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In Fields of Poppies by SunshineDaisies
Chapter 1: The Poppies Blow
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Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize.
In Fields of Poppies
Her father’s war was fought with tanks and guns. Bullets flew past him on an almost daily basis; the threat of a bomb falling was constant. He ran through the haze of metal with his men, his friends, his brothers, boys just barely old enough fighting for King and Country on the fields of France and the desert of northern Africa. He somehow came back unscathed. He spoke most often of the light, the awful, bright flashes of light that always preceded pain, or death, and if not for you, for your comrade, friend, brother.
Her grandfather’s war was in the trenches. He lived in damp earth among the rats and bugs while tunnellers planted bombs beneath him, and aircraft dropped shells from above. He saw men blown to bits, and others devastated by disease that rampaged through the ranks. Limbs were stolen by guns or by doctors. Lives too. Sometimes, he would say, they lingered for a while before they died. They spoke of their mothers, or their sweethearts, or their children. It was better when they went quickly. The most surprising thing, he always said, was the noise. It was something you never forgot.
Her war was unlike anything her forefathers could imagine. There was no artillery; she didn’t carry a gun. She didn’t live in a trench, or in a camp, or in any form of barracks at all. She went home after her battles-- they were fought on her homeland, the streets that she wandered through cheerfully as a child became battlefields scattered with bodies and debris. She dodged flashes of light and sent them out herself.
She supposed the light might have been the same, the terrifyingly bright flashes that lit up the night, but what was on the end of them was entirely different. No flying, piercing metal; no hope of surviving if the shooter wanted you dead and you couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. Instant death awaited, quick and painless, unless you were facing someone particularly cruel. There was less pain in the deaths of her war, but she thought (though she could never be sure), there was more fear.
The sounds that surrounded her were minimal. Her battles lacked the explosions, the bangs, the screeching that haunted her father. The silence haunted her. Eerie silence, scattered with shouts of nonsense words, the occasional sound of something collapsing as a shot missed, screams of pain or terror, pops as people came or went. Her grandfather was right; the sound was something you never forgot.
Her grandfather’s war and her father’s war were fought with metal and manpower. Hers was done with magic.
Her grandfather marched through the muddy expanse of no man’s land in the dead of the night to lay the wire or cut the enemy’s. Too often, the bodies of his comrades fell around him as they approached. He spent too many nights lying on his belly, and praying to any God he knew that he might survive.
Her father fought in the infantry. He blindly followed thousands of other men as they marched toward Germany. They fired when they were told, not so much at a target as in a general direction, hoping that they hit the right people. Bullets flew at them, and he prayed and hoped beyond belief that they would fly past him. He was always full of regret when a friend fell next to him.
She appeared from thin air when she was summoned. She was always armed; rarely did her weapon leave her person. The battles she fought were almost never planned. At least, not on her front: they were continually on the defensive. At the drop of a hat, anywhere and anytime, she would be required to appear and fight. As a result, she lived in a constant state of fear; always ready to fight for her life should the need arise.
Her grandfather went to war to do his duty. His country called on him, and so he went. Her father was far more enthusiastic; he went as soon as he could, fighting for his honor and the King’s. She fought because she had to, because she couldn’t sit by and do nothing while those around her died. She fought because this was a war entirely to do with her: her rights, her status, her entire life. Doing nothing had never been an option; her integrity would not allow it. It was always her war to win.
AN: Hello! A bit of a different story than usual here, but I hope you enjoy it :) Many many thanks to the massive number of people I made read this before I started posting.
Update 9/1/15- Fixed some typos! Thanks to everyone who pointed them out! (And please feel free to keep doing that!)
Update 11/8/15- In process of some minor changes. :)
Insert plea for reviews here?
Chapter 2: Short Days Ago
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The Evans family was full of soldiers.
Lily and Petunia grew up listening to their dad’s stories. They were innocent enough at first: he and his mates and the antics they got up to. They became familiar to the girls as their father repeated the same handful of stories over and over. The safe stories, the girls would come to know. The ones their father could tell them knowing those memories would not push him over the edge. Eventually, Petunia stopped listening. Lily started to wonder about the stories they didn’t hear.
Their granddad had stories too. When he was around their father, it turned into a competition; who had it harder? Lily’s father always spoke first. Courtesy, Lily thought. It wasn’t until she was older that she realized Granddad was choosing his stories based on his son’s. When she was alone with her granddad she prodded the real stories out of him. He told her the stories of his battles, so different from those of his son. Like her father’s, they started funny at first, and as she aged, and he aged, they got darker and darker.
“It started,” her grandfather would begin, “when some bloody fools shot the Archduke of someplace-or-another…”
Phillip Evans was called to serve in the middle of the First World War, as soon as they started conscription. He went through basic training, where they taught him to follow orders and shoot a gun. It didn’t take long. In a few short weeks he was assigned to a troop. They lined them up and everyone received a gun.
Soon he was sent to the trenches, somewhere in the middle of France. He was told where he would be sleeping (in a glorified hole with at least six other men), briefed on what went on, and told that he should try to get some shut-eye because that night he’d be out in no man’s land, laying the wire.
“I don’t think I can,” Phil said. “It’s the middle of the day.”
“You’ll get used to it,” his commander responded.
Phil wasn’t so sure.
He lay where he had been told and shut his eyes, but he did not sleep. He listened to the conversations flowing in around him, and the sound of life in the trenches. Shouts of orders, raucous laughing, boxes moving, nails being pounded in, the distant explosion of shells and the pounding of gunfire: the music of war. Eventually the cacophony brought him to a short and restless slumber.
Jack Evans slept soundly as the noise of military life drifted around him. He never had trouble with it; while the men around him tossed and turned well into the night, he fell asleep with ease. He woke early too; the sunlight had never let him sleep for long. During training, his commanders had praised it… to the extent they praised anything, anyway.
He had enlisted early, as soon as he could convincingly tell them he was old enough. The fear in his bright green eyes as he had lied might have given him away. He didn’t think the recruiters cared. He boarded the bus to basic without telling his parents. Instead, he left a note with an address and a promise to write.
Basic went by quickly. They took only enough time to kill the boys and breed the soldiers. Before too long they were shipped off to France with the guns from his father’s war and hardly any ammunition for them.
“How are we supposed to kill the Krauts without any bullets?” Jack asked some of the men in his platoon as soon as he had discovered that the base didn’t have much either. It hadn’t taken long; he’d been on supply duty for the entire four hours he’d been at the base.
“You’ve got a bayonet, haven’t you?” Oliver Miller said. The group responded with raucous laughter over their drinks.
A man called Keeley raised his glass toward Jack. “Fancy one?”
“Nah,” he said. “I think I’m gonna hit the hay.”
Every face in the group looked at him incredulously. “The noise don’t bother you?” Paddy Rivers asked.
Jack shook his head.
“Suit yourself then.”
Jack went to his cot, and drifted easily away.
The first morning Lily Evans awoke at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was a misty, grey Tuesday. She woke with a start, as if from an exciting dream-- only, it wasn’t. The deep red curtains surrounding her as she lay in a four-poster bed told her that immediately. She fell back onto her bed and flailed about for a few moments, basking in the excitement of her situation. Soon her mind turned to her best friend and her unwavering desire to share her excitement with him. And then she remembered: they had been placed in separate Houses. She wasn’t exactly sure what all that entailed, but he had seemed disappointed.
She threw the covers off her legs and slid out of bed as quickly as she could. Her dormmates were only just waking as she dug through her trunk for her uniform. Lily had already dressed and readied her bag for the day before she realized that she actually had no idea where to find Severus, and no way to communicate with him at all. She sat softly on her bed, wondering what she could do. There weren’t many options, so she took the only one she could think of and headed to breakfast to wait for him there.
It took her a bit longer than she anticipated to find the Great Hall again; she thought the staircases might have changed since last night. Eventually, though, she made it. The four long tables from the night before were once again covered with food-- of the breakfast variety this time-- and the clouds had shifted slightly so that several rays of sunlight entered the room. She looked over at the table Severus had gone to last night and scanned over it carefully, but he was not to be found. Sighing, she walked across the Hall to the Gryffindor table, and took a seat by herself a little ways down from some rather rowdy boys. She helped herself to a piece of toast and a bit of bacon, her eyes focused intently upon the doors and the table across the Hall.
After what felt like hours she saw him enter, surrounded by a group of boys. They were talking animatedly, laughing and pointing at different people they saw. He sat facing her, made eye contact with her and smiled. She decided she would meet him when he was finished.
The girls from her dorm came and sat with her soon after. “You left early this morning, Lily,” one of them commented.
“Yeah,” Lily replied, “Sorry I didn’t wait for you. I couldn’t wait to eat!”
They giggled, and continued to chat. Lily chimed in occasionally, but her eyes never strayed too far from Slytherin table. When Professor McGonagall came around to pass out their timetables she guessed animatedly at what each class might contain. A few of the girls came from magical families and happily explained what the difference between Charms and Transfiguration was, and why they had class at midnight on Wednesdays. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the group of Slytherin boys Severus was with rise from the table. “Excuse me,” she told her roommates, getting up from the table herself, “I’ve got to go meet a friend of mine.”
She didn’t wait to hear a response and very nearly ran out of the Hall after him. “Severus!” she called as soon as she had made it into the corridor. He kept walking with the group he had gone to breakfast with, as if he had not heard her. “Severus!” she called again, a bit louder. She was jogging at this point, catching up to them rapidly. “Sev!” Finally, he turned to face her.
“Lily,” he responded.
“I was looking for you!” she said. “Sev, can you-“ She stopped herself as she realized they were still surrounded by his friends. “Um, can we talk later?”
“You can talk now,” one of the boys said. “We don’t mind, do we?” The others glanced at each other out of the corner of their eyes, unsure of how they should react. Another boy shook his head and the rest followed suit.
“Well I mind,” Lily said.
“Oh,” the boy sounded rather impressed. “Aren’t you lively? I’m Thaddeus Avery.” He extended his hand.
She did not accept it. “Lily Evans,” she replied.
“Evans,” Avery mulled it over in his mouth. “That doesn’t sound familiar…”
“Funny, it’s very common.” Lily crossed her arms over her chest.
“That’s a Muggle name, then?” It was only partly a question.
Lily furrowed her brow in confusion, “What of it?”
“You’re a Muggle then?” Avery laughed. The boys surrounding him joined in with soft chuckles.
“I’m not!” she said. “I’m a witch. That’s why I’m here, same as you.”
“Not really, though,” another boy said. “Everyone knows Mudbloods aren’t as magical as purebloods.”
“What does that even mean?” she said.
“Lily,” Severus warned, under his breath.
“You don’t know?” the new boy asked. “Then I’ll explain. A ‘Mudblood,’ is someone like you: someone with filthy Muggle blood in them. That’s why we call them Mudbloods, their blood is dirty.”
“That is absolutely disgusting,” she said, “and completely untrue. It doesn’t make any difference.” She turned to look at Severus. “Does it?”
Paddy Rivers tightened the strap on Jack’s helmet and patted him affectionately on the head. “It does if you don’t want the Krauts to blow your fucking brains out.”
Jack dodged Paddy’s hand and shot an angry look his way. “I can do it myself,” he spat.
“Alright then,” Paddy responded, unaffected. “Do it yourself next time then.” He turned from the young boy and began walking out of the tent in which they slept. “We’re lining up in ten minutes. You best finish getting ready,” he told him.
“I know,” Jack said forcefully. “I can take care of myself.”
“Funny,” Paddy replied as he walked out the door. “It sure don’t seem like it.”
“Bloody old codger,” Jack muttered. He grabbed his gun and followed Rivers outside.
He meandered through the crowded make-shift base, avoiding people as they carried supplies to where they were needed, or walked to and from their barracks. When he approached the designated meeting area, a group of men stood huddled in groups and talking. He did not approach any of them; instead he stood alone and waited for the lines to form around him. A few minutes later the commanders approached and the huddles fell apart.
When the lines had set, the general and his men moved to the front. He stood with his legs spread and his arms behind his back. His men stood in the same position on either side and slightly behind.
“Today!” he began. “We march! We’re headed north, and we’re going to stop the German progress into France! There’s a town a few miles north where we think the Germans are headed next-- we’ll head there and take it before they can!” He paused, perhaps expecting uproar of some sort, but none came. “We leave in an hour.”
He turned and walked away. When he had left, his men gave the orders to fall out. They were to collect their belongings, anything they had brought with them, as they would not be returning.
Jack immediately made his way back to his barracks. He avoided the same people through the same streets as before, walking as quickly as he could. He deftly dodged several men carrying supplies, and very nearly avoided a collision with a group of soldiers as he rounded a corner. After a few moments, he arrived back at his barracks and was pleased to find that-- just as he had planned-- he was the first one back.
He set about packing his things immediately, hoping that maybe if he moved quickly enough, he could avoid all contact with Paddy Rivers. There were fifty other men in his platoon, but Rivers only made it a point to bother Jack. There were other boys, not quite as young as he, but close enough, yet no one treated them like babies. The men found it entertaining, funny; Jack didn’t.
He threw his belongings into his pack rather carelessly. He didn’t have much: the standard supplies, a bit of food, his cigarettes and lighter, a few letters from his mother. A quick glance at his watch told him that he was way ahead of schedule, and soon enough, everyone else would be back. Hoping to avoid Rivers for a bit longer, he pulled out his fags and lighter, walked outside, turned in the opposite direction, then around a corner into a little alley. He leaned against a wall and pulled one out, putting it between his lips to light it.
He took a deep breath, sucking in a mouth full of smoke. The hot sting that burned his throat took him by surprise, and he choked it out. He very nearly lost the cigarette from his mouth as he coughed and sputtered. When he had regained himself, he looked around casually, hoping that no one had been around to see him. Confident he had not been spotted, he brought the burning stick to his lips once again. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
Phil opened his eyes as he exhaled softly. Silently, he braced himself for what was about to come.
“’Course it matters!” Officer Glover shouted. “Do you want the Fritz to walk right through? Of course it fucking matters how you wrap the goddamn wire.”
The crowd around him looked down quietly. None of them spoke.
“Well?” he shouted again. “Do you?” He took a step forward and stared directly into the face of Phil Evans. “Do you want the fucking Fritz to walk right into our trenches?” It did not matter that Phil had not asked the question. “Do you?”
“No sir,” Phil replied. His bright green eyes met the cold brown ones of his commander.
“So what are you fucking gonna do?”
“Wrap the wire like you told us to, sir.”
“Damn right you will!” He turned around, as if to walk away, then changed his mind and turned back toward Phil. “Now get your fucking ginger head out of my sight.”
Phil rose immediately, saluted Glover and left the trench immediately. He had hardly turned the corner when he heard Glover shout again, “And all the rest of you too!” There was a scuffling of chairs and the soft thump of feet upon dirt. He continued navigating through the narrow trench; as usual, it was crowded with people carrying supplies or headed to meetings. He hoped to make it back to his barracks before the men caught up to him or he was commandeered by another officer for some menial job.
Somehow, he managed to avoid any more work; however he was not quite as quick as he had hoped. He entered the dingy almost-room, and had barely taken a seat before the other men in his company entered.
“Rough break there, Evans.” Charlie Hooper nodded to him.
“Yeah,” Phil responded. “It was.” He wondered for a moment if Hooper might apologize, as he’d actually been the one to ask the dreaded question. It seemed unlikely that he would, and in any case, it was not necessarily Hooper’s fault. Glover had misheard and pounced on Phil instead of Charlie. Phil supposed it didn’t matter; the deed was done after all.
“Poker?” Hooper asked.
“Alright,” Phil replied.
They pulled their dinky chairs around the table and Hooper got out his deck. Several other men joined them-- Finch, Pitchford, and Payne, the usuals. Hooper dealt, and they played several rounds. Finch lost, Payne lost, Pitchford and Hooper both won, Phil just about broke even. No one was particularly excited or concerned; they supposed it would even out the next time. It usually did.
They stopped as it got boring, just about the time they were meant to ready themselves for the night ahead. This was done almost entirely in silence. Noises were made from the movement of their equipment, but not one of them spoke unless it was necessary. It was almost a defense mechanism; detach yourself as soon as you could, and maybe it wouldn’t be so dreadfully terrifying. Maybe it wouldn’t be so awful if someone didn’t come back. Maybe it would make it bearable if you didn’t make it back, or worse, if the bullet didn’t take you right away.
(They thought it might be helpful. It never was.)
They crept through the trenches, following each other single file. For now they could stand straight up. Phil and his back were glad for it. He was never sure exactly how long it took to get from their dugout to the front. The journey seemed never ending, yet they always arrived far too soon.
They halted. One by one, each man climbed over the barrier into no-man’s-land. They crouched low, pulling themselves under the wire they’d already laid. Phil pulled himself by his elbows, but in a momentary lapse raised his shoulder too high and a barb dug into his skin. He responded thoughtlessly with a sharp intake of breath. He desperately hoped it had not actually been as loud as he had heard. The continued motion beside him told him he was most likely safe. He dislodged himself and continued moving.
When they had all arrived in their assigned location, they pulled themselves into crouching positions and pulled out the rolls of wire and the pairs of cutters they had been supplied. They worked in complete silence, wrapping and cutting the wire exactly as they had been instructed. It went well for a few moments, and then out of the corner of his eye, Phil noticed a flicker of light coming from the German front. It continued into the sky until it burst forth in a bright white light.
Phil’s face grazed painfully against the barbed wire as he flattened himself against the ground.
Lily pushed herself off the ground and rolled into a sitting position, pulling her wand out as quickly as she could on the way. She aimed at the boy laughing behind her; thankfully there was only one.
“What’s the matter, Evans?” Avery taunted. “Can’t you Mudbloods even walk?”
“Is that the best you’ve got, Avery?” She had to look up at him to meet his eyes. “Attacking me while my back is turned? What’s the matter; scared you’ll lose if I can fight back?”
He let out a deep, loud laugh. “You think you could lay a wand on me?”
“With my hands tied behind my back,” she spat.
“Big words for such a very little girl,” he taunted.
“I’ve even bigger ones to back them up, would you like to hear them?”
“Expelliarmus!” she shouted, and Avery’s wand went flying through the air. She picked herself up from the ground and sneered at him, “You should really stop talking so much” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm. “Petrificus totalus.”
Avery fell to the ground with a terrible thump. Lily looked down at him and whispered, “I hope that hurt,” before walking away. She had made it only a few paces when she heard footsteps approaching the scene she had left behind. She began walking more quickly, it would not bode well for her to be caught dueling in the corridors again. There was a turn coming up soon, if she could just move a little faster…
“Lily?” She heard a voice call from down the area. Damn.
She paused for a moment, hoping to identify the voice before the owner could determine it was actually her.
“Lily?” the voice called again.
She couldn’t place it exactly; the voice was still too far away, but it had to be friendly. Any of Avery’s friends would have shouted her surname and sprinted after her. A professor would have a similar reaction, only with ‘Miss’ attached. Unless it was… could it be Sev? Lily turned around.
A small mousy girl ran toward her. Brown hair flew into her face and her grey skirt bounced around her knees. “Lily!” she gasped.
Lily waved in greeting to her friend. “Mary!” she said cheerfully as her friend approached.
Mary ignored her. “Lily.” She took a deep breath. “What is going on?” She breathed heavily as she attempted to catch her breath.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Lily replied, as innocently as she could muster.
“Lily.” Mary’s voice was stern. “Thaddeus Avery is lying completely bound in the corridor, and you’re walking away, and you really had nothing to do with that?”
“Is he?” Lily asked. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Oh you just walked by him then, did you?”
“I was a bit preoccupied.”
“Lily!” Mary’s face was severe “You can’t just curse people in the middle of the corridors!”
Lily yanked Mary’s arm and began pulling her along as they approached the corner. “And you can’t just shout that about! Do you want me to get in trouble?”
“You don’t think you will be when he tells a professor?”
“Of course not.” Lily scrunched her face in confusion. “He’s not going to tell anyone it was me.”
“What makes you so sure of that?”
“He’s not going to admit that a pathetic Mudblood girl bested him. He’d never live it down.”
“What’s he going to say when someone finds him?”
“That’s on him.” Lily shrugged.
Mary gave her another stern look, but she couldn’t hold it too long and cracked a smile at Lily’s innocent expression. “Come on then,” Mary conceded. “I think there’s going to be treacle tart at dinner.” Lily giggled and followed her friend to the Great Hall for dinner.
AN: I hope you enjoyed it! I've got a few chapters finished so expect a new update every week or so :)
Chapter 3: Amid the Guns Below
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Left. Right. Left. Right. The sound of many feet hitting the ground simultaneously was relaxing; it let Jack focus on the tasks at hand: walking, scanning for enemies, getting to the next village quickly. They were moving at a steady pace, not so quickly as to exhaust them, but fast enough to make it within the day. Even so, it was not fast enough for Jack. Left. Right. Left. Right. He had his gun poised in his arms. It was loaded, but he didn’t have any extra ammunition. Not that it mattered. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to fire it yet.
He wondered how far they’d walked by now. He wondered how long they’d been walking. The sun beat on his brow and his mouth was dry and scratchy. He wanted to check his watch or take a swig of water. Not a whole lot, just enough to wet his whistle. Any more would be wasteful. He'd like to stop and sit, just for a minute. Just long enough so that he could be sure his legs could stop. That they weren't permanently walking. (He thought they might be. Maybe he couldn't stop at all anymore). Alas, he could not. He could not stop walking. He could not take a drink from his canteen. He could not even check his watch to see how long they had been walking. Instead, he held onto his rifle, and kept marching.
“Thirty-two fucking miles,” Jeremiah Johns whispered. “Just a fucking few." The men around him chuckled. It hadn't seemed terribly long the way they had said it, but it had certainly turned out to be.
"How long have we been walking for?" Stan MacGregor asked.
"For-fucking-ever," Johns replied.
"At least we're doing something," Jack responded. "It's about bloody time we moved on, there was nothing to be done at the last place."
"Nothing to be done there, either," Rivers said. "If we're lucky, that is."
"I think I'll count my luck differently," Jack said.
"Then you'll count your luck stupidly."
"God forbid I want to actually do something to help my country," Jack snapped.
"Can't do much for it if you're dead."
"Good thing I don't plan on dyin' then."
"No one ever plans on dyin'."
"Ah, leave the lad alone, Rivers,"
"He don't even shave yet, of course he wants a bit of excitement."
Johns moved to pat him on the back, "Maybe if you're really lucky, we can find a friendly French girl for ya."
"And I'm sure they've got wine," MacGregor added.
"What makes you so sure?"
"It's France! Everyone has wine!"
The men laughed loudly and carried on marching.
The sun was still beating violently against his face; every so often a drop of sweat would tickle him as it ran down his neck. His mouth was still parched and he still could not spare a drink of water. The march was still Hellish, and he still had no idea how long they had been at it or how far they had to go, but he walked with renewed energy. The thought of the next village carried him for a while, the thought of wine and women, the possibility of danger. Suddenly the walk was not so monotonous.
Jack continued walking with pep in his step. Almost skipping, really. He had thought they were moving too slowly before, but now-- now everyone else was positively sluggish. He walked naturally, and somehow he ended up several yards ahead. To keep pace, it was as if he had to drag his feet. He willed them all to move faster. The faster they got there, the faster they could all drink all the wine they wanted and eat as much as they could hold. He'd find a woman, maybe, with dark hair and bright eyes and a tight little arse he could-
The commander leading them turned and stopped. There was a shuffle as men collected themselves. As it turned out, Jack could stop walking, though his legs still felt as if they were moving.
"We're five miles out," the commander shouted. "We'll be there within the hour! Have your guns at the ready, our scouts haven't found any Germans, but that doesn't mean they're not there."
They began walking again, and soon the village came into view. Jack stopped for as long as he could manage to behold the site where adventure would finally come to him.
Lily looked out the side of the carriage as the image of Hogwarts castle grew up in the distance. It was still as breathtaking as the first moment she had laid eyes on it, though she now experienced this sight every few months. She let out a dreamy sigh and turned back to her companion.
“Did you have fun today, Sev?” she asked.
He looked up from his book. “Huh?”
“Did you have fun?” she repeated.
He took a deep breath. “Yes,” he said, “though I suppose it might have gone better.”
“Yes,” Lily said. “Yes, it might have.”
“But it was fun-“
“Before your friends attacked us?” she finished for him.
“We were disrupted,” he corrected. “They didn’t attack us.”
“What did they do then?” she asked pointedly.
“Th-they, they- well they were no worse than Potter and his friends!”
“Potter wouldn’t have gotten involved if your friends hadn’t started it.”
“You can’t be defending them,” he pleaded. “They’re horrible!”
“They’re no worse than your friends,” she snapped. “And I’m not defending them. I know they’re horrible, you don’t have to constantly remind me, but I don’t think they’re as bad as you think they are.”
“They’ve never called me-“
“That’s not fair.”
“That’s perfectly fair.”
“You know they don’t think that about you. I don’t think that about you.”
“They don’t think that about me?” She folded her arms over her chest. “Funny, they sure acted like it.”
“Well, they’re not used to the idea…”
“Of a Mudblood being decent?”
Lily inhaled deeply. “Fine.”
They sat in a hostile sort of silence until Lily spoke again. “At least they’re funny,” she spat. “Your friends are just cruel.”
“You think they’re funny?” His voice rose. “Have you seen what they do to me?”
“Indeed I have,” she said. “And I’ve seen what you do to them as well.”
“You can’t possibly think that’s worse,” he said.
“They don’t use Dark Magic!” she cried. “That’s more than I can say for you and your friends.”
“What does it matter?” he said sharply.
“What does it-“ She stopped herself. “No, I guess you’re right.” Her voice was flat. “Just like always,” she muttered. She did not speak for the rest of the journey.
Several minutes later, when the carriage began to slow Severus looked at her. “I did have fun today,” he said quietly. “I- did you?”
She smiled, “Yeah, I did. It’s nice spending time with you; we hardly see each other anymore. I miss you.”
“I miss you too,” he said, “but you know how it goes.”
“Right,” she said. “Other friends get in the way. I know.”
“And if today proved anything-“
“Maybe we should keep it out of public?” she finished for him.
“At school at least,” he said.
“Right,” she said, “I think that’s a good idea.”
The carriage pulled to a halt, and they both shook with the jolt. Lily moved immediately, rising from her seat and exiting the carriage.
“I- this doesn’t mean we can’t see each other,” Severus called to her. Lily turned around to listen. “I mean, I just don’t think we should flaunt it. I-I just”--his voice broke to a whisper--“I don’t know what’d I’d do without you.”
Lily smiled. “Alright,” she said softly.
“Do you want to go the kitchens?” he asked. “We didn’t really get a chance to eat.”
“No.” Lily shook her head. “Thank you, but I think I’m going to have a lie down.”
She turned from him and walked quickly inside. In the Entrance Hall, she took the stairs two at a time, knowing that it was very likely Sev would follow her and ask again until she said yes. On the fourth floor, she decided that she did not, in fact, want to go back to her dorm, and instead veered off to the other direction.
She continued to walk quickly, though there was no reason for it. Maybe if she walked quickly enough, she could run away from this entire thing, and she and Sev could just be friends and she’d never have to worry about it again. Maybe.
Her walk had slowed significantly. She approached a window, and stopped to lean against the ledge. Slowly, she shook her head. Or maybe he wouldn’t even notice.
“Alright, Evans?” Lily didn’t need to turn to know who it was. His voice was tinged with annoyance, and just a hint of anger, but it was familiar nonetheless.
“Perfectly well, Potter.” She turned around as she spoke.
“Good to hear,” he spat. His face was bruised in several places, and his nose was broken.
“You’re not angry with me for this, surely?” She was incredulous. “It’s not like I asked you to get involved!”
“I don’t need to be asked to do the right thing,” he snapped.
“Then maybe you shouldn’t complain about the consequences.” She turned on her heel and began to walk away from him.
“Maybe you should reconsider who you spend time with!” he hollered after her.
“Maybe I should!” she called back to him.
“I think you deserve it,” Hooper said.
“I’m not sure Glover would agree,” Phil responded. “I’ve hardly been here long enough.”
“Nonsense! You’ve been here plenty long. They’ll want you to get away before your feet start to rot like the rest of ours.”
“So I can come back and have them rot later, with no leave left?”
“No, so you can have them rot later, and then take medical leave for them.”
Phil grinned, and the two men got halfway through a laugh before a far off explosion interrupted them. The room around them shook, trinkets fell from the shelves and all the furniture rattled like toys.
It was quiet long enough for Hooper to yell “Christ!” before another explosion, closer this time, began rattling everything again.
Phil winced and gripped the table in front of him tightly. “Don’t they ever take a fucking break?”
“Not used to it yet?” Hooper had to shout, as another shell had just gone off, closer still. “Maybe you’re not ready for leave yet.”
Phil opened his mouth to respond when Officer Glover appeared at the door. “Get moving!” he shouted. He did not linger to explain. Phil stared at the door in disbelief, so struck with horror that he did not even flinch when another shell went off and knocked several of the shelves clean.
Hooper, on the other hand, had sprung immediately into motion. His helmet appeared on his head so quickly it seemed like magic. He grabbed Phil’s as well, and set it on top of his red hair. “Get it together, Evans!” Hooper shouted. “We’ve got to go!”
Phil seemed to wake from his trance as the words left his mouth. He nodded and followed Hooper out of the dugout. Men ran through the trench, dirt fell down upon them as they raced in every direction. The ground shook beneath them as another shell landed off somewhere. The air was deafening, he could not tell where any of the sounds were coming from, and had no time to even think about it. Another bang as a shell exploded, the earth rumbled, dirt spilled on helmets, faces, bodies, equipment, the massive crash as a trench caved in.
He continued to follow Hooper, though Phil had no idea where they were going, nor any idea how Hooper might have known. They ran through the trembling earth, feet pounding on the shaking floor of the trench, hoping they would not fall.
Hooper stopped as they approached a dugout that had completely caved in. Glover was there, shouting orders. Or, he was shouting something, well maybe he was shouting. Phil could not tell. Glover’s face was contorted in a fashion that Phil had never seen before, strained and scared, and he was pointing. Phil could not hear anything he was saying over the bangs and scrapes and the pounding that had inhabited his ears. As Glover knelt down, Phil’s eyes followed, and fell upon a man. The remains of a man, he realized. A leg was missing, and Phil could see the man’s ribs, all of his innards spilling around the ground around him. He was moving. Phil’s eyes continued up the broken man, toward his face, where Glover knelt, holding a limp hand and whispering. The man’s mouth was moving. Phil froze, staring at the scene in front of him. Glover looked up, right at him, and shouted something he could not hear. Phil stayed still. Glover shouted again. The pounding in Phil’s ears had only grown louder, and he could no longer even hear the shells falling around him. Glover shouted again, and his voice began to come into focus. Phil blinked once, and everything came crashing into horrific clarity. “MORPHINE, GODDAMMIT.”
Phil turned and ran, back through the trembling earth and against the stream of men that had come to repair the dugout. He dodged them as they traveled through the narrow walkways and followed the path, searching each man’s face until he found a medic. He grasped the man’s arm. “Morphine,” he huffed. “Glo-“ He took a deep breath. “Glover needs Morphine.”
The medic followed without a word.
Phil led him again through the trenches, fast as their feet would carry them. They arrived to find Glover still kneeling near the man, and the medic approached him.
Phil looked on for a moment longer, then turned on his toe, leaned over and expelled the contents of his stomach.
Jack took a deep breath and braced himself for another heave. He bent over, and placed his hands on his knees, stretching his neck slightly to avoid his boots. The bile rose into his mouth and landed in a puddle at his feet. Before he could prepare for another, the hot acid came up again, burning and suffocating, and he was left coughing. He felt hot tears falling from his eyes as he coughed. Another contraction in of his stomach and he heaved, once, twice, three times, with no results. With his hands still on his knees, he spit several times to clean the remnants out of his mouth, then wiped his lips with his hands.
“Have a little too much last night, did ya?” Rivers approached him from behind.
Without turning around, Jack responded, “Piss off. It’s none of your damn business how much fun I had last night.”
“Find a girl to fuck then?”
“Don’t be so quick to get rid of me, I came to help.”
“I don’t need it.”
Rivers laughed. “Whatever you say, mate.”
Jack turned to look at him, “What’ve you got then?”
“Hair of the dog.” He set down a glass half full of amber liquid on a barrel in the alley where they stood. “But just one, and no more. Then eat this”--he set down a large piece of bread--“and drink water. As much water as you possibly can.”
Jack looked at him but did not say a word.
“And next time, drink some water before you go to bed, aye?”
“Yeah,” Jack mumbled.
“I’ll leave ya to it, then.”
As soon as Rivers had turned to leave, Jack dove toward the contents on the barrel. He picked up the tumbler and brought it to his lips. Even the smell of the rum made Jack feel nauseous again, and the first sip made him gag. After the first sip, he downed it as quickly as he could. It irritated his raw throat, and very nearly made him vomit once again. He gasped after he had swallowed, allowing the air to cool his burning mouth. He took a sip of the water--he had gulped some down earlier, and now it was in a puddle on the ground. He hoped that smaller drinks would be a bit easier on his stomach. The bread was a bit stale, but it didn’t taste strongly enough of anything to be much of a bother. He took another bite as he began to walk back to the barracks.
Jeremiah Johns grinned at him as he entered. “The sign of a night well spent!” He clapped Jack on the shoulder.
“Yeah, yeah,” Jack responded.
“Didn’t enjoy it then?” Johns asked. He turned before Jack could respond, and made his way to the stand where they kept a small basin and a polished piece of steel.
“I did.” Jack paused as he watched Johns slather shaving cream onto his face. “Well, I enjoyed most of it.”
“And the rest?” Johns grinned wickedly at him, the shaving cream adding to his look of amusement.
“Dunno.” Jack shrugged.
Johns chuckled. “That’s an even better night!” he said, before dragging a razor down the side of his cheek.
Jack managed to smile back at him, and Johns caught his eye through the reflection in the makeshift mirror. “Didn’t do anything too daft, did I?”
Johns chuckled again. “Can’t say you did, not that I noticed anyway.”
Jack smiled truthfully now. “Good to hear.”
“You can always tell. You didn’t piss yourself or get sick on yourself, and that’s all you need to know.”
“A sound piece of advice.”
Johns had finished shaving and gestured for Jack to take a turn. He got up to take Johns’s place at the mirror. He splashed some water on himself before taking a look at his reflection. His brown hair was a mess atop his head, there were bags underneath his bright green eyes and his skin looked a bit ashen. But there was no stubble to be found. He hoped that the flush he felt creeping into his cheeks wasn’t noticeable. Jack never shaved, he didn’t need it. Perhaps he’d start tomorrow. But it’d be an awful waste…
“Alright then,” Johns said as he finished wiping his face. “Smoke?”
Jack agreed readily and the pair made their way out of the barracks. He steered them away from the alley where he had stood earlier, and they leaned against the building. Each pulled out a short brown stick, Jack’s was rolled meticulously. Johns was a bit faster than he was, or had his matches stored in with his fags, Jack couldn’t tell, but before he could pull out his own lighter, Johns had a match held in front of Jack’s face, burning the cigarette beneath his nose. He inhaled, hoping that it would light the first time, and he would not need to face the embarrassment of asking for another match.
As luck would have it, the end glowed orange, and he inhaled the smoke as a sigh of relief. He was careful not to breathe in too deeply; he was still practicing and couldn’t quite inhale as deeply as the rest of them without coughing. After a moment, he released his breath and allowed the sweet nicotine to work its magic.
“Lily!” Severus yelled as he approached her in the park. “Are you smoking?”
In response, Lily brought the cigarette to her lips and took a long drag. She released the smoke in his direction as he came up next to her on the swing set.
“That’s a nasty habit to take up.”
“You know, I hear that a lot, and yet it seems that no one ever listens.”
“That doesn’t mean you should do it too.”
Lily let out a bitter laugh. “Right,” she said. “I only wanted to see what all the fuss was about.”
“Try for yourself.” She held it out to him.
He took it without hesitation, and brought it to his lips. He took a drag, and almost immediately began to choke on it.
Lily covered her mouth to hide the giggle that threatened to escape. “Sorry, I should’ve warned you that would happen.”
He handed it back to her. “You can’t possibly enjoy that.”
“It’s surprisingly soothing, once you get past the taste.”
“Do you ever get past the smell?”
“Yes,” she said emphatically.
He raised his nose. “How long have you been trying them?”
“Why does it matter?”
“It doesn’t, I suppose. Just, it’s different, is all. I wouldn’t have expected this of you.”
“Yeah, well, things change, Sev.” She brought the fag to her lips and took a long drag, holding it for as long as she could before exhaling.
Severus remained silent.
“How are your parents?” she asked, finally.
“Still my parents,” he said, “unfortunately.”
Lily knew better than to press the subject when he did not expand. “Have you started your summer homework yet?”
“Just a bit, it’s hard to get too much work done with Tobias and Eileen fighting all the time, but I’m nearly done with everything Slughorn gave us.”
Lily chuckled. “Of course you are.”
“What about you?”
“I started looking at it yesterday.”
“We’ve only been out for two weeks!” she countered.
“That’s far more than enough time to start,” he scolded.
“For you, perhaps. I’ve been rather busy. I’ve only just gotten home.”
“I wondered why you hadn’t written me to meet up yet,” Sev mused, his voice soft.
“I was in London with Mary,” she explained. “I’d have told you before we left, but I didn’t see you…”
“You could’ve owled,” he muttered.
Lily ignored the comment and continued speaking. “It was amazing there, Sev.”
“I’ve been to London,” he reminded her.
“Not Muggle London.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because it’s amazing,” she told him. “There’s so many people, and so much to see and so many things to do I don’t think you could ever be bored there.”
“But there’s no magic.”
“There is, though. There’s magical buildings everywhere, hidden right in plain sight. Muggles walk right past them and never even notice! Mary and I went on a tour of them one day and it was fascinating. But London doesn’t even need magic to be interesting because it’s just so alive.”
“Sounds like you had a rousing time.”
“I did! But I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet.”
“Dorcas Meadowes agreed to meet with me.”
“No, the acrobat.”
“What’d you want to meet her for? She’s full of absolute shite.”
“She is not!”
“Of course she is! She’s always blathering on in the Prophet about the most ridiculous things-“
“Like Muggleborn rights and unfair treatment and the fact that there’s a very real war going on that the Ministry refuses to acknowledge?”
“You don’t believe that, do you?”
She stared at him for a moment, half thinking he would crack a grin and begin laughing at her incredulous expression. When he did not, she looked him straight in the eye and said fiercely, “I’m living it.”
Severus looked appalled. “You haven’t bought into it that much, have you?”
“You’ve seen it! You’ve watched your friends do it. You can’t possibly-“
“I’ve seen no such thing.”
“Then you must be blind.” Lily reached for the bag that she had laid on the ground near her swing. She dug into it for a bit before her fingers fell onto a small cardboard box and a long bit of wood. She pulled out the box, and one of the cigarettes it held within it. She put the paper stick between her lips and looked around carefully before pulling out her wand, whispering “Incendio,” and touching it to the cigarette between her lips.
“You could be expelled for that.”
“Worth the risk,” she said. “I don’t have any matches on me.” She waited for him to respond but he remained silent. “Well it’s not like they’ll know!”
“How do you figure that?”
“We’re not close enough to my house, and there’s a fully licensed witch just a few blocks away…” she explained.
Again Severus remained silent. Lily took a long drag of her fag and exhaled slowly. Sev caught a whiff of it and began coughing again.
“Yes,” she responded coolly. “You’re welcome to leave if you don’t like it.”
Much to her surprise, he did not rise to leave. Instead they sat silently for far too long, Lily slowly smoking and Severus raising his nose at the smell.
“It smells like my father,” he finally spoke.
“It’s a filthy Muggle habit,” he spat.
“Good thing I’m a Muggle then.”
“You’re magic,” he whispered. “You have a wand. You’re a witch.”
“You just don’t get it, do you?” she said quietly. She rose from her swing, grabbed her bag and walked away.
Phil weaved through the winding, ruined dugouts. Some repairs had been made since the last shelling, but it wasn’t worth repairing it beyond what was absolutely necessary. The walls seemed as though they may collapse at any minute, though having helped build them, Phil was fairly sure they would stay standing.
He turned the corner and continued walking down the trench just a bit longer. When he reached his destination he descended the stairs and knocked quickly on the door.
“Come in!” a voice hollered from inside.
Phil opened the door a crack and slipped through, shutting the door swiftly behind him. He removed his hat and tucked it under his arm. “Good evening, sir,” he greeted the man sitting behind the desk.
“Evans,” Glover responded.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
“You put in for leave, is that correct?”
“A week, sir. Enough to visit my mother.”
“Within the next month, I was hoping.”
“Any specific reason?”
“Not really, sir. My mum’s all alone without me there, I worry.”
“Noble,” Glover responded.
“Noble enough for it to be granted, sir?”
Glover chuckled softly. “If only, Evans. I can’t send you out yet. Not now.”
“Oh,” Phil responded. He tried desperately not to let the disappointment shade his face. “Thank you anyway, sir.”
“Don’t get too down, Evans. You’re entitled to two weeks a year and I’ll be damned if you don’t get all fourteen days. It just might take a while.”
Phil raised his head to smile at the man. “Thank you, sir.”
He had made it to the door when Glover called to him again, “Evans, since you’re stuck here a while longer, do try to strengthen your stomach, eh?” Phil looked down as he felt a deep flush fill his cheeks. “That display was pathetic. And it certainly won’t be the last time you see a man’s innards spilling out around him. All the better for them if you don’t vomit on them while they’re dying.”
“Will do, sir,” Phil responded, before walking through the door again.
He walked back through the trenches, pressing himself against the wall as two men carrying something rather heavy looking came past him. At least he knew when he was in the way, which was, incidentally, always, but it was not often he could actually do anything about it. “Strengthen your stomach,” his commanding officer had told him. What he had meant was: “Don’t be such a bloody pansy,” “Be a better solider,” “Shed the last bit of the man you brought with you and give into the killer we’re trying to create.”
Utter bullshit, in Phil’s opinion. He’d never become what they wanted him to, he knew it, and he was sure Glover knew it as well. He’d never be a good soldier, and he’d hold it in high esteem. But if holding down his sick was what was demanded of him, he would comply. Not vomiting was a fairly reasonable request, though he was not sure what would be asked of him next.
He returned to his dugout to find Hooper mending a shirt, clumsily forcing his needle in and out of the fabric. He raised his head as Phil entered the room. “And?” he asked.
Phil shook his head. “Not yet, I’m afraid.”
“Did he say how come?”
“The timing wasn’t right or something.”
Phil shrugged. “He said we got two weeks a year and he’d be damned if we didn’t get them.”
Hooper laughed. “But on their schedule, eh?”
“I think Glover wants to toughen me up a bit before he lets me leave.”
“Told me to strengthen my stomach.”
“Not a bad skill to learn.”
“I suppose not,” Phil responded. It was not a skill he had ever hopped to need.
Hooper gasped as he pricked his finger with the needle, and dropped the garment into his lap. “Fucking hell!” he yelled.
“Let me,” Phil offered, reaching for the pile of material.
Hooper threw it at him as he sucked on his finger.
Phil shuffled through the fabric until he found the area Hooper had been mending. He chuckled softly at the crooked, uneven stitches and began to pull them out.
“Something funny about my sewing, Evans?”
“S’bloody awful, Hooper,” Phil replied, grinning.
Hooper chuckled. When the damage Hooper had caused had been removed, Phil began mending it again, deftly moving the thread through the fabric. “How’d you get so bloody good at it?”
“My mum,” Phil replied. He had reached the end of the tear, and altered the position of the fabric to reinforce the stitches. “She’s a seamstress.”
“And your father didn’t object to her teaching you?”
“Nah.” Phil shrugged. He tied off the thread and tossed the shirt back to Hooper. “He was too often at the factory to notice.”
“And he never took you with him?”
Phil looked down. “He might’ve, but he died before he got the chance.”
“Sorry to hear that, mate.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Phil responded.
“Your mum’s not pleased about you coming here, then?”
“She’s very…” frustrated, angry, scared. “Proud.”
He wondered if she would be when he returned home to see her. If she would be proud that her only son could now recollect in perfect detail what a man’s organs looked like as they spilled out around him or the exact position of every muscle in his face as his spirit left his body. Would she be impressed that he could see this and hold his stomach? Would she love him more if she knew that he could point a gun at a living man and pull the trigger? He prayed she would never have to find out.
AN: So, now that you've gotten used to the layout of the story, how does it work? Any way I can make things clearer for you? Any comments or concerns? I pretty much pour my entire self into this story, so I want it to be ask good as it possibly can be! If there's a way I can make it better, I'd love to hear it!
Chapter 4: From Failing Hands We Throw
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Lily wrapped her coat tightly against herself as she stepped out of her family’s car and into the icy air. She took a look around for a moment at the familiar surroundings. Light snow covered the trees and houses she saw so often in her childhood, and she smiled as she recalled the many Christamases spent at her grandparents’ house. These holidays seemed to happen less and less often since she began attending Hogwarts. The lure of the castle at Christmas had been too much to pass up when she was younger.
This year Nan and Granddad had come for Christmas dinner at Lily’s. She was sure that Granddad would have been okay with visiting for his birthday as well, but Lily’s mother wouldn’t hear of it. “I won’t have you trucking all the way out here again for your own birthday,” her mother had told her father-in-law over the phone, “We’ll come to you.”
And there they were, with a car full of groceries and a few small gifts wrapped in colorful paper.
“Lily!” Her father called to her, “Grab the cake, will ya?”
She did as she was told and walked quickly up to the front door, where the rest of her family was patiently awaiting someone to answer the door. Just as she arrived on the stoop, the door opened to reveal her grandfather dressed in his finest clothes and leaning on his cane.
“Happy Birthday, Dad,” her father greeted him.
Her grandfather nodded and thanked him, allowing his son to pass through the door. Lily’s mother and sister followed, each greeting him in a similar fashion. Finally Lily made it through the door. She smiled widely at her grandfather. “Happy Birthday, Granddad!”
“How lovely to see you, Lily! I thought you might be back at school already.”
“Not until next week,” she said.
“Wonderful!” He shut the door behind her, and helped her remove her coat.
Her mother and sister had apparently shed theirs much more quickly, and had already made their way into the kitchen. Her father too, had made his way there, carrying in the several bags full of food her mother would need to prepare dinner. Lily followed their lead, and her granddad followed her as well.
“Where’s Nan?” Lily asked him as they entered the kitchen.
“Er, she’s still getting dressed,” he answered.
“Oh,” Lily replied.
“She should be down any minute.”
“Dad!” Lily heard her father say, and her grandfather focused his attention on him. He dug into a bag on the counter, and pulled out a fifth of whiskey. “Shall we?” he asked his father.
Her grandfather agreed, and the two made their way into the dining room to partake of it.
Lily’s mother, meanwhile, had handed Lily a knife and a sack of potatoes. She dutifully made her way to the sink, and lamented the fact that she was not yet able to do magic outside of Hogwarts; peeling potatoes was her least favorite kitchen chore.
“What is going on?” Her grandmother asked as she walked into the kitchen.
“We’re making dinner, Nan,” Petunia responded.
“For Granddad’s birthday,” she explained.
“Why are you doing it?” Nan asked.
Lily and Petunia both looked at their mother to provide the answer. “So you don’t have to!” she answered cheerfully. “We didn’t think it was very fair to impose on you.”
“Oh,” Nan responded.
Lily continued to peel potatoes. Petunia caught her eye and gave her a look. “Nan,” Lily said, “Why don’t we go into the sitting room? I have so much to tell you!”
“Oh, okay,” her Nan said. “Where do you go to school again?”
Lily went to her grandmother and took her arm gently, to lead her into the sitting room. When they were out of earshot of everyone else, she whispered, “It’s called Hogwarts.”
“That’s a funny name.”
“It’s a funny school,” Lily responded.
They entered the sitting room and sat down, Lily’s grandmother in the same chair she had sat in forever, facing the window, and Lily next to her.
“You’re home from school?” Lily’s grandmother asked her.
“Yes, Nan, for Christmas,” Lily repeated.
“Where do you go to school?”
“It’s called Hogwarts,” Lily responded. “It’s in Scotland.”
“Hogwarts,” her grandmother echoed, trying the word in her mouth. “What a strange name.”
“That’s because it’s magic,” Lily said.
“Magic?” Her grandmother smiled at her.
Lily nodded, “It’s full of witches and wizards and ghosts, and the forest has centaurs and unicorns and the lake is full of mermaids.”
“And what do you learn there?”
“All sorts of things. Charms and Potions and Transfiguration, and we even had flying lessons first year.”
“Oh, what a lovely story, Lily.”
She didn’t respond, and her attention turned toward the scene outside the window. Lily looked as well; it did have a nice view of their garden.
“Where do you go to scho-“ she began coughing, loud terrible hacks. She took a tissue from the side table and coughed into in some more. “Excuse me,” she said when the coughs had subsided.
“Do you need a drink?” Lily asked. “I can go get you a glass of water or some coffee.”
“That’s alright, dear.”
The continued talking in such a manner until Lily’s mother called from the kitchen to inform them that dinner was ready.
“Who made dinner?”
“I did,” Lily’s mother responded, “For Phil’s birthday.”
“Oh, right. It’s Phil’s birthday?”
“Oh, I’ve forgotten. I haven’t even made a cake. He’ll be so upset. He loves my cake.”
“No you haven’t,” Lily said. “There’s a cake in the kitchen.”
“Oh, there is? How splendid.”
Lily’s mother thanked her with a look, and Lily smiled back at her. Together, they followed Nan into the dining room where she greeted her husband with a kiss and sat in the seat next to him as she had done for as long as Lily could remember.
The table had been set already, the food Lily’s mother and sister had prepared sat in the middle of the table, and the fine china was set before each seat. When they were all seated, Granddad bowed his head, waited for everyone else to follow his example, and led them in a prayer.
The table sprang to life almost as soon as Granddad’s mouth had finished forming “Amen.” The Evans family served themselves to generous helpings of everything, and began to eat almost immediately. Just as they always had.
“Lily love,” her granddad said. “How’s school?”
“Great!” she replied.
“You’re a Prefect this year, is that right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“How’s that going?”
“Very well,” Lily responded. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
“That’s good to hear,” her granddad responded. He turned to his other granddaughter, “And you, Tuney?”
“It’s fine,” she said.
“How are your grades?”
“Lily is top of her class,” their father added.
Lily smiled, “Not quite.”
“Don’t be shy, Lily,” her mother encouraged.
“I do very well,” Lily clarified. “I mean, I have to, don’t I?” The words left her lips before she had thought about them. She hoped that her family did not notice her suddenly tense, and she wracked her brain searching for a proper way to finish the sentence.
“Grades are very important,” Nan said.
“You’ll need them to find a good job,” Granddad added.
“Like there’s a need for you to get a job,” Lily heard Petunia mutter.
“There is a need for it, thank you. And I’ll have you know it is especially difficult to find a job when you are like me.”
“What’re you talking about, Lily?” Granddad asked, his brow furrowed.
“As a woman,” Petunia answered for her. “But she doesn’t need a job, not when she can get married. That’s what a meant. That she’s sure to find a husband to take care of her. Because she’s so pretty. Freak-ishly pretty.” Petunia stabbed her roast particularly hard.
Lily silently thanked her sister for smoothing it over. “But I want a job. I wouldn’t feel comfortable just depending on my husband for support.”
“That’s very noble of you, Lily,” Granddad responded.
Lily blushed, “Well I am a-“ she stopped herself, “A very noble person. It’s a point of pride.”
“As it should be.”
“Were you always very noble, Granddad?” she asked, hoping to change the subject.
“I don’t think so. I always tried, though.”
“I suppose that’s noble enough in itself,” she pondered the thought for just a moment. “But not even in the war?” she asked. With any luck, her father would join in, and the conversation wouldn’t turn back to her for the rest of the evening.
“No, especially not in the war.”
“Fighting for what you believe in isn’t noble?”
“That’s very noble. That’s not war.”
She furrowed her brow, awaiting an explanation. Granddad had just opened his mouth when Lily’s mother interrupted. “Not at the table, please.”
“After,” he mouthed and winked at Lily.
Half an hour later, the women had helped clear the table, and Lily and Nan had once again been shooed out of the kitchen. This time though, they joined the men in the dining room. Both had pulled out pipes and were beginning to smoke them as they talked.
“Nan,” Lily turned to her grandmother. “Do you think Granddad was noble during the war?”
“Well, yes, I think so. He did a lot of brave things…”
“Reconnaissance?” Phil asked, trying hard to mask his expression of horror.
“Yes,” Glover responded.
Phil’s mouth twitched as if opening to make an objection.
“Don’t expect special treatment because you’re a shit soldier, Evans.”
“No, sir. Everyone has to take his turn.”
“Try not to get shot while you’re out there, yeah? Dulce et Decorum est, but we need all the men we can get, even the shit ones.”
“Yes, sir,” Phil nodded his head.
Glover dismissed him with a wave of his hand. Phil turned and made his way out of the room. Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori. The words rang through his head. He doubted very much it was sweet to die for his country. Right, it may be, but he had yet to see a sweet death. Perhaps the sweetness lay hidden somewhere behind the groans of agony and the dismemberment. He did not particularly care to know. It was much sweeter, he thought, to live for one’s country. Somehow, it seemed he was the only one who thought so.
He turned the corner back to his dugout and greeted the men who waited there before heading to his cot. He sat on it forcefully, and for a split second it seemed as if it was going to break. When it did not, he swallowed his stomach back down his throat and laid down across his cot.
“Finally your turn to head across No Man’s Land, eh?” Finch asked.
“Yeah,” Phil replied.
“About bloody time,” Payne added.
“It’s not like I’ve never done it,” Phil said. “I’m just fairly apt at avoiding it.”
“Fairly,” Payne said.
“I’m sure I’d be sent out more often if Glover weren’t set on keeping us alive.”
“Well that’s true,” Finch said. “If anyone’s going to die out there, it’s you, Evans.”
“Thanks for that.”
“Not his fault you’re a clumsy, bloody coward,” Payne said.
“Good to know what you really think of me.”
“I didn’t think it was a secret,” Payne explained.
Finch laughed. Phil ignored them.
“Don’t go wishing death on him,” Pitchford hollered from his cot. “He’s a lot better than some.”
“Aye, aye,” Payne agreed. “And he does fix our shirts.”
“Hear that, Evans?” Finch called. “Don’t die tonight, we need you to fix our shirts.”
“And we don’t want a new bloke living with us, neither,” Payne added.
“I’ll do my best,” Phil promised. And with that, he closed his eyes and, pretended at least, to sleep.
“Evans!” somebody was shouting. Jack ignored them.
“Evans!” he was closer now. Jack kept his eyes shut tightly. Hadn’t he just gone to bed?
“Jack!” the voice was right above him and was now accompanied by a pair of hands shaking him rather violently.
Groggily, Jack cracked opened his eyes. “What?”
“Get the fuck out of bed!” Rivers shouted at him. “We’re leaving today.”
Jack sat up immediately. His eyes burned as they adjusted to the light of the morning. “What time is it?” There was a dull pounding in his head, and the sudden motion unsettled his stomach.
“Eight,” Rivers responded. “We line up in ten.”
“Fuck.” Jack rose from the bed and scrambled to get ready. The sweet stench of alcohol seeping through his pores filled his nostrils, but there was no time to wash. His clothes and boots were thrown on haphazardly. “Where’s Jeremiah?”
“Down there already. He said you’d wake up on time, because you always do.”
“Better straighten yourself out,” Rivers told him, “Don’t let the Officers see you like that.”
Jack straightened himself as well as he could before throwing on his helmet and his necessary accessories. “We’re not leaving right now are we?”
Jack relaxed slightly and stopped throwing things into his pack. “Let’s go then,” he said, before rushing out the door. Rivers tailed behind him until Jack realized he didn’t remember where they were meant to meet. Rivers took the lead without being asked and Jack followed him to the lineup.
When they arrived, Jack was confused to find that no one had lined up yet. “I thought we lined up in ten?” he asked
“I lied,” Rivers replied.
“How else was I meant to get you here on time?” Jack’s eyes narrowed in annoyance. Rivers shrugged it off. “Didn’t see Johns coming to save your sorry arse, did ya?”
Jack turned around and walked away, searching in vain for some actual friends. He found none before it was actually time to line up, and he fell to attention. Once again, the commanding officer shouted at them about where they were going and when and why. Jack didn’t care. He hadn’t eaten and his stomach was threatening to commit mutiny. Had the sun always been so bright? It certainly hadn’t hurt his eyes so badly before. And gods, his helmet must have gotten tighter since yesterday.
When they finally fell out, Jack walked slowly back to the barracks, sipping water out of his canteen. There was food somewhere, but he couldn’t be arsed to find it yet.
Luckily, he did not have to look far. There was a chuck of bread waiting on his bed when he arrived. Rivers, probably. The pride in him almost wanted to reject it, but his hangover had other ideas. It was dull and almost tasteless bread, but he could not have asked for anything better on this day. He ate it as quickly as he dared, hoping it would settle his stomach so he wouldn’t have to worry about that at least on their trip north. He began packing his things when he finished, quick and sloppy, it was sure to receive a scolding but Jack could not find it within himself to care.
Almost as soon as he finished throwing his bag together, it was time for them to begin the march. Jack cursed himself as they began to walk. The pounding in his head was keeping time with his feet and he could not possibly imagine a worse punishment for his indiscretions. He promised himself he would take greater care in the future.
The sun seemed warmer than the last time they had done this. He began sweating, and as it oozed out of him, he could still smell the sweet stench of alcohol in it. He grunted a bit and carried on.
They didn't make it to the next village by nightfall. They hadn't expected to, he was told. They pitched camp in the middle of the meadow. Scouts and lookouts had been assigned, the scouts had found nothing and the lookouts began keeping watch right away. Jack wanted nothing more than to fall asleep in the grass and not wake up for days. He drew first watch. It was better that way, he told himself. This way, he could sleep uninterrupted through the night as soon as he was done. The problem was that he was not sure he could keep his eyes open through the entirety of the shift.
He stood on his guard, holding his gun as he had been trained and walking when necessary. Walking this way had done a very good job of keeping him awake in the past, today though he was slightly afraid that he would fall asleep on his feet. He'd heard of men doing it already. When walking no longer did the trick, he took to pinching himself to keep his eyes open. At last, the second shift man came to take his place, and Jack moved to his bed and closed his eyes. He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
The sunrise woke him the next morning. He was grateful for that, at least. He rose carefully and slowly. His muscles ached with every movement, but he no longer felt as though he would expel his entire stomach at any moment, and his head didn't pound as it had the day before. Aching muscles he could deal with, though he supposed that after yesterday he could deal with anything. Marching all day with a hangover was no easy feat, and he was oddly proud to have accomplished it.
They began moving again not long after he woke. Yesterday, he hadn't said a word the entire march, today he was in a much better mood, and talked a bit with Johns and the rest. Until, of course, Rivers showed up and ruined everything. Jack swore he could kill the man. A single bullet and he'd be free from Rivers' god awful nagging for the rest of his given life. Granted, his given life would be approximately two weeks if he shot Rivers on the spot. That sort of thing was generally frowned upon, he'd heard. Instead, he blatantly ignored Rivers for the remainder of the march.
They arrived at the village after only an hour or so of walking. The scouts that had been sent ahead returned around the time they stopped to regroup for the invasion. It took much longer than Jack had anticipated. Was it longer than usual? Or did it perhaps just feel that way?
Jack could never really be sure. He'd lost sense of time ages ago. He couldn't say he terribly minded the wait-- it was a welcome break after the walking, but the men around him seemed to be rather upset about it. Nearly everyone around him was waiting with baited breath. It seemed pointless to him. They'd marched from village to village for at least two weeks and it'd been the same every time. They march in, the French give them anything they want, and then they wait some more. He couldn't see why this village would be any different, unless there were Germans there, in which case, he was glad. It was about time he got to kill some Krauts.
Johns, thankfully, was not one of the worry-warts hanging about. He stood with Jack cracking jokes about booze and broads and everything else. Jack was glad for the distraction. When Johns seemed to have run out of jokes to tell, Jack brought up his thought.
"I fucking hope so!" Johns said. "It's about fucking time we actually do something useful."
"Fuck yeah it is!" he said.
Rivers had heard them talking. "You have no fucking idea what you're talking about," he said.
"Of course we do!" Johns yelled.
Rivers rolled his eyes and walked away.
"Who the bloody hell does he think he is?" Jack asked.
"Your father, apparently."
"My father would've been just as excited as I am," Jack said.
"I won't do it!" Phil's voice carried through the house. Lily hoped her Nan didn't hear.
"Dad," Jack pleaded. "You can't keep on like this. You need help."
"Like hell," he spat.
"Phil," Lily's mother had joined the conversation now. "At least take a look at the pamphlets, they're nice places."
"I don't care if it's the bloody Garden of Eden, I won't send her away!"
"Dad, that's not we're trying to do."
"Sure sounds like it."
Nan had carried on about the scene outside and Lily had tuned her out. Lily focused back on her grandmother's kind, worn face and found that she was smiling at her. "Something interesting, dear?"
"No, Nan," Lily replied. "When did you say those trees were planted?"
"Oh, I think it's been quite a while..."
"Dad, she's getting worse."
"I. Don't. Care," Lily had never heard her grandfather's voice so angry. "She took care of me, and I'll be damned if I shove her off on someone else."
"But it's so much unnecessary work," Lily's mother tried to explain. "You could still visit her, but you wouldn't have to worry about her medications or about her falling or anything."
"I've never been one to shove off hard work, Mae," Phil responded.
"Well, at least let someone help you," she implored.
"I am not letting some stranger come into our home!"
"I'll do it," Petunia's voice now entered the conversation. It was timid and shy, different than Lily had ever heard her sister speak before.
"What?" Lily couldn't tell who had asked the question.
"I can come help Granddad with Nan," she said. "I can come over when I'm done with school, and on the weekends, and I could even stay here if you needed."
There was a moment of silence, while it seemed the adults in the room pondered the situation.
"Now that's not a half-bad idea.”
Lily sighed, and turned back toward her grandmother. She had stopped talking again, and stared out the window. Lily looked over at the mantel across the room. It held the same pictures it always had. There had been new ones a few times a year while she was younger, but there hadn't been any new additions lately. She looked over them at a distance. She was sure she knew them all by heart: the picture of her family in front of their house, taken when Lily was too young to remember; one of her grandparents on an anniversary; her parents’ wedding photo; her grandparents' wedding photo, and portraits of both her father and grandfather in their uniforms, looking sharp and handsome in black and white. Their faces were familiar to her even now, her grandfather's long nose and large lips, her fathers hooked beak and prominent forehead. The greyscale had removed their coloring; Granddad's hair appeared a light grey, though Lily knew it had been red like hers in his prime, and her father’s was dark as ever, slicked back and revealing his young face. The pictures didn't show it, but both sets of eyes matched hers almost exactly. Lily rose from the sofa where she sat and walked over to examine them more closely.
Her father didn't keep pictures of himself in uniform. When they visited here, he didn't look at it. She had always enjoyed picturing her father as a young soldier, strong and brave and chivalrous. It was harder to imagine her grandfather in such a way. Surely he had been very noble, if the pictures were anything to judge by. She smiled as she looked at the photo.
"He's very handsome, isn't he?" her grandmother had joined her at the mantle.
"Yes, Nan, he is."
"That's my Phil. He was a soldier. Very brave of him, wasn't it?"
"Such an honor for him to fight for his country, isn't it?"
"Yes, Nan," Lily spoke the words without thinking much of them. She wished Petunia much luck in her quest to aid their grandparents. Lily wasn't sure she could do it.
"It was a terrible war," her Nan went on. "I was a nurse, you know. That's why we got on so well. I knew how horrible the war could be. Most people didn't. I really didn't either, but I saw the men come back and he saw them before they left and we knew how awful it was."
"That's so awful," Lily told her. "Were they in very much pain?"
"Oh yes, awful pain, nearly all the time. We did the best we could for them."
"How terrible," her face fell.
"Such a relief that women don't have to fight, isn't it?"
"Oh yes," Lily responded.
"I don't know that I could stand it. I wasn't sure I could even be a nurse and see the after effects, but I knew I had to because I couldn't very well just do nothing, could I? But I'm ever so glad that you won't have to, Lily dear."
Lily didn't answer. She couldn't bring her mouth to form the words, "But I will." She wanted to say, "But I am." Because she was. That exactly what was happening, though the Ministry didn't feel quite fit to call it that, yet. She didn't know how else they could possibly describe it. Just this morning she had read about three new disappearances. All of the Muggleborns or else advocates for them. Two deaths had been reported. It had been a good day.
Dorcas had been the first to call it that, in her column in The Prophet. Lily had read it and of course there were no other words for what was happening. Even at Hogwarts she could see it! She had been bullied and attacked in the hallways because of the state of her blood since her very first morning there. She wasn't the only one. It was a war, all right, and it had been raging since her first day at Hogwarts.
Only, she couldn't very well tell her family that. The images they held of war did not align with what was happening. War meant sending your men off, it meant hiding in basements or bomb shelters and shipping your children off to the country. It meant bullets and bombs and barely breathing men. They hadn't fought because they believed in the cause, they had fought because they believed in their country. It was a different matter entirely now. If she told her parents her world was at war, at war about people like her, they wouldn't be too fond of Lily ever going back to it. But she couldn't very well stay in this one, either. This world had never truly accepted her, and would never, if her sister was any indication. And besides, she couldn't not fight. Women had always their place in the war as well. Nurses, like her grandmother, and military jobs, too. They worked in factories while the men were away and they grew gardens to feed themselves, but they were political too. They didn't fight with guns, by any means, but so often they used their words to carry their weapons for them. Her gender had little to do with this war-- her magic made her as capable as any man.
Well, her father had been sixteen when he ran off to join the army. She'd be sixteen in a few weeks. She thought she might take after him and drop out of school to fight. Only there was no army for her to join. There were no battles over territory, no trenches to die in. There was only killing, senseless killing. The Aurors fought back, she knew, but they wouldn't let her join with no NEWTs, and they certainly wouldn't let her join with now OWLs. So she stayed at school, and she wrote to Dorcas, and sometimes she wrote letters to the editor that were never published.
"I'm glad too," she finally said.
"Glad for what?"
“That I have such a brave grandfather,” she said.
“Oh yes,” Nan responded.
Lily looked back down at his photograph and wondered what his war had been like. His stories had done a great job in creating a scene for her, but the pictures she viewed were all in black and white, and Lily longed for color.
The flare glowed red. Bright and shining, it lit the world around Phil and his comrades, exposing them once again to German fire. As one, they hit the ground, and moved little, scarcely allowing themselves to breathe. They waited for an eternity, until the flare faded out into blackness, and the dark covered them once again. Even then, they remained still, until the risk of discovery had passed, and it was deemed safe to continue moving. They finished their work quickly and sloppily, and crawled back to the trenches as covertly as possible. They all breathed heavy sighs of relief as they made it back safely. It was never guaranteed, and they all counted their blessings upon each return. The trench meant safety. As much safety as they could ever know while on the front. The rumbling of shells in the distance was almost comforting, the dirty holes almost felt like home. They almost let themselves relax when they returned.
Phil reached into his pockets and pulled out a fag. He leaned against the dirt wall and lit up carefully. Hooper joined him. They inhaled the smoke and smiled, the nicotine relaxing them more than they could ever hope to be otherwise. The ends glowed orange, a color much more comforting than the dangerous red of the flares. Orange was safe. Red was death.
"Close, eh?" Hooper said.
"Too close, yeah," Phil said.
"It's like they know when we're leaving."
"Do you think?"
"I think it's more than a coincidence that they light flares every time we go out to lay the wire."
"Bad luck, perhaps."
"Bad luck and a bit of knowledge on their part."
"Or maybe good luck for them? Random flaring catches more than none."
"Let's go get some shut eye, eh?"
"You go," Phil said. "I want another fag."
"Alright then," Hooper responded. "Suit yourself."
Phil nodded as Hooper left and pulled out another one. He struck the match and let the smoke enter his lungs once again. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall. The wall vibrated with the landing of the shells, a near constant these days. It seemed like it was rocking him to sleep. The noise grew louder, and Phil embraced it. He could do nothing else. Phil inhaled deeply, and let the nicotine work its sweet magic. He almost didn't notice the increasing vibrations in the wall he leaned against.
"Evans!" Someone shouted. Phil turned to look. There were a lot of Evanses, but it never hurt to check, besides, it was him being yelled at a significant portion of the time. His eyes scanned the horizon until they fell upon the silhouette of Glover running toward him. "What the fuck are you doing?" he yelled again. Evans didn't have time to respond. "Take cover!" he screamed.
Phil didn't take time to respond or acknowledge the command. He followed the order. He turned from where he was and ran as fast as his feet would carry him.
The air breaking against his face brought his senses back to life. It was dark, but he could make out how the dirt was falling into the trenches. He could feel the vibrations throughout his whole body. The screeching of the shells falling through the air was unbearably shrill; the sound of the explosion afterward was much, much worse. He could smell the smoke mingling in the air. Sweat began to drip from his face as he ran, and he gasped aloud as the cigarette he had been holding burned the palm of his hand. It fell to the dirt as he continued running. He cursed himself for ever letting his guard down.
Glover was still some paces behind him, but Phil could hear his huffing and panting and hoped that meant he was safe. He turned his head back quickly to check, and found that Glover was approaching him rather quickly. Phil took this as a sign to run faster.
His chest tightened and a thousand knives pierced his lungs with every breath. He could not stop. He would not stop. The adrenaline rushing through his veins allowed him to ignore it. He thought of nothing but to keep running as fast as possibly could.
And then Phil was flying.
The force that projected her through the air took Lily quite by surprise. One moment she had been walking through the corridors, the next, she was hurdling through the air, sprung forward by a great deal of force against her back. She didn’t need to guess who was behind the attack.
She hit the ground hard, and it took the breath away. It took a moment for her to recover--precious seconds she could not afford to lose. She began to rise from the floor, but found it difficult to move. It was as if the air around her had become molasses. There was laughter erupting from behind her. Multiple laughs. Of course.
“Look at the Mudblood crawl!” One of them shouted.
“She’s so useless, she can’t even walk properly!”
“Not entirely useless,” one commented. She could hear his meaning in his voice, and for the first time, Lily panicked. She was alone with these boys, and completely defenseless. Sev wasn’t with them, and she wasn’t sure he would do anything about it if he were.
“Wouldn’t want that,” the boy said. “Might catch something off her.”
The pressure that had been holding Lily back lifted very suddenly and she was able to move freely. She stayed still for a moment, hoping her captors hadn’t noticed. Her wand had flown several feet forward, completely out of her grasp. She listened carefully to their voices still debating the merits of raping her or not, and without another moment’s hesitation, Lily took off running as fast as she possibly could. It seemed to take Avery and Mulciber by surprise, as they were not able to respond right away. Lily was able to reach her wand and pick it up before they once again started spewing spells at her.
She dodged one flash of light that had been poorly aimed by a flustered Avery. She sent one back at him, successfully disarming him. Avery, on the other hand, was still very much armed. She attempted to dodge the jet black light he sent at her, but did not quite make it, and the light hit her squarely in the shoulder. She could feel the boils painfully erupt on her body. "Conjunctiva!" she yelled. The curse hit him, and Avery yelled out, his hand clasped against his eyes, trying to alleviate the pain.
By now, Mulciber had acquired his wand, and was throwing curses at her with rapid speed. She threw up a shield, which deflected them. It did not last as long as she needed, and eventually, a jelly-legs jinx he had thrown hit her, and she collapsed once again on the floor.
She rose again as quickly as she could, but she could hear Mulciber's footsteps coming closer and his angry rantings as he did so. She could not possibly prepare herself in time. Avery had stopped screaming in pain and was now joining Mulciber in his approach. She wasn't sure what was about to happen, but she was sure it would be something unspeakably terrible. She took a deep breath and braced herself for whatever was coming for her.
"Expelliarmus!" two new voices called from behind her. She looked up to see that her tormentors had been effectively disarmed, then looked back to see who her rescuers had been.
"Taking on Evans by herself?" James Potter said, his voice annoyingly casual.
"Not very fair, is it, Prongs?" Sirius Black asked.
"No, not at all, Padfoot," he shook his head at his friend. "Looks like Evans gave them quite the fight though. Alright there, Evans?"
Lily rose to her feet and nodded, "Fine, thank you."
Avery had slowly begun to walk backwards, in an attempt to retrieve his wand while Potter was distracted. Black, however, did not miss his wanderings, and immediately sent a curse flying at him, knocking him to the ground.
"How dare you?" Mulciber shouted.
"Like this," Black responded, and with another curse, sent Mulciber flying.
Potter gaffed, and Lily couldn't help but laugh as well. "Nice one, Padfoot!" Potter said.
"Why thank you," he gave a little bow. As he rose, a flash of light hit him, and knocked him to the ground.
James responded immediately, sending a curse that made Mulciber's teeth grow rapidly.
This had given Avery enough distraction to retrieve his wand, and send a curse at Potter. Black, by now, was back on his feet, and then, without Lily knowing really what happened, there was light being spewed all around her. When she had regained her composure, she sent up a shield charm between the dueling boys, sending Potter and Black flying backwards. She turned then to the Slytherins, yelled "Stupefy!" twice, and smiled coyly as both bodies hit the floor soundly. She then turned to Potter and Black.
"Hey now," Potter said. "We were just starting to have some fun!"
"Oh, terribly sorry about that," Lily said. "How silly of me to end a fight that started with an attack against me. Daft, really."
"At least you realize it," Black said. "You'll know better for next time."
"Next time I'm attacked by two Slytherins alone I'll be sure to call you," she said. "Wouldn't want you to miss out on all the fun."
"Thank you," Black said with a cheeky grin.
Lily rolled her eyes and began to walk away.
"Evans! Wait!" Potter yelled back at her. She ignored him and kept walking.
She heard his footsteps jogging to catch up to her, and she heard Black rise, chuckling to himself. "Are you okay?" Potter asked when he caught up.
"I'm fine," she snapped.
"Good," he said.
She continued walking.
"You're not cross, surely? Not about this?"
"Oh, I'm quite cross."
"But we-we were helping you!"
"Yes, and I'll thank you for it. Glad I could be of some enjoyment at least."
"You can't take Sirius so seriously," he said. "He was only joking."
"Yes and a very funny joke it was. Ha. Ha."
"Evans, really, we only wanted to help. And don't you dare say you didn't need it, or you didn't ask for it, because you did need it, at least right then you did, and you shouldn't have to ask for help."
"Oh, you'll show up to be my knight in shining armour every time I need it, then? Wonderful."
"I only meant that I don't need to be asked to do the right thing. Especially when the right thing is cursing Slytherins."
"Good to know."
"Evans," he pleaded.
"What?" Lily turned back at him. "Thank you for your help. Really. Thank you. I appreciate it. I don't, however, appreciate the fact that you seem to be making a game out of this, out of me being attacked in the middle of a corridor. I don't really find being cornered by two men who want to do serious harm to me any fun at all, really."
She kept walking, and much to her surprise, he kept going with her. "Well, if it's any consolation, you seemed to really do some damage. What curse did you use on Avery's eyes?"
"Will you teach it to me sometime?"
"And you know, two against one isn't really fair at all. It was a cheap tactic."
"Effective, though, wasn't it?"
"What? It was. They were about to get exactly what they wanted. They knew they would, too. Ironic though, isn't it? That they hate me so much because I'm a Mudblood, and I'm meant to be less magical than they are, but they're too bloody cowardly to face me alone."
"They should be though, you're brilliant."
"Of course I am," she said. "I have to be."
He looked confused for a moment, but followed her around the corner and toward the staircase. "Where are we going?"
"I am going to Slughorn's office."
"Why are you going there?"
"Because one of them hit me with boils and I can't exactly go to the Hospital Wing and tell Madame Pomfrey that I was dueling in the corridors. I am a Prefect now, I need to at least have an air of responsibility."
"It wasn't your fault though! They attacked you! Can't you just tell her that?"
"And who will they believe? It will be two against one, as it always is."
"You'd have me and Sirius."
"Ah, but you were only there for the end, weren't you? Didn't see how it started."
"And Slughorn will just give you what you're asking for?"
"Does this happen to you often?"
"More than you would ever possibly believe."
"Why don't you tell anyone?"
Lily scoffed. "They wouldn't believe me. Obviously. And even if they did, it would just make it worse in the long run."
"How do you figure?"
"You're a bully, you tell me."
"I'm not a bully."
"You are the definition of a bully."
"I'm not! I only hex people who deserve it."
"He's never done a thing to you."
"Oh, he's done plenty. He does exist, you know."
Lily looked at him. "You are disgusting. Now if you'll please leave me alone, I really do need to see Slughorn about this potion. He'll ask questions if you follow me in there."
"Are you sure it's safe to walk alone?" he asked. His concern was mocking and cruel.
"I'll take the risk," she said. "Anything they could do to me is better than staying with you another minute."
And with that, she turned and walked into the dungeons. It wasn't much farther to Slughorn's office, and the boils on her shoulder were beginning to ache. She made it there, and as expected, Slughorn gave her the potion without question.
She made her way back up to the dormitory, abandoning the quest she had set out upon when she had left. She could always go to the library some other time, after all, and she’d really like to be in something a bit more comfortable as the boils on her shoulder healed. She began climbing the stairs, her wand drawn now, just in case, and the potion Slughorn had given her in her other hand. He had warned her of the possible side effects, drowsiness, nausea, and a temporary purple tongue, and had said they could be a bit extreme. Best to take it when she was safely back in her dorm, and she could fall asleep if she needed to.
She reached the landing of the staircase where she’d have to switch to another, and began walking that way quickly. There weren’t people around, though she could hear some sort of noise coming from around the corner somewhere. She didn’t like it. Better to walk quickly and not be caught on her own again.
The noise seemed to get louder as she approached the cross section of the corridor where she needed to turn to make her way to Gryffindor Tower. She turned into it with all the authority she could muster. She was a Prefect now, and she could absolutely put a stop to any of this. Probably. As soon as she stepped into the open corridor a purple flash of light flew by her ear. She dodged it and quickly moved back to press herself against the corridor wall. From there, she leaned over to survey the situation. Much to her dismay, but not very surprisingly, she found Potter and Black, and Lupin and Pettigrew too, dueling with about seven Slytherin students.
She dodged another flash of bright white light by pressing herself against the corridor wall, then took a deep breath, and prepared to enter the fight.
The brick wall behind him was the only thing holding Jack upright. He breathed heavily, sweat ran in rivulets down his face. The gun he held was heavy in his hands. Another round of shots began to go off in quite close proximity to him. He turned gun first around the corner and began to shoot back.
He saw the bullets enter the brick, the dust spraying into the air and creating a translucent cloud. He whipped back behind the wall, trying to determine what to do. He had ended up alone here, and he wasn’t quite sure how. The Germans had invaded, and chaos had ensued. There had been a plan, at some point, but everyone had forgotten it as soon as the trouble began. His company had scattered. He had followed Johns, at first, and the pair had had progressed forward, thinking it the best way to finally use their guns. They had used them, all right, and then Johns had run out of ammunition and took off running, leaving Jack alone to defend himself. He leaned forward and unleashed another round, hoping this time, that he'd hit his assailant. He hadn't. He was running low on ammunition, and he had to get past this check point. That's where his unit was, and he was sure it would not be long before the captain called retreat.
He sighed as the bullets once again hit the brick wall, and missed the enemy hiding behind it. His pack held a hand grenade, he knew, but he doubted the wisdom of using it. He had only one, and he was not sure when or if he'd be equipped with another. His aim wouldn't be great either, but he wasn't so sure that mattered, really. An explosion is an explosion, and he wasn't concerned what damage it caused, so long as it was far away from him.
He turned and shot one last time, watching the bullets once again sink into unintended targets. Well that settled it. He had to use the grenade. There were no other options. He reached for it on his body, and pulled it out quickly. He examined it briefly before he made to activate it. The steps to using one went through his brain quickly. Pull the firing pin, throw the thing as hard as you possibly could in the direction you wanted it to go, take cover and hope for the best. It wasn't very complicated.
He took a deep breath, steadied his hands, and pulled the pin. He hurled it around the corner in the direction of the shooter he was having it out with. He didn't stop to watch where it ended up, instead he quickly pushed himself back behind his corner and made his way farther in, found a place to take cover, protected his head, and waited for approximately ten seconds until the sound of the exploding grenade found his ears. He waited in his covered position for several moments before rising and examining his surroundings. Nothing seemed to have been out of place around him, so he hesitantly rose to his feet and began to jog back to his position. The building he had been shooting at earlier now had a rather large hole in its side, and there was a lot of dust rising up from the ground.
He still wasn't sure if the German he had been shooting at was dead, but he decided to take his chance while there was cover to be had. He held his gun steady and poised, ready to shoot should the opportunity arise, and ran full tilt into the street.
The dust in the air choked him as he ran, and he could smell the dirt and gunpowder rise up through his nostrils. He moved passed the alley where his enemy had been hiding, but did not stop to see the damage that had been done. Instead, he kept running, as fast as he possibly could. He passed streets upon streets. He hoped beyond hope that there were no snipers atop of buildings or behind corners waiting for him to pass. He even prayed that he would make it through the rubble safely.
He ran straight ahead, for several long minutes, until he realized he actually had no idea where he was going. Where was he, anyway? How had he gotten here? All these stupid fucking French buildings looked exactly the fucking same. How was he supposed to know where he was?
He kept running, straight ahead. He figured he'd either find his troops this way, or else he'd run right into German fire and at least that way he'd die a valiant death. He hoped for the former.
A small cathedral rose up in front of him. This he recognized. They'd lined up here before, hadn't they? And he had seen the steeple as they marched in. Excellent, he was heading in the right direction. Had the commander told him where they should meet in case of an emergency like this? Yes! Yes of course he had. Turn right, and there was the street Jack had spent the past few days living on. He ran down it, still breathing heavily. His ears were ringing, there was more gunfire coming from somewhere, he wasn't sure where. It wasn't ahead of him, it wasn't close enough to hit him, and that was all he needed to know to keep going.
Another left, and there it was! The forest on the edge of town. That was where they were mean to meet. He took a moment. The village was on top of a rather large hill, and the forest lay at the bottom of it. There was a large open gap between the forest and the village. Running into it would expose him entirely, he'd be at complete risk of German fire.
But he couldn't very well stay where he was, now could he? He looked to his left, and he looked to his right, took a deep breath and ran faster than he ever had in his life down the hill.
In his peripheral vision, he noticed that he had apparently inspired several other men to do the same. They ran on either side of him, a handful in both directions, each spaced several yards apart. It wasn't long after he noticed this that the fire started.
He could hear it coming from behind him, aimed at him. But he couldn't very well look back and see what direction it was coming from. He couldn't know whether he was in the direct line of fire. But he knew he had to be close. One of the men off to the left began running in zigzags, hoping to dodge the bullets that way. Another next to him kept straight and then fell; Jack wasn't sure he wanted to know why. The forest was close, and getting closer every minute. If only he could hold out just a few moments longer-- and he was sure he could, but he wasn't sure the haze of bullets coming at him had the same idea.
The man directly to his right took a bullet through his head. Jack knew it this time, he could see the blood and brain spatter into the air in the split second before the man fell to the ground. For once, Jack was grateful that Paddy had insisted upon fastening his helmet correctly.
Had that man been wearing a helmet though? Jack thought he might have been. He wasn’t sure how much good it would do him. He didn’t care to find out, either. Instead, he put his focus on the woods ahead of him. Each stride he took was a fraction closer, and yet it didn’t seem as if he would ever make it. Until he did.
He ran across the border of the trees, and kept running. The woods provided him with cover, but not enough for him to feel quite safe until he was deeper inside them. When the world around him was covered in the darkness of shadows, he slowed to a walk and began to catch his breath. Surely his troop would be here somewhere. He stood still for a moment and listened around him. He could still hear the gunshots crying out from the village, and under that, more softly, and closer, he heard the sounds of his comrades: the crunch of the earth beneath their feet as they walked, and, was that radio static?
He followed the sound more closely, walking slowly, in case it was not his comrades at all, but a group of Germans waiting to annihilate him. The static of the radio cut out and he could hear a commander begin to speak. Jack hurried his footsteps, and joined the group.
“Operation Dynamo begins now,” the commander said. “We march for Dunkirk at dawn.”
AN: I think the transitions in this chapter are my favorite so far :) I think this chapter is my favorite so far, actually. Let me know what you think!
Chapter 5: If Ye Break Faith
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Lily awoke on her sixteenth birthday in the warm comfort of her Hogwarts bed. The scarlet curtains surrounding her were the same that had greeted her on her very first morning here, and since then, they had become rather more welcoming than the room she shared with her sister back at home. Petunia had moved in with their grandparents the very last week of winter hols, which left Lily rather relieved, though not nearly as content as when she had arrived back at Hogwarts.
Lily stretched and yawned deeply before rising and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She rose to her knees and pulled the curtain open around her. As usual, she was the first of the girls in her dorm to wake, and the other curtains remained tightly closed around the four poster beds. A small pile of gifts graced the foot of her bed. She giggled to herself, crawled to the foot of her bed and began opening them carefully. There were several small trinkets from the girls in her dorm, a lovely set of earrings in particular from Mary, the standard box of chocolates from Sev (she had told him he needn't get her anything at all), and three boxes from home. The first was signed Mum, Dad, and Tuney (though she doubted very much that Petunia had anything at all to do with that gift), and contained a beautiful necklace that she was certain her mother had picked out. The second was rather large, and Lily knew immediately it was from her grandparents. She opened it and, unsurprisingly, found a purple dress wrapped in white tissue paper. She pulled it from the box and looked it over. Her grandfather had made it, she knew, and it was all the more beautiful for it. And surprisingly in-style, given his age. Perhaps he had employed some help with it, though she couldn't imagine who he could possibly ask. The third box was puzzling. The label read "To Lily, Love Dad," but why would her father send her a gift in addition to the necklace? It was strange. She opened it with caution, removing the brown paper with the care it had not received in wrapping. A medium sized wooden box was revealed - a jewelry box, perhaps? She opened it to reveal another letter.
Happy Birthday! I figure you're sixteen now, which is plenty old enough for this. It's the time I started smoking, after all, and I know you'll do it anyway, so I might as well know you're doing it right. It's not a fancy one, it's actually the one I had in the war, and your granddad too. I thought you might appreciate that. It's old but it still smokes alright. I'm sure you've seen me do it enough to figure it out. If not, write me, I'll send directions. Just, make sure your mom won't read it? You have a way, I'm sure. She says tobacco is unhealthy, and she doesn't want either of you doing it. I figure this is better than your fags, at any rate, so you can knock that shit right off. Don't think I don't know about it.
Anyway, enjoy the pipe. It's treated me well.
Lily smirked to herself as she put the letter down, and examined the pipe that lay inside the box. It was made of a deep mahogany, simple in design but well made. Her father had cleaned it for her, but the inside remained a deep black from years of usage. There was a small silver pipe tool that lay in the box alongside of it, and two bags of tobacco underneath.
She heavily debated packing it to smoke right there, but decided that might not be the best idea just yet. Instead, she packed it away neatly into the box from which had come, and stowed it in her trunk.
"Happy birthday, Lily," a groggy voice came from across the room.
"Thanks, Mary," Lily called back softly. The other girl lay back on her bed, obviously not quite ready to rise for the day yet. Lily took the opportunity to ready herself. She washed and slipped into the dress her grandfather had made for her. She really did quite like it, and it wasn't too fancy for wearing on a Saturday about the school. The necklace her mother had sent fit nicely around her neck, and the silver of the chain went quite well with the dress. She wondered if her mother had coordinated with Granddad. Maybe she had been the one to choose the style of the dress.
"Are you going to come down to breakfast?" Lily asked Mary.
Mary yawned. "Don't wait for me," she said. "I'll meet you down there in a bit."
"Alright," she said. She found a pair of shoes, and made her way down to the Common Room. Several people greeted her with birthday wishes, and she smiled and thanked them cordially. The corridors on the way to the Great Hall were not deserted, which Lily, at this point, was quite thankful for. She found that quite a few students were headed to the Great Hall for breakfast, but not many had finished and were returning.
When she arrived in the hall, she found about a quarter of the school's population awake and eating. There was a cheerful buzz of noise-- morning conversations, laughter, the occasional sleepy yawn. Lily smiled and made her way to Gryffindor table. None of her dormmates had risen yet, so she made her way to where the boys of her year sat. "G'morning," she said as she sat down.
"Morning," they said in a chorus.
"Sure you want to sit here?" Potter asked. "Wouldn't want to put you off your eggs."
Lily rolled her eyes. "Maybe if you didn't do stupid things, we wouldn't have this problem."
"I wouldn't say the things I do are stupid," he said. "Funny. Fun. Good-natured."
"Sometimes. But sometimes stupid as well." The other boys stifled chuckles. Lily raised a glass of pumpkin juice to her lips to take a drink.
"Happy birthday, by the way, Lily," Remus said, looking up from his toast.
"Thank you, Remus." She offered him a genuine smile.
"It's your birthday?" Peter asked.
"No, you dolt, Remus has only said that for shits and giggles," Potter said.
Lily smiled, trying not to laugh.
"Happy birthday," Peter said, a bit shyly.
"Happy birthday," Potter and Black said in unison.
"Thank you," she said.
"You know," Potter said to Black. "We should do something to commemorate the occasion."
"Like what?" Lily asked, her eyes widening.
"Well..." Potter began.
But he was interrupted by the loud screech of the owls as they entered the hall to deliver the mail. Lily had already received her gifts, but was pleased to see another card in the post, and her copy of the Prophet. She opened the card to find that it was from Sev's mother, and she smiled, glad to think she had remembered.
She put it away and went to the Prophet. She thought that Dorcas was meant to have an article printed today, and she was excited to see what her role model had to say. The boys had already torn into Potter's copy, and were blabbering about Quidditch scores. She gathered that Potter's team had lost quite badly, and smirked at his bad reaction.
Her eyes fell to her own front page, found nothing of the ordinary, and opened it up, scanning for Dorcas's article. On the next page, a headline caught her eye. "Several Muggles killed in London attack."
"What?" she mouthed quietly.
She went on to read the very short article. "Several Muggles were killed yesterday in an attack on London. The attack is believed to be the work of the followers of He Who Must Not Be Named, though the reasoning behind the attack is as of yet unclear. No Witches or Wizards were harmed."
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me," she whispered more to herself than anyone within earshot of her.
"What is it?"
"Several Muggles killed in a magical attack yesterday," she said, "and it doesn't even make the bloody front page."
The boys at the table stared at her, not knowing quite what to say.
"They don't know why, or who did it, but the important thing here is that no magical people were harmed," she said.
"Well that's good, isn't it?"
"Sure. I'm glad no one else was hurt, but this is ridiculous."
The boys didn't respond, and Lily was glad. If she thought any more about it she thought she might burst. "What's new in the world of Quidditch?" she asked.
"Puddlemere lost," James lamented.
"And now he owes me two galleons," Sirius said gleefully.
Lily chuckled. "How fare the Harpies?"
"Oh, don't tell me you're a Harpies fan!" James said.
"I am absolutely a Harpies fan."
"What a disappointment."
Lily shrugged. "What's not to like about the Harpies?"
James looked as if he was about to go on a rather long tangent about everything there was not to like about the Harpies, but thought better of it.
"They beat Puddlemere the last time they played," Remus filled her in.
"The last ten or so times they've played," Sirius added.
Lily grinned. "Well that's lovely news. But they weren't playing Puddlemere this week, were they?"
"No," James said. "They played the Cannons."
"Oh, so they won then?"
"That's not saying much against the Cannons."
"Fared better than Puddlemere, I think."
James narrowed his eyes at her. Lily smiled in return, then went back to her newspaper. With any luck, there would be no more bad news to discover on her birthday. She wasn't hopeful for good news, but she could realistically wish for no more bad. A few pages in she discovered Dorcas's article, and read it over, smiling. She had half hoped that she would have written about the Muggles that were killed yesterday, but figured there probably hadn't been enough time to cover it. Maybe next week she would be appeased.
"What are you reading now?" James asked.
"Dorcas Meadowes's article," she replied.
"It always is," she responded.
"I've never followed her, really."
"You should," she said. "Dorcas is brilliant. Very intelligent and practical and she sees what is actually happening in the world. Isn't afraid to say it, either, which really says a lot. The Ministry isn't too fond of her, I think."
"That says even more," James responded.
"You'd like her, I think," Lily said. "And you might learn something, too."
"Well I wouldn't want that."
"What wouldn't you want, James?" Mary asked as she approached the table.
"You're in the wrong place, then, mate," she responded.
"Don't I know it?"
"It was a stupid fucking decision."
"No one is arguing that point."
"Because it was a stupid fucking decision."
"But not our commander's. Blame Winston Churchill if you want to blame anyone."
"I doubt Churchill decided that he was gonna make us stop in that village at all when this super-secret operation was already being planned."
"Ya never know."
Jack rolled his eyes at the men arguing. "Who fucking cares whose idea it was? Nothing to be done now."
"What do you know, kid?"
"I know that we can't magically go back in time to leave earlier, so what's the point in arguing about it?"
"I want to fucking argue about it," the man said.
"Bottle up the urge and use the energy for marching," Jack replied. "You'll be thankful for it."
"Watch your fucking mouth, kid."
Jack didn't respond. They kept marching.
"How much farther?" someone else shouted. No one really knew.
The commanders had shown them the maps; they had shown them the route they were to take to Dunkirk, but had only vaguely mentioned how far it was. By the pace they were keeping, Jack could only guess that they had quite a ways to go.
"Shut up!" someone else called to the man questioning. He did as he was told.
Jack wondered what the wisdom was of running the soldiers ragged trying to get to the battle. Wouldn't be much use when the time came if they were sleeping in their boots. Maybe they'd have a day or so of rest before they went in. Jack was hopeful; it had been a while since he'd tasted whiskey, and he was anxious to try it again.
"Are you ready?" Johns asked as he walked up behind him.
Jack grinned. "I was born ready for this."
"I thought so."
"About fucking time we got around to it," Jack replied. "We've been at war for what, five months? And I haven't seen a fucking battle yet."
"What was that at the village then?"
Johns laughed. "Damn right."
"How long do you think it'll take before we beat them so badly they go crawling back to Germany?"
"About five minutes, give or take," Johns said.
"As long as it's enough for me to kill a couple," Jack said.
"I'm sure you won't be disappointed."
The sky had begun to darken; grey clouds formed in the sky and slowly worked their way in front of the sun.
"Think it'll rain?" Jack asked Johns.
"Don't fucking care," Johns said.
Jack didn't either. If it rained, all the better, really. He'd march through anything to get to battle.
They were not disappointed. Half an hour later they started to feel droplets falling from the sky, and after an hour, it was a full on downpour. He heard some men complain and wish they'd stop marching. They didn't slow their pace.
"Quit your whining!" Johns hollered. "You're English, ain't ya? What's a little rain gonna do?"
Jack couldn't help but laugh.
The rain was refreshing, and he embraced it. He hadn't showered in a while, and the rain was almost as good. It ran down his face and neck and Jack couldn’t think of anything that would feel better.
Phil leaned his head against the window, the wool of his hat shielding his head from the cool glass. Rain slid down upon it and drenched the world outside. Phil couldn’t help but smile; some things just never changed, and he was grateful for the consistency, especially now.
“Excuse me,” a female voice broke him from his reverie. He looked up to see a tall, thin woman in a nurse’s uniform looking at him. Her bright red hair was done in the same simple coif as all the others. “May I sit here?”
She was asking, he knew, out of politeness and not actual curiosity, so he nodded and removed his pack from the seat beside him.
“Where are you headed?” she asked as she sat down.
“Manchester,” he answered.
“I’m off in Birmingham,” she said. “How long are you on leave?”
“A week,” he said. “But two days travelling each way.”
“That’s a long way,” the woman said. “Are you at the Front?”
“Yeah,” Phil said.
“Oh gosh,” she said, her voice full of terror. Her pretty round face was contorted with an expression of disgust. “I’ve seen what happens out there.”
“I very much doubt that, Miss,” he replied sadly.
She looked appalled at what she had heard herself say. “Oh, of course not. I suppose I couldn’t even imagine it, really, but I’ve seen how the men come back and it seems as if they’ve come back from Hell.”
“That I’ll agree with,” Phil said.
“Oh goodness, I suppose this is the last thing you want to talk about, isn’t it? How terribly rude of me.”
“It’s alright,” Phil responded. “I’m sure you won’t be the only one, it’s good to practice.”
“If you’re sure.”
“I am,” he said. “You are completely forgiven.”
“I shall rest easy now.”
“I’m very glad for it.”
She smiled at him, a true smile, he realized, the first she had worn during their meeting. It lit up her face and her blue eyes shined.
“I’m Fiona Bradshaw,” she said finally, extending her hand towards him.
“Phil Evans,” he countered.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Phil,” she said.
“You as well, Fiona.”
“Rubbish weather though, isn’t it?”
“Just a bit,” he said. “But I don’t mind it.”
“You like rain?”
“Not usually,” Phil said. “But I like it now.”
“It feels like home.”
Fiona smiled at him, and Phil couldn’t think of a more beautiful sight.
“Have you been gone for long?”
“Just a few months.”
“And you have leave already?”
“Oh, are you alright?”
“Just fine,” he said. “But the doctor said I needed some rest, so home I’m going.”
“I’m sure your family is very excited.”
“My mother is very happy, yes. She said she’d make all my favorite foods for me.”
“Well that’s the best part about going home, isn’t it?”
Phil laughed. “I think it might be.”
“It’s certainly my favorite. It’s a much better part than sharing a bed with my sisters again.”
“How many sisters do you have?”
“Seven. And four brothers. But I only share the bed with two.”
“Oh my, your parents really have a handful, don’t they?”
“Aye, Mum cried when I left for London, but I think she was a little relieved.”
“Are you the first to leave?”
"No, not quite. Florence and Margaret are gone, maids at the big house. Beatrice is married, Eleanor is training to be a nurse as well, and the rest are still in school. But with twelve children, four gone hardly makes a difference."
"I'm sure your family would disagree."
"They do enjoy the wages I send them."
"See? I'm sure it makes quite the difference."
She laughed. "Perhaps. What about you? Any siblings at home?"
"Just me and Mum," he said.
"How lonely," she said. "I'm not sure what I would do without a large family. Sleep alone, maybe. But I do that now that I've gone anyway. And it was always so nice to share the bed with Vera and Samantha and Nellie."
"I thought you didn't like it?"
"Well, they're much bigger now," she said.
Phil laughed. "I suppose that makes quite the difference."
Fiona nodded. "Very much so."
"What about your brothers?"
"Henry and Winston are off in France," she said, a bit sadly. "And Gerald is just waiting the day he gets called up. Mum and Dad won’t let him enlist before then. Haskell is far too young for that."
"Tell him not to wait too anxiously," he said.
"I don't think it'll do much good. Apparently some nasty woman handed him a feather in the park a few weeks ago. He was none too pleased."
"He shouldn't mind them. They're a bunch of bloody cowards, if you ask me."
"I tried telling him. If they saw what I saw, what you saw… maybe they wouldn't be so eager for all the men to go off. They haven't any idea what they're encouraging their brothers and sons to do, have they?"
"No, I can't say they do."
"Maybe they wouldn't be so arrogant about it if they had."
"Do you think?"
"Nursing changed my ideas about it."
"Were you a member of the Order?"
"No. Seemed a bit silly to me. I thought I could be of more use to the war this way. I'd say I was right."
"What did you think about it?"
"I thought it was absolutely foolish of them," he said shortly. "Who are they to say I'm a coward when they'll never have to face the Front?"
"Did they hand you one?"
"Oh," she said. "I'm so sorry."
"It wasn't you," he said.
He didn't respond, and she remained silent for a few moments. "You're rather shy, aren't you?" she asked, finally.
"And you're not shy at all."
She blushed a little. "Father always said it was unbecoming for a woman to speak as much as I do. I can't say I care terribly much."
Phil smiled at her. "I don't think you should mind it. I'm rather enjoying the conversation."
She blushed a deeper shade of red and grinned.
Phil returned her smile, but remained quiet.
"Do you enjoy reading, Phil?" she asked.
"I do, but I can't say I have much time for it."
"Oh, I dare say you don't. I know I never seem to have any time for anything pleasurable at all. But if you get the chance, you absolutely have to read this book..."
And the conversation continued. Fiona paved the way, and Phil followed happily along. They laughed often, and Phil was sure he had never learned so much about a stranger before. There were men in his unit he didn't know so much about. He didn't mind it at all. Somewhere between London and Birmingham, the rain had stopped, and the sun began shining. Phil didn't notice until the train began to slow.
"It certainly cleared up," he said.
"Does it feel less like home for it?" Fiona asked.
"No, no, it feels like it even more, now."
"I'm very glad."
She began to pack up her things, buttoning her coat and placing her hat upon her head.
"Are you going?" he asked.
"It's Birmingham," she said.
"It's been three hours," she replied.
"Oh," he said. He thought for a moment. "Well, it was lovely to meet you. You've provided a ray of sunlight in a terribly grey day."
Fiona blushed deeply. "I'm glad to have brightened it, if only for a few hours."
"I'm glad for it, too."
The train halted to a stop, and the door to the compartment they shared opened. She turned to move toward the door, and made the short journey rather slowly. As she began the descent to the platform, she turned back to look at Phil. She smiled widely at him. "It was really ever so nice to meet you, Phil."
He gave a small smile back to her. "Indeed it was."
She turned back and finished descending the stairs. She paused for a moment at the opening of the door, then walked quickly away. Phil moved closer to the window and stared out of it, watching her as she moved throughout the crowd and out of his life forever. He was surprised to find that he was quite sad to watch her go.
And then he saw her stop. A man in a suit handed her something, and she moved close to a wall, leaning against it, though Phil couldn't see what she was doing. After a few moments, she returned to the man, grinning at him, and mouthing words Phil couldn't make out. Then she took off in a run, back toward the train. She pushed and shoved and dodged the people that she had weaved through just moments before, and Phil was utterly bewildered.
The train blew its horn, signaling that it would soon begin its journey once again. Phil stood from his seat, and stepped down on the step toward the platform. Fiona was running closer, and waving at him now.
The engineers were beginning to close the doors. He prayed Fiona would run just a bit faster. He stepped down onto the platform.
"Phil!" she shouted.
He took a few steps toward her. The engineer was moving closer to his compartment. He turned toward him, and shouted, "Give me a few minutes, can ya?"
The engineer seemed to pause, evaluating the situation for a moment before saying, "Just a few, I suppose, wouldn't hurt."
"Thanks, mate," he said.
And the moment the engineer had taken to pause had given Fiona just enough time to make it to him.
"Phil," she said, breathless.
"Fiona," he replied.
"I have to go," she said.
"Me too," he said.
"But it was so nice talking to you," she said.
"It was," he said.
"I don't suppose you have anyone to write to, while you’re at the Front?" she asked.
"No," he said. "I don't."
"Then write to me," she said. "Please." She handed him a piece of paper.
"Of course," he said.
She grinned at him.
He grinned back.
The engineer hollered that they had to move on.
"I have to go," Phil said.
"I know," Fiona said.
"I'll write," he said.
"I know," she said.
He smiled at her again, and turned and walked back to his compartment, climbed up the steps and into it without looking back. He couldn't look back. He might change his mind and follow her home. Only when he had been safely locked in the compartment did he dare to turn back around. She still stood there, grinning at him, and waving now. He smiled just as widely and waved back at her. And they kept at it, as the train lurched into motion, smiling and waving at each other until Phil had moved too far out of sight to continue.
Only when he could no longer see her, and the platform had become but a speck in the distance, did Phil finally move back to his seat.
The relief of sitting was almost unbearably pleasurable. After walking for days on end, to finally rest his legs was sweeter than Jack could ever have imagined. It did not matter that he was on the ground and not in a chair. It might have been better that way, actually. He contemplated lying down and letting the ground support his entire body, but held off the impulse, for now at least. He had only a few more minutes before he would be called to stand at attention again, and he wasn't sure he would be able to stand again if he lay down now.
"Smell the ocean breeze, boys!" Jeremiah Johns called as he walked over to where Jack sat.
Jack took a deep breath in through his nose. "Smells like winning," Jack said, grinning.
"Ain't it sweet?" Johns said as he sat down next to Jack.
"Aye, it is."
Johns reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. "Nothing like the smell of fresh sea air to smoke to, eh?" he said, half the words muttered with a cigarette between his teeth.
Jack grinned. "Absolutely." He pulled out his own, and Johns held up his flame for Jack to light it off of. "Thanks," he said.
"No problem, mate."
"What a fucking week it's been," Johns said as he exhaled his first drag.
"You can say that again," Jack replied.
"What a fucking week it's been."
"We get bloody attacked by the Krauts, then we get marched off to the bloody North Pole, and now they tell us we'll be fighting Jerry again in the morning. Think we'll ever get a day off?"
"We got five months off," Jack said. "We didn't even start moving until this month, ya lazy sod."
Johns laughed. "Don't blame me for being tired."
"I suppose that'd make me a hypocrite," Jack said. "But I can't say I'm not excited for this."
"Me too, mate."
They grinned at each other, then noticed the men moving to where their commander had told them they would meet.
"Think it's time?" Jack asked.
"Oh, probably," Johns said.
Jack stood up from the ground, and both the men took one last, long drag of their cigarettes before putting them out and following the men as they moved toward the commander.
They arrived and lined up, just as they always did, and waited for the briefing. Jack listened to what exactly was going to happen. When they were to advance, and what each company was expected to do. He internalized the directions for his company, and made mental notes about what exactly that meant for him, as a soldier.
"What's this bullshit?" Johns whispered out of the side of his mouth.
"Bullshit that'll save your life," Jack whispered back.
Johns chuckled. Jack continued to pay rapt attention.
When they were finally free to leave, Johns burst out into laughter. "Bullshit that'll save me life?" Johns said. "That's fucking rich. Did Rivers teach you that?"
"It does sound like Rivers, don't it?" Jack laughed.
"What the fuck even happened to Rivers?"
"I think he got separated. I dunno, really."
"All the better."
Johns didn’t answer. He had pulled out another fag and was smoking it slowly.
“Do you think he’s dead?” Jack finally asked.
“I don’t fucking care,” Johns said simply.
"That's not fair, Lily!" Severus pleaded.
"Who says I have to be fair?" Lily said. "Avery and Mulciber are just plain nasty, and I will not, absolutely not, be civil to them."
"But, Lily, they're my friends," he said.
"Well that is a piss poor decision you made, really. They're awful."
"What have they ever done to you?"
Lily laughed a soft, mocking chuckle. "Lots. And right in front of your face, sometimes, but it's not like you ever see it happening."
"I don't see what isn't there."
"Oh, that's rich."
"You know what I do see, Lily? I see you getting awfully friendly with Potter"—he spat the name—"and his mates."
"What, because I sat with them at breakfast on my birthday? That was three months ago! I've hardly talked to any of them since!"
"But you sat with them on your birthday."
"And so what if I did?" Her face was quickly turning red with anger. "What does that matter at all?"
"It matters because you're my friend, you're my best friend, and you're off fraternizing with the enemy!"
"I'm not fraternizing, and they are not the enemy here."
"I'd sure say they are."
"Well, they're not my enemy, at any rate."
"They should be."
"And who would be my friends then? Mulciber and Avery?"
"If you gave them a chance, maybe."
"Are you kidding me? They'd have me dead in a heartbeat, if they had their way! I'd only be giving them a chance to hurt me without defending myself."
"And how do you know that, Lily, if you don't try?"
Her eyes narrowed at her friend. "If you don't know that by now, you're just not paying attention."
"Of course I'm paying attention," he snapped. "I always pay attention."
"Perhaps to what you want to see, but apparently nothing else."
"It's a hopeless battle with you, isn't it?" he whispered. "Trying to convince you my friends are decent."
"It's an impossible one," she said. "And a rather pointless one as well. You're trying to convince me of lies, and I won't have it."
"It's not a lie!"
"Do you know what they've done? Do you know what they do when you're not around them? Although I'm not sure why they wait until you're gone at all, it seems they don't care about you at all."
"Apparently they do! More even than you! They're not off gallivanting with Potter! They know what a vile person he is!"
"And you think I don't?!" Lily shouted. "How dare you!? I am perfectly aware of how vile Potter is, and you'd be keen to know he is much better than those utter arses you call friends."
"Do not insult my friends."
"Don't insult me, then!"
"You were! It's the same, isn't it? You're insulting my judgment. Though really, I suppose it does have a tendency to be rather clouded."
"I'm glad you're seeing it my way," he said.
"That's not what I meant at all," she said in a whisper.
He pretended not to hear. Severus continued to eat, chewing rather loudly but not talking. Lily played with the food on her plate a bit.
"I think I should go," she said, finally. "I'm not feeling very hungry."
"You're leaving already?"
"Yes, I think I will," she said.
She rose from the table.
"Wait, stay and eat, please."
"I just told you I wasn't feeling very hungry."
"Let me walk to you back to Gryffindor tower, then, at least."
"Aren't you worried about being seen with your little Mudblood friend?"
"Stop calling yourself that," he said.
"I won't until they won't."
"Who is they? You’re convincing yourself of something that just isn't true."
"And you're turning a blind eye to what's staring you in the face."
She removed herself from the confines of the bench were she had been sitting, and turned away from the table.
"Don't go, Lily."
She ignored him.
"We don't have to fight," he said.
She continued to walk.
"Fine then!" he shouted. "Go off and see Potter, then!"
"Why are you so paranoid about that?" She turned around, her kind face suddenly very sad. "Why are you so worried that I'm anywhere near Potter? He's just a person."
"He's a horrible person."
"He's not, really. Not completely horrible."
"Stop defending him! You've seen what he's done!"
Lily rolled her eyes. "I'm not. I know what he's done. But I've seen far worse things from other people," she said. "He's not the worst bloke in the world."
"So not being the worst bloke in the world suddenly makes him a suitable companion?"
"What are you on about, Sev? He's not my companion. He's not my friend. I'm not going off to go see him. And I still don't see why it matters, anyway."
"And you said I was the one ignoring what's staring me in the face."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Don't you know?"
"No, I don't, Sev. Please, do tell."
"If you don't know already it's all for the better I suppose."
Lily narrowed her eyes, and tilted her head forward. "So you're not going to tell me then?"
"Fine," she said. And without another word, she traveled the space to the door and walked out of it, leaving Severus alone to finish his snack.
Again. She'd left him like that again. These spats were becoming more and more frequent. Nearly every time they spoke they ended up fighting about something or another. Sometimes over Potter, which was just ridiculous, because Lily wasn't even friends with him, really, and Severus was going on like she was about to marry the bloke! It wasn't like she fancied him. She didn't. Not at all. Not even a little. That was ridiculous.
Lily walked through the corridors, not quite sure where she was going. It was still a bit too chilly to go outside, though she really would have liked the fresh air. Perhaps a trip to the Owlery would suffice. And she hadn't written to Dorcas in a while. Though Severus was never too pleased about her writing to Dorcas. They fought about that quite a bit, too. And about what was printed in the newspaper. Severus tried telling her again and again and again that it was really nothing, that she was in no danger, that none of this was a big deal and she should stop worrying so much about it. No one really thought that she was any less than a Pureblooded witch. And he said it with such conviction that Lily might have believed him at one point. In fact, she had believed him until it became too painfully obvious that he was lying to her.
It wasn't the only time he lied. Lily had frequently caught him lying. It was amazing, really; she never had any idea he was lying until the truth was right there in front of her. For a while, she was suspicious of everything he said to her, but soon, she decided it was better if she pretended to ignore the lies.
Lily turned the corner and began mounting the final staircase that would take her to Gryffindor Tower. Yes, a letter to Dorcas was certainly necessary. She climbed the stairs two at a time, and gave the password to the Fat Lady without any greeting. The Fat Lady huffed about rude children, but opened the door for her anyway. The Common Room was fairly empty for this time of day. She supposed a lot of her house mates had gone down to the Great Hall to eat lunch normally, instead of in the kitchens as she and Sev had done.
She was thankful for the thin crowd as she didn't particularly want to speak to anyone after her encounter with Sev.
She moved directly to the spiral staircase that led to her dorm, and hoped that her dormmates would not be in to disturb her. She was not completely disappointed to find Peggy sitting on her bed reading a book. The two ignored each other, and Lily moved to her bed, pulled out a piece of parchment and a bottle of ink, and began to compose her letter.
I feel like it's been such a long time since I've last written. How have things been lately? I hope all is well for you personally, at least. I've been keeping up with The Prophet, and it seems that I'd be disappointed in your news on other matters. I enjoyed your latest piece, by the way. It was certainly thought provoking, even for me.
It seems that news of the war is only getting worse. I can tell that from the Prophet alone, and that is certainly a distressing thought. Do you suppose I'm better off not knowing? It seems it may be that way sometimes. I suppose you'll tell me that it is always better to know. Knowledge is power. You're very much a Ravenclaw that way, Dorcas. I'm not sure I entirely agree with the sentiment. Ignorance is bliss, after all, is it not? Well, perhaps not on this matter.
Do you remember the friend I've told you so much about? Severus? The Slytherin bloke with the horrid friends? I'm writing about him again. I'm sure you're a bit tired about hearing of him, aren't you? But I'm not sure who else to turn to, Dorcas. My family can't understand this. They haven't the slightest idea about what is going on in this other world of mine. And my other friends don't get it, either. Of course, they're just as prejudiced toward him as his friends are toward me, if only because of his House. They are certainly less violent, less vocal about it, even, but it's still there. It goes both ways, really.
Anyway, I met with him for lunch today. He seemed dead set on convincing me that his friends are not as horrible as I've made them out to be. He doesn't seem to realize that they frequently attack me and other people like me in the hallways between classes. If he does know, he thinks it's something silly. The Gryffindor/Slytherin rivalry or something equally as harmless. He doesn't realize, and worse, he doesn't even seem to care that their motives are much more sinister. We rowed about it, obviously, and he got very upset that I've been slightly friendly with his arch-nemesis. But Potter is in my house and while he certainly can be a rather vile bully, he's also quite funny and he's very much of the same mind as I concerning politics and the like. I enjoy talking to him when he's not being an arsehole. That, unfortunately, is not as frequently as I would like it to be, so more often than not, I end up not speaking to him at all or else we shout at each other. And Severus seems to think I'm great friends with him or something. I'm not sure. It doesn't make much sense to me.
I wrote to ask your advice. Or maybe just to let it out. I'm not sure. I'm sorry to bother you with this. I'm sure you have far more important things to do that deal with the silly problems of a schoolgirl, but you've been such a great mentor to me thus far, and I'm not sure who else to turn to. I appreciate your guidance more than I think you could understand.
So I suppose I should wrap this up, now that I've blathered on as long as I have. I hope to hear from you soon.
She folded the letter over and sealed it, then addressed it. She had felt a bit foolish writing to Dorcas as she had, but as she wrote the address she smiled. Dorcas had given her her home address, with the instruction that she could write whenever she wished, about anything she may need help with. Lily had thus far remained mostly professional, or at least on the topic of their original conversation. Dorcas had given Lily advice before about how to deal with her friends who were not Muggle-born, and who didn't seem to understand the struggles she went through. It had been helpful for most of her dormmates, but Severus was quite another story all together. Dorcas had yet to advise her on a suitable method for dealing with him.
She sighed. Perhaps it was because her friendship with Severus was stupid. How could anyone really have expected the two of them to maintain a friendship? They were in opposite Houses, and Lily could sense that they may very well be on opposite sides of a war sooner than either of them would like to admit. But she couldn't just give him up. Dorcas had suggested that at first. Lily had dismissed it immediately. She could not and she would not just give up on her friendship with Severus. Not yet, not while she could still see the boy who had told her she was a witch and taught her about Hogwarts and introduced her to the magical world. Not while he was still Sev.
She wasn't sure how much longer that would be.
She waved a farewell to Peggy as she crossed the dormitory and headed back down the spiral stairs. She carried a cloak this time. Perhaps after the Owlery she would take a walk outside. The window in her dorm had shown it to be sunny, if it was not yet warm. Yes, that did sound rather lovely.
The corridors were more crowded now. She had to do a bit of dodging as she made her way out of the portrait hole. After she had walked a short distance away from the entrance, she found the corridors once again fairly secluded, and she was glad to put her guard down, if only a little. These days she could never afford to be caught off guard-- Avery had proven that time and time again. Instead of letting her mind wander freely, she spent the trip trying hard not to think too much about anything. It would really only upset her, she was sure of it.
The cool air of the Owlery greeted her as she ascended the stairs to the large circular room. She stood for a moment and took a deep breath. She had hoped for fresh air, but was sorely disappointed. She grimaced as the smell invaded her nostrils.
A laugh from across the room snapped her eyes open in a panic. She scanned the room around her until her eyes finally fell upon Potter.
"Really, Evans, what were you expecting? A fresh spring meadow?"
She rolled her eyes at him, and began to select an owl for the journey. She did not have her own, though she frequently thought that investing in one was probably a wise decision. Unfortunately, she had yet to settle on one. Perhaps next time she was in London.
"Oh, don't be cross, Evans, I was only joking."
"I'm not cross," she said.
"But you're not laughing either."
"It wasn't funny," she said simply.
"Sure it was."
"For you, maybe, but you see, I did not actually get to witness my face as I inhaled, so I'm sure that I missed out on the best part."
"You do have a pretty great face," he said.
"It's expressive," he said quickly. "It makes all kinds of funny shapes."
"Oh, erm, thanks?"
James brought his hand to his hair to ruffle it. "You're welcome," he said.
Lily chuckled a bit and continued to search for a messenger for her letter.
"Do you need an owl?" he asked.
"That is why I'm here, yes," she said.
"You can use mine."
"Oh, thank you," she said. "But you don't have to do that."
"It's alright. Hercules wants an excuse to fly out anyway."
"You named your owl Hercules?"
"I was eleven."
Lily laughed again. "Well, alright then, if you're sure."
James called for his owl and a beautiful black bird came swooping down to his arm. He held it out to her, which allowed her access to tie the letter onto the owl's leg.
"This goes to Dorcas Meadowes," Lily said. "At home." The owl took off in flight.
"Dorcas Meadowes, eh?" he said. "At home, even."
"Yes," she said.
"How'd you manage that?"
Lily blushed a bit. "I sent her a lot of fan mail. She started writing back. She invited me to meet her in London this summer. She's sort of taken me under her wing, so to speak."
"Do you want to be a journalist?"
"No, not at all, actually."
"Then why do you have Dorcas Meadowes as a mentor?"
"We have other similarities, and very similar beliefs, as it happens."
"Thank you for letting me use Hercules," she said.
"No problem. He'd be happy to help anytime you need him."
"Well, thank you," she said. She motioned to move and begin her trek out into one of the court yards, but James began speaking first.
"Where are you headed?" he asked.
"I was about to go for a walk," she said.
"Do you mind if I join you? I could use some fresh air."
She pondered for a moment. Hadn't she just fought with Severus about this very thing? Severus would be furious with her if she accepted. She shouldn't, really. But Potter was being rather pleasant today, and she did enjoy his company when he was like this and she wanted to continue her walk with him, so why should she care what Severus thought?
"Sure," she said.
The pair turned together and made their way out into the open air.
Jack couldn't breathe. The air was cloudy with smoke and he wasn't sure what direction was up. Bullets were whizzing past him. He had to keep moving, he had to keep moving, he had to keep moving. But where? He choked on rancid air. He couldn't see either. He tripped over something and tumbled to the ground. He didn't care to look and see what it had been. His head hit the ground with a bang and he did not even have the presence of mind to thank Paddy Rivers for insisting his helmet was fastened correctly before the world was encased in darkness.
The sky was filled with orange light as Phil looked upon the small home he shared with his mother. The garden was in need of some tending, and one of the shutters looked like it was about to come loose. He'd have to work on it while he was here; his mother didn't have anyone else. Despite the faults, Phil couldn't help but smile. Home. He was home. Finally.
He picked up his suitcase and began up the walk toward the door. He didn't have a key with him, so he knocked. It took a few moments for his mother to finally answer, and when she did, it took less than a second for Anita Evans to jump from her home and into her son's arms.
Phil breathed in her familiar scent: the perfume she wore, the smell of new fabrics, and of cooking meat from the kitchen. "Hello, Mum," he said into her shoulder. "It's good to see you, too."
When she finally pulled away from him, she held onto his hands and looked at him. It was as if she hadn't seen him in years, like he had changed infinitely from when she had seen him last, like she might not ever see him again, like she could never look at him enough. "Are you alright?" she asked. "They told me you'd been injured. Is everything okay?"
"Yes, Mum. Just a bump on the head, really."
"But enough to send you home?"
"But enough to send me home."
She dropped one of his hands and brought her palm to his cheek. He was aware that he hadn't been able to shave in the past few days, and she hoped that his stubble didn't scratch her.
"Look at you," she said. There were tears forming in her eyes. "You're all grown now. A soldier."
Chapter 6: Mark Our Place
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The morning light was pink over the city where Phil had grown up. Already the town was buzzing and Phil smiled as he stepped out to fetch the milk. He had missed this terribly. He had never had very strong feelings about Manchester until he had left, and now he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to leave again. Or maybe he just didn't want to go back to France. Perhaps both were true.
"Phillip! Hurry with the milk!" his mother cried from inside. He grabbed the case of milk from the doorstep and hurried back inside.
He entered their small home and made the short trip back into the kitchen, where his mother was preparing breakfast. Proper breakfast. There was food at the front, solid food, if a bit bland, and there was always enough of it, but it wasn't food like this. Eggs the way is mother made them, and sausage, even! Even the smell was wonderful.
"Is it almost done?" he asked. "I'm starving."
"Just a bit more, dear," she said. "Go in and read the paper. I'll bring it to you."
"You don't have to do that," he said.
"Aren't you here to get some rest?"
"Alright," he said.
He brought the paper with him to the table where he had shared so many meals with his mother. He wondered if she still ate here now, now that she was alone. He hoped she didn't. It seemed rather sad.
He sat in the same seat he always had, and opened his paper. He scanned through, not really reading anything. It was all news of the war. He knew enough of that first hand. He looked instead for literally anything else. There was very little. He gave up, and put the paper aside. No sooner than that did his mother come, bringing him a tray of food and a cup of tea.
"Thank you, Mum," he said.
"You're very welcome," she said, still smiling at him.
She returned to the kitchen to bring her own plate, and sat down beside him. He waited for her to arrive and sit before he began to tuck in. She didn't touch anything. "Do you have any plans while you're here?" she asked.
"Not particularly," he said. "I think I'll head out to tend the garden in a day or two. Do you have any thing else that needs to be done while I'm here?"
"No," she said. "Don't put any thoughts of working into your head. You're here to rest."
"But Mum," he said.
"Don't push it, Phil."
"I'll do it before I leave," he told her. "When I'm definitely healed."
"How long are you here for?" she asked.
"Two weeks," he responded. "That's plenty of time for rest and also for fixing the shutter."
"I didn't think you'd notice," she admitted. "But you always do."
"I'll get to it before I leave, I promise."
"You really don't have to."
"No, I do," he said. "Of course I do."
His mother argued no more about it.
"Do you have any plans for today?" she asked.
"Not particularly. I think I might read a bit, a friend recommended a book..."
"Very well then," she said. "I have quite a bit of work to get done, unfortunately."
"It's not a problem, Mum."
"I wish I could spend more time with you," she said.
"I'll probably just end up reading and sleeping," he said. "It's no trouble at all, really."
“As long as you’re sure,” she said.
“It’s no trouble at all, Mum. Though if you’re headed into town, I wonder if you’d mind posting a letter for me?”
“Mail’s here!” someone called, as the first owls began to sweep through the windows.
Lily prepared to catch her copy of The Prophet, as she wasn’t expecting anything else. Her letter from Dorcas had been answered a while ago, and she had been a bit overwhelmed with O.W.L.s to respond to it yet. It was much to her surprise then when she caught the paper and a letter addressed to her in familiar hand writing fell with it.
She put the paper aside, and opened the letter.
I assume you’re rather busy right now, preparing for your exams. I certainly remember those days, though not with much fondness. Good luck with them, they are very important, but I’m sure you’ll do wonderfully. You’re a very intelligent young woman, Lily.
I suppose it might be a bit early to ask, but do you think you’ll be in London after school lets out? I wonder if you’d like to meet with me again? There’s someone I’d like to introduce you to very much. Let me know if this is a possibility, and we can make some further plans.
P.S. If I remember correctly, the Gryffindor vs Ravenclaw match is rapidly approaching! I do hope you and your house are ready to lose tragically. Will you write me to me and tell me the outcome? I was a beater for the team back in my day, you know. I’m always interested in it.
Lily smiled broadly as she set the letter down. Mary hadn't invited her to stay in London again, but perhaps her parents would allow her to go off to Diagon Alley while they shopped or something. They wouldn't mind terribly, she was sure. Her mother loved London, and her father could probably find a pub or something to sit in if he got too tired of it. Yes, she was sure she could make it work. She would write to her parents as soon as she got the chance.
She put the letter into her school bag, and picked up the copy of The Daily Prophet. Opening the paper generally came with a sense of dread these days, but she couldn't quite bring herself to feel down as she began to scan the front page. The headline, for once, did not make her breath hitch, and none of the stories listed on the side of the page seemed to be bad news, either. She smiled. There hadn't been good news in ages. The paper didn't exactly spew good news, but it wasn't bad news, and that was something at least. No news was good news, they said. For the most part, Lily thought that was rubbish, but today she thought she might begin to believe it.
After scanning the front page, she turned a few pages to where she knew Dorcas's article would be. It was Tuesday and her column would be printed in the politics section. That page was always a dangerous location, but it was worth the risk to see what Dorcas had to say. Amidst the anti-Muggle-born propaganda and the various political cartoons was a small section dedicated to Dorcas Meadowes.
"Teaching the Young," the title read. Lily smiled again, and continued to read. "I've been writing for The Prophet for a few years now, and I am so very grateful for the opportunities it has provided me. I am able to do what I love and get paid for it, for one. It allows me to travel and research and stay informed on the events in our community, and share that information with hundreds of others. It also allows me the opportunity to meet people whose paths I would never have crossed otherwise. This happens in a surprisingly large number of ways. There are interviews, of course, and the people I meet in my travels for the paper, and those I meet while covering various events and attending functions for the event. Then there are those who contact me because of my connection to the paper. The reactions of these people are as varied as they are; many are indifferent, some are rather nasty, and occasionally people are happy to meet me. The majority fall into the former categories-- most people are either indifferent toward me, or else dislike me vehemently. I've become rather used to it, actually. So it really comes as a shock that occasionally I receive letters from people who actually like me.
“These types of letters are rather few and far between, and almost always come from younger people. Almost, but not exclusively, young women. I feel extraordinarily honored by this. These young people write to me, telling me how much my articles mean to them, how interesting they find them, how they've had perspectives changed because of my writing. It's an unbelievable feeling.
“It is so very important for the young people today to learn about what's going on. The young people of our community are quite sheltered at Hogwarts, and while, to an extent, this is a good thing, it does nobody any favors to completely hide the truth of the world from them. Especially as the students age and prepare themselves to enter the world. It's important for students to be informed of the happenings of our world, and it's important for students to learn the attitudes and behaviors that are important. If one comes from a prejudiced family, or if his or her family has never discussed differences, how can we expect him or her to behave any differently? Prejudice is learned, and it is important for us to help students unlearn it. This has been a goal of mine since I left Hogwarts, and it remains one to this day. I'm proud to say that I have letters from several students that announce I have changed their perspective on things, that they've realized their privilege and are going to work harder try to combat it. I hold these letters dear, almost as dear as the letters I receive thanking me for providing these perspectives to others. Both are beautiful.
“Our young people are the future of our world. They are the ones who will continue to fight for the justices we fail to provide them, and we must take the quest to provide a generation of tolerance seriously.”
Lily sighed. She had begun the article thinking Dorcas may have written about her, but of course, if that was the case, she would have mentioned it in the letter. Lily had no doubt that she was one of the young women Dorcas had received letters from, but she certainly fell into the thanking category, rather than the changing perspectives one. Her own beliefs had always aligned with Dorcas's. How could they not? Dorcas wrote in favor of her rights, and Lily had always believed that the sentiment against her rights were wrong. She had to believe that in order to make it anywhere in this world she was living in. That belief-- that it didn't matter she was Muggle-born-- is what held her afloat in the ocean of hatred that surrounded her. She'd drown if she didn't have it.
She wondered who Dorcas was referring to, then. Lily didn't know anyone else who even read Dorcas's articles, let alone devoted enough attention to them to write Dorcas a letter. Well, she knew that Severus read the articles, but he was fairly indifferent to them, and read them mostly because he knew that Lily would invariably bring it up later.
"Interesting article, Lily?" Mary asked in between bites of toast.
"Yes," she said. "It's about teaching us young ones what is happening in the world and tolerance and stuff."
"What are they supposed to be teaching us?"
"I think about the prejudices we're going to face in the real world or something."
"Does she think we don't know about those?" Mary asked. "It seems a bit silly. Like kids who have awful parents don't turn out awful themselves."
"She talks a bit about that, but you're right, she does go on like we don't know what we're facing."
"Pity," she said. "But Dorcas isn't Muggle-born, is she?" Lily shook her head. "So not surprising, really."
"I suppose not. She sent me a letter today. Maybe I'll give her some thoughts when I respond."
"Did she ask to meet you again?" Mary said.
"Will you come stay with me in London again, then?" Mary asked. "We had such fun last time."
Lily smiled. "I'll ask my parents, but I'd love to. Your mother doesn't mind, does she?"
"Nah, she likes having people in the house," she said. "She always wanted lots of children, but she got stuck with just me."
"Lucky woman," Lily responded. "To have a daughter such as yourself."
"She might count herself more so if I brought friends round more often."
"Why don't you?"
"Who wants to stay with Muggles? Just you, really."
"And she probably doesn't like you off staying with other people, does she?"
"She just misses me, is all."
"How sweet of you to stay at home with your doting mother while you could be off with friends all summer."
"I know. I'm such a martyr."
"It's almost like you're really suffering and that you don't get spoiled rotten when you're home."
"Well, how am I supposed to help it if my mother misses me so much she decides to spend outrageous sums of money on me when I come home? I have nothing to do with that."
Lily chuckled. "I suppose it could be worse."
"I could be as bad as Potter, you mean?"
"I said no such thing."
"You thought it, though. Fortunately, my parents are not that rich."
"It's kind of disgusting how much money he has, isn't it?"
"Really stomach churning."
"What kind of house do you think they live in?"
"Some kind of ridiculous manor, probably."
"Gods, I'll bet they have an army of house elves too, and about twelve bedrooms that never get used."
"Christ, they are filthy rich."
"But, you know, Lily, I think you could get in on that fortune if you wanted."
"What?" Lily said.
"I'm just saying, James is a very generous friend, and I'm sure he'd be even more generous as a boyfriend."
A blush began to creep into Lily's cheeks. "Well too bad he's not my boyfriend, isn't it?"
"Well yeah, but he could be."
"You mean you don't know?"
"Am I in a relationship I don't know about?"
"What are you on about?"
"Well isn't it obvious?"
"He totally fancies you."
"He does not."
"No, he definitely does."
"What would possibly give you that idea? The general disdain he shows my best friend? That's not a very good way to tell a bird you fancy her."
Mary laughed. "You're really that oblivious, aren't you?"
"I don't think I am," Lily said. "I think you're being ridiculous."
"Nah," Mary said. "I'm right, and you know I'm right, you just don't want to admit it."
"What're you right about?" James himself asked as he approached the girls. "Do you mind if I sit with you? My mates have all ditched me it seems."
"Not at all," Mary said. "I was just leaving, but Lily's still eating."
"Mary!" She called after her friend, who had bolted faster than Lily could respond.
"Gosh, Evans, it's almost like you don't want me to sit here with you," James said as he took the seat next to her.
"No, not at all," Lily said. "Just, Mary's acting a bit odd today."
"Oh," James said. "So you really don't mind?"
"No," Lily said. "Not at all. How are you?"
"Fine," he said, taking a piece of toast and digging into the eggs and bacon. "You?"
"I'm very well," she said. "It's been a good day."
"That pleased to see me, are you?"
Lily chuckled, "Not so much."
"Care to elaborate then?"
"Got a nice letter from a friend, and the news was fairly uplifting today."
"And that makes it a good day?"
"Well that's a bit rubbish."
"It is, is it?"
"Yes. A bit of correspondence and news which I'm guessing was just not bad, does not a good day make."
"Alright then, what do good days entail, oh wise one?"
"Adventure. Laughing. Some sort of prank, probably. Alcohol. And a good story to tell at the end of it."
"That sounds more like a great day," she said.
"Nah, a great day involves way more than that."
"Funnily enough, I don't think I want to know then."
"Your default day must be set very high, then, if it takes that much for you to have a good one."
"That doesn't make every other day bad," he said. "Just neutral."
"Right, well, my neutral days involve no correspondence and rather bad news, so I'd have to say that this was a great upturn in events."
"Very well. Who's the letter from, may I ask?"
He smiled. "She's just now responding? Bit slow isn't she?"
"No, she's written another, separate letter."
"Must be important."
"Not particularly, though I am rather eager to respond."
"Do you need to borrow Hercules again?"
"I'm sure I can do without."
"Nonsense. He lives to help. I insist."
"Well if you insist."
"I'll let you know when I'm ready to send it off."
"You know where to find me."
"I know where to find you, so it'll work out eventually."
"That's a bit creepy, Potter."
"Maybe you're just predictable, and I'm a very observant person."
"Just a tad."
"I suppose there are worst things I could be."
"Oi, Prongs!" Sirius called from the end of the Entrance Hall. "Got a bit of an early start this morning, did you?"
The group of boys walked down the hall and took seats around James, chattering a bit on their way.
Lily took this as her cue to leave.
"You don't have to go," James said. "They're not pushing you out. They could really do with the company of someone new."
"Just saying, you're welcome to stay."
"I've really got to be off, anyway," she said. "I do have letters to write, you'll remember."
"Right. I'll find you, eh?"
"I'm sure you will."
Lily turned and made her way out of the Great Hall, feeling a single set of eyes on her as she retreated. She could see it now. Mary had been right. Well, probably. He certainly acted differently around her than most other people, and she couldn't think of another reason why he would. So he fancied her. Oh.
Lily leaned up against the wall, and sighed.
Jack didn't think he could stand if not for the wall holding him up.
He wasn't sure he could breathe, except that his lungs stubbornly kept refilling themselves.
He didn't know if he could blink. He didn't think he had since he had been on the beach here.
How did he get to the beach? He remembered running and shooting and screaming and fear like he had never known. And really, if he thought of it, he could see it with complete and utter clarity, only he didn't want to see it. Never again.
He needed a fucking drink. He hadn't understood when adults had said that to him before. Needed a drink. Drinking was fun, was a great way to pass time, but he had never felt like he needed it until now. He could not face another minute of his life while sober.
And the drive allowed him to stand without support, and allowed him to walk through the mass of butchered men. They all looked as haggard as he felt. They wandered around and Jack wondered if they knew where they were going or if they were just walking to have something to do.
There were stores and shops and bars in the town, and they all looked worse for wear. The town had suffered just as the men had. Had Dunkirk once thrived? He thought maybe he had heard of it, had had a friend of a friend who vacationed here once upon a time. Now it looked just like a vacation home for the devil. Certainly no one else would ever choose to come here. The worst of it was he wasn't sure that any of the shops had anything in them. They had been looted already, surely. He entered one, and found the windows broken and the shelves empty. Shit.
The next one was the same.
He found a bar on the corner and found that men had occupied it and were sitting and talking. How could they still talk? Some of them laughed. Some were singing. He wasn't sure how any of those things were still possible. He fought through the crowd of men, and peered over the bar. No one stood there, so he pushed behind it himself and searched for whiskey or rum or beer or literally anything that could possibly contain alcohol. A bottle of wine hid in a dusty corner, and while he had never much cared for wine of any kind, he pulled it from the shelf and tried to uncork it. He had no corkscrew, and he couldn't reach the cork with his fingers, so he pulled out his pocket knife and dug it into the cork. He tried to pull it out, but instead only managed to push the cork further into the bottle. It fell with a plop into the wine. He hadn't intended this, but he couldn't say he minded much. The purpose had been served. He brought the bottle to his lips and took a hesitant sip. It was bitter and dry and he didn't know a liquid could be dry until that moment, but it was.
He recoiled at the taste, bringing his mouth off the bottle, taking a deep breath to clear the taste out of his mouth, then put the bottle back to his lips and took another drink. Several of the men laughed at him, but he ignored them. Somewhere in the crowd a series of yells rose up and then Jack saw a waving motion in the crowd which he recognized as several men pushing each other. There were several more yells and a punch was thrown and Jack took this as a cue to leave. He pushed his way through the crowd and out the door. He took a deep breath of the air. Wasn't the beach supposed to smell like the sea? It didn't. He smelled sulfur and smoke and rotting flesh. There were ships of some sort lodged into the sand, and he wasn't sure why. There were other ships coming, he knew. They were supposed to be coming. Coming to take them away, take them back home. They hadn't made it yet. Gunshots were sounding somewhere and he saw horses hit the ground in time with them.
"Evans!" a voice called. He turned around in a circle, hoping that it was a call for him. He hadn't seen anyone he knew since he arrived at the beach. He didn't know if his troop was killed or if he had just missed them. The spin made him dizzy, and he noticed then the warm tingling sensation that meant the wine was finally starting to work. He didn’t see anyone, so he took another swig of the wine and began walking.
He turned a corner. He felt his pocket for fags, but found none. His lighter had gone, too.
"Evans!" He heard the same voice call, and he wished that whoever was shouting would find who they were looking for already. "Jack! Jack Evans!"
He followed the voice and began to scan the horizon for potential perpetrators. He found a rather ragged looking soldier coming toward him, but he couldn't see his face. His helmet was still on, and shadowed over his face. He couldn't tell his voice based on the shouts.
"That's me," Jack said. "In the flesh."
The soldier continued walking and as he got closer, made to remove his helmet. Jack thought for a moment it might be a ghost. That the man would remove his helmet, and Jack would see the bloody brains of one of his comrades, blown to bits by a shell. He held his breath. The helmet came off, but instead of the wretched remains of a corpse, he saw the haggard, but familiar, face. "Rivers! I thought you were dead!"
"Aye, so did I," Rivers said. "But it'll take more than a couple Krauts to kill me, I reckon."
Jack forgot for a moment that he did not like Rivers, and instead welcomed the familiar sight of his white blond hair and blue eyes. "What happened?" Jack asked. "We were getting shot at one second and then we were marching to Dunkirk and no one knew where you were."
"I got stuck a bit behind is all. Made it to the battle and everything."
"Quite a battle, wasn't it?"
"I'd say so," Rivers said. "It's a bloody miracle we aren't all dead."
"Seems like it."
"Was it everything you hoped for, your first real battle?" Paddy asked.
Jack didn't answer.
"Did you kill a lot of Krauts?"
Jack didn't answer.
"Yeah," Rivers said. "Me too."
"I think everyone in our platoon is dead," Jack said in response. "I've not seen anyone since we started the fighting."
"They're not dead," River said. "They’re over this way. You just got lost."
"And they sent you looking for me?"
"They didn't send nobody. They just assumed the worst."
“Come on then,” Rivers gestured to him. “Let’s go.”
Lily smiled broadly as she stepped into the warm, fresh air. She lifted her arms to the sky, giggling, and spun in a few circles very quickly.
The group of girls giggled at their friend.
“Excited, Lily?” Mary called.
“Yes!” Lily called back. The girls giggled again.
“It is nice to be out in the fresh air after sitting in that stuffy exam,” Blanche Carlisle said, loosening the tie around her neck.
“Not that it helps any,” Rita Green said. “It’s sweltering!”
“Well that’s why we’re going to the lake, of course,” Muffy Phelps said.
“Such a pity we can’t go swimming,” Lily said, finally letting the girls catch up to them.
“I don’t think the Giant Squid would like it much,” Blanche laughed.
“You don’t? I think he’s a bit lonely,” Rita said.
“He won’t be lonely,” Muffy corrected. “He’s got all sorts of creatures there to keep him company!”
“Oh, they can’t be very friendly, though,” Lily said. “All the merpeople and grindylows and what not. They’re not very nice.”
“How do you know they’re not nice to the squid though?” Mary asked.
“I suppose I don’t,” Lily conceded.
“Poor old squid,” Rita said. “All alone in the lake.”
“Would you like to keep him company, Rita?” Blanche asked. “I sure don’t fancy it.”
“Nor I,” Muffy said.
“I suppose he needs company too, though,” Mary added.
“I’ll bet he hasn’t had a shag in ages.”
The girls burst into loud laughter, and proceeded to make their way to the lake, discussing how awful it would be to endure such a thing. The arrived at the lake and found a spot along its shore to sit for a while. They all removed their socks and shoes, and hesitantly began to dip their feet in the water.
Lily’s big toe was submerged, and then immediately drawn out of the icy water.
“What were you expecting?” Muffy asked.
“Well it’s so bloody hot outside,” Lily said. “I thought it might have affected the water just a little.”
“Oh it’s better this way, though!” Blanche said. “I like the chill.”
“It does feel nice,” Lily said, finally sinking her feet all the way into the water.
The girls fell silent for a few moments, comfortable with each other, and enjoying the relief of the cool water.
“So, how do you think the exam went?” Rita finally asked.
“Oh I suppose I did decent enough,” Lily said.
“What are you talking about, Lily?” Mary reprimanded. “You’re fantastic at Defense, surely you did spectacularly.”
“Really, you know more spells than all of us,” Blanche said. “You probably got an Outstanding.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” she said. “I ran out of time on the last few questions, and I’m not sure if I answered them well enough.”
“How much did you write?”
“Not terribly much, I just got a bit distracted.”
“Happens to the best of us.”
“Like Muffy there?” Lily asked, drawing her friend’s attention. “What’s so interesting?”
Muffy snapped back to Lily, “N-nothing, really, just a bit of a ruckus over there,” she said.
Mary had looked over in the direction of Muffy’s attention, and before she could help herself, whispered, “Oh, no.”
“What is it?” Lily said, turning in that direction as well.
“Oh,” she said. “For God’s sake.”
“I’m supposed to be resting, Mum. Shouldn’t I be able to sleep in at least a little?”
“Not on Sunday. Now get up!”
He rolled over again and yawned. “Alright, alright I’m getting up.”
“Good. I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“I hope it’s food.”
“It’s not,” she said.
“What is it, then?”
“Clothes,” she said. “I’ve made you a new suit.”
He rose from the bed and rubbed his eyes. “Thanks, Mum.”
“Your uniform’s clean, but it still needs a bit of mending.”
“Are you calling my sewing subpar?”
“It’s fine for temporary use,” she said. “But why wouldn’t I mend it completely if I can?”
“It’ll just get mucked up again anyway.”
“But it might take a little longer for it to muck this way.”
“If you say so.”
“I do. Now get dressed. I’ll have some breakfast on the table for you in twenty minutes.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll see you in a few.”
She left the room and shut the door soundly behind her. Phil rose completely from the bed and walked over to his nightstand, where his mother had brought him a pitcher and a basin to wash in. He was grateful that the water was still warm as he splashed a bit of it on his face. He scrubbed his face gently, examined his chin and decided that he really should shave before church. His good shaving kit was on the table next to the basin, and he took great care to remove the hair from his face.
When he had finished he leaned in close to the mirror and lifted the hair that had fallen onto his forehead. There was a small cut there that he was glad to see was mostly healed now. There had been a stitch or two when he had awoken in the field hospital, but they were removed before he left. There had been far more in the back of his head. Those had been removed as well, but that spot was far sorer. He took care to avoid it as he combed his hair in the mirror.
The new suit his mother had made was folded on a chair in the corner. It was a dark brown tweed, and there was a new shirt and tie as well. The tie was green, of course, as his mother was quite fond of him in green. It brought out the color in his eyes, she said. Everyone said that.
He dressed himself carefully, trying to avoid looking at the red marks that lined his body from the lice, and the scratches and scars and bruises that came from life in the trenches. He didn’t need reminding of it. He was grateful when the skin was covered.
“Phillip!” his mother hollered from the kitchen. “Hurry and come eat or we’ll be late!”
“I’m coming!” Jack yelled as he ran through the crowd of soldiers. He stayed as close as he could to Jeremiah, but he was a quick one, and Jack was tired. He stayed close enough to fit through the gaps between soldiers that Johns had created before they moved back, but not quite fast enough to miss the looks and shouts of anger thrown at them. After the second shout of “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” he ran a little bit faster.
When they had finally cleared the crowd of men and reached the ocean, Jeremiah stopped short, and Jack crashed into his back. Neither of them seemed to care, because there on the horizon they saw exactly what they had been waiting for. What all of the men they had run through were waiting for.
“There they are Jack,” Johns said. “They’re gonna take us home.”
Chapter 7: Still Bravely Singing
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
I was absolutely delighted to receive your letter. I’m so glad you’ve taken me up on my offer to write. I was afraid I came off as a bit forward. I do hope you’ll continue to write when you head back to the front, though I know how hard it can be to find the time. If you can manage it, I did so enjoy speaking with you, and would very much like to continue our acquaintance.
My time at home has been quite lovely. All of my sisters managed to make it home for an afternoon, and we were able to have Sunday dinner together as a family. A feat that has not happened in several years. It was so lovely to see all of them again. It seems that I had missed them all terribly without realizing it, and I was very sad to see them go. I feel a bit lost without them now, which is strange because, as I said, I had not seen them all together for several years. My mother seems a bit distraught to have lost them all again, too, and I think she’s determined to have us all back under one roof far more often. Perhaps one day this mission of hers will be a bit more feasible.
I was so glad to hear that you’ve been enjoying time with your mother. It must be very lonely for her while you’re away, and I think you coming home has done both of you good. Has anything exciting happened while you’ve been home? I hear tell that a soldier’s leave can often be an invitation for family to visit. I hope if this is the case for you that it was at least a welcome visit.
I went for a stroll in the park with my sister Eleanor, and we saw some of the Order there, with their baskets full of feathers and those pretentious sneers they wear. They approached a man on a park bench with his sweetheart. They very rudely told the woman that her beau was a coward. Imagine their shock when the man revealed himself to be on leave! It was a tense moment-- Eleanor and I were a bit worried—but it all panned out alright in the end. The woman was able to calm her soldier and I’ve never seen someone look so embarrassed as the members of the Order. It certainly serves them right, I’ll say. I can hardly imagine anyone being so horrible as to wish a man to war. It's just the same as wishing someone to Hell in my mind, and I can't imagine anyone would ever do that. These ignorant women just don't seem to understand. Perhaps all women should be made to go off to France as nurses. Maybe then they'll understand. Maybe.
But I digress. I do hope you're doing well and enjoying your leave at home. Not to wish it forward, but when do you return? I must head back far too soon, unfortunately. Perhaps we'll meet again on the train back to London. I do hope so.
I've enclosed my address at the hospital, and I'll keep watch for your letters, though I don't suppose you have terribly much time to write, and your mother is your first priority. I do hope I'll see a letter from you here or there, at least. I hope you'll send me your address when you can as well, as I would be delighted to continue to write to you as often as I can. As long as you don't mind.
Phil read the letter with a smile, and chuckled to himself as he set it on his desk. She sounded very much the same on paper as she had on the train ride in. He hoped that she kept her word and continued to send him letters, as she was a rather amusing woman, and he supposed he would very much enjoy reading her letters when he went back to the Front. They could provide a much needed reprieve from the terrors he faced. Well, maybe. He wasn’t sure if anything could actually remove them from his mind, but when he had sat with Fiona on the train… the terrors seemed less terrible.
He picked up the letter again to read it through one more time, then folded it carefully and put it in back into the envelope. He left it on his desk, as he planned on responding later, and he didn't want to forget it when he packed. There was a pocket in his uniform, on the inside, right over his heart. It had been saved for a picture of his mother and the occasional letter she sent, but now, he couldn't think of anywhere else he'd like to keep her letters.
"Phillip!" his mother called.
"Yes, Mum?" he responded.
"Come down, it's time for supper."
He smiled to himself, made a mental note to write as soon as he could, and made his way to the kitchen.
“Busy packing?” she asked as he walked into the room.
“Not quite yet. Getting sorted to start, though.”
“That’s an awfully long time spent getting sorted.”
“I got a letter from my friend. I was reading it.”
“Have you responded yet?”
“Nah, not yet. I’ll do it after supper.”
“Before you do, could you fix the shutter outside? I’m sorry to ask, but--“
“Of course I can. I’ve been meaning to do it. Sorry I haven’t gotten to it before.”
“No, no don’t apologize. You’re meant to be here resting and I’ve put you to work.”
“It’s good practice. I’ll have to be back at it eventually.”
“Well, thank you.”
“No problem, Mum.”
“You’re a sweet boy,” she smiled sweetly at him. “Who was your letter from?”
“Just a friend. She’s asked to write me while I’m off in France.”
“Will you let her?”
“I don’t see why not. It’ll be nice to have someone else to hear from, I think.”
“And will you have time to write to two people now?”
“You’ll still be my first priority, Mum.”
“Well alright then. Do I know this friend?”
“Can I meet her?”
“Maybe eventually. We’ll see how it all turns out.”
“Why can’t you invite her for dinner?”
“She lives in London. She’s a nurse.”
He nodded his head.
“And she’ll have time to write to you?”
“I expect so, seeing as how she asked. But I suppose we’ll see when it comes to it. I suppose if she doesn’t I won’t be missing anything and if she does it’ll only add.”
“Well she sounds like a very nice girl, Phil.”
Anita Evans looked at her son and smiled. Phil looked back at her curiously, as it was a smile he did not quite recognize on her face. He decided to ignore it, and changed the subject while he finished his meal.
“Well,” he said when he had finished, “best get to it then.”
“Do you think there’ll be enough?”
“No, which is why we better fucking get on it,” Johns responded.
“But they wouldn’t just not send enough, would they?”
“You see them, you think they can fit everyone on them?”
“Course they didn’t bring enough,” Rivers said as he appeared at Jack’s side. “You think they care enough about us to make sure they get us all out?”
“What will they do with the others?”
“But nothing, that’s what’ll happen.”
“Fuck. Do you have a fag?”
Lily looked up at the boy casting a shadow over her, waiting for his answer. He seemed confused. “If you don’t have one, I suggest you leave. I really don’t care to speak to you right now.”
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
“Who doesn’t smoke? Gods, please don’t say you don’t smoke.”
He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small white box. He opened it, pulled out a cigarette for himself, and handed one to her. “Mind if I smoke with you, then?”
She took the fag from him and brought it to her lips. “Well I suppose I can’t say no now that you’ve shared your fags.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
Lily did not reply.
“I don’t want to hear it, actually.”
“Well I’m gonna say it anyway.”
“I’m sorry, Evans. That was probably a really shitty thing for me to do.”
“Probably, yes, but you didn’t do anything to me so I don’t see why you’re apologizing.”
“I figure that might not have actually been the best time to, you know, ask you out.”
“No, probably not.”
“So I’m sorry.”
“I guess I just thought we… I thought we had something going and I’d been planning to ask you for weeks and then it just sort of…”
“Yeah. So, I-I’m sorry. And if, I-“
“Do not finish that sentence.”
“Well then, I’m sorry.”
“Right, you’ve said that already.”
“You haven’t said if you’ve forgiven me.”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Will you soon?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think you’re apologizing for quite the right thing.”
“I’m not going to apologize for him calling you that.”
“That’s not what I meant, but good to know, I suppose.”
“That was not my fault. I tried to make him apologize!”
Lily rolled her eyes. “You know, Potter, perhaps I should forgive you. I think you’ve done me a great favor, actually.”
“Nothing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got places to be.”
“I’ve got to get on that boat!”
“You don’t have to do anything, now quit whinging.”
“But I’ve got a wife and kids at home! I’ve got to see them! You can’t leave me here!”
“Nobody’s gonna leave you nowhere, now shut the fuck up and wait your turn like everyone else.”
“But the boats are leaving-“
“And there’s more coming back, see that?”
“There’s more coming.”
Jack listened to the conversation carefully, not knowing who exactly to trust. He was certain now that there weren’t enough boats, and he tried to determine which course of action would successfully place him on one. He thought for a minute about faking an injury, but he put the thought out of his mind almost as soon as it had entered. He couldn’t very well fake one now, and besides, he’d heard tell that the injured men were being left behind. So instead, he stood in line, waiting for his turn, and praying silently that he’d make it on one. He didn’t much believe in God, but his father did, and maybe if there was a God, he’d help Jack out for his dad’s sake, at least. He hoped he was asking right. He hoped that God hadn’t tuned him out altogether. He hoped that God could hear him above all the other voices asking for the same damn thing.
But the line moved and the boats sailed back and forth to the ships and Jack made it closer and they showed no signs of stopping. So maybe God did exist, after all.
Phil wondered why it was so much more difficult to pack his things to return to the Front than it had been to pack them to leave it. It wasn't that he suddenly had more things to bring with him, as he'd only added a letter and a stationary set, and he knew that he wouldn't have room for much else in the trenches. There was certainly enough space for everything he wanted to bring with him, but putting it all back into the suitcase from which it had come seemed exceedingly difficult. He couldn't fathom putting it all back in the tiny box. He couldn't imagine packing his things for the Front again, knowing now what he would face there. The first time he had packed it had been easy, for the most part. There was a list of items to bring, and a few personal items, and very little else. They conscription papers had warned that there would not be space for more than a few personal belongings. Not that Phil really had more than a few personal belongings to begin with. They’d all fit easily in the suitcase, if he could ever work up the motivation to do it.
Phil sighed loudly. Perhaps this moment wasn’t meant for packing. Or maybe if he told himself that, he’d feel better about not being able to do it. He looked at the small collection of items sitting on his bed waiting to be put away and shook his head. With another deep breath and a burst of inspiration, Phil reached for the new stationary set his mother had purchased for him as a going-away gift, and removed another piece of paper. He sat at the desk in his room and began to write.
I’m sorry to write again so soon. It must be very strange to receive two letters in short succession without a reply in between from someone you hardly know. Perhaps we’re both a bit forward. I don’t mind if you don’t.
I’m writing this as I’m meant to be packing my things for the Front. It’s proving a difficult task. It wasn’t so bad the first time. Though I suppose the first time I wasn’t sure what would be waiting for me. Now I do. I don’t want to go back. I hope you don’t think me a coward. I don’t want to go back and I can’t bring myself to pack my things in order to leave, but not going back might be worse than actually going. Both fates are terrible.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand the men who find glory in all of this. I just want the thing to be over so I can come back to England and never leave and get on with my life. There is no glory in war, I think. Only in the end of it. Perhaps that’s why I ought to go back-- to do my part to help end it. Though I’m honestly not sure I’d do much good. I think they might be better off without me. Unfortunately they don’t see it that way.
I’m sorry to tell you all of this, but I think I had to tell someone. And I think you’ll understand. I hope you will. And I hope you write back to me. By the time you get this, I’ll be back at the Front, and I think a letter from you might make it a bit more bearable. Perhaps if I focus on that, packing my suitcase might be more manageable. Thank you.
I don’t mean to pressure you. If you’d rather not write to a coward, I understand.
He sealed the letter and addressed it before he could second guess himself. He set it on the desk and continued packing. When he had finished, he grabbed his suitcase, straightened his hat, and went down the stairs go kiss his mother goodbye.
“Do you have to go so soon?” She asked, tears filling her eyes.
No, he didn’t. He had several hours, actually, but if he didn’t leave now, he wouldn’t leave, and then he’d be shot for abandonment.
“Unfortunately yes, Mum.” It wasn’t really a lie. “I’ll write to you as soon as I can.”
Anita’s tears had begun to fall freely now. “All right,” she said, after swallowing hard. “Be safe out there, alright? Come back home to me.”
“I will, Mum,” there were tears stinging Phil’s eyes now as well. He gave her a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek, and walked out the door.
He found the sun was blinding.
Lily squinted as she looked up at the signs on the buildings surrounding her. She knew the Leaky Cauldron was around here somewhere, but she wasn’t quite used to navigating London by herself, and Mary had opted for lunch with her parents today. Mary had given her fairly exact instructions and she had to be close, she knew it. This all looked familiar and—
“Watch where you’re going!” A man dressed in a suit scolded her as he brushed past her.
“Well excuse me,” she spat back. The suit didn’t match. She was definitely close.
She walked another block, scanning the corners carefully as she approached them until finally she found it, looming another block away and unseen by the Muggles who past it. Lily smiled as she saw it, and she took a moment to be relieved that she had managed this by herself without being mugged or otherwise inconvenienced. She was quite proud of herself, actually. It took a great deal of will power not to run the remaining block, but the street was crowded, and it wouldn’t do to draw attention to herself running to an apparently abandoned building.
She looked carefully as she approached the pub, but no one paid any attention to teenagers wandering about London. Except perhaps shopkeepers. The familiar wooden door greeted her and she was both incredibly pleased to see it and bit sad at the memories that accompanied it. She took a deep breath, shrugged the sadness off of her, and opened the door.
It took her eyes a moment to adjust from the brightness of London in the summer to the dingy interior of the pub. She blinked a few times before scanning the crowd in the pub for Dorcas. She found her seated in a fairly secluded corner, the dim lighting cast shadows over her dark skin, but the bright smile she wore seemed to light up the room. She waved Lily down, and stood as she approached the table. Dorcas was a tall, athletically built woman, with hair she kept cropped close to her head.
“How are you, Lily?” Dorcas asked as she pulled Lily into a hug.
“Oh, I’ve been fairly well, thank you. How have you been?”
“Very well. Busy, but that’s a good thing.”
“Good, good. Any good news lately?”
“Not any you haven’t read,” she replied. “How’s your friend? The Slytherin bloke with the horrid friends?”
“He’s, uh, he’s—we’re not friends anymore, actually. He—Well he made it clear that his other mates were far more important than me. And he made it clear that he actually agreed with them, which makes me sort of sick to think about, and—Well I’m better off without him, certainly.”
Dorcas smiled and reached her hand out to cover Lily’s. “Would you like a butterbeer?” she asked.
“I would,” Lily responded, glad above all else that Dorcas hadn’t pressed the conversation.
“I’ll grab you one,” Dorcas said, “and our guest should be here any minute.”
“Should I be excited?” Lily asked as Dorcas rose from their table.
“Not terribly,” Dorcas replied, turning and making her way to the bar.
Lily sat back in her chair, brows furrowed together. She racked her brain, trying to think of who Dorcas could have possibly arranged for her to meet. Another journalist maybe. Someone else with their shared beliefs. Well, definitely someone else with their shared beliefs.
Dorcas arrived back a few minutes later with two bottles of butterbeer in one hand, and a steaming mug in the other. She set the mugs down and pulled out her chair.
“Is that—“ Lily began to ask.
“Oh good, you’ve got my coffee!” A sweet sounding voice with a Scottish accent sounded, and Lily’s head turned to see a short, plump woman with fair skin, red cheeks, and frizzy grey hair.
“Like I would forget your coffee,” Dorcas replied, grinning at the older woman.
“I should hope not, Meadowes,” the older woman continued smiling and then turned away from Dorcas. “And this must be Lily Evans!”
“Indeed it is,” Dorcas responded, “Lily, this is Marlene McKinnon, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”
AN: This is the last of the already written chapters, so unfortunately it'll be a while before the next one. I would love to know what you think in the meantime!
Chapter 8: Hold it High
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“You must forgive me for being late,” Marlene continued as she sat down next to Lily, “I got caught up at the office. Apparently two of my—Well, I shouldn’t say too much here.” She glanced at Dorcas who had piqued her eyebrows in interest. “But Aurors, my girl, can be terribly demanding when they want something. Especially when there’s two of them arguing for the same cause, and probably even more so when they’ve just eloped, but that’s neither here nor there.”
Dorcas began to chuckle, “So they finally did it then?” she said, gleefully. “About time.”
“That’s all very well for you to say, Dorcas, but I’m the one cleaning up the mess they’ve made. Going through protocols and policies and all sorts of terribly boring paperwork that they’ve left me to deal with. And of course they both threatened to quit if we split them up, which is, of course, the protocol, but honestly they’re the best pair we’ve got so I couldn’t care less if they’re married so long as they keep up the standard of work they’ve been doing.”
Dorcas laughed again. Lily looked curiously at the pair of them. “Who?” she ventured to ask.
“Well,” Marlene replied, “I suppose there’s no harm in sharing so long as it stays between us.” Marlene smiled. “Frank Longbottom and Alice Fa—Well I suppose it’s Longbottom now, actually, but if you knew the name it would be Alice Fawley.”
“I’ve read about them in the paper!” Lily responded, a bit more enthusiastically than she would have liked. She felt herself blush a bit and much more calmly said, “That’s very sweet.”
“Sweet for them,” Marlene said. Dorcas laughed and Lily, a bit hesitantly followed suit. “So,” Marlene turned to Lily, “Dorcas tells me you’ve got a rather keen interest in politics.”
“Yes, I do,” Lily replied, “I mean, it’s almost a requirement for me. I’m Muggle Born, you see.”
“Right, right, of course. So you follow the happenings?”
“Yes, I do. I’ve gotten The Prophet since I was 12 and, I didn’t read them very carefully when I was younger but as I got older I started to pay a bit more attention.” She took a deep breath and glanced down at her bottle of Butterbeer, peeling the label a bit. “Maybe the stories just got harder to ignore.”
“I’d certainly say they have,” Dorcas said, giving Lily a soft smile.
“I would as well,” Marlene said, a bit more subdued than she had been a few moments ago. “And The Prophet only tells the stories The Ministry approves. I think you’d be surprised at how much is left out. Even with an in.” She raised her coffee cup to her lips and took a sip.
Lily looked at Dorcas, and found the affirmation in her gaze. “Oh,” she said quietly.
“There are of course, other outlets. Do you ever listen to the Wireless?”
“No,” Lily shook her head, “No, I haven’t.”
Marlene smiled and gave Dorcas a rather knowing look. “You ought to look into it. You’ll find some rather… interesting points of view. More than you’ll find in the paper.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll look into it then.”
“Good,” she took another sip of coffee, “but you know, the news will only teach you so much.”
Lily nodded her head, and continued to peel the label of her bottle. “Right,” her brows were furrowed together, “I—“ she exhaled loudly.
Marlene allowed the silence to linger for a moment before beginning again. “I assume you’ve met with Professor McGonagall about your career plans?” Lily lifted her head with renewed interest. “Any chance those plans involve my department?”
Lily’s eyes grew wide and she pulled herself back slightly. “Yeah,” she said, breathless. “I can’t imagine doing anything else, honestly.”
Marlene beamed at her. “Wonderful! Do you have any plans for the summer?”
“No, not really.”
“Good, good. Normally the DMLE doesn’t take on interns, and honestly, there’s not much work for an intern to do, but I think I could make good use of a personal assistant for the summer. You know, filing, making appointments, helping me talk out problems…” a small smile played on her lips, “You could gain a lot of beneficial experience.”
Lily blinked at her in utter bewilderment.
“So,” Marlene said, “would you like to come work for me?”
“Oh,” she said, surprised, “Oh my goodness.”
Jack stirred a bit at the sound. He was stiff and sore from sleeping on the hard surface all night. He ignored the voice and rolled over, not yet ready to face the world.
“Jack? Jack Evans? Is that you?”
Christ. He continued to ignore her, hoping she would leave.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Jack! What are you doing here?”
“Sleeping,” he spat without turning over.
“On a bench in the middle of Manchester?”
He hadn’t recognized the voice yet, but he didn’t much care who was speaking to him. “What’s it to you?” He rolled over and opened his eyes.
“We all thought you were dead!” The girl had begun leaning over him now, her curled blond hair falling over her shoulders, though it was held back by a ribbon. Her blue eyes were practically glowing with anger.
“Good God, Mae,” he said pushing himself into a sitting position and forcing her away from him. “Do you have to shout?”
“Yes!” Jack grimaced at her shrill voice. “Your mother has been worried sick since you left, hasn’t stopped crying once since then I don’t think and then you stopped writing to her and she thought you were dead for certain and then you just turn up and don’t even bother to see your parents? What is wrong with you?”
Jack sat up and rubbed his eyes, looking around for his bottle. He spied it sitting up near the leg of the bench and leaned over to grab it. He hadn’t even brought it all the way to his lips when Mae ripped it from his hands and threw it into the street. He watched as the glass shattered over the pavement.
“OI!” He shouted, “I paid good money for that!”
“Pity,” Mae snapped back.
“Go see your mother. I’m tired of watching her sob through service every Sunday.”
Jack closed his eyes and leaned his head back. He exhaled loudly.
“She prays for you. Every day. And has everyone else pray for you too. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve asked God to keep you safe? To bring you home? A fairly tall order considering you’re doing everything in your power to put yourself in danger.”
“CHRIST.” He brought his hands to his hair in frustration. “You really lay it on thick doncha?”
“Go see your mother. And take a shower first. You reek.”
Mae rose from the bench. “I’ll see you on Sunday,” she said before walking away.
He saw Mae flinch a bit at the sound, but she didn’t turn around or acknowledge it in any other way. Had he still had his bottle, he would have thrown it himself. As it was, he yelled again, picked up his hat from the bench and chucked it on the ground.
There really was no choice now. If he didn’t show up, Mae would tell his mother and she’d send out a search party and fuck—If he didn’t want to go home on his own now, he definitely didn’t want someone to find him and bring him home.
And it wasn’t as if he didn’t want to see his mother. His mother… fuck, he had done a number to her, that was certain. He hadn’t intended to, of course. His mother was a casualty in the war he was sure to start with his father. He wanted to see his mother. He had planned on it, really. But he couldn’t see his mother without seeing his father and he just… he thought it might be easier if he had had a drink or two first. But a drink or two and turned into five or seven or ten, possibly, and he’d ended up asleep on a bench somewhere in Manchester. He must have been on his way home, if he was close enough to run into Mae Honor on her way to—wherever the fuck she was going. Fucking Maeve Honor, always ruining everything.
He rested his head in his hands and sighed heavily. He couldn’t not go. Fuck. He stood up, grabbed his cap and kicked the bench, cursing at the pain that coursed into his foot. He started walking, vaguely sure he was headed in the right direction. He started looking for a loo of some kind, or a shop where he could use one. Someone had to let him; he was a serviceman, after all.
He found a shop a few blocks from his bench and entered tentatively. “Loo?” he asked, looking toward the clerk. The large, balding man nodded his head in the appropriate direction. “Thanks,” Jack said, waving.
He entered the bathroom, closing the door behind him. For the first time in several days, he looked at himself in the mirror. If he hadn’t had such distinct eyes, he wouldn’t have recognized himself. He was haggard, tired looking. There were bags under his eyes, his lips were chapped to bleeding and there wasn’t enough saliva in his mouth to wet them. The bridge of his nose and cheekbones where shiny with sweat, and his brown hair was dark with moisture.
He turned on the tap, cupped some water in his hands, and began to scrub his face vigorously. He attempted to wet his head under the faucet, but couldn’t manage it as well as he had intended. He thought about scrubbing his hair, but figured it wouldn’t do much good at this point, and used his fingers to slick it back instead. After a few more minutes of makeshift cleaning, he redressed himself, gathered his things and left the room. He nodded another thanks at the clerk before exiting the building and stepping out onto the street.
He didn’t need to look around to know where he was, he didn’t need to think to find his way home. In fact, he tried very hard not to think. He imagined he was back in France, left right left right, it was warm. He started to sweat again, the sensation was almost soothing. Left right left right, this was a march, just like any other. Just a march. He’d marched for miles. This was the first thing he had learned how to do as a soldier. March. Onward, ever onward. Through the rain or snow or blazing heat, he would move forward. Through bullets and bombs and behind enemy lines, he would move forward. He’d march toward maiming, capture, certain death and terrible defeat. Just as any good soldier should. He’d marched a hundred thousand miles in far more perilous conditions, and yet, Jack and never been so nervous.
He turned the corner to his street and swallowed hard. He moved faster so he could not turn around. Before he could think again, he was standing in front of the door and knocking on it. The sound startled him. For a second, he thought about turning tail and running. He couldn’t, he couldn’t, he couldn’t—He turned his back toward the door, but stopped at the steps. He took a deep breath and reconsidered. He should see his mother. He couldn’t see his father. They would know he was around either way. Staying meant he could keep them, leaving meant losing them forever.
“Oh sweet Jesus,” he hadn’t heard the door open behind him. “God, help me—“ His mother was speaking in a quick, panicked voice, hardly a whisper, barely holding back a sob.
He hadn’t realized what this looked like.
He turned around and took a step toward her. Her expression changed from unfathomable pain, to utter shock to joy. Tears still filled her warm brown eyes, but now a smile lit up her face.
“Hi, Mum,” he said, feebly.
His mother’s arms were around his neck before he had finished the sentence. He wrapped his arms around her waist, “Jack,” she said, and he felt warm tears on his shoulder, “Jack you’re home!” She pulled away and cupped his face in her hands. She stared at his face like she would never see it often enough. He stared back, soaking in the most comforting sight he knew.
And for a moment, all was well in the world.
“John,” his father’s voice came from the doorway. There was no emotion there. “Welcome home.”
Charlie Hooper laughed and patted Phil heartily on the back as he walked into the dugout.
“Home sweet home,” Phil responded dryly while dropping his pack onto his cot. He heard the thunder of a shell dropping somewhere in the distance. “Things here are the same, then?”
Hooper chuckled again, “What’d you expect?”
“Evans!” Finch greeted as entered the dirt room. “Good to have ya back.”
“Shirts got holes in ‘em?” Phil asked.
“Trousers,” Finch corrected. “And we were down one for poker. Had to play with Ayers.”
“Robbed us blind,” Hooper joined in.
“At least I’m useful,” Phil said. He wasn’t sure if he was joking.
“Course ya are,” Finch said, “We’re far more likely to die if you’re not here to take the bullet for us.”
Phil nodded and took a seat on his cot. Finch shot him a friendly smirk before he turned to leave. “Poker tonight?” Hooper called.
“Long as we don’t die first!” Finch responded.
Phil was in no way surprised by the interaction. He was well aware of what his comrades thought; that he was useless except for sewing shirts and shielding. He was a bit useless. At the Front anyway. He hoped, at least, that he was useful enough to warrant not being used as a shield in battle.
Phil had never quite understood the stories he’d heard of men jumping in front of others to save a friend. It seemed the ultimate act of selflessness, but Phil knew it was more complex than that. His mother wouldn’t find it so selfless if he died when he didn’t have to. And what of Fi—Fiona would certainly agree.
He thought for a moment about writing to her, of telling her everything he thought about it. But he hadn’t yet received a reply from the last two letters he’d sent, and he thought it might be better for him to read some of her thoughts before he’d shared all of his. He had known her for three hours, he reminded himself. She was a stranger. He shouldn’t expect to know what she would think, and he shouldn’t share all of his thoughts with her. Not just yet, anyway.
Three hours, he reflected. Hardly any time at all, but it seemed like he had known her all of his life. He couldn’t think of three better hours of his life. He smiled to himself at the thought of her. Imagined her face. Her hair. The way her smile made the sun come out.
“Good visit home then?” Hooper interrupted.
“Yeah,” Phil responded, focusing back on reality.
“Nice visit with your sweetheart?” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
“No,” Phil sighed. “I haven’t got one.”
“Some of the local girls then?”
“No,” Phil shook his head.
“Well I shoulda known better than to expect anything exciting out of you.”
“Have you got one?” Phil asked.
“Exciting stories? Not lately.”
“A sweetheart,” he corrected.
“Nah,” Charlie responded. “Couldn’t possibly pick just one. But I did have a lovely little visit with Demelza Spinnet last I was home.”
“And Miss Spinnet isn’t good enough to be the one?”
“She’s a missus, actually.”
Phil looked at him for a beat before chuckling and shaking his head.
“Besides, why should I stick to one when they’re all lining up for war heroes?”
“Love,” Phil answered simply.
“You’re a sap, Evans.”
Phil laughed. “You’re surprised?”
Charlie looked at him. “Not a bit. You got your eye on one then?”
“Sort of. I can’t stop thinking about her.”
“Best get your head out of the cloud, Evans. Can’t afford to be distracted out here. You’re clumsy enough as it is.”
Phil looked at him.
"Where are the trousers?" Phil asked. "And the shirts. And whatever the Hell else you lot've ruined since I've been gone."
Hooper grinned. He pointed to a small stack in the corner. "What would we do without you, Evans?"
“File your own paperwork, I expect,” Lily said with a cheeky grin.
Frank Longbottom grinned back at her and chuckled. “You’re a life-saver, Evans, really.”
Lily chuckled and thanked him. “Now go,” she said, “can’t keep your wife waiting.”
“No,” he said, “I’d hate to be on the wrong side of her wand.”
“Anyone with any sense would, really.”
Frank laughed again. “Very true. Have a good one, Evans.” He turned to leave, off on one of many adventures with his wife.
“You too, Frank!” she waved at him as he left.
She took the report he had handed her and went back to her desk near the front of the office. She took a seat in her chair and began reading it over.
Auror arrived on scene at approximately 2136 hours. Muggle victim was being treated by a Mediwitch, complaining of symptoms consistent with the Cruciatus Curse. Muggle reported be attacked by a group of three or more perpetrators while walking on a secluded street. Perpetrators were wearing dark hoods and masks. He stated he lost consciousness before the attackers left. He could not give any identifying information. Mediwitch confirmed probable use of the Cruciatus Curse. Muggle’s memory modified by Obliviators after questioning.
Lily grimaced. This was not an unusual report by any means, and in fact, it was relatively tame compared to some others she had read. She had, of course, read many others in her short time at the DMLE. It had become clear rather quickly that this was the reason Dorcas had introduced her to Marlene, and why Marlene had offered her the job. These attacks never made the Prophet. And this sort of thing, these attacks, this was the real meat of the war, wasn’t it? A hatred of Muggles and Muggleborns so intense that they were seen by many as toys; things to play with and destroy however they saw fit. It was absolutely despicable and made Lily’s stomach churn.
She sighed and filed the report with the others that needed to be approved by the Head Auror by the end of the week. Later, they’d be given back to her to pass on to Marlene.
She heard the door creak open as she finished organizing the stack of papers and turned back around. “Can I hel—Potter?”
“What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?”
“You work here?”
“Right. I’m here to see Marlene McKinnon.”
“Why?” She paused for a beat and then corrected herself, “I mean, does she know you’re coming?”
“Yeah,” he said, “we’re going for lunch.”
Lily looked at him suspiciously.
“She’s my godmother.”
Lily tilted her head in disbelief. She had just started to move her lips in order to form some sort of speech, but was interrupted by Marlene coming out of her office. “James!” She moved into the lobby, “You’re here! Wonderful! How good to see you! Lily, this is my godson, James.”
“We’ve met,” she replied.
“You know—Of course you know each other! Same year, same house! How stupid of me not to put it together sooner. Lily you must come to lunch with us.”
“Oh, no, that’s alright,” Lily said quickly.
“No really, my mum made me lunch today and I’ve still got work to do, and I’d really hate to intrude.”
“It’s not an intrusion if you’re invited,” James interjected. “Come to lunch with us, Lily.”
Lily opened her mouth to speak.
“I won’t take no for an answer!” Marlene said with a sense of finality that Lily could not even imagine arguing against.
And just like that, Lily found herself sitting on the patio of a café she had only ever read about.
“So,” James began after they had placed their orders, “how do you like the job, Lily?”
“I like it a lot!” she said, honestly. If being around his godmother put James in one of his more tolerable states and she had to spend the next hour or so with him anyway, she wasn’t going to do anything that might change it. “I’ve learned so much already, and it’s nothing like what we cover in school.”
“How so?” James prodded.
“Oh, well, I know more about how the Ministry works, I know what they’re doing to combat,” she looked around her wearily, “the war. I know what’s really going on in the real world. The stuff they try to hush up. I know which people it’s okay to tell I’m Muggleborn, and who I ought to scream it to.” Marlene stifled a laugh and James was absolutely beaming. “It’s like I’m part of this world in a way I wasn’t before. And it’s a bit horrifying but it’s also really wonderful.”
“You work with a lot of pricks then?” James asked.
“James!” Marlene scolded, trying to hold back a laugh. James shrugged in reply, and Lily burst into laughter.
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” she said. “I thought the ones in school with us were bad. Not even close.”
“Not in my department,” Marlene was quick to interject.
“Well no,” Lily said. “But I see plenty of it going around outside the department. And I see plenty of it trying to break through.”
“Are there really worse pricks than Sni-a-Avery?”
“There’s even worse pricks than you,” she said. She hoped it was playful, and it seemed to be, because Marlene snorted.
“Now that really is saying something,” James replied.
Lily laughed again. “So how have you been, James?”
“Alright. Sirius’s come to stay with us so that’s been brilliant.”
“Your poor mother.”
“She loves it.”
“Seuli always did want more children,” Marlene said.
“And she got stuck with just me.”
“Oh I think you gave her quite the handful on your own.”
Lily chuckled. “How do you know the Potters, Marlene?”
“Oh Seuli was a great friend of mine in school. And Christopher had always been around where I was. At parties for our parents and then at the Ministry. We went through Auror training together. Until we both got too old to keep on with it, then I went up the ranks in the Department, and he became a very important advisor for Nobby Leach. Eugenia kept him on as well He still does some advising, when asked, but… well—“
“Not asked much these days,” James finished for her. “Minchum’s a prick. Eugenia gave me sweets.”
“The… Minister… for… Magic… gave you sweets?”
“She’s a family friend.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, were you baptized by the pope?”
“Paul and I go way back.”
Lily stared at him for a beat, blinked once and started to laugh. Marlene had started about a second before she had and the pair laughed heartily for a few moments. When Lily had calmed herself she asked, “How on earth do you know who the pope is?”
Lily laughed again. “Funny, I didn’t think The Prophet cared much about the pope.”
“Oh, James reads much more than The Prophet. Just like I taught him,” Marlene said, her voice budding with pride.
“Oh, I don’t even read the Cokeworth Chronicles.” She took a sip of her water.
“You ought to!” James said. “There’s, er,” he moved a hand up to ruffle his hair in the back, “There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there.”
Lily sat back in her seat and took another sip of water, her eyebrows raised. Before she could ask the question, Marlene did. “Like what, James?”
The first time Marlene had done something like this, Lily had been rather confused, but she was used to it now. The mildly annoyed expression on James’s face seemed to indicate that he was as well.
“Well, I learn loads about Muggles that way, way more than in Muggle Studies—but obviously that’s not anything you need to learn. But it’s got all this stuff about our world in it too, only you wouldn’t know that unless you know where to look.” Marlene nodded her head. “The Muggles, they notice things. We can’t hide everything from them as much as we ought to. So sometimes they find people who’ve been affected by magic, or they report on things that have happened because of magic, only they don’t know it’s because of magic. So they say things about freak accidents, or about mysterious figures, or major events having no witnesses or murders where there can’t even figure out how the people died.”
“Different sources?” Lily asked Marlene. Marlene nodded with a smile.
“And often you’ll find more information in the Muggle papers than The Prophet.”
Lily thought for a moment, “Because the Muggle papers haven’t got any reason to underplay the important parts.”
“Exactly,” Marlene said. “And you know, the policies the Ministry passes are frequently a direct result of what’s happening in the Muggle world.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
Marlene looked at James. He took the hint and began, “We affect their world just as much as they affect ours. And it’s not a bad thing, no matter what some people think. When the Muggles went to war the first time—well, the big war, you know—the minister at the time passed a law forbidding wizards to get involved.”
Lily looked at him, brows knit together in confusion and concern.
“Only nobody listened and they got involved anyway. A lot of them tried to help the Muggles however they could. And it wasn’t the first time, Evangeline Orpington got involved in the Crimean war.”
“Allegedly,” Marlene corrected. James rolled his eyes. “And illegally.”
“Well of course it’s illegal, but since when has that stopped anyone from doing anything?” He turned back toward Lily, “And you know how often the Muggle Ministers have had to resign because of the Minister for Magic?”
Lily chuckled. “That’s fascinating, but I think it’s more of an argument against keeping up with the Muggle news. Maybe wizards shouldn’t get so involved.”
“Well, maybe,” James argued, “But it isn’t always bad, is it?”
Lily shook her head, thinking of her Granddad and the wizards who had helped in his war. “I suppose not.”
“And sometimes it’s just—It just happens. It’s bound to sometimes, we’re sharing a country. And we’re not—Muggles and wizards aren’t all that separate. Like, before Dumbledore beat Grindelwald. The whole world was a mess, magic and muggle. My dad was busy trying to take care of Grindelwald, but his house was destroyed by Muggle bombs. And all sorts of Muggle things were ruined by Grindelwald and they didn’t even know it. They only reason it didn’t completely blow our secret out of the water is because of the Muggle war going on.”
“So it’s important to know about the Muggle world so we know what to blame it on when they get caught in our crossfire?”
“No, shit, sorry. I’m sorry. That wasn’t what I meant.”
“What did you mean?”
“Well obviously Muggles shouldn’t be getting caught in our crossfire in the first place, but the two worlds—or the two parts of the one--Anyway they intersect. And we do things that can’t be hidden from the Muggles, and sometimes we do things that the Muggles should know about because it isn’t really fair to keep it from them. And it’s important to explain it to them—“
“In a way that won’t hurt their little Muggle brains?”
“In a way that won’t put us in danger.”
“Why is it assumed that telling the Muggles will put us in danger?”
“Because a bunch of women were burned to death in the middle ages.”
“A bunch of Muggle women,” Lily countered. “And if we’re so afraid of what they could do to us we have to hide our entire existence when we’re not really even in any danger, why aren’t we telling the Muggles what they’re up against when they are in danger?”
James sat for a moment in stunned silence. “Well,” he began, but he could not find words to finish the sentence.
Lily sat back in her chair with a smug smile on her face.
“Alright, Evans. You’ve got a point.” He took a breath. “But I don’t think the solution is abandoning the International Statute of Secrecy.”
“What is it then?”
“Not putting them in danger.”
“Right, because that’s feasible.”
Marlene watched them argue back and forth, listening to the points they both made, obviously pleased with them.
“Well no, but they can’t just—“
“Do the right thing?”
“Well it wouldn’t be the right thing. Everything would be so much worse.”
“Well surely the Muggles would be outraged. And—“ he started speaking before she could, “they should be, but you can’t expect the Ministry to deal with all of that right now?”
“Why shouldn’t I expect that of my Ministry?”
Marlene beamed at her.
“They can’t fight a war on two fronts.”
“So we’ll attack from the North, while they’re still focused on the French in the South?”
“Right.” Officer Glover leaned against the trench wall as he spoke.
“So they’ll split the forces, and be half as strong on either side?”
He nodded, taking a drag from his cigarette.
“And we’ll beat them that way?”
“Just like Napoleon.” He dropped the butt to the ground and stomped on it as he spoke.
Phil didn’t quite understand the reference, but was thankful for the information, at any rate. Knowing what was happening made it a bit easier to accept. Sometimes. Sometimes, well, sometimes it made it worse.
“When do we leave?”
“Quit your worrying, Evans. We’re the support troops. We’ll be there for three days and you won’t even see a goddamned bullet.”
Phil stood in silence.
Glover stared back at him for a moment before rolling his eyes and leaving Phil in the corridor. As soon as Glover moved, Phil snapped back to his senses. Three days, no bullets. He could handle that, if he had to. Three days, no bullets. Three days, no bullets. This was the best news he’d received since they’d told him he’d be going home. Three days, no bullets.
Phil walked back to the hole he stayed in and found that he was already running late for training. He wasn’t surprised, he wasn’t concerned. He had known it was a risk when he had stopped Glover to talk. And it’s not like he’d need the training. Three days, no bullets. He gathered his things and quickly made his way to the field where the other men were standing.
“Evans!” Hooper hollered. “Nice of you to join us!”
Jack ignored whatever his father said next and continued to the table where his mother had kindly laid out a breakfast for him. Proper breakfast. He wasn’t sure he could eat it. He picked up his fork and poked at his sausage.
He could feel his father’s eyes boring into him. Jack had rarely seen his father angry; Phil lacked the quick temper that had developed in his son. When Jack had misbehaved as a child, he was punished, then forgiven like nothing. He had never seen such a silent fury like his father had displayed since his arrival.
He had expected the anger, of course. He knew his father would be livid. He had imagined shouting and threats and broken dishes. He had expected his father to finally blow his lid, and shout until he was red faced and his arms were trembling. Instead, he had received only curt, cold interactions.
He would’ve preferred the shouting.
“Your mother made that for you,” his father finally said.
“Phil,” his mother pleaded.
Jack looked up from his plate and stared at his father.
“You ought to eat it,” Phil continued, “Meat’ll be scarce sooner than later.”
Jack rose suddenly from the table and stormed out of the kitchen.
“John David!” He heard his father say. He ignored him and made his way out the front door and down the street.
He needed a drink. Or a cig. Or something. Anything really.
He cursed his parents for living so far away from a bloody bus stop. For God’s sake his father—
He kicked a tin can left lying in the street and watched as it sailed through the air and landed with a small, bounced and landed once, twice, three times, then rattled down the street. Inspired by the relief it gave him, he stormed furiously through the streets looking for something he could destroy.
He turned down an alleyway and kicked an aluminum rubbish bin. Half the contents spilled to the ground as the bin lay on its side. Jack kicked it again; delighted at the dent he had left. He picked up the bin, spilling the rest of the contents, and threw it as hard as he could against the wall farthest from him. He chuckled, then walked back to the bin, picked it up again, and threw it directly onto the ground. He began to smile as he stomped on it, only to pick it up and throw it down again.
He continued in this manner until a figure appeared in the alley and shouted, “HEY! YOU! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?”
Jack looked at the rather large figure now moving toward him. He stopped himself mid throw, dropped the can to the ground and took off as fast as he could in the other direction.
“COME BACK HERE YOU LITTLE SHIT!”
But of course, Jack had no intention of following orders. He was on leave; this was the time he was meant to be free of orders. He kept running, thankful for the training the military had given him, eventually, the owner of the bin stopped following him, but Jack kept running.
He ran until his lungs were on fire, his legs were sore and his feet were completely raw. Then, following his training, he ran some more. Eventually he came to a park and allowed himself to collapse onto the grass. He breathed hard and deep until his lungs didn’t hurt anymore, but by then all of the muscles in his legs were rebelling, and Jack had no reason to leave anyway. So he stayed lying on the grass free from the tension this morning had given him.
He was blissful, breathing in the fresh air, occasionally gazing up at the clouds as the passed by, otherwise closing his eyes to rest. He stayed so deeply in his state of contentment that he didn’t hear the footsteps and the distinctive sound of a cane hitting pavement.
Jack had no idea his father was approaching until he heard his voice.
“What are you doing, Jack?”
Jack raised his head, groaned and dropped back to the ground. “Trying to take a goddamned nap,” he said.
“Don’t speak to me that way.”
“Fucking sorry,” Jack responded.
He expected a tongue lashing or a swift hit with the cane on the bottom of his foot. Instead, his father sighed loudly. “You’re a bloody fool, Jack.”
At that, Jack sat straight up. “Why? Because I’m trying to make something of my life? Because I don’t want to take the advice of a cripple?”
Phil closed his eyes and took a breath, ignoring the dagger Jack had thrown at him. “Because you’re throwing your life away and you can’t even see it.”
“I wouldn’t say that fighting for my country is throwing my life away.”
“The cripple begs to differ.”
Jack stared at him.
“Why’d you do it?” Phil asked.
“Because I wanted to make something of my life,” Jack repeated.
“Bullshit,” Phil said. “You know better than that. You stay in school, get your education and get a decent job. You don’t run off and try to get yourself killed.”
“I’m not going to get myself killed. I know how to avoid a bullet.”
“It was a shell,” Phil said.
Jack stared at him.
“Why didn’t you wait until you were done with school? Like I told you.”
Jack looked away. “I’m no good at school,” he said. “I’m no good. I wouldn’t’ve passed anything anyway—“
“And I wanted to get a start on my life. I’m old enough, I know what I want. I can make my own decisions.”
“It’s a bloody stupid decision.”
“What do you care anyway?”
Phil took a breath. “Because you’re my son. And you are the only worthwhile thing I’ve ever done.”
Jack stared at him.
“Don’t you get it?” Phil said, “Why your mother has been so frantic? Why I’m so angry you joined up? Why we were so upset that you ran off?”
“You wouldn’t have let me join.”
“No, no I wouldn’t have.”
“So you’re pissed off I didn’t listen to you. I get it.”
“No, you don’t. I’m not angry because you didn’t listen. I’m angry because you ran off and put your life on the line without even giving us a warning.”
Phil took a breath. “So what if you did get killed? Didn’t you think about how upset your mother would be? How upset I would be?”
“I thought you’d be proud.”
“Proud? Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We would be devastated. Your mum would never recover. Don’t you—You are the only thing we have.”
Jack stayed silent.