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A Different Kind of Magic by unjellify

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Chapter Notes: The Potter-verse belongs to J.K. Rowling, and the chapter title comes from the song "Unwell" by Matchbox Twenty. Thanks to Soraya for her usual amazing editing, and to Erin for discussing the endless possibilities.

James landed in the dark hall of the Potter home. His insides took a moment to return to equilibrium, since he had always found traveling by Portkey disconcerting. Within minutes, he heard Lindy’s shuffling footsteps, and the weak glow of a candle illuminated the darkness. “Master James?” Lindy said.

“Lindy!” James exclaimed, so relieved to see the house-elf”or rather, what she represented, which was normality in the Potter household”that he bent down and hugged her diminutive frame.

“Lindy thinks it is for the best that Master James came home from school,” Lindy said, patting him cautiously on the back.

James stepped back and looked at her, his expression of relief dropping into a frown. He ran up the stairs suddenly, terrified by the possible meaning Lindy’s words could hold.

Lindy followed him, saying anxiously, “Mistress is very sick. Master must not be shocked when he sees her.”

“I won’t be,” James said distractedly, already halfway down the hall.

“Would Master James like a glass of water?”

“I’m fine, really.”

“Perhaps he should go to bed and wait until morning to see Mistress?” Lindy suggested.

James turned impatiently. Taking a deep breath to keep his tone even, he said, “Really, I just want to see my mum. I won’t disturb her.”

He made for his parents’ bedroom, but Lindy tugged at his shirt. “This way,” she said, pointing to the door across the hall that had always led to a guest bedroom. Her large, orb-like eyes were fixed nervously on him. James knew she was only trying to look out for him”after all, she had been in the family longer than he had”but he couldn’t help the irritation rising in his stomach.

He opened the door and walked in, intending only to look at his mother by the moonlight coming in through the window and ensure that she was all right, but a floorboard creaked under his feet. The bedsheets rustled, and then his mother’s voice said, “Lumos.” The spell lit up the room for a moment and then broke, again plunging the room into near darkness.

Lumos,” James supplemented. He still sometimes forgot that he was of age now.

“Jamie, you’re here!” It was his mother, and yet it wasn’t. She was skeleton-colored.

“Hi, Mum. I didn’t mean to wake you,” James said, swallowing.

“Nonsense, I always like to see you, especially since you’ve been away.” Mrs. Potter’s gaunt face split into a grin, but her high cheekbones were too pronounced under her skin and the russet roundness of her cheeks was gone.

James hugged his mother, and her arms reached up to encircle him. She was cold. She was so cold. He kissed her cheek, which felt powdery underneath his lips.

He drew back carefully. Her skin was as white and as fine as tissue paper, wrinkled at the places where the fullness of her arms had once been. James took her hand, keeping his touch light, afraid that if he pressed too hard, he might break through that translucent skin to the visible veins beneath. “How are you, Mum?” he asked, trying not to let the worry creep into his voice.

“I’ve been better, Jamie, but I’m so happy to see you. You had better stop frowning””

“”or my face will stay that way,” James finished, smiling weakly.

“Too right. A Healer comes every day to check on me, and she’s the one that does all the worrying.”

“The Healers are worried? They do know what the matter is, don’t they?”

“They’re not sure, James. They think now that it might be an illness that’s much more common among Muggles. They’ve been trying every cure they can. I was in hospice care at St. Mungo’s for the past two weeks, but they’ve sent me home.”

James felt as if something invisible and heavy had taken up residence on top of his chest. “Hospice, Mum?”

“Hospice, hospital, it’s all the same,” Mrs. Potter said, waving her hand airily and giving him the reassuring smile that had always told him everything would be all right. “Besides, I’m here now, so it doesn’t matter.”

It’s not all the same, James thought, closing his eyes. He knew. Hospitals are for the sick. Hospices are for the dying.

“They can’t just try a few remedies and then throw in the bloody towel!” James said, his temper rising. “The Healers could be wrong. I’ll do some research myself; they must have missed something.”

“James, listen to me,” his mother said seriously. “I don’t want you to shut yourself up in the library looking for a way to cure me. I want you to spend time with me. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” James said, deflating slightly. “Do you have enough to do? I could go to Flourish & Blotts tomorrow and get you something new to read.”

“That would be lovely, but not tomorrow. When you need to get out of the house, go and get me some books, and take your father, would you? I just banished him from this room tonight so he could have some hope of sleeping a full night.”

“How has everything been here? How is Dad?”

“Your father’s making himself sick with worry,” Mrs. Potter said disapprovingly. This didn’t sound like James’ father at all. He had always prided himself on keeping a cool head and an unflappable countenance.

“Other than that,” she continued, “I’ve been listening to my favorite records and the WWN, and finally making time to read all the books we have in that library downstairs. Lindy has been wonderful, keeping the house spotless.”

As if on cue, Lindy appeared in the doorway. “Mistress needs her rest,” she said, looking at James with a narrow-eyed glance he had never before received from her.

“But I haven’t got the chance to ask James about school yet!” Mrs. Potter protested.

“No, Mum, she’s right,” James said reluctantly. “I’ll tell you all about Hogwarts tomorrow.”

“And that girl, what was her name? Evans, Sirius called her.”

“I’ll tell you about Lily tomorrow,” James promised again. He needed the night to work out how he could tell his mother about Lily without mentioning that he might possibly have broken her heart.


For the next few weeks, James’ life fell into a pattern. During the night, he slept in a continual series of catnaps, waking up, pacing about the house, getting himself a glass of water, and returning to bed. He would sleep for an hour, or maybe two, and then get up again, petrified that something had gone wrong while he was asleep. You have to wait until morning anyway, he would tell himself sternly. You don’t want to disturb Mum now.

After a while, James’ body no longer counted on any more than three or four hours of sleep, which left him with even more interminable time on his hands. Most of those nights, he wrote.

Dear Sirius,

I got your letter. If you have time over the holidays

James stopped. As it was, Padfoot had been unusually brusque in his letter. What was he going to say in response? If you’ve got a minute, visit my mum, because she’s dying and I know you liked her?

Like, he corrected himself. Not liked, like. Mistakes like these made him feel faithless, as though he was just waiting for the inevitable, and that was when the voices in his head would start up a chorus of: Terrible son, disloyal son. That was when he would give up on writing any sort of letter, although he couldn’t sleep after that either. Much like Macbeth, his treachery only made him more restless.

Other nights, he would try to write to Lily, but his letters to her were even worse.

Dear Lily,

I didn’t mean to kiss you

But that wasn’t true. He had.

Dear Lily,

I’m so sorry for leaving suddenly. My mother

He couldn’t say that either. He would feel like a right prick burdening her with all of his problems, especially since her own family didn’t even want to see her.

In the mornings, Lindy would make the family breakfast. To keep busy, James’ father had always done something for Dervish and Banges that involved extensive traveling, even though the Potter family name carried an endless supply of Galleons with it. Now, however, he was home, looking around at everything with glazed eyes and a constantly tensed jaw. James didn’t really want to talk during meals, especially not with his father’s blank stare fixed on him, but he would go on animatedly if his mother asked him about anything at all. What she wanted outweighed the sleepless, hopeless feeling blanketing his insides like ash.

He would continue talking to his mother after breakfast, or read her something if her eyes were tired, or retreat upstairs to stare at the walls of his bedroom. Most of the time, as the weeks passed, his mother would disappear immediately after breakfast and James would find her later back in bed. He had tried reading the Prophet, which arrived every morning as it always had”James couldn’t believe this, somehow, given that everything else was falling apart around him”but its contents gave him no comfort. Headlines screamed, ‘DEATH TOLL MOUNTING’ and ‘MAGICAL LAW ENFORCEMENT BAFFLED.’ These were always accompanied by photographs on the front page of Ministry wizards holding their hands up to block the cameras, looking harried and just as helpless as James felt. The Order of the Phoenix was the only thought that gave him any comfort at all. Six more months and he would be out there fighting, not watching all these officials run around like chickens with their heads cut off as more people died.

In the afternoons, especially if he was sitting in his room and casting unsuccessfully about for something to do, Lindy would bring him tea and they would talk. James’ grandfather had always told him that it was a bad sign if one started conversing regularly with one’s house-elf, but his grandfather had been a bigot where both magical creatures and Muggle-borns were concerned. Almost all of his grandfather’s generation fell into this category; it was the way they had been taught. Having long, serious conversations with a house-elf wasn’t any different from talking to another person, except that James couldn’t voice his concerns with any of the people in his house.

“There’s something I don’t understand,” James said suddenly one day in late December, putting his tea down on his bedside table. “Why can’t Mum keep weight on? She’s been eating just as regularly as Dad and I have been doing, but she gets thinner every day.”

“Mistress would not want Lindy to say,” Lindy said, averting her eyes and studying the carpeting.

“Tell me,” James said sharply.

“The Healers gave Mistress a most evil potion.” Lindy took a deep, high-pitched breath. “Mistress has stopped taking the potion, but Mistress cannot keep her food down.”

“There must be something she can eat!” he said. “What about rice pudding? That’s always been her favorite.”

The house-elf shook her head sadly. “Master must believe that Lindy has tried. Lindy has made everything.”

“But...rice pudding,” he said idiotically.

Lindy shook her head again. “Mistress told Lindy it tastes like Cockroach Cluster.”

“Why didn’t she tell us? She doesn’t have to keep forcing food down for our benefit. Maybe if she ate less....”

“Mistress is embarrassed, Lindy thinks.”

James sat back on his bed. It all made more sense, but the resolution of his confusion only made him feel worse. This explained the weight loss, as well as the one, failed spell he had seen her try to perform on the night he arrived. His mother was weak, weaker than she would let on.

“Lindy, I need a moment,” he said. “Alone.”

Once Lindy had obliged, James curled up on his bed and pressed his fists into his eyes. At the moment, what he needed was a way out of his head, but he couldn’t see how he might accomplish that. He thought about doing his schoolwork, and then thought better of it; he had never wanted to write a Potions essay less than he did now. Finally, he got up, screwed up his face, and concentrated hard on his destination. A moment later, he felt the air pressing down on him from all sides, as if determined to take back the space he was currently occupying. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them, he was standing in the middle of Diagon Alley.

Immediately, he made a beeline for Quality Quidditch Supplies, as he always did. This time, however, even the new Nimbus 1700, the release of which James had been waiting a full year for, only made his heart leap slightly before he felt the worry settle firmly back over him. He always got the new model when it came out”a privilege that came with having all the money one could ever dream of”but James finally understood the saying that money couldn’t buy happiness.

He walked out of Quality Quidditch Supplies empty-handed and towards Flourish & Blotts, where he asked the man who greeted him for recommendations for his mum. The man smiled in a self-assured way and said, “Well, young sir, we have just the thing”a new series of romances for witches in their golden years””

“I don’t think so,” James said. “Thank you, though.” His mother had always said that she found little use in reading a book that didn’t improve her mind in some way, so James thought that he might have better luck on his own.

He eventually chose a biography of Pierre Bonaccord, the first Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation; that looked decently interesting and could always double as a doorstop if his mum didn’t like it. He was going to buy another book as well, but thought that he might need another excuse to get out of the house very soon. It was despicable, but there it was.


“Happy Christmas, Mum,” James said, handing her the book. He had dug around in various cupboards until he had found some absolutely horrible wrapping paper patterned with lurid red and green stripes, and wrapped the biography clumsily. He had even made a card, something he hadn’t done since he was small.

Mrs. Potter was now spending her days in bed, but she gathered her strength with a scowl of determination and sat up, tears filling her eyes as she read the card. James hadn’t thought it was that special. Unable to write all the things he wanted to say, he had settled for:

Dear Mum,

You’re the best mother anyone could ever ask for. I don’t tell you that enough. Happy Christmas.



Despite its brevity, it was the only note he had been able to finish in these past few weeks, and as his mother hugged him with every ounce of strength she possessed, James finally felt that he had done something right.

He hadn’t expected a gift, since his parents’ minds were obviously otherwise occupied, but his father came in as though he had been waiting on cue. Giving one final tug to the ribbon he had obviously just tied, his father handed him a long and lumpy package, the shape of which James recognized at once. He undid the wrappings and found the Nimbus 1700 that he had seen in Quality Quidditch Supplies just a few days before.

“Thank you,” James said, hugging both of his parents and trying his best to be sincere. No one in that room really wanted broomsticks or books for Christmas, nor the new hat that James had presented to his father earlier in the day, but he felt it would be churlish to call attention to that fact.


James had still been hoping for some kind of miracle, though he had noticed his father’s increasingly serious talks with the Healer, but it was on New Year’s Eve that his hope finally died.

He started the evening by forcing himself to do the Potions essay, convincing himself that he would be returning to school as soon as his mother was well and that Slughorn would accept no excuses, but his thoughts kept straying to what his friends were doing. Sirius had written asking if he could come for Christmas; James had simply written ‘No’ on a piece of parchment and sent it back. His life had turned into a game of Exploding Snap”he never knew when everything might fall apart”and he didn’t want anyone, not even his best friend of seven years, to see that happen. He found that he didn’t much care what Sirius would think, although probably it involved the words “berk” and “arsehole,” among other, more colorful terms. He didn’t know what Sirius would be doing for Christmas, but he hoped that his best friend wasn’t sitting in his new flat alone.

Peter always went home for Christmas, looking gloomy when he returned. James knew, from his brief encounters with Mr. Pettigrew, that Peter’s father was”to put it lightly”overbearing, but Peter never discussed his holidays with the other Marauders, and they didn’t ask.

Remus would probably stay at Hogwarts to study for his N.E.W.T.s, or, at least, James hoped he would. He didn’t want to think of Lily all alone either. Lily. James ran one agonized hand through his hair, but before he had time to do anything further, he heard his mother’s voice calling him. He got up immediately and ran into her room. “Mum? What do you need?”

His father was already there. “Thomas, James,” Mrs. Potter said, turning her head to look at each of them in turn, “I want you to stay with me through the night.”

Mr. Potter’s thin face, so like James’, looked haggard, but he looked into his wife’s wasted face and smiled as though he was looking at the greatest treasure any man had ever seen. For the first time, James saw his parents through Sirius’ eyes, parents who cared for each other and for both their real and honorary sons, and he wished that he had invited Sirius for Christmas.

James began to pull up a chair, but his father stood up. “You can have this one, James.”

Mr. Potter sat down on the side of the bed and squeezed himself onto the edge of the pillow beside his wife. “Healer’s orders be damned,” he said with an uncharacteristically rebellious expression on his face, and grasped Mrs. Potter’s hand. “I love you, Lucy.”

James felt like an intruder upon an intensely private moment. “I’ll stay, Mum,” he said, looking into his mother’s face and then looking away.

It was the longest night that James had ever had. He stayed just staring at his parents for what seemed like hours, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes each time it threatened, not even daring to call Lindy for a glass of water. Even after his mother and father were both asleep, James dared not close his eyes, because he felt deep inside him that this particular night was a matter of life or death.
Chapter Endnotes: Thanks for reading! The next chapter will actually skip backwards a little chronologically and tell what's going on at Hogwarts with Lily. Since this chapter was particularly difficult for me to write, I would love any feedback you all could give!