Disclaimer: I am not J.K. Rowling, I just like to play with her creation. Firstly, I have to apologise for the horrifically long break between updates. I'm so sorry! As some of you may know, this was the week that A level results came out in Britain, and I have to admit that the stress frightened away my muse. Thankfully, I was really pleased with the grades and my muse, a flighty creature, has returned :)
Massive thanks, as always, to my fabulous beta BlackRoseBlue and all the wonderful people who read/favourite/alert/review this story. It means more than I can say. So, without further ado, here's the next chapter. I hope you enjoy!
Breathlessly, Lily stared at James. His rain soaked face was flushed and he returned her look, one hand continuing to trace her cheek.
"Lily," he said, voice laden with emotion. He paused for a moment, clearly searching for words. Watching him closely, Lily tried to bring her whirling thoughts under control. His kiss had robbed her of coherency – not to mention breath – and she struggled to contain her happiness. She felt as though time had stopped, and would have willingly stayed in that moment forever.
As always, though, reality had to barge in.
"No canoodling on the job, Potter," barked Moody, shattering the silence. Behind his back, Fabian and Gideon wolf whistled, still training their wands on the captured Death Eater. Alice, meanwhile, was trying to contain her glee and fixed Lily with a triumphant smile. It amazed Lily that such antics could happen in the middle of war, but it was reassuring nonetheless.
"Yes, sir," said James, his euphoria making solemnity an impossibility. The trademark smirk graced his features, but it lacked the arrogance that had once infuriated Lily. The fact that she was the cause of his joy was immensely gratifying, and it certainly reflected her own emotions. Lily felt whole, in a way she hadn't for a very long time.
Smiling faintly, she laced her fingers through James' and focused her attention on Moody. "Right," Moody grunted, relief etched on his face, "now you've got that out of your systems, we need to assess the damage."
"Of a kiss?" inquired Fabian innocently. "Because I'm pretty sure that both parties-"
"Shut it, Prewett," said Moody, ignoring Alice's giggles and the Heads' blushes. Sparing the silent Frank an approving look, he continued as though there had been no interruption. "We need to assess the repercussions of the attack, and the implications of Wenlock's loyalties. Dumbledore will want to know exactly what happened."
"Dumbledore?" Belatedly, Lily remembered that their trip to Hogsmede had been unsanctioned and her stomach squirmed uneasily. Although they were Head Boy and Girl, and technically allowed to visit the village whenever they wanted, Lily had a nagging suspicion that they should've told someone in authority where they were going. Would he be disappointed in them? James, evidently sensing her inner turmoil, squeezed her fingers comfortingly and lead her after Moody, who had already begun the long trek up to the castle.
"Yeah," filled in Frank, watching Moody's retreating back. "As head of the Order, Dumbledore'll want to know about the latest development."
"Partly," replied Frank darkly. He threw his fiancée a significant glance and Alice hastened to answer Lily's echoed query.
"Voldemort ordered your deaths," elaborated Alice, laying a hand on Lily's arm. "You represent everything he loathes."
"Mudbloods and blood traitors." Frank said this harshly, anger evident in every syllable. At his words, Lily's early realisation about their symbolic importance returned and, despite the avoidance of immediate danger, she couldn't repress a shudder. It seemed incredible that she, a ginger schoolgirl, was worthy of Voldemort's attention. But the threat was all too real, and Lily was painfully aware of the fact.
Tightening her grip on James' hand, and starting to climb the rocky path to Hogwarts, she listened to the others' conversation.
"Do you reckon the attack in November was linked?" asked James seriously.
"What attack was this?" queried Gideon, looking interested. Tightening Wenlock's bonds, he turned to face the others. Apparently, he didn't care that the Death Eater's floating body was scraping painfully against the ground and Lily – beginning to ache from the day's events – was in no mood to remind him.
"Some bastard cursed Lily," supplied James, a quiet fury infusing his words. His eyes flashed behind his glasses and he pulled her a little closer. It was mildly inappropriate, but Lily was seized by the desire to kiss James again. His breath was tickling her ear and she could feel herself blushing once more. Ruthlessly discarding this whim, because she didn't think Moody's heart could take it, Lily half-listened to James' explanation of Avery's attack. Unconsciously, her hand rose to her throat. Could it really be possible that Voldemort, or one of his followers, had told Avery to attack her? Reminded that Avery still roamed free, she made a silent resolution to avoid empty corridors.
Her reverie was interrupted by an exclamation from Fabian. True to form, he'd found something humorous in James' tale."A spell that can permanently shut this one up?" he asked, jerking a thumb in Lily's direction. "I don't know why they're wasting their time as Death Eaters, they could patent it and make their fortune!" Although James, Alice and Frank appeared torn, Gideon had no such compunction and roared with laughter. Conceding defeat, James gave her a wide grin.
"I see they've got your measure," he joked weakly, pressing a kiss to her cheek.
"It seems they do," Lily replied, a small smile tugging at her lips. The twins' black humour was infectious and gave her some much needed perspective. James' kiss, the simplest of gestures, had also brightened her mood and – surprisingly – she entered the castle with a broad grin on her face.
Grinning foolishly, they began the walk through the halls. Before she knew it, they'd reached Dumbledore's office, Death Eater in tow, and gave the gargoyle the password.
A few seconds later, they piled into the beautiful room. Moody had evidently got there before them, for he and Dumbledore were engaged in serious conversation. To the latter's credit, he did not seemed shocked by the motley collection of people in his office – even if it did sound like a bad joke.
"The Headmaster, twins, three Aurors, a Head Boy, a Head Girl and a Death Eater walk into a bar," muttered James, clearly following her train of thought. Repressing a laugh, Lily focused on Dumbledore, watching him finish his talk with Moody. Patting the old auror on the arm, his piercing blue eyes fell upon the pair and he strode towards them. He wasted no time in enquiring after their welfare, expressing his relief that they had survived unscathed. Robes swishing, he also thanked the others for their prompt action, a sentiment Lily heartily agreed with.
"Without your timely assistance, I doubt Miss Evans and Mr Potter would be standing in front of me," he stated softly, smiling benignly at his former students. "I must, I'm afraid, ask one last favour of you. I have tasked Alastor with accompanying Wenlock to the Ministry, but I would prefer to have extracted any pertinent information before that occurs."
"As we have just seen, the Ministry has been infiltrated on every level, and I cannot guarantee that Wenlock's capture will be treated as the boon it is. Minerva's classroom, I believe, is empty, and will doubtlessly provide ample space for your interrogation." With a shiver of apprehension, Lily wondered what exactly this interrogation would entail. She was almost grateful when Frank voiced similar concerns, secretly wanting to know how flexible Dumbledore's morals were.
"You don't want us to torture him, do you?" asked Frank, a small crease appearing between his furrowed brows. "Because, with all due respect, sir, that would make us as bad as the Death Eaters. I won't torture anyone, no matter who they are."
"Nor would I expect you to," said Dumbledore. For one fleeting second, Lily thought she saw discomfort upon his face, but it was immediately replaced with a look of pride at Frank's words. "A small dose of Veritaserum will suffice." Reaching into deep pockets, the wizard pulled out a glass vial and handed it to Moody.
Lily was, truth be told, a little shocked at his request. She hadn't realised that the Order went to such extreme measures, but she had to shed her naivety. Veritaserum was the lesser of two evils and she would have to accept that. By the resigned look on the others' faces, she thought they had come to similar decisions. Nodding solemnly, the Aurors and twins prepared to make the escape. Alice pulled Lily into a brief embrace, whispering a garbled message about bridesmaid dresses. Frank, meanwhile, began to levitate the unconscious Death Eater down the spiral staircase, the twins and Moody following close behind.
Before Lily and James could leave, however, Dumbledore called them back.
"A word, Miss Evans, Mr Potter?" Waiting until the others had left, he clasped his hands together. "You are not ready, I think, to see that," said the elderly man, gazing perceptively at them. Judging by the wave of relief Lily had just experienced, she was inclined to think he was right. "I have a few questions for you. I realise you are tired and overwhelmed by your experiences, so I will not detain you for too long."
"We appreciate that, sir," said James, encircling Lily's waist with his arm. Leaning into him, Lily showed her agreement.
"I think," said Dumbledore heavily, "that we have a spy in our midst."
"A spy?" echoed Lily, her heart clenching.
"I am afraid so."
"That is the problem. I do not know." All of a sudden, Dumbledore looked very old. With the slightest of hesitations, he continued. "I must ask, who did you tell of your plans?"
"You can't think that our friends would sell us to Voldemort," said James, indignant. "They would die rather than betray us!"
"Let us hope so, Mr Potter. Nevertheless, I require an answer."
"Marlene, Mary, Remus, Peter and Sirius," said Lily quickly, interjecting before James could lose his temper. "But, in all honesty, anyone could have heard them talking about it."
"I see," said Dumbledore. Lily had the strongest feeling that he was reserving judgement. "In that case," he said, "I would recommend you do your best to discover the identity of the eavesdropper." This time, there was a definite hint of steel in his voice, and Lily, not for the first time, wondered what lay beneath his benevolent exterior.
"We will," vowed James.
In reply, Dumbledore gestured towards the door. "I am," he said, "very proud of how you handled yourselves today." Recognising his words as a dismissal, the pair left the office. Unlike the last time they had exited the room together, Lily didn't feel the need for silence. She looked at James, his arm looped around her, and suppressed a smile. There was something she wanted to clarify, and she couldn't resist having a little fun at James' expense. Just because she'd fallen head over heels for James didn't mean she wanted to become one of those girls who simpered sycophantically at him.
"I noticed," she said slowly, "that you used the pronoun "we" an awful lot in there."
"Well, yeah," said James, grinning broadly, "I've wanted say it for so long, and..." He ruffled her hair, and gazed into her face, his voice trailing off. Suddenly, however, he appeared stricken. "Does it bother… You don't… I mean, we are still… will you be my girlfriend?" he blurted out finally.
And it wasn't the most sophisticated or original of his many proposals, but – in Lily's opinion – he'd never sounded more sincere. Allowing the smile to spread across her features, she stood upon the tips of her toes and planted a chaste kiss on James' cheek.
"I'll take that as a yes," he whispered in reply, drawing her close to him.
It had, by anyone's standards, been a very eventful day.