The branches of the trees crackled with distress as they were swiftly pushed aside. A ragged man sprinted through the rough terrain, dodging through the dangling branches and thick shrubbery. He didn't have a strategy to escape from the boundless forest surrounding him, nor did he know which direction he was running or where the path would take him. His hope was not to miraculously escape off a rocky cliff into frigid waters like a mad man, but to keep his body moving as quickly as possible.
Minutes into the journey he was wheezing due to the years of abuse and malnutrition that destroyed his body. His muscles and lungs screamed with pain at the odd jolt of exercise they were experiencing after years of confinement. His body protested with every movement, but the fear of returning to the wretched hell he had escaped from kept him from lying down on the ground and preparing for a pitiful death.
He questioned how long he could remain fleeing from the impending danger. Could he disappear into the forest, running from the ruthless death eaters as others had done before him? The vegetation provided the necessary cover to hide, but it was a lonely existence that eventually sent people running in desperate need of civilization. The solitary confinement of the forest was too restricting for most, but for him it would be a welcome change.
The woods surrounding him were bursting with signs of life typical of a chilly autumn day. The trees swayed viscously with the wind and leaves floated down restlessly all around him. Insects clung to the mossy ground and scurried along the tree branches. He was once again amongst the living and that was all the motivation he needed to keep moving.
His foot suddenly caught on a fallen branch sticking carelessly out of the ground and he lurched forward. Falling to his knees, he scrambled to unhook his foot from the messy forest floor. The short stumble proved to be treacherous as he heard voices in the distance. They were no doubt his trackers, ready to hunt him down like a wild lion running loose through the chaotic streets of downtown London. He jumped up and searched his surroundings, panicking. A flash of red light whizzed past his mangled hair and hit a tree in front of him leaving a gaping hole in the bark. He ran faster, squinting into the distance to catch a glimpse of which direction to turn.
A rush of swallows above him caught his attention as they whipped through the air, just grazing the top of the trees. Following their direction, he hoped the instincts of the boundless birds would lead him to safety. It seemed as though he was gaining ground on the hunters, and elation swept through his body. He was as limitless and as free as the birds guiding him.
But with cruel casualness, the world around him began to fade until he was left running through a mesh of green towering blurs. But those images began to fade too and soon he was fully lucid, the coolness sinking into his body once again. Sirius didn't open his eyes. He knew all too well every etching of the cold stone that surrounded him. He was once again enclosed by the towering stone walls, separated from society like a wretched animal, poised to attack at any moment.
The stillness of Azkaban was maddening. Enclosing him was a world that was bleak and lifeless; a picturesque view of a hollow prison void of all movement. He stared at this all-encompassing canvas day after day, hoping for a slight glimpse of movement from his surroundings. It was usually at those times that the emptiness became overwhelming. He longed to feel a sense of elation at being alive, to taste the saltiness of unjustified pain on his lips, and to revel in his humanity hidden beneath the grime and prison clothes.
Occasionally, he would be blessed with movement against the painted backdrop of the stone architecture. In the distance a spot of smoke could be seen drifting high above the buildings and into his line of sight. Sirius knew it had originated from the guard tower housing the aurors unlucky enough to be faced with the task of maintaining Azkaban. He imagined the timber burning in a brick fireplace, the flames licking the crackling wood and the warmth heating up his face pleasantly. The knowledge that life existed outside the confines of his cell kept him sane. Sirius knew that without the shred of hope that he could once again join the living, he would have succumbed to the despair of Azkaban years ago.
Sitting with his head against the cool wall, Sirius allowed himself to sink back into the memory of his dream, the pieces of which were falling away slowly. First it was the voices, next were the details of the forest, and eventually he could only recall running through a haze of towering green walls. What remained was the sensation of freedom, the fresh air filling his lungs, and even the excitement at the risk of death. It consumed him, and his longing for the outside world ached in the small part of his soul that hadn't surrendered to the fear threatening to swallow him.
Sirius inhaled and felt icy air fill his lungs. He was left breathless and could feel himself being pulled towards the heart wrenching memories that pervaded his thoughts. The dementors were coming for their morning rounds. The cooling breeze was seeping into his cell and chilling him to the bone, his ragged clothes providing no protection against the cold. He felt himself fade into the memory as the dementor's grasp took over.
Sirius was high above Godric's Hollow, noting the landmarks in his mind as he frantically drove through the crisp night air searching for his target. On his left he passed a dimly lit church steeple, and the neighborhood park could be seen up ahead, long deserted with the impending danger of the raging war. He counted three houses from the end of the street and swooped down low, landing his motorcycle on the rough patch of grass beneath the stoic trees.
Sirius looked up at the house. A scorching hole remained where the gray wooden door once stood. The Potters' name had been etched into the frame, but now nothing remained but a hollow opening. The house was dark and ghostly - lifeless. Sirius's face fell as his body became stricken with heart-wrenching grief. The pain was overpowering, merciless.
"You bastard!" he screamed, the fiery rage spreading through his veins quickly, begging to be released. Sirius turned on the spot and threw a curse at a nearby tree, watching a branch split through the center as a long crack wound its way to the base. He too felt himself cracking through his center as a piece of his heart broke away from his trembling body. James and Lily were his whole world, his family, and Voldemort had stolen them from him.
A burning pressure filled his eyes and the bitter tears began to fall. Each stream felt like bloody slices down his cheeks as his body ripped apart from the anguish.
"Sirius?" a low voice called out from behind him. Sirius wiped his eyes and turned to find Hagrid, his own face red and puffy. Hagrid held a tattered blanket in his arms, most likely full of the recoverable remains of their friends' possessions. Sirius blinked rapidly, willing himself to control his emotions as he nodded a silent greeting to his friend.
"What do you have there," Sirius choked out. He didn't know if he could bear to look at any of their belongings - Harry's blanket, James's quidditch gear, and Lily's notebooks all held too many memories.
Hagrid seemed tentative.
" 'Arry," he replied, swallowing deeply while visibly containing his grief. Sirius's eyes widened as his mind raced to comprehend what Hagrid had said. He reached Hagrid in three quick strides and looked down at the blanket. Harry's face was scrunched in concentration, though he slept quietly. His expression hinted that he was not at peace, and Sirius couldn't comprehend how such a small soul could have survived such terror.
"How...?" he questioned Hagrid, who only shook his head.
"Who else has heard?" he sputtered in a disbelieving tone.
"Jus' Dumbledore," Hagrid replied, unsure of how to comfort his hurting friend. Sirius nodded, not surprised that Dumbledore had already heard of the tragedy. He would undoubtedly be alerting the Order before the news of the deaths swept the countryside like a pitiless fire. Sirius looked down at his sleeping Godson knowing that they had both suffered an unspeakable loss.
"Hagrid, let me take Harry. He's all I have left. Remus and I, we can care for him and be his parents..." he trailed off, the loss of James and Lily becoming once again overwhelming.
Hagrid grimaced and replied, "I can’t Sirius. I'm on stric' orders from Dumbledore to take 'im to 'is relatives." Sirius panicked. He couldn't bear to lose Harry and have him stripped from him as his friends were.
"You can't! Lily and Petunia have been on bad terms for years!" Sirius sputtered. "Please, I can't lose him. Not like this."
"I'm sorry, Sirius," Hagrid replied with his head bowed. Sirius knew he couldn't fight Hagrid, but he would find Dumbledore tomorrow and convince him of the hasty mistake. But first, he would take down the man responsible for their deaths. The weak coward had betrayed them all and destroyed the years of loyalty they had built within their friendship. He knew he had to fight - fight for the justice that James and Lily deserved, and for Harry to know the truth. He would strangle Pettigrew and watch him suffer. He would make him feel the pain he was feeling and look him in the eye when he told him that Harry would now grow up an orphan.
"Take Harry on my bike. I won't be needing it," Sirius told Hagrid as he turned on his heel and walked away from the ruins behind him. Hagrid nodded his head silently as Sirius walked off before apparating, disappearing into the black night of Godric's Hollow.
Sirius sucked in a slow breath as warm air returned to his lungs. His body felt tense and exhausted, but the force of the memory was fading quickly into the surrounding air. Years of exposure had desensitized him to the brutality of the dementors' power, but the memories still flooded him with their approach to his cell.
Sirius had relived that particular memory countless times. He felt he had experienced it a thousand times over, and the hastiness of his actions that night tortured him endlessly. He should have fought harder to keep Harry. Never should he have risked his life and freedom going after that worthless rat. Sirius knew he had to escape his prison if he ever wanted to right the wrongs he had committed so many years ago. His lips turned upwards as he thought back to his dream and the feeling of elation at being free and having the chance to escape. Soon he would make his move and feel the air whipping through his hair, water on his fingertips and grass beneath his feet.
Sirius looked up above the concrete walls and caught a glimpse of a trail of smoke floating above the chambers of the prison - the promise of life. He saw the hazy smoke being taken up by the whipping winds and carried off high above the sloshing waves below. Sirius followed the smoke until it dissipated into the air above, freeing itself from the hell it had originated from. This sign was all Sirius needed to prove there was life outside his cell, and soon he would escape to find it.
Author's Note: Thank you for reading my first story! As many of you have probably experienced, posting your first piece of work is an incredibly nerve-racking ordeal. Thank you to LovlyRita and JChrissy for being my betas and for giving me the encouragement I needed to get this story posted. For those curious, the title comes from a collection of essays called The Crack-Up written by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
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