The self-propelling boat jerks to a halt. Minister Fudge rearranges his robes and steps out onto the grassy bank in a dignified manner. A hooded Dementor awaits him, drawing chilly, rattled breaths, its robes billowing despite of the stillness of the air. Fudge feels a wave of despair wash over him and shudders; he shakes his head, trying to get rid of the memory of his mother’s demise. His grip around the newspaper he is holding tightens. The Dementor, however, does not acknowledge his presence. It simply stands there, trying to consume any happy memory around it.
Fudge looks up at the prison. The tall, dark battlement gives him a sense of foreboding. There are thick iron grills on every window to keep the residents inside where they belong. Light streams out through them, flickering now and then. The souls of their inhabitants, he knows, flicker between sanity and madness; who could stay normal in the presence of those cloaked fiends, the Dementors? He shakes his head and cranes his neck further back. He notices a face staring at him from the topmost cell.
Fudge blinks. The face is gone.
He chuckles. Maybe he is going temporarily mad, too. Clenching the newspaper tightly, he walks towards the iron door, the Dementor gliding soundlessly behind him.
Sirius Black stares at the tiny figure until it disappears from view.
He tears his face away from the window and looks around his cramped cell. The stone walls are covered with lines he has drawn on them to keep count of days. After the first year or so he had lost count; now they are just a part of his cell. There is nothing much inside to keep him company. His bed is just a sheet of straw lying on a stone slab. A broken, wooden chair lays forgotten in one corner. A tiny candle rests on a bracket beside the grills - his only source of light. It burns slowly, steadily…
A Dementor glides past his cell, drawing rattling breaths. Sirius closes his eyes, trying to battle the oncoming despair.
James and Lily, lying on the floor, dead.
Outside the fortress, the sky suddenly becomes cloudy. Thunder rumbles. Lightning flashes.
Their eyes staring up at the ceiling with vacant expressions.
A strong gust of icy wind blows in. The candle flickers.
He remembers the day he was imprisoned for killing his friends. Subconsciously, he opens his mouth to let out a shout…
No! he tells himself. I did not kill them.
But he as good as killed them. He had brought about the murder of his friends. He is the reason they are dead…
The wind blows even more strongly. A storm is brewing outside. The candle flickers so much it almost goes out.
Another Dementor passes outside. Sirius can hear screams coming from down the corridor. He ignores them like he did for the past twelve years. He knows they’ll shut up soon. They’ll forget everything, wallowing in their grief, giving up their souls. The Dementors will make them relive their memories until they’re nothing but hollow shells. And then everything will go quiet…
A Dementor takes a breath. Something dies.
Sirius shudders. He won’t give up. He has done nothing wrong. He hadn’t killed his friends. He hadn’t killed those Muggles. He recites this mantra over and over again, telling himself not to think about anything else. It has been like this for the past twelve years. This truth burns inside him like a talisman, keeping him sane, keeping his body and soul one.
Outside, the storm stops raging. The battle is over. The candle no longer flickers. Everything is calm.
He hears a noise. He senses the Dementors getting edgy, feeling pleasure. A healthy person is coming.
Sirius laughs bitterly. He knows it is just the Minister, he’s seen him coming in. He wasn’t here to stay. He felt a vindictive pleasure in relishing that the Dementors will be deprived of food today…
A few seconds later Fudge strolls into view, his sides flanked by two Dementors, followed by an entourage of grim Ministry officials. Sirius knows they had been waiting inside the prison long before the arrival of Fudge; he had seen them move up and down the prison, making sure everything was in order. Sirius is delighted to see Fudge so skirmish, so uncomfortable, so… frightened. Fudge takes a look at Sirius and blinks.
“Hello Minister, nice seeing you here,” Sirius says casually, standing up and ambling over, his hands in his pocket. He beams, yet his eyes remain colder than ice. “I don’t have many visitors, see.” He fights to keep the bitterness out of his voice; he doesn’t want to appear weak.
“B-black, you…” Fudge falters, looking frightened. “I see you’re well.”
“Courtesy of my hosts.” He motions to the Dementors with his hands. “They keep me well fed.”
He sees something in Fudge’s hand. It is a newspaper. He wants to see the world outside.
“Yes, well,” Fudge says, not meeting Sirius’ eyes. “I - I really should be going now, I -”
“Have you finished with it, Minister?” Sirius asks quickly.
“W-what?” Fudges eyes are popping out of his sockets. He looks so comical Sirius has to bite back a laugh. Sirius finds it funny that everything he says is taken to be something vile.
“I was talking about your paper, Minister,” Sirius says, pointing at the yellowish object sticking out of Fudge’s clenched fists. “Are you done with it? It’s been a long time since I last saw one. I used to love the crosswords, I miss doing them now. Mind if I have a go at it?”
Fudge looks as though Sirius has asked him for his limb. He turns and looks helplessly at one man Sirius recognised as an Auror, who takes the newspaper from Fudge rather reluctantly. Gradually he raises his arm and inches the paper in between the bars. Sirius takes it from him, thanking him. The Auror recoils his hand in a flash, as though he were afraid Sirius might be contagious.
“I’ll see you later, then, Minister. Goodbye,” Sirius says in a tone ringing with finality. He is done with the man. Without looking back, he shuffles over to his bed and sits down on the hard surface, the paper hiding his face from view.
Fudge isn’t sure whether to feel relief or indignation at being dismissed. Instead, he scowls and goes on with his inspection, leaving Sirius alone once again.
As a horde of Dementors passes him, Sirius feels nothing. He is victorious. The candle burns brightly, cheerfully, bathing him in a pale yellow light.
He unrolls the paper eagerly and looks at the front page. He sees the headline and snorts.
MINISTRY OF MAGIC EMPLOYEE SCOOPS GRAND PRIZE*
Underneath is the photo of a wizard family standing in front of what looks like pyramids. There are nine of them, all shabby looking red-heads.
If that is the headlines, he thought sourly, the Wizarding world must be pretty boring without Voldemort on the loose. He is about to fold the paper and throw it away, but something catches his eye. There is something odd about the photo. Something amiss. Something… impossible.
He looks at the photo, his eyes widened in shock. The paper falls out of his hand.
Sitting on the shoulder of a young ginger-haired boy is a rat. It is an ordinary-looking rat. Yet it is horribly familiar. Memories flood back into his head, memories he has forgotten long ago. It passes through him like a jolt of electricity. The picture glares up at him, mocking him, mocking everything he believes. The rat is the only thing that Sirius can see.
Another memory takes over. A line out of another newspaper, twelve years ago, taken from a Ministry official in the same way he had taken this paper from Fudge. The largest piece of Pettigrew that was found was his finger.
The rat has a toe missing.
It fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. He feels a flicker of fear. Then a burst of white-hot anger hits him like an oncoming train.
Peter is alive.
A minute passes. An hour. The candle almost burns out. Sirius sits there, his eyes wide open, looking straight ahead.
He faked his death.
When he regains his senses, he crouches down and picks up the paper, his hands shaking uncontrollably. He scans through the article, his eyes moving like darts, trying to find any information, anything at all. Anything to give the rat away. He needs to find out where he was. A foreign feeling sweeps over him, something he had never expected he would feel. Bloodlust. The desire to kill overpowers him, taking over all rational sense. It courses through his veins, the only thing worth living for. He would destroy the one responsible for James and Lily’s death, the one whose murder he was accused of committing - the reason he was left to rot in Azkaban, friendless and all alone.
The Weasley family will be spending a month in Egypt, returning for the start of the new school year at Hogwarts, which five of the Weasley children currently attend.*
Hogwarts. Peter would return to Hogwarts. Sirius would go to Hogwarts to find him. And if his guess is correct, Harry would be in Hogwarts as well. Sirius didn’t know whether to be delighted or dejected at that revelation. Would he be able to talk to his godson, to meet him, or hug him? Or would Harry, like everyone else, believe that he sold Lily and James to Voldemort? His anger towards Peter increases tenfold. It is his fault, all Peter’s fault that Sirius never got to see James and Lily’s son grow up. All Peter’s fault that he wasn’t there to take care of Harry when his friends died.Only thinking about it makes Sirius' blood boil with fury.
He would kill that traitor once and for all.
Outside the sky becomes stormy once again. A hurricane builds up. The wind howls. Lightning cracks, the noise cutting through the night like the crack of a whip. Yet the candle doesn’t flicker. It burns brighter than ever before.
A few days later, Sirius wakes up, his plan fully formed.