"Another day in this carnival of souls
Another night's sins end as quickly as it goes
The memories are shadows; ink on the page
And I can't seem to find my way home."
-Far From Home by Five Finger Death Punch
What the Light Brings
The light was fading again.
Tiny tendrils danced across her hand for a moment, before moving away as yet another heavy cloud passed overhead. She tried to follow, reaching as though to snatch it, make it stay with her just little while longer. She missed the sunlight so much, the warm feel on her skin and the smell of summer air.
It was never summer here.
The light escaped her and she let out a shaky sigh of remorse, weeping inside for the sliver of life she had just been able to touch. Everything returned to dull, grey shadows in this cold, unwelcoming place.
She tried to remember the sun, but the skies above Azkaban seemed perpetually grey and stormy. Any hint of that precious light was diluted through the bars of her cell and escaped when she couldn't.
How she envied it, that light.
The air grew ever colder and she huddled in on herself, shivering as a phantom like prison guard glided past her cell with painful slowness. She didn't feel the slow sucking of her being like she did when she first came here, but it was still there. She felt like a sea beaten rock and every time a little more of herself was worn away.
It wasn't that bad, she gently admitted to herself through a haze of numbness, as it had been when she was imprisoned in the lower cells. Here the Dementor patrols were significantly less frequent and human guards were routinely used. But they still came everyday, three times and stayed for what seemed like hours, leaving the inhabitants of the cellblock drained and weak.
She hated it.
But she also remembered the lower levels, their constant presence a maddening stimulant. She could remember the screaming too, the tormented laughter and the cries for mercy. She still heard it at night here, though many times her own hard sobs joined the barrage of noise. She'd heave herself to exhaustion and sleep restlessly, haunted by dreams of another life.
She had lost all sense of time, lost count of the lonely, pain filled nights. Everything just seemed to have melded together until she thought she had been here a hundred years, maybe more. Her only solace, her only glimpse into happiness, was her one visitor. The one person they allowed to see her, even if his visits seemed to be getting shorter.
She looked up at the sound of her door opening, blinking at the sight of the man who filled her with something that felt like a distant dream, but came alive again when he was near. She could already feel her hands reaching out towards him, the one ray of sunshine she knew would never leave her in the darkness forever.
Warm hands took hers, pressing them to hot lips and squeezing tightly.
"You have thirty minutes," a gruff, terribly familiar voice sneered outside the cell.
James turned his head to glare.
"That's the third time this month you've cut my visit short!" he protested angrily.
She couldn't see the face of the other man, but there was a self satisfied leer to his voice when he threatened;
"I can make it ten."
James growled, but said nothing. The man gave a snort, closing the cell door.
As soon as it clicked into place, she was in his arms, sucking in his warmth like she would never feel it again. He shook a little as he held her, drawing back only to lay kisses on her face, her hair, her lips…
He never seemed to care about the dirt or the grime that living in Azkaban made cling to her. He never minded at how pale or thin she was, he never minded that sometimes all she wanted to do was bury her face in his shirt and cry. He held her for as long as it took, whispered sweet things in her ears, sung and hushed her like she was a scared child.
She looked at him then, his hazel eyes filled with his warmth and a sadness she knew must be in her own.
"Lily," he whispered her name like he needed her.
She needed him too.
"James," she murmured back, smiling for the first time in what seemed like decades, she studied him for a moment, reaching up a hand to stroke his cheek, "You're not eating properly again."
He seemed to sob and laugh at the same time, the sound was heart wrenching.
"I'll do better," he promised, pressing a hand over where hers lay on his cheek, "I just missed you."
"I missed you too," she said gently, suddenly feeling like all the shadows were being chased away by his mere presence.
"The next appeal is in a week," he said, "We're going to get you out Lily, this time for sure."
Its what he always said, his eyes burning with a fierce hope and Lily found she could do nothing more than smile and nod in agreement.
"This time for sure," she repeated, though she knew he'd be disappointed again.
He seemed to read her thoughts because his eyes started to water and he opened his mouth.
"Lily-" he began.
"Hush," she placed her cool fingers to his lips, "Everything will be okay."
He cracked a smile at her, it was weak, but there was the tremor of his old, mischievous self in it. He sat beside her and held her for as long as he could, until the guards came back. She held him as tight as she could, wanting to soak in a little more warmth, savour the man she loved just a bit longer, but like every other time, it ended far too soon. He went away, escaping her like the sunlight and she was left alone, alone in the dark.
He left the prison in a zombie like state, everything about him felt numb and far too cold. He hated coming here, he hated seeing his wife in there and he hated not being able to do anything about it. She was wearing away in front of him and he could do nothing to stop it.
He passed the sneering face of Crabbe, the warden. The thick faced man seemed to take exceptional pleasure in James' pain and since his installation to the position a year ago had been cutting his visits with his wife on a whim. James resisted the strong urge to turn around and punch the man, the very thought of being on this pathetic excuse for a wizard's beck and call made his stomach churn. He instead clenched his fists and walked away, Apparating as soon as he could.
Coming home without Lily was always painful, in the nine years they had been separated; he still hadn't gotten over the feeling of returning to an empty house. He still kept it the same, not having replaced a single photograph over the years or even touched her belongings more than to keep them clean. He swung open the wrought iron gate and followed the garden path to the kitchen door.
As soon as he entered the kitchen, he slumped down into one of the chairs at the breakfast table and buried his head in his hands, trying not to cry. Every time he went, leaving became harder and harder until he started thinking staying in that awful place with her would be preferable than living without.
He wasn't sure how long he sat there, but eventually he felt calm enough to get up again, wandered over to the fridge door and extracted a bottle of pumpkin juice from its confines. He wanted something stronger, but quelled the urge.
He'd have to go to a meeting later.
He carried the bottle with him through the lounge, ignoring the kidnapped Snitch he had borrowed from Hogwarts as it whizzed past his left ear, and went straight into his study. He sat down at a large desk, opening the bottle as he did and taking a long swig before he turned to the work in front of him.
Paperwork for Lily's next appeal.
He had a list of character witnesses; friends, employers, colleagues and neighbours, heck, he had even managed to convince his wife's nasty sister Petunia Dursley to speak at the hearing. There was also further documentation for a parole hearing, just in case the appeal fell through. It wouldn't help clear her, but Lily home was all he wanted, even if it was with restrictions.
Alice Longbottom, a member of the DMLE and former Auror had immediately taken their case up nine years ago. She had been a good friend to them in the Order and had a son close in age to their own. She had retired as an Auror a few years after her son's birth and had taken up law. She was the one who had sent James the documentation to look over and had been working on each and every one of Lily's hearings over the years.
He fingered through the documents, his eyes skimming over familiar phrases that stuck out in his mind above all the litigation; Defendant was found unconscious in the victim, Harry Potter's bedroom…Self Obliviation appears to be the only explanation for defendant's lack of memory…Psychological evaluation inconclusive…Prosecution theory for motive based on defendant's state of mind…Defendant found guilty on all counts…Hearing for sentencing recommendation…Defendant sentenced to no less than fifteen and not more than thirty-five years in Azkaban 29 December 1986, to be eligible for parole after ten…Amendment to sentence, defendant moved to minimum security holdings in Azkaban 15 February 1988...Appeals to date: Denied 9 June 1989...Denied 28 May 1992...Denied 31 January 1994...
His jaw clenched as he remembered every single one of those appeals - the ones that had actually made it through to a courtroom - the smug expression on the judge's face, the hungry glints in the eyes of the reporters and the tired, but hopeful look in Lily. He had to drop the papers to stop himself from scrunching them up in his hands.
He sighed heavily, running a hand shakily through his hair whilst setting aside the papers with the other. The trial was still fresh in his mind, he had gone over it again and again in his head, but he couldn't understand where they had gone wrong. The jury should never have convicted Lily on such circumstantial evidence and very appeal to date had ended the same. But that first time, that trial, it was the worst.
James didn't know how they did it, but that slimy, no good Death Eater that had questioned her on the day of her trial had twisted everything she said.
He could still remember his jeering voice.
"So Mrs. Potter," Yaxley shot at her, "You say you and Harry were home alone?"
"Yes," Lily had answered, her voice soft and her eyes still puffy from the tears she had cried. Merlin, they hadn't even let her attend Harry's funeral. She was chained in the centre of the room, chained to the chair like a common criminal. She wore Azkaban clothes and her face was pale. The Dementors were already getting to her.
"And under Veritiserum," he carried on, there was an oiliness in his voice that made James want to strangle him, "You confessed that you had no recollection of committing the crime?"
"In fact, Mrs. Potter, you can't say for sure whether or not you killed Harry Potter?"
"Objection Milady!" Alice Longbottom stood up, "That is purely speculation."
"So noted," drawled the woman trying over the case, it was the first time James had ever met her, she was a truly toad like woman with an apparent pension for pink, "The prosecution may continue."
"Milady-" Alice tried to object again, but she was cut off.
"I have noted your objection, I am allowing the prosecution to proceed with its line of questioning," the woman, Dolores Umbridge sneered, James couldn't believe it, she actually sneered at them. It was at that moment that he knew they weren't going to win this trial.
The judge was bias.
And they had no way to prove it.
He scrutinized the woman for a long moment; he had truly never heard of her before this, it was like she had risen to her position from nothing. And now she was using it to put his wife in Azkaban.
Yaxley smirked and carried on his inquiry, his icy blue eyes gleaming.
"Mrs. Potter," he said, "Isn't it true that the last spell performed on your wand was the Obliviation charm? And prior to that, the Killing Curse."
Lily's lip trembled, despair glazing her eyes as she shakily answered;
"Isn't it possible, Mrs. Potter," Yaxley said, looking at the assembled wizards now, "That you killed your son and then obliviated yourself to avoid interrogation."
"No-" she began.
"But you don't know for certain? Do you? Do you Mrs. Potter?"
She hesitated for a moment before answering quietly.
Alice stood up, a vehemence in her voice that James had never heard there before, the kind round face a mask of angry determination.
"Objection," she said loudly, "Milady, studies have never been able to prove that it is possible to Obliviate oneself with the dead point accuracy Mrs. Potter experienced-"
"But it has never been disproved either," Yaxley interrupted, "Milady, evidence from colleagues, previous professors and students shows that Mrs. Potter excelled in Charm work. In fact, most of them say she is the best they have ever seen. It is perfectly plausible that Mrs. Potter found a way to do so or even managed to get lucky."
"It is more likely someone else did it," Alice argued, "Milady, without any previous precedent, the Prosecution can only assume that accurate self Obliviation is still impossible to perform without causing severe mental damage. Thus, reasonable doubt applies. Someone else must have murdered Harry Potter using Mrs. Potter's wand and Obliviated her afterwards. There is no other reasonable explanation!"
"There was no evidence of the wards tripping, no record of anyone other than the Potters entering Godric's Hollow that day and no sign of forced entry or of defensive spells used by Mrs. Potter," Yaxley spoke as though lecturing a child, "Mrs. Potter was the only person present at the time of Harry Potter's murder."
"There is no motive to suggest-" Alice began, but was cut off by Umbridge.
"Enough!" she harped, banging her gavel down, "Objection over ruled, this is a matter left up to the jury. Prosecution may continue it's questioning of the Defendant."
James banged his head against the desk, unable to carry on with the memory; it made him want to march through the Ministry and hex the woman himself. He couldn't believe the corruption in the place, it was worse than when Voldemort had been taking over.
Oh, they just couldn't wait to rid the world of the Boy-Who-Lived.
And they took down his mother with him.
Harry Potter had been the only known survivor of the Avada Kedavra curse, and the defeater of Voldemort when he was just a baby. He and Lily had been fighting Death Eaters when Voldemort had somehow slipped by them and gotten to Harry's room. Remus had nearly been killed himself trying to get to Harry in time and had even managed to take a chunk out of Voldemort from behind before he was launched across the room and out the window by one of Voldemort's own spells.
Remus had survived, barely.
And Harry, Harry had become the saviour of the wizarding world.
That was why James was so sure of his wife's innocence. It had been Lily's magical protections around Harry that had helped to repel the killing curse and for that, the Death Eaters were ready to make her suffer.
Why else, James reasoned, would every person who contested Lily's appeals be a former or suspected Death Eater?
There had to be a connection.
Lifting his head, his thoughts roved to the Plan B he had stuffed in the bottom drawer of his desk and smiled grimly. If this appeal fell through, he was going to get Lily out, one way or another.
He instead picked up one of many application forms; all from students who were hoping to come study under him for a time in the art of Transfiguration. After a moments thought, he came to a decision. If things went bad, the last thing he wanted was a nosy little Hogwarts graduate underfoot. He took out a quill and fresh parchment, then dipping the nib carefully into an ink pot, began his first of many rejection letters.
Dear Miss Rogers,
Thank you for your application, unfortunately, due to familial matters, I will not be taking any apprentices this year-
Harry Potter woke with a start.
He sat up in bed, reaching over for his glasses, it was still dark out and the cold, late winter wind was beating harshly against the window. With a heavy sigh, he rose from bed, not able to make himself return, and headed down towards the Common Room. The fire was just dying in its grate and he found himself a seat as near to it as possible. He felt so confused, even in his sleep nothing made sense anymore. He kept trying to follow his dream to completion, tried to get to the Door, but this night had been different.
For the first time in months, he didn't dream of the Door.
Instead, he dreamed of his parents.
It was better than usual, he supposed.
He could still picture their smiling faces in the Mirror of Erised, their determined looks at the end of his Fourth Year when he had faced Voldemort and the images he knew all too well from the photographs Hagrid had given him.
Would it have hurt something, some great eternal plan, if he'd just had one happy memory of them?
He sighed and stared into the fire, he'd been feeling so angry this year, it was a wonder his head hadn't blown off yet. It just seemed like everything was going wrong; no one believed him and those that did kept him in the shadows.
Or didn't even look at him.
He clenched his fist.
Why was Dumbledore ignoring him?
And then there was Snape; Harry shuddered as he recalled the memory he had involuntarily seen. The one of his parents.
So young and foolish, he knew it was the fault of every teenager. How could they have ever suspected that in six years they wouldn't even have been there?
They didn't deserve it.
And it was all his fault.
He felt his heart pain at the thought, the thought he kept to himself and brought forward to taunt himself with.
They would probably still be alive, if they hadn't been protecting him.
Why? Why had Voldemort gone after them? Why had he told Lily to step aside?
Why did he want Harry so much?
Surely, if it had been revenge on Lily and James standing against him he would have just killed them all, but why had he asked her to step aside? Why had he offered to spare her life?
The thoughts wound themselves up in Harry's head so tightly he couldn't quite fathom one from the other without setting off his temper again. He knew he was being unfair to Ron and Hermione and he knew he was just taking out his aggression on everyone, anyone else who was near enough.
But it was so hard to stop.
He sniffed, not even realizing he had been about to cry and wiped the collected moisture away from his eyes. This was not going to turn into one of those nights. Those nights he just wanted to spend crawled up in a ball and crying, even though every inch of him told himself he wasn't a little boy anymore and shouldn't be doing those kinds of things. It was one of those nights when everything just seemed too much to bear.
It was one of those nights when he missed his parents most.
Would they have the answers for him if they were here? Would they protect him from the people who doubted him? Would they be there for him when he felt like the world was going to close in? Could anyone blame him? He'd like to meet the other fifteen-year-old wizard who had a mass murderer after him.
He stared into the fire and let the grief come.
"Appeal denied," the official presiding, announced, banging his hammer curtly on the wood of the table, "The prisoner is to be returned to Azkaban forthwith."
"My Lord," Alice Longbottom argued, her eyes blazing in defense of her friend, "Lily Potter is not a risk to society, the allegations leading to her imprisonment were all completely circumstantial and she has already served nine years for a crime she did not commit, surely you will at least consider early parole? Allow her to return to her husband?"
"Denied," the official said again, his chin stuck out in a most pompous way and his fat cheeks practically puffed up with glee, "And I would watch my tone if I were you councilor, we wouldn't want any unnecessary bias come Mrs. Potter's parole hearing."
James really wished he could kill him.
Watching the hopeful light in his wife's eyes die had been the final straw; he began to stew as she was lead away by the Aurors and his teeth clenched.
"Prongs?" Sirius whispered beside him, his eyes filled with concern, "Jamie?"
James took a shaky breath as he and Sirius exited the courtroom, his best friend remained silent whilst James took control of his anger.
"I've been too trusting of the system," James said finally as he walked briskly out of the Ministry of Magic, Sirius trailing behind him, "I've thought that maybe, just maybe, someday someone would see that Lily is innocent, but apparently everyone in Britain is an idiot."
"She's innocent," his voice was starting to crack, "Why can't they just let her come home? She's been through so much. She's so-so frail sometimes I think if I hold her wrong she'd just snap. I-I-"
"James," Sirius took his friend's shoulder gently and turned him toward him, the tears were already beginning to well in James' eyes, "Lets get you home, come on."
They Apparated out of London together, back to Godric's Hollow. Sirius immediately made his friend sit down and poured him a Butterbeer. James nursed it, taking precious few sips of the warm liquid whilst he and Sirius waited for their friend to arrive. Remus Lupin had had to leave right after the hearing on a work emergency, but promised he would return shortly.
James stared at his Butterbeer, eyes stinging, but refusing to let the tears come. Sirius sat beside him, a comforting hand on his shoulder. It was the usual ritual when one of Lily's appeals was denied; it was like James let all the stress wind up inside him like a stone and would only let it drop away for a brief period just to collect it up again once more.
Nine years and who knew how many failed appeals later, it was still the same.
But this time was different.
The judge had practically told them Lily was going to be denied parole too, their last dig for her freedom. He was sick and tired of this system and he certainly didn't think Lily would survive thirty-five years in Azkaban. Internally, he feared she wouldn't last one more year. Shaking himself from his depressed reverie, James swallowed the remains of his butterbeer in one gulp and stood up.
"Prongs?" Sirius questioned, his tone surprised.
"We're going to Plan B," James said solemnly and Sirius could only nod, his expression turning grim.
"We still don't have a way out," he spoke out, looking at James seriously, "We'll only be ready in a few months."
"So be it," James said, clenching his fist, "We're getting Lily out this time, for good."
With those words it began.
Plan B was now in motion.
They were going to break Lily out of Azkaban.
Fred and George were planning something.
Harry shook his head in amusement as he observed the two pranksters whispering with each other in the corner of the Common Room, ever since Umbridge had banned them from Quidditch, they had been obviously conniving something to get back at her. He hoped Hermione didn't catch them before they put the plan into motion, then again, she might just end up helping them if she could.
He missed teaching the DA.
It had made him happy, happier than he'd been in a long time, being able to teach and work with others. He had cheered with them over every achievement and struggled where they had. It had been eye opening in a way and despite his reluctance at first, he had to admit the experience had taught him a lot about himself and what he enjoyed doing. He still wanted to be an Auror someday, but he wouldn't mind retiring to teach Defence at Hogwarts if the opportunity ever came.
He laughed at that.
He was actually thinking about the possible future again, a future without Voldemort and his bloody followers. It would be nice; a war was coming, he knew that, and thinking that maybe, just maybe he'd get to have a life after that…
It was wonderful.
He looked down at his hand.
I must not tell lies.
He still had a long way to go before that day could even look possible again, he got up from his seat and went to post a letter to Sirius.
"The wards James, the wards!" Sirius practically yelled at his friend, "Even if we make it passed the Dementors, Malfoy had new wardings placed all over Azkaban. We'll be detected before we get her a foot away from the place."
James gave a frustrated growl and scrunched up the parchment in his hand. He had thought they had it this time, a way to sneak passed the Dementors and disable the security measures. But things had changed.
Sirius had been making sure he got the rotation at Azkaban as often as he could. His superiors no doubt knew he was doing it to get close to Lily, but their friendship was well known and no doubt pitied by this point.
"So what then?" James almost yelled back, "Is there a way through?"
"I'm not a bloody curse breaker, James!" he snapped, "I can barely make out what they've done now!"
It was times like this that he wished he could enlist the help of Bill Weasley.
But if anyone found out the young man was involved…
James couldn't do that to Bill and his family, not after everything else they had been through in the past three years.
"Alright! Alright!" James sighed, pulling out another sheet, "So how do we find out about the wards?"
Sirius sighed and sat back in his chair.
"We find out who placed them, I suppose," he shrugged, "I'm not sure how much we'll get out of that. Remus might know. He was always the best when it came to runes and warding. Damn, its times like this I wish old Dumbledore was still around."
James couldn't help but agree and wondered idly if Lily would even be in Azkaban if he were. Which was ridiculous, of course, but for much of James' childhood Dumbledore had just seemed to have an answer for everything. He missed having something to put his faith into.
This time, they were all on their own.
"Is there anyway to…delay the alarm from the wards?" James asked.
Sirius shook his head.
"Not for as long as we'll need," he said, "Lily being in the upper levels makes things easier, but not by much. You're forgetting the human guards."
Bugger, he was at that.
James banged his head against the table.
Harry picked up his wand and sighed.
Ever since Dumbledore had been driven from Hogwarts he'd been carrying an uneasy feeling in his chest. Even if the old headmaster had been painfully distant lately, there had always been the knowledge that he was available. Now Harry felt trapped. He'd never felt that inside Hogwarts walls before and the realization irked him.
Umbridge was messing up the only home he'd ever had.
"Cheer up mate," Ron said with a grin, clearly noticing the darkness of Harry's mood, "Have you heard anything from Snuffles lately?"
Harry shook his head, but couldn't help the small smile he shot at his friend.
"I suspect Moony's keeping him on his toes," he said lightly, more so than he felt.
Ron half-heartedly agreed and launched into a conversation about the latest Quidditch teams. Harry let him, slipping into the familiar topic gratefully. They were sitting outside on a surprisingly warm spring day. It had been the first in weeks that the weather had allowed it and Harry had to admit that being outside like this was cheering his mood considerably. He looked round only when he heard Hermione approach, a heavy book tucked under one arm and soft smile on her face as she looked over the two of them. She settled in beside them on the grass, opening her impressive tome like it was a cheap beach novel. Ron quirked an eyebrow at Harry and the two shared a humourous, conspiratorial look. Ron grabbed the book from Hermione, making a mad dash down the green towards Hagrid's hut. She gave a frustrated growl and rose to follow. Harry quickly grabbed her round the waist, delaying her pursuit. Several muffled curses and bouts of laughter later, the trio was all tearing its way down to Hagrid's. Harry grinned to himself despite it all.
They didn't come as often as they should, but these were moments he cherished.
"You found what?" Sirius exclaimed, grabbing the bit of parchment from Remus, it was old and covered in unreadable symbols. The greying werewolf glared at him and wrested the piece of parchment back, carefully smoothing it over.
"Careful!" Remus Lupin hissed at his friend, "That's at least nine centuries old!"
"What is it?" James asked, clearly confused, he looked up from the parchment to Remus and then to the fourth member in their little group.
"Lupin managed to find an old summoning spell," the man said darkly, his black eyes roving between the three men.
Severus Snape had been James' boyhood enemy for a lot of reasons, all of which he was now ashamed of. These included being part of Slytherin house, being different from anyone else and, to James' chagrin, being Lily Evans' best friend. It had taken a lot for James to admit to himself that he had been a bully at Hogwarts and even more for him to admit that in a lot of ways, he had made Snape the man he was sixteen years ago. A part of him often wondered, if he had just been a little nicer or even just left Snape alone, would he have still hated anything to do with Gryffindor so much? Would he have felt more confident in his friendship with Lily? Would he have joined the Death Eaters?
James knew it was fruitless to torment himself with what ifs, but it was certainly tempting. He knew somehow, that if it hadn't been Snape, it would have just been another Death Eater who heard the Prophecy. It was meant to be heard and Voldemort was meant to mark his equal. James knew that.
It didn't mean he had to like it though.
So no, the Marauders and Snape weren't exactly friends, but they did have the same goal.
Getting Lily out of Azkaban.
"A summoning spell?" Sirius scoffed, "What goods that going to do?"
"It bypasses all wards and barriers," Remus said dismissively, taking the parchment back from Sirius, "Severus and I have translated as much of it as we can, but from what we've been able to gather it should be able to transport Lily out of Azkaban and here without the Dementors becoming aware or the wards tripping."
"You're sure?" James asked, his face filled with anxious hope.
If this worked…
"Don't get your hopes up Potter," Snape said testily, shifting uncomfortably in the Potter's kitchen, "There's not much of a guarantee."
"But can we try it?" James asked, his eyes directly on Snape's, the two men were both in love with the same woman and both knew it. Sometimes, though not often, it gave them a kind of understanding James had with no one else, not even Sirius.
"Lupin and I have been testing it on objects and the effects have been satisfactory," he said slowly, "But we have yet to try it on something living."
"Then that's what we need to do," James looked at Remus, "Moony, did you get this from the Department of Mysteries?"
Remus didn't quite meet James' eyes; the Marauders had obviously been a bad influence on the werewolf Unspeakable. Remus had always thought it was funny that no normal job would have him because of his condition, but the most secretive job in Britain wanted him specifically for it.
He never mentioned why though and James and Sirius were wise enough not to ask.
"They wont miss it," he said dismissively again and smiled, "Not if we hurry of course."
James blinked in surprise and smiled too.
"Moony," Sirius chuckled, "You're brilliant."
Snape rolled his eyes.
"So how do we test this?" James asked.
"We need something large and breathing," Remus said slowly, "Something far away, that won't be missed if we accidentally kill it when it gets summoned-"
"What about a cow?" James suggested, "There's a dairy farm twenty-six miles north of here. We could try that first."
Remus looked thoughtful, he looked at Snape who nodded in agreement.
"Okay," he said finally, "We'll summon a cow."
"This is going to be one of those strange days, isn't it?" Sirius commented, rising from the kitchen table, "Okay, so what do we do first?"
"Someone needs to be the focus point," Snape said, then sighed, "I'll do it, I've summoned with this spell before."
"What is the focus point, exactly?" James asked.
"The person who envisions what needs to be summoned."
It sounded simple enough and James took heart at the fact. He also remembered that it was unlikely Snape had ever been to the farm he was talking about and said as much.
"Maybe I should do it then," he suggested, "I've actually been to the farm before."
He ignored the incredulous look Snape was giving him and the snicker from Sirius.
"Alright," Snape said curtly, "You do it."
James nodded and stood up.
"So tell me what to do."
"I hate that woman," Harry grumbled, nursing his aching hand in the Murtlap sap. Umbridge had given him detention again, if he had been naïve enough to think it would end during OWL week, he was certainly wrong.
Hermione shook her head and tsked.
"I told you not to say anything," she said, "Harry, you really need to keep a hold of your temper."
"Like you'd be able to if everyone was calling you insane and a liar," Harry bit back, "They're so blind and soon it's going to be too late and-"
He didn't finish his sentence and his expression went dark. Hermione didn't say anything else thankfully, but she did study him with concerned eyes as she always did. Harry was running in his mind again Cedric's death and she knew it. She patted his hand comfortingly before getting up to leave.
"Don't stay up too late Harry," she said quietly, "You need to sleep."
Sleep. Harry nearly groaned, they were writing their Astronomy OWL the next day, but he didn't want to sleep yet. Too much was roving around in his mind and he was certain he would have another nightmare. He looked at his best friend, recognized the weariness in her and let go of a heavy breath.
"Hermione?" he said finally, feeling a little guilty.
She turned back.
"I'm sorry for snapping," he said quietly, she smiled at him and nodded.
"It's okay Harry," she said, "We understand."
With that, she left Harry alone in the empty Common Room, Harry sat back and sighed heavily. Ron and Hermione were his best friends and he was always thankful for their support, especially this year when everything just seemed to be falling apart again. He really had to learn to control his temper better.
He picked up his Astronomy book, leafing through it unenthusiastically. He was pretty certain Astronomy was one of the subjects he wasn't going to take forward to NEWTS, but still, it was better than sleeping.
Snape and Remus finished drawing out the runes on the floor, using muggle chalk and a series of magical instruments used for measuring. They created a large pentagon, sketching out rows of ruins at along each line. The centre was left clear, it was where the cow would presumably land once summoned. They had cleared a space in the wooden floor for everything. The couches, tables and carpet shrunk and momentarily pushed to the side to avoid damage. The room looked oddly small without them.
"Stand here," Snape directed him, brushing greasy hair out of his face, "Right in front of the top point."
James did as he was told, his eyes following the intricate lines and symbols with awe. As an Auror and as part of the Order, he had been given a crash course on warding. He had only taken Ancient Runes up to OWL and much of what he knew had been learned from necessity and some general interest. He couldn't even begin to unravel the intricacies of the runic writings. They overlaid one another in patterns that made little sense to him. He'd have to ask Bill about it sometime.
"This amplifies the spell," Snape had said, pointing to each symbol, "Lupin and I will activate the runes whilst you give the incantation. It must be done precisely Potter. Do not mess up the words."
The words, as Snape was kind enough to iterate, were in a language James had only heard about.
Ancient Atlantian, the language of the first people able to wield magic. Every pure blood wizard had heard those tales, the great city of magic that stretched its reach too far and destroyed itself. Legend said it was the descendants of Atlantis' survivors that became the very first wizards and witches many millennia ago. Momentarily he wondered if it was wise to use the spells of a doomed civilization, but desperation provided a rather poignant motivation.
He stood very still in his living room, wand out and his mind focused as hard as he could imagine on the cow. He needed this to work. It had to work.
He started to chant, the words were strange to him, they jumbled out and sounded bizarre, but he could feel the power in them, sense it to the core of himself.
The incantation done, he focused on a cow he had seen at the dairy before, one the owner had called Betsy. Her brown fur, the way she moved, just like when he and his family had gone up to the farm for the first time and Harry had petted the calves and laughed at Betsy as she mooed and shifted.
Harry, his sweet little green-eyed boy, the same eyes Lily had. Harry, the little boy who had died too soon.
He didn't notice as the chalk symbols began to glow.
"You still awake down here?" an amused voice asked from behind him, Harry turned in surprise and smiled at the new comer.
"Oh, hey Ginny," he said softly, "Nah, I was just about to go to bed."
The Fourth Year was just coming down the stairs of the girl's dormitories, dressed in her pajama pants and a green Weasley jumper, she was carrying a book under one arm, clearly with the intention of sitting by the fire for a late night read. Harry found himself wondering if she did that often. Maybe she had as much trouble sleeping as he did.
"Oh really?" she quirked an eyebrow, her red hair gleaming in the candle light, "I heard you landed yourself another detention."
"Guilty," he grumbled, holding up his hand again.
She frowned and sat beside him, her brown eyes gleaming a little, "She's a monster."
"She's in charge," Harry muttered grimly.
"Its no excuse," she whispered, her eyes flashed onto him, "How are you feeling over all this?"
"Pretty lousy," Harry admitted.
He and Ginny didn't talk often, but he found that when they did, he liked it. She had a very calming way about her that set him at ease and made him feel reassured - even if he wasn't. He mildly mused how the girl who had just been 'Ron's little sister' for the past couple of years had morphed into someone he counted as a good friend. He removed his hand from the sap and fumbled to put a bandage on it. Ginny caught it and smiled.
"Let me help," she said, taking the bandage and gently wrapping it around his injured hand. Harry gave a small start, but let her finish the work.
"Thanks," he muttered, a little embarrassed.
"Not a problem," she said softly in return, her eyes coming up to meet his.
Harry felt a little warm inside.
"Are you dreaming about him?" she asked quietly, taking him by surprise.
Harry bit his lip, knowing exactly whom she was talking about. It had been a few months ago that Ginny had admonished him over even thinking Voldemort possessed him. He nodded, unable to answer.
"I dream about Tom sometimes too," she said, her eyes cast down for a moment, "If it helps, he is the kind of monster that leaves a few nightmares."
"Ginny-" Harry started; she looked up at him and smiled, cutting him off with one look.
"All I'm trying to say Harry," she said softly, "Don't keep it to yourself, if its bothering you, then tell someone. When you bottle it up and cut yourself away from others, that's when he wins."
Harry blinked several times in surprise.
"Okay," was all he found he could muster up, "Er-thanks Ginny."
She nodded, but still looked a little worried, they remained silent for several long moments.
"I heard you did well on your Defense OWL," she said mildly.
Harry smiled absently. In truth, he was rather pleased about that, even if his resulting smirk in Umbridge's direction - though not completely unintentional - had no doubt earned him the harsher detention. He wasn't really thinking about her comment though, what he found interesting was the expression on the red head's face. She seemed to be struggling with something, biting down on her bottom lip and looking a bit nervous.
"Harry," she began, "I-"
That was when it happened; something bright just popped up in between them, it was a ball of pale white light. Glowing with the same eeriness as a Patronus, it floated right in front of Harry's nose. Silvery wisps danced across its surface, casting an eeriness that drew the eye to the ball. It seemed to call out to him, whispering lowly in a language he didn't understand.
"What is that?" Ginny asked, her eyes widening, it bathed her face in a white light, making her appear paler than she really was and the freckles on her cheeks stand out.
"I don't know," Harry whispered back, he felt like he had to reach out and touch it. Maybe it was Seeker's instincts, demanding he catch any sort of ball floating around in mid-air. Maybe it was his own knack for wanting to know more than was good for him. But that ball was calling for him to grab it, "I-"
"Harry don't!" Ginny cried, but it was too late.
Before Harry could even make a move to snatch the ball, it sank downwards, into his chest, and suddenly everything started to blur. Ginny's face faded from view and her cry of, "Harry!" echoed away.
Harry felt like he was being sucked into something, his stomach was being pulled right out of him and everything was spinning. It was ten times worse than Flooing and hundred times more unpleasant that using a Portkey. Dark shapes moved around him, gathering in droves to encompass his body until he felt like he was going to suffocate. He swung his arms out, trying to thrust them away from him, doing anything he could to keep them away. For brief moments he saw flashes. Faces, so many faces. His mum and dad, Cedric, Dumbledore, Hermione and even his own poured passed his vision. Then he was free and all he could see were stars.
A massive, spinning universe of stars so bright and so numerous that they almost blinded him. Cold, like ice, twisted over his skin.
He tried to scream, but his voice was lost to the rush in his ears.
Suddenly, it all stopped and Harry hit a warm, wooden floor with a loud thud, his head burst into pain from the impact and his eyes started to dim.
He could have sworn as he slipped into unconsciousness, he heard Sirius' voice cry out;
"That is not a cow!"