Yesterday is Tomorrow (Everything is Connected)
The only world I ever gave a damn about, was the one with you in it. All this bullshit. Everything I've done, is so you have a place to go back to. That's it. – James Cole, 12 Monkeys (TV show)
Historians would later say, in updated versions of The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, that that summer was the turning point in Voldemort's war. And James would agree with them.
Things seemed to happen simultaneously, although in truth they happened days apart; only, everything ran together in James's mind, an ever on-going and escalating mess of skirmishes, wounded soldiers, late-night raids, partnering with Obliviators from the Accidents and Catastrophes department, Moody's growing gruffness and agitation, Dumbledore's face becoming grimmer, and the tense, nerve-wracking paranoia amongst not just the Order of the Pheonix, but the Auror Corps., as well.
On a Tuesday, the Prophet ran a full-page spread of Voldemort's green glowing calling card, the Dark Mark, hovering above Westminster with bolded text: terror strikes at muggle parliament!
On a Wednesday, James spent more time at work, running with the Obliviators as they did clean up. Later that day, when he was completing paperwork at the Auror office, Osbert Mockridge ran in, blood running down the side of his face, shouting, "Attack! Attack! There's been an attack in the Beasts division!"
All the Aurors had stared at him blindly for a moment before jumping up and racing out and toward the lift, heading to the fourth floor and emerging to chaos: James spotted Hermione's friend Dirk Cresswell, pale-faced and bleeding from a head wound but crouched behind an overturned desk and shooting off well-aimed spells at another man who stood cackling in the middle of the spirits division, even as he threw wide beams of spellfire and light across the room. There were several fires, two on curtains and one in a rubbish bin, and there were several hurt employees crawling to safety even as the air sizzled with magic.
"What the hell's going on?" asked James, throwing himself down beside Cresswell. Other Aurors from the department hesitated at sending anything at the mad wizard, but a few took potshots.
At Cresswell's other side, the familiar and slightly older Amos Diggory snorted. "It's bloody Abrams," the man scowled. "From Magical Sports. Walked in here, asking for paperwork from Swiftspell because MacFarlan asked for it and then when ol' Swifty asked what Magical Sports needed the Beasts for, he killed him dead."
"What?" gaped James. "Like… Avada…?"
Amos gave a terse nod.
"Holy hells," breathed James, eyeing the cackling wizard, even as Moody nailed him with a well-placed stunner that sent the man crumbling to the ground.
It was only later that James learned the wizard had been placed under the Imperius curse and had no knowledge of the last four days since he had attended a Quidditch match with Ludo Bagman, causing the man's coworker to be called in for questioning.
When James told Cresswell that later, the fellow Gryffindor alum frowned. "That's not good."
"Imperius," explained Cresswell, face lined and wane from stress. "The others in the department are already eying each other for betrayal, but… before we just heard about it – out there, you know? Now, it's in our workplace." Worry flooded Cresswell's eyes. "It's in our homes. How can we protect ourselves?"
We can't, thought James, but he didn't answer. Instead, he told Cresswell to be safe, and wished him goodnight, despite his own dry mouth and shaking hands.
On Thursday, he was called to the scene of a rather gruesome werewolf attack, body parts left behind and flung around the clearing in the woods. The muggle campers who had been the unfortunate prey had suffered greatly in their final moments, their tents and camp gear spread across several miles that took nearly all day to find, and longer to come up with a plausible explanation for the muggle police.
He had a respite from work on Friday but was called into an Order meeting despite his terse words with Dumbledore at their last meeting. James found himself tucked in a far corner, listening with growing annoyance and wariness as Dearborn and Dumbledore's agendas didn't align, as the Prewett twins urged retaliation, as the few from the Auror department grumbled and spoke in praise of Crouch's growing success in harsher measures for criminals.
"But I just don't understand, Dumbledore," said one Order member, a whine coming through in his voice. "What are we waiting for? Through our contacts at the Auror department, we know who his followers are—"
"Thanks to Reg and the Princess," muttered Sirius, next to James, who scowled at that stupid nickname.
"—We should be working with them," continued the same man in confusion, face scrunched up. "Can we not remove the blight where we know it is? None of us are strong enough to face You-Know-Who—"
"As I've said before," answered Dumbledore, his voice terse, "We cannot be seen to be operating outside of the law—"
"I'd think the Aurors would welcome it," muttered someone else, to a few resounding, "hear, hear's" from others in the room, making Dumbledore's mouth flatten in annoyance.
"I heard Crouch's brother is in town," someone else – someone from the Corp. that James vaguely knew – said, in a tone of gleeful office gossip. "Wallace Crouch – he's from the ICW—"
"There's a prophecy."
"Caradoc!" snapped Dumbledore, turning to face his long-time friend. "Enough!"
James stiffened, and Sirius, at his side, felt the movement and glanced at him, brow furrowed before smoothing his face to be a blank mask.
But the box had been opened, and voices rang together:
"Is it about You-Know-Who? Can he be defeated?"
"Who is the prophecy about? How do you know?"
"Dearborn is an Unspeakable, isn't he? Did he hear it?"
"SILENCE!" thundered Dumbledore, raising his voice. The air simmered, liquid from the few cups of coffee and several ales drifted up in droplets out of their mugs, and the end of Gideon's tie curled and rose from against his shirt. This frightened enough people that the voices died down and people stared, open-mouthed, at him. He calmed himself, although there was still ire in the lines of his face when he glanced at Dearborn, who clenched his jaw, making his burn turn white, as he looked away.
But Moody spoke up, his voice gruff. "Is there a prophecy, Dumbledore?"
Dumbledore hesitated a moment. "Yes. Yes, Alastor, there is."
James clenched his hands at his side, staring hard at Dumbledore. Don't you dare, he thought, heart furiously pounding in his chest. Don't you dare speak it or mention Hermione—
"Well?" continued Moody, his voice a bark. "Give us a gist so we know what the plan is."
Dearborn went to open his mouth, but Dumbledore quickly spoke over him. "There is… potentially one who can defeat Voldemort."
"No potentially," muttered Dearborn. "She bloody can but won't."
Moody's eyes glanced between the two.
"She," he repeated, baldly. "Have you approached this witch?"
Dumbledore inclined his head. "She was approached some time ago but declined to join the Order."
Shocked gasps rang through the room.
"But why would someone do that?" asked Alice, a hand darting out to grip her husband's tightly while her hand rested on her pregnant belly.
"She felt that the Order was not for her," explained Dumbledore, trying to keep vague. "There was a disagreement of philosophy."
Beside him, Gideon's pronounced frown smoothed out as something passed over him, a kind of understanding. He caught Fabian's eyes and widened his own, making Fabian quietly groan and bury his face in his hands for a moment. James wondered if they realized it was Hermione – he knew she, Regulus, Petunia, and Sean had something happen with the twins but his wife, sister-in-law and her husband were all rather vague about it, refusing to speak of the incident. James narrowed his eyes at the twins. Maybe he needed to have words with them…
Concern flickered across Moody's face. "Do we need to be concerned about another faction entering this war?"
Dumbledore paused. "No… I do not think so. I am certain she is not working alone, as there were others who declined to join us who are known associates of hers…"
Skirting close there, Dumbledore, thought James, swallowing thickly, hands clenched.
Beside him, Sirius blinked and then his eyes widened, and James could see the Quidditch players zooming around in circles as his brain began to work things out, making connections, pulling the comments together…
"We should try again," suggested Alice, as she looked around the room. "Things have changed since you last asked, I'm certain—"
"I can ask her," volunteered Lily, making James want to laugh hysterically at the idea of Hermione's sister approaching her to join the Order. Even Lily discovering the truth that Hermione was the object of the prophecy would be one step too far: while the two had reconciled, neither was on the best of terms and if Lily learned Hermione turned down the Order ages ago and knew of a prophecy – something Hermione disdained rather vocally – well… James didn't want to be at that family meeting, especially with both witches pregnant.
Options for reaching out to Hermione – not that any of them knew it was her, other than himself, Dumbledore, and Dearborn (although James amended that at the stricken look on Fabian's face and Gideon's own exasperated one meant they were aware of who the Chosen One was) – were put on hold when a wispy Patronus entered the room, hovering above the table and near to Dumbledore.
"Headmaster," the transparent badger with an unfamiliar voice to James began, "Information just came in from the muggle PM's office. There are strange lights and odd people managing to take out the Queen's defences at Balmoral castle. The muggle royal family isn't there, but it's causing a ruckus. Come immediately."
Dumbledore's face hardened. "We must go. Everyone, prepare yourselves."
There was frantic energy as people stood and began fussing, dashing out of the room and to the anti-apparation ward boundaries. James made his own way and a set pace – neither rushing nor lagging – with Peter and Sirius; Remus had failed to attend the last few meetings, much to both Peter and Sirius's disgruntled remarks. But James knew he had been sent to the werewolf packs, a futile effort on Dumbledore's part, thanks to Hermione's future knowledge.
Peter was wringing his hands next to him, muttering spells under his breath. James barely spared him a glance, more concerned about whether Dearborn would tell everyone it was Hermione that the prophecy referred to while he was gone, unable to stare at Dumbledore and mentally imagine all the things he would do to the headmaster should he reveal Hermione's identity.
"I think I'm going to be ill," muttered Peter, turning vaguely green. "I don't think I can Apparate."
James glanced at him. "Thinking of staying back, Wormtail?"
Relief suffused Peter's face. "D'you think I could?"
Before he could reply, they reached the ward boundary, where Frank and Alice stood, eyeing the trio as they approached.
"Ready, Potter?" called Frank, an easy grin on his face despite the tense worry lines on his forehead. "Black, Pettigrew?"
"Pete's not feeling too confident in his Apparation – can you Side-Along him, Longbottom?" asked James when they were within an arm's length. He only felt the tiniest stirring of guilt when Peter shot him a betrayed look.
Frank stifled a laugh. "Sure. I remember his first Apparation test at Hogwarts."
"…Thanks," said Peter, disgruntled. But Frank reached out and clasped a hand on his shoulder, clamping down, and with a spin, they, along with Alice (although given her state, she was probably going home), were gone, leaving James and Sirius alone.
James sighed and went to spin on his heel, although thinking of his destination in his mind when Sirius's hand grabbed his arm. James looked at it, and then up at Sirius, who was looking at him rather intently.
"James," he said, quietly, standing very still, "You'd tell me if there was something going on, right?"
Weakly, James murmured, "Yeah, 'course I would, Padfoot."
"C'mon, Sirius, we gotta go," he tried instead, drawing his arm away from Sirius's hand, even as he tried to tighten his grip. "We gotta go save the world."
Sirius narrowed his eyes. "James—"
But James ripped his arm from him, spinning forcibly, and letting the horrible feeling of being sucked through a tube push him from the meeting location in Dorset much, much further north to Scotland.
Voldemort was straddling the line between the two worlds carefully – even as his attacks grew bolder and more brazen. The Balmoral attack was one thing, sending his Death Eaters out to cause chaos and kill a few muggles, sowing terror wherever possible, and more importantly: scatter the Order into smaller, more manageable groups to attack.
He had more men. That was a fact.
They weren't afraid; they were disinclined to honour duels or draw to first blood – they wanted to kill. That was also a fact.
It was also a fact that the Order could barely keep their heads above the water. They didn't have enough people fighting alongside them; they kept to legalities and didn't kill, determined to show that they operated within the law, lest they become as lawless and rabid as the Death Eaters.
It didn't work, back when Voldemort began to escalate his attacks when Dumbledore had asked Hermione to join, and it didn't work now, years later, with James pressing up against the crumbly, damp brick of a warehouse in a seedy port area of Aberdeen, leftover from the industrial revolution when they built ships. It was still used as a seaside port, with a maze of stacked shipping containers, and swinging chains hanging from cranes. There were a few barges, all dark with only a few lights on, with gangplanks extended from their decks to the concrete and cement dockyards. Somewhere, beyond the shipping containers, they heard a scream that cut off abruptly. There were also several flashes of light, lighting up the spaces between the containers and slipping through cracks – bright purples, sickly yellows, and a familiar green.
Sirius, at his side, had a gash across his forehead and his shoulder had popped out of the socket (James had helped him put it back in), but Sirius held his arm stiffly against himself to keep from moving it, ferula bandaging the arm in a makeshift sling. With a furrow between his dark eyebrows, Sirius muttered, "What do we do?"
"We wait a moment," replied James, peering out into the darkness, down the aisle between containers.
A somewhat familiar form of an Order member raced around one of the containers, frantic as they stumbled, sending loose rock and chipped stone skittering away. Something had eaten away at their leg, and they were clearly in agony with the way they were limping, their trousers in tatters and blood streaming down against skin mottled and fleshy.
Low laughter followed the Order member as two Death Eaters emerged from the same direction they came from, around a stack of shipping containers. One teasingly sent a spell that tore up concrete by the Order member's feet, sending them tripping and landing hard. The Order member flipped on their back and began scrambling, pulling themselves in a crabwalk backward to get away. Their mangled, partially eaten leg trailed behind, leaving a gory streak of blood and fabric. They were nearly out of James and Sirius's sight, pressed against the brick of the warehouse.
"That," replied James in a quiet murmur, bringing his wand up. With a flick, the two-tiered shipping containers in front of him and Sirius shot forward.
The containers slammed into the Death Eaters, neither prepared, and continued forward until they hit the containers opposite, squishing the two wizards in-between. There was a mild noise of surprise, and then silence.
The Order member was frozen, staring at where they had been, mouth open.
James stepped out from the wall, moving toward his Order colleague. Sirius, after a moment's hesitation, followed, eyes alert.
"You – you –" sputtered the Order member when James crouched at his side, eyeing the leg. A few basic healing spells would help until they received specialized help. "Potter, you killed them!"
"Yes," answered James calmly, although his heart was racing, and his hands were shaking. He had the vaguest feeling he was going to throw up, but it would be best to not do so on the other wizard's gory leg. "I did."
"I don't care what Dumbledore says or wants," spat James, hazel eyes darting up to glare at the wizard from the rim of his glasses. "Nor you. You'd be dead, so I'll take your gratitude instead of accusations, thank you."
The wizard's eyes went wide, and they sputtered some more.
When nothing sensical emerged from the wizard, James's mouth flattened and he tapped the man's emergency portkey. In a startling whirl of colours – it seems there were no anti-apparation or portkey wards in place – the wizard disappeared.
"He's not wrong," said Sirius quietly, staring down at James. His eyes were dark. "You did kill them."
"And I'll freak out about it later when I'm at home with my pregnant wife," replied James, standing. "When I'm home and alive."
Sirius swallowed thickly. "It just seems that—"
"That you're… unaffected," finished Sirius, glancing away, jaw tense.
"I'm not," replied James instantly, eyes darting around the open space in front of the warehouse and the grubby, yellowed panels near the roof. He spotted a gap between two containers, a dark recess, and began to walk in that direction, Sirius on his heels.
"Prongs, you killed—"
"I know what I did, Sirius," snapped James, slipping into the gap, and letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. "But you tell me – what would have happened if we managed to apprehend those Death Eaters? You know as well as I do that it would've been difficult, to begin with, given that they don't care about killing us. And as Aurors, we know that we might try to throw the book at them, but they'll get out of Auror holding by citing some grandfathered law."
"That doesn't mean we should kill them, James," replied his best friend, his voice serious and low. "We shouldn't become what we're fighting."
James turned; his shoulders brushed the containers' cool metal on either side of him in the tight space. He could see the whites of Sirius' eyes and the faint, dull glint of the metal buttons on his jacket.
"Do you think I'm going Dark?" asked James, curiously.
Sirius paused. "I – no. You're not using Dark magic."
Yet, the sentence finished.
James frowned, anxiety racing up his spine. "Do you think I will?"
The pause was longer this time, and Sirius's words were hesitant and haltingly said, indicating his own worry as it bled through. "I think that this war, and the way it's escalating, has a way of pulling even the best of us into the shadows. And… and I think something happened recently and it's causing you to slip quicker."
James turned back to face forward; his mouth turned down in a grim line. Sirius wasn't wrong – Hermione's knowledge was always certainly at the forefront of anything he did recently. The knowledge that whatever they had done now, in her previous timeline, did nothing to stop the second rise of Voldemort and his Death Eaters was a bitter, acrid taste in James' mouth. The only way to end things properly so that his son didn't grow up to fight in another war, was to end it now.
Maybe when this was all over – when they had won, when they didn't have to fight any longer – James would take Sirius aside and confess it all. Sirius would rant and rave, probably even throw a punch, and then sulk and ignore James for a few days, before he came back and they'd make up, best friends, brothers, once more. But until then… he wouldn't dump that burden on him.
"Let's go," he muttered instead, walking forward. After a moment, he heard Sirius sigh and then his steps, shuffling-like, behind him and knew he was following.
The gap between shipping containers was a dark maze of tight aisles that led off in different directions. Sound bounced around them, flitting from metal container to metal container and ringing disproportionately, making Sirius tense and James constantly pause, thinking a Death Eater was just behind or in front of them.
Distantly, they could hear someone shout something, and echoing bangs that made James' shoulders tighten in worry. Was that bang the sound of someone being slammed against a container? Was it someone they knew who was badly injured or died?
"We can't keep this up," whispered Sirius eventually, bringing a hand to James' shoulder, keeping him from moving. "We need to know where they are."
"Then let's go up," suggested James, tilting his head back. He muttered a sticking charm to his shoes and then, with his back against one container, eased step-by-step upward, Sirius next to him.
He glanced over and Sirius grinned. "Just like fourth year, yeah?"
James snorted despite himself. He remembered that stupid prank, where both nearly got caught by Flitwick and ended up using sticking charms on their hands and knees to hang from the ceiling. Flitwick still caught them when he was called in by McGonagall several hours later, helping to undo their charm, which had been too strong and left them up there all night.
At the top of the container, James cautiously peeked over the rim, looking forward and then craning his neck over his shoulder, seeing a clear view in all directions. He pushed off with his feet and hauled himself up, nonverbally cancelling the spell and then helping Sirius up.
On top of four stacked containers, they could see the roof clearing the warehouse, the docks, harbour, and back toward the city – and also the skirmish between Moody and Dearborn as they held off against four of Voldemort's Death Eaters, and a few other stragglers between Dumbledore's Order.
A cackle made Sirius stiffen. "Oh, fuck. Bella's here."
"Then so must be her husband," muttered James, peering down at the ring of attackers, popping up from overturned crates, a burning car, and out of darkened recesses between containers. Moody was taking advantage of the environment, but Dearborn was holding his ground and volleying sizzling spells that were brushed off by the Death Eater he was facing, sending those spells skittering into the air.
"C'mon, let's help them!" James darted forward, his boots slapping on the metal as they raced across the long line of containers, their colours blurring as they dashed forward, running parallel at one point.
"Confringo!" shouted Sirius, lining up a shot. The spell rammed, hard, into two Death Eaters who had nicely stood still for him, sending both blasting away. One crumpled to the ground when they bounced off a shipping container, and the other haphazardly rolled and skidded across the pavement, causing Bellatrix and two other Death Eaters to jump out of the way.
Moody let out a loud ha-HA in triumph, taking advantage of the interruption to send a sickly-looking yellow spell at one wizard, who swore and conjured a bronze shield, only to watch it be eaten by the spell's acidic properties.
Sirius leapt from the tops of the containers, slamming into the side of the wall of containers opposite and clutching at the edge before using the momentum to turn and push off. He landed on one of the upturned crates and displayed his athleticism, rolling right off it to the ground, taking up a support position with Moody.
James crouched, one knee on the cold metal, looking down at the mixed combatants.
"Cousin!" shrieked Bellatrix, face on display. Her hair, a curly mass, frizzled up the same way her eyes did, lighting on him with a gleam of insanity. "Welcome! Welcome to your death!"
"Promises, promises," called back Sirius, throwing himself down when the tall wizard next to Bellatrix idly sent the green of the Killing Curse his way. He, too, did not wear a mask: it was Rodolphus Lestrange, his face placid and cunning as his dark eyes trailed from Sirius and Moody to Dearborn, who had stopped flinging spells, watching the standoff with wary eyes, to James, high above them.
"Will you be joining us, Potter?" he called, his tone of distant politeness, like one inquiring about someone's job at a Ministry function when introduced for the first time. His voice was also much deeper than James expected. His eyes drifted past him. "Is your wife joining us, as well?"
A flush of anger suffused James' body. Through gritted teeth, he spat, "Just me tonight, Lestrange."
"Disappointing," the man replied, almost monotonous.
Bellatrix huffed. "It matters not! You will all meet your end tonight! For he comes! The Dark Lord is here!"
Sirius took a moment to look around, exaggeratingly. "Well, I don't see him. Has he been held up by some important torture or raid, Bella?"
She scowled, opening her mouth to respond when a chilling cold wind swept over them.
"Oh, hells," muttered Moody.
The air seemed to freeze; James looked down to see a spiderweb of frost creep its way along the top of the container and he threw himself over the edge, hanging on precariously for a moment before letting himself fall the second the frost hit his bare hand.
He landed awkwardly, but without spraining anything, clutching at his reddened hand, stiff from the cold.
Above them, clouds of inky black swirled and lightning crackled through it, consolidating into a thick mass on the ground behind Bellatrix and Rodolphus, taking human form as the Dark Lord Voldemort stepped through the smoke, wearing black robes. His red eyes trailed over the four Order members, his downed Death Eaters, and those who remained standing.
It was surreal for James, standing before the wizard who, in another life, had killed him. A wizard he had gone up against with nothing more than his body and wits. In that life, he didn't last long, lulled into security. He may have defied Voldemort three times in that world – but in this world? He had his wand, his wits, and his entire future at stake.
Grimly, determination filled James, from the tips of his toes, up to his legs and across his chest like a burning promise, making him lightheaded and then trailing down to his fingers, making them tingle as they wrapped around his wand tightly.
I'm not waiting this time, he thought, and without ceremony, thought expulso, the soft blue of the spell racing across the distance between them.
Voldemort batted it away lazily, turning partially to face him.
"James Potter," he hissed, voice sibilant and vaguely surprised. "I had not thought to see you here."
"Why's that?" spat James, swallowing his nerves.
There was a parody of a smile on Voldemort's thin lips. "Why, if you are here, who is with your wife?"
Fear took over James' brain. There was white noise, a buzz surrounding him, and it took several moments for him to realize Sirius was shouting, "She's fine, James! You know that! She's fine! He's just trying to get under your skin!"
He shuddered and tipped his chin upward challengingly when he settled his eyes on the Dark Lord. "She's well protected where she is and doesn't need me to protect her. After all, didn't she best you?"
Bellatrix howled in anger, offended for her master. Voldemort, however, shifted his facial muscles to look like he was quirking an eyebrow despite having none.
"So afraid, boy," he murmured, his voice temptation. "Why not lay down your wand? Submit to me, Potter. I can be a kind and just master. I can promise safety for your wife, despite the times we fought in the past."
Never, thought James, his face hard.
"There's no need to be afraid. We do not need to fight."
"Don't listen to him, James!" shouted Sirius, peeking over the edge of the crate. Bellatrix hissed and an entire chunk of wood went spinning into the air when it collided with the corner of the crate; it sent Sirius back into hiding behind it.
"Has Dumbledore truly been such a good leader? Has he been kind to you? Has he understood your fears? Taken into consideration your worries?" each question burned into James' mind, sending his heart thundering. "You have been disappointed and adrift lately, have you not, Potter?"
"He's playing you, Potter," warned Moody, his voice gravelly and carrying. "This is what he does, gets inside people's heads – don't listen—"
"SILENCE!" the air around them stilled as a nonverbal spell rippled across the opening between shipping containers, rendering all silent, the air around them sucked away.
James fell to his knees, gasping, struggling to breathe for air that was no longer there. He looked up, squinting from behind his glasses; Voldemort was the only one unaffected, watching them writhe on the ground bemusedly. Even Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and the two other masked Death Eaters weren't immune to the man's spell and command.
Feeling lightheaded, James dug into himself and found his strength. Eyes slid past the Dark Lord, on the containers, and with a twitch, he poured himself into his spell and creation, the image of what he wanted firm in his mind.
Behind Voldemort, the topmost container shifted, metal screeching against metal.
He paused, tilting his head a bit with it moving to place an ear in that direction, although the rest of him stilled. Then—
The container warped, metal shrieking against metal and sparks flew as bits ground together as the entire contained merged with those behind and below it, warping into a bulbous shape at first that elongated, doors flying open and revealing themselves as wings.
The containers in its new form roared – a terrible grinding sound of crashing metal and sparks – and the dragon threw itself down and forward from where it perched, toward the Dark Lord.
Amused, the man threw his arms out and welcomed the metal creature, releasing his hold on his spell.
James collapsed, hitting his chin on the pavement as he greedily sucked in air, struggling to keep his eyes on his transfigured dragon as it opened its giant metal maw and attempted to swallow the wizard.
A giant hole punched through the dragon's jaw, sending sharp shards in James' direction. He hastily threw up a shield that blocked the debris. The dragon roared and drew back, revealing Voldemort, that same amused smile on his face as he twirled his wrist and liquid erupted from it, hissing, and spitting when colliding with the metal.
Bellatrix threw herself forward, toward Sirius, who retaliated with spellfire, Moody at his side. Dearborn focused on Rodolphus, who moved lazily and carefully, weaving in and out of his attempts like a snake to a snake charmer's tune.
James focused on Voldemort, the only one left to do so. His dragon, slick and already wounded, took flight. It landed on the shipping containers and its metal claws tore them up, leaving deep gouges.
Voldemort laughed in delight.
James darted forward, slipping a little, and sent spell after spell, sending the wizard on a back step, deflecting the shots wildly in all directions.
The dragon roared and swept down again; its metal wings spread, clipping Bellatrix, who bounced off the wing, spinning around and laughing loudly as she fell. She then jumped up, sending sparks and flames everywhere in response.
James wove under one jet of fire, sending a loose bit of metal from his dragon's scales that came loose when Voldemort first attacked, flying. Midflight, the metal rippled and smoothed, its edges then going serrated into a spinning disc.
"Good, good!" praised Voldemort, watching as it boomeranged around, bouncing off a container and then back toward the witch. "Go for the kill, James!"
"You can call me Potter!" shouted James through gritted teeth. "We're not friends!"
Voldemort indulged his temper tantrum, the spells he used driving James back, forcing him to move around wood and metal debris, but also the limited space available. Dearborn and Rodolphus kept to their area, keeping to limited footwork and treating their fight like a champion's duel in the arena, planted strong; Sirius and Moody were throwing themselves back and forth, across whatever they could, to engage Bellatrix who was a force of nature herself, cackling and spinning, integrating her spellwork with her wrist twirls and heel turns.
James ducked under friendly fire from Moody's wand, watching as it hit a container and split the metal open from bottom to top, hot air escaping with a loud hiss. "Moody!"
The man didn't reply, but Sirius glanced over. "Sorry!"
"You cannot win," said Voldemort, that parody of a smile still on his face. "Where will you go? There's four of you – and two of my men and myself – and yet you are struggling. Give in, James. Put your wand down. Let everything go. I can be merciful."
The dragon roared from the opposite end of the strip of pavement, the magic creating it bursting with James' emotions. It charged forward, heedless of anything in its way. Its metal head tossed wooden crates back and forth, sending wood splintering.
Voldemort blasted it in one direction, sending it careening into the tower of containers. Those containers creaked and wobbled, and James threw up his arms and stabilized them from collapsing down. But the dragon shook the hit off and charged forward again, leaning heavily against the containers. Metal screeched.
Voldemort sent another volley of spells, each more devastating than the last as the acid ate into the metal face of the dragon; a cutting spell of some kind destroyed a leg, making it limp forward. But each hit it took was another meter forward, another step closer to the Dark Lord, who was forced to back up and give ground. The smile was no longer on his face, but instead a look of pure, intense concentration.
The dragon, teetering forward unsteadily, opened its metal mouth and roared, the shriek of metal against metal. Voldemort peered into the gap, including the hole he had made earlier in its jaw, and then sent a single blasting spell down its mouth and throat. The dragon exploded from the inside out, sending metal everywhere.
He threw up a protego shield, ignoring the twang of metal as they pinged off the containers or against the pavement. The dragon collapsed in front of him, a final, weak groan as the spell holding it together dissipated into a metallic dust cloud, reverting the pieces into sheet metal.
"MASTER!" shrieked Bellatrix in warning.
From behind the dust cloud, James emerged, throwing himself over the dragon's metal remains. He pushed off the thick back with one hand, his wand arm extended, and the end of his wand charged with a familiar green spell. He opened his mouth, summoning up the proper emotion, one that he knew he would have to use if he wanted to end everything.
Then something slammed into him, sending him off to the side, against a shipping container and tumbling through metal, making a loud clang.
"James!" shouted Sirius, abandoning his fight with Bellatrix to rush to his side. He levitated pieces of metal off his groaning best friend. "James, are you alright?"
James rubbed his head, his hand coming away wet with blood, fixing his askew glasses. He took the offered hand and let Sirius haul him upright. "Yeah, m'fine."
Sirius peered at him worriedly.
But James' gaze was beyond him, warily eyeing the Dark Lord who paused in his attack, not pressing his advantage. The wizard's own red eyes were not on James, either, but the heaving, bulky form of Caradoc Dearborn, face twisted in anger and hate but still the one who stopped James from performing the Killing Curse – and from killing the mortal Dark Lord.
Moody muttered something under his breath.
"How interesting," the Dark Lord murmured, eyes narrowing.
Dearborn stared back, his face unreadable.
"Come," commanded Voldemort, his face blank of all thought as he took one final look at James, panting and slick with sweat. And then he twirled, his entire being turned into smoke that shot straight up into the air and into the cloud cover. Rodolphus was close behind, his crack echoing across the dockyard.
With a look of pure loathing, Bellatrix sent a final sneer toward him and Sirius, twisting on her heel and disappearing with a loud crack.
James threw his head back and let loose a ragged, hoarse yell of frustration. His hands clenched tight at his side and his wand creaked under the strain and the tip pulsed a vivid red. He whirled around, face red, facing Dearborn.
Sirius took a step closer to him, and muttered, "Easy, Prongs – steady on, mate—"
"What the fuck what that, Dearborn?" spat James, ignoring Sirius. "I had him!"
Dearborn raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You had the Dark Lord, Potter? Really?"
He's mortal! James wanted to reply, but instead, he exhaled loudly, sharply. He cooled his ire as best as he could despite the raging fire in him, his trembling hands. He closed his eyes for a few moments, took another breath, and then when he opened them to look at Dearborn, he saw the slightest hint of discomfort pass over the older man's face.
"I had him, Dearborn, and you stopped the war from ending tonight," said James coolly, his voice clipped and sharp. "Everyone who dies from here on out? That's on you."
"Potter, you know why—" Frustration leaked through Dearborn.
"Did it ever occur to you," bit James, voice cutting like diamonds, "that I might know more than you?"
Dearborn froze. "I – no – that's not –"
Sirius, at James's side, looked warily between the two.
"Piss off, Dearborn, you sanctimonious shit." The look James sent Dearborn could have curdled milk.
Dearborn's face purpled in rage. "Listen here, Potter—"
James turned his head only the tiniest, keeping Dearborn in sight, even as Moody approached them. He had a long, bloody streak that cut through his eye, wobbling a bit as he hobbled toward them.
"Merlin's balls, Moody, when the fuck did that happen to you?" exclaimed Sirius. "I was literally right there."
"Lestrange happened after you dicked off, Black," the man replied dryly. "The elder – Rodolphus, just before he Apparated out. Nearly split my head in two with a cutting curse. Anyway – got him back nicely, too, despite my eye."
"Your eye?" Sirius looked vaguely green.
"Pretty sure it's a lost cause at this point," answered Moody easily. "Didn't get to Mungo's in time, did I?"
Sirius was definitely green.
"Right-o, need you two boys in at the office. I've got a few dark wizards that need processing from tonight," continued Moody easily, despite his remaining good eye focusing on the antagonism between James and Dearborn. "Book 'em for public assault on an Auror if you need something and they don't reveal more during questioning."
"Got it, boss," replied Sirius, tugging on James' arm. "C'mon, James."
"This isn't finished, boy," said Dearborn lowly, but his voice carried and the four heard him loud and clear.
"You bet your damn arse it is," shot back James, a scowl on his face.
"James," hissed Sirius, tugging harder.
He allowed himself to be tugged along, until they were a few feet away and then Sirius side-along apparated them both to the Ministry apparation point, a loud crack echoing in the empty marble chamber.
"Come on, Jim," said Sirius, eyeing James warily. "Let's get upstairs and get started on booking those wizards."
"Yeah," muttered James, the trembling in his hands slowly dissipating; perhaps routine work would calm his racing heart and desperate need to send Hermione a message, to tell her Dearborn was pointing his wand at her. "Sure."
They had been working close to six hours, bleary-eyed, and finishing up the last of their questioning of Moody's haul. Sirius and James were not the only Aurors there – a few of the night shift Aurors were, including a few cadets who often were stuck with the worst shifts – as Rufus Scrimgeour and Amelia Bones were also in the office trying to work a case. Everyone stopped what they were doing though, when Bartemius Crouch stormed into the Auror office.
His eyes were manic, wild, and his black hair – often slicked back – was in disarray, like he had just rolled out of bed. He clutched a sheaf of parchment in one hand. It was a look none of them had ever seen of their unflappable Department Head, and both James and Sirius froze at the eerie resemblance he had to his son at that moment.
"Sir…?" asked Rufus, rising slowly from his seat, palming his wand. At his side, Amelia was tense, eyes focused on their boss in case he was an imposter or under the Imperius.
"Bagnold's done it!"
Everyone stared, and Crouch looked around, the wildness of his expression slowly draining from his face, leaving only elation.
"She's signed the papers! We've been given carte blanche to use Unforgiveables against the terrorists!" he enthused. He even shook the parchment for emphasis. "We can fight back against those bastards with fire! They'll be wanted dead or alive!"
There were a few cheers, but James watched as Amelia and Rufus shared a concerned look, Amelia slowly sliding her wand back up her sleeve.
Crouch was practically skipping as he moved through the cubicles and aisles, stopping to speak with a few of the Aurors and tired cadets, and soon stopped by James and Sirius's shared desk.
He nodded at Sirius, but his smile was a bit more genuine when he looked at James, recognizing the husband of his son's best friend. "Potter. What brings you here, tonight? Don't you have a pregnant witch to go home to?"
"Moody was wounded in a skirmish earlier tonight," explained James, biting back a yawn. "We've been here since then processing the wizards."
Crouch had a knowing look in his eyes. "Booked for…?"
"Assault," answered Sirius succinctly, a vaguely innocent tilt to his chin.
Crouch snorted. "Fitting," he sneered. He fished in his waistcoat pocket and withdrew a small pocket watch attached to a chain, clicking it open, and reading the time inside. With a nod at them and their desks, he said, "Why don't you both go home and take a break? Come back when you're more awake?"
James and Sirius shared an uneasy look. "We haven't finished, sir…" James trailed off.
"You've been here, since what?" asked Crouch.
"Three," offered James.
"Three. And you've had how many coffees to stay awake?" continued the older man.
"Four," said Sirius with a sigh, "And we moved to Pepper-Up half an hour ago."
"Go. Home," urged Crouch, his voice hard. "You've done enough here tonight."
James couldn't bite back his yawn again and covered his mouth with his hand. "Yessir," he slurred, reaching for his jacket.
"Good lad," offered Crouch, patting James absently on the shoulder as he passed, to his office. Sirius made a face behind the man's back, mocking him by exaggerating his swagger and mouthing good lad at James.
"Shut up, Pads," laughed James, bumping his shoulder against his best friend's. "C'mon, let's go to the Alley. There's a bakery there and I can get breakfast before heading home. Might ease some of the Pepper-Up off, too."
"Gonna surprise Princess with a croissant?" teased Sirius.
Diagon Alley was empty when they apparated in at the early morning hour of five, with only a few businesses open. It was eerily still and quiet, but the baker in the bakery seemed pleased with the morning business, and James eagerly inhaled the scent of fresh-baked bread and mouth-watering pastries on display.
He was waiting for his bag, Sirius bent half over as he viewed the display cases and began a long process of figuring out what he wanted when someone outside the bakery caught his attention.
Fabian waved at James once more, then disappeared in the alley between the Prophet and a courtyard wall.
"I'll be a minute," muttered James, distractedly, toward Sirius.
But James already slipped out of the bakery, heading toward where he last saw Fabian, sliding into the alleyway.
The Prewett twin was leaning against the far wall, watching James as he approached. His hair was dishevelled, and there were the beginnings of a bruise along the length of his face, ranging up from his jaw to ear, where he had missed cleaning some blood up.
"What's going on?" asked James, in lieu of a greeting. He waved his hand at Fabian's ear. "By the way, you've got some…"
"What?" asked Fabian, then scowled as he tried rubbing at the dried blood. "Bugger." He sighed. "Anyway, that wasn't – well. What I mean –" he exhaled sharply; eyes closed. When he opened them, he said, quietly, "It's Hermione, isn't it?"
James swallowed, and then pursed his lips. "How'd you figure?"
Fabian shrugged, his hands deep in his pockets. "Seemed obvious. Dumbledore kept saying 'her', and well, after the rumours around her and her friends being kidnapped, and then what I saw in the forest—"
"Yeah, about that," interrupted James sharply, "What happened?"
"Oh, she didn't tell you?" asked Fabian, blinking. "Oh. Well. Uhh. Gid and I came across her, Black, her sister and sister's husband. Still don't know what they were doing in Little Hangleton, but we were caught by some Death Eaters. We fought together, and one of them, Wilkes, well… he died. Hermione held his hand when he, uh, passed."
"Shit," muttered James.
"Yeah," agreed Fabian, kicking a loose stone with the toe of his boot. "Listen – about what Dumbledore said—"
"You're not going to come down on his side, are you?" demanded James hotly.
"What? No!" Fabian shook his head. "Me an' Gid talked about it, after, you know? We all went to the pub after Wilkes' – well. We had a talk. And later, Gideon and I talked some more. I don't know what she and Black are up to—"
"And Crouch," added James, under his breath.
Fabian paused. "What, seriously?"
"Since Hogwarts," sighed James, running a hand through his hair and messing it up.
"Since Hogwarts?" repeated Fabian, flabbergasted. "What the fuck have they been doing?"
"Saving the world?" offered James wryly.
Fabian snorted. "Yeah, sounds right."
They were silent for a moment, then Fabian spoke again.
"Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that Gideon and I won't say anything," he finally said. He did peer at James, a bit worriedly. "She has a plan though, right?"
James stared. "She was a Ravenclaw, Prewett. 'Course she has a plan."
Fabian laughed, a bit weakly. "Well, just making sure. You know. With putting the fate of the entire wizarding world in her hands, and all."
James' mood instantly soured. "Yeah…"
"James?" Sirius' voice called.
Fabian swore and twisted on his heel, disappearing with a loud crack that bounced off the bricks on either side of James. He startled, whirling around to see Sirius standing by the mouth of the alley, peering at him intently, with two separate brown paper bags in either hand. He stood very still, something unreadable on his face when his grey eyes trailed down into the empty alleyway, having just missed seeing Fabian.
"Sirius." James breathed out in relief, and then his heart kicked up. "How long have you been there?"
Sirius sent him a rather unimpressed look. "How long do you think?"
Silence stretched between them.
Finally, Sirius asked, "Are you going to tell me what's going on?"
James licked his lips nervously. "If you heard enough, I don't need to tell you anything."
Sirius eyed him again, and James fought to shift awkwardly.
"I heard enough," he finally said – but James wasn't sure if he was confirming that he heard his discussion with Fabian about Hermione being the Chosen One, or if he heard enough from James on the topic and was willing to trust me.
As he left the alley, taking the paper bag Sirius silently offered, James wasn't sure which he hoped it was.
Late June, 1980
Hermione went to the hospital without James and was loathe as he was to let her wander around London by herself, the fact that she was going to be at a muggle hospital was the only reason he didn't drag himself out of bed after her. (He didn't consider that Hermione would've stunned him unconscious if only to catch up on four hours of sleep to combat the dark bruises under his eyes and the wane, shallow pallor to his skin since Voldemort's attacks had increased the past fortnight.)
As it was, Hermione wandered into Petunia's room a few hours after Lily had already left, equally as tired as James but with lank hair and a desperate demeanour that Lily tried to brush off whenever Petunia asked, or so the eldest Evans sister said.
"It was as if she thought I didn't know a damn thing about your world," grumbled Petunia, sitting upright in her bed. She then widened her eyes, frantically looking to her son in Hermione's arms at her bedside. "I said 'damn', didn't I? Oh, what a terrible beginning—"
"He's literally two days old, Tuney," replied Hermione with a grin, "I think you've several years before he starts copying what you say."
Petunia rolled her eyes, fussing with the blankets around her. Hesitantly, she asked, "How… how bad is it going out there?"
Hermione frowned, passing Dermot Sean Bowes back to his mother, a finger lingering over his cheek as she did so, and he snuffled.
"Bad," she admitted quietly, moving to sit at the foot of the bed with difficulty, given her own large stomach. "Much worse than last time – half of the events that are happening never did previously."
Petunia bit her lip and looked at Hermione with large, pale blue eyes. "That's not good, is it?"
"My knowledge is pretty much used up at this point," replied Hermione, tracing a pattern on the bed, and keeping her face turned from Petunia's seeking gaze. "Everything from here on out is different."
"Surely not that different—"
"You named your son Dudley," laughed Hermione, glancing at Petunia.
She made a disgusted face. "Dudley?" she repeated, incredulously. "That's a terrible name – why would I—"
"Well, for one, you and Sean weren't together," said Hermione. "I imagine in the other timeline, you broke up or never got together."
Petunia's lips pursed. "Who did I…?"
"Do you really want to know?" challenged Hermione, raising her eyebrows.
"If I was going to torture my child with that name, yes," replied Petunia. She turned away briefly to coo at her son.
Sean walked in on that, looking between the two sisters, even as he carefully put down the teas he had in his hands on the nightstand at Petunia's bedside. "Erm, what did I interrupt?" He gave a weak joke: "Surely not another world-ending dark lord on the warpath…?"
"Dudley," bit out Petunia, still staring at Hermione in disbelief. "Hermione just told me that in her other time, I named my son Dudley."
Sean made a face. "Really? Erm, well—"
"Because I married Vernon Dursley," finished Petunia.
"Vernon Dursley?" echoed Sean, frowning. "Wait. Dursley – wasn't he that prick in your accounting class…?"
Petunia tersely nodded, and Sean sat in a nearby armchair, legs weak, breathing out a shaky, "Blimey…" He turned his eyes toward his sister-in-law and leaned forward the slightest. "Have to say, Hermione, I think I much prefer this timeline."
The corners of Hermione's eyes crinkled as she turned her eyes from Sean back to Petunia, looking down at her nephew, and she murmured, "Me too, Sean. Me too."
"Right-o, where's James, then?" asked Sean after a few moments of both him and Petunia making faces at their son, who was ignoring them.
"Sleeping," sighed Hermione. "They're completely run ragged – he's upped his attacks and it's a daily occurrence now. There's was a skirmish a few weeks past in Aberdeen—"
Sean made a face. "The terrorist attack near Balmoral?"
Hermione nodded. "James fought him again – that's three times."
Fear coated Hermione's voice, and she thought back to Trelawney's original prophecy. Petunia, who knew about it, seemed to follow Hermione's train of thought, and sniffed, "Surely that doesn't matter now, Hermione."
"What doesn't?" asked Sean.
"The prophecy," said Petunia, for him, although he looked utterly bewildered and muttered, "There's a prophecy involved now?"
"Originally, it was about James and Lily's Harry – born to those who thrice defied him," elaborated Hermione quietly. "With James having met Riddle in a wand fight now, three times, and walking away, he technically meets his requirements of the prophecy."
"But you don't," Petunia was quick to point out. "You've only defied him once – when you were kidnapped."
Sean shook his head. "I think we could technically count her destroying the Horcruxes as defiance as well. She's been 'defying' him, working against, for far longer. Hermione could well be past three."
Petunia paled, eyes wide and she reached out to grab at Hermione's hand on her bedcovers. "You'll be careful, won't you? Say you will, Hermione."
"I'm as careful as I can be when there's a civil war going on," she murmured in reply, using her other hand to place on top of Petunia's where it gripped her tightly.
"Shame no one got a potshot in on him," sighed Sean, although the crease between his eyebrows and the worry lines stretching from his eyes belayed his concern for her. "Since he's mortal, now."
"Yes," agreed Hermione, frowning and thinking back at James' rants of the Aberdeen attack – at how the Prewett twins had tried so hard to make it toward Riddle, at how Moody took out four Death Eaters, and how James had gone toe-to-toe with Riddle for as long as he had the opportunities to do so, desperately trying to kill the man, only for Dearborn to interrupt at the last second when he could've got lucky…
"Yes, what a shame."
They stole whatever moments they could, keeping calm in the eye of the storm that summer.
When lying in bed, Hermione propped up by pillows and dozing lightly, James would rest on his side, face near her extended belly, and count each breath she took, each rise and fall of her chest. He would press his hand, hot, against her belly and delight in the press back, whether it was a hand or foot, or once, he was sure, a head, and whisper promises and vows.
I love you.
I won't let anything happen to you.
I will stop this war, so you don't have to fight it.
You won't be alone, ever.
I'll build you a better world to grow up in.
James wasn't sure if they would come true, but he died once before for his son and wife; he was willing to do it again. It was more than just resolve that firmed this decision – if it came down to it, it was something in his very being.
It was something he didn't think of often, his own mortality, but it was something that came up more and more the longer the war went on and the more friends they lost in the Order. He struggled, initially, with Hermione's ideas of doing whatever was necessary to win – but then again, she wasn't ever on the frontline like he was, working more behind the scenes with Crouch and Regulus to destroy the Horcruxes and succeeding. But that didn't mean he didn't see the benefits of being a bit more aggressive, a bit more decisive in their tactics. To use whatever tools were necessary to win.
He was James Potter, son of Charlus and Dorea. He was married to Hermione Evans, a time-travelling, and they were about to have their son. He was Sirius's brother in all but blood. He was best friends with Remus and Peter. He was a Gryffindor, and Gryffindors go where others dare not to tread.
He would do anything for his family, even die for them if he had to, so that they could live.
After all, he thought, as his fingers danced over the silky-smooth fabric of his Potter invisibility cloak, which Hermione had told him all about. Potters – and Peverells – aren't afraid of death.
Late July, 1980
Near the end of July, and Hermione's due date, Petunia invited her youngest sister out for a tea and catch up, giving James a blistering over the telephone, complaining that she hadn't seen her sister in over a month, and she wanted to see her, as did her month-old son.
James, skeptically, handed the phone to Hermione and sensibility retreated, until Hermione waddled into their receiving room, a light jacket thrown over her arm.
"You're not going, are you?" he asked, although it was entirely rhetorical.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Yes, I am."
"No, you're not," retorted James, rising from his seat.
Hermione stopped, slowly turning on her heels to stare at her husband.
"Hermione, you're near your due date," he tried. "Be sensible. It's a risk of being out and not close to the Floo for emergencies. What if your water breaks when you're out?"
"Then I'll go to a muggle hospital," she answered easily.
"Muggle?" James' nose wrinkled.
Hermione rolled her eyes again. "Yes, James, a muggle hospital, because I'm meeting Petunia at a muggle café, literally two streets over because she knows I can't be too far from home."
James worked his jaw back and forth a bit in consideration. "Is it just you two?"
"Tuney said she asked Lily if she wanted to come, and she said she is," answered Hermione. "And she's just as huge as I am."
"Fine," grumbled James. "A few streets over, year? Near the Crouches?"
"Go to theirs if something happens, please," he requested, trying to be as polite as possible. "I can get there easily and to St. Mungo's then. I'll know where you are."
Slowly, Hermione nodded, her eyes softening. She stepped forward and cupped his jaw. "I'll be fine, James."
He released a shaky breath, leaning into her touch. "I know, Hermione – it's just… I worry."
"I know. And I love you for it," she replied, smiling at him. She pressed her lips against his, and James sagged the tiniest into her, curling an arm around her back even as her stomach made it difficult to reach her for a thorough snog.
He grumbled against her lips, "Can't wait for this one to be out so I can bend you back and kiss you properly."
Hermione laughed against his mouth and drew back, wiping at his lips. "Goodbye, James."
His brow furrowed, thinking there was something in her tone or her voice, despite the laughter in her eyes and the up curl to her lips. But by the time he called after her, "Hermione?" the front door had snapped shut.
He sighed, throwing himself back into his chair, brooding. He barely had twenty minutes of staring at the wall when Dumbledore's Patronus burst into the receiving room, startling him enough that James flailed and fell off the chair.
"Full meeting. Now. Dorset house." Dumbledore's tone was clipped and stressed.
Confused, James rose to his feet, even as the patronus disappeared in a flurry of sparkles, not remaining for confirmation. Whatever was happening, it was serious.
He swallowed, eyes darting to the front door. He had enough time that maybe he could catch up with Hermione, bustle her back into the house to safety, but… instead, he turned to the front closet, grabbed the dragonhide jacket Hermione gifted him years ago, and shrugged it on, with something like grim determination settling on him as the cool dragonhide settled on his shoulders.
In the apparition room, James spun on his heel and left the safety and security of their townhouse and arrived just outside the low stone wall at the Order's Dorset house, nearly on top of Peter as he arrived, sickly-looking with a pinched look on his face.
James eyed him. "Alright there, Wormtail?"
Peter jumped, spinning to face James. "James! I didn't see you there."
"Yeah, we popped in at the same time," he offered, beginning to walk forward and through the gate, Peter on his heels. "Wasn't surprised you didn't hear me apparate in."
"Any idea what this is about?" asked Peter as they trudged up the gravel path.
"No," replied James, glancing at him. "And Dumbledore and I haven't been talking much recently, either."
Peter looked surprised at that, mouth a bit open. "Really? But I thought—"
"Did you hear anything?" interrupted James, not interested in getting into it about his unhappiness with the Order's leader.
Peter slowly shook his head.
They reached the door, and James opened it. He was blasted with noise immediately, a sound barrier keeping the noise from breaching the windows. The spell was powerful, and it washed over him as he stepped inside; whatever would be shared was going to be very important.
It was a full house; the back sitting room was full, and the kitchen magically expanded with the wall between them blown out and held up only by magic. Members who had never met each other met for the first time, their eyes nervously glancing around and their shoulders tight with tension.
Peter kept to James, even as he weaved through the room until he found the Prewett's. "What's going on?" he asked as he approached.
Gideon shook his head. "Dunno."
"We just got here, ourselves," added Fabian.
James' mouth flattened into a tight line, and he gave a sharp nod. He settled against the wall with them, ignoring Peter's fidgeting hands.
Sirius and Remus – looking wane and sickly – appeared a bit later, from two different directions, and made their way over, despite Sirius's cautious glance toward their werewolf friend.
Gideon gave a nod in greeting; none were in the mood to speak.
Sirius gripped James' shoulder though, catching his eyes. Alright? He seemed to ask.
James nodded once, giving Sirius a tight smile. Alright.
"Can I get your attention, please?" called Dumbledore, his voice magically aided to reach all the corners of the rooms.
People quieted down and turned their faces toward him.
He was grim, wearing subdued, almost black, robes without any embellishments on them. They were streamlined, a tighter cut, and James felt a frisson of worry race up his spine as he realized that whatever was happening, they were heading out somewhere, and Dumbledore was going with them to fight.
Moody, wearing an eyepatch, was on Dumbledore's left, and Dearborn was on his right, wearing his usual scowl, arms crossed.
"We've received intelligence from two separate spies that Voldemort has lost something important," began Dumbledore.
James froze, catching his breath.
"What did he lose?" called one member.
"His sanity?" suggested another dryly, causing a few nervous laughs.
Dumbledore gave a gentle smile. "Perhaps," he offered, nodding in the direction of the joke, "But whatever these items were, they were important to him. He hit Gringott's early this morning, in full view of any Diagon Alley shoppers, and left quite a number of casualties behind, witches and wizards and goblins, alike."
That sobered the room.
"Why haven't we heard of this?" asked Frank.
"I wasn't in the office, so I wasn't there," said Fabian, their Gringott's curse breaker, with a shrug, despite his very pale face. It made the freckles stand out.
"I was in Diagon Alley this morning," offered a quiet voice, a familiar one. James's hair at the nape of his neck stood up as Lily shuffled forward, her hands resting on her stomach. She was pale, eyes wide when she spoke. "I was the one who brought it to Professor Dumbledore's attention. I only got out… got out… because…"
She stifled a sob.
Alice, nearby, stepped forward and wrapped an arm around Lily, cuddling her close as she broke down.
Fear gripped James and without conscious thought, he was moving forward toward his sister-in-law. "Were you alone?" he asked.
Lily looked up, blinking back tears on her lashes.
He demanded, again, "Were you alone? Lily! Were you in Diagon alone? Hermione said she was meeting you—"
Lily shook her head. "I was in Diagon before – I used the Knight Bus to meet them but stopped there first, so I never saw Tuney and Mione—"
James let out a breath of relief, slumping back.
"Are you done, Potter?" asked Dearborn roughly.
"Oi, watch it!" snapped Sirius, ever loyal.
"That's enough," said Dumbledore sharply, calling the attention back to him. "What matters is this information. With these important items missing or destroyed, Voldemort has retreated to the safety of his follower's homes. Our spies have indicated that he has recalled all his supporters to Lestrange Manor."
Murmurs broke out.
"Lestrange Manor is a fortress," Fabian said. "How are we supposed to attack it, let alone survive the first assault to make it inside?"
"Our spy on the inside will break the ward scheme to get us in," replied Moody.
"Blimey," said Frank, sitting back in his chair in shock. "Who's the spy that they can do that?"
"That's not important," interrupted Moody, even as Dearborn's mouth opened. "What's important is that you all know we're leaving in twenty minutes."
It was like all the air was sucked out of the room.
"Twenty minutes?" whispered someone fearfully.
"This is it," confirmed Dumbledore with a short nod. "This is our opportunity."
James shared a glance with Fabian and Gideon. With a prophecy in play – one Dumbledore knew about – even if they managed to capture every single supporter of Voldemort's, Dumbledore was going to do nothing about the wizard himself. He'd want Hermione to do it – but James knew he was mortal. Anyone could end the war by killing the Dark Lord.
"Make your final arrangements," offered Dumbledore, his voice kind if not grim. "We will be leaving shortly. Our final fight begins."