A/N: Yikes, this update was siriusly made by the skin of my teeth! I leave in a little more than 12 hours and will be en vacances for two weeks...so I hope a lot of reviews await my return! =]
Back behind the veil, Sirius was lost in his own thoughts. Curiously, they were not particularly about James and Lily. With the delirium that had accompanied the trip back, he felt a strong stab of melancholy in his gut, but the only image that kept coming to mind was the one of Molly Weasley and baby Ginny, rocking to sleep together in front of the fire…
Without stopping to think, Sirius whispered into the darkness. “I want a family,” spoken softly, like a breath of wind.
Merlin’s quietly listening, silent presence was so encouraging that he would’ve said more, but at that moment the scales began to flare.
Sirius stared directly into the core of the blaze, watching his wand as it trembled on its plate opposite the feather, the scales dipping up and down. His eyes burned, but he refused to look away. He could feel the pressure building up in his wand by the way it began to move more violently; the pressure in the air beyond the veil as it condensed, preparing to spit him back out into the human world; and the pressure in his own heart as he hoped for it so hard that it hurt…
And then, with a crash of metal, it all stopped. The light faded from the scales, and the air, which had been humming with life only a second before, died down into silence.
Blinking the spots from his eyes in the darkness, Sirius squinted at Merlin, wondering what had gone wrong. Despair clawed coldly at his insides. Everything had been right and he had thought that he would be returning at last…so why was it now so silent?
Merlin did not speak. The old man had hunched over, a hand resting heavily on the top of the scales, as if he had just brought it down to bear on them. His breath rasped shallow in his throat, and he looked more tired, old, and defeated than ever.
“What’s going on?” Sirius could keep silent no longer. “I thought we were done! I thought I could go home!” he cried, his voice cracking.
Merlin could not face him, and leaned only on the scales still floating in the darkness, his shoulders rising and falling with his labored breathing.
“Turn around!” Sirius cried with desperate anger. “Face me and speak to me!” he commanded.
“No,” Merlin whispered. “We were done, but I cannot be, not yet.”
Tears rolled in small trickles down the sides of his large nose and followed the wrinkles in his cheeks to fall, unnoticed, onto the clear barrier beneath his feet. Sirius was enraged.
“How dare you?” he shouted, closing the distance between them in three long strides. “How dare you give me hope that I may go home, and then take it away, just because you can?”
Unable to control his anger, he shoved the old man in the shoulder. “The weighing of my wand was over! The scales had made their decision! What is still stopping you now, I wonder? Tell me!” he demanded hoarsely.
Sirius shoved him again, and Merlin’s arm slipped off of the gold scales with another clash of metal. Sirius knew now what had happened. Just as the scales had finished their weighing, just as he was about to be returned to the human world, just when it was all over for him and Merlin…the old wizard had brought his arm down on them, and knocked it aside.
“You don’t understand,” Merlin was protesting, gasping heavily.
By now both men were crying. “What don’t I understand?” Sirius cried, desperate. It was all the more cruel, to have been so close. He glared at Merlin. “I thought you said you exist to moderate this arch,” he accused him, “not to trap people here!”
“No—” Merlin started, but Sirius interrupted him.
“I thought you said you came down here to keep your scales fair!” Sirius shouted. Merlin looked defeated, like a butcher who had been caught weighting his scales. “But it seems instead that the scales were fair all by themselves, yet with you…”
Sirius trailed off, the anger draining out of him as quickly as it had come. What use was it to be angry? The old man held Sirius’s fate, and if he was to promise and then betray, Sirius was helpless to stop him.
It seemed that Sirius’s life had been doomed by traitors.
“Please understand,” Merlin pleaded, “how long it has been since I have walked the world myself. This arch is like a trap, a prison. Within it I cannot live, and I cannot die. There is no one and nothing I can call my own. Oh, Sirius, how I long for another soul to connect with mine!”
Two pairs of haunted eyes connected. Sirius felt a calm spread over him, as cold as ice. “You are too dramatic,” he stated apathetically. “What do you propose I do, then? Stay here and bear you company, so that our two souls may share the burden of eternity together?”
Sirius scoffed coldly in disdain. “What is the difference between you and I?” he continued. “I think I should spell it out for you. You ended up here because you were afraid to die. Instead, you jumped down into your own twisted contraption, thinking to save yourself when really, you were enslaving yourself. And I? I was attacked while rescuing my godson from the very clutches of evil, and fell through your godforsaken veil.” He glared daggers at the old man. “Who is the hero, Merlin? Who deserves to live?”
Merlin hung his head. “You overstep the boundaries of your safety,” he commented in a whisper. “You cannot afford to anger me.”
“You do not speak like one who cannot afford to be angered,” Sirius retorted. “You do not deny what you did and why you did it, and that you are cruel and small and selfish…”—he sighed heavily—“…so like a man.”
Merlin was quiet. He did not know what to say to that.
The somber mood shattered with anger once more. “Well, I suppose laboring under the illusion that I might eventually return home takes the cake for cathartic experiences, don’t you think?” Sirius asked sardonically. “I can’t suppose you might have one to match it.”
Merlin stared at him gravely. “It is the same. Solitude wears on one painfully slowly…like torture it strips away every bit of you that is sane and human until you become so weary that you'd wish for an end like a cathartic experience,” he grumbled.
Once again, Sirius’s mood swung violently. “What’s the matter, grandfather, can’t take what you give out?” he snapped, feeling surprised at himself even as the words left his tongue. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he registered that he might never again recover from the temporary insanity that this cathartic experience seemed to have induced in him.
Merlin began to grow defensive again. “Now you overstep!” he barked a warning, his translucent face flushing with rage. “To mock me is hypocrisy! How dare you patronize me and belittle me with such pride? You yourself could not overcome the pain of solitude…or have you forgotten?”
Deep in the pit of his stomach, Sirius felt nauseous. Whether it came from pain or guilt, he’d never know, because the feeling began to heighten in intensity until it was almost unbearable.
With a sensation not unlike that of Portkey traveling, he was yanked away from under the veil so quickly that his vision blurred. The scales flew farther and farther away, just a golden spot in the distance, but Merlin continued to float calmly alongside him. His anger of a moment ago seemed to have dissipated, and he had the air of an adult about to teach a disobedient child a very important lesson.
When they both stopped, their surroundings reconstructed themselves to form the familiar walls of the kitchen at Number 12, Grimmauld Place. Sirius grimaced. This house had been the site of so many unpleasant, unwanted memories.
Sighing, Sirius collapsed into a chair by the fireplace. “Okay, now that I’m in the only place that could make me thoroughly miserable, why did you bring us here?”
Merlin did not reply. Looking around curiously, Sirius could not find the old man anywhere. Did this mean he was free?
The door to the kitchen suddenly slammed open. Molly Weasley rushed in. Spotting Sirius, she stopped in her tracks and exhaled, for all the world looking like she wanted to just turn around and walk back out.
She stood there for a moment before speaking. “Sirius…” she said softly, hesitating before walking over to the kitchen counter. “It’s only 5:30 in the morning. You should really go back to bed.”
Sirius said nothing, confused. Didn’t Molly know he had fallen behind the veil?
Molly, uncomfortable with his sullen silence, turned around and began to pull pots and pans out from the cabinets. “There’s no use in you being up so early, you know. I’m just used to it, and now, having to cook breakfast for so many, it’s only practical.” She walked over to the refrigerator, pulled out various food items and set them on the counter.
Sirius frowned, a serious feeling of déjà-vu overtaking him. Had this happened before?
Of course, everyone in the Order had always been saying that sort of thing to Sirius back while he stayed at Grimmauld Place. Go back to bed, Sirius. You don’t need to be up, Sirius. Just wait awhile and supper will be ready, Sirius. Sorry, Sirius, but I don’t have time to talk just now.
How Molly was acting wasn’t strange or abnormal. It was the way everyone in the Order acted towards him. They were ashamed, almost, to estrange him in his own house. And it hurt. But it was necessary and had to be done, or so they thought.
“Today’s a big day for the Order, Sirius,” Molly said softly while her wand beat eggs in a bowl. “If you want to eat first before the kitchen gets crowded, I’ll make you something now.”
Now Sirius was almost certain this sounded familiar. Certainly a familiar anger had begun to rise in him as he listened to her words.
“No, I’m fine, thank you,” he said curtly. “What exactly is the Order planning today?”
Molly shrugged. “I don’t really know. I’m not one of their main operatives anymore, you know.” She laughed, but it sounded forced. “I’m just the person who keeps everyone warm and fed.”
Sirius didn’t laugh in return. “You must know something,” he insisted.
“It has to do with the Ministry,” Molly replied vaguely. “Today’s the day they’re infiltrating the Ministry to set up a route for the change of the guards.”
Sirius’s mind raced. “Wait, you’re setting up a guard for the prophecy in the Department of Mysteries, right?” he asked.
Molly pressed her lips together unhappily. “Yes,” she admitted. “But you can’t tell the others that I told you. Only the people that are essentially involved are supposed to know. That way, there’s the least chance of a breach of security.”
Sirius frowned. “What is this? Since when have you been running the Order like an intelligence agency that I can’t join? Don’t you realize that I can help figure things out, that I can do things for you too?!” he cried.
“Your overconfident attitude is clouded by bias,” Molly said wearily, sighing. “We hope that the prophecy itself may never be disturbed. It is of the utmost importance that it be physically protected, and you are in no condition to do that.”
Sirius clenched his fists, his suspicions confirmed. Merlin had, by accident or not, dumped him back into Grimmauld Place several weeks beforehand. He had had this conversation with Molly before.
Only this time it was different. This time, he knew what would happen. If he could just tell someone, the disaster at the Ministry could be averted.
“Wait,” he said suddenly as Molly began to usher him out of the kitchen. “You said you’re protecting the prophecy against disturbance because you don’t want Voldemort to get it, right?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “Well, he’s not going to come to the Ministry to get it himself! You’re looking for the wrong guy. He’ll make someone else, someone less conspicuous and more resourceful, do it for him.”
Molly continued to push him toward the stairs. “We’ve already thought of that, Sirius. But we don’t have to worry. Only the ones who are mentioned in a prophecy may take it from the Department of Mysteries. Even if He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named uses someone else, only he can physically remove the prophecy.”
“But isn’t Harry mentioned in the prophecy as well?” Sirius insisted, grinding his feet into the floor in aggravation.
“Well, yes, but of course You-Know-Who is not going to employ him,” Molly said, waving the idea away dismissively.
Sirius sighed. Usually Molly Weasley was not so dense. “But what if Harry is tricked into it?” he asked. “You must tell Harry not to go to the Ministry under any circumstances, no matter what!”
“Alright, I will discuss it with the Order if I get a chance,” Molly relented. “But I still think it’s a long shot. You-Know-Who never did leave anything important to chance. He always does it himself.”
“Please, please, tell Harry,” Sirius pleaded.
Molly’s eyes softened. “I know you don’t want anything to happen to him, but we’re trying our hardest and taking every precaution. Nothing has happened that you have to worry about,” she said soothingly.
Sirius did not feel like being soothed. She was hearing him, but she wasn’t really listening. And what he had to say was direly important.
He went up the stairs and sat in his room, restless, until he heard other people waking and going downstairs to the kitchen, presumably for breakfast. Slowly he counted to a hundred, breathing to calm himself. Then he quietly crept down the stairs and stopped outside of the kitchen door to listen.
Water was running in the sink, and chairs scraped along the floor. Breakfast was already over. Above the noise, Sirius heard Molly call shakily, “Good luck, everybody! Merlin be with you all!” It seemed that everyone was in a hurry.
As the first footsteps could be heard approaching the door, Sirius backed all the way up the first flight of stairs. Once he heard the kitchen door bang open, he descended again, as if he were just coming down for the first time.
Sirius watched as Order member after Order member exited, nodded to him, and proceeded on. Finally Remus Lupin approached. Sirius stopped him as he made to leave.
Eagerly, but without much hope, he asked Remus, “Did Molly tell you lot about how we need to tell Harry about the prophecy?”
The blank look on Remus’s face told Sirius all he needed to know. “You know we agreed not to tell Harry yet, Pad,” he replied blandly. “It’s for the better, to lessen his burden for a while.”
“But he needs to know!” Sirius roared in frustration. Even Moony would not listen? “He’s going to succumb to Voldemort’s bait!”
Remus was startled at Sirius’s vehemence. He sighed. “I think your problem, mate, is that you’re upset that we’re not telling you what you want to know. Harry has nothing to do with it, does he?”
Same old Moony, Sirius thought venomously. Always over-psycho-analyzing situations and people. Can’t see what’s right in front of his nose.
“He has everything to do with it,” he snapped. “You need to listen to me, and tell him now.”
“I’m willing to consider it, but I don’t know if the rest of the Order will agree,” Remus said sympathetically. “I’m sorry, Pad, but I gotta leave now.” And with a pat on the shoulder, he turned away from Sirius and walked down the hall toward the door.
Number 12, Grimmauld Place was quiet again. Molly was still in the kitchen, tidying up, and Sirius could hear Kreacher shuffling around upstairs, but there was nobody else around.
Sirius might as well have been utterly alone.
For all they pushed him aside and regarded him as useless, Sirius had always thought his friends had at least respected his opinion. But now they thought he knew nothing. And it was for this folly that everyone would suffer.
Suddenly he remembered what Merlin had told him. You yourself could not overcome the pain of solitude…
“No, I can’t,” he muttered. “Are you happy now? You’ve proven your point.”
Merlin reappeared next to him out of thin air. Sirius did not even jump. Part of him already knew that Merlin had been there the entire time, but strangely, he did not resent him for it.
“So you were right,” Sirius stated in a low voice. “I had forgotten.”
There was one thing Merlin was wrong about, though, Sirius thought to himself with a heavy heart. He had said that cathartic experiences were preferable to eons of solitude, but he didn’t know that a day of silence, invisibility was the same. Silent, invisible solitude was, in itself, a cathartic experience.
A/N: Edited December 6, 2008. I know I said next chapter would be the last, but there's going to be an epilogue after that. Please review!!