Disclaimer the first: I don't own any of these characters.
Disclaimer the second: This story contains corporal punishment of a minor. Be ye warned.
Not For Anything in the World
James Potter paced the floor in Albus Dumbledore's office. He found it hard to believe he was in this position. Dumbledore watched him pace but said nothing. "What should I do?" James asked him finally.
Dumbledore regarded James over his half-moon spectacles, not sure how to respond. He knew James Potter to be that rare thing, a natural parent. He seemed to know instinctively when his son, Harry, needed to be comforted and when he needed to be punished. Indeed, there had been an incident last term when Harry and three of his friends had been caught out of bed and Professor McGonagall, their head of house, had been rather too hard on them in Dumbledore's opinion. A few days later, Dumbledore had overheard Harry telling his three very jealous partners in crime that, rather than punishing him, his father had given him pointers on how to sneak out at night without getting caught. Dumbledore had found himself heartily agreeing with James, to his surprise, as he knew James had just made his, Dumbledore's, job all the harder. James understood that Harry had already been punished quite enough and now needed a good laugh. "What do your instincts tell you?" Dumbledore finally asked.
"I don't like what my instincts tell me," James responded, throwing himself into a chair.
What a day! First, he and Harry had been late getting started toward the Hogwarts Express. Then, when they finally got there, Harry and his best mate, Ron Weasley never came through the barrier onto Platform 9 ¾ . James had waited what he felt was an appropriate amount of time and then tried to recross the barrier to check on the boys, only to find that the barrier was shut tight. He nearly went mental with worry then. He knew only too well what dark forces were after his son. His wife had given her life eleven years ago to protect him from them. He still recalled that day as though it were yesterday. He and his wife, Lily, had been in hiding with Harry, and James was going stir-crazy. It had been Lily's idea for him to take the evening away to visit his best mate, Sirius Black. When he returned, he found the dark mark over his house and the house destroyed. He did not dare to hope that Harry and Lily might have survived. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named never left survivors. He had felt as though he were drowning in a sea of grief then until Sirius had handed him the little blanket-wrapped bundle that was Harry. Somehow, miraculously, he had survived the attack that had left his mother dead, unscathed except for a lightning-shaped cut on his forehead.
When the barrier finally reopened that afternoon, James had rushed across it only to find that Harry and Ron were gone, along with Arthur Weasley's flying Ford Anglia. Molly Weasley was furious, but James was just scared. He was sure that the boys had been kidnapped, and there he was with no way to get to his son and no way of knowing who or what had taken him. Molly, who was quite the expert on raising boys, assured him time and again that, if she knew her son, he had convinced Harry to take the car. She told him over and over again that the most danger they were in was the danger of facing the very considerable wrath of Minerva McGonagall. James, however, was sure that Harry would never do anything like this and had told Molly so. It wasn't until the boys arrived at Hogwarts and spilled out the whole sorry tale that James really began to believe that Harry was truly safe. As it turned out, Molly was right. The boys had indeed taken the car of their own free will.
He and the Weasleys had arrived at Hogwarts together. The Weasleys had already gone to dole out their own punishment to their son, but James had stayed here trying to figure out what to do.
"James," Dumbledore's voice said, interrupting his thoughts, "You are a very good father. You should trust what your instincts tell you."
James groaned. His instincts told him that Harry needed tough love at the moment. James hated tough love. He much preferred being able to spoil Harry and play with him and hug him. James knew that Harry ought to have a spanking, but he really didn't want to give him one. James did not spank his son often. It had happened only three times before.
The first was when Harry was five. He had gotten angry at James and decided to run away to Sirius's house. Somehow he managed to call the Knight Bus; they never did figure out how, and the Knight Bus company was most unhelpful during the inquiry. Harry arrived nearly two hours later on Sirius's doorstep, suitcase in hand. By then, James was nearly frantic with worry. Sirius had immediately called James, something Harry considered to be a grievous betrayal, and James had apparated over, bundled the boy home, and then given him his very first spanking. Afterward, he decided that he had done his own father a serious injustice every time he had scoffed at the old man's assurances that a spanking hurt him more than it did James. While he had never said the tired phrase to Harry, there was not a doubt in his mind that it was true.
The second spanking had come when Harry was seven and had stolen James's broomstick to try out his flying. James, Sirius, and their friend Remus Lupin spent all afternoon searching for him. Finally, around dinnertime, he turned up, broomstick in hand, not a care in the world.
The third and final spanking was when Harry was ten and stole his father's wand to teach a local neighborhood bully a lesson. James had actually been tempted to laugh when the poor boy's parents showed up on his doorstep to inquire as to how Harry had managed to give their boy furry ears and a tail. James had thought the boy deserved it, really, but he couldn't exactly let Harry off the hook; Harry knew better than to play around with magic.
There had been a few other times as well when James knew he really ought to have given Harry a spanking, but when the time had come and Harry had turned those emerald eyes on him - Lily's eyes - he had not been able to go through with it. James sighed. He had honestly thought these days were over. Harry was twelve now, which James really thought was too old for spanking, but every parenting instinct James had told him that was what the boy needed. On the other hand, Harry was usually a very well-behaved boy, the occasional mischievous antics aside. He didn't cause anywhere near the havoc James himself had caused as a boy, a fact for which James was endlessly thankful. If anything, James thought Harry was far too serious. For about the millionth time in the eleven years since her death, he wished Lily were with him. She would know what to do, he was sure. Well, he reminded himself, she wasn't here, and he wasn't doing Harry and favors by making him wait while he, James, sat brooding in the sanctuary of Dumbledore's office. His decision made, he slowly stood, thanked Dumbledore for his help and patience, got the password for Gryffindor tower, and went to deal with his errant son.
Harry Potter sat nervously in the Gryffindor common room playing exploding snap with Fred and George Weasley. He was waiting for his father. His best mate, Ron, was sulking in their dormitory. His parents had already come and gone and his red eyes and painful walk upon his return to the dormitory had made it abundantly clear to all what they had done to him. Fred and George had, up until that moment, been a bit miffed at Harry and Ron for not including them in their prank, but after seeing the aftermath of Ron's punishment, they thought better of it and decided Harry deserved to be cheered up for doing them such a favor.
Harry's other best friend, Hermione Granger, was not very fun to be around at the moment, as all she seemed interested in doing was scolding him. Fred and George were cheerful company, although even they could not take his mind entirely off of his troubles. He wasn't sure what his father was going to do, but it didn't matter. Just knowing his father was angry with him was plenty punishment enough for Harry. He was secretly afraid that the reason his father hadn't come yet was that he was too angry to talk to Harry at all. He hated to think he had disappointed the man he looked up to so much. Most likely his father would just lecture him, but the thought of other punishments had crossed his mind.
After Ron's return, Harry briefly considered and then dismissed the possibility that he was in for the same treatment. His father hardly ever spanked him even when he was small, and he knew for a fact that his father now thought him too old for such a childish punishment. Harry jerked his head up as he heard the portrait hole open. As he made eye contact with his father, Harry felt his heart swan dive into his toes. He knew then what his punishment would be. Only one thing could put such a pained expression on his father's face. He rose wordlessly and followed his father out of the common room.
James led Harry to an empty classroom, magically locked the door, and cast a silencing charm. He knew Harry would be utterly humiliated if someone were to wander in. He conjured a chair behind Harry and ordered the boy to sit. Harry quickly obeyed. Then he conjured another chair across from Harry and sat down himself. Harry seemed suddenly very interested in his shoes. James's heart went out to his son. Sometimes it was difficult for him to believe how fiercely he loved this boy. The fear of losing him kept James up nights. It was that fear, more than anything, that drove James now. What Harry had done was incredibly dangerous. James reached over and put a finger under Harry's chin, forcing him to look into James's eyes. "Would you please explain to me what happened today?" He said quietly.
"The platform closed itself off after you went through. We tried to get through, honestly we did, but it was shut tight, so we decided to take the car. We didn't mean to worry everyone, and we never thought we'd be seen."
"I believe you," James said quietly, "But I'm having a bit of trouble understanding why, after you found the barrier shut, instead of getting help or just waiting for me or Ron's parents, you decided that stealing a car was your best option."
James saw Harry wince as he dropped his head and renewed his interest in his shoes. He had been in Harry's position enough times to know that he was thinking, "It sounds so much worse when he says it like that."
"We didn't think of it as stealing, Dad. We just thought we could get ourselves here on our own without having to be a bother to everyone."
"Harry, look at me." Harry's head popped up obediently. "Figuring out another way to get you to Hogwarts wouldn't have been any bother. And even if it were, helping you is never a bother. I'd much rather you bother me than do something so dangerous. Do I make myself clear?"
Harry's shoulders hunched more and more as his father lectured. When he spoke, it was in a whisper. "I'm sorry, Dad. Really, I am. I guess we weren't thinking."
"Well then, maybe a spanking will help you remember to think next time."
Harry offered no protest, but his body tensed involuntarily at James's pronouncement. This was not lost on James, who felt his heart break at this small act of fear. He again put a finger under Harry's chin and brought his face up. He wasn't crying, but James could tell he was trying very hard not to. His face clearly showed his misery as he looked at his father through glistening eyes. "I love you very, very much, but you stole a car and exposed the magical world to muggles. It's inexcusable, and you have to be punished. You and Ron should have just waited for an adult. Then you wouldn't be in any trouble at all. You simply can't go around doing dangerous things like this. You could have been hurt, or even killed. I - I don't know what I would do if I lost you." James's voice cracked with emotion and he left off talking a moment to retain his control. It was obvious that Harry felt horrid about his behavior. James fought the temptation to hug him and let him off with a stern warning. He knew nothing good would come of that. He would just think he could get away with this sort of thing. The boy needed a sharp reminder to be more careful in the future.
Having regained his composure, James decided not to delay any longer. "Harry, come here," he said firmly. Harry rose without a word and came to stand in front of his father. As he looked at his son, James saw that a single tear had found its way down his cheek. He sighed. "Lie over my lap," he said, steeling his emotions for what he was about to do. Harry obeyed, bending across James's knees. As soon as Harry was settled, James placed one hand on the small of Harry's back, in part to steady the child and hold him down and in part to comfort him and remind him that, through it all, he was loved and cared for, and that his father was there with him. The other hand, James raised quickly into the air and swung down hard across his son's backside.
Harry's stomach was twisted into knots as he bent over the familiar lap. He wasn't afraid, exactly. He trusted James and knew that he would never really hurt him, but he also knew from experience how much his usually-gentle hand could sting. Harry knew how much his dad hated to do this and was angry at himself for putting them both in this position. He could see the pain in James's eyes as he lectured. He knew he deserved a spanking for what he had put his father through if nothing else. How could he have been so thoughtless? He felt about three inches tall. He briefly wondered if it would hurt as much as it used to now that he was older. As soon as the first smack fell, he discovered that it would.
Harry willed himself not to cry, but let himself have the small comfort of wrapping his arms around James's leg. Despite his determination, it wasn't long before his bravado began to waver. After the seventh smack, he gave himself permission to cry. It was almost a relief for him to finally let go of his emotions. He also knew his tears meant the spanking would be over soon. James usually gave only a few smacks after Harry started to cry. Years later, Harry would wonder why he hadn't just started to cry early on and made all his spankings shorter, but the thought never even occurred to him when he was young. James probably knew that, Harry reminded himself as he thought back on this as an adult. If he had tried to cry prematurely, James probably would have known and continued the spanking. He always did seem to have a knack for knowing just what Harry needed.
The volume and intensity of Harry's cries increased with each of a final three sharp smacks. Then he heard his father say those wonderful words. "You can get up now, Harry."
Harry rose slowly, wiping his face with his hands as he did. His glasses were askew, so he quickly righted them and began the work of trying to gain control of his emotions. His father handed him a handkerchief, which he gratefully took and sobbed into with one hand, using the other to rub his stinging backside.
James gave his son some space. If he knew Harry, he would want it, but only for a little while. He was not disappointed. Soon, the boy stepped toward him with arms open. James enveloped him in a tight hug. Harry sobbed into his father's chest with an occasional "I'm sorry, Dad!" punctuating his cries. James didn't say anything, but just held him tightly, trying to communicate his love for the boy through his embrace and fighting with his own emotions. There wasn't anything in the world he hated more than making his son cry, and knowing it was for the best never made it any easier. Finally, to James's relief, Harry's cries slowed to sniffles and then stopped. James held him close until Harry pulled away.
Once again, James put a finger under Harry's chin and met his eyes. "I love you so much, Harry. Please don't ever do anything like this again."
"I won't." Harry assured him. Then, quietly. "Are you still mad?"
"No," James said quickly. "I wasn't ever really mad. Mostly I was just scared. But you don't need to worry about that now. You are forgiven."
Harry was in James's arms again then for a final embrace. James kissed the top of his head. Then he pulled Harry to arms length and said, "I'm going to walk you back to the common room, and then I want you to go straight to bed. Understand?"
Harry nodded. James placed a hand on his shoulder and led him out of the room. They stopped at a washroom along the way and James stood guard at the door to give Harry some privacy as he washed his face. After he had washed away all traces of his tears, he turned his back to the mirror and lifted his robes to check the damage. The skin of his backside was still a little pinkish, but other than that he was back to normal. It didn't even hurt anymore, but it did tingle a bit. He dropped his robes and felt them swish around his ankles, then he left.
His dad smiled at him as he came out. "How's the damage?" he asked slyly. Harry never could figure out how it was that his dad could know him so well, at least not until he had children of his own. Then he understood.
"Terrible," Harry said with mock gravity. "I've never been hurt so badly in all my life."
James laughed and ruffled Harry's hair, then flung an arm around his shoulder and walked him back to the portrait of the Fat Lady, where they exchanged a final embrace and a spoken, "I love you".
As Harry clambered back through the portrait hole, Fred and George looked at him expectantly. "So, what happened? Was he angry?" George asked.
"He was proud of you, wasn't he?" Fred continued.
"He lectured a bit," Harry said. It wasn't exactly a lie. He had lectured a bit. "And I have to go straight to bed."
Fred and George both shook their heads as they watched Harry walk away. They really hoped he knew how lucky he was to have James Potter for a father.
Harry changed into his pajamas quickly and climbed into bed. "Ron, are you awake?" he whispered.
"Yes," came a muffled reply. He heard movement as Ron crossed the room and sat on Harry's bed. "I'm sorry I got you into trouble, mate." he said, looking at Harry as though afraid Harry would hold a grudge.
"It wasn't all your fault. I went along easy enough. But it wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be."
"No, and it definitely wasn't worth the walloping I just got. What'd your dad do? He give you tips again?"
"No, he walloped me," Harry said matter-of-factly, ignoring the gasp of disbelief that came from Ron. He would have died a million deaths if anyone else found out, even Hermione, but he didn't mind Ron knowing. "Please don't tell anyone, though. It's kind of embarrassing."
"I won't tell. I guess everyone knows I got walloped. Fred and George probably told the whole school by now."
"I don't think they've told anyone, but it was kind of obvious when you came back in."
"I know. I wanted to have a little bit of time, but Mum usually thinks a little humiliation is good for us. She'll probably send me a howler, too. Say, you don't look like you just got walloped at all. Did he even hit you hard enough to make you cry?"
"Yes," Harry admitted, "but then we stopped on the way back so I could wash my face. He always said it was nobody's business when I got punished and that no one had to know unless I told them."
"You've got the coolest dad in the world, you know that?"
"Yeah," Harry agreed, "I do."
Walking across the castle threshold, James Potter sighed. He would send Harry a care package in the morning just to drive home that he was forgiven. Maybe he would wait a day or two. He knew Molly had plans to send Ron a howler and he didn't want his package to arrive the same day. No sense in making Ron feel jealous. James really thought Molly was too hard on her boys, but they were all good people so she was obviously doing something right.
Now that the ordeal was over, James was sure he had done right by Harry. He really was a good boy, he just needed to be reminded sometimes not to be so reckless. James smiled. Maybe his son was more like his old dad than he thought. Stealing a car, now that was something the marauders would have loved. As he left Hogwarts grounds and apparated home, he couldn't help chuckling to himself a bit over the prank. Now that the danger was past and the unpleasant business of punishment over, he could see the humor in Molly's anger and the look on Arthur's face when he found the car gone. He had a feeling that this would be a story that would be shared over the dinner table for years to come, James thought to himself as he arrived home and sat in his favorite chair.
It was easy to see in Harry's behavior that he was Lily's son, but it was nice for James to see a bit of himself come out every once in awhile, too. He was such a lucky man, he reminded himself, to have the honor of being Harry Potter's father. If he had known how difficult it would be on the front end, he might have decided he didn't want a child, but now that he had this wonderful, wonderful person on his hands, he knew he wouldn't trade in a moment of it, even the difficult moments. Not for anything in the world.