Remus shuffled through the familiar doors which were guarded by a pair of hard-faced Aurors. ‘Moony!’ James called, waving him over. James was sitting on the bottom of the steps inside Potter Manor. Remus wasn’t entirely sure what they were doing in there - Benjy hadn’t been very talkative as he ushered Remus inside, probably due to his broken collarbone – but he guessed it was the safest place in the area and big enough to hold everyone.
‘Prongs,’ Remus said, relieved. ‘Are you hurt?!’ he asked, glancing at the enormous blood stains on James’ formerly white Quidditch pants.
‘A few bruises,’ James said, shrugging.
‘But-but the blood-’
‘Moody’s,’ James said, going green for a moment. ‘Lost his leg.’ James shuddered. ‘How about you?’
‘A Death Eater knew what I am,’ Remus said, holding his arm out. James examined it gently but even the slightest pressure made Remus wince.
‘Sorry. Silver rope, or something?’ James asked, lightly tracing the coiling burns. Remus nodded grimly. ‘Hey, Fabian!’
‘I’m Gideon, you prat,’ Gideon said, glancing up from where he was tending Dorcas.
‘Sorry,’ James said, grinning. ‘Have you got Dittany over there? Moony’s been hurt.’
‘Moody’s over here,’ the red-head said, confused.
‘No, no, Moony. Remus.’
‘Oh. Yeah, here.’ Gideon tossed a small bottle across the foyer, which James caught easily.
‘Prewett!’ Moody barked from by the fireplace. Remus noticed that he was in fact missing a leg and that a crude wooden one had taken its place. ‘That’s the only bottle we’ve got on hand!’
‘Keep your hair on, Mad-Eye,’ Gideon said, helping Dorcas to her feet. ‘Potter’s a Seeker and a bloody good one at that. He's hardly going to drop it.’
‘How’s that?’ James asked quietly, dripping Dittany onto Remus’ burns.
‘Much better,’ Remus said fervently, as a cooling sensation slid up his arm. ‘Thanks.’
‘No problem,’ James said, twisting the lid back on. ‘Do you reckon I’d get away with throwing this back?’
‘No a chance,’ Remus said. ‘Moody’s got both eyes on you.’
James’ expression rapidly changed from mischievous to sheepish. ‘Come on then,’ he muttered, leading Remus into the dining room, where a Healing station had been set up. ‘Anyone need Dittany?’
‘Here,’ Mundungus called, sounding disgruntled. He was sporting a large welt across his chin. ‘Ruddy Death Eaters,’ he muttered by way of thanks.
‘Is Pete awake yet?’ James asked. Mundungus shook his head.
‘Wormtail’s hurt?’ Remus asked.
To his surprise, James sniggered. ‘I really shouldn’t laugh,’ James said, though he did anyway, ‘but you didn’t see it and he's not really hurt... Wormtail was duelling some woman who could have had him in about ten seconds, but she was going easy or something, and she Disarmed him. He panicked, dove for his wand, and cast a spell I didn’t hear-’
‘That doesn’t sound funny to me,’ Remus said.
‘It was,’ James promised him, ‘because Pete was holding his wand the wrong way.’
A small laugh escaped Remus. ‘So he hexed himself?’ James nodded, eyes shining with laughter. 'And he's not badly hurt?'
'As far as we can tell, he's just knocked himself out.'
Remus had to concede that it was rather funny. ‘What about the others?’
James’ face sobered immediately. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, leading Remus back out into the foyer. ‘I was one of the first ones in here because only a Potter can alter the wards and I haven’t seen either of them.’
Remus’ heart sank. So it had been Sirius that he’d heard, yelling for help. ‘I- I think I heard Sirius yelling outside,’ he said.
James looked up sharply. ‘Just then?’
‘Five, maybe ten minutes ago. Benjy was trying to get everyone inside. I heard shouting and I thought it was Padfoot, but I never had time to check-’
‘We’re going back out,’ James said firmly.
‘Going back out?’ Moody demanded, limping over to stand between them and the door. ‘Nobody leaves this house until eleven: Dumbledore’s orders.’
‘I don’t give a damn,’ James said. ‘Sirius and Lily are out there.’
‘If they’re still out there, they’re probably dead or have been taken captive,’ Moody said bluntly. ‘There’s not a lot you can do to fix either scenario, so why don’t the two of you go sit d-’
‘You expect us to sit there, while our friends are missing?’ Remus asked.
‘I was told to keep everyone safe,’ Moody growled. ‘And I’m upset over news that two of our own are missing,’ Remus belived that much, since Moody looked exceptionally grim as he said it, ‘but there’s nothing we can do. If I thought there was anything that could be achieved by sending the two of you out, I’d send you. Unfortunately, sending you out now is going to end with you dead because Death Eaters are crawling all over the countryside, and you’ve got no way of escaping if they corner you.’
‘We can Apparate,’ Remus said.
‘You can try but you won’t get anywhere. Dumbledore and Voldemort have set up Anti-Apparation Wards to keep anyone from getting in or out.’
Remus, though he hated to admit it, knew Moody was right. ‘Portkeys then,’ James said. ‘We’ll have one each.’
‘Voldemort’s camp in the forest is warded against those too, as is this place.’
‘Wrong,’ James said, a hint smugly. ‘Dad’s Wine Cellar is warded so that anything can Apparate or Portkey in. You can’t Apparate or Portkey out though, because the wards kick in, and only a Potter can open the door that leads to the rest of the house.’
‘Clever,’ Remus said.
James favoured him with a grin. ‘Mum’s idea, because she hated having to walk a mile after Apparating. Anyway,’ he continued in what Remus knew to be his persuasive voice, ‘all we need to do is get out of here, sneak into Voldemort’s camp to get Lily and Sirius, and then Portkey into the cellar, where I can get us out.’
‘You’ll never get out of here without being spotted,’ Moody said, but Remus could see he was considering the idea. ‘And getting into the Death Eaters’ campsite is another thing altogether. The forest will give you some cover, but nowhere near enough.’
Remus grinned, thinking of Prongs. ‘I think you’d be surprised, sir,’ he said. ‘Have you still got the Cloak with you?’ he asked James.
‘Lily’s got it,’ James said. Remus nodded. He could be Disillusioned, then. ‘Please, sir, you have to let us go.’
Moody’s hard expression softened, but he was obviously not giving in. He shook his head. ‘I can’t. Dumbledore specifically said no one's to leave this house until he gets back at eleven. So, as I said before, go and sit down and wait like the rest of us.'
James said nothing, clearly thinking. A expression of utter loathing passed over his features and he appeared to argue with himself for close to a minute before he looked up again. ‘You owe me,’ James said quietly, looking at Moody.
‘What are you talking about, James?’ Remus muttered.
James clenched his jaw, clearly hating himself. ‘You owe me,’ James repeated as if those three words were causing him physical pain. ‘A Life-Debt.’ Remus frowned at the unfamiliar term.
‘A what?’ Moody asked.
‘Let us out and don’t try to stop us,’ James said firmly.
Remus was shocked when Moody’s expression went blank. ‘Let them out,’ he called to the Aurors guarding the door. He looked horrified at himself for saying it, but he seemed pinned by James’ miserable look. The Aurors muttered to themselves. ‘I said let them out,’ Moody said, louder this time.
‘Alastor!’ Sturgis and Emmaline cried.
‘Mad-Eye!’ the twins and Benjy said in disbelief.
‘Let them out! No one’s to stop them.’
‘Hurry up, Moony,’ James said, grabbing Remus’ wrist.
‘Someone send a Patronus to Dumbledore!’ Moody shouted from inside, sounding scared.
The two dashed out the front door and ducked behind a shrub in the Potters’ front yard. Remus couldn’t see any Death Eaters, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. ‘What in Merlin’s name just happened back there?’ Remus demanded.
James ran a hand through his messy, black hair and sighed. ‘I just did a bad thing,’ he said, distressed. ‘A very, very bad thing.’
‘Not now.’ James picked up a cracked flower-pot and tapped it with his wand. ‘Do you remember how to create a password activated Portkey?’
‘Of course,’ Remus said, thinking back to the Prank they’d played back in October; they hadn’t used password-Portkeys, but they’d read about them.
‘Do it,’ James said shortly. ‘Make the password something short, easy to pronounce, and that’s not going to be said accidentally.’
Remus thought for a moment. ‘Tufty,’ he said.
‘Done,’ Remus announced a moment later.
‘Good. You hold onto that one.’ James passed him a rusty hand-trowel. ‘Make the password “Salva”.’ Remus didn’t miss James’ hand brushing the scar from his encounter with Snape.
‘Thanks. This way, we’ve both got a way back, and if we get split up, neither of us are stranded. If I’m not with you when you leave, send up sparks – I’ll do the same for you – green for Lily, red for Sirius, gold for you. Mine will be silver. That way, we know who’s safe.’
‘You sound like an Auror,’ Remus said shakily. The planning was perfect. ‘Are you making this up, or did you read this somewhere?’
‘The best plans are spontaneous,’ James said with a shadow of a smile. He was obviously very shaken by whatever he’d done to Moody. ‘If I don’t make it back-’
‘Don’t start with this, Prongs,’ Remus growled.
James smiled. ‘This isn’t an “avenge me” moment, or anything. If I don’t make it back, you’ll need another way to get out of the cellar.’
‘Oh,’ Remus said. ‘Well, we’ll just have to make sure you get back.’
‘Thanks, but listen, there’s wine down there – it’s not ideal, but it’ll keep you hydrated for as long as it takes for help to come. There’s also a bell that you can ring. It can be heard all through the house, and it’ll tell the rest of the Order that you’re there. House Elves can Apparate in and out. If you get stuck down there, without me, tell Dumbledore to send the Elves in because they can get you out.’
‘Prongs, we’re not leaving you behind,’ Remus promised.
‘I don’t have any intention of being left behind,’ James said grinning. ‘I just thought you should know.’
* * *
‘You know, if we die of dehydration, we’re not going to be of much use,’ Sirius said loudly. Carrow scowled but filled a cup and passed it to him. ‘Thank you,’ Sirius said. Carrow grunted and walked back to his tree-stump seat. ‘How’s the wrist, Lils?’ He could only just make out her pale face in the dark, despite it being only a foot away.
‘Definitely broken,’ she said in an almost cheerful voice. She’d gone into shock when they first arrived, but she was responsive again now, to Sirius’ relief.
‘You have no idea,’ she said darkly, shifting against their bonds. They were bound to a tree at the edge of a clearing where the Death Eaters were camping, something that was barbaric in Sirius’ opinion. He and Lily had certainly told the Death Eaters and Voldemort himself as much. They’d just laughed.
Sirius vaguely recognised the clearing – he, James and Remus had spent a full-moon here, after telling James’ parents they were at Remus’, and Remus’ parents they were at James’. Annoyingly, he knew exactly how to get back to Potter Manor from their current position. He was certain, that if they could get inside the protective wards, they’d not only be safe – since rumour was that the Order were camped in there - but if the Order wasn’t there, they’d be able to Floo back to Hogwarts.
‘Thank you,’ Lily said, accepting the cup. She passed it back, half full. ‘You have the rest.’
‘Thanks.’ He drained it in two mouthfuls.
‘Do you think they know we’re gone?’ Lily asked after a moment.
‘Of course,’ Sirius said. The most comforting thing about those two words was that he himself believed them. He and Lily would be missed, by James, Remus and Peter, if not by the rest of the Order. Even if Voldemort had sent Death Eaters back in disguise, they would have been discovered; Remus, Dumbledore, Moody and likely James would be suspicious of anyone, as they should be.
‘Do you think anyone will come?’ He was sure Lily knew the answer, but wanted to hear him say it anyway.
Sirius snorted. ‘With the noise this lot are making, the Order will know we’re here. Someone’d have to take James’ wand and tie him down in a room with Anti-Animagus wards to stop him from coming. They’d also have to tie Remus down because he’d untie James and then they’d both come after u- Lily?’
Even in the dim light, Sirius could see that her eyes were shining. ‘Sirius, you’re brilliant,’ Lily breathed.
‘Thank you,’ Sirius said happily. Then, he was hit by a curious feeling that he’d missed something. ‘Why am I brilliant?’
‘You can transform,’ she said, exasperated.
‘Of course!’ he cursed himself for not having realised it before. ‘And once I’m free, you’ll be able to slip out and then we can get our wands... somehow.’ It wouldn’t take the Death Eaters long to figure out that they’d escaped, and they’d certainly be caught if they hung around, trying to find their wands. If they didn’t get to their wands, though, they’d probably be caught anyway. ‘Can you cast a wandless Disillusionment Charm?’ he asked Lily, without hope.
She shook her head, smiling for a reason that quickly became apparent: ‘Better. James gave me his Invisibility Cloak.’