"No good sittin' worryin' abou' it," Hagrid said. "What's comin' will come, an we'll meet it when it does. Dumbledore told me wha' you did, Harry."
Hagrid's chest swelled as he looked at Harry.
"Yeh did as much as yer father would've done, an' I can' give yeh no higher praise than that."
-- Hagrid, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Disclaimer: This is a non-profit work of fan-fiction posted for the enjoyment of anyone who enjoys non-profit works of fan-fiction. Please don't sue. Every character in this story belongs to J. K. Rowlings – I don't own them, and I don't even own the situations they find themselves in. I can't even claim complete credit for the plot and ideas – it's all been done before, folks.
A/N: First off, this is a bit different from my other stories (if you've read them, which you probably haven't.) My Neville stories try to stick very close to the books – this one, obviously, is more than a little improbable. I wrote it because I wanted to, and I hope you'll enjoy it. Secondly, I know some of the ideas in here are … er … kinda … well … baseless. But, hey, it was fun to write – and really, if one reads the books carefully enough, it's possible to find support for *any* wacky idea. Besides, you don't have to keep reading it if you don't want to. And lastly, please review if you've got questions, comments, criticisms, or flames. *Any* feed-back is welcome.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
NO HIGHER PRAISE:
A tale covering the summer after Harry's fourth year, among other things … with a heavy emphasis on James Potter.
White fog obscured his senses... big, blurred shapes were moving around him... then came a new voice, a man's voice, shouting, panicking --
"Lily, take Harry and go! It's him! Go! Run! I'll hold him off --"
The sounds of someone stumbling from a room -- a door bursting open – a cackle of high- pitched laughter –
-- Harry's memories, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
* * *
"And now you face me, like a man . . . straight-backed and proud, the way your father died. . . ."
--Tom Riddle, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
* * *
The silence was nerve-wracking.
As James Potter paced from shuttered window to barred door and back again, his footsteps seemed unnaturally loud, echoing above the ticking clock. If he stopped walking and strained his ears, he would be able to hear Lily humming a lullaby as she washed dishes in the kitchen … but he did not stop. The turmoil in his mind cried out for matching chaos, noise, and bustle all around him, but instead, the little house lay in dead silence, waiting.
No, not waiting. He couldn't think like that – it wasn't fair to Lily. If he continued stretching himself, straining his nerves by this constant fear, her quiet endurance and peace would start to wear thin … and then they would both go mad with worry. He had to think about more cheerful things, happier things … such as how terrified poor Peter must be, left with this terrible burden and the knowledge that the Death Eaters would torture it out of him if they caught him. Happier things, like Sirius, setting himself up as a decoy, terribly liable to be caught and tortured even though he *wasn't* the Secret Keeper. Happier things, like Remus, and Sirius's fear that Remus was the spy …
Happier things. Like why HE was after Harry in the first place.
No, no, mustn't go there. It would be very foolish to keep thinking about that, about those horrid scarlet eyes and those long white fingers that kept twirling the wand, twirling it hypnotically while the cold voice went on and on, offering him power and glory and wealth and anything he wanted, anything at all, if only he would give up Lily and let Harry die, if only he would realize the error of his ways, abandon the old fool Dumbledore and join …
James shook himself out of his half-trance and turned quickly away from the closed door. Several brisk steps took him back into the kitchen, and some of his worries washed away in the warm firelight. Lily half-turned from the dishpan to smile at him, suds dripping from her hands, and he uncurled his fingers from his wand. It was silly to be so paranoid – they were safe unless Peter told, and Peter would never tell. Sure, he was desperately, utterly, frantically determined to keep his family safe at all costs, but he was still being foolish and cowardly – not like a proper Gryffindor at all –
But, whispered a nasty voice in the back of his head, you're not a proper Gryffindor after all, are you?
Shut up, he told it, faintly amused. I'm not insecure enough to be bullied into depression by my subconscious.
James dropped down onto his knees beside Harry's play-area. Harry was sitting and solemnly plucking fuzz off of the blanket beneath him, completely oblivious to James's presence as he tried to stuff his rattle full of blue lint. James leaned over him silently, waiting until he was inches away from Harry's left ear before speaking.
Rattle and lint went flying as Harry shrieked with laughter under a sudden onslaught of tickles. Lily turned around, her long hair catching the firelight, and smiled tolerantly.
"You do realize that now I'll never get him calmed down enough for bed, don't you?"
"Awww, Harry's a big boy now," James answered, halting the tickle attack. "He doesn't need to go to bed before midnight, at least!" Harry's helpless giggles turned into equally helpless hiccups; he beamed happily at James with his gap-toothed grin.
"Give him a bottle, James, that should take care of the hic … cups …" Lily trailed off as James calmly returned his wand to his pocket and picked up the now-cured toddler. She shook her head and laughed. "I'll have you know my Muggle remedy would have worked just fine too, James Potter."
"Of course it would have," James assured her, dropping onto Harry's blanket and lifting his son onto his chest. Harry made an eager snatch for James's glasses. "Hey! Daddy can't see without his glasses, Pronglet …"
"Daddy is going to come dry the dishes."
"Daddy could dry the dishes from here with one flick of his wand … and Mummy could too, if she wasn't so eager to dump the dishpan over Daddy's head."
"Daddy is going to get the dishpan dumped over his head whether he comes or not if he keeps talking like that."
"Mauder," Harry declaimed proudly, struggling to place the glasses on his own nose. James reached up in time to keep him from poking one of his eyes out.
"That's right, Harry, Marauder. You're the first of the new generation of Marauders, all set to carry on our proud traditions … no, Harry, the glasses go *this* way, over your ears, not in your mouth…"
"Ick!" Harry stated firmly, pulling the glasses back off.
"Well, of course you can't see, Pronglet – these are Daddy's glasses. But it's quite all right, because you're sure to need your own pair in a few years. And then you can get glasses with little snitches on them. You'd like that, wouldn't you, Harry? Ow!"
James recaptured his glasses and felt the tip of his nose gingerly. Lily chuckled, banishing a pile of silverware to its drawer. "You ought to be glad he didn't get you in the eye, James, with the way he was waving those things around."
"Mummy's just jealous," James informed Harry in a stage whisper. Harry blinked down at his father's face, evidently considering another grab at the glasses. "Mummy just wishes *she* could have a pair of utterly marvelous glasses that can be used to start fires with when there's sunlight and no wands. No, Harry … these are Daddy's glasses."
"I'm sorry, Harry. Not even for a display of your speaking prowess will I let you have my glasses again. I value my nose too much. Mummy would never want to kiss me again if you disfigured it, you ruthless little fellow."
Momentary silence descended on the room as Harry, frowning with concentration, began attempting to detach James's collar from his shirt. James lay still, his heart constricting painfully as he watched his son's small face.
How could you ever be a threat to him, Harry? And how could he ever stand to order you killed? How could he?
I suppose it's no big deal to him. His followers have tortured and killed children as young as you before … but his own flesh and blood – no, that wouldn't matter to him. He killed his own father, didn't he? But we're nothing like him, Harry, whatever blood runs in our veins. We are good and he is evil and he wants you dead, but I swear I'll protect you, Harry, he'll have to kill me to get at you and he said he wouldn't do that … but he would, of course.
Life's so uncomplicated for you, isn't it, Harry? It should be. That's what we're here for, as Aurors or as parents … to protect the innocent and let children grow up without fear. And I'll do it, Harry, even if *I* have to kill *him*. I'll protect you, I will, I will…
"Pafooh!" Harry yelled, as something went off with a whistle in the next room. Lily started and dropped the mop clattering on the floor. James sat up quickly, clutching Harry in his arms.
Lily laughed nervously. "Probably another stray cat. Those stupid proximity wards sound all the time …"
"Pafooh?" Harry queried hopefully, grabbing a fistful of James's sleeve.
"No, Harry," James said automatically, slowly getting to his feet. "Padfoot can't come; Padfoot is very busy…"
It's a cat, nothing but a cat, or another Muggle, that's what it is, there's nothing to worry about, James, really there isn't –
"Then I will hunt down your son myself and kill him – and you, you will wish you had never defied me, insolent boy. You will wish you had never seen that Mudblood girl … you will wish you had never been born …"
Nononononono, don't remember that, don't think about that, it's not him, it's not, he can't be here he can't come here Peter's the Secret Keeper and nobody knows we're safe safe safe and there's nothing to be afraid of nothing nothing nothing
"James!" Lily's voice shot up in sudden fear as an alarm chimed through the house. Three throbs, a strident whistle, a deep clang – silence – the wards were down, the house was visible, what –
His wand was in his hand suddenly and he spun toward the door, heart suddenly working overtime. He could not hear the clock ticking over the throbbing in his ears, and the curtains were pulsating in a breeze that shouldn't be able to get in.
Noooooo, please no, not him, please, let it all be a mistake, let the charms have failed naturally, let it be a cat –
"I will allow *nothing* to stand between me and what I want, James. Not you, not your less-than-halfblood son. Give him to me, and I will give him a quick death."
And the wards over the front door exploded in harsh finality.
His voice shot up in panic as he hastily disentangled a suddenly-quiet Harry from his shirt. "Lily, take Harry and go! It's him! Go! Run! I'll hold him off –"
He thrust Harry into her arms and, after one intent, desperate stare into his eyes, she spun and rushed from the room. Out in the hallway, the front door burst open. With Quidditch-honed speed, James flung himself forward through the kitchen door, wrenching it shut behind him with one hand while he pointed his wand forward with the other.
Oh,the cynical side of his brain scoffed, like a shut wooden door will delay Voldemort for more than .061 milliseconds. You're very funny, James.
I know - that's what Sirius always tells me,he answered automatically, sliding his feet apart and settling into dueling posture.
Hurry, Lily. Get away.
The tall, thin silhouette that haunted his dreams stepped in over the shattered fragments of England's sturdiest front door.
"Expelliarmus!" James shouted, almost before he could see the wand in the other's long, thin hand.
He knew, of course, that it wouldn't do the slightest good, so he instantly followed it up with a "Stupefy," equally useless.
Then the wand wrenched itself out of his hand, tearing skin off of his palm, and the force of the spell knocked him backward into the door. He automatically rolled out of the way, and heard the kitchen door splinter as a spell bounced off of it.
He crouched beside a table, one hand straying to the spare wand hidden in his sock – and looked up, as Voldemort
moved leisurely toward him, tossing James's snapped wand to the floor.
"James," the thin, amused voice began. "Have you changed your mind yet? Put any of that vaunted Head Boy intelligence to use?"
What spell? What spell can I use? Should I try to kill him? Could I even use an Unforgivable? What spell? Stall – got to stall – surely Lily's out of the house by now –
He forced himself to his feet, sliding the spare wand, now sticky with blood from his scraped hand, into his sleeve. "Actually, I'm afraid I used up all of that intelligence on the NEWTs. Not enough to go around for the rest of my life, you know. Sorry."
"You certainly were not using your brain when you married that mudblood."
"Don't call Lily that," he snapped automatically.
Not smart, James. Not smart.
He made himself look at the horrid scarlet eyes, the dead white face, the bloodless lips twisting in scornful amusement. "Such a temper, James. Do you really think you're in any position to criticize my vocabulary?"
Wonder what he did to make 'em go red like that …
"Well, actually, I'm working under the hypothesis that I'd better criticize your vocabulary as much as I can while I'm still able to, don't you know. It certainly needs it."
Voldemort's thin nostrils flared angrily. "Cheap back-talk will get you nowhere, boy. Will you give up the child and join the winning side, or must I take drastic measures?"
Petrificus Totalus, maybe? It's such a cheap little spell – even first years can do it. Maybe he hasn't protected himself against it. If I can get his wand away, Lily may be able to get to Hogwarts …
Oh, God, I hope Sirius and Peter are all right.
Sweat was trickling down his face, and his pulse was beating in hectic fury. "Er … could you give me some more time to think about that?"
He did not get the response he had expected. Instead of a cold refusal, Voldemort gave vent to a high-pitched laugh. His lips curved up into a macabre grin, and he began to twirl his wand between his thin fingers. "Oh, yes, James, I'm going to give you more time. I'm going to give you more time than you could possibly even want to think about my offer, and the way you have turned it down, and what your response had better be the next time I ask you this question. In fact, you're going to be heartily sick of planning every syllable of that answer before I give you the chance to speak it."
"Oh … that's … nice. Er, care to elaborate?"
The smile broadened. "You're stalling. How very funny, James."
Looks like now I know where the cynical side of my brain came from … ooh, bad thought.
"You think your precious mudblood Lily is going to get the child away while you distract me. How … heroic. And idiotic. A plan worthy of a Gryffindor," he spat, suddenly angry.
James faked a flinch, then pulled himself straight again. If the Dark Lord underestimated him and Lily, they might have a chance after all. But his heart was sinking rapidly, an icy hand clutching at his stomach. Lily had to be gone by now.
"Do you think I didn't plan for the contingency that one or both of you would try to get the child to safety? Have you really that low an opinion of my intelligence? Even as we speak, you darling wife is scuttling frantically from one end of the house to the other, looking for a way out. She isn't going to find one. Did you know how very easy it is to turn wards mean to keep people out into wards that hold people in?"
Lily … Harry …
His voice sounded raspy in his own ears. "No … I didn't know that…"
But he could be bluffing! Don't give in now!
Voldemort's thin face pulled into a grimace of disgust. "That Salazar Slytherin's bloodline has come to this –"
"Petrificus Totalus!" James spared less than a second to wonder how he had ever gotten the wand out of his sleeve and pointed so very quickly. The Dark Lord's limbs quivered and stiffened; his eyes widened in sudden fury. James covered the distance between them in one leap, closing his hand around Voldemort's wand. He wrenched it away from the stiff hand.
Then white light swallowed the world and lightning was shooting up his arm from the wand, dancing around him in ethereal pain. His fingers opened against his will, letting the simple stick tumble to the floor, and he staggered backward, struggling to bring his own wand up for another spell.
Idiot. You should have known he would cast protection spells on his wand.
Voldemort was moving again before James even pronounced the second syllable of his spell. One of the dark wizard's hands shot up, and the Auror-strength stunning spell bounced off and flew back toward James.
That's not even possible!
The time it took him to duck was enough for Voldemort to snatch his wand back up.
There was hardly any contest as to which spell was stronger. James was too shaky to dodge effectively, and his second wand ripped out of his hand. His body smashed against the wall with considerable force, and he slid down to the floor, bells clamoring wildly in the back of his head.
A surge of strength from some hidden reservoir enabled him to roll aside; the curse punched a smoking hole in the wall behind him. But Voldemort's arm could move more quickly than James could dodge.
And then there was pain, like serrated knives ripping through his muscles, molten iron consuming his bones, pain that twisted his mind and wrenched at his voice.
Don't scream, don't give him the satisfaction. Lily, and Harry, think of them and don't give in don't mustn't oh God make it stop …
When it finally stopped, he was pretty sure he hadn't screamed – he had certainly bitten through his lower lip, his teeth were clenched so tightly he was unsure he could ever open his mouth again, and his jaw ached in a way that had nothing to do with the jerks of pain still shuddering through his body. And he was still on his knees, as he had been before the curse hit him, kneeling beside the hall table with one hand wound around its nearest leg. But the blood trickling down from where his fingernails were imbedded in his skin was new.
Voldemort approached with measured steps, and James looked up, red and black mists boiling behind his eyes. "Very clever, James," he said, and his hissing voice seemed to come from a great distance, echoing and flickering like a strobe light.
Got to get up. Got to get up.
"Or perhaps not. An ingenious plan, my dear boy, but rather rash, don't you think? Lord Voldemort does not take kindly to being … tested."
The mist was clearing slowly, and James could see that Voldemort's eyes were glittering with malice. He wanted to answer that, to delay the inevitable death
Get away, Lily!
but he couldn't get his voice to work. Instead, he began forcing himself to his feet, every fiber in him screaming in frenzied protest.
Voldemort moved back slightly, raising his wand. "You are as troublesome as your mother was, Potter. I think I'm going to enjoy this."
Finally on his feet, James faced Voldemort, and spoke through the coppery tang of blood in his mouth. "You must really lead a poor life, having to get your kicks out of things like this. I almost feel sorry for you."
And it's true, you bloody bastard. Now, let's have a long metaphysical discussion on worldviews and true value while Lily gets Harry away.
Voldemort's face went blank for a moment, then he answered softly, "You'll be too busy feeling sorry for yourself soon, James. Petrificus Totalus!"
I guess he's going to kill me now. Be safe, Lily, Harry.
"Oh, I'm not going to kill you, James. Not quite."
Voldemort rested his wand tip against James's forehead, the horrible smile back on his face. "You could still be quite useful to me if you would see the idiocy of your ways. So I'm going to give you more time to think about life in general … without having the trouble of holding you prisoner. You see, James, I've been longing to try this curse out for years." He smirked – an expression that looked more than a little out of place on his snake-like face. The cold voice took on a lecturing note. "This is very dark magic, little Auror. It is a difficult and dangerous spell, designed to cut the subject's mind loose from his body and bind it in the netherworld … which, by all accounts, is not a nice place, not at all. The trick, of course, is to manage the linking spell, which ties the subject's mind to the caster. And that, former Head Boy, means that the caster can bring the subject back whenever he chooses. In short, James, it's going to look like you're dead, which will doubtless do wonders for public morale. But you're really going to be stuck in a very nasty place with nothing to do but think until I have leisure to deal with you … and if I die, your mind is going to be lost there forever. So you'd better hope I succeed, hadn't you?"
I can break loose from this. He got out of the body-bind spell; I can do it to. Got to try. I can't let him go after Harry. I've got to get free.
Voldemort continued speaking, his voice low and distant, chanting the words of the curse. James could feel it, could feel cold seeping into his limbs, his senses dimming oddly, his head beginning to vibrate with pain. Something was fighting, struggling to break away, and he tried to hang on to it.
Harry. Lily. Focus! Can't let it work – have to get away, have to stop him –
Then it ripped and wrenched and twisted and he knew what was happening and it hurt, hurt worse than the Cruciatus, and he would have screamed but he suddenly couldn't even fight the body-bind any more because it was tearing loose and he couldn't feel anything and the light was blinding and Harry and Lily were going to die and he had failed, failed, failed –
I'm sorry, Harry.
And then he was pulled into a howling sea of darkness and it didn't matter anymore.
~ ~ ~ ~
A/N: All will be revealed in later installments. Really.
Oh yeah, if you're still here after that display of horrible writing, it means you really like James-comes-back-from-the-dead stories. So, you ought to go read Lady Geuna's "Charmed Curses" (work in progress), and BrieflyDel's "Prongs Rides Again" (complete), both of which are much, much, MUCH better than mine. They're fantastic!