"State your name and business."
The man held his bayonet up towards his face, aiming it at her. Lily watched the gun nervously, realizing as her eyes flicked to the Gryffindor badge on his uniform, that she must have walked too close to the enemy base camp.
Princess Lily Evans of Hogwarts had been in the woods for three days, after fleeing the castle following its takeover by the Death Eaters, the followers of Tom Riddle. She had only escaped with the help of her friend, Severus, who had posed as one of the rebel guards and had led her out of an unwatched portion of the castle. Oh, Severus. Lily hoped he would be okay.
Her sister had always disapproved of her friendship with Severus, but their parents had allowed it when they were alive. Lily, after all, was the Kingdom’s second princess and wasn't going to take the throne. She knew she was given far more freedom than Petunia was ever allowed, and when she was younger she had taken advantage of it: climbing trees with the other castle children, reading all the books in the library, and following around the midwife and cook on alternating days until they either sent her out of the room or gave her things to do if only to keep her out from underfoot. Severus had been right there with her for all of her adventures, acting like the sibling Petunia never was. She had thrived on the activities that Petunia scorned, though she now wondered from time to time if Petunia had only pretended to hate what Lily did since she hadn't the time to do them herself.
When their parents died a year and a half ago, Lily had suddenly been forced into learning not only how to conduct herself as a princess, but how to potentially serve as a queen. Petunia was doing everything in her power to ensure Lily never actually became queen, (something Lily was both grateful for and a little bit insulted by) but since she hadn't gotten married yet, there was still a chance Lily could be queen. Especially if Riddle- no. Lily was not going down that line of thought. Lily was not going to be queen. Lily was going to help make sure Riddle was overthrown so that Petunia's marriage with Count Von Whatever could go through and she could be godmother to Petunia's angelic future child. And then Lily could be friends with whatever commoner she liked, though she was willing to bet Severus would probably be titled by then for helping her escape.
Severus had been the first one to tell Lily about the Kingdom of Gryffindor. She had read about the Kingdom afterword of course, but it was different hearing about it from Severus since he had actually been there. Gryffindor was the closest neighboring country of Hogwarts, and they were currently in a time of peaceful trade between the two nations. Well, not currently, Lily reflected, as she stared at the scarred face of the soldier in front of her. The ambassador to Gryffindor had been rather patronizing when Petunia had taken the throne following their parent's deaths. He had spoken kindly but kept offering unasked-for advice on how she should govern her country. As if Petunia had ever needed advice. Severus told Lily that he thought Gryffindor secretly wanted to take control of Hogwarts, to have free access to all the resources they currently traded for. Gryffindor had shown public outrage at Riddle's take-over of Hogwarts, but Lily was willing to bet that when the armies they had mobilized to remove Riddle from the throne arrived, they might just remove the throne altogether.
"Sorry, I must have taken the wrong path," Lily, said, avoiding eye contact with the man. "I'll just go back the way I came and get out of your way." She started to turn around when she felt something touch her side.
"Not so fast, kid." of course there was a second man. What soldier would go on patrol alone? Lily kicked herself mentally. She had let her guard down twice today. The first time when she had walked onto the edge of an enemy camp. The second time when she had watched the man in front of her so closely that she had let someone else sneak up behind her. She tried to look at the second man out of her eye, but he stepped further behind her as the man in front of her lowered his bayonet.
“Well, he's not in uniform. What do you think," he said looking over Lily's shoulder at his partner, "think we caught a local farmboy?"
Farmboy? Lily didn't even listen to his response. They thought she was a boy. To escape from the castle, she had put on pants and a loose enough shirt to run in. Not many women in the kingdom wore pants, and those who did wore a thin skirt over them for modesty. And her hair... well it had gotten caught in a briar a day ago. Lily’s thick auburn hair had always seemed to have a life of its own when she was younger, but at least it was manageable when long. After the briar incident, when she had to cut the hair that she couldn't untangle off, it had become shoulder length tangle of knots. She had tied it back as best she could with some threads that had come loose from the hem of her shirt, but in the current humidity, she assumed that it was curling in some form of cloud around her head. The two soldiers’ assumption that she was male was slightly insulting, but she could understand their thinking. She also had no plans to correct them. There were some honorable men who became soldiers. She had read enough books to know that, even if some of them were technically fiction. But a few of the stories she had read, ones set on high shelves to discourage children or ladies from coming across them unintentionally, told tales of what less honorable soldiers have done to women walking alone. Better Lily look a man walking alone than a woman.
"How old are you kid?" The soldier in front of Lily removed his hat, ruffling his free hand through his sandy blond hair.
"Twenty," Lily said in a low voice, ducking her head towards the ground, hoping the action would hide her sharp chin.
"Really?" The Sandy-haired soldier walked over to lean against a tree and crossed his arms. Lily noticed even more scars crossing the backs of his hands, standing out almost white against his beige skin. "And you haven't enlisted? I thought most men that age were drafted last Spring."
"I was needed on the farm. With my sister's husband fighting and Pa gone... someone needed to stay for the harvest." Lily's eyes stung. She had barely thought of her father's death since the year of mourning had ended. She had been so busy, there was hardly time to think of it. But mentioning it now, so casually to a stranger, felt wrong. She blinked hard, then jumped as something touched her cheek.
The soldier who had been behind her was visible now, as he had stepped closer to run the back of his hand over Lily's cheek. He was a vision of contrasts, with his white face surrounded by long black hair, about the length of Lily's now actually, and a wicked smirk on his face as he turned to the first soldier.
"Just as I thought, smooth as a lady's glove."
"A gardening glove, surely." Lily would have scowled at the amusement in the other man's voice, were she not so terrified.
"Nope. Nice cotton if not silk. Must be the smoothest shave I've ever seen under all that dirt."
“Hmmm." Sandy-hair crossed his arms and looked at Lily, a tired expression on his face. "Look. You're clearly not twenty. I would recommend you tell us your real age, otherwise we will have to try you as an adult. If you want a free, if uncomfortable, trip to Gryffindor's capital then great, you're twenty. But I'm going to ask you again. How old are you?"
“Right,” the black-haired soldier drawled, “And I’ll bet my hat that the hesitation there means you considered saying sixteen.”
"Anywhere between fifteen and seventeen then." The sandy-haired man stood back up, grabbing his weapon from where he had leaned it against the tree. "Come on then. Our captain will decide what to do with you."
“Or," Lily said, in what she hoped was an innocent but still persuasive tone, "you could just let me go. I don't live far from here, but I've got cows to milk in the morning." Cows were milked in the morning, right?
The black-haired soldier snorted, while his partner worked to hide a smile. "I'm afraid we can't do that," he said, while his still-laughing partner took hold of one of Lily's arms and started moving forward. "If you left knowing where our camp is, we would have to assume you were a spy."
"Hey, don't worry kid" The soldier gripping her arm put his other hand on her back when she froze. "As long as you don't try to run off on us, you're perfectly safe. Now come on, James'll know what to do with you in the meantime."