Chapter 9 : Life and Death. Love and Loss
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“Wait everyone!” Mary MacDonald shouted at the top of her tiny lungs. Albus raised a single white eyebrow at her, after having just dismissed the whole group, save twelve, from their Monday night meeting. Mary’s smile grew even wider at his interested expression.
“Gid and I wanted to announce that we are getting married on Boxing Day, right here at headquarters!” Mary said gleefully. “I have invitations for everyone!” A few members whooped while most applauded. Lily swished her wand at the large stack of invitations, causing them to fly in every direction to their intended addressees. Mary gripped Gideon’s hand tightly as they moved to leave along with most of the other Order members. She gripped Lily tightly in a one-armed hug.
“Good luck love,” Mary whispered. “I expect to see you tomorrow morning for dress fittings so don’t you get yourself in any kind of pinch woman.” She shot Lily a wink before head off hand in hand with her fiancé. Lily wrung her hands together nervously and looked around the room to her fellow leftover members. Sirius. Maggie. Remus. Dorcas. Alastor. Kingsley. Minerva. Marlene. Caradoc. James. This may very well be their last day together. All of them.
Exactly three weeks before, Albus had taken these twelve members, and began preparing them for the most important mission of all. He had been secretive about it. No one truly knew his reasoning, not that Albus Dumbledore was known to have a whole lot of reason, which scared the lot of them even more. The plan was quite simple, in theory atleast. Apparate into the Riddle House. Attempt to kill Voldemort. Only one spell needed to be sent. Simultaneously catch the spy in the act. Grab him. Apparate to St. Mungo’s. It was that simple. In theory. It was also that deadly. In reality.
“We will be in teams of six,” Albus announced solemnly. “Team one: Sirius, Dorcas, James, Minerva, Marlene, and I. Team two: Maggie, Alastor, Kingsley, Cardoc, Remus, and Lily. Team one will leave first, and begin taking down security. Team two will follow up within one minute. Remember the game plan. If you can get a shot at Voldemort, take it. Find Peter, bring him back here. Whichever team gets a hold of him gets out of there immediately. Be concerned about your team, and no one else. Understood?” Every one of them nodded their heads hesitantly, exchanging concerned glances with one another. Albus swallowed thickly.
“You eleven are the bravest of the wizarding world,” Albus began. “But here, in the face of almost certain death, I feel that it is necessary to give you the option to back away from this mission. Each and every one of you have a life ahead of you. No matter how bleak it may seem, it is still a life worth living. Tonight, you may lose the opportunity to live that life, and I cannot possibly take that away from you forcefully. If you wish to leave, you will not be looked down upon in the slightest. We will all understand, that you want this time to be with the ones you love.” James looked at Lily at this final statement, unbeknownst to everyone else in the room. His eyes were bloodshot from a lack of sleep. From fear. Fear of this being the last time he would see her lovely self.
“We’re doing this for the ones we love,” he stated quietly. As everyone turned to look at James, he averted his eyes from Lily, just keeping her gaze for an instant. “If we don’t do this, there is no life left for them to live.” As expected, not a single member backed out. They had said their goodbyes, just in case. And they were now here, ready to die. Albus smiled sadly.
“Well then, take the next few minutes to chat, snack, or what have you,” Albus said quietly. “Minerva may I speak with you in the kitchen?” The tight-bunned woman nodded curtly and followed Albus into the closed off kitchen. Lily fiddled with the hem of her shirt for a moment, listening as the rest of the room broke out in quiet small talk. She glanced over to James, who still sat alone. His eyes were glazed over. Was he afraid? Lily gathered her courage quickly and stood from her seat suddenly, taking three large strides so that she was standing right before the chair beside James. She opened her mouth to speak, but James shook his head suddenly, causing her to snap her mouth shut.
“Don’t,” he said simply. “Don’t tell me that everything is going to be fine. The three people I care most about are in this room, walking to their death. How can I. . . I can’t. . .” He trailed off shaking his head once more. He couldn’t stand this. He would willingly give his life for any one of them. But this was a situation that he hardly had control over. Lily gripped one of his hands tightly with both of hers. They had not been the same since that night in the kitchen. They were like strangers living in the same house. He didn’t believe her and she didn’t trust him as she used to. James finally met her eyes.
“Lily if something happens—” James began, but she cut him off.
“No,” she scolded. “Don’t you start. You can tell me tomorrow, whatever it is.” James let out a deep breath and stood suddenly, pulling Lily up with him, and dragged her along behind him all the way to the back room, snapping the door shut behind them. He paced the small room, running his hands through his hair anxiously, leaving Lily to stand helpless beside the closed door, watching him in confusion. After several minutes of this, Lily, finally fed up, spoke.
“James?” she asked tentatively. James stopped his walking and turned to face her, still standing several feet from her.
“Lily, I think you’re spectacular,” he said suddenly, choking out a strangled chuckle. Lily frowned.
“What?” she asked in confusion, shaking her head. James waved a hand at her.
“Don’t interrupt me, this is important,” he pleaded. Lily’s eyes widened in surprise, but she stayed quiet. “I think you’re spectacular. Brilliant. There is honestly no one like you.” Lily snorted at this, but was silenced by the look on James’ face: hurt.
“You will never take me seriously. I love every ridiculous thing about you, and still, you don’t take me seriously. I love your cooking, even if Mary’s is a bit better. I love how you crinkle your nose when you’re so completely focused on something. I love the insanity of your hair and the sparkle you get in your eyes when you get all uncharacteristically sarcastic. I love watching movies with you and staying up late talking about everything with you.” He took a deep breath again.
“I am absolutely, completely, and entirely madly in love with you Lily Evans, and yet you still cannot take me seriously. You’re so sure that no one will ever love you, that you can’t see me standing here in front of you, loving you more than I’ve ever loved anything in life.” Lily seemed to only be able to sort of gape at him for a bit, before finally she shook her head.
“You’re just saying all this because you think we’re going to die,” Lily whispered. “You don’t mean all that. You can’t.” James threw his hands in the air in frustration before closing the gap between them quickly and kissed her. It was soft and loving and nothing like any kiss Lily had ever experienced. She couldn’t think, she couldn’t breathe. It’s like she had been swooped away along with James’ lips as he pulled away from her.
“I mean every bit of it,” James said in a shaky voice. “I couldn’t go in there tonight knowing that I had never told you that I would’ve married you today if I had the chance. I would tell you I love you every day, and I would spend every second of my pathetic life proving it to you. And whether I’m still here tomorrow or not, not a single bit of that will change.” He leaned forward, and left one last peck on her forehead before leaving the room, leaving Lily Evans with a memory of a kiss on her lips.
Lily was unsure of how long she stood there, when she suddenly remembered where she was, what she should be doing at that exact moment. She rushed from the room, just in time to see team one lining up to disapparate. Albus stood in the center. James and Sirius were side by side, wands at the ready. James leaned towards Sirius and whispered something quickly in his ear, causing Sirius to pale considerably.
“In three,” Albus began to count down. “Two.”
“James,” Lily breathed out, but he did not meet her eye.
“One.” And they were gone. Alastor shook Lily out of her emotional shock, and started lining them up for apparation. Lily was placed between Remus and Kingsley.
“Lily, you alright?” Remus whispered, nudging her. Lily bit her lip and nodded quickly as Alastor began the countdown.
“Wands at the ready!” Alastor bellowed. “Let’s show those Death Eaters who’s boss. In three, two, one. NOW!” The six of them turned on their heels, headquarters disappearing from view. They appeared in the middle of an absolute scene.
Rubble was scattered across the ground from a wall that had been blown out. Sirius was slashing curses back and forth with his cousin and her dreadful now-husband, Rodolphus Lestrange. James was at his back. They circled, fighting the couple, along with Walden Macnair and Igor Karkaroff. Albus was in sight, fighting the Dark Lord himself.
Dorcas was battling head to head with Fenrir Greyback, who bared his teeth threateningly, causing Remus to bound in their direction, leaving Lily’s side. Minerva had taken down the Carrows. Maggie ran over quickly to help bind them. Caradoc had Evan Rosier in a headlock, each of their wands left out of the physical fight.
Lily fell to the ground suddenly as Kingsley shoved her head down, narrowly missing a brilliant green curse shot past her. Lily covered her mouth with a violently shaking hand as the curse hit the back of Caradoc’s head, making him fall to the ground limp. Kingsley ripped Lily up from the ground.
“Fight Lily,” he whispered calmly in her ear, though his eyes showed fear. “We cannot help him now.” Lily saw Evan Rosier catch her eye and lunge for his wand. But Lily was quicker.
“Stupefy!” she bellowed, knocking the Death Eater several feet back, unconscious. Lily spun around looking for her next target. Lucius Malfoy had whipped out his shiny black wand and aimed at Marlene’s back.
“Expelliarmus!” She caught Malfoy’s wand easily, now a wand in each hand. “IMPEDIMENTA!” Lily shouted, whipping both wands through the air. Malfoy was blown backwards through an archway and out of sight. Lily jumped to the side as Sirius sprinted past her towards a terrified looking Peter Pettigrew.
“Aw Mate, you decided to join us?” Sirius said in a falsely cheery voice , reaching out a firm hand and grabbing his wrist tightly. They disappeared on the spot. Lily whipped her head in the other direction. Had Sirius just left James on his own?
The four they had dueled all lay unconscious on the ground. Along with another figure.
“ALBUS!” Alastor shouted above the noise, trying to push past Lily. She grabbed his arm.
“What about our teams?” Lily asked quickly. Alastor’s face softened.
“After what happened to you lass, we leave no man behind. Not like them,” Alastor said simply, pushing past her to grab the weak headmaster and disapparate the two of them.
Lily was finding herself more and more alone as members began apparating to safety. Dorcas had dragged Remus away from a vicious physical fight with Fenrir Greyback, with the help of Kingsley, and all three had disapparated. Minerva had attempted a shot at Voldemort but was easily swept away into one of the few still standing walls, knocked unconscious. Maggie, with a bloody lip and several large bruises, snagged her aunt quickly and disapparated. Marlene was dead. Dead. Dead. Caradoc was dead.
Severus Snape and Antonin Dolohov looked upon the only Order member still standing. Lily gulped audibly, holding her wand at the ready. Where is James? The two Death Eaters whipped back their wands, ready to send out equally terrifying curses.
“Oi! Over here Snivellus!” a voice roared from across the room. All three heads whipped in the direction of James Potter, having just torn himself away from a duel in a room off the main hall. Lily’s eyes met his, just for an instant, before he was knocked off his feet.
“SECTUMSEMPRA!” Severus bellowed, as Dolohov whipped his wand silently. The two spells hit James with such a force that he stumbled backwards in a daze. Stunned by the blood that rapidly began seeping from his shirt, James fainted dizzily. At this same moment Sirius reappeared as reinforcements.
“Prongs?” he whispered, stumbling towards his fallen friend. He took one look between a barely breathing James and the two Death Eaters, before lunging back to Lily. “Lily I’m getting you out of here now.” Lily, however, had a much more violent reaction. Without speaking, she shot spell after spell at the two Death Eaters, striking them over and over and over again. Sirius pulled her back as she started towards the carefree looking Dark Lord, nonchalantly lounging on his throne.
“We are not leaving him,” Lily hissed, fighting tooth and nail against Sirius to get away from him, but his grip did not fade.
“I promised him Lily. I promised that if anything happened to get you out first, no matter what,” Sirius whispered, before turning on the spot and tearing Lily away from the Riddle house with him. Lily shoved Sirius away the moment they landed in St. Mungo’s lobby.
“NO!” Lily bellowed. “You’re bleeding mental. How could you just leave him there with Voldemort?!” She reached forward a pounded on his chest with her fists, the two surrounded by the remaining unharmed Order members. They were all giving her the same sympathetic look. She whirled around.
“Stop it!” she shouted. “Stop looking at me like that, he is not dead!” The looks did not change. Alastor approached her tentatively.
“Lass, you should sit down and take a moment,” he whispered soothingly, but it only made Lily more furious.
“I don’t need to bleeding sit down,” Lily hissed, recoiling from his touch. “I need to go back and do what none of you will.” She backed away another foot and disapparated, appearing just moments later on the grounds outside of the Riddle House.
Above the house, in the cloudy sky, was the Dark Mark, shiny green and horrifying. Lily gulped audibly and began sprinting towards the house. The Dark Mark meant every enemy was dead. Dead.
“VOLDEMORT!” Lily screamed, as she reached the front door, bursting it down with a whip of her wand. “Come and get me you bastard!” She reentered the destruction that once was the main hall. Voldemort still looked entirely unenthused, lounging in his high-backed chair. Severus was heaving himself from the ground heavily. James was twitching on the ground, exactly where he had been minutes before. Lily couldn’t help but sigh in relief slightly. He was still alive. This feeling only lasted for a moment, as Lily was suddenly completely unable to control any rational thought as the Dark Lord laughed.
“It’s rather pathetic really,” Voldemort chuckled. “How predictable you are. Potter came back for you, and now you’re coming back for him. So very predictable.” Severus had the nerve to laugh bitterly at this, prompting Lily to swish her wand in his direction forcefully, stunning him without even looking at him.
“Predictable because I’m not selfish?” Lily retorted, her eyes an even darker emerald green from her sheer fury. “Because I come back for the people I care about? You would know nothing about that Tom Riddle, because no one gives a damn about you.” Voldemort raised an eyebrow at her, but she continued before he could speak, taking a few steps closer to him.
“You think that you’re so powerful. Why is that?” Lily hissed. “Because a bunch of cowards worship the ground you walk on? Well guess what? You don’t scare me. You’re the biggest coward of them all.” An echoing crack signaled the arrival of Sirius. He stumbled forward and grabbed her wrist.
“Leave it Lily. Let’s just get James out of here,” Sirius said hesitantly, eyeing the Dark Lord fearfully. Lily wrenched her arm free of his grasp and turned on the Dark Lord for the final time. She continued toward him until she was only feet away from his cruel red eyes. He seemed physically frozen to the spot, though Lily had no idea whether it was her doing or not.
“This is for my parents,” she said shaking.
“For every helpless person you’ve tortured, and killed.” Voldemort still did not budge.
“For every witch and wizard and muggle, living in fear because of you.” Lily raised her wand, watching as the slightest streak of fear crossed the Dark Lord’s eyes.
“For Dorcas, and Caradoc, and Marlene. This is for James. Go to hell,” she whispered, before slashing her wand through the air in one swift motion, muttering only two words. “Avada Kedavra.” And Voldemort slumped into his throne dead. It was that simple. In theory.
No one held her back. No one was even willing to try. Lily hit him again and again and again.
“Look at me you sick evil man,” Lily hissed, ripping the man’s head back so that he was facing her. “Tell me the counter curse Severus or I swear I will kill you myself.” They were all in a closed ward, the lot of them. Caradoc and Marlene’s bodies were recovered by Dorcas and Alastor only moments before. They were placed behind curtains at the other end of the ward. Albus and Minerva were both under magical sedation in order to sleep off their wounds. Maggie’s minor injuries were patched up, but she refused to leave her aunt’s side. Dorcas had left to check up on Augustus back at her flat. Kingsley was guarding the door. Sirius and Remus sat in silence, watching Lily wail on Severus, who was bound helplessly to a chair. Her knuckles were bloody, but she was desperate.
“He deserves it,” Severus hissed, though winced immediately as Lily punched him again, right in the jaw.
“How can you say that?” Lily barked out mid-swing. “He is a good man, trying to save the Wizarding world from Voldemort’s darkness. You are just a Death Eater, holding a schoolboy grudge.” Severus snorted, prompting another hit with a deafening crunch, clearly breaking his nose.
“Tell me the counter curse Severus,” she repeated, this time her voice filled with pleading. Healers were two beds away, trying to help James, but he was slipping further and further away. Severus seemed to crack, somewhere under the swollen bruising welts that now covered his face. He leaned forward and whispered something in Lily’s ear. She nodded fervently and dove towards James bed, whipping out her wand. She mumbled something that sounded very much like a song you would hum along to.
After one go-through, the bleeding, that had previously gushed from a massive gash across James’ chest, stopped flowing. The second time through, each layer of tissue mended itself. The third time through, nothing changed. James did not wake up. Lily turned back on Severus, lunging at him. Alastor caught her mid-air and pulled her away from the already battered prisoner.
“Calm yourself lass,” Alastor said soothingly. “He’s no use to yeh dead.” Lily only continued to fight against his grasp.
“What else did you do Severus?” Lily shrieked. “Why isn’t he waking up?” Severus shook his head slowly.
“I don’t know the effects of Dolohov’s curse Lily,” Severus said solemnly. “It’s likely internal, but I can’t know for certain.” Lily ripped herself from Alastor’s grasp and rushed over to James’ bedside. The healer nearest to her was a friend, and teacher of hers.
“Healer Wood, I must suggest a full internal patch-up potion, and some Dittany as well for the scarring,” Lily said in a daze, staring glossy eyed at James, who was as pale as the sheets covering him. “Also a blood-replenishing potion would probably be in order.” Healer Wood smiled comfortingly, placing a hand on Lily’s shoulder.
“You’ll make a fantastic healer Lily, but for now, be a friend instead,” she said lightly. The healer took a seat beside Lily and took her hand.
“Lily, he has suffered extensive injuries,” Healer Wood began hesitantly but Lily nodded, already knowing what she was to say.
“He’s not going to wake up is he?” Lily whispered, her eyes watering. Healer Wood shook her head quickly as Sirius and Remus appeared in the part between the curtains.
“Not necessarily,” she explained quickly. “He just needs time to heal. He can still wake up, he just needs time.” Remus sunk heavily into a chair across from the two, covering one eye with an ice pack. Healer Wood excused herself, allowing Sirius to take her seat. He could only gape at what he had just been told.
“There must be some mistake,” Sirius said in disbelief. “This. . . this is James for Merlin’s sake. He can’t. . . No, this is just ridiculous.” He stood suddenly. “This is not happening.” Sirius put his hands up in frustration and left the ward hurriedly. Remus watched Lily somberly, as she could only look at James face, tears rolling down her cheeks in streams. Her eyes seemed to be willing him to wake up. Lily choked back a sob and looked to Remus.
“It wasn’t worth it,” she said shaking her head, biting her lip in attempts to stop her sobs. Remus tilted his head to one side in confusion. Lily’s eyes widened. He didn’t know. “Voldemort is dead. I.. I killed him. I don’t know what came over me, but James was just lying there, and he just had this awful smug look on his face. He has no value for human life. None at all. And I just couldn’t stand it. I wanted him to hurt as badly as Marlene and Caradoc and my parents, and James.” Remus leaned forward with a small smile.
“Lily, that means that it’s all over,” he said comfortingly. “Don’t you understand? This means that the war is over. We’re free.” Lily frowned.
“But, at what cost?” she whispered, grasping James’ nearest hand tightly.
Sirius Black rushed into the nearest fireplace, dropping Floo Powder and mumbling a quick “Ministry of Magic, Auror Department.” He shot up the fireplace and came toppling out in the Auror Office. A tall athletically built man with tawny hair pulled Sirius up with an outstretched hand.
“Sirius Black I presume?” the man asked cheerfully, shaking his hand. Sirius nodded, though a smile was unable to reach his face. “Rufus Scrimgeour, Head of the Auror Office. That was some rather impressive work today Mister Black. You brought in four Death Eaters, a spy, and managed to come back unscathed.” Sirius shook his head slightly.
“I didn’t do it alone sir,” Sirius said with a half-shrug. Scrimgeour pulled a file away from his assistant and flipped it open.
“Peter Pettigrew. Charged with Treason in the First Degree. Conspiracy to Commit Murder in the Second degree, regarding the Evans, Marlene McKinnon, and Caradoc Dearborn. Conspiracy to Abduct and Torture in the First Degree Regarding Dorcas Meadowes. Conspiracy to Attempt Murder in the First Degree, regarding the Longbottoms, the Bones, the McKinnons, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Lily Evans, and James Potter. There are many more assault charges. That’s a long list of charges Sirius, and you brought him to us,” Scrimgeour said proudly. Sirius shook his head.
“Sir, if anything, it is I who should be punished,” Sirius said quietly. “I should have seen him for what he was sooner, and I did not. It’s because of me that two people have died tonight, and several others injured. Peter was such a good friend, I should have known.” Scrimgeour frowned.
“That’s not all you’ve done tonight Sirius,” Scrimgeour continued seriously. “You’ve turned in four of the most at large Death Eaters of our time. Both Lestrange brothers, and Lestrange Senior. And Walden Macnair. That’s a large bit of work you’ve saved our office.” Sirius nodded slightly, but his distraction was obvious. “Sirius, I would be honored if you would come work for us. You would only start out as an intern, but I believe that you will make a great Auror someday.” Sirius winced slightly, thinking of James. They were planning to begin Auror training next year together. But would James live to see next year? Sirius couldn’t know. He swallowed thickly and looked to the tawny-haired man.
“I’m in,” he said simply, shaking the older man’s hand tightly before following him down the main corridor to fill out some paperwork.
Benjy fiddled with his uniform cap, and made the long daunting walk down the main corridor of St. Mungo’s. His every booted footstep seemed to reverberate off the walls around him. Ten minutes before he had been sitting in his office in muggle London, running through diagrams of strange contraptions called tanks, trying to find its most vulnerable spot for damage. It was late, and he really should’ve been home hours before, but he just needed to get one last thing done. Suddenly, his secretary had stepped into his office fearfully, followed by two cloaked individuals.
“Sir, these two refused to wait outside,” the woman said shakily, backing away from the other two. But Benjy waved her out of her office and snapped the door shut. Andromeda and Ted Tonks gave Benjy a very solemn look, and that scared the hell out of him.
“What happened?” Benjy asked quietly, leaning against the front of his desk to face the two. They glanced at each other then back to Benjy, which only proceeded to frustrate him. “Bloody hell Ted, tell me what happened!” he bellowed, causing the two to wince. Ted shook his head.
“I’m so sorry Ben,” Ted said quietly, holding out a folded hand. He opened it, revealing a small charm bracelet. A phoenix charm bracelet. And here he was now, walking to his biggest fear. His loss.
The ward was quiet, but eerily crowded. Maggie was huddled over Minerva’s bed, the two whispering in hushed tones. Lily sat by James’ bed in a daze, like she was in serious shock. Remus sat across from her, clearly unsure of what to say or do. Every person was battered. Worn. Tired. Sad. Kingsley gave him a curt nod, as Benjy entered the ward and headed to the back of it quickly, where two beds were blocked by curtains. This was it. This was the end of life as he knew it.
“Hi, I’m Marlene McKinnon!” she had said to me, the very first time I saw her. I was sitting in a compartment alone, my first ride to Hogwarts. And here was this beautiful girl standing before me. With pearly white skin, and uncontrollable blonde hair, she was like an angel, even then to eleven-year-old me.
“Mind if I join you?” she asked kindly, biting her lip. I could only continue to stare at her in awe, which she took as a no. “Oh, I’m so sorry to have bothered you.” Her face fell considerably, and she moved to exit the compartment. I snapped out of it and blurted out the first bit of useless knowledge that came to my mind.
“Did you know that all 700 fouls were committed in the 1473 Quidditch World Cup?” I sputtered, reddening almost instantly at the curious look she gave me. I sighed in relief as she smiled widely and reentered the compartment, taking a seat across from me.
“Did you know my mum invented the Bat-Bogey hex?” Marlene retorted with giggle. “And the first time she used it, was on my dad in their fourth year!” I loved her instantly, even then.
“Marlene?” Benjy whispered, though he knew no response would come. He begged with every fiber in his being that she would flicker her eyes open, and give him that bright smile. But she remained completely still, her skin no longer its usual luminescent self, but instead a pale grey. She was no longer Marlene, just a shell of her former self. Benjy didn’t notice the tears streaming down his face, or his hands violently shaking. He felt nothing. He was empty of every moral, every reasonable thought. The only thing he could see in his future, was revenge. And no one would be stopping him.
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