Huh! Lily paused on her way to the kitchen—where she’d been hoping to manage a quiet cup of tea, before any of the children woke—and frowned. Aside from Christmas cards around the holidays, they didn’t get much Muggle mail...
Could Peter have hidden something dangerous in their mailbox? A magical letter bomb or contact poison?
Peter was a pureblood wizard, with little imagination. He probably didn’t even know how a mailbox worked.
Still, best to check it out before the children woke up, especially considering how stir-crazy the boys were getting, and the veritable tantrum they’d thrown yesterday. It wouldn’t do for them to see her leave the house without them, even if she was only going to the end of the walk, and she couldn’t risk bringing them with her, if there was even a remote possibility that the mailbox’s contents might be dangerous...
Slipping on her shoes, she cast a quick glance up the stairs to check that the boys weren’t on their way down.
No sign of them yet.
She hurried out the door, and down the walk.
None of the detection spells that she cast at the mailbox suggested anything untoward. Still, she didn’t dare touch the lid, and instead used magic to flip it open.
The mailbox contained a single envelope—a single very white, very Muggle envelope. Recognizing the immaculately neat but childish handwriting it was addressed in, Lily let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding, and smiled.
A letter from Hermione might be just the thing to cheer Harry and Neville up a little.
She rushed back into the house.
There was still no sign of the boys when she snuck back inside, but the escalating murmur coming from the baby monitor told her that Heather, at least, was up.
Lily sighed. So much for the quiet cup of tea she’d been hoping for…
Pausing only momentarily to set Hermione’s letter down in the entrance hall, Lily hurried up the stairs to retrieve her youngest. Considering the foul mood that the boys had been lately, they weren’t likely to react well to being woken by the sound of Heather’s increasingly shrill cries.
The boys, worn out from their multiple temper tantrums the day before, didn’t stir in the time it took her to get Heather calmed down, changed, and dressed, nor as she tip-toed past their room on her way back to the kitchen. In fact, by the time the boys thundered down the stairs, Heather had been fed, the mess she’d made trying to feed herself had been cleaned up, and the toddler was playing contentedly in her usual kitchen play-corner.
Without a word, Lily placed a full plate in front of each boy, and watched silently as they picked morosely at their food. Finally, she couldn’t take the heavy silence a moment longer.
She slid into the seat across from them and said, conversationally, “I’ve got some good news for you.”
Both boys bolted upright.
“They finally caught Wormtail, and we can go outside!?” asked Harry, grinning widely, his voice teeming with excitement.
A pang of guilt, for unintentionally getting their hopes up, washed over Lily. “I’m afraid not,” she answered, mind flashing back to that morning’s discouraging Daily Prophet headline: “PETTIGREW STILL AT LARGE.”
Harry’s bright smile faded quickly, as disappointment replaced excitement, and his morose gaze drifted back down to the now unappetising food in front of him.
Beside him, Neville, hope muted but still sparkling in his eyes, took a second guess, “Gran has agreed to invite some of our friends over, so we can have a real birthday party?”
Lily’s frown deepened. Maybe she was going about this wrong… she should probably have just given them the news straight off, instead of being forced to pile disappointment on top of disappointment… but she wasn’t going to lie to them either. “No, I’m sorry, but what I said last week still applies. It really wouldn’t be a good idea for you to have friends over right now.”
“Whatever,” Neville grumbled, slouching back over his plate, eyes now glistening with unshed tears instead of excitement.
“But...” she paused, waiting for them to pay attention, but both boys kept their gazes intently focused on their plates, neither of them crying, but both teetering on the edge. Finally, after a full minute of silence, broken only by the sound of their forks scraping distractedly on their plates, she gave up and blurted out her news, “Hermione sent a letter.”
Neville’s fork fell to his plate, forgotten. “She did!?”
“Yes!” Lily smiled at the two grinning boys. Now, that was more the reaction that she’d been angling for. “Now finish your breakfast, so we can clear the table to read it.”
Their smiles muted slightly, but neither boy bothered protesting. Instead, they turned to the task of inhaling their food without choking, with more enthusiasm than they had shown in weeks. Then, they jostled each other to help with after-breakfast clean-up, practically fighting over who brought which plates to the counter, and who dried which dishes, despite her admonishments that broken plates would slow production down, rather than speed it up.
By the time she declared breakfast sufficiently cleaned up, and had retrieved the letter from the entrance hall, they were both practically bouncing on the balls of their feet.
With one boy peering over each shoulder, Lily broke the seal on the envelope and pulled the letter out, unfolding it to reveal more of the same careful script:
Dear Harry and Neville,
By the time you get this I will probably have missed both your birthdays. But happy belated birthday to you both!
I miss both of you very much. Our new house is very nice and the neighbourhood seems rather quaint. I haven’t met any other children yet, but Mother says that she’s sure there are some, and that I’ll probably meet them once I start school in September.
Mother and Father have been very understanding of my loneliness, but they’ve been very busy lately with setting up their practice, and with trying to unpack everything. (We’ve even discussed the possibility of my needing a daytime minder once we’ve settled down a little, so that both Mother and Father can be at their practice at the same time.) So, it’s been mostly just Annie and me. I’ve been keeping myself occupied with my reading.
By the way, Annie doesn’t say it, but I know she misses you too. I look forward to hearing from you.
Your friend forever,
“Can we write back, Lily?” asked Neville, before she could even set the letter down.
Lily cast a quick glance at Heather. The toddler was still playing cheerfully. “Sure, honey.” Lily smiled, mission accomplished. It might be just temporary, but she’d managed to get the boys’ minds off their imposed house arrest and isolation, and onto something positive. “Just give me a minute to go get a pen and some paper.”
She only left the room for a minute, but Harry pounced on her the moment she returned, Muggle pen and paper in hand. “Mine first, Mum!” he begged.
Neville pouted. “But I asked first!”
“But it was my idea that we should write letters!” insisted Harry, “and Hermione wrote ‘Harry and Neville,’ so I should get to write my letter first.”
“That doesn’t mean anything!”
“Yes, it does!”
“No, it doesn’t! And I asked first,” he turned to Lily, “Lily you promised.”
“She didn’t promise anything.” Harry didn’t give her a chance to respond. “You just assumed.”
“Boys!” Lily’s sharp tone silenced both boys, and caused even Heather to look up momentarily from her toys, startled. “That’s enough! I was going to write both your letters, but if you can’t stop arguing, I won’t be writing either of them.” It was an empty threat, all things considered, but the boys didn’t need to know that, provided it had the desired response.
“Humph!” Neville swallowed his intended response.
Harry glared at his feet, but didn’t make a sound.
“Fine!” Neville ground out, after a moment of tense silence. “Write Harry’s first… but it better not be too long...”
Harry’s downward gaze transformed into a triumphant smirk.
Neville glared scathingly.
Mindful of his mother’s disapproving gaze, Harry quickly assumed a more modest expression, waiting with poorly contained impatience for her to pull herself a seat, and set pen to paper:
I miss you very much. It’s very boring with you gone. Yesterday when me, and Colin, and Neville played Aurors and Dark wizards they made me be the girl. Neville said it was practice for when Wormtail comes to get me, but Mum made him stop teasing. She said just ‘cause Wormtail tried to help You-Know-Who kill me, doesn’t mean it’s me he wants to hurt now that he ran away from Azkaban. He might want Neville too.
So, now we aren’t allowed to go outside anymore, not me, or Neville. Mum says even the yard isn’t safe anymore ‘cause Wormtail can turn into a rat. So, we have to wait ‘till Dad and Sirius put wards up.
There are mousetraps all over the house. We’re not supposed to touch them though ‘cause Mum says that they’d cut off our fingers if we did –”
“Awww come on Harry!” interrupted Neville. “I let you go first, but that’s more than enough...”
“I’m not finished yet!”
“But it’s my turn,” Neville whined. “Lily, tell him it’s my turn now.”
Lily kept her hand and pen poised to write, and her eyes on the paper in front of her, refusing to get pulled into the argument, unless it started to get out of hand.
“Fine!” humphed Harry, “just one more sentence:
I have to go now because Neville is being rude and a big meanie and wants Mum to write his letter “Right Now!”
He turned to Neville, “Happy now!?”
Neville steadfastly ignored him, refusing to rise to the bait. Instead, he kept his gaze fixed on Lily’s hands as she pulled a fresh sheet of paper from the pile she’d brought with her. There was more than one way to get back at his brother:
Harry’s a liar. He’s the one that’s being rude and grumpy, ever since we heard Lily and James talking about him, maybe, having to be a secret like me. First he steals my turn –Lily promised me first to write my letter –and now he’s calling me rude.
I don’t know why he’s taking it out on me. It’s not my fault that the grown-ups are afraid he’s going to be kidnapped or killed. They’ve thought the same thing about me for years. And now Lily won’t let me or Harry go outside. And even though we screamed, and pouted, and stamped our feet, all day yesterday, she wouldn’t change her mind. It’s a miracle that they still let Colin come over. They even made us cancel our birthday party and everything, so don’t feel bad about missing it.
And it’s so boring in the house. We can’t even play hide-and-go-seek because of all the stupid mousetraps, and who wants to play board games when it’s sunny outside? I’m so bored that I almost miss you forcing us to play House with you. I miss you.
Write back soon,
A/N: Many thanks to my beta, Arnel, for her help on this chapter.