The Wayside Sacrament

by S. Risen

Not quite a year and a half ago, while Lily sat outside the doors of the Antigone Holmes Ward at St. Mungo's and waited for news of James, she pulled a pen and a crinkled receipt from her purse and started working out percentages. If he died tonight, she figured out with painstaking long division, he would only have lived… fourteen percent of the lifespan he might otherwise have had. About a seventh of what could have been.

A wizard who may reasonably expect to live to one hundred fifty years old ought to be ashamed of himself dying at the age of twenty-one, she thought. It was ludicrous, positively ludicrous.

The nurse agreed vehemently that it was very irresponsible of him—and wouldn't Mrs. Potter like a nice cup of tea? Calm her down a bit? There we go, that's better. Just sit quietly, deep breaths.

A year and a half later, with a fifteen-month old on her hip and her husband yelling for her to run and a Dark Lord mocking all three of them with a courteous, terrifying little knock on the front door, Lily knows different statistics. For her and James, the percentage is now nearly fifteen percent. For Harry—dimpled, green-eyed, smile-like-the-sun-coming-out Harry—it is just over point-eight percent.

She wastes a precious half-second to have a last look at James. Her final image of him, straight-backed and proud with his wand out in front of him, burns itself into her retina, and she bolts for the back door.

Red light flashes behind her as a violent Reductor Curse blasts the front door open. Harry starts howling at the noise and Lily presses him even closer as she dashes down the corridor, curse-light flashing on the walls and ceiling as she goes. All she needs to do is make it out the back door, past the Anti-Apparition wards, and then Apparate to Peter's house. James would buy them time. Out the back door and Apparate to Peter's house. Out the back door—

She is just hurtling past her wedding portrait when a blaze of green illuminates the whole house and everything goes quiet. Harry even stops crying with a surprised hiccough.

James is dead, she realizes.

Out the back door and Apparate to Peter's house.

For a moment even the sound of her pounding feet seems suspended in a great silence. And then there is a heavy clink as the lock on the back door turns over. "Alohomora! Reducto! Alohomora!" But Lord Voldemort's Imperturbable Charm holds.

Immediately she stumbles toward the kitchen and the Floo powder—through the fireplace and to Peter's house—but that door also slams and locks in her face. Harry's cries start up again at the jostling, and her heart leaps at the sudden loudness in her ear.

She whirls around, looking for another way out, and freezes. An impossibly tall, shadowy figure is standing in the doorway. He flicks his wand and the doors leading off of the kitchen begin to slam shut and lock one by one, glowing briefly as they are sealed.

It is only now that she realizes the obvious. She couldn't have taken Harry to Peter's house anyway.

Her burgeoning panic settles rocklike in her insides. She throws herself through the last door, down the little side corridor, and into the nursery. "Colloportus," she breathes, and the door seals itself. It'll slow the bastard down, at least.

Her heart beats triple-time to the steady rhythm of Voldemort's footsteps in the corridor. She is already crying as she kisses Harry's forehead and sets him in his crib. "There's my sweet boy. I'm so sorry. Shh, hush now. It'll be just fine. You'll be all right, I promise. Just forgive us someday—because point-eight isn't enough, you know? Goodbye, sweet."

There is a screech of metal behind her as the lock turns over in spite of her charm. She turns around and braces herself against the bars of the crib, knuckles turning white around the rail.

The door creaks open slowly, and the edge of a cloak whispers around the doorjamb in the little rush of incoming air. One, two, three steps, and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is fully in the room. Her world shrinks and shrinks until there is nothing left of it but two red eyes and an infant wailing behind her.

"Please," she whimpers, "please not Harry." She tries to sound as though she is scared completely out of her wits. It isn't hard.

"Out of my way, girl," a startlingly high-pitched voice says from somewhere beneath those burning eyes. Lily had never heard it before, but James had told her it was high. "Like a girl's, almost. The Dark Lord is an eleven-year-old girl." But that was all bravado. No child ever sounded like this.

"You needn't shield him, you know," he hisses, perversely gentle. Lily could faint from relief—she has a choice. She can make it count for something.

"Kill me instead, take me instead, I beg you—"

This is patent nonsense, of course; why should he want her? And he dismisses it as such, craning his blanched, snakelike neck to get a glimpse of the baby behind her.

"Stand aside."

"No! Please, not Harry! Not Harry!"

He says something else, rougher now, and all Lily needs to do is scream and cry until he's hacked off enough to do what she says. All she can think is: this had better work.

A final time she offers her terms: "Kill me instead."

And he signs on the dotted line in blazing green letters. "Avada Kedavra."

Lily closes her eyes and smiles.