Sirius Meets… the Rat
Sirius sat apprehensively in one of Azkaban’s cells—a cell he had not seen before—wondering what was going to happen to him now. Chains were still loosely on his hands and feet, but at least he was seated on a fairly comfortable chair. There was a vacant chair across the table from him. It was pulled out slightly, waiting. For someone.
He took a breath as the door opened behind him. The sound of footsteps filled the air as his companion entered the room and shuffled toward the waiting chair.
Sirius nearly fell off his.
Peter Pettigrew sat down heavily, and nodded in greeting. "Hello, Sirius. How’ve you been?"
Sirius couldn’t speak. Shock waves ran through him. He instinctively reached for his wand.
Peter laughed. "You gave that away when you came here."
"Gave it away? You bloody RAT, they stripped it from me! They’ve chained me!"
Peter laughed again. He pulled a deck of cards from his pocket. "Fancy a little game?"
Sirius stared at him. "A game?" Oh god, if only he could find a wand, anything at all, he would kill the bastard so fast he wouldn’t know what hit him.
Peter calmly dealt the cards. He picked up his hand and sorted through it, then made the first move. Sirius sat, astonished, completely unable to react. Peter looked him in the eye. "I’m simply giving you a chance to even the score."
"Even the score!" bellowed Sirius. "Even the score?" He closed his eyes in disbelief. "After what you’ve done to me?" he hissed.
Peter raised his eyebrows and said nothing.
Sirius found himself screaming, He sat up in bed. A dream. No, a bloody nightmare. The nightmare of finally catching up with Peter and finding himself powerless to get his revenge.
Reluctantly, Sirius began to play the game. Might as well, he thought, rather than sit here and stare at the Rat every night. Might as well get on with this sick joke.
He was beginning to notice a pattern, however. He was beginning to see that his hand was never enough. "Let me deal," he demanded on the next round. "This time, I’ll give you the cards."
"Ah, Sirius, mate," said Peter as he handed over the deck with a sickening look of pleasure on his face, "you’ve given so much already —"
"Come here!" shouted Sirius, "you slimy, slippery—"
A laugh of mirth filled the room.
Sirius sat up in bed. "Arrgggh!" he screamed, anger pouring out uncontrollably. "Arrgggh!" he screamed again, knowing Remus wasn’t in the house and there was no one to overhear. "You filthy Rat!"
Just then he heard Kreacher scuttling by. "Master always was slightly mad…a lunatic and a murderer as well…"
Sirius sent a candlestick smashing against the door.
Once again Peter sat across the table. He smiled sweetly. "Never were any good at playing your hand, were you?"
Sirius grimaced. "Never caught on at cheating or lying or betrayal."
Peter laughed. "I remember you always were quite above stooping to that sort of behavior, yes indeed."
Sirius slammed his cards down on the table.
"Temper, Sirius—it won’t get you far."
"You bloody Rat—"
Screams. Sirius sat up and stared into the darkness of his room at twelve, Grimmauld Place, breathing heavily.
"I did love James and Lily, you know."
Sirius hurled his cards into Peter’s face. Peter accepted the insult passively, staring back. A hurt smile appeared. "And you, Sirius. I did love you as a brother."
"Don’t you ever say that again!" Sirius bellowed, shaking with rage. "How dare you—"
Peter’s sad smile remained. "We all have a role to play."
"Well, much better to play the hero!"
"And that’s what you played, is it?"
Sirius woke this time to tears streaming down his face.
Sirius didn’t go to bed the next night. He busied himself re-organizing the books, and cleaning an overlooked cabinet. Keep moving, he thought. Stay busy.
Peter came anyway.
Sirius stared at him. "How could you have done it?"
Peter laughed. "The line, I believe, was: ‘How could you have done it, Sirius? James, Lily—’ "
"You bastard! You foul… slippery… Rat!"
Peter mimed drawing his wand and pointing it at Sirius. And he laughed.
Sirius clearly heard the explosion – it ripped through the air and settled around him in a confusion of smoke and dust and death and destruction. And he realized he must have been hit in the hand. He was aware of a stabbing pain in his hand.
He opened his eyes and pried himself away from the edge of the bookcase, against which he found himself firmly wedged. It was painfully cutting into his hand, which was folded in an awkward manner underneath him. He sighed, rubbed his hand for a moment, and then dropped his head, defeated.
"When are you going to leave me alone?"
"It’s you who won’t leave me alone," said Peter softly.
"Deal the bloody cards!"
"What, you’re done with dealing?"
"It doesn’t matter who does the damn dealing, does it? The outcome is always the same!"
Peter said nothing, but picked up the deck and began to deal.
"I trusted you, you know."
Peter kept dealing.
"How could you betray us, Peter—betray me— when I trusted you?"
"You never understood me."
"You were part of us!"
Peter looked up at this. "You insisted on making me who you wanted me to be. You saw only what you wanted to see, Sirius. What you needed to see. Did you ever really care to see me?"
"I trusted you with everything, damn it! With all my hopes and dreams and belief in the future! And you shattered it! You shattered everything that mattered and I’m left with nothing! Nothing, because of you!"
"So everything is about you, then, is it? You can’t see past your own fear—or is it grief, Sirius? Or possibly guilt?"
Sirius angrily folded his hand and shoved it toward Peter.
Peter smiled sympathetically. "More bad cards, eh?"
Sirius woke, and stared at the ceiling.
"How is Harry?"
"You—you foul Rat! You leave him alone!"
Peter didn’t look up from his hand. "It’s out of your control, Sirius."
"What are you talking about?" growled Sirius in a very dangerous voice.
"The fight is neither yours nor mine. It’s Harry’s."
"You didn’t waste any time in turning against him!"
"And you are so bloody important that you will save him?"
"You’re damn right I’ll save him!"
"You’ll give everything away to save him? You know with such certainty that your side of the story is right?"
"I know my side is the right side! You are the evil one!"
Peter smiled. "Spoken like a true Black. Like the arrogant son of a bitch you have always been."
"I will save him!"
"Save him from what, Sirius? From what he must go through? Are you doing him any favors? You really can see the future, then?"
"I will save him, by god!"
"Yes, and you’ve done such a fine job of it, too. Have you stopped to consider that you are merely propelling him further into danger?"
Sirius’ rage overruled any sensibility. He began to fight against the chains, the flesh of his hands tearing away in his attempts to reach Peter, to silence him, to finally kill him…
He woke, sweating, tangled in sheets, fighting back tears.
Sirius sat at the table that night, staring at a steaming cup of coffee. He was past the point of caring what happened in the daytime – if only he could find a way to avoid sleep. He could not play this bloody game any longer.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a flash of light appeared as a feather floated gently to the table. Sirius picked it up. Fawkes.
Dumbledore appeared in the room.
"Hello, Sirius," he said calmly. "I’m not intruding, I hope?"
"No—no, of course not," said Sirius hastily, a bit startled at this sudden appearance. "Is there a problem?"
"Not a problem, no. A change of plans," said Dumbledore lightly. "I have resigned my position at Hogwarts."
Sirius stared at him.
Dumbledore chuckled. "My hand was forced, I must admit. Through my considerable years, however, I’ve found that the outcome of the game depends upon how one uses the cards one is dealt – the good and the bad."
Sirius continued to stare, utterly confused.
The Headmaster proceeded to describe the evening’s revelation of Dumbledore’s Army, and the ensuing altercation between himself, Umbridge and Fudge.
Sirius listened, alternating between feeling pride in Harry’s actions and fear of the consequences.
"So, where will you go?" Sirius asked quickly. He felt a sudden alliance with Dumbledore and the fact that he, too, would now need to seek asylum. "Will you stay here?"
Dumbledore gave a soft smile. "I have no intention of going into hiding."
Dumbledore held his gaze steadily.
"But Fudge will be after you. You said yourself that he wants to send you to Azkaban."
"I will not go to Azkaban, Sirius. Certainly I could escape, but why bother?"
Sirius’ eyes bored into the old man’s. "Why…bother?"
Sirius felt his pulse pounding in his ears. He wasn’t sure he wanted to continue the conversation, and yet—
"I simply won’t allow myself to be imprisoned," Dumbledore repeated.
Sirius’ breathing was rapidly increasing. A great fury was beginning to overtake him. "You won’t allow it! You can prevent it?"
Dumbledore nodded. "I have no intention of handing my power to anyone."
"You let me rot there—"
"Sirius. You gave of your power yourself. I could not prevent that."
"I don’t—I don’t understand…"
"You had the power all along to escape Azkaban. You merely gave it away for a while."
"Gave it away! To whom?"
"To Peter Pettigrew, for one."
Sirius blanched and looked away.
"When do I wake up?" he wondered softly.
Dumbledore smiled sadly. "Anytime you want."
Sirius picked up the cards, one by one, as Peter placed them in front of him. He studied the hand he had been dealt, wondering.
Suddenly a cloud must have shifted. They were bathed in moonlight. Sirius glanced up to the window. The light of the full moon shone through.
A werewolf howled in the distance.
Sirius and Peter looked at each other.
"Remus," Sirius whispered.
"He needs help."
Peter nodded again. "But he’s at the mercy of the moon. He has no choice."
Sirius placed his cards face down on the table, then stood and moved nimbly toward the moonlight. It was only after he reached the barred window that a realization dawned on him. He had moved so easily. He looked down. The chains were gone. He pushed his hand through the bars, reaching toward the moon…reaching for his friend. If only he could help…
"There’s a saying, Sirius, that if you can put your five fingers through it, you have a gate, not a barrier."
Sirius stared at his hand, now on the other side of the bars. He turned suddenly to look at Peter.
Peter was studying his cards. The hand that held them was shining silver in the moonlight. Sirius started. Why had he not noticed that strange, haunting hand before?
"What happened to your hand?" asked Sirius.
Peter looked up and shrugged. After a moment he answered very softly, "I gave it away."
Sirius stared at him. He took another long look at the eerie silver hand.
"I think this is where you and I part company, Peter." He pulled his eyes away from that shining hand with effort, and added, "Check the hand you dealt me."
He pushed the rest of his body through the bars of the cell, finding it was indeed a gate.
"Oh, and, Peter—" he said as he left. "Thanks for the game."
**Note: The saying Peter quotes is from James Joyce, in Ulysses.