Chapter 3 : Street Spirit
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He was brave after the Sorting Ceremony, when he held the suspicious glares of his new, oh-so-Gryffindor housemates.
He was brave when, just a few hours afterwards, he had to listen to his mother's angry screeches resounding in a stunned Great Hall.
He was brave when he decided to swallow his pureblood pride and started talking with Remus Lupin, a shy half-blood bookworm of his same year.
He was brave every time he came home for the summer and had to bear any kind of torture his mother thought of.
He was brave when, after a particular hard punishment, he still managed to limp into little Reggie's room and try to talk to him about how wrong were Voldemort's "ideals".
Sirius Black remembered that a famous Muggle once said:
"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." *
That was probably true, because, at the moment, Sirius Black was utterly terrified.
He had spent twelve long years in a tiny, cold and dark cell, surrounded by Dementors. Slowly, but persistently, those awful creatures had sucked every inch of happiness Sirius' heart could contain: his friends, his school days, little Harry... All the best memories the dark-haired man had were gone long ago, while the worst ones haunted him day and night. He didn't know how to sleep anymore, his brain was far too weak to win over the pained voices of the Potters and Remus. They called him, pleaded him to help them, stay with them. Yet, he couldn't. Lily and James where dead, gone. Remus... He was dead too, probably. Killed by loneliness and by his moonlight alter ego.
There were nights - or days, he had given up trying to distinguish the two after a few weeks - when Black could hear Harry's wails too. Little Harry... he had been Sirius' rock when everything was falling apart. In that cell, however, his voice could nothing but bring more anguish and guilt into the older man's heart.
I am innocent.
Those three words had been his mantra for twelve long years, yet he couldn't help but feeling a terrible sense of guilt lacerating his heart. He was innocent, yes. But he had killed them all anyway.
There were nights when another memory haunted him. It was a bad one, of course, but not as much as the others.
A little angel with ice green eyes and dark blond locks. She was lost. People said she was dead, killed by the Death Eaters who had kidnapped her on that awful April morning. The Marauders, however, never stopped looking for her. After James went into hiding and Remus was almost forced into joining Greyback's pack for information, Sirius kept searching her in the magical world. He asked Pettigrew to help him.
"Please, Pete. I know you are busy being Prong's Secret Keeper and all, but we can't abandon her!"
"Padfoot... look... Have you ever considered the idea that she could be actually d.."
"NO! She. Is. Alive. And alone. And frightened. She needs us to find her, Wormtail! I know you never liked her much, but for God's sake, she is a baby! Our little Maraudrette! Even if you think she's d..d-dead, please, please help me! Do that for me. Do that for Remus!"
"Remus is... R-Remus is a traitor, Sirius. Everybody knows that. Y-you can't ask me to help a b-bloody t-traitor"
"Please, Pete. I beg you. I will not rest until I find her... alive or.. or dead".
Pettigrew accepted, of course. The bastard. He had to look for her in the Muggle world, just in case an orphanage had taken her in. Probably he never even thought about doing that.
It was a bad memory. Full of anxiety and regret. But it gave Sirius hope. Knowing that Pettigrew was a traitor and a liar left space for hoping that maybe, maybe the little angel was still there, a street spirit wandering through the towns of the United Kingdom in search of her family.
That gave hope to the battered heart of Sirius Black. That and the fact that, somewhere, Harry heart-shattering wails had stopped, and the boy was growing up happily, no dark wizard threatening him now that Voldemort was dead.
Then, on a gloomy morning-afternoon-evening of June 1990, that old bat of Minister Fudge honoured the prisoners with his presence. Black saw that pompous git standing there, in the darkness, playing nervously with the folded pages of a new copy of the Daily Prophet. Black saw the paper, and suddenly felt a strange urge to read it. He asked for the paper, politely, like any civilized human being would have done. His voice was a bit raspy, but still.
Maybe the Minister was in a good mood. Maybe the Minister was in a bad mood and wanted to get rid of the paper. The fact remains that Black got the Daily Prophet and started reading.
MINISTRY OF MAGIC EMPLOYEE SCOOPS GRAND PRIZE
Arthur Weasley, Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office at the Ministry of Magic, has won the annual Daily Prophet Grand Prize Galleon Draw.
The Weasley family will be spending a month in egypt, returning for the start of the new school year at Hogwarst, which five of the Weasley children currently attend. **
Sirius' tired brain tried in vain to remember who Arthur Weasley was. Maybe he had met him, maybe not. It didn't matter anyway. Those stormy grey eyes, which once were as bright as silver, now scanned lazily the picture of the Weasleys. They were happily grinning at the camera, ignoring that, miles and miles away from them, a man silently cried on their faces. It wasn't fair. What did Mr. Weasley do to deserve that life? What did Mr Weasley do to deserve a wife, a job, seven wonderful children? What did Sirius do to deserve the loss of his life and family? He gave everything to help anybody who asked for some help. EVERYTHING. And that bloody rat...
What the hell...
Sirius Black froze, staring at the picture in shock. After a couple of minutes, or hours, or days, the man leaned closer and drank every detail of the small figure which could change his life forever. It was really tiny, actually. Still, it was there, and it was real: an old rat with a missing toe. Peter Pettigrew. Wormtail.
Sirius blinked once, twice, then closed his eyes, screwing up the picture in his hands. Peter Pettigrew, a traitor, a murderer, was enjoying a holiday in Egypt!
Everything was so confusing... anger, a feeling that the convict had forgotten a long time ago, built rapidly in the man's chest. He wanted to destroy everything, the wanted to catch that filthy rat and break his bones one by one...
As soon as the anger had reached its highest peak, however, that feeling was replaced by another, even more terrible emotion: fear.
His Harry, his rock, his godson, had never stopped being in danger. This time, however, there wasn't an Order of the Phoenix to protect him. This time, little Harry was alone facing a threat nobody was aware of.
And Sirius Black couldn't do anything.
A Dementor passed by, and haunting memories began to play with Black's mind.
James, dead, lying on the floor.
Lily, dead, lying on the floor.
Harry crying in a half destroyed crib
"Please, Pete, I beg you..."
"Do that for me..."
"... Do that for Remus"
Harry was his hope. Cassie was his hope. He had to save him, he had to find her.
Sirius Black was terrified. Yet, Sirius Black was brave, reckless, and extremely smart. And so, after only a few hours, Sirius Black became the first man who ever managed to break out of Azkaban.
He turned into Padfoot, once a huge friendly black dog, now a skinny, dirty and battered mass of fur. Padfoot easily sneaked out of the cell, since Dementors couldn't "see" animals, and ran until the sea opened in front of his eyes.
Then, Padfoot swam, ignoring the chilly temperature of the water, ignoring the salt filling his wounds, ignoring his lungs begging for air. Padfoot swam, and, finally, reached the land of the free men.
Despite the fear, despite the tiredness, the dog couldn't help but noticing that something in his mind was different. Everything was so peaceful and... quite. However, the Animagus knew that there was no time to analyze his state of mind, so Padfoot started running again, this time trying to find a path that could lead him to his godson. Unfortunately, the dog's powerful nose was completely useless: years of Dementors had erased the memory of Harry's scent, so Sirius had to rely only on his intelligence.
He thought about all the families which could have adopted his little Prongslet. Remus, of course, was "too dangerous" to gain the custody of a child. Frank and Alice Longbottom were out of the list too: shortly after Sirius's arrest, his mad cousin Bellatrix Lestrange was condemned for having tortured the young couple into insanity. That left the two people Sirius Black despised the most, apart from his mother, Voldemort and the Death Eaters: Petunia and Vernon Dursley, Lily's sister and brother-in-law. They were not a good memory, so Padfoot could clearly remember their address: Number 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.
Although it wasn't a great lead, it was still a start.
Padfoot ran with all the strength his poor limbs had left. He forgot to eat, to drink, to sleep. Just as his body threatened to give up and collapse on the ground, however, the dark forest which surrounded the dog was replaced by a neat, well-kept park.
The Animagus stopped abruptly, breathing hard. He didn't recognize the park, but his instinct told him that he wasn't far from his destination.
Too tired to run, Padfoot padded slowly towards the nearest street he could find. It was dark, and no human soul could be seen nearby. The big black dog didn't mind: he was used to loneliness and darkness, probably a sunny day and a crowded street would have freaked him out. Slowly he felt the panic leaving his heavy heart. Harry his here, you are here. Everything will be ok.
As the last drop of adrenaline left his organism, however, all the sensations he had managed to forget came back full force. A sharp pain in his paws made him wince and look down: the run in the forest had lacerated the flesh, which now was swollen and covered in blood. The dog's muscles ached like hell, but it was nothing compared with the pain coming from his neglected stomach: he had never been so hungry, and, for the first time, he found himself longing for a piece of Azkaban moulded bread. However, this was not the time to go searching for food, and Padfoot slowly limped towards a neat house at the beginning of the street. Maybe I could hide behind that fence and rest for a while, he thought, exhaustion finally overwhelming him. The Weasleys are still in Egypt, the rat can't harm Harry yet. Just before laying down on the cold, soft grass, however, a thud echoed in the deserted street. Looking up, Padfoot saw the profile of a skinny boy with messy dark hair rummaging in what looked like a big trunk.
A Hogwarst trunk.
For the first time in twelve years, happiness blossomed in the Animagus' heart. His Harry was standing right in front of him, in the middle of the night, with nothing but a trunk and...
Panic and anger filled the escaped convict again, and a low growl escaped his lips. What happened? What did those horrible Muggles do to his precious godson? However, he didn't have much time to think about how to kill those poor excuse of human beings, as Harry turned around and looked at him.
Even in the darkness Sirius could recognize Lily's bright green eyes, and a tight lump formed in the man's throat. He wanted to turn back into his human form and hug his godson's trembling profile. Harry, however, didn't look particularly pleased at the sight of a huge black dog watching him and stepped backwards, tripping on his own trunk. Suddenly a deafening BANG echoed in the street, and the Knight Bus almost ran over the poor teenager. Padfoot hid in the darkness, frightened by the sudden sound and the bright light of the headlights.
By the time he found the strength to look up from the fence, however, the Bus was gone, and so his little Harry.
Stupid, stupid coward. Padfoot cursed himself, finally collapsing on the grass. At least Harry had found some help, and now was probably heading towards one of his friends' home. Still growling lowly, the dog fell asleep, dreaming of skinny boys and blinding lights.
The next day Sirius woke up early and decided that the forest was probably the safest place for him. However, after a few hours spent hunting and enjoying the sunlight for the first time in years, Padfoot found himself imaging London, his home before Pettigrew managed to destroy his life. Ah, beautiful, bright London! Sirius had always loved its crowded streets and breathtaking views. Maybe he could go to London. After all, it was a huge city, nobody would have noticed a skinny stray dog wandering through the streets. Moreover, London was full of food, and Padfoot was starving, despite the small squirrel he had managed to catch previously in the morning.
After a couple of minutes spent contemplating the idea of abandoning Little Whinging, Padfoot made up his mind and started limping towards London. It was a pretty long way to go, so the dog had all the time to think about the events of the last few days.
He was free.
Sirius laughed a dog laugh thinking about the fact tat, if everything went according to plans, he wouldn't have to see a cell for the rest of his life. Not that he had a plan: improvisation was Sirius' favourite word. Maybe he could just kill the rat, take Harry and flew somewhere warm for the rest of his life. Maybe he could play the good godfather role and go to Dumbledore or Moony- if the latter was still alive, of course.
The Animagus sighed, whining softly. He should be angry with Remus - after all, the former Gryffindor did nothing to defend Sirius against the Ministry decision. However, Sirius couldn't forget that, for a really short period, the Order had suspected Remus to be the traitor, and good old Padfoot didn't say anything to prove them wrong. As a result, it was no wonder that the former Gryffindor couldn't feel anything but sympathy for his old friend. A little tear trailed down the dog cheek: he missed Moony so much. Back at Hogwarst, everybody thought that James was Sirius' best friend, which was true, of course. Padfoot and Prongs were brothers in all but blood. Remus Lupin, however, was the one who Sirius talked to when he needed help understanding his own feelings. Remus Lupin was the one Sirius went to when his mother's wrath haunted his sleep. Remus Lupin was calm and quiet, and his presence alone was able to give some relief to Sirius' haunted mind.
And now, Remus Lupin thought that Sirius was a bloody mass murderer who betrayed his own brother and tried to kill his godson in the process.
He had to fix everything. He had to find a way to gain Remus' trust again.
An angel with ice green eyes and dark blond locks...
Cassandra. She was the key. Padfoot felt guilt overwhelming him when thinking about that little wonderful girl, all alone in the muggle world. However, after having managed to find Harry in such a short time, Sirius's hopes to find the now young woman were considerably higher than before.
What if you find her and she refuses to follow you? After all, she may have found a family that loves her. Maybe she is living happily as a normal muggle. What could convince her to follow an escaped convict to search for a lonely werewolf who may or may not be dead?
Lost in these gloomy thoughts, Padfoot didn't immediately notice that his limbs had finally managed to reach London. It was dark again, but this time the streets weren't deserted and silent. After all, it was a beautiful summer night, there was no reason for the Londoners to stay at home and sleep. As a consequence, the city was bright and alive. The pubs were open and crowded with people. Everybody was happily chatting or dancing, unaware of the fact that an escaped convict was watching them, longing and melancholy clear in his eyes. Fortunately for Sirius, open pubs meant food, and food meant trash bins filled to the top. Padfoot dug in, ignoring the ugly smell coming from the trash bags.
The dog chewed happily, enjoying the life and sounds of his beloved city. He ate peacefully for a long time, filling his stomach with roasted chicken leftovers and rotten eggs. He even found a half-full bottle of milk which he promptly lapped up, partially sating his thirst.
Just when he was ready to fall asleep again, however, a strange music was caught by his powerful ears. It was different from the Muggle tunes he used to listen to as a teenager: it was more rhythmic and... loud. As curiosity finally won over tiredness, the black dog limped towards the street the music came from, and widened his eyes at the sight of what has happening in front of him.
Dozens of young men and women were dancing in a small dirty alley. Actually, Padfoot wasn't sure that ... thing could be called dancing. It was something between fighting, dancing and having a grand mal. It was beautiful. Boys and girls kept twisting their bodies in the strangest positions Sirius had ever saw, all under the ecstatic gaze of an even larger group of teenagers. Their rhythm was frantic, and yet they held an elegance and a coordination unknown to many magical dancers. The music, which came from a big square black object half hidden in the darkness of the alley, was almost too loud for Padfoot's sensible ears, but otherwise it was pretty enjoyable. The dog sat quietly in a corner, his tail unconsciously moving to the rhythm of the song. His eyes moved from the dancers to the young public. The majority of the teenagers were laughing, cheering, cursing, jumping up and down. Some of them, however, were just standing there, chatting and drinking and enjoying the music.
A girl was quietly sitting on the bonnet of an old car, her eyes closed and a peaceful expression on her face. She didn't seem to be a member of the group, probably she was just an observer enjoying the show from afar. Nobody seemed to notice her either, despite the fact that she was wearing strange, colorful clothes. Her scent was peculiar too: cinnamon and orange, with a touch of jasmine and honey. She smelled like home and Christmas, but also like spring and remote countries. Sirius liked that scent. It reminded him of his youth, full of hopes, dreams and family. He started limping towards that strange girl, so calm and quiet in the middle of all that confusion that she was almost ethereal, surreal. She looked like a street spirit, silently keeping an eye on that bunch of happy teenagers. Padfoot was so overwhelmed by her scent that he forgot to pay attention to the broken bottles which covered the floor. As a result, he couldn't help but yelp when a sharp glass pierced his already wounded paw. Blood started dripping from the cut limb, and the dog whimpered softly, looking around for some place to hide and try to remove the glass.
Sirius jumped at the sound of the voice. It was sweet, yet rather hoarse, maybe from lack of use. Looking up he saw that the street spirit had noticed him and now was standing in front of him, heavily leaning on a crutch. Suddenly afraid, the dog stepped backwards, yelping loudly when other glasses cut his flesh.
"No!... don't do that, dear, you'll make things worse!" The spirit exclaimed softly, slowly crouching and holding one hand towards Sirius while the other rapidly removed most of the glasses from the ground.
"Here... now the ground is clear. Come to me, dear... I won't hurt you, ok? I just want to heal that bad cut. Come on, sweetheart... good boy!"
The girl smiled in the darkness when Padfoot made up his mind and limped towards her, tentatively leaning against her hand and whimpering like a pup. Oh, God, he had missed human touch so much!
"You are a very brave dog, aren't you? The bravest dog in the world...". The girl murmured soothing words while stroking Pafoot's dirty fur and examining his wounds.
"Mmmh... My my, doggie, these paws don't look well, do they? And you are pretty thin too... Maybe we should go to a vet and see what he can do... Don't look at me like that! You'll be fine, ok? The vet will take care of you, and then you'll come home with me... I am quite lonely, you know? I really need a friend like you.."
Padfoot knew that the girl was talking to dog-Sirius and not to human-Sirius. Still, those words were balm for his soul. He came closer and closer, and then buried his head in the girl's stomach, making her almost fall backwards. She chuckled softly, making Padfoot's heart leap with joy.
"It looks like you would appreciate a friend too, Uh? Now let's find somebody who can help me take you away from this place..."
The street spirit kept talking to the dog, repeating that he was brave and strong, and that everything would be ok. Padfoot, however, didn't listen to her: he was too busy savouring her scent and drifting to sleep, dreaming of Christmas, family and spring.
*this line was written by Nelson Mandela in his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom, published in 1994. Unfortunately I don't have that book anymore, so I can't report the exact page.
** The article is a quotation from The Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter one, page 12. I had to erase part of it due to the 3-4 lines rule.
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