The thin and battered veil fluttered unceremoniously in the nonexistent breeze, attached as it was to an aging stone archway, resting on a stone dais. He was sprawled on his back at the base of this dais, breathing heavily, but how he had gotten there, he couldn't fathom. He just couldn't help but think that he had been interrupted in the middle of an important task, that he had left something undone...
Left? He thought vaguely. But where have I gone?
He wearily rocked himself onto his feet, running one hand through his matted mane of black hair and holding his wand loosely at his side with the other. The strange veil fluttered again, quietly, seemingly trying to reach out and grab him. Distantly through the thin material he though he heard someone calling.
"Sirius!" The voice was strong, demanding. And then, after a slight forever-filled pause, shrill with a creeping note of panic. "Sirius?"
The man lifted a hand, reaching for the voice... but then let it drop, heavily. There was something...
The man's neck prickled and he hesitated a moment before turning to survey the room in which he found himself. It was dark and entirely made of stone, with only a sliver of pale light shattering the deep darkness, penetrating through the crack under a door across the room. There were no windows, and he was alone, but he felt as though a thousand bodies were pressing against him, watching him, and a quiet breeze whispered through the room, rising and falling in strength with the tempo of his heartbeats.
"Hello?" he called, raising his voice about the rising wind, searching for a response. "Oy, can anyone hear me? Is anybody there?"
A quiet bell began chiming in his ear, in the back of his mind, and then, "Of course we're here, Black," said a shy voice from behind his right shoulder, a voice hard to hear over the reverberating ringing in his thoughts. He spun quickly, turning off balance to face a slim red-haired woman who was trying not to smile. She spoke again in her faraway voice. "Did you think we'd just disappear?"
He felt oddly lightheaded, and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, unbelievingly. When he looked again, she was still there.
"Lily?" he rasped, reaching out to touch her arm. It was...
"Yours truly. Hold on a moment, James is coming." her gaze shifted quickly from his face to a point off to her left. "He was caught up."
"Dreaming?" asked a firm and familiar voice from his right, and he felt the stronger gaze of yet another pressing over his body. "No. We've been waiting for you, Padfoot."
"That's not what I meant," he corrected, mentally stumbling over the name Padfoot—no, that isn't right—and looking once again into the fiery hazel eyes that he had not seen in who knew how long, feeling detached as though he was in a dream, one that had played itself out many times in the pitiable memory of a caged dog. Realization dawned. Oh, right, Padfoot... It was so hard to collect his thoughts. "I meant... dead. Am I dead?"
James bit his lower lip—a familiar gesture, so simple, yet which seemed to send the newcomer reeling from his senses—and gestured to the veil behind him. "Can't be helped, mate."
"Oh, I'm sure it could have."
Lily smirked and crossed her arms, tossing an amused look at her husband. "I—I suppose you're right, Sirius."
There it is: Sirius, the man thought quickly, as though finding the answer to a question he didn't know he had been looking for. This realization seemed to bring a dose of clarity to the man's mind, and an overpowering sense of calm washed over him, tinted with a light but irresistible aftershock of panic. What if I never found my name?
"Is this... " Sirius asked instead, hardly daring to ask the question let alone know the answer. Something inside was telling him not to get his hopes up.
The pair before him exchanged another glance, as though deciding what they could tell him. James took in a deep breath and held it in his cheeks before letting it seep out with a thoughtful whoosh.
"Not quite," James said, shrugging. "We're... waiting."
Sirius shivered. The thought of waiting in this murmuring place sent bile rising to his throat. "For?"
Lily sighed. "Well, for you, for one. And Remus. And Peter."
Peter, Sirius thought suddenly. Peter, Death Eaters, Voldemort—he collapsed weakly to the floor, hands cupping his face, and began weeping hard, bitter tears.
"Your son... your son..." he bit out, choking.
His old friends knelt beside him, each one touching him, trying to bring him comfort through their presence. "We know," Lily said soothingly, stroking his hair. "We watch."
"He's strong," added James resolutely, notes of pride and fear weaving tightly through his voice. "He'll give them hell."
"But I couldn't... I wasn't..." continued Sirius desperately.
"It's enough that you were with him."
He calmed himself, hiccupping. True, he had had, at least, longer than a year. Finally, he settled himself enough to ask, "How long? How long have you waited for me?" His voice cracked with emotion, causing him to smile in spite of himself.
James raised his eyebrows, and draped an arm gently over his friend's shoulders. "It's hard to say... we just knew you'd follow."
Sirius laughed weakly and wiped sheepishly at his tears. "So, are you ready to begin this adventure?"
"A marauder is always ready," said James, narrowing his eyes playfully. "But I don't want to go anywhere without Remus and Peter."
"Peter?" Sirius growled, incredulously.
"We watch," said Lily simply, stooping to help James settle their friend to his feet before looking Sirius straight in the eyes. "But before we explain, your brother needs to tell you something."
Taken aback, Sirius could do nothing other than nod before the three of them began walking silently across the gray room to the door, where they paused, letting James push it open. Sunlight streamed across the three shadows, illuminating them as Sirius tossed one final look at the fluttering sentinel he had left behind. It taunted, tormented, suggesting everything but revealing nothing.
And then they passed across the threshold. The door closed with the resounding sound of stone on stone, and the veil fell limp.