Chapter 1 : Saying Goodbye
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“Let’s take a break,” he announced, much to the relief of his best friends who were also uncomfortable in the mid-afternoon heat.
“Is anyone else hungry?” asked Hermione, wiping her brow with the back of her hand and leaving behind a small smudge of charred earth.
“Starved,” groaned Ron as he picked his own t-shirt up from the base of the tree where he’d abandoned it, turned it out, and pulled it begrudgingly over his unruly ginger head. Hermione dug through one of the knapsacks they had brought with them and pulled out a container of lemonade.
“Congelatio,” she said, waiving her wand at the bottle which instantly became icy cold. Three sandwiches followed the lemonade and the trio sat in happy silence under the shade of an enormous ancient beech tree. The sun was drifting lower in its arc now, but the wisps of breeze were few and far between so the stagnant muggy air kept them from rushing back to their work. Finally, though he barely harbored any remaining hope of finding what he was searching for, Harry dragged himself to his feet. Hermione had dozed off against the tree trunk, a book lying open at her side and Ron’s gently snoring head draped across her lap.
It was better not to wake them, Harry decided. There had been nothing of interest all day and that was unlikely to change, no matter whether it was the three of them or just Harry scavenging through the ruins of his first home. He wandered off to where the back of the house had obviously been, where fragments of the main walls were left still standing. As he rounded the corner Harry could see a set of wooden cellar doors lying in the ground at his feet. He tugged at them but the wrought iron handle rings would not budge.
“Alohomora,” he whispered, and now the doors lifted easily. Harry was careful not to let them drop; his motives for leaving Hermione and Ron asleep had changed now. If there was anything to be found beneath these doors, he wanted to be the one to find it. After all, it was his family who had lived here and his parents who had died in the chaos that had destroyed the house. This was something Harry wanted to keep private.
Several roughly hewn planks made up a narrow staircase, but beyond that Harry could see nothing but darkness. He hesitated for just an instant, muttered “Lumos,” and descended in the narrow beam of light from his wand.
The storm cellar at the bottom of the stairs was small and cramped. Along the far wall rows of shelves held all sorts of things, from food and blankets to a small wooden box that Harry could not open. Harry found a small camp lantern and lit it, reaching up to hang it on a chain suspended from the ceiling. A fine layer of earth covered everything in the room; the shelves, a little table in the center of the room, the two wooden chairs next to it, and a small bassinette nestled in the corner. A sharp pang of grief struck Harry at the sight of what undoubtedly was where his parents intended to keep him safe in an emergency. James and Lily Potter must have truly been surprised on that Halloween night nearly sixteen years ago; there hadn’t even been time for them to retreat to their sanctuary. Harry wondered what good it would have done them against the wrath of Lord Voldemort, but maybe they had placed better magical enchantments around this tiny room; or had been planning to once all three were safely inside.
Harry began to inspect the wooden box more carefully now, setting it on the table in front of him as he dusted off one of the chairs and sat. The soft warm glow of polished elm shone through where Harry’s fingerprints had removed small patches of dirt, and he made quick work of cleaning the rest simply by rubbing the sides of the box with his already filthy t-shirt. Across the lid was an engraving of a lion, slumbering peacefully against a rock. Harry stroked one finger across the lion’s back and to his astonishment the lion’s eyes flickered open, two amber stones now glinting in the light of the lantern. The lion’s mouth opened in a great lazy yawn, looking somewhat perturbed at being so rudely awakened.
“Sorry,” Harry whispered. “I don’t suppose you could just let me open this?” The lion shook his shaggy mane and roared, which Harry interpreted as a no. Turning the trinket over in his hands, Harry saw fine gold lettering wrapping all the way around the seam of the box. He pulled the lantern from its hook and set it on the table, its light illuminating the words clearly.
‘What treasures lie in Gryffindor’s claws!
Such wealth kept guard beneath these jaws.
Careful friend; do not provoke,
For challengers have oft misspoke.
Be brave of soul and swift of mind
But to your heart do not be blind,
For power there doth overwhelm
And is the key unlocks this elm.
With just three words you can recall
The greatest magic of them all.’
Harry grimaced at the riddle and contemplated for a moment going to wake Hermione, who was so clever with these things. But instead he turned the box again, reading the poem once more, this time out loud.
“So, I say three words and you open the box?” he asked the lion, who nodded and curled back up to doze as Harry wracked his brain. “If I say the wrong word,” he muttered, “you’ll probably find a way of attacking too.” To anyone outside the magical world, the notion of a lion engraved on a wooden box posing any sort of threat might be comical. But Harry had learned over the past six years to know that most magical objects were not to be idly dismissed, and certainly something that had belonged to Gryffindor himself would be no different.
Harry began to search for help within the riddle itself. “The power of the heart doth overwhelm,” Harry thought out loud. “That’s love!” The lion lifted his head, paying closer attention to him. “I’m right, aren’t I? Dumbledore always said that love was the most powerful magic there was. Three words,” Harry muttered, and then grinned broadly. A fleeting image of Ginny’s long red hair flashed in his mind as he whispered “I love you.”
With a victorious growl, the lion stalked to the edge of the lid and drew his paw down the side, unhinging the two wooden halves with his claws. Harry lifted the top and set it lion side up next to the box, which held a small sheath of papers bound by a deep red satin ribbon. Under the bundle of parchment were two little leather boxes, and Harry opened one to find a ring with a deep garnet setting shimmering softly against the gold. The other box was slightly bigger, and as Harry pried it open a flash of gold shot out and up towards the wooden ceiling. But Harry’s reflexes were too fast and there, pinned between his fingers, was a Snitch. He could feel something etched on it and upon a few rather challenging inspections; as the Snitch continued to flutter in its efforts to escape again; Harry managed to make out the words ‘James catches the Snitch, but Lily caught James.’
Harry laughed out loud. Whether they were his mother’s clever words, or maybe the teasing of his godfather, Harry felt a wonderful connection to his past just reading them. He tugged at the red bow tying the packet of papers and it slipped free.
For the next twenty minutes, Harry basked in the warmth of what he had been craving so long; his family. At the top of the stack there was a Certificate of Magical Birth for one Harry James Potter; two tiny ink footprints squirming about the page. Photographs. There were more photographs of himself as a baby than Harry could ever have dreamed of, his favorite being a simple shot of James staring wondrously at the tiny infant cradled in his arms. Next Harry found an ornate invitation to his parents’ wedding and a few snapshots of the happy couple and their friends and family. Harry traced his finger delicately over the laughing, cake-smeared faces of his mum and dad and smiled. Newspaper articles snipped from the Daily Prophet talked about their engagement and wedding, and one mentioned Harry’s birth. There were also some that spoke of deaths; Gideon and Fabian Prewett, and the story of what had happened to Neville’s parents. Near the bottom of the stack were dozens of tiny folded notes from each of his parents to the other, painting a picture of life at Hogwarts; about adventures with friends, about classes and teachers and brutally difficult tests. But the best of them all was from James. “Meet me by the lake,” he had scrawled across the back of a Potions essay with a large red ‘A’ emblazoned across the top. Folded inside of it was a photograph of Harry’s young mother lying peacefully on the grassy edge of the lake, dozing while the late spring sunshine illuminated her ginger hair so that she seemed to glow. Harry could feel his throat clench as he watched the subtle motion of her breathing, and he swiftly moved on to the last page of the stack.
The paper wasn’t the same heavy parchment that was most common in the wizarding world, but rather a powdery shade of blue with the initials LEP monogrammed in intricate script at the top of the page. The handwriting covering the two pages wasn’t his mother’s though; this was the untidy yet appealing scratchings of James.
‘Dear Harry,’ the letter read, and Harry’s heart leapt into his throat at the sight of his own name there in his father’s hand.
I guess this is a bit of a funny thing for me to do, write you a letter when you’re lying there asleep in your crib. To tell the truth, it feels a bit morbid to write you a letter in case something happens, but I want you to have the proof that I love you, not just stories of it from everyone else.
We’re back at my parents’ old house now; we’ve gone into hiding at Dumbledore’s request. I hope that you get to know Albus Dumbledore one day, Harry. Certainly you will when you go to Hogwarts! Remember that your dad has spoken very highly of him; Dumbledore may well be the greatest wizard alive. He’s sent us here because he thinks that we are in serious danger; and if Dumbledore thinks it, it’s probably true. So here I am, writing you this.
I’m so sorry Harry. The only way you’ll ever read this is if I die, and if I’ve died then I have failed you in every way possible. I hope that you know that I did everything I could to protect you; because I know there is nothing in the world that could convince me not to put you and your mother at the very top of my world, even before myself. You two are the greatest treasures a man could ever hope for. I want you to know how happy you have made your mother and I, just by being born. You can do whatever you like with your life, go on great quests or just live a quiet life at home, and no matter what you choose for yourself, know that I would have been proud. I am so very proud of you, my son.
I hope that your life is a happy one. If it hasn’t been with your mother, then I have full confidence that Sirius has been a good father to you and taught you well. I’m jealous of him right now, as I’m imagining all of the things he might get to do with you instead of me. Watch you walk, talk, go to school. I want you to know that he isn’t half the flyer I am, and everything he has taught you about catching a Snitch is all wrong. Just trust your instincts and open your eyes Harry, and if heredity means anything in this world then you will already have an advantage over him. Listen to him on everything else but Quidditch though, because he really is a better man than even he knows.
Your mother... Harry, I don’t know what to say about her. She can peel an apple in one strip and then she’ll seal it up again so that when I bite into the skin the only thing left inside is air. It’s stupid how many times I’ve fallen for that really. If you don’t still have her, then you missed out on an awful lot more than you did without me. She is a lot of things, but underneath each of them she is courageous. When she answered the know-it-all questions in class or stood up for someone who wasn’t very popular, those things took courage. Lily is upset right now; she’s used to standing up for herself and for others and she doesn’t like that we’ve gone into hiding and trusted our lives to Peter. She meets the world with an unbiased beautiful face Harry, and then she looks it square in the eye. I’ll never be able to tell you how in the devil’s name I was lucky enough to get her, but I will advise you that if you find someone anything like her at all, hold on for dear life. Any woman who will tell you that you’re wrong and still stand firmly by your side is a blessing, and I would be a poor excuse for a father if I didn’t teach you that much.
Above all other things Harry, I want you to know that you are loved. You have been loved since before you even set foot in this world, and you will be loved long after you are gone from it. Please carry that with you always, the knowledge that no matter where you go or what you do, or whom you do it with, you are loved.
Harry had long since stopped brushing the tears from his face, but now he swiped his palms across his cheeks with a heavy sigh. Here it was, in his hands, his father. And his mother too, or at least as close as he would get to her. In one small box he had found his family, and his father had said goodbye.
Heaving himself out of the chair, Harry carefully retied all of his new treasures with the red satin ribbon and tucked them into the box with his father’s Snitch and his mother’s ring. The lid rasped a soft wooden sound as he replaced it, and the lion blinked once at him before drifting back into his unassuming slumber.
With his prize stowed firmly under his arm Harry blew out the lamp and fumbled his way up the stairs into the soft warmth of the moments just before a summer sunset. Back at the base of the tree, Hermione looked up from her book and stared at him with a small smile. Her fingers were entwined with Ron’s, who was still napping with his head across Hermione’s legs. It was a simple happiness, and it made Harry’s mind race to thoughts of his own.
Tucked up in one of the small bedrooms of The Burrow Harry knew there was a ginger haired girl sitting at her window, trying to pretend that she wasn’t waiting for them to return. He had no idea how she peeled an apple, but Harry did know what it was like to have Ginny stand at his side. He couldn’t put her back in danger just yet but when the time arrived Harry knew she would be there without him even having to ask. And at that moment Harry would follow his father’s advice and cling for dear life, because if he was lucky – if he was very lucky – Harry would catch the Snitch, and Ginny would catch him.