Death, Sirius Black thought almost with longing, used to be boring.
The After Life–or at least the life beyond the Veil–was nothing but a grey, all-encompassing mist. He was not a ghost; he walked this world of perpetual mist, actual feet on an actual, boring grey ground. But there was no way to measure time in this place; no sun, no day or night. Sirius walked without pause, but with no way to tell the time, he couldn’t say if he walked for an hour, a day, a year. It was all the same grey mist that surrounded him, the same grey ground beneath his feet.
Until a voice shouted at him from beyond the mist.
Suddenly a woman emerged from the grey, bringing colour with her in the form of her bright, red hair. Donna Noble, the most exasperating woman in the universe.
(“I’m the DoctorDonna.”
“No, the DoctorDonna.”
“That’s what I said?”
“No! You’re saying it wrong! It’s DoctorDonna!”
“That’s what I said!”
“Don’t take that tone with me, dumbo! I can hear you say it wrong!”
“How am I saying it wrong? Your name is weird!”
“Oh, really? Are you Sirius ?”)
Donna was currently examining his wand, waving it around and turning it over and over, as though it would reveal its secrets to her. She’d gone in to lick it, at one point, but stopped at Sirius’ shout. Sirius would have taken his wand back from her if she hadn’t looked suitably horrified at what she had almost done. “Stupid Time Lord instincts,” she had muttered and kept his wand at arm's length after that. Still, Sirius kept a wary eye on her and her mouth.
“Are you done yet?” Sirius asked, impatient.
Donna didn’t even grace him with a look. “Hold your horses, Uri Geller. I’m still trying to figure out how this thing works.”
“Magic,” Sirius said. The crazy woman had asked Sirius how he had gotten to the beyond and promptly called him stupid when he told her he was a wizard. There’d been an argument and quite possibly some shouting. But Sirius most certainly had not waved his wand in front of Donna’s face and threatened to turn her into a newt. And she definitely hadn’t just simply picked his wand from his hand and possibly maybe attempted to lick it. The After Life had been so much more dignified when he had been aimlessly wandering around the fog alone.
Donna gave him a look. It was a familiar look because Lily used to give Sirius, James and Remus that same look whenever they had had some fun.
“Don’t be daft. I already told you there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all science! Just a different kind of it.” She turned her attention back to Sirius’ wand. “If I can just figure out how it works I might be able to get us out of here.”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Oh yes, of course. The muggle is going to use magic to bring us back to life! That’s going to happen.” He got glared at for his comment, which, to be fair, wasn’t entirely undeserved. Sirius had no problems with muggles, he honestly didn’t. His mouth just sometimes got away from him when he was stressed. And as it turned out, being dead was kind of stressful.
“We are not dead, doofus. We’re in a dimension that runs perpendicular to my dimension. And your dimension, given that you literally stumbled into it, good job David Copperfield. Well, it’s as perpendicular as a dimension can be, given that dimensions don’t exactly run straight, but slightly curvy and bendy and actually cross into other dimensions at multiple points, but significantly more than dimensions running parallel to each other do, and never mind, that’s not the point. Where our dimensions and this dimension cross it’s easy to accidentally pass over. And this dimension is filled with neev-particles. So it’s extra easy to cross over. Seriously, neev-particles attract basically all other living particles, it makes them almost useless in a practical sense.”
Donna paused. “Why am I explaining this to you? You’re not going to get the intricacies of particle attraction and accidental dimensional travel. You believe in magic!”
“Yes, well,” Sirius started, because he needed a moment to recover from the torrent of words that made no sense, “at least magic is real!” Not his best comeback, true, but it did not warrant the downright derisive scoff it received from the woman. “Oh, come on. If you’re so smart, how come you’re stuck here as well?”
“Human/Time Lord metacrisis,” Donna said, sounding almost sad. “At the apex of the realisation the TARDIS received a shock and the part of the regeneration energy that formed me got knocked out of step with the rest of my reality. And whoops went the neev-particles, sucking me right into this useless world. I’m an impossibility, quite possibly the greatest being in existence: human intuition and emotion combined with a Time Lord mind and I’m stuck in a place that permanently looks like Embankment on a foggy morning in March.”
Donna sighed, twirling Sirius’ wand absently between her fingers. “And you just know that that skinny idiot won’t know how to stabilise the human-me now that I’ve got the knowledge of the Time Lords. It’s all right for his half-human twin, ‘coz he’s a Time Lord. They can downgrade to human-level just fine, but a human with a Time Lord consciousness? Good luck with that without a stabilising force, but oh, wait. Guess who the stabilising force is?”
She stared at Sirius expectantly. He just… looked at her, at a complete loss. Donna helpfully pointed at herself, using both hands.
She sighed. “You’ve no idea what I was just talking about, do you?”
“Not a clue,” Sirius confirmed. “But it sounded as though you really needed to get back?” he offered.
“Good enough,” Donna said. She contemplated the wand in her hand for a moment before she straightened. “Never mind about all that. Let’s talk about magic. Now, I’m not saying it is real, but if it were, what exactly are you doing with it and how do you use it?”
So Sirius talked about magic. He tried to explain how spells worked, what wand movements were needed to produce which spell. The explanation could have been better if Sirius actually knew more about magic itself; he’d had Runes and Arithmancy at Hogwarts, but Sirius had always been the kind of student to whom good grades came without much studying (and homework came from begging/annoying Remus into letting him copy his), and as it turned out Sirius hadn’t actually retained all that much information. Personally, he blamed Azkaban.
“So you use words, then? Are you perhaps related to the Carrionites?”
“Know a lot of old women in weird robes? Big, hooked nose, claw-like hands, sort of ugly?”
“Do your spells rhyme?”
“ What? ”
Sirius had a headache. Sirius was dead, and he had a headache. Death just wasn’t fair.
“Can I have my wand back?”
“Hold on, I’m still trying to figure out how this thing works,” Donna said, still focused on the wand. A whimper might have escaped Sirius’ throat. Whatever, it was a justified whimper. He just wanted his wand back, dammit.
“I told you, it’s magic.”
“Yes, yes, but how does it work ?”
“I don’t know! They don’t teach you that at Hogwarts! They just teach you the spells and you do it and that’s enough! Because it’s magic !”
“‘Teach you’?” This seemed to get Donna’s attention. “Wait, like, at a magic school or something? There’s a school that teaches you magic?”
Sirius frowned at her. “Of course. You have to learn how to cast spells.”
“You didn’t think that maybe that was important enough to mention before now?”
“You didn’t ask!” Sirius crossed his arms defensively. “And obviously there’s a school. What, did you think we just wake up one day knowing how to cast spells, brew potions and read runes? It−”
“RUNES!” Donna exclaimed, causing Sirius to startle. “Runes!” she repeated, getting right into his face. Her eyes shone with a manic gleam. “The transformation of inert energy using a shape-based amplification and conversion mechanism!”
“Of course, tribes all across the world have confused runes with magic! At its heart, it’s just a simple energy conversion, obviously, but it’s shape based much like Carrionite ‘magic’, so I can see the confusion. You must use a powerful conductive material, though, to have a transformation of such magnitude as to be considered magic for centuries. I’m guessing some sort of crystal? Most metals don’t have enough inert energy to work, right?”
There was something seriously wrong with the woman, Sirius thought. “Ink. We use ink, like normal people.”
His declaration was followed by a beat of silence. They stared at each other.
“Magical ink?” Donna said, stretching the word ‘magical’.
“It can be,” Sirius allowed, “but mostly it’s normal ink. Lily used muggle ink for her summer homework, so it doesn’t really matter.”
“Are you being dumb on purpose? The conductive material used in the conversion needs to have a significant amount of energy in its molecular make-up! Otherwise, the transformation will not have an observable effect! Don’t argue with me about science, mister, I’m part Time Lord now!!
Sirius threw his hands up in the air. “Don’t argue with me about magic, lady! I’m fully wizard!”
Obviously they argued about science and magic. For quite some time even–not that it mattered, time was irrelevant in the After Life. Donna eventually decreed that Sirius had to show her all the runes that were used in magic. Now he was frantically scouring his brain for the last remnants of his Ancient Runes classes at Hogwarts. It was disheartening how little one remembered from one’s school days. Sirius still blamed Azkaban.
To illustrate, Sirius used his wand to draw the runes in coloured lines on the grey ground of their little prison. Donna had twitched when the first line had emerged from his wand. Under her breath she had grumbled something about “lightwave frequencies” and “simple intensification to the visible spectrum” and “could do it too if I had my screwdriver”, but Sirius ignores her.
“But what gives it power?” Donna asked.
Sirius took a deep breath. “The magic gives it power,” he said stiffly.
“Gah!” Donna yelled, tearing at her hair in an uncharacteristic move. She looked disgusted with herself for doing it a moment later, pointing a threatening finger at Sirius instead. “But that doesn’t make any sense! Magic isn’t real!” And then, before Sirius could do more than open his mouth: “Fine! Let’s say it’s real. This one,” she said, pointing to Raidho. “That’s for travelling, right?”
“How do you know that?” Sirius asked, affronted. A muggle who argued so hard against magic being real had no business knowing runes.
Donna waved a dismissive hand. “I used to spend some time in Northern Europe during the second century. Well, not me, obviously. The Doctor did. In any case: lovely people, if you ignore all the raiding going on during that time.” She paused. “And the smell. You really had to ignore the smell. Anyway, Raidho. Rune of travel. Astral travel even, if I’m not mistaken and let’s face it since I’m part Time Lord, it’s highly unlikely that I’m mistaken. Can you use your magic and Raidho to travel? Like, travel to some other dimension?”
“Look, lady, I already told you that I don’t know about your dimensions. I’m pretty sure you can’t use runes to escape death, though. But yes, Raidho is used to travel, like in portkeys and stuff.”
How to explain portkeys to a muggle? “Objects that are enchanted to take you someplace else.”
Donna perked up at that. “Like where? How? Do you need the coordinates to know where to go? Where you start from? How is it powered? Oh, no wait, I know. Magic .”
“A portkey can lead you anywhere, as long as you know your destination. And the destination isn’t warded. And I don’t know; I’m not an enchanter, I don’t know how portkeys work. I just know some of the runes necessary to make it work.” Raidho was one of them, Sirius was certain. Well, pretty sure. Ninety per cent sure. What other runes could they use in portkeys? It was the rune of travel, for heaven’s sake.
“Mate,” Donna said with a manic grin on her face. “Tell me everything. Between your magic and my mind we might actually get out of here.”
Sirius really didn’t remember a lot about Ancient Runes but between Donna’s manic energy and the hope of finding a way out of the mist he and Donna were able to scrounge up a runic hexagon that wasn’t half bad if Sirius might say so himself. Hopefully, they would be able to open a gateway to their respective dimensions , as Donna still insisted on calling it. Sirius just wanted to go get out of the mist. Besides Raidho they used Ingwaz to bring them home, Sowilo for the power of the sun itself, Dagaz for protection of their gateway, Gebo because Donna insisted that the cosmic balance had to be upheld at all cost, and Elhaz for protection again. Protection of what, she didn’t say.
They drew the hexagon on the ground after Sirius cancelled the runic alphabet he had conjured for Donna before. It was large; large enough for both of them to stand in. They positioned themselves so they were facing each other.
“All right, then, Gandalf,” Donna said. “What’s next?”
Next Sirius had to activate the runes and link them together. Only once that part was done could the hexagon at large be activated, but to do that Sirius would have to keep hold of the individual runes and connections while his magic was pushed into the hexagon. Sirius didn’t remember all that much about Ancient Runes, but he did recall that losing control of active runes could be… disastrous.
“Oi,” Donna said. “It’s gonna be fine. I told you, your magic is just a different sort of science. And me? I’m pretty science-y at the moment. So don’t worry; I’m here.”
Sirius laughed weakly. “You’re a muggle; you don’t even have magic.”
She grinned. “Mind of a Time Lord and the intuition of a human. Can’t beat that combination, magic boy. Now get cracking so I don’t have to look at you and your tragic moustache anymore.”
“Excuse me? What do you mean, ‘tragic moustache’?”
Sirius understood the DoctorDonna the moment he activated Sowilo. The sun arched towards Donna, illuminating all that she was, the perfect impossibility of her. Donna Noble, the most important woman in the universe. Any universe.
And as the sun reached out to her, the DoctorDonna reached back.
Sirius could feel it. All around him the mind that was the DoctorDonna ( Time Lord consciousness and human intuition ) bolstered his own, strengthening his magic. Gabo sang when he woke it, in perfect harmony with the song of the DoctorDonna. He could see why Gabo was necessary now; there was an imbalance in one of the worlds that Ingwaz was leading them to. The universe itself was trying to reach out to them; to the DoctorDonna, the stabilizing force.
“Magic,” Donna sighed. Her consciousness supported him as his magic started linking the runes together. “It’s beautiful.”
Sirius looked at her. Her eyes shone brightly, a beautiful light that chased away the grey mist around them. They were going to get home. At this moment, when magic and science intertwined, Sirius knew with absolute certainty that they would get home.
On a sunny spring afternoon in 1999, Sirius Black stumbled onto the front steps of Hogwarts. After walking through the eternal mist beyond the Veil for three years he finally saw the sky again.
On a typically rainy fall afternoon in 2009, Donna Noble woke up in her bed in Chiswick. She never really walked the mist, but the part of her that was the DoctorDonna, the stabilizing force of the Time Lord/Human metacrisis, walked for an eternity before it found its way home. And now that the most important woman in the universe was finally whole the lock on her memories sprung open.
Donna Noble was back.