Ten Months Earlier
"Just remember," the mediwitch said as Lily nodded along nervously, "Try not to pressure him. He won't recognize you and trying to push him will only upset him. Introduce yourselves, explain that he's in a hospital, but don't tell him that he was attacked – just tell him that he was hurt but now he's getting better. Use simple words and small sentences. Make sure to introduce yourself every time you reenter the room. If you're going to touch him, warn him first. He may get overwhelmed and he may even get violent, just remember that that's the brain injury, not him. "
Lily kept nodding, trying to remember every bullet point on the increasing long list the woman was powering through. She was worried she might be in danger of getting overwhelmed herself.
"He might ask the same questions multiple times, just be patient with him. That's the most important thing to remember – always be patient." The mediwitch shot her a small smile and patted her on the back, a clear indication that it was time for her to see her fiancé. Lily took a deep breath, and entered the room.
Ten Months Later
The bell above the door jingled cheerily as Lily pushed her way into the antique shop, the familiar smell of aged must greeting her as she did. Mr. Peterson, a thin old man with tufts of grey hair on either side of his head and ridiculously small glasses, ambled out from behind a stack of books at the sound.
"Lily," he said with a smile. "What brings you my way? I didn't think you were scheduled for today."
"I'm not," she said, pulling her bag over her head and stuffing it behind the counter. "But I didn't have anything better to do today, so I thought I'd stop by and help with those chairs you picked up last week." She smiled and made her way toward the storeroom in the back.
"They're already priced and on the floor, I'm afraid." He shot her a small, kind smile – compensation for not being able to fulfill her desire to be helpful.
"Oh." Lily frowned; she was expecting to kill the entire day with that. She stepped back toward her bag, but hesitated to grab it. Luckily, Mr. Peterson looked up from his books – a single finger in the air to signify the beginnings of an idea forming in his head – and spoke before she had the chance to just bite the bullet and leave.
"But, Ernie Beaumont put out word that he was expecting a load of maps at his shop and didn't have room for them all. If you wouldn't mind shelving these books for a bit, I could go see if I could persuade him to let a few loose." His lips twitched in that way that was so uniquely his, as if he had to fight to keep a giddy smile off his face at the idea of a good deal. Lily wished she could love her life as much as he seemed to love his.
Lily smiled. "Perfect."
The repetition of this mundane but familiar task was just as soothing as Lily'd hoped it would be. Soon it was enough to push everything from her mind, leaving only thoughts of alphabetization and musings on whether that barely-there title starts with an A or an O, and she found herself getting through the next two hours much the same way as she'd gotten through the past eight months. In fact, she was so caught up in her work that she didn't hear the bell signal a new arrival, and when she noticed someone watching her she jumped so badly she knocked over a stack of books to her right.
"Christ, Remus — say something, don't just stand there," Lily said, hand over heart, still squatting beside the low shelf she'd been working on.
Remus, hands in his pockets and staring down at Lily with calculative eyes, shrugged. "I never know what to say in these situations — every other missing friend I've ambushed spoke first."
Lily almost felt her lip twitch at that, but instead she sighed and began righting the books she'd toppled to the floor. "Which department handles restraining orders against illegal animagi who use their abilities to track the movements of innocent young antiques dealers?"
"You'll have to forgive us for not wanting to give you another chance to vanish."
"I didn't vanish," she said, correct only on a technicality.
"No," he began with the kind of brisk conversational tone that is clearly forced, "just moved across town, I've heard. Masking charms?" The inflection in his words indicated that Remus already knew the answer, so Lily didn't give him one. "I figured. Mad-Eye went ballistic trying to trace you, but I told him your charms were always top-notch. If you wanted to be hidden, you'd stay hidden."
Since Remus didn't seem like he was going to lower himself to her level any time soon, Lily stood up. Her limbs creaked in protest at stretching out after over forty-five minutes of squatting. "And he just gave up?"
"No, just delegated the search to back burner once he was sure you weren't going to spill any secrets."
"Of course I wouldn't do that," Lily said, slightly offended at her loyalties being questioned.
Remus shrugged again. "You can't blame him for worrying, not a lot of people just up and quit like that. Once you're in, you're in for life, generally." Remus' face darkened. "And things have been getting pretty bad lately, it didn't really make you look good."
"Bad how?" Trepidation prickled at the back of her thoughts, and for the first time since she'd left, she felt guilty about abandoning the Order at a time like this.
He looked around the empty store, then gestured to the back room. "Have some time?"
Lily paused, briefly considering lying and avoiding this conversation altogether, but she squashed that thought as soon as she had it — she was simply too curious. She nodded and led the way.
Lily put on tea as Remus took off his coat and sat at the small table where Lily took her lunches during workdays. It wasn't until she sat the cups on the table and joined him that he spoke next. "I shouldn't be telling you any of this, of course — since you've defected you're not exactly privy to our information." He paused, concentrating on the finger he was tapping against the table as if inwardly convincing himself to go on. "But…since you've never technically resigned in any sort of…official capacity, that means that — technically — you're still a member." Lily said nothing, sipping her tea as she waiting for him to give in to himself. He looked up. "There's a spy."
Lily waited for elaboration that never came. "There's a spy in…."
"In the Order, yes." He took a sip of tea. "Whoever they are…they got Dorcas killed."
Lily was glad she'd just finished setting her cup down, because her grip on it slackened considerably. "Dorcas?" she asked hoarsely, by means of confirmation. "Dorcas is dead?" She was only two years older than Lily…still so young. "How…how did…."
"She was ambushed on a patrol. He showed up – Voldemort; did her in himself." Lily gripped the table as her head spun. "That's what raised flags, anyway. He had no reason to show up for a simple ambush, not unless he knew she'd be there. She'd gotten a few good ones over on him lately, we reckoned he'd been after her for a while. That's why we weren't sending her on anything big."
Lily cleared her throat, trying to match Remus' calm — (ridiculous, her mind said, comparing your civilian's reaction to that of a soldier. And then, when did Remus become a soldier?) —before going on. "Anything else?"
"You've heard about the McKinnons?"
Lily put her face into her hands, her palms pressing into her eyes as she croaked out, "Marlene?" She was another year older than Dorcas, and Lily didn't have many memories of her other than seeing her hanging around Gideon at meetings, but the news still shook her. All these people she used to stand with, she used to fight with, they're out there dying and she's in here, sticking price tags on grimy old mirrors.
"And her whole family." He paused. "We think we've ruled out foul play on that one, but I thought you should know."
Lily sat like that for a while, her mind still reeling, before something Remus said earlier clicked into place. "Wait…this makes me 'look bad'? They think I-"
"No," he quickly reassured her. "Well, at first it was a theory. But this is clearly somebody active. Lately the death eaters are step ahead of us far too often to be chance. It's somebody on the inside, but not higher up. The big secrets are still being kept."
"Which widens the pool considerably." Remus nodded, but didn't seem keen to share any theories. They finished their tea in silence before Lily changed the subject. "How've you been?"
Remus picked at some lint on his sleeve. "All right."
Lily watched as he avoided looking at her. That was his default answer, the one he gave to people he wasn't particularly close to; a lie exchanged during pleasantries and small talk. Distantly, Lily wondered if Remus still considered her a friend at all.
"Do you think you'll consider coming back?" Remus must've said something about leaving while Lily was distracted, because he was suddenly standing beside her chair, coat in hand.
"I…" but she choked on the word 'can't'. Everything about that life was tied up in tragedy, and even just the thought of it made her heart feel heavy in her chest. She tried to think of some way to articulate this to Remus, but was cut off before she had the chance.
"Right," Remus said with a quick nod, as if he hadn't expected anything different. He threw his coat on. "Perhaps I'll stop by again sometime. Assuming you don't take off again."
"Wait," Lily called out before he could leave. "You said the search for me is still on the back burner…are you…."
"Nobody's going to break the door down and drag you back by the ear, if that's what you're worried about. You're safe."
Remus left without another word, and Lily — still seated at the table, lost in her thoughts — never got back to the books by the time Mr. Peterson returned. As soon as he was, she was out the door and on her way home with just enough time for him to thank her for coming in. It seemed almost ridiculous that she was so shaken by what she'd learned — this was a war, the fighting didn't stop simply because she'd called time out.
And yet, that was her strategy for dealing with unpleasant situations, wasn't' it? If things were too difficult to handle, you just turn your back on them and they go away. And if things were far too difficult to handle, well, you just run away and create a new life. She was starting to see where there might be flaws in her methods….
But before Lily had time to conduct any real soul searching she was home, all thoughts of her personal problems gone as she pulled out her wand. Yesterday, coming home to a door left slightly open might've elicited an eye roll at Kat and her carelessness. Today — especially after the conversation she'd just had — she was a tad more vigilant.
She toed open the door, entering the flat wand first. She stood in the doorway and listened for any sounds of disturbance. The sitting room was neat, and for a brief second Lily thought that maybe she was overreacting. Then she heard what sounded like a slap, followed by a scream. Lily made her way quickly to the back of the flat, her blood running cold as she came upon Kat's bedroom. Kat and Emily were huddled in the corner, and it looked to Lily that their arms were bound. Kat had a black eye and a split lip, and Emily was sporting a large, bruised lump on her forehead. Both of them looked scared and confused.
Standing over them were two men; one was crouching over Kat, clearly the muscle of this operation, and the other was hanging back and observing. The second man's face was angled just enough for her to recognize him, and now that Lily knew what was going on, she sprang into action. Bounding through the door, Lily silently thrust her wand toward Nott, hitting him with a surge of magic strong enough to knock him back toward the window, which he promptly fell through. The other man turned and instantly began firing curses at Lily. Matching him strike for strike, Lily used the angle of her spells to guide him away from the girls, who were now scooting even further into the corner to avoid getting hit by any wayward magic.
A stinging hex caught Lily's left shoulder, and the Death Eater used her momentary distraction to hurl a blasting curse toward her. She ducked in time, but the hallway behind her exploded violently, and she was forced toward her opponent in order to avoid the falling wreckage. Thinking quickly, she ran toward him; the sudden charge confused him enough to allow her the perfect window to blast his wand out of his hand. It fell out the shattered window, and down the measly one floor drop to join Nott. She lunged forward and pined the man against the windowframe, her wand at his throat. "What are you doing here? What do you want from me?" she shouted, knowing the answer but wanting to hear it regardless. With a sneer, the man managed to push her off and twist around enough to jump ungracefully out the window. Lily heard a loud pop, and didn't have to look to know that he'd grabbed his partner and disapparated.
After taking a second to catch her breath — and calm her nerves — she turned toward her flatmates and began untying the ropes that were binding their arms. "Are you okay?" she asked, looking toward Emily — the girl seemed on the verge of tears. Emily nodded. "You can't stay here," Lily went on though she hardly thought that needed to be said. "You'll have to stay with a friend, or relatives. As long as they know where I am and who I'm in contact with they won't have any need to track you down again. All the same, you should make it difficult for them to find you, just in case. How much do you know about masking charms?"
"Just…just the theory," Emily replied, still clearly shaken.
"All right, I'll write a few down for you. You'll need to cast them as soon as you get to your new place." She turned to face Kat, who hadn't said a word so far. "Kat?"
"Bloody…buggering fuck. All this time I thought you were just shy, or quiet, but you're some kind of…secret soldier! Those were his men, weren't they? You-Know-Who's?" Lily paused, then nodded. "So what are you, an auror? Were you here this whole time on some sort of undercover mission?"
"I'm not an auror," Lily said, but didn't elaborate.
"Like hell. I saw you — you're professionally trained, I know it." She waited for Lily to speak, then went on when she didn't. "Oh, so what? They just came 'round to ask you out on a date, is that it?"
"I've…tangled with them in the past, but I'm not an auror. And I haven't dealt with any of that since I've been here, I've been trying to get away."
Beside them, Emily made a soft noise of recognition.
"What?" Kat asked, turning toward the quieter girl.
"It's just…you're one of them, aren't you?" Kat looked confused, and Lily busied herself with fixing the girl's lip. "It's just that I've heard rumors at work, about some resistance group outside of the Ministry. You're a part of that."
Since that last bit wasn't a question, Lily didn't bother to answer. "Look, just promise me you'll both find somewhere safe."
Lily stayed long enough to help her flatmates gather their belongings and leave for their new lodgings with a list of defensive spells securely in hand. By then, enough time had passed to allow the adrenaline to leave Lily's veins, creating an empty space that was quickly filled with anger. She hurried up the stairs toward a flat that she hadn't visited in ages, slipping easily past wards that still remembered her. After relentless knocking on the nondescript door, it was pulled open by a confused and irritated Remus Lupin. But before he had time to comment on either her unexpected arrival or her terrible manners, she pushed past him, stepping into the flat and immediately finding who she was looking for.
"You have a tail," she all but spat.
From the couch, Sirius grinned bemusedly; beside him, Peter looked just as confused as Remus.
"Not right now I don't," Sirius answered with a wry grin, "but if you give me a min—"
He was cut off as he ducked to avoid the takeaway box that Lily'd grabbed from the endtable and chucked toward his head. "I came home to find Death Eaters in my flat, torturing my mates for information on me. You are the only link between them and my flat."
Sirius looked decidedly less amused at that, but it was Remus who spoke next. "Lily, Sirius followed you last night as Padfoot. Nobody knows about—"
"This morning, then," she interjected, not in the mood to be pacified.
"He apparated, of course. Why would he need to walk when he knew where he was going?"
"Er," Sirius spoke up from across the room. "Actually, I thought that walking would give me enough time to think over what to say." Silence greeted this admission, lasting for only moments before Sirius stood up. "Who were they?"
"Nott and some blond bloke I didn't recognize."
"Right, so probably Botner, then. Nott's just recruited him. If you'll excuse me…" and he headed past Lily and out the door, Lily presumed to tell the Order that he was being followed.
With the target of her anger gone, Lily suddenly felt awkward in the quiet room. "Hello, Peter," she said, just to break the silence. He nodded in return. Lily sighed wearily and rubbed at her face, finally taking a second to consider the reality of her situation. In particular, she considered where she was going to go next. Her flat was half-blown up and out of the question anyway; although her wards were powerful, her greatest strength lied in her disappearance. The Death Eaters have already proven that they're capable of getting through her defenses so long as they knew where to look. Without the Order backing her up, she wasn't going to be safe on her own.
And then there was the matter of the Order itself — they'll know where she is once they're informed of the attack. She could try to leave again, but — as much as she tried to pretend otherwise — it was hard enough to do the first time. Now that she's seen her friends again, she didn't know if she could stomach a second one-sided goodbye.
And then her thoughts were interrupted by Remus, and not for the first time in her life she wondered how he had gotten so good at knowing what others are thinking. "So…I guess you'll be staying on the sofa for a bit?"
A/N - I know I said I hated author's notes, but that was back when I posted semi-regularly. I just wanted to thank everyone who's stuck with this fic and say hello to everyone new. You may have noticed I've changed my username - this is so it matches my Tumblr and A03 account names (I had to add the "ff" at the end because someone used "asiriusfan" for an account made in 2006 that now sits empty -sigh-). My works are now being posted on A03 as well. Reviews are love and Lily getting her life back together. :)