In which the girl-who-lived does not live up to her title, meets Death at a train station, and decides to change her name.
Eleanor Lily Potter was the only child of the deceased James and Lily Potter, both of whom had allegedly died in a car crash when she was only a year old. She now lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, where she worked as an indentured servant until she had repaid them for their unending kindness. She couldn't quite remember where she'd heard the term "indentured servant", but she had found it in her brain one day (the Dursleys had never really used that word, they'd always said 'freak' or 'girl' or any other monosyllabic name that was really more like a command) and had decided that's what she was. After all, she was the one who was tasked with keeping the house clean, making sure breakfast was made in some edible form, and weeding the garden, and in return her relatives gave her room (the servants' quarters beneath the stairs) and board (a smaller version of Dudley's enormous meals).
Sure, her room was a cupboard that had probably been a pantry in its last life, but it was a room and it had a mattress, so she didn't complain too much. She did wonder how she got sorted into this indentured servant business; she couldn't remember a time when she hadn't been working for the Dursleys, so she had to assume that the debt came when they had to take her in after the car wreck. Still, she'd think to herself as she was pulling weeds, that was an awfully long time ago and the debt should have been paid off by now (unless they were charging interest).
When not working for the Dursleys, she went to school and ran very fast as Dudley and his skinny friend (whose name she could never remember) chased her through the park with sticks, yelling things she never really bothered to listen to.
When asked to describe herself, she would respond rapidly, "I am a girl, I have red hair and green eyes, I'm short for my age but I'll grow taller when my work is more satisfactory and the Dursleys increase my salary, my parents are dead, and I am five years old."
It was in that year that the description she had given would change completely.
The Dursleys had some important family business in the city, which probably meant Dudley eating his weight in pasta at a restaurant that was too nice for servants to attend, and she had been left with crazy Mrs. Figg. Mrs. Figg, aside from being named after a fruit, loved cats. This was how the little girl knew to label her as crazy rather than eccentric, and on that particular day the house was crawling with them. Ellie (what she called herself back then) didn't particularly like or dislike cats, but she wasn't sure why Mrs. Figg needed so many.
They were sitting in her living room, a rather floral place with a bit too much lace to be considered decorative. Ellie was staring at the pictures of cats on the walls where the Dursleys would have kept pictures of Dudley, while Mrs. Figg arranged a battered silver tray that contained a wide variety of biscuits, bread, and tea.
"So, my dear, how's your cousin doing?" Mrs. Figg asked as she passed Ellie her particular cup of tea for the day. Ellie knew she was expected to drink the tea first, but she really wanted to get to the food; the Dursleys had cut her paycheck again after discovering that Dudley had done poorly in school and had lowered their overall performance review. If she could store some of the biscuits now, she wouldn't have to worry about when her funds ran too low and starvation set in.
"Fat," Ellie responded, sipping from the tea with delicate poise that seemed appropriate for this kind of setting.
"…I'm sorry? I don't believe I heard you right; did you say your cousin was doing… fat?" Mrs. Figg asked, in the way that normally was reserved for Ellie's kindergarten teacher. Ellie nodded with an air of wisdom and set down her tea to explain.
"Dudley's been getting particularly round lately," Ellie said in confidence, "It's so that he can inherit the family business from uncle Vernon. You see, I think a lot of it is presentation, so if Dudley begins to look like uncle Vernon, he will eventually become uncle Vernon and be able to take over his legacy once uncle Vernon retires."
Mrs. Figg smiled politely, the smile Ellie suspected was forced and somewhat fake but received too often to be offended over. "That's… very nice, dear."
"I didn't expect Dudley to start training so early," Ellie confessed to the now somewhat silent Mrs. Figg, "But then again, aunt Petunia and uncle Vernon are always talking about how extraordinary Dudley is, so I guess it's pretty reasonable that he'd start super young."
Mrs. Figg's polite smile became progressively politer, and Ellie wondered if she was on the verge of saying another "That's very nice, dear." That always seemed to be people's (non-Dursleys) response to whatever she said, and she could never understand why. She wondered if it was something they ate.
"…How is school?" Mrs. Figg asked suddenly, as if to divert the topic.
School was a very interesting place. After a few days of being herded into her pen with the other children, Ellie had realized that school was a type of zoo for adults to watch and observe the patterns of children. They were observed in a somewhat artificial (but desperately attempting to be natural) environment, where their keepers would mark their progress in various tasks upon charts with gold stars and track their interactions with other members of the herd. However, this was all very hush-hush, as it would ruin the observations if the subjects knew they were being observed. Besides, she wasn't quite sure the other children were aware of the true nature of school; when she talked to one of them about it, they just sort of looked at her and then walked away.
"Very educational," Ellie finally settled on, before clarifying by saying, "We read books."
"Yes, I suppose you do," Mrs. Figg said. "Do you like it?"
"It's a place," Ellie said after pondering the question for a few moments with a shrug. "Books are nice, although we're not supposed to be able to read them yet."
"You can read already?" Mrs. Figg asked, sounding somewhat surprised.
"On the record I'll have to say no, as it will skew the official results of the experiment. Off the record, there were a bunch of books in the Dursleys' attic that mysteriously relocated themselves to the servants' quarters and haven't been missed." She blinked her large green eyes rather owlishly and continued to drink her tea. Mrs. Figg seemed rather put out by the stream of words that had exited the little girl's mouth.
Finally, crazy Mrs. Figg appeared to have reached her limit, because she sighed and said, "Eleanor, dear, would you like to play outside for a little while?"
And so, Ellie escaped the house filled with cats and made her way outside, where she faced a very ominous tree that would forever change her destiny. It looked like a very climbable tree, which was what caught her interest in the first place. Ellie had climbed very few trees in her life, and rarely just to do so (usually they were a means to escape Dudley when he was being unusually persistent). Looking at it now, she thought she'd like to make a slow ascent so that she could try to touch the sky. Tall and grey, it blocked out the sun and cast shadows in Ellie's eyes as she climbed ever upwards.
At this rate, she thought to herself, I'll taste the clouds in my mouth before I ever reach the top and then I'll taste sunlight. She climbed steadily on, confident limbs reaching from one branch to the next with ease born of long-years of practiced athleticism. So perhaps it was not her confident foot that slipped, or a clever branch that broke under the weight, but rather an instrument of fate that sent five year old Eleanor Lily Potter tumbling from the tree to the hard ground several feet below.
She almost didn't feel the impact, and then she didn't feel anything at all.
For a moment or two there wasn't anything, she wasn't anywhere at all, and then slowly but surely a train station came into view. A great black and red train awaited passengers with a benign aura, while the station itself almost glittered with pristine cleanliness. She knew she had never been here before, and yet she felt as if it was all very familiar, like the face of a classmate whose name always slinked to the back of her mind out of sight, there but slightly out of reach. She stood slowly, brushed off her knees, and began to explore the seemingly empty station.
It certainly wasn't Mrs. Figg's garden, that was for sure, but then, sometimes weird things happened to Ellie, and she found that it was just best to go with the flow. Like the time aunt Petunia had cut her hair off with scissors and it had grown back overnight. So, mysteriously ending up in an unfamiliar/familiar train station was a little weird, but it wasn't unthinkable.
Walking about the station, she kept her eye on the train, wondering if she was supposed to get on. She didn't have a ticket, but it looked so bright and inviting, like it was smiling and waiting for her to hop on board for an adventure.
She approached the glinting train and found an entrance. Just before she stepped on, though, someone stepped off. It was a tall, thin man who reminded her of a crow. He stood very straight and very still, dressed in dark, very foreign clothing with worn edges. He looked out with mild interest at the station surrounding him. It wasn't so much that everything was black, but that everything was dark, like looking at a shadow and realizing that it was not black at all but a blue that had been consumed by black; this man wore a dark and tattered rainbow that had been dyed in ink so as to disguise its richness. He had rather wild dark hair that stood on his head like feathers, while his face was so pale it looked like a painted mask, and his eyes glittered like stolen green jewels that his crow's heart had taken delight in.
The crow-man hadn't noticed her, but was instead watching with those green-leaf eyes the emptiness of the train station. He frowned slightly and rocked back on his heels, blinking, before looking at it again with a cocked head.
He muttered something in an unfamiliar language and cocked his head to the other side, looking, if anything, more confused than before.
"Hi!" Ellie said brightly, waving at him. His head whipped around wildly until he was looking directly at her in blinking confusion. His mouth opened slightly before closing again, and he leaned back, as if he wanted to climb back into the train. "No, wait, don't go! My name's Ellie and I don't know where I am. Was the train nice?"
He stopped moving backwards, at least, and paused as if to consider her, green eyes taking her in piece by piece until he had arranged and rearranged all of her. Finally, he said in a soft, powerful voice, "Hello."
He seemed to have decided she was alright, because he stepped off the train and onto the platform. He continued to regard her, all the while his features finally changing from confusion to a small smile, one she hadn't ever seen before, not even on T.V. It was soft, kind, but it was also old and sad and slightly dangerous.
Finally, Ellie stated with authority, "It's rude not to introduce yourself."
"Ah." The man's smile lost a little of that sad edge. "Forgive me, it's been a while since anyone has thought to ask." He then seemed to become distracted as he looked about at the train station, looking like the kids in school who almost knew the answer but then forgot at the last minute. Eventually, he said, "I suppose I am Death."
"Death?" she asked. She took him in with raised eyebrows; death on T.V. wore black too, but usually he was a skeleton, and he also had a scythe.
"Destroyer of worlds," he finished with a slight cockeyed smile.
She narrowed her eyes slightly, wondering if he really was death or if he was just some guy named Death. Maybe his parents were some of those weird people the Dursleys always mentioned. Or maybe he was a little crazy, like Mrs. Figg. She decided to find out. "Do you own any cats?"
He seemed slightly put off by the question, but eventually he responded, "…No, I'm afraid I don't. I once had an owl though."
"What happened to it?" Ellie asked when she failed to see an owl.
"She died," he said rather solemnly. He sighed then, and shifted his hair out of his eyes, looking at the train station in confusion. Finally, he asked, "I suppose you wouldn't know why I'm in purgatory at the moment."
Ellie had no idea. She had never heard of a train station called purgatory; all she knew was King's Cross, but she'd never actually been there either. She was about to say so, but then she caught eye of something interesting on Death's forehead. Faded and almost unnoticeable was a pink scar, a scar in the shape of a lightning bolt. She pointed to it enthusiastically. "Hey! I have a scar just like that one! I got mine in a car wreck when I was a baby, when did you get yours?"
He blinked rather owlishly. He settled for, "What?"
She pushed red hair off her forehead and revealed her own somewhat brighter scar, beaming. "Most people can't see it with the bangs in the way, but it's still there."
He appeared to examine her once again, more thoroughly this time, as if the first time had been only a passing glance and he had missed something glaringly important. He asked after a while, "What is your name?"
"Oh, right, I forgot!" she said suddenly and held out a hand. "Hello Death, my name is Eleanor Lily Potter, but I go by Ellie for short."
Death looked at her with a speculative expression. "Were your parents Lily and James Potter, by any chance?"
Her eyes narrowed, remembering how he had introduced himself as death; he probably had been in the car with them that day. Somehow, though, she couldn't picture him in that car with all three of them, silently sitting unseen in the back out of the view of rearview mirrors, perhaps her eyes meeting his for a moment before the wreck had occurred. No, she just couldn't see him in that car with her. Still, if he was death, then he had met them afterwards; he must know something.
"Yeah!" she eventually exclaimed once she decided to answer the question. "Have you met them? I mean, if you really are Death, you must have. Are they okay? Happy? Do they miss me? Are they in heaven?"
(Although to tell the truth, she wasn't really decided on the whole heaven and hell issue; the few times she'd gone to church, the priest had seemed a little too enthusiastic about the whole idea to be convincing. Besides, she just had this nagging suspicion in the back of her head that it was on a similar level to the Dursleys' standards of normalness or anti-freakiness; they thought that if they screamed about it loudly enough when no one was looking, eventually it would become true.)
The man didn't answer immediately. After a few moments he said, "I believe that you and I, Eleanor Lily Potter, are in need of a long conversation."
"That's a bit odd; I've never been in need of a long conversation before," Ellie noted with a small frown, "Are they anything like Uncle Vernon's weekly reminders of the rules and regulations of the firm?" She eyed him suspiciously; she hated the weekly reminders, so very redundant and vague that they served no purpose at all. Usually they boiled down to her being vermin and that she should be grateful they took her in at all, and then she was put in the cupboard for good measure so that she could reflect upon their generosity.
"The firm?" he asked in confusion, raising his eyebrows slightly and then following with a rather familiar question, "How old are you, Ellie?" Death's own eyes narrowed slightly, this time his expression changing into a rather familiar one. It was the strangers' face worn with a sense of incredulity and slight disbelief.
"Five, but age is a relative thing, you know. It all depends on the calendar," Ellie informed him with a sigh. Whatever it was that always made people ask that question, it was entirely beyond her. Of course, the Dursleys had never asked. Really, no one had asked until school, and then it became one of the first questions an adult would ask. At first, she had thought it was the books, but it was something more than carrying large books without pictures around, something intrinsic that she just couldn't put her finger on.
Death looked at her for a moment before grabbing her hand and wandering off toward a bench. He sat down on it and motioned for her to do the same. "I am having a rather odd day, it seems."
Ellie nodded sympathetically; she was having a rather odd day as well, but they did occur every now and then and it seemed best to take it in stride.
Death glanced at her before continuing, placing his head in his hands with a sigh. He muttered something in that same language he had used before, the one Ellie couldn't place, not that it was surprising; she only heard what Dudley watched on television, after all. She supposed if she were going to jump on a limb, it sounded something like the kung-fu language that Bruce Lee spoke in between bouts of violence.
"Where does Death live, Mr. Death?" Ellie asked suddenly, eying the train curiously.
"I'm sorry, what, Ellie?" He looked back up abruptly, his hands twitching as if in shock that she had addressed him. This was a little odd, but sometimes Ellie forgot she was talking to people too; of course, people usually didn't answer back anyway.
She repeated her question patiently. He frowned slightly and then answered, "Many places, I suppose. Most recently, a different dimension on a planet many years away from Earth."
She blinked in surprise and turned away from him as she took in his response. She wracked her brain for information she had gleaned from the television. Ellie had made it a habit at a very young age to surreptitiously watch television over Dudley's shoulder. At first it had been something of a game, just to see if she could do it without anyone noticing, but then she had actually begun watching. Some of it was rather dull and pretty stupid, but other things, oh the things she saw. Whole new worlds of possibilities opened themselves up to her on that screen.
Finally, she tried to fill in the blanks. "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?"
He looked quite blank for a moment, before his lips twitched slightly. "Ah, not quite. Something similar though… Less Jedi," he added at the end.
"It must be very exciting. Space, that is," Ellie said, "I must confess it sounds far more interesting than Little Whinging." Then again, just about anything was more interesting than Little Whinging.
He smiled slightly, his lips still unused to the gesture, and said in a sad sort of voice, "Yes, I suppose it is." He sighed and then looked down at her. "Why are you here, Ellie?"
She looked at him curiously; she should have figured Death would be a philosopher. Ellie herself wasn't one for much philosophical thinking, because that always led her to the disconcerting thought that she didn't exist at all, but was only dreaming a false reality through faulty senses. It would explain why there were so many glitches in the laws of reality, after all. So questions like, why are you here, who are you, and what is the meaning of life generally left her quite stumped.
Still, she was talking to Death, who seemed pretty nice. She'd best try and answer his question. "I am here to exist."
Death blinked and gave her that funny look. She almost expected him to say, "That's nice dear", but apparently Death didn't content himself with euphemisms for some unsaid insult. Finally, he appeared to grasp what she had said and shook his head. "No, I meant why are you in purgatory?"
Ellie shrugged, looking around. "Well, reality isn't always consistent, is it Mr. Death?"
Death appeared at a loss for words. He rubbed a dark, gloved hand through his hair before saying in a quiet voice, "I'm not quite sure how to put this gently, but I'm afraid you're dead. You see, Ellie, purgatory is quite a bit like heaven or hell. It is a place your soul goes after dying, only purgatory is a temporary place. A waystation, if you will. It is here that you can move beyond the veil into true death; at least, that is what most humans do." He trailed off in puzzled thought, his eyes seeing beyond the station into some distant realm that Ellie couldn't quite see.
"Huh, I've never been dead before," she said lightly. She'd always expected death to be more boring. Or at least, she had expected fewer trains. "Is it always this anticlimactic?"
"No… Not usually. In fact, I'm beginning to understand why we've met." He stood then, rather dramatically in Ellie's opinion, and turned his head down to look at her. "You see, I did not always know that I was Death. I once thought I was human."
He paused there, looking down at her with a strange severity, as if to convey all the weight that this statement held. She did not interrupt, but merely waited for him to continue with a strange amount of patience that she rarely felt for anything, particularly people.
"For many years, I lived like I was any other person, in spite of the many facts that showed that I was… not. In truth, there had been signs all my life, sometimes small and sometimes quite glaring, that I was not what I thought I was. I had never realized, had not even guessed, until the evidence was so overwhelming that I could no longer deny it." He seemed haunted, his eyes glassy and his shoulders hunched, retreating back into his crow's form unconsciously as he indulged in memories. His smile had vanished, leaving a flatness that she had glimpsed before, hiding beneath his first slight poorly-drawn smile.
"Sometimes I wish that I had been told in the beginning, that someone would guess and let me know so that I didn't have to… So that I wouldn't have false expectations, you understand? It is hard, to try so hard to be something you are not capable of being." He held out his hands in a gesture of sympathy, perhaps of offering, and his eyes regained some of their color as his pupils stored her image once again.
"The truth, Ellie, is that humans never see this train station. They pass through it without a second glance at their surroundings, and step onto the train and depart beyond the veil without a thought, because it is natural to them. It is not natural to you and it is not natural to me. We stand here and wonder where we are and how we aren't quite as dead as we thought. I think that you are like me, that you can choose to turn around now and reenter the world of the living and think nothing of it. You are the Death of this universe, Ellie."
There was nothing to say; she could think of no words to respond to the crow-man named Death. She regarded the train beyond him, saw it glinting in the sunlight with an inviting twinkle. She wondered if he was crazy after all. No one sane would say that to her, but then, no one sane spoke to her long enough to say anything at all.
What did this change, if it was true? If she really was Death, a different Death from the one in front of her, did it change her expectations in life? If she was Death now, then she had always been Death, even when her parents named her Ellie and the Dursleys had picked her up off the doormat. So, what changed? She had a feeling that something must, that some drastic thing must define this moment, but she couldn't think of anything. She knew now that she'd go back. Death was right; she could feel the way back to the living and the tree just behind her, and knew that when she did, no one would be the wiser. She'd return inside to Mrs. Figg (who'd ask questions about Dudley and school to be polite), she'd go home to the cupboard beneath the stairs and wonder if she'd ever get a room of her own, and she'd continue to do what she did every day of every year. It would only be inside, in her thoughts, that things would be at all different. Something must change, even if it was only for her own sense of wellbeing. There had to be some sort of significance.
"I think...I need a new name, then," she said with a strange sense of finality. "Can you think of one?"
He smiled, a true but pained smile, as if he understood every thought that had just poured itself through her head. He shook his head slightly, but in a kind way, and said, "I was always terrible at naming children. I named them after humans I loved."
She had loved very few things in her life. In spite of the blessings of genetics, she did not love Dudley or aunt Petunia, and they in turn did not love her. She loved the feeling of sunlight in her hair, grass beneath bare feet, and the ever-changing watercolor that was the sky. She did not love people. She closed her eyes and pictured all the people she had ever met standing before her; they were few in number and only some were graced with names she remembered. In the end, there was only one name to be considered, hiding in between her own like a half remembered whisper, the name of a woman she had never and would never meet but one that would always be with her.
"I'll be Lily then," she said, and so it was.
After leaving Death at the train station in between life and death, she found herself at the base of a familiar tree, lying sprawled on the ground with a kink in her neck. Lily wasn't sure if she'd ever see him again; he had still been standing there when she left, watching her go with distant eyes, unsure if he would follow or wait in purgatory for some other train to arrive. She left with the feeling that for the first time in her life she had made a friend, and found herself looking back at the tree as if he might come walking through it. He didn't, but she watched all the same, a new tender hope sneaking through her.
"Ellie? Is that you out there? I thought I heard something," Mrs. Figg called from the back porch, looking slightly worried at the sight of the red-headed girl staring with a somber expression at the tree.
Lily turned away from the tree and walked back inside to where biscuits and tea awaited her, feeling that everything and nothing had shifted on its slightly tilted axis.
Author's Note: I suppose if I'm going to label this fic in any sort of genre I'd call it absurdist, because that's what I'm really aiming for it to be, other than that I feel like I can't explain where I'm going with this without going there. Thanks for readings and reviews would be wonderful.
Author's Note (5/5/2013): It's come to my attention that I have a small case of false advertising with this story. Or at least, with my ridiculous summary and then my choice of genre this story comes off as something that it's note. This isn't a crack fic. It presents itself as a crack fic, most of the time, but at it's heart it isn't one. As I stated above if I was to label it with any sort of genre I'd call it absurdist, it has funny moments, but funniness has never been the point.
Lily, as the narrator, has a pretty impressive bias towards her actions. In truth she's a pretty terrible person with despicable actions, her morals are very much lacking, but it's not immediately evident since she's not a sadist and takes no real enjoyment in others pain. So if you're coming into this story seeking an underdog, who you can get fully behind and root for, then this story probably isn't for you.
This is also a long story and I like moving in directions that people don't necessarily think of. So the story you see in the first ten chapters, first twenty chapters, might not be the story you end up with. Lily develops at a slow place a character, this doesn't mean she'll never develop. If she doesn't lose now it doesn't mean she'll never lose, if she fails to connect to her peers and humanity now it doesn't mean she never will, etc. So please, if you read, have faith in that despite all appearances to the contrary I do have some plan with an underlying theme to it.
Author's Note: 9/21/2018 now beta'd by GlassGirlCeci
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.