A/N: Lily/James was the first pairing I ever shipped and looks set to be among the last. Can't get enough of them.
Thanks to ObsidianEmbrace for the tip-top beta work.
Since her induction into the wizarding world, Lily Evans had learned many things. She had, in fact, learned so very many things that it was hard to know where to begin. Following the fact that magic was somewhat more than fiction, perhaps the most important thing that Lily had learned was that the sound of James Potter's voice invariably spelled trouble.
Potter's voice: a catalyst for chaos, disorder and general disaster. It was loud. It was maddening. Even worse, it was incontestably attractive. It had a rich, pleasant sort of timbre, full of laughter and playful boyishness. It dealt out a Head Boy's commands with ease, and excelled in the making of elaborate excuses when caught red-wanded. Really, the only fault Lily could find with that voice was the fact that it belonged to James Potter.
Sadly enough, this was a difficult fault to forgive.
It was injustice itself that such a charming voice belonged to the biggest prat around. Potter didn't always act the prat these days – sometimes he even hid the fact entirely – but Lily was well aware of the dormant berk behind the voice. Even so, just a word or two from Potter, and her stomach would make like a bag of Fizzing Whizzbees. This was a recent and most unwelcome development, and one that she had no intention of nurturing.
All this went some way to explaining the strength of Lily's reaction to the disembodied voice that greeted her midway down an empty corridor in the East Wing.
She jumped, books spilling from her arms. Stomach leaping into third gear, she clutched the remaining tome to her chest – The Head Girl's Guide to Averting Everyday Peril, 3rd ed. – and whipped her head about every which way.
The voice spoke again, louder this time.
"Hello? Is someone there?"
There wasn't, not as far as Lily could see. The corridor was just as empty as it had been moments earlier. Her only visible companion was an unsightly sort of statue, and Gregory the Smarmy had never shown any prior inclination to converse with Head Girls after curfew.
"I can hear you gasping out there, all right? Say something!"
Heart pounding madly, Lily shifted her weight from foot to foot. She knew who that voice belonged to, of course – had done since the first word spoken – but the knowledge that an invisible James Potter was calling didn't do much to tempt a response. She had suffered the Head Boy's company for far too long to think this set-up anything less than suspect. There was a prank in the works here, and Lily did not intend to stick around and play victim to a piece of mischief making.
And her stomach had no business fluttering at the edges like that.
Summoning her books from the floor, Lily spun on her heel and started back off down the corridor.
"If you're still there… Please. Please say something."
Lily stuttered to a halt. The voice – Potter's voice – sounded almost desperate. She had never heard it sound that way before. It was unsettling, and worse, forbade Lily from legging it without further delay. She had never been able to ignore calls for help, even if they did come from long-hated Head Boys.
Fully aware that she was probably playing right into Potter's hands, Lily turned back around. The corridor was as deserted as ever. She gazed appealingly at Gregory the Smarmy, but the statue neglected to offer counsel of any kind.
"Potter?" she tried gingerly. She hoped that the prank would be brief and relatively painless, not one of those affairs with the forty-eight hour feathers that the Marauders were so fond of.
"Well, it's not Mrs Norris."
"Thank Merlin it's you."
Potter sounded something stronger than relieved; Lily couldn't say she shared the sentiment. She was beginning to suspect that Potter was in some sort of trouble, and while this was in many ways a comfort, in other, more stomach-niggling ways, it was not. If Potter had some bona fide reason for being invisible, Lily was determined to hear it.
"Where are you?"
"Ah. Thought you might ask that."
"A keen deduction."
"Bet you're surprised to find me here. And on the night of a wildly successful Quidditch match, no less."
"Haven't found you yet, have I? I've simply been accosted by your disembodied voice."
"Accosted is a strong word."
"'Disembodied' is much more interesting, don't you think?"
"There is that."
Lily hugged her books to her chest, beginning to feel her nerves slide swiftly into something sharper. It felt like frustration, it felt like anger, and it felt comfortingly familiar. She embraced it wholeheartedly.
"Potter, if you don't tell me where you are in five seconds flat, I'll whistle for Filch and you'll learn the true meaning of 'accosted'."
There was a heavy sigh from somewhere to Lily's left, and she swung around triumphantly to find herself blinking at Gregory the Smarmy.
"I've tried whistling for Filch. Didn't work."
"Whistling, shouting, everything short of clanging a bloody cow bell. He must be at the other end of the castle along with every single professor in the place. I've been making one hell of a noise."
Lily didn't know what to make of that. She had never known a student to wilfully attempt to attract the caretaker's attention. Even the Marauders hadn't the nerve – not until tonight, at any rate. Something funny was going on.
Dumping her books on the floor and giving The Head Girl's Guide a sardonic sort of glare, Lily straightened. There was nothing for it. If Potter had flung himself into an unusually sticky situation, it looked like Lily was the only one around to unstick him.
"Out with it, Potter. Can't help 'til I know what you've gone and done this time."
And again with the heavy sighing. "Look, Lily. It's – er – a little embarrassing. Could you… Just ask Sirius to come and find me, all right?"
Lily put her hands on her hips. "Tell him yourself."
"Not quite in a position to do that, Evans."
"Fine. Fine. All right. If you must know the truth…"
"I'm trapped in the passageway behind the statue, that's all," he finished in a rush, voice losing much of its charm and composure along the way. "It caved in as I was climbing out. And that's where I am. Hence why you can't see me. And I was rather hoping to retain some dignity, but there you are."
It took a moment for this speech to sink in, but when it did, Lily's reaction was immediate. There was really only one appropriate response, and that one being panic, she thought she'd try another.
"James Potter, you stupid, stupid, interminable idiot!"
"I suppose that's fair, but given the circumstances – "
Lily was having none of it. Despite her best efforts, panic was making its presence felt. Loudly. "You mean to tell me that all this time you've been pinned to the ground behind that smarmy sodding statue? And instead of giving me the salient facts, you've been trying to protect your dignity, dignity that, incidentally, exists only in your mind? Merlin! I've got to go! I'll get help, hang on – "
And scrabbling through the pile of books that she'd somehow managed to scatter across the corridor, Lily had made a few metres when that stupid voice stopped her dead in her tracks.
It was his Head Boy voice, the firm, commanding one. Lily responded automatically. She fetched up against the opposite wall, spinning around with a curse and a heaving chest.
"Wait. Don't – I don't want you to go."
Breathing too fast and backed against a tapestry, Lily scowled her confusion.
"Don't be stupid," she snapped. Feeling inappropriately awkward, she fought hard to keep the sharpness in her tone. "You've got half of Hogwarts collapsed in over your head. I need to go and get help. I'm going."
She didn't move.
"You won't," said Potter, and he said it with such certainty that Lily knew it to be true. "You're staying here. And it's not collapsed on my head, it's just blocking my exit. So stop panicking."
Forcing herself to exhale through her nose, Lily pushed herself off the wall and stood straight. She wasn't feeling brave at all, but she refused to let fear get the best of her. She walked right up to Gregory the Smarmy and peered around the base. There, invisible from the corridor, was the unmistakable outline of a passageway. Even less mistakable were the heaping boulders cramming up its entrance. Well, if Hogwarts was going to collapse in on itself, at least it had done a neat job of it. And Potter was stuck behind it all…
Swiping sheepishly at her nose, Lily pressed a hand against the nearest of the dust-coated rocks.
"Trying to cause an avalanche, are you?"
"Rather homicidal, don't you think?
"What, did you expect me to rescue you? Has our long and torturous history taught you nothing?"
"I'm a terrible student when I don't want to learn something, Evans. But I'll try a bit harder if you promise not to sneeze again."
Lily grinned, but her smile faded quickly as she pictured Potter alone on the other side of the boulder-blocked entrance. She'd never exactly been on good terms with the git, but like so many things in the wizarding world, her compassion didn't have an off-switch. And Potter really wasn't as bad as she told herself he was.
And his voice made her shiver a bit.
"If this is a secret passage, Potter, why don't you just run along and escape out the other end of it?" she asked bluntly, eager to stop that particular train of thought while she still could.
His answer was said so matter-of-factly that Lily could have screamed. "Can't. It caved in behind me as well."
"Oh." Lily had much to add to this statement, but presently felt unequal to the task.
"Yeah. Best option is for you to blast the passage open, I think."
"No, my mate Gregory out there. Yes, you! And you'd better get on with it, too."
Aghast, Lily ran her eyes over the wall of rubble separating Potter from safety. "Look, I really don't think I'm the best person – "
And now it was Potter's turn to snap. "For Merlin's sake, Evans. Aside from me and Sirius, you're the top of the year, and Head Girl to boot. Now whip out that wand of yours and blast me out, won't you? If anyone can help me, it's you."
"I can't – "
"But – "
"I trust you." His voice was quieter now. "Come on, Lily. There's nobody else around, and who knows how long the passage will hold before it comes down on my head. It's like Damocles' sodding sword here."
Lily shook her head in frustration. There were enough potential disasters here to fill a year's worth of Divination dream charts. What if she did it wrong? What if she did it right, but the force of the blast did what her sneeze couldn't and caused an avalanche? What if –
"I trust you, Lily," Potter repeated, interrupting her panicked thoughts with a gentle voice that had her sliding her wand from her pocket before she knew what she was doing. She took two good steps back from the blocked passage and raised her wand. When she straightened, her resolve was perfect. Her fingers barely trembled as she started to speak.
This was what she cried, intended charm forgotten, as the world erupted with noise. A great scraping series of crashes had started at the exact moment that Lily had opened her mouth. She stood there frozen, heart petrified in her chest. And then the crashing stopped. And then –
Lily dropped to her knees in the stinging spill of rubble and started clawing away at the rocks in the passageway. She was hardly aware of what she was doing; she just kept digging her hands in and tearing stones out by the handful. Her wand had rolled off somewhere. She couldn't find it when she finally remembered it. Lost in panic, it took several minutes before she even heard the shouts coming from beyond the boulders.
"Lily! Are you hurt? Answer me! Lily!"
"James!" she croaked in relief, forgetting her wand and crawling forwards. "I'm fine! I'm fine. Are you all right? What happened?"
Her heart may have been thundering in her ears but Lily didn't miss the muffled grunt of pain that came from the other side of the rock fall. The beaming relief slipped from her face in an instant.
"What's wrong? James? Potter!"
"Nothing, I – ah. Merlin. I'm just… more immediately trapped, you might say. With a couple of rocks on my legs, but nothing I can't handle. Only a flesh wound. Who needs legs, anyway?"
He paused and seemed to realise that Lily might not be taking this news with the levity he intended.
"I'm fine. Really. In a bit of pain, that's all."
Lily couldn't seem to remember how to form words. Something wet splashed onto her hand and she started. Peering down, she found that her robes were spotted with tears, and her fingernails torn and bleeding. Everything around her was grey with dust.
"You know," James continued conversationally, forcing Lily's eyes back to the rocks where she imagined him to be, "I think I can see light from the corridor. Couldn't before, but I suppose this recent collapse – which, by the way, I blame on your sneeze – has knocked away some of the blockage. So we've made progress, really."
With a self-conscious sniff, Lily finally managed to straighten out her vocal chords. "Who are you trying to distract by blathering on like that?"
There was a touch of wry laughter in James' voice when he answered. "Both of us, I think."
Lily managed a watery smile. It vanished as soon as her next thought arrived, and she hauled herself painfully to her feet.
"What am I doing? I should be getting help! I should never have let you convince me to stay before. Idiot!"
James coughed and Lily stopped moving immediately. His voice, while just as commanding as before, was tight with suppressed pain.
"We've already been over this, Evans. You're not going anywhere. Either you sit yourself back down like a good Head Girl, or I come out there and make you."
"That's not funny."
"You may be right."
Despite the quiet authority in James' bloody Head Boy voice, and the fact that her legs felt ready to collapse just as soundly as the passageway, Lily somehow managed to stay on her feet. She was the only one in a position to take action here. She was the only Head Girl around to avert everyday peril.
Stupid sodding book.
"You need a Healer," she stated, not a trace of panic left in her voice. "You need magical medical attention and Dumbledore and a lifetime of detentions for ever setting foot in that unquestionably prohibited passage to who knows where. Don't you worry, Potter: when you get out of this, you'll get to spend plenty of time with me. I'll be the one hexing you seventeen shades of pain for ever causing me this much stress. But for now, I need to go and get help."
"I promise I'll be quick."
Lily had already ducked around Gregory when James called again.
"A Patronus would be quicker. It'll take ages to find a professor. Send a message with your Patronus from here."
Lily skidded to a halt, indecision flooding back through her veins. She wrung her wrists, glancing from the statue to the end of the corridor and back.
"You've studied the theory, I know you have. Dumbledore told us about it in our last Head's meeting. Can't get more efficient than a Patronus-delivered message. And you're the best at Charms in the school. Pains my ego to say it, but it's true. Think about it."
After a pause, Lily nodded. "You're right. You're right," she repeated in a louder voice, darting back and peering around at the spill of rocks hiding James from view. "There's no guarantee I'll find a professor soon enough." A thought struck. "But – "
And James was right again. Lily had only just remembered that she'd lost her wand when she spotted it half-buried at the base of the statue. She picked it up and found comfort in the familiar weight of it.
The Patronus Charm: easier said than done.
"Come on, Evans," she bit out, face fixed in a scowl of concentration. "You've done it before. A happy memory and the incantation: simple. Easy. Flitwick loves you for a reason."
"Should I be jealous?"
Lily glared at the passage entrance. "Aren't you supposed to be dying?" She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to summon a happy memory to mind. It had to be a joyful one, bright enough to blast away the darkness.
In the past, she had used the memory of meeting Severus for the first time and learning that magic was real. It was useless now, irreparably tainted by the ugly conclusion of their friendship. So it was with a series of happy memories from her first years at Hogwarts.
As she skated over possibilities, one ruined by Sev, the next by her sister, the stress started building until all she could think about was James, how James was hurt, he was in pain, his legs crushed by rocks and she needed that memory now, anything –
She gave it up with an audible sob. "I – I can't! I can't think. No happy memories. I'm too – too – "
Even as she burrowed into her hands, her skin prickled with humiliation. Why couldn't this be anyone, anyone but James Potter? She didn't want him to see her weak. She didn't want him to be in pain. All she wanted was to belt him upside the jaw and make sure he was safe.
I'm sorry," she finally managed, gaze fixed to the ground. "I'm so sorry."
Potter's voice came as fierce and loud as hers wasn't. "Don't be. You've nothing to be sorry about, you daft cow. You're brilliant. And so am I. So we're going to leave it for a minute and try again later. Because together we're doubly brilliant, and who could argue with that?"
"What was that?"
"Nobody," Lily repeated, smiling through her tears. "Between us, we've got the world at our feet, is that right?"
"Or on our feet, as the case may be."
Lily heaved a shaky sigh and dragged her hands beneath her eyes, scrubbing away at the gritty moisture. "All right, then. We'll – we'll sit. And you'll talk. I'd love to hear what made you decide to prance about in this stupid collapsing passage."
"I was fetching a crate of butterbeer."
Lily pulled a face at the blocked entrance. "Don't be stupid. You can only get butterbeer at…" She faltered midway through the sentence as clarity arrived. "Oh."
"Right. At Hogsmeade. This is one of those secret tunnels that clever students discover in their second year, dear Head Girl."
The dear Head Girl snorted. "I thought it was one of those secret tunnels that cave in on idiot students in their seventh year, Head Boy."
"That's no way to talk to a dying man, Evans. I'll haunt you if you keep that up."
"No thanks. Can't imagine anything worse. But just to get it straight in my mind, you've been hiking out to Hogsmeade to pick up beverages for the post-match party, correct?"
"To the letter."
"And the need for butterbeer was dire enough to risk life and limb?"
"You wouldn't even ask that if you'd seen the match. It was brilliant, Lily. One of the best. Tell you what, if I do end up popping my clogs down here, at least I'll be remembered for my supreme Quidditch captaining."
"Arrogant twat," muttered Lily, her indulgent grin at odds with the words. "That's what your epitaph will read. 'Here lies James Potter, conceited twit to the last.' They will wreathe your grave in butterbeer and snitches."
"I certainly hope so. And don't call me arrogant; you'll make me cry. It'll ruin the photos."
"The photos in the special ed. of the Daily Prophet celebrating my rescue."
"Maybe in the Auror criminal profiling photos, you prat."
"Maybe. Either way, by then you'll have a shiny new memory to inject into those Patronus Charms."
There was a pause; evidently, James was waiting for a response. On the other side of the wall, Lily had sunk back into stress at this reminder of the task ahead. She bit her lip. Maybe she should run for help now before James could convince her otherwise.
"Hope you're not thinking what I think you're thinking, Evans," interrupted James' voice in a mock show of disapproval. "Are you are Gryffindor or a guineapig? A Head Girl or a Hufflepuff? A witch or a – "
"Do you never shut up?"
"I never give up, that's what. And neither should you. And I bet, I bet, that if we sit here and think up happy memories for you, that message-bearing Patronus will appear like magic. Now, tell me: why can't you just use the memory of my naked body? Oh, don't be coy. You walked into the Prefect's bathroom on purpose, admit it."
Lily spluttered her outrage, the words 'accidental' and 'horrifying' featuring prominently. "I thought we agreed to forget about that! On pain of death, mind. And you weren't even naked!"
"That's right – I was wearing pants. Well, so much for that. We'll rectify the situation once I'm out, agreed?"
Groaning aloud, Lily kicked at the rubble-filled wall. It collapsed in at the force of the blow, and she leapt up with a cry.
"Eager, aren't you?" he coughed from the other side. "No, don't worry, I'm fine. In fact – in fact, I can see you!"
Lily dove into the dust-cloud and ran her fingers across the passage entrance, eyes streaming painfully. She found a small opening and rammed her hand inside, scraping her arm up to the elbow. "Where are you? I can't – "
All words dried up as something latched onto her hand. It felt like another hand. It felt like James' hand. It closed over hers and squeezed like it would never let go, and Lily squeezed back just as tightly.
New tears spilled over.
"See? Wasn't making it up," he said hoarsely, punctuating the words with a cough. "Personally, I appreciate these Muggle methods of rescuing the fair maiden, but my lungs are less impressed. You may have to give me the kiss of life once you've pulled me out."
"Is that all I am to you? Some sort of anti-Dementor?"
"Got it in one."
"Well, as long as that's sorted," said Lily, up to the elbow in rubble and brimming with relief. James was alive, alive and squeezing, and somehow there seemed new room for hope with his hand in hers and his voice carrying on with their silly banter despite it all. If Lily had thought that voice sent her stomach fizzing, she hadn't counted on the dizzying effects of his hand. In fact – in fact, she felt so hopeful, and so happy, she could just –
"Expecto patronum!" she cried, and watched as an enormous silvery animal erupted from the end of her wand and galloped away. She was gripping James' hand so tightly that he'd probably need a new arm, let alone legs.
"Ending it so soon, Evans? And I thought we were having such a good time."
"I did it," she breathed, ignoring him entirely. "I did it! I didn't think, I just said the words. And it was a doe. Never has been before. It was… beautiful."
The pressure on her hand had tightened with every word. When James spoke, he sounded strangely awed.
"A deer. A female deer."
And then another hand gripped onto hers, and Lily thought she could have started a Patronus deer farm – but there was no need. The next moment saw Dumbledore and McGonagall bursting out into view, respectively clad in nightcap and hairnet.
McGonagall hissed at the spectacle before her, her face greying slightly with shock.
"Miss Evans, come away from there immediately."
Lily shook her head, gesturing feebly to the boulders with her free hand. "James – Potter – he's trapped in there – "
McGonagall's eyebrows leapt into her hairnet. She made a sudden forward movement as if set to extract the Head Boy with her bare hands, but Dumbledore restrained her with a quiet word. The Head of House stepped back, lips thin with anxiety, and did nothing more than remove her wand from her tartan dressing gown.
"It's all right, really," said Lily, tugging on James' hand and willing him to speak, to prove that she hadn't made anything up, that she'd summoned them there for a reason. "He's alive. He's been hurt, though. Rocks fell on his – his legs when the passage caved in."
James confirmed this readily enough, and a look of undiluted relief swept over McGonagall's face.
"I am delighted to see that you've put my Patronus theory to good use, Miss Evans," Dumbledore began, gazing benevolently down upon his dust-covered Head Girl. "They have certainly proved their worth as message-carriers tonight."
"I am less delighted to find that the Gryffindor Quidditch captain was the test subject for confirming these theories," said McGonagall, her relief now transfigured into censure. "How are the legs, Potter?"
"Taut and toned, Professor. Spiffing. Splendid. They seem to have elected to part ways with my body, but aside from that, it's all sunshine."
"I feel an expulsion would be appropriate, Albus," said McGonagall in a carrying voice that James couldn't fail to hear. Lily's insides squeezed with sudden alarm until she caught sight of the humour behind the professor's spectacles. "Or perhaps we should allow Argus to bring out a few of those admirable instruments of his."
"If he starts with the toe screws, I shan't feel a thing, Professor."
Lily, busy wishing she could personally employ toe screws on the cheeky prat attached to her hand, was startled when Dumbledore offered his arm and requested her removal from the scene. She stared dumbly from the professors to the blocked passageway, and only managed to extract herself from the rubble after James had slipped his fingers from her grasp.
At first sight of the blood streaking down Lily's arm, McGonagall ordered her off to the Hospital Wing.
"But it's only a scratch – "
"Humour your professors, Miss Evans."
Lily turned pleadingly to Dumbledore. His eyes were firm, if twinkling, behind his half-moon spectacles, and she knew it was no good to argue. And what could she say? She was worried about the Head Boy? Her loathing for James Potter had collapsed in the space of a single night? She didn't want to leave his side?
Dumbledore pressed the tips of his fingers together and offered a gentle smile. "I assure you that we'll soon have Mr Potter out in one piece."
Scrounging up her resolve, Lily nodded, and she met those clear blue eyes with a pointed look. "Don't make it too quick, Professor. I've had to put up with quite a lot tonight. And if he happens to lose a leg during his retrieval, I won't say a word to the Ministry."
Dumbledore chuckled merrily; McGonagall gave an appreciative sniff. James did better than both, remaining silent and meek for possibly the first time in his life. Lily heard this statement of gratitude more clearly than if he'd asked Peeves to belt it through a magically-enhanced Muggle loudspeaker in the Great Hall at breakfast.
With a shuddering sort of breath full of relief and deflated panic, Lily turned her back on the scene and made to slide past Gregory to freedom – but somehow, she couldn't find it within herself to take that first step away. She glanced back to find Dumbledore and McGonagall exchanging a knowing sort of smile. Heat slammed into her cheeks but still she stood there, staring helplessly at the wall of rocks.
She wanted to say goodbye. She wanted to talk to James. She wanted their ridiculous banter to keep going. They had never managed to speak in civil terms for so long, and she didn't want it to begin and end tonight. She wanted James to know this, but she couldn't find the words.
All she could do was stand there, cheeks aflame, with McGonagall making that odd little clicking noise with her tongue.
It was James.
"Are you still there?"
A smile rippled out across Lily's face without a hint of warning.
She was rocking forward on her heels, battling the urge to dart back and reach for James' hand once more. A knock to the head: that was the only rational explanation.
"You'd better head off to the Hospital Wing, you know. You'll have to be in tip-top condition to fulfil the oath you made before."
It was so very easy to forget that her Headmaster and Head of House were listening to every word being said.
"The one where you promised to stay with me always, Evans. I'm dying to experience those – what was it? – seventeen shades of pain."
Lily rolled her eyes heavenward. "Idiot."
"I so enjoy your pet names. Now shove off, won't you? If they start digging now, they might still find some tattered strands of my dignity."
It was with a shaky and uncontrollable smile that Lily turned on her heel and slipped out into the empty corridor. She blinked in the candlelight and, sighing, summoned her scattered books into her arms. She barely felt she needed them any more.
In her almost seven years at Hogwarts, Lily had learned many things – certainly enough to fill the 4th, 5th and 6th editions of The Head Girl's Guide to Averting Everyday Peril without breaking a sweat. Magic was real and James Potter's voice was dangerous. But Lily had never been one to run from danger. She was brave and sort of brilliant, and so was the enormous git back beneath the boulders.
And once she was done hexing him every which way for putting her through this ordeal, she might even let him live. Or hold her hand.
Lily made off for the Hospital Wing with barely another glance backwards.
To be continued in Part Two.
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