Characters Sirius, MWPP
Word count: 4,000
Summary: In which Sirius' life flashes before his eyes as he falls through the Veil.
Warnings: Angst, canon character death
A/N: For tabitha666 and sirius_black 2012. Many thanks to gryffindorj for the beta. Originally posted here.
Only one couple were still battling, apparently unaware of the new arrival. Harry saw Sirius duck Bellatrix's jet of red light: He was laughing at her. "Come on, you can do better than that," he yelled, his voice echoing around the cavernous room.
The second jet of light hit him squarely on the chest.
...ancient grandfather clock marked the quarter-hour from the drawing room, loud as it ebbed over a cautious, sullen creak near the hallway stairs. Sirius' bedroom was cold. He heard Regulus breathing before he saw him leaning on the doorframe, his shoulders slightly hunched and his legs wrapped in shadows from ankle to knee. The stairs creaked again, and Sirius flipped to the last page of Peter's letter.
Regulus sighed quietly, his hand still curved around the ugly, tarnished door-handle.
"What do you want?" Sirius asked finally. Peter's writing slanted up toward the corner of the parchment, enough that Sirius had to tilt his head to follow it.
"Kreacher is serving supper."
"Bully for him."
The floorboards moaned in complaint as Regulus shifted his feet.
"Bugger off, will you? I'm busy."
Regulus crept past the doorway, pulling away from the shadows waiting in the hall. He hadn't hit his growth spurt yet, was still a head shorter than Sirius and a little to thin across the shoulders and chest, and he paused with his toes pointed inward, the way he always stood when their mother wasn't there to correct his posture. His hands were curled into the cuffs of his jumper.
"You should come down."
Peter's letter slipped from Sirius' hand and fluttered softly to the floor. "Is that what she said?"
"She hasn't said anything."
"Well, it's early, yet." Sirius stretched back into his pillows and tucked his feet under the blanket piled at the edge of his bed. The Heating Charm that warmed the rest of the house refused to be bothered with his bedroom. "Just give her time."
The windows rattled with a sudden gust of wind and the house shuddered and groaned in reply. The wall lamps flickered weakly, and the shadows in the hall pressed harder at Regulus' back.
"I told you to bugger off," Sirius snapped, rubbing his hand over his face. "I'm not hungry, all right?"
Regulus frowned, narrowed eyes and a harsh twist to his mouth. "You must be. You've not eaten anything in four days."
"Mrs Potter sent me a pie," Sirius said, pointing at a box yawning open on his dressing table. "Apple crumb. She knows it's my favourite. I'm not starving, if that's what you're worried about."
"I'm not worried."
"No. That wouldn't be very Slytherin of you, would it?"
"I didn't want that, you know," Regulus said, inching a little further into the room. His hair was much longer than their mother usually allowed, falling in soft layers around the narrow angles of his chin. "I told the hat I'd rather to be with you."
"It said I just didn't want to be alone. It said that wasn't very brave."
The house sighed into another gust of wind. Sirius hated this place, couldn't wait to be quit of it.
"If I leave here -- run away -- will you come with me?"
"I don't know," Regulus replied, chewing the side of this thumb. "Maybe."
Sirius stood up and walked...
The laughter had not quite died from his face, but his eyes widened in shock.
...over toward the Charms Corridor, but Filch's cat was prowling at the other end of the hall, a pair of beady, lamp-like eyes glowing inside the shadows below a dusty tapestry.
Sirius backed away slowly, wincing as his footsteps echoed off the walls, and he darted into the next empty passage he found. It was colder than the first and considerably darker; the torches had burned down to softly smoking embers, and the only window was covered with a heavy velvet curtain. Sirius could hear his heart beating, thought he could feel it in the back of his throat. He paused under a portrait of an ugly, napping hag and dug his mirror out of his pocket.
His voice sliced through the silence like a knife. A door creaked open and closed somewhere nearby, and the hag above his head snorted in her sleep.
"Yeah, I hear you," James muttered quietly. He sounded fuzzy and distant, like an old Muggle radio stuck between stations, and a wide smudge of dirt darkened his cheek. "Everything's gone to shit down this way. I hope you're having a better time of it."
"Well, I got the spells off all right, if that's what you mean," Sirius said. The hag snorted again, shifting around in her frame, and Sirius inched a bit further down the hallway. "What happened with you, then?"
James sighed heavily, and his hand flickered past the mirror. "Filch nearly nabbed us coming out of the Trophy Room. We tried to cut across the other way -- you know, through the Astronomy Tower, but we ran into Flitwick outside the courtyard, and then Peter fell down those dodgy stairs near the kitchens."
"Is he badly off?"
"Limping a little, but he swears it doesn't hurt. Where are you, anyway?"
"Third floor, near Charms. What about you?"
"Right outside Defence."
"Merlin's balls, you haven't even moved," Sirius complained, jumping as a dingy Quidditch pendant fluttered near his shoulder.
"We had a spot of trouble with the Dungbombs, and Peter just now got it all sorted. We're about to give it another go."
A suit of armour squeaked mournfully, and Filch's cat yowled from a corridor and a half away.
"Well, what's the plan, then?" Sirius asked. "I can't keep hanging around here."
James frowned and yanked on his fringe. "Meet us in Hufflepuff in twenty. Where's Moony, anyway?"
"Haven't the foggiest."
"I'm right behind you," Remus said, ducking out of a broom cupboard across the hall. He had his wand in one hand and the Map in the other. "Tell James to head back past the Library."
"Library. Got it."
The mirror went dark.
"Where's Filch, then?" Sirius asked, pointing at the Map.
"The Great Hall, I figure."
"What the bloody fuck is he doing all the way down there?"
Remus smiled. "I might've let off a Caterwauling Charm on my way up."
"Brilliant. What about the cat?"
Remus glanced down at the map, then grabbed Sirius' wrist and...
Harry released Neville, although he was unaware of doing so. He was jumping down the steps again, pulling out his wand, as Dumbledore turned to the dias too.
...pushed through the large, arching double doors that led outside the castle.
It was a thin, sharp morning, frightfully chilly and bleak even for late November. The sky looked heavy and grey, shyly hinting at more snow, and the wind chased them in short, icy bursts that teased James' collar and pulled the tails of Peter's scarf. Sirius huddled close to James as they walked past the greenhouses, his overcoat buttoned to the neck and his hands hidden deep inside his pockets, and Peter slouched against James' other side, blinking sleepily and stopping every few feet to yawn quietly into James' shoulder.
Last night's snowfall still lingered on the grounds; it clung to the rooftops and turrets and trees, frosted everything like sugar.
"Do you think Remus will like it?" Peter asked, his breath forming into soft puffs that clouded around his face.
"Of course he'll like it. It's bloody brilliant," James replied proudly. His cheeks and nose were flushed bright pink, and his dark hair was rumpled across his forehead. "We're bloody brilliant."
Sirius coughed out a short, frozen laugh. "Oh, he'll love it, once he's done giving us a long and jolly boring lecture on how stupid and reckless we are."
"Well, I suppose we are stupid and reckless, at that," James ventured, catching Peter's arm as Peter slipped on a patch of ice and stumbled off the path. "That doesn't mean we're not brilliant."
A sudden gust of wind curled around them, shaking the snow from the trees only to dust it over their clothes and shoes. Sirius shivered and cursed, and James stamped his feet, and Peter tucked another loud yawn into the sleeve of James' coat.
"Should we practise one more time?" Peter asked, just as the path narrowed and curved down toward the Whomping Willow.
"No. We already practised all sodding night," Sirius replied.
The Willow waited for them in the centre of a clearing, looked stark and naked as its thick branches reached up toward the colourless sky.
"I think I could hit the knot, if I changed over," Peter said thoughtfully. "I'm small enough. I'd just need a good, running start."
"Next time, maybe." James shook his head, hefting the stick Sirius had just dug out of the snow. "I don't want you getting hurt before we've even shown him."
The Shack greeted them with the harsh smell of dust and damp, and the rough floorboards creaked sadly as they filed down the hallway. Remus was sprawled on the ancient, sagging bed, his face pale and his pyjamas torn at the neck.
"What are you doing here this early?" Remus asked weakly.
"You look like Hell," Peter observed.
Remus snorted. "I feel like Hell. It's a matching set, you see."
"Next month should be easier," Sirius said quietly. "Werewolves can tolerate animals, you know."
"What, then? You're buying me a bloody cat?"
James took a deep breath and slowly shifted into Prongs.
Remus' eyes grew wide, and his mouth fell open as...
It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall.
...he wandered over to the far side of the back garden, where a huge, lace-draped table sagged under the weight of Mrs Potter's famous cooking.
Sirius sighed quietly and pulled at the collar of his dress robes. It was unseasonably warm outside, the warmest April anyone remembered seeing in years; the sun loomed bright and yellow behind the Potters' tilting, white-washed gazebo, and the air was thick from humidity and the sickly-sweet stench of wilting gardenias. A group of girls giggled their way past him, separating him from Remus and Peter as they stopped to admire the delicate chocolate fountain. He snagged a champagne flute from a tray hanging near his elbow and slipped into the balmy shade of the Potters' kitchen.
"Oh, there you are, Sirius dear," Mrs Potter said brightly. Her greying hair was swept into a hasty bun and flour dusted her chin and cheeks. "I just sent that darling little Weasley boy to find you."
Sirius smiled and eased a strawberry from a towering fruit salad. "Bill or Charlie?"
"I haven't the foggiest," she admitted, shaking her head. "They look exactly alike, bless them. Hair redder than our Lily's, and more freckles than they know what to do with."
An empty tray floated over to the sideboard, bobbing as the fruit salad loaded itself on.
"Did you need some help?" Sirius asked.
"All I can get, I reckon, but not from you," she said, narrowing her eyes at a large platter of vol-au-vents. "James wants you. He's upstairs." She huffed softly and wiped her hands on her apron. "As if I didn't have enough to do, now he's worked himself into a snit."
"I'll get him sorted."
"I know you will, dear. Take a biscuit with you."
Sirius found James pacing the cluttered length of his old bedroom. His eyes were wide and his face was pale and tight; he offered Sirius a weak smile, his hand shaking slightly as he fussed with the clasps on his dark red dress robes.
"Padfoot," James said quietly, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "I look ridiculous."
"It's your wedding, mate. Looking ridiculous is rather the point."
"I'm -- I'm worried."
Sirius sighed and leaned back against the dressing table. "Of course you are."
"No, it's not, you know. It's not cold feet," James muttered, fisting his hands in his robes. "It's just -- it's not safe. People are dying. Dorcas Meadowes lost her entire family last week."
Sirius could still smell the crumbling, burning husk of Dorcas' home, could still see the Dark Mark etched into midnight sky.
"I love her," James said desperately. "I love her so much."
"If something happens to me -- "
"It fucking won't."
"If it does," James pressed, his fingers hard and cold around Sirius' wrist, "I need -- I don't want her to be alone. Promise me you'll take care of her. Promise me you'll keep her safe."
Sirius nodded, swallowing past the bile rising in...
His body curved in a graceful arch as he sank backward through the ragged veil hanging from the arch...
...his throat. The tiny room was painfully dark and quickly filling with smoke; Sirius' eyes were wet and stinging and he could hardly see past the end of his wand, but Remus shouted as something nasty and purple whizzed by Sirius' ear, and Sirius didn't have enough time to spare an Evanesco. Everything flared red, then a bright and sickly blue, and Sirius flattened himself against the side of a bookcase, dodging a curse meant for the centre of his gut.
"Stupefy!" Remus barked, his sandy hair just visible above the back of an overturned couch. "Petrificus Totalus!"
Sirius almost laughed. Remus still believed in prisoners and interrogations, but Sirius stopped listening to Moody's tripe about intelligence gathering the night James and Peter nearly died. His hands had shook as he dragged their bruised bodies from a blazing apothecary in Knockturn Alley, his chest so tight it had been impossible to breathe, and his world had narrowed down to simply surviving, to dead Death Eaters and pints of blood.
A flash of yellowish light sailed over Remus' head, and Sirius crossed the room in a crouch, his wand aimed at a hooded figure pushing through the open front door.
"Sirius!" Remus shouted, firing something thick and yellow at a Death Eater closing in on Sirius' back. "Behind you!"
Their dinner had fallen off the table, take-out boxes and pork vindaloo trampled into a sticky sludge across the Axminster. It was the only thing Sirius could smell, sharp and spicy as it curled inside his nose, and he coughed out his next spell at the end of a sneeze, cursing as a wicked Sectumsempra wasted itself on Lily's kitchen curtains.
"Fuck," Sirius snarled, just as she started to scream. "Lily."
She screamed again, hoarse and terrified, and Sirius spun around, his wand exploding as he fought his way toward the bedroom. She was in no condition for this, with the baby due in less than a week; her belly and ankles were so huge she could barely make it to the loo without someone holding her arm.
A Death Eater crumpled to the floor, his blood shockingly dark against the faded kitchen lino. Sirius hoped he wouldn't find a familiar face beneath the hood; he hadn't heard from Regulus in almost two years.
A loud crash sounded from the bedroom; James cursed at something and bellowed Lily's name, just as Lily screeched out a terrifying hex. Remus Stunned a Death Eater running for the door, and Sirius stepped over the lifeless body he didn't want to believe could be his brother.
"Sirius," Lily said breathlessly, slouching into the lintel with her wand in her hand. "Sirius, I can't -- James. You've got to help me."
He pressed his hand to the soft swell of his godson as he passed her in the doorway.
"I can't Apparate while I'm pregnant," she said, her fingers twisting in Sirius' sleeve. "You've got to take him to Dumbledore."
Sirius nodded and reached for...
And Harry saw the look of mingled fear and surprised on his godfather's wasted, once-handsome face as he fell through the ancient doorway and disappeared behind the veil, which fluttered for a moment as though in a high wind and then fell back into place.
...James' hand, curling his tiny fist around James' thumb.
Harry had Lily's eyes and James' hair, and Sirius thought he was absolutely perfect.
"Give him here, then," Sirius said, tugging on the soft blue blanket covering Harry's legs. "I didn't make a four-stop Side-Along all the way from Scotland just to watch you cuddle him."
"Scotland?" James asked, a frown creasing the corners of his mouth. "Peter thought you were on the Continent."
Sirius pulled at a frayed thread on his denims. "Scotland. Marlene McKinnon heard a rumour about Death Eater activity in Aberdeen. Old Moody didn't have time to check it out himself, so."
He'd really been in Ireland, tailing Travers and Dolohov through two sleepy fishing villages and the darker parts of Wizarding Dublin. Dumbledore had told him not to discuss it with anyone, and he'd made it very clear that anyone also included James.
"Did you find anything up there?"
Sirius shrugged. "Just bad weather and bloody awful food."
"Language," Lily murmured, from her perch on a huge, overstuffed chair. Her voice was heavy and tired, and she looked more than half asleep.
A hint of summer breeze pushed past the cottage; the curtains fluttered and danced and the ancient porch swing creaked sadly. James began humming under his breath, calm and tuneless as Harry babbled and patted at James' chin.
"Hey, it's my turn," Sirius insisted, sneaking his hand under the blanket to tickle Harry's feet. "Give him here."
Lily sighed quietly. "I told you two to share nicely."
"All right, all right," James grumbled. He shifted Harry around in his arms and leaned closer to Sirius. "Careful, now."
"Your father isn't very nice," Sirius said, as he settled Harry into the crook of his elbow. "I came all that way, and then he tried to hog you."
Harry made a soft, hiccupping sound and pulled a piece of Sirius' hair into his mouth.
"You really made four different stops?" James asked, stretching out on the couch until his arms were folded behind his head and his bare feet were hidden under Sirius' thigh. "That's a bit much, innit?"
"Mad-Eye wanted seven. Thought we should come back through Torremolinos."
James snorted. "Constant vigilance, and all that."
"Who'd you come back with, then? Remus?"
"Frank Longbottom," Sirius said, tracing his finger over the fragile shell of Harry's ear. It had really been Caradoc Dearborn, but that was another thing he wasn't supposed to talk about. "I haven't seen Remus in a couple of weeks."
He'd met Remus in Diagon Alley three nights ago, when they broke into an abandoned herbology shop at Dumbledore's request. He hated lying to James, hated having all these secrets, but it often felt like secrets were the only thing the Order had left.
"I'm worried about him," James admitted quietly. "Peter hasn't seen him, either."
Remus had looked too pale and thin in Diagon Alley, and the hollows under his eyes had been the colour of a bruise, the same colour...
Harry heard Bellatrix Lestrange's triumphant scream, but knew it meant nothing --
...as the haunted, broken stones waiting silently at Sirius' back.
Everything was grey. The walls were grey and the floor was grey and the maudlin slice of sky behind the window was grey. The sun was just a faded thought without any shape or meaning, and the frozen wind was thin and frenetic and it tasted like salt and ash and bone. He could hear the ocean, but he couldn't see it. Couldn't see anything. His hands twitched and his heart ached and Bellatrix's laughter echoed endlessly in his ears.
It sounded nothing like Peter's and exactly like his own.
Her voice was cracked and deeply torn, twisted by madness and disuse, and the walls shivered against the acid in her words.
Of course he had laughed -- laughed until he was hoarse and shaking and breathless. He'd been outwitted and undone in every possible way, had lost everything he loved in a single bleak and starless night. He'd been standing on a wasted Muggle street when it finally ended, shadowed eyes and a tight knot in the hollow of his throat, had been left with nothing but the sharp weight of the truth as Peter's bloody finger rested next to his feet.
He stared down at his own hands, at the dirt and grit and bruises crawling over his arms and legs. He wasn't himself, was a stranger shifting inside unfamiliar skin. His hair had grown long, stretching past his shoulders in heavy, filthy tangles, but his elbows and knees were made from foreign angles, and his face was a ghost he didn't think he could recognise.
He couldn't remember if he'd looked like Regulus, or if Regulus had looked like him.
She wailed it like an Augurey reaching toward rain, and the prison shook beneath the force of a distant thunderclap.
Everything was cold.
The dementors came in the early morning, when Sirius was easiest, when he was thick and slow and chafed raw from the fragments of his leftover dreams. They often returned in the late evening, just as Sirius was fighting the urge to sleep, and they mauled his thoughts with shapeless hands, filled the holes in his memories with dust and bile.
He began to forget Lily's hair and James' crooked smile and a poky cottage in Godrics Hollow with lacy kitchen curtains and a creaky swing on the sagging porch.
He lost the dusty stillness of the Shrieking Shack and the way Remus had cried the first time Sirius and James became Padfoot and Prongs.
"I'm innocent," he muttered, to the thin North Sea air and the cobwebs covering the window.
"None of us are innocent," Bellatrix purred, her voice sliding down the corridor like the snake burned into her arm.
Harry was alive.
Padfoot’s fur was matted and stiff and his nose didn’t like the way the dementors smelled, but Padfoot wasn’t Sirius Black and Padfoot could sleep without the fear of dreaming.
He curled up...
Sirius had only just fallen through the archway, he would reappear from the other side any second...
...on a faded rug in front of the dying sitting room fire.
It was the least draughty room in the house, and the only one with a working hearth, but Sirius hated it when he wasn't Padfoot, because it had too many long-buried memories huddled in the shadows, too many ghosts waiting in the unswept corners. He saw Regulus in the chessboard and his mother in the festering drapes, and the family tree watched him breathe as it throttled the wall like a sprawling, parastic vine.
He lifted his head and whuffed softly when Harry creaked through the door.
"Oh," Harry coughed, sloshing tea over his hands and pyjamas. His startled frown thawed into a smile as Padfoot slowly twisted back into a man. "Sirius."
Sirius got to his feet, his knees snapping and popping. "Sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you."
"You didn't. Not really," Harry said. He folded himself into the arm of the couch, the same way Lily always had when she settled in to read a book, and he cradled his teacup between his hands. "Just, I didn't expect anyone else to be up."
The sky peeking through the window was flat and black and dotted with stars; the house was strangely silent and still.
"More nightmares, then?" Sirius asked quietly.
Harry nodded into a long draught of tea. "Yeah."
"Not like Mr Weasley." Harry sighed and rubbed at his scar with the heel of his hand. "It's just, you know. Stuff."
"Yes. I know."
James and Lily and the mindless wreckage of Godrics Hollow had stayed behind in Azkaban when Sirius escaped. Now he saw strong copper threads binding his arms and legs so tightly they bit into his skin, felt rotting leaves drawn with the Black family crest growing into his nose and mouth.
The couch sighed sharply as Sirius sat down next to Harry. He pulled a heavy bottle from between the cushions and poured a short finger of Firewhisky into the remains of Harry's tea.
"What?" Harry's eyes widened and he frowned at the half-open door. "I'm not -- "
"It'll help you sleep," Sirius said. "Don't worry. I won't tell Mrs Weasley if you won't."
Molly was interfering and brash, but she loved Harry like one of her own, had done for Harry while Sirius was in prison, and Sirius couldn't quite hate her on the strength of that alone.
The fire finally died, whispering into smoke and embers, and Harry's head dropped onto Sirius' shoulder.
"Tell me something about my dad," he murmured, his eyes nearly closed and his teacup resting on his knee.
"James was the best of us," Sirius said honestly, his voice thick and hoarse. "I wish you could've known him."
Harry mumbled and nodded sleepily, his cheek brushing Sirius' sleeve, and Sirius reached up to ruffle his messy hair.
They would need a new house, some place bright and sun-warm and airy, with quiet Sunday breakfasts, and Ron and Hermione visiting for tea, and Remus...
But Sirius did not reappear.