An important note -

Hello everyone! The dreaded Exam Time has come. (Yup! I am a student.) So, the updates till June will be highly irregular. But I promise that I will use the majority of my free time writing this story... **nods head**

Please bear with me till my exams are over. Thank you!^_^

Chapter Thirteen –

"Ah-ah… ah-ah… ooh-ooh…"

James smiled softly as a happy and well-fed Harry cooed adorably and waved his tiny arms excitedly at Draco.

Draco was standing in front of the couch where James was seated with Harry in his arms. One of his hands was on the armrest for support and the other was clutching a baby rattle which used to belong to him. But now Harry was the proud new owner of it.

Seated beside James was Narcissa, who was watching the scene with a warm smile.

Draco laughed as he shook the rattle in front of Harry and then playfully moved his arms out of reach when Harry made a grab for it.

A while later, Harry grew frustrated when Draco kept on bringing the rattle teasingly near him and then taking it far away from his reach. His little face got all scrunched up in anger as he prepared for a good cry.

James laughed and shushed Harry, "Shhh… Draco's only teasing."

Draco, guessing Harry's change in mood, immediately handed over the rattle to Harry and then leaned towards him babbling, "Na-na… Haw… wy…"

Harry, in the meantime, first blinked at the rattle clutched in his fists; and then at Draco who was leaning over him; and then… promptly whacked Draco upside his head with the rattle.

Squealing in shock, Draco stumbled backwards and fell on his rump. While Harry gave a decidedly gleeful smile and waved the rattle around victoriously.

Narcissa burst out into an uproarious laughter. "Oh… my poor baby…" she managed to wheeze out between her laughter.

James shook his head at Harry's antics and handed him over to Narcissa; his eyes softening as they fell on Narcissa's laughing profile. He still clearly remembered the day before when he had arrived at Malfoy Manor... Narcissa had pulled Severus into her arms at first and then surprisingly had embraced him too.

She had then promised him that she would make all the arrangements for Lily's funeral which was scheduled to be held the next day.

If he had not been numb, still reeling from the shock of losing Lily and nearly losing his son, he would have been astonished upon witnessing the warmth Narcissa held under such a tough and icy exterior.

Blinking his thoughts away, James reached for Draco and picked him up, saying, "I am so sorry, Draco. The little imp is too mischievous for his own good."

Draco glared at Harry for a while, but then forgave him when he smiled at him sweetly. Draco smiled back and wriggled closer to Harry.

"Well that was surprising," James murmured, his attention fixed on the babies, "I clearly expected Draco to retaliate."

On Narcissa's silence he looked up to find her lost in thoughts.

"Narcissa?" James called out, trying to capture her attention.

Narcissa snapped out of her musings and responded, "Oh! Pardon me Lord Po… James. You are right of course; Draco would never have tolerated such behaviour from anyone else…"

She trailed off, fixing Harry and Draco with a speculative look.

After a while, she questioned, "James… Have you ever noticed any kind of mark on Harry's palm?"

James turned towards her in surprise and replied, "A mark? Well I think I have…"

Impatiently, Narcissa interrupted him, "Was it… two silver circles intertwined?"

James' mouth fell open in astonishment and then came his inadvertent reply…


… … …

An anxious Narcissa burst into the study where Lucius was seated with Sirius and Remus. Alarmed, the three men got up to their feet and unanimously asked her what the matter was.

Narcissa looked at Lucius and burst out, "Lucius, go after James and see whether he is all right."

Lucius asked her why to which she replied, "We… James and I… just found out who Draco's mate is."

Lucius' eye widened in shock as he immediately made the connection, "Merlin! I assume it is Harry?"

Narcissa sighed and nodded, "Yes, your assumption is absolutely correct."

… … …

James entered the greenhouse with Harry asleep on his shoulders. He desperately needed some quiet and peace to be able to grasp the fact that his baby was the mate of a Veela.

After making that shocking revelation, Narcissa had gone on to explain everything about Veelas and their mates to him. To say the least, he had been astounded.

By the time Narcissa had finished with her explanation, both the babies had fallen asleep wrapped around each other.

Draco had woken up while James had tried to extricate Harry; his stance both aggressive and protective. But upon finding that it was James who was trying to take Harry away from him, he had reluctantly released his hold on Harry.

James then got the distinct impression that Draco was allowing him to take his son away.

And so here he was, standing between rows of sweet smelling flowers while holding Harry close to his heart… filled with doubts, questions and fears.

A while later, the sound of light footsteps behind him made him turn around and he found Severus standing before him; his stance straight and proud like always.

But James noticed the faint redness of his eyes and the slight tremble of his shoulders. It then struck him that he was not the only one who had loved and lost Lily. Severus, Sirius, Remus… all of them had loved Lily too; albeit in their own ways.

James gulped and searched for a safe topic to broach. So far, he had successfully avoided thinking about Lily's death and he wanted to keep it that way.

Upon spying a yellowing piece of paper held loosely between Severus' fingers, James enquired, "So… err… what is that?"

Severus did not reply immediately but silently walked towards a potted plant which held a single tender bloom of lily.

Feeling awkward and tense, James was about to excuse himself and Harry when Severus spoke, "It is an old poem written by a muggle poet named Mary Elizabeth Frye. This had been one of Lily's favourite poems when we were young."

James stiffened and clutched Harry tighter against him. But he remained silent, not interrupting when Severus began to quote the poem in his deep, sombre and melodic voice…

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep,
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle Autumn rain

When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die…

Finishing the poem, Severus turned towards James and found him sobbing quietly… his face wet with tears.

For a while, he simply stood watching and then quietly approached James.

Next, he did something he had never done before. Severus pulled James Potter into his arms with Harry sandwiched between them both.

James did not resist, and sobbed harder in Severus' comforting embrace.

… … …

Unbeknownst to James and Severus, three men entered the greenhouse after them and upon witnessing the intimate moment, left as quietly as they had entered.

The group comprising of Lucius, Sirius and Remus, silently walked back towards Lucius' study; each of them lost in their own thoughts.

It was Lucius who first broke the silence, "It is good that Lord Potter is finally trying to make peace with the fact that Lady Potter is no more."

Remus murmured his agreement, "Yes, both Sirius and I were trying but… he simply kept evading the topic whenever it arose. Also, Peter's betrayal has hit him hard."

Hearing Peter's name, Sirius growled chillingly. The news of Peter's betrayal had reached them shortly after arriving in Malfoy Manor. Sirius still could not believe that Peter had been deceiving them all along. But the proof against him was irrefutable.

"If I ever get the chance, I will kill the bastard with my bare hands," Sirius said, shutting his eyes and trying to hold back his tears.

"I think James blames himself," Remus said in a hoarse voice, "for Peter as well as for not being there with Lily that day."

Lucius sighed sadly and responded, "It is inevitable. But let us hope that he can soon forgive himself and move on. We do not know when or how the Dark Lord is going to return; but return he will. And the first thing he will do is to try and destroy Harry and all that he stands for."

Dumbledore had explained everything the day before; from the prophecy and Harry being Severus' son to the unavoidable return of the Dark Lord. When they had queried that why he was so sure that Voldemort would return, Dumbledore had only mumbled something about the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw and the Merlin's Harp and then left.

"I do not care how powerful the snake-face is going to be when he returns, but he is not touching our Harry," Sirius vowed.

Laying a hand on Sirius' shoulders, Lucius made a promise of his own, "He will not. And not just the Dark Lord, anyone wanting to harm Harry will have to go through us at first."

With a small smile he added, "To Malfoys family always comes first. And my son has already claimed Harry as his."

… … …

Severus held James tighter as the tremors shook his body violently. Thankfully, Harry was still sleeping undisturbed.

"It's all my fault," James choked out after his tremors subsided a bit. "She is dead because of me. If only…"

Severus interrupted him in an unforgiving voice, "Stop, Potter. You are being ludicrous. The Dark Lord and that rat are the ones to be blamed. And I give you my word that they will pay for it."

"But…" James once again tried to commence with his self-recrimination but was silenced by Severus' harsh reply.

"No buts. Tell me Potter… After you are finished with this useless self-recrimination of yours, will you blame Harry? After all it was him that the Dark Lord wanted dead and Lily simply came in between."

James tore out of Severus' arms and lashed out at him in his pain and fury, "How dare you assume that I will hold my son responsible for what happened? Bloody bastard…"

Seething with anger he turned on his heels and walked away.

Severus watched James go and smiled faintly, "Potter, I know you will never blame Harry for Lily's demise. But I could not let you go on with all that misplaced guilt."

He glanced at the bloom of lily and murmured, "I promised you that I will look after them… not to mollycoddle them."

A gentle wind caressed him and Severus could swear that he heard the sounds of distant, musical laughter.


Somewhere far away…

A cloaked figure of a man stood alone in an uninhabited and isolated warehouse waiting…

After a short time, he was joined by five masked figures. The one in the middle, who seemed to be the leader of the group, spoke, "I hope this will not be a waste of our time, Lord Parkinson. What do you require from us?"

The cloaked figure gulped in fear and drew back his hood.

It was indeed Lord Parkinson. He was one of those lucky few who had been saved from the hell that was Azkaban because of his rank and money.

But he had not got away scott free. The Parkinson name had been besmirched and a huge portion of their family vault had gone into lining greedy pockets just to keep him out of Azkaban.

The reason behind all his problems was... the bloody boy who lived! And Lord Parkinson wanted revenge.

And so for this very purpose, he had sent for the Five Messengers of Death; who were a group of assassins who would kill their own mothers if the proper price was paid.

Lord Parkinson replied in a voice filled with malice…

"I want you to assassinate Harry Potter."

… to be continued.

(The poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye is in public domain.)

Hope you all liked it. Please review, I love your comments!:)

Thank you Cherrie-san for the review.:) Pictures are needed. Something to embarrass Harry and Draco with when they grow up.:D