Chapter Twenty Three

A/N: Thank you to Nanettez for reviewing.

Remus had been right, of course. The crowds of students pouring forth from the Great Hall after dinner offered the perfect camouflage for Charlotte to slip away. Even as the professors watched the students returning to their dormitories- one of the many measures put in place to prevent another incident with the Dementors- they could not watch every student at once.

Her guardian met her soon after, steering her through empty hallways to find an entrance to the school far enough away from those ghastly creatures to avoid their gaze. He could not be too careful when he went to visit Sirius; after all, he was the one the Dementors were looking for.

The walk to the Whomping Willow seemed much longer than the last time, perhaps because Charlotte spent every other moment looking over her shoulder. Her excitement and her nerves had placed her in a bubble last time; she had thought of nothing else but meeting her father at last. This time, she was not so foolish. There was danger in the air and it sent a shiver down her spine.

The floorboards groaned noisily as the girl stepped across them, walking so quickly they threatened to give way under the pressure. Once she reached the end of the corridor at last, the brunette had to restrain herself to keep from throwing open the door, in case she should end up being cursed into oblivion. Escaping from Azkaban had made Sirius Black quick to attack, to no one's surprise.

Even as Charlotte slowly eased open the door, her father spun around, his wand at the ready. He lowered it a moment later, a look of guilt on his face as he recognised her, which was quickly overtaken by a smile.

"Charlotte, I wasn't expecting to see you!" Sirius exclaimed, reaching out for the girl. She eagerly fell into her father's arms, relishing his embrace. She had been held by her father only once before, and yet it was a feeling she longed for constantly. "What are you doing here?"

"I just wanted to see you." Charlotte answered, shrugging slightly, as if it had been a decision made on a whim. She did not disclose the lengthy argument that had preceded the decision; that was something her father probably did not need to know.

"Well, I'm glad you did, of course." Sirius held her tighter for a moment, then let her go. He addressed his next statement to Remus, looking his best friend in the eye. "But are you sure it's safe for you to be here? There are Dementors everywhere."

"I made sure we weren't followed." Remus answered, trying to resist firing a knowing look at his goddaughter. "We won't stay long, she'll be back in the dorms before curfew."

"Good." Sirius stated, though his tone did not reflect the same positivity. Of course, he would miss the girl when she was gone- he had no idea when they would next have the chance to meet- but it was for the best. "So, how have you been? Is school going well?"

"It's fine." she answered, with the typical nonchalance of a teenager. However, she was focusing intently on his face, watching every slight change in his expression. "I've been doing quite well with Charms and Transfiguration."

"And she's a dab hand at Defence Against the Dark Arts." Remus chimed in, his normally stern face glowing with pride. "Knocking her classmates out of the water."

"Glad to hear it." Sirius chuckled, playfully ruffling Charlotte's hair. "Definitely my daughter."

"Yes, except she does well on the essays as well." Remus teased.

Sirius nodded with a chuckle. "Fair argument."

But their light-hearted conversation was cut short, as a rumble from far along the corridor caught all of their attention. Charlotte looked to the door of the Hogwarts passageway, following the eyes of her father and guardian. Sirius let out a kind of growl she had never heard from him before. It was low, animalistic, nothing like the father she knew from their brief meetings.

"Charlotte, get to the corner of the room, now!" Remus instructed, his eyes fixed on his friend. Charlotte almost looked to the professor to protest, but then she saw a flash of black out of the corner of her eye, and her mouth dropped open in shock.

A puddle of grey cloth lay on the floorboards, and on top of it stood a great black dog, its teeth bared as it confronted an invisible threat. Its fur was shaggy, some caked with dirt, as if it had been cooped up in a dirty… cell.

Charlotte gasped quietly, but the beast's ears were keen, and he quickly turned to face her. Immediately, the dog's snarl was hidden, replaced by a sad pair of deep grey eyes.

"Dad?" she questioned gently, still not quite able to believe it. She knew of the concept of an Animagus, of course- even her limited magical education had allowed her that much- but she had never seen one up close, let alone imagined her own father could foster such a rare ability.

"Probably another thing I should have mentioned." Remus muttered, awkwardly scratching at the back of his neck. However, there was little time to ponder the issue, as her father took off down the hallway, his bounding leaps sending clouds of dust exploding from the aged floorboards.

"Remus, what is it?" she asked quickly. For all her maturity, at that moment, she was only a child looking for guidance. "What has he heard?"

Remus studied the roof above them, listening carefully to the silence around them. Charlotte did not understand, she could not hear anything except the creaking of the Whomping Willow at the end of the passageway. The tree that Remus had stunned into stillness to allow them to pass.

"Someone's tried to follow us." was all he gave as an explanation, before he too took off at a run, in the hope of catching Sirius before he had a chance to do something stupid.

Charlotte was left alone and frightened. All the things Remus had said, the deadly consequences of her conspiracies with her father being discovered, rushed through her mind like a swarm of wasps, each image stinging more than the last. She did not want her father to be hurt, and she would do anything she could to keep him safe. But faced with a skilled Animagus, a secretive guardian and an unknown threat come to hurt them, what was there that she could do?

A/N: Finally getting into more of the PoA storyline. Hope you enjoyed, please review!