A/N: I opened this document today to find two half-chapters already written. I'd forgotten about that!
Unfortunately after reading this over and realizing I was in a rather Raymond Chandler-esque frame of mind when I wrote this half, I find myself, now in a Voltaire-ish frame of mind, struggling to write the rest of this chapter. So. No pressure, but... reviews are the best incentive:)
Thanks for the wait, gentle readers. You're very dear. Hopefully with my next better organized semester I'll be updating more frequently.
James and Lily sat in the Hog's Head. James was reading the paper and drinking a Butterbeer at the counter. Lily was just sitting, arms and legs crossed, clearly displeased. James wore a hat that covered his eyes. Lily wore an Invisibility Cloak.
"It's you they want!"
"No love, it isn't."
"Yes James, it is."
"Of the two of us, who casts the best offensive spell?"
"...Er... yeah. Sorry."
"Wear the damn Cloak."
"Didn't we start off this conversation with me asking you to do the same, only much more politely?"
"They are far less likely to kill me immediately. I'm a Mudblood, remember? Torture is the best policy."
"Whereas you... you're a threat."
"They won't kill us. We're on Voldemort's list, remember? Death Eaters aren't a problem."
"Don't you dare be flippant about Death Eaters, James Potter."
"But Lily, in case you haven't noticed, you're a bad-ass good guy who is far cleverer than me. Without you, I'm nothing. They know that. If they get me, you'll be okay; if they get you, neither of us will. Now please put the Cloak on."
"James, if the next words out of your mouth are 'Cauldron cake', I swear to Merlin I will--"But then James had kissed her, a lot, and now here she was, wearing the Invisibility Cloak.
"I think it should be called a foul when you use your lips as a persuasion tool," Lily whispered into James' ear. A hint of a smile appeared from under the hat's brim.
Aberforth came up to James across the bar, drying a mug. "Want another?" Aberforth asked in a low, impersonal tone. James glanced up at him and shook his head curtly before returning to the paper. He wasn't reading it any longer, though; he was paying attention to the two men that had just walked in, watching them out of his periphery.
"Firewhiskey, barkeep," demanded the thicker of the two in a raspy voice. Aberforth pulled out a bottle and two glasses before disappearing into the back room, as was common practice when Death Eaters came in. They paid him good money to stay out of their affairs, and though Aberforth was a member of the Order, he also had a business to run.
James and Lily were perfectly aware of who the two men were. The one who had ordered was Evan Rosier, who had been in their year at Hogwarts. The other was Severus Snape.
"Suppose we tell them," Snape muttered.
"Tell them what? Nothing's been said. He's too fresh to talk."
"All the same, the knowledge that they're being betrayed..."
"Will invoke more than we're bargaining for." Rosier paused. "You're newer at this than I thought."
"I merely think that we are spending too much time and energy on those who aren't a threat."
"Tell that to the boss. See how fast you hit the ground."
"I am not threatened."
"That shows just how new at this you are." Rosier downed some Firewhiskey. "Even if they do panic and scatter, he's still not going to be pleased, and the betrayal is going to lie on both of our heads. So, try it and I'll kill you." He spoke airily. Snape's facial expression remained completely neutral as they both fell silent.
Aberforth emerged from the back room and looked around to make sure his customers were all right for the time being. His brow furrowed in annoyance and he stepped toward the middle of the bar and picked up three coasters, tossing them across the counter to the Death Eaters. "Listen, I don't ask much from my patrons, but the least you can do is save me a little work and use the damn coasters," he said annoyedly. He sent one down the counter to James as well before retreating back into the room and muttering, "Every time with these guys".
James caught the coaster easily and slid it casually from one hand to the next. As he had thought, a note was caught beneath it, and was dislodged just enough with the movement for James to thumb it into the sleeve of his robes. He pulled it out once he had re-opened the newspaper, making sure it could be plainly seen by Lily and no one else.
Scrimgeour's on a crusade.
Other DE's coming. Target unknown. I'm your backup.
Rosier's attention had been caught. "Grave news, friend?" he asked James, obviously not recognizing him.
"Always," James replied huskily, downing the last of his Butterbeer while being careful to keep his face hidden beneath the brim of the hat.
Rosier squinted obviously, trying to decipher James' features. "It's a grave world, all right," he prompted. James gave no inclination of having heard. "Especially these days." Rosier was getting too nosy. Lily drew out her wand under the cloak. "Whose side are you on, friend?" Rosier finally asked.
"The only side there is," James responded, still staring at the counter. This was apparently a good answer in Rosier's books, for he grinned and took another swallow of firewhiskey. Snape, on the other hand, was now also paying attention, and was frowning in James' direction.
"Out on orders, are you?"
"Something like that."
"Coming with us?" Rosier asked. Snape's expression behind him became startled at Rosier's question.
"Not sure what you're talking about."
"Sure you are," Rosier prompted. He was leaning toward James with his eyebrows raised and his cold eyes darting with excitement.
"Rosier," Snape started coldly behind him in warning, but the door opened and a pair of mean-looking wizards in dark robes walked in. They muttered something to Snape and Rosier about "change of plan" and left just as briskly as they had entered. Snape and Rosier exchanged a somewhat nervous glance; Snape fished for change in the pocket of his robes while Rosier swept on his cloak.
"See you in Ottery St. Catchpole, friend," Rosier winked as they left. Snape's head snapped fleetingly toward James as he walked out the door. James kept his head down until the footsteps receded, and outside was silent.
"Thank Merlin for stupid Death Eaters," James muttered so only Lily could hear as he, too, fished change out of his pocket. "Do me a favour and take care of the Red Herring, will you, barkeep?" he said more loudly as Aberforth emerged from the back room.
"Sure, pal," he said in an impersonal manner, wiping the bar with a cloth and not looking at James as he left.
"James, I'm a little wary about this," Lily muttered as she rushed up the rocky slope after him, trying to cope with the length of the Invisibility Cloak.
"I doubt very much that it's a set up," he said as he held out his hand to the air, reading her mind. "Either he's way smarter than he looks, or they're finally going after Arthur and Molly like they've been planning since Witticker bit the dust."
She took his hand and helped herself up into the cave, shedding the Cloak immediately upon entry. "You didn't see Snape's face."
Lily ignored the joke. "In all honesty, Sev--Snape is smart enough to have stopped Rosier before he said anything stupid. I think it was a pre-organized set up to send the Order on the wrong trail."
"Next you're going to tell me that you think Scrimgeour is a Death Eater because he's taken the Auror team out of the equation." James shook his head. "Snape started to protest. He got squirrelly, I could tell by his tone of voice. Rosier really is stupid enough to have let something like that slip. Snape may have just been cunning enough to make it seem like a false trail to lead us somewhere else."
Lily smiled. "So you admit that Snape is smart?"
"I said cunning, love. Like a fox. An ugly greasy fox." James frowned. "What does it matter what I think of Snape? He's a Death Eater. That's all I need to know."
Lily opened her mouth to answer, but Sirius took the opportunity to Apparate in the back of the cave. His face was covered in sweat and he stretched his wand arm immediately after appearing. "I am seriously starting to think that Scrimgeour is either a Death Eater or a vampire," Sirius stated grumpily. "I have been Apparating everywhere to find out something about what the Death Eaters are planning since all the Aurors are indisposed, Wormtail's missing and Moony's off being a lame werewolf. Any news?"
"Ottery St. Catchpole," James stated shortly.
Sirius grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. "You always get the job done, Prongs. I am in awe. And, Lily, of course, you are a goddess as well," he added, giving a slight bow in the direction of the lady.
"Actually, I sat under an Invisibility Cloak the entire time," she stated in a bitter tone.
"What?" Sirius asked, shocked. "Prongs, she's way more capable than you. It should be you under there observing, not her."
"He doesn't listen, Sirius, don't bother trying."
"Does no one understand I only have the best intentions in mind?" James asked grumpily, glancing repeatedly out the cave. It was clear he wanted to get going.
"Relax, mate," Sirius said seriously, deciding it was time to switch to the more urgent subject. "Is it likely that they're really going to Ottery St. Catchpole?"
"Yes," James said.
"Have Arthur and Molly been warned?"
"I put Aberforth on it before I left."
"Does Arthur know to Apparate here?"
"Arthur's at work. The first and only place he's going is home."
Sirius nodded. "What's the plan?"
"They're obviously meeting somewhere beforehand. Rosier and Snape weren't in the Hog's Head for just a drink. They were misinformed."
Sirius frowned. "Planted?"
"That's what I think," Lily said.
"I disagree," James stated lightly. "Either way, I think our best plan is to go to town, check on the Weasleys and then wait for sunset."
Sirius nodded. "Okay. I'm going to go see if I can find Wormtail. I'll meet you two there." Sirius turned on the spot and was gone a moment later.