They found her the day after the last Quidditch match, tied up and naked and hanging from the underside of one of the bleachers.
It was Morgan who saw her first, a sixteen year old boy who wanted to play so desperately he'd pick things up off the pitch after them. He was walking beneath the Hufflepuff bleachers, a shortcut back to the changing rooms, and happened to look up. She was hanging head-down, and the blood had pooled in her fingertips, her face. Her cheeks were grotesquely red.
James heard his scream even while in the air at the other end of the pitch, legs wrapped tight around his new broom. Morgan's scream nearly unseated him.
Morgan had always been such a quiet boy. His mouth open, wailing at the top of his lungs, you wouldn't have believed it.
Peter, Sirius and Remus had been outside, full of questions. James knew that they were aware something was wrong simply from his face; he couldn't hide it, so he just kept walking. When James had gone to McGonagall, she had just said, "wait."
Dumbledore called James into his office after he'd been standing outside the statue not even ten minutes. James mounted the stairs, fear a taste in the back of his mouth - fear that had crystallized the first minute he'd heard Morgan. Crystals were funny things. They'd studied a kind of crystal in Advanced Potions one year; you grew them slowly, one thing building on the other. The stairs took an eon to reach the headmaster's office and the doors opened silently, let James into Dumbledore's office without any more waiting. Downstairs was murder, the waiting, but now that James was stepping before the headmaster he could have done with a few more minutes to prepare himself, Head Boy or no.
Dumbledore's hands were folded in front of him. "James, what did you see?"
James stuck to the facts. He shook his head, "no, I didn't. Her," he said in a quiet voice, "but nothing else, really. Morgan's the one that would have seen anything."
"We've spoken to Morgan," Dumbledore said, and there was kindness in his eyes. James was still tense. "James, the question I really need to ask you is: who else knows about this?"
James could see McGonagall in the corner, speaking low to someone with a suspicious face in the fireplace. "Well, Morgan," he started.
The air around him was thicker than usual. James took a larger breath, tasting it. There was something lodged in the back of his throat, he could barely speak around it. His head felt too big, trying to avoid this huge thing in his mouth, nose, skull.
Dumbledore looked right at him, the way he did that made you tell the truth. He repeated, "Who else knows about her, James? This is very important, probably more important than any other question I've ever asked you."
James looked down, "Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew ran into me on my way back from the school. I didn't tell them everything, but they know something's wrong."
Dumbledore motioned to McGonagall, who materialized at his right hand as if by magic. "Bring them here."
James looked off to the side. From the corner of his eye, he could barely see the grizzled head in the fireplace. The head swivelled around, stared at him. James looked at the floor, back at Dumbledore. Dumbledore was smiling gently. "We need to know who else is aware of the situation," he explained, and then stole a glance at the fireplace.
James had always been called a quick study, and he knew how the school was run, but this was no longer about the school, this was about hurried conversations with heads in fireplaces and James frowned, he said, "you're not telling anyone."
Dumbledore crossed his hands, sitting behind his big desk. "There is less than a month left of term. Until we know what's going on here, I do not intend to say anything, no." Dumbledore smiled at James, and James shifted uncomfortably under his eyes, then nodded. "Good lad."
Peter, Remus, and Sirius came into the room almost instantaneously, McGonagall nearly dragging Sirius by the hood of his cloak. They must have been waiting outside. Sirius trotted up to the desk and asked casually, "are we in trouble again, sir?"
Without preamble, "Did you tell anyone else about what Mr. Potter here witnessed?"
James barely had said three sentences to them, he was in such a hurry, and now he couldn't even remember what it was he said. Peter looked up in alarm. "I thought he was joking."
"No, we were finishing off a bit of practice for the Defense N.E.W.T. We did--" Sirius said, looking at James, "we all thought it was a joke."
"Thank you, boys," McGonagall replied, and started to usher them away from Dumbledore. The headmaster, sitting stationary in his chair, looked deep in thought and worried. "Go to your dorm and stay there for now." She added, "I don't have to stress the importance of keeping this quiet. Almost more to herself, McGonagall mumbled, "you're often quiet about something or other, so no one will wonder, that's something at least."
Sirius grinned. "Oh, they always wonder," but no one laughed. James glanced back at Dumbledore before going down the stairs and it didn't look like he'd moved.
"Not an auspicious start to term, eh, James?" Sirius brushed hair out of his face and continued to stare out the Gryffindor Tower window at the Quidditch pitch. James didn't really care what was out the window; he'd seen enough.
Peter hissed, "how can you joke about something like this!"
"Because if I don't joke," Sirius replied calmly, "I'd go crazy."
"How long have they been out there?" James asked, not looking at his watch and hoping the years that had dragged on past since this afternoon were really minutes in disguise.
Remus glanced at his own wrist. He was sitting on his own bed quietly, while James and Sirius paced around the room. "Over an hour."
"And to think," Sirius said, looking at James, "that they said being Head Boy would be boring. Now Flitwick's down there, too."
"Where's Morgan?" Peter blurted, and then stood up; James said,
"McGonagall took him." He could feel his cheeks, they were numb and the inside of his head was hot. "He wouldn't stop shaking, she said, so." James stopped.
"I could handle boredom," Peter said quietly. "I could handle boring really well."
"They're coming in," James said suddenly. His body, of its own accord, had moved him to the window. "I can see them, they're coming in."
Sirius sat down on the bed, head in his hands. "You know what this is," he said. "This is just another of those fucking Slyth--"
"Don't," James replied, coming away from the window. He could see his reflection in the window, stepping away. It was still whiter than looked healthy. "Don't."
"It was fake?" James said blankly. Beside him, Lily squeezed his hand.
McGonagall nodded, slowly. "It appears," she said grimly, "that someone devised an elaborate illusion, one so real that even at the first touch, the," and she halted, "the - body - seemed as real as you or I."
James repeated, "it was fake."
McGonagall nodded. "I must ask you, Mr. Potter, whether you know of anyone who might wish to pull such a prank?" she asked grimly. "Someone who might find this amusing?"
James looked up at the Professor, swallowing involuntarily. A piece of fear broke off, and tried to choke him. "You don't think that, we - that Sirius and I--"
She studied James for a very long moment. "No," McGonagall answered. "No, I do not."
James said, alarmed, "Did you think that we could have, that." He turned aside slightly, sickened. You can't have thought it was us, Professor."
McGonagall looked away from the two of them, mumbling, "Get to class, you two." She hesitated. "And do keep your eyes open."