Everything you recognize from the Harry Potter series belongs to JK Rowling, Warner Bros., Scholastic and whoever else lays claim to it. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made from this attempt at creativity.
The baby began to fuss just as they were finishing their tea. James glanced up at the clock in surprise, certain that the child must have awakened unusually early this evening. It couldn't possibly be so late already, could it?
But sure enough, the long clock hand was just now slipping down to the line marked "Bedtime feeding."
"Oh, there's Harry," Lily said, clattering her cup and saucer together. "We must have lost track of the time. I'd best go see to him before he awakens altogether." She smiled apologetically at their guest. "Peter, do stay awhile longer and talk with James. I won't be long."
"No worries, Lils," Pettigrew replied. "I have to be going anyway." He drained the dregs from the bottom of his teacup and set it down on the table between them, snatching up one last biscuit from the plate Lily had prepared for him. "One for the road," he said, saluting them jauntily with the biscuit as a sheepish smile crept across his face.
"Thanks for everything, Pete," James said, grasping his friend's shoulder warmly as Pettigrew stood to leave.
"You've no idea what this means to us," Lily agreed. Unshed tears of gratitude pooled in the corner of each of her jade eyes, shimmering like star-shaped sparks where they caught the glow of the firelight. A faint blush of pink colored the burly man's face when she clasped both of his hands in hers and squeezed his fingers tightly, deepening into large patches of crimson as she leaned forward to brush her lips against his cheek.
"It's my privilege," Peter replied in sincere tones. "You know I'd do anything for you two, Prongs."
James smiled. He hadn't heard that nickname since their days together at Hogwarts.
"Mum-um-um-um-um," Harry's small voice gabbled from the nursery, and Lily pressed Peter's hands one last time.
"Good night, Peter," she whispered. "And thanks again." She released his hands and turned to go.
"Good night, Lils."
James led his friend across the foyer, steering him gently toward the door with the hand still laid against his shoulder blade. "Visit us often, Wormtail," he urged. "We won't be able to leave the house for a while, and only you and Sirius know where we are. It might get a bit lonely for us here."
"Done," Peter replied. "I'll be back next week, all right?" James nodded and the two men embraced, a bit awkwardly, before Peter walked through the door and into the night.
"And bring Padfoot with you!" James called after him, almost as an afterthought. Pettigrew turned and waved one last time, nearly stumbling over an exposed tree root poking up out of the ground. James snickered. Good old Wormtail, he thought. Some things never change.
And then Peter was gone, swallowed up by the darkness.
James closed the door and allowed himself a deep sigh of relief as he warded it. It was done. The Fidelius Charm had been performed, and his family was finally – finally – out of danger. Albus had all the time he needed now to ferret out the traitor who had been giving information about the Potters to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and after that it would only be a matter of time before the Dark Lord and his entourage of Death Eaters were found and neutralized. James hoped it would happen quickly so the nightmare of the past year or so would finally be over, but he was willing to be patient. To ensure that Lily and Harry were safe, he was willing to stay hidden in this house until he was as old as Dumbledore himself, if necessary.
He made his way across the foyer and sitting room toward the bedroom, snuffing out the candles with a wave of his wand as he went. The bedroom door was ajar, as he knew it would be, as it always was, and he could hear Lily's soft murmuring from within. He stopped short at the threshold and took a deep breath, savoring the anticipation.
This was his favorite part of the day. It had been for nearly 15 months now. He stood just outside the open door until the desire to enter the room became too strong to resist any longer, then rounded the jamb and slipped inside.
Lily was sitting up in their bed with her back pressed into a mountain of pillows, holding Harry against her breast. Her head was dipped low over the child's wiggling form, red hair tumbling from her forehead to create a wispy curtain around both of their faces. She pressed the milk-swollen curve of her breast just above Harry's nose with two fingers, moving it out of the way so the child would be able to breathe. She was singing to him as he nursed, the wordless song of maternal love known to beloved children the world over, soft and sweet and infinitely generous, laced with promises for the future. Harry gazed back at her with sleepily blinking eyes, his cheeks sunken into concave hollows with the force of his suckling. He seemed mesmerized by the vision that was his mother. James could understand that. He had been mesmerized by it for more than ten years now. She was the very image of a living, breathing madonna, complete with holy infant and a halo composed of muted candlelight encircling her head.
Every night, James thought this picture could not possibly be more beautiful than the night before. And every night he was wrong, and it took his breath away.
"All right, Lils?" he asked quietly.
"All right," she responded, looking up at him. "He just needed a bit of a snack." She turned her face back to their child, and then came the smile. Oh, that smile. Pure adoration. Pure contentment. Every feeling for both her husband and her son written as plainly on her face as if she had taken out an advert in The Daily Prophet.
James often thought that he would die a happy man if that smile were the last thing he saw before he passed.
He crossed the room to bestow a warm kiss on Harry's unblemished forehead, then another to the swell of his wife's breast before settling down on the bed beside them. Lily shifted Harry to the other breast and went back to her gentle crooning as James laid back on the pillows and closed his eyes, one hand resting lightly on his son's nappied bottom.
They wouldn't be able to do this for much longer, he realized with a sharp pang of regret. Harry was already weaning himself, with this bedtime feeding the only one he continued to demand. Soon, he would outgrow nursing altogether, and he knew Lily dreaded the prospect of abandoning this comfortable night time ritual as much as he did. It would be the period at the end of Harry's infancy, the capital letter at the beginning of his toddlerhood, and they would have nothing left of it but their memories.
Still, if he were to look at the bright side, it would also be the beginning of a whole new set of exciting experiences. Harry was going to be a powerful wizard one day, James had no doubt about that. His magical abilities were already starting to manifest themselves. Just that morning, he and Lily had watched in amazement as the child summoned his favorite stuffed dragon from across the room with a command that sounded like nothing more than gibberish to their ears. James was eager to help shape his son's powers and watch as they developed. Not only that, but someday soon they could play the silly Muggle games Lily had grown up with, laughing and romping through endless rounds of Hide-and-Go-Seek and football and tag. He would teach Harry to play Quidditch before sending him off to Hogwarts, certain he would excel at the game just as James himself did. He would get his chance to frown disapprovingly on the outside as Harry and his school friends got into trouble, smiling on the inside all the while, just as his own father had done. And perhaps, someday in the distant future, he would get to see the light rising in Harry's eyes as he gazed lovingly at a son or daughter of his own.
So many hopes. So much potential. And the only thing that could possibly hold him back was a vicious megalomaniac determined to rape the wizarding world and hold it captive forever.
Harry had finally drunk his fill and released his hold on Lily's breast as he drifted off to sleep. James extinguished the remaining candles as Lily gently placed Harry on the bed between them, pulling the duvet into place as the darkness settled in around her family. The boy's breath was moist and smelled sweetly of mother's milk, and James and Lily snuggled in on either side of him, each cushioning the head of the other on their forearms, fingers interlaced and resting on the glutted belly of their offspring.
What was troubling him, again? Everything negative seemed so far away right now.
Ah, yes. Voldemort. That was it. He flinched at even thinking the name.
He hoped Albus would work quickly. Still, even Dumbledore could not work miracles, and James had no idea who the spy could be. He turned every possibility over in his mind for the hundredth time, but no answer presented itself. No satisfactory answer, that is. There was one person who he knew was under suspicion, but he simply couldn't believe it was true…
As if reading his mind, Lily suddenly said, "James, do you really believe Remus could be the one?"
"I dunno, Lils," he replied after a moment's hesitation. It always took him by surprise when she did that. "I don't want to believe it, but Sirius certainly thinks he could be."
"But why? Why would he do that to us?"
"Don't think about it anymore, love," he said. "Everything's going to be okay now. Albus promised me that, and you know he always keeps his promises."
He raised her hand to his lips to kiss each knuckle. Harry stirred in his sleep, tugging at the edge of the duvet, and James knew the boy had just thrust his thumb into his mouth. He forced all thoughts of Voldemort from his mind and concentrated instead on the intangible magic that made up this moment. The room was warm, and the bed was comfortable, and his loved ones were safe. All was right with the world.
"Everything is going to be okay now," he repeated, and for the first time, he began to believe it himself.
"James?" Lily's voice ventured out of the darkness a few minutes later.
"I've some news for you. I was waiting until everything was in place to tell you."
He shifted a bit and lifted his head. "What is it, love?"
He felt her hand caressing the side of his face. "We're going to have another baby," she whispered.
And suddenly, James realized that the happiness he'd thought was complete up until now had only been a dress rehearsal.
This… this was the real thing.