Chapter 1 : Green Eyes Against Blinding White
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It all started with a blinding flash of green. At least that’s the last thing I remember. Everything was bathed in green light and then I blinked and it was all gone. Now everything is white, endless bloody white. It’s like fog, except in fog you can always sort of see something through the whiteness. Indistinct shapes and washed out colors and little hints of motion always manage to seep through. This isn’t fog. The whiteness is impenetrable, extending as far as I can see in every direction. Whatever you’ve gotten yourself into, James, the weather’s got nothing to do with it.
“Hello?” My voice sounds strange. There isn’t even a hint of an echo. It just disappears into that never ending bloody whiteness. Something’s definitely not right here. Where am I? Where are Harry and Lily? “Hello?”
Come on, James, think! How did you get here? Before the green flash, the last thing I remember was sitting on the couch with Lils, looking out the window. She’d just finished getting Harry to go down, so it was nighttime. All of the muggle kids in the neighborhood were wearing strange costumes for some reason. Was it Halloween? Yeah, that’s right, it was Halloween. But I don’t think we had sweets to give out. Maybe we forgot to buy any, or maybe we just didn’t want the kids knocking on the door, waking Harry up. Whatever the reason, we were huddled up inside with the lights out.
Hiding! Yeah, we were definitely hiding. I’m not sure how I know, but I don’t think it was just because of Halloween. There was something else, something... unpleasant. I turn around on my heel again, trying to find some sense of direction. Don’t panic, James. Stay calm. I hate this blasted whiteness. I move my feet, but I can’t tell whether I’m actually going anywhere because everything looks exactly the bloody same in every direction. A man could seriously lose his mind here.
Wait, were we hiding from Sirius? I guess it’s a possibility. I can’t ever keep track of who pranked who last. Let’s see, I signed him up for the Haggis of the Month Club, then he bewitched the toilet seats in our house to sing God Save the Queen as soon as you sat down, then I stuffed one of Lily’s bras between his couch cushions the night he brought that blond witch from the Leaky Cauldron back to his flat, then he slipped magnesium into our floo powder... Dammit, this is hopeless. I don’t think we were hiding from Sirius. If it was his turn to prank me, I would’ve taken it like a man.
Maybe I should start walking. See if I can find anybody else in this awful place. The problem is that I could be walking in circles and never know it. I’m really starting to worry that I’m all alone here. That, and the disorientation is starting to make me feel nauseous. Or maybe it’s not knowing where the hell I am. Maybe both.
I need to think about something else. If we weren’t hiding from Sirius, who else? Not Moony. Who on earth hides from Moony? The worst he’d ever do is talk you to sleep. That leaves Peter...
Peter! Yeah, Peter was involved in all this somehow. We weren’t hiding from him. In fact... in fact, he knew where we were! I think he was the only one who knew. No, that’s not quite right. Sirius knew but... but he couldn’t tell anyone. Blimey. Sirius couldn’t tell anyone because it was a secret. Now it’s all coming back to me. Whoever we were hiding from, we put a Fidelius Charm on the house and Peter held the secret. But why did we put a Fidelius Charm on the sodding house? Those things are a bloody pain in the arse. We wouldn’t have done that unless-
And just like that, it finally hits me. My feet stop their futile attempt at progress and my blood runs cold. Oh, no. No, no, no. It can’t be. We put the charm on the house because of You-Know-Who. He was looking for us, looking for Harry. We put the Fidelius Charm on the house so he wouldn’t find Harry, because he was going to-
Oh, god, no. No, no, no. My stomach clenches. This place... the flash of green light...
Come on, get ahold of yourself, James. You’re dreaming. You have to be dreaming. Come on, James, wake up. Wake up, wake up, wake up. This isn’t real. It can’t be real. We put the sodding Fidelius Charm on the sodding house. Nobody knew that Peter held the secret. We did everything to make them all think it was Sirius. I’m gonna throw up, if there’s even anything in my stomach. Dammit, this isn’t real! Wake the fuck up!
I close my eyes and slowly count to ten. This has to be a dream. There’s no way this is real.
When I get to ten I’m going to open my eyes and I’ll be in our bedroom. I’ll be lying in bed, sweating and shaking, but we’ll all still be alive.
Lily will be laying there next to me, drooling on her pillow. Her hair will be all spread out on the pillow and she’s probably snoring a little.
We had Indian take-away for dinner. That’s gotta be it. Indian always gives you weird dreams, right? It’s too spicy.
Oh, god. Please be there, Lils. Please, please, please. Please be alright.
Please let her be there. This isn’t happening. Wake up, James. Please wake up.
I open my eyes and there’s nothing. Nothing but the same goddamned, neverending whiteness.
The cold weight in my chest feels like it’s crushing the life out of me. God, no, no, no. It can’t be. If I’m dead, it means that he found us. It means that I tried to stop him and I couldn’t. It means...
The sound that escapes from my throat is like nothing I’ve ever heard. The piteous wail of a man who’s already died on the inside as he begs the outside to catch up. There are no words for how much I hurt.
How can this be happening? Lily, Harry!
Oh, god, I’m so sorry. Please don’t be dead! For the love of god, Please don’t be dead!
Oh, god, no, no, no! You know they’re dead, though. They’re dead because you couldn’t keep them safe.
Please, no, anything but that! Not my wife and my son.
Why? What did we ever do to anybody? All we wanted was to raise our son in peace.
A small part of my mind manages to separate itself from the grief and horror tearing my soul apart and take it all in, as if from a distance. This isn’t me, watching James Potter crumble into a sobbing heap, surrounded by the hideous whiteness that threatens to drive him into madness. I’m the guy curled up in a ball. I don’t know who this is, watching the poor bastard suffer, but it isn’t me. James Potter died in Godric’s Hollow. All that’s left now is a shell.
I don’t know how long it is before my mind starts to function again. If I’m dead anyway, I guess it doesn’t really make any difference.
It just doesn’t seem possible. Not for me, anyway. I never lose when it matters. My whole life, I’ve always come out on top. I was Head Boy. I won the Quidditch cup. I wound up marrying the girl who wouldn’t give me the time of day for six long years. I never lose. I’m James Bloody Potter. But now I’ve gone and bollocksed everything up when it matters most. And it’s cost me everything. Here I am, all alone, waiting to go mad. And the worst part is that I know I deserve it. This is what I get for letting them die.
A new wave of grief threatens to pull me back under, so I fight to think about something else. I remember Lily once talking about the various stages a person goes through while grieving. I think it was right after Marlene and her family were killed. Leave it to Lils to feel the need to affix a proper label to each and every tear. One of those stages was bargaining. It didn’t make much sense at the time. Marlene was gone. No amount of bargaining was ever going to change that. But now I understand. Oh god, do I get it now.
Lils and I used to play this game when Harry would wake up crying in the middle of the night. We’d both pretend we were still asleep, even though each of us knew bloody well that the other was awake. It was just a contest of wills. Who would break first and get out of bed and go tend to him? We were pretty evenly matched. She had those maternal instincts working against her, but I knew that if I pushed my luck too far, there’d be hell to pay the next day. Still, I think I won slightly more often than she did.
Now, as I lie here in the fetal position, staring into the emptiness, I’d give anything to drag my arse out of bed and go pick Harry up and rock him back to sleep. Absolutely anything. I remember exactly how he feels when I hold him. He barely weighs more than two Quaffles, and he’s always so warm. I remember the way he’d squirm just a bit, to find that perfect position. Then he’d smile. God, I’m going to miss that smile. I’d trade a lifetime of sleep for one more chance to hold my son in my arms. I’d do it without a second thought. Yeah, I’m bargaining alright. And it’s getting me about as far as it got the McKinnon family.
Where did it all go wrong? How did he find us? We did everything we could to make people think that Sirius was the Secret Keeper. We lied to Dumbledore, hell, we even lied to Moony. Nobody had any reason to suspect Peter. Did Sirius get drunk and blab it somehow? I mean, he got really pissed after Marlene’s funeral. We all did. But Sirius never talks about important stuff when he drinks. He just rants about Quidditch or his family.
Oh, shit! We told everyone that Sirius was the Secret Keeper! Shit, shit, SHIT! They’re all gonna think that he’s the one who betrayed us. Before I even know what I’m doing, I’m back on my feet, pacing again. Dumbledore, Moony, Frank and Alice... everyone thinks that he was the Secret Keeper. The bleeding Dark Mark is probably lighting up all of Godric’s Hollow by now and they’re all gonna think it was Sirius’s fault.
For the second time in... bloody hell, in however long I‘ve been in this demented mind-fuck of an afterlife, I feel the hollow ache in my chest from knowing that I let somebody down. Badly. I’m better than this. So what if he’s the most powerful dark wizard in history, this is Harry and Lily and Sirius we’re talking about. I should have done better. We all should have made it out alive somehow, just to show the world that nobody fucks with James Potter and the Marauders. Nobody!
“God dammit!” I’m flailing my arms like a pissed off adolescent now. I don’t even care. I’m so furious that I have to take a swing at something. It doesn’t even matter that the punches connect with nothing but empty whiteness. This is such bullshit! I know that whatever we did wrong, it’s going to turn out to be something completely stupid. Some tiny, insignificant little detail that we completely overlooked and now Lily, Harry and I are dead and Peter’s probably dead or hanging in a dungeon somewhere and Moony’s going to kill Sirius who probably won’t even bother to try and fight back because he’ll be a complete emotional wreck. Might as well hand Britain to You-Know-Who on a silver fucking platter.
“James, is that you?”
I nearly throw my back out as I spin around. The woman silhouetted by the white mist is at once the most wonderful and terrible thing I’ve ever seen. She’s obviously been crying. Her eyes are red and swollen and her face is red and blotchy. Her shoulders are slumped over and she looks tired, probably more tired than I’ve ever seen her. And I rush forward to pull her into my arms because none of that matters. She’s still the most beautiful woman in the entire world.
I don’t know how long we stand there, just holding each other without saying a word. Like I said before, I don’t think it makes a bloody bit of difference in this place. The feel of her skin, the smell of her hair, the sound of her breathing... it’s funny how she managed add just a touch of heaven to this insufferable hell. As much as I want to have things end like this, to just, I don’t know, fade into the mist in her arms, there are so many questions in my head. It’s weird. She’s usually the first one to break a silence between the two of us. Maybe she doesn’t know what to say.
“So is this it?” I venture, whispering into her hair. “Is it really over? Are we...”
“Yes,” she answers, her voice still heavy with sadness. “We are.”
I pull back just enough so I can look into her beautiful green eyes. God, I love her eyes. The first thing I ever noticed about Lily Evans was those eyes. That was a lifetime ago, but the moment will never leave me. At the moment, they’re rimmed with red and damp with new tears that threaten to spill onto her cheeks. I’m pretty sure I know why.
“What about Harry? Is he...”
“No. Harry’s alright. He’s going to be alright.” She sounds very sure of herself, but that certainty isn’t making her any less sad. This sucks. I don’t want to hurt her any more, but I have to know.
“Are you sure? I mean, how can you know?”
“I’m his mother, James. Please, just trust me.” The pleading look in her eyes tears me up inside all over again. Pushing her any further will just cause her more pain. It’s obvious that she’s already dealing with as much of that as she can handle. Besides, Lily’s not the type to make a statement like that if she wasn’t absolutely certain. If she says Harry’s alive, then he’s alive. But I still have so many questions. How can I do this without hurting her even more?
“Thank god. Thinking that both of you were... you know. It made me feel sick.” She stares at me for a second longer before lowering her head back onto my shoulder. She feels so frail and weak, like her body is on the verge of collapse. I give it a long while before I say anything else, turning things around and around in my mind. Over the past year, I thought a lot about Harry’s future. I thought about what he’d look like and whether he’d be more like me or more like her. I thought about him boarding the Hogwarts Express for the first time and making new friends and learning to use magic. But I never once thought he’d be doing those things on his own. My mind is bristling with a million questions and even though Lily can’t possibly know the answers, I just need to hear what she’s thinking. Because the truth can’t be as bad as I’m afraid it is, can it?
“Lils, is Harry really going to be alright? I mean, without us?” I can’t believe how fragile my voice sounds. Like I’m about to break down and start crying. As exhausted as Lily looks, I feel her arms wrap around my sides just a bit tighter.
“Dumbledore will make sure that he’s taken care of. When we first went into hiding, he promised me that no matter what happened, Harry’s safety was the most important thing.”
I nod slowly, trying to imagine what his life will be like without us. It’s making me feel queasy, trying to grasp all of the possibilities and dangers. I wonder whether she feels the same way. “What do you think will happen to him now?”
Lily takes a shaky breath. I feel like an insensitive fool for asking. She must be worried sick. By the time she finally starts to speak, however, she sounds calmer than I expected. “They’ll probably send him to live with Frank and Alice. He’s the same age as Neville, after all. The two of them will grow up together, like twins. And you know Frank and Alice. They’ll love him like he was their own son.”
It all makes a lot of sense when she says it. Harry won’t be alone. I feel the slightest bit better until it dawns on me that there’s one glaring flaw. “But what about You-Know-Who?”
Lily pushes me back just a bit. Her eyes look a little stronger now. Maybe it helped her, too, saying that Harry was going to be alright. “James, I think you can call him Voldemort now. It’s not like he can kill you again.”
“Alright, then. What about Voldemort?”
Lily chews on on her lower lip for a moment, summoning some bit of information to the front of her mind. “This prophecy, the one that Sybill Trelawney made, according to Dumbledore it said that Harry would be able to beat Voldemort. That’s why Voldemort wanted to kill him. I know it sounds crazy. Harry can’t even walk yet. Think about it, though. There was nobody to stop Voldemort once we were... out of the way. If Harry’s still alive, something must have happened to Voldemort.”
She’s right. It does sound crazy. Stark, raving mad, actually. But I’ll be damned if I can come up with a better explanation. For the first time since I came to in this miserable existence, a small smile crosses my lips. “So you’re saying that my boy -- sorry, I mean our son -- beat the Dark Lord himself?” Fuck, yeah! Nobody fucks with James Potter and the Marauders and James Potter’s one-year-old son.
Lily just rolls her eyes at me. As quickly as the triumphant feeling came on, it passes. The reality is that we’re still stuck in this awful, white purgatory and we don’t know for certain what’s become of Harry or Sirius or anybody else. So far, Lily’s two for two, so I venture one more question. “Lils, what happened? How did he find us?”
Wrong question. The little spark of life that came from talking about Harry fades from her eyes, replaced by nothing but pain. I pull her a little closer and wait for her to speak. After a deep, steadying breath, she begins.
“Isn’t it obvious, James? Peter betrayed us.”
My brain goes completely blank for a second. Who is she talking about? Wait a second. She can’t mean... “Pettigrew?”
Lily exhales slowly. It seems like this is as hard for her to say as it is for me to hear. “James, how many other Peters do we know? Yes, I mean Peter Pettigrew.”
She falls silent. Apparently she’s realized that I need some time to catch up to her. I don’t think she realizes just how long that’ll be, though. I mean, come on, this is bloody Peter she’s talking about. The whole reason we picked him to be the Secret Keeper is because nobody outside of our group of friends believes that he has the stones to put his neck on the line. Peter’s always been the quiet one, so it’s hard for people to know how brave he really is. Sure, Sirius and I were the ones who sneaked into the girls’ bathroom to turn the toilet seats into portkeys, but Peter was right outside the door, pretending to read a book while he kept watch. He learned how to become an Animagus with us. Even though his animal form turned out to be a tiny little rodent, he never shied away from running with us, even when Remus was having a bad full moon. And now Lily’s trying to tell me that he betrayed us to bloody You-Know-Who -- dammit, I mean Voldemort? There’s just no way.
“James,” she says gently, deciding that she’s let me spin the wheels inside my head for long enough, “it’s the only logical explanation. You saw Sirius that morning and he was his normal self. Remus and all the others believed that Sirius was the Secret Keeper. There was no reason for the Death Eaters to go after Peter unless they already knew.”
I can’t help it. I push away from her and start pacing again. She can’t be right. There’s just no way. No bloody way. “Lily, we’ve known Peter since we were eleven years old. He was in our wedding. He used to stay at my house when his parents were going through a rough patch. He was family. I just... No way! He couldn’t have!”
She lets me pace for a while longer before I feel her slender fingers gently rest on my arm. I want to rip it away. I want to stamp my feet like a child and scream in her face and tell her how wrong she is. How she doesn’t know the first thing about Peter or the Marauders or what we were all about. There’s only one problem. As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t think of one shred of proof that contradicts what she’s saying.
I pull my arm away -- gently -- and take another few steps. What would Remus make of this? What would he say if he was here? As bloody annoying as it could get when he was being all calm and logical, I really wish I could talk to him right now. Remus would probably say to start by eliminating the things that you know aren’t possible. Something about a razor or shaving or something. At any rate, it’s definitely not possible that You-Know... Voldemort found the house without help. Dumbledore himself checked that. It’s also not possible that Sirius or Dumbledore gave him the secret. Nobody but Peter could have done that. And nobody but Sirius knew that Peter was the Secret Keeper, so only he could have tipped off the Death Eaters. Do I really believe that Sirius switched sides?
Lily is still staring at me patiently when I finally turn back around to face her. My brain has slowed back to its normal grind and the prickling sense of discord in my chest is once again a dull ache of resignation and loss. “How do you think they got to him?”
She nods sadly, accepting my surrender with grace. “I don’t know. Maybe his mum? Or maybe he just got tired of fighting.”
I think it’s safe to say that I’m beyond arguing with her at this point. About anything. I just don’t have the energy or the desire. And it won’t change a thing, anyway. We’re dead and our son is going to go through life as an orphan. But at least he’s alive. I guess I have to start focusing on the positive. Otherwise, I’ll go insane in this place. Speaking of which... “Where do you think we are, Lils?” I walk back over to her and take her hand. She looks around for a moment, then shrugs.
“Haven’t the foggiest. It doesn’t seem like the heaven that Mum and Dad used to talk about. Or the hell that the Minister talked about in church when I was a little girl. It’s just... empty.”
I stub my toe against whatever it is that we’re standing on. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that it doesn’t even make a noise. “It’s boring as all hell, that’s what it is. Throw in some uncomfortable chairs and a few old copies of Witch Weekly and you’d have a perfect waiting room.”
That one actually puts a thin smile on her lips. Back when she was pregnant with Harry, I used to drive her up the wall, pacing back and forth in the waiting room before her Healer appointments. Healers and goblins are pretty much guaranteed to make you wait. Especially when it’s something important.
Lily gives up and sits down, wrapping her arms around her knees. “What do you think we’re waiting for?”
Most of my nervous energy seems to have burned off, so I lay down next to her, where I can look up and see her hair falling on either side of her face. She’s always so beautiful when I’m looking up at her. I know that Sirius would have something really inappropriate to say in response to that, and it makes me miss him just a bit more.
“I can’t think of any reason. We left a lot of people behind -- Harry, Sirius, Remus, Frank, Alice... If we’re waiting for one of them, I honestly hope that we wind up waiting a really long time.”
She smiles down at me. “That was really sweet. I bet none of them could imagine James Potter willingly sitting in a waiting room for them.”
Without thinking about it, I stick my tongue out at her. First of all, she knows that I’d do anything for our friends, even sit in a waiting room. I’m a very noble guy. Second of all, nobody calls me sweet. “Alright, then. You’re the brilliant one in the family. Why do you think we’re here?”
Lily closes her eyes for a second. When she opens them again, she looks a little bit surprised. “This is going to sound completely mental, but part of me feels like there’s something... left. Something that I still need to do.”
I sit up on my elbows. I have no idea why, but her answer struck a chord with me. This doesn’t make any sense at all, but it did. When I concentrate really hard, it’s right on the edge of my mind. It feels very indistinct, but I think it’s... “Something to do with Harry?”
“Yes.” She draws the word out in a quiet voice. Her eyes are still focused on some point far away in the whiteness.
“Wonder what it could be?” I give up trying to make the pieces fit on my own and just start thinking out loud. “So we already decided that Harry will probably grow up with Frank and Alice. Dumbledore will look out for him and see to his education. Sirius and Remus will be there for him, too, at least once Sirius convinces everyone that Peter was the one who gave us up to the Dark- I mean, to Voldemort. He has enough gold in the family vault to last three lifetimes. What else could a boy need?”
Lily finally closes her eyes and pinches the sides of her nose with her fingertips. “I don’t know. But whatever it is, I feel like I’m the only one who can help him.”
“We’re the only ones who can help.” I correct her without even thinking about it. And instead of looking annoyed, she just nods slightly. This is creepy. Then again, so is the fact that we were just murdered and we’re having this conversation.
Lily sighs and lays down beside me, with her head near my feet and her feet near my head. I feel the warmth of her palm press against mine as her thumb wraps around the side of my hand. “So I guess we wait then.”
I close my eyes, blocking out the endless emptiness and focusing on nothing but the feeling of her fingertips against my wrist. Thinking back to those horrible moments before she appeared, I suddenly realize there’s something I need to tell her. “I was terrified when I first realized that I was dead, Lils. I thought that I was going to spend eternity alone. I thought this was my punishment for failing to keep you and Harry safe. I’m still not happy that we’re stuck here, but as long as I get to spend eternity with you, I’ll be happy.”
Her hand slips away as she sits up. Then she turns around and lays back down on her side so that she’s facing me. Her beautiful green eyes are inches from mine. “We didn’t fail, James. Harry is alive. I don’t know why we had to go through this, but I know it’s important. Harry is important. His life matters. You and I did what we had to do, and when the time comes and Harry needs us again, we’ll be there for him. I don’t know how I know that, but I do.”
I reach over and brush her cheek with the backs of my fingers before slipping my fingers into her hair. For some reason, I’ve always been better at showing Lily how much I love her than telling her. “I hope Harry always has your eyes. The world is a better place that way.”
She smiles, moving her hand to my side. “I hope that he has your heart. If he does, he’ll always be surrounded by friends.”
I lean toward her, my Lily, my life, and softly press my lips to hers. Whatever it is that we have to do, however long it takes, I can wait.
Hello. Thanks for taking a moment to read my latest little flight of fancy. I'd like to thank the wonderful Jami (JChrissy), the wellspring from which all of my James/Lily head canon flows. If you'd like to read more about these two, go check out her story Before They Fall. I'd also like to thank my wonderful beta reader, sophie_hatter, for her thoughts and suggestions. I hope you enjoyed it. Please review!
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