The bus arrived and we said good, and bye,
and tried to hug in direct correlation
To the total of our affection to date.
- David Thewlis
His swim was a long, tiring and painful one. Every time he thought he'd drown, thought he'd inhale water, he'd remember some trick or spell, castable without a wand, to get a bit closer to shore. When that didn't work, he just kept paddling. Canines are said to have an incredible sense of loyalty, but he didn't feel very loyal. He didn't feel very brave. He was freezing and he was soaked through, from fur down to his very bones.
Each time he felt his head slip under he just kept paddling. It wasn't that far to shore, the lights of whatever dingy seaside town were on, he could see a couple of houses at least, cottages really. Someone would have food.
He was freezing and soaked and not loyal - but he was angry, bone-shakingly angry, and so he kept swimming.
Up in the highlands of Scotland, no one would recognize him, but as he got closer to home, he misstepped, huddling in a dank alleyway, in a village too close to Hogsmeade. Of course they'd be more on alert the closer he got to his goal. And it had taken him nearly a month, all told, to make his way south, too.
He couldn’t be caught - he didn't have any favors left to call in. It didn't matter that Diggle owed him that fifty Galleons bail money and use of his right arm, it didn't matter that Dung's record would have been irreparable if he hadn't stepped in. No one would vouch for him. Rosmerta wouldn't help, Dumbledore's brother wouldn't help, not even Dumbledore would help, and he still didn't know why the old bastard hadn't thought the Potters' deaths through a little closer the first time around, but hey, that was just another thing to add to the pile of things to be angry about, another thing to keep him moving.
And so it didn't matter, none of it mattered, the fact that a witch out after dark saw him in human form didn't matter. Pain and anger kept him moving, out of the village swiftly, and back into the forest even if he would have to go north again for a few days before doubling back, losing time, losing so much time - always losing time. His survival instincts - decayed and lost to eleven year in prison - suddenly kicked into overdrive as well, and he knew the Law Enforcement wizards would need time to call the Dementors By then he intended to be five miles gone. He couldn't be caught. He couldn't be caught because he was the only one who knew, and his instincts were fighting to make sure other people knew, too.
Harry flew even better than James, if that were possible. The first time he saw Harry, it was like seeing James Potter reborn again, swooping on the Quidditch pitch just like before.
He hated the moment for a brief flash, angry that James couldn't ever see it for himself, angry that his son was alive and James wasn't-- and then he remembered that Harry was doomed, had been doomed, would never have a childhood, and he had to focus on Padfoot's senses, the smells, the sounds, the sensations and tactile experience of living, to drown out everything else. James's son was playing Quidditch, the grass was wet, and though he might be alone, he was also innocent.
Padfoot turned, and smelled the - not quite a cat, but mostly a cat, with an incredibly squashed face. It hissed, and he could sense its hostility and distrust. Well. Perhaps he could have a friend after all.
Having spent so much time as a dog, he had started to even think of himself as Padfoot. In that language of pheromones and body language, animalistic instincts that serve all natural creatures, he introduced himself to the cat, and the cat didn't believe him.
Padfoot showed the cat how to avoid the Whomping Willow, Padfoot showed the cat how to get into and out of the castle fast, how to find the best tidbits just outside the Great Hall. The cat slowly began to follow him – would send an owl for him, sure, but Padfoot could sense that with every step it continued to distrust him, and refused to help him into the castle. But Padfoot had some experience with loneliness, or being alone at least, and so it was okay that getting the animal to trust him would take time.
He only transformed back into a man in the Shack, which was ironic in a painful sort of way. He took his fingers and slowly traced all the scratches and gouges in the wood. He tried to repair the broken furniture, but without a wand it was futile, and he gave up.
He was tempted to stay as Padfoot even in the Shack, but in order to keep that anger in focus, to keep his anger focused on the right people, the people who really needed to pay, he had to stay human at least some of the time. To have nightmares, he had to be as human as he could.
He knew how to get into the castle, but not Gryffindor Tower. The direct approach might be best.
"My dear," he said, and approached the portrait. "You haven't aged a bit."
The fat lady tried to scream but he put a finger to his lips, and she stuttered quiet. "Y-you--"
"Yes. I'd like to get in, if it's all the same to you." Hogwarts hadn't changed a bit. He was a bit disappointed, roaming the castle and smelling the same stones, same smells, fifteen years later. With everything else in chaos, something should have changed.
"I - password."
He rubbed his forehead, feeling the matted hair. All of a sudden, a memory came back, sneaking out with James after hours and the Fat Lady covering for them just because they'd charmed her. He said, "Come now, you and I have such fond memories, covering for me, you won't do me a little favor?"
"Look--" He said impatiently, "It's important. You know me, you know my biggest secret, for years you saw me sneak out with-- it's--" He closed his eyes, opened them. "I promise you, I'm not here to hurt anyone that doesn't deserve it, but if I can't get in--"
The Fat Lady didn't cry out, and later he wondered why she never did, even with his presence. Somewhere, she must have known the truth, even frightened. But she said, "You can't come in--"
And he said, "Fine." He pulled out his knife. "Now, I can't really hurt you, can I?" he said. "You're a portrait. I'm just going to cut up your painting until you let me in." He rubbed his forehead again, feeling a headache starting -- not enough to eat, maybe, hunger making him dizzy, painfully dizzy. He tried to explain, "I'm sorry, but this is important."
The Fat Lady tried to run out of the portrait, but he stuck the tip of the knife into the frame. "You don't understand," he said, and then, "Please. I have to get in."
He gouged the painting, once, twice, waiting to see if she would answer him. Portraits couldn't cry, everyone knew that, but her eyes looked like they were wet anyway. He cut long strips, an inch wide, a calm destructive pattern, and considered peeling whole chunks off the frame. "I could tear this whole canvas apart," he told her. "I could burn the cloth." He rubbed his forehead; she was huddled in the bottom of the picture, the part he had left untouched. Then he stepped back, and told her, "But I won't."
He turned away, and she ran, through an empty portrait, a desert scene, and was gone. He slashed the canvas again, a deep diagonal stroke through paint. Blinked, and looked at the picture. If the knife hadn't been so dull, it probably would have dug into wood, too. He heard voices. Down the steps, through a door, down the corridor, behind the one-eyed witch, and gone.
He looks back on his time in Azkaban, and firmly thinks this: several people ended up living large chunks of his life, while he was somewhere else.
First there was himself and his family. He wished he could say that somebody else was responsible for locking Regulus in the attic, someone else tried to hang him off the gable when he was eight, but unfortunately he knew it was only half-true. He wished it was someone else responsible for Severus Snape owing the Potters anything, because that debt hung between everyone - him and Remus, James and Lily, Lily and Snape - and nearly cost him Remus himself.
He was certain that in the last war, someone else spent three days hiding in a cellar in East London with no food and no water whilst they waited for word on James and Lily. He wished it had been someone else that had kept tabs on Remus while he spent a month overseas, ostensibly working for the Order but with no real instructions, but it wasn't. His patchy memories couldn't make up for the people he'd been.
That thing that had been locked up in Azkaban wasn't him, and that was something else he knew for certain. He could remember vague scraps of his incarceration - as if using a longer word made it gentlemanly, somehow, to shut people up away from the world. The thing that had been locked up was more animal than human, more animal than Padfoot, but that was a good thing, because it meant that he could push the thing that was locked up away.
The prisoner slashed up the Fat Lady, the prisoner ran away to the Forest instead of staying to finish the job, the prisoner hid. He didn't, because he wasn't a coward and so couldn't have.
One day he woke up dreaming of his knife thrust between the traitor's ribs, like he was one of those Muggle villains in the movies. He woke up and was smiling, and that was when he knew he really, really, truly wasn't the man he was Before.
Sometimes it hit him, that the man he had been died with James. At those times, he wanted revenge not only for the Potters but for himself as well, for the kid who aged a hundred years in three, for his best friend, and for the friend who came away unscathed and yet bleeding. Then he stopped thinking because Remus was out there somewhere still, and enjoying a full moon without him. The Shack was empty, so maybe - finally - he'd found comfort somewhere else.
He woke up, and his enjoyment of knife against bone was the least of his worries, because that always faded quickly. The rest of the scars didn't.
In his sleep, he heard James say, "Wake up." He knew it wasn't really James, even as he heard, "Come on, wake up. Wake up. Wakeup. Wakeupwakeupwakeup..."
He rolled over, smelled the musty sheets of the Shack, and knew neither James or Remus was there with him. James always called him a deep sleeper, except now James was the one in a deep sleep, and he rolled over again and opened his eyes, and remembered James was dead, and the reason James was dead, and then he knew where he was and what he'd come to do.
He stood up, and couldn't decide whether remembering James, that moment in the morning where James had to wake him up, was a good thing or not; whether Remus's face on the pillow beside him was a bittersweet memory or just bitter. School had been glorious and furious, but then there was the rest; and to know one was to know the other. He couldn't think of a time and place that the remembrance of it, no matter how happy, wouldn't also dredge up something bad. He wanted to think it was because of Azkaban, that he was just slowly gaining his mind back, but he was afraid it wasn't true.
The cat finally found something in his eyes that it would trust. He wanted to find some kind of correlation between the cat trusting Padfoot, and him waking up that morning and remembering what Remus beside him felt like. He wanted the memory of Remus to be the thing that meant he was turning back into a man.
The cat, however, might have changed its mind if it knew how he'd use the passwords it stole for him.
For some reason, he didn't want to wander through the halls as Padfoot. He wanted to walk on two legs through Hogwarts. He wanted to see with human eyes as he crept up staircases and past Filch and his mangy cat. But he wasn't stupid, so he stayed as Padfoot, black as a Grim, able to smell people patrolling the corridors before he turned the corners, able to see much better in the dark, able to blend into shadows. The dog had instincts for hunting, for tracking, and he made good use of them.
When he got to the portrait, he gave the password to some portrait that was so barmy it probably wouldn't recognize him even if he wasn't heavily cloaked. Finding the right password took a minute, but he got the right one.
Despite wanting to hide behind Padfoot, he crept through the common room as a man, stepping softly past the nearly dead fire. He managed to resist the urge to curl up beside the embers; it was a long time since he'd felt true warmth, since before Azkaban, and a long time besides. His memory was still only spotty, but the memories he could recall of being warm, of feeling toasty and comfortable and cozy and relaxed, they all took place in this room, or in the one he was just about to violate to kill a man.
He did have to turn back into Padfoot briefly to figure out which room Scabbers was in. Padfoot could smell Scabbers, and he couldn't. The door didn't creak as he opened it, and he was grateful. Being a man, he didn't want to wake anyone up. Being a dog, all he could smell, all he could sense, was the nearness of his prey.
He focused on that sensation, and pulled out the knife, crept up to the Weasley boy's bed; and then the boy yelled out.
A split second decision - and for a brief moment, he considered killing the boy too, just to make it end, just to end it, to make something real again. But then, looking at the frightened face, he remembered Gideon and Fabian's dead faces.
Racing back through the tunnel to the Shack, dog-lungs burning and paws flying over the stone, he wished he'd thought to steal a wand. The dog didn't think of it; the part of him that wasn't dog anymore did. Unfortunately, that part of him hadn't kicked in until after he was out of the castle.
One of the first memories he remembered after he got ashore - shivering in a dank patch of Scotland - was the first love letter Remus sent him. James and the rest would have laughed for hours if they'd ever heard him call it a love letter, but then he remembered James and the rest of them never would, so he concentrated on remembering the entire note, the feeling of parchment, the way his letters were formed, the curve of Remus's 'e'. It was a one-liner, from Moony to Padfoot, and he realized, shivering in the dark, that he had it memorized.
This memory came to him, and then he heard voices in the distance, campers in the woods perhaps, or perhaps something more sinister or threatening, and nothing of his training and skill and brilliance in school would compensate for physical and emotional exhaustion, not to mention the lack of a wand.
So he didn't hesitate; he transformed back into Padfoot. Padfoot saved him in Azkaban, Padfoot kept him alive. They always called each other by their nicknames, never their given names. A secret, a special code for boys. He just missed hearing voices, hearing talk. The woods give off fantastic, awesome noises, but no real voices. But not even that yearning would keep him anywhere near people who might send him back to Azkaban; he was angry enough to keep on track.
The campers wandered away, and he transformed back. The love letter, a relic of the past, was still fresh in his mind, but he knew he was probably remembering it wrong, all wrong, a false memory for a glimpse of happiness.
Deciding to kill Peter should have been easy. He'd been brooding on it, focused on it, for nearly a year. It was easy; he didn't hesitate, didn't feel guilt, didn't feel remorse. He knew Remus had none, either. Patterns don't break, old habits die hard; so do Marauders. He didn't feel guilt, but the pain was unbearable. Pain and anger, that was the only thing left of him and Remus, of the Marauders.
He really didn't know what he'd do at this moment - confronted by Peter enticingly close, in the Weasley boy's lap, even - until it actually happens. Remus bursts in, and he has a split-second of waiting for his own death from Remus's hand. He has a split second of considering trying to kill Remus himself. Then he watches Remus's face, and it happens: the world snaps back into place when he didn't even know it was gone.
He wants to say, I'm so sorry for trusting that fucking-- and he wants to say, I'm sorry I didn't tell you where I was going-- and he wants to say, I'm so sorry, just for, Remus, I'm sorry--
But he can't even remember what he says, he can't hear the words coming out of his own mouth, because he sees Remus and he knows Remus understands. He is no longer completely alone in the world and oh god he was going to be free and he was going to--
And there's Harry, and he can't put this off any longer because they're all in very real danger of being arrested, and possibly tortured if Snape ever wakes up again. He blinks, and Remus nods, easy.
Everything was leading up to this point. Everything. He just hadn't known it. Remus says, "Wait, Sirius." Remus says his name, and knows who he is. And suddenly, Sirius does too. He didn't know he was going to do it, whether he'd ever forgive Remus for thinking it was him, until now. He puts his arms around Remus and hangs on for dear life.
Sirius looks out over the night sky, and his heart breaks as the moonlight shines on the Strait of Gibraltar. The waves shine, the sky is literally lit up silver. It's the most beautiful full moon he's seen since he got out of Azkaban, the most luminescent and the most full, the roundest, the most gorgeous night he's seen in nearly twelve years.
Somewhere to the North, Remus is tearing himself apart, trapped within his own skin in a way that Sirius desperately wishes he could mediate. Sirius nudges Buckbeak on, and closes his eyes to sleep, trusting the Hippogriff not to let him fall. The moonlight gets under his eyelids, keeping him up anyway.
If you still remember the old codes, you'll know where I am. Enclosed, please find thirty Galleons; it should be enough for the trip. After all, James went around the world on five Knuts and a handful of Lily's Muggle change just because we dared him to. If you don't remember the old codes, I'm sure I'll see you soon regardless. I'm sure.