Disclaimers: If I owned Harry Potter, why would I be writing pathetic fanfiction instead of working on "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"?
Sirius felt the spell hit him hard in the chest. He lost his footing, and fell backwards. The whispering he had heard from behind the strange, gently swaying black Veil became ever louder as he plunged into the curtain, which enveloped him.
Damn Bellatrix, he thought as he heard her scream of laughter.
Suddenly, he was lying on his back, looking up at a sky of perfect robin's-egg blue, dotted with fluffy white cumulus clouds. He blinked furiously as sunlight glared his eyes, and pushed himself upright. He felt dewy grass beneath his palm as he put down a hand to steady himself.
Where was everyone? The Death Eaters, his cousin, the Order members, Harry...
There was the Veil from the Department of Mysteries, but no sign of the amphitheater in which it had stood.
Instead, it sat on its own in the middle of a meadow, a meadow that was eye-glaringly green and spread from horizon to horizon. There were no hills, rocks, mountains, or trees to prevent them from sitting, perfectly flush, against the edge of the heavens.
Where was he?
He turned all the way around and saw some signs of human habitation. There was man, a guard of some sort, dressed in a smart blue uniform. He was standing with a kind of infuriating smugness next to some kind of strange Muggle contraption (he didn't know the name), and beyond him were more people. Three lines of them, to be exact, standing patiently leading up to three booths. He could see little beyond the booths, but there appeared to be an awful lot of people milling about, with what appeared to be ping-pong tables sitting among the throngs.
This was too weird. Had he come across some kind of Portkey that had taken him to this strange place? Or, did his unusual surroundings have to do with that Veil? Sirius shuddered involuntarily—that Veil was no good, he'd known as soon as he'd entered the room. And the Department had an ominous reputation as it was.
Could he Apparate his way out? He tried, but nothing happened. Damn, there must be an Anti-Apparition charm around the field. What about a spell? He reached into his robes for his wand, but it was missing. Curses, he must have dropped it when his good-for-nothing cousin hit him. He'd have to ask for directions. In the past, this would have been an unthinkable course of action, but these weren't normal circumstances. Sighing, he walked up to the man in the blue uniform and cleared his throat.
"Excuse me," he said, "But where the hell am I?"
"You," the man said laconically, "are in Here."
"I never guessed," said Sirius sardonically. He expected the man to reply with a witty comeback, a scathing insult, or the true answer to his original question, but after several minutes of silence, he saw that the man had no intent of replying at all. So, he tried again.
"Where, pray tell," he said through gritted teeth, "is here?"
"Here," the man replied, "is the place where you're standing."
Sirius fumed for ten full minutes as he imagined all the repulsive hexes he would have used had he been in possession of his wand, and of all the hexes he would also have used on Dumbledore, Snivellus, Voldemort, and Peter if they had chosen to appear. But as he had no wand, these musings were irrelevant. He tried a third time, vowing to punch the man's lights out if he persisted in being annoying.
"What is this place called?"
"This place is called Here. That is its name."
"This place is named Here?"
"What idiots came up with that one?"
"The Administration? Is that your government or something?"
"Here has no government, per se. The Administration just controls admittance."
"Admittance to Here."
"Ah." Sirius paused, digesting this singular information. "If Here has no government, the crime rate must be pretty high," he said conversationally.
"There is no crime."
"That's nice. How did that work out?"
"Most people use up their homicidal tendencies during their lifetime on Earth. Those who don't, fail to see the use in mugging someone who's already dead."
"Yes. Everyone in Here is dead."
"They don't look dead to me," said Sirius, eyeing the lively-looking people strolling around the meadow. And then it clicked.
"You don't mean to say that this is the Afterlife, do you?"
"You could call it that. We call it Here. Non-denominational, you see."
"Am I dead?"
"Uh-huh." Ten more minutes passed while Sirius watched the crowd beyond the booths and thought, so this is what being dead is like and I'm hungry. Another five minutes passed while Sirius played thumb war against himself, which nearly resulted in his collapse, until the man in the uniform snapped, "Are you going to sit around being an idiot, or are you going to get your ticket?"
"Ticket? What ticket?"
"For your admittance into Here. Back where all the people and the ping-pong tables are, behind the booths."
"Ah. Sure, I'll take a ticket, if it's free."
"It's free," said the man as he removed a roll of bright orange tickets from his jacket and ripped one away from its fellows. He handed it to Sirius.
Sirius glanced down at the ticket.
Hell, that's a long barcode.
"Are you a wizard, Muggle, or Vanderdeiken?"
"What the hell's a Vanderdeiken?"
"Never mind. Wizard or Muggle?"
"Okay, line on the left for you. Go through the turn-style first," he said, gesturing toward the Muggle contraption sitting beside him.
"So that's what that is." He eyed the turn-style, and it eyed him. "So... what do I do?"
"Walk through it, and push the bar as you go."
Sirius tried, became entangled, and fell ungracefully into the wet grass. Struggling, he rose and kicked the machine, bruising his big toe, and joined the line on the left, glaring moodily at anyone nearby.
His mood lightened considerably when he spotted someone carrying a tray of candy. "Oi, over here!" he called, and the snack distributor sauntered over. "This free?"
Sirius cackled avariciously and grabbed as many chocolates as he could reach. Moony would have been so jealous—he was obsessed with chocolate. He stuffed three Cadbury bars in his mouth and clutched the rest protectively.
"Okay, got your ticket?" asked the witch in white robes, who was sitting in the booth, two hours later. Sirius handed her the chocolate-smeared fragment, which she accepted gingerly. She swiveled in her chair to face a Muggle computer, where she struck a few keys. "Alright, Mr. Blask, you're ready to go. Have fun in Here."
"Thanks, and it's Black, not Blask."
"I said my name's Black, not Blask."
The witch looked astonished. "Are you, or are you not Mr. Cirian Blask of number 17, Grimmauld Place, London?"
"No, that's Sirius Black, number 12."
The witch's surprised expression was replaced with a furrowed frown, and she rose from her chair. "Sit," she said forcibly, grabbing him by the shoulders and pushing him downwards into the seat. "I'll be back in a moment." She dashed off to another booth, white robes billowing.
Several minutes later, she returned to a rather impatient Sirius, who was spinning around in circles via the swivel chair. He scowled at her. "Listen, what the heck is going..."
"There has been a mistake, Mr. Black," said the witch, cutting him off.
"No way," said Sirius, rolling his eyes. 'What kind of mistake?"
"Get out of my chair and I'll explain," she said brusquely, and Sirius relinquished his seat sulkily, and the witch logged on to her computer. "Why'd you use that ridiculous Muggle contraption?" he asked.
"They're called computers, and they're actually quite useful. Much better than messed about with rolls of parchment and consulting books. We use pens, too. Less splattery than quills."
"Traitor," Sirius muttered. "So, you said that you were going to explain?"
"Well, as I said, Mr. Black, there appears to have been a mistake."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Oh, yeah, I never supposed."
"No need for sarcasm, Mr. Black. The point is, that you died when you weren't supposed to."
"And is that supposed to be my fault?"
She ignored him. "You, Sirius Black of number 12 Grimmauld Place, were not supposed to die today. It was your neighbor, one Cirian Blask, who you may note has a very similar name and address to your own."
"I see. So," he said, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "I'm assuming that I'm going to be sent back?'
"No, I'm afraid not," said the witch, typing speedily.
"What!" Sirius yelped. "I'm not? But you said that it was a mistake! The wrong person died! I've still got a life to live out there! You've got to send me back."
"Several reasons." She turned away from the computer and swiveled in her chair to face her, arms folded across her chest. "Firstly, we've got a quota to meet out here. We have to have a certain balance. The right amount of people have got to be coming in each day. So supposing I just sent someone back to Earth? That balance would be disrupted, and there would be serious socio-economic difficulties. Death's about progress, and if people aren't dying, there won't be any progress!"
Wow, capitalism has taken over even in the Afterlife, Sirius mused.
"Secondly, there's the problem of overpopulation. Supposing I just let you go back, huh? D'you want ten people in some overworked, resource-less, third-world country to starve to death because there's one more gluttonous, middle-aged male wizard alive than there should be? Do you?"
"Now, that's I little harsh; I'm not..."
The witch held up a hand, and Sirius shut his mouth resentfully. "I'm afraid I can't make allowances. Please proceed into Here." She lowered her voice and said in an urgent hiss, "And please don't mention this mishap to anyone."
Sirius grinned maliciously. "Oh, I see how this is. Well, what makes you think I'll keep quiet about this mishap, as you call it? What's in it for me?"
She sighed. "Alright, name your terms."
"I want to go back."
"No can do."
"Then there's no deal." He folded his arms, resolute.
The witch groaned; this job was not worth the stress, even if it did mean that she got to play billiards in addition to ping-pong. "Okay, Mr. Black, I can do this much. I can let you go back through the Veil. You get forty-eight Earth hours to find this Cirian Blask and get him to go through the Veil—and remember, he's got to go through the Veil, he's got to die the same way you did. But if you die again, or Mr. Blask dies a different way, or you fail to compete your task, then the deal's off, and you've got to come back to Here. Is that clear?"
"Crystal. But I have one more request."
"No! I can't give you any more time!"
"It hasn't got anything to do with that!"
"What is it, then?" she said, rolling her eyes.
"I get to take snacks with me," he said, pointing at the man with the tray.
"Oh, fine. Will!" she called to the snack distributor, who sauntered over to the booth. "Give Mr. Black your tray." The confused Will undid the strap and proffered the tray, which Sirius snatched greedily.
"Will, please direct Mr. Black back to the Veil," said the witch. "Sorry for the delay," she called to the people in line. "Next, please."
"This way, Mr. Black," said Will, beckoning. With several more candy bars shoved in his chops, he followed the now snack-less snack man back to the gently rippling Veil.
"Here it goes," he said, and stepped through the curtain, wondering vaguely if he would manage to pull this off, and also about what a Vanderdeiken was.