The man fell into the Floating Market - quite literally, narrowly missing the Lady Door and a clutch of Ratspeakers she was negotiating with - from out of nowhere that anyone could discern. He had a death grip on a stick about a foot long and was breathing heavily, as though he'd just had the wind knocked out of him. And on the whole, he looked like he'd seen better days. Better decades, even.
Door, startled out of her negotiations, turned to the stranger and said, "Are you all right?"
He held up one hand in a 'just one minute' sort of gesture, eyes still closed. "She only hit me with a stunner, I should be fine--" He opened his eyes, got a good look at the Market, and frowned. "This isn't the Department of Mysteries."
"No, we're just off Piccadilly Circus. They've put the sideshows away for the duration of the Market, though, you needn't worry." When she got nothing more than a blank stare for her trouble, she added, "You've never been Below before, have you?"
"London Below. People usually only react like that when they slip through the cracks."
"Slip through the..." The man closed his eyes again, looking quite frustrated. "Damn that veil. And especially damn Bellatrix."
"My cousin. She's the one who stunned me, there was a veil in the way..."
"A veil? That sounds familiar. Here, let's get you up - I can try to help you work out what's happened in a minute, I just need to finish one last thing."
"Go to it." He kept out of the way while Door finished her negotiations with the Ratspeakers, for which she was immensely grateful.
"All right. That's my business here done. If we catch the Tube soon we should be able to make the Post Office stop - I've been meaning to go there lately anyway, and we might be able to find some insight into your predicament."
"I appreciate it. Don't think I caught your name, though?"
"Sorry, I ought to have introduced myself. I'm Door, of the House of Arch."
"Sirius. Black. Interesting name, yours," he said, throwing in a bow for good measure - it came off as a mostly successful attempt at being charming.
"As is yours, I have to say. Especially in conjunction with your cousin. When I was younger, there were rumors of a Bellatrix Black attempting to pull over family rank with the Friars. It never worked, of course."
"...Clearly, I'm missing a few key points to this story."
Door smiled. "Not to worry. There'll be time to fill you in on the Tube."
Sirius had very little experience with the Tube; it didn't figure very largely into wizards' transportation needs. But Door seemed to know what she was doing, and most people, down to the ticket attendants, ignored both of them, so he just followed her.
"Mind the gap - there you go. Now, how did you end up down here?"
"It's... something of a long story. There was a duel involved."
"I'd gathered that much, from your previous comments. As for the story's length, we've a bit of a ride until we reach the Post Office."
"Fair enough." With that, Sirius helped himself to an empty seat and launched into the story. Since Door had heard of Bellatrix, and since nearly landing on a negotiation was the last thing he'd been expecting anyway, he saw no need to spare her any details. He rather wished the Ministry luck getting down here and successfully Obliviating anyone in the first place.
"...And you know it from there," he finished, some time later. "Where is here, anyway?"
"London Below. It's sort of outside reality, but not quite. It tends to collect lost or forgotten things."
"And at a guess, that doesn't bode well for my chances of getting back home, does it?"
"Well spotted. It's virtually impossible for people without magic. If I remember correctly, though, all wizards are somewhere between here and London Above proper anyway - something about keeping secret from so many people, yet having such strong numbers yourselves."
"Bellatrix certainly didn't get stuck here, or I'd likely not be in this mess."
Door nodded. "It'll still be very tricky at best, but you've a better chance of getting back than wholly ordinary people. I don't know much about it myself - it'll take some asking around, and probably a bit of research as well. The Marquis might know something, but he only deals with wizards if he can call in a lot of favors out the other side, and you might not be around long enough for that to be effective."
"Certainly not if all goes well. It'll be rather upsetting if nothing works, I must say."
"Anything that might work will take a fair amount of time to sort out, more than likely. But look at it this way - in the worst case, you can start over here with a cleared name."
There was a slight pause, and then Sirius grinned. "There is that, I suppose."
They had to change trains once on the way out of Piccadilly Circus - at Oxford Circus, which Sirius found rather amusing. When he tried to point it out, though, Door didn't comment, other than to tell him not to look at any of the cages, if he could help it.
Between her aside about Piccadilly's sideshows and Hagrid's penchant for keeping pets only a half-giant would call harmless, Sirius did his best, and came out only mildly disturbed.
"Right. Where were we headed, again?"
"The Post Office," Door replied. "I've been expecting something, and now is as good a time to check as any."
"...You're taking the Underground to check your post?"
"We wouldn't be able to get to the right place any other way."
In some ways, it was one of the strangest things Sirius had ever heard. But then, he'd just been quite literally stunned into another world. So he shrugged, and decided to go with it for now and see what happened.
The stop they got out at was both bustling and not labeled in any way to suggest a post office was involved. The other people once again ignored them, however, and Door led Sirius down a disused corridor and into chaos.
The entire room wouldn't have looked completely out of place at Hogwarts, down to the corner apparently reserved for pigeons - even though Hogwarts would have had owls, the mess remained rather similar. Two huge chandeliers kept it lit, though no one seemed to notice or care about the wax drippings. People in all states of dress, to say nothing of smell, were queueing at the wooden counters to subject envelopes, scrolls, and packages to the delivery system, and occasionally haggle with...
Door gave Sirius a slightly confused look. "They're mailer daemons. Some of the mail here was meant to be delivered in London Above, but it disappeared into the post system. The daemons sort it as well as London Below's mail."
"Oh. That... sort of explains why they look like the bank's goblins."
"Wizards aren't on the barter system? Interesting." With that, she moved toward the end of the queue, only to be stopped by one of the daemons.
"Why, Lady Door! To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"Hello, 404. I was just checking to see if a package I've been expecting had been delivered yet."
"I can certainly see if it's here, certainly." The daemon started to head for the amassed packages and letters behind the counter, but stopped and considered Sirius first. "Who's this, then? Another Upworlder?"
"...In a manner of speaking," Door replied, before Sirius could open his mouth. The daemon seemed content with that answer, though, and scuttled off to the packages.
"I haven't asked where his name came from."
The daemon returned a few minutes later, with something that appeared to be wrapped in the tattered remains of a curtain. "Your package, my lady."
"Thank you very much, 404." She pulled two old, but apparently clean, handkerchiefs and a small bag of bread crumbs out of one of her jacket pockets and handed them to the daemon, who grinned and scuttled back off to the other side of the counter.
Sirius waited until they were back on a Tube train to ask the question that had been niggling at his brain since the daemon started talking. "So you're a Lady, then?"
"My family's had some political influence in London Below for quite some time. I get official visits rather more often than post, but Richard seems to think I need the occasional package." She smiled, almost like she was enjoying some private joke.
"Well. If I would have known, I'd have bowed properly or something."
"Oh, it's all right. You had no way of knowing."
Sirius found himself at something of a loss to follow that up, and the ride lapsed into silence aside from the train's noise. Clearly, this London Below thing was going to take some getting used to.
That hadn't gone according to plan at all.
Well, the bit where the Potter boy had arrived with only a few sorely undertrained friends at his back had done, Bellatrix supposed, though from there the whole venture had gone pear-shaped. She had no idea who had warned the adults, but perhaps it didn't much matter; they came in and promptly ruined any chance of a clean getaway.
The brats held their own decently, though it would have been over much faster without the intervention. Bellatrix had been grudgingly impressed by how well her worthless cousin had managed - she would have thought after twelve years in prison and three on the run, he'd be rustier. And she even thought of a way to keep this little raid from being a total loss in the Dark Lord's eyes. If she could stun him and bring him along, they would have some leverage to get the prophecy. The copy in the Ministry couldn't be the only one.
And they'd have someone to play with in the meantime, of course. It had been too long.
But when she did stun him, the man didn't have the decency to fall forward or to one side. He fell backward, through the old veil, which meant there was no chance of a kidnapping after they finished.
It mattered little, on the whole. The veil went Below, so her cousin would be out of the way for quite a while, if not for good; meanwhile, the apparent loss would likely be devastating to the Potter brats, given how he started wailing after the deed was done. And if it got to be too risky for the Dark Lord's comfort to just leave him be, she could always go down herself and have a few words with Croup and Vandemar about finishing the blood traitor off. Perhaps she ought to go soon anyway, and see how the whole Key business was going.
But Bellatrix had really been looking forward to having a toy to play with.
Door had some kind of political deal to look into, so Sirius was on his own for getting to the library after a few Tube stops. He supposed it was a good sign that she trusted him to go it alone, at least for a while. London Below still wasn't what he was used to at all, but he had plenty of practice at keeping his eyes open, and that helped immensely.
The stacks he was looking for were in the basement, which didn't entirely surprise him, especially given the chance that most of the library probably didn't even know they were there. Unfortunately, the books weren't in any sort of order he could recognize, and he didn't see anything resembling a card catalog. This was shaping up to take quite a while.
"Looking for something?"
Sirius froze. He knew that voice, but couldn't think of any reason why he should be hearing it down here. Or at all, considering its owner was supposed to be long dead. He had to turn around to confirm it, but there was no mistaking the face.
"...Regulus. What are you doing here?"
"Sorry, have we..." His brother trailed off, frowning, then started over. "Sirius, you look like hell warmed over, what the hell have you been doing the last month?"
"Month? It's been years. More than a decade."
"Hmm. People said time wouldn't necessarily line up between the two, but I hadn't expected it to matter. How did you get here, anyway?"
"Department of Mysteries. Wasn't what you'd call a planned vacation - Bellatrix stunned me."
Regulus snorted. "You and your war effort. I might have expected something like that."
"And you're one to talk, are you, tossing off your cause and getting yourself killed? Brilliant move, that man."
"Clearly I'm not as dead as you'd thought, am I? Anyway, you say that like I had much faith in the cause in the first place."
"You had enough to sign up."
"That was more out of family expectation than anything. And some vague hope they'd deal with legitimate Ministry problems."
"Which they didn't, and still don't."
"No, and I decided I was going down fighting, if at all. By the time they started looking for me in earnest, I'd found someone willing to take the fall, set him up with Polyjuice, and buggered off." Regulus shrugged. "Like I said, it's only been a month or so for me, but I suppose if it's been longer topside, I can assume no one's going to come looking for me."
"Why would they if they think you're dead?"
"You need to pay more attention if you haven't heard by now. Bella's been here often enough to make enemies - on that note, you'll probably want to avoid Blackfriars, if you can - so who are we to say she wouldn't think of it and call for a search?"
"She's completely off her nut. You're assuming anyone would take what she had to say at face value."
"Of the two of us, I'm not the one who taunted her in the middle of a duel. You're lucky all she did was stun you. Besides, she could have decided to come here on her own."
"...Must you be so damn sensible?"
"You're the one who got Sorted into the house of the bold and stupid, not me."
"And where would you have ended up if you hadn't half been trying to keep our mother from having yet another fit?" Sirius didn't have any proof to back that up, but he'd long suspected his brother's Sorting wasn't an entirely perfect match.
"...I don't know. None of them ever seemed to fit me, no matter how that bloody hat phrased it. But with my self-preservation instinct, it might have worked out the same."
"Deciding you want out of something that's next to impossible to leave without dying? This must be some strange form of self-preservation I wasn't previously aware of."
"Oh, you know what I meant. Anyway, I believe you came in here looking for something?"
"Right, you did offer to help with that. I'm trying to figure out how to get back home. Door thought there might be something here that would help."
"And if I hadn't been keeping one ear to the ground, that would sound like you'd gone round the... wait. Are you telling me you want to get back to a war zone?"
"There are still people there who need me."
"Maybe you have gone round the bend."
"If I have, I like it there. Now, do you have the first idea how this place is organized, or ought I to figure it out for myself?"
"...Bloody Gryffindors. Suppose if I don't help you now, you'll just get yourself killed sooner."
"Give me some credit, will you?"
"Prove why I should. That won't work just because you're older, now."
When Door finished her negotiations and made it to the library, she found the two of them arguing over a pile of books.
"You never mentioned why you look like hell warmed over."
"How else do you expect me to find out?"
Sirius sighed. "Do you know Peter was acting as a double agent?"
"I'd gathered. Why, did you do him in before anyone else caught on?"
"Not yet. James and Lily were in danger, he gave up their hiding place, and they both got killed. Their son survived and discorporated Voldemort, though."
"Which explains why you're still dealing with him more than a decade later. But why did one of them not take the baby and get out of there?"
"Couldn't say, but odds are they were panicking. Anyway, I went after Peter the next day, but he blew up half the street and buggered off before I had a chance to stop him. Killed twelve people, and left me to take the fall for it."
Regulus raised an eyebrow. "Typically reckless of you, at least at the beginning. You might have taken some backup. I have to wonder why the Ministry didn't ask many questions about it, though."
"Oh, they asked questions. They just didn't ask me. After what the other witnesses had to say, they thought they had enough proof to lock me up."
"Your fearless leader didn't even speak up on your behalf? What a stunning show of support for his volunteers. If Pettigrew's still loose, and from what you said it sounds like he is, how'd you get out of jail?"
"Funny man. They confiscate wands anyway."
"Azkaban has remarkably little preparation for dealing with animals. I've been in hiding for nearly three years now." Sirius was still rather proud of his escape, all things considered; he doubted the Ministry would believe how he did it, even if he told them.
"...I'll bother you for a demonstration later. If that's all you have to go back to, why are you so keen on it?"
"We've been over this. There are people who still need me. And a war to fight, though there's not much I can do to that end."
"You were wrongfully imprisoned and got no help from your cohorts, and yet you still can't see why I wasn't impressed with Dumbledore's line of reason. It must be a Gryffindor thing."
"Voldemort's a dangerous lunatic. You're the former Death Eater here, you ought to know that better than I do."
"Yes, but what are you lot planning to do if you manage to take him down? The Ministry's got some real problems with the way it does things. You ought to know that by now."
Regulus had a point, much as Sirius hated to admit it; he liked lacking a proper answer to the question even less. "No one's really thought it through that far. We've been more concerned with the immediate threat."
"Not even Lupin's put effort into it? That doesn't sound right. He's had to put up with the Ministry's lack of logic even longer than you. Don't give me that face. The school gave us lunar charts, and he was always doing poorly right after full moons. Anyone could have worked it out. It's a wonder more didn't - but I suppose that would be expecting common sense of my former classmates."
"...If he has, I haven't heard about it."
"He probably hasn't, then, at least if you two are carrying on as ever. You likely would have heard it first." Regulus wrinkled his nose. "Change for change's sake may not be the world's best idea, but neither is letting very real problems fester. It's poor planning. Give it another few decades and you'll have some other malcontent stirring up trouble."
"You say that like you managed perfectly."
"Considering I was in something of a rush, I'd say I held up fairly well. Besides, I wasn't setting myself up for a vicious cycle. I may never understand your rush to dive back into one."
Sirius sighed. "Well, if no one tells people changes need to be made, how are they ever going to happen? Dumbledore would have tried to effect a change by now if he'd thought of it, so I doubt anyone else has made the suggestion."
"...You have a point there. I wouldn't count on someone who's already let you down once to get the job done, though."
"Maybe. If you're done picking apart my logic now, I have a question for you."
"And that would be?"
"Do you know who we buried thinking it was you? 'We' being my friends and I - Mother couldn't bear the idea of letting a traitor to the cause into the family plot, after Bellatrix made sure she heard about it."
Regulus blinked. "I didn't catch his name. All I know is he was desperate enough to agree to the idea. Neither of us were expecting enough to be left to merit a burial."
"It wasn't recognizable, and the burying probably wouldn't have happened if not for our dear cousin's gloating. But at that point... we figured you'd earned it."
"Well. That's... worth knowing, I suppose."