A/N: This was a gen ficathon challenge from kikei.
Scotland. October, 1979.
"You shouldn't be alone, Bill," the parson said, "not tonight."
Bilius Prewett stared out across the foggy, shadowy churchyard, feeling the cold, damp fog settle into his bones as night settled in on the long, long day. "I'm not," he said. "I never will be. They'll haunt me to my dying day."
"Janet would no' want you to take on so. 'Twas an accident. A gas leak, they said. Carbon monoxide. You canna know everything, Billy."
"Right. A gas leak."
"Have you people to go to at a time like this? You always seemed so alone. Have you family?"
Bilius smiled bitterly. "Quite a lot of it. I haven't spoken to most of them since I married Janet."
"Who would no' like Janet?"
"It wasn't that. They simply... they inhabit a different world than the one Jan and I wanted to live in. Perhaps we'd have seen them later. But now..." He shivered. "My sister Molly and her husband were anxious to meet her. But there was always something in the way."
Bilius stopped talking. If he said much more--like explaining what cataclysmic lies had always been in the way--he would find himself in Azkaban.
"That's the way life is," the parson said philosophically.
"Of course." Bilius smiled at him as well as he could; the man was doing his best. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to be alone with Jan and Cora for a bit."
"Yes, of course. I'll be right inside, if you need me."
Bilius lurched out into the fog and shadows, feeling like he was at sea in a raging storm. Or perhaps very, very drunk.
The graves were freshly dug, the smell of the turned earth pungent in the fog. Janet lay beneath the oak tree where they'd told one another stories--hers true--after church on Sundays, and baby Cora was nestled beside her, as she had been so often when Bilius had got home late at night. Janet would look up sleepily and smile at him over the baby's head, and he would crawl into bed with them, and hold them, and he didn't miss the magic at all.
"I'd've told you," he said. "I would have, Jan. I almost did that first night, at the crossroads. They had me then, would've driven me to..." He didn't want to think about it. He'd been under an Imperius Curse, on and off for weeks, and Janet had somehow driven off the masked terror who was controlling him. Of course she'd been targeted. He was no one--Fabian and Gideon were fighting the good fight, but Bilius... oh, he had no love for the Death Eaters, but he'd never been much of a wizard and had reckoned he'd be more likely to get in the way of the war than help it onward. But Janet--a mere Muggle--had defied the legions of He Who Must Not Be Named.
And he'd never even warned her. Never explained what she'd seen that night, as he was Transfigured over and over while she held him back. He'd justified his own silence with the belief that, after what she'd seen, she must know something, and if she wasn't asking questions, it was because she didn't want to know.
Dumbledore had tried to warn him, of course, begging him to get involved in his little band of fighters. But Bilius had been sure that he could just slip away, let the wizarding world go on with its war, live happily ever after in Janet's non-enchanted rose garden in the highlands. Who would bother to look for Bilius Prewett?
He put his head in his hands.
Dumbledore's people were around, keeping a respectful distance but watching him now. Too late. A thin, sandy-haired man with dark circles under his eyes had told him that they were on the hunt, and on guard duty--but Bilius couldn't care about that yet. Perhaps tomorrow, with the sun's light, he would join them, if they would allow it. He covered his face with his hands and lay down on Janet's grave, feeling the moist, cooling earth against his body.
He felt rather than heard the motion nearby, something shadowy moving silently among the graves. At first, he didn't bother to look up, embracing the ground instead, smelling the rich and vital soil pressing against his face. But the presence remained, more real than the leaves above, more powerful than the chilly breeze.
Bilius opened his eyes.
The shadow blended with the black shadows of the tree, solidifying near the ground, tapering away. It was hovering near him, warmth coming off of it in an almost visible cloud, coming closer...
And the eyes. The pale gray eyes, reflecting the moon, reflecting the stars, reflecting the universe.
Bilius pushed himself to his feet and scrambled back toward the parsonage. The Grim came forward.
It looked like a huge back dog, but those eyes were more intelligent--more knowing--than any dog that had ever lived. The Grim--the graveyard specter that foretold death.
He stopped, feeling slow and hypnotized. The Grim's eyes weren't cruel. They were kind. Compassionate.
They looked at one another for a long time, Bilius's fear disappearing, the Grim simply regarding him in a concerned sort of way. How long did he stare into those eyes?
He didn't know.
"Are you... here for me?" he asked.
The Grim took a few more steps forward.
"Billy, are you all right, lad?"
The Grim faded back into the shadows, and Bilius turned around. There was a pool of light at the parsonage door. The parson was standing there with his head cocked, looking concerned.
Bilius looked back one more time, but the Grim was gone. After a moment, he went inside.
He didn't remember how he happened to fall asleep in a fallow field.
He'd wandered from the parsonage, thinking about the Grim, wondering if it meant what he'd always heard--if it meant that death was coming for him--and wondering how he felt about it if it did. The Grim had looked so kind.
But if death was coming, he wanted to see his family again.
What was left of it on this side of death. On the other side, perhaps he would know them all.
He didn't know where Gideon and Fabian were--they were deep in the war--but Molly and her Arthur lived outside of Ottery St. Catchpole, where his family had lived for generations. At some point, Bilius had Apparated. He hadn't done a very good job of it, and had landed in a field. Why he'd decided to sleep there instead of going on to the house was a mystery to him. He didn't remember choosing, any more than he remembered changing into the wizard's robes that he could feel tangled around his knees. He must have gone home and gotten them from the attic, where they'd been transfigured to resemble a moth-bitten jumper, but he had no memory of doing so.
Bilius opened his eyes. A thin redheaded boy was looking down at him, frowning in a puzzled way. Beside him was a shorter, stockier boy, with a square Prewett face. Bilius smiled at them as well as he could. "Well. Bill and Charlie. Must've Apparated closer than I thought!"
Bill, the tall and thin one, leaned forward and offered a hand. Bilius took it gratefully and stood up, feeling shaky. "Why are you sleeping our here?"
Bilius shook his head. "I don't know. Is your mum at home?"
Charlie nodded and grinned broadly. He would grow up to look like Gideon. "She's got breakfast. She saw you through the window." He pointed, and Bilius groaned. Just over a small rise, in perfectly plain view, was Molly's house. Chickens clucked in the dooryard, and a third boy--Percy, Bilius remembered--was chasing them around, throwing feed at them. Two toddlers stood in the doorway, watching all of this and giggling.
And in the kitchen window, waving a spatula in what was half a greeting, half a threat, was his older sister, shaking her head.
Bilius waved back to her, and followed the boys inside.
Molly put a plate full of eggs and kippers on the table and shoved him into a chair before she said hello, then sat down across from him. "Bilius, are you drunk?"
He shook his head. "No."
He tasted the eggs, found them good, and scooped more into his mouth. Suddenly, he felt as though he couldn't get enough to eat. He gulped the juice Molly put beside him, not caring what sort it was, and inhaled four slices of toast.
Finally, he stopped.
Molly was sitting across from him, looking shrewd and concerned.
And pregnant again. He hadn't noticed at first.
"When are you due?" he asked.
"Up to six now, eh?"
"Yes. This one's a boy as well. I'd like a girl. Arthur says Weasleys just don't have girls, but I'll prove him wrong." She smiled. "Speaking of which, I don't suppose you brought photos of--"
Breakfast came up in a rush that Bilius had no chance of stopping.
"Bill, Charlie," Molly said sharply, "take Percy and the twins out to the garden and play there until I tell you to come in."
The older two boys scooped up a twin apiece, and dragged a protesting Percy out, each with a hand holding one of his wrists. Molly Vanished the puddle of vomit and sat down in a chair across from Bilius.
"What is it? What's happened?"
Bilius took a deep breath. "They're dead," he said. "Oh, God, Molly, they're dead. I came home. The Dark Mark..."
"It was the first thing I ever did right, marrying Jan... and I even did that wrong in the end."
"No. It wasn't wrong. It ended badly, but it wasn't wrong." Molly put her arms around him and rocked him. "Do you need to stay with us for a bit, Bilius? I can put Bill and Charlie in a room together, and you can have that attic room that Bill's been in..."
"No. I just wanted to see you. Before--"
Bilius bit his lip. "Last night, while I was sitting by their graves, I saw..."
"What did you see?"
Molly's face went white. "Bilius, no. You'll stay here. I'll look after you."
"If it's coming, it's coming. I'm not sure I don't want it to. It looked... friendly."
"No. Look, I know it doesn't feel like it now, but things will be better. You stay here, with your family. We'll love you, and you'll come out of this."
"I'm not planning to hurt myself, Molly. I'm not sure I'd mind if something happened, but I'm not planning on... making anything happen."
"You shouldn't be alone. I'll get Dumbledore to call for Gideon and Fabian and--"
"No." He patted her hand. "I'll be all right. Somehow."
"Is there anything at all that I can do?"
Bilius looked out the window. Bill and Charlie were running in the garden, Percy trailing along behind them. While he watched, one of the twins tripped over something and fell flat. Percy bent over and started patting and kissing his brother.
"Molly, if you don't mind... I'd like to go outside and play with your sons." He gave her a reassuring smile. "I won't frighten them."
She kissed his cheek softly and whispered, "Of course."
Bilius patted her extended belly, forcing away thoughts of Jan and baby Cora and... "I'll play with you in a few months, little one," he whispered. "You wait. You'll meet your Uncle Bilius."
Molly ran her hand through his hair and shooed him outside.
"Uncle Bilius!" Charlie called when he came into the garden. "Do you feel better?"
"Worlds," Bilius said, and gave him a small, one-armed hug.
"George has a hurt," Percy said, pointing at the twin he was in the process of pummeling with clumsy affection. "See?"
"Why, yes." Bilius scooped George up and tapped his scraped knee with his wand. He hadn't done a Charm for two years, but it came back as easily as if he'd never left. "Is that better, George?"
George nodded and crawled off of his lap. The other twin--Fred, Bilius thought--toddled over and pointed to his own unmarked knee. "Mine!" he said.
Bilius tapped the knee with his wand without doing any Charm, and Fred happily flopped down beside his brother. They began to chatter with one another in a sort of babyish babble that Bilius couldn't understand.
"What are we playing at?" he asked.
"Quidditch!" Charlie said.
"Goblin wars!" Bill said.
"What about you, Percy?" Bilius asked. "What are you playing at?"
"Bill's the oldest," Percy said, seeming to think this was some sort of answer. He sat down on a rock and blinked owlishly at Bill, waiting for guidance.
"All right," Bill said, "Percy, you'll need to go and listen in on the goblins over there by the tree. Come back and tell me what they say."
Percy bent low and headed off through the grass, carefully poking his head around the side of an old oak tree.
"Who's the goblin?" Bilius asked.
"Percy makes up goblins," Bill said. "He's good at it."
"None of you are playing a goblin?"
"We're brothers," Charlie said, scandalized. "We're not allowed to play at fighting with each other."
Percy came back and tugged on Bill's sleeve. "There are six," he said. "Five for each of us, and a great large one for Uncle Bilius. They say they're going to eat us."
"Well, we'll have to defend!" Bill said, flourishing the stick he was carrying like an Auror's wand. "Come now, boys--we have a job to do!"
Charlie--apparently giving up on his notion of playing Quidditch--grabbed a twig from the ground and charged off toward the tree. Percy found a twig for himself, and handed one to each of the toddling twins. George stood up and promptly fell over again, but this time determinedly crawled after his brothers, twig in hand. Fred pulled on Bilius's wrist.
Bilius looked down at him, at his red hair and dark, flashing, mischievous eyes. Cora would have looked like him next year. They could have played together. They could have--
He forced it back.
"Uck-Bil," Fred said, pulling himself up to his feet using Bilius as a climbing pole. He pointed after the others. "Gobbin!"
Bilius pulled himself to his feet.
"We've got them, Charlie!" Bill yelled, waving his play wand at an invisible goblin. "They're on the run."
"Stay away from my brothers!" Charlie called after the retreat. "Or you must answer to me!"
"They're gone!" Percy said.
Bill and Charlie rolled up their sleeves and pretended to wipe sweat from their brows. Bill ran back and scooped Fred up off the ground. "We scared them off, Freddie! No more goblins!" Fred clapped and kissed Bill's cheek, then Bill put him down and let him crawl off to join George. Bill grinned at Bilius. "I like being oldest," he confided. "I always get to save everyone."
"Your mum always did when we were small. But we seconds and thirds and fourths..." His throat closed. "Sometimes, we have some saving to do as well."
"Uncle Bilius, are you going to be sick again?"
"No." He squeezed Bill's shoulder. "No, I'm not. Will you do something for me?"
"You tell your mum that there was something I had to do. Something important. And I'll be back to see the new baby when he comes. Will you tell her that?"
"Why don't you?"
"Because I have to leave right now." He ruffled Bill's hair. "You and Charlie, you're good brothers. I have good brothers, too. And I think it's time for me to be one of them again."
"What do you mean?"
"Never mind. Don't tell your mum that part. Give your brothers kisses for me, if they'll let you."
He Disapparated, not waiting to see if Bill would run for Molly. Molly wouldn't let him go if Bill went for her in tim..
He didn't know where Dumbledore's people were, and didn't see the light-haired young man who'd spoken to him earlier, but that was all right--he was glad they were there, but this was his own fight, the fight he'd run away from and neglected, the fight that had cost Jan and Cora their lives. No one else owned this. He was the father--it was his job to deal with it.
He went first to the graves again, whispering a promise to them, whispering a goodbye, then he went back to the small cottage he and Janet had shared. There was nothing there that he needed, but he wanted to be here, to smell them and feel them, alive and laughing. He sat there until the shadows fell across the front room, and the first glimmers of stars appeared in the twilight sky.
Then he set out to find the goblins that had torn his life apart.
The woods were deep and already carrying the chill of winter as night fell; frost nestled in the moss that caked the roots of the trees. Bilius paid no attention to it. He'd been on this path before, the first time they'd found him, the night Jan had saved him. They were here somewhere. Nearby. Their business with a blood traitor had just begun. They'd hurt him first.
Now they would come for the kill.
There was a sound in the night, the snapping of a twig, and he looked up to see a stag standing at the top of a rise, watching him calmly. Bilius saluted it, and went further into the forest, following the leaf-strewn, muddy carriage track that might have been a road in misty days of the past. Off to his right, he could hear the river raging through the brief, stony gorge.
He felt suddenly as though a wall had grown up around him, flexible but impassable.
"Where are you?" he called. "Show yourselves!"
There was the high laughter of a woman, and a spell grazed by his cheek. A wall of thorns stretched across the path.
"Blood traitor," someone whispered in his ear, but was gone before he could turn his head.
A burst of light appeared before him, and a beautiful woman with flowing golden hair tossed a fistful of powder at him. "Filth!" she said, laughing, and twirled away, Disapparating.
"Failure..." The breath was warm on his neck now, and he looked through the corner of his eye. The beauty beside him now was dark haired, with madly lit eyes. "You fouled your blood and for what? You're not worth preserving."
The barrier of the Impediment jinx suddenly faded on one side, and Bilius fell in that direction. A black boot appeared in his field of vision. "Such a man," a cold voice said, "so noble, rushing in. Imperio!"
A veil of calm and peace fell over Bilius's mind, and he felt himself snuggled tightly in Janet's embrace, Cora a warm presence between them. The voice floated in. "Take a walk," it said. "Walk to the gorge."
Bilius got up and wandered to the edge of the gorge. A second road ran here, the crossroads where Jan had found him and held him while they...
No. This wasn't right. Why was he listening to this man? Why was he--
Bilius Prewett reached into his mind, fighting against the calm oblivion that was drowning him.
"I said, jump."
The calm came again in a frightening bath of nothingness, a fog that enveloped him.
"Call off!" he heard a woman cry. "They're here!" There was a pop as she Disapparated. It didn't matter. He couldn't seem to move. Unseen in the darkness, something was snarling visciously. Another woman's voice cried Crucio!, and the snarl became a howl of pain.
There was a thunder in the ground, and the woman screamed. From the corner of his eye, Bilius saw her tossed aside. A rack of antlers shone in the moonlight.
"Jump!" the cold voice said. "Jump now!"
Bilius fought the order, but his body tried to obey. He crawled to the edge of the drop-off, his feet digging into the dirt, his arms reaching out.
"Jump!" the voice ordered, but then there was a great flurry of motion as something huge and dark knocked the man over.
The order came again, and this time Bilius was almost over, and even though he fought, gravity carried him down. He twisted in mid-air and grabbed at the loose dirt, but there was no purchase. A fingernail pulled back and he slipped into empty space.
The Grim was growling, fighting with the Death Eater he'd trapped, but suddenly, the sounds of the struggle ceased. There was a pop as the Death Eater Disapparated, and then the Grim was reaching over the edge of the abyss, his teeth snapping for purchase on Bilius's robe. A man appeared behind him, moonlight reflecting on his glasses.
"Hold on!" he said. "We've got--"
The fabric of Bilius's robe tore, and as he plunged toward the river he looked up again. Two men stood at the top of the embankment, trying frantically to pull him up with a series of Charms fired at him. They missed.
The water of the river closed over him, and he knew no more.