Disclaimer: I do not lay claim to any of JKR's beautiful creations. This is just my way of celebrating them.
Author's Note: I would like to thank my brilliant beta-readers, Birgit and HL, who have been more amazing than I had thought possible. The chapter header lyrics are from "Yellow," by Coldplay.
Chapter 2: A Song
I came along
I wrote a song for you
And all the things you do
And it was called yellow
The large black dog had been walking for almost five weeks now—or almost six weeks if you counted the journey from Azkaban to Little Whinging. He had decided to take the journey to Hogwarts at a considerably slower pace, mainly to conserve his energy, but also to avoid any advance guard of Dementors that might have been dispatched to thoroughly search the school before it opened for the term. As he travelled further and further north, the terrain had become very rough. The rolling foothills had turned into rocky peaks, and on more than one occasion he had had to double back, retracing his steps and then choosing a different route because the one he had originally taken was blocked or had ended in a rock wall even his canine form was not able to climb.
To make matters worse, three and a half weeks into his journey from Little Whinging, it had started to rain, lightly at first, and then more violently, until the dog's long, dirty fur was as drenched as it had been after the arduous swim from Azkaban fortress. Dark, grey clouds continually swirled overhead; the dog had not seen the sun or stars in over a week. Although his fur did a better job of protecting him from the weather than his human skin would have, he was still perpetually freezing.
And he was starving. The route he was taking up north roughly paralleled that of the Hogwarts Express (he had made sure to take a detour slightly to the east on September 1, in case Dementors were following the train), and there were very few towns along the way in which he could forage for scraps. He did manage to catch a rat the night before the rain had started, though—and he had enjoyed every last bite, imagining that each bone he crunched was Wormtail's. But since then, he had eaten no meat at all, a deprivation that was particularly tough on his canine stomach.
While James's and Peter's faces had kept him going during the journey from Azkaban to Little Whinging, he now had a new inspiration driving him forward: Harry. Whenever his empty stomach caused him to gag and dry heave, or his now-infected paw grew too painful to carry his body, he had only to picture Harry's face, lit up by a golden glow as he had stood that day on Magnolia Crescent. The image of his godson's beautiful face, so much like James's, always gave him the strength to keep walking.
On the better days, when he had chanced upon some rotten vegetables or an old apple core near the outskirts of a town, or when his injured paw pad had become packed with enough dirt that it had stopped hurting for a while, the dog even experienced waves of a feeling that he thought he had lost the capacity for after twelve long, miserable years: hope. It wasn't a foolish hope; he had long stopped believing in happy endings. He would never be a free man. The wizarding world would always associate the name Sirius Black with murder—and with Voldemort. Even Harry must know by now that his father had been betrayed by his best friend. No, he had lost that kind of hope forever. But the feeling that had been growing ever since he had lain eyes on Harry that clear night in Little Whinging, ever since he had been reminded that James was not completely gone, was definitely some kind of hope, although for what, he was not sure.
What he did know was that Harry's life was in danger. In the photograph from Fudge's newspaper, Peter was crouched on the shoulder of a young boy who looked to be close to Harry's age, and the accompanying article stated that five of the children in the photograph would be heading back to Hogwarts in the fall. Sirius didn't know whether the boy and Harry were in the same year—or even in the same House (was Harry a Gryffindor like him, and like James?)—but just the possibility of Peter living in Hogwarts castle with Harry made Sirius singularly focused on finding Peter and committing the murder he had already served twelve years for. After that—Sirius did not care. Let the Ministry execute him. They could even throw him to the Dementors. Although the thought of a ghastly cloaked figure reaching up with its necrotic claws to lift its hood and reveal its repulsive face to him sent waves of nausea and terror through his body, he was willing to take it if it meant that Peter was dead—and Harry was safe.
Years ago, when life was one big adventure and he felt invincible, Sirius would have written Peter off as too benign, and too stupid, to harm a Flobberworm. But now he knew better, and he would not put it past Peter to attack Harry when the right opportunity presented itself—or to try to return to Voldemort, whatever he had become since that horrible Hallowe'en night almost twelve years ago. And if Voldemort were to return, he would surely seek Harry out and do things to him that were worse than death—even perhaps worse than a Dementor's Kiss. Sirius could not do anything about Voldemort, but he could do something about Peter—something that would pay him back for James and Lily's deaths and for his own wrecked life, something that would ensure Harry's future.
On the evening of the thirty-third day of his walk from Little Whinging, the black dog was finally nearing Hogwarts. The rain had let up slightly, the clouds having shifted to filter through soft golden moonlight, and he had found two legs from a roasted chicken—one even had a few shreds of skin left on it—in a tipped-over dustbin outside a Muggle home in a very small village he had passed just after sunset. He carried the bones into a wood adjoining the Muggles' backyard, stopping after several minutes when he came to a small pond.
He could not see the Muggle house from the pond, and the area was deserted, so the dog dropped the bones and stretched out on the ground. But as soon as he had settled himself and wolfed down the first bone, an overwhelming thirst overcame him, and he rose again to approach the pond. Although the water was a murky brown, he could see a faint outline of his reflection on the moonlit surface, ragged and emaciated, with several small gashes around his muzzle, remnants of an unfortunate encounter with a well-concealed bramblebush several days before. He longed to wash his face, to rinse off some of the grime that had settled there from the past six weeks, from the past twelve years.
The dog's right leg dug at the water, but it was no use; it was not physically possible for him to get a good scrub going with dog paws for hands. He sat down for a moment and carefully looked around, head cocked to discern even the faintest noise. All he heard was the rain dropping lightly onto the leaves of the trees and the occasional hoot of an owl. He lifted his head and sniffed several times, but found nothing remarkable. Then, with one more careful glance around, the dog shook his mangy coat.
In two short seconds, the long, black fur shrank inward, and the dog's body twisted and elongated, closing in on itself to become a human form, the body of a man—of Sirius Black. Sirius was still on all fours as he crawled to the edge of the pond, clawing at the water with his hands and then tossing it at his bruised, scratched face and the rough beard that covered his chin. He frantically rubbed at his face, noticing how his cheekbones now jutted into his palms. He had a wretched taste in his mouth—a vile mixture of mud, bile, and decay. Sirius cupped some water in his hands and rinsed his mouth out with it. It was putrid—he gagged and spit it back out; still, it was an improvement.
He looked back down at the pond and saw something terrible staring back at him—and he suddenly realised that he had not seen his own face, his human face, in years...in twelve years. And he was horrified—and a bit saddened—at what he saw: sunken eyes, sharp cheekbones, and even some harsh lines on his forehead and around his eyes that made him look a decade and a half older than his thirty-four years. And his hair—his hair was filthy. It hung down towards the water, long, black, and twisted, tangled and matted—and extremely greasy.
I make Snivellus look like a stud. He hadn't considered old Snape in years, but the thought simply popped into his head as his wasted face stared back at him from the moonlit pond.
"Disgusting," a harsh voice softly croaked, and Sirius belatedly realised that it was his own voice, dry and cracked from weeks of silence. His breath caught in his throat, and he coughed a couple of times and then swallowed, tasting dirt and a hint of blood. He cupped his hands to the water again, this time deliberately focusing on his fingers and not his mangled reflection, and swallowed it down, grimacing, but managing not to gag.
Sirius's stomach twisted in his emaciated abdomen, and he suddenly recalled the uneaten chicken bone lying several feet away. He crawled over to it and raised himself into a sitting position, leaning his back against a large stone. As he picked up the remaining bone—the one with some small scraps of flesh clinging to it—and savagely ripped the shreds of skin off with his teeth, he let his mind wander to Harry again—and to James.
Sirius was the first person James had told about Lily's pregnancy, and it would be a lie to say that the news hadn't initially made him feel like he had been punched in the stomach—hard. A child...this would surely put a stop to the Marauders' good times together more than Voldemort's growing power—or the Marauders' own growing up—had already done.
Just two weeks earlier, he, James, and Peter had paid a surprise visit to Remus that had resulted in one of the most fun evenings the foursome had had since they left Hogwarts. It was Hallowe'en and there was to be a full moon—it was a marauding opportunity begging not to be missed, even with fears of Voldemort lingering in the air like the stink of rotting garbage. And even though Remus had been adamant that he would stay locked inside his cramped basement flat during his transformation, he ultimately gave in shortly after his three friends Apparated onto his doorstep not long before sundown. He never could turn them down, and they knew it; between James's rationalizations ("It's not your fault you have your furry little problem, and why should you rip yourself apart when we can all go out and have a good time, no harm done to anyone?") and Sirius's alternating taunts ("Don't be such an insufferable prat, Moony. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, because we don't") and flattery ("Come on, you're the heart and soul of this whole operation; it's no fun for Prongs, Wormtail, and me to go without you"), Remus's resolve had once again cracked, and he had agreed to what James called "one last night on the prowl, for old times' sake."
At the time, Sirius had thought nothing of this odd phrase, although it did strike him as slightly unusual that James had been the one who first suggested the outing; ever since what Sirius called The Day Snivellus Almost Became Moony's Just Dessert, James had become more cautious, and Sirius occasionally had to talk him into some of their more risky exploits. But two weeks after that full-moon Hallowe'en, when he and James were sitting at the bar of a pub around the corner from Sirius's house, Sirius found out exactly what James had meant.
The air in the tavern was stuffy and heavy with the scent of malt, and the dim yellow light of the candles mounted on the walls was reflecting off the deep brown glass of the Butterbeer bottles lining the back of the bar, casting soft shadows across James's hands as he slowly rolled a cork back and forth between his palms. Sirius was reclined against the short back of his barstool, his head already slightly cloudy from Firewhisky, as he tilted the stool backwards so that it wobbled precariously on two legs.
"...and so I said to him, 'Wormtail, you useless twit, have you no sense in that ratty brain of yours? Didn't we just take a midnight stroll through outer London with our friend Moony THE WEREWOLF? At any time during our little journey did you see him doing anything remotely Dark? I mean, yes, of course we had to steer him away from those teenagers snogging behind a tree, but you and I both know that his transformation brings out his more adventurous side, and I reckon he was looking for a little piece of the action himself, if you know what I mean. But that has nothing to do with Voldemort, and you've got another thing coming if you're gonna ask whether it's possible that Moony would even consider—'"
"Padfoot, I—it has to stop." James was still looking down at the cork, which he was now grinding into the wooden surface next to his untouched bottle of Butterbeer.
"Exactly what I told him!" proclaimed Sirius, slurring slightly and pointing one index finger at nothing in particular. "I told him that if he ever brings up such rubbish again, I—"
"Sirius...that's not what I mean." James's voice was strangely quiet, and his eyes were intensely focused on the cork. "It has to stop. The outings." He looked up and met Sirius's unsteady gaze.
"Don't tell me this whole Voldemort thing is getting to you, too. Look, Prongs, I know it's serious. I'm not stupid. I knew what it meant when I joined"—Sirius lowered his voice slightly—"the Order. I know that things have changed. But that doesn't mean—"
"It's not the Order, and it's not Voldemort. Sirius...." James took a deep breath and then exhaled shakily through his mouth. His hazel eyes were fixed on Sirius's grey ones. "Lily and I are going to—we're going to have a baby, Sirius."
Sirius dropped forward, causing the front legs of his barstool to slam against the wooden floor in a dull thud. His eyes were no longer unsteady; instead, they returned James's gaze.
"Lily's pregnant, Sirius. I'm—I'm going to be a dad."
Sirius's mouth suddenly felt very dry. He picked up his Firewhisky glass and tipped it into his mouth, but was rewarded with just a few drops, as he had already emptied it several minutes before. He put the glass back down and then opened his mouth to say something, but his mind had suddenly gone completely blank, and he could not think of a single word in English.
"Sirius—Padfoot...I know it's not the best time, what with the current situation and"—James softened his already-quiet voice to a whisper—"the Death Eaters and all. But—"
James kept talking, but Sirius found that, like his mouth and his brain, his ears had ceased working, too. It was as if he had suddenly become finely attuned to his body's rhythms, to the exclusion of the outside world. His heartbeat seemed to be coming from his ears, and his breaths were so loud that he couldn't hear a word James was saying.
A baby. Pregnant. Sirius struggled to make sense of it. He made to turn and look at James, but realised that he already was.
"—for a while now." James was still talking. Sirius focused intently on tuning back in. "And the fact is, we don't know how long this situation will last, and we can't just put our lives on hold for it. Of course, we'll continue doing...what we're doing...for the Order—that's a given. But the other stuff—I wanted to go out, to make things easier for Moony, one last time. But it has to be the last time, Sirius, because things are already dangerous enough, and now I have to consider someone else besides myself—and Lily, of course."
Sirius was still silent.
"But it was fun, Padfoot. It was like old times." James smiled slightly. "And Padfoot...we—Lily and I—we really want this." His smile broke into a wide grin, and he quickly picked up his bottle of Butterbeer and took a long swig.
As blank as his mind had been a few moments before, now a million thoughts were racing through Sirius's head. Everything was changing so quickly. He suddenly felt like a child himself—and he wanted to stay that way—to enjoy life, to do things for the fun of it, not because he had to—but everyone around him was becoming an adult, and he felt like he was falling behind. He knew that he should be happy for James, and he silently cursed himself for being such a mean-hearted bastard, unable to dredge up even an ounce of happiness for his best friend. What was wrong with him? It was great news—a baby. James, a dad, and Lily, a mum. They would make wonderful parents. And yet all Sirius could find were selfish thoughts—fears that he would be left behind, edged out of James's life, that his best friend would become all adult and serious and they would no longer have anything in common.
This thought made him hate himself even more; how could he even imagine that James would treat him any differently just because James was going to be a father? He was as bad as Wormtail, raising questions about Moony simply because he, Wormtail, was an insecure git. It was just all so scary. Everything was moving too fast; Sirius felt like so much was beyond his control these days. He suddenly missed being back at Hogwarts. Even detention (a place he was well acquainted with) had been a source of amusement and laughter. Now a lot less seemed funny.
And yet there was James, sitting in front of him, with a big giddy smile on his face, and looking at him, Sirius suddenly felt a bubble of laughter rise from his chest. It was the same old Prongs; nothing seemed different. What exactly had he, Sirius, been agonizing about, anyway? Sirius tried to hold in the laughter, but it escaped through his nose in a loud snort, which made him crack up even more, his shoulders shaking uncontrollably. James looked at him incredulously, his smile slowly fading into a slightly indignant expression.
"What's so funny? I wasn't joking, you know."
Sirius laughed even harder; tears had now begun to stream down his face.
"Sirius, you arse, what the bloody hell—"
But James couldn't finish his sentence, because Sirius had pulled him into a big hug, causing James to end up with a mouthful of Sirius's shirt as Sirius clapped him on the back. After a couple of seconds, Sirius let go.
"James—congratulations. You and Lily—you'll be wonderful parents." Overall, Sirius felt much better. His heartbeat had finally moved back down to his chest, and the tightness in his lungs had let up. And while he still felt a nagging fear—that soon everything was going to change, but he might just stay the same—he really meant what he had said to James. He wanted to say more, but couldn't figure out exactly what.
"And you'll be a wonderful godfather, Sirius—that is, if you're willing. I mean, you don't have to—I know it's a burden, especially with everything that's going on now. I mean, it could be a lot of responsibility, that is, if, you know, if something were to happen to—and so I don't want you to—but—well...it would mean a lot to me, and to Lily, and there's no question that you are—"
"James," Sirius said forcefully, cutting him off, his face breaking into a huge smile. His sudden elation felt far more genuine than the laughing fit he had had a moment earlier. "Of course I'll do it."
But he said no more, because he knew that if he did, his voice would break.
James was right, Sirius thought as he reclined against the stone at the side of the pond, chewing on his chicken bone, his eyes resting absently on the hazy yellow glare of the moon on the surface of the pond. It was the last outing the Marauders had ever had; exactly two years later, James was dead, Peter had faked his own death, and Sirius had wished he were dead. But Harry remained behind, and for this Sirius felt a deep gratitude towards James. Harry truly was the one thing Sirius had left in the world. His own family had abandoned him ages ago, and he had no more friends. Well, there was still Remus, but like the rest of the wizarding world, he didn't know the truth about what had happened the night James and Lily died, so he probably hated Sirius, too (and Sirius didn't blame him, for it was the same way he himself felt about Peter).
As Sirius gnawed on the cartilage (he would completely consume the bone later in his dog form), his spirits began to lift a bit. It had stopped raining, he finally had a little meat in his stomach, and he was almost at Hogwarts. He was a bit nervous about the memories that Hogwarts would stir up—some, perhaps, were lost to the Dementors, but others were sure to surface—but this trepidation was eclipsed by the prospect of catching another glimpse of Harry...and of catching up with Peter, of seeing the look on his face right before he was to die.
Absentmindedly, Sirius started to hum as he nibbled on the bone. It just felt good to use his voice again, to be in charge of his own emotions, erratic though they felt, after spending twelve years with Dementors outside his cell door, day and night. Azkaban had truly been a living hell, worse than anyone could imagine. The filthy, inhuman living conditions had been the least of the horrors he had lived through for over a decade. Even listening to the screams and curses of the other inmates as they lost their minds wasn't the worst of it.
No, the true horror of Azkaban was time—years worth of empty hours in which Sirius had nothing to do but let his mind drift, his thoughts wander. And thinking was a precursor to torture, because as horrible as the conditions in Azkaban were, as hopeless as he felt, at some point Sirius's thoughts would alight upon something happy—usually a memory of his days at Hogwarts, or the exhilaration of ripping through the air on his flying motorbike, the wind wiping his mind clean as it blew his hair back and rushed between his shirt and skin, sending a delicious chill through his body. For a brief moment, the screams of the other inmates would fade, the stink of dozens of unwashed bodies would dissipate, and the cold, rough stone floor would fall away as Sirius let the memory wash over him.
And that's when the Dementors would glide over, swooping down on him like vultures to a rotting corpse. In an instant, Sirius would be returned to his senses—the inmates' shrieks blasting in his ears, the stench of their bodies choking him, the floor slamming back under him, and the air around him frosting over as the Dementors drew their breaths, ripping his thoughts out of his head until he could do nothing but collapse onto the frozen ground, shivering and retching.
After a while, Sirius had learned to repress his good memories, his happy thoughts—to banish them to the far corners of his mind and then bury them, perhaps for good. At first, he had to actively stifle them, quickly and deliberately shifting his mind to something miserable the moment one of them threatened to surface. Luckily, he had a repository of misery from which to choose, and it wasn't long before the process became automatic and any happiness he had experienced in his life seemed truly forgotten.
It was a rotten lot—purposely losing one's own memory or having the memories stolen—but at least there was choice in the former, and Sirius preferred to retain some measure of control over his life, ruined though it was. Being able to turn into his Animagus form helped, too, because the dog's thoughts were simpler, more instinctual, more physical, and after a bit of experimentation revealed that the Dementors could not tell the difference, Sirius spent most of his time curled up in a corner in his canine form, alternately sleeping and staring.
But being free of the Dementors had proved to be a shock to his system, because for the first time in twelve years Sirius was able to think and feel for himself, without repercussion, and he was still learning how to handle that freedom. It was strange to allow positive thoughts to enter his mind, and he had to struggle hard against the urge to repress them. Further, he was so used to the pervasive gloom brought on by the mere presence of the Dementors that it was a novel sensation to own his emotions, to realise that when he felt upset or depressed, it was for a reason, not because a dark, hooded creature was hovering several feet away, quietly inhaling slow, rattling breaths.
And the emotions he had been feeling since he had escaped Azkaban were extreme. Experiencing one was like surfacing for air after being held underwater until the last possible second: The emotion would wash over Sirius, and he would emerge gasping and choking, reeling from the intensity. He felt not happiness, but elation; not anger, but rage; not sadness, but despair. They were his emotions, but he still was figuring out how to control them.
The most difficult part of his adjustment to life outside Azkaban, however, was the return of his memories. Over the six weeks since he had escaped Azkaban, memories, both monumental and insignificant, that he had long hidden or assumed to be lost to the Dementors would slam into his mind, often without warning or pretext—Uncle Alphard calling him "my favorite nephew" at Christmas dinner when Sirius was seven years old; eating the first spoonful of a particularly delicious pudding at one of the Hogwarts Hallowe'en feasts; racing James across the Quidditch pitch late one night to find out whether a stag or a dog is the faster runner; tasting Butterbeer for the first time. The memories would hit even when he was in his canine form, often at the most mundane times, such as when he had stopped walking to sit down and scratch behind one of his ears for a moment. Without warning, images of the past would flood his mind, momentarily blinding and deafening him, cutting off his senses so that only the memory remained, playing out in vivid hues and sharp sounds. When it was over, Sirius would find himself in the same position in which he had been when the memory first hit, panting and spent.
And it was as Sirius sat against the rock, sucking on the chicken bone and still humming softly to himself, that another memory hit him like a hard Bludger to the stomach. The song he was humming—it was a tune from a long time ago, a melody he had sung to Harry when the boy was just a few months old. A wave of cold, and then hot, washed over him as the memory suddenly dropped into his mind from wherever it had been hiding during his time at Azkaban. The pond, the trees, the golden moon, the humid night air, the damp ground, the chicken bone—all of it fell away as Sirius relived for a moment a time long forgotten.
It was James and Lily's anniversary, and Sirius had volunteered to watch Harry while they went out for dinner. It was only going to be for a few hours, but Sirius was nervous. He had awkwardly held Harry for two or three minutes at a time before, but that was the extent of his exposure to children, so he had no idea how he was going to get through two or three hours on his own. Still, he was the child's godfather, so he was determined to handle the situation somehow, without letting on to James and Lily that he had no idea what he was doing.
Harry was asleep in his crib when James and Lily left, the rays of the waning late-autumn sun filtering through the blinds and casting a warm golden glow onto his face as Sirius hovered over him, hoping that he would just stay asleep for the next few hours and wondering whether a Somnambulus Charm would be too strong for a baby. After several minutes of staring, however, Sirius got bored and decided to wander the house for a bit.
On his third lap of the upper level, Sirius chanced upon some old issues of Quidditch Monthly stacked against a wall and decided to bring them into Harry's room to pass the time while the baby slept. He settled himself in the rocking chair next to the crib, making a mental note to not be in that chair when James and Lily came home; if James found him there, he would never hear the end of it.
Sirius opened the first issue and started to read about the editor's top picks for the Continental Cup. The issue was several months old, and Sirius already knew that Portugal, despite its strong showing throughout most of the season, had stood no chance against Hungary in the finals, so the article seemed ridiculous, filled with such outlandish statements as "Portugal's victory is so certain that Quidditch Monthly would be willing to bet a whole team's worth of the new, state-of-the-art Hailey 76 racing brooms to anyone foolhardy enough to support any other team for this year's Cup." Sirius wondered whether anyone had taken the magazine up on its offer as he turned the page to a large spread of the Peruvian Seeker during the final minutes of a match against Australia, the Seeker's robes a deep blue blur closing in behind a zigzagging yellow streak—the Golden Snitch.
The rays of dying sunlight filtering in through the blinds were warm on Sirius's black hair, and a drowsy haze began to wash over him. He leaned back in the rocking chair and closed his eyes for a moment, idly wondering whether exchanging brooms for flying motorcycles might make a better game of Quidditch. The shouts of an excited crowd began to fill his ears, but were almost immediately drowned out by the roar of fourteen engines. His motorcycle rumbling beneath him, Sirius began to circle, climbing into the sky, squinting against the bright sunlight to look for a glint of gold against gold. Below him, large silver streaks shot across the field, motorbikes zooming from one side of the pitch to the other, and a booming voice delivered muffled commentary, drowned out by the wind rushing past his ears.
Suddenly, something red (a Bludger?) appeared to his right, hovering briefly in his peripheral vision before dropping down towards the field. Sirius leaned forward and gripped the handlebars of his bike, twisting them sharply, causing the bike to pull into a sharp dive. He could see now another motorcycle in front of him, a blur of metal and a streak of red, hurtling downward in pursuit of something shiny and yellow—the Snitch.
Sirius leaned further into the dive and revved the bike's engine. Now he was falling so quickly he could barely breathe—but he was closing in on the bike in front of him. Just a little further.... He was now right on the other player's tail. He steered a little to the left so that he would not crash into the other Seeker, instead pulling up alongside him—or rather, her; as Sirius glanced to his right, he realised that the streak of red was not a Bludger, but a head of rust-colored hair. He turned his head sharply and found himself staring into Lily's green eyes, her hair whipping around her head as the hint of a smile crossed her face. Next moment, she had turned away and was rushing forward, her hand outstretched towards the small golden orb.
The roar of the crowd swelled as Sirius leaned forward for all he was worth. He was now completely vertical, the ground of the pitch ascending quickly to meet him. His legs were gripping the motorcycle in a tight hug, its vibrations threatening to throw him off at any moment. His bike was now almost parallel with Lily's, and he cautiously took his right hand off the handlebars, fingers outstretched towards the flash of gold, lifting his body up off the seat to give himself just a little more reach.
Two hands grasped towards one golden ball on a rapidly rising backdrop of green, fingers trembling, reaching, stretched to their limit. The crowd was now impossibly loud. Sirius could hear individual voices shouting, but could not understand what they were saying. He was almost there; he could feel the gossamer wings of the Snitch tickling his fingers, teasing him. With the last ounce of his strength, Sirius pushed forward and grabbed—
A piercing wail rang out, and Sirius's eyes flew open, his heart banging against his ribcage. He was in a dark room, and someone was shrieking, filling his head with noise and making it difficult for him to clear the fog that was obscuring his thoughts. Where was he? He blinked several times and lifted his hands to rub his eyes. Something papery fell from his lap to the floor. Paper...a magazine...Quidditch....
The screaming intensified, and Sirius started as reality suddenly snapped back into place. He was in Harry's room, and he must have fallen asleep for a while, because it was now completely dark.
"Incandensia," Sirius mumbled, and the room was filled with a soft yellow glow emanating from a number of glass-enclosed candles mounted on the wall. He got up and went over to the crib. Harry had awoken and was crying, flailing his limbs and twisting around. The prospect of using the Somnambulus Charm briefly crossed Sirius's mind again as he stared down at the shrieking infant, his own head pounding from the noise. No, Lily would kill me, he thought and then slowly reached down into the crib, grasping Harry under his arms and lifting him to his own chest.
This was worse—the wailing was now directed straight into Sirius's right ear as he bounced Harry up and down. What did Harry want? Was he hungry? Did he need a nappy change? Sirius strongly hoped against the latter.
"Ssssshhhhh....Harry, please. Please stop crying," Sirius pleaded desperately, but Harry continued to shriek. Sirius felt like his head was going to explode. How did James and Lily do this every day?
"Harry...You're killing Uncle Padfoot, here. Why won't you stop crying?" Sirius wondered if he knew any charms for temporary deafness; he could cast one on himself—if Harry didn't render him deaf first, that is. His right ear was now ringing, and he shifted Harry over to his left side; better to make the hearing loss even, he figured.
The baby's body was small in Sirius's long hands, but surprisingly solid. As he continued to bounce Harry up and down, grateful that neither James, Remus, nor Peter was there to witness this spectacle, Sirius wished that he had asked James and Lily for better instructions. Surely there was something he could do to make Harry stop crying. He felt really bad—not just because he was rapidly losing his hearing, and possibly his sanity, but also because Harry was clearly miserable, and he was unable to do anything about it.
Partly as an attempt to drown Harry out, Sirius began to sing the first song that came to mind. It was the fight song for the Wimbourne Wasps, one of England's premier Quidditch teams. Sirius didn't even follow that team, but Peter was a big fan, and he would often sing the song during lulls in conversation, driving Sirius mad and embedding it in his head for days. At this point, though, Sirius didn't care—anything that would stop his head from throbbing was all right with him. He sang out:
Oi Oi Oi Oi Wimbourne Wasps
Swarm the enemy
Robes of yellow, bands of black
Sting to victory
Wimbourne, Wimbourne, fly fly fly
Beat them to the ground
Pass the Quaffle, catch the Snitch
We are vict'ry bound
A thick silence hung in the air after Sirius finished the song. Either Sirius had completely lost his hearing or Harry had stopped crying—and it seemed to be the latter! Sirius carefully took a deep breath. He was afraid to move too much, lest he disturb Harry. He let out his breath, and then—a scream ripped through his left ear, causing tiny gold sparks to flash before his eyes.
"Harry...Baby Prongs...please," Sirius gasped, lowering Harry so that he was now cradled against his lower chest; he had to get the child away from his ears before permanent damage was done. Harry's face was purple and scrunched up in a tight grimace, his mouth wide open, emitting ungodly noises from his tiny chest. Sirius glanced at his watch; how much longer until James and Lily returned? He didn't know how much longer he could take this.
"Oi Oi Oi Oi Wimbourne Wasps...." At a loss, Sirius started to sing again. If anything, it distracted him from his own pain. As he sang, he looked down at Harry, willing him to stop crying, or at least lower the volume a little.
Perhaps Harry was a future Wasps fan, or perhaps he just liked singing. Either way, it actually seemed to be working. As Sirius reached the end of the second stanza and started over again, Harry's face started to relax, and it turned from purple to red to pink. His eyes, which had been screwed shut, slowly opened to stare up at Sirius, who kept singing for all he was worth.
Sirius continued to loop through the fight song. Harry wasn't falling back asleep, but he did seem to have been lulled by the noise. Exhausted, but still singing, Sirius sank back into the rocking chair, Harry cradled in his arms.
After Sirius had sung the praises of the Wimbourne Wasps about seven times, Harry was almost completely calm, and at one point he even reached one tiny hand up towards Sirius's face. Still holding Harry in the crook of his right arm, Sirius freed his left hand to put a finger in the child's palm; Harry grasped it briefly, and for a quick moment Sirius marveled at the kind of magic that could create a whole new person, so much more powerful than the kind that could transfigure potholders into peacocks.
At about the twelfth time through the song, Sirius felt a funny prickling on the top of his head, and he looked up to find James and Lily standing in the doorway of Harry's bedroom. His face immediately grew hot, and he cut off mid-stanza.
"Peter finally win you over to the cause of the Wasps, then, Sirius?" James asked quietly, his voice thick with amusement. Lily's mouth was pursed into a tight smirk as she tried, but failed, to hold back her laughter, finally erupting in a series of giggles.
"Sod off, Prongs," Sirius muttered, his cheeks on fire. "For your information—"
"Relax, Sirius. It's very cute," said Lily, and Sirius's face burned even hotter. "And I, for one, happen to think that the Wimbourne Wasps are a fine Quidditch team."
"You know what, Lily? You can sod off, too," declared Sirius, smiling despite himself as he rose from the rocking chair and handed Harry off to her. Aside from the headache, the ringing in his ears, and the utter embarrassment at having been caught sitting in a rocking chair singing to an infant, the evening hadn't been that bad after all.
The Wimbourne Wasps song...that's what Sirius had been humming while he worked on his chicken bone. Having reimplanted itself in Sirius's mind, the memory now released him. He once again felt the rough stone against his back, the damp ground underneath him, the weight of his long, matted hair on his head, the smell of rain and earth in his nose. His breath was coming in short gasps, and he felt as if he had just woken from a really intense dream, unsure of what was real and what was only in his mind.
And then, just as in the memory, Sirius felt a strange creeping sensation on the top of his head. He glanced up and found himself looking directly into the face of a middle-aged Muggle woman standing on the other side of the small pond, the lantern in her hand casting a sharp yellow glare around her. The woman's eyes widened in terror, and she opened her mouth as if to scream, but no sound came out. Sirius scrambled unsteadily to his feet.
"DON'T COME NEAR ME OR I'LL SCREAM!" shrieked the woman. "I KNOW WHO YOU ARE! STAY AWAY FROM ME, MURDERER!"
Sirius was all too willing to oblige her. He snatched up the chicken bone, which had dropped onto the ground while he was wrapped up in his memory, and, shoving it into his mouth, raced off in the opposite direction, silently cursing himself for letting his guard down, especially when he was in his human form. His heart pounded and his entire body tingled as adrenaline rushed through his veins. The trees were a blur as he sprinted through them. After just a few moments, he spied a large, thick tree a short distance ahead of him, and he stumbled to a halt behind it, the woman's loud cries ringing in his ears. As Sirius dropped to his hands and knees, his body began to transform, his face elongating, body curling under him, filthy clothes melting seamlessly into filthy fur, until he was no longer a man, but the great black dog again, the chicken bone still crammed in his mouth.
Without a backward glance, the dog pelted through the trees.