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Chapter 3: Chapter Three.
~ The Joy of the Grim ~ Thunder, Flames and Broomsticks~
The name of the town had made him laugh many years ago, and it had stuck in his head for that reason. Lily had shrugged sadly as she’d mentioned it, a passing reference to her sister setting up home, and having a baby she would not allow the Potters to meet. James had glared at Sirius when he’d laughed, but he could not help it; ‘Little Whinging’ sounded just so... Surrey. He could picture the gleaming Volvos, the 1930’s houses, the pearl necklaces and the lawnmowers. When he’d explained himself, Lily had laughed too.
Now, for a third day, he wandered through the sprawling suburban streets looking for any hint of Harry. He didn’t know what he was looking for; only that he would know it when he saw it. He had rarely transformed out of his dog form since leaving Azkaban; it seemed that his face was everywhere he went, even on Muggle newspapers and in shop windows. There were only two people left in the world who knew that Sirius was an Animagus; one of whom was living as a rat and would hopefully be dead soon. The other... well, he clearly hadn’t told the Ministry that they should probably be looking for a large black dog. Sirius didn’t know why Remus had kept quiet, but he was grateful.
Doors up and down the road opened as an ice cream van jingled past.
A group of Muggle children hurried out of the garden in front of Sirius, and he followed them at a short distance, trotting along happily as if he were a beloved pet; nobody gave him a second glance. As the children joined the gaggle of other Muggles around the ice cream van, Sirius found his ears pricking up at the sound of his own name.
‘They still haven’t caught that murderer, I see,’ the booming voice carried across a low garden wall. ‘Probably raised by hippies, with a name like ‘Sirius’; no wonder he turned to crime.’ Sirius turned his head. The front garden of the house was perfectly kept, flowers blooming in neat borders, the lawn mown into straight lines. Sitting in the centre of this suburban display was a pair of near-identical, red-faced, corpulent people sitting on groaning deckchairs. Sirius wondered how they would ever get out of their seats without falling over. The man had rolled up his shirt sleeves as his only concession to the summer heat; he was otherwise smartly dressed and sweating profusely. The woman had rolled up her trousers to reveal legs like tree stumps, covered in perhaps more hair than the legs of the man sitting next to her. It was she who had mentioned Sirius’s name, and he watched her curiously, carefully, as she continued. ‘I do wonder where my taxes go to; one never sees a policeman on the beat nowadays. I’ve got me rifle, of course,’ she smiled grimly. ‘And I know how to use it. But it does make me shudder to think of someone like that prisoner running around, whilst delicate ladies like your Petunia are home alone...’
Sirius’s heart began to thud in his chest; he completely ignored a passing Muggle patting him on the head, an irritating habit the dog-loving British public seemed to relish. Petunia. Petunia Evans... that was definitely Lily’s sister’s name. He padded forwards, sitting as close to the wall as he dared. Did Harry live there?
‘Oh, quite.’ The man was nodding, his piggish eyes glancing towards the house, where a tall, horse-faced woman was moving around in the kitchen. ‘I was just saying the other day, Marge; they ought to have hanged him.’
Feeling his snout draw back in a growl, Sirius briefly considered leaving the fat man a large gift, canine-style, in the middle of his pristine lawn that night. Although he knew he wouldn’t actually go through with it, his tail thumped happily on the ground at the thought. Just then, the front door of the house opened, and out stepped a skinny figure holding a gleaming silver tray. Sirius stared. James Potter. The messy black hair and glasses, the wiry frame, the long loping limbs... Jesus, it was uncanny. Harry was carrying the tray, bearing two sweating glasses of gin and tonic, towards the pair; Sirius noticed the boy’s jaw was clenched.
‘Ah, there you are, boy,’ barked the woman called Marge. James - no, Harry - Harry said nothing as she took her drink, but stared down at the grass. His hair swung forwards and Sirius glimpsed a thin scar on the boy’s forehead, at the very point where he had, many years before, tried to wipe the blood away as the child screamed. The purple-faced man merely grunted as he took his glass from the tray, which dropped to the boy’s side as he slouched back into the house. Sirius willed him to come back outside, but Harry did not return. After a while, the woman spoke again. ‘Vernon, are you sure he should have access to your drinks cabinet? A deranged mind like his...’ she trailed off ominously, eyeing her empty glass with suspicion.
Vernon harrumphed, shifting his huge weight in the creaking deck chair. ‘He knows what’ll happen to him if he tries anything,’ he said with menace. Sirius found himself wishing that Harry, who had not looked deranged in the slightest - and if anyone knew ‘deranged’, it was Sirius- had poisoned the gin and tonics.
The crowd at the ice cream van began to disperse and Sirius hurried away to the other end of Privet Drive, this time following a family with a pushchair. Sirius knew where Harry lived now; he’d go back later, under cover of darkness, to try and see him again.
Dusk was falling when he returned that evening, after a couple of hours of snouting through the plentiful bins of Marigold Close. Sirius had found the people of Little Whinging to be marvellously wasteful, and his stomach was, for once, quite full. As he crept down Privet Drive, Sirius’s canine ears swivelled towards the sound of someone screaming; he began to run as he realised that it was coming from the house outside of which he had seen Harry that afternoon. A dog was growling and barking manically, a man’s voice was thundering with anger; Sirius skidded to a stop as the front door burst open, spilling light into the garden, and Harry backed slowly out of it, pointing his wand directly his uncle. Vernon was bleeding from a badly bitten leg and his face was positively puce with fury. Harry kicked a battered school trunk out of the door whilst and spoke quietly, with barely contained hatred. ‘I’m going. I’ve had enough.’
Sirius ducked behind the low wall once again as the door slammed, and Harry dragged the trunk and an empty owl cage down the garden path and into the street. He looked utterly furious, and Sirius felt his eyes widen as he recognized the expression. It was a strange thing to see Lily’s angry red blush, her thin white lips, on a face so similar to James’s. Harry was moving now, his breathing so loud that Sirius was able to track him quite closely, his paws padding silently on the warm pavement as he weaved in and out of alleyways and open garden gates.
When Harry finally, many streets away from Privet Drive, flopped down to sit on a wall, Sirius stopped where he was - wedged in an alleyway between a garage and a large semi-detached house - and took a proper look at the boy. Harry was panting with the effort of dragging the trunk, and Sirius could see ribs through the overlarge t-shirt. James had been a skinny kid, had not bulked up much until he’d been about fifteen and addicted to Quidditch... but surely Harry was thinner than he should have been. Sirius looked closer and saw a sleek broomstick, well cared-for, attached to the school trunk. Harry’s hair was sticking up at the back, just like his father’s always had. Sirius could barely believe that this rangy kid was the toddler he’d handed over to Hagrid. He wondered what had happened to make Harry run away that night, and found himself feeling oddly pleased at the link with his own teenage years, as well as proud at the kid’s tenacity. Parental concern niggled at his mind, but he pushed it away. Clearly Harry could handle himself. He gazed at Harry hungrily, wishing he could just go up to him, could greet him as a friend -
Harry suddenly sat bolt upright and stared into the shadows where Sirius stood. Sirius did not even breathe as the boy looked up and down the street, his eyes alert and roving. Eventually Harry turned back to rummage through his trunk, and Sirius took a careful step forwards, his paws moving as silently as ever - but Harry leapt to his feet and spun on the spot. Sirius froze as the boy squinted into the dark alleyway and watched with fascination as Harry lit up his wand and held it deftly over his head, scanning the shadows. He’s definitely sharper than he looks, thought Sirius as the light suddenly flashed directly towards him. He was momentarily blinded; he heard Harry gasp, step backwards... the light of the wand arced into the air as Harry stumbled and fell. There was an enormous BANG, and Sirius pressed himself into the pebble-dashed wall of the alley, his heart pounding with surprise and excitement.
Later, once Harry had gone, Sirius stepped out of the alleyway and moved into the silent street like a shadow. He had really seen him... Harry had been slightly underfed, running away, furious... but he had also been alert, fast, and gutsy. He was all right. He seemed to be living with awful people, but Sirius had survived that trial himself. For now, Harry would be all right. As he had stepped onto the Knight Bus - Sirius had marvelled that the thing was still running after all these years - he’d glanced back, into the shadows of the alleyway. Sirius had taken in the worried expression, the green eyes, and had once again seen Lily in James’s face. Now, Sirius looked up at the sky, searched the stars and found North. It would take a good few weeks to get to Scotland, and he suddenly felt invigorated and full of hope. The summer breeze and the joy of discovering a lost child bore him along easily as he ran through the night.
Sirius’s heart was pounding with fury as he tore along the passageway and burst through the trapdoor into the Shrieking Shack. That stupid portrait had set the whole castle on him; transforming into his human form as he leapt up the rickety stairs, he dashed to one of the broken windows and stared out, across the rooftops of Hogsmeade, into the darkness. Sirius could just about see the blaze of orange light that was the Great Hall, and he thought he could see wandlight darting across the dark grounds. It wasn’t enough that there were Dementors surrounding the walls of the school, but now he was actually being hunted at Hogwarts, the only true home he had known until the Potters had taken him in... Suddenly he had to fight the urge to burst back into the castle, blast a path through the Hall to find Peter and choke the life out of him for reducing Sirius to this joke of a half-life. He paced the creaking floorboards for hours, realising for the first time what it might have been like for Remus to be trapped in the Shack, fighting the natural urge to run wild, to maim, to kill. A memory flashed unexpectedly into his mind; he and Remus laughing uncontrollably as they’d created and tested the Marauders Map, making more and more outrageous responses unfurl on the parchment. He’d thought his sides would truly split. James and Peter had started laughing too, more at the way he and Remus were actually crying with laughter than at anything ‘Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs’ had to say for themselves. The memory was not a comfort to him at that moment; the anger and shock were too overwhelming. He tucked it away into some corner of his mind, another moment he might revisit if ever he needed it.
Later, Sirius realised that he’d actually considered harming children to get to Peter and, through the disgust and self-loathing that consumed him, his heart burned anew with hatred for the man. Sirius had known how to hate since he was a child, taught by his awful parents, honed the art to a point on Regulus, Bellatrix, Snape... but Peter had turned his hatred wild, untameable, undiscerning. Sirius was becoming the dangerous creature that everyone believed him to be, but he had no choice. Anger, hatred, vengeance were all that sustained him. During the weeks in which he nearly starved, Sirius felt barely any hunger, for he was both satiated and nauseated by his need to keep moving, to keep hunting.
Once Sirius was certain that he could control the urge to sneak back down the passageway and into the castle, he had transformed again and slunk through the shadowy streets of Hogsmeade and up into the mountains. He had remained there for days, looking across the treetops of the Forbidden Forest to the turrets of the castle just visible every now and then, when the grey skies cleared. One day whilst hunting for rabbits, Sirius spied a small group of hippogriffs, attached to long tethers, flying in circles just above the Forest. His tail wagged at the sight... Hagrid had always had a taste for interesting creatures. Sirius wondered if Harry knew that Hagrid had been the one to carry him out of Godric’s Hollow. He wondered if Harry had been scared by the commotion of the other night, when Sirius had broken into the school.
The weather worsened over the days that followed, and Sirius found himself slowly edging towards the Forbidden Forest, looking for more shelter than the mountains could provide. Thus it was that one day he was awoken from a half-sleep amongst the fallen leaves of the Forest by a loud voice carried on the wind.
‘Welcome, ladies, gentlemen and Slytherins!’ somebody boomed, their voice magically magnified.
‘Jordan!’ Minerva McGonagall’s voice echoed across the grounds in rebuke.
‘Welcome everyone, to what is bound to be a thrilling, nail-biting and...’ Thunder boomed suddenly and the sky darkened. ‘...very wet match between Hufflepuff -’ a cheer rose through the howling wind, ‘- and Gryffindor!’ A second cheer was nearly drowned out by another clap of thunder.
Sirius’s ears had pricked up at the word, ‘Quidditch’... he could not remember how long it had been since he’d seen a match. That Gryffindor were playing was an added attraction; long-buried feelings of House pride and loyalty stirred, and Sirius suddenly longed for a bit of fun. Anyway, he’d seen the broomstick in Harry’s hand, back in Little Whinging... he might be playing. Sirius looked up at the sky through the skeletal limbs of the trees, and saw that it was nearly black with clouds. Lightning flashed, staccato, across the skies and thunder boomed... the heavens opened and rain poured from the clouds.
Sirius grinned as the drops landed on his upturned face; the rain was the perfect cover. Transforming into his dog-form, Sirius bounded through the fallen leaves and branches of the forest and pelted across the lawn. The wind rushed through his fur, the ground was cold and wet beneath his paws... he felt alive - although, as he dashed past the Whomping Willow, he could not help but look to his side, half-expecting to see Prongs galloping alongside him. He was alone, but for once he did not care. None of it mattered. Sirius ran blatantly past the castle entrance and towards the Quidditch stands, where hundreds of eyes were fixed on the already-bedraggled teams marching onto the pitch.
Panting in a mixture of exhilaration and exertion, Sirius climbed the stairs of the stand - which was not quite full, as doubtless many students had chosen not to brave the rain. Settling himself right at the top of the Ravenclaw stand, he looked down through the rain at the pitch, where the team captains were shaking hands. The crowd cheered and clapped, and Sirius’s tail thumped softly against the wooden stand in approval. The whistle blew, and fourteen broomsticks shot into the air, their riders clad in the yellow or scarlet robes of their Houses. Sirius saw Harry instantly’ if he’d seen some of Lily’s features in the anxious young man he’d found in Surrey, the figure shooting back and forth across the pitch was all James. It would almost have been eerie, had not a huge feeling of pride swelled in his chest at the sight. Harry was playing as Seeker, and Sirius could see him looking everywhere for the Snitch, moving effortlessly through the air, in perfect control of his broomstick despite the horrific weather.
There was a fast and furious game of Quidditch being played, but Sirius’s eyes were fixed on Harry. The kid had two near-misses with a Bludger, and Sirius watched eagerly as Harry dodged them at the least second. The rain was making it almost impossible for the players to see one another, and more than once Harry narrowly avoided a mid-air collision. He remembered an incident years ago, when James and a Ravenclaw Beater had flown straight into each other, knocking themselves unconscious, so Sirius was almost relieved when the whistle was blown and Harry dived to the ground to huddle with his teammates.
The time-out did not last for long; the whistle blew again and Harry took off. Sirius could see the determination in Harry’s movements; he wanted to end the game. He was playing like a professional; dipping and swerving, avoiding Bludgers and flying boldly in the opposite direction to the Hufflepuff Seeker. The storm was growing stronger, and lightning forked out of the clouds, a huge clap of thunder shaking the stands. Sirius watched intently, willing Harry to catch the Snitch and end the game. A flash of lightning illuminated the whole stand, and all Sirius could see for a moment was Harry... Harry was staring right at him through the rain, his eyes wide in shock. He was distracted momentarily as his grip on the broom fumbled... Sirius turned tail and ran, disappearing quickly behind the rows of seats. He hurried out of the stand, his paws clattering on the steps, and fled across the lawn, towards the Forest. A familiar cold feeling swept over him, and he looked up as he ran, only to see dozens of Dementors drifting across the grounds towards the Quidditch pitch. Oh God, no... he spurred himself on, willing his legs to move faster. One Dementor glided close by Sirius, and its cowled head turned as he ran by; grey robes whirling, it began to follow him. Oh God... the Forest was too far, he would not make it; Sirius dug his paws into the ground and turned, hard, towards the Whomping Willow. He leapt forward beneath the flailing branches, and heard a muffled whoosh as the Dementor was borne away into a swirl of branches and cold winds. There was a cracking noise as wood splintered above Sirius; he paused, and saw the remains of a broomstick raining down around him. The handle landed nearby, and he saw it roll away; on one side it was inscribed with the words ‘Nimbus 2000’... and on the other side, ‘H. Potter’ had been carefully etched. There was no time to worry about whether Harry was okay; the Willow was enraged, and the Dementor would doubtless soon return. Sirius’s paw found the knotted root, and he pressed it, diving instantly into the passageway. It closed quickly behind him and he padded, shaking, through the darkness.
When he reached the end of the tunnel, Sirius nudged open the trapdoor with his snout and scrambled into the Shrieking Shack, shaking great raindrops from his fur. Once he had caught his breath, he transformed and staggered towards the old fireplace. Sirius reached up with a long arm into the chimney and felt around for the loose brick, behind which he had hidden his few gathered treasures. He pulled out a small cardboard box, which had the word ‘Sudsy’s Soap’ printed on the side. It was indented with more than a few tooth marks, as if it had been carried by an animal. With shaking hands, Sirius opened the box. He pulled out the shred of newspaper that bore Wormtail’s face, perched amongst the smiling faces of an unknowing family. There was a bright red feather that had drifted onto Sirius’s chest as he’d slept under a bridge, the night after escaping Azkaban. He hadn’t known where it came from, but it was the first truly beautiful thing he’d seen in many years. Sirius pulled out a battered Chocolate Frog still in its wrapper - he had been sitting in the shadows in Hogsmeade one evening, watching shoppers busy about their business, and he’d been trying to look a bit pathetic in the hope that they might take pity on a hungry dog. A little girl had toddled towards him, squeaking ‘Doggy! Woof!’, but her mother, alarmed, had tugged the girl away. Sirius watched them hurry up the pavement, and as he watched, the little girl had jammed her hand into her coat pocket and carefully dropped a Chocolate Frog on the floor, turning slightly to look back at the big shaggy dog, waving at him surreptitiously. Sirius had been saving it for when he really needed it.
Now, his fingers dug into the bottom of the box and pulled out a small box of matches that he had snaffled from a kitchen windowsill somewhere near Glasgow. He gathered together some of the piles of rubbish and broken furniture that had amassed over the years, and made a small fire in the grate... the sky was black and sodden outside; nobody would see a small amount of smoke rising from the chimney. As he basked in the warmth, his hair and clothes slowly drying, Sirius thought about Harry. He remembered the look of shock on the boy’s face when he’d spotted Sirius, and hoped that Harry was okay. At least it had just been the broom that had hit the Whomping Willow, and not the rider.
As Sirius dried himself by the grate, he became slowly aware of a presence sitting next to him in the flickering light and warmth of the flames. James was hovering on the edge of his vision, and when Sirius spoke he did not turn to look at his friend, afraid that the man would disappear from view as he had so many times before.
‘Haven’t seen you in a while,’ Sirius said quietly.
‘You’ve had other things on your mind,’ replied James, his voice sounding distant, barely a whisper in the crackle of burning wood.
Sirius gave a sigh accompanied by a wry smile. ‘Yeah.’
‘Are you just going to look at that Chocolate Frog, or are you going to eat it?’ James’s voice seemed to be moving closer, becoming more vital.
‘I’m saving it.’
‘What for? You got caught in a storm and had a brush with a Dementor. I’d say now’s the time.’
Sirius grinned and shook his head. ‘Are you speaking on behalf of my subconscious, now?’
James laughed quietly. ‘I am your subconscious. But I’m also your friend. Just eat the damn chocolate.’
As Sirius forced himself to nibble the chocolate slowly, his body stopped shivering and his skin warmed.
‘I saw Harry today,’ he said aloud. ‘He was playing Quidditch; he’s the Gryffindor Seeker.’
‘I know. I was watching, too.’
‘James... he looked so much like you. It was almost like being a kid again.'
‘Except I didn’t have Dementors to contend with during matches,’ said James.
Sirius frowned. ‘I don’t know what’s happening. Only one of them went after me; they were flocking to the pitch... and then Harry’s broomstick nearly hit me. He must have fallen...’ Sirius put his head in his hands. ‘I don’t know.’
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of swinging red hair... or were the flames simply dancing higher? A soft voice whispered in his ear. He’s alright, Sirius. Warmth filled his body anew, and Sirius hoped that this was not merely his subconscious trying to protect him, but Lily somehow caring for him, for Harry - for everyone, as she had in life. Sirius recalled the long hours he had spent by her side in the very Quidditch stands he’d haunted today, watching James put his Gryffindors through their paces on the pitch. He felt a sudden sharp pang for the life he had lived so long ago. For a brief moment, running across the grounds of Hogwarts, Sirius had felt as though he were home again. The memory of how it felt to belong was even more painful than having to flee once again.
‘I shouldn’t have come here...’
He looked down at the card that had fallen out of the Chocolate Frog wrapper; a pair of half-moon spectacles and a warm smile glinted up at him. Sirius scowled and threw the card into the flames.
To be continued... One chapter left!
‘I’m going. I’ve had enough.’ - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling. UK Edition, p.30