If you haven’t read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, you shouldn’t be reading this story. As it takes place right in the middle of Book Three, the reader should be familiar with that material before perusing this little tidbit. As always, JKRs work is her own, and she owns the world I am writing in. Thanks, TB
He was actually whistling as he worked, this one. Watching him was nearly enough to make oneself forget the woes of the world and personal grievances. It was obvious that the Longbottom boy loved working with plants more than anything in the world, and witnessing such simple but powerful happiness was enough to make even Sirius a little less serious.
He’d have chuckled to himself over that old joke if not for two things. First and foremost, he was a wanted man on the run from the worst imaginable monsters and was singularly pursuing a relentless desire for revenge against the person who had betrayed his best friend to an early death and then faked his own death to frame Sirius for the treacherous act. Between that and the fact that he was currently hunkered down in the shape of a very large dog and was trying to be as quiet as possible, laughter seemed inadvisable at the moment. He’d have to amuse himself later on, once he’d completed his present task.
The boy continued with his labor of love as Sirius silently went over his plan. It wasn’t the best, most cleverly-conceived idea he had ever had, and he surely hadn’t spent long going over it. Such long-winded schemes had never suited Sirius’ style, and his penchant for “winging it” was legendary. Still though, something about spending so much time locked away had given him a moment’s pause when considering this current endeavor. The truth of the matter was simple really: if he messed this up, he could end up as dementor food or worse; he might get this seemingly happy child hurt. Neither outcome was particularly attractive to him.
With all of that in mind, he knew he’d still go through with it. No risk could be too big when compared to the desperation of his circumstances. The specters of James, Lily and the man he had been before all that had happened were screaming for action from him, and the one sure cure for that sanity was the blood of Peter Pettigrew. Oh yes, Wormtail would be dead soon, and Sirius would enjoy the pleasure of watching the light of life leave the eyes of his old friend as he finally got what he deserved. He could only hope that the cowardly weakling wouldn’t die too quickly, because Sirius really wanted to take the time to thoroughly enjoy the murder for which he had been imprisoned.
The funniest thing about it was that Neville actually reminded him of a young Peter in some ways. Both of them were quiet and awkward and in search of friends. It was true, that when he began stalking the Longbottom boy he had chosen him because of these similarities, thinking that if the worst did happen at least it would prevent a risk of history repeating itself at the hands of cowardly ineptitude. Soon though, he learned that this boy was nothing like the one he had once called friend. Neville was brave in his own way, and though he did seek friendship it was not of the sycophantic variety that Peter had always longed for. This was a good-hearted boy whose awkwardness came from a sadness that most of the other children here could never fathom. What was most amazing about him was his cheerful and often optimistic nature despite the darkness he had faced. It was those key differences that gave Sirius pause even now, when time was wasting and the school was rapidly emptying of students bound for Hogsmeade. He would have to act quickly if he was to accomplish his goal.
Steeling himself he stepped forward and uttered a low bark, hoping that it would be quiet enough to go unnoticed by anyone else about. Neville turned with a start, dropping the pruning shears he had been holding at the sight of the very large dog that he saw. Sirius took a few steps forward, holding up his left front paw as a sign of injury. He sighed in a low moan hoping that Neville got the point of his ruse.
“Oh” the boy said quietly, obviously still alarmed at the size of the animal that now even closer to him. “But you’re hurt, aren’t you.
Sirius had known that he would have to play it out for this boy who was not quite as quick or confident as some of the other children he could have used for this. He took another few hobbling steps forward and laid his head against the boy’s outstretched hand. He tried really hard to give the boy a very dog-like gaze with big eyes that hopefully conveyed the sadness that all dogs seem to be filled with.
Neville nearly jerked his hand back, but seemed to think better of it. He stuttered a bit when next he spoke; his words were cautious and uncertain. “I...I could go get Hagrid…urm...maybe he could fix you?”
He didn’t have time for this, but he had always thought that he would have to lead this particular boy a little more than most. Seizing the front of his robe between his teeth, Sirius did just that. He dragged a very frightened and bewildered Neville into the edge of the Forbidden Forest. The boy didn’t fight much, such was his surprised state, and it was only after Sirius had turned loose of him that he really seemed to take notice of his new surroundings. There was a moment of minor panic about where he was, but to his credit Neville never cried out or screamed for help. He only turned back to look at the dog that had dragged him, fast becoming more curious than afraid.
Neville’s curiousity was quickly satisfied when Sirius transformed in front of him with his wand out and flourished it in a quick disarming spell. The boy was knocked off his feet as his wand flew unerringly into Sirius’ open hand. Another wave of his wand wrapped the boy in silvery chains that left him struggling and exasperating at the highly wanted fugitive across the clearing from him.
“You can try to call for help, but the muffliato charm will prevent it from being heard.” Sirius informed him. “Also, if you don’t want me to petrify you, I would suggest that you stop struggling so much. I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself trying to get away.”
Neville stopped for a moment, but he didn’t speak. He only glared at Sirius with a very distasteful look in his eyes. Sirius could handle that look; he thought that if the boy had grown up where he had, he would know that Sirius was immune to hateful gazes. He allowed himself a small ironic laugh as he addressed his writhing captive once more. “You’ll not manage your way out of those, Neville. They’ve held a werewolf before, and I doubt you can out-struggle him.”
“I wish there were more time so that I could try to explain things more and maybe put you at ease.” Sirius said with an attempt at pleasantness. The look on Neville’s face told him that it was pointless, so he moved on. “There is something I need from inside the school Neville, and I’m sorry to say that I’m going to have to have your help getting it.”
“I won’t help you.” Neville said with great vehemence. “You’ll have to kill me first.”
“Hmmm…well I’m afraid that killing you won’t really help me much, so I’ll skip that kind offer.” He paused there, hoping to give Neville enough time to work out that it was a joke, which of course he didn’t. “You will be helping me though, whether you like it or not.”
The boy at his feet began thrashing wildly at this last remark, and Sirius had to admit that Neville might just give old Remus a run for his money. He was about to tell him the truth about his plan when Neville turned his head to look him in the eyes and spoke words that would haunt him throughout the rest of his short life. There were tears in his eyes as he said “Not even if you torture me, murderer. Not even if you use the cruciat…”
Sirius stopped him there, unable to bear hearing the remonstrations of Frank and Alice Longbottoms’ only child. “No, I won’t be doing that one.” He quickly and quietly replied. “I think the world’s seen enough of it.”
His heart nearly went out of it then, and it took all he had not to wipe the boy’s memory and just walk away from his plan. His resolve wouldn’t let him though, and he took comfort in knowing that the boy wouldn’t remember this violation. He decided that the conversation was over, unsure as to whether it was due to Neville’s pain or his own.
“Altramixi.” He said, pointing the wand first at Neville and then to himself. He could feel the transformation of his own body and it was little different than that of Animagi. The boy however was unaccustomed to such things and suffered great discomfort as his body grew taller and thinner and took on the appearance of the man he had been arguing with. Luckily it was brief, and when it was over Sirius spoke to him in his own voice. “I want you to know that I am sorry for this, more than you would ever believe.”
The hateful looming of his own eyes glaring back at him was the only reply he got. And he had to admit a certain shock at seeing how horrible he now looked, how the years had withered his features and turned his face into a death’s mask. He kept his voice steady though, as he made a promise to both Neville and himself: “I’ll be back in an hour, if luck is with me.”