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Zeitgeist by siriuslyblackmagic

Format: One-shot
Chapters: 1
Word Count: 4,347

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence

Genres: Horror/Dark
Characters: Sirius, Regulus

First Published: 11/28/2010
Last Chapter: 12/04/2010
Last Updated: 12/04/2010

But that moment is brief – like a woman's love – and Sirius is lulled into a bend towards the flapping drapery behind him, beckoning him with comforting whispers he has not acknowledged before. It goes black and Sirius feels his body die, his senses vanish though he is blissfully aware of the darkness that has engulfed him.

Chapter 1: Zeitgeist
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The beat of silence stretches and evaporates with a chafing breath. 
Crimson light gathers on the tip of the wand, charring the yew wood as the magics gather and condense like embers burning on the crooked end of a cigarette. It's glaring at him, mockingly. The ruby eye of the rod teases; the tainted enchantments spewing in fading spurts: threatening spits which makes his blood curd and his heart release a rattled pulse. The laughter has not died from his face because he calls her bluff. He is immersed in the battle, drunk while he bathes in his surge of adrenalin (free at last) and ignorant to the subtle flicks of her wrist and the ancient incantation that dances on a loose tongue.

It stops then. 


The gush of red is focused and bursts with an audible rasp that reminds him of nails raked across a chalkboard. It's dull against the blood that pounds in his ears and the low breaths that hitches in his chest, but he still hears it above the clamoring call of a battle cry. He continues to smile with his lips parting to emit a barking laugh because subconsciously he knows this is it – the grand finale. It has not happened, however he senses it; in his tightening chest and aching limbs there is a feeling of inevitability in the way his cousin gathers herself for the closing strike (he sees her young, beautiful in his mind and listens to her idle threat: 'I’ll kill you, Sirius Black’ before she closes the door to Grimmaulds) and realizes that she intends to complete the honor his mother never had. He does not remove his eyes from her, does not erase a simper from his lips while he surveys the scuffle around him. 

James – no, Harry – is preoccupied, Moony and Tonks peak and disappear (like the full-moon at Hogwarts behind the cirrus clouds, Sirius thinks) behind the corners of his eyes and out of sight. No one is looking. No one will notice, and for that, he is grateful.

It comes and whether it hits, he cannot be sure. He feels someone's eyes on him. His, flicker briefly to the side and he is staring at Lily (its fifth year and he is met with her unruly glower when he drags an inebriated James into the common room) whose potent gaze sends cold waves slinking up the back of his nape. He sees the shock in them – the fear as each almond shaped sphere opens wide and becomes flooded with moisture. They twitch and pucker and then, green irises are soaked in the blast of scarlet. The prick of the explosion is nothing in comparison to the shock that fills Harry's eyes – Lily's eyes. 

There is a moment where it is clear; the sound of Remus' awkward footsteps (he knows the rhythm off by heart), of Bellatrix's triumphant coo above his godson's cries and the vulgar hiss of his opponent's wand. But that moment is brief – like a woman's love – and Sirius is lulled into a bend towards the flapping drapery behind him, beckoning him with comforting whispers he has not acknowledged before. It goes black and Sirius feels his body die, his senses vanish though he is blissfully aware of the darkness that has engulfed him. 

There is time. 

Yes, there is time, he thinks.

When he awakes it is the scent of musk that he recognizes and the familiar texture of carpet beneath his fingertips. The floorboards groan and as Sirius inhales, he feels the pressure of the ground on his back as his chest inflates. He keeps his eyes shut out of uncertainty; ringing his fingers through the flaws of the rug while one hand gropes at his hair and thinks of the present – Harry's screams and Lupin's comforting voice, all of which seem like an eternity ago. 

Sirius turns and flexes his leg at the joint of his knee, expecting to convulse from the pain of Bellatrix's hex. He is pleasantly surprised by the easiness of his movements and the warmth that radiates from his skin when it glides over the rough surface of the carpet. There is such lightness in his body in fact that Sirius toys with the notion that he has been put to sleep by his cousin's poor duelling skills: he has not felt such buoyancy since he was a boy at Hogwarts (spending sticky summer nights beneath the veil of stars).

Eyes fluttering open, Sirius is certain that he has entered another reality. No longer is he imprisoned behind the mountainous walls of the Department of Mystery but confined by white mist that swirls like wisps grey hair around him. While propping himself onto his elbows, Sirius notes that the haze retreats as he squirms, growing thin over the lining of his legs as if it has been disturbed by his movements, hurt even while it slinks away from his form like a wounded dog. 

Glancing at his physique, he lets out a grunt of disbelief as he stares at his slender frame clad in his school robes. 

Clutching at the shirt that hangs from the belt of his trousers, he tugs the loop of his gold and crimson tie, looped around his neck in the casual elegance he has mustered at Hogwarts. His fingers taunts him as they wave in front of his face; thin and delicate digits which are defined from years of practicing the piano, tough from handling a broom and Quidditch bat. Veins bloated with age are hidden beneath the coat of smooth, pale skin, free from the wrinkles or protruding bones that marred his flesh as he grew towards the middle years of his life. Sirius does not dare touch his face. Rather, he keeps his hands close to his form, only pushing them to the ground when he raises himself to his feet with the spring in his step that he has lost since the war started. As he predicts, the empyreal vapor clamors from his movements, rolling into the distance as a wave would recede from the banks, exposing his surroundings while also removing the brilliant light that kept the compartment so well lit. It leaves uncovered a place Sirius has forsaken since youth, but in a state which he has never seen it.

The ancient floorboards of Grimmaulds Place are not chipped or marked as they have been in Sirius' memory, but polished to perfection. The dark mahogany wood is silver along the edges, gleaming with light that streams from the barren windows of the living room – windows that his mother covered with ugly moldy drapes (because candlelight is enough for the Blacks). From here the darkness of the outside world is overshadowed by the shine of the moon; the twinkle of stars against an ebony canvas. It makes Sirius forget his purpose and the memory of battle – the recollections of pain – which are distant and indistinct in contrast to the comforting warmth of a Grimmaulds Sirius never experienced. 

“It is beautiful," someone says. 

Sirius, in surprise, turns on his heels, reaching into his robes self-consciously for a wand he knows is not there. 

"A pity you never appreciated it like I did." 

He peers into the corners of the room and waits, breathes, and ponders. He pulls his face into a grimace and Sirius feels the skin drawn in agony from the depth of his frown. It is too difficult to relax his expression even as the tall figure emerges from the desolate stretches of the quarter. Insufferable grey eyes and cropped black hair appear, and Sirius feels as if he is staring into a mirror. He sighs and the room seems to exhale with him as it groans and shifts around them. 

Regulus looks refined in his Slytherin robes; not the gawky fourteen year old that Sirius remembers (the one he shoves from his room and throws vulgar insults at because he is terrified about what he is going to do – where he is going to go) from his youth. But he is older here – inconceivably he is the same age as Sirius, sixteen going on seventeen. They are the same height and move with the same controlled gestures though there are intent differences in their appearance, however slight. 

Regulus has narrow, sloping shoulders which he disguises beneath his heavy robes – and Sirius laughs because even in his dreams Regulus tends to every detail of his imperfections. His long, haughty face is timeless – a classic beauty with more prominent angles than Sirius, although they share the same mischievous smirk and sharp, attentive eyes. 

He is happy. His smile is broad and his teeth gleam like square pearls. Sirius has not seen his brother smile in so long (the last time Regulus is four, Sirius is six and they are sharing a stolen case of every flavored colored beans in the middle of the night beneath the alcove of the stairwell) and he finds himself grinning back at him. 

His brother is a Slytherin. Sirius recognizes the emerald tie and slithering snake etched into his school robes but there is no animosity towards him; no room for such feelings amid the pride that dominates his soul at the sight of his kin. 

"Where are we?" Sirius inquires, drawing his sights from his brother to peer back into the heavens. His brother joins him by his side and Sirius jerks his head towards him when Regulus' arms shift to wrap around his own. He does not notice his elder brother’s jitteriness and stares dismally into the sky. 

Licking his dry lips, Sirius feels the spit sink into the crevices of his chapped skin while he watches his sibling. He wants to touch him, to prod his thin arms and the ample flesh of his cheeks because he is here with his brother... his dead, brother. The familiar scent of lavender coupled with the old aroma of his robes is not enough and Sirius finds himself inclining his head towards him to examine the detail of his clothes and the rich texture of his face tinged with rose on the hollows of his cheeks and the corners of his ears (burnt from sunlight). Sirius snaps his head up when Regulus tackles his question. 

"We are home, aren’t we?" he says simply, his tones rich with merriment and a low purr that highlights the syllables of his phrase. 

"This isn't home," Sirius starts with a scowl.

"It is. You just don't want to remember it." 

His brother is compassionate. He looks upon Sirius with a tender expression and fixes his gaze on his for a few strained moments where neither of them dares speak and the room is filled with the soft murmur of their breaths. 

"Never – never was Grimmaulds like this," he argues pitifully, leaving his mouth gaping as if he is sure he has more to add to his statement. Regulus stops him before he has time to consider another point to bicker over by turning his head sharply back to the depths of the room. Chairs have appeared – burgundy red and lined with floral designs along the armrest, next to the fireplace which has been lit to warm the home. A coffee table in the centre is barren save for an old hour-glass used as an ornament to decorate it. 

There is a scream that bounds off the empty house and forces Sirius into a slump from the high pitched squeal. Regulus does nothing but smile and eagerly stares at the door that branches off into the kitchen. 

The rumble of footsteps comes first, the drone of pitter-patter growing louder with shadows climbing the ceilings into the living room. Sirius stares hard as miniature figures race down the corridor as fast as their legs can carry them. 

Two children, a girl with flaxen curls and a boy with ebony tresses stampede through the house of his father’s, while looking over their shoulders with rabid grins. The boy has his little arms outstretched, his fingers grasping the air in failed attempts to snare the bounding fabric of the other's petticoat. She yells loudly and giggles in excitement, stopping by the circle of chairs with the boy close on her tail. He laughs with her before crashing into her side, forcibly shoving the girl against the centre table which rocks the hourglass until it tips to one side, shattering on the edge. The accident is unnoticed by either child as they are too preoccupied with the third sound of footsteps that comes down the corridor to notice the grains of sand that seep out of the cracked glass onto the floor. 

A second boy appears from the hallway although he is evidently displeased judging by the glower he sends the other two. 

“Cissy, Siri! That's not fair – you did not give me enough time to finish my pumpkin juice," the new arrival whines, stamping his foot to emphasize how utterly iniquitous they have been. The scorned youngster runs the back of his hand under the skin of his chin, flicking off a dribble of juice. 

While the scene unfolds (Cissy is sniggering into young Sirius' shirt while he offers a lopsided grin to his brother), Padfoot stares in confusion at the panorama. The figures, he realizes, are transparent. He can see through Narcissa's porcelain skin to where the dark shade of the wall begins; however, it lacks the clarity you would expect from a ghost. Rather, it is as if the children have been painted with a thin coat of watercolor and if Sirius dares, could smear away their skin with one swipe of his fingers. 

“You always made me it," Regulus says evenly beside him, smiling as he hears Narcissa's innocent voice above his duplicate's protests. 

"It's your fault you were not ready: you never told us!" she pipes, and Sirius joins with a: 

"Don't be mad Little King! Cissy will be it next time if you want!" 

The blonde pouts and pinches Sirius through his clothes (and both Regulus and Sirius are laughing because they remember how fond their cousin is of that trick). 

"Ladies do not run after boys," she announces with her nose in the air and her doll like hands on her hips. They are short and stubby – ridiculously so – and wrap around her skinny waist in a way that mimics the stance her mother takes whenever she argues with her father. 

"Ladies do not run at all," says a cool drawl. 

Narcissa leaps from her place and finds herself on top of Sirius once again. The three pairs of eyes turn back to the entrance of the corridor where Regulus stands with another person. She cannot be classed as a child. She struggles to stand taller than Regulus, even in her heeled shoes nonetheless, in stature and poise she towers above the trio. Her sleek black hair is like oil and as she saunters towards them, Narcissa and Sirius gawp at the way it shimmers with each well placed step. 

Sirius is sickened by how he stares enviously at Bellatrix Black (lips parted, eyes beseeching for her attention) while she ventures to the clearing of the room. Narcissa pulls herself from Sirius and hurries towards her sister, grasping her tiny hands in Bella's unusually thin ones. Their dresses snag (they ruffle and slip over each thread and seem) but she remains composed against the noise of their movements and the listlessness of her sister. 

"Ladies do not run at all," she repeats, and her fingers tighten around Cissa's in warning. Her almond eyes are darting from Sirius to Regulus who slinks past his blonde cousin on his way over to his brother, sizing him up in a calculating stare that has Sirius mesmerized and perturbed. 

He speaks up when Bellatrix counts the seconds with the heel of her shoe and taps her fingers against the lining of her bodice (and when Regulus has finally reached him because his warmth gives him the courage to talk). 

"You should join us, cousin. It is a really fun game!" he tells her bravely, and smirks as Narcissa offers him an amiable smile in return for his words which fuels his resolve. The boy unfolds his hand towards her in a polite gesture and watches her features tighten from his ministration. For a moment it appears as if she will consider. Her fingers tighten around her gown and her bitten nails cut into her sister's soft skin on the other hand though she does not make a word of protest. 

There is a sudden change from her endearing expression. She draws back abruptly and pulls her sister with a careful tug to create distance between her and her cousins, leaving Sirius open mouthed with a hand out towards her. Bellatrix sneers and Sirius on the outskirts of the scene shudders from the likeness she has with the Bellatrix she will become in the future.

"I don’t play games, Sirius. A Black does not play games." 

The scene evaporates: the sound dies and the image fades. Sirius watches himself, crestfallen and disheartened as his arm falls limply to his side before he disappears in a swirl of white mist. Bellatrix is the last to go, fading slowly with a lingering smirk on her face. Her black hair turns to white, full ruby lips drain of color until she is as translucent as a ghost before finally washing away into a pool of fog. 

Sirius does not want to remember this event. Even as Bellatrix's form dies away he senses her lingering presence, like a bad memory he cannot extract from his mind. He growls deep in his throat. 

"Why did you show me that, Regulus?" 

"I think you needed to be reminded."

“Of what?”

“Of what was... Of how we were and how we changed," Regulus murmurs pensively, scratching his chin and stroking the odd hair that pokes out from his delicate skin. 

“Bellatrix has not changed," Sirius hisses and dejectedly folds his arms while turning back to the windows. 

“Perhaps not much, but you have, Narcissa has.” 

Sirius tosses back his hair with an angry nod of his head, "We are not children anymore, Reg." 

"Yes, we are not, but you have been neglecting the fact that you ever were one," Regulus proclaims with a sly smile, a forgiving smile for Sirius's stubbornness and apathy. 

He does not reply or come up with a witty retort. Sirius stares out into the open sky, and reflects on childhood – on forgotten memories and facts he has altered. He still does not understand the importance of the memory: it reminds him of how he once idolized his cousin, Bellatrix, how he once played with Cissy and Regulus in a home that was once beautiful; what difference does that all make?

"I felt it was time to remind you. Now that I have the chance to help you…"

"Help me? What? Realize my faults? How I have misjudged or judged them too harshly? They are pureblood scum, Regulus – they are – " 

"Your family," Regulus intervenes, "Family and people who care for you."

"Cared. Not care. You left me, Regulus. You followed Bella and her class, d'you remember?" Sirius says in a threatening tone. He focuses on the sky once more, and picks out the constellations (Cygnus, the swan; an uncle he does not remember meeting, Draco; the "nephew" he never met). Sirius releases his anger quickly – he cannot hold this grudge in the face of the serene portrait in the sky or when Regulus is so close to him; so warm and unthreatening. He may look sixteen, but he has gone without the presence of his brother for much longer than that.

“So are you like the Ghost of Christmas past then, Reg?" Sirius asks tenderly, tearing his gaze from the heavens to his brother. 

"Something like that." 

"It is funny that I see you now of all times. I haven't dreamt of you for years…" 

"Dreamt?" Regulus repeats with a smile, "This is not a dream, brother." 

"Then what else could it be, clever-clogs," Sirius says lazily, switching, convincing himself of his own opinion, "The only other possibility is if," 

"You died?" Regulus finishes, watching as Sirius' face crumbles into a frown at the word. By chance, his attention is recaptured by the table and twin armchairs that has yet to fade into the backdrop. The hourglass is still upturned, rocking to its own rhythm as the granules continue to pour like a waterfall into the cracks of the floorboard – gone, forever. The poignancy is overwhelming, and mutely, Sirius saunters to the damaged object and drops to his knees before it like a man possessed. Cupping his hands, he feels the grains as they sprinkle against the centre of his palms, quickly filling the space and spilling over the edges as if Sirius’ endeavor has only just prolonged the inevitable. Regulus has not moved, nonetheless, Sirius knows he is watching.

“You cannot catch sand, Sirius.” 

Sirius is stubborn and does not let go. The determination on his face scars his skin in wrinkles and furrows. 

“Yes I can, I am doing it right now.”

“Perhaps,” he says again, adding to the many ‘possible terms’ he used since they have reunited, “but you cannot hold onto it forever. It’s like trying to stop a river. There are only so many things you can hope to achieve – prolonging it, holding it, cherishing it, but inexorably, it will have to move on. You will have to move on, brother.” 

Strangely, the sand begins to feel like water. United, the surge of grains are even and unified: they sift as one into the ridges of his tightly held fingers, forcing their way through until they pass the ring of skin, regardless of how he clenches. In his hands, there is only so much sand he can hold – the other particles overflow over the crest of the cupping palm. And as time progresses, the strain on his hands makes it difficult for him to maintain the balance of cupping and clenching. 

Soon, with the grains of sand, Grimmaulds began to fade as well, inviting the mists to engulf the scene once more until all that is left of home is Regulus, himself and a broken hourglass about to run out. 

The beat of silence stretches and evaporates with a chafing breath. 

There is time, he thinks, and the eternity of an instance pours past his hands like sand through a sieve. It shifts, it rolls, it turns and listless fingers cannot hope to grasp the cascade of particles. Instead they graze in wanton, pricking at his calloused skin whist straining into the ridges of his fingertips until the flesh is raw, exposed and vulnerable. 

Still he tries. Within the void of his mind there is only time. He is on his hands and knees in a field of white where there is no beginning or end. But there is pressure – bones ache and joints crackle in protest and the muscles strain in his arms and flex against the plain of his back. There is a pause for laughter and he notes that his body is turning against him, and Regulus is right. The bastard is right. Nevertheless, he wants to see this through to the end – every last grain. Regulus understands and does not press him. 

“Is there anything else we have to talk about?” Sirius inquires. The silence that follows has him worried that his brother has elapsed (everything else has: the scent, the sight, and the sounds) along with this house. Without looking, he knows Regulus’ form is no longer perceivable. Only through sense and feeling is there an aura that resembles his brother, and a voice that rumbles inside his head which keeps the crouching boy company. 

“Plenty,” he hears him answer, and the knots in his chest lessen with the notion. “We have lots to talk about, you and I. But we have ample time for that.”

Time? Time is running out. The flow is beginning to slow, the trickle dwindling in width as the remains fight their way over the edge of the hourglass. Regulus’ presence is dimming around him – but growing stronger in his mind and heart. He feels torn between the moments slipping through his fingertips, and the time that feels more abundant and vast that anything he has encountered in life; eternities, stretching out like a pavement for him. Sheepishly, the questions, the pleading, begin to fall from his lips when the skin on his hands fades – like little Narcissa’s white-washed cheeks, thin like butter over too much bread. He is vanishing along with them, becoming one with the past, or perhaps joining a greater future? 

“Regulus – but, Harry – Moony – I have to protect them!” Sirius states firmly, spittle falling onto the few grains that linger (few enough to count, he realises) in hopes that his pleas are heard and some miracle might intervene. 

“Your time here is up, big brother,” Regulus tells him in a faint whisper, the words reverberating inside him, “and eventually, we all have to let go of the inevitable.” Sirius feels warmth on his shoulder and can make out the pressure of fingers against him, easing the stress from his muscles. 

“The war and the battle will go on without you, just as it has without me and it is nothing to be sad about.”

A brittle chuckle from Regulus is a soothing remedy for the panic that rattles the Black’s insides and slowly, acceptance comes to him. He smiles down at the grains that have ceased to fall, now a pile in the centre of his hands that are clear like the alabaster mist that engulfs them. He thinks briefly of his godson, his best friend and niece; to his three beautiful cousins as the seconds tick and the particles of sand slip into an abyss of white. 

“Little King?” 

“Yes, Sirius?” 

“Do we really have time?” 

Regulus is laughing at him. 

“All the time in the world, big brother.”