Chapter 72 : Chapter Seventy Two
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Imagine it. Hearing about a man who is behind everything. That neighbor of yours, brutally murdered, because of him. Your sister’s husband’s friend, disappeared, because of him. Seeing his name in the newspaper until finally the Daily Prophet cannot utter it any longer.
You-Know-Who, they’d call him. And everyone, everyone knew.
The man inspires terror. The man is the cause of everything that we have lost, the reason why we’re so afraid. Death Eaters, we can handle. But when he comes, we scatter like schoolyard children. We’re not trained fighters anymore. We are reduced to a fear all-consuming that prunes and cuts us into a more diminished version of ourselves. We’re downgraded into nothing. All seems hopeless.
And suddenly, I wanted to defy him. I wanted to defeat him. He had taken my friend. I was filled with a vengeance. Fear was replaced by a rage that I couldn’t hope to suppress. This needed to be over.
It was then, in that moment, that I realized why I had become an Auror. Why I had chosen this path, the one that Grace had so unceremoniously compared to her own. She was right. I was more in danger than she’d ever be.
Was it reckless, I thought later, to follow Alice like I did, as she suddenly ran towards that man that she sought, the one that had filled her with that raw, encompassing rage that had been invoked in me as well? Was it stupid, to go after the most dangerous man alive, who had probably already disappeared, vanishing like mist dripping between your fingers? Probably. But it didn’t matter. Not then.
There was a small wood nearby. Apparently the Death Eaters had ran that way, probably to catch some trees on fire while they were at it. My lungs searing, I ran as hard as I could, as if the faster I ran the more likely I’d be able to save Frank. Dear Frank, who had helped me so much, who had been such a friend to me.
I nearly toppled over my own feet as I heard a soft cry somewhere to my right. Alice was already shoving through the undergrowth, desperate and wild. I followed her, not daring to hope.
But it was Frank, it really was, who was lying there in front of us, moaning weakly as he clutched his leg at the knee.
Alice was kneeling down beside him in a moment, but I was paralyzed with relief, happiness, and despair all at once. I stared at him, hardly believing that he was alive and well – although he was rather white and clearly in pain, he didn’t seem irrevocably damaged.
Robards and a few others were upon us in a few moments, clutching stitches in their sides. “Stupid – girls,” he panted. His wand was pointed directly at me, and for a moment I thought he was going to hex me for sheer stupidity. “What – were – you – thinking – coming – here – yourself?”
“He’s hurt, Gawain,” said Alice, not bothering to look up. It didn’t seem likely that she’d ever look away from Frank again. “He needs to get to St. Mungo’s.”
“By Merlin, Frank, you’re lucky to be alive!” said one Auror, looking terrified.
It seemed that Frank was trying to speak. I knelt down next to him, holding his hand. “My leg’s broken,” he said quietly. His face was twisted in pain as he tried to speak. “They thought I was too much trouble to take along.”
“You’ll be fine, Frank,” I reassured him.
“I alerted St. Mungo’s already, on account of the other injuries,” said Robards. “You’ll be taken there soon.”
Later, when a stretcher had been conjured and Frank had been Apparated to the hospital, Gawain Robards stopped me before I could Disapparate too. His hand was heavy and forbidding on my arm. “That was some stunt you pulled, Evans,” he said, his mouth an ominous line. “I’m going to have to tell Moody. No wonder he won’t make you a Defender. You’re too reckless.”
I gazed levelly at him. “Thanks to my recklessness, we found Frank. What would you have me do? Wait until you could gather a team to search the area? Frank could’ve been gone by then.”
It was as if Robards had never seen me before. Taking advantage of his silence and stunned expression, I wrenched my arm away from his grip, and Disapparated to St. Mungo’s.
Alice rushed towards me as soon as she saw me in the lobby. “They just took him in,” she said. “Oh, God, Lily, I was so scared.”
I grabbed her hand. “Me too.”
We waited. It seemed like an absurd amount of time before a man finally reached us, ready to take us to him.
“I’m Healer Peters,” he said, as he shook my hand, as if we were really interested in pleasantries at the moment. “Which one of you is Mrs. Longbottom?”
I snorted. I couldn’t help it, even though at the moment it was ludicrously insensitive of me. Me, a wife? How daft was Healer Peters anyway? When given the option of choosing between an adorable, sweet faced darling and a grim-faced, psychologically deranged redhead, the answer to whom the wife is, is fairly obvious. Alice’s round face was the epitome of homely. It didn’t take much guessing to figure out which one of us was cherishing, loving, and taking care of a man at the end of the day.
Alice hardly noticed my blunder, although the Healer in question did give me a funny look. “Me,” she said, rushing forward. “How is Frank? Can we see him?”
“It doesn’t look like his leg was cursed, so he should have a full recovery,” he said, and the two of us simultaneously let out sighs of relief. “Your husband is a very lucky man.”
Well, duh. “No kidding. Not everyone escapes Voldemort.”
I didn’t notice what I said at first. I was so exhausted and nervous at the time, that the only thing I cared about was seeing Frank healthy and alive. It was only after that I noticed that Peters and Alice were both staring at me, as were most of the people present in the sitting room, gasping all at once. Healer Peters’ mouth was slightly open in astonishment.
And then it hit me.
I had said his name.
But what was strange was that I didn’t care. Not in the slightest.
I wasn’t scared of him anymore. Or maybe I was, but my terror had been replaced by some sort of righteous, all-consuming feeling.
“Sorry,” I said, hoping to get all these shaken people back to their senses. “Just let it slip, I guess.”
I almost laughed out loud. No one ever allowed that name to “slip.” I struggled to keep a straight face in the midst of the insanity of it all.
“Right,” said Peters, shaking himself. “Mrs. Longbottom, would you like me to take you to your husband?”
What was with all the stupid questions? Weren’t Healers supposed to be smart or something?
After checking that Frank was indeed all right with my own eyes, I left the couple with some privacy and returned to headquarters. I hadn’t even reached my cubicle, however, before I was unceremoniously stopped by a tall, shaggy haired mass, an expert at disrupting my life.
“Is it true what I just heard?” said James, looking disproportionally angry for a person who had implied that he had no interest in starting a relationship with me. “Are you really as stupid as I think you are?”
“Why don’t you tell me?” I said, knowing it would rile him up.
“You know what I’m talking about!” he snapped. “Did you really go running after Death Eaters today by yourself?”
I strode past him unconcernedly. “Alice was there.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“I’m assuming Robards told you, then?” I asked coolly.
“He didn’t have to! Everyone saw you!”
James’s attitude pleased me more than I cared to admit to anybody. It was immensely amusing to continue playing the cool, unconcerned would-be beau whilst he yelled. Sitting calmly in my cubicle, I acted as if he weren’t seething over me and simply pulled out some parchment, ready to work even if he was there.
“You could’ve been killed,” James said in an entirely different voice, his hand crushing over my papers so I would look at him. He no longer looked angry, but I couldn’t pinpoint what expression he was harboring. Whatever it was, for a moment I felt mollified.
This moment ended quickly when I remembered why I was so furious.
“What do you care?” I snapped, pulling my parchment away from under him and forcing myself to ignore him and work. I managed a few angry scribbles before I looked up to see that he was still there.
“Lily,” he said seriously. “We need to talk.”
“I’m – working,” I said through gritted teeth. “And I don’t want to talk to you.”
It seemed for a moment that was the end of it, but then James’ hands fell upon my paperwork again, spilling ink everywhere. Before I could open my mouth and scream all sorts of obscenities at him, he was towering over me, looking entirely ominous. He leaned towards me, his face a few inches away from mine.
“I am coming over tonight,” he growled, “whether you like it or not.”
Before I could respond, he was thundering out of my cubicle, as if that were the end of that. I thought about running after him and absolutely forbidding him from coming to my flat tonight, but it seemed rather pointless. I sat, resigned and deflated, knowing that it was probably better to get it done and over with anyway.
Moody needed someone to check on Frank’s status, so I gladly volunteered. It was nightfall by then, and the hospital seemed less busy. This time I made my way easily to Frank’s ward. Predictably, Alice was to be found inside, but I was surprised to see another visitor sitting with them. Grace.
Immediately I knew that this situation had not helped our currently fragile friendship. Once again, I had failed to let her know something essential. Frank was her friend, too, and he had just escaped death. That’s information that friends usually want to know.
I decided there was nothing to it but just power through with a casual greeting. “Hi guys,” I said overly brightly. My suspicions were proved correct when Alice and Frank greeted me with weak but genuine smiles, and Grace ignored me completely. As if to further proclaim her disgust towards me, she soon removed herself “for a smoke”, flashing the offensive cigarette past me without a second glance.
“She smokes?” asked Frank, bemused.
“According to her, it’s no better than risking our lives every day,” I added grimly.
Both of my friends sensed my tone, but wisely chose not to question it. I inquired after Frank’s health and asked if he needed anything, before I realized that my ten-minute break was up and I had to leave again. I kissed Frank and gave Alice a hug, before heading out of the ward.
On my way out I spotted Grace further down the hall, leaning out against an open window where her cigarette was dangling. She wasn’t alone. Healer Peters, the daft young man who had wondered if I was a wife, was speaking to her. She looked a hundred times happier with him than she was with me at the moment. With her long, red hair rippling casually around her thin frame enclosed in a surprising leather jacket, the cigarette just added to the lustful, dangerous picture she was going for. It was odd, for I had never thought of Grace as ‘dangerous,’ nor had I ever seen her wear red lipstick before. Still, it was easy to see why the men streaming past were looking twice at her. She laughed at something the healer said and Peters smiled, clearly pleased with himself and not looking at all perturbed that she was smoking a cigarette in a hospital. For some reason, I found it humorous.
I shook myself, and continued on my way out. I thought about waving to Grace, but then realized it was wouldn’t make a difference.
When I returned I found Sirius in my cubicle, reeking of alcohol and sleeping in my chair. Muttering obscenities under my breath while simultaneously checking if anybody was looking in on us, I shook him awake as quietly as I could.
“Sirius! Sirius!” I hissed, resorting to slapping him in the face.
“Whazzit?” he slurred, his eyes opening slightly.
This was horrible in all sorts of ways, and I was beginning to panic. I hoped desperately that no one would pass my cubicle right now and find my friend. I grabbed the water bottle sitting on my desk and forced him to sit up and drink it, which he failed at.
“What are you doing pissed in my cubicle?” I spat, throwing the water in his face instead. This seemed to have no effect whatsoever, and he simply continued half-sleeping in my chair.
“Needed – to ask you – something,” he murmured against his chest, his head bobbing back and forth like some broken jack-in-the-box.
“What?” I snapped impatiently.
Sirius muttered something incoherent.
“Sorry, I don’t believe I caught that.”
“…ppp – parl….”
“What are you trying to say to me?”
“Sirius,” I started, leaning in closer to him. “Please tell me you’re not supposed to be patrolling right now.”
When all he did was attempt a grin, I nearly died.
“Moody is going to kill you!” I cried, looking about frantically. The clock above my head said that it was currently eight o’ clock. Already we were late. “Oh my god, oh my god. What am I going to do? Think Lily, think.” I couldn’t leave him in here. Someone would definitely find him. Realizing this, I grabbed his arm before I could change my mind and Apparated both of us to his flat. This was not easy, being that Sirius kept struggling against me, his drunken mind making no sense of any of this at the moment. We arrived in the middle of his living room where he promptly dropped onto the sofa, falling asleep and saving me the trouble of carrying him. Realizing that it was probably best not to leave him alone, I then proceeded to Apparate to Remus’. I had only been there once and my memory was a little fuzzy, so it took a few tries, but eventually I arrived at my destination, only to find a bewildered Remus in his kitchen. Luckily, Crazy Caroline was not there.
My greeting was more or less hysterical.
“Sirius is drunk out of his mind and I need to patrol for him and I don’t –”
Remus silenced me with a hand. “Where is he?” Remus catches on quickly, he does. Although he probably has had more experience with Drunken Sirius than me.
“In his living room,” I replied. “I owe you!”
By the time I arrived at the meeting point, three Aurors were waiting for me, very pissed off and impatient.
“You’re fifteen minutes late,” said my partner gruffly, a guy by the name of Vreeland. “Where’s Sirius?”
There was no time to think of some inconspicuous excuse. “Oh, Moody needed him for something,” I said, hoping that my voice was normal. “Sent me instead.”
The other two Aurors who had been waiting for Vreeland’s partner Disapparated, whilst we started our patrol. I had never been in this area before. We were near downtown but the streets were emptier, and filled with mostly houses.
As we passed a quaint looking square, with old-fashioned oil lamps for streetlights, I tried making conversation with Vreeland.
“Nice night,” was the best I could come up with. I didn’t blame him for not responding. We walked another half hour in silence before I decided that an apology would perhaps loosen him up. “Listen, I’m sorry that I was late. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting.”
“Moody wants me back at the office at five,” said Vreeland, “You just lost me fifteen minutes of sleep.”
Just as he had wanted, this statement shut me up. Sleep was a precious thing, especially when you only had an hour of it. If I had been in his position, I would play the guilt card as well.
“Moody wants you at the office that early, hu?” I said brightly, hoping to lure him into a conversation, even if it was a Moody-bashing one. “Is he riding you for something?”
For a moment it looked like Vreeland was finally resorting to ignoring me completely. But then his profile softened slightly, not looking benign by any means but appearing slightly less pissed.
“As a matter of fact, he is. He’s been riding my ass for weeks now after I made a small mistake.”
“What was that?” I asked, eager to know someone else’s screw ups for a change.
“Well…I kind of didn’t show up for a patrol.”
“Really,” I said, already thinking of the several torturous ways Sirius could pay me back for this forced favor.
Vreeland flushed, obviously thinking I was making fun of him. “It wasn’t my fault! I overslept.”
“Maybe that’s why Moody is preventing you from sleeping,” I joked.
“Laugh at me all you want,” scoffed Vreeland, turning away from me and looking equally as pissed as before. “But it’s really unfair what he’s doing to me. Keeping me up all night, demoting me from Defender, giving me half a library as paperwork –”
“Paperwork, mountains of it, you should see my desk –”
“Not that!” I snapped. “You’re not the Defender?”
“No,” he said slowly, as if I were stupid. “Moody demoted me.”
Oh my god.
“But if you’re not the – ” I couldn’t believe it. Sirius had been the Defender. How could he not have said anything to me? He knew that I couldn’t cast a Patronus!
I needed to calm down. It didn’t matter that I was Defender. I wouldn’t need to cast a Patronus tonight.
But even as I thought this, I stopped. Vreeland hadn’t noticed anything wrong, and continued walking, leaving me in the square. I looked up at the lamps, the ones I had noticed before. Every single one of them was off. The street was immersed in darkness. An electricity outing? I knew it wasn’t, even as I verified to see the corner a block away illuminated.
“Oh shit.” Vreeland had finally noticed.
“Wait! You stay, I don’t –” But he had already Disapparated, without any qualms whatsoever of leaving me behind.
I took a step forward. I tried to remember Frank’s words of advice to me.
Concentrate. Focus on a happy memory. The happiest you’ve ever been.
James, I thought. James was the happiest I’d ever been. I closed my eyes, focusing on his image.
Then cast the spell.
“Expecto –“ I opened my eyes, and choked. The Dark Mark was over the house. It had just been conjured. That meant that whoever had conjured it was still inside, possibly waiting for me. And I had no back up.
“Expecto patronum, expecto patronum, expecto patronum,” I whispered, but not even a wisp of smoke came out. I was approaching the house I realized – when had I started walking? There was a plaque on the door, engraved with the name ROBBINS. Where had I heard that before?
Just calm down, I told myself. Vreeland will be here soon, with Moody. There might be someone in there you still needs you.
I opened the door, and stepped inside.
And encountered completely darkness. It was almost eerie and unnatural, and for a moment I thought that the Death Eaters had cast some spell. Then I realized that the windows had been shuttered closed with blocks of wood. A strange measure.
I lit my wand and proceeded into the next room. My heart was pounding loudly – too loudly. I thought I might have a heart attack. Part of me wanted to run screaming, but the other wanted to get whatever needed to be done over with. If I were to find a dead body, let me find it already. If Death Eaters were there, let them jump out already. The suspense was scarier than anything else.
There was no one in the dining room or in the kitchen. So far, it looked like there were no Death Eaters about. Surely they would’ve attacked me by now? Or were they waiting in the shadows, ready to pounce on me when I least expected it? They seemed to enjoy those sorts of twisted games.
In the living room, I stepped on something. For a horrible moment I thought it was a human hand, but upon closer inspection I saw that it was simply a stuffed bunny, lying forgotten on the floor. My heart sank.
In the middle of the room, there was a balding man sitting in a chair. But he looked odd. His head was bent forward, and his arms were stretched behind him. He was tied.
“Sir, can you hear me?” I asked, as bravely as I could. But something was wrong. He was too still, there was no movement whatsoever in the room except for myself…
When I came around to see his face, my suspicions were confirmed. He was dead. And his face was mutilated beyond recognition. He had been tortured before they killed him. A scream died in my throat.
“Expecto…expecto…” I stopped as I realized what was lying on the couch to my left. A woman, splayed out with eyes open, her child curled up next to her as if appealing to her mother even in death to keep the evil men away. “Expecto patronum! Expecto – p-patronum! Ex – expecto – expecto…”
I fell to the ground, slashing the ropes apart, sobbing. “Expecto patronum! Expecto patronum! Expecto patronum.”
I laid the man on the couch opposite, attempting to instill a sense of peace in a body so violated. I closed the woman’s eyes, and brought the stuffed bunny to lie next to the girl. When Moody and the rescue team arrived, I was sitting in the middle of the room, still muttering to myself.
“Expecto patronum. Expecto patronum. Expecto…patronum…”
“What’s Evans doing here?” demanded Moody, as someone rushed towards me and held me up. Without looking I knew it was James. “Vreeland, are you telling me she was the Defender? Where the hell is Black?”
“S-sir, she said that you sent h-her to replace him –”
“I sent her? I sent her? SHE DOESN’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO PERFORM A PATRONUS, YOU IDIOT!”
“Moody,” said James quietly, “I’m taking her home.”
For a moment it looked like Moody would argue, but then he sighed, looking completely resigned. Pity looked odd on him, as if it not meant to be expressed in such a man. “Why does it always happen to you, Evans?” he said in a voice that nearly broke me, but James was already taking me away, away from that place, away from everything, until there was nothing left for me to see, nothing left for me to do.
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