The Fall of the House of Potter
Author's Note: Further to the issue of timelines, it is widely accepted that Voldemort killed the Potters on October 31, 1981, and that Harry went to Hogwarts for the first time on September 1, 1991. It is not possible, given textual evidence, for both of these to be true.
In the fourth paragraph of Chapter 1 of Philosopher's stone, it quite clearly states that the day after the Potter's death was a Tuesday. "When Mr. and Mrs. Dursley woke up on the dull, gray Tuesday our story starts, there was nothing about the cloudy sky outside to suggest that strange and mysterious things would soon be happening all over the country." (I will not get into the Bulwer-Lytton-esque phrasing of that sentence, especially the "our story starts" except to wonder where her editor kept his head.) This means that Halloween in the year the Potters died was on a Monday. In 1981, Halloween was on Saturday. It wasn't on Monday until 1983. So if we go by this, then Harry would have started school in 1993. Later in the text, she mentions that Harry's eleventh birthday, July 31, is on a Tuesday. This is not true of 1991, when it is on a Wednesday, or of 1993, when it is on Saturday. It would be true of 1990. Between these items, it is clear that it is impossible for Philosopher's Stone to have happened in any year. Then there's the erratic number of days between full moons in Prisoner of Azkaban. In Goblet of Fire, both September 1 and 2 are Mondays, and then September 1 is a Monday again in Order of the Phoenix.
The question is, did JKR screw up the dates deliberately, so as to place the stories in a timeless "always now", or was she just too lazy to get a calendar for the years in question and keep it with her manuscript and notes? The "official" timeline pins down Harry's birth in 1980, so any attempt to keep it timeless has failed.
For Fidelius, I've started with the 1981 date, so Halloween is on a Saturday. Harry isn't going to the Dursleys anyway, so it doesn't matter if Uncle Vernon is going to the office on a Sunday. For future use, I'm going to at least attempt to adhere to the real world calendar, even if it means shifting the dates. It is AU, after all. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!)
Spell note: It's not clear from canon what the effect of Avada Kedavra is on the victim (aside from making them die, of course). In the beginning of Goblet of Fire, the Riddle family are all found dead in their chairs, with open eyes and expressions of terror on their faces. At the end of Goblet, Cedric just looks surprised, and his eyes are open. Dumbledore's eyes are closed and "he might have been sleeping." (You know, I'm now finding it suspicious that the HP Lexicon doesn't mention Snape killing Dumbledore with the Curse in its listing of times it was used in Canon. If they mention Bellatrix using it on a passing fox, you'd think they'd mention Snape using it on the greatest wizard of the age. Hmm.) Anyway, I'm going to go with all victims of the Curse having a look of terror on their faces. The fact that it causes terror so great its victims hearts stop is what makes it an Unforgiveable (as opposed to a simple Slashing Curse or something, which can be just as efficient in killing but is not Unforgiveable).
Disclaimer: Not mine! Not mine! *Runs away from lawyers*
The Fall of the House of Potter
October 31, 1981 — Pettigrew House
Halloween dawned crisp and clear. Peter was looking forward to it; Saturday's break in routine was always welcome, and this Saturday more so than usual. Martha had invited him over to have the Halloween feast with her and her husband and son, Seamus. She had finally got round to telling Thomas the secret that she should (in Peter's opinion) have told him before they were married. According to the letter inviting him, they had had a truly glorious fight, with much crockery flinging on both sides, after which they had kissed and made up and Martha had demonstrated what a useful thing magic was by repairing all the broken dishware. Now Thomas wanted to know all about the Wizarding World and its traditions, so Martha was putting together a traditional family feast, complete with pumpkin juice.
Peter volunteered to Portkey over early and take care of his nephew while Martha concentrated on the feast. Little Seamus was such a troublemaker that he was going to need both men to ride herd on him, especially since he had just started displaying wild magic. It was that, in fact, which had led to Martha having to explain things to Thomas, after a hungry Seamus had turned every liquid in any bottle in the house into milk. Keeping the lad happy and unfrustrated was the best way to prevent random things from happening. That Peter enjoyed spending time with the boy was a bonus.
Unfortunately, just as they sat down to eat, the signet ring Peter wore began to become warm. He did his best to ignore it, but after a short time it started to get warmer, until shortly it felt like his hand was being consumed in a blazing fire. He looked down at it in his lap, expecting to see it blackened and shrivelled, but it still looked whole and healthy — maybe a little pink around the band of the ring, but that could also have been his imagination.
"Are you feeling all right, Peter?" Martha asked in concern.
"I'm fine, fine … well, I have a bit of a headache," he admitted, as the pain surged to a new level that made sweat pop out on his brow. "I think … if you don't mind, Martha, I'd like to have a bit of a lie-down."
"Of course, you look terrible. Do you want me to call a healer? That's our kind of doctor, Thomas, they deal with magical and regular physical things," she said in an aside to her husband, who was looking quizzically at her.
"No, I'm sure I'll be all right shortly."
"Here, let me see you up to the guest room then," she said, rising and helping him from his seat. He would have protested that he didn't need the help, but her big-sisterly nature was in full command, and she firmly took his arm and led him up the stairs, ensconcing him in a guest bedroom and fussing over him until he snapped at her and told her he wasn't going to be getting any rest if she kept it up, and would she please leave him alone for an hour or two? He'd come down later when his head wasn't hurting quite so badly. Somewhat miffed, she flounced back down the stairs to rejoin her family. Peter waited a few moments, then sat up, pulled his shoes back on again, and touched the stone on the ring. "Dominus" he said, almost whimpering.
The portkey grabbed him and whisked him out of the room.
When the world reformed itself around Peter, he found himself in a small stone room, with no windows, and a solid oak door. There were two chairs, one plain wooden one and one luxuriantly upholstered one. A modest table stood near the wooden chair, and an ornately carved mahogany one with clawed feet and a marble top was just to the right of the upholstered chair. Light was provided by oil-filled lamps mounted on the walls and a branch of candles on each table.
Peter knew this room; he'd been here before. He had no idea where it was, of course. Whenever the Dark Lord summoned him, this was the room to which the Portkey brought him, and he had never seen anything outside of it. He wasn't even sure if it was in England at all.
His hand still aflame with agony, he sank into the wooden chair with a sigh. Not for the likes of him was the upholstered arm chair; that was for Voldemort. Ordinarily, the warmth of the signal stopped as soon as he activated the Portkey, but this time he was being punished for his delay. Even the furnishings of the room this time showed that. It was far more austere than usual. On previous occasions there had been food or drink waiting, and the Dark Lord might favour him with a casual chat before they got down to business. Not this time. He cradled the affected hand against his chest and gritted his teeth to suppress a moan.
After a time, the pain stopped abruptly, leaving a burning feeling that ran from his fingertips almost to his elbow. A few moments later, with a soft *pop*, a small potions vial containing a pale blue liquid and a goblet of water. Fumbling with the stopper to the vial, he sniffed at it suspiciously.
Suddenly, the door swung open. Voldemort stood in the opening, silhouetted against a background of torchlight. "Do not fear to take the potion. It's only a restorative to relieve your discomfort. I wished to express my displeasure, not give you nerve damage."
Peter hesitated another moment, then took the potion in a gulp. The taste was vile, and the water greatly appreciated as it helped get the flavor out of his mouth.
Voldemort strode into the room and settled himself in his chair. "Now then, what was so important that you delayed answering my summons?"
"My Lord, I was … I was with others. I had to wait until I could leave without suspicion."
"I don't care what your sister and her Muggle husband suspect," snapped Voldemort, confirming for Peter the suspicion that he was watched, at least part of the time. "If you had been with your Marauder friends, or an Order meeting, it would have been different. If you would advance in my service, you must be prepared to put aside family matters, and attend when you are called."
Like a cocker spaniel, to run to my Master when he whistles? Peter thought with some bitterness. Advancing in Voldemort's service had never been anything he aspired to.
"I trust the lesson has been learned," Voldemort continued, "and will not have to be repeated?"
"It will not, Master," Peter whispered. He had been quick to learn Voldemort's "lessons", given during their first meeting here. When to stand, when to sit, how to address the Master. He didn't mean any of it, of course, but there was no point in courting pain by disobeying. At least that was the logic at first. Over the past months, however, Peter had found himself taking pleasure when Voldemort showed him some kindness, or seemed interested in his news. It was more than avoiding punishment. It was actively striving for approval, and Peter knew that he was being trained, but somehow he was helpless to stop it.
Voldemort flicked his wand, and a folded piece of paper appeared on the table next to Peter. He picked it up with fingers that still shook slightly. It was half of an advertisement, folded over on itself, for a band that performed at the pub near Pettigrew House from time to time. Unfolding it, he saw his own handwriting, slightly shaky, spelling out the words, "I have information."
"A little more information in your note would have been helpful," said the Dark wizard. "As it is, the owl took a day or two to catch up with me, as I was travelling at that time. By the time I was able to deal with it, you had put that ward up against postal owls. Very nice work, by the way. I've been using it myself for some time."
"Why would you need to …" Peter started to ask, then stopped himself. "I'm sorry."
"No, it's quite all right. There are very few, indeed, who would wish to bother the greatest Dark wizard Britain has ever known with Howlers and unwanted solicitations. But there are a few who would dare, either from insanity or a surfeit of idiotic bravery, and I found that getting disjointed Howlers addressed to 'You Know Who' was quite annoying. So I put an end to it." He held out his hand, and the note floated from Peter's fingers into the Dark Lord's grasp. "This is the first chance I've had to call you to discuss this matter. What information did you have that was so important you needed to tell me without waiting for me to summon you, but which you were so reluctant to provide that it drove you to being so terse?"
"It was … about the Potters."
"You know where they're hiding? Or you knew at that time. Have I missed an opportunity? Have they gone to another of Dumbledore's cursed 'safe houses'?"
"They're … not in a safe house. They needed to settle down, you see, for the sake of the baby. But wards wouldn't be enough to keep them safe. They knew that any ward they could make, you could break through."
"True enough," said Voldemort. "Though a ward of Dumbledore's might give me pause. Where are they then?"
"At a house that belongs to James' family." Peter was finding it abnormally hard to keep from answering the Dark Lord's questions, but at least he could try to avoid answering them fully.
"I've kept all the known properties under surveillance; they're not at any of those," said Voldemort waspishly. "If wards wouldn't keep them safe, what did they do instead?"
"They put themselves under a spell called the Fidelius Charm."
"I don't think I've ever heard of it," admitted Voldemort with great reluctance.
"It's very old," said Peter, "and quite complex. Dumbledore found it somewhere."
"He would. What does it do?" Voldemort asked.
"It places the secret of a person or thing's location in the mind of another person, a Secret Keeper. This makes anyone else unable to remember the location, or even see the place, unless they're told by the Secret Keeper where it is. And even then, they can't pass it on to anyone else. Only the Secret Keeper can reveal the information."
Voldemort leaned back in his chair and toyed with a large silver ring on his left hand while he contemplated the information. "Hmm. A tricky spell indeed. It far surpasses mere Unplottability, or even illusions or Muggle Repelling Charms. What happens if the Secret Keeper dies?"
Peter's throat suddenly became very dry. "I … I don't know. Possibly the place is lost forever. Maybe that's why the Charm fell out of use."
"We wouldn't want to risk that," said Voldemort. "I want to find them, not lose them for all time. I would imagine that the Secret Keeper is someone they trust implicitly, and who is powerful enough to keep it. Dumbledore, perhaps. Or, no, possibly Black. Well, he should be easy enough to break. Tell me, Peter, do you know who this Secret Keeper is?"
"Yes … Master. I know."
"Well, who is it?"
"It's … Master, I am their Secret Keeper." The words came unwillingly from his reluctant lips, but they came all the same.
"You? They trusted you with their secret? Oh, this is just marvelous! What delicious irony!" As the Dark Lord spoke, his voice began to rise in pitch, from his normal careful modulation to a sinister cackle. Peter shivered; the sophisticated, urbane man he'd known, however dangerous, was changing into something else, something evil and terrifying.
"You have served me well, Peter," said Voldemort, rising from his chair and standing in front of the frightened young man. "Perhaps not willingly, not at first. But better, in the end, than most of my followers. Accordingly, you shall be rewarded." With the speed of a striking snake, his hand lashed out and grabbed Peter's left wrist. Peter tried to pull back, but he was weakened by his previous ordeal, and the Dark Lord's grip was like iron. Roughly, Voldemort shoved the sleeve of Peter's robe back. Peter was wearing a Muggle-style shirt beneath, and Voldemort tugged sharply at the cuff, making the button fly off into some unknown corner of the room. The Dark Lord pushed Peter's shirtsleeve up as well, exposing his forearm.
Peter was still struggling futilely. He knew what was coming now. "Master, don't, please! Didn't you say you didn't want to Mark me? That you didn't want anyone to know?"
"Ah, but shortly those reasons will no longer concern me, Peter. This is a very special night. I have preparations to make, and then we will go and see the Potters. When we return, and we stand before my followers to declare my victory, I shall present you as my trusted lieutenant, and you shall claim your prize!"
Then Voldemort pressed his silver ring against the soft flesh of Peter's forearm, just below the crease of his elbow. "With this sign I Mark you!" he exclaimed. "As long as you live, you are mine!" Pain shot up Peter's arm and ran through his whole body, pain such as to make what he had experienced before seem like a mere ache. The Dark Lord held the ring there while chanting spell after unknown spell. Peter swore he could smell the skin burning, and tasted the copper tang of blood where he bit his own lip trying — futilely, in the end — to stop himself from screaming. He heard strange, high-pitched laughter as the darkness rose and he pitched forward into its blessed relief.
He woke to find himself in a comfortable bed in the same room. His outer robe and his shoes had been removed, but he was otherwise still dressed in the Muggle clothes he'd worn to his sister's house. Pain coursed through him as he tried to move, but it was not as intense as before. Reluctantly, but with a sort of morbid curiosity, he pushed the mangled sleeve of his shirt back to expose the Mark. He expected it be a mass of blisters or an open sore, but there was no trace of violence to the skin; just a small black symbol, about an inch long, looking like a well healed tattoo, in the same design as the ring that had placed it there: a skull with a snake protruding from its open mouth. Peter shivered. He wore the Dark Mark. It didn't matter, now, whether he had taken it willingly or not; it was an automatic ticket to Azkaban if anyone saw it. Even his friends would turn against him now. Only if his … his Master, he thought, hating the way the word sounded — only if Voldemort won would Peter and his family be safe.
The door swung open again, and once again Voldemort stepped into the room, as if summoned by Peter's mere thinking of his name. "I see you are awake at last. Come, the hour grows late, and we have much to do. First we must see you properly outfitted; those Muggle things you're wearing are far from appropriate." He turned and strode out into the hall, confident that Peter would follow behind him like a properly trained pet — which Peter, after two failed attempts to lurch to his feet, and much to his own disgust, did. This was the first time that Peter had been allowed out of his room, and he looked about with curiosity. At first he thought they were in a castle of some kind. The stone-walled corridor had that feel of age that Hogwarts had. Shortly, however, they emerged into a much more opulent area, where the walls were covered with fine oak panelling and the floors, while still stone, were softened with thick carpets. They passed through a residential area where Peter peered into lavishly furnished bedrooms and sitting rooms as they passed.
Finally they came to a large room which was fitted out almost like the fitting room of a fine robe shop. Here he was given into the hands of a house elf, who rapidly measured him and then produced a set of black, hooded robes while Voldemort waited impatiently. When he put them on, they fit perfectly. His Muggle clothes Vanished with a snap of the house elf's fingers.
Then Voldemort picked up something white and smooth. It was a mask, featureless except for eye holes. Ignoring Peter's look of horror, he pressed it to the younger man's face and spoke a temporary Sticking Charm made it cling.
Peter looked at himself in the fitting room mirror and recoiled at seeing the Death Eater reflected there.
"Now you look like one of my proper followers," said Voldemort, and Peter thought there was actually a touch of pride in his voice.
Another soul corrupted and damned, isn't it wonderful?
"Follow me to the Apparation Chamber," said the Dark Lord, and once again, Peter followed him like a damned puppy, raging at himself while walking docilely at heel. He couldn't stop himself, and wondered, vaguely, if this was what being under the Imperius felt like. But no, he suspected he'd know if that had been cast on him. He didn't have that excuse. The fates wouldn't be that kind, to provide him with one.
The Apparation Chamber proved to be a large round room with heavy shielding spells built into the walls and a one-way pass on the door. Anybody could walk (or Apparate) into the thing, but you had to know the password to get out, either way. If you weren't supposed to be there, tough. You wound up waiting until somebody (probably an unfriendly somebody) came to find out just how the hell you'd got in.
Voldemort pushed Peter into the middle of the room and took his place by his side, holding his arm tightly. "You know where to go, Peter. And I warn you, if anything goes wrong, the remainder of your life will be short and your death long."
Peter wondered for just a brief moment if he had the nerve to make them have a fatal splinching. It would solve a lot of problems. But knowing his luck, it wouldn't be fatal after all, and would leave his parts commingled with Voldemort's forever. Not a good idea. He pushed himself into the Apparation, and both he and the Dark Lord vanished from the Chamber.
Side-Along Apparation had the advantage of producing only one "CRACK!" when both parties arrived. The residents of the Dower Estate, if they heard and paid attention to the sound, would believe only one person had come to the Apparation Point, and there was only one person it could be.
The Dark Lord released Peter's arm and looked around, seeing nothing but a dark country road with even darker trees leaning in from either side. With the sliver of a new moon already set, the only light was starlight, but that was enough for him to pick out the white oval of Peter's mask.
"Are you sure this is the right place? I must say it doesn't look like much," the Dark Lord sniffed in disdain.
For his part, Peter could clearly see the white fence along the side of the road, and the gleam of light from the downstairs windows of the Dower House. It was probably James; he had always been a night owl.
"It's the right place. The house is right over there, but you won't even be able to see it unless I tell you the Secret."
"Then do so, and be quick about it!" the Dark Lord snapped.
"Listen well, Master," Peter said, his voice shaking. ""The Potter family lives on the Dower Estate at Godric's Hollow. Think of that now."
He could tell from the Dark Lord's hiss of surprise that the trees had again rushed to the side to reveal the house and gardens. "A useful spell indeed," Voldemort murmured. "You must teach me this. My followers will find it very useful to hide things from the Ministry."
"I don't know the details. Dumbledore taught Lily, and she set the spell up."
"I shall just have to convince Mrs. Potter to cooperate, then. It should be easily enough done; she's only a Mudblood, with a Mudblood's sensibilities, after all. They have no ability to tolerate … unpleasantness."
Peter had a sneaky feeling that Voldemort was being overly casual in his dismissal of Lily's abilities, but since it hadn't been a direct question or statement demanding a response from him, he was able to keep his mouth shut.
There was a gate in the white fence marking the edge of the property, and both Peter and Voldemort could tell it was keyed into the wards, so Voldemort sent Peter through first, with the Dark Lord following close behind. If James or Lily were paying attention, they would have heard one Apparation and now sense Peter entering the grounds …
As they approached the house, the front door opened, and Peter could clearly see James standing in the foyer. Stupid, stupid! he thought. Have you forgotten basic security so soon, James? You're backlit, we're in the dark … James looked slightly rumpled, and Peter assumed that the couple had been interrupted in the middle of a snog session when the wards alerted them.
"Peter? Is that you? What's wrong? Has there been an attack? What …?" James suddenly broke off as Peter and Voldemort's figures came into view, and his wand slid from his forearm holster into his hand.
"James, you don't understand! We just want to talk to you!" cried Peter, momentarily forgetting the way he was garbed and masked.
"Peter, you … how could you?" James asked, then shouted, so he could be heard more clearly within the house, "Lily, take Harry and go! It's him! Go! Run! I'll hold him off — Reducto!" He launched the Blasting Curse at the two approaching figures.
Peter dodged one way, Voldemort the other, and the Curse shot between them out into the dark garden, blasting out a section of the fence. Voldemort rolled and came to his feet in a fluid move that showed he had trained with a Duelling Master in his youth and probably was one himself. "Expelliarmus!" James was staggered and knocked back into the foyer, while his wand sailed out into the darkened garden.
Peter hissed, "Accio wand!" to summon James's wand into his own hand, but by the time he had recovered it, it was too late to even think about getting it back to James.
"Nobody tries to Curse me and lives!" yelled Voldemort, completely losing control of his voice and letting it slide into a higher register. He stormed into the foyer, where James, weaponless without his wand, had grabbed up an umbrella stand and tried to smash the Dark Lord with it. "Avada Kedavra!" The spell's burst of sickly green light filled the foyer and spilled out into the garden for a brief, horrifying second, and there was a rushing sound as James screamed in horror. The scream was abruptly cut off and followed by a thud.
"No!" Peter cried, rushing in after Voldemort, but it was already too late; James's body was lying at Voldemort's feet, his face twisted into the rictus of terror that was the Killing Curse's hallmark. "Master, you said you wouldn't hurt them!"
"Stupid boy!" Voldemort snapped. "Stay here, while I go take care of the woman and child. Where will they be?"
It was a direct question again, and Peter's response was dragged from him. "Up … upstairs. Harry's room is the second door along."'
"Good. I'll try to save her for you … after I have what I want from her first, of course. But if she resists …" The Dark Lord shrugged, conveying eloquently that he was making no promises, and headed menacingly for the stairs.
Peter tried to follow, but whatever spell it was that Voldemort had on him, he found himself unable to put his foot on the lowest step. "Stay here," his Master had said, and here he would stay.
Hoplelessly, Peter knelt by James's side. The black haired man's glasses were askew, his hazel eyes open and fixed on whatever lay beyond the physical world. His mouth was still open with his last cry. His skin was pale, and perhaps it was Peter's imagination, but he thought there was a sickly green trace of the Killing Curse on his skin. Peter put James's wand back into his hand — although it was too late to do any good, he couldn't picture his friend without it. He closed the staring eyes and was doing his best to smooth the marks of terror from James's face, when he heard voices raised upstairs — Voldemort's and Lily's.
"Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!" Lily cried, her voice full of anguish.
"Stand aside, you silly girl ... stand aside, now," said the Dark Lord impatiently.
"Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead -- "
Down in the foyer, Peter groaned. "Lily, please, step aside … you can live …" It was beyond hope, now, that she would ever love Peter, but perhaps by some miracle the Dark Lord would in fact let her live if she cooperated.
"Not Harry! Please ... have mercy ... have mercy …."
There was the sound of a scuffle from upstairs, and Peter wondered for a wild moment if the Dark Lord was attempting to subdue Lily physically. He couldn't see that happening, somehow. Then the sound of voices again, Lily's saying something unclear and Voldemort's raised over it. "Avada Kedavra!" Another flash of light and rush of sound, another cut off scream, the thud of another body falling and a wand clattering to the floor.
Still crouched over James's body, Peter let loose with a scream of his own, a cry of love and pain, guilt for what he'd done to his friends, and a wordless wish that somehow it would work out, that the baby — who had been roused by all the screaming and was now crying for his Mummy — would somehow live. But there was no hope. Not for Harry. Not for him. His tears poured down across his smooth white mask and dripped onto James's shirt.
Above there were footsteps, as Voldemort stepped over the fallen body of his latest victim. His cackling laughter rang through the hallway and down the stairs, causing Peter to flinch in anticipation. He could still hear little Harry wailing, afraid of the strange man in his bedroom and wanting his Mum, and then the dreaded words. "AVADA KEDAVRA!"
But this time the light was a stronger green — more emerald — mixed with silver, and it did not pass in a flash. It filled the baby's room and poured out through the hallway like water and down the stairs and washed over Peter and James's body as well. There were loud cracking and crashing noises, as if half the roof were falling in, and the Dark Lord's voice rang out in a high pitched shriek that seemed to last forever, but finally died away. Something foul, vaporous and dark seemed to pass down the stairs and through the open door into the night as if fleeing from the brilliance of the green light that still flooded the house. As it passed, Peter's Dark Mark began to burn, as badly as when it was first applied. Screaming, Peter collapsed across the body of his fallen friend.
Peter had no idea what time it was when he returned to consciousness, nor did he particularly care. It had been a while, that much was obvious, although it was still dark outside. The front door of the house was still open to the garden, and the air in the foyer was now quite chilly and damp. Peter realized where he was, and pushed himself up off James's body, which was now cold and beginning to stiffen. For some reason, though, his friend's face looked different than it had before, more at peace. Maybe Peter's efforts had done some good, after all.
Peter's body was wracked by chills and painful muscle cramps; how much of it was from the magical effect he'd just experienced and how much from lying on the floor for an unknown number of hours, he didn't know. The mask fell from Peter's face, landing with a clatter on the floor next to James. If Voldemort's Charm was broken … Numbly, Peter pushed back the sleeve of his robe to look at his left forearm. The Mark was still there, a pale grey ghostly image of itself, but still there. And his ring, the cursed signet ring, still stayed on his little finger as stubbornly as ever. But maybe other spells had broken.
Hesitantly, Peter staggered toward the stairs, but this time, instead of being unable to even lift his foot, he was able to make his way up step by painful step, clinging to the bannister for support.
The hall on the upper floor was filled with dust, which had only partially settled, and the lights had gone out. Peter flicked the switch experimentally, but they were still out. All that work for nothing, he thought. He drew his wand and whispered, "Lumos," unsure if even this simple spell would work, and reassured when a steady beam of light shone forth. Peter coughed, and held his sleeve across his face to keep from inhaling too much of the dust. Lily's body lay where she had fallen, lying on her back across the threshold to Harry's room so that anyone passing had to step directly over her. Peter stooped and wiped some of the dust from her face in a last gesture. Her eyes, too, were fixed and staring, but there was no terror there, and he wondered at it. "I'm sorry, Lily," he said brokenly. "I never meant for any of this to happen." Gently, he closed her eyes and straightened out her body. Her wand was on the floor across the hall; he retrieved it and placed it in her hand as he had James's.
Then, grimly and expecting the worst, he stood and went into Harry's room.
The nursery, which he had helped paint (pale blue, with clouds across the ceiling and birds and butterflies and balloons on the walls) was now a wreck. The ceiling had indeed fallen, and the floor near the door was scorched as if by a great heat. A beam had crashed down and brought the plaster with it; the crib lay smashed beneath it, and all was deathly silent.
Trembling, Peter stepped around the scorch mark and approached the crib. It was full of wood and plaster, and the beam was angled sharply across it, with one end on the floor and the other resting against the wall. The forward railing of the crib had been splintered by the blow. Peter hesitantly pushed aside some of the fallen chunks of plaster. The top of a child's head was revealed, the wild hair, normally black, now greyed with plaster dust, the skin of the forehead also coated with the dust. And across that forehead was a lurid red mark, probably caused by the falling debris. A cut, quite deep, in the shape of a jagged lightning bolt.
If there was anything Peter knew about scalp wounds, it was that they bled like crazy. He remembered once when he was a child and fell, cutting his own head just above the ear. Healing spells were beyond his mother's power, and he had been soaked with blood before she had Flooed with him to St. Mungo's, where the Healers had taken care of his injury in about five seconds flat. The cut on Harry's head was easily an inch and a half long, and if he wasn't bleeding … the only reason for that would be if he was dead.
Peter brushed the rest of the plaster away from Harry's face. Again there was that odd calmness to the features. Something fell from the bed and landed on Peter's foot, exclaiming "Ow!" in a high squeaky voice, and he almost jumped out of his skin. Looking down, he saw Harry's little blue bear, now missing a paw. He picked it up and tucked it in next to Harry. Suddenly pain, purely emotional but unbearable pain, filled him and his eyes again filled with tears.
He turned and fled the room. He couldn't stay here any more, here in this house of death, here where he'd brought ruin. But there was something he had to do. Slightly maddened with guilt and grief, he ran downstairs, into the kitchen and into Lily's Potions still room that opened from it. He rummaged through her kit until he found what he was looking for; the silver knife, its blade kept sharp by enchantment, which she had used in the casting of the Fidelius Charm. He placed his right hand firmly on the cutting board which was normally used for roots and herbs, took a deep breath and pressed down with the knife.
He was getting used to pain by now, he realized. Every pain had its own feel and flavor; this, though intense, was at least bearable, possibly because it was self inflicted, possibily because it relieved some of the other pains he was experiencing. Lily had a full supply of medical supplies here — she'd need them, with an active baby running around. He wrapped his hand in bandages which were spelled to seal the wound and stop the bleeding, and dosed himself with a healing potion, but nothing for pain. He didn't want that. Didn't deserve it. His severed finger, still bearing the ring, he left on the cutting board. Should have done that at the beginning, he thought angrily. Should have killed myself right away. Then maybe none of this would have happened. But he knew it would have happened, one way or another. If he had died by his own hand or at Voldemort's wand months before, James and Lily would still have gone under the Fidelius, with Sirius as Secret Keeper. And Sirius had barely managed to pass the Disguise and Concealment portion of his Auror training. He would never have been able to stay under cover, he'd have been caught and tortured to provide the information and the same thing would have happened. At least this way, Sirius and Remus were still alive, to carry on the fight.
For him, though, it was over. Soon the Aurors would be here. They would come, and they wouldn't listen to his excuses, they'd find him in a Death Eater's robe, with a Dark Mark on his arm, in a house with three dead people, and they wouldn't believe that it hadn't been him who had done it. He'd be in Azkaban and soulless before another day had passed.
He couldn't take refuge with the Death Eaters; none of them knew who he was, and he didn't know who they were, though he had some guesses, and most of them were people he wouldn't want to associate with.
Taking his wand up clumsily in his left hand, he staggered out of the house, pausing only mutter a final apology to James, and to the Apparation point.
A minute later, he was in his Muggle apartment, stuffing a suitcase bag full of clothes and his wallet full of traveller's cheques, thanking himself for his foresight.
By dawn, he was at Heathrow, claiming a family emergency to get on the first flight to New York.
In the Dower House, there was movement. The house elves had hidden, terrified, in their separate quarters all night, as lights flashed and magic poured out of the Master's house. The elf called Nanny, both her name and her title, screamed in terror for her poor little Master Harry, and wanted to go to him, but Ferny, the Head Elf from the Big House, and Brandy, the Mistress's Kitchen Elf, held her back.
"Nanny must not go!" said Ferny, choking on his own fear and grief as he felt his bond with Master James fail.
"House elfs are no use in a Wizard's fight," whispered Brandy. "It is forbidden. It is forbidden." She shook with anguish as her Mistress Lily — kind, gentle Mistress Lily, who was teaching her all the most wonderful Muggle recipes — died and the bond broke.
All of them waited in terror for Nanny's bond with young Master Harry to break, for he was the last of the Potters and when there was no more family, there was no more need for house elves. But although Nanny wailed in fear and pain, her bond did not break. Master Harry lived.
At dawn, the elves finally dared to creep into the Dower House. They mourned over Master James and Mistress Lily, lying still and stiff on the cold floor, and moaned at the destruction of the upstairs. To house elves, bound as they were to keep up the house and grounds, the damage to the building was almost as painful as the loss of their masters. Nanny and the others entered Master Harry's room. Nanny didn't know about head wounds or curse scars, which had begun to scab over already. She did know that a great beam lying across her little Master's bed was Not a Good Thing, and she organized the male elves to shift it while she removed the chunks of plaster that covered Master Harry's body.
While they were doing so, the boy stirred, sneezed, and tried to wipe the dust and dirt from his face. "Mummy?" he asked with a whimper.
Nanny didn't know what to say, really, but held the boy as he wakened and whined and finally cried for his mother. She found a clean nappy and some clothes that hadn't been destroyed, and got him cleaned off and clothed. By this time the other elves had moved the bodies of Master James and Mistress Lily into the parlour and closed the door so that Master Harry wouldn't be upset on seeing them, and she was able to take the little boy downstairs and Brandy started to prepare breakfast. It was only because Master Harry was pressing his hands to his head where the lightning-bolt mark was that she thought to go into Mistress Lily's still room, and received a terrible shock. There was blood all over Mistress Lily's work table, and the first-aid cabinet had been opened and things were spilled all over, and there was a severed finger, still wearing a ring of some kind, on the table! Nanny screamed, and all the other house elves ran in and saw, and they screamed too, and then little Master Harry started screaming and all the elves stopped because their Master needed them. Nanny got him a headache potion that she thought was all right for human babies, and she gave him half of it, and then waited to see if anything bad happened before she gave him the other half.
Fed and dosed with an adult dose of headache potion, Harry stuck his thumb in his mouth and started to doze off in his high chair. His own bed upstairs was still unusable, so Nanny discussed the matter with the other elves and then took the little boy into the house elf quarters. It didn't matter if the Masters had promised never to come into the house elves' own place, Master Harry was too little to stay in either the Dower House or the Big House. He would fit just fine in a house elf's bed, and it would be easier to take care of him there until some wizards came to tell the house elves what to do. So she took him and put him in his own bed, and some elf found his blue bear and she sewed up the place where the paw had ripped off and tucked into bed with him.
House elves took care of their Masters. It was what they did. They held a meeting, with all he elves from the Big House and the Dower House, and they decided to do their best: they would clean up the mess in the Dower House and fix it just like it was and take care of little Master Harry until some witch or wizard came to tell them what else to do.
They would be waiting a long time.
Peter's hand throbbed with pain despite the potion he'd finally broken down and taken to numb it. Fleeing the morning, unaware of the survival of Harry Potter or the Secret he still Kept, he peered out the tiny window of the aircraft cabin and wondered if he could lose himself in the New World. From the Death Eaters. From the Order. From himself.
The Fidelius stretched, but it did not break.