Lily started as she relieved the mail-owl of its burden, and caught a glimpse of the front-page headline. That couldn’t be right.
She read it again, but the headline didn’t change.
Gingerly, she unfolded the paper to read the accompanying article.
Peter Pettigrew, convicted Death Eater, was discovered missing from his locked cell in Azkaban, early this morning. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement is currently investigating to discover the exact means of his escape, and a number of Dementors have been dispatched from Azkaban to assist in the search for the escaped prisoner.
“We are doing all we can to recapture Pettigrew,” said Minister Fudge this morning, in the wake of this unprecedented break-out, “and beg the magical community to remain calm.”
Pettigrew, a low-ranking soldier in the ranks of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, is best known for his attempted betrayal of his best friend James Potter, who went into hiding with his wife and eighteen-month-old son, Harry, near the end of the war. He was convicted of espionage, and is considered an accessory in multiple deaths in the war against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
Though described as a wizard of mediocre power, by most who know him, Madam Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, urges the magical community to be cautious about confronting Pettigrew directly. “As it is still unclear exactly how Pettigrew escaped Azkaban, he should be considered armed and extremely dangerous. A special Floo line has been set up, and any sighting of Pettigrew should be reported immediately to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”
Lily shuddered, letting the paper slip from her fingers, as she reached the end of article. Peter Pettigrew was a part of her past that she’d much rather forget, a mistake that had almost cost James and herself their lives, and that of their son. The idea of him on the loose again... How did he escape? What was he planning? Was he coming for them, to finish off the job? Or was he up to something else, equally nefarious?
She leaned on the kitchen counter for support. Heather and the boys would be up soon, and she knew she couldn’t deal with this alone; she just couldn’t.
James had already left for work –did he know yet? Would he learn it as she did, from the paper? Or would some thoughtful colleague sit him down, and tell him the news?
Leaving the paper on the floor, where it had fallen, she stumbled into the parlour and threw some Floo powder into the fire, calling out the address for James’ office Floo, before trusting her head into the flames.
James was sitting at his desk, with a cup of tea and some paperwork, his posture showing none of the distress that she was feeling –he must not have heard yet.
She almost pulled her head out of the fire, right then –what right did she have to ruin his day? Maybe she could handle this alone, after all. She was a strong witch, not a damsel in distress.
But before she could make up her mind to do so, James caught sight of her face in the fire, and came rushing to the fireplace, paperwork forgotten. Lily almost never called at work, and the expression on her face... Had something happened to one of the boys, or Heather?
“Lily what’s wrong?”
“I can’t...” Lily hesitated. She might have been too weak to leave him in his ignorant bliss a few hours longer, but she wasn’t selfish enough to break news like this to him over the Floo Network. “Just...just… Come home, please. I need you.”
“Of course,” James didn’t hesitate, horrific scenarios already playing through his mind. Lily wouldn’t be asking if something serious wasn’t going on. “I’ll be right there. Just let me dash out, and let the boss know that I’m taking a personal day.”
A visibly distraught Lily met James at their Floo, the moment he stepped through. Wordlessly, she handed him the morning paper.
He caught sight of the front-page headline, and his eyes widened in surprise, the reason for Lily’s pallor instantly clear. James could feel the blood draining progressively from his own face, with each line he read.
By the time he reached to end of the article, his knees were threatening to buckle.
Trembling, he set the paper down on the mantle, then took three shaky steps towards his wife, pulling her into a tight embrace. “We’ll get through this,” he whispered, unsure whether the words were meant more to encourage her, or himself.
Lily felt marginally better when they finally pulled apart, but the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach remained. She took a few steps back, and sank into the loveseat across from the fireplace, pulling James down with her. “You think he’ll come here?” she asked.
“Most likely,” James answered, the same fear gnawing at his own gut. “We’ll have to strengthen the wards, and keep the boys inside in the meantime.”
“They won’t like that,” pointed out Lily, dreading the boys’ reaction. “Summer holidays just started.”
“Hopefully they’ll catch him soon, and it won’t be for long. I’ll get together with Sirius and Remus, and we’ll go talk to whoever is in charge of the search at DMLE, tell them everything we can possibly think of about him to help –there was a time that we knew his pretty well... Peter was never very clever; they’ll catch him,” said James, with more confidence and conviction than he actually felt. After all, Peter had managed to dupe them for months –if not years –about his allegiances, dupe them so well that they had been willing to trust him with their lives.
But not anymore. They knew his true colours now. They would never let him get close enough to hurt them, ever again.
“What if?” asked Lily, unconvinced by his false positivity. “What if he’s hiding out as a rat? They’ll never find him amongst all the gutter rats of the United Kingdom.”
James shook his head, “We’ll have to out Peter’s form to the DMLE, but there are ways to detect an Animagus, if you know to look for one…” He managed a wry half-smile, “I suppose it’s high time for Padfoot and Prongs to go legal, and I’m sure Padfoot will agree.”
Though hardly reassured, Lily nodded. She wasn’t going to get anything better, under the circumstances. “So what do we tell the boys?”
James didn’t get a chance to respond, as no sooner than the words were out of her mouth, the boys in question came thundering down the stairs, as though summoned.
Neville stopped short at the bottom of the stairs, “Is it Saturday?” he asked.
“No,” answered Lily, brow furrowing. “Why?”
“Then why is Daddy here?” asked Harry.
Lily patted the seat beside her. “Come here, boys,” she said. It would be a tight fit, but there was enough room for the two almost-six-year-olds between her and James. “James is here because we have some bad news to tell you.”
Harry closed to distance between the stairs and the loveseat without further prompting and launched himself onto his mother’s lap, rather than squeeze in between his parents.
Neville, however, took only two steps before stopping short. “Did something happen to Gran?” he asked, voice tiny and hesitant.
“No, no, your Gran is fine,” Lily replied quickly, before the idea could have time to fester. “Come sit down with us, so that we can explain things properly.”
Reassured, Neville closed the remaining distance, and climbed up onto James’ lap. If Harry got to sit on Lily’s lap, it was only fair that he got James’, especially if the grown-up were going to tell them about something bad.
He turned to Lily expectantly, but it was James that spoke first, breaking the oppressive silence. “Many years ago, when I was a first-year at Hogwarts, I made three friends: Remus and Sirius –who you know –and a mousy-haired boy named Peter –who you don’t. Within weeks of being sorted into Gryffindor, we were inseparable, and...”
As Harry and Neville listened avidly to James tell the story of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs –a story that they had already heard many parts of, in bits and pieces, over the years –the feeling of trepidation inspired by Lily’s mention of bad news began to wane. This wasn’t a bad story, at all...
But then it was.
Harry shuddered as his daddy explained about how Wormtail had tried to sell his family out to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and had only failed because You-Know-Who had chosen to attack Neville’s family first. He breathed a brief sigh of relief when Daddy told of his former friend’s arrest, but started shivering again when Mummy broke the news that Wormtail had escaped from prison, last night.
“Now, now,” said Mummy, hugging him tightly, “there’s nothing to be afraid of. Your father and I are going to make sure nothing happens to you, either of you. But, we’re going to have to put up stronger wards, and we’re going to all have to be extra vigilant. That means, no leaving the house until the new wards are up, and no leaving the grounds –until this is all behind us –once they are. Do you understand?”
Neville, struggling to digest this newest addition to the long list of threats to his life, nodded seriously.
Mostly reassured but still pale with worry, Harry did too. Mummy and Daddy would keep them safe…
A/N: Many thanks to my beta, Arnel, for her help on this chapter.