…and the Mighty Fall
Once more into the breach, dear friends:
The story WAS Liz Harrison's. She gave it to me.
Chapter 6 — …And the Mighty Fall
They landed with a soft thud in the middle of the parlor of Grimmauld Place, and Harry immediately tore his arm away from George’s grasp before running to his mother’s side. The woman had fallen to her knees, gasping slightly with her hands pressed to her head, the moment her feet had touched the ground. Beside her, Tonks watched with concern as James swayed on his feet.
"Been a while since we’ve Apparated," James choked, and he pulled his arm from Moody’s grasp, moving to join Harry at his wife’s side.
"Mum?" Harry asked nervously as the red-headed woman dropped her head between her knees. "Are you all right?"
"Fine, dear," Lily wheezed, tears sparking at her eyes, "I’m just a bit dizz — whoa," she mumbled, and grabbed at James’s hand. "Where are we? What’s—?"
"Mum?" Harry asked, his voice shaking. "Mum, what’s wrong?"
"Where am I?" the red-headed witch asked again, and she raised her head, staring at Harry. "James?" she asked shakily, and Harry stared at her, bewildered. "James, what—?"
"Mum, it’s me!" Harry choked out, even as his father moved into Lily’s line of view.
"No," Lily muttered, and Hermione gasped. "No, it’s not. It can’t be. He’s dead — stop taunting me… STOP TAUNTING ME!"
"Harry!" Hermione breathed, and she grabbed Harry’s arm, "she doesn’t remember!"
"LEAVE ME BE!" Lily screamed, and she shot to her feet, swaying slightly. "JAMES, MAKE IT STOP!"
"Good Lord!" Arthur gasped, staring at Lily. "James, calm her down!"
"A mild Dreamless Sleep potion, I think," Tonks put in, wringing her hands. "Oh, dear…"
"Were the wards down?" Ron asked, frowning at Lily as she continued to shriek.
"They must have been," Arthur replied. "We got through."
"No," James said quietly as he grabbed his wife’s arm. "There are Confounding hexes and memory charms in the wards. Quick, get some Dreamless Sleep…"
Tonks ran from the room and returned a moment later to see Harry staring at his mother, eyes wide with shock as she trembled in her husband’s arms. Quickly, she passed the potion to James, and he carefully convinced Lily to drink it. When she had fallen asleep, James picked his wife up and set her gently on a nearby couch.
"She should only sleep for an hour or so," Tonks murmured, watching the older woman. "I found a very small dose."
"Good," Arthur replied, "she’ll need to be awake when Remus returns, at any rate. Now, James, explain this to me. If there are all those hexes around the property, why do you remember everything?"
"I’m not certain," James said slowly, and he glanced at Harry, whose arm was still held fast in Hermione’s grip. As he watched, Hermione steered his son to the couch opposite Lily before sitting next to him, Ron sitting quickly on Harry’s other side and the remaining students gathering at their feet. "I do know that Lily’s been sending me through the wards at least once every six months since we arrived back at Godric’s Hollow in 1986 — she said I’ve been through them thirty times. Each time, she’s been trying to break through the wards. Apparently, they can only be compromised when they’re being crossed, so she’s had to wait and cast all her detection charms and try to take it down while I’m leaving the property. I don’t remember any of the times I’ve crossed the wards except—" Here he stopped, swallowing nervously. "About a week ago, she sent me through again. When I stepped back onto the property, I remembered why I’d been trying to leave. I’d never remembered that before. Maybe — I don’t know — maybe overexposure to the charms and hexes is making them less effective."
"That’s possible, I think," Arthur mused. "We’d have to ask Bill."
"Where have you been all these years?" Neville cut in, watching James carefully. "Were you at Godric’s Hollow for all fifteen years?"
James shook his head. "We went to Ireland at first," he replied, "and spent five years there. I ran a bar while we were there — it’s called the Golden Stag," he added, smirking slightly, and Harry smiled half-heartedly. "When we came back in July of 1986, Dumbledore sent us straight to Godric’s Hollow and told us we should stay there until we had healed fully. Then, of course, the first time I tried to leave, planning to seek out Andromeda Tonks, I lost my memory and Lily had to drag me back inside the wards. She’s been trying to break through them by sending me through ever since."
"How did you get food?" Ron asked, and Ginny, Neville and Hermione rolled their eyes at the red-headed boy.
"I don’t know," James replied honestly. "The ward never made me forget we needed food. It was just when I went through looking for people other than Dumbledore—"
"How do you know all that?" Moody grunted, eyeing James suspiciously, and the younger man shrugged.
"Lily filled me in," he said quietly before sitting beside his wife, taking her hand. "After we told you how to find us, we had nothing to do but sit around and wait. She told me about every time she sent me through."
"Wake her up," a voice ordered roughly, and the group spun to see Remus striding through the doorway. "We have to talk."
"Are my sons—?" Arthur began nervously, and Remus smiled tiredly at him.
"They’re fine, Arthur; they’ll be along in a bit."
The red-headed man sighed in relief, but Remus had already turned away. The Marauder stood silently as he watched his best friend shake Lily’s arm gently to awaken her.
Lily Potter sat up slowly, eyeing the entire room with trepidation. Across from her, Harry watched as his mother sat up, looking both hopeful and fearful. Hermione squeezed his hand quickly before Lily began to speak.
"James?" she asked questioningly. "Remus? Harry?" The woman’s expression cleared quickly, going from confusion to fear and horror. "Oh, Harry! I’m so sorry!" the woman cried. "We never meant — we thought—"
"It’s all right, Lily," Remus spoke up quickly. "Harry knows you would never abandon him. Please sit down," he added when Lily moved to stand, "we need to talk."
Slowly, Lily lowered herself back onto the couch, eyeing Remus nervously.
"Where’s Sirius?" James asked again, and Hermione grabbed Harry’s hand yet again as the black-haired boy flinched. "Remus, is he—?"
"I think you’d best sit down, James," Remus interrupted. "Moody, could you give us a bit of privacy?"
The Auror nodded and moved toward the door, with Luna and Ginny, both looking extremely uncomfortable, following a few steps behind. Ron slowly got to his feet, followed by Neville, but the two glanced at Harry questioningly, and the black-haired boy shook his head. The two boys sat back down immediately, watching Remus nervously as Tonks moved to his side.
Hermione had never once shifted from her seat, and had yet to release Harry’s hand.
A long, uncomfortable silence followed. Clearing his throat nervously, Remus glanced over at Harry, who was staring steadily at the floor. "Well—" Remus began, but James cut him off.
"Remus, what is it?"
Harry flinched, drawing back, and lowered his head into his hands. Quickly, Hermione crouched beside him and began speaking in low tones.
"Remus," James persisted, as he and Lily eyed Harry nervously, "why is my son acting as if he’s afraid of me?"
Another stifling silence followed as Remus looked pleadingly at Arthur and Tonks. Finally, Remus took a deep breath and said, "Sirius is dead, James. He died in June."
Lily gasped, her hand flying up to cover her face, but James barely even blinked. "I see," the other man replied, his voice cracking slightly. "And why is that making my son afraid of me?"
"Because he forgot the best part," Harry muttered bitterly, and Remus sighed.
"I see we still have some issues to work out—"
"It’s not an issue, it’s the truth!" Harry shouted, springing to his feet. "If I hadn’t — hadn’t—"
His gaze turned to his stricken parents’ faces and Harry quickly quieted, swallowing convulsively before backing up and sitting back down.
"He blames himself?" James croaked, staring at his son, and Remus nodded.
"But I’m the one who—!" Harry began, shaking. "I didn’t — I thought — I saw—"
"Harry," Hermione began, "you know you were tricked. It wasn’t your fault. It was Voldemort and Lestrange who killed him."
"I—" Harry began to shout—
"WHAT DID THAT MAN DO TO MY LITTLE BOY?"
With a startled yelp, Tonks tripped over her own feet and fell as Ron, Neville and Hermione whipped around to stare at the woman. Lily Potter stood in the center of the room, hands balled into fists, eyes flashing angrily as she glared at Remus. Harry pulled back slightly, yet again, and Hermione gripped his hand tightly. Beside his wife, James Potter took an uneasy step back even as Remus and Arthur watched her with alarm — and no small amount of fear.
"ANSWER ME, LUPIN!" Lily thundered angrily. "WHAT DID DUMBLEDORE DO?"
"I—" Remus began nervously, "well — that is to say — he has managed to instill a strong sense of responsibility in Harry. Too strong a sense," he whispered.
But Lily wasn’t listening. Her attention had been averted to Hermione, and the red-headed woman’s eyes fixed on the younger girl steadily. "How was he tricked?" she asked.
Hermione hesitated, glancing once at Harry before releasing his hand and turning to Lily. "Voldemort," she said slowly, "he — broke in to Harry’s mind and showed him an image of Sirius being tortured in the Department of Mysteries—"
"Did Dumbledore go to investigate?" James asked immediately, and Hermione shook her head.
"Dumbledore had been driven from the school by Umbridge," Ron explained, snarling out the woman’s name. "He didn’t even know—"
"So who went?" Lily interrupted.
Yet another tense silence followed her question.
"We did," Harry said finally, meeting his mother’s gaze. "We went, and we found out that Sirius had never been there, that it was just a trick to lure us from the school, and Sirius and the Order came to save us, and he died."
"And no one thought to teach him Occlumency?" Lily demanded, looking back to Hermione again.
"Snape — Snape did," Neville began timidly, "but it didn’t work out very—"
Ron snorted, and Lily swung around to stare at him, a frightening intensity in her gaze. When Ron saw her watching him, he swallowed, paling quickly, and quietly asserted, "Snape’s idea of teaching Harry Occlumency was to shout "Clear your mind!" and then mind-rape him in between Harry’s sessions with… dear old Dolores and her quill."
"I see," Lily murmured, and she slowly turned her head. "Remus?" she asked softly.
"I didn’t know," the werewolf muttered, his voice trembling slightly as he spoke. "Lord above, Lily, I didn’t know…"
The red-headed woman’s gaze shifted to the woman and man standing beside her old friend.
"We didn’t know either, Lily," Arthur said wearily, rubbing a hand over his face, "though I should have known about Umbridge. It was clear in Harry’s trial that—"
"Trial?" Lily repeated, her nostril’s flaring, and Neville dropped his head into his hands.
"Bloody Weasleys," he muttered.
"Umbridge sent Dementors after Harry," Hermione explained when Lily turned to her once more. "He had to use the Patronus Charm to drive them away from himself and Dud—"
"DUDLEY?" the Potters repeated incredulously, and a vase shattered on the mantle. Immediately, Lily’s anger abated, and she stared at the vase shame-facedly.
"Reparo," she incanted quickly, waving her wand at the vase, and the second it was repaired, she turned back to Remus. Beside her, James watched his best friend with tears in his eyes.
"Remus," James said pleadingly, "tell me he didn’t. Please."
Remus flinched and closed his eyes.
"Tell me he didn’t send my son to the Dursleys. Remus, please," James whispered.
On the couch behind them, Hermione flung herself into Harry’s unsuspecting arms and clung to him, weeping. "I’m sorry," she whispered, "I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to—"
Letting out a deep breath, Remus opened his eyes. "He said that if I interfered, he would see that I was sent to share Sirius’ cell," the battered man said softly. "He said that if I interfered, I would be as much a traitor as Sirius — he said Harry could only ever be protected at Privet Drive — with his mother’s blood. And he said," Remus swallowed, his eyes shining with unshed tears, "that it wouldn’t be hard to convince Crouch that I was in league with Sirius all along… I’m a dark creature, after all…"
"That’s despicable," Neville said quietly, and Remus nodded. Hermione let out a sob and Harry tightened his arms around the girl, still crying into his shoulder.
"Harry," Lily said softly, and the black-haired teen looked up. "Do you trust me?"
"Lils, what—?" James began, but Lily shook her head, watching Harry carefully, and after a moment’s hesitation, Harry nodded.
"Will you let me see?" she asked, and Harry flinched and closed his eyes... Hermione held her breath—
"All right," he said slowly, and his eyes opened.
Lily nodded quickly. "It’ll be easier if you sit on the floor," she said gently. "Close your eyes and meditate. When you feel centered, open them again. It’ll be harder now, because emotions are running high — I assume you know how to—?"
Harry nodded jerkily. "Mr. Weasley taught me," he mumbled, and the Potters cast a questioning glance Arthur’s way as Harry shifted to the floor.
"You’ll be able to tag along through the bond," Lily told her husband softly. "Just take my hand."
The three settled on the floor, Harry slowly centering himself as his mother and father sat across from him, holding hands. Remus and Tonks moved to the couch that Lily had lain on before, sitting gingerly, and Arthur crossed the room and sat down next to Hermione, hugging the younger girl as her tears slowed. At their feet, Neville and Ron watched, transfixed, as the family gained its focus.
After five minutes had passed, Harry opened his eyes, and his mother reached out, James’s hands laced with hers. She pressed her hands to Harry’s temples, her husband’s hands covering hers…
PAIN RAGE SHAME HURT PAIN SHAME RAGE PAIN SHAME PAIN TIRED SHAME SHAME SHAME…
Shaken, Lily pulled back, tugging James along as she waited, and the whirlwind slowed. She moved forward slowly, James at her side, and tried to project a sense of comfort and safety as she delved into a memory.
Harry stood in a dark room, alone with Snape, the door sealed behind himself. "Clear your mind," the other man snarled, and the pain erupted in his head…
"No one will come for you, boy. They’ll leave you here, to be a burden on us. All you are is a burden. Sooner or later, they’ll realize that, and when they do, they won’t be rid of you soon enough."
"If there’s something wrong with the bitch, there’ll be something wrong with the pup…"
"Oh Potter, you rotter, oh look what you’ve done! You’re killing off students, you think it’s good fun!"
"There is no good or evil, only power, and those too weak to seek it…"
"I am very disappointed in you, Harry…"
And the barriers shattered, and all of Harry’s pain came crashing down on Lily and James with the force of a raging tsunami.
Slowly, Lily extracted herself and her husband from their son’s mind. She looked down at Harry, collapsed in front of her, and held back the tears. "Get him to bed," she said hollowly, looking up at the Weasley and Longbottom boys, "please."
When they had gone — the two boys helping Harry from the room, Hermione following half a step behind them, murmuring frantically under her breath — Lily turned to her husband, a look of grim anticipation on her face.
"I know," James said quietly. "Remus, you said there were others helping you?"
"Yes," Remus frowned. "Everyone who went to retrieve you from Godric’s Hollow."
"Gather them," Lily said immediately. "We need to plan our next course of action."
Remus nodded, reaching for the amulet around his neck, and, as Arthur and Tonks pulled their amulets quickly away from their skin, pressed in the center stone.
They separated in the Entrance Hall, each with a particular destination and goal in mind. Smiling reassuringly at his wife — and hoping she wouldn’t lose her temper — James Potter set off for the Headmaster’s office.
He hoped that he’d arrive at the Potions Master’s office later that day to find the man dead, but James knew that was just wishful thinking.
But in the meantime, he knew, he could entertain himself just fine. And as he planned his entertainment — which he and Lily had discussed quite extensively with Remus and the worthwhile Order members the night before — he smiled.
Their strategy was all mapped out. All that remained was to manipulate the master.
As it was summertime, and there were no students to terrify, James made no effort to disguise his identity. He strode calmly down the halls of Hogwarts, his hood lowered and his face in clear view. As he walked, Sir Nicholas floated by and froze half-way through a wall, his head swiveling on his mostly-severed neck to stare after the Potter family head. Up ahead, Peeves was cackling madly as he unscrewed a crystal chandelier, and James chuckled as he recalled the memory of Harry’s in which McGonagall had helped Peeves do the very same thing.
McGonagall. James’s face hardened. That would be another stop…
He reached the stone gargoyle and, pulling the Marauder’s Map out of his pocket — it had been quite the task to retrieve the map from Harry’s friends without telling them why he wanted it — he calmly spoke the password.
We’ll see, Albus, he thought as he stepped onto the moving staircase. We’ll see.
Lily, for her part, was making quite the scene. The redheaded Potter woman walked calmly down a hallway speaking with the Bloody Baron, who had taken a liking to her — Lily never understood why — in her second year. As they talked, nearby portraits hung on their every word, and Lily relished in the fact. The Baron was thrilled to know that the Potters had not died, and even more enraged at Dumbledore for his deceit.
Lily was quite happily certain that life at Hogwarts was about to get a mite difficult for one Albus Dumbledore.
The Baron left her at the entrance to the dungeons, and Lily gazed down into the darkness for a moment, picturing her son walking down these same steps, his hand still scarred and bleeding from his earlier detentions, to have his mind ruthlessly attacked by a man who hated him, again and again and again…
Shaking her head, she strode down the stairs with slow, even steps, turning immediately into Snape’s office. The greasy-haired man was bent over a steaming cauldron, his lank hair falling in his face, swearing profusely. Silently, Lily stood in the doorway, watching him with a raised eyebrow. Absently, she noted the placement of his wand — on a table three feet behind the man.
Our dear Snivellus, she thought venomously, listening as the man continued to swear, has picked up quite the vocabulary.
A moment later, she shook her head once more to clear it. Time to interrupt—
"Pitiful," she pronounced clearly, her upper lip curling in a sneer, and Snape’s hand jerked, just as he was about to add a handful of crushed nettle leaves. They fell to the floor and the Potions Master swore yet again, eyes flashing angrily as he looked up to find cause of his slip-up.
When he laid eyes on Lily Potter for the first times in nearly fifteen years, his blood ran cold.
"Evans," the man choked out, his skin turning a waxy grey, "I — I can explain—"
"Yes, please do," Lily said coolly, shutting the heavy wooden door with a loud thud. "Explain to me exactly why you told Voldemort the prophecy. Explain to me why you sent him after my son. But some other time, Severus," Lily continued, and Snape’s look of fear changed to bafflement, then concern. "That’s not what I’m here for."
She flicked her wrist expertly and her wand slid into her fingers from the rather expensive holster James had bought her nearly seventeen years before. Snape’s eyes watched her movement like a frightened bird, and his gaze rose to her face as she raised her wand.
"Clear your mind," she ordered sharply, and understanding and horror dawned in Snape’s eyes.
She attacked before he even grabbed his wand.
With ruthless deliberation, she sent every single memory of Harry’s Occlumency training into Severus Snape’s mind. All the pain, all the humiliation, all the fear and all the rage melded with Snape’s own memories, and his shields collapsed.
"Where is Lily?" Dumbledore asked after a moment of silence, gazing steadily out of his window in an attempt to avoid James’s accusing eyes.
"Oh, she and Snivellus are having a little chat," James replied, waving a hand absently as he tipped his chair back on two legs. "She’ll be along shortly, I’m certain…"
"Severus?" Dumbledore gasped, spinning around, and he quickly made for the door—
James moved with all the speed of a striking snake, his chair thumping to the ground as he raised his wand, hardened eyes leveled on Dumbledore. "Sit," he ordered, and the headmaster froze.
"James, I—" he began, but the Potter elder shook his head, gesturing with his wand toward Dumbledore’s desk.
A moment’s hesitation, only, and Dumbledore did as he was told. James was slightly disappointed — he’d hoped for an excuse to curse the old man.
Wishful thinking…, he reminded himself.
"We need to discuss the running of this school," James said evenly, even as Dumbledore’s eyes lit up with concern and a touch of fear, "as well as your treatment of my son and my friends."
"James, I’ve only ever—"
"Headmaster, you’ve only ever allowed Harry to come to harm, if not outright caused it," James interrupted. "And as for my friends — Sirius had just barely escaped form one hellish prison before you had confined him within another, and you’ve done the same to my son his entire life. And Remus…"
James stood in a single, fluid movement and crossed the room, calmly opening the doors to Dumbledore’s pensieve cabinet. Raising his wand, he pressed it to his temple and added the silver string of memory to the basin. A tap of his wand, and Remus was rotating above the pensieve as Dumbledore watched in horror, giving voice to his tearful confession.
"He said that if I interfered, he would see that I was sent to share Sirius’ cell. He said that if I interfered, I would be as much a traitor as Sirius — he said Harry could only ever be protected at Privet Drive — with his mother’s blood. And he said that it wouldn’t be hard to convince Crouch that I was in league with Sirius all along… I’m a dark creature, after all…"
As the small image of Remus floated above the pensieve, repeating his words — James had yet to stop the memory — the Marauder gazed steadily at Dumbledore, who looked as if he desperately wished to sink into the floor.
"James," he croaked as tears began to spill down his beard, "I—"
"Save it," James said harshly, striding back to his seat as Remus continued to revolve over the pensieve. "I don’t want to hear your excuses. You are invited to dinner at Grimmauld Place tomorrow evening and you can make your excuses then. For now, you are not going to speak," James continued, settling himself in the chair across from the desk, "you are going to listen."
Smiling slightly, James propped his feet up on the edge of Dumbledore’s desk before picking up a small dish and holding it out to Dumbledore. "Lemon drop?" he offered, smirking at the older man.
Dumbledore reached out a weathered hand and plucked a candy from the dish, looking as if he’d already swallowed something far too sour for his tastes.
The Potters met up again just outside their destination, each surprised to see the other.
"Great minds think alike," Lily murmured softly, grinning at the black-haired man. "How’s the chess master?"
"Horribly shocked," James replied. "I don’t think he even knows what hit him yet. I almost feel a bit guilty — the old codger really does think he was doing it for the "greater good"."
"He’ll just have to learn, then," Lily said briskly. "And if not, then he won’t go near Harry."
"At least we don’t have to worry about him trying to send Harry to the Dursleys’ again," James said tiredly. "I mean, I’m sorry you lost your sister—"
"Don’t be," Lily muttered, her eyes flashing as some of Harry’s memories floated through her mind.
"—but at least now we can give him an actual home."
"On that subject," Lily murmured, "we need to have a serious talk with Harry about where we should live."
"I think we should stay in Grimmauld Place," James frowned. "Even though he misses Sirius, and it’ll hurt him at first, in the long run, he’ll probably be happier being close to Sirius, or at least his things."
"We’ll need to redecorate, then," Lily mused, "but we still need to talk to Harry about it. We don’t want to start acting like Dumbledore, after all. Harry’s been looking after himself for fifteen years. He needs support and guidance, not orders."
"Agreed," James said immediately, "and maybe we should include Remus and Tonks in that discussion, and the Granger girl, too."
"Bright one, isn’t she?" Lily smiled slightly, and James smiled.
"Especially considering the stress of the situation," James added. "Myself, I’m more interested in Tonks. Moony finally bagged a—"
All around them, the portraits — which had been hanging on to their every word — cringed, and several of the males in the portraits took a quick step back.
"Watch your step, Potter," Lily hissed, eyes flashing, and she turned on her heel and walked away.
"Right, right," James agreed, chasing after her. "So, Lils, how’s Snivellus?"
Lily smirked, raising an eyebrow at James before turning the next corner.
"Slytherin looks good on you, Lils," James smiled, and grabbing her arm, he faked a leer…
"Watch it, Potter," Lily warned again, and she carefully tapped her wand against his thigh.
"Watching, watching!" the Marauder replied quickly, holding his hands up in the air. Lily watched him steadily for a moment before turning and knocking on the nearest door. A moment later, a stern voice called for them to enter, and Lily opened the door, James at her side.
"Hello, Professor," Lily smiled at the gaping deputy headmistress. "Rumors of our deaths have been greatly exaggerated."
"Right," Remus said tiredly, passing the final document to James for his signature. "You have now officially evicted Dumbledore and the Order from Grimmauld Place. Now what?"
"Redecorating," James replied. "Lily’s got that mad elf, Dobby, and his friend Winky helping her. And with Hermione, Ginny and Luna determined to help—"
"Shouldn’t take long," Remus agreed.
"Has Arthur told his wife that we’re alive yet?" James asked with a frown, and Remus immediately shook his head.
"He’s not quite certain how to tell her that she can’t pretend to be his mother anymore," Remus muttered. "Molly is a wonderful woman, but she’s very overbearing, and if she had her way, Harry would be locked as far away as possible from the war, the prophecy be damned. She also tends to act like no one else cares about Harry — it used to drive Sirius to drink."
"How will she react to Lily and me, then?" James asked quickly, sitting up and frowning when his chair creaked.
"Oh, I’m certain she’ll try to be endlessly polite — but she’ll also give you a list of his favorite foods, tell you how often he needs his laundry done and make it perfectly clear that no one can care for Harry like she can," Remus replied, his mouth twisting in a grimace.
"Wonderful," James muttered, "just what we need. When is Dumbledore due?"
"In less than an hour," Remus replied, glancing at his watch. "We’d best go down and see how the demolition’s going."
They were greeted by an absolute madhouse when they reached the first floor landing. Cursing under their breath, James and Remus wafted the soot and dust out of their eyes, coughing madly as they tried to see through the smoke. A few feet away, Lily stood, flanked by two house elves.
"Ready?" she asked her miniature army. "On three…. One…. Two…"
"THREE!" Lily and the house-elves shouted together, and as Lily brought her wand swishing down, the two house-elves snapped their fingers —
Mrs. Black’s shrieking portrait, and the entire wall which held it, exploded into a fine cloud of dust.
"Why didn’t I ever think of that?" Remus asked mildly, staring at the empty space where a wall had once stood.
Lily grinned at him, shaking wood chips out of her hair. "You really need to learn to think outside the box, Remus. If you need to get a painting off the wall, just take the whole wall down. Scourgify!"
The wood shavings disappeared from the floor as James blinked, staring uneasily at his wife. "Lils, are you certain you should be blasting down walls?"
Lily frowned. "Why shouldn’t I? Besides, I only blasted this one—"
A creak sounded overhead, and Harry, Ron and Hermione, who had been running down the stairs, froze half-way down.
"Mum?" Harry asked shakily, "you just got me back. Why are you trying to kill me?"
Lily glared at him. "Well, how was I to know that nothing else was holding the ceiling up in this area?"
Remus sighed tiredly, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "Dobby, Winky, if you will," he murmured, and the two house-elves nodded, snapping their fingers once more. A new, completely blank wall appeared in Mrs. Black’s previous space, and the creaking stopped.
Harry, Ron and Hermione let out loud sighs of relief, and Ron let go of his friends’ arms, relieved that he wouldn’t have to throw them off the stairs to safety. Clambering down the stairs, the Trio stopped in the entrance hall to survey Dobby and Winky’s work.
"Nicely done, you two," Ron grinned at them, and the house-elves beamed, Winky dropping into a neat curtsy. "I didn’t fancy having to dive down a floor—"
Lily swung at him, and Ron ducked and ran, Harry and Hermione laughing happily as their friend bolted into the kitchen.
"Right," Ron said when Lily had followed him huffily into the kitchen, Harry, Hermione, James and Remus trailing behind, biting back their laughter. "Why are there nametags at every seat?"
"We need to give a good show," Remus replied, absently fingering a nametag. "When Dumbledore arrives, our alliances will be clear right away. Not to mention, we need to make it clear that Harry and his parents are already bonding and will not be separated. Besides, it’ll look incredibly good if his parents are getting along with all of Harry’s friends."
"Exactly," Lily agreed. "Harry, dear, you sit here," she said quickly, pointing to a seat at the center of the table. "Ron, on his left, Hermione on his right. Ginny, Neville and Luna will be across from you three, with your brothers, Ron, spread all over the place. Moody and Kingsley will be down at the end, near Dumbledore, Arthur will be next to Ron, and Dad, Remus, Tonks and I will be sitting next to Hermione and Luna. See?" Lily questioned, pushing her hair back from her eyes. "We’re sending a message."
Harry, already seated at his place at the table, had not been able to stop smiling since Lily Potter had said the word "Dad".
"Harry?" the man in question asked, and Harry glanced up quickly. "Are you certain you’ll be all right?"
Harry shrugged. He didn’t want to see the man who’d blamed him for the Dursleys’ deaths, yet —
"I have to be here, Dad," he said quietly. "If I’m not here, then it will be no better than—" His voice trailed off and he winced, rubbing absently at his forehead. As he did so, Hermione glanced at him sharply, but Harry shook his head.
"Not if we tell you all about it," Remus murmured, watching Harry with concern in his eyes. "There are certain crystals which can be spelled to record events, I’m certain there’s one somewhere in this mausoleum."
"No," Harry said quietly. "I’ll stay."
"All right then," his mother quickly agreed. "Winky, how is the roast doing?"
The house-elf looked up from her work, smiling brightly. "Winky is almost done, Mistress Lily," Winky replied. "Winky needs ten more minutes."
"Dobby?" Lily turned to the excited elf. "The rest?"
"Done, Mistress Lily!" Dobby said excitedly, and Lily breathed a sigh of relief — it had taken hours to convince him that all the epithets he so loved to use were unnecessary.
"Excellent," Lily smiled. "I just need to finish up my desert, then…"
"Y’know," Ron mumbled as he sat heavily at the table, "if you’d just told my Mum about this, she could have helped."
The three adults exchanged worried glances before Remus, newly designated spokesman, sat down across from Ron, watching him carefully as he spoke.
"Ron," Remus said slowly, "you know your mother can’t be involved in this right now. She’s too blinded by Dumbledore, and while I agree that knowing what the man’s done to Harry would wake her up—" he hesitated, uncertain how to phrase his thoughts, "your mother has always been — possessive of Harry. She loves him deeply, and we’ll always be grateful to her for taking Harry into your home, but Ron, she’s not his mother. Your father doesn’t think — and we agree with him — that she’ll be able to let go and let Lily and James be Harry’s parents."
"She had this plan," Ron muttered. "Harry was supposed to marry Ginny and I was supposed to marry Hermione, so she could have "both of her surrogate children"," Ron mimicked his mother’s voice, "in the family."
Absently, he paused, and then glanced at Hermione. "No offense," he said lightly, "but it would be like marrying Ginny."
Hermione’s lips quirked. "None taken," she replied easily.
"Is he here yet?" an excited voice demanded, and the group spun around to see Fred and George stride into the room.
"Yes, yes, where’s our new tester?" Fred asked, grinning wickedly as he rubbed his hands together.
"Quiet, boys," Arthur said wearily as he led his two eldest into the room. "Molly’s gone for an evening out with Lavender Brown’s mother," he told Remus, Lily and James. "She doesn’t know we’re here."
"Good," James said ruthlessly, and Lily frowned.
"You’re going to have to tell her, Arthur," the red-headed witch murmured, and Arthur sighed.
"I know," he said quietly, "I just don’t think Harry needs—" he broke off, glancing sharply at Harry to see the boy engaged in conversation "—to see her fighting over him as if he were some sort of possession. She would hurt him terribly without even realizing it."
"Hey!" a voice called out from the entryway, and the group turned to see Tonks, grinning, saunter into the room. "Where’d the troll leg go?"
"In the rubbish bin," Remus replied, his lips twitching. "Why? Did you make it inside without injury? Is the world due to end?"
"I’ll deal with you later," Tonks warned him, pulling a carrot off of a plate and brandishing it at him. "Moody and Kingsley are on their way in," she added, smiling absently at Lily. "Should be an interesting night, eh?"
"Just as long as it isn’t a bloody night," Hermione murmured, looking at Remus, James and Lily anxiously.
"That remains to be seen," James replied evenly, and Hermione winced.
"Now, now, James, don’t get blood on the floors," Lily admonished with a slight smile, and her husband glared at her.
"Why not? You’re just going to tear them up and redo them anyway!"
"An excellent point," Remus added, his eyes glinting. "However, killing Dumbledore — or charging him with a crime — though satisfying, would be quite the foolish move… for now, at least. He wanted to use Harry to his advantage — so we’ll simply use him to ours."
"Well spoken, Lupin," Moody growled as he stumped into the room. "What do you think, eh, Shacklebolt?"
"It sounds like a sound plan to me," the bald black Auror smiled. "How much longer?"
"Twenty minutes," Lily said quietly, glancing at her watch, "but he’s usually earl—"
The sound of the doorknocker reverberated through the house, and James smiled wolfishly.
"Harry, Lily, would you get the door please?" he asked, moving to stand at his place at the head of the table, and Harry and Lily nodded, Harry glancing nervously at Hermione on his way out of the room.
The pair crossed the entryway quickly, coming to a pause in front of the door. "Ready?" Lily asked, smiling at Harry, and the black-haired teen nodded, taking a deep breath.
He reached out and pulled the door open, stepping back to let the headmaster in.