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The Great Unknown

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Sirius Black stared into his empty pint glass and wondered idly if Remus Lupin had forgotten about him yet, or whether Remus was even still alive.

Time passed differently here. It was the third thing he had learned about this place.

The second was that you could never go back. Once you had passed through the Veil, there was no way to return to the other side. The Veil did not even exist here.

The first thing he had learned was that there was no magic here. The wand that had once belonged to Remus, which Sirius had carried with him for the last two years of his life, was a useless stick, and even the great black dog had deserted him.

Sirius had landed hard on brown grass in the middle of nowhere, and now he was stuck forever in this dim otherworld which had no name. It was a bleak place, full of browns and grays and low light. It was not cold here, but neither was it warm. It was nothing. It simply was.

He had walked for most of a day, he thought, before he had come to the village, which consisted of a few houses and a pub. There was no post office; there was nowhere else to send things. There were no shops. The pub served food, but it seemed to come from nowhere, just like the residents of the village. Everyone who came to this nameless place ended up in the village, he had been informed. Even if one tried walking away from it, one would only find it again, hours later. Sirius had only tried once.

The pub had no name, either. The sign hanging over the door bore only a large, faded query mark. It never closed. Sirius spent most of his time there. The beer cost nothing -- there was no money in this world -- and it never seemed to run out, any more than the food did.

He had been in the village for several months now, he thought, though it already seemed like forever since the Veil had brushed across his face and his world had disappeared forever, taking Remus with it. He could not be sure of the passage of time, since day and night seemed to be alien concepts here, as well. For twenty-four years, he had been acutely aware of the waxing and waning of the moon, but there was no moon here, nor any sun either. The sky was the perpetual light gray of a high, even cloud cover.

By now, he recognised most of the residents of his new home, though he had spoken to few of them apart from the bartender. They came from everywhere and everywhen, it seemed. They had not all come through the Veil; there were other ways in. Some who seemed to be from his own time had apparently been here for years, while other more recent arrivals wore the garb of the distant past. They had all come from somewhere; no one had been born in this place that was no place, and no one died here, either. Time did not pass at all.

At least it's not as bad as Azkaban, he thought glumly as the last of the foam at the bottom of his glass dissipated.

Sirius blinked in surprise when the glass was moved aside and replaced with a full one. He raised his eyes to find a youth with dark hair and a serious face standing by his table, clutching a purple notebook.

"Hieronymus said you prefer the Hobgoblin," the boy said, inclining his head toward the hook-nosed old man behind the bar. "Mind if I join you?"

Sirius shrugged, and the boy sat down opposite him.

"Quigley Quagmire," the boy introduced himself, holding out his hand.

"Sirius Black," Sirius replied, clasping the proffered hand briefly.

He was not feeling sociable, but the boy had brought him beer, when beer was what he needed. The least he could do was be polite.

"You're new here, aren't you?" Quigley asked, opening his notebook to a blank page. He took out a pen and wrote "Sirius" across the top of the page. Under it, he wrote, "Serious?" and "New to GU".

"Is it your job to keep tabs on new arrivals?" Sirius asked tartly.

"I take notes on everything," Quigley replied. "It helps me remember and make important connections. Maybe someday I'll even be able to find a way back."

"I thought there was no way back." Sirius squinted at the upside down page of the notebook. "What's 'GU'?"

Quigley shrugged. "It's just what I call this place, in my head. It stands for 'Great Unknown'. It sounds more interesting than 'Village of the Forlorn and Displaced', which is what my sister calls it. 'Forlorn' is a word which means --"

"I know what 'forlorn' means," Sirius growled impatiently. "If you just came over here to be a smart-arse, you can bloody well bugger off."

"I just like to get to know new people," replied Quigley with equanimity, a word which here means that he was not at all bothered by the fact that Sirius was being rude to him. "There's nothing else to do here."

Sirius grimaced in agreement. "I didn't mean to bite your head off," he said by way of apology. "It's just that -- well, in my own place, I was on the run, and I don't take well to the curiosity of strangers."

"That's all right," said Quigley as he carefully wrote "on the run" in his notebook. "I know I ask a lot of questions. It runs in my family. My brother and sister are the same."

Sirius gave him a sympathetic look. "Do you miss them?" he asked.

"Oh, no!" Quigley smiled. "They're here with me. We came here with friends. At least, I think they're friends."

He flipped back a few pages to consult his notes before turning back to the most recent entry. Sirius saw the names "Fiona" and "Hector" go past.

"You're lucky, then." Sirius sipped his beer and tried not to feel bitter. This boy had people of his own, even here in this no place.

"There are people I miss," said Quigley softly. "People I miss very much."

Sirius thought of Remus again, and of Harry. "Yeah," he said. "Me, too."

It was actually quite pleasant to talk with Quigley, Sirius discovered. He took no offence, even when Sirius was intentionally abrasive, and he was interested in hearing Sirius's life-story. At first, Sirius was reticent with the details, but Quigley expressed no surprise upon learning that he was a wizard, and neither shock nor disgust when Sirius tentatively began to talk about Remus. He questioned and noted, both apparently without judgment.

In his turn, Sirius learned that Quigley was one of triplets, and that his parents had been killed in a fire. He had been separated from his siblings for a time, but had at last found them again, just before coming to this place.

"I don't really know how we got here," Quigley admitted. "We were in the water, and I thought for sure we were all going to drown. Next thing I know, we're lying in a grassy field. Our clothes were still wet," he added thoughtfully.

"How long have you been here?" Sirius asked.

Quigley shook his head. "Long and long. Years, maybe."

"And you're still looking for a way out?" Sirius raised a skeptical brow.

"I have to," said Quigley softly, spreading his hands on the table. "I have to find Violet again. She's lost too many people already. I don't want her mourning me, as well."

"But, even if you do find a way, you've no guarantee you'll come out in the right place or time," Sirius pointed out.

"I have to try," said Quigley, and for the first time, Sirius heard steel in his voice.

"I understand." Sirius thought of Remus again. If there were any way to get back, I would do it. Better to die trying than to live this perpetual un-life, alone. "D'you know if anyone has ever managed to get out?"

"People try. Mostly when they first get here. But I've never heard of anyone who managed it. After a while, they all stop trying. And after that, they start to forget they were ever anywhere else."

I've done my time, Sirius thought desperately. Twelve years in Azkaban. What have I done to deserve this fate?

He opened his mouth to say something -- to offer his help in the quest for the Way Back -- but Quigley was no longer looking at him. His gaze was directed over Sirius's shoulder toward the pub's entrance.

"New arrival," he muttered, turning to a fresh page in his notebook.

Sirius turned to look, and his mind went wobbly in disbelief. In the doorway, clutching the door frame for support, stood the pale, wasted and bleeding figure of Remus Lupin, a smile suffusing his hollow face.

"Sirius!" he cried weakly, before slowly crumpling onto the floor.

In a flash, Sirius was on his feet -- by Remus's side -- cradling Remus's head in his lap, running his fingers over those beloved features, through that feathery, graying hair.

"Remus! Moony!" There were tears on his cheeks as he traced the familiar pattern of scars on face and throat.

"Padfoot," Remus whispered, smiling tremulously. "I found you -- so glad. I'm dying, Padfoot. Had to see you one more time. Don't know -- how I even made it this far." He coughed, wincing as the movement jarred the wound in his side.

"Don't worry, mate." Quigley was crouching beside them. "They can fix that here."

Sirius covered his face with his hands and said a silent prayer of thanksgiving to whatever Divinity might be listening.

This world might contain no magic, no time, no colour, but now it contained Remus. They were together. No one was hunting them. The lunar cycle held no sway here. They would never grow old. They would never die. Why would he ever want to leave this place?