Like Harry Potter, this is a war story; unlike Harry Potter, it is very up-front about that fact. I'm going to call this one a choose-not-to-warn experience, because there are things I am dealing with within for the sole reason that the books set them up and didn't deal with them; please proceed with due caution.
Title: Living on Wildfires
Summary: In a house in Godric's Hollow, three boys toss their magic around and a little girl dies…unless.
Living on Wildfires
In a house in Godric's Hollow, three boys toss their magic around and a little girl dies…unless. Unless, just before the last moment, the blond boy throws a shield; unless, just before the last moment, the angry boy drops his wand; unless, just before the last moment, the tall boy casts a different curse.
In a house in Godric's Hollow, three boys toss their magic around and a little girl lives. Albus's curse is caught in Gellert's net, and only he knows what almost was, what could have been; only he knows, until that night, when he pants the truth of it into Gellert's neck, a trap of his own making.
"You saved her life," says Albus.
"Of course I did," says Gellert.
"Why?" says Albus.
"You love her," says Gellert, and history…shifts.
"James," says Diadora Potter, "do you know what this is?"
"Yeah," James says, forehead knitting together. He is eleven years old, and tomorrow he will be going to Hogwarts. "It's Dad's invisibility cloak."
Diadora sighs. "Oblivate."
"James," says Diadora Potter, "do you know what this is?"
"Sure," James says, forehead knitting together. He is eleven years old, and tomorrow he will be going to Hogwarts. "It's a cloak; Dad's old one, innit?"
Diadora sighs. "Oblivate."
"James," says Diadora Potter, "do you know what this is?"
"Um," James says, forehead knitting together. He is eleven years old, and tomorrow he will be going to Hogwarts. "No?"
Diadora smiles. "I'm sorry, Jamie," she says, "but you must take this to school with you. You must give it to Headmaster Dumbledore, but you must be very sure it is Headmaster Dumbledore, and not his brother in disguise."
"How will I know?" James asks, and Diadora sighs. The sound is immediately familiar; James would call it deja vu, if he were old enough to know what that was.
"Think of a thunderstorm," says Diadora. "Or your father during the raid last month, or your friend Sirius' mum when she's in a temper. You can feel it in the air, can't you, Jamie? The magic?"
"Yeah," says James, "'course I can, but--"
"When it hurts," Diadora says, flat. "When it hurts somewhere too deep to feel it properly--that's the brother."
"We could do anything we wanted to," says Gellert, a boy still around the eyes but a man everywhere else, when they are two days clear of the Hollow. Albus hoards his freedom, carries it warm like a cloak around his shoulders; like a cloak that will be around his shoulders, when they've found what it is they're looking for. His brother has taken charge of Ariana, and if Albus does his best, he can barely hear her parting wails.
You love her, Gellert had said, and since Gellert had said it, it must be true.
"What do you mean, could?" Albus says, his smile slow and sick, dangerous on purpose, as Gellert's eyebrows go up.
"Tomorrow, dear boy," says The Brother to Severus Snape. He is not The Brother when he is at home, of course; it is simply the title the resistance has given him, uncreative as they are, tied, as ever, to Aberforth. Before he was The Brother, Albus was Minister for Magic; before he was Minister for Magic, he was Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot; before he was Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, he was the editor of the Daily Prophet, and so on, and so on.
All those positions have, of course, been happily filled in his absence. Imperius is useful, but it's hardly necessary when you've controlled of the board. Inferi, on the other hand, have long been Gellert's pet project, and they do sit so well for photos.
"Tomorrow, sir," Severus agrees, and Albus smiles. Before he was The Brother, before he was quietly feared in houses the world over, before he was anyone, Albus Dumbledore was stupid. It still rankles, though, of course, he suspects it happens to everyone once.
Gellert, whose talent for brutal honesty is only exceeded by his truly exceptional prowess as a liar, always feels it necessary to remind Albus that his one moment of stupidity has cost them nearly thirty years. In return, Albus tends to lock him in the Mandrake garden. Theirs is a battle of wills, but it's not like there's anyone else worth fighting.
Tomorrow, Severus Snape will go to Hogwarts. He has been raised under Albus Dumbledore's exceptional hand, not like that Riddle boy with his dark eyes and his contrary impulses and his be-damned authority issues; if only Albus had been able to turn him to their side, Salazar Slytherin's blood in his veins and the language of snakes in his mouth...ah, well.
"You will do me proud," says Albus Dumbledore, and Severus Snape says, "Yes."
For The Greater Good, it says, in the Ministry lobby, on the header of the Daily Prophet, carved into the metal of every galleon, sickle and knut. For The Greater Good, on the gates above Diagon Alley and echoing out from the Floo; For The Greater Good written into Olivander's wands, arching over the entrance to Platform 9 3/4. For The Greater Good bellowed at every World Cup, For The Greater Good pressed into every cobblestone, For The Greater Good hissed from neighbor to neighbor, their nervous eyes fixed on the streets.
For The Greater Good on the sides of the town cars, the ones wizards get into and never get out of again. For The Greater Good on the sides of the trains, the ones that go somewhere no one can name. For The Greater Good, because anything else is suicide. For The Greater Good, because there are no other options.
In an office whose door is guarded by a gargoyle, a man with piercing blue eyes reclines behind a desk meant for someone else. A tabby cat with strange markings 'round the eyes sits to his left; on his right, a chimera curls around itself, bleating quietly to deaf ears. In front of him, sharp eyes flash green from under a shock of black hair; behind him, his sister leans against the window, humming a tune no one can follow with the Sorting Hat high on her head.
"It is tomorrow, Headmaster," says Riddle. Around his neck, the basilisk fang he has worn for nearly twenty years glints a dull, dangerous yellow; he insists that it's penance for slaughtering an ancient creature, but it makes Aberforth nervous all the same. "The prophecy says--"
"Damn the prophecy," snaps Aberforth. "Damn it straight to hell, you always did set too much store by those things."
"Be that as it may," says Riddle, heat in his voice, and Minerva hisses a warning. His hand moves to rest on her back, and she bites him, but gently; Riddle smiles, placated, and Aberforth rolls his eyes in exasperation.
"Your point, Riddle?"
"My point," says Riddle, "is that, prophecy or no, the cloak comes to roost here tomorrow morning. Believe what you will about the rest of it, but there is no arguing that fact."
Ariana's humming changes pitch, and a tear opens wider on the Sorting Hat's brim. "She says it will be Evans, Potter, Lupin, and the Black boy. She says you must help Lupin, regardless of your superstitions. She says Garnet will agree."
Aberforth looks to the chimera, who lifts his head and bleats again, plaintive, insistent. He nods, drops his head to his desk, and waves a hand. "Clear out, then. The Stone is safe?"
"As safe as we can make it, Headmaster," says Minerva, shedding the cat at last. "Which, if I do say so myself, is rather safe indeed."
They go, and Ariana sings again. When Aberforth turns to look, she has pulled her gaze to the window, is watching him with warm, wet eyes.
"She says," starts the Sorting Hat, and Aberforth snarls, "I know what she said."
"My name is Lily Evans," says Lily, on a train that travels at the speed of secrecy, huddled at the back of an empty car and thinking of home. She is a witch, and has known as much for six hours. The woman who came for her, stern of voice but kind about the eyes, apologized for not telling her sooner; Lily brushed it away and followed her out the door.
She had not known there was was a word for what she did, for the flowers that bloomed in a garden long since dead, for the little oddities she could force Petunia to look past if she tried hard enough, for the food that turned up in their cupboards when her father spoke, once again, of them starving. She had not known she was a witch, but she is not surprised.
"Sirius Black," says the boy at the door of her compartment, casting a long look over his shoulder before he drags someone inside. "This is James--can you keep an eye on him for a bit? I'm supposed to go find my cousins, only he's not supposed to talk to anybody he doesn't know."
"He doesn't know me," Lily points out, and Sirius's small, shadow-thin friend laughs. He's got glasses that are cracked in the center, taped together over and over again, and he moves like someone who knows from hunger.
"Of course I do," he says, "you introduced yourself."
"You're Lupin," says Aberforth Dumbledore, riding the train with his students because he must, because it's the only way to ensure it doesn't turn into one of the other trains. His brother is many things, but above all, thank Merlin, he's sentimental.
"Yes," says the boy. He does not look like a terrifying hellbeast; Aberforth will have to hope.
"You have been accepted to this school on the condition that you will never work for the Good, that right?" The boy nods, and Aberforth sighs. "And you're, what, eleven? We're supposed to just trust you to keep that promise?"
"To be entirely fair, sir, I'm not certain I trust myself," Lupin says quietly. "But not…not about that. About everything else, but not about that."
"And why should I believe you?"
"Because it was the Good that bit me, sir," Lupin says. His voice doesn't change, but Aberforth's too quick to miss the way his hands curl to fists in his pockets. "When I was five, sir. Came right out of the woods and tried to drag me off; they've been trying to find me ever since. My family's been passing through the network--"
"The Order," Aberforth corrects, not really thinking about it. "You can use the name in here, boy. Any spies on my trains are long since dealt with, believe me." To underscore this point, Garnet lets out a long, low belch. Lupin glances to the chimera, widens his eyes, and then pointedly doesn't stare; Aberforth decides, against his will, to like him.
"The Order, then," Lupin agrees readily enough. "We couldn't stay anywhere longer than a few weeks, and at the moons it was…it's been…I'll never work for the Good, not even if they take me alive. I'd die first."
"My god, boy, you're only a child!"
Lupin glances to the window, and his eyes go distant as he watches the world stream by. When he speaks, his voice is soft and flat. "My mum says it's not about how old you are, it's about how much you've lived. Begging your pardon, sir, but I don't think there's many left on our side who are children for long."
Aberforth's gut twists, but when he meets Lupin's eyes, they're calm. It's almost shaming, how unaffected (how deeply affected) this boy is; Garnet bleats, low and careful, and Aberforth sighs. "Very well. The arrangement as it was set stands; upon your graduation, we will expect your services as a spy. No point lying to you about it, is there?"
"I'd imagine not, sir."
"Alright, then," Aberforth says, and waves Lupin towards the door. At the last second, he thinks of something; it's cruel to use the child this way, of course, but then again, perhaps it's not. The boy's been used already, one way or another--maybe giving him something to do is a kindness, a salve to the long, slow wound that is to be his life. "One thing more, Lupin."
"There's a child," Aberforth says. "Your year. James Potter; he'll be about somewhere, probably with that terror of a Black heir, god only knows whose blood's done him wrong. Potter's an Order boy, like you. I'd wager you've met him before--not under his real name, 'course, the Potters' travel is very hush-hush."
"But Potter's a pureblood surname," Lupin says, confused. "Surely--"
"C'mon, boy," Aberforth growls. "You've seen what there is to see; you think that matters anymore? Do you really?"
Lupin shifts on his feet, clears his throat. His face falls. "No, sir. Sorry, sir."
"James Potter has something I can't take from him," Aberforth says. "Because if I do, my brother will take it from me, and then we're all done for. He can't know that--even his parents don't know that. He's got to keep it, and he can't know what it's worth. I'll take care of that, but you--you will go and find him."
"What should I do once I've found him?" Lupin says, and his face scrunches up when he asks it. He looks his age for the first time since he entered the room, and Aberforth is so, so sorry.
He lifts his glass anyway, his eyebrow, swallows down the voice in his head that whispers You know, you look just like your brother. He says, "Guard."
The stranger is small and blond and nervous; Severus has learned to work with that. Severus has been trained to work with that.
"Hello," he says. "Firstie, am I right?"
"I expect everyone can tell," says the stranger, scuffing his shoes against the floor. He's pudgy, which is telling--there's no one in the wizarding world carrying weight without status, not anymore. "What're you, then? A second year? You can't be any older than that, no offense--you're not tall enough."
"Perhaps I am an exceptionally short seventh year, and you have bought yourself a heap of trouble," Severus suggests, his voice silky-smooth over the clatter of the train. It's a trick he learned from Gellert--if their first impression is one that leaves them feeling inferior, they'll never forget it, whether it's based on truth or not. Power's about how you wield it. The boy cowers.
"O-oh," he stammers, "oh, no, I didn't mean--I just thought, I wasn't going to--sorry, if you're. If I was. Um."
Severus tilts his head, narrows his eyes, uses this new terror to observe. Pureblooded, and not in opposition to the Good; his weight says that, but the terror says it more, learned from birth without hiding any anger. His parents are probably huddled together in their house right now, wondering if Hogwarts was the right choice, rumors being what they are, retribution being what it is. Severus smiles. He will do.
"I'm only joking," Severus says, but there is no humor in his voice as he holds out his hand. "Snape."
"Pettigrew," the boy returns, shaking, and follows Severus to his compartment.
"Do you know," says Albus, red-haired still, young as young gets (but not quite young enough), "they'd stone us, probably, if they knew."
"About the Hallows?" says Gellert, and Albus snorts.
"About the sex," he corrects. "The Hallows hardly count; we haven't got them yet."
"But we will."
"We will indeed," says Albus, and Gellert's hair is a tangle of gold and green, and let this be said for Albus Dumbledore: when he deigns to love, whether it be man or idea or long-dead story, he deigns to love entire.
September 1, 1971, and the students do not take boats across the water, but there's not a one who's blind to the thestrals. September 1, 1971, and the ground has been smoldering just past the gates for thirty years, a testament to the slogan a young man had once tried to carve above the doors. September 1, 1971, and the borders of the grounds are ringed by suits of armor, by centaurs armed for battle, by a tabby cat with marks around her eyes, waiting, waiting, still.
September 1, 1971, and Peter Pettigrew follows Severus Snape like a shadow. September 1, 1971, and Lily Evans reaches for James Potter's hand, lets him pretend that she's the one who's frightened. September 1, 1971, and Sirius Black trips over Remus Lupin in his attempt to escape his cousin Bellatrix; September 1, 1971, and Tom Riddle turns a black stone over and over in his palms, speaks to voices that warn him of what could have been.
"Help will always be given at Hogwarts," says Headmaster Dumbledore, "to those who ask for it." It is either a curse or a blessing. Only time will tell.