The whining sound, it turned out, was the least of their problems. Remus, for some reason, was having the hardest time dealing with it, pressing his hands over his ears and sinking low into the seat, as though he was trying to find a way to avoid it.
"We should move," James said, standing up quickly. "We need to find out if this is just happening in our compartment, or if it's audible all over the train."
Sirius agreed quickly, and Peter stood as he did. Lily, however, was concerned. "I don't know if Remus will be able to move."
Looking up from where he'd slid, Remus winced as he took his hands from over his ears. "Just go stop it. Please."
James nodded. "It'll be all right soon enough, mate. Sirius, Peter, you head down to the end of the train. Ev – er, Lily and I will head towards the front and the prefects' car, all right?"
"Sounds good to me, James. Come on, Peter, let's go." Sirius immediately pushed the car door open and headed out, but not before he sent a wink James's direction.
"James, you can't be in the prefects' car," Lily protested as she followed James out of the compartment, anyway. "That's only for the prefects and…"
"The Head Boy and Girl. Yes, I'm well aware of the rules," James shot back as he started to pick up the pace. "I don't know about you, but this sound is making me nervous… edgy, almost."
"It's not even a mechanical-sounding whine," Lily said. "I mean, it doesn't sound like the motor's breaking down or anything."
"The Hogwarts Express doesn't use a motor," James informed her as they opened up the door to the prefects' car.
"James! Lily!" A boy in his fifth year stood up quickly. "We've been wondering if we shouldn't go and find you. That noise is getting louder by the second."
James nodded. "We thought it might have been just in our car, so we came down here to see if you blokes were hearing it too."
"We're hearing it, all right," Miranda Blake, a fellow seventh year from Ravenclaw, said. "It's driving me absolutely crazy."
"Maybe we ought to go up to the first car, whatever they call that," Lily suggested, "and see if there's something we can do."
"Right then," James agreed. "We'll see you lot when we get back."
"James?" Lily asked, as a thought occurred to her. "Why… I mean… who's Head Boy this year?"
James raised his eyebrows and then searched her face with his eyes, as though he couldn't believe she was asking the question. "You mean it wasn't in your letter?"
"No, it wasn't," Lily snapped. "If it was, I wouldn't be asking, would I?"
James let out a startled laugh. "And here I'd thought you had mellowed," he marveled to himself.
"I'm Head Boy, Lily."
She couldn't help herself. Logically, she'd understood that was the case when they'd both entered the prefects' car, but that didn't mean she'd really grasped the whole of the situation until just then. She cursed.
"What did you just say?" James asked, a little shocked.
Graciously, Lily repeated the word for him and then moved around him to open the door of the engineer's compartment.
grumpy-looking older man turned around in his seat and looked at them through thick, black-rimmed glasses. "What do you want?"
"We wanted to find out about the noise that everyone's hearing," James said instantly, not giving Lily a chance to talk. "Is there a problem with the train?"
Suddenly, the train began to rock and came to a grinding, jarring stop. "I would say there is now," the engineer said a little breathlessly. "Dumbledore. I need to call Dumbledore."
"What do you think it is?" Lily asked, following on the engineer's heels as he walked to another part of the compartment.
"I think we're under attack, that's what I think. The only way this train could be making that particular sound was if someone was trying to get past the wards – and got pretty bloody close to doing so."
"Is there anything we can do?" James asked.
"We need a way to make sure whoever's doing this stays back – way back," the engineer said instantly. "Leastwise until Dumbledore can get here."
"Like a temporary Warding Charm?" Lily said.
"That would be perfect, but there's no one on board here that can do that, surely…" the engineer began, but he
didn't get to finish, as James and Lily were already headed out the door.
"I can cast it," Lily began, "but I've got to get outside the train so I can hit it all, and we'd better do it fast. The way this train is moving, our attackers are getting closer."
"I know a way to get to the outside of the train," James said.
"Why does that not surprise me?"
"Because I'm brilliant, that's why. Come on!"
James led her past several compartments until he came to a red ladder. Lily had never really cared for heights, or ladders, but she didn't have a lot of choice in the matter.
"Up here?" she asked tentatively, just to be on the safe side.
"Yes, up here. I'll be behind you all the way, Lily, I promise. If you fall, you'll take me down with you."
On an unexpected laugh, Lily climbed up the ladder and began her mantra of "it's not so bad" to get herself through it. When she reached the top of the ladder, she found there was a door.
"Turn the handle counterclockwise and push down," James instructed from behind her. "Be careful to turn it the right way, though. If you turn it clockwise, you get hit with a nasty curse in very private areas."
"I'm not even going to ask," Lily muttered, and followed James's instructions to the letter. She was immediately greeted by very strong winds. "James!"
"Pull yourself up there and sit down," James said, "and then cast a Sticking Charm on the soles of your feet. You won't be going anywhere."
Lily nodded. "Okay. That sounds easy enough."
James laughed at her, but it wasn't a mean sort of laugh. "Yes, it's pretty easy."
"Be quiet," Lily shouted down to him as she focused on getting herself onto the ledge of the train without falling. "I don't go around trying to kill myself every two weeks or so, so this is a new experience for me. Unlike you."
"Why, Lily, I'm honored that you noticed."
Lily let out an exasperated sigh. "You're insufferable. You know that, right?"
James shrugged. "I've been told so a time or two. Are you ready?"
"Yes," Lily said determinedly.
"Right then. Stand up and get out of the way so that I can get up there with you."
"James!" Lily hissed again. "I can see them."
"Them. Our attackers, you know?"
"Oh… Well, I'm kind of concentrating really hard at the moment. I'm also fairly sure the wards will hold for another few minutes. Dumbledore's really brilliant at this sort of thing."
"Will the wards block the Killing Curse?" Lily asked.
"No, but if it comes to that, we'll work something out. You need to cast the Charm so that nobody gets hurt, all right? Don't think about anything else other than that."
Lily nodded. "Right. I can do that."
With the ease born of a lifetime of Quidditch, James pushed himself up and was soon standing on top of the train next to Lily. "Let's get to business, then."
"All right. Can you cast the Shield Charm?" At James's nod, Lily continued, "Good. Then you'd better cast it around both of us. I'm going to be very vulnerable to attack whilst I'm casting the Ward."
"I'm not sure I like the sound of this," James began.
"Too late now. I've made my decision. Besides, it won't take me that long." Lily turned and smiled at James, and he knew he was done for.
Without another word, Lily moved over close to him, and James cast the first Shield Charm.
It took a moment for Lily to get her bearings and concentrate standing next to James, but she soon found it was more of a help than a hindrance. Around him she felt safer than she did most other places outside Hogwarts. After all, he was a brilliant student, and even better yet, he could apply what he learned in the classroom outside of it.
Meanwhile, James kept scanning his surroundings, noting with some degree of panic that the numbers of cloaked figures surrounding the train were growing every minute. Come on, Lily… he thought, as he struggled to maintain his concentration on the shield.
"Impedetra!" Lily shouted, and the train was rocked with a different kind of light. A yellow flower enveloped its entirety.
Immediately, the cloaked figures started swarming to a central location. They all looked up at the two figures standing on top of the train.
"Let's go, Lily. They've spotted us, and I don't know how much longer I can keep this up."
Lily looked up, a little shocked at the results of her effort. "I didn't know I could… I mean, I knew I could…"
"Lily!" James shouted. "Let's go. Pretty soon they're going to be taking shots at us individually. I don't care if you've got the best damn wards in all of Britannia! That makes me bloody nervous!"
As the first curse hit the wards, Lily panicked too. "It's makes me nervous, as well. Let's go!"
Quicker than she ever thought she would be able to move, Lily scrambled down the ladder ahead of James, who was right on her heels. Once they were safely halfway down the ladder, James shut the door to the outside of the train with a bang.
At the bottom, Lily collapsed against one of the walls, shivery and cold now that it was all over.
"Hey, Lily!" James sat down next to her, took off his glasses and wiped them on his sweater. It was an endearingly habitual movement of his. "You did it! You really did it! That was… that was amazing!"
A shaky chuckle escaped her lips. "I did, didn't I? Let's just hope it works until Dumbledore and some of the other staff get here."
Jerkily, the train started moving again. Lily held on to the wall for a moment, and then laughed at her own jumpiness.
"Let's go find the rest of the blokes and check in with the other prefects," James suggested, pushing himself off the wall and then offering her a hand up. "The worst of it's over. We've just got to deal with the aftermath now."
"Right," Lily agreed, and despite of herself, accepted James's hand up. "I think the first order of business will be damage control on Sirius and Peter. After we check up on Remus, which I guess doesn't make the whole Sirius and Peter thing the first order of business, after all."
James laughed. "I think Remus will be fine now that the high-pitched noise has stopped. He's sensitive to things like that."
Lily raised her eyebrows and shrugged. "We'd best start looking in with the first years. If I know Sirius, after the danger is gone, he's going to go start terrifying them with other things."
"Like what?" James asked, halfway insulted, but even more interested.
"Like… like last year, when he convinced them that the Sorting Ceremony was having to fit six marshmallows in your mouth while riding a dragon. Honestly! And he's just genuine enough to convince them of it, too," Lily said, trying to hide her amusement, but not quite succeeding.
"That was funny," James protested, and began to laugh. "The looks on their faces, Lily! Come on. Don't tell me you didn't think that was priceless."
"Well, it was funny," Lily admitted reluctantly. "Let's go."
Finding Sirius and Peter was, surprisingly enough, relatively easy. They were back in the car they had started in.
"What are you doing here?" James asked suspiciously. "I thought you would be elsewhere…"
"Like where?" Sirius asked, grinning from ear to ear. "I've got all year to make sure Alicia Denog's chest is still as large as ever."
James rolled his eyes heavenward and Lily blushed.
"Actually," Remus said, rubbing his forehead, "we were told to stay here."
"By who?" James asked.
"By me," said Professor Dumbledore from behind them. "I see that perhaps this working relationship won't be as painful for everyone involved as I had previously anticipated."
Sirius let out a hoot of laughter, Remus smiled shyly, and James chuckled.
It was then that Lily Evans realized that maybe she didn't dislike James Potter as much as she had thought.
Thanks everyone, for your reviews and kind words! I hope you continue to read the story. It's turning out rather well, if I do say so myself.