A/N: I will save the big author's note for the end, but thank you all so much - I never would have felt so compelled to finish this story if it hadn't been for all of your interest and support. Here it is: be prepared, and enjoy.
Part I: Three Years Later, January 1980
Merlin, this morning felt bloody long. I hated the early shift – who in their right mind gets up at 4 in the morning? I'd barely got an hour of sleep after I got home from my usual night on the town before James was waking me up, screaming bloody murder and banging on my door. Dumbledore had us working the early shift from 5 til noon keeping guard outside The Hog's Head. Hogsmeade wasn't exactly Death Eater central lately, but everyone knew that they frequented the crappiest pub in the village and so the Order liked to keep an eye on things in case the Auror office dropped the ball. I wouldn't have minded so much if there'd been anything to watch, but the pricks were too careful lately so Dumbledore had shunted us with, what had to be, the dullest job to ever exist. It was Lily's idea – obviously. After the last close shave she and James had with You-Know-Who, she'd been particularly on edge. James and I had listened to her requests to keep our noses clean, but we were bored out of our skulls.
"Merlin, what time is it? How d'you reckon Aberforth gets away with serving alcohol before ten am?" James yawned, running a hand through his messy hair. His wedding ring got caught on a knot and he sighed as he tugged it free.
"Maybe he does a good gilly-water coffee," I shrugged. "Merlin, that actually sounds good. Reckon Lily will make me one if I come over for brunch?"
James laughed shortly. "The only things Lily Potter puts in my beverages these days are Sleeping Tonics. Doesn't matter if I tell her I've got guard duty the next day, she'll do it anyway. I barely made it out of bed this morning."
I raised my eyebrows at him. "Yeah, I bet that was 'cause of a Sleeping Tonic, you kinky bastard."
He punched my arm. "Hey! That's my wife you're talking about Padfoot!"
"Yeah, remind me again…did you and Lily Evans get married or something?" I laughed, ducking as he went to punch me again.
We straightened up as a few shifty characters exited The Hog's Head but nothing exciting happened of course. The early shift had to be the annoyingly safest patrol time ever. The High street was just starting to get moving with people hurrying off to their jobs or arriving for their morning shopping. They stayed huddled together in groups of more than three and each of them cast, first the Hog's Head and then James and I, who looked disheveled and probably slightly threatening, a wary look. A village kid in a dirty grey dress flitted past us on a toy broom holding a stack of Prophets and I whistled her over. She shot towards us, handed me the paper off the top of the stack, and held her hand out expectantly.
"Got any knuts?" I asked James, flipping the paper open to the crossword and comics page.
"Cheap shit," James said, digging in his pockets and handing the kid a sickle. "Keep the change, little lady."
The kid grinned, showing her missing front teeth before she zoomed off down the road calling, "Prophets! Get yer Daily Prophet!"
"I'll get you back – not my fault I only carry galleons," I murmured as I studied the day's cartoon.
"Yeah okay, your Highness," James replied. "Cute kid though."
I looked up from my paper with a sly grin. "Aw Prongs, are you thinking about your little wickle baby-to-be?"
He smiled. "Yeah. We've got a Healer appointment after I'm done here. It's early still, but we might find out if it's a girl or boy today."
I wanted to tease him but the look of genuine happiness on his face made me nod instead. "Fingers crossed for a boy."
"All right, Fenwick?" James called as Benjy approached holding a paper cup of coffee. I waved but returned to the paper. I still hadn't managed to read the comic all the way through.
"Yeah, I'm just headed to brunch at Broomsticks, but I'll be back with Dorcas to relieve you in a couple of hours," Benjy said, thrusting his free hand in to his pocket and out of the frigid air.
"How's she holding up?" James asked quietly and I glanced at Benjy.
He looked tired and worn but I suppose would have too, if my best friend had been murdered two months ago. We were used to this kind of thing by now, but you always wondered and worried if you or your friends would be next. They hadn't got to Dorcas, but Jasper had been at one of the big attacks in Diagon Alley.
"Better than me. She's tough," Benjy mumbled. "Well, see you in a bit."
James and I sat in silence for some minutes after that, so I could finally focus on the comic. I had to stifle my laughter once I was through and James shot me a look of surprise before smiling with recognition.
"Cartoon funny today?"
I shrugged, still fighting off a smile as I pushed it towards him across the table. As I chuckled, I caught the eye of a beautiful girl in yellow robes, with long, straight brown hair. She grinned flirtatiously as she passed and I smiled back. Merlin. Why did I fall in love with every half decent looking or fairly interesting girl I saw? I could imagine up a perfect life with anyone until I got to know them and realized I'd been nuts. It had been a problem for me for years. It was why I'd broken up with and got back together with Dorcas about ten times and why, these days, I spent every night out with new girls I met in pubs. It was why I'd kept things going with one girl when I'd clearly had feelings for another during 6th Year. It had only really been different with her – there was only one girl who I'd fallen for even harder once I got to know her.
James had just finished reading the comic strip. He laughed and let out a low whistle before he said, "Man, Effie's going to get herself into a heap of trouble one of these days."
I shrugged. "Nah – it's everyone's favourite page in the Prophet."
"Yeah, everyone loves a good Death Eater satire. I'm sure You-Know-Who reads it every day with his morning coffee," James yawned. "When's the last time you spoke to her again?"
I folded the newspaper up three times before I answered. "Not since the summer after we left Hogwarts."
"Ever ask Marlene about her?"
I shook my head. "Nah, she's got enough to worry about without Big Bad Sirius Black going after her best friend again."
James clicked his tongue. "Ah, stop it. You were mates. For half of Seventh year I couldn't keep you away from her."
I flipped my wand over in my hand a couple of times. "Just mates though. Not even by the end of Seventh Year, once she started going out with Hobblesworth," I said, twirling my wand and making the newspaper flip open and closed. Bertie Hobblesworth – her Hufflepuff mate. Merlin, I hated the self-important, sensible, overly friendly prick. And I hated her for going out with him – so much for her theory about needing to be alone and become a person all by herself. I knew that had just been a pile of rubbish.
"She would have been a handful anyway," James said, noting my expression. "I mean, she got better, and if her comic is anything to go by, she's probably miles more well adjusted now – but I always thought she sort of made the right choice in Sixth. She was way too insecure to handle being in a relationship – especially with you. Can you imagine all of the absurd conclusions she would have jumped to on Full Moon nights?"
"Cheers for telling me that back then!" I retorted.
"Well I heard they broke up when they were in Seventh, so maybe you've got an opening now, Lover Boy. Want me to put a word in with Marlene?" James teased, waggling his eyebrows annoyingly at me.
"Nah, I'm well shot of her now," I said, tearing off the corner of the front page of the paper. The headline was reporting on the Ministry Infiltration the Order had uncovered last week – Even though the Prophet hadn't started censoring itself, it was still far too behind on the news, I only read it for the cartoons.
After Benjy and Dorcas took over, James apparated home to take Lily to her Healer's appointment and I flicked the invisibility booster on to my bike and flew to London. I was supposed to be meeting Remus at Diagon Alley to buy a crib for the Kid-to-be and my pockets were heavy with my own money as well as Wormtail's – who'd had to work and couldn't make it. Of course Remus had to be a kill-joy and waste time by going to Gringotts.
"Moony, I'll just pay for it – it's not a big deal," I said, moaning as we approached the large Marble building. "The line will be longer than sin."
"I just got paid Padfoot, I can pay my share! I just want to deposit the rest," he replied irritably, brushing off some dust from his shabby robes as we walked up the stairs and joined the end of the line.
"We could have been in and out of Diagon Alley in time for day drinks," I grumbled, sticking my hands in my pockets and glaring around the room. There had to be twenty people in front of us at least – I couldn't quite see past the girl a few people in front – her hair was large, full of wild black ringlets. I felt a pang of nostalgia and looked away, kicking the floor slightly.
"How'd this morning go?" Remus asked quietly.
"Boring. The pub was starting to fill up again by the time we left – bet Dorcas and Benjy will get the action." The curly haired girl had tilted her head to the side a little and I squinted at her, trying to see her face. Another girl to fall in love with for a few hours.
"Well Lily will be happy – she hates that James is still taking assignments. I saw her this morning and tried to convince her that you were both fine and she nearly hexed my lips together," he chuckled. "The baby has obviously made her more insane than usual."
The line moved forward significantly and I breathed a sigh of relief – the customers at the front were a group of tourists, so now there were only three people ahead of us. The curly haired girl looked up from the notebook she'd been studying and hurried forward to the counter.
"Why would anyone come here on holiday? It's bound to be safer in other places in Europe," Remus said nodding at the large group who were still looking around the Gringotts Hall in awe.
"Maybe they're looking for a bit of adventure. I could use some of that – sitting outside pubs isn't exactly what I call dangerous."
The line moved forward again as the curly haired girl left the counter and turned to face us.
I swear my heart stopped for a minute.
"Effie?" Remus asked in an excited voice and I squeezed my eyes shut tightly for a moment. When I opened them, she was still there – her hair looking wild but beautiful and her eyes shining beams straight off her face. I swallowed as she broke into a grin and walked forward to greet us. Remus threw his arms around her and they hugged, leaving me feeling irritated and nervous. What was I supposed to do? Grin? Shake hands? Hug her too?
She didn't make me choose however, because as soon as Remus let her go, she threw her arms around my neck and suddenly I was pulling her to my chest, with my face buried in her curls. She smelled the same – like some kind of fruit and ink from her drawings. When we separated, I ducked my head and glanced at the line.
"How are you Effie? We haven't heard from you in ages!" Moony said, taking the lines right out of my mouth.
"I know! I'm good – working a lot, so that's brilliant. How are you? I'm sorry I haven't kept in touch…after Hogwarts…"
Remus nodded. "Yeah, you tend to get caught up in things – we're the same. Lily and James got married last year, did you hear?"
Effie glanced at me and I grinned, wishing I could think of something interesting to say. Stupid Moony kept stealing my conversation topics.
"I did hear that! Marlene told me – that's such great news. James must be thrilled!" she smiled making Remus laugh.
"Yeah, he still can't quite figure out how he managed it," I said, finally able to sneak my words in before chatterbox Lupin. She laughed and I felt my stomach clench irritatingly. I hadn't seen the girl in years – what was wrong with me?
"Oh – it's my turn," Remus said, hurrying to the counter and leaving us standing there like two idiots.
"Maybe you should…" she nodded to where some old wizard was breathing down my neck and I jumped slightly, side-stepping out of the line and letting it move forward with the old wizard sneering as he pushed by. She smiled at me again and I nodded, sticking my hands in my pockets, chucking uncomfortably. Well…there was nothing else to say, but…
"You look great."
She ran a hand over her hair and chuckled once before nodding. "Thanks. You do too."
I felt my ears go embarrassingly red. She'd never said that kind of thing before. Not properly – even when I knew she liked me. I was surprised at how happy it made me to hear it. The only other time she'd said anything close was when she'd ridiculously called me 'too-good-looking' for her.
"Nice cartoon this morning, by the way," I grinned and she covered her eyes with another laugh.
"Thanks. It's a great job. They give me all sorts of freedom with the artwork and it pays the bills – keeps my mum from worrying too much," she shrugged. "Obviously it's a step up from the stuff I was doing at Witch Weekly, still not like it's really changing the world or anything, but I like it."
"I don't know about that. What was it today – a school for future Death Eaters? Pretty daring stuff," I replied. "Illustrator Extraordinaire."
"Oh come on Sirius, you used to come up with the best nicknames. I was thinking something more like, The Rogue Artist," she said, gesturing in front of her dramatically with her eyes sparkling.
"That one's just as bad. What happened to us?" I argued playfully and she nodded.
"Damn, you're right. Better floo Bertram Aubrey."
Merlin it wasn't fair. Why hadn't she got annoying or more withdrawn or less funny? Why did she have to be an even better version of the girl I knew from school?
"Anyway," I said, biting back another compliment. "Not like I'm much better – the most I do these days is troll around pubs getting pissed."
She gave me a look under her eyebrows and I laughed nervously. "What?"
"I'm almost sure I saw you and James in the paper last week. Weren't you at that big Death Eater raid? Just a coincidence, I suppose?" she said, gentle teasing tickling her voice.
"Lies and slander," I said sheepishly, turning the corner of my mouth up.
"So!" Remus 'motor mouth' Lupin was back and we stepped back from each other to give him room. "Big time Prophet Illustrator now?"
She laughed. "As big as one cartoon a day can be." Her eyes flickered back to my face and I felt a little warm.
"Well Sirius and I are headed to buy James and Lily some things. What are you up to – want to get a drink or lunch or something?" he asked. I watched her hoping silently that she'd say yes even if I hadn't had the chance to ask her myself.
She looked regretful. "Can't, I'm afraid. I have to get back to work."
"Well, we've got to get together some time soon!" Remus said, pulling her in to another hug. Merlin if he did that again, I might accidentally hex him. I kept my wand in my pocket though and nodded enthusiastically.
"Definitely! I'll owl you," she said, again glancing at me. I pretended not to see and checked my watch.
"Yeah, we better get going Moony. Nice to see you Eff," I smiled, hoping I didn't sound rude. I had to get away from her – I didn't have time for feeling this way. There was a war going on.
"You too," she nodded and there was an awkward moment where we could have hugged but didn't.
As Remus and I left Gringotts, he punched me.
"I left you alone for that long and you didn't ask her out?"
"Easy Moony Match-maker – I haven't got time for romance! In case you forgot, there's…"
"A war going on. Yeah. Which just means that you should take your chances and act on them when they come up! She's the only person you've ever liked like that," he said, using his annoyingly wise tone.
"Ah I was only seventeen – what did I know?" I shrugged.
"Ah and I suppose being twenty makes you some kind of expert?" he replied giving me one of his 'looks'.
I remembered them well – he used to use a different variation of the same look every time I'd been confused between her and Emmeline at Hogwarts. Emmeline. She was in the Order now, although she still hadn't warmed to me and I felt like she was turning me to ice every time we had a meeting. I knew hadn't treated her brilliantly but I also knew the reason for that was standing in Gringotts right now probably wondering when I'd become such an awkward coward.
I spun around and saw Effie, looking slightly disheveled and fidgety at the top of the steps. I felt my pulse quicken.
"Can I talk to you a minute?"
I nodded, glanced at Remus, who grinned and turned his back and then, I hurried up the steps coming to a stop right in front of her.
"Do you want to get a drink with me tonight? Catch up…" she said, her pretty brown eyes darting up and down so quickly, I was momentarily dizzy. Oh Merlin. Was she asking me out? How pathetic was I? I had to do something to save face – be charming, tease her, something!
I raised an eyebrow. "Effie Savage, are you asking me to be your boyfriend?"
She burst in to infectious laughter and shook her head as I joined in. Thankfully it had always been fairly easy to make her laugh.
"Why don't we start with a drink," she said once we'd stopped. "Leaky? Around seven?"
I nodded. "Yeah. I think I can do that."
I'd got there too early. It was barely half six and I was already standing outside the Leaky awkwardly staring at the passersby on the busy street wishing that it had taken Moony and I longer to find the stupid baby crib. He'd taken it with him at least, saving me from having to lug it around while I was attempting to impress Effie. For lack of anything else to do, I lit up a cigarette and leaned against the wall outside the Leaky watching the muggles hurrying home from work.
"When did you start smoking?"
I inhaled and grinned seeing her looking a little tired but also beautiful. She'd changed clothes and had some lipstick on and her eyes were twinkling in that way of hers.
"Ah you know, the boredom was killing me," I smiled, dropping the cigarette into the outdoor ashtray. I'd never really enjoyed them anyway.
"No. That's killing you," she said, shaking her head. "Want to go in?"
"Lead the way," I said, thrusting my hands in my pockets. I think they were shaking. Why was I so bloody nervous?
Within five minutes of stepping in to the pub, she got hit on. It was like I didn't even exist. Some blonde, pretty-boy arse sidled right up to her, ducked in front of me and looked her up and down.
"You're that Illustrator from the Prophet, aren't you?"
She nodded and smiled, her eyes flickering to me over his shoulder. "Yeah, that's me."
"They should make your picture bigger – you're much better to look at than those drawings."
I felt my jaw clench and I almost shoved my elbow in to the guy to tell him to piss off, when I stopped myself. This was one of the reasons we'd never got together in school – she always thought I was too quick to defend her. I still didn't truly understand her reasoning, but apparently it made it seem like I didn't think she could handle herself. So, even though I wanted to punch the guy sideways, I just clenched my fists and looked at him coldly. I saw her mouth twitch as she glanced at me before she raised an eyebrow at the arse.
"Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. I work pretty hard on those drawings."
He scoffed. "Take a compliment, girl."
"No thank you. Now, if you'll excuse me – my friend and I want to get a drink."
He looked amazed and then turned to look at me. I smirked in what I hoped was my most threatening way, and he bit the inside of his mouth.
"Good luck with Iron Knickers here."
There was only so much I could take. But still, she beat me to it.
"Piss off," she said, making an obscene gesture with her hand and then smiling sweetly, before she headed off to the booth. I followed, bumping against the guy hard.
Yeah. This was why I'd never gotten over her. She always shocked me.
Once we'd ordered drinks, we sat not looking at each other, letting the loud sounds of the pub cut into our awkward silence.
"So, you drink now?" I asked, immediately wishing I'd picked something else to open with. I was such a knobhead.
She smiled, unphased. "Yeah, in moderation. I think someone once told me that I didn't have to be like my parents."
I grinned. At least she'd mentioned the elephant in the room. "How was work?"
She rolled her shoulders back and ran a hand over her hair. "Good – I've got something brilliant planned for tomorrow."
"Sounds cool – what's it going to be?" I asked, leaning forward and placing my hand on the table between us. Was that too obvious?
"I can't tell you that! I'd have to kill you," she said. "It's top secret. Half of the editors don't know."
"Woman of mystery…" I said, staring at her as I took a sip of my drink. She blushed faintly and I smiled into my glass.
"It used to be easier making you blush."
She laughed at that and covered her face. "It's just as easy now, don't pretend."
She put her hand on the table near mine and without thinking I grabbed it. She didn't flinch and just let her fingers intertwine with mine.
"I told Marlene I was meeting you," she said, looking at our hands on the table. "She warned me against it. Says you're already in a serious relationship."
I paused and loosened my grip on her hand. "What? No I'm–"
I stopped because she was laughing and I raised an eyebrow.
"With your motorbike. She says she never sees you without it," she said.
"Remind me to hex your mate's mouth shut when I see her, will you?" I chuckled and resumed the tracing of her fingertips. "By the way, I'm sorry about Jasper. She and Fenwick are still pretty cut up."
Effie nodded, her eyes looking instantly sad. "He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's horrible. He was one the first friends I ever had and one of the nicest people I knew. I really miss him."
"It's almost as if we hear about one of these things every day now, isn't it?" I muttered, watching her face carefully. Her eyes still looked far away. Losing a friend – it can't have been easy. I was glad it hadn't happened to me.
"Yeah. I worry for Marlene and Benjy… it seems like they do some pretty dangerous stuff. They're brave. Like you – from what I hear, you do the same things."
"Don't worry about them. They're good – and tough."
"Sometimes I wish I were doing more," she said, looking at me. "What you guys do – it's amazing. I wonder if I'm making enough of an impact on the world, you know? All I do is piss extremist twats off for a living. But then, the other day, McGonagall sent me a owl."
Effie smiled. "She said that she was proud that I'd found my calling and that she couldn't wait to see what issue I would tackle in my next cartoon. I know I'm not out fighting like the rest of you – but this, I hope, in a small way is getting the word out – so that people who are scared or unsure might make the right choices."
I let go of her hand because suddenly mine was sweaty and I needed to hold my cold glass. I knew who she was talking about.
"So, you heard about Regulus then?"
She nodded. "Yeah." She chewed the inside of her mouth and took a sip of her drink before she spoke again. "He came to see me, you know?"
He hadn't even been to see me before he was killed – I'd had to hear it from Caradoc Dearborn.
"About a month before…well, before I heard anyway..."
She was so frustrating – why couldn't she just get the words out all at once?
"Did he…" I prompted. "Say anything about…"
She shook her head. "No. He just said that he was sorry for being afraid to be with me in school. He said that he'd regret it for the rest of his life. I should have guessed then, that he was in real trouble."
"Stupid git," I said, tapping on the table.
"Sirius!" she scolded and I shrugged bitterly.
"Why'd he join up in the first place? Everyone knows that it's a life sentence."
She sighed and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.
"He was like that – always fighting between what he thought he ought to do and what he wanted to do. It's sad, really."
I watched her expression, remembering when I saw them together and how he'd looked at her. I knew what she meant. Even if he'd been a prick at the end, it was obvious to me that he'd had real feelings for her, he'd just been too afraid to stand by them. He'd never managed to get away like I had.
"I miss him sometimes," I muttered. "It's not like we ever made up. Or even spoke again after Sixth Year…but, I used to have a little brother and now I just…don't."
"I think he probably would have felt the same way," she said, giving me a small smile. "I wish I'd been able to do more for him – change him somehow when he'd begged me back then not to give up on him. But in the end, it was never my responsibility."
She looked forlorn, but sure. The confidence was quiet and subtle, but she had changed. She didn't have a twisted sense of self anymore – she knew when she was wrong and when she was right.
"You're different," I said, feeling my throat tighten.
The daze she had been in shook away, and she nodded. "Yeah, I guess."
"It's not bad," I amended. "It's better."
She sighed. "I'm trying. Sometimes it's more difficult. Wendelin Warcroft joined the paper the other day and part of me felt like Bottle-Specs again." Suddenly, she grinned. "Until she had to bring me coffee."
I laughed pretty hard at that. Wendy serving coffee was something I couldn't quite picture.
"You're different too," she said softly. "With that guy earlier – I knew you were dying to hit him, but I saw you stop."
"Yeah, well someone once told me you had to let people stand up for themselves occasionally," I said. "It's not easy though – changing."
"Yeah. You have no idea how terrified I was asking you to meet me today," she said, averting her eyes. "There's still a huge part of my brain yelling and saying – 'what in Merlin are you thinking, Effie? You're not good enough for him!'"
I reached for her hand again and it felt right when our fingers locked together. I felt a swoop of embarrassment. I was starting to think like James.
"You tell that part of your brain to stop being such a prick."
She laughed and bit her lip. "I never really thought I deserved you."
I wanted to roll my eyes at that, but that kind of flippant attitude never seemed to work on her. Not then and probably not now.
"You know…I think we deserve each other."
She raised her eyebrow. " 'Cause we're as bad as each other?"
I actually rolled my eyes at that and scowled at her. "No, because we're as brilliant as each other. And because I think we still like each other and that really is enough this time." I leaned forward and as my pulse hammered around, she moved closer.
"Well, then I guess I'll have to listen to the other part of my brain," she whispered, looking at me through her dark eyelashes. Merlin, those eyes. They weren't fair.
"What's it saying?" I said, hoping she'd heard. I'd practically breathed the words rather than saying them.
"That I should do this," she said, reaching over and pulling me gently towards her by the collar of my shirt.
When we kissed, it felt like the happily-ever-after to one hell of a long story.
Part II: 3 months later, April 1980
The light was just starting to trickle in through the gaps in the blanket I'd thrown over the windows. Lily had offered to buy me curtains a million times in the past year, and I regretted refusing her every morning. But I couldn't wake up grumpy – not anymore. Not when I felt her lips on my cheek. I opened my eyes sleepily as the weight on the bed moved and saw that Effie was already dressed, tying her mad, gorgeous hair on top of her head. There was nothing I loved more than waking up to her frantically rushing around, tripping over my boots or scrambling around under the bed to find her shirt from the night before.
"Where are you going?" I mumbled, trying to sit up. I was too comfortable and too happy but I really didn't want her to go. I never did. We were one of the few constants in each other's lives these days, even though we only managed to see each other nights and early mornings. Since the day we'd reunited, the war had only got worse. Benjy had been sent off on a mission weeks ago and Marlene and her family had recently considered going in to hiding after she'd been in a scary altercation in March.
Lily was ridiculously pregnant, so James preferred to stay home with her rather than taking on dangerous assignments. Lately, I did those with Peter. I didn't see much of Remus anymore – he was often too busy trying to keep tabs on the werewolves following Voldemort. He was edgy and odd around us when we did see him, and for the first time in my life, I was starting to doubt the sincerity of one of my best mate's words. James shrugged it off, but the way Remus was acting made me unsettlingly wary of his actions. Effie agreed with James and regularly told me I was being an idiot, so I kept my views to myself – only discussing them with Peter when we were out on late night guard duty. I hated to upset her, especially since she was always so busy with work these days and we had so little time together.
She turned away from her drawer in my dresser and smiled. "I've got to get to work – we've got that big exposé planned remember?"
I grimaced at her nodding at the bed and she rolled her eyes as she came over and sat beside me. I kissed her and she laughed against my lips.
"Morning," I said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. I did that too much, I knew – but I loved looking at her eyes without any distractions. "You are gorgeous."
Her face flushed and she touched my cheek. "And you are still half asleep. Now stop distracting me."
"Breakfast?" I yawned as she got up from the bed and turned back to the mirror to continue getting ready. I heaved myself up and made my way to her, wrapped my arms around her waist and buried my face in her hair, breathing her in.
"I wish I could. My editor was just on the floo yelling at me," she said, closing her eyes and leaning against my chest.
"What did she want now?" I groaned, still hugging her tightly.
They were running her ragged at the Prophet moving her from not only drawing the daily cartoon, but also on to investigative reporting. Of course, she was brilliant at it – snarky and insightful and she'd gained a decent following in just a couple of months, but I knew it wasn't the type of work she loved. I'd tried to convince her to drop it and start making art again but she'd shook her head saying that even though it was exhausting and draining, it was still making an impact on the war and that was all she'd really wanted.
"Ugh! I'm a nightmare," she said as she took down her hair and ran her fingers through it. She grimaced at her reflection and I laughed as I released her to put on my shirt.
"You know, you could leave that hair stuff here with the rest of your crap. I've got more than enough room," I said nonchalantly. In fact, I'd sort of been thinking that she should move all of herself in with me as soon as she could.
"What a delightfully romantic proposal," she said rolling her eyes and sinking to the floor to find whatever item of clothing she'd lost under my bed. "What are you up to today, then?"
I got on my knees to help her and noted the way she bit her lip when she asked the casual question.
"Ah, it's peanuts today. Wormtail and I are spending the day at the pub in Knockturn Alley. Apparently it's a breeding ground for future pricks. I forget the name – something like the Crawling or Crying Banshee."
"Sounds charming," she said, finally finding her left boot and pulling it on to her foot. I found the other one and dropped it beside her, leaning back on my hands and stretching.
"Come and meet us for lunch – we'll probably just be pissing away the afternoon day drinking," I shrugged, grinning when she raised her eyebrow at me. About a month after we started seeing each other, she'd laid down the law – she couldn't put herself in a relationship where one of the parties abused alcohol. She'd already been through it with her dad and wasn't interested in going through it again. That was the day I stopped binge drinking. I was remarkably well behaved now – just a couple of drinks here and there and she knew and appreciated it. I was happy to change for her – I was ready to do anything to make her as happy as she made me.
She laughed at my joke and shook her head. "I'll probably have to eat at my desk or when I'm out in the field, unfortunately."
"Lily and James' baby shower tonight then? I know everyone would love to see you," I said, pouting dramatically at her.
Remus, Peter and I had decided to throw a shindig to congratulate Lily and James on the kid-to-be. We got so little cause for celebration these days; I thought it was important to keep spirits high and give us all a chance to relax and reconnect with each other, our friends and other Order members. Plus, we'd been extra careful with security enchantments and there was no way any Death Eaters would be breaking up any parties we threw. Effie hadn't seen anyone in over a month – even I hadn't seen James since last Thursday and that was far longer than what was usual for us.
She laughed and patted my cheek. "Yes, I'll be there. I can't wait to see them either. I can just picture James' reaction to my absence at your last couple of gatherings – 'you still have no idea what you're doing Savage' – he's terrifying really."
I laughed. "Just protective. He knew how mad I was for you back then. He wants to make sure you're not going to reject me again. You know, with one of your extraordinary excuses like 'we're kids'"
She swatted my arm and crossed her eyes before she kissed me.
"Well, hopefully he'll see that I'm mad for you too," she muttered against my lips. When she moved away, I pulled her back. I'd waited almost four years to kiss her and I still hadn't had enough yet.
"Every day I thank Merlin that we ran in to each other at Gringotts that day," I whispered, lacing my fingers with hers. "It feels like…it's right this time."
She nodded. "We had bad timing in school. Maybe it wasn't meant to happen until now. When we were ready for each other."
We smiled at each other and she finished lacing up her boot before getting to her feet and grabbing her purse.
"I'll see you tonight?" I said, as I walked her to the door.
"I wouldn't miss it."
She was missing it.
I was leaning against the back wall of the private party, smiling in to my drink as Lily and James unwrapped the crib that Remus, Peter and I had carved a greeting and our names in to. In the spirit of our past camaraderie, Remus and I exchanged a grin but Peter was too busy eating a piece of cake and missed the moment.
"Oh! It was made in France? But these things cost a fortune…you shouldn't have!" Lily said, her eyes shining as she inspected the glossy dark wood and pale blue bedding.
"Only the best for my future godson," I grinned, making her roll her eyes.
"What if it had been a girl?"
"I'm not picky. Besides Lily, I thought you were better than that - subscribing to gender-bias colours, shame on you!" I said, shaking my head at James.
"Subscribe to my arse, Black," Lily said making a rude gesture at me and drawing loud laughter.
"That's not very motherly Evans," I scolded.
"Give it a rest, Padfoot. And it's Potter now, damn it, " James laughed pulling Lily to him and kissing her head absentmindedly.
"Hold the floo…is she your wife?!" I exclaimed, grinning.
The surrounding people laughed as Lily and James flipped me off and then kissed again.
I continued to smile as I turned away to fix myself another drink, before I let my expression drop back to annoyance. This was so embarrassing. I'd told everyone she would be here and she wasn't. Again. I couldn't believe I kept doing this to myself – going through this with her all over again. Why did she always have to be too busy for me – why couldn't she just quit her ridiculous job? I sighed, kicking myself and tried to calm down – this was something I had to get used to. She went through the same thing with me when I was away for missions. This was just…part of being in a committed relationship.
"Can you make me one of those?"
I turned to my left and saw Emmeline the Ice Queen standing there looking pretty and nervously twirling her hair around her finger. This was the first time she'd said much more to me than 'Hey' since we were at school.
"Sure," I said, filling up a glass and handing it to her, being careful not to appear surprised by her olive branch. She smiled as she took a sip and studied my face. I was never very good at hiding my emotions – probably why she'd dumped me in Sixth – she'd known I was unsure about her. Even though she insisted on acting oblivious to lots of things, she was actually more perceptive than she claimed.
"Why do you look like your dog's just been run over?" she asked and I cringed. She was the last person I should be admitting this to. She didn't even know that Effie and I were seeing each other – that's how little we communicated.
I shrugged, trying to play it off casual. "Ah, I was hoping someone would make it to the party and they didn't. It's just a little disappointing."
"Oh yeah? Who?"
I smiled grimly at her. "Effie Savage."
She chuckled and took a big sip of her drink. "Of course. I thought I recognized that look on your face. Her cartoon was pretty good today and I loved that piece she wrote about the education of our youth on issues of blood prejudice. She's been doing great things, hasn't she?"
For all of Emmeline's flaws – her clinginess, her insincerity – she knew when not to make a big deal of things. It was one of the reasons I'd found it so difficult to break it off with her – she was easy-going and forgiving and, okay hex me, really good with her mouth.
"Yeah, they have her working like a loon. I guess that's what happens when you're the most popular reporter on staff," I shrugged, feigning nonchalance.
"Then she's probably just busy. I'm sure she didn't mean to disappoint. I remember how much she used to like you…that doesn't really go away," Emmeline murmured, avoiding my eyes. "Well, enjoy the party Sirius. Thanks for inviting me."
I nodded, trying not to act awkward. "Thanks for coming. See you at the meeting next week?"
She smiled and walked away towards Lily who was chatting with Marlene and Benjy. Maybe I could ask Marlene what was going on with Effie. Just throw it in casually and hope she wouldn't embarrass me.
"Oi Grumpy Guts, what's up yours?" James said, ruffling my hair as he and the Marauders joined me by the bottles of liquor.
"Just thinking about how much it would suck if you were having a daughter. I'd never feel right about having a one night stand again," I joked, rolling my eyes at Remus' stern expression.
"He's moody because Effie didn't turn up and now he's being dramatic and contemplating having a one night stand," the most annoying werewolf in the world said.
"I am not," I snapped, elbowing him. Merlin – why did he always have to act like I was still an irresponsible twat?
"Effie Savage? She didn't turn up? Where have we heard this before?" Wormtail grinned, laughing with Prongs.
"Come on Padfoot – this is her thing. You invite her somewhere and she disappoints. Not saying it wouldn't have been nice to see her again, but if she's still doing this three years later…" James gave me a look and I crossed my eyes. Stupid James – ignored us about giving up on Lily and went and dished out hypocritical advice. Then again, Effie had never really had a chance to show him how brilliant she was – what with him giving her a hard time on my unapproved behalf during school and then her, not being able to make any of the gatherings we'd had in the past three months.
Lily had joined us now, wrapping an arm around his waist. I always felt a twinge of laughter when I saw things like that. It made me think of the times she used to hex his fingers together for touching her waist. He rubbed her swollen belly and I bit back another chuckle – The Potters with a kid on the way, who would've thought?
"So, I heard Effie didn't come," she said sympathetically. "Sorry Padfoot – I was really looking forward to seeing her again. Did you ask her to move in with you yet?"
I shot her a look of annoyance. Lily was one of the easiest girls in the world to talk to and she always got me to spill my guts, but she was also one of the most talkative girls in the world, so she pretty much blurted everything out at some point.
"Move in with you? When's the wedding?" James said, waggling his eyebrows. Remus and Peter joined his mocking and I slammed my head on the table.
"This is why I don't tell you things," I muttered in to the wood. I sighed and sat up. "Maybe it was just three amazing months. I think I could live with that."
"Stop being so melodramatic, Sirius. Marlene says she was gabbing to her on the floo this afternoon about you – I'm sure she just got caught up at work. Don't give up!" Lily said earnestly.
"Yeah... but at what point do I just admit that she's not that in to me," I grumbled, ignoring everyone's looks of disdain.
I woke up on James and Lily's floor the next morning with a dull headache. Merlin, I was never drinking again. Remus and Peter were sitting at the table sipping coffee and they laughed at me as I stumbled in to a sitting position. Ugh, Effie was going to be annoyed when she heard about this – I'd have to swear off alcohol for months so she wouldn't get upset at me again. That was, if she still wanted to see me. Although I worried that this was her subtle way of brushing me off, Marlene had managed to convince me last night that she was probably just really busy at work. She'd promised that Effie was absolutely mad for me and since she was her best friend, there was really no way I couldn't believe it.
The door opened loudly and James and Lily entered discussing something very loudly in frantic, too-high pitched voices.
"Keep it down, will you? I'm dying."
"Padfoot…" James had an uncharacteristically solemn expression on his face.
"What happened?" Remus said, before I could open my mouth. I rolled my eyes and headed to the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee as the four of them twittered on about whatever was making James look so odd. When I re-entered the Living Room, the room fell silent and I raised an eyebrow at Lily's pale face.
"Oh shit," I mumbled. "Who died?"
She and James shook their heads almost in unison.
"It's the Prophet. It's been infiltrated," James said with a grim look. He was holding the paper out to me and I noticed that his hand was shaking.
"What?" I exclaimed as I took the paper, ignoring the headline out of habit and turning straight to the comics page as usual. But it was missing – in fact the pages weren't even there. In their place was just a very oddly phrased article on the downsides of not having a Ministry job.
"That's strange. I saw the first draft – Effie definitely had a cartoon planned for today," I said folding up the paper.
"Sirius – the whole thing's been taken over," Lily said gently. "Every article in there is pro-Ministry, anti-Muggle. They've even got rid of all the writers' names."
My head was aching and I didn't understand what was happening. I needed to see her.
"I was going to Effie's today anyway – I'll ask her, she'll know what's going on," I said, heading to the bathroom to wash my face and gargle some water and toothpaste. When I emerged, they were still discussing the Prophet infiltration and what it meant in terms of Death Eater control. I wished they'd calm down – we didn't know anything for sure yet.
"Will you all just relax until I speak to Effie about this?" I interrupted Remus' rambling.
"Padfoot, they spoke to Dumbledore. Caradoc confirmed it," Peter said.
"Well maybe there's more to it," I snapped shaking my head. What was going on? If Dumbledore was involved then it was surely serious. "Just let me go see her."
"Sirius," James said, his jaw clenching. "No one's seen her. Her place was ransacked."
Without thinking, I rushed from their flat and disapparated, arriving outside her building and thundering up the steps. When I got upstairs, Magical Law Enforcement Officers were everywhere – looking through her clothes, sorting through her sheaves of parchment. Inks and various quills lay scattered messily over her dining table amongst pictures of Marlene, Benjy, dead and gone Jasper, and me. The place was a pigsty and yes, it was suspicious, but Effie had never exactly been neat. My breaths were coming to me strangely quickly and the headache from my hangover throbbed painfully. I couldn't think clearly. I couldn't speak when the Auror asked who I was, I just panicked and apparated back to Lily and James'.
They were all outside the building now and looked relieved when they saw me.
"Something's happened in Diagon Alley," James said, staring in to my eyes. I just stared back and nodded, following them to Peter's beat up old car, ignoring my bike parked beside it.
The Leaky was deserted but we saw a large group of people huddled outside the brick wall entrance to Diagon Alley waiting impatiently to enter and standing on their toes to attempt to see what the commotion was about. Using the fake Auror badge he'd procured for his last mission, James flashed it at the crowd and they parted for the five of us giving Lily and her baby bump a few odd looks but otherwise not saying much.
Once we'd arrived on the main street, we immediately saw the reason for the hold up at the Leaky's entrance. People were clutching to each other, crying or screaming or shielding their eyes and Aurors and Healers were walking around the roped off street. Four sheets covering lumpy objects lay at random on the cobbles with shattered glass surrounding them and what could only be blood, pooling from underneath one of the lumps.
I heard Lily's gasp and felt my own sharp intake of breath. I couldn't look away from the covered bodies. A long, black ringlet was poking out from under the sheet nearest to us.
"Padfoot," I felt Remus' arm on my shoulder. I shrugged it off.
"It's not her," I said.
I heard their whispers and I registered the tears on Lily's face but all I could think of was Effie. Where the hell was she? Why was she doing this to me?
I had a headache. I couldn't deal with this kind of shit today.
"Sirius…you knew this was a possibility. She's been pissing dangerous people off left and right. She knew this was…" Remus tried again with forced gentleness. When I looked at his face, I saw that his eyes were red. Why was he crying?
"What are you talking about?" I barked cutting the stupid, horrible idiot off.
"Moony," James cautioned and after a moment added, "Not now."
The breeze ruffled the sheet and another ringlet fell out from underneath it. I felt sick. I glared at Lily who was now weeping noisily.
"Stop that," I said.
She shook her head. "Sirius…"
"It's not her," I repeated, feeling my voice cracking. "Ask him!" I said, pointing at one of the Aurors. Alastor Moody. He was in the Order – he'd tell them the truth. When the four of my stupid, illogical friends just stared at me, I yelled at James again. "Ask him!"
He jumped and took a shaky breath. "Moody! Hey Moody!" His voice was shaky too. A few people in the crowd were staring at us and a couple of Aurors turned around as Moody caught sight of us. His beady eyes squinted as he recognized James. With a strange limp, he hurried towards us and surveyed our faces.
"Potter," he whispered harshly. "Black! What are you doing here?"
I kept my eyes steadily on the ringlets.
"Who are they?" I heard James ask in that same, strange, strangled voice.
Moody sighed heavily, turning to look at the sheets.
"Prophet reporters. Or what's left of them." He glanced at me before he walked away to talk to some of the surrounding crowd.
My mouth fell open as Lily covered her face. Remus' eyebrows were pulled together and Peter's lip was quivering. But James wasn't looking at them; he was staring at me.
"No," I said, my mouth turning down and my chest rising and falling with the deep, sharp breaths that didn't give me the relief they were supposed to. My face felt crumpled and clammy and I didn't know why. As I struggled to breathe, I could hear the two nearby Aurors talking in their blunt, matter-of-fact way.
"Now that they've infiltrated the Prophet – this'll be splashed all over the front page by tonight. Effie Savage, dead. I wonder who'll do the cartoon?"
I heard a strangled cry and it took a second to realize that it had come from me as my knees buckled and I tried to push over the barrier and past my friends to get to her. I shouted as James pushed his whole weight against me and Lily hugged my back. The sobs were silent but I could feel the tears dripping off my face and on to my neck. I wiped them away roughly as I pushed and shoved against James but soon, Peter and Remus were at his sides holding me back as I fought and punched and shouted.
"No," I breathed finally, collapsing against James. His shoulders were shaking but his voice held something of the steadiness that I was used to.
"It's…it'll be okay Padfoot. It's okay."
The other Auror glanced back at me grimly and shrugged at his companion, gesturing to the bodies and gruffly saying, "I know it's war, but this was just bad timing."
It had always been that way for us.
A/N: First, I'm sorry. Canon was always the only way for me, and I had to find a way for it to end as such – it wouldn't have felt right to have Sirius and Effie finally get themselves sorted out and be together, only to break up. I was happy that I could write them both having three uncomplicated and happy months before I had to end it.
I also want to apologize for brushing over character deaths like Regulus, who carried half of the romance in this story – I wish I could have saved him like Effie wanted to, but we all know how brave he ended up being. Also, I'm sorry about Jasper, who was close to my heart and probably an unnecessary kill. Since in canon, Benjy, Marlene and Dorcas (and Effie, in my story) die – it didn't feel right to leave him grieving for them all. I also feel bad for writing Sirius' growing mistrust of Remus, but I needed to find a way to understand why he would have chosen that disgusting rat to replace him as Secret Keeper.
Second, (but more importantly.) Thank you. Thank you to the people who started reading when I first began posting. Thank you to those who started once this story gained steam. Thank you to everyone who followed, favourited and reviewed: The reviews ranging from the one-liners to the long and intense, the heart-warming positivity and even the slightly brutal criticism. I never imagined that so many people would be so invested in this story and that it would be reviewed over 800 times. This story is full of characters that are flawed and don't always act ideally and I hope that this has made them more real and relatable. I know that not all of you have liked every choice I've made but again, thank you for sticking with it no matter how frustrated or annoyed you were with me or Effie or any of the other characters. Each and every one of you has made this experience the most fun I've had in months. I love you guys.
For those of you who haven't had enough of me yet: I have been working on a spin off story that exists in the same universe as Bottle-Specs and takes place in almost the same time frame. It will be told from Lily's point of view as she hasn't appeared in this story nearly enough and although elements of Bottle-Specs will be included, it will in no way be the focus of that story. I will begin posting it in the next week or two, so if you are interested, please look out for: "My Excellent Existence and Other Exaggerations."
I have also put links on my profile to some wonderful art that some of the readers did of scenes or people in this story – so please take a look and give them some love!
I very much look forward to all of your final comments on this story, and if anyone reads and reviews this after it's complete – I can't wait to live through the chapters all over again with you.
With love, takethefirewhiskyandrun xo