The Way They Were
Night had fallen quietly, shrouding the ancient castle in a darkness that Lily Evans tried to get lost in. She hid behind a suit of armour in a far corner of the fifth floor, trying to breathe silently. Every part of her – from her left middle toe to her right shoulder blade – ached with the pain of motionlessness. Fifteen minutes had passed and still Lily heard not a single sound; that was too long, much too long, for nothing to have happened. Someone should have passed by her.
She readjusted her wand in her hand, the sweat making the menial task more difficult than it would otherwise have been. Actually, every part of her was damp with sweat (though the night air, as it should be in the middle of April, was still quite chilly). Her robes, which she had charmed to blend in more easily with the dark walls, clung to her body.
Another five minutes ticked by. Then it happened: footsteps. They were uneven, like someone shuffling forward and pausing every now and again to stop and make sure no one was around.
Lily's heart beat three times faster. The footsteps continued to move towards her. Never taking her wand from her hand, she reached down and tried to wipe some of the dampness off them. Closer and closer the feet came until finally Lily realized that she had to somehow unfold herself from her crouching position. Slowly, so slowly, she stretched her legs out under her. By the time she came to a full standing position, Lily realized that she had not heard the noise in a long time and began to panic.
Two cultures and a thousand miles from you, there is a castle on a hill. In front of it lays a glistening lake and a field that houses six giant bubble-blowers protruding out of the ground. It is a place where things float, shatter, and repair themselves, where the swish of stick rules the hearts of the students and staff, where pictures drink and lie, and some animals are only visible to those who have seen the worst of life.
This castle suffered greatly this year. A woman intent on its destruction displaced its beloved headmaster and stripped it of hope and happiness. Save a pair identical twins, this place was void of laughter, but it was not always so. Little more than twenty-seven years ago the castle withstood four friends whose laughter shook the thousand year-old building. Little more than twenty-seven years ago four girls ran wild in these halls in a crazy game that none but themselves understood, and these children's lives were blanketed in the happiness that came to be taken from these hollowed grounds.
If you wanted to see what that was like, the journey would take you across the insurmountable barrier of Time, through a concrete post, onto a legendary train, and then make you wait out the ride in a small, old-fashioned compartment. After all of that, you would still have to get into a horseless carriage and ride up to a castle that appears to most to be nothing more than rubble. Once there, you would open entrance doors the size of your house. Taking a step across the threshold, the sheer size and nature of the building would strike you dumb: the large, dark, silent halls; the cold stone floor; the old, worn, and distant walls.
Once inside, finding the children would be nearly impossible. The boys sit in a room which can only be reached by traversing seven flights of moving stairs (one of which is invisible), crossing four passages over (two of which are so secret that the caretaker does not know of them), and walking to the end of a dusty, seemingly-unused corridor. In a corner so dark that it must be unnatural, there is a door that you would overlook if I had not mentioned it. Behind that door, the four boys you seek are sitting on the floor: three reading books too large to lift without the aid of magic and the fourth pacing. In two minutes, despite having found the answer they seek in that tomb, one would perform the spell incorrectly and be left with a hoof as an arm for an hour.
The girls would be an even more challenging to discover because they would never be found in the same room, corridor, or even floor if they could help it.
Now you may have assumed that the boys are studious to a fault (studying Transfiguration well into the night) and stupid (performing the spell incorrectly), while the girls are in the middle of a great row that left them fuming at one another. Though these assumptions would not be illogical, they are incorrect. The boys are learning a spell both illegal and highly deserving of that position with the law, which is why it is necessary to learn in the privacy of the night in an unnoticeable room. The girls are playing a game that is more easily understood through observation than explanation.
Now standing behind that suit of armour, Lily realized exactly how imperfectly positioned she was; the small window twenty feet up the wall was the only source of light that Lily had and as there was no moon, she could barely seen her own wand. But that was why they had chosen this night to play, wasn't it? The darkness made it more interesting.
Lily's wand – gripped in her ever-more sweaty and cramped right hand – threatened to succumb to the horrifying prospect of gravity as her hand lost more and more of its feeling, but none of that mattered as she once more focused on the now-missing footsteps. Where were they? As the silence stretched on and on, Lily weighed her options: stay hidden, nearly blind and vulnerable, or take a leap of faith.
Lily jumped out from behind the armour as quickly as her sore muscles would let her.
"Estulumos!" Lily yelled, pointing her wand where she thought the other person would be, praying that it was not a professor or the caretaker. Luckily, it was neither. Unluckily, she missed her target and was not fast enough to block the same spell that hurtled back at her. She was frozen.
"Lumos," said a voice in front of Lily.
In her incapacitated state, Lily blinked several times before her eyes adjusted to the light and she was able to see the person in front of her: tall with flowing black hair and dark features (eyes that looked as dark as coal, almost-maroon lips, and olive skin), this girl's most unnerving feature was her unwavering smile.
"I hit you," Lily muttered through her unmoving lips.
"And I wasn't hurt, did you notice?" came the laughing response. "Maybe you ought to work on casting spells, what do you think?"
"Ugh," was all Lily could say in response. Dropping her laughing eyes from Lily's face, the girl, whose name was Samantha Caldwell, used her right hand to point her wand at her left arm where a line of names and numbers were located.
"You're frozen for thirty more seconds. I got forty points for a chest hit and am now currently in first place. You are in last, having lost ten points, but I should leave before you unfreeze and I can't do anything to stop you from freezing me. Stupid No Backs rule."
With that Samantha, who was more commonly known as Sam, said Nox and was gone, running quickly down the corridor.
When the feeling returned to Lily's legs, she turned and ran in the opposite direction, remembering Sam's ambush tactic from third year. Lighting her wand, Lily checked her own arm to see if Sam had told the truth about the scores. Lily could not possibly be in last already. Except for that one time, she had not been hit all game. Mind you, she had not hit anyone either, but last place did not seem fair. It was true though. The letters on her arm were blue (Sam's favourite colour) indicating Sam's position of distinction above her friends.
Hearing a noise behind her, Lily said Nox and poured on the speed. She noticed an odd spiral staircase once she was almost past it, and jumped onto it as fast as she could. Taking it two-stairs at a time, she reached the top (a trapdoor she needed to push up) in less than ten seconds. After actually opening the door, she crawled inside, slamming it shut behind her, hoping the person wasn't following her. Looking around the room, she found it the strangest thing she had yet seen in Hogwarts. No wall was more than two metres by one metre, including the floor, and each wall was a door, even the roof. Two doors were on their sides and the one on the roof was too far for her to open, so she chose the door behind her, opening and shutting it, just in time to see the floor door beginning to be pushed up.
The corridor she now ran through gave off enough light to let Lily see the numbers on her arm change. Christine had hit Sam in the back, freezing her for a minute and giving herself twenty points and taking ten off Sam, bumping her into second place and Christine into first. That meant they were too far away to be the ones chasing Lily. It had to be either Tracy or a faculty member. She did not bother to wait and find out.
Frantically turning left and right whenever she felt she needed to, Lily ran through every secret passageway that she knew and a few she didn't; yet the footsteps persisted. Daring to duck into a nice little nook she barely noticed, Lily waited. The footsteps ran past her. Lily quickly aimed and yelled,
This time the spell hit her target and Lily saw, in the brief light of the spell, that it was indeed Tracy who had hunted her. Quickly looking at her arm, she saw she had only twenty seconds before the other girl unfroze. Lily sprinted off quickly, not bothering to say anything to Tracy.
Breathing harshly after only a short while, Lily ran up two more staircases and through four more secret passages before a flash of light sprang up behind her. Instantly, she procured a Shield Charm, never missing a step. But then there was another light and the Shield Charm didn't work as well that time. Not knowing what else to do, Lily jumped at the first door she saw. It was locked.
"Alohamora!" she yelled, knowing she did not have time to look for another door.
The door sprang open and she ran through, barely shutting it before another beam of light passed by her. Without realizing why there was light in the room, Lily took advantage of the situation and glanced at the numbers on her arm. Twenty-six more seconds remained before the Tracy's No Back time elapsed and Lily could shoot her once more. But that was not what caught her attention. The fact that Sam had fallen into fourth place after accidentally stunning herself was more important and meant that Lily had a chance of getting second if she could keep Tracy from hitting her and make it back to Gryffindor Tower before the time limit expired.
Trying to steady her breathing, Lily turned to see if there was an alternative way out of the room in case Tracy broke the Locking Charm Lily placed on the door. Four sets of eyes looked back at her in shocked, angry, curious, and bewildered ways.
"What are you doing--" began the boy closest to her. A loud noise exploded from the door, interrupting his question.
"What was that?" asked the boy in the corner of the room, brandishing his wand in a threatening manner.
"Nothing," lied Lily, trying to keep a straight face as she realized what this most look like to someone who knew nothing of the secret game. Another bang on the door proved her wrong and temporarily put out the torches by the door, allowing Lily to notice more clearly when exactly her arm flashed green: the signal that the No Back was over.
Quietly taking the spell off the door, Lily did not notice one of the boys relighting the torches until the light once more poured through the room. She was too busy rapidly opening the door, shouting the curse while aiming in a random direction and shutting the door before Tracy had time to retaliate. The numbers on her arm did not change; she had missed.
"Nineteen minutes left and you're down by fifteen to me and fifty to Christine! You can't win! Let me take the points and beat Christine," Tracy yelled through the door, pleading with Lily to take a fall.
The boys in the room may have said something, asking her questions, staring at her in all of the strangeness, but Lily had not noticed. She was too busy trying to think of a way to leave this room and run back to her common room in nineteen minutes without getting hit by Tracy because there was absolutely no way she would ever simply accept defeat.
There was no way around it; she would have to just do it.
Throwing open the door, Lily remained hidden behind it, waiting until after Tracy's first curse barrelled through before she pivoted around the door and shot out her own spell, hitting the other girl right in the stomach and giving Lily twenty-seven seconds to run before the other girl unfroze. It was not actually that much time when Lily realized she knew neither where she was nor how to get back to her house. So she ran as fast as she could toward the best-lit corridor, leaving the four boys just as she had found them: shocked, angry, curious, and bewildered.
Eventually she recognized a staircase and two portraits. Proud to know that she found her way, Lily's confidence soared. Or at least it soared until she was stunned from the side. Instantly frozen, the only reason she saw who hit her was because Christine – fun-loving, kind of always lost Christine – streaked past her.
Almost the moment Lily's stunning wore off, another light hit her, harder, and she was frozen once more. This time it was the tan body of Sam who raced past, sprinting after Christine, obviously trying for one last hit before the tower. Lily would have surely been stunned a third time if it hadn't been for her ability with Charms. As soon as she unfroze, she shot out a Shield Charm, deflecting two Stuns from what must have been Tracy.
Sprinting to the left after the last shot faded into oblivion, leaving the hall in complete darkness, Lily raced through three corridors on a floor she vaguely knew, avoiding curses being shot at her from one of her best friends, and having the time of her life. Her arm began to blink white, notifying her that only five minutes remained before the time limit expired. Putting every last breath she had into it, Lily raced for the tower, knowing she could not afford to lose the sixty points that missing the deadline entailed. It was in her hurry to get back that she made her most lucky encounter of the night: Filch, the caretaker. Literally. She knocked him over.
"You lousy, disrespectful, nuisance of a girl!" he yelled, hurrying to stand up, grabbing her upper arm painfully as her did so, dragging her to her feet. "You'll get expelled for this. Running around at this hour of the morning, trying to kill Mrs. Norris and me. You'll surely be gone from here soon."
"But--" Lily panted, trying to think of something to say to make him stop.
"No talking!" He shuddered and suddenly an idea came to her. He tightened his gripped on her arm so much that she cried out in pain instead of finishing her thought.
"I was chasing first years," she said, trying to catch her breath, the pain in her side hurting her almost as much as his hand on her arm. "I'm a Prefect and saw them sneak out."
"Liar! You ought to be beaten for such--" a burst of light shot towards the pair of them and though it did not hit them, it gave Filch a reason to believe Lily.
"First years! Attacking me!" He gave Lily one last shake them ran off to catch his prey: Tracy. Lily had to warn her. Loudly she yelled,
"Get those first years, Mr. Filch!"
She hoped that was enough to save her friend whatever punishment she would have otherwise incurred, but Lily could not wait to see. Spinning and taking every precaution, even sending out the Shield Charm, Lily sprinted towards the tower, making it back with barely forty-four seconds remaining before the end of the game.
Bending at the middle, Lily rested her hands on her knees and gulped in air, trying to ignore the sweat drying all over her body. When she finally managed to stand upright, her wandless left hand gripping her side, she noticed a person lounging quite comfortably on an armchair in front of the fire.
"I… hate… you…" Lily said between gasps of breath, recognizing Sam in a moment. In response, the girl smiled. Sam might have actually said something, but she was interrupted as they both turned to stare at the portrait hole. It had sounded like something large had just run into the portrait at full speed.
"Christine," they said together before laughing. Their guess was soon proved correct as Christine, whose left side of her face looked painfully red, came stumbling through the portrait hole, looking satisfied, though she obviously just run into a wall at top speed.
"Made it," she sighed, panting like Lily.
"And Tracy won't," replied Lily. The girls looked at their left arms to see the last seconds of the game come to an end. As soon as the game ended, the numbers disappeared from their arms in a bright flash. After that dimmed, each girl held a piece of parchment in her hand.
"What?" yelled Sam, her eyes growing wide as she saw the results.
"Tracy didn't make it back because I hit her in the chest from three floors away," Christine announced as she continued both reading the parchment, her cheek growing more and more red.
Sam let out a moan, seeing the final scores printed on the parchment, knowing she had only lost because Christine had made an amazing last-moment hit worth one-hundred points. Lily had learned not to care about the final results the way the others did. Still, Lily smiled: she had come in third, not last.
"I love this game," Lily announced.
"Though no one knows why since you haven't won it since third year," Sam said, folding and placing her parchment in her pocket.
"Winning isn't everything," Lily said.
"It's just mostly everything," Sam replied.
"True," Christine agreed. The three friends stayed there, waiting for their fourth member to come in, but when the portrait hole opened it was not Tracy crawling in. Instead, it was the four male Gryffindor fifth years, the four same boys Lily had shared a room with for a few brief moments as she hid from Tracy. They were complaining loudly about having had to run away from Filch.
"I stopped him!" James Potter said. The girls glanced over at him; he was a short, black-haired boy who had fallen heavily for himself this past year. "I shot the greatest Stunning Charm at him." Lily rolled her eyes at Christine and Sam, who smiled.
"Let's go wait for Tracy upstairs," Sam suggested. Lily and Christine stood and walked towards the door that led to their staircase.
"Let me!" James yelled. Then he proceeded to magically open their door with such force that it slammed against the wall, making a loud cracking sound.
"Do you want to wake everyone up?" Lily said, exasperated and annoyed.
"What were you thinking?" Sam asked, shaking her head at him.
Then they opened the door manually and walked through, disappearing a moment before Tracy walked through the portrait hole and made her way up to their dorm. When the other girls heard the door to their room open, they saw Tracy, whose short brown hair looked like a dead animal. Maybe two dead animals. Her eyes locked on Christine.
"I was in first! I hit Lily and I was in first, and the you came along out of nowhere!" Christine looked back, smiling. "I was shot one minute before the end of the game, in the middle of a staircase, and then I see Filch coming at me…"
As the girls looked on, Tracy told them her story of embarrassment and the girls tried and failed not to laugh while two staircases and a corridor over, the boys got into their own beds, feeling tired and unnerved by the events of the night.
So here, at 3:13 in the morning, you would finally find those whom you came so far to understand. You would travel across years and oceans, history and commonsense to find these eight people because you have met the next generation and believe you need to know their history. You would look for the truth about Harry Potter, but I warn you that it is not what you expect; it is only how it was on April 17th, 1973, right after a hard rain had fallen on what looks to most to be a pile of ruins, in the third year of Voldemort's Rising, when those whose destinies would lead into myth and legend had no greater aspirations than to learn how to change into an animal and win a magical game of Laser Tag.