Author's Note: Well, here we are. The last chapter. Thanks to all of you who took the time to read and review this. Don't forget to keep an eye out for the sequel, "Requiems." I have about ten chapters of it already written so I'll probably be putting it up very soon. It takes place near the end of the Marauders' last year, will have much more of a love-story angle (and not just concerning J/L), will focus a lot on Sirius this time, and is mostly about the negative after-effects of...well, what happens in this last chapter. Enjoy.
At 7:40 on Monday night James was at the Quidditch field, flying through the night air high up on his broomstick. He often liked to go out at night and practice all by himself at the field, now that he was old enough to be allowed to do so. James loved Quidditch, but felt that flying by himself was a completely different experience than flying in a Quidditch match; it didn't feel like racing or a competition but more like pure freedom, like what flying is supposed to feel like. The castle also looked extremely beautiful from far away at night. It always reminded him of the first time he had seen it, crossing the lake toward it in the boats as a First Year.
James pulled his broom upward until he was hanging upside-down with his legs curled up around it and one hand holding the broomstick. He used his free hand to dig into his robes for his wand, which he lit for a moment to be able to read the time on his watch. He sighed, wondering how long the others were going to still be wandering about the grounds and the streets of Hogsmeade before they came back. Immediately after school he had had Quidditch practice and then had to go to Professor Hawkins's class for detention, so he hadn't seen Sirius, Peter, and Remus since classes and was starting to wish he had some familiar friends to talk to. If he had to hang around for one more hour by himself he thought he was going to die of boredom.
James flew down to the ground, landed softly on the grass, and stared up at the full moon as he walked back to the school. On his way back he spotted some figures in the distance of other students that were still outside. Once he was inside he could hear loud conversation inside the Great Hall; most of the students were done eating dinner but were still in there studying with their friends or otherwise socializing and being openly unconstructive.
He went upstairs to the portrait hole entrance and went through it with his broomstick over his shoulder. As soon as he was inside the common room he noticed a movement over in front of the fireplace and a flash of red hair.
"James?" Lily asked in surprise, turning to see him where she sat on the sofa. "What are you doing here? You and the others are back already?"
"No. I didn't go." He walked over to the sofa in front of the fireplace as he explained. "I had to serve detention and couldn't make it."
"Couldn't they have waited for you?"
"Sure, if they wanted to lose track of Remus," he answered. "Probably would have been okay, but we don't like him to be alone when he changes. Never know what could happen or what he'd do differently than usual." James looked around to make sure there wasn't anyone else in a hidden place in the common room, as their conversation would sound a little peculiar, but found that there was no one. He noticed for the first time that there was very quiet music playing - he was so used to it that it hadn't seemed odd - and when he looked over at the grand piano he saw the keys pushing down on their own as if played by invisible fingers. "Everybody's gone."
"Yeah," Lily said. "They're all in the Great Hall looking at Jeffrey's new iguana. I got bored with talking to people, so I came up here."
James observed her briefly and found that she wasn't studying or doing any work. In fact, she had nothing with her, but was simply sitting with her hands in her lap calmly.
"You're looking a little lonely," he said honestly. But perhaps he would have looked a little strange as well to anyone who had seen him flying on his broom all alone at night, he thought right afterwards.
As if reading his mind, Lily eyed his broomstick. "Did you have detention and Quidditch practice, too?"
"Yeah," James said, putting his broom against a chair and then sitting next to her on the couch. "But I had practice first. I was just flying around." He thought for a moment, and then began, "Um...Lily, I'm sorry about...you know, yesterday."
"There's no reason for you to apologize," she told him.
"Maybe not. Well, you'd think not. But it was just kind of strange how Snape jumped on the first opportunity to start offending you like that. Usually anything he says or does is against us and he leaves you alone. I just kind of got the feeling he was trying to get me worked up."
"You?" Lily asked. But right after she said it some realization, as if that she had said something that shouldn't be spoken aloud yet, caused her to ignore the idea. "But that doesn't make it your fault."
"Well, anyway, I'm sorry we made a big commotion over it. I know that's not how you wanted us to deal with it. We were just making things worse."
"But that was just Sirius."
"Would have been me, too, if Snape had been standing just a couple feet closer."
"Alright," Lily started in a new unserious tone, "next time, then, I won't be as easy on you."
He smiled. "Sounds fair to me."
Lily turned her head to look forward and her slightly curled hair moved a little about her neck and shoulders with the movement. James felt something lingering inside of him, as if wanting to get out. He knew he had felt it before. There was something about being with her. She was so lovely but not in the same way as other girls he knew, because it did not make her intimidating at all. That made everyone want to be with her, talk with her. With him it was not any different.
But no, that wasn't it. There was something else.
James realized that he hadn't said anything in a long time, but as soon as she turned to him and he looked into her face again he didn't feel weird about it, and everything was all right. The flickering light from the fireplace delicately illuminated all of her shapely features; a curl resting against her shirt, the gleam of her emerald eyes, the smoothness of her neck. She stared at him for a moment and when her eyes raised to his untidy dark hair she smiled as if she had never noticed it before, and raised her hand to brush a stringy forelock out of his face.
"It kind of does that when I've been flying," James apologized with a laughing smile.
Then there was a stretch of silence again. But it didn't feel like silence. At every moment it felt like they were talking to eachother, even when they weren't speaking words. It was such a comfortable feeling that James almost preferred the silence to talking to her. Everything about the moment was so warm, just as much because he was this near to her as it was because they were near the fire.
He was for once fully conscious of himself as he said, "Lily..."
She did not say anything but responded with her eyes, gazing into his unbreakingly and waiting.
The flames in front of them crackled and burned quietly. James didn't feel himself leaning toward her. It was a little like falling very, very slowly, what came over him then. It was happening to her, too.
The distance between their faces was closing as slowly as it takes sunlight to fade to darkness at dusk. Their eyes closed gently and a black curtain fell over both of their minds and they drew closer and closer...
Then the portrait hole slid open.
Lily and James opened their eyes in surprise and whipped around in the couch to see a very troubled-looking Peter rushing into the room behind them.
"Peter?" Lily said with a concerned voice.
"Hey, Wormtail," James greeted. "What's wrong?"
"It's Severus," Peter panted, catching his breath from running all the way there. "He's...Padfoot did something..."
"Severus?" Lily repeated the name, immediately becoming very alert at the mention of Snape. "What about him? Where's Sirius?"
"He's down there," Peter said as Lily and James both stood up, and they soon realized he was ignoring her second question. "Snape. He went down there."
"Wormtail, down where?" James asked, raising his voice a little in frustration with not understanding Peter's point.
"There, Prongs," Peter said gravely. "There. Down the passageway. Under the willow tree."
There was one second of silent realization, like the ticking of a countdown clock stopping right before a bomb explodes. Then James exclaimed in a voice twice as loud as before, "What!"
As the three of them ran downstairs to get outside, Peter tried to explain everything to James and Lily very quickly. "We had just changed back and come out of the tunnel, and we were about to put the cloak on but I said to wait because I saw Snape coming around a corner."
"What was he doing there!" James asked in disbelief. "No students go to that part of the grounds, it's not allowed."
"I don't know, but he came and walked right by us, and Sirius knew he had spotted us there and was just trying to find something to get us in trouble for. Of course the tree wasn't moving because it was still stunned and this got his attention. So Sirius told him how we had made it do that. And then he pointed out the opening to the tunnel to him and dared him to go down there."
"He...what?" James was so startled that his pace of going downstairs was slowed for a moment.
"Yeah, and Snape seemed so curious about the situation so I think he knew he would actually do it. And then I guess he thought it would be funny to mess with his head a bit, because before Snape went down there he disappeared under the cloak as he was looking away for a second."
"And now he's gone," James assumed.
"Yes. I don't know where he...He could be anywhere," Peter said exhaustedly.
James cursed and covered his forehead with his hand. He couldn't believe his friend had gone this far. Had he been in a bad and especially reckless mood and been hiding it well all day? Was he still mad at Snape because of what had happened the day before? Had he just been playing with the idea so he and Peter could have a laugh, or had he really believed that Snape would do it if he told him to?
As they ran across the school grounds, not even worrying about getting caught in the forbidden area near the willow tree, the horrible possibilities were racing through all of their minds. Snape attacked. Snape bitten and turned into a werewolf. Snape killed. And Sirius and Remus both knowing they had done it to him and having to live with it for the rest of their lives.
Once they had reached the tree, James looked around and shouted. "Sirius, you moron! Where are you! Come out so I can throw you to Moony myself, you idiot!"
"James," Lily said in a quiet, attemptingly calming voice. "I'm sure he's not here. He probably left and doesn't even know if Severus went into the tunnel or not."
James turned to Peter hopelessly. "How far down do you suppose he is by now?"
The look in Peter's eyes turned even more fearful than before. "...I'm sorry," he said pathetically. "I wasted a lot of time running around calling for Sirius myself...It's been at least fifteen minutes. Maybe twenty."
A terrible silence went over the three of them then, and the complete stillness of the tree was now especially unsettling. James walked right up to it and halted before the gap in the roots that opened to go down into the tunnel. A strange change appeared to go over him then. Standing there completely still he suddenly looked older than usual. His careless and jocular exterior was suddenly shed as he stood regarding what was before him, knowing what he must do.
"...I have to go down there," he said quietly.
Peter's eyes widened. "Are you crazy?"
"James!" Lily cried desperately. "No. It's way too dangerous. We have to go get help."
"And then they'll find out everything and all of us will get expelled, Remus included," James said, turning around to face her and Peter. "If Snape is even still alive by the time they get there."
Lily came forward to him, her expression terrified. "Change. You have to. If you're a stag, then Remus can't-"
"How is a stag going to tell Snape to turn around and get out of there? I can't let him find out I'm an Animagus."
"Who cares if you get in trouble!" Lily demanded, grabbing his arms. "If you don't, both of you could just get hurt-"
"It took us three years to do it, Lily! If the school finds out about any one of us being an Animagus, it'll ruin everything we worked for. I can't let the others down like that, even if Sirius-"
"James. Please." The way she was holding his arms so tightly, not wanting to let him leave, made him go quiet. Suddenly the selfishness of it hit her in the face; she did not want to let him go, she couldn't. But there was nothing she would be able to do to stop him from doing the right thing, and she knew that she loved him for it. But she would have given anything to not have to realize this at a moment that he was about to go risk his life.
"Peter!" Lily turned her head to look at him. "Tell him he can't do it!"
But Peter just stood there and lowered his eyes to the grass, having nothing that he could possibly say to change things.
"Why do you have to?" Lily said in almost a whisper, facing James again but not looking up into his face. "It isn't fair. You don't even like him. You know he would never do the same for you...Why do you both have to be put in danger?"
But there was no stopping it. This had to happen, for reasons they didn't even understand. She looked up to meet eyes with him, and his expression softened in a way Peter had never even seen before. "Lily, don't look at me like that...I'm doing this."
There was a brief moment of acceptance, and then Lily pulled him forward, stood on her toes, and kissed him. It surprised James at first but then his shoulders relaxed and sunk a little, and for just those few seconds it was easy for him to forget the magnitude of what he was about to do. It was as if those angel wings that she had to have somewhere suddenly spread out from her back and wrapped themselves around him, protective and hopeful.
She broke away and gave him a quick push toward the tree. "Go," she said. "Hurry."
He backed away from Lily and Peter and then turned around and quickly disappeared down into the dark opening at the bottom of the tree without looking back. Lily did not feel as scared as she had just a minute ago. She knew he would come back out soon unharmed, and time would stand still until then. For now she understood that this was a beginning and not an end.