Most characters belong to J.K. Rowling, to whom I shall always be grateful for creating a whole new beautiful world!
Beta(s) Needed! If someone can recommend a good beta to help with fixing non-British vocabulary/grammar/style, I'd be tremendously grateful! I speak American English and have had limited exposure to British English in the past 20 years. Any help will be appreciated.
Prologue: The Day of the Spider
Your life is but a chess match. The figures are all set.
The fate's tsunami will destroy your castle built on sand.
And you'll no longer know who's a pawn and who's a knight.
A moan of guilt-ridden pain will rend the silent night.
Light, darkness, meetings, partings will fill your heart with strife…
A grey and old spider is weaving threads of life.
Chapter 1: James Potter.
Urgent knock on the window. Faith, how he hated this sound that tore him out of his slumber!
Bright rays of the morning sun shone into the room where a good-looking youth with tousled black hair stirred in his bed. He stubbornly continued to lie with his eyes closed, hoping to sink back into his dream, but the knock recurred. He wanted to pull the blanket over his head – to no avail; it had slipped during the night and lay in a cozy bundle on the floor. Then the youth hugged his bare torso and pulled his knees to his chest, turning away from the window.
They visited him in his sleep once again this night. As a child, when he saw them in his dreams, he simply thought of them as "his pets". The older he became, the more he realised that it was not that simple. He learned to associate their visits with the events of his life.
The first such dream happened on the night his brother was born. He saw a lake, with the vividly yellow full moon reflected in it; the tree-lined, grassy hillside. They always arrived from the hilltop, although not all of them visited each time.
When his brother was born, all four of them showed up: a big black dog with piercingly blue eyes; a just as imposing grey wolf with yellow eyes and rather shaggy coat; a stunningly beautiful stag with shimmering antlers; and a doe – graceful and delicate, with green eyes, like his father's. He saw them come down the hill, out of the blue. They were looking at him and smiling. Indeed, smiling – of that he was certain.
Since then he saw them in his dreams many times – at the important and emotional moments of his life. The second time there was only the stag and the dog – this was the day when he first displayed magical abilities by inadvertently knocking aside a neighbor's dog with his glance. The next time the wolf joined them – on the morning the boy received a letter from Hogwarts. Since then they came frequently: on the eve of his birthday, on the night before his first trip to school, after his first flight on the broomstick, after his first Quidditch game for his House, after his first violation of the school rules and the ensuing first punishment. They were in his dreams almost constantly – the dog, the stag, and the wolf.
The doe came rarely – he could count the number of occasions on his fingers. She came alone after he defended a Slytherin boy. No one liked that kid, everyone was picking on him, but he suddenly felt the urge to stick up for him. It happened only once, and he never understood why; yet, the doe spent the entire night on the hillside, bathed in the moonlight, smiling at him. Then she didn't come for a long time. However, she joined the invariable trio on the night of his first timid and unskilled kiss and, of course, when he first experienced physical love.
He believed that these animals were the guardians of his sleep and peace of mind, supporting him and somehow sharing in the whirlwind of his young life. He never told anyone about these recurring dreams – they were his secret.
Another knock on the window. Damn! It just had to happen today of all days, just when the doe came for the first time in half a year. Her green eyes shone with tenderness and joy, which made him think that something very important was about to happen today.
The stag came along with the doe. He lay next to her, his head on her back, and slumbered, opening his eyes only occasionally. Then came the big black dog, so cheerful that it took his breath away. The dog wagged his tail, jumped around the stag and the doe; his eyes were alight with laughter and he even winked a couple of times. The wolf was the last to join them. He was calm and not as sad as usual. All of them emanated warmth. And just when the youth began to emerge from his dream as the knocking slowly penetrated his consciousness, his night visitors became alert and got to their feet. Were they alarmed? He couldn't tell.
Knock-knock-knock. Knock-knock-knock. Knock-knock-knock. I am not getting up. Bugger off!
"James Sirius Potter!" came a voice from behind the wall. "If this knocking does not cease at once, I'll kill you!"
Time to get up, he thought, looking at the ceiling discontentedly with his brown eyes. The youth forced himself to jump off the bed and walk over to the closed window. A black owl perched on the other side of the window was eyeing him with a stubborn and angry expression. Just as angrily, James opened the window and reached for the scroll of parchment that was tied to the bird's foot. The owl hooted reproachfully, but gave up the letter.
James climbed onto the windowsill, enjoying the fresh morning air, unrolled the letter, and grinned. Of course, who else could do something this wicked? The coat of arms topped the lines written in uneven boyish handwriting:
"Hello, Potter! I couldn't help but wake you up on this magical morning. I hope that you'll be furious at being roused at eight o'clock while on vacation. And for no good reason, too! I came back from Italy last night. Let me know on what date you will be at the Diagon Alley; I can't wait to see you suntanned mug. S.M.
N.B. This year the Slytherin Quidditch team will bury Gryffindor. Don't forget to polish the Cup – I don't want to see a speck of dust on it!"
Prat, James chortled. He caught sight of the owl, still perched on the windowsill; waiting for an answer, no doubt.
"Get out of here; there'll be no reply," James tried to chase the bird away, but the owl merely clicked his beak. "Ouch, I am so sick and tired of the both of you!"
The youth jumped off the windowsill – prompting an angry punch from the other side of the wall – extracted a piece of parchment and a quill from the pile of stuff on his desk, found an inkwell, and hastily wrote:
"Go to hell, Malfoy! If I see you today at noon at the Diagon Alley, I'll punch that smug, cocky mug of yours that no tan sticks to. J.P.
N.B. I have been polishing it for the past four years and I think it will be just as in vain this year. But it's ok – it will look even nicer like this on the Gryffindor common room mantle."
Satisfied, James sealed the letter and handed it to the owl, who hooted angrily but took off at once and soon disappeared from sight. James climbed onto the windowsill again and with a happy smile looked out the window into the street, where the early August morning reigned supreme. The neighbors were already having breakfast – James knew that Mr. Hopkins always left for work early and his wife walked the dog. And there she was with a huge St. Bernard – it was that dog that had forced James to use magic for the first time.
A half an hour passed. The youth listened to the sounds of the house, but it appeared that everyone was still asleep. This was Father's third day on vacation, so Mother was also asleep – there was no need to get up early to make Dad breakfast and see him off to work. His younger brother was a sleepyhead and must be on his fifth dream from the nightly repertoire for seven-year-olds. And his sister… James grinned, took a Muggle softball off his shelf and threw it at the wall he shared with Lily's bedroom. He caught it, threw it again. After the third time…
"You idiot!" a flaming-red-haired creature in shorts and a T-shirt (with salamander print on them) burst into his room, knocking the door into the wall. "What the devil is keeping you awake?!"
She stood in the middle of the room in full view (the view that had started to alarm James this summer). However, now she also looked awesome – her light-green eyes in which the hope for sleep still lingered stared angrily at James. Her hands were balled into fists at her sides, which reminded him of their mother when she was furious.
"Good morning, Lil," James smiled, unconsciously rubbing the back of his neck and smoothing his hair. She narrowed her eyes and apparently wanted to say something taunting, but then she saw an opened letter on his desk, where James had tossed it.
"Let me guess what nutter is writing to you at such an ungodly early hour!" she chortled, climbing onto his bed. This indicated to James that his sister calmed down and would not curse him outright.
"Why do you think it's some nutter? Maybe it is a love letter!" James asked indignantly, jumping off the windowsill and grabbing the letter before his sister could read it.
"As if! And who might it be to have suddenly burst into a flame of passion for you?" Lily smiled and leaned back onto his pillow, yawning. "As far as I remember, you and Violet have broken up…"
James heaved a deep sigh. He never understood how girls managed to always be in the know. Especially considering that Violet was a year ahead of James and three – of Lily, and was a Ravenclaw.
The youth shook his head and headed for the bathroom, ignoring the smug giggle behind his back.
When he came out of the shower, Lily was no longer in his room. James dropped the towel and went over to his closet to pick out clothes for the day. Finally, having heard from the mirror "I would fall for you if it wasn't for your hair", he decided that he was ready to go down to breakfast. He buckled the belt on his blue jeans, straightened his T-shirt, tucked his wand in his back pocket, and was already walking out the door when the sounds from downstairs made him pause.
His father was laughing in the living room. James thought that he had never heard anyone laugh like that before. His Dad was positively shrieking with laughter. Mystified, James rushed down the steps. Lily caught up with him at the second flight of stairs, also looking slightly frightened. The two of them burst into the living room.
Their father was writhing on the couch, holding his stomach; tears streamed down his face. Their mother stood beside him, holding a sheet of paper. She also seemed to be holding back laughter.
"Daddy…", Lily said carefully, approaching her father, who finally started to get control of himself. She heard her mother begin to laugh behind her. "What happened?"
Lily's father looked at her with his green eyes, squinting a little – he must have taken off his glasses in a fit of laughter and put them on the side table. He was still laughing a little, and his face bore a mixed expression of astonishment and triumph. He turned to Lily's mother, who dropped the letter and burst out laughing as well.
"Well, what's all the merriment about?" James asked finally, walking over to his mother and picking up the letter that seemed to have so amused his parents. Lily looked at him pointedly, and he read the strange message aloud. Stranger yet was that the letter was written with a Muggle ball-point pen on a sheet torn out of a notebook:
"Harry, you are going to be surprised that I am writing to you, but I need your help. My daughter has just turned eleven, and two days ago we were paid a visit by one of yours, who brought her a letter. He said that Amanda had been accepted to the school where you went. Could you come over and talk with us? Please come as soon as possible. Your cousin, Dudley Dursley."
James finished reading and, baffled, looked at Lily, who merely shrugged in response. Meanwhile, their father had once again burst into laughter, occasionally wiping tears from his eyes.
"Are these the Dursleys with whom you lived as a child, Daddy?" Lily ventured, trying to bring her father back to his senses. Her mother was now mostly calm, except for an occasional giggle.
Lily's father nodded, panting, looked back at his wife, and they laughed again.
"You mean that this horrible Muggle cousin's of yours daughter is a witch?" Lily managed to ask, a smile slowly spreading across her face. Since they were kids they had been hearing from their mother the stories about their father, the great Harry Potter, growing up with his aunt and uncle, sleeping in the closet under the stairs, and suffering his cousin's bullying.
"Yes, life dealt Dudley a cruel blow," Harry Potter managed to get out – his stomach muscles must be spasmed from laughter. "Poor bloke, I almost feel sorry for him. I wonder, how much guts did it take him to write to me? And, specifically – where did he get an owl?!"
Ginny went over to her husband and ruffled his hair.
"You'll find it all out when you meet with him. You are going, aren't you?"
Harry reluctantly nodded. He didn't really want to go back to Privet Drive, but the thought of a girl who might be ostracized at this very moment, just like he had been, did not leave him a choice. Ginny leaned over, kissed his cheek, and headed towards the kitchen.
"If everyone is up, I'll make some breakfast." Her red hair, styled with bobby pins, shone in the sunlight. As his children looked on closely, their father got up from the couch and took the letter from James. Harry's face still bore a trace of amazement.
"By the way, you remember, don't you, that we are going to the Diagon Alley today?" her father looked pointedly at Lily's robe. "The Weasleys promised to come to breakfast, so, Lily, scoot upstairs and change; you don't want Ron and Hugo to have a stroke, do you?"
Lily chuckled, but then got up, kissed her father lightly on the cheek, and ran up the stairs. Harry smiled at James and pointed him in the same direction.
"No, Dad, I am not going to wake up Al", pleaded the youth. His father's unyielding expression let him know that his plea was in vain. James got off the couch where he had just settled comfortably, intending to catch up with latest issues of the Quidditch magazine, and plodded upstairs to wake up his brother, drag him into the bathroom, and make sure that he brushed his teeth.
James always thought Albus a bit of a freak of nature; yet, he still was just a little boy, who had no idea how to control his magic – things were always flying off and blowing up around him – and who also had a catastrophically short attention span.
James went up the stairs slowly, warming himself with the thought that when Al went to Hogwarts, he would no longer be there. His brother would become someone else's headache. On that cheerful note, he pushed open the door to the room of Albus Severus Potter.