A/N: Hi! I recovered my password at long last! I'm gonna publish some AUs I've written over the years and published on my tumblr. Thank you to anyone who is still out there 3
"He's really fit," the one in the blue gown whispers conspiratorially to her companion. Except, she might as well be shouting it since James can still hear her, even over the many conversations throughout the gallery.
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the blonde girl eye him, her nose wrinkled in disapproval. "Maybe so," she allows before adding, "But a museum guard? I wouldn't fall so low even for a mighty good shag."
Surprisingly, his pride is intact at the words. James takes solace in the fact that even if he was a security guard in reality, at least he'd hold an honest, even commendable job. The same could not be said for the hundreds of politicians and socialites infesting the gala that evening. The same could not be said for even him or his mates.
At the very least, he had the satisfaction of being right once again. "Told you," he murmurs into his headset. "I'm too damnably handsome to be inconspicuous, even in this ugly uniform."
"The blonde one said she wouldn't shag you, though," Sirius' voice responds without missing a beat.
"She still said I would be mighty good shag," James reminds him, mindful to keep his voice low in case anyone nearby is listening. Most of the attendants are too enraptured in their own conversations, their laughter far too loud to be genuine.
"She's obviously never slept with you then," the other says in response. James can hear the distant clicking of keyboard keys, a sure sign Sirius is keeping to his portion of the plan.
"And you have?"
"Will you two shut up for two minutes," a third, very disgruntled voice cuts through like a whip.
"Sorry Moony," James mutters for the third time that evening.
Sirius, however, ignores Remus and begins to reply something cheeky and quite commendable as far as comebacks go, one that includes the extensive list of James's exes, but James only catches the first part because his attention is stolen away by someone bumping into his shoulder.
"Sorry," a hushed voice says, almost inaudible in the chatter of the crowded gallery. He doesn't even sway, her small frame barely emitting any force against his much taller, much stronger body. Nevertheless, completely caught off guard by the floral scent she brings with her and her warm arm against his, he feels as though he is hit by an electric current.
"That's quite—" he begins to say when he recovers, which takes him a millisecond too long for his liking. But before he can get the word "alright" out, she is gone, moving away without a backward glance. James is left behind staring stupidly at her retreating form, her long, red hair rippling in waves behind her as she moves through the crowd.
"Wow," Sirius says into his ear and James almost forgets he is there. "She wouldn't want to shag you either, mate."
James also forgets for a second that Sirius is in charge of the surveillance cameras and that the prat can see his every move. "Not my type anyway," James mutters into the headset.
Sirius lets out his typical bark-like laughter, much to Remus's dismay. "I saw your face. "
"Yes, well, I didn't even see hers." He cringes, unsure why he says the words, particularly since they sound so flat and above all, quite defensive.
"I did," the other responds smugly. "Camera seven by the contemporary art. She is definitely better looking than Blue Gown."
Remus' voice interrupts them once more, his tone business like. "Alright, alarm is set to go off in twenty minutes. Is that enough time to nick it, Prongs?"
"Yes, plenty," he replies, eyes scanning through the crowd. "It's in his coat pocket. I caught a glimpse of it earlier." His eyes fall on their target, still laughing and drinking by the bar with an adoring crowd around him. The mere sight of him makes James's insides freeze with hatred.
"It's your exit diversion," Remus continues into his ear. "So make sure you don't steal the flash drive until a minute before." There is a slight wave of static, cutting his friend's words briefly. James catches them anyway and represses the urge to roll his eyes, aware that if he does, Sirius will see it in the security feed and loudly narrate it for Remus's benefit.
"I remember the plan, Moony."
"Just focus," Remus advices. "I know you and Padfoot seem to think this is an easy, dull mission," he continues and James represses a sigh at the impending lecture. "But Dumbledore is really counting on whatever information that sodding flash drive has. He has it on good authority it can help bring down Riddle's inner circle."
"We know," Sirius responds, unaffected.
"We only have one shot to secure this thing and you'd do well not to throw it away by flirting with the guests," Remus continues, almost impassioned.
"Can it be called flirting when they're not interested, though?" Sirius wonders outloud.
James ignores the prat and instead reflects that Remus is absolutely right. He does not inform him of this, however.
"Dumbledore is counting on us," Remus says to drive his point further home.
"Yes, mum," James responds. The last thing he hears before turning off the headset's volume is Sirius's signature bark of a laugh and the string of profanities Remus directs at him.
The ringing silence from his mates brings him back to the present scene of indistinguishable chatter and awful background music, both made louder and therefore worse by the enclosing walls of the gallery. Eyes scanning the guests, James finds the target of their mission for what must be the tenth time that night.
Among the snobby, arrogant hypocrites there that evening (all who had no business being at a charity gala of all places), Damon Mulciber is perhaps the worst of the lot. He stands in the midst of a particularly unpleasant-looking group, towering over them with a drink in his hand and looking more like an ogre than the respected politician everyone says he is. His arm, which is easily as thick as a tree trunk, is draped casually over the shoulders of a rather curvy figure in a deep purple dress. The long hair that cascades down her back catalyses something in his memory and it takes James a few beats to realize it is the same redhead that bumped into him before.
He was correct again in his argument to Sirius; she is definitely not his type if she willingly involves herself with a snake such as Mulciber.
Mulciber leans into the redhead's ear to murmur words that James does not have to hear to decipher. It is a move he has seen many times, one indicating that Mulciber's sole intention is to take his shapely redheaded companion to the presidential suite of a nearby hotel for the night.
Before James can send his silent condolences to the unfortunate redhead, the harsh lights of the gallery flicker a few times in quick succession, before blinking off completely. There is a moment of disoriented silence from the guests that only lasts a few seconds before a ripple of confused murmuring courses through the room.
James raises the volume on his earpiece, eyes adjusting to the pitch black. "Was that part of the plan?" he murmurs to his mates.
Instead of a reply, he hears a wave of static so loud that he almost rips the device out of his ear. Quite abruptly, he hears Remus's voice sporadically breaking through the static. It is so fragmented by other frequency channels that James is unable to unscramble his friend's words. "...Prongs… plan…hear me?... interference… go...now."
James is about to respond when the lights flare back on. No one has the opportunity to speak or even blink away the discomfort of the sudden brightness because only mere seconds later the alarm goes off.
"What the fuck," James says into the communication device, hoping Sirius and Remus can hear him through the static and now through the wailing of the alarm. "Your timing is completely off, Moony."
But instead of the unnerving static James is expecting to hear, the line is completely dead.
Cursing he scans the room, ready to improvise with the new developments. If Remus triggered the security system before the planned time then James has mere minutes to steal the coveted flash drive from Mulciber, find Sirius and Remus, and get the bleeding hell out of the museum.
In seconds, the room is alive with movement. Everywhere around him, harassed looking guards in uniforms identical to his are informing demanding guests that there has been a security breach, but that a team of professionals is already working to detect and correct the issue. James abstains from scoffing. He would pay his share of tonight's pay to see any of their professionals catch up to Remus Lupin, even if the prat can't bother to stay on schedule.
In a split moment, James decides the sudden chaos is exactly what he needs to make his move. He can see Mulciber in the same part of the gallery where he dwelled all evening, his massive back to him. He is speaking to another guard, no doubt demanding to know exactly what is going on. Now is his chance and if James wants to secure the flash drive, then he has to move quickly. Without sparing another thought, he resorts to the most basic method of stealing he can think of.
"Please, sir," the harassed-looking guard is saying to Mulciber as James approaches. "It is protocol to lock everyone in while the curator ensures nothing was stolen."
"Do you know who I am? I can have the Prime Minister himself—" the ogre spits in return, purple-faced, at the poor guard. His words are abruptly cut off as James smashes into his massive form with all his might.
There is a beat in which Mulciber is too shocked to formulate words. He blinks stupidly, befuddlement shrinking away and quickly replaced by rage. His gaze zeroes in on James, not unlike a vicious predator spotting its prey. James almost scoffs out loud at the image. Mulciber is a predator alright, but not of the type that could even leave a scratch on James.
"Watch where you're going," Mulciber mutters with a deadly calm. He straightens his tuxedo jacket as he glares at James with nothing but unbridled disdain.
Fuck you, too, James thinks with satisfaction, his fingers clasped around the cool metal coating the small flash drive in his hand.
"Sorry, mate," he says cheerfully. He places a hand solemnly on his own chest to embellish his apology. At the same exact time, he slips the flash drive into the breast pocket of his uniform in a movement as swift and natural as a morning breeze. "Only trying to do my job."
James' intentional emphasis on the word "mate" infuriates the oaf just as James hoped it would. Mulciber grits his teeth, offended by the insolence of the lowly security guard in front of him and no doubt itching for an argument like the senseless, entitled wanker James knows him to be.
Suppressing a smirk, James opens his mouth to piss Mulciber off even more and further his own amusement. Before he can get the words out, however, James's eyes swivel to Mulciber's right where his stocky arm is securely wrapped around his redheaded companion.
Unlike their last encounter only minutes ago, her face, bearing an expression of surprise, is in full display for him to see. Her eyes meet his and James almost drops his facade.
It was a good thing he had not properly seen her face before because he is certain he would have botched up the whole mission. In the few moments before reason and his own dignity kick in he decides she's got to be the loveliest person he has ever seen.
He stares, not even caring that he looks like an absolute idiot, wordlessly standing there, all traces of his previous humor disappearing like smoke. Privately, he hopes Sirius is not watching the feed. He would never live this down with that prat.
Someone shoves past them, breaking the spell and shouting out orders to all the guests about procedure, but James is not paying attention or at all considering he should be doing the same to keep up his guard disguise. He is half aware that the "professionals" working on the alarm had the sense to at least turn its wailing off.
She is looking at him too, the initial shock of James's abrupt appearance wearing off. Instead, she watches him with curious interest, her gaze fixed so intently on him that he feels his pulse rise. Before she deems him an imbecile, James forces himself to recover, giving her his most charming smile.
"Miss," he said with small bow of his head. Thief or not, he is still a gentleman.
Something like a smile tugs at her crimson lips, but before she can respond, Mulciber tightens his protective hold on her, leaning her away from James.
"Fuck off," the brute mutters.
But even as Mulciber leads her away, her lovely green eyes are still locked on James's over her shoulder. The same expressions of curiosity and interest color her beautiful face and James has the erratic urge follow them and come to the redhead's rescue, maybe even make his wish of punching Mulciber come true.
Before James has the opportunity to dismiss this impulse, however, his earpiece buzzes back to life. Much like before, he can hear fragments of different channels. He hears Remus among the jumble of indiscernible messages. "Prongs—" He is cut off by more static. "—need to go now."
"Yes," James responds, eyes scanning the gallery for an unattended exit. Even over the sound of the confused, dissatisfied guests, his voice sounds deadpan to his own ears. "You reckon?"
There is no response for the line falls dead once more.
In the confusion of the gallery, he is able to slip away from the lockdown without incident. Accessing the employee corridors of the massive museum is an even easier feat since most of them are deserted.
James slows his stride for a moment, fiddling with the earpiece. There was still no word from Sirius or Remus, their communication line completely dead since the last message he managed to hear. After a few minutes of failed attempts to fix the damn thing, he gives up, deciding to go to their rendezvous spot and figure it out from there.
He only takes a few steps down the corridor, however, before something soft and quite warm crashes into his body.
It is only a split second before he realizes that, for the second time that night, he has crashed into the redhead in the purple gown. Or rather, she has crashed into him. She is clutching a small piece of paper in one hand and what looks like a small, stubby lip pencil in the other. Her attention was completely devoted to whatever she had been writing before she walked backwards into James.
"I'm lost," she blurts out before she spins around to face him, looking abashed. "I was on my way to the loo when I heard the alarm—" she stops abruptly as her eyes scan his face and recognition strikes. "It's you," she says, her voice is slightly breathless from the surprise of being discovered. "You're the guard from the gallery. The funny one."
That almost stings.
James would have prefered to be referred to as the "handsome one" or something similar but the mere fact that she remembers him ignites a rush of validation he would never admit out loud.
"I recognize you," she explains, mistaking his silence for confusion. "You stood up to Mulciber in there." She nods her head toward the general direction of the gallery.
"Oh, right," he says stupidly.
"I quite liked that. It was amusing to me," she says with a small shrug. "Especially since your sarcasm completely went over his head."
James grins at that. "Right, well, Mulciber is stupider than he is ugly, and that's saying something," he says.
She laughs and James shamelessly relishes in the sound, finding it almost as attractive as her. How could someone be so unabashedly lovely in every way? It wasn't fair.
"Indeed," she agrees and for a split moment he thinks he might have said the thoughts out loud before he realizes she is agreeing with his previous statement.
James opens his mouth to say something, perhaps to ask her why Mulciber's arm was around her if she thought he was a pig, but before he could be so bold, she says, "I lied about being lost."
"I know," he says, fighting back a chuckle.
She looks a bit guilty for a moment. "I just really needed to get out of Mulciber's grasp," she explains. "He was getting far too... comfortable with me. His hands—" she cuts herself off, dismissing the thought with a shiver and a shake of her head. "I'm certain if I wouldn't have left, he would have wanted to take me somewhere for the night."
"Yeah, that's the sort of pig he is," James agrees.
Her nod is vehement. He really should be going.
"The place is locked down, though," he points out in spite of himself. "How did you manage to get out?"
She takes her bottom lip between her teeth before speaking. "A fight broke out somewhere in the gala," she explains. "Tensions were running pretty high with all those wealthy people being told what to do, you know." She shakes her head disapprovingly. "Anyway, I waited until one of the guards wasn't looking and sneaked away through one of the kitchen doors." For some reason, she is not meeting his eye as she says that. "Please don't send me back inside the gallery," she pleads before James can continue questioning her. "I really, really don't want to punch Mulciber and make a scene."
It is then that James is struck with the realization that he is a museum guard to her. A museum guard who should be following protocol and ushering her back inside the locked down gallery with the other guests. "I'm off my shift," he explains. "My job is done for the night."
Her shoulders relax visibly, an expression of relief coloring her lovely face. As much as he wishes to stay and stare at her all evening, he is already spending too much time standing still talking to her. Particularly since he is in the dark concerning his communications with Remus and Sirius. The last thing he should be doing is having a guest, no matter how pretty, follow him around as he improvised his escape. "You should still go back, though," he informs her. "If someone on duty catches you out here, they might take you to the authorities."
Her face falls. "Really? I haven't nicked anything." She gestures towards her body and it takes all of James's effort not to be a prat and stare down. "You can search me."
"That's not necessary," he begins but her green eyes are alight with determination, which he finds himself admiring.
"I've already called a friend to come and get me," she explains. "If I leave now, no one will even know I've gone." She expels a small, humorless laugh, adding, "Actually, I'm positive no one will notice I'm not there. They all seem to be in each other's circle in there," she gestures towards the gallery with a nod once more, "and I am too poor and unimportant to be a part of it. They probably didn't even notice I was there to begin with."
James had noticed.
"Why were you in the gala?" he asks, genuinely curious. "And with Mulciber, of all people."
"I was not with him," she corrects at once, disgust apparent in both her voice and expression. When he says nothing, she sighs heavily. "I'm not proud of it, alright? But I am here because my boss assigned me Mulciber and his campaign. He will not be satisfied until I somehow bring in all the information he needs. The whole reason I am here today is because my mate found out Mulciber would be here and it was a perfect opportunity to try and get him to talk to me." She grimaces once more at the memory. "Except Damon Mulciber did not have talking on his mind."
"Are you a journalist or something?" he asks.
She offers a small shrug which he takes as a confirmation. "Told you I wasn't exactly proud of it."
So she was there to get information out of Mulciber, not unlike him and his mates. The only difference is that she did not steal the information like he had.
"So you're not supposed to be here, yeah?" he says quite confidently. "This was invite only, as far as I'm concerned."
She freezes, eyes widening for the briefest of moments. "I was invited." It would have been convincing if it hadn't been quite so defensive.
"Yeah? By whom?"
"Mulciber," she tries.
James's eyebrows shoot higher and he can see her thinking of what to say next. For some reason, the sight is far more amusing than it should be. "That so?" he says casually. "Because I saw him arrive and you weren't with him."
She opens her mouth to deflect that but he continues, "And I saw you arrive. You bumped into me, as a matter of fact."
This completely stuns her. She blinks at him as she tries to recall the moment she crashed against him.
There is silence.
"Please don't tell anyone," she says at last.
James lets a grin break over his expression, a reassurance that he has no intention of turning her in. This, however, might not be clear to her because her brow is still creased with concern.
"I promise I will leave without getting caught," she continues. "Just point me in the right direction and I will never tell anyone you helped me. I mean, I wouldn't even know what name to give anyone who caught me."
"James," he informs her before he can stop himself. What a shit spy he is.
"James," she repeats, and he feels his pulse pick up hearing her say it. "Already forgotten."
He laughs despite himself and she smiles in return. They share a small silence. She is watching him again, just like she did inside the gallery when their eyes met. This time, the interest is unmistakable in her expression and his mouth feels suddenly dry as chalk.
"I'm not going to turn you in," he reassures her at last, grateful his voice sounds normal. The gleam this earns him is so pure that he is willing to take all the shit Sirius and Remus will undoubtedly give him for this later. "If you follow me, I'll take you to the employee exit."
He begins to amend his own escape plan in his head as he starts down the corridor. They can both leave through the employee exit as originally planned. Once out, they can part ways and James can meet his mates in the car park.
"Thank you," she exclaims, unable to contain the sheer joy in her voice as she follows.
"Let's just try not to get caught or they'll force you to go back into the gallery."
"And they'll probably sack you," she adds with concern. "Unless you can give them a really good reason why I'm with you."
"Right," he says lamely, having completely forgotten his role for a second.
"We won't get caught on my account—" she begins to say, but she abruptly cuts off as a voice echoes from one of the intersecting corridors.
"I'm making the rounds now," the male voice is saying, drawing closer with every word. There is a loud buzz emitting from what James can only assume is a two-way radio."Covering hall H, near the employee exit. Over."
"Shit," he mutters under his breath as they both stop dead in their tracks. He knew he had been spending far too much time with her, being a sitting target. For all he knows, Mulciber has had more than enough time to realize the flash drive is missing and is on the hunt for it.
"Do we run?" she asks in a terrified whisper.
"No point," he says, his voice surprisingly calm for the predicament they faced. "It sounds like he's coming from the direction we need to go."
"This is my fault, isn't it?" she says, mortified, but it seems as though she is speaking more to herself than to him. Her eyes are fixed on the ground and James can see her thinking quickly for a solution. When her eyes stop darting back and forth, she lifts them to meet his. Her expression is resolute, as though she has decided on something quite drastic.
Without another word, she swipes her arm to push him flat against the wall. James is momentarily stunned, not only by the odd occurrence but by how strong she actually is.
"What are you—?"
They can hear the footsteps approaching the intersection of the corridors.
"Just follow along," she tells him quite bravely. "I'm not going to be the reason you get sacked."
James almost tells her he doesn't care if he loses his false job as a museum security guard, but he is unable to say anything because her hands are on his chest. He inhales sharply, too stunned to trace the swift movement of her hands as she unbuttons his shirt.
The footsteps draw nearer. Her hands are almost a blur as she pulls the tails of his uniform shirt free from his waistband. They move to pull the strap of her dress down her shoulder and then they get lost in her hair as she toussels it wildly. If he hadn't been frozen with absolute shock, he would have relished the sight.
He can feel his heart pounding madly as his senses finally catch up with him. He has no chance to utter a single breath because she shoots him one last apologetic look before pressing her lips to his at the same time the guard turns the corner.
"Oi!" he shouts from several feet away, his voice echoing loudly in the otherwise empty corridor. "What do you think you're doing?"
She pulls back, extracting her hand from his chest where she clutched his shirt. Before she whirls around, he can see the feigned expression of surprise she prepares for the guard. "Sorry, we were just—"
"Yeah," says the guard taking in her messy hair and James's exposed chest. "I can see that." He is about their age, which explains the fleeting look of amusement in his features. When his eyes recognize James's uniform, almost indiscernible in its unbuttoned state, he raises his eyebrows.
"He's off his shift," she explains hastily. "We met here before that mess in the gallery. Really, we were doing nothing wrong."
The guard looks unconvinced, eyes swiveling suspiciously from one to the other. "So there's a massive security breach and you decided to have a quick tryst in the corridor?"
"Quite right," James responds cheerily, having recovered his voice by now. "Nothing like a loud, shrill alarm to set the mood for a good snog."
The guard stares at him, unsure if he is being sarcastic or not. Probably deciding he doesn't care either way, he says, "Right, well, sorry to cut your romantic evening short but all guests," he looks at the redhead, "have to stay in the gallery until word from the curator is out."
He can feel her tense at the words. "We were actually just leaving," James says quickly.
"You can go," the guard shoots back at him. James decides he doesn't like him very much. "And be thankful I don't report you to the head of security." His attention falls back on her. "Miss, you will have to go back to the gallery with me."
James feels his annoyance flare. He could easily knock out the guard. Except, he doesn't think that will bode well with his companion.
The guard senses her hesitation and rolls his eyes. "It's alright," he says impatiently. "They've told us on radio nothing was nicked. They're about to release the lockdown anyway. After that, you two can meet somewhere and carry on."
He can see her shoulders drop in defeat. Turning to face him, she says, "You should go."
James is already shaking his head. "Mulciber—"
"Yes, I know," she says. "But if they're going to let everyone go, then I can sneak away again."
James is unconvinced and his face must show it. "I'll be fine," she reassures him with a small smile. "I really don't want to compromise your job, especially when he's giving you a chance to go."
He says nothing, eyes fixed on the guard who is waiting irritably. James grits his teeth, torn with the indecision of letting her go and carrying out the latter part of his plan or following her and seeing her out safely. By this time, Sirius and Remus would have probably already met with Peter in the car. If he wastes any more time, then he will certainly botch up the job.
"Thank you for…" he trails off, unsure what to call her little diversion.
She understands, eyes falling on his exposed chest, her face coloring slightly. With a small laugh, she says, "No, thank you."
And with that, she joins the guard in making their way down the corridor leading back to the gallery.
His mind is still on her when he approaches their rendezvous spot a few minutes later. There is no trace of Remus or Sirius in the unlit and desolate car park structure. Even their car, driven by Peter, is nowhere to be seen. Either James is obscenely late and they have left without him, or he is unconventionally early for once in his life. Either outcome is oddly unsettling to him. Yet all he can think about is how he did not manage to get her name.
James is about to figure out another way out of the museum when he sees two figures emerge from the exit he had just used. Even from a distance, he can tell it is Remus and Sirius and, by the looks of it, they are in an urgent hurry to reach him. Hastily, he thinks of buttoning his shirt up and tucking the tail ends back in. He can only imagine the shit he would get from them both if they saw the state it was in.
But Remus pays no mind to his appearance when he reaches him, instead halting in front of James and quickly scanning the surrounding area.
"Where are they?" he demands breathlessly. James has half a mind to tease him about civil greetings but Sirius, catching up with Remus only seconds later, interjects before he can even think about it.
"The girl and that guard," Sirius explains. He is also short of breath and looking uncharacteristically stony-faced. "Lily Evans and Benjy Fenwick—I saw them on the feed with you just now."
All traces of humor and lightheartedness leave him. James is struck with the sensation that he has heard those names before. "Lily Ev—" he begins to repeat but he catches their urgency and instead explains, "They've left back to the gallery. Only moments ago." Remus curses while Sirius silently retrieves a laptop from the black backpack he carries on each assignment.
After mere seconds of keys clicking away at the speed of light, Sirius says, "They're not on any of the feeds."
Remus curses again. "McKinnon? Meadowes? Macdonald?"
All of the names rouse a distant memory for James as he grapples with placing them and with the confusion of the situation.
"All gone," Sirius confirms, his grey eyes scanning the screen meticulously.
Instead of cursing again, he rounds on James. It was rare for Remus Lupin to lose his temper, usually being the level-headed one of the group. But in that moment, he looks positively murderous. "I told you," he mutters angrily. "I told you to take this mission seriously even if it was almost too easy for you. I warned you not to squander it away by flirting—"
"Moony," Sirius chimes in sternly, even more out of character. "Calm down. He didn't know."
This, mixed with Remus's reproaches and being completely in the dark about what is occurring makes James's own anger boil. "I didn't squander it away," he retorts. "Dumbledore wanted us to get the flashdrive from Mulciber and that is exactly what I did. Even if you couldn't bother to stick to the schedule with the alarm."
"That wasn't me," Remus shoots back furiously. "I tried to tell you over the radio that we had interference."
"The radio went dead," James returns just as angrily.
"They cut our communications," Sirius interjects quietly. "Back in the gallery. They were able to hack into the channel we were using and kill it."
"Who is they?" James asks, unable to check his exasperation even though Sirius is not the one shouting at him.
"Evans and her lot," Sirius replies, unaffected by James's short tone. "They're the interference Moony was talking about. Their hacker, Dorcas Meadowes, set off the alarm before Moony's timer. Marlene McKinnon was the one who killed all communication for us. She even got to my visuals for a few minutes before I was able to hack back in."
James blinks, processing all the information his best mate is relaying.
"We think Evans was in the gallery to take the flashdrive from Mulciber," Sirius says. "She's the redhead that bumped into you earlier."
My boss assigned me Mulciber and his campaign. He will not be satisfied until I somehow bring in all the information he needs.
The realization crashes onto him like a curtain of icy water.
Sirius continues, "McKinnon was listening in on everything we were saying." He grits his teeth. "I should've caught on to that earlier. She must've cut our line to throw our plan off so that Evans could get to the flashdrive first. Once, when I was trying to hack back into the cameras, I saw Evans with a server we think was Mary Macdonald. That's probably when Evans was briefed on everything we said. That's how she knew where to find you."
James is only half listening. He should have known. The way she expertly schooled her features into surprise and embarrassment after she removed her lips from his to face the guard— it had been the same look of surprise she had given him when he found her in the corridor.
"They're working for Riddle?" James manages to ask finally.
Sirius shakes his head resolutely. "They're with Mad-Eye Moody. He's worked tirelessly against Riddle too but he operates very differently than Dumbledore. He's much more aggressive in the way he goes after Riddle and his supporters."
"Moody was the one who brought down the human trafficking ring operated by Rosier," Remus adds, his voice still carrying an edge even though he is looking and sounding considerably calmer than before.
James nods. "Right, but didn't Rosier get off because they didn't have enough proof that could hold up in court?" It is then he realizes the Rosier case is where he heard all their names before. Lily Evans was all over the court documents Dumbledore asked Remus to hack.
"Exactly," Sirius says. "Dumbledore prefers to patiently and meticulously build a case against these assholes but Moody has no patience for that. We think he found out about the flashdrive and decided to send in his own team to steal it." He pauses briefly before adding, "They're definitely not on Riddle's side but not exactly on ours either."
James is silent, his mind reeling through the events of the evening.
"By the time I had full control of the cameras, you were in that hallway with Evans," Sirius continues, closing his computer and storing it away. "Fenwick was there too. We think he was posing as a guard to extract Evans out of the museum with much more ease."
I've already called a friend to come and get me.
It all made sense. Her rush to get to Mulciber and her willingness to stay by his side despite knowing the pig he is. And more specifically, the way she looked at him when he bumped into Mulciber when he stole the flash drive, with undeniable interest. He wonders if she saw him nick it.
Remus paces back and forth in exasperation, running his hands through his hair. Sirius is watching James thoughtfully, a rare occurrence for him and one that unnerves James even more so.
"It doesn't matter," James says at last. "I've got the flashdrive. We can take it back to Dumbledore—" but even as he is saying the words, he knows they are not true. Despite all the revelations about Lily Evans he is learning, there is still one thing that is a mystery to him about that evening.
It made no sense for someone as trained and experienced as Evans to prolong her stay in a place where she could be caught if her mission had failed. Anyone else would have left, regrouped, and evaded capture.
Except, it did make sense.
Heart sinking horribly his mind replays flashes of their brief time together. Their diverting tryst from the "guard", her friend. Her hands clutching the front of his shirt, the very pocket where he stored it—where she saw him store it after he stole it from Mulciber.
And the note—-the note she was writing when he found her.
He reaches into his pocket, already knowing what he will find. Instead of the smooth, metal exterior of the flashdrive, his hands close around a carefully folded piece of paper.
Thank you for saving me from having to snog Mulciber. Kissing you is an upgrade.
P. S. A shame I am not your type.
A/N: Maybe the real flash drive was the friendship they made along the way.
If you made it this far, THANK YOU. Honestly, I don't know how to express how grateful I am, especially since I know this was long. But also because this took me an embarrassingly long time to write. I just couldn't give up on this one. Ten rewrites and several breakdowns later, here we are. Thank you 3
A special THANK YOU to Kelsey (WeasleyWannabee) for helping me with this.