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Chapter 39 : II. In the End
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Sirius set the empty firewhisky bottle on the dusty table with a clunk, and rested his head in his hands. He looked across to the other end of the dingy kitchen, where a pile of dirty dishes lay strewn about the counter near the sink. There was no reason to clean it up – it wasn’t like anyone was there to judge him for it.
It had been like this ever since Harry and Hermione and all the Weasleys had left a week ago to return to Hogwarts, and the others had departed to do some work for the Order. Only a week and he was already bored out of his mind, aching to leave. It had been wonderful to have so many people here, but now he was back to day after day of being imprisoned inside his family’s old house – a place that, as a teenager, he had sworn he would never come back to. But here he was, trapped inside indefinitely and not allowed out. Everyone else was risking their lives, and Sirius felt completely useless and miserable. He wanted to help, to do anything but sit here.
It would have been mildly acceptable if he hadn’t been alone. But it was just him. Him and the old house he hated, and nothing but a now empty bottle of Firewhisky to keep him company. And Kreacher, the old house-elf, skulking around upstairs and muttering foul things under his breath, bringing back unhappy memories. It was enough to drive anyone mad.
Sirius missed the days when, despite being the Ministry’s most wanted man, he’d felt free and able to travel all around North Africa while on the run. Voldemort hadn’t returned yet by that point. And Sirius had been corresponding by owl with a few people over the past year – Harry, Dumbledore, Remus, and Melanie. It had been so easy compared to now.
Since last summer when he’d unexpectedly found Melanie in Morocco, they had been writing back and forth, and she had even occasionally come to visit him in the miserable cave in Scotland where he’d lived for much of the year. Her first visit was rather emotional and confusing; they had kissed once, and to Sirius it was like a breath of fresh air for a drowning man. But Melanie had pulled away too soon, overcome with guilt; she was married, after all. Afterwards, they’d managed to avoid that path, and maintained a solid friendship. It was nice to be close to someone again, even if not in the way he would have liked. And as much as it hurt sometimes to see her, knowing that she was out of his reach and things could never return to the way they had been, at least he had a great friend – and that was enough, after the hell of so many years of solitude.
Often, when Melanie visited, Remus and Mandy came along as well, and they brought food – it was almost like old times, surrounded by his friends, or at least those that were still alive. But it had been months since then, since he’d moved back to this old house. Hopefully, things would be changing soon; about a week ago he’d gotten a response to his letter in which he’d invited Melanie to come visit him and reminded her to rejoin the Order of the Phoenix now that Voldemort had returned.
She should have been here a few days ago, though. Sirius took her letter out of his pocket and smoothed it out on the table to re-read it.
Of course I’ll come back and join the Order! Dumbledore wrote to me about it last month, but I didn’t come then because I’ve been so busy at work – there’s some weird stuff going on. I actually had been nervous about joining the Order again, because what happens to Archie and the kids if something happens to me? But then I was thinking about what you said… and you’re right, the best thing I can do for them is fighting in the Order for their safety. It just seems a lot scarier this time around. Anyway, I’ll come by on the 10th of September. It’s been ages since I’ve seen you and we have loads to talk about! Can’t wait to see you.
He ran his thumb over where she’d written Love. So innocently written, but it just made him confused. In Morocco, he had rashly told her he still loved her just before Apparating away, and although they hadn’t discussed that since then, he found himself sort of hoping that in addition to joining the Order, she was coming to say something along the lines of ‘I’m still madly in love with you’. It was unlikely, but he had to have hope.
After he’d found out a year ago that Melanie was happily married, it had taken a while to adjust to the idea at first. Melanie seemed to sense this and never discussed her family, until finally Sirius had asked about them. He was glad for her, but it still hurt; his life had been stolen from him the day he was sent to Azkaban. If not for Wormtail switching sides, Sirius wouldn’t be sitting alone in this old miserable house; he’d be married to Melanie and it would be their own kids going off to Hogwarts in a couple of years.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang. Sirius jumped up from the table, stuffed the letter back in his pocket, and began to walk into the hall. Then he halted, turned around and performed a quick cleaning charm on the kitchen to tidy up the mess of dirty dishes and empty Firewhisky bottles before walking over to unlock the many bolts on the door. It had to be her.
It wasn’t. On his doorstep stood Remus. “Oh… hey, Moony,” said Sirius, standing aside to let his best friend in. Okay, so it wasn’t who he expected, but he wasn’t going to complain when there were actually people here at the house.
Remus had spent the last week wandering around on a bit of misinformation looking for the werewolves who were helping Voldemort. His sources had been wrong, so he had come back, and would have to get more accurate information for next time. And he still couldn’t get a job because he was a werewolf. Sirius didn’t have much to update Remus about, since he couldn’t go anywhere or do anything that didn’t involve cleaning the house.
Half an hour later, the doorbell rang again and this time it was Tonks, who helped drive out the silence of the old musty house; she accidentally knocked over the troll-leg umbrella stand again, and the portrait in the hallway of Sirius’s mother started screeching. “I’m sorry!” Tonks cried, setting the stand upright again as Remus replaced the moth-eaten curtains over the hideous portrait. “That happens every time! I was even thinking this time about how I should make sure to avoid it, but I tripped anyway!”
“I thought you’d be here,” Tonks said to Remus as the three of them walked into the kitchen to sit. “I just heard from Kingsley – apparently there was an attack at the Department of Mysteries a few days ago. Only it was hushed up and the Daily Prophet of course won’t say a word, so we just found out. Had you heard, Sirius?”
“How would I have heard about anything?” Sirius asked. “I’ve been shut in this house and you’ve all been away. You’ve even been there at the Department of Mysteries guarding that doorway.”
“I know you want to help,” she said sympathetically. “I’d be going spare if it was me.”
“So what happened at the Ministry?” Remus asked.
Tonks sighed. “Well, the Death Eaters killed one of the Unspeakables there who caught them trying to break in. I don’t even think she knew anything about the prophecy – Kingsley thinks she was tortured for information and then killed.”
Sirius froze. He knew someone who worked at the Department of Mysteries. Someone very special to him. “Who was it?” he asked, trying to keep the alarm out of his voice. “Anyone we know?”
“Someone called Melanie Summerby,” said Tonks. Her words were met with a suffocating silence while Remus watched Sirius. Sirius rested his face in his hands, his eyes closed, and said nothing.
“She was in the Order last time,” Remus quietly explained to Tonks. “A… close friend of ours.”
“Oh – I didn’t realise; you never said,” Tonks apologised.
It was just as hard for Sirius to hear the news this time around. He had already lost Melanie once, or so he thought at the time, when she’d been in St. Mungo’s after being gravely injured by a Death Eater. Sirius could still remember standing by her bed in the hospital, holding her limp, pale hand, seeing her wild mess of brown curly hair unkempt and matted on the pillow – he couldn’t believe such a strong person had been reduced to a shadow. A Healer, insisting there was nothing to be done, had had to force him to leave. Sirius had felt so hollow, so lost without her; he’d instantly thrown himself into the most dangerous Order missions in an attempt to find meaning again. The image of Melanie lying lifeless had haunted him for years in Azkaban.
Last time, the Potters had been there to help him – for a few days, anyway. But now, there was no James or Lily. Melanie hadn’t been his girl for fourteen years; she had managed to move on with her life, while his had just stood still. He’d never gotten over her. And now she’d died, and it hurt to lose her for the second time… the girl who meant the world to him; the girl he would have done anything for. He’d been in love with her for half his life, even though for most of this time he’d thought her to be dead, just a memory. If Sirius had been able to leave the house, maybe he could have saved her. His face still in his hands, he turned slightly away from Remus and Tonks so they wouldn’t be able to see the tears welling up in his eyes.
He had failed with so many he loved; they kept getting taken away from him – James, Lily, Melanie… Sirius felt a hand on his shoulder and saw Remus, his presence reminding Sirius that although he’d lost so much, there was still a lot he hadn’t lost. Remus would always be there for him. And James and Lily’s son was still alive. Sirius thought of Harry as his own son, and would never let anything happen to Harry. Ever. He owed that much to his best friend.
“Come on, you can do better than that!” Sirius yelled at Bellatrix, laughing as he ducked away from a jet of red light. But then she fired again. He saw the jet of light too late, before he had a chance to react to it, and he felt it hit him on the chest. The scene around him faded into black, and he knew no more.
What felt like a few seconds later, he came to, lying on the floor and looking upward at a tattered veil blowing in a breeze. Bellatrix was nowhere to be seen, nor the rest of the Death Eaters, or Harry, or anyone. Had he just fallen asleep and then woken up after the battle ended? Bewildered, he sat up, and became aware of hushed, whispering voices around him.
“Padfoot?” asked a voice. A very familiar voice he hadn’t heard for a long time.
“Prongs?” said Sirius in disbelief. It couldn’t be… But there was James, standing beside him, a huge grin on his face. James reached out a hand and helped a very confused Sirius to his feet, then gave him a huge hug, clapping him on the back. “Am I dead?” Sirius finally asked.
“Yep,” said James. “Good to see you again, mate.”
In the distance, Sirius thought he could see Regulus, who had died during the first war after trying to back out of the Death Eaters. He stared across the misty crowd at his estranged brother, and next to him James said, “You really should hear Regulus’s story. Apparently he found out Voldemort’s secret and destroyed it, how brilliant is that? He died a hero, but we had no idea at the time.”
Sirius grinned at Regulus, feeling a sense of pride he hadn’t felt about Regulus in years. Regulus smiled back.
“Sirius!” cried another voice. He turned to see one person shoving her way through the other ghostly figures surrounding the veil, her curly hair bouncing behind her as she ran. “Took you long enough to come see me again,” she laughed as she flung her arms around him. Finally coming to his senses in his new surroundings, he hugged Melanie back. If this was death, it wasn’t too bad.
After they had released one another, Sirius looked back at James and then at Melanie again to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him, drinking in the view, but then his attention was drawn back to the waving, tattered curtain, his curiosity piqued. “Have you ever looked back through this?” he asked, and took a few steps toward it, ready to pull it back a bit and maybe say goodbye to Harry, if he could.
But Melanie grabbed his hand, preventing him from going to the veil. “You can’t,” she said sadly. “That’s the world of the living. We don’t belong there anymore.”
“I just…” He shrugged. “Prongs, your son is out there right now! You could see him!”
James shook his head. “I can’t,” was all he said.
“Believe me, I thought about it too,” said Melanie. “The first thing anyone thinks when they end up here is how much they wish they could say goodbye. When I died, I never got to say goodbye to my family, or to Mandy, or you. But you wouldn’t be able to do anything if you went back. Harry knows you cared about him and that you would have wanted to say goodbye – you died protecting him.”
“But I failed.”
“No you didn’t,” said James. “He’s still alive. Still fighting to take down Voldemort.”
“I wish you could have seen him grow up,” said Sirius. “He reminds me so much of you.”
James nodded. “I wish that too. At least we had what time we did, though.”
Sirius turned to look at Melanie. Their lives hadn’t been what they’d dreamed of when they were young and invincible, but at least they’d had the happiest four years together before all of this happened.
“Come away from that curtain,” said Melanie with a smile. “We have lots to talk about.”
“And Lily’s here too,” James added. “She’ll want to see you.”
Sirius allowed Melanie to take his hand and lead him away, as he looked back towards the veil still waving in the archway, waving him onwards and away. Melanie’s friend Charlotte appeared, and Sirius looked around to find many others they’d known in life – people from Hogwarts, from the Order, people who had died many years ago, all together again. Shortly Lily emerged from the crowd as well, greeting Sirius with a smile, and after a happy reunion they all continued walking, this time without looking back – away from the veil and into the unknown.
Author’s Note: Infinite thanks to the lovely validators for all their hard work, and their patience with my borderline obsessive compulsive editing. :P
Thanks to everyone who favourited this story, and who took the time to leave a review – your feedback was so wonderful to hear. Special thanks to Rose, for your reviews on every chapter! It really meant the world to me! Also to Aperkins, Rumpelstiltskin, oldnumberseven, and JEP Andela for your thoughtful compliments that always brightened my day.
Last but certainly not least, thanks to you for reading. I really appreciate every one of you who took the time to read this little story of mine. Hugs to all of you ♥
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