Author's Notes: I'm not really sure where this comes from. Just a little two-parter; this is the last year of the first Order of the Phoenix, and the next one will be the first year after the end of the Second War.
So, erm… enjoy?
to the victor
(will you teach a
wretch to live
straighter than a needle)
ask her, ask
when (ask and ask
and ask again and) ask a
brittle little person fiddling
"Yes," Peter says at last, his whole body trembling as he takes James' outstretched hand, "Yes, all right. I'll do it."
There's a party on the first day of June. Technically it's supposed to be the first official adjournment of the Order of the Phoenix in their new Headquarters, but Aberforth brings a sack of aged Ogden's that he's been saving ("Not selling it, not to them.") and Sirius, to no one's surprise, just so happens to know how to make about every mixed drink under the sun. Somebody manages to find some Butterbeer in the basement and everyone starts off with "just a pinch for me, please," because they're all twenty-one and mature, not the same crazy kids they'd been at Hogwarts.
But of course that doesn't last long; Marlene's got a set of ten shot glasses with naked dancing men on them that she'd been intending to give herself for her birthday, and by six even Dumbledore is a little loose on his feet. They play Wizard's Cup and Butterbeer Pong and even a round of Exploding Snap (because James just so happens to have a deck on him).
It's Caradoc that roars from beneath a frothy upper lip that they've got to have a picture; there's collective eye-rolling because of course Caradoc would want to document the moment, all of them with eyes glazed and clothing rumpled, only a Scotsman would think it was a picture-perfect moment, but they humor him because he waves the camera with such fevered excitement that he nearly knocks Hagrid over—no easy feat, even when sober.
So they clamor over to the mantle and somehow manage to gather together in a semi-organized bundle; there's some squabbling when Dedalus refuses to remove his stupid hat, and again when Elphias proudly declares that if Diggle gets to wear his, than he's keeping the purple bowler on. Which of course leads to Marlene Transfiguring a seat cushion into the most ridiculous cap she can imagine, and at the very last minute, when everyone raises their goblet and toasts to the flash, Sirius throws an absurd-looking peace sign that later seems stark and sad against the backdrop of smiling faces.
Nobody's ever seen Caradoc so proud of anything before, holding the picture away from his face and tilting his head, closing his bad eye so he can get a better view. But there's laughs to be had, just beyond the photo, so he drops it on the table and lets Benjy toss a loose arm over his shoulder.
Mad-Eye leaves first, glass eye spinning wildly as he tosses back his very last pint, and nobody notices when he tucks the developed picture into his old robes' deep pockets.
Sirius finishes the motorbike three days after his twenty-first birthday. He can't explain how he knows it's finished, can't possibly put into words the way every clickclickclick of his tools on the bike's innards echoed in his bones, how the moment the sprocket bit into the chain he felt something snap into place inside him and he rolled back onto his heels, stunned and suddenly exhausted.
James begs him to let him drive it, and Remus makes him prove that the safety charms work, and Peter quietly inquires as to the possibility of a sidecar. Sirius doesn't tell them that he hasn't taken her out yet, hasn't felt the tires kiss goodbye the ground, hasn't held his breath as the clouds wrap around his arms and make him shiver.
It sits in the shed, red and shining and glorious, and at the first opportunity he brags to the other Phoenixes that it's like—it's like—it's like riding the wind. Nothing so beautiful in the world, he tells Hagrid eagerly, nothing.
The half-giant laughs and raises his eyebrows and says, "I reckon yer half in love with the thing," and Sirius answers somberly, "More than half, mate, far more than half."
But at night he goes home, and she's waiting for him, glittering, presenting herself with an innocent honesty that he just can't bear to touch, can't bear to damage. She's safe where she is, there beneath her cover, gathering dust.
Four weeks after she's finished, he tumbles out of the fireplace with Marlene already half undressed in his arms, and her mouth is hot and demanding against his skin when suddenly she stops and pulls away. She's looking over his shoulder and he follows her gaze across the floor and out the window to the half-toppled shed where the bike is sitting like an eager puppy.
"Come on," she breathes, pulling her shirt on despite his complaints, "Come on. Take me for a ride."
He splutters a few excuses, tries to throw it off with an off-color joke he hopes will distract her: "She's exhausted—a lady can only get ridden so hard, Marlene, and she doesn't have your stamina."
But she doesn't rise to the bait, just raises her eyebrows and crosses her arms and studies him with those blue eyes of hers, brown bangs dangling just low enough to reach her eyelashes. And she says, in a sweep of what he's termed the McKinnon Inner Eye, "You've never even ridden it, have you?"
He doesn't bother to answer; doesn't try to explain why he just. can't. do it; doesn't even look at her when he shrugs and shoves his hands deep in his pockets.
"Well," she says after a beat, "let's go."
He wonders why he's surprised; she's never enabled his moods and quirks like the others do, never clucked her tongue and muttered to herself, well, it's his uprbringing. It annoys the hell out of him when the others do it, but then, it's useful too, and he feels irritation grate against him now that she is—once again—failing to give a shit.
"Look," he begins, but she cuts him off by ignoring him so utterly that he feels stupid continuing; she brushes past him and flings the door open and barely glances over her shoulder as she says, "If you're not coming then I'm going alone."
She's settled in the driver's seat by the time he gets there and it's actually, physically painful to think that Marlene—Marlene!—will be the first to drive it, so he says roughly, "All right, all right, shove back," and he's grateful that she doesn't look at him when she smiles, triumphant.
They don't wear helmets because the wind is the whole point. And it's everything, that instant when they leave the ground and Marlene's grip on him tightens and the cold air whips tears from their eyes and he throws his head back and howls, long and loud and free, and Marlene laughs and then joins him.
He's not sure who he's talking to when he yells, "I love you!" at the top of his lungs, but it doesn't matter, because the world swallows the words and nobody hears them.
Molly hasn't lost Bill's baby-weight by August, and she's so bitter about not being able to see her feet that she cooks viciously irresistible feasts for every meeting, stuffing the other Phoenixes full enough that they suffer along with her.
Prewett women have always been prone to shouting, and Molly's no exception, but aside from a few bellowed curses at the misbehaving stove or pouting tea kettle, she's been quiet since the birth, managing to stay sweet even to the men that hover around her and the baby like frantic mother hens.
Arthur's been no good to the Order for nearly a month; all he's capable of doing is beaming and shoving photographs of Bill overturning a cereal bowl on his head under the nose of anyone who's got even just one good eye, declaring proudly that's my Bill, that's my son. Gideon gets a startled look to him whenever he looks at Bill, and his eyes dart from Molly to the baby to Arthur like he just. can't. believe it, that his baby sister could make something like this, something that was alive, something that looked up at him with watery brown eyes and held his arms up in a wordless question. And Fabian's eyes glaze over when Bill nestles into the crook of his arms and coos a sleepy sort of sigh, and it's a bigger fight to relieve him of his cargo than it is toppling You-Know-Who.
He's the first Order baby of the year, and there's much ado over him at his first meeting; Caradoc proclaims proudly that he looks like a Scot, and Mad-Eye returns that he'd better not have the temper of one, because there's never been less than eight Weasley boys to a nest. Gideon's and Fabian's eyes get round as saucers as they whirl to look at her and shout as one, "Eight?" and Arthur, bless him, beams again and nods.
Dorcas asks to hold him, and murmurs that he's so light, she's afraid he just might float away. Benjy grins with his chin on her shoulder as he says, "Then you'd best float after him or Molly'll cook you for dinner."
And everybody laughs.
Dorcas wakes up at 4:15 on September 5th to a pair of gentle paws kneading her shoulder. She sits up, startled, fingers clutching her wand, and all her breath catches short in her throat when she spots it, a silvery Kneezle sitting proudly on her extra pillow (Benjy's pillow). It looks at her for a long minute, faint and thin and sad, and when it starts toward her she tumbles out of bed and scrambles away from it, gasping, pleading, no no no no no, if only it doesn't touch her then it can't be true—
They only find a thumb and two toes. Not much to bury at the funeral.
Benjy hasn't got much family—a Muggle uncle from Bristol who squints at them from behind big round glasses and says, "Eh? Benjy? You mean the footballer?"
No one's sure if it's kind or cruel to let Dorcas be the one to go through his apartment, but she insists in such a small voice that nobody has the heart to say no. She goes in through the font, not the Floo like they're supposed to, because Benjy always said, "Any respectable caller knocks on the door."
She can't stop herself from wondering if the Death Eaters had knocked. There's a cold kettle on the stove, still filled with water, and a half-eaten sandwich on the side-table by his favorite chair. Maybe the kettle had gone, she thinks, and he looked up from the book that lies discarded on the floor (Marvin the Mad Muggle, so typical that this should bet he last thing he read); maybe he'd had his back turned when they burst in, disguised by their horrible grinning masks, and surely he hadn't been armed, hadn't been prepared, and how long had it taken for them to kill him had he known had he been in pain what had they done and where was the rest of him?
She steadies herself against the grumpy old grandfather clock that snaps, "You're going to leave fingerprints!" when her fingers touch the wood.
There are only pieces of him in the coffin, but there is all of him here, in his books and the shabby furniture; the walls are littered with pictures, mostly of himself because he thought it was hilarious to dress up and pretend to be his own ancestors. There was one of them, both dressed as nobles, her in a crown and fake diamond necklace and him in a long handlebar mustache that made him look a thousand years old.
She looks at the photograph for a long time, and then makes herself check the house. Nothing disturbed, if you don't count the overturned living room; nothing missing. They had come for Benjy and nothing else, and she doesn't know if this make it better or worse.
The first really successful raid comes in early October. The Parkinson's country estate has been left empty for months, with its owners absconding to France in what they publically term "vacation" but everyone knows is just a way to free up space. It's not really planned; nobody's felt much like rallying since Benjy, and ironically it's Dorcas that finally shakes the heavy cloud and makes them move.
"He didn't die so we could know where they are and do nothing!"
There's a lot of guilty shuffling and then Marlene swears, "Bugger," and before anyone knows what's happening she and Remus are pulling on the thick blue robes that Dumbledore thought would make a nice uniform.
Everyone's up and scrambling, after that, and without and game plan at all they Apparate to the Parkinson's, one by one.
It's such a spectacularly stupid move that no one is expecting it, and the twelve or so Death Eaters "guarding" the property are so stunned by its sheer gall that they barely lift their wands in defense. Everyone tries to be proud, after, leading them all away, but it's difficult to take too much pleasure in capturing a bunch of middle-aged Purebloods who'd just sat down for tea and scones.
Sturgis aims a vicious kick to the youngest one's knee, and Marlene laughs when he hits the ground. Sirius surveys the table and asks cheerfully, "Anybody want a biscuit?"
Peter volunteers to contact the Ministry, and Edgar goes with him, because Peter's timid on the best of days and the thought of Peter stumbling into the Minister's office makes everybody cringe.
Alice rummages around in the pantry and somehow manages to whip up enough finger sandwiches for everybody; Emmeline pours the tea and Remus manages to hide the sugar from Sirius long enough that everyone gets some.
They eat in awkward silence. Dorcas thinks, disbelievingly, Benjy died for this?
It rains at Marlene's funeral, and Sirius doesn't go. Remus pleads and James demands and Lily looks at him with wide, watery eyes, but he stays home and spends four hours obsessively polishing James' mother's silver.
Afterwards, when everyone else has gone to bed, exhausted from the deadened weight of another goodbye, he goes outside and climbs on his motorbike and never leaves the ground. He steers through the traffic and breaks every Muggle law there is and doesn't care, wants to feel the earth beneath the tires, wants to be as close to the ground (let's go, she'd said and they'd howled together and when he said I love you! maybe he'd been talking to her, after all) as he can get, wants to feel trees' branches slicing his cheek and dirt kicked up into his mouth.
He leaves the bike at the cemetery's gates and walks, hunched, against the rain; when he gets to the grave, he doesn't say anything, just traces the letters of her name and kneels with his forehead pressed against the cold stone.
Walking back, he thinks he really should have known better, by now.
Aberforth brings more Ogden's at Christmas, but no one touches it except Sirius, who drinks just enough to manage a smile when someone attempts a joke. Mad-Eye sits in the corner fingering the old photograph they'd taken in June; they're down Benjy, and Marlene, and no one wants to admit that Caradoc hasn't just popped off on unannounced holiday but Mad-Eye's been around long enough to know that he's not coming back, either.
Emmeline stares at the picture for a long time as she passes him, her eyes on the Scotsman, and once she's close enough for him to hear her she mutters bitterly, "Oh, put it away," like the sight of them all so happy is a personal offense.
Alice and Lily sit together on the couch, their feet up, talking softly over the identical mounds of their pregnant bellies; James and Frank hover nearby. James has one eye on Sirius and one eye on Lily and Mad-Eye thinks, ludicrously: wants to make sure it doesn't get stuck like that.
The thought startles him and he laughs, but the sound is so painfully unfamiliar that it dies in his throat.
Edgar's daughter Marissa turns ten in February, and the first thing she says after blowing out the candles is, "Next year I'll be at Hogwarts!"
Julia laughs, and she's cutting the cake into perfectly identical quarters (because Jonah always knows when he gets the smaller piece) when the bell rings. He kisses her cheek and goes to answer it.
It's a face he hasn't seen in two and a half years, and he opens his mouth in a split second of confusion before the grinning mask falls over the pale features and Severus Snape shoves past him, muttering an almost careless, "Petrificus Totalus."
It takes him a long time, too long, to understand what is happening, to wrap his mind around the fact that they are here, at his house, with his children, and that none of them (none of them) are going to make it out of there alive.
He shouts wordlessly, soundlessly, helplessly, as the kitchen swells with terrible green, and there's the unmistakable sound of a baby wailing—his baby wailing—and it's the worst sound in the world until he hears what follows, which is that long and empty silence broken by the sound of someone kicking the chair over and his little girl hitting the ground with a dull thud that wouldn't leave his ears if he lived to be a thousand.
And he can't move, can't lift a single finger to help them to save them to shield them because they are only children—
There's the sound of laughter, and the three grinning masks float in front of him. He'd been noble enough, until now, but here, faced with such a silent house, faced with the three masks and the people—no they cannot be human—beneath them, he thinks that it cannot be worth it, this cannot be the price.
They don't even have the decency to kill him, not yet; first they peruse his bookshelves, laugh amongst themselves, eat the cake out of his dead child's hands.
There's muttering: "What's it say?"
"Umm. 'Marissa, Happy Tenth.'"
"Oh. Say—is it vanilla?"
He waits in agony, screaming, his own voice echoing inside his head but nothing comes out, and at last one of them turns to him. He knows the voice and he's too numb to feel anything but dead.
"Had to know it was coming, Bones," Snape says, and he sounds—the nerve!—faintly apologetic, like they'd come and confiscated his Floo powder, like this was official business, like he was somehow supposed to be prepared—
Snape looks over his shoulder. "They wanted you alive," he says, and like this is some great favor shakes his wand hand free of his robes. "I guess accidents happen."
He says Avada Kedavra with such casualness that Edgar's last thought is: it can't possibly be so easy.
This is what the Daily Prophet has to say of Gideon and Fabian Prewett's death:
Two nights ago, the last remaining members of the Prewett family, twins Gideon and Fabian, were killed in what the Prophet's sources say was a travel accident involving a heavy suitcase. Says Antonin Dolohov of the tragedy, "What we need to do is learn a lesson from these boys: always travel light."
There's a long silence before the baby cries. For a minute, James thinks it must have been stillborn; his heart stops beating, actually stops, as he looks down at the little face and thinks that the world can't actually be this cruel.
But then the baby opens his eyes and gasps in a breath and screams—so loud that even the doctor covers his ears, but James wouldn't care if all his eardrums were punctured and he never heard another noise again, if the last sound he heard was that of his little boy crying.
Lily gasps, chest heaving, and she looks up at him from under tired eyelids as she says, "Well. He got that from you."
James laughs, handing the squirming bundle to her, and instantly—instantly—the child quiets, nestling into her arms and falling asleep like that was his plan all along. And she smiles, the biggest, widest smile he's ever seen on her and he forgets, for just a second, that they are at war, that one of their friends has betrayed them, that they are leaving the hospital for a hide-out where no one can find them. He forgets that Marlene is dead, that Edgar is dead, that Caradoc and Benjy and Dorcas and the Prewetts are dead. He forgets everything except that there is a little boy in his wife's arms, that they made him together, that there has never been anything quite so perfectly beautiful.
"What d'you want to call him?" He asks breathlessly, bending down to smooth Lily's hair from her forehead and press a kiss there.
She smiles up at him. "Harry," she says. "Harry James."