Disclaimer: All characters herein belong to J.K. Rowling, bless her. Except for the one I made up, actually.
Inspiration: My Birth by Frida Kahlo (scroll down).
Author's note: Thanks to jaenanda for test-driving this for me.
Frida Kahlo is famous for "surrealistic" paintings that illustrate the pains and joys of a passionate life - always bleeding into each other, especially in her case. I visited her house in Coyoacan, Mexico D.F. this summer looking for inspiration for this story, and though no answer came falling out of the sky to me, I did absorb as much as I could of her intense emotion and philosophy, which she celebrated even when in agony, as she often was.
The title is from the introduction to New Poems by e.e. cummings.
Summary: "I love you, Lily!" he screamed over his shoulder, and as the door slammed, a muffled "Die, Potter!" could be heard to issue out from the depths of maternal misery, which continued to sweat and squirm for hours after paternal pride had been - to an extent - placated.
"If mostpeople were to be born twice they'd improbably call it dying --" e.e. cummings, introduction to New Poems.
"I hope the leaving is joyful and I hope never to return." Frida Kahlo; her last diary entry before dying.
"Viva La Vida." Frida Kahlo; her last painting, completed eight days before her death.
The end of July came every year, promptly and just in time to usher in the beginning of August, the stickiest heat yet to come, meteor showers you couldn't see through the reflected lights of the city but practically came rushing in the damn windows out in the country, out in the Hollow, back at school - but that was in November, August was for holidays, and it was still July. Five or more hours left, and Everything, it would appear, still had yet to arrive.
There was a message from Dumbledore, which was not comforting. Grave peril is fine for Quidditch players, less so for reluctant womb-babies and tortured trying-to-be mothers.
"James," said Lily, "my hatred for you knows no bounds."
"Shhh," he replied, and kissed her forehead. "He'll hear you talking and then he'll hate me before I even get to have the fun of showing all his friends pictures of him naked and three years old wading in the paddling pool."
"Good." Lily nodded with slightly flared nostrils. "Good, good, that's what I want. Our mutual abhorrence of -- ARG WOULD YOU PLEASE LEAVE." She dug her fingernails into the sheets, forming bunches of savagely clawed linen in ripples 'round her knuckles, which were so white that they actually matched the plain Egyptian cotton. James, clearly set on paying his wife's request no heed whatsoever, settled anxiously in the chair at the bedside, only to be smacked roundly over the head by the (rather hypocritical, James felt) mediwitch, who'd snuck up on him from behind brandishing a rolled-up copy of yesterday's Daily Prophet.
"You heard her, Mr. Potter. Out."
This might have continued all night, and newspapers surely would have become the least of the weapons involved, had not James's friends eventually charged in and bodily removed him from the room, to Lily's voice-cracking thanks and Orla's satisfied smirk of triumph. "I love you, Lily!" he screamed over his shoulder, and as the door slammed, a muffled "Die, Potter!" could be heard to issue out from the depths of maternal misery, which continued to sweat and squirm for hours after paternal pride had been - to an extent - placated.
"This is unjust," James muttered, staring at the floor of his kitchen.
"This is insane," replied Sirius, who seemed, honestly, more interested in picking the label off his beer bottle than in consoling his best friend, hour of need notwithstanding. The painted elf logo shook its fist angrily at him as he carefully rolled up the paper oval. "I can't believe you're having a baby today."
"For all I know, I already have one. I guess I'll just have to wait until kind Orla chooses to let me in on the news." The more he talked about it, the more indignant James seemed to get. "Because, of course, why should a father be allowed in the same room as the woman he loves and their child? I mean, why would such a crazy thing happen? That's just FOOLISHNESS, that is." He kicked the table leg viciously, causing Sirius's ale to spill out over the varnished oak as well as the rolled-up label, which floated forlornly in a milimetre of brew while the beer elf tore at its hair in panic.
"Farewell, friend," Sirius intoned, picking up the soggy tube and chucking it in the dustbin by the sink before folding his arms on the wooden surface and resting his head on his shoulder moodily. By the window, Remus turned around, done with stargazing for the night.
"Heard anything about the Longbottoms?" he asked.
James dipped his finger in the spilled beer and touched it to his tongue with the air of a great experimenter. "No," he finally replied, "but I bet Frank's not being locked out from the birth of his SON and/or DAUGHTER. Unlike some other loving husbands I could mention."
Sirius snorted, and shot James a cruel smile. "That's right, mate. Who knows how much longer you have to act like a spoiled three-year-old? Enjoy it while you can, I say, because soon you'll have to be setting examples and being mature and taking care of your family."
Their eyes met, little pinpoints of soul that spoke of treehouses, meteors, and abandonment issues, and James leaned forward over the table, a pugnacious thrust to his jawline threatening to erupt in words or possibly fists, when one of the latter collided softly with his upper left arm. He twisted in his chair, surprised, to face Peter, whose expression was so full of genuine delight that his own anger suddenly seemed embarrassingly out of place.
"You're going to be a dad, James!" he exclaimed, excited and sheepish. "A dad!"
July was melting away by the second. Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs were grinning at each other.
"POTTER! YOU SADISTIC SHIT, GET OUT OF HERE! Orla, please?"
"Mr. Black? Would you kindly re-escort Mr. Potter elsewhere? This is a delicate time, as you can see."
Smiling graciously, Sirius, Remus, and Peter backed out of the room, offering bows and blown kisses to Lily, and carefully shut the door. James, pointing his wand at Orla with a maniacal glimmer in his eyes, sat down in an armchair across from the bed, clinging to the upholstery with his free hand. "I'm sorry, Lily," he said, enunciating every syllable, "but I have to be here, and you'll forgive me later. Madam Healer, I'm not afraid to use this."
In the hallway, a dog barked: fierce, joyous, and a little sad.
* * *
July is bleeding, Lily is bleeding; there is blood everywhere. "My God, woman, FIX IT!" James is running around shouting and can't decide whether to keep his eyes open, to not miss a second, or screwed desperately shut. He compromises by simply not looking where he's going and tripping frequently. He's still wielding his wand aimlessly and Harry is coming out headfirst, Harry is out and screaming like he knows what's coming, like he's furious to be interrupted for this. Lily can't see much of anything anymore but there's nothing to look at, really, unless you like blood and water and unidentifiable fluid and squalling infant, and for a moment everyone feels terribly alone, because they are, and the next moment they reconvene, though Harry still cries out.
* * *
"It's a boy," remarked Orla in a indifferent tone. It's a cabbage. It's a saviour.
James, who had been lying face first on the ground attempting to make peace with the carpet that had so treacherously caused him to fall (again), shot up to his knees. "Really?"
"James, are you drunk?"
"No! Look," he whispered urgently, "I love you. And there's our baby."
"I think Sirius is, though."
"I love you too, even though you smell suspiciously like Elfwerk Dark Ale and threatened the healer."
James did the best he could to embrace wife and son in a single crook of the arm, straining over the edge of the blood-stained and sweat-soaked bed. "You are both wonderful."
"You too, prat."
"I think it's over?"
Snuffles sniffed at the door before shimmering back into a human. "Lots of blood, smells like."
Remus met Sirius's eyes. "I know."
Peter glanced around shiftily. "So James has a baby."
"Mad, isn't it? I feel like we should still be sitting around Gryffindor Tower making fun of Snivelly where he can't hear us and defend himself and here Prongs's got a brand new wee one."
"And you're a godfather, Padfoot," Peter pointed out unnecessarily.
"Yes. That seems very old, doesn't it? I didn't think you could have the word 'god' in a title until you were at least forty." Sirius paused to reflect. "Or 'father.'"
"Don't worry, mate, I'm sure you'll redefine the whole concept. It'll be all the rage, godparenting."
"Mmm. Yes. I have a godson. Bit odd."
Remus smiled. "Imagine the possibilities." Through the closed door, they could hear the baby wailing.
* * *
The end of July comes every year, sullen and slow, as if time itself is having growing pains and the end is nowhere in sight. August is stuttering around the bend, the dog days of summer loom up ahead, and every time the month dies, Harry is born anew. He tries to think of his birthday as a new beginning, though nothing much ever seems new at Privet Drive. With that in mind, he begins to choose random days as birthdays, or adopts those of his friends. Every day is new, every breath his first, every cut bleeding deep and dark and fresh alongside the continual restart of his heart (pumpity pump). The pain does not stop, and the grief does not stop, but sometimes, Harry thinks, it starts over. Maybe the do-over point is in the morning when he slides out of sleep and realises with a jolt that he is still alive and Sirius still isn't. Or perhaps the new beginning comes when he snarls at Dudley over breakfast, when he laughs (rarer than diamonds), when he wounds himself trying to shave, before after or during every epiphany that never comes to anything but frustration and stillness.
Each breath contains the sting of carbon dioxide, each sky holds a falling star, and every day is a disappointment. Harry steels himself and starts again, because tomorrow, perhaps, will be better, though likely it will be worse, and next week, he might be a hero, or a coward, or a champion or a lover and he will never know until he gets there - if he gets there - so he shies away from the future and he hopes for the end and the beginning all at once, a child indignant and shrieking its first breath, a stowaway being lifted into the light.
And plus! An illustration for the story, which has very little to do with the Kahlo piece.
Hooray for feedback!