Chapter 26 : A Plan and a Patronus
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But, of course, there was really nowhere else to go this late at night, long after curfew had passed, and he was much too restless and awake to try and climb into his four-poster to attempt sleep. He had come out here almost immediately after dinner, carrying one of the thick black books he had managed to smuggle from the restricted section – Professor Slughorn was easy to persuade into writing a note of permission, the soft-hearted old man – and had been sitting on this dark green leather sofa since that hour, perusing its thick, stained parchment pages idly. It was not a highly amusing task to be involved in, however, when one’s mind kept wandering.
He couldn’t explain this restless feeling that had been hanging around him lately – it just felt as though everything, whatever he was doing, wasn’t enough, although he wasn’t sure either what he was comparing it to. His eyes fell on the slightly blurred print of the book on his lap, open to a page that listed out a rather gruesome series of spells that seemed to turn an opponent’s body inside out bit by bit, complete with rather detailed illustrations.
He sighed, and the book closed with a depressing sort of thump, Severus’s head making the same sound moments later as it fell back on the back of the couch. The knot of disquiet inside him did not abate; he felt vaguely guilty, he now realized, and couldn’t pinpoint why.’
The blank stretch of wall across the common room – the entrance to the Slytherin dungeons – opened at that moment with a sort of slithering noise, and Severus’s friends entered through it single-file, Rosier leading the group and Wilkes, Avery, and Mulciber following like ducks in a row. Severus’s mouth turned up in a sort of sneer, but he pressed the book further into the couch cushions anyway, not wanting the unnecessary questions it might provoke.
“There you are, Sev,” Rosier said, his black eyes dancing with some sort of malicious fun at the sight of his friend. “We’ve been looking out for you.”
“And you didn’t think to check the common room, seeing as it’s after curfew?” Severus said, not able to keep the dryness out of his voice. These boys were his friends, true, or the closest thing he had to them – unless Beth Bridger was to be counted, and he wasn’t sure of that yet – but sometimes the little quirks about them got deep under his skin.
Rosier ignored this retort and sank onto the couch next to him, and the other three boys found various chairs and couches around them, scooting imperceptibly closer. Severus now saw that the same strange light seemed to burn behind each of their expressions, which was curious in itself, and was intrigued despite the continual pervading restlessness he’d been feeling of late. “What’s up?” he asked, when none of them seemed about to volunteer information.
Wilkes’s eyes darted to the doors leading down to the boys’ and girls’ dormitories, as though afraid of being overheard. “We’ve got some news,” he confessed at last, seeming not to notice as Severus recoiled slightly, afraid of being hit by a spray of spittle. “Or, at least, Mulciber does.”
All eyes now turned towards the boy in question, who sat up a bit, looking important. He, too, looked quickly around the empty common room – a fruitless effort, really, Severus thought a bit wryly – and flicked a piece of his sand-colored hair away from where it was falling into his eyes.
“Well,” he said, with not a little bit of pomp. “You know my father, right?” His eyes sought confirmation from Severus, as this apparently wasn’t news to the others, and Severus nodded. Mulciber’s father – although the information was well-concealed from those who didn’t need to be privy to it – was part of the Dark Lord’s inner circle. Severus knew this from half-whispered conversations he had participated in while sitting in the half-light the lake made in the dormitory, listening to the water swish back and forth while tales of Dark magic were spun by greedy teenage mouths.
“I’ve been sending him letters recently, since… that bit in the Prophet,” he said, nodding his head as though there were an invisible newspaper sitting next to him. “About – about what we’ve always talked about.”
“There’s no real reason to be so vague,” said Severus, a bit harshly. “There hasn’t been anyone down here for hours.” Mulciber flushed a dull sort of rosy color, but nevertheless raised his voice a bit as he continued what he had to say.
“He thinks that he may be able to get in touch with some other people, and we might be able to join at the end of the year,” he said, the common room fire sparking oddly in his light brown eyes, and the others shifted in one fluid motion, having heard the news but still somehow excited by it.
A dull tremor of excitement thrummed somewhere deeply within Severus, and he too shifted on his seat. Join the Death Eaters – become a part of the greatest wizarding movement in history? It was almost too much to process, despite the extended hours of tactfully discussing it and laying out plans for it. Now here it was, very nearly tangible, at least closer at hand than it had been a few hours previously, and he wanted to laugh and scoff at the same time.
“Are you sure?” he asked now, leaning his elbows on his knees and wanting to make sure that this wasn’t all some horrible joke. Mulciber nodded with deep-set conviction, and Avery piped up from his left.
“We have to make sure we’re serious about it, though.” He looked a bit nervously at the rest of the group. “I mean… once you’re in, you’re in, there’s no backing out.” But this wasn’t even a factor in Severus’s mind – he knew, without knowing exactly how he knew, that he was going to do this at any costs.
“Then let’s write him back,” he said urgently, now lacing his fingers together and looking down at them, black eyes glinting. He looked sideways at Rosier, whose arrogant face was arranged in an expression somewhat like pleasure, and gave him a wry smile, which was returned. “We’re going to do this, then?”
“We’re going to do this,” Rosier confirmed, quirking one thin black eyebrow and nodding.
“I’ll go write to Father now,” Mulciber said, all previous restraints lost as he leapt up from the sofa and scurried down in the direction of the dormitory door. The rest of the boys began in that general direction, and Severus, not wanting to be left out, picked up the thick black book he’d been reading and followed suit, his heart considerably lighter and the knot in his stomach looser than he could remember it being in some time. He was doing something, making strides, on his way to be somebody… He would show them all… He clutched the book tightly to his chest, swelling with some unnamed emotion, a smile unable to resist crossing his lips.
But in the cool stairwell, when the receding voices were only unintelligible muffled sounds, and the water was barely audible, he remembered his fight with Beth, only a month or so prior, and it halted him in his tracks. This was precisely the thing they had argued about, wasn’t it? The fact that she was so blind in her views on blood purity, the fact that he wanted so badly to have this for himself and her stubborn side would not allow him to do it guiltlessly.
But why should he care what she thought? They were on speaking terms now, possibly friends, but since when had he let friendship stand in the way of his goals? Rosier and Avery, Mulciber and Wilkes – he had never allowed their opinions to influence his if he was set on something, and if nothing else, he was set on doing this. She just didn’t understand yet, but somehow she would. Someday, Beth would see how right he was.
Nevertheless, the uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach returned in full force as he slowly walked the rest of the way to the boy’s dormitory.
“Ready to do this?” James flashed Lily a grin, lifting down a small wooden box from where he had stored in on the mantel of the Gryffindor common room earlier that day. It was late – any of their saner classmates had long since been asleep, the rest of the boys and Beth included – but for some crazy reason, Lily had agreed to practice spells with him at midnight. Just another reason, he supposed, why he loved that girl – she was always up for a bit of abnormal activity if it spoke of adventure.
Lily nodded eagerly from where she sat perched on her knees on the old hearth rug, the fire casting a warm sort of glow on half of her pale face and making her hair seem even redder than normal. His stomach gave a pleasant sort of flip, and he sank to kneel next to her, lifting the lid of the box gently. Inside was a random jumble of small stones, none of them appearing to be anything out of the ordinary.
“Rock collection?” Lily teased, picking up a large and lumpy black stone from the center. She hefted it in her hand, as though testing its weight.
“Don’t pretend you never collected anything essentially pointless,” James laughed, taking out a round white stone and tossing it jauntily in the air, catching it in his palm. Lily laughed too.
“I think the fact I like best is that you have them here with you,” she smiled. She put the black stone back in its box. “Is this what you’d intended to have us practice with?”
James nodded, taking his wand out of the back pocket of his jeans. Ever since Dumbledore had assigned them the task of practicing their spells – a thing that James and the others weren’t about to take lightly, noting the seriousness of his expression when he’d said it – he’d been searching for something fairly small to practice on, so as not to seem too suspicious. Thankfully, he noted that anyone who saw them practicing might think they were only preparing for their N.E.W.T.s – something James wasn’t even registering at the moment.
“So, what sorts of Charms are you best at?” he asked now, tossing and catching the stone for a second time. Lily tilted her head a bit to the side, twirling her wand in her fingers, and eyeing the black stone she’d just set down. With a little flick of her wand, it came zooming back towards her instantly, coming to rest in her outstretched palm.
Another flick, and it grew to twice its original size; another, and it shrunk to the size of a pea. James watched as the stone was put through a small gymnastics routine, his mouth slightly open. After a rather tremendous backflip, it found its way back into the wooden box, the lid of which swung closed and clicked, and Lily looked expectantly at James.
“I don’t know what you expected me to teach you,” he said a bit ruefully, nudging her slightly with his arm. “You’re loads better at that than I could ever be.” She laughed again, and James took a moment to savor it, realizing just how much he enjoyed hearing her laugh – it was clear and honest, with no false humor about it anywhere. He could have listened to that sound forever.
“Well, then, you can just teach me something else,” Lily said now, closing the lid of the box and scooting around on her knees to face him better, hands clasped over the wand in her lap. “You know – tricks for sneaking around the castle, charming all the professors into accepting late essays…” The smirk that crossed her face was not vindictive, and James did not take it as such.
A thought suddenly occurred to him, and his brown eyes lit up behind his glasses. He leaned forward conspiratorially, and Lily instinctively did the same. “Do you know how to make a Patronus?” he said in a whisper, and her eyes widened slightly.
“Do you?” she asked, and he nodded eagerly, his hand tightening slightly on the handle of his wand. Lily’s bright green eyes grew even larger, and her eyebrows all but disappeared into her hairline.
“Show me!” she said eagerly, shuffling even closer. “What’s the incantation?”
“Expecto Patronum,” James said, and Lily repeated it immediately, perfectly, her lips forming the words carefully so as to be sure that she got them right. “And you have to think of the happiest memory you have – whatever makes you happier than anything else, and concentrate hard on that.” Lily nodded fervently and her eyes immediately popped close, the better to concentrate. James watched her as she lifted her wand.
“Expecto Patronum,” she said, her voice quavering only slightly and her eyes popping open at the last second. The air near the tip of her wand shimmered briefly, as though in a heat wave, and the barest amount of silver and white mist erupted from it. Her face fell until her eyes slid over to James, who looked thoroughly impressed.
“That was good, Lil! No, really –“ he added, laughing at the look of disbelief that crossed her face. “That was loads better than my first try – I had to do it about ten times before I even got that far.” He climbed up on his knees and walked over on them, closing his hand over Lily’s and said, “Now, try again. Concentrate hard.”
It didn’t take Lily long to get the hang of the spell, tenaciously difficult as it was, and around the fifth or sixth try, she was producing something that looked vaguely animalistic – what exactly it was, James couldn’t exactly tell, although – and his mind was, he thought, probably construing things in an odd fashion – it looked a bit like his, though without the addition of antlers.
“Can I see yours? Can you do a real one?” Lily asked, scooting a bit closer to him and laying her chin on his shoulder. James could feel the heat radiating from the spot, and tried hard to focus on the bit of magic he was about to attempt. He cleared his throat and brandished his wand perhaps a bit elaborately in front of him, concentrating hard on the happiest memory he had – the day Lily had agreed to go on a date with him. He spoke the spell aloud firmly.
After a brief moment, a brilliant, luminescent stag burst from the tip of his wand, thicker than a ghost and shining more brightly than the moon outside the common room windows. Lily shielded her eyes, but only slightly, seeming not to want to miss a moment of what was appearing before her eyes. The stag turned its head to regard them solemnly with its opaque eyes before turning and bounding straight through the tower wall, disappearing from sight. Lily turned to James with an awed look on her face.
“That was brilliant,” she said in a sort of hushed whisper, flabbergasted.
“Yours will look like that someday, too,” James said confidently, and a sudden and slightly wild thought occurred to him at that moment – although admittedly it was not the first time it had done so, especially recently. He looked down at his lap suddenly, turning his wand over and over in his hands. “Can I tell you something?” he asked in a rush, as though by saying it quickly it would make it less potentially awkward.
“Yes,” said Lily sincerely, laying her own wand in her lap and turning to him with such an expression of sincerity that James felt even worse for concealing this bit of information as long as he had. He cleared his throat slightly and adjusted his glasses.
“Have you ever… that is, have you noticed that my friends and I sort of… disappear sometimes?” He cast an anxious look towards her, hoping that perhaps he might have gotten his meaning across, but Lily merely looked confused.
“If you’re talking about your Invisibility Cloak, I already –“ she began, but James cut her off quickly with a fervent shake of his head, causing his hair to flop around a bit.
“Not that sort of disappearing,” he amended. “But like…” He struggled to find the best way to explain what he was trying to say. “Every month, for one night, some of us will just sort of… leave the castle. And we do it for a reason.” He locked his eyes with hers, willing her to imbibe the meaning without his having to be too explicit, but Lily just looked levelly back.
“And – and basically,” he said at last, clearing his throat again simply for something to do, “it’s because Remus is a – he turns into a –“ He blew out a long breath, looking up at the ceiling and idly wondering why this was so difficult; he had sudden sympathy for Beth, knowing that she’d had to tell Severus this very thing a few months previously. “He’s a werewolf, and the four of us are Animagi,” he said, so fast that he himself could barely understood what he’d just said.
If he’d expected a look of uncontainable shock – mouth dropping open, eyes nearly falling out of their sockets, a sharp intake of breath – then James was sorely disappointed. Lily’s eyebrows once more climbed a bit higher on her freckled forehead, but other than that, the surprise was fairly minimal.
“I sort of suspected something was going on,” she admitted at long last, after a slight but not terribly uncomfortable silence. “I mean, not – not that…” Her voice faltered, and her bright green eyes slid up to rest on James’s; a sort of lump formed around his Adam’s apple, but it wasn’t formed from sadness, which confused him for a bit.
“I’m glad you told me,” she said at last, and Lily’s smile looked so natural that James was slightly taken aback.
“So you’re not going to, like, dump me, or think any differently of me?” he blurted out, before he could contain himself. And there came her laugh again, warming his heart before he even knew why she was laughing.
“Why would I do that?” she said, still giggling. “You’re still James, aren’t you? You can just – you know – turn into an animal.” She suddenly sat up a bit straighter on her knees, as though an idea had come to her. “Can you turn into a stag? Is that why you told me, because of your Patronus?” She gestured to the wall it had disappeared through, as though it were waiting just beyond the stretch of stone, and James nodded for what felt like the thousandth time that evening.
“I love you, Lil,” he said suddenly, honestly, and the warm smile that crinkled her eyes sent his heart into dizzying, contented spirals.
“I love you, James.”
And he believed those words more than anything else he’d heard before.
A/N: Aww, Lily and James! They are cute forever. Except I've always thought it a bit odd that Lily was able to switch around to dating, and then marrying, James so quickly, but I suppose that's plot convenience for you. And no matter what it is, it makes for a good story nonetheless!
And after this we have... five more chapters, guys! That's a bit nuts, considering that I finished this story nearly two months ago. And now I'm about to finish it for real, being all posted and tidied up and whatnot. It's really exciting, though, all the same! I've got the first six chapters of the sequel written as of this afternoon, so it won't be long before that's up, too.
Thanks for all the reviews and reads, though! I know I say that every time, but it always needs to be said, because I truly am grateful. You are amazing!
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