A/N: This is the last chapter. Aww. It's sad to be ending, but I'm glad.
Chapter Thirty Five - When Dawn Breaks the Night
Lily's pregnancy was confirmed the next week, and suddenly her life took a very sharp turn. Her field assignments were drastically reduced despite the ever-growing need for aurors and hit witches. Lily Evans-Potter became a paper pusher. Sirius's unplanned visits to her desk grew with her abdomen, and she suspected it was at James's request.
James was the image male worrywart during her pregnancy. Despite being a fully-trained Healer who obviously knew trillions of women before her had successfully bore children, he was a frantic, nervous wreck. Take out was a thing in the distant past, because now, they ate according to a nutritional chart. Since neither of them cooked, they hired one of their neighbors to cook a week's worth of meals at a time. Both of them could handle a simple warming spell.
In Lily's opinion, James was being obsessive about this baby. He may not have been thrilled with the impending arrival of Little Potter, as Peter began calling the growing lump on Lily's midsection, but by Merlin, Lily was going to come through this healthier than she had been in her whole life. He even drew up an exercise regimentation. The boys sniggered behind their hands every time they walked by the wall plastered with schedules, charts, and rules of things she could and couldn't do, but she followed them, albeit reluctantly and with much grumbling.
James's parents were excited, shocked, and wary about grandchildren. Wary, mainly because they had no idea how James would react. Sirius, Remus, and Peter were all also excited, shocked and wary. A kid to corrupt would be cool, of course, but what exactly would it do to their friendship and social life? Millie was just shocked and wary, not asking questions, and looking close to passing out. Lily couldn't bring herself to tell either Amos or Petunia.
James and Lily spent the first month of her pregnancy in a state of disbelief and thinly veiled horror. Neither of them knew quite what to do or how to react, and as a result, were scared out of their minds. Lily was scared she was going to die, and James was scared Lily would either die or ignore him once she had the baby. He wasn't sure which would be worse.
He wasn't a hard person to swing to the other side, though. Once Lily finally came to terms with Little Potter, she decided she was looking forward to the baby. True, given her druthers, she would have waited a few years, but anything could happen in a few years. They may not have a few years. James could get hit by the Knight Bus or something. Better now than later in things like this, she though, and began reading parenting books. When James saw that Lily was actually happy about the baby, he rapidly fell in tune with her.
At least outwardly.
Everybody saw the two of them as an eager young couple anticipating the birth of their first child with all the excitement such an even deserved. They began looking for a larger house and planning what they would do once he or she was born. James would smile sheepishly, duck his head, or blush when somebody ribbed him about his upcoming fatherhood, all for the benefit of Lily.
The only person who saw through it.
Really, on the inside, he was screaming, tearing his hair out, and crying all at the same time because he didn't know what to do or what would happen. He was happy with things the way they were, and he was frightened a baby would change things. How could another person who would be living with them for the next eleven years not change things? For the first time in his life, he had thought things were going the way they were supposed to, until this happened. Who was he trying to fool? He would be a pitiful father. He was barely a fit human.
Lily did her best to assure him everything would be fine. They would both just have to learn as they went. It didn't work, and as the months went by, all that happened was that they both worked themselves into a panicked, frenzied mess.
Their second Christmas together, James wrote the first of his Christmas letters to his wife. Just like all the following letters, he tucked this first one in the bottom of his desk, saving them for something he didn't know.
You're mine, and I'm so glad of it. We've had an amazing year, and I know it's only the beginning of an amazing life. I know in my heart that without you, I couldn't be me. I'm happier than I have ever been, and I love you more than I thought I could ever love another person.
Since we were married, you have shown me all the beautiful things in the world. You've shown me how life is supposed to be. When I am with you, I feel like I can be a good person. I can forget the pain of the past and feel only the joy of the present and the expectation of the future. I don't think I could continue without you. You have become everything to me. I only have eyes to see you as you smile and move and I only have ears to hear your beautiful voice. I only have hands to touch you and make sure you're truly with me.
We're going to have a baby in a few months. I'm terribly excited and terribly scared. I know you want a baby with all of your heart, and I want whatever makes you happy, but I'm scared it will change things between us. It will be hard for me to be second. I'm sure I love it, though, because it's part of you.
Most importantly, we'll be there to be its parents and make sure he or she is a good person. I don't think you could raise a child any differently. You're that wonderful.
With all that I am,
By the time she was closing her second trimester in February, they both could feel their marriage unraveling. Before, they could both be found watching the clock, waiting to go home and do something with each other and their friends. Now, it with anxiety and trepidation, they faced each other every evening and every morning. It was hard to pinpoint the day when their comfortable silence became heavy and awkward, or when their jokes started falling stale.
It just happened.
Despite the awkwardness and tension, they loved each other, and neither of them would breathe a word or think a thought otherwise. James knew without a doubt that he would be happier with Lily, even with a baby, than without. He doubted he would be able to live without her by now. Lily never questioned her choice to marry him.
That made Lily's recall to field duty even more bittersweet than usual. James was at first outraged that she was asked to physically put herself, and then reluctantly acceptant. It was the only way he could stay sane while she was gone. The first time his friends sat at home with him while he paced, cursed, hexed them, and generally just moped.
After that, they let him take care of himself.
He slowly adapted to the evenings or very early mornings she was gone because he knew she thrived on it. He had always promised himself he would do whatever it took to make her happy, and this was apparently what made her happy, so he dealt with it.
There was something that separated James from Lily at a very base level of their character. Lily was optimistic and happy and she expected the best out of everything and everyone. James was a pessimist and merely waited for the next disaster to occur.
In his pessimist's mind, he knew his life couldn't possibly end happily ever after. It was only a matter of time until something happened, so each evening it was a relief to fall asleep next to her and a surprise to wake up in the same place.
The pessimist's mind is very rarely let down forever.
One April evening, James came home to find Lily buttoning up the top of her night camouflage uniform.
"I'm glad you got here. I was beginning to think you wouldn't make it before I had to leave," Lily said as she approached him.
James felt like crying. She was too young, too beautiful, too clever, and too kind to be doing this. "What fool's errand are they sending you on tonight?"
"There's no telling knowing the Ministry. All I know right now is that it will only succeed if we finish before daybreak, so I'll be home in plenty of time for our trip to the diner." She watched him as she pulled her hair back and fastened it with an elastic band.
He watched her, memorizing every movement. "Don't go."
She grinned briefly, "James, I have to; it's my job. This is my last one, though."
"You said that last time."
"I mean it tonight. I'm beginning to get too pregnant for this. I love it, though."
"Just be careful. Will Sirius be on this one with you?"
"Yes. It's great when he goes; he's hilarious. He can make us all see the humor in our situation when we're soaked and hungry dodging curses. Sometimes it's easy to tell you two have been friends for ages, because he says something that sounds exactly what you would say. I've got to go. I'll be back by dawn. I love you."
Lily momentarily threw herself in his arms, breathing in his vanilla-y scent.
"Love you too."
With a jaunty wave, she disapparated, leaving James standing alone in the bedroom.
A feeling of unease haunted him the rest of the evening. He tried to act normally, even going out for a drink with Peter, but the anxiety was a dogged companion that could not be shaken. He tried to blame the emotion on the fact that she hadn't been on a mission in nearly a month, but neither he nor Peter bought it. Tonight was different somehow
Before crawling into bed late that night, he stared sightlessly into the dark in hopes of gaining some sort of insight. With a tightness in his chest and a pit in his stomach, he set the alarm for early the next morning. He wanted to be awake when she came home.
The alarm went of at five, and James went about his morning normally. He showered and dressed, ate some cereal, and sat down to read The Daily Prophet. The only difference was that he did this in the living room opposite a window facing east, instead of in the kitchen with Lily. He read through the daily disasters, the social announcements, and the shop ads. He read the paper front to back, word for word, and then reread some of the more interesting articles. Then, he meticulously refolded the paper and sat it aside, gripped the arms of the chair, and waited for the sunrise.
It was a slow process, a sunrise was. The dark, pitch black of night was slowly pushed away. The first star was extinguished, followed by the rest of its friends. At a maddeningly slow pace, the sun peeped over the horizon. Finally, it made its full appearance, like a battle fought long and hard. The dawn had finally broken the night.
James felt his stomach sink and his throat close. Tears began burning at his eyes. Before he entirely fell apart, he tried talking some sense into himself. The mission couldn't succeed past dawn, but there might have been a problem and they all had to go into to fill out reports. One of her friends may have been hurt, or Lily could even have some sort of injury, and lines were always long.
Determined to wait it out, James used the fireplace to let the hospital know he wouldn't be there today. That announcement was met with protests because of a large amount of Aurors needing treatment, but sick days were his luxury to take when necessary. He resigned himself to the eastward facing chair and watched the sun climb higher in the sky, inching its way toward its zenith.
At about ten, Sirius apparated into the room with apparent enthusiasm. "Hey! How did Lily like trip we had last night? I don't know how she could sleep afterward; I am wired. Bloody awesome, I say."
"Have you seen Lily, Sirius?" James asked anxiously, rising from the chair.
"What do you mean?"
"She hasn't come home. She said she'd be back before dawn."
"Listen, don't panic yet. I saw her when the two flanks converge along about midnight, and she was fine then. I'm going to go back to the office and check and see what her status is. She's probably being healed in a hospital or detained for questioning somewhere. Don't move; I'll be right back." Sirius left just as quickly as he came, only he left James an even bigger wreck.
It was three fourths of an hour before he came back, and Sirius looked harried and worried. "That place is a mess up there. I didn't realize this because I was sent to a coordinating location, but somebody seriously fucked up this morning. After the fighting was over, all of our guys left, leaving the injured behind. The medics and back ups took too long to get there, and Voldemort's people came back immediately to finished off the wounded or stunned. There's record of only a few people because everybody is running around up there. They're trying to get everybody sorted and located, but it could take awhile."
"So what do I do?"
"Go check your hospital. She might be there, and God help her if she is. I'm going out to the field and help out there. Take your mirror. I'll tell you if I find anything. We're going to get her, don't worry."
Both of them left quickly to their respective tasks, and neither wasted any time. James went directly to the triage area at St. Mungo's. He began going through the people waiting to be treated, and finding no success, he sat down and began reading the files.
"First you call in sick and now you're here reading files? Stop fucking around, Potter," somebody griped as they saw him.
James wasn't one to be deterred today. He began following his colleague. "Have you seen Lily? You know her, red hair, green eyes."
"Nope. Look, I don't have time for this, but I'll give everyone the word to be on the lookout for her."
"Hell, I forgot. She's a Muggleborn, isn't she? I remember some people were surprised you married her. It'll be better if we don't know who she is. We should be settled down in about three hours. Come back then and go through the list of unnamed. If she has her ID on her though, she'll probably be identified." The healer was flipping through stacks of files as he talked and walked. "Does she hyphenate her name?"
"Make her stop. Potter's a pureblood name. Anyway, check back later; we'll know more then. It's pointless to look for anybody now." He rushed off down the corridor littered with the wounded, leaving James
Sirius, meanwhile, went back to the site of the previous night's maneuvers. After a few moments, he found his own commander. "Sir, I'm looking for somebody. Lily Potter. Or Evans, have you heard anything of her?"
"Well, hell, yes I have." The older Auror irritably flipped through a list. "Missing in Action, presumed captured, no rescue planned. We're expecting quite a hooha over the way we left this morning."
"How many other people are presumed captured with no planned rescue?"
"About half a dozen. We had sixty people killed out here early this morning. We can't lose any more on this mission. It was supposed to be simple."
"You're going to leave that woman alone with Voldemort and his Death Eaters?" Sirius asked incredulously. "She is someone's wife, someone's sister. She is pregnant!"
"She knew the risks. We don't know where she is and we can't waste any more manpower or time to find her. We have to spend all we've got fighting this guy; we don't have time to rescue a stray female."
Sirius was taken aback. It was like Lily was a kitten stuck up in a tree.
"That's why we don't want women in the program."
"I was under the impression we need every wand we can get. She worked as hard as any man, and you're not going to try to save her?"
"Exactly. Maybe it'll scare some of the other skirts out of here."
"You bastard!" Sirius growled, pushing his superior. "What the fuck are you thinking? She is a person!"
"So is the man I would have to send in there to save her. I suggest you back off before you lose your job. Besides the fact that she was only a Hit-Witch, she was a Muggle-born. I would be knee deep in shit by noon if I sent a single Pureblood after her."
"No, you won't. You'll go to the office and complete some paperwork, Black. Now."
Sirius sneered, "Today's my day off. I'll go help her husband find her." He walked briskly around the area until he found Frank Longbottom, another Auror. "Hey, Frank. What would you do if they let Alice go on a mission, she was captured, and then told them they wouldn't help you find her because she was a woman?"
"Bloody well find her myself. Why, who'd you lose?" Frank rose from his examination of a corpse.
"Lily Potter was taken last night. She's my best-friend's wife. I've got to find her."
"I'll let you know, Black, if I hear anything about her. We've gone though nearly all the bodies by now. You sure she was captured?"
"That's what the list says."
"Screw the list. Most of these Aurors are under-paid, burned out half-wits who don't give a tinker's damn about our fight. It's a useless program right now. If I learn anything about her, I'll let you know right away, but I don't have time to help right now. I am swamped. If you figure out where she's at, though, tell me. That could be some useful information."
Sirius felt defeated, "There's no way to find her, is there?"
"I've learned one thing from Alice: Women are trickier, craftier, tougher than we give them credit for. Alice told me she saw Lily training a few times, and she also told me our girl here is good at her job. Give it a little time. Give her a chance to rescue herself."
When Sirius and James met up in the living room, both felt dejected and lost. "What next?" Sirius asked.
"I was hoping you could tell me."
"We need somebody to help us. We need connections and money. You know what that means, right?"
"Get a job?"
"Talk to Dumbledore and your parents."
"I'm too old to run to either of them," James sighed, leaning his face in his hands.
"If you want Lily back, do it immediately. Time is of the essence. Every minute she's not here, she's with the Death Eaters." James looked so horrified that Sirius immediately regretted his words. "We'll get her though. Come on, let's move."
James's parents immediately threw themselves into the Lily effort. It hadn't taken long for the red-head to cement her way into the life of all the Potters, and they were very resentful of her being taken. Likewise, Dumbledore was more than willing to help, but he didn't seem as confident as everyone else. He was the only one to point out the logical assertion that if she was with Voldemort, it would be nearly impossible to find her, because, after all, nobody had been able to ambush him in his lair yet, had they? They had unexpected help from a member of the Department of Mysteries. Harold Croaker, an old friend of James's and a big fan of Lily's, started in on the search after James Senior waved a bag of galleons under the official's nose.
James didn't go to work for the first week she was missing; instead, he spent nearly all of his time corresponding with others in an attempt to locate Lily. When Sirius or Remus or Peter insisted he take a break, he merely paced restlessly around his house. With an almost robotic determination, he muddled through each day trying to figure out where Lily was.
His time was measured in days. He dreaded each morning because it was the most painful part. Waking up each morning became agonizing because he would suddenly be drenched in his memories of Lily and the suffocating fear he would never find her again. He felt like part of him was lost. Then, he would get out of the bed, shower, and begin trying to find Lily again.
James's friends rapidly became frightened for him because of his new schedule. He rarely ate, slept even less, had no hobby, and basically dedicated his life to Lily. That was scary because Lily was no longer there. When his leave ran out at St. Mungo's, he quit, and decided he would begin at another hospital when Lily came back. He had no expenses, so he didn't need an income. Sirius was similarly running himself ragged in order to find her, so Remus decided to step in by randomly swinging in on James.
When August rolled in without even a clue, Remus and Peter tried to persuade James to give up. There was very little chance she could be found alive after that long. Sirius and James had vehemently struck that idea down. They both continued looking.
In November, James began decorating for Christmas as if nothing were amiss. He started writing her letters to read when she got back. Everybody questioned his sanity at that point.
He wrote his second Christmas letter, again secreted away:
To my darling wife, wherever you are,
I can't find you. I spend all of my days searching for you and still I haven't found you. I cry in desolation every night and I feel my hope crack a little more every day. I pray to your God everyday to bring you back to me. I need you so much.
I put up the Christmas decorations like you always did. It hurt me so much to do it, but I did. Every ornament and every piece of garland cut me a little more, but our house is waiting for you. If only you would be there when I walk into the living room, I would give anything.
Sometimes I think I see you. One time I thought you were in the big chair in the living room reading a book, but it wasn't you. When I see red hair anyplace, I stop breathing for a second and I feel a leap of excitement until I see it's not you.
I need you, I need you, I need you. Please come home.
Remus and Peter want me to stop looking, but Sirius is still there. He believes with me. Maybe he just knows how badly I need to believe. I think I would shatter if I lost all hope you were returning. Don't let me shatter, Lily. I love you. I wish I had told you that more. I hope you know how deeply I love you, and I hope it gives you the strength to come home.
Please return to me. I love you desperately,
After the holidays, Sirius joined the crowd of people urging James to move past Lily. Part of James knew that he did have to move on, but mostly, he just wanted to mourn his lost chance at a wonderful life and remember what he once had.
The next Christmas, James wrote again. This time, the letter wasn't of love, instead it was filled with bitterness and hate.
Where are you Lily? How could you leave me like this?
I love you and I need you. Why didn't you stay home that night? Why did you say you'd take that mission? Anybody else could have gone. WHY?
Nobody believes you're coming back, including me. I wish you would, though. How I wish. Too bad it will not come true.
Everyone thinks your dead, but I don't. I have had to bear knowing you won't return, but I cannot live a life without you in this world. I know you're somewhere and you can't come back to me. Where are you, Lily? I would crawl across nails and walk through fire fight dragons without my wand to get to you.
Why do you believe in God? How could you? We're just a bunch of ignorant humans on earth left to muddle through this mess on our own. Everyone's just screwing it up, too.
You may not be able to tell, but the world is a filthy, terrible place. Nobody is kind. Nobody cares for anyone else. One group hates another. People are killing each other and betraying each other. Our world is not a good one. If there is a God, he would not have taken you from me. He wouldn't take the only thing good left in this world. He couldn't remove the only person who knows how to love with no exceptions and care with every part of them.
I live in an empty home and I have an empty heart. When you left, the life fled both.
I will always love you,
When Christmas came around again, it was the darkest point in James's life. He had come undone. He no longer saw beauty or happiness or glory or cleverness. He only saw the pain and hate and emptiness left in his world. The magical evening of his wedding anniversary, he sent the guys home and got thoroughly foxed on his own. He continued his tradition of letters.
I know you're out there. I know I love you. I know you love me. I don't know why this is happening. I can't live without you. It's too hard. It's too scary here all alone. If you can't come back to me, let me come to you.
I can't stand life without you. I hate being me.
I got married. Her name is Penelope, and I shouldn't have done it. I was thinking about you one day. I was looking at the cafe you and I liked to eat at inMuggle London, and I started crying. I wasn't paying attention, and I stepped out in front of a car.
Penelope was there and she apparated me to St. Mungo's and she took care of me. I told her about you and she kept bringing me food and tea. When I left the hospital she kept checking on me at our house. I still don't know how it happened, but we got married a few months ago.
So here I am. We would be married four years yesterday. Penny and I don't have a Christmas tree. We're not even celebrating. Right before I fall asleep and a second after I wake up it's easy to pretend it's you there instead of her, and then reality comes crashing in like all of Hogwarts falling on me. She doesn't smile or laugh like you. She doesn't put her hand on my face and treat me like I'm perfect. I don't even know if she loves me. I don't love her. I told you I would never get married without being in love, and I meant it until you. You made me feel emotions I didn't know exist, and you loved me with a depth and honesty I will never know again. I thought even a drop of that would make me feel better, and I suppose it's better than being alone with just my memories of you. Barely. I sold the home you and I shared together, but I kept all of your things.
One time I thought I wanted children with Penny, but now I am so glad she said no. She'll keep saying no. I couldn't bear to have a son or daughter running about without any of you in them. I wish I had our baby. At least then I could see green eyes look at me or see a flash of red hair running through the house. I would always wonder what our child would have looked like.
It's not fair that I finally had something good, and then it was ripped from me. Sometimes I think it would have been better if I had never met you, and then I wouldn't know how life could be. Then I realize I wouldn't trade my memories of you for anything. At night I fall asleep with you in my mind.
I used to be angry for you for leaving, but I know you didn't do it on purpose. You loved me as much as I loved you. At least I had some time with you. I'll always carry my memories of you with me, and I'll cherish and protect them with my last breath.
I can't let you go.
I hope wherever you are, you are warm and safe. I pray you aren't hurting, and I hope you are at least a little happy. Don't lose yourself.
Always remember I love you, James.
Five months before the letter was written, the darkest day of James's life was lived. On an unusually bright Saturday morning, he banished the last box of his belongings to the new flat and murmured nox to extinguish the lights in the house. The new owners of the little house in Grantham would be moving in the next day to create memories of their own.
James had felt a tightness of his chest as he looked around the house one last time, breathed deeply to try to catch Lily's lingering scent.
"James, you ready?" The lovely blonde woman popped her head around the doorway.
"Yeah, Penelope, let's go."
James followed her out the door, and although he stepped into the burning sunlight, he had never felt so cold. He was turning his back on the only light he had ever known, and plunging himself straight into the deepest darkest he could imagine. His new world would be without Lily.
White roads I walk with vacant mind,
White cloud-shapes round me drifting slow,
White lilies waving in the wind—
And darkness everywhere I go.