James' single remaining antler was swept back on his head as Lily, hanging onto it, was blown backwards by their speed of passage. He could only keep this pace for a little while, but that was all that was needed. Peter was clinging to Lily's cloak, as he wouldn't have found enough of a hold on Sirius' or Remus' fur as they raced alongside. Sirius was slightly in front, nose lowered to the ground, following the scent of the young manticore. He wasn't slowing them down at all – he was stronger and faster than the other two could hope to be, an indication of his human form. He didn't really need his wand to be powerful, James mused; he could almost be a strongman in a Muggle circus.
Suddenly, Mr. Muscles slowed down, and James almost plowed into the back of him. Lily slid forward a few inches, only just managing to not impale herself of his antler; Peter squeaked loudly in terror. Sirius motioned with a paw. Lily jumped down and walked cautiously toward the little hold he'd indicated.
"Animal Revelius!" she whispered and nodded. There was something in there alright, and it was still alive. James became human and peered inside. He could see a little blurred shape.
Lily pointed her want down the hold and cast a water charm, waking and enraging the little creature. A dozen deadly, poison-soaked spines came sizzling out of the hole, and James only just got out of the way in time. Then it came rocketing out of the hole and launched itself at Remus. However, manticores aren't stupid, and when it saw it was attacking a werewolf, it tried to stop in mid-air. A werewolf couldn't kill a manticore, but it could definitely hurt if, and if something strong were to come along after, the manticore wouldn't survive. It nose-dived into the earth at Remus' feet, and that was all the time Lily and James needed.
Lily hurried forward, wrapped the young animal's deadly tail in James' grudgingly given shirt, and slung it across Sirius' back. He grunted at the weight. When she turned back around, James was already a stag. She jumped onto his back, and she barely had time to pull Peter off his antler and place him securely in her pocket before grabbing the antler herself before James surged forward in pursuit of the other two.
* * *
Ten more minutes saw them back at the hollow, just in time for the riskiest part of the plan. They all had to be careful here.
Lily pulled the manticore off Sirius' back and handed the shirt to James, who carefully checked it for poisonous spines before putting it back on. He and Peter both had their wands out and ready. Lily pulled out her own wand after getting the manticore into the right position. "May as well practice this," she muttered, non-verbally creating a spa-sized bucket and filling in with boiling water. The cold of the night air would cool it quickly, but they didn't need it to be very hot. She stepped back to stand with the other two. "Ready?" They nodded and all pointed their wands at the slumbering animal.
"Engorgio!" they all said, and it began to swell monstrously in size, quickly becoming as large as the largest of the spiders, and then even larger. It began to wake up as it outgrew the stunning charm. Lily let go of the growth charm for a moment and re-stunned it. When it was the size of a small house and beginning to be pressed by the trees around it, they raised their wands. Peter stared in horrified fascination.
"You know what we just did?" asked Lily in a quiet voice. "We just created the most dangerous animal in the world – not counting dragons. Is this right?" James patted her shoulder.
"I don't think so," he said, giving her a quick squeeze. "But it's what needs doing. I just hope we didn't make it too big. The spiders need to be able to weaken it. I don't think a stunner would work anymore."
"Guys..." said Peter. They ignored him; this wasn't PDA.
"Not only three, anyway," James continued right through Peter's interruption. "But we should be able to finish it off once the spiders have bitten it enough."
"Can we do that though?" asked Lily. "I mean, it's huge now, but in its mind it's still a baby – still too young to forage or anything. Can we kill a baby?"
"GUYS! They're coming!"
James broke contact with Lily and ran to Peter's side. Spiders were marching slowly over the lip of the hollow. He grabbed Peter's arm and dragged him back to Lily. "Peter, you do the water; Lily, on three, okay?" Lily nodded, more hesitantly than James would have liked. No time to worry about it, though. No time to count either. "Three!"
"Wingardium Leviosa!" The manticore and the bucket rose into the air – the manticore drifting to a place from which to attack the spiders, the bucket directly over its head. The plan was to wake it up and then enrage it with boiling water, hoping that the spiders would be the first things it saw. Lily and James set it down and prepared to slowly bring it back to consciousness.
"Wait until some of them have gone past it," said James, whispering for some reason. "That way, it'll attack all of them at once." Lily nodded again. Sweat was beading on Peter's forehead from holding a thousand liters of water in the air for so long.
"Enervate!" The beast's eyes fluttered and popped open; suddenly, the bucket disappeared.
A ton of near-boiling water fell on its head – scalding, burning, and making it crazy.
The spiders began to converge around it, but none of them got near. The spines were killing them all. None got within ten meters.
It was over quickly.
The few survivors raced to the hollow, dying as they went. Only twenty made it back alive. One died right as he reached safety, its body tumbling over the edge. James found himself hoping it hit that big one, who seemed to be the leader.
The manticore itself was untouched, but it was still enraged. It wandered around, smashing trees and occasionally shooting a spine into a twitching corpse, not seeing the humans who had flattened themselves against trees to hide, or the dog and wolf in a fold of the ground.
But then – suddenly – the spiders were back, more than last time, more even than they'd seen in the hollow, bigger, faster, and from every direction. They still dropped dead from the spines, but they were getting closer and closer; they'd reach it soon. And then, even more suddenly then the spiders had been, there were no spines left. It'd run out. Spiders were all over it, tearing and biting. They still died from teeth and claws and stinger; a dozen were knocked to pieces with each twitch of its sail-like wings, but it was getting weaker. It would soon be overcome. Something hit James' arm, knocking his concentration from the manticore. Lily was beside him.
"James, we can't let this happen!" James took a moment to understand.
"But this was your plan!"
"My plan was wrong! It's a baby!"
"It's a killing machine!"
"It's still a baby!"
James sighed, yanked out his wand, and nodded at the others, who'd been watching. Sirius and Remus leapt forward eagerly, tearing apart the spiders still coming in. Peter and Lily immediately began stunning the spiders. The others obviously felt the same way as Lily, and James was no different. He didn't want a baby to die, but stunning wasn't going to be good on the spiders for long.
"Ava-" he began, but he immediately thought better of it. "Reducio!"
"Reducio!Reducio!Reducio!" Spiders shrank all around the monster and died from Sirius' and Remus' teeth – they'd finished off the reinforcements and were killing those all around the luckiest baby manticore in the world, carefully keeping clear of its weaponry. Not that it showed any desire to kill them – all its fury was gone and it was now fighting to escape. It recognized help when it saw it.
This time, no spiders returned to the hollow. The manticore went thundering through the forest. Lily ran to James, who'd already seen the problem. They'd just been fighting to save its life, but they couldn't leave it thundering around in the forest – he and Lily had both been right. It was still a baby, but it was also a killing machine. It couldn't be allowed to remain.
Lily jumped onto his now wider back, and Peter climbed up his leg. They raced off after it, the single antler once again pulling backwards.
* * *
Ten minutes' sprint later, their gargantuan quarry slowed. It hadn't been able to take off through the trees, and it looked exhausted – despite the lion's body, manticores were not built for running, as their wings just got in the way too much. Besides, its injuries couldn't be helping. Once it found a space large enough to do so, it lay down. Five minutes later, it was asleep. Lily slipped down from James' back, and he instantly became human again. "What are we going to do with it?" he asked. "We can't leave it alone."
"No, but we can at least shrink it," replied Lily, pulling out her wand. "Come on, one wand alone isn't going to do this." James pulled out his wand, and he half-saw Peter grow abruptly and do the same. "On three. Three. Reducio!" The baby manticore was soon baby-sized again and sleeping even more deeply. Lily looked at it almost fondly; James frowned.
"But now what? Even at this size, it's dangerous. Those spines will grow back in about a week, and then it's a killing machine again." Lily frowned too, but in thought rather than frustration. Then her eyes lit up, and she turned to face James.
"And it's an endangered species. No, listen; this is a good idea! We stun it again to make sure it doesn't wake up and freak out, and then we take it somewhere so Hagrid will find it! It won't be able to hurt him, and if he finds it tomorrow, he'll bundle it up and take it someplace where people will look after it! I mean, they look after dragons in Romania; someone somewhere will take in a wounded baby manticore. It's perfect!" James grinned, but not for long.
"Oh no," he breathed, comically horrified, with comprehension dawning on his face. "You're going to need my shirt again, aren't you?"