YOU ARE FREE…
A rush of cool air blew through his fur. He shook his head in joy as his paws flew down the path. The world was his. Freedom! Open space! The smell of the cold night air! He had missed this. It had been too long. Life was suddenly full and glorious and free. There was no worry in the world. Nothing and no one to keep him chained any longer.
Sirius, or rather Padfoot, loped down the twisting path in front of him. He had escaped—bolted from the house in the dark of night when nobody would notice. And he really didn’t give a damn if anyone did notice. It was the only way he could cope. He needed this freedom desperately.
For a moment he was only aware of the wind ruffling his fur, of the scent of the cool night air, of the hard ground beneath his paws. Then suddenly a rabbit flew across the path in front of him. He left course and took off after it, briefly enjoying the sheer thrill of the chase, but quickly pulled up. His bones were a bit weary really, from lack of exercise. Or maybe, he thought grimly, age was catching up with him. But more importantly, he could not allow himself to become distracted….
Slowing to a trot he resumed his path. He couldn’t see where the path led as it twisted sharply through the dark woods. Or perhaps there wasn’t even a path. The way ahead was hidden. Yet he was moving determinedly forward. He seemed to have a purpose, a mission…although he couldn’t quite pinpoint it in his mind. And then, quite suddenly, he came around a corner to a changed landscape. It was open, inviting and bright, shining with the dawning of the full sun and the promise of a glorious day. He didn’t even hesitate, but moved into the brightness as if called by a beacon. This can’t be safe, he told himself. Out in the full light of day, for anyone to see—a bit risky, this— And yet the light called to him. The brightness and the purity and the longing for what it held…
And there, standing in the middle of the clearing, basking in the warmth and the glow—almost surrounded by the light or perhaps the source of the light itself—there he was. Harry. Sirius was so glad to see him. Finally. It had been so long. But as he came closer he realized this wasn’t Harry. No. This was a grown man, not a teenager, no scar on his forehead— My god. Could it be? Padfoot stopped, every sense alert, sniffing the air, straining to be sure…
James. He stood serene and calm, smiling in greeting. He had been expecting this visit. He had been waiting.
Sirius felt a jolt of shock course through Padfoot’s body. It was as if he had been hit by lightning. James. James, my god. You are alive! And yet, somehow, he wasn’t shocked. It was almost as if he had been drawn here, anticipating that James would come back…that he would never leave him completely alone… Still Padfoot approached cautiously, hackles raised just in case…not wanting to be fooled…could it be?
James laughed. He looked at Padfoot and laughed, throwing his head back in his glee. "What are you doing, Padfoot? You git, Black! Show yourself properly!" His voice was dripping with amusement. As if this caution was absurd…and Sirius was keeping him waiting for no reason at all.
Sirius changed in an instant. He suddenly felt no fear of showing himself openly. The joy was so strong in his heart. He could feel it swelling as if it would burst. How long had it been since he had felt this kind of joy? Had he ever felt it this strong? Remember this feeling, a voice whispered inside his head—I will— he told the voice—I will remember this feeling… My god, James! James! He rushed to him and threw his arms around him. He was solid and real, and warm to the touch, living, breathing, fully alive… James! He held onto his friend, not wanting to let go, needing to hold onto him to keep this feeling alive in his heart—please don’t go away, James—
James pried himself away and leaned back, looking into Sirius’ eyes. He was grinning, and the radiance that shone from his face was astonishing. Sirius had nearly forgotten what this friendship had meant…the bond between them…stronger than brothers… And suddenly he was living it again—it was real and the full force of its meaning was overwhelming. Everything would be different now! He was back with his best friend! "My god he looks like Harry!" Sirius thought, and was struck by the backward sound of that phrase, comparing James to Harry, rather than the other way around. James hadn’t changed at all – his hair was untidy as always, his glasses the same, his whole demeanor as if Sirius had seen him just yesterday. Sirius felt a vague embarrassment at his own more aged appearance. James must notice how haggard and unkempt he was…
"What are you doing here, James?" he asked, still in shock, hands still on James’ shoulders, unwilling to completely let go.
"Are you surprised?" James laughed again, clearly amused at Sirius’ perplexed manner.
"How long have you been here? If I had only known…"
"Oh come on, Sirius! I’ve been here all along. I’ve been waiting for you to sort yourself out."
Sirius looked at him, not understanding. A bit hurt. "Waiting for me… But you’ve been dead."
James grinned. "Nah, Sirius, I was never dead."
Sirius’ heart was pounding. He took a sharp breath, frightened at what he was hearing. He was not at all sure he was ready for the truth.
"It was all a set up, Sirius. All a cover. To fool Voldemort. I was never dead."
Sirius stepped back, stumbling a bit, fear coursing through him. "Never dead… But I saw you…and Lily…I’ve been in Azkaban because of it…"
"Yeah, well you finally managed to find your way out. But you’re trapped again, Sirius. Aren’t you? And I can’t wait forever for you to finally figure it out."
Sirius slowly shook his head, his eyes locked on James’. He furrowed his brow, trying to understand…what was going on? He took another step backward. "Figure it out?"
"You can’t seem to get it on your own, so I am going to help you. To rescue you, since you can’t seem to rescue yourself. I’m not dead, am I? So you are free! How can you be a murderer when I am still alive?" He laughed again, seeming to thoroughly enjoy the cleverness of the situation.
"You came…to save me?" Sirius stopped backing up. "So I can be free…?" His pulse raced.
James nodded vigorously, clearly amused that Sirius was so far behind in catching on. "Come on, Sirius! Maybe you really have become addled…all these years of hiding…" Laughter rang all around. And Sirius became aware that it really was all around...behind him…on each side... Sirius froze, a creeping sensation taking over. They were not alone…
All around them were Death Eaters. Surrounding them. Wands out, circling him and James. His blood turned cold. James had set him up? Lured him into revealing himself? This couldn’t be happening… James wouldn’t betray him… No—it wasn’t James—it was Harry. "Crucio!" they cried, and Harry was on the ground, writhing, moaning, screaming— and Sirius didn’t have a wand, and he was frozen to the spot, completely helpless… he heard himself screaming along with Harry… James, for god’s sake…James! Do something! Don’t go away again!
But James was not there. Peter Pettigrew was there, laughing…it had been Peter all along… Sirius heard himself screaming again, in shock and fury and helplessness… it was Peter…but he had been so sure when he had held him that it was James…his heart wouldn’t lie to him… he had felt James’ presence when he had embraced him…like a brother, he had been there for him… he had been there…
And he could feel James now, pulling on him, shaking him, trying to rescue him… James wouldn’t leave him…
"Help me, James…please..."
He sat bolt upright. He was breathing heavily, his body trembling, sweat beading on his face....
Remus was sitting next to him. His hand was on his shoulder, his eyes full of concern. Sirius shuddered and tried to clear his mind. He looked around. He was in his bed. In his room. In Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Oh god. He had been dreaming. Why had Remus come into his room? How long had he been there? He had a vague recollection of screaming…out loud…
"I saw James...," he choked out helplessly, the bit of hope and joy he had latched onto leaving him unbearably fast. "I was with James… He came back…"
Remus had a worried look on his face. Sirius looked away, broken. He had so wanted to believe he had seen him, again…he had held him, just for a moment… He concentrated on that vision, unwilling to let it go. He could still feel the intensity of the joy in his heart. He could still muster the soaring sensation of pure joy he had felt when he had seen him again… Remember this feeling… yes…I will remember…
Remus watched as Sirius struggled to make sense of what had happened. He saw the expression change on his face —a transformation—a look of dawning hope. Remus hesitated, then spoke. "Maybe he did come back, for a moment, Sirius. Maybe he had a message for you."
Sirius swallowed hard. "He said he had come to rescue me…that I should be able to figure out that…I am free…"
Remus looked away, hiding the tears springing to his eyes. "Listen to him, then," he said gently, eyes flicking back to Sirius' face. "Listen to him."