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.
Author's Notes for Chapter 3: Goldie's Liquid Curse was concocted by Arabella and Zsenya in their brilliant "After the End." I would like to thank my black dog, Cocoa, and my orange kitty, Brie, for inspiring the interactions between Sirius and Crookshanks. And lastly, I would like to acknowledge my own best friend and twin soul, Ana. Ana, you are the Sirius to my James, and it is largely because of you that I understand the true meaning of friendship.
Chapter 3: The Turn
So then I took my turn
Oh what a thing to've done
And it was all yellow
Autumn had come early this year. Sirius had long lost track of the days, but it couldn't have been much past the third week of September by the time he arrived at Hogwarts, and yet the trees in the Forbidden Forest had already exploded into a dazzling display of warm, vibrant colour. The maples and rowans were on fire, their leaves stained a brilliant scarlet tinged with a hint of orange. The small, oval leaves of the beech trees glowed with a toasty copper hue. And the oaks and sycamores shone yellow, soft and creamy in shadow and almost blindingly golden when backlit by the sun.
Entering Hogwarts had not been pleasant. The moment Sirius had reached the summit of a large hill and the horizon had fallen away to reveal the castle and its grounds below him, the wiggle of anticipation he had been feeling in his stomach since the morning had turned sharply acidic. There were Dementors everywhere. From his perch at the top of the hill, Sirius could see dozens of dark, cloaked figures positioned at regular distances around the stone wall surrounding the school grounds, and even around the part of the lake that opened onto Hogsmeade Station. They were just silently hovering there, motionless, tall and towering, like an army of death waiting for an unfortunate soul to cross their ranks. The sight was eerie and immensely terrifying.
Several long minutes passed as Sirius tried to convince his body to approach the castle. Every time he took a resolute step forward, he was immediately driven back by visions of a dark cloud of black shrouds ascending all at once, rippling cloaks gliding swiftly towards him, descending upon him, pushing back their hoods as his most tragic, most lonely, most devastating experiences played themselves over and over in his mind.... It was almost too much for Sirius to take, especially after nearly two months of freedom.
But he could not stand there with his tail between his legs forever. Sirius simply had to hope the Dementors would continue to be confused by his Animagus form, and that whatever traumatic memory he would be forced to relive as he crossed their paths wouldn't bring his mind crashing in on itself. He whined softly and then started making his way down the hill towards the school grounds.
The front gates were open, but two particularly formidable Dementors were standing guard on either side. Even though he was still a bit of distance from them, Sirius felt himself growing queasy and cold. Still, the longer he waited, the worse he knew it would get. Without another thought, Sirius took off towards the gates.
He was running so fast that he didn't notice the chill until it was upon him full force, just short of the entrance.
"Sirius. Ah, Sirius, don' go in there."
White haze swirled before his eyes.
"Yeh don't wan' ter see it. Yeh don't wan' ter see him. There's nothin' yeh can do fer 'im now."
His lungs were ice cold.
"C'mon, Sirius. It's too late. Don' go in there."
He couldn't breathe—he was drowning. His legs started to buckle. Through the fog, Sirius saw his own hands pushing open doors, clawing at broken walls, shaking and frantic. A rushing sound filled his ears. He felt himself lurch forward, as if he had tripped on something. The clouds were getting thicker, and he didn't know which way was up. His vision tilted; there was something behind the clouds...a face...a glassy gaze...James....
For a brief moment, the fog parted slightly, but that was enough for Sirius. His paws dug into the ground, and he pushed himself up from where he had fallen, just a few feet from the entrance...right in a Dementor's bitter-cold shadow.
Blindly, panting desperately to get air into his frozen lungs, he continued to stagger forward. Someone was sobbing; Sirius could hear heavy gasps and some strangled choking noises. Through the fog, he saw the outline of a person, crumpled and motionless on the floor, long red hair splayed out messily, obscuring the face. A hand extended down through the fog, trembling violently, reaching for the hair...and then everything quickly dissolved in a final swirl of white.
Sirius gasped, and his vision came back into focus. The castle loomed in front of him. He was inside the gates.
Despite his residual shakiness and the raw, painful reminder of that day, it felt wonderful to be at Hogwarts again. The spicy, slightly scorched scent of magic was familiar and comforting, and as he looked up at the castle, the place where he had spent some of the happiest years of his life, Sirius felt as if he had come home at last.
And yet, standing there inside the gates, his canine body casting a dark, hulking shadow towards the forest, Sirius also felt like a stranger, an outsider. He could not simply stride into the castle, expecting to see familiar faces. Someone else had claimed his bed; no part of Hogwarts belonged to him any more. It was his home, but he could not enter.
So instead of heading up to the castle, Sirius set off towards the edge of the Forbidden Forest.
It did not take Sirius long to realise that the hardships he had endured on the journey to Hogwarts were nothing compared with the frustration of being in the same place as Peter, but completely unable to find him, let alone kill him.
Someone would surely notice if a monstrous black dog were to enter the castle, and even if Sirius were to slip in, he did not know which house the boy in Fudge's newspaper lived in. The most Sirius could do was to try to pick up Peter's scent. Although it had been twelve years since he had last seen them, Sirius still knew the smells of his three friends in their animal forms—the combinations and layers of scents that had been permanently infused into the canine part of Sirius's brain after so many nights together. Moony always smelled of adrenaline, hunger, fear, and hints of blood and parchment—urgent, spicy, and crisp all at once. Prongs had an earthy, woodsy scent, a mild combination of straw, clay, grass, and pine. And Wormtail (Sirius could barely bring himself to think of the old affectionate nickname) smelled homey and calm, like clean fur, sawdust, and soap, with a lingering undertone of pumpkin.
But intense sniffing around the Hogwarts grounds, including the Quidditch pitch and the perimeter of the castle, had turned up nothing. After a week of being so near to Peter and yet no closer to killing him than he had been at Azkaban, Sirius was growing despondent. When he had first accomplished the Animagus transformation, he had been quite pleased with his form, but now he was beginning to wish he had become something smaller, and more lethal, like a scorpion.
It was an odd turn of events, then, that Sirius's first glimmer of hope came not while he was trying to sniff Peter out, but when he was fast asleep behind a large forsythia bush on the southwestern edge of the Forbidden Forest, a few flaxen flowers left over from the summer bloom clinging to rich purple leaves.
Sirius was jolted awake, but did not move.
The noise was now closer, and it was insistent, almost demanding. Tentatively, Sirius opened his eyes, careful not to move the rest of his body.
A squashed face was staring down at him, just inches from his muzzle. Its yellow eyes were boring into his. Sirius didn't move a muscle, but he did return the stare. The face belonged to some kind of large, ugly cat that appeared to have had an unfortunate encounter with a wall, or perhaps a Bludger, early in its kittenhood.
"MRAAAA!" The cat called again to him and then abruptly turned and started to stride away, its ginger bottlebrush tail held high, flicking sharply and deliberately, as if beckoning Sirius.
Sirius didn't know what to make of this strange situation. Intrigued, he got up and trailed behind the cat, making sure not to get too close lest he scare it off.
The afternoon sun was warm on Sirius's black fur, and a surge of joy passed through him. At first, he thought it might be because of the gorgeous early autumn weather—Azkaban had been so, so cold—but as the cat turned around and called softly to him again, he discovered the real reason for his elation: Aside from his brief encounter with Fudge and the shrieks and taunts from the other inmates, this was the first time anyone had communicated with him in nearly twelve years.
The cat wound its way around the edge of the forest, looking back every so often to check on Sirius. Finally, across the grounds from the Quidditch pitch, the cat halted and turned towards Sirius. Sirius stopped, too, and then deliberately lowered himself to the ground, back haunches bent and front legs cast straight in front of him, belly to the floor, in a position of cautious submission.
The cat slowly approached him. Sirius lowered his head slightly. Gingerly, the cat drew near his face once more. Sirius was longing to sniff, to find out where this cat had been and what it was feeling, but instead he only breathed softly, knowing he must let the cat make the first move.
The stubby pink nose, almost buried in the cat's squashed face, was now nearly touching Sirius's large black one, and he dared not even inhale. He felt the cat take several wispy sniffs, and then it turned its head slightly to one side. Sirius could feel its tail flicking softly against the side of his neck.
This was his invitation. He extended his neck slightly and smelled the side of the cat's face, careful to touch only the tips of its ginger fur.
The first scent was a sort of sea saltiness, fishy...probably remnants of the cat's lunch. Underneath that was a light, slightly sour aroma, not unlike the way Sirius's paws smelled after he had given them a quick cleaning. Then came a mixture of odors, each one flowing into the next: dust, ash, earth...and then something faint, but deeply familiar...socks? That was part of it...socks...wool...a hint of sweat...hair...stone.... The scent was so familiar, but its complexity was confusing Sirius. He sniffed the cat again, this time towards the base of its neck.
Once more, the stronger odors of sea salt and saliva revealed themselves. But as they faded, there it was again—the blended smell. Sirius loosened the back of his throat to let the scent penetrate his entire nasal cavity.
And suddenly a memory gripped him.
Although it had been a clear, frozen February night, the Gryffindor common room had been warm and comfortable. Sirius had been reclining on the rug in front of the fire, losing spectacularly to James in a round of wizard chess, and Remus had been sitting at a small table nearby, practising transfiguring a lemon into a lizard.
"Oho! You think you're clever, don't you, Prongs? But I reckon you didn't anticipate...this!" Sirius directed his remaining knight to a square occupied by one of James's bishops, where the bishop proceeded to wallop the knight so badly that the knight quickly gave up, limping off the board to join the throng of pieces already captured by James.
"Hmm, no, I suppose I didn't anticipate that. I wasn't expecting your knight to go down until at least three moves from now." James grinned and then lazily ordered one of his pawns to attack Sirius's queen.
"Aw, c'mon, Prongs, don't start making it easy for me. Your pawn's got nothing on my—hey! You, there! Queen! How can you let a pawn kick you around like that? At least give it a little fight before you...well...I guess that's settled, then." Sirius sighed as his queen hobbled off the board. "Next time we're playing with my set. Your set clearly favors—OI, MOONY, CONTROL YOUR HOMEWORK, WILL YOU?"
What appeared to be a lemon with short, crooked reptilian legs had dropped onto the chess board, sending the remaining pieces, most of which were James's, flying. It scuttled around blindly for a bit before Sirius grabbed it and thrust it back at Remus.
Remus accepted the struggling creature. "Sorry, mates. I was sure I had got it right this time, but—"
"Y'know, for someone who transfigures monthly, Moony, you sure are rubbish at the subject," said Sirius, gathering up the scattered chess pieces. He glanced up at Remus, who looked slightly hurt, but before anyone could say anything further, Peter came bursting through the entrance from the boys' dormitories.
"Prongs, Moony, Padfoot, I think I've got something that might interest you very much!" Peter skidded to a stop in front of the rug and looked down at James and Sirius and then over to Remus, his eyes bright and animated.
"Yeah, what's that, Wormtail?" asked James as he set up his side of the chessboard for a new game. Sirius leaned back casually on his elbows and looked up at Peter.
"It's a new spell!"
"Yeah?" James immediately set one of his pawns on one of Sirius's, and it wasn't long before the attacked pawn became James's first captured piece. "What does it do?"
"Er...well, I'm not really sure. But it sounds promising."
"You didn't try it out yet?" Sirius leaned over and motioned for another of his pawns to attack James's, with the result that Sirius's pawn—or rather, what was left of it—soon joined the first captured pawn over on James's side.
"No, I thought we could all try it...together."
"Where did you get it, Wormtail? How do you know it's not dangerous?" asked Remus, his hand clamped over the struggling lemon.
"I got it from a book—and I bet, whatever it is, it's something you'd want to know!"
"Why? What kind of book?" asked Sirius skeptically, staring at the chessboard. "If it's any of our schoolbooks, forget it. If I wanted to spend any more time with those, I'd be reading them right now instead of letting Prongs beat me in chess."
"Letting me beat you?" James gaped at Sirius with a look of mock outrage. "I hardly think it fitting to—"
"No—I got it from a book I nicked from somewhere. Look, don't you want to know the spell?" Peter bounced up and down excitedly on the balls of his feet.
"All right, Wormtail, what is it, then?" Remus frowned at the lemon and then tapped it with his wand, saying resolutely, "Citreus lacerta." The lemon sprouted a tail, but otherwise continued to look like a lemon.
Sirius looked up at Peter. "Levicorpus? Never heard of it. Well, give it a try then, since you're so chuffed about it. Go on!"
"Er...I think it's a non-verbal spell, and we haven't got to those yet in any of our classes. So maybe one of you should try it first. You've been able to do them for a while now." Peter scuffed at the edge of the rug with his shoe.
James snatched up his wand and said, "Oh, for crying out loud, I'll do it, then!" Rolling his eyes at Sirius, he gave his wand a casual sort of flick.
There was a flash of light, and Sirius suddenly felt like an invisible rope had grabbed him by the ankle and yanked him heels over head into the air. For a moment, his vision went blurry and his head was spinning. He could hear chess pieces rolling across the floor, something that sounded like furniture toppling over, and some shouts of surprise, followed by roars of laughter, from around the common room. When his eyes finally came back into focus, he found himself staring at the bottom of the room, and everything was upside down.
"Well...," said Sirius as he dangled, and then he joined in the laughter. His head felt thick and heavy as his blood rushed downwards, and the heat from the fire was warm on his face.
James squatted down and looked up at Sirius. "You...all right...there...Padfoot?" he asked between peals of hysterical laughter. Without waiting for an answer, he went on, "Do you realise what this spell is? It's the one that had Davey Gudgeon hanging over a toilet in the seventh-floor boys' bathroom a few days ago!"
"It's also the one that had Wormtail suspended in the doorway of the Potions classroom last week," added Sirius thickly as he swayed in midair.
"And the one that had both you prats dangling over the shepherd's pie during lunch yesterday," remarked Remus from somewhere to Sirius's right.
"Yes, thanks for mentioning that, Moony, I was hoping you'd remind us," said Sirius.
"Wormtail, well done, great find!" cheered James. "It's about time we got in on this spell. I can already think of several people who I'd love to see dangling by their ankles before this time tomorrow."
"I can, too, but before we start planning, how about letting me down?"
"Is there a counter-jinx, Wormtail?" James asked.
"Oh—yes! It's Liberacorpus."
James stood up. "Ready to come down, Padfoot? Do you want me to put some cushions underneath to break your fall?"
"No need. Just move those chess pieces out of the way. I don't fancy dropping in on Madam Pomfrey tonight with a castle stuck up my nose."
"Right." Sirius watched James clear away the chess pieces from the rug. James then backed out of Sirius's line of vision.
Next moment, there was another flash of light, and Sirius dropped face first onto the ground, the wind knocked out of him. He tried to catch his breath and wound up with a nosefull of carpet, strong overtones of dust and ash mingling with the fainter scents of sweat, hair, stone...and socks...
Bright yellow sunlight suddenly blinded Sirius, and he let out a short yelp. The smell of the rug was still in his nose, but he was no longer in the Gryffindor common room. He jumped to his feet. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw a squat orange figure bounding away. The cat...that cat had been in the Gryffindor common room! Sirius was certain of it.
He barked loudly, and the cat stopped and turned around, its tail flicking sharply from side to side. At a bit of a loss, Sirius whined several times and then sat down. The cat stared pointedly in his direction and then slowly turned around and stalked off, its tail held high. And from that look, Sirius immediately knew that the cat had seen right through him—that it knew he was no dog.
Over the next two weeks, the cat met Sirius at the forsythia bush nearly every day. Sometimes it just sniffed him; other times, it led Sirius on winding routes through the outer forest, occasionally rounding on him, hissing, only to turn away abruptly and continue leading him forward. Sirius got the distinct sense that it was testing him, gauging his reactions, sniffing out every layer of his fur, trying to determine whether he was to be trusted and what exactly he was doing there.
The weather was now growing colder and wetter, and the small ground creatures of the Forbidden Forest had begun to scurry for shelter underneath large tree roots and deep within dense bushes. One damp, dark, earth-scented morning, as he watched a vole push its way out of a drift of browning leaves to scamper into the hollow of a small log, Sirius suddenly had a idea for how he could tell the cat about Peter.
He got up and walked a bit deeper into the forest, turning down the narrow, knotgrass-choked path he had run through many times before with Prongs, Moony, and Wormtail. The early-morning air was so still that Sirius felt it might shatter, and memories of his friends hung heavily in his mind. He could almost hear Moony's weighty, lumbering lunges, Prongs's dull hoof beats, and Wormtail's dry scratching steps next to him.
The path opened onto a small clearing bordered by a shallow brook. This was one of a number of water sources in the outer forest, and during their monthly outings the foursome had spied magical creatures of all kinds drinking from the cool, clear water. Sirius had once even spotted a unicorn emerging from the brush on the other side of the brook and lowering its head towards the water—but then Moony had let out a great howl, and the unicorn had shied, disappearing as quickly as it had come.
But the creatures that came there in the greatest numbers were the rats. Sirius had often joked that if Peter couldn't find a suitable girlfriend at Hogwarts, he could take his pick from any of the lovely ladies scuttling along the edges of the brook.
Sure enough, the rats were still there, and the sight nearly drove Sirius mad—so many likenesses of Peter, but not one of them actually him. His brain started to buzz with curses and swears, the most vicious, hurtful words in existence. If he were in his human form, hexes and jinxes of the sort he had taken such a strong stand against for his entire life would surely have come pouring out of his mouth. And Sirius knew, without a single doubt, that if Peter were there amongst those rats, he would have had no difficulty saying the words that had killed James and Lily, in feeling the hatred behind them, in hurling them at Peter with the force of twelve long years of guilt and fury. Avada Kedavra!
Unable to contain himself any longer, Sirius threw himself at a particularly plump rat as it dipped its twitchy snout into the water. One hard bite later and it was dead, its body limp and warm in Sirius's mouth. Sirius bit down harder and was rewarded with the dull, crunching sensation of its bones breaking into dozens of pieces.
Back at the forsythia bush, Sirius entertained himself by imagining the rat was Peter and running through an endless number of scenarios in his mind, all of which ended in Sirius ripping Peter's body to shreds. By the time the cat showed up and Sirius deposited the dead rat at its feet, the corpse was riddled with dozens of bite marks.
The cat briefly sniffed the body and then looked up into Sirius's face.
Unlike the insistent noises the cat had made on the day it had first approached Sirius, this meow was clearly a question, and in it, Sirius heard a note of tentative recognition. Sirius answered it by very deliberately raising his head to look up at the castle and then looking back down at the cat. The cat met his gaze, and time seemed to stop as their eyes locked. He tried to pour all of his desperation, all of his fears, all of what Peter was and might be capable of, into that stare; he needed so badly for the cat to understand, to help him. For an instant, there was nothing else in the world but two black oblong moons floating in a thin sea of yellow.
A strange sound finally broke the moment apart, and although he was still looking into the cat's eyes, the timeless feeling had dissipated, and Sirius was once again aware of his surroundings. The sound was dry and rough, but oddly soothing. And then Sirius realised what it was.
The cat was purring.
It broke the stare to move closer to Sirius. He bent his head down slightly, and it trailed its tail across his muzzle. Sirius could not help but feel that he and the cat had reached some kind of understanding—that it knew about Peter, that it was going to help him.
The cat did not return the next day, but it did come back the day after. This time, it did not hesitate or play any games. Instead, it went straight for Sirius, who was sitting on his hind legs next to the forsythia bush, and rubbed its sides against Sirius's massive chest, back and forth, purring the whole time. When Sirius lowered his muzzle, the cat dropped to the ground and rolled over slightly so that part of its belly was exposed.
This was clearly an act of submission, and it was the first time the cat had given Sirius the upper hand. Confused, he lowered his muzzle further, towards the cat's face, but it turned its head back and away, refusing to look at him.
And then Sirius understood. This was an apology. He had done the same thing after he had bitten Moony too hard while pulling him back during one of their many close calls near Hogsmeade. He had drawn blood, and once he and Prongs had steered Moony away from the group of drunken wizards who had wandered too far outside of Hogsmeade on a full-moon night, Sirius had dropped to the ground in front of Moony, head thrown back, belly and throat exposed. It was an instinct—the only way he knew how to show Moony that he was sorry for hurting him. It was the same gesture the cat was showing him now, and Sirius could only guess that the cat had made some kind of attempt to catch Peter, but had failed.
Just as Moony had done so long ago, Sirius answered by nudging the cat in the side with his muzzle, deliberately ignoring its throat and head area. The cat did not move, so Sirius nudged again. Slowly, the cat rolled over, and Sirius dropped down next to it, so that the two were lying side by side, several inches apart. They stayed like that for some time, and after a little while the cat started purring again. Sirius felt strangely content, and it was all he could do to keep from breaking the peaceful moment with barks of joy when it suddenly crossed his mind that the cat just might be his friend. He hadn't had a friend in almost twelve years.
The weather continually worsened over the next two weeks, and Sirius found himself once again in a permanent state of wet and cold—and hungry. Before the weather had got bad, he had been digging up cabbages from the school gardens, but the rain had all but destroyed the gardens. There did seem to be an endless supply of bones from some sort of small animal piled outside Hagrid's hut, but they never were enough to make Sirius feel full. Also, Sirius was reluctant to go there too often, as he had no desire to tangle with the large boarhound that Hagrid kept.
Sirius often spotted Hagrid himself outside the hut, tending to his pumpkins, which were beginning to reach abnormally large sizes. During these times, Sirius felt incredibly sad. Hagrid had been a friend. As Sirius watched him, memories flowed through Sirius's mind like the floodwaters rushing down the slopes of the Hogwarts grounds.
Sirius had been sitting next to James at the bar of the Three Broomsticks when the door had banged open, letting in the crisp autumn air.
"The two o' yeh here again? Does Professor McGonagall know yer out o' school at this hour?"
Sirius flashed a quick grin at James and then swivelled his stool to face the entrance, where Hagrid was towering over the rest of the customers.
"Hagrid! How spiffing to see you here at the Three Broomsticks! I was under the impression that you were more of a regular over at that other establishment across the road." Sirius winked at Madam Rosmerta, who was removing a batch of empty shot glasses from the counter in front of James and Sirius. "Do come join us for a drink, will you?"
"Yeh didn't answer my question, Black. It's half pas' nine. Aren't you an' Potter suppos'd to be on school grounds? It isn' even a Hogsmeade weekend!"
"Hagrid! James here is Head Boy! D'you think we'd be here if it involved rule breaking of any sort?"
Madam Rosmerta snorted softly and busied herself with wiping an invisible spill from the bar.
"Well, I jus'—"
James slammed his hand on the countertop. "Hagrid, you must join us—I insist! I'll buy us a round. What do you fancy—Butterbeer? Mulled mead? Perhaps—" he raised one eyebrow—"a shot of Goldie's Liquid Curse?"
Hagrid hesitated for a moment and then lowered himself onto the empty stool next to Sirius, which protested under his weight. "Well, I s'pose a little Firewhisky would hit the spot right abou' now."
"Firewhisky for Mr. Hagrid, Rosmerta! Make that two shots—he's a big man! And a round of Goldie's for Sirius 'n me!" James said, a little too loudly, although Sirius didn't mind. He was feeling a bit exuberant himself, having already downed a couple of Butterbeers and several shots of Firewhisky.
Rosmerta poured out two large shots of light red liquid, which sizzled slightly as it hit the glasses she had placed in front of Hagrid. She then ducked under the counter and pulled out a bottle of murky green liquid.
"You sure you can handle this, boys?" asked Rosmerta as she placed the bottle on the bar and then leaned forward so she was just inches from their faces. "Goldie's is quite strong, even for a couple of, erm, well-travelled blokes such as yourself. I know you're both made of tough material, but the last time I served it to a chap your age, he became quite, shall we say, indisposed, and I had to stick my head in the fire and ask his mum and dad to come get him."
"I reckon mine might think it something of an improvement if I were passed out cold on the floor," said Sirius brightly. "And I'm nothing if not a son who aims to please, so let's have it, Rosie!" He reached forward and placed one of his hands on one of Madam Rosmerta's.
She put her free hand on top of Sirius's for a moment and then reluctantly pulled both hands away to reach under the counter and pull out two small shot glasses. "Hagrid, you're my witness. Don't say I didn't warn these two," said Rosmerta, uncorking the bottle of green liquid and pouring it into the glasses.
"Don't worry, Hagrid, we hereby declare you not responsible for any bold, rash, or otherwise undesirable actions Sirius and I take on account of ol' Goldie's curse."
"Nor will we hold you at fault should either James or I become, as our beautiful bartendress put it, indisposed...although should such an event occur, I beg of lovely Madam Rosie to simply transport our unconscious bodies upstairs to her room, where she may feel free to—"
"All righ', Black, no need ter fill in the details. Bottoms up, then!" Hagrid raised up one of his glasses.
"Cheers!" Sirius and James said together. Sirius tipped his glass back and immediately felt as if someone had cast a Stinging Hex down his throat. Grimacing, he barely managed to contain the violent cough that threatened to burst out of his chest, and his eyes started watering. He could hear James sputtering next to him.
Laughing, Hagrid pounded Sirius on the back several times, almost sending his face into the counter. "An' tha's exac'ly why I stay away from Goldie's! Tried it once meself, an' it was like snoggin' a dragon. Well, not that I'd know what tha's like, o' course...."
After several attempts to clear his throat, which still felt as though someone had taken a torch to it, Sirius had recovered enough to croak out, "Well, I'd say you're a lightweight, then, Hagrid!" He cleared his throat again and wiped the sweat off his face with the bottom of his shirt. "Shall we have another round of Goldie's, Prongs?"
James, whose eyes had gone bloodshot behind his glasses, nodded vigorously. He opened his mouth, but couldn't seem to get any sound out.
Sirius slammed down several coins, one of which went spinning behind the counter. "I've got this round. Goldie's for James and me, and more Firewhisky for Hagrid. And what'll you have, Rosie?"
"Me?" Madam Rosmerta had bent down to retrieve Sirius's fallen coin, but now she stood up and leaned forward on the counter in front of Sirius. "Now what makes you think I'd want to have a round with you lot?"
"Ah, Rosie, you know you can't resist my charms, love."
"The only charm you're going to need is a sobering charm, my dear," said Rosie, her face dangerously close to Sirius's.
"Don' underestimate him, Rosmerta. He'll charm the pants righ' off o' yeh, I've seen him do it time an' time again with—" Hagrid hastily cut himself off and downed his second shot of Firewhisky.
Without taking her eyes off of Sirius, Rosmerta asked in a low voice, "Is that so, Hagrid?" Sirius flashed her a huge grin. She laughed softly and then poured out two shots each of Goldie's and Firewhisky and placed them in front of Sirius, James, and Hagrid. Then she reached under the counter once more and pulled out a bottle of clear yellow liquor with shiny silver flecks floating in it.
"All right, Black, I'll have a shot with you, but only because you're paying," Rosmerta said airily, pouring herself a shot of the yellow liquor.
"What is that, Rosmerta?" James had finally recovered his voice.
"This? This is Daisy Dodderidge's Warm Welcome. Personal favourite of mine. Feels toasty when it goes down, not searing like what you blokes are drinking. Cheers!" She clinked glasses with Sirius, James, and Hagrid and then threw back the shot. Sirius tossed his back as well, bracing himself for the sharp burning sensation that followed.
One hour and two more shots of Goldie's later, Sirius was laughing uncontrollably at Hagrid's tales of his Old English Mastiff, Goliath, spooking every time Professor Binns passed through him. James was on the verge of passing out; every few minutes, he would start to tip forward onto Sirius's shoulder, and Sirius had to keep pushing him upright.
"Hagrid, lemme tell you somethin' about dogs, all right?" Sirius slurred. "Dogs, they don't like ghosts, because there's nothin' t'smell. There's nothin' t'smell, Hagrid!" He paused to push James back up another time. "Didja ever stop an' think what it's like t'be a dog, Hagrid?"
"Oh, I reckon it'd be lov'ly. Sometimes, I look at Goliath, an' I think—OI! James all righ', there?"
Sirius caught James just as he was about to tip out of his stool. "Hey, Prongs, come out of it, mate!"
James's eyelids opened halfway and fluttered as Sirius held him up. "You're my mate, too, Padfoot. D'you know that? You're my mate," he mumbled.
"I reckon the two o' yeh should think abou' goin' back to yer house now." Hagrid stumbled off his stool. "Come, I'll walk yeh up there. I reckon we all could use someone to lean agains', eh?" He steadied himself against the bar.
After bidding a fond farewell to Madam Rosmerta, Sirius stumbled out onto the street with Hagrid and James. As they made their way through the Hogwarts gates, Sirius leaning on Hagrid with one arm and supporting James with the other, Hagrid suddenly announced, "Yeh know, Black, yeh may be a bit wild, but yer one o' the good ones. Yeh've got a good heart. An' tha's summat yeh can't underestima' in times like these."
Now, so many years later, as Sirius watched Hagrid lovingly turning over the soil around the pumpkins, he had a sudden urge to show himself to Hagrid—the one person who had comforted Sirius when he had lost James, the last person who had shown him kindness before he was hauled off to Azkaban. It was almost unbearable to look at him. Deep in his chest, Sirius felt a searing pain, one that had nothing to do with Dementors.
One brisk morning, Sirius was awoken by shouts and excited chatter. He carefully crept towards the edge of the forest so that he could have a look. What he saw caused his heart to race: A large group of students was walking past Hagrid's hut towards the main gates. He frantically scanned the crowd, hoping to catch a glimpse of the red-haired boy whose shoulder Peter was standing on in Fudge's newspaper, but there were just too many students. He also searched for a head of messy black hair, for James's face, but came up short there as well.
Frustration started to rise in his chest again and threatened to bubble over. And then he noticed something that stilled his heart: Hagrid was cutting his massive pumpkins off their stems. There was only one reason for Hagrid to be doing that.
It was Hallowe'en.
The day James and Lily died. The day Sirius's life fell apart.
Before he could manage another thought, he was drowning in the memory.
As Sirius had approached the coastal town from above, his flying motorbike rumbling beneath him, he had felt a wave of sympathy for Peter. Back when Britain had been the world's shipbuilding powerhouse, the town must have been bustling, full of life, but now that Muggles had begun to travel by airplane, it had fallen into disrepair. The brick buildings were crumbling, and even though it was early afternoon, the streets were deserted. These were exactly some of the reasons it was the perfect hiding place for Peter.
Sirius landed his motorbike in front of an old boarded-up storefront. Right before Peter had gone into hiding, Sirius had helped Peter fix up the inside into a somewhat comfortable residence. He had also put numerous wards and charms on the entrance, and Sirius worked quickly to undo them so that he could enter and make sure that Peter was safe, just as he had promised earlier that week.
After Sirius muttered the final incantation, the boards barring the door shimmered and melted away. Sirius pushed open the door and walked into the entranceway.
"Wormtail! How're you holding up, mate? I've got to say, I feel terrible for sticking you in this dump of a town. If you weren't such an unlikely choice for Prongs's Secret-Keeper, I'd switch back with you in a heartbeat. But I brought you a nice package of Pumpkin Pasties to make up for it—and for Hallowe'en, of course. I know how much you love those, and I figured they'd likely be hard to come by here."
Sirius's own voice echoed back at him.
"Wormtail? You asleep up there or something?"
There was no response. Immediately, Sirius began to panic. Maybe this town had been an obvious choice after all. Maybe the Death Eaters had worked it out. Maybe Voldemort was torturing Peter right now. Deep stabs of guilt overwhelmed Sirius.
He dropped the package of Pumpkin Pasties and sprinted to the staircase at the back of the old store. He climbed the steps three at a time, his heart pounding in his throat.
The door to the bedroom he had fixed up for Peter was open. Sirius ran in.
Peter's bed was neatly made. Everything was in its place. Peter had always been excessively tidy. Still, something did not feel right. Peter had been expecting Sirius. There was no reason for him not to be there. And if the Death Eaters had caught up with him, even if they had left no Dark Mark, the place would have been a wreck. They would not have left without destroying the place, and Peter would not have gone with them without a fight.
None of it made sense. Sirius bolted back down the stairs, nearly tumbling down the last four. He ran out of the door and jumped on his motorbike, raising it into the air before he had fully sat down, almost sliding off as a result.
He had to get to Godric's Hollow, to James. James would know what to do. For a brief second, he thought about Apparating to Godric's Hollow, right off the back of his motorbike, but immediately dismissed that idea. He was far too upset to Apparate; if he tried, he would likely get splinched.
Usually, Sirius loved being on his motorbike, but the ride to Godric's Hollow was nothing short of miserable. The whole way, he cursed himself for being so stupid as to turn the Secret-Keeper position over to Peter. He had set Peter up for torture, for death. Peter had always been weaker than the rest of them. What business did he and James have in putting such a huge responsibility in Peter's hands, such a huge risk on Peter's head? So what if he himself was the obvious choice for Secret-Keeper? He could withstand torture by the Death Eaters. He was certain that Peter would never betray James and Lily to the Death Eaters, but he also knew that Peter would not survive if he had indeed been apprehended by the Death Eaters and taken to Voldemort. Sirius could not get to Godric's Hollow fast enough.
Finally, as the sun was starting to set, the land beneath him began to grow increasingly wooded, and Sirius knew he was approaching Godric's Hollow. But the sense of relief that he had started to feel as he neared his destination immediately turned back to panic when he saw the smoke above where James and Lily's house was.
No Dark Mark, there's no Dark Mark, it's all right, there's no Dark Mark, Sirius repeated to himself. But even this thought could not take away the sick feeling in his stomach as he flew towards the smoke.
As he reached the area, the smoke grew so thick that he could not see what was below it. Squinting and coughing, he landed the motorbike.
And what he saw chilled his blood: There was no house there any more. A few parts of it, mainly in the back, still stood, but most of it was just a heap of broken-up stone, brick, and wood, hot and smoldering. Ice ran through Sirius's veins. His heart was pounding impossibly fast, and he could feel his entire body trembling.
"No." He didn't say it to anybody in particular. He just needed to hear his own voice, to know that he was real, that this was real. "No, no, NOOOOOO!"
"Sirius." He jumped at the sound of the other voice. It was Hagrid. The large man's cheeks were streaked with tears, and cradled in his giant hands was an infant—Harry. The child had a large, jagged cut on his forehead, and blood was streaming from it down onto his face. Sirius gaped at the two of them.
"Sirius," Hagrid said again.
"No." Sirius shook his head. He had no other words. "No."
"Sirius, I'm so—"
"NO!" Sirius screamed. He did not want to hear the words. It wasn't true. He stumbled towards what was left of the house, tripping over bricks and pieces of furniture that had been blasted into the front garden.
"Sirius. Ah, Sirius, don' go in there," Hagrid called after him.
Sirius paid him no heed. He could hear Hagrid's heavy, crunching steps behind him.
"Yeh don't wan' ter see it. Yeh don't wan' ter see him. There's nothin' yeh can do fer 'im now." Hagrid's voice was overflowing with pain.
Sirius reached what had once been the doorstep, but was now a pile of rubble.
"C'mon, Sirius," Hagrid pleaded. "It's too late. Don' go in there."
What was left of the door was already wide open. Sirius stumbled inside and slammed it against the crumbling doorframe so that he wouldn't have to hear Hagrid's continued pleas. He had to find James. James was in there. Sirius wrenched open the door between the entrance hall and the living room, clawing at walls as he stepped around piles of debris and overturned furniture. He looked around frantically, desperately.
"James!" he called. "James!"
The stairs leading to the upper level were still intact, and Sirius ran towards them. He didn't notice the body until he nearly tripped over it.
Immediately, Sirius dropped to his knees in front of it. It appeared to have fallen backwards onto the stairs, so that it was half sitting and half lying against the bottom few steps. There was no expression on the lifeless face, only a glassy stare. James didn't look like he was sleeping. He didn't look particularly peaceful. He simply looked dead.
Tears suddenly obscured Sirius's vision, and he viciously wiped them away. A horrible pressure was building in his chest, and he was powerless to stop it. A terrible noise, half shriek and half sob, erupted from his mouth, from his entire upper body. He cupped James's face in his hands. It was still warm.
Sirius collapsed on top of James, his wails muffled by James's cheek. He felt as if the world had stopped, as if his head had ten thousand tiny shocks running through it. His fingers and nose had gone numb. He was gasping loudly for breath.
This was James, his twin soul, the one person to whom Sirius never had to explain himself, because he just understood. And now he was dead. James was dead. Sirius held James and sobbed.
Finally, the rush of emotions burnt itself out, and Sirius was left feeling utterly hollow. He pushed himself up off of James and stood up. And that's when he thought of Lily. Lily was still here. James would want him to take care of Lily. He had to find Lily.
He scrambled up the stairs on all fours. Harry's bedroom was on the upper level. If Voldemort had attacked the house, Lily would have been with Harry. Sirius was certain of it.
He staggered down the corridor and threw himself into Harry's room. The part of the bedroom facing the front of the house was completely gone; only a huge hole looking out onto the rubble in the front garden remained. And on the floor in front of the crib was another body, this one lying twisted on its side, long red hair covering the face.
No, not Lily, too.
Sirius saw his own hand, trembling violently, reach forward and push the hair out of Lily's face.
Her eyes were closed, but her face was no less dead than James's was.
Acting on instinct more than anything else, Sirius stood up and ran back down the stairs, making sure to look only straight ahead and to take a long leap when he neared the bottom. When he got to the entrance hall, he threw open the door and strode across the rubble towards Hagrid, who was standing amidst the wreckage, cleaning the blood off Harry.
"Sirius, I don' know what ter say."
"Give Harry to me, Hagrid." Sirius knew he was being abrupt, but he was so numb that he didn't care. He had made a promise to James and Lily, and that was the only thing keeping him on his feet right now.
"Sirius...I'm sorry. Dumbledore said—"
"Give him to me. I'm his godfather. I'll look after him." Sirius reached his hands forward towards the child cradled in Hagrid's arms.
Hagrid backed away slightly. "Sirius, yeh know I would, but Dumbledore told me that he's ter go ter his aunt an' uncle's in Surrey."
"No. He's not going to them. He's coming with me. James and Lily are dead, and Harry is coming with me." Sirius's voice was flat and emotionless, almost businesslike.
"Sirius, please. I know yer grievin', and I know yeh've got Harry's best int'rests at heart, but Dumbledore clearly said—"
"HAGRID!" The giant man's face twitched, and Sirius noticed for the first time that the baby was crying. Sirius lowered his voice to an edgy hiss. "Give me the child. Give him to me. I am his godfather."
"No, Sirius." This time, Hagrid's voice was firm and slightly steely.
Sirius's head was buzzing. He could barely think straight. How did it come to this? What had happened? And then it was as if a bucket of ice water had been poured down Sirius's back.
Peter. Suddenly, everything made sense. It was crazy, but it made sense. Peter was the only person who would have been able to divulge James and Lily's location. Peter wasn't at his hiding place, and there was no sign of a struggle, even a little one. Peter had gone willingly. Peter was the spy. Weak, clinging Peter, who had always cheered everyone on from the sidelines. He had deceived them all, and Sirius had fallen right into his trap by suggesting the switch in the first place.
Again, a numbness washed over Sirius. His only coherent thought was that he had to find Peter. He did not know what he would do when he tracked Peter down, but he trusted that it would be clear when he got there.
"Fine, take him to his aunt and uncle's, then," said Sirius evenly. He spun around and started to head for his motorbike, but stopped when it occurred to him that Apparition would be far more efficient. At this point, he couldn't be bothered to worry about being splinched, and besides, he felt so intent on finding Peter that he didn't think it would be a concern. Or maybe he just didn't care.
He started to focus on Peter's flat in London and was about to Disapparate when he realised that Hagrid did not have a broom with him, nor, as far as Sirius could tell, any other means of wizard transport. In fact, he had no idea how Hagrid had arrived at Godric's Hollow, since, as an unqualified wizard, he was not allowed to Apparate. He glanced at the motorbike and then turned back towards Hagrid.
"Take it. Take the motorbike. Use it to take Harry to his aunt and uncle's. I won't need it any more." Sirius had loved that motorbike, but at this point, everything that had meant anything to him had been ripped away, and he could not trouble himself to care.
And with that, Sirius Disapparated.
It had all happened on Hallowe'en.
And here he was, twelve years later, trying to find Peter again.
If he had been in his human form, he might have laughed, the same way he did when he had caught up with Peter the next day, when Peter had not shown a bit of remorse, had not cowered and explained what had led him to betray his closest friends, had not begged Sirius for his life...when Peter had set him up as a Dark wizard and as his own best friend's murderer—the last two things Sirius would have chosen to be.
As the large black dog, all Sirius could do was watch the students walk by as Hagrid continued to cut his pumpkins off the vines.
Finally, the students were gone, and Hagrid laid down his knife and started carrying the pumpkins up to the castle. Sirius dully watched him go back and forth several times.
Then, as Hagrid picked up another pumpkin and began to lug it towards the castle, something snapped in Sirius's brain.
He had waited twelve years. He would not wait any longer.
The knife Hagrid had laid down glinted in the bright sunlight. Softly, but quickly, Sirius crept over to it, snatched up the handle in his mouth, and sprinted back into the forest.
For the rest of the day, Sirius dug a hole. He wasn't trying to accomplish anything in particular; it was just a way to stay active and keep his impatience from breaking his mind into pieces.
Finally, night fell, and it was time. The students would be at the Hallowe'en feast, and Sirius would have a fair chance of slipping up to Gryffindor Tower without encountering anybody. He put the knife handle back into his mouth and walked up to the castle. He could barely contain his emotions. Peter was going to die tonight.
The doors were closed. Sirius would have to pull them open. He glanced back towards the edge of the Hogwarts grounds. It was too dark to see the Dementors, but he knew they were out there. He dropped the knife on the ground and quickly filled his mind with the images and words he needed to transform from his Animagus shape. Next moment, he was in his human form, on his hands and knees on the cold stone step.
He snatched up the knife, shoved himself upright, and yanked open the doors. There was no time to see whether the Dementors had noticed.
The Entrance Hall was quiet, but Sirius could hear voices and the clinking of silverware coming from the doorway to the Great Hall. He slinked past it and up the large marble staircase.
When he reached the entrance to Gryffindor Tower, his hands were twitching in anticipation. Peter was inside. Peter was going to die. He was finally going to kill Peter.
"Move. Let me in," Sirius barked at the Fat Lady, who was snoozing, surrounded by bon-bon wrappers.
"Now, you know better'n that," she mumbled sleepily. "Password, please."
"I'm not playing games. Open the portrait hole."
The Fat Lady straightened up and squinted at Sirius. "Now, I don't know who you think you are, but without a password, I cannot—"
"YOU STUPID FOOLISH WENCH, OPEN THE GOD DAMN PORTRAIT HOLE!" Sirius felt his anger, his frustration, his desperation bubbling over, threatening to overtake his senses.
"Look here, you filthy cur, I cannot just go opening up for any Tom, Dick, or Harry that comes barging in here—"
Before Sirius could even wince at the mention of his godson's name, he felt something tug on one of his long, matted locks of hair. He spun around.
Peeves the poltergeist was bobbing up and down a couple of feet away. "Sirius demented, black-hearted Black, killed his best friendy, never looked back!" He cackled and did a somersault in midair.
A white-hot rage washed over Sirius. He let out a string of vicious curse words and slashed at Peeves, who simply flew straight up and blew a raspberry at Sirius.
Sirius spun back to the Fat Lady.
"OPEN THE GOD DAMN PORTRAIT HOLE OR I WILL DO IT FOR YOU. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?" He brandished the knife at her.
The Fat Lady trembled, but said resolutely, "I cannot let you in without the password."
Sirius howled and threw himself at the Fat Lady, who shrieked and fled out the left side of the portrait. Sirius had finally lost control. He barely knew what he was doing as he slashed wildly at the portrait, tearing huge pieces out of it with the knife while clawing at it with his other hand. Twelve years of anger, hurt, and frustration came pouring out of him. It was as if the portrait were Peter and Sirius was finally ripping him to shreds.
But, even with the Fat Lady's portrait hanging in tatters, rough stone wall showing through the areas Sirius had torn off, the portrait and the wall behind it did not swing open.
Sirius was about to aim a hard kick at the wall behind the portrait when he heard something that made him catch his breath. There was noise coming from the floors below—voices and movement, benches and chairs scraping across the floor. There was no time to think. Sirius threw himself back down the various flights of stairs that led to the grand marble staircase, taking the steps four at a time with his long legs. When he reached the Entrance Hall, it was empty, but he could hear the voices from the Great Hall moving towards it. He shoved open the front doors, jammed the knife handle in his mouth, and had transformed into the big black dog before he was fully through the doors.
Back in the forest, Sirius dropped the knife in the hole he had dug earlier and clawed at the ground, throwing the dirt on top of the knife—anything to keep himself moving.
Finally, when his body could take it no longer, he let out a huge, mournful howl and then collapsed next to the pile of dirt.