Lily guided James to the small bed; she could feel him trembling and didn’t need a Diagnostic Charm to tell her his legs were about to collapse. Despite his exhausted state, however, he still managed to plant a kiss on the top of her head.
“I was about to come and get you,” she told him as he lay down.
“Why?” James asked. “I’m orange.”
Lily frowned. “You weren’t a moment ago,” she said slowly. “You were more like maroon.”
James made a face. “Don’t remind me,” he said wincing as she prodded his side with her wand. “I thought I might actually drop dead with exhaustion.”
“It wouldn’t have surprised me,” she said. How he made it here after using all that magic... He’s amazing... She smiled to herself. I suppose I’ve known that for a while, though, she thought.
“Ah well, however it happened, I’m only here for six hours.”
“Did you do something?” she asked suddenly. That’s the only explanation. He was maroon until he told Sirius and Kingsley to sleep and then changed before my eyes... But how...?
“I don’t have a wand,” James said, shrugging. “I was Prongs, remember?”
“Wandless magic, perhaps?”
“Maybe. I was worrying about having to spend a long time here, with the other two out there as stags.”
That would do it. “Yes, whose idea was that?”
“I should have known,” she said with a sigh.“Here, drink this.”
“Is Lyra all right?” James asked as soon as he could talk. Lily watched his aura brighten until it was a pale yellow colour and gave a satisfied nod. “Lils?”
James seemed to be getting more agitated with every second that went by as she didn’t answer. “She’s fine,” Lily said with a smile. “I saw her on the way here, knowing you’d ask. She told me to tell you thank you for trying to help her and she’s sorry for panicking.” James nodded. Lily took a closer look at his face. “Oh, no. Don’t you dare,” she said.
“Don’t what?” James asked.
“Blame yourself, or feel guilty or whatever it is that made you look like that.” James didn’t say anything. “James Charlus Potter...” Lily began, brandishing her wand threateningly.
“Yes, Lillian Faye Evans?”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“I should have done something. Distracted them so she could run. Knocked her out the wa-”
“She doesn’t blame you,” Lily said honestly. “I spoke with her before, remember. She’s annoyed with herself for freezing up.”
“She ‘died’! As her ally, it was my job to stop that from happening.”
“You might have lost a few points,” Lily admitted, “but you’ll make those up quickly.”
“That’s not the point.”
“What is?” Lily asked a little frustrated. “She’s not really dead.”
“But she could have been. If it was real, she would have been. Sirius could have been. You could have been.”
“I wasn’t there,” she said gently, sensing this was his biggest problem.
“But you are out there, where it counts!” James said, trying to sit up. Lily forced him back down. “What if I make a mistake out there, or one of the plans doesn’t work like it should?”
“James, out there you wouldn’t have tried something like this. You’d have Apparated or made a Portkey, but you couldn’t do that here.”
“I still should have done something,” James muttered.
“What could you have done?” she asked. “And I don’t mean hypothetically. I want you to tell me a specific moment where you could have done something differently.” While he thought, she retrieved a Pepper-Up Potion from her Healer’s kit. “Well?” she asked, passing him the bottle.
“I can’t,” James said, drinking it. He scrunched up his nose as steam billowed out of his ears. “Urgh, always hated these.”
“I know,” Lily said, hiding a smile. “And that’s my point. Perhaps if you’d frozen up, or if you’d missed someone with a spell, it would be understandable, if not advisable for you to blame yourself. But today, you did everything you could have and sometimes that just isn’t enough.”
“I hate it when you’re right.”
“No you don’t,” Lily said, laughing. “I’m right all the time and you keep telling me you love me. I think you hate it when you’re wrong.”
“Probably.” He grinned. “It’s a good thing I’m not wrong often, then, isn’t it?”
Lily rolled her eyes. “You’re such a prat,” she said, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
One of James’ arms wrapped around her and pulled her down beside him. “You knew that when you married me.”
Lily abandoned her professional attitude and snuggled into her husband’s warm side. “I did. I suppose that makes me crazy.”
“It does. Don’t you remember how I proposed?”
Lily laughed. “Is that a trick question?” She doubted anyone ever forgot how they were proposed to, and hers was most memorable than most, particularly since they’d been hiding from a homicidal madman at the time. James shook his head. “Then yes, I remember exactly how you proposed.” She smiled wickedly. “You didn’t even get down on one knee.”
“We were crouching down,” James said dismissively. “That’s close enough. Besides, you still said yes.”
“I did, didn’t I?” Lily said, surveying her rings.
James took a hold of her hand. “You did,” he said. He pointed to her engagement ring. “That’s proof, right there.” He pointed to her wedding ring next. “And that one’s to show that you were still happy to go through with it twelve months later.”
“Mm hmm.” Lily tilted her head back to kiss his cheek, which pulled up when he smiled.
“This one’s my favourite, though,” James said, pointing to her eternity ring. “It means I get to keep you forever.”
“Keep me?” Lily asked, her eyes narrowing. “I’m a person, not a broomstick.”
“You know that’s not how I meant it,” James said, tickling her.
“I get to keep you too, then.”
“Love, you’ve had me for almost ten years,” James said.
“Willingly or not,” Lily muttered, making him laugh. “You were an annoying persistent shadow for six of those years.”
“Was not.” James grinned. “I was an arrogant bullying toerag, the most bigoted egotist you’d ever had the misfortune to meet and the worst, most conceited person you’d ever come across aside from your sister’s fat, self-absorbed boyfriend.”
Lily’s lips twitched. “You’d better keep me then,” she seriously. “I’m probably the only one able to overlook all that.”
“That’s why I married you,” James said, kissing her. “How are you today?” James asked, his hands tracing her slightly swollen stomach. Lily traced the back of his hands with her own.
“Fine. Scared to death but in a good way, instead of a bad way.”
“I told Paddy last night.”
“I thought you would, now that we’re sure. Did you ask him to be Godfather?”
“He asked. He was... pretty happy when I told him yes.”
“Pretty happy?” Lily said, smiling. “I’d imagine that’s an understatement.”
“Yeah, a bit,” James said, his tone changing slightly.
“What happened?” Lily asked, twisting back to see his face; he was wearing a funny little smile, like he was on the verge of laughing and crying with happiness simultaneously.
James kissed her nose. “A Marauder never tells.”
“You tell me things all the time.”
“Will you tell Remus and Peter?”
“Of course,” James said, sniggering. “There was quite a debate about that last night.”
“But you won’t tell me,” Lily said, sighing good-naturedly; James would tell her anything if she was desperate to know but she was okay with not being a part of every aspect of the Marauders’ quartet of insanity. “Loutish husband,” she said anyway.
“Nosy wife,” James said, adjusting his arms slightly around her waist.
“Prat,” she said, snuggling into him. They lay there for quite some time before James’ stomach grumbled loudly. She sat up, laughing. “If you were hungry you should have asked.”
James grinned sheepishly. “Is there anything good to eat here?”
“I’ll go talk to someone,” Lily said. “You’re looking better though; you’re more green than yellow now.”
“Am I allowed to use the Floo while I’m here?”
“Only to talk. You can’t invite anyone here and you can’t leave.”
“Excellent,” James said, his face lighting up.
* * *
“Moony,” James said happily.
Remus got off his couch to kneel on the hearth. “I thought you were gone for a few days.”
“Gone?” James scoffed, his voice echoing slightly as it drifted out of Remus’ battered fireplace. “I’m never gone!”
James sniggered and then coughed having inhaled a mouthful of ashes. “Fine.”
“Why’d you laugh then?” Remus asked suspiciously; he knew James far too well not to recognise that happy glint in his eye.
“He’s spending the night as a stag.”
“What?” James quickly filled him in on the last day. Remus was impressed to say the least that Sirius was managing his new body and was awed at the amount of magic James had used.
“How’s everything down your end?” James asked.
“Fine,” Remus said, not wanting to say too much about the Order over the Floo Network. “I’ll have more to tell you when you get back though.”
James nodded. “How’s Pete?” he asked.
“I haven’t seen him much,” Remus said with a sigh. “He’s sick today – migraines or something and he was on Or- er... working yesterday.”
“We’ll have to get together when we all get home,” James said decisively. “It’s been too long.”
“It has,” Remus agreed.
“And I’ve got some news.”
“Congratulations!” Remus shouted. James... a father!
“Thanks.” James was beaming.
“How far along is she?” Remus asked, beaming.
“And you’re only telling me now? How long has Padfoot known?”
“Padfoot found out last night,” James said, sobering. “And yes, because do you remember on Halloween when Lils was hit by that orange hex?”
Remus’ lungs emptied. It took him a moment to remember how to breathe again. “No wonder you were so bloody worried... And Lily... usually she’d have tried to fight but she demanded to be taken to St Mungo’s...”
“She almost miscarried,” James said. “We weren’t sure until a few nights ago if it would live or not.”
Remus sat back, shaken. He didn’t even know this child yet, and the idea of him or her being hurt was enough to terrify him. “Kid’s a survivor,” he said finally.
James grinned. “Of course. It takes more than a Death Eater to take a Potter down.”
Remus chuckled. “Is Padfoot Godfather?”
“Of course,” James said. “We’d make it both of you but-”
“Custody laws,” Remus said with a sigh. “It’s fine, Prongs.”
“No, it’s not. One of these days we’re going to have to visit those stuffy old warlocks in the Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures and make them change the rules.”
Remus hastily blinked away the stinging in his eyes. He trusts me that much, despite what I am...? “I don’t think it works like that, James.”
“Just a hunch,” Remus said, smiling.
“We’ll see about that,” James grumbled. “Anyway, Padfoot will be primary Godfather or whatever the legal term is but I’m going to find some way to give you secondary legal entitlement.”
He’s got his determined face on, Remus thought with a sigh. How many times did that same look almost get us expelled...? “Prongs, it’s fine. It’s still months away and it won’t be an issue; you aren’t planning on dying on us are you?”
“Of course not!” James said, scowling. “I just want to makes sure my kid’s provided for.”
“Prongs, Paddy and Pete and I will make sure he or she’s looked after if anything ever happened to you or Lils.”
“Yeah, I know,” James said, smiling. A sly look settled on James’ face. “Hey, Moony?”
“When you told him he could be Godfather?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“Seems like something he’d do.”
“Does that mean you won’t tease him for it?” James asked, looking crestfallen.
Remus snorted. “Of course not.”
“Good,” James said, perking up again. “Are you going to be home tonight?”
“That’s a stupid question,” Remus said, with a snort. “I’m talking to you.”
“It’s one in the morning, Moony,” James said, smirking. “So by tonight, I mean tonight, not last night.”
Remus took a moment to follow the messy haired man’s twisted logic but finally nodded. “I’ve got to go to... work in the morning but otherwise I’ll be here, yes.”
“Excellent. You can tease him then. Expect us in the afternoon at some point.”
“I’ll look forward to it,” Remus said honestly. He missed the days where he, James, Sirius and Peter could just lounge around the Common Room, enjoying each other’s company and chatting about homework or girls. Nowadays, every catch-up had a purpose, or they had limited time because someone had to go to work or go and meet Dumbledore. It would be nice to act like teenagers again and forget about the war and working life and being adults. “You can stay for dinner if you like.”
“That sounds good,” James admitted. “Are you cooking?”
“I think I’ll have to,” Remus said, grinning. “It wouldn’t be right to ask Lils to cook since she’ll be a guest-”
“A guest?” James laughed. “The four of us practically share houses! Guests...” He shook his head laughing. Remus had to admit he had a point. Peter didn’t have people over much because it meant he had to tidy – neatness was not a habit he’d kept after his dormitory days – but he had keys to Sirius’ flat, as did James and Remus, and everyone knew how to get through the wards that protected Potter Manor and Remus had given the rest of the Marauders keys to his little cottage when he moved in. When he thought about it, he realised they probably spent more time at each other’s houses than their own; Remus had spent the weekend on Sirius’ couch, simply to have some friendly company after spending a week at a Werewolf camp in Devon. James and Peter had joined them on the second night, miffed they’d missed the first. “It’d still be rude.”
“I’m sure she’d be happy to help. Love?” There was the sound of a muffled conversation in the background and then James said, “Yeah, she said she’s happy to help out.”
“Thank you, Lily!” Remus called.
“You’re welcome!” he heard back.
“Paddy and I are happy to help too,” James said slyly.
“You two are still banned from my kitchen,” Remus said firmly.
“I’m a decent cook,” James said, “and Padfoot likes to help.”
“I know – to both. But last time you two tried to cook in my house, you blew up my microwave.”
“Did so. You’re not to step foot into my kitchen without a responsible adult there.”
“I’m responsible, Moony,” James said, “don’t you worry. I’ll keep an eye on Paddy- Hey! Why are you laughing?”
“You- responsible-?!” Remus guffawed.
James grumbled until Remus managed to compose himself. “I am responsible,” James said.
Remus thought about it. “I suppose. How about mature, then?”
“Damn,” James said, grinning. “Well, what if we want a biscuit? We’d just go to the pantry and get it and come right back out again.”
“You’d touch something,” Remus said. “If you want as much as a cup of tea you need to ask and Lily, Wormtail or I and we’ll get it for you.”
“Why’s Pete allowed?” James asked sulkily.
“Because he’s not capable of destroying half of my kitchen in twenty seconds.”
“Bet he could if he tried.”
“If you’re going to find out, we’re not using my house.”
“Fine,” James said. “We’ll use Paddy’s.”
Remus laughed. “This I’ve got to see.”
“We’ll do that on the weekend,” James said decisively. “Oh, and Padfoot wants to go flying, or at least, I think he does. He was asking about my old Snitch.”
“That’d be good,” Remus said happily. “We haven’t done that in ages.”
“Yeah,” James said, smiling. “Hey, Moony?”
“Hey, Prongs,” Remus said.
James made a face. “Well if you’re going to be like that I won’t give you the chance to-”
“To what?” Remus asked curiously.
James grinned. “Would you help me with a prank?”
“A prank? How old are you?” Remus said, but he was grinning.
“Younger than you are, so it’s okay,” James said seriously. “Padfoot and Kingsley are resting now and I am too, technically, so we’re going to do something tonight... something big.”
“And you want help deciding what?”
“Pretty much. I want something that’ll earn the three of us points – that’s me, Paddy and Kingsley. And I want the others to lose a few, but not so many that they’ll fail... I was thinking we take all their wands and put them in a pile somewhere nearby. It’ll inconvenience them and it’ll show that we’re in control but if something happens, they’ll still have them.”
“So what, you’ll Stun the two playing sentry and steal them?”
“They’ll wake up... we need some way to keep them asleep. Know any spells?”
“Unfortunately not,” Remus said. “Do you have any herbs in the arena, or access to any potions?”
James thought for a moment and then his expression brightened. “Yes, actually. We’ve got a Sleeping Draught and a load of teabags with Valerian Root in them.”
“Talk to Lily before you go back in about which one’s more potent,” Remus said. Valerian Root burns nicely though and you can magic more... do they have a fire?”
“Yes,” James said, grinning.
“That’ll keep them asleep. If you can make it past whoever their lookouts are, you can put that on the fire.”
“And take their wands,” James said gleefully.
“And turn their hair pink for good measure,” Remus said.
James sniggered. “I’m sure Pads’ll arrange that.”
“I’m sure too. How long have you got until you go back?”
James disappeared for a second. “Soon, actually,” he said, coming back into view.
“Why are you scowling?” Remus asked, bemused. James grumbled something unintelligible about potions and evil wives and then there was a smacking noise at his end. Remus chucked.
“I am not a baby!” James said over his shoulder.
“You are when it comes to potions,” he heard Lily say, laughing. Privately, Remus agreed. “Isn’t he, Remus?”
“I wouldn’t know,” he said. James looked grateful and vindicated at the same time.
“Oh, you’re just covering for him,” Lily’s voice said. “He is and we all know it.”
James’ head disappeared again and there was laughter and squealing from their end before James came back, grinning. “What?”
“Transfigured the bed into a cot with bars all the way round,” he said, laughing. “Now who’s the baby?”
Remus laughed. “Lily, I suppose. I need to get going, Prongs. Good luck with the last night and I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
“Will do,” James said and his head vanished with a pop.
* * *
“Padfoot! Sirius! Where are you?” Sirius looked up, blinking to re-establish his surroundings. It was dark, and everything looked strange- and he had hooves. He panicked for a moment and then remembered and calmed down. Beside him, Kingsley-stag slept soundly. “Sirius!” James hissed. Sirius managed to stand and trotted over to James, who had appeared from behind a dense wall of shrubbery. “There you are!” he said, sounding relieved. “Is Kingsley still with you?” Sirius snorted and twisted his head. James followed the gesture, his hazel eyes falling on Kingsley’s stirring form. “Homorphus,” James said, tapping Sirius with his wand.
Sirius fell with a shout, unaccustomed to having half as many legs again. James smirked. “Oh shut it,” Sirius grumbled.
James put his hands up. “I didn’t say anything.”
“You were thinking it,” Sirius grumbled. They both watched each other; James was fighting a smile and Sirius was trying not to smile with him. “Prongs,” Sirius said.
“Can you help me up?” James didn’t grin or carry on like Sirius had expected him to. He nodded and hoisted Sirius to his feet. “Cheers.”
“No problem. It’s weird, isn’t it?”
“Very. It took me ten minutes to work out how to lie down because my legs didn’t want to bend the way they usually do. Kingsley had to push me over in the end.”
“You being pushed over counts as working it out?” James asked skeptically.
“Oh shut it,” Sirius said again. “How’s Lily?”
“She’s fine. I talked to Moony too.”
“No fair!” Sirius said, huffing. “I’d have exhausted myself if I knew I’d get to talk to Moony.”
“He says hi,” James said, bending over Kingsley. “Homorphus.”
“And how am I supposed to tell him hi back?” Sirius demanded as Kingsley stretched.
“You can tell him tomorrow night,” James checked his watch. “Actually, tonight, if you want to be technical.”
‘There’s a change,” Sirius said, grinning. “Isn’t Moony usually the technical one?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” James sniffed.
“Oh, I think you do,” Sirius said. “September first, nineteen-seventy.”
“Now who’s technical?” James said, laughing.
“Hey, Black?” Sirius turned to look at Kingsley. “Do you have any food to spare?”
James had pulled his rucksack out of his pocket and returned it to normal size before Sirius could even comprehend the question. “Eat what you want,” James said. “Oh, and the water bottle’s in the side pocket.”
“Thank you.” James nodded.
“Speaking of food,” Sirius said, “are we having dinner at Moony’s or is he coming to one of our houses?”
“Pete volunteered to have us all over,” James said.
“You got to talk to Peter too!?” Sirius whined. And then what James had said struck him. “Liar. Peter doesn’t have anyone but his mother over. Where are we really going?”
“Moony’s,” James said with a grin. Sirius nodded. Conversation lulled after that; Sirius joined Kingsley eating and James sat down and began to - for reasons Sirius couldn’t quite fathom - sort through the various teabags and potions they had accumulated so far.
“What in the name of Merlin’s pointy, purple hat are you doing?” Sirius asked, unable to take it any longer; usually, he could guess James’ thoughts as easily as his own.
James, who had been duplicating the teabags, looked up wearing a very familiar grin. Uh oh. “Planning.”
“We need to earn points,” James said. Sirius and Kingsley nodded. “I don’t know what we’re all sitting on now, but we’ll have lost points for letting Finch ‘die’ and Kingsley, you’ll have lost points for getting captured in the first place.”
Kingsley grimaced. “I’ll have lost more points than that,” he said grimly. “The group in the little village area are running this exam; they knew how the point system worked before they opened their doors.”
“How?” Sirius asked, frowning.
“They had a plan from the beginning. They’re friends with Dawlish – remember that idiot who graduated last year? – and he told them what you have to do to pass the test. They attacked from the start when the rest of us ran for supplies. Dan, Lyra and I managed to get away but we lost Maggie and Oliver about ten minutes in. Hemsley and McDuff tracked us down, ‘killed’ Dan for points on the spot - they’re cowards, knew they couldn’t beat him in a fair fight - and then they brought Lyra and I to their base. They let us escape and we were almost to the fence when Read caught up with me and the other two caught Lyra. They’re playing the system to make themselves look good and in the meantime, Lyra and I lose points for being captured.”
Sirius frowned. “That’d do it.” Kingsley nodded grimly.
James was still grinning. “Well then, gentlemen, I’d say they need their egos deflated.”
James grinned and waved a hand at the array of teabags and potions on the mossy ground.
* * *
James peered over the edge of the roof of the building he was on. Next to him, Sirius shifted. “You’d think after our escape they’d have more than one person on guard,” he muttered.
“It’s four in the morning,” Kingsley pointed out. “They probably don’t think anyone’s likely to attack.”
“Idiots,” Sirius and James said together. They both looked at each other and broke into quiet laughter.
“So you know what you have to do, right?”
James asked. Sirius glanced at him and nodded. “Stun anyone who wakes up. And, once we come back, hair,” he said. It might not earn me any points but it’ll certainly make things interesting.
“And then you help me collect wands,” James said. “Shacklebolt?” James asked.
Kingsley hefted the bag of Valerian powder he had; it was soaking in a sleeping potion and according to James, who had asked Lily, it would burn quickly but keep everyone within a ten yard radius asleep for a good hour. “Straight to the fire before anyone can wake up.”
“Of course, it’s irrelevant if you can’t knock-” Sirius squinted at the woman who was sitting by the fire. “-Austen, I think it is, out.”
James nodded determinedly. “Are we ready, then?”
“I think so,” Kingsley said. Sirius nodded his agreement.
“And if we bollocks it up-” James said, looking worried for a moment.
“We won’t,” Sirius said. “We’re the Marauders, remember? And Kingsley of course.” Kingsley grinned. “Now, get your arse down there and put Austen to sleep.”
James chuckled and slipped of the roof, disappearing into the darkness. Sirius and Kingsley waited a few seconds before climbing down after him, though they waited behind the building. There were a few very tense moments, with Sirius straining his ears to listen to what was going on and watching for the signal. Finally, the big fire in the middle of the trainee’s camp glowed a subtle pink. Sirius relaxed and followed Kingsley out into the sea of sleeping bodies. And let’s hope they stay that way, Sirius thought grimly.
James materialised next to him. Sirius jumped; he hadn’t heard him coming, even with his sensitive ears. He watched the trainees carefully but none showed any signs of waking. Kingsley tossed the little bag onto the fire. The effect was instantaneous; the bag caught immediately and the fire changed from pinkish orange to a pale violet-blue. Sirius began to feel sleepy. “Run,” James hissed, pulling at his shoulder.
Sirius held his breath and forced his legs to obey to follow James. Kingsley was already peeking out from behind a building. “That stuff works,” Sirius said, yawning.
James chuckled. “Remind me to thank Lils.”
“How long until we can go out again?” Sirius asked. James shrugged.
“I say we give it ten minutes,” Kingsley said.
“I say we listen to the Ravenclaw,” James said, grinning. Kingsley chuckled.
They waited in relative silence; James was silent, absently tracing the scar on his arm that Snivellus had given him, Kingsley meditated, humming to himself, and Sirius dozed, trying to fight off the after-effects of the smoke.
Finally, Kingsley shifted and stood. James copied him and Sirius pushed away the last vestiges of weariness and joined them. The three crept back into the camp not bothering to be quiet; if one of the trainees had resisted the sleeping powder, it was better to know straight away. Kingsley and James started Summoning wands.
Sirius focused on his first victim; McDuff. He grinned, aimed his wand carefully and whispered, “Rosea Capillos.” Her hair brightened to a sickly fuchsia colour. Confident the colour was the one he wanted, he raised his wand in a circular motion above his head and said, “Rosea Capillos Ubique.” Sirius grinned for a moment and then laughed; James and Kingsley had been affected by the spell too. Oops.
Kingsley exclaimed, pointing at James who glanced around, instantly alert. “What?” James asked anxiously, his eyes returning to the growing collection of wands in his hand.
“Hair,” Kingsley said, fighting a smile.
James ran a hand through it and shrugged. “It’s still there,” he said. Sirius watched him look up at Kingsley, trying to work out what the problem was and then fall over laughing. “Hair!” he said, clutching his sides. “Padfoot!”
“I thought it suited you,” Sirius said, pretending to look hurt.
James smirked and raised his wand. “Only as much as purple is about to suit you.”
“All right!” Sirius said, hastily reversing the charm on them both.
“Am I fixed?” Kingsley asked.
James sniggered, pocketing his wand and nodded. “Me?” Kingsley nodded. “Excellent. Padfoot, grab the wands of the ones on your side of the fire and then we’ll go.”
Sirius Summoned McDuff’s wand, and that of Hemsley who was curled up next to her and joined the other two. “Here,” he said, passing James the wands before raising his own. “There we go,” Sirius said happily.
James chuckled at the sign Sirius had conjured. ‘WANDS THIS WAY!’, it proclaimed in large orange letters.
“Is that necessary?” Kingsley asked.
“Of course!” James and Sirius said in unison. “How else would they find them?”
Kingsley shook his head and followed them out of the cluster of buildings and out onto the open, rocky section. Sirius found himself feeling exposed and was comforted to find he wasn’t the only one; Kingsley kept glancing over his shoulder and his knuckles were white around his wand.
James stopped when they were halfway between the fence and the trainee’s camp and conjured a large, flashing pedestal which he set the rest of the wands on top of. Sirius conjured a matching banner on which Kingsley cast a tricky little charm that enabled it to hover twelve feet in the air.
“Think they’ll find it?” James asked casually.
“Probably,” Sirius said.
“Some won’t come,” Kingsley murmured. “I wouldn’t. I’d think it was a trap.”
“You’d be right,” James said, grinning. He consulted his watch. “We’ve got three hours left in here and I say it’s time to make the best of it.”
“I thought we just had,” Sirius said, puzzled.
“Aside from that. Time to make another best,” James said, waving a hand.
Sirius looked at Kingsley and shrugged. “Like what?”
“Well, so far in here, we’ve demonstrated our ability to survive, our ability to hide, our ability to escape, our ability to heal and our ability to know when to seek out the Healers instead,” James said. “We’ll get points for the prank but that comes under resourcefulness I think.”
“You left of duelling,” Sirius told him. “We fought Hemsley and McDuff and Gutnich and his cronies.”
“But we didn’t do much. That was more escaping and surviving,” James said.
“You want to fight?”
James spun his wand between his fingers. “I want to show them what we can do.”
“They’re wandless though,’ Sirius said, frowning.
“They’ll come get them,” James said patiently. “And then they’ll return to their little camp.”
“An ambush,” Kingsley said, his eyes brightening. Sirius remembered the man had always excelled in the strategic areas of Auror training. “I like it.”
“But there won’t be any running this time,” James said.
“Well, not unless we’re dying,” Sirius said reasonably.
“That goes without saying,” James said. “What do you think?”
“I’m in,” Sirius said. “That goes without saying.” James grinned. “Shacklebolt?”
Kingsley looked between them and then sighed. But he was grinning. “Someone has to keep the two of you from being killed and since Lyra isn’t around, or that Lupin she was talking about, it seems the job falls to me.”
“And you said Ravenclaws were no fun,” Sirius told James, scoffing. Kingsley laughed.
“That was you,” James said, chuckling.
“Was not!” Sirius said, flinging an arm around Kingsley’s broad shoulders. “I love eagles.”
“That’s not what you said when you were on guard duty with the Bones twins.”
“Oh, yeah,” Sirius said, grinning. The Amelia and Edgar were great people and talented, but they took everything far too seriously. He let his arm fall from Kingsley’s shoulders and took a step away, grinning. “Sorry, Shacklebolt.”
* * *
“Are you all right, there, Prongs?” Sirius called, parrying a curse with a well-placed Shield Charm.
“Just brilliant,” James said, ducking behind a building. He emerged a moment later and blasted his opponent away with a Stunner. “How’s Shacklebolt holding up?”
Sirius sent a Disarmer at Gutnich - it missed but distracted him long enough for Sirius to shoot a glance over his shoulder. “Alive,” he said. “He looks tired, but aren’t we all?”
“True enough,” James said with a grimace, flexing his wrist. Sirius could sympathise; he’d had arm cramps for almost an hour. “Not long left, though.”
“How long?” Sirius grunted, forced to pull a door off its hinges to block a ‘Killing’ Curse. He Stunned Gutnich before he could recover.
“Ten minutes, maybe,” James said, consulting his watch. “How many of them are left?”
“Dunno,” Sirius said, watching Kingsley force Hemsely and McDuff - the latter was still pink-haired - around the back of a building with a powerful Disarmer. He ran around after them and, though the other two waited expectantly, didn’t reappear.
“Let’s get back there!” Sirius said, already running. He heard James’ footsteps not far behind him. The two skidded around the corner, Shield Charms raised and almost collided with Kingsley’s Stunned form.
“Dolores!” Hemsley said. The spell missed James, who had ducked to revive Kingsley but it hit Sirius square on and he dropped, writhing. Not as bad as the Cruciatus Curse, thank Merlin, Sirius thought, waiting for it to pass. He was aware of James and Kingsley bringing McDuff to her knees with a Jelly-legs and Arm-bind combination, but his torture continued. “Dolores!” Hemsley said, releasing Sirius as he turned his attention on Kingsley. It missed, thankfully and Sirius seized the opportunity, rolling over to his wand. “Dolores!”
“Aaah!” Kingsley screamed as he fell, his entire body twitching. James didn’t hesitate. He grabber the bigger man by the arm and helped him to his feet, wincing slightly; evidently, Kingsley was conducting. The two made it over to Sirius’ hiding place, behind the wall of one of the storage rooms, and James deposited Kingsley on the rocky ground, where he lay panting.
James wiped his sweaty hair out of his face and peered out from behind the wall. Then he swore. “He’s gone!” he exclaimed.
“Where?” Kingsley asked, pushing himself upright.
“Who knows,” James said.
“Look out!” Sirius shouted; Hemsley was back with McDuff and the previously incapacitated Gutnich.
The three of them retreated further around the building, covering each other with Shield Charms. “I say we split up. Take one each,” James panted.
“Done. We’ve only got to last another few minutes anyway, right?”
“Right,” Kingsley said. “On three, we all run for a separate one; I’ll take Hemsley, Potter, you can have McDuff and Black, that leaves you with Gutnich.”
“Done,” Sirius said again. “I seem to work well with people named James.”
James gave them his trademark mischievous smile. “True.” His expression flickered again. “Oh,” he said casually, “and if either of you die, I’ll kill you myself.”
“Incentive,” Kingsley said. “I like it.”
“Let’s go,” Sirius said, grinning.
And then they ran; James headed toward McDuff, holding a Shield Charm in front of him, so that spells rebounded in every direction, causing general mayhem. Kingsley sent a Stunner straight for Hemsley and darted to the next building when he was distracted and Sirius tucked his wand into his pocket and ran into Gutnich, knowing he wouldn’t be prepared for a physical attack. The two went tumbling into the ground, Sirius trying to pin him, Gutnich trying to hold onto his wand.
Just when Sirius thought he had him, Gutnich got his wand between them and shouted, “Depulso!”. At that moment, the story of the fiasco of the second full moon of the Marauder’s seventh year made a hell of a lot more sense; Banishing Charms were strong!Poor Moony didn’t stand a chance, Sirius thought as he hit the wall of the building he’d been hiding at. And our James had a lot more incentive for getting him away that this James did. He clutched his head which was thankfully free of blood, though it hurt a bit and his aura had gone a shade yellower.
“Padfoot!” James. He looked shocked.
“I’m fine,” Sirius groaned, getting a Shield Charm up in time to block another attack. “Look out!” James dove out of the way of one of McDuff’s spells and hit her with one he’d sent over his shoulder.
“Nice one, Prongs!” Sirius shouted.
“Thanks, Pad- No!” he shouted, looking at something over Sirius’ shoulder.
“Expulso!” Gutnich shouted.
The building behind Sirius exploded, throwing him off his feet. He heard James’ shout of “NO! SIRIUS!” and he thought Kingsley shouted something too, but he couldn’t hear what, over Gutnich: “Expelliarmus!” the trainee bellowed. That was followed by a series of shouts of “Expulso!”
Sirius looked up from his place on the ground and saw James looking at him in horror, Kingsley blasting Hemsley and sending a spell at Gutnich, who’d just caught James’ wand. And then he saw nothing; rubble rained down, but nothing hit him. There was pressure, incredible pressure, on his back and legs, but no pain, and he was still glowing a pale yellow, as he had been for the past hour and a half.
“Black! Black?!” Sirius identified the voice as Kingsley’s. “Black, can you hear me?! Potter, I’ve got your wand! Help me get Black out! Potter, get up! Potter?”
Sirius took another moment to assess his situation - which consisted of finding his wand - and then shifted slightly in the convenient pocket of space. Odd that the rubble fell that way... He managed to point his wand above his head and cast, “Protego” which reduced the pressure on the rest of him slightly. Thank Merlin. Using the Shield Charm, he sat up and heavy chucks of brick tumbled away to the sides.
“Black?!” Kingsley rushed over, his dark face covered in dust and blood. Over his shoulder, James slumped over, his face drawn.
“I’m fine,” Sirius said, getting up to check on James. “Prongs? Jamie, wake up!”
James smiled without opening his eyes. “I’m awake, Padfoot.”
“What colour are you?” Sirius asked, desperately, as Kingsley bound Gutnich, McDuff and Hemsley together.
“Skin coloured, usually,” James said, grinning. “But I need a wash; I’m a bit dirty at the moment.” Sirius found himself laughing. “Are you hurt?” James asked, looking worried now.
“No,” Sirius said. “It was weird; none of the bricks touched me.”
“Weird,” James agreed, not meeting his eyes.
“It was you!” Sirius said. “Wasn’t it?”
“I think you think too much of me,” James said, laughing shakily. “I was Disarmed.”
“You’re lying, Prongs. I can see it in your face.”
James looked worried. “I don’t know what I did it didn’t feel like accidental magic but it did at the same time... but wizards are supposed to grow out of that.”
“You were scared though, right?”
James scowled. “Of course I was bloody scared! You were about to be flattened by a building!”
“I’m touched, Jamie,” Sirius said, helping him up. “Kingsley, are you alive?”
“I could use a hot meal and a bath but I’m alive, Black, yes,” Kingsley said, grinning. “Are you all right, Potter? Why’d you collapse?”
“Tired,” James said, shrugging as he checked his watch.
“From holding up buildings,” Sirius muttered. James heard and shot him a look. Sirius gave him his best cheeky grin as they joined Kingsley.
“Trainees, please lower your wands,” the cool voice said, echoing through the arena. “The Examination has now ended.”
“That’s it!” Sirius said, hugging James then Kingsley. “We’re Aurors!”
“If we passed,” James said, but he was beaming too.
“Please return to the door you entered through and have your Healer check you over. Further instructions will be given then.”
Sirius and James looked at each other. “My door’s closest,” Sirius said. James nodded.
“I’m this way,” Kingsley said, grinning. James and Sirius shared a look before they held out a hand each. Laughing, Kingsley shook both hands at once. “It’s been a pleasure, gentlemen.”
“Gentlemen,” Sirius scoffed.
“It’s like you don’t know us at all!” James exclaimed.
Kingsley laughed again. “I’ll see you boys on the outside then.”
He turned, headed for the fence and Sirius and James turned, heading for the far arena wall, which they could follow to Sirius’ door.
Sirius found himself dreading the outside of the arena. There was a war going on, outside these walls - hell, wasn’t that why they had wanted to become Aurors in the first place? - and Voldemort and his Death Eaters were still trying to take over. Was it really so bad that he wanted to stay in here and forget about the death and the hate and the corruption that was slowly infesting their world?
“Hurry up, Padfoot!” James said, tugging his arm. “Lily’s waiting.”
And then Sirius smiled. Lily, of course. He had forgotten for a moment, that there was good out there too. That there was Lily and Moony and Wormtail and the rest of their friends in the Order. That there were things like love that he’d fight anyone to keep. That with James and Lily’s baby on the way, there was life and innocence amidst the death and darkness.
And without the darkness, how would we see the light? Sirius mused.
He grinned. “Race you there!” James said, already running.
“So much for together!” Sirius called, sprinting after him.
To his surprise, James skidded to a stop. “Have it your way then,” he said, grinning as Sirius caught up, puffing. Sirius seriously contemplated taking off again and making James run.