The miracle came with a pop. Similar to those made at disapparating, but not quite. It wasn’t just magic—it was more. She didn’t realise how much at first—she got distracted by the echo of her own screams, hovering around her empty arms, coming from a future that felt like the past. She got distracted by the absence of childish cries and by the sudden smell, like old books, of the Transfiguration classroom—how had she never noticed that before?
She got distracted by the pop and the gasps around her and by the dizziness of her memories adjusting and so she didn’t realise, at first, what she was looking at.
She saw a child, and she saw Albus Dumbledore approaching said child with a half smile, and she saw Minerva McGonagall cover her mouth with her hands.
She saw Severus Snape with a face too young to be despised and she saw her husband gaping at her with the same incredulous expression her former friend was wearing.
She saw Peter Pettigrew trying to creep away through the back door and she brandished her wand in a fierce Stupefy, barely restraining herself from causing more damage.
Peter cast a Protego, but she kept flailing curses and hexes and waving her wand until way after the rat was unconscious, showing goat legs and a swollen neck.
By the time James caught her arm, she had forgotten all about the pop and the child and she finally let herself deflate and cry and be hugged. She remembered having hugged Harry like James was hugging her. She remembered having died and having left her baby alone, defenceless in front of a monster.
Yet she didn’t understand the miracle when she saw the child retreating from Dumbledore’s soft questions.
“Is that your Hogwarts letter, my boy?”
And it was—Lily could see now, because the child was clutching and wrinkling it behind his back and she could just about make the curly calligraphy on the yellowing parchment.
“It’s mine!” the child cried, and he took another step back and he was suddenly just in front of Lily.
“The cupboard under the stairs?” she read, puzzled. She distinctly remembered her own letter being addressed to The Left Bed In The Second Room To The Right, back when Tuney and her had shared space and dreams and a sisterly love that she still sometimes missed.
“What?” She heard Sirius croak, behind her. He’d been occupied glaring at Severus and also glaring at Peter’s still body. When Lily glanced at him, she discovered he seemed to be in a bigger shock than hers. Perhaps, she thought, his death had been more gruesome than her own, and he needed more time to process it.
“What do you mean?” Minerva asked, but the child kept retreating and she stopped before approaching him.
“That’s why it’s mine!” he repeated, and caressed the envelope carefully, like he wanted to erase the rumples with his blackened nails.
Lily had yet to learn the child’s name, for it had been obscured by a crease of the fold on the envelope, but she wiped her tears with her uniform robe and kneeled slowly in front of him.
“Is that where you sleep? In a cupboard under the stairs?” she asked, cautiously. Not unlike she’d have asked Severus, years ago, where all the bruises and cuts came from.
She felt James’ hand on her shoulder, but didn’t pay him any mind.
The child narrowed his big eyes, made even bigger by a somewhat awry pair of glasses, but he finally nodded.
“And why is that? Do you live in a very small house?”
He pressed his lips together and went back to look at the letter, without answering her.
“Nonsense!” Severus exclaimed, making the child flinch. Remus put himself between them and Severus glared and glared, until his eyes crossed paths with Lily’s and then he accepted his defeat in shame.
Lily would have wanted to ponder that, but she looked back at the child, who was now hugging the unopened letter against his chest. She then realised he was wearing nothing but rags, and too big at that, and it was her turn to narrow her eyes, because a child of eleven shouldn’t be so short and tiny and small.
“If the letter is addressed to you—,” she began.
“It is!” the boy interrupted.
“Then it’s yours,” she sentenced.
The child opened his mouth as if to retort, but he then seemed to realise she was agreeing with him and nodded back. He sighed and used his enormous sleeve to wipe some sweat from his brow. Lily bit her lip not to ask him how he’d gotten the big scar he sported on his forehead.
“Mate? What happened to make you get that scar?” James didn’t share her sense of caution, apparently. She scoffed and was vaguely aware that Sirius kept making weird noises, as if he was childishly trying to steal their attention from this boy, who obviously needed it more than a grownup who couldn’t keep still for a minute.
“Perhaps it’s a private matter, don’t you think, honey?” she muttered, emphasizing on the pet name they only used when they were trying to make a point.
“Uh? No, it’s not. It’s from when my parents died,” the kid said, getting a chorus of sighs as a response. He eyed all of them suspiciously and seemed to tense, as if waiting for the follow-up question. Which, inevitably, was posed by Lily’s quite obtuse husband.
“I’m so sorry to hear that, mate. How did they die?”
“Perhaps, honey, he doesn’t want to talk about it,” Lily reminded him. She certainly wouldn’t want to talk about her own parents’ death to any stranger that suddenly appeared in front of her.
“Car accident,” the boy said. He tried to wipe his hands on his rolled-up jeans, but was interrupted by Severus’ loud sneer and Sirius’ failed attempt, because Remus snatched his robe, to spring at the boy in the middle of a rather colourful string of curses.
“Sirius, mind your language,” Remus said. But the boy looked nonplussed, and not even a bit afraid or bothered by the situation, which was another bell ringing in Lily’s already full of bells’ head.
“So who do you live with, then, sweetheart? Grandparents, perhaps?”
“Never met them. I live with my aunt’s family.”
Lily was about to ask him if his aunt was a witch, because his attitude seemed to point to it but it didn’t quite match with the car accident bit, but Minerva was faster.
“And what is the cupboard thing about? You like playing inside it? Is that why you stay there most of the time?”
“That’s probably all there is,” Dumbledore nodded, folding his hands and hiding them inside his long beard.
“I don’t like it, but Dudley’s got two bedrooms and the other one is for when Aunt Marge comes to visit, so there wasn’t any more space for me. Not that I’d like to stay with Aunt Marge when she comes—she’s got this big dog that is damn awful.”
“Language,” Remus repeated, more softly this time.
“You don’t like dogs?” Sirius seemed completely deflated, distracting Lily from something the boy had said that she knew ought to have alerted her.
“Well, I don’t like her dog, nor her. Haven’t met any other dogs. The lady from Number Fourteen has two, but she doesn’t let me come close to them because Aunt Petunia once told her I and not Dudley had been the one to jump on her flowerbeds. Which are ugly, by the way. Mrs. Figgs’ cats are alright, I suppose.”
“Your aunt’s name is Petunia?” James asked, crouching next to Lily and reminding her how to breathe.
“No,” Lily muttered. The boy didn’t answer. He kept eyeing them both through his crooked glasses, with all the seriousness of a portrait of an uncle of James that had died as a child that hung in the sun room in Potter Manor.
“Petunia Dursley, right? And Dudley is her son, and they live in Surrey, and they keep you in a cupboard under the stairs?”
“James.” Lily could see the child was starting to cower from them, probably afraid because he didn’t know. He didn’t know, and Petunia had told him she’d died in a car accident, and this was her baby who had been alive long enough to receive his Hogwarts letter. Lily swallowed the sob because this wasn’t about her. “Don’t worry,” she said, very softly, addressing Harry. “Don’t worry—you won’t have to go back to that cupboard or to Petunia’s house, ever again. We know her, but we won’t let her hurt you, okay?”
Harry was listening, she knew, but he didn’t move.
“Your name’s Harry, right?” James asked. Lily saw he was crying.
“Did Petunia tell you anything about it?” She pointed at the letter, and Harry was quick to hide it behind his back once more. “That means you’re a wizard—it’s your letter of acceptance to a magic school.”
“Magic isn’t real. Everybody knows that,” Harry said, very quietly, and Lily was reminded of the very similar words she had once uttered to Severus.
“No, Harry. Magic is real. And miracles are, too, because I died and I left you but somehow I am here with you.”
“What do you mean, you died?”
“I’m so, so very sorry.” Lily had to stop speaking because she was suffocating. She wanted nothing more than reach into the space that kept her apart from her child and embrace him to never let go. But she couldn’t do that, because Harry was not a baby anymore, and he didn’t know her, and she wasn’t going to frighten him. So she kept still, willing herself to regain her breath so she could tell him she was his mother and how much she and James loved him.
“Harry,” Dumbledore said, coming closer to them. The rest of the people in the room kept their distance. “Harry, these are your parents, Lily and James Potter. Lily is your aunt’s younger sister, and she’s also a witch.” The Headmaster’s voice was as calm and grandfatherly as always, but Lily couldn’t help to see a sharp edge to it. Why hadn’t he cared for her child, the way he’d promised her he would? Why had her Harry ended up with someone as petty as Petunia, without anyone intervening to prevent her from mistreating her child?
“Hi, Harry,” James said, and offered him his hand.
After a moment of hesitation, Harry took it.
“You are not dead, then?”
Lily sobbed and opened her arms, in hopes Harry would take her offer and accept her hug. He looked at her curiously, as if he didn’t know what to do with it.
“I don’t know yet what caused this magic, but I’m going to find out and make sure it stays this way, so that you don’t have to be alone ever again, Harry. I promise,” she said.
“Mum?” Harry asked, very timidly. She nodded, with her arms still wide open.
She noted Harry was heavier than she had expected, when he finally plummeted onto her.