Chapter 1 : The Fatal Flaw
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It wasn’t his fault, though, that the beast known as Buckbeak had been Sirius’s only constant companion since…oh, 1981 – unless you counted the Dementor that had been stationed in Cell Block D West in Azkaban, which had come by Sirius’s cell at nine thirty-seven on the dot every morning for eight years to try and suck out a bit more of his soul. He liked to think they’d had a connection.
Buckbeak, while comfortingly less interested in relieving Sirius of his last remnants of sanity, was nevertheless a far cry from actual human companionship, and once they had been fugitives together for about six weeks, he took no issue in telling the Hippogriff that. Every morning, in fact, at nine thirty-seven, Sirius would awaken with a start, half-convinced his favourite Dementor would be popping by to remind him that his best friend was dead or Peter was a traitor or he had no family to speak of (he was a morning person before Azkaban, believe it or not) see Buckbeak regarding him with a baleful eye, and mutter, “Oh, sod off and feed yourself, I’m not your bloody Hippositter,” or “You are not self-aware enough to glare at me like that,” or “I don’t appreciate being woken by any beast who can’t engage in witty banter with me.”
It had crossed his mind once or twice that being an arrogant little shit towards an animal who had been condemned to death for attacking another arrogant little shit was perhaps not the wisest of ideas, but Buckbeak seemed to sense a kindred spirit in Sirius – either that or he’d made the executive decision that any jab from a half-starved escaped convict was not likely to wound his delicate Hippogriffian pride. Hypothetical as the situation was, Sirius was still offended by it.
He spent the lion’s share of his time as Padfoot – living off rodents in caves was, astonishingly, more pleasant as a dog than a human, and he swore to Merlin that the Hippogriff seemed to like him better in dog form. He was offended by that too. In fact, their entire – partnership? Cave cohabitation arrangement? – seemed to revolve around constantly offending each other. It was a delicate balance.
When Dumbledore wrote to tell him the Order of the Phoenix was reforming, he pictured himself doing daring missions like before, flying through the night, wand raised to ward off some Death Eater. It was only later that he realised he was flying Buckbeak in these visions, and wondered when the hell the Hippogriff had become such a big part of his life that he was willing to let the thing share in his heroism.
As it happened, however, there was no heroism to be had by either of them. He returned to number twelve, Grimmauld Place, to the memories and the shrunken elf heads and deranged old Kreacher – how was he even still alive? and was promptly forgotten about. He put Buckbeak in his mother’s old room and the Hippogriff refused to look at him for two weeks. Sirius didn’t blame him – it was probably the most offensive thing he’d ever done.
He paced the musty hallways and cringed at the shrieking of Walburga’s portrait – the old bat seemed furious that Sirius was actually innocent of the crime that had landed him in Azkaban, but it restored some element of his lost pride that he was still able to antagonise his mother even after he’d been disowned, disinherited and imprisoned for twelve years – and she herself had shuffled off her mortal coil. Number twelve soon became Headquarters, but once he found himself with the constant human company and business he had craved for years, he discovered he couldn’t cope with it at all. Walburga was screaming, Severus Snape was scowling in his living room, Kreacher was muttering about blood traitors and Mudbloods, and Dumbledore was telling him to sit tight and be a good boy. For self-preservation more than anything else, he took to leaving the room in the middle of conversations, transforming, and curling up beneath Buckbeak’s huge, confined wings – to the point that “Where’s Sirius?” – “He’s hiding with his tail between his legs,” became as common an exchange as Walburga calling somebody a blood traitor.
It wasn’t until Harry arrived that Sirius felt any element of connection with another human – his godson seethed with the same restlessness and frustration as Sirius, but then he was back at Hogwarts and number twelve fell silent again. Remus came by every now and then, increasingly bruised and battered and worn-looking, and over a few stiff drinks they commiserated about how all Remus wanted to do was hide away at Grimmauld Place and regain some semblance of health, and Sirius would love to get out and cavort with a few werewolves, get the blood pumping, but Dumbledore in his infinite wisdom had a mild-mannered professor (because Remus was always a teacher in Sirius’s eyes – he and James had stuck Professor R J Lupin to Remus’s trunk back in fifth year, and Remus, bless him, had never taken it off) consulting with the Darkest of werewolves, and a headstrong convicted criminal playing house with a condemned Hippogriff.
“Albus Dumbledore,” Remus said with surprising candour over a glass of Firewhiskey, “Is the dumbest fucking genius I’ve ever met.”
“Hear hear,” Sirius muttered, and Buckbeak beside him gave a strange squawk of agreement. Sirius patted him fondly, and wondered how he'd ended up with a cardigan-wearing werewolf and a Hippogriff as his only friends. He tried not to dwell too much on why he seemed to have such a connection with Buckbeak, but of course he knew it anyway – they shared a fatal flaw, that deadly sin that laid great men low.
They were proud fuckers, he and his horse-bird.
It had gotten Buckbeak on death row and Sirius in more trouble than he could imagine – he could have appealed to the Ministry, back when he was arrested and charged – he could have taken the stand and wept and pleaded, throwing dignity to the wind and begging to be allowed to testify under Veritaserum, but he had lost everything already and wasn’t about to lose his pride as well. So he stood with his head held high and tried not to think of James, and he laughed in their faces because there was no way he would cry.
He supposed he always knew it would be his downfall.
“If I die, look after my Hippogriff,” he had told Remus on their way to the Ministry, and Remus had huffed a bit and told him he’d better bloody not die on Remus and Harry and his bloody Hippogriff, and that was the last conversation they ever had except for shouted instructions and commands in the heat of battle.
Of course he would die laughing, of course he would die proud and caught off-guard and so, so sure of himself, and in a terrifying moment of awareness he could feel his heart stopping, see the look of horror on Remus’s face and confusion on Harry’s and the Veil slowly, ethereally, drifting closer towards him – he saw the look on Bellatrix’s face and knew with blinding clarity that she would go the same way as he did, and if he had any life left in his limbs he would have thrown his head back and laughed.
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