Chapter 10 - Double Lives
Rita Skeeter was frustrated. As a gossip writer, she flourished on bad news, capitalising on mistakes people had made or tragedies that affected the entire wizarding community. Unfortunately, the wizarding world had been running quite smoothly for a couple of months. She hadn't given up her day job, still writing nasty pieces about those who offended her or grew too complacent, but the story she had really invested her time in was coming to no fruition.
A successful journalist had sources everywhere and Rita's sources inside St Mungo's hospital said that Lily Potter was carrying on her business exactly as normal.
"Has she seemed at all worried?" Rita prodded the junior Healer on her payroll.
"No," he shrugged. "She's the same as ever, she even let me take the lead on a procedure the other day, which is really encouraging because it means -"
Rita ignored the rest of the healer's statements. His career progress meant very little to her but she wouldn't be afraid to put a dampener on it if he didn't give her the goods on Lily.
"But," he squirmed uncomfortably under Rita's threat. "She's a great Healer, a mentor really, I don't want to-"
Rita laughed unkindly. "The first time you took my gold, you gave up anything you might want or any latent morals you possess. Now, start getting close to that damn ginger and give me a story. Or," Rita added with a smile. "Lily and I will have a long conversation about your role in the hospital."
Rita was satisfied to see that the young healer had turned paler than a ghost.
In this special case, Rita was bluffing. If she went to Lily with a story about this Healer, the hothead would be more likely to curse her than listen. If Rita had learned one thing about Lily Potter, it was that keeping her distance was far more likely to yield results. She'd just have to ruin the junior in the papers if he was unproductive. It'd be such a waste of ink too, no one would care about the story. Except the Healer, of course.
Producing this story felt like a very tedious game of pin the tail on the Hippogriff, a game Rita had never been keen on as a girl. After months of letters having no result, Rita was almost ready to admit defeat. The Potters would always be a good source of stories but she needed a trigger to get to the good stuff. She'd just have to wait for the next calamity to occur, then she'd pounce and get her name back on the front pages.
It was dark in the Prophet office. Most of the staff were leaving, it was Friday night and groups of colleagues were going to the pub together. No one invited Rita. It didn't bother her. Rita was a committed journalist, she wasn't in this business to make friends. (Which was lucky, seeing as she didn't have any). Soon, she was the last person left in the press room, dictating vitriol to her quick quotes quill.
"I'll be right back," a lone voice rang out for the door. "Really, give me two minutes I've forgotten my purse and I just want to double check something on my desk."
Rita's head popped up from her writing. She watched Mary McDonald scurry across the room. She looked much nicer than she had all day, Rita reasoned that she must be off on a date and her mind went in to overdrive wondering who she was seeing. Until, of course, she remembered that she was forbidden from writing about her colleagues. Those damn rules ruined journalistic integrity.
Mary didn't seem to notice Rita. She pulled her purse from her desk draw and looked over some notes. It made her jump when Rita cleared her throat.
"Merlin!" Mary put her hand over her heart. "What are you doing here?"
"Just finishing up." Rita said brightly.
Mary looked at her oddly. For once it wasn't unkind, Rita thought she detected some pity and it made her blood boil.
"Right," Mary said after a moment. "Well, bye then. See you Monday." She rushed out the room without a second glance while Rita's eyes glared after her.
She'd show them all. Hard work was second nature to Rita Skeeter. Mary McDonald wouldn't be so pitying when Rita had finished her story on Mary's friends. Oh, there was juice in that group and Rita was determined to find it. She'd just have to go about it in a different way.
When the last candle burned down, Rita decided to call it a day. She gathered up her belongings and made to leave. In a flash of green light, something appeared in the middle of the room and floated down to the floor.
Rita picked up the parchment eagerly.
I've been reading the prophet cover to cover. Nothing seems to have broken Lily Potter's story. No matter.
A sure way to get to the fear of any mother's heart is through her child. Don't you agree?
I can get you in the castle, but be sure to update me of any progress.
Your word is needed, I remember my debts.
Please meet me in Knockturn Alley at 2 a.m outside Borgin and Burkes if you'd like to take our relationship further.
Your Willing Source.
A wide grin spread across Rita's face. It was only two hours until 2 am so she settled back into her chair. Oh, Mary, I promise you, you will never pity me again.
Mary's date had been unsuccessful. Again. It had started off so promising, as always, and it had ended so disappointingly, as always. The worst part of it all was coming home to Sirius's flat and have him give her that amused look. She really needed to move out.
Except, Mary liked living with Sirius. They spent evenings laughing and drinking, they had a routine down for cooking and cleaning and most of the time he was just enjoyable company. And it was holding her life back. Mary wasn't giving up on going out and meeting people but she couldn't argue that it wasn't going very well. She knew all of these men were perfectly fine. They were sane, charming, nice, dependable, all the things she looked for but she would always find some reason to knock them back, and more and more the reason became that they just weren't Sirius. (Who was charming but not particularly nice, sane or dependable).
The worst bit was, Mary didn't want to want Sirius. He was moody, unpredictable, damaged and completely complicated. Everything a sane person ran a mile from, so maybe she wasn't so sane either. Sure he was handsome but she'd gotten over that years ago, so she could only assume that it was living with him that had brought up these (horrible and inconvenient) feelings.
She'd never even liked him at school. It had always been Marlene that had the thing for him and even that was in a detached way. Mary had never been interested. She'd always gone for Ravenclaws. Even to this day, she seemed to attract them, but right now she wasn't interested. It was all wrong. She needed to move out.
Mary opened the door to the flat and kicked off her shoes. She trudged into the kitchen, finding it delightfully empty, and poured herself a large glass of amber liquid. She was relieved Sirius wasn't in, she didn't want to talk about her date. (She didn't want to talk about it ever again, in fact).
It took until Mary was half way down her glass before she started wondering where Sirius was. She knew he couldn't be at James and Lily's, they were both working, he probably wasn't at Remus's because they saw enough of each other through the day, so Andromeda's maybe? No, Mary thought, they'd fallen out about something but she couldn't remember what. There always seemed to be something with the Blacks. Mary put her drink down and started looking round to see if he'd left her any indication, a note to say where he'd gone. It was the considerate thing to do, after all. But she found nothing. Mary sat back down and racked her brains. She knew where he wasn't, so where could he be?
Since Azkaban, his supply of friends was very limited. So, could he be out with a witch? Her stomach lurched uncomfortably. Azkaban might put some girls off but others loved the thought of a bad boy. He could have mentioned it if he was seeing someone, she thought miserably. It's not like he had any reason to hide it, he knew that she was going out with someone tonight. Maybe it was to spare my feelings, she thought and shuddered. If that really was the (mortifying) reason, she had to move out immediately and change her social circles.
Mary put her head in her hands. Was it that obvious? She thought she'd been so careful, she hadn't even told Lily. Mary wallowed like this for another minute before something clicked into place. Of course it wasn't that obvious, Sirius would never notice a thing like that. She sat up a little straighter. The only subtleties that Sirius ever took note of were in the dark arts and his cases, he'd never think to look for them in his personal life. (Which of course was what had gotten him into such a mess last year).
Mary stood up from her stool and marched over to his bedroom, determined to leave a note to say she wondered where he'd gone and to check in on her in the morning. She was therefore shocked to find him in his room sprawled on the bed with thousands of sheets of parchment.
"Sorry, I should have knocked." She said, once the surprise had worn off. "I thought that you were out."
It wasn't just the bed that was covered in parchment. It was plastered all over the walls with pictures and diagrams and ramblings. Mary tried to keep her face impassive as her eyes scanned the walls.
"It's fine, I didn't know you were back." His face didn't look up from the parchment he was studying.
"I got back ten minutes ago," Mary said distractedly. "Sirius, what is all this?"
"Work." He replied and started scribbling on another piece of parchment.
"Work?" Mary repeated incredulously. She was looking from moving images of Crouch, to Narcissa, to Lucius, some clearly cut out of the Prophet. Others were much older, as best she could guess, they were personal photographs that Sirius had kept.
"Where did you get all these?" Mary asked him, thinking it was unlikely Sirius had retained memorabilia from his tortured childhood.
"Grimmauld Place." He didn't miss a beat. "I went back there for ideas."
"Ideas for what?" Mary followed the photographs round the four walls of his bedroom.
"How to help Narcissa, how to assuage guilt, work out where we all went wrong," his voice trailed off and he finally looked up at Mary's expression.
"What's the matter?" He asked earnestly.
Mary blinked at him, wondering how best to explain. "Sirius, all of this," she gestured to the walls, "it's all a bit much and it makes you seem a bit, well, you know."
"No, what?" He asked blankly.
"Well, mental!" Mary's arm shot out either side. "Look at all this, it's not healthy." She looked at him, her heart beating in fear that she had said something truly terrible. His face was as still as a statue, it could have been carved by an artist.
It seemed to take centuries before Sirius moved. Finally, he let out a great, bark-like laugh. He laughed so hard he doubled over on the bed, eyes watering, clutching his sides which were burning.
It was Mary's turn to be a statue then. He's actually lost it, she thought dully, as she stared at him, open mouthed.
Finally, Sirius sobered up, but the corners of his mouth started twitching again the moment he saw Mary. "I'm sorry," he wiped his eyes on the back of his hand. "I didn't mean to frighten you, I can see how this looks." He chuckled. "It's what we used to do at work, make boards, put everything we know up in one place. But since I'm sort of freelance now, I had to improvise. Look," he clambered off of the bed and took her hand, leading her to the nearest part of the wall. "It's a timeline."
And so it was. Mary looked from the beginning of Crouch's career, to where Lucius and Narcissa were married, to Voldemort's downfall, to Wormtail's escape, on and on it went until 'C's house disappears' and 'L brings N public'.
"I don't understand," Mary said, pointing to the end of the line.
"Crouch's house has gone." Sirius told her, "Remus and I were watching and poof it disappeared."
"Fidelius charm?" Mary asked.
"Must be." Sirius agreed. "So we're struggling to know what our next move is."
"Are you still going to watch it?"
"Yeah, it'd be stupid not to but," he added significantly. "I don't expect it to be useful either."
"Crap." Mary muttered. "So what's this about L and N?"
"I was speaking to Dora the other night, she says that she saw Lucius with Fudge and Narcissa the other day."
"You think it's significant?"
Sirius shrugged. "I think the timing is notable. Putting the house in lockdown, Voldemort's clearly stepping up his plans and at the same time, Lucius stops pretending Narcissa's too ill to leave the house."
"It could just be a coincidence." Mary told him, not wanting him to get his hopes up.
"It could be," Sirius agreed. "It could not be, whatever Voldemort's planning, he's going to need some help. Why not reach out to a former death eater?"
"I suppose," Mary agreed. "Lucius is hardly in a position to rat on him."
"And he's ideally placed for insight into the ministry." Sirius rubbed his temples wearily. "I wish we had a better idea what was going on."
Mary wished that too. There was a big wide world going on inside the four walls of this bedroom. She really needed to move out.
Sirius wasn't the only one thinking furiously in his bedroom. Percy Weasley was shut up in his room at the burrow writing a long, panicked letter. The whole situation had gotten so completely out of hand, it had all started off as harmless white lie. A fib. Nothing that could have reached epic proportions like this.
Percy dipped his quill in his emptying ink pot and shoved his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. He had almost finished, but how to end it? It couldn't look as though he was threatening and Percy couldn't risk bluffing. His quill sat just above the parchment, poised for imminent action, if only he could think how to sign the letter off.
"Percy!" A jolly voice boomed up the stairs.
Percy felt him back stiffen. Hastily, he shoved his unfinished letter aside and poked his head out of his bedroom door.
"Percy, dinner's ready!" Mrs Weasley called to him from the kitchen.
"I'll be down in a minute mother." He replied curtly, scurrying back behind his bedroom door. Percy sat back at his little, shabby desk and resumed staring at the parchment. Sweat was dripping down his back, how had he gotten in to this mess? With a heavy heart, Percy picked up his quill and signed his name, he was in too deep to refuse them anything. He didn't have a wretched leg to stand on and it was going to cost him dearly.
Percy had brought Hermes up to his room the moment he'd gotten in from work. So he just had to cross the room to tie the rolled up letter on to the owl's foot and let him fly. The last thing Percy needed was his mother asking questions, who was he sending a letter to so late? Was it something to do with work? Telling him he worked too hard, that he hardly had time to see Penelope... Although Percy would never admit it aloud, he missed his siblings being around. Being the only Weasley child home meant he received far too much attention. It would have made the whole situation more bearable to be able to slink into the background and let his mother concentrate on Fred and George or Ginny. He was very sorry when they returned to Hogwarts after Christmas.
Percy gathered himself and began the descent to the kitchen to eat with his mother and father. What he wouldn't have given to have been walking down the marble staircase of Hogwarts into the Great Hall. Life had been so much simpler only a year ago.
Lucius had never wanted a simple life but the life he'd chosen was far more complicated than he could have anticipated. Leading a double life, that was second nature but keeping up a pretence for Narcissa too was wearing. As much as he was looking forward to Draco returning for the Easter holidays, the thought of having to put on a polished pretence at home was mightily exhausting. But he would do it. Draco must not find out about any of this, if he and Narcissa agreed on nothing else it was that Draco must be kept safe. And that meant keeping him out of the Dark Lord's clutches.
Although she had never said it aloud, Lucius could sense that Narcissa was relieved when Bellatrix went to Azkaban. Lucius couldn't fault her, Bellatrix was unhinged, being around her was the only thing Lucius had been concerned about when marrying Narcissa. Sirius had only been a child then, he'd been an issue much later.
As he watched his wife eat her dinner across from him in their grand, empty home, Lucius wondered how well he'd ever really known her. When he first met Narcissa Black, she was shy and young and beautiful, his parents were delighted that he'd made such a good match. But he never really broke under her shell. For although Narcissa was dutiful and deferent, she wasn't weak, not in the beginning. She never mentioned her disowned sister, never spoke about her relationship with her young cousins, she had never spoken about her childhood at all. In hindsight, Lucius knew that should have been a warning sign. She really had been too good to be true and now her time was nearing an end.
Lucius had done as the Dark Lord had asked, he had taken Narcissa out of hiding and out with him whenever he could. Lucius was being sure to be seen by everyone who could possibly report to Sirius Black but so far it had yielded no results. He could only imagine that James Potter was somewhere restraining him forcibly, after all, Black was reckless. Lucius couldn't believe that a mere few months in Azkaban had changed him that much.
Lucius took another bite of his dinner and continued watching his wife, her mind blissfully clear of the worries that were clouding his own head. Really, he had done her a kindness. What a joy it must be not to worry, not to have the lives of others resting on your shoulders. All Narcissa had to do was exist until the moment Lucius could capture Black and deliver him to the Dark Lord. If all went smoothly, Narcissa might even survive. Lucius tried not to hold on too tightly to that thought, he knew the Dark Lord would punish her severely for her defection. He wouldn't let that happen. When the time came, Lucius would kill Narcissa himself, it would be quick and painless, and after almost twenty years of marriage, he owed her that much.
Moody owed Snape a debt. Once a death eater, always a death eater, no matter how many cock-and-bull stories he told Dumbledore, Moody still didn't trust him and he was going to prove he was right. And then there was Filch. The slimy, skulking caretaker, he was always there and there was something not right about him. He'd mentioned this to Sirius but he'd just laughed.
"That's just Filch, Mad-Eye, he's always been odd. It's because he's a squib, he's jealous of the students."
But however much Sirius shrugged him off, Moody was sure there was something more untoward about that slimy man.
Sat in his office, after lessons had finished, Moody unfurled Harry's map and searched for Snape. He'd taken to doing this quite often recently, there was something suspicious going on and Moody was sure it was Snape's work, so he was keeping a close eye on him.
Moody was feeling very unsettled. He'd wandered round his office earlier that week, knowing something was out of place but not quite being able to pinpoint what it was. So he'd emptied his office from top to bottom. Admittedly, he should have done it after the students' curfew, but he wouldn't have thought a bit of banging would have alarmed so many people.
"Alastor!" He knew it was McGonagall before his eye could rotate in its socket. "What on earth are you doing?"
"Having a spring clean, Minerva." He replied without missing a beat. He hadn't turned round but he could see students standing behind her, trying to get a look into the room.
"It's almost time for class." She said shrilly, shooing students along their way.
"Then you better leave me to it so I'm not late."
She had nothing else to say but Moody was sure she'd gone to Dumbledore about his odd behaviour. To give him credit, Dumbledore had said nothing on the matter. Moody's suspicions was a moot point between them and since he was over here doing Dumbledore a favour, he didn't hover over him. It was for that reason Moody much preferred working under Dumbledore than Fudge.
Moody went back to his map, studying it carefully. The castle corridors were quiet, it was past the students curfew and there were dense dots showing them cloistered in their separate common rooms. He was looking for Snape specifically but he couldn't seem to locate him. It wasn't unheard of for teachers to leave in the evenings but anything Snape did made Moody uneasy. Dumbledore had confided in him that Snape was working closely with Lucius Malfoy on the Narcissa problem but Moody wondered how much work Snape was actually doing. Snape and Lucius's friendship was well known in the wizarding world. When Snape had been cleared of all charges all those years ago, Moody's students had gone mad. But he'd cautioned them, Sirius in particular, to let the matter drop publicly. Constant vigilance worked better when the subject didn't know they were under observation. Still, in fourteen years there was barely a chink in Malfoy's public armour, which is why Snape's involvement left Moody sleepless at night. They were both too well placed.
Moody finished combing the upper levels of the castle and scanned his eyes down to the lower levels. Snape really wasn't in the premise. He sighed audibly and took a long slug from his flask. Moody was just about to put the map down and turn in for the night when he spotted a name that shouldn't be in the castle at all. Barty Crouch was back.
Harry was knocked backwards flat on to his back. He laid there for a moment, blinking, trying to take in what had just happened. Except, all seemed to be able to concentrate on was the beautifully arched ceiling of Dumbledore's office, he'd never looked up before.
"You haven't been practising, Harry." Dumbledore said, not unkindly. He reached an ancient hand to Harry and helped him to his feet.
"I have, sort of-" Harry tried to defend himself, but in light of what they were learning Harry decided it was best not to lie. "There's just so much going on that it's hard to not think about it."
Dumbledore nodded sagely, as though Harry's answer was both appropriate and exactly what he'd been expecting. "That is why we must try extra hard to perform self control."
It was all well and good Dumbledore saying that, Harry thought, he knew exactly what was going on. No one would tell Harry anything except not to think about it and as if that ever worked.
"Ok sir." Harry agreed. It was easier not to argue.
Dumbledore regarded him from his half-moon spectacles. "I think it is best that we don't continue to practise until you have adequately practised emptying your mind. This is very important Harry."
"But," Harry tried for the hundredth time. "But sir, isn't what I see important too? Hasn't it come in useful?"
"Immensely." Dumbledore agreed. "But anything that a person finds of use can be used against them. The decision one must make is whether the use outweighs the risk. In your case, Harry, the risk is substantial, potentially mortal."
Harry didn't know whether Dumbledore was being frank or merely trying to frighten him but if it was the latter, he hadn't succeeded. Harry could do nothing to help a situation, which he felt more than partially responsible for, except this. He could do this and to him the risk was worth it.
"I think we'll have to say goodnight, Harry." Dumbledore said, with an expression Harry found difficult to read. "I want you to think on something for me. You think you're prepared for what your visions could cost you, but what about what they could cost others? Can you handle the repercussions for that?"
Harry watched Dumbledore without knowing what to say.
"Goodnight Harry." His voice was suddenly full of cheer. "I'm sure we'll see each other around."
"Right," Harry wasn't sure what had happened. "Goodnight, sir."
Harry let himself out of Dumbledore's office and descended the moving staircase. Without knowing it, he'd somehow gotten himself out of Occlumency lessons. But if this was what he wanted, why did he feel so uneasy?
It was Dumbledore. Dumbledore presenting him with a subtle but powerful sense of guilt. Harry recognised the methods from Lily but he understood that this was a lot more serious than keeping his bedroom tidy. A part of Harry wanted to race back upstairs and apologise, even beg for Dumbledore to resume their lessons.
But, another part of Harry, the more rebellious side, wanted to stand his ground. He appreciated all they were trying to do for him but he wasn't a child anymore. He didn't need to be wrapped in cotton wool and protected from what was outside the castle, he needed to be prepared for it and Occlumency was the exact opposite of being prepared. Occlumency was quite literally shutting his eyes to the danger.
Harry hadn't paid attention to which way he was walking when he'd left Dumbledore's office. He'd been so wrapped up in his own thoughts he found that he'd wandered downstairs towards the Great Hall instead of up towards Gryffindor Tower. Abruptly Harry stopped. It was just past curfew and if Filch caught him out, he'd be in detention. Harry spun around and started walking in the opposite direction, heading towards the nearest staircase when a noise startled him. It sounded like an animal was squealing but Harry knew an animal couldn't be in the corridors. He spun around again and jogged towards the sound, reaching into the inside pocket of his robes for his wand. The sound had vanished, so Harry sped up, raising his wand in preparation for danger, Harry had just turned the corner when he hit something solid and rebounded backwards.
Harry's body reverberated with pain as he hit the cold stone floor. He groped around for his glasses which had been knocked off, but he kept a tight grip on his wand. Harry could hear whatever he had hit also scrambling to their feet. Finding his glasses, Harry shoved them on to his face and stared straight in front of him at the equally confused face of Draco Malfoy.
They both stood there motionless for a few long seconds, wands raised but neither jumping to any incantation. It occurred to Harry that it was the first time he'd seen Malfoy alone, perhaps ever. He'd always been with Ron or Hermione, and Malfoy with his Slytherin cronies. Their absence made Harry feel both vulnerable and powerful in equal measure. He didn't want to attack and Malfoy looked equally reluctant but neither were moving away. Harry had so many questions he wanted to ask, starting with what Malfoy was doing out and ending with Narcissa's predicament. Harry tried in earnest, he felt his lips trying to form words but no sound seemed to come out. If it were anybody else but Malfoy... There was too much animosity, too much bad history to start a conversation. And where would Harry start?
Harry was so absorbed by Malfoy's unexpected presence that'd he'd momentarily forgotten the painful sound he'd come looking for. Had that been Malfoy? Another set of approaching footsteps made him think otherwise. Malfoy looked inclined to run but Harry was blocking his way, keeping his wand pointed in Malfoy's direction. There was a look on Draco's face that Harry had never seen before. Gone was his sneering visage, sheer panic had replaced it, but Harry didn't have time for Malfoy's worries. All his focus was past Malfoy's left ear and the sound of those footsteps, moving in time to the beat of Harry's heart.
They were closer now, they'd be in sight any moment and he'd see what had made that sound, who it was that had been hurt or cast the spell.
Holding his wand very tightly, pointing in the direction Harry waited but his stomach did backflips and his grip loosened as he saw none other than caretaker Argus Filch speeding towards them.
"DETENTION!" Filch cried triumphantly. "Duelling in corridors, out past curfew, a week's worth of detention for you!"
"We weren't duelling!" Harry and Draco said truthfully, but their drawn wands told a different story.
"I was just looking what had made that noise," Harry told Filch bitterly, knowing it would do nothing to deter him from punishment.
"What noise?" Filch shot back at him, he sounded dismissive but Harry could have sworn he saw his eye's bulge in fear, just for a moment.
"It sounded like some sort of animal," Draco put in. "It was coming from your direction."
So that was why he was running away, Harry deduced, but what was he doing out?
"I didn't hear no noise," Filch grumbled. "Come on, I'll be taking you to your head of house, see what they say your punishment would be but I think a week's worth of -"
Filch never finished his sentence but Harry assumed it would have ended in some sort of physical torture. Filch was distracted by another set of footsteps, very distinctive steps that could only belong to one person. From the look on Filch's face, Harry guessed he would have run had Draco and Harry not been there. As it stood, Filch wasn't letting his quarry go, even if it meant facing Moody.
Moody's face appeared in all its grisly glory, lit dramatically by the nearest lamp.
Filch squirmed uncomfortably and shot, "students out of bed!"
"I can see that, you quivering toad." Moody repeated impatiently, "I'm not looking for you, have you seen -" but Moody stopped talking, taking in Harry and Draco.
Remembering that Moody had the map, Harry was immediately curious who he'd seen. His first thought was Mr Crouch, Moody wouldn't want to say that in front of Malfoy, but what was he doing back in the castle?
"I'll deal with these two," Moody changed tack abruptly.
"I was going to take them to Snape and McGonagall." Filch said petulantly, with an air of someone being denied their favourite meal.
"Well you can thank me for saving you the trouble," Moody growled. "You two, detention tomorrow, my office at 7'O Clock. Potter, I'll be taking you upstairs, Filch, make yourself useful and make sure Malfoy's back in his common room."
Malfoy didn't utter a word as Moody sentenced them or Filch led him away. He didn't make any complaint or threat, he just looked disappointed. What had he been doing? Harry wondered for the hundredth time.
"Come on, Potter," Moody said quietly, when Filch had cleared from their sight.
"Did you see someone on the map?" Harry whispered as they walked up the first set of stairs.
Moody nodded grimly. "Did you see anything out of place?"
Harry shook his head. "I just heard a sound, Malfoy too. It sounded like something in pain, more like an animal than a person."
Moody gave a grim half-smile. "That wasn't an animal, that was the sound of someone using Polyjuice potion. It would seem that Mr Crouch is going through a lot of pain and effort to pretend to be someone in this castle."
Harry's stomach did backflips at this revelation. "But," he said, his voice so quiet it was barely audible. "But, if Mr Crouch is here, who is Voldemort keeping prisoner?"
"Good question, Potter." Moody said approvingly. "I intend to find out. But while this is going on, no more investigating and no more wandering the halls alone. Hogwarts may not be safe."
"You sound like my dad," Harry muttered.
"Yeah well, who do you think taught him?" Moody rebounded. "Take our advice and stay out of the way."
They approached the final stretch of corridor leading to the Fat Lady, who was snoozing loudly in her frame and reluctant to let Harry back in.
As he watched Harry disappear behind the portrait, Moody noted with certainty that if Harry was anything like James, he wouldn't have listened to a word he'd just said. As with James, Moody could never make up his mind over whether he was more annoyed or proud.
Lily was annoyed with James. She'd come home from work the other night to see James, Sirius and Remus sat around her kitchen table, deep in conversation. But they stopped talking the moment she walked in. When she asked anyone what was going on with Voldemort, they avoided her question. She knew it was all James's doing, it was in an effort not to worry her after she'd been spooked by those anonymous letters and it was ridiculous. She was a grown woman and just as bloody capable as any of them, or had they forgotten how skilled she was with a wand?
She'd tried to reason with James but he was being maddeningly patient with her, as though she was a child that didn't understand what they were asking. Well, she knew precisely what she was asking and he could stuff his overwhelming air of superiority and responsibility. He'd even gotten to Mary! Of all people who she thought would be her ardent defender, Mary was siding with James. Lily knew they were trying to do this for her own good but she couldn't understand why.
Recently, she'd given up trying to persuade James to tell her what was going on. She'd tried being nice, tried being not nice and she'd contemplated spiking his drink with veritaserum but she thought that was a step too far. The less he told her the more worried Lily felt. Since they didn't know who was watching them or reading their mail, she'd had practically no contact with Harry and she was sure he'd be up to something.
Lily reached the end of her tether when she'd asked James how it was going with Dawlish and he said fine. Fine! As if they didn't suspect the man was a bloody Voldemort insider.
Lily deserved a prize for how calm she acted. She didn't call James up on it, she said she was happy it was working out so well. Inside she was seething and plotting how to get information without him blocking her. Remus was her best bet.
So one night when James was working, Lily showed up unannounced and uninvited on Remus's doorstep.
"Lily," he blinked in surprise. "Lovely to see you, come in." Typical Remus, warm and polite as ever but Lily thought he looked exhausted. There were deep circles under his eyes and his hair was dusted with even more grey.
"Are you alright?" Lily asked earnestly.
"Fine, fine." He replied, ushering her inside and pouring a drink. "Is everything alright with you?"
He looked so drained all of Lily's fight left her. "It's fine," she said honestly.
Lily watched as Remus walked towards the kitchen, "do you want a drink?"
She hovered by the doorway and pulled out her wand. She flicked it so the kettle jumped on to the cooker, which spontaneously lit into flame. "I'll get them, you have a sit down."
Remus smiled gratefully at her and sunk into his old sofa, where the pillows had lost much of their padding.
"Heard much from Harry?" Remus asked as Lily conjured a cake and a knife magically cut it into slices.
"Hardly anything." She replied. "I get a cursory letter once a week saying everything's fine, but who knows what's going on?" She said rhetorically. "Alastor says he's doing well in school."
Remus took a warm slice of Victoria sponge and nodded sympathetically.
"Is he coming home for Easter?"
"I hope so." Lily agreed. "But he hasn't actually mentioned it. I'll put in my next letter." She smiled and Remus smiled weakly back. He looked like he hadn't slept in a year. "How's working with Sirius?"
"Surprisingly tedious." Remus said honestly. "We're just watching and waiting, while he complains. It's a bit like one long History of Magic lesson."
Lily laughed aloud. "Well, no news is good news." She tried to make it a statement but she couldn't lose the hint of questioning in her voice.
"There's no news, Lily." Remus said heavily. "Not with Voldemort, Crouch or Narcissa."
It was the first time anyone had said this to her. Lily thought she'd feel relieved just to be in the loop but she felt just as uneasy as when she knew nothing. After all, no one else knew anything either.
"Remus, will you train me?"
"Train you?" He repeated. "In what?"
"Combat." Her tone was completely casual, it was like she'd simply asked him to pass the milk. "Remus I haven't used defensive magic in years, I'm rusty and it's probably a good time to start practising, who better to take a refresher course with than a defence teacher?"
Remus laughed but quickly realised she was being serious. "What about James? He's much more exper-"
"No." Lily cut him off. "He'd refuse, or worse, he'd try to help but wouldn't actually try. I don't want someone to go easy on me, Remus, I want real practise."
Remus rubbed his temples wearily. "Lily, I'm not comfortable doing this behind James's back."
"Who said anything about doing this behind his back?" Lily retorted. "We can do it my living room for all I care, it's not a secret Remus. If James doesn't like it he can -" she paused for a moment. "Well actually, there's nothing he can do about it, other than complain to Sirius."
Remus couldn't suppress a small laugh.
"So what do you say?" Lily asked, her pulse quickening just a tad.
Remus smiled wryly. "Go on then, when do you want to start?"