Disclaimer: I don't own it.
A/N: this is not chronological... or any kind of logical, actually. you have been warned. also know that this fic is not in any way compatible with my 'dopplebeater defense' - the pairings here are a bit mismatched from the ones there, so that would just be a bit weird. anyways, enjoy, and tell me what you think!
One of the Few
Lily is not particularly good at surviving. It is just something that happens to her, something that she cannot seem to stop doing. Perhaps she has become addicted to life, either the best or worst craving in a world woven together by tragedy and warfare.
Without Alice's resolve, raging behind a pleasant face – "Keep your fucking prophesy away from my son," the other woman had said, or something headstrong of that sort – Lily lowers her hands, shaping them into claws of discontentment, gesturing mindlessly and wincing. "I'm sorry," she whispers, backing up a few steps, trembling with self-control, nodding her head in a sort of half-bow. I'm sorry, Old Man, but don't need your politics, and children do not belong in a war.
War is a thousand tragedies strung together like the pasta necklaces that Andromeda makes at five years old, sticky blue and green paint that stains her hands and won't come off. Her mother slaps her over the back of the head, mumbles something about 'unacceptable,' and Sirius teaches her to hide her weaknesses. When she reaches sixteen, the war has not yet taken on its great title of War, not to her, not until the first tragedy that beats her over the head and leaves her for fate to find.
Her seventeenth birthday, it is raining, and she usually loves rain. Now she is lying on her bed. Green curtains, pulled shut. Don't let the sunlight in. Don't let anything in. Be alone, don't be Andromeda Black, don't be anyone.
She wants to sleep but can't, just can't. Andromeda glares at her for wrist what must be at least five minutes before she remembers having lost her watch; it is early, the dawn sky tells her, and her roommates are snoring slightly. The persistent, constant ticking sound that at first she had at first mistaken for a clock is actually an owl, pecking relentlessly against the window by her bed. Stretching, she stands, leans against the glass, gave the bird a glare to rival its own stubborn look, and then sighs when this achieves nothing. Rain is still falling, rolling in shimmering beads off its tawny feathers as she watches. "Shoo," she whispers, very softly, then feels very much like a Muggle. It is, unsurprisingly, not such a bad feeling.
But there is no drenched letter dumped on the head of an unsuspecting sleeping roommate when she lets the owl in – rather, it swoops directly into her face, dropping a tiny pink flower into her shocked hands, then leaves again, battling against the downpour. She twirls the blossom delicately between her fingers, and she'll make sure to thank Ted next time she sees him.
Then drops it to the floor. Falls back onto her bed, shuts her eyes, but doesn't sleep. Afraid to dream. They all are. Afraid of warning bells and dark marks glittering like Slytherin stars.
Slytherin stars and Griffindor moons echo themselves into the way Dumbledore meets Alice's eyes with his own piercing blue ones, and calls her toward him with a jerk of his white-haired head.
It makes her feel mature, responsible, more than such a simple gesture should. Her words as she comes into range – "Alice, I need to speak with you" – bring her back to his office, years ago, after one of her occasional slips or mishaps, with his stern voice that sounds both like an explosion of fireworks and the twiddling of thumbs. Lily stands beside him, Harry at her hip; the smile she gives her son contradicts the tension that lines the rest of her face, as she passes him to James with a whispered word and trembling hands.
A trembling left hand flicks a wand, petite lips murmur a command, and possessions leap, chaotic, haphazard, into an open trunk. A seventeen-year-old Andromeda vows to practice this spell sometime later, sometime when she will never have to return to this musty house of polished silver and tarnished lies.
A few scattered distant relations insist that she can stay with them, but she needs to stand on her own. One more moment could send her spinning into the mousetrap that has sprung up and caught her family for ages, sending them spiraling into madness and black holes that never open.
There have been two more unexpected other offers made, offers of shelter and protection and perhaps even hope: one from Alice and one from Lily, two girls far younger than her but who seem so much older, who hover on the edge of her mind like heroes and legends and dragonflies.
A dragonfly is captured in two cupped hands, trembling, unsteady hands that belong to a tired face with haunted eyes. "Shhh," a hoarse voice whispers to the fluttering wings, a tone meant for a small child. "Shhh, don't be afraid." Her grip slackens, the delicate creature escapes. "It'll all be over soon," she mumbles in a husky imitation of the silky black hair and thin lips that have become all she knows. She rubs at her wrists to check for invisible chains, leans over the side of the rickety bed. "It'll all be over soon…"
Frank and Alice Longbottom were tortured for information concerning the Dark Lord's whereabouts after his loss of power. They are both currently in St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Frank and Alice Longbottom were tortured for information concerning the Dark Lord's whereabouts. Frank and Alice Longbottom were tortured for information concerning the Dark Lord. Frank and Alice Longbottom were tortured into insanity. Frank and Alice Longbottom were tortured –
Someone has left the newspaper lying on the floor again. The pages are brittle, as though it has been left out in the rain, and a Healer with thin, smiling face quickly rushes over to snatch it up. "You don't have to look at that, Sweetie," she says, in a calming voice that could not have been so perfect without years of practice before a mirror. Her left hand molds perfectly around the rolled-up newspaper; her right smoothes the starched, white sheets. "There's someone here to see you, isn't that nice?"
Someone has chubby cheeks and trembling lips that remind Alice of pain. She closes her eyes, heart beating wildly, and turns her head toward the wall.
The wall of her bedroom is not thick enough, the lock on the door is not strong enough, and Lily is not afraid. She sets Harry down on the bed, humming a lullaby and whipping her wand from her sleeve. I'm sorry, Old Man, she once thought, upon imagining this day, I'm sorry, but don't need your politics, and children do not belong in a war. She is not sorry anymore.
Betrayal to counter betrayal, love to defy loss, Lily stands before her son, hums louder to block out nearby shouts, half-formed words leaving her lips: sleep little darling, do not cry… and I will sing a lullaby… She shuts her eyes to avoid the flash of emerald gleaming from beneath the door. Just like your eyes, Severus told her once. Avada Kadavra eyes, hadn't she ever noticed? Eyes of death. It was the last time they willingly spoke.
Once, Dumbledore had lectured like the scholar he was: steady tone, raised head, composed façade. "Voldemort," he was telling his students, would-be Order members all too eager for death, "can imagine no fate worse that death. To defeat him, we must recognize this weakness, and exploit it against him."
She, Alice, and Andromeda had sat unmoving in hard wooden chairs before the old man's desk, drinking in every word, eager young soldiers.
Now that the moment has come, Lily is not recognizing her enemy's weakness; she is reevaluating it.
The door bursts open, because once upon a time, the Dark Lord flipped a coin, watched it land queen-side-up, and her son had heads in this particular gamble. The door bursts open, because while gracious, smiling Alice could swear and hold on tightly to her child, Lily had molded into the system, repressed her fury into an, I'm sorry. She needs nothing more than to be as brave as Alice.
While her wand remains steady in her hand – ""Don't you dare come near him! Not Harry, please not Harry!" – she no longer feels like fire.
Fire crackles in a hearth, for floo purposes only, on a cloudless and perfect morning; Alice sits on Frank's lap, the happiest woman on earth, eating ice-cream from its carton with a fork while he drinks black coffee and reads a newspaper.
Frank has been saying, almost as though speaking of two strangers, "I used to wonder about you and Lily Evens, sometimes. Potter, I should say," he corrects himself. He is unaware of any old wounds that have suddenly been torn open.
Alice smiles mysteriously, unblushing, and takes another forkful of ice-cream, but does not reply.
"We should set a better example for the baby," Frank suggests after a pause, dropping the subject good-naturedly, with one hand contentedly on her stomach. The past has less meaning with each passing moment. "Sit in separate chairs, cook ourselves real food."
"Tomorrow," she promises. Her daily fear that tomorrow will never come is evaporating, because Alice Longbottom has decided to save the world.
She does not believe in past and present. The age of five happens just the same as twenty does; history builds up into a mountain, and the rest of life, the works-in-progress, each current love and hate and fear, coat the top like a thin snowfall.
The War is a blizzard, but maybe escapable, if someone could catch each of the flurried snowflakes on an outstretched tongue.
Biting her tongue and trying her best to keep her eyes locked with Sirius's, Andromeda magicks the next overflowing packing box down to the ground beside her. He sits on the windowsill of his bedroom, while she stands in an alleyway below, caught up in the suspense of this pre-dawn escape.
"You pack like a girl," she taunts; he flips her off before throwing his last bag over his shoulder, the cloth wriggling around what must either be a living creature or several Quidditch balls. Climbing from windowsill to windowsill while she watches with a half-suppressed grin, he thumps to the ground – "Grab some of those bags so I can apparate you, Looser," she adds, "Ted and Dora will wonder where I've gotten off to, we haven't got all night." She wonders when their roles switched, when age began to matter, when she became the responsible one.
Her hand she reaches around his waist in order for him to side-along-apparate properly, and she can tell he's embarrassed not to have passed his test yet. A Black should never fail at anything. They're rushing away, her harm glued to his; his skin is warm beneath his thin Muggle t-shirt, and she tells herself she digs her fingers slightly farther in only through hard-learned motherly instincts, the way she's always so afraid to let go of Nymphadora. She tells herself this until she can almost believe it.
As they land, he trips, stumbles so that his chest brushes against hers, for an instant. He steadies himself with a hand on her shoulder, looks embarrassed but leaves this hand in place.
"You're sure you don't want to come stay at my place for a while? I'm sure Dora'd love to see you," she offers, and somehow, subconsciously, her hand has come to rest on his, and the air is thin and still, devoid of any warbled love song, empty, just the two of them. They stand before the gate of the Potters' house, just as he had requested, and she had promised. This is not the first time she has looked at him like that, and not the first time he has returned her glance. She wishes for Hogwarts and teenaged mindsets, broom cupboards, abandoned corridors, secret passageways lit by candlelight or the center of the Quidditch pitch in the middle of the day.
Andromeda is married. She is married and happy. She is happily married. There is no disputing this fact, the way her eyes light up as Dora leaps into her arms and Ted pecks a kiss on her lips. There is nothing quite like her husband singing along to the radio, off-key, while her daughter dances along on the sofa and the War cannot slip through an opened door or window, cannot tumble out of the fireplace like Father Christmas or apparate onto her unsuspecting head as she haphazardly cooks macaroni and cheese, playing her part.
Sirius is sixteen and smells of firewhisky, along with what might be gunpowder. He pulls open the gate, dragging his old-fashioned trunk with two heavy packing boxes under one arm, muscles flexing with the effort.
She leans in to kiss him on the cheek, but whether he means to or not, he turns his head ever so slightly, and she catches his lips instead.
It is all over in a second. "Talk to you soon?" he asks her deviously, with that calculating look in his eyes like he's trying to figure her out.
"Yeah," she promises, backing away into the night. "Soon." She is out of sight within a moment.
Within a moment of skimming the front page, Lily slams that morning's newspaper onto the table a bit too forcefully.
Entering the room and looking over her shoulder, James asks, "Who was it today?" The War has devoured discretion like a starving beast.
Her throat tightens, though she can't say why today should affect her any more than yesterday had or tomorrow will. "A few Muggles in London. But, you know, the picture…"
Glancing over at it, he winces, runs a hand through his hair.
"Do you ever think about leaving, hmmm?" The words depart her lips all in a rush, before she can register what she is saying. "You know… just packing up and going far away. Maybe, like, Argentina, Thailand, somewhere we don't know the language and can't read the headlines?" It sounds selfish, pouring from her mouth, but give it a minute and she'll tell him why.
He looks concerned, sitting down beside her, unable to keep his fingers frenziedly from his hair, an old nervous habit on which her opinion varies from day to day; instinctively she rests a head on his shoulder, allowing, tone suddenly businesslike, "So maybe that wasn't the best plan. But maybe if we at least got out of your parents' house? I don't want Harry growing up to think we're completely incompetent."
His eyebrows are raised in inquisition, furthered as she smirks, quite against the original mood of their conversation. "Harry?"
"Harry's such a lovely baby," Alice murmurs fondly, still busily fussing over her own son, who's insisted on wearing his bright orange pumpkin suit for the third time this week, doesn't seem to believe that his first Halloween has ended. "I just can't stand all this. It could have been Neville, we could have been the ones who – who – " Her face nearly crumples, but she composes herself upon Neville's concerned, wide-eyed look. "Don't worry," she coos, keeping the horrible tremble of almost-tears from her voice. "Mummy and Daddy aren't going anywhere. We're all safe, now." She kisses his forehead and hates herself, just a bit. The purpose of her family has become to seem to her nothing more than a reminder of might-have-beens.
The sounds of singing from a passing parade cut harshly against her ears, and if the baby were not still in her arms she would do anything to block it all out. "I'm so tired of all this celebrating," she says, her customarily smiling lips dropped to their more recently habitual frown. She shakes her head, takes another step toward the staircase. "Anyways, Frank, I'll be putting Neville to bed now, alright?"
"Oh, sure, Honey," says a voice, sickeningly sweet, "I'll be waiting." Except: it isn't Frank speaking at all. Alice's grip instinctively tightens on her child, who whimpers a bit as she swings around to face a wild-eyed Bellatrix Lestrange, one who kicks aside Frank's unconscious body casually and nods a signal to two hooded followers.
Alice prays, one hand going for her wand, that she can somehow be as brave as Lily Potter.
"We have some business with you," Bellatrix says, or something of that sort, the flames in her eyes seeming hardly metaphorical, flipping her dark hair over her shoulder, raising her wand to point it directly at Alice's chest. "Go on, now. Set the baby down and he won't get hurt."
"…ditching me so you won't get hurt. Sirius Black, afraid of a broken heart," Andromeda is taunting lightly. They are sitting in some old forgotten Hogwarts closet – she a seventh-year Slytherin and he a much younger Gryffindor, there could hardly be a better meeting place.
"That's hardly the point," he corrects gracefully, with that easy sort of grin that he can never seem to loose. "We're better than this, is all," he continues, in all Siriusness. "This is what they do, they marry their cousins and have their shriveled, defective babies – "
" – like I'd want your little smartasses," she cuts in, but not defensively. The balance of power between them, despite any differences, has always been exactly equal.
"If we keep this up, we're just following in their footsteps. We might as well be Cissa and that slimy Malfoy boy."
Making a face, she shoves him lightly. "You're comparing me to Cissa?" It's her way of saying she agrees; her pokerfaced, Slytherin accord. "Didn't her last kid have two heads, or something?"
He shrugs. "I've lost track."
Waiting a moment for their full situation to sink into them both, Andromeda leans against the wall, passive. "I suppose you'll be running back to Remus's loving arms, then?" she asks at last, not at all regretful.
"No quicker than you'll be jumping on that what's-his-name, Tonks."
"Which I'm off to do now, actually."
"Not so fast." He pulls her back in, just as she'd predicted. "Don't you want to say good-bye?"
"Good-bye," seventeen-year-old Alice whispers, a smile on her round face, the day before the Hogwarts Express will take her away from the castle forever. She stands on a secluded section of the roof, empty towers lurking in its three corners. Nearby is the trapdoor she uses so frequently to come here, the place she feels safest.
The castle does not answer her farewells; it does not differentiate between her words and those of any other seventh-years desperate for one last moment to run laughing and screaming through its stone walls. She lies on her back and watches the clouds, some like sheep but one or two as hazy grey renditions of dark marks in the sky.
Dark marks in the sky have no meaning, in the Gryffindor girl's dormitory on a lazy Friday afternoon, both Lily and Alice lying across Lily's bed, the first with an uneasy smile but the second contented. Though the both are covered by a thick red-and-gold blanket, their clothing lies strewn haphazardly across the floor. Outside the window, snow falls thickly.
Lily shakes her head and sits up, using the blanket to cover herself. "This is wrong," she says, searching through the scattered mess of fabric to pull together her school uniform. "You're with Frank. You're happy with Frank."
"I know." Alice stretches, but does not yet leave her relaxed position on the bed. Just for a moment, she would like to be more than the sixth-year Hufflepuff who smiles too much. Her crumpled 'Weird Sisters' t-shirt, given to her by a loving and hopeful Frank Longbottom some weeks before, is thrown at her face.
"This was a one-time thing." Lily seems to be convincing herself more than the other girl. "It doesn't need to happen again."
"I know," Alice echoes blankly, pulling the shirt over her head but not standing. Lily has already deposited all her clothing in a heap before her. Before Alice knows what is happening, she is back in the library with a half-written essay before her, Lily across the table. Once or twice they meet each other's eyes, steadily and without blushing, until Frank comes shyly over to sit beside her.
"What did you want for Christmas?" he inquires shyly. "I never asked."
"I never asked you," Andromeda says quietly. "There was that day, right before I turned seventeen, with… and then that guy died…" the words catch in her throat.
"What's his name, Bones," he prompts tiredly. The first attack on a Hogwarts student, more than a few eternities ago. She knows what he must be thinking: that she is going to blame him, accuse and shout. They are sitting in a small, dingy room in the Ministry, he chained to his chair and she as close to the opposite wall as possible. Guards stand by the door, eying them closely.
"That night…" she meets his eyes directly, and they are just the same eyes she remembers form broom closets and secret passages, from family gatherings and Hogwarts banquets and Order meetings. "Someone sent me a flower, and I thought it must have been you. I was just wondering…"
"Wasn't me. You and that Bones boy had a thing, then, Andi?"
"Don't call me that. Don't talk like you know me."
He snorts. "I didn't send you the damn flower, Mrs. Tonks. Now, is that all you have to say?" he asks impassively – a Black, despite all denial thereof, and so not one to beg and plead for help.
"Your time's up," calls the menacing voice of some auror or other, and when she leaves she doesn't look back, and tries not to remember.
It is important to remember that, before aught else, this is a love story – that the world need not be built on might-have-beens – that a day is built of moments and a world built of lives – that love cannot stand without loss. In cemeteries and by roadsides are left flower-bunches and fairy-rings of candles for fallen heroes. Everyone has heroes, but Andromeda most of all.
Andromeda holds her daughter's hand tightly as she takes a step closer to the bed. "Hey Alice," she says, sociable and friendly above a disintegrating heart. Ted puts a hand on her shoulder.
"Dumbledore said not to come here, you know," he points out.
"I know." Andromeda is picturing two of her cousins, both murderers in their own way. She sits in a chair by the bed, facing away from the window, ignoring both her husband and the nearby nurse glaring at her. Nymphadora she sets on her lap, old as the girl might be for such a position. No one speaks for a moment.
Alice has taken a piece of gum from its wrapper; she shreds it to little bits and throws them one by one against the wall.
"Were you a friend of the Longbottoms?" the nurse asks. The entire ward feels dark, and dingy, as though screaming for more light.
"Yes," Andromeda lies distractedly.
"Terrible thing," the nurse is murmuring. "Terrible, terrible thing."
Her daughter fidgeting on her lap, pelted by little bits of chewing gum, Andromeda echoes, "…terrible."
"Terrible idea?" James asks. "No, a terrible idea was when I dyed your hair pink in second year. Sirius's plan is flawless."
Lily purses her lips. "I don't think…"
"Trust me." He wears that childlike smile that she loves, for all their desperate situation. They sit at their kitchen table, just after midnight, illuminated by light from an enchanted, neon green fire in the fireplace nearby.
Lily stares into the flames with her bright Avada Kadavra eyes, but only sees Harry. Uncharacteristically quiet, she murmurs, "I trust you." She cannot bear the thought of surviving this endless war without both her husband and son; but then, she once could not imagine her own willing presence within five feet of James Potter.
Sirius stumbles unsteadily from the fire with a mumbled, hurried apology. "I was just talking to Andi," he explains, "and then Moony turned up, all suspicious as usual. But anyhow." He gives a mock bow. "I'm here now. Moral support, and all that shit. Now, where's the blasted rat?" The fire behind him writhes and spits a few sparks, before spewing out an uncomfortable Peter Pettigrew, pulling down the sleeves of his robes in nervous discomfort.
Sirius, preparing to step back and let them proceed with the spell, looks Pettigrew appraisingly up and down. At last, he says, "Good luck," and it sounds almost like a command.