The water was cold and it stung her face. She looked up at the mirror over the basin and sighed. She looked tired but still much better than everybody else. She hadn't left St Mungo's for days now and the strain of practically living in the sterile, whitewashed waiting room either pacing or slouched on the plastic waiting chairs was taking a toll on her.
She grabbed a paper napkin from the dispenser and scrubbed the water droplets off her face.
'I need sleep.' she thought glumly, feeling a twinge of guilt at her self admission. Dumbledore had shown no improvement but at least his vitals stats were steady.
She stepped out into the pale corridor and shuffled tiredly to Dumbledore's ward. The Aurors had been forced back to work. Only Tonks remained along with junior guards who were stationed around the room as security.
"You look like shit." Leila told Tonks bluntly.
Tonks shrugged and continued to stare at the wall in front of her, Leila sighed internally. Tonks had taken the attack on the Wizengamot personally as she had been the one who was heading the group of junior Aurors who were on duty that day.
"You couldn't have known." Leila told her for what seemed like the hundredth time. "Don't do this to yourself. Go home and take a break..."
Tonks gave her a leveling look. "Really? You're counselling me? When we tried telling you the same thing after the attack on Hogwarts, you went under the radar and became a chronic alcoholic and Gillyweed addict. So please, don't. If you want to share any of the empathy I expect from you, then go ahead. If not, shut up."
"Point taken." muttered Leila, her shoulders slumping. Tonks's eyes softened immediately at Leila's surrender.
"Sorry... That was harsh." said Tonks, looking apologetic.
"Nothing I don't deserve." Leila said, sliding down along the wall till she was sitting next to Tonks, her knees pulled up to her chin. "So you heard about the Gillyweed too huh?"
"James and Sirius were pretty pissed. I think everyone in the Auror office heard Moody drag him into the holding cell and come down hard on Shunpike."
Leila winced. "That's pretty unfair. I did ask him for it..."
"Don't feel too bad. Shunpike has been grating on Moody's nerves for sometime now. He's messed up more than just once on Order duty because he had some stupid contraband to smuggle. They were waiting for a good reason to have a go at him and the Gillyweed was a good enough excuse."
"Still think it's pretty one sided." sighed Leila.
"Maybe. But I think between Sirius and James, you must be getting a pretty bad time at home for it."
"Surprisingly, no. I think they don't want to be confrontational..."
"Yeah, because that's worked so well with you in the past." said Tonks with a slight smirk.
Leila allowed herself a small grin. "I never used to be so short on temper... I don't know what's gotten into me lately."
"Maybe you're hanging around Sirius too much." said Tonks, hiding a smile at the way Leila stiffened ever so slightly.
Leila made a non committal sound.
"Are you two fighting again?" asked Tonks in a tone of mild curiosity.
"No." said Leila flatly, casting around for something to help her change the topic.
"I didn't think you were. You looked mighty cozy last night."
Leila grimaced. She had fallen asleep in Sirius's arms for a while after Dumbledore slipped into his coma but as soon as she had woken up, Sirius had let go of her and with a muttered excuse that made no sense, he had vanished, leaving her with Tonks. Leila had been too preoccupied with Dumbledore at the time to realize he had all but shoved her and disappeared but now that the glum lull that stemmed from not being able to do anything had settled over them, Leila finally had the time to process what happened and she was doing her best not to dwell on it. She felt quite pathetic thinking about it now with Dumbledore close to death and the world looking precarious.
But there was no stifling the knowledge that however brief her shut-eye, it had been the most peaceful one she had had in a long time. All her most peaceful nights had been when Sirius was in bed with her but, she thought flushing, the idea of Sirius and her on a bed, a common occurrence when times had been less complicated, was now a landmine.
'And there probably won't be much sleeping if I had it my way and- oh for Christ's sake! What is the matter with me? Everything that can be going wrong is happening and I'm tripping on this pointless daydream...'
Leila suddenly decided that maybe a trip to the cafeteria would be a good idea. She was feeling hot around the neck and Tonk's was giving her a knowing smile that made her want to crawl into a hole and die.
"I'm getting coffee," she said, her voice sounding gruff as she got to her feet. "do you want something?"
"Yeah... I want to sit here and talk about my uncle." said Tonks, grinning.
Leila narrowed her eyes at her. "That makes one of us."
They both looked at each other, Tonks amused and Leila suspicious and it suddenly dawned on the latter that Tonks might be in what Leila considered the best kept secret in the world.
Her eyes widening and panic stealing over her, "Tonks, did he... I mean, Did-?"
"Did what?" asked Tonks, looking very keen.
Leila suddenly felt very trapped.
"Leila?" called a voice down the corridor. It was Remus. He was striding down the corridor and Leila stared at him. It had been months since she had seen him she was stunned at the change in him. He looked fit, his eyes sharp and a thick travelling cloak was wrapped around him and it wasn't in tatters.
"Moony?" she asked, a bit dazed.
He strode up to her and wrapped his arms around her tight.
"Dumbeldore..?" he whispered, almost pleadingly.
"He's alive." murmured Leila. His arms stiffened around her. He pulled away and held her at arm's length.
"What happened?" he demanded.
"I could ask you the same." said Leila, staring at him.
Remus managed a small smile. "The North American wolves were very kind."
"You have no idea how how badly we need some good news around here." Leila told him smiling weakly.
"Why? What's been happening?" Remus looked at her closely. "Are you... You don't look alright. Were you sick? Haven't you been sleeping?"
"Long story." she told him, more than happy to put that conversation off. He would find out soon enough anyway. She nodded to the door and said, "Maybe you should... We don't know how long..."
"What are you saying?" asked Remus, his voice louder than she had ever heard. "Dumbledore? D-dying? How-?"
"He's getting on in years, Remus. And that attack..." Leila broke off as she saw the devastated look on his face.
He seemed to sway slightly, his eyes full of grief. Leila had never really seen him like that before. She caught sight of Tonks watching them with a strange expression on her face.
"Why don't I let Tonks fill you in while I go get you some tea?" she said gently pulling away from him. "You've had a long journey."
Remus stared at her, uncomprehending. Then he looked in the direction Leila was looking at and jumped.
"Dora?" he asked, his eyes wide.
"Remus." said Tonks in a neutral tone. "Good trip, then? I was worried. We hadn't heard from you." Her eyes flashed a bit dangerously.
"I-I-yes. Good trip. We have strong allies now." he said, still looking disoriented. His hands were flexing and he seemed to be a bit rattled. Leila frowned, puzzled.
Tonks got up and brushed her robes in a slightly imperious way that reminded Leila of Sirius when he was in one of his prissy moods.
"Why don't I escort you inside the ward? You'll need my security clearance to see him." said Tonks, sounding a rather lofty.
Her tone seemed to snap Remus out of it. "Certainly." he said with formal courtesy. "Please, do lead the way."
Leila stared as the two of them strode off.
'What was that all about?'
She thanked the cafeteria lady and took her mug of steaming coffee and cast around for a place to sit. She didn't want to go back down because she got the sense that Remus might want to be left alone with Dumbledore. She caught the sight of a familiar figure watching her with a mild expression. She raised her eyebrows, asking silent permission. He nodded and Leila walked up to his table and sat down from across him. His tea looked cold, like he had been meditating over it for a while now.
Leila sipped her coffee, reigning in her questions.
"You're still here?" he said finally.
"So are you."
"I'm avoiding work."
His lips twitched slightly. "Yes, I've heard Scrimgeour is looking for you. You're expected to accompany him to the emergency meeting convened by the Ministry later this evening."
"How do you know about that?"
"Your mother mentioned it. She wasn't very happy about it."
"Ah." They both suddenly looked a bit uncomfortable.
"So... Poison... Antidotes.. How's that going? I've met Healer Smethwyck. He's an interesting man-"
"Potter, your mother and I... We're just working. The years are heavy between us and..." he sighed deeply.
Leila had never seen Snape look like this. He was visibly tired but something about him seemed lighter. She could swear that even his eyes seemed different, like a firefly had entered the dark depth-less tunnels.
"And yet, you've found that speck of hope you always sought." said Leila, sighing as well.
"I will spend the rest of my life trying to right my wrongs. All I seek is her forgiveness."
'Is that all you seek?' Her unspoken question hung between them.
Snape suddenly looked restless. He had never explained himself or his motivations to anyone, especially when they concerned Lily, and to find himself doing so to Leila Potter of all the people suddenly annoyed him.
"Not that it's any of your business." he said coldly, recovering his former impenetrable mask.
Leila narrowed her eyes. "I never said it was. I didn't ask either, remember?"
That shut him up.
Leila suddenly felt exhausted. The conversation with Snape had drained whatever energy she had. She had no idea what to think about the possibility of Snape and her mother reconnecting and her possibly forgiving him one day. She had grown fond of Snape and her heart bled for his deep, unrequited love. But it was her mother after all and James... It would kill him if anything should transpire between them.
'What if something does happen?' a quiet, uncertain voice probed inside her head.
'Not a chance... Have you seen the way Mum looks at Dad? Nothing could ever happen.'
'But what if...?'
Leila suddenly felt ill at the thought and it struck her that she honestly didn't know what she would do. And while she repeatedly told herself this was not her business, she was suddenly starting to think it was. As fond as she was of Snape, the thought of something coming between her parents was deeply terrifying.
"How long will you be here?" she asked Snape abruptly.
If Snape sensed the turmoil that had created the question, he chose not acknowledge it. "Not very long. We've done all we can. It's up to Albus now. And I must return to Hogwarts, especially if you're going to be Scrimgeour's mate henceforth and parade around the country like a useless bureaucrat."
"Ha ha." she muttered, her heart beat returning to normal as her annoyance with Scrimgeour brushed away all the other disturbing thoughts. She finished her coffee and stood up. "I'll see you later at Hogwarts. I need to speak with Aberforth."
"He hasn't come by, has he?"
"No. Not yet."
Snape nodded in a thoughtful way. The fact that he did not look surprised made her think he might have some insight into why Aberforth hadn't come by to see his dying brother. But when Snape didn't elaborate, Leila decided that maybe this was something she needed to probe on her own.
'Or not. Still deep in the territory of not-your-business.' she told herself as she made her way to the elevators. She stood by the closed doors waiting for it to reach her floor, absently looking around. With a start she remembered the last time she was here - chasing after Blaise as he made his way back up to his room with his tea.
Her heart plummeted. 'I utterly despise this place.'
With that revelation, Leila finally decided to go home. 'And while I'm at it, let me take my newly refurbished werewolf back with me. I need chocolate and I have a special edition Honeydukes bar that needs someone who would appreciate that exquisite rarity as much as I do.'
"Unbelievable." groaned Remus, his eyes closed, mouth full of chocolate. "Where did you find this? They don't sell this, do they?"
"Nope. It's an exclusive one that they produce for special occasions within the chocolatier family." she told him, her own mouth full of chocolate.
"How did you get your hands on it?"
"I'm Leila Potter, the Chosen One and all. I was given the bar with grand ceremony in exchange for an autograph." She gave him a wide smirk. Remus snorted and kicked her shin under the table. "Who are you and where is the modest, likable girl I said goodbye to all those months ago?"
Leila laughed. "I'm just taking the piss. I won it in a bet." Actually, she'd won it in a drinking game with one of the younger boys who ran Honeydukes but Remus didn't need to know that yet.
"Morgana... I'd put all my Galleons on the table for a chance to get my hands on this." said Remus, his eyes a bit glazed.
"That's not saying much seeing as you don't have any, you poor sod." said James striding into the room and clapping his hand on Remus's shoulder.
"By my Galleons, I mean yours." said Remus genially. "I warned you about the hazards of being my financier. But don't worry, your kid seems to have figured out the odds. She'll get us our money's worth."
James gave Leila a piercing look. "Not so much odds as much as liver damage."
"She didn't tell you how she got it, did she?"
"Right then," said Leila, hurriedly getting up. "I'm off. I'll see you in a bit."
She ran up to her room, James still glaring after her and Remus staring at his chocolate a bit suspiciously.
As always, the sense of calm that washed over her when she entered her room was incredible. She threw herself on the bed and closed her eyes. 'Just a few minutes...' she told herself and allowed sleep to take over.
She was tiny. Leila had never quite thought of herself that way when she was eleven but in retrospect, she was rather minuscule, in a way all eleven year olds were to those who had hit puberty and stretched out as a result of the growth spurt.
The Mirror of Erised stood tall before her and Leila hesitated. She wasn't sure she wanted to know what she would see in there now. Her greatest desire had been granted to her but Leila knew that the Mirror would still not work like a normal one for now.
Her heart tugged in all directions before she zeroed in on what she surmised would be her greatest wish. She took a hesitating step forward and slowly willed her eyes upwards but stopped on hearing someone behind her.
She turned to find Dumbledore smiling gently down at her.
"Are you afraid to look?" he asked her gently.
"I don't know what I'll find in there."
"You didn't know even back then."
"But I know myself better now."
Dumbledore laughed softly. "We never really know who we are. Sometimes, people live their entire lives without ever finding out."
"Not I. I know what I want."
Dumbledore smiled enigmatically. "And what do you think you will see?"
"Voldemort's death.I want him gone so that he can never hurt anybody I care about ever again. I want him dead."
"And that is what you desire the most?"
Dumbledore smiled and this time, it was tinged with melancholy. "Look inside the mirror then and see if that's true."
Leila turned confidentially and looked hard at the mirror. Her eyes widened at what she saw. She was surrounded by people but unlike last time, they weren't a large extended family she never knew. Now she the people she loved with perfect clarity. Ron, Hermione, the Weasleys, Remus... James and Lily stood on either side of her and they smiled brightly at her.
"It's the same..." she whispered. "But... I have them already..."
"Not like that... See how peaceful they look? See how happy?" pointed out Dumbledore. "You're not just seeing your family. You're seeing a future you want."
"I have no future." she said resolutely, her eyes fixed on the mirror.
"You've always told yourself that, haven't you? But deep in your heart, it's what you've wanted, Leila."
Leila hesitantly stepped closer and swallowed. She now appeared older. Her older self stared back at her with a quiet smile. She was still surrounded by the same people, all of them filled with laughter.
And a shadow appeared behind her mirror self. Sirius appeared right behind and her smiled but that smile was for her only. He slipped one arm around her waist from behind her and lifted her right hand to his lips and softly kissed her fingertips. They wore matching gold bands on their ring fingers of their right hand. Next to them, James looked unperturbed by all of this and Lily was saying something to Remus, her own face filled with laughter.
It was the perfect scene of tranquility.
Leila was startled to find her face wet with tears. Standing before her, in the mirror or dreams was what she longed for even if he had never admitted it even to her self. Her older self smiled back at her brightly.
"And you, Professor? What do you see in the Mirror of Erised?" she whispered, her eyes still on the mirror.
"I've already told you..."
"Socks? Is that what you tell yourself? What do you really see, Professor?"
There was no response from behind her. Frowning, she looked over her shoulder and her blood ran cold.
Dumbledore was no longer there. Tom Riddle had taken his place. Handsome, in his late teens, his eyes still dark... He looked nothing like the monster Leila knew him to be.
His expression was thoughtful as he stared at the mirror. Leila turned back to it and gasped. His reflection was the red eyed, snake faced version of Voldemort. And at his feet, Leila lay crumbled, clearly dead.
"I thought you didn't care, Potter. Weren't you going to die fighting me?"
But Leila did care now. She'd seen her heart and the feeling of loss was overwhelming...
"I don't want to die..." she whispered, anguished. But she barely heard her own words over Riddle's high, chilling laugh.
Warm fingers were brushing away the tears from her face and an anxious murmur sounded in her ears.
She blinked her still wet eyes open and struggled to see through the tears. Quite disoriented, she struggled to sit up and she could feel someone's arms around her.
"Are you alright?"
She finally managed to blink away all her tears and focused on who it was. "Sirius?"
He looked worried. "I came to get you for the meeting... You promised Scrimgeour you would come."
"That's not till later tonight."
"It is night." Sirius gave her a funny look.
"Are you serious?"
"Yep. Haven't we already covered this?" he said lightly, a faint trace of a smile gracing his features.
"Only you'd still think that joke is funny. How long have I been asleep?" She groaned and pulled herself out of bed, not noticing the way Sirius's face fell slightly when she untangled herself from him.
She looked about her, distracted, still trying to recover from the nightmare. She absently ran her hands through her hair and a small strand caught in her ring. She winced and tugged at it impatiently and only ended up making it worse.
"Oi, hang on. Stop ripping your hair out." said Sirius rolling his eyes. He caught her hand and pointed his wand at her ring and muttered something under his breath. The strand of hair immediately slipped out and Leila gratefully removed her hand from her hair.
"I really need to sit you and mum down and learn all this useful stuff." she grumbled, twisting the ring in her finger.
Sirius was staring at her ring with a strange expression.
"That's the one I gave you... You still wear it." he noted quietly.
The words were out of her mouth before she could stop herself. "I've never taken it off."
Their eyes met and Leila felt the air leave leave her lungs.
Something seemed to flutter behind his eyes and he gently cupped her face. "Why were you crying?"
"Bad dream." she said softly, unable to look anywhere but at him.
He stepped closer, till their noses were almost touching "What was it about?"
She thought back to the dream, Riddle, the mirror and her future. She thought of Sirius and her, wearing wedding rings and looking so comfortable and utterly in love with each other.
"Nothing." she said, finally pulling away from him and looking away. "Nothing at all."
Sirius's face tightened but he let her go.
She turned to her bathroom door and said, "I need a shower. I have a few more minutes, yeah?"
"Yes." said Sirius, sounding clipped. She made her way there when his voice stopped her again. "You do- we don't talk anymore."
Her face twisted bitterly. "I wonder why."
Sirius looked uncomfortable. "I-I just need some time."
Her heart leaped at that. "You do?"
He nodded. "I.. I can make it okay again. We'll be like we used to. It'll be..."
Her heart plummeted to her toes when she realized what he was trying to say.
"It'll be like like it never happened." she intoned robotically.
His face was anguished. "It's the only way. I can't...I shouldn't-I'm so sorry."
Leila closed her eyes. "So am I."
She turned to face him and her face was carefully blank. "We'll be alright. Time, right?"
"Right." he agreed, looking pained. "That's what you want as well, isn't it?" There was something underlying his words that Leila couldn't decipher. He was looking at her intently, like he wanted to hear her say something.
"Of course. That was a mistake. I haven't been myself and I crossed a line that night." she said calmly, marveling at the ease with which the lie slipped out.
Sirius seemed to struggle with something as he processed her words. "Yes. Because you could never want- It would be wrong to even think-"
She turned away and said, "I'll see you down stairs in ten minutes." She shut the door behind her and slid to the floor of the bathroom, unable to stand anymore. She took shuddering breaths and bit her knuckles to hold her sobs in because she sensed that Sirius was still on the other side of the door.
She quickly pushed herself off the floor and turned on the shower, daring to cry only when she was sure the sound of the water hitting the porcelain tub would mask the sound. As the minutes passed, the water washed away her fatigue and her despair, leaving her scrubbed raw and very, very angry.
'I'm done.' she thought bitterly. 'I'm so tired of this. I'm done crying over this. I've had it with him. Like my life isn't difficult enough and it's not as if I don't have a long list of things to cry about already. Never again... Not for this. I'm so, completely done.'
Her tears fading, and her skin clean, she felt very different from the person who had entered the bathroom a few minutes ago. She slipped on the dressing gown and resolutely strode out and promptly crashed into Sirius again.
"What the- you're still here?" she said irritably, all her angst and longing driven to the background with her sheer fury at him.
It appeared that she wasn't the only one who had turned into a different person during the time she had been in the shower. Sirius's face was dark and conflicted. He caught her arms and pulled her to him.
"You don't mean that, do you?" he asked, sounding a tad desperate. "Like it never happened... You don't mean that!"
He tangled his hand in her long, wet hair and pulled her to him. Her shock at his sudden assault rendered her speechless.
"Tell me you don't mean it." he said angry and pleading at the same time.
Recovering, she placed her hands on his chest and pushed him back.
"I meant every word." she said coldly, taking savage pleasure at the sight of his face transforming with anger at her words. 'Serves him right. I'm so sick of his mood swings, going back and forth!'
She turned to her wardrobe and said, her voice still ice cold. "Can you please leave the room while I change? We're going to be late."
"You're lying." he spat furiously.
She turned around and glared at him. "Dad and Remus are downstairs. I suggest you leave before I start screaming at you and alert them to the fact that we're fighting as usual. I, for one, don't want to be explaining this to them, do you?"
She knew she was being deliberately cruel but she was in no mood to put up with him.
"You'd really do that?" asked Sirius, sneering and giving her a challenging look.
"I will. I've had it with you up to here." she said, jabbing her hand above her head. "So don't try me. Just leave me alone. I don't bother you, do I? The least you can do is show me the same courtesy."
Sirius stared at her, long and hard before turning around and storming away.
Leila turned back to her wardrobe, her anger refusing to abate. If anything, she only seemed to be getting even more riled up with every passing second.
'Good.' she thought darkly. 'I'm so sick of crying all the time. Anger = Good.'
She strode down a few minutes later, her face stormy.
Remus met her downstairs and he was looking unhappy. "I'll see you back here after the meeting."
"Aren't you coming?"
Remus rolled his eyes. "Werewolves are not welcomed by the Ministry of Magic, Scrimgeour's change of attitude notwithstanding. James and Sirius will fill me in later."
She nodded and continued but Remus stopped her again. "However, we need to talk when you get back." he said, his eyes narrowing.
"I have to be somewhere tonight."
"Where?" demanded Remus.
"She's not entitled to say." said Sirius coming up from behind Remus. His tone was mocking. "That's the Minister of Magic's personal confidante you're talking to, Moony. Please don't insult her with questions!"
Leila gave him a look of deep disdain and turned back to Remus who looked troubled. "I'll fill you in tomorrow, I promise. We have loads to talk about." His face relaxed and she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before brushing past Sirius to the kitchen to find James and see if the portkey to the Ministry was activated.
And while she had not really intended to aggravate Sirius, the expression on his face when she told Remus that she would talk to him filled her with grim satisfaction. She knew how much it irritated Sirius that she decisively chose to confide in Remus more than anyone else and while normally she had a bit more tact and was more discreet about it, she found that at the moment, she didn't give a damn. Moony and her always spoke to each other about everything and she had missed him so much it was like a constant feeling of loneliness. Her already frayed temper stole away any sense of diplomacy she might have had although she did feel a twinge of guilt when she thought about how James would feel if he heard about it.
'And if it pisses Sirius off, all the better.' Leila knew she was being extremely vindictive and it would only be a matter of time before shame crawled into her conscience for what she was doing to him but she couldn't help thinking that she would do well to take advantage of her current state of mind and inflict as much damage as she could because lord knows, he deserved it.
Rufus Scrimgeour was not the kind of man prone to having a retrospective view on life and dwelling on if-onlys and regrets. But the last few months had him wishing that he grab a time turner and turn back the clocks to well over a year ago so that he could knock himself out the night Azkaban had been broken into so that he would've never lead the coup that made him Prime Minister. And right now, he wished more than ever that he was where Kingsley was, judging whichever poor sod had taken over this thankless job.
'What I wouldn't do to be Head Auror and sit there sanctimoniously and rage about how the Prime Minister is failing with Law and Order.' he thought to himself with a sigh.
"... and it might help if the Ministry did a bit more to rebuild our relationship with Portugal!" said Kingsley angrily. "We know atleast two Death Eaters are sunning themselves on their coast while we go spare trying to find their associates here in Britain. Smithers and Jordan are behind two murders at the least-"
"Kingsley, sadly I cannot do anything to repair our relationship with Portugal if our International Affairs office refuses to budge on opening our ports in Devon to allow them to bring in their dragons." said Scrimgeour tiredly. "And while I understand that we need those Death Eaters back in our custody to be able to cut a deal with them for information, I think the last thing we need is some out of control dragon trade in England! Merlin knows when the Dark Lord's takeover of that Welsh dragon hold is going to come back bite us!"
It went back and forth and Scrimgeour's headache grew. He found himself regretting every single moment in his life he had criticized a Prime Minister because it wasn't till he became one that he realized just how tight his hands were tied behind him and the varied political intrigues and complications threatened to drown him. The Order seemed to be determined to oppose and blame him, probably riled up by the attack on Dumbledore.
His Ministers were arguing just as pointlessly, droning about clauses and laws and for the millionth time, Scrimgeour looked at them with growing paranoia, unable to differentiate the rule abiding geezers, Ministry loyalists and Voldemort's supporters mixed in his team.
His only source of relief was that next to him Leila Potter was sitting with a look of exasperation, her eyes occasionally shutting when the arguments got more heated, her fingers rubbing her temples. She had stayed silent throughout. Unable to resist, Scrimgeour kicked her foot under the table and murmured, "Welcome to my world, Potter."
She cracked her eye open and muttered back, "I'm cutting back on a lot of the mental abuse I generally I reserve for you."
Scrimgeour's lip twitched. "I knew I'd win you over. Are you growing fond of me?"
"That's stretching it. Let's just say I despise you a little less."
"I can work with that."
It was her turn to smile a bit.
"There is an opening to negotiate our stance with Eastern Europe. Germany has volunteered to broker a peace talk between us and Bulgaria. If the Bulgarians move, we might have a chance with Romania as well. Both Ministries have conditionally agreed." said Percy Weasley, looking at Scrimgeour, his eyes firmly directed away from the Order where his father and brother sat.
Scrimgeour looked thoughtful. "That's promising."
"The Bulgarians have already made it very clear that will have nothing to do with us. Bojan Krum had made sure of that. He's still angry about Karakoff."
Scrimgeour suddenly turned to Leila. "His son, Viktor... You're friends aren't you?"
Leila looked immediately wary. "Yes. But whatever you're thinking, stop. Friends or not, I don't have even a fraction of the effect on him that his father does. And even if I do, Bojan Krum doesn't look like the type to have a heart-to-heart with his son. He seems the more commanding patriarch type."
"What if we get Viktor Krum to break away from his father? He commands enormous popularity himself and I think it's safe to say quite a few members of the Bulgarian Ministry will side with him. There has been internal reports of discontent over Krum senior's authoritative hold on the government bigwigs." said Gawain Robbards.
"Good luck with that." muttered Leila, remembering Viktor's deference for his father.
"The Bulgarians are a wild card." said Gideon dismissively. "They're too preoccupied with their own dissidents who are constantly trying to break Grindelwald out of Nurmengard."
"Why Grindelwald?" asked Leila puzzled. "He's been in prison for decades now, hasn't he? What purpose does he serve?"
"He was the original anti-muggle dark lord. It's only natural that extremists in mainland Europe group around him when their own governments have been hesitant to take a stance on Voldemort." said Robbards.
Almost like a dream, Leila remembered what Krum had said to her weeks ago at the ball.
"Petra Krum's father was murdered by Grindelwald, wasn't he?" she asked slowly, looking at Robbards intently.
He nodded. "The Krum family still employ their forces around Nurmengard. Germany has allowed it because of their long-standing relationship with the old Bulgarian wizarding royalty. They vouch for the Krum family."
"Coming back to the Bulgarians, it's unnecessary. We need to work with Western Europe. They don't need convincing and the war is already spilling over across their borders." said Frank.
"Agreed. But if we work out something either Eastern Europe, even if it is a revised extradition treaty, it would go a long way. The idea of active Death Eaters there is not a pleasant one, especially if Grindelwald's supporters start colluding with them." argued Robbards.
Scrimgeour finally said, "I think the Aurors should continue working with France, Belgium and Denmark. Perhaps the Order could engage with Germany and Austria. They like you more than they like the British Ministry so perhaps that could be your territory. I'll go to Sofia tomorrow and see what I can do."
Mad Eye snorted. "Ruddy waste of time."
"It's my time to waste." said Scrimgeour coolly. He turned to Leila. "I'd like you to come with me. You and Viktor Krum are friends. We could use that to our advantage."
Leila looked startled. "I don't know."
"She's not going anywhere with you." said James, looking tense.
Scrimgeour turned slowly to look at him. "That's for Miss Potter to decide."
"Actually, she's a part of the Order. So you'll find that we are entitled to an opinion." said Bill a bit coolly.
Leila stared at him. "What? Did I miss a memo?"
The Order looked a bit uncomfortable at her question and Leila realized they were making this up as they went.
Scrimgeour narrowed his eyes and glared at Leila. "I made it very clear that you can't -"
"I don't think it's up to you what she does." snapped Lily.
"Whoa! Calm down everyone. I'm not a part of the Order." she frowned at them. "This is the first I'm hearing of it. And I don't think my going to Bulgaria is going to help at all. I told you, Petra Krum is still the super boss. My relationship with his son not going to make a difference at all and he's already told me I'm not looked upon kindly there. They think supporting me will bring war down on them which, let's face it, is not an unreasonable fear."
"But they still respect you." argued Scrimgeour. "We don't want their support at this stage, we just need to tighten some of the law and order agreements between us and curb a few escape routes for the Death eaters. If you're present, they will atleast attempt to negotiate. If I go alone, it'll turn into a pissing match."
"Here's a thought, Scrimgeour," said James angrily, "Why don't you do your job as the Prime Minister and not hide behind her for a change?"
"Here's another thought, Potter?" returned Scrimgeour, "Why don't you and the Order stop getting in the way and make yourselves useful for a change?"
"Useful? Bit rich coming from the most inefficient government in the history of wizardkind-" snapped Emmeline Vance.
'Oh Jesus... Get me the fuck out of here.' sighed Leila.
It escalated quickly and Leila groaned. Across the table, Gawain Robbards looked just as pained. He rolled her eyes at her. She grimaced back at him. She supposed if anyone knew how infuriating this was, it would be Robbards. He was relatively young and had a reputation for being a firebrand. He was also one of the few people in Scrimgeour's Ministry who had pushing for the Order and the Ministry to work together because he saw their feud as a complete waste of time. It was this, rather than his age, that served as a deterrent thus far and he was finally the only one who was aggressive enough to be considered a good replacement for Thicknesse. He was the kind of man who could never pass off normal behaviour if he were imperiused because he was one of a kind.
Leila had interacted with him on many occasions at Scrimgeour's office and had even shown him around Hogwarts when he accompanied the Prime Minister once. She liked him and as far as she was concerned, the only thing that she didn't approve of was his best friend - Percy Weasley. They both had bonded over their ambitious drive and the fact that they were one of the youngest wizards to climb so high in the Ministry. But unlike Percy who was an arse-kisser, Robbards went head on and was not afraid to voice his opinions even if they were bound to be unpopular with the establishment. 'I guess opposites attract.' mused Leila.
The argument went on for what seemed like hours before Robbards finally had enough.
"Right. You lot continue having this idiotic discussion. I have things to do. Potter, do you want to come along? I can see you're about as thrilled about wasting your time here as I am."
Leila looked taken aback at first and then she grinned at his exasperated face. "God, yes! Tell me you have something useful for me to do."
"I'm overworked. If you're offering your services, then this is your last chance to back out because I'm waiting to pawn them off on any unsuspecting soul."
"Well, it's either that or listening to this shit." She got up and they both left, their smirks pronounced at the shamed silence in the room behind them.
"You reckon our spontaneous theatrics worked?" she asked him as they walked down the corridor.
"If that doesn't shame them into getting something useful out of that meeting, nothing will." said Robbards bluntly.
"Scrimgeour is going to kill you later, isn't he?"
"Why do you think I dragged you as well? Now it looks like we both dissed them and since no one is going to tell the great Leila Potter off, I'll be off the hook too." he grinned at her.
"Clever." said Leila approvingly.
"Why, thank you!"
They finally reached the office for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and he led her to his office. It was only slightly bigger than the Auror's cubicles but it has a more polished feel to. Everything was neater and glossier and there was more art and indoor plants in here. Leila instantly found herself preferring the Aurors' don't-give-a-fuck atmosphere but when Robbards handed her a mug of coffee from the DLE kitchen, she had to admit that their coffee surpassed the Aurors' kitchen.
"Right. So, work?" she asked him as she sat on the chair across from him.
Robbards grinned. "There isn't any. I just said that to get you out of there."
Leila scowled at him over the rim of her mug.
He held his hands up in mock defense, "If you want to go back in there, be my guest."
"Fine, fine. Thank you." she said grudgingly.
Robbards put his mug down and looked at her intently. "But that being said, I did want to talk to you about something."
He suddenly looked a little nervous. "I've been meaning to for a while now and I've been putting it off."
Leila looked at him warily. "This doesn't have anything to do with that other stupid Ball that Scrimgeour wants me to attend, is it?"
"Morgana, no! I ditch that stuff myself! I certainly wouldn't be here trying to persuade you to be Scrimgeour's date!"
"Oh good. Then I think we're safe. Ask me anything!" she said cheerfully.
"Would you let me take you out to dinner sometime?"
Leila stared at him, sure that she had misheard. "Huh?"
"Dinner. You. Me."
"Come on, Potter. I'm not asking you to solve a complex Arithmancy problem. It's quite simple. Yes or no?"
"I don't understand." she said blankly, her heart speeding up. 'Oh no, oh no, oh no... why why why? I don't need this now... Not today...Not ever...'
Robbards was looking at her with a thoughtful expression. "You really are out of it, aren't you? When was the last time you went out on a date?"
"Never." muttered Leila, realizing that it was not an exaggeration. Cedric and her had been keeping it under the lid and unless sneaking around to make out counted as a date, she had never been on one.
"Really? I thought..."
Leila's felt a flush of anger immediately. Everyone knew about her and Cedric and the entire Ministry knew about what happened between her and Blaise. "You thought what? That I get around quite a bit?"
Robbards looked taken aback at her sudden onset of anger. "Merlin, no! I just meant that a girl as beautiful as you... I mean, one would think you were getting asked out a lot."
"Oh." muttered Leila, going red with embarrassment. She was horrified to find that his compliment was rather pleasing to her ears. 'Really, potter? What are you, twelve? Get over it and think straight.'
"I- well, no. My social life has been lacking with all the.. well, I'm in far too much in trouble all the time to ever do something... I dunno... nice?" she mumbled, still quite disconcertingly flattered.
"I see." said Robbards, also a bit red. "Well, then please say yes and allow me take you someplace to do something nice."
"I-why?" she asked still baffled.
He raised his eyebrows. "Why? Aside from the fact that I think you're clever, funny, beautiful and I respect you more than I do anyone else on this planet."
Leila felt the heat on her face start to creep down her neck and spread to her chest.
"Right. Thanks. Really." she mumbled, mortified. But she finally met his gaze and said softly, "Surely you've noticed that anyone I date, or have non platonic interactions with ends up very gruesomely dead."
Robbards snorted, "Potter, no offense but anyone around you has a probability of landing up dead, platonic or otherwise."
Leila felt cold on hearing his words. It wasn't that she didn't realize what a hazard she was but hearing him say it so bluntly reminded her painfully of a school full of children who were attacked only because Voldemort was out to destroy her.
"Exactly." she said flatly, putting her mug down.
Robbards suddenly seemed to realize what he said and looked worried. "No, wait... That came out bad. I mean, it's true but what I was trying to say is that I know... and I don't care."
Leila rolled her eyes. "Heroic. But I think-"
"Hear me out." he said firmly. "I'm already a target. And I'm going to fight irrespective of whether they want me dead or not. So it's not like I'm throwing myself onto the Death Eaters' radar by asking you out. And you'll find that I'm not the kind of man who cares much for obstacles when they stand in the way of something I want."
Leila went red again but she said, "Don't I know it. I still can't believe you got Thicknesse's job."
"I told you months ago I'd get high up in the DLE, didn't I?" There was unmistakable pride in his voice.
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you set Thicknesse up yourself." she said, shaking her head.
"I'm not above it." he said, his eyes twinkling merrily. "But if I did, I'd have made him smoke Malfoy's office, not ... well, not the Wizengamot and certainly not Dumbledore." His eyes dimmed and they both sobered up.
"I can't believe I'm making jokes about that attack already." said Leila tiredly, rubbing her eyes.
He smiled sadly at her and said, "When there's death and mayhem all around us constantly, I guess the lag time between awful events and associated morbid humour is shorter than average."
"Go out with me, please. Just one night." he said softly.
Leila stared at him and swallowed hard. Robbards was nice and she thought highly of him. He was pleasing to the eye and he didn't seem to care that she was a bit of a head case or that she was a walking death trap. And all he wanted was a date. A nice, normal night out with someone she could laugh with and there would be no complications.
There would be no heavy emotions, no drama, no deep unrequited love, no muddled relationships, no lines crossed... He was in his early twenties putting him in the acceptable age group of older men she could date.
He was not Sirius. His open brown eyes were nothing like Sirius's stormy grey ones. His sandy, short hair was nothing like Sirius's shaggy, longish black hair. He didn't have Sirius's temper nor his mischievous smile or his bark-like laugh. He didn't make her heart feel like it was going to explode and he didn't make her skin tingle and burn and he didn't make her world stop when he looked at her.
And thoughts of him didn't keep her up at night crying. He didn't pull and push at his whim and Gawain Robbards certainly didn't look like he had the patience for the complicated mess that Sirius and her danced around.
She was barely attracted to him and she doubted she'd love Robbards or anyone the way she did Sirius but god, she was so tired of it all.
"Potter?" asked Robbards, nervous again. She had been silent for too long, staring at him with an inscrutable expression.
"I- I don't know." she whispered, her head swimming. It was always Sirius. It could only ever be him but she so desperately wished it wasn't. She wanted some semblance of peace, a moment where she could be just Leila and not the Chosen One or prodigal daughter or soldier or the goddaughter of the man she loved.
"You don't know?"
Leila suddenly wanted air. She got up but Robbards caught her hand and looked at her intently. "Is there someone else?"
Leila swallowed. 'Yes. But we'll kill each other. No, because it never was and will never be. Yes and No because we want each other but he pushed me away but he won't let me go either. I don't know.'
"Someone else?" she repeated stupidly, trying to shut her thoughts out.
He raised her eyebrows.
"No." she finally answered.
"Then say yes. I'm not asking for your hand in marriage. Just a date, woman!"
Leila laughed despite herself and finally said, "Yes. Alright then. A nice night out. I could use that."
He let go of her hand and smiled broadly. "See now, that wasn't so hard was it?"
"Oh shut up, Robbards."
"Gawain." he said with a slight smile. "I think it's about time you called me that."
She smiled weakly, "And I think if you've managed to coerce me into a date, you ought to call me Leila."
They both grinned at each other but Leila felt her heart sink. She had made a decision to get on with her life and she was glad that Gawain miraculously gave her an opportunity to give that a go just when she had hit rock bottom.
She hadn't counted on just how hard it would be to shelve the pain that ravaged her or just how afraid she was.
She already knew what a man-whore Sirius was when he wanted to be and how his promiscuity only seemed to increase when he was in bad mood or stressed. And he was certainly a combination of both right now and it made her wonder just how much he'd been getting around lately.
The thought that she might've been the only one in turmoil while he drank and slept around while she cried herself to sleep strengthened her wavering resolve.
'A date. That's all it is. Baby steps. No big deal. I think that's fair.'
Slightly buoyed by her sudden foray and the strange world of courting niceties, she bade him farewell after promising to see him the following night. She made her way to Hogsmeade.
The Hog's Head was empty. It wasn't an uncommon sight but it filled her with a strange sense of foreboding.
"Aberforth?" she called, looking around for him. He eventually appeared from one of the rooms behind, looking the same. Leila didn't know what she had expected but the absolute lack of change in him unnerved her a little.
"Well, well, well... Look what the cat dragged in. Are you finally giving up on staying sober? About time!"
"What would I do without your encouragement?" she said dryly.
"Probably live a boring life. Where are you coming from?"
"The Ministry of Magic. Don't ask. It's been a long week. I spent most of it at St Mungo's." She held her breath, waiting for a reaction. There was none.
"And here I was thinking you were catching up on lost sleep at Grimmauld Place." he said, looking completely unaffected.
"He's dying." said Leila abruptly.
Aberforth's careless demeanour fell away and was instantly replaced by a disinterested yet icy expression.
"Is that what you're here for, Potter? You think i care for weekly updates on his condition?"
"I would've come sooner but-"
"You're missing the point. I'm not complaining because of the frequency. I don't give a damn. Is that clear?"
"He's hanging by a thread." Leila tried again. "There might not be much time-"
The silence that followed his remark was thick and silted.
"He's your brother." said Leila weakly.
His eyes flashed and cooled. "Are you here for anything that actually pertains to you? If you're here to tell me what I should be doing or lecturing me on the meaning of family, kindly leave."
She shrank back a bit. She was used to Aberforth's discourteous nature but it was rarely ever directed at her, especially when he was genuinely angry.
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to presume anything." she said quietly. "I just thought you might want to know."
They both stared at each other, Aberforth's nostrils flaring and her face a bit pale and confused.
"Drink?" he asked finally.
Relieved, she nodded.
They both sat down and drank in silence. Given the month-long break, her tolerance was quite low. She was buzzing in two or three rounds but she didn't want to look up because silence still reigned supreme and she didn't know what to talk about without winding him up. But a few more drinks down and bordering on drunk, Leila threw caution to the wind.
"Who's Gellert?" she said, the liquor fueling her with a bravery she did not really possess at the moment.
Aberforth, also quite tipsy at that point, looked up, his face dark.
"Why are you asking me about him?"
"Dumbledore... he said his name. He said he'd forgive him. He wanted me to tell him. But I don't know who he is..." she struggle to explain, still afraid he'd blow his fuse.
Aberforth started to laugh and Leila started to sober up immediately. It was a cold, menacing laugh. Her hair stood at its end.
"Really?" he said, still laughing. "He forgives him, does he? The incorrigible little shit."
Leila blanched at hearing him speak about Dumbledore like that. "Whoa, Aberforth-"
"What? You don't like hearing me call my brother out for what he is? He's a lying, hypocritical, cruel piece of shit."
"Yeah, alright then." muttered Leila, pushing her glass away. "I'm sorry I asked. I'll be off now."
But Aberforth grabbed her wrist so tightly she winced in pain. "Oh no, no, no, no! You don't get to walk away after looking at me like I'm the fucking villain here. You think he's so great don't you? Gellert, the man he wants to forgive with his dying breath, is the only person my brother ever loved."
Leila blinked at him. "Loved? You mean-?"
"Yes, Potter. That's exactly what I mean."
"Oh." she whispered, stunned. She had always imagined Dumbledore as perennially old and wise and incapable of being wrong and full of love for everyone in the world. She had never really thought of him as a younger man, as someone who might have been in love, as someone who would've whole heatedly given his heart to someone.
"Blimey..." she said softly. "I never imagined... I keep forgetting he's a person too, sometimes."
"Hardly." he spat. "You don't know my brother, Potter. You don't know shit."
"What happened between them? Why would he have to forgive him?" probed Leila.
Aberforth stared long and hard. "My brother has no right to forgive anyone. He should be on his knees, begging for that forgiveness he thinks he has the right to bestow."
"D-did Dumbledore do something to him?
"What they did to each other is irrelevant. What they got together and did to my family, to me, to the bloody world... No. Those two will burn in Tartarus for this. And my fool of a brother, till the very end, is still besotted with him. The fucking arsehole!"
"Aberforth..." said Leila, sounding tired.
"Gellert, Potter. Gellert Grindelwald. My brother's one true love and the man he finally destroyed and imprisoned."
Leila's vision swam before her eyes. "W-what?"
Aberforth let go of her hand and sneered. "Chew on that. And while we're at it, if you ever bring up my brother or his former lover in front of me again, the Dark Lord will be the least of your worries. I'll flay you myself. Is that clear."
"Are you drunk?" demanded Hermione, glaring at a shaken Leila who'd somehow managed to find her way to the little office hidden inside the school library after her conversation with Aberforth.
"Yes." said Leila, bouncing nervously on the balls of her feet.
"What is the matter with you?" fumed Hermione. "I thought you were going to stop this nonsense!"
"I didn't mean to... I just- Herm, what do you know about Gellert Grindelwald?"
"That is the most pathetic attempt to change the subject-"
"I'm not! This is serious! Please, tell me. You can shout at me all you want once we're done."
Hermione frowned at her but the lure of sharing information was too much for her to resist. Giving Leila one last dirty look, she turned to her kettle and poured out two mugs of tea. Thrusting one into Leila's hand she took a seat by the window sill and began.
"Not much is known about Grindelwald. He attended Durmstrang but he was expelled in the later part of his school life. He was apparently too messed up even for them. There is no record of where he was for close to a decade after that. Around early 1900s, his name started doing the rounds in mainland Europe. His rise to power is quite simnilar to that of You-Know-Who. A lot of concentrated attacks on families who oipposed him, funding rebellions against more liberal establishments-"
Hermioen made a face. "Pro-muggle."
"Grindelwald was a blood purist?"
"Something like it. He was more pro-magic than pro-pureblood. His objective was to create a new world order that would do away with the Statute of Secrecy and take over the world and run it using a select group of worthy witches and wizards. But he too showed a preference for those who came from old magical families."
"So a precursor to Voldemort?"
"Pretty much. He terrified the magical community in Europe for decades."
"He never reached the shores of the UK."
"The general theory is that he was too scared of Dumbledore."
"But why? Dumbledore became famous after his defeat of Grindelwald, didn't he? Why did he fear him before that? He doesn't seemed to have cared for anything when he was attacking Europe."
Hermione looked thoughtful. "You know, funnily enough, I've never thought of that."
"Are there any records of him and Dumbledore meeting before that last duel."
"None whatsoever. I don't think they knew each other before that."
Leila sat back and stared hard at her.
"What's going on?" asked Hermione curiously. "Why are we talking about this?"
"Something Dumbledore said two days ago..."
"Is there any sign of improvement?" asked Hermione anxiously.
Leila shook her head glumly. Hermione sighed.
"If he dies... It'll be a matter of minutes before You-Know-Who attempts a takeover."
Hermione's tone was matter-of-fact but Leila caught the slight waver. The thought of Voldemort taking over sent chills down both their spines.
And Leila was struck with the stark realization that if Dumbledore did die, she would symbolically be the last one standing between Voldemort and the wizarding community in the UK and if he did take over the islnd, it would only be a matter of time before he marched into Europe and the rest of the world.
'I need to know what Dumbledore was trying to say. What memories? The key to that lies in Dumbledore's life. But with Aberforth refusing to talk about it and Dumbledore's association with Grindelwald... I don't know where to go. How my more lies and cover-ups will I have to unearth before I find the answers?'
"You look troubled.. what did Dumbledore say?" asked Hermione, looking at her in concern.
"I'm not sure yet. But I'm pretty sure Grindelwald and him have some history that preceded their duel."
Hermione's eyes widened. "That's a dangerous thing to say." she said in a hushed tone.
"I know. I need more before I dig into this. I don't want to kick up dust unless I have to."
Hermione looked thoughtful. "I can do some research. I'll see if Grindelwald has any connections in Britain."
Leila looked at her gratefully. "Would you do that?"
"Thanks Herm. I owe you one."
"You owe me a hundred." Hermione said dryly.
"No arguments there. If I live through this, you can cash in all of them for the rest of your life."
"I intend to. Remember S.P.E.W.?"
"It's too late to make those favours conditional, isn't it?"
"Far too late."
"Going home now?" asked Hermione, looking excited.
"I know that's your nice way of asking me to get lost so that you can get started on your new assignment." said Leila wryly, getting up.
"No it isn't!" protested Hermione but her smile gave her away.
Leila chuckled and left the library.
She made her way up to the Headmasters room. The gargoyles looked down at her as she wondered what absurd password Dumbledore might have assigned this time.
She started listing all the sweets she could think of and finally hit jackpot with 'Fizzing Whizbies.'
"For a man your age, you should have had diabetes with your sweet tooth." she muttered out loud as she made her way up. Her pondering on the likelihood of wizards getting diabetes was cut short by the commotion created by the portraits on entering his circular office.
"Where is he?" demanded one.
"Is he alright?" asked a witch anxiously.
"Is he dead yet?" asked Phineas Nigellus keenly.
"No!" snapped Leila. "He's still unconscious... It's hard to say."
There were dismayed whispers around the room.
Leila held herself tighter. Every time she voiced out loud Dumbledore's imminent death, it was a sharp reminder of how they had all disregarded his mortality. She shivered with grief and disgust at the way that even on his deathbed, they all feared losing him because he was the only counterweight to madman who wanted war.
'Someone that old should be surrounded by family and pass away peacefully... He doesn't deserve this.' she thought to herself with a sigh.
She knew she was taking a shot in the dark, knowing as little as she did. But she couldn't not try.
She went up to the shelf where his Pensive was kept. She nudged it gently and it floated down and placed itself at its feet. Leila looked at the swirling, foggy mass inside of it. It was milky white and empty of all memories.
She bent down and started examining the basin. There were light marking and runes etched on it but she couldn't decipher any of it. Frustrated, she sat down on the ground and looked at it, wondering what to do.
That's when she spotted it. Right at the bottom was a small protrusion that looked like an inbuilt draw. She tugged it open carefully. Inside was a gold plate with the map of the world drawn in a thin silver line. Intrigued, she examined it closer. It was an old map. It lacked the detail and Leila hazarded a guess that it dated back to the earlier part of the first millennium. The American continents were missing as were Australia and the South Pole. It looked like an old trade map used by early European and Asian civilizations.
She tried pulling away the plate but it glowed bright gold and stayed put. Leila tilted her head to the side to get a side view. It was a few inches thick. The idea dawned on her immediately.
'My love is the key...'
She remembered the summer before her fourth year when she had been flipping through a patchy old Atlas in the local council library at Surrey. She had paused over a point at Switzerland over a small village. It had been labelled Grindelwald and she had briefly pondered whether Dumbeldore's arch nemesis was from there. It had been a brief passing thought that she had forgotten about when she flipped the page to Liechtenstein.
Filled with excitement, she traced her finger approximately over where Switzerland would be on the map and gently pressed. The point where her finger made contact with the gold plate glowed but nothing happened.
Frowning, she whispered softly, "Grindelwald."
But the plate stayed put. Leila sighed and sat back on her heels.
'Well that was a long shot.'
But she couldn't shake the feeling she was onto something here. And knowing Dumbledore, the memories he spoke of were under the map.
'My love is the key...'
On a whim, she pressed her finger over Germany, right above where the city of Nuremberg would be. Perhaps Dumbledore pined for the man he loved who was trapped forever in Nurmengard.
But it was to no avail.
Leila stared down at it with dismay. 'Just how much of your life am I going to have to uncover before I find the answers? What were you hiding from the world, Dumbledore?'
"You know," said Phineas Nigellus rather lazily. "If you want to discover secrets, go to the very beginning."
"You sound like Dumbledore." she muttered.
Phineas sniffed indignantly. "I most certainly do not."
But his words gave her another idea.
"You," she told him, "are surprisingly helpful."
"Youth." he responded in disgust as she hurried away. "Gratitude evades them all."
Scrimgeour looked up startled when Leila Potter walked into the meeting he was having with the Aurors.
"Oh, hi." she said, flustered. "Sorry. Your secretary waved me in. Should I return later?"
"No come on in. I told her to send you in whenever you come, if you did that is." he gave her a reproachful look and she winced. She'd forgotten about her and Gawain's dramatic exit a while ago.
"Oh. Right. Sorry. I had something that needed to be seen to." she said apologetically.
"Well, on the bright side she gives Scrimgeour the same treatment she gives us." Kingsley muttered out loud.
Leila and Scrimgeour both scowled at him. "Really? Is this the moment?"
"Alright. We're done." said Scrimgeour and most of the Aurors filed out, leaving behind James, Sirius and Kingsley. Gawain Robbards was leaning against the wall and watching with great interest.
Leila looked at them pointedly and then back at Scrimgeour. Scrimgeour gave her a resigned look that Leila took to mean 'Don't make me pick a fight with them. Just say what you have to in front of them as well.'
"So, I was thinking it might be a good idea if I accompanied you to Sofia after all." she began conversationally.
"What?" yelled James and Sirius together. Kingsley groaned. Scrimgeour arched his eyebrows. "And why the sudden change of heart?"
"I always wanted to see Bulgaria." she said innocently.
Gawain laughed softly in the background.
"You think now is the time for a holiday?"
"I thought we were going on work?"
Scrimgeour was looking at her intently and his eyes widened fractionally as he realized she was up to something. "Very well." he said finally.
"What do you mean very well?" said Sirius furiously. "Bulgaria is not safe! There's no way she can go unless we have an entourage of Aurors and you said this is a diplomatic mission."
"I'll be fine. He's there, isn't he?" she said, jerking her thumb at Scrimgeour.
"As long as you stay by my side. If you're up to something else, which I'm sure you are, I'm not going to be answerable for anything that happens to you." said Scrimgeour, although he looked like he was trying hard to suppress a smile.
"Do you want me to sign my indemnity bond right away?" asked Leila, raising her eyebrows.
"You're not signing anything." said James tersely. He turned to Scrimgeour. "I'm coming along."
"No Aurors." said Scrimegeour and Leila together.
"Besides, I told you, Potter. This is up to her, not you." added Scrimgeour serenely. He turned to Leila. "Return here tomorrow morning at dawn. We'll leave as soon as possible."
James was glaring at her. "Are you trying to spite me? Is this some weird rebellion thing you have going just because I banned you from drinking at home?"
"Stop taking everything so personally. I'm fine with the whole teetotalism." 'At home anyway.'
"Let's just go home." said James tiredly, looking given up. Leila felt sorry for him but, she reminded herself, 'I'm not trying to annoy him. I need to go. I need to find Grindelwald and this is the only way I can do it without raising suspicion.'
James and Kingsley walked ahead and Sirius was a little behind him. Leila walked three steps behind, careful to keep some distance from between them.
Gawain fell in step next to her and said, "So I take it you're not free tomorrow night?"
"I'm so sorry!" said Leila, abashed, She'd completely forgotten about it.
"Don't worry about it. I'll reschedule our date for next week, m'lady." He blew her a kiss and turned left down a corridor and disappeared. Leila was staring after him, a little taken aback by his unexpected show of affection and she crashed into Sirius who had stopped dead.
"Date?" he asked so softly that almost didn't hear him.
Leila stared at him, her hands automatically bunched into fists, her blood running cold. She had never, ever intended for him find out. But as always, it seemed her reserve of luck was running on empty when it concerned Sirius.
"It's just... It's nothing." she whispered, her stomach twisting.
Sirius exhaled slowly. "Define nothing."
"It's just dinner." she said, tense. James and Kinsgley had gone way ahead leaving her alone with him and it was making her unduly nervous.
"Dinner." repeated Sirius his voice suddenly loud.
The idea that he was actually going to create a scene made her grit her teeth. "Yeah, Sirius. Dinner. With another human being."
"You can't go." he said through gritted teeth. "I won't let you."
"You and what army?" her voice was growing louder as well.
"Why are you doing this to me?" he said, his hands bunching into fists as well.
"Me? Really? Is that what you think this is? That you're some sort of victim in a self serving scheme I have going on?"
"No, you cannot tell me what to do. You've lost that right, both as godfather and-" she stopped, her throat tight. She sidestepped him and hurried after Kingsley and her father, not daring to look back at him.
She was silent till they reached Grimmauld Place, Sirius looking like a wrathful demon. James looked between them and rolled his eyes. As soon as their portkey deposited them in the kitchen, Sirius walked away. They could hear him kicking everything on his way up.
James turned to her and sighed. "I think one angry person is problem enough for you, so I'll shut up, yeah?"
"Thanks." mumbled Leila.
James sighed and put his arm around her. "If you say yes, Scrimgeour wouldn't be able to stop me from coming to Bulgaria with you."
Leila sighed and said, "Dad..."
"Please." he pleaded. "I've stopped asking you questions. I don't say anything anymore. But I'm begging you, take me with you."
Leila flinched at his pale and tired face. She knew he was going out of his mind with Lily always at work with Snape and her constantly disappearing. She closed her eyes and nodded. "Alright. But on one condition... Promise me you won't tell anyone what we're going to do there."
James sucked a quick breath in. "I knew it! This has nothing to do with the Bulgarian Ministry! What's going on?"
"You can't tell anyone. Not even the Order."
James smiled. "If it means you'll include me in your inner circle of privileged secret keepers, then hell yes. I won't say a word." His smile faded. "But if something goes out of hand-"
"It won't. I hope."
"Who are we really going to go see?"
James stared at her and she waited with bated breath. His eyes crinkled and a sly grin spread across his face. "You are so full of insane ideas and surprises, Prongslette."
"I'm glad you approve. This might be dangerous."
"As long as I'm with you, I approve of all idiotic endeavours."
Leila grinned and gave him a quick hug. "Get some sleep. We have an early day." he told her.
"He's at St Mungo's." said James casually.
Leila narrowed her eyes at him. "Why?"
"Just keeping an eye on things." he said, without really meeting her eyes. "Good night, love."
He disappeared, leaving her staring after him, feeling deeply troubled. If James was starting to station his friends around his wife's workplace, then he was a lot more insecure about Snape than Leila imagined possible.
And she felt her shoulder drop with the unexpected weight of a sense of responsibility for what was happening.
She had championed Snape and ultimately, because of her, Lily and him were speaking again. She was responsible for reducing James to a threatened, unhappy wreck.
'It would appear that the motorway to hell is paved with specifically MY good intentions.'
Her heart heavy, she trudged up the stairs. Still preoccupied, she pushed her door open, stepped inside and shut it behind her. She dropped her coat to the ground carelessly and ran her hands through her hair. She froze at the sight of Sirius standing by her window. His back was turned to her and she was briefly glad because the stiff manner in which he held himself was a massive warning sign that he was not to be trifled with at the moment.
She waited silently for him to speak first, staying close to the door because she had a feeling she might need an immediate escape route. Seconds turned into minutes and Leila finally gave up.
"Sirius." she said quietly.
He still didn't turn.
She sighed. She took her sweater off and tossed it on the ground on top of her coat. Goosebumps formed on her bare arms as the chill hit the exposed skin around her camisole.
She looked longingly at her bed. She had only a few hours before she had to get up and she was so tired that her limbs ached. But Sirius wasn't moving and she was tense and more than just a little nervous.
Feeling her patience fray, she opened her mouth to tell him to get out when he finally turned around. Leila had been prepared for his rage or she thought she had been.
Nothing could have prepared her for the way he was looking at her now. His eyes were dark, his jaw clenched tight and he laid out every emotion bare on his face.
His anger, his disbelief, his conflicted state of mind, his despair... His longing.
Leila supposed her face must have reflected some answering emotion because he suddenly looked resolute. He crossed the room in three large steps stopping only when he was right in front of her.
He traced the strap of her camisole, his eyes still fixed on hers. She was barely breathing, her hands aching to reach up and pull his head down to hers. But she held herself in.
Her passivity only seemed to spur him on, his hands now running down her arms. He dipped his head down, lips skimming past her throat and he started dropping soft, open mouthed kisses along the top edge of her top.
"Sirius..." she whispered, her breaths coming out in short, quick succession.
"I've had an epiphany." he said, his lips tracing along her collarbone.
"Pray, do tell." she intended to sound snarky but her breathlessness made it sound like she was begging.
He finally lifted his head, looked her in the eye and whispered, "I'd rather have James Cruciato me all the way to China than drive you away. The pain would be less than that of watching you in another man's arms."
Leila sighed and started to step away. She didn't want his jealousy. She didn't want his possessiveness to drive him to her. "No." she said flatly. "You either want me or you don't. Another man in the equation cannot be the reason you do this. It's not... I won't be with you if that's-"
"I love you. I want you. I need you." he said, curling his finger under her chin and forcing her to look at him.
Leila swallowed. "Maybe you should go and sleep on it before -"
His lips were on hers and her words died in her throat, driven away by the way he tasted. He pressed the length of his body against hers. She groaned in defeat and relief and kissed him back ferociously.
"I love you, I love you, I love you!" she whispered ecstatically, kissing the line of his jaw.
He laughed, wild and carefree. He picked her up and spun her around joyously. A weight had lifted off his shoulders and he dived back down to her lips and coaxed them open with his tongue. His hand reached behind his back and he locked the door, keeping the world out of the bubble that was him and her.