Blood Will Tell
by Halrloprillalar

'See you!' Harry called out of the open window as the train began to move ... the black dog was bounding alongside the window, wagging its tail; blurred people on the platform were laughing to see it chasing the train, then they rounded a bend, and Sirius was gone.
-- Order of the Phoenix, Chapter Ten

"Truth," Lucius said, "is not the recitation of facts. It is not learned from a book, it is not taught in school. Truth is within you, buried deep." He smiled. "We will uncover it together." And he picked up the knife.


When Sirius woke, it was completely dark. He was lying on cold stone, curled up into himself and shivering, dressed only in a pair of thin cotton trousers. No wand. No memory either, beyond running along the platform, running with the train. Then nothing, and then this.

He cursed himself for a fool. Just because he had to see Harry off, just because he had to chase a few damn pigeons. He hoped Harry didn't know. But he hoped that Remus did.

Yet he wasn't panicking -- he wasn't even afraid, though he suspected that he ought to be. Rather, he felt a certain satisfaction, a sense of fulfilled anticipation, as though something like this had been inevitable and waiting for it was worse than having it happen.

Sirius searched around in the dark and found a chair. It was high-backed, made of wood, and was bolted to the stone floor, with leather straps to bind a man into it at ankle, wrist, and neck. He wondered why he wasn't already tied down.

He explored further. He was in a small room, maybe five paces by six, stone floors, stone walls, metal door. A metal door with no handle and the hinges on the inside.

He tried the hinges, working by touch, but he only tore his fingers. Sirius paced back and forth for a while, arms outstretched to catch the wall. Where was he? Not Azkaban. Not at the Ministry; someone would have come to see him by now. It was barely possible that he was back in his own house. It could have a dungeon he didn't know about. But why would he be imprisoned there?

That just left the enemy. And that meant he had to get away. Fight them and run. Sirius knew how to run.

The door had to open sometime. He stopped beside it, crouched down, where he might be able to slip through when it was opened, or leap onto his captors and overpower them. Then he began the transformation.

Nothing happened.

There was no twist of body and mind, no stretching and reshaping. He tried again. And again. Nothing. Now he was afraid.

Sirius's hands shook as he ran them over his head and neck, over the rest of his body, looking for an injury, a mark, anything that might explain why he couldn't change. But he was unhurt, so far as he could tell.

Maybe he wasn't trying hard enough, maybe if he just relaxed and gathered his wits and concentrated, he could change. But he knew that wasn't it. He knew the strain of this spell, the feeling of almost getting it right that left unused power aching in his muscles. There was none of that. It just didn't work and now he was alone in the dark with half of himself simply gone.

He crawled to a corner, sat with his knees drawn up into his chest, and wrapped his arms around himself. His heart was beating in his ears, so loud he couldn't think. He bent his head and rested his forehead on his knees. Then he waited.


Sirius wasn't ready when the door opened. The column of light blinded him and he threw his arm in front of his eyes. There were silhouettes and voices and boots on the stone. Three or four men, too many to fight. He lunged anyhow and brought one down, then scrabbled over the floor, towards the light.

Hands grabbed him, pinned his arms behind his back. He waited for the blow, but it didn't come. Instead, they pushed him towards a chamber pot and a bowl of nameless liquid set on the ground.

There had been no room in Azkaban for delicacy and there was no room here. But Sirius hated how vulnerable it made him feel. He left the bowl where it was. One of the men shrugged and turned it over with his foot, washing the contents over the flagstones.

"Who are you?" Sirius asked. "Where am I?" Nobody answered him. "Coy, aren't you?" he said.

They moved furniture into the room: a small table and an armchair, upholstered in deep blue, set opposite the wooden chair.

"I'd much prefer the armchair," Sirius said. One of the men snorted a laugh as they pushed him down and strapped him in, tight but not cutting. "Maybe a book to read?"

They left him and it was dark again.


His eyes had just adjusted to the black when the door opened. One man stepped in, the door closed, and there was Lucius Malfoy, a candle in one black-gloved hand and a silver goblet in the other. Of course. Who else would it be?

Lucius put down the candle and the cup, then sat, taking his time arranging his robes.

"Kind of you to visit me, Malfoy," Sirius said. "As I'm shut-in and all."

"The pleasure is all mine, Black. I don't believe I've seen you since my wedding. Happy memories."

"Memories, anyhow."

"You've changed somewhat since then."

"And you're just the same."

"You're too kind," Lucius said. "And how is your dear mother?"

"Dead," said Sirius.

"Ah, that's right. So sorry."

"And yours?" Sirius asked.

"Mad, poor thing. Narcissa sends her love."

Sirius nodded and wondered how long they were going to play this game.

"I do hope you're comfortable," Lucius said. "It's not much, but it's the best we've got ... for you."

"Oh, it's quite homelike," Sirius said. "My bedroom when I was young was much like this. Only a few more straps." He looked down at his arm and flexed his bound wrist. "I was an active child."

"As I recall." Lucius smiled and it gave Sirius a chill. "I still have the marks."

"I only hope you know just how much I regret that." Sirius cast his mind back long ago, to a seaside holiday, and remembered his rage as the older boy stole his toys. He felt much the same way now. But he had to control himself. "Do you still have my spade and bucket?"

"I left them on the beach, unfortunately. I only hope you know just how much I regret that." Lucius picked up the goblet in his gloved hand. Sirius stiffened but Lucius just raised it to his own lips and drank. "I would offer you a drink," he said, "but you've already refused one."

"Thank you, Malfoy, but I make it a rule never to accept a drink from a Death Eater."

"I can't think why," Lucius said, drinking again. "By and large, we have excellent cellars."

"It's not the cellars that concern me," Sirius said, "but the cauldrons."

Lucius raised his eyebrows and set down the cup. "You think I would tamper with your drink? My dear Mr Black, if I want you to take a potion, you will take a potion and you will be in no doubt about what you are drinking."

"Of course that changes everything."

"It ought to. You do not need to fear poison, because you know that if I were planning to kill you, I would have already done so. And I shouldn't like to waste my potions on you."

"That's cutting, Malfoy, very cutting." Sirius thought he was holding his own quite well. But he still needed to work out what Malfoy wanted from him.

"You misunderstand me," Lucius said. "It's simply that circumstances require that you stay here, in this room. And this room, Black, is entirely shielded so that no magic will work here. No spells, no charms, no potions. No ... special abilities." He leaned forward and crossed his legs. "It always makes me feel most uncomfortable, but one must accommodate one's guests."

Was such shielding even possible? Sirius wondered. Of course, Malfoy could be lying. But to what end? "I appreciate all the trouble you've gone to," Sirius said. "But, if I may ask, what is the occasion for my visit?"

"I fear it is not purely for pleasure, though I hope we will enjoy one another's company. With your parents gone, I feel something of a ... family responsibility to you. After all, we are related both by marriage and by blood, though that more distantly."

"That's something I try not to think about."

"And, of course," Lucius continued, as though Sirius hadn't spoken, "the friendship between our families. So, because of that, I thought that I might give you some advice, as an older brother might. To bring you, shall we say, back into the fold." Lucius paused to drink from his cup. "You're the last of the Blacks, my friend. You must move in the proper society. With your own kind."

Sirius wanted to lash out, but he kept his voice even. "Then you'd best let me go, Malfoy, as there's none of my kind here."

"That's where you're mistaken, Black. I think you'll find you fit in here very well. After all, we're a lot alike, you and I." Lucius smiled. "Except perhaps in matters of intelligence."

"We're as like as chalk and cheese," Sirius said. "Though you're correct about my superior intelligence."

"You'll forgive me if I mention that when one is a wanted man and knows that one's enemies are aware of certain special abilities one possesses, bounding about King's Cross Station in plain sight so that one may be rendered unconscious and transported to an unknown location may be considered less than entirely brilliant." Lucius took a sip from his cup. "Really, Black, you're just fortunate I was the one who took you and not one of your enemies."

"Don't think I don't feel my luck."

"We've much to catch up on -- Azkaban, your thrilling escape, what you've been doing since then. I'm sure it will make a fascinating tale."

It was about what had Sirius expected. Questioning, a little brainwashing, maybe -- Sirius figured he could deal with that. "Not that fascinating," he said, "merely long and tedious. I'd much rather hear all about you."

"You've grown up so polite, Black," Lucius said. "You do your mother credit." He stood and touched Sirius's shoulder. "Please don't refuse water when it is offered." Lucius was wearing some kind of scent, sweet and a little spicy. "You'll need to keep your strength up."

Sirius didn't answer. He tensed his wrists and ankles against the straps, willing them to break so he could take Lucius by the neck and strangle him. But they held, as he knew they would.

Lucius knocked on the door, then picked up his things. "When next we meet," he said, "we will begin our work together." The door opened. "Adieu," he said and he was gone.


It wasn't long before the men came back and left Sirius sitting with his back against the wall, his chin on his knees.

So the room was shielded. Or so Malfoy said. Sirius had never been good at wandless magic, but he tried some simple spells all the same. They didn't work, but they wouldn't have anyhow.

Then he tried the transformation. Over and over and over again. A dull pain made him take notice and he found that he was slamming his fist against the floor with every failed attempt.

No magic. Probably.

Sirius's mouth was dry and his throat hurt when he swallowed. No water, either.

He tried to focus. Survival, resistance, escape. Those were his priorities. Survival, he'd take one step at a time. Drink the water, if it came, eat if food was offered, get some sleep, conserve his energy.

Resistance he'd have to work out on the fly. He didn't know what methods of persuasion Lucius might use to extract information from him. He didn't want to think about it either.

Escape, though -- escape he could plan for.

But the fancy no-magic shielding made that difficult. He'd never had to do without magic entirely, even in Azkaban. It was a foreign environment to him, like he were working underwater or on the moon.

Remus would know if there were such a thing as anti-magic shielding. Or he'd have a damn good idea, anyhow, and maybe some advice about how to get around it. Or he'd just put his hand on the back of Sirius's neck, under Sirius's hair, and sit beside him, breathing quietly. That would be just as good, right about now.

Sirius could almost feel it, could almost see Remus in the dark. It wasn't helping.

He pressed his palms against the flagstones and forced himself to think about that instead. The shielding, if it really existed, was probably in the stone and in the metal. So when the door opened, maybe the effect was broken temporarily. Probably not everywhere in the room -- they'd keep him restrained if that were the case -- but maybe in the angle of the open doorway, the part of the room that wasn't shielded anymore.

It was worth a try. He found the door, sat down in its path, and waited, playing different scenarios in his mind, plan A for four guards, plan B for two, plan one if the first man held the lamp, plan two if he had a weapon. Survival, resistance, escape.

When the door finally opened, Sirius forgot the plans and bolted. He ran forward, changing as he went, and it was working! On four legs, he bowled over two men and charged the doorway.

It was like slamming into the stone wall. Pain rocked his head, his limbs, and the force threw him back along the path of light, onto the sprawling men. One of them twisted his arm to hit Sirius with something and Sirius was changing, changing back, and he couldn't stop himself.

The man shoved Sirius out of the light, and pinned him. Sirius tried to transform again, but he was away from the open door now and nothing happened. More men came in, with lamps, and when the door was closed, they let Sirius up.

"Can't blame a man for trying," Sirius said, but there was no response. This time Sirius drank the water. Priority one.

They put him in the chair and Sirius tried to prepare himself for priority two.


Lucius stood in front of Sirius, looking down. "I'm sorry my hospitality is not to your liking." He set down his goblet and his candle. "I was most distressed to hear you were thinking of leaving us."

"Oh, it's not that," Sirius said. "I've left the gas on."

Lucius smiled faintly. "Surely not," he said. "I'd hoped you'd stay and talk with me a while." And from a fold in his robes, he took a knife.

The blade was a few inches long, thin, and came to a fine point. The handle was ivory. Lucius held the knife with the easily familiarity of a clerk with his quill and he looked at it with an expression most men reserved for new racing brooms.

It occurred to Sirius that perhaps resistance should come before survival.

"I find truth potions so crude, don't you?" Lucius held up the knife and the blade caught the light. "And the name is inexact. They merely produce a torrent of facts. For truth, we need to look a little deeper."

Lucius picked up his cup and drank. His hands were gloved again and Sirius wondered when anyone had last seen Lucius's bare hands. Maybe Lucius covered them to hide them, liver spots, perhaps, or scars, something that couldn't be charmed away.

But more likely Lucius just didn't want to be contaminated by what he touched. Lucius came closer and Sirius steeled himself for the pain. But at least the secret of the Order would be safe.

Then he looked at the stone walls and the heavy door and thought that maybe it wasn't, not in here. Maybe all that stood between the Death Eaters and Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place was Sirius Black's ability to keep his mouth shut.

Not something he had ever been known for.

Lucius bent down and set the point of the knife to Sirius's face, at the corner of his right eye. Sirius kept perfectly still.

"Tell me," Lucius said.

"Tell you what?" Sirius asked. He couldn't help but look over at the knife. Candlelight flickered along the blade.

"Anything," Lucius said. He put a tiny bit of pressure on the knife and it made a small spot of almost-pain above the bone. "Anything you like." Then he cut Sirius, temple to ear, in one smooth stroke.

It seared across Sirius's face, a sharp line of pain. He took a deep breath and waited. Lucius cut him again, along his cheek. Then again, just below.

"Have I said something wrong?" Lucius asked. The point of the knife teased the corner of Sirius's mouth, just drawing blood, then slid past Sirius's lips so he could taste the metal. "Do talk to me." Lucius pricked the inside of Sirius's cheek, then moved the blade out again, and opened Sirius's jaw line.

Sirius could feel blood beginning to drip down his cheek. There was blood in his mouth. He imagined the side of his face, with the tracks of red in perfect parallel lines. It felt ten times more real than any other part of his body and it was all he could think about.

"I'm beginning to wonder if you like me," Lucius said. He held Sirius's ear between his fingers and nicked the earlobe one, two, three times.

Sirius drew a sharp breath, then exhaled slowly as he willed himself to relax, to not give Lucius the satisfaction. "It's not you," he said, "it's me. I'm very boring, really."

"Come now," Lucius said. "You're Sirius Black." He ran the blade behind Sirius's ear, then trailed it down Sirius's neck, just scratching the skin, bumping over the leather restraints. "I'm simply dying to hear all about you." He cut tiny crosses along Sirius's collarbone, pressing hard until Sirius wondered if he was carving them into the bone.

Sirius clenched his hands into fists and swallowed hard. "What about me?" The pain was making his stomach churn.

"About your childhood, if you like." Lucius stepped back to take a drink. "About your friends. Some of them were with you on the platform, I believe."

"I don't have any friends," Sirius said and managed to keep his voice steady.

"How can you say that?" Lucius smiled at Sirius. "You have me."

The pain was so distracting, it was hard to think of a suitable reply. Sirius forced himself to focus on the candle flame. It was easier when he didn't have to look at Lucius. "Then would you do me a favour, as one friend to another?"

Lucius moved in close and put his gloved hand on Sirius's face, cupping his un-marked cheek. "What would you like?"

"Two favours, actually. First, let me go." Sirius could smell that sweet perfume on Lucius again. "And second, go to hell."

Lucius patted Sirius's cheek. "It's not safe for you to leave, Black. Rest assured that I will free you when the time is right. As to hell, I hope I'm not depriving you of cherished religious beliefs when I tell you that hell does not exist." He laid the flat of the blade on Sirius's right shoulder. "Just this room" -- one cut -- "and me" -- another -- "and you" -- a third, three tall slashes down to Sirius's elbow. "So, please talk to me."

Sirius tried to weigh his options. Stay silent and try to endure, or babble something in hope that Lucius would ease up on him. There should be some logic to his choice, some reason, but there was only pain, sharp and bloody. So Sirius babbled because it was easier than biting his tongue.

"My friends. When I was five years old, I had a friend called Jimmy Atkins. He lived next door. He was a Muggle."

"A Muggle? How interesting." Lucius hatched Sirius's arm like a game board, flicked raw circles into some of the squares.

"We played in his back garden. He had toys I'd never seen before. One day I brought out some of my toys and we played with those instead. Soldiers that marched and shot each other. He loved them."

"So kind of you." Lucius put the knife against Sirius's side. "Do go on, but please keep still. This is very tricky and I want it to be just right." He slowly cut Sirius, curving out in a perfect spiral.

Sirius thought about coughing or jerking his body, to spoil it, but he didn't want to upset Lucius any more than necessary. Survival. "My father found out about Jimmy and forbade me to play with him anymore. I never saw him again."

"So sad," Lucius said and straightened. He took a handkerchief out of his robes and carefully wiped the blade clean. "I think this will do for now." He dropped the handkerchief in Sirius's lap. "Until later, my friend." He left and then the guards came.


Sirius hurt. Carefully, he felt out the cuts and clotted blood, wincing as he re-opened a gash on his cheek. His right side throbbed and burned, while the rest of his body was chilled and shivering. His muscles ached from tension.

He could still smell that sweet odour, that Lucius smell. The handkerchief. Sirius found it near his feet. He had to get away from that smell, so he stood, to walk along the wall to the far corner.

His head spun and he slid down again, reeling. He hadn't lost that much blood, but he hadn't eaten for -- he didn't know how long it had been. A few days, at least. He didn't know how long he had been here. It was almost easy to ignore the gnawing in his stomach; it was minor compared to the cuts and slashes. But he couldn't ignore the dizziness.

Crawling slowly, Sirius made it to another corner and slumped. All he could smell now was his own body, unwashed and beginning to starve. Just like old times.

This was going to be harder than he'd thought. Sirius tried think about something other than the pain. He needed some way to disconnect himself from his body, to ignore the pain and the knife and Lucius's face. Something else to focus on. But even now, alone, without a fresh wound every minute, all Sirius could see, all he could hear in the darkness was pain, pain, pain.

Pain and Lucius, with his "if you please" and "friend", his voice like sticky green poison. He got inside Sirius's skull, slithered through his brain, touching memories that made Sirius wince. Anger roared up inside Sirius and he yelled, just once, and beat his fists against the floor.


He had to hold out, survive, resist, and escape. Or maybe -- just maybe -- be rescued. Not that he was hoping.

In the end, of course, there was more than one way to escape. Not yet, but if it got too bad, Sirius knew there was a way out, with a noose of cotton around his neck, leaning forward from the chair while his breath choked inside of him.

Sirius hoped it wouldn't come to that. Remus would never forgive him.


This time there was no knife. "I wouldn't want you to get bored," Lucius said. He touched the wounds on Sirius's face. "How do you feel?"

"Couldn't be better." Sirius looked at the candle again, at the wavering flame. That would be his focus. If he could keep his mind there, away from the pain, away from Lucius, he would come through this all right.

Then Lucius picked it up and burned him with it.

The hair on Sirius's chest singed. The flame didn't hurt at first, but slowly the heat became worse and his skin began to scorch. Wax dripped down Sirius's belly.

"Talk to me," Lucius said and moved the candle to a fresh spot.

Sirius looked around. He could just barely make out a spot on the wall where one stone was discoloured. He stared at it and took a deep breath.

Lucius was working over Sirius's left side now, matching cuts with careful burns. Sirius half wished he could see himself in a mirror.

The burns were raw and Sirius could feel their heat even after the flame had moved away. Lucius moved up, bent in closer, and over the stink of burning hair was that same perfume.

"You smell nice," Sirius said.

"Sandalwood," said Lucius. "Also, I bathe." Deliberately, he moved the candle along Sirius's collarbone, then back over the same path. "Talk to me," he said again and held the flame to the hollow in Sirius's neck.

Sirius gasped before he could stop himself. He was dizzy and sick with the pain. "Just talk to you? Aren't you supposed to ask me questions? You ask me questions and if I tell you the answers, the pain stops. That's how this is supposed to work."

"Is it?"

"That's what I hear."

"No," Lucius said. "This isn't about questions and answers. This is about finding the truth. And we can't do that if you won't talk to me." He kept the candle still and it began to smoke. "But when we get to the truth, yes, the pain stops."

"And how will you know it's the truth?" This was all a game to Lucius, Sirius realised. And Sirius didn't know if he should play along.

"We'll both know."

Sirius bit his lip and stared at the spot on the wall.

Lucius stepped back and took a drink. "I suppose we must make allowances for you, Black. Ten years in Azkaban might cause a man to lose the knack for conversation. If you need a topic, I will supply one." He brought the candle near again. "Tell me about your friends at the station. Mr Lupin was there."

Sirius closed his eyes for a moment. He didn't want to talk about Remus. But he had to keep Lucius happy. "We were friends at school."

"Very special friends, I believe."

Sirius didn't speak. The burns were starting to blister. He felt like every nerve in his skin was being scraped with a dull blade.

"Come now, Black, I'm aware of your ... proclivities." Lucius smiled. "Though I no longer have those marks."

Another sore place in Sirius's mind, a memory he'd learned to avoid. "Bastard," he said, before he could stop himself.

"How unkind," Lucius said. "When you well know I can trace my paternity back thirty generations. But, please, let's forget that." He put his gloved hand on Sirius's cheek. "Watch that your hair doesn't catch fire." Lucius pushed Sirius's hair back from his face, smoothing it over his shoulder, fingers catching in the tangles. Then he burned Sirius's face. "Talk to me."

So Sirius talked about Remus, about being small boys at school and larger boys at school, about summer weekends and plans for the future, first jobs, sharing a flat. He stared at the wall and breathed roughly at the pain and completely avoided saying anything, he hoped, that was important.

But Lucius seemed pleased. "Mr Lupin must have been happy to see you out of Azkaban," he said. "As was I. What did you say he's doing now?"

"I didn't," Sirius said and found that his hands were clenched, his fingernails digging into his palms.

"I'm most interested. So unfortunate when he lost his teaching position." Lucius was holding the candle in front of Sirius's eye, close enough that a breath of wind would scorch his lashes.

"Research," Sirius said. "That's all." He was staring through the flame now, trying not to blink.

"But what's his subject?"

"We've never discussed it."

"No?" Lucius moved the candle away. "I suppose not." He smiled at Sirius. "But if you remember anything, be sure to let me know."


The next time, Lucius had a needle, long and sharp. He plunged it into Sirius's flesh until it hit the bone and Sirius talked about the Weasleys. They'd been kind to him, he said. Molly made him casseroles.

The time after that, Lucius brought the knife again. He slit Sirius's trousers down the sides and cut words in bloody Latin into Sirius's thighs. Sirius told him about Mad-Eye and his paranoia.

Everything seemed slowed down -- Sirius's breathing, Lucius's careful movements, seconds and minutes flowing thick and dreamlike around the pain. Sirius's mind was slowing too, and the pain was blocking it, jamming the works. So he stopped trying to think so much. He just stared at the spot on the wall and waited for time to finally catch him up.

In between, there was no time at all. Sirius sat in the dark, his back against the wall, and shivered with cold and fever and hunger and hurt. Some of the cuts were swollen and hot to the touch and the burns were sticky and raw.

He didn't sleep -- or maybe he was always sleeping -- but he saw faces in front of his eyes: Remus, James, Harry. They whispered to him, told him that this couldn't go on. The pain couldn't go on. Stop the pain, Sirius, they said. We can't take the pain anymore. Please. This can't go on.

When Sirius tried to reply, his throat closed up and he choked.

He knew that there was something he was supposed to do now, or maybe not to do, but he could never think of what it was.


Lucius sat in his chair, hands steepled under his chin, and looked at Sirius.

"Just get on with it," Sirius said.

"Patience," Lucius said. "I don't want to be careless with you, Black." But he rose and took a vial from inside his robes.

Sirius looked across the room for his spot on the wall, but he couldn't seem to see that far anymore. Then Lucius moved in front of him and Sirius couldn't see anything else.

Sandalwood filled the air, overlaying the stink of Sirius's body and the staleness of the room. Lucius opened the vial and another smell took its place -- a harsh, chemical smell. Lucius tipped the vial and dribbled something onto Sirius's chest.

Acid. It ate into Sirius's skin and he yelped. It was a strong, boiling, bubbling pain and it couldn't go on, Sirius knew, it had to be stopped. Lucius poured out more acid and Sirius talked while his flesh burned away. He talked about Fletcher and Podmore. He talked about Diggle and Jones. He talked about Snape.

"Damn," said Lucius and stepped back. His glove was smoking slightly where acid had corroded the leather. "This is far too sloppy." He put down the vial.

Sirius looked up, at Lucius's face. Lucius was calm, impassive, except for a slight frown as he studied his hand.

"Sorry you've spoilt your precious glove," Sirius said.

"My favourite pair, too," Lucius said. "Still, it can't be helped." With his other hand, he swept his hair over his shoulder. Aside from the small burn in the leather, Lucius was turned out to perfection, as he always was. Outfits for all occasions, Sirius thought. Even torture and interrogation.

Sirius could only imagine what he himself looked like right now: hair tangled, body a mass of cuts and burns, eyes crazed. But then Remus said Sirius's eyes were always like that.

Lucius laid his hand over Sirius's. "Talk to me," he said, and broke Sirius's index finger.

Sirius heard the bone snap. The pain shot up from his hand through his whole body and he couldn't breathe for a moment. His eyes watered and he felt a tear begin to ooze down his cheek. He could see his finger bent upwards and the sight of the unnatural angle was almost worse than the pain. He felt sick. This couldn't go on.

Lucius smiled gently at Sirius. "Talk to me." He took Sirius's middle finger and stroked it once. Then he broke that too.

It had to stop. It had to be stopped. That's what they all told him, Remus and James and Harry. Only the truth would make it stop, Lucius had said. Sirius tried to think of what that truth might be. His mind was sluggish, drowning in the pain. What did Sirius know that Lucius wanted?

"You know, Sirius," Remus said to him, from just behind Lucius's shoulder. "You know the words to make it stop." And then Sirius could see the words, written in shining letters in the air. Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place and the Order of the Phoenix. Sirius opened his mouth and began to speak.

A wave of agony greater than anything he'd felt before rolled over him. It blinded and deafened him, his gorge rose and he vomited, his back arched and his limbs went rigid.

When it passed, Sirius was limp, face and chest wet with water and bile, head lolling on his shoulder, thoughts impossible to gather.

Lucius was sitting again, perfectly composed upon his armchair, silver goblet at his elbow. He looked at Sirius with a faint smile on his lips. "Fidelius," he said.

Sirius nodded, or tried to.

"It's as I suspected." Lucius leaned back and crossed his legs, arranging his robes meticulously. "Even though no magic can affect you here, the charm, when it is performed, modifies you, adding blocks and wards around the secret" -- he touched two fingers to his head -- "in here. The modification, being done, still functions, no matter where you are."

The words were like lead weights crushing Sirius's chest. His secret was worthless. He had nothing left to give.

"I believe the spell can be broken, but the necessary calculations would take a lifetime or perhaps longer. And this is rather more urgent, wouldn't you agree?"

Sirius agreed.

"But I think there is another way. A way around." Lucius rose carefully and rested his gloved fingers on Sirius's temple. "Be strong, Black," he said. "We have more work to do."


Sirius tried to set his fingers in the dark. He pulled at the bones and screamed until they were as straight as he could make them. He tied the bloody handkerchief around them and bit his tongue until that was bloody too.

Nobody spoke to him.


It wasn't long before Lucius returned. He stood looking down at Sirius for a long time, drinking from his cup. Then he held it to Sirius's lips. "Drink," he said. "It's only wine."

Sirius drank. It was claret, dry and smoky. His father would have been able to name the year and the vineyard after the first mouthful. It made the cuts inside Sirius's mouth sting.

Lucius let Sirius drain the cup. Then he picked up the knife. "Listen to me," he said and he began to talk. "Do you remember the last time we met? Years ago, at my wedding. You were a whelp of fifteen or thereabouts."

The memory came to Sirius like a dream, vivid in front of his eyes. Lucius, young and richly dressed, white gloves on his hands, Narcissa queening it, the whole family bearing down like an attacking army. And Sirius, a whelp of fifteen, affecting disinterest while his eyes searched the room for her.

"Such charming self-confidence," Lucius said. "We were all amused."

Sirius was dizzy from the wine. Lucius was crossing old cuts with fresh ones and Sirius couldn't fight the pain or the memory.

"Bellatrix most of all," Lucius added and Sirius felt the old shame well up in him.

He'd seen a lot of her that summer; she'd come to stay for a fortnight, to learn some particular charms from his mother. She was older, twenty-two to his fifteen, tall and sloe-eyed, exotic and beautiful. Every girl at school seemed a twittering bird next to her. Every boy he'd looked at paled in comparison.

Whenever Sirius saw Bellatrix, or even thought about her, he felt a rush of excitement -- a fire in his belly, a restless energy. He followed her around, impressing her with tales of schoolboy daring, and trying not to light up too eagerly when she smiled. She smiled seldom; instead she treated him with a scorn that kept him hanging after her for more.

When she left, Sirius prowled the house, left letters from his friends unanswered, and counted down the days until they'd meet at the wedding.

"You seemed very pleased to see her."

He had been. He'd taken pains with his hair and his robes, cleaned his fingernails and freshened his breath. When Sirius finally laid eyes on her, a jolt went through him and he couldn't breathe for a moment. She was wearing robes of deep purple and her dark hair was loose down her back. It fell across her cheek as she leaned in, laughing with Lucius and Narcissa. Her eyes flicked over to him and her lips curled in half a smile.

Then she brushed her hair back from her face and walked across the room to him.

Sirius felt like everyone in the room was looking at them, envying and admiring. She said hello and kissed his cheek. His chest swelled and he felt ten feet tall. He brought her champagne and cake and she looked at him over the rim of the glass as she drank.

He didn't remember what they talked about, only that she put her hand on his arm and smiled when he spoke. He felt endlessly brilliant and charming.

"You looked so well together, I thought," Lucius said.

She led him out onto the dance floor. He put his arms around her and they began to move. He was a good dancer, he'd always been good at that sort of thing. Graceful. Bellatrix brushed against him and he pulled her closer. She pressed her cheek against his and Sirius breathed in the warm, sweet smell of her. She moved back and looked at him, eyes dark and lazy. It was a perfect moment. He leaned in to kiss her.

"We'd made a bet." Lucius cut Sirius's lip.

A spotlight came on, catching Sirius with his eyes closed, his lips pursed, and his girl backing away so he overbalanced and sprawled on the floor.

She was laughing. Everyone was laughing. Blood rushed to Sirius's face and he leapt to his feet, snatching out his wand. He pointed it at her and started to yell a hex when someone grabbed him from behind. He struggled, but he was pinned, wand pointing down at his own shoe. Someone was pressed up behind him, chest to back, someone's breath was on his neck. "Now behave yourself, Master Black."

"I couldn't let you hex my sister-in-law," Lucius said. "Even if it would have saved me a hundred Galleons on the bet if you'd have killed her. You, of course, you would have been expelled, or worse, had I not stopped you." Lucius held the flat of the blade along Sirius's cheek. It was cool against the swollen cuts.

Sirius had wished the floor would open up and swallow him, or that he'd drop dead on the spot. He could feel the same hot humiliation now. The story had travelled back to school with him and he'd been Loverboy for half the year.

"You surprised me, Black. I hadn't realised you were so ... flexible in matters of the heart." Lucius bent down and looked into Sirius's eyes for a long moment. Then he straightened slowly. "Let's continue. Listen to me."

Lucius started on another memory. Sirius thought he could still see the younger Lucius hovering nearby, white-gloved and smiling slightly. "Remember," young Lucius said. "Listen."

That was all Sirius could do.


"It was July," Lucius said and plunged the needle into Sirius's thigh.

"Now pay attention, Black," someone else said. Another Lucius, behind him, whispering in his ear.

"July," Sirius mumbled.

"My mother was having a house party. Your family was there. You were young, Black, thin and weedy, with your hair always in your eyes."

Young. How young? "Thirteen," the voice in his ear told him. "Thirteen," Sirius said aloud. The memory was unfolding in him, like a flower blooming.

"That young?" Lucius slid the needle in again. "Shocking, really. I was home that summer, I'd just left school. In September, I started my Grand Tour, but in July, I was at my leisure. It was hot, as I recall."

July had been cold except for that weekend. All the adults sat about drinking iced things and exclaiming about the weather. "Ought to have regulating charms installed," Sirius's father kept saying and Sirius's mother thinned her lips at him. At night, Sirius heard her hissing at him in the next room, and he could imagine what she was saying.

"I wanted to get away," Lucius said. "Find some peace and quiet."

"I was bored," Sirius said.

"So I went out to the summer house to put in the afternoon."

"So I went exploring."

"What did you find?" said the voice in his ear.

"You," Sirius said.

"What?" said Lucius, the one with the needle.

"I found you."

"I was sleeping."

Sleeping on a chaise longue, Sirius remembered. When he'd spotted Lucius, he'd realised this was the perfect opportunity for avenging old grievances. And even if there had been nothing to avenge, it would have been criminal to miss the chance of a good prank.

He was running through ideas -- bucket of water, insects, sticking Lucius to the chaise somehow -- as he got closer to inspect the situation. But then --

"I saw you," Sirius said.

"Yes, you did," the voice whispered in his ear. "I was sleeping. Legs stretched out, one hand behind my head. Shirt falling open over my chest. You stood and watched me breathing."

"How did that make you feel?" Lucius put one finger under Sirius's chin and lifted his head so Sirius was looking into Lucius's eyes. Then Lucius ran the needle through the edge of Sirius's arm, in one side and out the other, holding it there so the skin pulled taut.

Sirius groaned at the pain. The Lucius behind him slid his hand onto the back of Sirius's neck. Bare hand, no glove. The Lucius with the needle was still holding Sirius's gaze. Sirius stared back.

"I'll tell you, then, if you're struck dumb." One corner of Lucius's mouth turned up. "You saw me and it suddenly made sense, didn't it? The looks you would sneak at the boys in the dormitory, the odd feelings that gave you." Lucius was pulling the needle as he spoke, slowly drawing it through Sirius's flesh. "The light came on."

"The light," Sirius said. He remembered the light, rays of sunlight through the lattice of the summer house, patterns of light and shadow on Lucius's face. And something had definitely come on inside of Sirius. All sorts of hazy feelings had come sharply into focus, with a force that staggered him.

"Closer," whispered the voice.

Sirius went closer, as quietly as he could, until he was standing beside Lucius, bending over him. Five minutes ago, Sirius wouldn't have believed he could feel something so strongly that wasn't anger. He reached out, terrified, unable to do anything else, and put his hand on Lucius's chest.

He moved his hand slowly, stroking the warm skin and fine hair. Lucius's mouth was open slightly and Sirius stared at it. He was almost sick with excitement and fear. He should go now, stop touching Lucius, and go. Instead he slid his hand down to Lucius's belly.

Lucius opened his eyes and took Sirius's wrist, holding it so tightly tears started in Sirius's eyes.

"I was just--" Sirius said but he couldn't think of how to finish.

"I think I know," Lucius said and he moved over on the chaise longue.

"You wanted it badly," Lucius said and the needle slid free. "And I was feeling generous."

"Lie down," the voice ordered, hand still on Sirius's neck, and Sirius did, hardly daring to look at Lucius. Lucius let go Sirius's wrist and Sirius put his hand back on Lucius's chest, waiting to see what would happen.

Nothing happened. Lucius didn't stop him, just looked at him with an amused smile on his lips. Sirius stroked Lucius's chest and stared at his mouth. Then he leaned forward, heart hammering, and pressed his lips to Lucius's.

He wasn't sure what else to do, so he just kept pressing. He felt Lucius's mouth twitch and his chest rumble. Then Lucius put one hand behind Sirius's head and kissed him. Sirius tried to do as Lucius did -- he opened his mouth, moved his lips, touched his tongue to Lucius's. But it was hard to think about what he was doing when it excited him so much.

Lucius turned his head so that Sirius was kissing his cheek and jaw. Sirius got one hand in Lucius's hair and burrowed into his neck, kissing and sucking at him until there were plum-coloured marks on Lucius's pale throat.

All of a sudden, Lucius took Sirius by the shoulders and pushed him away. "That's quite enough, I think."

Sirius teetered on the edge of the chaise longue, then fell onto the wooden floor. Lucius pulled out his wand and pointed it at Sirius. Then he shook his head and put it away. "It would only happen again," he said, "so I wish you joy of the memory. Now get out of here, you randy little bastard." He closed his eyes and turned away.

The needle stabbed into Sirius's shoulder. "You hated me," Lucius said.

"I hated you," Sirius said. "I wanted to kill you."

"But you didn't even try."

"No." The hand stroked Sirius's neck, up and down. "I could only think about ... that."

"I know," Lucius said. He pulled the needle out and rested his gloved hand on Sirius's cheek. "I know."


Sirius was never alone now. Lucius whispered to him in the dark, and Sirius whispered back. He could see Lucius too, although he didn't always look the same. Lucius was older, then younger, fading in and out. When Sirius reached out, he couldn't seem to touch him, although Lucius sometimes touched Sirius -- a hand on his arm, fingers on his temple.

It soothed the pain, cooled his burning skin a little.

"I want to help you," Lucius said over and over. "We're almost there." He held out his hand.

"Thank you," Sirius said and his hand closed on nothing.

But he knew that Lucius was there. Sirius could see him, hear him, smell him. At least someone wanted to help him get through the pain, the darkness.

When they came to strap Sirius in, he was already sitting in the chair.


Lucius drew his chair close so that their knees touched when he sat. He put his hands on Sirius's thighs and leaned in. "Look at me," he said.

Sirius looked. Lucius's eyes were kind, friendly, and Sirius thought he could almost see through them, right into Lucius. Lucius didn't move and they sat that way for a long time, staring into each other's eyes. Lucius's hands were heavy.

Then he took them away and reached inside his robes for the knife. Sirius looked at the blade, gleaming in the candlelight, and felt the tension leave his limbs.

"Look at me," Lucius said again. Sirius raised his head and met Lucius's eyes. "Don't look away," Lucius said. He put one hand on Sirius's shoulder. With the other, he cut Sirius's chest.

"Remember," he said, "when you were young. On holiday on the Riviera."

"The beach," Sirius said. He could feel the sand under his bare feet, the sun on his back.

"My family was there too. Other families. We'd taken rooms at a hotel. My father put up enchantments to keep the Muggles off the beach."

"Sandcastles," Sirius said. Deep inside Lucius's eyes, Sirius could see the castles, rising high above the beach, golden in the sunlight.

"Determined little kid," Lucius said, behind him, another Lucius, with an unbroken voice and wet hair darkened to the colour of the sand.

"That was all you did, every day," Lucius said, the one with the knife. "After breakfast, out in the sun, fortresses and towers and ramparts."

"Higher," Sirius said. On the beach, his muscles ached with the effort, but he built and built, higher and higher. "I had to make them higher."

"Higher," Lucius echoed. "You did. It was all you could think about, how to pile the sand and make it stable, make it rise and rise."

Then a dark anger swept over Sirius. "Regulus," he said.

"Shrieking brat," said the Lucius behind him. "At least you were quiet most of the time."

"He spoilt them." Every afternoon, when Sirius was made to go and take a bath, Regulus would run along the beach and knock down some buttress or kick the walls down. When Sirius found it, he'd finish the job, pulling down the towers until it was just piles of sand on the beach at night. His mother would scream at him, couldn't he stay clean for thirty minutes at a time?

In the morning, he'd pinch Regulus's arm, hard as he could without leaving a bruise, then run out to the beach while Regulus screamed.

He started over again, another castle better than before, moulding the sand with --

"My spade and bucket." Gifts from his aunt. They were enchanted to keep the sand wet, to shape true corners and round towers. "You took them." Sirius was angry. He was hurt. Why would Lucius do that?

"I took them," the voice behind him said and Sirius could see Lucius holding the bucket by its handle, the spade inside.


"You know why." Lucius cut him again, more deeply than he ever had before. The blade was still in Sirius's arm. "Remember, Black. Sirius. Remember."

Sirius couldn't. There was something he'd forgotten, pushed down and away. "I don't know," he said. He was still looking into Lucius's eyes. His head was reeling, the room spinning. Only Lucius was still.

"You know," Lucius said and drew the knife down through Sirius's flesh.

The pain was red in Sirius's mind, like blood running into his eyes. He was dizzy, sick. He reached out to put his hand on Lucius, to steady himself, but he was bound. He had to get free. "I have to get free," he said.

"You have to get free," Lucius said, both of them. "Talk to me." He pulled the knife again.

Tears ran down Sirius's face. There was only pain and the wall he couldn't break through. He could see the wall in front of him, tall, built of thick red bricks. He was standing beside it, barefoot in the sand. And there was his spade and bucket.

Sirius picked up the spade and began to dig. The sand was wet and heavy. It stung his face as he threw it beside him into a growing pile.

The wall was deep. Five feet down, he found the bottom. He stood in the hole and started to tunnel under, throwing sand out with his bucket. When he'd made an opening big enough for a seven year old boy, he wriggled through and into the sunlight.

He was alone on the beach. The adults were all at a cocktail party up at the hotel. Sirius had made a sand castle, the tallest one yet. He knew that it was only a matter of time before Regulus came by, running and screaming and destroying Sirius's things. So Sirius got to work.

He dug a hole, a good deep hole, so deep he could barely climb out of it. Then he spread a blanket over the top, weighting it around the edges, and carefully covered it with sand. He went to the top of the beach, where the adults left their deck chairs, and hid. Then he waited.

Eventually, Regulus came. He was running, as usual, and shrieking, also as usual. He was eating candyfloss and there was a beetle stuck to one side of it. Sirius held his breath. What if Regulus went around the other side?

He needn't have worried. Regulus ran right at the castle and dropped out of sight.

Sirius went down to him. Regulus was standing in the pit, scrabbling at the edges. "Want to get out," he yelled. "Out! Out!"

Sirius smiled. Then he picked up his spade and bucket and started to fill in the hole.

Regulus screamed until he got a faceful of sand, then he choked and coughed. Sirius felt calm. He was cold, purposeful. Bucketful after bucketful, he threw the sand around Regulus. He worked quickly; when the sun went down, his parents would come looking.

A hand closed around his arm on the backswing and threw him onto the ground. It was Lucius, towering over Sirius with the sun behind him. "Don't be stupid," Lucius said. He pulled Regulus out of the hole. Sirius lunged at Lucius, clawing and biting. Lucius cuffed him and Sirius slid down into the pit.

Lucius was bleeding from a bite on his leg. He picked up Regulus in one hand and the bucket and spade in the other and walked away while Sirius yelled, too furious to climb out.

"We've come to the truth at last," Lucius said and dropped the knife. It clattered on the stone floor. "Tell me the secret."

Sirius looked down. There was something buried in the sand. He dug with his hands until he could pull it out. Words. He read them to himself. Then he spoke.

There was no pain this time, no spasm. Just the setting sun and the cold sea air. A gloved hand touched his face. He blinked once and the room came into focus. Lucius came into focus.

"I think that's done it," Lucius said. "Let me see." He leaned back and opened his mouth to speak. Then he cried out and clutched his head. His face was grey and he was breathing hard. "That's definitely done it. Thank you, Black."

Lucius sat until the colour came back to his face, then got up and went to the door. Sirius looked after him. He couldn't just leave. But Lucius spoke to someone and came back. He picked up the knife again and used it to cut the leather straps.

Sirius stared at Lucius. "What are you doing?"

"It's over, Black. We've done it." Lucius severed the last of the straps and put the knife down.

"It's over?"

"Yes," Lucius said. "We had to break down the barriers in your mind, just enough for the secret to slip past. It was difficult but you did well. I'm very pleased with you."

Sirius wasn't entirely sure what Lucius was talking about. But he was unbound. He reached out and put his hand on Lucius's arm. "It's over."

"It's over." Lucius smiled at Sirius. The door opened and men came into the room. They set up a table and chairs, and put out food and drink.

"Come, Black," Lucius said. "Break your fast." Lucius helped Sirius up and led him over to the table. "Be careful. Don't eat too much. There will be more food tomorrow."

Sirius took a piece of bread and ate it slowly. It was the best thing he'd ever tasted. Lucius filled his cup and Sirius drank. Fruit juice. It was cold and tart.

"I apologize, but I will have to wait until tomorrow to find you more suitable accommodations. I have an engagement that I cannot put off." Lucius poured more juice for Sirius. "A healer will see you then and we'll find some appropriate robes for you to wear." He folded his hands on the table. "You're back where you belong, Black."

Back where you belong. The words made Sirius feel good. He looked at Lucius. Lucius gave him more bread. The bread made Sirius feel good. Back where he belonged. He smiled at Lucius and ate some more.

The men brought in a mattress and blanket for Sirius. They left him a lamp.

"I must go now," Lucius said and touched Sirius's shoulder. "I'll be back in the morning and we'll arrange everything then."

Sirius watched Lucius leave. Even when he was gone, the scent of sandalwood still hung in the air. Sirius lay down and slept. He left the lamp burning and there were no voices in the room.


He woke up to yelling. The lamp had burned out. There was banging outside the room, a thud against the door. More yelling, and then the door burst open and two figures rushed in.

Sirius didn't know who it was. The light was behind them. "It's him," one called. The other grabbed Sirius's arm, pulled him.

What was going on? Where was Lucius? Sirius jerked away. The man took his arm again. They wanted him to leave. That was wrong.

Anger filled Sirius and he hit the man in the face. The pain from his broken fingers was excruciating, but he didn't stop, just hit out again and again, trying to drive them away.

"Sirius," the man said and at the sound of his voice, Sirius hesitated.

Then something connected with the back of his head. Sirius felt a stab of pain and then nothing at all.


When Sirius woke, he was lying in a bed, in a room with furniture and lamps and pictures on the walls. It seemed familiar. He hurt all over, but the back of his head most of all. Someone was sitting beside the bed and Sirius stared at him.


He knew the voice. It was Remus. Remus sitting with Sirius, his face drawn and bruised.

"You're all right now, Sirius. It's over." Remus reached out to touch Sirius's hand, but stopped. Sirius looked down. His fingers were splinted. "We'll have a healer here soon. Moody is out looking for someone we can trust."

"It's over." Sirius remembered that.

"When you disappeared, we thought that it was Malfoy, but we weren't able to confirm it until a few days ago. Then we had to find out where he was keeping you. It was really difficult -- the usual locater spells didn't work."

Sirius half smiled. He wondered if they had worked out why.

"We were able to lure him away last night." Sirius looked up at this. "We came in and got you. You were ... not yourself." Remus glanced away and Sirius realised where the bruises had come from. He looked down at his hand again.

"We didn't get Malfoy, though," Remus continued and Sirius nodded. "We couldn't just take him; not without trouble." Now Remus did touch Sirius, a hand on his arm. Sirius winced and when Remus saw that, he winced too and took his hand away. "But we will, Sirius. He won't get away with this."

Sirius thought that Remus was expecting him to say something but he didn't know what. Sirius felt unsettled, unsure. He looked at the wall opposite. There were cracks in the plaster and he tried to follow them as they spidered out in all directions. It looked like someone had thrown something there, hard.

"I'll move a camp bed in, shall I?" Remus said. "You should have room to rest. I don't want to hurt you." He looked worried. It seemed usual to Sirius.

The bed. It was large, plenty big enough for two. Sirius nodded, not quite sure what he was agreeing to. He stared at the wall some more. Remus sat. Sirius listened to him breathe.

There was a rapping at the window and they both looked over. An owl, with a letter clamped in its beak. Remus let it in and it settled on a perch in the corner. "It's for you," Remus said and held the letter out to Sirius. "Unless you want me to."

Sirius shook his head and took the envelope. On the outside was Sirius's name and nothing else. Sirius opened it clumsily and took out the folded piece of parchment.

There was no name, just two words written in a large, spiky hand:

Come back.

The scent of sandalwood rose from the parchment. Sirius stared at it, touching the words with his splinted finger. Then he smiled. Remus looked at Sirius expectantly.

Sirius dropped his eyes. "It's from..." He searched his mind for a name. "Harry." Remus nodded. Sirius folded the parchment again, then turned over in the bed, away from Remus, holding the letter against his face and breathing in the perfume.

"I'll just let you rest, shall I?" Remus said. "Moody wanted to question you right off, but I wouldn't let him." He paused. "I could sit with you some more, if you like."

"No," Sirius said.

"All right then." Remus stood by the bed, just for a moment, then went out and shut the door.

Sirius lay there for a while. The bed was soft and warm. He opened the letter and read it again and again. Come back, it said. Come back. Then he got up.

The sheets stuck to his chest and legs and it hurt to pull them away. The room was chilly but there were robes in the wardrobe and he put them on. He found his wand on the dressing table. He picked up the letter and looked over at the window.

It was still open, letting in the dark and the night air. The owl stretched its wings once and hooted softly. Sirius let it climb onto his arm, despite the pain, and together they went over to the window. He stroked the owl's feathers.

The owl stepped onto the sill and spread its wings. Then it launched. Sirius watched it disappear into the darkness, flying back to where it belonged. To where they both belonged.

Sirius closed his eyes. Then he Disapparated.


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