Engrossed as he was in his paperwork, it took James a moment to recognize the slowly intensifying buzzing deep in his bones.
He bolted upright.
Someone was nibbling at the wards that he and Sirius had erected last weekend!
James jumped up from his seat and, cursing the fact that the Floo in his office could only handle calls, ran for the outgoing Floo —ignoring his colleagues' stares as he rushed through the department.
"Hey! Watch where you're going!"
James barely slowed, as he accidentally brushed against a pile of paperwork on a co-worker's desk, sending parchments flying. He'd apologize later.
Please don't let me be too late.
Fa-thump! James stumbled through his home Floo, almost tripping over his daughter on his way out of the hearth, and causing Lily to look up from her knitting in surprise, at his ungainly entrance.
James bolted out of the room before she could finish asking what was wrong.
Did I forget to key Lily to the wards? James pushed the thought aside. Later, I'll worry about that later. Now, he had more pressing things to worry about —like getting to the site of the attempted breach, before the wards fell.
He burst through the back door.
His heart rose.
Harry and Neville were playing in the garden —where they'd spent almost every waking minute, since the adults had declared it safe enough for them to be outdoors.
"Get inside boys! Now!"
Surprised, the boys scampered past him, and into the house, without a word.
James felt his heartbeat calm—marginally.
A preliminary visual scan of the yard found nothing out of place —but he hadn't really expected it to. Whatever was nibbling at the wards hadn't gotten through yet.
He cast an extrasensory spell, allowing him to briefly see through the fence bordering their yard, to the edge of the wards beyond it.
Crouched by some shrubbery on the Creevey side of the fence, wand pointed at the ward-line, was a dishevelled looking Wormtail —hardly recognizable as his old friend, after over four years in Azkaban, and weeks on the run.
The extrasensory spell faded.
James took aim at the fence, and a portion of it exploded, pelting Pettigrew with wood fragments.
He took aim again.
The cowering wizard disappeared.
James lowered his wand, adjusting his aim to target the grey garden rat that stood in his place.
The rat scampered off into the shrubbery, out of sight, and he scanned the shrubs, frantically. There! It appeared briefly by the fence separating the Creevey's yard from number nine, but before he could get his wand up, it darted under the divider, and out of sight once more.
James took an impulsive step forward, intent to give chase —then stopped short. Much as he wanted to, he couldn't keep blasting through fences, without risking a serious breach of the Statue of Secrecy and, if he tried to go the long way around, Wormtail would be long gone before he made it into the next yard over.
With a heavy feeling in his gut, James repaired the demolished fence and turned back towards the house, shoulders slumped in defeat. Peter might not have gotten through the wards, but he had attacked them. James and Lily been dancing around the issue for weeks, but it was clear that they couldn't take the risk of relying on the wards alone anymore. There could be no more denying that Wormtail was after them, that after over four years of peace, the Potters were once more a target —Harry was once more a target.
Mind made up, he pulled open the kitchen door —and found himself facing the business end of Lily's wand, and under pressure to prove his identity.
When he'd finally done so to her satisfaction, James stumbled past her and dropped unceremoniously into one of the kitchen chairs. "You can come out now, kids."
The boys emerged from behind the counter with uncharacteristic timidity, Heather toddling unsteadily between them.
"Wormtail was trying to get through the wards," James answered the unvoiced question. "He got away."
Harry shuddered, barely noticing the noise Heather made as she plopped unceremoniously to the ground beside him. He hadn't meant to let go of her hand, but…
Before, Wormtail had been an abstract danger –something that the grown-ups talked about but that didn't feel real, not after the initial fear had worn off… But now…Wormtail had been here, had been trying to get in… Suddenly, the danger was very real —very real, and very scary. "Does that mean that we can't go outside anymore?"
James shook his head. "Not necessarily."
Keeping the boys cooped up inside long-tem, tempting as it might be, probably wouldn't significantly change the danger they were in. "But we will have to re-check the wards, in case he managed to make any cracks in them, and…"
He hesitated, glancing at Lily for support, but she was occupied with consoling their daughter, and gave no sign of noticing his unspoken request for solidarity. No matter, he'd made up his mind. Nothing else would set his mind at ease and, even without consulting her, he knew Lily would agree.
"…and it would be best if you were to become a Secret like Neville," James finished his sentence.
Harry frowned, and for a long moment he didn't speak, couldn't find the words. He'd known that his parents had been thinking about making him a Secret for weeks, had overheard them discussing it more than once. But he'd never really thought of what it meant, never really believed that they'd actually go through with it.
Unbidden, his mind conjured up memories from before Colin had known Neville's Secret, when he'd thought that Neville was Harry's imaginary friend. "Are…are all my friends going to forget that I exist?" he asked, voice wavering.
He didn't want any of his friends to forget him, especially not Hermione, but maybe — just maybe— it would be okay for them to forget for a little while, if it kept him safe…
"No, they won't forget you," Lily answered, before the worry could take root. "They'll just forget how to find you, forget where you live."
That wasn't too bad. If Neville could live with that, so could he, especially if it was only for a little while, only until Wormtail was caught… His parents wouldn't keep him a secret forever, would they? They weren't paranoid like Neville's Gran…
Harry nodded. "Okay."
"Good boy." James let out a sigh of relief at the lack of significant resistance, then met Lily's gaze. They had a lot to talk about, preferably without so many ears present.
Lily nodded. "Why don't you boys run up to your room for a bit, and bring your sister with you? James and I have to talk."
The boys hesitated. But she shooed them out, before setting about casting a variety of privacy spells, layering them one on top of another.
James shot her a questioning look. He was well aware that the boys probably had their ears up to the door, trying to eavesdrop, but surely a simple Silencing Charm would have the job…
"HOW COULD YOU FORGET TO KEY ME TO THE ALARM ON THE WARDS?"
Or maybe not! James cringed. He hadn't heard Lily hit quite that pitch in years, and the last time he hadn't been the target… "I'm sorry!"
A fresh wave of distress and powerlessness washed over him. It had been a simple oversight –a simple potentially fatal oversight. If he had he been just a little slower at reacting to the alarm, if Wormtail had been a little more efficient at dismantling the wards…
Lily's glare softened almost as quickly as it had appeared, and she pulled him into a hug, as much to reassure herself as to comfort him. "So what are we going to do now?" she asked.
"I don't know," James admitted. "I haven't thought past the fact that we need to cast the Fidelius to protect Harry."
"That's the most important part," Lily agreed, pulling out of the hug. "Now, we have to work out the logistics: Who will be Secret-Keeper? Do we hide just Harry, or the whole family? Who do we let in on the Secret? Will you continue to go to work...?"
A/N: Many thanks to my beta, Arnel, for her help on this chapter.