Author name: berne
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's note: hydaspes is a goddess for betaing this so quickly. *ravishes* This was inspired by Klimt's The Mermaids, although the net seems to have devoured any trace of the piece. So no link, I'm afraid.
Summary: It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall, and as he did all he could see was the mermaid. He knew she was the mermaid, although her form shifted like the tides, and some numbed part of his brain was telling him about shock and hallucinations, but all he could see was her, and he was still falling.
It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall, and as he did all he could see was the mermaid. He knew she was the mermaid, although her form shifted like the tides, and some numbed part of his brain was telling him about shock and hallucinations, but all he could see was her, and he was still falling.
He was falling and she curled around him like wisps of cigarette smoke, scales glittering through the oily skies -- or was it seas? -- that held them. He thought he could hear Harry screaming, and that should have raised his hackles, but Harry's cries and Moony's eyes were being carried away like sand on the air currents, and he couldn't quite find enough energy in him to move.
Sirius didn't wonder at the appearance of the mermaid; he had seen enough of her in his lifetime to make her presence unsurprising. Inevitable, because if it had started with her, it would end by her.
In the beginning, it had been terrifying, and the memories fluttered by him like photographs caught in the wind.
"Sirius! Sirius, come back!"
"Don't be such a wimp! You started this!"
And he had. Regulus had boasted about being the better swimmer and Sirius had, naturally, taken it upon himself to disprove this. So far, he felt every right in directing a smug look towards his brother. He was only a year younger, after all, and wasn't at all that much of a disadvantage. Other than being a hopeless coward, of course.
"You're such an idiot! We're not meant to go this far out!"
Sirius rolled his eyes and turned around to face the shore. Which was now being consumed by the swiftly gathering fog. He grinned, swallowing down the shiver of trepidation that tickled the back of his throat. "I win, then."
"Sirius..." It was more of a half-terrified moan than a plea and Sirius almost snorted seawater in disgust.
"The shore's that way," he declared, pointing straight ahead. At least it was a few seconds ago. Now there was only the cloying mist that clung to Regulus' hair like cobwebs. Sirius could feel it catching in his throat with each breath, and with each breath the horizon became less clear.
He swam towards Regulus until they were brushing shoulders, legs tangling around each other like seaweed. "Move, then!" said Sirius, giving his brother a shove. Regulus squealed and threw himself forward, gasping for breath, arms churning the water uselessly.
"Oh, for fuck's sake--"
"Did you feel that?"
And he was gone, as if dragged underneath the waves by an invisible force, only now the surface was as still as a millpond and surely that wasn't natural for the sea. Sirius gulped down as much of the thick air as possible and then dove, arms searching frantically for an arm or a leg or even a --
Because that's what it was. The scales rippled through the water like liquid silver, and he could no more let go than he could catch a breath. Bubbles rushed past him as the creature sped him forwards, and he clutched on for dear life, his chest straining for air. And then he was tossed up a beach like jetsam, rolling and gasping and blinking into the light. He could hear voices calling his name and someone shaking his shoulders and it hurt, but all he could see was the slippery shine of scales disappearing into the fog.
On that day Sirius and Regulus had, as their eyes caught across the beach, agreed on one thing. They would never tell.
The second time had been at Hogwarts, and he had felt scorn.
"You call this a mermaid?"
James looked at him curiously and settled back against the edge of the bath. "I hate to break it to you, Padfoot, but, generally, a being that is half-woman, half-fish--"
"Beast," Remus murmured absently, from his seat on the tiles. "The merpeople declined 'being' status in favour of a 'beast' classification in 1812."
Sirius nodded thoughtfully and poked the canvas. The mermaid squealed and glared at him. "They objected to being in the same category as vampires and hags." He turned around to find varying degrees of bemusement trained on him. He flashed a quick grin. "I had a thing for mermaids when I was little."
James waggled his eyebrows. "A thing, eh?"
Sirius smirked. "The ones further south are supposedly the most beautiful beings -- beasts -- on earth."
"Beautiful down south? I bet they are..."
"Ugh, don't be disgusting!" Peter wrinkled his nose. "Besides, I thought you fancied Lily Evans."
James shot up so fast that he took half the bath water with him. "Shut up about Lily bloody Evans! For the last fucking time, I do not fancy her!" And with that he snatched up his towel and stormed out of the bathroom, door-slam echoing off the tiled walls.
Sirius laughed and sank back until his shoulder brushed Remus' legs. "Stupid bastard. I'd bet fifty galleons that they're shagging by Halloween."
Remus slid into the bath and sighed. "I suppose you'd better go and apologise, Peter. You know what he's like when he's in a temper."
Peter snorted and pulled a towel tightly around him, before tugging open the door.
"And remember to duck the photo-frame this time!" Sirius yelled after him. But Peter's answer was lost behind the door, and probably a good thing too, because he hadn't sounded terribly grateful for the advice.
Sirius turned his attention back to the portrait opposite him. It featured a mermaid perched upon a limpet-smothered rock. She was blonde and had a cherubic face that didn't at all suit the scowl that twisted her garishly pink lips. Sirius scowled back and she let out an offended humph before diving into the unnaturally blue sea and out of the canvas.
"What did you do to her?" Remus' voice was quietly amused as he turned a tap that produced glittering purple bubbles.
"I did nothing," said Sirius, quite innocently. "At least, nothing that she didn't deserve."
"You poked her. You know portraits don't like being prodded at."
"Yeah, but she's not right, is she? All blonde and pouting and heaving bosom; that's not what mermaids are really like."
Remus looked at him narrowly. "How do you know?"
Sirius gestured vaguely, firmly swallowed the memories of five years ago, and replied, "They're more than that, aren't they? They don't need to flirt."
"The sirens of the Caribbean do. They call sailors to them and then smash their boats on the rocks."
Sirius said nothing, remembering the flash of silver, the pressing water, and the slippery scales. He remembered that what he had glimpsed had been beautiful and powerful and deadly and all of those things that described the southern mermaids in their textbooks.
She had also saved him. But that was something that he would never tell Remus, and so he ducked his friend under the water and lost himself in other things.
The third time, Sirius had been frantic and desperate and exhausted.
Waves crashed around him, deafening him, numbing him. He couldn't see anything but the oily black swell of the sea and he was frozen, dog-limbs powerless against the storm-crazed waters. He had escaped one death only to meet another, and this thought was the only thing that kept him going, paws working frantically. A particularly vicious wave caught him up and tumbled him onto his back, and he noted that the sky was as pitch-dark as the sea, before losing the energy to stay as Padfoot and being dragged down beneath the surface.
When he woke up he thought he was dead. It wasn't unusual for him to find himself lying next to an anonymous female, but never had they scales and fins and a tail. Never had they lips like bloody gashes and never had they jade-spun hair. Never had they eyes with a gaze that could cut adamantine.
She was silent, staring at him staring at her, and Sirius tried to raise his head enough to look about him. In an instant she was sliding into the sea, quicker than any creature he had ever seen, and then she was gone, swallowed up by the tides.
The fourth time, Sirius was mesmerised.
When he was hiding from the wizarding authorities in Jamaica, he had come across a small Muggle town by the name of Port Royal. It was a curious place that had a deserted feel to it and at night he imagined he could hear the whisper of the generations that had lived here before the earthquake that reportedly destroyed them all.
He had not been there three days when a handful of fishermen dragged their net up the beach, jabbering excitedly. When Sirius dropped into dog-form and bounded over to see what had caused such excitement, he felt his heart leap in to his throat and try to choke him.
It was her. His mermaid. And she was dead.
Except she wasn't, his senses told him, not quite. She was still as a corpse, and sallow as one too, and he had never seen her this jaundiced colour, a sickly rendition of the pearlescent skin of his memories. The men ignored him; he licked at her skin, tasting salt and blood and death. She was dying and he could also sense the defiant, murderous fear that escaped with each ragged breath. Her eyes fluttered and she looked through her eyelashes at him, a brief smile gracing her features.
When a fisherman reached over to touch his prize, Sirius quite deliberately turned away. He had seen too many beautiful things destroyed in his lifetime, and he refused to let another go. He heard the unearthly singing and he could feel something inside him wanting to make him turn back to her, but he concentrated on remaining as Padfoot and he concentrated on blocking out the shrieks of the men and the thuds and snarls and the ripping of tearing flesh.
When he turned back to her the men were gone and the beach was red with blood. Sirius swallowed the rising bile. It would all be washed away within the hour. He could see now that the mermaid was struggling with every breath and so he watched her until she fell silent, just as the sun dipped beneath the horizon.
Sirius was himself by then, and he forced his wasted muscles into co-operating as he pulled the mermaid down to the surf. It wasn't a great distance, but it took far more effort than it would have done fifteen years ago.
He watched as the tide pulled her out and tugged her beneath the waves, and he sat down and cried as he remembered.
Her hair had been the colour of Lily's eyes; her scales the polished silver of James' Head Boy badge; and her eyes -- her eyes had been Remus', burnt coral in the sunset.
The memories were fragmented now, shattered glass, and bled him dry. He wondered if this time he was really dying; he had always felt immortal as a teenager, even as an adult. But this time, when the waves closed over his head, there was no glitter of those saving scales, only impenetrable blackness.