of curses, exactly as Sirius expected from his old friend. Harry, on the other hand, seemed to have slowed to a halt, an unusual amount of horror and shock seeming to overtake the boy being as Sirius had just taken a bad tumble. A blaze of green light caught Sirius’s eye, and he lurched towards the curtain that separated him from the others. As the deadly spell hurtled across the room, he saw Lupin grab his godson and pull him away from the fight. Harry fought to get away as Lupin used his body to shield the boy from the curse, driving him to one knee as it rattled over their heads.
“Bella!” Sirius roared, wand hand coming up automatically despite the fact his wand had shattered on the ground when he landed in it. Bella continued her mad mockery, crowing and laughing as she advanced on Harry and Lupin another curse tripping from the end of her wand carelessly.
“Did you see how he fell? His face,” she broke off to cackle and Lupin took the advantage to shoot off a spell. He groped out with one hand and hauled Harry out of the room in the same direction that the others they had been with had run while Sirius had defended their retreat.
“Look at me, Bella!” he shouted, striding forwards as Bella dodged the spell. Sirius launched himself forwards, desperate to catch her before she could attack Lupin from behind. He reached out to brush the veil aside.
His knuckles hit the solid surface and he staggered to a halt, hands flexing to press flat against slick and terribly thin obsidian as he watched Bella freeze, her robes flared out as she fired off another deadly curse, Lupin’s threadbare suit paused halfway through tearing as it caught on the smashed door frame. A bolt of green frozen halfway to Harry, lighting Lupin’s face eerily as it passed by him, Bella’s aim was true, and the curse was set to strike Harry in the centre of the back as he ran. The world on the other side of the veil fell still and then began to mist over, the obsidian misting with cracks that crept out from under his palm.
Sirius screamed and pounded on the glassy surface, certain that a moment of distraction, a yell for Harry to drop, would be enough to prevent his godson’s death. But the scene was frozen as though he was looking at a painting.
The obsidian shards began to tumble but slowly as though gravity had less draw where he was, the pieces floating through the air like glitter caught in a levitation spell. As the grey glassy chunks dropped below his eye line Sirius noticed that before him were many windows similar to the one he had broken. Each one was carved out of obsidian, worked smooth with skill and each one was shrouded with a thick grey cloth.
He looked down and watched the shards strike the black sand floor. Sirius slowly became aware of someone watching him, considered turning to defend himself, but instead closed his eyes and let his head drop down, all the fight gone from him.
“Poor lost child,” the creature watching him intoned, “you have wandered from your path and into my halls too soon or perhaps too late.”
“If this is some waiting room, some holding pen or perdition, a prison. Then send me to whichever realm of afterlife is fastest to reach. Whoever’s is closest and easiest to enter. If that is some damnation, then I would embrace it over this,” Sirius said quietly, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to withstand another spell of solitude regardless of the whys and wherefores for it.
“Oh child, this is no prison. It is your window room. Around you are entrances to all the times I have walked by your side,” the creature said mournfully, laying its icy fingers on Sirius’s shoulder, the chill permeating through his entire body, “however, there is naught for me to do with you. It is not your time and it is not my place to relieve you of your burden when I have not been called to walk beside you.”
Sirius clenched his jaw and opened his eyes, absently noting that the shards had disappeared into the shifting sand, all hope of returning home seemingly lost. He looked over his shoulder and found the creature to have a surprisingly handsome face. Icy blue eyes looked back him appraisingly, Sirius broke away and sank down to sit in the sand.
“And what would you call this then? How is this not being beside me?” he asked bitterly.
“You are in my halls, there is no window to this moment. I did not walk beside you and guide you here. I was drawn here to find out who had invaded my home,” the creature replied.
“And lingering here forever is my punishment for invading?” Sirius muttered bitterly at the ground, hands clenching into the sand until the harsh grind of pain warned him of how sharp it truly was. “Isn’t it enough that I’ve lost everything? I lost my freedom, I lost my mind, my passion, my love, my ability to save people, my friends… I just lost the chance to save my godson. And now you are going to take from me the one thing I was looking forward to?”
“Death comes to all eventually and when the time is right then you will be welcomed warmly and accompanied on your final path,” The creature soothed, bending down to lift Sirius’ hands away from the sand. Its touch was gentle as it drew him to his feet. “But your arrival is untimely in a way only one other has achieved. He tore a hole and slipped through to steal away one who I was accompanying, without paying the fee for a returned life. I offered him a choice, he could take my place and spend eternity with his love or pick a window and step back onto and correct his path at a point where I once walked beside him,” the creature replied as it settled into a sentinel-like position.
Sirius rose and looked around the room at the hundreds of shrouded windows.
“And that is what you did is it? Took the place of someone else because you were scared of what was beyond?” he taunted.
“No, I volunteered. Death was weary, and I did not wish to face those who waited for me; I had a great debt to repay to those I wronged.” The creature smiled softly, “The would-be thief returned to his path and took a different route. One might consider it such, and that is certainly a route you might take.”
Sirius turned away from the creature, and his offer, and walked across the sand to one of the windows. He twitched the shroud aside and looked at the scene before him.
A young Sirius stood in journeyman healers robes, a wry grin on his face as he leant over the emergency ward’s nurses counter flirting with the Auror across from him. Sirius shut his eyes and snorted a laugh as he remembered James’s exasperated words as Sirius took the opportunity to charm his best friend’s partner, embraced the rare chance to flirt with his boyfriend in the middle of a far too long shift.
He opened his eyes and gasped as the scene came to life. Caradoc jumping and sliding over the counter, knocking Sirius to the floor as James yelled, tackling the suspect they had been accompanying off his feet with a meaty thud.
He staggered back from the window as he realised that the moment he had truly fallen in love had almost been his death, so many years ago.
Sirius swung back to face the creature and in a voice inches from sobbing or screaming he said, “Just let me go, damn the consequences, fuck what you are meant to do! There is nothing left for me, everything is ruined.” His voice broke and cracked, “I know what comes next and none of it something I would wish my worst enemy to relive. You want me to step back into a moment when I could have died and not take that chance to change?”
Silence hung in the air like another entity. Sirius watched the creature as it stood sentinel-like waiting for him to make a choice. Sirius broke first and strode over to another window. He snatched the cloth aside so harshly that it pooled on the floor behind him.
He back peddled in silent horror; any sounds he could have thought to make caught in his throat. He tripped and fell into the sand, scurrying back. He panted as he warily watched the scene.
A dementor hovered above him besides a lake. He knew that fear well, and he remembered exactly how he had felt.
He remembered regretting that he had never seen Harry smile. Regretting never getting to ask for forgiveness for the mistakes he had made when Harry’s parents had died, regretting seeking revenge and chasing after James’s betrayer instead of comforting Harry. And yet none of it made any difference.
As they had before, the dementors drew closer and closer, until Death’s creature appeared by the window, disappearing from where it had been and soundlessly arriving by the cloth. It motioned gracefully with its delicate hand and the cloth rose from the floor and covered the window once more.
“If you believe that you could change whether the moment you return to is your death, then why do you believe all else is set?” the creature faded away slowly this time before reappearing in the centre of the room. “It is not my place to dictate how you play out the moment you return to, it is my place to ensure that all the players remain in the realm they are assigned to until the correct moment or the correct price is paid.”
Sirius sat in the sand gasping for breath, his body trembling with fear he had hoped to never feel again, as he fought to calm his mind. He gave up and sought refuge in the quieter, less complicated mind of his Animagus form. He reached deep inside and offered a hand to his animal spirit, running a hand through the dark fur of the giant dog as it ran passed him. He felt his body jerk and morph, the fear and trembling fading away as his skin became coated in fur. He whined, echoes of fear chasing him to the centre of the room, before he sank into the sand in a ball, nose tucked under his tail.
The creature came to stand beside him and slowly knelt in the sand, robes flaring and draping neatly. Fingers threaded through his thick fur, scratching at his scruff and soothing over his ears with care. Slowly Sirius felt his heart calm and his eyes flickered shut, soothed into relaxing close to sleep by the gentle care. As he relaxed fully, he twisted and arched to rest against the creature, pressing up into every pet, every run of fingers down his spine and even every tug of knotted fur that was eased undone. He huffed and ground his chin down into the sand a little until he was comfortable.
“You must make a choice,” the creature said. “It is my duty to stand alone, to keep my halls free of people and usher them to their rightful place. I cannot let you linger here any longer.”
Sirius heaved to his four feet and shook the sand from his belly before padding around the hall, not willing to risk leaving the security of his canine form as he glanced under each cloth. He paced almost all the way around the hall before he came to a stop with just his snout and one eye under a shroud.
He watched the moment play out and stepped back, morphing back to his true form. He reached out and tugged the shroud off the mirror. He looked back at the creature where it knelt in the centre of the room.
“I can change things?” Sirius asked, his tone doubtful as he watched the creature spread its hands in a noncommittal gesture. “I could turn his attempt to steal the prophecy to our advantage, get him tangled in his own web and revealed,” he murmured to himself, voice soft as he turned to watch the scene through the window begin to play out. He rested a hand on the glass and waited for the right moment, looking over his shoulder briefly when he felt the creature come to stand behind him.
“I can only speak of you, not for how others will find their path diverted,” the creature said in an odd tone as it rested its frozen hand on his shoulder and pressed him forwards.
The glass became soft under his hand, bending and giving like jelly. Slowly his hand sank through and the pressure on his shoulders made him begin to fall. The mirror became suspended water and Sirius staggered into himself.
Anger flooded him and he felt his fingernails biting into his palm as his consciousness took over a body already more than halfway to a fight, his nails were digging into his palm and his body was trembling with fury.
He glared at the man in front of him and just as he had before the man stepped forward, fists raised and cold fury visible in the set of his face. Sirius took advantage of the rare opportunity, let muscle memory take hold and punched Severus Snape in the face. The traitorous potions master staggered back, unused to physical assaults and yelled wordlessly in pain.
Snape’s robes swirled heavily at his feet; the blood crusted onto the hem giving the movement an oddly sharp edge. The fading scent of necromancy wafted off his robes as he flung his wand arm up sharply, pausing with his wand pointed directly at the centre of Sirius’ forehead.
The distinctive crack-crunch of a crystal potions vial breaking underfoot reached both their ears.
Well-honed instincts from years of teaching had Snape lurching backwards, Sirius’ sleeve tightly caught even as Sirius threw himself away from the sound. They both staggered into the corridor and fell into each other even as they tried to pull in opposite directions. They crashed onto the hall floor and Sirius carelessly flung up a containment spell, tried and perfected habit taking over him before he could stop it.
Snape began to rage beside him, sharp words dripping from his lips like venomous barbs. Sirius slumped onto the slate tiles, his body exhausted at the sudden burst of strength that the medical grade spell had used, and he curled up holding his chest as his body sharply reminded him that he was desperately out of shape.
“Give me an hour and I’ll fix that zygomatic fracture,” he mumbled, realising that if he wished to make changes then he needed to start before Snape cast the curse that had ultimately had slowed him enough for Bella to catch up with him. He sharply pressed the urge to let Snape suffer to one side, his brother’s oft-repeated refrain of ‘catch a fly with honey, not vinegar’ echoing in his ears.
He listened to Snape huff and grumble his way up the stairs from the lower basement to the kitchen that lay in the next level up. When the door to the kitchen squealed, the bottom catching on the slate floor because of the hinges Sirius had damaged in a temper tantrum, he rolled to his feet slowly, using the wall to press his way up to standing. He wrapped one arm around himself tightly and gripped the bannister with the other as he hauled himself up the stairs. By the time he reached the top he was shaking.
Kreacher was waiting for him when he finally made it into the kitchen, the house elf for once managing to play the part of well-trained manservant as he pulled out a chair and snapped a sandwich into existence, placing it onto the table in front of Sirius carefully. Sirius sank into the chair and moved his hands out of the way as Kreacher threw a napkin over his lab before skulking across the kitchen to hide in a cupboard. Sirius watched him go before shaking his head in bemusement.
He slowly plucked at the sandwich, eating it in pinches to avoid shaking the filling all over himself, his hands still trembling as his magical veins tried to heal from the harsh treatment he had put them through.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” he said to the room at large.
“Frankly, Black, seeing as I know it is not the punching me you are regretting. I have to say that you deserve it,” Snape said from somewhere to his left.
“You’re welcome to leave. Merlin knows I can’t,” Sirius replied without any real force,
“And miss the opportunity to avoid the rather slower and more painful version of a healing process the school nurse will have me endure? Especially when I couldn’t possibly deny you the opportunity to overexert yourself again,” Snape said, and as he did Sirius felt a glass vial roll to a halt against his arm. He glanced up in surprise and found himself looking at the familiar orange sparkle of a regeneration potion.
He flicked the stopper out and downed the potion without running any checks, deciding that showing his brass balls was more important than avoiding poisoning.
“Trusting, such a Gryffindor,” Snape snarked.
Sirius just shrugged before shoving a large chunk of sandwich in, hoping that the taste of slightly gone off cheese would drown out the taste of burnt salamander eyes. After he had forced down the urge to throw up, he said, “I trust in your fear of crossing Dumbledore. Accidentally murdering me by dropping a vial mid fight might be excusable, if annoying. But poisoning me at the dinner table? Beyond the pale.” He sighed sitting up and rocking back in his chair as the artificial feeling of wellness flooded him.
He rolled his shoulders and kicked his foot out to push the chair across from his out from under the table. He grinned as Snape frowned at the obnoxious screech. Sirius pushed his plate out of the way so he could rest his elbows on the table, dropped his wand carelessly onto the tabletop and extend his hands out in a cupped shape.
Snape took it as the invitation it was and dropped into the chair, placing his wand on the table between them. He slowly lowered his chin into Sirius’ hands and shut his eyes. Sirius slid his left hand up so his fingers were spread along Snape’s cheekbone. He used the hand under Snape’s chin to gently correct his position before sliding it away and gripped his wand delicately between his fingertips. As he raised his wand Snape flinched back saying, “Perhaps risking madam Pomfrey’s tender care would be wiser.”
“I’m not going to break the healers’ oath just for you. This is hardly a life-threatening moment and I would rather keep my magic,” Sirius said with an annoyed sigh, setting his wand back down and repeating the process with a little less care. Snape winced as Sirius dug his fingers into the fish of his chin to get his head straight. Sirius carefully cast the spell, letting the magic fall in layers as it gently drew the bone back into position before coaxing it into moulding and merging together.
Sirius pulled away sharply and reached out to flick Snape’s wand back to him before dropping back into his chair. Snape’s head fell for half a second before he caught himself and sat back, his wand rolling onto the floor with a rattle. He reached down and snatched it up before shoving away from the table and standing. His chair crashing to the floor carelessly as he hastily moved around the table to stand beside Sirius.
“Stop interfering in my business before I insert myself into your concerns. My alliances have been confirmed in the highest court in the land, whereas you are still considered one of the greatest criminals this country has ever seen. Take care or I will ensure that you become known as the man who killed one of the last Great Houses of the land. I will happily make it seem like you slaughtered your own godson like a lamb and laid him out on his father’s grave.”
Sirius forced himself to not recoil at the stench of grave dirt and rancid blood as he looked up at Snape, the other man’s eyes burning with the wild high that came with Necromancy and his hands trembling with the residual magic he had stolen from the body.
“So Dumbledore knows about your dabbling in the darkest of arts? The ‘leader of the light’ believes that someone involved in the necromantic magics is ideal for moulding the minds of our future saviour and his friends?” Sirius forced himself to calm and reigned himself in before saying, “But I guess that your little extra trips to the Dark Lord’s side can stay our secret if you abide by our agreement.”
“Our agreement?” Snape laughed and stepped back to lean on the counter that divided the informal dining room from the main kitchen. “And what agreement would that be?”
“One that will hardly cost you anything. In fact, I am going to give you permission to indulge in one of your favourite hobbies,” Sirius said, he carried on without giving Snape a chance to respond as one of his wards pinged to let him know that a wizard had entered the street with intention to enter the house. “I’ll send you a message and you get to do whatever you need to to get Harry into your office, scream at him, blame him for something, hex a student and make it look like him… whatever you want as long as you bring him to your office and let me talk to him.”
“And why would I do that when it would be easier to just deny everything and remind everyone that your decade and change in prison drove you quite insane?” Snape asked with a smile.
“Because Auror Tonks is about to walk down those stairs and catch you dressed in those robes, stinking of the week-old grave you robbed and filling the room with the echoes of the spell you cast over the potion you made with the body. Her oaths will force her to immediately arrest you and transport you directly to a cell in the international wizarding court,” Sirius paused as the familiar yelling of the ensorcelled portrait by the front door started. Snape started, his eyes flicking nervously to the door as for the first time he began to look concerned. “Or I could use the very handy purification spell some dark fucker in my family had built into each floor of the building and make it look like we were having a civilised conversation as we waited for everyone else to arrive.”
Snape looked at the door and clenched his jaw tightly, Sirius tapped his wand against his knuckles carelessly as he waited. There was a crash from the hall as Tonks knocked something over,
“Sorry, Uncle Sirius,” she called down the stairs as she dragged whatever it was noisily back to an upright position, “Shut up, you useless hag!”
Sirius grinned as his cousin cursed the portrait into silence, he raised his eyebrows at Snape.
“Fine, but I can do whatever I want?”
“Within reason, you sick bastard, no breaking the law or being inappropriate. My version… Lily’s version of inappropriate,” Sirius warned as Snape quickly held his hand out to shake on it.
“Very well, now would you get on with it,” Snape snapped as they shook hands, footsteps starting down the stairs. Sirius gently drew a rune, and the air in the room shimmered, both their robes fluttering and shifting as though caught in a breeze. Flakes of blood fell to the floor melding into the grime encrusted in the warped floorboards just as Tonk’s clattered down the last few steps.
“Wotcha doing?” Tonks asked as she swung around the doorframe, the royal red robes of magical law enforcement holding tight to her body even as she tripped over her feet.
“Nothing,” Sirius muttered, snatching his plate and shoving the half a sandwich he had left into his mouth as he shrugged.
“Your ‘delightful’ uncle was attempting to show me a spell to cleanse my hair. Apparently, it’s quite a minor spell, and it would seem it was ineffective,” Snape drawled snidely as he flicked a greasy lock over his shoulder, “very showy, but poorly contained.”
Sirius glared at him as he chewed on the sandwich. Tonks shrugged, the insult seeming to go straight over her head, and dropped into the chair next to Sirius.
She caught a crumb of cheese from his plate on her fingertip and lifted it to her mouth before pausing to ask,
“Did Kreacher make that?” She flicked the crumb away in disgust when Sirius nodded, before giving him a look of concern when she realised that he had eaten it. “Luckily for you, I drew the straw for ‘make sure Sirius isn’t poisoned by Kreacher’ duty. I need to be back at work in an hour, so I grabbed Indian from that Muggle takeaway you like by Claremont Square.” She looked around and then pointed upstairs as she jumped to her feet and ran back to the front hall to grab it.
Snape snorted in disgust and sneered after her before striding after her, Sirius waited until the wards pinged to let him know that he had left the house before shoving his plate away and slowly leaning down to rest his head on the table top. He ignored Tonks when she arrived back in the kitchen and began to drop fragrant dishes onto the table and only forced himself to move when she shoved one of the burning hot tinfoil boxes into his forehead.
– – –
Sirius gently stretched his arms over his head, taking in a deep breath as he did so. He slowly released it as he bent at the waist. He hugged in tight against his thighs, trying to make sure his neck was loose, and his back was stretching long. He shifted his weight and walked his hands forward until he was balanced on his hands and toes, his core pulled tight as he focused on breathing calmly as he imagined floating, his body becoming weightless, his toes and hands just keeping him still rather than holding him up.
He felt the wards signal that the fire in the kitchen had flared as someone used it to enter the house. He let his hip lower to the floor and flattened his feet as he reminded himself to not hunch his shoulders up and instead let them slide down his back, so his neck extended out long.
Soft footsteps came up the two flights of stairs needed to get out into the orangery, and soft soles shuffled down the hall as he slowly worked his way through the rest of the sun salute. He came to standing and took a deep breath as he turned to face the headmaster.
“Dumbledore,” Sirius replied evenly, “thank you for coming”
“You made it seem rather important,” Dumbledore said, his tone calm and soothing as it almost always was. Sirius moved across the orangery, dodging the broken sections of brick floor and stepping over the plants that were spilling from their beds in the dingy light. He dropped into a wicker chair, discreetly flicking a reinforcement spell at it when it creaked ominously.
Dumbledore followed him with less care and Sirius winced when he crushed one of the trailing vines of a rare magical variety of Cissus Verticillata, the vine instantly bruising and turning limp. The old man looked at the wicker chairs and pointedly summoned a large, overstuffed, armchair. He settled in carefully and glanced at the dirt glass above them with a barely disguised grimace.
Sirius bit his lip as Dumbledore smiled sweetly and directed a cleaning spell at the roof. Sirius quickly reactivated one of the houses war wards and watched as Dumbledore’s spell fought the ancient ward that was trying to keep the house looking like a ruin despite the repairs Sirius had made. A single pane directly above them stayed clear, a testament to Dumbledore’s power.
Sirius smiled as Dumbledore turned his attention in him and years of formal social education kicked in, “Could I get you tea? Perhaps a light bite to eat.”
“It’s quite alright, I wouldn’t want to distract Kreacher from his … cleaning,” Dumbledore replied evenly as he gestured with his hand and a plain white China tea set appeared with a small plate of sandwiches. Sirius nodded politely hardly able to counter the slight to his house elf’s abilities. Neither Kreacher’s cleaning nor his food preparation was quite to the standard of the average housemaid trained house elf.
“I asked you to come for a reason, not just for company or tea,” he said a little defensively as Dumbledore busied himself with setting out tea. “I don’t quite know how to say this so perhaps it’s best to just say it. There is an arch in the department of mysteries it has a grey veil in it.”
“I’m familiar,” Dumbledore said kindly as he struggled to describe it.
“Well, I fell through it,” he said bluntly. Dumbledore sat forwards in interest. “But that’s not important. That’s the end, Voldemort knows about the prophecy and he has people waiting to steal it. They tricked Harry into going there and then they tried to take it. Or rather they will I guess.” Sirius pulled a face and took a moment to sip his tea, assuming it would take a while for Dumbledore to get his head around it.
“And you saw this?” He replied quickly.
“I was there. Like I said, I fell through the veil and…”
“You know the Black family sight is corrupted, hardly a reputable source for anything,” Dumbledore interrupted his tone gentle for all that his words were sharp. “I know you mean well, my dear boy, but it would be best if you kept this to yourself. Who knows what mischief Harry would get with that sort of encouragement.”
Sirius blinked and froze for a moment before saying, “I didn’t see it, I was there. I was physically there and then I fell through the veil and came back to here, and in a day or so we will all be there again. I have waited weeks trying to tweak and alter the way that things played out but nothing I do is big enough. I healed Snape thinking I could influence his behaviour a little, but I fear that he is too far gone, and he finds a dozen excuses to avoid his side of our deal. I have tried Albus…”
Dumbledore held a hand up and interrupted firmly.
“I think it is wonderful that the pair of you are over your enmity from school at last but really Sirius! I know that the sight can feel very real to some people but with everything considered I think it is best if we continue on as we have been. We cannot alter our plans on what at worst is a bad dream and at best is a corrupt vision from an untrained seer!”
“Continue on as we have been!” Sirius came to his feet, his wand clattering to the floor from his lap. “You’ve been forced to abandon the school because of the minister’s lackey, Snape spends his weekends making necromantic potions to bolster the Dark Lord’s powers, so maybe this was all some long play by Voldemort. Get you out of the school, get that woman to push Harry into retrieving the prophecy and then steal it.”
“Sirius,” Dumbledore said calmly.
“No! I’m going to die. And I don’t care but I have to fix this before I go. I can make this better. I know how this is going to play out, and I could make all the difference. We could defeat him next month instead of dragging it out for years. Bella killed me, and she was seconds from killing Harry. I came back to save him but it’s all the same. I spoke to Harry, I tried to advise him, but all my advice did was delay your removal from the school and everything else rolled on…”
“Sirius Black! That is quite enough!” Dumbledore shouted standing and moving to stand in front of Sirius. “It would seem that it is not for the best for you to stay on your own anymore. Vision, ravings, sense of impending death… I have seen this before and it is a shame. I had hoped that you had been spared this particular madness and I am sorry that I didn’t see it sooner. It led your mother and her brothers down a dark path, and I will not allow you to follow them, taking us all down with you.”
Sirius dropped into his seat and lifted his hands to cover his face,
“You don’t believe me, and I have no idea how to convince you,” he said mostly to himself as Dumbledore busied himself dismissing the tea service and banishing his chair before hurrying from the room.
“I shall contact Remus. It would be best if you were with friends. With someone. I’ll be back in a few moments, try to calm yourself.”
Sirius sat for a moment as he listened to the wards panic, a dozen alarms sounding as Dumbledore ripped a hole in them so he could apparate away to collect Remus.
He pushed to his feet and carefully ran his fingers over the scorched leaves of one of his plants. He gripped the stem and ripped the plant from the ground, tossing it at the far wall in frustration, another following it quickly.
Remus nodded to the headmaster in thanks as he was deposited in the formal dining room at Grimmauld place, the ragged curtains were drawn, and dust and muck covered every surface. The silverware on the table was tarnished and his sensitive nose detected the scent of vermin in the furniture.
A crack from beside him let him know that the headmaster had apparated away, back to wherever he had holed up to avoid the Aurors searching for him.
Remus twitched the curtain back and growled at the unfamiliar house elf, which was hiding in the bay window when it spat at him, “Wolf vermin.” It hurried away, and when Remus turned all he could see of it was the odd shine of its eyes from the top of the dresser.
He turned back to the window and slid the lower pane up, the movement easy and as smooth as a new fitting despite the seemingly frayed ropes and warped frame. He leant out and breathed in the fresh air, letting the sun warm his face for the first time in months. He took another breath and savoured the scent of pollution from the Muggle motor vehicles and cut grass from the park a few streets away, he inhaled it deeply letting it wash away the stench of the werewolf dens deep below London.
Eventually, he turned back to the room, Kreacher was stood in the doorway and the other house elf was gone. The window rattled shut and the curtains snapped closed with a click of Kreacher gnarled fingers.
“Master is upstairs, the half-breed should hurry,” he said before disappearing with a soft pop.
Remus blinked swiftly made his way across the house to the stairwell. He made his way to Sirius’ orangery knowing that it was likely that his friend was hiding in the one room in the house that his mother had never stepped foot in.
Remus nodded politely to the ensorcelled portrait of Sirius’ grandfather and waited for it to swing open.
He followed the curved staircase down the half floor needed to reach the garden level. He froze at the bottom of the staircase and looked at the carnage, the entire bed of potion ingredients that Sirius had planted with care when he first moved in had been ripped up and tossed around.
Sirius looked up sharply and Remus bit back the urge to snarl at him dominantly.
“Sirius, the headmaster said you seemed confused … agitated even. You seemed to be doing so well, I thought we were past this nonsense,” Remus said evenly, relief flooding him as his friend’s angry glare softened, and the large rock he had torn from the planter wall dropped from his hand.
“The aconite got scorched when he let the light in. It was all ruined. It’s all going to go wrong again,” Sirius said almost nonsensically, his words tinged with anger and upset as he brushed his hands on his trousers leaving blood and mud in equal amounts.
Remus held his place not willing to step close enough to give Sirius an opening to attack. He watched as Sirius looked around, seemingly taking in the destruction for the first time before starting to collect plants and shove them back into the soil carelessly.
“Leave it, half of them won’t survive the replanting and the others are too damaged to save,” Remus said finally crossing the room to pull Sirius to his feet, he came easily and let himself be guided towards the stairs. Sirius paused at the bottom and looked back.
“I’m sorry, Remus, I don’t know what came over me,” Remus frowned at how small Sirius sounded and gently replied,
“It’s fine, they were your plants. At least you didn’t hurt anyone,” he suffered as he remembered the destruction and harm Bella had caused over the years as she was driven to fulfil the things she saw.
“But they were for you,” Sirius said simply as they climbed the stairs. Remus bit back a huff of annoyance and counted to ten in his head.
“Look let’s get you into bed, you’ll feel better when you’ve rested, things will be clearer and we can have a sensible conversation before I get back to my mission,” Remus said as he guided his friend up to the master bedroom.
“I’m not crazy Remus,” Sirius said suddenly his voice firm and clear for the first time.
“I never said you were, but you’ve been through a lot and maybe you’re… just a little confused.” Remus replied as he quickly shook the tangle of sheets flat and flicked a corner back so Sirius.
Sirius climbed into bed and let Remus tuck him in, the pattern they had fallen into when Sirius had first escaped prison and then run himself into the ground coming back easily. Sirius drank the sedative Remus offered him without question.
Remus brushed Sirius’s long hair out of his face with a gentle hand and moved away to leave the room.
“Father used to say that to mother you know, he watched his wife go insane and treated her with care like you would a confused child. As long as she was echoing the words he fed her… ” Sirius muttered.
“Sirius, the wards you put up when your father died? Will they hold you?” Remus asked gently taking advantage of the fact the sedative would keep Sirius from prevaricating.
“They are designed to contain the mentally ill, to protect them from themselves. I never meant for her to be locked away in here, Regulus was meant to be around to take care of her at her worst. She was a monster but she was my mother, she was sick.”
“Yes but, Sirius, will they hold you.” Remus pressed,
“If they need to,” Sirius replied softly. Remus breathed a sigh of relief and watched as his friend slipped into sleep.
– – –
“The wards will hold him, I asked him but just in case I looked over the notes he left for Regulus when he first set them up. He might lie to me, but he wouldn’t have lied to his brother. They are the same wards they use on the secure floors at St. Mungo’s.” Sirius paused at the bottom of the stairs and leant against the wall when he heard Remus talking.
“Poor boy, he always was so troubled,” Sirius rolled his eyes at Molly Weasley’s condescending tone “are we sure it’s right to shut him away in here all alone.”
“It might seem cruel but it’s the best we can do. I can’t abandon my mission to babysit him for months more. We need to keep track of what Voldemort has the werewolves doing. He might not like it, but I know deep down he’ll understand,” Remus replied evenly. Sirius felt his jaw drop open in shock, he had known that they had had never been as close he had been with James, but he had thought they were closer than Remus words implied.
Sirius crept back up a few steps and then clattered down them before stepping into the kitchen. He smiled at Remus and walked around the counter to help himself to a bowlful of the soup that he assumed that Molly had left on the stove.
He leant against the counter that divided the room as he ate and looked around the crowded room as between bites he said, “Sorry about this morning, I must have overdosed on that sleep aid. You know how terrible my nightmares have always been, Remus. I guess I was still half asleep and got a little confused.” He paused to finish the soup. “This is wonderful Molly, you always make the best things.” He smiled at her charmingly and then winked when she flushed. He crossed the room and dropped into the chair next to her, trailing his fingers over her shoulder and plucking a couple of short ginger hairs from her cardigan. He dropped them onto the table in front of her and nodded quietly when she thanked him.
Dumbledore cleared his throat at Sirius antics and called the meeting to order.
Sirius ignored the half a dozen reports that various people made about the work they were doing under Dumbledore’s orders as Remus eyed him across the table. He half listened to Snape lie about whatever he had been up to the night he arrived covered in blood and started to listen properly when Molly’s husband stood up.
“The department of mysteries has several halls with prophecies in, they are large and each one has many silence spells layered over it. It is difficult to tell if you are alone and the overall effect is quite disorienting.” Sirius shifted and glanced at Dumbledore, surprised that the man had acted on what Sirius had told him despite his disbelief.
“It was surprisingly easy to get in, no one challenged me, and I didn’t have to announce myself. I suspect that no one saw me and even if they had they wouldn’t have cared. I found a researcher and asked about the spells they cast on the prophecies. They would be useful for some our more dangerous artefacts like the riff-el we seized, I believe that those spells make the prophecies quite secure.”
Dumbledore took to his feet and waved Mr. Weasley into his seat. Sirius watched as he regally paced the length of the kitchen until he eventually turned back to the group to announce,
“The risk of invading the ministry wouldn’t be worth it for a prophecy under those conditions. I apologise for wasting your time, Arthur.”
Sirius looked up sharply to find Dumbledore watching him. The rage that sleep had washed away returned. The same rage that he seemed to find himself caught in between the moments of absence, of sitting quietly looking at nothing, of wishing to be alone whenever the house was full.
Sirius shoved to his feet, the movement clumsy so he had to catch himself on the table’s top. He muttered an apology to Molly as he knocked into her before hurrying from the room. He let his anger carry him up the stairs and into the Orangery.
He walked across the perfectly clear floor and sank down to sit in his wicker chair beside the newly planted flower bed.
He clicked his fingers and curled the short ginger hair into the small vial that had appeared. He dropped the vial onto the table, closed his eyes and let his hand drop down to brush over the velvety young leaves of the Verbascum Thapsus Kreacher had planted in place of the Aconite.
“You’ll appreciate the sunshine more won’t you?” he murmured as he repeatedly rang his fingers over the leaves. The wards began to sing as those from the meeting began to disperse and he flicked his hand in a distracted motion.
A quiet crack had him opening his eyes to look at the house elf in front of him.
“Kreacher fixed the plants master killed.”
“I noticed, a nice choice,” Sirius replied evenly, the rage calmed to a simmer of frustration by the familiar presence of his plants.
“Your father always enjoyed the tea Kreacher made from it. And it will enjoy the sun the meddling old bastard let in,” Kreacher grumbled.
Sirius let out a bark of laughter before softly reprimanding him, “You shouldn’t repeat the names Mother used for people.”
“Does master want to be alone?” Sirius blinked at the surprisingly sensitive question from the house elf who was far too old to concern himself with humouring the arrogance of wizards.
“Yes, but I called you because I had a question.”
“Then Kreacher shall shut the wolfie out and get the little ones to stir up the vermin to chase him away,” Kreacher murmured, clicking his fingers absently. The screeching of Doxies echoed down the stairs, muted by the portrait covering the doorway.
“Very good. Tell me is there any polyjuice potion left in the preservation chamber?” Sirius asked reaching out to twirl the vial carefully between his fingertips. Kreacher flicked the tips of his ears before slowly extending one hand out.
Sirius reached out and collected the silver wide necked flask that appeared on the house elf’s palm. Kreacher disappeared as soon as Sirius had lifted it away and he was left alone in the silence.
He twirled the flask between his fingers for a moment, watching the orange and pink of the setting sun bounce off the silver and paint the leaves with subtle hues.
Sirius trotted through the streets, the darkness only broken by the red glow of the traffic light ahead and the odd flicker of smashed out streetlights. He paused at in a doorway and shifted back to his human form, quickly dropping the pilfered hair into the polyjuice potion before knocking it back.
He grimaced as the change ran through him and when the gut-churning sensation was over he stepped out into the street.
He hurried to the phone box on the corner and paused for a second to check out his new look before swinging open the door. He snatched the phone up and said, “Arthur Weasley, popping in to grab a file.”
As he placed the receiver down the phone box plummeted down several stories before spitting him out into a garishly overdone plaza.
Sirius glanced around the square that housed the entrances to the various buildings that the ministry of magic occupied with disdain. He nodded to the witch behind the reception desk when she waved at him and waited for her to look away before striding towards a black door set deep in an unlit arch.
The Department of Mysteries was dark, the air was dank and rancid for all that Sirius could feel it moving around him. He paused and swallowed deeply trying to clear the metallic taste that filled his mouth at the memory that flashed through his mind’s eye. He shook his head sharply and flexed his hands, the cold seeping into his joints in a way that made him think of salt air and crashing waves against impenetrable prison walls. Wishing that he had brought a jacket Sirius forced himself to walk down the hall.
The entranceway quickly gave way to a round antechamber that held a dozen doors, each one marked with a rune or what he thought might be cuneiform. He quickly crossed to the door that he knew led to the prophecies and made his way down the corridor, breaking into a run as he reached the hall that held the prophecy about Harry.
He raced to the clearing in the centre of the many shelf lined walkways and took a deep breath. He rolled his shoulders and with a gentle flick of his wand he whispered, “Wingardium Leviosa.” The shelf to his right lifted up and shot forwards setting off a chain of tumbling shelves, a cacophony of voices filling the air as the orbs that contained thousands of prophecies crashed to the ground. Sirius took another deep breath and yelled, “Bella, I know you are there! Waiting to do your Lord’s bidding. You’ll fail, you always fail in the end,” he taunted, knowing that Bella wouldn’t be able to resist responding to the mocking. “Did you See this? Did you see me? Bella! Did you see me win? Did you see how you are doing to fail him? Do you know who I am?”
“You shouldn’t be here, Sirius,” Bella murmured softly into his ear, her apparition into the space silent in a display of control that most wouldn’t have expected from one as insane as his cousin. “You weren’t who I saw here, what did you do, cousin? Did you See what I Saw and make a change?” Bella said, excitement filling every word as she backed away, wand raised and ready to cast.
Sirius took two steps away from her before he turned to look at her and the annoyed look that crossed her face when she realised that she had neither startled nor scared him. He lazily lifted his wand, knowing that Bella rarely acted outside of her orders unless it related to one of her visions. He suspected that he was safe until they reached the veil or until he attacked her, any actions before that wouldn’t satisfy the vision he had heard her boasting about once he crossed the veil, and he had no intention of ending up in that room ever again.
“What are you doing here, Bella? What monstrous act did your Lord send you to commit in his name? I can’t imagine that it was to kill Harry before he could?” Sirius watched Bella as she swayed gently and added, “Was it to kill me or to collect something? Who or what were you to remove from his way, Bella? Just tell me and I could help you, like when we were younger, and I helped you hide from Father and Uncle,” Sirius coaxed.
“You,” Bella said in a soft and sharp voice, tilting her head to watch him with wide eyes. “You and yours, out of the way so he can look. Shhhh! He mustn’t know I told you that he is looking for it.” She laughed, sharp and broken off oddly, “The secret thing that will help make everything right, make us win, help us make the blood pure again. But I have to follow and watch to find it, but you’ve made it all wrong now.” Bella suddenly drew herself up and shot a curse at Sirius’ head.
Sirius threw himself to one side and then quickly rolled to avoid the curse that Bella tossed after him almost absently as she babbled on. He grabbed one of the toppled shelves and hauled himself to his feet as a smooth male voice called from the depths of the hall.
“Bellatrix, what nonsense are you up too?” Sirius clambered over the shelf and slid into a gap where three shelves had caught against each other, as footsteps echoed closer. “The Dark Lord has sent word. He hopes the boy will respond tonight and our wait will be over.”
“It doesn’t matter, Lucius, it’s all wrong now!” Bella shouted, shooting a curse at the shelves Sirius was hiding behind.
“Damn it, woman!” Lucius ran forwards to grab Bella’s arm as the shelf shattered and several more prophecies broke, captured voices spewing forth on last time. “Don’t break more, the one He wants might still be there. Let us wait and hope the boy can find it before our Lord arrives.”
“Let go of me, Luci. I need to kill him now,” Bella said, her words sharp and clear. Lucius tugged on her arm to draw her into the depths of the hall and out of sight. Bella twisted out of his grip and fired another spell at Sirius’ hiding place.
Time seemed to slow as the shelf disintegrate into splinters and Sirius rose to his feet, wand raised and a binding hex tripping from his tongue. Lucius snapped his hand out and yanked Bella around to face him, his other hand rising to backhand her across the face. Sirius’ Hex blazed across the cleared space. Bella jabbed her wand into Lucius’ chest and hissed a sharp word. Sirius’ spell shot over Bella’s shoulder, lighting up the depths of the hall before splashing against a wall. Bella twirled and fired a stunning spell at Sirius. Lucius staggered back and dropped to his knees, blood pouring from his chest, eyes wide with pain and shock as he bled out.
Sirius ducked Bella’s spell before firing another hex at her, hissing between his teeth at the burning ache developing in his chest and forearms. Deciding that he fully had her attention he turned and ran. A whoop of delight letting him know that Bella was following.
He raced up the corridor and straight across the antechamber before slamming out of the black door. The floor behind him exploded, as one of Bella’s spells missed him by inches, he was flung off his feet and sent tumbling across the courtyard. The witch sat on the main desk screamed and the half a dozen ministry officials loitering outside their department headquarters scrambled for safety.
A war siren went off and war wards dropped down from the roof to create a glittering facade over each building, protecting walls and windows while leaving the doors free. Sirius rolled his aching head to one side and sighed with relief as he spotted a wizard in red robes leading a dozen others up the stairs that lead to the Auror department.
“Try denying Voldemort’s back now…” he hissed under his breath as Bella began to fight the Aurors.
“Weasley, move damn it!” Someone yelled, Sirius almost ignored the call until he remembered whose image he was borrowing. He rolled to his hands and knees before crawling across the courtyard and letting himself be tugged into the safety of one of the buildings.
“Thanks,” he said absently, finding his feet and staggering to a window to watch the fight.
“What the hell were you doing, Arthur?” Sirius froze, he hadn’t considered the fact that he might survive this madness long enough to end up in this situation.
“I… I was just… err, I’ve been considering changing some of our protection spells for dangerous devices to the ones they use on prophecies in the Department of Mysteries.” Sirius stuttered suddenly remembering Arthur’s comment in the meeting he had sat in. “She… she came from nowhere. Screaming about You Know Who and how I wouldn’t be allowed to interfere in his plan.” He said, turning to watch the reaction to his words. The man beside him just nodded and replied, “Damn lucky you made it back then. The Black family, every one of them more dangerous than the last. Look at that!”
Sirius jumped at the sudden excited yell and turned back to the window.
Dumbledore had arrived and Bella had sent up a signal, a noxious black vapour that seemed to seep through the rock above them to make its way to the skies above London.
For a moment everything fell still.
Sirius held his breath for a moment until Dumbledore broke the silence, “What trinket or ounce of knowledge did your master send you scurrying to collect?” he asked, lifting one hand to spell his hair into a ponytail.
Bella just grinned at him and spread her hands in an invitation to attack her. Sirius frowned and stepped back from the window, ignoring the worried calls of Arthur’s workmates as he rushed to the door.
He flung it open just intimate to shout a warning, “Albus, to your left!” the headmaster span and fired off a defensive spell as a boom and bright flash announced the arrival of a wizard with power to spare and a taste for showmanship.
“You Know Who!”
“He’s back.” The exclamations and words of fear rippled around the room and, Sirius suspected, the entire ministry as the blaze of light faded.
Sirius watched with horror as the two wizards battled ferociously, each attack pushing Dumbledore back another step. Sirius ran down the steps and tossed a binding hex at the Dark Lord’s back, it was dispelled easily but Dumbledore was able to use the moment of distraction to finally push back a little. Sirius tossed another spell, then another and each won them another step, another moment of draining Voldemort’s power. Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius saw the Auror’s finally manage to subdue Bella and breathed a sigh of relief.
However, Sirius wasn’t the only one to notice Bella’s fall. Voldemort suddenly changed tactics and sent out a raw blast of formless power, Sirius was blown off his feet and Dumbledore was forced to brace himself. Voldemort turned completely to the attack and launched a dozen powerful spells at Dumbledore. Dumbledore’s ward crumbled and when he faltered Voldemort spat,
“Sectumsempra,” before summoning Bella’s limp body to him and apparating away.
Blood bloomed on Dumbledore’s garish lime robes and the elderly wizard stumbled to his knees. Sirius bolted forwards and began to layer compression hexes over each deep cut in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of blood. He pulled off his outer robe and bundled it under Albus’ head muttering apologies as he did.
He clenched his teeth against the pain and cast a blood restoration spell, mild burn in his magical channels giving way to a deep pain. Beneath his hands Albus gasped and opened his eyes, words tumbling from his lips to quiet to hear. Sirius leant in, “You foolish boy…” Albus gasped, “it was too soon, I wasn’t prepared yet.”
“I’m sorry, it wasn’t meant to go this way. He was meant to be the one unprepared, Bella was meant to run back and report that I destroyed the prophecy. This fight shouldn’t have happened.” Sirius whispered urgently as he saw a flash of green robes out of the corner of his eye.
“Sirius,” Albus said, voice suddenly sharp and urgent, “run!”
Sirius looked up at the healer who had come to stand beside him and saw his own face being reflected back at him in the woman’s glasses rather than Arthur’s.
His former colleague shifted a little to hide him from the Aurors and cast a diagnostic spell before murmuring, “Good work like always, Black, now get out of here.”
Sirius patted his pocket only to find the flask of potion had been lost at some point. He curled his fingers around his wand tightly, rose into a crouch and took a deep breath before pushing off and racing across the courtyard to one of the many large fireplaces that lined the furthest wall.
Yells of his name and a dozen curses chased him. One wrapped around his ankles and sent him sprawling inches from the fire he had been aiming for. He reached out and grabbed a handful of glittering Floo powder. He tossed it into the fire with a yell of, “Grimmauld Place,” before managing to roll into the fire just as the first hand yanked on his shirt.
The fire flared and Sirius felt himself spinning through the fire travel network, and squeeze and pull let him know that he had arrived and he felt his wards activate. The Auror who had grabbed his shirt yelped as the wards firmly shoved them back into the fire and sent them spinning away.
Sirius rolled out of the fire and lay on the slate floor of his kitchen staring at the ceiling as he waited for his heart to stop crawling out of his chest.
– – –
Sirius flinched and scrambled to a seated position, shoving himself back until he crashed into a kitchen unit. He blinked twice before realising he was at home and the person speaking to him was Harry.
“Harry, you’re okay,” he gasped pushing up to his feet to take a few staggering steps forward so he could wrap his arms around Harry. “I was worried, with the headmaster gone. Hogwarts isn’t safe and I did something foolish. I’ve made the Dark Lord so angry. I’ve put us all in danger, Harry.”
The boy in his arms slowly worked a hand free and patted him awkwardly on the back until Sirius was able to force himself to step back.
“Professor Snape said I should come, he let me use his fire. He said you wanted to talk to me, and I should tell you it took a few days to find a reason?” Harry said as Sirius guided him into the dining room.
“He did? Of course, he did…” Sirius replied. “I did. I wanted to warn you that your nightmares are not real, you shouldn’t do anything because of them. But, err, I thought he wasn’t going to send you so I had to do something, and no one would help me. No one believed me and I couldn’t let it play out as it did before,” Sirius confessed, looking down at where his hands were pressing into the tabletop unable to look at Harry and see the disappointment in his eyes.
“What do you mean? What did you do? Are you in danger, will I not be able to stay with you this summer…” as Harry desperately asked questions Sirius’ attention was caught by an ethereal raven who hopped through the glass of the window and walked down the table to stand before them. Harry fell silent as they both watched the patronus.
“He’s dead. You did all that you could and so did we, but he was old. His heart couldn’t take it. You need to run Sirius, wherever you are it won’t be hidden enough, they are already blaming you. Saying you were pretending to be You Know Who, that this was all some fakery that you and Bellatrix came up with to scare people.” The Healer that Sirius had left Dumbledore with sounded devastated and resigned, and as the raven faded away, her message delivered, she said, “I never believed you did it but I never believed that the ministry would lie like that. They are going to lie again about this. Run.”
Harry looked at him and simply said, “Who?”
“Dumbledore,” Sirius replied softly.
“I did something stupid. I thought I knew better, that I could change things and save you, but I was wrong. Albus sacrificed himself to save everyone at the ministry.” Sirius admitted, sinking into his chair as though it could hide him from what had happened.
Harry opened his mouth to ask another question but his words were cut off by the fire roaring into life behind them and the clatter of several people arriving.
Young voices filled the air and Sirius quickly forced the wards off as he glanced back and saw Hogwarts uniforms. The kitchen filled quickly with children from a variety of years and all the houses. A few of the older ones muttered his name and eyed him with suspicion as he rose to his feet and turned to watch them arriving. As suddenly as the flow had started it stopped and he felt one last person press against the wards, he frowned and let them through.
Sirius’ breath caught in his throat as a young man with a mop of blond hair fell gracefully through the fire, brushing himself off carefully before straightening up. Sirius moved forwards, watching the boy carefully and soon he found himself looking directly into the grey eyes of Lucius Malfoy’s son. A gold band shone brightly on the boy’s index finger and his hands tremored with the exhaustion that came with reining in the flood of power an inheritance brought.
“I’m sorry Sirius, I didn’t know where else to take them that would be safe and large enough,” Hermione said, the prefects badge on her torn cloak shining brightly for a moment in the light as she pushing between the children and passed Sirius to make her way to her best friend’s side. “Harry, I’m so glad you’re ok. We couldn’t find you and Ron thought you might have gone to help the teachers…”
Sirius tuned her out and slowly made his way across the kitchen to his nephew’s side, the newly made lord looked at him before evenly saying,
“The last thing I told my father was that following that monster would get him killed. Mother said that I would have to choose a side and going against him wouldn’t go well.”
Sirius offered him a hand to shake before gently drawing him into a brief hug, “He was still your father, and his loss must still hurt. I’ll need to see your forearms before I let you stay. I couldn’t let my war wards loose on children running for safety and so I risked a fox amongst the hens,” He said firmly, Draco nodded and carefully rolled his sleeves up, wand arm first and then the other, to reveal bare skin free of the Dark Lord’s marking. “Good, I would have thought you too young, but he took my brother at 15, and heirs so rarely get a choice over where their allegiances lie. Now, let’s get the little ones settled.
“Kreacher, open the training room and get some sleeping bags,” he ordered.
Draco glanced around in surprise when the house elf didn’t appear, but Sirius knew the work would be done and quickly started to usher the children out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
Sirius focused for a moment and activated the war wards, feeling doorways lock and windows seal as they kicked into action. He smiled at Hermione gratefully when she took over and lead the first group towards the upper floor before he could even reach the bottom of the stairs.
He patted Draco on the shoulder as he passed and shook his head in amusement as he watched him bolt up half a flight to tug one of the noisier children away from the library door.
Sirius took a deep breath and turned back to the kitchen with a weary sigh, exhaustion filling his entire body. He traipsed through the door and dropped into a chair heavily before looking up at Harry.
Harry was tightening and retying his shoelaces with sharp motions, “We should go and help them, Hogwarts will need defending,” he said as he stood up.
“No, we should wait. Once he realises you aren’t there he will leave them be. The school’s been evacuated, and the teachers are all talented magic users. It’s best if we stay here and let them come to us. There is no point joining the fight tired and unprepared, we should rest and regroup,” Sirius said surprised to realise he was echoing words that James had once said when Sirius had been ready to hare off after his brother. As he spoke Harry paced the length of the kitchen.
“Dumbledore is dead and I’m the only other person who has a chance of defeating Voldemort. Harry paused his pacing before striding down the kitchen. “You’re right, he’ll leave the school alone if he knows I’m not there.” Harry grabbed a handful of floor powder and tossed it into the fire as Sirius lurched out of his chair and vaulted the counter between them.
“Harry, no!” He shouted as Harry stepped into the fire without announcing his destination so Sirius couldn’t follow him. Sirius staggered to a halt as his fingers closed on thin air.
Sirius dropped into a chair as he cast yet another fruitless location spell, he cursed whoever had taught Harry how to hide his location. He attempted to summon a patronus so he could send a message but swore with frustration when the spell failed for the 6th time that night. His arms throbbed and he rubbed at his numb chest knowing that he was close to permanently damaging himself and yet unable to bring himself to truly care.
The fire flared and he looked up sharply as the wards let him know it was someone from the school. A familiar short figure stepped through and Sirius huffed in frustration at the professor before muttering,
“They’re upstairs, sleeping.” As Flitwick passed him, he asked, “Did you see him? Did you see Harry.”
“I’m sorry, Sirius, he led Him away from the school perhaps an hour ago, but I did not see the outcome. I couldn’t hear any fighting in the distance when I left,” Flitwick said sadly before jogging up the stairs to check on his wards.
Sirius stood as the fire flared again, the wards letting him know it was someone familiar but not coming from a place he knew. He growled with disappointment and levelled his wand at Snape’s head when he was the one who staggered through, the rank smell of battle and dark magic seeping into the room after him.
“You should come now before it’s too late, I’ve done my best but… You should come now,” Snape said quickly before turning back to the fire and announcing, “The Hog’s Head” as he stepped in.
Sirius stepped up to the fire quickly, grabbing a handful of powder before he spotted the drips of blood that Snape had left on the hearth. An ugly fear filled him, and he stared at the drops for a moment as he considered the implications of a necromantic potion master coming to him with blood on his hands.
“He will have power the Dark Lord knows not. Oh, Harry…” he whispered the prophecy that had ruined so many lives to himself before swirling his wand and muttering, “Inveniet Vitam.” The spell sank into the drop of blood and quickly turned it black. “Bastard…” Sirius’ voice broke at the thought of how his godson must have died and the thought that all his actions had done was give the Dark Lord more power drove him forwards. He tossed the powder into the fire and stepped in with a sharp, “Ministry of Magic.”
He span through the fire network and as he was spat out into the ministry he felt the wards strip his body of any disguising spells or potions. He stepped out of the fire and immediately let off a volley of stunners, the trainee Aurors guarding the fires falling easily and leaving the way clear even as an alarm was sounded to alert those glaring the other entrances.
He quickly headed back into the department of mysteries running down the main hall before coming to a halt in the antechamber, he span around twice before picking a door and hoped that it was correct. He ran passed the entrances to a dozen labs and through a room full of tanks. He shoved through the final door and jumped down the dozen stairs that ran down the centre of the amphitheatre before standing still.
He took a deep breath and lifted his hand, it trembled as he held it out and he clenched it into a fist before dropping it back down to his side.
He let out a shaking breath and stepped forwards. The torn shroud ghosted against his face, shivers ran through him and his body was flooded with a feeling of wrongness. He stopped with one foot barely across the threshold and took several desperate breaths, even as his lungs screamed that there was no air in the room.
“Are you that much of a coward, cousin. You won’t even stay and fight to save those we can?” Draco said from behind him. “I saw you race off, I thought perhaps you would need help but instead you’re running away.”
Sirius resisted the urge to turn around and instead shut his eyes. He imagined standing at the edge of a lake and dropped into it.
– – –
Sirius woke on a bed of fine sand, his skin itching perfectly as it worked its way through his fur. He rolled onto his back and squirmed, legs absently dancing in the air above him as he worked loose fur and oils that had sat for too long on his skin.
He groaned deep in his long chest and chattered his teeth together in delight as a deep primal urge was satisfied.
He rolled so his legs were beneath him and hopped to his feet, chasing a puff of sand for a moment before chuffing when he managed to inhale it through his snout.
He tilted his head as a moment of worry crossed his mind before letting it go to follow the urge to chew a tangle in the fur on his leg.
A cold hand caressed his ears and strong fingers scratched across his scruff, Sirius arched his back and pressed into the touch. The fingers tickled and scraped down his spine as a smooth voice uttered, “You needed the rest, but it is time to return to your burdens now.”
Sirius shivered as the simple calmness of embracing canine bliss slipped away and the last few hours slowly returned to him. The pain of his loss came in waves until finally he was forced to shudder back to his human form. “Why? Why let me go just to watch it be worse, is this my role? Death’s harbinger. I’m to be sent back into the world to curse those I meet, to tweak and change everything until you’ve claimed your fill?” He ground out, tone dark and body shaking with rage as he drew himself off the floor. His hands curling into the thick robes of the creature before him. “You made me think there would be a respite, a chance of martyring myself to save them. False pretences and outright lies.”
“I hardly need to send someone out to increase my load, humanity is adept enough at tossing away the gift of life without my help.” the creature soothed, “I warned you that I could not account for how others paths would be changed by your actions.”
Sirius shoved his fists into the creature’s chest and cursing when it didn’t even sway in place. He strode away until he reached a wall, he stood facing it for a moment before slowly sinking to the ground. He curled into his knees, hands threading through his hair and tugging. He rocked a little, face pressing against his knees with each tilt forwards.
Time slipped and ebbed away, but an awareness remained. Sirius knew the creature was standing, waiting and watching as clearly as though he was looking at it, its presence a chill at the edge of his mind.
Eventually, a question rose to the surface of his mind and he muttered into his thighs, “Did you laugh when you collected him? Was my arrogance an amusement to you?”
“There is no amusement in my post. I collect those I am sent to in a manner befitting of their desires. With some I weep, with some I laugh, others I comfort, some I let travel alone as they seek an adventure or wish a respite from the press of company.” The creature replied as though Sirius had spoken clearly, “but here there is only you, for every individual deserves the fullest of my attention in their hall.”
“So you won’t tell me, you protect your lies with secrets and platitudes,” Sirius said, uncurling from his position a little to cast a glare across the room.
“I honour those I accompany by giving each the entirety of my attention, and respect their most private of journeys by recalling only the faintest of memories of how the paths I have walked played out.” The creature said evenly.
Sirius rose to kneeling and looked at the creature with a frown. “Another lie? You remembered that someone else arrived before their time.”
The creature inclined its head a little, “I did, and I will remember you. This is not your true Death as that moment was not his. I do not recall how his journey came to an end or how his path through my realm played out, just as I do not know if he walked the world before you or will arrive after you. Time has no place in my realm and all souls arrive in their own moment.”
Sirius regarded the creature for a long time before he finally looked away. He kicked the sand at his feet and watched it float through the air, sparkling and glimmering until it finally landed back on the ground.
“If I’m to play your deliverer then I’ll damn those who’ll be no loss.” He swore as he lifted the shroud on a moment, watching for a while before dropping it back down.
He made his way along the wall until he found a shroud that revealed only darkness when he lifted it.
Sirius shut his eyes and braced himself before stepping through the veil with determination.
– – –
Sirius woke sharply, tumbling from his dream with a pounding heart and a slick of sweat covering him. He shivered as the cold air washed over him in a vivid reminder that he had willingly stepped into his own nightmare. The dream chased him into wakefulness and had him clambering the broken wall of his cell to lean through the broken window and hang over the steep cliff face below to escape. He took a shallow breath and eased himself back. He dropped onto the bed and gasped for breath as he tried to remember his half-cocked plan.
He gathered the thin blanket that had fallen from his bed and tucked it around his shoulders, punching himself when he found them to be broader than they had been in more than a decade.
He stroked his fingers over thick muscle vainly, trailing them down from his shoulder to ghost over the curve of his chest and ridges of his stomach. He pressed his fingertips into his thighs with a grin before cupping his cock and grinding a little when it twitched in interest.
A howl in the distance brought him back to reality and he glanced up through the gloom to find a shrouded figure on the outside of the bars of his cell. Waiting to snatch him away from the window to keep him from escaping his punishment.
Sirius glared at the Dementor until it realised that it would get to neither save him or feast on his pleasure, a rare delight in this place, Sirius was certain. As it drifted away Sirius crept across his cell to collect the letter that had spiraled him to the point of despair where a nightmare could make him chase the freedom of death.
He looked at his mother’s gleeful note full of praise for “returning to good sense” and requesting that he listen to Lucius and let her favourite nephew in law assist him in “shaking off these nonsense charges.” Where once her note had tormented him – allow himself to be exonerated, admit his failings as a friend and live with the taint of being released on the word of a marked death eater or rot in this cell forever – now it gave him hope. When it first arrived, he had believed that when the dust settled and the war was truly over, the ministry would look into his charges, and Dumbledore would protest his innocence to free him as a soldier of the Light. His naivety and arrogance had stolen years of his life and cost Harry his childhood, but now the price of freedom seemed low.
He held out his palm and firmly said,
“Lumos,” a ball of light appeared on his hand with ease and he grinned at the show of strength he had mourned when freedom didn’t relieve him of his frailty.
Sirius careful read the letter and checked the date it said twice before casting a timekeeping spell. His arm twinged at the draw of strength needed to maintain the light and project the date onto the wall.
He released both spells with care and moved to a corner of the cell to activate the water rune in the corner. He tossed the blanket out of the way and crouched down so he could drench himself in the freezing water. He scrubbed twice all over with the harsh soap before shoving away from the corner to grab his blanket. Shivers wracked his body as he dried himself with the thin blanket and tugged on the thick robe he had arrived at the jail in, knowing that Lucius would see that as a show of weakness.
The winter sunrise began as he tugged the last tangles from his hair with his fingers and one of the few human jailers kicked open his cell.
“Black, you have been granted a visitor.” She called before marching away, secure in the knowledge that if Sirius failed to follow her, one of the Dementors would ensure that he arrived at the visitor centre.
Sirius followed her meekly passed the dozens of cells that lined the lower floor of the prison and down the thousand or more steps that led to the bottom of the rock outcrop that Azkaban was perched on top of. He clung to the thick rope as the seemingly permanent storm-tossed wave after wave at him, the guard safely protected by the weather repelling charm built into the anti-dementor amulet the guards wore.
They arrived in the visitors’ centre and Sirius was buffeted roughly by a crude drying spell and a pair of thick iron shackles wrapped around his wrists.
He spotted Lucius who sat in the same seat as he had before, hair perfectly quaffed and lines of his robes crisp and smooth. He bit back the insulting remark he would usually make and instead gracefully lowered himself into the chair opposite him. “Lucius, how delightful to see you again. I was delighted to hear about your marriage. Such a shame my role in the war kept me away, but that is the cost he demanded. How is my favourite cousin?” He asked in one smooth tumble, leaning back into the chair with the air of a man perfectly in control of his circumstances.
“Narcissia is quite well, and I am led to believe that Draco is quite perfect for his age.” Lucius replied evenly. “Your mother demanded that I represent you. She seems quite delighted to have a barrister in the family. Despite my misgivings over her reasoning, I found myself compelled to at least meet you.” Lucius drawled slowly.
“Most find it easier to acquiesce to my mother’s demands than to attempt to reason with her.”
“And others choose to run from her to avoid having to even attempt it.”
Sirius looked at Lucius sharply and frowned before saying,
“A necessary action to ensure that my role was successful. I’m sure you found some of the demands made of you quite as distasteful.” He paused for a moment before adding, “has Draco learned how to say papa yet?”
“I believe that he is quite verbose, and you are correct. Many of us were made to do the most distasteful of things during the war, and it is for us with family connections to ensure that the things we had no desire to do have little effect on our lives any further.” Lucius replied smoothly, easily presenting Sirius with the narrative he expected him to follow.
“I never expected to end up here. I had thought that I would at least get a trial where I was allowed the chance to defend my actions,” Sirius said softly.
“Yes, well there are those in the Wizengamot who feel that the devastation of the House of Potter was beyond the pale. It will take me some time, cousin, but I believe that this error is one that can be corrected. There will be a price.” Lucius said, rising to his feet and heading towards the exit.
“I would expect no less, but we will see who ends up paying it.” Sirius slumped back into the chair and watched as the wards flared, acknowledging that Lucius was the same man who had entered.
The door to his cell was kicked open and a battered wooden ball was tossed to Sirius lightly before the guard walked away leaving the door open. Sirius caught the ball with ease and looked at it for a moment before feeling a familiar tug at his navel, he shut his eyes as the Portkey dragged him through the portal it was tethered to so he could avoid throwing up.
He landed with a rough bump and gave himself a slow count to three before opening his eyes.
When he finally opened them, he found himself sat in a small antechamber in Gringotts. Lucius was to his left, a goblin guard stood by the door to his right and a ministry official stood in front of him.
“Well, let’s make a start. No need to draw this out.” The official said, offering Sirius a stack of paper and a quill.
“Don’t sign that.” Lucius snapped, raising his hand quickly to shove the papers back into the man’s chest, “we will be waiting for the assigned thaumaturge to ensure that there are no additional enchantments worked into that.”
Sirius glanced at Lucius and carefully folded his hands in his lap as he took note of the stern look he was giving the official.
“There’s no need to waste anyone’s time, I have other cases to close today.” The official huffed.
“You wasted 4 months of my clients time with your unlawful detainment. I’m sure we can waste a little of yours to ensure the job is done properly this time, Fudge,” Lucius replied with a dangerous smile that had the official backing away as he paled, papers clutched to his chest tightly.
The goblin by the door suddenly moved making Sirius twitch violently, Lucius barely reacted to the movement and simply flicked his eyes towards the guard before going back to glaring at Fudge.
“Hand over the papers for analysis.” The guard demanded, its hand extended out a few feet from where Fudge was standing, forcing the official to trot forwards to hand them over.
The guard strode back to the door, it opened and without a word, a smaller goblin took the papers and hurried away. Sirius smirked in amusement when Fudge followed the goblin to the door and tried to squeeze through to follow the smaller one, the guard swung the door shut so sharply that Fudge staggered back holding his nose where it had been hit by the door.
The guard didn’t spare him a look, simply folding its hands over the pommel of its sword. Fudge opened his mouth to complain before thinking better and back peddling across the room to stand opposite Sirius again. Fudge sighed, fidgeted, cast a tempus to check the time and then sighed again before asking,
“How long will this take?”
“Truefind will get to the task when they are ready.” The guard replied, Sirius, looked up sharply at the name. He caught the guard’s eye and rose to his feet to walk down the length of the room, he inclined his head to the guard politely before pressing a palm to his heart in thanks when the guard stepped aside and opened the door. The official behind him squeaked and stuttered,
“That’s hardly appropriate, you must stay in my company!”
“Really, Fudge, did you actually ever attend a single lesson on our legal system before you were kicked out of Oxford?” Lucius drawled before the door clanged shut and Sirius was left in the silence of a large office.
A grand wrought iron desk inlaid with copper and wolfram flowers stood below a stained-glass window. Books lined every wall, and more were stacked onto end tables.
Sirius looked around quickly before walking across the room to bow before the tiny goblin who was balanced on the top step of a ladder clutching a tomb between its hands.
“Truefind, I apologise for my failure to attend the first session of my mastery trials. The dishonour I brought upon myself and those of my family name cannot be washed away by any less than the fortune of a dozen enemies poured at your feet.” Sirius said quickly, keeping his head bowed as he added, “it speaks to your honour that you would be so kind as to assist me in this matter personally.”
There was a humph from above him and a clatter of feet making their way down the ladder before Truefind said,
“There is no dishonour in lateness, there is only dishonour in wasting my time and wasting your talent. So far you have avoided one and crept close to the other, my offer will stand when you are done with your wizarding nonsense.” Sirius looked up with a smile to find the goblin glaring at him. “Besides, if you debased yourself on the altar of that overgrown vermin then I desire to take your head personally. I am rarely fooled, and I will not take it mildly if you lied to me.”
“I spoke no lies, I told no mistruths, and on my honour and on my magic I swear I met with you for true purpose when you agreed upon my training,” Sirius said formally, letting power infuse his words easily as the metal of the chamber hummed and echoed his oath back to him.
Truefind reaches up and petted his hand absently before returning to their work, opening the book and laying the papers Sirius was to sign over a sigil. They muttered a word and the papers flared blue for a moment.
“I chose you out of all those who petitioned me because your magic bore the marks of one who has, will and is living a most extraordinary life. I didn’t think your path to my practice would be easy, but I knew the man who arrived would be worth sharing my skills with.” Truefind said, looking at Sirius with piercing eyes.
They clicked their fingers and the door swung open. They held out the bundle of paper and handed Sirius a quill, Sirius took it carefully and signed the declaration on the first page before thumbing through to the back.
“No! He has to use… this quill” Fudge shouted from the doorway, his shout fading to mutter as Sirius flicked the last line through his k and handed the quill back with a small bow.
“If your governments’ offer is true then it should matter not who’s ink and which bird’s feather is used to seal the deal,” Truefind said sharply, a spell wrapping around the documents and duplicating them before vanishing one set directly to the ministry. Truefind stared at the official for a moment before looking at Sirius sharply, “you owe me a year, human. I expect it paid in full, and a visit soon to assess how that year will be changed by this experience.” The goblin clicked its fingers once more and the trio found themselves in the foyer of Gringotts bank, a number of patrons openly staring at them in surprise and at Sirius with more than a little hate.
“Your mother will be waiting, Sirius.” Lucius said before turning to Fudge with a half-smile,
“A delight to meet you, I’m sure you could go far with the correct connections.”
Sirius walked away in disgust as Lucius began to convince Fudge that he was his new best friend. He strode to the marked-out circle in the space between the teller desks and declared,
“Home,” while thinking of the kitchen at Grimmauld place, flames flared around him and he was swept into the floor network. He span sharply towards his destination before slowing so that he could step out of the fire and into the kitchen.
He stepped out of the fire to find himself face to face with Kreacher.
“So Master has returned to the house, that is for the best. Mistress has become quite unpredictable. She is waiting to see you,” The House elf said sharply before snapping his fingers over a small plate of sandwiches and popping himself upstairs.
Sirius sighed deeply, looked at the pair of house elves bustling around the kitchen and smiled at the sight of clean worktops and boiling pans before making his way towards the stairs. The house hummed with power, each surface he passed gleamed and through open doors he could see that the fabric of the furnishings was bright and in good repair. He paused outside the library and knocked on the door twice before stepping through the doorway.
“I see you are in good health, mother,” He stopped just inside the room and looked at the formidable woman in front of him.
“Sirius, my darling boy…” she crooned, voice soft and excited in a way Sirius hadn’t heard since he had been assigned to Gryffindor house at school. She lifted a hand, which trembled lightly as rogue magic crackled across her palm and beckoned him closer.
Sirius took note of the symptoms, realising that his mother’s madness was destroying her magic channels faster than he had assumed it had happened. The state of the house when he had moved in suddenly made sense. He had never understood how his house-proud mother could have allowed the house elves to neglect their duties, but the loss of her magic would have had the elves seeking contracts in other houses. Eventually, only Kreacher would be left, unable to break his contract with Sirius because of Azkaban’s wards and untrained in the maintenance of a household.
“It was so kind of you to ensure that Lucius fulfilled his family obligations, but don’t expect me to stay in this house with you for any longer than required for everything to get sorted.” He said sharply before backing out of the room and starting up the stairs.
A bolt of magic slammed into the stairs in front of him, his robe sleeve scorched, and the carpet burst into flames for a moment before a house elf arrived, smothering the fire and repairing the carpet before popping away.
“Don’t walk away from me without permission, I should have made you come home the instant you decided to take yourself off to live with the Potters. They spoilt you, let you think that you could turn your back on family and what we stand for. Lucius was right, I should have left your treacherous, mudblood loving hide to rot.” His mother snarled from inches behind him, “it was so delightful to imagine that all of your treacheries were just pretend. A great ploy to rid us of those ridiculous creatures and the ‘light’ traitors to magic who protect them.”
“It wasn’t treachery, it was self-preservation.” Sirius replied without turning, “Father was a monster and he twisted and bent you until you blindly followed the beliefs and whims of a psychopath who would have seen all of magic destroyed. You blindly became a sycophant and anyone who dared to not instantly bow to your whims or dared to have a thought that you didn’t tell them to have was an insignificant brat to be beaten and cowed.” Sirius’ voice shook with rage and hurt as words he had thought he would never get to say ripped out of him, as he teetered on the edge of blind fury that always seemed so close.
He kept his back to her so he could pretend he was just practising the words he wished he had said, knowing that if he turned the words would dry up and scatter at the sight of her. “You were my mother and you couldn’t even bring yourself to admire my conviction or congratulate me on graduating from one of the hardest apprenticeships there is. I’m glad that you died alone, trapped in this house watching your line falter and disappear from existence. I had begun to think that I regretted it but seeing you reminded me that you never earned my pity and I have no reason to care how you died.”
His mother gasped behind him, spluttering for words as Sirius ran up the stairs and slammed the door to his room shut. He leant against it, expecting it to begin to rattle and shake under the pressure of hexes and curses like it had when he was a teen. He waited for a few moments, taking shaking breath after shaking breath, and when the hallway stayed silent and the door still, he peeled himself off it and staggered to the bed. He lay on top of the covers and breathed his way through the panic attack. His thoughts tumbled and ran over each other, and with an odd awareness he recognised that the confusion was similar to the one that had followed Dumbledore’s dismissal of his warning.
Eventually, he forced himself to his feet and searched through the half organised chaos that was his desk, he rooted through three drawers before he found the slim wooden tube he was searching for. He twisted the cap off with ease and cursed quietly under his breath when only dust tipped into his palm instead of his great-grandfather’s wand. He braced himself on the desktop and breathed deeply to push away the panic that was threatening to overwhelm him again.
A faint pop to the side of him announced Kreacher’s arrival and only the familiar brush of Kreacher’s magic against his in the seconds before the house elf appeared kept him from startling out of his skin. Sirius looked at the house elf, who was setting up a tea service and light lunch, with an annoyed frown.
“Kreacher has locked the door and mistress has taken to her bed. Kreacher will be in the gardens if master needs him.”
Sirius smiled faintly at the sharp tone to the words as the house elf popped away again and muttered, “And I would expect nothing different.”
A clock chimed eight and Truefind eased themself from the office chair and made their way through the door that connected their office to the parlour. The samovar was steaming lightly, and they carefully set out a tray and placing a cup on it before pausing to glance at the door. They reached up and grabbed another cup, setting it on the tray just as the man outside gathered his courage and knocked.
Truefind clicked their fingers and the door swung open easily. They kept their back to the room as they finished preparing the tray.
“Truefind, I have come as you requested, and hope I have come in a time of prosperity for you and yours.” Journeyman healer Sirius Black said, the leather-like creak and groan letting Truefind know that he was settling into a comfortable chair covered in dragons hide.
“My rooms are always open to my favoured pupils,” Truefind said pouring tea into the cups from the samovar, they turned with a tray in their hands and with an easy motion sent it spinning through the air to land gently on the low table that sat in the centre of the semi-circle of chairs.
They followed the tray and settled into the chair beside Sirius, they looked at the human carefully and nodded with approval at the much-needed weight he had gained in the weeks since they had last met.
“It was frustrating to watch you suffer, knowing that it was only part of your journey to becoming the man I require you to be.” Truefind leant forwards to add a rose syrup to the two cups of tea, and handed one to Sirius, their hands wrapping around Sirius’ when he took the cup.
They ignored the man’s thanks and focused on letting their magic seep through skin and follow the path of the other’s magic with ease, pushing passed the more recent stress and the physical damage that Dementors had caused to assess the true core of all magical beings, a timeless and ageless heart of magic. They pressed and twisted the shapeless essence, that which some might call a soul, before withdrawing and settling back into their own body before releasing Sirius’ hand and reaching up to pat the man’s cheek gently.
“Do I pass muster?” Sirius asked, a cheeky grin creeping onto the man’s face before he seemed to catch himself and forced himself back to a neutral gaze. Truefind shook their head affectionately and replied,
“Not yet,” pausing before they continued, “but you will, you came here with the wrong intentions and you have much change to make to yourself.” They watched as the human’s expression became sad and he lifted his tea to hide for a moment. Truefind looked away politely, giving Sirius time to hide the odd vulnerability that humans usually seemed so proud of. They sipped their tea and reached forwards to collect a pastry from the tray.
“I… I don’t understand.” Sirius eventually said, “I came here because you asked me to return. I came because you made an offer that I hoped to accept, there are many things in my life that I wish to change and I believe that undertaking my mastery under you would allow me to make those changes. What better intentions could I have than to wish to change my life for the better?”
Truefind looked at the man and took a measured breath as they decided that he was capable of understanding,”You came to me with true intentions, but you came to now with the wrong plan and the wrong reasoning. I chose you because I saw an unusual path laid out before you, one that I have never seen a human walk before. I was not sure that you would have the strength to endure such a path, but I see in your core such might.”
“I don’t understand quite what…” Sirius trailed off and Truefind took a sip of tea as the man thought it over, their favoured student’s quick mind almost audibly humming with thoughts “you said you watched me suffer, you didn’t mean the few months I spent in Azkaban, you meant the years I spent there and how it wrecked me beyond repair, beyond healing. My body, too damaged to allow my magic to heal my mind or itself. You can see that in me?”
“It has left its mark but that is not what I spoke of. Adherence to the flow of time is such a uniquely human concept amongst magical creatures. Goblin kind live from birth to death with little concern for the astronomical movements. I have lived through that time, and I shall live through this time – your meddlings may have an effect on humans and those who have embraced your ways, but goblins shall plough on through as we always have.” Truefind explained as clearly as they could but Sirius seemed mostly confused.
“Have you seen the path I should take?” He asked with a frown.
“No, I will live this as you do. I cannot see the future.” Truefind laughed, bearing their sharp teeth at the humour. “But when you have decided on a path that lets you live with good intention and when you have recovered yourself, return to me.”
The clock in their office chimed half past and Truefind stood from the chair, added syrup to their teacup and walked to the samovar to add tea. Behind them they could hear Sirius finishing his tea, Truefind turned and nodded to him before heading back to their office to resume work.
– – –
Sirius placed his cup on the tray as the office door shut and climbed to his feet slowly. He collected the tray and carried it over to beside the tea heater. He placed the syrup back in its place and hung the cup he had used on one of the empty hooks, magic washed over the cup and his fingers sterilising them.
He looked at the office door, wondering if asking more questions would be allowed, although they rarely had been before. He chewed his lip for a moment before spinning on his heel and leaving the parlour. He walked down the corridor and paused on one of the rune circles at the end, magic washed over him as he was transported out of the goblin city to Gringotts in London.
He nodded to the guard stood at the door of the room he had arrived in, the guard opened it with a click of his fingers, an elegant flick of his wrist and a gesture for Sirius to pass.
Sirius worked his way through the bank towards the main tellers’ floor and paused few feet from the decorative doors, he shut his eyes and took a deep breath as he braced himself to hold his head high and walk slowly through the bank and down the main street passed all the late evening shoppers and restaurant goers. A gentle hand pressed against his elbow and Sirius opened his eyes to see one of the guards motioning for him to follow as they marched away. He was led down a winding corridor and to a simple front door,
“For your comfort,” the guard grunted as Sirius stepped out into the street. The door slamming the door shut so sharply that the heel of his boot was struck.
Sirius found himself stood in a side alley, a bang to one side of him had him twitching around sharply to find a young woman tossing a bin bag out of the back of a shop on to an already collapsing stack, the rubbish in them spilling out onto the rain-slick tarmac with typical Muggle carelessness. Sirius kicked a can back onto the Muggle side of the street and quickly walked to the end of the alley and turned left, stepping off the tarmac and onto the cobbled road. The young non-magical couple who were leaning against the anti-Muggle ward gasped in surprise before laughing about ghosts walking through walls. Sirius shook his head at their easy acceptance before huffing in annoyance as the rain started back up.
He ran down the street carefully, stepping into the shelter of a cafe’s street seating before looking around to get his bearings. Most of the buildings were the usual Georgian style that city wizards seemed to prefer and the few shops he could see were unfamiliar. He frowned and searched the walls for a street sign, the evening light and heavy drizzle making it hard to see. Eventually, he gave up and tugged his collar up to keep the rain off his neck as he cursed his lack of wand. He stepped out onto the street and quickly set off deeper into wizarding London in the hopes of finding a familiar landmark.
A few streets later he spotted a familiar sign hanging off the front of a building and cut down the side of it to get onto Tanglefoot alley. A blast of light to his left as he stepped out had him ducking and spinning to face the direction it came from even as he dodged back around the corner. His hand flexing and wrist twisting in a familiar motion before his fingers closed on air rather than his wand.
He leant against the wall and waited. The rain hitting the road echoed oddly in the alley even as spell light flared and lit each drop. Sirius took a shaking breath before slowly leaning forwards in his crouch to glance around the corner. A silencing spell hung heavy on the street, a habit Aurors had got into during the war to minimise public panic, but the scene in front of him was carnage.
An Auror was tucked into the doorway of a house, the hood of his scarlet robes pulled up to protect his head. The windows nearby were shattered and the stone facing blasted to pieces by the three hooded wizards firing curses at him. Sirius scanned his eyes over the street, certain that there must be another Auror somewhere. The road was chewed to pieces, cobbles blasted into heaps and furniture from cafes and balconies lying broken and scattered. His heart fell and he reached for his wand automatically as he spotted a bundle of once scarlet robes three houses back from the current fight, the occasional flutter of movement revealing that he was still alive.
Just as Sirius was considering running back down the cut through looking for someone to summon help, the Auror dove out of his hiding place and with a strangely familiar flair cast a dozen spells in rapid succession. Two of the attackers were struck, one was thrown back so his head hit the wall at a sickening angle and the other falling down in a spray of blood. The third dodged the barrage of spells, shot the Dark Lord’s mark into the air and apparated away, tossing a final curse at the Auror.
Sirius bolted from his place as the Auror fell down, his silencing spell tumbling down with him. Sirius raced forwards, falling to his knees and pressing his hands firmly over the quickly growing stain on the front of the Auror’s robes. He murmured soothing nonsense as he glanced around, hoping to see someone daring to escape the crumbling buildings around them. A flicker of motion caught his eye and he turned to see a wand roll out of one of the attackers’ hands, he waited for a moment before diving backwards to grab it.
He cast a triage spell into the air and watched carefully as two black orbs, a greying-red orb and an orange orb appeared, dropping down to rest over the patients they represented. Content that the wand was working well enough, Sirius cast a sealing spell at the wound he had been pressing on before twisting to cast a blood replenisher and stasis spell at the other Auror, the grey fading from the orb above them as bright red filled it before being to fade to a pale yellow. He waited for a beat to see if the blood replenisher would hold before turning back.
He reached out with a shaking hand to knock the hood back out of the Auror’s face. The hood fell back easily and Sirius froze with his hand stretched out. His fingers trembled for a moment before he let them drop to brush overly long strands of hair off too pale skin.
“Caradoc…” Sirius whispered, forcing himself to shift back and cast a diagnostic spell before he let himself go back to staring at him, Caradoc’s eyes fluttered open and focused on him for a moment before dropping shut again. Sirius watched the results list out as he brushed his finger gently over Caradoc’s cheek, a blue line in the feedback had him apologising repeatedly as he cast a pain reliever. He dropped down from his crouch to sit on the uneven cobbles, flexing his hand as though to stretch out an ache that wasn’t there.
A clatter of booted feet had him looking up, wand gripped firmly in his hand until he realised that the sound was more Aurors finally arriving. Fingers caught against his and Sirius let the wand tumble from his hand to grip Caradoc’s fingers carefully as they weakly tugged him down.
Sirius leant in just in time to hear Caradoc murmur, “Run…you can’t be here. ”
Over Caradoc’s words came the shout of, “Sirius Black, you are under arrest for…”
Sirius bolted to his feet, snatching the wand up and casting a shielding spell just passed the feet of the other injured Auror to hold back the others. He looked at Caradoc as he considered the best way to escape. “I didn’t do it, any of it,” he said, “but I’m sorry for what it must have made you feel.”
A spell crashed against the shield and it creaked. Sirius paused for a moment longer before racing up the street, ducking into a side alley and using the warren-like nature of the London streets to gain some distance.
When he couldn’t hear the Auror’s shouting anymore he paused and snapped the wand into four pieces to destroy its magical signature before tossing the pieces in different directions. He took a deep breath and let himself slip into his Animagus form, the simplicity of running and avoiding coming easier as a dog.
– – –
The morning paper was damning, the journalists finding it easy to lay the devastation of a half dozen houses, two deaths and two injured Aurors at the feet of a man who had been arrested before for blowing up a street to kill a friend.
Sirius tossed the paper he had managed to steal from a commuting Wizard into one of the many bins in the Muggle park he had spent the night in before forcing himself off the uncomfortable bench. He walked around the park quickly hoping to warm up a little as he considered his options. He blew into his hands and rubbed them together as the winter rain started up again, he paused under a tree and looked across the street at the run down building that hid St Mungo’s. He paced back and forth for a while until he realised that someone was watching him, he looked back at them for a long moment before shaking himself and quickly walking away.
He dropped down into a dip and changed back into a dog before trotting back the way he came, straight passed the person who had been watching him. He loped around the hospital and dropped down to a basement window, settling his barrelled chest down between his forelegs and resting his chin on his feet so his breath huffed against the glass.
He watched the corridor he was looking at until a Healer finally paused at the door to the break room with a scarlet file. He watched as they dropped it into one of the hundreds of file holders that lined the hallway before making their way into the break room. He waited a few breaths more and then changed back to human.
He pressed a firm hand against the glass and slid it open as far as it would go before changing back into a dog to wiggle through. His forefeet landing solidly on the hallway floor as his hips slid through the window, feet clattering to the ground seconds later. He froze and listened carefully before changing back again, closing the window and snatching the file from its holder. One of the warded doors at the end of the corridor creaked open and Sirius rushed away, darting into a nearby bathroom before they could get close enough to recognise him.
He leant against a sink and thumbed through the file carefully, he paused at the assessment page and read every word before letting out a sigh of relief. He flicked to the intake page and smiled sadly at the way that the healer’s report left no room for anyone to doubt that Sirius had saved Caradoc’s life at the moment of his action as much as he had cursed him to a life of pain, the curse that Sirius had failed to counteract stripping him of his control. Sirius shut the file and rested his head back against the wall as he slowly realised that he had just seen how Caradoc would die every time if he chose to go any further with trying change things from his original failure. The file tumbled from his fingers as he heard the door start to open, he let it go and slammed into one of the cubicles quickly. He sat on the toilet seat and let his head rest back on the cool damp of the cistern.
He heard taps run and the scoot of cardboard on tiles as whoever was out there picked up the file with an annoyed mutter. Sirius waited a little longer before he carefully made his way out of the bathroom, mind made up as to what to do.
He hurried passed the break room door and swing through one of the warded doors that led further into the hospital, the ward humming happily and letting him through as it recognised his healer’s oath was unbroken.
He ducked into a corridor usually only used by the house elves for ran the laundry and followed it the hundreds of meters it ran below London. He snuck around the edges of the laundry and joined another tunnel.
Eventually, he arrived at a junction with a dozen doors in it and was forced to stop. He waited a few minutes and caught a house elf as she popped in to collect some tablecloths.
“Excuse me, which door leads to the Department of Mysteries?” he asked.
The house elf squeaked in surprise and wordlessly pointed at a door. Sirius nodded to her and carefully opened the door a crack to listen. The odd hum that seemed to be ever-present in the DOM was all that he heard and when he glanced through the door he saw the familiar round antechamber filled with doors. He stepped through and followed his usual path back to the Veil.
He paused in the final doorway and took a deep breath at the sight of the veil. He quickly made his way down the stairs with determination and without pausing he strode straight through the arch.
He glared at death’s creature when he realised it was stood in the centre of the room again. He decided to ignore it and turned his back on it to ponder the choices in front of him.
“Come back with the right purpose, I’m sorry Car, I have too… Gods….the right purpose. I have to come back with the right purpose,” he murmured, pacing back and forth as he looked at the arches without moving to glance through them. Suddenly he span to face the creature and asked, “Why did you not come for my family? Was I not there long enough or do you only care to torment me? Is it only fun if you get to steal someone I love from me, was I not meant to save him?”
The creature tilted its head at an odd angle, its hood catching and bending in a way that spoke of there being no flesh beneath “As I said I do not need a harbinger to mark all those they touch, the burden of my post is heavy enough without assistance,” the creature replied evenly.
“And why not use me that way? Nothing I do is of consequence, nothing changes and I could spend a lifetime repeating each moment of my life just discover I was no more important in the scheme of things than a bug. At least if I lived up to my Animagus form’s reputation there would be some purpose to this nonsense.” Sirius slowed over the last few words and resumed his pacing, ignoring the surely meaningless reply the creature would give so that he could return to his new mantra.
He walked to an archway and lifted the cloth from where it hung, he watched the scene play out as he muttered, “Return with purpose…” another time before finally letting himself tip through to a familiar scene.
Kreacher paused in his half-hearted cleaning as the household magics flared strangely and his bond to Master Black tugged and snapped taut before settling, steady and warm with health in a way it hadn’t been in more than a decade, his worry at the strange impossible disappearances his master seemed to have taken recently fading away. He waited for a beat to ensure that all was well before flicking his ears happily and summoning another Doxie to infest the sofa that the meddling fat woman had insisted on insultingly gifting to the household. Job done he stepped through an elf path, the air behind him popping as he left a void in his wake. As he emerged in the centre of master’s orangery he was already forgetting that his link to his master had ever been ragged and cold.
He pottered around, ensuring that every plant was growing at its best, trimming leaves and carefully collecting potion ingredients when he found something perfectly ready. He picked up a cold silkworm from the path and brushed a little magic through it before placing it onto a moonflower and watching it begin the process of cocooning. He glanced up sharply and frowned as the house wards flailed angrily.
– – –
Sirius found himself nose to wand with Severus Snape, the stench of grave rot once more thick in the air, as the man snarled, “What proof will you take to Albus? Or do you really think he will believe your pathetic whining, ‘Severus works for the Dark Lord’, ‘Severus passes through so late each night’, ‘Severus tracks dirt on the carpets,’ you moan like a bored housewife whose only entertainment is to pick pick pick.”
Sirius froze, refusing to let his face twist in confusion as he tried to catch up with the conversation he had dropped into.
“Do you really think he will believe you? Poor little Sirius Black, the fucked up, mind-addled, out of control, pitiable little failure. Merlin, you aren’t even fit to be allowed out of the building never mind believed about work as vital as mine.” Snape snarled, lips twisting cruelly as he pressed the tip of his wand into the hollow of Sirius’ throat.
“At least I am innocent, instead of a double-crossing monster, who murdered the woman he claimed to love.” Sirius eventually snapped as he floundered, unsure of the exact meaning of Severus’ words but certain that Snape was incapable of being a good man.
Severus’ face twisted in anger and a familiar twitch in the fingers gripping the wand had Sirius throwing himself to one side seconds before a shapeless cloud of magic shot from the other man’s wand, not a true curse but filled with enough hate to tear a man to shreds. He rolled back to his feet and groped for his wand, his hand fell on empty air and he scrambled for cover, slamming to the ground behind one of the ingredients trunks as another blast of shapeless magic coated the wall above his head.
“Stay there, or I’ll ensure that you aren’t capable of getting in my way again.” Severus growled before stalking out of the small potion lab and up the stairs, calling back as he went “too mad to be trusted with anything of use, it’s not surprising the boy was left with those Muggles over you.”
Sirius rolled up onto his knees and staggered to his feet, launching himself up the stairs even as the wards crackled in his head to let him know someone had apparated away.
“Coward!” He screamed, slamming a fist into the wall, breath tight and sharp. He stormed up the stairs into the kitchen, kicking the door open and freezing.
He glared across the kitchen at the far wall, his mind racing as he tried to remember exactly when he would have been wandless, even in his own home. He strode across the room to the ghastly couch and kicked it harshly.
“Kreacher!” He called as he flipped one of the cushions over, searching for any sign that it was spell damaged from where he had ‘accidentally’ set it on fire the instant Molly had turned her back. “I thought I told you to get rid of this?” He asked when the familiar pop and press of air announced the arrival of his house elf.
“Master did no such thing, master was sleeping when the Witch brought it.” Kreacher said, muttering the last part before adding, “does master want his potion now?”
Sirius frowned at the house elf and shook his head with a confused frown. He could clearly remember Molly presenting it to him as though it were the greatest gift anyone could ever give, and that he had hissed for Kreacher to dispose of it as soon as she left. “Get rid of it,” he ordered, wondering if perhaps Kreacher’s ‘insane and unreliable elf’ act was not quite as put on as he had thought. “and fetch my wand, I’m going shopping.” He added, deciding that he needed to see a little more of the outside world to figure out how to keep the Dark Lord from taunting Harry into coming to the ministry.
Kreacher froze, his eyes darting wildly about the room for a moment before settling on the garish couch, he clicked his fingers and banished it away. Looked at Sirius with a concern before popping away as he said, “Kreacher cannot fetch master’s wand, master doesn’t have a wand.” His voice calling back into the room in the seconds after he was gone.
“Kreacher?” Sirius called, “Kreacher, bring my damned wand!” He waited for a long moment, his mind slowly filling with angry thoughts, conspiracies and half thought through whys and wherefores until he screamed, “bring me a wand right now you treacherous cretin or I swear the first thing I’ll do when I find it is…” his voice trailed off as his mind caught up to his mouth. He stood in silence, breath catching in his chest as he realised he once more had no control over the anger that was roaring through him. Just like when he had destroyed his orangery, anger following on from anger that leapt on the back of the hurt that lingered deep inside until like a cauldron left too long over a flame it exploded out of him. He staggered forward and sank into a chair that slid out from the table before he could even touch it.
His heart pounded so hard that his entire body seemed to throb with it, the anger ebbing to reveal the terror behind it, the sharp realisation that his anger was truly fear had him collapsing onto the tabletop. He slid his fingertips over the surface of the table, scrabbling for something to hold. The sharp pain of his nails catching in the grain of the planks cutting through the whirring thoughts and gifting him with flashes of clarity and calm as he panted breaths into the tabletop.
He repeated the action again, and again, and again until time lost all meaning and all that was important was chasing the catch and tug of nail on wood, the roll of his forehead against the solid surface. Each in their own way soothing and distracting, so he could avoid the thoughts, the pain balled in his chest, that he had no idea how to deal with.
And long after the soothing had become an endless pattern he couldn’t even consider wanting to figure out how to stop a warm hand wrapped over the top of his. Warmth soaked into his side as someone came to stand beside him, thigh and hip pressing firmly against his side. The person let Sirius keep clawing his hands even as they slowly lifted his fingers from the table until they could slide their hand beneath his, so they were palm to palm.
“Steady. A deep breath in and then let it out.” Sirius flinched at the seemingly too loud voice even as he realised the other person was almost whispering. The voice deep and with a northern burr that made it so familiar and yet somehow it was unrecognisable in the frustrating muddle of Sirius’ head.
Sirius took a deep breath and slowly lifted his head from the tabletop before letting it drop back to rest against a firm stomach as his hair was stroked gently, it’s weight seemingly impossible to bare for more than the seconds it took to lift.
“Caradoc,” he said, the name seeming to leap from his mouth without bidding, “you’re here?”
“Where else would I be,” Caradoc replied easily. “Kreacher said that you didn’t take your potion this morning, I thought we agreed you wouldn’t do that anymore.” Sirius shrugged, before focusing on settling his mind and chasing away the last remnants of frustration and fear.
Many deep breaths later and long after the stroking fingers had chased every last tangle out of his hair, Sirius let his eyes flicker open to look up at Caradoc, taking in the changes that age had brought about. He reached up and let his fingers stroke across the unfamiliar line of bearded jaw before lifting them away and stretching higher so his fingertips could gently press along the narrow but deep scar that carved out the underside of Caradoc’s cheekbone.
Caradoc shifted, turning his head until his lips were pressing a gentle kiss against Sirius’ fingertips as he stepped back and drew Sirius to his feet.
“Potion, breakfast, and then perhaps we can look at catalogues for whatever it was you wanted to buy,” Caradoc said softly as he pushed Sirius towards the stairs.
Sirius let himself be prodded and pushed until they were up the stairs and in his room. He looked around at the lived-in mess, sheets rumpled, clothes tossed across the window seat and books stacked on the floor beside the bed, taking it all in as Caradoc rooted through a slim potions case.
“Merlin, I’d forgotten how messy you were, Dearborn.” Sirius half whispered, the words slipping from his lips before he could catch them.
“Me? Most of this is you, Black.” Caradoc replied with the easy laugh of someone mindlessly following the tracks of a well-worn call and response, arching an eyebrow as he pressed the potion vial into Sirius’ hand, “and if you’ve forgotten quite how you are the cause of this mess perhaps we could plan in a reminder this evening.”
Sirius grinned at the gentle tease in the words as he rolled the potion vial between his fingers for a moment, watching the distinctive duo chrome shift of orange and blue that all mood stabilisers gained when they were ready for use. He took a steadying breath and in a smooth motion uncorked the vial and chugged the potion. He shut his eyes as a tightness he hadn’t even realised was there released from somewhere deep in his gut, an edge of fear and grief he had carried for so long slipping away even as he recognised it., the potion doing its duty by soothing the height of the emotion as it let him truly see what he was feeling.
Something clearly showed in his face because Caradoc stepped forwards and pulled him into a tight embrace, softly muttering reassurances and soothing words. Sirius curled into him and considered never letting go as a warmth he hadn’t felt in decades rolled through him, every inch of him screaming for more. Sirius wrapped his arms around Caradoc, letting his fingers press into firm muscle and trace over the knobbles of spine as he remembered how long it had been since someone had just held him, touched him out of no other reason than love and care.
He curled his fingers into Caradoc’s tee shirt, the Muggle fabric stretching and giving softly under his hand. Caradoc drew him impossibly closer and whispered, “You can tell me, whatever it is that has you so upset today. It doesn’t matter if it sounds crazy or even if you know it’s just something in your head.”
Sirius breathed in the warm smell of skin and an unfamiliar cologne, the sandalwood and pine reminding him suddenly that this was a different world to the one he knew. “Just a dream,” he murmured, “nothing that can be real for more than the fleeting moments between deep sleep and having to deal with the world. It’s not something that can last.”
“Dreams can be cruel,” Caradoc murmured back. Sirius crumpled, his voice shaking as he tried and failed to form words, half thought through words tumbling from his lips between silent sobs. Caradoc just held him firmly.
The light in the orangey was perfectly dull, mimicking the jungle floor’s dappled light even as the mid-day sun beat down on the glass roof. The misting charms keeping the plants from baking as the temperature rose.
Sirius breathed in the heady earthy clean scent and exhaled slowly before repeating, after a few long breaths he opened his eyes and said, “Something has been different each time, I assumed that it was because I was doing things differently, and the first time it certainly was. He died, he was dead, but I went back and I saved him and now he is alive.”
“Kreacher knows that master gets confused sometimes but master has not been doing any necromancy.” Sirius jumped as his house elf spoke from behind a bed of dense greenery.
Sirius looked at the plants as though he could see the house elf, he tilted his head and asked, “Kreacher, have I been here before? Do you remember Dumbledore visiting me here, but in the future?”
“Like a goblin? House Elves not be using strange Goblin magics! House elf’s use wizarding Magic, House elves and humans don’t be meddling with time.” Kreacher said firmly in a slightly offended tone before popping away with a loud crack as though to illustrate his displeasure.
“Right, well that was helpful…” Sirius muttered before returning to his original thought, “So, the question is what else has changed?” He dropped his head back and shut his eyes again, taking deep breaths and slow exhales as he pondered the question through the heat of the afternoon.
Sirius blinked awake as a curl of fresh air brushed over him and he glanced back at the spiral staircase that led to the house.
Lupin waved at him as he wound his way through the maze of beds and pots to the battered table that Sirius was sat beside. “Harry was worried when you didn’t answer his fire call. He used the mirror, he must have forgotten I was borrowing it. I’ll be sure to let him know that you were just absorbed in your potting.” Lupin said pointedly as he lowered himself into one of the rattan chairs slowly, the grey at his temple seeming much more pronounced than Sirius remembered, and when he reached out to pour a glass of water from the jug on the table his hand trembled, the bones of his wrist as pronounced as his skin was thin.
“You look tired Moony,” Sirius said softly.
“Thanks.” Lupin replied, “Greyback’s making things difficult in the enclave for those who are still holding out against joining Voldemort anyway. I get that Dumbledore isn’t exactly overrun with Werewolves to spy for him, but I don’t think I’m cut out for this. Not anymore.”
Sirius leaned forwards in shock, covering it by reaching over to pour himself some water.
“Like you ever were. I don’t think any of us could be great spies.” Sirius said.
“You and James certainly weren’t, and you made it so clear you didn’t want to be involved in the war. Not directly anyway.” Lupin muttered tiredly, a yawn chasing his words. “It’s not so easy for some of us. It’s hardly like I can walk into a job interview and go, ‘ yes, I’m a werewolf and no, I don’t work for you know who.’ And with Snape announcing it to his darling snakes and every paper in the country, I can hardly hide it, and so what else was I left with.”
“Right. No other choice…”
“Anyway, I should get back to the kitchen. The meeting’s about to start.” Lupin rose with care and tugged the slender communication mirror from his pocket, placing it onto the table with care as he made to leave.
“Lupin, what will you do when they all join Him? Where will you go?” Lupin paused at Sirius’ words, back tensing a little before he answered,
“I guess…. I.” Sirius watched as Lupin took a deep raggedly breath, “I let you rot in prison Sirius, I would have left you there forever without question. I haven’t anything worse planned for myself.”
By time Sirius had realised what the words meant Lupin had hurried away, the door to the Orangery slamming shut even as the Mirror chimed. Sirius spent half a moment debating what to do before sweeping up the mirror, “Harry, I’m so sorry I missed your fire call. How are you, dear boy?”
“I’m alright, I just thought maybe you’d done something stupid when you didn’t answer,” Harry replied with a laugh.
“The stupidest thing I’ve done this year has been forgetting you were due to call.” Sirius watched as Harry laughed, the way it seemed to come easily releasing the quiet worry that every Harry was cursed to live a sorrowful life.
“Well forgetting for the dozenth time could be considered to be a little more stupid than the first eleven.” Harry laughed, “You do remember that you promised to collect me from the train, right?”
“Of course, wouldn’t miss it for anything.” Sirius grinned as he decided to offer a prayer to the old gods that things would play out well enough for him to keep his promise.
“Great, in which case can you help me revise for my potions exam? It’s on Monday and Professor Snape’s still missing, they think that he went too deep into the forbidden forest when he was collecting ingredients now.” Sirius froze at Harry’s words, his blood ran a little cold as he asked,
“Who thinks that Harry? Did the headmaster tell you he was missing?”
“No… you told me last week that he hadn’t come to the last meeting, remember? And then we had the headmaster for potions the next day and he said that Snape was just sick. But then Suzan Bones said that her aunt had told her that the Aurors were looking for him and that they think… well, you know.” Harry trailed off with a shrug and Sirius nodded, acting as though he did know even as he found himself once more completely lost.
“Yes, of course. I just meant… never mind… so potions, theory I’m assuming, not much I can do if you need brewing practice from here.”
“Thanks,” Harry said his image suddenly bouncing and fading before it came back into focus, a lock of brown curls setting on his shoulder as he added, “Ummm, Hermione was hoping that you wouldn’t mind her listening in, we haven’t had much of a chance to go over spotting ingredient interactions.”
“Absolutely fine, just remind me which potion classes you work with at OWLs,” Sirius asked absently as he tried to recall what he could of his own classes.
– – –
Sirius woke in a soft haze, the world seeming distant and muted through the fading remnants of the sleep potion and second dose of mood stabiliser that Caradoc and coaxed him into taking as they readied for bed. He rolled onto his side, limbs heavy like weight trying to drag him back into the depths of sleep.
The golden pink hues of dawn crept into the room and across the covers of the bed to set fiery colours in the blond tips of Caradoc’s hair.
Sirius reached out and with half numb fingertips, muddled the colours with shadows. He watched the play of light trickling between his fingers for a moment letting the glow chase away the shadows before swooping his hand back in to block out the light. Finally, he dropped his fingers to the pillow and tangled his fingers through silky locks.
Caradoc snuffled into the pillow before rolling over with ease and reaching up to catch Sirius’ hand. Sirius smiles as a kiss was pressed to his palm.
“Why are you awake?” Caradoc murmured, pressing closer so they were plastered together chest to ankle.
Sirius breathed in the scent of clean skin and the piney sage of their shampoo before saying,
“The dawn was too beautiful to miss, I’d forgotten how beautiful it was.”
“It only happens every day,” Caradoc laughed “even if you do usually sleep through it.”
“I just… I just realised what I was missing out. It was taken from me and I missed it so much.” Sirius replied, soothing a hand down Caradoc’s shoulder when he felt the other man’s brow crinkle onto a frown against his neck.
They lay in silence for a moment, Caradoc finally pulling away and dropping onto his back with a deep sigh. “You don’t have to speak in metaphors you know, you could just tell me that you miss sex. Fuck knows that I do.” His tone a little sharp as he sat on the edge of the bed.
Sirius reached out to press the palm of his hand to his lower back, unsure of what to do and firmly feeling like an imposter in his own home. Uncertain of the whys and wherefores of this relationship, aged and tested in ways that his year and a day of passion could never prepare him for.
“I love you, and we could…” Sirius started, falling silent when Caradoc glanced over his shoulder with a resigned half glare.
“No we can’t, not when you’re like this. I made a promise, you might not remember right now but when you are better you will.” Caradoc reached out and brushed a lock hair of Sirius’ face before cupping a hand under his cheek where it was pressed against the pillow, “you always seem so young, like the weight of what we have lived through is lifted from your shoulders. But you’ve forgotten us, and that is OK, but you don’t even really understand what you are asking for. You told me that and you forgave me once, but I can’t ask you to again.” Caradoc slid from the bed as Sirius puzzled over his words.
He rolled over and pushed up to sitting, watching Caradoc tug on a pair of thin trousers.
“Why was Severus here yesterday?” He asked when he realised that Caradoc seemed to be dressing to leave for the day.
“Severus? Severus is dead. You know that you found his body… that’s what.” Caradoc cut off but Sirius hear the ‘drove you into madness again’ as clearly as if he had said it. “You must have been dreaming, is that why you were so upset yesterday?” Caradoc knelt on the end of the bed so he could place a comforting hand on Sirius’ knee.
“I – I must have been dreaming. It seemed so vivid though. I could smell him, grave dirt and old blood” the last words muttered more to himself than truly meant to be said out loud.
“That’s right, you found him in the park. It was raining and there was blood. Just a memory, love.” Caradoc soothed pulling away and tugging Red robes with grey trim on as he left the room. “Kreacher, fetch me if it happens again. And try to get him to take his damned potion.”
Sirius curled in on himself a little as the wards announced that he was alone and then barely a moment later announced that he was not.
He rolled from bed and dressed in efficient motions before creeping through the house silently. The wards guiding him to the kitchen. He paused and pressed his eye to the ancient and unrepairable crack in the door.
His breath caught in his throat as he watched Severus Snape move around the room, moving an ornament and retrieving a red orb from beneath it. The spy stepped out of view once he had retrieved the monitoring orb. He felt the hair on the back of his neck rise and stepped back only to feel the press of a wand against his skin.
“Damn you, Black, you couldn’t just fall into blissful insanity as your mother did could you,” Snape whispered from behind him. “Obliviate!” Sirius heard the screech of a furious house elf and a violent crack of magic as he crashed to the floor.
Sirius blinked awake muzzily, pain bolting through his head as he sat up. He kept his eyes shut as he waited for every part of his body to log its complaints, his memory surprisingly intact. He opened his eyes with a wince at the light flooding the hallway. His head cleared at the realisation that there was light and he looked around sharply. The curtain over the door was torn down, the portrait of his mother that he couldn’t bring himself to disenchant was torn to shreds and the wallpaper was hanging from the walls.
Sirius pushed up to kneeling and as he did his hand pressed down onto a scrap of fabric, he glanced down,
“Kreacher…” he breathed, pressing his fingers hopelessly against the elf’s cold throat. The oddly loyal elf, with his penchant to rude and habit of actively trying to seem useless, Sirius’ wise master gardener was gone. Sirius slumped in the wreckage of his hallway one hand resting on Kreacher’s chest remembering the way that whatever had happened, however long he had been gone from the household, Kreacher was always waiting for him with a sniff of displeasure and a snide reminder about the deadheading he needed to do. Regardless of whether his mother was throwing a fit or claiming that he was her favourite son, Kreacher would be waiting to walk him through how to care for some rare delicacy from his grandfather’s collection.
After a moment Sirius noticed a lump of black tucked down the side of the stairs and when his legs refused to hold him he crawled to it. He reached over and tugged the robes free of the body they were covering, his fingers twitched for a wand and his hand quickly searched the floor out of long-ingrained habit at the sight of the bloody gash in Snape’s throat but even as he managed to find the wand he realised that the time for healing had long passed.
He had always thought that when he finally saw the end of Snape, he would feel it was just, good riddance to bad rubbish and all that and while a part of him couldn’t help but feel that the man had earned his death, a dozen times over, he found himself looking down at him with pity. Another lost young man from a generation raised to hate or be hated, another classmate buried for no better reason than a mad mans ravings, another great talent lost before it had a chance to find purpose.
He gently reached out and closed Severus’ eyes, knocking his arm to the floor as he did so. There was a rattle of glass and the sound of something rolling. Sirius reached out and caught the red orb, he raised it above his head then paused. He glanced down at Snape and back at Kreacher. He lowered the orb down and gently place it into the folds of Snape’s robes.
“Damn it, this is insane. You have officially gone insane.” He muttered to himself as he staggered to his feet and made his way down to the potion lab on the floor below.
He hunted through a dozen storage chests before he finally managed to find the flask he was searching for, he turned on his heel and climbed all the way to the third floor and the master bedroom. He searched through the wardrobe and changed into a set of black robes before settling on the edge of the bed to write a note.
My love, my one and only and all that sappy nonsense. You’re right, I’m not the man you loved, I’m someone different and I’m sorry you lost him. Likely you’ll never see this, but I don’t know what happens after I’m gone so maybe you will and it will bring you some comfort to know that you always made me feel safe.
I hope that wherever I end up whenever my journey ends, it ends with you.
I hope you find someone who brings you the comfort and hope that you have always brought me.
He folded into neat thirds and dropped it onto his pillow carelessly before hurrying back down the stairs. He wrapped his fingers tightly around his borrowed wand and after tugging a dozen strands of hair from Snape’s head and pocketing the orb he gathered his magic banished everything in the hallway and pushed a little magic into the walls of the house, ordering it to repair the damage as he waited impatiently.
He unscrewed the cap of the flask, dropped a dozen hairs into it and swirled it twice. He shook his head and huffed in disgust before forcing the flask to his lips and taking a mouthful. He gagged and screwed the top onto the flask quickly before the change took over him.
He took a deep breath and listened to the changes in his body and the small changes to his magic that came with borrowing a form that had been tainted by the Dark Lord. He felt out the changes and carefully followed a strand of magic until he was certain it was the one he wanted.
Sirius slowly let out a breath and let his magic tug him along the path of the strand as he apparated. A little push and a good tug had him moving.
“Ahhh, Severus,” The Dark Lord drawled with heavy sibilance, “I had feared that my spell had failed and you were no longer sustained. Tell me what have you learned of their plans.”
Sirius forced himself to breathe normally and lowered his head in a genuflection before offering the monitoring orb out in cupped hands.
“Good, now go help Lucius prepare. This war shall soon be over, and they will all bow to our superiority. The corruption of the ministry will fall once Albus is gone and the foolish boy with him. Ensure that it is so.” The Dark Lord waved his fingers in dismissal and Sirius bowed once more before hurrying from the room. The doors swung shut behind him and he paused to take a moment in the hallway, completely unsure what the plan was now he was deep in the heart of it.
After a moment he looked around and realised that he was in the ground floor hall of Malfoy Manor. He walked down the hall with determination relying on memories for the few visits he had taken to the family home as a young child to guide him towards the study. He paused outside and took a deep breath before sweeping through the door with a swish of his robes, emulating the dramatic swirl and flick that Severus had mastered at some point in 6th year. He paused dramatically before murmuring, “Lucius, with what could I give you assistance?”
Lucius barely glanced up at him before pointing at a plain wooden box, “I still can’t get the warding to break, I suspect that it is too ancient to break but He thinks that your exposure to the wards over the years will give you some insider knowledge that will help. I tried to convince him that wards don’t work that way, but he refused to acknowledge it, hopefully, it will keep you from getting too harshly punished for failing.” Lucius muttered, tiredness seeping into every word.
“Of course, I shall endeavour to succeed despite your doubts,” Sirius replied, earning himself a half-hearted glare from Lucius.
“You have been so odd recently, I preferred it when you were playing both sides.”
Sirius sniffed at him and turned his back, deciding that any further interplay would reveal that he was not Severus even as he realised the foolishness of pretending to be Lucius’s best friend to his face. A few seconds after he turned his back Sirius heard Lucius sigh before a faint scraping let him know that the man had returned to whatever task he had been working on before Sirius arrived.
Sirius carefully raised his stolen wand and prodded the wards around the box, quickly realising that they were a copy of the wards around Hogwarts. He dropped the wand to the desk and picked up the box, carefully feeling out the wards with care. Hoping that he would find no flaws or fractures in the model box. After a few moments, he dropped the box back to the desk and cast the half dozen spells that his grandfather had taught him to assess the state of the wards that his family had on their properties. Behind him, Lucius laughed and muttered, “Really, common ward checks. Did you really think that I hadn’t considered that?”
“Well, I had hoped that perhaps years of sitting on the Wizengamot had softened your mind to the usual levels of those setting laws.” Sirius returned sharply before cursing himself as he realised that the comment was far too much of himself in it.
“Well… and to think that I was concerned that perhaps my friend’s sharp tongue had been lost in that cursed ritual!” Lucius laughed distractedly before cursing as a sizzle of burning flesh filled the room. Sirius gripped the table top to keep himself from turning around to look at the damage and waited for Lucius to mutter a healing spell that never came.
After an hour or so of poking and prodding the wards surrounding the box, with no true intent to find anything that would help the Dark Lord, Sirius took a sip of the polyjuice potion from the flask that he was keeping close by his side. Behind him, there was a loud curse and a crash as something shattered on the wall behind him. Sirius twisted his head to look at the delicate glass and silver thingumabob that had suffered the effect of Lucius’ frustration.
“Perhaps we must concede that the wards are unbreakable, too old, too well formed, and made of too many magics for us to break without a thousand magic users all happy to sacrifice all they have,” Sirius said watching Lucius at the other man braced himself off the edge of the desk, the vein in the side of his neck throbbing as he glared at the desktop in pure frustration.
Just as Sirius was considering casting a diagnostic to see if Lucius had overstressed his heart the other man relaxed and looked at Sirius with a shocked expression. Lucius pushed off from the desk and strode across the room, seizing him by the shoulders and pressing a quick kiss to his forehead before pushing him back and saying, “You genius, you utter marvel of a mudblood. Damn it, Severus, you couldn’t have suggested that a week ago?” before striding from the room and ruined down the corridor.
Sirius stood in silence for a moment before half tripping over the thick robes that Severus had favoured as he scrambled after the other man. He managed to catch up with him as Lucius was smoothing a hand over his robes and brushing a few stray strands of hair from his face with the palm of his other hand.
Just as Sirius was about to ask him what the rush was for, Lucius cast a smartening charm at him as though he was a child and dragged him through the half-open door to the ballroom. “My lord, I have… we have found a solution that may work to solve your Hogwarts problem. Now, as we know the wards are old, a dozen headmasters from all ranges of dark to light have woven their magic through them and each has left the wards with the ability to rebound magic of any family. Thousands of teachers have laid their legacy at the feet of the castle, given up the continuation of their branch of their family to raise the children of dozens of other families. And each of them at the end of their lives gave their pool of family magic to the castle, to her wards. We cannot breach them in a traditional manner. They are too strong, too old to heavy and beyond the knowledge of any curse breaker or ward builder. They are too complex.”
“Bring me good news was my order Lucius if you do not have it then leave before I bore of your presence.” The Dark Lord growled.
“And despite that firm knowledge that I know you were aware of, in your superior knowledge, we have found a way. It is unconventional and it will leave our forces most weakened so it will require a great deal of planning.”
“Cease to deflect Lucius and tell me.”
“We can throw the weight of our force at them and they will shatter. Given enough opposing force and thing will shatter, it is a matter of pure magical theory, the greater war mages of all time have been broken by the weight of their opponents. With enough people, we can ensure that the wards are stuck in a single moment at a single point and they will shatter and break, and as they fall the very footings of the castle will shatter with them.” Lucius was almost panting with excitement, but he was done and Sirius found himself looking at his cousin in law in horror.
Sirius caught himself and reined in his shock just before anyone could actually look at him, he nodded when the Dark Lord looked at him before saying,
“Excuse me, I did not want to fail to inform you but with that done I must return to my research. I intend to find the best point to strike at.” He hurried from the room and as soon as the door close behind him he raced down the corridor to the office. He grabbed from the desktop where he had left it and blasted a fire spell at the wood in the fireplace before snatching a handful of floor powder out of the pot on the mantle and flinging it down into the flames calling,
“Grimmauld place” as he stepped in.
The world swirled and he was yanked off his feet, the world span and he was spat out roughly into his own kitchen.
Sirius curled under the covers of his bed, his note crumpled in his fist as he shook his way through the transformation back into himself. He felt the wards shout as they were disturbed by someone unlocking the front door and he heard the trample of feet on the floor below as perhaps a dozen people arrived for a meeting.
Sirius forced himself from the bed and stripped out of the thick black robes, the weight of them seeming to drag him to the floor even as he let the drop. He pulled on a pair of jeans and in a moment of self-indulgence slipped on one of Caradoc’s tee-shirts.
He steeled himself and made his way down the stairs and into the kitchen, silence falling as he took the seat at the head of the table. He waited for someone to protest him taking Dumbledore’s seat and was surprised when the only comment was Alastor Moody muttering, “About time the head of our wayward family remembered his duty.” Only to be hastily hushed by Molly Weasley.
Sirius took a deep breath and looked around the table, just as he was about to speak the wards flared. Dumbledore appeared behind him in a blatant show of his lack of respect for anyone’s property.
“I’m glad you could join us, ” Sirius said without looking around, forcing down his urge to leap out of the seat and slink to the edges of the meeting. “So, I infiltrated His camp. You should have thought of it before, and you should never have trusted that bastard spy you let run wild. He betrayed us all time and again and he caused all this. But you are blind to it. You always are.”
“Sirius, love. Maybe we should go check on Kreacher? I haven’t seen him since I got home, and it isn’t like him to not come and insult me.” Caradoc said gently, rising to his feet.
“He only does that ‘cos he likes you.” Sirius said distractedly before turning to look at Dumbledore, “you’re a fool, and I don’t know how I didn’t see it before. You blinded me and I died believing that you would save us all and yet you were the one who let him keep the one person who could lead him to a solution. I gave up my entire life…” Sirius trailed off and as he contemplated his next thought Caradoc reached his side.
“You’re confused, I know it’s upsetting but you. The war, the dementors…. ‘Bella she hurt you and sometimes you forget a few years and it’s hard to get things straight. I know that. But you need to come with me now…”
“No. ‘Bella killed you. She knew you would eventually work out what happened. Too clever for your own good and you knew James too well. Damn it you would probably work out that I was working the night they went into hiding…” Sirius half sobbed rising to his feet and pressing a hand to Caradoc’s face “You see, I’m doing this, well not this. But I’m seeing my life from different angles. Over and over. And I can’t fix it… I can never fix it because you are the problem.” He said turning to glare at Dumbledore with his last words.
“You fuck us over every time, you decided that he was a good man and it doesn’t matter what he does you carry on believing it. But he told Him how to break the wards. You got the children under your protection killed with your arrogant belief that you know best, that you can work anyone around to your side. You let Snape rape my godson’s mind over and over until he couldn’t hold even the fundamental protections until the dark lord could walls in and twist his dreams. You murdered me with your arrogance. You murdered them all.” Silence reigned for a moment before Molly rose from her seat with a thunderous,
“Deny it. Go on. No? I always admired you, hell even my mother feared you, how could I not admire that?” Sirius said, “any man who could make my mother fearing it was well deserving of admiration because she wouldn’t know light if it bit her in the arse.”
“Sirius, what an accusation! Your mother feared me but only because she knew that I was worried about you so much in your youth,” said Dumbledore.
“Albus is that true? You let Snape use the boy? You let him so near the saviour of our people. You didn’t consider that the man’s connections made him unsuitable to teach him?” Said Moody “Potions is one thing but Occlumancy? Even amongst the Aurors, we try to leave that to family…”
“Sirius, we should…” Caradoc pulled on his wrist.
“No! No more, I’m not hiding anymore, any of it. I’m damaged, I get that, I get why I was an acceptable loss, but only if it helped us win – and you set us up to lose every time. I’m done. I am done with playing a pawn in your games.” Sirius took a deep breath as he realised what he had said. And as everyone else argued around them Dumbledore looked him in the eye and nodded.
“You were always the flaw. I always thought that a Black would be an easy person to lay the blame upon, but you were so determined to prove that you were not one of Those Blacks. You refused to play your part. And very well. Then when this war fails, when we lose. It shall be your fault. The blame will lay at your feet because I know you, boy, and you are about to do something very stupid.”
“Maybe, but at least I know that it couldn’t do more harm than you.” Sirius said, “I’ve seen what harm…” He stuttered to halt as the fire behind him flared into life and he turned to find young voices filling the air in an odd replication of a previous timeline and he quickly forced the wards offline, knowing what was to come.
The kitchen filled quickly with children from a variety of years and all the houses, the order members who had children fussing and questioning them as they arrived. A few of the older ones muttered his name and eyed him with suspicion as he turned to watch them arriving, but they were quickly distracted by the fussing adults. As suddenly as the flow had started it stopped and he felt one last person press against the wards, he sighed with relief and let the boy through.
Sirius’ breath caught in his throat, even though he knew what was coming, as the young man with a mop of blond hair fell gracefully through the fire, brushing himself off carefully before straightening up. Sirius moved forwards, watching the boy carefully and soon he found himself looking directly into the grey eyes of Lucius Malfoy’s son once more. A burning gold band shone brightly on the boy’s index finger and his hands tremored with the exhaustion that came with reining in the flood of power an inheritance brought, his cheeks still flushed with how recent it was.
Caradoc cursed as two piercing whistles cut through the chatter from a handful of places in the room and with a brush of a kiss against Sirius’ head the Aurors, active and retired, raced for the front door.
“I’m sorry Sirius, I didn’t know where else to take them that would be safe and large enough,” Hermione said, the prefects’ badge on her torn cloak shining brightly for a moment in the light as she pushed between the children and passed Sirius to make her way to the headmaster. “McGonagall asked me to let you know that…” The girl broke, and Sirius could only watch as the genius he had assumed so much more mature than her peers collapsed on herself. “That… That it is gone. The castle, Flitwick, Plank, Pince.. .” She sobbed.
Sirius tuned out her litany of names after he realised that she was simply listing everyone she knew who had fallen in the last moment of Hogwarts. He made his way across the kitchen to his nephew’s side, the newly made lord looked at him before evenly saying,
“The last thing I told my father was that following that monster would get him killed. Mother said that I would have to choose a side and going against him wouldn’t go well. I suppose at least he died doing something he was pleased by.” The boy’s eyes were glassy and despite how much he hated his father Sirius couldn’t find it in him to hold it against a child and opened his arms to let him collapse.
“Every lord must clear the nonsense of past generations, each of us must press on and make a new way for our family… it is hard, and it is futile right now,” Sirius muttered against the boy’s head even as he looked up and caught Caradoc’s eye. “But I am going to fix that. I am going to make a world where, well, hopefully, you don’t have too much to fix but if I can’t achieve that then I’m going to ensure that you at least have a chance to remedy your father’s evil.”
He pushed the boy back and looked him in the eye, “I am going to make it possible for you to have a future that any family could be proud of and that your father would hate.” Sirius stepped passed him and tossed a handful of Floo powder into the fire.
The ministry was in chaos, there were Aurors racing towards the floos and the apparition points, half of them fastening the buckles that held their dragonhide surcoats in place as they waited for their group leaders to arrive.
Sirius worked his way across the packed ministry foyer until he was stood in front of the black door that led to the department of mysteries. He glanced back at the apparition point in time to see the first group of Aurors head off to certain death.
He took a steadying breath and pushed through the door. He walked through the familiar halls with ease certain of where he needed to return to.
Death seemed so peaceful after the chaos of his last few returns to life. Sirius paused as he stepped out onto the soft sand, his bare feet burning as the microscopic shard of obsidian buried in, the sands of death becoming one with his skin.
He looked up at the ever-present creature and shut his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath of the cool air before making his way across to the window he wanted to return too.
He had caught a glimmer of the window before, it rested between the dozens of moments in Azkaban and the moment that he fell asleep while waiting for the Dementors to arrive as he sat in Hogwarts.
He reached out and tugged the shroud off with confidence and started to step forward into the moment, braced for the musty stench of a Scottish cave in spring. He slammed face first into a wall and blinked a few times as he realised it was slick polished stone rather than the rough-hewn granite he was expecting. He clenched his fingers into the shroud as he realised that he still held it, span around to face back into the hall of windows. He found the frame he had tried to step through empty and the black sand beneath it heaped a little as though it has been recently added to.
“No.” He breathed, the word hardly loud enough to be considered truly spoken, “no,” a little louder. “Where is it?” He demanded as he grabbed the edges of the frame to hold himself up. His breath caught in his throat and he took a step forward only to catch his toes on the bottom of the frame and stagger to his knees.
Death’s creature watched him, the heavy hood that covered its face making it seem impassive and uncaring.
“You cannot stay.” It intoned.
Sirius surged to his feet and crossed the hall with a yell of,” and what did you think I was doing? I knew where I was going, I had a plan, I wasn’t staying!”
He crashed into the creature and shook it, his hands clenching around fists full of heavy cloth.
“And now you must leave…”
“Because it isn’t my time and I don’t belong here.” Sirius shouted over it, “can you say nothing else? Must you taunt me over and over with the same words? Is this my damnation, to relieve the moments at which I could have made a difference only to fail over and over?” He slammed into the creature once more before staggering back and pacing away.
The creature’s next few words fell on deaf ears as Sirius paced back and forth his heart pounding in his ears. He tried to close his mind to the world he had just left and the destruction that Voldemort would be wreaking on it but his imagination ran wild. Was Caradoc right now face to face with a horde of undead death eaters, their sacrificed magic tying them to Voldemort’s whims until the battle was done. Was Harry fighting or was he already little more than a corpse on the ground, a life wasted chasing Dumbledore’s impossible plan.
He pushed the thoughts away with determination and carefully thought back over his life for a moment where perhaps his actions could truly make change.
He turned back to Death’s creature and gasped in pain as the turn lit a fire across the sole of his foot that he had been blocking out. He hobbled across the sand until he was facing the creature and looked into the shadows of its hood.
“Why was the moment I wanted not there?” He asked with a forced calm.
“Because it no longer existed” the creature replied easily.
Sirius let out a long breath before saying, “and why did it no longer exist?”
“Because you no longer required me to walk by your side at that moment.”
“So the things I alter don’t just affect what is happening when I arrive? The moments that I could die are not set?”
“No, life is a path and each turn that you take alters that which lays ahead.”
“You can’t need death if the moment never occurs…” Sirius muttered mostly to himself. Across from him, Death’s creature inclined its head slowly and Sirius sighed in frustration. He dropped down to sit on the sand and rested his chin on his hand, fingers tapping restlessly against his cheek.
He turned the actions he had taken since his original death over and over in his head each time eliminating what he had done as something that could have made a great change.
He chased a dozen thoughts, and fruitlessly tried to follow the threads of where those actions might have led – but each one he tried simply led to the ends of everything and a loss of the future. He couldn’t imagine a reality where those events could have ended without his death. He let his mind wander, and eventually his thoughts veered off entirely, and his mind floated into sleep.
He blinked awake with a shock of clarity. He couldn’t recall a dream, but he knew what he could do to find a moment to which he could return.
He rose to his feet, ignoring deaths creature, and walked to the window opposite the one he had discovered was gone and starting from there drew the veil off every window in the room until he was surrounded with a morbid gallery, half the room was filled with empty frames and the rest played out montages of fights, threats and a hand full of almost peaceful sea views. Sirius walked to the last image before the dozens of broken windows and rested his fingers on the frame.
“This is where I die.” He stated, not caring what the creatures answer would be. “Before I lived years more, and after some of the changes these windows were filled, but now they are empty. Can they be repaired?” He asked, turning to face deaths creature.
“There is always a possibility that my presence will not be required but all life must eventually end. The timing of that is not dictated by I,” the creature replied as unhelpfully as ever.
Sirius walked around the hall looking for a long time at each of the moments that remained. He made a note of those that seemed familiar and those that seemed new, and in his head, he created a sort of timeline.
He paused before the window that showed him nose to nose with Snape. And turned the moment over and over in his head before dismissing it as too late to make real change.
He strode over to an early window and watched himself race towards the wreckage of James and Lily’s house. In the shadows, he saw a figure watching him and he realised that Voldemort had not gone alone. He pressed his hand to the window for a second before drawing it away and looking around at the empty window frames and the ones filled with events he didn’t recall.
“If I go back to too early that I risk losing everything,” he said, “each change has ripples and leaping back and making changes indiscriminately will just destroy the things that come next. I don’t what to live my life over. Not knowing what is to come.” He murmured mostly to himself, Death’s creature was silent behind him, for once seeming to have decided to not remind him that he ‘can not remain’.
He ran his hands over a dozen frames before pausing at one of the seascapes. He looked around at the remaining windows and considered if there was truly any difference that he could make in the 6 or 7 that remained. He gripped the frame of the window he stood before and shut his eyes taking several deep breaths, each one with a longer pause before it and until he could feel his heart was calm and his mind as clear as it could be.
He steeled himself for the sight of a clouded full moon and the jagged sea rocks that it lit with its muted glow. He could almost taste the salt on his skin as he lifted a sore foot from the ground and stepped forward. The odd press and stretch of the window giving way to a cutting wind and instant coating of salt.
– – –
Sirius rocked his aching body away from the ledge and left himself half fall, half stagger away until he was pressed against the opposite wall of the prison. The full moon mockingly calling him and reminding him of running free in the forest at Hogwarts.
He slipped down the wall and sat on the cold flags of the cell, his mind numb with the haze that Dementors created, he knew that he had hope before he had come back to this moment but within seconds of being here it was gone and only despair was left.
He suffered and curled in on himself, forehead pressing tightly against his knees. As he shivered in the cold damp air, he realised that the first time he had returned to this cell he had not been so aware of the Dementors, that it had seemed almost comforting in its familiarity.
He felt the Dementors drawing close to him, the pressure and chill growing as they approached. He shuddered under her weight of it and with a sharp realisation he tugged his robe off and with a push slid into his animal form, letting the simpler mind of the dog take over.
Even as the hound he felt the Dementors drawing nearer to him and circling his cell before flowing away to more intriguing feeding grounds. He waited until the sunrise and the human guards came close to deliver the meals, before transforming back and banging his cell door.
“I want to talk to my lawyer,” he yelled through the bars when he heard trays being rattled at the end of the corridor.
“Shut up, Black, no-one cares what scum have to say,” came the reply, “Traitor” followed it as a mutter.
“I never had a trial, one day my family will remember that. When they need their lord back.”
“And why exactly should I care about that, Black, you’re guilty else you wouldn’t be here, and I would be free from listening to your ramblings.” The guard said, coming to face the cell and shoving Sirius’ breakfast through the narrow slot in the door.
“Then let me send a letter,” Sirius asked, his voice low and desperate, unsure of how long before his mother’s interference he had arrived and knowing that if he wanted to survive this with his mind intact, he couldn’t wait for her to remember that she needed a child.
The guard backtracked to his cell and looked at him through the bars. “I’m not bringing you paper or a quill, but if you have a letter to send by the time I return for your tray, then I’ll consider it.”
Sirius nodded at him and hurried to his small pile of possessions, searching for the scrap of pencil he had managed to acquire in the months’ side his arrest. Finding it he reached for one of the letters he had received and quickly scrawled a note on it before folding it carefully so just the recipient’s name was showing, well aware that the guard was going to read it.
He placed the note onto his tray and turned his attention to the porridge that was in his bowl.
He scrapped the last scraps from the bowl as the tray and its contents were caught up in the guards summoning spell, he followed the tray to the door and pressed against the bars to watch it float down the corridor. He cursed as the edge of the letter caught in a stray breeze and wafted off the tray. It began to flutter to the floor only to be caught up in the summoning spell. Sirius let out a deep sigh of relief and backed across the cell to sit on the thin mattress.
He waited until he couldn’t hear the guard any more before letting himself return to being a dog, content to hide what little he had regained of himself from the Dementors before they could steal it away again. He shook out his tangled fur, surprised at how neglected he seemed to be after such a short time in prison. Instead of curling up to sleep as he had intended, he carefully groomed himself.
When he was content that the only knots and matted patches of fur that were left were in places he simply couldn’t reach Sirius tucked his nose into his armpit and shut his eyes.
Hours must have passed before he heard someone walking towards his cell, his head shot up and his ears twitched before he scrambled back to human and into the thin robe he had been issued. A guard arrived at his door and dropped a letter between the bars of his cell door. Sirius waited until his footsteps had faded away before bolting forward to snatch the letter from the floor.
He opened it with shaking fingers and pulled the thick shaft of papers from the envelope, a self-inking quill tubing out from between two sheets and splattering him with dots of ink. He carefully unfolded the sheets and placed the blank ones on the bed before looking at the spidery script that covered a scant inch off one of the pages.
He squinted at Truefind’s scrawl, tilting his head to onside a little to make out certain words, but by the end of the letter, he was smiling. He carefully picked up one of the blank sheets and lifted the quill to it, he took a breath and signed his name on the corner of the sheet with care and waited. Slowly the ink bloomed away from his name and spread down the page until the page was filled with Goblin ward runes, Sirius wiped the end of the quill free of ink and stabbed it into the pad of his thumb until the skin broke and the carefully pressed his bloody thumbprint to the central rune. The page glowed and then shrivelled until it was a thick wedge of paper in the shape of the rune. Sirius plucked the hem of his robe until a thread came loose and slowly tugged it all the way free of the robe.
With once practised fingers he fumbled his way through firmly securing the paper ward in a web of thread before fastening the ends together around his neck. He tucked the ward into his robe and sighed in relief as the full weight of the Dementors was lifted from him. He felt for the magic working and petted the ward carefully as he realised that Truefind had woven a mild mind strengthening spell through it.
Well aware that the ward would not last long with constant use, especially made of such a fragile material, Sirius changed back into a dog and settled down into the nest of blankets he had made. He rested his chin onto his front paws and waited, certain that Truefind would waste no time in fulfilling the promise they had spoken of in the short letter.
Dinner arrived in its usual way, Sirius lurked under his blankets and the guard let the tray tumble to the ground carelessly as he moved to the next cell. Sirius darted out and ate quickly not even bothering to transform back, he slunk back to his blankets and curled up once more.
Two days passed without anything changing and Sirius grew twitchy. Truefind was not a patient Goblin, and what they demanded done was usually done with haste. The delay most likely meant that someone was determined to keep Sirius locked away, and Sirius had his suspicions as to whom that would be.
On the third day since arriving Sirius heard someone new walking down the corridor. He huffed down his snout and threw his paw over his head. The person came to a halt outside his cell and slammed his fist against the door and yelled, “Get out of bed, Black. You’re leaving, gather your shit and let’s go.”
Sirius scrambled to his feet and arched his back before changing back to human, he grabbed his robe and heaved it over his head, reaching down to scoop his stack of letters and a few photos into his arms. He turned to the door and waited for it to open.
He scurried out as soon as it opened, and before the guard could motion him in the direction he was meant to be heading, Sirius was slowly walking towards the main gates of the prison. The guard overtook him quickly, glaring at him as he went.
They made their way past the dozens of shouting and moaning prisoners and then crept their way down the slick stone steps that were barely carved out of the rock face and had been worn smooth by the centuries of storms and high tides.
They passed through a narrow antechamber that almost hummed with the pure presence of magic that coated the walls, all of the offensive spells to subdue or kill any prisoner who tried to pass through them without a guard by their side.
Sirius carefully watched where the guard was walking, and without being told, followed exactly in his footsteps. The guard peeled away, and Sirius didn’t notice until he saw a door slam shut a breath away from his toes. He glanced up in surprise and then glanced to one side, he jumped and flinched away, a firm hand caught around his arm and hauled him away from the deadly antechamber, “Careful cousin, it wouldn’t do for you to waste all my hard work now,” Lucius muttered, his words sharp but quiet, clearly not meant to be heard by anyone except the two of them.
“I would love for you to waste your time, and so I am very glad to tell you that if my mother sent you then you can piss right off back to where ever you came from. I have everything in hand.” Sirius hissed back, careful to keep a friendly smile on his face and keep his voice low enough that the guards wouldn’t be able to tell that he was being hostile.
“Well, I am quite sure that the goblins will be delighted to know that you rejected their offer,” Lucius smirked.
“You are Truefind’s idea of ‘a perfect and fittingly wizardly solution’? I am horrified by their poor taste in lawyers!” Sirius exclaimed, pushing passed Lucius and deeper into the main room.
“Right, of course, you are? How more perfectly wizardingly can you get than a Malfoy?”
Lucius arched one elegant eyebrow at him and then sighed deeply, “Damn it, I was hoping this was something interesting like a deep gambling debt or blood magic objects in your personal vault or stolen goblin gold. But it is something as boring as a healer baling out another healer. A waste of my talents, Sirius. A complete waste.” Lucius grumbled, and for a moment Sirius remembered exactly how his cousin had been charmed by the amusing and sharp man that Lucius had been before he got lost in his master’s corruption.
“Well, you could always have said no,” Sirius shot back.
Lucius looked at him with horror and simply said, “The goblins are always a relationship worth cultivating, even if any idiot with half a law degree could get a noble imprisoned without a trial out of prison. But then they wouldn’t have got you an apology and no trial. And that is why I am the one getting a favour from the goblins.”
Sirius just snorted a laugh at him and muttered, “A favour… you put in hours of work for a favour from a goblin? You realise they are just going to forgive you for something you have in your vault that you shouldn’t have.”
Lucius grinned at him and twirled his want cane, the silver head of it glimmering with an odd rainbow, “Well, not in my vault but still worth it.” Lucius grinned, his family’s mithril wand glittering freely instead of being hidden beneath a dozen concealment charms. “This way, you have forms to sign.”
Sirius followed him to the boat that would allow them to leave the island and its anti-apparition wards.
Half a mile away from the island Lucius wrapped an arm around his shoulders and carefully apparated them away, landing them with exaggerated care in one of the private meeting rooms below Gringotts.
Sirius staggered away from him and braced himself above the bin in the corner of the room for a moment taking shallow breaths. His blood pounded in his ears so loudly that he couldn’t listen past it to eavesdrop on the argument he could hear raging behind him.
He breathed in a little more deeply and when his stomach didn’t rebel, he slowly stood up straight and made his way to one of the chairs that he knew was respectively comfortable, unlike the sofas that littered the room and were deceptively uncomfortable. He settled into the chair and after a moment looked up at the man that Lucius was arguing with.
“Fudge, right, undersecretary to the minor chancellor of the minister’s something or other, right?” Sirius asked, just to watch the man turn purple.
“I am the Minister’s personal secretary’s undersecretary. It’s a very important role, I will have you know.” Fudge spluttered as behind him Lucius made an impressed face before discreetly nodding to the crumpled documents in fudges hand.
“I believe that you are destroying my release papers,” Sirius said in a charming tone.
“These? These! Hardly official, not signed with the right quill and without me observing, not at all proper.” Fudge yelled, voice breaking halfway through.
“But the government was in the wrong, in fact you were the ones breaking the law and I am quite certain that in that case, all you require is for me to sign and acknowledge that I accept the apology and accept that I cannot hold this fault up as an error that would excuse me any further crimes.” Sirius sighed, inspecting his chipped and dirty nails with a frown.
“These are official documents. Everything must be done exactly within the letter of the law!” Fudge exclaimed, and just a Sirius was about to continue to wind the little man up, Lucius stepped between them and soothingly said,
“It is a goblin approved signature. Correct?”
“Well, yes. But…”
“Then the law has been met, Sirius has saved you a lot of time by getting this paperwork dealt with so swiftly. Perhaps an early lunch? My treat and we’ll have a chance to go over the papers.” Lucius placed a hand between Fudge’s shoulder blades and guided the man away.
Sirius relaxed into the chair for a moment as the two men apparated away, Lucius already filling Fudge’s head with his schemes and thoughts about upcoming laws to be debated. Sirius shut his eyes for a moment, letting the paper ward do its work even as the familiarity of sitting in Truefind’s outer office soothed the last of his frayed nerves.
He let his mind wander for a moment before the guard cleared his throat and the heavy doors shifted against the thick carpet.
Sirius pushed up to his feet and with a polite nod to the guard, he made his way into the office, automatically crossing to the tea service and going through the motions of setting it out, following the goblin tradition of serving tea to the one who had served you last. And as he did, he hoped that he was correct and Truefind would still be moving through events as he was rather than forgetting each of his visits as any human would have.
Sirius snapped his fingers at the tray and motioned for it to settle on the low table between the two soft armchairs just as the clock struck three.
Truefind left their desk and came to sit across from him, accepting the cup of tea that was handed to them with a slight nod. Sirius waited a moment and when Truefind said nothing he said,
“I owe you a year and I intend to give it to you. I asked for your help and in return, I will give you that time now. A year will make little difference to my plans.”
“If you truly believe that you would have sent that letter to your mother and waited for her to decide that your rebellion had been punishment enough.” Truefind said in a measured tone, “Besides the man sat in front of me is not a man whom I could train.” Sirius recoiled a little, hurt at his mentor and friend’s words.
“I… I have been trying. I came back each time with care and attention. I considered my actions and I have tried to do my best. I have decided on this moment, that my purpose is to live the best life I can and ensure that I have fulfilled my obligations before it is too late. ” Sirius stuttered his way through it, leaning forwards as though simplify being closer would make Truefind believe him more.
“Yes, you have tried and you are … Calmer, more yourself, less harmed, than you were, but you are not ready to be here Sirius. You have work to do,” Truefind said kindly.
“I wrote in my letter that… I asked for your help in return for my time, I swore that I would not only train with you but that I would assist you, work for you. I can’t renege on that just because I have a self-appointed task. Besides, I have realised that I can only truly change my life, I must do the best I can with my time.” Sirius said.
“You have much time, Black, you will repay me at a time when your assistance has more value. I require the clearest and most robust of minds and you are not ready for that yet. You are not done making the changes that you require,” Truefind said with a tone of finality as they dropped back into their plush chair.
“If you insist, then my promised time is yours when you wish to claim it. ” Sirius said formally, “Thank you, I know it is your practice to remain out of the affairs of humans.”
“Except where I must,” Truefind said sharply before taking a drink of their tea. “Now, you must ensure that you are ready to formalize your promise. I will not have someone who has been out of practice for years in my healing halls. And I will not cater to the worries and foibles of a human who feels they have work left undone. Be decisive, be sure, and be practised when you return to me.” Truefind emptied their cup and carefully placed it back on its saucer before hopping out of their chair and returning to their research.
Sirius slumped into his chair, slowly sipping at his still full teacup. He took his time, knowing that to rush would be an insult even if his host had abandoned him. And as he reached the last mouthful, he placed his cup on the tray and rose quickly. He collected the tray and carried it over to beside the tea heater. He hung the cups he had used on their empty hooks, magic washed over the cups and his fingers, sterilising them. He paused, straightening the cups and jars of syrup for a moment before turning to leave.
He flinched as a slender, strong hand gripped his elbow, Truefind let go instantly and patted his forearm gently as Sirius took a deep breath. When he was calm Truefind held up a silver pendant, a bright peridot rod in the centre of the coiled serpents of a healer.
“So that you might find your way,” they said before sweeping away.
Sirius turned the still warm jewellery in his palm, the goblin magics worked into it throwing against his palm and asking him to activate them. He glanced back at the workbench Truefind used to make their pieces and found them gone and their office door shut firmly.
He walked over to the bench and found a thin dagger left out on the cleared bench. He took it as the invitation it was and used it to cut his thumb once more. He let the blood run down the silver and kept it from touching the gem, the runes and magics worked into the pendent activating and attuning to him. As they did, he realised why Truefind hadn’t given him the gift on his last visit. It was designed perfectly for him and the healing he required, this was not some generic trinket made for those whose minds were failing them or who had suffered from malnutrition.
He held the gift that most wizards would never be able to afford, even if they had earned the trust of the correct goblin to seek on, in his palm for a moment before slipping it onto the chain that was coiled beside the dagger and placing it around his neck so that it hung low on his chest. He took off the paper charm and placed it down beside the dagger. Returning the borrowed magic as was only proper.