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A Love at Stake

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July 30, 1997

Lily Potter opened her very tired eyes against the sunlight streaming through her windows. She stretched and felt the crumpled sheets against her skin. Suddenly, her heart sank when she remembered that today was the dreaded day for her to report in front of a few chosen, but very important, Ministry officials. As a highly valued Auror in the Ministry of Magic, she had been spending a lot of time working and coming home so late in the evening, an inexcusable routine that became the norm.

She squinted, sat up, craned her neck a bit, and gazed hopefully at the clock hanging on the wall.

"Six." Sighing, she closed her eyes and opened them slowly. 'Oh, James, give me enough strength today...,' she thought.

Lily's husband, James Potter, died fifteen years ago from the hands of You-Know-Who. It was a terrible fate that brought so much misery and fear to Lily, causing her to be distant, unaffectionate, and driven to overwork.

Because of this, Lily and her son Harry moved to an apartment in London. She believed that getting a place near her work would make them feel secured and more protected, even though Albus Dumbledore insisted otherwise. Not many of Lily's friends from the Order of the Phoenix found this abrupt decision the right thing to do as well, but they ended up, somehow reluctantly, agreeing that maybe Lily had her own reasons for not going back to Godric's Hollow. Because as it turned out, the death of James tormented Lily far worse than being hit by a Cruciatus curse. Forgetting it would be a good way to go.

So, fifteen years later, Harry Potter could be seen spending his summer in London with his mother, a life he thought was normal, as he didn't have the slightest idea of the horror that took place many years ago. Lily was determined not to divulge any information that could lead back to James being dead. Harry knew, of course, how his father died, but was only told in a very short and simple explanation. "A certain dark wizard killed your father," Lily had told him rather unwillingly. She never wanted to talk about James, so Harry had dropped the subject.

It was one in the morning, and Harry had waited until now before writing to his two best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. He told them his unhappy and irksome life when he came home about a month ago, and how he hated seeing his mother very worked up, not having long conversations with him, and if she had the time, she would simply say how displeased she was of Harry's attitude and behavior as he grew up, blaming mostly the people Harry was in contact with in school other than herself.

'Do you reckon my mum loves me?' Harry wrote a hundred times already from his previous letters to Ron and Hermione, and it had always been a hundred times that they answered back a "yes".

He twirled his quill, thinking of what to write next, when suddenly the clock chimed on his bedside table, disrupting his thoughts.

'Six o'clock? Did I really spend that much time writing?' he asked himself. Shrugging, he stood up, signed his name on the letter and set it aside, thinking about sending it later.

There was a knock on his door and a weary-looking Lily Potter peered inside. "I see you're up. Can you make breakfast for me, please? I still need to prepare for work." And she closed the door without waiting for an answer.

Harry blinked, trying to register what she said.

Ten minutes later, he had on a loose gray sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants. He didn't bother combing his hair, and went hurriedly out of his room to make breakfast, not realizing that his mother was standing right outside of his door.

He crashed into her, causing what Lily was supposed to be carrying very carefully to topple over, littering the floor, papers everywhere.

"HARRY!" shrieked Lily. Standing slowly, she massaged her aching buttocks while looking furiously at her son.

"What do you think you're doing?!" she said angrily. "Are you even looking where you're going?! Now look-" She pointed at the complete mess. "Look at what you've done!"

Harry tried to open his mouth, but nothing came out.

"Clean this up!" ordered Lily after a few quiet minutes. "And I want them arranged in order!"

"Mum, I'm very sor-"

"Now!" yelled Lily, and she stalked off, slamming the bedroom door shut behind her.

Harry never understood why his mother treated him like a nuisance. Harry was forced to live and behave according to what his mother wanted. This led to many angry rows between Lily and some of Harry's professors at Hogwarts when she found out that Harry wasn't doing very well in some of his classes. Lily then proceeded to take her anger even more at Harry, for not studying and learning as much as she'd want him to, believing that that was the only way for Harry to repay all the hard work she was doing at the Ministry and for keeping him safe and alive all these years.

Harry was determined, of course, to prove himself well after that incident.

Each year at school, he would study very hard, even pushing his limits by skipping meals and sleep just to get the top grade. He eventually did and it earned him a lot of nods from his professors and a pat on the back from his friends. Even Hermione, who, in no doubt, could snatch the top marks for being the brightest witch, was truly impressed by Harry's sudden interest in school academics.

But regardless of how much improvement he showed in school, Lily was never satisfied.

When Harry arrived home for the summer, he was forced to do the chores, clean the house, and study a few more in advance before another term would start in September. But when he refused the first day back home, his mother went on and on and on, yakking about every single thing he did wrong, until he eventually gave up and did what he was told.

Harry stared at the door, sighing.

It took him almost an hour to arrange the papers in proper order.

Careful to not let the papers slip out of his hands, Harry cautiously knocked on his mother's bedroom. He heard footsteps, but she didn't open the door.

Very slowly, he turned the knob. There was a commotion inside. Lily was rushing around and throwing things onto her bed, where a bag stood open. She was wearing a dark blue robe. Lily stopped on her tracks when she noticed Harry.

"Are you done?" she asked while holding her cloak. "Did you arrange them properly?"

Harry nodded.

"Good," said Lily. "Place them on the bed."

Harry hurried to follow.

"I don't have much time and I need to dash," said Lily, sighing. "I can't believe they changed the time to seven-thirty."

Harry checked the clock; it was already fifteen minutes past seven.

"But you haven't eaten anything yet. Surely the Ministry will understand."

"They will not," she said simply. "But, no matter. I'm not hungry anymore." She wouldn't meet his gaze.

There was a short awkward silence.

Harry bowed his head. He felt guilty and embarrassed. "I'm really sorry about what happened earlier."

"No need to apologize," said Lily while flicking through the pages of her report and frowning slightly.

"But it's my fault, if only I slowed down a little bit –"

"I said, no need to apologize!" Lily looked at him intently. "It's done! Now, if you don't have anything important to say, please leave my room." And she turned her back on Harry.

Harry sighed indignantly. He couldn't move. He was somehow used to this kind of treatment, but anytime this happened, he still couldn't suppress the strong feeling of discomfort. He looked at his mother one last time, and then left the room silently.

When Lily heard the door closed, she burst into tears. She hated herself for doing it. She deeply regretted it. But how else was she going to act in front of her son if the one thing that made her life miserable was him?

Lily went to look at her reflection in the mirror. She certainly looked different. She could see she had lost weight, her face sallow, and her shoulder blades protruded. Her hair hung limply and was dull. She looked away, not wanting to see any more of the gloomy look on her face.

She fastened her cloak and swung her bag around her shoulder, ready to leave.

Harry was preparing breakfast when Lily appeared in the kitchen unnoticed. She observed Harry for a moment, realizing how much he looked like James. His stature, his ruffled hair… she would do anything just to have James back again. If only…

"Harry –"

"Ow!" Harry accidentally cut his finger in surprise, the knife falling onto the floor in a clatter. He hadn't expected his mother to call him.

Lily rushed towards her son. "Harry, are you all right?"

"I'm fine," said Harry immediately, hiding his hand behind his back. "It's nothing."

"Show me your hand."

Trembling, Harry held out his hand. It was bleeding nonstop.

"You call this nothing?" Lily asked incredulously. She grabbed her wand from her pocket and cast a healing charm.

"Mum?"

"Hmm?"

"Remember when Ron invited us to go to the Burrow for my birthday tomorrow and –" Harry hesitated, eyeing his mother nervously. "And have me stay there for the remainder of the summer…"

Lily looked at his son, her eyebrows furrowed slightly. "Harry, I don't think –"

"But I was thinking," Harry cut her off, looking desperate, "that after your big meeting, it would be a perfect time to step back, relax… and go to the Burrow."

Lily sighed, "Harry…"

"I really want you to go to the Burrow for my birthday tomorrow, mum," Harry pleaded. "You could meet everyone."

Lily shook her head.

"You're not coming…," said Harry, lowering his head, confirming his thoughts.

With a long deep breath, Lily said, "I tried to free things up, but you know… you know how hectic work's been."

Harry's ears were ringing. He had really been looking forward for tomorrow and now that feeling was gone.

"I'm truly sorry," said Lily.

Harry looked at her dejectedly. "That's okay," he muttered, walking away.

Somehow the gloomy weather was sort of in accordance with Harry's mood when he went outside the apartment. Lily followed him out, though not to talk more, which Harry kind of wish she would after what happened.

The thing with Lily, she would only show care or affection that lasted not much more than five minutes, whatever their conversation was, now it was long forgotten. Not that she didn't care, she just didn't want to feel it even more than she could handle.

"I'll be home at eight tonight," Lily told him. "We received a big case that needs special attention. It's a nightmare, really."

"Eight?" Harry could not believe what he's hearing. "You're kidding, right?"

"Kidding? Of course not," said Lily. "Not that I'm aware of."

Harry frowned. "But mum, what about my assembly?"

Lily raised her eyebrows. "Assembly? What assembly?"

"The Recognition Assembly, to discuss the standings of their students at Hogwarts. The one that I've worked hard for the whole year. Ring a bell?" Harry said, exasperated. He stared at her skeptically.

Lily thought for a moment then said, "Ah, the Recognition Assembly. Yes, I didn't forget that. And that's –"

"Tonight," Harry finished her words. "Seven o'clock."

"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry," said Lily miserably. "I shouldn't have said that." She put her hand in her head. "I'm too concentrated on my report and…" She looked at Harry; disappointment obviously visible in his eyes even though he tried to hide it. "I'll try to be there, Harry."

Harry didn't speak for a moment.

"Harry?"

"Good luck on your report, mum." Harry smiled a bit. "You'll do great." And he kissed her on the cheek.

Lily smiled. "See you later."

Harry nodded briefly, a saddened look still evident on his face as he watched his mother walk across the street.

He turned and collided with a passerby holding a morning coffee that spilled all over the front of Harry's shirt.

"I'm so sorry!" said the man wearing a black hoodie. Lily heard and turned quickly.

"Harry!" Lily rushed back, casting a dark look at the man walking away in the opposite direction.

"I'm fine, mum. Don't worry about it," Harry assured her. "You don't want to be late."

"After I've cast the cleaning spell, I'll leave." Lily pointed her wand at Harry's shirt and said, "Tergeo!"

"Thanks."

"I'll see you tonight."

"Yeah." Harry smiled and waved goodbye at Lily's retreating form.