Chapter 15: The Gryffindor's Defiance.
Lily crept silently to a point higher up on the slope. Mendrick had extinguished two of the Standing Stones with his bare hands. If they were the active points in some sort of Shield Charm, then there was a chink in the armour. She was sure that a spell cast between those two stones would reach inside that protective circle, and perhaps, if Voldemort was taken by surprise, she could stun him or disarm him.
But she did not have a chance to act, for the red flash of a curse came from somewhere further down the mountain side, aimed straight at Voldemort. However, as soon as it touched an invisible spot somewhere at the level of the glowing stones, there was a reverberating sound , unpleasantly like an electrical discharge, and the curse was harmlessly absorbed by the invisible protective field.
Lily flicked her sodden hair out of her eyes trying to see who was attacking. Whoever it was had acted even more rashly than her, ignoring the evident signs of protective magic. The Death Eater waiting in the shadows beyond the stones was already flitting silently in the direction from whence the spell had been fired. Severus had launched himself out of the two extinguished stones and was pelting downhill, trying to catch up with the Death Eater. There were several flashes of light as curses flew about wildly, but strangely enough, even in the bright blaze of the flying curses, Lily couldn't see the attacker.
Who else was on this damned mountain? And were they friend or foe? Voldemort must have sensed their presence, not hers. But when she saw Voldemort issue forth from between the glowing stones and head downhill, his grim expression made her sorry for whoever had been foolhardy enough to attack that way. She crept further downhill. Voldemort was out of the protective circle, but he was too far now for her to get an accurate shot.
She felt she'd only have one chance at this...
Something moved suddenly between the boulders and rubble just a few feet from where she stood. Startled, she pointed her wand in that direction, but could hear nothing except the keening wind that had replaced the sound of the storm. She swallowed drily – her intention to attempt an attack on the most notorious dark wizard of her time, was making her see things, because for a moment there, it seemed she had seen a black wolf...
There were no wolves in Scotland. Perhaps it was just a large dog. She had to focus, or she might lose this one chance.
She squinted, trying to see what was happening further downhill. Severus and the Death Eater where both looking fixedly at one particular spot, and suddenly Severus lashed out with his wand firing a Stunner at something or someone, but Voldemort deflected Severus' curse, and, with a flick of his wand, he caused a figure to materialise out of thin air in front of him. Just then, the moon flitted out from behind the clouds and glinted on the round spectacles of the young wizard who had just appeared in front of Voldemort.
Lily's mouth dropped open. No – it couldn't be!
James Potter! This was the second time that he'd melodramatically appeared out of nowhere to confront Dark Wizards that were beyond his abilities to handle! The first time was when she and Severus got tangled with the Karkaroffs in the Forbidden Forest, and now... Didn't he ever learn, or was he so damned enamoured of spectacular, but suicidal, apparitions? How could he just barge onto Voldemort like that?
Why was he even here?
But the answer presented itself to her immediately. She had been stupid not to see it- Remus would've told the Marauders about their intended expedition to Ben Cόrhveinn! Probably Sirius Black and Peter were somewhere around, too. Now they were all in this mess and she had got them in it!
Waves of guilt and despair washed over her. She had come up this mountain in the hope of saving the world from the war, and instead ended up embroiling innocent students in a face-off with Voldemort himself! How could she have been so stupid, so selfish, and so conceited as to think she could do this on her own? She should've gone to Dumbledore!
Tears of anger and frustration leaked from her eyes, but she shook them off angrily. She had to think. She was the only one left undiscovered now... she couldn't give up now. There must be something she could do...
James Potter was facing Voldemort with his wand held in the duelling position, and dragging on the ground form his other hand were the silvery folds of the Invisibility Cloak Voldemort had removed from him. In spite of his foolishness, James Potter stood his ground unflinchingly in front of Voldemort. It couldn't be that easy to stare so boldly into those red eyes that had haunted her dreams so often, and more recently, her visions... Lily felt a reluctant admiration for Potter, as well as something like a déjà vue.
Of course – James Potter had stood just like that in her vision: fearlessly and proudly pointing his wand at Voldemort ready to duel him! It had been a fleeting glimpse, and she thought she had seen them in Hogwarts, surrounded by many staring faces, not on a lonely mountain side, still... Could she be seeing that vision actually happening now? Was she witnessing the end of Voldemort? Or that of James Potter? The strangeness of it all kept her frozen in place with bated breath, but Voldemort was laughing. Actually laughing: cold, humourless laughter intended to humiliate and belittle his opponent.
'Another schoolboy?!' he said, his cold voice laced with irritation as well as sarcasm, 'This mountain is infested with students toni-'
Potter moved so suddenly Lily didn't even see his arm move, a flash of red light lighting up the stone circle, but Voldemort had reacted quicker. Impossibly quick - as though he knew Potter would attack. Probably, Lily thought, he did. Voldemort blocked Potter's spell easily, and with a lazy flick of his wand, James Potter was disarmed.
Voldemort handed his wand to Severus and moved closer to observe the young Gryffindor.
'Who are you, and what are you doing here?' he asked, in a voice that brooked no refusal.
But Voldemort didn't know Potter.
'I'm a garden gnome out for a midnight stroll-'
Lily groaned inwardly. What on earth did Potter think he'd accomplish by enraging Voldemort further? She had seen Voldemort's eyes close-up in her vision, and she could recognise a murderous look when she saw it.
Potter's jaunty reply ended in a grunt of pain as Voldemort pointed his wand at him and interrupted his words with a silent spell.
'I grow tired of these games, James Potter,' Voldemort said, coldly.
Potter was grimacing and breathing heavily from the effects of whatever spell the Dark Wizard had used on him, but then he looked up at Voldemort with surprise. Evidently, Potter was unaware of Voldemort's Legilimency skills, and that he apparently could pick the answers to his own questions from his victim's brains.
'Tell me what you are doing on this mountainside under an Invisibility cloak?' Voldemort reiterated, and this time there was no mistaking the threat in his voice.
Lily crept further down, keeping well hidden behind the boulders. If only she could get a clear shot of Voldemort... There was still the Death Eater to contend with... and Severus. Severus would have to choose what to do at this point.
'You've got to trust me, Lily. I – I can find a way he had said back in the cave. But now she didn't know whether she could trust him. Now, she had to depend on herself.
James Potter said something she didn't quite catch, and Voldemort had pushed his face closer to the young wizard.
'That's not what I asked you. I can tell when you are lying, James Potter' Voldemort hissed 'A Gryffindor Quidditch champion and a Pureblood, too. Your actions have been a strange combination of intelligent stalking and reckless bravery. The latter's quite typical of a Gryffindor, and yet...' Voldemort paused and suddenly his features twisted in fury '...and yet, it's not what it seems! A diversion! This is just a diversion!'
Voldemort whirled round to stare at the remaining five Standing Stones he had just left. And then Lily saw the intruder - he was crouching down, bent over the body of Remus Lupin, only Remus was sitting up now, and the figure bent over him was a Hogwarts student. Judging by his height and build, it was Sirius Black, not Peter Pettigrew.
With an enraged hiss, Voldemort ran back towards the stones, pointing his wand at them, but even as he did so, there was a sharp sound, and both Remus and Sirius disappeared by side-along Disapparition. It had happened so fast, that Lily barely had time to register the fact. But as it slowly dawned on her that the two Hogwarts students had just got away from the world's darkest wizard, she was filled with renewed hope. Now there was only James Potter left to save. And Severus.
If Severus wanted to be saved after all...
'... are your friends? What were you doing here?' Voldemort's fury was now directed at James Potter.
He had dragged the Gryffindor back right through the glowing stones to where Mendrick still lay twitching and groaning helplessly The Death Eater had also passed across the glowing stones but Severus had to take the long way round, passing through the point where the two stones had been extinguished by Mendrick. As he did so, he paused for the briefest of seconds to look in her direction – or rather where he had last left her. In a barely perceptible way, he moved the three wands he held in his hand in a way used for Disapparition. Lily knew he was trying to tell her to disapparate now.
But she wasn't going to. She was responsible for this mess and she was going to stay till every last student was out of Voldemort's clutches. That included James Potter, too. She had to wait for her chance to act, but act she would.
James Potter was glaring at Voldemort angrily, his mouth set in a grim line, obviously determined not to say anything. Hadn't he realised Voldemort could read his mind anyway?
Severus knew that. 'My Lord, that was Sirius Black, Lupin's friend. Lupin must have told them he was coming up here tonight, or else they came to seek him when he didn't turn up in the dorm.'
Perhaps Severus was trying to prevent Voldemort from reading Potter's mind. How much did Potter know? Remus would have told him that he was going to Ben Cόrhveinn with her.
'Igor, they would have apparated near Hogwarts' Gate,' Voldemort turned to the silent, masked, Death Eater whose hood shifted slightly as though he was nodding in assent, and Disapparated immediately.
'So you came looking for your friend, James Potter,' Voldemort turned his attention to the Gryffindor 'How brave of you.' The emphasis on the word was a mocking one. 'But they seem to have left you in the lurch, now. Or have they? There is still someone on the edge of my perception...But more important than that – tell me, my young pureblood: how is it that you and your friend approached so close to me without my noticing? An Invisibility Cloak does not hide the wearer from a homenum revelio spell, and I know spells that are far more revealing than that...'
'Pure talent...' Potter mumbled.
'Hidden talent,' Severus said, looking with dislike at the Gryffindor.
'Talent, hidden or not, is still talent, Severus,' Voldemort's rage seemed to have subsided somewhat, 'And I could use talent like yours, James Potter...'
'I'll join you over your dead body!' Potter shouted, his glasses glittering angrily in the light of the moon.
'You may have to wait forever for that,' Voldemort retorted, with a humourless laugh. 'So what did your friend Remus Lupin tell you about his trip to the mountain? How did he know about this place?'
'He didn't tell us anything. He just didn't come back –'
But even Lily could see that he was hiding something. With a twinge of guilt, she knew even Potter was trying not to mention her name.
'Ah – dear, old Madam Mapleblossom,' Voldemort continued, just as if he hadn't heard him, 'Now I see the link. You know Mendrick's sister. Finally, I'm beginning to get to the bottom of this.'
James Potter looked devastated at how easily Voldemort had invaded his mind and picked information from it. Severus looked furious, his hands, clutching the three wands in a white-knuckled grip, twitched as though they were itching to hex Potter.
'Did dear old Mrs Mapleblosson reveal her brother's whereabouts to you? Is that what made you dig deeper into this old fool's discoveries? Strange – Mendrick isn't one to tolerate anyone – especially schoolboys – coming near that cave...'
Just then there was the sharp sound of Apparition and the Death Eater called Igor appeared within the dim light made by the remaining standing stones. He had lowered his hood. Beneath his mask, Lily got the impression he was very young with a pale face and weak chin.
'They weren't there, my Lord,' he reported.
'Well, then they're hanging around to try and rescue you, James Potter. How loyal. Pity such loyalty is misdirected,' Voldemort grinned, 'But now I have some unfinished business which is definitely more important than a few runaway schoolboys. If it fails, then Potter here will lead us to his friends. Keep this wizard at wand-point, Severus. Igor, it is time to call re-enforcements.'
The young Death Eater called Igor came forward rigidly and held out his left arm, lifting his sleeve to expose his inner forearm. Lily stifled a gasp. The pale flesh there was marked with something red. Or she thought it was red – it was difficult to make out any colours in the dim blue glow of the stones. So it was true – this was the dark mark. She thought she could just make out the outline of the skull and the longer, thinner part of the snake, a vivid red with darker edges like a brand-mark, and Voldemort was pressing his wand right into that mark. The pale arm of the Death Eater called Igor trembled slightly, the lips beneath the mask grimaced in pain or – something else. The mark had turned a deep, dark black, starting at the point where Voldemort's wand made an indentation on the branded skin.
Suddenly, another Dark Wizard appeared within the circle. Lily looked around frantically. She'd only heard rumours about the Dark Mark and how it worked, but apparently, some of those rumours were true. She looked around her frantically, half-expecting hundreds of Death Eaters to start apparating on the mountainside, summoned by the Dark Mark on their arms. But only the one lone Death Eater by Voldemort's side seemed to have been summoned. He was holding up something.
'...as agreed, my Lord,' The Death Eater was saying as he handed the dark wizard something that looked like a shawl or a small blanket.
Voldemort's next action took Lily completely by surprise. He snatched the cloth and went over to where Mendrick was still slumped against a stone, grasped him by the hair and bent his head backwards at an awkward angle.
'See this, Mendrick?' he hissed, shoving the shawl or blanket in his hands 'Do you recognise it? Perhaps you can't see through those bloodied eyes, but I'm sure you can smell it! A very particular smell of old lady, and cats and dogs-'
'Noooo!' Mendrick screamed suddenly, coming to life suddenly and clenching the shawl in both fists.
'Put up quite a struggle for an old witch, my Lord,' the newly-arrived Death Eater said.
'Your sister stands to lose more than a few of her pets, Mendrick,' Voldemort said coldly 'Tell me the nature of what you have seen in that chamber, or else –'
But Mendrick did not seem to hear him. He was rocking back and forth holding Mopsy's shawl, a noise like an animal in pain escaping from his lips.
'She's not dead yet, you mad old fool!' the Death Eater cried 'This is just a warn-'
But Mendrick jumped suddenly to his feet as though pulled up by invisible strings, and in a strangulated voice he started shouting an incantation in the ancient language Lily had heard in the oracle. His blood-stained eyes were wide and staring, their silvery grey beginning to glow ominously. Lily couldn't understand what he was saying this time, but the mere sound of the harsh, guttural language was enough to send shivers of dread down her spine, and something in her head twinged painfully.
Voldemort and both the Death Eaters had taken a step back at Mendrick's reaction, and all wands were pointing at the unarmed wizard, but Mendrick was past caring – he seemed to have finally gone round the bend. He raised his hands, fingers flexed like claws and made a strange upwards motion with his hands from the ground to the skies and all the while his voice grew in volume and harshness. Potter had made a move to escape, but Severus dug all three wands into his throat with a look that rivalled Voldemort's in malice. Potter desisted.
Voldemort shouted something, his face a mask of foiled rage, and a flash of green light from his wand missed Mendrick by inches. It missed him because the ground was shaking violently as it had done back in the cave, the deep rumble sounding unexpectedly louder out here in the open, and this time, it wasn't just confined to the peak. Lily lost her balance as several stones from the pile of rubble beneath her gave way. Only the Menhirs remained standing, but their blue glow had been replaced by an incandescent white light that grew in intensity and seemed to spill over, so that each stone was connected to its neighbour by a thread-like discharge similar to what she had seen in the Oracle Chamber.
When she found her feet again, Mendrick's voice was still shouting the incantation, and the next instant, the light disappeared from the seven stones. It was sucked from the stones right into the ground beneath them and almost at the same time, an incandescent white light rent the night air as lightning struck the place where the Wing-shaped cave had been.
Lily shrieked and covered her eyes, blinded by the flash. The image of the lightning bolt was indelibly printed on her retina, so she knew the exact point where the lightning had struck: it was where Mendrick had stuck his gnarled wand into the ground at the cave entrance earlier that evening, before she and Remus had consented to go in.
Mendrick's wand was acting like some sort of electrical magnet, attracting lightning. She was sure that the skies had cleared – even the drizzling rain had stopped ... or perhaps it was the raw power of whatever magical energy had linked the standing stones, going right through the ground and discharging skywards through Mendrick's wand.
And it wouldn't stop. Her ears were assaulted by the continuous crack of the lightning – not once, but over and over and over again, until it seemed as though her head would split open with the cacophony.
Had the bolt of lightning come from the sky or from the energy sizzling between the seven standing stones forming the circle? And why hadn't his wand been burnt to cinders with the discharge? Mendrick's wand had looked like nothing more than a dry gnarled stick. How was Mendrick doing this?
Her hands cupped round her ears, she forced herself to look at the scene below. Mendrick was nowhere to be seen, but in the continuous lightning flashes she could see Voldemort, like a dark shadow, running – no not running- more like gliding or flying , as though borne on invisible wheels - up the slope towards the wing-shaped cavern and the blinding lightning. Behind him, the two Death Eaters followed.
The noise was deafening, but at least the ground had stopped shuddering and she tried to gather her wits about her.
Her wits, however, had been affected more than she thought, for the pain she had felt in her head inside the Oracle chamber was starting again.
But this was no time to come apart. This was her chance. She got up and made her way down the slope towards the Standing Stones, five of which had returned to the previous blue glow. She approached from the upper end of the circle, where Mendrick had removed the protective spell from around two of the monoliths. She could hear angry voices coming from within.
'... picking your brain like bloody overripe fruit! Why d'you always turn up like a fucking bad penny to ruin everything!?' Severus was shouting furiously.
'Ruining cosy Death Eater get-together's my speciality, Snivillus. Glad you remember it's not the first time!'
'Shut up Potter! Had the Dark Lord stayed a minute longer, he'd have made you spill your soul to him!'
'Really? Well, I have no doubt you've already sold him yours, Snape!'
When she arrived at the circle of Severus had Potter by the throat. The noise of the lightening had died down as had the flashing light, but there was the sound of an ongoing battle from the distant peak.
'You have no idea – no idea,' Severus was saying viciously, all three wands deep in Potter's throat 'what I'd've done to you if you had breathed another word, Potter! I-'
He broke off as Lily came into the dim blue circle of light cast by the stones.
'Lily!' 'Evans!' they shouted in unison.
'What the fuck are you doing here?!' Severus hissed.
'Evans, I was wondering where you were,' Potter said, 'Remus said –'
'Bloody Lupin's gone now! So what're you waiting for to dissapparate?!' Severus cut across him savagely.
'I want Remus' wand,' Lily said, in a voice that was surprisingly steady and clear even to her own ears, 'And his.' She jerked her head at Potter. 'We're all going back to school. Now!'
Severus moved a few steps towards her, but kept Potter covered with his wand.
'You know I can't,' he said, quietly.
She gazed at him for a second, her previous resolution faltering. She wanted to get everyone away from here – everyone who wanted to go. Severus silently handed her Remus' wand.
'Of course he can't!' Potter burst in, vindictively 'he's a Death Eater! He's one of You-Know-who's stooges! He broughthis master here to get you, Evans. Are you blind?!'
'Voldemort's own enchantments brought his to this place, Potter, not Severus. But no, I'm not blind,' she added, her voice sounding as cold as her heart felt.
Severus was still, his face deathly pale. 'Go back to Hogwarts, Lily,' he said in an expressionless voice.
'Give Potter his wand, and I will.'
She looked at Severus stubbornly. The distant sound of battle fell upon her ears in a disembodied way, as though it were something far away and unimportant. She wanted Severus to return with her now – this window of opportunity would not come again, they would be safe at Hogwarts. But clearly, he did not want to come...
Potter had seen his hesitation.
'He has no intention of letting me go, Evans,' he said shrewdly 'Afraid you'll look like a right twat in front of your master, eh, Snivillus? Letting me get away when he ordered you to keep me here... Bet he won't be too pleased with you!' Potter's glasses glinted blue fire 'Even your master recognised I've got more talent than you!'
'Shut up for a minute!' Lily shouted, losing her temper.
Her head was throbbing painfully now, and something disquieting was happening up in front of the winged cavern. There was something even more disquieting about Potter's words. She rubbed her head, trying to think straight, for even being angry felt like an effort.
'He's right, Severus,' she said, tiredly rubbing her head - she couldn't muster the energy to be angry anymore, 'You-know-who will murder you if he finds out you let Potter escape. And I'm not going to let you tie me up like you did Remus!' she ended, on a faintly menacing note.
'I wasn't going to,' Severus bit out tightly.
'Good. So you have no choice - you've got to come with us!'
'Evans ... what?!'
She ignored Potter, but Severus was shaking his head slowly.
'No. No I won't. The Dark lord will find out what I intend that he finds out,' he said slowly 'if you keep this dunderhead from interfering again, I'll –'
'I'm a Prefect. I – I have to see all students are back in school safely,' she lied desperately.
She went up to him. 'Severus, please,' she whispered, looking up into his face, trying to see if there was anything there – any hope – that she could cling to. But Severus' face was white and deathly still, the dark eyes beneath the slick wet hair looked barely alive.
'You don't understand. You don't understand at all, Lily,' he said with the merest flicker of something that looked like fear in his eyes. 'Here's Potter's wand - now go!'
And he threw Potter's wand right at him.
Potter, who had been looking at them with an increasingly furious expression, caught the wand deftly, but instead of Disapparating, he brought it round in a whirling arch to point at Severus, sending a hex flying towards him almost before his fingers grasped its handle. Severus blocked it – though barely- but Potter was firing hex after hex in such quick succession, that Severus staggered backwards, and the Shield Charm he had managed to conjure reverberated loudly with the force of the onslaught of spells.
'Stop! Stop that now!' Lily shrieked, pointing her wand at Potter.
Was this boy daft or something? But Potter's expression rivalled that of Severus in sheer gut-hatred. She hadn't seen the Gryffindor lose his cool so completely – even when facing Voldemort himself, his hatred had not been so utter. And how was she going to get him out of here now? If she stunned him, or cast a full body-bind curse on him, he wouldn't be able to Disapparate.
But before she could do anything, her head exploded with a pain so intense that she screamed in agony, and to her infinite despair, the voices had come back! The voices she had heard in the cavern. They were there in her head – shouting and crying in their guttural language – the ground was shaking again too, and she was knocked off her feet and slammed to the ground as a shockwave passed over her and through her. She wrapped her arms round her head as though that pathetic gesture would save her from what was inside her head, and yet this time, the voices were not angry – they were scared – yes, scared – their harsh words screamed death and destruction in that unknown language. How she knew this, she did not know, nor did she know whose death they were lamenting - their own, or her own. Neither did she care – something inside her was writhing in pain and dying - she knew that.
She rolled into a foetal ball on the wet ground, not even willing to cling to her consciousness. Oblivion was infinitely sweeter.
And as she sank into that dark place where she hoped she would find peace, she heard the familiar high, cold voice shout from the mountaintop:
And the grinning evil shape of the Dark Mark, outshining even the moon above, was the last thing that her eyes gazed on as she slipped into the darkness.