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Hundreds of owls soared over the rolling hills, casting their reflections into the inky waters of the Black Lake as they approached the stonewalls of the castle. One giant tentacle broke the stillness of the water as though in salutation or perhaps a half-hearted reach for a snack. As they fluttered in through the windows of the Great Hall, two of the birds broke from the ranks and flew towards a group of four boys, who were laughing despite the stacks of books and notes that surrounded them suggesting a long day of studying for N.E.W.T.s.

“Hullo, Elladora,” James Potter greeted the elegant brown and white Barn owl that landed in front of him and dutifully dropped a small package in front of his plate. James stroked the bird’s head. Elladora hooted affectionately and took off just as Remus Lupin hastily moved his goblet of pumpkin juice out of the path of the Daily Prophet that a school owl had just bombarded him with.

James ripped the brown paper off the package, revealing a letter and a small, black box. Setting aside the box, James read the letter first and smiled when he saw it was from his mother.

To my darling James,

I received your letter just the other day. Sounds like you’re being kept busy with N.E.W.T.s and your Head Boy duties. As always, I am so proud. And Lily seems like a lovely, dedicated girl, and, I suppose, is a great motivation to your studying. Your father and I were disappointed that we were not able to meet her over Easter, but I understand that her sister’s wedding must have kept her busy. Were off to what will no doubt be a dreadfully dull dinner party at the Minister’s tonight, so I am afraid I will have to come to the point of this letter rather quickly: I’ve sent you the ring.

As I was putting on my jewelry for dinner tonight and thinking about your letter, it just felt as though it no longer belonged to me. I’ve worn it so long (since your father proposed) that it was difficult to give up, but somehow I knew you’d need it sooner than expected. So there you have it; your father is shouting from downstairs for me to hurry up—he thinks I’m still doing my hair—so I’ll leave it at that. Give my love to my other son, Sirius, and my best wishes to dear Remus and Peter. You’re always in my thoughts.

Love always,
Mum


James eyes nearly bugged from his head while he read. When finished, he reached frantically for the box, and wrenched it open to reveal an old-fashioned diamond ring, glittering innocently in the morning light. It was a ring he’d seen a thousand, a million times in his life, though he’d never studied it. It was the ring, the engagement ring passed from mother to son down the Potter line for generations to be given to the next future Mrs. Potter when the time arrived. And his mother had thought he’d need it! He frowned. James didn’t think that there was a large chance of that happening, since Lily had been decidedly anti-marriage since she came back from Petunia’s wedding.

Sirius let out a low-whistle from across the table, calling James from his examination of the jewelry. His action also caught the attention of Peter and Remus, who paused unfurling his newspaper to stare at the ring. Each of their faces held the same surprised expression.

“That’s some swag, Prongs,” Sirius joked, “looking to liven up your wardrobe?”

Peter tittered, Remus rolled his eyes, but James just stared at his best friend and shook his head.

“It’s an engagement ring,” he practically whispered.

This statement had the effect of a small bomb as Peter fell out of his seat, Remus’ eyebrows rose so high that they disappeared under his hair, and Sirius choked and spit his pumpkin juice all over Remus’ still folded newspaper.

Ignoring Moony’s cries of, “Ugh, gross, Padfoot!”, Sirius leaned across the table and whispered furiously, “How come you didn’t tell me you were going to propose?”
He actually looked angry, maybe even a little hurt and betrayed, and the effect was scary. “I thought we were brothers.”

“I didn’t decide to propose! Were still in school for Merlin's sake!” James cried defensively, looking around to make sure his voice hadn’t been loud enough to call attention to their conversation and, especially, to make sure Lily was not yet in the Great Hall. He lowered his voice anyway. “Mum just sent it because she thought I’d need it sooner rather than later.”

Sirius, looking appeased, sat back and folded his arms across his chest. “Well,” he said.

“Well what?”

“Are you going to be needing that”—he pointed towards the ring—“soon?”

“I don’t…know…” James sighed and his eyes wandered back towards the heirloom, a small, but important part of his future inheritance.

Remus, who was attempting to dry his paper with his wand, exchanged a knowing look with Padfoot before finally settling in to read the day’s news. He unfolded the front page, took one look at the headline, and promptly choked on the piece of bacon he’d just eaten.

“Anyone we know dead?” Sirius asked casually at his outburst, though he was still studying James studying the ring. But when Remus’ only response was to stutter incoherently before falling completely silent, Sirius looked over. “What is it?” He asked far more seriously than before.

“Nothing…no one,” Remus replied hastily, clutching the newspaper protectively and glancing up to the staff table as though looking for help.

“Something,” Sirius argued and lunged for the paper. James, who still seemed dazed by his mother’s letter, ignored the two boys’ scuffle over the Prophet.

“No, really, Sirius, you don’t want to find out this…way,” Remus exclaimed as Sirius came away victorious.

Sirius smoothed the crumpled paper and read the headline that Moony had been so keen on hiding. He felt the blood drain from his face, his head spun as his mind tried to wrap itself around the information printed boldly--too boldly-- on the page. Tears sprung embarrassingly to his gray eyes. Sirius flipped the paper over, and slapped his hand over it forcefully thinking he’d rather die than let James read what he had read.

“I’m sorry,” Remus said in a voice that was barely a whisper.

“What?” Peter inquired, anxious to be let in on the secret, and James finally looked up from the ring to shoot a questioning gaze at his mates.

Before James could form the question “What’s wrong?”, McGonagall swept over to where they sat. James quickly pocketed the ring and the letter.

“Mr. Potter,” she said gravely, “The Headmaster would like to speak with you in his office.”

“Sure,” James replied, throwing one last curious look at his friends as he stood.

“Black, you’d better come too,” she added, noticing the newspaper and the stricken expression on Sirius and Remus’ faces. Sirius stood instantly and the three of them exited the Great Hall, passing Lily at the entrance.

Remus watched as Lily cast a curious glance at James, who shrugged, and then watched as her expression took on worried look as she took in the misery that emanated from Sirius. Sirius merely shook his head in her direction.

“Remus,” Lily breathed as she sped over to where he and Peter sat, “What’s going on?”

“Lily, I—“ Finding that words failed him, Remus turned over the newspaper that Sirius had left on the table. Lily gasped.

POTTERS FOUND MURDERED



The bodies of the former Department Head of Magical Law Enforcement, Charlus Potter, and his wife, famed ex-Quidditch star, Dorea, were found late last night on a street not far from the home of the current Minister of Magic, where they had attended a dinner party earlier in the evening. While authorities are sure that foul play was involved, it is still unclear as to whether these murders are connected to followers of You-Know-Who. The Potters leave behind one son, James, age 18, who is currently finishing his last year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. 

The Potters had often voiced their opposition to You-Know-Who in recent times, and…

Lily couldn’t bear to read anymore, and her thoughts turned to James as she tore out of the Great Hall in the direction of Dumbledore’s office, Remus and Peter hot on her heels.


A deafening silence has fallen over Dumbledore’s office, broken only by the whirring and clicking of the Headmaster’s gadgets. James eyes wandered over every object, tears leaking silently from his hazel eyes as he looked at anything except for the other people in the room. He caught sight of the silver glimmer of Floo powder above the mantelpiece, and it reminded him of the sparkling diamond ring in his pocket.

Surely, his mother could not be dead if he’d just received a letter from her this morning? And, if his mum was alive, then his dad must be too.

James brought his gaze back to the piercing blue stare of Dumbledore. “Is this a joke?” He asked, and he laughed without mirth.

McGonagall choked on a sob in shock, and Sirius tightened his grip on James’ shoulder. Dumbledore silently shook his head no.

“My mum can’t be dead!” He shouted, rage flaring up suddenly as he shoved off Sirius’ hand to pull the letter out of his pocket. “She just sent me this this morning.”
He waved the parchment is Dumbledore’s face.

The Headmaster remained infuriatingly calm, and simply said, “I am deeply sorry—“

“STOP! LYING!”

“Mr. Potter,” he heard McGonagall gasp in chorus with Sirius’s “Prongs, mate!”

James ignored them both, and with Quidditch trained reflexes he lunged for the bowl of Floo powder, tossed it’s contents into the fireplace, shouted “Potter Mansion!” and was gone before anyone could stop him.

James materialized inside the kitchen fireplace of his childhood home. Itty, the family house-elf, was sobbing into her dishtowel and jumped up when she saw him. He shut out her sobs and her howls of “Young Master James!” as he raced from the kitchen into the dining room, through the parlour and back to the sitting room.

“Mum! Dad!” He called repeatedly, wondering why they weren’t responding. Didn’t they hear how upset he was?

He pounded along the downstairs corridor into the foyer before heading up the stairs towards his parents’ bedroom. He poked his head through every door as he went, searching for proof that he was not alone, not an orphan. Finally, he reached the door that led to the room his parents’ shared. For the first time since he’d arrived home, his hand hesitated over the doorknob. James was frightened by what he would find or wouldn’t find. He wondered if he’d find his parents in the midst of a highly embarrassing act, and, as horrifying a mental image as that was, it would be a relief compared to the alternative.

James closed his eyes and steeled himself. He turned the doorknob and applied just enough pressure so that the door swung open of its own accord. He opened his eyes and saw nothing but an empty bedroom in pristine condition. The clock ticked steadily on the bedside table. The sheets were turned down, and his father’s slippers were sitting next to the bed, all done by Itty in expectation of his parents’ arrival home from the dinner party the night before. The only objects out of place were the parchment, quill, and inkbottle on his mother’s vanity. He could imagine his mother’s voice saying, “Itty, leave the mess on the dressing table; I’ll take care of it when I come home,” as she hurried to leave the house. Dorea always hated it when her son left his small messes for Itty to clean; she always said that he was taking advantage of the house-elf’s sweet nature.

Two pictures were tucked into the frame of the vanity mirror, and James wandered over to look at them. One was a picture of his mum and his toddler self, smiling mischievously even then, and the second was one of him and Lily that he’d sent his mother recently. He frowned at the picture, feeling as though the smiling teenager with his arms wrapped around the auburn beauty certainly wasn’t him. At least, it looked nothing like the sorrowful face that stared back at him from the mirror. James brought his gaze down to the parchment, where he could see his mother’s last words to him etched into it.

The sound of movement behind him caused him to turn around to find Sirius watching him from the doorway. He had his hands shoved into his pockets, and his stance was deceptively casual. However, even from a distance James could see the tracks of tears that ran down his best friend’s face. That confused James; he wondered why Sirius was crying when he wasn’t, but then he brought his hand up to his face and felt the wetness there. That’s when it all began to feel real.

He grabbed the two pictures from the mirror and strode towards the doorway. When he tried to brush past Sirius, he physically blocked James’ path and pulled him into a brotherly hug. He appreciated the gesture, but all he really wanted was to be left alone with his grief.

James wasn’t sure how he got back to Hogwarts; he thought Sirius might have pulled him through Side-along Apparition. The only thought in his head as they made their way up the sloping grounds was that everything seemed wrong. He wondered how the sun could be shining and how flowers could bloom when there should be thunder, and rain, and lightening like hellfire the day his parent’s died. He trudged slowly through the castle, ignoring the looks of the other students, and, when he finally made it to Gryffindor tower, he locked himself in the Marauder’s dormitory. He let no one in.

Padfoot knocked persistently at first, but then the knocks came only every once and a while before dying away completely. James didn’t know how much time had passed before a different knock sounded on the wooden door, followed by Lily’s voice calling for him. And for the first time that day, James considered opening it.

“James,” Lily gently called again with a second knock. James gripped his wand, but hesitated to cast the spell that would let Lily into the room, into his grief.

James heard Lily sigh through the wood. “You don’t have to let me in, but I’m not leaving either.” There was the sound of shuffling, and it sounded as though Lily had sat on the stairs.

He didn’t know if one minute or ten had passed before he raised his wand to open the door, but Lily, true to her word, was still there when he did. The sobs choked him the instant he saw her, and she was by his side in a second to hold him.


Hours had passed since James and Sirius had returned from the Potter house, and hours more since he’d let Lily into the room. Sirius, Remus, and Peter were preparing to sleep in the common room when they heard a lock click open. A minute later, Lily appeared at the bottom of the stairs to tell them they could come up now. They entered the room tentatively, unsure of what state their friend would be in, and were surprised to find James sitting up on the edge of his bed. He smiled weakly at them as they filed in.

James felt his heart swell with affection at the sight of his friends, and it lessened the ache in his chest a little. He truly appreciated their quiet support of him in what had been the worst day of his life. He was grateful for the small, sympathetic smile Wormtail shot him from across the room, for the valiant way Remus had kept him from finding out about his parent’s deaths from the Daily Prophet, Sirius’ often annoying but much needed persistence, and, more than anything, James appreciated Lily’s nonintrusive comfort that had finally brought him the strength to bear the pain--at least for that day. They were truly the only family he had left.

“Thank you,” he said to the room at large, causing the other boys to pause as they got ready for bed. “Thank you,” he added, this time specifically addressing Lily, who was sitting next to him.

Lily smiled up at him and ran a hand through his hair, messing it up in a way that always used to annoy her. “No problem.”

Soon, everyone was ready for bed, the lights were turned out, and Lily was curled up next to James. The room grew silent, and the only noise that could be heard was the sound of a kiss and quiet whispers from James’ bed.

“I love you, Lily.”

“I love you, too, James.”

From his bed, Sirius thought Dorea Potter had known what she was doing when she sent her son that ring, and James would probably be using it sooner than even he realized. With a pain in his chest for the woman who had been more of a mother to him than his own, Sirius breathed deeply, rolled over, and fell asleep.

A/N: This is a one-shot that has been bouncing around in my head for years, but a recent upsurge in *appreciation* has finally given me the motivation to write it. Please, read and review and let me know what you think.











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