Eternity in an Hour
James looked away from Sirius, his jaw clenched in what might have been anger. "I think we should tell Dumbledore," he said.
Lily put her hand on his hating, hating the expression on his face. "Sirius is right," she said, "If we told Dumbledore…other people would have to be told. The reason the Order works is that vital information is always shared, even if only with a few people. There's no way a plan like this could be kept quite – and it has to be kept quiet James, you know that."
He scowled at her. "So you're agreeing to this, are you?" Lily lowered her eyes, hating that she had no good choice to offer him. James tuned back to Sirius, his eyes blazing. "You could die. Do you realize that? You could die and…"
Sirius nodded. "If that's what it takes," he said.
James swore. "For what? To 'prove' that Remus is the spy, is that it? You'd throw your life a\way for something as small as that?"
"Not small," Sirius said, glowering at James. "It's your life, and Harry's life, and Lily's life, and if you think that's a small thing…"
James stood up sharply, looking as if he wanted to hit Sirius, but he only went outside. A moment later Lily heard him taking off on his broom. She sighed and said, "Well, that went well."
Sirius ground his fist into the kitchen table. "Why can't he see…it's the best option, Lily, he knows that."
"Yes," she said, "He does. And he'll do it. There's no other choice. But you can't expect him to be all right with it – to be happy about it."
"Why," Sirius said petulantly, "when it's bleeding obvious that- "
Lily interrupted him. "Because it's you. Because if you're right, then there's a fairly good chance that you'll die Sirius, and die horribly. And if you think either of us…if you think we could just accept that and move on, well…then you need your head examined."
She stood up and walked to the window, staring fixedly at the trees outside. It was so much easier when she could be angry.
A moment later she heard the clatter of Sirius' chair moving, and then he put a hand on her shoulder. Still not looking at him, she said, "I hate…losing people like this. All the time."
Turning her head, Lily just about managed to smile at him. Sirius chucked her under the chin and said with a smile, "It's the least I can do for Harry."
Tears pricked Lily's eyes and, hating the begging tone of her voice, she said, "Will you at least…try to be careful?"
Sirius said nothing, and indeed he didn't have to – they both knew he wouldn't. Wiping her eyes, Lily laughed and said, "You could lie to me at least."
Giving in to the impulse, she hugged him, stretching up to wrap her arms around his neck. "I love you," she said, "So please…don't do anything…unnecessary."
Sirius said nothing, but he hugged her back, and they stood together for several minutes, clinging to each other for comfort. Lily bit her lip – scant months ago she had celebrated her twenty-first birthday and yet here she was, choosing between her own death and the death of a friend. This war made them all ugly.
They separated eventually, and Lily kissed Sirius' cheek, trying to tell him what, surely, he already knew. Sighing, she wiped her face. "Do I look like I've been crying?"
Sirius shook his head. "You look fine."
"Right," she said. "Good. I'll talk to James. Will you and Peter come tonight – no point in putting it off any longer."
He nodded, and Lily continued, "And…if we don't get to say, could you tell Peter how grateful we are? It's a huge risk and…"
"I know, Lily," Sirius said. "He understands. You know what Peter's like…he'd do it in a heartbeat. Besides," he added dryly, "About time he did something useful."
Lily laughed despite herself, and Sirius grinned, glad to have got a smile out of her. He left a few minutes later, and, bracing herself for the storm ahead, Lily went to look for James. He wasn't exactly hard to find – Godric's Hollow was a tiny village, and they were the only wizards, so it was safe to assume that the man hovering at the top of the nearest tree was James. Surprisingly, she didn't have to beg and plead with him to come down – he landed beside her in an instant, his hair dishevelled and his fingers blue with cold. He looked disgruntled, and said, "Are you here to convince me?"
Lily nodded. "Yes." She added a moment later, "Sirius and Peter are coming this evening, so…"
He shoved a hand through his hair, reducing it to complete chaos. "What if we're wrong, Lily – if Remus is innocent?"
"If we're wrong – the nobody gets hurt," she said, trying to believe her own words.
James shook his head. "He's my best friend."
Lily put a hand on his cheek, and said fervently, "I understand."
James kissed her palm, and said, his expression pensive, "Well…you would, wouldn't you."
He hugged her. Lily enjoyed his arms for one simple, beautiful moment – feeling the warmth of him, and the October wind – and then said, "We should go back inside – Harry'll be up from his nap soon."
James put an arm around her shoulders as they walked back to the house. "Was Sirius angry?"
Lily shook her head. "He'll forgive you – besides, I can handle him."
James laughed, and placed a gentle kiss on her temple. Looking at her seriously, he said, "Are you sure you can do the Charm? I know you're brilliant, but…I've heard of very nasty things happening when it goes wrong."
Lily faced him and said, "I know how it looks-"
"Terrifying," James interjected.
"Fine…terrifying, but the main thing is…not to be intimidated by it. I read the book Dumbledore gave me three times, and…as long I concentrate, don't get distracted, I'll be fine."
"You're sure?" James said. "If anything happened to you…"
"I'm positive," Lily said, looking him dead in the eye. "I can do this James."
"Okay," James said, "Well I think it's time we introduced Harry to the Golden Snitch, don't you?"
Arguing mildly, as they tended to do when James suggested combining Quidditch and their son, they made their way back into the house, and played with Harry, watching him take careful, slow steps between them until Sirius and Peter came.
Lily performed the Fidelius Charm perfectly, and the next few days were spent in a kind of nervous tension, waiting to see if Remus had betrayed them. Apparently he had not, for Sirius was not attacked and indeed said that there had been no strange activity of any kind, and so Lily resigned herself to waiting. Having taken decisive action, the next move now lay with Voldemort.
Halloween morning was bright and crisp, and Lily and James took Harry out to play in the back garden. At first he seemed baffled by the autumn leaves, so brittle and brightly coloured, but he was soon methodically stamping on them, enjoying the noise they made when crushed. James conjured piles of leaves for him to play with, and at one point, scaring them both, Harry dived headlong into a pile that was only a foot deep.
Lily danced with him, swinging him from one hip to the other, and dipping him so that it seemed his head might touch the ground. By the time she was finished her arms were sore and Harry was giddy with laughter.
Later they made Jack O' Lanterns, the Muggle way – James swearing as he attempted to draw a face on the pumpkin. Knowing James would take some time, Lily let Harry play with the innards of the pumpkin. It was a messy business, but it kept him entertained, and she had to laugh when she saw that his hands had been dyed orange by the pulp and that the seeds had stuck to his hair and on his cheeks.
The last thing they did before putting him to bed was light the lantern, and Lily saw his eyes go wide as he tried to fathom where the light was coming from. He stretched one chubby hand out to touch it and, taking pity on him, Lily decided to leave one of the Jack O' Lanterns by his cot.
James carried him upstairs and tucked him in, demanding a "Kiss for Dad" on the way. Harry, who by now was very sleepy, went down happily, but not before Lily picked up and cuddled him for a moment or two. Admittedly he stuck his fingers in her mouth and tried to pull her hair, but Lily kissed him anyway, loving the feeling of his stubby arms around her neck.
Once he was down, and showing every sign of sleep, they went out into the hallway. Leaning against James, Lily said, "He's a beautiful boy, isn't he?"
He nodded, stroking her arm gently with one hand. "Just like his mother."
She shook her head, laughing. "You know perfectly well he looks more like you."
"Yeah, well…" James said, crinkling his face hilariously.
"I think Harry needs a sister," Lily said, craning her neck to see James' face. "A sister to boss him around and teach him what's what."
"A sister," James said thoughtfully. "A sister. Well…I think we can arrange that." Lily laughed, but she kissed him nonetheless, and convinced him to take her to bed.
It was almost an hour later when they went back downstairs to finish off the bottle of white wine James had bought and have dessert. They were making peaceful, idle chat when they heard the front door open with a crash.
James was on his feet in an instant, and he looked at Lily piercingly as they heard footsteps coming down the corridor. The only way upstairs – the only way to Harry – was through the kitchen. Lily scarcely had time to draw breath before James had hauled her to feet and was pushing her away from the kitchen door. His voice was panicked as he said, "Lily, take Harry and go! It's him!"
She screwed up her face to argue, and James interrupted her. "Go! Run! I'll hold him off-"
He kissed her quickly, fiercely – almost missing her lips – and then pushed her, hard, towards the stairs. Lily half saw him turn to face the kitchen door as it opened, and then she was stumbling up the stairs, bruising her knees as she fell, and tears streaming down her face while someone laughed. She was almost at the top of the staircase when she saw the flash of green light in the kitchen.
That was it.
James was dead. She'd seen it in his face. He'd known what she knew – that there was no way to win this fight, and so…
He was dead.
Lily gave a great sob, a sob that almost seemed to rip out her innards, even as she hurried on to Harry. She felt as though her heart had torn itself in half inside her body. James…James…James was dead – gone – dead, and…
They'd been betrayed. Somehow, she knew that they'd made a horrible mistake and Peter…Peter, for whatever reason – torture or threats against those he loved – had betrayed them. And James had paid for that mistake with his life.
Harry would never have a father again.
Indeed, as Lily realised by the time she reached the bedroom, there was a strong chance that Harry would never get to live at all. Voldemort was between them and the Floo, and though she knew the house better than him, there was still only one way down, and the spells she and James – James – had laid down meant that she couldn't Apparate.
For one single moment she looked at Harry in his cot, bent to kiss his forehead and then turned to face the door. She'd lost her parents, she'd lost Marlene and Dorcas, and now…she'd lost James…she couldn't lose Harry. Not now. Not ever.
Tears streamed down her face as she lifted her wand, waiting for the door to open. The last thing she'd expected was for Voldemort to disarm, rather than kill, her as he entered the room, but her wand flew out of her wand before the door had even opened an inch.
She was going to die.
Lily swallowed, fighting to maintain some composure at that thought as Voldemort came into the room, twirling James' wand between the fingers of his left hand. His face was a wreck; a ruin of what had once been a human being. As he extended his own wand to threaten her, for some reason Lily remembered something Dumbledore had once said: "love adheres to the material, to the body and the blood and the skin and the gut…we are marked by our acceptance of that love, and it is in our acts of love that we can find the most perfect union between power and being. The oldest, deepest magic takes as its cause this single, basic principle – love adheres."
Voldemort smiled at her cruelly and said, "Do you want to live?"
Backing towards Harry's cot, Lily ignored his question and said desperately, "Not Harry." He laughed.
"Not Harry. Please…not Harry."
She couldn't – couldn't lose Harry, couldn't think of a world without him in it. Harry had to live, had to grow tall and play Quidditch and…because James, James, couldn't. James was already gone, and if it was the last thing she did, Lily would make sure that Harry wouldn't follow him.
Voldemort sneered at her. "Stand aside you silly girl."
Lily lifted her chin defiantly, angering him, and jabbing his wand at her he said, "Stand aside now."
As Voldemort started to walk closer to her she begged him, calling out to the one, tiny part of him that might still be human, that might still have something resembling pity. "Not Harry, please…no…"
Lily fell to her knees before him and tugged and pulled on his robes. "Take me, kill me instead," she said, still recalling Dumbledore's words.
If it was possible – if she could save him…but it didn't matter. Even if she was wrong – even if there was no saving Harry, as there'd been no saving James, Lily's last choice left, her last act of will on this earth, would be to cling to that final, forlorn hope that…maybe…
"Not Harry!" she said, shouting now, determined to keep Voldemort from her boy, her little monster, her beautiful boy. Voldemort would not hurt him.
She saw disgust, and annoyance, and anger cross over his face as she continued. "Please. Have mercy…have mercy…"
Voldemort backhanded Lily so fiercely she fell back against Harry's cot, her impact shaking it so that he woke, and cried. More than anything, she wanted to take him in her arms, to protect him, but…there was no time for that. No time at all.
Lily saw decision dawning in Voldemort's eyes, and she steeled herself for what was to come, hoping, praying, that if nothing else, she could save Harry – or be waiting for him.
Voldemort lifted his arm, and Lily bit her lip, a sudden, unreasoning terror holding her in its grip for a moment.
Would it hurt?
She shook her head, her mind made up, no matter what the consequences might be. "Have mercy," she said, one last time.
Her words were fruitless, and Voldemort opened his mouth to say the words.
Love adheres. Love would adhere to James, to Harry…Harry…her Harry…
As this is the final chapter, I want to thank all my reviewers (who have been wonderful).
Credit for dialogue at the end of the chapter goes to JK Rowling (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.) The chapter title comes from William Blake's long poem, Auguries of Innocence.
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.
A dove-house fill'd with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro' all its regions.
A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.
A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubim does cease to sing.
The game-cock clipt and arm'd for fight
Does the rising sun affright.
Every wolf's and lion's howl
Raises from hell a human soul…