“So Mulciber and Regulus are definitely looking suspicious?” James asked.
“Yep,” said Lily. “If one of them was the one who cast the Tongue-Tying Curse on me, and it got broken after I Disarmed him, then it logically follows that whichever one it was, Mulciber or Regulus, was involved in the kidnapping. I just don't know how he’s going to lead us there.”
She thought about Marlene — who wanted to go up to Mulciber and Regulus and simply demand to know where her sisters were. It took Lily some time to persuade her otherwise, because Lily knew that there was no way Mulciber would simply give away their location like that. As well as that, Lily had no proof. The closest she had to proof was — if she recalled correctly — Mulciber’s left-handedness, something she had only just noticed recently. She had nearly forgotten about this tiny detail during her ordeal but as soon as she saw Mulciber’s wand spinning out of his left hand, it clicked. However, this was not solid evidence; Lily was sure there were plenty of wizards who were left-handed.
In fact (Lily remembered this with a pang) she had just wiped away the last of the evidence, and it occurred to her that maybe, whoever sent the potion had an ulterior motive that she was not aware of.
“Our best bet, then,” she told James, coming out of her reverie, “is to ambush a few Slytherins, Transfigure ourselves to look like them and get into the common room — still under the Cloak, to be on the safe side.”
“And then what?” he asked, frowning. “This isn’t much of a plan, you know, Lily.”
“Have you got any better ideas, then, Mr Animagus?” she demanded, her hands on her hips. It was nearing midnight and they had just got back from patrol. They were now in the Gryffindor common room, sharing a sofa.
“What about Polyjuice Potion?” James suggested.
“No time,” Lily said dismissively. “It takes a month to brew, remember? Besides, it’s very fiddly — one of the trickiest potions I’ve ever heard of.”
“Fine,” said James wearily. “We’ll do it your way — even though it’ll probably be me who's doing the Transfiguring.” Lily smiled and hugged him; he leaned forwards to kiss her, but she had turned her face slightly so the kiss landed on her ear. Laughing, she kissed him properly on the lips.
“Just...one condition,” James murmured after a moment.
“Can we do it after my birthday?” James’ birthday was a week away, Lily knew.
“Why?” Lily asked.
“Because,” he said slowly, “we need a proper plan before we can get into the place. And proper plans take time. We can’t just up and go. The Slytherins will notice and so will Sirius and Remus and Peter, not to mention Mary and maybe even McGonagall. How the hell are we meant to explain ourselves to them?”
“But how are we going to explain ourselves to Marlene when she asks why we’re leaving it so late?”
“If she cares about her safety and ours, she won’t be that fussed if she has to wait a week. What’s more, if we don't have a proper plan, how on earth do you expect us to get them out of there alive?” There was silence as they both considered James’ words. “Besides, Lily, I want to enjoy what little freedom I have before the storm comes.”
Lily nodded, staring at him unblinkingly, the smile leaving her face. “And we’d better be ready for
it, hadn’t we?”
“Happy birthday to you,” half of Gryffindor house sang. “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Jaaames... Happy birthday to yooou!”
“Hip, hip...” Sirius shouted.
“HOORAY!” yelled everyone else at the party.
There was an outburst of cheering and James accepted his gifts, most of which were stolen bottles of Firewhiskey from Hogsmeade. For once, he and Lily forgot about their responsibilities as Head Boy and Girl and turned a blind eye towards the illegal drinks and enjoyed the party that was not meant to happen.
Finally, at one in the morning, the last of the non-Gryffindor stragglers who had got into Gryffindor Tower left, still clutching mostly-empty bottles of Firewhiskey. Lily, who had remained sober throughout — sticking to Butterbeer — shooed the remaining Gryffindors to their dormitories, reminding them that they did have lessons the next day.
“Oi, Prongs,” Sirius said the next morning at breakfast. His eyes were rather red and it was clear he had a hangover.
“What?” James said through a mouthful of toast.
“What did Evans get you for your birthday?” At this, Remus and Peter looked up from their breakfasts, evidently curious too.
“And why are you three so interested?” James said, mildly irritated.
“Because we’re your friends,” Peter said, slightly groggily. “It’s our...right to know.”
“Why are you so reluctant to tell us anyway?” Remus asked, a smile playing on his tired face.
James shrugged. “I'm not,” he said. “I don't mind telling you.”
There was silence as James took a long sip of tea and finished off his toast while his friends simply looked at him expectantly.
“Well?” said Sirius finally, after James didn't say anything for another minute.
“Well what?” he said, grinning.
“Prongs, stop being so stupid! Just tell us what she got you.” Remus and Peter were both looking rather annoyed at this point.
“Oh,” said James, smirking. “Why didn't you just say?” The other three exchanged looks of exasperation before turning back to James. “She got me my favourite Honeydukes chocolates and a pen.”
“A pen?” Sirius repeated, scoffing. Remus and Peter also coughed in a strange way. “Why the hell did she get you a pen?”
“It’s a really nice fountain pen, actually,” James retorted, rummaging in his pocket for it. At last he pulled it out and carefully put it on the table. Sirius picked it up and looked at it suspiciously.
“Ooh, look, she got it engraved, Padfoot,” said Remus.
“And she told me that it’s got ink that replenishes itself every two weeks,” said James proudly. He was still rather surprised that she had remembered that information, let alone held onto it and got him something which would remedy James’ problem with buying ink.
“Probably took her two seconds,” Sirius dismissed. “She’s the best in Charms in our class.”
“And what did Carole get you for your birthday last year, Padfoot?” James countered. “Exactly,” he said, taking Sirius’ silence to mean “nothing”.
“It’s the thought that counts,” said Peter, grinning when Remus rolled his eyes in exasperation.
Vincent Macmillan and Emily Vanity had just emerged from an empty, unused classroom, their clothes crumpled; their appearances were generally dishevelled from what had clearly been a heated, late-night snogging session when Marlene’s silent Stunning Spells made them both become rigid before toppling forwards. As quickly as they could, James, Lily and Marlene dragged Vincent and Emily back into the classroom; Lily waved her wand at the blinds and shut the door to make sure no one could see them. She then cast a Muffliato spell to ensure complete privacy.
Sarah Davis was already in the room; Lily had managed to ambush her as she left the girls’ bathroom on the same floor as the unused classroom they were in now.
“All right; we’d better get started,” said James with a sigh. “We haven’t got long. Here, let me do you first, Lena.”
Glancing back and forth at Marlene and Sarah, James Transfigured Marlene’s features so that they resembled Sarah’s; then, he did the same to Lily and finally, himself. This was the hardest, because James always found it easier to Transfigure others than himself — however, with the aid of a hastily Conjured mirror, at last, James was almost the twin of Vincent Macmillan. Sarah and Emily were also roughly the same height as their doppelgangers, to Lily and Marlene’s relief.
“C’mon, let’s go,” Lily muttered, grabbing James’ wrist and pulling on Marlene’s arm. “We’re late enough as it is.” James rolled his eyes and rushed downstairs towards the Slytherin common room alongside Lily and Marlene, keeping his eye on the Marauder’s Map. Thankfully, Filch was in his office and since James and Lily were on duty that night for patrol, there were no other prefects around either.
To James’ relief, Bartemius Crouch — a rude, obnoxious fifth-year who James only knew as Sirius’ annoyingly intelligent second (or was it third?) cousin — was by himself and about to say the password, thus saving James the awkwardness of asking him.
“Boni sanguinis,” Barty Crouch said. He didn't notice James, Marlene and Lily and was about to close the door; this forced James to call out.
“Hold on!” James said, trying to make his voice more high-pitched. Crouch just looked at him and his companions strangely — but he did leave the door open for him before heading towards his dormitory.
With difficulty, trying their best to look nonchalant and not suspicious, Marlene, Lily and James entered the Slytherin common room. It was empty but for Avery and Wilkes, both of whom looked rather cagey, as if they didn't want the newcomers to see what they were going to do.
“I’ll see you two tomorrow, then.” Thinking fast, James frantically instructed Lily and Marlene, without saying anything, to follow his lead.
“All right,” Lily squeaked. Playing along, she leaned forwards for a kiss.
“Ugh! Do you two have to do that in front of me?” said Marlene, with more than a hint of herself in her voice. Lily managed to flash Marlene a warning look before she felt Avery’s eyes on her.
“Come on, Mar — Sarah. Let’s go.” Without another word, Lily pulled Marlene towards the girls’ dormitories while James followed suit. As soon as they were out of sight of Avery and Wilkes, Lily Disillusioned herself and Marlene. James, she knew, would be OK. He had the Invisibility Cloak.
“What do we do now?” Marlene hissed.
Lily stepped on the next stair as silently as she could, tugging Marlene’s arm to follow her. “We wait,” she whispered back.
Avery and Wilkes were in full view now, but then they seemed to be sinking down into the floor: first their legs, then waists, then torsos and arms and shoulders...then, somehow, they disappeared completely. There was a snap as something closed. Lily waited a few more seconds before she ran forwards, removing the Disillusionment charm.
Following suit, James took off the Cloak and a moment later, Marlene did the same as Lily. All three were staring intently at the spot where Avery and Wilkes had vanished. There was no trace of the trapdoor that Lily had seen mere seconds ago.
“What do we do now?” Lily breathed.
James said nothing; he pointed his wand at the floor, and, to Lily’s complete and utter shock, a trapdoor materialised out of nowhere.
“How did you do that?” Marlene asked in amazement.
“Practice,” he replied, shrugging nonchalantly. “Comes with territory. I know all the hidey-holes in this place except a few. How d’you think I know so many ways out of the school?”
Lily simply shook her head before asking tentatively, “So...are we going to go down there?” Marlene nodded immediately.
Marlene outstretched a shaking hand and opened the trapdoor. She peered into it; it was complete and utter darkness. Lighting her wand, she saw a platform a few feet away. Within seconds, she understood the mechanisms of it.
“All three of us have to go together,” murmured Marlene.
Taking a deep, unified breath, Lily, Marlene and James stepped onto the platform together. Lily cast Disillusionment Charms on Marlene and James and herself and James covered them with the Invisibility Cloak, just to be on the safe side.
Just as Marlene had predicted, it was a bit like a lift, with all of them on the platform together. Eventually, they emerged from it, their wands lit underneath the Cloak.
They heard voices instantaneously and Marlene steered them in the voices’ direction, her heart pounding beneath her ribs as they made their way, with immense difficulty, towards the sounds. They checked in all the rooms leading up to where the noise was coming from — all of which were empty.
Finally, they arrived in a dimly lit room, where there were several people, sitting on chairs around an elongated table in the middle of the room. There was no other furniture and this made the room bare; the dull-looking walls and dirty floor, littered with debris, did nothing to make it look any better.
Hesitantly, Marlene, Lily and James made their careful way into the room, trying to catch some of their conversation which might lead to a mention of the whereabouts of Layla and Jenna. However, they had barely took in their surroundings and the other people in the room (including Mulciber, Avery, Wilkes, Katie, Regulus, George and Georgia Greengrass and Snape) when, to Lily and James’ dismay, Marlene let out a loud cry as she felt a sharp nail pierce her shoe and enter the bottom of her foot.
At once, the people sitting at the table got to their feet as one, all withdrawing their wands from the insides of their robes and pointing them in the direction of the source of noise.
“Who’s there? Reveal yourself!” an unfamiliar voice demanded.
Marlene had frozen as she realised her mistake. Her foot had become numb with pain but this was not the time to think about such trivial things, she realised. Without further ado, James, Lily and Marlene slowly and silently backed out of the room, just dodging a Stunning Spell and a Stinging Hex from the inhabitants.
The three of them broke off into a run, making for the lift again. Marlene urged it to go faster, but it seemed to be moving at its slowest speed. When, at last, it reached the trapdoor for the Slytherin common room, James, Marlene and Lily ran out of the common room door. They did not stop running until they reached the Gryffindor common room.
“Where on earth have you three been?” the Fat Lady asked sternly.
“Somewhere,” James panted. “Damn — password. Erm...”
“Laborare,” Lily gasped, “est orare.”
The Fat Lady’s portrait swung open reluctantly to admit them.
“I got a Howler, you know,” Lily told James the next morning. “It came to my room and it said...it said that I'm being watched. Do you think they know I was there?”
“If they do, there's nothing they can do about it,” he insisted. “Not in here, anyway. Our plan wasn’t very good, was it?” James smiled ruefully at Lily.
“It was, James,” she said. “It’s just, we were so busy trying to see how we could get into the common room that we didn't pay quite as much attention about what to do when we were actually there.”
He nodded. “Yeah. That’s what we need to do next time. But not any time soon,” James added hastily after seeing the look of shock on Lily’s face. He placed his hands on her shoulders reassuringly. “At any rate, you're not going anywhere, Lily. And neither is Marlene. Both of you could’ve been killed last night.”
“And you could’ve been killed too! We’re perfectly capable, thank you, of handling a load of Slytherin thugs!” said Lily indignantly, pushing his hands away and going through the portrait hole.
“She’s right.” James and Lily jumped in unison when they heard Marlene’s voice from behind them; Lily saw that her eyes were red and her face rather blotchy, as if she’d been crying.
“You got a Howler too?” Lily asked sympathetically, giving her friend a hug.
“A Howler? Why on earth would Lena get a Howler?” Mary asked, appearing out of nowhere. “And have you been crying?”
“Don't worry — it’s nothing,” Marlene assured Mary. She hastily muttered something about her mother being angry at her and thankfully, Mary accepted the story without further comment.
However, after breakfast, Lily went to the toilets with Marlene and asked what the Howler said.
“It said,” Marlene began, “that if I wanted to see them alive, I wasn’t to tell anyone, and that if word gets round that anyone knows except you about Layla and Jenna, they’ll...they’ll kill them both.”
“We’ll get them,” said Lily fiercely. “We’re not going to let this go without a fight, Marlene.” At Marlene’s despondent expression, Lily added, “Besides, the fact that we didn't find them probably means that they're still alive, OK?”
“They're all I have left, Lily,” she whispered, tears trickling down her cheeks. “I can't — I’ll die if I lose them.”
“Look,” said Lily desperately. “The Easter holidays are coming up, so why don’t we stay for Easter; maybe some of the Slytherins will go home — hopefully Mulciber’s crew — and then we can have a proper look around. We’ll find them,” she insisted, with a confidence she did not truly feel. “I’m sure we will.”
Chapter End Notes:
This chapter was the shortest. Sorry. But rest assured, the others will be longer :) Not that there are many left -- two more to go, plus the epilogue. Please review, even if you didn't like it. The only payment I get, remember!