On the fifteenth of December, 2001, at eleven PM, Harry Potter found a door off the seventh-floor Charms corridor which opened onto blank space.
On the sixteenth of December, 2001, at four AM, James Potter clawed his way out of the earth.
His hands were torn and bloodied from digging, he wore no clothes and his head ached something fierce, but his magic bubbled beneath his skin and the moon was bright.
James sat on his headstone for a moment, and listened to the sounds of birds moving in the trees; he looked down, and saw the name of his wife, and the cold hit him like a bludger.
There was a crack like a gunshot, and he stood in a dusty bedroom in a dusty manor in the Caingorns; it was no warmer, but the moon was just as bright through the glass, and there was no wind to bite at his bones.
Until dawn he wandered the house, throwing up dust from faded carpets, pulling on an old tartan dressing-gown which fit like a second skin, walking under whispering portraits and saying nothing. When the sky was more light than dark he sat on the roof, watching the hills in the comforting company of a finger of scotch and a cup of tea. The wind from the mountains bit like the alcohol - that is to say, it intoxicated him.
He didn’t - the memory of Beyond faded, blurred like an old polaroid, but he wasn’t sure if that was his mind or the true experience. He sure as hell, however, did not remember anything so wonderful as an icy wind or a grey sunrise or a cup of smoky, bitter tea - things so real as to be intangible.
The slate below him was cold and slightly rough to the touch; fog rose from the overgrown lawn; a russet-coloured red stag, crowned with a shaggy mane and bloodied antlers, stood regal on an outcrop to greet the sun. James waved.
He washed his torn hands in a brook and walked - he had to be very careful not to float - to the north tower, up too many flights of stairs but his thighs never started to burn. He worried, briefly, about what that meant.
The North Tower - god. Merlin.
He grew up here, in this room, blue and gold and too much marquetry for a boy who never appreciated it. He sat at his childhood desk, and thought what would Lily do?
He took his own advice, and took out a piece of parchment - almost brown, now, this house was a museum - and titled it Priorities .
The first entry was a blurry #1. When am I?
He crossed that out, and wrote a new first entry: #1. Locate glasses.
He had . . . no idea how to approach this. Had he left a pair here? Had they buried his with him? Were they on the floor of the cottage, discarded, covered in dust like this skeleton of a house? He didn’t know.
So he re-wrote #2. When am I?
There was a clear answer to that one; the sweet-shop a mile down the road would stock newspapers, and newspapers would have a date on.
He felt like his magic turned inside-out, and he stood outside the newsagents.
There was no warning, no crack, no spinning or soot or squeezing; couldn’t be a portkey, couldn’t be apparation, he had just... failed to be where he expected to be, ie. the north tower, and instead was where he needed to be.
The man behind the counter eyed him - a different man than there used to be, but there was a resemblance - a cousin? - and he made his way inside.
The headline on the Times was nondescript - something about the economy - but holy fuck, the photos were in colour. He had to hold the paper about an inch from his eye to read the date, and almost wished he hadn’t. Fifteen years. Fifteen years.
But his breakdown had to wait.
He fumbled in his dressing-gown pockets - why was there change in his dressing gown? - and produced five crisp pound notes, but the cashier whispered ‘poor bugger’ when he proffered them, and declined a charge to no explanation. James was several yards up the road before he realised that was a perfectly reasonable reaction to a chap with bloodied hands standing in your shop in his moth-bitten dressing-gown and no socks squinting at newspapers.
Okay then, he thought. Next priority; #3. Harry.
Like the glasses, he thought-- there was a solution, but he couldn’t see it. He didn’t even know where Harry had gone, or if he’d-- survived--
What if he hadn’t? What if Lily’s spell had failed?
What if his family was gone, all of them, Lily and his parents and Harry, fuck, even the cat , god, Remy and Sirius weren’t planning on surviving the war, what if they were gone and he couldn’t join them?
He had come back from the grave - what if his family was gone and he had to stay?
James’ heart beat inside his chest, and it ached.
He peeled himself off the pavement about an hour later, when the street-lights were off and the corner-shop man looked less pitying and more like he’d quite like to throw a rock. His eyes were red and his hands shook, but he wasn’t sure how much of that was real and how much was him wanting to feel it. His body felt too tight.
He held his right hand out, pushed this new magic about under his skin. It flowed like he was casting something big, something to shake the earth, but once it was done bubbling in his fingertips it just receded like the tide.
There was a crack-- of course there was, of course, why can’t this new life work like it’s supposed to-- and the Knight Bus pulled up on the dirt road outside of Feshiebridge. It was huge and hulking and bright, bright purple, the brightest thing he’d seen since he died, and he laughed a creaking laugh.
The conductor was some spotty kid right out of his NEWTS, but when James last rode it there was just a different spotty kid conducting, so it felt almost familiar.
The kid - Ernie? - accepted the pound notes, at least, even if he had to confer with the driver about whether they could take muggle currency. The shrunken head winked at him like he knew something.
The bus drive was - calming, even if James blinked and found himself above the bus for a moment or two, watching the hairpin turns.
Inverness in winter was rather like Hogwarts in winter - calm and beautiful and sparkling from snow-fall, and just as magical if you looked right - but no-one in Inverness recognised him if he was clever, and in Hogwarts there was the pressure of eyes who knew him, and as such Inverness beat Hogwarts by a considerable margin. It was not, however, somewhere you could wander about at nine in the morning, smelling of scotch, in a grubbied dressing-gown, and so James made his way slowly to the corner of Nac Man and Feegle Street, savouring the scenery more than probably he should, what with it being December in the Highlands and him having no socks.
He stood on the corner for a minute or two, mind blank and wishing he’d gone for his wand first thing, staring at the brick he had to tap. He was close to panicking - his feet were freezing, he needed a wand, he needed a warming charm, he needed to see if Gringotts would let him in, he needed cash to buy socks - but he eventually put his trust in the Thing, the thing that ached, and - walked through the wall. Okay. Okay. He would sort that out later.
For now, well, he needed a wand.
The goblin at the desk was... brisk, in a word. He was sneered at, and prodded by guards, and pricked with needles to verify his blood, and walked under a waterfall to check for illusions, and the marble floors did nothing for his poor freezing feet, but eventually he was sat down with a verification of identity.
The goblin said, “Thought you died.”
“So did I,” replied James.
And that was the end of that conversation.
He had cash now, so most of his problems were at least partially solved. Although he was still, essentially, a man in a dressing-gown in the middle of the road, there was a generous handful of galleons in each of his pockets, and that made the denizens of the city much less likely to throw stones at him.
Gertrude Ollivander ran a wand-shop now, which was surreal. He could swear she was a third-year when he left Hogwarts - but the woman behind the counter of Inverness Wands was white-haired and venerable and, apparently, wildly overqualified, judging by the letters she rattled off in her introduction. She smiled brightly at him, and kept up the ‘I-know-things-you-don’t’ patter that Gellert Ollivander had patented in 1200, but she frowned when she thought he wasn’t watching, and when she was measuring him he swore she tried to wave a hand through him to check if he was real. Which was reasonable -- he would probably do the same, if he were able.
She questioned him briefly on why he needed a new wand, but accepted the excuse of a vague quidditch accident, and accepted his name as Charles Field without any further kerfuffle.
(James wasn’t sure of the wisdom of falsifying an identity, but it wasn’t possible to give his real name, and glasses-less and aged as he appeared to be, he wasn’t counting on being recognised. And even -- even long-term, if he stayed live-dead for long-term, he wasn’t sure if he ever wanted to be James Potter again. Everyone James Potter loved was dead.)
His new wand -- he was hesitant to call it ‘his,’ it felt like a loan -- was mahogany again, near featureless, just a smooth column in dark red that narrowed to a vicious point. It gave an impression of being serrated, somehow, despite not actually having an edge. It didn’t feel like his old one - it had no personality. Using it felt like using a knife. There was no conversation. He worried that it suited him.
But when he cast an accio in the street, his glasses landed tidy in his hand with no complaint, and a warming charm from this new wand, despite a phantom sensation of rain, was just as warm as he expected -- which was really all he needed.
Putting his newly-summoned glasses on, however, was a trip and a fucking half.
Tacked up on the pillar outside some swanky new coffee shop was, well, Sirius.
Sirius, half-wild and screaming, Sirius as young as he knew him but gaunt and violent and screaming. From Azkaban.
He was as young as he knew him - this was not some Sirius from now-a-days, when things were different and sometimes people weren’t who he remembered..
The man on the poster was Sirius from weeks, days after he’d seen him last, eleven years ago. There was nothing Siri could have done. Sirius was dangerous, but he wasn’t . . . he would never do something that would wind him in Azkaban. He wouldn’t want to be anywhere near his family.
A correction. There was something he could have done, something the authorities could be persuaded he had done, if the facts lined up just wrong.
If Remus had stood back and watched the Ministry imprison an innocent man.