Author's Note: A warning that this is technically a side fic to "Lily and the Art of Being Sisyphus". This is one of those weird fics that you probably could get away without reading the original but it might make a little more sense if you know where this originated from. That said, because of that, this is obviously NOT CANON to the original story.
Magical London, Great Britain.
The sound of fate, of tragedy, was not a dirge or a lament but instead a waltz.
A steady, constant beat, in three quarter time, perhaps in a minor key but insistent as it was consistent. Easy to follow even if you did not mark the melody for what it was.
The magical society of England was slowly but surely reaching the end of its violent and gradual revolution. A revolution which had existed under many names and more than one dark lord, one which had shaken off any conclusion for decades, and only now appeared to be close to a decisive end.
The dark lord Voldemort, a man whose very name was feared as if it was a god's, had eliminated almost all organized opposition.
But this is a stage, a backdrop, it is only a single stop on the line from Life to Oblivion.
It is at this station that Death steps off.
"Look at him, Prongs, I swear the bloke's your long lost evil twin."
In the overcrowded ministry cafeteria, where you could see anyone who wasn't really anyone inside the ministry (because Malfoys and the Blacks were too good for cafeteria food even if they did frequent the ministry often enough), James Potter peered through the crowds of more or less familiar faces to find the one that was painfully unfamiliar.
It wasn't hard to find him.
James didn't know why, he was tall but not ridiculously unheard of tall like Hagrid or anything, and his hair might be a bit too dark and untamed but it was nothing that should have immediately caught his eye.
In a sea of red aurors' uniforms he should have been unremarkable.
"Not really." James finally said, after spending a good minute looking at the bloke.
And it was true, whatever similarities there were they were superficial at best. They both had dark curly hair but that was about where the similarities ended. The other man was leaner, taller, somehow paler than a Malfoy without looking sickly (like he had unicorn's blood running through his veins), and his hair while similar to James somehow had a different texture (like crow's feathers).
He had an otherworldly almost fey look to him, even sitting inside the ministry eating in the cafeteria, enough of one that it made James hesitate to say he looked like anyone at all.
"You haven't gotten a good look at his face, Prongs, I just spent all morning staring at it and I swear half the time I wanted to just shout out 'Prongs' whenever I looked at him." Sirius said before taking a bite of his lunch and adding, "I think I'm going to call him Doppelprongs, like doppelganger, has a nice ominous feel to it."
He probably would too. James and Sirius were good enough at their jobs that they could get away with things like that, making up nicknames for the new recruits. Of course, Sirius did it more often which was why it'd taken so long for him to get promoted but he also couldn't seem to help himself.
"I still don't see it." James said, maybe it was the angle, or maybe it was the man's green eyes. Like Lily's but not, different than hers even if they were the same color. His were older, sharper, deeper, unnerving… He'd always loved Lily's eyes, he didn't know how he felt about this man's.
"Anyway, how's the life of a squad leader, captain Black?" James asked, diverting the topic away from strange men who ate by themselves in the cafeteria.
"Shouldn't you know already, captain Potter? You've been at this business longer than I have." Sirius said with a good natured grin, clearly proud of this, that he had earned something for himself without being heir to the house of Black. James thought that Sirius would have changed his name if he knew it wouldn't irk his relatives more if he kept it.
"Well, I know what my job is like but I want to hear about yours."
"Oh, well, there's a few who think I'm a snot-nosed pureblood brat but I put them back in their place like a good figure of authority. Let's see, what else… Some look like they tried a little too hard in Hogwarts and think that's prepared them for the real world, like a NEWT score means anything to the bloody dark lord."
At that both their faces fell, thinking of when they'd graduated, thinking the same things and barely escaping with their lives in those early confrontations with the Death Eaters. Of course, they were actively pursuing Death Eaters less and less these days, and only certain ones, never the Malfoy family. Slowly but surely the ministry was preparing to exit the war and pave a path for Voldemort and sometimes James felt like he was doing nothing but watch it happen; even when he was in the Order of the Phoenix already.
It just wasn't good enough.
"…He was an odd bloke though."
"Who?" James asked, startled from his thoughts and looking over at Sirius, and noted that Sirius was staring ahead at the man again with a strangely sober and thoughtful expression on his face.
"Doppelprongs… I don't know how to describe it, it's a bunch of little things… He didn't bring a wand." Sirius said, and James wondered why that was an afterthought, because what could have been more noticeable and weirder than that?
"He didn't bring a wand?"
Sirius shrugged and looked rather flummoxed, "Said he didn't need it, and from what I can tell… He doesn't."
But even powerful wizards like Dumbledore and bloody Voldemort used wands and needed them, wandless stuff was parlor tricks, that was all you could do with it. Anything more complicated and you needed a wand, at least, that's what James had always thought.
"No, you're not serious." James said, already aware of the pun that always followed.
"I'm always Sirius." Sirius said, "But in all seriousness, he is a bloody weird bloke."
Suddenly, the man looked up, and those green eyes cut through the sea of people straight to James and Sirius. James felt his heart almost stop, as if this man's very attention was overwhelming, but then the man smiled a slight painful quirk of the lips as if someone had told him a painfully bad pun.
Next to him Sirius breathed out roughly as if the air had been forced from his lungs, "See, James, what did I tell you? Bloody weird bloke."
"I want to talk to him." James heard himself say, distantly, and almost couldn't believe he was saying it.
"What? Why?" Sirius asked.
"He's by himself and he seems…" Interesting, James wanted to say, but that wasn't quite it. He seemed so terribly lonely, in a way that James had never seen before, as if this room filled with people and food somehow couldn't touch him at all.
Like he existed on a separate higher plane than the rest of them and in this moment they could only catch his shadow.
"No way." Sirius said, shaking his head, "I just had to spend all morning with him."
"You aren't scared, are you, Padfoot?" Fear wasn't for Gryffindors after all, and definitely not for an auror or a member of the Order. Two years ago Sirius would die before he would admit he was afraid of anything, now fear was exclusively saved for battle and death, and not introductions.
"Bloody hell, I'm not scared!"
"Then we should go and talk to him." James said, standing and picking up his tray, watching as the man's smile dropped and his eyebrows raised as if he too was questioning James' sanity.
James started walking, listening to Sirius' blustering and cursing from behind him, and soon enough he and Sirius were sitting down across from the man. Closer he was still intimidating, practically radiating power and some otherworldliness, but looking at his expression at his posture it was clear that he was just as out of his element as James himself was.
There was something so uncertain and adorable about him that hadn't been visible at a distance.
"So, I'm James Potter and you've met Sirius Black this morning." James said, motioning to Sirius who was still looking dubious, "We're both auror captains."
"Yes, I see." His voice was soft, on the higher side, but somehow it still drew attention as if he had been shouting.
"We went to Hogwarts together, Gryffindor alums, the best house if I do say so myself. You a Hogwarts bloke?" James asked, although he felt the answer was no, if only because the man didn't look too much older or younger than them and James felt like he would have remembered a Doppelprongs.
"No, I… self-studied." He said, pausing before the last bit, as if it wasn't quite what he would have liked to say.
"Sirius here also seriously implied that you only use wandless magic." James said before adding, "He also wants to call you Doppelprongs."
"Merlin's balls, James, you can't just go telling people…" Sirius said with a look of panic but James cut him off soon enough.
"Oh, layoff Sirius, if you can't tell someone their name to their face then you shouldn't go around calling them names. You know that." They'd never bothered to call Snivilus Severus in person after all.
"Ah, well, to the first I once used a wand but at this point I find it easier not to. To the second, you can call me Doppelprongs if you'd like, I don't really have opinions concerning names." That small smile was back, the one that looked like it'd been wrangled out of him unwillingly, and it was good to know the man had a sense of humor at the very least.
"But what's your actual name? You know, for reference, in case we're at a fancy lunch together and I can't get away with calling you Doppelprongs." James asked watching as the twitching smile became a little bigger.
For a while the man hesitated though, as if this was a question he truly had to think about, and finally replied in a tone that almost seemed sorrowful, "Harry."
"Harry, that's a good name, very non-pretentious, I like it." James actually had a bit of a weakness for muggle names. When he and Lily had kids he'd probably lean towards the muggle side, he just couldn't take a kid named Romulus or Jove seriously, he wouldn't be able to take himself seriously. That, and, it seemed important to remind people that muggles existed these days and muggleborns did too.
A traditional pureblood name could wait until the day that Lily could walk down the streets of Diagon Alley without needing her wand at the ready.
And there was that smile on Harry's face, a small sad thing, one that wrenched at the heart and left it bleeding quietly, unnoticed.
"Are you muggleborn, then?" James asked and then took it back with a look of alarm, "I just mean that it's not a traditional name for someone from an old wizard family. Not that I should talk, I'm James after all."
"In a sense, I grew up with muggles, but I'm… quite foreign at any rate so terms like that don't really apply anymore." The man said with a shrug, not explaining where he was from or why he was only muggleborn in a sense.
"Oh, well, what are you doing here in England then?" James asked, and why an auror if he wasn't British, James hadn't even known non-British citizens could become aurors. Although if the man was good enough not to need a wand James could see why the department would take him anyway.
"I always seem to come back to England, as if I just can't help myself." He said, as if this was a joke that James should find hilarious.
"Right, well, that was a great non-explanation, Doppelprongs." Sirius said, "Do you enjoy being mysteriously cryptic all the time?"
"I'm told it's one of my few charms." The man said, drily, as if he was perfectly serious and for a moment James couldn't help but envy that sort of a poker face. James always ended up laughing at his own jokes, it was how he always got caught for pranks back in school.
"I used to live in England, a long time ago, but I didn't believe I would ever come back." The man elaborated, the smile drifting and something lost taking its place, as if he still wasn't quite sure he really was in England, "When I found myself in London I thought I might turn back to familiar roots."
"You mean the auror corps?" James asked and the man nodded.
"Among other things." The man said, neither confirming nor denying if he'd ever been in the aurors before. Although James doubted it, it was hard to tell the man's age, he had one of those faces that seemed to defy the aging process and eyes that looked way too old but he wouldn't guess above thirty.
He wouldn't have been old enough to say things about being an auror a very long time ago if that were the case.
"Well, you're damn good, if what I've seen this morning is anything to go by." Sirius admitted, as if it was painful for him to say, but he still admitted it which went a long way to say something about Harry's skill level.
"Thank you" Harry said, as if genuinely surprised that Sirius had gone out of his way to complement him.
"Don't thank me yet, wait til you're in the field. Believe me, it's a whole different quidditch game out there." Sirius said but the man only smiled, not intimidated at all, and still looked quite pleased by what Sirius had said.
"Has anyone told you that you're bloody weird?" Sirius finally blurted and at the question Harry broke out into wild laughter, brighter and lighter than any of his expressions before.
"No, I'm afraid not. Not for a very long time." He said, between dying chuckles, as if Sirius was still being hopelessly and unintentionally hilarious when, for once, he was actually being serious.
Green eyes drifted to the clock hung on the wall, a great ornate timepiece that had probably cost someone far too many galleons, and said, "I think your staff meeting's soon, you'd best be on your way."
"Bloody hell!" James looked at the clock and realized Harry (no last name apparently), was right and that he and Sirius had better start walking. Although, he had no idea how Harry would have known that.
"Well, sorry to be abrupt, but Sirius and I really need to get going. Sirius will see you later and I'll see you… Lunch, tomorrow?" James asked and the man looked at him with a stunned and tender expression, as if he had never expected James to seek him out again, slowly he nodded.
"Yes, lunch tomorrow."
"Good, great, excellent, we'll see you then, Doppelprongs."
And then he and Sirius were on their way, bickering all the while about recruits, wandlessness, and whether or not there was such a thing as being too bloody weird to function.
He remained an odd man, a friend, but one James would never quite understand.
And sometimes James swore that in a single glance Harry could see everything James had ever done or was even capable of doing, and that he found something about that sight heartbreakingly sorrowful, because his smile was always such a bitter thing.
It made him seem old, older than Dumbledore even.
But there were times when he didn't seem ancient and untouchable, but instead was this young uncertain guy who'd been living alone too long and didn't know how to deal with people but wanted to try anyway. He always smiled at James' stories about Lily, about the family they planned to have, about Hogwarts, quidditch, and all the best and brightest parts of England in the middle of a war.
He knew everything about anything, muggle and wizard alike, had wandered the world and seen all of its wonders and more.
And he was one of the only people James had ever met who really did believe that Voldemort wouldn't win, not that he couldn't be allowed to, but that he wouldn't.
"Ultimately, for all of his quest for immortality, the dark lord is an inherently short sighted man." They were at lunch that day, Sirius somewhere else, and even with everyone around them and the crowds somehow it felt as if he and Harry were completely alone, "By trying to rule through hatred, fear, and death alone he can't hold or even grasp the country. It will slip through his fingertips and he will be left only with his misery and self-loathing."
Voldemort, Harry predicted, would destroy himself.
Sirius never really did get comfortable with him though. Never got past that off putting inhuman-ness that just clung to him. Not that James really did either he just…tolerated it better and learned to look past it.
Because in a ministry cafeteria it didn't really mean anything.
Doppelprongs could be as doppelprongish as he liked but nothing would actually happen. They would just eat their lunch and go on their merry way. It was like they could all pretend that Harry was just a regular old guy, Harry included.
But James wasn't his captain and it was much different to see Harry eating lunch than to see Harry in the field.
And James would be reminded of that.
None of them said anything or made any movement, they all just stood there, dazed, letting the scene sink in and imprint itself in their collective memories.
There was a light drizzle, smoke from the recently burned building, the slight tang of magic in the air, and then there was Harry standing over the corpse of the infamous Death Eater, and Sirius' cousin, Bellatrix.
This was the first time James ever saw Harry Evans out in the field.
Sirius had said, jokingly at lunch one day, that the man was a monster.
James now knew what he meant, and he knew that it hadn't been entirely a joke either.
Because the moment they had apparated in, with a twitch of his fingers the man had brought up apparition wards, then he had been sprinting and dodging sickly green light as if he was born to dance between spells, and then before they could even blink Bellatrix's wand had snapped and her mask had been torn off and there was a knife in her chest.
And Harry stood there, his hand still on the knife handle, blood dripping from his fingertips down his wrists and into his clothing, and then he let her body fall to the pavement and the knife disappeared from his hand as if it never existed in the first place.
And that was the end of her, Voldemort's mad dog, and Sirius' bitch of a cousin.
Disarmed and slaughtered by a man who did not even bother to wear the auror's standard uniform to work, who instead had taken to wearing an old muggle military uniform, a bright crimson thing with brass buttons and golden medals, with high black boots and white pants now stained with blood.
"Easier to move in", he'd said when Sirius had asked before adding, "I would have preferred black but it seemed like you would appreciate red."
Black, so that moving he'd look like a raven in flight, or like death itself. Instead, instead he was red, and looked like something entirely inhuman.
Something ancient, great, and terrible.
And all James could do was stand there, just as dumb as the rest of them, without words in his mouth and only horror behind his fogging glasses.
"Why?" This was Sirius, and it was pained, because Sirius had talked about this moment himself for a very long time. He talked about Bellatrix's death in a way that he didn't talk about his brother's, because Bellatrix had gone insane, she had become a thing so evil that it was barely human anymore.
Saint Mungos was overflowing with only half her victims and the cemeteries with the other.
Harry didn't answer, just stared off into the distance as if none of them were truly there, looking past the burnt shop and slaughtered bodies Bellatrix herself had left behind. Past England, past Europe, past the whole world and into the endless horizon.
"Why did you… I mean I know why, that's why we came but… Why?" Sirius asked, failing to ask what he really wanted, why he had done it with a knife, why it had seemed so quick and brutal and easy. Why Sirius himself was so bothered, when he had written off his entire family years ago, or thought he had.
Harry Evans still said nothing.
"The others, you didn't do this with the others, they all went back to Azkaban they didn't…" Die, Harry Evans had never gone out of his way to kill anyone besides Bellatrix before now, hadn't seemed remotely inclined to do so.
"Diodorus Siculus relates the story of a broken and scattered god; who of us has never felt, while walking through the twilight or writing a date from his past, that something infinite has been lost?" The words almost seemed to echo, to resound throughout the streets, as if the very stones and rain had stopped themselves to listen.
(That sounded like a quote, sometimes Harry would quote things, but always James felt as if he was missing something as if the words meant far more than what they actually said. As if in the moment he heard them he had already failed to grasp them.)
"That was… more personal than I expected. I'd thought I'd gotten over that." Finally, Harry turned, that ageless ancient and terrible expression on his face again, as if he was a faerie king whose kingdom had succumb to iron rot rather than a mere mortal man, "I am sorry."
Harry, James thought as he stared at his friend (a man he now realized he knew nothing about), and he realized why Harry had seemed so sad when he said it.
It didn't suit him, not in the slightest.
The first time James saw Harry outside of work was only a week or so after the incident.
James and Sirius had started avoiding him, going outside the ministry into Diagon Alley to eat instead, and James did feel bad about it because even though he had discovered that Harry Evans terrified him he also still was a friend.
A quiet friend like he'd never really had before. Like an older, wiser, and healthier version of Mooney, who had complete and utter confidence in his own abilities and only hesitated when it came to others.
James hadn't realized he'd wanted a friend like that, needed one, needed someone to balance out Sirius' unhinged bouts of temper, Remus' lycanthropy and growing depression, and Peter's fear and desperate need to please James and Sirius as if they were all still back in bloody Hogwarts.
But Harry Evans also terrified him in a way that even the dark lord hadn't managed yet.
And so James had turned his head away and thought that, with Harry's passiveness and willing to let people come and go, Harry would let him be and they would fade from each other's lives.
But that didn't happen, instead, one weekend morning as James was doing shopping for Christmas in Diagon Alley, Harry came to him.
"I really am sorry."
He was dressed in black, just like he'd promised. In dark foreign robes, the kind that you might see in the desert, that had probably once been bright and rich colors but had been bathed in shadows. In the light snowfall, with flakes trapped in his hair like stars, and his eyes that piercing all-seeing green he looked as if he hadn't been born on Earth at all.
He somehow made the overzealous Christmas decorations look even more ridiculous just by standing next to them.
"About Bellatrix?" James asked, taking a breath and seeing her corpse in his head, remembering how Harry had been during the inquisition (not that there had been much of them because at that point no one had been exactly keen on seeing Bellatrix alive), and how Harry had only flatly replied that Azkaban was death in its most brutal and horrific form.
"Yes, about Bellatrix." Harry repeated with that soft, sad, smile that he liked to wear.
"I'm not," James said banishing the images from his head and trying to see only what was in front of him and not what he was so terribly afraid of, "I, it was… brutal but I'm not sorry. She was evil, Harry. I know she is… was, Sirus' cousin, but there was nothing good left in her. Only madness and death. So when you killed her, it was because we couldn't, because we hadn't before. And I can't think of how many people you have saved…"
"Fifty-six." Harry interjects, softly.
"Fifty-six people for the life of one woman."
How did he know that?
Did he see it in their shadows, the lives of everyone they touched, everyone they destroyed? Did he see it in their eyes?
James had always suspected that Harry Evans wasn't human, wasn't human in a way that went far beyond vampires or veelas or even centaurs, but even at his most human (when he was standing in the middle of the street saying numbers) he was almost blinding for his inhumanity.
"Right, a lot of people." James responded weakly, instead, and in that weakness he must have answered some unspoken question of Harry's because all at once it was as if a shutter had been closed over his eyes.
"I wanted you to know that I've decided to leave the aurors." Harry said, like he was the commander of the aurors himself, with unquestionable authority.
"Leave the aurors, but why?" He was good, better than James and Sirius, in time he would surpass them. There'd already been talk of promotion after the Bellatrix incident, of making him a captain.
"It's not important, I just thought you should know, in case you did decide to look for me again." Harry said, and then held out his hand, the one that had the scars reading 'I must not tell lies' that James had never had the courage to ask about.
"You can't leave!" James said, before he even knew what he was saying, "I won't let you!"
And Harry gave him this look, an almost human thing that reminded him so much of Mooney, that seemed to ask why James seemed so upset when James had been the one to push him out the door in the first place.
Suddenly, there it was, the thought.
Harry was like Mooney, he was dangerous and he could probably kill James anytime he wanted, but that had never stopped James before. Because underneath that terrifying power, the blood on his hands, and the all too easy way he'd disposed of a woman no one had been able to touch before he was a good man and a friend.
Gryffindors did not cast aside their friends simply because they were afraid.
"I won't let you! It doesn't matter what you are or where you came from or where you even think you're going. We're friends and James Potter sticks by his bloody friends through thick and thin and they stick by him. And that's the end of it, all there is, and it means that you can't leave the aurors or England or anywhere else. You have to stay, right here with me, until the end of the line."
"Until the end of the line?" Harry repeated, uncertainly, as if that resonated with him more than anything else. And then slowly, painfully, a true smile broke out on his face, "Yes, I… until the very end, my friend."
They became closer after that, soon enough James was inviting Harry over to his house, taking him shopping and groaning in exasperation when Harry continued to wear black, black, and nothing but black on his days off.
It was a wonder he even bothered to wear that red muggle uniform to work.
"Are you dressing for someone's muggle funeral, Harry?" James asked, when the man appeared on his doorstep, looking dazed as ever in his usual black outfit, the one that looked like it had been worn for decades at least.
"Well, in a sense." Harry said in that vague infuriating way of his, like it was an answer, but only if you knew exactly what he was talking about which James never did, "Mostly out of tradition. People expect me to wear black… Sometimes white I suppose, but I never looked any good in white."
Lily liked him, "He's sweet, James. Plus, we share a last name, that has to be a good omen, right?"
Lily, clearly, had never seen Harry Evans slaughter Bellatrix like she was a muggle pig. James could call Harry many things, but sweet wasn't one of them.
He was a good man though, an uncommonly good one, the kind of good you didn't see in every day ordinary men like Sirius and James. He'd help Lily with charms work or potions whenever he came over, as well as dinner and anything else needed, he brought gifts that were personal and picked out with clear care.
After meeting Harry, James realized that actual Gryffindor qualities, nobility, valiance, bravery, were actually quite rare. Harry had them in spades, so much that he almost seemed to glow with the force of them.
He would never be a Marauder, even if the others had gotten as close as James had (which they didn't) he couldn't, but he didn't need to be.
Harry could just be mysterious, powerful, all-knowing, ancient Harry and James was perfectly fine with that.
Someone he could trust to watch out for Lily while James was out on a longer hunt, or doing a mission for the Order, in a way that he just couldn't trust anyone else. Even Sirius, because Harry would win, could go in for that killing blow, where even Sirius might falter.
(The war, meanwhile, trudged onwards and Voldemort's impending victory seemed more and more inevitable.
In London, the houses of muggleborns burned with their children still screaming inside of it.)
"Harry, you know I'm in a resistance group, don't you?"
It was one of the few times he was at Harry's apartment, a strange surreal world filled with extension charms and trapped starlight, as well as mountains of books many of which were not in English or any familiar European language.
James had been meaning to ask Harry to join the Order of the Phoenix for some time now.
"You, Lily, and Sirius." Harry responded, and James didn't know when he had let any of this slip but it was hardly surprising either, Harry just seemed to know everything.
"And many of my other friends from Hogwarts too." James said before adding, "It's called the Order of the Phoenix, Albus Dumbledore is the head. I think you should join."
In that single instant of hesitation, the way Harry paused, his eyes flicking away from James', James' knew that he was going to say no.
"Harry, please, you know the aurors are worthless. That they only put away or deal with those that have gone way too far, like Bellatrix, that they'll never stop the heart of his movement. They'll never go after Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Nott, or anyone else." And it pained him to say this, to admit that the government had failed them, would continue to fail them but it was true. James was living it, watching every day as the corruption grew worse and the death toll grew higher.
"I do not think Albus Dumbledore would appreciate my involvement." Harry said, a quiet murmur, as if it was more of an aside than an actual response.
"What are you talking about? Of course he would. Harry, you're a better duelist than me and Sirius combined! You don't even need a wand! Plus, he's Albus Dumbledore, my old headmaster, believe me when I say that he's one of the wisest and…"
"There are many things you don't know about Albus Dumbledore." Harry cut him off, abruptly, his eyes sharp like daggers, "And while perhaps he might appreciate my prowess he would not appreciate my involvement."
For a moment James didn't say anything, because while it was true that he didn't know Dumbledore, didn't really know his history he knew that Dumbledore might just be the only man left in Britain to fight off Voldemort and win. Or, perhaps he was, until Harry Evans had arrived.
"He wouldn't care, not if you helped, not if you…"
"James!" Harry said, and the force of his words caused James to go silent, to wonder if he'd ever heard Harry that loud before, "I have been a weapon, James, I have played the part of the tool in organizations like this before. It never ends well and I will never do it again, so don't ask."
Licking his lips, all of his rational arguments dying, James uttered his most desperate plea, "Harry, Lily is muggleborn. My wife is muggleborn and she's only twenty years old. Please, Harry, join."
There was a great sigh, as if Harry was indulging some whining toddler, "Alright, James, I'll join the Order of the Bleeding Phoenix. God help us all though, I will need to be very drunk for this first meeting."
"You invited Doppelprongs, Merlin's balls James, why would you do that?" Sirius was not thrilled by James' decision.
"He's the best bloody duelist I know so don't you Merlin's balls me, Sirius!" James responded, "We need anyone we can get who…"
"He's not even British, how can we trust him, how can we trust a man who can kill someone so easily!"
"It was Bellatrix, Sirius, he had a very good reason for what he did and…"
"It could have been someone else, James! How do we know it's just Bellatrix? How does someone get that good that young without practicing? We know nothing about him…"
"I trust him!"
"Well, that makes everything perfect then, doesn't it?"
Looking around the room, at even those who had only seen Harry at a distance or had only heard stories, James could tell that Sirius' opinion was more or less shared. Maybe not Molly, who had sent the man flowers when she heard he had killed Bellatrix, but never the less they seemed uncertain and wary.
It was that moment that Harry chose to show up, in his usual, black, ridiculous wardrobe which was only marginally worse than his makeshift auror's uniform.
"Harry, good to see you, don't you own anything else to wear?" James asked, and he did, because he'd made Harry buy it but Harry must have thrown it out because he never ever wore it.
"James," Harry said and then moved over to Lily, giving her a brief hug, "Lily."
"Harry, glad you could come, James told me you were joining."
"Yes, well, James was very persuasive." Was all Harry said to that, a little tersely, making it all too clear that he thought this was as great of an idea as Sirius did.
Everyone was staring, it was probably their first time seeing him, or at least seeing him up close. And up close Harry tended to be more dramatic and alarming than at a distance as if that inhuman edge was only magnetized by proximity. James could see everyone's fingers twitching for their wands at the very sight of him.
Of course, that was why they needed Harry, and he'd make them see that and see it the way he did. Because with Harry they might just be able to beat back the majority of the Death Eaters, and without his cronies then maybe Dumbledore could finally hunt down and defeat Voldemort himself.
"Am I supposed to…" Harry started and James remembered that they were all still standing in the middle of the entryway.
"Right, right, in the living room on one of the couches."
Harry nodded and made his way into the living room, seemingly oblivious to the way the order members parted like the red sea from that muggle bible passage Lily sometimes would reference.
Thankfully he had been joking when he said he'd come drunk, or at least, that's what James thought until he saw Harry sit on one of the couches and pull out a silver flask of what smelled like firewhisky. Apparently, he was just planning to drink his way through the meeting.
And everyone was staring in silence.
"Harry," James said his eyes locked on the silver as he slid in behind Harry and pulled Lily down with him, "Is that really necessary?"
"Extremely." Harry responded, taking a large gulp with his eyes closed, and then letting out a worn sigh not even paying any attention to any of the order members who were now looking at him with open mouths.
"Harry, are you… James, is he drinking?" Lily asked, as if James would have some explanation of why Harry did what he did. Which was funny because if James had learned anything over the time he'd known Harry it was that he knew almost nothing about him.
The less you assumed you knew about Harry Evans the better.
"I agreed to come, I did not agree to not be thrown out for indecent behavior." Harry explained before taking another, thankfully somewhat smaller, drink from the flask.
"Wait, I thought you wanted to join… If you didn't want to join why did you tell James you'd come?" Lily, bless her beautiful heart, was trying to be quiet but in the dead silence even a whisper sounded deafening.
"James was extremely persuasive." Harry said and then rubbed a hand through his hair and finally looked at their audience, "Please, let's just start, the sooner we do this the sooner we get this over with."
They all shuffled in, Sirius taking the seat on the other side of Harry, looking a bit twitchy as he did so and everyone else (including Mooney and Peter) sitting as far away as they could so that one side of the room was squished with people and the other was almost completely empty.
And James had the great epiphany that he probably could have used when he asked Harry in the first place that this wasn't going to work in any way shape or form.
For the first part of the meeting, while they waited for Dumbledore to show up, Moody just ran through some of the non-sensitive updates and asked for the usual update of what was going on in the auror department and in the wizengamot.
Then it came time for introductions.
"So, James brought you." Moody started, his one eye narrowing in on Harry and the other eye spinning wildly, even more than usual. And as the interrogation started everyone in the room grew alert, and silent, hardly daring to breathe.
"Yes." Harry said, finally lowering the goddamn flask and gaining a sharp glint to his own eyes, "He believed I might be of some assistance to you and your cause."
"Us and our cause, so it isn't yours then?" Moody asked, rhetorically because he continued, "Harry Evans, age twenty-three, muggleborn from Ireland, is that right?"
"That is what my documents say." Harry responded, which was carefully neither a yes nor a no response.
"Funny, you don't sound Irish."
"I'm good with languages and accents." Harry said, in a very authentic Irish accent, just as authentic as his normal English one was.
"Right, I'm sure. I've heard about you, they say you're the best auror the department's ever seen. That you killed Bellatrix LeStrange in under five minutes and incapacitated every other dark wizard you've ever met in under ten at maximum. They say you don't use a wand and that you're eccentric as all hell. The funny thing is, I've been around long enough to know that you hear about people like that long before they're twenty-three and in your auror department. So where are you really from and what are you really doing here?"
"That's irrelevant." Harry said with a small smile almost smug smile as if Moody had asked all the wrong questions, "And I doubt someone like you would find it particularly interesting."
"You might be surprised." Moody responded.
"I also might not." The smile grew slightly crooked and a little wider as if they were still veering way off course, "It's a very long story and I don't really like telling it."
"Then why should we let you into the Order?" Moody said, finally cutting to the chase, "I know where everyone in this room came from, I know where their parents came from, I know the names of their kids. For all we know you could be a dark wizard spy."
And Harry started laughing hysterically as if the long awaited punchline had finally been delivered. And once again James was just staring at him wondering what the hell was going through his head because James had no idea, he just knew that Harry laughing wasn't a good thing, and that it meant there was something awful going on that only he could see.
And that the joke was on them.
"True, I suppose I could be. But then, perhaps not." Harry stopped laughing, controlled himself, and leaned forward, "The world is a very complicated place and I've found that dividing it into us versus them is usually insufficient. To tell the truth, Alistair Moody, I have very little interest in joining the Order of the Phoenix. And I think, if you had your way, that you would have very little interest in having me join."
But, ultimately, Moody wasn't the one in charge.
If they hadn't wanted Harry in the order, thought he was completely untrustworthy, then they never would have let James bring him to any meeting, even a small one like this. True, only known Order members were here, the ones Voldemort had already battled and marked, but never the less they had taken him to one of their locations and that meant that they did want him.
"Unfortunately, I am very good at what I do and have been doing it for a very long time. We also share more or less common interests."
"And what does that mean?"
"It means while I'm certainly no fan of Albus Dumbledore I like Voldemort even less." Harry said this as if it was physically painful for him and left a sour taste in his mouth. "I'll cut this short and get to the chase, if…"
Before Harry could cut to the chase the green fire flared brightly, as sign that someone was coming through the floo, and everyone turned just in time to see Albus Dumbledore walk in, "Terribly sorry, you know how those meetings run over."
Whatever Harry was going to say was lost as he instead narrowed his eyes at Dumbledore, leaning back in his chair, and looking the same way he would before field work as an auror. A restless tension and preparation for battle.
James felt himself tense at the very atmosphere, fearing that Harry might just fly off the handle, he hadn't since that Bellatrix incident but James really didn't know. All he knew was that Harry, for whatever inexplicable insane reason, really didn't like Dumbledore.
James didn't really understand it, Dumbledore was a great man let alone a great wizard, and really the last hope for the country. Not to mention the man had always looked out for him, even when he was still in school, it was hard to imagine any light wizard having a reason to dislike him.
Especially one like Harry who had probably never even met Dumbledore.
When James had asked Harry had just given him a strained, fake, smile and said, "I have an aversion to meddling old men who have a fondness for chess and sacrificing pawns."
"I hope I'm not too late for introductions, Harry Evans, since I heard you would be joining us here today." Albus said before taking a seat next to Moody, his eyes sparkling behind the half-moon spectacles.
For a moment Harry said nothing, and in that moment James swore he could see the shadows stretching across the floor and the room grow colder, but then the moment was gone and Harry looked almost apathetic, "No, Alistair Moody and I were simply agreeing that while we don't particularly like each other we can perhaps reach some common ground."
"Ah, I see, and what common ground is that, Mr. Evans?" Dumbledore asked.
"What's your goal here?" Harry asked, seemingly randomly.
"I'm sorry?" Dumbledore asked, "I don't quite understand."
"Is it to kill Voldemort, to save Britain, to protect and promote those who are muggleborn?" Harry asked before continuing, "I will be honest, the first is simplest."
"You believe you can kill Voldemort so easily?" Dumbledore asked, gravely, all signs of merriment gone from his features.
"Yes, but that is not the same as saving Britain which in turn is not the same as protecting muggleborns." Harry leaned forward, his eyes equally as sober as Dumbledore's and twice as daring, "So, which is it?"
"If you could defeat Voldemort then that is all you would need to do and we could work towards these other goals you mention." Dumbledore said and almost immediately James could tell it was the wrong answer, not because it made Harry angrier, but that it seemed to make him relieved. As if all of his expectations had just been fulfilled.
"Well, then, I'm afraid we have less common ground than I thought." Harry stood and looked down at James and Lily with an apologetic (but not too apologetic) smile, "I had hoped I would get thrown out for drunkenness before this point but it seems that we'll all have to be disappointed. James, Lily, you know how to reach me. Sirius, I'll see you at work."
And with a great bang Harry Evans was gone leaving the empty seat on the couch in his wake and a surprised Lily and James behind.
"Evans!" James barged into Harry's apartment, ignoring the way that Harry seemed to be ignoring him, reading some thick book that James would probably find hopelessly boring.
"Hello James," Harry said distractedly, not even bothering to look up from the page, only twitching his hand and causing another chair to appear, "How are you? Take a seat why don't you?"
James didn't take the seat though, instead he strode over to Harry, and with a great slam shut the book between his fingers and forced Harry to look at him.
"I can't believe you, I thought you were supposed to be the responsible one!"
"I am the mysterious one, James. I hate responsibility." And he gave James a charming smile as if that was a perfectly reasonable thing to say.
"You hate responsibility more than you hate Death Eaters?!"
Harry thought for a moment, looking pensive, before in a somewhat surprised tone answered, "Yes, I actually do."
It would have been funny if it had been about anything else. As it was James had been seeing red ever since Harry had disappeared from the meeting and even Lily hadn't gotten him to calm down, especially Lily, because as much as he hated to say it somehow Harry was the only one he really trusted.
He and Sirius just didn't have that much experience, Peter had none, and Remus had his own problems to deal with. Beyond that people had their own families or causes to look after and James had thought Harry would understand why James was asking him to do this. Beyond just saving England itself, beyond getting rid of the Death Eaters, he thought Harry had gotten it.
"I won't join the Order of the Phoenix, James, but if you do need my help then all you need to do is ask. But I won't work under Albus Dumbledore." Harry said with a sigh before motioning to the chair again, "Please sit down, you're making this all needlessly dramatic."
"Is that what this is about, Dumbledore?" James asked, "What is your problem with him? He's a great man, whatever you've heard isn't true, but I have no idea what you've heard and…"
"Remember how I said Bellatrix was personal?" Harry started and then with a dark expression added, "Dumbledore is personal."
"Do you even know Dumbledore?"
"I know him intimately, he doesn't know me, I'd like to keep it that way." Which could mean anything because at this point James had long since given up interpreting anything Harry said.
(The scar on Harry's hand, James learned, was more or less accurate. Harry didn't lie, didn't even twist context, he'd just only hand out partial information that made no real sense out of context.
It was unbelievably frustrating.)
"Then you're fine with him winning?" James said, finally moving back to that chair and sitting in it, feeling something fade inside him and leave an empty hollowness in its place.
"There's always more than two sides. Just because I'm not on Albus Dumbledore's side does not mean I'm on Voldemort's. And besides, we've been over this, Voldemort can't win this war."
Can't, not won't, but can't as if it was impossible for him to.
"If I ask for your help, will you really give it?"
"I promise." Harry said, "Anything I can do to help, I will, but I won't join the Order."
"Well, then, that's good I guess." James said, not really sure how to feel about it, to meet someone who wasn't afraid of Voldemort but wasn't willing to join the Order either, someone who talked about a third side rather than just two like James had always thought.
"So, what is it you want, if it's not what Dumbledore wants or what the dark lord wants?" James asked, realizing that he'd never really asked Harry this question before.
"What do I want?"
"Well, He Who Must Not be Named wants to overthrow the ministry and kill all the muggleborns and expel the from Hogwarts. Dumbledore wants to stop that. What about you?"
For a moment Harry just looked stunned, like he wasn't quite sure how to answer the question, finally he said hesitantly as if the idea was only just now occurring to him, "I… I would like to abolish the Statute of Secrecy."
And that had not been what James was expecting.
"It's not very old, only a few centuries, and it's already falling apart. It's not sustainable, it relies on the manipulation of memories, and even that won't work forever. Better to prepare for it now than to have it happen later." Harry said, as if he was saying logical things, and hadn't just said that they should go rejoin the muggles like it was a thing that anyone would want to do.
"Why?" James asked, truly flabbergasted.
"You wouldn't understand, you're stuck in your time, James." Harry said, seeming annoyed by this fact, "Obliviate really should be considered unforgivable, if we are what we remember then it's like killing someone by inches. I've never liked the idea of it and I never will."
"But then… the muggles!" James said, not quite sure what he was trying to say, only that it involved muggles who were a lot different than muggleborns. James might not advocate slaughtering them but that didn't mean he thought they should all sit around a fire place drinking tea together either.
"The muggles, James, are not so different from you are I." Harry said and then shrugged stiffly, "But, it doesn't really matter, because I don't really intend on pursuing it anyway. So you all can have your Statute of Secrecy, the oversized department of memory correction, and run about like headless chickens when you find that surprise, surprise, the muggles found out your dirty little secrets. It is no longer my problem."
"Right, well, any other great ideas?"
"Well, I don't really like the ministry all that much, so I suppose I wouldn't mind if someone overthrew it and…" Harry trailed off looking sheepish at James' alarmed expression and quickly said, "But again, I have no real flair for politics and am a bit of a radical and this is why we don't talk about my opinions."
"Yeah, don't do that, please, I sort of like the government and my job… I think we should stick to the safe common ground of disliking Voldemort."
"Yes, that… That sounds good."
They stared at each other in more or less awkward silence.
"So, would you like some tea?" Harry asked, abruptly.
"Right, yes, tea would be great. I'd love tea."
Neither of them moved.
"She's going to be a little princess! Isn't that great, Harry? My own firstborn little girl, I'll bet she looks just like Lily."
James had been telling everyone he could find, first when they'd found out Lily was pregnant, and now when they'd had the gender confirmed. James just wanted to tell everyone, let everyone know that this beautiful little unborn girl was going to be his daughter, the heir to the Potter house.
When Lily had told him, when he'd realized they were going to have a family, he'd felt like the war had somehow slipped away and that everything was right and perfect and normal again.
Harry's first reaction, to the news of a baby, had been bittersweet and painfully awkward. At first he'd seemed somewhat alarmed, spilling coffee onto himself, but then had forced himself into something congratulatory.
But Harry had always been a little weird and James had learned not to take it personally.
"A girl?" Harry asked his eyebrows raising and stopping in the middle of the street out of shock seemingly oblivious to the shoppers pushing past him, "Are you sure it's a girl?"
"A lovely little flower." James said, a grin on his face, he hadn't really preferred one gender over another but now that it was decided he just couldn't picture anything else.
That was part of the reason why he had pulled Harry along for this little shopping trip, to buy adorable baby girl items, and just see how awkward it made Harry look to be dressed in black but inspecting pink items.
"You're positive that it's a girl." Harry repeated, grabbing onto James arm and pulling him back before he could continue to walk through the alley.
"Yes, yes, it's a girl." James said before asking, "Why, do you think it should be a boy? I wouldn't think you were that old fashioned."
"No, no, I have no problem with… I guess I'm just surprised."
"Why, it's fifty-fifty, isn't it?"
"No, no reason just…" Harry trailed off, looking at a nearby window and staring in suspicion at his own reflection in the glass.
"Right, well, anyway, it's a girl. And I need some help deciding on names. Lily says everyone in her family's named after flowers but really, I sat down and thought about it, and most flowers are terrible. I mean you have Rose, which just sounds too old fashioned, Marigold which is too long, and then you have ones like Rhododendron. Little Rhododendron, we could call her Rhoddy, or Dendron, both are equally unpleasant." It would be practically setting her up for girls to call her names behind her back, which, having been a master of transforming names into insults James did not want to give anyone undue ammunition.
"I was… I was terrible at naming children." Harry said, almost looking panicked.
"Nonsense, you'll do…" And then Harry's words caught up to him.
He hadn't known Harry for very long, only a few years, and looking at his face it was hard to imagine but at the same time… At the same time he wondered if Harry hadn't once had a wife, had children, and if he had why he had never brought them up and if they weren't buried somewhere.
He didn't know why, it seemed like an unlikely conclusion to reach, but he just couldn't shake the feeling that he was staring at a man who had once lost everything.
"You'll do fine." James forced himself to finish, "I was thinking something muggle, like my name, and yours. You know muggle names, let's list through a few of them, starting with the A's."
James forced them to keep walking, to move forward towards the children's store, "Come on, Harry, don't be a drag. A's."
"Um, well… English muggle names… Abigail, Amanda, Amelia, Andrea..."
"Forget it, I don't like A's. What about our friends the B's."
Harry cracked that crooked amused smile, "Bailey, Beatrice, Buttercup…"
"Oh Merlin, that's even worse, and I thought we agreed no flowers. What about E's, E seems like a good solid vowel to start on."
"Emily, Eleanor, Elaine…"
"Wait, stop there, that's it." James said, a grin growing on his face.
"Elaine?" Harry asked with those raised eyebrows again, as if tasting the name and seeing how it sounded.
"No, not Elaine, Eleanor, little Ellie! It's perfect!" James hugged Harry to him in the spur of the moment, feeling the taller man twitch at the touch, "Thank you, Harry, you're going to be the best mysterious not-blood related uncle that little Ellie is ever going to have!"
"Uncle?" Harry asked, softly, his breath on James ear.
"Of course, you, Remus, Peter, and Sirius are all going to be her uncles. Do you not…" James pulled back when he felt Harry twitch and found that there were tears gathering in the corner of his eyes.
"Are you alright?" James asked and Harry just nodded silently, desperately, but didn't speak.
"I'm fine, I'm… fine." Harry said and then with that uncertain so fragile smile he said, "I will do my best, James, I'll try."
And all James could say was what he had said earlier, "You'll do fine."
(And he did, when Ellie was born, after Lily, James, Sirius, and others had held her, when Harry held her in his arms it looked like he had been waiting to do it all his life.
In some ways, James couldn't help but think in that hospital, Harry looked more like her father than James ever could.
They had the same eyes after all.)
The Potter manor felt much too large in the dark, like everything and anything could lurk in the shadows, even when he knew it was just him and Peter.
A prophecy, one that wasn't about his daughter, about a boy, but one that fit close enough that Dumbledore was concerned. A prophecy that marked his newly born daughter for death.
He'd only recently gotten used to the idea of being a father, he spent most of the time having no idea what he was doing and Lily having even less of an idea, if it wasn't for Harry little Ellie would probably be dead.
(It was that, the ease at which Harry knew how to care for her, which all but confirmed James unspoken suspicions that Harry had done this before. And that it hadn't ended well.)
She was an unusually alert baby, very bright, more like her mother than like James in that respect. She was already crawling this way and that and helping herself roam around with little spurts of accidental magic.
But then Dumbledore had heard a prophecy and it had seemed as if his little world was unravelling. Within the week he and Lily would be going into hiding, James would be resigning from the auror corps, and they would wait behind the strongest wards imaginable for the storm to hit.
Because Voldemort would come, Dumbledore had assured them of that, and he would have no mercy for either his daughter or his wife.
(In a way, he thought, he was glad Ellie was so young. She wouldn't remember this, she wouldn't remember the nights of terror and the silent panic, by the time she was grown she might not even remember the war. If she had been older, if he had had to explain, it just might break him.)
"James, you have to change secret keepers." And here was Peter now, the shadows dark on his face, and his eyes so very afraid.
They were all afraid these days.
"I've talked with Sirius, James, and Remus can't be trusted." Peter took a breath, as if fearing James' outburst, before continuing, "I like Remus as much as anyone else but… He has no reason to side with us anymore. With the ministry hunting werewolves and Voldemort siding with them eventually he'll have no choice but to go to them. And when he does, the first thing he's going to do is give them Sirius."
"He has friendship." James said, staring into the fire, wondering if he could read the future in the flames.
"Friendship doesn't mean much in a war, James."
They were all changing, all so changed from their Hogwarts days. Sirius had become wild on the battlefield, dangerous and unhinged almost, Peter had become even more nervous and jittery and always on the verge of some breakdown, Remus had become melancholic, and James had become old.
He didn't know who they were anymore.
"If I'm wrong then it won't make any difference anyway, Remus doesn't need to know, you'll still have a secret keeper and you'll still be safe. You'll just be… more insured." Peter said before adding again, "Mooney doesn't need to know, can't know."
"And who do you think should replace Sirius?" Because they had picked Sirius for a reason, loyal but more than loyal he could fight off most Death Eaters and the least likely of them to be captured.
"Well, I… I suppose… me." Peter said, uncertainly, a flash of emotion flickering in his eyes before it disappeared, "Well, think about it. If it can't be Padfoot and it can't be Mooney then… Then I'm the only one left."
James pulled back to look at him, small, twitching, nervous little Peter Pettigrew who had never once managed to win a duel on his own. This little man who had never wanted to enter this war but had done so anyway, to stand by his friends and housemates, and who was perhaps the bravest of them all, "Peter, you can't win against the Death Eaters if they come for you."
"No, I… I know, but that's why it has to be me. Think about it, they would never suspect me, out of all of your friends. They'd just… kill me before they even thought about it. Because why would someone like James Potter ever rely on Wormtail?"
"Merlin, Peter, don't say that!"
"This isn't about me or Sirius or even Remus, James, it's about Lily and Ellie. You can't let your feelings get in the way of this. You know, that if they get Sirius, they're going to make him talk first. They won't do that with me."
Tears of exhaustion, of grief before having anything worth grieving, began to gather in the corner of his eyes, he rubbed a hand over his face and hunched over. "Oh, Merlin, Peter what have we come to?"
"…I'm sorry, Prongs. Maybe after the war is over… Things will go back to the way they used to be."
James lifted his head to stare at Peter in disbelief, "Peter, things will never go back to the way they used to be."
James couldn't go back to being that naïve boy again, the one who didn't have a wife, didn't have a daughter, and didn't have a prophecy hanging over them all like the silver blade of a guillotine. Who didn't have to pick and choose between his best friends and decide which one was the most trustworthy, which one he was willing to sacrifice for his family, which one was least likely to stab a knife in his back.
That boy would not have understood, would have been insulted that Peter ever suggest that Sirius could be tortured to the point of insanity and death, could never picture Peter being slaughtered like a pig, and would beat into a pulp anyone who would dare suggest that Remus would ever betray him.
And perhaps it was thinking about that boy, and how he could never go back to him, that he remembered the one man who existed outside of his circle of Marauders.
"If you do need my help…" James said, dully, letting the memories wash over him and he straightened, staring ahead into the fireplace.
"James?" Peter asked, sounding a little strained, but James was barely listening, was instead reaching a conclusion that he should have reached in the beginning.
"The secret keeper has to be Harry Evans."
"Harry… You mean that weird auror, the one you brought to that meeting. But James, you barely know him, for all we know he could be a spy or a…"
James interrupted him, feeling for once perfectly calm, as if everything had just snapped into place, "He's not a spy."
"How do you know that? You've only known him three years, and you said that you don't know very much about him. If he wasn't a spy why didn't he join the Order? Why didn't he want to fight You Know Who?" Peter asked, a look of panic crossing his face, but again James didn't pay any attention to it.
"He would have been a much better spy if he had joined the Order." James said, and for a moment he could swear Peter paled, probably thinking of the implications of a spy inside the Order of the Phoenix.
"That doesn't mean he won't give away your secret if they come for him either!" Peter said, "This isn't a decision you can just make, James, you have to be absolutely sure this person will never betray you. Absolutely certain, and you can't with him. You didn't go to school with him, you didn't grow up with him, you don't even really work with him. You know nothing about him, nothing, James!"
"I know that he wouldn't betray me, that he can defeat any Death Eater that comes for him, maybe even You Know Who himself."
"But how do you know that, James?! How can you possibly know that?" Peter asked, shouting now, loud enough that his words echoed throughout the living room.
"When he looks at Ellie, at Lily, at me… It's his eyes, Wormtail, that's how I know."
And Peter just stared, wide eyed, disbelieving shock written on his features, the look of a man who had just been stabbed in the back and was feeling the life drain from him.
"You're a fool, Prongs."
(All great Gryffindors were also great fools.)
"You know, James, I always thought the manor was a bit too big anyway." Lily said as they inspected Godric's Hollow, unpacking this and that, and leaving Ellie to play with a sparkling and dancing magical toy in the corner.
"Right, well, I'm sure we'll get used to it in no time." James said, causing Lily to smile at him in her knowing way, and to smile at the four grown men behind him.
James, for his own part, was doing his best to ignore his best friends and unpack. It wasn't going very well.
First, there was Remus, who was in some ways the easiest. He, after all, didn't know anything. He still thought Sirius was the secret keeper and that all was right with the world. The only hard part with Remus was James having to look at him and think that he had betrayed Remus' trust and that this dark secret would hang unspoken over their friendship forever. Even now, only a few days after it had happened, James could barely look at Mooney without feeling the stabs of guilt in his stomach.
Then there was Sirius, who kept glaring at James every second Mooney looked away, and then who would turn to glare at Harry whenever Mooney looked back. He'd hoped Sirius would understand but he never did, he'd never trusted Harry, and it seemed like he never would. So while he understood why they had to switch secret keepers he hadn't understood why it had to be Harry, why it couldn't be Peter.
Which brought James to Peter. He had thought Peter might be relieved, because he wouldn't have the burden of this secret anymore, but no Peter wasn't relieved… He wasn't relieved at all. James didn't know what he was, angry, betrayed, afraid, some mix of all of them and something else. Whatever it was Peter hung about like a wraith, his eyes darting this way and that, always looking at little Ellie and then at Harry and something about the way he looked at James' daughter made James shiver.
It was the look of a predator weighing the odds.
But it was Peter, Peter who had stood by him through everything, who had stayed in a war when he had every reason to run away.
(How many friends could he suspect of betrayal before he had none left at all?)
And then there was the last man in the room, the one who was now walking towards little Ellie, picking her up when she reached for him and smiling down at her like the beloved uncle that he'd come to be and cooing at her in some mysterious unknown language. The one who could ignore the tension as if it wasn't there at all, as if it was just him, Ellie, James, and Lily alone in this house.
James didn't regret it, even now with everyone silently staring at each other, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was the right decision, the only decision, and he hoped they would come to see it in time. Remus who couldn't know anything, Sirius, and even Peter.
But he did wish they could all just get along.
"So, Prongs, where do you want all this stuff?" Sirius asked, looking through a box, "Doesn't look like there's much in it."
No, there wasn't because they needed to leave fast and Godric's Hollow was a small place, with room really for only the sentimental and essential.
"Leave the Potter heirlooms where they are, as for the rest, um… Ellie's stuff goes upstairs in the nursery, Lily's stuff she can deal with, and my stuff… The quidditch things down here and everything else in the master bedroom."
"Hey, Doppelprongs, think you want to put down Prongslet and help us out here?" Sirius called over to Harry. Harry's eyebrows raised in response and Ellie turned to look at them, still gripping one of Harry's fingers, blinking over with large green eyes like a little owl.
"Prongs?" She asked, her baby's lisp turning the r into an adorable w.
"I'm afraid we're all Prongs here." Harry said in response before looking again at Sirius and flatly responding, "Sirius, I realize you're young but your lack of child rearing abilities astounds me."
With that Harry took Ellie into the kitchen where Lily probably was, unpacking all the cooking utensils and silverware.
"I'll show you who lacks child rearing abilities, asshole!" Sirius yelled at his back.
"Merlin, Sirius, don't swear in front of my little girl!"
"Oh, it's not like she'll remember it anyway. She's not even two yet." Sirius said with a sniff, which showed he really didn't understand Ellie at all, because if James had learned anything it was that little Ellie was monstrously clever and picked up exactly what you didn't want her to pick up.
James just knew asshole would be her new favorite word, courtesy of Uncle Padfoot.
"You really want that guy around your kid, Prongs?" Sirius asked, and just like that all that tense atmosphere was back.
"Yes, Sirius, I really want that guy around my kid."
Behind him, he heard Peter drop something, a dull thud, and looked up to see Peter clutching at his left arm.
"You alright there, Wormtail?"
Dazed, panicked, Peter looked up, "Yes, what? Fine, I'm fine. I just… I'm fine."
He didn't look fine, he was pale again, sweating, twitching, clutching at his arm and clawing at the skin.
"Is your arm…" James asked, turning fully away from the boxes to face Peter.
"My arm is fine!" Peter said, taking a step back from each of them, his eyes darting in between all of them. Peter picked up the dropped object, a charmed vase that Lily had made for a NEWT project, one that made the flowers brighter and smell sweeter when inside.
"Do you really think you can trust Evans in your house?" Peter asked, abruptly, picking up Sirius' favorite topic of conversation, "He knows where you live now, he can get in and out any time he wants, don't you think that's dangerous?"
"Listen, I understand you all are concerned, but can we lay off Harry for two bloody minutes and just unpack?" James asked motioning to the boxes around them, "After that then you can tell me what a bloody idiot I am."
"Dammit, James, you're not taking this seriously!" Peter said and this time James cut him off.
"Oh, believe me, Peter, I am taking this very seriously." It was probably the most serious James had ever been in his life.
"I can't talk to you." Peter finally said, in the voice that said he was done with James and his shenanigans and would not participate in them anymore, "You're completely unreasonable. A pigheaded idiot. And it's going to get you, Lily, and Ellie killed in your sleep."
"Well, I'll be looking forward to it, Wormtail. In the meantime, please, for Merlin's sake, just help me unpack."
But Peter was evidently more done than that, because he too, disappeared into the kitchen leaving Sirius, Remus, and James behind.
And then there were three.
"Well, Mooney, is there something on your mind?" James asked, as the silence became too heavy.
"Ah, no, not really… You all sort of said it for me."
"Good, great, I'm glad we cleared all that up."
They spent the rest of the hour unpacking in more or less uneasy silence, interrupted only by Mooney's desperate attempts at small talk and James' and Sirius' terse and forced responses. James imagined muggle hell would probably feel similar to what he felt in that moment.
Finally they were done, Sirius was out the door before James could even say goodbye, and Remus was loitering awkwardly on the doorstep.
"Just go, Mooney, we can talk about it later. I'm too tired right now."
And then there was James, standing on his new doorstep staring out at his new neighborhood, wondering how long this temporary housing was supposed to last. How long were they going to have to hide like hermits?
With a sigh he closed the door and walked into the kitchen, or was about to, when he saw that it was just Harry and Peter. Lily and Ellie were gone, probably upstairs, putting Ellie to bed for her daily nap.
Harry was talking, silently, to Peter and from the look on his face what he was saying was terrifying. Because that was the look he'd had when he'd killed Bellatrix, and Peter, well, Peter looked as if he was on the verge of being terrified to death.
Quietly James tried to disarm the silencing spell, and as he did so only caught stray words coming in and out as if he was dialing into a muggle radio, "Last chance… India… you… no idea… particular skills… I will find you."
And then the spell broke and Harry and Peter both looked up to see James walking in.
"So, chatting away?" James asked, taking in Peter's panicked look, the way he still clutched at his arm, and Harry's eyes like flint staring back.
"What were you talking about?" James asked.
Peter's eyes darted to Harry's but Harry only smiled, that slow crawling smile that had nothing happy in it, and said, "The wonders of friendship."
"Really, I thought I heard something about India?" And last chances, there had been nothing in there about friendship at all.
"I suggested Peter visit, as he's never been before." Harry said, the smile not leaving, his eyes boring into Peter's with enough intensity that James wouldn't be surprised if Peter caught fire beneath them.
"Now's not really the time though, with the war going on. I'm needed here." Peter responded stiffly, before standing, and nodding at James, "I think I'm going to head off home now, Prongs. I'll stop by sometime later."
"…Bye, Wormtail." James said, offering Peter a slight wave, before glaring down at Harry.
"You know, they already don't like you, threatening them will only make it worse."
Harry didn't respond, just kept staring after Peter, and then asked, "If I told you not to trust that man would you believe me?"
"Who? Peter, you're joking right? We've been friends forever, since Hogwarts."
"I thought so." Harry said, distantly, and almost sadly, as if he had known the answer before he even asked.
James didn't say, that when they asked him not to trust Harry, that he hadn't listened to them then either. He just stood there and watched as Harry stood, smiled at him politely, and said, "I think it's time I headed home too, James. Best of luck."
"Luck, it'd be nice to have some, wouldn't it?"
"Yes, it would."
In Anna Karenina fate is the train on the tracks, barreling forward towards the station, the sound of its engine audible long before it makes an appearance.
James Potter had never read and would never read Anna Karenina but he heard the distant sound of the engine.
He still failed to recognize it.
October 31, 1981.
A timeline and a few key facts that necessitate the dramatic and inevitable betrayal.
Peter Pettigrew, earlier that morning, first met with Sirius Black and presented condemning evidence against Harry Evans. Evidence that was not true but that Sirius Black was more than willing to believe in given his own frustrations and suspicions.
Harry Evans was foreign, Harry Evans was not a light wizard, Harry Evans did not trust or like Albus Dumbledore, Harry Evans had appeared out of nowhere, Harry Evans was an unbelievably powerful wizard, Harry Evans had been chosen as the Secret Keeper when he had only been friends with James for a few short war filled years.
Sirius Black barely needed evidence.
Peter then prompted Sirius to confront Evans that night, while Evans was unaware and James in hiding, and kill him before he had the chance to betray James and Lily. The only true secret keeper was a dead one, after all.
Sirius followed this advice and presented enough of a force, and was personal enough, that Harry Evans could not quite bring himself to fight him seriously. He had already been responsible for this man's death in another lifetime, after all.
(This was a sin he would have to spend the next eternity repenting.)
That night Peter Pettigrew paid a visit to his old friend James Potter.
Peter stood silently on his doorstep, his eyes empty, his wand shaking in his right hand. James ushered him in, Peter said nothing, just kept clutching his wand and staring ahead into the house. He shuffled like a ghost over into the living room, sitting down mechanically when James pushed him onto the sofa.
"Peter, what's happened?" Which of them was dead, was it Sirius, was it Mooney, was it Harry for that matter?
"James…" Peter started, quietly and without any emotion in it, "I'm sorry, James."
"Peter, something's happened, what's happened?!" James gripped Peter's shoulders, desperately, his own mind spinning as he tried to push down the horrible images flashing through his head.
"You always were my best friend, James. You, not Padfoot or Mooney, but you James." Peter just said, shaking his head back and forth, his knuckles white against the dark wood of his wand.
"Calming, calming draught." James said, Peter didn't look like he was in any condition to talk, "It's okay, Wormtail, whatever's happened… You're here, at least. I'll get you a calming draught and then you can tell me…"
"No, James, you have to believe me! Please!" A sob choked his last word and with his wandless hand he pulled James forward, "Please, James, tell me that you know I was your friend."
"Peter, of course I know you're my friend. Of course, Peter, you know that. Nothing will ever change that." James squeezed Peter's shoulders, as if to keep him from slipping, to keep him as grounded as James needed to be, "Nothing."
Peter's face crumpled and through sobs his next words were almost unintelligible, "I'm so sorry."
James forced a smile onto his face, one that twitched and jerked, desperate to turn into a howl of despair because someone must have died, someone must be gone for Peter to look like that.
"It's okay, Peter, it's okay."
He stood and for a moment Peter's hand still gripped him but then Peter forced himself to release James' robes. Peter watched with those watery agonized eyes as James turned towards Lily's makeshift potions' workshop, where they could safely keep potions away from little Ellie's curious fingers.
He didn't see Peter raise his wand to his back, didn't even hesitate, and only stopped still when he heard the beginning of those words he'd heard too often before.
His heart stopping even before the spell reached its end.
The light, death, it was like Harry's eyes, not Lily's.
(Et tu, Peter?)
Lily Potter née Evans would join her husband within half an hour of his death. Like James, she was caught by surprise, and hadn't even realized her husband was dead before she too saw the green light at the end of the tunnel.
There was no tearful plea at Ellie Potter's crib, no "Please, not my daughter, anything but my daughter, please!"
Only two dead, dreadfully young, corpses staring into the great abyss, oblivious to their daughter's wailing from her room and Peter Pettigrew standing over her with a wand pointed at her forehead.
("It's… It's okay, Ellie… You'll see them again soon. I promise… I promise.")
They would find the burned unrecognizable corpse of what they would assume was a Death Eater and Eleanor Lily Potter, screaming. They would come to the incorrect conclusion that Sirius, the presumed Secret Keeper, had betrayed James and Lily. Sirius would come to the incorrect conclusion that Harry Evans had betrayed James and Lily and promptly disappear into the gutter vowing revenge. Eleanor Lily Potter would be placed on the doorstep of her muggle relatives where the grief stricken Harry Evans, Death the Destroyer of Worlds, would find her.
This is the sound that fate makes.
The early November wind rattled the barren trees, the streetlights gave off a distinct audible hum, and outside Number 4 Privet Drive the infant girl swaddled in blue blankets squirmed and mewled.
Until the man in black picked her up, "Oh, Ellie."
On the doorstep of this white suburban home, dressed in black robes from tens of thousands of years in the future, holding a colorful bundle to his chest he looked more alien and terrible than perhaps he ever had before.
"Did you know, Ellie, that I have seen life end? I've seen mankind flicker and then fade into darkness. And the universe felt so cold and empty then that I couldn't stand it. I feel…"
He didn't finish, simply gripped her tighter, closer to him.
He looked at the door with narrowed eyes and then without any hesitation he apparated away with Ellie Potter in his arms; flickering out of Little Whinging as if he had never been there in the first place.
Author's Note: Thus ends part one. In the next part expect guilt, atonement, Lord of the Rings, Sirius' revenge, Regelus, our favorite heroine Lily, and more! Written for the 500th review of "Minato Namikaze and the Destroyer of Worlds" by ashanrox who asked for a fic where MOD!Harry travels back to the Marauder's era, Lily's parents die, and Harry ends up adopting Lily shortly afterwards.
So yes, expect part two soonish. Unless people get upset that my regular stories aren't updating, then expect part two laterish.
Thanks for reading, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter