A/N: Look! A chapter!
Disclaimer: Copyright Jo Ro
Before: In July, Voldemort makes demands of the Ministry of Magic, while systematically murdering those connected to a group called M.F.P. (Magic For Peace) who support muggleborn rights. Members include Mrs. Potter, Sam Dearborn (James's mother's cousin), and Sarah McKinnon, the latter two of which join Lily, James, the Marauders, Dorcas Meadowes, Emmeline Vance, the Prewetts, Frank, Alice, and other M.F.P. members in protest of a proposed law that would restrict the number of muggleborns admitted to Hogwarts. After returning to Hogwarts, Lily realizes she fancies James, just before realizing that he's dating Carlotta Meloni. She becomes penpals with Sam Dearborn. A bad season for love apparently, Marlene comes to terms with her feelings for newly-un-single Adam, Remus fancies straight-laced Clancy Goshawk, and after much ado, Carlotta and James break up.
Chapter 35- All Souls' Day
"The Sound of Silence"
Lily Evans took her first legal drink in a muggle pub the day she joined the Order of the Phoenix. It was the beginning of July, 1977—an oppressive, muggy day—and she ordered a gin and tonic. Of course, her lack of proper muggle documentation meant that very little had changed on a practical level in the ordering process: she still showed the bartender a slip of bewitched parchment to convince him of her true age, but—because she was, in fact, of age—the deception seemed to be more acceptable. She took her drink to one of the many available tables (a booth in the corner), in the process walking past the only other three patrons in the entire establishment. Indeed, the bartender had sent her a curious look, not on account of her makeshift identification, but because she was an eighteen-year-old girl ordering gin, by herself, at quarter past five on a Sunday. At any rate, she arrived by herself...
"You're drinking alone?" asked the wizard who joined her at the table shortly thereafter, carrying his own drink. "What would your mother say?"
James Potter spoke far more warmly than he had the first time he uttered those (or almost those) words, and Lily received them in kind. "Not to speak to strange men, I expect," she replied.
"But I'm not a stranger."
"Doesn't mean you're not strange."
"You think you're clever." James dropped down next to her, and she leaned over to kiss him on the cheek.
"You need a new line, mate."
"Why? The old ones work so well."
"Only because I'm nostalgic by nature," she replied. "That's mostly why I keep you around, you know." As if to disprove this, she scooted closer and dragged his arm across her shoulders before taking another sip of her drink.
"It also explains your chosen meeting place," James said. He glanced around the stagnant room. The lack of traffic made the eerie, synthesized music that played in the background significantly clearer than it had been in the past; however, the Lantern was otherwise much as it had been on other visits, though Lily and James were not.
"It seemed appropriate," said Lily, idly stirring her drink with the slender, red straw. "Given this morning. You don't object?"
"No." He now watched her. "How are you feeling?"
Surprised: "Not really?"
"No, I am," she assured him quickly and, frowning, endeavored to explain: "I'm a bit sick to my stomach thinking about it, sure, but... it's a very right feeling, too. I don't know."
"Yeah," James agreed. "Sounds about right."
Lily leaned back against the crook of his arm. "We should have toasted," she reflected.
"We're having supper up the road with the others," James reminded her. "We can give clever toasts to the Order and mad old Dumbledore then."
Lily smiled. Remembering the reason she had come alone, she added: "How's your dad?"
"Better. Sends his love... I told him to bugger off, though. I'm still curious as to what you said to him when I was in the Hospital Wing to make him like you more than he likes me."
Lily made a face and then took another drink.
"So why did you pick this place?" James asked. "Because it was our first date?"
"And our second," Lily reminded him.
"I thought the protest was our second date."
"So you were seeing someone else when we went on our second date?" she teased.
James snorted. "Play nice."
"I suppose," Lily mused after a while, "seeing everyone today—Caradoc and Dory and everyone... it got me thinking about... you know—November." She swirled her glass so that the ice chimed softly against the side of the cup. They were both very far removed from the Camden tavern booth just then, until Lily, brightening a little, added: "Anyway, I had my last illegal muggle drink here—it's only right I have my first legal one here as well."
James looked at her glass skeptically. "And that's what you ordered?"
"Gin is very romantic," Lily defended the decision.
"You should see my boyfriend. Scotch and soda, indeed."
"It's perfectly respectable, Snaps."
"Of course it is—if you happen to be a cantankerous old man."
"Maybe I am. Don't limit me."
Lily laughed. "Well I've always had a thing for older men."
"I'm two months younger than you."
"And the dream dies."
"Prig." Lily glanced down into her glass, and her tone changed. "Mad, isn't it?"
"I don't know—everything. Everything happening and changing like this..." She smiled again and raised the cup: "To the Order and mad old Dumbledore?"
James's scotch met her gin in between them. "And fighting," he added.
(Eight Months Earlier)
The day before he died, Phillip Stoake was no one in particular.
The day after he died, every witch or wizard in the country knew his name.
They forgot, though.
They forgot the fear of the second week in July. They forgot the warnings. They forgot the threats. They didn't forget the war, but they tried their very best to push it to the back of their minds... to concentrate on something else.
They forgot the Week of the Demands, as July turned to August, August to September, September to October. The weather grew chilly; leaves changed and fell; earlier and earlier, the sun sank in the sky every evening, and autumn came, the natural order.
The second of November was a Tuesday.
It was just a Tuesday.
In his London flat at a few minutes past seven, Frank Longbottom was just waking up. Yawning, he smiled at his still sleeping wife and stepped out of bed, careful not to wake her. He made his way into the kitchen and mentally ran through his planned day: training until two, a few hours in the duel simulation, and then an hour or two finishing paperwork for Moody. Frank smiled to himself—he'd get to supper with Alice tonight...
He switched on the wireless and set the kettle. The newscaster's voice became part of the morning background... where was the paper, anyway?
"We've received a startling report..."
"Oh, my Merlin." Frank dropped the tea cups he had been holding; they shattered against the tile of the kitchen floor, and a moment later, Alice appeared on the threshold from the bedroom, worried and confused.
"Frank, are you...?" She saw his face. "Merlin, Frank, what's wrong?"
Jack Lathe had taken neither tea nor breakfast that morning, and it was difficult to feel precisely awake even as he materialized on the steps of Peverell Hall. It was a large old stone building—the sort of place wizarding historians paid homage to in lectures on seventeenth century magical architecture... it was the sort of place that held lectures on seventeenth century magical architecture, really. And Lathe was by no means the first auror to arrive there on the morning of November the second.
There didn't seem to be anyone about who was not an auror, actually.
It was a drizzly, colorless morning: the trees along the white stone path to the front gates were barren, immersed in a grey haze that might have been fog or smoke. No one appeared to be entering the hall.
Moody stood with Kingsley and half a dozen others near the top steps that led to the great wooden doors at the front. When Lathe arrived, straightening his hastily done-up tie and simultaneously pushing up the sleeves of his robes, Moody was barking orders to one of the junior aurors, some scared kid who'd only completed his training the week before.
"About time," grunted the older wizard, spotting the younger.
"It's six a.m.," Lathe defended himself. "And I only got Halliday's message ten minutes ago. He said there's been some kind of attack on the conference of..." His eyes scanned the façade of the hall, as if the aged edifice might provide him with some clue to what was going on. "Death eaters..." But that answer, at least, was provided by the sight before him—by the green skull, translucent in the clouded sky above the Hall. It wasn't obvious at first, but you could see it clearly from where he stood, just in front of the doors.
"That's right," said Moody. "Last night, we think. A muggle summoned the police at about two about the mark. We've got Obliviators on that now..."
"Have you been inside?" asked Lathe. The others were quiet for a moment, and then Kingsley nodded.
"It's not pretty," he murmured.
Lathe swallowed hard, and then he nodded, too. "I'll speak with the witnesses, shall I?" That had been his particular task more and more at this sort of gathering these days.
"No," said Moody gruffly. "Afraid you won't."
"Because there aren't any," said one of the others, a witch named Hart.
"No survivors," said Moody.
Lathe looked at him. "But Halliday said..."
"You'd better look for yourself," said Hart.
"You all should," said Moody.
Eckles, Forrest, and Robards arrived a moment later, joining the little group in front of the Hall. They all wore expressions of confusion and apprehension, similar to what Lathe imagined his own must be at the moment, as they surveyed the closed hall and its grounds—grounds which would have been silent, if the aurors hadn't been swarming the area like a lot of black ants.
"I'll wait here, thanks," said Kingsley, and Hart nodded her agreement. They had already gone inside and seen whatever it was that had left no witnesses. Moody, for once, seemed sympathetic.
"Get rid of that goddamn mark," he replied simply and then walked up the final four steps to the towering doors. Wand already drawn, he waved it once. The gates drifted open, and faint smoke floated out, disappearing in the fog.
Lathe and the other new arrivals followed the Head Auror inside. The vestibule was a wide, shallow room with a low ceiling and the air of having been done-over recently, according to modern fashions. The trendy, mustardy brown carpet was lightly coated in dust and about three dozen green parchment leaflets that must have fallen from one of the magazine stands along the wall. Two sets of double doors led into the main hall, but they remained closed for the moment, and one could make out nothing of what lay on the other side through the narrow, olive green stained glass windows. Between the doors, there was a strip of wall—beige painted stone, like the rest of the antechamber interior—and stuck to that wall, fastened by magic at eye-level, hung another green tinted leaflet, bearing, among other things (including some smaller lettering that Lathe hadn't the time to read), words in thick, black script: Magic For Peace.
With another wave of his wand, Moody opened both sets of doors at the opposite end of the vestibule, and a few wooden steps formed the path into the main hall. More smoke—no, it was dust—wafted through. It became immediately apparent why the doors had remained closed: they were utterly unnecessary. The hall stretched out, longer than it was wide, and filled by several rows of wooden chairs—all occupied. The back wall toward which all of those chairs faced had been demolished. Stones poured over across what had once been a stage, highly concentrated near the base, and then sporadically scattered across the hall.
More aurors made their way into the room from this freshly hewn entrance. They spread out, some scaling the stony hill that bridged the cool morning exterior (tinted slightly green from the lingering mark in the sky just overhead) and the dead, dusty hall. Some rambled through the aisles—through the many chairs and their slumped, faceless occupants.
It was just a Tuesday.
At Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, it dawned a bright, chilly morning, quite ordinary, at least insofar as things were ever ordinary there. Breakfast was a noisy affair; students chattered and bickered and ate and moved around as they always did.
James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew were all seated together at Gryffindor table, waiting on the tardy Daily Prophet, which would settle a bet between them about the score of the Chudley Cannons match. They'd missed it on the WWN the evening before—which Sirius blamed on Peter, but everyone else blamed on Sirius—and they bantered casually on the matter.
Lily Evans ate breakfast alone that morning. She did not object to this: she'd come down early and brought with her the book she'd begun reading. It sat open on the table, held there by her forearm, while her other hand attended to breakfast. When she looked across the table for the pumpkin juice, her eyes moved briefly over the staff table, and the Head Girl noted that Professor Dumbledore was absent this morning. She thought nothing of it and poured herself a goblet of juice.
The mail arrived before the newspaper—atypical, but not unheard of—and consisted of a letter from her mum. Lily placed that in the binding of her book, for later. It was well past eight o'clock now, and her friends ought to have come down if they wanted to have a proper breakfast before Defense.
Then The Daily Prophet arrived, rolling from Lily's emptied plate to the table when the delivery owl dropped it. Lily snatched up the newspaper to prevent it from upsetting her glass, and in the process, she removed her arm from the book; the consequently unrestrained pages fluttered down. She set down The Prophet and picked up the book again, flipping through to her spot, but several elevated voices around her interrupted the effort. She looked around again, and a few Ravenclaws spoke very heatedly over something from the newspaper.
Adam McKinnon sat with Prudence Daly, she at Gryffindor table. The two were being exceptionally adorable that morning. He held her hand; she laughed at his cheesy joke... the one about the leprechaun and the hag...
Prudence was still laughing when the newspaper arrived, falling just in front of Adam's plate. They didn't attend to it immediately, for Prudence poured herself another glass of pumpkin juice, and Adam took another slice of toast.
"You know, that's why my mum likes you," said Prudence, glancing at his plate.
"You don't eat meat. She doesn't either, you know."
"I did know. It's the only reason she let me date you, I reckon."
Prudence's eyebrows rose perceptibly, but she seemed pleased. "Did you ask?"
Adam snorted. "No. It was only a joke. Would you want me to?"
"I don't know—it could be sweet." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Anyway, they love you in spite of it, so I suppose you're in the clear. And, even more importantly..." They were still almost nose-to-nose, "I love you."
Adam inhaled. He had about four seconds of leeway before he was obliged to respond; the third had not yet ticked by, when Damacus Weasley, seated to his left, interrupted.
"McKinnon..." The younger student actually grabbed his arm and, as Adam confusedly turned around, Damacus all but shoved the newspaper into his hands. "Have you seen this?"
"Seen what?" asked Adam, distracted. He read the headline.
Marlene Price ran late that morning. She'd overslept and was still in the shower while her roommates all prepared for the day.
"I need to have sex," Mary MacDonald was complaining, while Marlene, on the other side of the curtain, scraped the last remnants of shampoo from her short hair.
"What you need," said Marlene, over the patter of the hot water, "is to stop beginning every conversation that way."
"It's true, though!" Mary called back; she was applying her eyeliner in the mirror over the tap. "Holding off was a bad idea."
"So have sex."
"I can't. I promised. Of course..." She paused.
"Of course what?" Marlene replied suspiciously.
"If you were to shag someone, it would be all right for me..."
"It is all right, Mare. I don't care about the stupid agreement."
"Yes, but I would feel better. So you need to shag someone, love..."
Marlene laughed as she switched off the water. "Oh, yes, I'll just summon one of the dozens of blokes queuing up to shag me. Why didn't I think of that earlier? You genius, you..."
A derisive "Ha" told her that Donna had entered the room. Marlene grabbed her towel from the bar and began to dry off, rolling her eyes at Donna, though she did not see it. When the towel was secured around everything she cared to cover, Marlene stepped out. Donna stood over another sink, pulling her hair into as tight a knot as she could manage with her abundant curls.
"You're going to be late," she said unhelpfully.
"Well collect some food for me if I am," Marlene replied. She walked into the dormitory to gather some clothes, and Shelley sat on her bed, pulling on her shoes and listening to the wireless.
"You're going to be late," Shelley informed her.
"All a lot of divination experts now, are you?" Marlene replied. The last notes of Pink Poison's "Love Curse" played over the wireless, or tried to, but were cut off by the voice of Charming Cherry, the witch whose saccharine coo greeted them every morning.
"Agrippa's sake," sighed Shelley; "if they play that bloody song one more time, I'll..."
But Marlene held up her hand, calling for silence from her roommate, for Charming Cherry's tone was almost unrecognizable this morning; she spoke quickly, seriously, and shakily, and about something that had nothing to do with the song that had just concluded. Mary came into the dormitory.
"Well, you know you could always..."
"Hush," said Shelley to Mary, and the latter might have argued, but she caught sight of Marlene's expression, and she paused to listen.
Lily took the second floor staircase three and four steps at a time—she grabbed the banister so that her feet scarcely touched the stairs, and when she landed on the next floor, her pace only quickened. The grey corridors, the tapestries and paintings and suits of armor—Filch's cat, tardy students, dawdling on their way down to breakfast: she flew past them all, hair flapping around her, shoes pattering on the stone, and yet it was like a dream. She felt impossibly sluggish, no matter how much she pushed herself to move faster.
Attack on the "M.F.P." Conference in Rutland: Casualty Count Unknown
She shouted the password at the Fat Lady and tore through the Common Room, nearly toppling into a fourth year in the process... then up the stairs, quick, quick, quick as she could, which wasn't nearly quick enough. Up the staircase to her dormitory door, thrown open and slammed shut in an instant.
...Aurors have confirmed Death Eater involvement...
Then she had arrived, and the dorm itself seemed to spin around Lily. She looked about frantically, trying to remember where she'd...
The desk. Surely the desk.
...Possibly as many at one hundred and twenty witches and wizards at the conference, located in the historic Peverell Hall...
There stood a stack of old homework assignments on the desk, which Lily tore through, knocking them to the floor. No—she'd left it in her journal. All the letters were in her journal...
...Multiple deaths confirmed...
Several papers from the desk still floated to the ground when she turned towards her nightstand. She darted over, dropping to her knees and pulling at the drawer with so much energy that she almost pulled it out altogether. Only one thought—that letter—held any significance to her at that moment.
...Few or no survivors...
The notebook was in the drawer, and Lily jerked out the stack of loose parchment that had been placed in the binding. The top two fell to the floor along with the notebook itself; the third Lily's eyes scanned briefly. Still kneeling beside the nightstand, she read the letter, her heart pounding violently in her chest... she read the careless scrawling handwriting, because she had to know. But in truth, she already didknow. She already knew exactly what it said...
And there were the words of confirmation.
Lily sat down. Numbly, she attempted to steady herself against the bed, but her breathing became labored, and over and over again she read the words on the page that trembled in her fingers.
James utterly ignored his best mate's call, stepping past them all, out the portrait hole and moving briskly down the corridor, towards the stairwell.
"Prongs, where are you going?" Remus shouted after him.
"My floo powder isn't working in the Common Room," James replied, the emotion drained from his voice, the color from his face. "I'm going to the village."
"That's not a good idea," said Peter, as the other three struggled to catch up. James ignored them. Sirius and Remus quickened their pace, eventually falling into step with James.
"Prongs, you have to think this through," said Remus. "I know you're scared, but we don't know what's going on... it's not safe to..."
"I don't care about safe!" James shouted, stopping abruptly. "This is my mother."
"And you won't do her any good by getting yourself into trouble!" argued Remus. "If the floo's down, something might be going on..."
James ignored this too and continued down the staircase. They were no longer alone, now; many students hastened about the castle, all of them talking loudly, one or two crying, and no one paying much attention to anyone else, so that there was a great deal of shoving. James pushed easily through them all.
"What exactly are you planning on doing, Prongs?" asked Sirius. "Apparating to Peverell Hall, and...?"
"I'll go home," he interrupted. "I've got to make sure she's..."
"You'll do nothing of the kind, Mr. Potter."
The Marauders stopped. Professor McGonagall stood in front of them, and she had never appeared so stern.
James did not falter. "My mother is M.F.P.," he said. "If you expect me to sit here and wait..."
"No, I do not," said Professor McGonagall stonily. "I will do everything in my power to find out about every student's relatives. But you are not leaving this castle, Potter. At least fifty wizards..."
"Fifty—it can't be less than a hundred, Professor..."
McGonagall ignored his interruption: "At least fifty have been killed, according to what we know—not what we fear or suspect, but what has been confirmed, and it is my responsibility to make sure that nothing happens to any of you. You, Mr. Potter, are Head Boy. You will return to your Common Room, and then you will help your classmates keep calm."
The argument James wanted so desperately to make died in his throat, and he nodded.
"Very good," said McGonagall; she passed them a moment later, the steady stream of students parting for her. James did not turn back to the Common Room, however. He continued, just as before, toward the descending staircase.
Sirius swore under his breath, and they pursued again.
"Prongs!" Remus pushed around Peter to reach James; "McGonagall's right—you're not going to do anyone any good... we don't know what's going on out there..."
"I don't care what's going on out there," snapped James; he jogged down the stairs now. "I just know my mother's in it."
"Prongs..." They reached the fourth floor landing, and Remus grabbed his arm. "Stop it. Stop it now." He was scared—properly terrified; "You have a responsibility, James, and you can't just run out on that now. The floo network has been shut down—that means the Ministry is closed off... and that means Merlin knows what is going on. You have to stay here; you have to look after everyone else. Your mother isn't going to be any safer with you running off and getting yourself hurt..."
"Christ, Moony, I'm not going to get myself hurt!" James shouted. "The—the bloody tunnel leads right into the village, and I can apparate to my house—it's not..."
"Well what about when someone notices you're gone?" Peter spoke up. "What about your detentions—if you're caught, you could be expelled. And McGonagall will definitely notice now!"
"I don't bloody care," James replied. "Let go of me, Moony."
Remus did not respond, but James pulled his arm free anyway and stomped down the staircase. He reached the third floor, home to the statue of Gunhilda the Gorsemore (more specifically, the favorite passage to Hogsmeade), and the others followed, arguments paused.
"Listen," said James, reaching the statue of the humpbacked witch. "You lot don't have to cover for me. I don't..."
"Cover for you?" Sirius interrupted. "We're going with you."
"You don't expect us to let you go alone, do you?" demanded Remus. "I stand by what I said—you shouldn't go—but if you're going to, you can't be thick enough to think we'll let you go by yourself."
For the first time, James's confidence wavered. "No," he said, after a moment. "No, I don't want you coming. If it's dangerous..."
"'Thought you didn't care," said Sirius coolly.
"I don't for my sake, but I'm not going to drag you lot into this..."
"Why not?" said Remus. "You always do."
"No," said James firmly. "No, you're not going."
"If you're going, we're going," Sirius told him. His voice was deep and earnest and shaky, and it began to prevail upon his friend. "It's not what you want," Sirius went on, seeing this, "we know that. But you have to wait. You have to be safe."
"It's my mum, Padfoot..."
"I know," said Sirius. "She's like a mother to me, too. And if anything's happened to her..."
The ominous if hung in the air for a few seconds, and its potential almost unraveled James's rationality. But the faces of the three Marauders before him, determined and calm, slowly took their effect.
James never did recollect the walk back to the Common Room that morning. Suddenly, he was stepping through the portrait hole, into the chaotic buzz of Gryffindor Tower, through the din of three or four simultaneous wireless broadcasts and the frantic chatter of his housemates. He could not say when the thought occurred to him in the course of that endless walk, or even whether it constituted a true thought or resulted only from pure instinct, but eventually, he knew that there was one person with whom he needed to speak: one person who might be able to ease his mind, and even if not, would at least understand...
Adam McKinnon was in his dormitory.
However, the moment James entered the room, followed closely by his confused friends, he recognized that Adam had received no news. He sat close to the wireless set—Sirius's—and looked helplessly up at them upon their entrance.
So they could only wait.
"According to the most recent reports we're receiving," said the firm, professionally calm voice of the witch on the wireless, "as many as one hundred witches and wizards may be dead in Peverell Hall, site of the conference for Magic For Peace—or M.F.P.—a small organization devoted to the promotion of equality of blood status in the international magical community. It is believed that there were no survivors among those in the hall on Monday evening, but Head Auror Alastor Moody, who is present at the scene, has yet to confirm or give an official statement of any kind. The Minister of Magic is still scheduled to give his own statement later this morning."
Lily stopped by the boys' dormitory for a minute—she didn't even enter, only leaned against the door frame and asked if they'd heard anything. James didn't look up, but Remus shook his head, and then she was gone.
They did not know where she went. She wasn't in the Common Room when they went down half an hour later.
Carlotta sat beside Mary MacDonald in the Common Room. She didn't really understand how that had happened. Everyone had started cramming around the wireless again when the witch announced that they would be broadcasting the Minister of Magic's statement at any moment, but that was half an hour ago, and Mary hadn't moved.
Carlotta watched her for a little while, wondering what a girl like Mary thought about at times like this, but Mary only stared off into space and gave no easily detected clue.
Mary watched Marlene carefully. For twenty minutes, she watched Marlene hang helplessly on every repetitious word that emerged from the WWN across the humming Common Room.
She didn't say anything, because there really wasn't anything to be said yet. Marlene worried for her friends—her friends from the protest over the summer and for Sarah McKinnon and Adam. These were experiences that Mary did not share with her, but this morning, she thought, was a shared experience, and later—when things got worse, and she knew, instinctively, that they were about to get so much worse—she would be able to have shared this endless, agonizing morning. That, at least, was something.
Officially or not, classes were canceled that day. At any rate, no one went. McGonagall came by the Common Room, mid-morning, and because she made no objection to the collective's absence, the absolution went assumed. The head of Gryffindor stayed for a few minutes and repeated what seemed to be a hundred times that she knew no more than any of them.
"The magical community has suffered a great loss today," said the Minister, when he made his announcement at eleven. Gravelly through the static, his voice had a marching rhythm to it, and everyone in the Gryffindor Common Room stopped to listen. "Eighty-seven of our magical brethren fell in Peverell Hall, in an attack carried out by those wizards called the Death Eaters, ordered and executed by the Dark Lord. It is an act of war against innocents—an unprovoked massacre of defenseless witches and wizards, and this act will not go unanswered. The Ministry of Magic is dedicated to searching out those responsible... finding justice for our fallen family and friends—ending this reign of terror..."
James hung on every word. Of course, the Minister would give them no further details, and what James wanted was information—not trite battle cries and speeches of unity and brotherhood and strength in the face of a terrible tragedy. In a few days perhaps that would comfort him, but for now he only wanted to know what had happened—not what was to be done. He kept listening though, focused intensely on each syllable uttered, hoping irrationally for some kind of clue about what had happened. What had really happened...
The Minister spoke for maybe ten minutes. When he bid them goodbye, another wizard, with a low, nervous voice, introduced the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement—Bartemius Crouch.
This speech was very different from the first. It lacked the anguish that had lingered around the edges of the Minister's words, though where he fell short in sorrow, Crouch compensated tenfold in anger. Crouch did not simply promise to find those responsible; he made an oath to avenge the attack, and there could be no doubt about his sincerity.
"The aurors will begin to fight this war," he said to them all, "as it has been waged upon us."
Marlene, who sat beside Adam while they listened, slackened her grip on his hand slightly—accidentally, even. He glanced at her, having forgotten for the moment that she was there at all. Marlene stared at the floor, her brow furrowed in concentration on the words that they all heard.
Mary looped her arm through Marlene's free one, but the latter did not seem to notice. She shook her head, and whispered (Adam could barely make out the words), "What's happening?"
The Common Room emptied around luncheon.
"We expect to have a full list of victims by tomorrow at the latest," a wizard on the wireless informed those who still listened. James retreated to his dormitory, and Sirius followed him—probably to ensure that he didn't try to run off again. Adam returned to the seventh year boys' dorm, and Remus and Peter joined the majority down in the Great Hall.
"Where the hell is Lily?" Donna demanded, when she met up with Marlene and Mary at Gryffindor table. "She can't just disappear like this. It's not right."
"You checked her room?" asked Mary. She had an odd, unfocused look about her.
"Yes, of course. She ran off this morning," said Donna impatiently. "Agrippa's sake, you can't just do things like that on a day like this..."
Carlotta joined them, sitting down in the empty seat beside Marlene. "Will one of you go talk to Shelley?" she asked, leaning forward over the table. "I know she won't speak to me, and she's—she's..." (her voice broke a little) "...Well, she's sensitive..."
"Sensitive like a bludger," muttered Mary. Marlene sent her a reproving look, and Mary sighed. "Does she know someone? Someone in... you know… M.F.P.?"
"I don't think so," Carlotta replied. She poured herself a goblet of water, but didn't take anything to eat. Besides Donna, none of them had touched much of the food. "Except you know—the ones everyone knows. Tilda Figg's some kind of genius."
"Then what good will it do to talk to Shelley?" Mary wanted to know.
Carlotta didn't seem to understand her questioning, and to the surprise of all, it was Donna who took it upon herself to explain. "There aren't that many witches and wizards," she said, addressing Mary. "Eighty-seven is... it's just... it's quite a lot." She pushed loose curls back away from her face and then rose from the table. "I'm going to find Bridget."
She hadn't even left the Hall before Marlene was up from her own seat. "I'm taking some food to Adam," she announced, piling a lot of frightfully mismatched items onto a plate. "See you later."
This left Carlotta and Mary alone in their slice of the table. Carlotta leaned over to ask a nearby fifth year to turn up the broadcast on the WWN, and they both fell silent to listen.
"The Minister of Magic," said the woman, "has confirmed the deaths of eighty-seven of our own in a ruthless attack at the hands of the death eaters..."
Prudence stopped Marlene, just as the witch reached the Entrance Hall. Tears stained the Ravenclaw's face, and she shook a little when she touched Marlene's arm, but bravely, she choked out her question of: "Where is Adam?"
"Upstairs," said Marlene. The two syllables sounded strange even to her—hollow and unsympathetic, and she didn't know why they should sound that way, when her heart beat so quickly and the heat rose to her face. Why she should feel this way at all? Lightheaded, really, nauseous and confused and feverish... what it meant, she didn't know, except that the feelings were vaguely associated with Adam upstairs, and... and why couldn't Prudence go up to him now and fix this?
"Is he all right? He hasn't... he hasn't heard anything? About his sister?"
Marlene shook her head.
"I want to see him," Prudence pressed on. Marlene nodded, attempting to formulate some kind of plan to get the other witch up to the Gryffindor Common Room (would anyone really care this afternoon?), but Prudence prevented her from voicing these thoughts, continuing: "I know I can't—but I—want to. So... so will you make sure that Adam knows he can find me, if he needs to?"
Marlene nodded again. The plate of food in her hands felt unfathomably heavy. Though cold, the china seemed to burn her fingertips.
Sarah McKinnon smiling at her in front of the Found of Magical Brethren in the Ministry. Sam Dearborn in his maroon hat. All of M.F.P. in the Hall, with their shirts and their songs and their willingness to fight and defend—defend her...
"Will you do that for me, Marlene?"
"Yes, Prudence," whispered the Gryffindor.
"Immediate family members of the deceased will be contacted today," said the witch on the wireless. "And we have been informed that a complete list of the casualties will be made available as early as tomorrow..."
Very quickly, James realized that he was waiting out the clock. If he didn't hear anything by the end of today, then his mother must be safe. But perhaps there would be no owl for him here at the school... perhaps it would go to his father (who must, by this time, already know), and he would be forced to wait for his dad to contact him...
And there were far darker possibilities, too. His dad wasn't a member of M.F.P., but James couldn't be absolutely certain that he hadn't gone along to the conference. That would explain why James hadn't heard anything... why no one had bothered to come tell him that everything was okay or that his mother was dead or any scrap of information, because for Merlin's sake, if it had been the other way around, James wouldn't have cut off his dad from knowing anything... he would've joined him the second he could... apparated right to him and let him know...
Eighty-seven dead, though. That wasn't all of M.F.P. It was a large chunk, but it wasn't the whole organization. There were probably dozens that hadn't gone to the conference...
(His mum always went to the conference. He knew that. She always went.)
But if only she were one of the, say, thirty who survived. If only he could wish her a spot in that small number—if only the force of his will were enough to guarantee that she was alive...
"It has been reported that the identification process has been expedited by the organization of the conference itself... members wore name tags, so only verification of those identities is necessary..."
"Name tags," Adam chuckled. He actually sounded amused; anyone who knew him at all would've been frightened to hear it, though. It was an unnatural tone, dark and manic.
His stomach churned. It hadn't stopped since he'd first heard the news this morning at breakfast. For a moment, Adam thought of Prudence—she had said she loved him, and he had all but forgotten. In fact, he couldn't recall a thought in his head all day that hadn't involved Sarah...
He was going to be sick if he sat in this room another minute.
Without even bothering to switch off the wireless, Adam left the dorm, slamming the door behind him. He jogged upstairs to James's dormitory and found the resident on the bed. Sirius slouched over the open window with a cigarette.
"You haven't...?" (heard anything, was what he meant to ask).
James shook his head.
"Got another cigarette, Black?"
Marlene, and then Remus and Peter, found them up there a few minutes later.
"Very shortly we'll be speaking with an auror directly involved with the investigation of the attack on Peverell Hall..."
Donna found her sister in the library. A large group of students gathered there—students from all four houses. There was no wireless, but many were speaking in tones that Ms. Sevoy would, typically, have forbidden. Not today, though. Bridget Shacklebolt sat near the Herbology section, not alone, but with her arm around the shoulders of another first year girl. The other girl, a Slytherin, cried freely on Bridget's jumper, and Donna suddenly felt very out of place.
She turned swiftly to leave but the sound of her surname detained her.
A Hufflepuff boy, Benjy Fenwick, had called it from one of the tables nearer to the door. He rose from his seat as she hesitated: "Your—your brother's an auror, isn't he?" asked the wizard. Donna nodded mutely, stunned somewhat by the address. Near strangers did not usually speak to her. Hell, people she knew didn't usually speak to her, unless they were Lily or one of her housemates "Do you know anything? Anything that the rest of us don't?"
She recovered. "Why would I?" she snapped. "Just because I'm related to an auror doesn't mean I've got some way of knowing everything that happens at the Ministry."
"Right," said Fenwick. "Sorry." He returned to his seat, and Donna—well, she began to feel a bit ill.
"I'm sorry," she added. "If I hear anything..."
"Right." He nodded briefly. "Thank you."
"But first, we'll speak with someone who is closely connected to M.F.P..."
James needlessly called for silence in his room, and Adam threw his cigarette out the window. They all listened intently.
"Alaric Durwood works for the Ministry of Magic, in the Department of Magical Games and Sports, and he has worked very closely with M.F.P. on a number of occasions. Mr. Durwood, we welcome you..."
"Alaric Durwood?" echoed James uncertainly. "Who's that?"
"I've never heard of him," said Adam, sinking down onto the window seat. James looked to Sirius, who shook his head.
James and Adam, at least, recognized the significance of Alaric Durwood and his claim to having "worked very closely" with M.F.P. If he was the best they could do... well... they couldn't have found any actual members of M.F.P.—they couldn't have found a really close contact, or else it would be his or her voice now describing the origins and goals of M.F.P. to an anxious audience...
Time stretched out painfully. James managed to eat a bit of the food that Remus and Peter brought up for him. The longer he waited, however, the more he regretted staying at the school. He should've gone when he had the chance that morning. Sitting in that room—sitting there with Adam McKinnon—was absolute torture, and he knew that Adam must certainly feel the same way.
They were rivals.
Eighty-seven were dead. At the very most, twenty-five or thirty members had survived—had missed the conference—and James, with everything in him, willed that his mother be one of those. He had no power to change the facts—she was either alive or dead, and there was nothing he could do—but this exertion of his own desperate hope seemed itself an act of murder.
If his mother lived—if she took one of those coveted spots in the small number of surviving M.F.P. members, this fact reduced the chances of Sarah McKinnon's survival. And that was only one...
What of Sam? And Tilly Figg and countless others, in whose company James had grown up? Was he to condemn them to death?
He could push most of them out of his mind—he scarcely thought of Sam, because he could not really bear to do so; there was no imagining a world without Sam Dearborn, and anyway, James had not the strength to pray (for he was, he realized, praying) for a second miracle. Rationally (at least, it seemed rational), he could hope that one of the many he loved was alive. He must hope for his mother. Sam he could believe to be alive without a miracle—simply because it must be so—but for his mum to be alive... Grace Potter was a dedicated member of M.F.P. A higher up. One of the founding members. For Grace Potter to be alive, James needed a miracle.
And he knew that, a few feet away, Adam was praying for that same, impossible stroke of luck to be granted to his sister.
They were rivals.
"...Of course, this is not the first time that the death eaters have targeted wizards—muggleborn, half-blood, and pureblood—for harboring sympathetic views toward muggleborns and even muggles..."
"Even muggles!" Lily repeated sarcastically. "Even muggles, Merlin, imagine that!"
She stood in the Head Student Office. She forgot why, but she had arrived after breakfast and not left. There was a letter crumpled up in her pocket that she dared not reread, and she spent the day organizing the quills and sorting point deduction documentation forms and rewriting the patrol schedules and Merlin knew what else, because she could not stand to be around anyone else.
Most of all, she could not face James.
"According to our latest information, as many as half of the immediate family members have received letters from the Ministry. However, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement continues to urge the public to wait before attempting to contact the Ministry, either by owl or in person, for information concerning at-risk loved ones. The floo network is still shut down, but is expected to return tomorrow morning..."
"Oh, Merlin, can't we shut that off?" groaned Mary, the endless drawl of the wireless at last becoming too much for her. She'd scarcely finished any of her meal and didn't see how she ever would with the voice from the wireless pounding in her head. "They're not saying anything new."
"How can you say that?" Carlotta growled. Her chin had rested in the palm of her hand for the last half hour, but now she straightened up, bringing her several inches above Mary. "I suppose you don't care at all what's happened to these people."
"Anything that doesn't have to do with boys or make up is just dull to you, I suppose," Carlotta pressed on feverishly. "You don't—don't know what it feels like at all, do you? You can't even imagine the—the scope of it... what it feels like for them..."
Mary's eyes were very wide, her eyebrows invisible beneath the fringe of dark brown hair, but she made no attempt to argue. By chance, Carlotta noted that her knuckles were white around the fork in her hand, but beyond that, Mary gave no visible reaction, and that infuriated Carlotta more than anything. Couldn't she feel anything, surrounded by all of this? How could she possibly think about anything else?
"You stupid, silly girl," Carlotta continued, tears in her eyes. "How can you—how can you know that all of your friends are h-heartbroken, and—and just not care at all?"
Mary's face relaxed again; she set down the fork and straightened up. "You're quite right," she all but whispered. Carlotta swallowed, expecting a heated retort, and it almost frightened her when Mary gave none. "I can't imagine," was all she said.
It was just past four o'clock.
An entire afternoon had passed in nothing but the endless march of voices on the WWN, and no one seemed to be saying a goddamn word anymore.
It was just past four o'clock when something finally happened.
James, Sirius, and Peter played Exploding Snap on the bed. Remus, Adam, and Marlene sat near the window, speaking softly. Their attentions had strayed from the wireless, and they might not have heard what followed, but the sound of a familiar name cut sharply through the white noise.
"What?" said James loudly, abandoning his cards.
"What's wrong, Prongs?"
"Did you hear that?" He practically dived off the bed to reach the wireless, adjusting the volume hastily, and the others fell silent to listen as well, Adam rising from the window seat.
"Yes, that's right..." a witch's voice was saying—not the witch from before; this one sounded older and less calm, less polished... and astronomically more familiar... "I've been helping the Ministry with that, yes," she said. James could scarcely believe it—he thought he must be going mad from all the talk, and yet... "It was... it was terrible in there... It's not something that anyone should see. I'm not—I'm not really allowed to say much about it, until the—until the families have been notified..." (she was crying), "but—but in case my husband hasn't been able to contact him yet, I would like for—for my son, James, to know that I'm all right—I'm safe... I love him very much, and I—I hope he c-c-can come home soon."
"Thank-you, Mrs. Potter..."
"Shit," Sirius swore, falling back onto the bed. "Thank Merlin..."
"Yes of course," came Mrs. Potter's choked reply.
"That was Grace Potter, leading member of Magic for Peace, who has spent the day identifying the bodies of her fallen comrades..."
"Oh my God," whispered Marlene. Adam had taken a seat again, and Marlene reached out to hold his hand.
James couldn't properly breathe.
He couldn't think, except to acknowledge over and over and over that she was alive. She was safe.
He felt like he was waking up from a hideous nightmare; relief overwhelmed him. He didn't know whether to laugh or to cry, but the need to move seemed suddenly acute, so that he began to pace around, running his hands through his hair in frenzied distraction.
Adam McKinnon sat still in the corner.
"I'm going for a walk," James announced after a minute. He looked around to the faces of his friends, noting that Remus—though inhumanly pale—and Peter—with red eyes—exuded relief themselves. Sirius's expression grew doubtful.
"I'll go with you..."
"No, I'm not going anywhere," said James quickly. "I mean, I won't run. She's alive, Padfoot—I'll... I'll stay tonight. But I just—need some air. Outside of here."
He ended up in the seventh year boys' dormitory, but only for a moment. He stopped to fetch the Marauder's Map.
Lily heard his footsteps out in the corridor for a full minute before he arrived, so that when James did show up, she was—well, almost, prepared. She stood at the desk along the wall, her back to the door, when he reached the threshold.
"Did you hear her?" the Head Boy practically gasped. He'd been running—he was all out of breath.
Lily couldn't face him. She switched off the wireless and nodded—he saw the movement of her head and stepped into the office. "She's okay... and if she's okay then maybe some of the others..."
(The letter, now balled up in her hand, seemed to have become unbearably heavy.)
"I'm sorry," Lily cut him off. Her voice sounded alien—coarse and unsuitably angry—and that startled James.
"What are you sorry for?"
"I should've..." Lily broke the sentence for a moment; she concentrated on preventing the hot tears that sprung up in her eyes from progressing any further. "I should've showed you earlier."
"Showed me what?"
Lily turned. She took in the sight of James quickly, recognizing that he looked terrible but had probably looked much worse before the sound of his mother's voice on the wireless had renewed his hope. The Head Girl did not analyze his appearance for long, however, and in fact she barely met his eye at all. She moved away from the desk and stretched out her hand. It was a moment before James understood that she was giving him something: a crumpled page of parchment, which he took with reluctance he could not explain.
He unfolded the parchment and smoothed it out, immediately recognizing the handwriting, though he could not quite identify it. The wizard looked up at Lily, who watched him carefully.
"What is this?"
"A letter," she replied quietly. "From Sam."
"I don't want to read it," said James. He tried to return the letter. "I don't..."
"At the end there... the last few sentences..." Lily now spoke over him. "I've read them a hundred times. The fifth line from the bottom—I'm so sorry, I should have showed it to you earlier..." She began to weep. "I just—I couldn't stand to say it... I couldn't face—I couldn't face you, and say it out loud..."
James looked down at the letter. It was the second page of something, he could tell, because it started out mid-sentence with the tumbling handwriting he now easily identified as Sam's.
A few phrases stood out to him as his eyes dropped down the page, but he registered nothing. The last few sentences, though, he caught.
No need for unbelievable excuses this time—I really had better get along, because I must have supper with Mum tonight. I'm off to Rutland on Monday for that M.F.P. conference, and she seems to keep a very balanced ledger of time spent with her versus time spent gallivanting about with my mad friends. I'm kind and keep the latter column much fuller than the former—it gives Mum a nice sense of righteous indignation, which she loves.
With fond thoughts and an affectionate pat on the head,
"That doesn't mean anything," said James, when he'd finished. "He's... he's Sam. He might've slept in... missed it completely. He's Sam, that's all—he always..."
"He was there," Lily gasped. "He was there. Sam was there. He was in Rutland, I know..."
"Maybe he changed his plans," James interrupted furiously. The respite ended and fresh panic swept over him. "He's... he's Sam—he's all over the place. He might have drunk to much the night before and stayed in bed for all we know..."
"He's gone, he's dead!" Lily cried, covering her face with her hands.
"Stop that!" James ordered. "Don't say that!"
She'd stopped saying anything now. Half seated on the edge of the desk, half standing, Lily struggled to regain her composure. The tears were easily stopped, but her breathing remained irregular for another minute. She turned away from him again, drying her face and smoothing back the hair behind her ears.
"You're right," she said after a long while. James sat down on the sofa and rested his chin in his hand. "You're right, we can't know for—for certain." Lily faced him, dry eyed again. "I'm very glad for your mother," she said. "And—and you're quite r-r-right about—about—your cousin. I'm quite sure he's all right after all..."
"When did you get this letter?" James muttered.
"A-a few days ago, maybe, I don't know. Tuesday or Wednesday..."
"All it proves," James insisted, "is that he intended to go. It doesn't mean that he actually went."
"Yes, you're right."
"It's almost more likely that he didn't make it to the conference, if you know Sam..."
"Yes, I'm sure you're right..."
"Sam's never—he's never on time for anything, for one thing. Showed up two hours later to my tenth birthday party, you know... and he forgot to bring a present at that..." James almost smiled, very falsely; "He's all right. I'm sure of it."
"Yes," said Lily again. "You'd know best, I suppose."
"Would you stop just agreeing with me?" James snapped.
"Well what do you want me to do?"
"Say what you really mean!"
"It won't do either of us any good," she answered curtly. "To say it—it won't do anyone any good."
James got up off the sofa and walked toward her. "Where have you been all day?" he asked, uncertain why it mattered but convinced that it did.
"Where have you been? In here?"
"I wanted to be alone," Lily said, brushing off the question absently. She indulged in a few calming breaths, which restored some of the color to her face and cleared her thoughts a little. Tiredly, as if performing an exhausting task for which she had no taste, and yet not without sincerity, Lily asked: "How are you?"
"Not fantastic," James admitted dryly.
After an uncomfortable moment, Lily picked up the point deduction documentation forms she had been dealing with and began to shuffle them around, somewhat needlessly, except that it was something to do with her hands.
"Listen," said James, "I'm sorry I shouted, I just..."
"No, no," Lily cut him off hastily. "Please, don't... it's nothing."
"Yes, but... I'm sorry, that's all. Listen, will you come on back to the Common Room? Everyone's there—your mates are looking for you..."
Lily looked up from her papers and then shook her head. "Not—not yet. I'd rather not just now."
"You're not going to stay here all evening?" he half accused.
"No, I'll be along. I'll be along in a minute, but I can't..." What she couldn't went unarticulated, and Lily did not seem to feel the need to elaborate. "Please, just go."
"I'll be there soon," she said. James hesitated still; he didn't want to leave Lily. He didn't want to go and be near everyone else. He didn't want to sit with the other Gryffindors—the ones who had no idea about Sam or Sarah or Victor Vance or anyone... who's greatest fear would be for someone they read about once... oh, it wasn't their fault, he knew that, but now the fact of his mother's survival had sunk in, and all he could think about were those bodies that she had spent the day identifying. James didn't want... well he didn't know what he wanted... but he didn't see how he was supposed to be all right, sitting in the Common Room—or even up in his dormitory—if there wasn't someone there who might possibly understand.
(Someone who wasn't Adam... whose bad fortune seemed guaranteed by James's good news).
Of course, Sirius and Remus and Peter were there. They'd been there all day, just trying to sort him out, and now he behaved like a petulant child for the simple reason that Lily had not. For once, Lily didn't want to comfort or mend others; she wanted to be left alone to fix herself, and James could not begrudge her that.
"I'm sorry," he said again, but without context.
"I've—well, just believe me, I've been a git."
"James, today of all days..."
"That's not an excuse. I'm perfectly all right, you know. I'm here, I'm safe, and all my mates are acting as though I'm the one in danger, but it's not as though I've been in Peverell Hall, and even I'm acting as if I have been and it's rubbish, and I'm..."
"You're not perfectly all right," Lily interrupted him. She twisted her fingers together nervously but spoke in a voice sad and patient. "Those are your friends, James. You're a mess same as everyone else is, and that's allowed today."
James nodded doubtfully. "Promise you'll come back soon?" he asked.
Lily nodded. James backed away. He stopped near the door, considering something else to say, but Lily had already returned to her pretense of work, so he left her alone.
James received a letter. Adam did not.
James's came from his father, and it was a short note, scribbled that morning, it appeared.
Your mother is all right. No word on Sam or any of the others. Going to Rutland now. Will write again soon.
Mr. Potter had selected a smaller, quicker owl named Sligh, and the paper was torn from the scroll in the foyer of the Potters' house. In his mind, James recreated the scene of the note's authorship: his father had been on his way out of the door, stopped by some nagging sense of unfinished business, and in his haste, he had neglected any meaningful details. Mrs. Potter was all right, but why this was the case remained a mystery: she couldn't have missed the conference, could she? She never missed the conference, and yet the WWN seemed convinced that no one in Peverell Hall had survived...
Adam received no letter.
A little after five o'clock, Professor McGonagall found him in the Common Room. He had come down to be with his younger sister, Frances; Marlene, Mary, Remus, Peter, and a few of Frances's friends sat with them, a quiet, miserable little circle near a window. Late afternoon sunlight streamed through the window, covering the messy table between Adam and Marlene in golden light. When the portrait hole admitted the head of Gryffindor, everyone in the room promptly fell silent. They all seemed to guess the nature of her errand, and the message that she delivered, though enigmatic, was immediately apparent.
"Your mother and father are in the Entrance Hall," McGonagall told them.
A strange, unconnected thought floated through Adam's mind just then: Fairy Lights. It was some stupid Melodia Jordan song—Sarah's favorite. He must have heard that ridiculous album a hundred times in his life, and Sarah had once explained to him that the witch who sang it, who wrote it, Melodia Jordan, had written it about her time as a Hufflepuff at this school. Adam had always thought it odd that someone as sensible as Sarah (Sarah Holland McKinnon, twenty one years old, twelve inch cherry wand with a single unicorn hair) should fancy such an... an overly sentimental song. It was her favorite, though.
Sarah was dead.
He knew it at once, of course.
He didn't bother searching for an alternative explanation. Frances sat terrified at his side, and everyone—not just those at the table, but everyone in the whole Common Room—stared at them as they received Professor McGonagall's brief report that their parents awaited them in the Entrance Hall. Everyone watched as they learned—or at least, as Adam learned—that their sister was dead.
Oliver and Florence McKinnon met their younger children in the Entrance Hall. Audrey—Adam's second oldest sister—was with them, as was his younger brother from Ravenclaw. Donald, the boy, cried. Audrey was very pale. The moment Mr. and Mrs. McKinnon locked eyes with the last two children to arrive, Frances understood for certain.
Adam said nothing, even as he walked up to his family; his mind dawdled in the surreal haze, and he heard that silly, cheerful song Sarah loved.
But Sarah was dead.
Remus and Peter helped Marlene pack up a few things for Adam. He'd already left: all the McKinnons (and two or three other students who had lost immediate family members, whose names the Gryffindors would not know until the next day) had gone down to the village and apparated from there. Adam had returned only briefly to Gryffindor Common Room.
He had spoken very clearly, and that struck Marlene as strange, for it was abundantly clear that his head was in some kind of fog. His eyes were glazed over, and he only nodded to indicate what they'd all already guessed.
He hadn't taken anything with him—not even a toothbrush. He'd simply put on a cloak and said they were all going home. He'd bid goodbye to Marlene and his roommates, and then he was gone. Professor McGonagall asked if Remus might pack up some clothing that they could send along for Adam in the morning.
Marlene and Peter had joined Remus, Sirius staying with James, but the Marauder seemed rather useless at the task, and Marlene took over quickly.
She grabbed practical, seasonally appropriate clothing and shoes and tossed them into Adam's trunk. She enlisted the two Marauders to take anything of Adam's from the lavatory, and, because she did not know how long he would be gone, dropped his book bag—with his books and supplies—into the trunk as well. She put his broomstick in the magically expanded slot in the trunk allotted it and added the book he'd been reading from his bedside table, but that was it. Nothing else recreational—not his music... nothing. He could come back for that, if need be.
"Did you know her well?" asked Peter, when Marlene had finished and locked up the trunk. "Sarah McKinnon?"
Marlene sat down on Adam's bed and shrugged. "A little."
She was distracted now, though. Marlene loved Adam; she did, and she knew that, but before all that she was his friend. She was his best friend, and in light of that fact, an unpleasant chore awaited her. "I suppose one of you had better tell Professor McGonagall that he's all packed," she said to the two Marauders. "I have to go to Ravenclaw Common Room. Someone ought to tell Prudence that he's gone."
Remus frowned. "I'll come with you," he said, and Marlene could've hugged him for that.
They walked in silence to the fourth floor; Marlene knew the path more fluently even than the Marauder did, due to her former relationship with Miles. The riddle required for entrance to the Common Room posed the greatest complication, but they were fortunate there. A small group of third and fourth years sat huddled outside the entrance. One cried—the others were silent, but the two Gryffindors were nearly upon them before the younger students noted the new arrivals. They all looked up with a mixture of surprise and, inexplicably, distrust as Marlene and Remus approached, and Marlene spoke quietly to them.
"Do you think one of you might fetch Prudence Daly from your Common Room? I've got to speak to her."
"Has she lost someone?" asked one of the witches abruptly.
"I've got to give her a message, that's all," Marlene explained. "Won't you find her and tell her that Marlene Price and Remus Lupin are out here to speak to her?"
The girl, a freckled creature with a long, pointed face, nodded at last. She rose from her seat on the corridor floor, but did not make it to the door before it opened, seemingly of its own accord. Clancy Goshawk stepped out, dressed in a blue bathrobe and pinstriped cotton trousers.
"Dahlia," she rushed, speaking to the freckled girl and failing to notice the two Gryffindors at first, "your sister is looking everywhere for... Oh, hello." She pulled the bathrobe a little closer around her middle. Remus flushed and muttered a reply. "What are you doing here?"
"We need to see Prudence," said Marlene. "Prudence Daly. I don't suppose you could fetch her for us."
"P-Prudence? Yes, yes of course. Dahlia, come along..." Dahlia started toward her, but Clancy remained, eying the other younger students uncertainly. "All of you, come inside," she beckoned. "It's getting late... there's a nice fire. Come on then..." Reluctantly, the others followed Dahlia, and Clancy added to the Gryffindors: "I'll just be a moment." Then she, too disappeared.
Remus cleared his throat. "I suppose you can handle Prudence on your own..."
Truthfully, Marlene did not know how she found the energy to smile, even as feebly as she did. "Stay put, Lupin."
Clancy returned with Prudence, who seemed calmer now than she had been. The latter walked directly up to Marlene, while the former hung back at first. When Remus met her eye, however, Clancy approached him.
"It's awful, isn't it?"
"Do you—do you think you might know anyone?"
"I've met loads of them," said the Marauder. "I went to a protest with them once."
"In the Ministry, this summer."
"You were there?"
"Yeah. So..." His voice broke, "So was almost all of M.F.P., though."
"I'm sorry." Clancy's eyes dropped to her slippers. "I can't even imagine."
Prudence took the news fairly well, although she must have expected it the moment Clancy came to fetch her.
"He had to leave right away," Marlene was quick to assure the Ravenclaw. "He didn't have a minute, you know. His family was waiting for him..."
"Yes, of course," said Prudence softly. "He's... I wonder if he was very close with Sarah? He talked about her quite a bit..."
"They were close, yes," Marlene replied. She realized rather too late that it hadn't been a question. "He's closer—I mean—he was closest with Sarah."
Prudence pursed her lips, lines of concentration forming on her forehead; her chin dropped to her chest and she inhaled and exhaled deeply through her nose. She looked as though she were trying to figure out a particularly difficult arithmetic problem, but could reach no solution. "He'll be heartbroken," she said at last, in a tone of surrender.
"Yes," Marlene agreed effortlessly.
"Sarah McKinnon's dead," said Donna, when Lily entered the Head Girl's dormitory that evening. Her friend sat on the bed, knees pulled up against her chest; Donna's face was stoic, but no more relaxed than her body. Her head rested against the wall behind her, until Lily came closer, and she adjusted, following the witch with her eyes.
"I know," said Lily, in turn avoiding Donna's stare. She took Sam's letter out of her pocket and placed it on the desk, pausing there for a moment. "Sirius just told me as I was on my way up. Adam's gone home? Where's Marlene?"
"With Mary in the dormitory. You didn't come to supper."
"I wasn't hungry."
"Where have you been?"
"Doing what for Merlin's sake?" snapped Donna.
"Working. Listening to the wireless. I just didn't feel like..." But as she spoke, Lily turned toward the bed again. Donna's legs stretched flat across the comforter now. She'd continued to watch Lily very carefully, her eyes wider, more open and revealing than Lily had ever seen them. There was something helpless about her. Lily broke off mid-sentence and then began again. "Have you heard from Kingsley?"
Donna shook her head.
"I expect he'll write tomorrow," said Lily.
Slowly, Lily walked to the bed, where she sat down at the foot and asked: "How are you?"
Donna dropped her gaze. "Ill," she said. "There was a girl at supper who was crying because her—her aunt's a member of M.F.P. She's gone home now—she left right after supper. But she was crying, and I just—just felt ill. Bridget doesn't really understand it... she was—I don't know, I expect she's too young. She doesn't realize it..."
"Doesn't realize what?"
"How—how stupid it all is," said Donna bitterly. "How completely ridiculous it is. All of this. You and I both know... knew people who... who are dead now—M.F.P... Dearborn, Sarah McKinnon, the Vances... Lily, it's been two years, and these people died exactly the same as my parents did. For no reason, Lily. Just—just for being there. There wasn't a battle... this isn't a war... it's just... it's just a massacre. Two years later, and nothing's changed at all."
Everything Lily wanted to say seemed hollow—silly and naïve.
For no reason. She had been dancing around that idea for hours.
She kicked off her shoes and then stood up, walking around to the other side of the bed, where she joined Donna. But encouraging, hopeful words did not come to her. She was useless to her friends today, and all she could think of was the vacant reminder: "We don't know anything for sure, yet. Mrs. Potter is alive—we don't know..."
"Eighty seven people are dead," Donna interrupted her, disturbingly calm. "Whether or not they're our mates, they're dead."
At a loss, Lily nodded. "I know."
For a long time, they sat and talked. Donna repeated some of the rumors she had heard in the Common Room and at supper, and they exchanged information from the wireless that had caught their attention.
"I just don't understand," Donna said, much later, before she drifted off to sleep, "how it could have happened. How could they have killed so many people so—easily? They were witches and wizards, weren't they? They must have had wands. It doesn't make sense."
It didn't. Not at all.
Sam wasn't dead.
James decided this late that night. The other Marauders had gone back to their dormitory, and he lay in bed, awake and likely to remain so for some time. He was exhausted, but his mind raced, and over and over he forced that conclusion on himself. Sam wasn't dead. Sam couldn't be dead.
Tilda Figg was dead. He knew that. They'd said so on the wireless at around ten o'clock. She was the only officially released name, although a few others had gotten out in the evening paper... no one he really knew, except Gabriel Simple, who had always come to his parents' Christmas parties.
Of course, Tilda Figg had been a guarantee, James thought. The second he'd read the damn article, he'd known Tilly would be there. She was head of the bloody organization. Of course she was dead. And that he could receive the news with so little surprise—horror—bothered him.
Tilly Figg, with her ugly, kind husband who'd died a few years back, and her fuzzy graying hair, and her squib daughter, and that silly, magenta house in Kent. Tilly Figg was dead. Sarah McKinnon was dead. His mother was alive, and Sarah McKinnon was dead.
But Sam. Sam had to be alive. The idea that Sam Dearborn could be dead was absurd to the point of comical.
And anyway, he'd have heard something by now if Sam had been in Peverell Hall. His father or mother or someone would've contacted him. They wouldn't have shut him out like this if Sam had been there.
Each time he reached this conclusion, the same relief that he'd felt at the sound of his mother's voice earlier spread through him, and he felt absolutely awful. Eighty seven dead. Eighty seven witches and wizards from a handful of countries, of all blood statuses, all ages—his mother's best friends, and he could hold tight to the firm belief—conviction, even—that Sam must be alive.
James nodded off a few hours before dawn and woke abruptly at six without having realized that he'd fallen asleep. His room was still and grey when he started suddenly in his bed, disquieted by a dream he could not quite remember. Awake and with an unnatural alertness, he showered and changed hastily before going down to the Great Hall.
The enchanted ceiling swirled around in iron colored formations that morning, and though very early, James arrived after a few dozen others. Professor Dumbledore had returned and took his usual place at the center of the staff table. James poured himself a cup of tea, but he had no appetite for breakfast.
A third year girl brought the wireless down about twenty minutes after James arrived, and the small number of students present listened to the announcements. You could hear it all throughout the hall. The list of deceased was said to be in the morning paper, but there were no more details. Sirius, Remus, and Peter came down at eight o'clock, and, after confirming that James had not heard anything new, they ate their own breakfasts in silence.
Lily woke famished and achy. Donna had slept in her bed, and the Head Girl ultimately drifted off in the window seat, so her neck throbbed when she sat up. Her friend was awake already, having dosed long before the Head Girl, but she was still stretching and yawning in the bed.
"You should have kicked me out," Donna remarked.
Lily did not contest the point, but got to her feet, stepping gingerly on the cool floor and finding that the muscles in her legs protested as they extended after a night spent contracted. She hobbled about, collecting a fresh set of clothes and stepping into the lavatory. When she emerged, a quarter of an hour later but changed and showered, Donna was gone. Lily went directly to breakfast.
The other shoe dropped, so to speak, when the morning edition of The Daily Prophet arrived.
On page two, in four little columns, with just over twenty names each, printed in black ink, and arranged in alphabetical order by surname, were the dead.
Dearborn, Samuel appeared about halfway down the first column.
When James located that name, he stopped reading. Remus said something to him; Peter, who had been craning over his shoulder with several others, collapsed back into his seat at Gryffindor table. More students filled the gap left by his absence, and as James's grip on the paper slackened, Sirius took it from him. He kept reading. He searched for any other name he might know.
Figg, Tilda. Graves, Louisa worked in Quality Quidditch Supplies. He'd seen her almost every day this last summer. Jordan, Elisha. Jordan, Garrett. They'd been the first to arrive to the Ministry, bringing with them all those other M.F.P. members. McKinnon, Sarah. Mimieux, Clemence had been flirting with Fabian Prewett half that night they'd spent in the lock up. Kline, Maura was a few years ahead of them at Hogwarts, but he didn't really know her. Salazar, Aldo had been at one of the Potters' Christmas parties. He spoke four languages and had refused to converse with Sirius in anything but slangy French. Sirius had met Simeon, Cole when he was very young—his aunt had advised him against consorting with "that sort of wizard." Ulvan, Tobias was indefinitely familiar. Vance, Victor—Emmeline's husband.
Every time his eyes moved across the dark lines of print, Sirius tripped over that name.
It was unreal, the hall dissolving in a new surge of panic and confusion, as the eighty seven—oft discussed in the last twenty four hours—materialized in print, named and killed in an instant.
That was it.
They called off classes again. Lily made herself vanish the second she had seen James. Gryffindor, indeed. She couldn't muster the courage to say a single word to him. She walked away from the brewing storm in Great Hall, quickly as she could, and didn't stop until she found herself in a room without occupants—the Library, as it were. The Librarian must have been at breakfast, for the entire room was silent. Lily crossed to the very furthest corner, sat down, gathered her knees up against her chest, and, through her tears, she gasped for breath.
Apart from Sarah, Marlene knew—reallyknew—only those whom she'd met at the protest in August. Many of the pureblood and half blood students knew or knew of a handful of the dead through various family acquaintances. The Common Room that morning was far more chaotic, less solemn, than it had been the day before. Mary sat beside her on a sofa, with her arms wrapped around Marlene's shoulders as the blonde wept openly.
Shelley Mumps sat on the sofa next to them, and she kept spitting demands at whatever official happened to be speaking on the wireless: "How could you let this happen?"
Carlotta tried to speak with her, but Shelley staunchly refused to pay her any attention.
James smoked a cigarette in his room.
He lay on his bed, legs crossed at the ankle, with one lean arm bent behind his head.
You could see anything through the smoke of a cigarette. It clouded up the actual room, blinded him to the ceiling up above, but if you couldn't see what was really there, anything might take its place. He might be in the Great Hall just then. He might be at home in his own bed or on the lumpy mattress in his room at Godric's Hallow. Or he might be in his old dormitory. Nothing had ever really gone wrong in that old dormitory, had it?
Footsteps in the library brought Lily back to the present. They came slowly at first, and the Head Girl thought they must belong to the Librarian, returning to her post. Lily wiped the tears from her face and tried to collect herself, but as she stood up, the footsteps sped up and changed course, until they brought their owner to Lily's own corner of the room. It wasn't Ms. Sevoy, but Colista Black.
The Slytherin appeared every bit as surprised to find Lily there as the reverse.
"Where is everyone?" she asked.
Lily had no idea what that might mean. "Who?"
"Everyone," Colista only repeated unhelpfully. "They were—everyone was up here yesterday. I suppose I thought..." She trailed off regretfully, as if realizing that she had said too much... revealed a dangerous vulnerability she now wished to redact. Lily felt far more at the disadvantage for having been caught in such a state, however, and she only told Colista that she had not see anyone there since breakfast.
Colista stood still, seemingly paralyzed for the moment, as Lily mumbled some excuse and began to pass by her. Ever composed—ever neat and clever and prepared—Colista now could not so much as react. Her smooth dark hair wrapped faultlessly around her head; her complexion lacked blotch or blemish. Nothing obvious had changed in her, and yet she seemed like a wax reconstruction of the living Colista Black.
Lily traveled the width of two or three bookshelves before Colista's paralysis ended, and she called out suddenly: "This is your fault." She turned to Lily even as the Head Girl paused. "This all your fault," she repeated, lower but more hysterically. "You and—and your bloody kind! All of it! All of this—this war is happening to us because of you... you mudbloods!" Lily faced her. "If you would just... if you had just left everyone alone, they wouldn't be doing this!"
All at once, Lily's head cleared, and she emerged from the grief stricken dream that had shrouded her into a new kind of fit. She didn't register taking out her wand at all, but she felt everything inside her bubbling up and then exploding as she jabbed the wand once in the air and Colista flew to the ground, missing the nearest bookcase by a matter of inches. Lily walked up to her, wand aimed, and she heard herself demand, disbelievingly: "How dare you?"
Colista flinched, expecting another hex, and that jarred Lily, pulling her back to her senses. She swallowed. She relaxed. She regained control and put the wand away. Without a word, stunned by her own reaction, Lily turned on her heel, making quick progress toward the exit.
Someone knocked on James's door late in the morning. He claimed the right to behave immaturely and did not respond.
"James, I know you're in there."
"What do you want?" he retorted, recognizing the voice.
"To stand shouting at you through your door, obviously."
"Come in, then."
"It's locked." James, still flat on his back on the bed, grabbed his wand from the bedside table and unlocked the door from there. Carlotta Meloni stepped into the room. She closed the door and stood uncertainly near it for a moment.
"Are you all right?"
"James, you mustn't pretend..."
"Carlotta," he interrupted through gritted teeth. She flinched and then nodded slowly.
"I'm sorry. I'm—I'm so, so sorry, James."
He only managed a sort of nod in reply, and Carlotta stepped further into the room. She hesitated at first, but then summoned the courage and moved to the bed, sitting down on the edge. Slowly, James sat up.
"So what did you come up for?" he asked, and he pulled his legs around to join her on the edge of the bed.
"To check up on you, of course. I know there's nothing I can say, but..." Her hand suddenly covered his (or endeavored to, being much smaller), which was balled up on the scarlet comforter. "I think I owe that much to you."
"You don't owe me anything."
Rather unexpectedly, Carlotta's eyes watered up. "God, I wish this was all over."
James turned to her, surprised, and he softened as a result. "You wish what was all over?"
"This. This—this war. This dying and—and Merlin, how could this happen?"
"I don't know," James confessed. He moved his hand from beneath hers, replacing it on top. "I—I can't understand it either." Carlotta's chin rested on her shoulder, which was almost aligned with James's. Tears clung to her eyelashes and one slipped down her cheek. They neither of them moved for a time.
Then she kissed him.
He didn't object. He kissed her back a little, but even as she moved her hand to the side of his face, and then to his neck, James felt strangely deadened. His mind did not go blank; the rapid succession of worried thoughts continued their flashing through his brain; the anger and helplessness that ruled his mood stood steadfast.
Eventually, they pulled apart; Carlotta closed her eyes and rested her forehead against James's. "Oh dear," she sighed.
"I know," she cut him off. "And you're quite right. That won't solve anything." She sat up straight, wiping the tears from her face. "Wish it would."
"Do you mind if I stay for a little longer?" the witch asked in a small voice. "It's very lonely out there."
"All right." He lay back down on the bed. Carlotta brought her legs up underneath her. "But I don't really want to talk, you know."
"Yes, I know." As she spoke, her eyes fell upon a scrap of parchment resting near the foot of the bed, and without asking, Carlotta picked it up. "What's this?"
"From my mum," said James gruffly. "It came a little while ago. Just telling me about—my cousin. Must've written it last night. I think I'm to go home tomorrow."
"Yesterday," began Professor Dumbledore, when he addressed the school at supper, "a great tragedy befell the magical community."
Because of you, said Colista Black, over and over and over again in Lily's mind.
"Many of you have lost a friend or family member..."
Lovely, brave Sarah McKinnon, seated on the edge of the fountain in the atrium at the Ministry. Marlene could see her there, in that silly shirt... but she could see her any other day, as well, at the McKinnons' house, playing Quidditch, chatting with one of her sisters... The finality of it—her death—was surreal.
"And there are no words to express the grief we feel in the wake of this loss. There is no explanation to be offered that will ease the pain that we—that we all must feel today. There is... nothing to be said."
Fittingly, Dumbledore fell silent, and the suddenness of it brought James out of his own reverie. It seemed for a moment that the Headmaster would say no more, but then he carried on.
"As you may have heard, a memorial service for the fallen witches and wizards is to be held on Sunday. Anyone who wishes to attend may do so. In the mean time, any student who wishes to return home, to spend time with his or her loved ones may do so as well. The Hogwarts Express will depart Friday, and arrangements will be made for you to contact your parents, should you desire to go home. You may also stay at the castle if that is your wish."
"I don't reckon I have much of a choice," muttered Sirius. "The flat's leased. Unless I want to go home with dear old Regulus."
"You'll come home with me," James told him. From then on, it was treated as a settled matter, and Sirius made no argument.
"Classes," said Professor Dumbledore, "Will adjourn until next Thursday. Your heads of houses will explain the procedures in greater detail, but, in the mean time, Madam Keepdown wishes to inform you that should anyone wish to speak with her... during this difficult time, she is available to you."
Madam Keepdown, seated at the staff table, inclined her head slightly in acknowledgement of this, and Dumbledore, having said all that he wanted or needed to say, resumed his seat.
"That's it?" asked Marlene faintly. "First thing he says to us since this happens and that's it?"
"I suppose so," Lily replied. Of course, what else remainedto be said? She poured herself a glass of pumpkin juice.
For the first time since breakfast the day before, it seemed that most of the school had actually turned out for a meal, and supper that evening bore a closer resemblance to the typical mealtime scene. The conversations lacked excitement, but they were earnest and unrestrained, and they gave the hall a sense of energy.
Near the end of it, Professor McGonagall rose from her seat at the staff table and asked that all prefects, as well as the Head Boy and Girl, visit her office immediately following the meal. "The Prefects," she said to the student body at large, "will collect the signatures of all students who wish to return home during this time. Please see one of your house prefects before you retire to bed tonight."
If Remus had not been compelled to go to McGonagall's office, James did not think he would have bothered going himself. As it was, however, no escape option presented itself, and when he'd finished his supper, the Head Boy joined the prefect in the trip to Professor McGonagall's office. James did time the exit to avoid meeting Lily, however. He was conscious of that fact—that he didn't want to see her or speak with her or think about their last dialogue. Now, they could only discuss one thing, and he didn't want to face that conversation.
Sam had died in his chair in Peverell Hall. James clenched his fists, red and white at the knuckles. His mother had identified the body. Sam had not defended himself. He had not died in battle. He had surely died very, very afraid, and now he was gone, quite simply because he had worn a nametag for a club.
I'm off to Rutland, he'd said in that letter.
James didn't want to see Lily, because what was the point?
The two Gryffindor boys were neither first nor last to arrive in the Transfiguration teacher's office. At least one prefect was missing from each house, and those that had arrived mingled awkwardly in the meantime. The others filed in, stepping around the growing multitude of students in the small space, and when Lily did arrive, half a dozen prefects separated James from the door anyway, so there was little danger of confrontation.
When all had congregated, Professor McGonagall, who stood behind her desk at the front of the room, repeated her notice that the prefects would be responsible for collecting signatures from their housemates. She picked up from her desk a stack of scrolls, which she began to distribute.
"Any under age student who wishes to return home must sign a list, and a permission form will be sent to his or her parents tomorrow." The scrolls filtered back through the prefects as they passed them along, and Professor McGonagall went on: "Please return these to me before breakfast tomorrow morning."
She seemed ready to dismiss them, but one of the fifth year prefects spoke up. "My parents are out of the country," she said, a slight tremble in her voice. "I'm sure they won't get the owl in time. But I'd like to go—to the memorial..."
"We can't allow you to leave the school without a parent or guardian's permission if you're underage," said McGonagall. She had not taken a moment even to consider the point; her response came automatically—almost mechanically, and were every word she spoke not burdened by obvious exhaustion, it might have seemed that she really did not care. But these last two days had not been easy for Professor McGonagall: why or how James was not sure, but you could see it in each of her movements... she had aged, somehow.
"If you could contact my brother instead," the young prefect spoke up; "He's eighteen—would his permission do?"
McGonagall seemed doubtful, and so it may have been utter, if piteous, dishonesty when she replied: "I'm sure it will." She looked around the prefects: "Are there any more questions?" The collective murmur suggested there were none, and McGonagall dismissed them.
"So will you wait?" Remus asked his friend as they exited the Transfiguration teacher's office. A crowd briefly formed outside the door, but it thinned quickly as the prefects all started in different directions. "To go home?" His eyes remained fixed on the scroll of parchment he had just been given, and since he scanned it absently, he failed to notice at once that James didn't pay him much attention. "Prongs?"
"Oh—I suppose so. It won't make much difference, a day."
"We don't even have to sign this, do we? We're of-age. Although I suppose it'd be a bit strange to show up unannounced on our parents' doorsteps, you know?" This time, Remus looked up to check the lack of response, and he saw that James stared off down the corridor, inattentive to the conversation. Following his gaze brought Remus to observe that it was to another departing Gryffindor that the Head Boy looked—Lily.
You couldn't glean much about her state from the shape of her retreating figure, except that she moved very quickly and seemed hunched over. She walked alone, apparently eager to keep it that way.
"How's Lily?" Remus asked, guessing the answer.
James started. "I don't know."
"Well do you want to find out?"
"No. I think she wants to be left alone."
"All right." Remus considered an attempt to speak to the Head Girl himself, but was deterred as someone called out James's name, bringing both Marauders to a halt. Peter jogged up to them.
"What's wrong, Wormtail?" James wanted to know. Further along the corridor, Lily had paused as well.
"It's Padfoot," said Peter, somewhat breathless. "You'd better come."
"We've barely been gone fifteen minutes for the love of Merlin," muttered Remus. "What could he have possibly done?" But he followed the other two in their hasty withdrawal toward the descending staircase.
They soon reached the Entrance Hall, where a small crowd had gathered at the foot of the marble staircase. Peter, leading the way, pushed through toward the front. Whatever had happened—and it was not immediately clear—seemed to be somewhat resolved, as a handful of students huddled around someone sitting on the last step. At first, Remus thought Sirius held the attention of his classmates, but when he and James arrived on the Entrance Hall landing, he found that it was, in fact, Regulus Black.
A dozen people spoke at once, and even James struggled to make himself heard over the deluge of voices. "Regulus," he said for a third or fourth time, and the Slytherin lifted his gaze to the Head Boy. His face—so very like Sirius's—was almost utterly void of color, except for a trickle of red descending from his lip, and when he looked at James, his eyes gleamed with anger.
"Where's Sirius?" James asked coldly.
Regulus said nothing. His chin fell to his chest again, and James repeated the question.
"He went outside," replied someone else—another Slytherin, Colista Black. She sat on the step above Regulus's, her arms folded across her chest as if she were very cold.
"What happened?" asked a new voice, and Remus found that Lily had followed them from McGonagall's office. She looked around the crowd expectantly, but they all remained quiet, suddenly quite conscious of the Head Girl badge pinned to her robes. James did not wait to find out; rather he pushed through the group and hurried after Sirius. "What happened?" Lily demanded again.
"It was Sirius's fault," one of Regulus's friends spoke up. "He started it."
Lily stepped down to the first floor landing so that she now stood directly in front of the injured Slytherin. "Do you need to go to the Hospital Wing?"
"No," said Regulus. Colista began to protest, but he interrupted her sharply: "Shut up. I don't need to go to the Hospital Wing..." This to Lily: "I don't need anything."
"He hexed you," said the friend who had spoken before.
"And I hexed him—leave it."
Lily frowned, evidently trying to figure out whether she should dock points or send someone to the Infirmary. "What exactly happened?" she asked again, but Regulus refused to answer. Rather, another voice cut through.
"It seems very clear to me," he said, coming down the stairs. Lily's expression visibly changed. She pursed her lips, eyes now very intentionally focused on Regulus. "Sirius hexed him," said Snape—the latest prefect to arrive. "An older student assaulted his younger brother. It seems extremely clear what happened."
"I said leave it, Snape," said Regulus, glaring at his housemate. "It doesn't matter."
"Of course it matters. He hexed you, didn't he?"
Evidently preferring the reaction his statement produced in Lily, Severus readdressed her: "Your mate hexed a younger student—what are you going to do about it?"
"Not today, Snape," said Lily wearily. "Really, not today." She turned physically away from him and, in the process, seemed to block from her mind, as she once again attended to Regulus. "Will you tell me what happened?"
"Are you hurt?"
"It's nothing." He wiped his lip with his sleeve.
"I'm going to have to tell Slughorn and McGonagall what happened."
"I don't care. Are you going to dock points, or can I leave?"
Lily glanced over her shoulder at Remus, who shrugged noncommittally. "I suppose you can go," she said at length. "In fact, everyone had better get back to their Common Rooms."
"You're just going to let Black off like that?" Snape demanded. "Of course, because he's your best mate now, I suppose..."
Lily ignored him completely. "Everyone, make sure to see your prefects about signing up to return home," she called to the scattering students. In the small crowd, she quickly located Remus, who jerked his head toward the towering wooden doors across the hall, a wordless assurance that he would attend to his friend. He soon left with Peter to do so, and while Lily did not doubt that Remus would take care for Sirius's present mental state, she rather suspected he would fail to dole out any punishment.
She could deal with that later, though. She could talk to McGonagall or Slughorn or someone. Perhaps they would show more interest in the matter than Regulus had. Now, she lacked the energy to pursue matters further.
Turning away from the doors through which the two Marauders had just disappeared, Lily found that she was almost alone on the marble staircase, except for one Slytherin.
"I suppose you're sympathetic to someone for lashing out like that," said Colista Black derisively. Her eyes flickered toward Lily, a small smile turning her lips upward.
"I won't apologize for that," Lily retorted. She folded up the parchment that Professor McGonagall had given her not ten minutes before and stepped hastily upward.
"I didn't ask you to," Colista snapped, and when Lily continued her rapid exit, she called after the Gryffindor: "I'm trying to apologize!" Now, Lily paused. "I—I lost someone too. I suppose you think that's strange, but I did. He was..." Lily turned in time to see Colista's smile grow very sad, "...He was a gardener, of all things. He worked at my mother's house, when I was younger. Lawrence Freeman. I didn't even know that he had anything to do with M.F.P., but he used to teach me about the trees on the grounds..." Lily dropped two steps. "You know what's... what's really funny about it almost?" She sniffed and cleared her throat. "My last name is Black... but I'm... I'm not even on the bloody family tree. I'm not even recognized as an official Black. You see my great-great-somebody was a bastard, so they never recognized my line. We kept the name... Dad's so very proud of it, and—and for what? It's pathetic! He's spent his whole life trying to make it with that stupid family, and any time they acknowledge that we exist, he actually thinks he's making some kind of progress. And I've—I've done the same thing, my whole life. I've been a good little Slytherin, and tried to get in with all the good little purebloods, and for what? I don't think I've... I don't think I've ever liked any one of them half as much as I liked that silly old man who told me about the trees..." Wiping tears from her eyes, Colista resumed something that attempted to imitate her usual dignity. "I blamed you because it sounded a lot nicer than admitting that the people who killed all those witches and wizards believe the same things that I've always—I've always said I believed. I'm sorry."
Lily found herself tightly pinching the parchment she carried between her fingers. There were no tears in her own eyes; the ache that had plagued her for days remained, seeing no alteration. Colista finished her story, and the only new feeling that Lily could properly identify was anger.
She didn't care. She didn't care about Colista Black's goddamn gardener... or at least, she didn't care that Colista Black cared about it. She didn't care that Colista Black felt bad about all those people dead, or that Colista Black was having an identity crisis over it. She didn't give a damn about Colista Black's grief. She resented it.
With fond thoughts and an affectionate pat on the head...
Sam was dead. Lonely, beautiful Sam Dearborn was dead. Adam's sister was dead. Emmeline Vance's husband... Lawrence Freeman, whoever he was, must have meant a lot more to someone else than he did to Colista. And all those wonderful, kind people who had marched through the Atrium that summer for her sake were completely and irrevocably gone, because no one had been able to stop those that would kill them... because of what Colista Black "said she believed..."
Lily didn't give a damn about Colista Black's grief.
With the greatest effort, she did not say as much. "I'm very sorry for your loss," she said instead, and then she turned to go upstairs.
She climbed rapidly up to Gryffindor Tower. Donna did not haunt her room tonight, but Lily found the solitude she had relentlessly sought in the last forty-eight hours unsatisfying. Even frightening. She'd left the window open, and so the autumn air chilled the dorm through, and the Head Girl made at once to change into warm pajamas. She wanted only to go to bed, so that this day might possibly end.
She shuffled furiously through her drawers, scarcely paying attention to what she was doing. She just wanted to sleep until next week, when classes would start up again. She couldn't go home, after all: how would any of this be explained to her mother? She'd never even discussed the fact that blood status existed, much less the war. An empty castle awaited her for the next week, and that was it.
Lily pushed aside sweaters and socks and at last located her warmest flannel pajama trousers, but as she dug about the top drawer for a jumper, a softer, thinner material met her touch.
She recognized it at once. What dreadful, masochistic urge prompted her to pull the cloth from the drawer, Lily did not know, but from the bottom of the drawer, she drew out the t-shirt that Sam had sent her a short month before. M.F.P. The green lettering glittered in the dim room, and angry tears blinded her.
Remus and Peter found their friends outside, underneath a large willow by the lake. In the muted dusk light, Remus doubted momentarily that the shadowy figures he spotted there—dark, uncertain shapes against the grey sky, half joined to the thick black tree trunk—were, in fact, the other two Marauders. As they drew closer, the bodies assumed greater clarity, and almost at once, Remus noticed that Sirius glared at them. Before they were close enough to say anything—before they were indeed close enough that Sirius might sense some condemnation from their expressions—he decided what their mission must be and said loudly: "Reinforcements have arrived, Prongs!"
Remus waited until they had come up on the pair to speak himself, and when he did, it was only to ask: "What happened?"
"Regulus is a git, what do you think happened?" Sirius retorted. He reclined among the roots of the tree, while James sat far straighter, his back rigid against the trunk.
"Did he say something to you?" Remus pressed. "About the attack?"
Sirius refused to reply. He only dropped his head back, as though the leaves overhead held some great interest for him. James remained equally uncommunicative, and so Remus repeated the inquiry to Peter.
"Padfoot saw his brother after you lot went to McGonagall's, and he..." Wormtail trailed off. The rest, presumably, cast Sirius in something of an unfavorable light.
"And," Sirius picked up dryly, "I told Regulus that he and his death eater mates would get what was coming to them."
"And they started quarreling, and then someone started hexing..."
Sirius rubbed the large, purple bruise on his cheek appreciatively. "In Pete's defense," he said, assuming a solemn expression, "he tried to tell me to lay off before he scuttled off to fetch my leashes."
"Well what was I supposed to do?" snapped Peter. He sat down on the grass near James's feet. "You were being an idiot. Regulus had all of his mates there, and what if—what if you're right about them?" He flushed scarlet, but his eyes drifted out across the glassy lake. A crease formed over his brow, and he continued heatedly: "What if you're right about his mates? If they are what you say—if they are death eaters? Do you want to—to-to start trouble with them?"
"That's exactly what I want to do," Sirius replied. He sat up now—leaned forward over his bent knees. "I'm already in trouble with them, Wormtail. What do you imagine it means to be a disinherited Black, anyway? I'm in trouble with them, and I plan on continuing to get into trouble with them whenever and however I can."
"But you don't want to get expelled," Remus spoke up, finally joining the others on the grass. "And you're already on probation, Padfoot..."
"Oh, who cares?" Sirius relaxed again. "There's a war on. School isn't..."
"You can't think like that," argued Remus. "If you go starting fights with every sodding pureblood out there, you'll..."
"Catch a few death eaters?"
"End up dead or in Azkaban."
"Everyone ends up dead eventually," said Sirius carelessly, and Peter looked back at him immediately.
"What are you talking like that for, Padfoot?" he asked. "That doesn't... it's..."
"What? Spit it out, Wormtail."
"Don't you... don't you think we're going to win?" It sounded more like an accusation.
"I have no idea if we're going to win," said Sirius. "That's how it works, you know."
Peter's gaze fell again. "How can we win, though?" he asked slowly. "If the death eaters can do something like this? Just—just march into a room and kill dozens of witches and wizards... we—we can't possibly win against that..." He looked earnestly to Sirius for an answer, and then to James, but the latter had not uttered a word since the latter two arrived, and he now maintained that pattern. His long, calloused fingers sat interlaced in his lap, and he stared at those, lost to his own thoughts and apparently indifferent to the conversation that developed around him. "What happens if we lose?" Peter went on.
Sirius was the one to reply. "The war?" he said with a shrug. "Like I said—everyone ends up dead eventually."
"So that's it?" Wormtail stared incredulously between his three friends. "You're just—giving up? We're all going to die, is that it? Like Sam and the others..."
At last, his words affected Sirius. He started and looked to James, who, on the other hand, had not batted an eye. "Shut up, Wormtail," Sirius ordered, and Peter obeyed, but still James did not stir. For the moment, he was unreachable. Sirius looked at him sadly, but Prongs only continued to gaze down at his fingers. Remus crossed his legs and stared out across the lake. Peter fell back on the grass, eyes turned to the sky. His friends' thoughts dwelled in the last two days—all that had happened, all that had been lost, but Peter's mind grew far more troubled, for he could think only of what was to come. So the Marauders sat in the silence that followed, as the last remnants of light faded, and the night swallowed them up.
(To be continued)
A/N: I was not expecting to end the chapter here at all. Even when I decided to split it in two, I was not expecting this, but there you go.
On that magically cheerful note—
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