Lily hovered at the edge of the Death Eaters’ camp under a strong Disillusionment Charm; Sirius had managed to find her wand within a minute of them escaping. His wand had not been with hers, and he’d refused to leave until he found it, so Lily had given him the Cloak and her wand and was waiting anxiously for him to come back; they had agreed it was too dangerous for them both to go looking, in case they got separated.
‘Where are you?’ a deep voice muttered from somewhere behind Lily. She froze, not even daring to breathe. ‘I saw the ropes, so where in Merlin’s name have you gone?’ Something brushed by Lily’s arm, but she couldn’t see anything. She heard a noise, like sniffing and then a shocked intake of breath. ‘Lily?’
‘Remus?’ Lily whispered, finally recognising the voice. ‘Where are you?’
‘Where are you?’ he countered. Lily heard the sniffing noise again.
‘Getting his wand. Is James with you?’
‘He was. We were separated.’ Lily’s stomach twisted at the thought. ‘Are you hurt?’
‘My wrist’s broken,’ Lily admitted. ‘Sirius bandaged it when we found my wand, but we haven’t had time to fix it.’
‘We’ll fix it when we’re safe,’ Remus promised. ‘I’d do it now but I’m not sure we’ve got the time.’ A thought occurred to Lily that this was probably the strangest thing she’d ever done; she was having a conversation with an invisible person, while she herself was also invisible. ‘How much longer do you think Sirius’ will be?’
‘I don’t know,’ Lily said, chewing her lip. He’d been gone an awfully long time already.
‘Lily? Who are you talking to?’ Sirius’ almost silent whisper made her jump.
‘Sirius! Remus is here!’
‘Moony?’ The bushes some distance to Lily’s right rustled and Lily caught sight of Sirius’ trainers underneath the Cloak.
‘Here, Padfoot,’ Remus said, flicking a branch to show his rough location.
‘Did you get it?’ Lily asked.
‘Of course,’ Sirius said smugly. ‘And I left a stick in its place. Voldemort’s going to be furious.’
‘Let’s not stick around then,’ Remus said fervently.
Sirius pulled the Cloak off and held Lily’s wand out. She took it gratefully. ‘We can’t Apparate anywhere near their bloody camp,’ Sirius said, disappearing under the Cloak again.
‘I know,’ Remus said as they walked. ‘Here, hold hands so no one gets lost – It’s disconcerting, knowing you’re there, but not being able to see you.’ One of Sirius’ hands appeared and Lily grabbed it. Slight pressure on her hand told her Remus was holding on too. Lily transferred his grip to her other hand.
Sirius squeezed Lily’s hand. ‘This brings back memories,’ he said as Remus led them.
‘I was just thinking that,’ Lily said, unable to help her slight smile. ‘Except this time we can let go whenever we want to.’
‘Exactly,’ Sirius said. Lily would have sworn he was grinning. ‘So, how’s the rescuing coming, Moony?’
‘Spectacularly,’ Remus muttered.
‘How are you getting us out of here?’ Lily asked.
‘James and I made Portkeys,’ Remus said, ‘but they’re useless until we’re outside the wards.
‘Oh, you’re here too, Prongs?’ Sirius asked. ‘You’ve been awfully quiet.’
Remus laughed, though the sound was strained. ‘He’s not here.’
‘Oh,’ Sirius huffed. ‘Don’t look at me like that, Moony – you’re the one who made it sound like he was here.’
‘You can’t even see me,’ Remus cried. ‘How do you know what I look like?’
‘Of course I do. Have you ever heard James stay quiet for longer than five minutes? "Are you here", honestly!’
Lily would have bet anything she owned that Sirius was scowling. ‘I have seen him quiet before. There was the day I ran away from Grimmauld Place, the day his parents died, all the times Lily turned him down, after he was released from St Mungo’s last month, and then there was the time I-’
‘Shut up,’ Remus said.
‘No,’ Sirius continued, ‘I’m going to win this one-’
‘Stop walking!’ Lily whispered, squeezing both boys’ hands. She could hear it too, whatever it was; something heavy was moving quickly, crunching leaves and knocking low branches as it went. Whatever it was, it was getting closer.
‘Don’t worry,’ Sirius breathed. ‘Whatever it is can’t see us-’
‘It can still hear us, though,’ Remus muttered.
* * *
The Patronus vanished. Dumbledore frowned, threw a handful of Floo powder into his office fire and stepped in. He walked out of the fireplace in Potter Manor without breaking his stride.
The entire Order was waiting, looking anxious. ‘What’s happened?’ he asked, staring around.
‘The-the Potter boy-’ Alastor stammered.
‘Potter told Mad-Eye to let him and Lupin leave,’ Emmaline said in her usual no-nonsense manner.
‘And you allowed this?’ Dumbledore asked. Clearly this was the emergency Sturgis’ Patronus had mentioned.
‘I didn’t want to,’ Moody snapped. ‘I didn’t have a choice. He told me I had to let them go and not stop them in any way and then he marched right out.’
‘Where did they go?’
‘Black and Evans are missing.’ A quick scan of the room told Dumbledore as much.
‘So James and Remus have gone to get them back,’ Dumbledore concluded. ‘Admirable, but it’s more likely to end with them dead than anything else.’
‘I know,’ Alastor said, sounding furious.
‘Yet you let them go,’ Dumbledore said thoughtfully.
‘Didn’t have a choice,’ Moody growled.
Dumbledore could hardly believe his ears. ‘Alastor, we always have choices. You of all people should know that!’
‘He did something to me,’ Moody insisted. The rest of the Order nodded. ‘I wasn’t Imperiused – neither of them had their wands out and no matter how distressed they were, I have doubts about them being able to cast a spell strong enough to overwhelm me.’ That and James is opposed to all Dark magic, Dumbledore added silently.
‘Did he give you anything to eat or drink?’ Dumbledore asked. ‘Did he say anything unusual?’
‘Nothing to eat or drink,’ Moody said. ‘He said something about a Life-Debt and we’ve got Mundungus upstairs in the library trying to find out what that means-’ Dumbledore conjured a chair and sank into it. A Life-Debt.
‘But we’re not entirely sure that Dung can even read,’ one of the twins said. Dorcas and the other twin laughed quietly.
‘I assure you he can,’ Dumbledore said. ‘His essays were always reasonably good.’ He sighed loudly. ‘James, what have you done?’
‘You know what a Life-Debt is?’
‘It’s old magic,’ Dumbledore said heavily. ‘From the Founders’ time, possibly earlier.’
‘How does a seventeen year old know about that?’ Moody demanded.
‘I told him myself,’ Dumbledore admitted. He had called James to his office to inform him of the potential outcome of saving Snape from Lupin in the tunnel during the boys’ fifth year – Snape had already known about Life-Debts and Dumbledore had thought it unfair to leave James in the dark. ‘This is going to take some time to explain-’
‘We aren’t going after them?’ Dorcas exclaimed. ‘They’re only kids! They could be killed!’
‘They are of age and were well aware of the consequences; James Potter, despite outward appearances, is not one to overlook the risks. But no. We’ll stay here until they return.’
‘What if they don’t?’ Benjy asked quietly. Dumbledore was sure he still thought of them as the second years who had slipped him a Love Potion; he had subsequently declared his adoration for Moaning Myrtle in front of the whole school at breakfast.
‘We’ll do more harm than good trying to find them out there in the dark,’ Dumbledore said, as much as it pained him to say it. ‘If they’re still alive, they may have freed Lily and Sirius by now and our interference could result with them being caught. On top of that, Alastor will be compelled to stop me from going after them.' Dumbledore didn't say that, due to the nature of the debt, Alastor would need to die before he let anyone go after the boys. Instead, he said, 'I have no intention of putting him through any more distress than he's been through.’ A murmur went around the foyer; everyone understood and agreed, but they, like Dumbledore, were hardly happy with the situation.
‘So we’re here for the night?’ Peter squeaked.
‘We are indeed,’ Dumbledore said. ‘Alastor, we’re in need of a discussion. Anyone who wishes to listen in may – I’ll not deny you understanding of what you’ve witnessed. If not, I suggest you sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day.’ The Prewett twins, Dorcas, Emmeline, Alastor, Peter and Benjy gathered around, conjuring themselves chairs. The rest conjured mattresses and bedding and headed into the dining room. ‘Firstly, Alastor, when did James Potter save your life?’
‘This afternoon,’ Alastor said gruffly. ‘A Death Eater had me Disarmed and injured and was about to finish me off when Potter took him down and bound him. My leg had been cursed off, so I wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry but the boy helped me over to a safer place, gave me back my wand and healed me up. Carved this, too,’ he said with – if Dumbledore wasn’t mistaken – pride in his voice.
‘Indeed. When James Potter saved your life, he created a Bond between the two of you. Effectively, you were in his debt, thus the name “Life-Debt”. Generally, a Life-Debt comes into existence when one wizard – or witch,’ he added, seeing Emmeline’s glare, ‘saves the life of another and it is nullified when the favour is repaid. Interestingly, nothing will ever come of a Life-Debt if the neither of the two involved are aware of its existence. Unfortunately for you, Alastor, James knew exactly what he was doing.’
‘He didn’t look too happy about it,’ Benjy commented.
The news didn’t surprise Dumbledore terribly much. ‘I should think not. In James’ mind, saving Alastor’s life was not a favour. James would have believed it his duty to help and protect those he fights beside. He’d have done the same for any of you, or any of the students at Hogwarts, without expecting so much as a reward or a word of thanks. Evidence of this is his current absence. Despite this, James saved Alastor’s life, and magic recognises that because he does.’
‘You still haven’t told me what he did.’
‘Forgive me,’ Dumbledore said, smiling at Alastor’s sour expression. ‘He called in the debt. While you were not consciously aware of the existence of the Bond, James was, and so it existed. You had no choice in the matter, so in a way, he did place you under the Imperius curse.’ Alastor’s shocked look was mirrored on everyone’s faces.
‘No wonder he looked so bloody miserable,’ a twin muttered. ‘Poor kid. He called in a magical technicality that he himself didn’t believe was fair so he could force an ally into letting him walk to his death.’
‘They may still return,' Dumbledore said, trying to believe his own words. 'I’ve learned to expect the impossible when those students are involved.’
* * *
‘Sor-’ Sirius began.
Out of the corner of her eye, Lily saw a tall figure burst through the undergrowth behind them. She spun, raising her wand, only to be knocked to the ground. Sirius and Remus fell down with her. ‘It’s just an animal,’ Sirius said, relieved. ‘It obviously can’t see us.’ Lily stared at the dark shape that was standing nearby, looking around, clearly puzzled about what it had hit. Sirius chuckled quietly. ‘I think it’s a deer,’ he said. The animal’s silhouette changed slightly as it moved and then without warning, it toppled over, bleating.
‘A stag, Sirius. I’m a stag,’ James said irritated, pushing himself off the ground. He held a hand out, obviously unable to see them. Lily took it and James smiled, helping her up. ‘Merlin you three scared me.’
‘Sorry,’ Lily heard Remus say.
‘I knew it was you, you prat’ Sirius said, laughing. ‘You should have seen your face!’ James grinned despite himself. He pulled a shovel out of his Quidditch robes’ pocket and passed it to Sirius. ‘Erm, thank you?’
‘It’s a Porkey, you prat,’ James said, shaking his head. ‘Password’s S-a-l-v-a – I can’t say it or it’ll trigger and we’re not out of the wards yet.’
‘Why can’t you hold it?’
I’m going to change back, just in case Death Eaters come – there are a few around - so they’ll think any noise is me. If we have to make a quick escape, I won’t be able to get to the Portkey in time. This way, we’ve got two ready to go at a second’s notice.’
‘You really do sound like an Auror,’ Remus said. James- Prongs, really, Lily supposed, trotted forward with no indication of having heard Remus’ comment, save for the slight twitch in his tail.
‘Follow him,’ Sirius’s said. ‘Dee-’ James turned and glared at him, ‘-sorry, stags – happy, Prongs? - have good survival instincts. He’ll be taking the quickest way to safety.’
‘We don’t have far to go,’ Remus said. ‘A few more metres, maybe.’
‘Just out of curiosity,’ Lily said, ‘how much of your human mind do you retain when you’re in Animagus form?’
‘All of it,’ Sirius said, ‘but your instincts are stronger and your emotions are simpl-’ A jet of red light whizzed through the trees. It struck what appeared to be a solid patch of nothing but then the Cloak fluttered off Sirius, who crumpled. Remus – or Lily assumed it was Remus, since she couldn’t actually see anything - caught him and Lily hurried over to hold up his other side.
Three Death Eaters came running through the trees behind them. James charged, scattering them with his antlers. He transformed a second later, whipping out his wand. ‘Run!’ he shouted, sending a Stunner at a Death Eater.