Sirius let Lily lead the way, as they stepped away from the tree that now harboured Lucius Malfoy. Still out of breath from their kiss, Lily smiled back at him, reaching back a hand and squeezing his, before Sirius transformed again, trotting behind Lily like a giant guard dog, barely visible in the light from her wand up ahead. As they disappeared into the darkness, a white stag stepped out into the space they had vacated.
It was ten minutes or so before James chose to join the other two, following behind like a spectre, that neither of them appeared to notice. Lily finally observed something however.
“Sirius, I think I can hear hooves.”
The dog shook his head, with a low growl of dismissal.
“No, I’m sure of it!”
He looked up at Lily, and then around at the dark trees.
“James?” Lily called out. Just as Sirius turned to urge her to be quiet, the stag burst into sight thundering forwards so that the other two jumped back, afraid he would collide with them. James reared up onto his back legs, his antlers gleaming in the wand-light and his eyes full of fire. The dog imitated his movements, but as Sirius raised up he changed, smoothly, back into his human form. The stag fell heavily forward onto his front legs, his head now level with Sirius’s, and his breath rising in spirals from his nostrils, in the cool night air. They stood for a moment, Sirius holding his ground before the almost aggressive stance of the stag. Then he asked
“Prongs, what is it? Have you... seen something?” his voice was level, but he bit his lip as he waited for an answer.
“Death-eaters?” Lily asked. James turned his head towards her suddenly, as if he had forgotten she was there. She looked so earnest, her wand raised as if ready for the upcoming onslaught of their enemies. James turned back to Sirius, and slowly, he nodded.
James transformed. After the stag, this James looked small and vunerable to Lily. She took a breath, and then smiled grimly over at him. He nodded to her, before turning back to Sirius.
“There are death-eaters.” He said. “I headed a couple off – although I don’t think there are that many, they’re all up at the castle. Our main problem now is - ”
“Lupin.” said Sirius.
“We need to find him quickly, and get him back to the Shrieking Shack?”
“...And then get back to the castle. That’s where all the fighting is, although I bet the teachers will have it sorted.”
“Right. It wasn’t the best
thought out plan.”
James laughed, but it did not reach to his eyes. Lily looked back and forward between the faces of the boys.
“So, where do we start?”
A sudden, shrill howl rent the night air – it sounded much nearer than it had earlier, and set Lily’s heart racing.
“Well that solves one problem!” she choked. James laughed, a real laugh this time, before turning to his friend.
“Ready Padfoot?” he asked, his face solemn despite the laughter barely dead upon his lips. Sirius nodded.
“As I’ll ever be.”
They turned to Lily.
“I know you’re scared,” James began. “But we’ll come back for you – get up that tree there, and wait. We’ll have Mooney sooner than later.”
“Do what he says Lily,” Sirius agreed, his eyes pleading with her. “Think of Malfoy – you said he’d be safe right?”
“Go.” said James suddenly, his face torn with emotion. “You owe it to me, Lily Evans, to keep yourself alive
She wasn’t sure exactly what he meant, but his expression was enough to persuade her.
“O.K” she agreed.
With that, the Marauders transformed, and took off into the night.
Lily pulled herself up onto the tree, to wait, as they had asked. She could still hear them running – the soft pad of Sirius’s paws, intermingled with the thudding of hooves. She gripped the tree trunk tighter, and peered through the trees, but she had extinguished her wand light, and so there was absolutely no point trying to see anything, despite the fact that the sky was getting lighter at last. Her mind strayed back to the people in the castle – would they be okay? Mary was in there, and Alice and Rachel and Elizabeth and Louisa and Severus... Severus -who had let the death eaters in. That was what he had said. The whole thing was a mess, and now James and Sirius...
Suddenly the air was filled with a horrible cacophony of sound. Growling and grunting and howling, and beneath Lily, a tangle of bodies burst forth into the clearing. The dog and the werewolf were straining towards each other, kept apart only by the antlers of the stag, but the wolf was gigantic, and Lily guessed that it would not be kept at bay for long. It’s hackles were raised and it snarled ferociously as it battled against James. Pulling away suddenly, it dug it’s teeth into the top of James’s foreleg, and the stag let out a demented sound, rearing up onto it’s back legs. Lupin let go and, before Sirius could grab hold of him he rushed straight ahead towards someone hidden in the shadows, someone who began screaming in a voice so terrified that it made Lily’s blood turn cold. She had not been idle all this time however, her wand was out, waiting for the moment she could be sure to fire at the werewolf and not miss. Now was her moment.
“Reducto!” she screeched, leaning forward through the branches as far as she could. Lupin was blasted aside, but the person kept screaming, and Lily, her balance lost, fell to the forest floor. Landing hard on her left shoulder, Lily groaned, and struggled to get to her feet, despite the pain, but now Sirius was human, and bellowing an enchantment that would keep the werewolf at bay. James, still a stag, ran forward to Lily.
“Crucio!” yelled a voice, the voice that had screamed, frightened and desperate - one Lily recognized. She cried out, watching James stagger backwards, and as his attacker ran forward from the shadows Lily grabbed them, and forgetting her own wand she wrestled his from his hand.
“I want to hel..” the boy choked out, before Lily's fist connected with the side of his head and he hit the floor. The kerfuffle, and the voice was enough to momentarily distract Sirius.
He turned his head, and losing concentration he also lost his grasp on the spell. Lupin lunged forwards, Sirius jumped back, and the Werewolf dove straight for Regulus, who was just beginning to raise his head from the ground. Sirius cried out, and dashed towards him, but James was quicker, diving in front of the werewolf. Lupin dug his teeth into flesh, and for a horrific moment Lily saw red upon the gleaming white of the stag’s hide, before Sirius cried “Incarcarus!” and Lupin fell to the floor, tangled in the same vines used for Malfoy.
As the stag crumpled, Sirius turned from the werewolf and ran forward, dropping to the floor at his friend’s side. He was suddenly James again, and Sirius took him in his arms. Blood soaked through his shirt, at his shoulder and on his left side. He was breathing heavily. Lily knelt beside Sirius, but she couldn’t take her eyes from James’s face, wracked with pain, his eyes determined. By now, Regulus had clambered, unsteadily to his feet, and he moved forwards slowly, hands shaking.
"Merlin," he whispered. "Sirius I didn't know it was James, honestly, I never would have - I just thought that he was trying to spear Lily..."
"Get out of here!" Sirius snarled, turning on him.
"But I - "
Regulus opened his mouth as if to say something else, but then thought better of it. He turned and ran, his black robes billowing behind him in the twilight. Sirius turned back to his friend.
“Prongs,” Sirius muttered, his eyes screwed up oddly, almost as if he were about to cry. “Prongs are you, are you okay?”
“Wonderful, Padfoot.” He laughed, in a strained sort of way. “I feel amazing.”
“Don’t joke now, mate – you’re, you’re bleeding.”
James looked down at himself.
“I’m fine.” He said. “Madam Pomfrey’ll fix me up. We just need to figure out how to get me back. haha.”
Lily looked over at Sirius but he was too focused on his friend to notice.
“You saved my brother.
James grinned, but Sirius dropped his eyes to the floor.
“Even after he cursed you. Thank you.”
“I knew you loved him really.” James laughed. Then he attempted to sit up, groaning. Lily could see the beads of sweat on his forehead. He looked over at her, as she helped pull him up.
“You okay Evans? How’s your shoulder?”
“It’s fine.” She whispered. He smiled, slightly bitterly. Sirius grabbed James’ other arm, and together, they pulled him to his feet.
“I think the attack on the castle must be over,” James strained to tell them. “Regulus was supposed, supposed to be guarding ...the entrance to the shrieking shack...I heard him telling Malfoy that they should get back there. He’d had the signal of retreat or something – but Malfoy wouldn’t listen. I don’t know where Malfoy..”
“We got him.” Sirius growled. The sound made Lily realise something – Lupin’s growling had stopped. She spun round, and sure enough, as the sky grew lighter overhead, Lupin had changed back into himself. He was lying on his back, looking upwards, not bothering to slip out of the vines that bound him.
“Lets just get back to the castle.”