Our lives are like a candle in the wind.
The weak rays of the fading sun shine through the window onto the battered coffee table, lighting up those little dust particles in the air you always see around this time of day. Over on the ratty, faded blue couch in the corner I rifle through the newspaper, searching the columns purposefully; nothing but my eyes move, scanning purposefully and carefully.
Suddenly, completely unprecedented but not totally uncalled for, I throw the newspaper across the room with a frustrated shout, burying my face in my hands. It all seems like just too much sometimes, just too much!
I sigh, raking my hands through my hair before summoning the paper back to me, smoothing it out flat in front of me. I look at the name again, biting my lip in worry.
One of the brightest witches I’ve ever met; more importantly, I acknowledge with a stab of guilt, another one of our ranks, gone. Murdered in her home, I read on, with the rest of her family. I crumple the paper up in my fist, throwing it down for the second time this evening before getting to my feet.
It’s times like these where I wish I had a family, a girlfriend, anyone - I need someone to turn to, when I feel so helpless like this. We’ve been working against the Dark forces for years now, but they’re picking us off one by one. We started off with a twenty to one ratio, and now it’s nearly fifty to one.
I let out the breath I just now realized I’d been holding in, grabbing my wand from where I left it on the table and walking towards the closet, still deep in my own thoughts. I have no one like that, no one to turn to but the Potters. I never knew one word, one little name, could inspire so many emotions at once, but when I hear their names I feel fear, anxiety, and a most terribly powerful feeling of love.
I grab the cloak, my helmet, and the keys and stride out the door, slamming it with a satisfying snap. I hurry down the steps of the dingy flat I live in, wrapping my cloak tighter around me as I emerge into the darkness; the sun has set, and the all-too-familiar chill has set in. I unchain my motorbike from the streetlamp and swing my leg over, jamming my helmet onto my head and revving the engine. Almost all the streetlamps on my street are broken, but I don’t care; I don’t need those. I know the way to the Potter’s house better than I know the way to my own.
At the next stoplight I cup my hands together, blowing on them vainly in an attempt to warm them up. I’ve been riding for nearly thirty minutes, and I can tell a storm's brewing, but Professor Dumbledore - Albus, as he insists on us calling him now - says Voldemort has ways of tracking magic, and one can never be too safe these days, so now I can’t even use the fly-button under the ignition to hurry the ride along. He’s conniving, Voldemort. A bit of a bastard, too, I think sardonically, and before I can help myself I hear a chuckle escape my lips. Of course, it’s not funny... not funny at all.
A cold wind slashes at my face as I round a corner; I readjust my helmet’s visor in a feeble attempt to protect my face better. I glance up at the sky sullenly; the moon is full and casting an eerie orange glow on everything around me.
“Moony’s out there tonight,” I mutter to myself, before it even registers in my mind, I think. I miss those old days, where the four of us had nothing more important to do than to plan our next adventure on the Hogwarts grounds. Now, we’re out fighting for our lives, not knowing who to trust or why our lives had to come down to this. What split us apart after all those years, I ask myself for what seems to be the thousandth time. With a jolt I remember the end of fifth year. When I played off Remus’s illness for my own gain. That’s when it all started, I finally admit to myself with a pang. Finally. I’ve always refused to accept that but tonight, I just can’t do it, I can't lie to myself. It couldn’t have been me that started it all, I’ve always reasoned... ended it all would be the most appropriate word, I now think to myself bitterly. Looking back, I don’t know how I could have even dreamt of hurting Remus like that. Even for Snivellus. I mean, Snape. He’s on our side now. He’s Severus now.
No. He’s Snivellus to the end, and that’ll never change.
But some things do change, and sometimes, they can never go back to the way they were, no matter how much you wish it were otherwise.
I don’t know how I did that to Moony. He never forgave me, but I can understand that, no matter how much it hurts me to do so. I mean, he’s friendly and everything, but there is a stiffness now, a cold, subtle hurt that can never mend.
And then, Professor Dumbledore told us there’s a spy in the Order. Unconsciously, we all became more secretive. We stopped having those dinners every Friday night when we were all home, safe and sound. Stopped inviting Remus over for the occasional cup of tea. Stopped telling him about the missions James and I are always sent on. And somewhere along the way, he stopped coming to visit me at my flat, and James and Lily and, more recently, Harry, at Godric’s Hollow. He got our unspoken message and we didn’t notice - or chose to ignore - his feelings. We only saw him a couple times every month, and he was now left alone to cope with his ‘little furry problem’, as James likes to call it. Liked to call it.
But maybe when I reach 31 Godric’s Hollow, James and Lily and I can sit down with a bottle of butterbeer each and talk about the good old days. Harry will be in Lily’s arms (after I get my fair share of playing with him, of course: throwing him into the air then catching him, all the fun stuff that Lily never allows James to do), gurgling quietly before dropping off to sleep; James and I will be sprawled out in front of the fireplace, grinning and poking fun at each other and trying to prove who acted the stupidest back in school, when we were all just a bunch of carefree idiots; we’ll pretend we don’t notice the frost creeping across the windowpane as the despair tries to worm its way in to the Potter home.
Nothing can reach them, though, thanks to the Fidelius Charm. We switched secret Keepers only two nights ago, and no one knows about the switch except the four of us; James and Lily know I’m thinking of going into hiding myself, and I suppose we could be each other’s Secret Keepers. But in all honesty, who would really think they’d choose little Peter over Sirius Black, their talented best friend and godparent to their only child? Yes, Peter is the better choice, in the end.
And the secret will go with us to our graves.
“Damn it.” I cut ignition and look around, just now realizing that I missed the turn to Godric’s Hollow altogether and have to retrace nearly ten minutes worth of riding. Now, having been on the road for the better part of an hour, I am chilled to the bone and more than eager to get to James’s house, with its cheery atmosphere that oozes love and comfort.
I let out a short bark of laughter: when had I turned so soft?
I finally reach Godric’s Hollow, but park and lock up my bike a good two blocks away from their house as an added precaution. I stuff my hands in my pockets for warmth and keep my head bowed; it honestly feels like the wind is trying to rip my head off.
“Wha…?” I sniff the air suspiciously as it blew around me. What’s that in the air? Is- is that smoke?
A gnawing sensation is eating at the inside of my stomach and I speed up; it must be midnight, who on earth would start a bonfire at this time of night? And it’s not like anyone would be knocking over candles at this time of night, or accidentally leaving the stove on, to start a fire.
Which leaves… him.
It's the only other possibility and I break into a run, leaping clear over a cardboard box that is blowing across the street. The wind is whipping everywhere and it takes all of my willpower to stay upright and on course. Something’s wrong, and I can feel it.
I reach the house and my mind goes blank. It is all I can do to keep down the bile rising in my throat, and to stay on my feet. The front door is hanging on its hinges and all the windows are smashed. And there, casting a sinister green glow on the neighborhood…
“No.” I stagger towards the house, pushing the door open; it lets out a weak whine before falling to the ground. “No.” I step into the foyer and let out a strangled yell. “NO!”
It’s unrecognizable. Completely destroyed. Lily’s stained glass lampshade is smashed on what was once an immaculate carpet, and most of the ceiling of James’s study is now lying at my feet. I whip out my wand, anger surging through my system in a terrifying fashion.
“No- no- no-” I gasp, blasting everything out of my way. I finally get to the kitchen and my stomach drops down to my feet.
There’s a body on the floor.
In a blind panic I stumble over, around the small fires that had cropped up, and drop to my knees. I grasp the shoulders I know all too well and heave my best friend over onto his back. James is now lying on his back, head in my lap. His expression tells more than anything else and I seem to be glued to the floor; I can’t move, I can’t breathe. His face is one of defiance, of hatred, of bravery. Of desperation, of hardness, of fear.
I bow my head, not letting the tears come, because if they come I know they’d never stop, crying for my friend who cannot be dead.
“I hate you,” I say quietly. I don’t know what I’m saying, but I need to say something, anything, I need to I need to I need to! “I hate you, how could you do this to them?” Almost without realizing it, my voice rises to a scream. “To Lily, to- to Harry- to me-!” A dry sob escapes my throat and I stand up abruptly.
Lily. Harry. They’re here somewhere.
I’ve got to find them.
I’m already out the door with one foot on the first step before I stop and retrace my steps, back to the kitchen. Kneeling down, I gently remove the glasses from his face. The left lens is completely shattered, but the right is cracked from the center out, intact nonetheless. I pocket these before sprinting out of the room and up the stairs, praying for what I knew was not to come.
I don’t know how I did it. I had raced from room to room, sparing it not more than a confirming glance before going to the next. Finally, at the end of the hallway, I had known what I would be facing.
“Lily? Harry?! Please, please someone answer!”
No sound was coming from the room and I shut my eyes tight. This wasn’t happening, this couldn’t be happening. Not to James, to Lily. Not to Harry.
I reached the door to Harry’s nursery, and my throat constricted. Fearing what I might see on the other side, I pushed the door open.
“Lily?” I waded through the debris, ignoring the humongous crater in the center of the room. I searched first his bassinet, then the rocking chair. “Harry, where are you? Harry, answer me, it’s your buddy Padfoot!” I continued searching the room and in the corner I was met with a sight I wasn’t ready for, a sight I’d never be ready for in a thousand years.
“Lily, oh sweet Merlin…”
I dropped to my knees for the second time in what seemed like years and pulled Lily gently onto my lap; her red fanned out on my lap, and I had to squeeze my eyes shut tight. "God, Lily..." I leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead before setting her back down and searching frantically in the rubble around her.
Harry wasn’t there.
“Harry. Harry, oh dear God, Harry. How could he do this to you, to your mum and dad?” And then it hit me, had struck me down the moment I was just trying to make sense of it all. My mind clouded over, and all I saw was red.
Pure, unadulterated red.
Him. It was his fault.
My mind is unnaturally clear. He has Harry, he must; I will find him, and I will make him pay for what he did to his best friends. How could he do this to them, how? But I have to find Harry, and then I’ll be damned if anything less than the jaws of life makes me leave that little boy’s side.
I'll go to Remus.
I know things haven’t been the best with the two of us for a long time, but it’s not just about me and him anymore. It involves Harry, and Lily and James.
“As soon as I find you, I’m bringing you to Uncle Remus, okay Harry?” I don't know who I'm making promises to now, Harry or myself, but I vow that as soon as I find Harry, I'll bring him to Remus. Harry will be safe with him, and will leave me free to hunt that traitorous little rat.
Back at the bike, I reach for my helmet, but I suddenly find myself retching into the bushes.
I don’t know how long I was there, but finally I straightened up, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand feebly. I straddle the bike quickly and put on my helmet, the moment of weakness gone. A loud rustling from the bushes breaks the stillness and on reflex I whip out my wand and send jinxes flying into the air towards the offending noise.
“Jesus Sirius, is tha’ you?”
“Yeah, it’s me, so yeh can point tha’ ruddy thing somewhere else!” He steps out of the shadows, and I take in his fearful expression with my own. I know my face is inscrutable, and his face crumples.
“So- so—” He takes a couple steps forward. “So yeh know?”
“Gone, Hagrid.” My voice cracks. “They’re gone, and I’m gonna kill him!” I jam the fly-button but Hagrid places his monstrous hands on either side of the bike and forces it back to the ground.
“Sirius, Sirius, he’s gone. Sirius, You-Know-Who is gone!”
“No. No, he took Harry, so I’m going to find Harry, and then I’ve got some business to attend to.” Hagrid lets out a howl which not only startles me, not only wakes up most of the neighbors, but causes another sound. Like… a baby crying?
“GONE! THEY DIED, BU’ POOR LITTLE HARRY IS LEFT! THA’ MURDERIN’, THA’ SLIMY, THA’- THA’-” He dissolves into large, noisy tears, taking out his spotted handkerchief. I see it now; he’s cradling a small bundle in his arms. I rip it out of his hands and hug Harry to my chest as though my life depended on it. I don’t know what in Hagrid’s performance triggers me, but soon I’m sobbing harder than Harry and Hagrid together. Long after Hagrid pulls himself together (and as the first curious neighbors poke their heads out of their windows), I’m still sobbing into the blanket wrapped around baby Harry.
“There there,” Hagrid says, his voice breaking as he pats my head soothingly; he sends my head crashing into the dashboard, and I look up at him through empty, hollow eyes. “There there there. It s’okay Sirius, it’ll- it’ll get better,” he says lamely, knowing that he could well be wrong about this - very wrong, indeed.
I shake my head, almost ashamed at my lapse. “Well I’ve got to get going, Hagrid. I’ve got to take Harry—”
“Oh no, I’ve got me orders to take Harry to Dumbledore himself,” Hagrid cuts in. “Said he wants Harry straigh’ away, he did. I only stuck around because I saw you go into the house, an’ I didn’ want anyone ter mess with the house, an’ I couldn’t tell who it was from so far away.” I look up at him incredulously, ignoring the second part of what he had said altogether.
“But- but I’m his godfather! I’ll take him Hagrid, let me take him, please.” But he shakes his head stubbornly, and I find myself filling with rage again.
“Nope. Dumbledore said I was to bring Harry to a sp’cific address, I got it here somewhere…” He trailed off, searching his overcoat’s many pockets.
“Nevermind the stupid address, I don’t need it, Harry’s coming with me.” I stare up into Hagrid’s eyes dangerously, challenging him to contradict me. He seems to be in two minds, but he finally gulps.
“Bu’- bu’ Dumbledore said--”
“God, just take him!” I shout angrily, my impatience finally winning out. I shove Harry into his arms, looking up at Hagrid angrily. “I’ve got things to do right now - owl me the address tomorrow, please, I’d like to reclaim my godson as soon as I possibly can, thanks.” I take a shuddering breath and rest my forehead against my godson's.
"I will come back for you."
I stay there for a moment longer, gathering my willpower. Straightening up, I rest my hand on the top of Harry’s head for one more moment before getting off the bike.
“Bu’ Sirius! This—”
“Take it, I don’t need it anymore.”
I don't know what makes me do that - I feel a sinking feeling in my gut even as I speak these words - but I stalk off, ignoring his protests; some of the braver neighbors are coming out of their houses now - I hear one scream and rush into the house, yelling something about 'foning' those people they call please-men - but I apparate at the corner. To hell with the Wizarding Statute of Secrecy. I’m going to find that little rat, and I’m going to kill him. He killed Lily and James, and I’m going to kill him.
I wake up with a start. That Lestrange boy’s moaning again, I note dully. My dreams have turned to That Night again. Again, and again, and again. I roll over and watch the dementors bring in the newest man. What’s his name again?
More importantly: why do I even care…
Another set of dementors pass by my cell and the Azkaban Chill, as they call it, deepens. It’s getting dark, I think. I haven’t seen the light of day in how many years, but the shadows don’t lie, and sometimes I can tell if it’s night or day.
I can’t get That Night out of my mind, and it’s like a film playing on the insides of my eyelids. Over and over and over. No rest.
“I’m innocent,” I rasp desperately. “I’m innocent, I didn’t kill them!” But no one is listening and I fall back against the wall, falling asleep within the minute.
“PETER!” I roar. “PETER, THERE’S NO USE IN HIDING! COME OUT, COME OUT, LITTLE PETER!” The muggles, both curious and frightened at the animalistic quality of my voice, stop to watch me and the person I was calling to. That man in question, the one who I used to be able to call my friend, stops in his tracks. We are both shaking: him in fear, me in pure hatred. He whips around, pointing at me with a shaking left hand.
“You killed them!” he cries out for the whole street to hear. My stomach does flip-flops, not truly believing he could actually be saying this. “Lily and James, Sirius! How could you?” I spring into action; my eyes go wide and my hand dives into my robes, rage and anger and sorrow coursing through my veins all at once. Before I can even think of a spell worthy of his sliminess, however, a huge bang echoes in the street. As soon as the smoke clears I look around wildly, but there’s no sign of him. The street has a huge crater in the very center, where he was standing only moments ago, and a horde of rats are zooming into the exposed sewers. I look around in mounting horror and see corpses lying on the sidewalk, only feet away from where Peter and I were fighting. My wand is held in a fighting stance and people are starting to scream. I realize what this looks like but I can’t move; I’m frozen in place.
I wake up before it’s over, tears streaming down my wasted, waxy face, but the dream becomes a living nightmare.
My jaw had dropped, and then I did something even I cannot explain to this day. Maybe I couldn't believe how ludicrous this all seemed to me, and I suppose the emotional burden became too much to take as I watched my world crumble around me... But I laughed. I laughed, and laughed, and laughed. And as the Department of Magical Catastrophes came to cart me away I was laughing. I don’t remember when exactly I stopped laughing, but it must have been during the twelve long years I’ve been stuck here, brooding over the injustice done to me.
I search half-heartedly through my prison robes, digging and digging until I find what I'm looking for. I pull the grimy spectacles - now just empty frames, I have taken them out so many times just to prove to myself that I did, once upon a time, have a life worth living - I pull them out of my pocket, and feel like weeping all over again.
I would, if not for that barely-flickering flame inside my chest: hope. I have a plan. I have a plan, now, and it just might help me avenge my best friends who died on that Halloween night in 1981.
My body slackens, and I lean against the wall, eyes falling shut.
Fear can hold you prisoner... hope can set you free.
The quote at the end there is from The Shawshank Redemption.
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