Chapter 1 : The First Taste of Freedom
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Author’s Note: This story contains a depiction of anorexia. Proceed at your own risk.
The first thing he noticed when his paws finally touched dry ground were the plethora of smells.
He pulled himself up roughly out of the harbor, the brackish water dripping by the gallon out of his soaked black fur. His pink nostrils were assaulted with the smell of the nearby fish market, his acute senses detecting that a small percentage of the fish that would be for sale come sunrise were already turning rotten. The workers bustling back and forth from the ship to the fish stand, all of them carrying tin buckets full of glistening salmon and trout in their slick hands, were seemingly too busy to notice the malnourished black dog sneak by them as he retreated to the safety of the dark alleyway behind the market.
He could now detect the rancid stench of urban garbage, the remains of groceries purchased by harried London housewives mixed in with discarded beer bottles and used-up cigarettes. He tiptoed past a spot that reeked of urine, turning his nose away from the cardboard box and dirty clothes that marked the area as someone’s attempt at making a home. He had no concept of the time, but a glance at the fading stars above suggested that daylight wasn’t far off. He picked up the pace slightly, the urgency of his situation beginning to impress itself on him for the first time since he’d left the safety of the murky water.
Sticking to the shadows, he emerged from the alley into the shopping district, recalling now that he had never understood why the city planners had placed it so close to the stinking seafood vendors. The sensation of cool brick under his exhausted paws was almost completely unfamiliar, lost to him except in distant memories. He glanced to his left and right idly, watching the shopkeepers set up for the day behind large glass windows. These, too, largely ignored the dog, none of them picking up on his wistful attempt to savor his freedom, never knowing when it might be snatched from him once again.
He paused when he reached a run-down looking pub at the end of the street. He could barely make out the name on the peeling sign, which lazily moved to and fro in the breeze just as it always had in his memory, but the scents of Firewhisky and fish and chips were enough to identify the achingly familiar building that stood before him. It was amazing, the fact that the pub could appear to be falling apart on the outside but boast of so many loyal patrons within. He could not remember a time when the Leaky Cauldron had not been there, and he was certain that the pub would survive him upon his death.
Godric’s Hollow was within walking distance of this part of town. His paws turned in that direction of their own accord, picking themselves up and down and producing a frustrated whine from his canine throat. The door to the pub opened, and a couple stepped out. He turned back into the shadows, disappearing from sight before they even realized anything had been there.
There was nothing for him in Godric’s Hollow. There was nothing for him anywhere, really.
He kept walking, moving almost involuntarily down the brick road until the posters stopped appearing and his own face no longer glared madly down at him from the left and right. The Ministry had been quick in announcing his escape, issuing photos of him to the Daily Prophet almost as soon as he’d taken the risky dive into the unforgiving waters below the prison. He was startled by the insanity in his eyes, not to mention the way he lunged at the camera like a wild animal. He had tried not to think on it too long, however. If he became too nostalgic for his former self, the Dementors might be able to track him, even though he had put many miles between him and them. Instead, he pushed himself along, more glad than ever that he and the others had never registered themselves as Animagi.
Peter. James. He felt his heart stop momentarily; for which man, he could not tell.
Lily. Oh, Merlin, Lily. Sweet, selfless Lily, and Harry. Merlin.
Remus was probably out there alone somewhere, poor chap.
When he was sure he was out of the reach of the Ministry’s search squads, he ducked into another alley, closing his eyes and praying that no one would notice the dog becoming a man under the cover of the retreating darkness. He raised himself up onto his hind legs automatically, feeling his bones crack satisfactorily as they transformed from the simple paws of a stray into the more elaborate feet of a grown man. Most of the dark fur gave way to a thinner layer of hair that covered his skin, and his bones protruded much more prominently than they had moments ago. The fur continued to recede upward, revealing a number of meaningless tattoos that he had carved into his flesh with stolen quills in order to amuse himself in prison, and his long snout and pointed ears transformed into curly black hair and sunken cheeks. The only parts of him that did not change were his deep, soulful gray eyes, which appeared to be much older than they were.
Sirius. It was an unfortunate name, the result of his mother’s fanaticism for astronomy, though she could never had guessed at the extent of the irony it would carry when worn by her eldest son. Though his family was not the only one with unusual choices in monikers, he feared others’ tolerance of the identifier would cease upon his arrival at Hogwarts, and so he began making a joke out of his own name long before any of his future classmates would have the chance.
“I’m serious—” His mother would say, frowning accusingly at another of his sins.
“I’m serious!” Regulus would insist, another attempt at impressing his brother falling flat.
“I’m serious.” One of his cousins would brag, confirming rumors of an attempt to woo her.
No, I’m Sirius.
It got a few laughs, but his family did not possess a great deal of mirth. His schoolmates had reserved much more appreciation for it as well as his other jokes. Sirius always thought he’d run out of money before he ran out of humor, and now he felt he was hopelessly bereft of both.
No, I’m Sirius. He needed to remember that. He refused to let himself forget who he was.
Another homeless London citizen had left clothes behind to mark his place in the alley. These did not stink of human waste, and he seized the opportunity, leaving his torn prison robes behind as a poor substitute. He found a pale green button-down shirt with a hole in one sleeve, and he dug out an old pair of jeans with torn knees from behind the nearby dumpster. He searched thoroughly for shoes, but found none. He sighed, accepting that his calloused soles would have to do. The comforting familiarity of the brick beneath him confirmed that this was a good choice.
He kept walking for a little ways, wanting to put a good amount of distance between him and the abandoned clothes from Azkaban. In a fleeting thought, he felt sorry for the man who would return to the uniform after a day of searching for food, making a mental note to leave something out for a fellow nomad later on when he proved his innocence and got his life back. If he could.
She dared to glance up at the clock above the Head Table as they stumbled into the Great Hall through a side door. It was ten o’clock. Breakfast was as good as over. They were beyond late.
The sunglasses nearly fell off her face as she moved down the aisle between the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor tables, and she was forced to lean on her companion for support, though he had consumed twice as much alcohol as she had the previous evening. The morning sunlight poured relentlessly through the large windows on either side of them, illuminating the disheveled waves in her blonde locks and attacking her eyes, causing her to squint and put a hand up as protection. This merely resulted in an awkward stumble to her right, and her nearly knocking an innocent second year at the Ravenclaw table into his morning cereal aroused the attention of those around them, including the small group at one end of the Gryffindor table that she and her inebriated boyfriend now approached.
It had been his idea, like it always was. She put on an expensive dress, knowing full well it would be lucky to still be in one piece by the time she made her way back to the castle the next day, and took her time applying makeup that had no hope of remaining un-smudged for long. They went from one bar to another, their usual Saturday night activity, and then they stole Italian food out of the back of a Muggle restaurant in order to put off the inevitable hangover. The couple wrapped up the evening by falling asleep in Cygnus and Druella Black’s backyard hedge maze. They were awakened by a troop of confused house elves at approximately nine-thirty.
A girl at the Slytherin table stared at her disdainfully, her blonde hair tied back in perfect curls. The blond-haired boy next to her refused to even look at the pair. A passing Hufflepuff created a slight breeze with her twirling skirt, and she looked down to find a long rip in the side of her dress. Her lacy underwear peeked out at the top, and she blushed slightly despite herself. A glance at her companion revealed that he had fared slightly better, losing only a shoe and sock.
As they neared the group, she pushed her sunglasses back into place, certain that her eyes were bloodshot enough to shock Madam Pomfrey. Professor McGonagall passed by, her lips fully pursed, though the headmaster betrayed a tiny smile from his place at the Head Table.
Of the three boys sitting before them, two smiled, and the other motioned to the boy accompanying her to remove the smeared pink lipstick that adorned his cheeks and neck. He kept wiping, trying fruitlessly to remove the guilty bruises that were beginning to appear. The red-headed girl seated next to them smirked just slightly. “You’ve got spaghetti sauce in your hair.”
She shot up, not having meant to fall into daydreams with her head on her folded arms. A quick glance around the small diner revealed that she hadn’t missed much, and she tried to remove the annoyed look on her face before the manager made her way over to the counter where she stood.
“Wake up! What if we get somebody in for lunch and they see you like that?”
She smiled slightly, tucking her long blonde hair behind her ears. “I’m sorry, Casey.” She said, feeling the slightest bit of pity for the older woman next to her, who had spent ten years of her life trying to keep the diner afloat. This section of London was mostly abandoned, and getting more than two or three customers for lunch would be a real miracle. They didn’t even bother serving dinner anymore, seeing as they didn’t make enough to pay for the electricity.
“It’s all right. You okay? You don’t look like you slept well.”
I never sleep well, she almost reminded the woman. But it was pointless to do so; it wouldn’t cause her endless worrying to cease. Instead, she pretended not to hear, turning and emptying the ancient toaster on the countertop of stale breadcrumbs.
“Told you.” Casey said, anticipating the ringing bells that signaled an opening door before they sounded. She turned, brushing the crumbs from her worn white apron and faded yellow t-shirt. A bedraggled-looking man came in, sitting down at the counter without a word. He wore a green shirt and jeans that barely fit him, and his hair looked like it hadn’t been washed… well, ever. His eyes were kind, or at least they seemed that way, since he would barely look at anyone.
The diner only had a few regulars. There was an old man who didn’t seem to realize that there were other options for lunch, a single mother with two small children who couldn’t afford to go into the main part of town to eat, and a teenager who came in every afternoon to drink coffee and draw monsters in the outlines of his unfinished essays. She had never seen this man come in before.
Still, the missing beats of her heart reminded her, she would recognize Sirius Black anywhere.