Chapter 17 : Defence
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Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.
~ Japanese Proverb
The rest of Saturday was spent in the library doing homework with Lily, Alice, Peter and Remus. James and Sirius has stuck with them for as long as possible but it just wasn’t in their nature to sit still for hours on end so they had soon disappeared on ‘Marauder Business’, twin evil glints in their eyes. That wasn’t surprising to anyone, what was surprising though was Lily’s reaction. She merely rolled her eyes at their childishness and went back to her Transfiguration; no disproving glare or lecture on responsibility. James stared at her apprehensively for a few minutes, almost expecting her to be merely building up her anger. But when no response came he was forced to conclude that he wasn’t going to be reprimanded this once; and he was quick to take advantage of the fact and scampered after Sirius.
Willow didn’t really know how she was expected to act; did they think she was going to be automatically bubbly and talkative or would they accept the fact that after six years of separating herself from everyone it was going to be difficult to get used to being friendly. She needn’t have worried too much that first day; no-one seemed to expect anything from her, they just interacted as a group; a group that Willow fit into without needing to contribute to. Coming down for breakfast the next morning she wasn’t quite sure what to do but as she slowly walked down the length of the Gryffindor table, Peter looked up from where he was sitting with Remus and James, and smiling at her, he made a space for her to sit down next to him. And that was how things continued from then on; Willow was included in everything the group did.
The rest of the school slowly became accustomed to the strange sight that was the extremely popular Marauders, the Head Girl and her best friend; who were required to hate them on principle whatever about James’ prior behaviour around Lily, and Mild Millie the Gryffindor unknown who seemed to have a new name, laughing and talking together. There were always at least two members of this mismatched group together as the slow process of getting to know each other began in earnest. The Marauders assumed that they knew every single secret and quirk of each other that there was, and Lily and Alice, as best friends for over six years felt the same. But in everyone’s eagerness to share with Willow many things came out that had never been realised. Alice had not known about Lily’s extreme fear of swings, which happened after one time she used her magic as a child and managed to send herself swinging into the air; without the swing. Lily hadn’t realised that Alice’s muggle grandparents were pretty famous in the muggle world and Lily had actually heard of them. All three girls learned much about the Marauders that they would never had guessed such as the fact the Peter was an extremely talented pianist and Remus held ambitions of one day returning to Hogwarts as a teacher. Sirius’s troubled family past had been gossiped about frequently throughout the school but he told them the actual truth of how he had run away and consequently been disowned.
However, James was perhaps the biggest surprise though and not in a particularly positive way. They were all sitting down in front of the fire one evening in the middle of November and alternatively doing homework and chatting away. James had been in a quiet mood all day and although everyone had noticed, nothing had been said as Sirius had warned them to just leave him alone for the day; he did this around this time every year.
James was sitting, staring out at the snow falling, paying little attention to those around him until, he suddenly spoke into a pocket of silence;
‘’She would have been eleven today.’’
Everyone glanced at each other until Alice asked; ‘’who would have been James?’’
‘’My sister, Rhea’’ he answered still facing away.
‘’What happened?’’ Lily whispered.
He finally turned to them and spoke in an emotionless voice;
‘’When she was five years old we went on a trip to the sea, I was eleven and had received my letter about my first year at Hogwarts, I thought I was amazing, finally getting to go to school and learn magic, and so did she. I was out swimming with my father pretty deep and she wanted to join us because anything I did she wanted to too, but I selfishly didn’t want her to join because I knew my father would have to focus on her them and make sure she was ok. So I told her she couldn’t come out that far because she was a girl. Childish I know, but then again I pretty much was a child. My father and I got out as the current got stronger and went to get an ice-cream and whilst my mother was talking to the muggles sitting on the beach beside her, Rhea decided to prove me wrong and tried swimming out to where we had been.’’
The entire group was silent as James took a haggard breath and then continued;
‘’the current had been too strong for my dad so she never had any chance. It dragged her under and although my mother noticed she was missing only minutes after she went in, it was too late by the time anyone reached her. She was dead.’’
Sombre expressions were on everyone’s face at this stage and Alice had tears in her eyes, Lily was watching James with a tender expression on her face.
‘’I know it wasn’t my fault, I hadn’t meant to provoke her into going out but she was my little sister and best friend and I miss her every day.” Here James paused for a moment and turned to face the group,
“This year is different though, she would have been here at Hogwarts with us, even at five she was excited at the thought of coming and it just hurts that she never got the chance to see this place and to make friends as close as family, like I have.’’ He finished and smiled sadly at all of them.
No-one moved for a few moments then in a quick movement Lily got off the couch and walked over to James; she paused for a moment then wrapped her arms around him. The shock in his face was evident but after a minute he pulled her into him and rested his arms around her too. The rest of the group exchanged glances. The past few weeks had led to an immense thaw in Lily’s impression of James, probably partially due to how mature he had been about the situation with Willow and the fact that both Alice and Remus were had hammered into him the parts of his character that Lily hated. Of course the fact that he had so far been an extremely responsible Head Boy and hadn’t abandoned all the work to her probably had furthered his cause greatly. But this moment was definite proof that Lily now, at least, regarded him as a friend, a friend worth comforting.
With all the sharing going on Willow had known she wouldn’t be able to completely escape telling them something about her life, but she managed to keep all stories focused on her childhood and away from the present situation. She told them about how she was basically reared by Toby and Edmund, about the haze of happiness and love that surrounded her memories of them. She never mentioned that these recollections were now tainted, perhaps forever, by the last image she had of Edmund’s face and the knowledge of the pain she knew Toby must have suffered. The others wondered, of course, why she never mentioned her father or mother and why they had never seen either of her brothers collect her from platform 9 and 3/4s. They also wondered, a little shamefully, why brothers who clearly loved Willow deeply had never realised how she was suffering at school. She was very aware of the fact that she was breaking her promise to herself not to become close to these people, but for once in her life she ignored that thought and pushed it to the back of her mind. Or at least as far back as it would go. But such unwanted thoughts have a nasty habit of refusing to be buried and this was no exception.
Professor Jones’ subsequent classes had been interesting but unexciting. After that first class he had dropped the getting to know each other idea; perhaps recognising that forced interaction would not lead to intimacy, and had instead been instructing them on various wars and struggles that had been fought throughout the ages. He was more stimulating than Professor Binns, but there was no getting away from the fact the Defence against the Dark Arts had turned into History of Magic. Even enthusiastic scholars like Lily were apprehensive of what use their lessons would be, in both the real world and in the NEWTS. Things were about to change though. When the class filed in on Tuesday morning they found the classroom cleared of desks and chairs. Professor Jones stood in the middle and told them to quickly form a large circle around him. Thoughts of déjà vu were running through the Gryffindors’ minds and they exchanged rueful smiles with Willow as everyone took a place in the ring.
“Now I know my lessons over the past few weeks may not have been exactly to your taste,” Jones announced to the classroom;
“But there were a few, how shall I put it - difficulties, surrounding my original plans for the class and a certain number of rules needed to be examined before Dumbledore was able to give me permission to continue. However what I have taught you should not be so quickly dismissed. The mistakes of the past shape the future and if we don’t learn from them, well we’re all doomed aren’t we?” He grinned widely as he threw out that ominous statement and Remus and James exchanged apprehensive glances.
“But let’s leave that aspect of your studies in Professor Binns’ hands and proceed to today’s class. The Imperius curse. Who can tell me about it?”
Everyone exchanged hesitant glances before one of the Ravenclaw girls put up her hand.
“Yes Ellen?” Jones encouraged her;
“The Imperius curse places the victim under the complete control of the castor; it is one of the three Unforgivable curses.” Ellen stated confidently.
Most people recognised the Imperius Curse because of its long history of use in anything from politics to sports. It seemed the idea of complete control appealed to a vast array of public figures and a number of cases had caused serious embarrassment for the Ministry. Of course lately it had become well-known due to the fondness Death Eaters had for it.
“Yes correct, as I’m sure you all could have told me. Now, one of the shared characteristics of the Unforgivable Curses is that they are all considered indefensible – there are no counter curses,” Jones declared as he turned around the circle,
“However that is not entirely true in regards the Imperius curse. No magic can resist it; but it is possible, through sheer will-power and determination, to throw it off. If you concentrate your mind sharply enough, the curse loses control.”
A quiet murmur rose within the room and Lily’s perplexed frown and raised hand drew the attention of the teacher who nodded at her to speak:
“There are theories that suggest that possibility professor, but they all agree that only prolonged exposure to the curse enables the victim to develop the power to throw it off. There’s no telling what you could have already been forced to do before you manage to free yourself!”
Jones smiled disturbingly at Lily who suddenly regretted what she had said and took a small step backwards. There was something entirely foreboding and deadly about their professor and while they all respected him, they also feared him a little.
“You are absolutely correct Ms Evans. This brings me to the point of today’s lesson.” He declared.
Without a word of warning or change in expression the professor pointed his wand at the Ravenclaw, Ellen, who had answered his question, and calmly uttered a single word;
Alice gasped and shock glinted in everyone’s eyes. Ellen stood there, seemingly unaffected, except for the vacant expression on her face. The next few moments though proved that Jones had cast his spell well. Ellen was made tumble across the room, recite poetry, perform a number of handstands and, most chillingly of all, hit Professor Jones again and again. Lily was outraged and demanded Jones stop before she reported him to the Headmaster. But she was coolly informed that he had been given permission for this class from Dumbledore himself.
“You were right after all Ms Evans. What is the point is telling you about a resistance to the curse if it will do you no good?” he tranquilly asked as Ellen resumed her handstands.
Then with a swish of his wand he returned control to the girl, who sank to the ground in complete confusion.
“I intend to perform the Imperius curse on each of you until you are all capable of releasing yourselves from it. It will not be a pleasant experience I grant you that, but it will be a good deal better that what a Death Eater would force you to do!” he shouted the last few words and with this horrifying prospect before their eyes, there were no more objections to the plan.
Over the next hour Professor Jones made Sirius declare his love for Peter in most ardent tones, forced Lily to rip page after page from a book and compelled one of the Ravenclaw boys to act like an ape; beating his chest and screaming at the others. What was happening would have been funny under any other circumstances but no-one could tear their eyes away from the completely dead and empty expression in their classmates’ eyes. Willow watched as those around her performed acts they would never have dreamed of and silently awaited her turn. When Jones eventually turned his wand to her, most of the class had experienced the curse and were sitting down, watching. Jones made the arm movement and uttered the word “Imperio” like he had done so twelve times previously.
And nothing happened.
Jones attempted to get Willow to jump desks, perform cartwheels, sing songs; absolutely anything he could think of and through it all Willow just stood there stoically, her expression still, even though her body was tense.
Eventually, with the rest of the class staring in shock and curiosity, Jones stopped trying and, contemplating the girl before him he spoke;
“You’ve experienced this curse before.”
It wasn’t a question but nonetheless Willow opened her mouth to answer him;
“I have been prepared for this curse before.”
A/N: Hey guys! I'm back from my NaNo experience and hopefully there are still readers left! I've nearly reached 10,000 reads on this story which makes me beyond happy and entirely gobsmacked! There is a hint of a filler chapter to this one but it's not entirely pointless so I would LOVE some reviews about what ye think. Oh and forgot to mention but I've managed to set up a Meet the Author page so if anyone wants to ask me any questions about my writing and whatnot check it out!