Ch 1: In Which Mercury is Found
"I want 16 inches on the principle of nonverbal defensive spells. After you turn it in a week from today we will have a practical exam. You are seventh-years; I won't go easy on you so please practice and prepare yourselves." A mixture of groans, exasperated sighs, frightened gasps, and excited chatter broke out after Professor Potter made this announcement.
"Classes starting next week," he continued hurriedly, "should you choose to come will be preparation for the practical exam next Thursday. Attendance is not obligatory but it is recommended. However, if you do choose to come, you may find that writing the paper first will help you with the exercise. Understanding the theory to perfect the practice. May I remind you that this topic is worth 20 of your final marks. Here is a signup sheet," he said as he magicked a timetable onto the desk in front of him. "If you want to take the opportunity of practicing with me one on one before your exam, sign up for a time on this schedule. If you would like to sign up for more than one 20 minute session you may do so after everyone has had the chance to put his or her name down. Please make an orderly queue... class is almost over and I want to get out of here as soon as possible."
He tapped his quill impatiently, blotting the page in front of him with wild splashes of ink as all the students filed toward the desk to add their names. Everyone in Advanced Defence Against the Dark Arts was serious about the subject, and also serious about passing. This was the first of three promised practical exams before the final. The final was worth 40, and each of these three practicals and accompanying papers were worth 20. That kind of percentage demanded attention. Professor didn't assign busy work or small assignments worth 1 each. He wanted his students to delve into topics and go as deeply as they could.
The moment his last student had left after signing his name a second time, James grabbed his bag, already packed and ready, snatched up the timetable and hurried out of the classroom. He had received the owl about an hour ago in the middle of class and he was anxious to get down there. His pace didn't slow as he marched right out of the castle doors and onto the grounds towards the small hut that belonged to Hagrid, the half giant of a gamekeeper at Hogwarts.
"Sorry Hagrid," James said as soon as he walked in, loosening his tie and pulling it over his head as he spoke. "I came as soon as I could."
"No, s'all right. I've been gettin' things ready." He lifted up a bucket from the ground, the contents of which James couldn't see but could guess well enough. He noticed that on the table was a half eaten cake and torn up packaging.
"What's the cake for?"
"Celebratin'. Found it while takin' a walk in the forest..."
"You left it alone?" James asked incredulously.
"O'course not," Hagrid said shiftily, then added, "Someone is there with it. Ready there Potter?"
"Yes. Who's there? Are you sure they will be alright on their own in the forest?" James asked, placing his recently removed collared shirt on Hagrid's all-purpose table.
"She's fine. I haven' been gone long, and it's not so far..." he said slightly guiltily. James didn't ask again who it was. Hagrid hadn't answered, which meant it was probably a student. By the time James learned who it was, he would be too preoccupied with their task to tell Hagrid off for endangering one of his pupils.
That was the thing with Hagrid; if a student showed an interest in magical creatures, he was more than willing to show them, as he had done with James when he was a student at Hogwarts himself not too long ago. But while Hagrid was perfectly fine on his own in the Forbidden Forest, underage witches and wizards were not, a fact James wished Hagrid would remember.
James quickened his pace to a jog just to keep up with Hagrid's long purposeful strides. When Hagrid wanted to cover ground, he could cover ground. Luckily James was in top shape, having trained in his youth for Quidditch, and even after he left Hogwarts, on local teams, and of course that Auror training had helped too. It was a good thing the Ministry had been looking to position an Auror at the school, because he didn't think he could have refused Dumbledore's request that he teach at Hogwarts. In fact, come to think of it, he didn't think he could refuse Dumbledore anything the wizard would condescend to ask for.
"Nearly there," Came Hagrid's whisper, or what he thought was a whisper. Though quiet for Hagrid's usual booming voice, Hagrid's whispers carried farther than most peoples' normal speaking voices.
"Hagrid," came the soft tone of a young woman. "Hagrid, here. Quickly," she said softly, so as not to disturb the beautiful but wounded infant in her lap.
"Wow..." James said. Unicorns were rare to be sure, but not all that rare. Olivander managed to find several to make his wands, but still, this was the first time James had seen one so young. They were usually so carefully guarded by their parents. One usually doesn't see one until they are fully grown.
"'Ere, you take it to 'er. They prefer women, but one of us has to go and I think it'd' rather 'ave you than me," Hagrid said to James.
Without saying anything James took the bucket of supplies from Hagrid and made his way slowly and carefully to where Lily Evans was cradling the poor wounded creature, humming soothingly to it. He took out a large and immaculate sponge and handed it cautiously to her. The babe was startled by James but didn't try to escape Lily's comforting embrace. She gently sponged up some of the unicorn's precious blood, which was purer and more potent than that of an adult's. Her own robes were soaked in the silvery liquid. When she had soaked up as much as she could she handed it back.
"Here, Professor." He took it and carefully squeezed the contents into a container that had been brought for the purpose. He handed it back to her again and she repeated the process, cleaning the wound as best she could, humming comfortingly all the while.
Once the blood was out of the way James whispered healing spells for her to use. She continued humming to it as she performed each one perfectly with an equally flawless nonverbal technique.
James was glad that out of all of the Hogwarts students Hagrid could have involved in this, it was clever, mature, competent, Head Girl Lily Evans.
'So this is why she wasn't in class today,' James thought to himself. He didn't take attendance, but when you have eye-catching red hair and sit in the front row in the same place every class, your absence is rather conspicuous.
"What will happen to it Hagrid? We can't leave it on its own," Lily said, sounding as if she were about to cry.
"Course we won't leave it on its own. The poor thing wouldn't stand a chance without its parents."
"You know for sure the parents are dead?" James asked.
"Found'em abou' 10 minutes after I sent yer owl," Hagrid replied. "Killed by wizards, no mistakin' it. Stuck them both like a pig and let'em bleed till they eventually died." Hagrid sniffed sadly.
"That... doesn't sound good," James said, unhappy about this new information. A student probably wouldn't be able to catch a unicorn, a teacher would never dream of such a thing, which only left one unhappy option. Dark wizards prowling in the Forbidden Forest of Hogwarts.
The rise of the dark lord was a continually growing concern for the entire magical community. The parents of Muggle-borns were pulling their children out of school, as well as those of non Muggle-borns. He had heard that a few students had even lost family members, killed by Death Eaters. However the majority of parents still thought that the safest place for their children was at Hogwarts, under the protection of Dumbledore and his mighty staff.
But if his conclusion was correct, they had penetrated as far as the Forbidden Forest (a distance, he was sure, that would be too close for comfort for most.)
It was as if Evans had read his mind.
"You have to tell Dumbledore, Hagrid. He ought to know dark wizards are about in the forest."
"The sooner the better, I think," She added.
"I agree," James seconded. "Do you want to go or should I? We can't leave Evans alone."
"Right, I'll go. I'll be faster."
"Should we relocate it somewhere?" Asked the Head Girl. She sounded a bit uneasy about lingering in the forest when she knew evil Muggle-born haters were lurking about.
"The pen behind me house is empty for now, I let my last Ashwinder free a few days ago." Hagrid said, sounding unhappy about that too.
"Meet us there, then," James said.
Hagrid set off at a trot. As mentioned before, when Hagrid wanted to move, he moved rather quickly.
"Ok little one, we are getting up now." She wrapped the thing in her arms and moved her legs underneath her to stand, which was difficult to do with no hands and the extra weight.
Careful not to startle the infant, he took Lily's elbow to steady her and help her up.
"Thank you Professor."
He nodded back at her. A twig snapped behind them and they both started. There was nothing there.
"I feel a bit vulnerable, I can't use my wand while I'm holding him."
"You are safe with me Miss Evans."
"I have complete confidence in your abilities, Professor, I do, but I'd still like to be able to protect myself. Surely you understand that."
"I do." Even if Sirius were with him and had his back, he would still feel better having his own wand in his hand.
They walked back to Hagrid's hut and Lily sat down in the middle of the small penned area, crawling with weeds and, Lily was surprised to see, sunflowers, or at least they looked like sunflowers. You never know in the magical world...
"What did I miss in class today, Professor?" Lily asked, once comfortably settled.
"Non-verbal defensive spell review. You have a 16 inch essay due Thursday as well as the practical exam."
"Is there anything due before then?"
"No, this week is scheduled to be one on one practice with me. Everyone signed up for times at the end of class. But it doesn't look as if you need the practice. Your spell work was impressive back there, Miss Evans."
"That was healing, completely different from defence. It's easier to concentrate on nonverbal spell casting when you aren't worried about incoming curses. I tend to panic. May I sign up for a time to practice?"
"Let me get the schedule," James replied. He retrieved his bag that he had so unceremoniously flung onto the floor and returned to Miss Evans outside. His eyebrows furrowed as he inspected it.
"It looks as if it is already filled."
"You didn't allot enough for everyone?"
"No, some people signed up for more than one time. It's a difficult concept and some people wanted all the extra help they could get."
"I don't blame them," Lily pouted. "That's what I get for skipping class I suppose. And I'm Head Girl as well..." she added, chuckling slightly. "I was out with Hagrid on one of our walks when we found him. I couldn't leave him, I just couldn't..." She explained, holding the baby unicorn closer to her, stroking its back.
"Well, if you really think you need extra help, we can schedule a time later in the evening."
"You wouldn't mind?"
"I would never deny a student who wants to improve themselves that opportunity."
"Thank you, Professor."
"Are you free after dinner today? We would be practicing in the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom..."
"I have detention."
"You have detention?"
"I got caught putting Dungbombs in Filches detention file cabinet after I had edited some of his records..."
James just looked at her incredulously and she burst out laughing, her laugh being just as musical and delightful to listen to as her humming had been.
"I'm kidding, Professor." James shook himself.
"Oh. Of course, you wouldn't get detention."
"Of course not. Because I would never get caught. You were quite the mischief maker in your day I noticed, Professor." She smiled mischievously and James was confused anew. "And thank you, I will take you up on that offer for extra help this evening."
James decided not to continue on the subject of Lily Evan's pranking, but he did make a mental note to ask Filch about those file cabinets.
Hagrid came back moments later with Professor Dumbledore.
Both taken aback, Lily and James said at the same time and in the same surprised tone, "Good evening Professor Dumbledore."
This caused Dumbledore's eyes to twinkle behind those half moon spectacles.
"Good evening Miss Evans, Professor Potter. A pleasure to see you both."
"The pleasure is mine as well, Professor," Lily said, nodding to Dumbledore, unable to get up for the young beast in her lap.
"So have you thought of a name for it, Miss Evans?"
"Oh... no. I... haven't."
"Why not think of a name while Hagrid, Professor Potter and I have a drink. You don't mind, do you Miss Evans?"
"Certainly not Professor." She smiled ingenuously. "Please enjoy yourselves."
"I'll get it, Professor Dumbledore," Hagrid offered enthusiastically. He went inside, and came out later with three enormous cups, containing equally large portions of brandy it seemed, and one large bottle. Hagrid handed the glasses to James and Dumbledore; James, looking a bit daunted by the size of the serving, and Dumbledore not seeming troubled in the slightest. Lily who was given the bottle immediately began feeding the young animal.
"So how about that name, Miss Evans?" Dumbledore politely enquired.
"I thought, perhaps, Mercury," she replied unsure and slightly embarrassed.
"An excellent choice." Dumbledore said. "To Mercury."
They all raised their classes and toasted the surviving unicorn.
"Mercury. A nice name. Is there an astrological reason for it?" Hagrid asked.
"Or perhaps you are a fan of Greek mythology?" James enquired.
"Actually, it was the blood. It reminds me of liquid mercury," she replied.
Dumbledore seemed to be the only one who understood her; Hagrid and James simply looked confused. Lily was a Muggle-born and had been given a non magical education. Hagrid and James had obviously never studied science, and Dumbledore, Lily just assumed, knew everything magical or not.
"Mercury, the element," she explained. "It expands when its temperature increases, so Muggles capture small amounts and put them into small glass tubes to use as thermometers. THER-MO-ME-TER," she said carefully.
"Ther-mo-me-ter," Hagrid and James repeated.
"What do thermometers do?" James asked.
"They measure temperature. Muggles use them to tell if when they have fevers. If you have a fever, the mercury in the thermometer will expand, and by how much it expands, we can determine how high the fever is, or exactly how hot it is outside, or the temperature of anything, really."
"Fascinating," said James.
"Yes, Muggles surpass wizards in several ways..." Dumbledore said pleasantly, drinking happily from his enormous glass. Wanting to keep up with Dumbledore (if not Hagrid) James took another swallow of his drink.
Mercury began coughing up bits of the formula Lily was feeding it.
"Is it alright?" James asked.
"It's fine, just got too carried away. Didn't you? Yes you did. Take your time Mercury, you don't need to rush." She began singing again. When she had finished the short lullaby Dumbledore applauded and Hagrid joined in for one or two claps but his great big hands caused too loud of a sound for the little one so he stopped. James took another drink.
"You have a lovely voice Miss Evans," Dumbledore commented, not really as if he were complimenting Lily but simply pointing out the fact.
"Yeah, yeh do," Hagrid added. James agreed as well but didn't see any reason to voice something that had already been stated twice.
Evans blushed becomingly. "Where will it stay Hagrid? Will it be safe here? From what Professor Flipperby says..."
"I think it will be alright so long as we put the appropriate protective spells around the area," Professor Potter suggested.
"And... can I come and visit him Hagrid?"
"Yeh'll have ter. I doubt it will allow itself to be fed by anyone but you now, Lily."
This both pleased Lily and saddened her.
"So breakfast lunch and dinner?" Lily asked uncertainly.
"Course!" said Hagrid.
Lily thought that it would probably cramp her own eating schedule, but it needed to be done. This was just another thing to add to her list of responsibilities. But she was perfectly capable of that. There was a reason she was Head Girl.
"Every Dawn, Dusk, and Midnight."
"What?" Lily and James said in unison for the second time that evening.
"Tha's when they eat," Hagrid explained simply.
Lily looked up. Sure enough, it was dusk. She sighed. It looked as if this would interrupt her sleeping schedule too. But at least it wouldn't interfere with her patrols or Head Girl duties, those generally took place after dinner, starting from 8 on, dusk at this time of year was earlier, around 6-7, during dinner. Same with dawn, only for breakfast... Lily vaguely wondered when she would get to eat.
"Alright," she said agreeably.
"Hagrid, surely Miss Evans can't be wandering around the ground at those times, especially in the middle of the night and especially since... well... why do you think Mercury was orphaned in the first place. It's not safe for a student to be out at those times by herself." James said firmly.
"Miss Evans will not go alone," Dumbledore interjected. "You and Hagrid can take turns escorting her."
"Professor, surely at dawn and dusk I would be alright on my own."
"Not near the forest, tha's when most predators hunt," Hagrid said, not warningly, but excitedly.
"Very true," Dumbledore allowed. "So the next meal will be tonight at midnight, Professor, you may pick up Miss Evans from the Head room unless... you aren't patrolling tonight are you?"
"Yes, so you will pick up Miss Evan's from the Head room, I trust you remember where they are, and tomorrow morning at dawn, Hagrid, you can meet her by the castle doors, then it will be Professor Potter's turn that evening, then Hagrid at midnight. Hagrid said it would be about a month before he's grown enough... Does that suit everyone?"
"Yes Professor Dumbledore," Came Lily's, James's and Hagrid's replies.
"Good. Now that we have that settled we may move on to the topic I came here to discuss." His voice turned graver, and his face was solemn.
"Um, should I... go?" Lily asked, not sure if she was supposed to be a part of this important conversation between the three men.
"You are Head Girl, Miss Evans, and it is part of your duty to help protect your fellow students. You may stay."
"What do we do Professor? Inform the students' parents?" James asked.
"Do you think that wise Professor Potter?"
"I think that the parents have a right to know that dark wizards are on Hogwarts grounds..."
"And Miss Evans, what do you think?"
"With all due respect to you, Professor Potter, I don't think we should, not yet. If they only came in to get unicorn blood for whatever dark reason and not to harm the students of Hogwarts, I see no reason to alarm the parents and make them more afraid than they already are, especially if the fear is unfounded. We don't know that they mean Hogwarts any harm yet and I... I wouldn't want to put my parents through that... Parents might take their children out of Hogwarts, which could be counterproductive. Hogwarts is just about as safe a place as there is, right? With Professor Dumbledore, and people like you and Hagrid... parents might pluck them out of a safe haven and put them in a more dangerous position. I mean, it would be the half bloods and Muggle-borns that would be tempted to leave, right? And they are the ones who would be at most risk in their own homes, having only one or no magical parents to protect them. I think telling them now would be... premature," she finished, finally. "Sorry, Professor," she added as an afterthought.
"No, you make a good point," Potter allowed.
"I am tempted to agree with Miss Evans, however, I will hold a meeting with the heads of houses and gmore opinions."
"But in the end it's yer decision, Professor Dumbledore," said Hagrid loyally. "Everyone trusts yer judgment."
"Thank you Hagrid, for that vote of confidence, but we must all remember to think for ourselves, and that it is wise to question authority, even mine. No one is infallible..."
"But I think Dumbledore is pretty damned close," Lily whispered to James.
Dumbledore smiled at her, and she wasn't sure if he had heard her or not, nor did she care. She admired Dumbledore more than she did any other wizard and she was not ashamed to admit it. She pulled out her wand somewhat awkwardly from inside her robes and transfigured the weeds into a nice pallet of straw, and placed Mercury therein. She lay down in the hay behind him and stroked him until he fell asleep. She didn't move once he had, she just turned onto her back and looked at the stars that were beginning to peak out of the darkening sky. She calculated the constellations and smirked to herself, knowing that she no longer had to take astronomy and was therefore not obliged to do anything with the stars but gaze at them.
The conversation changed to lighter, happier topics, such as the days James was in Hogwarts. Lily didn't participate in the conversation but she listened contentedly as she made a few predictions by the stars. Lily didn't hold much by divination; it was more of a little hobby of hers, equivalent to reading horoscopes in Muggle magazines. They were fun to look through and interesting when they came true, but not to be taken seriously.
"I may have broken a rule or two in my earlier days but I turned out alright," James said in artificial defence to a joking remark Hagrid had made. Lily thought that James was rather proud of his record. He had more detentions than any other student in the history of Hogwarts. He had a whole drawer to himself, his friend Sirius Black and occasionally Remus Lupin appeared in there as well.
"Dunno anyone who pulled more pranks than yeh lot." Hagrid said reminiscently.
"We haven't seemed to have had any serious pranksters since you left, although Mr. Filch did complain that someone put dung bombs in his file cabinet only to draw attention to the fact that all the detention files had been altered. Instead of what the student did and what punishment they received, they graded each case. People who were out after curfew were given 3 for creativity, but 6 for daring. Couples found in broom cupboards were given 1 for class, but 8 for "amusement factor"... quite amusing. Not only that but the charm work was quite well done. Every time one pulled out a file, it sang out the name and ranking. We can't even find a way to reverse it and return to records to how they were... I do believe that you had the highest average ranking, Professor Potter," Dumbledore said to James. James fought the urge to look at Lily and fought and failed to keep from smiling.
"I'm honoured," he said in a tone of voice that he hoped sounded like he was addressing no one in particular.
"How would you punish the student who did this, Professor Potter?" Dumbledore asked.
"How would you?"
"Ah, I would let his or her head of house decide."
"I suppose I would too."
"And what if you were the head of house?"
"I... would... make them... write lines?" It was more of a question than an answer. He felt as if Dumbledore was testing him, and although in his heart he loved a good prank, he knew he had to be a responsible Professor. Letting them off with lines seemed only fair.
"What would those lines be?"
"Dung bombs rule," said James before he could stop himself. Lily snorted with laughter and Dumbledore gave him a not entirely sincere scowl of disapproval. "But of course I was joking Professor; you know how I hate dung bombs..." he said fooling absolutely no one. "I would have the student help with me with my Defence Against the Dark Arts class experiments preparation."
"And why is that?"
"Well, the way I see it is that pranksters only pull pranks because they are clever people without sufficient outlet for their creative magical aptitude. I get an assistant to help me prepare for class, and they get to do something productive rather than write lines or clean cauldrons. I think it would teach them to use their magical creativity in other more beneficial ways. I know what it's like to be gifted magically and want to show it off a bit."
Lily kept staring resolutely at the stars, absentmindedly stroking Mercury. It would be very amusing to help with the DADA set ups. She wondered if Professor Potter would actually give that detention to her since he already knew that she was the prankster in question.
"You have an excellent understanding of students, Professor. That's why I hired you. That and of course you are a singularly gifted wizard."
"Why thank you, Professor."
Dumbledore had somehow managed to finish his drink before James or even Hagrid had. When he stood to go, Lily stood as well. "Would you mind if I went with you Professor? I have plans this evening and I think I should probably wash myself of all this blood first."
"Yet another wise decision, Miss Evans."
She and Professor Dumbledore headed back to the castle leaving James and Hagrid to finish their drinks in Mercury's enclosure.
"Lily really is the best witch o' her year," said Hagrid.
"She got more OWLs than everyone else," James conceded. The same number he had got when he was her age...
"Not just tha', but she's so nice ter ev'ryone. So willing ter help at any moment. She comes and walks with me every day, helps me feed me pets. We can relate to each other."
James forbore to ask him about these pets.
"That's probably why Dumbledore chose her for Head Girl. What do you mean, you relate to each other?"
"Was a bit surprised actually, when Professor Dumbledore made her Head Girl after all. Thought he might've given it ter someone else after her parents died in'er fifth year."
"Did they?" James had never known this.
"Yeah, killed by You-Know-Who's lot. She just managed ter save her sister by using underage magic. Side along Apparition right into Hogsmeade and she went straight to Dumbledore... Strong girl, so brave. An orphan like me. That's how we relate to each other, that and our love for animals..."
"I had no idea..." James said, gobsmacked.
"No, I 'spect not. She doesn't talk about it much. Doesn't want to dwell on the past, but I know that she's still sad abou' it, 'specially since her sister left her. Blamed Lily for their parents' death and froze her out of her life. Lost her parents and sister at the same time."
"Where did she go for holidays?"
"Stayed at Hogwarts for Christmas and Easter. Worked at the Leaky Cauldron over these last two summers, stayed there in one o' the rooms. She did come ter visit me 'ere at Hogwarts most weekends though..." He sniffed and James saw a tear slip down Hagrid's cheek. "Lily's been really good ter me."
"I didn't know you and Lily were so close." James realised this had been the first time he had used her first name, and realised what a lovely name it was.
"Yeh, she's been coming round ter see me every day since she was a first year... Yeh were a seventh year then."
"I'm surprised we never met. I was over at your place all the time 7th year, hiding out from enemies or ex girlfriends, and other things."
"She always slipped out the back way whenever yeh came. I told her to stay, but she said there'd be very little a 7th year'd want to discuss with a first year, an' she always left."
"Hmm..." James said, nodding his head.
His head... it felt... wobbly, dizzy, somehow, lighter, slightly... not attached. Strange, he thought, but then looked at his empty cup. How much brandy had he had? "Well Hagrid, Lily and I will be back at midnight, if you go to bed before then, leave the bottle outside by the back door."
"Right, right," he said, still rubbing the tears from his eyes.
"There there, Hagrid." James said, patting him on the shoulder.
"I just want her ter be happy..." Hagrid said. "She's always so alone."
"She had you Hagrid. And she has loads of friends, she's surrounded by admirers all the time! She's always smiling," James said, trying to comfort the poor half giant.
"But she has no one who loves her anymore... she has no family... so young an' so alone... just like lil' Mercury..." He broke down into a fresh fit of hysterical sobbing. "She cried one night after her parents died when she was 'ere wi' me. Said I'm th'only one who cares abou' her anymore... an'... an'..."
"Hagrid, stop. She'll be alright. She is a strong girl, she'll make it."
"I know, but seeing her try so hard, being so brave, it's jus' so beautiful an' sad..." He sniffed, but thankfully the tears had stopped. Taking the risk of starting the tears again James said, "She is very lucky to have a friend like you Hagrid."
"And Mercury's lucky ter have a mother like her..."
James left Hagrid's place, stumbling a bit as he made his way back to the castle. He wanted some food to put into his stomach, to lessen the effect of the alcohol but dinner would be over by now. He was reaching out to tickle the pear to get him into the kitchens when he remembered that he was supposed to do that extra lesson with Lily tonight so he turned and hurried in the opposite direction.
Because he was running faster than he should have (one shouldn't run in the hallways at all) and he was slightly intoxicated, he tripped and fell, scraping his chin and the palms of his hands during a hasty ascent up the stairs.
"Damned moving staircases," he said, unaware that it was his head that was spinning, not the staircase.