Disclaimer: I don't own anything or anyone you recognize.
Warning: This chapter is kind of intense. Get tissues if you think you'll need them. I really wanted to see if I could write a scene like this well, so please review and let me know how you think I did. Thanks!
Author's Note: This was in my head and kind of spilled out. I'm nearly done with the first one, and I want to assure everyone that I'll finish it, most likely by the end of the week, but I wanted so badly to go ahead and post this. I hope I'm not stretching myself too thin by trying to do two at once, but now that I've had time to think about where I want number three to go, I'm really excited about it and eager to start.
"See you later, mate," James Potter told his best friend, Sirius Black. The two of them were standing in Sirius's living room. Both of them wore the strained expressions of people who were living in constant fear. James would very much have liked to stay longer. He had laughed that evening for the first time in a long while. James was currently in hiding with his wife, Lily, and his year-old son, Harry. They couldn't even work, and James was going stir-crazy. It had been Lily's idea for him to take an evening away, but now he could only think about going home to his wife and child. Harry would be going to bed soon, and he wanted to be there to kiss the boy goodnight.
"Take care, Prongs," Sirius said. The two men shook hands and then pulled one another into an awkward embrace. They didn't know how long it would be before they'd be seeing one another again, or if they ever would. James Potter was a marked man, and it was likely only a matter of time before Sirius would be as well. When they had released one another, James spun on the spot and disappeared with a pop. He reappeared in a small yard in a tiny village called Godric's Hollow.
The acrid smell of smoke accosted his nostrils, and he felt his breath hitch. He turned, his eyes wide, and saw the thing he had feared over all else. In the air above his home floated a glowing emblem: a glittering skull with a snake slithering out of its mouth. James stared at it, trying to will it to go away. Then he dropped his gaze to the house. The entire top floor was blown away. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had been there, and James had been gone. He hadn't even been here to protect his wife and his son. He heard a loud, almost inhuman, wail split the night, and he had fallen to his knees before he realized it had come from him. He heard himself screaming as though it were coming from somewhere very far away.
Lily was gone. Harry was gone. He knew better than to hold out hope that they may have survived. You-Know-Who never left survivors.
James dropped to his hands and retched onto the ground, gasping for air. That was when the sobs came; huge wracking things that he thought would shatter his body into tiny shards. He almost wished they would. Thoughts shot through his head at lightning speed. He thought of Harry racing through the house on a toy broomstick that Sirius had given him, laughing, his green eyes bright. He thought of Lily gardening, her red hair shining in the sunlight. He thought of Lily singing lullabies as she rocked Harry to sleep, and the way that Harry would reach up and grab a fistful of her hair. At first, James had tried to make him stop, but Lily assured him that Harry never pulled. "He just likes to hold it," she said, smiling. "He's such a sweet baby."
He had been such a sweet baby, and such a happy baby, and now he was... dead. James forced himself to think the word. Harry was dead. He would never grow up. He would never fall in love, or find his calling, or have children of his own. He would never know the happiness James himself had known these past few years, but that had been yanked away from him this night.
James had already imagined a full life for his son. He envisioned himself buying the boy his first firewhiskey on his seventeenth birthday. He imagined watching him raise Cain at Hogwarts and pretending to scold while really being proud that his son was following in his father's mischievous footsteps. He imagined the boy falling in love and learning life's lessons and he, James, would be there to bear witness to every moment. Now he grieved not only for his own loss, but for the life that had been stolen from Harry. It seemed so unfair for other people to have years, endless time, so much time that they got bored, and his son had had only a little more than a year. His life hadn't even begun and already it had been ripped from him.
James thought briefly of his parents and wished they were still alive. He had lost them both just this past winter. His mother had died first, and then his father had just wasted away, as though he had given up his will to live. He had survived only slightly longer than a month without his wife. At the time, James had been furious at the old man for losing his will to live, but now he understood. What kept a man alive when he had lost everything worth living for?
James felt as though he were falling through an endless sky, with dark, angry clouds all around him. He couldn't find anything to hold him to the earth. He briefly wondered if this was what going mad felt like. He didn't even know what he ought to do now. Maybe he would move to America and start again. Maybe he would become a hermit and spend the rest of his days muttering in a cave somewhere. Maybe he would off himself and be done with this whole business. Maybe he wouldn't have to kill himself: maybe this crippling grief would do it for him. Surely a man couldn't survive long with this much pain. It was almost a hopeful idea, this prayer to die, to join Lily and Harry.
Then his mind fell onto a single thought: revenge. He was going to find Peter Pettigrew and kill him. He didn't care what happened to him after that. Let them chuck him to the dementors for all he cared. Even they couldn't hurt him now. The thought of killing Peter gave James the tiniest of lifelines. He was still falling, but now, at the very least, he had a destination: something to cling to. Suddenly, strong hands gripped his shoulders.
"James?" He heard Sirius ask. "James, are you hurt?"
Curled in on himself in a tight ball on the ground, James could not answer. He only wailed. Sirius let go and left. James didn't know where he had gone and didn't care. All he knew was that he was alone and always would be. He should never have gone to Sirius's house, he told himself. He should have been here to protect Lily and Harry. He knew then that it was his fault they had died and that he would never forgive himself, no matter how long he might live. He would not be offing himself, he decided. He deserved to live a long life alone with his guilt: that would be the punishment for his selfishness.
Somewhere in the night, he heard a baby cry. He cringed at the sound. How dare this stranger child have the audacity to cry when his dear Harry would never make a sound again? James's wailing redoubled. He would never hear Lily's beautiful voice again, so sweet and tinkling, like bells. He would never again hear Harry's laugh that could soothe the soul. Sirius was there next to him again, shaking him. "James," Sirius said. "James, you have to get up."
"They're gone, Sirius. Lily and Harry are gone. Dead." James choked out.
"No, mate," Sirius said. "Harry's alive."
James opened his eyes and looked. There, in Sirius's arms, wrapped in Harry's embroidered blue blanket, was a baby. "Look, James, Harry's survived," Sirius whispered.
"That's not possible." James gasped, his tears diminishing. He sat up slowly. "It's a trick." James did not dare to hope that Harry might have survived. He did not know what his friend was playing at, but that baby was not Harry. It couldn't be. Slowly, he realized that Sirius would not play a trick like this. He stared at the bundle. The baby was struggling to get to James and crying, his green eyes bright. That was what finally convinced James that it really was Harry. No one else save Lily had such bright green eyes.
"What about Lily?" James whispered. If Harry had survived, maybe that meant Lily had, too. One look at Sirius's face told him all he needed to know.
"I'm so sorry, James." Sirius whispered, tears in his own eyes.
James reached out and took his son. The familiar little body in his arms was a comfort he never expected to feel again.
Harry stopped crying the moment he was in James's arms. He wrapped his little arms around James's neck. "Jaze!" Harry said, and James renewed his sobs. Lily had never gotten used to referring to him as "Dad," so Harry had begun calling him "James", or, rather, "Jaze". He always assumed he would begin insisting on "Dad" when Harry got old enough to be able to understand the difference.
When James had slowed his weeping, he had a look at Harry. James did as he had done when the mediwitch handed Harry to him mere moments after he was born. He counted fingers and toes. He stared in awe at the tiny, helpless, perfect person in his arms. He looked into Harry's eyes. As far as he could tell, Harry was unhurt with the exception of a lighting-bolt shaped cut on his forehead. As soon as James saw the cut, he knew the boy was scarred for life.
When he had assured himself that Harry was whole, all thoughts of revenge left his brain. He made up his mind then as to what he would do; he would do whatever he had to do to keep his Harry safe. He would stop hiding, he would become an auror, and he would spend the rest of his life making the world safer for his precious son.
"Come on," Sirius said, helping James to his feet. "You're staying at my place tonight. We'll figure out what to do tomorrow."
James nodded. "What happened here?" He asked, holding Harry tightly. "Why would You-Know-Who let Harry live?"
"I don't think it was on purpose," Sirius said. "It's kind of a mess up there. Tomorrow we should go see Dumbledore. Maybe he will know something. In the meantime, you'll be safe at my place, and you need some sleep. I'll take care of everything here."
James nodded. "What am I going to do without Lily?" He asked, his sobs beginning afresh.
Just then there was a crack and Dumbledore himself appeared. Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchraft and Wizardry, where Sirius and James had both been trained in magic, was the most powerful wizard in Britain, and quite possibly the most powerful in the world. "James," Dumbledore said, frantically, "Bathilda Bagshot said you'd been attacked."
"Lily's dead," Sirius said, placing an arm around James's shoulder.
"And Harry?" Dumbledore asked.
"He's fine except for a cut," James whispered.
"May I see him?" Dumbledore asked. James hesitated, holding Harry tightly. He was not eager to give his son up now. "I won't hurt him, I promise," Dumbledore said soothingly. James nodded and handed him over without a word. Finding himself in a stranger's arms, Harry began to wail. James reached out a hand and placed his index finger in Harry's palm. Harry immediately gripped it with his whole hand. That small act of closeness was enough to simultaneously soothe Harry and renew James's sobs. Dumbledore checked the baby over, even placing his wand gently over the cut. "I've never seen anything like this," Dumbledore finally said.
"If you don't mind," Sirius cut in gently, "James and I were just leaving. He needs to rest."
"You should come to Hogwarts," Dumbledore said, handing Harry back to his father, who took him quickly and hugged him tight. "You'll be safe there until we can figure out how Voldemort broke your charm."
"I'll tell you how he broke the charm. P-P-Peter P-P-Pettigrew must have told him where to find us." James said, his voice thick with tears. He could barely make his mouth form Peter's name through his gasps. He had been betrayed, and he was too exhausted and too devastated to even be angry.
Sirius gasped. He had obviously not thought of that before. "That rat," Sirius whispered.
"You have to go somewhere safe," Dumbledore said.
"We're going to my house. They'll be safe there." Sirius replied.
"No," Dumbledore insisted, "Come to Hogwarts."
"No!" Sirius snapped. "He's coming with me."
"Do not think that he is safe from further attacks just because this one failed. Voldemort will come again."
"Then let him come!" Sirius shouted. "I'll be ready."
Then he grabbed James's arm and, a split second later, Sirius, James, and Harry all three disappeared with a loud "pop" leaving Dumbledore standing alone in front of the burning shards of James Potter's ruined dreams.
Twelve years later, James Potter lay awake in bed, having just awakened from a nightmare about his wife's death. After so many years, he would have thought he'd be rid of them. At first, he had them every night; but it had been years since he'd had one, until now. There was little doubt in his mind as to why they had reappeared. Peter Pettigrew had escaped from Azkaban, the wizard's prison, at the beginning of the summer, and James had been working himself nearly to death trying to catch him and make sure he went back there. James rose from his bed and went to his son's room. Harry was fast asleep. He had just turned thirteen the day before and was exhausted from the excitement of the party James had thrown him. As he had done so many times before, James grieved for the loss Harry had suffered the night his mother died.
Lily had been such a beautiful mother. She had been a natural at it, always knowing just what to do. When she died, James had had no idea what to do with Harry. Most days, he still didn't. There were days when he didn't know how Harry had managed to grow into such a wonderful person. Everyone always told him he was a good father, but he didn't always believe it. He constantly worried and second-guessed himself about his parenting. Yet, Harry was brave and strong and good. James couldn't imagine being more proud of him. He had once told Sirius that his life goal was to grow up to be like Harry.
James was frightened for Harry, more frightened than he was letting on to the boy. He had deliberately kept his son in the dark about the nature of Peter Pettigrew's crime, telling him only those details that had been released to the public. Harry didn't know that Peter had once been his father's friend, or that he had been the one who betrayed the Potters to Voldemort that night twelve years ago. He knew that Peter had killed twelve muggles, but didn't know that he had done so in an attempt to frame Sirius for his own betrayal. He didn't know that the aurors had reason to believe Peter might be coming after him. He didn't know that, right now, two trained aurors were outside guarding this very house in case he did. He didn't know that James was considering keeping him home from school because he feared how easy it might be for Peter to find him there. Harry didn't know any of this, and James intended to keep it that way. No thirteen-year-old should have to worry about such things.
James ran his fingers through Harry's messy hair and gently touched the scar on the boy's forehead. He was glad Harry was such a heavy sleeper, like his dad. Lily had been a light sleeper, jerking awake at the smallest sound or the slightest touch. When Harry was about ten months old, he caught an awful cold. There came a night when James couldn't sleep, and he was holding the boy, rocking him, when Harry gave the tiniest cough. A few moments later, Lily came running in to check on him. Somehow, through two closed doors, she had heard the cough, awoken, and rushed to her son's side to ensure he was safe. James smiled at the memory.
James pulled a chair next to Harry's bed and watched him sleep. This was something he always did when his insomnia flared. He could do it for hours an end without tiring of it. Harry would probably be embarrassed if he knew, but James didn't care. He was never happier than when he was with Harry, and, despite all his fears and worries, he wouldn't have traded this moment for anything in the world.