Chapter 11 : Chapter Eleven
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Everywhere Lily looked, people were pushing and shoving in attempts to duck under the long dinner tables or make their way towards the doors to avoid the volley of arrows that sailed through the windows. There were blood curdling screams and soft gasps of breath as the life left those struck down by arrows.
It was, to put it simply, madness.
Before she could even comprehend the entire scene, there was a strong hand on her elbow and an insistent voice in her ear commanding her to get up, to move, to run, to hide - anything to avoid being hit by one of the arrows. It took her a moment to realize that it was one of her guards pulling on her arm, his blue eyes wide with panic and fear.
“Come on, Princess, you must get out of here!” he shouted at her, his voice thick with desperation. She nodded and rose to her feet. The guard placed a hand on the small of her back and immediately positioned himself in front of her. “For protection,” he said at her questioning look. “Come now!”
Blindly, Lily followed the guard, tripping over her heavy and abundant skirts. She nearly pulled him down with her, but somehow he managed to keep her on her feet and dodge any impending arrows at the same time. It wasn’t until they were halfway to the doors that it occurred to Lily that something was seriously wrong with this picture.
She dug her heels into the marble floors. “Where’s my sister?” she demanded, whipping her head around to see if she could spot her very blonde sister in the crowd, but the attempt was futile. It was impossible to see anything past the sea of bodies, both alive and dead. Lily tasted bile on the back of her tongue as she returned her gaze to the guard, who looked as though he was about to have a coronary. “Where’s Mary?”
The guard tightened his grip on her arm and gave a tug. “You have to leave, Princess!”
Lily resisted. “Where are they?”
He fumbled for an answer. “I-I don’t know, Princess,” he said in a defeated sigh.
She squared her jaw. “I’m not leaving without them.”
“But Princess -” the guard began to argue, but his argument was quickly silenced by the swift thunk of an arrow piercing his throat. Lily shrieked and instinctively held out her arms to catch his falling body. Only she didn’t expect him to weigh twice her weight, but with his armour and body mass, she supposed she should’ve. With a grunt, they sank to the floor, the guard’s warm blood coating her hands and arms and saturating the front of her beautiful teal dress.
Lily tried to wiggle out from underneath the guard’s body, but it was impossible. He was too heavy, and her muscles were too weak from being wrought with fear and panic. She cursed under her breath and pushed fruitlessly at his shoulders, doing her best to roll the corpse - the guard, she reminded herself - off of her. Her hands, stained burgundy with his blood, shook as she shoved without result, her jaw aching from clenching her teeth at the effort.
“Come on,” she muttered to herself, giving an experimental kick of her legs and finding that it did very little, but jostle the body and cause more blood to leak out of the gruesome wound.
All around her, the screams continued as did the unmistakeable sound of metal clanking and sparking with metal, which could only mean one thing: they - whoever they were - had infiltrated the castle. Lily’s stomach turned violently as Petunia‘s (as well as another) faced flashed before her eyes. But she grit her teeth, ignoring the twinge in her jaw and the ache in her head, and pushed thoughts of her sister and James out of her head. There was no way she was going to be able to do this, to get out of here, if she was focussing on them and the possibility that they might be dead.
They can’t be dead, Lily repeated in her head like a mantra. They’re not dead because they’re stronger than that. Petunia’s not dead because she’s too proud to die. Mary’s not dead because she’d fight back. And James? He can’t be dead - he wouldn’t die without having kissed me at least once.
The last thought seemed to be the match strike to light the proverbial fire as, with a burst of renewed determination to find them and make sure they were alive, Lily gave a final, hard shove that moved the guard’s body just enough that she could shimmy her legs out from underneath him. Once her legs were free, Lily gave a pitiful sort of cry, both at the renewed feeling in her legs and at the poor guard’s misfortune. But before she could dwell on his death too much, the sounds of the still-happening battle roused her back into action.
Scrambling onto her hands and knees, Lily hurried away from the gore, slipping as her hands, slick with blood, made contact with the freshly polished floor. Her limbs shook as she crawled towards the long table, realizing that it was the best (and only) place to hide in the hall.
Lily had only just pulled her legs underneath the table when something clamped down on her ankle and tugged. Her arms gave out from underneath her, and her scream of terror was trapped in her throat as she fell to the floor, smacking her chin on the marble floor, causing her teeth to cut into her bottom lip. The hand tightened its grip and gave another tug as blood filled her mouth.
Screaming, Lily kicked out with her free foot, connecting with nothing but empty space. Panic seized her as she was pulled out completely from underneath the table and forced to roll onto her back. Her eyes, blurry with hot tears, went wide at the sight of the black hood with a bone white face, two bottomless pits for eyes. She opened her mouth to scream again, but the man pressed the tip of his sword to the base of her throat.
“I’d keep quiet if I were you,” the man growled, pressing the blade harder into her skin with each word as if he was annunciating it. Lily gagged on the air in her throat, unable to reach up with either of her limbs as they were pinioned to her side.
“The Queen is going to reward me greatly for your capture, Princess,” the man continued, with a touch of triumphant. If she could see his face, Lily was sure he would be smiling as he spoke. “Do you know how long she’s been waiting for this opportunity? A castle left unprotected by the King and his noble Knights?” The man laughed to himself. “Oh what destruction we will reap!”
Unable to resist rising to the taunt, Lily glared up at the man and said, “Kill me then.” Her tone was challenging, her gaze doubly so.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me,” she said, the words thick due to the pressure on her throat. “Kill me. Run me through with your broadsword, strangle me with your bare hands. Do it!”
“You talk a big game, little miss,” the man hissed, doubling the pressure of the blade so that it cut into the flesh of her neck. “But if it’s death you want, then it is death you shall receive.”
Lily screwed her eyes shut, revulsion and self-pity settling deep in the pit of her stomach as she prepared herself for the blow that would end her life. She had always heard that a person’s life flashes before their eyes in the moments before their death, but she saw nothing. It was black, dark and endless. There was nothing. Hot tears streaked down her cheeks as the weight of her words pressed down upon her.
There was a commotion around her, though she hardly heard it, much too absorbed in her own impending death to consider anything else. When she felt movement on top of her, her breath hitched in her throat, her entire body going numb. This was it.
This was death.
The knot hardened as realization struck her: James had died, too. A few more tears streaked down her face as she considered her poor treatment of him over the last few years. She supposed she could have been a little nicer to him.
“Lily?” he asked again. She nearly jumped out of her skin when a warm, calloused hand cupped the side of her face. Warmth? She shouldn’t feel warmth if she was dead. A thumb stroked the length of her cheekbone as he continued to speak in an unusually tender voice. “Are you okay?”
She opened her eyes slowly, expecting to see a blinding white light above her, but instead she saw James Potter’s face, bruised and smeared with what appeared to be blood, staring down at her, concern saturating the hazel of his eyes. Behind his unruly hair, she could see the darkness of the night sky, littered with speckles of stars. Lily blinked. “James?” she rasped, her throat completely dry.
“Oh, thank Merlin,” James breathed in relief. He didn’t remove his hand from her cheek. “I thought you were dead.”
She furrowed her brow in confusion. “You mean we’re not?”
“No,” James said with a shake of his head. “No, we’re alive. Both of us. I’m alive, you’re alive.”
“Oh,” was all she said, despite the rush of relief coursing through her.
“Don’t get too excited,” he laughed, the white of his teeth stark against the grime on his face. Finally, he removed his hand from her face and settled it on her shoulder, helping her sit up. “Are you okay? You’re not hurt, are you?”
Lily lifted a hand and touched the side of her neck, her fingers stained with crimson. “Aside from this?” She gestured towards her fingers. “No, I’m fine.”
“But all this blood -”
“It’s not mine,” Lily said sadly. She averted her gaze from her hands to his face, unsure of what she was looking for.
James gave her shoulder a firm squeeze. “At least you’re all right. Your sister will be so relieved.”
Her eyes widened as hope fluttered in her stomach. “Tuney’s alive?”
“Yes,” James affirmed, nodding his head. “Snape got her out of here soon after the initial explosion. Apparently a piece of the ceiling fell on her head and knocked her out cold, and he carried her out.”
Lily frowned down at her blood stained hands. “How very noble of him,” she muttered.
James laughed in a grating sort of way. “I suppose noble’s one way of putting it. He’s the only man who didn’t stay behind to fight.” With a shake of his head, James struggled to his feet, a strange expression flitting across his face as he steadied himself. It wasn’t quite pain, but there was something decidedly uncomfortable the set of his lips and the pinch in his brow. He held out a hand to Lily, which she took gratefully, and he hauled her to her feet as well. Before she could so much as turn her head, James had his arm around her shoulder and drew her in close enough so that his lips were pressed against her ear. “You don’t want to look,” he advised.
Taking his word for it, Lily pressed her face into the front of his tunic, which, she realised a little too late, was torn and stained with the grease and grime of battle. She didn’t shut her eyes, but she made a point not to look anywhere beyond the floor in front of her; most of her path was obstructed by bits of fallen ceiling and, at one point, an arm. Lily tried her best not to vomit, but she could taste the bile on the back of her tongue and knew it was only a matter of time.
At least Tuney is safe, she continued to repeat in her head as James led her out of the destroyed hall.
“Watch your step,” James said, the warm rumble of his voice reverberating in her ear. He grasped her elbow and helped her over a fallen beam, under which a body was trapped. The taste of bile became stronger than ever.
It seemed to take eons to pick their way across the hall, but once James opened the door and all but pushed her through, Lily felt like she could breathe again. Except when she opened her mouth to take greedy gulps of the air, she collapsed to her knees and vomited instead.
James was at her side in an instant. He crouched down beside her and grasped a handful of her thick hair, pulling it away from her face as she was sick all over the floor. “It’s okay,” he soothed, placing his palm on the base of her spine and rubbing circles into her flesh. “Just let it out. Everything’s okay now.”
The gentleness in his voice caught her by surprise, but before she could comment on it, her stomach gave another heave and she lurched forwards, though thankfully nothing came up. With a groan, she settled back on her haunches, her body wrought with exhaustion. James’ hand didn’t leave her back. It had been quite a long time since Lily had felt this tired, this deflated. All she wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep for a week, but she knew that wasn’t an option now, not after everything that had just happened.
Suddenly, the doors to the side hall banged open and a troupe of brutish soldiers burst into the annex.
“She’s here!” one shouted.
“We’ve found her!” called another.
“Out of my way!” a familiar voice shouted. The sea of armed guards parted, revealing a pale and dishevelled Petunia. “Lily!” she screamed, abandoning all pretences of proper behaviour and rushing towards her sister at full speed. She threw her arms around Lily with an unusual amount of zest. “Oh, thank the gods, you’re all right!”
“Yeah,” Lily gagged as Petunia’s bony shoulder pressed into her throat, irritating the nick from the blade. “I’m bloody brilliant.” To her right, James chuckled.
Petunia seemed oblivious to the hint. If anything, she tightened her grip on Lily. “I was so worried about you. I was knocked unconscious after the first explosion and if it hadn’t been for Severus carrying me to safety, I might’ve died. Oh, Lily,” Petunia pulled back to look down at her, concern shining in her eyes. “I wanted to go in there after you once I came to, but those barbarian guards wouldn’t have it.” She pushed her lips into a pout. “I’m sorry I couldn’t rescue you.”
“It’s okay, Tuney,” Lily consoled, patting her sister’s hand. “I’m safe, and the guards were just doing what our father hired them to do.”
Ignoring her last remark, Petunia lifted a hand to stroke Lily’s long red hair, a soft smile touching her lips. “I’m still sending Dumbledore to your chambers just as soon as you’re escorted to them.”
Despite herself, Lily laughed, though it was hoarse and jagged; it dug into her throat. She swallowed. “I’m perfectly capable of making it to my chambers by myself.”
“The castle was just attacked,” James said before anyone else could get a word in - and quite a few people had opened their mouths to protest. “If you’re stupid enough to think that you can go gallivanting about by your lonesome than clearly I’ve overestimated your intelligence.”
Petunia gasped, her eyes widening to roughly the size of saucers. “You cannot talk to royalty like that, you idiotic oaf!” She snapped her fingers. “Guards,” she ordered, “get him to the dungeon. I think a nice long talk with a brick wall should do the trick.”
Two of the guards broke away from the pseudo phalanx and approached James, who got to his feet with a defeated sort of air. He didn’t put up a fight, as he was entirely certain that would only get him into more trouble. He chanced a glance at Lily as the blonde guard pulled a pair of shackles from his belt, his gaze one of pitiful acceptance.
With a roll of her eyes, Lily leapt to his defence. “Wait!”
“Don’t take him away,” Lily said, looking from James to her sister and back again. “Please. He saved my life, Petunia.”
“He also insulted you.”
“Like I haven’t been insulted by an insubordinate before?” Lily shrugged. “We’re royalty, Tuney, we have to deal with slander all of the time. Besides,” she added, her eyes locking with James. “It was an extraordinarily brave thing for him to do, risk his life to save mine.”
“Or it was incredibly stupid,” chimed a gruff voice near the door.
James whipped his head round to see Sirius standing at the hell of one of the guards. A smile broke across his lips at the sight of the black dog, gladness swelling in his heart over his friend’s wellness.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Petunia giggled. “Perhaps it’s a combination of both,” she said, her gaze sliding over to James. It was much gentler, Lily noticed, and, unless her judgment was completely off, extremely appreciative. A flare of jealousy surged through Lily and she had to bite her tongue to keep her scathing remark inside. “After all, aren’t those the very traits that make a hero?”
Sirius grumbled under his breath, Lily gave an extravagant roll of her eyes, and James turned to Lily, giving her a surprisingly humble smile. “I’m not a hero,” he said.
“Of course you are!” Petunia exclaimed, laying what Lily thought was an unnecessary hand on James’ upper arm. “You risked your life to save that of my sister’s and in doing such a selfless act, you saved our kingdom. Clearly you are a hero.”
James stood there awkwardly, unable to think of anything to say in response to such a proclamation. He looked to Sirius, who shrugged, and then to Lily, who also shrugged, though her shoulders held the crippling weight of defeat. He frowned.
A beat of silence passed before Sirius said, “Both princesses should return to their chambers.” When they all turned to look at him, he added, “Most of the castle and the surrounding grounds has been secured, but it would ease a lot of people’s worries - including my own - if the pair of you were as save as possible.”
Lily opened her mouth to protest when Petunia rejoined, “I completely agree. Mr - ah, I just realised I do not know your surname.” She batted her eyelashes at James.
“Ah, yes. Potter,” Petunia said as if she was trying the name on for size. She smiled to herself and redoubled her grasp on his forearm. “Well, Mr Potter, would you be so very kind as to escort me back to my chambers? I could use a big, strong, strapping lad like -”
“I’m sorry, Princess Petunia,” Sirius intervened. “Your father gave me strict orders to keep my eyes on you at all times. While I’m sure Mr Potter is perfectly capable, I trust myself more with your protection.”
“I agree!” Lily shouted, catching everyone but Petunia off-guard. No, her sister looked positively livid. “I’m only concerned about your well-being, Tuney. I’m sure that J-Ja- Mr Potter would love to see you back to your chambers, but why ask him when we have the best guards in all of the land ready to assist you?” Her punctuating smile was a bit forced, but not entirely fake.
Petunia pursed her lips and glowered at Lily, but the redhead didn’t back down. Finally, after a minute long staring contest, the elder Evans princess caved. “Okay, fine,” she bit out, her lips twisting into a grimace, “but don’t think you get to go on your merry way; you’re taking a guard as well.”
“Better yet, I’ll take three,” Lily said, ignoring her sister’s scathing tone to look at the three guards closest to her. “Would you be so kind?”
“Whatever you say, Princess.”
Petunia rolled her eyes and, with a snap of her fingers, strode out of the annex, a stream of diligent guards following after her.
Pushing a hand through her hair, Lily expelled a deep sigh, her exhaustion settling deeper than ever in her bones. “So much for sisterly love.”
Beside her, James snorted. “You have to admit, that went much better than expected.”
“Considering I was expecting the apocalypse, that’s not saying much.”
James laughed. “Always the pessimist, you are.”
She scoffed. “I prefer realist.”
“Whatever you say, Princess,” he replied, executing a near perfect imitation of the one of the guard’s voices.
Lily dug her elbow into his ribcage, unaware of the sharp hiss that slipped past James’ lips. “Yes, you are quite right. Whatever I say goes. So I suppose you’ll just to have to deal with it.”
James nodded, his mouth twisting into a grimace as he subtly placed a hand against his ribcage. “Yeah,” he said, his voice strained. “I suppose I will.”
A wide grin swept across Lily’s lips. Clearly she had mistaken his pained expression for begrudged acquiescence, which he preferred. The last thing James wanted her to do was worry over him. She should be worrying about herself.
Sirius seemed to share his viewpoint. “As touching as this moment is,” he began, a slight note of condescension in his voice as he regarded the pair. “It would be - ah, wise - if the princess returned to her chambers at once. They are, after all, the most well-protected area in the castle.”
Lily considered putting up a fight, but she realised that he was right. It was a hesitant acceptance, but acceptance nonetheless. Sirius was the head of security for a reason, after all, and besides, she was a princess and, generally speaking, princesses were concerned with one thing and one thing only: themselves. Petunia was such an example, even if she had shown a considerable amount of worry for Lily’s well-being. If she was going to be a convincing princess then she had better start playing the part.
“But of course,” said Lily, catching nearly everyone off-guard with her agreement, especially after the somewhat adamant fight she’d put up. However, no one was quite as surprised as Sirius, whose jaw dropped open at her proclamation. “You don’t have to look so surprised, Sirius. “You are the head of security and I trust your judgment.”
It took but a few seconds for Sirius to regain his composure. Snapping his jaw shut, he blinked thrice and said, with a certain arrogance, “Er, thank you, Your Majesty. Shall I lead the way?”
“You shall,” Lily consented with a nod. “But I have one condition.”
James groaned while Sirius’ pleased expression evaporated almost completely. “What?”
“Don’t tell my sister I gave in so easily,” she said.
“The secret is save with me, princess,” soothed Sirius, with just a trace of humour in his voice. “Now will you please follow me? Lovegood, Fawkes, walk ahead of her. Clive and Gregor, take the flank, will you? And James?”
“Come with us. I’d like to speak to you.”
James gave a non-committal shrug, his lips twisting slightly. “Sure.”
“Right,” Sirius said with a decisive nod. “Let’s move out.”
Wordlessly, the soldiers sprang into action and assumed their designated positions. And quite suddenly, Lily felt extremely claustrophobic, a wave of heat rushing over her, her breath leaving her in a rush. She tried to take a step back to make herself feel at ease, but only ended up backing into James.
She didn’t hear his grunt of pain. “You all right?” he asked, his brows knitted together in what she presumed was concern.
“I’m fine,” she managed to get out, pulling at the top of her gown in an attempt to cool herself off. “Just a bit flustered is all.”
“Maybe you should lay down when you get to your room,” James suggested as they followed the armed guard out of the annex and into the corridor, a certain tightness still present around the corners of his mouth. “It’s been a fairly exhausting evening.”
“It has,” Lily agreed, glancing up at him and finding herself surprised. He looked terrible. “You could use some rest yourself; you’re awfully pale.”
“I’m fine,” parroted James, flashing a tight smile. Something flickered in his eyes, though Lily couldn’t put her finger on it. “Really, I am,” he added when she didn’t drop her gaze. “I just…well, I wasn’t expecting the night to pan out the way it did.”
Lily waited until the guards were several feet ahead before starting up the staircase after them. “No one did. I mean, how could anyone have predicted an attack on the castle? It’s not like they happen every day.”
“True, but still,” James said, wincing a little as they picked up the pace. He pressed his hand to his side and continued. “Something about it feels…off.” He dropped his voice at the end, shooting cautious glances at each of the surrounding guards. None had heard him but Lily.
“Off? How so?”
James shrugged - and lost even more colour as they started up another flight of stairs, this time taking the servants’ way, which was steeper and darker and easier to protect than the broad, expansive corridors. “It’s hard to explain,” he said, his voice strained as they hiked upwards.
“Try me,” challenged Lily.
“I don’t know, there was just something so…terribly efficient about the whole thing, you know what I mean?” He looked at Lily and saw that she had no idea what he was talking a bout. James lifted his arm to pass a hand through his hair, but quickly lowered it again as pain, white hot and blinding, flared through his side. James threw a hand out to grip the railing.
“James? James, are you okay? James? James?” He barely registered the panic and borderline hysterical note in her voice before he collapsed, falling down several of the stairs before one of the guards bringing up the rear managed to catch him.
“Move back!” Lily ordered as she descended the steps until she was right beside James. The guards did as they were told, leaping back from James’ unconscious form as though he was a diseased individual. For once, Lily was glad for their quick and scarily fluid actions. “Sirius!”
The great black dog was at her side at once. “What’s happened to him?”
“I don’t know,” Lily responded, her hands hovering above his body, unsure of where or if she should touch him or not. For all she knew, he was a diseased individual. “We were talking and then he…he just collapsed.” She pressed a hand to her forehead, her skin hot underneath her palm. Inwardly, Lily reminded herself to stay calm. Dropping her hand, she looked Sirius square in the eye. “We need Dumbledore.”
“But Dumbledore is healing the rest of the court -” one of the guards tried to reason.
“I don’t care!” Lily snapped, surprising everyone, including herself, with the authority in her voice. “I’m the ruddy princess, am I not?“
“Don’t answer that,” advised Sirius when he saw the guard open his mouth to reply. “It’s a rhetorical question.” Rolling his eyes, he met Lily’s gaze once again. “What should I tell him?”
“Tell him the princess requests - no, demands - his immediate presence. Tell him I’m injured or something, I don’t know,” Lily flailed her hands about. “Just tell him that I want to see him now. Not in an hour or two, but right this instant.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” Sirius said with a nod. Then he gave an abrupt bark and began to delegate orders to his men. With a terrible efficiency, they sprang into action and did just as they were told, much like they had only minutes before. Two of the burlier guards took James by his arms and feet respectively and started to make their way to one of the guest apartments. Once they were out of earshot and Lily and Sirius were completely alone in the stairwell, Sirius asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“You do know that your sister is going to throw a fit when she realises that you pulled Dumbledore away from the badly injured court members to see to a stable boy, right?”
“He’s not a stable boy,” Lily corrected. “At least, not anymore, he’s not.”
Sirius raised an eyebrow. “And you would know that how…?”
Lily sighed. “Because I know my subjects, you idiot, now go fetch Dumbledore. If anyone questions you - my sister included - tell them to come to me, all right?”
“Yes, Your Highness. And I trust you can make your way back to your chambers without any delays?”
She heard the implications in his voice and nodded. Lily knew that it would look terrible if she went straight to the apartment where James was being kept instead of her own rooms. There was only so much scandal a princess in her situation could take, and even if she wasn’t the actual princess, she still had to keep up the charade, if only for a little bit longer. “No delays,” she promised, a knot forming in her stomach, though she wasn’t quite sure why.
A/N: So a lot happened in this chapter. I hoped you enjoyed it!
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by Eavan Shea