"Madness it is to hope that human minds
can ever understand the Infinite
that comprehends Three Persons in One Being.
Be satisfied with quia unexplained,
O Human race! If you knew everything,
no need for Mary to have borne a son. "
― Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio
Satisfied that her son was well on his way, Lily turned to her half-brother, the Lord and Savior Rabbi Jesus Christ, Son of God.
"So tell me," she said, "how exactly did Harry survive the Killing Curse? I'd barely done any research into protective rituals when Voldemort came, and if it were just a mother's love… there would be far more survivors of every war."
"It was love," Jesus said. "That's it."
Lily rolled her eyes. "Of course it was love. I loved him, I died for him, he lived. It was my love that saved him, that's obvious to anyone with a brain. If I didn't love him I wouldn't have sacrificed myself. But why is my love any more special than the love of every other mother who died in the war?"
Jesus hesitated for a second, as if he were unsure whether to speak the truth. "I suppose there's no harm in it. Deicide."
"Deicide? As in killing a god?"
Jesus grimaced. "That's the short version of it."
Lily rolled her eyes. "It raises as many questions as it answers, because, you know, I'm not a god. You need to explain more than that."
Jesus took a breath, even though there was no need for either of them to breathe. "Alright. You're familiar with my death?"
"Of course. You gave your life to redeem the souls of man."
"Again," said Jesus, "that's the short version of it, but it was part of a larger tradition of sacrificial magic that's forgotten these days because you need divine heritage to pull it off. The Descent of Inanna, Orpheus and Eurydice, the Twelfth Labor of Hercules, Sun Wukong and the Book of the Dead—if a divine or semi-divine being willingly goes to death, if they value anything more dearly than life itself, they can win a lot from reality. I became the scapegoat, bore all of mankind's sins, brought every sin that would ever be into the next world. I redeemed all of humanity. And you… You stopped the war."
"I'm sorry," said Lily, "I'm not the best at Chinese Mythology, but what does the monkey king erasing the names of monkeys from the Book of the Dead have anything to do with the myth of Orpheus? I can't imagine any possible way for those to be part of the same mythological tradition!"
Jesus chuckled. "It was just an example. The underlying principle is the same. If a god willingly goes to death, they will tip the fate of the world. It's more Campbellian than anything else."
"The universe plays by the rules of Joseph Campbell?"
"Sometimes, yes. Like all great philosophers, he got some things right."
Lily's eyes flashed. "You mean I could've changed the world—ended Muggleborn prejudice forevermore, freed the House Elves, stopped global cooling—and instead I blew up a single dark lord, who in the end was just a symptom of an underlying problem?"
"You also protected your son from death, don't forget that."
"That's not the point! I could've changed everything—the way you changed everything—but I didn't even realize that was possible! I mean, compared to you—"
Jesus closed his eyes. "It's a nice fantasy," he said. "But dying isn't rational. When we're dying, we think of the ones we love, and we hope that they'll thrive. In a way, I was rare and blessed because I loved all of humanity, their foibles and flaws, and what they did wrong and what they could do better, and I spent whole life trying to teach, so I could redeem them. As Sun Wukong loved his tribe, as Orpheus loved Eurydice. Yet even then, at the end, I wondered. I despaired. I questioned whether our Father had forsaken me. But you had a child, and spent nine months with little more to do than hope in his future and embrace motherhood. It was natural. You were only human, and there's nothing wrong with that."
"But I could've done more," Lily said, disappointed. "I could've studied Buddhism and made my love transcendental, or prayed more, or given my heart to a cause, so my love would—"
"Divine powers twist fate itself to avoid exactly that," said Jesus. "One death at the right time, with the right convictions, could change the very shape of the heavens. Like a lightning bolt, or a mistletoe spear, or a tactical nuke, tearing its way through Heaven. Add in the knowledge of magic and high expectations for influencing reality, and you've got one very potent death. A single magical demigod could tear the veil and end the masquerade with but one death."
"But I didn't," said Lily.
"By design. That's why I'm telling you now, by the way. You can only do it once, you can only do it once you've accepted that you're special, and you can only do it the first time you die after having accepted your divine nature. We're not supposed to let the living know."
"So I can't tell Harry," said Lily. It would be a real pity, with the way Dumbledore was bumbling around. The man was brilliant, but his ignorance of this apparently extremely potent magical technique had already led him to fight one Wizarding War in a horribly inefficient manner.
"You can't tell any mortal," said Jesus. "It's a better deal that it seems."
"And why is that?" Lily said, narrowing her eyes. "We could change the world if we got to choose how to die. Heroes already do, but they could do it so much better."
Jesus hesitated. He stared into the infinite whiteness of limbo. "You know how I died, right?"
"You went to your death at the hands of the Romans, yes."
Jesus nodded. "And the Romans were aware of certain sacrificial rituals. The stories of Bacchus springing from Jupiter. The rites of Mithras. The Eleusinian Mysteries. Rituals of transmutation and transubstantiation and replacement."
"Oh. And the divine Caesars?"
Jesus nodded. "Exactly. All those Gallic Wars had some…esoteric effects. There are ways to… appropriate pieces of divinity, I suppose, and graft it to your own. Under certain circumstances, killing intent can override dying intent. I'm sure you can think of examples."
Lily could, indeed, think of examples where gods were sacrificed. Baldr by Loki, Osiris by Set, Cronus by his children. And each time, the world was changed. The gods were killed, or perhaps undone, all through the power of foul murder.
"And whatever they did to steal power didn't work on you because…"
"Because I went so willingly, they could not steal the burden of the sins I bore. I didn't resist, so their nails passed right through me."
Lily grimaced. She had a certain distaste for the thought of sacrificing another for one's own agenda, and as she glanced around the tiny little park that inevitably reminded her of Severus Snape, she decided it was a good time to change the subject.
"What about that thing you told me not to look at?"
"Ah, the tales of H.P. Lovecraft."
"You told me not to look at the Cthulhu Mythos?" she said with some bemusement. "That's fiction."
"Tell me, sis," Jesus said. "Remember that annoying atheist child prodigy?"
"Who could forget him?" she said.
"What was his name?"
She'd forgotten. "But that doesn't make sense. The Cthulhu Mythos is fiction. Some writer made it up a century ago."
"The broad strokes of the Cthulhu Mythos… well, you have to consider the context," Jesus said. "1900s. Science is making all these advances that make the universe seem cold and empty, and frankly make heaven and hell and God and me seem like historical superstition."
"But it's not," Lily said. "That we're talking at all means that it's Truth."
Jesus wept. But only a single tear.
"Then along comes a man who says that no, there are gods, there are divine things out there—they just dwell in the void of space and are indifferent to humanity and break everything we know to be true when they awaken. What he says resonates with the science of the time, and in the bloodbaths of that century there's a death of faith and belief. Nietzsche says "God is dead, and we have killed him." Everyone forgets the bits where humanity finds a new joy afterward, maybe because there's something deathly alluring in the depression. And then there's the matter of where God was during… well, you know. So Lovecraft… he quite literally introduced something to fill the void."
"Did they exist before him?"
"Does it matter?"
She supposed it didn't.
"Belief, even subconscious, defines reality," Jesus said. "I told a story that people loved, of justice and redemption, and so I am true. But some stories are so grim and terrifying and devouring that they force themselves to be true."
The park seemed empty, after that, just a trapping of childhood fit to be abandoned. She got up to leave, and Jesus walked beside her.
"Thank you, again, for appearing to Vernon, by the way," said Lily, as the long-forgotten park faded into the distance with every step they took. "I can't possibly imagine how poorly Harry's childhood would've gone if he hadn't converted."
"It was nothing," said Jesus. "What are siblings for?"
"Neglecting your children after your death, apparently," grumbled Lily.
The Savior nodded. "I was lucky enough to die only after my children were all but grown. Why did Harry go to Petunia, again?"
"Dumbledore," and here Lily's voice was resigned, "thought that my sacrifice was specifically as a mother's love, so naturally Harry needs to be with my relatives."
Jesus winced. "That man does not make mistakes by halves."
"Well, he didn't have any reason to believe otherwise. Claiming you're the child of God doesn't go over so well these days," said Lily. "How long have we been here?"
"Sis, we're dead," said Jesus, matter-of-factly. "We've been here for some time between five minutes and twelve years, and you've been diligently watching over Harry for that whole time. If you spent enough time looking around, you'd definitely see Harry's soul around here too, even though he's still alive by our last observation. Time doesn't matter anymore. If it ever did."
"Right. I knew that," Lily said. "This whole being dead thing is very disorienting."
Jesus chuckled. "Tell me about it. I still can't get over the Glorious Revolution."
"You paid attention to British politics?"
Jesus winced. "There was some religious aspect involved. I couldn't have paid less attention if I had wanted to. I have the entirety of the United States of America breathing down my neck. You'll feel it too. Every time someone says 'blood protection' or 'mother's love' within ten kilometres of Harry, you'll know."
"Yup, did you hear that? That's Dumbledore's speech from the end of the school year. You know, the one where he sends Harry back to Durshenna."
Lily gave him a look.
"Durstarus? Durskaban? Dursgatory? Dell?"
The glare continued.
"Dell? The Place of the Durs? The Dunderworld? Dimbo?
"I get what you're trying to do, but it's daft."
The white mists cleared to look like King's Cross station.
"Ah, that's better," said Jesus, as if he hadn't tried to make a pun about the Dursleys and places of torment. "Why'd you end up in Cokeworth?"
"Severus," said Lily, sadly. "He's never going to forgive himself, is he?"
"Send him a sign."
"He's a wizard and an Occlumens. He won't believe in miracles and won't have hallucinations."
"Occlumenses still dream."
"I suspect that his dreams of me would be too steamy for a married woman. Either that, or he'd be begging for my forgiveness and would dismiss everything I said as part of the dream. Maybe both. And who knows? Maybe he gets vivid visions of his Snapewives. Why did you have to tell me about that?"
Jesus grimaced. "At least he isn't going around thinking that sexy dreams of you are divine revelations."
At Lily's disgusted, incredulous look, he nodded. "Yeaaaahhhhh, that's why I mostly appear on toast these days."
Lily looked even more disgusted at that. "You were talking about yourself?!"
"I have been adored by millions of people for two thousand years."
They sat on the platforms, watching misty indistinct figures go by. The sun sat high in the sky above them, completely unmoving.
"What would happen if I got on a train?" Lily said after some time.
"You'd move on," Jesus said simply.
"Can't tell you," said Jesus. "You wouldn't hear the words. And I can't speak them."
"So all of the Kingdom of Heaven stuff you said on earth—"
"Abstract details. Metaphors. Obscured truths. Nothing concrete."
More time passed.
"If you went on, you could still come back," said Jesus.
"Back here, or back to earth. The two of us, we've got certain privileges. You didn't think I stayed here for two thousand linear years, did you?"
"The last enemy to be defeated is Death."
"Still not sure why Brighid made that your family motto, but yes. We can come back whenever we need to—in the flesh."
"So why haven't you?" said Lily. "Aren't there prophecies about that?"
Jesus grimaced. "Prophecies. I'm even less of a fan than you are, but a lot of them don't really have a time limit, you know? I did try to return, once or twice a few times in the early days. And you know what I saw? Everything sucked, even the stuff I'd tried to fix."
They pondered this, gazing upon the world, upon the son of man.
"I think Harry's in a good place," Lily said. "I can't watch over him forever."
"You could," said Jesus.
"I could," she admitted, "but it would break my heart to watch him fail."
"That's how I feel every day," said Jesus. "It's time for a break. It's been so long since I've seen my wife."
"Tell you on the way."
So the two of them got on a train.
END OF YEAR 1.