“Behind those English prison walls,
The innocent and tortured call.
They call for justice and for peace,
And the chance to live again,
For in their dark and lonely cell,
There‘s no justice; there‘s no freedom bell.”
Azkaban was cold and dark, but after ten years in the place, Sirius barely noticed it. His eyes had grown accustomed to the dim light and his body had all but adjusted to the chilly temperatures.
Sometimes he wondered what it would feel like to return to the real world at this stage. It was his dearest wish, of course. He suspected that it was the dearest wish of anybody in Azkaban who still retained the sanity to wish for anything at all. And yet, there were times, usually when the Dementors surrounded him and sucked all his happiest memories of the past from him, when he wondered if he would be capable of returning now.
He was no longer the person he was when he had been arrested. You couldn’t spend a decade locked away from the world, your only company that of madmen and creatures who fed off human emotions, without changing.
He’d been lucky, he supposed (if you could consider anything about being imprisoned for something you didn’t do “lucky”) to have retained any degree of normality at all. None of his fellow prisoners seemed to have managed that.
And yet, he couldn’t help occasionally wondering if he was normal enough to survive the real world. Perhaps, he only felt sane in comparison to the people around him. Even as Padfoot, he was closer to human than most of them were. But that didn’t mean he could live a normal human life as Padfoot. And maybe he could no longer do so as Sirius either.
It was his acceptance of the isolation that bothered him the most. As a young man, Sirius had loved company. He and James had spent practically every waking moment together, where possible also in the company of the other two Marauders and surrounded by devoted admirers or beautiful girls. He’d never liked being alone and couldn’t understand how Remus could spent an hour at a time in the library or sitting by the lake with a book. He’d always thought that it was only nerds with no friends who did stuff like that. The young Sirius had been in his element when there were plenty of people around: partying in the dormitory or playing Quidditch with his team or hanging out in The Three Broomsticks, supping Butterbeer and trying vainly to convince the barmaid he was old enough to buy Firewhiskey.
So it was hard to believe that, by this stage, he had become used to his own company. You couldn’t say that you enjoyed anything in Azkaban. The Dementors made actual enjoyment impossible. But he no longer hated spending time alone in thought.
He wondered what it would be like to actually communicate with people now. Would he even know how to? He had been deprived of normal human company for so long that he wondered if he would even know how to relate to other human beings.
Thoughts of his godson floated into his mind as they had so often over the past ten years. How would Harry react if he saw his godfather now? And how would Sirius react to him? He could barely remember the last time he had seen a child and when he had, they hadn’t made that much of an impression on him. He’d been a young man about town, playing the field. Children had been a long time in his future and it was only when Harry was born that he’d started to pay any attention to them at all.
He’d be about eleven now; starting Hogwarts. What appealed to boys that age nowadays? Sirius had no idea. Somehow, dreadful though the knowledge that he could not see Harry was, the thought that they might have nothing to say to each other even if they did meet was far worse.
“So free the people.
Let them go.
You can’t hold them anymore.
But remember too
It could be me or you
Behind those prison walls.”
Although there was no evidence, or at least none that he knew of, Sirius doubted that he was the only innocent man in Azkaban. Over the final few years of Voldemort’s reign of terror, the Ministry, and the entire wizarding world, had become increasingly paranoid. It was understandable, he supposed, with the atrocities being committed every day.
But Crouch had taken advantage of it, in his opinion. He’d built a political reputation based on the tough stance he took against Death Eaters. The problem was that he didn’t always wait for evidence showing who was guilty. The more arrests you made, the better it looked, so Crouch was making as many as possible.
Sirius wasn’t bitter. Even if there had been a proper trial, he suspected that the amount of evidence against him would have been enough to send him to prison. And he deserved it anyway. Maybe he hadn’t been the one to actually betray his friend, but it had been his fault. If he hadn’t trusted Peter...
Once Hagrid had taken Harry out of his arms, there had been nothing else to lose anyway. James, his best friend and the closest thing he had to real family was dead. Lily was dead. Peter, one of his closest living friends, had betrayed them. At that point, Harry was the only thing left that had really mattered to him and once he’d lost him, he no longer cared what happened to him.
“By the laws of God,
It’s surely wrong,
For they’ve suffered now
For far too long.
And with no evidence, no proof
Of what you say they’re guilty of.”
But Sirius had a strong sense of justice and he hadn’t liked the way Crouch was dealing with the threat to the wizarding world. Even before it had affected him personally, he didn’t like the man or his policies. Neither had James, if he remembered correctly.
Crouch had always seemed a little too concerned with the powerful; too anxious to please those, and only those, whose opinions were likely to influence his career. It was said that even his own son had been neglected as a result of his, almost obsessive, ambition.
In some ways, Sirius thought, Crouch’s own views weren’t all that far from the Death Eaters, despite his evident hatred of them. Like Voldemort, he ignored or mistreated those he considered his inferiors. Admittedly he was doing it for a good cause; that of defeating the Death Eaters, but perhaps Voldemort believed that his cause was justified too.
It had never seemed justifiable to Sirius, probably because of his friendship with Remus. Before that, the question of how ignored groups in wizarding society were treated probably wouldn’t have even occurred to him. Nothing in his upbringing had taught him to consider the marginalized. His friendship with Remus and James had taught him a whole different way of thinking and he couldn’t help feeling that Crouch was the kind of man who would despise Remus if he found out about his “furry little problem”, as James always called it.
Trying to put such things out of his mind was an impossibility in Azkaban. The Dementors constantly forced you to remember and relive them. Sirius had long since lost count of the number of times that awful Halloween night ten years ago had been replayed in his imagination, along with the time he had first suggested that they use Peter as secret-keeper and countless memories of his mother. The only way he could escape was by transforming into Padfoot.
Not that he could complain too much. At least he had a way of escaping. Surrounded by people who had no such escape, Sirius felt grateful for that.
Before he had come to Azkaban, he could never have imagined feeling grateful, simply for the occasional respite from almost constant mental torture. He doubted that anybody who had not experienced a truly horrific situation could do so. In ordinary life, even minor difficulties were a source of irritation, but when your whole life was one big difficulty, you had to find some positives or you would go completely insane. He saw how it had happened to those around him.
“But to me, it is
A crime, a shame,
How you treated them
Was all a game,
But the howling winds of justice
Will cry out to free their name.”
Sirius had long since given up expecting some miracle to prove his innocence and free him from this place.
At one time, when the original grief and guilt at James’ death and anger at Peter’s betrayal had begun to recede, he had dreamed of somebody catching a glimpse of Peter. After all, he’d have to transform back sometime, wouldn’t he? Nobody could spend years and years as a rat! Or that some Death Eater would give something away at their trial that would prove Sirius’ innocence for once and for all.
It hadn’t happened. And after ten years, it was hardly likely to.
A cold breeze signalled the arrival of Dementors, on their nightly rounds and Sirius’ mind was again overtaken with despair. All thoughts of relief that he could transform to escape the very worst effects were forgotten, as he was once again reminded that he was trapped in this hell for the rest of his life.
“You took away the sunshine
And you took away the rain.
You stole away those youthful years
They’ll never see again.
You robbed them of their freedom
And you jailed them without crime.
You denied them of their liberty.
You stole away their time.”
Sirius had been a young man when he entered Azkaban; only twenty-one years old. His whole life had been ahead of him and despite the threat the wizarding world had been facing, he had been looking forward to it. Always willing to take a risk, Sirius had seen himself playing a leading role in the defeat of the Death Eaters. It was something that he and James had often discussed in their Hogwarts’ days: how they were going to join the Order as soon as they were old enough and help to see Britain from tyranny.
Then they would be free to live their own lives. James had known what he’d wanted: marriage to Lily, a couple of kids, possibly a career as an Auror. Sirius’ plans had been less clear, but at the back of his mind, he had seen himself dating a string of gorgeous young women and eventually settling down with one when he was too old for the dating scene.
He was too old now. Not just for the dating scene, but even for marriage. Oh, not in age. He wouldn’t even be thirty-two for another couple of weeks. That was still young. But Sirius no longer felt young.
Even if he were released from Azkaban now, he doubted that he could ever form any kind of a romantic relationship.
There were no mirrors in Azkaban, so he could not tell for sure what he looked like, but he very much doubted that he resembled the good-looking young man they had arrested in any way whatsoever. Sirius smiled ruefully as he remember his previous vanity. He had always been proud of the way he looked, but now it seemed entirely insignificant. He had lost far more important things in the past decade.
He wasn’t sure that he could put words on what those things were or how exactly it was that he had changed, but somehow he felt that in every way that mattered, he was a broken down old man by now. His health, his looks, his enthusiasm for life; all the things that indicated youth, were lost to him forever.
And what was possibly worse was that it wasn’t only his present life or even his future that had been stolen from him. It was his past as well.
Sometimes a quick image of his previous life slipped into his head: skating on the lake outside Hogwarts when it froze over, visiting James’ family in the school holidays, chatting up girls, playing Quidditch. Then a Dementor would float past and the memory would be obliterated and replaced with horrors.
It was probably the worst thing about Azkaban. Not just the constant barrage of dreadful memories, but the loss of all his more precious ones.
Was it his imagination or were his memories of James, Lily and Harry becoming fainter? Could he some day forget about them altogether and become locked into a prison of his own mind, like so many of the other prisoners were? He didn’t know. Sometimes he imagined it was happening. Or maybe it wasn’t just imagination.
When those thoughts came to him, he felt that he had to get out. He needed to get to Harry before he forgot about him altogether. Get to him and ensure that he was protected from Voldemort, who was some strange reason known only to himself, and possibly Dumbledore, was determined to kill the boy.
He knew that it was hopeless, though. Nobody ever escaped from Azkaban. There was only one release and that was death. And sometimes, late at night as he lay awake, hearing nothing but the wind blowing through the prison, he wished that it would come quickly. At least then he’d be free.
“So free the people.
Let them go.
You can’t hold them anymore.
But remember too
It could be me or you
Behind those prison walls.”