Enduring ObligationsSite of the Downfall of He Who Is Not Named
The dispassionate full moon kept silent vigil over a frost-dusted 3 A.M. November landscape as a lonely traveler tugged at the collar of his heavy black winter cloak and pulled it tighter around his neck. The wind was sharp and merciless tonight, and the air was bitter cold with a strong scent of burning firewood upon it. And the traveler was rather pleased to be back on the ground after a long, numbing broom ride. Tonight, he reflected with a bitter snort and a cloud of vapor rising from his nostrils like twin plumes of dragon smoke, tonight it was too cold even for his taste. But a duty had to be fulfilled tonight, regardless of the intemperate weather.
And duty still mattered to him; duty and pride and vengeance.
It wouldn't be the same as if they were still living, of course, but he had made a vow to their likeness, to their memory. And every year, he had renewed that vow.
A vow to avenge them.
The frost-laden grass yielded with barely a whisper to his long strides as the traveler passed by the familiar landmarks of Godric's Hollow, as swift and silent as a shadow. The night was his element, his strength, his only companion. At night he was free to run like the wind.
At night he could cry, and no one would see the tears. But it had been a very long time since he had shed any.
The house was long gone. Its blackened, disfigured wreck had been demolished, buried years ago. The magic-scarred lot had been turned back over to nature, sown with grass and flower seeds, fertilized, and left vacant. Wildflowers, grass, and weeds had taken root and grew here in abundance, though the plants were now withering under winter's icy hand.
Where once the smoke and stench of death and destruction had overshadowed the landscape like a pestilent cloud, now the silver stars reigned undimmed by the madness of mortals below. Where once the sinister green symbol of death and corruption had blazed across the sky, marking the site of the Dark Lord's greatest victory and even greater downfall, now a crisp, velvet-black winter sky and a sable-cloaked remorseful visitor were all that bore witness to the fact that anything extraordinary had ever happened here in this slumbering wizard suburb.
They...and of course the plaque and statues, which only wizarding kind could see. The traveler could see them quite plainly at night, better than could most wizards, in fact. But he did not need to look at the plaque to know what words were inscribed upon it. After all, he had lived through the event recounted by those words.
On October 31, in the year 1981, James and Lily Potter
lost their lives in a desperate struggle to protect their son
Harry from the Dark Wizard Who Shall Not Be Named...
Nor did the traveler need to look at the statues to see what James and Lily had looked like. For he had known them very well in life, and he had never quite been able to decide whether he hated them or loved them, perhaps because in his twisted heart love and hate were too nearly the same thing.
Muggles could walk right past this neighborhood and see only an abandoned landfill with hazardous waste signs posted all about its perimeter. And if perchance they managed to bypass the wards and banishing charms and look upon this site, then the plaque would appear as just another rust-eaten hazardous waste sign, and the statues as gnarled, rotted tree stumps. Muggles, the traveler reflected grimly, were lucky not to have seen the things he had seen. Lucky not to be tormented by this place as he was. Lucky not to know what had happened here.
He scowled at the trio of animated statues, at the tall, thin man with a thick mop of untidy black hair, hazel eyes and wire-rimmed glasses. James Potter had been his greatest envy and his worst enemy. Potter had been blessed with everything he himself had once desired and had been denied, and Potter had not appreciated it enough. Indeed, the fool had wasted it all through his arrogance. He had been brave to challenge Voldemort openly. Brave, yes, but stupid. Potter could have lived another hundred years had he ever once in his life listened to a word of advice.
The woman had dark red hair and intelligent green eyes which reflected the moonlight in an almost life-like fashion. Lily Potter's face wore a tender expression as she cradled a small, slumbering infant, a dark-haired, green-eyed, insolent, ragamuffin brat who would soon become known throughout the wizarding world as Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived.
The traveler snorted bitterly and watched his breath float away into the cold, black night. If it were not for Lily, he would not be here. Most assuredly he would not!
Lily Potter's likeness suddenly looked up at the sound and greeted him softly in a melancholy tone. "Back again, Severus?"
"Bit late, aren't you?" James said with mild condescension. "You've never missed the anniversary before."
"I've been busy keeping both eyes on your son, Potter," came the acidic response.
"How is Harry?" Lily asked anxiously.
"Alive," came the curt reply.
Lily sighed with relief and smiled at the infant in her arms. Then she looked up and said, "I was worried when you didn't come last week, you know. I thought perhaps something had happened to him..."
"I've been busy."
James studied the visitor shrewdly over the tops of his spectacles, with that x-ray gaze that Dumbledore used so often. "He's back, isn't he?" James said.
The visitor did not reply. Instead he returned Potter's calculating gaze with an inscrutable look of his own.
"I always knew he'd be back someday," James said somberly. "Wish I were still living. I'd love to give him another taste of my wand!"
"You would only die again, Potter. His power has become even more terrible than it was then."
"You would know, wouldn't you?" James retorted nastily.
"Honey!" Lily exclaimed sharply, laying a restraining hand on her husband's arm.
"Sometimes I think Muggles are smarter than we are. Their statues keep their mouths shut," came the caustic, rhetorical retort.
"Let him be," Lily admonished her husband. "Can't you let the poor man grieve in peace for once?"
"I have nothing left to grieve with. I think my heart has turned to stone."
"Nonsense, you're here, aren't you?" Lily pointed out gently.
"Even if you are late..." James added.
"Honey!" Lily scolded. Baby Potter began crying and Lily tried in vain to quiet him.
"And he's still a noisy, demanding, nasty little brute," came the venomous comment over the infant's cries. "Some things never change."
"He is my son!" James snapped in an angry, offended voice.
"Yes, I can see the resemblance."
"Why are you here, Severus? What do you want?"
Silence, save for the whimpering of the infant who was slowly drifting back to sleep in his mother's arms. Then, "I came to tell you. I have killed your betrayer. It wasn't Sirius. It was Peter."
"Well yeah, I could have told you that years ago."
"Why didn't you tell me that you had made Wormtail your Secret Keeper? All these years, I thought it was Sirius!"
James shrugged indifferently. "You never asked. You just assumed."
"This is madness. Talking to statues..."
"You say that every year, and yet every year you come back here. You need to move on."
"Easy for you to say, Potter. You are not the one with obligations to fulfill."
"Take care of Harry. If I were still living, that's the only obligation I would ask you to fulfill. I don't need anything...we would not ask for anything more than that."
"It's not as simple as that, Potter. I thought that killing Pettigrew would free me from this place, but it hasn't."
"Revenge never frees anyone from pain, Severus. That calls for something higher and considerably rarer," said James.
"I cannot forgive. I haven't the desire or the capacity."
"Then you will become bound to this place forever. Until you have become moving, talking stone like us."
"Then I will be bound here, if that is my fate. But I swear to you that I will find a way to destroy your murderer once and for all for what he did here sixteen years ago. He will not be defeated by a child this time!"
"He was not defeated by a child before, dear. He was defeated by love, by sacrifice," Lily pointed out.
The traveler replied viciously, "I know sacrifice! I have come here because of it!" There was a long, tense pause, and then, "But love...I have forgotten...if I ever had the capacity, I have long since lost it."
Lily stared at him with a mournful expression while James looked away. "I wish that I could help you," she said. "If I were not stone I would grieve for you too, for I think that you also have died here."
"I don't want your pity," came the icy reply.
"I know, but you'll have it anyway," came the defiant yet honest response.
"What do you want from us, anyway, Severus?" James asked unsympathetically, glaring at the visitor.
"I don't know. I hoped you would tell me. I hate coming here."
"Yet you do it year after year. Go home Severus. Tend to your war in your time. Ours is over. We want nothing from you. You owe us nothing."
There was a brief moment of silence, then Lily stated softly, "There was nothing you could have done, dear. We knew what the price might be when we chose to fight Him. We all did what we had to do."
"What we had to do..." the visitor echoed bitterly. "And it was all in vain. He is back."
"Yes, but now you know how He can be defeated. And perhaps the reason you are alive is to make sure that happens."
"Do you want to know what I want? Do you really want to know? I want to be free of Him! Free of you and your offspring! I am tired of obligation!"
James looked away. Lily turned to him and whispered something in his ear that sounded very much like, "I think it's time."
James shook his head and murmured, "No. Think of our son! Think of You Know Who being powerful again!"
"Our son is old enough to take care of himself now, and Severus needs to hear it!" Lily hissed. "Look, it has to start somewhere if His power is ever to be broken again."
James crossed his arms, stared stoically straight ahead. "No."
"How dare you lecture him when you are just like him?"
The visitor snorted and thought that Dumbledore had done a commendable job on the enchanted statues. They sounded so very much like the people he remembered.
James continued to stand in stubborn silence, arms crossed, expression set. Lily sighed in exasperation. "He'll come around eventually," she told the visitor quietly, regretfully. "I know he will."
"But will I still be alive by then?" came the bitter, ironic response.
"I cannot speak for James. Or for Harry, when he learns the truth," Lily decided, "But for my part, for what it's worth, I forgive you."
"I don't care."
"That's not true!"
"Yes...it is." And with that, the visitor turned his back on the statues, on the past, on duty and obligation. Behind him, in the place where Lord Voldemort had fallen, the memorial to the Potter family was still talking. He tried to ignore their voices, and found that he couldn't quite succeed.
"He'll come around eventually," Lily told James firmly. "I know he will."
"But will our son still be alive by then?" came the bitter, ironic response.