The End of the Beginning

By Marina

Chapter 15

October 31, 1981

"He's asleep," Lily whispered, tiptoeing into the living room. There was no real reason to whisper, with Harry happily curled up in his cot upstairs, but over the past couple of months she'd fallen into the habit.

"Good." James wrapped one arm around her waist and drew her into his lap, planting a kiss in the hollow of her throat. "Alone at last."

Lily nuzzled his shoulder and resisted the temptation to point out that they'd been alone for nearly a week, and were going to stay alone for the foreseeable future, maybe for the rest of their lives. They'd already had that row, complete with tears, smashed crockery, and James demanding to know if she thought he'd started this war on purpose just to annoy her.

It was all over and done with now, both the fighting and the making up. Here they were, in this quiet, comfortable house in Godric's Hollow, and here they were going to stay. A place to be safe, finally. All the usual protective spells were in place: wards against all the common destructive charms, shields against Apparition, spells to guard against fire and wind and water. And over it all, sealing off the house and garden like a hermetic bubble, lay the Fidelius spell. Lily could feel it without even trying, the strongest magic she'd ever touched.

They had each other. They had books and games and a Wizarding Wireless set to keep them amused. They had a year's worth of food in the pantry, stored under the strongest preserving charm Lily could cast. No one talked about what would happen when the year was up, and Lily wouldn't let herself think that far ahead. If she focused only on the present, she could think of the house as a shelter rather than a prison.

"Lil?" James caught her hand in his and pressed it lightly against his cheek. He needed a shave, Lily thought fondly. And a haircut. Though, to be honest, the scruffy look kind of suited him. "Are you all right? Something bothering you?"

"No, I'm fine." Lily wriggled closer and felt his arm tighten around her waist. "A little tired, that's all."

"Want a backrub?"

"Maybe later." She rested her head on James' shoulder and closed her eyes. "I'm comfortable right here." The Fidelius did have its advantages, she thought. The war was over for them. No more running, no more attacks. No more late nights pacing in front of the fireplace, waiting for James to come home from a raid. They'd had nearly a week of peace, of restful evenings by the fireplace and late mornings in bed. A girl could get used to that.

James slid one hand beneath her shirt and traced light circles in the small of her back, his fingertips warm and slightly callused against Lily's skin. She wriggled some more, and his breathing grew a little faster. Lily opened her eyes again and saw his face in profile, just inches from hers. His cheeks were flushed a little beneath the dark stubble, and his glasses were sliding down his nose.

"If you're so comfortable," he murmured, lips close to her ear, "then why can't you keep still?"

Lily plucked his glasses off and put them on the table next to the sofa. "Maybe I don't want to be comfortable."

A long, slow kiss. A warm hand sliding around from her back to her stomach and upward to cup her breast. Oh, yes. A girl could get used to this so very, very easily...

Something shifted in the air around them, a silent, barely perceptible shudder. Lily pulled away from James, alarmed without quite knowing why. A moment later, she knew. All the familiar wards were still there, layered protectively over the house. But the smooth bubble of the Fidelius was gone.

"James--"

"I know." His wand was already in his hand, even as his other hand groped across the table for his glasses. Lily scrambled to her feet, pulling out her own wand.

"What happened?" Stupid question. He couldn't know any more than she did. But she wanted so badly for someone to tell her that she was wrong, that this wasn't what she thought it was. Fragmented thoughts raced through her mind, each one too appalling to complete. Had they found Peter alrea-- but then Sirius-- one of them must be-- or both--

A clap of noise overhead, like a sonic boom. The whole house shook. One of the windows shattered. And nearly half the wards blinked out at once. Lily raised her wand by instinct and fired off a reinforcing spell, a fraction of a second behind James. The next attack made the wallpaper scorch and blister, as if acid were seeping through the walls, but the remaining wards held.

James staggered to the window and looked outside, whirled around, pressed his back against the wall. Lily had never seen his face so white before, never heard his voice so panicked.

"Lily, take Harry and go! It's him!"

The ceiling cracked, raining chips of plaster on their heads. Lily took a step toward the window on unsteady legs. Through the jagged remains of the pane, she could see a single cloaked figure standing in the garden outside. The cloak's hood shadowed the attacker's face, but there was no room for doubt about who he was.

Lord Voldemort had come for them in person.

The house shook again. The walls groaned, dishes shattered in the kitchen. Lily couldn't hear what spell James fired through the window, but the figure in the garden fell back half a step before raising his wand again. Lily cast another reinforcing spell just in time; the wards still held.

"Go!" James shouted. "Run! I'll hold him off--"

It was a lie. They both knew it was a lie. She almost challenged him about it, almost refused go. But Harry was crying upstairs, she could hear him, and she was all he had.

There was no time for goodbyes or final declarations. Lily brushed her hand against James' sleeve as she turned toward the stairs.

"Don't try to attack him directly," she said. "Just make sure the wards hold."

James nodded. He was still pale, but his eyes were cold and hard now, and his wand hand was perfectly steady. He turned away from her to face the door, which was now hanging askew on one hinge.

"Run," he said.

Lily ran.

She was two steps from the top when the staircase collapsed under her feet. The creak of shattering wood gave her just enough warning to leap, and she crashed face-first onto the landing with her legs dangling over the edge. She clutched at the carpet and hauled herself up. Only as she climbed to her feet on the blessedly solid floor did she realize that her wand was gone from her hand, lost in the pile of rubble ten feet below.

There was no time to berate herself. The house was coming apart around her, the wards were collapsing one by one; there was no telling how much longer James would hold out. Lily kept going. She felt strangely light-headed, and her shirt stuck uncomfortably to her skin. She tugged at it, and felt a warm, sticky wetness under her fingers. When she held up her hand, it was smeared with blood. There were several jagged scratches across her stomach where she must've cut herself on the broken floorboards as she climbed onto the landing. Lily wiped her hand on her skirt and kept moving. She felt no pain.

The nursery was a disaster area, most of the furniture overturned, the contents of the toy chest scattered all over the floor amidst shards of glass from the broken window. Harry was sitting up in his cot, plaster dust all over his hair and face and blue baby-duck pajamas, crying at the top of his lungs. Lily lunged toward him. The floor pitched under her feet and she fell onto her hands and knees. Something crumpled under her right hand. She looked down and saw that she’d fallen over one of Giles’ books. She’d been reading it earlier, as she’d sat next to the cot waiting for Harry to fall asleep. Less than ten minutes earlier. A lifetime ago. Now one page was torn in half, and the page beneath it smeared in blood, a sticky red handprint right across a beautifully rendered circle of runes.

Lily recognized the symbols even as she was climbing back to her feet. It was the protection spell Giles had told her she couldn’t cast. The invocation to Inanna, and the impossible choice that came with it. She had been poring over it for weeks, searching for a loophole, some way to expand the goddess’ protection to cover two people instead of one. She could recite the spell in her sleep by now, but she still hadn’t found a way to alter it.

Inanna... Lady... supreme in heaven and earth... The words of the incantation rang in Lily’s mind as she staggered across the room. She had never prayed before, not for real, but now it made her feel stronger somehow, less alone. An illusion, but one she sorely needed. I open my heart for your judgement... Queen of all given powers... protect my son...

She bent down to lift Harry from the cot, then stopped, struck by the cold realization that she had no idea how to get out of the house. There was no way downstairs anymore. She had no wand. Lily ran to the window, wrapped the curtain around her hand to clear the remaining bits of glass out of the way, and looked out. Ten feet to the ground, maybe a little more, with thick grass below. Alone, she could’ve jumped down easily. With Harry in her arms... there was no choice, she had to risk it.

Protect him, Lady... enfold him in your hands...

The floor pitched her off her feet again. She banged her head on the windowsill as she went down, hard enough to blur her vision for a few seconds, and when she could see again, she wasn't alone in the room.

A woman stood next to Harry's cot, naked except for a broad collar of turquoise and hammered gold around her neck. She was nearly as tall as the ceiling, mahogany-skinned, with generous hips and breasts and a round, bulging belly. She gazed down at Harry with serene black eyes and Harry stared back, spellbound, no longer crying. The woman brushed her fingers lightly over his hair and turned toward Lily.

"Are you ready for judgment, daughter?" Her voice was low and musical. She wasn't speaking English, yet Lily understood every word.

"Who are you?" she whispered, but it was an empty question. She already knew the answer.

"You summoned me here." Inanna swept one out in a circle to indicate the room around her, or the whole house, or maybe the planet. "With your prayer and your blood, you called me to this realm to judge your heart. Are you ready, then?"

Downstairs, something exploded. The few remaining wards blinked out of existence, one by one. There was a moment of total, unnatural silence. And then someone laughed -- cold, high-pitched laughter that made Lily's skin crawl. There was nothing human in that sound.

Lily knew she should be moving, but her body felt cold and leaden. Even breathing was an effort. James is dead. She was sitting on a striped blue rug with alphabet blocks and stuffed animals scattered all around her, there was a goddess standing over her son’s cot, and James was dead. There was no sane response to this. The pieces didn’t fit.

Harry whimpered, and the sound snapped Lily out of her paralysis. She had to get him out. James had died to give her these extra minutes; she couldn’t let them go to waste. Lily grabbed the sill with both hands, pulled herself to her feet, and lifted Harry into her arms. Even standing, she had to crane her neck to meet Inanna’s eyes.

"This is my son," she said. "He’s all I have left. If you’re really here because I called you, then save him. Please."

Inanna held out her arms, and Lily placed Harry into them before she realized what she was doing. The goddess cradled him against her chest, examining him with a faintly curious expression. Harry stuck his fist in his mouth and drooled contentedly all over it. He did not seem bothered at being picked up by a giant, naked stranger. Inanna held him a long time, but Lily felt no sense of urgency. She knew, without knowing how she knew, that time was suspended around them. Nothing would happen until the goddess was ready.

"A fine boy." Inanna rocked him gently, unmindful of the baby drool on her gold collar. "He will have power one day, if he lives long enough. But you have power now, and the skill to use it. I could use a mortal like you in my service. Perhaps I will save you instead."

"No." Lily tried to take a step forward, but an invisible hand seemed to hold her pinned. This wasn’t right, this wasn’t how the spell was supposed to work... "Please. That's not why I called you here."

"You called me to ask for my judgment." Inanna’s eyes were dark and pitiless. "Will you quibble with it now? I am entitled to take a life and to save a life. Is it not a fine bargain, to save yourself in exchange for the child? You’re young. You will have other sons."

"No!" Lily shrieked, struggling frantically against the force that held her in place. Every warning Giles had ever given about dealing with gods and demons was coming back to her all at once. They don’t think the way we do, they don’t feel what we feel, the things that matter to us are nothing to them... "Please. Not Harry. Take me. Kill me instead. Not Harry, please..."

"I’ve made my decision." Inanna kissed Harry on the forehead, placed him back in the cot and vanished from the room in a shimmer of pale blue light. Lily suddenly found that she could move again. She lunged forward, screaming for the goddess to come back, to have mercy, to take anything she wanted but not Harry, please, she would do anything...

The door flew off its hinges and crashed to the floor. Voldemort strode into the room, cloaked and hooded like a Dementor. Harry began to cry again, even louder than before, as if he knew what was coming. Voldemort’s eyes glowed blood red within the hood’s black shadow. The sleeve of his robe slid back to reveal a scaled gray hand as he raised his wand.

Lily stepped in front of the cot to block his line of sight. A meaningless gesture, but it was all she had left. James, at least, had died fighting. She couldn’t even manage that.

"Step aside," Voldemort hissed.

Lily shook her head and reached behind her to curl her hands around the corners of the cot. Now that it was all over, she felt strangely calm, or maybe just numb. She had begged and pleaded with Inanna, but she wasn’t going to plead with this obscene thing.

"Step aside, silly girl. I’m not here to harm you."

Let him hiss and rage at her. Every second he stood there talking was another second Harry lived. Amazing how every breath mattered all of a sudden.

"Are you deaf, girl, or just stupid? I told you to move."

She couldn’t attack him where he stood. She was too far away. He might have time to throw a curse at Harry before she reached him. But if he came closer, she’d do it. Who needed magic, anyway, she didn’t need a wand to scratch his bloody eyes out...

Voldemort flicked his wand. Lily’s feet moved of their own accord, carrying her away from the cot in clumsy, shambling steps until she smashed into the wall.

"That’s better. I’ll teach you obedience yet, girl."

He swung the wand away from her toward Harry, and she could move freely again.

"Avada—"

She pushed away from the wall and threw herself forward, right at him, right at his wand. If she could only get it away from him, maybe she could—

"Kedavra!"

A flash of gre--

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