Author's Note: This is a bit of a shorter one. Read on to find out whether Sirius is allowed to return or not!
But if you've read the entirety of this story, please leave a review telling me what you thought of it now that it is at a close (besides the epilogue which will be Ch 14). I appreciate all comments. Thanks so much!
Sirius was back behind the veil again, sitting on the clear barrier that separated him from death. For a while he had vaguely forgotten why he was down here in the first place. He had been too busy coming to terms with the ugliest (and closest) parts of himself. Now, with the emptiness of Number 12, Grimmauld Place fresh in his mind, it hit him with a rejuvenated strength.
Harry. He had come here tonight to save Harry James Potter. Even now, the name still stirred a feeling deep inside him.
Sirius knew that even if the Death Eaters had been defeated tonight, they would arise again and again. Although Harry had survived their attack this time, it was no guarantee that he would survive the next. The burdens that Harry James Potter shouldered, that of the fate of Wizarding humanity, were immeasurable. He needed as many people protecting him and helping him as he could get. Sirius needed to be back for him. Sitting here under this arch, he was so useless to Harry that he might as well have died for real tonight…
Among the sudden gust of bravado for his godson, Sirius was struck with an idea.
“If you won’t let me go back,” he said to Merlin, “then why don’t you just let me fall through? I would rather die than do this anymore!”
And it was the truth. The painless infinity of death was, without a doubt, much more welcome than the prospect of endless hours beyond the veil. This time Sirius could use in no other way than merely contemplating and imagining his godson in the hands of Voldemort, helpless without a way to prevent it.
His eyes hardened with determination as Merlin hesitated. Bravely Sirius continued, “You know, there was a saying they made up after your time that goes, ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’ Sweet and proper it is, to die for one’s country. Why shouldn’t it be the same for family?”
“Sweet and proper it is, to die for one’s family?” Merlin remarked softly. “Yes…yes, I suppose so.” He sighed. “But then again, I wouldn’t know. I haven’t had family in centuries.”
“So do it,” Sirius challenged, getting to his feet. He ignored the twinge of pity in his chest as he looked at the sad old man, who was equally weary of limbo between life and death. “Let me die.”
Merlin’s eyes dimmed with sadness. “Indeed, you would rather die than stay here with me? Well, I guess I cannot argue with that…” He reached out to remove Sirius’s wand from his scales.
Sirius closed his eyes, clenched his fists, and held his breath. There was nothing that he could do in preparation for death, and his stomach lurched as he thought he could feel the air barrier dissipate under his feet. At any moment, he would be falling…falling to meet his end.
“Wait, no!” Merlin cried. Once again there was an almighty crash as Merlin slammed the wand back down onto the scales. “This isn’t right.”
The crash rang loudly in Sirius’s ears. “If you love your family so much that you would die rather than be separated from them, you are a better man than I,” Merlin whispered through the silence. It seemed that Sirius's desperate bravado had shamed Merlin into changing his mind, but he could not be sure. Sirius did not open his eyes. “Just as I chose freely to continue living apart from those that I loved, you had chosen freely to die for them. Keeping you here would not have changed anything.
“It might be sweet and proper to die for one’s family, but for you it would have been an unnecessary death. My selfish desires are the only thing standing in the way of your return. And truly had the scales been free to make their decision, you would have been worthy of return. I cannot begrudge you of that.”
Merlin drew his wand and tapped the scales floating in front of him, and with a buzz they sprang to life once more. From the barrier upon which Merlin stood to the veil that fluttered still above his head, the space was bathed with a golden glow.
Now Sirius, his heart pounding in his ears, could again feel the pull of the veil. It was like a magnetic force, a tension between his body and the veil that grew stronger with each passing second.
He looked back at Merlin, who glowed a dull, listless purple that fought hopelessly with the golden glory of his scales. The old man’s expression was pure, crushing sadness, but Sirius could not bring himself to look away.
Merlin’s doing the right thing. It's what you wanted, Sirius consoled himself uselessly.
The air in the space around them hummed and condensed until it was hard for Sirius to draw breath. He could feel it. It was near. He tore his gaze away from Merlin to look up through the veil, where he could see the stone of the archway towering above him.
And then he had an idea. Struggling through the thick air was like trying to walk through a huge vat of molasses. Somehow, before the magnetic pull of the veil lifted him right off of his feet, Sirius reached where Merlin was standing.
“I—” he started. He paused. He had no idea what he wanted to say.
“It’s okay,” Merlin whispered, patting Sirius on the shoulder. “Dulce et decorum est, right? It’s sweet and proper for me to stay here. It is what I deserve.”
Sirius strained to keep his feet on the air barrier, but it was dissipating away before his eyes and he was suspended in midair, being pulled ever closer to the veil and farther from Merlin. It was painful enough as it was, and struggling against it made Sirius’s insides ache. If Sirius was going to do it, it would have to be now.
He felt the air around him squeeze tight, and had not even a second to gasp before the scales went dark. “Grab on!” he cried, flinging his hand out into the darkness. “Quick!”
His hand brushed robes. “No—” Merlin gasped.
Sirius seized a handful of material and held on tight. He squeezed his eyes shut and prayed.
His lungs were squeezed until they were empty. His heart was crushed until it was still. His entire body warped and shrank and grew, and his mind with it. All through the pain, his fingers remained frozen, locked around Merlin’s robes. He couldn’t have moved them even if he wanted to.
With a burst, Sirius exploded out of an opening in the air that was physically far too small to hold him. He fell onto cool marble and lay there, slumped with exhaustion. Vaguely he heard a clatter of wood on stone as his wand landed at his side.
After a while, the first thought that came to mind was that he could feel the heaving of his own chest against the floor. He was breathing.
And the air that poured into his lungs was cold and brisk, silent and tense with apprehension; the combination, tainted with the distinct danger of Dark magic, smelled exactly like the Department of Mysteries.
Sirius dared not even crack open his eyes in fear that it was all his imagination.
The fingers of his right hand, still stiffly clutching a handful of robes, twitched slightly. Pain shot up Sirius’s arm and he groaned in protest. Slowly, painfully, he eased his hand slack and wiggled his fingers. Their tips touched cloth.
It was then that Sirius remembered the old man. His eyelids fluttered open and he sat up quickly, ignoring the wrench of nausea that came as light flooded into his vision.
He examined himself, moving his stiff limbs gingerly. He was exactly as he had been before he fell through the arch, which was miraculous in itself considering what his body had gone through. Looking up, he saw the said arch, and the shimmering veil still rippling innocently within. It occurred to him slowly that he was now on the outside looking in. Merlin had really set him free.
The old man lay unmoving, not more than a heap of purple robes, several feet away from where Sirius sat. His face was even paler now than it had been in the scant light cast by the veil. His eyes and mouth were gently closed. Even without checking, Sirius knew that Merlin was not breathing.
Merlin had exhibited indescribable honor and selflessness in releasing Sirius from the arch. In return, Sirius had hoped to repay him. And now he was dead. Sirius had failed.
“It was only to be expected,” Sirius muttered to himself, chewing on his bottom lip to keep the grief and disappointment from welling up in his chest. “He is so many millennia old in this world, after all…”
Stiffly he raised himself onto his knees and crawled over to say goodbye to the old man.
Crouching over him, he raised a hand to Merlin’s cold forehead. But immediately, as if his ancient body could not stand the touch of human flesh so young and living, the skin began to crumble into ash. Sirius, helpless to do anything, hurriedly clamped his horrified eyes shut so he did not have to bear the sight as Merlin swiftly became nothing more than a large pile of dust. There was nothing left but his purple robes.
These Sirius gathered into his arms, careful not to disturb the ashes. He would hunt around for an empty container to place them in, to be buried with his robes.
And as he sat, he thought that maybe he had not failed. Merlin had, after all, only wanted death.
“Sweet and proper it is, at least, to die for oneself,” he whispered into the robes, a lump growing painfully in his throat.
It was a long time before Sirius could gather the energy to stand up, and an even longer time before he had enough to walk out of the Department of Mysteries.
Author's Note: Okay, so I admit I love Pad too much to keep him behind the veil. But the old man had to be taken care of too.
There will be a brief epilogue to this story posted shortly, but otherwise this is it. The end, finally...about 4 chapters longer than I had originally planned =]
REVIEWS! Or my epilogue might just be as mysterious and dissatisfying as the one in HPDH...*shakes fist threateningly*