Legolas found himself standing before a massive archway of light. He wasn't really surprised, having had a feeling that something like this would happen, but the view he beheld still took his breath away. He tilted his head up as far as it would go, trying to obtain a measure of the towering spectacle. The roiling blackness that dominated The Hollow Place visibly recoiled from its brilliance, which reassured the elf immensely. If he wasn't mistaken, this would be the same bright star that shed light on the path he and Aragorn had walked earlier. Legolas thanked Mandos under his breath, and then noticed that Aragorn was presently beside him, looking a bit more bedraggled, but otherwise at ease with himself. Legolas instantly recognized this particular calmness of Aragorn's as being a resolved one, and the elf smiled inwardly, thinking, 'Estel is himself again—a Man with a plan.'
"The Valar works in mysterious ways," muttered Aragorn.
"Mae govannen," Legolas said, startling Aragorn from his reverie, and grinned. "And how was Master Feanor and Master Earendil?"
Aragorn cocked his head to the side and gave Legolas a curious frown. "Master Feanor? Definitely one very strange elf." Legolas raised one delicate eyebrow. Aragorn continued, in a slightly exasperated tone, "Well, he and Master Earendil bickered a lot. I just hope they are getting along right now."
"That's interesting," remarked Legolas. Aragorn snorted.
"I suppose you had better time then. You don't look like you've been pushed overboard by Master Feanor."
"Oh, so that's why you look terrible!" teased the elf. Aragorn snickered, recalling an old joke.
"At least I'm not late this time."
"I'm just thankful we had their help," Legolas said, sobering up the conversation. He gestured at the brilliant, tall archway. "I don't think we could have gotten this far otherwise."
"The Gate to the Hollow Place," Aragorn mused aloud. "Is that why we were given food and drink?"
"Yes," said Legolas. "Mandos told me. Fruit for life, and wine to regain the senses." A hesitant pause, and then, "The fruit was, well—"
"Terribly unpleasant, yes," Aragorn filled in smoothly. He shook his head in mock-sadness, "And only Yavanna knows why."
"Which reminds me," and the man reached into his pocket, "Feanor gave me something."
He was about to pull out the ball of cloth when Legolas stopped him with a hand. "Wait! I hear something…"
Twin looks of worry crossed their faces. Aragorn looked around, and so did Legolas, and as one they spotted the apparent cause of the groaning noise.
There was a black bundle of rags by the side of the archway. It was quite close to the menacing shadows that lurked just beyond the edge of the light, and this definitely alarmed both elf and man. Legolas was faster, and soon he had scooped up the prone form and darted back to where Aragorn stood waiting.
"What is it, Legolas?" In lieu of a reply, the elf drew the tattered folds of the robe back, to reveal the gaunt face of a man.
"A man!" exclaimed the elf.
"He is weak," spoke Aragorn anxiously, kneeling by the elf to make his diagnosis. Legolas moved aside to allow his friend more room, and watched worriedly as Aragorn quickly located the mystery man's pulse.
Aragorn sighed in tentative relief. "Barely alive, but alive nonetheless," said he. Legolas' fists unclenched—it gave him a terrible fright, to have seen the shadows almost devour the man's spirit.
"It will be a while to revive him, and he must keep warm. Also, he needs food and drink to strengthen his will."
At this, Legolas frowned. "But we have no food with us."
Aragorn took the wad of cloth from his pocket and handed it to Legolas. Then he unclasped his cloak and draped it over the strange man they had just rescued, with the elf wordlessly following suit.
After that, Aragorn said, "Look into the bundle, my friend. I have a feeling it's just what we need."
To his surprise, Legolas found just exactly what Aragorn suspected: a small lump of the same fruit he and Estel had eaten, and a clear glass vial of wine, which Legolas assumed very likely to be what they had drunk earlier too. Inwardly, he wondered at the strangeness of it all. He could not help but suspect that someone Up there had this all planned out, perhaps even Master Feanor. Aragorn had told him earlier that he thought the greatest of the Noldor to be very strange. Legolas, in a moment's reflection, wondered if he were, indeed.
It took some time for the strange man to wake up, which the other two spent in relatively comfortable silence. There was not much to say anyway, and both had unconsciously dedicated their attention to willing their strength into the man lying between them. Both sat cross-legged to either side, and were hunched over the man's pale, almost-emaciated face, when a low moan erupted from him.
Long black lashes fluttered open, making Legolas unconsciously hold his breath, as fathomless grey eyes stared right back at him. He knew that the man sought anchor for his vision to focus, and slowly but surely, the elf witnessed the mysterious stranger's eyes grow from hazy and dull to clear and sharp, and something else, something Legolas was saddened and worried to see—the man's gaze had grown fearful.
Before the elf could speak a word, the man managed to croak, "Is this hell?"
There was an awfully awkward silence, as Aragorn and Legolas pondered what to say to that.
Legolas was thinking, 'What or where is this hell?', and was about to voice that when Aragorn said, "You are safe, friend."
It was perhaps the better thing to say, because it earned Aragorn a very surprised reaction from the strange man, who suddenly tried to get up. Legolas had to catch his head before he hit his skull and passed out again. This also had the effect of making the man notice Legolas for the second time, and clearer than ever.
"You…" the man croaked. "Aren't you familiar?"
Legolas brow furrowed in confusion.
"I saw you…" the man continued, "in a dream…I think. Yes…you, you lifted me up." The grey eyes were wide and alert, and across from the man, Aragorn gave his elven friend a curious look. "You saved me…you saved me from the—" the man swallowed, "—the shadows…"
Legolas set the man's head down gently, but the latter would not be deterred. He rose up, sitting up fully this time, which seemed to take all of his strength and effort to do, and snatched the nearest of Legolas' hands and held it up, gripping it strongly. "This isn't a dream then. I'm not in hell. You saved my life. You did! I, Sirius Black, owe you my life!"
Right after introducing themselves to Sirius Black, Aragorn had presented him with the fruit and wine. After the first bite, the food seemed to have completely occupied the strange man, and Legolas and Aragorn just sat back, observing him quietly.
"Boy! Someone must definitely love me up there," Sirius spoke, his words muffled by the fruit in his mouth. It was too small to be considered a meal, but his hunger seemed oddly sated now. He gave the vial a mock-appraising eye, before tossing it up in one go.
"Merlin! This is bloody good wine, if I may say so!"
Aragorn smiled. "You can thank Feanor of the Noldor for that. I'm not sure how to measure the worthiness of your praise, but I suspect Master Feanor is odd enough to appreciate it." Aragorn caught Legolas' brief puzzled look. The man let out a guffaw when he realized that he had voiced that last thought.
Odd? Legolas thought to himself. Certainly, there was much atypicalness about Feanor of the Noldor. Whenever they talked about him, if ever at all, when Legolas was learning the history of his kind, never was it failed to be mentioned that Master Feanor was an eccentric and a maverick, among other things. They said he towered above others, and carried himself in an unusual fashion most contrary to the conservatives, or even the most liberal elves—and considering the fact that the Noldor were regarded as the most liberal of elvenkind… Legolas hated to admit it, but he felt slightly envious that Aragorn had gotten to meet that one great elf that piqued his curiosity the most, all those years ago.
"I suppose I should tell you now why you found me where I was," spoke Sirius, bringing Legolas out of his own thoughts.
The two friends shared a look before turning to Sirius, who began his tale.
"I wasn't actually dead when I got here. You see," he gestured to the enormous archway of light," at the other side of this, there's this is archway too—smaller, starker, more… forbidding, with a black veil hanging from it, obscuring what lies Beyond. I was…in a battle, with some dangerous ex-convicts. I was trying to protect my godson and rescue him. And then I was dueling with my cousin, and she…hit me…and then I fell through the Veil…" There was a faraway look in Sirius' grey eyes, like he was reliving the dark memory.
Asked Aragorn, "When did this happen?"
"I don't remember now… It could have been days, weeks, or even months! When I fell, I tried to get back, but—it's like a wall! The light…I could hear their voices, after the battle, and then the quiet…there was only so much quiet, then finally, I guess I lost track of time."
Now Sirius tried to pierce the darkness surrounding them, that closed upon the doorway of light like a suffocating shroud. But it was all for naught. He continued, "There isn't any proper sense of time here, I think." His thoughts then drifted to Harry, and with a pang he realized that the boy must be grieving, so lonely again.
Legolas' brow furrowed when he felt Sirius' silence degenate into depression. The dry laugh from the man surprised him then, making him worry all the more.
"I left my godson behind, you know," grey eyes filled with anguish pinned Aragorn to the ground. There was so much suffering behind those eyes, and he should know. He was familiar with that look. He had been wearing it for the past several weeks, back in Middle Earth, after all.
"Oh, Harry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Sirius cried, burying his face in his hands. Aragorn and Legolas felt the grief and anguish flowing out of the man so acutely, as if it were their own. But when the elf reached out tentatively to try to comfort Sirius, Aragorn stopped him with a look and a silent shake of his head. Legolas realized then that it was well to have the courage to face one's own demons. And in Sirius' case, if anything really bad happens, he still had his two new friends to help him.
"I went to school with my godson's father. We were friends, the four of us: Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. We were the happiest, the cleverest, the most mischievous students in Hogwarts. I still can't believe it all ended so horribly. Peter—Wormtail, he betrayed us. He betrayed Lily and James. He betrayed Harry. And now that Voldemort is back, Harry's in danger again. And Wormtail—Wormtail is still alive! Fucking traitorous rat! I want to hex his insides out and squeeze his throat until he squeals like the despicable rodent he really is!
"I've been so careless. I've left Harry alone, without a thought, chasing after Wormtail and getting framed for his crimes. Supremely stupid of me, really. I've gone and wasted away in Azkaban, wasted my life for 12 long years, a life I could have lived with Harry. I've been too careless…
"And now, I've gone and done it again. I tried to be a hero for him, I really did. I'm such a bone-headed Gryffindor, you know. Always trying to be the dashing knight for my godson. And I had thrown my life away. I let cousin Bella stun me and then I was through the Veil," he snapped his fingers, "like that! All in a heartbeat. And not even really a year with Harry. Always in hiding, always as Padfoot, always running away from the law…"
The depression seemed to be winding down, and Legolas and Aragorn tried not to shift too much in their seats despite the uncomfortable silence.
When Sirius looked up, there were tears in his eyes. He was sniffling slightly, and his cheeks were puffy. At first all Legolas could think about was how tragically sad and lonely this man, Sirius, had lived. But then he became puzzled, because for some unknown reason he started to feel relieved too. Sirius had stopped being too emotional and Legolas and Aragorn had both unwittingly drawn closer to him, when the elf noticed the blossoming red in Sirius' cheeks, the thrum of life in his blood. The two reached the same conclusion on their own; that their newfound friend, whom they had rescued from the grip of death, was looking more alive than ever. It made Legolas smile.
Aragorn spoke the cheering news, "Rejoice, friend Sirius. You've been given another chance at life."
Sirius eyes widened, and he blinked back the last of his tears.
"Yes, Sirius. Look at you. You're looking well and alive again," Aragorn commented. For some strange unfathomable reason, this made Sirius blush. He had to wonder at the rush of heat to his cheeks. Heat! It felt great, this warmth within. Only now that he was out of the cold did he realize how much he'd missed it.
"Bloody hell! It's the fruit and wine, isn't it?" Sirius wide eyes were sparkling-- literally sparkling-- with happiness. "Bloody—do you know what this means?"
"Oh, pretty much." Aragorn said, grinning. "You get to go through the Doorway of Light, for one."
Legolas added, "I believe Master Feanor had meant for this to happen. Apparently, you have some friends in high places."
Sirius grinned back at him. "Oh, I wouldn't know, really. Is he the mischievous type, perhaps?"
Legolas eyes glittered with mirth. "Oh, very much," he replied.
"Well then, I think I get it perfectly now," Sirius said, and let out great peals of laughter that seemed to pierce even the darkest of shadows.
Aragorn and Legolas helped Sirius get up on his wobbly legs. They waited patiently for the man to get himself sorted out, watching him as he tried to straighten his robes. Legolas examined the man's garb discreetly. His robes were quite worn, and much like what Gandalf would himself wear during his days as Mithrandir the Grey Pilgrim. But Sirius' robes were of a finer material, and he was wearing matching black trousers underneath them, with a pair of boots that have seen better days.
He watched as Sirius pulled something out of a fold in his clothes. It looked like a polished twig—it was, upon closer examination, indeed a piece of wood—and this made Legolas curiouser.
"What is that?" He asked, startling Sirius. This caught Aragorn's attention and his eyes settled on the curious little stick as well.
"Um…er…"Sirius seemed hesitant, but after a moment's debate, he settled for telling them the truth. "It's my wand."
"You know, a wizard's wand. Magic—does it ring a bell?"
"Magic?" Legolas wondered.
"Wizard!" Aragorn cried. "You're a wizard and you didn't tell us?"
Legolas eyes widened at this. "You're like Gandalf then. A Maiar!"
Sirius frowned. "Er…what's a Maiar?"
"They're what Men call wizards in our world—in Middle Earth."
Sirius' frown only deepened. This gave away the truth to his companions, and they visibly deflated. "Oh, sorry, guys. I'm not from your world. I'm from a place called Earth. And I am not sure really what you people know about wizards, but you seem to be holding them in great esteem. I don't think that holds true for the types in my world, except for a few."
"Oh, I see," Aragorn looked a bit crestfallen. Legolas caught his eye, then he said, "You know, Estel, I was always wondering where Gandalf went before he became White."
Aragorn just shook his head. It was just too good to be true. If Sirius had been like Gandalf, perhaps he wouldn't have been stuck here in the first place. There was always the grace of the Valar to consider, and that, Aragorn knew, they had at least the fortune to have.
"Wizard or not, I do believe we all have the chance to return home, Legolas." He glanced at Sirius, who was doing something odd with his stick. "Whether it was by the Valar's grace, or Feanor's kindness."
"Thank the Valar we can all go home now," was all Legolas said to that.
A sudden bright flash of light blinded them. When the black spots in their vision faded, man and elf turned to glare at Sirius.
"What in Arda was that?" asked Legolas.
"Oops, sorry! Was just testing it out. Never worked here before, you see. I guess I have to thank you and your buddy Feanor for that," Sirius replied with a sheepish grin.
Legolas looked to Aragorn, who just shrugged. "Well then," Sirius said, walking towards the archway. The others followed to stand on either side of him. "It's been wonderful knowing you chaps. I hope you get back to your world safely. And that goes for me, too." Sirius took a deep breath, which the others unknowingly mimicked. "Not really sure how this works out, but I'm not planning on prolonging my vacation here. What do you think is behind that door?"
Aragorn shrugged and took hold of Sirius' left hand in his. Legolas took the right. He was looking intently at the light, trying to find clues as to what lay beyond. Unwittingly, Sirius tightened his clasp on both hands.
Finally, it was Legolas who spoke. "Just believe," he said. And they all stepped into the light.