"We thought we could hold them off until more Aurors arrived," said Sirius, bloody palm pressed tight against his jaw. "But then more of them Apparated onto the other side of the grounds and Peter and Griselda are fading fast." His head disappeared from the fireplace for a moment, then reappeared. "I have to go."
Lily had her wand drawn before Sirius's head had vanished the first time. "We have to go," she said.
James wasn't about to disagree, though he did rest his hand on her still-flat belly for a moment. "Be careful."
"As careful as I always am," she told him, which wasn't really a comfort. But then she rested her hand over his for a moment, and he knew that what she might not do for herself, she would do for their child. "You too."
Ten minutes ago they had been talking about nappies and nursery colours and whether they should start the child off with Muggle toys or go straight to wizarding. Until they were reminded that there were things that needed to be done to be sure that any of that would even matter.
James was first through the floo, Lily right behind then rushing past to the front door. They had long suspected the Tewksbury house would be targeted -- it had, briefly, been Order headquarters -- but they'd thought it would be a focused, and ultimately fruitless, strike, not a full-strength hit.
"Go round back," said Alice as soon as they stepped out, catching her breath at the front steps of the house. The lawn was blighted with patches of witches and wizards battling, spells lighting up the night. "We're weaker there, though we don't think they've realised it."
Lily ran round the house on the outside; James cut through the inside, flying out the back door and stomping through the dead garden without a second thought. The grass crunched, frozen, but there was no snow. There were fewer people here, and like his wife had clearly done before him, he threw himself into the fray, casting hexes at a dark-robed figure until she -- he could tell by the furious shriek -- fell to the ground.
Whirling around, wand clenched tightly in his fist, James was prepared to defend or attack, whatever came next. He didn't know, at first, that there was anything different about the masked figure he saw striding toward him. Not until the mask was removed and he saw the eyes.
"Lily, get away!" he called out before doing anything else. Before even casting his first spell. She wouldn't, but she would have called the same to him.
"Stupefy!" he heard her shout, but from too low, like she was already on the ground. The spell did nothing, shattering off the protections surrounding the man they were trying to defeat.
"Potter," hissed Voldemort, stepping closer. "Oh yes, I know you. I've heard all sorts of things about you, you know."
"Incendio!" James shot at him when he regained his voice, but it, like Lily's stunning spell, sputtered out before it even reached him. Pity; James would have liked to have seen him go up in a pillar of flames.
"From what I know of your school years, you would have done well, siding with me, you know."
"You understand the superiority of our kind. You understand that force can be necessary to fulfil your goals. You know the thrill of power."
"Accio rock," said James, sneering at him. Not letting him know that any of his words might have hit home. He could just imagine, who would have been telling tales of James Potter in Voldemort's camp.
Stone in his fist, he left off with the spells and launched it at Voldemort's head. It struck true, too light to do much damage, but enough to be a distraction. He was just opening his mouth to hurl a stunning spell when Voldemort whirled back on him, no longer in the mood for conversation.
James had vowed he would never kneel before this man; when the unimaginable pain struck he fell to his side instead. Curled up and just tried not to scream.
Pain went on and on and on. But was still over sooner than he would've thought. A few moments of frantic panting and he was able force his eyelids to open, to look around at what was happening.
Aurors had started popping in all over the lawn. The odds became even, then swung dramatically in the Order's favour.
When he managed to look back up at his tormentor, as defiant as he could manage, Voldemort was already gone. And the Death Eaters who hadn't already fallen or fled were Disapparating rapidly.
Forcing himself shakily to his feet, he searched the ground nearby for his wife. Lily was no longer there either.
James stumbled backward slowly until his heels hit the stairs, until the last of the Death Eaters were gone. Then shook off the lingering effects of the Cruciatus curse through sheer will and took the stairs in two long strides, bursting into the house.
"She's in the parlour with Molly and Sirius," said Peter, taking his arm and steering him in the right direction when he unintentionally turned in the opposite. It was good to hear a friendly voice, when Voldemort's words were still echoing in his head. "Go on. I've got to help bind the prisoners."
James did know the way, now that his head was clearer, down the dim hallway and through the double doors into a small, lush room. Lily was flat on the carpet, with Molly hovering over her and Sirius pacing nearby.
"Lily," he said, falling to his knees at her side. "Lily, is everything...?"
Molly lifted herself to her feet slowly, Sirius immediately taking her arm so she didn't overbalance. The woman looked about ready to deliver at any moment.
"She took a crushing hex to the thigh," Molly told him kindly. "Richard has gone to fetch a mediwitch. She'll be fine."
But James laid his hand gently on his wife's belly and looked her in the eye. "Lily..." he said again. She put a shaky hand over his, as she had before they'd come.
"We're both fine," she assured him softly.
"What?" said Sirius immediately. "What? Is there a little Prongs in there?" And he was suddenly right by James's side, crouching down and reaching out to Lily, not quite touching. "Are you having me on?"
"Sirius Black," said Molly sternly, "unhand that woman immediately. She most assuredly is not having you on and I'd imagine she'd like a moment with her husband, if that's not too much trouble."
"No, no, it's all right," said James, once Lily smiled at him and he was certain she was, in fact, fine. Aside from the crushed thigh, which would surely have to be regrown once the mediwitch arrived. Thank Merlin Molly had done something for the pain. "There's no need to grope my wife, though; she assures me there'll be nothing to feel for at least a couple more months."
Sirius touched their joined hands for a moment anyway. "Hello, Little Prongs," he cooed at Lily's belly, "Hello in there. I'm your Uncle Sirius. Don't you be worrying about what's going on on this side of your mum's tummy, we'll take care of it."
"I think he's a little young to be noticing that bit," said Lily, but she rubbed her belly soothingly once Sirius and James had lifted their hands.
"And speaking of little ones," said Sirius, groaning softly as he lifted his battered body to its feet again, "this is the last place I thought we would see you, Molly, in your condition."
"Oh hush," she said. "This one won't be born for another month, and my brother's minding the others while his leg heals. Arthur only floo'd me when the fighting was finished."
"It was a bad one," said Sirius darkly, lowering his voice as though James and Lily didn't already know that first-hand. "First time they've struck us directly this hard, this openly."
"But not the last, I'm only too sure," said Molly with a sigh. "Arthur said you routed them soundly, and took down a few. We should have quite a bit of reprieve after this."
"While they regroup and grow," said Sirius. "I'm told we didn't lose anyone. That's something, at least."
Lily whimpered softly, and though James didn't dare touch her injured leg he did rub her forearm gently. "Is it hurting?" She squeezed her eyes shut and nodded slightly, but then with a deep breath she opened them again. "Bad?"
"No, not bad," she said. "It just hits, once in a while. Oh God, James, I thought I was going to lose you, there. I thought we were going to lose you." He leaned closer and she touched his face. "I can't imagine what we would have done."
"Kept fighting," said James. "And won." Though he couldn't imagine doing the same, if he lost his Lily. "When our baby grows up, Lily, it's not going to be in a world where he has to face this every day."
"Damned right," said Sirius.
"Bill gets nightmares," said Molly quietly. "He's old enough to know what's going on. Charlie too, though he insists he's big enough to face just about anything himself." She touched James's shoulder; he jerked involuntarily. "The mediwitch is here. I'm going to go see what else I can do to help."
"You too, Sirius," said James, touching Lily's fingers one last time before moving away to let the mediwitch do her job. "We're fine in here."
Sirius was watching James's hands as he stood; it took James a moment to realise they were shaking. "Cruciatus?" he asked.
"It was only for a moment," he assured both of them. "I'm fine. I'm fine."
Sirius looked dubious, but he nodded anyway. "Don't think I'm not going to come back after to find out why I didn't already know about the littlest Potter," he said warningly. "Honestly, James, I'm your best friend!"
"Which is why we were going to tell you this weekend when we had you over for supper."
"And don't you run straight to Remus and tell him too," added Lily. "We want him to hear from us."
"You want me to keep it from Remus?" said Sirius, giving them both a pained look. "Only for you, James, only for you. And I'm still coming to find you, after."
"Out, out, everyone who's not a patient," said the mediwitch, an older woman James didn't recognise. Molly and Sirius were quick to comply, but James wasn't leaving his wife's side. Not even knowing that she was fine.
"It's all right," said Lily. "He's my husband."
"They're always the worst," muttered the mediwitch, but she didn't force him to go. "You're a right mess, my dear. Though better than the poor bloke I saw just before you. Had his arm sheared clean off, he did."
Lily gasped. "Did you get his name?"
"Of course I did," she said. "Not that I recall it now. He'll be right as rain tomorrow anyway, just like you."
Lily downed the necessary potion with a grimace, and allowed the mediwitch to levitate her to the bed that James had hastily transfigured from an ornate armchair. He wouldn't have wanted to chance the journey home even without the mediwitch's advice against it, now that the need wasn't pressing. Besides which, they were already in what was currently the best defended location in wizarding Britain.
"It's going to hurt, before it's over," the mediwitch told her bluntly. "Try to get some rest."
"Yes, I've been through this before," said Lily with a soft sigh. "Thank you for your help." She gave Lily's arm a brief pat and then she too was gone, closing the door quietly behind her.
James sat on the edge of the bed, brushing Lily's messy hair out of her eyes. Someone outside the room called "Don't let him get away!" and several sets of feet pounded past the door.
"It will end," he said finally, after the footsteps had faded.
"Not soon enough," she muttered. He could see the tip of her wand peeking out of her sleeve, never far from her hand. "I never meant to bring a child into the middle of this."
"So we were a little precocious," said James, giving her a sidelong grin as he ran the backs of his fingers down her cheek. It was still damp with sweat. "I won't regret it. I want a half dozen of them running about one day."
She batted his hand away, finally smiling back. "That's because you won't have to carry them," she said, running a hand over her belly. "If I didn't know he was far too small, I'd swear he was restless in there. Or she."
"I'd be restless too, I think, after all that," said James, standing up suddenly and pacing to the fireplace. His heart still hadn't quite slowed and his nerves still tingled with remembered pain. "Even if I were just the size of a toenail."
"A toenail! James Potter, I can't believe you just compared your child to a toenail."
He paced back to her side again, and dropped to his knees by the bed, ending up nearly at eye level with her hands, her belly. Within striking distance, but he figured he would take his chances.
"I did no such thing," he insisted. "Let's see what we can do to calm the little nipper down, then."
"You're not going to do anything foolish, are you?"
"Of course not," he said, then cleared his throat and sang, "Sleep, baby, sleep."
"You do know you're tone deaf," said Lily with a soft laugh.
"Hush you." He continued humming the tune, resting his cheek against the bedsheets.
"The baby can't hear you."
"You don't know that," James insisted. "And even so, you can."
He remembered only a few of the words to a song he hadn't heard since he was a child, and wished not for the first time that there was someone left he could ask. "La la la the dreamland tree," he sang, "and from it fall sweet dreams for thee."
When he slipped into humming again, Lily sighed softly and tangled her fingers in his hair. "I'm sure he's fine now," he murmured finally.
"You're just saying that to make me stop singing."
"Maybe," she admitted, and gave the side of his head a tender swat. "I really think I ought to be the designated singer of the household."
"You should get some rest, too," he said, kissing the inside of her wrist before standing. "I'm astonished you're still awake as it is."
"Well, if you insist," she said, and shifted to try to become comfortable, a near impossible task with a crushed leg. "I suspect it won't be long."
"Do you want me to stay?" he asked her. "I can stay, if you like."
"No, go," she told him. "You'll probably roll right over onto my leg, if you stay, and I'd never forgive you. Go find Sirius and keep him out of trouble."
"Whatever you say," he said, and leaned in to give her one last kiss. "Love you. Love you both."