Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
The bitter chill of the winter air bit into Harry's flesh as he walked slowly through the small village at his father's side. The nine year-old pulled his winter coat tighter around him and rubbed his mitten covered hands together.
"Cold?" James asked smiling at his son. The smile didn't quite reach his eyes, but then it never seemed to on this particular day.
"A bit," Harry answered.
The two lapsed back into silence as they continued on their way to the graveyard in Godric's Hollow. It was the thirtieth of January, and had Lily Potter lived today would have been her thirtieth birthday. James and Harry came to visit her every year on her birthday. Harry knew this one would be particularly hard for his father. Sirius had turned thirty already, but that did not stop him from teasing James about how old he was going to be in a just a few months. Harry knew that it wasn't the reminder of him aging that hurt his father, it was the reminder that he was aging, but Lily never got the chance. James had finally lost it the previous week and snapped at his friend. He had thrown him out of the house and the two had not spoken.
"Are we still going to have the dinner this year?" Harry asked softly.
"Of course, it just might be smaller than usual," James answered. He tried and failed to plaster a smile on his face.
Another part of their birthday tradition involved a dinner with Remus and Sirius. James, Sirius, and Remus would all take turns telling Harry about their favorite stories of his mother. After dinner they would all use the Pensieve that Harry had been given as a baby by Remus and Sirius to view the memories of their good times with Lily. It would be very different without Sirius. Harry knew that his godfather felt terrible about what had happened. He was disgusted with himself for not realizing that he was genuinely upsetting James. Sirius was afraid to come around, according to Remus, because he didn't want to make things harder on James than they already were.
Harry was startled out of his thoughts by the loud squeal of the gate's hinges as James pulled it open. The two made their way over the snow covered ground and came to halt in front of a beautiful marble headstone. There was a Lily etched into the stone above Lily Potter's name. James laid the large bunch of lilies he had in his hand on one side of the grave. Harry placed a bunch of sunflowers on the other side.
James smiled sadly at the sight of the sunflowers. When Harry was younger he had brought a different type of flower whenever they came. When the boy had turned six James had shared with him a story about how Lily used to call him her little sunflower because he brought so much light into her life. From that day onward Harry only brought sunflowers to his mother's grave.
"Do you want to go first?" Harry asked.
James nodded and ruffled his son's hair as the boy wandered off a little ways to give him some privacy. They both inevitably broke down, but it was easier for James to go first so he could comfort Harry after his turn.
"Hey Lils, I miss you. I know I say that every time I come, but I always mean it. Especially on days like today. We should all be having dinner and cake. Harry should be bringing you flowers at the breakfast table, not at your grave. It isn't fair," James said. He felt tears burn in his throat, but he forced them back.
"You would be so proud of our son. He's amazing, Lil. I know that you know that because you are always with him, but I want to tell you anyway. He misses you. I've done my best, but I can't deny there have been times he's been hurt by only having a father. He doesn't hold it against me though," James continued. His conversations with Lily always went like this. A lot of rambling about nothing in particular, yet somehow he always felt comforted afterward.
"He's going to be ten. I can't believe that this is the last year he will spend with me. I don't know how I'm going to let him go. Then again I could never even think of keeping him home. He deserves to have just as much fun as I had at Hogwarts. Well, maybe not quite as much, I would rather he not spend quite as much time in the Headmaster's office as Padfoot, Moony, and I did. The odds aren't in his favor I suppose. He's been raised by me with more help from those two than I ever could have imagined. In spite of all that he is still more like you than me, Lils. I wouldn't have it any other way. I love our baby boy. I love you too, Lily. I am so sorry that I wasn't there to save you that night. Good bye, Lils, happy birthday" James finished. The tears slowly started streaming down his cheeks. He turned and walked a little ways in the other direction before turning back to observe his son at his mother's grave.
"Hi Mum, it's me, Harry. Happy birthday, I miss you. Dad misses you too. He tries not to let me see how much he hurts sometimes, but I can still tell. I'm worried about going to Hogwarts next year. What is he going to do without me? At least I'll have Sirius at Hogwarts if I really need him. Dad put everything he has into raising me, and I appreciate that, but once I'm at Hogwarts he could have a real life without me around to hold him back," Harry said. By the end of his sentence he was sobbing. All it took was the presence of his mother, dead or alive, for him to break down his wall and let his insecurities spill over.
The thought of exactly how much his father had actually given up for him had been tugging at his thoughts ever since he had overheard a conversation between his father's boss, Mad-Eye Moody, and Mrs. Weasley during their New Year's Eve party. Moody had commented on how James never went out with any of the other Aurors, he was always eager to get home to Harry. He had talked about how he had never looked twice at any of the recruits that were always throwing themselves at him. Mrs. Weasley had clucked her tongue and talked about how it was a shame that such a nice young man didn't have a woman in his life. Of course the conversation had quickly come around to how everything in James life resolved solely around Harry. While Mrs. Weasley had defended James commitment to his son, Mad-Eye certainly felt that James was too focused on his child.
James looked at his son and frowned. Harry was always upset when they talked to Lily, but he had never cried like this in front of her grave. He always saved the worst of his tears for when they were at home, and it was just the two of them. He was hesitant to approach his son, however. They had an agreement about giving each other their privacy when they were at the graveyard. Before James had become too conflicted his decision was made for him. Sirius was there all of a sudden. He pulled Harry into his arms and rocked the boy as he sobbed. Remus made his way over to James and put an arm around his shoulders.
"What are you doing here?" James asked. His tone was not unkind, merely curious.
"We come every year. Just in case you ever needed us. If you don't we wait until you leave then we pay our respects. You've never needed us before, but there was always a chance, like today," Remus said shrugging.
James swallowed his tears and threw his arms around his friend.
"Thank you," he said.
"You're family, James, we're a family. We may not be like you and Lily and Harry were, but we are still a family," Remus reminded him.
"What's wrong, Prongslet?" Sirius asked as he held Harry close. He led the boy to a nearby bench.
"I just miss her," Harry answered.
"I know you miss her, Harry, it isn't fair that you got so little time with her. These tears are about more than that though," Sirius answered shrewdly.
"On New Year's Eve I overheard someone talking about Dad, about how he basically gave up everything for me. He could have a normal life if I wasn't such a freak. He always has to be worried about someone trying to kill me. He never goes out and just has fun because he is always with me. Maybe his life would have turned out easier if Voldemort had succeeded that night, or if he had just killed me instead of Mum. I'm the reason she's dead," Harry sobbed.
There was a sharp gasp from behind them. Turning they saw that James and Remus had come up behind them. James had a pained look on his pale face and he was shaking his head back and forth.
"No, no, please don't ever think that! You can't think that!" James cried moving to kneel in front of Harry. He tilted the boy's face up until they were eye-to-eye.
"Harry if you had died," his voice cracked on the word, "I wouldn't have been able to go on. For one part of that terrible night I was sure you were dead. I have never felt so much pain in my life. Losing Lily was the hardest thing I've ever experienced, but it can't compare to how it would feel for me to lose you! I am not missing out on anything in life. I have everything I need right here, you are the only thing I need. Please don't ever let me hear you call yourself a freak again, it is the farthest thing from the truth. Bad things keep happening to you, but they are not your fault. Never think that you take anything away from me by being in my life. You are my life. Do you understand me, Harry James?" James asked in a shaky voice. The tears streamed down his cheeks as he stared at his son.
Harry regarded his father with shock. He knew that James loved him, but to see him break down like this because of what Harry had said was shocking to him. Dimly he realized that his father was waiting for an answer. He nodded his head slowly. He did understand, however anyone else might see it, his father did not consider him a burden. James crushed Harry to his chest. His shoulders still shook with tears and Harry felt his own begin to fall thick and fast onto his father's coat.
James was so relieved to see the small nod of his son's head. He pulled his baby into his arms and held him close. To hear Harry talk about dying, how James would have been better off if he had was unbearable. How could he think for even one second that James' life would be anything but empty, dark, and cold without him in it? James just held him and let their tears fall. The day, the place, and the conversations made controlling emotions impossible, and James didn't even try. They were a family and they were together, that was all that mattered.
"It's still my fault Mum died," Harry whispered.
"Harry James, I forbid you to blame yourself. Voldemort killed her. Peter told him where to find her. It is their fault. She did the only thing she could; she stood between you and death. Believe me when I say that if she had to do it again she wouldn't change anything. She loved you more than anything. You are not the reason she is gone, you're the reason her life had as much meaning as it did," James said firmly.
Harry's tears simply flowed faster. James could see the hesitancy in his son's eyes. He pulled Harry close and willed him to believe that he wasn't guilty. It wouldn't work of course, just like James would always feel guilty for surviving. They would get through it the same way they got through everything else—together.
Sirius felt tears sting his own eyes as he watched the scene between his best friend and godson. To hear the pain in Harry's voice had been heartbreaking, and Sirius had wanted nothing more than to hold him and just squeeze until he realized how important he was. James had beat Sirius to it and Sirius certainly didn't mind. The depth of the relationship between James and Harry always astounded him. Sirius' own father had possessed none of the warmth and love that Sirius supposed parents were meant to feel for their children. Sirius had seen the true representation of a wonderful father in Mr. Potter, James' father. Even then however, there was not the same undeniable closeness that existed between James and Harry. They were a team; anything that happened to one of them affected the other. They were the most important things in each other's lives.
It always amused Sirius to watch people's reactions to seeing James interact with Harry. Many people remembered James Potter as the goofball and arrogant mischief maker from Hogwarts. They had a hard time reconciling the totally devoted and loving father with that man. Then again, he supposed it was amusing to see him, Sirius Black, resident playboy and troublemaker of Hogwarts as a professor and loving godfather. Sirius turned and looked at Remus who was also observing James and Harry. He managed to indicate to his friend that they should get them home.
"I hate to interrupt you two, but it's freezing out here and you're both wet from the snow. If we don't get you two home and dry you're going to get sick," Remus said moving forward.
The Potters broke apart and pulled themselves to their feet. With a whispered goodbye to Lily they made their way back to the Potter home. Once there Harry headed to his room and James moved towards the stairs to change. Remus had already dried his clothes with a spell and he dropped onto the sofa. Sirius moved towards the door. He felt guilty for the pain he had caused James and he wasn't about to force his best friend to deal with him on this day.
Sirius froze with his hand on the doorknob and turned to look at his friend, his brother.
"Padfoot, you're family. Regardless of whatever disagreements we have, you'll always be family. Family sticks together during the rough times," James said.
Sirius nodded. He didn't know how to express his feelings, but he didn't need to. James understood and nodded back before he headed upstairs.
"Told you he would get over it," Harry said, wandering in from his room. He dropped onto the sofa next to Remus.
"Smart mouth," Sirius retorted with a mock glare at his godson.
Harry laughed and yawned. The child was clearly exhausted. His head dropped onto Remus' shoulder. The man smiled down at his cub and put an arm around his shoulders.
"He's exhausted," Sirius remarked when Harry's breathing had leveled out.
"He takes things to heart when he hears them. He's spent every day since that party agonizing over what he heard. I'd hate to be the person that said it when James finds them," Remus answered. He ran his hand over the boy's messy hair.
"If Harry tells him who it was," Sirius said with a frown, "now that James has set him straight he isn't going to want to get anyone in trouble."
"He's going to tell me," James said adamantly as he entered the room.
James flopped on the sofa next to Sirius and smiled fondly at his son. He yawned widely and rubbed a hand through his messy hair.
"James, I'm sorry. I never would have teased you if I had realized why it was upsetting you," Sirius said contritely.
"It's alright, Padfoot, I never told you why it bothered me so I can't hold it against you. Besides, you were there for me and Harry today," James answered waving aside the apology. They rarely fought and when they did it didn't last.
"Who could possibly have been foolish enough to talk about Harry holding me back from living my life when he could have overheard?" James questioned angrily.
"When we find out Moony and I will hold him while you punch," Sirius answered attempting to diffuse the tension.
"He said I would be better off if he died! If he died, Sirius! I am going to do a damned sight more than punch whatever idiot made him feel that way!" James roared.
"You can't," Harry said softly. The shouting had roused him from his nap.
"What do you mean?" James asked.
"If you want to keep your job you can't go around murdering your boss, it wouldn't go over well. Not to mention the fact that Mad-Eye is a pretty good fighter, you might get hurt," Harry answered shrugging.
"Moody said those things?" James roared.
"He was just commenting to Mrs. Weasley. I'm sure he didn't realize I was close enough to hear," Harry said quietly.
"I don't care; he had no right to say that!"
"Please don't do anything that would get you fired," Harry pleaded with his father.
"Fine, but I am going to say something. If nothing else I am going to set him straight about exactly where my priorities lie. I would rather be home with you than hanging around with any of the idiots I work with. Half of them wouldn't pass their entrance exams anymore, they've gotten lazy with the end of the war," James bit out.
"I wouldn't mind you hanging out with them once in a while. I can stay by myself, or with Remus or Sirius. You could even try dating if you'd like," Harry said softly.
"You really think you're ready for me to date someone?" James asked suspiciously.
He had no doubt that his son would be absolutely fine with him going out with friends. He hadn't done it in the past for his own reasons, not because he worried about Harry. That said, James was extremely skeptical about Harry's declaration he could handle James dating.
"I could try to be," Harry said honestly.
James laughed and moved to sit next to his son.
"No need for that. I'm not ready; I don't think I will ever be ready to date. I know your mum wouldn't hold it against me, but no one will ever be able to measure up," James said squeezing Harry's shoulder.
"Good," Harry answered with a grin. He dropped his head to James' shoulder. "I love you."
"I love you too, little man," James answered.
The four set about preparing a dinner composed entirely of comfort foods, warm, rich stew and thick bread. They talked for hours about their memories of Lily and their memories in general. They laughed and cried together before finally calling it a night and falling into bed.
A.N. This was a tough chapter to write. I knew what I wanted to happen, but it was hard to do it without making it super cheesy and I'm afraid I may have failed. Well, that's life I suppose. I've had this chapter done for a bit, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to post it. A lot of people seemed to want me to continue on with the Peter storyline. I toyed with the idea of adding another Peter centric chapter, but I just couldn't come up with a good one. I need some drama for Harry's third year! That said, this will likely be the last pre-Hogwarts chapter. In the next I fully intend to send Harry off to school (and show him getting his letter and supplies and all that)! Thank you, as always, for being awesome! Hope you enjoy it!