James breathed in the familiar smells, took in the familiar sights, and listened to the familiar sounds of the familiar house he called home.
He heard the clatter of dishes washing themselves in the sink as the water turned off and on in cycle.
He heard the clean, wet clothes wring themselves out, the excess water falling into a quickly filling bucket.
He heard the whistle of the pot on the stove, announcing hot tea was on its way.
He saw the cozy pale green walls of the main room, with its soft tan chairs and couch forming a circle with each other on the laminate floors.
He saw the tall bookcase that separated the main room from his parents' office, knowing the exact old leather volume to pull out – third shelf, center right – to gain entry.
He saw the bright yellow walls of the kitchen where many evening were spent talking over dinner at the spacious oak table.
He saw the cream colored carpeted stairs that lead up to their second level, the place where many retired to their bedrooms at night to doze into sleep land.
He smelled the clean, crisp air of home, mixed with the apple cinnamon tarts his mother had cooked to their welcome home treat.
Home sweet home.
James smiled and dropped his trunk and released his owl, so that she could spread her wings.
"James Sirius -!" Ginny dodged as the owl flew past her head, giving a small hoot of warning.
"Harriet needed to spread her wings, Mum."
"He'll call her back in before she makes too much of a mess dear," Harry reassured his wife. His green eyes followed the faithful snowy owl with a sad faraway look.
"And I'll clean up any mess she does make," added James quickly.
Ginny's raised eyebrows and thin mouth clearly showed her son that she doubted this. But she only sighed and went into the kitchen to oversee the progress that had been made in her absence. With quick swish and flick of her wand, everything came to a halt and James watched his mother starting to finish the work by hand.
"Al, would you please go and mind the clothes that are being wrung out?" Ginny called over her shoulder. "And Lily, your sheets are clean dear so you can make your bed."
Albus and Lily exchanged annoyed looks. Chores weren't their idea of a winter break. James tried to slide off up the stairs, softly whistling for his owl.
"James, could you keep an eye on Jade for me?" James stopped and only just managed to not roll his eyes. Of course his father had to spoil his plan.
"And keep an eye on Harriet too?"
Harry gave his son a stern look, "I'm sure Jade would love to meet Harriet. Would you Jade?" He turned to little girl. With a small, shy nod, Jade looked up at James, bright blue gray eyes hopeful and curious.
"Hey no fair, how did she learn the puppy look?" muttered James. "Or do all children know it by instinct?"
His father laughed, "By my experience, instinct." With a quick word to Jade, Harry walked up to the bookshelf and gently pulled on the old volume and pushed the case in, revealing the cozy room on the other side for a brief moment before shutting it close.
Jade had clearly seen this before because she turned to James and looked up at him importantly. "That's a secret room."
"Yes, I know," replied James with a small smile, "only Mum, Dad, Al, Lily, I and now you know about it."
"Because it's a secret."
"It's magic, kid." James laughed. Indeed to anyone who knew otherwise, there was only wall space between that bookcase and the kitchen. Magic was the coolest thing.
"Oh – Who's Harriet?" Jade asked.
James pointed on the floor. "Have a seat on the floor Jade. Mum doesn't want owl feathers on the couch." He whistled for his owl and held out his arm as she flew towards him.
"Why?" asked Jade.
"Mum doesn't like messes."
Jade looked suddenly sad, "My mummy doesn't like messes either."
James frowned and gently held Harriet out to Jade. "Want to pet her? She'll be your friend forever."
Jade reached out; somehow James knew she was going to pet against the feathers if he didn't correct her. That would be one way ticket to a mad Harriet, a bit and crying Jade and mad parents that would ground him.
"NO!" James grabbed her hand just as it touched the soft white feathers. Calming down slightly, James took a breath, and took Jade's open hand more gently. "Like this." He guided the girl's hand until he felt confident letting go and watched happily as his owl's golden eyes closed clearly relaxed. Jade gave a huge smile.
"She likes me!"
James laughed, "Like I said, you're now her best friend." He heard a faint curse word come from another room.
"Albus Severus Potter!"
"Mum, the bucket dumped the water on me!"
"Oh nonsense!" Ginny Potter stomped out of the kitchen and went into the bathroom where James knew his brother would be hanging up clothes. Now just drenching wet.
Winking at Jade, James laughed and said, "Now all that needs to happen is for Lily's sheets to attack her and we'd have our normal chaos…"
"Mum!" Lily's voice rang down the stairs.
Ginny and Albus came out from doing the wash, both now sopping wet. "No. More. Magic. While. We. Are. On. Break!" she scolded him.
"MUM!"" Lily shrieked.
"Harry would you go see what our daughter wants!" Ginny yelled towards the book case. Harry quickly came out and rushed up the stairs but James thought he heard his father murmur, "We've only been home for ten minutes!"
Jade's eyes had widened taking all this in. James cracked up, laughing even harder. "Welcome to the Potter Home, Jade! Hey, is that Puff?" James saw and took the stuffed toy Hungarian Horntail off of the couch, running his hand down the silver fabric spikes, one of which was torn. "Merlin it is!"
"No, her name is Maleficent!" corrected Jade.
"His name is Puff, and he's older then you," said James sternly. "Respect is in order. Hey, where did you get that paper and those crayons at?"
"I had them."
"No you… never mind." James sighed, shaking his head. He watched as Jade's small hands quickly moved over the page; it was as though she was not even thinking about what she was drawing. Which James found really weird, because when he and his siblings were that age, they took much time and care into their stick figures and square houses.
But each little kid was different right? So, this wasn't terribly weird.
Now James saw two stick figures; one of a girl and one of a boy. The girl had dark squiggly lines over her head for curly hair and the boy had short black hair, sticking up upon his head. Both had black outlines of what resembled to robes and red triangles on their necks (ties?). But that wasn't what startled James. It was the girl's eyes. Jade had made them an icy blue.
James pointed to the girl stick person. "I've not told you about Iris have I? My friend that's coming over soon?"
Jade ignored him as she drew away. Merlin, this girl was weird. James watched her draw a brown line with tan smaller lines sticking out all over at the one end, maybe a broomstick… and a gray square with diagonal lines going in both directions. With a sad face in it. James frowned and he crawled beside Jade to ask her about her drawing, until he saw a shadow over him. His father had come back from helping Lily.
"Jade, what are you drawing?" Harry asked gently kneeling down to her level, but looking from the picture to James. Iris looked up, her eyes were unfocused.
"They who can send the dark into retreat…"
James watched as his father's face paled. Jade pointed to the messy ravened haired boy on her picture then to the broomstick and caged sad face. "The Protector has to heed his warnings.
This time it was James' face that paled and his mind raced with the sudden memory…
"…So with this in mind, sister, what do you know about our forgotten niece? Answer me! CRUCIO…!
…Protector, born of flight and born of fight
Protector, eldest of the famous line
Heed this warning and keep her safe, oh Protector.
"Dad, I need to talk to you," James said. "In private."
"What did this Vinness look like?" Harry asked his son urgently. "That's important."
James leaned back in a swirling chair in the secret room. His gaze idly swept through the numerous volumes on shelves, the messy desks piled with paper and notebooks, and the various school supplies, handheld mind games and other recreations of the Potter family. His favorite place to be when he was home. He felt like a secret agent plotting a mission or something of the sort. And it was a cool feeling.
Now though he felt anything but cool. He felt confused.
"Like – Like an adult Jade. The same eyes and the same hair. The jailer had claimed to be her sister and then threatened to find her daughter…and the child like voice matched Jade's zoned out trance like voice. And -!"
"Which sounds like the woman that took Jade in Three Broomsticks that day," Harry had stood up from his desk and started pacing. James watched his dad going back and forth, nervous.
"So that makes the Vinness in my dream…"
"… Jade's mother," finished Harry.
"But," James started in; voice tight, "It was a nightmare. It couldn't have been real…"
His father just gave him a stern look. "James, you remember this dream from two months ago. And you never remember your dreams. You and Iris on top of that have the same dream…"
"Darn close," Harry said looking his son in the eye.
"Dad, you're scaring me."
Harry stopped pacing and sat in the chair opposite of James. "It's all connecting."
"I did say this was a dream right?"
Harry scowled. "Yes, James. But you can't deny the unusual aspects of this so called dream. You dream of a woman trapped who happens to look like Jade's mother who is being threatened with her daughter's capture. Then you dream of Jade's voice at the end…"
"Why am I being called the Protector?" James interrupted. His father wouldn't meet his eyes. James grew even more nervous. "What in Merlin's most sagging pants am I supposed to be protecting!"
"James," Harry scolded.
"You're not telling me everything! Which is not cool, seeing as I have told you everything!" James stopped, pausing for breath. "It's this niece isn't it? The one that the robed woman in my dream wanted… the one that Vinness was being torture for information about?"
"That would make sense…" Harry said slowly.
"Well then, who is she?"
Once again his father wouldn't quite meet his gaze. "I have a suspicion."
"You don't need to know of my suspicions James. That's all they are…"
"But," James argued, "If she needs my protection…"
Harry sighed, "You're taking this far too literally James…"
"So are you!"
"You have a choice in this James."
James could only stare his father down. "And I choose to protect her. I don't want anyone to go through what Vinness is going through… I – I felt the pain! I know!"
Harry took a deep breath. "Fine, fine. Take it literally. But I'll tell you right now, you may have been "her Protector" all along."
All right, now James was really confused.
"When is Iris coming?" Harry asked, changing the subject. James knew the change met that the discussion was over.
"Tomorrow," he replied.
Harry nodded, "With Teddy staying with Victorie's immediate family that leaves the guest room open for her."
"Lily, will like that. She doesn't have to share her room that way." James agreed. Neither of them spoke for a moment. Then the two Potter men jumped as they heard a crash from the outside of the room.
"We better go see if everything is all right," grinned Harry. "Come on." Nodding in agreement, James followed his father out of from behind the bookcase and rushed to help his mother clean up the pile of fallen dishes.