Few people understand how far a large dog can travel overland when it really wants to cover ground. At the break of dawn in a clearing sky that promised good weather for the coming day, the Grim was wearily crawling on his stomach into a bush thicket located at least thirty miles distant from the North Sea. Set in a small copse of trees surrounded by farmland, the place had looked perfect when Sirius broke off in his relentless lope lasting the entire night, except for a few minor delays along the way. Making a quick survey around the several acres of the grove soon satisfied Sirius that it was set in a position where the corners of four fields touched, with only an overgrown trail leading to this woodlot. That meant it would probably stay nice and private for a good, long doggy doze.
Continuing to squirm further into the bushes, Sirius followed the aged scent of a fox into a hollowed-out space in the center of the thicket. The branches overhead had grown up and out, while combining together to form a totally dry shelter. Absently turning around a couple of times, the Grim sniffed to check for any unwanted guests. There was the sharp whiff of a few mice which had hastily decamped several moments ago, and the faint odor of the previous tenant, the fox that hadn’t been here for at least a week or two. Good enough. The dog curled himself up on the ground, tucked his tail under his nose, and instantly fell asleep.
If Sirius Black dreamed then, he never remembered it.
Much later, the dog blearily opened his eyes to stare ahead into a sunlit wall of greenery, next performing a massive yawn. That action halted in mid-gape, leaving the dog’s slobbering tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, as the man in the Grim’s body had all his memories of the previous twenty-four hours come rushing back: going to Harry’s rescue at the Department of Mysteries, being knocked into the Veil, appearing on the Azkaban Prison ferry, and making his aquatic escape. Not to mention what had happened next, during the animal’s cautious trot through a small beach town a mile up the road just after nightfall.
Shaking his furry head in complete bemusement, Sirius cautiously left his shelter, stopping in front of the bush to listen and smell with all the capabilities of his canine senses. Judging from the position of the sun overhead, it was some time past noon. No danger seemed near, so the dog went over to a small pool of water at the center of the copse, fed by a tiny stream from a trickling spring. Thirstily lapping up a few mouthfuls of liquid, the Grim then took himself off to the edge of the trees, to once again intently examine his surroundings, this time the fields peacefully lying around the grove.
At last satisfied that he was reasonably safe for the moment, the dog slipped back far enough into the treeline so that he could still watch for any approaching people, but no-one coming along could hope to see him. Concentrating, Sirius easily shifted back into his normal human body that was still clad in his prison robe. Glancing around, the last son of the Black family spotted a dry place under a nearby tree’s canopy, which should shield him from any overhead observers, be they any wizard or witch riding upon their broom, or even a post owl. Striding over there, Sirius sat down, and for the first time in too long, he finally had a chance to just think.
It was all the fault of that damn chicken.
Hours ago, Sirius had been sneaking through the beach town that he’d come across during his flight. Totally unfamiliar with the place, there was no point in trying to circle around without chancing getting discovered anyway. So, he’d balanced the risk of being noticed in his Grim form and just getting past the town as fast as possible in order to put as much distance between himself and the coast as he could. Fortunately, tonight’s stormy weather forced everyone living there indoors, and the wizard also made sure to keep to the back streets and alleys. In one of the latter narrow passageways, Sirius’ attention was diverted from circumspectly slinking down the lane, when one of the rubbish bins placed on the alley side had been giving off a truly enticing smell.
Feeling his stomach hungrily rumble, Sirius knew he had to eat something to maintain his strength. Pausing by the bin, the dog warily glanced around, and after reassuring himself there were no possible witnesses, a quick transformation back into a human had the lid off, a newspaper-wrapped lump snatched out of there, torn apart with eager fingers, and then dropped to the soaked ground. Right after the revealed whole chicken carcass that nonetheless had a good deal of cooked meat left on the bones had hit the alley floor, the wizard performed his body change again, creating an utterly natural scene of a stray dog scavenging its latest meal.
Carefully crunching the chicken bones in his massive jaws, Sirius enjoyed his dinner. It was a bit odd how fast the old habits had come back, living rough once more. Still, ever since he’d succeeded in transforming into his Animagus form as a student at Hogwarts, the wizard had always been grateful that being a dog meant he had a cast-iron stomach and a total lack of fastidiousness about anything he could devour. Finishing off every last scrap of food, the Grim licked his chops, while incuriously glancing at the torn sheets of damp newsprint littering the ground. In the very next moment, a reeling Sirius Black felt as if he’d just been struck by an immense bolt of lightning.
The date printed on the top of the newspaper he’d found was: November 4, 1981
Several minutes’ frantic search later, through the row of rubbish bins in the alley, while trying to do it as quietly as possible and also praying to himself that for some strange Muggle reason, the residents of this town had a habit of collecting decades-old newspapers, Sirius staggered out from the alley as a dog again, standing on the street sidewalk with his four legs trembling in shock. Panting deeply, the man in his animal form now jerkily shook his head several times, trying to deny the utterly impossible. A gleam of light seen out of the corner of his eye made Sirius look over to notice a lit streetlamp in front of a small shop brightly illuminating that spot -- and also the large, reflective shop front window.
Dashing over there, Sirius completely forgot how dangerous this was, when he skidded to a stop under the streetlamp and promptly transformed himself in full view, where anyone at all could see him turn from a dog into a human. The wizard didn’t care, not when he was staring with absolute disbelief at what was presently shown to him in the shop window, the reflected image of a person who at this exact moment looked to be a worn-out but still hale and hearty young chap in his early twenties, standing there somewhat wild-eyed. Instead of what should have been actually revealed in his place, a haggard wreck of a mid-thirties man looking years older, his lined face and thin body never having completely recovered from being falsely imprisoned in Azkaban.
Sirius didn’t know how long he stood there in the rain, gaping at his youthful reflection. Only when a car soon came along the wet street, its headlights approaching nearer, did the wizard recover a bit from his daze to hastily step from out under the overhead illumination and change back into a Grim the instant he was completely out of sight in the shadows. Scuttling into the shop doorway, Sirius pressed his canine body against the front door, crouching down and trying to be as inconspicuous as a midnight-black, eight-stone dog could possibly be. When the car lights reached his position, Sirius firmly squeezed his eyes shut, as if this would actually help.
After next listening for a few moments to the car passing down the street without that vehicle’s driver doing anything to show he’d been seen, such as swerving or braking, Sirius then sprinted away besides the road, doing his best to stay in the dark along the way. Soon enough, he reached the town limits into the country, jumping over a wire fence in a single effortless bound, to run through the field he’d entered, without slacking the least in his speedy run. The dog fiercely concentrated on his physical efforts, blocking out from his mind whatever questions or conjectures he might have now. When he found a safe place to change into a human once more, then
he’d start thinking things over.
Sitting against his tree in the copse where he’d taken shelter, Sirius slowly lifted his hands in wonder, holding them in front of his face and turning these over, examining by daylight the firm flesh that no longer had the raised tendons caused by age in the backs of his hands. Most telling of all, the scarred knuckles at both ends of his arms weren’t just healed, they were unblemished. Sirius wasn’t sure exactly when in his sentence at Azkaban it’d happened, the short time he’d gone completely insane. Maybe during his first year, when in a frenzy the wizard had repeatedly hammered with his clenched fists against the stone walls of his cell, tearing off skin and muscle there down to the bone. He might’ve also broken a knuckle or two; Merlin knew, it’d hurt enough for the next few months when he’d healed up without any care or concern provided by his jailers.
The Veil. It had
to be. Nothing else explained how he’d evidently gone back close to fifteen years in time, from November 1981 to June 1996, which had been the date when he’d fallen through the damned thing. But…this was impossible! The mysterious object in the Department of Mysteries wasn’t a Time-Turner or anything like that! Instead, it was something used to execute wizarding criminals who’d committed such heinous offenses that even Azkaban wouldn’t do to properly punish those transgressors.
Um… Sirius had to pause in his whirling thoughts, as a cold inner voice now reminded himself, that the Wizengamot and the Ministry of Magic only supposed
that being put through the Veil was a certain death sentence. After all, since nobody had ever come back from beyond those eerie curtains to then inform anyone to the contrary, it was easy enough to assume being sent through the Veil killed you.
The man under the tree had to blink to himself at where his mind promptly traveled concerning this: if, as just proven in his own case, taking a trip through that sinister structure sent you back in time, did that mean everyone else
who’d already made this one-way voyage through the Veil had also traveled in time?
An icy mental influence again spoke in Sirius’ head to dispute this, pointing out with calm logic that according to the Ministry’s records, literally dozens of captured Dark Lords and equally malignant wizards and witches had been put through the Veil. However, none of these lawbreakers had ever shown up again earlier in time to commit even more crimes in Britain’s wizarding world.
So, that suggested either Sirius was totally unique in what had just happened to him, or more likely, he hadn’t traveled into the
past. Not to the whole former history of the human race; rather he was in a
past or his
past, the previous existence of one of the four Hogwarts Marauders. There was even the possibility of something else entirely different, given that as well as Sirius could remember of events nearly two decades before when he hadn’t been at his best, this wizard’s original trip to Azkaban on the ferry didn’t include a savage beating by the prison guards escorting him. That
had come later for Sirius Black.
Slowly lifting a hand to rub at his unlined forehead, this named wizard shivered slightly to himself at experiencing again the other unforeseen consequence of his bizarre incident that had evidently landed him in the past. It was really unnerving how swift and lucid his thoughts were now, with all the assessment, analysis, and deliberation flashing into existence like quicksilver. But then, just as his current body, Sirius’ mind was once more what it was before he’d been flung into Azkaban…and the Dementors visited him.
A cold ire began to develop inside Sirius. It wasn’t enough that he’d physically suffered in prison, oh, no. Those soul-sucking monsters tormenting him had also permanently affected his mind during all those lost years. Even though he’d never been able to realize this, being too close to the problem and leaving Sirius with a clouded intellect and wits. Yet…because of traveling to the past, it hadn’t yet happened, and probably never would do so anyway. He still had the awful memories of being repeatedly forced to relieve every horrible moment of his life, but right now, his brain had never undergone the mental tortures performed by those ever-damned creatures. He was thinking better and more clearly than he’d done in decades, just as he should’ve done in a more perfect world.
“A more perfect world…” Reciting out loud those words to himself made Sirius momentarily revert to his old habits in Azkaban, when sheer rage over the total unfairness of it all was often the only thing keeping the wizard from going even more insane or taking his own life. Leaping furiously to his feet to stand before the tree, his body shaking in wrath and fists angrily clenched, Lord Black snarled to the world at large, “If this is so bloody perfect, why wasn’t I sent back even earlier?!
All it would’ve taken was a few more weeks! I could’ve kept James and Lily alive, protecting them and Harry! Never suspecting Remus or opened my mouth to Peter the rat where…where my family was!”
A choking sob unexpectedly burst from Sirius’ lips, interrupting his denunciation, as the man continued to gasp while tears began rolling down his cheeks. Sinking to his knees, Sirius then fell over to his side on the ground, wrapping his arms around himself, as for the first time ever, the wizard finally let loose all his grief and guilt with a moaning shriek of pure anguish over how he’d failed all those he’d loved. For the next several minutes, the grove watched over a man mourning the loss of his family.
Eventually it had to end, and this did so in constant sniffling absently made by Sirius blankly staring forward, along the grassy floor of the copse. The side of his head was still pressed against the ground, where a damp spot was growing there from his tears and snot. Vaguely becoming aware of this, Sirius also mentally noticed the patiently-awaiting presence of what he thought of as his regained good sense that the Dementors hadn’t yet degraded.
This manifestation seemed to perk up at last being recognized, and a plan was promptly laid out, in that even though it would certainly be extremely difficult and require cunning, guile, and pure sneakiness, it would end up with Sirius achieving his goal of once again returning to the Veil in the Department of Mysteries and hurling himself into this. Producing a possible chance of indeed going back further in time to defeat Voldemort, save the Potters, and really stick it to everyone who’d screwed him over. Or not.
Despite himself, an actual bark of harsh laughter came from the wizard’s mouth over this latest example of…black
humor from what could be nothing else but his Slytherin self which Sirius had resolutely denied his whole life. Feeling a genuine spark of newborn determination over whatever would next occur, Sirius sardonically announced out loud, “If that was indeed the voice of reason, then I have to say, sanity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”