Requiescat in Pace
Disclaimer: Sirius Black and the rest of the world of the Harry Potter series belong to J.K. Rowling. I am making no money by this and intend no infringement of copyright.
Summary:The afterlife gets a little out of control for a certain person. OoTP spoilers.
Sirius scrambled to his feet, dusting down his robes- which of course begged the question of why he was not currently Stunned, although the question that weighed most heavily on the Animagus' mind was not this serious matter, but that of why on earth he had decided to eat left-over Muggle Chinese takeaway for breakfast.
"Come back here, you scrofulous little cow!" he bellowed cheerily. "Bella? Bella you idiot? Hey, hiding in the cupboards didn't work when you were seven, and it won't work now. Come out here so I can hex you and then feed your mangy carcass to your even mangier master. He looks like he could use a good meal…"
But the Death Eater made no appearance; Sirius was distinctly alone … in this weird, swirly, and, above all, grey, place. Even the Department of Mysteries didn't have anything that looked like a room of elephant blancmange; of that he was sure.
"Hey! Harry? Remus? Any of the ten thousand and eleven Weasleys?"
A figure popped into existence by his side, garbed all in white, rather like an colossal snowdrop.
"There's no point in shouting," it said amiably.
"Why? Why shouldn't I?"
"The dead cannot be heard by the living."
"You are dead. Welcome to the afterlife, Sirius Black."
Sirius looked down, expecting to see his battered old robes, but, much to his horror, realised that he was attired in a similar manner to the other. White really wasn't his colour –especially as he seemed to have retained his scuffed and battered boots. He glanced around and saw that the walls were glowing with a muted light that, nevertheless, scorched his eyes. He quickly returned his gaze to his companion and struggled for something appropriately erudite to say.
"Oh. That's … interesting."
"It is, isn't it?" The angel – for such he was, albeit the angelic equivalent of the cabin boy – bounced happily up and down on the tips of his toes.
"But… but … that wasn't the Killing Curse. I can't be dead. You've made some mistake." He crossed his arms firmly.
"Oh no. You're on the list." He waved his clipboard at the flustered Animagus. "It was the Veil, you see. You fell through it, and in that passage you forfeited your life."
"You're saying that a tatty old scarf killed me?"
"Well, you could put it like that." The angel looked a little affronted. "But there are some rather interesting metaphysical dimensions which we can explore at length, if you would like. But now, if you would follow me; your afterlife awaits."
"Can't I stay here?" A fleeting expression of panic boiled across Sirius' face. "I'm sure that I wouldn't much like my afterlife, so I'd rather stay here."
The angel was baffled, and scratched his neck absent-mindedly with the sharp tip of a discarded feather. Really, he would have to tell his roommate that it was a tad impolite to molt over his spare dresses … robes … whatever these floaty white things were, apart from being impractical. But then his countenance cleared as if it were a cornfield under the ravenous maw of a swarm of locusts.
"No, no, dear child. No hellish fate awaits you." Sirius was not certain, but he thought he saw an expression of doubt flickered across that semi-divine face, as if he was about to say something more but thought the better of it. "For your noble death you have been granted access to the heavenly realms."
"Ah … it wasn't so much a noble death as a stumble and a bit of moldy fabric which looked like something Kreacher might treasure."
"…Where you may meet again with the friends of your youth," Malefel continued, reading from his clipboard. "Ow, what are you doing, you little bastard?"
A dove was pecking at his feet, managing to avoid the silken straps of his sandals and make a considerable impact on his tender angelic flesh.
"Look, how many times must I tell you? There are no olive branches here. My toes are not, I repeat, not, olives. Do I look like a tree?"
The dove eyed him with an expression in its beady black eyes which seemed to suggest that, yes, the angel would look a bit like a tree, if you took away the white robes and the second-hand halo and just added a few leaves.
Malefel bent down and grasped the bird none too gently by its neck. "Now, you obnoxious bugger: we're going to go take Sirius here to the reception area for newly-arrived souls, and then we're going to go, you and I, and return you to your whiffy pal Noah – if he ever stops trying to design a new and improved horse."
"Um…" Sirius tapped his companion on the shoulder and then jumped back as if he expected to be burnt into Animagus-toast. "I thought that angels were supposed to be … well, angelic and nice to every living creature…"
"First, it is not exactly living. What you're looking at here is the immortal soul of Noah's blasted land-finding dove. Secondly, it's a glorified bloody pigeon … ahem, what I meant to say is that we of the angelic caste must exercise some degree of loving control over the beasts of the land and the birds of the air, and every creature that doth dwell under the firmament of heaven…" He bashed the bird twice against a suddenly convenient pillar of pristine marble, and then a third time for good measure. "Now, come, little one, time is fleeting swift."
He did not know how long they trudged through the opalescent nothingness – if there was any long to trudge through, as the concept of time here seemed to be more like the holes in a pair of socks than the socks themselves, an absence defined by a half-forgotten presence. But practical theology had always been Moony's strength. Perhaps the werewolf could have avoided aching legs, but his very much deceased friend could not. He rubbed the sore muscles absently, cursing at his numb toes. Yet when he straightened up, the world had shifted. He stood in a many-pillared hall that stretched from horizon to horizon in all directions, decorated in shades of cream and the palest pink, vaulted by the blue heavens. Soft, and entirely predictable, harp music tinkled in a diminuendo of flawless notes from some unseen source. A pair of American Muggle tourists – killed in a freak accident involving a truckload of haddock, a box of wet-wipes, and a map of central Paris – pointed and clicked at everything in sight, entirely oblivious of the fact that their cameras were in a different dimension and currently squashed under an insurance salesman from Iowa.
Malefel prodded the unsure wizard towards the nearest desk. A harried angel with turquoise hair scarcely spared them a glance.
"Name?" he barked.
"As in the wizarding family? If I've had to tell your lot once, I've had to tell them a thousand times: go away. You cannot buy your way in. You are wanted Elsewhere."
"You have been a fool for the last five millennia, Galiel. I wonder if you will ever stop." Malefel's face wore an expression of genial contempt. "This is one of the so-called good ones."
"Oh then; date of death?"
"Very good, very good. We often get wizards wandering around thinking they are ghosts when all that happens is that there has been some administrative disaster. Reason for death?"
"One insane cousin. One badly positioned archway."
The bureaucratic angel cocked an eyebrow, and Malefel leaned in and imparted in a whisper, as if he were disclosing the secrets of tax evasion, "You know. The Veil." His serious demeanour was somewhat impaired by the dove pecking at his golden hair.
"Very good, very good." Galiel repeated his mantra, as if he was using it to cling to the last of his tenuous immortal sanity – which he was. Several hundred years of mail-coach, boat, car and plane passengers, not to mention the omnipresent tourists, all demanding refunds for their fatal journey, had taken their toll on his brain, which currently had the consistency of curdled milk. Those who had found themselves entombed for all time in the wreckage of the Titanic had been particularly obstreperous and unpleasant. They had not yet stopped complaining that no one had told them that the ice for the champagne would be that big, and that there would be seaweed for desert. Nor had they ceased their imprecations against the curious dolphins.
"Any special needs? En suite harps? Any colour-allergies? Purple? Orange?"
"Speaking of which, what happened to your hair, Galiel?"
"I had a run in with the Metatron. He's a complete … no; I won't call him any names. That's what got me in this mess in the first place."
"Well, what did you call him? You cannot tantalize us like this. I'm sure Sirius here would like to know; I've read his file even if you haven't. Insults seem to have been a favourite pastime of his."
Sirius was adamant that he did not much like being talked about in the past tense, yet he could not entirely suppress a twinge of curiosity.
Galiel scowled at comrade. "Very well, but I won't say it out loud."
Sirius seemed to hear the angel's voice, as if borne on a distant breeze, bypassing his benumbed ears and speaking directly to his brain, which was in not, in fact, in a significantly better condition.
//I called him a smarmy bastard.//
//Well we all call him that. He must have become used to it after all these millennia.//
//I also said that he set that he set fire to any soft furnishings within a ten league radius, and that no girl wants an angel who may suddenly speak with His voice in the … ah … delicate moment. It's really enough to put anyone off.//
"I heard that." The voice was deafening, beautiful beyond measure in a way that made Sirius' spine tingle unpleasantly: awe and fear commingled. The Voice of God appeared, looking exceptionally annoyed and more than a little damp – due to his interrupted ablutions. The pillar of flame that he tried to construct around himself fizzled soggily and went out. "Now thou hast done it, thou irritating little excuse for an angel."
The turquoise in Galiel's hair spread to encompass his face … his torso … his entire body… The air around him gleamed briefly with a terrible light, in a colour of which Gilderoy Lockhart would have been exceptionally proud, and then the angel disappeared with a puff of smoke that smelt of roses, and, rather incongruously, Lancashire Hotpot.
The Metatron clutched his towel rather hastily to his golden chest and blushed with the force of a thousand suns. Sirius covered his eyes hurriedly, while Malefel cowered, waiting for the next metaphysical blow. However, the Metatron seemed to have … well, 'lost it' would be an apt phrase – and whether one would frame it in these terms or not, he was definitely in no state to inflict any further revenge.
"Where was I? Well, I was in the shower, but it seems that I'm not allowed to get clean in peace and without some oaf making fun of me. Do they even think to consider how messy it is to be the Voice of God? Hillsides in Mexico and Andalucia are profoundly filthy places. Trying to get grass seeds out of angel hair… It's a miracle that I'm not half bald, not to mention hoarse from yelling at South American villagers who're more interested in the coca crop than the latest visitation from the messenger of the King above the king of kings. And all He does is sit there, and ponder on the marvel of creation, and on the glory and greatness of Man. As if I couldn't tell Him that they're a bunch of sex- and money-obsessed psychopaths… But does He listen to me when I tell him that it's time for another flood? Does He ever? All He is does is mutter about some daft oath, and look at me as if the sun shone out of His … of course, it does, but that's no excuse for looking at me as if it did, and because it does I shouldn't worry so much…"
A celestial hand, glimmering with myriad stars, soft as a puff of cloud, descended from the cerulean ceiling and patted the incandescent angel on the head.
"There, there, little one. It wouldn't be ineffable if I told ever Tom, Dick and Hagrid, would it? Now, do not keep our guest waiting."
And it was gone, leaving a quivering heap of jelly where once the mightiest of the angels had been.
"So," the Metatron said, attempting to stay upright, despite the urge to crumple to his knees and weep into the potted plants. "So. So. So. So, here's your paperwork, Sirius Black. Have fun."
Malefel shrugged nonchalantly, trying to ignore the trembling of his entire body.
"Well, we seem to be free of Al – yes, that was his name before he became all High and Mighty and Voice-of-God-y. Come on." He shoved the bundle of papers into Sirius' unresisting hands and propelled towards the nearest doorway. "I do not like to spend too much time in the Hall of Bureaucracy; they might remember that I never paid my bill for those four flagons of ale and half a pig in the tavern in 1597, and then I'd be in trouble."
"There are dungeons in heaven?" Sirius asked, flinching back.
"Oh no. But I'd have to listen to Benedictine chants for the next century. Come on." As he knocked on the door, and it flared with a sudden light, like a very pissed-off thunderstorm, and creaked open. With one sharp elbow, Malefel prodded Sirius through it. "There you go."
As the heavenly portal swung shut, Sirius thought he could hear he could hear the angel muttering in a dark voice. "See? See? He's no problem of mine now. And speaking of now, my feathered vermin friend, we're going to go and see nice Mr. Noah about a dove-tranquilizer, right now."
The last thing that Sirius saw before the last sliver of the opening disappeared was the angel striding resolutely away, one hand clamping the dove under his arm, the other bleeding profusely, pressed to his mouth.
"Padfoot!" He was assailed by a lanky, black-haired comet, and pinned to the floor. "Padfoot, you old devil; you're here!"
"Prongs! Prongs, you scoundrel!" He tried to ignore the searing headache that resulted from having his head thumped against the magnificent tiled floor by his rather over-zealous friend. "How come you're here? Didn't that day at Flourish and Blotts count against you?"
"I died for my son," James remarked rather sanctimoniously.
"So did I – well, for yours, I mean." Sirius hauled himself upright, and brushed his hair out of his eyes.
"I know you did." Lily engulfed him in her arms, her fire-bright hair tickling his ears. "Come on, James. Don't be such an idiot. Your idiocy wasn't funny when you were alive and now it's just boring."
James reluctantly conceded defeat, hanging his head, and tried to beguile her with a doleful look. Lily was decidedly unimpressed and elbowed him pointedly in the side until he relented and thanked Sirius. "I do know … well, Azkaban, I know about that as well… We really should have trusted Moony, shouldn't we?"
Sirius twisted the cuff of his ethereal garment – at least this one came equipped with sleeves – between his fingers. "Yeah. Is he here?"
"Nope. He's there."
"No. There; with Harry and all the interminable Weasleys."
"As in not There?"
"Not There, no…"
"They let you in here, didn't they, Sirius? Do you honestly think that if Remus was dead, he would be There?" Lily asked, exasperated, dull red splodges showing in her pale cheeks.
"Ah … well … yes…"
"C'mon then, Padfoot. There's all of this cool heaven to explore…"
Sirius had not expected so many angels to look quite so like Severus Snape – albeit a Snape who had washed his hair more than once a month. Nor had he expected heaven to be … well, like this…
He tugged at James' shoulder, and his friend lifted his head from the contemplation of Lily's neck.
"Yes?" He immediately turned back to nibble the sensitive flesh under her ear, and his wife arched into his touch.
"I suppose heaven is alcohol-free?"
"Oh no." James grinned wolfishly. "There's a table of Butterbeer over there, and one of Firewhiskey in the southwestern corner." His fingers were busy in places under the top of her robes which we would rather not contemplate – and Sirius did not even try to contemplate; he had learnt in his seventh year at Hogwarts that this would earn him a swift bash round the ear with a Beater' bat.
"Oh come on, cheer up; I know that Remus isn't here, but that's good, right?"
Sirius nodded despondently, and went to fetch a tall glass of Butterbeer. With a shrug, he looked back at his best friend, who was waltzing to some unheard tune with his wife, and shuddered. Well, it really shouldn't have surprised him that that was James' idea of heaven. He had seemed to do very little else once he and Lily had stopped fighting. It was a toss-up as to whether the fights were worse than this…
James whispered something in Lily's ear that made her blush scarlet and pull him hastily towards a curtained alcove. Wishing that he had not been a witness to this, Sirius grabbed a shot of Firewhiskey and poured it down his throat, gasping and choking at the burning sensation. Straightening up from the final paroxysm, he wondered if he still had the lining of his throat; this version of the wizarding spirit seemed to be even more potent than usual. Then again, he no longer actually had a physical throat, so it probably didn't matter too much. Grasping the bottle in his left hand, he topped his Butterbeer up with the Firewhiskey, until it bubbled and gurgled over onto his trailing sleeve. He licked the sticky mixture off absent-mindedly and turned to scan the room – only to find that it was gone. Instead, he was seated on what appeared to be the grassy banks of the lake at Hogwarts. Kneeling down, he prodded at the grass dubiously, but it showed no inclination to mutate into anything else – Devil's Snare, for instance, or a bowl of cold custard.
Exhaling in relief, he sank down onto the warm turf, revelling in the sun beating down upon his head, pleasantly heating his scalp against the marbled chill of the Reception Hall, the parchment-scented cool of the Ministry and the seeping dampness of number twelve Grimmauld Place. A few crushed flowers whispered across the nape of his neck. Sirius carelessly threw one hand across his brow, taking deep swigs of Butterbeer from the bottle clutched in the other, and grinned up at the puffs of creamy cloud scudding across the impeccable depths of the sky. Somewhere in the distance a bunch of Hufflepuffs were throwing each other in the lake; a little further on a group of third-year Gryffindors were contending with each other as to who was the bravest when faced with a befuddled giant squid. At the moment, the only one who seemed to be winning was the squid. There was no Voldemort … something nagging in the back of his mind told him that that was not quite accurate, but he brushed it aside, as an entire careening solar system might ignore a small pebble bearing the legend 'A Present from Brighton' in lurid letters.
This was the life; this was perfect… Except, the voice – which sounded profoundly like Professor McGonagall in a snit – reminded him that it was neither a life nor perfect. For a start he was hungry …pop a dish of pumpkin pasties appeared by his side. Grinning gratefully, he took one and munched on it, blowing stray flakes of pastry up into the mild summer breeze. And then, his bottle of Butterbeer appeared to be empty … well, this time it was not so much a pop as a squelch, and it was suddenly much heavier in his hand. Prongs was off somewhere, probably having unspeakable things done to him by his red-haired and utterly mad sweetheart. Not that he would grudge his best friend that, but it was a mite lonely without his fellow Marauder.
And then, of course, he would never be truly happy until a little guy with horns and cloven hooves and colouring reminiscent of a horrifically sunburnt tourist delivered him a card telling him that Wormtail was about to become the next course at the All-You-Can-Eat Pandemonium Barbecue.
And, and … well, it was not the same without Moony lying propped up on his elbows, reading from some book that was almost as big as he was and lifting one exasperated eyebrow whenever their plans to execute some prank against Snape became too outrageous. Now that he came to think about it Moony had never talked to him after the worst of those pranks … A wave of remorse overcame him…
"Oh bugger off," he snapped – well, he would have liked to have snapped, but it was a little difficult to do so through a mouthful of pumpkin pastry. "I know that the greasy little bastard is being all prim and proper and good, and that just perhaps I shouldn't have charmed all his robes to become invisible in second year, but he's still a greasy little Death Eater bastard and I don't want to spend the entirety of my afterlife knitting him cauldron covers, okay?"
The remorse went away, and he was too busy feeling grumpy over this worthy invasion of his head that he forgot about his loneliness for a good couple of days. There was food and drink and a Monster Book of Hexes for the Seriously Determined. And? What was that flickering on the edge of his mind like a wasp trapped in a sticky bottle? A really quite unpleasant chap … a complexion that certainly wouldn't make Witch Weekly's cover and a bad case of conjunctivitis… Ah well, if he couldn't remember, then it couldn't be that important, could it? Sirius dozed off again, one hand tucked under his head to cushion it against the gnarled tree-root. He was too content and drowsy even to pay attention to the half-gnawed chicken drumstick dangling in his eyes.
Alas, this was not to last. There was a noise like an exceptionally big set of teeth being gnashed in a fury that could rend continents asunder, and the giant squid exploded. A chunk of aggravated cephalopod smacked him squarely between the eyes. Wretchedly, he cracked one open and squinted up at the offending mass, reaching the fingers of one hand towards it, expecting to make highly unpleasant contact with the squishy innards of a thoroughly dismembered mollusk. The ink alone would make his stomach roil and he wondered if he had accidentally stumbled into someone else's heaven … Snape's perhaps… But there was no ink. None at all. Not even enough to fill a teaspoon. He poked at the lump, and then lifted it in the air. It was metallic, no doubt about that. The twisted web of fine silver lines shone brightly in the never-ending afternoon air. The realistic-appearing skin clung to it in peeling strips, mottled white and red. He dropped it into the grass with a sound of disgust and sprang to his feet.
"Hey! The giant squid's a Muggle machine! It's a bloody machine! I want my money back… All those afternoons at Hogwarts running like bloody hell from its tentacles and it was only a machine…"
An angel ran past, looking decidedly un-angelic with his fair hair sticking out on one hundred and eighty degrees to his head like a frazzled blond hedgehog, and Sirius recognised his guide.
"Hey!" He caught Malefel's shoulder and spun him round, only belatedly noticing that the angel was dripping water everywhere.
"Is it all you angels do? Take showers?" he grumbled.
"It is not the only thing, no." Malefel stuck his nose in the air and made to remove the Animagus' hand. "Now, if you've quite finished, I have things to do…"
"It's a machine. The squid's a machine. Why did no one tell us that?" Sirius' mind seemed to be stuck on this one thing, rather like a game show host's irritating catchphrase.
"What? Oh, the Hogwarts squid isn't mechanical. It's only this one. Or rather, this one was mechanical; now it's just a mess. It must have overheated again. I wonder if anyone was trying to feed it first-year students?" With a bitter shrug, the angel began to gather up bits and pieces of the late lamented squid, humming something which sounded suspiciously like a funeral dirge under his breath.
Sirius settled back against the bole of a convenient tree, absent-mindedly picking fragments of ever so slightly charred pond weed and small fish out of his hair, and watched the squid-assembly process, which seemed to consist of much angelic cursing and sucking of scorched fingers. Ah, all was right with the not-really-the-real-one-but-who-cares world.
Fate, like a bored three-year old, doesn't much like peace and quiet. It's dull. It lacks a certain panache.
It began in the distance, like the terrified murmuring of the Muggle-borns before the Sorting, but soon it swelled to the level of the chatter bandied about in some of Trelawny's more esoteric and absurd lessons. Straining his ears, Sirius could hear it coming close and closer, resolving itself into a chant, a chorus of hundreds upon hundreds of beatific voices.
"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"
"Sometime before tea on Thursday next, if that is all right with you."
"We will not be moved."
"Unless you really want us to and you ask nicely."
Angels, it turns out, are not very good protestors – not to mention the fact that this had to be one of the few instances of industrial strife ever to be accompanied by a resounding performance of Handel's Messiah, scored for three hundred and four harps especially for occasion.
Nevertheless, when the host of heaven - or at least that part of the host of heaven that was composed of petty paper-pushers and minor officials who dealt with infringements of the Code for the Behaviour of Lesser Maritime Animals, and the suchlike - came into view, Sirius could not help hiding his head in his hands. Milton would have been proud. Admittedly, it was nothing on the scale of the grand rebellion of Satan and his cohorts. This rebellion … protest … gentle rebuke was formed by those angels who had sat that one out because it really was not done. However, with celestial inflation, the price of sheet music was going ever upwards – not to mention that it was appalling how much work they would have in the next few years with this latest wizarding war. So they were on strike
"The angel's flag is really white
Because we wash it twice a night…"
They may not have had greaves and halberds, shining swords and bloodied maces; instead they had had packets of neat sandwiches of the type beloved by anglers everywhere, and over-polished harps. Their slogans may have lacked a certain something in the way of anarchistic fury. But they were still angels, and they were still on the march. There was really not that much that could stop them. Anyone who tried was just asking to be turned into a plainsong chant.
Hurriedly, Sirius scaled the tree, still clutching his bottle of Butterbeer between the fingers of one white-knuckled hand. Reaching the fork he hunkered down, and waited for the fun to begin.
An angel who looked marginally more stately than most of the others placed himself in the way of the mob and banged his staff imperiously on the ground. The divine host stopped marching and looked up at him with the sort of grudging but helpless respect a chastened dog gives its owner.
"What are you that you challenge the authority of the One in such a manner? Have ye formed a fell alliance with he who rebelled in the beginning of things?"
"Oh, we're not challenging His authority, Derreael," an angel who looked suspiciously bright-eyed and who swayed a little with every step leered, waving a rusty old saucepan above his head. "He's too busy with flowers in the Andromeda Galaxy or some such nonsense, whereas you, you brown-nosing, dozy sycophant with the brains of a plate of cold cauliflower cheese, you are getting on our nerves. You pay us what I believe is known as peanuts, so we'll behave like monkeys…"
"Although not too much like monkeys," a very starched- and washed-looking minion put in around the remains of a crustless cucumber sandwich. "We would not wish to inconvenience anyone and really monkeys are the most inconvenient creatures. It is really so tiresome. I cannot imagine why He made them so persistent and smelly. Really, the last time I was down-side, sometime in the 1970s, one of them would persist in stealing the pieces of fruit and the little umbrella from my cocktail. Or was that one of the children of the hotel patrons…?"
His colleague looked as if he would cheerfully garrote the garrulously polite angel, if only garroting would have any effect at all.
However, Derreael was not appeased. Not in the slightest. Lightning crackled around him and the occasional shower of sparks fizzled from his fingertips to scorch the verdant grass and, here and there, a fleeing former Hogwarts student. Sirius shrank back against the bole of his tree, trying in vain to flatten his electrified hair with a trembling hand. Yet some stubborn streak of Gryffindor pride and vainglorious bravery restrained him from flight, which would have seemed the obvious option to anyone with more braincells than a jellyfish. But, due to the aforementioned traits, his formidable mind seemed to be working about as well as an early-model Skoda. Thus it was that he stayed, watching the unfolding spectacle with horror and not a little amusement. This was better than the last … day? … week? … month? … year? … whatever put together. This was more like it … even if he did feel like whimpering and hiding behind a werewolf who was, perhaps fortunately, not here.
The angel scowled, his pale eyebrows drawing together like a pair of demented albino caterpillars, seeming more and more like some petty bureaucrat at the Ministry of Magic with every passing second. Unconsciously and unwillingly Sirius curled his hands protectively over his head. He was only just in time. For a split second Derreael stared at the strikers and they stared back. The air seethed ominously, and then, with an almost lazy grace, the prim angel lifted one hand in a signal, curling his lip with contempt.
"Thou boil on the Arse of heaven. Thou flea-bitten excuse for a badly drawn Cherub. Go home, before I cast thy worthlessness in thy face," he drawled with studied archaism. And then, allowing the rebel leader no time to scarper – not that he intended to anyway - he brought his arm down. A horde of immaculate and extremely proper angels appeared in midair and began to belabour their erstwhile friends and work-mates with what at first seemed to be vicious green cudgels, but actually turned out to be cucumbers.
Sirius, still clinging to his tree with the tenacity that is only possessed by those who are very drunk or in a situation so sticky that one might as well be covered in maple syrup, watched in bemusement as the strikers marched forward. Their resolute chant of 'Angels of the After-World Unite, You Have Nothing to Lose Except Your Sheet-music' was more than slightly marred by their unwillingness to hit anyone with more force than a gentle breeze, or, indeed, to infringe upon each other's personal space.
However, Godric Gryffindor, lounging on a Muggle lilo in the middle of the lake, lost control of the carton of popcorn he had conjured for himself as nourishment during what promised to be an exceptionally entertaining instance of industrial strife. The fragrant snack flew through the air like an edible broomstick and hit the back of Derreael's head. The angel pitched forward and buried his rather pointed nose in the soft turf. Righting himself with a struggle and staring in abject disgust at the grass-stains on his fine linen robe, he howled with rage. It did not sound much like it is commonly supposed angelic anger might, but rather like a half-strangled Hippogriff that was currently being forced to listen to reruns of 'Lockhart's Lovely Laughing Half-Hour' over and over again for the rest of eternity.
"Get them!" he shrieked, high and harsh, sounding unpleasantly like Voldemort.
The Bureaucratic Taskforce (Subsection 33B) glanced briefly at each other, and then at their de facto team leader. The light of madness gleamed in his clear cerulean eyes. They wisely decided that they would prefer not to contradict him at the moment and hurtled towards the host of the Lesser Maritime Animals strikers. The air, already more tense than Snape after a particularly difficult afternoon at the Death Eater Bring-and-Buy Sale, positively fizzed.
After that, the battle became a tad messy. Tarfel, who dealt with the enforcement of a moral code on the starfish of the Adriatic, materialised a large amount of manna over the heads of those who were determined that he would not be able to save enough money by the end of the year to have a holiday in anywhere but Skegness. Now, while manna may be very useful if one has lost the roadmap to the Sinai and is not able to find it again for another forty years, it is seldom pleasant to be hit concussed by several hundred pounds of the stuff. His targets, bruised and confused, chose to retaliate in kind.
Alas for our impetuous hero, the tiny on/off switch for sheer, blinding idiocy suddenly flicked on inside his head. He jumped from the already tenuous safety of his tree with a resounding battle-cry.
"Aaaaaaaaaaagh… Owwwww…. Who put that rose bush there? Who thought that it would be a good idea to put a rose bush under the tree I was in?"
Sirius searched around for some sort of weapon, missing his wand acutely. However, blind Justice rarely makes a good chess player, and Fate usually wins – it's easier to sneak pieces off the board when your opponent cannot see what you are doing.
A lump of divinely exploded cucumber smacked in the back of the neck and slithered gooily under his robes and on down his spine.
Settling on a thick length of copper piping – the remainder of a failed attempt by one angel to trap another in the Greater London water system – he spun round in search of whoever had just inflicted such a humiliating attack upon him. It turned out to be rather obvious. Derreael stood in the middle of the field of battle, eyes crossed, arms flailing, blowing a pile of assorted vegetation into smithereens with bright bolts of heavenly light. Lily and James, involved in activities which Sirius would really rather have not seen, were bowled over by a strategically positioned shard of parsnip. While they were singularly unmoved by this attack, Sirius was pushed beyond the point of no return. The length of copper piping whistled upwards in a smooth arc, and then down in a trajectory of fury, the air itself screaming and writhing away. Unstoppable.
Except that it appeared to have stopped dead.
Sirius tugged at it, his hand slithering and sliding on the smooth metal, but the pipe was resolute that it had no intention of moving. He wrenched his head around to peer over his own shoulder. There stood a man, his salt-and-pepper hair falling over wizened shoulders and in heavy tendrils around shrewd, calculating dark eyes. His gnarled hands were wrapped tightly around the length of piping. With an effortless, almost disdainful twist, he disarmed the infuriated Animagus and tossed the pipe towards the lake, soaring over the heads of the raging angels.
"Don't be so foolish, child," he said, calmly folding his arms across his chest and looking down at Sirius with an impassive expression.
"I. Am. Not. Being. Foolish," Sirius ground out.
"Oh really? I had thought that you were about to attack the angelic lunatic over there with an improvised club…"
"Would you like to be assaulted with fistfuls of vegetable puree?"
"Oh, you get used to it after a while. It's better than some hexes." The wizard shrugged.
"How long have you been here? How long does it take to get used to it? I'm really not sure that I want to."
"Well, time does not have much meaning here, but long enough."
Sirius narrowed his eyes. "Who are you? Don't I know you from somewhere?"
"I should have expected such imbecility from one of Godric's chosen students. You spent enough time in detentions staring at my portrait and thinking up interesting and novel curses to use on my house."
"Slytherin? Salazar Slytherin?" Sirius looked as if he was trying to assimilate the idea that an infuriated porcupine had taken up residence within his skull. He blinked several times and made as if to speak, only to close his mouth with a sharp snap. His hands waved around aimlessly, limp with shock.
Slytherin grinned in satisfaction and tucked his hands inside the flowing sleeves of his gown. "Well, if you are more brainless even than the rest of your family, at least your misdeeds redound to the shame of Godric and not to mine as theirs did."
At that Sirius seemed to recover some semblance of thought. "Don't compare me to them. I'm nothing like them."
"Oh, I must agree with you there. The irritation you caused Godric was of an entirely different order from that which the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black caused me. And of course, my addlepated colleague is more forgiving than I am." His smile made Sirius' skin crawl. "In fact, I have been reliably informed that he would like to meet you."
"He's talking to you?" Sirius asked incredulously.
"Oh yes. He got over his chagrin about the Muggle-borns issue some time in the reign of Henry VII."
"No, no, no." The Animagus thumped his head against the tree, which, alas, had been so weakened by the repeated angelic assault that it simply caved in. "I can't believe this. First, heaven has more bureaucracy than the Department of International Magical Co-operation. Then Lily and James are … well, yes. All the damn time. There's not much to be done here, apart from picking bits of exploded squid out of my hair, and I spend however long without anyone to talk to. Then the angels decide to go on strike and I get caught in the middle of their melee. And now it turns out that Salazar Slytherin, of all the possible evil bastards, has been let in. I don't understand why they didn't just relent and take Malfoy as well – although that would have involved him dying first. But I could have arranged that…"
"Really, I was simply misunderstood, not actually evil," Salazar Slytherin remarked, looking vaguely offended. But it was too late, and he was speaking to empty air; Sirius was heading towards the heaving crowd of bloodied and bruised angels at a dead run, his handsome features rigid with determination.
"Okay." He grabbed the nearest angel by the grubby collar of his once pristine robe. "Tell me how to get home."
"You are home, dear child."
"No. Home. The place without any bloody harps," he ranted, working himself up into an explosive rage of which Krakatoa would have been proud.
"Oh that. You do not want to go there. It is messy and profoundly disorganised. No, old boy, you'd do better to stay right here."
"I really had better not stay here. Let me go home."
"Oh, if you insist."
With a rush of wind, Sirius found himself standing in the hallway of number twelve Grimmauld Place, clutching a carpet bag in one hand and a hat box in the other. The rich smell of a bubbling stew drifted up the stairs from the kitchens, and his feet scuffed softly across the polished floor.
Something was definitely not right. With a very canine snarl he tore open the curtains over the portrait of his mother – which was no longer there. In its place, there was an idyllic pastoral scene in which suspiciously fluffy lambs frolicked next to an even more suspiciously blue stream.
"Okay; own up," he addressed the empty hallway with an air of strained patience. "I know I'm not home. I'm still here."
"Of course you are here." A whirling, shimmering light appeared in the corner nearest the door. "We are all here; all that differentiates between us is where that here is."
"I really don't have time to discuss practical metaphysics with an overgrown candle."
"No need to be so huffy." The angel stepped out of the light and smiled at him beneficently. "All I wanted to do was ask you some questions."
"Fire away." Sirius tapped his fingers on the highly polished doorframe."
"Do you understand that by this you waive your right to all heavenly prerogatives – including your licence to produce and distribute manna – until the next occasion of your death?"
"Did you pack all your luggage yourself? Did you accept any goods for the living? If you did, it is my duty to inform you that by subsection seventeen, paragraph two hundred and seventy-three of the Code of Behaviour for Souls (Deceased) you are obliged to make no gift of and transact no business with any specifically heavenly or demonic object. Such objects must be kept solely for the personal convenience or pleasure of the formerly deceased."
"I haven't got anything. In fact, I have no idea what's in these cases as I didn't pack them, and I don't want them," Sirius responded tetchily.
"You didn't pack them?" The angel was apoplectic. "Well, let's see what is in them."
It turned out to be clothes and a stack of cauldron cakes, none of which seemed likely to destroy the universe, although the socks were in chronic need of a wash.
"Is this the first time you have undergone this procedure?"
"Do you understand that the Heavenly Port Authority can take no responsibility for any further wear and tear to your corporeal form, up to and including death?"
The questions went on and on, and Sirius slid lower and lower down the wall until he was lying flat on his stomach on the ground attempting to carve his name into the floor using his thumbnail. Abruptly, a sheaf of papers were shoved under his nose.
"Sign here. And here. And here. Oh, and here." The quill skittered across the thick white parchment with the desperation of a trapped spider, and Sirius jumped to his feet.
"Is that it? Can I go now?"
"Yes. Oh, one last thing: try not to get wet in the first two weeks. The new body tends to be a little soluble at first. Goodbye, and safe journey."
This time there was a noise as if the universe had accidentally swallowed a large chunk of chocolate without chewing it. When his vision cleared and his ears stopped ringing, Sirius cast around for some clue as to his location. The dingy, tattered condition of the streets was informative: he was less than five minutes walk from number twelve Grimmauld Place. Luckily for him, it was one of the two nights each year when the otherwise perpetual rain lifted in this particularly dingy corner of London. He tugged his cloak around himself to ward off the chill breeze, and breathed in deeply, even enjoying the pungent smell of spilt petrol and burning tyres. It was good to be back.
Five minutes later, trying to calm a hyperventilating werewolf who insisted on prodding him occasionally to reassure himself that he was actually there, he had not changed his mind in the slightest.
And in the morning he would have a bone to pick with Bellatrix Lestrange.