(Now with podfic, recorded by the author: We Were the Potters. Please be gentle, this is only my second podfic.)
We Were the Potters
By the time Minerva McGonagall makes her visit, the Potter family already has that thing they don't talk about, as every family does. Even James and Albus understand, but they follow their parents' lead in how to deal with it, which is not to deal with it at all.
On the night before her eleventh birthday, Harry sits with Lily in her bedroom, reading to her from a very old, battered copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, thinking what a wonderful, bright, beautiful daughter he has and wondering how to tell her.
Her favorite story has always been "The Fountain of Fair Fortune," unlike her brothers, who worry Harry with their love of "The Tale of the Three Brothers." He wants to tell them that of all the stories of Beedle, that one is the most truthful and the most dangerous, but he fears for them should they know the truth. He fears that anyone should know the truth and go searching for things that shouldn't be found. So Lily's love of the fountain makes him happy, even if the secret he carries dampens it somewhat.
"Do you think my letter will come tomorrow?" she asks, looking up at him with her large, trusting eyes. "It's so late in the summer, do you think the owl got lost? I thought owls didn't get lost."
"I guess we'll find out tomorrow," he says, kissing her forehead, and decides that story time is over.
When he goes downstairs, he finds his wife in the kitchen with her hands flat on the table, and Headmistress McGonagall sitting across from her. The Headmistress really looks no different than she did while they were in school, though she must be getting old even for a witch. Not that Harry would ever say something like that to her face, especially not when she sits in his kitchen looking so serious.
"Headmistress." He's trying to be polite, but Ginny isn't interested.
"Lily won't be going to Hogwarts," she says, her hands on the table twitching until her fingers curl in on her palms.
His stomach turns over, but it isn't as though he didn't expect it. In eleven years, Lily has not once performed any kind of magic. She hasn't even ridden a child's broom. More than once he's remembered Neville's story of all the things his family did to try to force the magic out of him. If they had dropped Lily out a window, she wouldn't have bounced.
The Headmistress looks at him, and on the surface she is as calm as she ever was, but he's known her long enough to be able to read the compassion in her eyes and the tilt of her mouth, in the way she looks at him only a moment before looking away. "I wanted to tell you myself, in person," she says, her brogue doing nothing to lessen the sharp lash of her words. "The deadline's passed for letters this year. If Lily were going to get one, the quill would have written her name in the Book already. I'm so sorry, Potter."
What can he say? "No need, Headmistress. It isn't your fault. We… will have to talk to Lily tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. Tomorrow's her birthday." He is aware that his voice sounds distant and hollow, but can do nothing about it.
"Yes, of course." She glances Ginny's way, and finds nothing there but cold stone, a frigidity of demeanor Harry isn't familiar with. "I should be going. Good evening."
When McGonagall is gone, Harry sits in the seat she vacated and takes Ginny's hands in his. He tries to be gentle with her, tries to be kind. "Gin, it's not the end of the world."
Her eyes flash, and that he is quite familiar with. "What do you mean, it's not the end of the world? Are you saying nothing's wrong here, that our baby girl won't be able to go to Hogwarts? It's okay that she won't receive the same education as her brothers, or be able to choose any career she wants?" The tears have begun to swamp her eyes and voice, his strong wife, his iron-spined Ginevra. "She's been talking about creating the first ever broom ballet troupe. Did you know that? She's never been able to get a broom so much a twitch, but she wants to dance on them."
Without any warning her anger falters, and Harry has to move forward to catch her as her backbone fails her along with her knees. "Gin, Ginny, it's okay, it's all right." Right now is not the time to say more than that, or do more than hug her to him tightly, to support her.
In the morning, he will wake Lily for her birthday and try to avoid all mention of Hogwarts.
The morning after that, he has to break his daughter's dreams.
Harry is able to overcome his visions of a magical daughter finding success as a Healer, or curse-breaker, or any number of other magical careers. It isn't as hard as it could be, for he's already had to tell himself she'll never be an Auror. Lily is less interested in following his footsteps than her older brother, James. She's more studious, like Albus. And he knows that life as a Muggle may be difficult for a child of a magical family, but it isn't impossible.
The day after her birthday, Harry takes Lily out, just the two of them, to get her away from the tension at home. His girl is smart, though, and she knows her mother is upset about something.
As they sit in a Muggle ice cream shop eating their sundaes, and Harry tries to figure out how to start, Lily does it for him. "I'm not going to Hogwarts, am I?" She says it without looking up from her bowl of melting ice cream and toppings.
Harry sighs, exhaling all his dreams for her in that breath. "No, baby, you're not."
It's the Cruciatus curse all over again when her face crumbles. It starts at her eyes, with the shine of tears and then the foundations falling apart until her eyes squeeze closed under the gravity of heartbreak. Then, less than a second later the trembling moves to her lips, and they open in a gasp.
"Why? Did I do something wrong? James got in all sorts of trouble before going to Hogwarts and he still got to go!"
Harry slides from his side of the booth and moves to slide in next to her, putting his arm around her shoulders. Lily's little arms go around him as she cries, and he murmurs quietly, out of the ears of Muggles, "Do you remember how James and Albus rode their brooms when they were littler than they are now?" She nods. "And do you remember Hugo accidentally blowing up the frog in Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione's back yard? And Dominique turning their dog green?"
"And Rose making Molly's hair turn puke-colored," she says with a sniffle. Harry smiles a little and squeezes her.
"Yes, that. You remember all those things. Kids with magic can't always control it, that's why they go to Hogwarts in the first place." Harry pauses to kiss her hair. This is cowardly, but he can't bring himself to say the word, and his daughter is bright, so very bright. "Kids with magic do these sorts of things."
Silence from Lily. He can almost hear her mind turning over his words, grinding them into a fine dust to be evaluated one syllable at a time. He knows when she realizes what he means when she hugs him tighter and cries harder. And he knows that his little girl will grow up far faster than his sons.
Ginny is beautiful, and Ginny is smart, and Ginny has always been strong and kind. As he watches the rigid line of her back, Harry wonders where the last two have gone. Three weeks since their worst fears were confirmed, and she still can't talk about it.
"Gin, we have to decide where we're going to send Lily for school."
"You decide," she replies, dishes clanking in the sink beneath her hands. "I don't know anything about Muggle schools."
Harry takes off his glasses to rub his eyes and the bridge of his nose. "Neither do I. I haven't been to one since I was ten years old." Nothing from his lovely wife. "Well, we have some choices, I guess. I know there's plenty of Muggle boarding schools, if we still want to send her to a school all term, or there are state schools where she would go to school during the day and come home every evening." He feels like he talks to himself, or the wall, the table, anything but Ginny, who washes and dries the dishes mechanically. Three weeks ago she'd have done this with magic, but these days she does many household chores by hand to keep herself busy. "I could visit Dudley, get a few brochures in his name—"
"Fine, that's fine, Harry. Do whatever you think is best." A dish crashes especially hard against another, and Harry feels the last of his patience crack.
"You have to be part of this. I'm not the only parent here, you're her mother. I can't make decisions for our daughter's future without you."
"Why not?" The sounds from the sink have ceased, but Ginny doesn't turn around to face him. "Why can't you? You know more about the Muggle world than I do. You know more about what sort of life she's going to have to lead."
"No, I don't. I want her educated, yes, and if that has to be at a Muggle school, then fine. But that doesn't mean I'm going to choose the rest of her life for her, it doesn't mean I'm going to tell her how to live it. When the time comes, she's going to decide for herself what to do." He's angry, more angry than he's been in years, and far more angry than he's ever been at Ginny. He never knows if the next words he speaks are heartfelt or simply out of spite. "I don't want to send her away, though. If it's up to me, I'd want her in a public school where she will come home every day." Where she'll be under your nose, where you'll have to look at her eventually.
She is silent a long time, so long he thinks he should probably apologize even though he knows he's right. These arguments are never good, and they've never disagreed on anything involving the children. This situation is unique.
Finally, Ginny speaks again, the dishes long since gone quiet. "Did I ever tell you I have a distant cousin who's a stock broker?"
The change of subject throws off his equilibrium, and Harry frowns, shaking his head. "No, I've never heard you talk about him."
"That's because I don't. None of us do. We don't talk about cousin Milton and his horrible daughter. We just don't."
Just like that, the urge to apologize vanishes. "Are you saying that's going to be Lily? The cousin no one talks about? The daughter no one talks about?"
"That's not what I'm saying—"
"Funny, because it seems that way to me."
He leaves. He can't stand to look at her anymore.
Before summer ends, and all the children go off to school, the Potter family packs for a weekend stay at the Burrow, their annual fit of insanity. All the Weasley children are there, and bring their spouses and kids. The children always tend to stay outside where they can fly, de-gnome the garden, or any number of other activities and the adults stay inside to talk and trade parenting tips and work news and the latest gossip. Everyone has a good time, even quiet Albus, who is best friends with his cousin Rose. They have similar interests, and Rose runs roughshod over him, but it's all right because he doesn't mind.
Almost immediately after they arrive, Ginny and her mother disappear somewhere in one of the Burrow's many rooms.
Harry invites Lily to stay with the adults in the house, if she likes, because she's been quite unhappy since their talk over ice cream, and didn't want to come. He thinks she knows why, and doesn't blame her. She's always been jealous of the boys riding their brooms, and the minor magic cast by the children not yet in school will not be easy for her to watch. She seems perfectly content to sit near him while he exchanges words with Arthur and Percy.
"Why aren't you outside playing?" Percy asks her in a tone that is uniquely Percy. If she hasn't offended him by acting utterly unchildlike, she's come close. Lily only frowns and leans on Harry's shoulder, who explains that she hasn't been feeling well, and that mollifies Percy for now.
For a moment he wants to shout, to tell the truth, because he doesn't want his daughter to be the one no one talks about. He wants to tell them he isn't ashamed of her. But he also doesn't want to hurt her, and shouting out her secret in front of the family would hurt her in more ways than he can imagine, so he keeps silent and holds his daughter close.
Besides, they will know soon enough.
Dinner is a practice in insanity, with plates floating here there and yonder according to their spells, and none of the more boisterous family members notice Lily in the middle of it, her eyes on her plate, trying not to watch what she used to take joy in being part of.
Harry also sees his sons, how James laughs with one of his cousins and his Uncle George, but Harry knows his son enough to see the tension, to hear the woodenness of the laughter. Albus has always been the quiet one, and he sits next to his sister, silent with her. Harry hopes this brotherly concern will last, but he can't be sure what will happen under the pressure of their peers, and of the more traditionalist members of the family.
It isn't until dinner is over and the children are rushed to get ready for bed, their parents overseeing their efforts, that Molly pulls Harry aside, the worry evident in her eyes and the downturned muscles of her mouth.
"Ginny's told me—"
"We'll be fine, Molly," he says before she can continue, using her first name as she requested on the day she became his mother-in-law.
"Oh, dear, I know, but there's so much to think about. Like Lily's happiness. She won't be happy, not at all."
Cold begins to settle in his stomach, and seep outward. "What do you mean?"
She wipes at her cheeks under her eyes, and he sees the moisture gathering there. "How can she be? I've seen her already, looking like she lost someone she loved. All the things she'll never be able to do, they're all around her." Molly places a hand on his arm, entreating him with her eyes. "Ginny says you want to send Lily to a… a Muggle state school."
Harry nods, unable to speak around the tight pain in his throat. It's worse, coming from Molly. Ginny is his wife, and terrible as it is, that gives him permission to be angry with her when he wants. He can't be angry with her mother, who has only ever been kind to him, and whom he knows only has everyone's best interests at heart.
"Sending her there would just be cruel. You have to think about what's best for Lily."
"She's only just found out, Molly. Can't we give her some time?"
Molly's hair, grayed out a bit, swishes gently as she shakes her head. "Time won't give her magic."
"Was a bitter man who rarely left the Hogwarts grounds." Her hands clutch his. "I don't want that to happen to Lily. I want her to be happy, but she can't be happy in our world."
He can't argue. Filch remained a bitter man until his death, a deep bitterness with teeth and claws that wound its way into his heart until he hated the children around him for no reason other than their ability to do what he could not. None of this is a secret, not after Skeeter's vicious exposé. Who knew Filch's life had been interesting enough for an exposé?
"What do you suggest?"
"Send her away. To a boarding school. You told Ginny Muggles have them, too. It really would be best for her to go away and not have to come home every day to where there's magic all around."
The ice in Harry's stomach widens. "I think it would be best for her to be able to come home to her loving parents every day." He can't explain to his mother-in-law how different the Muggle world really is, and Lily will lack the very basic vocabulary she needs to navigate its streets and byways. Harry can't imagine what damage it would do. "I can't just plop her in the middle of the Muggle world; that would be just as cruel."
Molly smiles an overly kind smile that does nothing to melt the ice on in stomach. "You wouldn't have to, dear. Don't you have that cousin of yours? I know he was awful to you as children, but the two of you seem to get on fine now."
Harry can only stare at her. It is true he and Dudley have come to an uneasy peace, and sometimes the two families mix for smaller holidays that won't be ruined by their complicated past. Dudley has a lovely wife—who seems to love him very much more than Harry ever thought someone could—and two children who run the risk of being the next generation of terrible Dursleys because Dudley is as incapable of disciplining them as his own parents were of him, but if that is a sin of love then Harry has learned to forgive it.
He will also forgive it of Molly, in time.
For now, he takes a deep breath and tries to keep the anger from his tone, failing spectacularly. "My children will never be sent to live with any other family, especially if I'm still alive."
Molly looks shocked, and the reunion doesn't last much longer, at least for Harry and Lily. Ginny and the boys stay the night, while Harry takes his daughter home. It's time he asks her what she wants.
They try the Muggle state school for a while. It's Lily's choice, when Ginny refuses to help Harry make one. It's a good idea, at least at first, because it gives Harry a chance to help her navigate the strange corridors of Muggle life, to explain the little words and details beyond things such as the telephone and television, things he'd brought into their home early. Lily is frustrated with all of the things she doesn't understand, and though she's a good student her grades suffer because she simply doesn't comprehend the little rules.
Harry can only watch her struggle, listen through her door as she cries in the evenings. He can't even help her with her homework, because the things she's studying now, the things considered important in Muggle society like advanced maths and chemistries and biologies, are things he never had to study. There is a values gap there; if she were able to go to Hogwarts she'd be learning flying and charms and potions, which require only so much math or chemistry as is needed to get the job done. Harry cannot help her with algebra.
Ginny will not look at her, and Harry also listens to her cry at night when she thinks he isn't listening. His wife and daughter are both miserable, leaving Harry unsure of how to fix it for either of them. Intellectually he knows he can't fix it, but it doesn't stop him from wishing.
Three months into the new term, they receive an urgent owl from Hogwarts. Harry insists that Ginny stay to be home for when Lily gets home, while he Apparates to Hogsmede on his way to Hogwarts to deal with the problem.
The problem is James, who sits in the Headmistress' office with a black eye, a busted lip, and a smoldering glare of hatred for the other boy, who looks even worse but sits straight and proud. Harry sighs, because it would be Scorpius Malfoy, wouldn't it? Draco is there already, and gives him a cool nod over the shoulder of his son. For a moment there is a connection between them, a look in Draco's eyes, a smirk on Harry's face, that says things never change, do they?
Headmistress McGonagall sits at the desk, and peers at them all over the rim of her glasses, stern and pursed-lipped as ever. "Potter and Malfoy, together in my office. Why am I not surprised?" When Harry opens his mouth to give what is likely going to be considered a smart remark, she lifts a hand. "No, no. It was a rhetorical question, Mr. Potter, the answer is best left unsaid. And you both should know this isn't the first time your sons have been in trouble for fighting with each other." She turns her gaze to the boys. "Now, would the Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy the younger care to explain to their fathers why they're in my office this time?"
Harry doubts James does, he wouldn't if it were him, and it seems he's right when James stays silent but Scorpius pipes up with, "Potter hit me, Headmistress, after Potions class for no reason at all! I defended myself."
That's all that's needed to goad James into, "I had a reason, you git, and I'd do it again!"
Harry sighs. He doesn't know whether to be glad James is telling the truth or disappointed that he isn't even trying. He leans down to tell James to elaborate, but James only glares sullenly at his nemesis and his father. "James, why did you hit Scorpius? It's only going to be worse trouble if you don't tell us." Something Harry knows only too well.
Finally, James turns his glare away from Scorpius, not to his father but to the Headmistress, and says in a flat voice, "He was talking about my sister."
Harry's hands grip the back of James' seat when a jolt of fury goes through him and settles in his stomach. It takes all of the control he has to remember that Scorpius is a child, and children are cruel because they don't understand how not to be, or why kindness is better. He tries to remember how Draco was raised, and to convince himself it can't have been easy to break from that teaching for the sake of his son. He tries, and manages it perhaps halfway.
"I see," the Headmistress is saying. She knows. "Mr. Malfoy, is this true?" Her tone and her lifted eyebrow say she knows what the truth is even if it's something he won't admit.
Scorpius' only answer is to cross his arms and sit straighter, lifting his nose higher in the air. Behind him, Draco is stone-faced. No doubt Scorpius has already told him, just as Draco before him talked about Hermione to his father.
"Well," McGonagall says as she lowers her eyes to make marks on a scroll on her desk, "this is certainly more complicated than it first appeared." She raises her eyes again, looking James and Scorpius in the eyes in their turns. "Mr. Potter, we cannot have students fist-fighting in the hallways. And Mr. Malfoy, we cannot have students goading other students to fist-fighting. It seems to me you both are in the wrong."
"Quiet, both of you. Now, unless your fathers have any objections, and they should be very good ones, I will be satisfied with giving you both detention for a month." The boys begin to groan, but she raises her hand to stop them and continues. "Together."
The groans have become complete, shocked silence. Even Harry and Draco are shocked, though Harry can admit to himself later that he shouldn't be at all, especially after the Headmistress' next words.
"It's time to end this silly, stupid rivalry once and for all, and if you boys won't end it on your own, then you'll do it under coercion. Dismissed!"
The boys leave, the fathers peer at each other silently, then turn to go as well. "Mr. Malfoy." McGonagall calls. "I would have a word with you, if you don't mind." He might, as far as Harry knows, but is as unable as Harry to refuse the voice of authority. "You, Mr. Potter, may go."
There is nothing else to do. He goes.
They try. They are a family, and trying is all they can do, but as a family they also learn that sometimes trying simply is not enough. Ginny tries, but cannot learn to accept her magicless daughter, cannot learn how to fit her daughter's Muggle lifestyle within her perception of family, and of life. James and Albus try to behave themselves, but there are too many people who talk, too many of their classmates who don't understand, and both the boys' grades suffer. James fights, Albus takes it all in shamed silence, and at the end of his sixth year, James drops out.
By that point, Harry and Ginny are already separated. Ginny, James and Albus live in the home they made, while Harry and Lily live in a flat in the same neighborhood as the school she attends. It's not terribly difficult for a grown wizard and a young girl to keep the Muggles from knowing who they really are, and Harry is able to keep his position with the Aurors.
Hermione, who helped him find Lily's school and also the flat, often visits with Hugo and Rose. Ron doesn't visit; it would seem Harry's oldest friend has chosen his sister over his best friend. Harry can't blame him, really. Not when divorce is so uncommon in the magical world, and there is the choice between blood family and friendships. Harry cannot help but feel, however, that he is losing the majority of the only family he has.
It's just him and Lily in their little flat, and Lily tries, as well. She tries to do well in school, she tries to learn how to live like a Muggle, learn all the language and the culture, and she does better at it than someone older would do, but not as well as could be hoped. Perhaps she could learn faster, better, if she had more than just her father supporting her, if she could be assured that her mother would love her no matter what and her brothers would fight for her. As it is, she has only Harry, and he knows that cannot be enough for a girl who is used to a large family and cannot figure out what she did so wrong.
Harry often has the boys over for a weekend or holiday, but Ginny never asks to see Lily. As the years go by there are cards sent on birthdays and presents sent with the boys on Christmas, but Ginny seems perfectly content otherwise pretending that she has no daughter. Anger and sorrow congeal inside Harry's gut until it forms a lumpy sort of disbelief. This is not the woman he married.
When Lily is thirteen years old, the divorce is final.
When Lily is sixteen years old, a few short weeks from being seventeen and of age, she looks at her father from behind black-ringed eyes and tells him she's sorry he saved her life.
Harry cannot breathe. 'Anguish' is a dramatic word, yet still cannot encompass the entirety of what he feels to know his daughter would rather be dead than live in a world without magic where her mother barely acknowledges she exists. It's only made worse, he knows, by her brothers, but her mother is really to blame.
Yes, Harry blames Ginny. How can he not?
"I'm not sorry," he chokes. The therapist—a good therapist, who also came from their world and learned to live as a Muggle for the same reasons as Lily—nods and tells him to continue. "I can't be sorry that my daughter is still alive."
He wishes he could refute that. Part of him still wants to, for surely Ginny doesn't actually hate her magicless daughter. He's not sure Ginny could, but she can certainly pretend she has no daughter; she can certainly ignore Lily as though doing so will make her problem go away. Ginny does not know that on the first anniversary of their divorce, Lily managed to get her hands on a potion that would have been deadly had Harry not walked in on her in the middle of drinking. Lily didn't want her to know, and so far, Harry has kept that promise.
When he Apparates them away from the therapist's office, it isn't to go home to their flat, but to Diagon Alley. They very rarely come here, not only because Lily can't get in without his help or that of James, but also because she is almost as famous as he was at her age, but for different reasons, ones neither of them want to discuss.
He buys her a sundae at Fortescue's—no longer owed or operated by a Fortescue, not since the last one was murdered by Death Eaters, but still named for him—and they sit and do not talk. They don't talk for a long time, until Lily reaches across the table to take his hand.
"It's not your fault, Dad."
Five words, and they break him down. She holds his hand as he cries, absolutely without expression.