The Sugar Quill
Author: Azazello (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Prison Visit  Chapter: Default
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Everyone said that one day Stan Shunpike’s mouth would get him into trouble. 


It wasn’t that he meant any harm; it was just that he tended to exaggerate a little …


… Well, make that a lot, really.


And once he started, he never knew where to stop, and now he found himself in very big trouble, indeed. 


He couldn’t quite comprehend the exact chain of events that led him from the pub to his present abode, a box-like nine-by-nine cell in Azkaban.  The last thing he clearly remembered was that he’d had a few more than he should and as usual, had started making dark hints, and then had begun flapping his stupid mouth off.  Only problem was, wouldn’t it just happen that the bloke at the next table, sitting all cloaked and muffled, like, was a bleedin’ Auror …


… Who followed him home


…Where there was all sorts of ‘pretend’ stuff – props you might say - meant to make it look like he was some sort of Dark Wizard – placed mainly to impress any bird he might take back there, not that that happened very often, mind.


And before you could say ‘I was only ‘avin a laugh, honest, guvnor,’ Stan Shunpike was locked up tight as you like. 


In bloody horrible Azkaban.


The cell was tiny - literally nine feet square.  Stan hated being locked up like this.  He genuinely liked working as a conductor on the Knight Bus, because it got you out and about, and you saw different places and people.  Why, he’d had that Harry Potter on the bus, one time!


So, being cooped up like this was horrible.  He tried to pass the time by pacing up and down, but it wasn’t much of a go when you took three paces, and then had to turn sharp about, because you’d reached the wall.


There were a lot of scratches on the wall, too.   On all the walls.  Clearly someone had been here a long time before, because there were rows upon rows of neat lines: four down strokes, then a stroke across them, forming a five-bar gate.  There were hundreds of them. 


So Stan, in an attempt to find something – anything - to do, counted them up.  Someone had been here for…


… 4288 days ...


Stan had never been much cop at maths, so it took him some time to work out that someone had been locked up in this very cell for nigh on twelve years.


There was other stuff on the walls, too, drawings and scribbled words.   Some were clearly very old and he could not properly make them out.  Some were in old lettering, which he couldn’t read.  But by far the most interesting was a careful and intricate carving that even Stan knew must have taken the artist ages.  It was a coat of arms, a shield with a sword on it, and two carefully carved dogs supporting it, one on either side.  And underneath were words, in an old fashioned and ornate script, which said:


Toujours Puke


Stan wasn’t sure what it meant – well, he knew what ‘puke’ meant, but had no idea what ‘toujours’ meant – it sounded foreign, but he liked the crest , and especially the dogs – their presence made him feel not so alone, in an oddly comforting sort of way.  Carved underneath the motto was a word he did know:




While the other carving looked painstaking, this appeared to have been gouged into the wall with angry force.  Stan wondered what on earth the prisoner had used.  Everything was taken from you when you arrived in Azkaban – even the clothes you stood up in were replaced by a coarse and frowsy prison suit of grey felted material, which scratched.


He didn’t know that threaded cloth was avoided for prison dress in Azkaban, just in case some desperate inmate discovered some wandless magic inside himself, and transfigured the threads to a hanging rope.  That had, indeed, been done before, but Stan didn’t know that, and would not have cared to know if someone had told him.




One night, as he was drifting to sleep, he found out the answer to the riddle of how the carvings had been made.  The bed was crudely made of rough wood, with a straw stuffed mattress – Azkaban was not big on creature comfort – and the frame was not cut to true for a good fit of the mattress.  Though the bed was pushed against the wall, his hand and arm slipped into the gap, and his fingers brushed something solid and sharp, but of a different texture and sort to the hard stone of the floor.  After a bit of stretching, he was able to snag it, and he pulled it up to get a better look.  It was late, but there was a tiny source of torch light from the passage outside, which came through the bars in his door.  He held up his find, and discovered it was a spoon, painstakingly sharpened.  Stan had no idea what had been used to hone this old metal into a carving tool, but he felt a certain odd pride in learning something of the previous occupant.  He felt closer to that mysterious somebody, whoever they were, and he found himself hoping that they had got out, somehow, and had been freed.  It was a ray of hope, though he was not exactly able to articulate these feelings.  


He took up the sharpened spoon, and decided to carve his own name on these walls and maybe odd other things to make the place his own.  Deep down, he hoped he’d get out, of course, but he’d not heard of many people being released.  The last one he could remember was that big bloke, who was the Hogwarts School gamekeeper, he’d  been banged up here for a bit; it had been in the Prophet, but he’d been let out shortly afterwards.


However, as the months went by, it seemed that he was not going to be released.  What with a war on, and all, he could not have picked a worse time to mouth off pretending he was a Death Eater.  He missed his old ma, most of all, and the one time she’d been able to come and visit him, she’d just cried, and Stan felt horrible.




There was one thing to be pleased about.  A very small thing, but here, you took your comforts where you could find them. His cell had a very small window, out of which, if you pushed the bed just so and stood on it, you could see outside. There was nothing to see, except for the usually stormy North Sea, and the sky.  Only the night sky, because they watched you more during the day and messing about with the furniture would mean trouble, but he wondered if he would be able to see the stars on clearer nights.  There had been clouds most nights since he’d come here; Azkaban was slap bang in the middle of the North Sea, and the weather was usually dismal, but one April night, at last, it was clear. 


Stan watched the stars rise, and looked at them for a while.  He knew that they made shapes, and pictures, but he never went to Hogwarts and so never learned their names.  One star looked especially bright, and like a child, Stan found himself making a wish.


“I wish I’d someone to talk to, and I wish I could get out of ‘ere,” he thought, and closed his eyes.  Then, after a few moments, he carefully lowered himself from the window, and stepped back off the bed.  He thought he’d better get a move on and put the cell back to normal, before the guards made their late rounds.  One might decide to look in on him. 


However, when he turned around, there was someone in the cell with him.  It gave him a nasty start and he fell backwards onto the bed.


“’Ere! ‘Choo doin’ ere?” he gasped.  He hadn’t even heard the noise of Apparition, and besides, they said Apparition was impossible here.  He’d certainly never seen anyone do it in Azkaban. 


His visitor was a thin bloke with long, dark hair, and a rather good looking, if sad face.  Oddly enough, he reminded Stan of someone he’d seen, or met long ago, but he couldn’t think who it was.


“I don’t know.  I just found I was here.” The newcomer shivered.  “I’m still cold.  The other place was cold, too.  Who are you? Where is this place?”


“I’m Stan.  This ‘ere is the Wizard prison of Azkaban, as you probably know, ‘cept you’re ‘avin a bit of a larf.  Ow on erf  choo get in ‘ere?”


“I don’t know.” The stranger spoke with a rather posh voice; he reminded Stan of some of the passengers he very occasionally carried, the sort who came from the more famous families, though such members of the Wizarding World only rarely used the Knight Bus.  “I just got here, between one moment and the next.  I’ve been…well, a long way away.”  He turned away and started examining the place, and then, seeing the carving of the coat of arms, gave an angry gasp.


He bent to study the carving, and then suddenly spun round and gave Stan an accusing look.


“Did you carve that?  How dare you deface the Black coat of arms?” 


“I never…I never carved it.  It was ‘ere when they locked me up.  Choo say about a coat of arms?”  Now Stan was too interested to be amazed at the sudden presence of another, because he knew the name ‘Black’ -- what wizard didn’t?


The stranger bent back down and began to trace the pattern with his finger tips. “It’s the Black family coat of arms, except for the motto.  It should read; ‘Toujours Pur’.  It’s my family crest.  I’m a Black.


Stan almost laughed.  Whoever this odd cove was, he was clearly another fibber, just like Stan.  “Listen on, mate, you’re telling porkies--“


The stranger stood up again, and turned around to face Stan.  He looked irritated.  “Telling what? What on earth do you mean?”


Porkie pies—lies.” Stan saw his visitor was mystified.  “Oh, never mind.  Fibs.  You can’t be a Black. The last of the Blacks died, last summer.  It was in the Daily Prophet …Oh, blimey! Now I see!” Stan spoke excitedly, as he finally put two and two together as to just who had been the previous occupant of this cell.


His visitor, however, already deathly pale, had gone whiter than salt.  Even Stan, never the most sensitive of young men, could see something had deeply shocked and even upset him.


Wossamatter, mate?”  The visitor had sat down, suddenly, and Stan moved to sit next to him.  He reached out a sympathetic arm, meaning to pat him on the shoulder, but he visibly flinched away.  Stan felt hurt by the rebuff, and it must have shown, because the visitor clearly saw it.  He winced.


“I-I’m sorry.  You shouldn’t touch me.”  He shook his head by way of emphasis.


“All right. No problem, mate.”  By way of emphasis, Stan held out his arms with his palms pushed out in a gesture of surrender, and to show that he would be trusted to keep his word.


The stranger gave a sigh.  He pointed at the crest.  “That crest is the Black family coat of arms … So, who carved it?“


“Sirius Black, of course!” Stan said with the excitement of someone who had discovered a great and lost secret.  “’E was in ‘ere for ages!  ‘E escaped--oh, more than free years ago--first bloke ever to escape from Azkaban, ‘e was!  It was in all the papers and everyone was ‘untin for ‘im.“


“Escaped!  But how was he in Azkaban in the first place? Sirius was never a Death Eater--he hated the Dark Lord--he warned me, but—“


“’E was banged up in ‘ere for life, ‘e was--supposed to have killed over fifty Muggles wiv a single curse…But last year, they says in the Prophet ‘e never really did--and ‘e was framed.”  Stan stopped speaking for a moment, somewhat unnerved by his visitor’s keen eyed scrutiny.  “But it was too late for ‘im, cos ‘e got killed at the Ministry of Magic, in some big fight what was on, wiv some Def’ Eaters, last summer, it was.”  He fell silent. 


“I’ve missed him?  You mean, I’ve come back, here, and I’ve actually missed him because he’s dead? But I was sure it was him I was supposed to find!  He was my brother …  He sprang up and began to pace back and forward.


“Wait a minute, you said you was ‘is bruvver? Ow can you be?”


“I am, or rather was“ Something about that use of ‘was’ made the hairs on the back of Stan’s neck stand on end.  “--Sirius Black’s younger brother.  My name is Regulus Black….”  The stranger was looking intently at Stan.  “And I’m dead….”


And at that point as if to underline the truth of this crazy statement, a shaft of moonlight came into the window and Stan got his first clear look at his visitor.  He realised with a cold trickle of fear that it was a ghost who was sitting on his bed and talking to him.  Stan believed in ghosts, of course, what wizard didn’t?  But it was one thing to believe in them, and quite a different kettle of fish to actually have one sitting on your bed, and in your prison cell.


And what was more, he was a bit shorter, and a bit thinner, and a good bit younger, but otherwise, this bloke was the spitting image of that Sirius Black.  Stan remembered his face in some of the photographs in the papers.


“Tell me more about my brother; what’s your name again?” asked the ghost, this ‘Regulus Black.’  He sat down beside Stan.


“Stan--Stan Shunpike.”


Stan.  Right, what happened to Sirius, Stan? Tell me everything you know--I need to know why I’ve been sent back.”


“Sent back from where?”


“The Sunless place.  It’s where you go after you die.  I’ve been there a long time.  It’s like a waiting room…you can go onwards, to whatever there is next, or sometimes people come back, as ghosts.  I was there so long, I didn’t think I’d go back, but I must have been sent back for a reason.  The only thing is, I don’t know the reason.  Perhaps if you tell me about Sirius, I can work out what it is I’m supposed to do?”


Stan shivered.  He couldn’t help it, but then he heard the pleading note underlying this stranger’s cool and almost arrogant tones and decided to help.


“All right, mate--woss your name, again? Reg, innit?”


The stranger winced, and then said, “All right, ‘Reg’, if you insist.”


“It’s like this.  Wait--when ‘choo die and ‘ow?”


“I was a Death Eater in the service of Lord Voldemort, oh, I don’t know how long ago it was, but I died in 1979.”


Stan blanched at the words, ‘Death Eater’ and ‘Lord Voldemort’--even more than at the bald statement that this man had been dead for almost twenty years.  He was scared. 


Seeing his fear, Reg hastened to reassure him. “I’m not a Death Eater anymore--I left.  That’s why he had me killed.”  He was silent for a moment, then he looked hard at Stan.  “Wait a minute …what about you?  Are you a Death Eater?  Is that why you’re here?”


Stan gave a snort of laughter.  It was funny that last question when you thought about it, in the circumstances.  He briefly explained the sequence of events that ended in his being locked up here.  “So there you go, mate.  Right.  You died in 1979, you say?  That explains a lot, then.  There’s a lot ‘appened since then.”


Stan stood up, in a formal pose with his legs slightly apart and his hands clasped behind his back.  He looked slightly absurd; the pose was reminiscent of someone about to deliver a lecture.  “It’s like this…”


He told Reg about the first fall of Voldemort; about Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived.  About the famous Harry Potter, who was the son of James and Lily Potter.  When Stan mentioned those two names, Reg gave a slightly triumphant gasp, and then let out another when Stan explained that Sirius Black had stood as Godfather to their remarkable son.


Then in a few more words, he explained how Sirius had been accused of mass-murder the following day after the Boy-Who-Lived, well, lived, and had ended up in Azkaban, apparently in this very cell.  He finished up explaining about Sirius’ escape, and then his heroic death, last summer in battle, against Voldemort’s followers.


Reg stood up in some excitement.  “I think I see now.  I’m meant to find this Harry Potter, I’m sure of it.  You say Voldemort has tried to kill him again, since that night?”


“Yeah, mate--a few times.”


“I need to see this boy.  I have to see this boy!” Reg sounded very excited for a ghost.   He was pacing up and down the floor of the cell, while Stan watched him.  “I have to go, Stan,” he said.


Stan understood, but was sad, notwithstanding.  It had been good to have company, however odd and weird, and even a ghost--even a mad ghost like Reg, was better than no company at all.  But Reg seemed to understand.


“I can’t explain, Stan, but if I succeed, you might get out of here.  I have to go.  Do you understand?  I’ll start at our old house – there’s something there I have to find.”  He frowned.  “I wonder who’s there, now?  You said Sirius was the last of the Black family, didn’t you Stan?”


Stan nodded.


“That means my mother and father must have died, too.  I wonder who owns the house now, and who lives there?”


“No idea, mate.  But ‘oo’s gonna stop you getting in if you want?”


“Oh, I forgot that.  I suppose if I’m meant to go there, I just will.  I wonder why, then… Perhaps whatever sent me wanted me to talk to you, and see this place.  It begins to make some sense, now…”


Stan had no idea what he was talking about, but realised Reg was on the verge of leaving and he was sorry.  “But ‘ow will I know if you succeed? Will you come and tell me?”


“No.” When Stan looked very disappointed, Reg continued.  “If I succeed, I’ll probably be pulled straight back to the Sunless Lands, and if I really succeed, I’ll go on from there, and who knows? Maybe I’ll see Sirius, and I can tell him he was right.”


Stan bowed his head. 


“You’ll know I’ve succeeded if the Dark Lord is done away with forever.  You see, Stan, I have a special secret to tell Harry Potter--it will help him.”


Stan stood up; this was all very big.  Too big for him to fully understand, but he knew it was important.  “Good luck, then, mate.”  He put out his hand as if to shake on it, and then realised how daft it must look.  Reg gave a rueful smile.


“Thanks, Stan.”  He retreated backwards towards the door and in the standard manner of ghosts, melted through it and was gone.




Stan never saw him again.  In any case, he was released some weeks later, in July, on the orders of the Minister for Magic, and he returned happily, though he was a lot wiser, to his old job on the Knight Bus.


He never saw Reg again, but a year later, Harry Potter defeated Voldemort forever.  Stan didn’t know what had happened, but hoped and believed that Reg had played some part in it.  He also hoped Reg and Sirius were together somewhere.  Somehow, he believed they were. 










The exact number of carved strokes, counted up by Stan, which make up Sirius Black’s tally of his days of imprisonment, are based on the assumption that his period in Azkaban was from 2 November 1981 to 29 July 1993 (two days before Harry heard the television announcement of his escape on his thirteenth birthday).


The carving is, of course, the recently published Black coat of arms.  I based this entirely on the fact that the Dudley (Guildford and Robin – the future Earl of Leicester in Elizabeth I’s reign) brothers carved the coat of arms of the Earldom of Warwick (the Bear and Ragged staff) in the Beauchamp Tower in the Tower of London, when they were imprisoned there, after the short reign of Lady Jane Grey.  That carving is still extant.


The star Stan sees is of course, Regulus, in the constellation Leo, which can be best seen in April.


This story was written for the lj community, springtime_gen.

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