|The Life and Times
Author: Jewels5 PM
She was dramatic. He was dynamic. She was precise. He was impulsive. He was James, and she was Lily, and one day they shared a kiss, but before that they shared many arguments, for he was cocky, and she was sweet, and matters of the heart require time.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Adventure - James P. & Lily Evans P. - Chapters: 35 - Words: 577,558 - Reviews: 7,258 - Favs: 4,303 - Follows: 4,124 - Updated: 10-23-12 - Published: 07-08-09 - id: 5200789
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: You guys have been fabulous, and I have been awful. In the course of the last eternity since Chapter 24's update, you all helped LAT break 1000 reviews, and I can never possibly repay you, although I hope that this chapter will ebb the debt just a little.
Disclaimer: Copyright Jo-Ro. Love to the Beatles.
Before: Mary is dating a boy named Umbert Stebbins. Adam McKinnon told Marlene that he loved her in May, but Marlene wanted to keep it platonic. Donna's older brother Kingsley is an auror, and she has a younger sister named Bridget, and two younger brothersIsaiah and Brice. Her parents were among Voldemort's first high-profile murders. Sirius was booted from the Marauders for his prank on Snape, but Remus and Peter decide to forgive him. James decidedly does not. Sirius and Donna are also working at the Leaky Cauldron. Petunia Evans is about to get married, and Lily's a bridesmaid, but Lily is frustrated that Petunia still hasn't told Vernon that Lily is a witch. She thinks Petunia's dodging it in order to keep another barrier up between them.
Chapter 25- "The Week of the Demands"
Phillip Stoake, age thirty-two, was no in particular. His friends said he wouldn't hurt a fly.
He was as born in Newcastle, with two muggle parents and a younger sister, magical like him. At Hogwarts, he was a Hufflepuff and all that that implied. His grades were nothing special, but he had a reputation for being a decent sort of bloke.
He married his Hogwarts girlfriend, Louise, two years after completing his seventh year and he did custodial work in the Ministry of Magic.
In days to come, people would realize that it was his job that made him a prime candidate... well, his job and his blood status. Because, otherwise, Phillip Stoake was no one in particular—his friends said he wouldn't hurt a fly.
It simply didn't make sense that on a Monday of no real significance, he should walk into the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, provide the password that gave him clearance to offices of the top officials, and address Alexander Potter, head of DMLE with a message that, Phillip claimed, came from the Dark Lord.
His eyes were vacant and dull. His voice was even and emotionless. His face was pale as death. There were bruises all over his body, concealed by his janitor's robes but discovered later, that showed he had resisted the compulsion of the death eaters. But he had eventually fallen, caved to their demands, and been forced to carry out his mission.
"I have a message from the Dark Lord for the Ministry of Magic," said Phillip Stoake, age thirty-two, on that warm July afternoon (the first day of the Week of the Demands). Alex Potter rose from his desk, his hand already in the pocket of his robes, where his wand was stored. Two assistants from the outer hall, who had tried and failed to stop Phillip from entering Mr. Potter's office rushed in after the intruder, wands ready to attack if necessary, but Potter held up one hand to stay them.
"Who are you?" he asked tensely.
"I have a message from the Dark Lord for the Ministry of Magic," Phillip Stoake, age thirty-two, repeated. Any first year could have seen that he was hexed. "I carry the first message. The others will follow. If the demands are not met immediately, there will be retribution."
The two secretaries looked fearfully towards Mr. Potter, but he saw only Phillip. "We do not comply to threats of this nature," he said. "Tell me your name."
"I carry a message from the Dark Lord for the Ministry of Magic. I carry the first message. The others will follow."
"What is your message?" asked Potter.
"All wizards born of two muggle parents must have their wands snapped and their memories of the magical world cleaned. Underage mudblood children will be expelled from Hogwarts and have their memories wiped. No mudblood shall be allowed to practice magic in England." Phillip paused. "This is the first demand."
"What is your name?" Mr. Potter pressed. "Please, try to remember..."
But Phillip Stoake, age thirty-two, had completed his mission. He drew his wand very quickly, too quickly for anyone in the office to react, and slit his own throat.
"Did you hear about this?" asked Lily into the phone receiver, turning up the volume on the magical wireless as yet another flash on the death of Phillip Stoake came on. "That's just awful."
"Oh," replied Mary at the other end of the line, "That Stoake chap? I know! Who does this bloke think he is, trying to get us all kicked out of the magic world!"
"Mare, he was under the Imperius," said Lily.
"No, not him. The death eaters and... You-Know-Who."
It was quiet on the line for a minute. "It's getting worse, isn't it?" Mary's voice asked finally. "The war."
Lily, who was fixing her breakfast, sighed and leaned over the kitchen counter. "Yeah, it is."
"Have you told your Mum? I haven't said anything to my parents..."
"No, I haven't told her either."
"It's probably better that way," said Mary. "They'd only worry."
Lily did not reply. Her toast popped up, and she held the receiver between her shoulder and her ear. "Listen, Mary, I should go."
"Yeah, me too. Date with Stebbins later, you know, and I haven't even started on my hair yet."
"Okay. I'll call you later."
"You too. Oh, and Mary..."
"Be careful, yeah?"
"'Course, dear. Bye."
Lily hung up the phone and switched the wireless so that when her mother came in with the groceries, it was only a harmless Celestina Warbeck song playing.
The good thing about playing Quidditch (or a snitch-less derivative of it, at any rate) with Remus and Peter was that, skill-wise, they were James's inferiors. Not that this was a matter of ego or anything immature like that. Rather, less experienced players had to concentrate much harder than James did, and—as a result—there could be little conversation.
James didn't want to talk to either of the bloody back-stabbing, goody-two-shoe traitors.
He didn't want them to leave either, though, so that meant he had to pretend he didn't care that they were back-stabbing, goody-two-shoe traitors, and the easiest way to accomplish this convincingly was to avoid talking altogether... or talking sensibly, at any rate—which was why, the instant he could no longer convince the others to continue this ruse of a Quidditch match, James fully intended on getting piss drunk.
Genius, he thought, intentionally missing Remus's mediocre pitch towards his goal.
Retrieving the offending Quaffle, James flew to the center of the Potters' nearly standard-sized pitch. Over the years, the Marauders had developed a system for playing Quidditch with only four flyers—Sirius had named it "Fake-ditch." The teams were divided two and two, with one member of each team playing seeker and the other two fulfilling the roles of both chaser and keeper. The seekers traded out with the chaser-keepers every half hour or so, and Sirius and James had to play on opposite teams, as they had the most skill and practice. This summer, the three Marauders had attempted to adapt the game for one fewer player, with James playing opposite Remus and Peter. While the matches were entertaining enough, they no longer resembled Quidditch at all.
For every goal, all three of them flew to the center of the pitch where either Remus or Peter threw the Quaffle for the other two to chase in order to gain possession.
When James and Remus met in the middle of the pitch, however, Remus did not look pleased about his last goal.
"You're angry with me," he accused.
James raised his eyebrows. "No, I'm not," he insisted, trying to hand over the Quaffle.
Remus ignored the gesture. "Yes, you are. You let me score that goal just now."
"I did not!"
Peter joined them.
"What's going on?"
"Prongs is angry with us."
"I am not."
"Is that why he missed that last goal on purpose?"
"Even," James huffed, "if I did miss the goal on purpose—and let's face it, it's two-against-one, and I'm still winning, I don't see how you reckon I'm angry with you! You're both barking. Here, someone take this..." He tried, once again, to relinquish the Quaffle, but neither of his friends seemed particularly interested in the game any longer.
"Let's land," said Remus, more as a statement of what he required than a mere suggestion. Peter followed him to the ground, but James hesitated, cursing, before diving downward and meeting the other two on the grass. They looked at him expectantly.
Remus sighed. "You're angry at us for forgiving Sirius."
"I don't care," said James, shrugging.
"Yes, you do."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you d..."
"I don't, okay? Just leave it."
James folded his arms irritably; he knew it was a mistake... he was pushing them away with his stubbornness, and he shouldn't be doing that... he ought to be more careful.
Remus scowled. "If you're not angry, then let's talk about it, yeah?"
"Because you're angry!"
"Because I don't want to talk about it!"
In the interest of not fighting, James bit his tongue and tried his best to look casual. "Let's go inside," he suggested forcefully, turning his back on the other two and starting towards the house.
"Prongs," Remus called after him, and he and Peter followed. James paused, because he couldn't have them really mad at him, could he? He couldn't let them leave, because they'd only go to Sirius's and then...
James acknowledged for the first time that this was a matter of custody. He was playing tug-of-war and losing.
"What?" he asked, too sharply, rounding on them.
Remus hesitated. "I forgave him, Prongs, and I was the one he set on Snape. I know he's your best mate, and you feel betrayed or whatever, but... it's time to let it..."
He couldn't help himself.
"How?" James interrupted loudly. "How could you just forgive him? How can you just let it go? It doesn't make sense!"
Remus had no reply at first; Peter, however, did. "He's Sirius." They both looked at Wormtail. "It was a stupid mistake, but... he'd give us another chance."
James's expression remained resolute, however, and he turned to Remus again. Remus fixed James with an intense stare for several seconds and then said: "If someone can forgive me for what I am... what I did to become this way and everything that entails... I reckon I can forgive Sirius for his mistakes."
For just a moment, James's glare softened, so that Remus thought he might have broken through... then, the anger returned to his hazel eyes, and James shook his head. "That's not good enough."
Incensed, Remus rolled his eyes. "I'm leaving," he announced.
"Fine," snapped James. Peter stayed put. Remus, on the other hand, started back towards the house, walking quickly. He dropped the broomstick—one of James's extras—on the back step and took the entrance that led into the kitchen. It was only then that he remembered that Mrs. Potter was still home.
"Hello, Remus," she said distractedly. She was standing over the counter, scribbling a note with a quill.
"Oh—hi, Mrs. Pot..."
But she probably didn't even hear him. "Is James coming in?"
"N-no, I don't think..."
"Good, I don't want a fight."
Remus opened his mouth to inquire, but she continued on briskly.
"You heard about what happened at the Ministry this morning?"
"What? Oh, yeah, that bloke with the 'demand...'"
"Well, the Ministry official—the witness—that the papers mentioned... I've just had an owl..."
"It's not... Mr. Potter...?" began Remus, fearing the worst.
"He's fine," interjected Mrs. Potter quickly. "He's fine; no one touched him, but I have to... I have to go now, and..." She crumpled up the parchment, and Remus realized that it must have been an explanatory note. "You'll tell James, will you? I haven't time and he'll argue, and..."
Remus nodded slowly. "Yeah, of course."
"Thank-you, Remus." She smiled warmly at him and then, turning, left the kitchen, her heels clicking on the tile floor. Remus was alone in the room for a minute or two, before he heard the squeak of the kitchen door, and James and Peter appeared.
"Still here?" spat James, grabbing bottles of butterbeer from the bewitched icebox—one for himself and one for Peter.
"I don't think I'm leaving after all." Remus faced him, and James noted his grim countenance.
Some things, Remus decided, were more important than grudges. "Maybe you want to sit down."
There was this family of four (a father, a mother, and two little boys) sitting in the corner of the pub, making an awful lot of noise over their lunch. The father looked bored and weary, the mother harassed, and the children seemed a spoiled, untidy lot. There was an older, professional looking wizard sitting near the door, distracted from his bangers and mash by a large scroll of parchment that was probably for his job, because he kept muttering over it and scratching things out with a quill. There was also an elderly witch who smelled like tobacco, nursing a large whiskey (her second) at a table by a window. She was humming a familiar tune with a sad, far off look in her eye.
The Leaky Cauldron at three o'clock on a Monday afternoon was a depressing place.
Donna wiped down the already impeccable bar top for the sixteenth time, simply because there was nothing else to do. The luncheon rush had finished an hour or two before, and another rush was due in another hour, but right now, most of the people passing through the pub were only there to return to their rooms upstairs or else use the passage to Diagon Alley.
The cling-clang of the bell over the doorway almost echoed in the room when the street entrance opened, but Donna was the only one of the seven witches and wizards in the room to look up.
It was Pip, a white-haired, flat-nosed wizard of about seventy; he spent most of his afternoons drinking (if not at the Leaky Cauldron, than somewhere else), and on her very first day at the Cauldron, Donna had been instructed (by Tom, her boss) to cut him off earlier than he liked. Pip wasn't a bad bloke, really. He wasn't a quiet drunk (that was always the saddest), but he wasn't too noisy. Really, he never got too sloshed. He drank his mead slowly and steadily, though, sitting at the end of the bar and telling stories to anyone who would listen. Donna usually lent an ear simply because he was there.
"'Afternoon, Miss," Pip greeted, his ruddy face lighting up at the sight of Donna.
"'Lo," Donna replied.
"Mr. Black 'ere today, Miss?"
"He'll be here this evening with Tom," said the other. Tom the innkeeper (Donna wasn't sure she knew his last name) had hired both Donna and Sirius to help out around the Leaky Cauldron, while two of his usual workers (two sisters, Adelaide and Leona) were away for the summer. Tom worked evenings, when it was busiest, and Donna and Sirius switched off assisting him. Whoever wasn't working at night usually tended the bar and the inn in the afternoon or morning (though Tom was never far off). Donna had even worked a night shift once, from eleven p.m. to nine in the morning, though the bar was closed by then, and she was only required to keep awake should someone want to rent a room upstairs. Even that was better than the endless afternoon shift. Though the pub was cool and dark, whenever the door opened, it allowed a gust of hot, humid July air to sweep through, and though the customers were few and far between at that hour, dozens of witches and wizards were keen to get to Gringotts and Flourish and Blotts and Floreen Fortescue's and every other Diagon Alley shop.
Pip took his usual seat at the bar and ordered a pint of mead, which Donna delivered quickly.
"The devil out there, it is, Miss," the wizard informed her, once he'd drunk deeply from the mug. "An' my coolin' charm ain't what it was."
Donna nodded. "That can happen. You might try drinking less, you know. Too much liquor with age dulls the magic ability sometimes."
"Bosh," scoffed Pip. "S'not the drinkin' that's a-done it to me. It's 'em Ministry fools. 'Poison us in our sleeps, the Ministry does. Don' trust 'em, Miss. Don' trust 'em a bit."
Donna leaned over the bar. She knew that she ought to play along, or at least humor the bloke, but sometimes, she simply could not help herself. "The Ministry of Magic poisoned you so your Cooling Charms don't work anymore?" she asked skeptically.
"Why on Earth would the Ministry of Magic care whether or not you can do a Cooling Charm?"
But Pip predictably refused to see it her way. He scowled at her, temporarily unfriendly, and took another sip of mead. "If you don' know, I can' tell ya, Miss," he said simply. Donna realized she had dashed her only hope of conversation for the next hour, and so she moved back towards the center of the bar and sat down on her stool.
The wizard by the door paid his bill and left, probably to return to work, the elderly witch continued to hum dreamily, and Donna was three quarters of the way through reading all the labels of the alcohol on the second shelf, when the golden bell over the door tinkled again. She didn't look up this time, knowing as she did that it was almost certainly a Diagon Alley customer. She was therefore surprised when a wizard sat down at the bar, near the wall opposite Pip's corner. She was even more surprised to find that it was someone she recognized.
Dressed in black Ministry robes with a shiny gold badge pinned lackadaisically to his collar, was Lathe. He massaged his forehead wearily—his blue eyes shut—as he requested: "Firewhiskey, neat."
Donna grabbed two bottles from a shelf. "Ogden's or Belledone?"
"Ogden's." She poured the liquor, and Lathe swallowed it quickly. "Another, please." She complied, and this time, the auror took it slower. He also sat up straighter, opening his eyes at last and glancing at Donna for the first time.
"Do I know you from somewhere?" he asked.
"Should you be drinking on the clock?" Donna retorted. She returned the bottles to their shelves, and Lathe smirked. He removed his badge from his robes and set it spinning on the counter top in front of him.
"I'm not on the clock, mate. It looks as though I won't be for a spell, either."
"Have they sacked you?"
"No. Suspended for an investigation. Merlin, I do know you from somewhere... Did I ever arrest you?"
"No," she replied, offended. "I was at Hogwarts this last year."
"You must not have liked school very much," said Lathe, casting a mirthful eye around the pub. Donna folded her arms, more offended.
"I'll have you know that had five 'O's' on my O.W.L.s. I just finished my sixth year, that's all. It's a job for the summer holidays."
Lathe nodded. "Well, that's always good. So you're a Hogwarts student, are you? And a seventh year? Little young to be tending bar..."
"You're a little young to be heading up auror investigations."
"I'm a prodigy."
"So am I."
"In anything that interests me."
"Including getting paid."
Lathe laughed. "You win. Another, please." She fixed him up and sat down on her stool again. "I don't suppose," he began presently, "you know a funny bird named Evans, do you?"
"She's in my house and year."
"Ah..." A strong drink of the firewhiskey: "So you're a Gryffindor, then. Never liked Gryffindors much when I was in school. Ravenclaw myself. You look extremely familiar..."
"You accused me of hexing someone on your first day at the castle," said Donna, remembering the incident with malice. "Other than that, I don't think I've even seen you since."
Lathe frowned into his drink. "And you're certain I've never arrested you? I have an idea of you in the auror department for some reason."
"You might be imagining my brother, then."
"Have I arrested him?"
"No, he's one of your lot."
"An auror? What's his name?"
"Kingsley... Kingsley Shacklebolt."
Recognition spread across Lathe's face at once. "That's right—you're Kingsley's sis, then. He's got a picture of your whole brood on his desk... his desk is just next to mine these days. 'Course you're a lot older now."
Donna acceded this was true, knowing exactly which picture Lathe meant. It was the last one of the entire family...
"So you're Kingsley's sis? The way he talks about you, I imagined you to be half giantess, half dragon. Not in a bad way..." Lathe added quickly. "Just a force to be reckoned with."
Pleased by that depiction of herself, Donna did not debate the point. Instead, she asked: "So why are they investigating you? Didn't take a bribe, did you?"
"Nothing as bad as that," was Lathe's only reply, and there was an edge to his voice that told Donna to drop it. He took another drink of the firewhiskey. "I should have been a bartender," he mused at length, looking around the pub absently. "It's a very practical job."
"How do you figure?" Donna wanted to know.
"Well—no one tries to kill you on a daily basis, do they?"
"Worse. They try to talk to me."
Lathe looked amused. "You don't like talking to people?"
"I don't like people sitting down and assuming that because I pour their liquor, I want to hear all about their problems. Their problems are usually stupid anyway. I mean—why in Merlin's name would I care if a bloke thinks his wife is cheating on him? And where does he get off telling her not to, when I see him buying drinks for trampy little blond slags all the sodding time?"
"I'll take that as a 'no.'"
Donna frowned. "I don't mind talking to intelligent people," she corrected primly. "But one encounters very few of those in the afternoon shift at a pub."
The auror raised his eyebrows. "Are you insulting me, Miniature-Shacklebolt?"
"And for some reason, I believe you." He tapped a ring on his small finger idly against his nearly empty glass. "You're a strange kid, y'know."
Donna folded her arms impatiently. "I can cut you off you know."
"But you'd lose my valuable patronage!"
"Maybe I don't care."
"But I know Tom..."
"Everyone knows Tom. It's the sodding Leaky Cauldron."
"Alright, fair enough." Lathe shrugged. "But I stand by my point."
Donna made a face, but had no opportunity for response, as Pip took the moment to request that she turn up the wireless behind the bar. She did so with a wave of her wand, and at once, another news report on Phillip Stoake filled the relatively quiet pub. Donna turned to Lathe again. "Were you there? This morning—when it happened?"
"Same floor, different wing," deadpanned Lathe. He gestured for another firewhiskey. "I was over in the aurors office. Drake—someone from D.M.L.E.—came in shouting, and a group of us ran over, but Stoake was already dead."
"What are they going to do?" Donna asked. Lathe only shrugged again.
"I'm on 'leave,'" he reminded her dryly. "And anyway, I'm not sure there's much they can do."
"You don't think they'll pay any attention to the demand though...?"
"We're not that badly off just yet." He shook his head and swallowed the rest of his latest drink. "I can tell you one thing, though—it's not a good time for suspending aurors. Stoake said his 'demand' was the first, so I reckon this isn't over."
Donna mentally cursed her idiot brother for pursuing literally the most dangerous career of their generation and was about to say so out loud when a large group of witches and wizards buzzed into the pub, and she was compelled to attend to them. As it turned out, the group seemed to usher in the late afternoon crowd, and since Donna was quite busy for the next hour or so, she did not speak to Lathe much more for the remainder of his stay.
"—Could've been killed! The Ministry has to step up security! They're just in denial at this point! I'm speaking to Victor first thing today..."
James exchanged a look across the breakfast table with his father, while Grace Potter continued what seemed like the same, ceaseless monologue that began at eleven o'clock the previous evening—when she was finally allowed to speak with her husband—and had yet to take so much as a five minute break.
"...There's absolutely no reason something like this should be allowed to happen! The Ministry of Magic! Something could have happened to the Minister, or anyone! And to think..."
"Mum!" interrupted James loudly. "Really, I think your anger would be better directed at someone else."
Mrs. Potter set down her teacup and folded her arms. "You're being awfully casual about your father nearly dying, James Alexander."
"Grace..." began Mr. Potter, but James once again cut in.
"Mum, he's sitting at the breakfast table, hogging all the toast as usual, perfectly fine—a picture of health. What? I'd be sad if he were dead!"
His mother turned to Mr. Potter. "You shout at him, Alex."
"Why do I have to?"
"Because I like being the nice parent."
James rolled his eyes and hopped up from the table. "I'm going to see if the paper's come." He paused near the door; "Dad, I'm very happy you're not dead."
"You two are idiots," grumbled Mrs. Potter.
Shaking his head, James made his way out into the entrance hall and then into a smaller room off the kitchen where the owls usually brought the morning mail. Elizabeth the Second sat on her perch and the newspaper owl rested on the window sill with The Daily Prophet on the desk. James paid the bird two knuts and picked up the paper. He didn't immediately search for the crossword, however; the front page headline caught his eye.
He hurried back into the breakfast room, where his mother was still bemoaning Ministry security and dropped the Prophet on the table in front of his dad.
"What's...?" But Mr. Potter read the bold text and broke off.
Dark Lord Demands 'Ministry Purge'
Following yesterday's demand, issued by an Imperiused Ministry worker, the Dark Lord has called for a purge of all 'tainted blood' from the Ministry of Magic. In doing so, the Death Eater movement has claimed another victim.
Muggleborn Ava Lescano, 40, was reported missing two weeks ago. Believed by her family to have been kidnapped due to her involvement with the pro-muggle organization Magic for Peace, M.F.P., Ms. Lescano resurfaced early this morning only to inscribe a second demand from the Dark Lord on the outside wall of the Ministry of Magic muggle-visible façade. The message was written just after sunrise, with only two wizard witnesses; Ministry wizards are coordinating with the muggle authorities to seal off the area and obliviate any possible muggle witnesses.
The demand, carved with what is suspected to be a Logos Charm, reads as follows:
"This is the second message. The others will follow. The Ministry of Magic has been infected by tainted blood and shall be purged of all such pollution. Half-Blood and Mudblood members of the Ministry shall be released from their positions and replaced by wizards of worthy blood and mind. This is the second message. If this demand is not met immediately, there will be retribution."
After delivering her "message," Ms. Lescano took her own life, probably acting under the influence of the Imperius Curse.
There was more, but James did not have the time to read it over his father's shoulder before Mr. Potter stood abruptly.
"This is how I hear about this?" he snapped to no one in particular. "Son of a bitch—I have to go."
But he swept out of the room before anything else could be said. Mrs. Potter had grown very pale, and James knew what she was going to say before she had formed the words.
"I have to go, too."
"Mum, you work for the treasury..."
"James," said his mother softly, "you know that's not why."
He did. "M.F.P.," he muttered. "You're a member too."
"Phillip Stoake," said Mrs. Potter slowly, "I knew I recognized the name. His wife, Louise, is a member..."
James nodded slowly. "Go on, then."
"You'll be alright here, by yourself?"
I always am. "Of course. Go on."
James followed her to the outer hall, and Mrs. Potter paused by the door. "Floo your cousin Sam, will you? He's M.F.P. too. Just to make sure..."
Mrs. Potter nodded briskly. "Love you."
"Love you too."
Then she was gone. James sat down on the bottom step of the main staircase and looked around the great big empty room. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
"'After delivering her message, Ms. Lescano took her own life, possibly acting under the influence of the Imperius...' Mary, are you hearing this?"
Mary looked away from the mirror on her desk to where Marlene sat on her bed, newspaper in hand, pouring over the story that had flooded the papers and broadcasts all day. "You've read it twice," the brunette pointed out, turning back to the glass and applying lip gloss. "I can't help but hear it."
"And you're still going out today?" Marlene pressed unhappily. "It's not safe."
"I went out yesterday and didn't die," Mary replied. "Besides, I'll be with Stebbins."
"It's still weird you call him by his last name."
"And what part of 'His name is Umbert?' aren't you grasping?"
"Fair enough," allowed Marlene with a shrug. "But I wish you wouldn't go out today."
"I'll be fine. What are you doing today, Lovely?"
"Helping your parents," replied Marlene, her tone becoming weary. "I could use the money."
"There was a gorgeous muggle in the shop yesterday," Mary told her, presumably with the intent to comfort. "He flirted shamelessly, too. Maybe he'll be in again today."
"I'll pass, thanks. Besides... 'gorgeous muggles' react differently to me than they do to you. You have your wand, right?"
"Of course I have my wand. And what are you talking about? Your legs go on for about a million years, and you're blond. Blokes eat that up."
"Review some good defensive spells, will you? And I'm not you. I don't weigh half an ounce, and I blush when I flirt. Plus, I'm exactly the wrong type of feminine."
Mary rose from her chair and began to root through her closet. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, you know," said Marlene dully, sliding from the bed and moving towards the desk, where she began to rifle through Mary's copious and untidily compiled belongings, ranging from clothing to magazines. "I'm tomboyish where I ought to be girlie and feminine where blokes prefer a girl to be tomboyish." Mary sent her a bewildered look, and Marlene elaborated: "A girl is allowed to like clothes and make-up and committed relationships so long as she has the 'delicate' and 'sweet' bit going for her, or she's allowed to be loud and abrasive so long as she doesn't care about make up-translation, doesn't need make up-and is a slag. But I take an hour to get ready in the morning and hold firewhiskey too well. It's the wrong combination. The world is quite unfair."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," insisted Mary, still occupied by her closet. Marlene sighed and sat down at the desk, idly picking up a letter that rested there.
"Who is this from?"
"Who is what from?"
"On the desk?"
Mary glanced over her shoulder. "Adam."
"He's still in San Francisco, is he?"
At that moment, there was literally only one thing on Mary MacDonald's mind. Should she wear the blue cardigan or the green one? They both looked fantastic on her, and they both worked with her sundress. The blue one was a more casual material, but if she wore the green one, then she could wear her green sandals, and those made her legs look extra thin. But she really liked the blue one and what it did for her eyes... not that boys spent much time looking at her eyes, but still... Stebbins's favorite color was blue, so there was that, too.
Blue or green: the great dilemma of the hour.
But if Mary's concentration had been a little better equipped at multitasking, she might have remembered a minute or two earlier exactly what the letter from Adam McKinnon—the letter currently in her best friend's possession—actually said.
Unfortunately, Mary did not remember a minute or two earlier. Rather, she remembered somewhat late.
The brunette spun around just in time to see Marlene drop the parchment onto the desk and stand up.
"Shit," swore Mary.
"Prudence Daly?"Marlene asked rather loudly. "He's dating bloody Prudence Daly? I hate Prudence Daly!"
"Why do you hate Prudence Daly?" Mary wanted to know.
Marlene hesitated. "Well—she's... y'know... tiny. And girly. And probably smarter than me. I don't know, I've never liked her, that's all!" Marlene sat down on the bed again. "And why didn't he tell me he was dating Prudence Daly? Why was he writing to you anyway?"
"You read the letter, didn't you? He needed to know what..."
"I can't believe he's dating Prudence Bloody Daly! In America, no less!"
"Now, Marlene," comforted her friend, sitting down beside her. "They got together at a wedding—one of those 'My cousin is marrying your sister' scenarios that happen over the summer and are over by the first of September. Summer things, you know." Marlene seemed a little consoled, but not wholly satisfied. "Of course," Mary went on purposefully, "it almost sounds as though you're a bit jealous..."
"I'm not jealous!" Marlene predictably protested. "I am not jealous. I just like to be informed when my best... fine, my second best mate gets a girlfriend."
"Well, if you..."
"And I find it interesting that he's moving on so quickly."
"Well, Dear, it's been two mon..."
"Not that I'm bothered by the fact that he's moving on. I want him to move on."
"So you should be..."
"But Prudence? Prudence Bloody Daly? Really."
Mary decided not to try and say anything else, but, with a knowing expression, pulled the blue sweater from its hanger and put it on. She examined herself in the mirror, and in a flower print sun dress that exposed more thigh than it concealed, with her neat blue cardigan and complicated up-do, she really did look quite nice.
"I still wish you wouldn't go out," grumbled Marlene, picking up the newspaper once more. "Stebbins is a Hufflepuff... I don't know that he'd be much good in a fight."
Mary rolled her eyes and turned to her best friend, smiling consolingly. "Would it make you feel any better if I invited Stebbins to spend the afternoon here instead?"
Brightening considerably, Marlene nodded.
"Fine. But you owe me, Price."
Shaking her head, Mary went to check the mirror again—just to make sure her eye-liner was perfect—while Marlene, still ostensibly absorbed in the newspaper, mumbled something about Prudence Bloody Daly.
"Lily," scolded her mother from across the kitchen; "turn off the tap—there's a drought you know."
Lily complied, though not happily, and added: "If you'd let me do my thing, I could use a simple aguamenti spell, and..."
"Not now, Lily," interrupted Mrs. Evans. "Vernon's in the next room."
The redhead, who had been washing her lunch plate, set it down and turned towards her mother. "He has to find out eventually, doesn't he?"
Mrs. Evans only shook her head, returning to the stack of bills she was examining, and the two women were joined by the third before anything else could be said.
"Vernon's staying for supper," Petunia announced. "There's enough, isn't there?"
Too easy, Lily thought, so she refrained from the obvious "Vernon eats like a hog" joke and wordlessly sat down at the kitchen table.
"Plenty," replied Mrs. Evans, who had probably anticipated the situation. Vernon usually stayed for supper.
"Good." Petunia made for the sink, where she began to rinse the dishes she had just brought in from the sitting room, and in the mean time, Lily sent Mrs. Evans a significant look. The older woman shook her head again, this time with a very specific meaning, and for a moment, the two engaged in a silent battle. Then, Lily turned in her chair to face Petunia, who—still washing the dishes—had her back to her family.
"Petunia," she began bravely, and Mrs. Evans sighed.
With a cautious glance towards the closed door separating them from Vernon: "I—that is, we were wondering when you intended on speaking to your fiancé."
Petunia grew very still for a moment, but only a moment, and then resumed with her washing. "I don't know what you mean."
"About me," said Lily with emphasis. Petunia said nothing. "Tuney..."
The blonde set down the plates and turned towards the other two. "Talking about me, were you?" she bit viciously. Her face was flushed.
"No," said Lily loudly. "We were talking about me. You know, he's going to start to wonder, and you can't keep up that 'mentally disturbed' bit forever."
"Oh, Mum, you know it's true," interrupted Lily, glancing at her mother. "Marge told me all the strange things she thinks about me, and that's got to come from somewhere..."
"It's none of your concern what I want to discuss with my fiancé," snapped Petunia. "And I'll thank you not to talk about me behind my back!"
"We weren't," insisted Lily, rising. "But he should..."
"Oh, do keep your voice down!"
Lily spoke in a loud whisper: "He should know. I'm a bridesmaid, for Merlin's sake!"
"Girls," cut in Mrs. Evans. "Lily, drop it. It's Petunia's choice."
"Yes, Lily, it's my choice..."
Defeated, Lily sat down again. Petunia glowered as she swept out of the kitchen. Mrs. Evans sighed heavily. "You're not going to win her over that way."
"Win her over?" echoed the daughter skeptically. "It's a little late for that, don't you think?"
"It's difficult for her, Lily."
"But why won't she tell Dursley?"
Mrs. Evans sent her a look. "How exactly would you begin that conversation, Miss Lily?"
"That's not the p..."
"And do you suppose Vernon would be particularly receptive to the idea?"
Lily folded her arms and slouched forward on the table. "So you think he won't marry Petunia if he finds out, too."
"Well—that's what Tuney thinks, isn't it?"
Mrs. Evans hesitated. Her expression was inscrutable, but Lily thought her mother was rather inclined to disagree. "Give your sister a little credit."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Only—only that perhaps you shouldn't be in such a hurry for Petunia to confide your secret to Vernon. It's a very complicated matter."
Lily's eyes narrowed. "She said something to you, didn't she?"
"I'm not going to discuss it..."
"Lily." And there was indisputable finality in her tone, so Lily contented herself with rolling her eyes and pouting. Mrs. Evans arched her eyebrows, and then, in a resigned tone, asked: "Are you still hungry?"
"Yes, but there's no food in this house..." (Courtesy of Petunia's imperialistic diet...)
"There's chocolate in the cabinet next to the icebox."
Lily scowled. "Are you trying to appease me with chocolate?"
"Well, it's not working." Still, the redhead made for the cupboard in question almost immediately and, locating the chocolate in question, felt a little better. But only a little.
Vernon's best man—a brute faced chap, stereotypically named Rex—also turned up for supper. With this unpleasant distractions, Lily did not have any more opportunity to speak to Petunia for most of the afternoon, and, indeed, she made no attempt to. In fact, it was Petunia who initiated dialogue after supper that evening.
The two girls were left alone briefly in the sitting room, as their mother was in the kitchen, and Vernon had gone to show Rex out. Lily was just rising to retreat to her bedroom when Petunia spoke up.
Petunia's face looked pale, and there was a solemnity in her steely eyes. "Vernon and I are going for a drive this evening." Lily waited for the rest of it. "I'm going to tell him about you tonight."
Lily couldn't have been more surprised if her sister had just announced that she intended on eloping to Bermuda. "Oh. I—oh." And, because she figured she ought to say something else: "Well, that's a good thing, isn't it?"
But Petunia made no verbal reply; her expression changed only so much as to indicate that she had heard Lily's question, and then, announcing her inclination to grab a cardigan before she left, the older sister slipped out of the room.
Sirius entered the Leaky Cauldron just in time to hear Donna snap, "Bullshit," before promptly switching off the wireless behind the bar. The wizard raised his eyebrows and made his way out into the main room.
"Good morning?" he suggested, and Donna crossed her arms over her chest, leaning against the bar.
"Have you heard the latest 'message?'"
"'Cleaning' out the Ministry? Yeah."
"No, there's a new one," said Donna impatiently. She straightened up, searching around for something that she at last located on the back shelf beside a bottle of wine. It was the latest Daily Prophet. Donna threw it down on the vacant bar, and Sirius went over to read the headline.
"Voldemort wants all half-bloods to be registered with the Ministry," he surmised irritably. "Fucking prick. Was there another...?"
"Victim?" offered Donna. She nodded. "Half-blood this time. He's branching out. You're late, by the way."
Sirius grabbed an apron and sighed. "Only by a minute."
"Two minutes," she corrected.
"Did the world end in my absence?"
"No, but the lunch crowd starts soon, and I don't want to handle that all on my..."
For a moment, Donna seemed effected by the order; then, she shrugged and retorted: "Sod off."
Sirius rolled his eyes.
Lily was asleep before Petunia came in Tuesday night, and Petunia was gone again by the time Lily woke on Wednesday, so the two sisters did not actually meet until Petunia returned Wednesday evening from a day in town. Mrs. Evans was out, and Lily sat in her room, listening to The Five Keys and devouring Victor Hugo in fervent procrastination of her summer homework. As a result, the younger Evans daughter did not hear her sister come in the house at all until Petunia knocked on the closed bedroom door.
Petunia entered; she looked tired, but as impeccable as ever in a floral dress and flats—not at all as though she had spent the entire day running errands in the heat.
"Tuney," Lily greeted, sitting up at once and momentarily feeling pathetically inferior in cotton shorts and a t-shirt. Her sister's expression told her at once that she had arrived to deliver a serious message, and there could be little doubt about its content. "You're back..."
Petunia took a long time about saying anything, however. She closed the bedroom door behind her, ignored Lily's offer to sit down, and chewed her lip anxiously. A series of potential disasters ran through the younger girl's mind, meanwhile, as she imagined every possible reaction from Vernon. But surely he wouldn't do anything too drastic...
And in a moment of wild fancy, Lily imagined Dursley calling off the wedding. She imagined a heart-broken Petunia, defending her little sister despite her own evident reservations...
Lily held her breath in anticipation.
"I told him," Petunia said in a stony voice.
Lily took a moment to digest this, and then replied: "Well that's good, isn't it? I mean, if he's going to be my brother-in-law, it's better that he..."
"Vernon wants you out of the wedding."
"W-what?" stammered the younger girl. "What did you tell him?"
"You can still attend, if you wish," Petunia went on. "There are five groomsmen, though; Rachel Richards should fit your bridesmaid dress, but I'll need it back. And you'll sit with mother during the ceremony and at the reception. I'll move Uncle Donald to another table, and..."
"Petunia," Lily interrupted loudly. "You can't... you can't just let him tell you what to do like this! It's not his decision!"
"I know," said Petunia; her tone softened infinitesimally. "But he's right. You don't belong here, Lily. Since you went away to that place..."
"This has nothing to do with Hogwarts!" Lily shouted. "How can you let him do this?"
"Vernon is not doing this," snapped the other.
Lily sprang off the bed, hurrying towards her sister. "What is all this about? What do you mean 'Vernon wants me out of the wedding?' What did you say?"
"I told him about you..." As though it were obvious; "I only told him the truth."
"But why would...?"
"Oh, Lily," interrupted Petunia scornfully; "of course this happened! Of course he wouldn't want you in the wedding! Why would he want...? But..." And emotion flickered in her eyes, "...I knew this would happen!"
"Yes, of course! What else could have happened?"
"I knew—I've always known this would happen when I told Vernon about you! But Mum—Mum insisted you be in the wedding, and you kept saying I was afraid, and you just... just kept pushing and prodding! You couldn't just leave it!"
"This is my fault, is it?"
"Of course it's your fault!" cried Petunia.
"So what did he say?" demanded Lily. "He wouldn't marry you if I was a bridesmaid?"
"Vernon would marry me no matter what. He loves me."
"I don't have anything to do with you anymore, Lily! You're off at school all year... you weren't here for anything. When I finished school, you hadn't come home yet... you were supposed to be here for things—to talk to me after my first date, to console me after a break up... when Dad died..."
"Don't you dare, Petunia..."
"The point is," Petunia pressed on hatefully, "we're not sisters, Lily. We're not even friends. You left, and I don't have anything to do with you anymore! And neither should Vernon. You can't both belong in my life, and..."
"And you choose him?"
Petunia did not answer at once. Finally, she murmured: "You left."
Lily stared disbelievingly after her sister, utterly lost for words.
What else could have happened?
For that, Lily had a hundred responses; she had one in particular, but she bit it back, and she wasn't sure if that was because she didn't want to hurt her sister or because she was afraid she just wouldn't care.
"So I'll need the dress," said Petunia again.
It was almost like she didn't know Lily's heart was breaking.
"...By tomorrow, at least."
She turned to go, but Lily found her voice before Petunia could leave the room. "Petunia," she pleaded. "Why are you...? I know you—you wouldn't do this if you didn't..." ("want to," she almost said.)
Petunia's hand lingered on the door, her back still to Lily. When at last she turned, her steely eyes glistened. "This is your fault." Then, almost like she didn't know Lily's heart was breaking, Petunia left.
The Dark Lord Calls for Minister's Immediate Resignation
By Jillian Jones
At noon on Thursday, the Leaky Cauldron was the unlikely combination of crowded and quiet. Every table was full and the bar jam-packed; Tom had even magically extended one of the walls to increase standing room, and yet hardly anyone spoke. Instead, they listened to the latest report on the magically magnified WNN; three dead in Bristol, and another demand from Lord Voldemort.
It was the sort of thing you didn't want to listen to alone.
Donna was working with Tom, and Lily, Marlene, and James were among the many witches and wizards in the pub. Lily sat with Marlene in the middle of the crowded room, but James sat with a wizard that Lily didn't know, some distance away.
The wizard on the wireless had a deep, rich, sorrowful voice that Lily thought she would remember for as long as she lived. It wasn't just the message, and it wasn't just the three dead wizards in Bristol—it was that finally, Voldemort's real message had come through. His little demands were meaningless by comparison: he must know that the Minister of Magic would not resign, that the muggleborns would not have their wands snapped, and that half-bloods would not be registered. But he didn't care, did he?
That wasn't the point, and on Thursday, with three more deaths, Lily thought she finally understood it all.
His real message was that he could kill anyone; he could do anything, and there was nothing that anyone could do to stop him. He wasn't making demands; he was showing off.
It was terrifying.
"...London seems quiet this afternoon, as the Dark Lord has issued another demand of Wizarding England..."
Some people called it a war, Marlene reflected, but it wasn't—not really. In war—at least the muggle ones—there were lines; there were armies and uniforms. There were battles: people showed up and fought and killed each other, and they said it was hell, but at least there was—consistency. At least they knew the enemy.
This cowardice was not war; it was common, ugly murder.
"...Three members of M.F.P., a coalition of witches and wizards dedicated to peaceful existence and equality among those of varying blood status..."
Sam Dearborn was an interesting bloke.
He had attended Hogwarts for exactly two days, but the Sorting Hat placed him in Hufflepuff, and his pureblood parents, humiliated, brought him home. At least, that was how Sam always told the story.
James sort of admired his quirky cousin; he wasn't afraid of much at all, including his intimidating mother's wrath, and that spoke well of him. Over the years, James had seen Sam ecstatically happy; he had seen Sam besotted and seen him dead bored. He had seen him furious and disappointed and hopeful and thrown off balance.
But James did not think he had ever, before this afternoon, seen Sam Dearborn sad.
The older wizard (for Sam was six years James's senior) did not meet anyone's eye. He made no jokes; there was no enthusiasm on his long, thin, freckled face. He only looked sad as he spun a round golden badge, no bigger than a galleon, on the table. The letters M.F.P. were etched onto the surface of the pin.
"They were good people," Sam had muttered earlier. "They didn't deserve this."
James didn't doubt that.
Lily was in the room. James had noticed the moment she entered, though he was not exactly conscious of having seen her come in with Marlene. As guilty as he felt even thinking about it at a time like this, however, James could not help but send the occasional glance in her direction. She drank butterbeer and looked distressingly solemn, paler than usual, bringing the red of her lips and green of her eyes into sharp relief.
"...Aurors are scrambling to uncover any clues or patterns that may help stop the further, violent delivery of any new 'messages...'"
"Aurors are scrambling," Donna thought bitterly, pouring gin for an older witch at the bar. The statement sounded simple enough, but there was so much more to it... aurors were scrambling... they were leaving their houses for days at a time, working mad hours when they did come home, trying to find a solution that didn't seem to exist...
Of course, it was easier to make them sound incompetent or clueless—scrambling—it was easier for everyone, after all, because no one wanted to hear that there was nothing that anyone could do. Even Donna didn't want to imagine that.
"...The Minister of Magic is scheduled to give his statement this afternoon..."
When Sirius entered the pub around half past twelve, it was only to check the schedule in the back, but the unusual crowd, grim and pensive, caught his attention, and he stayed behind the bar with Donna for a few minutes.
"Your mate is here," she informed him, as a dull murmur grew among the many witches and wizards in the Leaky Cauldron.
"I don't know if you've noticed," retorted Sirius coolly, "but he's not exactly my mate anymore."
Donna only shrugged. "In that case, you'll want to stay out of his way."
Sirius arched one eyebrow. "Why's that?"
"Tempers are running high—there've been two fights since this morning."
"No shit." Sirius smirked bitterly. "I'd better leave then. See you in a few hours, Shack."
Donna made no response, but filled another request for firewhiskey.
James had seen Sirius enter; he had noticed his former best friend step behind the bar, disappear into the back, and reappear a few minutes later, exchanging dismal words with Tom and Shacklebolt. The announcer on the WWN only repeated himself now, and sedate conversations began throughout the crowd. Sam said something uncharacteristically cynical, and a nearby wizard angrily suggested that the Minister ought to resign, if only to put an end to all of this.
Sirius started for the back door towards Diagon Alley.
"Think about it, Prongs! He's going to go down there, get through the Willow, see Moony..."
James heard Sirius's enthusiastic suppositions, months old, but stinging like a fresh cut nonetheless...
"Don't pretend that you would care one bit about Snape if it wasn't for her..."
Stinging and burning and aching and bringing his blood to a boil...
The death eater movement has claimed another victim...
You'll be alright here, by yourself?
Three dead in Bristol...
They didn't deserve this.
James almost knocked his drink off the table as he got to his feet. Sirius had gone again, as discreetly as he had entered.
"Be right back," James muttered to a distracted Sam, who merely nodded.
Lily had seen James leave the pub after Sirius, and she related the fact to Marlene when the blonde returned to their cramped table with another round of butterbeer. Marlene frowned.
"Should we...?" began Lily, but her companion shook her head.
"Their business, not ours."
"Lily." Marlene sighed heavily. "You can't fix everything."
James stepped out into the oppressive heat and grey sky of a desolate Diagon Alley. A few witches and wizards filtered through the street, but, on the whole, James had never seen the place so deserted. Sirius was easy to spot, slightly hunched and walking away with his hands in his pockets.
The wizards halted at the sound of his surname, shouted neutrally from somewhere behind him. He turned and saw James advancing quickly on him. Too stunned to reply, Sirius waited for James to speak again.
His countenance was complicated, as though even he were uncertain what he was going to say next or why he called out to Sirius at all. At length, however, James met Sirius's eye, and there was something acrimonious there.
"I don't care what Remus says," James told him bluntly; "I'm not going to forgive you."
Only when he realized that he was disappointed did Sirius notice he had been hopeful at all. "Is that so?" he muttered dispassionately.
"Well... congratulations on that." Sirius started to go, but James wasn't done yet.
"You're a liar, you know."
"You are. You're a liar, and a selfish coward. I don't think you've ever done a single thing for anyone besides yourself..."
James stepped closer and in a tense, bitter tone challenged: "Make me."
Sirius's fists clenched at his sides, but he didn't move. He returned James's hard stare for several seconds. James was taller than him now (but that had been coming on for ages), and he worenew frames for his specs—strange. Sirius had somehow imagined that James would have remain static for the last few months.
"I'm not going to fight you, Prongs," he said at last. That was all James really wanted now—a fight. "You're wasting your time."
He turned to leave once again, and once again, James's taunting voice stopped him. "Reckon you are afraid, Sirius. I wonder what it would take... I could call you a blood traitor... that'd get Regulus to fight, wouldn't it?"
Sirius spun round again; his wand was drawn now. "You don't want to do that," he snapped, stepping up to James again. "I know how to hurt you too, Prongs."
"But you're afraid," mocked James.
Sirius smirked spitefully. "At least I'm not always coming in second to Snivellus."
James's eyes darkened. He pointed to Sirius's wand, clenched between white fingers. "Are we pretending you'll actually use that?"
"Don't tempt me."
But of course, that was James's intention all along. He shoved Sirius's shoulder; "Like that?" he goaded and then shoved again.
Finding James and Sirius posed no great challenge to Lily and Marlene, once they were out in Diagon Alley. A few spectators had gathered around, and someone had shouted that timeless and seminal proclamation destined to draw others: "Fight!
Lily and Marlene exchanged looks. "Told you it was a good idea," remarked the former.
"Don't be a twat," replied the other, and both hurried towards the little gathering.
Wands discarded and forgotten, James and Sirius were mostly just rolling in the dirt of the cobbled street, hitting each other however they could. They were both bleeding.
"Boys!" shouted Marlene, as no one else seemed to be doing much to improve the situation. James and Sirius ignored her, still beating on each other, and the blonde drew her wand.
Lily, however, was quicker. Just as James gained dominance in the brawl and cocked his fist to strike Sirius, Lily stepped forward and grabbed his raised arm, pulling him away with all her strength. She did not actually manage to extricate James, as he was rather larger than she, but she did deter the immediate blow, causing him to turn towards this new, third party.
"Fuck off, mate..." he began to say but stopped, seeing who it was. Lily raised her eyebrows and continued to pull at James's arm. Sirius thus gained his freedom and sat up with a hand to his bleeding lip, while James got to his feet. "This is none of your business," he said, less violently but no less seriously.
"You two are pathetic," snapped Lily. "Three more people are dead this morning, and you two are out here fighting like a pair of five-year-olds!"
"This doesn't concern you, Lily," James firmly repeated. They both noticed she was still holding his arm, and he pulled away just as she let go, flustered.
"Of course it concerns me," she replied. Sirius rose as well, and with a final, dark look at James, he turned and walked back towards his flat. James departed in the opposite direction, muttering under his breath. Lily turned to Marlene, who rolled her eyes.
"I'll take James, you take Sirius," said Marlene, sighing. Lily nodded and took off after the former Marauder, while Marlene pursued James.
Lily caught up with Sirius just outside the apothecary shop, and, she now saw, he was something of a mess.
"You should have let us fight," he told her, leaning against the side of the shop, while Lily conjured a wet cloth to clean his face. "We both deserved it."
Lily rolled her eyes. "What happened?"
Sirius merely shrugged and took the towel offered to him. "He wanted to fight, I suppose, so we fought."
"What did he say? Merlin, your eye is swelling... here..." She attended to the growing dark circle around Sirius's eye, and he waited until she had finished to speak. "Well?"
"He said he hated me."
Genuinely surprised by this, Lily's eyes widened; "He said that? Those exact words?"
Sirius smiled mirthlessly. "No," he said, shaking his head. "No, it's not like that. But all the same, he said it."
"I don't know what that means."
"It means that..." Sirius searched for the best way to articulate it, "It means that James and I know each other too well to just—fight. There are certain... lines you're not supposed to cross, and there are certain topics that you're just not supposed to touch—things you can't say, and if you do, then... you can't come back from it."
Lily frowned. "And this thing—he said it to you?"
Sirius nodded; "And I said it to him, too."
They were both silent for a minute, and then Sirius added with wry amusement: "Aren't you going to ask me what we said?"
"Please." Lily looked away, hoping he wouldn't notice her evident curiosity. "That really isn't my business."
Sirius removed he rag from his face and looked down at his hands, debating something internally no doubt. "Maybe not," he said at last. "I should go inside," he added, nodding towards the upper story of the building where his rooms were. "I want to take a shower before work."
Sirius stepped through the doorway. "Bye, Lily."
Lily waved, but called after him before he had disappeared. "He'll come around," she said earnestly, and she realized she was trying to convince herself as well as Sirius. The wizard shook his head.
"I don't think so."
His expression, just before he was gone, was dark and weary. There were lines there that Lily had never noticed before, and his grey eyes had aged.
Marlene, meanwhile, reached James as he slipped down a dark alley past Florean Fortescue's. It was a moment before she realized exactly where he was going, and she sped up, grabbing his arm to stop him,
"Knockturn Alley, Potter? Really?" Letting go of his arm, Marlene folded her arms. James seemed surprised to see Marlene there, and she thought she knew why. "You were expecting Lily."
James ignored this statement, and instead replied: "There's a pub I like here. You'd better go, Price."
"Your nose is bleeding," Marlene pointed out.
"I can handle it."
"So can I." And before James could protest, she flicked her eyes, and he felt his nose crack, as though snapping back into place.
"Hey, that's not bad, Price."
"I'm a witch of many talents," Marlene replied dryly.
James slid his hands into his pockets and leaned his back against the outside wall of the nearest building—an ominous, poorly lit shop, with a sign in the window advertising "Spider Eyes, by the Dozen."
"What are you doing here?" he asked. "I promise I won't get into any more fights, if it helps."
"I still don't even understand what any of this is about," complained Marlene.
"You don't need to know," James muttered. "Suffice it to say, Black's a git, and I'm not having any of it."
"Oh," said Marlene. "That's cool."
James sent her a look.
"Well what did you expect me to say?"
"I thought you might have some sage wisdom, considering you did follow me here for some reason..."
"Oh. Well..." Marlene thought about it for a moment. "I reckon I'm in love," she said at last. James just stared. "I do—I really do. For the first time. And you know... I think I've been in love all along, only I didn't really notice it, until... recently." James continued to stare at the witch as if she were crazy, and, meeting his eye, Marlene smirked. "What? You're allowed to indulge your petty emotional dilemmas in times like these, but I'm not?"
James shrugged. "McKinnon?"
Marlene did not exactly respond, but she didn't deny it, and that was affirmation enough. "You're the first person I've actually admitted that to," she went on instead. "But I guess everyone knows, anyway." She had a sad, far-off expression on her face for a few seconds; then, she shook it off and continued in a more businesslike tone: "He has a girlfriend now. Prudence Daly."
James tried to place a face with the name: "Oh—the fit Indian bird in Ravenclaw?" Marlene scowled, and James cleared his throat: "Right. She's... awful."
Laughing, Marlene shook her head. "She's not, though," the blonde sighed. "Anyway, I have a point here, and this is it."
"There isn't always the time to do the things you want to do... to fix things. And I don't know what he did to you—Sirius, that is. Maybe it's unforgivable, but, personally, I wouldn't wait to find out."
"It's not a matter of time, Marlene."
"Of course it is. Everything is. I mean—do you really, honestly believe that you never want to be mates with Sirius again?"
"And," she pressed on, "do you think he's going to want to sit around and wait for you to come round? Eventually he's going to quit being sorry and start blaming you as much as you're blaming him, and then it really will be too late." Marlene sighed and pushed back a stray lock of hair that had fallen free from her ponytail. "People don't really wait forever, James. They just don't."
Marlene left shortly after that, and James was alone in the shaded street. As deserted as Diagon Alley certainly was, Knockturn Alley wasn't half so populous that afternoon.
"Sirius is fine, if you're wondering."
This time, it was Lily, and there was just enough bite in her voice to make James look up at her. At some point between the time she had pulled him off of Sirius and now, the witch had pulled her hair into a low ponytail, which was draped over her right shoulder. The short hairs framing her face clung to her forehead, and her cheeks were flushed from the heat of the day. On top of that, she did not look particularly pleased with him, her hands on her hips, clenched to the cotton of the violet skirt she wore. The violet skirt that cut off about halfway down her thigh, and...
James shook himself.
Girls were so self-righteous.
"I wasn't wondering," he retorted.
"Right," snapped Lily sarcastically. "Because you hate him now."
James sighed. "I thought you weren't taking sides."
"I thought you weren't going to tell me when I had to forgive him."
"I wasn't." Lily shifted her weight and folded her arms across her chest. "But now I am, because—because this is just stupid now."
"I see," he muttered. "So you're bored of the drama, is that it? Just because Remus doesn't care anymore doesn't mean I'm ready to just jump on board with..."
"I said rubbish! That's nonsense, and you know it!"
"Why do you care so much?" James demanded heatedly.
"Because, you idiot..." She drew her wand, and for a second, James foolishly thought she meant to hex him. Instead, she flicked it once, and a slip of white cloth appeared at the end. It was a cool, wet towel, which she handed to him, presumably for the dirt and blood which was beginning to harden on his face. "...Because, for whatever stupid reason, I happen to care about the both of you, and I don't want you to..."
"Miss my opportunity?" James substituted for her. "Merlin, you sound like Marlene."
"Well it's true. Oh, give me that..." She grabbed the cloth that James was not employing and roughly began cleaning off his face. He resisted, whining, but Lily paid him no heed. "I swear, you're three years old sometimes."
"Thanks, Mum," James retorted when at last she had finished, but he had to admit that the cool cloth on his face was a significant improvement. Balling up the towel in her fist, Lily straightened his glasses, and then stepped back as if surveying her work.
"At least you look somewhat human," she noted. "Now if only you'd start acting like it."
"Where did all of this hostility come from, anyway?" James wanted to know.
Lily scoffed. "Really, Potter, skulking around in Knockturn Alley, getting in fights—and Sirius is your best..."
"Black was my best friend..."
"...And you're both being positively ridiculous about this whole thing, as if there'll always be another time to make it right..."
"...So you'd have me be mates with a would-be murderer..."
"...When really, if the last few days have proved anything, it's that there isn't any time..."
"...Again with the time..."
"...Everyone else has gone to see him now, why can't you...?"
"...So I'm just supposed to forgive and forget because everyone else has...?"
"...If you had any sense at all, you'd swallow your damn pride and just say what you want to say!"
"Which is what exactly?"
"That you're sorry!"
She had rather shouted this, and James stared at her, taken aback. "Sorry? I'm sorry?"
"Yes," said Lily earnestly. "You feel guilty for what could have happened to Snape, because you know it wasn't just Sirius. To him, it was just another prank, and you feel like the reason he thought that was because for all those years, you'd made excuses and acted like it didn't matter what you did to everyone else—to Snape and whoever... and that's why he didn't see the difference... it didn't occur to him that this was anything different than... inflating Bertram Aubrey's head or vanishing Kevin Sherbatsky's hair or... any of it! You always said—to me and everyone else—that it was just joke, that you didn't really do anything wrong, and then Sirius went and did this, and you feel guilty!"
"So it's my fault, is it?"
"No!" cried Lily. "That's not what I'm saying! Are you even listening to me? I'm saying it's not your fault, and that you need to realize that Sirius made a stupid, horrible mistake, but it doesn't mean that you're a terrible person!"
At first, Lily thought James was going to argue, but the words seemed to die on his lips, and he faltered. "I could have stopped it," he said unexpectedly. Lily sighed.
"You did stop it."
"No, I didn't." James shook his head. "I wasn't... I wasn't completely wrong about Sirius all along—but I was just wrong enough that I didn't see this coming."
"He just wants you to forgive him," Lily found herself pleading. "Everyone else already has."
James looked at his feet. "I can't."
Lily huffed. "Stubborn git." He flinched at the insult.
She made a face, then pushed her sweaty hair back. "It's hot out here," she complained. "I'm leaving." Before she had gone, however, she muttered again: "Git."
"Prig," he answered resentfully, and then Lily slipped through the outlet to Diagon Alley and disappeared.
It was nearly suppertime before Lily returned to her house, and she found it in a state of near chaos. Almost before Lily had closed the door behind her, Mrs. Evans approached her furiously.
"What is this I hear about your not being in the wedding?" she demanded. "Yesterday everything's fine, and now you're not in the wedding, and Tuney's gone to pick up Rachel Richards to fit her in your dress, and..."
"Mum, please," sighed Lily, "let me catch my breath before we get into this."
"Rubbish! You said you were going to lunch with Marlene, and now it's practically five o'clock, and Petunia won't tell me anything..."
"Mum, I..." But it was too hot to fight, and everything (the war, Petunia, James, and Sirius, the wedding, and just everything else...) was only piling on top of that too quickly for Lily, so that before she had any idea of it happening, there were tears burning in her eyes, and all she wanted was to climb into bed and hide her face underneath the covers and never think or speak or move again...
Mrs. Evans's expression softened at once. "Oh, Lily," she sighed. She drew Lily close, arms around her youngest daughter, and Lily began to cry.
The very first thing that Donna Shacklebolt did Friday morning was switch on the wireless. She was—or thought she was—prepared for the worst, but when it came, the news was no less disturbing.
The new demand had been delivered, this time to The Daily Prophet. A reporter had been killed, and the Dark Lord now demanded that any detained or arrested death eater be released immediately and commended. The witch who relayed this message over the WWN did not sound surprised, but there was urgency in her voice, and she knew what Donna thought they all must know by now—that this had to stop... that if it kept going like this... well, anyway, it mustn't.
Donna pulled herself out of bed and began to dress, when there was a knock on her bedroom door. She buttoned her blouse hastily and went to answer. It was Kingsley.
"I'm going in to work—the kids are asleep, but Audrey will be here soon."
Audrey McKinnon—Adam's oldest sister—was the latest hired help in the Shacklebolt home.
"I thought you were staying home today," Donna protested. "I have to work this morning, and..."
"I can't very well not go in; we're short-handed as it is..."
"We're short-handed here, too, Kingsley!"
"Well then why don't you stay home?"
"Because I'm on wages, and we need the mon..."
"We don't need the money; we're fine."
Donna glared. "Only if you're counting on Isaiah not going to Hogwarts next year... there's barely enough of what Mum and Dad left to cover Bridge and me this year, and I'm assuming the rest of you like to eat..."
"Then go to work," retorted Kingsley. "Audrey's coming."
She sighed, wiping the sleep from her eyes. "Brice and Isaiah need you here... I'm no good with them—not for this type of thing."
Kingsley placed one his large, heavy hands on his sister's shoulder. "You only think you aren't. They adore you."
"I'll be back early," he promised. "Really, this time."
There was no point in fighting him, Donna knew, and so she only nodded. "Okay."
"See you tonight."
Donna had breakfast on the table by eight—nothing fancy, only tea and toast and eggs—and then she went upstairs to fetch Brice, her youngest brother; Bridget, her sister, however, was already there, dressing the six-year-old and chatting with him about his plans for the day.
"Do you work today?" asked Bridget, as Donna entered the bedroom.
The older sister nodded. "I'll be home early, though. And Kings will, too."
"So he says," said Bridget with a knowing smile. "Let's brush your teeth, Brice."
"Can we let the toothbrush do it?" asked Brice in his squeaky voice, and Bridget nodded, laughing. Donna followed the pair curiously into the washroom, where Bridget drew her newly purchased wand and flicked it once at Brice's blue toothbrush. Immediately, it sprung into the air, levitating dutifully in front of Bridget as she applied toothpaste. Then, the brush flew towards Brice's mouth and, with surprising accuracy, began to scrub at his teeth.
"Where did you learn to do that, Bridget Cecelia Shacklebolt?" Donna wanted to know. "You know, I wouldn't have bought that wand for you so early if I'd known you'd be breaking the law."
"Audrey taught me, and no one cares about a little underage magic in magic households," dismissed Bridget sagely. The toothbrush continued its task on Brice's teeth, and Donna, watching her younger sister supervise the scene with such calm, could not help but reflect that Bridget was far better at this sort of thing than she could ever hope to be. It wasn't only her way of dealing with Brice (or Isaiah, for that matter), but her general intelligence—the way she communicated, the grace with which she acted... she was far wiser than Donna had been at the age of eleven—probably wiser than she was at the age of seventeen...
"Spit, please," requested Bridget, and while Brice complied, she rinsed off the toothbrush and returned it to its cup.
Brice, like Donna, had thick, curly hair, so Bridget did not even attempt to tame it, but she ran some water over her hands and then combed them through his black curls. "You will be here for supper, won't you, Donna?"
"And when are we to buy the rest of my school things?"
"Not till your letter comes, Bridge."
"And you're certain...?"
"Agrippa's sake, Bridge, you're already bewitching toothbrushes; of course you'll get a letter."
"I want a letter, too!" insisted Brice, and Bridget kissed him on the cheek.
"Not until you're eleven, Mr. Brice. And you'll have Miss Flowers at the primary in the mean time." Smirking, Bridget added to Donna in a whisper: "He fancies her." Then, she took Brice's hand, brought him down from the little stool he used to reach the sink, and walked with him down to the kitchen. Donna followed.
"Out of respect for murdered correspondent, Cary Young, The Daily Prophet has decided not to run the Dark Lord's message as it was delivered this morning," said the broadcaster on the WWN, his voice etched with graveness. "However, we have with us here this morning one of Young's co-workers, writer, and special correspondent for The Daily Prophet, Dorthea Grey. Miss Grey..."
"Thank you, Malcolm."
"Of course—I only wish the circumstances for talking with you today were less... tragic..."
"Everyone at the paper is just devastated... Cary was so well-liked there..."
"Of course, of course. And an innovative reporter, too..."
"Without a doubt..."
"Miss Grey, were you in the room when Mr. Young entered this morning...?"
"I was, yes."
"Can you tell us what happened?"
"Well..." hesitation: "Well, Cary walked into the news room... early, around seven... there were loads of us in there, already, of course, because we were waiting to hear if... hoping, of course, there wouldn't be another attack, but waiting to find out... and then Cary comes in—he didn't speak to me, but he spoke to Mitchell—Mitchell Letterer, who sits near the front, writes op-eds—and I don't know what he said to Mitch exactly, but I know he said he had a message to be printed in the Prophet that morning... and then Mitch tried to snap him out of it, and we all sort of noticed the commotion... Jillian—Jillian Jones, one of the writers, tried to find his wand, hoping she could stop it, but it all happened so fast..."
Dorthea Grey's voice broke, and the interviewer, Malcolm, gave her a moment to compose herself.
"...Just... just before it happened, Cary handed Mitchell a letter to be published, and it was just the same message—the same demand..."
"And that's what The Prophet has refused to publish...?"
"Yes, it's been turned over to the Ministry for examination..."
From where she sat at her vanity desk, Mary switched off the wireless and shuddered, suddenly feeling very cold, despite the tyrannical, humid heat. She peered into the glass, her tired, bare face staring back. Her eyes seemed to look smaller without all the eyeliner and glitter and mascara; her skin was pale and flawed. Mary didn't like to look at herself like this, though it was a natural part of her routine of course—in the morning, she looked into the mirror over the tap, found every imperfection that vexed her, and then washed and scrubbed and applied the Bubotuber Blast, a pink, foul smelling concoction that did wonders for her complexion, before drying off and beginning with the make up.
With cosmetics, she was an artist—more Titian than Leonardo. It was an organic movement. Where color was needed, she applied it—not always the expected shade, but always vivid and conspicuous. Her mother always said she looked lovely without all of that, but she'd had an aunt once tell her she looked "Less plain" with the eye make up, and anyway, she loved putting it on. She loved the transformation and the process and the color, and she didn't like how she looked now, without it.
Plain, uncertain, ordinary Mary Macdonald.
It just wasn't her.
So, disregarding her momentary doubt, Mary picked up the first bottle and began to paint.
When she was finished, she left her room and, with a casual 'goodbye' to her mother, went out into the hall, downstairs, and to the ever familiar door numbered 12, where Marlene lived.
"Hey, Mare," greeted her friend, on opening the door. "I thought you were with Stebbins today."
Mary shrugged. "I just—I felt like hanging around with you today..."
Marlene seemed to understand. She nodded. "It's too hot to go out," the blonde agreed, stepping aside and admitting Mary entrance into the flat. "We'll stay in."
James wasn't really the smartest, he thought. Oh, sure, he was clever enough, but really, cleverness came much easier when all the teachers expected it of a bloke. The trick was getting them to think it of you, and there, James had an advantage—the advantage of a big, empty house to grow up in: a big empty house with lots of books, and only much older, much wiser wizards for friends.
He hadn't been aware of loneliness before Hogwarts, and boredom was like a second nature. His mother tried to be home a great deal, but that hadn't always worked out, and not all of the house elves were enticing companions. So James learned to read young, and he started on the Charms section of the Potters' library. From there, he moved on to curses and transfigurative magic; magical theory was interesting, but history bored him, as did potions. He liked the books with magical creatures. His very favorite, however, was always Quidditch.
And so, when James went to Hogwarts, he had more background than most of the other first years. He got that reputation, and a reputation for being intelligent—along with a good memory—was all it really took, he thought, to succeed at Hogwarts.
It was strange to think, James mused, that these same volumes he now dusted off and perused had once seemed so advanced, so complex, to him. He smiled at a history text... when he first bought his new wand, he'd levitated it right into his mother's head... on accident, of course.
And there was a book of hexes that he'd once devoured greedily, until he realized, sadly, that it would be ages and ages before he'd be able to do that kind of magic (in reality, about six months). There was also a book called Stokstad's Magical Ethics, Volume One that he had barely understood and mostly skipped, except the chapter on Inferi.
It was this that James ultimately selected that morning, because he'd finished the Prophet crossword and didn't much care to read the headlines. He already knew what they would say. His mother and father had both hurried into the office once again, so early that James wasn't awake, until Mrs. Potter crept into his room to say goodbye and tell him breakfast was ready when he wanted some.
James sat down on the nearest sofa and opened up the large book of choice to the first page. He had often heard the complaint that the Gryffindor Common Room was far too noisy for homework completion, but James found the ringing silence of his big, empty house far worse.
He wasn't lonely. He wasn't.
It was just—well, on mornings like this... with that reporter murdered and a new demand from Voldemort... it was just the sort of morning one preferred to spend with someone else. It might have been nice to have his mum or dad around, that's all.
Of course they were busy, and he couldn't begrudge them their obvious duty... it just occurred to him that he might have been happier if they were normal witches and wizards of their age... retired quietly, peacefully, and safely.
He was fine.
The door to the small study opened, admitting a wizard in black robes. He peered in at James. "All well, Mr. Potter?"
This was the auror stationed at the house for their security since the first incident on Monday. James had all but forgotten about the bloke; he was practically invisible most of the time.
"All well," assured James. The wizard—Chesky—nodded and disappeared out the door once more.
Really, James was fine.
He turned to the next page in Magical Ethics and began chapter one.
It was around three o'clock, the start of the last hour of Donna's shift, that Lathe entered the Leaky Cauldron, ordering his typical "Firewhiskey, neat," and taking a seat at the end of the bar.
"Little early, isn't it?" she noted, more to be obnoxious than anything else.
"What else have I got to do?" he replied, unperturbed. He didn't swallow the liquor all at once, though. Besides the ever-present Pip and a witch from the inn, the pub was empty. No one wanted to be out and about today.
Donna sat down on her usual stool behind the bar, shrugging. "I dunno—don't you have family? Seems what everyone else is doing this week... holing up until all this stops..."
"This was the last demand," said Lathe with unexpected confidence, and Donna raised her eyebrows.
"How do you know that?"
"He said so. The bloke—Young. All other messages had some... caveat about more messages to come, but this one didn't."
"How do you know that?" Donna repeated. "The Prophet didn't publish the exact words, and I thought you were suspended from the Ministry."
"I am. Still have friends there, though."
Lathe finished his whiskey, and Donna didn't wait to refill. "How d'you know I'm not done for this afternoon?" he joked, and Donna just rolled her eyes. "Fair enough."
"When do you go back to work?" she asked. "Don't you have any idea when they lift the suspension?"
"Nope," the auror replied simply, but Donna thought he looked a little more bothered by this than he let on. She imagined what it might be like if Kingsley got suspended for something, and then rather wished that it might happen. When she voiced this, however, Lathe actually laughed. "You know you're not paid for the duration, right?"
"Well, I don't want him suspended for weeks, like you... no offense..."
"...Just a few days. A weekend, maybe."
Lathe laughed again.
"I just think it would have been nice for my brothers and sister to have someone related to them around this week," Donna defended herself, crossing her arms. "That's what everyone else seems to be doing, at any rate..."
"What about you? Surely Tom would let you have the morning?"
Donna shrugged. "I happen to like getting paid, though. Say... if you get sacked, do you reckon they'll give Kingsley a raise?"
Lathe arched his eyebrows, and Donna realized that might have come across the wrong way.
"Insensitive?" she guessed.
"Just a bit."
Pip, at the opposite end of the bar, requested another pint, and Donna was temporarily occupied with that, but she returned to Lathe's end of the pub after attending to the other. "How long have you been an auror?" she wanted to know.
"Three years," said Lathe. "And there was training three years before that." Donna nodded thoughtfully; she debated whether or not to ask the question that piqued her curiosity, but decided against it, only to have Lathe answer it for her: "I knew him a little."
"Your dad. You were doing the math, weren't you?"
Lathe shrugged. "Either way, I did some of my last year of training working with him."
Donna suddenly wished they were talking about something else. Talking about her parents wasn't too painful or anything—the past was the past and all that—but discussion of her father always brought the uncomfortable reminder that Kingsley was in largely the same situation her father had been in...
"How old were you?" asked Lathe suddenly.
He nodded. "You probably don't want to hear it, but... he was a brilliant auror, your dad. And your brother's pretty quick, too."
No, she didn't want to hear it.
"Yeah, my parents were real heroes," muttered Donna sarcastically. Lathe looked a bit surprised, and she added: "I'm not going to romanticize them because they're dead. Dad shouldn't have... he shouldn't have spoken out like that against..." She broke off.
"Voldemort," Lathe substituted, and Donna nodded.
"I guess they stood up for what they believed in," she continued darkly, "but it got them killed. And if they had kept their heads down, then I wouldn't spend almost every day of my summer holiday working at a bleeding pub, and my brother wouldn't be slaving away for the Ministry just to make sure that we can afford Hogwarts, and Brice would actually remember his parents, and Isaiah wouldn't have been expelled from muggle primary school twice, and Bridget wouldn't have to play mother to the lot of them." Donna didn't know where this was coming from, but before she could help it, the rest came pouring out: "People can tell me that my parents were a great witch and wizard and that they died honorably and that I should be proud, but the truth is... they had an obligation to five people they brought into the world, and they didn't fulfill that obligation, because they were brave." Bitterly: "Forgive me if I'm not terribly enthusiastic about my brother being a brilliant auror—I'd rather he just be a living wizard at this point."
Lathe looked neither shocked nor appalled by Donna's confession, and that annoyed her a little. "I said Shacklebolt was a quick auror," the wizard informed her calmly, "but he's smart, too. He keeps his nose clean, as far as politics."
"He still puts his life at risk," Donna pointed out.
"His life was already at risk—all of your lives are, because of your parents."
"Ah, the heroes."
Lathe shrugged. "Maybe you're right. Maybe it was wrong for your dad to speak out like that, but—I think he did it because... he figured you would be safest in a world completely without Voldemort and death eaters, and if he had a chance to help achieve that, then he had to take it."
"But he didn't achieve it."
"No," admitted Lathe; he offered no silver lining or explanation for that, though Donna had half expected one. He merely took another drink of the firewhiskey.
Donna got to her feet, picking out a clean glass and polishing it idly with a rag. "What about you?" she asked. "Is that why you're an auror? To protect someone?"
Lathe did not answer at once, and when he did, it was evasive. "I don't have any family," he said.
"Well... parents, technically, but they're muggles and they think I'm dead."
"It's... better for everyone if my parents operate under the mistaken impression that I am deceased," said Lathe, as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Donna exhaled disbelievingly.
"You're mad," she told him. "Weirder than I am."
"Now that's just unkind."
Donna leaned over the bar a few paces away from the auror. "What happens to someone on suspension?" she asked curiously. "I mean—you've been in here two or three times this week, and that's only on my shift. I know you've been in when Tom and Black were here, too. Do you just... sit around and drink?"
"Mostly," said Lathe cheerfully. Donna scowled, and he defended himself: "I'm not allowed to drink on the clock, and I'm always on the clock. I should at least be allowed to benefit from this somehow."
"But don't you have to... I dunno—prove your innocence or something?"
"But I'm not innocent," Lathe replied calmly. He finished the firewhiskey, made a face, and gestured for another.
"You're going to get drunk," Donna warned. When she had poured the liquor, she propped herself up, palms against the bar top, and shook her head. "I don't understand you at all."
Lathe took a long sip. "They're investigating me for killing a death eater; I did kill a death eater. There's not much I can do as far as proving my innocence goes."
This much (and a little more) Donna had gathered from the newspapers and her connection with Lily. "Logan Harper?" she asked, and Lathe almost started at the sound of the name. He nodded.
"But he was a death eater. I don't understand."
"Best not to try to understand the Ministry of Magic, Miniature Shacklebolt. Even the Ministry doesn't understand the Ministry."
Donna rolled her eyes. "But if you did kill him and that's what you're in trouble for, why are they investigating at all? Why don't they just sack you?"
Lathe exhaled irritably; clearly, this was not something he particularly wanted to discuss—with the bartender sister of a co-worker, no less—but Donna didn't really care. She waited expectantly for her answer... if she were to be subjected to the life stories of customers day in and day out, she might as well get a few answers she actually wanted. "They think," Lathe went on, "that I killed him because he's a pureblood. That he could have been saved. Arrested. Processed, and the rest."
The question hung in the air for several seconds before Donna asked it: "Could he?"
Lathe dropped his gaze to the firewhiskey. "We'll have to see, I guess." He swallowed the remains of the glass and began to rise. "Alright, then—how about one for the road?" He tapped his empty glass with the ring on his little finger. Donna opened the Ogden's, while Lathe allotted the money for the bill. He drank the firewhiskey quickly and then, with a quick nod to Donna started for the entrance to Diagon Alley. He hesitated near the door, however. "Listen..." the auror began, "I wouldn't... I mean, I wouldn't give Shacklebolt... I mean, your brother, a hard time about much these days—it's none of my business, yeah, but you lot are all he ever talks about, honestly, and... I dunno. Being an auror isn't all it's cracked up to be."
"Then why are you so keen to get back to it?" Donna wanted to know.
Lathe shrugged. "Who says I am? Rubbish pay and bad hours."
Donna shook her head. "Just like Kingsley. I don't understand it, but you lot are all so... obsessed with it. Merlin knows there are better jobs—safer, more interesting, better paid... but for whatever bloody reason, you aurors just can't stay away."
Lathe grinned. "Not a bad evaluation of the business, Miniature Shacklebolt." He turned to depart once more, adding as he left, "See you around."
When the auror was gone, Donna drew her wand, cleaning out the glass he'd used and levitating it back to its usual spot on the shelf. Sirius entered the pub a minute or two later.
"You're early," she pointed out.
"What else have I got to do?" Sirius retorted. "Saw Lathe on his way out—was he here long?"
"Not very. Why?"
Sirius shrugged. "No reason—he's been in quite a bit for the last week."
"I guess so."
Sirius freshened Pip's drink. "Has he told you any of his mad auror stories?"
"No." Donna felt very dull; she had done more of the talking.
"Eh, well, you should ask him about the one in Cairo." Sirius grabbed his usual apron. "You know why he's suspended, don't you? That Harper business... The family managed to sway an investigation, and now the auror department is short... at this of all times."
But Donna knew all about that.
"Interesting bloke," Sirius went on. "Lathe, I mean. Oi, his muggle family thinks he's dead—pretty cool, yeah?"
Donna just looked at him. "Men are so odd."
Mr. and Mrs. Potter returned from the Ministry around seven o'clock on Friday. The latter had been off for hours, but stayed around to apparate home with her husband. They found their son in the library, engrossed in the last pages of a large book.
"Have you eaten?" Mrs. Potter asked, sitting down beside her son, while Mr. Potter went upstairs to change. "You look awfully pale, James."
"I ate about an hour ago."
"We're not so late tonight," murmured his mother, running her fingers fondly through his hair. "We might have a bite together, do you think?"
James set down his book. "Sure, Mum."
"What's wrong, dear?"
"Nothing's wrong; I'm fine."
"What are you reading there...?"
But before James could reply, Mr. Potter reappeared at the door, and his expression was grim. "Excuse me..."
Mrs. Potter turned to watch her husband enter the room, and James noticed she looked as confused as he was.
"There's something I wish to discuss with the both of you."
"What is it, Alex?"
Mr. Potter sat down on the sofa opposite them. He slouched forward, hands folded in front of him and elbows on his legs—uncharacteristically unwound in the posture. "I've... I've been thinking a lot this week. I don't want to do anything without speaking to you about it, but there's... there's very little doubt in my mind that this is the best thing—for all of us..."
"Please," interrupted Mr. Potter softly. "Just—let me tell you." His wife nodded slowly, but she took James's hand, and her grip betrayed anxiety. "I've decided... that is, I've almost decided that—the most judicious thing to do is... to resign. I've decided to step down as head of D.M.L.E."
Mrs. Potter let go of James's hand, moving instantly across the room to sit beside her husband, whom she enveloped in a hug. There were tears in her eyes, but they were joyous. She had wanted this—she had wanted this for years, James thought, since the disappearances started and Voldemort had taken credit...
But James wasn't sure how he felt. His dad would be around more, sure, and it wasn't as though they needed the money, but somehow...
Mrs. Potter now leaned her head on Mr. Potter's shoulder, and the latter looked intently as their only child, still on the opposite couch, with an unreadable expression.
"Now?" James heard himself asking. "Now, with all of this happening...?"
"It won't be right away," Mr. Potter explained. "I'll stay on for at least another month... But—the last week... I'm not made for this, James. Certainly not now, at my age..."
"So—what? The hours are too long?" demanded James disbelievingly.
"No, no. Not that. It's... the Ministry... that is, everyone deserves someone who is—able to stop this."
"James, listen. This week, a man walked into my office and killed himself... right in front of me. I was completely incapable of stopping him. And every morning this week, more deaths, more demands, and I was... I did nothing."
"There was nothing you could do."
"No, there wasn't," agreed his father. "But someone else might be able to."
"But what if there are more demands? You're just going to walk out now..."
"There won't be anymore demands."
"How do you know that?"
Mr. Potter did not reply at once. "There are many things we don't understand about what's happened recently, but... we believe that today's message was intended to be the last."
James was not so easily satisfied. "Fine, but what about what happens next? All the demands said that if the Ministry didn't comply, there would be repercussions..."
"There will be," said Mr. Potter hollowly. "Which is why I have to allow someone else to try and stop it... for everyone else, and for my family..."
"Your family? Us? Dad, who cares about us? We're fine. This place is a sodding fortress! No one's going to get us here..."
"And do you really believe that you're safe? My position in the Ministry has endangered both of you for years, and Phillip Stoake's murder was... quite personal... in its execution. I cannot take that risk any longer."
James was silent, trying to take it all in—to understand. "I just—I don't see how you can give up like that... stop fighting..."
"No, James," Grace Potter spoke up suddenly. "Not that. Never that." She released her husband, rose, and moved to sit beside James again, taking his hand once more. "There are other ways to fight."
Slowly, James got up. "I'm... um... I'm gonna go for a walk. Just to think this through..."
"No, I'm not angry," he said quickly. "I'm not. Really. I just... I need to think for a bit. Get some air, y'know?"
Mrs. Potter returned to her husband's side. "Don't go far."
At eight o'clock that evening, Sirius went out for his fifteen and a cigarette, leaving Tom with the small crowd inside the pub. It was another warm night—it seemed forever since they'd had rain, and the black sky up ahead held no clouds: a fairly ordinary night.
James Potter was almost the last person Sirius expected to see, standing out behind the Leaky Cauldron with his hands in his pockets and a somewhat nervous look about him. Yet there he was. Sirius paused, halfway through lighting his cigarette.
"Are you off already?" James asked, surprised; "Lupin said you worked late tonight..."
Sirius finished lighting the cigarette and shook his head. "I'm on my break." He didn't say it, exactly, but his expression clearly inquired as to what James was doing there now.
"I was debating whether or not to go inside," James explained awkwardly. "But—er—I reckon it's neither here nor there now..."
Sirius took a careful drag from his cigarette. There was no hopefulness to be disappointed this time, as he asked in a guarded, though not accusatory tone: "What are you doing here?"
"I'm not sure." James was, inexplicably, nervous. Sirius decided to wait for more. "I guess... I mean—I... Sirius, I want things to go back to the way they were, but... I just... I need a reason."
"You mean you came here to have me beg," replied Sirius bitterly. "I'm not going to do that. I've already—you know I'm sorry. You know if I could take it back, I would. But what happened, happened, and you've got to figure out what you want to do now."
James bristled. "So just like that—you... you don't care."
"That's not what I said..."
"It's true, though, if you're not even willing to..."
"To what? Beg and plead and tear my hair?"
"Fix what, exactly?"
"This! The Marauders! All of us!"
Sirius dropped his unfinished cigarette to the ground and stamped it out with the his shoe. "I'm sorry, Prongs. Okay? I am so fucking sorry that I—that I told Snape about Moony, and I'm sorry that you had to mop up the mess, and I am sorry for everything else that happened... or might've happened that night... I'm sorry!" He stepped forward, but James took a reactive, defensive step back. Sirius recoiled again. "See? You don't even care... this isn't even about me anymore or what I can do, is it?"
"What's that supposed to...?"
"You don't want to forgive me," Sirius spoke over him. "You just want to blame me!"
"Of course I want to blame you! It's your bleeding fault!"
"Well than what do you want from me, Prongs?"
James hesitated; there was something he wanted to say, but didn't. Instead, quietly: "This was a stupid idea."
"Damn right it was."
Annoyed by Sirius's tone, James added: "Lily doesn't know what she's talking about."
"What d'you mean?"
"You," spat James. "You must have her wrapped around your finger pretty well to get her to come to me saying..."
"Oh sod off, I didn't tell her to talk to you..."
"Then why else would she try to get me to forgive you? Even after..."
"Fuck, Prongs!" cursed Sirius, the brewing frustration inside of him hitting a boiling point: "Are you really that blind?"
This, James completely misunderstood. He flinched. "You mean... the two of you...?"
"What? No—Merlin, no, Prongs! You're an idiot! Do you really think I would...?"
"Oh," scoffed James, "am I supposed to think it's below you? Below the would-be murderer brother of a would-be death eater?"
Then, Sirius couldn't help himself anymore.
He stepped forward and threw his fist, knocking James back and casting his glasses on the ground. James staggered, but stayed on his feet. He hitched his breath and could have drawn his wand but didn't. Instead, a moment later, both wizards were on the ground, each hitting the other with everything they had.
James got exactly two good hits to Sirius's nose before the latter managed to push him off, onto the ground, where Sirius got in a punch before being kicked onto the stone alley floor again.
In fiction, fights are something of a glamorous ordeal—a display of courage and skill. In reality, however most fights—the spontaneous ones, at any rate—are just messy and awkward. Usually, the relatively inexperienced participants are not extremely enthused about the prospect of fighting at all and only do so either as a last resort or due to the pressure applied by others. In any case, the altercations are typically short and lacking in skill, with two contributors simply trying to hit the other wherever or however possible.
This was no different, except in one respect: anger. Not the brief flame that flared up and died after the initial punches, to be replaced by self-preservation or fear. No, this was a quiet, slow-burning rage that was unleashed suddenly and without restraint.
So, when Sirius managed to get to his feet, James did not step back and rise himself, but rather he grabbed Sirius's ankle and pulled him to the ground again. Sirius kicked his chin, drawing more blood, and they both recoiled long enough to stand unsteadily up. Then James punched Sirius in the stomach, and Sirius pushed James against the wall. He hit him a few times, and then James got Sirius between the ribs, so that Sirius doubled over in pain, and James struck him in the face before he could move to defend himself.
Sirius stumbled back. James tried to maintain balance and blood dripped into his eyes. With a last burst of energy, Sirius moved to hit James, but the latter blocked the hook, and though he fell against the wall once more, he managed to push Sirius back again. Then he grabbed for his wand.
He directed it at Sirius, but the moment he looked up, James was met with the tip of his opponent's wand.
Bruised and bloody and dirty, they just stared at each other. Between the blood and the lack of glasses, James's vision was not what it ought to be, but he met Sirius's eye, burning in anger.
For a long moment, neither moved.
Then, James dropped his wand. Sirius remained obstinately still.
James sunk to the ground, feeling about for his glasses and, locating them, sliding them on his face again. He rubbed his forehead wearily, while Sirius continued to stare, confused and not altogether appeased, at him.
"How did things get so fucked up anyway?" James asked, his voice hoarse. There was blood in his hair. "You and me and the Marauders and everything—how did any of this happen?"
Slowly, Sirius lowered his wand. "I don't know," he admitted softly.
"I'm tired," said James. "It's exhausting."
Sirius dropped to the ground as well, his arms propped up on his knees as he slouched forward. "It is," he agreed, nodding. "I don't know how to do this."
James was a quiet for some time. At length, he began in a coarse, far-off voice, "Remus reckons that if someone can forgive him for being what he is, then he can forgive them for just about anything." Sirius said nothing. "Peter reckons it was just a stupid mistake." Another pause. "Lily... Lily just thinks it's the right thing..." With a last, pleading breath: "But that's not enough for me; I need something else... I need a reason."
Sirius nodded. He thought he understood now. "I don't have a reason. It's not forgiveness if there's a reason."
"Well that's not fucking good enough!" snapped James. "Where the hell have you been? My dad's resigning, and he and my mum are always gone, and all of this is happening..." James's hands got lost in his hair again; it was getting long now, his hair, and his fingers almost disappeared entirely amongst the black locks. "You were supposed to—you were supposed to be there for things like this! None of this was supposed to happen like this!"
"But it did!" Sirius cut in. "It did happen, and I can't take it back—I would if I could, but I can't, and I don't know what you want me to do!"
"I don't know! But I'd hope you would know!"
"How to fix this?"
"Well I've got no fucking clue!" They were both nearly shouting, but with this, both boys quieted again, and the tension died a little. Sirius spoke first.
"Your dad's resigning?"
James nodded, looking away. "He told me and Mum an hour ago."
More silence. Then—"Listen, James," Sirius began, "the truth is that there's only one reason, and you know it." (He did.) "Because I'm sorry."
James had been hoping against hope that Sirius would have something else to say, but he realized now that he had also known all along that it was impossible.
"That's not enough," he murmured. "I'm sorry. It's just—I just can't."
Sirius's face was pale; all the anger had faded. He merely looked sad, and he nodded. James pushed himself to his feet, and then held out his hand, pulling Sirius up as well. They stared at each other for a moment.
"I'm sorry I hit you," said James.
Then, with a quick nod, James turned. He opened the archway into Diagon Alley and moved swiftly through it, the bricks closing behind him.
In moments of desperation, human beings may not be their best.
Lily loathed herself, and she was afraid, but she was also desperate, and she had to do it—she had to try.
So, she knocked on Petunia's bedroom door, and her sister's voice distractedly replied: "Come in."
Lily entered. It was almost ten o'clock, and their mother had gone to bed, but Petunia clearly counted on staying up for a while longer. Wedding invitations covered her bed, and the bride-to-be was sorting through them. Lily supposed they were the late responders.
Petunia only glanced at her sister as she came into the room before quickly averting her attention back to an invitation in hand.
"What do you want?"
If she had looked longer, Petunia would have noticed the tears in the younger girl's eyes.
"Tuney, please," Lily begged, and that she had been crying was evident in her voice, so much so that Petunia looked up again, surprised. "Please don't do this." She sat down on the lower corner of the bed. "Please."
Lily loathed herself for asking, for saying this, for making this demand, when she knew it was wrong, but what else could she do? Tears began to fall again, and she pleaded: "Don't marry him."
And Petunia's expression, which had almost softened, grew hard and cold at once. "Lily, you're embarrassing yourself."
"I don't care!"
"It's embarrassing to listen to you."
"Tuney, I never meant to leave you behind!" Lily hurried on, "I'm sorry! But you're my sister, and I love you, and I don't want you to—I have to tell you this, because if I don't, you'll... we'll never have a real chance to be sisters again... friends, like we used to be..."
"No, I won't stop!" Tears came quicker now. "I've resented you, because I always thought you resented me and what I am, but there's still time to fix things between us! There's still a chance! I'm... I'm sorry, okay? I shouldn't have made you tell Vernon, b-b-but I only did it because I thought if you didn't tell him, you'd never see me after you're married. And now—it's not about being a b-bridesmaid. I don't care about that; I just..."
"I just—I just want things to be okay with us!"
Petunia said nothing.
"Please," Lily tearfully begged once again.
Then, Petunia began to gather up the invitations from the bed. She organized them into half a dozen neat little stacks, and then further compiled them into one, tall stack, which she placed on the night stand. She smoothed out the lavender damask blanket, and, as if in the same movement, smoothed back her pale hair. She didn't once look at Lily, but moved to the desk, where she unnecessarily straightened the few items there—a china statuette, a glass box for earrings, a bottle of perfume...
But it was as though Lily had never entered the room.
Petunia drew the curtains.
Lily had stopped crying, but the tears lingered on her reddened cheeks; she watched her sister, tidying the impeachable room. Petunia moved without pause, without hesitation or decision; she moved from project to project—her nightly routine. It was either graceful or robotic.
"Tuney," Lily choked one last time. Her sister picked up a cardigan—the only loose item of clothing in the entire bedroom, draped over the desk chair—and hung it in the closet. Lily stood and began for the door. Petunia smoothed the area of the bed that Lily had occupied, like she had never been there at all.
The younger girl left her sister attending to a vase of flowers on the windowsill.
On Saturday, there were no new demands. There seemed a universal sigh of relief, even amongst the reporters on the WWN, and the front page of The Daily Prophet was, comparatively speaking, downright jubilant. The morning and the afternoon passed quietly, calmly; the evening edition of the newspaper reported that the Ministry of Magic had arrested a suspected death eater, and the rest of the stories surrounded the now ceased demands and their victims. Nonetheless, all the stories carried the same, subtle undercurrent: no new demands. No new victims.
Sometimes, when there are no real victories, people need to pretend.
Lily woke with the awful feeling of one who has cried herself to sleep. Stiff and heavy, she reluctantly crawled from her bed, finding herself in the loo without any real notion of going there. She splashed cold water across her salty, dehydrated, blotchy face and, leaning over the sink, stared at the dripping reflection in the glass.
It was Saturday, she realized. In one week, her sister would be married.
Marlene washed her own lunch dishes. She'd had lie in that morning, so lunch and breakfast had really sort of merged, but all the same, it was about ten minutes to noon, and that seemed to make it luncheon, even though her hair was still wet from the morning shower and all she wore were a bathrobe and running shorts.
Finished with the mundane task at hand, the blonde moved out of the small kitchen, through the sitting room, and into her own bedroom. There were precisely two bedrooms in the Prices' flat—her mother's and her own—and though the room was small, Marlene was at least pleased that she had it all to herself. When her considerably older brother had lived there, they'd had to share.
The walls were dark green, covered by Marlene's posters and photographs—some of which she had to take down for muggle visitors, because they were moving in the magical fashion. Mary and Lily grinned down at her from her bulletin board, and there was a photo of all the girls in her dormitory, waving and making faces at the camera... that was from fourth year.
And next to some torn tickets from the Cleansweeps concert she'd gone to last summer, there was the familiar picture of herself and Adam, tacked to the cork-board with her Gryffindor House pin. They were laughing at something and they both looked so... young. And ridiculous. They were fifth years in the picture—Lily had taken it on Adam's camera, just after the Quidditch Final. Adam was dripping wet, because Gryffindor house had thought it amusing to spend the evening pouring water on all the team members, and Marlene had painted red and gold stripes on her face—one each, along her cheek bones.
It was, Marlene thought, one of the few pictures of herself that she liked. Probably something to do with the angle of the camera or something...
Marlene looked at the photograph for nearly a whole minute, lost in thought. Then, she walked over to the table in the corner of the room where she kept her record player. She didn't need to browse albums today, because she already knew what she wanted to hear. She placed the LP she'd received for Christmas on the turntable and set the first track.
The familiarly sweet riff began, and Marlene might have smiled if she hadn't so very much wanted to cry. Sitting down on her bed, Marlene picked up a pillow, which she hugged to her chest, while the wizard's voice began to sing the first lyrics. All the best songs, Marlene thought, were about heartbreak.
All the best songs, James thought, were about drugs.
They were just honest; unceremonious, but suitably sentimental and brilliantly weird. The very existence of the song defied deceit, because it meant that at least the musicians had no qualms with admitting their lyrics sprung from socially shunned substances. It was comforting, that.
"What are you thinking about?" asked Mrs. Potter, sipping her iced tea from the chair closest to James's at the kitchen table. The Potters typically ate supper in the dining room, but with just the two of them there, the kitchen was suitable tonight.
Rolling her eyes, Mrs. Potter returned to the newspaper she had been reading. James smirked, meanwhile, and slouched over the kitchen table, swirling his soup around with the spoon.
And while the brown-ish broth splashed up on the silver oval of the spoon's bowl, blurring the metal as it inevitably dripped down again and brought movement to the rest of the liquid, James experienced a startling revelation. It was rather the kind of epiphany that one has, only to realize a moment later that they knew it all along, only they never really felt it before: grasped it intellectually, without accepting it emotionally.
James realized now, sitting there in the kitchen with his soup and spoon and bread with butter... now and for some time, he had been really, really, really bored.
Not just bored —lethargic. Introverted. Unfamiliarly disinterested, dispassionate...
And, for a very long time it seemed to him, James had done absolutely nothing to remedy that. Frankly, he hadn't cared enough to try.
"He'd give us another chance."
James's breath hitched.
"Hey, I'm destinated for poverty, too..."
He dropped his spoon.
"The tree broke Sirius's arm."
"It was a minor sprain."
"You were crying."
"I was not!"
"There were tears."
"It's not crying unless the tears are out of your eyes, Potter."
"So you admit there were tears?"
James tried to pick the spoon up again, but his fingers didn't seem to be working.
"Why? Because we'll become so infamous, that people will talk about us so much, and it will be an inconvenience just to list our names?"
Mrs. Potter looked up from the newspaper, evidently having noticed the spoon clattering against James's china bowl.
"You're James sodding Potter, Prongs, and I wish you'd bloody start acting like it!"
"James, dear?" asked his mother.
"Everyone makes mistakes, James... Merlin knows you have..."
"James, what's gotten into you?"
"You know, Prongs, that was sort of hot..."
"Not in the mood, Sirius."
Mrs. Potter shook his hand, inadvertently knocking the bowl and splashing a few drops of soup onto the white tablecloth.
"Maybe we're maturing. Maybe this is the thing they're always calling 'self-restraint.'"
"Don't be thick..."
"James, you're frightening me," reprimanded Mrs. Potter.
"Prongs, we've been mates forever. We've been mates since before either of us knew what a Confundus Curse was... since we were so oblivious that we actually wished Hogwarts wasn't co-ed. We've been through just about every single important life experience together..."
"If someone can forgive me for what I am... what I did to become this way... I reckon I can forgive Sirius for his mistakes."
"I'm saying it's not your fault, and that you need to realize that Sirius made a stupid, horrible mistake, but it doesn't mean that you're a terrible person!"
"Sirius, you've got family. You've got Andromeda, you've got me, you've got..."
"You're not rubbish, as far as mates go, you know..."
"It's one of the downfalls of being a human being. You wouldn't know anything about it, Prongs..."
"Think about it, Prongs! He's going to go down there, get through the Willow, see Moony..."
"James, I understand that you're angry, but Sirius is family..."
"...Sirius... he's not one of us anymore... he's out..."
"I know how to hurt you, too, Prongs."
"You were supposed to—you were supposed to be there for things like this! None of this was supposed to happen like this!"
"Everyone else has gone to see him now—why can't you?"
"But sometimes they surprise you for the better, too..."
"James!" repeated his mother, louder, and James was somewhat drawn from his reverie.
"Hang on a moment, Mum," he said. "I'm having a thought."
On Sunday morning, Elizabeth the Second-James's owl- sat perched on Lily's window, a letter resting beneath her claws. Lily tore open the envelope, and what she read there made her smile.
Sunday was a little cooler. The sun was shining, and there were no more demands from Lord Voldemort. In days to come, reporter Dorthea Grey would coin the name for the last week—beginning with the death of Phillip Stoake and ending with that of The Prophet's Cary Young—calling it, perhaps unoriginally, The Week of the Demands.
"It is the worst that this war has been," she claimed, and, at the time, she might have been right.
Many things happened that week. There were a total of seven victims, five "messages" from the Dark Lord, and the few reporters who had continued to use his name to this point at last relented and took to the popular euphemisms. There were no more deniers arguing that the war didn't exist, or, at least, their perspective was no longer given any credit.
England's dry spell continued, and there was talk of a strike in the Ministry of Magic's weather department. Life went on, and those who did recollect the Dark Lord's promise of retribution generally elected to hope for the best. At least for the moment, the Week of the Demands had ended, and by comparison, ordinary life seemed exceedingly safe.
Of course, in November of that year, they would all be painfully reminded of the Week and what was promised in each of the Dark Lord's messages. But more on that later.
Diagon Alley seemed reborn with the end of the Demands. It was by no means as crowded as once upon a time, but people moved easily through the shops Sunday morning, speaking with guarded cordiality and enjoying the more comfortable weather. Sirius walked the short distance from his flat over the Apothecary to the Leaky Cauldron, and even he could not be utterly dejected just then.
He entered the pub through the back, grabbing an apron and tying it around his waist before stepping out into the main room. Donna stood behind the bar, waiting for him with a magazine in hand, and there were nearly a dozen patrons present for breakfast.
"You're late," deadpanned Donna, not looking up from her magazine.
"Only by a minute."
"Did the world end in my absence?"
Donna set down the magazine and rolled her eyes. "I haven't slept all night, Sirius Black. You would be wise not to pester me just now."
"Go home, Shack," said Sirius.
"I am," she promised, pulling off her apron. However, Donna hesitated before slipping into the back. "Your mate is here," she said.
Sirius looked about quickly, and, indeed, there was James, seated at the bar. For a moment, Sirius froze; then, shaking his head, he rolled up his sleeves and grabbed a rag to wipe off the bar top.
"I've got to stop telling Moony my schedule," he muttered so that James could hear.
"I figured this would be less weird than showing up at your door," James replied.
Sirius set down the rag. "You can't hex me or punch me here, Prongs. I'm working. So unless you're really just here to order something..."
"I won't say I'm sorry," James interrupted. "I'm not even sure that this isn't a huge mistake, but—all the same..." He swallowed. "You're my best mate. And... I reckon that's enough."
Sirius just stared.
"Are you going to make me repeat it?"
"I'm considering it..."
"It's enough. I said it's enough."
"So—so you're saying..."
"Yes, that's what I'm saying."
"You're saying you forgive me?"
"Huh." Sirius sat down on his stool behind the bar, regarding James carefully. "You're sure?"
"It's... in the past?"
"Huh," said Sirius again, and then he went quiet. James waited.
He waited some more, and then grew bored. "Huh? Huh-what? Are you high, Padfoot?" he demanded impatiently.
After a moment, Sirius grinned. He stood up. "No. No, just thinking."
"And..." James raised his eyebrows, "do you have anything to say, maybe?"
Sirius rummaged about and, a moment later, produced a bottle of butterbeer, which he set before a bewildered James. "Yes," he announced. "I forgive you, too."
"You—you forgive me too?" echoed the other, astounded.
James opened his mouth to ask something else—probably what he was supposedly forgiven for—but, after a moment, he changed his mind. Instead, he picked up the butterbeer, took out his wand, and bewitched the cap off. He took a drink from the bottle, shaking his head.
"You're an idiot, Sirius Black," he said, when he had set the bottle down again.
"'Missed you, too, mate."
James rolled his eyes; Sirius grinned more broadly. "So," began the former presently, "you work at a pub..."
"Pretty cool, right?"
"How did we not think of this earlier?"
"I know—the money's not bad either. Mate, you've got new specs; they're distracting..."
"They don't stay on properly either... bloody annoying..."
"Oi, did I tell you I'm thinking of buying a motorcycle...?"
"You are high, Padfoot. When, exactly, would you have told me that?"
"Point taken. But focus, Prongs—a motorcycle..."
A/N: I have oscillated between loving and hating this chapter so much, and it gave me a lot of trouble, but I hope you enjoyed it. Once again, no review responses for the moment. SORRY! However, I really wanted to get this thing posted. I know, I know.
In the mean time, THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who has read and reviewed, especially those who have helped me reach 1000 reviews. You guys are absolutely WONDERFUL.
Next chapter, predictably titled: "The Wedding." There's an adorable, adorable, adorable scene between Our Primary Couple, and you're going to kick me for it. Lol.
Also, I'm getting a blog. Well, I have a blog, but there's nothing there yet. Basically, I will throw updated information in there, and random little plot cookies and address various, recurring questions that Reviewers might have regarding LAT. Anyway, I'll have that information and web address in my profile eventually.
Reviews are James forgiving Sirius and Sirius getting a motorcycle. And peanut butter cookies.