The Sugar Quill
Author: Robin (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Death Before Dishonor  Chapter: Chapter 2: Darkness Encroaching
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Chapter Two: Darkness Encroaching

Death Before Dishonor

 

 

Chapter Two:  Darkness Encroaching

            “Mail,” Sirius Black said absently as the owl landed on the windowsill, hardly bothering to look up from the Daily Prophet.  He was settled comfortably in a chair at the kitchen table, slouched down and looking nothing like a convicted murder—which, technically, he supposed he was not, since he’d never really been convicted of a damn thing—and feeling as lazy as humanly possible.  It was nice to be able to relax.

            “Will you get it?” called the voice from the next room even as the owl squawked impatiently.  “It’s probably for you anyway.”

            “Sure.”  Sighing, Sirius put the newspaper down.  Only then did he glance at the snowy white owl who was glaring at him irritably.  “Hey, it’s Hedwig.”

            “Told you it was for you.”

            “Oh, go fall off a broomstick.”  Sirius reached for the letter, smiling.  This was sooner than he had expected Harry to write, but he always loved to hear from his godson.  He just wished he could see him more—“Oof!”

            Suddenly there was a phoenix in front of him.  Rather, there was a phoenix practically in his lap.  It stared at him expectantly.  “Uh…Hello?”

            Vaguely, Sirius remembered that the phoenix was named Fawkes and it belonged to Albus Dumbledore.  But what was it doing here?  Had something happened to Dumbledore?  It made a soft noise, jerking its head upwards, and Sirius noticed the letter it held.  “For me?”

            The phoenix stared at him.

            Sirius might have been a lot of things, but he was far from stupid.  Reaching out carefully—bird-like creatures had never been his specialty, and Buckbeak had taught him caution the hard way (but, hey, dogs liked to chase birds!)—he took the letter.  And nearly dropped it.

            August 22nd

            Dear Padfoot—

                        Get Harry now.  Keep him safe.  I haven’t the time to explain.

            Dumbledore

            “Remus…?”  Worry seized up in his chest, and he could barely get the word out.

            Suddenly, Lupin was at his side.  “What is it?”

            Wordlessly, Sirius passed the letter to his friend.  A distant corner of his mind noticed that his hands were shaking, but he didn’t care.  The rest of his brain was whirling, planning, preparing…and throwing any care for personal risk out the window that Fawkes and Hedwig had flown in.  Hedwig!  Leaping forward, he grabbed the letter tied to the snowy owl’s leg and tore it open.  His eyes flew over the words as Sirius prayed that he wouldn’t be too late.  Remus’ hand tightened on his shoulder.  Their thoughts aligned perfectly.

            “Bastard,” Sirius hissed.

            “I’ll go with you.”  Lupin’s voice was as choked as his own, but Sirius looked over at his friend.

            “You can’t,” he said softly, and watched anger tighten Lupin’s features.  “There’s a full moon tonight, Remus.”

            Pain flickered across Remus Lupin’s face, replacing the anger; worry followed quickly on its heels.  A month in the same house had melted away the barriers built from thirteen years of separation, and the two friends could read one another like they could in their Hogwarts days—moreover, Sirius understood Lupin’s self-loathing in moments like these, when something that his friend could not change kept him from doing things he felt had to be done.  Reaching up, Sirius placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

            “It’s not your fault, Moony,” he said gently.  “I’m only sorry I can’t be here for you.  I would love to wrestle a werewolf again, you know.”

            “I know,” Lupin replied, smiling slightly.  “But Harry needs you.  Just don’t do anything stupid, Sirius.”

            “Stupid?” A grin threatened to worm its way onto his features, and Black struggled to control it for a moment before finally giving up.  “Me?”

            “Yes, you.” Remus stared at him.  “Like Apparating.”

            “How else am I supposed to get there quickly enough?” Sirius challenged him, moving quickly around the room and grabbing his robes off of the counter where he had dropped them carelessly before breakfast. “We’re not exactly in Britain right now, Moony.”

            The werewolf scowled.  “The Ministry of Magic is still looking for you, Sirius.  They’ve probably got searching spells focused on you.  The moment you Apparate, they’re sure to know.”

            “Oops.”  But his innocent shrug did the trick, and Remus’ expression changed from simple worry to pure exasperation.

            “You’re an escaped convict, you daft stray!” he exploded.  “You can’t wander around wearing a sign that says ‘arrest me’ and expect to rescue Harry at the same time!”

            Sirius smiled and pulled his robes on.  “How long do you think it will take them to figure where I went?”

            “At least an hour,” Lupin admitted.

            “Well, I certainly don’t plan on spending more than an hour with Lily’s engaging sister.  I met her before, remember?  Not a pleasant experience.”

            “Neither was you popping out of Lily’s fireplace, I suppose,” Lupin replied dryly.

            “Couldn’t help it.  I had to get to her before James did, and I wasn’t about to Apparate without a license.

            “Oh, why not? Afraid of breaking the law, are we, Padfoot?”

            “Nope.  Just didn’t feel like getting splinched.  It’s one thing to be a dog.  It’s quite another to end up in several pieces scattered across the country.”  Sirius reached inside the left pocket of his robes and withdrew his wand.  “Not like that’s a problem nowadays, of course.”

            “No, you’re more likely to end up back in Azkaban.”  But there was no argument in Remus’ voice.  Rather, there was only resignation.

            “This is worth it,” Sirius replied.  Harry’s worth any risk, even going back to that evil place.  So long as he could save his godson, he really didn’t care what happened to him.  Besides, without Harry, his life was worth nothing.

            “Yes, it is,” Remus agreed seriously.  “I wish I could go with you.”

            “I know.”  He smiled slightly.  “Write to Dumbledore for me, will you?  Tell him I’m on my way.”

            “Yeah.”  The dull reply did nothing to hide the sadness in Lupin’s eyes, and Sirius strode forward, once again placing a hand on his best friend’s shoulder.

            “Find me when you can, Remus,” he said.  “We’ve got nine days until Harry has to be on the Hogwarts Express.  I don’t know where I’ll be all that time, but I’m sure you can find me, if anyone can.  I’ll leave him with the Weasleys for the train ride, unless that proves impossible, so if all else fails, meet me there.”

            “I will.”  Remus touched his shoulder, and then glanced down at the wand in Sirius’ right hand.  “You know, it’s a good thing that Dumbledore got that for you.”

            “He said I’d need it.  He’s usually right.”

            Lupin snorted.  “I don’t even want to know how he got it.  Sometimes, I think he puts even the Marauders to shame.”

            “He’s the trickiest man I know,” Sirius agreed.  “Including myself.  Accio Firebolt.

            “You have no idea,” Lupin suddenly grinned.  “You’d better go, now, Sirius.  But remind me to tell you later about how I think Dumbledore is blackmailing Fudge.”

            His jaw dropped open in the very act of catching the broom.  Although not as good as a flying motorcycle, a Firebolt came damn close. “Blackmailing the Minister of Magic?”

            Remus grinned.  “Later.  Go, Padfoot.  Fetch Harry.”

            “Ha, ha.  Funny.”  But that was all Sirius had time to say before he vanished.

            Harry sat on his bed, staring out the window.  At least there weren’t any bars on it, now—the Dursleys still got nervous over the mention of Harry’s murderous godfather.  Unfortunately, they still weren’t anything approaching nice, but at least they ignored him most of the time.  He’d had a rough first month with them because of the Floo-Powder incident with the Weasleys, and, of course, the small matter of how big Dudley’s tongue had gotten…but things weren’t too bad now.  The Dursleys had returned to their constant state of paranoia, again, and were still afraid of his powers (despite the fact they knew he couldn’t use magic outside of school), but at least they let him have his trunk and his books in his room.

            Harry sighed and shuddered involuntarily.  Being able to do his homework wouldn’t help him a bit if he ended up in Voldemort’s hands again.  He didn’t know what to do.  Dumbledore had said he was safest with his blood relatives—something about that protecting him—so he didn’t dare leave until he knew.  Of course, it was quite possible that the stranger they were going to leave him with was some other old friend of his parents’ whom the Headmaster had sent to watch over him, but Harry did not think that was likely.  First of all, he felt pretty sure that Dumbledore would have told him about it if that were the case.  And second, he didn’t know of any other “old friends” of his father’s whose name was Peter.

            Aunt Petunia had told him it would be a surprise to find out who it was, but he’d heard her mentioning a Peter to Uncle Vernon when they’d thought he wasn’t listening.  If he was right, Aunt Petunia’s surprise would prove to be rather nasty, and he didn’t want to think about what would happen.  Or what Voldemort would do to him.

            Harry shuddered again.  It wasn’t that he thought his uncle and aunt would knowingly give him to a dark wizard who wanted nothing more than to torture Harry—eventually killing him, of course—but he knew they’d jump at any chance to leave him behind for the week and a half they would be gone.  He wondered if they realized he wouldn’t be there when he got back.     Knock, knock.

            “Dudders, honey, can you get the door?”  Aunt Petunia’s voice drifted up the stairs, and Harry frowned.  Great.  It’s probably Dudley’s friends, here to pick on me again.

            “Make Harry do it,” Dudley whined.

            “Absolutely not!” Uncle Vernon roared, probably from the kitchen.  “I will not have the neighbors seeing that freak!”

            Knock, knock, KNOCK.

            “Yes, Dad.”  There was silence for a moment—Dudley really was losing enough weight so that the whole house didn’t shake as he moved—and then Harry heard the door open.

            Dudley screamed.

            Harry jumped, then, with curiosity overcoming his common sense, bolted out of his room and down the stairs.  On his way, he heard Dudley screaming “Mummy, Mummy!” over and over again, and heard Aunt Petunia shriek.  He almost collided with a fleeing Dudley as he approached the door—anything that made Dudley scream had to be good.  He started to grin, but then a terrible thought occurred to him.  What if it wasn’t good?  What if it was something terribly bad, like Voldemort?  Instinctively, his right hand moved for were his wand would normally be kept in his robes, but there was nothing there.  Harry was dressed in Muggle clothing, and his wand was in his room, locked in his truck where Dudley couldn’t grab it for fun.

            Oh, no.

            A figure dressed in black robes stepped inside the door now that Dudley had vacated the doorway.  Harry’s heart skipped in his chest for a moment as he stared at the tall, black-haired figure—he was so different from when Harry had seen him last, seemed so much healthier—but then his face split into a grin as he recognized his godfather.  Harry opened his mouth to speak, only to be cut off by Uncle Vernon rushing from the kitchen.

            “Oh, no you don’t!” Vernon Dursley bellowed, shotgun in hand.  “I will not have freaks in my house!  Get out!”

            Very calmly, Sirius Black stepped forward and closed the door behind himself.  “Put that away.”

            “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE, FREAK!”

            Sirius cocked his head, and then switched his wand to his left hand, extending his right with a slight smile.  “Well, I don’t believe we’ve been introduced,” he said evenly.  “My name is Sirius Black.  I’m Harry’s godfather.”

            Aunt Petunia screamed.  Dudley, cowering behind his mother, wailed.  And Uncle Vernon cocked the shotgun.

            “MURDERER!  Get out of my house before I call the police!”

            “Very well,” Sirius sighed, and waved his wand slightly.  “Deletrius.”

            The shotgun (the replacement for the one Hagrid had bent all those years ago) disappeared.  Uncle Vernon howled in impotent fury.  Harry had to laugh.

            “Sirius!” Fifteen years old or not, Harry leapt forward to hug his godfather, but was hauled to a stop by Uncle Vernon’s grab for his shoulder.  He twisted away, but it was no good.  Uncle Vernon was a great deal larger than him, and seemed determined not to let go.

            “You’re not going anywhere, boy!”

            “Let go of Harry.”  Sirius’ wand was in his right hand again, and his eyes were deathly serious, with none of the mild amusement he’d shown before.

            “You,” Uncle Vernon began, his voice quavering slightly, “are not welcome in this house.  Get out.”

            “I am not going anywhere without my godson.”

            “Get out!”

            Harry looked up.  “Uh…Uncle Vernon, it’s not a good idea to make him mad, you know.”

            “Shut up, boy!”

            “I just wanted to say—”

“I said shut up!” Uncle Vernon’s hand rose, and Harry flinched, waiting for the blow to fall.

             It never did.

            Another hand had caught Uncle Vernon’s meaty fist, and suddenly, Harry’s uncle found himself standing face to face with Sirius Black, who, although a great deal thinner than Uncle Vernon, had obviously paid attention in his classes on physical fitness.  Through the hand on his shoulder, Harry felt Uncle Vernon shudder, and he stared up at the two men as Sirius’ dark eyes bored into the older man.  Uncle Vernon’s lips moved, and he made some kind of unintelligible sound that Harry could not understand.

            “If you hurt Harry, I will kill you,” Sirius said very softly.

            With a start, Uncle Vernon released Harry’s shoulder and stumbled away as soon as Sirius released his hand.  After watching him for a moment, the wizard turned to Harry.  “Are you all right?”

            “I’m fine,” he replied, his eyes fixed on Sirius’ face.  The rage in his godfather’s eyes reminded him of that night in the Shrieking Shack, when all Sirius had wanted to do was kill Wormtail—Wormtail!  Harry’s heart began to race, but suddenly, Sirius’ expression changed, and his eyes softened.  Gently, he touched Harry’s right cheek, and Harry couldn’t help but wince when Sirius encountered a day-old bruise there.

            “Are you sure?”

            Harry nodded.  That didn’t matter now.  Not with Sirius here.  “I’m sure,” he replied.  “Did you get my letter?”

            “Yes.  And I got Dumbledore’s, which was even more important.”  Suddenly, Sirius spun, pointing his wand at Aunt Petunia as she finally crept close enough to lift the hallway telephone.  “Reducio.

            Abruptly, the phone shrank to the size of a matchbox and fell to the floor with a clank as Aunt Petunia shrieked again.  “Oh, for heavens sake!” Sirius spat, exasperated.  “Quietus!

            Aunt Petunia fell silent, but her lips were still moving.  Fury contorted her already ugly features and she glared at the wizard, but he ignored her.  Confused, Dudley asked, “Mummy?”

            “What have you done to her?” Uncle Vernon demanded.

            “Nothing irreversible,” Sirius responded coldly.  “So don’t tempt me to do anything more.” His right hand dropped to Harry’s shoulder as he rounded on Uncle Vernon, and Harry felt Sirius’ grip on his wand loosen ever so slightly as his godfather forced himself to relax.  “Now, I am taking Harry with me for the rest of the summer.  You may or may not see him next year, but if you do, I advise you to act sensibly.”

            Having just stopped Uncle Vernon from striking Harry, there was no doubting what ‘sensibly’ meant to Sirius.  Or to Uncle Vernon, who stuttered.

            “You can’t take him!” the fat man managed, making Harry sigh.  He was sure that Uncle Vernon wasn’t worried for his safety; no, his uncle only cared that going with Sirius would make Harry happy, and he couldn’t have that.  Not to mention the fact that going with Sirius would let Harry act like the ‘freak’ that he was, and take away any chance they had of pounding the magic out of him.  “Why, we’re responsible for him!  We are his family!”

            “Some family you turned out to be,” Sirius growled in reply.  “And I am taking Harry with me.  First of all, I am his godfather, which means I’m his legal guardian under Muggle or Magical Law.  Second, it’s for his own safety.  You really don’t want to be around when a horde of dark wizards show up to collect him, do you?”

            “All you wizarding freaks are the same,” Uncle Vernon growled, but Harry’s eyes were on his Aunt Petunia, who looked as if she had something desperately important to say.  Noticing the same thing, Sirius flicked his wand at her impatiently, and looked her in the eye.

            “Not all,” he said coolly.  “These are the same type that killed your sister.”  She stared at him, and Harry felt Sirius tense slightly.  “Yes, I remember you.  You were that awful girl who met Lily at the train station and never could even look James in the eye and see what a wonderful man he was.”  His voice tightened with pain.  “And the strength you never saw in him is the same thing you’ve failed to notice in their son.”

            Aunt Petunia opened her mouth to reply, but Sirius’ wand snapped to point directly at her face.

            “Say a word of insult about James or Lily Potter, and I will forget that I probably should not kill you,” he snapped, and Harry watched fear fill her eyes.  Most of all, though, he knew that Sirius wasn’t joking around…or at least he did not think so.

            “Sirius?” he whispered.

            His father’s best friend looked down at him, lowering his wand.  “Go upstairs,” he said softly.  “Change into your robes and bring your trunk down here.  Make sure everything you need is inside it.  Leave Hedwig’s cage.  She’s with Remus right now, and we can get another one later.”

            “Right.”  Harry turned and headed up the stairs, taking them two at a time when Sirius added,

            “Quickly, Harry.  We haven’t much time.”

            For long moments there was silence, and Sirius finally understood why Harry had been so excited when he’d offered him a home.  Never, in his worst nightmares, had he imagined that the Dursleys could be so awful.  So piggish.  So uncaring.  But he kept his temper in check.  In fact, it had been well under control ever since the fat boy—Dudley?—opened the door.  Most of his anger had been manufactured; he was supposed to be an escaped murderer after all, and a little fear certainly couldn’t hurt the Dursleys.  The only time he’d felt truly willing to kill was when the fat bastard had tried to hit Harry.  He was not exactly proud of that fact, but he certainly didn’t regret it.  A whimsical smile fleeted briefly across his face.  Besides, the Dursleys were capable of trying the patience of a saint.  He doubted even Albus Dumbledore would have been able to do anything less than Sirius had done.

            Both parents were staring at him, and the boy was still trying to hide behind his mother (which, of course, wasn’t working very well at all, given how extraordinarily fat the brat was) and whimpering quietly.  Finally, Sirius could stand the inactivity no more.  Putting his wand away, he moved swiftly to the front window and peered outside.  There was nothing, but sunset was approaching, and darkness was when the Death Eaters came out to play.

            He was supposedly a day early, but Sirius had learned the hard way not to take chances.  Especially not with others’ lives.  He spun around to look at the motionless Dursleys.

            “When is Pettigrew coming for him?” he demanded.

            “Who?” Vernon asked.

            “Peter,” he hissed.  “Your friend.

            “Tomorrow…tomorrow morning,” Petunia stuttered.  “Why do you care?”

            Sirius had to take a deep breath before he allowed himself to speak, had to remind himself that killing Peter—Wormtail—was not his responsibility.  Saving Harry was.  “Because he was once James’ friend,” he replied, surprised at how even his own voice was.  “He was once my friend.

            “He’s the reason why your sister died,” Sirius continued after swallowing his venomous feelings once more.  “He betrayed them to Voldemort, the Dark wizard who killed them.  He’s the reason why I spent twelve years in prison for murders I didn’t commit.  And he wants Harry so he can deliver him to his master and save his own pathetic neck.”

            “You’re…not going to kill us?” Petunia stuttered, making it clear that, although the Dursleys hadn’t comprehended everything Sirius said, they had at least gotten the message when he’d said he wasn’t a murderer.

            “No,” Sirius replied seriously.  “I would never deprive Harry of the only family he has left, no matter how horrible you are.  But Voldemort will.”

            “What?”

            Sirius smiled without warmth.  “Oh, yes.  Especially when Wormtail finds Harry gone,” he spat.  He couldn’t bring himself to say Peter’s name again.  His betrayal still hurt too much.  “So I suggest you leave.  Tonight.”

            “Where?” Vernon asked.  “Where do we go?  How can we expect to get away from you freaks?”

            Now I know why Lily thought you were a gigantic piece of blubber and trash.  “Anywhere but here,” he replied shortly.  “They won’t chase you.  Probably.  They’ll be more concerned with Harry and me.”

            Petunia’s face tightened angrily, and Sirius took a moment to wonder why stubbornness had to be the only thing she and Lily had in common.  She snapped, “And why shouldn’t we just tell them where you’ve gone?”

            “Because you won’t know,” Sirius growled back, hoping Harry would hurry.  He couldn’t stand much longer in their presence without becoming a real life murderer.  He glanced out the window again, distracted.  This was going too easily.  “Besides, they’d kill you anyway.”

            “But why?” Dudley whined.  “We don’t know anything.”

            Sirius skewered the boy with a glare.  “You’re Muggles,” he responded.  “They’ll kill you for fun.”

            “That’s sick,” Vernon spat.

            “Yes, it is,” Sirius agreed levelly.  “That’s why we fight him.”

            Finally, Harry came down the stairs, dressed in robes and hauling his trunk.  “I’ve got everything.”

            “Good,” Sirius breathed.  “You have your Firebolt?”

            “Right here.”  Harry held it up in his right hand, and Sirius smiled.  His godson reached the bottom of the stairs.  “How are we going to take this if we’re flying out of here?”

            “Easy.”  His smile blossomed into a momentary grin, and with a mumbled word and a flick of his wand, the trunk changed into a small pebble.  The pop it let out startled the Dursleys, but Sirius could have cared less.

            “Neat,” Harry commented, wisely picking up the stone and putting it in a pocket.

            “I always was good at Transfiguration.”  He shrugged, opening the door.  “Shall we go?”

            “Sure.  What are you going to fly?”

            Sirius smiled sheepishly.  “I got myself a Firebolt.  Not quite as awesome as my old flying motorcycle, but better than nothing.  I wonder what Hagrid did with that thing, anyway?”

---------------------

Author’s Note: If I asked nicely, would you review?  J Please let me know what you think!  And keep reading; there is more to come!  We’ll be moving a bit into Harry’s fifth year, soon…and I promise more Dumbledore, Snape, Lupin, and friends.  Really, I do.

//
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