‘Agreed,’ Lily said in a flat tone. She shook some of the pink heart-confetti out of her long hair. James grinned and brushed glitter off her shoulder. It sparkled against the snow by their shoes. ‘Do you want to go to the Three Broomsticks?’ James beamed down at her and practically dragged her down the street and into the crowded pub.
‘This is better,’ James said when he returned to their little table with Butterbeer. ‘Rosmerta’s much nicer than that awful Puddifoot woman. Wait ‘til I tell Pads that she’s that Umbridge woman’s mother!’
‘I’m sure he’ll be delighted,’ Lily laughed. ‘And happier still when you tell him about those little cherubs.’
James laughed. They weren’t so cherubic anymore; they had set his Snitch on them until they got mad enough to threaten the couple with their golden arrows. He and Lily had left the teashop shortly after.
Suddenly, James smiled wickedly. ‘What?’ Lily asked, looking a little worried.
‘You’ve got Butterbeer foam...’ James gestured to his mouth. Lily made a face. ‘Don’t worry,’ James said, still grinning. ‘I’ve got it.’ He leaned across the table to kiss her.
‘Better?’ Lily asked, green eyes twinkling.
‘Much,’ James replied, leaning in again. He could feel Lily smiling against his lips.
‘Bugger off, Pads,’ James sighed as he pulled away from his girlfriend. Only it wasn’t Sirius. Or Remus or Peter. It was a middle-aged man with a tangled mop of blonde hair. He was scarred, and wearing a thick travelling cloak. His most unusual feature was a bright blue eye that swivelled in its socket, surveying them with disapproval. 'Sorry!' James blurted. 'I- I thought you were-'
‘Are you two are students at the school?’
‘Yes,’ Lily said cautiously. She straightened in her seat and stared back at the man with the same intensity. James slipped his hand into his pocket to grip his wand.
‘Albus wants you back.’
‘We’re meant to have the whole afternoon,’ James protested. Lily kicked him under the table. The man’s lips twitched into what might have been a smile, though James had no idea how he’d seen.
‘Is there a reason?’ Lily asked politely.
‘Do Death Eaters count?’ the man growled. James nodded, pulling his wand out of his pocket. He helped Lily to her feet with his other hand.
‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ Lily asked the man. ‘We’re the Heads.’ His mismatched eyes scanned her face and then flicked to James’.
‘You’re Charlus’ boy?’ James nodded warily. The man thought for a moment then offered his hand. ‘Alastor Moody. I used to work with your father.’
‘James Potter,’ James said shaking his hand. ‘This is Lily Evans.’
Moody nodded, shaking her hand. His blue eye flicked to the pub door. The rest of the room was shockingly empty. ‘Shall we?’
James looked at Lily and nodded. While they walked, he pulled a small reflective rectangle from his back pocket and tapped it with his wand. It grew in size, until it was about the size of a book. ‘Sirius Black,’ James said clearly. He ignored Lily and Moody’s questioning gazes. Sirius’ confused face appeared in the mirror a moment later.
‘What’s happening, Prongs?’ he asked in a surprisingly businesslike voice. ‘Is Lily all right?’
‘She’s fine. Are you safe?’ James asked, shooting Moody a glance. He heard a yes from Remus.
‘Yes!’ James sighed in relief.
‘Prongs, we’re fine. Why are you asking?’ Sirius asked, a frown tugging at his features.
‘Just get back to the school,’ James said firmly. ‘Don’t stop at any of the shops, don’t talk to anyone. Meet us in the Entrance Hall. If you see any others from school, take them with you.’
Sirius nodded vigorously. ‘Ye- Hey! Moony!’
‘James?’ Remus’ concerned face appeared in the mirror. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Death Eaters,’ James said shortly. Remus paled, and Sirius’ indignant shouting in the background ceased.
‘Where are you?’ Remus demanded. His face was blurred in the frame; he was running. James kept getting glimpses of Sirius’ black hair, and Peter’s blonde in the background.
‘Walking up the road to school. We’ve got an Auror with us.’
‘Are you hurt?!’ Sirius shouted from somewhere behind Remus.
‘We’re fine,’ James said grinning. ‘I’ll see you soon.’
‘Will do,’ Remus said with a professional looking nod. James reflection filled the frame. He shrunk it and returned it to his pocket.
‘What?’ he asked. Lily and Moody were still staring at him.
‘Nothing,’ Lily said quietly. She reached for his hand, giving him a little smile. Moody continued to stare.
James ducked, pulling Lily around so that she was behind him. He flicked his wand toward the noise. Moody’s wand was pointed in the same direction.
‘Fools!’ Moody shouted suddenly, lowering his wand. He stepped forward to smack the people upside the heads. ‘You’re lucky I didn’t jinx the two of you! If you had half as much sense as you're always claiming, you'd know by now to never to Apparate around me! And you wonder why I treat you like children!’ Scowling he jabbed a finger into the man’s chest. ‘What in Merlin’s name are you doing here? I thought I told you to wait by Zonko’s!’
With a jolt, James recognised both of them as former Hogwarts students. There was a tall but thickly built man with vivid red hair and a short curvy woman with honey coloured hair. They looked exhausted and Gideon – the man – had a long cut on his temple. Dorcas’ clothing was torn. Both looked ashamed, and were rubbing their heads where Moody had smacked them.
‘Sorry, Alastor!’ Dorcas muttered. ‘The Death Eaters know it’s a trap! Ab sent us to let you know! He needs to know whether the Order should evacuate, or fight.’ She paused suddenly, apparently noticing Lily and James. ‘Potter, Evans?’ She turned to Moody. ‘What are they doing?’ she hissed. ‘This is no place for children.’
‘They’re the last ones,’ Moody growled, waving his hand to silence James’ protests. ‘I’m seeing them to the gates. Prewett, tell Dumbledore to get everyone out of there. Hide them under his bar-stools if that’s what it takes.’
Gideon’s freckled face split into a grin. ‘Are you sure, Alastor? Aberforth won’t take kindl-’
‘Aberforth will do what I tell him,’ Moody snapped, giving James and Lily a little push to remind them to keep walking. ‘Get our people out. There’s nothing we can do here, so I’m not going to lose members over nothing. Our numbers are low enough without casualties. Send me a Patronus when you're done.’ The pair nodded and turned on the spot. They disappeared with a loud crack. ‘Move!’ Moody barked, shoving James forward.
‘What’s the Order?’ Lily whispered.
James leaned down so that he could whisper in her ear. ‘I have no idea, but I’m going to find out.’
When the three of them reached the gate, Moody pushed them through it. The metal melted, allowing them through. They turned to the grizzled Auror.
‘You’re students,’ Moody said by way of explanation. ‘The school's never never going to reject any student that needs sanctuary.’
‘Did it ever occur to Dumbledore that his students might be as bad as some Death Eaters?’ James asked, thinking of Snape.
‘With a mind like his? Of course it has!’
‘That doesn’t make sense-’ Lily began.
‘I've known him for a lot longer than either of you and I still don’t pretend to understand the thoughts of Albus Dumbledore,’ Moody said with a wry smile. ‘Can the two of you get back to the school from here?’
‘Yes, thank you,’ Lily said. She stuck her hand through the bars of the gate. ‘Thank you for your help today, Mr Moody.’ The Auror shook it with a smile. James added his thanks and then he and Lily began the trek up to the school.
The Entrance Hall was packed with students from third year and up. Everyone was talking loudly, and one fourth year was insiting she’d seen Voldemort himself.
‘Mr Black! Have you seen Mr Potter?’ Professor McGonagall was shouting. Sirius, who was with Peter and Remus over by the House hourglasses shook his head, looking miserable.
‘Professor,’ Lily called. ‘We’re over here.’ James saw the Marauders relax. The look he was getting from Sirius promised questions as soon as they were free of the teachers.
‘Are either of you hurt?’ Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore strode over to them, the former holding a long roll of parchment.
‘No, sir,’ James said, wrapping an arm around Lily. ‘We’re fine.’
‘They’re the last two, Albus,’ McGonagall said, tapping the list with her wand. It disappeared. ‘Mr Malfoy! I believe I specifically said no students were to leave without my permission!’ Dumbledore chuckled to himself as the Transfiguration teacher stormed over to a group of annoyed looking Slytherins.
‘Professor,’ Lily said quietly. James glanced over to his friends. Sirius and Peter were laughing at something, while Remus had his wand pointed at the Gryffindor hourglass and seemed to be trying to make the rubies fall. James smiled to himself.
‘Yes, Miss Evans?’
‘What’s the Order?’ James, who had been watching Remus, glanced at the old wizard.
‘The Order?’ Dumbledore asked. He looked worried for a moment and then hid it behind a calm expression. ‘That’s not a common name to hear around the school.’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘I’d like to keep it that way.’ James and Lily nodded. ‘Where did you hear about it?’
‘We met Moody,’ James said.
‘And what did Alastor tell you?’ said Dumbledore. His tone was bordering on angry, something that James had never heard, even after seven years of being dragged to his office after a prank.
‘He didn't really tell us. He was talking to Dorcas and Gideon and said something about it. We sort of overheard,’ Lily said, blushing.
‘Was this in Hogsmeade?’
‘No, we were on the road to the gates.’
‘Alastor walked with you?’ They nodded. Dumbledore smiled. ‘He does take safety very seriously.’
‘We know,’ James said, grinning. ‘He yelled at Gideon and Dorcas for Apparating too close to him. He said they were lucky he didn’t hex them. Auror reflexes I suppose.’
Dumbledore chuckled. ‘Indeed. If I remember correctly, he worked with your father.’
‘Yeah, he mentioned that.’ James ruffled his messy hair.
‘It takes a talented witch or wizard to do well in a career in Magical Law Enforcement. I believe that’s what you’re keen to do?’ James nodded eagerly. ‘And, Miss Evans, a Healer?’
‘Yes, sir,’ she said, smiling.
‘Wonderful.’ He gave them a warm smile. ‘I’m afraid you must excuse me – I have to contact the Ministry about what happened in Hogsmeade today and I daresay the Minister will be unhappy I’ve left him waiting even this long.’ He strode away, weaving through the dwindling mob of students; McGonagall had given the students leave to return to their dormitories.
Lily turned to James. ‘He never told us what the Order is.’
James frowned, thinking back. ‘He distracted us!’ he said slowly. And then he burst out laughing.
‘How is this funny?’ Lily demanded, hitting his arm.
‘How is it not?’ Remus challenged, coming up behind them. James nodded for emphasis.
‘Do you even know what we’re talking about?’ Lily asked, frowning at them both.
‘Not a clue,’ Remus said proudly. Lily sighed. James squeezed her hand and leaned down to kiss the top of her head.
‘So what are you talking about?’ Peter asked.
‘What’s the Order?’ Sirius asked, cocking his head to the side.
‘Exactly,’ James said, his hazel gaze following Dumbledore's retreating figure.
The boy slipped into the abandoned classroom that had been their meeting place as of late; they changed location regularly. He faced the taller, masked boy who was sitting lazily behind the teacher’s desk. ‘Are you alone?’ the masked boy asked.
‘I am,’ the tremulous voice replied. Wasn’t it obvious? No one had followed him in, and there were others patrolling outside.
‘Do they suspect anything?’
‘N-no.’ At least he hoped not. They had an uncanny knack for unveiling secrets. Take Remus’ lycanthropy.
‘You’ve done well.’
‘Thank you!’ the boy exclaimed, his watery eyes widening with shock. His cheeks reddened with pride.
‘Have you considered what I told you last time?’
The other growled with ill-disguised impatience at the boy’s lack of comprehension. ‘And is it possible?’
‘I still don’t understand why you need him.’
‘He’s our ticket into the heart of the Order. We get him in, we get all the information the Dark Lord needs. We get a chance at the muggle-loving old fool that runs this place. We topple the resistance from the inside.’
‘But why do you need him? Can’t you use someone else?’
The boy in the mask sighed. ‘The Headmaster will expect it. Potter is Head Boy, with parents recently killed by the likes of us and - according to you - he knows about the Order. He may not know exactly what’s involved,’ he added upon seeing the boy’s look of disagreement, ‘but he knows enough. Enough to be curious. Enough that Dumbledore will let him join.’
‘And if he joins, I join,’ the boy said slowly. They had talked about this before. The other nodded. ‘Why don’t you just use me then? He can join, I’ll join with him and then I report to you.’
The masked boy laughed. ‘As useful as you can be, we need something a little more reliable. More importantly, he needs to be out of the way.’
‘O-out of the way? You’re not going to kill him, are you?’
‘I won’t.’ That wasn’t what he was scared of.
‘The Dark Lord is willing to offer him the same as he offered you.’ The boy shuddered, remembering that day, at the beginning of sixth year, where he’d been cornered in Hogsmeade.
‘The chance to join. A chance many die for.’
‘Only if they say no,’ the boy mumbled.
The masked boy laughed, propping his feet up onto the desk. ‘Indeed. He’ll be given a chance, same as the rest of us were. He should be honoured he’s being sought out. Most had to approach Him.’
‘What if he says no?’
‘You were smart enough to take the offer and Merlin knows James Potter is a thousand times brighter than you’ll ever be... I suspect he’ll leap at the chance once it presents itself... either way, he can’t be here... I don’t think he’d take kindly to his doppelganger, at least until he knows what’s going on.’
‘We’ll be using Polyjuice Potion. There will be two of him. You will help the fake Potter blend in. It will be like the real one never left. Of course, none of this matters if it can’t be done... for your sake, it had better be possible.’
‘For my sake?’ the boy squeaked. His eyes flicked to the door.
‘Don’t look so frightened,’ the masked boy said, sounding amused. ‘I simply thought you’d like a friend on your side. Don’t you want a friend on your side?’
‘You aren’t my friend?’ He knew he wasn’t, but it still stung.
‘That was never the deal. Do you want friends or do you want power?’
‘Power,’ the boy said meekly. Even from a young age he’d been able to appreciate that concept.
‘I thought as much.’ The boy blushed, not sure whether he was being insulted or not. ‘Now, can it be done?’
‘I- yes,’ the boy whispered.
‘I can arrange a meeting place.’
‘You don’t think he’d realise it’s a trap?’
‘I can be discrete.’
‘I should hope so,’ the masked boy said, sounding amused again.
‘I’ve made it this far,’ the boy said angrily. ‘They don’t suspect a thing and I’ve been doing this for months.’
‘True...This meeting place... will he be alone?’
The boy was silent for a moment. ‘No. One of the others will be with him.’ He thought a moment longer. ‘Lupin.’
The boy nodded, looking more certain this time. ‘Black needs to be kept out of the way. He’s a better dueller. Lupin’s not bad, but he’s not excellent either. I think he’ll want to go for help...’ An awful thought presented itself to the boy. ‘He won’t die will he?’
‘He might,’ said the masked boy indifferently. ‘Perhaps he’ll be offered a place too. The Dark Lord has need of creatures like him.’ The masked boy lapsed into silence before suddenly asking, ‘What about the girl? She’s been with them a lot recently.’
‘I don’t care what they’re doing, I just want to know if she’ll interfere.’
‘I can keep her away. I’ll fabricate an assignment.’
‘Clever... We might make something of you yet.’ The boy blushed as he filled with pride. ‘We’re done for today.’
The boy nodded. ‘When will we meet again?’ he asked eagerly.
‘Give me some time... we’ll only have one chance to get this right. When I’ve got some plans, I’ll contact you.’ The boy nodded. He could feel anticipation dancing in the pit of his stomach.
* * *
‘We’ll be working outside, today,’ Professor Sprout told the class. There was a collective groan; Nancy Miller and Gladys Gudgeon from Hufflepuff let out little sobs and tightened their scarves. ‘Follow me. I’ll explain when we get there.’
Lily shivered - it was the coldest day they’d had for a while - and rubbed her gloved hands together in a futile attempt to warm them.
‘Cold?’ James asked.
‘Nah, she’s just shivering for the sake of it,’ Sirius said, rolling his eyes.
James made a face and passed Lily his cloak. She took it gratefully. ‘Won’t you be cold?’
‘Of course not,’ he said, smiling as if she’d forgotten something important.
She frowned and glanced at Sirius, hoping for a more helpful answer. Sirius bent and picked two sticks up off the ground. ‘What-’ she began. He jammed the sticks onto his head, grinned, and galloped through the shivering students, making several laugh and several just shake their heads.
Remus, who had been talking with the Bones twins, looked up and laughed loudly. ‘Mangy mutts,’ James muttered, grinning. He pulled out his wand and waved it, giving Sirius two, pointed brown ears and a little white tail. Remus turned and gave him a smile which widened when Sirius failed to realise.
Professor Sprout led them to the edge of the Forbidden Forest where Hagrid was waiting. ‘How are yeh all?’ he boomed, smiling at them. He found Lily in the cluster and his black eyes twinkled. There was a general murmur of “good” and “cold” and then Hargid chuckled. ‘Why do yeh have ears, Sirius?’
‘Don’t most people?’ Sirius asked blankly. Hagrid chuckled again. Sirius frowned, reached up and felt one of the ears James had given him. Sirius glanced at James with narrowed eyes. James waved.
‘Fix it,’ Professor Sprout said sternly.
‘But, Professor, they bring out his eyes,’ Remus said.
‘I have a-a thing!’ Sirius shouted, noticed his tail.
‘A tail?’ James asked, chuckling, while Sprout turned around to berate Remus.
‘This is not a tail. This is a stupid, fluffy... thing.’
‘It’s a tail.’
‘It looks like I’ve sat on a dandelion,’ Sirius said. James waved his wand and returned Sirius to normal. ‘Thank Godric mine’s only temporary...’
James scowled but when he turned away, he was definitely fighting a smile.
‘Now,’ Hagrid said, ‘Professor Sprou’ wants ter teach yeh abou’ wand woods, so we’ll be going inter the fores’-’
‘I don’t want to go in there!’ Felicia Gamp from Slytherin said.
‘You will if you want to pass your N.E.W.T.s,’ Professor Sprout said sternly. ‘This course isn’t only about caring for plants, it’s about how we can use them. Hagrid has been kind enough to volunteer to see us safely in and out.’ Felicia looked a little worried but she didn’t say anything else.
Hagrid beamed around at them all. ‘This way,’ he said, waving an enormous hand.
Most of the class - Lily included, shared nervous glances; they’d heard all sorts of stories from older students (when they were younger) about the forest and the dangers in there. James, Remus and Sirius, however, strode after Hagrid without so much as flinching.
‘Come on, you lot,’ Sirius called over his shoulder.
Lily and Hestia Jones from Ravenclaw were the first two to follow, but Edgar followed without much hesitation and then the rest of the class followed in trickles. Xenophilius Lovegood and Felicia were the last in.
‘What would Aislinne think?’ Amelia asked them both. Aislinne Gamp, a girl Lily knew from Slughorn’s parties, was a rather eccentric Ravenclaw in Alice and Marlene’s year. She was very nice and quite brave and she was Felicia’s younger sister and Xenophilius’ girlfriend. ‘Hmm?’
Felicia flushed a pale pink and squared her shoulders determinedly before strolling toward the rest of the class. Xenophilius thought for a moment, nodded once and then drifted after Amelia.
Hagrid led them for about five minutes and then stopped in front of a large oak tree. ‘Perfect,’ Sprout said happily.
‘Isn’t that the one-’ Sirius muttered.
‘The centaur?’ James whispered. ‘Yeah. Remember, Moony?’ Remus nodded, grinning.
‘Do yeh recognise it?’ Hagrid asked, sidling up to the three of them.
‘We dropped the Cloak one full moon,’ James said out of the side of his mouth; Professor Sprout was watching them. ‘Had to come back the next day and get it and we found it, but this centaur - must only have been young, maybe thirteen - came charging out of nowhere and threw a spear at us.’
‘We didn’t want to hurt him, obviously,’ Sirius said, ‘and we didn’t know how many others were around or if it was a test or something, so we climbed that tree.’
‘Centaurs can’t climb, thankfully,’ James said.
‘We spent the afternoon sending sparks up and eventually Hagrid showed up and sent him home,’ Remus said reminiscently.
‘Bane, wasn’t it?’
‘Something like that,’ Sirius said. ‘I’m sure Hagrid would remember, but I don’t care much.’
Lily shook her head, smiling.
‘... a complication we might have, trying to get wand wood,’ Sprout was saying.
‘Bowtruckles,’ Lily said instantly.
‘Excellent. Five points to Gryffindor. How can we get them to behave peaceably?’
‘Know-it-all,’ Sirius said, nudging her.
‘Offer them wood lice or fairy eggs,’ Remus said.
‘Another five points,’ Sprout said.
‘There’s two of them!’ Sirius groaned.
‘Your task today is to choose a section of wood - preferably a branch - from the tree, that you think would make a good wand. I want you to cut it in a way that will allow the tree to propagate. Does everyone remember the three node rule?’ A sea of heads nodded. ‘Good. I’ve got lice here, so split into pairs and come and see me for a handful and then get cutting.’
‘Partner with me?’ Remus asked Lily.
‘Definitely,’ she replied, glancing at James and Sirius; practicals - not spells, so much, but plant, animal and potions work - always seemed to go horribly wrong around the pair of them, so it was best they worked together.
‘I like that one,’ Lily said, pointing to a low hanging branch.
Remus surveyed it critically and then nodded. ‘Seems as good as any.’
Lily eyed the little, stick-like creature that had been watching them the entire time. ‘Take care of that, would you,’ she said.
Remus walked toward it. It made a clicking sound but stepped forward curiously when he opened his hand to offer it wood lice. ‘Go,’ he muttered to her as the Bowtruckle sat down on his palm and began to eat.
Lily counted three nodes and then raised her wand and murmured, ‘Diffindo.’ She pocketed the branch and stepped away from the tree before Remus’ Bowtruckle could notice her.
‘Is it distracted, Prongs?’ Sirius called from a few feet over.
‘Yep,’ James said. He had the lice enclosed in a fist and kept moving it just as the Bowtruckle reached for it. The little creature shook a twiggy fist at him and crawled up his arm. It wrapped its legs around his wrist and tried to pry his hand open. James laughed. ‘How long do you need, Pads?’
‘A bit longer,’ Sirius said, obviously trying to decide where to cut from.
The Bowtruckle pulled on James’ thumb, trying to get him to open his hand and then gave an almighty tug. There was a cracking sound - Lily winced but thought he’d rather deserved it - and James swore and pulled his hand into his chest. The wood lice fell on the ground and scuttled away. The Bowtruckle shrieked as it watched them go and then bit James.
Neither Lily or Remus made any move to help; James had baited the little creature into attacking him and it was rather funny - not to see him hurt - to see him bested by a hand-sized stick-man.
‘What are you doing, Prongs?’ Sirius asked, pocketing his branch. He laughed when he saw the mayhem unfolding but hurried forward to help. Lily didn’t see exactly how it happened, but the Bowtruckle somehow got James’ wand and dragged it into the tree. James was clutching his broken, bleeding hand.
‘Oi!’ Sirius said. ‘Give that back!’
Lily lifted her own wand - ready to summon James’ - but Sirius’ head got in the way. The little creature made a face at him and tried to snap James’ wand but Sirius managed to grab it. James’ wand fell to the forest floor and the Bowtruckle attacked Sirius’s hand instead.
‘Gently, Black,’ Sprout admonished, as she passed them.
Sirius pulled his scarf off and wrapped it around the little creature several times until it couldn’t move. It screeched as James retrieved his wand, healed himself with an easy wave and administered the same treatment to Sirius’ bite marks.
Both boys then crouched down and stared at the bound Bowtruckle. ‘Nice handiwork,’ James commented, glancing at the scarf.
‘Don’t hurt it,’ Lily said warningly.
Both ignored her. ‘It put up a hell of a fight,’ Sirius commented.
‘Nasty little bugger,’ James agreed cheerfully. ‘Accio wood lice.’ Several of the escaped insects flew back into his hand. The Bowtruckle shrieked at them and wiggled in Sirius’ scarf. ‘Truce?’ James asked it.
The creature made an angry clicking sound and stuck its little brown tongue out at Sirius as he untied it, but it didn’t scurry away as Lily had expected it to. Instead, it reached tentatively toward James’ hand and - when he didn’t move it - grabbed one of the lice.
To Lily’s amazement - and it was one of the sweetest things she’d ever seen - James and Sirius sat there until the Bowtruckle had finished all of the lice and waited, still crouched as it scuttled back up the tree.
James and Sirius grinned at each other and stood. ‘You two are mad,’ Remus told them.
‘You’ve known that for years,’ Sirius said, shrugging.
‘Ugh! Charms was a disaster!’ Peter groaned as they headed off down the busy corridor. Remus smiled sympathetically. Peter hadn’t been able to cast his Disillusionment charm properly and had somehow managed to transfigure himself into a chameleon. They hadn’t known until then that Professor Flitwick was Scoliodentosaurophobic. The little Charms Professor had spent the lesson on his desk, even after James had transfigured Peter back into human form.
‘Charms was brilliant!’ Sirius said, grinning. ‘Who’d have thought Professor Flitwick, Duelling Champion and Head of Ravenclaw was petrified of lizards?’
‘In all fairness, eagles eat lizards,’ Remus muttered. Peter shot him an exasperated look. ‘Sorry, Pete, but it was funny.’
Peter smiled reluctantly. ‘Do you think Defence will be any better?’ Next to Remus, James shrugged absently; he was busy digging through his schoolbag. ‘Do you know what we’re covering today?’ Remus shrugged, grinning in anticipation; he liked Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons. ‘Sirius?’
‘No clue,’ Sirius said, sucking on the tip of a sugar-quill he’d got from who knows where. ‘We haven’t done Patronuses yet.’
‘Patronuses could be it,’ Remus mused. ‘We were going to be doing concealment charms this week, but we did those last week... What do you think, Prongs? Patronuses?’
‘What?’ James spun around curiously, his face spotted with ink. Remus glanced ahead and noticed that the ends of Narcissa Black’s hair were tipped with the same blue black that covered James’ cheeks and nose. She didn’t seem to have noticed.
‘Do you think we’re learning Patronuses today?’ Sirius said in a slow, clear voice. Remus had heard him use the same one with his baby cousin, Nymphadora.
‘Maybe,’ James said, sticking his tongue out at Sirius. Sirius returned the gesture, accidently snapping his sugar quill in the process.
‘James!’ Sirius howled, waving the two pieces at the bespectacled boy. ‘Look what you made me do!’
‘Sorry, Paddy,’ James said, at least having the grace to look abashed. ‘I’ll buy you a new one.’
Sirius brightened at the thought. Remus rolled his eyes as he pushed open the classroom door. ‘Honestly, Sirius, it tastes the same, whether it’s in one piece or two.’
‘Does not,’ Sirius argued. ‘Besides, it’s supposed to be a sugar-quill, not a sugary... thing!’ He eyed the two pieces of his treat as if they had offended him.
‘Very articulate,’ James muttered. Remus heard, and grinned.
‘Ah, gentlemen,’ Gurdan said curtly. ‘Thank you for finally gracing us with your presence.’ Remus felt his face heat up and took a seat hurriedly beside Lily. ‘Mr Black, close the door, please. I can’t let this heat out.’ Sirius obliged and bowed like a House Elf before he plonked down between James and Peter. ‘Right,’ Gurdan said, shooting Sirius a look, ‘now that everyone’s here we can get started. We’re looking at Patronuses today.’
Sirius caught Remus’ eye and mouthed ‘Told you.’ Remus made a face.
'They are used to fight off Dementors or Lethifolds. Thanks to Hagrid, I’ve been able to get my hands on a Lethifold.’ Lily gasped quietly from next to Remus. Remus was shocked too. Lethifolds were supposed to be rare, though if there was one in the room, that would certainly explain the sweltering temperature in the classroom. Remus peeled off his school jumper. ‘Now, they’re dangerous, I won’t lie, but you lot seem quite able and I’m ready for any eventualities.’ The former Auror gripped his wand tightly.
‘It’s also been fed, so it’s about as harmless as its ever going to be... What I need you all to do,’ Gurdan continued, ‘is think of a happy memory, and say “Expecto Patronum”. Got that? Good, line up.’ Again, Remus was surprised, this time by Professor Gurdan’s blunt approach. Every book he’d ever read said that Patronuses were tricky, and that most full grown wizards struggled.
Gurdan pulled a dark cloth off a large cage behind his desk. Inside was what appeared to be a black cloak, standing of its own accord. The cloak was thick and swaying slightly, in an invisible breeze. He flicked his wand and the door opened. The Lethifold hovered uncertainly at the entrance.
Sirius was first. He glanced at his cousins, and made a rude hand gesture. Remus would have bet everything he owned that the haughty look on Bella’s face was Sirius’ happy memory. ‘Expectum- No, Expecto Patronum!’ Nothing happened. Sirius began to panic as the Lethifold drifted closer and moved backward.
‘Happier, Black,’ Gurdan ordered.
Sirius’ eyes flicked around the room and finally came to rest on James, Peter and Remus. ‘Expecto Patronum,’ he said loudly. This time, his voice oozed confidence and Remus wasn’t surprised in the least when a huge, silver, bear-like dog came barrelling out of his wand tip.
‘Nice work, Sirius!’ James crowed loudly. Remus rubbed his ear.
James shook his head. ‘No nicknames here, Sirius. Think about it.’
Realisation dawned in Sirius’ grey eyes as he headed for the back of the line, slapping hands with the Marauders as he passed. James glanced at the Remus to make sure he’d heard an understood. Remus inclined his head and James turned his attention to Peter.
‘Potter!’ Gurdan barked.
‘One second, Professor,’ James shot a quick look at the Lethifold which was standing in the doorway of its cage. ‘Lils? I need a happy memory.’ Next to Remus, Lily blushed and stared into James’ hazel eyes. ‘Thanks,’ he said, beaming. ‘Expecto Patronum,’ James said calmly. A familiar stag burst forward and danced over to the Lethifold, tossing its antlers in a playful way that was uncannily like James.
‘All I did was look at him,’ Lily muttered to herself. She was still red in the face.
‘That’s enough,’ Remus whispered back. Lily’s smile grew as James trotted to the back of the line to join Sirius. He kissed her on the cheek as he passed, and slapped hands with Remus and Peter.
Peter scurried forward, throwing a nervous grin back as he did so. ‘Expectum Patronus!’ he squeaked. The Lethifold moved forward.
‘Try again, Pettigrew.’
Peter’s expression shifted and Remus was sure he could see the shorter boy thinking things through. A smug grin settled itself on Peter’s face and he took a deep breath. ‘Expecto Patronum,’ he said in a surprisingly clear voice. A hazy white shield sprang out in front of him. He looked just as surprised as the rest of the class that it had actually worked.
‘Go, Pete!’ James shouted from the back of the room. A smattering of applause broke out and Peter flushed with pride as he joined the other two at the back.
Narcissa was next. She stepped daintily toward the cage, the tips of her blonde hair still stained with ink. Remus hid a smile. ‘Expecto Patronum,’ she said coolly. Nothing. She didn’t sound happy in Remus’ opinion, though he suspected her hard stare would be able to keep the creature away.
‘Again,’ Gurdan said.
‘Expecto Patronum.’ This time, the tiniest wisp of silver leaked from her wand. A tiny smile played on her mouth before she headed for the back, shooting Sirius, James and Peter a disgusted look. Sirius poked his tongue out like the mature seventh year he was. Remus sniggered.
Gurdan nodded. ‘Lupin.’
Remus nodded absently and stepped forward. He already had the perfect memory fixed in his mind, but he glanced at the other Marauders and at Lily before he whispered, ‘Expecto Patronum.’ He saw the slight wisp of silver and concentrated harder; they knew. His friends knew, and they still liked him. They had accepted him. Named him. Moony. He was Moony.
‘Brilliant!’ Gurdan roared. Remus blinked. The Lethifold was cowering in the back corner of its cage, a giant wolf circling around it. ‘Evans.’
‘Nice, Remmy,’ James said when he joined them at the back.
‘Thanks,’ Remus said, grinning.
‘That was brilliant,’ Sirius said. ‘There was nothing and then all of a sudden... BOOM!’ Remus and Peter laughed.
Remus leaned around Narcissa to watch Lily. Her face was screwed up in concentration and her cheeks were slightly pink. She had a strong looking shield between her and the Lethifold, but her Patronus didn't have a clear form.
She looked disappointed when she reached the back of the line, though James and Sirius quickly set about cheering her up; James kissed her cheek and said things Remus couldn't hear while Sirius pulled funny faces at her over James' shoulder.
Soon, she was smiling and laughing again but secretly, Remus was quite sure her sudden happiness had more to do with the fact that James and Sirius were sporting bright blue hair.
He caught her eye, grinning, and pocketed his wand as he focused his attention back to the front of the classroom.
‘Where were you?’ James made a shushing gesture. ‘Keep your hair on,’ Sirius whispered back, ‘Minnie’s not even looking.’ He glanced up, just to check, but James didn’t notice. He had a look of utmost concentration on his face. Sirius knew that look. It was the one he had worn many a night trying to figure out why Lily hated him and also the look that had resulted in them becoming Animagi. ‘What’s happening?’
‘I hung back after class, to ask Professor Gurdan if he would teach me how to do the Patronus messages.’
‘And?’ Sirius said eagerly. McGonagall’s eyes flicked over to them.
‘Merlin,’ he muttered, ducking his head down, ‘look busy, Prongs.’ Sirius shoved the textbook into the middle of the desk and James pulled a piece of parchment out of his bag. A quill and inkwell followed shortly after. McGonagall moved across the room to answer Remus’ question and Sirius dropped his quill. ‘Well?’
‘He said it’s not part of the curriculum.’
Sirius’ face fell. ‘Maybe it’s an Auror thing?’ Mr Potter was the only one they’d ever seen do the charm, but they’d decided years ago it was one they wanted to learn.
James shook his head. ‘Remember that day that Phoenix one came?’
Sirius remembered the day well. They’d been having a late breakfast and a Phoenix Patronus had appeared in the middle of the room. Noddy the House-Elf had been hysterical for hours. ‘Dumbledore’s Patronus?’ James nodded but didn’t elaborate. Sirius rolled his stormy eyes. ‘Just say whatever you’re thinking, Jamie,’ he sighed.
‘Dumbledore’s no Auror.’
‘Yeah, but he’s Dumbledore,’ Sirius said, still not getting it.
‘And you weren’t there at the time, but the other day, when Lily and I were with Moody, he told Dorcas and Gideon to send him a Patronus.’
You think it’s an Order thing,’ Sirius surmised. James nodded. Sirius paused. ‘I think you might be right,’ he said thoughtfully.
James gaped at him. ‘You’re joking?’
‘Nope,’ Sirius said.
James pushed his glasses up and ruffled his hair. ‘No skeptical look? No “Prongs, you’re obsessed”?’
Sirius shook his head. ‘I’m not Lily. Or Moony for that matter. I want to know as much as you do.’
James smiled. ‘I’m glad it’s not just me.’
‘In case you haven’t figured it out, Prongs, what concerns you generally concerns me. Besides, this whole Order thing - Oi!’ Sirius shouted at Malfoy, who appeared to be giving Peter a hard time. He lobbed a ball of parchment across the room, hitting Lucius in the head. The blonde glared over at him. ‘Leave him alone,’ Sirius hissed. Peter was shaking his head desperately at Sirius, who didn’t know what to make of it.
‘Mr Black!’ Sirius flinched. He wouldn’t have shouted if he’d realised how close McGonagall was, or how thin her lips were.
Sirius winced and took a deep breath before he glanced up at the fearsome Head of Gryffindor. ‘Minnie,’ he said in a casual voice, ‘what can I do for you?’ He saw her eye twitch at the nickname.
‘Why so formal?’ Sirius said, waving his hand. ‘Sirius is fine.’ James coughed next to him to hide a laugh.
‘Mr Black, would you kindly explain-’
‘Are you stuck, Minnie?’ Sirius said, sympathetically, reaching out to pat her arm. ‘Instructions are on the board, but if you really need help... what do you need me to explain?’
‘What on earth possessed you to throw a piece of parchment across the room, and then start shouting?’
‘Minnie, you mustn’t raise your voice in a lesson,’ Sirius whispered, pressing a finger to his lips. McGonagall really was his favourite teacher. ‘And why I was throwing things and talking loudly really isn’t relevant to the subject at hand.’ Her nostrils flared. ‘If that’s all then...’ Sirius said pointedly. She glared down at him. ‘Minerva,’ Sirius said impatiently, ‘I’m trying to work here.’ He waved her away as he pulled his textbook closer.
‘Detention, Mr Black,’ she curtly. ‘And ten points from Gryffindor for calling me “Minnie”.’ Sirius poked his tongue out at her back as she stalked away to answer Lee’s question.
‘Black!’ Lucius hissed, fixing Sirius with a superior smile. ‘Have fun in detention.’
Sirius made a rude hand gesture, thankfully missed by McGonagall. Lily and Remus both gave him a disapproving look. ‘I’ll see you there, Malfoy.’ Lucius frowned. ‘Prongs?’ Sirius muttered.
‘Done,’ James whispered, glancing at his parchment again as he tucked his wand away.
‘Ow!’ Sirius cried dramatically. ‘Malfoy, you little-!’
‘Mr Black, what in Merlin’s- Mr Malfoy!’
Malfoy stopped laughing and cocked his head to the side. ‘What?’ he said rudely.
‘Detention.’ With a wave of her wand, McGonagall Vanished the horns that had sprouted from Sirius’ head. ‘I specifically said no wands were to be used this lesson!’
Sirius caught James’ eye and grinned, and across the room Remus was having a hard time smothering his smile.
‘But I didn’t-’
‘Are you suggesting Mr Black somehow grew horns?’
‘I didn’t-’ Professor McGonagall silenced him with a look.
Lucius turned to gape at Severus whose expression darkened. The two Slytherins muttered to themselves and shot Sirius dirty looks.
‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ Lily said disapprovingly as the class packed up their bags.
‘No, probably not,’ James agreed cheerfully. He adjusted his Head Boy badge. Lily’s eye narrowed slightly, but she also seemed to be fighting a smile.
Lily opened her mouth to argue, but Sirius shook his head. ‘It’s not worth arguing about, Lily, you know we’re going to do it again. Besides, that slimy git was saying something to Wormy. And judging by the way you paled, Pete, it wasn’t pleasant.’ Peter jumped at being addressed and his eyes darted up to meet Sirius’ before going back to his feet.
‘What was he saying?’ James asked in a curious tone that managed to be tinged with anger.
‘N-nothing,’ Peter muttered, shifting his bag on his shoulder.
‘Pete-’ Sirius began.
‘Don’t “Pete” me, Sir,’ Peter said, annoyed. ‘I don’t want to talk about it, so just leave it, okay?’ All three Marauders and Lily were taken aback by this statement. Remus was barely able to nod. James was making a strange strangled noise in the back of his throat. Sirius and Lily both stared at the boy like they’d never seen anything like him. ‘S-sorry,’ Peter said miserably. His eyes shifted back to the classroom. ‘Lara and I had a fight this morning and Malfoy was giving me a hard time about it...’
‘Are you still together?’ Peter nodded.
‘S-sorry, I have to go,’ he said suddenly.
‘Where?’ Lily asked, resting a hand on his shoulder.
‘Forgot my book,’ he mumbled and doubled back toward the empty classroom.
‘What’s he talking about?’ Sirius wondered aloud. ‘He’s holding his book.’
‘Maybe he meant a different one,’ Lily suggested.
‘Or, maybe he wants to mope,’ James said. ‘Come on.’ He grabbed Sirius’ arm and the two of them turned, following Peter toward the classroom.
‘Padfoot, Prongs, wait,’ Remus called. Both black haired boys spun around. ‘It’s obvious he wants time alone. We’ll give him time, and then corner him after dinner.’
‘We have Quidditch practice after dinner,’ Sirius whined. ‘Let’s talk to him now, I’m bored.’ James nodded.
‘Sirius, bad things happen when the two of you are bored,’ Remus said warningly.
‘Do not,’ James said dismissively.
‘Dare I remind you of the cauldron incident?’ Remus asked. Sirius grinned, well aware that James wore a similar facial expression. ‘Or the Hippogriff one? Or that time you managed “accidentally” enchanted the Christmas trees to carry Hagrid in and drape him in paper chains and baubles to see how he liked it?’
‘Fine,’ James huffed., stalking back to them. ‘We’ll give Pete time.’
Remus nodded, seeming content. James caught Sirius' eye and mouthed 'Tonight.'
Sirius nodded, glancing back the way their friend had disappeared.
‘So...’ James said casually strolling in. He was still dressed in his Quidditch uniform, looking every bit the star player he was. Even his messy hair looked cool for Merlin’s sake!
‘Come in, Sirius,’ Peter called in a weary voice. He had listened to his three friends debating over who would be the first to talk to him. ‘I know you’re out there.’ Sirius and Remus shuffled into view, coming to stand behind James. All three of them looked a little sheepish. ‘Get it over with,’ Peter muttered.
Sirius, James and Remus flopped down onto James’ bed, facing Peter. It was a little unnerving. It reminded him very much of the day they had confronted Remus about his lycanthropy, although they hadn’t yet Disarmed him and warded the door. That was a good sign, right?
‘You’ve been acting strange lately,’ Sirius said bluntly. James nodded for emphasis.
‘I told you... Lara,’ Peter lied, wringing his hands.
‘That’s it?’ Remus asked shrewdly. Peter nodded, carefully arranging his expression to one of dejected honesty.
‘Because, Pete, you’ve had girl trouble before,’ Sirius said. He really was tactless sometimes. ‘But this is definitely the worst it’s been.’ Peter said nothing. His “girl troubles” had been going on since the beginning of sixth year, conveniently covering various absences.
Since he was actually involved in a plan this time, he had been required to meet Lucius more frequently, and his “girl troubles” had subsequently popped up again. ‘Pete, you’re a Marauder,’ Sirius continued. ‘Maintaining a relationship can be hard bu-’
‘But what?’ Peter asked shrilly. ‘What would you know about committed relationships, Padfoot? Or you, Moony?’ The other three stared at each other, gobsmacked. ‘And if you dare suggest there are other girls out there, then you’re just as bad as the other two, Prongs!’
James folded his arms over his chest, assuming Head Boy pose. Peter felt like he was shrinking. ‘We were going to say that maintaining a relationship can be hard but if she’s the One then it’ll be worth it in the long run, and we'll support you in your choice because you're one of us. You do it for me, with Lily.’
‘Right.’ Peter felt guilty. They were good friends. They were Mudblood lovers and Blood-Traitors and they were on the wrong side, but they were good friends. Peter’s stomach twisted unpleasantly. ‘You’re right.’ The other three shared a happy look, thinking they’d diffused the situation. ‘Thanks.’
‘No problem,’ James said with a smile. He pushed his glasses up. ‘What do you say we go organise a prank?’
Seriously? Were they twelve? Peter - who was definitely seventeen - glanced at his watch. He was going to be late as it was. He paled slightly at that thought. ‘Umm... would you mind if I went to find Lara? I think I need to talk to her.’
Sirius looked miffed at coming second to a girl, but James nodded understandingly. ‘Sure, Wormy. Take the Map.’
James passed the piece of worn parchment over with a grin. Peter hid his own. This was almost too easy. He scurried over to the dormitory door, adding another thank you as he left.
As he descended the boy’s staircase, he allowed himself to smile. He’d done it again. He’d fooled them. And as James had handed over the Map, he had handed over any chance of finding out where Peter was really going. Peter knew he was never going to top any classes, but he had managed to outsmart the three people who knew him the best, the three people who were coincidentally the brightest in the year, minus Lily perhaps. And he had outsmarted them.
‘Pete?’ Peter jumped at Lily’s soft voice. She smiled up at him. ‘You’re looking happier.’
‘Yeah... umm... yeah,’ he squeaked. ‘We were just talking and I feel better now.’
Lily’s thin eyebrows pulled together. ‘Where are you going?’
‘I could ask you the same,’ he said dodging the question. ‘Surely after seven years at Hogwarts you know this is the boy’s staircase?’
Lily blushed. ‘I wanted to talk to Remus.’
‘He’s in our room.’ Lily nodded, green eyes scanning his face. Whatever she saw there made her smile. ‘See you later,’ Peter said, pushing past her.
* * *
‘Back so soon?’ Sirius called jokingly, when Lily knocked on the dormitory door.
‘What are you talking about?’ Lily asked.
‘Oh!’ Sirius cried from the other side of the door. ‘I thought you were Wormtail.’
‘Can I come in or not?’ Lily asked impatiently.
‘What’s the password?’ Sirius called. She could hear the grin in his voice. Lily made a face at the door before pushing it open. ‘Hey! You didn’t give the password!’
‘Yes, I did,’ Lily said, waving a hand. She sat down on James’ empty bed. ‘I whispered it though, so you didn’t hear it.’
‘Did not,’ Sirius grumbled.
‘Did so,’ Lily shot back. ‘Where’s James?’
‘Shower,’ Remus supplied from behind his newspaper. ‘He’ll be out in a minute.’
‘I actually wanted to talk to you.’
Remus’ brown eyes dragged themselves away from the page and met hers. ‘About?’
‘Patronuses. I want you to teach me how to do them.’
‘You had a strong shield,’ Remus said, folding the newspaper away. ‘It would hold off a Dementor.’
‘I suppose,’ Lily said, disappointed. ‘But a corporeal one would be nice.’
Remus grinned. ‘Why me?’
‘Well I just thought since you’re the best at Defence Against the Dark Arts, and you’ve always wanted to be a teacher...’
‘I have,’ Remus said with a sigh. ‘Doesn’t mean it’ll happen.’
‘Well, here’s your chance, Moony,’ Sirius said, rifling through a magazine. ‘Teach.’
Remus smiled over at Sirius and then at Lily. ‘All right, then. Does early next week work for you?’ Lily nodded, but part of her was wondering why sooner wasn’t an option. Remus seemed to read her expression. ‘It’s a full moon in three nights.’
Lily nodded understandingly. ‘Early next week sounds great, then.’
The bathroom door opened and James walked in, humming to himself as he rubbed his hair dry with a towel. He flopped down on the end of his bed, and then jumped. ‘Lily? What are you doing in here?’
‘Your powers of observation astound me, Prongs,’ Sirius said dryly as Lily and Remus laughed.
‘It's a talent,’ James said, shrugging. He opened his arms for Lily and she crawled into them. She grinned as she kissed his cheek.
Remus was watching them with an amused expression. ‘So, when’s the wedding?’ Sirius roared with laughter and promptly rolled off his bed, hitting the floor with a thump.
‘Well,’ Lily said thoughtfully, ‘I think we should wait for graduation, but after that...’
Remus looked shocked, and Sirius, who resurfaced on the other side of his mattress looked ready to faint. ‘You’re getting married?!’ Sirius cried.
‘No time soon,’ Lily assured them with a laugh.
Sirius clutched his chest. ‘Merlin! Don’t do that to me, Lils!’
‘Do that to you, Pads?' James laughed. 'This was the first I’ve heard about us marrying and I’m supposed to be the groom!’
‘Liar,’ Lily said, kissing him. ‘You proposed in third year, remember?’
James grinned. ‘And if I remember correctly, you said no.’
‘There was an insult in there somewhere too,’ Sirius added helpfully.
'"The only time I'll go anywhere near you while there's a minister around will be at your funeral!"' Remus cried, in a very poor imitation of Lily's voice.
'Then you assured him you would be very, very sad,' Sirius said. His lips twitched.
'Made my day,' James said cheerfully.
'You clearly missed the sarcasm,' Lily said, laughing.
'No, I ignored it,' James said with dignity. 'There's a difference. Anyway, marriage. I’m curious? What’s changed to make you consider it now?’
‘Well, we’re dating,’ Lily said with a laugh.
‘Would you really marry me?’ James asked softly, as the door clicked shut. Lily glanced around and realised Sirius and Remus had left.
‘I don’t know.’ She blushed. ‘The concept of being your wife doesn’t seem as awful as it used to.’
James grinned and kissed her. ‘I love you, you know.’
Lily smiled. ‘I know.’ Her smile faltered. ‘I-’
‘I know you can’t say it yet,’ James said brightly. ‘I’d be shocked if you could. We’ve been together for about a month, and before that, you hated me.’
‘Sorry,’ Lily mumbled.
‘Don’t be,’ James shifted, tightening his hold on her. He planted a soft kiss on the side of her mouth. ‘You’ll get there eventually.’
Unable to help herself, Lily wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
‘James!’ Lily called.
James smiled at the sound of his girlfriend’s voice. Seeing Sirius’ look he grinned. ‘Sorry, Lils!’ he called back. ‘Can’t talk now!’
‘Where are you going?’ she asked, appearing at their side.
‘But of course, Mr Padfoot!’ James said, running after him, leaving his stunned girlfriend behind. ‘I’ll see you later, Lily!’
Panting from their sprint through the corridors, the pair finally arrived at the library. James was hiding behind Sirius, scared that Madam Pince would see him; he was the one responsible for shifting every book in the library one shelf down and two bookcases over in their third year. The librarian hated him for that, and if she knew he was in the library, they’d never be able to plan alone. The woman had a tendency to hover.
Remus was already waiting at their usual table with a troubled expression.
‘What?’ they both asked.
Remus frowned. ‘I couldn’t find Wormtail.’
‘He’d be with that girl, wouldn’t he?’ Sirius asked, appearing unconcerned. ‘That Hufflepuff sixth year... Pigeon or whatever her name is.’
‘You mean Lara Midgeon?’ Remus asked, grinning. ‘The same girl he’s been with for months. The same girl we gave him advice on, not two days ago? That Lara Midgeon?’
‘Yes, her.’ James and Remus caught each other’s eyes and looked away quickly. Sirius sighed dramatically, flinging an arm around Remus’ shoulders. ‘Free Marauders are becoming an endangered species,’ he said seriously. ‘What with Prongs and his delightful flower-’ James felt his face heat up, ‘-and Pete and his bird.’
‘Midgeon, Sirius, not pidgeon,’ Remus said in a voice of long suffering as he shrugged the boy’s arm off.
‘Whatever,’ Sirius said, waving a hand. ‘We should get to work. This thing isn’t going to plan itself, you know.’
Remus nodded and disappeared to find a book. He returned a few moments later with a heavy book called “Portkeys for Ponces” and began to pore over it with an interested expression.
James had the Marauder’s Map and a blank piece of parchment and was looking for ideal places to set up their prank. Sirius had gone to flatter the librarian so that she might help him find Daily Prophet articles about Portkey travel gone wrong.
‘The incantation is “Portus”,’ Remus said some time later. ‘You have to think of the place you want it to go and if it works, it should glow blue. We can add timers to it and stuff like that.’
‘Brilliant,’ Sirius said, looking up from his yellowing newspaper. ‘It says here there’s not much that can go wrong. I mean, obviously if we tap whatever we’re trying to make into a Portkey and it turns into a kitten or something, we know we’ve gone messed it up.’
James and Remus nodded, grinning slightly at each other. ‘Anything else?’
‘Yeah, there was this one bloke from London who wasn’t sure where he wanted to go and he ended up between places.’ Sirius fixed the other two with a steady look. ‘Let’s not try for that one, gentlemen.’
‘Agreed,’ Remus said fervently. ‘Prongs? Where do you think is the best place?’
James set the Marauder’s Map down with a wide grin. ‘I think we need to alter this slightly.’ Sirius and Remus shared a look. ‘I think we need to set up multiple Portkeys. Imagine, every time a student reaches for a doorknob they end up on the other side to the school...’
Sirius beamed. ‘Brilliant! We could set up the Portkey points to be a physically far as possible from the classroom! It’d drive the teachers mad!’
‘And the students,’ Remus added, grinning hugely.
James nodded. ‘Do you think we could make the Portkeys vanish and return to the door once a student was moved... any “victim” then has to walk, instead of Portkeying their way back.’
‘We could do that with a timer,’ Remus said, consulting his book. ‘Two seconds after the first activation, it returns to its original location... There’s something here about removing the usual blue light. Stealth Portkeys.’ He, James and Sirius shared a wicked grin.
* * *
Students had been disappearing all afternoon.
Professor McGonagall could not believe it; Regulus Black had been standing outside her classroom door, and then he was gone, right before her beady eyes. He appeared twenty minutes later, out of breath, muttering incoherently about the Astronomy tower and his brother. He wasn’t the only one. Frank Lonbottom and Alice Prewett - who were usually the first in and seated - appeared halfway through the lesson, apologising profusely and saying the doorknob was a Portkey. The arrival of Marlene McKinnon several minutes later confirmed this, though no one claimed to have noticed the typical blue lights.
All in all, it was a waste of a lesson. No less than seven students had arrived at various stages throughout her lesson (a very relevant one on Animagi) and she was in a foul mood by the time she arrived at lunch. Next to her, Slughorn was complaining about his fourth years disappearing when they picked up their ladles and returning later saying things about the Owlery, while Gurdan was grumbling about his students and the seventh floor.
McGonagall glared at the Headmaster, who was finding the whole thing funny, and talking nonsense about how he could never hope to understand the secrets the castle held. She knew exactly what “secrets” the castle held. Their names were James Potter and Sirius Black and they were in her house. So were Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew, who she also suspected were involved.
The four in question were currently sitting at the Gryffindor table, talking loudly over their lunches about how they needed to do their Transfiguration essays during their double free that afternoon. Lily Evans was sitting in Potter’s lap, scolding them for not having done their essays already. The Head Girl then pecked Potter on the cheek and left the table, presumably headed for the library. McGonagall smiled slightly, and then remembered the problem; the Portkeys. Her lips thinned.
She turned to Albus and excused herself. She got to her feet, and made her way around the staff table, only to find the Marauder’s seats vacated. Puzzled, she glanced around and saw them sitting further down, still eating. With a frown she made her way toward them, only to have them disappear and reappear several seats down. What in Merlin’s name was going on?!
The four seventh years got to their feet and headed toward the Great Hall doors. ‘Potter! Black! Lupin! Pettigrew!’ she shouted, hurrying toward them. They ignored her, and pushed out into the Entrance Hall. By the time she reached the doors, she saw their cloaks disappearing around the corner at the top of the Marble Staircase. She shouted their names again as she ran after them. By the time she reached the top of the stairs, they were already three floors up; she could hear them talking loudly about returning to the common room.
She ascended one staircase only to stumble. An arm caught her. ‘Are you all right, Professor?’ a concerned voice asked.
‘I’m fine, thank you, Mr Lupin,’ she said tersely, shaking her arm free. She needed to catch up with Potter and his friends.
‘Come on, Moony!’ James yelled. Remus grinned and ran down the staircase. Minerva froze, turning, and the four seventh years disappeared down a corridor at the bottom of the staircase. How had they managed that?! They hadn’t come past her!
Thankfully she didn’t have any lessons that afternoon because she spent almost two hours chasing them around the castle. She had had them cornered in the dungeons, when they had disappeared into a classroom and not come out. She had marched in, expecting to drag them out by their ears, when she had heard voices behind her; it was them of course, heading back up to the Entrance Hall. She followed them all the way to the seventh floor corridor, where they suddenly disappeared again.
‘Potter! Black!’ she screeched as she flung the portrait open (‘Now really!’ the Fat Lady said, annoyed).
‘Professor McGonagall?’ James Potter asked, rubbing his messy hair. She stopped, staring at him. Neither he nor any of the others were in their robes as they had been seconds before and they were all hunched over a desk, scribbling furiously at homework. She recognised the essay she had set them on how a person’s personality affects the physical manifestations of human transfiguration.
‘Do you want our essays?’ Black asked, confused. ‘I’ve just finished mine if you want it?’ He had ink on his nose, she realised with a sigh. ‘I thought they were due tomorrow, though?’
‘Professor?’ Potter asked again, looking worried. She supposed she did look rather frightful with her hair falling out of its bun and her glasses askew.
‘Detention for all of you!’ she spluttered, trying to catch her breath.
‘What for?!’ Black demanded, leaping to his feet. Dramatic, as always. ‘We haven’t done anything!’
‘The Portkey doorknobs! Leading me around the castle all afternoon! I had expected better of you! Mr Potter, you’re Head Boy and Mr Lupin, as a Prefect you-’
‘What?’ Lupin asked, looking genuinely confused. ‘Professor, I’m sorry, but we’ve been here the whole time, working on our essays.’ She had of course, heard Evans scolding them for not having done them, and there was no possible way for them to have fabricated essays in the thirty seconds it took her to get to the common room.
‘Are you feeling all right, Minnie?’ Black asked cautiously.
‘I will not have you four disrupting my lessons and marauding around the castle like you own it!’ she bellowed, too agitated to bother to tell him off for using “Minnie”. ‘You are seventh years and as such you need to lead by example!’
‘Professor,’ Pettigrew said shakily, ‘we really have been here all afternoon.’
‘Very well,’ she said severely, her nostrils flaring. ‘May I see your wands, please?’ Looking confused, the four of them handed them over and she checked for the last spell each had used. Lupin’s had last used a Summoning charm, Black’s a Silencing charm and Potter’s and Pettigrew’s a Siphoning charm. Refusing to give in she glared around at them. ‘Mr Potter, your essay.’
Potter handed her his finished essay with a puzzled expression. She scanned the first paragraph. It was O–standard work, absent of spelling and grammar errors, and displayed excellent understanding of the Transfiguration theories and how to apply them. It was not work that had been rushed.
She knew they’d been the ones she’d been chasing all afternoon, but how, she didn’t know. Their story was airtight. It was her word against theirs, and they had evidence in the form of essays. She was too old for this. Far, far too old.
With thin lips she handed Potter’s parchment back and stalked out of the portrait hole. She fumed to herself all the way down to her office, almost walking into Dumbledore.
‘Are you all right, Minerva?’ he asked kindly. ‘You seem a little flustered.’
‘Fine, thank you,’ she said stiffly. Dumbledore opened his mouth hopefully. Most people would have thought he was about to say something wise, but she knew better. ‘No, Albus!’ she snapped.
He closed his mouth with a slightly crestfallen expression. Within moments, the twinkle was back in his eye and he strode off down the corridor, placing the sweet he had been about to offer her in his mouth as he went.
‘You’re late, Wormtail.’
Peter ignored him. ‘It’s a full moon tonight. I think this afternoon is the best chance we've got.’
‘You’re sure of this?’
Peter thought for a moment and then nodded. ‘Lupin will be weak, so Potter will be distracted, making sure he’s all right. Black will be with me. You’ve arranged a group to take care of him?’
‘I have,’ the voice was amused. Peter though he was still bitter about Sirius earning him a detention. ‘You know your role?’ Peter nodded and left the room, a look of utmost determination on his round face.
* * *
‘It’s great idea, Pete,’ Sirius said eagerly. ‘But don’t you think it would be better left to the weekend? Give old Minnie a chance to recover?’
Remus glanced up from the list in his hands. ‘And we don’t have a real alarm clock to duplicate. Can you Transfigure one, Prongs?’
‘Probably, but I’d need to research it.’ James grinned, a distant expression on his face. ‘Otherwise we could have another lion fiasco...’ The others chuckled, though Peter’s seemed a little forced, probably because he had been the one the lion went for. ‘It’d be quicker to make a Hogsmeade trip.’
‘There’s a full moon tonight,’ Remus said carefully. He was a little reluctant to do anything that afternoon, but he hadn’t seen Peter looking so full of life in weeks. ‘Can we get to Hogsmeade and back before dark?’
‘We can go now!’ Sirius cried. ‘I’ll get the Map!’
‘I’ll get the Cloak!’ James shouted.
‘Wait!’ Remus said loudly. Sirius and James looked at him expectantly. ‘We have Transfiguration now.’
‘You and James go,’ Peter suggested. ‘Sir and I will tell McGonagall that you aren’t feeling well and James is taking you to the Hospital Wing.’
‘I like it,’ Sirius said abruptly. He glanced at Remus’ face and sighed. ‘Go, Moony. I promise I’ll take notes for you.’
‘They’d better be good ones, Padfoot,’ Remus said, trying to smother a grin. Sirius nodded exasperatedly.
* * *
‘Do you think these are long enough?’ Sirius said, flinging his notes at Peter. ‘They’d better be; I gave myself a cramp writing them.’ Peter nodded distractedly. ‘Pete?’
‘Sorry,’ Peter said with a weak grin. ‘I was just thinking of places to put clocks.’
Sirius laughed as they rounded a corner in the dungeons. ‘Everywhere. Is the Map clear?’ James and Remus had wanted to take the Map, but Peter had reasoned that it would be more useful inside Hogwarts than it would be in Hogsmeade. The others had the Cloak instead.
‘Yeah. We’re good.’
They walked in silence until they were in the passageway outside the Slytherin Common Room. ‘Passwords...’ Sirius said thoughtfully, glancing at the wall. ‘Pureblood? Salazar? Slytherin? Serpent? Snake? Purity? Ambition?’ The concealed door slid open with a quiet grinding sound but neither entered; all they needed was to be able to get in when the time came. Peter consulted his watch, a nervous expression passing over his face. ‘What?’
‘I’m just wondering how far away Prongs and Moony are,’ Peter muttered.
Sirius swore, his hand flying to pull his wand out. ‘What do you want?’ he growled.
‘Thirty points from Gryffindor, I think,’ Lucius said silkily. ‘Oh, make it forty then,’ he added after noticing Sirius’ rude hand gesture.
‘Peter, wand out,’ Sirius hissed. Next him, Peter cleared the Map and pulled his wand with a shaky hand.
‘A pity, Black, that you haven’t got your little Head Boy here to protect you,’ Lucius drawled, pulling his own wand. ‘He’d know better than to use magic in the halls...’ Without warning, the blonde flung a spell at Sirius, who ducked and sent a Stunner back.
Another four Slytherins rounded the corner and pulled their wands. Sirius groaned internally, hoping James and Remus would hurry up and save his sorry behind. He had a feeling Peter wasn’t going to be much use, if past experiences were anything to go by- ‘Protego!’ Sirius gasped, blocking the jet of light headed for Peter. He flicked a Stinging Jinx back, ducking as one of the other Slytherins sent a jinx his way. ‘Protego!’ Sirius cried again.
Sirius’s eyes widened as he dived out the way of a purple spell. ‘Pete, help me!’ he shouted, ducking into an alcove. ‘Stupefy!’ One of the Slytherins fell with a dazed expression, at the same time Peter was Stunned and crumpled.
Sirius was alone. ‘Petrificus Totalus!’ Another dropped with a groan. Three left. Heart pounding, Sirius glanced over to where Peter was still doing nothing. He was going to get himself hurt. ‘Immobulus!’ Sirius cried. He gritted his teeth as it missed. ‘Incarcerous!’ One of the remaining Slytherins, Rosier, dropped with a yelp as ropes wound themselves around his torso, binding his arms to his side.
‘Crucio,’ Lucius said lazily. Sirius raised his wand too late. He screamed as he dropped to his knees. His wand rolled out of his writhing hand. ‘Crucio.’ Sirius’ frame shuddered, but this time, he refused to scream. ‘Crucio.’ Sirius spat blood out of his mouth.
* * *
‘How are you feeling?’ James asked as they exited Dervish and Banges, clutching an alarm clock each. Remus shrugged. James took that to mean awful. James glanced around. ‘Why’s it so quiet?’
‘It’s four-thirty on a Friday afternoon, Prongs,’ Remus said wryly.
‘We’ve made good timing then,’ James said, trying to hide his discomfit; they were the only two walking around the streets, and while all the shops displayed “Open” signs, there was no one to be seen in the other side of the frosted windows. ‘What time do you think you’ll need to go tonight?’
Remus checked his watched and let out a noisy breath. ‘Soon. I’d hoped I’d have some of the afternoon but I can feel it...’
‘How soon?’ James asked calmly as the two of them walked slowly to Honeydukes.
‘I don’t know,’ Remus snapped. ‘I said soon, didn’t I?’
‘Maybe we should go through the Shrieking Shack,’ James suggested after a moment. ‘Just in case.’
Remus blinked and nodded, turning away from James to look around. ‘Just in case,’ he agreed miserably. ‘Sorry for snapping.’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ James said, shoving his hands into his pockets to protect them from the cold.
The two of them walked in companionable silence, angling toward the isolated Shrieking Shack. They were only a few yards away when they heard six loud pops break the quiet dusk. James spun curiously and what he saw drained his face of colour.
‘There they are!’ one shouted, pointing. The other five pulled their wands and advanced slowly toward them. Remus swore, pulling his wand. James mimicked him, and then common sense kicked in; James tugged Remus behind a tall tree, fumbling with his Invisibility Cloak. He tossed it over the both of them, and once they were covered, he pulled his mirror out of his pocket.
‘Sirius Black,’ he whispered. Darkness swirled on the other side of the glass and a pang of unease swept through James. Remus looked like he might be sick. Usually Sirius answered straight away... perhaps he was busy with the prank. That had to be it. James nodded, trying to reassure himself. Sirius and Peter were inside Hogwarts. They had to be safe. It was he and Remus who were in danger.
Pressing a finger to his lips, James led Remus around the now confused group, wincing every time their sneakers crunched in the snow. The Death Eaters, who were now checking behind trees and shrubs didn’t appear to be paying much notice to the disembodied footprints on the ground.
‘Where are we going?’ Remus breathed as they crept away.
‘The road,’ James whispered back. Honeydukes was too far away, and then they’d still need to get through the tunnel.
‘Why not the Shack?’
‘Too small. If it comes to a fight, we’re trapped. And no one will know we’re there. At least out here, people are around.’ The last wasn’t exactly true, but it made James feel better anyway.
‘What if I change before we get back?’ Remus fretted.
‘I’d prefer you didn’t,’ James said with an attempt at humour. ‘But if you have to, I’ll transform and make sure you get inside the Shack.’
‘You on your own didn’t work so well last time,’ Remus reminded him, a little angrily, though James could tell it wasn’t directed at him.
‘We’ll be fine,’ James assured him, though panic was starting to set in. Had the Death Eaters been looking for them? How had they known where they would be?
A shout suddenly sounded out behind them. ‘That way! Look! Footprints in the snow!’
‘Run,’ James said. It came out as more of a squeak. The two of them tore up the road, keeping their heads down. James kept glancing over his shoulder to watch their pursuers. Four were sprinting after them, but two were nowhere to be seen. James prayed they were still poking though bushes by the Shack. The Cloak flapped around his ankles, and several times it was only his Quidditch reflexes that saved him from Tripping jinxes.
James was exhausted by the time they reached the last corner before the school gate. The road was long and winding and neither snow nor Death Eaters made that any better. Remus looked as tired as James felt. James’ forehead creased. It was a full moon, of all nights, and Remus wasn’t the fittest person anyway.
James felt ready to cry with relief as the school gate came into sight. Relief faded and he thought he might really cry when he saw the other two Death Eaters looking in their direction, though not directly at them. James had a feeling they’d be dead if it weren’t for the Cloak.
‘They’re there!’ a voice shouted behind them. ‘Don’t let them in!’ They changed course, darting into the thin forest on the side of the road.
‘We have to get through that gate!’ James panted. Remus nodded, his eyes squeezing shut with pain. A slight tremor racked his thin frame. ‘Now?’ James moaned to himself. ‘Moony, please, hold on. Moony? Rem?’ Remus’ brown eyes flicked open with effort and he gritted his teeth, nodding again. ‘Thank Merlin,’ James breathed. ‘Right, you keep the Cloak, I’ll distract them. You get to the gate and then I’ll...er...’
‘Apparate,’ Remus said tightly.
James could have kicked himself for not thinking of it sooner. He grabbed Remus’ wrist and spun on the spot, keeping a tight grip on his wand and also on a corner of the Cloak with his other hand.
The two of them landed on one of the Death Eaters by the gate. James tumbled out of the Cloak, cursing. ‘Protego!’ he shouted. ‘Moony, run!’
Since he couldn’t see Remus, he had no idea whether the sandy haired boy had listened or not. What he did see was the red light of a Stunner fly seemingly out of nowhere and hit one of the Death Eaters.
James rolled off the Death Eater who was stirring feebly and cast another Shield Charm as he climbed to his feet. James glanced ahead and saw Remus’ sneakers running toward the gate, and the occasional spell whizzing back. James was close behind him, also shooting various hexes over his shoulder.
‘Get them!’ one of them shouted, jabbing a finger their way. Another Death Eater ran toward the boys, shooting a curse that hit James’ leg. He yelped as the bones shattered and his vision flickered. He saw Remus’ shoes skid to a stop. A purple light passed over James’ head and missed Remus but knocked the Cloak off. Remus didn’t seem to notice, standing still and staring at James in horror.
‘Run, Moony!’ James croaked. Remus snatched the Cloak off the ground, swiftly pocketing it, and took a step toward James. A step away from the gate. ‘No!’ James cried, trying to get to his feet. ‘Moony, get inside!’
Remus, usually a very thoughtful person, looked as if he was going to disregard his every instinct and do something stupid. He didn't disappoint, running back to James and hauling him to his feet.
The arm holding James up was trembling. James opened his mouth to ask, but Remus made a funny noise in the back of his throat. ‘I’m in control,’ Remus said firmly, sounding more as if he were talking to himself than James. ‘I am- Stupefy!’ There was a thump behind them.
James glanced back. The Death Eaters were metres away. They were not going to make it. ‘Go,’ James said.
‘Don’t be a prat,’ Remus growled, shooting a hex at a Death Eater. He shook violently against James. The movement sent twinges through his leg.
‘Moony, go!’ James said, more strongly this time. They were still so far away from the gate, and if Remus was about to transform...
‘I won’t!’ Remus snapped as he blocked a curse. They were both going to be caught. They were both going to die. James was sure of it. He shook his head sadly, turning to Remus.
‘Depulso,’ James croaked, aiming his wand at the boy who was almost his brother. Shock registered the other’s exhausted face as the Banishing Charm hit him. The force of the close-range spell sent Remus flying backward, away from James, away from the Death Eaters. The gate protecting the school dissolved as Remus went through it. As Moody had said, it was unable to keep out a student.
James dropped to the ground, Remus no longer supporting his weight, and his broken leg too weak to keep him standing.
‘No!’ one of the Death Eaters cried. Green light flew from his wand right toward Remus, but vanished, unable to pass through the protective wards on the gate. James sighed in relief, even as rough hands grabbed his upper arms and dragged him to his feet, wrenching his wand away. His broken leg throbbed.
‘James!’ Remus shouted, pushing himself off the ground. James could see him shaking as he picked his wand up. With an anguished glance at the sky, Remus let out a sound that was half-human, half wolf, his head flicking between James and the Whomping Willow.
The hands tightened on James' arms. As pressure pushed in on him from all sides, he saw Remus turn and run away from the gate.
The world dissolved into blackness.
Sirius was the first thing Remus was conscious of when he woke up.
The shaggy haired boy was watching him pityingly from the bed on his left side. The second thing Remus was aware of was intense pain. His legs were stiff and cramping, his chest was tight and he had a throbbing headache. He was also covered in a cacophony of bite and scratch wounds.
James’ absence was the third. ‘Padfoot,’ Remus cried, burying his head in his hands. ‘Prongs, Padfoot, Prongs!’
‘Mr Lupin?’ Madam Pomfrey said, bustling over with a steaming potion. She forced it down his throat, halting his babbling. She patted his arm sadly. ‘You had a hard night.’ Remus nodded. That was an understatement. ‘The first time I’ve had to collect you in almost two years.’ Remus nodded numbly again as she fussed over him.
‘Can-can I go now?’ he asked when it became apparent she was done talking.
‘Are you feeling well enough?’ she asked, fixing him with a look of concern.
No. ‘I’m fine. Thank you,’ he added, throwing his feet over the side of the bed.
‘Can I go too?’ Sirius asked hopefully. Madam Pomfrey scowled at him. Sirius widened his eyes, looking very much like his Animagus self. She sighed retreated back to her office.
‘I’m sorry, Moony,’ Sirius said miserably as soon as they were out of the Hospital Wing. ‘I should have been there last night. Look at you! And I was too busy duelling Malfoy and his git followers! I deserved to be Crucioed for abandoning you! Tell you what, I’ll make it up to you. We’ll go to the kitchens.’
‘No!' Remus said, shaking his head. He took a deep breath. 'I need to see Dumbledore.’
‘Dumbledore?’ Sirius asked curiously. ‘Are you going to tell him I didn’t go with you last night?’
Remus rolled his eyes, and resisted the urge to snap at Sirius. He had no patience at the moment, and the shaggy haired boy wasn't helping. ‘Before that. In Hogsmeade. There were Death Eaters.’
Sirius stopped walking, his face draining of colour. ‘Death Eaters?’
‘I just said that!’ Remus barked.
‘Rem, calm down,’ Sirius said sounding anything but calm himself. ‘What happened?’
‘We were going to the Shack and Death Eaters came and we ran and they caught us and James’ leg broke and I carried him and he Banished me and they Apparated,’ Remus said, tripping over his tongue as he tried to explain.
‘But Prongs wasn’t in the Hospital Wing,’ Sirius said, confused.
‘He was taken,’ Remus said. Sirius gaped at him, but to Remus, the look was full of accusation. Unable to take the condemning look, broke into a run. His legs protested.
‘By Death Eaters?’ Sirius demanded, jogging to keep up. Remus nodded.
‘No,’ Sirius whispered, stumbling. He didn’t seem able to make his legs work and slowed. Reluctantly, Remus slowed too. Sirius’ jaw trembled. ‘Why didn’t you help him?’ he shouted suddenly.
‘I tried,’ Remus whispered. The anger faded from Sirius’ face as suddenly as it had come. ‘I went back for him. I carried him. He Banished me through the gates to save me.’
‘And then you transformed?’ Remus nodded. ‘This was planned,’ Sirius snarled, grabbing Remus’ arm and dragging him down the corridor. ‘Malfoy attacked me and Pete and then you and Prongs get attacked too... If that’s a coincidence then I’m a Flobberworm.’
‘Flobberworm?’ a familiar voice asked. ‘You don’t look much like one, but-’ Sirius ignored Lily and continued down the corridor. ‘Where are you two going?’
‘Dumbledore’s,’ Sirius said shortly.
‘You two keep going,’ Lily called to Alice and Marlene who were waiting for her. She turned back to the Marauders. ‘Why are you going to Dumbledore?’ She placed her hands on her hips, fixing them with a stern look that had Sirius squirming. ‘What have you done?’
‘Death Eaters have James,’ he croaked.
‘Are you trying to tell me Peter is a Death Eater?’ Lily asked, her green eyes narrowing as they flicked between the boys. ‘Because that’s not funny, Sirius.’
‘Peter?’ Remus asked confused.
‘Honestly!’ Lily said throwing her hands up. She didn’t seem able to decide whether to be exasperated or amused. ‘What is wrong with you two this morning? Yes. Peter. James and Peter are in the Common Room, doing their Potions homework, like they have been all morning.’
Sirius and Remus looked at each other, eyes as big as Quaffles, and sprinted down another corridor toward the Common Room. ‘I suppose I’ll see you later?’ Lily called behind them.
Five minutes later, the two of them panted the password and fought their way through the portrait hole. Both tumbled into the Common Room, landing in a heap on the rug.
‘What are you two doing?’ Peter asked, bemused, as the two of them leapt to their feet and rushed at James, hugging him. ‘Padfoot? Moony?’
Remus and Sirius stepped away from James who was looking disgruntled.
‘I thought you said he-’ Sirius began but Remus silenced him with a glare. He knew what he’d seen last night. He hadn’t imagined it. He stared at James. He did look pale, and he had a long scratch on his left cheek.
‘Prongs?’ Remus said. James nodded slowly. ‘How in Merlin’s name did you get away?!’
‘I still had my wand,’ James said proudly, waving it at them, ‘so I hexed the gits holding me and Disapparated as soon as they let go. It was a long walk from the gates, let me tell you! McGonagall found me in the Great Hall and took me up to the Hospital Wing to get my leg healed.’
‘I didn’t see you come in,’ Sirius said.
‘You were still unconscious. Wormtail and I left together.’
‘You were all right, then?’ Sirius asked Peter.
Peter nodded. ‘Just Stunned.’
All four of them were silent for a moment and then Remus glanced at James. ‘I thought you were dead,’ he said in a quiet voice.
‘Nah, I’m fine,’ James said, ruffling his messy hair. ‘Just- just no more late night Hogsmeade trips.’
‘Agreed,’ Remus said, sinking into an armchair.
Sirius mimicked him, frowning slightly. ‘I'd have thought the risk would make it fun.'
James snorted. 'That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.'
Sirius' frown deepened. He stared at James and then his eyes flicked to Peter. 'Are you sure you're all right, Pete? You look annoyed.’
‘Hmm? No, I’m fine,’ Peter said absently. ‘I just can’t get this Potions essay right.’
James smiled sympathetically and glanced at the parchment. ‘It might help if you read the textbook, Peter,’ James said with a grin. ‘We don’t even use Salamander Blood in a Decongestion Draught.’ Peter made a face and crossed out a whole paragraph. ‘Just start again,’ James said with a sigh. ‘You can copy mine...’
James sucked on the end of his quill as he re-read his essay, and then, with a pleased smile, slid it over to Peter. Next to Remus, Sirius huffed loudly.
‘What?’ James asked, looking up. Remus shrugged. James smiled, fingering his hair again. 'Something bothering you, Padfoot?'
'No,' Sirius mumbled. It was obviously a lie.
'Good,' James said with a satisfied grin. Remus glanced at James, wondering what he was playing at; if Remus could tell there was something wrong with Sirius, surely James should be able to? 'Pass me that book, would you?' Sirius gave a wordless growl and stalked out of the Common Room. Remus, Peter and James stared after him, puzzled. After a moment, James shrugged. 'Pass me the book, Remus?'
Remus stood up, staring at James. 'I think I need to check on Padfoot,' he said slowly.
'Give me the book before you go, then,' James said impatiently.
'Here,' Remus said mechanically, wondering why he didn't just Summon it, or get it himself. He forced a smile and ducked out of the Common Room.
‘What?’ James asked. Sirius glared over at him.
‘I asked,’ Professor McGonagall repeated curtly, ‘if you might demonstrate.’
‘Oh, er, yeah,’ he said, looking sideways at Peter for help. Peter shrugged. Sirius frowned. James never needed help in Transfiguration, and if he did, Peter was the last one he’d ask. James scrunched up his face and jabbed his umbrella stand with his wand. ‘Alica Phoenicopteri!’ One straggly leg poked out the side, and the stand wobbled before toppling over with a squawk. It was hardly the flamingo McGonagall had been hoping for. The intensity of Sirius’ glare increased. ‘Oops,’ James said, grinning around the chuckling class.
Sirius caught Remus’ eye, glowering. In the front row, Lily looked a little annoyed. James grinned around at the class, seeming slightly embarrassed, but also pleased with himself. He noticed Sirius looking and winked.
Unable to take it any longer, Sirius pushed away from his desk, scooped his belongings into his bag and stormed out of the classroom, slamming the door behind him. He thundered down the corridor, not really sure where he was going, other than away from Transfiguration. He didn’t care what McGonagall thought at this point. He got good grades, and despite her hard exterior, Sirius suspected she had a soft spot for him and the other Marauders. Besides, he had more important things to worry about, namely James. That git.
Sirius growled quietly. Next to him, a suit of armour exploded. And another, several metres down the hall. Then another. Doors rattled on their hinges and banners flapped violently in a wind that wasn’t there.
‘Sirius!’ He turned with clenched fists to glower at Remus, who slipped out of the classroom, closing the door quietly. ‘Padfoot?’ he said anxiously. Sirius’ anger drained away at the sight of his friend’s concerned face. The noises and destruction stopped. ‘Paddy, what are you doing?’
‘It was an accident,’ Sirius huffed. He hadn’t meant to lose control like that, and he’d made quite a mess. He pulled out his wand. ‘Reparo.’ He glanced at Remus, whose face was impassive. ‘Is Minnie angry?’ he asked in a small voice. Maybe he did care what she thought. But only a little bit.
Remus twisted his mouth. ‘A little. I- er... I’ve got a note here saying we’ll be late to Charms... McGonagall...er... well, she told me to take you to the Hospital Wing.’
‘I’m not going,’ Sirius growled.
Remus’ chocolate eyes scanned his face. ‘I think a potion to calm you down might be a good idea,’ he said finally.
‘No!’ Sirius snapped, aiming a kick at the newly repaired suit of armour. Remus flinched. ‘And don’t you look at me like that, Moony! I’m not unstable!’ Students were beginning to join them in the previously empty hall.
Remus eyed the other students and made a shushing gesture. ‘I never said you were-’
‘You were thinking it!’ Sirius said sullenly. Remus grimaced, smiling apologetically at Professor Flitwick who was passing by. ‘It’s not me!’ Sirius insisted. His face contorted and he balled his hands up. The invisible wind blew again, knocking the littler Charms professor over. Remus sighed and towed him over to the side of the hall, where they were out of the way. Sirius succumbed with ill-grace. ‘It’s not me,’ he said again. ‘It’s that stupid git!’ Sirius flung a hand out to point at James who was leaving the Transfiguration room with Lily and Peter.
‘Then why are you shouting at me?’ Remus snapped. ‘I’m on your side, remember?’
Sirius was on the verge of retorting and then thought better of it. He snapped his mouth shut and glared down at his feet. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled. Remus was right. He wasn’t the enemy. James, or at least, the-boy-who-looked-a-lot-like-James-Prongs-Potter-but-bloody-well-wasn’t, was the enemy.
‘It’s all right,’ Remus said tiredly. ‘I understand, but Merlin, Padfoot! I haven’t seen you this agitated since the Dorea and Charlus...’ Sirius sighed. He had almost wandlessly blown up Remus’ bedroom after the Potter’s funeral, after being so overwhelmed with grief and anger at their murder. James of course, had- No. Thinking about James was painful. Sirius glared over at the messy haired boy who was chatting animatedly with Katelyn, much to Lily’s obvious displeasure.
Sirius gritted his teeth and forced himself to look at Remus. ‘How about that calming potion?’ He growled, attempting to smother the urge to hit something.
* * *
‘This is boring,’ James complained. He had been acting strangely for the last few days, so the comment didn’t surprise her, but it still stung.
Lily’s smile faltered. ‘I thought you liked patrolling with me.’
‘I like spending time with you, just not here,’ James said, waving a hand. ‘Head Boy is such a tedious duty.’
‘James.’ Something was obviously bothering him; he hadn’t held her hand once. That was another thing; she was upset James didn’t trust her enough to tell her something was wrong. She suspected it was something that involved the other Marauders, since Sirius and Remus were miserable and keeping their distance from him.
‘We’ll just have to make our own fun,’ he said suddenly, smirking. ‘After you, Evans,’ he said, opening a door to an empty classroom.
‘We’re on duty,’ Lily said uncomfortably.
Lily half-smiled. ‘So I don’t think now is the right time for whatever you’ve got in mind.’ James gave her a sulky look, and then, before she realised what was happening, he had closed the space between them and was kissing her. She kissed him back for a few seconds and then gently pulled away, grinning at his disgruntled expression. ‘Not now,’ she said. James frowned and tried to kiss her again. With a frown now matching his, Lily ducked her head. ‘James,’ she said warningly.
‘Fine,’ he huffed, crossing his arms. They set off down the corridor again in uncomfortable silence. James was fuming, and Lily was a little concerned. This was the first time that James had attempted to drag her off to snog. Usually they’d sneak a few kisses as they patrolled, but that had always seemed natural. This was different somehow. More... forced.
The two of them reached the Fat Lady an hour later, having not spoken for a considerable time. ‘You’re being immature, you know,’ Lily said, annoyed, once they were inside the Common Room.
‘I’m the immature one?’ James snarled.
Lily took a step back. For the first time, since knowing him, she felt truly afraid to be around him. ‘We were on duty,’ she said gently, trying to calm him down. ‘It was inappropriate.’
The smirk was back, though it seemed a little twisted. ‘Well,’ he said, taking a step closer, ‘we’re not on duty anymore, are we?’
Lily took another step back, pulling her arm away. She was worried by the sudden change of attitude. He tried to kiss her again but she turned her face away. ‘I’m not in the mood.’
James glared at her, his pride obviously stung. ‘Am I not good enough for you or something?’ he said furiously. ‘We haven’t spent much time together today at all, and then we get some alone time and you’re “not in the mood”?!’
‘Who are you?’ Lily snapped, her tone leaving making it clear she didn’t expect an answer. She had been a little worried about his attitude before, but concern was long gone and replaced by anger. ‘Where’s James, the boy who loves me?’ James glared at her. ‘Seriously,’ she had hoped he might smile at the offer of a “serious/Sirius” joke, but he didn’t, ‘we were talking about marriage a few days back and then I don’t kiss you and you hate me! I don’t know where the boy I agreed to go out with is,’ she said, jabbing his chest with her finger, ‘but I want him back or we’re done, because I do not like the way you’ve been acting these last few days!’ James said nothing, crossing his arms over his chest. Lily’s eyes narrowed as she swallowed back a hundred other accusations. Instead, she took a steadying breath. ‘I’m going to bed.’
‘Now who’s the immature one?’ James called at her retreating back, having apparently found his voice. ‘If you’ve got a problem, Lils, then let’s talk instead of avoiding the issue!’
‘I do have a problem!’ she shouted, rounding on him. He took a step back. ‘I don’t know what’s bothering you, but I know something’s up! Apart from being offended that you haven’t told me what the issue is, I’m worried about you!’ James stared at her. ‘Sirius told me you could hardly fly in a straight line at Quidditch training and I’m in all your classes so I know that you’ve been falling behind in work!’
‘There are more important things,’ James said mulishly.
‘Like what?’ Lily cried. ‘And don’t you dare tell me Quidditch when you've been complaining about the upcoming game, or friendship when you’ve been avoiding Sirius and Remus for nearly a week!’
‘That’s not my fault! Sirius won’t come near me and Remus won’t either because he’s too busy following Sirius around like some sort of lost puppy,’ James sounded disgusted.
‘That’s not funny,’ Lily snapped.
‘It’s true. They’re avoiding me!’
‘And you’ve done nothing to fix it! They’re miserable, James!’
‘You’ve been talking about me?’ James demanded, looking furious.
‘We’re worried about you!’
‘Oh, so you’re with them now?’ James snarled. ‘Clearly the only one I can trust anymore is Wormtail!’
‘Keep acting like this and you won’t even have him,’ Lily said coldly.
James fell silent. Once it was quiet, Lily felt her anger drain away, gone as quickly as it had come. All that remained was the worry, and she wanted nothing more than to run at James and hug him, but he didn’t look receptive to affection at the moment. ‘I’m going to bed,’ she thickly and turned and dashed up the stairs.
Lily lay awake for almost an hour, convinced that James would come up, like he had that night they first kissed, and that they would both apologise, and things would be all right between them again. That James would go back to being James, instead of the stranger he’d been lately.
He didn’t come up though, and Lily, who prided herself on her emotional strength, cried quietly into her pillow until she fell asleep.
‘Please?’ James said pleasantly.
‘I’d do it myself,’ he said, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice, ‘but unfortunately I seem to have misplaced my wand...’
‘And whose fault is that?’
‘Yours,’ James told him bluntly. His captor seemed to think that over for a moment and then smiled, revealing yellowing teeth. ‘Is that a yes?’ James asked hopefully.
‘That’s a no, boy. I have my orders.’
‘This is ridiculous!’ James said, hitting the wall in frustration. ‘Vol-’
‘Don’t say the name!’ Abraxas Malfoy hissed.
‘You-Know-Who, then,’ James said impatiently. ‘He’s not even here for Merlin’s sake!’ At least he didn’t think so, since he hadn’t come to visit James yet. Mr Malfoy crossed his arms over his chest. ‘Fine,’ James said. ‘Tell me what your exact orders are, and then we can decide whether or not you’re allowed to heal my leg.’ James was in Head Boy mode.
‘The orders were not to let you escape,’ Mr Malfoy said sullenly. ‘To convince you to join our cause by any means necessary, without killing you.’
James leaned back against the dirty brick wall with a smirk. ‘“Any means necessary?”’ he repeated.
‘Yes.’ Mr Malfoy shook his head, as if ridding himself of a fly. ‘I came down here to check on you, not to discuss my affairs.’
‘How kind of you,’ James said dryly.
‘Shut your mouth, Potter, if you know what’s good for you,’ Malfoy snapped.
‘Being rude to me is hardly going to convince me to join you,’ James said pointedly, crossing his arms over his chest.
‘And I suppose healing you would?’
‘Well, yes,’ James said, blinking. ‘It would be a start, anyway, and as we’ve just established, you want to make me happy by “any means necessary”.’
‘You’ll find I can be persuasive in other ways,’ Abraxas said silkily, fingering his wand.
James flinched. Even his memories of the Cruciatus curse seemed to hurt. He swallowed, and pushed his fear away, where he could deal with it later. ‘You’ll find I can be stubborn,’ he countered. ‘It’s been a week and I’m still not ready to join you, even if it does mean another session with Carrow.’
Grudging admiration flickered over Mr Malfoy’s pointed features, and then it was gone, hidden behind an unreadable mask. ‘I’ll send someone down with food later,’ he said coldly.
James sighed as the door closed and darkness descended. He knew it was only two things keeping him alive at this point; that Voldemort wanted to enlist him, and that his last name was Potter. After another few days though, he wasn’t so sure how well he’d be faring. With more injuries than he could be bothered counting – the worst of which was his broken leg – and no way to get at a wand, he didn’t know how this was going to turn out. He had little faith of surviving another session with Carrow. The pain in his leg was already bordering on unbearable, and he was quite sure his last session had left him with a broken rib.
Hot tears dribbled down his cheeks, burning him. He felt weak. His strength was already failing but he had so much he wanted to live for; he had his best friends who were practically his brothers, he had a beautiful girlfriend that he loved, he had his final year of schooling to get through and then his exams... and after that he wanted a career, he wanted to marry Lily, maybe even have a family... And as he sat there, dreaming of his future, he realised he wasn’t ready to die.
He’d thought he’d reconciled himself with the idea of death last full-moon, but that had been so sudden and he’d been so badly hurt he hadn’t had much time to think things over. Now, he realised he wasn’t ready and he was probably going to die anyway. Another tear leaked out. He’d put on the brave, Gryffindor act during his captivity, but it was a mask, and one that was slipping.
James wiped his eyes under his glasses and sniffed, trying to maintain composure. He didn’t think he had much chance of rescue. The moment he’d been left alone, he’d tried to call Noddy, just as he had last full moon, but she hadn’t come. That worried James almost more than his own situation, because very little aside from death could restrain a House Elf’s ability to respond to an order. He knew the school would know he was missing – Remus would have told them and he wasn’t in any lessons – but doubted they’d find him; who’d think to look in the dungeons of a well-respected pure-blood family’s Manor?
James slid a little lower down the wall, wincing as his leg and chest twinged. Escape plans mapped themselves out in his head, each more difficult to pull off than the last. Not for the first time, James wished he had Sirius with him. He’d have taken any of his friends for company, but figured that if anyone could help him break out of the dungeons, it would be Sirius.
They’d often joked that Sirius could break out of Azkaban if he put his mind to it. During those conversations, Peter would listen in awe, while Remus would be torn between scolding Sirius for hypothetically landing in prison, and adding to James and Sirius’ ideas for escape. Lily usually laughed at them for being so silly, and pointed out details they had missed.
A sad smile settled on James’ face. He clenched his jaw so it couldn’t tremble and stared determinedly at the grey bricks, blinking the tears away. He couldn’t let the Death Eaters think he was breaking. Taking a shuddering breath, James leaned back against the wall and began to mentally recite his Transfiguration textbook. If he got back to school, he wasn’t going to be behind. James shook his head suddenly. Not if. When. When he got back, he decided with conviction. He nodded to himself and mentally shut his textbook. He began to think over escape plans.
* * *
‘Get up.’ James ignored him, lying very still on the cold ground. His first step to getting out was getting healed. He knew from Abraxas that the Death Eaters weren’t supposed to let him die. ‘Do you want the bathroom or not?’ the Death Eater snapped. There was a metallic noise; the plate of food being put on the floor and then footsteps. Something – James suspected it was a boot – poked him in the side. He bit his tongue to stop from wincing, but otherwise did nothing. A hand shook his shoulder roughly, but still he didn’t move. The Death Eater swore; James had been captive long enough for everyone to know that he was easily woken by a little shake. His captor shook him again, swore again, and then his footsteps retreated. The dungeon door slammed.
Grimacing, James licked his hand and smeared spit onto his face. It was a disgusting thing to have to do, but hopefully it would make him look ill and feverish. Moments later, three sets of loud footsteps entered and James heard the swishing of a cloak as someone kneeled next to him.
‘He was like this when I came in, sir,’ a deep voiced man said.
‘He was fine this morning!’ Abraxas said angrily. ‘Has anyone been down here, Goyle?’
‘Nuh,’ another man said. ‘Sir... is he dead?’ James got the distinct impression that the speaker was a little dim.
‘No, he’s breathing,’ Malfoy said, but he sounded a little worried.
‘What do we do?’ the first man said. ‘The Dark Lord will-’
‘-I am aware of what is at stake!’ Abraxas snarled. James thought he sounded a little fearful. ‘The boy must not die!’
‘So we make him better?’ Goyle asked slowly.
Both Abraxas and the other man ignored Goyle. ‘Do you think it’s internal or external, sir?’ the other asked.
‘Internal I suspect,’ Mr Malfoy said coldly. ‘The Cruciatus curse often causes the body to shut down- Carina! What took so long?’
‘Out of my way, Goyle, and you, Rowle!’ a woman’s icy voice said. ‘Go upstairs and do something useful!’ Shuffling footsteps left the dungeon. ‘As for why I took so long, Abraxas, you weren’t specific about what you needed so I brought a bit of everything.’ There was a sound of bottles clinking together. ‘This is him?’
‘It is. Enervate.’ James’ let his eyes flutter open. He gave a weak little cough and tried to close his eyes again. Abraxas slapped him. ‘Stay awake,’ he growled. A cork popped and James’ mouth was suddenly forced open. A bitter potion trickled into his mouth. This time, he coughed for real, spitting out the foul concoction. ‘Drink it!’ Abraxas snarled, tilting it again. James obliged, trying to look dazed instead of annoyed. He actually found that once he’d swallowed it, the potion didn’t taste so terrible – it was making his throat tingle and when it reached his stomach, it had a similar effect that Lily did; his chest warmed and his stomach did odd little flips.
Malfoy’s wife bent down and placed a hand on James’ forehead. ‘He’s clammy, Abraxas.’ James hid a triumphant smile.
‘I can see that, Carina,’ Abraxas replied dismissively, tipping another potion down James’ throat. ‘It’s probably his leg.’
‘Broken,’ James croaked, reaching up to wipe potion off his face.
‘His leg is broken?’ Mrs Malfoy repeated in disbelief. ‘No wonder he has a fever!’
‘It didn’t seem to matter much before,’ Malfoy mumbled.
‘Well, it looks like it could be killing him now,’ Carina said curtly.
‘You can’t die from a broken leg, dear,’ Malfoy said, though his voice was a little uncertain. James agreed with Abraxas, though he certainly wasn’t going to say so. Instead, he groaned quietly.
‘Can’t die from a broken leg...’ she muttered. ‘Is it worth our lives to find out if you’re right?’Her fingers lightly probed James’ shin and he had to bite his tongue to keep from screaming. ‘This looks like Crabbe’s work.’ Mr Malfoy grunted in affirmation. ‘Tibium Emendo.’ James whimpered as his leg made a snapping noise, presumably where the bone was joining back together. He winced, trying to move but Carina pushed his chest down. ‘I’m not done yet,’ she snapped, ‘I need to repair the spell-damage as well. Reparifors.’ His leg made a funny crunching noise but gradually the pain faded. He wriggled his toes and was pleased to find them moving.
Abraxas gave him one more potion to drink, supposedly to help James get back his strength and then he and Carina propped James up against the wall of the dungeons. ‘I won’t be sending Carrow in tonight,’ Abraxas said with a scowl.
James nodded. The door closed behind them and a lock slid home on the other side, plunging the dungeons into darkness. James sat there, grinning hugely. He had a chance now. A real chance at getting out.