All recognizable characters and settings belong to Jo Rowling, not me.
Fabian had warned them that it was probably a trap. A sixty percent probability; he’d run the numbers twice. As usual, either they didn’t hear or they didn’t care.
The Prewetts and the Potters Apparated simultaneously into a vast, gray, echoing concrete structure. It was dimly lit, cold and damp in late November, with corridors opening in either direction. The walls were so thick, interior and exterior, that they could have withstood a giant or a lorry, and there were Reinforcing Charms running all through them. It had ostensibly been built for some now-defunct power-generating station, but had actually been the headquarters of the Cerberus League, the precursor of the Order of the Phoenix during the war against Grindelwald. Rumor had it that it was now a central meeting place for the Death Eaters.
Rumor had it wrong. Within two seconds after he arrived, Fabian felt the telltale thickening of the air that signaled anti-Apparition charms slamming into place. All at once there were shouts on both sides, and they were caught in a crossfire of spells. Without consulting each other, Fabian and Gideon ran left, while James and Lily ran right, each pair employing the usual formation – one partner shielding while the other fired the curses. Gideon brought down several Death Eaters on the way, but there were at least five more he couldn’t attend to. Behind them, it sounded like James was having about the same luck; but the Potters were quickly getting further away, and it was impossible to be sure of what was happening to them. Fabian wasn’t worried; James and Lily had outwitted the Death Eaters more times than he could count, and had even escaped twice from Voldemort himself. He gave them four-to-one (rough estimate) in favor of making it out without a scratch.
He was much more worried about himself and his brother. They could take five Death Eaters between them, he was pretty sure, but he had the sense that there were more of them than that, and in any case, he was running and they were chasing. “Gid!” he barked. “Over your shoulder!” Gideon aimed a few Blinding Curses (his specialty) backwards and was rewarded by a pair of grunts. But as Fabian was getting ready to turn, four more of them came out of a doorway to the left.
“Right!” he shouted, and they swung in unison into that corridor. They came into a cavernous hall about fifty feet on a side, with dark, greasy stains on the floor and two other available openings. Fabian chose the one on the left, which led them into a short, narrow passage that took a sharp right, leading them into –
– a small concrete room.
A dead end, with the Death Eaters right behind them.
At least it was defensible. From that sharp turn they could fire curses at anyone who tried to enter. This they did immediately, forcing back the enemy (ten, it now seemed) who were trying to get in. Unfortunately, the entrance was also in plain sight of the outer room, and if either Fabian or Gideon did more than stick out his head and wand for a quick spell he’d be cut up.
“Well,” Fabian said, quietly enough not to be overheard as various ineffective curses splashed against the corner of the entrance. “A pretty pickle.”
Gideon nodded. “What do you reckon? Can we hold out?”
Fabian thought for a few seconds. “They’ll starve us out if they have to.”
“We can conjure food for quite a while,” Gideon pointed out.
“We can live on it for a month or so,” Fabian agreed. “But I don’t think they’ll wait that long. Long before then the Order will have brought in reinforcements.”
“If they think we’re still alive. If they have the troops to do it. If they think it’s worth the cost.”
“Yeah, but they don’t know that. They may be expecting the Light Brigade to come riding over the hill any second.”
“Poor choice of words, that.” Gideon grimaced. “But I see your point. So our charming friends will try to get us sooner, rather than later?”
“Ninety percent likely. Maybe ninety-five.”
“All right, let’s see. They might try cutting off the air.”
“Multiple Bubblehead Charms,” said Fabian. “That we could do indefinitely.”
“Burn us out?”
“You could extinguish flames in your sleep.”
“Yeah,” said Gideon. “Still, I’d rather not try actually doing it in my sleep.”
Some sort of conjured monster – it looked like a miniature dragon with very long teeth – came bounding and snarling around the corner. Fabian obliterated it.
“Okay,” he said, stepping back from the noxious smoke where the thing had stood. “To summarize: We can hold out here for a maximum of a month, but it’s unlikely they’ll wait that long. At the end of that time they’ll come in and probably kill us.”
Gideon chewed his lip. “Right. So we need an exit strategy.”
Fabian started considering the possibilities:
“Not without some weapon they haven’t heard of,” said Gideon.
“Apparition’s impossible. Some kind of ruse? An illusion?”
“I dunno; can you conjure an image of You-Know-Who that would convince them? Or of Dumbledore?”
Gideon was silent for a minute, then turned towards the wall standing between them and their attackers, lifted his wand and closed his eyes.
From the entrance they heard a high, cold voice say, “Why have you disobeyed my orders?”
It was followed by a burst of raucous laughter from several voices.
“Apparently I can’t,” said Gideon.
“Maybe you should have tried Dumbledore first; we know him better.”
“Well, too late for that. Got any other ideas?”
Fabian ran the possibilities through his head again. Meanwhile Gideon leaned briefly into the entrance and sent a small salvo of curses.
Fabian looked up suddenly. “Hang on – what was it you said, Gid? ‘A weapon they haven’t heard of?’”
“Well, have youever heard of a ‘hand grenade?’”
“Can’t say that I have. What is it, and do you happen to have one?”
“It’s a Muggle weapon, an explosive that has pieces of metal in it that make an awful mess when it goes off. You release a pin or a lever or something, and it’s timed to explode a certain number of seconds later. You can throw it and then get out of the way. If you haven’t heard of it, neither have our playmates.”
Gideon considered this. “Sounds like it’d give them a nasty surprise, if we had one. But we don’t, do we?”
“No, but maybe we could make one; or, you know, the magical equivalent.”
There was a boom as some sort of sonic spell was tried against the enclosure. The room wasn’t damaged, but their eardrums hurt.
“Well,” Fabian said, “you conjure or transfigure a metal sphere filled with thumbtacks, or rocks, or lead shot, something like that – say about a quarter-inch in thickness, about six inches in diameter, aluminum or something similar. Then, while you hold it together with short-burst Reinforcing Charms, I charge the interior with hot gas, say hydrogen, at a very high pressure, and some Flare Charms thrown in. Then you give it one more short-burst Reinforcing Charm, the sort that only lasts about ten seconds, and we toss it into the middle of them like a Quaffle.”
Gideon closed his eyes for a moment and appeared to run this through his head. He opened them again. “It’s going to kill some of them,” he said. Neither of them had ever killed anyone before.
“They’re Death Eaters, and they’re trying to kill us,” said Fabian simply.
This brother blew out his cheeks. “Right,” he said.
Gideon held out his hands and conjured a ball of gleaming metal, suspended in mid-air. Fabian focused his attention on the interior; hydrogen is the simplest of all substances, so he kept his thoughts simple. His will to live built up the pressure slowly; his anger fed the heat. After two minutes, he nodded to Gideon.
Fabian stepped into the opening, sending a shower of painful stinging, burning and blinding hexes into their attackers, while Gideon hurled the grenade directly into their midst. Then both brothers stepped back quickly into the room and covered their eyes as the spellbomb erupted with light they could see through their fingers and eyelids, and a screaming, tearing sound.
They waited two seconds and ran out through the opening again, finding, sure enough, a wide circle of dead and badly injured Death Eaters by the entrance to the opening. They dashed past the carnage – only to find a wall of still more Death Eaters advancing; the passages were completely blocked.
Fabian pulled Gideon back into the hole, barely escaping a flock of curses.
“Crikey, did you see them all?” Gideon gasped. His face was pale.
“Thirty at least. Thirty standing, that is; there were twenty or so on the ground.”
“Well, for crying out loud, what are we, Dumbledore or something? How do we rate this honor guard?”
“I’ve no idea, but we’re certainly not blasting our way through it,” Fabian said grimly.
There was a hissing, cracking sound with some sort of a low hum beneath it. The air around the wall seemed to shimmer, and tiny bits of the opening began to flake off. Fabian stared at the opening in confusion, then in contemplation; then he nodded appreciatively.
“That’s creative, that is,” he allowed.
Gideon regarded the spattering of flakes and chips for another moment. “I don’t recognize it,” he said, in what he clearly hoped was a conversational tone but wasn’t.
“Well, they can’t break the concrete directly,” Fabian explained, “and they can’t shatter the reinforcing spells – I’d like to know who designed this place – so they’re setting up a field instability in the volume of space immediately around the barrier. Molecular stresses vary widely within the field, and so the underlying structure of the matter begins to break down.”
Gideon whistled breathily. “Wow. Sounds like they’ve got a world-class Arithmancer working for them.”
“Sounds like it,” Fabian agreed. “He’s the one we’ll kill first.” Even to his own ears it sounded like a hollow boast.
“Maybe tomorrow,” Gideon admonished. “Today I think we need to leave, and soon. I gather that they’re eventually going to succeed in taking out the wall?”
“Oh, yes. Really a rather elegant solution.” Fabian was trying to smile, but he could hear the strain in his own voice.
“So perhaps we can come up with a Plan B?” Gideon encouraged.
“I think it’d be a Plan C or D at least,” Fabian replied.
“Right. Still, what have we got?”
Fabian thought for a moment. “Ever do any mining?”
Gideon rolled his eyes. “You know I haven’t.”
“Well, we could try a boring-drilling combination straight down, then make ourselves a tunnel.”
“That’s creative, that is,” said Gideon, mimicking his brother. But he couldn’t keep the strain out of his voice either.
“So what’s the spell?”
Fabian taught it to him, and they pointed their wands at a spot in the center of the room. They cast twin beams of deep blue light that hurt their eyes, along with a bass drone that set their teeth on edge. This went on for three minutes before Fabian signaled them to stop.
He stepped over to the place and felt it with his fingers. There was a very slight depression in the floor, perhaps an inch in depth, and it was warm, but that was all. Fabian grimaced. “I really want to know who designed this place. Ruddy reinforcing spells in the floor too, down to at least two yards. We can drill all day and it won’t make any difference.”
“Very.” Fabian heard his voice shake.
The hissing and cracking continued. Larger pieces of concrete, about an inch in diameter, began to fly off the edge.
“Hey!” said Gideon. “We could do that!”
“You know, destabilize the field, only do it downwards?”
Fabian shook his head wearily. “First, I don’t have nearly the skill to pull that off. Second, what would we stand on while it happened? Third, it’d probably destabilize the field around us, and our feet would disintegrate.”
They sat down on the floor for a while, watching the wall begin to die from the inside.
“We’re not going to make it this time, are we?” Gideon’s voice had a note of disbelief, as if he expected his brother to set him straight and point out the obvious solution to their problem. This was the way it had always been.
Fabian was silent for a long moment, as his thoughts turned inward and he began ticking off possibilities, trying solutions, variations, combinations, permutations, alternative routes. A branching logic tree led to one dead end; he went back to the previous intersection to try the other branch. Another dead end; back up still further. Repeat. Dimly through the cloud of his calculating strategies, he saw a look of hope begin to come over Gideon’s face. But Gideon was mistaken; the last branch closed dead in front of Fabian. Brought back to the cold room and the disintegrating wall, he had no choice but to say, “No, I think you’re right. I think we’re out of options.”
“Right.” It came out halfway between a croak and a whisper. Surprisingly, Gideon’s face became thoughtful.
Fabian listened to the echo of his own words in his head, and abruptly tasted the real meaning of what he’d said. “Oh, bloody hell.”
Gideon came out of his reverie and grinned. “Don’t let Molly hear you talk like that.”
“Molly – ” Fabian began shakily. He gritted his teeth. He sputtered. “Molly is never going to bloody see me again, nor you either! Don’t talk about Molly!”
The very edge of the wall vibrated harshly for a moment. A few tiny pieces of flying concrete grazed Fabian’s arm.
“Gid? We’re going to lose, aren’t we?”
Gideon grimaced. “What, you and me? You just said so.”
“No, fool. I mean us, the Order. We’re going to lose the war.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because we keep losing every battle. Can you name one, even one victory we’ve had in the last ten months?”
Gideon grinned again. “Are you leaving out all of our daring escapes?”
“Yes,” shot back his brother. “I’m leaving out our daring escapes, and Potter’s daring escapes, and Longbottom’s daring bloody escapes. You don’t win a war with escapes!”
Gideon looked more somber. “No, I suppose you don’t. I think you’re right; we’ve not won any battles for a long time.” Then he looked up, interested. “You don’t suppose there’s a spy, do you?”
“That would make sense. Lupin?”
“Doesn’t sound right; he’d not be so indirect. Pettigrew?”
Fabian guffawed. “Wouldn’t have the guts. Black?”
“He’d cut his own throat first. Moody?”
That made them both laugh, albeit weakly. It sounded weird and sickly in this space.
Fabian continued, more seriously. “At this rate, they’ll pick the rest of us off one at a time.”
“You think so?”
“It looks inevitable. We’re hideously outnumbered and they’re willing to do things we’re not. So, one by one – I give it twenty-four, maybe thirty months before the Order’s gone.”
The cracking sounds became louder and more frequent. Some of the chips impacted with the other wall, leaving gouges in it.
“What about Dumbledore?” asked Gideon.
Fabian said miserably, “Dumbledore by himself won’t be able to do anything. Dumbledore against dozens of Death Eaters, and You-Know-Who leading them? He’d hold out for a long time, maybe, but sooner or later – ”
Gideon nodded. “Yes, that sounds right.”
“And then that bastard wins, wins forever. Complete, sodding, ignominious defeat.” Fabian looked his brother in the eyes, begging Gideon to prove him wrong – just this once, let me be wrong.
Gideon looked weary. “Probably.”
“Hell,” Fabian said again, losing all hope.
A chunk of wall about six inches across blasted into a hundred pieces, showering them with stinging grit. Fabian felt bloody pocks sprout on his face, and he lost the sight in his right eye, a cry of pain escaping him as he bit the inside of his mouth. Gideon had a gash in his neck and a heavily-bleeding head wound on the same side.
“Gid?” Fabian’s voice trembled.
“I love you, you know that?” It sounded like a whine.
“Yeah, Fabe, I know it. I love you too.” He reached over and pulled his brother into a hug that reminded Fabian of when they were children. The blood on Fabian’s face was slippery and Gideon’s hair stank as he kissed his ear.
“And Molly too,” said Fabian.
“Sure. And the Weasley Brats.”
“Yeah.” Fabian started to cry; he couldn’t help himself. Gideon rocked him, stifling the sound of his own weeping.
They sat there, two brothers with nothing but each other.
After about five minutes, Gideon pulled back and asked, “How long do you reckon?”
“Twenty minutes more, no longer.” And he thought, what do I care about the exact number?
“Well, we’d best get started.” Gideon started to get up.
“What do you mean?”
“Time to see how many of them we can take out.”
Fabian stared at him with his good eye. “Gideon, talk sense.” He almost never used his brother’s full name. “You just agreed that we’re going to die no matter what.”
“Yes, we are.”
“And if we stay here, we may live a bit longer, but if we go out there, we probably die a lot faster.”
“Yeah, and possibly in a nastier way.”
Another piece of wall shattered. This time they were facing away from it, and it ripped slashes on their backs. They both grunted like animals.
“And – ” Fabian forced himself to continue, "we're going to lose the war too. The Death Eaters are going to take it all.”
“In all likelihood.”
“And nothing we can do is going to change the outcome.”
“If you say so; I don’t see how.”
Fabian counted to ten. “Then what the hell difference does it make how we die?”
Gideon cast him a baleful look, seeming to be twenty years older all at once. He paused. He took a deep breath that wasn’t a sob; not again; not yet. “When it’s all you’ve got left, it makes a difference.”
Fabian didn’t move. He stared at his hands, one of which was bleeding. Gideon’s words echoed in his head. Then he nodded. He got up.
“D’ya want to try a Killing Curse?” asked Gideon.
That made Fabian laugh; a harsh, inhuman sound now. “Faugh! Fat chance. We’d just stand there looking silly with pretty green lights coming out of our wands. But,” he added darkly, “cutting and bludgeoning curses aimed at the head will probably have much the same effect.”
“Well,” said Fabian, touching his brother’s shoulder one last time. “Let’s try it out.”
They ran through the opening, wands blazing.
James hated funerals. He hated talking to people at funerals. He’d been to too many funerals in the last year, and it was making him cranky.
The wind moaned, slicing cold through his cloak. Dark gray with spots of darker gray , the sky looked like the ceiling of a cavern; it would probably begin to sleet soon. The dull-brown grass and the leafless trees all said ending, ending, ending. Earth covered the graves.
Then Lily leaned her head close to his; he could feel the warmth radiating from her cheek, catch the homey scent of her hair. She was alive. Very quietly she said, “We don’t have to stay; you don’t have to talk to them.”
“Yes we do, and yes I do,” said James. “They have to know. Molly’s got to know. It’s only right.”
“But does it have to be now?”
“If I don’t say it now, I’m not sure I ever will.” What a coward I am, he thought disgustedly.
“All right, then.” She squeezed his hand and they walked over the hard ground to the chief mourners.
Molly looked terrible. Her face was gray; her eyes were a darker gray; she obviously hadn’t slept in days. She wore no discernable expression at all. Arthur had a comforting arm around her, but he might as well have been a piece of furniture. The five children (with one on the way, James reminded himself) were standing about fidgeting, glancing miserably at their mother. The twins were crying; one of their aunts was trying to comfort them, but they kept shaking her off and calling the names of their lost uncles.
James summoned up what little Gryffindor courage he seemed to have at this moment, and walked up to her.
She looked up at him from her chair, her eyes showing little recognition, her face a mask of pain.
“Molly, there’s something you should know.”
“Gideon and Fabian saved our lives.” He stopped, but her expression didn’t change. He said the rest. “Lily’s and mine. We were there together, the four of us, and when the Death Eaters attacked we were separated. We thought your brothers had escaped, and we were trapped. Then there was a series of explosions and some of the Death Eaters who had cornered us left to attend to them. Then Voldemort himself appeared – ” It was a measure of Molly’s numbness that she didn’t even flinch at the name “ – and we thought we were done for. But at the last minute there was a huge row and everyone, including Voldemort, ran in the other direction. We were able to escape.”
He looked into her eyes, hoping she understood him. “It was Gideon and Fabian making their stand. When we came back with Moody and the reinforcements it was all over, but they must have taken at least forty with them. Without them, Molly – without them, Lily and I wouldn’t be here.”
There was a long pause, and Molly nodded. Her expression – or lack of expression – didn’t change.
James and Lily walked back to the Apparition point. If he got any colder he’d be a block of ice.
“That didn’t provide much comfort, did it?” he muttered. “Might as well not have bothered her. So her brothers saved our lives, so what? I’m sure she’d rather it were the other way ‘round. I would, in her place.”
“The day will come when she’ll be happy she knows,” Lily said quietly.
“I hope so. Bloody hopeless war. What a way to lose your family.”
She stopped dead in her tracks and faced him. “It’s not hopeless. It will never be hopeless.” Her eyes were fierce.
“Lily, I didn’t mean – ”
“James.” She looked at him very seriously.
“What?” He wondered what else he had done wrong.
“I want to – bother, this isn’t the way I wanted to tell you, but I can’t bear to see you standing there feeling so lost, and – ”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
She held his face in her hands, held his eyes with hers, and whispered, “I think I’m pregnant.”
As always, I owe a lot to Frelling and Ilovecats, the betas. Also the members of my Friends List on Live Journal gave me a lot of help with the title. The initial inspiration for this story came to me when I was reading a review of the new-old Tolkien book, The Children of Hurin. Something the reviewer said stuck in my mind, about not giving up even in a lost cause. Then I had a long IM chat with Frelling about the idea, and we came up with the notion that Fabian and Gideon wouldn’t know the outcome of the war, but would win it. (Oh, and I wasn’t deliberately channeling Butch & Sundance,but I couldn’t seem to keep them out of the story.) Gideon’s third-to-last line is a paraphrase of a line of Richard’s near the end of the film version of The Lion in Winter.