Chapter 1: Stranger in a strange land.
18 June, 1996, Department of Mysteries
For a long moment, perhaps more and perhaps less, Sirius watched as his cousins body grew further away from his own and the rest of the chamber felt as if it were turning up, being stretched to a different angle than that of the floor and walls should have run along.
The sounds of Bellatrix' joyful crowing drew out into an almost hollow ringing and he realized at last that his body was tumbling backwards and toward the swaying, hauntingly-whisper filled veil near his back.
And than his vision faded to white just before a sensation not wholly unlike Disapparation enveloped his body, and both sound and sight abandoned him in equal measure for a longer moment still.
The waxy touch of something unseen creeping over his flesh followed before his thoughts fled into darkness.
May 2nd, 2006, Edinburgh
The first thing he noticed, as he came to abruptly, was the crack of bone meeting rough floor and the long groan that rolled off of the tip of his tongue as a result, running a limp hand over and cradling the sore lump now emerging from the back of his head.
"Bloody hell..." he complained as his other hand patted the area nearest for his wand in the hope of alleviating the headache pounding away therein. Thinking hurt in its own manner, but at least it distracted him from the stronger throb and distinct wetness around the fingertips.
Stone... stone... rough stone... polished stone... dammit, where'd the ruddy thing go? He thought miserably as his spare hand sought to no avail.
He turned his head to the side with a low gasp and took in the flickering and dim lighting slowly, making a note to question why down the road as his fingers at last closed around something firm and narrow enough to represent his replacement hawthorn wand.
With great care so as to keep his nearly unresponsive fingers from loosing it once again, Sirius brought the wand around and pressed it cautiously against the source of his woe, spitting out the field-level healing spell, "Episkey..."
Split skin re-knitted itself together again and he let out a welcoming sigh of relief as the worst of the damage went away, allowing him to finally think about where he was and why it had been so quiet compared to the noise of the Department of Mysteries dueling.
A thick looking series of concentric gold inlaid rings ran the length of the wall at his feet, with numerable unknown runes flashing on and off in muted shades of red around the inside and outside of each ring save for the very innermost.
As he stared at it the two foot width seemed to grow darker and more focused as if gathering shadow toward it, but when he blinked the effect had faded. "Right. Time to get a move." He said uneasily and rolled onto his knees to push up.
He found a black cloaked and hooded figure carrying a dark staff looming a foot away in silence, and unsurprisingly he reacted with a startled shout that turned into a partially named spell at the probable-Death Eater.
For the second time that night his wand was torn from his hands as the end of the staff came up like as swiftly as snake and struck him along the muscles of the inner wrist; by reflex his fingers slackened again and the wand fell from his grip to clatter along the floor.
He swore more heavily when he felt the pain sink in a half second after the fact, and then that same staff had clocked him beneath the chin and sent the aged wizard sprawling on his ass in defeat.
"Aye, I think that will do." The mystery man said in a rich baritone of middle eastern flavor, and Sirius grimaced as he tried to blink away the stars flashing in his vision.
The faint crack of wood splitting reached his ears before a firm grip closed about his other wrist and for just a moment hesitated in mid-motion, then he was swung up to both feet. "Curious. And a soul, no less." The same man said as if in surprise.
Sirius managed to look at him funnily as his vision returned. "What the hell does that mean?" he demanded as all thought of trying to verify what the probable cause of that previous noise was got pushed aside for now.
"That there is more to you than one might at first surmise, Mr. John Doe. It is a very good confirmation to be able to make considering your entrance here, where most such things do not." The other man answered elusively.
His unease rose at that, but he forced out a wary laugh, "Hahah... you aren't kidding, are you?" the laughter died nearly as soon as it began as the grip upon his wrist intensified for a fraction of a second.
"No. You are fortuitous to still be breathing given how close you were to a flat death, for that is my duty; I am he who observes these Outer Gates, and he who executes those of which cross the boundary upon our dimensional soil." The other man explained in a manner that did little but confuse Sirius.
"You are unlike the majority of the soulless, inhuman and nonliving things that occasionally breach these unlikeliest of bridges. I believe you quite human, in fact." He continued.
Sirius nodded. "Are you?" He asked warily, having no idea where he was except that it was no longer the domain he used to inhabit.
A short scoff met his question, "Of course. I am the Gatekeeper, but that is irrelevant Mr. Doe. Do you have a proper name or shall I continue to refer to you as such? It would be easier on you in the time ahead than to apply the equally as accurate title of Outsider you now bear."
"... Black. And that's all I believe is needed until I have a better understanding of what the hell is going on, if you don't mind." Sirius told him.
The Gatekeeper nodded and said, "Very well, Mr. Black. Let us step out from here." With that he fell into silence for a time, hand still wrapped about Sirius' wrist to keep a firm idea of what would happen in the near future on his mind.
In time the hall they were in lead out into a large open and mostly barren plane, with a few other entrances scattered around. Despite the seeming amphitheater effect he felt from the place it was empty save for they two.
"Where are we going, then?" He asked the black cloaked man beside him. A good part of him desired to get back to the fight and finish off his cousin once and for all, though the fact that Dumbledore had just arrived about half a second before he was hit and was in fact the cause for his guard slipping, for his mad laughter in satisfaction, it did little to satisfy him here and now.
"To your judgment, Mr. Black. I am afraid you have inadvertently broken perhaps the most dire of our Laws of Magic by way of arrival here." The Gatekeeper answered.
Sirius balked and came to a stop facing the other man, only then remembering that he no longer had his wand and, with a long glance back the way they had come, realizing that it was likely in two or more broken pieces behind them. "What?" He asked flatly.
"I think your soul will be enough proof that you are not here on ill intent. Do not worry unduly, I will vouch for you if you agree to submit to a basic examination to confirm a few things." the Gatekeeper explained calmly.
Sirius grimaced. "I've already been shafted by my own authoritarian system for fourteen years, and I happened to be both innocent and well aware of their laws, thank you very much. What kind of a prison will I end up in here if your trial doesn't pan out?" He demanded.
"... We don't give out prison sentences, Mr. Black. We exterminate the source of the trouble." The other man told him softly.
Sirius stared at him blankly for a moment before realizing what he meant. "Lovely."
Half an hour later and much had progressed. That isn't to say that Sirius was any happier about his situation, especially given the fact that he was liable to have his head chopped off anyway for unknowingly and rather unwillingly breaking a law that he had no control over, but that was the way of it.
He knew without a shadow of a doubt that the veil had shunted him on to his 'next great adventure', as Professor Dumbledore might have put it, though this was not a journey into death as the older wizard had probably meant.
He still had a hard time accepting that he was in another dimension, but given that the Department of Mysteries was full of unknown and terrifying magic, and the drastic alterations to everything he knew so far, the reality was becoming more apparent by the second.
Speaking of which right now he sat on a stone bench in the middle of the current amphitheater, his hands held in his lap rather than chained down, as several other wizards and a witch stood around him quietly murmuring to one another and, from time to time, shaking a hand or nodding a head.
A balding and fairly older looking man wearing typical farmers overalls and boots tapped a long black staff against the rocky floor thrice in quick succession and spoke aloud once the greetings were through, "This meeting of the Senior Council is now committed, so let it be writ under the supervision of the Blackstaff."
With that he turned toward the Gatekeeper and Sirius himself, eyes focused on the latter as he spoke to the former. "It wasn't easy getting here without Langtry knowing and your message didn't exactly give much room to slowdown for. What are we dealing with?" He asked.
"An Outsider," the Gatekeeper began and paused as they all stood up a little straighter, focused a little more seriously upon the man before them. Sirius grimaced at the intensity of their stares and returned his gaze to the floor as instructed earlier on.
"As I was saying, an Outsider in title alone. We know that humans dwell within distant reaches of the Nevernever even if they are, to a degree, altered by those realms. I have long suspected that the Outer Gates are merely a bridge beyond our reality, a theory this man is an apparently firm indication of." He told them.
"I have taken the precautions of testing his essence," and here he paused to look at the American Indian, Injun Joe, who recognized the subtle request. "His blood is authentic, his flesh natural, and at the depths of his body dwells that which matters most; a human soul."
Joe peered closely down at the dirty haired and too-thin man and murmured almost silently to himself before going still. A long moment later he relaxed again and nodded. "Rashid speaks the truth. Those who lack our skill with the true sight may use a soulgaze to reaffirm it."
"Hmph," grunted the oldest of the lot, "So we've an Outsider in human guise. What do you propose we do with him then, Gatekeeper?" the Blackstaff asked with a wary nod to Injun Joe, deferring to their relative knowledge on the matter.
"Opening the Outer Gates again so soon is an unwise venture, and even if we could do so with relative safety it is impossible to thrust him back into that which he came from with any surety," the Gatekeeper answered, "and as such the choice becomes rather more limited; do we allow him to stay, when considering the nature of a particular Warden available, or do we execute him in one smooth stroke?" He asked the others neutrally.
A wary silence descended upon the area at that. They had executed actual Warlockes for less, but the man before them had so far committed a violation of no intention or control of his own.
His innocence in the matter was not truly what was at the heart of their decision to make, then, but rather the threat he presented against the world. Humanity had never fared well under the presence of those from the Outside, and it could not be risked to allow even one who, as Blackstaff McCoy had said, was in the guise of a human to go free without due consideration.
After another long few seconds one of them spoke up.
"You have confirmed he is of no threat toward humans? That this truly isn't some kind of elaborate trap?" questioned Martha Liberty at length, and at the Gatekeepers nod continued, "Very well. I see no point in execution as of this point, but I still believe a safety measure should be in place," she said. "It is quite apparent that assigning a permanent Warden is in our best interest, if only to be assured that all risk is minimized."
Injun Joe nodded in agreement. "I already believe him to be no further concern, and with such a watcher in place there is little enough chance for him to slip up and break another Law by mistake."
"Very well," the Gatekeeper said softly. "And you, Blackstaff? LaFortier?" He asked.
McCoy looked over the relatively young man they were about to declare sentence on, and the same feeling of unease as he had felt nearly a decade previous weighed in on his shoulders. He exhaled wearily if a little impatiently and opened his sight for a moment to get something of a proper, if somewhat unsettling, view to aide his decision.
Whatever he saw in that moment was enough, and it was with a frown that he spoke up, "My opinion is the same. He not only should, but must have a Warden assigned once he leaves these halls, to prevent capture or control; the way this war is going, we may need the assistance of an able-magicked wizard." He said his piece and leaned back on his staff to await the last two men to speak.
LaFortier glanced not for the first time at the doorway they had come through with unease at slipping around the Merlin and Ancient Mai like this, but he confirmed his decision quickly after McCoy finished up, "I concur. I do not trust him, and having one with control over his nature keeping guard would help me to sleep better at night; I would not appreciate the Red Court gaining an Outsider under their thumb." He said with a pointed look.
Once more silence filled the area as each member reacted just a little differently from the other on that unhappy thought, and it was with a weighted tone that the conclusion to the meeting was met.
"A very good point has been raised. I, too, agree with the other Senior Council members." The Gatekeeper concluded quietly, his lone visible eye roaming over Sirius' tired expression.
"So it is said, so mote it be. Council meeting adjourned." The Blackstaff said, eyes staring heavily into the ravaged-looking man they had just spared the life of for the moment. "We'll be keeping an eye on you, boy," he added wearily and almost beneath his voice before he turned and strode toward the doors.
LaFortier followed, but the other two shared an unpleasant look with each other and then with the Gatekeeper. "Does he have the potential to threaten us if that should happen?" Martha Liberty asked the two of them quietly.
The Gatekeeper shrugged. "Any wizard has the potential to threaten us, or do we not execute Warlockes before they may become such? I am satisfied with what has been chosen this night, and my faith in our Warden of choice to keep him upon the right path." He said firmly.
Injun Joe hummed a quiet note of agreement before departing after the other two, and it was with an wary glance between them that she followed after to rejoin the rest of the White Council.
Some seconds later and only after they were alone once more did Sirius stir as if from a trance and exhale harshly before looking up at the Gatekeeper. The spell used to keep him calm and subdued for the meeting lifted at the other wizards command, and the emotions kept down rushed back to the surface as he was finally allowed to react.
"Bloody hell," he murmured after a moment. "I honestly did not expect this to end in my favor," he said heavily and then after silence from the other man asked with a note of concern slipping in, "it did end in my favor, right? Mostly? Kind-of-sort-of?"
"It has ended about as well as can be hoped for, and certainly as well as I suspected, Mr. Black," the Gatekeeper answered cryptically and placed a calming hand to his shoulder. "I advise you to rest for a time until your charge arrives to take you out of here. He will finish explaining that which you must know."
Sirius doubted he could sleep if he wanted to right now feeling the unexpected rush of satisfaction at still being alive, but he felt his heart beat slow and a sort of haze descending upon his thoughts the longer he sat there. Wearily his eyes closed of seemingly their own accord and he drifted off.
There were, after all, certain things that had to be spoken of with Warden Dresden to affirm the younger wizard's co-operation.
Sirius stirred slowly from the haze surrounding his mind as he was lifted off of the stone bench and pushed outside of the circle unknowingly engraved in the floor around it.
He found a man standing over him, almost towering really given the height difference between the two of them, wearing a ridiculous looking black leather cloak of some kind beneath another more natural looking gray version and in the hand not gripping Sirius' left arm he carried a well worn wooden staff.
"Move it." The new guy said tonelessly despite the slack in his features. Sirius tugged free and spun around to face him fully, head still swaying from the magic used to put him to sleep.
"What happened to the other guy? The Gatekeeper?" He questioned warily, shaking off the leftover dredges of slumber clouding up his thoughts. "What about the trial? I can hardly remember anything after he pushed me down onto the bench."
The younger wizard scowled. "We'll talk on the way- I've just had to watch a kid get his head split off for black magic conviction, so I'd say the fact that yours is still attached means something positive at least."
Sirius grimaced as things began to return at that reminder of his narrowly avoided fate and followed as he was prodded along.
As they walked Sirius learned the others name was Dresden, and in snippets it was explained what was about to happen. "You've been convicted of violating one of our Seven Laws of Magic," he began, "and for once mercy has reared its unpleasant head and saddled you up to me, a Warden, to make sure you remain inline regarding the rest of them."
Sirius silently filed away the new pieces of information and reminded himself of the other critical points. Seven instead of three, death instead of imprisonment except for exceptionally rare circumstances, and Warden instead of Auror. Great.
"Hey!" Snapping his fingers to get the foreign wizard's attention, Dresden carried on once Sirius blinked and stared at him.
"We're about to step into a tear in reality that any wizard worth their salt can materialize. Don't touch anything, don't look back at the eyes that gaze upon you from the foliage, and don't step off the path. I want you in front of me at all times." He instructed sharply.
"Excuse me for being ignorant, but why?" Sirius asked, and then clarified his question. "I mean why are we stepping into a tear in reality? Don't you have any Disapparation points? Or Portkeys by chance?"
"One, I have no idea what those are, and two this trip will take maybe an hour tops to go international distances," he said as if that was all the explanation required, and a fairly good one at that.
Sirius just shook his head.
A lengthy and unpleasant trip through the Nevernever later and Sirius found himself seated on a threadbare couch as the other wizard rummaged around inside his fridge for a beer. "Dammit. I knew I was forgetting something." He grumbled before shutting the door harsher than needed and striding back to his charge empty handed.
"Alright, listen up. Things won't be pleasant for either of us for the foreseeable future seeing as I've been assigned to keep an eye on you, to guide you into the way of things here more or less, and help prevent you from earning the same fate that poor asian kid received an hour ago," Dresden told him, "so if you make a mistake once in a while early on, that's life and I'll make sure to do something about it, but go any further and break another Law?" he paused to make sure the other man was at full attention.
"You do that, and my title of Warden is coming into effect as I become your executioner, shitty though that is to hear. I'm not exactly pleased to be saying it." Dresden told his unwelcome guest.
Sirius grimaced. "I'm not exactly much of a threat to anyone without a wand." He responded neutrally, feeling as if he were walking into a trap.
Dresden dug out a similar but more rounded length of wood, and for a moment hope lit up the other mans eyes. "Something like this? We call this a blasting rod around here. No such luck for you until I know what you're capable of." He tucked it back beneath his leather coat and sat down on a lumpy armchair wearily.
"Rashid didn't give me much to work with, and neither did my mentor, but thanks to you I've got a lot more work scheduled in addition to being on the lookout for some idiot brewing up chaos in the area. So start talking. The sooner I can categorize your skill-set the happier I'll be." Dresden ordered tiredly.
Sirius stared back at him for a long moment, debating the merits of actually answering. With a quiet sigh he accepted that sharing at least something for the moment was a necessity, then began speaking. He started with the most recent and, in his opinion, relevant piece of information available; the Ministry fiasco and his arrival here.
"I was dueling my cousin in a part of the Department of Mysteries, surrounded by part of the Order and the rest of her fellow Death Eaters, trying to keep my godson and his friends from being killed," he said slowly, closing his eyes as the battle replayed almost spell for spell within his mind.
"Things were going rather poorly. I wasn't supposed to be there that night, and I have no idea where the hell the Unspeakable's were at, but then Dumbledore arrived and for a split second, I let go my of guard. I screwed up and she hit me with something, but I think the worst of it missed since my only injury after falling through the veil was to land painfully and nearly break my head in half over here." Sirius told him.
"Harry shouldn't have even been there. None of us should have, but it all spiraled out of control. That damn prophecy has managed to bugger life up for me twice now." He muttered mostly to himself.
Dresden waited impatiently for him to continue, though at least he knew a little more about the others character from those details; he would risk his life for family. That much was fairly important if true.
Sirius seemed to be unwilling to go much further than that for now however as he remembered, and it was only at Dresden's irritable prod with the wooden staff resting nearby that Sirius blinked in his eyes open and began explaining things further.
He brought up Voldemort, and what had been done by the man to return to a living body, and the numerable atrocities committed by his Death Eaters in his name before and after. Sirius explained how the Order had been formed to defend wizarding and muggle society against them, and how he had joined up out of school.
He skirted the major issues, but made sure to elaborate on what he thought was important, ensuring Dresden received a clear enough picture of what life was like where he was from to drop the unpleasant if assuming tone.
After he was done with that he accompanied it with what he could do with a wand("Blasting rod." Dresden reminded irritably, earning a scowl in return) but kept his animagus transformation mum. When he finished up in roughly twenty minutes Dresden shuffled out of his seat and entered a back room for a time, then emerged with a set of pamphlets that he shoved into Sirius' hands.
One he saw was thicker than the others, almost a short book in its own right, and it was to the older wizards amusement penned by Dresden's hand. It looked like they all had been complied by him, in fact.
"Here, read up. Whatever magic you could do in your own world is apparently tied to your blasting rod," they both shared an unpleasant look at the simple disagreement on term, "so you may as well get acquainted with how we do things here." Dresden said neutrally, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his eyes closed.
"When you're through get comfortable, because I'm going to bed and locking you to that couch until I can get used to this crap in the morning."
Sirius blinked in surprise and then stood up, but Dresden pushed him back down. "I mean it, old man. Stay put. I'm out of food so there's no point in digging around for something to eat and I can't just let you go wandering off now, plus I'd rather you didn't snoop around the place and accidentally set off a ward and wind up a bloody smear on my carpets."
The threat of further death didn't exactly unsettle him. "Bathroom breaks?" he challenged, "Unless you want a shit stain decorating them instead."
Dresden grimaced. "Right. Change of plans, you're sleeping in the bathroom instead." He said sourly and pointed his charge toward said location. Under his breath he added something about the trouble of sketching a circle around that area compared to the couch.
Sirius took note and stood up again with a cushion extracted from the couch and tucked up under his arms, and found his path interfered with again much to the exasperation of both men. "Look, If I'm going to be in there, I'm sure as hell not going to lay my head on the floor. If you're so concerned I'll lean it against a wall." He protested flatly.
"Stars and stones... Fine. Don't forget the reading material. I'll let you out somewhere past dawn!" Dresden told him shortly and, after Sirius had slid the door shut, promptly set to work on a makeshift ward to keep the other man inside.
Fifteen minutes later he realized he had to take a piss. "Dammit."
End Chapter One.