This is my brain on Pink Floyd. And sentence fragments.
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot.
His eyes are closed, as he falls through space and time behind the fluttering shadow of a dusty black curtain, and he misses the transition between nothing and everything, feeling the warm dampness of soil underneath him after agonising ages (or perhaps only minutes, or seconds, because time spun and slowed around him in dizzying waves) of swirling empty.
He opens his eyes to a blaze of green and gold, and is somehow unsurprised to find that in this place, in this time or not-time (being dead, really, is no different from being alive, but somehow every breath is redolent of death till he wonders if the trees ahead are ghost-trees, echoes, perhaps, or memories) he is nineteen again, undamaged and proud, wearing a black jacket that he had scorned at seventeen, loved at eighteen, lost at twenty-one in the hurried prelude to imprisonment.
Dying, he thinks, dying is about remembering things you used to love, and he draws the jacket a little tighter about his shoulders, revelling in the way it feels, the loose suppleness of the worn leather, and wondering what became of his old motorbike. (He supposes he will find it eventually, because this is his heaven, and in heaven remembering something is finding it again in all its splendid sameness.)
Nineteen, Sirius finds, is much the same as it was the first time around, equal parts proud and awkward, and all too quick to forget. He wonders whether it is really as simple as it seems, letting things go; cannot bring himself to believe it, somehow, conjuring up visions of grim memories of gloom and languishing dark and rats; always rats in that corner of his mind, but now palled over in the languid grey of the recent months - fire, a little, and anger, but mostly dust, grey and bleak and miserably mournful. He thinks, remembering, I have seen the shadows of the dust-devils dancing in the dark, and laughs. It is a thought he would have thought when he was really nineteen. Deep down, he supposes, some things never really change; they cloud over and tarnish, but they never really leave.
He scrapes idly at the grass with the toe of his shoe (lost fourteen years ago now, in the confused hubbub of a confused beginning of the end), realises that letting go isn't easy, but that nevertheless, subtly, he has begun, a little, grey remembrances blurring over, dying tugging away at his thoughts. Wonders who he will find first, here. James, he thinks, and the name brings with it a wave of thoughts trying to leave themselves behind and failing miserably, remembering summer sun and laughs and remembering the end of it all, a thickly choking edge of smoke and ashes, green light glinting off broken glasses in the ruin of brief hopes.
It is a clear, cool, morning on the outskirts of heaven, and he walks.
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again.
The strange thing about heaven, he finds, is the way things change and vanish at the edges of his sight, flickering in and out of existence as he walks through the clashing spheres of the peripheries of other people's ideas of paradise. He hears snatches of sound; an old radio squawking out some country tune, a dog barking. In the distance, hills resound with the sound of a far-off crowd.
The air is colder and the trees barer here, the ground under his feet turning to snow-covered stone, sky greying over like old silver, like the rubbed-off letters on old books in his parents' library. When he sees narrow courtyard walls and a still, deserted water-fountain, he knows, with the unhesitating certainty of familiarity.
"I knew you'd be here, eventually."
He has no words, does not know what to say to the younger brother he outlived by sixteen years and eight months and two days, outlived even though of the two he was the more reckless and the more arrogant and of the two, at any given time, the less likely to survive the week. He remembers the note, by the time you read this I will certainly have died, remembers realising later that the note arrived the very day Regulus was killed. He remembers thinking, bitter, He should have had the sense to get himself out earlier.
Regulus is sprawled awkwardly on a stone seat, eighteen when he died and eighteen forever. Sirius had almost forgotten how similar they were, the way they stood and talked and walked, although the Regulus he remembered at fifteen, at sixteen, was still hesitant and uncertain, a little, not yet quite who he would be. (Still, he was always the quiet one, and he would never be Sirius; even when they were little, people told their parents how lovely it was; Sirius was so smart, and Regulus was so nice). He had seen almost nothing of Regulus between Hogwarts and his death and he had forgotten what it felt like, having a real brother.
"Should have known you'd choose this place," he says, something to snap the stillness. He has not been here, he realises with a start, since he was sixteen and ran away from home; the narrow grey-white courtyard was tucked into a corner two streets away from Grimmauld Place, and it had been the haunt of a thousand childhood memories. "It was always your favourite."
Regulus quirks an eyebrow, waves a hand. "I think it chose itself, really. I was here waiting the moment I opened my eyes, after." He shrugs, tossing the thought of dying to the passing breeze like a generous benediction. He looks, Sirius thinks, so very bloody young, like there hadn't been fifteen, sixteen years between. For him, there hadn't.
"Regulus - " It feels strange, here, two dead men in a dead place, silence spreading itself back between them like a blanket, of sorts, or like a person poised on the edge of amusement, raised eyebrows innocently suggesting 'Yes?'
"It isn't what I expected," Regulus says, gesturing sweepingly (the sky, the trees, the stone, this). "But when's anything? It's enough, I guess."
Sirius shrugs. "Maybe." He had expected a little more than one empty, wind-whipped courtyard, a few trees, and his brother, ridiculously young and very dead. Oh well, he thinks. Maybe it needs waiting.
They end up spending quiet hours together, arranged languidly across the stone benches, rubbing the rough edges off their conversation and watching the light fall into evening.
"Are you going, then?" Regulus asks him, abruptly, pushing dark hair out of his eyes.
Sirius wants to stay forever (and if he wants to, he supposes, he has all the time in the world), stay and talk, and look. Sirius wants to leave, because Regulus grinning across at him reminds him nastily of some things he'd rather forget.
"Why'd you ask?"
"Because." Regulus looks up, knowing. "Because this isn't it, for you, is it? This isn't what you wanted. Not all, I mean."
Sirius wants to say no, no, not at all, I don't want anything else, not really, knows even as he opens his mouth that it would be a lie. "Maybe not. It's some of it, though." When he stands, feeling almost as though he is unfolding, he thinks, but doesn't say I'll find the rest.
He turns back at the very edge, where white stone and grass blend into each other in an odd, blurred sort of way, until he cannot tell what the greenish-white in the middle is meant to be.
"Come back when you're done," Regulus says. "I'll be here, won't I? Waiting."
Sirius grins, uptilted, crooked. "Don't wait for me. It'll be a long time."
Regulus waves his hand airily, brushing away unwelcome thoughts, in a king's magnanimous dismissal. "I've got a long time. All the time in the world."
His laugh follows Sirius out of his heaven.
This doorstep, he thinks, is familiar, in some just-round-the-corner, right-next-door way that he cannot quite place; it is a tired cream-coloured little house, surrounded by a dustily sunlit garden, blobby purple flowers and a tidily trimmed lawn. A sign hangs askew on the white wooden gate; he reads it, 'Pettigrew'.
Oh, he thinks, oh, this is what I remembered. And the world begins to fall apart again.
He is bitterly unsurprised when the peeling door swings open at his touch; inside is a long narrow corridor by the stairs, now familiar in the wake of memory. There is an acrid edge to the air, a smell of wet smoke and something else he cannot place – linens, perhaps, mingling with lavender.
And over the fireplace, on the mantel, on the little squatting coffee-table, Peter. Photographs, Peter at eleven, twelve, fifteen, grinning nervously out at him, quailing slightly at his glare. On the very edge of the mantelpiece there is a picture he remembers bitterly and no longer has; James and Peter and Remus and him, sixteen forever on a day in June, laughing, and with all the pent-up rage he had been on the verge of forgetting, he dashes it to the ground, and he listens to the glass splinter. Even as he watches, the frame gathers itself neatly together, leaping back onto its ledge as though to taunt him. He stares at it, uncomprehending for a moment, and it is only when he turns that he realises Mrs. Pettigrew had been there all along.
"Peter isn't here," she says, more to herself than to anyone else. "He didn't die, did he?" Sirius feels fourteen again, tasting an unfamiliar feeling of vague guilt. He shakes his head, not trusting himself to speak.
"He couldn't have," she says. "It couldn't have been any other way. He was a boy meant to go to Heaven, he was…"
Sirius can feel the ground slipping beneath him, cannot imagine why anyone would want a heaven that has so much to do with delusion and looking back. Hears Regulus, Heaven's always about remembering, isn't it? It's all looking back. He runs, back and out of Mrs. Pettigrew's cosy antimacassar-ed sweetly imagined world, and he can feel it dissolve around him into little wisps of dust, that tangle for a moment and are blown away.
In the distance there is a speck, moving against a background of greyish-green; as he watches, the speck begins to speed towards him, becomes a dot becomes a moving black blur becomes a figure becomes somebody he knows. He grins, delighted.
And death shall have no dominion.
His immediate impression of James is almost the same as the way he first saw him. Hair, messy to an extent not previously believed to be possible. Sunlight refracting in ridiculously thick glasses. That grin.
Memory ill-suppressed hits him with a rush, and a thud; the Ministry, he thinks, a sour taste in his mouth. The Department of Mysteries, and for a second he is there again, blue-and-black, flying, falling. Oh, Merlin. Harry. And then, earlier, earlier, secrets un-kept. Peter, he thinks, and chokes back something that could have been a laugh, or a sob.
"I was," he mumbles. "Was. An idiot. Am an idiot. You shouldn't even be here, and it's my fault you are, and I am an absolute fool, and Harry needs somebody - "
James looks at him, raises an eyebrow. Neither of them need words for this sort of thing, not really, not with the way they always knew each other inside out. ('Black-and-Potter', Remus had said, teasing them. 'Potter-and-Black', running them together in his head. 'Blotter'. Which, he had added, considering Sirius's handwriting, was rather appropriate.) A turn, a lift of the head, a hand-tilt could mean almost anything.
"Don't," James says, sighing, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, "Be bloody daft," and just like that the insistent guilty memories fold themselves up, neatly, carefully, and are gone in a trail of dust, and he thinks that he has held onto trailing traces of guilt, little lingering whispers of doubt and regret and the end of a world a thousand times over for years, and it feels oddly empty, in a strange sort of way, without it.
They spend hours in a sort of companionable silence and later in companionable conversation, looking down into the valley. There is, Sirius finds, a sort of city in heaven; the end of all waiting, but it is a one-way street. James looks at him, raises an eyebrow, leans back on the grass, waits.
"I think," he says, stretching out luxuriously on the grass, "I'll wait for a while. Old friends have to be along some time, after all."
James grins, almost delighted. "We'll wait," he says. "Not too long, though."
Sirius laughs, and realises that laughter is, after all, a good sound and a good thing.
"Not too long," he says. "But then, we have all the time in the world."
It is the beginning and the end of everything.
Poetry quotes are Dylan Thomas's - 'Death Shall Have No Dominion'.
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