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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 9 : One of Theirs
 
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Chapter 9 - One of Theirs
Professor McGonagall walked over to Fawkes as Lily, James, and Alice all took their seats on the other side of Albus Dumbledore’s desk.

Lily eyed Fawkes as he nudged at the hand of Gryffindor Head of House. Despite the exquisite purity that the bird represented, something about his spiny wings and excessively contrasted features always gave Lily a bit of the creeps.

His colouring was more than beautiful; he looked like a flame that had been plucked from the fire and shaped into the form of a bird. However, even those magnificent oranges and reds weren’t enough to detract from his large talons or the way his beady eyes could stare into hers with entirely too much awareness for an animal.

“Professor,” James began as their Headmaster took his seat in the overstuffed chair across from them.

Lily found herself unable to meet Professor Dumbledores’s eyes. Instead, she focused on the engraved gold that swirled and looped over the well oiled wooden desk.

“Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said with his hand raised. “I will soon get to my purpose for asking the three of you here. First, Miss Christopherson, are you aware of any other plans that Mr. Longbottom may have had for this evening?” Dumbledore removed his distinctively shaped glasses, keeping his vibrant blue eyes on the group as he spoke.

Alice stayed silent for a moment. Lily knew she was racking her brain to accurately answer their Headmaster.

Alice struggle to keep her voice even as she began to speak. “No… no professor. He told me that he and Augusta would attend the Christening, stay for the small get together after, then be back to Hogsmeade around five. He said that she was going to walk him to the castle and check in with you once they arrived.” Dumbledore nodded at Alice’s words before glancing back down at the parchment in front of him. Lily assumed that he must’ve been writing on it right before they entered; the ink was still glistening with moisture.

“Mr. Potter, Miss Evans, I will need your assistance in gathering the seventh year Prefects for a meeting tomorrow morning before breakfast. That should allow us a sufficient amount of time to spread the word. I strongly suggest that it’s held in the Heads’ Quarters for adequate privacy; the prefects will be told to wait outside your portrait at seven o’clock in the morning.”

Lily and James nodded, staying silent while they waited for him to continue. Lily glanced to her left and reached over to grab Alice’s hand. She wasn’t surprised to find that her friend’s skin was ice cold, all the blood focused on keeping her heart consistent.

“There has been an attack.” Lily heard the breath catch in Alice’s throat. She squeezed her friend’s hand tighter, eager for Dumbledore to continue.

“A Christening was held for the twin daughters of Edgar Bones, who wed a delightful muggle woman.” Their professor paused as Lily felt the words sink in. For a moment she couldn’t understand why he was telling them this instead of just getting to the point.

His gaze stayed steady on them and she felt her own impatience hum…. Why wasn’t he continuing?

After another moment of intolerable silence, something inside Lily clicked. Her green eyes widened as she realized that he had gotten to the point.

There was an attack because of who Edgar Bones had married… Because of the blood status belonging to the children who were being Christened.

“Professor, is Frank..?” James started, his voice much stronger than Lily felt.

“Mr. Longbottom and his mother have yet to be accounted for. Augusta posses a very keen sense of awareness and I’m sure she was on the lookout for this Christening to be protested. It’s very possible that they slipped away as soon as the Death Eaters began to attack and are already making their way back to the castle.”

“It wasn’t just someone acting up? It was actual Death Eaters? Has anyone… do we know if anyone was hurt?” Lily asked, unable to keep the questions in her mind for another second.

Dumbledore’s eyes slipped over to hers. Their gentleness both frustrated and reassured Lily. After another seemingly endless silence, he glanced to Professor McGonagall who was still stroking the large bird.

“Amelia, Edgar, and Esther Bones are all safe. Their parents and the parents of Edgar’s wife were murdered.” Dumbledore paused as Lily felt the news try to penetrate her. “Edgar is a wise man and planned accordingly. Measures were taken to protect the gathering and those measures kept over twenty guests safe.

“The names belonging to two of the Death Eaters have been reported, and that is where I will need the cooperation of my Prefects and Head Boy and Girl.” Lily and James nodded quickly. Lily just wanted him to keep talking, she wanted to know everything.

“The two Death Eaters who were identified are from prominent wizarding families. This is certain to create tension among some of our Houses, and it is my hope that we can keep that tension to a minimum and possibly even attempt to strengthen our unity at this very difficult time.”

“Professor, if they were spotted, if they could be identified, why haven’t they been arrested?” Lily hadn’t meant for her voice to sound so edgy, but it made no sense to her.

They know who at least two of the Death Eaters are! Why was it so difficult to find and capture them?

“Ah, Ms. Evans, a frustrating thing, isn’t it? We’ve come so far with magic, yet there are still very dangerous souls walking free. These aren’t untalented witches and wizards, my dear girl. These are very dangerous individuals without a care for the laws of our world. Aurors are, of course, hunting day and night. The Death Eaters, however, know they are being hunted, and they possess the requisite skills to prepare and conceal themselves.”

Just as Lily was about to ask who the identified Death Eaters were, a large burst of white light filled dim room. The graceful shape of a fox slipped through a glass window and leapt onto the desk.

“Find Dumbledore and tell him Mother and I are safe. We’re making our way from Hogsmeade.” As soon as the essence of the animal dissolved away, Alice let out a gasp.

It took Lily a minute to remember that just a few weeks ago Frank had produced that same Patronus in Defence Against the Dark Arts while they were covering previously learned material.

“Mr. Potter —” It was the first time McGonagall had spoken since they entered the office. “What I presume to be Mr. Longbottom’s Patronus, just spoke to us?”

“Er, yeah. That seems accurate.” James guided his fingers through his hair as he spoke.

Why did Mr. Longbottom’s Patronus just speak, Mr. Potter?” Professor McGonagall asked with a bit more force.

“It was something we all started working on over the beginning of the summer. Frank stayed with us for a few weeks, and Peter and Remus came to visit too. And we, er, we were all of age..” James seemed to be stumbling over his words. If the situation wasn’t such an upsetting one, Lily would have laughed at his tumble of explanations.

“Are you suggesting that you boys taught yourselves this means of communication?” Dumbledore asked, the colours of his irises sparking with interest.

“We just wanted to know if there was a faster way than owls, and we had all gotten the hang of our Corporeal Patronus when they first came up at the end of sixth year. And we figured since they’re ours we should be able to use them for something else.”

“And to speak? How..?” Professor McGonagall began, moving from the Phoenix to Dumbledore’s side. “Can you send one back to Mr. Longbottom?” she asked after a moment.

Lily felt James visibly relax beside her as he realized they were curious about the trick, as opposed to angry. He nodded at his professors and stood from the chair and walked to an empty space of floor that allowed him a bit more room.

“Lily,” James murmured. She glanced over at him to ask what he wanted, but her words became as thick as honey in her throat. Something warm — nearly hot — something that made her fingers tingle and the blood rush from her heart filled his hazel eyes. He moved his gaze away from her so quickly that she halfheartedly wondered if she’d imagined the entire thing.

“Expecto Patronum!” The strength of his words coerced a smooth, glowing jet to soar from the tip of his wand and form into the shape of a powerful stag.

The radiance of the animal, of the happiness that it had taken for James to create it, took Lily’s breath away. A Patronus wasn’t something new. A handful of them had even been able to create a corporeal form at the end of sixth year.

But even though she’d seen a Patronus before, and could cast her own, this was the first time she’d ever witnessed James’s Patronus. She couldn’t help but wonder what he’d say if he knew hers was a doe, the animal designed as the mate to a stag. He’d probably act like it was some sign, she was nearly sure he would. Though even as she thought the words, her heart sped in her chest.

James stood from the chair and walked to the animal that was now kicking his hooves silently against the stone floor. He pointed his wand at the stag, then closed his eyes. “Expecto Patronum,” he said with the same amount of intensity as the first time.

Only this time, there were no white ribbons of light flowing from his wand. Instead, the already created allusion of a creature stood completely stiff with his eyes focused on James’s. Lily blinked a few times, trying to figure out if this was the flames casting shadows around and causing the glow to seem more… solid. She blinked again and waited to see if it was a trick of light or simply her own imagination. However, the animal really did seem to be made of a denser kind of luminesce. She could no longer nearly see through him, only into his beams.

James kept his wand level and pointed at the stag. Lily held her breath as he touched the head. Her heart skipped into her throat when his hand rested against the bright shimmers, as opposed to slipping through it.

“Find Frank Longbottom, tell him: we’re safe and get your arse back here before Alice stops breathing for good. That’s all for now.”

The stag bowed his graceful head before James removed his hand. As soon as the touch of flesh left the creature, he seemed to lose the amount of solidity that had allowed James to touch him. His light became closer to transparent once again.

He turned around the room and launched himself out the largest window, flying away from Hogwarts.

“How did you boys come up with this?” McGonagall asked as she sat in a chair beside Dumbledore’s desk. Her voice was nearly as curious as Lily felt. She glanced at their Headmaster and wasn’t surprised to see his thin lips turned into a small smile.

“We just… tried, I guess. A lot of things didn’t work, and we still can’t figure out how to get them to listen without touching them. So far that’s what keeps them real enough to know what to do after casting the second spell, and then they remember.” James moved to sit back down as he continued his explanation.

“We aren’t sure how far they go, but we were able to send one to Peter when his mum took him to Blackpool a few weeks before term started. It was Remus’s idea to cast the charm the second time.”

“And how did you discover that it was necessary to touch them to hold the solidity?” Profess Dumbledore asked. To Lily’s surprise, James let a very rare blush creep into his cheeks.

“I was getting frustrated because they’d start losing their coherence right away, and I went to grab mine by the antlers… and it worked. He didn’t return to being just light until I let go.”

“And then, during that time you were able to dictate the message and assign a recipient? That’s very impressive magic, Mr. Potter.” Professor Dumbledore remarked in a voice that Lily thought sounded a bit younger than usual.

“Ms. Christopherson, Mr. Longbottom is safe, breathe,” McGonagall ordered. Lily looked over and noticed that Alice really didn’t seem to be inhaling nearly enough. Her friend nodded her head and took in a large gulp of oxygen.

“And Mr. Potter, don’t use curse words in this school.” The very small patch of red strengthened in James’s cheeks. Lily assumed he must’ve thought he’d gotten away with saying arse when he passed along his message.

“The attack, Professor?” Lily asked, the reason for their presence in the office coming back to the front of her mind.

“Yes,” Dumbledore began. His mind seemed to be drawing away from the new discovery and back to the issue.

When he spoke again, his tone was one of gravity and the blue of his eyes quickly lost their twinkle. "Four innocent people lost their lives this evening. Edgar reacted quickly enough to save the lives of his infant daughters, as well as his wife. Should he not have there would be at least three more deaths to tally.

"Now, what I need from you, Mr. Potter, and you, Miss Evans," he nodded his head at both his students, "is to be sure that our Prefects are given the correct facts that I've just relayed to you with regard to the attack. Our school, glorious as it may be, is not free of judgement nor prejudice. This news will be covering the front of the Daily Prophet tomorrow morning. It's best that we don’t underplay the magnitude of this issue, and we must remain on the lookout for increasing quarrels between Houses and students."

Lily thought about how the Slytherin students would react. There were even a few Ravenclaws that she knew of whose families believed in blood purity. But before this attack, the names had been meaningless. They'd been muggles, and despite the disgusting crimes committed against them, no one at the school had any idea of who they were.

Now, some of their own had been targeted. Many people knew Amelia, along with her brother. Esther would even ring a bell to some. Now they knew there was the chance that it could have easily been Amelia on the other side of that Unforgivable Curse. She wasn't a nameless, faceless muggle printed on a paper. She was one of theirs. Just like it could have been Frank. It could have been Frank.

"Ah, Mr. Longbottom and his mother have arrived." Dumbledore watched as the color of his fireplace turned from the natural hues of flames to a gentle blue.

"Professor, the fire, er, the fire turned blue because of Frank?" Lily asked, curious about what he was searching for among the flickering.

"Yes, Miss Evans. We do have a vast amount of protection around this school, you know."

Lily wanted to ask why it turned blue, but she understood the fact that he didn’t elaborate meant that they wouldn’t be given anymore insight. Instead, she remained silent as she watched the flames fade back to a twisting blend of orange and red.

"Mr. Potter, Ms. Evans, you understand your assignment, correct?" Professor McGonagall's voice was shifted back to her normal, no nonsense attitude.

"Yes, Professor. Tell the seventh year Prefects to meet outside our portrait at seven o'clock tomorrow morning." James's voice sounded off to Lily. She glanced at him, then after he didn't continue, she took over.

"And tell them all the details you've told us. As well as making sure they put the other Prefects of their house on high alert to keep an eye out for more tension between the students. Professor?" She glanced at McGonagall.

"Ms. Evans?"

"Is…. Will Amelia be coming back?" Lily asked. “And now, now that they, his followers, made their point… what will happen?”

McGonagall glanced at Dumbledore. "Yes, Miss Evans. Miss Bones will be returning. Regarding the attack, you must understand that just because this is the first one against such a large wizarding family does not mean it will be last."

The warning rang through Lily's soul as they said their goodbyes and departed from the Headmaster's office. The ride down the self moving stairs, back to the Gargoyle, was a mixture of relief and terror.

Frank was safe. Lily couldn't image how painful those first few minutes would have been for Alice. Frank was safe. But a girl she'd gone to school with for years just watched her parents get murdered in front of her. She watched her family become a target, herself even.

It was true that the war had already started, but it had been so secretive before. Muggles were murdered in the dead of night, miles away. Disappearances were being reported left and right. Aurors had been killed on the job. Terrible things had been happening. But this time, it as good as happened at Hogwarts. Frank was there. Frank saw it. It happened to one of theirs.

She saw Sirius’s face as the Gargoyle leapt aside. His features twisted with worry and stress. Then, as they exited the staircase, Remus, Peter, Frank, and Mrs. Longbottom came into view.

“Lily, James, Alice,” Augusta greeted them hastily before stepping into the still open staircase and letting it bring her up.

“Frank.” A whisper that was so quiet it was nearly non existent left Alice’s fragile lips.

Lily’s heart tugged as she watched two of her best friends lean towards each other. She heard Alice’s breath even out the second Frank laced his arms around her. The intimacy of the moment, the sight of their friends holding one another together, had the rest of the group shuffling away awkwardly.

“Frank filled us in,” Remus said. His eyes bored into James, causing Lily to remember what had been happening when their professor interrupted.

James nodded before turning away.

“Sirius, Lily, can I talk to you guys?”

Lily glanced at Sirius then nodded as they began making their way farther down the seventh floor corridor.

Once they were a considerable distance from the office and in front of the staircase to the West Tower, James stopped and sat one on of the stairs.

“I shouldn’t have reacted that way. Sirius, you know I didn’t mean… I would never… I was just so angry that you guys lied to me.” The hurt in James’s voice was worse than his previous rage.

Lily’s cheeks took on a scarlet tint of shame. “It was my idea though, James. I wouldn’t have Sirius thinking it was his fault, removing that part of the night seemed like the best option and —”

“Lily,” Sirius interrupted. She nodded and sat down on the stair below James. “James, Lily did suggest it, but I didn’t have to go along with it. I should have trusted you enough to talk to you. I just couldn’t handle you thinking I had any part in putting Lily through so much.”

“But you did have a part in it,” James said. “You did. I don’t blame you, and I know it was an accident, but you still had a part in it. I guess I did too, though. I mean, I’ve raced my broom against that thing. I’ve hung around in the sky and watched you race other muggle cars. And I never, we never, thought about what could happen. So it can be my fault too. And maybe we’ll have to acknowledge that when Lily yells at us to grow up, it’s for a good reason.”

The grin that had been so absent the last few hours filled Sirius’s face.

“Everything I do is for a good reason,” Lily said, the light of her smile reaching her eyes.

“We have enough shit going on around us without lying to each other,” James said after a moment. “So, whatever happens, if there’s anything else you guys aren’t telling me, now is a good time. Do my parents know?” he asked, his eyes once again drilling into Sirius.

Sirius looked down at Lily before sighing and sitting beside her. “Yeah, they know. I asked them not to tell you James, I’m sorry. Don’t be angry at them though.”

James kept his gaze steady on Sirius. His features betrayed nothing, and Lily found herself impatient for him to continue.

“Well, you know what this means, right?” James finally asked, his words slow and somber as they left his lips.

“Er, what?” Sirius asked, his eyebrows furrowing in confusion.

“This means that… we finally know who the favorite son is.” James let out an exaggerated sigh as he stood up that was almost instantly followed Sirius’s bark of laughter.

“Well, James, I could have told you that ages ago.” He stood up as well, and just like that it seemed that the sharp words and guilty consciences were drowned out by the integrity of friendship.

Lily fell behind as her friends started walking back towards Dumbledore’s office. The weight of her and Sirius’s secret seemed to slowly dissipate from her shoulders. She had expected James to stay angry for much longer. But why? When had he ever remained angry for long? The very few times she had forced herself to apologize to James Potter, he’d accepted it easily and forgotten whatever incident sparked the apology.

Frank’s face came into view as they neared the group still waiting outside the Headmaster’s office.

“We figured we’d wait for you guys. We wanted— we thought it was best to all go down to dinner together.” Alice’s voice was stronger. The anxiety was still there, but it was now hidden under a paper thin cover.

“I like that idea,” Lily answered as she took Alice’s hand. Belle looped her arm around Lily’s free one, though her vivid blue eyes seemed to be glancing over at Sirius every few seconds. Lily smiled as she realized that her hot headed friend appeared very relieved to see Sirius smiling again.

The empty space was suffocating. The air around her was void of all light, a void that no candle nor oil lamp could fill.

She slipped her feet over the ebony wood floor, her stockings occasionally getting caught on the grains of the planks. The room was freezing, but the chill didn’t register against her flesh. Only her blood felt the cold, an icy sensation drummed deep into her bones.

The silence surrounding her was normal. A large rock and plaster concoction filled with towering stairs and vacant rooms was typically silent. And maybe the Lestrange Mansion wasn't as fine as the Malfoy Estate, but as long as her Lord approved of it, she didn’t care. As long as it was able to assist her Master as an occasional meeting place, that was all that mattered. And it would assist for just that in a few long, strangling minutes.

Bellatrix continued sliding her feet over the bathroom floor: back and forth. Right foot, left foot, right, left. The mirror caught her attention as she glanced at it from the corner of her eye. She snapped her head up from the position of shame, causing her wild curls to fly behind her.

Her bony fingers dipped into her pocket and retrieved her smooth wand. She used what strength she could find and whispered the incantation to light the lamps and candles placed around the room, and in a split second dozens of flames were ablaze. The inky black air was tainted with the burn of fire.

Her dark eyes grew large as she turned to the mirror and began searching it, as if she wasn’t certain it was really Bellatrix Lestrange looking back at her. After a moment she moved away from her own reflection and faced the wall.

She lifted her hands, then brought them crashing down into the plaster, leaving an array of small cuts over her skin.

She spun back around to face the mirror, a new madness overtaking her dark eyes.

“You failed Him! You failed Him!” She screamed it at her reflection. Her voice ripped from her throat until the rawness began to overtake her.

She shrieked the words, not stopping until the beating that her vocal cords were enduring became evident and her voice was little more than a croak.

She reached up to the mirror, enraged at the reflection dancing back at her. Her reflection. Her weak face taunting her. Because even the reflection knew that she failed.

Her fingers grazed over the glass where her cheek was depicted. They brushed gently down the false face and farther along the mirror until the tip of her black nail was just over image of her heart. The oxygen shook her lungs as she brought it in with violent sobs.

Her nails quivered over the smooth surface until she was no longer able to handle it, to handle the worthless face glancing back at her.

Another scream ripped from her and she dug her nails into the glass.

They were too frail to handle the assault.

Their tips began breaking, but she kept clawing against the failure. Despite the cracking, she didn’t stop. She continued to attack her own reflection, putting so much force behind her fingers that the thin nails started peeling back to reveal the soft flesh underneath, blood dripping from them.

A quick knock at the door forced her to stop.

“It’s time for the meeting. He will be here soon.” Her husband’s voice circled around her, and she began to clean her hands and prepared to meet her Master. It’s time.

Only hours ago she had been ready to honour her Lord, to do whatever its took to serve him. And now, she was nothing remotely resembling an honour; she was a disgrace. The mudblood infants walked free. The filthy muggle wife still had a beating heart. She had failed. She would be punished.

Anything, she could withstand anything as long as, when it was over, she still held his Mark.

Her hand crawled down her left arm and clasped tightly around the spot that housed her Dark Mark. Yes, she could endure whatever punishment she was given, as long as she was permitted to keep her branding.

It’s time.
AN:
A huge thank you to my darling beta reader, CambAngst, for not only being an awesome beta, but for really helping Dumbledore come together in this chapter.

Okay, one more thing. As you can see, I am giving the talking Patronuses an origin. Wiki does say it was invented by Albus, but not the HP Lexicon. We all know that HP Wiki takes some liberties with what they consider canon, so I decided to go with Lexicon's information. You also may have noticed some differences between how James gets his Patronus to talk, to how the second Order members do. This was intentional. I think it's important to show that things, even magic, evolve.

Did you pick up on what exactly James was thinking about when he cast the first Patronus Charm?

Thanks for reading!


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