Chapter 1 : Through the Veil
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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.
The laughter had not quite died from his face, but his eyes widened in shock…
It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall. His body curved in a graceful arc as he sank backward through the ragged veil hanging from the arch…
The pain was excruciating. The darkness pressed down, weighing a ton and crushing his bones to powder. He was falling, falling, and the light above him was fading, yet somehow the veil still fluttered in front of his nose…
He reached out to grab it. Instinctively he knew that if he could only grab the veil, that which separated the living from the dead, the pain would stop.
His left hand made contact with the veil, and the bone-crushing heaviness ceased immediately. A barrier of solid air appeared underneath him, but still he clung tightly to the veil in desperation. It was his only connection to the world above--the only way he could return to life.
“Oh, you won’t want to waste your strength on that, my dear boy,” an amused voice said.
Wildly he looked around, but could see neither man nor creature. ‘Twelve years in Azkaban,’ he reprimanded himself, ‘and you go mad now?’
“Mad, you are not,” came the voice again. It reminded him curiously of the voice of a man he had seen not too long ago: always mild, ever polite, and yet so infuriatingly detached that one couldn’t help but wonder if he was listening at all. Albus Dumbledore.
A chuckle rang through his ears. “Yes, he and I are rather alike, I have noticed,” the voice said. “He was a wonderful addition to the Wizengamot, although things have gone downhill with them of late since he was dismissed.”
The searing pain had dulled to an aching throb. Now able to think, Sirius Black shook his dark hair away from his face. So, the bodiless voice could hear his thoughts.
“Oh, I am not bodiless,” the voice said, then after a pause, added, “Though I suppose it would be easier if you could see me, wouldn’t it?”
“Oh, how thoughtful of you,” Sirius snarled, his voice shaking. Now that his mind was clearing, there was only one thing about life he could remember being important: Harry. James Potter’s son, Harry. He had to get back up there to protect him! Harry needed his help! Sirius held his head unsteadily in his hands as Death Eaters, prophecies, and mysteries swam about in his mind.
“Calm down,” the voice said, now issuing from a point behind him and slightly to the left. “It will not help you to panic, so do calm down.”
Sirius whirled around. A tall figure in impressive purple robes and a pointed hat stood there. Peering out from under the brim of the hat was a face whose likeness he had seen in many a place: in children’s book illustrations, in portraits, on plaques, and all manner of paraphernalia. It was the face who was the unchallenged representation of the Wizarding world since before documented history; he, Sirius Black, was looking into the face of Merlin, the wizard so important that his last name had been forgotten over the years and he was known solely by his first, and that was all that was needed…
But this Merlin looked exactly as he did in ancient portraits, although centuries and millenniums had passed--only his face was white and pasty and betrayed that he had not gone into the sunlight for ages.
“Well, what do you expect?” Merlin asked of him crossly. “Suspect we get much sunlight down here?”
Sirius, numb with shock, could not answer and instead his eyes rolled and his body swayed dangerously.
“Now, now, we can’t have any of that,” Merlin said. Briskly he walked over to Sirius, held his head firmly in both of his hands, and breathed into his face. His breath swirled like pearly mist through the air.
Immediately Sirius came to. His head snapped up to glare at Merlin suspiciously. “Why aren’t you dead? Why am I not dead?”
“Because this is not the parting between life and death, dear boy. This is the ultimate Vanishing Spell.” Merlin gestured toward the infinite dark under Sirius’s feet. “Nothing
that is sent down there will ever be again.”
Sirius did not take well to being called “dear boy.” He was 35 years old, if only anyone could remember, and had been through more than most wizards twice his age. “And how would you be so sure what this is?” he snapped.
“Because I created it,” Merlin said simply, patiently. “People in my time had not yet found a way of getting rid of things too large to Vanish properly, bodies especially. I see, as this arch is very frequently in use, that you have still found no alternative?”
Sirius opened and closed his mouth stupidly. Finally, he asked again, “Why am I not dead? Why did you choose to save me?”
Merlin smiled, appearing more like Dumbledore as he did so. “You see, when I felt I was nearing death, I willingly jumped through, past the veil, to become the guardian of my own creation. If ever ones like you were to fall through, I would be able to judge your worthiness of return.”
“Ones like me?”
“Yes, ones with their soul still intact, like you. Back in the early days, only the dead were put through Merlin’s Arch. Now, as I understand, the victims on which the Dementor’s Kiss has been administered are shoved down here if their soul-less bodies are causing too much trouble. Horrible business, I tell you.”
Sirius shuddered at the memory of how close he had come to being Kissed by a dementor. ‘How does it feel not to have a soul?’ he wondered fleetingly.
“Most of them I’ve seen are unable to learn, unable to love, unable to feel anything. They are unable, even, to understand enough to grasp the veil in front of their nose.” Merlin winked at Sirius. “Mechanical, that is what they are. They eat without tasting. They sleep without resting. They speak without thinking. And they do all this, only because it is already engraved into their body’s cycle and involuntary reactions,” Merlin said sadly.
“So you saved me because I could still live?” Sirius asked.
“Yes, and the fact that you are still loved by the living. Loved, maybe beyond even what you realize.”
Sirius bark-laughed for the first time in what seemed like forever. He realized that he had no idea how much time had passed, and whether or not Harry had survived the fight. All he could know for certain was that nobody else had fallen through the veil after him.
“Why are you laughing?” Merlin asked.
Sirius considered this. Him, loved? He was wanted for escape from the highest-security prison in history, put there for a heinous 13-person-murder, with an amazingly hefty price on his head. He could not step outside, notorious as he was in the Wizarding and Muggle communities, and the number of people who knew of his innocence totaled to be less than twenty…how in the world could he be loved?
“Do not disbelieve. Listen for those who love you,” Merlin said quietly. “Listen.”
Sirius listened. And then, from above, so far away he could have been mistaken, he heard an anguished cry.
“SIRIUS!” Harry yelled. “SIRIUS!”
“There’s nothing you can do now, Harry--” A voice, familiar since childhood, struggling against an engulfing tide of grief. It was Remus Lupin.
“Get him, save him, he’s only just gone through!”
“It’s too late, Harry--”
“We can still reach him--”
Harry sounded so sure…
The voices faded away, and Sirius bowed his head. He touched his face and was startled to feel drops of cold and wet streaming down his cheeks. Merlin stood by sympathetically as Sirius shook and heaved, sobbing as he had not done since James’s death, no, not even in Azkaban. Harry still believed that he could return…Sirius needed to go back to him. He had never kept him waiting.
Sirius sat and cried and let the grief flow out of him for how long, he did not know. Merlin was still waiting patiently when, after a very long time, a voice once again drifted in from past the veil.
“Sirius…” It was the only word Remus could force out before his small, lonely sobs were heard and, to Sirius’s surprise, his tears splashed through the veil onto the air barrier. Apparently his friend was right in front of the arch and had no idea who was listening to him.
“…Well, we got ‘em. Rounded them all up to put back into Azkaban, and I brought down Bellatrix myself….I knew I couldn’t let you down, old pal. Harry’s safe, he’s okay, so just know that you did your job. It's not your fault.
“Besides, we always knew we’d all go down fighting, heroes. Well, not Wormtail. But the rest of us, and now I guess I’m the only one left—the Marauders are gone-” he broke off, momentarily choked, while below him Sirius did the same, hiding his face in his hands. “Well, goodbye, Sirius. One more for the old times, mate?”
Slowly, smoke figures started to float down from the veil: a wolf, his silky hide gleaming in the light...Moony. A rat, Wormtail—Sirius batted this figure away immediately. A great black dog that bounded around lightly, full of joy...Padfoot. And finally a magestic stag, his antlers proudly unsheathed...Prongs. They did a strange dance, floating around Sirius, eerie but beautiful.
Remus had always been the only one of them who could cast that spell correctly. The three of them used to beg him, pester him, and bully him into casting the smoke animals in which they laughed and delighted.
Now that he thought about it, Remus had always been the only one of their group who could do a lot of things…He had valued intelligence the most, and hard work, and logic. He was always prepared. Yes, Sirius thought bitterly, it is only fitting for Remus to be the last of the Marauders; Harry is only to be provided with the best of protectors, and…I was not good enough.
The sudden despair of being deemed useless to his godson overwhelmed him.
For a split second Remus’s hand was visible past the arch, and something long and thin dropped through the veil, falling unnoticed. Sirius’s mind was too small to contain anything other than the anguish that came from one thought: that he did not deserve Harry Potter.
Thunk. Sirius’s wand dropped and struck him on the foot. Slowly he reached out his hand to pick it up. He was a wizard, he remembered suddenly, and a damn good one…
He whirled around to face Merlin. “How do I get out? I need to get out of here!” he roared.
Merlin remained unmoved. “Why do you want to return?” he asked quietly. “Do you fear pain? Do you fear the moment in which you will come into non-existence?” He gestured again below his feet. “Or is it really for the ones you love?”
Sirius was silent. He did not know.
“I see that both are present in you, dear boy. Of course, that is to be expected.”
“Why does it matter?” Sirius threw up his hands in frustration. “Harry might be safe for now, but Voldemort doesn’t give up! I can’t lose him—my best friend’s son—now that he’s like a best friend and a son!”
Harry reminded him painfully of James Potter, but even at this age was burdened beyond his years. He had done so much for the world already, and Sirius was so proud of him, like a father should’ve been…
“It matters because, as I have told you, I cannot return you until I am sure you will do the world good, and not harm,” Merlin said. "You are a strange case. I've not had to do this in a very, very long time."
“So…make your decision already!” Sirius could not help but think that he had not yet lived his life at 35, with twelve years in Azkaban and nearing three in hiding. He did not deserve to die!
“Give me your wand,” Merlin commanded. There was something more powerful in his voice now, something that Sirius could not ignore and so handed his wand over at once.
Merlin touched the tip of the wand to his own wand’s tip, and upon contact a dazzling bright set of scales leapt forth to float calmly in front of him, leaving spots on Sirius’s vision.
“The final weighing of the wand!” Merlin thundered, his voice distorted and warped. Purple light flared from his body as he became possessed by the power as great and terrible as he must have had in life. A single white feather came to rest on one of the scales. On the other side, Sirius’s wand was placed…
A/N: Edited on DECEMBER 2ND, 2008! This story is now finished! Oh, how far we've come. =]