Author: M. Shadow
Title: Happiness in Azkaban
Summary: one-shot. "Why, Sirius? Why escape now?" Harry's voice broke. "Why not when I was a kid, and really needed you?" [Cedric is dead and Harry needs something. A conversation that never happened, but maybe should have.]

"I think the only reason I never lost my mind is that I knew I was innocent. That wasn't a happy thought, so the Dementors couldn't suck it out of me…" – Sirius Black, PoA.

After all these years, the Black residence in London hasn't changed. It's begrimed, now - faded - and as he walks through the tattered remnants of old glory decaying, he sees echoes of the past everywhere he looks. Regulus sits in the chair in the corner, sulking, as his mother's screaming echoes. Then he blinks and Reg is gone, and Kreecher is staring at him with vicious eyes, mad hatred gleaming for the son whose living presence upsets his precious mistress.

He wants to burn it all to the ground.

Twelve years in Azkaban, pleading then pacing then sitting then simply suffering, as nightmare monsters with an unceasing hunger came to feast at his soul. They stole his happiness, his memory, his very self, crumb by crumb, avaricious, wanting, until desperation had this-is-me stuffed down a little ball inside him, hidden beneath shields and misdirection and a dog's simple emotions. A tiny, dirty, stone cell his entire world, dementors an ever-present, lingering horror – and now he's escaped but he's still not free.

Only one thing makes this possibly worth it. For only one thing would he come back to these grasping shores, after a year spent in tropical sun; bright light washing away nightmares, but never for long enough.

One reason, staring at him with accusing eyes.

"I'd get it if you were waiting for a pardon, or something." Harry is young. So young. The boy wavers in his vision sometimes: one moment the baby he last held, played with; the next an older figure, eyes shifted from green to hazel. But the boy deserves better than this, so he shoves memories down; conjurs paper over the cracks in his soul. "I mean, if you wanted a clean name. Yeah, go ahead and wait. Whatever; I get that. But if you were willing to say 'Hell with it all, I'll live life on the run,' why not right after you'd been convicted?" Green eyes are quietly betrayed, but it is the face that frames them that stabs pain through his heart. "Why, Sirius? Wasn't I good enough? I'm not my Dad, so you, what, just didn't give a damn? Was prison better than me?"

He takes a deep breath, wanting to interject. Wanting Harry to stop. Harry is waking things best left sleeping, old emotions stirring like scorpions in the empty sands of his mind. (Some things are best left buried.) Harry shakes his head, cutting short his answer. "Why now?" the boy finishes, voice breaking, words like slivers of sharp diamond. "Why not when I was a kid, and really needed you? Why wasn't I good enough?"

He blinks, and the world wavers. Mirrors of deflection and reflection cracking; sands upheaving beneath a screaming silent sky.

Why wasn't I good enough?

The barriers break, and the shards hurtle him into his past.

"Why, James?" The demand was torn from him, wholesale.

He scowled at his silent friend, pacing, unable to contain himself and his fury, building and building, and he felt like if he tried to stand still he'd explode. Go up in a pillar of fire, burning himself and the world out. "Why the bugger aren't I good enough as I am?"

"Your parents are asses." James watched him carefully, and he wanted to snarl at the sympathy he saw there. What would Prongs know? Him with his perfect family and their perfect pride in him – beloved only child who could do no wrong. He hadn't woken up to a letter, his first breakfast at Hogwarts. It'd have been a howler, if such indignity wasn't beneath his mother.

"Hell with my parents!" He didn't care about them. He didn't. His fanatical mother and absent father and their sick cause of blood purity and Slytherin pride. He loathed his parents. Soon as he was seventeen, he'd never see either of them again. They could take their expectations of a perfect pureblood heir and choke.

"Then this is about Regulus."

He sneered; turned. Pacing, pacing. Pacing because he couldn't stop. "Whiney brat, teacher's pet, he was always the good son-" And why hadn't he seen this coming? No, he had seen this coming. He'd just- hoped.

He spun; stared out over the lake. "He said he wished I wasn't his brother."

Silence behind him, but he didn't turn to look. If his vision was a bit blurry, it was just because he was staring into the wind. That was all. Regulus was a spineless mother's boy. Always had been. He didn't even like the brat.

He didn't care.

Footfalls behind. Then: "Well, he never was very smart."

He blinked. Spun back, hotly opening his mouth to give Prongs hell, because really? That was the best his best friend could do? But James was smiling at him, half hopefully, for once neither laughing joker nor arrogant ponce, and the incongruity made him pause. "I always wanted a brother," his friend continued. "And Mum and Dad have half adopted you already." He held out his hand. "What do you say?"

He hesitated a second, wanting, even as thirteen generations of Black family ancestry demanded loudly he say no, a decade of indoctrination screaming at him from before a Hat's decision and a quick, laughing, smile had shown him another way-

I hate you, Sirius! I wish you weren't my brother!

He flinched away from the memory, then reached out for a better future. James's hand was steady in his. "Brothers.

Two weeks dismissed into summer, and he couldn't take it anymore. James's parents didn't ask any questions when he showed up on their doorstep, one bag slung over his shoulder, wand clenched tight in one fist, shaking with tension and lips white with rage.

He wasn't surprised when his own parents didn't come after him.

Five years later he's never regretted the decision, and when James asks him - a trifle too casually - to come over for dinner one evening, he doesn't need a decade of friendship to guess something's off.

"Hey, tyke." He grinned down at Harry, bending to scoop him up. The boy is wide-eyed and curious and speaking a few, precious words. Sentences mostly incomprehensible babble, hands waving excitable, and loud. The boy had learned to crawl mere weeks ago, and keeping track of him had been a trial ever since.

Outside the war is reaching a fevered pitch, and good wizards and witches disappear weekly: some hiding, some fleeing, some simply gone. He'd enrolled in the auror academy – he wanted to fight – but even with the accelerated courses, it'll be another year before he graduates. Trainees are viewed as lackwits barely better than the firsties back at Hogwarts, but what his instructors don't say is almost as damming as anything they could. The air is tense; the pace of learning brutal. No one knows who to trust anymore: not even your superiors are safe. Or your friends.

Sometimes, he thinks Harry is all that is keeping them sane.

Harry's bops him in the nose for his moment of inattention. He shakes his head and blows a raspberry against the boy's belly, and listens to him laugh. "Sirius!" Lily's voice pulls him onward, and he cradles Harry securely as he follows the delicious scents into the kitchen. James looks up from the scattered papers in front of him, and smiles.

Dinner is warm and lovely and full of laughter, and afterwards, Lily takes Harry up for a bath and bedtime. Sitting on the couch he watches James, and waits to hear the reason he was floo'd.

When he's tossed a bottle of Serpent's Teeth instead of Firewhiskey, he knows it's going to be bad.

"There's a prophecy," his oldest and best friend begins, voice unusually level. "Albus thinks it's about Harry."

And the only thing he can think is: No.

He doesn't pause before agreeing to what's asked of him. Even hours later with time to reflect, to reconsider, he harbors no regrets.

His friend had looked so serious when he asked, but while decoy might mean expendable to some, Sirius'd been too busy laughing in delight to be worried. It was genius. And it might set him up to be hunted, might set him up to be tortured and broken and killed, but at least if he was, James and his family would still be safe.

A prank on You-Know-Who and all his cursed minions, him and James hoodwinking the world.

He grins, teeth bared, sharp defiance against the Death Eater's who would threaten his family. Let them come. If nothing else, he'd lead them on a merry chase.

He was the hound, not the fox. And before he was brought to bay, all of magic would know it.

He took all precautions, reasonable and unreasonable. All the precautions he'd have taken if he truly was all that stood between You-Know-Who and his family's tortured death. Him and the secret supposedly hidden in his soul. The longer he held out as decoy, the safer Harry was.

He saw the occasional considering look in fellow trainees and aurors' eyes, when they heard the Potter's had vanished into hiding, secured so safe not even the Dark Lord's reach could touch them. Saw, and grinned, with a wink and a laughing scoff, and a strut in his stride that dared the world to come.

Roman gladiators had once said We who are about to die salute you. Sirius had an entire selection of Latin and French drummed into his skull to choose from, all properly pretentious and flowery and ancestor-approved. But that had never been his style.

He checked his wand for easy draw, then kicked his motorcycle into gear. "Who wants to live forever," he sang, ascending to roar through the sky.

He'd already been on his way even as word began to trickle out. When he'd realized that he knew where James and Lily were living - knew when he shouldn't - knew when that one, precious, secret should not be loose in the world... He flew at once, cursing anti-apparation wards, panic a constant repeating presence. Not James, not Lily, please, please, not Harry…

He'd done his job. He'd made sure he was hunted. That'd been the bargain he struck with fate, the reason he had to live, as instructors and friends and family all fell. When he was tired or hurting or just wanted to give up and sit down and yell that it wasn't fair, a madman's lust for power and society cracking down the middle, and a vanished dream of fun years drinking and learning - and a tour of the continent - gone for a war of blood.

He'd done his job! It was a scream against fate no one could hear. He squinted his eyes against the wind, and gunned the engine faster.

It wasn't fast enough.

It never could have been.

He tracked Peter down, after, and it was revenge, and it was justice, but above all else, it was the promise of raising Harry… all of his family that was left in the world.

Peter, who he'd need to clear his name. Peter, who'd been clever, and solid, but never quite with that extra edge he and James had possessed; without the bright, clear, intelligence Remus had shone with. Peter, who'd gone on to work as a shopkeeper, while he enrolled in auror academy.

Peter, who should never be a threat in a fight, but who thought things through in triplicate, and always had a back-up plan to their alibi. Peter, who he couldn't afford to give time to hide. Peter, who'd betrayed their friends, and left Sirius to take the fall.

Peter. Peter. Peter.

My most hated friend, did we ever know you at all?

Thirteen dead muggles, strangers Peter never knew or cared about, bankers and businessmen and a mother with two young daughters – and he met the eldest's amused eyes as the blasting curse went off, one hand reaching out to tug the youngest girl's ponytail.

The body parts were recognizable.

He laughed even as the smoke cleared, as something broke inside and it was all too much: James and Lily and Regulus - poor disappeared Regulus, who he'd never realized needed saving until too late. Fabion and Gibion and Cecily and Alistair and Samantha and countless others, and even with Voldemort dead, the world was still broken.

He's still laughing as they take him away, as they toss him into holding, sneering comments to each other. He wants to correct them, because can't they see? He's not the one who's mad - it's the world that's gone funny.

"Who wants to live forever?" he whispers, staring dully at the walls of his cell.

Escape was impossible in the beginning. They watched him. They taunted him. Death Eater trials continued for almost a year – Azkaban hadn't seen so much activity in over a century.

And when the guards were gone – hated guards, who hated him, and it was all the worst that'd he'd been in training, that he'd almost been one of them... As bad as the guards were, it was worse when they left.

Because that's when the dementors came.

He was left curled, shaking, as the dementors moved on, feeling like his brain'd been sucked through his nose.

The trail grew cold as he tested his bonds regularly, hoping for the slip that'd allow him free, before it was too late. Peter had always been good at hiding…

Then the dementors swept back, and thought was hard to hold on to.

Slowly, cold seeped into his veins.

It became hard to keep track of time.

It seemed to become meaningless, breaking down, life a slow, unending crawl of misery, fragmented only into lighter and darker pains. The malaise was the worst.

His memories had started to slip away.

He knew there were things he was forgetting. Knew, but couldn't remember what.

He listened to those growing mad around him - its own ceaseless horror - crushing what trickle of respite he managed to wring away from guards or dementors.

He thought, perhaps, it'd been two years.

In his fifth year, he was moved.

There were less prisoners here. Less people in general. Even the aurors rarely came.

He curled against the wall, closed his eyes.

Everything he'd ever loved was dead. He was merely waiting to join them.

Time passes. His limbs are weighted. His memories scattered. Padfoot is all that allows him to cling to sanity, a shelter against the unrelenting drag of hunger, monsters eating at him, never to be filled.

It's hard to think, but he almost doesn't care. There's nothing good to think on. Only his failure. James and Lily and Regulus and all the people he didn't save. Pettigrew laughing somewhere, never to be found. This, for the rest of his life, til old age or pneumonia or madness does him in.

It's not until he sees the picture in the newspaper that everything he'd forgotten comes back. That Harry comes back. And suddenly, the dementors can't take him away again.

Because little Harry is in danger. And that? Is not a happy thought.

He looks into those eyes - Lily's eyes, James's face - all he'd lost and his only redemption, and he doesn't want to have this conversation, not when it's so hard, still, to order his thoughts sometimes. Some slip against each other like grating glass, some are oddly blurred and faded by years of suppression, some are jaggedly sharp, pulled up by dementors to feed them better…

He doesn't want to have this conversation. But he owes Harry… wants to erase the pain in that voice and eyes.

Why wasn't I good enough for you? Why wasn't I worthy?

He knew that pain. He will not have James's son suffer it.

Slowly, he opens his mouth, sorting his words, and begins. "You were a happy thought, Harry. That's where it all went wrong."

You can not hold on to happy thoughts in Azkaban.