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Chapter 4 : Four
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“Sirius,” he hissed in annoyance, trying to free his wrist to check the time. “Mate, you have got to breathe with your mouth closed. It’s like a furnace under this thing.”
Sirius scowled and slapped a hand over his mouth, but said nothing. Squinting in the dimness and shoving the heel of his hand against his face to try to adjust his glasses, James peered at his wristwatch. It was only seven o’ clock, but the sun would have already set at this time of year. Surely this was nighttime enough for Rosier and Wilkes…
Sirius shifted in the niche. “This sucks. Can we go? We can find somewhere else to stand, Prongs, but I can’t move.” He wriggled again, and James nearly spilled out into the middle of the corridor. “We don’t even know that they’re going to be here anyway.”
“Why would they have lied?” James said hoarsely, pressing himself into a corner to give his friend as much room as possible. “They’re bound to be around here somewhere. We’ve just got to listen.”
“Maybe they knew you were eavesdropping,” Sirius panted, already having forgotten James’s admonition against him breathing with his mouth open. He hooked a finger under the collar of his sweater and yanked in a desperate attempt to cool the skin under it. “Maybe –“
“Shh,” James whispered suddenly, jamming a forefinger against his lips and nearly smacking Sirius in the face with his elbow. They stopped talking at once, turning their necks and pressing their ears against the fabric. He could have sworn he heard something, a noise against stone, someone moving down an adjacent corridor…
There it was again: Leather on stone, someone walking. He was sure of it. James craned his neck around to look at Sirius and found the other boy’s gaze, eyes round and wide. He had heard it too. Pressing his finger against his lips again and drawing his wand from his pocket, like unsheathing a sword, he stepped out of the niche, Sirius stumbling after him. The dungeon corridor was cool in comparison with the heat of the niche, and a draft tinged with the smells of earth and water made the Cloak flap around their ankles.
This way, James mouthed, jabbing a forefinger toward the left, where their path divided in a T-shape. Sirius nodded; he had his own wand drawn, lips clamped tightly together. They crept down toward the passage on the tips of their toes. James kicked a loose stone and it rattled against one of the walls; they froze, but the sound of leather on stone came again, and Sirius breathed a sigh of relief.
They reached the end of the passage, and James’s heart leaped into his throat at the glint of light that came from the left fork of the corridor. Dull orange flames glowed at intervals throughout the entire dungeons, but this was the harsher, brighter light of Lumos igniting someone’s wand tip. He pointed at it, but Sirius had already seen, and nodded once. Hesitantly, hearts thudding, the boys poked their heads around the passage corner.
One dim figure was standing in the middle of the passage, halfway down, silhouetted by the light from the torches and the wand. He or she was alone, pacing back and forth in apparent impatience, the white light bobbing along in front of them like a will-o’-the-wisp. As they watched, the person reached the end of his path, turned, and began heading back toward them. The light from their wand suddenly threw their face into sharp relief, and James dug his fingers into the stone wall in hatred.
Wilkes. Definitely Wilkes.
“Sodding bastard,” Sirius suddenly muttered vehemently from over James’s shoulder, and he took a step in the direction of the Slytherin.
“No!” James reached out for a fistful of his friend’s sweater and yanking him back hard. Wilkes stopped pacing at once and raised his wand higher above his head, spreading the radius of the light. James and Sirius smacked their backs against the wall, holding their palms over their mouths.
“Hello?” Wilkes’s voice echoed off the stone. He took a few steps, and his next call was even closer. “Is someone there? I’m not afraid to hex you –“
James, Sirius, and – judging from the way the Lumos light jerked suddenly – Wilkes all jumped at the sudden manifestation of Rosier’s voice. A second pair of footsteps joined the first, and after a few seconds, the Gryffindors dared to poke their heads around the wall again. Rosier and Wilkes were now clustered together beneath the steady light from Wilkes’s wand.
“God,” the first boy was saying angrily; James could see his hand was shaking. “You could warn me when you’re coming, you know? At least don’t sneak up on me like a bloody rat – have the decency –“
Rosier laughed meanly, cutting the other off. “At least I’m here,” he sneered. “Or don’t you want this after all?”
“Yes,” Wilkes said grudgingly, and to James’s horror, they started moving away, up the corridor. His brain spun, all signals flashing danger, and his mouth was dry with fear – without thinking of Sirius or the Cloak, he charged forward, wand drawn. The angry crackle of a spell he wasn’t even conscious he’d named ricocheted out of the end of his wand towards the two figures in front of him. It shattered off one of the walls, sending loose chunks of stone raining down on them.
Rosier and Wilkes spun in alarm, and their surprise gave James enough time to ready another spell to hurl at them. Rosier ducked as a jet of purple light spun out toward him, Wilkes falling on top of him in fright.
“You stay where you are!” he roared, distantly impressed with how menacing he sounded, as Rosier made to climb to his feet.
“What the bloody hell –“
“He said don’t move!” Sirius had come up behind James, wand pointed at the figures on the ground. “D’you want your legs blown off the rest of your bodies?”
Rosier sneered. “You couldn’t.”
Sirius took another step toward Rosier, turning his wand in his hands, a nasty look twisting his face. “Want to find out?”
Wilkes shook dust from his hair and looked up at the pair of boys standing over him. “What do you want?” he said, trying for rudeness and failing dismally. “We’re only walking the corridors, and that’s no crime.”
“No,” James spat, “but I’ll tell you what I want. I want justice for George Asher. I want you to leave Lily Evans the hell alone. I want you two to rot in Azkaban for the rest of your lives. And maybe, if you’re good enough, you’ll get a Kiss from a Dementor. I’ll be holding my breath.”
“What?” said Rosier venomously, and this time he did climb to his feet. James and Sirius pointed their wands at his heart, and he half-raised his hands to chest height, a grudging surrender. He looked at James. “What are you going on about? I didn’t have anything to do with Asher.”
James’s heart was thudding in his ears. “I – you’re lying,” he snarled. “I overheard the pair of you” – he moved his wand between the Slytherins, and Wilkes ducked his head, whimpering – “earlier today. You were saying… I don’t know, less witnesses, picking a great time. All that rubbish.”
Rosier rolled his eyes. “Oh, Christ,” he muttered, and moved his hand into his pocket. Sirius jabbed the tip of his wand into the other boy’s chest, but he shoved it away impatiently. “Look.” He withdrew a crumpled sheaf of parchment, covered in spiky black handwriting. “McGonagall’s tests for the next month.”
James swallowed hard against the scratchiness of his throat. Blood was still thudding through his brain, pressing painfully against the backs of his eyes. “What?” he said dully.
He’d made a huge mistake.
Footsteps rattled down the corridor just then, and all four boys turned, wands drawn. To James’s immense surprise, Remus hurled himself around the corner, clutching at a stitch in his side, breathing heavily. Peter followed a few seconds later, wheezing. Their eyes were wild; Remus looked from Wilkes to Rosier unseeingly, as though they didn’t even matter.
“James – it’s not – not –“ He gasped and leaned against the wall, wiping the back of his hand along his forehead. “Don’t do anything – stupid.” He gulped and then straightened up. “It’s not them.”
James stumbled back from Rosier and Wilkes, the former now wearing a smugly triumphant expression. “You know who it was?” Sirius asked exultantly, threats and intimidation tactics tossed aside.
But just as Remus opened his mouth again, James realized why he still felt horrible. He lunged for Remus, clapping hands on his shoulders; Peter, still catching his breath, looked at the pair of them in confusion.
“Where’s Lily?” James asked urgently. Remus’s eyes widened, and James swore vehemently. “God, you left her alone? You bloody left her alone?!”
“She’s probably with Marlene and Mary!” Peter spoke up encouragingly, but James was already running back up the corridor, hurling past the torches so they extended in one long blur of flame, running desperately for the Gryffindor common room and – he hoped – Lily inside of it.
Mary and Marlene hadn’t seen Lily for some time, and James thought he was going to faint with fear. He didn’t know whether he wanted to hit Remus and Peter for leaving her alone, or hit himself for not protecting her himself, but whatever he did, it had to wait until he found her again. It didn’t even comfort him that Remus thought he knew who’d killed George Asher, a solution he hadn’t taken the time to hear just yet. As long as she was still out there and no one knew where she was, it didn’t matter so much who killed Asher as who might be looking to kill Lily next.
The words of her letter rocketed around in his head, bumping against his skull tauntingly.
Tick tock, tick tock. You’re next.
Filthy Mudblood, worthless witch.
“James, where are you going?” Sirius shouted from somewhere behind him, breathing heavily. The four boys were running pell-mell through the castle in a horrible entourage, no destination in mind; they would stop when they found Lily. The library, the astronomy tower, the entire seventh floor, the second floor where they’d found George Asher – they’d all turned up no sign of her.
“I don’t know, I don’t know!” James tripped over an edge of one of the carpet runners and nearly slammed into one of the leaded windows dotting the corridor, and pushed himself off it with his hands, not breaking stride.
Peter coughed with exhaustion, trailing the pack. “James, you’ve got to slow down!” he hollered hoarsely. “We can’t keep running like this, mate!”
“We’re not stopping!” James shouted. “She might have known we were in the dungeons – come on –“ His sides ached, his muscles screamed at him to stop, sweat was dripping into his eyes, and none of it mattered, because he couldn’t find Lily and that was the worst thing imaginable…
He hurled around a corner, and then another corner, and darted through a hidden passageway he and the others knew behind a tapestry. No one else was around; they had come across almost no one, sprinting through the stairwells and corridors, and he wasn’t entirely surprised. If Remus and Peter had been able to make it out of the common room, then it appeared that the students were permitted to walk about the castle again, but he couldn’t blame them for wanting to keep to the common rooms anyway. But without people Hogwarts seemed that much bigger, and his footsteps and labored breathing echoed loudly off the tall, arched ceilings.
The grand staircase was around the next bend, and James threw himself onto the landing, hands skimming the stone banisters on either side of him. He could still hear Sirius, Remus, and Peter thundering along behind him, despite their protests, and jumped the last five stairs in a burst of adrenaline. And here was the entrance hall, and there –
James skidded to a stop at the base of the staircase. His stomach turned, and stars popped in front of his eyes.
No, no, no, no, no…
“James, what –“ Remus started, sucking in air, and then gasped for an entirely different reason. There was a dull thud from Peter sinking down onto the stairs in shock.
He could tell at once that it was Lily, because no other girl in the world had hair like that – long, red, beautiful hair that was fanned out over the flagstones of the entrance hall, glinting from the torches still burning around the perimeter of the room. She was curled in a loose interpretation of the fetal position, arms thrown over her head, hair covering her face. And puddled by her head, catching her pale hands and turning them scarlet, soaking the edges of that brilliant red hair, was a dark, watery substance that, when it caught the light of the flames, was a deep, horrible, familiar maroon.
“Lily,” James said brokenly. He could feel the other boys’ eyes on him without turning to see if they were really looking, full of concern and worry. “Maybe she’s still alive,” he croaked. “I’m going to go see.”
“James, no,” Sirius said harshly. James made to move forward, but a pair of hands clenched around his upper arms, holding him back. He struggled against them, aware that he was shouting and not consciously choosing the words that exploded from his mouth.
“Let me go! Let me go! You don’t understand, you don’t understand, that’s Lily, I have to protect her, she’s in danger – Lily, Lily! LILY!”
“Peter, for God’s sake! Go and get help!” Remus roared, still yanking on James’s arm, struggling to keep him from getting to Lily’s body. He went at once, previous exhaustion forgotten, sprinting away in the direction of McGonagall’s office.
James was still screaming like a madman. “No! NO! I’m sorry, Lily, please, I’m sorry! No, Lily, come back! I’m sorry!” He pushed against the hands of his friends, but they were too strong, and he kicked and he struggled and nothing did any good. His cheeks were wet with tears he couldn’t remember crying, throat sore with words he wasn’t aware of yelling.
His knees smacked stone, and he was sobbing, her name and pleas and apologies still bubbling through his lips. She was so close, only feet away from him, just there, lying there.
A/N: Oh, this is hard to re-read. That sounds sort of shallow or meaningless, I suppose, but it's very weird to put my computer down for nearly five full days and come back to this particular chapter. There was one key part of the last chapter that a lot of reviewers missed, I think -- but it'll tell you for sure who Lily and George's killer was. And if you did miss it, it'll be further explained in next week's fifth and final chapter!
I got home a bit earlier than I planned today, so I decided to go ahead and post this, especially since I found out a few days ago that I'll actually be gone all day tomorrow, too. So it works very well! Please feel free to leave your theories and questions; I love your reviews, and really thank you so much for the response on this story thus far.
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