“Is he supposed to have that much hair?” he asks. He doesn’t know much about babies. He was under the impression they started out bald. Bald at birth, bald at death – at least, he would be, judging by his father’s thinning thatch. A bit scared of babies, he is, to tell the truth. Doesn’t really know what to do with them. It’s only a few hours old and Lily has already offered him a cuddle. He hands the bundle back as soon as he can without seeming rude. But he’s going to have to get used to this baby because from now on it’s going to be everywhere James is. It’s funny – he never would have thought you could tell so soon after birth, but the baby does look a lot like James. Black hair and all. “He looks very hairy to me.”
“Hairy! Great one, Wormtail! There you go, Lily – Peter’s picked the name. Hairy Potter!” Sirius barks in delight and Remus chuckles in the background.
Lily croons at her little pile of love and whispers into his face. “Harry Potter. Welcome to the world, my sweet one, my dear little Harry.”
Peter can’t believe that proud, irreverent, outspoken James is silently gazing in rapt adoration at the mother and child in his arms. He doesn’t seem to hear or see anyone else. Peter is so amazed by James that he doesn’t grasp that he’s just given the baby it’s name.
Once upon a time James wore this tiny robe. He fingers its fine lace and wonders at its soft whiteness, at how he can almost see through the fine cotton weave. Around the hem scrolls his name along with the names of his ancestors. James. William. Ogilvy. Godric. James. Hugh. Wright. William. Charles. William. Henry.
Henry. Or Harry, really. It’s a family name, even if only a distant one, and a derivation at that. But it’s perfect. His little Harry.
Harry. A mop of black hair, eyes still too new to see clearly, or to know for certain what colour they are. Little fists that grip tighter than a Seeker’s. Legs that kick and kick into the air, against his stomach, and onto his knees.
He doesn’t remember how they picked the name. All he remembers is Lily’s sweet whisper, ‘my dear little Harry’. And from that moment, Harry he was.
Henry and Harry side by side. Two Potters, divided by centuries but united by name on the hem of this robe; united by this ritual.
They’ll have to do it before Harry gets too big for the robe. And he must wear it because it’s always been done this way. Every Potter has worn it, since it was made by Henry’s mother. James wipes his eyes roughly with the back of his hand and sighs. How did this happen? How did he become man enough to father this perfect creature, this miracle? Why did he never before understand the importance of the future? It’s all he can think about now; watching Harry grow up and James himself being a white-haired loon, tormenting his son and grandson and great-grandson with abominable jokes and tricks. A laugh erupts from his chest and he leaps up from the bed with a whoop, runs downstairs, robe clutched in his fist and flapping behind him as he goes, like a banner. He grabs Lily round the waist, spinning her round. The delicate robe tangles around and binds them in an embrace.
Sirius smooths out the thick parchment and tries to read it again through blurry eyes. Thank Merlin that tosser sent it to his home and didn’t give it to him in person – he’d die if he shed a sissy tear in front of Prongs. And Lily! Heaven help him, he’s being a girl! Fancy crying over something so hilariously funny and ridiculous. Godfather!
James has pulled some pretty funny stunts in his life, but this one takes the cake. Now Sirius is laughing, but he’s still weeping and there’s a tiny hole in his chest that grows larger and larger until it erupts in a shower of disbelief and humility and pride and regret.
The best thing his own godfather did for him was also the last thing he did for him: name him. It’s an old custom, not observed so much anymore. Sirius. Well, he’s thankful for that, at least. He likes his name. But that’s all his godfather ever did for him. Until he scolded Sirius for speaking to a house elf. Until he had Sirius flogged for insulting a guest. Until he lectured Sirius about the purity of his family. Until he ignored Sirius entirely and treated him as one dead.
Godfather. How is he supposed to be that? Best man he could manage: it was Lily, after all. He chuckles, thinking of the tempting offers he gave James, trying to keep the groom away from the wedding so Sirius could fulfil the best man’s duties. But godfather? Never in a million years would he think that he was godfather material.
Well, the fun bit will be the naming, the christening. It’s very tempting to give the poor boy a horrendous name, just to see James’s face. Like Aloysius or Zephaniah. But then he imagines Lily’s eyes and – yes, he’s a coward – gets down to the business of thinking of a suitable name.
He’s done half the job already. Harry. Well, he supposes the credit should go to Wormtail, but he likes to think he himself actually named Harry. It wasn’t till he’d made his witty joke that Harry was called by name. So now for the rest of it. Can’t let him go through life with just the one name – what sort of a cheapskate godfather would that make him?
A name would have to fit the child but be bigger than him. Give him something to grow into. Sound good with his family name. Something that rolls of the tongue, that makes a nice sound.
It needs to honour someone or something. He thinks for a split second about Merlin, but that’s just asking for a tortured life. He knew a Merlin at school, poor chap. Mostly poor chap due to Sirius’s merciless teasing. “Oi, Merlin! Looking good for your age!”
There’s Albus. That’s a big name to grow into. Or Percival or Wulfric or Brian – he laughs. Poor kid. Poor Dumbledore, even. Fancy having a string of names and not a decent one among them. But Albus is respectable now. Respected. Albus would make a statement. Give little Harry a big future.
Or Sirius. Hah! That’d teach James for making him godfather. Lucky little chap would be blessed with the hottest name in Britain. He sits back and smooths his hands over his hair, resting them at the back of his head as he leans back in his chair. He dreams of Harry Sirius Potter looking up to, admiring and imitating his godfather. It’s a very satisfying thought.
“Did I do the right thing? He’s going stuff it up, isn’t he? He’s going to name him something revolting like Severus, isn’t he?”
Lily’s laugh tickles his neck. Her arms are clasped around his chest from behind while he makes a mess of carving the roast. Merlin’s beard, only grown-ups carve the roast. Only fathers.
“No, he won’t. He adores you. He adores Harry. He’ll do the right thing.”
“He adores you, Lily.” He turns in her arms and hugs her tight.
“Well, I adore you, you silly old man.”
Baby Harry is warm and happy. The air tickles his bare stomach and a beautiful red glow shines around him. His eyes follow the auburn radiance and do their best to focus. Green eyes meet green eyes. The soft whoosh of worn cotton traces over his skin and wraps around him. His mother’s voice is a low, warm melody. He gurgles and kicks his legs.
“It’s a special day today, Harry,” croons his mother. “We’re going to give you a godfather, and he’s going to give you your name. But poor Sirius is a bit nervous, so be gentle on him, won’t you.”
Harry burps and waves his arms frantically up and down, like he’s priming the pump of his chubby little body.
“That’s my boy.” Lily fastens the final hook and eye, and picks Harry up, snuggling her face into his soft neck.
After Harry’s Floo-call to Grimmauld Place was cut short, Sirius and Remus descended into a bout of quiet reminiscing, punctuated by bursts of abuse hurled at Snape and Umbridge.
At length, a melancholy quiet settled over the kitchen at Grimmauld Place. Sirius sloshed a generous fourth shot of Firewhisky into the Black lead-crystal tumbler and threw it down in one gulp.
‘We were all idiots,’ Sirius muttered under his breath.
‘Don’t you think you’ve had enough?’ Remus said half-heartedly, reaching for the bottle to top up his own glass. ‘It’s not even six o’clock yet.’
Ignoring him, Sirius stared into the fire, as though looking hard enough would bring Harry back. The clock on the wall ticked with mesmerising precision. Out of the blue he said, ‘Do you remember what you were thinking fifteen years and,’ he glanced at the clock, ‘two hours ago?’
‘What, today? Fifteen years ago, today?’
Sirius didn’t answer but continued to stare into the fire. After a time he said, ‘I was thinking that James had made a big mistake, but that I wasn’t going to let him down.’ He took another sip but there was nothing left. He topped up his glass.
After some thought Remus uttered a soft ‘oh’. ‘Harry’s christening?’
‘God, why did he pick me? Why didn’t I talk more to Harry over Christmas instead of wallowing in my own gloom? Why the bloody hell isn’t he using the mirror?’
Sirius pulled a small mirror out his pocket and hissed frantically into it. ‘Harry! HARRY!’ He swore when he got no response.
‘What’s that mirror do?’
‘You know these – James and I used them during detentions.’
‘No, I’m fairly sure I’ve never seen or heard of them before. Why didn’t you let us use them, too?’
‘You were never in detention.’
‘Peter was … now and then.’
Sirius flung the mirror across the kitchen table. ‘Bloody hell, Remus, will you stop talking about it?’ His voice was hoarse. ‘James made the biggest mistake of his life that day.’
The fire sparked and crackled in concert with the ticking clock.
‘Well,’ said Remus after a while, ‘he did make the biggest mistake of his life – but not that day, not in choosing you for Harry.’
The vicar’s robes would have been the height of wizarding fashion in 1662. Funny that, how Muggle and wizarding fashion have merged and parted and morphed into entirely different things over the centuries. Traditions, too. Wizarding and Muggle traditions weave over and under one another in a rich tapestry. No one knows exactly how they began, but they’ve lived and grown for eons, taking on the meanings of the cultures around them.
James eyes the font fondly. He even dares to run his hand over it when no one is watching. This stone basin is a thousand years old. Even in Henry’s day it was ancient. Every Potter since Henry has been named here, named and washed and given the light of life. He knows the ceremony quite well, though he hasn’t been to many. Mostly, he guesses, it has seeped into his bones from his own christening.
He glances round the gathering and seeks out his best friend. He hears the vicar speaking but only the odd phrase here and there catches his attention.
Children are baptised in response to our all-embracing love.
He sees the water poured and candle lit.
… rescued from the deep waters of death to new life in triumph …
His hazel eyes lock with Sirius’s steely grey ones. Sirius holds Harry, unconsciously and almost imperceptibly rocking him. He’s watching James in return, and makes a solemn vow with an expression James has never seen in his best friend’s eyes before. James grips Lily’s hand but can’t tear his eyes away from his brother and his son.
… deliver you from the powers of darkness and bring you to the light of everlasting life …
He replies when he’s supposed to, with Lily and Sirius, repeating the words after the vicar.
Do you reject selfish living and all that is false and unjust? I reject them all.
Do you renounce evil?
I renounce all that is evil.
Remus averts his eyes and looks to the flagstone floor. The strength he sees surging between his two friends shames him. He knows they mean their vows with all their hearts but they don’t realise that they are renouncing him; that he is, in part, evil, though he can do nothing about it. Though he would renounce it with all of his being if he could.
He wonders if he was ever christened as a baby. He can’t recall. He doesn’t have a godfather, as far as he knows. But perhaps he has been renounced.
I renounce all that is evil.
He knows he’s withdrawing from everyone lately. It’s Harry. His fresh baby smell. He’s never been around babies before. It’s too good and too clean for him to risk being too close. He takes a back seat whenever they’re all together. He doesn’t beg for cuddles the way Sirius does. He doesn’t ask incessant questions about it all the way Peter does. He yearns to, but he can’t take the risk.
I renounce all that is evil.
What is evil, anyway? Evil is a slippery thing. Hard to recognise usually, which makes it practically impossible to renounce. How do you do that with such certainty?
Underneath the formal words of the ceremony Peter watches his two friends exchange some sort of unseen, unspoken, unbreakable vow. He doesn’t quite understand how a baby, not really a person yet, can engender such fierce devotion.
He’s never really understood that about his friends and James in particular. That fierce something that burns in their eyes, that dismisses relativisms and compromise and demands absolute commitment and integrity regardless of the cost. Remus he gets on better with, on a one-on-one basis. Remus is a bit like him. Remus knows about making do, about diffidence, about hesitancy and caution. Peter doesn’t think James or Sirius has ever been hesitant or cautious about anything.
I renounce all that is evil.
It’s not pleasant to be overlooked. It was better when it was just the four of them. But then along came Lily, and now you have to watch your language and not be so slobbish. Not for Lily’s sake, gracious girl, but for James’s. And, amusingly, for Sirius’s. Peter can’t understand the devoted sort of affection Sirius has for Lily. She’s James’s girl, not Sirius’s. He’s not entitled to think of her that way. No one is, except James.
And now there’s this baby. Peter has to keep speaking up to remind everyone he’s there. But still they focus on the baby, this demanding, unresponsive mini-person. So he asks questions about the baby, because that’s the only kind of questions that anyone hears him ask these days.
I renounce all that is evil.
In this vow, this unbroken gaze, Sirius pledges himself to James, and James to Sirius, and they both pledge themselves to Harry.
“I now invite the godfather to present the child.”
It is at this moment that James sees a spark in his friend’s eye, a gleam of something. With a short stab of uncertainty, James questions Sirius with his eyes, but he only receives a slight shake of the head and an intensifying gleam in return.
He squeezes Lily’s hand and hopes for the best.
Grey meets hazel.
Then Sirius speaks, each word slow and deliberate. “I present Harry James Potter.”
Harry James Potter. James.
James looks, searching, into Sirius’s eyes and finds that gleam. No, it’s a tear. But it’s his own tear. He squeezes Lily’s hand again and finally looks into her face. Her tears are teetering, too. On the verge, as joyful tears are, suspended like drops of dew, not ready to fall, nor to be shed, but just to wash and cleanse and fill. Just like the water in the font.
Harry James, I baptise you in the name of the Father …
Father, he is a father. He carves the roast and cares about the future. Not the tomorrow future but the hundred years from now future. Harry James: his son.
Harry is anointed, the fragrant oil smeared across his brow and massaged over his heart. Anointed to live his life, to fulfil the vows that have been made on his behalf. Anointed to …
… fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith …
Once upon a time James would have thought these words too harsh for a baby. But in these days age doesn’t really count. It’s about more than who’s old enough to fight the battles. It’s about all those for good against all those for evil. Every soul has its part to play.
… shine as a light in the world …
Lately the world has been dark. James feels it, though he does his best to overcome it. Now, however, he knows he will prevail – that good will prevail, that Harry James will prevail. Lily is holding the candle and Sirius is holding Harry again and James is suffused in light.
“Harry,” his heart whispers, “Harry James, you are my light.”