One calm autumn night, a dark haired young man rose out of bed. The bedroom he stood in was illuminated by a sliver of white light from a full moon, breaking in through the curtains and bouncing off his wife’s mirror. The night was filled with the sort of silence only found in the very early hours.
He stretched, though he felt wide awake after several hours of staring at the blank ceiling. He quietly dressed, focusing on the dark face of a very old clock, and felt, for the first time in months, a rush of excitement.
A rustling drew his attention back to the bed, and his wife groggily sat up, rubbing her eyes with the back of her wrist. ‘James?’ she mumbled. ‘What are you doing? What’s going on? Do we need to leave?’
‘Ssh,’ he whispered. ‘Get dressed, quickly. Nice and warm.’
‘What?’ she yawned. ‘Why?’
But he had already slipped out of the room. He walked softly down the corridor, past photos that showed hints of movement even in the darkness. The door to the nursery opened with a creak, but it did not wake the baby in the wooden cot on the far side of the room. Like the bedroom, it was bathed in a silvery glow.
‘Harry,’ he whispered, starting to gently lift the baby. ‘Come on, up you get…’ The baby began to grizzle, unhappy at being woken. ‘I know, I’m sorry… It’s very selfish of me. Let’s get you dressed…’
He carefully dressed the sleepy, yet still wriggling, little boy in layers, pulling a navy knitted jumper over his black hair and guiding his chubby fists through the arms. His wife appeared at the door as he was pushing small cotton socks over his son’s feet, and he didn’t turn as she spoke quietly to him.
‘I know what you’re thinking. But we can’t. Not without your cloak.’
‘I bet you’re dressed and ready though,’ he replied. Her silence made him grin. He lifted up his son again smiling broadly into his confused and tired face. ‘We’re going on an adventure,’ he said softly to him, and the child simply looked back, probably still wondering what on earth was going on.
The family went downstairs together, James still holding his son at his waist, and pulled on mud-splattered wellies. James sat Harry on the lowest step and crouched down, helping him into the tiny red boots Lily had just handed him.
She peered out of the spyhole into the dark lane beyond. ‘Anyone there?’ he asked, swinging a rucksack over one shoulder.
‘Not tonight,’ she whispered back.
They left the home and stood cautiously on the flagstone path, glancing around uneasily at the surrounding houses.
‘Ready?’ he breathed to her.
‘Where to?’ she asked.
‘Take my hand.’
They vanished from the silent village and reappeared with a loud crack to the sound of waves washing against the shingle. Harry was crying; he had not enjoyed the sensation and so he responded by wailing loudly into his father’s neck.
They were standing on a pebbled beach, an empty and rather bleak, flat-looking landscape of coarse grass behind them and a dark sea ahead, overlooked by a brilliant full moon. There were no cliffs, and the coast seemed to stretch uninterrupted in all directions. The only sign that humans had ever been to this place was a solitary round tower several hundred yards away, imposing and strong looking.
The air was not quite as cold as James had feared, but their breath still coiled in front of them. They distracted their son by doing this, encouraging him to do the same, a tiny dragon in the arms of an angry volcano.
Harry giggled and waved his arms excitedly, squirming and kicking with such enthusiasm that James made the wise decision to put him down. He held tight to his son’s hand, as Harry was still unsteady on his feet and the pebbles underfoot shifted with every step.
‘Look, Harry,’ said Lily. ‘The big, big sea.’
The night was calm and still, and the waves that pushed against the shore were very small. They made a soothing, hushing noise as they dragged the pebbles back and forth with perfect rhythm, broken only by the slow crunching footsteps of the family as they walked towards the water.
They took off their shoes and socks, rolling up their trousers to their knees. ‘I think I’ve made a terrible mistake,’ said James. ‘It’ll be far too cold. We’ll traumatize him for life.’
‘You’re the one I’ll blame,’ said Lily with a wicked grin. They brought their son to the shoreline, each holding one hand each, wincing and hopping a little over the uncomfortable stones. ‘You could have picked a sand beach,’ muttered Lily, but James just laughed.
They gasped and squealed as the icy water hit their feet, laughing at Harry’s stunned reaction. The baby shrieked, but did not pull back, instead staring with disbelief and a little concern at his own toes.
‘What was I worrying about?’ said James proudly. ‘You’re a tough little thing.’
Their feet quickly felt numb in the water, but they shuffled a little further out, only just above ankle height for them, but hitting Harry’s knees with every new wave. Harry let go of their hands, and they let him, but both crouched a little, ready to catch him at the slightest stumble.
The moonlight shone on the surface of the dark water, shimmering with movement. Harry slapped his hands against it, babbling in delight and entranced by the way the water seemed to explode under his palms. Had there been an observer behind them, he would have seen their silhouettes, alone in a vast, bleak landscape, watching their son delight in splashing under a moonlit sky.
Lily crouched down even more, wrapping an arm around her child and showing him how to swirl the water with their fingertips, feeling it run through their hands like silk. James waded a little further out, looking out to the dark horizon, which showed barely any difference between the black of the sky and the darkness of the sea. He stared at it for quite some time, listening to the sound of his family’s laughter behind him. The sea spray clouded his glasses, so he simply closed his eyes, lolling his head back and taking deep, shuddering breaths of the freezing air. His feet were almost numb but for the uncomfortable feeling of awkward pebbles, but like his son he delighted in it, embracing every sensation that wasn’t sitting in a cosy living room or lying listlessly in bed.
He opened his eyes and looked back towards the Martello tower. It was squat and grey, a lone defender, though why anyone would want to invade this stretch of lonely British coastline he had no idea.
His wife had apparently decided that Harry was too cold, and was holding him on her hip, though he still reached down, stretching to touch the water. ‘Fish,’ she was saying, jiggling him slightly. ‘Can you say it, Harry? Fish.’
‘Spotted any?’ asked James.
She laughed. ‘Not a chance. Odd choice, James. Desolate, lifeless. Just the place for a family holiday.’
He grinned. ‘It’s not a holiday, it’s an adventure.’
‘A very cold adventure,’ she replied, rubbing one of Harry’s feet. ‘Look, he’s turning blue!’
With that, they returned to the beach, casting warming charms and wrestling Harry back into socks and wellies. James reached into his backpack, pulling out a small tent which he erected with a flick of his wand. They sat in the entrance, Harry sat happily on his mother’s lap, and continued to gaze out to sea.
‘Moon!’ Harry shouted, pointing proudly. ‘Moon!’
His parents laughed and applauded, praising him and kissing him on the head even though he had said the word many times before.
‘He still can’t say Quaffle though,’ said James. He pulled out a flask, tapping it absent mindedly with his wand. ‘I’ll be pretty devastated if he doesn’t say that before Christmas.’
He poured out a cup of the hot chocolate and handed it to Lily, who expertly raised it out of reach of Harry’s grasping hands. ‘He can say broom,’ she said reassuringly. ‘That’s a good start.’
‘Only ‘cause he’s got one. Oh, you want some do you?’ he asked Harry teasingly. ‘I don’t think you’ll like it. It’s just for grownups.’
Harry was frowning, stretching out his arms and whining demandingly. James poured a small amount into a sippy cup, handing it over with a grin.
‘You’ll spoil him!’ warned Lily. ‘You always give him everything he wants.’
‘My dad gave me everything I wanted, never did me any harm.’
‘Hmm, jury’s still out on that one, I’m afraid,’ she said in an exasperated voice, but she was smiling fondly, and she kissed Harry on the top of his head. ‘Do you think he’ll remember this?’ she asked.
‘Dunno. When do kids start to remember stuff?’
She wrinkled her nose. ‘I’m not sure. I think I can remember eating some clay when I was about two.’
‘Nice. I myself preferred to eat sand.’
‘Is that why we’re on a stony beach? You never lost the habit?’
‘It’s my biggest shame,’ he said with faux embarrassment. He took a sip of his hot chocolate, and looked down at the little toddler. ‘It’s terrible, I feel bad, but this was entirely selfish. It wasn’t for Harry. I’m glad he’s having a nice time, but I was just feeling a bit…’ he shrugged.
‘Cooped up?’ suggested Lily.
‘Yeah. We’re meant to be a family and we don’t get to do family stuff. We can’t even go outside.’
‘When do you get your cloak back?’ she asked.
‘Merlin knows,’ he muttered bitterly. ‘I’m sure he’s taken it just to keep me from sneaking out.’ He stroked his son’s hair back from his forehead. Harry did not stop drinking, but looked up at him with his bright green eyes.
‘You didn’t do it for Harry, but you didn’t do it just for you either,’ said Lily. ‘You did it for all of us. You didn’t sneak out on your own, or meet up with Sirius. You took us. To this weird place.’ She looked back out to the beach, looking bemused.
James chuckled. ‘Yeah, sorry. It needed to be very remote, and Dad took me here a few times for fishing. It’s not the prettiest of places.’
‘No, it’s beautiful, in a harsh sort of way.’
‘Fitting,’ he said quietly.
They sat in silence for several minutes, Harry falling asleep almost as soon as he finished his warm milky drink. Lily held him to her chest, James’s arm wrapped around them both, and in that moment she was neither afraid nor hopeful. There was no peace or war, no future or prophecies, no heaven or hell. They were all meaningless concepts and words, unimportant and far away. It was just them, the moon and the sea, just so, existing together in this lonely place.
‘Is that the North Star?’ she asked softly. ‘That bright one? I was always terrible at Astronomy.’
‘No, that’s Mars, I think.’ He paused, and his arm seemed to tighten around Lily’s shoulders. ‘You could see Mars really brightly the night Harry was born too. When I went to get Bathilda, she pointed it out.’
‘Typical Batty,’ said Lily. ‘She tried to tell me about the local history of Godric’s Hollow to distract me. You can always count on her to find something to say, no matter the situation.’
James smiled, stroking the top of his son’s head gently with the back of his fingers. ‘We’ll be all right, won’t we?’
The waves hushed their agreement, dashing a reassuring song against the land. The longer the family stared at the sky, the more stars seemed to reveal themselves, even with the bright moon.
A light came on with a flicker in the dark Martello tower. Lily’s eyes were drawn to it instantly. ‘James,’ she whispered. He followed her gaze and drew his wand.
‘It’s probably just a Muggle,’ he said cautiously. ‘They live in some of these towers now. But even so, we shouldn’t be here.’
Lily nodded, gathering Harry into a more secure position and getting to her feet. James waved his wand and the tent stuffed itself clumsily back into his backpack. Lily kept a tight grip on Harry, watching the tower with a tense face.
‘I’ve just thought,’ she said urgently. ‘Harry might wake up and cry when we Apparate back. We didn’t think this through.’
James muttered a curse word under his breath. ‘I knew we should have made sure we could Apparate directly into the house. We’ll just have to risk it.’
To their amazement, Harry remained in deep sleep, doing nothing more than scrunch up his face slightly as they appeared in front of their home. Daylight was beginning to suffocate the darkness in a misty grey light, so as they entered their cottage they found that they could see quite easily; the sadly little used pram pushed against the wall, the pale face of the battered old clock by the kitchen door.
Lily groaned. ‘It’s gone five in the morning. I don’t know how you boys had the energy to run around all night every month.’ They yawned widely as they climbed the creaky stairs back up to the nursery, Harry’s warm weight straining Lily’s arms.
‘It’s Halloween today,’ remembered James mid-yawn as Lily lowered Harry into his cot. ‘We should have a feast for dinner, like the good old days.’
‘If you think I’m cooking a Hogwarts feast after you dragged me out to a beach all night, you’ve got another think coming,’ replied Lily sleepily, walking unsteadily to the bedroom.
He followed her happily. ‘I’ll make it,’ he said, his eyelids so heavy with exhaustion that he was closing them without thinking. They crawled into bed together, sleep coming as easily and peacefully as the waves on the shore.