Summary: After two years in Azkaban, Sirius Black is told he has a visitor coming.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Character(s): Sirius Black, Remus Lupin
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Original story: Writ by cedarlibrarian
Notes: Many thanks to my lovely beta such_heights! Your infinite wisdom provided just what this story needed to feel completed. ♥
On Wednesday (not that he knows what day it actually is — Sirius used to keep track of the days of the week but he lost count after less than two weeks), a guard saunters by Sirius’ cell. He barely pauses a fraction of a second, turning to look with thinly-veiled contempt at the figure hunched over in the far corner of the cell. “Visitor this Saturday, Black.”
Sirius, constantly on edge, jumps at the sound and looks up. His face, long-since showing the deep signs of wear that comes along with imprisonment in Azkaban, creases into a confused frown. Surely there has been a mistake. Sirius has absolutely no idea who it could possibly be with a desire to see him. He has no family, his friends are all dead but for one, and that one thinks he is the reason the others are gone.
By Saturday, Sirius has convinced himself that it could only be one person: Remus Lupin. Remus needs closure; he was never the type to leave anything open-ended. So he was coming to Azkaban to spit on Sirius, to tell him he hates him, to see him caged up like the animal Remus must think he is. Sirius would tell him what happened that night — Peter’s face in the crowd of Muggles surrounding the ruins of James and Lily’s home, chasing the traitor down, catching him just before the terrible explosion — but he can’t know if Remus will believe him.
He sits up on the cot in his cell as a guard — wizard, not dementor — bangs his fist against the bars. The man grunts out a harsh ‘one hour’ at Sirius, presumably the time he’ll be ushered out of his cell for his visit. It will be the first time in two years that Sirius steps foot out of his cell.
The Muggle prison films that he and his mates snuck into during summer hols way back when had been misleading. There is no ‘free time in the yard’, as Sirius saw in the cinema. Azkaban has no yard. It’s a barren wasteland of an island. Sunshine doesn’t reach the place at any point during the year; the dementors’ presence make certain of that. It is continuously grey and dreary around the island, from the cloudy skies to the waves crashing onto the jagged rocks. The prison itself is no exception. The faded robes the prisoners wear, the cold stone floors and walls, the thin mattress Sirius sleeps on every night — all depressingly grey. Sirius sometimes wonders if he himself looks as grey as everything that surrounds him.
That is, on the days he can manage to wonder anything at all. The sharp mind Sirius once possessed, the same mind that unravelled the intricate and complex Animagus spells long before he’d been taught Advanced Transfiguration, is itself unravelling little by little. When he arrived at Azkaban, Sirius was simply unhinged by the events that lead to his arrest. He spent the first three days and nights lying awake on the floor of his cell, murmuring apologies to James and Lily and Harry and Remus. He didn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and refused to move. Slowly, Sirius came out of that fragile state but the depression never fully lifted. There’s a constant heaviness in his heart that Sirius can’t shake, and he curses whoever uttered the lie that times heals all wounds. There isn’t enough time in the world to heal the gaping gashes left across Sirius’ soul. He just barely gets by but even he knows it‘s not truly living.
The hour passes slower than any hour in those two miserable years. Sirius can’t stop thinking about Remus, James, and Peter. The good times, when they were all young and carefree, aren’t enough to eclipse the very worst of times — Peter’s whispered words to Sirius over shots at the Hog’s Head (‘Remus just isn’t the same anymore, Padfoot. He’s changed.’); arriving at Godric’s Hollow, stepping into the ruins and crushing James’ glasses underfoot, knowing that James himself was beneath it all; hearing Harry’s muffled cries as Rubeus Hagrid frantically pulled away debris; catching a glimpse of shocking red hair amid the rubble. By the time the guard comes back to his cell, Sirius’ face is streaked with tears that he didn’t even realise he’s been crying.
He wipes at them hastily, shuffles to his feet, uselessly smooths his standard-issue uniform with shaky hands. “Don’t bother, Black,” the huge lump of a man that is the prison guard sneers at him. There seems to be an almost amused look in his cold eyes. “Your little friend couldn’t take it. He’s back on the ferry now.”
Sirius watches the man start to walk away, and he rushes to the bars, calling out to the guard. “Wait! I… At least tell me his name.” He already knows. Still, he needs to hear it.
The guard doesn’t bother turning around but barks to Sirius over his shoulder, “Lupin.”
Sirius stays there against the bars, fingers gripping the iron tight as he stares out into the corridor. Lupin. So it had been Remus. He had waited two years but he’d finally come to see Sirius, only he changed his mind at the last minute. He went through all the trouble of actually travelling to the godforsaken place, and then couldn’t go through with it. Sirius isn’t upset with Remus; he remembers exactly how he felt when he stared into Peter’s eyes in the moments before the traitorous bastard caused the explosion. Remus must not have wanted to look into the eyes of the person he thought killed his very best friends in the world, a man who himself used to be counted among the lot.
He stands there with his face pressed to the cold bars for countless minutes, churning over everything he would’ve said to Remus in his mind. Sirius would have apologised first and foremost; even if he didn’t give James and Lily up to Voldemort, Sirius still feels he was responsible for their deaths. He should’ve spotted the problems with Peter as they were brewing, shouldn’t have insisted on not being the Secret-Keeper. Sirius would have asked Remus how he was holding up. He’s always worried about his friend, wondering if he can cover the rent this month, and whether he’s eating enough. (Hestia Jones had always cooked such sumptuous meals for the Order. He wonders if she still invites Remus for dinners.) And, if he could have managed without breaking down, Sirius would have asked about Harry. As if it isn’t enough that James and Lily are gone, Sirius has utterly failed at his duties as Harry’s godfather. He promised his friends that he’d take care of their boy should any harm befall them, and all he can do is sit in a cell day after day without a single idea of Harry’s fate.
And then there would be the matter of telling Remus what really happened.
It’s something Sirius has grappled with since his first night in Azkaban. Tucked away beneath his thin mattress, Sirius has a stack of unsent letters, each one addressed to one Mr Remus J Lupin. Twenty-six letters, one written for every month he has been imprisoned, each one the identical thing over and over:
I know I’m the last person you’d ever want to hear from. I know I let you down in so many ways but I am sorry, Remus. I am so sorry for everything. Not for killing James and Lily because you know me, Moony, and you know I would NEVER do anything like that. You’ve got to believe me when I say I did not turn my best mate, my brother, over to Voldemort. But I’m sorry for the hand I did play in their deaths, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
It was Peter, Remus. No-one ever knew this, not even Dumbledore, but we switched Secret-Keepers because I knew Voldemort would suspect me. I suggested Peter. How was I to know he was in Voldemort’s service? He gave them up, Remus, and that’s why our friends are dead. That explosion that killed the Muggles? I tracked him down, and he blew himself up when he knew I’d figured him out. He framed me, and as you well know, I had no trial so I couldn’t even try to stand up for myself.
But this is where I belong, isn’t it? I put my faith in the wrong friend, and look where it got me. I’m so sorry, Remus, for not trusting you. The war just— it put such a strain on me, on all of us. I didn’t even know which way was up after a time. But I never should’ve turned my back on you. You were only ever a dear friend to me, and I repaid you with betrayal. For the rest of my life, I will regret that. If you choose to believe a single word I’ve written in this letter, I hope you believe that much.
I hope you can start to put your life together soon. You deserve nothing but happiness, and though I’ve done remarkably little to help you reach it as of late, I want it fiercely for you. The times I spent
with you and James and Pewith you and James as my partners in crime were the happiest I’ve ever known, Remus. If nothing else, I hope you can still look back at the good times and smile. And it might not seem like it, but I love you, mate. You were one of the only people who loved me without condition, and I will forever be grateful for your friendship.
Every time Sirius tries to send one of the letters, he thinks about what it might do to Remus. Hasn’t Sirius caused him enough hurt? There isn’t any guarantee that Remus will even believe Sirius’ words. If he does, then what? It won’t do any good because Sirius will be rotting away in prison, and Remus will still have no-one. So Sirius stashes letter after letter away, the act of writing each one becoming something of an obsession. It keeps him sane, he reckons, reminding himself every month of his innocence. And the nights (or days — inside the prison walls he never can be too sure) he sits down to write to Remus are the only nights when his dreams aren’t haunted by Peter’s smirking face among the crowd of Muggles, taunting Sirius before his once-friend screams out ‘Murderer! Liar! Traitor!’.
He doesn’t know how long he’s stood against the bars of his tiny cell, thinking about the almost-visit. It would have made every minute of his two years’ solitary confinement seem worth it to look upon a friend’s face once more, to know that Remus was managing to get on with his life, to find out if the visit had been one borne of forgiveness or if Remus had simply wanted to lay eyes on Sirius and make certain he was decaying into nothingness.
But Remus is surely back on the mainland by now, the ferry long-since departed from the rocky shores of the prison’s island. Sirius imagines he’s tucking into a bowl of homemade soup, perhaps sitting at Molly Weasley’s kitchen table. Or maybe he’s met for dinner with Kingsley Shacklebolt. Sirius wonders if he told anyone about his trip, doubts that he had. No-one in their right mind would’ve let him go through with it.
A week passes and it’s another Saturday, another day when the ferry will be ushering visitors across the choppy, grey sea. Sirius hasn’t heard from the guards that he is due for another visitor but that doesn’t stop him from sitting up with a hopeful rush (the first hope he’s felt in so long that the sensation nearly frightens him) as he sees a figure lumbering toward his cell. The guard jangles his keys until he finds the correct one, and Sirius stands and walks to the front of the small rectangle that has become his life. The guard looks at him oddly as goes past Sirius’ cell to the one just adjacent. Sirius’ shoulders slump that little bit when he realises his mistake, watching the guard guide the white-haired witch out into the corridor.
The guard calls to him, a cruel smirk curling his lips back. “Expecting someone, Black?”
“No,” Sirius replies, and his tone is as deflated and lifeless as he feels inside. “Not really.”
He moves back to his cot with a sigh, pulling out a blank sheet of parchment and a quill from the few belongings he’s allowed to keep in his cell. The tiny tally marks scratched into the stone floor beneath his cot — seven hundred and eighty-eight at present count, all uniform in size and in meticulous rows — tell Sirius another month has passed. So he commemorates the occasion as he has become accustomed to, dipping his quill into the inkwell and setting the nib to paper.