An AU one-shot. Sirius Black chose to become the Potter's Secret Keeper. Enter Bellatrix, friends, ex-best friends and formerly-tolerated-but-now-despised relatives, all of them wanting just a litt...
They had asked him to be their Secret-Keeper, and he had said yes.
They had asked him, that bright little day no more than a week ago, to hold the key to their lives in his hands. They had thrust the responsibility in his direction, the duty to protect his best friends and their child from he who was hunting them. He who would kill them as he would kill the rest of the world.
And he had said yes.
Of course, they didn't come out straight and open about asking him to put his life in mortal danger. They had danced around the issue like birds pecking around a grain of feed, hitting a kernel of truth every now and again, but mostly giving him words as old as dirt.
Of course, you don't have to...
We can't possibly ask you...
It would mean so much to us...
The phrase 'only if you want to' had come up far more often than was necessary.
They had been hesitant, fearful of his choice, the only possible choice, and he could not say no.
They should have known he wouldn't refuse. No, they had known, and had counted on that fact. They appeared to have wheedled him, to try and convince him, but they --and he --had known all along what the outcome would be. The dance was just a formality, so that consciences all around would be clear.
He had agreed of his own, foolish, brave and undeniably free will.
When they had finally dug up the nerve to ask him outright, he had baulked for a moment. Images of what would happen should he fail this one immortal task flashed before his eyes. He had told them to use Dumbledore, to use Remus. Anybody with a hope, anybody stronger.
They only looked at him, all three of them together staring into his eyes. The child's face was a mirror of his parents, a beautiful combination of two souls with so much to live for and so much love between them. The boy's eyes were green as his mother's, his scruffy hair black and already untameable. What did he have that possibly compared to such a defenceless life?
They had to live for the boy, and so they asked this one small thing. He could not say no, but he could change their minds.
"You are strong. We trust you." they had reassured him endlessly. When that failed, they reasoned with him. "Dumbledore had too much riding on his shoulders already without adding this worry. And Remus..." They had cast their eyes about the room, then back to each other. "None of us are sure about Remus."
The words had hurt because they were true. No one was sure about Remus anymore.
He had known that the Hunter would find him, would follow him across the globe to acquire the information. He would find who hid the Potter's from him and he would be broken like a twig in the storm of the Dark Lord's wrath, unable to stand up to He Who Must Not Be Named, and yet had to be spoken of anyway. Voldemort would take him, and the world crumble to pieces because Lily and James Potter had placed so much faith in trustworthy old Padfoot.
"Use Peter." The words had twisted out of his mouth, useless before they even passed over his tongue, almost as useless as Peter would be at such a task. The image was almost laughable, Peter Pettigrew contending with He Who Must Not Be Named, Lord of Darkness and Master of the Dark Mark?
Peter would have the tortured face floating above his own house in a matter of minutes, and then over Lily and James' graves before the night was over.
James had smiled sadly. Lily just stared pleadingly at him, answering without words. They had depended on him to make the moral, selfless choice that they would have made for him. To stay true to what some would call the character of Sirius Black, but what he called a mock-up of what people wanted to believe.
And of course, inevitably, irreversibly, he said yes.
Thank you, Padfoot.
We know you won't fail.
Reflecting back, he would have made the same choice again.
Bellatrix Lestrange stared at him from across the room, eyes glinting like demons in the darkness. Her hair and robes melded in with the walls behind her so all that was visible was her pale face and two white hands, one elegantly gripping a wand, the other hanging loose at her side. She smiled at him, and her teeth were suddenly white in the darkness. "Hello, cousin dearest."
"Bella." He stepped out of the doorway into his apartment and shut the door lightly behind him. He moved a pace forwards and dropped his bags on the hall table with one hand, the other one reaching unconsciously into his robes. "What brings you here? Your mother finally kick you out of her house?"
She kept smiling that disconcerting smile across the room at him. "Sirius," she said it as if to a misbehaving child. "You've be very troublesome of late."
Images of what she had done to wizards and witches flashed before Sirius' eyes, her work leaving behind burnt-out shells of what were once the best of the Order.
Sirius shrugged, hiding the terror that was building in his chest with the movement and hoping that in the dark she could not see how his fingers shook around the base of his wand. They had come to take him already. It was so soon, too soon. "I do my part."
She laughed at him, outright and hysterically, leaving Sirius staring at her. "Cousin dearest, I do believe you have done more than your part." She chuckled softly again. "Far more than your part. You deserve to be rewarded for all that you have done against my master, for all the disorder you have created with you work. What you are hiding now is not worth what you will reap."
So that was her game. The terror depleted somewhat, leaving a shell of nervousness and bland confidence behind.
"Have they shown you any thanks? Any of them? Have they offered themselves up for your disposal in homage to the danger you have put yourself in? They should be begging at your feet." She paused for a breath of time. Sirius didn't answer. She glided close to him and leaned forward so that he could smell the heady lilac-and-lavender perfume in her hair. She'd used the same scent all through school. Once, he and James had exchanged it for essence of garlic. "Have they shown you any appreciation?" She hissed the words at him.
Sirius stared at her eyes, dark as ever, but so different from when she had been a girl at Hogwarts. They now had a hint of madness sparkling behind the cunning and cruelty, a glimmer of a frantic lust for power behind the poise and beauty. He smiled icily at her folly. She should have killed him when he stepped in the door. "You don't know them. They show me their thanks every time I walk into the room, each time I see them happy and alive." He smiled again, this time with satisfaction. "I bet that's more than your master has ever shown you, and you stand to lose a lot more if caught than ever I could. I hope you will enjoy your time in Azkaban when this is finished, but from what I've heard, it's unlikely."
She stepped back away from him and drew level to his eyes. She had always been tall and had used it to intimidate him when they were younger. "But the Dark Lord has shown me gratitude," she giggled in a most un-Death- Eater-like fashion. "I am one of the highest-ranking witches in his circle. I am rich! You haven't seen the like of the riches I own! Jewels! Spells!" She laughed the last words, then grew serious again. "Let me see those you protect beat what my lord could gift you with. He can offer you the world, Sirius. Cities, entire governments at your disposal."
And so the cards were thrown out onto the table. This hand he could trump.
"They give me more than you could ever know, Bella. It's in their eyes." He was getting both morbid and poetic. Oh, Merlin, he was going to die. "Their eyes tell me how much what I am doing matters to them, and that is enough for me. Let me see your lord beat the honest, human emotion of gratitude." His voice ended bitterly.
She smiled sadly at him. "Sirius, you were ever the devoted pet to your friends, like a dog who would be shot down defending it's owner." She said it condescendingly.
Sirius' eyes narrowed at her. "You would die for your master, wouldn't you? For his cause?" She stopped and stood stock-still, unwavering. He pressed on, harsher. "Wouldn't you?"
After another long moment, she nodded. "I would, cousin."
"How is that any different than James and I?"
She glared at him, vehemence being conveyed across the space between them. Then, as if realising she had lost the first fight, straightened and seemed to grow larger in the shadows. "Tell me where James and his puppet-wife are hidden, and I may let you live." The coy tone was gone. It was back to business.
The flickering images returned. Marlene McKinnon, murdered in her house along with her Muggle husband and children. Benjy Fenwick, dead with his own wand still cursing what was left of him.
Sirius was tempted to laugh in her face, to cover his disconcertment with blatant mockery, but decided against it. His mouth wouldn't move. Unwillingly, he felt himself shudder at the list of curses she had available. Dark words, blacker than should have ever been dug up from the vaults of time and wizards past, to be practiced in fields with virgins tied to a burning pole for the Gods. They were to be spoken in his dark little apartment, above the abandoned cafÃ© that had once served the best cup of coffee in Godric's Hollow.
She smiled with disdain. "Scared, are you? Terrified of your wee cousin Bella?" Her voice dropped into a conspiring whisper, "and you should be."
The shadows moved.
They lurched into life, taking the forms of men and women in black robes and masks raising their wands. The edges of the room were alive with them, a half dozen Death Eaters sent to attack one man as he entered unwittingly into his house.
He focused his eyes on Bellatrix. Sirius would not - could not --give them the satisfaction of seeing his growing fear. He planted his feet to the floor and resisted the urge to bolt out the door, screaming. He would stare his death in the face, not be captured while running.
The Death Eater nearest to him flicked out his or her wand and the door scraped closed, maddeningly slow, and with it vanished the glow of the moon outside. Sirius was left to face the dark alone.
Bellatrix seemed content to take her time. She wandered lazily through the small rooms, picking up objects and setting them carefully back down, lights still turned off. She finally came to a halt in front of a stack of boxes leaning against a wall. She cautiously opened one up, paying no heed to the Death Eaters that still pointed their wands at a frozen Sirius. She pulled out a stack of plates.
"Going somewhere, Sirius? Not thinking of moving out of this quaint little abode of yours, are you?"
They had talked about it, he and James and Dumbledore, and had agreed that Sirius should move as far away from James as possible without looking conspicuous. Before their son had been born, James and Lily had wanted to live as close to old friends as possible. Safety in numbers, they had said, but now, living so close was a dead give away to Voldemort to where the Potter's were hiding. Sirius had agreed to move as soon as possible.
It hadn't been soon enough.
James and Lily were right down the street, in the house that had once stood at the end of the block that had vanished a week ago. They would be sleeping soundly, not knowing that a few doors down and across the road the enemy's servant was having a conversation with her cousin.
Sirius realized with a start that Bellatrix waited for an answer. He'd thought she was finished toying with him, but obviously not. "I was thinking of moving to the country. All these houses so close together--can't be healthy." Actually, he had planed to move to London, deeper into the wizarding community.
"The country? I suppose you would have bought a farm, one with a nice, big forest? Perfect for you to run through as a dog, you know. You could even bring your friend Lupin along on a full moon. Padfoot and Moony," she chuckled. "Oh, to be young again. When did you come up with those names? Fifth year, I'm betting. About the time you three became Animagi?"
Sirius couldn't help but stare. How had she found out? They hadn't told anybody but Lily in years, not even Dumbledore. Unless...
Unless Remus truly was a traitor.
He leaned back and crossed his arms, assuming a nonchalant stance. "Who told you?" He wouldn't believe it was Remus. The man may have been a werewolf, but he wasn't evil. He had a Dark creature inside him, for sure, but the wolf didn't influence his human decisions. At least, it never had before. Bella grinned, pleased.
"Come out." She beckoned with a hand at a shadow, as if calling a dog. Sirius looked to the corner, where robes rustled between two unmoving Death Eaters. A figure shuffled out, hunched up and dragging his feet. Bellatrix moved over to a window, high up on the wall, and slid open the blinds.
A shred of moonlight beamed down into the room, falling across that stumbling figure who moved so familiarly. "Peter?" Sirius could barely form the question. "Why are you here?" He knew his confusion was evident on his face when Bellatrix laughed. What had they done to him, to drag him along to Sirius' house?
But there were no marks on the Animagus' face, no spots of blood or signs that he was forced. It hit like a brick. Like a truckload of bricks. One horrible answer -- the only explanation possible for how they had known when he would return, and Bella's strange knowledge of their school nicknames.
"Peter." Sirius hissed the name out this time, rage building. They had suspected Remus Lupin, of all people! All along it had been little Peter Pettigrew, ignored by all but Sirius and James, who had ratted - ratted, ironic - them out to Voldemort. Anger built in his chest, threatening to explode. This man, this rat, was a traitor, and they had trusted him with their lives, with the life of a child too young to know his future, and he had betrayed them all. He had destroyed it all for a lord who would wipe out half the world, and Peter with it. Peter had killed the Potters.
Sirius took a step forward, wand raised.
The Death Eaters instantly moved in as if trained for just such a situation. Sirius stopped, but didn't lower his wand. "You filth," he seethed. It was so obvious to him now; Peter would be the one always vanishing in the night and turning up in the mornings. It had been Peter who had offered to take young Harry into hiding with him, to 'protect him from He Who Must Not Be Named while Lily and James escape'. And Sirius had thought to make him the Potters' Secret-Keeper! To hand them to Voldemort on a silver platter!
Peter shied away from him at the words, then grinned up at Sirius. "A little slow there, Sirius. You should know by now that following the Dark Lord is the only way to survive."
"You spineless worm. We trusted you."
"Testy, testy. Watch that temper of yours, Padfoot, or I my have your tongue cut out for the sport of it."
This man would kill off his best friends to get in Voldemort's good books. "You mindless piece of dirt, you bloody traitor/." Sirius felt his temper rise higher at Peter's cool tone. "We /loved you!"
Peter leaned back on his heels and crossed his arms. "I prefer the term 'expedient opportunist'. I'm only doing what will be right in the end, Sirius. Come off whatever high horse you're riding and admit it. You know that the Dark Lord is the only way to true greatness. You aren't fit to wash his robes! You have something he wants, Sirius, and you will give it to him, or we will make you beg for death. Nothing you can do will stop it; the only way is to tell us where you've hidden James and Lily. You will grovel-"
Bellatrix cut him off with a sharp gesture. "Enough, worm. Slither off into the background before I slip with my wand and curse you into the beyond."
Peter bowed humbly, muttering, "Yes, Madame Lestrange. Sorry, Madame Lestrange," and stepped back from Bellatrix's view.
The sight was almost amusing. "Playing the dog as well as the rat, now, are you Peter?" Sirius shook his head. "Never would have thought you would be the one bowing and scraping to vile old Bella. Your younger self would be ashamed." Peter didn't answer for fear of agitating Bellatrix. She was not known for her tolerance.
"Shut up, cousin. Your wit is melting what little brain he has left." Bella walked towards him once more, stopping just a foot in front of him. "Pity," she began, scrutinising his face in the dark. "You would have made a marvellous Death Eater."
"Pity," Sirius agreed scathingly. His mind was inexplicably clear. They had come for one thing, and he was not going to give it to them. He would take the consequences, and, if he lived, exact his revenge upon those before him.
"We're going to kill you if you don't tell us, you know." She said it bluntly.
"Double pity for you to waste your efforts."
She grinned. "Always the charmer." She seemed to debate something with herself. "I shouldn't tell you this, but since you're about to die anyways, I see no harm. I picked this task especially. I've always wanted to see you writhe in pain, but I also had an unexplainable urge to make sure that family died with family. I must be growing sentimental in my old age."
"Yes, murdering your cousin shows great tenderness."
Bella grinned. "I'm almost sorry. Almost. You've always had more spunk than that half-witted brother of yours. Oh!" She looked shocked. "I do believe he is here somewhere, under one of those hoods. Apologies, Regulus."
She stood there for a moment, contemplating the other Death Eaters surrounding them, and then decided that she had had enough of talking with him. Bellatrix gestured for the robed wizards to raise their wands, and she brought her up with them. "Any parting word for us, Sirius? The Potters' address, perhaps?"
He could almost feel the curses forming themselves in their minds. Would they kill him? It made him pause. Better dead than the other things they were capable of. There was one thing, though. "Tell them to remove their masks. I'd like to see who I'm fighting."
She nodded solemnly. "Off with the cloaks it is, then. Grant a dying man his last request." The masks and hoods were tossed to the sides rhythmically. Sirius turned slowly, staring at each face. Lucius Malfoy was to his left, with a man named Crabbe and another who Sirius thought was Rabastan standing imposingly tall. He swivelled on the spot, glaring at those to his right, at Nott and Rookwood and lastly at Regulus. His brother was standing still, any guilt invisible.
"Done staring? Good. We really must be gone before daybreak. Feel special, cousin. You have a half dozen of the very best to take care of you. Normally we'd only send two, maybe three, to deal with a wizard of your calibre. We felt you deserved something a little more formal. Absolutely positive you won't tell where the Potters' hidey-hole is? Very well. He's ours, boys. Have fun."
The wands were up. The words were on their tongues, and beams lanced from their wands. Sirius ducked and dodged backwards, his own wand cursing whoever was closest. He saw Regulus hit the ground and felt nothing.
Unforgivable curses, ones he had never before spoken, flew to his lips, leaving screams and another body in their wake. But it was hopeless. Seven to one was impossible odds for any wizard, even if one of the seven was Wormtail. He danced away from them, ignoring the sealed door, breaking objects, throwing vile curses he didn't know he knew over his shoulder, as he ran to the windows in his bedroom, the only ones big enough to let him into the world.
He knew it was pointless.
Their curses eventually found him, stabbing into his body, and he screamed his defiance to the world, for he would never tell.
Down the block, a baby woke up and began to cry.
Sirius floated. Or sank. Or rose. He didn't quite know. He didn't quite care, though he knew at some point it might be good to find out.
He could smell burnt lilacs and a hint of lavender. It was strange, but he knew he had smelt them before, and not in his family gardens. His mind chased the scent for a minute, them forgot about it and turned back to floating.
All in all, it wasn't an unpleasant sensation. Sort of like flying, only softer than a broom and quieter than his motorbike. He'd loved that bike, especially when flying through a cloud on a hot day. The bike hadn't liked that much, the gears got soaked, but it was nothing a little drying spell couldn't take care of. He was tempted to open his eyes to check if any clouds were sailing past, then decided it called for too much effort. Breathing also called for too much effort, but his mind said that stopping that would also stop the flying. Or floating.
He was even more tempted to find out what he was doing, because it would have to stop sometime. He might hit something soon.
He tried to move his arms, to feel around him, but he couldn't budge from his relaxed pose. Oh, well. He'd have to wait and see.
He loosened his muscles and tried to be patient. It wasn't like anything interesting could be going on. What, like there would be a party or--or a battle or anything happening in a world where all you could do was float? He had all the time in the universe; might as well start spending it now. What could possibly stop him?
He thought back to what he had been doing before, and came up with a response.
Sirius Black had never been any good at waiting.
He struggled to open his eyes. No point in missing any more than necessary, this was an opportunity to see what went on outside the world and he was an opportunist. If anything, he was known for snatching things when they came to him. Like when that motorbike had crossed his path, he had--
An expedient opportunist.
By the name of Peter Pettigrew.
Wormtail. Something about Wormtail. Something big - important. That he had to tell people.
Or not tell. There was also something he shouldn't tell people, but he was positive it didn't involve Peter. It was also important, because he was the only one who knew about it.
Had he told somebody, and was that why he was here? Floating in nothing?
Sirius's mind quickly filled in the blank. Of course not. I would never tell. I'm not a snitch, not a rat, not a traitor. Traitor!
Peter was a traitor! He had abandoned him, them, all of it, for a taste of power! Filthy, dirty rat. Terrible friend, which was something Sirius was not. He'd never, ever surrender his friends. He'd do anything to make sure they stayed safe, anything. Nothing would ever happen to them with Sirius Black around.
Which meant he'd have to tell them about Peter.
Which meant he'd have to open his eyes and find out where he was.
A voice cut through, a desperate voice that was so strained Sirius lost concentration.
Somebody was calling him. Focus. They'd have to wait, this might take was while.
Padfoot, wake up.
Couldn't they take a hint? Bugger off! In the midst of something important, over here.
Sirius paused and traced his thoughts.
Thank you, Padfoot.
Someone had told him that a long time ago. Or not so long. Someone...not Peter, someone else. James! Prongs. James. That was who. And Lily, Lily had been there, holding a baby. An important baby, more important than anything else.
As important as Peter and what he'd done.
Sirius concentrated on stopping the floating and opening his eyes. He seemed to slow in the air.
Words began to penetrate his mind, lots of people, lots of talking all around him.
"Where do we start?"
"Should we begin here, or take him to St. Mungo's?"
"Will he make it to St. Mungo's?"
"Good Lord! What did they do to him?"
It was rather insulting.
"He's in such a state-"
As if he wasn't even there. Sirius would teach them a thing or two about holding a conversation within the subject's hearing, after he was finished with Peter. He focused again.
Lilac and lavender. A distinct memory of lilac and lavender.
Oh, bloody hell.
He'd told, he was a terrible friend, he must have told and now they all were dead and everyone around him was dead, dead, a figment of his imagination, that was all, because he had told Bellatrix after swearing not to and she would have blasted them away so he was better dead than living, no good for anything, he'd told-
He was alive, and the voices were becoming recognisable.
"How are we ter move him?"
"Move to his feet, walk gently! Gently!"
The familiar snap of McGonagall.
So...he was alive.
But why would Bellatrix leave him alive? She wasn't known for her compassion, and he was a liability. He could name names. Once she had her information, she would have Avada Kedrava'd him into history. Bye bye, cousin Sirius.
Unless she hadn't got her information, in which case they needed him alive to capture again. They counted on these wizards to fix him up and have him repaired in good time-no one wanted Sirius Black to be down for too long-and then they would find him again.
So he had most certainly not told.
It was a happy thought. He was a good friend, a loyal friend who kept his promises. A much better friend than Peter...
Bloody hell, again. He'd forgotten about Peter. He focused, concentrated on the voices, and let himself fall into physical awareness. It was like sinking back into a thick, familiar mattress. This one had a spring loose and was full of recently-sharpened nails.
He wished he could talk without having to inhabit a body.
He hurt. Sirius hurt like he had never hurt before, not when his mother had given him a dose of Cruciatus, not being beaten by Bludgers during Quidditch, not being mauled by a werewolf, never. His whole body was a mass of prickling, aching, throbbing, ripping pain. His lungs pierced his heart with a tearing stab every time he inhaled. He couldn't move. He didn't want to move.
He had to move, or at least open his mouth and twitch his tongue.
The lilac and lavender had been replaced by ash. He could feel it blowing around him, like snow at Christmas, but warm rather than icy. It tickled his nose.
His house was gone, then. You didn't get much of a breeze indoors.
He wanted to see it-he had lived there-so with out further ado he forced his eyes open a crack.
A Dark Mark was floating above him. Somebody is going to have to take that down. It'll scare the Muggles.
His vision was blurry, but he could make out dark figures all around him, some with wands out, others with bags of equipment at their sides. He could taste something thick in his mouth, and something sticking unpleasantly all over his body.
And he hurt. Actual pain.
To move, to so much as twitch, would break his restraints on the pain. He opened his eyes wider, and his vision cleared enough to make out the thin face above him.
Remus smiled at him. It was grim and barely changed his face. "Hello, Padfoot." He swallowed. "We'll get you to St. Mungo's soon, and get this mess cleaned up." His voice was tight, and Sirius knew it had been him calling earlier. Sirius realized with a shock that Remus was holding his hand. He wanted to remark on the sentimentality of such an action, but couldn't.
He tried to smile, and could swear it broke his face. It turned into a wince.
Remus held his hand tight. "Stay still. Don't make anything worse."
Sirius shut his eyes tight, then opened them again. This had not been part of the plan.
A shadowy figure moved by his feet, wand out. He tried to pulled his legs away, but only managed to shift a bit. He gasped.
"Shush, Sirius. It's just a medic." Remus was stroking his hand. His eyes were wet. "Just stay awake, and they'll fix you up."
Remus sounded like he was talking to a six-year-old, and Sirius appreciated it, he really did, but there was more important things to do. Stay awake? What did the werewolf think he was going to do, nod off for a quick nap before a nice game of Quidditch? He had to tell about Peter.
"Remus..." His voice was a pathetic croak. His throat rasped. He wanted to gag, because the thick substance in his mouth was blood. His blood. He ventured a guess that the sticky substance covering everything was his blood as well.
Remus's grip tightened. "Don't talk, Sirius."
"Have to..." God, this was hard. At this rate, he'd die of old age before he got to the second sentence. He could feel the damage; Bellatrix had gone overboard. Her way of showing her love. He'd slip into a coma for months after this. Couldn't talk then. "...Tell you." Progress, at least.
"Later, Padfoot. After." Remus's voice was high. A huge shape leaned over him.
"We can move him now." It was Hagrid. "The Portkey's ready." The giant whistled. "They sure did a number on him." Hagrid kneeled down. "Don't worry, Master Black, they'll have you fixed in no time."
Sirius ignored him. Rude, but he'd make up for it later. "It's Peter," he whispered, and could tell he was going to cough. He really, really didn't want to cough. Just he thought of it made him tingle.
Remus leaned closer. "What?"
"Peter...Volde-" Bloody hell, he was coughing, and it shook his whole body and he felt like screaming, he was going to scream, oh, damn, Remus would hear him scream. Then the shuddering stopped, and gasped instead, and almost sobbed. Crying was better than screaming.
"Peter's with Voldemort?" Thank God, Remus was a mind reader.
Sirius controlled himself, and swallowed his sob. "Here...with Bella. And...others. Lots." He tried a smile. It worked as well as it had the first time. Blood had flecked onto is lips and all he could taste was metal. It was done. He'd told, and now it was all over.
Remus sat back on his heels, shell-shocked. He stared blankly down at Sirius. "Peter...?"
Hagrid looked at him, then down at Sirius, and up at Remus again. His expression was unreadable. "Lupin?"
Remus jerked out of his trance, and looked instantly guilty. "Sirius - sorry, it was just - no, I'm sorry, I'll do it. You're going to be fine." He waved his wand and stood.
Sirius was rising up into the air, slowly and gently, but he shouldn't. He could feel his body moving from him, as if the flesh was leaving but his mind stayed behind. "Stop - can't - down." The floating sensation was hovering at the edges of his consciousness, ready to move in. It felt like he was looking down a long tube at the world, as if he wasn't part of it anymore. If he moved much further, he'd lose his grasp.
Remus, bless him, listened. Sirius was lowered back into the ash. Remus kneeled again. "Are you sure?" Remus's eyes moved up and down his body, taking in what Sirius was sure to be a whole lot of blood. Sirius looked at him, and Remus nodded. "Hagrid, would you get the mediwizards?" The huge shadow disappeared. "Sirius, they'll be here in a second. You'll be fine. They can fix anything."
His voice was strange, and Sirius looked at his face. Remus was crying, tears streamed down his cheeks. They mirrored the faint moonlight, turning silver. This did not encourage Sirius that he was going to be all right. If he was, nobody would be making this much of a fuss.
He was growing more and more light-headed, and it was harder and harder to convince himself to keep his eyes open. Breathing became more of an issue. It was wrong,; this wasn't how it should happen. Others were supposed to be here. They were supposed to be together. He wanted James.
James should be here, they had to be together. The four - three, just three now - of them shouldn't be separated at a time like this.
As he thought this, there was a rush of footfalls to his left. Remus looked over, and said reassuringly, "Prongs is coming."
Speak of the Devil. James was good, really good, at making an entrance.
"Out of my way! Sirius! Move, move, no! Let go of me! Sirius!" Sirius could swear James was panicking, but that was impossible. James Potter did not panic.
Just let him through, Sirius thought. For a brief instant he remembered that James was supposed to stay inside, then he forgot about it. Like he would ever send James away.
Someone was running towards him, and James knelt down heavily. "Oh, God, Sirius, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry. This is all my fault." Prongs tentatively reached out a hand and touched his shoulder. He was crying, too. Him and Remus, what a party. What a pair.
Remus on one side, James on the other, and Peter could go die for all he cared. Peter had shattered the most wonderful thing they had, and now Peter would never again know the completeness of having your best friends surround you. Sirius was satisfied; everyone who mattered most was there with him.
He could - whatever - happy, now.
He was being moved, he could feel it, and was about to tell them to bugger off when he realized it was James. It hurt, oh, yes, it hurt-- his back screamed, his shoulders stabbed-- but he let James pull him against his chest. He lay there for a long moment, giddiness rushing him that James and Remus were there; he'd never be alone. Then he remembered what James had said.
"'S'not your fault," he rasped slowly. James started at the sound. What, Sirius Black, incapable of speech? Never. Sirius looked up at Remus, who was still kneeling away from him. The werewolf sat down closer, and picked up Sirius's hand again, holding as if he could pin him down. Sirius didn't think about the sentimentality. He tried to look at James, but he couldn't move his head. "I'll never tell," he promised instead, the words barely audible. He felt faint and as light as air.
He wanted to grin reassuringly, but didn't want to relive the smiling fiasco. He settled for leaning harder against James's chest, feeling him breathe in and out. He let himself melt away, like a Florean Fortescue sundae in mid-July. He'd miss those. Remus loved Fortescue's.
James had his hand in Sirius's hair, holding him closer with a sob. Remus was quiet, moving in even further until they were all pressing against each other, melding into one person.
Sirius heard the mediwizards arriving. They were running, he guessed. Too late, he thought, I'll never tell.
He wondered if anyone had taken the Dark Mark from the sky. He shifted his gaze to look, but everything around him was fading quickly. He heard the medics telling James and Remus to move, to let him go, and then he was floating.
He looked at the ruin of his house once more. James and Remus, surrounded by medics, holding him in his bloody robes. Remus lunged at his body, a strange howl rising from his lips, trying to trap Sirius Black down. Ha, nothing had ever done that. There were Aurors mixing with a few Hogwarts teachers, McGonagall and Hagrid included. He looked away, and let himself sink.
The last thing he saw was the Dark Mark, floating twisted in the sky. Then even that faded.
Thank you, Padfoot.
We know you won't fail.