Lily held her wand out in front of her, the light shining a narrow beam through the dark of the forest. Dorcas clasped her more firmly around the waist and said, “Next time you get the bright idea of studying centaurs in their natural habitat, resist the urge to share it with me, okay?”
Lily sighed, “Promise. But it could be worse – at least the moon is out.”
Despite Dorcas’ complaints, Lily thought things weren’t so bad really – yes, they were wandering around the Forbidden Forest, almost completely lost, and her ankle was twisted or broken or something, but it was a pleasant evening, and, after all, Dorcas and she were overdue for a little adventure.
Dorcas smiled at her and said, “Still, anything’s better than listening to Black and Potter talking about how they’ll never get a better Beater than Shacklebolt.”
Lily brushed a strand of hair out of her face, the wandlight dancing madly across the undergrowth. “They can’t still be talking about that,” she said. “It’s been two years since he left…was that a rat?”
“Lily! Don’t scream – my ears.”
“Sorry. I just…I hate rats.”
“Yeah. Anyway they’re still talking about it. After every single practise.”
Dorcas was a Chaser on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, which meant she was frequently involved in roaring matches with Potter over tactics – Lily would have backed her up, but she didn’t really understand the fine details of the argument. Dorcas gave her a side-glance. “And speaking of those two...”
“It’s just…you don’t hate James as much as you say you do, do you?”
“I don’t hate anyone.”
“If you think I don’t know that that’s not an answer…”
”All right – I don’t hate him. It’s just…he acts like such a…and he’s better than that, you know? He’s not stupid; he should know that it’s not acceptable to be like that…and he’s always messing with his hair. Always!”
They heard a loud rustling in the bushes and Dorcas asked shakily, “What was that?” They stood for a moment, wands raised, as the noise approached. After about thirty seconds a stag crossed the path ahead of them, and they both giggled. They started their lopsided walk again, as Lily said, “What did we think it was exactly? A werewolf? A manticore?”
Dorcas poked her in the stomach. “Don’t make me laugh – I’ll drop you.”
“So how are things with Sirius?”
“Come on Dorcas – I know you fancy him.”
“Everyone fancies Sirius.”
Dorcas’ voice was flat and slightly sad, and Lily looked at her gently. “You know, I think you underestimate your chances.”
“Of course I do – he’d go out with anyone who’d go out with him, no not even go out with him, but you know it wouldn’t mean anything.”
“And you wouldn’t?”
“Come on Lily – it would be a bad idea. I mean, yeah he’s good-looking, but I’m not about to go out with a guy when I know he doesn’t care…I have some self-respect.”
“I wasn’t suggesting…”
“Well I am. You know I’m right. You’re lucky you’re impervious to his charms. How did that happen anyway?”
“He just…kind of…reminds of a big, lolloping dog. And he’s as arrogant as Potter.”
“Please don’t start that again.”
“Another of your Potter-related rants – I mean, Lily, if I didn’t know better I’d swear you fancied him, you notice so much…”
“Don’t say that! It might come true.”
They were silent for a moment and Lilly became aware of the pain in her ankle again. She did the Four-Point Charm and sighed – apparently they were going too far to the east. As they turned themselves around something struck Lily, and she looked at Dorcas playfully. “You shouldn’t listen to all that rubbish Gretta Catchlove comes out with.”
“I know you don’t. But you shouldn’t. Because you’re really pretty – everyone says so. Especially Gaspard Shingleton.”
“Lily! Don’t go on about that again. I don’t fancy him…he’s too nice, and…boring.”
“Okay, okay – I’ll leave it.”
Dorcas sounded outraged but Lily was sure it had made her feel better – between an hour long discussion of beauty charms with Gretta earlier on in the day, and Sirius’ apparent lack of interest (which Lily suspected was somewhat feigned on his part) Dorcas had been slightly down. And it was so stupid for her to feel bad about her looks! She wasn’t a perfect beauty (but then who was) but she had a sweet face and bright eyes and beautiful honey-brown hair, and Lily just didn’t understand why she worried about it so much.
They heard the undergrowth crash once more, and turned, wands at the ready, to see Sirius and Potter standing behind them. “What are you doing here?” Lily said, not realising how harsh she sounded.
“We’re here to rescue you – knights in shining armour and all that. What happened?”
Potter sounded put out and, with a look at Lily that said not to antagonise him further, Dorcas said, “Lily tripped on a tree root. We had an encounter with a fairly large spider.”
“An ‘encounter’? Are you sure you’re all right?” Sirius grinned at them, and Lily could see the charmed look in her friend’s eyes.
“Well it was…big and…scary, but we’re fine.” Dorcas’ voice became businesslike again. “Can I put you down for a second, Lily?”
Lily nodded, but before she could manoeuvre herself into a sitting position, Potter had clasped her round the waist – he was quite a bit taller than her, so it was awkward, but she could see Dorcas rubbing the shoulder she’d been leaning on, so she didn’t say anything.
“Do you know where we are?”
Sirius grunted. “Why do you think we’re here? Are you lost, Meadows?”
“Yes! And we’ve been using Point-Me and it’s no help and Lily’s ankle is broken, so if you don’t mind…”
“Don’t you like the forest Dorcas? All dark and romantic?”
She flushed at his mocking tone and Lily rushed to her defence, saying “Look idiot, I have a broken bone, and even with the Numbing Charm it kind of hurts, so if you do know the way out can we please go?”
“All right, Evans, keep your shirt on!”
“Padfoot!” Potter’s voice was strangely urgent, and Sirius appeared to remember himself. The two boys stared at each other for a moment or two, and then Potter said, “Right – Dorcas you go on with Sirius. I’ll bring Lily.”
Lily stared at him, “Why split up?”
“It’s quicker, Evans. No need for her to stay here longer than she has to.”
Lily saw the sense in what he said and closed her mouth. They watched Dorcas and Sirius leave, and Lily thought she saw him take her hand before they were completely out of sight. Potter turned to her, wearing that grin that was so disarming, and said, “So, will you insist on walking or can I carry you?”
“You can carry me?”
“You’re not that big.”
And with that he hefted her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Lily let out a shriek of surprise and disapproval. His shoulder dug into her stomach and he tapped her sharply on one leg. “Stop that – you want to get us caught?”
He continued walking and Lily could sense the purpose in his steps – clearly he knew his way around. There was a smile in his voice as he asked, “What were you doing out here anyway?”
Lily sighed. “You’ll think it’s stupid.”
“I won’t. Promise.”
“I told Dorcas I wanted to study centaurs in their natural environment.”
He sounded confused as he said, “Even you aren’t that interested in centaurs.”
Lily smiled – it was easier, and much less annoying, to talk to him when she couldn’t see his face. “No,” she said, “I’m not – that’s just what I said to Dorcas. She needed cheering up. That damn spider just came out of nowhere.”
“What’s wrong with Dorcas?”
“She’s just a bit down. I mean, it’s a year and a half since her parents died…she still thinks about them sometimes.”
“How did that happen anyway?”
“They were studying Lethifolds in Jamaica.”
Lily sensed he didn’t really know what to say to that, so she continued. “And she thinks the boy she likes doesn’t like her…”
“Who does she like?”
“I’m not telling you!”
“Well, he must be an idiot.”
“That’s what I said! Anyway, she didn’t believe me – she had a talk with Gretta Catchlove at Slughorn’s thing.”
“Gretta’s the worst person in the world to talk to if you’re feeling a bit down – she always knows ‘just the right beauty charm’ to, you know, attract Prince Charming.”
She knew he was smiling as he said, “Yeah, but she’s not exactly good-looking is she? Meadows is much better than her.”
“I’ll make sure to pass that on.”
He shifted her on his shoulder. “You’re very talkative tonight.”
“It takes my mind off the pain. What are you doing here?”
“Oh, you know…projects, things to set in order.”
“Well, if you don’t want to tell me…”
Lily’s voice trailed off and James stopped walking. Slowly he set her back on her feet and took his wand out. Lily whispered, “Is that…did you hear it?”
He nodded. “I don’t know who they are but…maybe we can get round them.”
He looked at her, and Lily saw something like fear flash in his eyes. She shivered, and bent to recast the Numbing Charm – she hoped her intuition was wrong. She knew what was happening in the world – she read the Daily Prophet. The charm done, she stood up and nodded to him – she should be able to limp around the clearing. He took her hand and they were about to start moving when a voice interrupted them.
Suddenly they were seized – someone knocked Lily’s head against a tree-trunk and she went momentarily blind from the pain. When her head cleared they were kneeling in a clearing of the forest. Shadows flickered all around her and she had to clear her eyes. The first thing she saw made her sick to her stomach – a dead unicorn, lying not five feet from where she knelt. A shallow basin had been placed below the great gash in its neck, and the silvery blood was still spurting out. Lily felt tears prick her eyes, and when she looked at James, he looked as though he might vomit. She turned her head to avoid the sight and saw five people standing in a group, most of whom she recognised – Bellatrix Black, Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange, and Lucius Malfoy, who’d been Head Boy when she was a first year.
But the fifth man – Lily had never seen anything so frightening as that face. He had sharply cut, almost handsome features, but his skin was as white as a corpse’s and his eyes were the dark red of old blood. They were fixed on her, and with a smile that made her blood run with fear, he said, “Pretty young Mudblood aren’t you?”
Lily was shaking – she knew who this man was – and it was only when James took her hand, his fingers steady and warm, that she could bring herself under control. She stared at that hateful face and said, “My name is Lily Evans.”
She shivered at the laughter that rang round the clearing, and concentrated hard on James, his arm strong and his face set beside her. The man twisted his wand in his fingers and said, “So far as I can remember, Hogwarts students are not supposed to be out of bounds at night. Perhaps a little punishment is in order.”
Bellatrix surged forward eagerly, and Lily felt a twist in her gut – they’d been prefects together only the year before and now…
The man Lily knew to be Voldemort raised a hand sharply and Bellatrix stopped – he could make Bellatrix Black stop. She remembered all too clearly Bellatix’s more than usually deranged temperament, and shuddered at the thought that there was actually someone who could control it. His gaze shifted to James, and Lily nearly sank from relief that those eyes were no longer staring at her. “So, one of the Potters? I’d recognise the hair anywhere.”
James’ jaw shook with anger and he said nothing. Voldemort continued, his voice silky, “You could join us…you have the right blood, and enough power. Aside from the misplaced affection for the Mudblood, you have all we need.”
James stared at him for a moment, and it seemed to cost him some effort to control his voice. “Her name is Lily Evans. And I’d die before I’d…”
Voldemort seemed almost satisfied at this outcome and his eyes traced James’ face as he said, “Typical Gryffindor stupidity. Well boy, it shall not end well for you…Let us see what this Lily Evans can do, shall we?”
He gestured sharply to Bellatrix, who came forward, licking her lips in anticipation. Lily looked desperately around her, but there was no way to avoid this fight. She stood, her knees shaking, and moved slowly towards Bellatrix. She could feel James’ anguished eyes burning into her back, and she frantically hoped that he would take this opportunity, when all eyes were fixed on her, to run. But she knew he would not – James Potter had his faults, but cowardice wasn’t one of them.
As she stared at Bellatrix, feeling her ankle starting to twinge again, she heard Voldemort say, “Well, let us be honourable. Miss Evans may take the first shot.” A ghost of a plan shot through her brain, and, almost without thinking about it, she raised her wand and muttered the words. Something large and silver shot from her wandtip and sped out of the clearing – to Dorcas.
What happened next was so fast it would take Lily several minutes to reconstruct the events later – James, perhaps having guessed what she was going to do, slammed into her and knocked her to the ground. Bellatrix sent a curse in their direction – which missed, but slammed into a tree, blowing a crater in its base. Just after the curse left her wand, Voldemort stepped forward and stayed her hand – Lily could almost detect a trace of surprise in his voice as he said, “We cannot kill them now. The Mudblood has sent a message. We must leave this place before Dumbledore gets here.”
“But Master! His powers are nothing to yours! Murder them and teach the Muggle-loving fool a lesson.”
Lily stood up, holding onto her wand. The Death Eaters surrounded her and James – they stood back-to-back, wands out and raised. Lily felt almost faint, waiting for the curses to start, but the Death Eaters awaited their master’s command.
He seemed angry as he said, “Wands down! All of you. I will deal with this. Rabastan, save the Unicorn blood. The rest of you – leave now.”
There seemed to be some resistance to this order, and he turned to face them. “Soon Dumbledore will be here to defend his students – if any of you think you are a match for him, you will find yourselves mistaken. Unless you wish to be caught – leave now.”
By the time Voldemort had turned to face them again, the Death Eaters had scattered. He stared at Lily, reaching out a finger to touch her chin – “You violated the terms of our agreement. You have broken what little honour you possess.”
“No she didn’t!”
“Do you presume to question me, boy?”
“He’s right.” Lily’s voice was steadier than she had anticipated. “You offered me the first shot – you didn’t say it had to be at Bellatrix.”
He quirked an eyebrow at her and said, “I’ll not forget this.”
And then he raised his wand and Lily felt it – pain beyond anything she had ever imagined, beyond words, beyond bearing. And James felt it too for she heard him screaming. And she could not pass out – she wished, she strained to collapse into gentle oblivion, but she could not.
And then it was gone – and the light that had flickered in the clearing was gone – and Lily collapsed to the ground. Slowly she lifted her head – James lay close-by. Her arms ached as she lifted herself off the ground and crawled over to him, her balance shaky. She fell back to the ground just as she reached him – she managed to stretch an arm up to his shoulder.
“James! Are you all right?”
Somehow, Lily managed a hoarse laugh at that before she passed out.
* * *
The hospital wing was full of a golden light when Lily awoke. She opened her eyes, and smiled when she realised where she was – it took her a moment to sit up, but she managed it. The bed was soft and the sheets crisp and clean – Lily felt fine.
She looked up to see Dorcas and Marlene smiling at her. “How long have I been asleep?” she asked, her voice a croak.
Marlene shook her head. “It’s half three now, Lily.”
She rubbed her head, confused, and smiled at Dorcas. “You got my message then?”
“Yes. Thank God you made me learn that charm.”
Marlene flicked her long black plait over her shoulder and said, “Lily is it true, what James has been saying?”
Lily looked to the bed beside hers – James lay in it, his friends sitting beside the bed. He winked at her, and she turned back to Marlene. “What’s he said?”
“That you saw You-Know-Who.”
Lily sighed. “Yeah. They killed a unicorn.”
Dorcas gasped and tears pricked Lily’s eyes again. “What possible reason could there be for doing that? He wasn’t dying…and a unicorn!”
Marlene stared into the middle-distance, chewing on her lower lip. “Well… A lot of potions need unicorn blood but… usually it has to be fresh. Were they brewing a potion?”
“No. One of them poured it into a flask.”
“I don’t know, Lily.”
They were silent for a few moments and then Marlene stood. “I’m really sorry Lily but I have to go – Head Girl stuff. Travers has already been up twice demanding that I stop ‘wasting my time’ here. Roisín and Kumar said they’d pop up at some stage by the way – and Ann and Arnold were here earlier.”
Lily smiled and gave her friend a hug. “Thanks Marlene. I’ll probably be able to leave soon anyway.”
The Head Girl left them, and Dorcas leaned over to Lily and said, “Looks like they’ve patched up that fight anyway,” in a low voice. And it was true – for the first time in weeks Remus, Peter, Sirius and James were talking and laughing as they always had.
They were given perfect proof of this when the three boys pushed James’ bed against Lily’s. Dorcas hopped on to the end of Lily’s bed with a squeak of surprise. Once they had settled down, and Lily had assured them that yes, she was all right, she turned back to Dorcas. “So, what did you do when you got the message?” she asked.
Dorcas curled her legs up under her and leaned back against the pillow James threw to her. “Well,” she said, “someone abandoned me at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, so I was on my own.” Sirius shifted uncomfortably. “Anyway, I ran to Hagrid’s and he went off to tell Dumbledore. He told me to stay in his cabin.”
Lily snorted – she could tell what was coming. “I take it you didn’t.”
Dorcas laughed. “Of course not.” The four boys stared at her – this was plainly a surprise.
“Anyway. I went back into the woods – I knew it had to be important or you wouldn’t have…and when it struck me that it might be Death Eaters, well…you’re a…so I needed to get there.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Lily said, remembering the Cruciatus Curse.
Dorcas sighed. “The thing is though, I would have got there, if I hadn’t run in to this bloody great dog.”
James coughed loudly – though it sounded suspiciously like a snort of laughter. Lily even smiled. “Just how big was this dog?”
“It was bloody huge, Lily! It stood about as high as my chin.”
“Don’t blame the dog cause you’re titchy.”
Dorcas slapped Lily’s leg. “I’m not small. I’m concentrated! Anyway, the bloody thing just sat there – staring at me.”
“It didn’t bite you or anything?”
“No. It knocked me over a few times – when I tried to get round it – but most of the time it just looked at me like it wanted to eat me.” Which, curiously enough, was exactly the way Sirius was staring at Dorcas now – Lily frowned at him, but thankfully Dorcas hadn’t noticed.
Remus spoke up – “Well, why didn’t you curse it or blast it out of your way or something?”
“Well, my parents used to breed Hell-hounds – I know what a canine feeding-frenzy looks like, so I wasn’t exactly keen on starting one if I was going to be eaten.” Sirius coughed.
“Anyway – I got so worried about you two that I was going to stun it or something, but then…a werewolf appeared out of nowhere.”
Lily sat up straight. “A werewolf – are you sure?”
“Well, no. The dog started fighting with it immediately so…I didn’t get a proper look at it, but…from my vast experience with werewolves…it looked like one.”
“What did you do?”
“Climbed a tree. A Shield Charm’s not much good against a werewolf. Anyway, I hadn’t been up there too long when Dumbledore arrived.”
“Where had the dogs gone?”
“I don’t know – I wasn’t exactly following them.”
Remus stood up and walked to the window. Lily narrowed her eyes at this – the other three were unusually quiet – what was going on? James nailed Dorcas with a gaze like a hawk, “Did you say anything to him?”
She squirmed. “No.”
“What!” Lily could barely contain herself. “Why not?”
“Well, Lily, what if…if it’s someone we know? They could be expelled.”
“Dorcas, they’d just changed into a werewolf – they’ll need to be brought here. It’s supposed to be really painful.”
“But Lily – they could be expelled.”
James was looking from one girl’s face to the other, as was Sirius. Peter, meanwhile, was staring at Remus, or possibly out the window.
“Dumbledore wouldn’t expel someone for that – it’s not their fault. But if there’s a werewolf running around the forest they could kill someone, Dorcas, without even knowing it.”
“Yes, I know that, but Lily, like I said…what if it’s someone we know?”
The full significance of Dorcas’ words hit her then, and suddenly all the pieces fit together in Lily’s mind. It was so obvious – it was the perfect explanation for why he was sick all the time.
James must have seen the inspiration dawning in her face, for he suddenly and loudly said, “So, Evans, after last night, want to go to Hogsmeade with me?”
Lily stared at him, her mind still making a few last connections. Finally she managed to sputter, “I don’t…believe you, Potter!”
He looked wounded and said, “What?”
“Just when I think…just when you start acting decent, you go and…” Her voice trailed off in fury, and she folded her arms and stared over at Dorcas, who was laughing at them. Lily glared at her, and Dorcas raised an eyebrow. Sensing Lily’s anger she started to talk, “But it’s not all bad news. John sent me an owl this morning – he’s taking me to Paris this summer.”
Lily stretched a smile across her face. “I suppose he feels bad after the Amazon Basin last summer.”
Sirius stared. “Who’s John?”
Dorcas glanced at him. “My half-brother. How can you have known me six years and not know about John?”
Fortunately, perhaps, Madam Pomfrey came bustling in – tension now stretched between Dorcas and Sirius, Lily and James, and Remus and, well, everyone else. The room was full of tense, stretching silences. She ordered the other students out, saying she had to check over Lily and James – and then disappeared into a small alcove, looking for their next course of potions.
While she was gone, Lily leaned over and said, “James – just so I don’t put my foot in it again, tell me, am I wrong?”
He stared at her. “Lily…I can’t…”
“Okay. I understand. It doesn’t change anything and I don’t know what it is you do, but – you know I like Remus – but if this happens again…I’ll tell Dumbledore. I don’t want to, but…”
She felt awful – James’ face was stricken, and she didn’t even like the idea of telling on one of her friends, but, it was the right thing to do. He surprised her though – James reached his hand over and clasped hers. “Deal,” he said, “But from now on – you don’t know anything, and you don’t notice anything.”
Lily smiled. “Fair enough.”
They sat back on their pillows and each stifled a groan as Madam Pomfrey approached.