RISING FROM EMBERS
There were three more attacks within the week. It was a tense and subdued mood that hung over the school – two students had been called away due to the death of their family members.
‘Six years,’ said Lily heavily, as she, Remus and Potter walked back to the Gryffindor common room together after a prefect meeting. ‘It’s been going on almost as long as we’ve been at Hogwarts, and we’re nowhere near the end.’
‘The end has to come, eventually,’ said Remus. ‘It can’t go on forever.’
‘But it’s been so long – so many people have died already. How much more can we take?’
Remus shook his head quietly. ‘People’s spirits are flagging. It seems like a losing battle.’
And he was right – the first few years, no one had taken You-Know-Who very seriously. He’d been called by his name then: Lord Voldemort, the chilling title that people dared not speak now. And then, fear grew as the enemies of the Dark Lord mysteriously met with gruesome ends. At first, there had been no concrete proof, only whispers of an evil – people stopped speaking the name then, for fear that to say it was to invite his wrath.
The Ministry tried in vain to hunt You-Know-Who down, but even with all their Aurors put to the task, there was no stopping him. Last Christmas, the Aurors claimed a controversial victory, and many believed the war to be over soon. But it continued to drag on. The murders continued. The fear escalated.
Potter had been surprisingly quiet as they walked, letting Lily and Remus do most of the talking. He finally spoke now.
‘Nevertheless, we will fight,’ he said in a voice of steel.
Lily and Remus fell silent, struck by the power of his words. Lily found herself feeling unreasonably heartened. As though because of what Potter said, there was real hope in the world.
That was absurd. Four words out of Potter’s mouth couldn’t change anything … could it?
They rounded a corner and came face to face with Severus Snape. Lily nodded civilly to him; Snape’s lip curled and he turned away from her, his sneer deepening when his eyes landed on Remus.
‘Severus,’ acknowledged Remus politely. Snape recoiled at the sound of his name.
‘Don’t deign to speak to me, you filthy –’ He suddenly saw Potter and cut off his sentence halfway. Lily closed her eyes wearily. She wasn’t keen to break up another Potter-and-Snape duel now.
‘Potter,’ she warned.
And another surprise. Potter said nothing, but stepped aside to allow Snape to pass. He did so frostily, not without a loathing glare at the two boys. When he had gone, Potter continued walking as though the exchange had not taken place.
Lily was amazed.
~ * ~
James found Sirius in the kitchens, staring morosely into the fire as house-elves busied themselves around him. There were at least ten empty Butterbeer bottles littered around his chair and a hefty lot more on the table in front of him. James’s Invisibility Cloak lay at Sirius’s feet; from this James gathered that Sirius had used it to cart the Marauders’ entire Butterbeer store down here, away from the crowded common room.
‘Blimey, did you clean out the whole stack?’ asked James, taking a seat opposite his best friend.
‘How was prefect meeting?’ Sirius returned, ignoring his question.
‘It was all right …’
Sirius took a swig of Butterbeer and stared at James with piercing black eyes.
‘Like hell it was.’
James sighed. ‘Yeah, okay. It was crap. Cassius Meliflua can’t seem to take it that he isn’t Head Boy while I am and he’s giving no end of trouble. And of course, all the Slytherin prefects are following his lead.’
Sirius tossed him a Butterbeer. ‘Have one.’
‘Thanks.’ James uncorked the bottle with the deft fingers of an experienced Butterbeer drinker. They sat and drank in silence for a while.
‘It’s not just the Slytherins, Padfoot,’ said James, after he’d downed half his bottle. ‘The other prefects think I’m rubbish too. Dionysus McKinnon keeps giving me looks like he thinks I’m not good enough and he’d be a better Head Boy and I think he’s right.’
Sirius barked out a laugh. ‘You’re a Marauder, Prongs; obviously you’ll be rubbish as Head Boy! I mean, it’s a law-abiding post.’
‘Dumbledore must be off his rocker.’ James stared moodily at his Butterbeer. What had the Headmaster been thinking, indeed? Why him? He wasn’t any good – he couldn’t possibly be any good as a Head Boy.
‘Hey.’ Sirius punched his shoulder. ‘You’ll be OK. They’ll come round.’
This was so unexpected, coming from Sirius, that James couldn’t help gaping at him.
‘What? Did I say something wrong? You’ll come out all right in the end. Merlin knows we’ve had enough stuffy Head Boys to last a lifetime. You’re one of a kind, Prongs.’
James didn’t know how to respond to this. Instead, he finished off his Butterbeer.
‘How’s Lily, then?’ Sirius changed the subject abruptly.
‘Don’t think she’s too pleased. She’s doing most of the work; I don’t really know where this Head Boy stuff starts and ends. And most of the prefects probably look up to her anyway, seeing she’s actually been one.’
‘Most of the prefects.’
‘Yeah. Damned Slytherins.’
They lapsed into silence again.
‘What’s up with you, anyhow?’ asked James finally.
‘Bugger him. What’d he do now?’
‘Saw him in the corridor. His mouth’s as foul as ever. I didn’t do anything to him, if you’re wondering.’
‘What’d he say?’
‘Made snide comments about Moony. God, I’d have punched the bloody daylights out of him, if McGonagall hadn’t chosen to come by right then.’
‘She take points?’
‘Just told us to move along.’
‘Reckon we ought to stop messing about with Snape, anyhow,’ said James seriously. ‘After –’
‘After I was such an arse last year,’ Sirius finished. ‘Agreed. But if you think I’m about to just take whatever Snape’s got up his sleeve –’
‘No, you’re right. Not if he starts it. But I’m through searching for fights.’ James’s mind involuntarily flashed back to a scene a little more than a year ago, causing him to wince as he remembered the disgusted look on Lily’s face and her despising tone of voice as she berated him for picking on Snape. At the time, he’d dismissed the incident, but recently, it – and other assorted, similar situations – had been creeping guiltily to the forefront of his memory.
‘It’s not just Snape,’ Sirius said, after a long swig of Butterbeer. James raised his eyebrows in question. ‘Must be my day for bumping into Slytherins in the corridors. I’d only just left Snivellus when Reg appeared.’
James nodded sympathetically. A meeting between Sirius and his brother was no reunion picnic – relations between them had been horribly strained since Sirius had left home last Christmas. ‘Go on,’ he said. ‘What happened then?’
‘He …’ Sirius sighed. ‘He asked me when I was going back.’
‘Are you –’
‘Damn it, no! I’m never going back there, not back to that old mausoleum of a house, not back to that bigoted old bat, or that blasted tyrant!’ James noticed, though, that Sirius didn’t condemn his brother along with his parents. ‘And I told him so,’ Sirius added defiantly.
‘Don’t think he took it too well, did he?’
‘’Course not. Bloody git’s too well-trained. Flared up in their defence – bloody hell, they’ve really brainwashed him well – and we got shouting, and McGonagall turned up again and then she took points.’
‘Tough luck,’ said James, but Sirius didn’t seem to notice.
‘It’s just … oh, it’s dumb to imagine, but what if Reg hadn’t made Slytherin? Damn it, he used to be okay, I mean …’
‘He’s still your brother.’
‘Hell, what am I thinking? They aren’t my family any more. Probably blasted me off the old Black tapestry too. And I’m well shot of them!’ He slammed his bottle down on the table violently, causing it to shake. James decided that it was time for a change in topic.
‘You know, I met Snape earlier on too –’
‘Always skulking around, that greasy bat,’ interjected Sirius.
‘I don’t suppose he’s that keen to mess with us anymore, though. You’ll be interested to know that he shut right up when he saw me.’
Sirius’s eyebrows went up. ‘And what did you do, Mr Head Boy?’
‘Nothing. ’Course, Lily and Remus were there, so it would’ve been three on one, if he’d tried anything. Which he didn’t.’
‘And of course,’ Sirius waggled his eyebrows, ‘Lily was there, so you had to be nice. Oh, I see right through you, Prongs.’
James grinned and gave Sirius a playful punch. Sirius returned the favour, and soon they were having a good-natured fist-fight over the table, which ended when one of the Butterbeer bottles flew off the table and exploded in the fire, sending the house-elves into a squealing fright.
‘Oops,’ said James, as glass shards flew over the floor. Mercifully, none of the house-elves were hit.
‘Sorry,’ Sirius told the house-elves.
‘You is not to worry, sir, we is cleaning the glass right away,’ squeaked one of them.
‘Better leave them to it,’ muttered James. ‘C’mon.’ He got up and started to pack the bottles back into the crate. Sirius got out his wand and supplemented by Banishing bottles in.
‘We’re going to need to replenish our stock,’ commented Sirius, as they made their way back to the common room.
‘That’s your fault. I only had one.’
‘Wish it were Firewhisky.’
‘You’d be dead drunk.’
~ * ~
One of the greatest perks of being a prefect, Lily felt, was the prefects’ bathroom: spacious and roomy, with an abundance of fluffy towels and fragrant soaps, and best of all, a bathtub the size of a small swimming pool, which could produce the finest bubble bath Lily had ever seen.
Lily undressed slowly and wrapped herself in a soft towel. Sitting on the edge of the tub, she leaned in and reached for her favourite taps – lukewarm water, the tiniest touch of bubbles and lavender scent. She allowed it to fill just so she could lie in it with her head above the surface, then she dropped the towel and got in.
Heavenly … Lily closed her eyes and leant her head back, enjoying the feel of the warm water on her bare skin.
It was perfect. Especially for times like now, when she felt totally exhausted – mentally, if not physically.
She hadn’t even been back to school a week and already things were going wrong.
The whole school was tense; clear battle lines seemed to be forming amongst the students already. The problem was, Lily wondered what the sides really stood for.
Was it a matter of blood – the pure-blood fanatics against Muggle-borns? Or power – You-Know-Who sympathisers against those who stood against him? Or just everyone against Slytherin because that was the house You-Know-Who was reputed to be from, and the maligned house was just fighting back?
Lily didn’t know. Little scuffles broke out in the halls almost every day. She just wanted it to stop.
If they couldn’t have peace within the school, how could they hope to find it in the world outside?
The prefects didn’t all agree. The Slytherins, following Cassius Meliflua’s lead, opposed her every statement. They were cold and insolent and it didn’t matter that they were only a quarter of the prefects, because they cast a terrible mood over the meetings.
It wasn’t just the Slytherins; the other prefects didn’t all share her views regarding the war and what it was doing to the school either. They listened politely, but she could see clearly in their eyes that they were sceptical and even disdainful. She wasn’t getting their respect.
And Potter wasn’t much help. He wasn’t as bad as before, Lily admitted – thankfully he seemed to have given up being obnoxious and hex-happy, but the fact was, he hadn’t even been a prefect before. The other prefects eyed him with distrust; she didn’t blame them – after all, he was a notorious troublemaker. Nobody could understand how he had suddenly become Head Boy.
Potter just kept quiet at meetings and allowed Lily to do all the talking. She did most of the paperwork too. While she was grateful that at least she didn’t have to put up with Potter starting fights with the Slytherins anymore, she wished she had got a partner who actually knew the ropes, and could share the workload with her.
Or at least a partner whom she didn’t feel edgy around, as she did with Potter. Half the time she expected him to crack and start flirting with her, or throw out a casual jinx at the Slytherin prefects when they made sneering comments. His new-found silence and self-control was disconcerting, to say the least.
Lily let out a deep sigh and sunk deeper into the water, wondering how she was going to survive the year.
The thought crossed her mind that she could just leave, the way Petunia kept asking her to. Lily toyed with the idea. It would be so easy to give up and go home.
Petunia would be delighted. She’d have her sister back.
She wouldn’t have to put up with tight-lipped glares from the Slytherins and unconvinced stares from the other prefects.
She wouldn’t have to break up fight after fight in the corridors.
She’d be away from the dark cloud hanging over them all.
Suddenly, she felt ashamed of herself. She couldn’t just run away from Hogwarts and expect that there wouldn’t be repercussions.
She wouldn’t be anywhere further from the war if she left the magical world. She was a witch, and magic was part of her. Dumbledore hadn’t made her Head Girl so that she would run away and shirk the responsibility.
She’d help to make the wizarding world a better place if she could.
Nevertheless, we will fight.
Potter’s words came, unbidden, to her mind, and she couldn’t help brooding on them.
We will fight. For peace – between all magical people. Because Voldemort isn’t just working to eradicate Muggle-borns. He’s disrupting peace and spreading chaos to gain power. That’s what we have to stop.
Understanding swept over her like a fresh breeze. It was as though the doors to the future were opened just a crack, and she caught a glimpse of what was beyond: Lily knew that she was going to fight Voldemort – suddenly, she knew she wasn’t going to call him You-Know-Who like the rest of the terrified wizarding world – and the disharmony that he stood for. It was as simple as that.
And as complicated.
Nevertheless, she would fight.
A/N: I’d just like to say a special thank you to SillyGillie, Hpgirl420975, and Machiavelli – your reviews were most encouraging; thanks so much for the kind words! Hope you liked this chapter!