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Chapter 1 : for old times' sake.
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for old times' sake
Sirius was bored. Bored stiff, stiff as a board, boarded up in this mouldering hole, a final gift wrenched from his parents’ unwilling will.
Six o’clock, and he was slung across the sofa with the mahogany clawed legs and mottled upholstery, which smelled of old skin and decaying velvet. A great chandelier twinkled dully up in the ceiling. Time curdled here in Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, clotted into balls of fluff gathering in spaces between furniture, stretched into filmy cobwebs caught between the spikes and the spindly fluted arms and the crystal pendalogues of the chandelier. Sirius hadn’t bothered to do any cleaning since Christmas.
The better part of the day had been spent stacking up wine glasses with his wand into glittering towers, until they either grazed the high ceiling, or until they swung over to one side, broke apart mid-air, and smashed to the ground. Only to have all the pieces reconfigure themselves again into their original glasses so Sirius could repeat the entire process.
His hand patted about the floor until it closed around something cold and hard: a Firewhiskey bottle, emptier than a vampire’s grave at midnight. Dammit. He really needed a drink. Only one thing to do.
“Kreacher!” he snapped.
From the kitchen, came the shuffle of footsteps. Two hundred years later, Kreacher poked his ugly, mangled-prune head around the doorway.
“Drinking again, the filthy blood traitor who is not worthy to be here in my mistress’s lovely house,” Kreacher muttered, before stopping short, his eyes wide as he caught sight of the tottering tower of crystal glasses. Something like a hoarse scream escaped his shrivelled throat.
“Those glasses belong to my mistress,” Kreacher snarled. “Master Sirius is going to break them all, my mistress’s precious possessions!”
“Most observant.” Sirius yawned.
“Blood traitor! Ungrateful brat who broke my mistress’s heart!”
He jabbed his wand hard in the air and the whole tower disintegrated, the cascade of glasses ringing and shattering into thousands of dazzling granules. Kreacher let out another strangled cry.
“They’ll be fixed,” Sirius spat, “if you hurry along to the kitchen and fetch me another bottle right away.”
By the time Kreacher re-emerged with a fresh bottle, the reconstituted glasses were arranged in sparkling ranks on the antique table, and the floor was clean. The old elf shot Sirius a look of hatred, eyes narrowed, one chipped tooth visible where the edge of his lip had curled back in a grimace.
“Be off with you.” Sirius grabbed the bottle, helped himself to one of the glasses and poured himself some. Kreacher slunk away, murder scrawled deep in the wrinkles of his face.
At eight o’clock in the evening, Sirius woke with a start on the sofa. He swung his legs off, rubbed his face, the sourness of his own breath catching him by surprise. In the entrance hallway, the front door banged, followed by the whoosh of Walburga Black’s portrait curtains sweeping open, and her screams shrilling through every crack in the walls, amplified by all the vacant passageways of the house.
“You there, Sirius?” came a familiar voice from the hallway. It was Remus. News, at last!
He leapt off the sofa, his foot kicking at an empty bottle until it clanged against the wainscoting.
“Remus!” he yelped, as he nearly collided with his old friend in the hallway filled with screeching. He directed his wand toward Walburga’s hideous face, the veins throbbing in her temples. “Oh, shut up, Mother, you old hag.”
The curtains swished shut, and Sirius cast a Sealing Charm on them – a temporary one, unfortunately.
“What news, Remus? What’s Dumbledore up to? And the Order? And have you heard from Harry?”
Remus looked tired, as always. His robes were dusty, and the shoulders stained, as though he had been Apparating across great distances, and the sole of one of his shoes was splitting apart.
“One thing at a time, Sirius,” Remus answered wearily. “It’s been a tough week for the Order. I was sent to track down a Ministry worker, – Corrigan was his name – Dumbledore believes him to be either a Death Eater or some poor bloke under the Imperius curse.”
Sirius felt that sickening twang of envy. Envy toward Remus, toward everybody in the Order who were not bolted down and barricaded by protective enchantments in their hideouts.
Remus must have noticed, because he quickly added, “It’s a terribly dull job. And Corrigan managed to give me the slip.” He paused as they entered the living room, cluttered with dozens of wine glasses, a couple of empty Firewhiskey bottles lolling side to side on the floor.
Sirius shrugged. “Have a drink. For old times’ sake.”
“I can’t stay long. I’ve got to meet Tonks at half-past. But I thought I’d just drop in to see how you’ve been managing.”
“Clearly, it’s been fairly easy for me. I get the best part – stay put, don’t move a whisker, drink the whole house dry.”
Remus gave him one of those looks. One of those pitying, cautious, this-is-clearly-a-delicate-matter, tread-carefully-around-the-subject looks. Hands half-way to his pockets, but he’d stopped them just in time. Sirius knew, just bloody knew, what his old mate was going to say next.
“Look, Sirius, I know this hasn’t been easy –”
“I knew it!” he shouted, triumphantly.
“Just successfully predicted what you were going to say, mate. Don’t bother.”
Remus sighed, started back down the entrance hallway. “You need to sober up. You really should. You’re needed in the Order.”
“Mate, don’t tell me.”
Remus hurried down, brushing past Walburga’s curtains, undoing Sirius’ Sealing Charm, and they burst open to reveal her purple face, cheeks ballooning with yet another terrific scream, which she wasted no time unleashing upon the house.
“I’ll see you another day, Sirius.”
“Any news of Harry?” Sirius bellowed after Remus as the front door shut with a testy snap.
“You are not my son!” Walburga shrieked at him, her pale eyeballs protruding in her forehead.
At nine o’clock, Remus was probably well into his meeting with Tonks. Probably having a pint with her as well, and if he knew which buttons to press, he’d get lucky. Sirius, however, was hunched over a writing desk in one of the cleaner rooms of the house, a lamp burning before him. Quill in hand, a square of blank parchment before him.
Dear Harry, it’s been awhile eh, how are things, how’s the DA going, Umbridge and the rest of the Ministry been giving you grief again, you must be sitting for your O.W.L.s now, I remember when I was doing my O.W.L.s with your father all that time ago all that bloody time gone by and now I’m back in the house of my dearly beloved folks, and flipping heck if I thought I’d got scot-free from Azkaban, back in this foetid house well you know how it’s like, you’ve been here before –
Sirius broke the quill into two pieces, regretted his rage instantly, and laid the halves down on the parchment, still blank. From another room, a clock chimed once. Quarter-past. Time to feed Buckbeak, and then maybe he’d fix himself something to help him get through the night.
At half-past eleven, he woke with a start again. Somehow he was back on the sofa and he had been having a rather unpleasant dream that Kreacher was standing on his chest, leering down at him, his hoary, cracked toenails poking the underside of Sirius’s chin. Kreacher is going to build his mistress a new house, a new house that Master Sirius has not despoiled with his alliances with filthy Mudbloods and blood-traitors, and bloody hell if Kreacher hadn’t started laying the very foundations of Grimmauld Place over his chest, brick by brick, weight by weight, Kreacher is going to build his mistress a new house, Kreacher is going to build his mistress a new house.
Sirius rubbed his eyes; he had the vague feeling that the contents of his skull had been scooped cleanly out, and that the inside of his head consisted of nothing but a large bubble of air. There was, in fact, something heavy on his chest. It was a brown barn owl, hooting impatiently, claws digging in over his heart.
A roll of paper was tied round one of its legs; Dumbledore had sent the latest issue of the Evening Prophet as he had been doing every night without fail. Sirius briefly fought the urge to seize the newspaper and hurl it across the room – after all, it was Dumbledore’s idea that he stick himself in this godforsaken place and fester. But news was news was news.
He skimmed through the headlines: Ministry Worker’s Body Found in Muggle Stormwater Drain. Reported Sightings of Dangerous Lunatic Albus Dumbledore. Part 7 of the One-Week Long Interview with Hogwarts’ Headmistress, Dolores Jane Umbridge. Ministry Workers Under Attack? Cornelius Fudge Shoots Down Conspiracy Theorists, Condemns The Quibbler as a ‘Borderline Dangerous Crackpot Publication, Sympathetic to the Causes of Criminals and Juvenile Delinquents’.
Sirius flipped to the start of the paper and read every word this time, cover to cover. No mention of Harry.
James Potter would be ashamed of him, sitting in the house, doing nothing. James had had to go through the same thing before; hadn’t he broken down before Sirius, slapping his palm against the window frame once, not too loudly, in case Lily heard in the next room? At least James had been protecting Harry. He, Sirius, was only protecting himself, while young Harry was out there, in danger.
The Evening Prophet did get hurled across the room, in the end. The owl clucked its beak at him. Tsk, tsk, tsk, it seemed to be saying. He jerked his hand toward it in a shooing gesture, and the idiot bird screeched before swooping off upstairs, where hopefully it would get eaten by Buckbeak.
The next morning, he had yet another shouting match with Walburga’s portrait, during which he maliciously smashed a prized vase – a wedding gift from the Carrows, – in front of her. Afterward, he proceeded to yell for Kreacher to fix him something, breakfast, anything. The result was a bowl of greying porridge that looked like it had been cooked in the Middle Ages. And a whole lot of under-the-breath angry-house-elf ramblings about blood-traitors, bloody traitors, whatever.
The lull of the day was interrupted by a shriek from the upstairs rooms.
“Kreacher!” No reply.
Cursing, he made his way up the twisting stairs to the master bedroom. Buckbeak was flapping one wing, squawking. The other wing was crooked, the feathers spiking at the point of the break. One of his legs seemed skewed as well.
“Merlin’s beard, what happened? Have you hurt yourself?” Sirius started toward Buckbeak, but stopped as the Hippogriff squealed indignantly, beak scissoring sharply at Sirius. “Oh, for goodness’ sake, now? Can’t you just let up on the tradition for once? You’re injured!”
Buckbeak cocked his head to one side, aristocratically. Sirius threw up his hands, and proceeded to take a very deep bow.
“Hurry up,” he muttered through gritted teeth, as Buckbeak clumsily returned the gesture.
The wing and leg needed splints, though Sirius couldn’t be sure; he was no Healer.
“Kreacher!” he shouted again. Where was that inherently useless creature? “Kreacher, drag your arse over here right now!”
There was a loud pop, and Kreacher materialised before Sirius. Buckbeak battered his good wing against his flank over and over again.
“Master should not use such language,” Kreacher hissed. But his reprimand seemed to lack the usual rancour.
“Fetch me a bowl of warm water and some bandages. And a couple of long wooden sticks. Get to it!” Kreacher bowed, almost politely, and Disapparated.
“Broke your wing, did you, flapping around like that?” Sirius said to Buckbeak, who was much calmer now. “I don’t blame you, this place is too tiny for a big Hippogriff like yourself. Or for me.”
He balled his hand into a fist and pressed it hard into his jawbone, until the side of his face began to throb. “Kreacher!”
From downstairs, there came a loud crash, which sounded as though the troll-leg umbrella stand had been knocked over. Ear-splitting screams shot through the whole house. A mirror on the wall shuddered.
“Sirius! Where the devil are you!”
Sirius leapt up, gave Buckbeak a terse pat on the head and bounded down the stairs. Walburga was yowling her head off again, and standing in the living room, looking thoroughly hassled was Remus with his wand drawn. Next to him was Tonks, who didn’t seem much calmer, though her eyes were bright with anticipation, flame-pink hair candy-flossed about her ears.
“Wotcher, Sirius!” Tonks smiled.
“It’s Harry,” Remus said, curtly. “Snape alerted the Order, said Harry had been having some sort of vision, most likely a trap set by Voldemort, and he’s run off now. Most likely heading to the Ministry. Department of Mysteries.”
Remus’ words were floaty in Sirius’ ears. It seemed as though all the blood had gathered into a great fizz in his chest, firing up toward his brain. Something broke, and Sirius knew exactly what it was: it was the heavy, dragging silence that had been sitting in his chest all this while.
“What are we waiting for!” Sirius roared. He hadn’t changed his robes for a good number of days, but there was no time for that now. Now, now! It had started! He raced out the door, Remus calling caution after him, Tonks close at his heels.
It was early evening, and the hum of Muggle traffic was a sudden blooming in his ears.
He Apparated, along with Remus and Tonks to the Ministry of Magic, to the stone-cold, silent Atrium. Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt were already there, and Sirius felt a sudden spasm of joy in his gut at seeing them – really, he could hug them, kiss them, tell them that, at that moment they were all his best mates, and that this moment meant so much to him, so much indeed. But instead, the five of them descended via lift down to Level Nine, Department of Mysteries.
They came across a Death Eater lying on his side, groaning, trying to get to his feet. Moody shot a Stunning Spell at him, knocking him out cold, and Sirius whooped. He was running along Remus and Tonks.
“It’s just like old times!” he hollered to Remus.
“This isn’t a game, Sirius!”
Good old Remus!
Tonks tripped over her feet, but Sirius was too quick; he whipped an arm out, caught her by the back of her robes, steadied her, and gave her a friendly thump on the back.
“How’s my favourite cousin, your mother?” he shouted back to her.
“Hardly the time, Sirius!”
They could hear the sounds of a scuffle now. Another Death Eater lay on the ground, unmoving. Someone was talking. Kingsley led them through a door, and they burst into a vast amphitheatre of a room, tiers of benches descending to a circular sunken space in the centre. There was a stone dais down in the middle, and upon that was a towering arch of ragged stone, from which hung a black, threadbare curtain, fluttering in a non-existent breeze. Harry, Ron, Hermione and a couple of other Hogwarts students were being surrounded by more Death Eaters. Malfoy. Rookwood. Dolohov. Dear old cousin Bella!
There was a moment’s silence, and then the spells broke out, lancing across the immense room, rebounding off the walls, red, green, orange. Light spilled from wands, people fell, yelled, and there was Sirius, swept up in the streaking light and the tide of dilating noise, ramming into Dolohov’s back, tackling him to the ground. They both rolled to their feet, shooting spells, until Dolohov stiffened, his whole body lined up straight like a rod, and fell to the ground with a thud. Harry stood in front of Sirius, wand aloft, with a nervous grin on his face.
A rush of affection for his god-son. “Well done, Harry! Just like your father!”
Not far off, Tonks crumpled to the ground before Bellatrix, who shrieked in triumph, brandishing her wand high in the air for the coup-de-grace.
“Mine!” Sirius shouted, joyfully, and Bella’s dark eyes lifted off her niece’s fallen form to jeer at him.
“Come out of your hidey-hole at last, have you, Sirius?”
He shot a spell at her, and she blocked. Her eyes burned brightly, much too brightly, and he saw her like the girl she had been, long ago. A distant memory, one that surfaced irrelevantly, but he couldn't shake the image from his mind. Bella, aged eleven, throwing a furious tantrum at the top of her shrill, nasally voice. Waving about her new wand in the same manner as she was doing now, threatening to set fire to the lustreless drapes of curtains.
Out of the gaggle of bug-eyed Black cousins and siblings, only Sirius had dared to egg her on, taunting her with the baby name that infuriated her beyond measure – a grotesque inversion of her real name, which now bubbled up from some deep pit of memory to his mouth, to the promontory of his tongue, and then he was snorting.
“Trixie! Trixie-belle! Trixiebella! How you've grown!”
The whites of Bella’s eyes swelled, nearly blotting out her dark irises, and the sneer was ironed right out of her thin, pencil-straight mouth. She looked like she was going to scream again, maybe even stamp her foot. Just like her eleven-year-old self. It was so impossibly funny that he tossed his head back and nearly choked on his own laughter, and at that, Bellatrix Lestrange raised her wand and fired a searing curse straight through Sirius’s heart.
Sirius hadn’t been aware of just exactly where he had been standing, which turned out to be directly in front of the archway, at the bottom of the sunken room. His brain registered surprise at its presence – he had never seen the thing, and if he had the time, he’d have sworn that it was the archway which had moved, which had crept up on him, waiting, as though it would stretch out a gnarled stone limb to tap him on the shoulder.
Bella’s scarlet sizzler of a curse knocked him off his feet, sent a concentrated blow slamming through Sirius’s chest cavity; the magic was reflexive and the spell ill-chosen, but the force of his cousin’s fury and her calculated aim were both true to her intent. Blunt force trauma. The shockwave splintered through his ribcage, fissuring through the cardiac wall of the left ventricle, and rupturing that massive, vital artery, – the aorta – where blood is propelled through at terrific pressures. He didn’t bleed, not externally, but inside, the broken artery, wrenched away from the still-beating heart, gushed more blood than anyone could have guessed. He would have been dead within minutes, had it not been for that devious archway sneaking up behind him, seizing him in its ethereal grip as he drifted backwards, the slivered edge of the curtain prickling the nape of his neck.
The moment his body started to cross the archway through the division of the veil, time deflated and everything slowed, lost focus and direction; the blood pounding in his head became loud and leisurely, a thick red slug leaking all through his body. Sirius swallowed, and was amused to feel the glob of air bump its way along the length of his oesophagus, before getting lost somewhere between his lungs. There was someone hollering his name lazily, sound in slow motion, an elongated cry like a rubber glove pulled across miles of air.
Then came the sequence of random images. Unconnected scenes, warm moving colours, tickling the back of his eyes, and Sirius looked into them, watched them, and decided that he did not remember them. He did not remember, for example, his mother or the gold-mounted portrait of her dominating the entrance hallway of the family house, the ludicrous way her lips peeled apart and her throat opened, nor did he remember all her wailing, her voice scraping at the highest registers of tolerable sound. He did not remember Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place at all, wedged in an Unplottable dimension between Muggle dwellings; he did not remember feeling vicious satisfaction whenever his parents cursed the abundance of Muggles sprouting like weeds around their ancestral house. Nor did he remember the affection he felt for these anonymous neighbours, whom he never knew, and will never know. He did not remember all the times during the evening, when he would push open a window and watch the city slowing down, its streets expanding as the cars turned off into side streets, and the buildings retreating into sharp outlines of themselves, framed in a yellow glow.
He did not remember Kreacher or Buckbeak the Hippogriff nuzzling the side of his head against Sirius’s hand, asking for a scratch on the chin. He did not even remember Harry, or that half-empty look his god-son sometimes had, or the grimy, pigeon-filled morning when they’d set off for King’s Cross together, Sirius in his black dog shape padding along platforms past the hissing doors of trains. He did not remember Azkaban, or Hogwarts, or running away at last, blasting the front door to pieces. He did not remember the apricot-tiled kitchen of the Potters, the thick lather spilling over the sink, the baking-bread smell making his stomach curve inwards.
Sirius did not remember the thrill of riding his flying motorbike, when he accelerated through the night, so quickly that he was sure he’d left an imprint of himself behind, because some part of his body couldn’t catch up with the sudden explosion of speed. He did not remember the deaths of James and Lily Potter. He did not remember standing outside the ruins of their house, rocking back and forth on his heels, biting hard on his fist, teeth meeting knuckle until blood broke through. He did not remember Voldemort, or Wormtail the traitor, or Remus, or Tonks, or cousin Bella with her feverish, giant-child outbursts.
Instead, this is what he remembered. Laughter. Space. The Quidditch pitch opening out into nothing, and at the edge are four boys, three of their names already forgotten. Sirius is one of them, standing next to a bespectacled boy with a gold buzzing thing clutched in one hand, and a broomstick in the other. The boys flicker in form, but their voices are remarkably clear. They are in the middle of an elaborate planning scheme for something that will take place the next night when a full moon is set to rise.
It is then that one of the boys quips, “You’re not serious, are you?”
And it is Sirius who answers, “Too right I am!”
It’s an old joke, one that became stale almost immediately because of its obviousness, but still, all four boys laugh as they recede into the distance, one of them lifting an arm to thump another on the back. Too right I am, too right I am, Sirius’s words echo in his own head as everything melts and slowly, he returns to the dimming chamber at the Ministry of Magic, the thickness layering in his ears, lining his eyelids with lead.
He is nearly through the archway now. The momentum of Bella’s curse will see him right through, and in the process, he will slough off such things like sight, hearing, memory, any trace of living sensation. This can’t be avoided.
But for now, Sirius can still make time. Time to look in at the last thing that he remembers, hear the closing crunch of laughter, time to watch the boys whiten and vanish and wonder who they are, and all the while hearing his own voice whisper across a vast field, too right, too right, I am, I am, I am.
A/N: The characters and anything else you recognise belong to J.K. Rowling.
The structure and style of this fic, especially the second half of it, was influenced by Tobias Wolff's short story, Bullet in the Brain. The line, 'But for now, Sirius can still make time' is borrowed from the abovementioned story, and has been altered slightly. The original line by Wolff is as follows: But for now, Anders can still make time.
Many thanks to Isobel/The Misfit for allowing me to refer to Bellatrix as 'Trixie'. The idea is hers, and references to her Bellatrix can be found in her story, Black Family Secrets.
Many thanks as well to Gina/UnwrittenCurse and ElysiumJayne for holding such wonderful challenges.
And thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think. ♥
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