(AU) His world fallen to irreparable depths, Harry is granted a second chance to set it right. Timetravel, Harry adopts Harry.
Chapter Two: To Azkaban
... ... ...
I remember many things; trivial, countless, unforgivable. The good, the bad, and the shifty balance in between. I remember a fight and a war and a cause. I remember a purpose; a reason to keep believing, an instinctual right. Pride and glory - moral and justice in kind. I remember the friends which love lost. The costly price and the heavy penance.
We were warriors.
We were heroes.
And what are we now?
... ... ...
"Did you hear that?"
"I thought - that! Right there!"
... ... ...
He was angry again - tired, frustrated, loathing. His determination dwindled, his motive in steady decline. There were a hundred other things he'd much rather be doing, sleep reining high above them all.
Harry had never been to the prison of Azkaban before. He didn't know where it was, or where to start looking. Athens, Paris, Belgium - he guessed wildly, lent solely on his initiative to lead. He followed the beckoning taunts of evil, followed with his greatest dread and dire, consummate hate of the hopeless destination. On the third night he thought he might be close. On the seventh he knew he was; near enough to taste its foul stench in the air, hear its haunting whisper tickle his skin, sting in his eyes.
The Island stunk; of the damned and the damnable, of blood and carnage and death. Rotting flesh, decayed minds, dispatched spirits.
Harry stood in a small clearing of fog, on the edge of a forest - he wasn't sure precisely where. It was damp and it was cold. Looking out through the overlapped gaps of dying, ancient pines, he could just see the bleaker depths of the English Channel; where violent waves pounded the shore and lapped the rocks, and black stormy clouds threatened to break, spill and pour. Harry's magic pulled tersely, warning him away, tying to edge him back where he'd come - and he knew that could only mean one thing, could only be due of one specific purpose.
That Dementor's were near.
And, finally, Azkaban was nearer.
His wristwatch ticked past midnight and Harry cursed again, shivering. He kicked a stone, huffed, and continued his prowl of the shoreline, taking care to keep out of view from the beach, searching for any sort of clue that might lead him elsewhere, onward.
He stopped again behind a prickly row of thorns and overripe blackberries, catching another glance into the murky water through the trees. He could see a port then, leading off from the beach below him, and Harry's breath skipped - but the shabby thing had no ties, no lines, no little boats sleeping restfully at the haven like he'd hoped. It was empty.
It was useless.
Harry waited there for maybe ten more minutes, glaring hatefully at the icy water and the flaking wooden poles of the pier, before a loud series of pops chose kindly to amend the pitifully frustrated situation. Harry didn't particularly believe in coincidences - but on the off chance one happened in his favor, he wasn't about to pass it up.
Harry spun around, his wand ready, held tightly before him. But they hadn't seen him, were oblivious still to his presence.
Constant vigilance? Insistent paranoia.
Standing right behind him in the tiny clearing were four men, cracking their necks and shrugging their shoulders, biting off the ill effects of cross-country apparation. They chatted in plowing grunts of English, licking nauseous wounds and haggling the captive; three guards in the official Azkaban blue hued robes and a lanky figure cowed between them, arms and legs bound magically, bobbing uselessly an inch from the muddy ground. The prisoner was covered from view with an old brown cloak, his face hidden under the hood.
Harry almost laughed - it was too easy. Far too easy.
Coincidence? He wasn't so sure. Fate did owe him, after all.
One guard, painted the leader by a large crest over his cold swollen heart, waved his wand theatrically and uttered an identifying spell. Mist leaked out from his wand tip, hovering about the quartet, and then he chanted in another quiet mantra, releasing the knitted wards and safeguards against intruders, wannabe rescuers or by-standing muggles. A clattering bang rang through the air, turning Harry's focus back to the water, where he saw a quaint little boat appear suddenly at the end of the port.
Harry sighed, smiled, and blew hot breath onto his tired hands, warming them.
Then gingerly he stepped out from behind the bed of thorns, silently edging towards the group of wizards, his pulse accelerating.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
... ... ...
... ... ...
Altair didn't like crowds, and he liked muggle crowds even less.
The summer holidays had drawn in at last to a frazzled end, though the temperature remained hot, stiff and sweltering. Kings Cross Station was packed, as it always was on September first. Non-magical and wizarding folk alike pushed and fought their way by, throwing glares and spiting curses, hurrying off in every direction. A group of teenagers were surrounded in dizzying puffs of smoke, a snotty little girl wiped her fingers on a handrail, a missionary of redheads hopped past causing small resonating tremors, and an old Auror watched it all from behind his ruffled newspaper, growling as he was spotted.
Altair ignored the Auror and followed the cluster of red-heads suspiciously, not liking the shabby look of them at all; watching as the army slowly and mysteriously vanished two by two. He could never quite catch where the hell or how they disappeared, though, and the intrigue shitted him.
"Uhuh, this is it!"
Harry turned around in front of Altair, pointing straight ahead of them towards the barrier between platforms nine and ten, as if this should be of some great significance to him. Altair grunted, looking away from his Uncle and pretending they weren't together, that he didn't know him. People around them were blatantly staring at the abnormality of his large trunk, their strange attire, and Harry's jubilantly carrying voice.
"Do you have to point, Harry?" Altair asked him tiredly.
Harry just grinned, batting at his shoulder. "Hurry up, it's right over here."
And, looking on, they were heading towards the damn redheads, or what was left of them - fantastic.
"Who are they?" Altair asked quietly, as Harry led the way. They had to be going on to Hogwarts too, there was no doubt of that.
"You know them," Harry said, lowering his voice further. "I've told you all about the Weasley's - "
"They are the wonderful Weasleys?" Altair wasn't impressed - from his Uncle's description he'd envisioned them to be ... well ... the exact opposite of what it appeared they were, really. Except for that disgraceful hair.
"See that one?"
Harry was pointing again.
"Yes, and will you please stop - "
"That's Ron! You'll be great friends, I'm sure."
"Yeah. Right." Altair highly doubted it.
"He'll only be in fifth year, though." Harry gave him that look - the weary one, like he figured he knew Altair better then he knew himself, as if he knew all the wayward twists of the path heading out before him. "You will try to fit in, wont you Altair?"
"Yeah, right," Altair said again.
Harry rolled his eyes.
When they reached the Weasels, as was the name Altair thought suited them much better, he realized how they had been vanishing so - the army was simply waltzing straight between the barriers. The mother Weasel, Altair guessed, turned around to greet them. Harry exchanged a warm smile and Altair sneered unpleasantly.
Then they were gone, and it was only Harry and himself still left standing there.
"Please, Altair," Harry began - and by this point Altair had already tuned out. "Do try to play nice with the other children, for once. Ok? Will you do that for me?"
Altair nodded, yawned, and the two strolled on, heading right into the barrier. Altair blinked as they collided with the solid brick, and then - just as suddenly - they were there. Platform Nine-And-Three-Quarters was near enough in likeness to the muggle ones before it, for only a few deviations. The great numbers of witches and wizards clamoring about, for one, and the scarlet steam engine they were boarding for another, titled in big cursive writing, 'The Hogwarts Express'.
Altair looked back at Harry, who had been watching him intently, and sighed.
They were early - the train wasn't scheduled to leave for another quarter hour. Harry had insisted that they try to get there with plenty of time to spare, claiming past experiences of tried punctuality to be firmly planted against him where Hogwarts was concerned.
"Are you sure about this, Altair? Absolutely positive?"
Altair could have groaned, the countless times they'd been over it. "Yeah, I am."
"Because it's not too late - "
"Harry - "
"I bet if we write just one more letter to that stupid, fat giant - "
"Harry, stop it!" Altair cried, as several witches turned to look their way. "I want to bloody go, alright? I want to!"
Harry paused, looking down at his nephew. He just couldn't help it, though. "You're sure?"
Altair didn't reply, just huffed impatiently and kicked at his trunk. "Can we just get on with this, please?"
Harry nodded, looking just a little proud, and far too happy than he should have been that Altair was going away again this year. It was obvious which one of them was more excited about Altair attending the infamously famed Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry - and it was definitely not Altair.
For a moment they stood in an awkward silence, before Harry broke it again with, "Look over there - "
Oh, and now he was pointing. Again.
"What?" Altair grumbled, sneering as the young Weasel young girl in ratty robes hugged her mother fiercely.
"See that one over there, with the dark hair?"
Altair looked up, following Harry's direction to another.
"What about her?" Altair asked, refusing to stare at the poor girl for more than a second, just to find how his Uncle would answer.
And it was the same as it always was, then - when he got that measuring glitter in his eye, as though Altair were his own little experiment he was to write a report on, analyze and dissect his every breath.
"Don't you think she's pretty, Altair?" Harry asked him, grinning mischievously.
Altair supposed he did, just a little.
"No," he told Harry flatly. "Not at all."
Harry just laughed and grabbed Altair's trunk, as he started to head towards the train. No, wait - right towards the brunette.
He always did this sort of thing -
"Oh, I'm so sorry!"
To Hell you are, Altair cursed. The girl had stumbled, but Harry caught her arm, at the same time somehow wheeling her around to be facing right in front of Altair. Bastard.
"Thanks," the girl said, looking briefly at Harry before her gaze flocked back to Altair, a little confused. "I don't think I know you?"
"No, no, you don't - " Harry had replied, and Altair glared. "This is my nephew, Altair. He's just moved from Beauxbatons this year."
Cho nodded, holding out her hand. "Hi Altair, I'm Cho. What year are you in?"
"Sixth," Altair droned, before Harry could cut in again, but -
His Uncle was just standing there, beaming. Oh, he'd pay - how he'd pay!
"Same here," Cho said, and her smile grew a little wider.
Altair took a small step back.
"I suppose I'll see you around, then?" Cho asked him, flushing.
"Whatever," Altair sneered, shoving past his Uncle and up the steps into the train, giggles arising from the group behind him. Altair looked back to see Harry there, still grinning stupidly, but obediently carrying his trunk. They stopped in the first empty compartment they came to.
"See, now that I've introduced you - " Harry began feebly.
"Oh, shut up!" Altair cried, silencing Harry with a scathing hiss. "You are so embarrassing!"
Harry just laughed. "You'll thank me one day, honest."
"Wait until I tell Bellatrix what you just did, hmm?" Altair threatened, but that only seemed to further escalate Harry's obnoxious amusement.
Before Harry could embarrass him more, or worse - before the laughter became contagious, Altair snatched the trunk off of his Uncle and pushed him hard out of the compartment, slamming the door shut and quickly locking it with a spell. Heaving relief, Altair sat himself down to relax - but then, faster than should have been humanly possible, Harry had appeared, completely forgiving, back on the platform and standing outside his open window.
"You right there, Altair? All settled?"
Altair didn't respond, giving his best imitation of the deaf.
Harry leaned in from the other side of the window, looking about conspiratorially.
"If you want out, just tell me and I'll come to get you."
"Hmph," Altair mumbled, refusing to meet Harry's eye.
A whistle was blowing, and the last stragglers of the student body were rushing in, blowing kisses, shaking hands and hugging their parents tightly one last time. It made Altair sick.
"Ok, Altair." Harry smiled. "Be safe now!"
And here it comes -
"Take as many drugs and have as much sex as you can, but do not under any circumstances - "
Altair slammed the window shut, glaring furiously, just as the train finally pulled away.
Harry was shocked for one moment; then he was grinning, again, and waving happily goodbye, as if there were no company in the world Harry liked better than him. Altair watched from the corner of his eye, pretending all the while to be glaring stubbornly as the floor. The train sped up, Altair's heart thudded tightly in his chest, and slowly the scene on the platform shrunk further and further into nothing.
... ... ...
An hour of brooding passed and Altair was bored. He didn't have many options he could think of, and he didn't much like any of them; read, eat, or go for a stroll and hopefully bump into an interesting face or two. Finally, almost desperately, he opted for the last.
Stepping outside into the hall, Altair walked ten paces and picked a door at random, shoved it open, and barged into the compartment.
"What the hell is the point of this?" he said loudly by way of greeting.
"Sorry?" one almost pitifully ugly girl asked, with horrifically bushy hair and overlarge front teeth. "The point of what, do you mean?"
"This," Altair cried, waving his arms dramatically around the compartment. "A day long train ride? It would take us a second to apparate, or portkey, or floo. But no - no, we're stuck in this stupid, stuffy, horrible little muggle contraption. And what the hell is the point in it all?"
Altair took the pause that befell to look more closely at the compartments occupants; besides the girl there were two other boys - another frightfully ugly one and, just his terrible luck, a damn Weasel.
Augh. He supposed they were everywhere, with the sheer number of them.
"And who are you lot, then?" Altair asked the group rudely.
"I'm Hermione," said the girl. "Hermione Granger."
"Neville Longbottom," said the first boy.
Altair sneered, and looked quickly over at the redhead, halting him from speaking. "No," he cried. "Don't tell me who you are, I really would rather not know."
Weasel's face crumpled, and Altair feared that his great minds eye might not be able to withhold such horrid ugliness as the boy evoked.
"And what's your name, then?" asked the bucktooth-frizzyhead.
"Altair Black," he replied smugly, pausing for the shock to sink in and strike.
"Black?" Longbottom repeated dumbly. "Did you say Black?"
Altair rolled his eyes.
"Black," Weasel said - and Altair thought he smelt the boy wet himself a little.
"Black as in ... Black," arse-long finished lamely.
There was silence in the compartment again, heavy with an upheaval of distraught anticipation.
Altair shrugged, playing confusion. "What do you mean?" he asked, the picture of concern.
"Well," the Weasel began haughtily. "You couldn't be of any relation to Sirius Black, of course. They'd never allow that."
Altair yawned, relieving a thin smile to stretch across his face.
... ... ...
... ... ...
If he didn't hold any inkling of faith in magic, there would have been no way in fucking hell Harry would ever set foot in that ... boat. If it even classified as such.
"Come on lad. Get a move on now."
A finger prodded him none too gently in the shoulder, pushing him forward. Harry bunched his fist, felt his fingernails bite into his palm and cut, gathered all of his will to forcibly not turn around and curse the damn motherfucker to hell.
He took a deep breath. And another. Then, swallowing his cares loudly for show, Harry stepped down the rotting, rickety ladder of the pier and into the stupid wooden boat with the first guard, sitting where the wizard gestured. The boat shook, freezing water lapsing over the edge and inside, swilling about his boots. Harry held his breath and clutched tightly onto the seat.
The other two guards descended the ladder unconcerned, paying Harry's misgivings no heed at all, and then they set off, the boat magically propelled through the rising current.
Harry had expected the journey to take a few minutes, tops - but a full two hours passed languidly before any end drew near in sight. Harry hadn't thought that long possible for magical transport, and waste of such precious time seemed ludicrous. Perhaps it was for the island; the horrible, haunted, nasty little island. Or maybe the ride was for the captor's benefit - a last gulp of fresh air, a last farewell to natural life and order.
Harry eyed the guards disdainfully, feeling more than a little seasick.
One sneezed. Another was asleep. The last was picking stupidly at his thumbnail, tongue swapping side from side of his lopsided mouth.
All of them were dry. Harry was drenched - soaked to the bone, numb with cold, and bored mindless. The horrid little boat threw him backwards and forwards, up and down, crashing against protests and smashing through the waves. No-one was steering or directing it in any form - it seemed the boat knew the way itself.
Harry thought he might actually vomit, and leaned threateningly over into the direction of the guard to his left.
The one that had poked him.
"You alright there, lad?" the guard in question yelled, wiping the drool of sleep from his thin parched lips. His thundering voice was barely audible over the violent clamor of the ocean, Harry straining to barely hear his rankled words. "You look a bit green, eh!" he laughed, clapping Harry on the back.
Oh, that did it -
Harry bent his head, leaned over more and wrenched, spilling his dinner right on top of the guard's lap.
"You little shit!"
The boat rocked further, tipping dangerously.
"Now look Bernard, it wasn't his fault - "
Bernard lunged forward, his wiry arms outstretched, grabbing out to throttle Harry's neck -
The guard in front of the boat, the one in charge of their near eventless passage, waved his wand again, clearing the half-digested contents of Harry's dinner off his friend's lap. "He'll be getting his due shortly, Bernard, never you mind."
Bernard looked murderous.
... ... ...
Azkaban was beautiful; in a dark, haunting, terrifying sort of way.
The island was bare, no trees or grass or any slender presence of any living thing. There was mud - a lot of mud. And, centered in the wet lumps and gritty bumps of this mud, an old decrepit castle stood tall and proud; stone blocks holding up spiral towers and jagged walls and crumbling tiles of patched roof. There were no windows looking out to sea, to the waves - only passage after passage of rough, barbed stone. It was black from all directions; forms to shapes to outlines.
Harry shivered, stepping from the damned little boat onto another rotted dock - and Dementors came to greet them, swooping down from the mist.
"Away!" a guard called, cleverly brandishing his wand - as if it would do him any good.
The Dementors mocked them, laughing; an eerie, silent, heart-torn rumble. They kept a distance from the group then, of which Harry was immeasurably thankful, and they did not attack or deliver reprise. But Harry felt their gaze linger on him - their latest conquest, their toy, the pay for their better deeds and behavior to come.
A tingle stepped down his spine, prickling hair on end. The feeling did not bode well at all.
The guard in charge barked a dozen orders and the quartet set off again, heading up towards the main building. Harry trailed between them, plotting his getaway, imagining various methods to thwart the equitable regime. He didn't care to languish at Azkaban any longer than need be - he'd get Sirius and be off, as quickly and quietly as possible. If no-one ever knew what he did, all for the better.
Arriving at the entrance they entered through a side door and passed the main lobby. The color scheme remained strong, impressionistic - black and black with black on black. Ceiling, floor, walls - all the same in the dry, monotonous tone. Black rails, black sideboards, empty black canvases - and Harry was lost in a moment. The only light fell from brackets, flickering in the groups movement.
Harry figured he would be led to the warden's room first, where he'd then be allocated a cell - and, sure enough, he was right. Three flights of steps and eight corridors on, they dispatched outside of a solemn, closed door: completely unsurprisingly, the dark foreboding black. Harry wished the decorator had been a little more imaginative. The lower two guards, including one contemptuously sulking Bernard, strolled off on their business, to carry on with whatever it was that they did there. The last in royal Azkaban blue knocked quickly on the door, his knuckles wavering.
There was no answer.
"Rick," the guard called shortly, eyeing Harry off with no small amount of unease. "I've got the next one with me."
And a distracted voice emerged from the thick, hard wood - "Good, good, do come in."
The guard opened the door, gesturing Harry in first. It was an office - a desk, a chair, a painting and a cactus - all were the same ambiguous black. The warden, though - he was fat, bald and glistening baby pink with a thinning blond comb-over. Harry was reminded instantly of Dudley, and the tasty bacon he'd fed his younger counterpart the week before. He sneered, leering trouble and unpleasantness.
"Jones, is it?" the warden asked Harry.
Harry nodded once, watching the man scan a report, make a scribbled note and sign, date, tick. Methodically practiced, dull.
"Right, then, J Block will do fine for you."
The guard accepted a hefty stack of papers, nodded his dismissal and began to leave, presuming Harry behind him - but Harry had stopped, a large sheet of parchment catching his attention. It was a map, sitting crumpled on the warden's old black desk - the biggest, most intricately detailed map Harry had ever laid eyes on. And not of the grounds, or the castle - but lists and lists - names piled on names in no specific pattern or structure.
Azkaban was a maze; a puzzle of chastened cribs for lawbreakers and beasts.
And Harry just knew if he were to have any hope of finding Sirius at all that he simply had to have it. There was no way he could memorize the map so fast, not a chance for him to seek out Sirius' obliging name. And so Harry acted, in two fell swoops -
His wand rose into his palm; swoosh, blam. The warden was dead, the guard incapacitated.
And the cactus was black no more - graced in a wet, sticky, slowly dripping red.
Harry grabbed the map, transfigured his cloak to what it had been before, and he ran.
Ran and ran and ran - back down the hall, a left and then a right, a right and then a left.
But Azkaban followed, Azkaban knew.
And, somehow, the Dementors did too.
A siren went off, shrieking down the building. The candles strung in brackets at every turn buzzed, casting light in an eerie filtered green. And back in England, on an Auror's grubby desk at the Ministry of Magic, a circuiting bleep sped off from a little golden dream-catcher, filling the office in bounds of concern. The Department Head was alerted of an escape.
Harry seethed, grinding his teeth. He stopped halfway up a tower, not quite sure where his flight had led him. He turned back, lifted his wand, and began to set traps; to incarcerate, disembowel and behead. Deadly wards and ill-fated tricks and anything to deceive them, to hide him.
The Dementors were closing in.
... ... ...
"I'm not my father, Sirius. You always forget."
... ... ...
B, B ... Black.
There were voices behind him; torturous echoes of his long past. The Dementors had realized, had known the threat he posed and come in numbers plenty - and his wards wouldn't last, not for long. Not against that many - a bloody fucking army.
F3, F5. And there it was - F7. At last.
He raced down the hall, reached for the handle, shoved it down and leant in - but the door wouldn't budge.
Harry blinked. Cursed. Punched and kicked. His fist was bloody, his foot pounded; a tingling ache resonating his heartbeat.
The door was plain and bare, paint peeling and doused in muck and scratches, chips and grates. There was a small open window in the top section, barricaded with thick black bars. And locks, in every form, everywhere; keyholes, catches, chains, bolts. The biggest bloody padlock Harry wondered if to ever have been created.
This was a prisoner to receive the death call. This was a door never meant to be opened.
Hurried footsteps, running towards him. Ten? Twenty? They were coming. And coming. And coming.
Harry didn't think, couldn't think. There wasn't time. He raised his arm, aimed his wand - bang!
The door creaked, protested, and refused to bend.
Harry growled, hissed, lashing out a web of magic. He shoved his wand deep into the keyhole of the padlock, his tempter flaring, and -
BAM. The door swung open.
"Sirius?" Harry called, igniting the cell in light, bathing the walls of stone with shadow. "Get up, get up, we've got to go - "
There wasn't time.
He paused. Froze. And there she was, sitting on the floor, knees tucked lightly under her arms.
Bellatrix Lestrange. Bellatrix-Bloody-Black. She looked up, her eyes a craze; surprised, hopeful, then grinning. Her hair was a rats nest. She was frightfully thin, her eyes dancing, nails like claws. Feral. Primitive. Surreal. A nightmare.
There wasn't bloody time!
... ... ...
"Not a chance in hell, Potter."
"Abso-fucking-lutely out of your fucking mind you were, Bella."
He laughed, mocking.
She only scowled.
... ... ...
"You can't just leave me here!"
"Why the hell not?"
She was following him, a shadow on his shadow, half a step behind his every turn, every move, every breath.
"Who are you?" she asked again, tugging on his robe. "Didn't you come to rescue me?"
"No, I didn't," Harry snapped, pushing her away.
He'd got it wrong. He'd fucked up again, and he had to find Sirius to get the hell out of there.
Bellatrix stumbled back, tripped on her own ratty moth-eaten robe and fell, landing with thump on the sharp stone floor.
Harry stopped, still glaring forward, sending failed spell after failed spell, dismally trying to locate the door that still stood between himself and his Godfather. Nothing worked; no jinx, no curse - no spell in earthly creation. Azkaban forbid it, repelling his demand. Her domain, her rules.
"I don't recognize you," Bellatrix told him, sitting up, sizing him. "Are you one of /His/? A Death Eater?"
The words had hardly left his mouth before he realized, knowing too well too late what she was likely to do next, but then Harry was already falling, landing hard on the ground beside her. Bellatrix was wrapped around his legs, her thin arms flailing, making a mad dash for the wand still grasped tightly in his hand. They fought like children, dirty and mean, scrambling over one another till a victor would arise.
Harry kicked her off roughly, a boot crashing down onto her ribcage and cracking.
Pain, agony; Bella felt nothing.
Harry rolled onto his stomach, heaving himself up from the ground on strained arms. He spat blood, nursing his jaw. And Bellatrix was back, again, lunging forward on top of him, pulling his hair angrily from his scalp. Harry swore, rolling to his side to crush her smaller frame. He waited, panting, his wand pointed over his shoulder and pressed up against her throat.
"Give it up, Bellatrix."
She heaved defeat - "Alright."
He should have known better. He did know better. But he'd already began to stand, moving to lean tiredly against the wall opposite, and her tiny arms had sneaked around his chest, her fists clawing at his hand, at his wand.
"Fuck off!" Harry yelled, and then he lost his bridged temper and cursed her - a stinging hex, a cutting hex, a hex he rather wished he'd never known, never learnt, never cast.
And Harry swayed, standing over her form convulsing miserably on the floor.
She moaned. She whimpered. He'd never seen her look like such utter shit.
"Bloody hell, Bella, when will you ever let up?" he snarled furiously. "I just bloody freed you, can't you piss off by yourself? I'm doing you a bloody favor, aren't I?"
"I'm sorry," she slurred, breathing hard.
She didn't mean it. He didn't believe it.
Harry knelt down, cursing her again and healing her all the same. He wasn't sure why. He couldn't quite understand why he hadn't shut the bloody cell door in her face and left her in the damned cell to die.
Holding his wand in plain view, he strapped it carefully back into its place under a band on his wrist.
"Where's my husband?" she asked, bemused.
Harry shrugged. "Don't know, don't give a shit. You could both rot here for all eternity for all I care."
"Shut up!" she struggled, spitting at him.
Harry gripped her shoulders tightly, shaking her, warning her. "Go away Bellatrix. We're of no use to each other."
"What's your name?" she retorted arrogantly. "Wont you help me find my husband?"
Harry shook his head, no.
"But I have money," Bella grinned. "I can repay you in plenty, my friend."
"No," Harry snorted. "I'd rather fuck my own mothe - "
And Bellatrix slapped him across the face, hard.
Harry tightened his grip. "Stop it now, or I swear - "
"Shut it," Bella hissed, fighting in his grasp, scratching and biting and kicking out viciously. And then Harry heard it too - and he dropped her, cursing under his breath, letting Bella roll away and leap back to her feet. Harry paused, held his breath - not again.
Footsteps. Cries. Yelps of pain and painful yells of fury.
The traps were going off. He was trapped.
And they were coming. Close. Closer. Again.
Harry growled, turning back up the corridor.
Where the hell could he be?
There wasn't time. There was never any bloody time!
He counted from three.
Bellatrix was gone, fleeing back towards the Dementors. Idiot.
Voices, shouts - they'd found something. A trace to snatch. They were coming and coming and coming.
Harry closed his eyes, summoning his magic. He concentrated on the doors and the locks; the fabric holding the prisoners from the hallway. Every sound was amplified in his eardrums. Every scent was overpowering. Every taste burned hotly on the tip of his tongue; tingling, twisting, taunting. The power grew to a suffocating degree, growing and forever growing, pulling angrily at his gut and eroding from his every pore, corrupting and exploding and -
Magic - unrestrained, uncontrolled. Savage and desperate and fighting.
Azkaban broke and tore and cried and stung.
All the lights went out. Deathly black surpassed. The blast knocked Harry back, throwing him down the hall where Bellatrix had run. And every door, every cell to have caged a person on the isle, cluttered and rattled and - stretched to Harry's will - let loose, opening.
The Dementors screamed; piercing, grating and terrible.
Time slowed. Comprehension dawned. And the Prisoner's of Azkaban jumped up and fled.
Murderers, rapists, thieves -
Sirens blasted louder and louder through the castle and the flocks of Auror's finally made their appearance known, apparating and portkeying as Azkaban's giving collapsed, arriving in the lobby and spreading to every outlet, covering all angles and corroding each surface.
Thin, shriveled and decayed - the prisoners crept out. They headed past him, back the way Harry had come - to the shrieking onslaught of Dementors, the terrified guards, the bloody Ministry Officials.
Harry felt stretched, hanged, lifeless; the spirit sucked out of him like no Dementor could. He was exhausted. Harry made no move to stop those running past, ignoring their struggles and glee, content to rest in the center of the dark hallway unnoticed.
Let them die, let them pay. Let them find peace at last in death and Hell.
Let them be the ones to fight him a way out.
So Harry simply lay there, watching, recollecting himself and his bearings. He waited until the last had peeked through his open cell door in the block, stumbled out and hobbled down the hall, following in the swarms of stupidity with countless imbecilic others.
And it was then that Harry knew - knew exactly which cell in the ridiculously impossible maze that Sirius occupied. It was the only one with a closed door. The only one no-one had run from. The one that had been right next to Bellatrix's all along - B. Black. Black.
Walking slowly back up the hall, leaving the damn useless map on the floor, Harry prepared himself - for one who couldn't know or recognize his own familiarity, one with whom he shared no conversations, no adventures, no time or memory. Harry prepared himself - for exactly what he knew he'd find and have to say, do. Lie.
"Sirius?" he called, reaching the door.
He could hear fighting below them as another battle rang. Dark magic filled the air, humid and more thickly suffocating. It stunk, worse ever than before, and Harry hurt.
Harry closed his eyes, cursed again and pulled the door open, standing in the archway. "Sirius?"
"Is that - what?"
His voice was broken, caked in years unused. Disbelief. Haunted uncertainty.
Was he dreaming? Was he dead?
"James?" Sirius scrambled to his feet, slowly stepping forward towards Harry. "Is that you, James?"
He strung a grubby hand out, feeling for Harry's face; tracing his nose, his bloody lips, his throbbing temple, his cheek. Harry reached an arm around Sirius' bony shoulder, peeling him in to give the other man a one-armed hug. For his own benefit or Sirius' he wasn't sure.
"I'm so sorry," Sirius whispered, trembling.
"So am I."
Harry felt a sob rack his Godfathers body, and sent a quick cheering charm riveting into his stomach.
Time. Time. Tergum Rursus - they had to go.
"Come on, Sirius. Let's get you out of here."
... ... ...
Uncle Harry was his favorite, his first best friend.
But he was never home anymore, constantly off on his monumental 'scavenger hunt', so his Uncle Sirius called it, and Altair wasn't allowed to begrudge him the absence - it was vastly important, he was told. Repeatedly. Nor was Altair wasn't allowed to follow, if he'd even wanted to - which he didn't, particularly. It was cold.
... ... ...
The prisoner's were losing miserably, disastrously and devastatingly outnumbered.
It might have been accounted to their years of unfortunate containment, forgotten spells or time too long without speech and rationality, logic, intellectual influence and inspiration. Anyone who'd ever spent even the smallest amount of time on the island was the same - mad as a hatter. Or it might have been that they had no wands, no means to properly source their relishing rage.
When Harry and Sirius made it down to the entrance hall the battle was already predictably lost, a last stand in mighty full swing. More than most of the stragglers cared only for themselves then, making bold dashes out of doors, windows, blasted holes in the once-impenetrable walls of black stone. Quite a few made it outside to apparate safely away.
The Auror's held no compassion, no mercy - not for the ones they worked to keep away, hold there.
Harry flicked his wand, dredging up the last skimped reserves of his magic to send a blanket of invisibility over himself and his Godfather.
And together they calmly walked out, stepping right between the massacre.
Outside the rain had stopped - it was a new day, a new dawn.
"Hold on a moment," Sirius began, eyes widening as he looked Harry up and down in the morning light. "You're not - "
... ... ...
"It's ridiculous, Harry. You're being bloody ridiculous."
"He's fifthteen - he's old enough to decide this for himself."
"Fifthteen? What the hell is fifthteen! He needs guidance, Harry. He needs bloody discipline."
... ... ...
It was past nine when they got back, and little Harry was waiting for them.
"Who's this?" he asked the older Harry suspiciously, perched on the edge of his seat at the kitchen table.
Harry grinned, in what he thought was a brightly reassuring way at his younger self, gesturing for Sirius to sit down as well.
"What would you like for breakfast, Harry?" Harry asked instead, ignoring the question and the answer he didn't really need, turning around to rummage in the cupboard. Usually he'd buy their food already made, as Harry absolutely loathed to cook, but that would take more time and Sirius would undoubtedly be starving -
"Who are you?" the little Harry asked again, redirecting his query to Sirius himself.
Sirius shrugged, frowning at the small boy. He looked rather adorable; floppy black hair, large round eyes - but there was something a bit off, not quite right about the lad -
"Well?" little Harry asked him again, puffing up impatiently. "Who the hell are you?"
"Harry!" Harry cried, raising an eyebrow. "What have I said about using that language?"
The younger Harry rolled his eyes, probing Sirius in the arm.
"You're terribly scrawny," he observed, squinting at the Azkaban crest on Sirius' mangled robe. "Don't you like chocolate?"
Sirius shrugged again. "I don't remember," he answered quietly.
"What are you doing here?" the little Harry asked, perplexed. He didn't think he much liked the man at all - he smelt just awful.
"I don't know," Sirius replied. "What am I doing here?"
The question was rhetorical.
"I don't know," the younger Harry said, his voice solemn. "You can leave if you'd like."
"Harry," the older Harry scolded gently, turning back to the table with a morning feast levitated in tow. He sent the heaped dishes flying to their respective placements, overfilled glasses crashing down and frothing. Little Harry dug in, completely forgetting their guest, but Sirius simply sat there, unable to soak up all that had happened in the past half-hour. Had it only been that long?
Harry sat down next to him, tapping his shoulder lightly.
"Sirius," he said, catching the other man's attention. "I'd like you to meet your Godson, Harry. Harry Potter."
Sirius shook his head. "I don't understand."
Harry grinned again, gesturing to his plate of buttery toast and slightly burnt omelet. "That's alright. You will."
"Is he staying?" the younger Harry asked between big mouthfuls, looking up from his plate to stare inquisitively at his Uncle.
"If he'd like," Harry said. "I'd like it, though, if he did. Wouldn't you?"
Little Harry shook his head. He loved his new life - and he didn't want it to change, not in the slightest.
"But this is your Uncle Sirius," his Uncle Harry explained. "He'll be loads of fun, won't you Sirius?"
Two sets of green eyes turned expectantly in his direction - Sirius floundered, nodding hesitantly.
The younger Harry was not fooled. Not at all. He waved a hand in front of his nose, abandoning the rest of his breakfast.
"He smells," the little Harry told the bigger Harry wisely.
"That's alright," Harry said. "As soon as he finishes eating he'll go upstairs and have a bath. A very long one - and a shave. How about that?"
Little Harry pouted.
"Don't you want another Uncle?"
"I've already got two," the younger Harry said. "Isn't that enough?"
"Uncle Vernon doesn't count," Harry told him stiffly. "He's gone, forever. He exists now only in your mind. Sirius can be his replacement - but a good replacement, a much better one."
The younger Harry grumbled, disinclined to believe that this might be the first time in the short week he'd stayed with his new Uncle that he might not get his way. He didn't like that notion, and he didn't like the cause of it. "I don't like him," he whined.
There was an awkward silence, Harry a bit unsure of how to fix the delicately declining relations, until -
"I don't like you either," Sirius admitted gruffly, raising an eyebrow at the little boy.
Sirius glared back.
The older Harry frowned. "That's not right - you should like each other."
"Why should I?" his younger self countered angrily.
"I bet you will, in time," Harry said. "Both of you will - just give it a chance? Ok?"
Little Harry looked to be considering. Almost. "If he has a bath - "
"Sirius?" the older Harry asked, interrupting the tirade. "Will you give it a go?"
Sirius looked back at the younger Harry, who was pulling nasty faces at him behind his serviette. He grunted.
Harry sighed, finally relaxing, hoping at last that it all could fall easily into place from here on in, but then -
"What's that noise?" little Harry asked.
"What noise?" Sirius jumped, eyeing the empty fireplace.
"That one - "
Harry waved a hand, quieting the two.
And the trio paused, frozen in their positions, straining to make out any sort of unnatural noise, any sound that didn't quite belong. And just as the older Harry was about to give up, rolling his eyes and sniggering, he heard it too - they all did.
Someone was knocking at the door.
... ... ...
... ... ...
Returning to his compartment, quite contemptuously sure half the student population now hated him as they should, Altair was surprised to find a girl sitting in his seat. She wasn't much to look at; long, dirty blonde hair and creepy bug-eyes.
"You're in my seat," Altair told her, his voice a little strangled.
"Oh?" bug-eyes didn't look up, still intent on her stupid magazine. He twisted his head sideways, reading off the cover - the Quibbler. Altair figured that would be reason enough why she had no friends, and was sitting alone in his compartment.
Grunting, Altair sat opposite and stared at her. The blonde didn't seem to notice, and that only pissed him off more and more.
"So," Altair said, glaring.
"So?" the girl replied, not looking up from the Quibbler.
Altair crossed him arms against his chest, huffing.
"You're not from Hogwarts," bug-eyes stated absentmindedly.
"No," Altair sniffed, still gazing at her indignantly, his own superiority obvious. "I used to attend Beauxbatons."
"Oh, really?" The girl brightened considerably, leaning forward and abandoning at last her damned magazine. "What do you mean, used to? Are you transferring?"
"Not really, no," Altair muttered.
"Then ... ?" she floundered for a moment, waiting for Altair to continue.
"It's really none of your business," he sneered, leering at her.
"Alright," bug-eyes said, sitting back and returning to the Quibbler. Altair resumed his brooding.
It took some courage, and came at quite a bit of personal loss, but after some time Altair managed to get it out.
"Can I borrow that when you're done?"
The girl nodded, and they ignored each other in companionable silence for the rest of the journey.
It was dark before the compartment door slid open again, and Altair figured they must be close to the school. Lunch had come and gone, and Altair had changed and waited straight-backed in his new school robes for quite some time before he was told they still had a fair way to go.
What was it again? Cheese ... Charcoal ... Chew ... Cho.
"Cho?" Altair tried.
Cho smiled, the prefect badge on her chest he hadn't noticed before glistened importantly. "First years ride in boats across the lake. I've been instructed to let you know to join them."
Altair snorted. "Only first years? Then how do the rest of you - "
" - carriages - "
"Well," Altair huffed. "I'm not going in a dinky little boat with a bunch of sniveling first years!"
"But you have to - "
"No," Altair told her. "I refuse."
Cho rolled her eyes and left, tossing her hair over her shoulder.
When the train finally pulled to a stop Altair hopped out and followed Luna - the girl, as he'd finally asked for her name, that he'd grudgingly shared his compartment with. It was pitch black outside, and Altair could hardly see a damn thing.
The carriages were waiting for them.
Students bustling around them avoided Luna like the plague, leaving a wide berth of at least a meter in all occasions. Believing this was perfect for his own cause, Altair adamantly decided that it would be in both of their best interests to stick close together. With this in mind, he climbed up after her into the last carriage. She stared at him as if he were mad. Altair worried that he might be.
It was a short trip from the carriages to the castle. Altair didn't think much of Hogwarts, when he first laid eyes on it. But then again, Altair never really thought much of anything.
He could see the lake where the first years were undoubtedly sailing in from, the large sheet of water rippled and shining. The castle was massive, built up from towers on towers in old, crumbling stone. Students tumbled from the carriages, heading down a passageway. Altair trailed a little behind Luna, careful to always keep the blonde in sight. They walked over long, damp grass and up a series of big, stone steps. Past the huge, oak front door and they were inside the entrance hall. Then along a corridor and through to the Great Hall, where they dined.
There were five tables; one raised on a dais for the teachers, and the four others lined in rows across from the first for the students.
Altair made to sit next to Luna, but she stopped him.
"No, Altair, you should sit over there," Luna said, gesturing to the table across from hers.
"Why?" he asked.
Oh, if that were the Hufflepuff's Harry had spoken of before - she had better not be insinuating -
"Oh, no reason, really." Luna smiled. "Only I think you'd fit in well there. That table's most accepting of every oddball, see?"
"They like oddballs, eh? Then why aren't you with them?" Altair could have throttled her. It was the Hufflepuff's, then.
Well, fuck that.
"It's Altair, right?" a voice behind him asked.
Altair spun around. "Yeah?"
The girl smiled - they all did a lot of that here. "Couldn't help but overhear," she said, gushing.
"Oh, I bet you couldn't," Altair simpered.
"Well, I'm a Hufflepuff," she explained - Altair could have guessed as much, "and I know we'd all be more than happy for you to join us."
Before Altair could protest she'd grabbed his arm, and was escorting him away from Luna and on towards the Puffs. Luna waved a cheery goodriddance.
"I'm Susan, by the way," the girl introduced herself.
"Lovely to make your acquaintance, the pleasure is all mine!" Altair said snottily, but his sarcasm was lost.
Susan sat down square in the middle of the Hufflepuff table, pulling Altair down with her.
Way to make a cool impression. But Altair amended he would do the most he could to aid the dire straight; to be outcasted by the outcasts in lightening speed.
"Is this the house filled with Death Eater spawn?" he asked the table at large.
"No," Susan replied carefully, her voice a little stiff.
"Damn. And what's up with the ceiling?" Altair asked a boy to his left. "Couldn't the school Council afford to get a roof?"
"It's enchanted to look like the sky outside," the boy told him calmly.
"Oh, how dull." Altair yawned again. "But how do you know that's really it? Oh yes, 'it's enchanted to look like the sky outside' ... How is there any difference between that and there really being no separation from us, in here, and all that out there? There's no way you could actually tell, is there?"
Other students sitting around him exchanged raised eyebrows and insulted gapes.
"When are we eating?"
"When the sorting is over," another answered shortly.
Altair didn't want to know what the hell 'the sorting' was - he really didn't care.
The chatter stopped around them and Altair tuned out, playing with the knife in front of his empty plate. Dimly he was aware of some ear-piercingly awful racket - it might have been a song - and was brought to again when his own name caught his attention, as it was want to do -
"Mr Black? Is an Altair Black present?"
The teacher at the front was calling to him.
Altair groaned, stood from the bench and sauntered over to her, the eyes of the entire school following him in horror, traumatized whispers breaking out amongst blatant yelps of fear.
"Black, did she say?"
"Not one of the Blacks? Surely that can't be right - "
"All the Blacks are mad, everyone knows that - "
"Vicious, they are, the lot of them."
" - sided with You Know Who, you know! Every single one of them!"
It had been the same with his old school, and Altair was quite used to it. It would have been amusing, really, if not that it was more so annoying.
If only they really knew Sirius ...
His eyes caught on Cho's, as she smiled at him encouragingly. And he could see that bushy-headed bucktoothed girl, on the table next to hers, whispering to an even uglier redhead - the littlest Weasel - on her right. Then he'd reached the teacher, who was staring at him with quite a bit of conflicted reprimanding condolence. Altair supposed it had been her with whom Harry had shared their ... circumstances. She drew him to the side, next to where a little stool stood with a hideous old hat atop of it.
"You're Altair Black, are you?" she asked, quietly enough that no-one but the persons on the teacher's table could hear.
"Why weren't you on one of the boats, then? Didn't you get the message?"
Altair frowned, feigning ignorance. "Sorry," he said, letting a small amount of the well learnt French accent mingle in his English.
Within that moment the teacher's demur changed to understanding, and she pointed simply at the stool, speaking to him like a simpleton.
"Well go on then dear, just have a seat and try the hat on."
Altair did as she said, though not without a shudder as the haggled old hat rested over his eyes, crushing his hair.
And then a voice rang in his mind, and Altair knew it was the stupid hat -
Hmm. This is strange. Rather strange indeed.
"Oh?" Altair prodded, not at all liking the hat's tone, nor the word 'strange' being implied with any such tainting link to himself. "What's strange?"
Why you are, my boy! No, don't deny it.
Strange, yes ... but that needn't matter. Difficult, too. Very difficult. Not a bad mind, I see. Plenty of courage. A large thirst to prove yourself, also - now that's interesting. Very interesting, very difficult. And talent, dear Merlin, is there ever talent!
"Will you just hurry up already?" Altair whined.
And then the stupid old hat thundered out, for the whole bloody hall to hear it -