This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

-The Hollow Men, T.S. Elliot.

Mostly there is noise. Once, he probably could have understood it, he thinks, but now it's difficult to discern meaning from anything that isn't screaming.

Screaming; he knows all about that. There are many different types of scream, Sirius realises through the twelve years in Azkaban; there are let me out screams, or it wasn't me i swear i'm innocent, innocent screams, or the screams from his beloved cousin Bellatrix that mean, the dark lord will rise again. He knows the most common screams go like this: i want to die. Sirius knows all about those.

Sirius also knows there are good screams, but he can't remember what they are like – they seem like a life time ago, when the sun still shined. There are screams of laughter, or of victory after Quidditch. There are a different kind of scream altogether, when the curtains are drawn, and skin touches skin under the covers. An odd shiver runs down Sirius' spine, and he can't quite place why.

Mostly, in the background, there noise. It is a constant blur in Sirius' life, but it is safe, like a blanket. It shelters him from the real world. People talk to him, and pet him. After so long, it feels good. One day, a woman says to him, "You're a good dog, aren't you?", and it cuts through the fog, a knife-edge of clarity. It scares Sirius so much that he bites her, and her hand runs red.

Dog. You're a good dog.

Sirius sits up in bed, and rubs his eyes. He thinks that it's very early in the morning; he doesn't bother checking the time. The exact time is irrelevant, he thinks, because there is no-one in the house to tell him to go back to bed, not even Moony, who has gone away on Order business.

Sirius' feet lead him into the hallway. He stands there, for what seems like a long time, and his eyes glint with the light of the moon in the night. He wishes he could see the stars.

When he draws back the curtains on his mother's portrait, it is like a release. Her screams echo throughout the empty house, and Sirius closes his eyes and lets the noise wash over him. It is nice, listening to someone's voice that isn't his own, in the darkness. He thinks there is something poetic about it, and the thought makes him laugh. His mother once threw his book of muggle poetry into the fireplace, screaming at him all the while about shame of my flesh and besmirching the house of my forefathers. Sirius laughs louder; at least the screams he can understand. He can understand them better than the whispers that the other Order members use to discuss the outside world that is forbidden to Sirius.

"This is the way the world ends," Sirius quotes at her, and she shrieks louder, clawing as if she could escape the canvas and lay ruin to him. She already did once – he tries not to remember – when he was younger, and she was still his mother in more than blood. He had believed in her once.

"Be quiet, you hag," Sirius mutters, his elation vanishing as quickly as it appeared, and with a subtle swish of curtain, she is gone, and the house is silent again.

Sirius climbs the stairs again – he is suddenly exhausted, but he knows there is no point trying to sleep now. Instead, he plays a game with himself – how silent can I be? He climbs the first flight of stairs in near perfect quietness, but by the time he reaches the second flight, his knee cracks and then his stomach gives an uneasy grumble. Inexplicably, this pisses Sirius off to no end – he doesn't understand why he can't control his body where as he fought his mind into hushed submission years ago.

He curls up in the corner, but it is too quiet. Out of nowhere, he remembers when he was younger, his father had a metronome – Regulus and himself would watch it for hours, the steady tick and sway, as comforting as a heartbeat. Sirius knows where it is, where it ought to be – on the top shelf in his father's study. Without really knowing why, Sirius is running full pelt down the stairs, jumping down them two at a time – he is desperate to hear that sound, the source of so much amusement in his childhood years. Regulus would always want to touch it, and Sirius would always bat his hand away in annoyance. Once, listening to its steady pulse, Regulus had fallen asleep on the study floor, and Sirius had carefully covered him with a blanket.

Sirius pauses, and then turns on his heel and sprints back up the stairs to Regulus' room. He searches through the bedding, pulling the sheets off, until he finds Regulus' grey, childhood blanket.

This time, when he climbs back down the stairs, he does it slowly, with a sombre quietness. He wraps the blanket around his shoulders, like a cape.

Sirius reaches the study, and walks across the floor in steady, paced footsteps. The rug on the floor is rough beneath his bare feet. He can feel his heart beating in his ears, and his palms are oddly sweaty. It's stupid to be nervous, Sirius tells himself.

The metronome is smaller than he remembers it, sat on the top shelf, gathering a layer of dust. Sirius blows on it, and the grime clouds into the air, catching the pale moonbeams from the tall window. It almost glitters.

Sirius nudges the needle, carefully, so carefully, and is almost a thankful when the steady tick comes – he half expected it not to. Sat in the quiet room, with the unwavering throb of the metronome is as far from the screams of Azkaban as humanely possible, but Sirius finds that he can understand it just as well.

In the morning, Remus lets himself into the house and announces himself loudly. He glances into the study when passing – the door is open, odd, Remus thinks - and nearly jumps out of his skin when he sees Sirius in there, curled up in the corner with a grey blanket tied around his shoulders, listening to the sound of a metronome.

"Sirius?" Remus asks quietly, and although Sirius looks up at him, Remus knows Sirius is not seeing him.

"This is the way the world ends," Sirius whispers, and Remus' heart nearly breaks.