Disclaimer: All characters and settings borrowed from the Harry Potter series belong to JK Rowling. I just play with her ideas.
The story so far: After the call to a Death Eater attack ruins their Christmas Dinner, James fumbles through an unorthodox proposal of marriage, and Lily accepts. Things rapidly begin to return to normal, except that they're don't. At the Ministry of Magic, Barty Crouch is on the warpath, and Alastor Moody can do little to stop him. In protest over the new laws, James and Sirius quit their jobs just in time for the New Year.
4. In Which Things Are Set In Motion
"I don't trust this," Sirius murmured quietly, casting a dark look toward the kitchen. Dimly, Remus, Sirius and Peter could hear the dull clinks of crockery and the steady thud of a knife on the wooden chopping board. "It seems too … domestic. When's she going to snap? It's been a week!"
Remus raised his eyebrows, tucking an amused smile away into the corners of his mouth. He wasn't in the mood to find Sirius amusing.
"Just putting this out there, but I don't think this is the right time to tell Prongs and Lily about Snape, either," Peter muttered, gazing questioningly at Remus.
Remus shook his head slowly; it seemed silly, Snape being angry about James and Lily's engagement – really, who was surprised? – and so they'd been putting off mentioning it. In hindsight, they probably should have called James and Lily into Sirius' flat on Boxing Day night when Peter had first arrived, slightly frazzled, but they hadn't wanted to interrupt the happy couple's first chance to be alone since their engagement.
But today seemed no more appropriate than yesterday, and yesterday had felt no more appropriate than the day before, all things considering. At this rate, Remus was quite sure they'd never get around to telling them. It wouldn't do to spoil things now, certainly – not when they were going so well. Lily had smiled and nodded as fiercely as anyone when James and Sirius had recounted in great detail their quitting the Ministry, but there was no hiding the underlying concern in her eyes; Crouch wasn't pleased, again, and there was no pretending that they all didn't have a very good idea of the mischief the pair promised to fall into now that their time wasn't so closely regulated by Moody.
Remus rubbed his eyes tiredly, before resting his head on his hand. It seemed absurd to be thinking it, and yet – he was getting too old for this. Listening to James and Lily preparing dinner was a startling reminder of what life should be like, and yet he'd spent his day chasing up leads for Dumbledore. In some ways, it was like a game: a warped hybrid of a treasure hunt and a wild goose chase. Rosmerta and Aberforth had nothing; no names, only vague remembrances of some shaded faces and half-heard conversations which were of use to no one. Tom was a little better; his hunched back and hobbling walk seemed to mask his quick eyes and sharp hearing, and at least he'd been able to pass on mutterings about giants on the coast of France and werewolf sightings in Ireland. None of these pieces of news did anything to allay the growing sense of menace Remus felt spreading like a disease through the winding streets of London.
"Remus?" Lily appeared in the doorway, arms full of a steaming platter of what smelled like roast potatoes. "Could you set the table, please?"
Peter was already standing to clear the assorted bottles with a flick of his wand; Sirius simply pushed his chair back, looking uncomfortably useless.
Remus rose to his feet with a sigh and made his way into the kitchen to flick open the cutlery drawer. James winked at him from the stove.
"Everything all right?" Remus muttered. No-one had been fooled by Lily's ruse of making James help her cook; in fact, the whole idea had only served to increase everyone's anxiety levels unnecessarily.
James gave a short nod, smiling crookedly. His voice was low and soothing, and Remus couldn't help but marvel at the degree of patience James had developed over the past three years
"Of course, Moony; everything's fine now."
"Not the batwings, Potter you idiot!"
Just about everyone in the crowded Potions classroom winced, including Professor Slughorn. Only Severus Snape and, strangely, James Potter himself, smiled.
"Just testing you, Evans," he murmured.
If this was his attempt at reassurance, Severus couldn't help thinking (just a little smugly) that Potter had a lot to learn about the girl who was currently glaring daggers at him.
Professor Slughorn was making his way through the rows of benches, now, his normally jolly face concerned. "Ah, now, Mister Potter," he called a little anxiously. "Everything all right, Miss Evans?"
Lily glanced up at Slughorn, her expression perfectly pleasant. "Just fine, thank you," she replied sweetly.
Slughorn looked almost as baffled as Potter. Unconsciously charmed, he moved forward to examine the contents of Lily's cauldron. A slow smile spread across his enormous face, threatening to disappear into his third chin.
He tapped a finger to his nose, eyes twinkling merrily now. "And, Miss Evans, what would you have done if Mr Potter had indeed added the Batwings so prematurely?"
Lily frowned thoughtfully; Potter relaxed against the bench behind him, looking bored.
"Well, I would have added the caterpillar skin straight away, and then stirred counter-clockwise for half a minute. It wouldn't be perfect, I suppose, but under such circumstances-"again, she directed a glare towards Potter, who straightened, surprised "- it would probably give the best outcome I could hope for."
Slughorn nodded, pleased; Severus felt a strange surge of pride. Though he couldn't exactly take credit for Lily's brilliance, a small part of him felt that in some ways it was appropriate; after all, who had been the one to introduce her to the magical world?
Potter was still frowning at the back of her head. Severus stiffened unconsciously, waiting.
"Look, Evans, I really don't think that was called for, you know – I'm not stupid, or anything."
Lily didn't even bother to turn around. "You like to think so, don't you? How about we make a deal, Potter: you never touch a potion of mine again, and I won't hex you for taking credit for my work too often. Sound fair?"
Potter scowled, moving toward the cauldron defiantly, wand raised; Lily spun, eyes blazing. She slapped his wand-hand down with the flat edge of her knife.
"Don't touch, Potter. I mean it."
Potter simply smirked. Then –
"POTTER!" Lily screamed, watching horrified as the sickly yellow potion erupted upwards from her cauldron with the force of a small explosion; it hit the ceiling and splattered, tiny droplets spraying down on the other First Years. Slughorn felt the soft smack of something trickling down the back of his neck before he turned, frowning.
"And Mum was thinking we could get married in a Church-" Lily broke off, flashing a smile at James, who seemed to rock back on his chair, surprised. "I told her I didn't know if we were religious. Are we religious, James?"
James ran a hand through his hair, mystified at the piles of paper that had materialized out of nowhere to scatter across his dining table. "I don't know, Lily. I don't think so… I mean, I don't know, I was never taught … if we believe in Gob or anything?"
"God, James," Lily corrected patiently, fighting a bubble of laughter. "His name is God."
James rolled his eyes and flapped his hand at her. "Oh, whatever, Lily. Anyway… is it important that we get married in a church? I mean – frankly, I couldn't care less. We could get married right here. I do, you do, and we're done!"
"I believe that's missing the point a little, James," Remus offered from the lounge, where he was watching Peter and Sirius play Wizarding Chess. "You proposed, I think you signed yourself up for a little bit of pomp and circumstance."
James rolled his eyes. "But you know how much I hate it!"
Lily patted his hand sympathetically. "I know… don't think I've forgotten the little disappearing act you pulled on Graduation, James," she reminded him with a smile.
Remus and James exchanged a secret look, eyebrows raised, and James remembered gratefully how few questions Lily had actually asked.
"Actually," Peter interrupted thoughtfully; everyone's eyes fixed on him in surprise; they thought he'd been too consumed in the match to listen. "Actually, I have seen a little wizarding church, in a little village over near Wales."
Peter looked slightly amused as he met Lily's quizzical gaze. "Mum took me there to visit one of her old-bat friends one day, and I wandered off, and saw it… and I swear it's a wizard village, guys. Though there might be a few Muggles…?"
Lily turned to James, eyebrows raised. "Honestly, I couldn't care less if we weren't married in a church, James, but … you know, for Mum??"
James sighed, squeezing her fingers. He smiled ruefully at Peter, avoiding Sirius' incredulous gaze.
"Right-o, then. Where was this Wizard Church, Wormy?"
Peter frowned thoughtfully. "Godric's… Hill?"
"Godric's Hollow, actually."
"Moony?" Sirius sounded taken aback.
Remus shrugged. "I was only there yesterday…"
"I know I ask a great burden of you, Remus." Dumbledore sighed, staring absently toward the window.
Remus wondered what he saw; his old Headmaster's forehead was a concertina of wrinkles and worry lines which cascaded down his skin toward his blue eyes, which were clouded with thought.
"Honestly, Professor, I don't have anything better to do with my time."
Remus spread his hands wide as if to illustrate the emptiness of his day, smiling. That seemed to call Dumbledore back to the present; he smiled sadly.
"Nothing worse, I suppose, but certainly something better," Dumbledore said, and Remus found he couldn't really argue; still, collecting information for the Order sounded nothing if not promising.
"I'm prepared to do whatever I can to help, Albus." Remus' tongue stumbled over the name, disused to it's sound. "And there's none with more talent than I for passing unnoticed."
"None save, perhaps, your friends," Dumbledore amended, his eyes twinkling.
Remus blushed, and stared at his hands, unwilling to confess the secret of James' Cloak.
"Perhaps," he agreed quietly.
"Remus, I believe you're already familiar with my brother, Aberforth, and Madame Rosmerta, and Old Tom at the Leaky Cauldron?"
Remus nodded once, jerkily, still staring at his hands.
"I have an agreement with them, to … keep me informed of all the comings and goings in their places of business. But I don't believe you're acquainted with Holbrok, of Gringotts, or Madame Esrel, who owns the cellars in Knockturn Alley? Or, for that matter, any of the number of great publicans that can be found in the many wizarding villages dotted about the countryside?"
Remus shook his head, unable to restrain himself from glancing at Dumbledore again, in surprise. A spy in Gringotts?
Dumbledore seemed to read the question in his eyes. He smiled. "No spy, Remus – just a very old friend. When you meet with them – which you will – please, show them this."
Dumbledore's desk drawer slid open; the old Headmaster peered inside, then smiled. He passed a little, gold-plated seal to Remus across the table. Remus examined it curiously, turning it over and over in his hand. It had all the appearances of a Hogwarts seal, until…
Remus blinked. The elegant H melted away to reveal the insignia of a bird, though it was not the sign of Ravenclaw. Remus grinned appreciatively, casting a look towards Fawkes, who presided over their meeting with an air of gravity which surpassed even Dumbledore's.
"A phoenix?" Remus asked softly, impressed.
Dumbledore smiled. "Yes. They will know it for what it is."
"You know, this really isn't necessary James," Lily murmured reluctantly, chancing a quick glance behind her. The street was relatively busy. Muggles bustled past on their way to work, and the traffic on the roads was moving along at a snail's pace. Peak hour in London was never pleasant, and yet she couldn't help but laugh at her fiancé's expression; he gazed around him in amazement, eyes catching on the cars, clothes, houses …
Ahead of them, the 'walk' sign on a busy intersection lit up, and James smirked. Lily could almost hear his thoughts – she was sure it'd be something patronizing, along the lines of stupid Muggles need a flashing light to tell them when it's safe to cross a road!
"What isn't necessary?" he responded finally, recalling her complaint.
His hand tightened around hers very deliberately, and Lily sighed.
"You don't need to walk me to work every morning."
As amusing as everything was to James, there were certain other benefits to the chaos of London mornings; they both knew that no one would dare launch an attack with the chance of so many witnesses.
James shrugged easily. "I like walking you to work, Lily. Being unemployed can get quite dull, you know."
He was teasing her now, because unemployed was a very loose term where James was concerned. In fact, gazing up at him thoughtfully, Lily doubted if she'd ever seen him busier. James simply winked and slipped an arm around her waist.
The mannequin in the window of Purge and Dowse, Ltd regarded the pair quizzically as Lily approached it, smiling.
"Good morning, Ethel," she offered cheerfully.
James nodded respectfully, and they stepped through the window without any further ado.
The waiting room was crowded as usual, the rickety old chairs packed with a variety of witches and wizards. James peered about the room curiously, his smile wavering between apathy and amusement. Lily elbowed him, glaring disapprovingly, and with a cheerful nod to the Welcome Witch she took his hand and ducked toward the Staff entrance.
"I wish you wouldn't stare," she admonished quietly, frowning up at him as soon as they were concealed behind the surprisingly springy wooden door.
James shrugged amiably. "The St Mungo's waiting room is every wizard's dream freak parade. People are surprised when you don't stare! Can you honestly blame me?" He grinned. "Didn't think so."
Before she could protest, he leant over and planted a kiss on her lips. Lily submitted quite willingly, disapproving thoughts all-but vanishing. James cupped her face in his hands.
"Love you," he mumbled, pecking her lips again.
Lily leant her forehead against his, feelingly pleasantly light-headed. "I know. Love you too."
Someone coughed. Lily turned, startled, to find Healer Finley waiting, smiling slightly.
"Lily," she nodded. "James. Congratulations."
James straightened, grinning broadly. Lily's boss was nice enough, but Merlin help him if he distracted Faustina's trainees from their work. "Healer Finley – I was just leaving. I'll see you at home, Lily."
Lily watched James disappear back through the Staff door with only a little reluctance. Turning back to the Healer, she shrugged unapologetically.
Healer Finley smiled blithely. "I do mean it, you know," she offered. "I hope you two do well together."
Lily shrugged, feeling a little shy. "Thanks, Faustina."
The older witch nodded absently, sorting through the pile of files in her arms. Finding the right one, she handed it over without any further ado.
"New laws," she murmured by way of explanation. "Make sure Healer Tonks sees this too, if you please. You're not going to like them, I'm afraid, but it's out of my hands."
Lily accepted the file with a frown; from its bland purple cover, she couldn't fathom it containing anything out of the ordinary. Certainly not something that would ruffle Faustina Finley's feathers. Nevertheless –
"Thanks, Faustina," Lily repeated, taking advantage of her nod of dismissal and continuing down the corridor. Her head was already buried in the sheaf of thick parchment, searching, searching …
Lily stopped dead with a gasp of outrage.
"I hope you boys know what you're doing."
Sirius had never seen Moody look so grim before. Without thinking, he leant forward to brace the old wizard's arm.
"'Course we don't," he replied lightly, hoping to Merlin Moody didn't miss the gratefulness in his eyes.
"When do we ever?" James agreed, his words similarly disproportionate to his expression.
Moody sighed, his gaze never wavering from the young men before him. Sirius was quietly aware that the atmosphere seemed to be sinking lower.
"We can take care of ourselves, at any rate," he offered, shrugging. "And it's not like we won't have things to do, if you know what I-"
Moody let out a low growl, which Sirius immediately interpreted as an order to silence himself. Then, much to Sirius' amazement, Moody pressed a finger to his lips and shook his head.
James was frowning too. Sirius followed his best friend's gaze.
There was something new about Moody's office, something he couldn't quite put his finger on …
James gasped suddenly, his eyes lighting on the small slip of wall beside Moody's window. A new portrait hung there.
Sirius took a step closer, intrigued. After all, it wasn't like Moody to keep portraits of – well, anyone. A miniature seemed grossly out of character, and perhaps this was why Moody had positioned his back toward it.
The miniature of Crouch seemed to think so, too. He sat against a dignified black-velvet backdrop, arms crossed, dozing lightly.
Unaware until that point that he'd even been holding his breath, Sirius expelled it gently, looking once more at Moody. James was doing the same, expression incredulous.
The old Auror shrugged, looking defeated, and jerked his head toward the doorway. Sirius nodded quickly; James was already over the threshold.
"See you Tuesday," he mouthed, winking. Moody sighed.
The Hogs' Head was as usual; even at the early hour, there was a smattering of patrons tucked into the knarled wooden furniture, bent over mugs of mulled mead and Firewhiskey. Remus paused in the doorway as all but one turned to assess him dispassionately. One by one, they turned back, satisfied (most probably) that he wasn't any threat to their privacy. The irony of this made Remus want to burst into semi-hysterical laughter, but letting go of his composure here, in this nondescript little bar in Hogsmeade, was nothing if not dangerous. Instead, Remus caught the barman's eye as he made his way toward the grubby bar. Aberforth met his gaze levelly and jerked his head toward the back room.
"Afternoon," Remus greeted him easily as Dumbledore's brother slipped past the grimy curtain and tugged it shut.
Aberforth nodded curtly. "My brother said to expect you." He looked as though the thought of his brother left a sour taste in his mouth.
Remus fixed a face into a mild expression, deciding that, as usual, he didn't want to know.
"I was wondering. Have you had anyone especially unusual in the last few days?" he asked, keeping his voice low. He doubted very much if that grimy, tattered curtain masked any sound from carrying, and there had been a few people at the bar who eyed him with a little more than apathetic curiousity.
Aberforth frowned, clearly un-amused. "The last lot of unusual folk I had in was on Christmas Night, and you was one of them," he growled, clearly trying to illustrate the subjectivity of Remus' question.
"Now if you was to ask if I've had any odd folk in in the past few days, I'd tell you I had a hag yesterday who downed three Firewhiskeys in a row, a man in a cloak who came in quietly and just sat watching everyone for a good hour or so, and a witch who looked like she had some ogre in her asking after Hagrid just last night."
Remus' interest was piqued, and Aberforth knew it. His mouth twisted into a grimace, he folded his arms firmly and condescendingly answered a few short questions about the cloaked man.
"And nothing else?" Remus added at the end, more out of habit than from any genuine concern.
The cloaked man story was very odd indeed, and Remus would be damned if he wasn't going straight up to Hogwarts to pass that particular piece of information on to Dumbledore the moment he left the bar. Aberforth's eyes flashed, inexplicably incensed.
"Yes, that's all, you young scoundrel. Don't you have anything better to do than pry into business what isn't your own?"
Remus frowned. "Clearly not," he mumbled, sighing. "I'll be out of your hair then."
Aberforth wasn't usually so hostile; in fact, Remus had only ever known him to be obliging, especially when it had come to supplying Sirius with Firewhiskey.
A hand caught his shoulder as he made to leave the room; Remus turned, startled, to meet Aberforth's agitated expression. His brilliant blue eyes were apologetic.
"Sorry, lad," he mumbled, frustrated. "I know you mean well – but don't go thinking you ain't the only one asking questions, all right?"
"Really, Barty, I don't see this as a cause for concern."
Albus Dumbledore spread his hands, the gesture nothing if not casual and dismissive. Bartemis Crouch scowled.
"I will not have a son of mine sorted into Slytherin, Dumbledore!" he barked.
Dumbledore sighed, motioning for Crouch to take a seat. He waited politely as Crouch took the chair set before his Headmaster's desk; after glancing swiftly around his office, affording an affectionate smile at Fawkes, who watched him beadily, Dumbledore set himself down too.
"What is this really about, Barty?" he asked tiredly, supporting his head with a hand.
It wouldn't do for Barty Crouch to suspect anything; at all costs, Dumbledore knew he must remain patient and alert, regardless of the fact that he'd spent the past night in London talking with several of his contacts.
"I will not have my only child – my only son, Dumbledore – Sorted into a House of disrepute. I won't let him be influenced, I won't subject him to…"
Dumbledore nodded smoothly to fill the growing silence. It wasn't like Barty Crouch to find himself lost for words, not at all, but Dumbledore was certain his misgivings were nothing that couldn't be soothed with a little reassurance, and just a little well-applied logic.
"Yes, very well – Barty, I do appreciate your reservations, but surely you can see that it would be best for young Bartemis to remain where he has been placed. The Sorting Hat, as you know, has its reasons, and I can no less doubt it's decision here than I can its decision to place you in Ravenclaw. What would you have me do?"
Crouch gritted his teeth. Always the opportunist, Dumbledore couldn't resist.
"Slytherin is no less noble than any of our other fine Houses, Barty. Really, demanding your son be withdrawn and re-Sorted is not something I would encourage, not at all. After all, the last thing I would want to hear is that there's been a misunderstanding."
Dumbledore knew instantly that Crouch recognised the threat now hanging in the air between them.
It was funny how little that seemed to matter, anymore...
Sirius grinned, revving his bike.
"Where've you been?" he called, just loud enough for his voice to carry across the street to where James was strolling slowly away from the hospital.
His grin broadened as he watched his best friend spin, bright eyes scanning the crowd. Of course James had recognised his voice instantly; he'd lived with him too long, probably. Moments later, he'd crossed the street at an easy lope and stood in front of the bike, eyes twinkling.
"Paddy." There was a warning in his voice, and he'd schooled his expression into one of stern disapproval, but there was no masking the mischief in his eyes.
Sirius flapped a hand, dismissing all pretences impatiently. "You're not Head Boy anymore, Prongs," he scoffed. "You're an unemployed young fellow with nothing better to do than cause trouble."
He probably spoke louder than he should have; a yard away, an old darling on her way to the shops froze, affronted, and offered a glare. Sirius winked at her easily, and the woman hurried on, scowling. He bit back a laugh, catching James' eye easily and shrugging. He couldn't help that loved the idea of being so easily offensive, after all!
James rolled his eyes in response, shoving his hands into his pockets. Sirius could tell he was trying very hard to appear nonchalant.
"What did you have in mind?"
Remus scowled. "Sirius, I'd really rather you didn't, you know."
Sirius leant forward, his face alight with eagerness, elbows braced on his knees. "Come on, Moony, are you honestly saying it's impossible to put two strapping young ex-Aurors to any use? We'll do anything!"
James was reclined against the padded leather backrest of the Leaky Cauldron, looking almost bored. When Sirius had said 'productive', he'd imagined … well, something more interesting spending their morning honing around London on Sirius' motorcycle and agitating as many pedestrians as possible. Certainly, pleading with Remus for work was a slight improvement, especially since lunch had been involved, but ... James sighed, for the first time wondering if perhaps he'd made a mistake, leaving the Ministry? He was in the habit of doing something useful, now, and … well, Sirius' idea of gadding about was about as far from useful as James could name. What had happened to the dangerous undercover missions and daring feats of stupidity? Perhaps Sirius was losing his touch?
James gazed around the barroom casually. It was very nearly empty, apart from a gaggle of old witches in one corner, and a solitary woman drowning her sorrows at the bar who looked very much like…
"Moony, what we need is an effective way to get you your information, yes?"
Remus looked at him quizzically, clearly reluctant to agree. Nevertheless, he nodded.
"And Sirius," James pressed. "You'll do anything?"
Sirius rolled his eyes; his exasperation with how quickly Remus had refused his offer of help was almost comical.
James folded his arms, smiling lazily. "Well then, I want you to go chat up that woman at the bar, Sirius. See what you can get out of her."
Remus coughed suddenly to hide his startled laugh; Sirius looked almost offended.
"Is this what its come to, James?" he murmured, doing a very poor impression of one deeply wounded. "You're pimping me out?"
James winked. "Think of it as a challenge, Sirius. We're testing your dedication."
If Sirius' biggest flaw wasn't his pride, James would swallow his wand; this thought had no longer flitted through James' mind than Sirius rose to his feet, smiling haughtily.
"Hmmpf. Too easy, Prongs."
Remus frowned curiously at James as they watched Sirius swagger towards the bar.
"What on earth are you playing at, Prongs? The woman's a hag!"
James raised his eyebrows impressively, his hazel eyes shining ironically.
"Oh, she's no hag, Moony. That's Snivelly's dear old Mum."
"You know what, Vance? I'm glad you're happy. I'm so, so incredibly glad. You know why? Because you're beautiful, Vance, and I love you, and I did the wrong thing by you, and he hasn't, you know? You deserved better than me, and you got it, and I still love you, but I'm glad you're not …"
Emmeline Vance blinked, surprised. Sirius Black smiled at her lopsidedly; she'd never seen anyone so drunk. His left eye-lid dropped comically, and he was leaning heavily against her, one arm slung around her shoulder over-affectionately.
"Right-o, Sirius, I think we've all heard enough of that, thanks."
Remus shot Emmeline an apologetic look as he tugged Sirius away from her; Peter slipped his head beneath Sirius' arm and helped him shoulder the weight.
Emmeline watched in dumb silence as they proceeded to drag Sirius out of Lily and James' flat.
"You OK, Em?"
James Potter's voice sounded beside her; she jumped, turning to face him reluctantly, feeling overwhelmed. He seemed to sense her discomfort; a fresh glass of raspberry rum was pressed into her numb hands.
"I'm sorry you had to hear that," James continued affably, steering Emmeline into a seat on his lounge. Lily, deep in conversation with Alice Prewett, flashed her a smile and moved over to make room.
Emmeline met James' eyes, and recognised a depth of understanding in them that startled her even more. James knew; James had known all along, perhaps.
"Wh- what am I supposed to do with that, though? I mean – he was serious, wasn't he?"
James perched on the low coffee table, leaning towards her with a sympathetic smile. Emmeline noticed his hand stretched for Lily's knee unconsciously, and for a moment, she forgot to be anxious, and instead almost sighed with envy. Where was Benjy, anyway? But James was now replying.
"I don't think you're supposed to do anything, Em. Sirius has been dealing with it, and … he'd probably prefer you didn't know, to be honest. I doubt he'll remember telling you, the state he's in!"
Emmeline sipped her drink doubtfully. "I think that's easier said than done, James – how am I supposed to pretend he didn't just … profess his love to me?"
James closed his eyes, and for one second his hand ghosted away from Lily, toward his face. Suddenly, he looked very tired.
"It's been hard for Sirius, working with Benjy every day and knowing he's the one that gets to go home to you, Em. I know Sirius hasn't always been the best of friends, but … could you just try, for him? It'll be easier than you think, since like I said, he won't remember… You just need to take what he said with a grain of salt, as per usual, and everything will be fine."
Emmeline sipped at her drink again, taking her time as she pondered James' words. No wonder it'd been an age since Sirius had met her eyes! She swallowed, wincing as too much alcohol tried to force itself down her throat. Finally, she looked up again to meet James' eyes.
"I suppose our conversation never happened, either?" she asked, smiling slightly.
James winked. "Now now, Em, so ready to forget me? I want to hear all about your Quidditch, anyway. Merlin, I haven't spoken to you in ages…"
Andromeda Tonks was livid. Her face was flushed, eyes bright, mouth set into a thin line. Lily was willing to bet she didn't look much more pleasant.
They'd been so busy that morning that Lily had laid aside Faustina's mountain of paperwork for later; sick of playing nurse to an ever-dwindling number of patients Andromeda and several of the other Healers were consolidating their wards, and all the Spell Damage patients had been moved into the largest ward, several rooms down. Lily had spent the best part of her day directing hospital beds, which had, despite its promise, not been a task for the light-hearted. Like everything in St Mungo's, the beds had seemed to possess a mind of their own, and Lily had had to jump out of the path of a hurtling trolley more than once.
For the first time in a while, though, Lily had enjoyed the sense of cheerful efficiency emanating from the Healers, and the patients, too, seemed more satisfied to be together. The empty wards held a cold sense of foreboding that nobody liked, and at least now they were all gathered together, for better or for worse…
The paperwork had rested, forgotten, on Andromeda's desk until late that afternoon.
"How can they do that?"
Andromeda didn't reply. Instead, her eyes gazed about the empty ward, restlessly, as though she were about to go and find some patients to fill those beds. It would be an act of defiance.
Lily dropped her gaze, feeling as though she were encroaching on something private. She'd never seen Andromeda like this before – not even when Faustina had thrown Nymphadora out of the hospital for disturbing the patients.
Instead, she stared at the mystifyingly purple stack of parchment Andromeda had slammed onto the desk only moments before. The pages were still settling, and they seemed to echo the pattern of Lily's disbelief.
The Ministry of Magic wishes to inform the employees of St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries that the new SafeCare policy, outlined below, is effective immediately. From now on, you may only treat patients who have been cleared for magical medical attention by virtue of their presence on the Ministry Safelist. Applicable persons will be found to carry the Ministry approved Token of Light, which signifies your patient can be trusted as non-detrimental to the security of those around them. All Ministry employees and their families have been issued with a Token…
So anyone who didn't work for the Ministry was clearly considered to be a Death Eater, then. Lily closed her eyes, feeling hatred boil up inside her veins, impatient to burst free. Was this what James and Sirius had felt right before they'd walked out of Moody's office? Certainly, Lily couldn't blame them now; and yet –
A hand squeezed at her heart. They wouldn't have been issued with the tokens! For that matter, half of the Order wouldn't have them.
If there was an attack…
If they couldn't be treated…
Lily felt quite certain she was going to be sick.
Lily glanced up, surprised. Two large hands shook her shoulders urgently; a face bent down to meet hers, the familiar eyes wide with concern.
James was shaking her.
"Lily, snap out of it!"
Andromeda's droll voice sounded from the doorway; she seemed torn between frustration and amusement.
"Lily, we have to go. Hurry!" James was turning her around now, all-but levitating her to the door.
"I – I – what?"
"Lily." James moved around to face her again, his eyes worried as they read her face. "'Dromeda, I don't think she's well enough for-"
"Well enough?" Andromeda snapped. "She doesn't have a choice. Lily!"
Andromeda's voice lashed out like a whip; startled, Lily shook her head, gathering herself.
"James, what are you doing here? What's going on?"
James appeared all at once to be relieved and even more concerned. He didn't speak; he couldn't seem to find the words. Lily frowned, turning instead to Andromeda, who looked impatient.
"Eloquent, Potter. There's been an attack, Lily. We've got to go."
Note: I know, I know. I'm sorry. Life is hectic, and I get these chapters done as fast as I can. Thank you for your patience, I hope you enjoyed it, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!! Reviews are most appreciated