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Chapter 3 : Amid the Guns Below
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Left. Right. Left. Right. The sound of many feet hitting the ground simultaneously was relaxing; it let Jack focus on the tasks at hand: walking, scanning for enemies, getting to the next village quickly. They were moving at a steady pace, not so quickly as to exhaust them, but fast enough to make it within the day. Even so, it was not fast enough for Jack. Left. Right. Left. Right. He had his gun poised in his arms. It was loaded, but he didn’t have any extra ammunition. Not that it mattered. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to fire it yet.
He wondered how far they’d walked by now. He wondered how long they’d been walking. The sun beat on his brow and his mouth was dry and scratchy. He wanted to check his watch or take a swig of water. Not a whole lot, just enough to wet his whistle. Any more would be wasteful. He'd like to stop and sit, just for a minute. Just long enough so that he could be sure his legs could stop. That they weren't permanently walking. (He thought they might be. Maybe he couldn't stop at all anymore). Alas, he could not. He could not stop walking. He could not take a drink from his canteen. He could not even check his watch to see how long they had been walking. Instead, he held onto his rifle, and kept marching.
“Thirty-two fucking miles,” Jeremiah Johns whispered. “Just a fucking few." The men around him chuckled. It hadn't seemed terribly long the way they had said it, but it had certainly turned out to be.
"How long have we been walking for?" Stan MacGregor asked.
"For-fucking-ever," Johns replied.
"At least we're doing something," Jack responded. "It's about bloody time we moved on, there was nothing to be done at the last place."
"Nothing to be done there, either," Rivers said. "If we're lucky, that is."
"I think I'll count my luck differently," Jack said.
"Then you'll count your luck stupidly."
"God forbid I want to actually do something to help my country," Jack snapped.
"Can't do much for it if you're dead."
"Good thing I don't plan on dyin' then."
"No one ever plans on dyin'."
"Ah, leave the lad alone, Rivers,"
"He don't even shave yet, of course he wants a bit of excitement."
Johns moved to pat him on the back, "Maybe if you're really lucky, we can find a friendly French girl for ya."
"And I'm sure they've got wine," MacGregor added.
"What makes you so sure?"
"It's France! Everyone has wine!"
The men laughed loudly and carried on marching.
The sun was still beating violently against his face; every so often a drop of sweat would tickle him as it ran down his neck. His mouth was still parched and he still could not spare a drink of water. The march was still Hellish, and he still had no idea how long they had been at it or how far they had to go, but he walked with renewed energy. The thought of the next village carried him for a while, the thought of wine and women, the possibility of danger. Suddenly the walk was not so monotonous.
Jack continued walking with pep in his step. Almost skipping, really. He had thought they were moving too slowly before, but now-- now everyone else was positively sluggish. He walked naturally, and somehow he ended up several yards ahead. To keep pace, it was as if he had to drag his feet. He willed them all to move faster. The faster they got there, the faster they could all drink all the wine they wanted and eat as much as they could hold. He'd find a woman, maybe, with dark hair and bright eyes and a tight little arse he could-
The commander leading them turned and stopped. There was a shuffle as men collected themselves. As it turned out, Jack could stop walking, though his legs still felt as if they were moving.
"We're five miles out," the commander shouted. "We'll be there within the hour! Have your guns at the ready, our scouts haven't found any Germans, but that doesn't mean they're not there."
They began walking again, and soon the village came into view. Jack stopped for as long as he could manage to behold the site where adventure would finally come to him.
Lily looked out the side of the carriage as the image of Hogwarts castle grew up in the distance. It was still as breathtaking as the first moment she had laid eyes on it, though she now experienced this sight every few months. She let out a dreamy sigh and turned back to her companion.
“Did you have fun today, Sev?” she asked.
He looked up from his book. “Huh?”
“Did you have fun?” she repeated.
He took a deep breath. “Yes,” he said, “though I suppose it might have gone better.”
“Yes,” Lily said. “Yes, it might have.”
“But it was fun-“
“Before your friends attacked us?” she finished for him.
“We were disrupted,” he corrected. “They didn’t attack us.”
“What did they do then?” she asked pointedly.
“Th-they, they- well they were no worse than Potter and his friends!”
“Potter wouldn’t have gotten involved if your friends hadn’t started it.”
“You can’t be defending them,” he pleaded. “They’re horrible!”
“They’re no worse than your friends,” she snapped. “And I’m not defending them. I know they’re horrible, you don’t have to constantly remind me, but I don’t think they’re as bad as you think they are.”
“They’ve never called me-“
“That’s not fair.”
“That’s perfectly fair.”
“You know they don’t think that about you. I don’t think that about you.”
“They don’t think that about me?” She folded her arms over her chest. “Funny, they sure acted like it.”
“Well, they’re not used to the idea…”
“Of a Mudblood being decent?”
Lily inhaled deeply. “Fine.”
They sat in a hostile sort of silence until Lily spoke again. “At least they’re funny,” she spat. “Your friends are just cruel.”
“You think they’re funny?” His voice rose. “Have you seen what they do to me?”
“Indeed I have,” she said. “And I’ve seen what you do to them as well.”
“You can’t possibly think that’s worse,” he said.
“They don’t use Dark Magic!” she cried. “That’s more than I can say for you and your friends.”
“What does it matter?” he said sharply.
“What does it-“ She stopped herself. “No, I guess you’re right.” Her voice was flat. “Just like always,” she muttered. She did not speak for the rest of the journey.
Several minutes later, when the carriage began to slow Severus looked at her. “I did have fun today,” he said quietly. “I- did you?”
She smiled, “Yeah, I did. It’s nice spending time with you; we hardly see each other anymore. I miss you.”
“I miss you too,” he said, “but you know how it goes.”
“Right,” she said. “Other friends get in the way. I know.”
“And if today proved anything-“
“Maybe we should keep it out of public?” she finished for him.
“At school at least,” he said.
“Right,” she said, “I think that’s a good idea.”
The carriage pulled to a halt, and they both shook with the jolt. Lily moved immediately, rising from her seat and exiting the carriage.
“I- this doesn’t mean we can’t see each other,” Severus called to her. Lily turned around to listen. “I mean, I just don’t think we should flaunt it. I-I just”--his voice broke to a whisper--“I don’t know what’d I’d do without you.”
Lily smiled. “Alright,” she said softly.
“Do you want to go the kitchens?” he asked. “We didn’t really get a chance to eat.”
“No.” Lily shook her head. “Thank you, but I think I’m going to have a lie down.”
She turned from him and walked quickly inside. In the Entrance Hall, she took the stairs two at a time, knowing that it was very likely Sev would follow her and ask again until she said yes. On the fourth floor, she decided that she did not, in fact, want to go back to her dorm, and instead veered off to the other direction.
She continued to walk quickly, though there was no reason for it. Maybe if she walked quickly enough, she could run away from this entire thing, and she and Sev could just be friends and she’d never have to worry about it again. Maybe.
Her walk had slowed significantly. She approached a window, and stopped to lean against the ledge. Slowly, she shook her head. Or maybe he wouldn’t even notice.
“Alright, Evans?” Lily didn’t need to turn to know who it was. His voice was tinged with annoyance, and just a hint of anger, but it was familiar nonetheless.
“Perfectly well, Potter.” She turned around as she spoke.
“Good to hear,” he spat. His face was bruised in several places, and his nose was broken.
“You’re not angry with me for this, surely?” She was incredulous. “It’s not like I asked you to get involved!”
“I don’t need to be asked to do the right thing,” he snapped.
“Then maybe you shouldn’t complain about the consequences.” She turned on her heel and began to walk away from him.
“Maybe you should reconsider who you spend time with!” he hollered after her.
“Maybe I should!” she called back to him.
“I think you deserve it,” Hooper said.
“I’m not sure Glover would agree,” Phil responded. “I’ve hardly been here long enough.”
“Nonsense! You’ve been here plenty long. They’ll want you to get away before your feet start to rot like the rest of ours.”
“So I can come back and have them rot later, with no leave left?”
“No, so you can have them rot later, and then take medical leave for them.”
Phil grinned, and the two men got halfway through a laugh before a far off explosion interrupted them. The room around them shook, trinkets fell from the shelves and all the furniture rattled like toys.
It was quiet long enough for Hooper to yell “Christ!” before another explosion, closer this time, began rattling everything again.
Phil winced and gripped the table in front of him tightly. “Don’t they ever take a fucking break?”
“Not used to it yet?” Hooper had to shout, as another shell had just gone off, closer still. “Maybe you’re not ready for leave yet.”
Phil opened his mouth to respond when Officer Glover appeared at the door. “Get moving!” he shouted. He did not linger to explain. Phil stared at the door in disbelief, so struck with horror that he did not even flinch when another shell went off and knocked several of the shelves clean.
Hooper, on the other hand, had sprung immediately into motion. His helmet appeared on his head so quickly it seemed like magic. He grabbed Phil’s as well, and set it on top of his red hair. “Get it together, Evans!” Hooper shouted. “We’ve got to go!”
Phil seemed to wake from his trance as the words left his mouth. He nodded and followed Hooper out of the dugout. Men ran through the trench, dirt fell down upon them as they raced in every direction. The ground shook beneath them as another shell landed off somewhere. The air was deafening, he could not tell where any of the sounds were coming from, and had no time to even think about it. Another bang as a shell exploded, the earth rumbled, dirt spilled on helmets, faces, bodies, equipment, the massive crash as a trench caved in.
He continued to follow Hooper, though Phil had no idea where they were going, nor any idea how Hooper might have known. They ran through the trembling earth, feet pounding on the shaking floor of the trench, hoping they would not fall.
Hooper stopped as they approached a dugout that had completely caved in. Glover was there, shouting orders. Or, he was shouting something, well maybe he was shouting. Phil could not tell. Glover’s face was contorted in a fashion that Phil had never seen before, strained and scared, and he was pointing. Phil could not hear anything he was saying over the bangs and scrapes and the pounding that had inhabited his ears. As Glover knelt down, Phil’s eyes followed, and fell upon a man. The remains of a man, he realized. A leg was missing, and Phil could see the man’s ribs, all of his innards spilling around the ground around him. He was moving. Phil’s eyes continued up the broken man, toward his face, where Glover knelt, holding a limp hand and whispering. The man’s mouth was moving. Phil froze, staring at the scene in front of him. Glover looked up, right at him, and shouted something he could not hear. Phil stayed still. Glover shouted again. The pounding in Phil’s ears had only grown louder, and he could no longer even hear the shells falling around him. Glover shouted again, and his voice began to come into focus. Phil blinked once, and everything came crashing into horrific clarity. “MORPHINE, GODDAMMIT.”
Phil turned and ran, back through the trembling earth and against the stream of men that had come to repair the dugout. He dodged them as they traveled through the narrow walkways and followed the path, searching each man’s face until he found a medic. He grasped the man’s arm. “Morphine,” he huffed. “Glo-“ He took a deep breath. “Glover needs Morphine.”
The medic followed without a word.
Phil led him again through the trenches, fast as their feet would carry them. They arrived to find Glover still kneeling near the man, and the medic approached him.
Phil looked on for a moment longer, then turned on his toe, leaned over and expelled the contents of his stomach.
Jack took a deep breath and braced himself for another heave. He bent over, and placed his hands on his knees, stretching his neck slightly to avoid his boots. The bile rose into his mouth and landed in a puddle at his feet. Before he could prepare for another, the hot acid came up again, burning and suffocating, and he was left coughing. He felt hot tears falling from his eyes as he coughed. Another contraction in of his stomach and he heaved, once, twice, three times, with no results. With his hands still on his knees, he spit several times to clean the remnants out of his mouth, then wiped his lips with his hands.
“Have a little too much last night, did ya?” Rivers approached him from behind.
Without turning around, Jack responded, “Piss off. It’s none of your damn business how much fun I had last night.”
“Find a girl to fuck then?”
“Don’t be so quick to get rid of me, I came to help.”
“I don’t need it.”
Rivers laughed. “Whatever you say, mate.”
Jack turned to look at him, “What’ve you got then?”
“Hair of the dog.” He set down a glass half full of amber liquid on a barrel in the alley where they stood. “But just one, and no more. Then eat this”--he set down a large piece of bread--“and drink water. As much water as you possibly can.”
Jack looked at him but did not say a word.
“And next time, drink some water before you go to bed, aye?”
“Yeah,” Jack mumbled.
“I’ll leave ya to it, then.”
As soon as Rivers had turned to leave, Jack dove toward the contents on the barrel. He picked up the tumbler and brought it to his lips. Even the smell of the rum made Jack feel nauseous again, and the first sip made him gag. After the first sip, he downed it as quickly as he could. It irritated his raw throat, and very nearly made him vomit once again. He gasped after he had swallowed, allowing the air to cool his burning mouth. He took a sip of the water--he had gulped some down earlier, and now it was in a puddle on the ground. He hoped that smaller drinks would be a bit easier on his stomach. The bread was a bit stale, but it didn’t taste strongly enough of anything to be much of a bother. He took another bite as he began to walk back to the barracks.
Jeremiah Johns grinned at him as he entered. “The sign of a night well spent!” He clapped Jack on the shoulder.
“Yeah, yeah,” Jack responded.
“Didn’t enjoy it then?” Johns asked. He turned before Jack could respond, and made his way to the stand where they kept a small basin and a polished piece of steel.
“I did.” Jack paused as he watched Johns slather shaving cream onto his face. “Well, I enjoyed most of it.”
“And the rest?” Johns grinned wickedly at him, the shaving cream adding to his look of amusement.
“Dunno.” Jack shrugged.
Johns chuckled. “That’s an even better night!” he said, before dragging a razor down the side of his cheek.
Jack managed to smile back at him, and Johns caught his eye through the reflection in the makeshift mirror. “Didn’t do anything too daft, did I?”
Johns chuckled again. “Can’t say you did, not that I noticed anyway.”
Jack smiled truthfully now. “Good to hear.”
“You can always tell. You didn’t piss yourself or get sick on yourself, and that’s all you need to know.”
“A sound piece of advice.”
Johns had finished shaving and gestured for Jack to take a turn. He got up to take Johns’s place at the mirror. He splashed some water on himself before taking a look at his reflection. His brown hair was a mess atop his head, there were bags underneath his bright green eyes and his skin looked a bit ashen. But there was no stubble to be found. He hoped that the flush he felt creeping into his cheeks wasn’t noticeable. Jack never shaved, he didn’t need it. Perhaps he’d start tomorrow. But it’d be an awful waste…
“Alright then,” Johns said as he finished wiping his face. “Smoke?”
Jack agreed readily and the pair made their way out of the barracks. He steered them away from the alley where he had stood earlier, and they leaned against the building. Each pulled out a short brown stick, Jack’s was rolled meticulously. Johns was a bit faster than he was, or had his matches stored in with his fags, Jack couldn’t tell, but before he could pull out his own lighter, Johns had a match held in front of Jack’s face, burning the cigarette beneath his nose. He inhaled, hoping that it would light the first time, and he would not need to face the embarrassment of asking for another match.
As luck would have it, the end glowed orange, and he inhaled the smoke as a sigh of relief. He was careful not to breathe in too deeply; he was still practicing and couldn’t quite inhale as deeply as the rest of them without coughing. After a moment, he released his breath and allowed the sweet nicotine to work its magic.
“Lily!” Severus yelled as he approached her in the park. “Are you smoking?”
In response, Lily brought the cigarette to her lips and took a long drag. She released the smoke in his direction as he came up next to her on the swing set.
“That’s a nasty habit to take up.”
“You know, I hear that a lot, and yet it seems that no one ever listens.”
“That doesn’t mean you should do it too.”
Lily let out a bitter laugh. “Right,” she said. “I only wanted to see what all the fuss was about.”
“Try for yourself.” She held it out to him.
He took it without hesitation, and brought it to his lips. He took a drag, and almost immediately began to choke on it.
Lily covered her mouth to hide the giggle that threatened to escape. “Sorry, I should’ve warned you that would happen.”
He handed it back to her. “You can’t possibly enjoy that.”
“It’s surprisingly soothing, once you get past the taste.”
“Do you ever get past the smell?”
“Yes,” she said emphatically.
He raised his nose. “How long have you been trying them?”
“Why does it matter?”
“It doesn’t, I suppose. Just, it’s different, is all. I wouldn’t have expected this of you.”
“Yeah, well, things change, Sev.” She brought the fag to her lips and took a long drag, holding it for as long as she could before exhaling.
Severus remained silent.
“How are your parents?” she asked, finally.
“Still my parents,” he said, “unfortunately.”
Lily knew better than to press the subject when he did not expand. “Have you started your summer homework yet?”
“Just a bit, it’s hard to get too much work done with Tobias and Eileen fighting all the time, but I’m nearly done with everything Slughorn gave us.”
Lily chuckled. “Of course you are.”
“What about you?”
“I started looking at it yesterday.”
“We’ve only been out for two weeks!” she countered.
“That’s far more than enough time to start,” he scolded.
“For you, perhaps. I’ve been rather busy. I’ve only just gotten home.”
“I wondered why you hadn’t written me to meet up yet,” Sev mused, his voice soft.
“I was in London with Mary,” she explained. “I’d have told you before we left, but I didn’t see you…”
“You could’ve owled,” he muttered.
Lily ignored the comment and continued speaking. “It was amazing there, Sev.”
“I’ve been to London,” he reminded her.
“Not Muggle London.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because it’s amazing,” she told him. “There’s so many people, and so much to see and so many things to do I don’t think you could ever be bored there.”
“But there’s no magic.”
“There is, though. There’s magical buildings everywhere, hidden right in plain sight. Muggles walk right past them and never even notice! Mary and I went on a tour of them one day and it was fascinating. But London doesn’t even need magic to be interesting because it’s just so alive.”
“Sounds like you had a rousing time.”
“I did! But I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet.”
“Dorcas Meadowes agreed to meet with me.”
“No, the acrobat.”
“What’d you want to meet her for? She’s full of absolute shite.”
“She is not!”
“Of course she is! She’s always blathering on in the Prophet about the most ridiculous things-“
“Like Muggleborn rights and unfair treatment and the fact that there’s a very real war going on that the Ministry refuses to acknowledge?”
“You don’t believe that, do you?”
She stared at him for a moment, half thinking he would crack a grin and begin laughing at her incredulous expression. When he did not, she looked him straight in the eye and said fiercely, “I’m living it.”
Severus looked appalled. “You haven’t bought into it that much, have you?”
“You’ve seen it! You’ve watched your friends do it. You can’t possibly-“
“I’ve seen no such thing.”
“Then you must be blind.” Lily reached for the bag that she had laid on the ground near her swing. She dug into it for a bit before her fingers fell onto a small cardboard box and a long bit of wood. She pulled out the box, and one of the cigarettes it held within it. She put the paper stick between her lips and looked around carefully before pulling out her wand, whispering “Incendio,” and touching it to the cigarette between her lips.
“You could be expelled for that.”
“Worth the risk,” she said. “I don’t have any matches on me.” She waited for him to respond but he remained silent. “Well it’s not like they’ll know!”
“How do you figure that?”
“We’re not close enough to my house, and there’s a fully licensed witch just a few blocks away…” she explained.
Again Severus remained silent. Lily took a long drag of her fag and exhaled slowly. Sev caught a whiff of it and began coughing again.
“Yes,” she responded coolly. “You’re welcome to leave if you don’t like it.”
Much to her surprise, he did not rise to leave. Instead they sat silently for far too long, Lily slowly smoking and Severus raising his nose at the smell.
“It smells like my father,” he finally spoke.
“It’s a filthy Muggle habit,” he spat.
“Good thing I’m a Muggle then.”
“You’re magic,” he whispered. “You have a wand. You’re a witch.”
“You just don’t get it, do you?” she said quietly. She rose from her swing, grabbed her bag and walked away.
Phil weaved through the winding, ruined dugouts. Some repairs had been made since the last shelling, but it wasn’t worth repairing it beyond what was absolutely necessary. The walls seemed as though they may collapse at any minute, though having helped build them, Phil was fairly sure they would stay standing.
He turned the corner and continued walking down the trench just a bit longer. When he reached his destination he descended the stairs and knocked quickly on the door.
“Come in!” a voice hollered from inside.
Phil opened the door a crack and slipped through, shutting the door swiftly behind him. He removed his hat and tucked it under his arm. “Good evening, sir,” he greeted the man sitting behind the desk.
“Evans,” Glover responded.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
“You put in for leave, is that correct?”
“A week, sir. Enough to visit my mother.”
“Within the next month, I was hoping.”
“Any specific reason?”
“Not really, sir. My mum’s all alone without me there, I worry.”
“Noble,” Glover responded.
“Noble enough for it to be granted, sir?”
Glover chuckled softly. “If only, Evans. I can’t send you out yet. Not now.”
“Oh,” Phil responded. He tried desperately not to let the disappointment shade his face. “Thank you anyway, sir.”
“Don’t get too down, Evans. You’re entitled to two weeks a year and I’ll be damned if you don’t get all fourteen days. It just might take a while.”
Phil raised his head to smile at the man. “Thank you, sir.”
He had made it to the door when Glover called to him again, “Evans, since you’re stuck here a while longer, do try to strengthen your stomach, eh?” Phil looked down as he felt a deep flush fill his cheeks. “That display was pathetic. And it certainly won’t be the last time you see a man’s innards spilling out around him. All the better for them if you don’t vomit on them while they’re dying.”
“Will do, sir,” Phil responded, before walking through the door again.
He walked back through the trenches, pressing himself against the wall as two men carrying something rather heavy looking came past him. At least he knew when he was in the way, which was, incidentally, always, but it was not often he could actually do anything about it. “Strengthen your stomach,” his commanding officer had told him. What he had meant was: “Don’t be such a bloody pansy,” “Be a better solider,” “Shed the last bit of the man you brought with you and give into the killer we’re trying to create.”
Utter bullshit, in Phil’s opinion. He’d never become what they wanted him to, he knew it, and he was sure Glover knew it as well. He’d never be a good soldier, and he’d hold it in high esteem. But if holding down his sick was what was demanded of him, he would comply. Not vomiting was a fairly reasonable request, though he was not sure what would be asked of him next.
He returned to his dugout to find Hooper mending a shirt, clumsily forcing his needle in and out of the fabric. He raised his head as Phil entered the room. “And?” he asked.
Phil shook his head. “Not yet, I’m afraid.”
“Did he say how come?”
“The timing wasn’t right or something.”
Phil shrugged. “He said we got two weeks a year and he’d be damned if we didn’t get them.”
Hooper laughed. “But on their schedule, eh?”
“I think Glover wants to toughen me up a bit before he lets me leave.”
“Told me to strengthen my stomach.”
“Not a bad skill to learn.”
“I suppose not,” Phil responded. It was not a skill he had ever hopped to need.
Hooper gasped as he pricked his finger with the needle, and dropped the garment into his lap. “Fucking hell!” he yelled.
“Let me,” Phil offered, reaching for the pile of material.
Hooper threw it at him as he sucked on his finger.
Phil shuffled through the fabric until he found the area Hooper had been mending. He chuckled softly at the crooked, uneven stitches and began to pull them out.
“Something funny about my sewing, Evans?”
“S’bloody awful, Hooper,” Phil replied, grinning.
Hooper chuckled. When the damage Hooper had caused had been removed, Phil began mending it again, deftly moving the thread through the fabric. “How’d you get so bloody good at it?”
“My mum,” Phil replied. He had reached the end of the tear, and altered the position of the fabric to reinforce the stitches. “She’s a seamstress.”
“And your father didn’t object to her teaching you?”
“Nah.” Phil shrugged. He tied off the thread and tossed the shirt back to Hooper. “He was too often at the factory to notice.”
“And he never took you with him?”
Phil looked down. “He might’ve, but he died before he got the chance.”
“Sorry to hear that, mate.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Phil responded.
“Your mum’s not pleased about you coming here, then?”
“She’s very…” frustrated, angry, scared. “Proud.”
He wondered if she would be when he returned home to see her. If she would be proud that her only son could now recollect in perfect detail what a man’s organs looked like as they spilled out around him or the exact position of every muscle in his face as his spirit left his body. Would she be impressed that he could see this and hold his stomach? Would she love him more if she knew that he could point a gun at a living man and pull the trigger? He prayed she would never have to find out.
AN: So, now that you've gotten used to the layout of the story, how does it work? Any way I can make things clearer for you? Any comments or concerns? I pretty much pour my entire self into this story, so I want it to be ask good as it possibly can be! If there's a way I can make it better, I'd love to hear it!
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