Sirius Black knew he was in trouble. He’d escaped from Azkaban, the Wizarding prison where he’d been unlawfully held for the past ten years, and after that he’d just run. At first he’d run because it felt so very good to run, to be free…but then a week ago someone had located him with magic and after that he’d been running for his life. They’d chased him all through the countryside, and since they didn’t need to sleep and he did they were starting to catch up to him.
Until five minutes ago, anyway. Because five minutes ago he’d been running and then he’d hit some kind of magical barrier that had stretched around him like toffee before spitting him through to its other side with a pop and then springing back into shape. Sirius had sprawled in the grassy field, panting – he was too old for this shit as a man, much less as a dog – wondering if he’d fallen into some sort of trap…but after a moment he’d realized that he was no longer being chased because his pursuers didn’t appear to be able to see him. He sat up and sniffed twice, then flopped back over into the grass, almost giddy with relief. A Fidelius. He’d run smack into someone’s protected area, and the barrier created by their Fidelius charm had identified him as a non-threat and let him through. For the time being, at least, he was safe as houses.
Or at least, safer than he had been. He sat up again after a few minutes and shook himself, then got to his feet and looked around. He didn’t see anyone. He sniffed into the soft breeze that was blowing and didn’t smell anyone either. In fact, except for the Fidelius, he couldn’t smell any other magic at all nearby, although there was a very faint scent coming from the West. Odd, very odd. Had he stumbled into a lost estate? That happened sometimes; a last-of-their-line witch or wizard would retreat to their protected ancestral home and then die there, and the estate would just vanish. Sirius sniffed one more time, and then started trotting off towards the faint scent. A lost estate would be ideal for him, at least for a while. He was starting to get a little too comfortable being a dog; he really needed to spend some quality time as a man again before he became a manimagus, an animal who could turn into a human being, instead of the other way ‘round like he was supposed to be.
Sirius made his way across a few fields, rather enjoying the walk because it wasn’t a run, and after about an hour he caught the scent of magic again…and something else, something that made him whine and shake his head. For a moment, just a moment, he’d almost though he’d smelt his old friend James. Which was utter madness because James was long dead. He came upon a little stream and stopped to get a drink, lapping up the clear water and wondering why his nose would play such a trick on him…and then he smelt James again and lifted his head, muzzle dripping water.
There was a boy standing in the field, watching him. Sirius sat down by the stream and shook his head, making the loose water fly off, and then he grinned his best doggy grin at the boy; he’d always liked children, but children were also quite likely to feed a friendly stray dog and food would be a very nice thing to get at the present time.
The boy cocked his head but didn’t come any closer. The little black bird which had apparently been riding on his shoulder flew over, though, circling ‘round Sirius and squawking a bit before flying back to the boy. A familiar? Sirius woofed at it once, politely, and it trilled back at him. The boy was still being very cautious about getting closer, but Sirius didn’t hold it against him; he was quite large and rather imposing when he was a dog, although he wasn’t a very tall man. He’d once had someone tell him his dog form rather resembled the ‘monstrous hound’ from a Muggle mystery story, which he’d found quite flattering at the time. He cocked his head at the boy and let loose the doggy grin again, because he’d been told it was quite a fetching expression on him.
The boy grinned back but shook his head. “Is he safe?” he asked the bird, which had returned to his shoulder.
“Very nice! Very nice!” the bird squawked in reply, and then it took off again and flew in circles while making a lot of nonsensical noise.
Sirius almost fell into the stream. A familiar that could talk? He was so astonished that he almost didn’t notice the boy had gotten closer until the little breeze changed direction and the something-smell from earlier assaulted his nose. He started, and the boy stopped moving at once. “I won’t hurt you, I promise,” he said. Up close, Sirius could see that he was quite a young boy, probably barely school age. He had messy black hair and was dressed like any other Muggle child at play would be, but the bright green eyes behind his plastic-frame glasses were intense and intelligent. “Your name is Sirius,” the boy told him, making him start again, which made the boy smile this time. “Fawkes told me,” he said, waving at the still-circling bird. “And he says you’re nice and I should take you home with me – although he said I’m to tell you to ‘stay as you are’ until Uncle Nick gets home so he doesn’t freak out and think you’re a pervert, okay?”
Sirius woofed at the bird again, offended this time, and the bird…well, it was laughing at him, he could tell. And the boy laughed too, and this time Sirius did fall into the stream because he knew that laugh, it was one of the few happy memories he’d been able to preserve in prison, one of the things that had kept him sane. It was Lily’s laugh.
And Lily’s eyes, and James’s unruly black hair. Sirius climbed back out of the stream and shook himself hard, making sure to throw water on the boy, which made him squeal and laugh again. Sirius got an ear rub for it, in fact, which was very nice. “C’mon, Sirius, let’s go home and get cleaned up,” the boy told him. “Uncle Danny won’t mind, he loves dogs. Come on boy, let’s go.”
Uncle Danny? Sirius obediently fell into step beside the boy – not that he wouldn’t have followed him anyway. Because the boy’s scent was also painfully familiar; Sirius had played with him when he was just a baby, both as a dog and as a man. The eyes of a man might make a mistake in resemblance…but the nose of a dog did not. He was walking next to his godson, Harry Potter.
Harry took him to a little house near the outskirts of a smallish village – a Muggle house, and a Muggle village, and the man who came in after Harry had finished toweling Sirius off in the yard was a Muggle as well. He was stocky and wearing a uniform, and he cocked an eyebrow at the boy when he saw Sirius. “Your Uncle Nick’s gonna have kittens when he sees that. Don’t tell me, he followed you home, right?”
The boy shook his head. “Fawkes found him,” he said. “We were out playing, and I’d already had my lesson, and then he told me there was someone come to visit and we needed to go meet him. And he led me to Sirius, and he’s very nice even though he is so big so I brought him home to get cleaned up and so he could meet you and Uncle Nick.” Harry waved at the man for Sirius’ benefit. “This is my Uncle Danny, Sirius.”
Sirius had thought he might be, so he trotted over and sat, holding up his paw politely and grinning. The man called Danny grinned back and shook the offered paw, then rubbed his ears. “Well just look at you,” he said. “Trained or magic or just smart?”
“Fawkes says smart and magic,” Harry told him. “He says he’s not a dog at all, but if he turned into a man too soon Uncle Nick would think he was a pervert.”
Danny choked, and threw a mock-glare at the little black bird. “I think me and Fawkes need to be havin’ another discussion about his sense of humor,” he said. “But yeah, it’s better he changes after your Uncle Nick gets home, where he can see.” He rubbed Sirius’s ears again, scratching a little this time, and Sirius groaned like only a dog could. Danny chuckled. “Drawback of bein’ a dog, I guess,” he commented, not without sympathy. “Well, since Fawkes says you’re supposed to be here, I suppose you can come in. I think we’ve got some stew left over from the other night, you look like you’ve missed a few meals. C’mon Harry, let’s get Sirius fed an’ start some supper of our own. It’s been a slow day, your Uncle Nick won’t be too late.”
Nicholas Angel, Chief Inspector of the Sandford Police Department, had not been expecting much of anything when he got home that evening other than supper. Perhaps some amusing stories from his partner Danny, or some new interesting thing their son Harry had been taught by his familiar, Fawkes.
He had definitely not been expecting to walk into his neat little cottage and be confronted with a veritable monster of a dog sleeping on the rug. It looked like a mix of mastiff and Labrador, and it was so large he almost wanted to go for his gun. It was also suspiciously clean, and there was an empty bowl near it on the floor. Harry came bouncing in a few seconds later to give him a hug. “Uncle Nick, you’re home! Come on, come meet Sirius, he’s very nice.”
Oh god, they’d already named the creature. Danny had appeared in the kitchen doorway, looking ever-so-slightly shamefaced, and when Nick raised an eyebrow at him he shrugged. “Don’t look at me,” he disclaimed, raising his hands, one of which had a wooden spoon in it. “Fawkes brought this one home, led Harry to him and told him his name.”
“Which appears to be Sirius.” The dog had stood up at this point, stretching a bit, and Nick resisted an even stronger urge to go for his gun. “He looks like the Hound of the Baskervilles. Harry, did Fawkes say exactly what it was he was thinking? Or should I just ask him myself why he thought we needed a dog the size of a pony?”
Harry shrugged much the way Danny just had. “Fawkes just said Sirius was very nice, and that he was a visitor and he needed to come home with me. And Fawkes says he’s not a dog at all – but he had me tell Sirius to stay as he was until you got home so you wouldn’t think he was a pervert.”
Of course he had. “Fawkes and I may need to have another discussion about his sense of humor. And the correct term is paedophile,” Nick corrected. “Anyone can be perverted, and that isn’t necessarily illegal.” He cocked an eyebrow at the dog, which was now watching him with speculation and just a hint of worry in its very intelligent eyes. “Of course, if he changes into a naked man that line could get a bit blurry.”
The dog chuffed almost like he was laughing, shaking his head…and then he melted and flowed upwards until a thin older man was standing there. The man’s clothing was odd and rather ragged, he looked like he’d led a hard life, but his crooked smile was full of wry good humor. “I agree completely,” he said. “Thank goodness, the transformation spell is more efficient than that.” He bowed. “Sirius Black, at your service. I was a close friend of James and Lily Potter…and I’m Harry’s godfather. I’m not here to try to take him from you,” he added hurriedly when he saw the uniformed man’s eyes narrow with suspicion. “In fact, I stumbled onto you rather by accident. I’m on the run from the other wizards.”
“They think he killed my parents,” Harry piped up. His head was cocked and his eyes a little distant, a sure sign that Fawkes was talking to him. “But he didn’t, he was set up...by the man Fawkes used to live with.”
“That arsehole just creeps into everything, doesn’t he?” Danny asked rhetorically. He stuck out his hand to Sirius. “Danny Butterman, pleased to meet you – as a human, anyway. We’ve already got three owls and a phoenix courtesy of that Albus fella, I guess a man who’s a dog sometimes is just par for the course.”
“Owls?” Sirius asked, taking the offered hand. He looked perplexed. “You mean, messenger owls? The kind that bring mail?”
“They brought letters from a school called Hogwarts,” Nick told him. “None of them seemed to want to go back.” He held out his own hand. “Inspector Nicholas Angel, Sandford Police Department.”
Sirius whistled and shook his hand as well. “A pleasure, but still a very odd situation for an escaped convict to be in.”
Nick shrugged. “Your wizarding world isn’t my jurisdiction, and besides that we’ve learned to trust Fawkes. The books he’s brought us said that, as Harry’s familiar, he will never allow harm to come to Harry if it can at all be prevented. He wouldn’t have told Harry to bring you here if you were any kind of a threat.”
“True,” Sirius agreed. And then he froze momentarily, as though a new and shocking thought had just occurred to him. “Wait, you said a phoenix…” The mynah bird popped into phoenix form and trilled an affirmative, and his mouth dropped open. “This…Fawkes is Harry’s familiar?”
“He says he is,” Danny said with a shrug. “You know somethin’ about this we don’t, apparently.”
“Oh, do I.” Sirius, to their surprise, started to laugh. In fact he laughed so hard he almost fell down and Nick had to quickly get him to a chair while Danny fetched a glass of water. “I…I’m sorry,” he choked out after drinking some of the water. “It’s just…I mean, you don’t know…” He got control of himself. “Harry, I don’t know what to say,” he told the wide-eyed boy. “I’m so proud, I only wish your parents were here to see this. Phoenixes are rare, quite rare,” he explained to Nick and Danny. “To have one choose to be your familiar is even more rare than that, only a handful have done so in all of recorded history.” His eyes started to twinkle. “So can you imagine the utter scandal that would erupt if people found out the phoenix you’ve been claiming as your familiar for years upon years…actually wasn’t, at all, ever?”
Nick and Danny looked at each other, and then looked at Fawkes. Who trilled very happily, almost sounding like he was laughing. That even got a chuckle out of Nick. “Lovely,” he said. “I’m guessing it serves him right?”
“Since he’s the reason I was sent to prison without so much as a trial?” Sirius said. “It’s a good start, yes. I’d love to know how the conniving old goat has been trying to explain Fawkes’s absence, since he’s always made such a show of having him nearby.”
“I’d love to know how he’d explain quite a few things,” Nick told him. “I don’t suppose you knew Cousin Lily’s sister, did you?”
Cousin? Well, he supposed that would explain how the man had become Uncle Nick. “No, but I’d heard about her – and that walrus she married, James had quite a lot to say about him after the one time he met him.” A look of shock crossed his face. “Oh no. No, they didn’t…”
“Sadly, they did,” Nick told him with a grimace. “And I can’t say as I’ve ever been too impressed by Cousin Petunia’s choice of husband myself. Perhaps we can discuss it further after supper, though, because I have some questions about that situation which you might be able to answer.”
“You mean you want to talk about it after I’ve gone to bed,” came from Harry, just a touch petulantly.
To Sirius’ surprise, Nick went down on one knee, pulling the boy into a hug. “Because what we need to talk about isn’t fit for you to hear,” he said, sounding like he was reminding rather than scolding. “Bad people do things children shouldn’t be thinking about, you know that.”
Harry hugged him back. “I’m sorry. I just don’t like to be left out. And I want to hear about my mother and father.”
And much to Sirius’ surprise, Nick smiled. “I’m fairly sure your godfather would love to tell you about them, too – you know we wouldn’t exclude you from that. Only from the talk about bad people doing bad things.”
“And some of them were very bad things,” Sirius concurred, giving the boy a sad smile of his own. “Your uncle is right, you don’t need to be hearing about things like that. Your parents, though, were wonderful people – your father was my best friend all the way through school, and your mother was the sweetest creature who ever lived. I’ll tell you anything about them you want to know.” And then he got tears in his eyes, because Harry’s beaming smile? That was James all over again.
And his Uncle Nick’s was Lily’s. Maybe, Sirius thought, this little Muggle village – Sandford, was it? – under its huge, inexplicable Fidelius, had room for a man who was a dog sometimes in it somewhere. Because as much as he would like to get some of his own back from the people who had wronged him, and as much as he loved his magic… revenge and magic were nothing when the chance of getting even part of his family back was on offer.
And across the room, Fawkes cheeped saucily at Danny and then burst into a very self-satisfied song.