Half of a Heart's Desire: Entre Deux Guerres
James Potter did not die on Halloween. Now, with Sirius and Remus, he must raise Harry in seclusion. But when three men in the habit of being conspicuous try to live as Muggles, can the boundaries between the two worlds long survive?
Chapter 1: The Night Before
James Potter stepped out of the flames into the headmaster's office, brushing the soot off his robes. Even though he had left Hogwarts several years ago, and had never lacked an excess of self-confidence to start with, Dumbledore's office was one of the few places that left him feeling a little like a wrong-footed first year unsure as to just how much the Headmaster actually knew. Of course, he reflected wryly, it wasn't as though he had ever gotten out of the habit of keeping secrets from the headmaster. He wondered if that was why Dumbledore had called him in today, although he had a feeling it was someone else's secret the Headmaster needed to discuss with him.
He distracted himself by admiring the whirring silver instruments that had always caught his eye when he came into the Headmaster's office. Over the years, he had worked out what a number of them were, and replicated some for his own use, but there were others that still baffled him, and he had not yet worked out how they all worked together as he was sure they did.
Mr. Ollivander, while selling him his wand a decade earlier, had not been quite correct in diagnosing James's particular talent. He was undoubtedly an extraordinary student in Transfiguration, but he had never pursued it with the single minded dedication that Sirius had afforded. Neither did he share Lily's aptitude for Charms or her deft hand in potions, or Remus's fascination with Defense. Even Peter had found his niche in Care of Magical Creatures; Sirius had long been of the opinion that it had been Peter's aptitude in relating to animals that had finally allowed him to master the Animagus transformation – certainly his grasp of the theoretical concepts of projection and spatial manipulation had never quite reached the necessary level.
But James was different. He was the jack-of-all-trades, excelling in every subject while specializing in none. His true passion lay elsewhere; none of his classes at Hogwarts, or even Quidditch, had ever quite captured the essence of it. James was a tinkerer. Ever since he was little he had been taking things apart to find out how they worked – although this was a more thankless task in a magical household than it might have been in a Muggle home. And ever since he had been able to use magic himself he had been putting things together, combining everything he learnt creatively to come up with things from his own imagination. It helped, of course, that his imagination had always been healthy, and once his friends discovered his particular talents he was never short of suggestions from them. Sirius, in many ways, had been the chief Marauder, and Remus, slightly reluctantly, the chief strategist; James's agenda was larger and more ambitious – he had made them Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief Makers.
His proudest moment was still the nose-biting teacup he had perfected during his fifth year, although there were times when he wished for a more conventional Patronus. For one thing, he had landed several detentions for crockery substitutions on the staff table that had gone untraced until that story had made the rounds in the staff room. For another, there were still members of the Order of the Phoenix who didn't take him and his young friends all that seriously, and a hopelessly juvenile guarding spirit, as Lily had called it, didn't quite set the tone he was hoping for. Still, Voldemort had not yet taken the Dementors of Azkaban into his service, and lethifolds were hard to come by in the British Isles, so it was not as though too many people apart from his school friends and teachers knew about his Patronus form.
The Order was well aware of James's inventive talents, and had made use of it on many occasions, most recently when Alastor Moody had lost an eye in a particularly vicious raid from which he had been lucky to escape alive. While others had visited him at St. Mungo's and offered their sympathies, it was James who had made it possible for him to continue in his career by creating a magical eye that, had James himself been the one to use it, could have been put to extremely mischievous use. Along with the eye James had also gifted Moody with his newly coined epithet, Mad Eye, for which the latter was considerably less grateful.
But while James's ingenuity had allowed him and Lily to escape Voldemort's clutches three times, none of his ideas had enabled him to discover the spy within the Order. There had been information leaks occurring consistently for nearly a year, but none of the traps James had helped lay had provided any useful information. It was becoming obvious that the spy was someone very close to James, who either knew how to outthink him, or had been in on his secrets all along. James steadfastly refused to suspect any of his close friends, but Sirius, his oldest and best friend, feared, however reluctantly, that they ought not to discount the possibility that Remus Lupin might be the one. James suspected that the Headmaster had called him in to discuss this very issue; otherwise, given James's current sensitive situation, Dumbledore was unlikely to have called him away from his wife and infant son.
"There you are, James. Have a seat. Some Turkish Delight?"
The Headmaster made his way down the stairs, blue eyes twinkling, dressed in his usual flamboyant robes. James thought he spotted fawns dancing along the border, and smiled. It was comforting to know that some things would never change.
"No, thank you, Headmaster. I never did acquire the taste for it."
"I hope you don't mind if I do, then," he said, helping himself to some of the sticky Muggle confection.
"Not at all. May I ask why you needed me here tonight? I assume it's rather urgent."
"Indeed, James. You have my apologies. I know that under the circumstances you want to stay with Lily and Harry, but it really was quite unavoidable. You know, of course, that for some time now we have had a spy in our midst?"
"Yes, of course. You've discovered his identity?" James's expression was eager, but slightly nervous. "Sirius suspects... but he would never..."
"I don't know yet myself. But I do have spies of my own in Voldemort's ranks, and one of them contacted me today with a very promising lead that he tells me you might be able to help us confirm. He will be joining us momentarily."
"I have to confirm it? Then Sirius is right?" James looked vaguely sickened.
Dumbledore smiled sadly, "As I said, James, I don't know. But given my source, I suspect it is someone you are close to. And, after all, you and Lily have had rather a lot of close calls. That is partly why the Fidelius became so necessary at this time."
"Do I know your source, Headmaster?"
"You do indeed, James. And if I am not mistaken, that will be him coming up right now."
It was not often that the Headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry found himself entertained by schoolboy rivalry, but James Potter's face at the moment the door from the spiral staircase opened was a sight to behold. It was to his credit that he recovered his equanimity as quickly as he did, though any trace of the anxiety he had previously exhibited was carefully concealed as he ran his fingers in a manner his wife had carefully taught him to avoid, making his hair even messier than it usually was.
"All right, Severus?"
And therein lay the quality that had allowed Dumbledore to trust one of Hogwarts' greatest pranksters to be one of its more successful Head boys. Sirius Black would have erupted in rage by now. James Potter would never go so far as to offer a truly cordial greeting to his old nemesis, as Dumbledore knew well enough, but cocksure as undoubtedly he was, James had at least learnt that discretion and restraint were not unbecoming in a Gryffindor. He gave no sign that until that moment he hadn't had the slightest idea that Severus Snape was in any way connected with Dumbledore or the Order, and while Dumbledore was sure that he remained on his guard, he gave no overt sign of hostility or mistrust.
Snape, on the other hand, made no effort to conceal his shock. As he turned towards the headmaster, one might even have thought that there was more than a trace of reproach in his gaze. When he spoke, however, it was his old rival he addressed.
"I gather it is futile to hope that you might grow out of that exceedingly common mode of greeting, Potter."
"I never knew you had such a gift for verbal repartee, Severus. Polysyllabic and everything. We might have made something of you if you hadn't drawn your wand at the slightest provocation."
Snape sneered at the light response.
"I dare say I had ample provocation, Potter, if I might return the compliment. I've never known you to wait so long before drawing a wand to turn my own spellwork against me. Dare I hope that you've actually grown up? Or do I owe this courtesy to the Headmaster's presence?"
"I can't imagine what you mean, Severus. I'm simply waiting with bated breath for these revelations the Headmaster promised me. I assume you're the bearer of the good news, or did you just drop by for a nice chat and a cup of tea?"
Dumbledore might have interrupted sooner had he not been interested in seeing how these two antagonistic classmates would deal with each other this evening. Severus's caustic humour was nothing new to him; it was James's tactics that he found particularly amusing. They were far removed from what James, or his best friend Sirius, had ever used at Hogwarts, even after James became a relatively law abiding head boy. Neither did they resemble his vivacious wife's plainspoken approach. James had decided to brazen it out, but his tactics most resembled those that Dumbledore might have expected from another of his friends, the very one, if Dumbledore was not mistaken, that James was so reluctantly suspicious of: Remus Lupin. And as far as Dumbledore could tell, the approach was working. Of course, Dumbledore had long been of the opinion that left to his own devices Remus could have aggravated Snape quite as effectively as his friends ever did with the added benefit of never incurring any loss of points for Gryffindor, but this was one piece of wisdom he had never considered sharing with his young friends.
"As I said earlier, Headmaster, I believe I have a useful lead," Severus said, evidently tired of holding something approaching a civilized conversation with James Potter, "I came as soon as I was able to without raising any suspicions. I suppose Potter is here so that we can dispense with the matter rapidly."
"Thank you, Severus. I hope we can let James get back to Lily and young Harry for their little Halloween feast."
Severus nodded, managing to convey in a disdainful look that he found the notion of a Potter family celebration utterly repulsive, but was grateful for any event that meant that he would not have to endure James's company for an extended period.
"A few days ago, the Dark Lord inducted a new member into the Inner Circle. It was a Death Eater I have never previously encountered, but he must have been serving the Dark Lord for some time to have earned this distinction. It struck me as rather unusual at the time that he did not refer to the new inductee by name, instead using a nickname that sounded vaguely familiar. Of course I never caught a glimpse of his face. That was when I first notified you, Headmaster. Earlier today I realized that I had heard the name here at Hogwarts, used by Potter and his little gang."
"Who was it?" asked James, urgently.
"Does the name Wormtail mean anything to you?"
James's eyes widened in disbelief, as for once, he forgot all about maintaining an unperturbed demeanor before a man he could never bring himself to like or entirely trust.
"Wormtail. Oh my God. We never thought... Lily and Harry... Headmaster, I must return to Godric's Hollow at once."
"So it is Black?" There was a smug satisfaction on Snape's face, but also something like a trace of pity that he would never admit to. James was shaken out of his shock by righteous indignation on behalf of his closest friend.
"Certainly not! How could you think Sirius would do such a thing? Peter is Wormtail. Peter, our secret-keeper... Are you sure?"
"I thought you had chosen Sirius, James." Dumbledore cut off Snape's retort, focusing on the more urgent matter at hand.
"We did, but he was too obvious. He opted to remain a decoy, while Peter conducted the actual spell. We never imagined... I have to get Lily and Harry out of there, Professor."
"Of course, James. Bring them back here at once."
But as James took a pinch of floo powder, another head appeared in the fire, effectively cutting off his exit.
"Will you give us a minute, Alastor? It's a bit of an emergency right now."
"I'll say it is. Haven't you checked your Foe Glass in the last ten minutes, Dumbledore? Or is there something wrong with mine?"
Dumbledore's blue eyes had clouded over, and he looked unexpectedly old as he asked the question to which the entire wizarding world had been waiting for an affirmative answer.
"Is he gone then?"
And indeed, as they turned to look at the glass Dumbledore had kept close by for all these years, all they could see were shadowy forms. The dangerous red eyes that had glinted constantly in there for the last eleven years were now nowhere to be seen. Snape glanced down, flicking his left sleeve away in a rapid motion that only Dumbledore noticed, and then nodded slowly, finding his own confirmation, then directed a look of what could only have been unbridled hatred towards James.
"I'm afraid it is all the more urgent, Alastor. James must use the fire at once."
Moody grumbled, but crawled through instead of retreating.
"I don't know if you'll be able to Floo, James, but why don't you give it a try?"
But Dumbledore was right. Even as James pronounced the words, he knew there was something wrong, and it was only his Quidditch reflexes that allowed him to step back into Dumbledore's office instead of being deposited at some arbitrary grate.
"It is as I feared, then. James, you know how far you have to go to apparate. Bring Harry back here at once. Do not try and track Peter down on your own. I'll see if I can find your other friends."
James blinked owlishly. "Then you think..."
"Given what we know from the prophecy, I think we must assume that your son has dealt the Dark Lord a very significant setback at the very least. As for the rest, I cannot say what you might find. Anything is possible, James. But you must hurry; you know that there are others out there with very little to lose at this time."
"Watch your back, boy," said Moody, with gruff affection.
James barely nodded at them as he took the spinning spiral staircase three steps at a time. He wove his way through the hallways he knew so well, his mind working furiously to determine which route would be the fastest. He made his way through the Great Hall and out through the main doors without regard to the Halloween decorations he disrupted or the many students who stared at him.
As he reached the grounds he glanced around, and scanned the windows rapidly, then transformed and cantered gracefully towards the gate. Running was a little simpler now; his heart was not quite so heavy – perhaps Prongs could not feel the pain of so many uncertainties. He could not think – he did not want to think – surely if Lily – he would have to know it – he would have to feel something instead of sitting there merrily trading barbs with Snape. He had neared the outskirts of the grounds, and James barely reappeared before he vanished again, this time with the soft pop of a well-controlled apparition.
The sight that greeted his eyes when he appeared in Godric's Hollow would be fodder for nightmares for many years to come. It was a scene from the worst kind of Halloween story. His house was destroyed – reduced to rubble practically, though here and there a wall still stood, reminding him of what he ought to be seeing. He walked through the place where the front door had stood, not able to bring himself to breach the non-existent walls; he felt enough like a ghost as it was. He traced his way through remnants of the familiar hallway, his steps bearing him to what had once been the nursery. It looked as though this was the epicenter of the damage, the walls falling outwards from here. James stepped over a pile of black robes and ashes towards the crumpled form of his beloved wife, hoping against hope that she was lying merely unconscious. James was not the only one trying to wake her. Trying to cuddle against Lily was an infant bleeding copiously from his forehead and starting to grow frantic in his cries. His son. The savior of the wizarding world was crying for a mother he would grow up never knowing.
James had seen enough victims fall to the killing curse to truly believe that there was anything he could do for Lily, but that didn't stop him from trying. He shook her, cast enervate and every healing spell he knew, tried to force her to breathe physically as Muggles did, and even yelled hysterically at her to wake up because he and Harry had never needed her more. He didn't care that it was absolutely impossible that she should have survived such a direct assault, that no one had ever before escaped Voldemort's immediate wrath. The infant crying next to her gave lie to all those notions, after all, and re-wrote over a thousand years of conventional wizarding wisdom. If anyone could survive the killing curse then surely it had to be Lily, who had more strength than anyone James had ever known.
He knelt beside her, spent, not knowing what to think or how to act. He didn't notice he was crying until he realized that he couldn't quite see through wet glasses. Harry was still sobbing quietly, but he turned away from his mother, unable to gain a response from her. He extended his pudgy little arms, almost but not quite encircling James's knee.
"Dadda no cry."
James blinked, taking in the sight before him, and picked up his infant son and held him close. How long they stood there crying, father and son, James would never know.
It was the sound of a motorcycle that threw James out of his stupor. A very familiar sound, and one that he would normally have recognized a mile away, but today it was just an unwelcome thrumming in his ear and a distraction he didn't need until he turned around and saw his best friend looking like death.
"James, thank Merlin! What happened here?"
James opened his mouth, not knowing that he would ever be able to speak again. Sirius came closer, and laid a hand on his shoulder, and then it all came out, in a torrent of words.
"Wormtail, Sirius! I went to Hogwarts to see Dumbledore, just for a little bit; just to find out who the spy was. And Snape said it was Wormtail. Wormtail! And then Voldemort was gone, and I tried to floo back and I couldn't, and by the time I got here she was dead, Sirius! Lily's dead! I tried everything to wake her, and she won't, Sirius. It's just Harry and me, and Voldemort's gone, Sirius! I think that's him over there. What am I going to do without her?"
But Sirius himself was not much better than his best friend. He had never looked or sounded more shaken, not even when he had found himself at James's doorstep the summer before his seventh year at Hogwarts, with no family to call his own and no other place to go.
"He's a rat, James! How did we never see it? I was just at his house. That's why I came here; I knew something was wrong. He's disappeared, just like that... no sign of a struggle, no trace of an apparition. I am so, so sorry, James. I'll chase him down and kill him myself! How could he do this, James? How could he do this to you and Lily and Harry?"
"No, you can't chase him down now, Sirius. Come with me. We have to go back to Hogwarts. I've stayed here too long already. Dumbledore said... Come, we have to go to Hogwarts."
"You go to Hogwarts, James. You take Harry. I have a traitor to kill. Didn't he know that we trusted him? Didn't he know that any of us would have died for him willingly? And I suggested him as secret keeper. I as good as invited Voldemort myself. I have to go after him, James."
"No, you're coming with me. Merlin, Sirius, he could be anywhere! How are you going to track down a rat in a sewer? We have to go to Hogwarts. We have to tell Dumbledore. No one else knows. No one but us. Unless we tell Dumbledore and the Ministry we'll never find him."
"If we wait until morning he could be anywhere, mate."
"Padfoot, please. I... I can't be all by myself tonight. She's gone, Padfoot. Come with me, please. Harry and I need you with us."
There was nothing Sirius could say to that. Acutely conscious of the ways in which he had already let James down, he nodded. His best friend was grieving in a way he could barely begin to comprehend. James needed him, and he would never let him down again. He took Harry, as James carefully cradled Lily's corpse.
"I have to bring her. I can't just leave her there," said James, helplessly.
"Yes of course. I'll leave the bike here. Apparate to the edge of the grounds, all right?"
James nodded, concentrating to make sure that his precious burden would travel safely with him. He only rarely needed to apparate anything more than himself, or Harry at most. The two friends looked at each other, and vanished from the ruins at Godric's Hollow.