Disclaimer: Not mine
James loved to take walks with Harry. Harry was like a little sponge, noticing everything, keeping up a constant stream of questions, and repeating things back that James never in a million years would have thought he'd remember. It really boggled James' mind sometimes how incredibly bright Harry was. Certainly brighter than James, and that was saying something.
This particular summer day found the two of them strolling down a street in their neighborhood. They had spent much of the morning cloud watching. All the clouds Harry saw looked like lions. They were his favorite animal. For now. As lunchtime approached, James began to think longingly of the sandwiches waiting for them at home and so, although Harry swore he wasn't hungry, James declared their cloud watching over for the morning.
"Daddy, what's that?" Harry asked suddenly, pointing with one hand and pulling on James' trousers with the other. James followed his son's gaze and saw a dead blackbird, lying feet up on the edge of the sidewalk.
"What's wrong with it? Is it sleeping?" Harry moved to touch it.
"No, don't touch it," James told him quickly. "It's dead."
"Dead?" Harry repeated breathlessly. He nudged it with his toe. It rocked in place. He nudged it a little harder. It flopped over onto its side. "Dead." Harry backed away from the bird very suddenly, as though afraid that death would somehow catch him, too. Harry stopped when he had backed as far into James as he could, pressing himself close to his father. He looked up at James. "How did it die?"
"I don't know," James replied. "Sometimes things just die."
Harry looked back at the bird, lying stone still on the ground. "Sometimes things just die," he murmured, as though trying out the idea for himself.
"Will it get better?"
James shook his head. "No, dead is forever."
"Forever?" Harry echoed, his eyes wide.
James nodded sadly, sure he was handling this all wrong and scarring the child for life, but how was a person supposed to explain death to a four-year-old? "Forever."
That afternoon, Harry sat on his knees in a dining chair, leaning over his picture as he narrowed his eyes in concentration. He held out his tongue as he colored, childish scribble-scrabble. A blue lion. Harry really couldn't get enough of lions lately. He spent much of his time roaring and pretending to be one. Just yesterday, he had requested gazelle for dinner and refused to eat anything else. James suspected Sirius had put him up to it; Harry later admitted he didn't even know what a gazelle was, only that lions ate them.
In the end, James cut Harry's pork chop off the bone, mixed it with a little red food coloring and told him it was fresh gazelle. Harry ate it happily, though he refused his vegetables.
"Lions don't have to eat broccoli," he told James in a haughty tone that nearly demanded agreement.
"They do if they want dessert," James had replied. It was amazing how quickly Harry changed his ideas about the dietary habits of lions after that. James smiled, watching him. He had bought the boy a stuffed lion for his birthday in a few weeks, and he was already excited thinking of how much Harry would love it.
"Daddy, look at my picture," Harry said suddenly, looking up at James and smiling.
"That's lovely, Harry," James replied. "Why don't you tell me about this picture?"
"The lion's name is Sirius," Harry reported. James smiled, trying not to laugh. Harry always came up with the best stories. "And he's friends with all the zebras, even though he's not supposed to be, and the other lions are mean to him, so he writes them strongly worded letters."
James did laugh at that. Two days before, he had had reason to be angry with the ministry and, in his tirade, he had informed Sirius and Remus that he would be writing them a strongly worded letter. Harry had popped his head up from his toys and asked what that meant. Until that moment, the Marauders hadn't even realized he was listening to them.
"What do the letters say?" James asked.
Harry pushed out his lips and narrowed his eyes in a stern look. He brought his finger up to shake it at the imaginary lions. "Stop being mean to me or I'll tell my daddy, and he'll cut off your manes and tie your tails into knots."
"And does that scare the lions?"
Harry shook his head. "No, they don't care." He lowered his voice to a whisper, as though telling the most sensitive of secrets. "They're very bad lions."
"I see. Well, I don't blame Sirius for being friends with the zebras if the other lions are like that."
Harry nodded gravely. "Sirius likes the zebras. They're always nice to him." With an air of finality, he picked up his crayon and returned to his scribbles. James watched him, unable to take his eyes off his child.
Harry turned the page and picked up a new crayon. Black. "This lion is sad," Harry told James without looking up.
"Why is he sad?"
Harry put down the crayon. "I don't want to color any more."
"Okay, you don't have to."
Harry's tears began to fall without warning. James was always perplexed whenever Harry's mood changed quickly like this. Molly Weasley assured him it was normal.
"Harry, what's the matter?"
"The lion's sad because it doesn't have a mummy. Like me."
Ah. James sucked in his breath. He pushed his chair back. "Come here, Harry" he said softly, holding out his arm to invite his child into his lap.
Harry came out of his chair and climbed into his father's arms. James hugged him tightly, kissing the top of his head. Harry's little body was wracked with sobs. James didn't know what to say, so he settled for cooing reassurances until Harry calmed.
"You do have a mummy, Harry, and she loved you as much as any mother ever loved her son." James had told Harry about Lily many times, trying to sugarcoat her absence for his son's tiny ears, explaining that Lily was an angel and that she was watching over them and that she loved them and wanted to be with them but couldn't.
"Mummy's dead," Harry replied tearfully.
"Yes, she is."
"You said dead is forever."
James felt tears stinging his own eyes, threatening to spill over. He swallowed past the lump in his throat. "It is."
Harry buried his head in James' chest and sobbed. "I don't want Mummy to be dead," he wailed.
James felt his own face crumple as his breath hitched and his tears overflowed their gates. Sometimes he feared the pain of losing Lily would never go away. Other times, he feared it would, and he would forget her.
"I know," James answered. "I don't want her to be dead, either."
James closed his eyes, trying to decide how to explain this to his child. He resisted the urge to fall back on his old standby, sensing that Harry needed more of an answer than that today. Harry had never really asked about Lily before.
"Mummy can't be with us here, anymore, but that doesn't mean she's completely gone. She lives right here." James pointed to Harry's heart.
Harry looked up at James. "Don't cry, Daddy."
James gave a grim smile through his tears. "It's okay to cry when you miss somebody like we miss Mummy."
Harry's tears appeared again. He buried his head in James' chest, weeping out his grief over the mother he couldn't remember. James laid his wet cheek on the top of Harry's head, taking solace in this tiny, wonderful person that he and Lily had created together. Sometimes it still boggled his mind.
"Listen, Harry," James explained when they had both calmed. "Mummy didn't want to leave us. She loved us very much. Especially you. And even though we can't see her any more, we can still talk to her, and she hears us. I think she's watching over us."
"But she's never coming back?" Harry asked, his eyes wide and hurt.
"No," James told him tearfully. "She's never coming back."
Harry thought about that for a moment before fearfully asking, "Are you going to die?"
James' eyes filled with fresh tears. He wanted to lie. He wanted to calm Harry's fears and say that he would never die. He wanted to tell the child a fairy tale where good people live forever, but life was not a fairy tale, and today, Harry deserved the truth. "Someday. Everyone dies, but not for a very long time, not until you're all grown up and have children of your own. Maybe not even until they have children of their own."
"But I don't want you to die!" Harry wailed.
"You don't need to worry about it," James assured him, not even wanting to think about how badly he was probably bungling this whole thing up. "I'm not going to die any time soon."
James couldn't have said how long they sat there together, tears coursing down their faces. James wished he weren't crying in front of his child. The first time his father had cried in front of him, he felt the world was coming to an end.
The two of them sat quietly, even after all the tears had ceased to fall. Finally, James pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and used it to wipe Harry's face.
"Blow," James ordered, and Harry did. James was suddenly struck by the oddity of parenthood. Five years ago, someone blowing their nose into a handkerchief James was holding would have disgusted him. Now, it was just life. He folded the handkerchief and placed it in his pocket. Then he kissed Harry on the forehead.
"Are you still sad?" Harry asked, sniffling.
James nodded. "Yes, I'm still sad. I miss Mummy a lot, but that's not all bad, because it means I loved her very much, and that was special. So, even though I miss her now, I'm glad I miss her, because that means I got to love her while she was here."
Harry nodded as though he understood, even though James was sure he had gone way over the child's head. "So it's okay to be sad," Harry provided.
James squeezed him. "Yes," he said emphatically. "It's okay to be sad."
"Can we go bury the bird?" Harry asked.
James was caught off guard by the sudden change in subject. "Sure, we can bury the bird."
They found an old shoe box and lined it with a piece of a pillow case. Harry insisted on coloring the outside, and on picking wildflowers to fill it with along the way. He even put in a picture of a bird out of one of his coloring books so it wouldn't be lonely. James' heart swelled with pride. The child was so like Lily it was painful sometimes. She would have done precisely the same thing. The first time James ever visited her family, she cried over her father accidentally killing a squirrel with their car on the way home from King's Cross.
James levitated the bird into the box, and they carried it home to bury it in the back yard. They even made a little cross out of twigs to mark the spot.
"What do you think his name was?" Harry asked, taking James' hand as they appraised their handiwork.
"I don't know. What do you think?"
Harry thought for a moment. "Tweet," he finally answered.
James suppressed a smile. "Tweet's a good name."
Harry crouched down and put a hand over their freshly filled grave. "Goodbye, Tweet. You were a good bird. I wish you didn't have to die."
James blinked, cursing inwardly. He had been so sure his tears were spent. "Let's go inside," he whispered, making a split-second decision about how he would cheer Harry up.
"Can I color my lions some more?"
"Sure, you can, but I have something for you first."
"What is it?" Harry asked, a twinge of excitement entering his voice.
"Wait and see," James told him, forcing a smile. Hand in hand, they went to James' room, where James rifled around on top of his closet until he found what he was looking for.
"A lion!" Harry squealed. "A lion! A lion! A lion!" Harry repeated, jumping up and down. "Thank you, Daddy!" he cried, hugging James around the waist. "It's my favorite thing ever!"
James would have to find something else to get him for his birthday now, but no matter. He was sure he'd come up with something.
"I'm going to call it Cowboy!"
Harry nodded, not even looking at James. He only had eyes for Cowboy. "I'm Harry, Cowboy," Harry told it. He wandered off to give Cowboy a tour of the house.
James found them a few minutes later, back at the dining room table, happily coloring their lions. Green, this time.
"Cowboy knows this lion," Harry told him as James sat beside him. "He likes to eat broccoli. That's why he's green."
"Makes perfect sense to me. May I color with you?"
Harry offered up his crayons generously and scooted the book over so James could have a page.
"It's already colored on a little. Do you want another picture?"
"No, I don't mind that it's already colored on a little." There were a few lines of orange in the sky. James was sure he could turn it into a sunset.
"I don't like pages that have already been colored on."
James understood that. He hadn't liked that, either, when he was young. He once threw a wobbly because one of his mates colored in his favorite coloring book. In the end, his parents had to go buy him a new one to calm him down. It seemed odd, looking back on it now, how upset he used to get over such tiny things.
"You color good, Daddy," Harry said, pulling James out of his thoughts. James looked at his picture. He didn't think it was particularly good. Artistry had never been his forte.
"Thank you. I bet you when you're a daddy, you'll color just as well."
Harry shrugged. "If I talk to Mummy right now, will she hear me?"
James took a deep breath. "Yes, I think she will."
Harry looked up at the ceiling. "Hi Mummy. I love you. I wish you could be here with me." After a moment of silence, Harry looked at James, his face clouded with disappointment. "She didn't answer."
It was only by a Herculean effort that James kept his emotions to himself. "That doesn't mean she didn't hear. You know how hard Sirius is to wake up sometimes, but then when you wake him up, he says he was having a dream that you were calling his name."
"Well, it's probably like that. She can hear us, but she can't answer. But that doesn't mean she's not there, or that she doesn't still love us."
James wasn't so sure she couldn't answer. He still thought he heard her, sometimes. He certainly felt her presence from time to time - just a sense of peace like he used to have when she was in his arms. Those instances were getting rarer and rarer the more time went by, and after the fact, he always decided he was making them up anyway. But when he was in that moment, it felt so real it hurt.
"I'm hungry. Can we have ice cream?"
"It's a little too close to dinner for ice cream, I think. What would you like for dinner tonight?"
James should have known. Harry always wanted pasghetti.
"I don't think we have any spaghetti," James said. Harry pouted. "I suppose we'll just have to go out and get some," James continued. Harry brightened.
"Can Cowboy come?"
James smiled. "I see no reason why Cowboy can't come."
"Do lions like pasghetti?"
"I don't think so."
"Cowboy told me he likes pasghetti. And ice cream."
"Well, maybe Cowboy has different tastes from most lions."
"Did Mummy like pasghetti?"
"Mummy loved spaghetti. She used to grow tomatoes in our yard just so she could make her own spaghetti sauce. It was the best thing you ever put in your mouth. She used to feed it to you, and you would make the biggest messes with it. You used to dump the entire bowl on your head when you got full."
Harry giggled. "That's silly, Daddy. I never did that."
James held up a hand. "I swear on my honor as a Marauder."
Harry seemed to accept that response. "Why don't you go change your clothes, and we can go eat all the spaghetti we can hold."
Harry ran off, leaving Cowboy behind. James picked him up, sure that Harry would be back in a few moments. Sure enough, only seconds later, Harry came charging into the dining room for his lion.
"Thanks, Daddy!" And then he ran off again. James hied himself out of the chair and to his room, where he put on his trainers before walking himself to Harry's room. He found Harry sitting in the middle of the floor, lost in conversation with Cowboy.
"Dead is forever, Cowboy, but Mummy still listens to us, and she lives right here." Harry pointed to his own chest. He seemed perfectly cheerful as he explained the day's lessons to his new lion. James hoped that meant maybe he hadn't bungled it so badly after all.
"Ready for spaghetti?" James asked.
"Yeah!" This time, Harry did not forget Cowboy. He tucked the lion under his arm and tucked a tiny hand inside James' as they left the room. As James turned off the light, he noticed the sinlight streaming through the window, falling on the picture of Lily on Harry's nightstand. A familiar sense of peace enveloped him, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lily was indeed watching over them.
"Love you always, Lils," he whispered.
"Come on, Daddy!" Harry called, tugging on James' hand.
"I'm coming." James picked Harry up and kissed him, settling the child on his back. Harry wrapped his arms around James' neck, giggling as James bounded with him down the stairs and out the door.