It was the small moments like these that made the months of incarceration feel less tedious.
Harry and James were in the living room, already inseparable, entertaining each other. James shot puffs of colorful smoke from the tip of his wand. Harry watched in wonder and clapped his hands, giggling happily while he tried to catch the smoke. Lily leaned against the wall and observed them, an easy smile on her face. For a moment she forgot that she had been confined to a small house for over a year, with few distractions. But Harry was a Godsend. His first steps, his first words, his first birthday… all very welcome distractions—from the flow of bad news they could do nothing about; from the monotony of house-arrest…
James glanced up from his son, and smiled at Lily, having just noticed her presence. She crossed the room and stood near the couch. Harry stumbled and fell over backward on the floor. James chuckled and helped him back to his feet.
"Harry needs to go to bed," Lily murmured. She didn't know why she felt this to be important: Time bore little meaning now. Everything moved at such a slow pace. Days crawled by, but they passed nonetheless. And for some reason, keeping a schedule seemed important to her.
James frowned briefly. Harry was trying to pull James's wand from his wand. James resisted and it turned into a gentle game of tug-of-war.
"He can stay up a little longer."
"Tomorrow's another day," Lily said softly, rising from the couch. James sighed and hoisted Harry up and passed him off to Lily. It seemed like he was getting heavier all the time.
Harry reached out toward James's wand, which lay on the couch. He made a small whimper and tried in vain to grab it, almost squirming out of Lily's grasp.
"He likes your wand," Lily commented, bouncing Harry on her hip to calm him.
James nodded absently, reclining back on the couch and yawning widely.
"Well, I'll put him to bed now." Lily started toward the stairs, when a sound stopped her. She froze and looked over to James.
"Was that the…?" she began.
"The door?" he finished, nodding. "I think so. Let me check. Probably Padfoot…"
James stood up and went off in the opposite direction of Lily.
"I'll be right back," she called after him. Lily started up the stairs. Harry was quickly nodding off now, heavy in her arms. Suddenly there was a shout from behind her:
"Lily, take Harry and go! It's him! Go! Run! I'll hold him off!"*
James's voice. Lily froze in her tracks. Him? That could only mean one thing, but she didn't understand… she couldn't accept it. There was the sound of cruel, cold laughter, and then… Lily's heart stopped.
The voice wasn't James's this time. His wand was still lying on the couch, after all. Lily realized what was happening all at once. She regained control of her body and sprinted up the stairs and down the hall and into Harry's bedroom. She slammed the door behind her and felt the panic rising in her chest.
Where was her wand?
Downstairs. In the kitchen.
Lily's breath was coming in ragged gulps as she plopped Harry down in his crib. He looked up at her with wide eyes. Seeing no other option, Lily began shoving furniture against the door—she knew how hopeless it was. Not completely aware of herself, she screamed at the top of her lungs, pulling at her hair and pacing the floor of the nursery. How could this have happened to them?
But no one would hear her. And if they did, it was Halloween: Random screams and shrieks were not unusual tonight.
She was trembling. Her chest felt constricted. She scooped up Harry again and held him close to her. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited for only a moment before hearing pounding at the door. A second later, it burst open, the haphazardly-made barricade crumbling. Lily spun around and replaced Harry in the crib in one fluid motion. She stared at the tall, cloaked figure before her. A white hand gripped a long, dark wand.
Lily threw her arms wide across the crib. "Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!"*
Voldemort moved closer to her, the wand extended. "Move aside, you silly girl… stand aside now."*
Lily shook her head vigorously, the tears beginning to brim her eyes. Of course, they would both die. But it was worth a shot. She continued pleading with him to spare her son.
The cloaked figure was only inches away from her now. She could see under the hood—a terrible pale face, like it hadn't seen the light of day in years; eyes glowing with murder; bared teeth…
Voldemort tried to shove her away from the crib, but she clung to it. Harry was silent behind her, like he wasn't even there.
He ordered her to stand aside again and again, but she wouldn't.
He shoved her again forcefully, but her will was stronger. Voldemort was quickly losing his patience—his wand twitched in his hand. Lily faced death, flinging herself between her child and this monster. The monster tried one last time—Lily wondered why he went to any trouble at all to spare her. What did her life mean to him? What did any life mean to him?
As Voldemort shoved at her shoulder, Lily had a terrible thought—the kind she would keep locked up in a prison of shame inside her head and never let out again.
She didn't have to die.
She could save herself.
In that critical moment, Lily felt that ancient, selfish instinct—the desire to live. But she only deliberated for an instant: It was too much to bear, thinking of her child dead and herself alive. She was ready to recommit herself to her sacrifice, after only a split-second of temptation.
But her momentary hesitation was all it took.
A flash of green light blinded her, but it clearly went past her, behind her. And she was still alive, though she knew immediately this was not a relief. Because there had been a Killing Curse. Someone was dead. And if it wasn't her…
Lily was moving through a dream. As she whirled around, stumbling over her feet, she heard a loud crack from behind her. Voldemort was gone—Disapparated. She fell over the crib. The wood was cracked and blackened—hot to the touch. The blankets were singed.
And there was Harry. He appeared untouched—whole and unscathed. Just tipped over in his bed. Tipped over and not moving. Sleeping, maybe. Sleeping with his eyes open. His green eyes.
Lily told herself these lies. Her baby boy was sleeping—only sleeping. But this contradicted another overwhelming thought:
It's all my fault.
She couldn't connect these two ideas in her head. Harry was asleep and it was all her fault.
Lily reached out her hands toward Harry—he shouldn't be laying in the demolished, smoking crib. But when her fingers met the skin of his arms, she recoiled. He was already cold. Stone cold. Ice cold. As cold as… death.
Lily's breath was painful as she clambered out of the room and down the hall and the stairs. The world was foggy and lethargic, like in a dream. A dream that was fast becoming a nightmare. She staggered past the couch, determinedly averting her eyes from where she knew James's wand still was. She rounded the corner, toward the front door and she collapsed to the ground immediately.
James was lying spread-eagle on the floor mere inches away from her. She stared at him until her vision became blurry, as if she was underwater. Her nose was burning and she felt like she was choking. Hot tears were streaming down her face.
Then she let out the most terrible wail. The sound of it scared her. She couldn't believe she had made such a sound. Assuming the fetal position on the cold floor, she rocked back and forth. She was made of misery. She was misery.
"James," Lily sobbed. Her voice was thick with despair and grief. She felt like she might pass out—or die. Like she should've in the first place. Because she should've died. How was it that her biggest regret was being alive?
Her sobs came slower, less violently. She risked a peek at James. She only saw his profile—long nose, crooked glasses, eyes staring unblinkingly at the ceiling. Lily could hardly recognize him. He had always been so full of life. Now that the life had left him, he seemed to be a different person. His flaws were more visible—the blemishes, the asymmetries—as if his raw liveliness had covered them up before.
Maybe Lily could pretend she still hated him. That would make things so much easier.
But she couldn't remember what it had been like to hate him. She doubted she ever really had. How could anyone have hated James? Anyone who actually knew him, at least.
Lily was quiet. She had no more tears. No more energy. She dragged herself up and sat against the wall, staring at James until she couldn't bear it anymore. Standing up required a great effort—she paused to catch her breath. Her breathing was unsteady, tremulous.
Walking the few steps to the door was a journey. It took all her willpower to not collapse into a helpless, blubbering heap on the floor. There was a time for that. Now was the time to get help. Lily's hand was shaking so badly she could hardly secure a grip on the doorknob. After a time, she managed to turn it and open the door slowly. Each movement was something she had to do. And she had to put her entire being into every task. She couldn't allow her mind to wander.
The night was cool. A breeze stirred up crisp leaves and nipped at Lily's nose. She hadn't set foot outside the house in… a very long time. There were a few stragglers, trick-or-treaters, roaming the streets: Muggles, completely unaware of her trauma. Her burden. And her guilt.
Lily sat down on the lawn, not knowing what else to do. Who was she planning on getting help from? And how could anyone help her at a time like this? The ground was warmer than the air, though a delicate layer of frost was beginning to form on the grass. The stars were dim overhead. Only the very brightest were visible through the dark clouds. The moon was a sliver in the sky—barely there at all.
In her stubborn denial, Lily allowed herself a moment.
She had only come out on the lawn late at night. She had crept out of bed while James slept. Harry was also sleeping soundly in his room. Any minute now, the front door would open and close. Lily wouldn't turn around, but continue to gaze at the sky. James would sigh as he sat beside her, his knees cracking as they always did.
They wouldn't speak to each other. They didn't have to. She would only lean against his shoulder. He would stroke her hair, and hum a song she didn't recognize. Maybe they'd fall asleep in the grass and wake up the next morning, coated in dew…
Lily was forced out of her fantasy by a rather loud sound. A familiar sound, but she couldn't place it…
She leapt to her feet, her heart beating wildly. There was a figure at the edge of their lawn that wasn't there before. Lily realized she still didn't have her wand, and wondered if the person had seen her in the dark.
"Lily?" called the figure, as he started toward her.
She paused as the shadows lifted from the man's face.
"Sirius," she croaked. That was all it took—she broke down again, sobbing inconsolably.
He allowed her into his arms, clearly confused as she cried on his shoulder.
"Lily, what's wrong?" he said gently.
"James… and—and Harry," she choked out, all but incoherent.
Sirius carefully drew away from her so he could see her face. "What about them?" he said tensely.
"They're—they're…" Lily couldn't finish, but she saw the comprehension dawn on Sirius's face. He blanched and his hands began to tremble.
"They're dead," he whispered, not framing it as a question.
Lily wailed in answer. Sirius was unresponsive as she sobbed into his shirt. His eyes were distant, and his face impassive. Then he swallowed hard, and Lily saw his face harden and his jaw clench.
"Voldemort," he hissed.
Lily nodded miserably.
"And… and Pettigrew," he spat, his hands forming into fists.
Her tears ceased for a moment. She hadn't thought of Peter, their secret-keeper. But of course—he was the one. The traitor.
"Sirius," Lily said softly, knowing that he was switching to uncontrollable-rage mode.
"I'm gonna kill him," he muttered, looking quite unstable as he clasped and unclasped his hands.
"He betrayed you, Lily!" Sirius shouted, his voice cracking.
"Don't—" she tried.
"It's his fault! His fault that they're dead!" This time Sirius's voice didn't give away his grief and desperation. But there was a very particular shine to his eyes.
"Listen to me," Lily begged, clutching his arm. As they stared at each other, a tear slipped from each of their eyes. Sirius hastily wiped his away, but Lily let hers track down her cheek to the corner of her mouth.
"I'm gonna kill him," Sirius said in a tone that suggested that whether he wanted to or not, it was just a fact. He was going to kill Peter. He had little choice in the matter.
"You can't," Lily breathed.
"I have to," he said evenly.
"Not yet," she whispered. "Take some time to… cool off. To think rationally."
Sirius blinked out another tear, which he didn't dry as it trailed down his face. He nodded helplessly. Then, by some unspoken agreement, they both broke down in sobs, falling into each other in the lonely night.