Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.
—William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1
The next week passed away quicker than Buffy had expected it to. Learning to be a mother was challenging at the best of times, but she had never been happier in her life. The Slayer wondered at the irony of finally meeting a male who seemed to love her to death, when he was her maybe-son. Still, she wouldn’t change anything.
Buffy had gotten a crash course very quickly in the joys of motherhood. She had learned that Harry was at an age where he could have solid food, so she had slowly moved in that direction during the week, not wanting to make too sudden a change if his mother had been still nursing him, or had him on an odd diet. Soon though, he had been happily munching away on soft vegetables, fruit, crackers, and tiny pieces of meat. Buffy had discovered that as long as the pieces of food were small enough, Harry could eat them. He still did like a bottle in the evening as well. And the diapers were another thing she had to learn, but luckily she mastered that pretty quickly. Harry actually slept for a good amount of the time, twelve hours at night, and then an afternoon and morning nap.
Mostly, Buffy had learned the value of a routine. Getting the baby to sleep at the right times and following the system with regards to sleep as well (a bath, followed by reading him a story while she rocked him to sleep), prevented him from getting too fussy. But really, he was the easiest baby. He was constantly smiling and laughing, and found great enjoyment in his toys. He liked being held, and once the house was baby-proofed, he happily toddled around everywhere. He didn’t speak much, and only was able to enunciate about six words. Buffy understood ‘No’, ‘Dog’, ‘Babee’, and ‘Dada’ (which was what he called the stuffed Bambi), but the other two words caused a small problem. He called for ‘Ma’ the second and third day frequently enough until that subsided when it was always Buffy who came for him. And he also asked for ‘fwy’ once or twice, which Buffy didn’t understand.
After the first couple of days or so, Buffy was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe Harry would turn into the most difficult baby ever, or Dawn would try to steal the Crown Jewels, but everything seemed to be working fine. In the afternoons, Dawn would come to the Council and entertain Harry or do her homework in the library, and then the three of them would head home for dinner. Xander and Giles often joined them, and to Buffy, it felt as if they had all finally come home. The only person missing was Willow.
Thankfully, their favorite Wiccan returned to the Land of Tea two days after Bonfire Night. Buffy felt bad for causing her to cut her trip to Brazil short, but Willow didn’t seem to mind. She arrived on Sunday afternoon, full of pep and eager to see the baby.
“Greetings,” the witch sang out, stepping into Giles’s office where all the Scoobies, plus Dawn and Harry were assembled. Her red hair shone with healthiness, and Willow beamed at her friends. “Rio sends hugs, São Paulo kisses.”
They all greeted her one at a time, until Willow came to Buffy and chuckled at the sight of her with a baby on her hip. “I seriously could not wrap my head around this over the phone, but seeing it first hand,” Willow said, “I get it.”
Buffy smiled. “Willow, I would like you to meet Harry.”
“Hi, Harry,” the witch said, waving a little, practically melting on the spot when Harry smiled shyly at her before hiding his face in Buffy’s neck. “Oh, he is just too cute.”
“Yep,” Buffy agreed, bouncing him a bit. “Though if you want to stay on his good side, do not offer him any type of carrot product.”
“I learned that the hard way,” Xander groaned.
Willow laughed. “I’ll remember.”
“So Willow, what’s the word?” Dawn asked. “Have you talked to the Devon Coven about the little guy?”
“Yes,” Willow said, nodding. They all headed over to the table in the corner and claimed chairs around it. The informal Scooby meeting had been called to order. “Ms. Harkness phoned and she wanted to let me know she did find a cleansing ritual that she thinks will work. It’s meant to heal, and targets remnants of dark magic that attach to auras. It doesn’t require much in the way of ingredients, some amethyst grounding crystals, adder’s tongue, eucalyptus, thyme, and birch. It’s easy in that sense, but it does require a lot of power. I will have to concentrate.”
“Adder’s tongue?” Xander asked. “Are we talking a dissected snake here? Because I want to go on the record and say gross.”
“It’s an herb,” Giles said, rolling his eyes. “Willow, you are, of course, welcome to use our cellar for supplies. I’ll retrieve the crystals from the vault.”
“Great,” Xander said, clapping his hands together. “So Willow magics Harry up, and then I say we go to Pizza Express for dinner.”
“I second it,” Dawn piped in.
“It’s a very draining ritual, Xander,” Willow cautioned. “I will have to make sure that I get just the right amount of power or it won’t work. I will need you all to ground the ritual though, as well. A little like when we combined our essences with Buffy to defeat Adam.”
“Okay, but if the First Slayer tries to kill us again,” Buffy said, “I’m blaming you.”*~*
In a very proper English study sat a woman with grey-streaked hair. There was very little to distinguish the woman from thousands of others—she was pretty, true, but many women are. And while she was tall and distinguished looking, there was a coldness in her eyes that forbade intimacy—yet for all this she was very different from any other woman who lived in Great Britain. As was the study in which she sat. At first glance it could probably be mistaken for any other, yet when one looked closer its peculiarities were revealed. Inside picture frames, the subjects moved about, disappearing and reappearing at will. There was also a clock on the wall with planets instead of numbers. But, the most peculiar thing of all was that in the roaring fireplace floated a head, suspended in green flames. And the head was talking.
“...and you have not responded in a timely manner to my queries,” the head said. “You may be Minister for Magic, but I have a school to run here, as well as a Wizengamot to mind. I need a clear answer from you.”
“Albus, really, I haven’t the time to talk to you at all this week, I am in meetings constantly,” the Minister for Magic said, smoothing down the front of her robes. “The Muggle Minister has taken up too much of my time this week, hateful man. Imagine, he scolded me for lax security the last few days. The nerve!”
“Millicent, I merely wanted an update as to what real state of danger the Auror offices have assessed at the moment,” Albus Dumbledore said, annoyance coloring his tone. “You may have forgotten, but until you rescind your order, I cannot allow the students to return to Hogwarts.”
“Really, Albus, you try my patience. No family wants their child to be returned to Hogwarts at the present time, most of them are still celebrating the end of the war.”
“If the school does not open until after the holidays, Millicent,” the Headmaster said, his patience wearing thin. “An entire month and a half of education shall be lost. For the students taking N.E.W.T.s and O.W.L.s this year, such a thing is unconscionable.”
“Well, perhaps I could be persuaded to reopen the school,” the Minister for Magic said, her face slowly revealing her pleasure, the corners of her lips tilting upwards. “If you tell me where Harry Potter is.”
“The Potter boy is safe, Minister Bagnold,” Dumbledore said. “That is all you need know.”
“Come now, Dumbledore,” the Minister snapped. “I am not one of your toadies. He should be placed with a well connected family until the time that his father is fit to take charge of him again. I have had several offers from families such as the Gamps, and the Prewetts, and the McMillans. He and his father are being hailed as heroes. It would do the public good to see one of them well.”
“He is with family,” Dumbledore said. “That is better than any strangers who wish to have him for the publicity.”
“Family? James Potter has no living family,” Millicent said thoughtfully, mentally reviewing all she knew about the Potter family. Bagnold had not gotten the top job because of her looks. She was a political animal at heart, and she was always aware of her allies and foes, and how to exploit both. “There is that lovely Selwyn connection of course, but that is several generations removed. And he was connected to the Blacks by marriage, but his cousin Charlus Potter and his wife are dead now. Shame about their son. Oh, I suppose you mean Potter’s maternal line.” Her eyes then narrowed. “Really Albus, you gave a hero of the Wizarding World to that mad potioneer Hector Dagworth-Granger? Potter’s cousin or not, please at least tell me that his sister Hippolyta will be supervising. You know that madness plagues that family.”
“I did no such thing. He went to Lily’s sister,” Albus said.
“What? The Muggle-born?” The Minister gasped in horror, disgust marring her features. “You gave Harry Potter to Muggles
? Are you mad? There are still Death Eaters on the loose. Do you really think Muggles would be able to stop them?”
“He is safe in anonymity for now. None shall find him, and I have a kind woman who has agreed to watch him carefully due to move close to him within a month. And that is all I will say on the subject,” Dumbledore replied. “Now, about my school...”
“No more about the blasted school!” she huffed. “I don’t know who you think you are, but I am sick of you trying to rule me, Albus. I am the Minister for Magic, not you. You were not elected to form a government, and you did not lead our world to the victory of so very late. Yet you think to mind me, and you go over my head and speak to Crouch about arrests and outstanding warrants...”
“My business with Barty was time sensitive,” Dumbledore said. “I’ll not apologize for getting the Black boy removed from a position wherein he might harm James.”
“Well, you haven’t had Arcturus Black breathing down your neck as a result. He claims that your word about the betrayal isn’t good enough, and that we ought to wait for Potter to wake up and corroborate. I’m inclined to believe him and have his grandson removed from Azkaban.”
It was a bluff, and the Headmaster of Hogwarts knew it, but he was at the end of his patience. “You will do no such thing,” he snapped firmly, his voice like ice. “Sirius Black will remain in Azkaban until such time as we give him a trial. I will countenance no special treatment simply because he is a Black, Millicent, and I shall look very badly on anyone who would give it to him. His betrayal led to the death of Lily Potter, and James’s current state. Now, I have had enough games. Rescind your order, Millicent. I don’t think you would like me as an enemy.”
The Minister met his cool blue gaze, feeling as though he was looking down into her very soul, and gulped before nodding. “I shall do so immediately.”
“Wonderful,” Dumbledore said. “Now, I am sure you must be getting on.”
“Yes, yes,” Millicent said, her voice shaking. “Good afternoon to you, Albus.”
“And you, Millicent.”*~*
“Goddess Brighid, singer of songs, we invoke thee.”
The ritual room was shrouded in darkness, and the occupants of it could only be seen by the light of the candles. The scent of burning herbs was pungent, and seemed to be swirling all around them, and the ritual had only just begun. On the floor a large pentagram was drawn in white chalk, and Willow, Buffy, Xander, Giles, and Dawn sat at the points; Dawn for air, Xander for fire, Giles for water, Willow for earth, and Buffy for spirit. Harry was seated in the middle, candles all around him. It was something that might intimidate any toddler, but he did not seem scared. Buffy was watching him closely, but so far he didn’t act as though he had any objections, nor any desire to touch the candles. He just looked around curiously, smiling in Buffy’s direction every so often.
“Grant your healing unto your deserving supplicants. Undo what darkness hath wrought. With serving hand and bended knee, heal your child, I charge thee.”
A swirling red vapor encircled the pentagram, dancing over and around each of them. Suddenly, Buffy began to feel a bit dizzy. Her head felt light, and her body weightless, like she might float away at any minute. The overpowering smell of the herbs grew stronger, and the light brighter. Even though she was seated, the Slayer felt as though she was teetering on the edge of a precipice. Vertigo filled her.
“Goddess Brighid, look with favor on our plea. Judge the hearts of your faithful, and work your will. So I have spoken, so mote it be.”
There was a bright flash, and then Buffy knew no more.*~*
The nearly full moon was just rising in the night sky when he arrived in Scotland. At the edge of the village of Hogsmeade, the man appeared at the apparition point and took a deep breath of air. There was nothing like the smell of the fog as it rolled off the water, and traveled down to the village from Hogwarts. Of all the things he carried with him from his childhood, the scent of the Forbidden Forest and Black Lake would always have a cherished place in his heart.
He was weary to his very bones. Two weeks spying for the Order had felt like a lifetime. He had been stuck in the Orkney’s, watching a manor house on Dumbledore’s word. They had supposed that Voldemort was using it as a safe house for his Death Eaters, but if this was true, he had discovered no proof of it.
The manor had been abandoned, and the villagers wary of strangers. It was only after he had been among the Muggles for a few days that they opened up and were willing to talk. He had been posing as a perspective buyer of another manor house, no one knowing that he had not a galleon to his name. Still, he was a firm believer that time and libations loosened even the most careful tongue, and so had it proved at the King’s Head on Sanday Island.
Now he could report to Dumbledore that the rumors were just that and that Voldemort was using another place as his hideaway and safe house.
Stepping into the village, his booted feet crunched through the snow, and he smiled to himself at the sight of the candles floating in the air and the autumn wreaths hanging on the doors of the cottages. He was several yards into the village before he realized anything was amiss. At first, it didn’t register. And then, he stopped and stared.
The village was filled with people. Two weeks ago, when he had walked through Hogsmeade it was little more than a ghost town, but now people were everywhere. And it was evening too! They were laughing and speaking to each other, and children were running free in the streets without parents holding tight to their hands. Shopkeepers were leaning out their doors, calling to their neighbors, and bright signs telling of sales and deals lit their window displays. Witches were clustered in large groups, wearing bright robes, gossiping and laughing, and some wizards were leaning against stone walls, chatting merrily to passersby. No one in the village seemed to have a thought for the lateness of the hour, nor for the coldness of the evening. They were all bustling around as if they had not a care in the world.
He had never been more confused in his life. For the past eleven years, danger had slowly built until no one felt safe being out and about. When he had first gone to Hogsmeade in his third year it had been a lively little village, but by the time he matriculated, shops were shut up and people rarely ventured out of doors. And he had never seen the village like this. It was as if there was nothing in the world to be concerned about. What had happened?
Crossing the streets and alleys at a steady clip, his mended robes flying about his legs, he passed through the village, amazed at the sight and number of people coming in and out of the Three Broomsticks until he eventually he stepped into Tomes and Scrolls, which was surprisingly still open, and crossed immediately to the newspaper rack. Handing a knut to the proprietor, he picked up a copy of The Daily Prophet. Hopefully it would have some indication as to what was going on.
He received his answer on the front page. The Story behind the Dark Lord’s Defeat
, it read. Below that, Man and Boy Who Lived Save Us All
. Another, Albus Dumbledore Confirms that You-Know-Who is Gone
, and still another, Bagnold Asserts A Right to Party
. His eyes read hungrily over the words, taking in the gist and wondering why no one had thought to contact him. Why hadn’t James or Lily sent an owl? Or Sirius or Peter for that matter? What would happen now? And then, he saw a name that practically leapt off the page. It was a smaller article, tucked in the corner and it said, Healers at St. Mungo’s confirm that James Potter is still in critical condition
Horror filled him, and then he stopped skimming the articles and read them in full. Falling into an old leather armchair by the window, he read the paper from cover to cover, starting with the attack on Godric’s Hollow, Lily’s death, and ending with his friend in a hospital and Sirius being carted off to Azkaban. His mind was awhirl as he tried to process everything. Voldemort was gone. That, above everything else, made him understand the near-riots in the street. It was over. Merlin, it was really over. No more war, no more fighting. The Dark Lord was gone, and his Death Eaters were soon to follow.
His face darkened as he considered what came next. James in St. Mungo’s, and Morgana knew who caring for Harry. He resolved to find out immediately, as it was obviously not his godfather. A scowl developed on his face. He had suspected it for a while, but to have the truth of Sirius’s guilt written in bold like this was still startling. The anger that filled him at that betrayal was galling. Peter had tried to tell him, if he had listened Lily might still be alive. Dorcas
might still be alive.
He pushed that thought aside for the moment; he could not afford to fall to pieces, not now. He had to be strong. He had to find Peter—he was probably at St. Mungo’s with James—and he had to hope that Prongs would make it out of this. If anyone could, it would be him. If he knew one thing, it was that there was a limitless pool of strength that resided in James Edward Potter. He contemplated leaving immediately for St. Mungo’s. The full moon wasn’t for another two days; he could sit by his friend’s bedside until then.
It seemed strange that Dumbledore hadn’t called a meeting of the Order of the Phoenix, but he supposed that the Professor was busy with the Wizengamot, and dealing with the fallout of the war. It probably hadn’t even occurred to the Headmaster that he didn’t take the Daily Prophet, and had needed to be informed about what had occurred.
Yes, he had the answer to his question. Why had no one contacted him? Because there was almost no one left who could.
Remus Lupin stared out the window of the bookshop at the celebrating people, feeling as though the world itself had ended.*~* “Potter! Hey Potter, wait up!”
James turned at the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, and waited for the slender redhead to reach him. Lily’s robes flew behind her slightly, highlighting her figure. The Head Boy forced down the longing for the witch that seemed to be his constant companion, focusing instead on her beautiful face. To his embarrassment, he had spent hours upon hours thinking of her, wanting her, desiring her, loving her, and she had never so much as looked his way with romantic interest.
The one thing that James could now say was that the antagonistic aspect of their relationship was gone. Lily no longer seemed annoyed to simply be in his presence, and she no longer looked at him to find blemish. Instead of the way that they had often fought before, with James trying desperately to get her attention, they had settled into a sort of amicable detente. As Head Boy and Girl, they shared duties and made patrol schedules, as well as handling a myriad of other things calmly and rationally. So it made James feel decidedly un-rational when he would sometimes long for them to go back to the days of war. At least then, Lily had seemed to have strong emotions for him, even if they were bordering on hatred.
Sadly, James had gotten it the previous year. When they came back to Hogwarts after a long, interminable summer, Lily had promptly begun dating the Sixth Year Prefect Stefan Stebbins of Hufflepuff. Initially, James had thought that Lily was just trying to rub her new relationship in Snivellus’s face, as she couldn’t have been oblivious to that git’s feelings for her, but after a while, James noticed something odd. Lily was happy. Stebbins and her were, oddly enough, well matched. He was one of those odd brainy types that sometimes got sorted into Hufflepuff when they were so hardworking they couldn’t go anywhere else. James and his friends often stumbled over them when they were talking Charms by the lake or debating Runes in the corridors. And even though every time James had seen them together it felt like a knife to his chest, he had done nothing. Sirius was convinced that it was a sign his best friend was ill that James was willing to let it go, but he had convinced Padfoot to leave them be.
So instead he had focused on his hex war with Bertram Aubrey and perfecting his silent spell casting. In his Transfiguration N.E.W.T. class, he sailed past the other students and started taking private instruction from McGonagall. He and Remus had spent all their time adding to the Marauder’s map, eventually finding a charm that would reveal passwords. On the Quidditch pitch, he and Sirius led the team to winning the cup once more. Added to all that, he savored his adventures running through the Forbidden Forest with his friends under the full moon. James had even tried dating a few girls as well, but most of the time the dates ended with him mentally comparing the girls to Lily, and them coming up wanting. And then the summer had come, and with it his parents’ deaths. After that, school and pranks and chasing Lily had all seemed so petty.
“All right, Evans?” he asked when she reached him. Lily was breathing heavily and her face was pulled into a pinched cast that James recognized as her concerned look.
“Potter, I was...” she trailed off, looking suddenly uncomfortable. Her shoulders were tensed, her eyes were focused on the floor, and she looked as if she would rather be anywhere than standing on the seventh floor talking to him. “Have you been to see Remus?” she finally blurted.
“Remus,” he repeated.
“Yes, Remus,” she said, nodding her head. “You know, tall, peaky looking bloke. You generally refer to him as one of your friends.”
“I know who he is, Evans,” James said, rolling his eyes. “Why are we talking about him?”
“Well, it’s just he spent the day in bed, and I was wondering if he is well,” she looked away from him again, hiding her brilliant green eyes.
James looked at her with something akin to horror beginning to build on his face. “Do you—do you fancy him?” he gasped, feeling as though he might be sick.
“No,” she quickly denied, blushing heavily.
“You do,” he managed to say. “You like Moony. Oh Merlin.”
“No!” she protested. “I don’t fancy him; I’m just concerned for him is all. What with last night, I wanted to be sure he was okay.”
James sharpened his gaze suddenly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s okay, Potter,” Lily said. “I know.”
“I know,” she said. “Though I already suspected, Remus told me about his—ah, what is the phrase you always use?—furry little problem.” Her voice lowered to a barely audible whisper. “I know he’s a werewolf, and I know that you, Sirius, and Peter know too.” She blew a lock of hair from her face. “Anyway, I just wanted to know if he was okay.”
“He’s fine,” James said, crossing his arms, not entirely convinced that her concern wasn’t a symptom of romantic love. He would do many things to ensure Lily’s happiness, but encourage her to date one of his friends wasn’t one of them. “I checked on him earlier. He should be in class this afternoon.”
“Oh, good. That’s good,” Lily said weakly.
“Yes, it is,” James agreed. “Look, I should really—”
“Wait!” Lily said quickly. “Before you go, I just wanted to say how much I think it’s great about how you all supported Remus through everything.”
“He’s my mate,” James said with a shrug. “I would support any of my friends if they had a problem like his.”
“It’s just, not all the Wizarding world is like that,” Lily said earnestly. “Many of them would turn away someone who...had a furry problem.”
“Not me,” James declared. “I don’t care about that stuff. Blood, any of it. Remus is my friend, that’s all that matters.”
“Why haven’t you asked me out?” Lily blurted suddenly, before clapping her hand over her mouth in horror.
“Nothing,” Lily said, backing away. “I should go; lots to do. Studying and such.”
“No, wait,” James said, reaching out and grabbing her wrist. “What did you say?”
Lily looked as though she wanted to rip out her own tongue. She was shaking her head, as if she wasn’t going to answer, but then James tipped up her chin to look at him and she began to talk quickly. “It’s just, I—I noticed a change in you, that’s all. You’re studying more, and you aren’t hexing everyone who crosses you, and you’ve been so caring with the first years when they have questions, and you make me laugh and smile and why haven’t you asked me out again? Have I buggered up my one and only chance?” she babbled. “Did I completely ruin everything when I said no in Fifth year? Because if I have, I wish I could take it back. I was so young then and I didn’t even know what I wanted, and I think you are just exactly what I—”
He stopped her mouth with a kiss.
Right there in the middle of the hallway, where anyone could see, James Potter kissed Lily Evans for the first time, and it was everything a first kiss should be. It was short, sweet, and left them both wanting more. When James pulled back, he looked down at the girl clinging to his robes and reached out, brushing his thumb across her bottom lip. “I thought you were with Stebbins,” he murmured.
“No,” she said tremulously. “We broke up over Easter last year.”
“Why?” he asked, his keen eyes watching her every move from behind his glasses.
“He thought I was in love with you,” Lily said softly.
James let out a pained sound. “You’ve liked me, all this time?”
“Ever since fifth year,” she replied. “In the corridor, after...”
“I didn’t know it,” she said. “I don’t think I was ready for it either. But I am now, and I’ve been waiting. I thought you didn’t—”
“I do, I do.” James spoke quickly. He took a deep breath. “Well Evans, do you want to be my girlfriend?”
She laughed. “All right, but you should probably call me Lily.”*~*
Buffy woke slowly, groggy at first, but then her mind clearing. From the way she passed out, she might have expected some aches and pains, but she felt fine. Better than fine, in fact. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so good, and she had Slayer healing. Sitting up slowly, her eyes were immediately drawn to the center of the five-pointed star, and relaxed when she saw Harry curled up there, sucking on his thumb, fast asleep. Reaching out with her Slayer senses, she smiled. The spell had worked. The dark feeling emanating from Harry’s scar was gone. All that remained was a healed pink lightning bolt shaped scar. Groans came from the others, and Buffy knew they had to be waking as well.
“Bloody hell,” she heard Giles mutter.
“Language,” Buffy scolded, shaking her head at her Watcher. Her eyes then fell on Willow and she grinned. “That was some spell, girly.”
“Did it work?” Will asked, yawning.
“See for yourself,” Buffy said, indicating the baby. “Scar’s healed, and I can’t feel a hint of darkness coming from him.”
“Uh, Buffy...” Willow began, looking concerned, but Buffy didn’t heed her. Her gaze was drawn to Xander. The carpenter had removed his eye patch, and was gently probing what had been an empty socket before the ritual. Buffy had never seen the scarred socket that had its eye gouged out of it, and now she never would. Now, once again, Xander had two eyes.
It seemed that the healing spell had done more than anticipated. Buffy looked over at Giles and noticed that the scar on his forehead was gone as well. Reaching up to her neck, Buffy felt nothing but smooth skin. The bite marks that she had carried from the Master, Angel, and Dracula were absent. She had been healed too.
“Oh my God,” Buffy murmured, her gaze coming back to her friend. But was it just superficial or a full healing? To Xander, she asked, “Is it...can you see?”
“I can see,” he said, shock coloring his tone.
“I don’t believe this,” Giles said. “My tattoo is gone!”
“Jesus, Willow what did you do?” Xander asked. “I can see! I have my eye back.” He then looked next to Buffy and said, “Oh, man.”
Buffy followed his gaze and gasped. She had been so fixated on Xander that it hadn’t occurred to her to look to her immediate right.
When she did, nothing and no one was there.
Dawn was gone.