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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 37 : A Test of Wills
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 16

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Gorgeous image by the perfect heartfelt @ TDA
Chapter 37 - A Test of Wills

Lily held her breath as she waited to hear her name. It was more unnerving than when she’d been waiting to be Sorted, and that spoke volumes. She closed her eyes and drowned out faces sprinkled among the Great Hall, imagining where she’d be in mere minutes.

She could picture the classrooms in the corridor that surrounded the courtyard perfectly, all of them with pieces of parchment bewitched to hang on the doors. On each ivory colored background were the words: Silent - Exams in Progress, followed by whatever test was being administered.

Lily knew which exam each room held, having helped prepare the classes herself. The Charms Examiner had been the most particular about how he wanted his space set up, demanding seven glasses of water be lined up in zigzag formation.

Setting up the Potions area was the most time consuming, even with Professor Slughorn’s help. He’d assisted her and Briscoe, the Prefect she’d chosen to help her with preparing the rooms, in carrying up enough ingredients. Lily shook her head as she remembered thinking how much more convenient it would be to simply take the Potions exam in the dungeons. But she wasn’t the one of the Examiners, so she was certain he opinion wasn’t warranted.

The silence around the Great Hall was nearly tangible as the seventh years waited. Half of the hall was divided into desks, the fifth years taking the written portions of their O.W.Ls. A makeshift wall ran down the middle and separated the other half, which was where the seventh years waited patiently.

They’d completed the last of their written exams yesterday, and much to Lily’s relief, they all thought that they’d done rather well. During that time they hadn’t been allowed so much as to look at one another, but now that they were on practicals things eased up a bit. You couldn’t very well teach someone a spell they hadn’t mastered during the last year in just the few minutes, now could you?

Lily’s eyes glanced up, feeling teased by the bright blue of the bewitched ceiling. She could see rays of light dipping in from the corners, though the actual sun was hidden off somewhere. Even a few birds had the audacity to fly by, tweeting happily as the group below sat, twisting their fingers.

The hard parts are over, Lily reminded herself. She’d gotten through the written ones and completed transfiguration a few hours ago. Then they’d all been given an hour for lunch, and would start getting called in for their next practical any minute.

In their O.W.Ls there’d only been four or five of them per room, but she’d had nine other students with her during Transfiguartion, along with two examiners and Professor McGonagall. Maybe there were less people qualified to grade at the higher level, resulting in a bit more condensing?

Before she could dwell on that thought, a short, plump witch came tapping over, her heels clicking against the stone floor as a trail of purple robes followed behind.

When she spoke, her voice was much more commanding than her appearance would suggest. “Your second round of practical examinations is about to begin. We kindly ask that you refrain from chatting at this point, and request that all books, wands, or other materials are put away.

She glanced down over her glasses and began reading from a scroll. “In 1B, which is currently the Defence Against the Dark Arts room: Abigail Brookwin, Bridget Angelli, Eleanor McGuise, Isabelle Leclair, Severus Snape, Trisha Charleston, Lily Evans, and Moraine Westle.” She nodded her head, and Lily realized that was their cue to get moving.

Lily glanced behind her to Belle, then gave James’s hand one last squeeze before standing from the table and walking alongside her blonde friend. As they were leaving the Great Hall, Lily heard, “In 2B, the Transfiguration room: Alice Christopherson, Briscoe Watts, Alexander Renington, Alexander Sheffield, Jackson Elieston, Burgess Mulciber, and Margaret Blackbourne. For Charms in 3B, Remus Lupin, Frank Longbottom-”

The rest of the names were left unknown when the woman’s voice was silenced as doors closed behind them.

Lily could feel Severus’s eyes on her back as he walked behind her, and the tension it created in her must’ve been obvious, because Belle reached down and cupped her hand.

She forced her eyes to stay forward, but was only met with the back of Abigail's head. Lily thought about how the Slytherin girl hadn’t spoken to her since the incident in the library, and Lily realized how curious the lack of insults was. She wasn’t naive enough to think Abigail losing her prefect badge had shut her up for good, but what else could it be?

As she let the thought churn around in her mind, it became evident that all the Prospects had seemed rather... subdued since Easter Holiday. Was it because she now had Alrek’s aggression to compare them to, making anything seem mild? No... she didn’t think so.

They turned down the courtyard corridor, their room being the first on the left.

Lily couldn’t help herself, and before they walked in she glanced behind her at Severus. Smiling, she said, “Good luck.”

A confused expression slipped briefly into his eyes, but he suffocated it so quickly that it left Lily wondering if she’d imagined it. He nodded curtly, then glanced away.

What would it be like, Lily wondered, to have such a tight control on your emotions? To control every look that swept over your face, show nothing that you didn’t wish to be visible?

In theory, it sounded brilliant. But in practice, Lily knew -- at least to those on the other end of the controlled glances -- it felt cold. Like no matter what you did, there would always be a layer of ice too thick to melt through.

A painful feeling slid into Lily as she imagined the little boy she’d sat on the grass with, the first friend she’d ever loved.

Now is not the time for that, she silently lectured. Not the time to think of Severus and how he’d always been too hot or too cold. Too focused on just her, causing her to feel like the friendship was suffocating her, or too intent on pretending she didn’t exist that it felt like she’d been cast away.

Severus had wanted her full devotion to him, that became apparent around fourth year. She couldn’t give that to him. And the cracks in their friendship started to form.

Had that been the first of them, though? The first bit of breakage? When she’d made it clear friendship was all she needed?

No. They started long before. Small things, like when he got angry at her for spending time with other friends, or when she was cross and snapped at him to cover up her jealousy of his skills in Potions.

She risked a glance toward the seat he’d taken. When had he adopted that sort of shrug... the careless way he leaned his back against the table? He looked as if he didn’t give two sickles about this exam, but Lily knew that wasn’t true. If there was anything Severus respected, possibly the only thing, it was the Dark Arts.

Lily took a deep breath, forcing the topic from her mind. She took in the sight of a middle-aged, burly wizard with an unlit tobacco pipe between his teeth. This was new, Lily thought. Usually the examiners looked as clean cut as it got. This man reminded her more of some barely law-abiding wizard, the kind of guy that James and Sirius would probably like to spend an afternoon in a pub with, hatching up plans.

Professor Baker, the man who’d been filling in for Professor Genov after she was killed, stood in the back and barely glanced at them. None of them had ever been convinced he actually knew how to teach, but they’d been at the point where revision was more important than learning new material.

There was another unfamiliar face in the room, a woman who introduced herself as Phoebe Penrose, a member of the Magical Education Management Board who would also be acting as Examiner.

“Good afternoon,” the woman’s voice began, and Lily felt herself sit up -- if possible -- even straighter. She mentally went through the curses they’d learned, flicking around her brain like it was a filing cabinet. “Today we are going to test your abilities to protect yourself in a given number of circumstances, may that be from human or beast. The spells asked of you will be some of the hardest you’ll ever attempt, and the way in which you go about them is what will determine the majority of your final mark.

“A helpful reference point as to how you're doing is that you should be able to cast at least half the spells asked of you to receive a passing mark. Without further ado, please choose a partner and step into a sectioned off area.” She gestured toward one side of the room, then the other, where curtains were hung to form roughly five foot by five foot cubicles. Lily assumed they were magic resistant and wouldn’t allow spells to pass.

“Once you are there, you can select one partner to defend using only the shield charm and one to disarm. When either myself, Professor Baker, or Mister Phurie reach your section we’ll begin an obstacle based exam. Until then, simply stick with the two spells I’ve just assigned.”

Lily met Belle’s eyes, the blue mimicking the same request Lily knew was in hers. Wordlessly, the girls linked arms and headed for the section of space farthest toward the back.

Once they stepped behind the curtain and pulled it closed, Lily realized they were in their own little world. Some kind of spell had been done, similar to the undetectable extension charm, Lily assumed, that created more space than the small box she’d seen from the outside seemed capable of. But how on earth...?

Well, if she’d learned anything in the last seven years submerged in the magical world, it was that thinking too much about how it all worked did no good. Lily had spent hours trying to understand how exactly spells could warp spaces, distances, the human body, even time in some cases. All she ended up with was an insane amount of frustration and no book in the world that could give her the answer.

So she’d learned to accept it all. Of course, it still did and always would fascinate her. She’d never stop trying to learn more about the abilities she was capable of or the miracles magic rendered. But she didn’t allow herself to try and dissect every piece of it.

The blanket of silence made it clear that not only was space forced to bend to a caster’s will, giving more than seemed possible, but sound was also no match to whomever wielded the wand. Not the slightest noise, other than Belle’s footsteps as she circled, could be heard.

A curiosity Lily couldn’t quench took hold, and before she was able to talk herself out of it she pointed her wand at the wall and whispered, “Accio rucksack.” A nearly invisible golden light jetted from her wand, then hit the curtain and seemed to become sucked into the fabric.

Not only would the curtain prevent magic from passing, but it would engulf any that came into contact with it. Handy, Lily thought, considering how easy it would be to bounce Expelliarmus off and hit yourself instead of your opponent.

“Well,” Belle sighed, then turned her head over so that her cascade of blonde fell down over her face. She bunched it up and slipped a tie from her wrist, securing the entire thing into a high bun. “Shall we begin, do you zink? Or should I just tell ze Examiner zat I disarmed one of ze most wanted Death Eaters in ze UK a few months back?”

Lily’s face turned into a smile, the humorous glinting of her best friend’s eyes impossible not to react to.

“I don’t know,” Lily began. “Bellatrix isn’t really that bad. Just a crazed woman bent on murdering anyone in her path. There’s nothing wrong with persistence, is there?”

“Oh I don’t see why not. In fact, I ‘ave been considering inviting ze woman to tea. It might be nice to make amends after ze last encounter.”

Lily didn’t know if it was the complete absurdity of their conversation or the fact that their stress levels had been through the roof as of late. Regardless of the underlying reason, the girls found themselves leaning into one another laughing so fiercely that Lily felt her chest grow sore from the convolutions.

“I’m thrilled that this exam has the power to amuse you to such extents.” The clipped tone knocked the humor out of the moment quicker than it had come. Lily’s eyes, bright with tears that had started swelling up from the giggles, darted to Madam Penrose and she felt herself struggle to come up with a reason for their actions.

There was none. They were eighteen, stressed out beyond belief, and had only days remaining in their Hogwarts careers. But Lily felt it safe to assume none of those excuses would do, and wasn’t even able to muster a convincing apology.

“We’re ready to begin ze exam at any time, Madam Penrose,” Belle said, her tone respectful but mirroring the same sort of clipped edge as the Examiner’s.

“You look prepared,” the woman said sarcastically. “Since you feel yourself adequate enough to spend the allotted warm up time giggling, we’ll begin with the more difficult magic, unless you object.”

Lily’s nerves, the irrational fears that she would forget everything, became drowned out by her pride. She’d fought for her life numerous times, could this woman say the same? No Examiner was going to make her feel guilty for spending a minute laughing with a friend, ill timed as the humor may have been.

“That’s fine with us,” Lily said, making sure to layer her annoyance with a polite cover. “We’ll start wherever you’d like.”

“Miss-” she glanced down at her list, “Leclair. Attempt to disarm Miss Evans. Miss Evans, attempt to block Miss Leclair. But both of these need to be done nonverbally.”

Lily knew she’d expected to see them sweat with her last few words, but they’d spent too much time practicing, or trying to get one of the boys back for their pranks, to shiver at having to cast without speaking.

The girls locked eyes, no longer feeling competitive against one another but united by the woman who seemed to lack confidence in them.


Lily’s wand was up in a flash, the voice in her mind calm as she mentally ordered the incantation for the spell. She created a false image, built a wall with her eyes in her imagination and felt her magic respond. The gentle warmth of her willow wand relaxed her fingers, and she felt the protection she created stay strong against the jet of red that collided into it.

“Reverse,” Madam Penrose ordered. This time, Lily’s eyes fell on Belle’s wand and she imagined forcing it from her fingers. The warmth grew hotter, and her own jet of red shot out. The attempt was strong, but Belle’s shield was stronger.

“Wands at your sides.” Belle and Lily obeyed.

“Miss Leclair, please take a seat.” As the words left the older lady’s lips, a chair materialized in the corner.

This time when Madam Penrose’s eyes fell on Lily -- their shade a brown so dark that it slipped closer to the color of a midnight sky -- the annoyance was gone. It seemed that she’d been pleased enough with the fact that Belle and Lily weren’t ill prepared to drop her initial annoyance, letting a look of amusement take over.

“You aren’t to respond to anything that occurs, Miss Leclair.”

“Yes, Madam.”

“You are ready, Miss Evans?” Lily was tempted to ask what for, but instead she nodded her head.

Almost as soon as she gave her agreement, the air turned black.

Lily’s heart lurched. Her mind drew up the image of the Heads’ Quarters, the way the soft haze had taken over when Alrek’s spell had caused the act of breathing to hurt so severely that she was almost willing to let her body suffocate in lieu of the mind numbing pain.

Her blood pounded in her ears, her palms growing moist. It’s an exam, she told herself. Alrek wasn’t there, waiting at any second to jump her from the shadows with that look of pleasure and anger intertwined in his deceitful eyes.

It’s an exam.

She imagined a ball of light at the tip of her wand, then thought the spell. The glow reacted instantly, and she could make out a trunk in front of her. The exam changed year to year, but Lily knew that in the past there’d been everything from mazes to all out duels as part of the Defence Against the Dark Arts practical. This must’ve been step one in the obstacle that Madam Penrose mentioned.

She unlocked the chest, not surprised when a hand made to mimic the undead slipped from it. It wouldn’t be an actual Inferius, Lily was certain of that. But they would react the same way, and that was what counted. Neither blunt force nor severing would work.

Lily thought back to the chapter they’d gone over regarding these creatures. Potions were usually the best way, if you could conjure one that gave off adequate fumes. That obviously wasn’t an option, so she turned to the next best thing. An obstacle.


The thought was barely a thread in her mind, but her wand was already reacting. She drew the line she wished for the flames to follow, then sent the first spark ablaze. It was a common mistake to set fire without first dictating its perimeters, one she’d made before when practicing the spell in the courtyard and wasn’t about to repeat. Lily didn’t like making mistakes, and it rarely took more than once for her to learn her lesson.

The crackling orange scared the creature back into submission, and before Lily could think of the next step the entire scene vanished.

She wasn’t sure how long it went on for, but task after task rebuilt itself until Lily’s face was covered with the sheen of sweat and her arms were aching from being held constantly horizontal.

When the black broke and her normal setting -- the classroom and the charmed cubical, Belle and Madam Penrose near her -- came back into view, Lily finally let out a long breath.

“Well, Miss Evans-”

Before Madam Penrose could continue a head popped in. The face belonged to the other man that had been standing at the front when they entered.

“Phoebe, we’ve done all but Miss Leclair. Would you like us escort her to another section and begin her testing?”

“Yes, if you wouldn’t mind.”

Belle was escorted away and it was just the two of them surrounded by the tan colored curtains. Lily’s heart began beating. Had she done something wrong? Why had she taken so long?

“Miss Evans.” Phoebe’s voice was odd. Not harsh, but not kind, either. “We have a seven tier test. It’s common for about one fourth of each year’s group of N.E.W.T students to pass these tiers. The exam is set for students to begin passing levels after the first, most usually failing to defend themselves by the third. You’ve already more than passed the exam for this practical, and what happens next is completely up to you. But it’s helpful to us if we’re able to test the bounds of your magic even further. Are you comfortable continuing, or do you wish to be finished with your Defence Against the Dark Arts practical?”

“I... Continuing is fine,” Lily said in what she hoped was a confident tone.

“Fine. Being unprepared for further testing is one of our most useful tools to gauge a student's actual abilities, so I need to ask that you mention this to no one. After tomorrow, when all the Defence practicals have been given, then you’re welcome to. But until then it’s vital that you keep it between us.”

Lily nodded.

“Let’s begin, then.”

The next thirty or so minute were more exhausting than the entirely of her other N.E.W.T.s combined. Her face was on fire, blood and sweat heating it beyond belief as she threw counter curses and sent spells flying. There were a few moments during it where she’d been half convinced the woman would make her fend off an Unforgivable Curse, but considering they’d only talked about the theory of those in class, she didn’t think it was likely.

“Stop.” Lily froze at the woman’s command.

“We’re going to move on to a Dementor next, then test your ability to cast spells designed to shield deadly objects.”

Lily followed Phoebe Penrose from the curtained area, noticing that Severus still remained along with the heavy-set man.

“We’re going to move onto the Dementor,” Penrose said, focusing her attention on the other Examiner. “May I request a moment?”

The Examiner nodded and directed Severus out, leaving Lily and the woman alone.

“Excuse me for a moment,” Penrose said, then walked quickly to the door just a few feet away and stepped from the room. After a few long seconds, Lily felt a chill run over her arms and pulled her robes tighter.

Her heart gave an involuntary lurch as a figure moved through the door, black cloak billowing behind it with Madam Penrose close by. The flames around the room ceased, leaving a trail of smoke in their way. Light was still slipping in from somewhere, allowing a hazy grey to take over and prevent the air from going completely black.

She felt an impossible sort of chill creep through her, backing away without even realizing it. As her nerves heightened, the creature rotated itself toward her. Could it feel the fingers of terror creeping into Lily? Is this how the Dementors were able to keep a prison so tightly protected? She imagined what it would be like to be surrounded by them. With just one making her feel like she wanted to curl into a ball to hold herself together, she couldn’t fathom what hundreds of them would do to a human.

A rattling sort of sound, like the breath of person whose lungs were filled with fluid, stole Lily’s attention. It came again, and Lily realized it was the inhaling of the hooded figure. With each gulp of oxygen it sucked up, another thread of dread fell into her. It was like the part of her heart that was filled with the love she had for her friends, her school, Butterscotch, was shut off. Frozen from the chill that was growing as painful as the stabs of a knife.

She gave her head a quick shake to force reality back into it. It was trying to take parts of her...worse than take them, but coerce her into not even caring about those parts. What was the point? There was nothing out there for her. A mudblood who’d lost her family, who had friends that stayed beside her simply out of pity. They were all waiting for Voldemort to pick her off, and maybe Lily should just let him.

The creature was moving even closer, the rattling growing more intense as the hopelessness continued to fill her.

No. She didn’t think the word so much as felt it. None of was true. It was taking it all from her, trying to rid her of the ability to simply be happy.

She was through with people trying to take things from her. Through with Bellatrix trying to take James, through with Alrek trying to take her life.

She raised her wand, but before she could say the spell the creature fled. Moments later the flames of the lamp were once again burning brightly.

The Dementor was gone.

One look of Madam Penrose’s face told Lily that something was terribly wrong.

Without thinking, she took off through the door and raced down the corridor. It was almost like she could feel the path the figure had taken, as if running straight into an icy storm that grew colder with each step. She looked around, frantic to spot a professor. Where was everyone? And where was Madam Penrose? Why wasn’t she following Lily?

At the end of the corridor, the Entrance Hall lay in front of her. Lily could hear screams coming from the Great Hall, the black billows of a cloak sweeping along as the creature slipped through the open doors.

She aimed her wand toward the room and forced away the dread spiraling through. Eyes closed and jaw clenched, she summoned the memory of her and James on Christmas night, tiptoeing down the stairs and slipping from the house hand in hand. The moon had been just a crescent in the sky with stars sprinkled around it, casting enough light that she’d been able to see the way James looked at her. Large flakes of snow fell on her red strands, their noses both red from the cold. But that didn’t care. They’d sat under the falling snow, laughing and talking until their fingers had gone numb.

Lily kept the image held tightly in her mind and shouted, “Expecto Patronum!” What she didn’t know was that James had done the very same thing just a room away.

The doe broke from her wand, its hooves wild as it ran in a fast circle through the air. Lily watched the graceful head extend, and assumed it was searching for the trail of the creature that it was designed to destroy.

With one quick leap, the doe took off toward the Great Hall and Lily rushed to follow.

She heard a chorus of sobs before she entered the room. Probably fifth years still taking their test who’ve yet to even learn about the deadly properties of a Dementor. As she pushed passed the heavy doors that her doe slipped through, her body froze in place.

In the middle of the room stood her animal, its silvery light glittering with every move. Just a few inches away was a nearly identical form, only larger with horns that were currently bucking at the hooded creature.

Lily searched for James’s face, not surprised by the shock visible even at a distance. She’d seen his stag before... the first time was during the lesson when they were taught the charm, and again in Dumbledore’s study at the start of the year. But Lily hadn’t gotten the hang of a corporeal Patronus right away in fifth year, and ended up going in after class once she was confident she’d be able to cast one. That had been the only time she was required to demonstrate her ability, though as soon as she’d come home for holiday after turning seventeen she’d cast the charm over and over for her parents.

But James had never once seen Lily’s doe. She’d never told him hers was the mate to his.

And though she’d never thought much about it before, as she watched the animals tear through the air together with the cloaked figure fleeing from them, she couldn’t help but be amazed.

The two moved together in unison, like dancers who knew every step. Their bodies stayed side by side, trailing a wispy cloud of light behind. The redhead again found the eyes of the stag’s creator; a nearly tangible heat smoldered between them.

The Great Hall was silent as the animals chased the darkness into the sky.

Professor McGonagall’s classroom held an air of tension, whether that was current or left over from the countless exams, Lily wasn’t sure.

James sat in the chair beside her, both of them struggling not to lace fingers. Lily didn’t think it would be appropriate for McGonagall to walk in and see them holding hands.

“Any other secrets I don’t know about?” James asked, smiling slyly as he glanced over at Lily.

“It wasn’t a secret,” she argued, though she supposed it was. She’d been careful after fifth year never to cast the Patronus Charm around him, not wanting him to annoy her even more with his jokes about the two of them belonging together.

Maybe they hadn’t been jokes after all.

“I apologize for the wait,” came the familiar voice. Lily turned around and saw Professor McGonagall with Severus walking in beside her. Brilliant, Lily though. Before she could speculate on what he was doing there, she saw the burly man -- his unlit pipe back in his mouth -- and Professor Baker trail in as well.

McGonagall took her seat on the side of her desk closest to the wall and glanced between Lily and James. “From what I’ve been told, I missed quite a demonstration.”

Severus snorted from his standing position a few feet behind Lily, but was silenced by a glare from McGonagall.

“Mr. Potter, you were in the Great Hall when the Dementor first entered?” she asked, and Lily noticed for the first time a hardness glinting behind the square glasses. Something was wrong.

“Yes, Professor.”

“Can you tell me, to the best of your knowledge, how it acted?”

James was silent for a moment before saying, “Aggressive. Everything that we’ve read always led me to believe they just hover around, zapping everything good away.”

“Crudely put, but correct,” McGonagall said.

“Yeah, well, this one didn’t do that. It came in and was moving really fast, like it was after something.”

“Did it go toward a particular student?”

“I’m not certain.” James thought for a moment. “But it seemed to hover over ones for longer. It was hanging above the fifth years and I watched it stop over a few of them, but I don’t remember which students.”

Lily couldn’t control her question any longer. “There was something off with it, wasn’t there, Professor?”

McGonagall’s eyes focused on Lily, her thin lips turning down to form a small frown. “Yes, miss Evans. There was. Can you tell me what occurred prior to it vacating the exam room?”

Lily nodded. “Well, um, there was just Severus and myself left with the Examiners. Madam Penrose wanted to continue testing past the normal levels, and we probably did thirty minutes of curses and counter curses. Then she took me from the sectioned off area and into the main class where she excused Severus and the other Examiner.” Lily had to stop herself from glancing backward as she said his name. “Then she stepped out for a moment, and when she came back there was Dementor with her. Everything felt like the books said, and then I was about to cast the charm when it turned around and.... left.”

“Before you cast the charm?”



“Mr. Snape,” her eyes traveled toward his. “Did you happen to notice anything before departing?”

When he spoke, his voice sounded almost unfamiliar to Lily’s ears. “No, we went into the empty classroom to continue testing.”

There was a pause in which McGonagall prompted him to continue. “And did you feel any of the effects?”


McGonagall seemed to be stuck in her own thoughts. After a moment, she excused the rest of the room, asking only Lily and James to remain.

Lily idly wondered how much of that year they’d spent reciting things, hearing things, learning about things that had no place in their actual education. Why did it seem like they were a magnet for every negative occurrence?

“From the sounds of it,” James began, “the Dementor had been ordered to find someone, or numerous someones, not just float about like a soul stealer. What happened, Professor?” Lily was surprised when McGonagall gave him something close to a smile.

“You’re too intelligent for your own good, Mr. Potter. Imagine if you’d have spent half the time focusing on our education as you did coming up with creative ways to avoid classes.”

James’s lips curved into a half smile. “Bloody boring seven years those would have been, if you don’t mind me saying.”

All Lily could do was roll her eyes, and she got the impression it was taking the Deputy Headmistresses a certain amount of control not to chuckle at the Gryffindor.

“I believe you’re correct in your assumption, Mr. Potter. Professor Dumbledore and I approve each trial you’re given for your exams. Miss Evans, facing a Dementor is something we allow once a student has, as Madam Penrose told you, reached a certain level. But it isn’t an actual Dementor we allow, but a shape shifting creature. Usually a Boggart. They, of course, don’t have the same potency as an actual one, but their effects are similar enough.

“The creature you were introduced to was not only a very, very real Dementor, but it was also one that had been ordered to target a certain person or group. I can’t be sure of just what the criteria it was given consisted of, but I do believe it was trained to act a very specific way.”

“And Madam Penrose?” Lily asked, realizing for the first time that the woman hadn’t been called into the office.

“Madam Penrose is unaccounted for.”

James sat at the table, Lily beside him, and put his head in his hands.

He was bloody exhausted. Whatever energy he’d had left when entering McGonagall’s study had been zapped away minutes later, his patience growing from thin to nonexistent as he’d struggled to control his tongue and not say something to Snape. He’d wanted to turn around and ask the Slytherin if he was pleased with himself, shout at him for pretending he gave two shits about the Dementor when it was his side causing all the chaos.

Lily’s Examiner was obviously working for Voldemort, and Snape probably knew it. James wouldn’t put it past the slimy git.

Maybe Snape knew nothing about it and James just needed someone to be cross with. At the moment, he didn’t much care.

The Great Hall had been returned to its original state for dinner, the tables all moved back into place. He downed a glass of water, knowing the group would trickle in soon and wanting to ease his nerves.

The only bright part of his day was seeing Lily’s Patronus. As that thought circled into him, he glanced over at her. Her fingers were fiddling with the seal on the envelope Professor McGonagall had given her when they’d left the room only moments ago. A thick strand of red had escaped the braid falling loosely down her back, and was hanging down near her cheek. His fingers ached to reach out and brush the fragile bone, and he realized just then all he really wanted to do was go somewhere quiet and be with her.

It wasn’t often James longed for quiet, solitude, but right now he wanted it to be just him and Lily. He didn’t want the noise of the Great Hall and wasn’t looking forward to rehashing the events with the group.

Unable to stop himself, he reached over and put a hand on the side of Lily’s cheek. Her attention was momentarily taken from the envelope and she looked up, those always curious green eyes pouring into him.

In a swift move, he reached forward and met her lips with his, the silky sensation of them causing a burning tingle to spread through them.

“Get a room, you two,” came Sirius’s voice as he sat down across from James. James pulled away from her, her cheeks flushed with surprise, then aimed his foot at Sirius’s shin under the table.

“Ouch! Bloody git!”

Despite James’s mood, he couldn’t help but laugh at the face his best mate made. He supposed that was worth having to end the kiss.

The rest of the group began arriving just as food started popping up through the wood of the tables. Noise filled the room, students seeming to talk louder than necessary just to irritate James.

“Lily?” Alice said, concern in her tone. James looked over and noticed Lily’s eyes glued to the letter.

“What is it?” he asked.

Her silence continued for another moment or two before she looked up, shock filling her delicate features.

“The Healing Academy. Professor McGonagall gave me the letter they sent this morning... I’ve been accepted.”

Excitement filled the table and James pulled her close, hugging her as everyone else threw out congratulations.

“I don’t know if I’ll accept or not, and they said I don’t have to make a decision until the first of July.” James felt a pang of guilt at the idea of her declining. Had the times he’d talked about being almost certain he’d refuse the position with the Bats, wanting to figure out what Dumbledore was up to and how to help, rubbed off on her?

“You’d make a brilliant Healer, Lily,” he said as he dished a big helping of Shepherd’s Pie onto her plate first, then his.

“And you love learning,” Alice added. “So I doubt you’d have any difficult with the course work.”

“Besides, who else is going to put zese idiots back together each time zey hurt zemselves?”

James just shook his head as he laughed at Belle’s statement, though she did have a valid point. With the four of them living together, there were bound to be a few incidents in which having Healer in training for a girlfriend would come very much in handy.

Conversation about that continued to spread, and James idly wondered if Lily would be able to brew stronger potions as a Healer. Remus, Peter, Sirius and him had tested the Fairy Water she’d created for Remus a week ago. Well, just Remus had tested it, the rest of the lot just held back and waited to see if it would make a difference. For the first time in years, all four of them left the Whomping Willow the next morning uninjured.

James wondered if Lily had any idea that they were together during it all. If he was being perfectly honest with himself, it had gotten harder and harder to not confess the truth about their Animagus sides. He felt like he was being dishonest, which he wasn’t. It wasn’t like she asked him directly if he turned into an animal. ‘Course he’d tell her the truth if she did, but she never asked.

How was he even supposed to bring it up, anyway? He’d need to make sure it was okay with Peter and Sirius, obviously unable to omit their part from it all.

He knew she’d be annoyed, probably angry at him for keeping it a secret for so long. But he also couldn’t stop himself from hoping that she’d be a bit proud. Of course, she’d go on a tirade about the fact that they weren’t registered, but James knew there was no way in hell they’d do that. Not with the way information went straight from the Ministry’s desks to Voldemort’s ears.

James heard Lily’s voice lower to a whisper as she started telling the group what occurred since they’d all talked lasted. Rogue Dementors. Corrupt Ministry officials. Fuck.

When Lily was nearly done reciting it all, a loud shout from the Slytherin table filled the room. The sounds of cutlery clanging and students chatting died down almost instantly as a spider, at least the size of a small dog, began crawling across the Slytherin table. James was on his feet in seconds, his wand out. Abigail let out another shriek and all eyes were on her, half the students standing and inching closer.

James shot a look to the Professor’s area, where Dumbledore stood with his head craned toward the disturbance.

What neither James nor anyone else at the Gryffindor table realized was, during all the commotion, a house-elf crept in. Her mind was blank. The orders she’d been given when the Imperius curse had been cast upon her were the only thing traveling through her thoughts.

The elf slipped to the Gryffindor table just as she’d been ordered, small enough to go unnoticed with everyone’s attention glued to the table at the far side of the room. Her fingers snapped, and the plate in front of the blonde disappeared. One more snap and it was as if the plate had been there the entire time.

Back through the doors the elf scurried. Back to the shadows, her mind as empty as a clean piece of parchment

Burgess Mulciber smiled to himself as he stayed in the shadows and crept through the corridors. It was well past midnight, and he believed he’d waited long enough.

He'd been an uncomfortable combination of terrified and thrilled as his plan in the Great Hall had unfolded. The small spider that he'd enlarged had served as the perfect distraction, allowing the filthy elf to carry out Burgess's plans. The few drops of poison that'd been added to his target's plate had gone unnoticed, and he'd watched with satisfaction as she continued to ingest the tampered with food.

Burgess wasn’t sure exactly what Mistress Lestrange had in mind for the blonde, but he’d heard rumors that the Dark Lord kept people on as informants, cursing them to the point where they could barely think.

He had the feeling that Mistress Lestrange would want the blonde dead, but it would be a shame to rid the world of such an appealing toy.

Her fate wasn’t up to Burgess, though. It was his job to get a tracking spell on her, then to get her alone for Bellatix Lestrange.

He continued through the midnight darkness, moving as silently as possible up toward the door to the hospital wing. He paused before slipping in, and cast the spell Lestrange had forced him to practice over and over during Easter Holiday. He wasn’t an idiot and knew very well how to perform a fucking concealment charm. But you didn’t argue with Bellatrix, not unless you wanted to lay writhing on the ground in pain.

The cool drips of magic spread over him like rain and he gave it a solid minute before holding his hand up to the stone wall. Good, he thought, satisfied. If you looked carefully enough you could see his outline, but in the dark he was next to invisible.

A wicked smile danced over his lips as he crept into the room, taking care to be as silent as possible. He saw her instantly, her light hair practically glowing against the pillow, but it wasn't just her.

What the fuck was he doing here? Burgess’s eyes squinted with anger at the sight of Bellatrix’s blood traitor cousin, leaning back in a chair next to the blonde’s bed. His snores filled the otherwise silent Hospital Wing. Visiting hours were over. Bloody bastard probably snuck back in.

No matter, Burgess thought. Everything would still go as planned. He crept as close as he dared, then searched for a spot of flesh. The spell couldn’t move through clothing, Bellatrix had warned. It had to make direct contact. He crept around, relieved when he saw a bare arm dangling out of the duvet.

With a sneer, he whispered the spell. He hadn’t expected it to have a color, and the pale yellow forced his blood to pound through his ears, terrified it would wake the bitch and she’d turn before it was able to latch onto her.

That didn’t happen, though. He watched, satisfied as the magic hit directly where he’d aimed, the point of her inner elbow where all the veins were most prominent. The section of skin remained yellow for a moment longer, then returned to its normal color.

Mistress Lestrange said if all went well, after it was cast it would be undetectable. The target would have no idea she was being followed, every move being tracked.

The thought of it caused an excited jolt to pulsate through Mulciber. Hunting her, tracking her, without her ever knowing. Unaware that her life was marked, that he could cast a simple spell and see her in that moment... no matter where she was or what she was doing. It was a beautiful piece of magic, he thought with a mental congratulations to himself for pulling it all off seamlessly.

He walked from the room, leaving not the slightest indication that he’d ever even entered, apart from the spell now coursing through the whore’s blood. The poison that she’d been given would appear as nothing more than an ill result of dinner, and she’d go back to normal the next morning with neither her nor her worthless friends any the wiser.

Mistress would be pleased.

Sorry that this chapter is up a bit later than usual! Things are a bit crazy over at the forums with the house cup going on.

Thank you, as always, to my wonderful beta CambAngst for editing numerous versions of this chapter for me!

I didn't mean to make it this long, so I hope the length wasn't a killer for anyone! I hope I was able to pull of the Dementor section okay, I had a bit of trouble with that.

Thank you so much for reading!

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