What, stand’st thou idle here? Lend me thy sword.
Many a nobleman lies stark and stiff
Under hoofs of vaunting enemies,
Whose deaths are yet unrevenged.
—William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1
The first thing James Potter was aware of was a low humming sound in his ears. Though he was sitting up with his eyes open, everything before him was a dark blur of indistinct shapes and hazy forms. He had lost his glasses somewhere along the way, and as a result he wasn’t quite sure where he was. It reminded him of the first time he had made his transformation into a stag. For a moment in the Forbidden Forest, all had been fuzzy, like a painting that had begun to run at the edges. Nothing had been clear; nothing had been visible, not until he learned to see. And even then, looking at a thing and seeing a thing were separate endeavors that had little to do with each other. After a while, that first night when he was fifteen, he had begun to look, but it was only when he learned to see as a new version of himself that things became clear.
Now he was once again in darkness.
The stale, medicinal quality of the air belied the idea that he was still in the small cottage which he had shared with his wife and son for a year and a half. That place smelled of orchids and rosemary, and faintly of strained carrots from that time Harry had covered the kitchen with them. It was warmth, and love, and walls that sometimes seemed to press inwardly. This place was cold and sterile, and everything that was not home.
He was not at the cottage then.
James tried desperately to remember what had happened. He had been playing with Harry in the sitting room. His son had been on his knee, and the older man had thrown bubbles and shapes at the walls, much the way his own father had once done. It had been Halloween, and Lily had come in to take the baby, he remembered that much. Her hair had fallen forward as she leaned over him, and for one glorious moment, as the candlelight shined through it, James had fancied that she was crowned with fire, not hair. But after that, nothing—there was nothing. Just blank and empty. Yet, something
had happened, James was certain of that.
Had Sirius come over? James could almost remember the feeling of being near him but the memory of it was out of reach, like a hazy form hidden by a veil. His best mate’s hands—rough and calloused from years of playing Quidditch and fixing his motorbike—had been clutching at him, hadn’t they? And had he been crying? His carefree, more apt to laugh than weep, best friend, had he been mourning something?
And Remus, had he been there too? He could almost hear the clipped tones of the werewolf’s voice, forming words in a precise fashion as his mouth curved around distinct syllables. There was almost a pleading quality to the murmurings, a desperation tinged with hope. And bitterness too, mixed with sorrow. It was so real that he could almost still hear him now, speaking softly but with deliberation.
What had happened?
None of it was making any sense, and James suddenly felt very exposed. Though his senses had been honed from years of fighting a war with no end, this was not the reaction of merely the wary. This was a vulnerable, anxious feeling that reminded the Potter scion of the time he had run afoul of a stalking party in the Scottish Highlands. The Muggle hunters certainly hadn’t known that he was anything but a real stag, and had fired their metal guns at him eagerly. He had never known true fear until that moment, though he would have sworn that willows and secrets and blood—Mother!
—were as frightening as the world could get. But then their guns had discharged, and he learned another lesson. When the bullet had skimmed across his back, so close to hitting him, his instincts had taken over and there had been no other choice but to run.
It was like that now.
He wanted to run. He wanted to flee and go, and be gone. Everything in him was screaming that he had to hide. To disappear, to sneak away, to transform and escape into a nearby forest. It was simpler that way, everything was less complicated. He could change, and then go, and be free. Come to us
, the Hollowed Forest whispered to him. It was always tempting him, lingering on the edge of his senses. All Wardens heard the call, but few felt the need that he did. Few had voluntarily chosen to become part of it, as he had when he became a Red deer.
James forced himself to take deep breaths and push the animal instincts he constantly lived with to the back of his mind. Not now
, he whispered to his form, locking it carefully away. Wait for me
, he breathed to the forest. Now was the time for remembering, not fleeing. He knew this to be true. Answers, he needed them badly.
But before James could do anything, he needed to see.
Looking would no longer suffice.
As if on cue, the drawer of the side table slammed open, and out flew a pair of glasses which James caught with the skill of a Chaser, used to objects flying at his head. The metal frames were cold against his skin, sending a momentary chill down his spine, but he ignored it. The second after the wire-rimmed spectacles were in his hand, James jammed them on his face, and with a blink the world became clear once more. Mungo’s
He was in St. Mungo’s. James would recognize the pea-green walls anywhere, as he had once been a guest of the hospital previously one summer after taking a bludger to the spinal cord, courtesy of a broken beater’s bat and Remus’s bad aim. He had come away from the experience with regrown vertebrae, a desire to never read Transfiguration Today
again, and a rather annoying fondness for blood pudding. It had only been four years ago, but it felt like a lifetime, maybe two. So much had come in the after that he had forgotten about his sojourn in the London hospital until that moment. The real question was: why was he there again now?
He looked around the large room for clues, taking in the chart and vials of potions lined up beside it and dismissed them as irrelevant. James saw the sign on the wall which read, “Speaking clear stops spells from becoming spoils,” his eyes flicking past it quickly. There was an open book—it looked like a knut-store novel—resting on the chair beside his bed, but that provided him with no answers. A golden snidget slept inside a painting on the wall, perched on a branch and making a whistling noise out its thin beak every time it exhaled. James turned from that as well. And then his gaze was drawn to the still open drawer of his bedside table. He could see his gold wedding ring sitting inside its confines innocuously.
Only then did he remember. “Lily!” he screamed. “Take Harry and go! It’s him! Go! Run! I’ll hold him off!”
For a moment, it was like he was in that cramped hallway once more. His fingers tensed, as if looking for the wand that should be in his grasp. James panted, his heart racing as he relived every moment, every spell that he had traded with Voldemort. His nostrils flared as the smell of magic and chared wood rose up, and James nearly gagged as he remembered the feeling of choking on his own blood. There was a bitter taste in his mouth, and he tried to swallow it down, but it kept rising back again and again. He even cried out, clutching at his stomach and half expecting to find his guts spilling out of his belly.
The agony of his memories was still so fresh. It seemed as if he was living it all over, though James knew that to be impossible. He was in St. Mungo’s. He had survived; he was safe. But still, there was something about him which refused to relax, as if he was afraid he would suddenly forget everything if he didn’t allow it to searingly replay in his memory.
And then he realized something that should have occurred to him before. Lily, Harry—they had been left defenseless in the face of a madman. Voldemort had been standing over him, crowing his victory, but then he had gone up the stairs
! James began to cry, even as vain hope filled him. His wife and son had to have survived, right? He had survived, and someone had brought him to the hospital, so it had to be the same with them, didn’t it? But he could have used the Killing Curse on them
, a dark voice in his mind whispered, teasing and taunting him with what could be. The thought of Lily and Harry dead, their eyes empty and staring up at nothingness made his cries become sobs. The emotions that had been built up during his fight with Voldemort now released two weeks after the fact. They had to be okay, they simply had to be. James was certain he didn’t know how to live in a world without them.
He could stay in bed no longer. Throwing the covers off his legs, James stood abruptly, only to sway dangerously when he put his full weight on his legs. He felt as weak as a newborn kneazle, each muscle cramping and tensing as if they almost didn’t remember how to work properly. Momentary vertigo seized him, and he had to fight to clear his mind once more. His stomach lurched dangerously, and he took in glupping breaths of air to fight the nausea back.
Clutching hold of the headboard, James stretched out his legs one by one, applying old techniques that he hadn’t used since his Quidditch days. Pushing out, he clenched and released the tendons in his legs, each following the other. Then he quickly moved his arms, streching them overhead and then down again, extending each arm and wiggling his fingers. If there was one good thing to be said, at least he hadn’t been maimed by the Dark Lord. Everything still seemed to be in working order, even if a little worse for wear. And the tightness of his muscles was nothing compared to the aching of his left shoulder, and ribs. James recognized the slightly painful sensation, and knew that it meant Skelegro had been used on him in the last week or so. It was a rather annoying side-effect, but it would dissipate with time.
James reached down and pulled open the lower drawer of the bedside table. Just as he suspected, while the smaller, upper one had his glasses, wristwatch, and rings, the lower and larger one had his clothes. Repulsion etched his face as he looked at the robes he had fought Voldemort in. Once, they had been his favorite pair, now, he wished he could set fire to the lot. They had been cleaned and mended, but as James held them up, he allowed his eyes to trace the gash of where the Entrail-Expelling Curse had hit and rent the fabric. Though carefully mended, the wound in the fabric would never truly heal.
He sighed and tossed them on the bed.
Pulling the ugly hospital gown over his head, he binned it, and immediately he was struck by the sight of his naked body. His torso was a latticework of scars, twisting and curling around his abdomen and up over his ribcage. A very strangely shaped scar was carved right over his heart, and yet another was decorating his left shoulder, looking as if he had been burned by a searing fire. The closest approximation he could make in his mind was the burn of dragon’s fire that he had once seen on one of the keepers that minded the reserve in Wales.
It was funny, really. James had always been rather vain about his appearance, but he couldn’t even bring himself to care that he had apparently been scarred for life. It simply didn’t matter in the face of his current panic and worry for his family.
The Potter male pulled his boxers on, noticing from the way that they were slightly loose on his hips that he had lost weight in however long he had been in the hospital. Then came his trousers and white pleated shirt, the mended robe coming last. Then he slid his signet ring on his pinky finger and his wedding ring on as well, and then added his watch to the ensemble. He had to sit down again to put on his socks and shoes, and James was surprised at how winded he was after just getting dressed. He took two deep breaths and then stood once more. He had to get out of there. Lily and Harry, they were his only priority.
But before he could so much as step towards the door, it swung open of its own accord and a healer in lime green robes walked in.
“Mr. Potter!” she gasped when she saw James. The vial she was holding fell from her hands, and bounced harmlessly off the marble floor, obviously protected by an Unbreakable Charm. “You’re awake!”
“Where am I?” he asked immediately. He was almost positive he was in St. Mungo’s, but there was the tiniest possibility that he had been taken to one of the Wizarding clinics, such as the one in Godric’s Hollow. Though, from the extent of his scars, James would have been deeply surprised if that was the case. Still, it never hurt to be sure.
“St. Mungo’s,” the healer said, confirming James’s suspicions. “But sir, you really shouldn’t be out of bed. We have to check you over, do tests—”
“None of that, thank you,” James said, interrupting curtly. “If you could please tell me where to find my wife and son, I will be on my way.”
The way the healer blanched told James all he needed to know. She didn’t hide her emotions well, his woman, was his dim thought as his world crumbled around him. His heart clenched in a rhythmic motion, and James longed for death in that moment. He sat down heavily on the bed, his heart feeling as though it had been ripped out of his chest. The Animagus didn’t know that it was possible to feel this much pain and still live. Surely people were not meant to survive such things.
It all felt so wrong. He shouldn’t be living. He had been ready to die, damn it! His own life meant nothing if it meant that Lily and Harry might live. Why, oh why, was he still breathing, when it felt as if every part of him should be cold in his grave?
“Lily?” he managed to gasp out. “Harry?”
“Oh, your son’s alive!” the healer suddenly burst out. “He lived, just like you! The Man and Boy Who Lived! It’s what everyone is calling the pair of you.”
James gasped. “Harry’s alive?” He stood immediately. “Where is he? Take me to him!”
“Oh, he’s not here,” the healer said. “He didn’t need to come to the hospital, but both the Minister for Magic and Albus Dumbledore himself gave interviews and said he’s still alive. They’ll know where he is for certain.” The round-cheeked woman beamed at him. “Imagine, the pair of you facing You-Know-Who and living to tell the tale. There’s never been anything like it in history. You surviving a duel with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and little Harry surviving the Killing Curse. It’s unfathomable. No one knows quite what to make of it, but you both survived You-Know-Who and defeated him!”
“What?” James sucked in a steadying breath. “Harry survived a Killing Curse?”
The healer nodded happily. “Everyone is calling the pair of you the Man and Boy Who Lived.”
Realizing she had said that earlier, James forced himself not to make a pained face. He realized that this chatty healer probably knew most of what had happened to him, and it was in his interest to figure out what to do now.
Still, even the news that Harry was alive was not enough to clench the longing within him. He closed his eyes for the barest of seconds, and the dark behind his lids was a welcome relief. In that moment, he was no longer forced to see. And without seeing, Lily could still be alive. He had listened to the healer, but that didn’t mean he had heard.
A haunting female silhouette rose in his mind’s eye. Dressed in white, the lady looked more like a nymph than a woman. My prince
, she whispered against his lips, before darting away and beginning to run. She gestured over her shoulder, laughing and beckoning to him. James
, she called, come with me
. Her feet nimbly leapt over the moist, padded ground of the forest, and with his eyes shut tight, he could see it clearly. The sunlight streamed through the branches, making everything glow, even the dew that lingered on the leaves and moss-covered dirt. The scent of pine and elder trees was sharp in the air, and he could dimly hear the rushing of water in a brook around the next bend. All it would take was a mere moment to let go. He could join her. She was just there, waiting—
He came back to himself with a jerk.
Now was not the time for vain dreams, and he pushed the temptation away. There would be time to grieve and wish later, right now he had to figure out what the fuck had happened, and then decide where to go from there.
Harry needed him.
Looking directly at the healer, he demanded, “Tell me everything.” ~*~
Buffy jerked awake with a sudden start. Her breathing came in pants, and for a moment, she wasn’t sure where she was. The ceiling above her had a single crack running down it in a crooked fashion, shaped like a lightning bolt. It was dark outside her window, and she could hear the tick, tick, ticking of the grandfather clock in the hallway. It was all strange, and yet familiar. And then it came to her: London, Council, Harry
She needed to see her son.
Leaping from her bed, she rushed down the hall, before sliding to a stop and stepping silently into the small nursery that had once been an office. The mobile was throwing shapes on the wall, like the shadow-casters that had told the story of the first Slayer. The wood floors were chilly, but Buffy hardly noticed as she crept forward. There, laying in his crib, safe and sound, was Harry.
Buffy let out an audible sigh of relief. It wasn’t that she had truly been worrying for him, but something in her had needed to be near him. Something instinctive, something primal. Most people would have written it off as crazy pregnancy hormones and left it at that, but Buffy had never been most people. Something had changed, but she couldn’t figure out what it was.
Harry was very much the same. In his little blue sleeper with a truck embroidered over the left side of his chest, one hand curled into a fist by his face, and his cheeks flushed with sleep, he looked the picture of innocence. Black hair was sticking up in all directions, but as always, it made Buffy smile. She felt so at ease standing there, and that was when it hit her.
There was no anxiousness left in her. She didn’t feel panicked, nor did she worry that she was going to lose Harry. It was like she knew that everything was going to be all right. He was her son, and no one was going to take him from her—this she knew in her bones. It was elemental, on par with her Slayer instincts, but there was no reason for why this was. Nothing had happened between her going to sleep and waking up, and yet she was now utterly calm and looked forward to the future with an easy certainty.
For a moment, the swish of a white, lace dress filled her mind and she could see smiling green eyes and hair that looked like a wine-colored curtain. Endless fields and a beautiful sky stretched endlessly, and she could feel the sun beat down on her face. A breeze teased at her hair, and the smell of honeysuckle filled her nostrils, but then it was gone again, and the peace returned.
And, if as she walked back to her bedroom Buffy hummed the Smashing Pumpkins song “Lily (My One and Only)” under her breath, no one was there to point it out to her.~*~
The crater was immense. It was a vast abyss that had seemingly swallowed up all things that would have told that a town once stood there instead. There were no sounds, no birds or animals prowling, only the empty whistling of the wind. Hank Summers stood in the dying light in the exact same place he had been standing for the past three hours, staring bleakly down at the great chasm, his heart empty of anything but sorrow.
It had taken him four days to get from Seville to Sunnydale. International portkeys were heavily regulated, and Hank had been forced to jump through several hoops to get one arranged, especially since he had entered Spain via apparition. The delay had irked him, but he had learned patience in his life, and had practiced it almost religiously the past several years. So he jumped through the bloody hoops.
First he had to register with the German Magical Embassy in Madrid, and explain in clear terms (in other words, lie through his teeth) why he had not done so before. Then he had to arrange for the international portkey, but that was even more onerous because it was waitlisted. He would have flown by Muggle means, but he had entered the country magically, via apparition from France, and there was certainly no explanation as to why the Spanish government would have no idea of his presence in their country.
He had tried calling Buffy from his hotel room in Madrid, but a recording had played, saying that the number had been disconnected. While Hank had been slightly concerned, mostly he had figured his daughter had changed the number and just not informed him, mostly out of annoyance at him, which was well enough deserved. It had been seven months since the last time he had called her, mostly due to hearing about some Death Eater activity on the Continent. Hank hadn’t been willing go into Seville proper to call his daughter and take the risk of being recognized and having his location reported. The Cruciatus Curse could loosen anyone’s lips after long enough, and Hank wasn’t willing to chance with Buffy’s life if Voldemort decided he wanted to end the Summers line all together. He was willing to die, but he was not willing to take his daughter with him to his grave. Anything but her.
After he arrived in Los Angeles, Hank had been so exhausted from the portkey that he knew he couldn’t apparate. Magical transportation was a draining thing, and it was never a good idea to follow one with another. So he had immediately rented a car and had driven north. The bugs had hit his windshield and died an inglorious death as the road was eaten up by his tires, and all he could think was Augenblick, liebling
Two hours later, he had reached the town where his daughter dwelled, or, at least, what was left of it. And there he had been, behind one of the gated edges, for several hours now. The sun was completely set and a chill was growing in the air, but Hank was too tired to think of moving.
She couldn’t be dead, not his perfect, beautiful daughter.
He could still remember when she had been born. He had held her first, before Joyce. Buffy had been breach, and the doctors had no other choice but to do a caesarean. Hank could remember standing in that hospital corridor, his fingers twitching for a wand that was home, locked away in an ancient wooden chest he had retrieved from Bavaria when he was seventeen. He had never felt so helpless in his life, not even in that horrible moment when his father had stepped in front of a Killing Curse meant for another. He had only been a child then, little more than a toddler, but he could still see that sickening flash of emerald and the moment when his father had been almost suspended in air, before collapsing like a puppet with its strings cut. The idea that he might lose another person he loved, perhaps two of them, had haunted him as he stood there. He had lived for forty years by that point, though his wife thought him the same age as her, and yet he had felt so young. In that moment, he had wanted his mother so badly, but she too was nothing more than a memory of green and a skeleton in a crypt.
It didn’t seem fair, he had thought then. What had he ever done to court the gods’ displeasure? All had been taken from him, and still it never seemed enough. That his wife had been screaming behind the doors while those Muggle butchers had cut into her had chilled him to the bone. And yet, he could do nothing.
He had chosen. There had been a moment, a single moment before he whispered “Obliviate
!” and took it all away, that his wife had looked at him and really seen him. Joyce had stared into his eyes, brown and pleading, and she had seen who he really was. Her horror had been like a knife to his gut. Her gentle words about him needing help had been the wood for his funeral pyre, and her almost revulsion when she touched the already rounded mound of her stomach had been the flames.
Heinrich Summers had died that day. That little boy who once ran through the wide, marble hallways of Schloss Schwanstein with Grindelwald’s Pyromancers at his back had not been killed then. He had not been killed later when he came to America with nothing more than the clothes on his back, taken in by a brusque cousin who resented the fact that Heinrich had magic and he did not. His death had not come the moment he returned to the family castle on his seventeenth birthday and found the remains of his parents and some of the townsfolk moldering on the floors throughout the keep. And it had not claimed him in the long, lonely years before he heard a trilling laugh at a homecoming dance at UCLA.
It came for him then. In that moment, seeing that look in Joyce’s eyes, Heinrich Summers knew what it was to truly die, and Hank rose up from the ashes to take his place. It became a nickname no longer.
His child was growing in her womb, and the look of panic that she had on her face the moment she realized she was stuck with him—it stayed with him ever after, even though Joyce had no memory of what she did.
And yet, for all that, he had loved her. It wasn’t something he could control, it just was. From the moment he saw her, Joyce had been the one. And some part of the boy Heinrich that remained had thought it would be just like in a song. She would love him, not caring about the magic, or even liking it. They would have a wonderful child, who would inherit Joyce’s beauty and his magic.
But real life wasn’t like that at all. Joyce couldn’t accept him, and he had been forced to put the wizard away, and let the Muggle live. Still, he couldn’t regret even a moment of it because of Buffy.
Buffy, who had come out perfect and pink, and beautiful.
Who had been born without claiming her mother’s life, who had been a blessing he hadn’t fully understood until he held her in his arms.
Who had all of her mother’s beauty, which he decided was enough. No magic had been needed to make his daughter more special. So when the years had passed and she had never had magical accidents or made strange things happen, even when her eleventh birthday had come and passed without a letter, Hank could not allow himself to regret any part of her. Oh, there was the occasional flicker of What If that passed through his mind, but it was always gone again so quickly that it often seemed as though it had never been there at all.
And yet there had been some regret. Oh, not for the magic, but instead for all the things she would never know.
The world was so much bigger than Buffy could ever imagine, so much older too. When she was a little girl, he had told her stories about wizards and witches, dragons and demons. He had wanted to give her some small piece of her stolen inheritance.
But she would never know that she had been born to a legacy of blood and spellfire. Her heart would never swell when she arrived home to Schloss Schwanstein to see the banner of the family animal flying overhead, the Summer Dragon proudly waving in a winter breeze. Snow would never fall on her shoulders as she gazed up at the Alps and understood what it was to feel truly small. She would never walk through the Bleak Forest and hear the wolves call, and know in her bones that they were welcoming her among them. And when she married, she wouldn’t make the seven sacred vows and promise to keep the seven solemn oaths, nor would she know the rush of magic that filled a wizard or witch the moment they swore to love someone forever.
He had mourned for this, and yet he could regret nothing, not even the wife who bore her.
His daughter was everything to him, so how could he resent Joyce for her actions when she had given him such a perfect gift? He loved his wife, perhaps in a way that only he understood. There was no disappointment in him when he looked at her, only tempered understanding. And if there were some parts of himself that he kept secret, some things that he never told her about, like his letters with his cousin Marius, well, then it was all for the better. Hank had decided long ago that there was nothing worth regretting and mourning. When one loses everything at the age of four, all the blessings which come after are rarely looked over for their faults.
Yes, he thought as he gazed out over the abyss. Buffy was not dead. He would not believe it until he saw a body. And so, even though his heart was filled with despair, he refused to immediately think the worst. There had to be a way to get a hold of someone who would know what had happened. Nodding firmly, Hank turned and walked back to his car.
He would find his daughter, no matter what.~*~
There was a chill in the air in the North Sea that morning, but this was nothing to the residents of Azkaban. The edge of frost was a familiar companion that came along with the cold that they constantly felt from the dementors. Icy fog escaped from each one of them, breathing more a pain than a pleasure. A scream rent the air, but none of the prisoners looked up from their own personal hells to notice who cried. For all they knew, it could have been them.
In a small cell, with only a bucket and a straw pallet, a young man clutched at his shorn head in vain. The voices were omnipresent, and Sirius Black couldn’t seem to escape from them, no matter what he did. Things like hunger and pain didn’t matter, though he couldn’t remember when he last ate. It could have been the day before, or ten years before. It was all the same, and time had no meaning.
At first, he had been able to cry out. His voice had gone hoarse from yelling, but he had continued on. There had been fight in him then. He had scraped at the walls, his fingernails breaking off and becoming jagged as he tried to dig his way out. Sirius hadn’t even noticed when his hands had run red with blood, which dripped down each digit and splattered to the floor. But no man could fight the feeling the dementors gave forever, especially someone who had witnessed some real horrors in his life. And even the sad memories seemed to play before his eyes in vivid realism. ...Like that, little cousin? It’s called the Cruciatus Curse, and I have been waiting to use it on you special...
...Two dead eyes stared up at him blankly. He tried to hold in the sobs, but the sight of Melody Bones’s dead face was almost too much to bear...
...“It was an accident, Remus, I swear,” he lied. “You have to believe me, I would never tell your secret on purpose.” That, at least, was the truth...
...“I’m going, Sirius,” Andromeda whispered softly. “I’m not coming back.” He hated her in that moment because she would be free, while he was not; even more so because she hadn’t offered to take him as well...
The memories were his only companion, but with them constantly running through his head, Sirius had lost all notions of time. There was only him, and Azkaban, and the dementors. Every now and then a brief thought would pass across his mind. When it did, it was like a shooting star, which burned hot and pulled him momentarily from his remembered pain. It wasn’t much, but it would do. And when it came, he whispered it to himself over and over, until he forgot it once more, and the memories ruled him again.
It came to him then, and for a brief instant he was perfectly clear.I’m innocent, I’m innocent, I’m innocent, I’m innocent.
His mind sharpened and he took two deep breaths, but then the effort was too much and he slid backwards, into horrors only a Black could devise.
But sometimes mere moments are enough.
And for Sirius Black, those moments kept him sane.