Giles knew something was wrong as soon as he walked into the Potters' living room. Lily and Peter sat side by side on the sofa, both looking pale and hollow-eyed. Lily was turning an empty wine glass around and around in her hands, while Peter gnawed his nails. Across the room from them, Tobias prowled back and forth in front of the fireplace. Only Harry, blithely chewing the wing off a plush owl in his playpen, seemed immune to the tension.
"Giles!" Lily stood up shakily, leaning on the sofa arm for support. "God. We forgot you were coming, I'm sorry..."
"Not at all," Giles said automatically. "If this is a bad time--"
"No. I mean, it is, but that doesn't mean we don't want you here." Lily put her glass down with an alarmingly loud clank. "You can help us keep busy while we wait."
"I'll do my best." Giles dropped his book satchel onto the coffee table with a heavy thud. "Uhm… what are we waiting for exactly? Has something happened?"
"Emergency raid," Tobias growled. He had stopped pacing and was now standing with both hands braced against the mantelpiece and one foot tapping a nervous rhythm on the floor. "James and Anita got called in about twenty minutes ago. We don't know where they are."
"We don't know anything," Lily said. "We've all been sitting here slowly going crazy. Distract us, will you? Teach us something difficult."
Giles did his best, but it quickly became obvious that no one had any concentration to spare for his carefully prepared lecture on spirit guides. Peter made a very unconvincing pretense of taking notes, Tobias didn't even bother trying, and Lily kept getting up every couple of minutes to check on Harry as if he, too, might get called away on an Auror raid at any moment. Giles carried on gamely for almost half an hour before putting down his notes and gently plucking the quill from Lily's hand.
"I think," he said, "we'd better leave this for another time."
"No, I'm listening," Lily protested half-heartedly. Giles quirked an eyebrow at her, and she gave him a guilty little smile. "All right, maybe I'm not. But I'm pretending to listen, which at least is something to do. Something other than mindlessly staring at the walls, I mean."
"I know," said Peter. "Why don't we be stereotypical and make some tea?"
They did it the Muggle way, making a sort of group ritual out of it, cutting the sandwiches into dozens of perfect little crustless triangles while they waited for the water to boil. But when the tea was brewed and the table set and the sandwiches and biscuits laid out in pretty patterns on their platters, no one had any appetite at all. Even Peter, who could normally be counted on to eat anything that was put in front of him at any time of day, just sat there dunking a rosewater biscuit into his tea until it dissolved into a soggy mess.
"God, I hate this!" Tobias stood up clumsily, catching his chair a moment before it could topple over, and began to pace again. "On a scheduled raid, I at least have some idea where she is, but this… she might as well be on the moon. I wish she was on the moon, it's probably safer. I wish-- what?"
Lily and Peter were both frowning at him with nearly identical disapproving expressions. Lily looked as if she was about to say something, then shook her head and turned away.
"Nothing," she muttered, and took a determined bite of the cucumber sandwich she'd been toying with for the past two minutes.
Peter continued to frown. "Anita tells you when there's a raid scheduled? She's not supposed to do that."
"Well…" Tobias stared at his shoes. "It's not as if she draws me a timetable and a map. It's more like, 'I'll be in Liverpool tomorrow night dear, don't wait up.' I don't know why that should make me feel any better -- it's not as if I can actually do anything, even if I know which part of the country she's in -- but it helps, somehow."
"She's not supposed to do that," Peter repeated doggedly. "It's dangerous."
"What, as though I'm going to gossip with the neighbors about it?" Tobias gave a short, angry laugh. "We live in Muggle London. Our neighbors think Anita's an accountant."
"The Death Eaters know she isn't," Lily said flatly. "Anyway, it's against regulations."
Tobias scowled. "You going to report her?"
Before either Lily or Peter had a chance to reply, there was a flare of green light in the fireplace. The uniformed Auror whose blond head and broad shoulders leaned out of the flames was unfamiliar to Giles, but he was obviously familiar to the others. Lily and Tobias nearly bowled each other over in their rush to get to the hearth.
"Frank." Lily crouched in front of the fire. "What happened, is it over? James and Anita--"
"Are alive," Frank said quickly. It was hard to tell through the flickering flames, but Giles thought he looked pale, and there were dark smudges on his robes that could've been dirt or dried blood or just soot. "They're in St. Mungo's. Anita's having a few minor hexes removed, nothing serious. James..." he hesitated. Lily swayed a little, and Peter came over quickly to put his hands on her shoulders. "He's unconscious. Can you Apparate over straight away?"
"We'll be there at once," Lily said. Frank nodded.
"I'll tell them to expect you. Must go now -- people to see, stupid paperwork to fill out." He disappeared in another flash of green.
Lily stood, one hand clutching Peter's arm in a painful-looking grip. She looked over at the playpen, where Harry had abandoned the owl in favor of a battered, one-eared teddy bear which he was trying to mount on a too-small toy broom. "Giles..."
"Go," he said. "Stay as long as you need to. I'll watch Harry."
"Thank you." Lily's face and voice seemed calm enough, but when she hugged him, Giles could feel her trembling ever so slightly. "Uhm… The clean nappies are in the blue bin in the nursery, the baby food is in the cupboard over the stove, the first-aid kit is in the bathroom… The clock will tell you when to feed him. If I don't get back soon, I'll send somebody over so you're not stuck here for too--"
"I'll be fine," Giles said, hoping it was true. He'd never spent an extended period of time alone with a baby before; he wondered what he'd do in an emergency. The Potters didn't have a phone, and he couldn't imagine dealing with Floo powder, or with the huge, haughty-looking owl that lived in their back garden. Now was not the time to voice these concerns to Lily, however. Giles did his best to look competent and reassuring. It must've worked, because Lily managed a tiny, grateful smile.
"Tobias, do you trust me to Apparate with you, or would you rather we sent somebody over with a Portkey?"
"I'm not waiting," Tobias said grimly. Lily nodded and took his hand.
"Bye, Giles." She took a deep breath. There was a faint pop, and the two of them were gone from the room. Peter stared at the spot where they had just stood, and shuffled his feet.
"I hate this part," he said. "Here goes..." He closed his eyes and scrunched his face in concentration. "One, two, three..."
Pop. He was gone.
Giles sat in the window seat, which was within easy reach of the playpen.
"You'd better behave yourself, young man," he told Harry, "because I have no idea what to do if you don't."
"Woogagooga," said Harry. Giles decided to interpret that as "I will be good."
He tried to sit and read quietly, but found he was too distracted to focus on the page. His mind was filled with images of Lily keeping vigil at her husband's bedside. Giles wondered was wizard hospitals were like. Were they anything like the whitewashed, antiseptic places he was accustomed to, or was it as torch-lit and medieval as their police stations? Did wizard doctors produce miracle cures with a flick of a wand, or were they still sticking leeches onto their patients? Their world was such a hopeless hodgepodge, he never knew what to expect. But he'd seen enough to know that wizards bled and scarred and died just as ordinary people did.
Giles had never felt more useless in his entire life. There was a war on; a war which, if he understood correctly, was at least partially to protect people like him -- and all he could offer was books and lectures and babysitting services. He tried to tell himself that he was doing his bit. The wards he'd made with Lily, Tobias and Peter were supposedly protecting strategic places. Aurors now went into battle carrying little engraved scarabs that warned them of attacks from behind. And Sirius and Remus had reported that the scrying glass he'd made for them saw right through the traditional wizarding privacy charms. All of which seemed pretty irrelevant when weighed against the possibility that James might be dead.
He was supposed to be prepared for this, in theory if not in practice. Much of his early Watcher training had centered around learning to achieve the proper detached mindset. Quentin Travers had a standard lecture that he delivered to the recruits in their first month -- all about Necessary Sacrifices and the Greater Good and Remembering Priorities. Good and Evil were at war in the world, he had told them in a stern and resolute voice, and the Watchers' job was to work for victory, not to get emotionally attached to the cannon fodder. It had all sounded very noble and stoic at the time. Now Giles felt an irrepressible urge to track down Travers and sock him in the jaw.
It was almost a relief when Harry started fussing -- at last, Giles had something to distract him from his worrying and brooding. He leaned into the playpen and made silly faces. That worked for a couple of minutes, but once the novelty wore off, Harry's face again assumed the unmistakable distressed look of a toddler who wanted a parent. His lower lip quivered. His big green eyes got even bigger. His face went pink. He gave an experimental little whimper, then a whine, then a full-fledged, eardrum-shattering wail.
"Please don't do that." Giles scooped Harry out of the pen and cradled him against one shoulder, trying desperately to hold on tight enough to manage the surprisingly energetic squirming, but not tight enough to hurt. "What is it? Do you need to be changed? Uhm… apparently not. Of course, God forbid there should be a simple solution to the problem…" He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet and patted Harry's back with his palm. The wailing continued. "Look, we both know this is a temporary arrangement. Mummy will be back soon -- and Daddy too, I'm sure -- and everything will be back to whatever passes for normal around here. Until then, what do you say we both just wait it out quie-- oh, bloody hell, must you do that right in my ear?"
He walked around the room in circles. He found a rattle and shook it over Harry's head. He talked baby talk. Finally, he gave up in exhaustion and sank onto the couch, the baby still wriggling and wailing in his arms.
"All right, I give up. Caterwaul if you must, but can you at least get some rhythm into it? A melody, maybe? Look, it's not that hard. There's a laaaady who's sure all that glitters is go-old and she's buuuuuying a stairway..."
He was half-way through the third verse when he realized that Harry had fallen silent and was watching him with a befuddled but not entirely displeased expression. For a moment, Giles nearly forgot the lyrics in sheer surprise, but he recovered quickly, hummed his way through the next two lines, and picked up the next verse not only with the right words, but in the right key, too.
Harry turned out to be gratifying proof that the younger generation could appreciate proper music after all. He gave his full, openmouthed attention to "Stairway to Heaven," "Free Bird," and "Nights in White Satin." He gobbled his pureed carrots to the rousing beat of "Satisfaction." "Locomotive Breath" made him a little restless, but "Layla" calmed him down again. And he became so thoroughly engrossed by "Boris the Spider" that he didn't even notice his nappy was being changed. By the time the living room clock said "Bedtime for baby!" in a disgustingly chirpy voice, Giles was starting to feel rather hoarse; he was not at all pleased with his closing rendition of "Imagine." But his sleepy audience did not seem to mind.
With Harry tucked in cozily in his cradle, Giles was left alone with dark thoughts again. He prowled around the living room, too restless to read or sleep, examining random items from the shelves and tables. The snow globe with the Brighton Pavilion inside had to be a Muggle souvenir; one of his aunts had one just like it. But the iridescent green dragonfly inside the crystal paperweight on the end table actually fluttered its wings from time to time, and the cast iron griffin bookends turned their shaggy heads to follow him as he walked past. In a brass-framed photograph on the mantelpiece, James and Lily in their wedding clothes smiled and waved at the camera from under a rose-entwined arch. Behind them, Sirius was swigging champagne straight from the bottle and saying something that caused James to turn around and give him a playful smack on the side of the head. At the edge of the frame, a thin, blond woman in a pink bridesmaid's dress watched the proceedings with a disgusted expression. When James smacked Sirius, she curled up her lip and sneered.
Giles stood and stared at the photograph for a long time. It was a loop, he realized. A little bubble of time playing itself over and over. James and Lily waved, Sirius drank, James smacked, the blond woman sniffed, James and Lily waved… he wondered why Lily had chosen such a sour-looking bitch for a bridesmaid. A distant relation, maybe? They didn't look anything alike...
"Get some sleep, will you?" the clock grumbled at him. "You look all done in."
"Who asked you?" Giles grumbled back, but went and lay on the couch anyway. It was too short for him; he piled all the cushions under his head, propped his feet on the armrest, closed his eyes, and determined not to move until he fell asleep.
It must've worked, because the next thing he knew it was pitch black outside, and the clock read three in the morning. There was a crick in his neck, his left foot was asleep, and his eyes felt gritty. Giles yawned, sat up, and found himself looking up at Lily, who was standing in the middle of the room. It must've been her arrival that awakened him.
"Lily." Giles took her hand and gently drew her toward the couch. She sat down heavily and hugged a cushion to her chest. "Are you all right? Is James--"
"He'll be fine." Lily's voice was brittle. "He woke up a couple of hours ago. He's got a concussion and a broken shoulder blade and… and some other stuff that's not serious." She sniffled loudly and surreptitiously wiped her nose on the edge of the cushion. "It's just typical. Great big magical battle, Death Eaters everywhere, hundreds of curses flying back and forth, and in the middle of it all, my idiot husband manages to fall off a roof… I hope Harry didn't give you too much trouble."
"He was a perfect angel," Giles said solemnly. Lily sniffled again, this time managing to convey a healthy degree of skepticism with the sound. Her face was very pale, and her eyes looked swollen. She rocked back and forth in her seat, clinging to the cushion in her arms as if her life depended on it. Giles wanted to gather her into his arms and tell her everything was going to be all right, but he knew it would be an intrusion and a lie. Still, he couldn't stop himself reaching out to stroke her hair, just once.
"I'm glad James is all right," he said.
"For now." Lily shivered. "It's not as if the danger is over. It's not as if it's ever over. How long before it catches up with him, Giles? How long before it catches up with all of us?" She rose to her feet with a sudden, jerky movement and hurled the cushion across the room. It hit the wall above the fireplace and fell to the flagstones with a dull thud.
The air in the room suddenly felt thick and peculiarly charged; Giles felt his lungs struggling with each breath, as if a heavy weight was pressing on his chest. The candles in the chandelier flared brighter. The window panes vibrated audibly.
"I hate this. I hate this life!" Lily's hands clenched into fists. A vase on the coffee table cracked into four pieces. "I hate kissing my husband good-bye in the morning and not knowing if I'll ever see him again. I hate sitting down to dinner with my friends and wondering who'll be gone the next time we meet." The book case wobbled from side to side, spilling a small avalanche of books onto the floor. "I hate funerals, and there's another one every week, and James is out there killing people, and Peter says he's too unimportant to kill, but we all know it's bullshit, and I don't even know what the fuck Sirius and Remus are doing all the time, and they all come here and laugh about it like it's one big joke, and it's not a joke, it's my whole bloody life and I hate it!" Something crashed in the kitchen. The pictures on the walls rattled in their frames.
"Lily." Giles reached out and put one hand on her arm, but she jerked away from him, trembling. The dragonfly paperweight exploded. Giles curled his arms over his head and felt his hands sting where tiny shards of flying glass sliced across his skin. "Lily, stop." He stood and pulled her to him, holding her, not letting her pull away. "Please, you'll wake Harry. You'll scare him. You're scaring me. Please stop…" Even as he pleaded, right on cue, he could hear Harry's terrified howling upstairs.
"Oh, hell…" Lily buried her face in Giles' shirtfront. Her shoulders shook. Giles stroked her hair and made soothing noises, and felt the pressure in the air slowly recede. "I'm sorry," she mumbled after a while. "I don't know what--"
"It's all right. No harm done."
"I'd better go see to Harry." She pushed away from him, not roughly, but not in a way that invited argument, either. "I'll be back in a minute," she said and ran upstairs.
Giles took out his handkerchief and dabbed the blood from the back of his hands. The cuts were shallow and stopped bleeding quickly. He gathered the books from the floor and re-shelved them, and was looking for something to sweep up the broken glass with when the crying in the nursery faded to silence and Lily came back downstairs.
"I'll do that." She had her wand in one hand and a thick leatherbound book in the other. "Reparo." Giles got ready to duck, but it seemed she had herself under control now. The pottery shards on the coffee table floated upwards and neatly reassembled themselves into an undamaged vase. Another graceful wave of the wand, and the paperweight was back in its proper place, not as much as a nick marring the glass surface. "I'm sorry, Giles. I don't know what came over me. I've never lost control like that before."
"Then I'd say you were due." Giles gave her a reassuring smile. "Look, I think we both could do with a bit of rest. Would you like me to go, or stay and help you in the mor--"
"Stay," Lily said quickly. "I... I actually want to talk to you about something, if you're up to it." She held up the book she was carrying. "You lent me this last month, remember? I've been working my way through it, but it's really of difficult -- all the Greek and Sumerian mixed together like that, the translation spells just go crazy..." She sat down and opened the book in her lap. There's something here I want to ask you about."
"Now?" Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He felt achy and fuzzy-headed and not at all up to deciphering spells in two ancient languages. "Maybe if we sleep on it for a few hours--"
"Please. It's important." Lily patted the cushion next to her, and Giles obediently sat down. "I've been translating this spell -- tell me if I'm reading it right. The spell-caster invokes the goddess Inanna--"
"To shield a loved one in a time of war, yes." Giles leaned in to read over Lily's shoulder. "It's not so much a spell as a… a petition, I suppose. You invoke the goddess and… what's the phrase here… bare your heart for judgment. If Inanna finds your love is strong enough, she will shield your beloved from harm."
"Yes! I knew I had it right." Lily's eyes suddenly looked more focused, and a bit of color returned to her face. "I could do this, couldn't I? For James and Harry. I could keep them safe."
"I'm sure you could perform the spell, but…" Giles gently took the book from her hands and turned the page. "You haven't translated it all yet, have you?"
"Just the opening passages and the basic description of the ritual." Lily tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "Why, is it dangerous or something?"
"Not particularly, no. But you can only cast it once. On one person. And you can't waver, or doubt, or make a half-hearted choice. You must love one person unequivocally above all others."
"I..." Lily closed her eyes for a moment and pressed the back of her hand against her mouth. "I'd have to choose?"
"I'm sorry," Giles said helplessly. Lily shook her head, staring at the faded black text as if she could force it to say something different through sheer effort of will.
"I can't… it doesn't work that way. I could never choose."
"I know." Giles shut the book and put it on the table. "Very few people can. It's not a commonly used spell. I'm sorry, I wish I could do something."
"It's not your fault." Lily shrugged and forced a short, bitter laugh. "No miracle solutions for me, then. I get to cross my fingers and hope, just like everyone else. It just gets so exhausting sometimes… I'm glad you're here." She sighed and rested her forehead against Giles' shoulder.
Giles sat perfectly still, at a loss for anything useful to do or say. He was having enough trouble just keeping his eyes open.
"Lily?" he whispered after a while. No response. Her breathing was deep and stready. She didn't stir when Giles draped one arm across her back. Giles let out a long sigh that turned into a yawn. "Good night, Lily," he said softly and closed his eyes.
It took him forever to fall asleep again.
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