RISING FROM EMBERS
Disclaimer: As always, this story is spun off from the incomparable Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, whom I can certainly never hold a candle to. The pleasure I get from writing is payment enough – no money whatsoever is involved.
A/N: This is the sequel to From Ashes; it’s not absolutely necessary to read Ashes in order to understand this, but I would suggest it, as some of the plot carries over from there.
Enormous thanks goes to jamc91 for her kind patience, eagle-eyed checking, and humourous style of commenting. Because of her, editing this story has become a fun and enjoyable process. I couldn’t possibly ask for more in a beta!
Also, Birgit, my SQ beta, whom I can never thank enough for her efforts. Her comments have certainly made a difference to the clarity of the writing!
This story is for Gulistanlik and jude, who couldn’t be more generous with their encouragement!
September 1, 1976
Lily Evans fingered the shiny badge on her chest nervously as she made her way through the throng of students mingling on platform nine and three-quarters. Her friends were scattered around; she caught sight of Dorcas Meadowes and Alice Moody in a corner and waved. Some of the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff students she briefly knew gave her friendly nods. But Lily didn’t pause to chat: she went straight to the first compartment of the Hogwarts Express and levitated her trunk on board.
The prefects’ compartment was empty; she was the first to arrive. Lily stowed her trunk in a corner and sank into a seat, her heart pounding and her mind racing.
The school year was about to start.
Her seventh year.
She was Head Girl.
Everyone was supposed to look up to her.
How was she going to manage this? She couldn’t even convince her own sister that she belonged at Hogwarts – Petunia had adopted a firmly anti-magic frame of mind for the entire summer. How was she going to carry any weight with the Slytherins, who believed the same thing, albeit for very different reasons, and despised her for being Muggle-born?
And with the war going on, Lily knew very well that there would be sides taken. Just how far would it go, though? How much trouble would be caused by the students whose parents were on opposing sides? And how was she going to handle it?
Can I even handle it?
‘Yes, you can.’
Startled, Lily turned her head. She hadn’t realised that she had spoken out loud.
‘So, Lily,’ said James Potter, the rest of his lanky, well-built body following his messy head in, ‘congratulations.’ He grinned as he eyed the badge shining on her chest.
‘Oh – I – er – thanks,’ stammered Lily, shaking the outstretched hand he proffered. She stared at him warily, wondering what trick he had up his sleeve now. Potter always had a motive – which, when Lily was involved, was usually to attempt to fool her into accepting a date with him.
‘I’m sure you’ll be a great Head Girl, Lily,’ said Potter, his grin widening. ‘See you later!’
And he stepped out the door, before Lily could gather her wits to tell him off for being in the prefects’ compartment when he wasn’t a prefect. She watched him stroll casually down the platform to meet Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew – his little gang that called themselves the Marauders – and she wondered what he was up to.
~ * ~
‘Ah, here comes our gallant Head Boy,’ announced Sirius Black as James Potter approached his three friends. The reactions of the other two were almost comical: Remus Lupin opened and closed his mouth speechlessly, looking like a stunned goldfish; Peter Pettigrew squeaked, ‘Head Boy?’ and promptly dropped his trunk on his own foot, following which he let out a howl of pain.
‘You never said … Head Boy, James, you should have written!’ said Remus finally, when he managed to find his voice.
‘What, and miss your expressions?’ said Sirius. ‘Prongs looked like a deer caught in headlights when he got the letter …’
‘Funny, aren’t you, Sirius,’ said James wryly. ‘Yes, Moony, I’m afraid I am. I think Dumbledore’s finally gone round the twist. I always thought you ought to be Head Boy.’
Remus shook his head. ‘I couldn’t. You have to admit, I’d have a tougher time explaining my absences from prefect meetings than I already do now. And anyway, I could never keep you lot in line.’
Sirius laughed. ‘Still, it doesn’t really make sense to make James Head Boy, does it, when he’s caused half the trouble …’
‘And I’m not even a prefect!’
‘It must have been because of last year,’ said Remus thoughtfully. ‘When you saved Snape.’
‘Glad to know something good came out of it,’ muttered Sirius guiltily.
‘Well, whatever it was, this is great!’ said Peter. ‘James can get us out of detention now, can’t you, James?’
‘Not with Evans as Head Girl,’ smirked Sirius. ‘She is, isn’t she?’
James nodded, ignoring Sirius’s knowing look. ‘I just saw her in the prefects’ compartment. She had the badge.’
‘Aha – so you’re going to be spending some quality time with the lovely Miss Evans this year then.’
James shook his head. ‘We’ll have to work together – Merlin, I don’t even know what a Head Boy does – but I reckon I ought to try to leave her alone for the most part.’
Remus gave him an appraising look. ‘I think she’ll think all the better of you for it, James.’
A sharp whistle from the guard interrupted their conversation. James helped Peter heave his trunk onto the train. Sirius and Remus followed after them and the doors of the Hogwarts Express slammed shut. Slowly, the train chugged out of the station, picking up speed as it went.
They were off to their final year of school.
~ * ~
I can do this, Lily thought to herself as she watched the other prefects fill the compartment. She’d have to brief them once they had all assembled – she and the Head Boy, whoever he was. Lily said a short prayer that it wasn’t the Slytherin prefect, Cassius Meliflua. Anyone but Meliflua. He was a nasty piece of work, and he particularly despised Lily, not least because she was Muggle-born.
Lily ran through the other Slytherin prefects in her mind. Drucilla Malfoy, the snobbish flaxen-haired seventh-year who shared Meliflua’s prejudice against Muggle-borns. The two sixth-years: Ophelia Greengrass, the ice queen of Slytherin, and Evan Rosier, who was actually quite jolly … unless you were Muggle-born – then he turned nasty. And it was highly likely that the new fifth-year prefects would follow their lead.
But not all the prefects were from Slytherin. Most of the others were good sorts. She had always got along with Zinnia Prewett and Benjy Fenwick, the two Gryffindor sixth-years. Stella Engle, a seventh-year Ravenclaw, was Muggle-born like Lily. Christopher Berguise, from Hufflepuff, was in Lily’s Arithmancy class. Lily wondered if he might be Head Boy. More likely it would be Dionysus McKinnon from Ravenclaw – the McKinnon family had a long tradition of being Head Girls and Boys.
A tap on her shoulder shook Lily out of her mental contemplation. She smiled as she found herself staring into the gentle face of her fellow Gryffindor prefect, Remus Lupin.
‘Remus,’ she said happily, ‘how was your summer?’
‘Oh – it was all right. Uneventful.’ He shrugged. ‘Anyway, I hear that congratulations are in order, Lily.’ Like Potter before him, Remus took in the badge pinned to her cloak and offered his hand. Lily shook it more warmly than she had Potter’s, however.
‘You wouldn’t happen to be …’ she started to ask.
‘Head Boy?’ said Remus before she could finish. ‘Thankfully not!’ Then his face changed. ‘You haven’t heard? He didn’t tell you?’
‘Heard? Who didn’t tell me? Remus, do you know who it is?’
Slowly, Remus nodded.
‘It’s not … not Meliflua, is it?’
Remus started to laugh. ‘No, no – don’t worry, Lily. I assure you, Meliflua is no more Head Boy than I am.’
‘Well, that’s a relief. I can rest easy knowing that. So, is it Dionysus or Chris?’ Secretly, Lily hoped it was affable Chris, whom she’d always warmed to more than studious, strict Dionysus.
‘It’s not – you really have no idea, do you, Lily? I thought he’d have told you – when he came over – I guess not …’
Lily stared at him in bewilderment. Who had come over and when? ‘What are you talking about, Remus?’
‘Lily – the Head Boy is –’
‘Am I late?’ James Potter’s messy black head popped back into the compartment.
‘James,’ finished Remus.
Lily stared in shocked silence.
I take it back, she thought. Anyone but Cassius Meliflua or James Potter.
~ * ~
There was a distinct air of hostility in the prefects’ compartment. The silence as Lily took down the names of the new prefects was unnerving. When she had finished, she looked up and tried to appear confident.
‘Well, most of you already know me,’ she began awkwardly. ‘And Potter.’ Potter’s head rose at the sound of his name, but he didn’t speak. He was absurdly out of place, a trouble-maker in the midst of prefects. For the tenth time since she’d heard (which had only been fifteen minutes ago at most), she wondered if the Headmaster was in his right mind, making Potter Head Boy.
‘Unfortunately,’ came the snide voice of Cassius Meliflua. He stared down his nose at her, a look that all too plainly expressed his disdain. Lily decided that the best course of action would be to ignore him.
‘I’m sure you all want to be off with your friends, so I’ll just give you your start-of-term instructions quickly.’ Lily glanced briefly at Potter as she said this, wondering if she was supposed to let him say something. He obviously had no clue what he ought to be doing, so she continued. ‘Passwords – you’ll find your respective house passwords in here.’ She extracted a stack of envelopes, each labelled with a house name, and passed them out.
‘Gryffindors … Hufflepuffs … Slytherins … and Ravenclaws. There. We’ll have to lead our first-years after the feast, as usual – let’s have the fifth-years do it, shall we?’
The fifth-year prefects murmured their assent.
‘Great, all right, the last thing now – we have to arrange prefect duty dates. Seven days a week, and there’s twenty-four of us, so if we split evenly, we can have at least three a day, and four on three days – let’s make it Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Does anyone have a particular day in mind?’
‘Can’t do Thursdays,’ said Zoe McClaire promptly. ‘Gobstones Club.’
‘Not on Quidditch practice day,’ several voices said in unison.
‘I’ve got Charms Club meetings on Tuesdays,’ said Arthur Goldstein.
‘I’d rather not do it on prefect meeting day,’ said Ophelia Greengrass with disdain.
‘Me too!’ chimed six people.
Lily closed her eyes briefly, regretting asking for everybody’s opinions at once. ‘OK! One by one, then. Let’s start with the Gryffindors –’
‘Ah yes,’ cut in Drucilla Malfoy. ‘House favouritism.’
Lily felt her face flush. She hadn’t meant to be biased; Zinnia Prewett and Benjy Fenwick had simply been nearest to her.
‘And I suppose we Slytherins will come last, to take whatever’s left,’ continued Drucilla silkily. ‘I wouldn’t have expected anything more.’
‘Fine,’ snapped Lily rashly. ‘Slytherins first, then. What day would you like, Drucilla?’
‘I wasn’t aware that we were on first name terms, Evans,’ sniffed Drucilla. ‘I’ll have Wednesdays.’ She watched with a triumphant look in her eyes as Lily wrote it down. She had named the day that typically had the fewest lessons (which usually meant less homework) scheduled for the sixth- and seventh-years, and Lily realised with a sinking feeling that she’d fallen for Drucilla’s cunning trick. Across the compartment, several Ravenclaws were giving her contemptuous glances. But she had no choice but to continue with the rest of the Slytherins now.
‘Meliflua?’ she said briskly.
‘Wednesdays,’ he said lazily.
Ophelia Greengrass filled in the last Wednesday slot. Evan Rosier and Altair Nott claimed Thursdays. Estella Crouch considered a moment before, surprisingly, choosing a different date from her house-mates.
‘I’ll have Tuesdays. I might go to the Gobstones Club once in a while,’ she explained to Rosier and Nott.
‘You’ve done us Slytherins,’ said Meliflua. ‘There’s no other business for us here now.’
‘I’ve got to finish this –’
‘That isn’t our business already.’
‘Oh – all right,’ said Lily. It probably wasn’t worth arguing with him. ‘You can go – prefect meetings will be on Mondays.’
‘You don’t have to state the obvious, Evans,’ sneered Drucilla as she rose to go. All the other Slytherin prefects followed Drucilla and Meliflua’s lead and filed out of the compartment.
‘They ought to wait for the rest of us,’ Lily heard Dionysus McKinnon say to Stella Engle in an undertone.
‘They weren’t going to listen to Lily,’ said Stella reasonably. ‘You know what Meliflua and Malfoy are like.’
‘Potter ought to do something, then.’
Lily saw, out of the corner of her eye, Potter’s face darken almost imperceptibly. However, he didn’t make any other indication that he had overheard.
‘Ravenclaws next, then?’ she soldiered on bravely.
~ * ~
When the first-years had all been sorted, the school had been watered and fed (to use Dumbledore’s expression), and the start-of-term notices had been given out, Dumbledore rose once more to make a speech.
‘You may notice,’ he said in a grave voice, which held none of the sparkle that had been there just moments ago, ‘that several people, who should be sitting amongst you, are not present.’ He paused to allow students to look around them uneasily. Lily stared at her empty plate, her heart heavy. She could remember clearly the start-of-term feast last year, when her best friend Aura Banning had failed to return to school. Which students would be devastated this year by the loss of their intimate friends?
‘It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of the following students during the summer holidays.
‘From Hufflepuff house, Shelagh Garland.
‘From Ravenclaw house, Betty and Michael Ryan.
‘From Gryffindor house, Jeremy McFarland.’
In the conspicuous silence that followed this announcement, the missing words, ‘From Slytherin house,’ rang in everyone’s ears. Lily glanced at the house table at the far end from the Gryffindors. Most of the Slytherins seemed unaffected; several were deep in conversation and not even paying attention. But there were a few who looked as stunned as everyone else.
‘I would like,’ said Dumbledore quietly, ‘for us to honour these four students, who have been your classmates and friends, and have now joined the ranks of those who are victims of Lord Voldemort.’
Dumbledore raised his goblet. In shocked silence – not least because of Dumbledore’s use of the unspeakable name – the rest of the school followed suit. Lily’s hand trembled as she held up her goblet. Jeremy McFarland was – would have been – in his fourth year. Shelagh Garland had been in her Arithmancy class. She didn’t know Betty or Michael Ryan, but she did know that they didn’t deserve to die. None of them did.
‘I spoke, before we parted last year, of the terror descending upon us. I did not lie to you then, and I do not lie to you now. Lord Voldemort is a real and imminent threat, and we are no closer to stopping him than we were when he first started to gain power, six years ago. These deaths are not the first, and they will not be the last.
‘Here, at Hogwarts, you will find sanctuary. While you are in school, it may seem as though the evil outside is far away. But I hope you will all take heed, and realise that this war is not a distant battle. It is very real, and if we do not learn that now, the consequences will indeed be dire.’
On this impressive note, he concluded his speech. Scattered applause followed, punctuated with anxious muttering and fearful whispers. Yet another year had started, with more students who would never return. Lily couldn’t help but feel the weight of the war pressing down on them.
That, plus the Slytherins’ attitudes towards her, made her stomach do an uneasy turn.
It was going to be a long year.