Title: Subcity. Chapter 1::Beyond the Veil.
Fandom: Harry Potter/Neverwhere crossover.
Rating: PG-13 for violence.
Genre: Humour/Antics/Drama (though this chap's super angsty, heh).
Summary: Beyond the veil is a new city, a city below a city, full of a magic Sirius Black doesn't understand. He's stuck there, when all he wants to do is go home.
Warnings: Enormous spoilers for Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and HP: OotP. Erm, and probably some maggots. They're very Gaiman, you know.
Pairings/Characters: Remus/Sirius, Remus/Tonks, possible Richard/Marquis, possible Door/Tonks (oh wait, that's impossible—oh well, a girl can dream).
Author's Note: I refuse to believe that Sirius is dead. Period. The end. Call me delusional if you like, but this is what I think happened.
Disclaimer: Sirius, Remus, Harry, &c. belong to J.K. Rowling (P.S. SIRIUS ATEN'T DEAD). Neverwhere and all affiliated characters (Door, the Marquis, Richard, &c.) belong to Neil Gaiman and his amazitude. 'Subcity' is the name of a song by Tracy Chapman, not that you were really dying to know that or anything.
1. Beyond the Veil
There is a building in London, underground, that is part of a different world. Every morning people come, and every evening people go. Decisions are made, corrected, confused, and misused. Lives change here.
Grey light, promising dawn and a beautiful June day, streams through the windows. It shimmers over the wreckage of a fountain, statues destroyed and water leaking over the floor, on which sits a dark-haired man clutching a stone head, as around him the susurrus of frightened people ebbs and flows.
"It's not true."
"He says it's true."
"He's back? He's really—"
"Fudge admitted it—"
"Did you see—"
"He broke in, there are Death Eaters in the Ministry—!"
"They're downstairs, in the—"
"That boy . . ."
The man lifts his head. There are tears streaming down his face, salt encrusting his cheeks and chin; there's rubble from the fountain lodged in his tangled hair.
He places the statue's head, the old Portkey, tenderly on the ground—touches it one last time, just to see. When nothing happens, he turns away and walks out through the crowd.
No one touches him. No one speaks to him. No one sees him.
"He did what?" he screamed.
"I'm quite sure you heard me!" snapped Severus, highly agitated. "And I was not addressing you, because this does not concern you!"
"If you think I'm not coming to save my own bloody grandson—"
"Your stupid grandson has endangered us all! Your orders have not changed, Black! You must stay here!"
They left him standing in the hall, staring at the ancient doorway.
"Damn you," he whispered, tears in his eyes, as his mother's portrait shrieked right in his ear.
"Hello, Bella!" he snarled, tossing hexes at her.
"Why, cousin!" She smiled glassily at him and deflected each attack. "It's been such a long time."
They fought, up and down the steps. The whole time Sirius knew precisely where Harry was.
Bellatrix watched him, giddy and high.
Down on the stone floor, laughing from sheer adrenaline, he shouted, "Come on, you can do better than that!" as her latest jinx passed over his head.Come on, you can do
can do better than
Come on . . . you can do better than that
The shout ran around and around and around the room before it caught up with him.
He felt her curse, like being punched in the chest by a great fist of iron, felt a rib crack, but still he smiled—would have kept taunting her—"Is that really the best you can do? Gone soft in Azkaban, have you?"—but—
But then he fell, backwards through the veil—he watched the dusty cloth pass over his eyes—and for just a moment, it all went dark.
He must have just blinked, because, look, here were the lights again, and there was Bellatrix, shrieking like a ghoul—what on earth was she so happy about?—and Harry running down the stairs, staring at the archway as if it was sprouting tentacles, and Merlin, his ribs hurt.
He stood up, wincing, wand still clutched in his sweaty hand, and shouted at Bellatrix, "That was pathetic, Bella! Why don't you try again?"
She laughed wildly, looking not at him but at the veil. Who did she think she was fooling?
"SIRIUS!" screamed Harry, flying across the floor to the dais. "SIRIUS!"
"Harry?" he said; bemused at the panic in his godson's voice, he started running towards him. "Harry, what are you—"
There was Remus, catching Harry before he could reach the archway: "There's nothing you can do, Harry—"
"Get him, save him, he's only just gone through!"
"Harry, what are you talking about?" he said, lost, reaching out his hands as he ran—
"It's too late, Harry—" Remus shouted, shouted, shouted, Remus never shouted—
"We can still reach him—"
He reached out his hands. "Harry, I'm right here, what do you—"
"There's nothing you can do, Harry . . . nothing. . . . He's gone."
"Remus, I'm right in front of you, what are you talking about?" he screamed. "Remus!"
"He hasn't gone!" Harry screamed, fighting with all his might against Remus, who was holding him like a life preserver, staring straight through Sirius at the arch. Eyes filling, voice breaking, resignation dragging his face down like it always had, Remus, his Remus, his Moony, told Harry, "He can't come back, Harry. He can't come back, because he's d—"
In the coming months, Sirius Black will remember many things.
He'll remember flying, screaming with Buckbeak at the sheer joy of it.
He'll remember taking Harry to the train station, being Padfoot, excited, snapping at leaves and nothings, making his godson laugh.
He'll remember nights: cold nights, hot nights, nights of silence and nights of frantic motion, a connection and a feeling of bliss, relief, total disbelief, because how could they be here again?
He'll remember counting the seconds in Azkaban.
Then he'll try to decide which memory hurts the most—whether it's Harry's look of terror creeping to anger and disbelief and then, finally, overwhelming anguish and so, so much pain; or the look on Remus Lupin's face as he pulled Harry away, resigned and without a scrap of hope left, as if he'd been expecting this, trying to will it away, and had failed at the last.
Then Sirius will steal some bread from a convenience store, walk into the nearest public building, and sleep his day away.
Moony had once made him read a Muggle story, 'The Invisible Man'. Apparently it was sheer genius, at least in Moony's opinion. Sirius hadn't quite seen the point, but he'd read it anyway.
He isn't invisible. He just doesn't exist. Not only does no-one see him, but no-one hears him, no-one feels him, no-one trips over him when he lies on the sidewalk. He is dust: totally unnoticeable.
One day he climbs to the top of a Muggle office building—not so tall by their standards, but tall enough that the bottom is a distant splat away—and just stands at the edge, thinking. About this stupid, unending dream. About Moony. About falling.
No-one looks up. No-one calls the police. No-one shouts at him to climb down.
Eventually, he climbs down anyway, clinging to the railing on his way.
He'd gone to Grimmauld Place a couple of times. Hadn't even been sure he'd be able to get in. Spelled the door open and walked straight in, smooth as you please, hoping to find eyes.
People whispered through him in the hallway. He felt like a window.
The first time, he ran straight upstairs to his room—their room—the room—and found Remus sitting on the edge of their bed, crying silently into his hands. Sirius could see the very tip of his nose sticking out between them. He wanted to kiss it.
Drip. Drip. Drip. Tears on the carpet.
He rushed over to Remus, tried to reach out to him. Remus moved, just a little bit—completely normal, of course, completely normal body motions, completely—out of his reach.
He reached again, tried to touch his hair. Remus shook his head, wiped his face on his sleeve, looked sideways out the window, bleary-eyed—started sobbing again.
Reach. Again. Reach. Again.
Sirius gave up after a while; went and sat in their favourite chair, the one Sirius had really wanted to shag in on his birthday, and again on Remus's, and had rarely been clean two weeks running since.
It was clean now.
Sirius sat, sank into the cushions, watched his Moony cry.
Eventually the tears ebbed, the salt caked, the eyes closed—Remus slept. But Sirius, he just kept sitting there. Just sat and sat. Then he went to the toilet, got a wet cloth, and slowly, carefully, gently wiped Moony's cheeks clean.
Reach. Again. Try again.
He left the wet rag on the floor. He expected Molly would shout at Remus about it in the morning. He found he didn't much care.
The second time, he was hungry and someone was cooking, so he went to the kitchen. And there, there was Molly, in all her glory, stirring a pot of minestrone (Sirius went up and stuck a finger in, tasting it—it was perfect) and listening sympathetically to Tonks, who was sitting at the old wood table, still scorched and gouged from last summer. She was crying like Remus, like she wasn't quite aware she was doing it, and talking through her tears in an even, blank voice.
Drip. Drip, drip. Water on wood on stone on flame.
Sirius listened to her, his face tightening. Listened to Molly, lips thinning. Turned around, tossed a spoon into the pot (splashing Molly with hot soup, one steaming bean clinging to her cheek), left Grimmauld Place.
He didn't come back after that.
Sirius Black walks the streets of Muggle's London. He digs papers out of the trash, the Telegraph and the Times and the Sun, listens to snippets of the BBC on passing car radios. He doesn't learn much. No mass murders yet. Not yet.
Sirius Black tries new foods, mostly from waste bins behind restaurants. Then he realises how easy theft is when one doesn't exist. He doesn't take much: just bread, fruit, milk, and the occasional bottle of gin. It goes down like a benediction, because even here, where he's not, drunk is the same drunk.
Sirius Black studies Londoners. He finds their ways intriguing. He wonders why they always hurry, and what exactly it is they're hurrying to. Or are they afraid of getting lost, too?
They remind him so much of ants. They're so fragile, so strong. Little connectors, little puncture holes, just waiting to be identified. Big jaws, chewing chewing chewing. He watches them until his eyes fall shut at night.
Sirius Black is beginning to think he's losing his mind. Because sometimes he thinks he sees someone looking back at him.
He invents a little game, Sirius does, because Merlin knows it's easy to get caught up in the traffic and the feet and subsequently forget to eat. He wants to force himself to logic, prove he hasn't died, even if he's only proving it to himself.
Sirius likes the Underground. It's quite often on time, and the noise soothes him. So he picks up his things (one bag of bagels and a half-empty bottle of sherry) and goes down there in the mornings, watches the trains go by with a little smile on his face.
"Mind the Gap," he hears. "Mind the Gap."
And he watches people, then, and slowly begins to realise that, no, he's not going mad: there really are people who can see him. When he looks directly at them, he can tell, because they're staring dead ahead, eyes wide open, twitching at the effort of not looking at him. Sometimes, if he turns his head very quickly, he can see their heads move.
So he takes an inventory. He makes it fun. He calls it 'Who's Spying On Sirius Black?' because, though any attention is good attention by this time, he has to wonder why such these people must make such a production out of the fact that they Definitely Cannot See That Man.
The first person he notices with vibrating eyeball syndrome is a little old man at Earl's Court, hunched over on a bench, holding a cardboard sign. Homeless, the sign says. Need food. God bless you. Sirius isn't sure what the point is meant to be.
The second person is a scruffy little girl dressed all in grubby yellow, who plays a violin near Islington station, case open in front of her with a few bait dollars already in. She glares at the scratched neck of the violin; Sirius can feel the overwhelming rage, barely contained, coursing through her.
The third and fourth are two men, one in a lost shopping cart and one on, near the Tower of London stop. They go past at a gallop, so fast Sirius can feel the wind of their passage. Then the one pushing hops in, and they coast along down the concrete and tile. Laughing, laughing, laughing.
By the fifth one, a fat young man in galoshes and tartan, Sirius has vetoed politeness and gone straight on past rudeness into violence. He slams the young man up against the wall with one arm, pulls his head sideways and down by the hair with the other, and hisses in his ear, "I know you can see me, you fat bastard. You can, can't you?"
"I, I c-c-can s-see—" the man quavers.
"Why?" Sirius demands. "Why can you when no one else can? What the hell is going on?"
"D-d-don't know, d-don't k-know—"
"Find me someone who does!" Sirius screams in his ear, voice hoarse and weak from disuse.
"S-s-some-o-one—" Something seems to occur to the young man. "R-right, come with m-me, here—quickly!" He beckons, with the air of someone who wants to get a regrettable job done with quickly.
Sirius follows on his heels, breathing down his neck, glaring daggers at him when the man turns to check that he's still there. He is led to a door that he's passed about twenty times already. Sirius stares at it, then gives the young man a dirty look.
"It's a janitor's closet," he says accusingly.
The young man wrings his hands. "Open th-th-th-th—door," he finishes lamely, gesturing in a vague manner at it.
With one last, suspicious backwards glance, Sirius places his hand on the handle, twists, pushes—
Behind him, the door closes gently. A hinge squeaks.
"Goodbye," says the young man cheerfully, without a hint of a stutter. He tugs at his galoshes, does a sharp about-turn, and marches away, his boots making rude rubber noises as he goes.
Sirius looks up. It's light, he finds, not the dark of a closet, nor the dim gleam of a fluorescent bulb. It's light that swims from the walls.
"Good grief, how did he get in here?"
And voices that come from pictures on these doorless walls.
"Temple and Arch, I've no idea. Just get rid of him!"
"Now there's a thought."
"Oh, shut up."
Sirius turns at the sound of footsteps behind him. A man, or at least a truly magnificent haunted coat, steps through the nearest painting, of a dark and dingy room full of tables. He cricks his neck, stares at Sirius shrewdly, his hands rubbing together almost of their own volition. Sirius becomes aware of a faint smell of decay.
"How nice of you to drop in," says the coated man. He nods. "Bottom of the skull, I believe."
A rustling from behind—
—and it all goes black.
To be continued.