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Chapter 4 : From Failing Hands We Throw
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Lily wrapped her coat tightly against herself as she stepped out of her family’s car and into the icy air. She took a look around for a moment at the familiar surroundings. Light snow covered the trees and houses she saw so often in her childhood, and she smiled as she recalled the many Christamases spent at her grandparents’ house. These holidays seemed to happen less and less often since she began attending Hogwarts. The lure of the castle at Christmas had been too much to pass up when she was younger.
This year Nan and Granddad had come for Christmas dinner at Lily’s. She was sure that Granddad would have been okay with visiting for his birthday as well, but Lily’s mother wouldn’t hear of it. “I won’t have you trucking all the way out here again for your own birthday,” her mother had told her father-in-law over the phone, “We’ll come to you.”
And there they were, with a car full of groceries and a few small gifts wrapped in colorful paper.
“Lily!” Her father called to her, “Grab the cake, will ya?”
She did as she was told and walked quickly up to the front door, where the rest of her family was patiently awaiting someone to answer the door. Just as she arrived on the stoop, the door opened to reveal her grandfather dressed in his finest clothes and leaning on his cane.
“Happy Birthday, Dad,” her father greeted him.
Her grandfather nodded and thanked him, allowing his son to pass through the door. Lily’s mother and sister followed, each greeting him in a similar fashion. Finally Lily made it through the door. She smiled widely at her grandfather. “Happy Birthday, Granddad!”
“How lovely to see you, Lily! I thought you might be back at school already.”
“Not until next week,” she said.
“Wonderful!” He shut the door behind her, and helped her remove her coat.
Her mother and sister had apparently shed theirs much more quickly, and had already made their way into the kitchen. Her father too, had made his way there, carrying in the several bags full of food her mother would need to prepare dinner. Lily followed their lead, and her granddad followed her as well.
“Where’s Nan?” Lily asked him as they entered the kitchen.
“Er, she’s still getting dressed,” he answered.
“Oh,” Lily replied.
“She should be down any minute.”
“Dad!” Lily heard her father say, and her grandfather focused his attention on him. He dug into a bag on the counter, and pulled out a fifth of whiskey. “Shall we?” he asked his father.
Her grandfather agreed, and the two made their way into the dining room to partake of it.
Lily’s mother, meanwhile, had handed Lily a knife and a sack of potatoes. She dutifully made her way to the sink, and lamented the fact that she was not yet able to do magic outside of Hogwarts; peeling potatoes was her least favorite kitchen chore.
“What is going on?” Her grandmother asked as she walked into the kitchen.
“We’re making dinner, Nan,” Petunia responded.
“For Granddad’s birthday,” she explained.
“Why are you doing it?” Nan asked.
Lily and Petunia both looked at their mother to provide the answer. “So you don’t have to!” she answered cheerfully. “We didn’t think it was very fair to impose on you.”
“Oh,” Nan responded.
Lily continued to peel potatoes. Petunia caught her eye and gave her a look. “Nan,” Lily said, “Why don’t we go into the sitting room? I have so much to tell you!”
“Oh, okay,” her Nan said. “Where do you go to school again?”
Lily went to her grandmother and took her arm gently, to lead her into the sitting room. When they were out of earshot of everyone else, she whispered, “It’s called Hogwarts.”
“That’s a funny name.”
“It’s a funny school,” Lily responded.
They entered the sitting room and sat down, Lily’s grandmother in the same chair she had sat in forever, facing the window, and Lily next to her.
“You’re home from school?” Lily’s grandmother asked her.
“Yes, Nan, for Christmas,” Lily repeated.
“Where do you go to school?”
“It’s called Hogwarts,” Lily responded. “It’s in Scotland.”
“Hogwarts,” her grandmother echoed, trying the word in her mouth. “What a strange name.”
“That’s because it’s magic,” Lily said.
“Magic?” Her grandmother smiled at her.
Lily nodded, “It’s full of witches and wizards and ghosts, and the forest has centaurs and unicorns and the lake is full of mermaids.”
“And what do you learn there?”
“All sorts of things. Charms and Potions and Transfiguration, and we even had flying lessons first year.”
“Oh, what a lovely story, Lily.”
She didn’t respond, and her attention turned toward the scene outside the window. Lily looked as well; it did have a nice view of their garden.
“Where do you go to scho-“ she began coughing, loud terrible hacks. She took a tissue from the side table and coughed into in some more. “Excuse me,” she said when the coughs had subsided.
“Do you need a drink?” Lily asked. “I can go get you a glass of water or some coffee.”
“That’s alright, dear.”
The continued talking in such a manner until Lily’s mother called from the kitchen to inform them that dinner was ready.
“Who made dinner?”
“I did,” Lily’s mother responded, “For Phil’s birthday.”
“Oh, right. It’s Phil’s birthday?”
“Oh, I’ve forgotten. I haven’t even made a cake. He’ll be so upset. He loves my cake.”
“No you haven’t,” Lily said. “There’s a cake in the kitchen.”
“Oh, there is? How splendid.”
Lily’s mother thanked her with a look, and Lily smiled back at her. Together, they followed Nan into the dining room where she greeted her husband with a kiss and sat in the seat next to him as she had done for as long as Lily could remember.
The table had been set already, the food Lily’s mother and sister had prepared sat in the middle of the table, and the fine china was set before each seat. When they were all seated, Granddad bowed his head, waited for everyone else to follow his example, and led them in a prayer.
The table sprang to life almost as soon as Granddad’s mouth had finished forming “Amen.” The Evans family served themselves to generous helpings of everything, and began to eat almost immediately. Just as they always had.
“Lily love,” her granddad said. “How’s school?”
“Great!” she replied.
“You’re a Prefect this year, is that right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“How’s that going?”
“Very well,” Lily responded. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
“That’s good to hear,” her granddad responded. He turned to his other granddaughter, “And you, Tuney?”
“It’s fine,” she said.
“How are your grades?”
“Lily is top of her class,” their father added.
Lily smiled, “Not quite.”
“Don’t be shy, Lily,” her mother encouraged.
“I do very well,” Lily clarified. “I mean, I have to, don’t I?” The words left her lips before she had thought about them. She hoped that her family did not notice her suddenly tense, and she wracked her brain searching for a proper way to finish the sentence.
“Grades are very important,” Nan said.
“You’ll need them to find a good job,” Granddad added.
“Like there’s a need for you to get a job,” Lily heard Petunia mutter.
“There is a need for it, thank you. And I’ll have you know it is especially difficult to find a job when you are like me.”
“What’re you talking about, Lily?” Granddad asked, his brow furrowed.
“As a woman,” Petunia answered for her. “But she doesn’t need a job, not when she can get married. That’s what a meant. That she’s sure to find a husband to take care of her. Because she’s so pretty. Freak-ishly pretty.” Petunia stabbed her roast particularly hard.
Lily silently thanked her sister for smoothing it over. “But I want a job. I wouldn’t feel comfortable just depending on my husband for support.”
“That’s very noble of you, Lily,” Granddad responded.
Lily blushed, “Well I am a-“ she stopped herself, “A very noble person. It’s a point of pride.”
“As it should be.”
“Were you always very noble, Granddad?” she asked, hoping to change the subject.
“I don’t think so. I always tried, though.”
“I suppose that’s noble enough in itself,” she pondered the thought for just a moment. “But not even in the war?” she asked. With any luck, her father would join in, and the conversation wouldn’t turn back to her for the rest of the evening.
“No, especially not in the war.”
“Fighting for what you believe in isn’t noble?”
“That’s very noble. That’s not war.”
She furrowed her brow, awaiting an explanation. Granddad had just opened his mouth when Lily’s mother interrupted. “Not at the table, please.”
“After,” he mouthed and winked at Lily.
Half an hour later, the women had helped clear the table, and Lily and Nan had once again been shooed out of the kitchen. This time though, they joined the men in the dining room. Both had pulled out pipes and were beginning to smoke them as they talked.
“Nan,” Lily turned to her grandmother. “Do you think Granddad was noble during the war?”
“Well, yes, I think so. He did a lot of brave things…”
“Reconnaissance?” Phil asked, trying hard to mask his expression of horror.
“Yes,” Glover responded.
Phil’s mouth twitched as if opening to make an objection.
“Don’t expect special treatment because you’re a shit soldier, Evans.”
“No, sir. Everyone has to take his turn.”
“Try not to get shot while you’re out there, yeah? Dulce et Decorum est, but we need all the men we can get, even the shit ones.”
“Yes, sir,” Phil nodded his head.
Glover dismissed him with a wave of his hand. Phil turned and made his way out of the room. Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori. The words rang through his head. He doubted very much it was sweet to die for his country. Right, it may be, but he had yet to see a sweet death. Perhaps the sweetness lay hidden somewhere behind the groans of agony and the dismemberment. He did not particularly care to know. It was much sweeter, he thought, to live for one’s country. Somehow, it seemed he was the only one who thought so.
He turned the corner back to his dugout and greeted the men who waited there before heading to his cot. He sat on it forcefully, and for a split second it seemed as if it was going to break. When it did not, he swallowed his stomach back down his throat and laid down across his cot.
“Finally your turn to head across No Man’s Land, eh?” Finch asked.
“Yeah,” Phil replied.
“About bloody time,” Payne added.
“It’s not like I’ve never done it,” Phil said. “I’m just fairly apt at avoiding it.”
“Fairly,” Payne said.
“I’m sure I’d be sent out more often if Glover weren’t set on keeping us alive.”
“Well that’s true,” Finch said. “If anyone’s going to die out there, it’s you, Evans.”
“Thanks for that.”
“Not his fault you’re a clumsy, bloody coward,” Payne said.
“Good to know what you really think of me.”
“I didn’t think it was a secret,” Payne explained.
Finch laughed. Phil ignored them.
“Don’t go wishing death on him,” Pitchford hollered from his cot. “He’s a lot better than some.”
“Aye, aye,” Payne agreed. “And he does fix our shirts.”
“Hear that, Evans?” Finch called. “Don’t die tonight, we need you to fix our shirts.”
“And we don’t want a new bloke living with us, neither,” Payne added.
“I’ll do my best,” Phil promised. And with that, he closed his eyes and, pretended at least, to sleep.
“Evans!” somebody was shouting. Jack ignored them.
“Evans!” he was closer now. Jack kept his eyes shut tightly. Hadn’t he just gone to bed?
“Jack!” the voice was right above him and was now accompanied by a pair of hands shaking him rather violently.
Groggily, Jack cracked opened his eyes. “What?”
“Get the fuck out of bed!” Rivers shouted at him. “We’re leaving today.”
Jack sat up immediately. His eyes burned as they adjusted to the light of the morning. “What time is it?” There was a dull pounding in his head, and the sudden motion unsettled his stomach.
“Eight,” Rivers responded. “We line up in ten.”
“Fuck.” Jack rose from the bed and scrambled to get ready. The sweet stench of alcohol seeping through his pores filled his nostrils, but there was no time to wash. His clothes and boots were thrown on haphazardly. “Where’s Jeremiah?”
“Down there already. He said you’d wake up on time, because you always do.”
“Better straighten yourself out,” Rivers told him, “Don’t let the Officers see you like that.”
Jack straightened himself as well as he could before throwing on his helmet and his necessary accessories. “We’re not leaving right now are we?”
Jack relaxed slightly and stopped throwing things into his pack. “Let’s go then,” he said, before rushing out the door. Rivers tailed behind him until Jack realized he didn’t remember where they were meant to meet. Rivers took the lead without being asked and Jack followed him to the lineup.
When they arrived, Jack was confused to find that no one had lined up yet. “I thought we lined up in ten?” he asked
“I lied,” Rivers replied.
“How else was I meant to get you here on time?” Jack’s eyes narrowed in annoyance. Rivers shrugged it off. “Didn’t see Johns coming to save your sorry arse, did ya?”
Jack turned around and walked away, searching in vain for some actual friends. He found none before it was actually time to line up, and he fell to attention. Once again, the commanding officer shouted at them about where they were going and when and why. Jack didn’t care. He hadn’t eaten and his stomach was threatening to commit mutiny. Had the sun always been so bright? It certainly hadn’t hurt his eyes so badly before. And gods, his helmet must have gotten tighter since yesterday.
When they finally fell out, Jack walked slowly back to the barracks, sipping water out of his canteen. There was food somewhere, but he couldn’t be arsed to find it yet.
Luckily, he did not have to look far. There was a chuck of bread waiting on his bed when he arrived. Rivers, probably. The pride in him almost wanted to reject it, but his hangover had other ideas. It was dull and almost tasteless bread, but he could not have asked for anything better on this day. He ate it as quickly as he dared, hoping it would settle his stomach so he wouldn’t have to worry about that at least on their trip north. He began packing his things when he finished, quick and sloppy, it was sure to receive a scolding but Jack could not find it within himself to care.
Almost as soon as he finished throwing his bag together, it was time for them to begin the march. Jack cursed himself as they began to walk. The pounding in his head was keeping time with his feet and he could not possibly imagine a worse punishment for his indiscretions. He promised himself he would take greater care in the future.
The sun seemed warmer than the last time they had done this. He began sweating, and as it oozed out of him, he could still smell the sweet stench of alcohol in it. He grunted a bit and carried on.
They didn't make it to the next village by nightfall. They hadn't expected to, he was told. They pitched camp in the middle of the meadow. Scouts and lookouts had been assigned, the scouts had found nothing and the lookouts began keeping watch right away. Jack wanted nothing more than to fall asleep in the grass and not wake up for days. He drew first watch. It was better that way, he told himself. This way, he could sleep uninterrupted through the night as soon as he was done. The problem was that he was not sure he could keep his eyes open through the entirety of the shift.
He stood on his guard, holding his gun as he had been trained and walking when necessary. Walking this way had done a very good job of keeping him awake in the past, today though he was slightly afraid that he would fall asleep on his feet. He'd heard of men doing it already. When walking no longer did the trick, he took to pinching himself to keep his eyes open. At last, the second shift man came to take his place, and Jack moved to his bed and closed his eyes. He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
The sunrise woke him the next morning. He was grateful for that, at least. He rose carefully and slowly. His muscles ached with every movement, but he no longer felt as though he would expel his entire stomach at any moment, and his head didn't pound as it had the day before. Aching muscles he could deal with, though he supposed that after yesterday he could deal with anything. Marching all day with a hangover was no easy feat, and he was oddly proud to have accomplished it.
They began moving again not long after he woke. Yesterday, he hadn't said a word the entire march, today he was in a much better mood, and talked a bit with Johns and the rest. Until, of course, Rivers showed up and ruined everything. Jack swore he could kill the man. A single bullet and he'd be free from Rivers' god awful nagging for the rest of his given life. Granted, his given life would be approximately two weeks if he shot Rivers on the spot. That sort of thing was generally frowned upon, he'd heard. Instead, he blatantly ignored Rivers for the remainder of the march.
They arrived at the village after only an hour or so of walking. The scouts that had been sent ahead returned around the time they stopped to regroup for the invasion. It took much longer than Jack had anticipated. Was it longer than usual? Or did it perhaps just feel that way?
Jack could never really be sure. He'd lost sense of time ages ago. He couldn't say he terribly minded the wait-- it was a welcome break after the walking, but the men around him seemed to be rather upset about it. Nearly everyone around him was waiting with baited breath. It seemed pointless to him. They'd marched from village to village for at least two weeks and it'd been the same every time. They march in, the French give them anything they want, and then they wait some more. He couldn't see why this village would be any different, unless there were Germans there, in which case, he was glad. It was about time he got to kill some Krauts.
Johns, thankfully, was not one of the worry-warts hanging about. He stood with Jack cracking jokes about booze and broads and everything else. Jack was glad for the distraction. When Johns seemed to have run out of jokes to tell, Jack brought up his thought.
"I fucking hope so!" Johns said. "It's about fucking time we actually do something useful."
"Fuck yeah it is!" he said.
Rivers had heard them talking. "You have no fucking idea what you're talking about," he said.
"Of course we do!" Johns yelled.
Rivers rolled his eyes and walked away.
"Who the bloody hell does he think he is?" Jack asked.
"Your father, apparently."
"My father would've been just as excited as I am," Jack said.
"I won't do it!" Phil's voice carried through the house. Lily hoped her Nan didn't hear.
"Dad," Jack pleaded. "You can't keep on like this. You need help."
"Like hell," he spat.
"Phil," Lily's mother had joined the conversation now. "At least take a look at the pamphlets, they're nice places."
"I don't care if it's the bloody Garden of Eden, I won't send her away!"
"Dad, that's not we're trying to do."
"Sure sounds like it."
Nan had carried on about the scene outside and Lily had tuned her out. Lily focused back on her grandmother's kind, worn face and found that she was smiling at her. "Something interesting, dear?"
"No, Nan," Lily replied. "When did you say those trees were planted?"
"Oh, I think it's been quite a while..."
"Dad, she's getting worse."
"I. Don't. Care," Lily had never heard her grandfather's voice so angry. "She took care of me, and I'll be damned if I shove her off on someone else."
"But it's so much unnecessary work," Lily's mother tried to explain. "You could still visit her, but you wouldn't have to worry about her medications or about her falling or anything."
"I've never been one to shove off hard work, Mae," Phil responded.
"Well, at least let someone help you," she implored.
"I am not letting some stranger come into our home!"
"I'll do it," Petunia's voice now entered the conversation. It was timid and shy, different than Lily had ever heard her sister speak before.
"What?" Lily couldn't tell who had asked the question.
"I can come help Granddad with Nan," she said. "I can come over when I'm done with school, and on the weekends, and I could even stay here if you needed."
There was a moment of silence, while it seemed the adults in the room pondered the situation.
"Now that's not a half-bad idea.”
Lily sighed, and turned back toward her grandmother. She had stopped talking again, and stared out the window. Lily looked over at the mantel across the room. It held the same pictures it always had. There had been new ones a few times a year while she was younger, but there hadn't been any new additions lately. She looked over them at a distance. She was sure she knew them all by heart: the picture of her family in front of their house, taken when Lily was too young to remember; one of her grandparents on an anniversary; her parents’ wedding photo; her grandparents' wedding photo, and portraits of both her father and grandfather in their uniforms, looking sharp and handsome in black and white. Their faces were familiar to her even now, her grandfather's long nose and large lips, her fathers hooked beak and prominent forehead. The greyscale had removed their coloring; Granddad's hair appeared a light grey, though Lily knew it had been red like hers in his prime, and her father’s was dark as ever, slicked back and revealing his young face. The pictures didn't show it, but both sets of eyes matched hers almost exactly. Lily rose from the sofa where she sat and walked over to examine them more closely.
Her father didn't keep pictures of himself in uniform. When they visited here, he didn't look at it. She had always enjoyed picturing her father as a young soldier, strong and brave and chivalrous. It was harder to imagine her grandfather in such a way. Surely he had been very noble, if the pictures were anything to judge by. She smiled as she looked at the photo.
"He's very handsome, isn't he?" her grandmother had joined her at the mantle.
"Yes, Nan, he is."
"That's my Phil. He was a soldier. Very brave of him, wasn't it?"
"Such an honor for him to fight for his country, isn't it?"
"Yes, Nan," Lily spoke the words without thinking much of them. She wished Petunia much luck in her quest to aid their grandparents. Lily wasn't sure she could do it.
"It was a terrible war," her Nan went on. "I was a nurse, you know. That's why we got on so well. I knew how horrible the war could be. Most people didn't. I really didn't either, but I saw the men come back and he saw them before they left and we knew how awful it was."
"That's so awful," Lily told her. "Were they in very much pain?"
"Oh yes, awful pain, nearly all the time. We did the best we could for them."
"How terrible," her face fell.
"Such a relief that women don't have to fight, isn't it?"
"Oh yes," Lily responded.
"I don't know that I could stand it. I wasn't sure I could even be a nurse and see the after effects, but I knew I had to because I couldn't very well just do nothing, could I? But I'm ever so glad that you won't have to, Lily dear."
Lily didn't answer. She couldn't bring her mouth to form the words, "But I will." She wanted to say, "But I am." Because she was. That exactly what was happening, though the Ministry didn't feel quite fit to call it that, yet. She didn't know how else they could possibly describe it. Just this morning she had read about three new disappearances. All of the Muggleborns or else advocates for them. Two deaths had been reported. It had been a good day.
Dorcas had been the first to call it that, in her column in The Prophet. Lily had read it and of course there were no other words for what was happening. Even at Hogwarts she could see it! She had been bullied and attacked in the hallways because of the state of her blood since her very first morning there. She wasn't the only one. It was a war, all right, and it had been raging since her first day at Hogwarts.
Only, she couldn't very well tell her family that. The images they held of war did not align with what was happening. War meant sending your men off, it meant hiding in basements or bomb shelters and shipping your children off to the country. It meant bullets and bombs and barely breathing men. They hadn't fought because they believed in the cause, they had fought because they believed in their country. It was a different matter entirely now. If she told her parents her world was at war, at war about people like her, they wouldn't be too fond of Lily ever going back to it. But she couldn't very well stay in this one, either. This world had never truly accepted her, and would never, if her sister was any indication. And besides, she couldn't not fight. Women had always their place in the war as well. Nurses, like her grandmother, and military jobs, too. They worked in factories while the men were away and they grew gardens to feed themselves, but they were political too. They didn't fight with guns, by any means, but so often they used their words to carry their weapons for them. Her gender had little to do with this war-- her magic made her as capable as any man.
Well, her father had been sixteen when he ran off to join the army. She'd be sixteen in a few weeks. She thought she might take after him and drop out of school to fight. Only there was no army for her to join. There were no battles over territory, no trenches to die in. There was only killing, senseless killing. The Aurors fought back, she knew, but they wouldn't let her join with no NEWTs, and they certainly wouldn't let her join with now OWLs. So she stayed at school, and she wrote to Dorcas, and sometimes she wrote letters to the editor that were never published.
"I'm glad too," she finally said.
"Glad for what?"
“That I have such a brave grandfather,” she said.
“Oh yes,” Nan responded.
Lily looked back down at his photograph and wondered what his war had been like. His stories had done a great job in creating a scene for her, but the pictures she viewed were all in black and white, and Lily longed for color.
The flare glowed red. Bright and shining, it lit the world around Phil and his comrades, exposing them once again to German fire. As one, they hit the ground, and moved little, scarcely allowing themselves to breathe. They waited for an eternity, until the flare faded out into blackness, and the dark covered them once again. Even then, they remained still, until the risk of discovery had passed, and it was deemed safe to continue moving. They finished their work quickly and sloppily, and crawled back to the trenches as covertly as possible. They all breathed heavy sighs of relief as they made it back safely. It was never guaranteed, and they all counted their blessings upon each return. The trench meant safety. As much safety as they could ever know while on the front. The rumbling of shells in the distance was almost comforting, the dirty holes almost felt like home. They almost let themselves relax when they returned.
Phil reached into his pockets and pulled out a fag. He leaned against the dirt wall and lit up carefully. Hooper joined him. They inhaled the smoke and smiled, the nicotine relaxing them more than they could ever hope to be otherwise. The ends glowed orange, a color much more comforting than the dangerous red of the flares. Orange was safe. Red was death.
"Close, eh?" Hooper said.
"Too close, yeah," Phil said.
"It's like they know when we're leaving."
"Do you think?"
"I think it's more than a coincidence that they light flares every time we go out to lay the wire."
"Bad luck, perhaps."
"Bad luck and a bit of knowledge on their part."
"Or maybe good luck for them? Random flaring catches more than none."
"Let's go get some shut eye, eh?"
"You go," Phil said. "I want another fag."
"Alright then," Hooper responded. "Suit yourself."
Phil nodded as Hooper left and pulled out another one. He struck the match and let the smoke enter his lungs once again. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall. The wall vibrated with the landing of the shells, a near constant these days. It seemed like it was rocking him to sleep. The noise grew louder, and Phil embraced it. He could do nothing else. Phil inhaled deeply, and let the nicotine work its sweet magic. He almost didn't notice the increasing vibrations in the wall he leaned against.
"Evans!" Someone shouted. Phil turned to look. There were a lot of Evanses, but it never hurt to check, besides, it was him being yelled at a significant portion of the time. His eyes scanned the horizon until they fell upon the silhouette of Glover running toward him. "What the fuck are you doing?" he yelled again. Evans didn't have time to respond. "Take cover!" he screamed.
Phil didn't take time to respond or acknowledge the command. He followed the order. He turned from where he was and ran as fast as his feet would carry him.
The air breaking against his face brought his senses back to life. It was dark, but he could make out how the dirt was falling into the trenches. He could feel the vibrations throughout his whole body. The screeching of the shells falling through the air was unbearably shrill; the sound of the explosion afterward was much, much worse. He could smell the smoke mingling in the air. Sweat began to drip from his face as he ran, and he gasped aloud as the cigarette he had been holding burned the palm of his hand. It fell to the dirt as he continued running. He cursed himself for ever letting his guard down.
Glover was still some paces behind him, but Phil could hear his huffing and panting and hoped that meant he was safe. He turned his head back quickly to check, and found that Glover was approaching him rather quickly. Phil took this as a sign to run faster.
His chest tightened and a thousand knives pierced his lungs with every breath. He could not stop. He would not stop. The adrenaline rushing through his veins allowed him to ignore it. He thought of nothing but to keep running as fast as possibly could.
And then Phil was flying.
The force that projected her through the air took Lily quite by surprise. One moment she had been walking through the corridors, the next, she was hurdling through the air, sprung forward by a great deal of force against her back. She didn’t need to guess who was behind the attack.
She hit the ground hard, and it took the breath away. It took a moment for her to recover--precious seconds she could not afford to lose. She began to rise from the floor, but found it difficult to move. It was as if the air around her had become molasses. There was laughter erupting from behind her. Multiple laughs. Of course.
“Look at the Mudblood crawl!” One of them shouted.
“She’s so useless, she can’t even walk properly!”
“Not entirely useless,” one commented. She could hear his meaning in his voice, and for the first time, Lily panicked. She was alone with these boys, and completely defenseless. Sev wasn’t with them, and she wasn’t sure he would do anything about it if he were.
“Wouldn’t want that,” the boy said. “Might catch something off her.”
The pressure that had been holding Lily back lifted very suddenly and she was able to move freely. She stayed still for a moment, hoping her captors hadn’t noticed. Her wand had flown several feet forward, completely out of her grasp. She listened carefully to their voices still debating the merits of raping her or not, and without another moment’s hesitation, Lily took off running as fast as she possibly could. It seemed to take Avery and Mulciber by surprise, as they were not able to respond right away. Lily was able to reach her wand and pick it up before they once again started spewing spells at her.
She dodged one flash of light that had been poorly aimed by a flustered Avery. She sent one back at him, successfully disarming him. Avery, on the other hand, was still very much armed. She attempted to dodge the jet black light he sent at her, but did not quite make it, and the light hit her squarely in the shoulder. She could feel the boils painfully erupt on her body. "Conjunctiva!" she yelled. The curse hit him, and Avery yelled out, his hand clasped against his eyes, trying to alleviate the pain.
By now, Mulciber had acquired his wand, and was throwing curses at her with rapid speed. She threw up a shield, which deflected them. It did not last as long as she needed, and eventually, a jelly-legs jinx he had thrown hit her, and she collapsed once again on the floor.
She rose again as quickly as she could, but she could hear Mulciber's footsteps coming closer and his angry rantings as he did so. She could not possibly prepare herself in time. Avery had stopped screaming in pain and was now joining Mulciber in his approach. She wasn't sure what was about to happen, but she was sure it would be something unspeakably terrible. She took a deep breath and braced herself for whatever was coming for her.
"Expelliarmus!" two new voices called from behind her. She looked up to see that her tormentors had been effectively disarmed, then looked back to see who her rescuers had been.
"Taking on Evans by herself?" James Potter said, his voice annoyingly casual.
"Not very fair, is it, Prongs?" Sirius Black asked.
"No, not at all, Padfoot," he shook his head at his friend. "Looks like Evans gave them quite the fight though. Alright there, Evans?"
Lily rose to her feet and nodded, "Fine, thank you."
Avery had slowly begun to walk backwards, in an attempt to retrieve his wand while Potter was distracted. Black, however, did not miss his wanderings, and immediately sent a curse flying at him, knocking him to the ground.
"How dare you?" Mulciber shouted.
"Like this," Black responded, and with another curse, sent Mulciber flying.
Potter gaffed, and Lily couldn't help but laugh as well. "Nice one, Padfoot!" Potter said.
"Why thank you," he gave a little bow. As he rose, a flash of light hit him, and knocked him to the ground.
James responded immediately, sending a curse that made Mulciber's teeth grow rapidly.
This had given Avery enough distraction to retrieve his wand, and send a curse at Potter. Black, by now, was back on his feet, and then, without Lily knowing really what happened, there was light being spewed all around her. When she had regained her composure, she sent up a shield charm between the dueling boys, sending Potter and Black flying backwards. She turned then to the Slytherins, yelled "Stupefy!" twice, and smiled coyly as both bodies hit the floor soundly. She then turned to Potter and Black.
"Hey now," Potter said. "We were just starting to have some fun!"
"Oh, terribly sorry about that," Lily said. "How silly of me to end a fight that started with an attack against me. Daft, really."
"At least you realize it," Black said. "You'll know better for next time."
"Next time I'm attacked by two Slytherins alone I'll be sure to call you," she said. "Wouldn't want you to miss out on all the fun."
"Thank you," Black said with a cheeky grin.
Lily rolled her eyes and began to walk away.
"Evans! Wait!" Potter yelled back at her. She ignored him and kept walking.
She heard his footsteps jogging to catch up to her, and she heard Black rise, chuckling to himself. "Are you okay?" Potter asked when he caught up.
"I'm fine," she snapped.
"Good," he said.
She continued walking.
"You're not cross, surely? Not about this?"
"Oh, I'm quite cross."
"But we-we were helping you!"
"Yes, and I'll thank you for it. Glad I could be of some enjoyment at least."
"You can't take Sirius so seriously," he said. "He was only joking."
"Yes and a very funny joke it was. Ha. Ha."
"Evans, really, we only wanted to help. And don't you dare say you didn't need it, or you didn't ask for it, because you did need it, at least right then you did, and you shouldn't have to ask for help."
"Oh, you'll show up to be my knight in shining armour every time I need it, then? Wonderful."
"I only meant that I don't need to be asked to do the right thing. Especially when the right thing is cursing Slytherins."
"Good to know."
"Evans," he pleaded.
"What?" Lily turned back at him. "Thank you for your help. Really. Thank you. I appreciate it. I don't, however, appreciate the fact that you seem to be making a game out of this, out of me being attacked in the middle of a corridor. I don't really find being cornered by two men who want to do serious harm to me any fun at all, really."
She kept walking, and much to her surprise, he kept going with her. "Well, if it's any consolation, you seemed to really do some damage. What curse did you use on Avery's eyes?"
"Will you teach it to me sometime?"
"And you know, two against one isn't really fair at all. It was a cheap tactic."
"Effective, though, wasn't it?"
"What? It was. They were about to get exactly what they wanted. They knew they would, too. Ironic though, isn't it? That they hate me so much because I'm a Mudblood, and I'm meant to be less magical than they are, but they're too bloody cowardly to face me alone."
"They should be though, you're brilliant."
"Of course I am," she said. "I have to be."
He looked confused for a moment, but followed her around the corner and toward the staircase. "Where are we going?"
"I am going to Slughorn's office."
"Why are you going there?"
"Because one of them hit me with boils and I can't exactly go to the Hospital Wing and tell Madame Pomfrey that I was dueling in the corridors. I am a Prefect now, I need to at least have an air of responsibility."
"It wasn't your fault though! They attacked you! Can't you just tell her that?"
"And who will they believe? It will be two against one, as it always is."
"You'd have me and Sirius."
"Ah, but you were only there for the end, weren't you? Didn't see how it started."
"And Slughorn will just give you what you're asking for?"
"Does this happen to you often?"
"More than you would ever possibly believe."
"Why don't you tell anyone?"
Lily scoffed. "They wouldn't believe me. Obviously. And even if they did, it would just make it worse in the long run."
"How do you figure?"
"You're a bully, you tell me."
"I'm not a bully."
"You are the definition of a bully."
"I'm not! I only hex people who deserve it."
"He's never done a thing to you."
"Oh, he's done plenty. He does exist, you know."
Lily looked at him. "You are disgusting. Now if you'll please leave me alone, I really do need to see Slughorn about this potion. He'll ask questions if you follow me in there."
"Are you sure it's safe to walk alone?" he asked. His concern was mocking and cruel.
"I'll take the risk," she said. "Anything they could do to me is better than staying with you another minute."
And with that, she turned and walked into the dungeons. It wasn't much farther to Slughorn's office, and the boils on her shoulder were beginning to ache. She made it there, and as expected, Slughorn gave her the potion without question.
She made her way back up to the dormitory, abandoning the quest she had set out upon when she had left. She could always go to the library some other time, after all, and she’d really like to be in something a bit more comfortable as the boils on her shoulder healed. She began climbing the stairs, her wand drawn now, just in case, and the potion Slughorn had given her in her other hand. He had warned her of the possible side effects, drowsiness, nausea, and a temporary purple tongue, and had said they could be a bit extreme. Best to take it when she was safely back in her dorm, and she could fall asleep if she needed to.
She reached the landing of the staircase where she’d have to switch to another, and began walking that way quickly. There weren’t people around, though she could hear some sort of noise coming from around the corner somewhere. She didn’t like it. Better to walk quickly and not be caught on her own again.
The noise seemed to get louder as she approached the cross section of the corridor where she needed to turn to make her way to Gryffindor Tower. She turned into it with all the authority she could muster. She was a Prefect now, and she could absolutely put a stop to any of this. Probably. As soon as she stepped into the open corridor a purple flash of light flew by her ear. She dodged it and quickly moved back to press herself against the corridor wall. From there, she leaned over to survey the situation. Much to her dismay, but not very surprisingly, she found Potter and Black, and Lupin and Pettigrew too, dueling with about seven Slytherin students.
She dodged another flash of bright white light by pressing herself against the corridor wall, then took a deep breath, and prepared to enter the fight.
The brick wall behind him was the only thing holding Jack upright. He breathed heavily, sweat ran in rivulets down his face. The gun he held was heavy in his hands. Another round of shots began to go off in quite close proximity to him. He turned gun first around the corner and began to shoot back.
He saw the bullets enter the brick, the dust spraying into the air and creating a translucent cloud. He whipped back behind the wall, trying to determine what to do. He had ended up alone here, and he wasn’t quite sure how. The Germans had invaded, and chaos had ensued. There had been a plan, at some point, but everyone had forgotten it as soon as the trouble began. His company had scattered. He had followed Johns, at first, and the pair had had progressed forward, thinking it the best way to finally use their guns. They had used them, all right, and then Johns had run out of ammunition and took off running, leaving Jack alone to defend himself. He leaned forward and unleashed another round, hoping this time, that he'd hit his assailant. He hadn't. He was running low on ammunition, and he had to get past this check point. That's where his unit was, and he was sure it would not be long before the captain called retreat.
He sighed as the bullets once again hit the brick wall, and missed the enemy hiding behind it. His pack held a hand grenade, he knew, but he doubted the wisdom of using it. He had only one, and he was not sure when or if he'd be equipped with another. His aim wouldn't be great either, but he wasn't so sure that mattered, really. An explosion is an explosion, and he wasn't concerned what damage it caused, so long as it was far away from him.
He turned and shot one last time, watching the bullets once again sink into unintended targets. Well that settled it. He had to use the grenade. There were no other options. He reached for it on his body, and pulled it out quickly. He examined it briefly before he made to activate it. The steps to using one went through his brain quickly. Pull the firing pin, throw the thing as hard as you possibly could in the direction you wanted it to go, take cover and hope for the best. It wasn't very complicated.
He took a deep breath, steadied his hands, and pulled the pin. He hurled it around the corner in the direction of the shooter he was having it out with. He didn't stop to watch where it ended up, instead he quickly pushed himself back behind his corner and made his way farther in, found a place to take cover, protected his head, and waited for approximately ten seconds until the sound of the exploding grenade found his ears. He waited in his covered position for several moments before rising and examining his surroundings. Nothing seemed to have been out of place around him, so he hesitantly rose to his feet and began to jog back to his position. The building he had been shooting at earlier now had a rather large hole in its side, and there was a lot of dust rising up from the ground.
He still wasn't sure if the German he had been shooting at was dead, but he decided to take his chance while there was cover to be had. He held his gun steady and poised, ready to shoot should the opportunity arise, and ran full tilt into the street.
The dust in the air choked him as he ran, and he could smell the dirt and gunpowder rise up through his nostrils. He moved passed the alley where his enemy had been hiding, but did not stop to see the damage that had been done. Instead, he kept running, as fast as he possibly could. He passed streets upon streets. He hoped beyond hope that there were no snipers atop of buildings or behind corners waiting for him to pass. He even prayed that he would make it through the rubble safely.
He ran straight ahead, for several long minutes, until he realized he actually had no idea where he was going. Where was he, anyway? How had he gotten here? All these stupid fucking French buildings looked exactly the fucking same. How was he supposed to know where he was?
He kept running, straight ahead. He figured he'd either find his troops this way, or else he'd run right into German fire and at least that way he'd die a valiant death. He hoped for the former.
A small cathedral rose up in front of him. This he recognized. They'd lined up here before, hadn't they? And he had seen the steeple as they marched in. Excellent, he was heading in the right direction. Had the commander told him where they should meet in case of an emergency like this? Yes! Yes of course he had. Turn right, and there was the street Jack had spent the past few days living on. He ran down it, still breathing heavily. His ears were ringing, there was more gunfire coming from somewhere, he wasn't sure where. It wasn't ahead of him, it wasn't close enough to hit him, and that was all he needed to know to keep going.
Another left, and there it was! The forest on the edge of town. That was where they were mean to meet. He took a moment. The village was on top of a rather large hill, and the forest lay at the bottom of it. There was a large open gap between the forest and the village. Running into it would expose him entirely, he'd be at complete risk of German fire.
But he couldn't very well stay where he was, now could he? He looked to his left, and he looked to his right, took a deep breath and ran faster than he ever had in his life down the hill.
In his peripheral vision, he noticed that he had apparently inspired several other men to do the same. They ran on either side of him, a handful in both directions, each spaced several yards apart. It wasn't long after he noticed this that the fire started.
He could hear it coming from behind him, aimed at him. But he couldn't very well look back and see what direction it was coming from. He couldn't know whether he was in the direct line of fire. But he knew he had to be close. One of the men off to the left began running in zigzags, hoping to dodge the bullets that way. Another next to him kept straight and then fell; Jack wasn't sure he wanted to know why. The forest was close, and getting closer every minute. If only he could hold out just a few moments longer-- and he was sure he could, but he wasn't sure the haze of bullets coming at him had the same idea.
The man directly to his right took a bullet through his head. Jack knew it this time, he could see the blood and brain spatter into the air in the split second before the man fell to the ground. For once, Jack was grateful that Paddy had insisted upon fastening his helmet correctly.
Had that man been wearing a helmet though? Jack thought he might have been. He wasn’t sure how much good it would do him. He didn’t care to find out, either. Instead, he put his focus on the woods ahead of him. Each stride he took was a fraction closer, and yet it didn’t seem as if he would ever make it. Until he did.
He ran across the border of the trees, and kept running. The woods provided him with cover, but not enough for him to feel quite safe until he was deeper inside them. When the world around him was covered in the darkness of shadows, he slowed to a walk and began to catch his breath. Surely his troop would be here somewhere. He stood still for a moment and listened around him. He could still hear the gunshots crying out from the village, and under that, more softly, and closer, he heard the sounds of his comrades: the crunch of the earth beneath their feet as they walked, and, was that radio static?
He followed the sound more closely, walking slowly, in case it was not his comrades at all, but a group of Germans waiting to annihilate him. The static of the radio cut out and he could hear a commander begin to speak. Jack hurried his footsteps, and joined the group.
“Operation Dynamo begins now,” the commander said. “We march for Dunkirk at dawn.”
AN: I think the transitions in this chapter are my favorite so far :) I think this chapter is my favorite so far, actually. Let me know what you think!
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