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Cast the Die by Infantasia

Format: Novel
Chapters: 10
Word Count: 48,127
Status: Abandoned

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature

Genres: Drama, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Lupin, Sirius, A. Longbottom, F. Longbottom, Lily, James, Pettigrew, OC
Pairings: James/Lily

First Published: 04/11/2007
Last Chapter: 02/04/2013
Last Updated: 02/04/2013

Summary:





Credit to hermione_smarts12345 for the incredible banner!! Two years ago, Lily Evans let fate lead her life. It brought James to her and took him away again. Now as an Auror, Lily realizes that it's time to take matters into her own hands, especially when faced with James' newly returned childhood friend and a traitor amidst their Auror group. Sequel to Leave It to Fate.


Chapter 1: The Death Eaters' Threshold
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Disclaimer: JKR owns all the familiar characters! I just own the plot and the OCs :)


1: The Death Eaters’ Threshold


Lily Evans brushed off the dirt that had fallen on her face. She knew she should’ve worn protective goggles, or something along the lines of eyewear, but Moody had strictly forbidden it. Muggle objects were not to be worn when the situation needed to be dealt with by magic. That was a strict Auror code, and Lily was adamant about following the rules. Still, she should’ve at least thought to place a spell over her eyes. Now she was stumbling around the dark tunnel while attempting to keep the nasty little particles from invading her vision.

There was a sudden grunt from behind her, and then a muffled curse. Alice must’ve tripped over something, as always.

The two were heading towards a Death Eaters’ ex-stronghold in the middle of the night. Lily had never thought that this was a good idea in the first place, considering that both she and Alice were Aurors-in-training. But Moody, apparently, felt the need to put his commonly stressed ‘constant vigilance’ into action. Thus, they were now scurrying down the dark and musty tunnel, with only the light at the tip of their wands as guidance. Alice had suggested apparating, but that idea had been quickly squashed.

“How dare you think of apparating?” Moody had practically snarled. “As Aurors, you can’t afford to be lazy. You must take all precautions necessary, even if it means you come out a hunchback! Understood?”

Becoming a hunchback was an understatement. Lily and Alice were practically crawling on all fours. Lily’s robes were caked with grime and her cloak was already torn and dirty. No one would be able to tell that the cloak was brand new.

Alice hurried forward and walked beside Lily. “Two wands make the light brighter,” she explained.

Lily nodded. “Right.” Even though Alice had graduated a year prior to Lily, she had entered Auror training in the same year. The two had been made partners and they were now steadfast friends.

“Did Mad-Eye mention stairs of some sort?” Alice asked, her voice quiet.

“I don’t think so. He hardly told us anything.”

The brunette narrowed her eyes and frowned. “We’re underground right now, and unless we’re going through the basement, we need a means of getting to the first floor.”

Lily paused to listen to their surroundings, and then continued forward. “Are you sure the house doesn’t have a basement?”

“They could’ve remodeled,” Alice suggested.

“Remodel?” Lily raised an eyebrow. “I doubt it. They would want the extra space to hide their Dark Magic-infested objects.”

Alice shook her head. “That’s the first place the Ministry would look if they got a warrant. Even Death Eaters aren’t as stupid as to store everything there.”

“Ever since our intensive training started, we haven’t been allowed to receive any letters so Riley hasn’t been able to tell me much about the Ministry’s work these days.”

“Riley Cohen? As in…”

“My friend from Hogwarts and the Head of the Department of the Misuse of Magic.”

She grinned inwardly upon remembering her friend. They had parted ways after the summer following graduation. Kim had decided to pursue her job as a Healer and was now working at St. Mungo’s. Riley had changed her mind last minute about becoming an Auror and applied for a job at the Ministry. They were both doing extremely well in their current positions, but Lily hadn’t heard word from them in weeks.

Alice suddenly reached out and grabbed Lily’s arm. She pointed her wand towards the ground and smirked. Lily rolled her eyes upon seeing the wooden steps.

“So you were right about the whole first floor thing. Big deal.”

“You know I’m right. And smarter too.” Alice extinguished her light. “Scourgify.” The grime and dirt were swept off the steps with a clean swish and the steps actually looked approachable now.

Lily headed up first, her wand directed towards the trap door that she could see from where she was. It was made of iron and the dimensions were narrow, but she had no doubt that both she and Alice could slide through.

Alice grumbled when she caught sight of the door’s size. “So we’re going to crawl through that thing? What are we, animals?”

“No need to be so melodramatic.” Lily examined the trapdoor with a critical eye and then lifted a hand towards it. It was locked. She sighed and brushed the dust off her face again. Her eyes were already growing irritated, but she couldn’t stop now to place a protective charm on her eyes. They were at the Death Eaters’ threshold.

Alohomora.”

It clicked open. She glanced around one more time and nodded affirmative to Alice. The brunette gave her the thumbs-up and Lily hoisted herself through the opening. She quickly slid behind the cabinet to the side of the door. Alice let the door slide close after her and they ducked in opposite sides of the room. There was no sound.

Lily stepped out quietly, her cloak swishing behind her. Alice skipped ahead and pressed her ear to the door.

“There’s no one here,” she whispered.

“Do you still have the map?”

Alice frowned. “The map? You mean the one Mad-Eye gave us?” She took it out of her cloak and Lily shined her wand on it. The little contours and turns were marked clearly with dark ink, and Lily quickly realized that they were in the den.

“We’re here.” She pointed towards the square marked on the map. “According to Moody, the Dark Magic objects are most likely scattered throughout the house. The tome will most likely be in the study. I’ll head there and you can…”

“I’ll search the upper floor bedrooms.”

Lily nodded. “Meet back here and then we leave. No lingering. No getting amused by food. No…”

“I know, Lily,” Alice said exasperatedly. “This may be our first mission, but don’t forget I received the same amount of training as you did.”

Lily grinned and slipped across the room that headed towards the first flight of steps. The study was on the third floor, meaning that she needed to get past the second floor without alerting any possible Death Eaters. The house may have been an ex-stronghold, but Moody had warned them of possible Death Eaters returning to collect last-minute items. She sincerely hoped that she and Alice would not run into trouble. Though they were trained, this was their first mission. Lily didn’t think either of them would respond well if they encountered opposition of any kind.

As it turned out, she needn’t have worried. Alice had gone a few steps ahead of her and had cleared everything for her. Lily smiled at the thought. Her friend may have been a little spontaneous and compulsive at times, but she still had a clear head. Lily crept up the stairs, careful to avoid any possible creaking steps, and ascended to the third floor.

Torches dimly lit the hallway. Her eyes immediately adjusted to the darkened surroundings and she crept along, keeping a watchful eye around while judging the distance between the doors she passed. The lengthier the wall between them, the greater the span of the room. It was easy to pinpoint the study.

It was marked my two tall double-doors. She inched forward and pressed her ear to the door.

Silence.

Judging it safe to enter, Lily lifted her wand and the doors clicked open softly. She quickly slid in and closed them again. Just as a precaution, she left the lock open.

The talk bookcases loomed over her, and Lily had to stifle a gasp. The study was a wondrous library, with towers and towers of books to mark years of collecting. If she were given the chance, she’d definitely stay and flip through at least three quarters of the books provided.

And then she frowned. How in the world was she supposed to find a tome in such an extensive collection of books? She couldn’t just flip through everything till she found the right one. That would take no less than five hours, and by then, she would’ve been skinned and boiled alive by the Death Eaters.

Lily pursed her lips in thought. What could she use? And then she got it: a summoning spell. She lifted her wand and uttered a silent ‘Accio,’ and waited for the book to come to her.

It didn’t.

Annoyed and a little startled, she tried again, only to realize that her spell had malfunctioned…or even worse, had been deflected. Did that mean there was someone in the room with her?

Lily suddenly whirled around, and saw a hooded figure leaning against the door, clad in dark robes. Her eyes trailed down to the book in his hands. It was the book she had come for, the tome that contained an extensive collection of Dark Magic spells.

“Looking for this?” He lifted the book in his hand.

Lily gripped her wand tightly and forced herself to remain cool. She would not, could not, fail on her first mission. “As a matter of fact, yes. Would you like to hand it over?”

The Death Eater laughed. “Nothing comes without a price, Auror.” He pushed himself away from the wall and took a few steps closer to her. Lily stepped back in alarm. “You’re going to have to earn it.”

“Earn it?” she scoffed. “It’s going to be mine either way. Now we can do this two ways. Either you hand it to me or I take it from you. Take your pick.”

“Neither.”

She could practically hear the smile in his voice. Lily shook her head in false pity. “Sorry. Game over.” She lifted her wand. “Petrificus Totalus!”

The Death Eater lunged towards the right. The spell smashed into the wall behind him, showering books onto the ground. Lily sprang forward and shouted another spell, attempting to knock the book out of his hands. Either he was an extremely agile person or he had played Quidditch in his younger years, but either way, he was faster. He spun around, shifting out of her grasp, and shouted, “Reducto!”

Lily dodged, and then sent a table flying at him. The Death Eater stopped it midair and shot it back at her. She gasped and winced as a corner of the table smashed into her side.

He snickered at her expense. “Painful, wasn’t it?”

“Hardly. Stupefy!”

He spiraled into the air and smashed into the wall. Lily got hold of the fallen tome and ran towards the door. She yanked it open and stumbled out into the hallway. There was a loud curse behind her, but she didn’t stop to investigate it.

Alice suddenly appeared at the foot of the stairs, a bulging bag hitched over her shoulders. Her eyes widened at Lily’s frazzled state, and without saying a word, started sprinting towards the den.

“I swore I wasn’t going to ask,” Alice huffed, running around the corner. “But I can’t help myself. What happened?”

Lily sucked in a deep breath and hitched the tome up again. “Death Eater after us.”

Alice suddenly jerked to a halt. Lily had to shift to the side to prevent from crashing into her, and her body crashed into the wall, causing a white flash of pain in her side. It was still bruised from earlier.

“My, my. I’m curious.”

Lily’s breath caught in her throat and she rested a hand on Alice’s arm to prevent her from lunging at the Death Eater.

“Curious as to how you’re going to prevent us from leaving?” Alice’s lips peeled back into a snarl and her body grew stiff. “Difficult, isn’t it?”

The Death Eater laughed. “How can two measly little Aurors think they’re going to get out of here unscathed?”

Lily hid the tome under her cloak and positioned her wand. “We’d be happy to teach you.”

He blew out a sigh. “This is such a pity.”

Stupefy!” Alice shouted.

Though the Death Eater dodged the spell, it gave them enough time to make a getaway. She grabbed Lily’s arm and sprinted towards the den, throwing random hexes over her shoulder every once in a while to prevent the Death Eater from following them.

“Quickly! The den!”

Lily threw herself at the door and twisted the knob. It was locked.

Alice shoved past. “Alohomora!”

The door still wouldn’t budge. Lily whirled around. By now, another Death Eater had joined the previous one, and they were advancing, arms raised and wands pointed. Alice pulled Lily back another step, but realized it futile when their backs crashed against the locked door. They were blocked on all sides, with their only path of escape barraged by the approaching Death Eaters.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” one of them said. “You both look quite…stuck.”

Alice’s eyes narrowed. “You think we can’t get out of this?”

The other threw his head back and laughed. “I’d like to see you try.”

Without a word of warning, Alice sprang onto the first Death Eater, knocking him down to the ground with her weight. “Lily, run!”

She didn’t need to be told twice. Normally, she would’ve gotten Alice out of the situation before leaving, but they both had no time. There was a greater chance that they would be able to escape if she ran first.

Lily shoved past the remaining Death Eater, but she didn’t get far. He grabbed her arm and shoved her against the wall. Her head flew back, hitting the wood behind her. There were black spots in her vision, and blurrily, she saw him raise his wand.

Alice shouted something from the floor, but Lily couldn’t decipher it. Her vision was failing and the sound of the roaring sea was in her ears. She only saw a bright flash of light and then nothing.

She fainted.


----*----



When Lily came to again, she was highly aware of the stiffness behind her back and the hard wood under her bottom. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the room and they widened in surprise. It wasn’t a torture chamber like she had expected. Instead, the room was rather barren, with nothing except a table along and another wooden chair.

The walls were made of brick, alarmingly similar to the walls in Hogwarts. The only window in the room was close to the ceiling and was practically unreachable.

Lily wriggled, but found herself bound to the chair. She might’ve been able to get out of it if ropes had bound her, but trying to physically release herself from magic was futile.

She looked around. How long had she been there? A day? Two days? A few hours? She had no idea. But she did know that she needed to find Alice and find a way out of there.

The door opened.

Lily looked up and saw a Death Eater enter, his long, dark cloak billowing out behind him. From where she sat, she couldn’t tell who he was due to the hood covering his face and his mask. He smirked at her position and closed the door behind him. Lily tensed when she heard the familiar click of the lock.

She narrowed her eyes as he stepped closer. “What do you want, Death Eater?”

“What do you think I want?” he asked, a hint of playfulness in his tone. It was the playfulness that made Lily start. It sounded somewhat familiar.

She glared. “What kind of question is that? Are you a new servant?”

His posture grew stiff. “Servant?” he hissed. “How hypocritical of you to call me that when you’re just that pathetic old fool’s follower.”

“At least I’m not a dog,” she snapped. “A pathetic bastard who goes around licking his master’s shoes.”

In a flash, he was in front of her, his hand around her neck, pressing against her pulse. He forced her head back and his breath brushed her cheek. “Watch your mouth, Mudblood.” Lily struggled against his hand, but his hold only tightened. “You’re my prisoner, so I suggest you act like one.”

He released her and stepped back.

Lily jerked against her invisible bonds. “Watch your mouth, Death Eater.”

“You really aren’t in any condition to tell me what to do.” The Death Eater perched himself on the table. “So let’s try this again. You tell me what you know of the Order and I’ll let you go. Simple as that.”

She couldn’t help but burst into laughter. “Now that’s funny.” He observed her with faint interest. “After all these years, I think I’ve learned enough not to trust the word of a Death Eater.”

He chuckled. “Wise words. But I’m afraid you can do nothing but trust me right now.”

“In your dreams.”

“And how would you know what I dream about, Evans?”

Lily’s eyes narrowed. That line…that voice…that tone…that sounded so familiar. It sounded too much like…

“Who are you?”

Now he sounded amused. “I don’t believe I’m supposed to reveal this information to Aurors such as yourself, Lily.”

She licked her lips and attempted to make herself sound as assured as possible. “And what if I already know who you are?”

“You mean what if you think you know who I am?” He didn’t sound the least bit fazed. “Well then I suppose that’s good for you. Now tell me. What do you know about the Order?”

Lily bit her lip. She was adamant about remaining quiet, even though she personally had no idea what the Order was. How were the Death Eaters supposed to know that she was only an Auror-in-training?

She changed topics. “Are you scared to reveal your identity? Is that why you wear that pathetic mask?”

The Death Eater shrugged. “It’s part of our uniform.”

“Or you just don’t want to go to Azkaban if you’re caught,” Lily challenged. “Isn’t that it? Why else would you be too scared to tell me who you are?”

“That sounded so unbelievably clichéd, Lily. I never would’ve expected it from you. But then again, even the strongest of men grow insane at the prospect of death.”

“You knew me?”

He nodded and picked up a quill lying on the table. “Quite well, actually.” He sounded almost bored. “Which is why I’m bothering to talk to you. Aurors are always so boring. They always say the same things.”

Lily twitched again. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he began, “you guys always say things like ‘I refuse to tell you anything’ or ‘you’re all going to Azkaban’ or ‘you really think the Dark Lord can triumph’ and other things like that. And then we end up having to kill them. We don’t have much cell space after all.”

“That’s what makes them good Aurors.”

He laughed. “Maybe.” He tilted his head. “So what will you be? A typical Auror or will you breach the unknown and try something new?”

“Why don’t you tell me who you are first?” Lily needed to come up with a plan and fast. If she could, she’d get out of this unscathed and then find Alice. She needed to make sure her friend was alive.

The Death Eater remained silent for a while, as if contemplating her suggestion. Finally, he shrugged. “You asked for it.”

Lily watched with rapt attention as he pulled off his hood and lifted up his mask. Her eyes widened and her jaw unhinged. Merlin was surely playing tricks on her. It wasn’t possible…was it?

“James?” she gasped.

His smiled broadened and he jumped off the table. “At your service.”


----*----



Author's Note: The sequel to Leave It To Fate is here! :) I hope you all enjoy this. I know this chapter is a little short, but it's very similar to a prologue.

Please review for me! I'd greatly appreciate it.


Chapter 2: Appearances Can Be Deceiving
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2: Appearances Can Be Deceiving


Lily was fully convinced that she was dreaming. She had been under a lot of stress during the past few days, so it was normal to have a few hallucinations. There was just no other possible explanation as to why James Potter was standing in front of her in full Death Eater uniform, smirking as if she were a rabbit and he a wolf.

Her James would never look at her like that.

So naturally, she had to be imagining this.

Lily risked a glance at the man standing in front of her. But oh, she was so certain that he was James. There could be no mistaking that unruly hair and the roguish smirk.

But it was impossible for James to be a Death Eater. The Potters were loyal Aurors ever since the very beginning, and James had always despised the Dark Arts.

“You’re a…well, you know…” she trailed off and opted for another approach. “You’re James Potter? As in…that Potter? And not any other Potter?”

He appeared amused. “And exactly how many Potters do you know?”

Lily bit her lip. “Just one…but Potter is a very common surname. I’m pretty sure you’re not that James Potter.”

“You mean the James Potter who you fell in love with?” He cocked his head, the gleam in his eyes ever-present.

Seeing no other way around the question, she reluctantly nodded.

He pursed his lips as if in deep thought. “Well,” he said after a few moments. “I think you’ll find that I am indeed, that James Potter, the one you fell in love with.”

Surely he must’ve been joking. There was no way her James would turn evil.

“You…” She paused to find the right words. “You can’t possibly be James. Well, at least you can’t be my James.”

“Why not?” James, or rather, imposter James smiled and pulled up a chair next to her. “I have the same face, the same voice, and the same height. I’m just as handsome, if not even more, just as witty and appealing and brilliant and talented and…”

“And just as cocky, pompous, and arrogant,” Lily cut in dryly. Her eyes narrowed. “You must be an imposter.”

His hazel eyes widened dramatically. “Imposter? Oh Evans, surely you jest,” he cried. “Me? The one and only James Potter? An imposter?”

She stiffened. “Then prove it to me.”

James lifted an eyebrow. “Prove what? That I’m an imposter?”

“No. Prove that you’re James.”

His shoulders sagged. “Oh just grand,” he muttered. “How do I prove my own bloody identity? This is so stupid.”

“Not as stupid as you becoming a Death Eater.”

Lily regretted the line immediately after she said it. James perked up and his grin returned, full force. “People do have changes of heart, Lily,” he said, somewhat smugly. “What if I just happened to realize that being an Auror didn’t really suit me?”

“And becoming a Death Eater did?” she said incredulously and then scoffed. “Oh please, James. Everyone in your family has become an Auror and has done remarkably. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

“But apples do roll,” he reminded her. “And if the tree is on a rather steep slope, then…”

“So you rolled right into the devil’s lair.”

He shrugged. “You could say that, though calling the Dark Lord a devil won’t earn you any brownie points.” He smiled, then. “And since we have an abundance of time…”

Lily gritted her teeth. “We do not have an abundance of time! At least I don’t. Merlin knows what you do with your life, but I have an urgent schedule to keep up with. So if you could…”

“If I could?” James cut in. “Of course I could. But do I want to?”

Lily took in a deep breath. She finally saw James after two years and this was how their first conversation went? It certainly was not what she had imagined over multiple sleepless nights when she had relived memories of the two of them at Hogwarts.

She had repetitiously wondered what James would be like when she saw him again. Would he be a prominent Auror? Had he managed to complete his training earlier than she? Would he be any more handsome than he had been? But there was no way that she would have believed that he had turned into a Death Eater.

Perhaps people did change after all. And some changes were more drastic than others. In this case, it was a startling one-eighty.

Lily stared at him. “If you still love me, you would.”

His lips curved. “Do what?”

So now he was playing dumb. She could deal with that. “You would release me, return my wand, and make sure I get out of here safe and sound.”

“Oh. That’s easy.”

Her eyebrow lifted. “Easy?” James nodded again. “Okay.” She paused. “Then leave Voldemort and speak with the Aurors. They wouldn’t be entirely understanding of your betrayal, but at least you would be on the right side again.”

He lounged in his chair and propped a leg up on the footrest he had conjured. “That’s simple too.” He clucked his tongue. “Lily, I would’ve thought you’d come up with harder tasks. I’ve always believed you were more advanced than this.”

It would’ve been an understatement to say that Lily was skeptical. What was James playing at? If he were any normal Death Eater, he would’ve killed her for suggesting that he betray Voldemort. Then again, she was bound and wandless. There was no reason for him to feel threatened, and James had always been more easy-going than others.

“What do you mean?” Lily wriggled a bit, just in case the bonds had loosened. They hadn’t.

“Like I said before, I could do all those things.” James’ hazel eyes brightened. “And I do love you.”

Lily felt her pulse speed up. Despite the fact that they weren’t exactly in the best of situations, she was still thrilled upon hearing those words. Two years had been much too long.

“But,” he continued, bringing her back to the situation at hand, “loving you is one thing and betraying the Dark Lord is another. They don’t go together.”

Her breath hitched. “How does that make sense?”

“It makes perfect sense,” James said. He tapped his head with his wand. “It’s in here, Lily, and in here.” He gestured towards his heart. “You need a mind to be loyal but only a heart to love. I’m sorry, but loyalty comes before love.”

Lily couldn’t even hide her disgust. Reality was slowly beginning to sink in, but there was still a small part of her that refused to believe it.

“Fine then,” she snapped. “Keep your loyalty. Just get it over with.”

Now he seemed genuinely surprised. “Get what over with?”

“Don’t you have limited cell space? Aren’t you going to kill me?”

“True,” he replied, and moved closer so that they were practically sitting next to each other. “But I figured that I might as well give you another chance. I don’t love you for nothing.” Lily clenched her teeth when James gave her a light peck on the cheek. She was unable to still her abnormally quick heartbeat, but she refused to give into it. No matter what, Lily Evans would never love a Death Eater.

She waited till he pulled away and shot him the darkest glare that she could muster. “I don’t want you to give me another chance. I won’t tell you anything.” She tilted her chin up to emphasize her point.

James laughed. “Oh come on, Lily. Don’t be so stiff. Loosen up. Relax. I’m not going to hurt you.”

“No,” she responded dryly, “you’re going to kill me instead.”

He shook his head and wagged a finger in front of her face. “Nope. I’m not the executioner, merely the interrogator. It gets boring after a while, like I said. And since you and I had a very complicated past together, why not catch up? I’ve got time till the Dark Lord visits.”

Lily paled remarkably. Voldemort? Voldemort was coming?

James glanced at her chalk-white face and smirked. “Chill, love. The Dark Lord’s not here to eat you. In fact, he’s here for recruits, if you’re interested.”

Her eyes narrowed, and she got some of her coloring back. Now that she had gotten used to the James-as-a-Death Eater idea, she found it relatively simple to revert back to their old banter. It had hardly taken any effort. “And I suppose that’s what happened to you as well? What, couldn’t stand the torture?”

“Well now, I wouldn’t put it that way,” he drawled, and then smiled charmingly. “In actuality, I volunteered. And let me tell you, I would never be captured.”

“You volunteered?” Lily scoffed. “That’s worse than getting captured! At least Alice and I…” She abruptly stopped. A sudden and rather horrifying notion struck her. She had forgotten about her partner!

“Where’s Alice?” she demanded. “What’d you do with her?”

James smiled airily. “She’s alive.”

Lily bristled at the hidden implications. What did alive mean? Surely Alice would’ve been more than just alive. She was strong-willed. She wouldn’t go down so easily.

James sighed exasperatedly, bringing Lily out of her thoughts. “Allow me to rephrase and say that Alice is alive and well.” He rolled his eyes. “Does that make you feel better?”

“You could just tell me where she is right now,” Lily offered.

“I’ll pass,” he said offhandedly, and then conjured two goblets of butterbeer. He floated one close to her and gestured at it. “Have a drink. It’ll sooth your nerves.” James followed his own suggestion and took a large gulp.

Lily just glared. “Do you really think I’m capable of doing so right now?”

He lifted an eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t you be?”

She snorted. For a person who was supposed to be sharp at all times, he was rather blind to some things. Or had he forgotten that he had bound her to the chair?

“You tied me to a bloody chair, Potter!” she shouted, causing James to choke on his drink at the sudden outburst. He burst into a hacking cough, but she didn’t relent. “How the hell do you expect me to drink when I’m handicapped?”

Lily waited rather smugly as he dislodged the drink that had gone down the wrong pipe.

“Bloody hell, Lily,” he finally said, voice a little hoarse. “Can’t you control yourself? I’m trying to drink.”

“Well so am I,” she said huffily. “And I can’t when I’m tied down.”

James surveyed her with a critical eye. “If I untie you, will you promise not to run?”

She smiled slyly. “I can’t promise that, Potter. Then again, I didn’t think you’d be worried about me escaping.” At his look of suspicion, her smirk grew wider. “I always thought you were capable enough to prevent your captive from running out on you.”

Instead of feeling threatened, James merely smiled and tilted his head. “You’re getting good, Lily. I’m impressed.” He nodded his approval. “A few years of Auror work really spruced you up a bit. You’re no longer the sputtering and cowardly Hogwarts prefect I remember so well.”

“Sputtering and cowardly?” Lily gritted out, her eyebrow twitching. “If I remember correctly, you were the one who went all ballistic over Aileen’s supposed death.”

She flinched the second that name came out of her mouth. Oh she was asking for it. Why had she brought her up, of all things? Aileen Hollister was a sore topic for both she and James. Lily mentally kicked herself.

But like everything else that Lily had said, her words seemed to breeze by James without hitting him. In fact, save for the sudden twitch of his lips, it appeared as if he hadn’t even heard her.

“That wasn’t really cowering or sputtering,” he said calmly. “It was more of worrying my arse off.” He waved his hand dismissively. “But that was ages ago. Everything is perfectly fine now.”

Lily couldn’t resist her curiosity. “You found her?”

James’ smile was dazzling. “That I did. Glad you cared to ask.”

Her heart gave a jerky thud and the room suddenly seemed too small and too warm. Her ears were ringing and she knew she had to get away from James as quickly as possible. From his tone of voice and the smile on his face, he seemed incredibly pleased to have Aileen back. And that could only lead to one thing.

But it was something that Lily did not want to have to realize. If it were up to her, she would’ve been content staying in the dark her entire life. Reality was damnably cruel.

“I’m merely being polite,” she finally managed to reply. “I could care less what happens between you and her.”

“Really now?” James sounded amused. “Why does it seem like someone is lying here?”

“Then that would be you,” she said snappily, and twisted around to make her point. “Didn’t you say you were going to release me?”

He nodded. “And you said you weren’t going to escape.”

“No, I said you were capable enough to stop me if I were to,” she corrected. Only a subtle difference in the wording, but it implied a world of difference. She could use this as her ticket of escape.

James flicked his wand and the ropes were gone. Lily had never appreciated the ability to move her arms as much as she did now. It was freedom, and it was the first step to her getaway. Now all she had to do was distract James long enough for her to reach the door. Things would be a lot simpler once she was out of the room.

She reached out and took the goblet of butterbeer, but she didn’t drink it. How did she know that he hadn’t poisoned it? James had conjured up the drinks after all. He could’ve added something to hers and his would’ve been completely fine. Besides, he was a prankster, and she knew all too well what pranksters were capable of.

“I thought you were thirsty.”

Lily looked up at him. “ I am.”

“Then why don’t you drink? You’ve been staring at it for the past few minutes.”

She scowled. “How do I know you haven’t put something in it? I could die after I drink this.”

James’ hazel eyes glittered. “Don’t you trust me, Lily?”

“You got me here in the first place, didn’t you?” she challenged. “And I did trust you before, but look where it got me.” Her eyes narrowed. “Like I already said, I’d never trust the word of a Death Eater.”

He clucked his tongue and vanished his goblet with a flick of his wand. “Sorry, but I was told to get you here using any means necessary.”

“Heartless prat,” she hissed.

“Not heartless,” he corrected. “Prat maybe, but not heartless.”

“Oh but don’t you get it?” Lily said sweetly, taking an experimental sip from the butterbeer. James didn’t seem like the type to murder someone through poison. If he truly wanted to kill, he’d probably use more advanced levels, such as the Avada Kedavra curse. “I was emphasizing the ‘heartless’ part of it.”

James rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Think whatever you want.”

Lily’s eyes trailed down to the wand poking out of his pocket. He had carelessly stashed it there after vanishing his goblet, and it only made things easier for her. She had no chance to get her wand back, but there was a good probability that she could steal James’.

And if she wanted to get out of here, she had to do it quickly. Moody had always said that lagging would result in undesirable repercussions.

“So Potter,” she said conversationally. “What would you do if I attempted to run right now?”

He shifted his gaze to her and grinned. “What do you think? I have my obligations.”

“And I have mine,” Lily replied. Her green eyes stared determinedly at him. “And I’m going to fulfill them.”

She jerked into action. James had only enough time to jump out of his chair before Lily sprang forward. She steadied herself and surveyed him. His hazel eyes were wide and alert, but the rest of his body seemed languid and relaxed. It was a strange combination, but it was an indication of a good fighter.

Lily smiled wryly. Voldemort must’ve been positively gleeful to have James on his side.

“Now, now, Lily. Are you really thinking of escaping?” James gestured towards the door with his wand.

“No, I’m not thinking of escaping. I know I will.”

James sighed. “Oh come on, Lily. This is reality, not some fantasy of yours. You’ve never been better than me in school, so what makes you think you can beat me now? You may be an Auror, but I’m a Death Eater. I have Dark Magic on my side. You have nothing.”

Lily smirked inwardly. He thought that she was an Auror already? Clearly, he had not gotten far in his training before he decided to follow Voldemort.

“Now I wouldn’t be so sure.”

She swung her chair at him. James managed to jump away, but Lily released the wooden object at the last minute. It went flying and smacked him with a resounding crash. Lily made for his wand, but he flung the chair off him before she got there.

He smirked. “Smart move, Lily, I concede that.” His eyes flickered dangerously. “But is that all you can do?”

Lily answered by throwing the second chair at him, and this time, she didn’t even bother retrieving his wand. She had noticed a metal bar of some kind off in the corner of the room. It would be sufficient to break down the door, as long as it wasn’t secured by magic.

James suddenly appeared in front of her, blocking her path. His eyes were narrowed dangerously, his stance sharp and unyielding. His lips curled. “Don’t make me hex you, Lily.”

She scoffed, even though she knew the odds were against her. “You couldn’t even if you tried.”

“You want to bet?”

“Sure.” Months of long strenuous training took into effect and Lily twisted herself away from the spell that James had shot at her. She landed on her side painlessly and rolled a good distance away before standing again.

She smiled and quoted, “Is that all you can do?”

James laughed. “Afraid not, darling.” He paused just long enough for Lily to realize what he had said and then shouted, “Crucio!”

Lily was stunned. Her jaw fell open briefly and then the pain hit her. It was blinding, more so than any other curse that she had ever felt before. It felt as if her insides were literally being ripped out from her body. Her brain no longer functioned, which explained her lack of coordination as she blindly threw herself in James’ general direction. The pain intensified for a moment, before it abruptly went away.

She crashed into James and they tumbled onto the floor in a tangle of limbs. Lily shook away the shock and darted towards the wand that had flown across the room. She retrieved it before James got to it and pointed it at him, her hand shaking, not from fear, but from a mixture of anger, shock, and disappointment.

“You…you…” Her voice shook, and she did her best to steady it. “You used an Unforgivable!”

James’ expression remained blank. “I’m a Death Eater. What did you expect?”

“You’ll go to Azkaban for this, you know,” she spat.

He shrugged. “I had my name tagged onto a cell the day I chose to become a Death Eater. I would think that using an Unforgivable is the least of my worries at this point.”

Lily gritted her teeth and balled her hand into a fist. She was no longer feeling the pain from the Cruciatus Curse, but she was shaking with rage. James Potter of all people had been the first person ever to use the curse on her. James Potter. The irony was practically tangible.

“Potter, you just signed your death contract.” She lifted his wand. “Stupefy!”

Either he had seen that coming, or he just had extremely fast reflexes. He managed to dodge the spell, but was forced to throw himself against the wall due to the successive curses that Lily threw at him. It gave her sufficient time to bolt towards the door.

Alohomora!”

To her immense relief, the door unlocked without protest and Lily sprinted into the hallway. She was about to run towards the right when she saw a figure coming towards her. Her green eyes narrowed, and a second later, her jaw dropped to the ground.

Oh Merlin.

Lily yelped and threw herself at her partner, hugging the brunette for all her worth. “Alice, you’re all right!”

Alice laughed and then made a face. “Of course I’m alive, you dope. You think I’d die so easily?”

Lily was close to shedding tears by now. She hugged Alice once more and then pulled away…only to jump in alarm. Moody was behind her, his good eye focused on her and his magical eye whirling. There were several other Aurors flanking him. What were they doing here?

“Moody?” Lily said slowly. “What…”

“Cat got your tongue, girl?” Moody said gruffly. Both eyes were focused on her now. “Never expected it from you, Evans.”

She ran a hand through her hair in embarrassment. “Sorry, but what are you guys doing here? Did you receive some sort of information about this?”

“Let’s just say we already knew about this,” another Auror said. She smiled at Lily. “How are you feeling?”

Upon hearing this, Alice suddenly frowned and yanked Lily back a step. “You’re hurt?” She spun Lily around, inspecting her from all angles. “Where?” And then her eyes widened. “Did the Death Eater hurt you? He did, didn’t he?”

Lily blinked in surprise. “How’d you know about the Death Eater? He was…”

“Someone captured me too,” Alice cut in. “I managed to kick his arse.” She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, the guy was pathetic. He couldn’t even hold his wand properly.”

The woman who had spoken sounded amused. “He couldn’t hold his wand properly? Are you sure?”

Lily glanced at her friend, who merely shrugged. “Well maybe I’m exaggerating, but I didn’t really get the chance to see. I snapped his wand.”

Moody let out a loud, triumphant yell and smashed his cane on the ground so abruptly that Lily nearly jumped out of her skin. Merlin, she was feeling incredibly jittery. “See!” he roared, jabbing his finger at her and Alice. “I told you they’d be successful! Mindless girls, most of the time, but they’re capable.”

Another Auror on Moody’s right sighed exasperatedly. “No one said you were wrong, Alastor. Now will you please lower your voice?”

Moody laughed loudly and clambered forward. He rested a hand on each of their shoulders. “Congratulations, you two.”

Lily shifted, glancing from one Auror to the next. “I’m sorry, but I’m a little confused.”

“I ditto that,” Alice said, her brows lifting. “Will someone in this little hallway here explain just what the hell is going on?”

“You passed,” the third Auror said.

“I like how they’re speaking like a broken record,” Lily grumbled.

Alice ignored her. “What did we pass?”

“Your entrance exam.”

The two girls exchanged a bewildered glance and then stared at the Aurors. “The what?”

“Entrance exam,” Moody repeated. He appeared to have gotten hold of bearings again. “A test to see if you’re fit to be an Auror.”

“What is this, Hogwarts all over again?” Alice huffed. She crossed her arms. “I thought we had gotten away from all that years ago!”

Lily’s mind, however, was focused on something else. If all that had been an entrance exam, as Moody had called it, then did that mean…

“You mean, the Death Eater wasn’t a Death Eater?” she said incredulously. “All of that was just a pretense?”

“That’s correct,” the women replied.

Lily promptly fainted.


----*----



Author's Note: I had quite a few complaints about James turning into a Death Eater. And yes, I realize as well as you all do that him trailing Voldemort around and kissing his shoes is highly improbable. I hope this chapter cleared things up for you all :) And hopefully, you all enjoyed the little twist, if it was even considered one.

Thanks for all your wonderful reviews. You really kept me going. Please review :)

Chapter 3: A Conversation of Sorts
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3: A Conversation of Sorts


Lily groaned and shielded her face from the bright light seeping through the windows. The curtains were annoyingly pushed aside and the sunlight was taking full advantage of the situation. She flipped over, intent on getting a few more minutes of sleep.

Her eyes suddenly flew open.

She blinked.

Where exactly was she again?

Lily turned around and stared at the ceiling, attempting to recall any memory of…was it the night before? She deduced that she had to have slept for at least a few hours, considering the early morning sun. She glanced around the room, noticing a table in the corner along with a chair. There was a bookshelf across the room from the table, and then a dresser complete with a mirror.

This was not the same room she had slept in when she had been training with Alice.

Had she been kidnapped?

Death Eaters.

And then…James Potter.

She groaned again and rubbed her eyes. And she had thought she had finally figured him out, that he had turned against the Aurors and had started working for Voldemort. She had already worked herself into a huge fit and was on the verge of completely ending all connections with him when it turned out that he was just acting.

Needless to say, she was embarrassed, but also quite angry. Even if he had been simulating an actual event, he didn’t have to use an Unforgivable. Lily glared at the ceiling. James had looked so happy and devilish when he had performed that curse.

She punched her pillow. “Of all the miserable, stinking luck in the world, it had to be…”

Lily was cut off mid-rant by the knocking on her door.

“Lily?” Alice’s voice seeped through the door. “Are you awake?”

“Yeah, come in.”

Alice poked her head in tentatively, and upon noticing Lily fully awake, her lips tilted up into a wide smile and she bounded over and practically jumped onto the bed. Lily was thankful that she had managed to narrowly escape what would’ve been a painful attack.

“I’m so relieved that you’re all right,” Alice said, sounding truly worried. “I had been so nervous that something had happened to you during that exam. Maybe a spell hit you in the wrong place or…”

“I’m fine,” Lily interrupted, waving a hand to show proof. She gestured out the window. “What time is it right now?”

“Nine in the morning.” Alice ignored Lily’s bug-eyed look. “Breakfast has already been served, but there are still quite a few people in the mess hall. I’m assuming that most here are late-risers. Either that or there haven’t been too many attacks that need special attention.”

Lily digested all the information carefully. From what Alice had said, she assumed they were in one of the Aurors’ many safe houses that were scattered throughout the country.

“So are you feeling up for breakfast?” Alice asked, rubbing her stomach. “I’m starving, but I’d feel bad if I ate first so I decided to wake you up.” She let out a huge sigh, as if she were about to perform a huge chore. “I’m such a good friend, aren’t I?”

Lily only snorted.

Ten minutes later found the two of them walking down the stairs. Lily was in awe of the safe house that they were stationed in. There were ten different stations in the area, and each held around fifteen Aurors. Most, like the one they were living in now, held only ten. After a year or two as an Auror, they were allowed to stay with their families until called for duty. By that time, the stations became temporary hotels until the Aurors’ duties were over.

The safe house was much larger than a typical house. If Lily were to guess, she’d say that it was at least six thousand square feet, but from the outside, it only appeared as two thousand.

The mess hall was noisy when they walked in. Lily’s jaw dropped at the sight before her. While she had seen a hoard of people congregated together back at Hogwarts, she hadn’t expected to see a dozen Aurors gathered in one dining area. And yet here the people were, some she knew, some she didn’t, chatting and eating as if they were young teenagers back at school.

“Feels like you’re back at Hogwarts, doesn’t it?” Alice said, her eyes sweeping the room. She suddenly grinned and pointed towards a long table. “Except for that food line.”

Lily smiled. “It reminds me of a buffet.”

“Buffet?” Alice’s eyebrows lifted. “What’s that?”

“Oh nothing much.” Lily shoved her friendly playfully. “It’s just a more eloquent and advanced term for your food line.”

“Well thanks,” Alice muttered, making a face.

Lily took a few slices of bacon, an omelet, some scrambled eggs, and three sausages. She opted for a box of cereal that she decided to save for an afternoon snack. From what it looked like, the goblets at the tables were charmed to fill and refill, so she headed off with Alice to find a table. They found an empty one near the corner of the room.

“You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for this,” Alice said. She picked up her fork, and five seconds later, three-fourths of the food had disappeared. Lily watched, wide-eyed, as her friend consumed every parcel of food on the dish. Lily herself had only gone through one slice of bacon and a fourth of her omelet.

Alice took a drink of her pumpkin juice. “When do you think the initiation ceremony will begin? I heard they’re forming new groups.”

“You’re going to have to ask Moody or one of the other leading Aurors. I wouldn’t know.”

“Still, I heard we don’t have any choice over the groups. It’s a little annoying.” The brunette frowned at her fork. “If we’re separated, there’s little chance that we’ll see each other.”

Lily looked up at that. “I’m sure we will.” She gestured around. “Unless there’s some earth-shattering mission, I’m sure we’ll be together quite often.”

Alice still looked unconvinced. “Yeah.”

“But look on the bright side,” Lily said, well aware of her friend’s mood. “We were partners before and we worked well together. They’ll surely take that into account.”

“Mm.” Alice’s eyes trailed across the mess hall, taking in the people seated at the various tables. Lily was about to take a bite out of her second sausage when Alice suddenly let out a loud gasp, causing Lily to choke and hurriedly take a drink of milk. She glared at her friend, but Alice paid her no heed. Instead, her gaze was focused on the entrance.

“Oh Lily, look!”

Lily merely raised an eyebrow, but Alice ignored her expression. Her eyes were sparkling. “Guess who it is.”

Lily went back to her food. “Roger?”

“Who’s that?”

“You don’t know him? What a coincidence. I don’t either.”

Alice sounded exasperated. “Seriously, Lily. You’ll regret it if you don’t look up right now.”

And since she wasn’t very interested in getting Alice upset and angry in the morning, she sighed and glanced towards the double doors…

…and quickly closed her mouth so her half-chewed food wouldn’t fall out. Lily had always been in control of her bodily functions, but at the current time and current moment, she had temporarily forgotten that fingers were supposed to grasp onto objects. The fork clattered onto her plate.

Thankfully, her heart hadn’t jumped out of her throat yet.

James stood in the doorway, chatting with a few people from the table nearest to him. He had gotten rid of his Death Eater garb and was wearing a white button-up shirt with his sleeves rolled to his elbows. Dark trousers matched the shirt nicely. The outfit would’ve looked too formal on anyone else, but he managed to pull it off.

But that wasn’t what had attracted Lily’s attention. It was the girl standing next to him. And Lily had to admit, that girl was gorgeous, a picture-perfect model. With her tall figure and slim waist, she was the epitome of beauty.

It took Lily a second to figure out who she was and she didn’t like the answer.

Who else would James hang out with? Who else would be so fitting for him? And who else would be so perfect?

Aileen Hollister.

Alice, who had apparently lost all her tact in a moment of excitement, lifted her arm in a friendly wave and shouted, “Hey Potter! Over here!”

Lily nearly crawled under the table to avoid being noticed. Unfortunately, that didn’t bode well. First of all, an Auror cowering under a table was simply not acceptable. Secondly, James and Aileen had already glanced in Alice’s direction and had noticed her already.

And of course, they saw Lily as well.

James’ eyes widened and a bright smile lit his face. He gave a parting gesture towards the friends he had been talking to and pulled Aileen away from her conversation as well. Before Lily had time to think of another escape plan, James and his unknown-status friend had already appeared in front of them.

“Why if it isn’t Longbottom,” he greeted warmly. “So why wasn’t I invited to the wedding?”

“Because there hasn’t been one, Potter,” Alice retorted, playfully punching him on the arm. “I never thought I’d be saying this, but it’s good to see you again. And don’t get my surname wrong next time.”

James faked surprise. “And I had thought Frank would be entirely too pleased to have you in his hands.”

Lily focused on the half-eaten omelet. If they kept talking, they probably wouldn’t notice her, and then she wouldn’t have to deal with the whole meet-and-greet protocol just yet. She had a score to settle with James, but she certainly wouldn’t do so in front of his unknown-status girl friend…or was it girlfriend?

But of course, life just had to be difficult.

He had given his undivided attention to her. “Hello Lily.”

She looked up and saw James smiling hesitantly at her. He had a hopeful look in his eyes that she didn’t feel like shooting down at the moment. And because they were in public, she mustered up all the happiness she had in her and gave him a smile that she hoped could fool him.

“Hello James. How are you doing?”

His smile faltered, but only slightly. Apparently, he had caught onto her unhappy mood. She could only congratulate him for taking everything in stride.

“I’m pretty good,” he admitted, and then pushed Aileen forward. His smile grew wider. “Lily, Alice, this is…”

Aileen cut him off before he could further introduce her. “I keep on telling him I can introduce myself. He still doesn’t believe me.” She made a face at James, who rolled his eyes good-naturedly. Lily felt a stab of envy. Aileen stuck out her hand. “I’m Aileen Hollister, James’ childhood friend.”

Lily awkwardly shook the blonde’s hand. Now that she was closer, she could see that Aileen’s eyes were a lovely mixture of blue and violet. Lily diverted her gaze back to her omelet. How could she even compare with that girl?

“It’s nice to meet you too,” she muttered. “I’m…”

“Lily?” Aileen smiled warmly. “I know you better than you think.” At Lily’s surprised look, she nodded towards James. “He’s told me all there is to know about you, and then some.” Her words were light, her demeanor friendly.

Lily turned away from Aileen and looked at James with a barely raised eyebrow. Alice caught onto the look, laughed, and nudged her. “Oh look at you. You’re all speechless.” She held out her hand. “I’m Alice, Lily’s friend and her partner in crime. It’s nice to meet you.”

“My pleasure.”

James tugged Aileen back and grinned affectionately at her. “I think you’re scaring them. You’re a little too friendly at times.”

“You’re just jealous,” she retorted. “It’s not my fault I don’t want to be stuck with you. My goal in life is to make as many new friends as possible and get away from you.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He snorted and seated himself at the table across from Alice.

Aileen took the spare seat next to him, which was consequently, across from Lily. Lily smiled, but it turned out as more of a grimace than a grin. Aileen, however, didn’t seem to mind. Her own mega-watt smile was sufficient enough for both of them.

“You are as beautiful as he says you are,” she commented, and took Lily’s hand in hers. “I’m not surprised that you and James had such a wonderful relationship.”

Lily eyed her, unsure of how to react. She and James had such a wonderful relationship? So what were they now? Friends? Or perhaps not even friends…only acquaintances. Time was supposedly able to cure everything. In their case, it only served to make things worse.

James was talking rather animatedly with Alice, but from time to time, Lily could detect his gaze settle on her for a few seconds. She adamantly ignored him, simply because she didn’t know what to say to him. The entire situation was awkward enough as it was.

“Hey Aileen?” Aileen stopped halfway through her story regarding one of the missions that she and James had gone on. “I just remembered that I have to get something from my room.” It was the classic excuse, and Lily was pretty sure that Aileen saw through it.

“I’ll go with you,” she offered.

“No!” Lily shouted, and then hastily corrected herself. “I mean, no it’s okay. I’m going to be back in a few minutes.”

“All right.” Aileen smiled. “If you say so.”

Lily headed out the door, only pausing to give Alice a reassuring nod. She headed down the hallway, grinning once in a while at those who acknowledged her presence. She didn’t know who they were, but meeting new people certainly didn’t hurt.

She made it to her room and closed the door behind her. She would’ve been lying if she said she was taking everything in stride. Lily felt as if she was about to burst with all the information and emotions that she had gathered throughout the half an hour that she was in the mess hall.

Peter really hadn’t been kidding when he had told her that Aileen Hollister was pretty. Lily covered her face and groaned. How could she compare to a model? Honestly, how could she? She wasn’t as tall or as skinny as the blonde. She wasn’t as friendly, as cheerful, or as carefree. No wonder James liked her…no wonder they were always so close.

Lily sighed and flipped over so that she was lying facedown into the pillow. What was she supposed to say to James? Congratulate him on rescuing his soul mate? Pat him on the back for finding such a wonderful girlfriend? She tugged on the corner of the pillow. Then what she? Some ex-girlfriend that hadn’t formally been dumped yet?

The thought was not pleasing.

There was a light knock on the door. Lily muffled the pillow over her ears in her attempt to block out the sound. If she ignored him, the caller would eventually go away.

“Lily?” She slowly lifted her head. “Lily, are you in there?”

Was it James?

“It’s James. Can I come in?”

Lily sighed and pulled the duvet over her head. She didn’t want to see him now. It would only make her remember Aileen, and then she’d inevitably blow up. And blowing up on the first morning that she was here did not pose for a good first impression for others. People might think she had temper tantrums or something.

She had hoped that he would give up after a few more tries, but she had forgotten that James Potter never gave up on anything he was after. She heard the lock click open and he entered the room. Lily held her breath. Maybe he hadn’t seen her? She was under the covers after all.

Her hopes were dashed when he softly closed the door. She could practically feel him walking closer to her. Closer…closer…

Don’t talk to me, Lily chanted. Don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me…

“Lily?” His voice was so soft that she could barely hear him. Then again, it could’ve been because the duvet was blocking the noise. “Are you all right?”

She stayed motionless. Perhaps if she didn’t respond, he’d think she was asleep and leave her alone…

James shifted. “I know you aren’t asleep,” he said quietly, though Lily thought she heard a tinge of amusement. “Talk to me. Please?”

Lily bit her lip to keep from retorting.

He blew out a sigh. She thought he was going to sit on the edge of the bed, but instead, he opted for the floor and kneeled down so that he was at her level. “I know you’re probably upset and frustrated.” James took a breath. “You’ve never been one to keep everything bottled up within you. Just tell me, Lily. Tell me what’s upsetting you.”

Lily had to restrain herself from launching at him.

“It’s been two years already.” He sighed and changed positions so that he was now sitting on the wooden floor, leaning against the nightstand. “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to see you again…to talk to you. I was so unbelievably happy when I saw you yesterday. I honestly wanted to rush forward and kiss you senseless.”

She couldn’t hold it in anymore. She whipped off the covers in a flurry and sat up, her red hair wild and green eyes sharp. “So that was why you decided to use an Unforgivable on me?”

James’ eyes widened and he scrambled up from his seated position. His smile was disarmingly charming. “Lily! You’re talking to me!”

“So I am,” she said wryly. “And you still haven’t answered my question.”

He blinked. “What was your question again? Sorry, I…” And then it hit him. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Lily nodded sarcastically. “I suppose ‘oh’ sums that up quite well.”

James raked a hand through his hair. He looked both nervous and anxious. It was rather uncharacteristic of him to be so nervous, but ever since he entered the room, he had seemed hesitant. Did she make him anxious? And for that matter, was there even a reason for him to be so uncertain? Unless, of course, he had cheated on her?

“Lily, you have to understand…”

“I don’t have to understand anything, James.”

He sighed. “I mean…well, I hope you understand. It was a simulation. And I was already acting a bit out of character. I was scared that you’d figure something out, and then you’d have to wait longer to take your exam.”

She crossed her arms, unimpressed. “So everything was all for me, right? It was to my benefit that…”

“No, of course not,” he cut in hurriedly. “Mad-Eye told us to make it as accurate as possible. If you had been captured by a real Death Eater, I’m certain that he wouldn’t have hesitated to use an Unforgivable on you.”

Lily snorted sardonically. “And that makes everything okay because you had reason to do what you did.”

James blew out a breath of air and shook his head slowly. “I know it doesn’t, but I just wanted you to know that the situation wasn’t entirely under my control. For what it’s worth…I’m sorry.”

She wanted to plummet him with her pillow. He was sorry? How was one word supposed to make everything okay? He used an Unforgivable on her. It was utterly…well, unforgivable. And now he thought that an apology would do? When would he ever learn that things didn’t work that way?

“Are you going to get in trouble for it?” she said instead, her eyes narrowed.

James shook his head. “It was part of the exam, so no. The Ministry isn’t going to do anything about it.”

“So if you accidentally killed me, then it would still be all right?” Lily raised incredulous eyebrows. “Somehow, I don’t think the Ministry was very smart about this whole process.”

“No, no, they were,” he reassured her. He shifted again, and from the way he grimaced, Lily could tell that he wasn’t in a particularly comfortable position.

“Why are you still on the floor?” she said flatly, and gestured towards the bed. “There’s plenty of space for both of us.”

He appeared shocked, to Lily’s amusement. “You…you don’t mind?”

“Why would I mind?” She surveyed him. “If you don’t pull anything funny, we’re both good to go. But if you try anything at all, then I won’t be held responsible for my wand’s actions.”

“Thanks.” James seated himself on the edge of the bed, a good distance away from Lily, but not too far to suggest that they had reached a point of hostility in their argument. “As I was saying, the Ministry made us take a few drops of Veritaserum to ensure that we held no ill will towards the Aurors-to-be.”

Lily sighed and her shoulders slumped. “I suppose that makes sense.”

“Yeah.” There was a pause, and then James asked, “So…am I forgiven?”

She threw him a sharp glance. “Forgiven? I think not.”

“Lily,” he said pleadingly. “I know what I did was wrong. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for using an Unforgivable on you. I’m sorry for causing you unnecessary pain. You can get back at me if you wish.” He glanced down at the mattress. “Just know that I really am sorry. I regret doing what I did.”

Any resentment that Lily still held towards him was wiped away in that instant. It wasn’t some heart-wrenching speech of hearts and stars, but it was enough for her. She hadn’t truly hated him…she was just upset. And now that he had apologized so profusely and meaningfully…

James looked up at her, his hazel eyes wide and rather innocent looking. Lily had to hide her smile. Since when had James been even remotely innocent?

“Fine. I suppose I can…”

Before Lily even got the chance to finish her sentence, James suddenly let out a loud whoop and tackled her. He grinned, eyes sparkling. “I can finally kiss you again.”

And then he leaned down and promptly captured her lips with his. Lily’s eyes widened in surprise, but she allowed herself to reciprocate it. His mouth was delightfully warm and the sensation was overpowering. He trailed feather-light kisses down her neck and rested his mouth against her hammering pulse.

“Merlin Lily,” James murmured, “you taste so sweet…sweeter than anyone else.”

Sweeter than anyone else.

The words brought Lily back to reality, and a sudden vision of a golden-haired, azure-eyed model came into her head. She abruptly pushed James away and sat up. How could she have forgotten Aileen Hollister? She mentally scolded herself for her stupidity and attempted to calm her breathing. The fact that James’ breathing was uneven as well didn’t really consol her.

He was confused. “What’s wrong?”

“Where’s Aileen?”

“What?” James’ brows furrowed. “I think she’s still in the mess hall. Why do you ask?”

Lily got off the bed and ran a hand through her disheveled hair, attempting to straighten it out. She smoothed out the wrinkles in her shirt and crossed her arms. “Well then I suggest you go and find her. What are you doing up here with me?”

James was shocked, his eyes wide and posture rigid. He remained motionless, still seated on the bed.

“And why did you kiss me just now?”

“Why should I go find Aileen?” he asked slowly, carefully. “And why shouldn’t I be here with you?”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Oh please, James. I heard what Aileen said down there and I saw you two together. The perfect couple, really. But I you should’ve at least had the decency to tell me that I’m no longer your girlfriend before you go off with some other girl.”

His mouth fell open. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m not daft,” she snapped. “If you don’t like me anymore you could’ve just said so. I won’t latch onto you like some bloody leech, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

James stood up and swiftly crossed over to her. He grabbed her shoulders. “Listen, Lily. I don’t know where you got the idea that I don’t like you anymore, but it’s not true.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Right.”

“Did you not hear what Aileen introduced herself as? My childhood friend. Not my girlfriend. You’re my girlfriend and nothing will ever change that.” He looked at her earnestly. “You got that?”

Lily shrugged out of his hold. “I’m not blind, James. I saw the look you gave her and I saw the look she gave you. You two were…you two were so perfect together!” She threw her hands up into the air. “Aileen is perfect. The way the two of you were holding hands when you came over to our table.”

James’ temper was rising, as evident in his quickened breathing. “What look? Just what look did I give her that’s made you so insecure about our relationship?” He glared at her. “And we weren’t holding hands. I was dragging her to your table.”

“Oh right, use that excuse.”

James closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “She’s my friend, Lily. You know about everything that’s happened. My dad and I managed to find her after she was captured by Death Eaters and we’ve managed to rekindle our friendship. That’s it.”

“You aren’t just friends,” she muttered. “You’re close friends.”

He looked at her exasperatedly. “All right, I’m not going to deny that. But she’s nothing compared to you.” He lowered his voice. “I thought we went over this two years ago. I thought you understood…”

Lily tilted her chin up. “Yes, we did. But things have changed since then.”

“What has?” he asked sardonically, his smile mocking. “Tell me, Lily. What has changed, other than the fact that we’re Aurors now and Aileen just happens to be alive and well?”

Her mouth fell open. “Are you implying that I want Aileen to be dead?”

“No,” he snapped. “You just have a habit of putting words into my mouth.”

“Funny how you’re trying to accuse me when you know perfectly well that…”

James suddenly pressed his mouth to her hers, successfully cutting her off. He looked at her earnestly for a few seconds before pulling away. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet. “I love you, Lily. I love you and only you. Why can’t you just accept that?”

“Because…” Lily had a hard time making her brain function properly when he was so close to her. “Because she’s so wonderful and you guys would be so perfect together.”

He shook his head. “We would be far from perfect. You and I are perfect together.”

She had nothing more to say.

James blew out a soft sigh and rested his forehead against hers. “Believe me when I say that nothing has changed, all right? You’re still my girlfriend, and if I have my way, you’ll be my girlfriend forever.”

Lily tilted her head back slightly to regard him. “Really?”

“Really.” And then he kissed her again.

She sighed and smiled against his lips. “Okay,” she said softly. “I believe you.”

“Thank you,” he murmured.


----*----



Author's Note: Hope there was enough drama for you guys in this chapter :) The length makes up for the last two shorter chapters! Next chapter will go more in depth with what exactly happened these last two years, and there will be more explanations regarding everything. Stay tuned!

And thank you all for supporting me :) Until next time!

Chapter 4: Down Memory Lane
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4: Down Memory Lane


Lily tapped the scroll against her hand, her eyes traveling around the vast multi-purpose room. In Muggle terms, it would simply be called the conference room, but apparently, Aurors always made things a little more complicated. The room was supposedly able to transform into anything anyone wanted it to. If someone desired to play a game of Quidditch, the place would provide the pitch.

It was quirky, but at the same time, beneficial.

She glanced around and took note of the Aurors that she would be spending most of her time with. The scroll in her hand was her formal initiation and acceptance into Aurorhood. She had been placed under Alastor Moody, who had been redirected to professional Auror business instead of training Aurors-to-be.

Alice was on the other side of the room, chatting with a girl named Dorcas Meadows, who graduated two years prior to Lily from Hogwarts. Then there was Maxim Caden, Marlene McKinnon, and Triscilla Montgomery. They were told that a few other Aurors would be joining the group shortly, but they had yet to arrive. Lily looked out towards the far corner of the room and saw James and Aileen chatting away.

There were a destined total of ten Aurors in her group, a nice round number, according to Moody.

Lily smiled at Alice when she discreetly gave her the thumbs-up, and then turned her attention to James, who had just popped up on her right. His smile was wide, his eyes bright. He looked positively cheerful and Lily couldn’t help but smile. Like always, his smile was contagious.

“Lily, Lily,” he drawled playfully. “I find it absolutely disheartening that you’re eyeing other males in the room. Whatever happened to having eyes only for me?”

She lifted an eyebrow and punched him lightly in the chest. “When I finish settling my score with you, I’ll tell you the answer.”

“Settling the score?” James winced. “That doesn’t sound fun. Can’t it wait till later?”

“No,” Lily said, as firmly as possible. “You owe me quite a few answers. You aren’t needed for anything important, are you?”

He blinked and looked around hurriedly. “Well actually, I…” And then his eyes suddenly lit up, and he fled, returning a few seconds later with Aileen in tow. He grinned in what he thought was a convincing way. “I have to write a report with Aileen later…actually, now, so you know, I can’t really…”

She narrowed her eyes. Report? With Aileen? Lily slowly took in a deep breath and then let it out again. She needed to control herself. She believed James when he said that there was nothing going on between the two of them. It was stupid to have spurts of jealousy when there was nothing to be jealous about.

She forced her face into a look of disbelieving skepticism. “Why do I find that somewhat hard to believe?”

Aileen wrenched her arm away from James’ grasp. “This entire thing is ridiculous. I refuse to be your savior when you have something to settle with your girlfriend. Don’t bring me into this.” To Lily, she smiled. “Don’t mind him. He’s always been afraid of girls.”

His jaw dropped. “I have not!”

“He’s only saying that,” Aileen assured her, and then left with a friendly wave.

James slowly turned around and offered Lily the best dazzling smile that he could muster at the moment, which was truthfully, rather brilliant. Lily willed the smile to disappear from her face and put up a mask of mock sternness.

“Potter, you’re coming with me.”

“Really, Lily, I do have something to do. I’m not lying. I have to prepare the welcoming list for the Aurors that will arrive later today, and then…”

“Alice is doing that, remember?” She smirked and clucked her tongue. “You’re out of excuses.” And then she grabbed his arm and towed him away from the conference hall. A few catcalls followed them out of the room, but she only grinned and continued on her way. Since her room was too far away, she yanked James into his instead and pushed him into a chair.

He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Why is it always me?” he muttered.

Lily grinned and seated herself on the arm of the chair. “Oh come on. I’m curious.” She nudged him. “You started training the same time I did. Why were you already an Auror when I was still an Auror-in-training?”

James remained silent for a while. Lily tilted her head, only to find his head cocked, lips pursed as if he were pondering a particularly difficult question. She was about to nudge him again when he asked, “Are you uncomfortable like that?”

Lily blinked. “What?”

“Come here.” He reached out and pulled her off the armrest and onto his lap. She instinctively snuggled closer to him and he wrapped his arms around her waist. “There now. Isn’t this better?”

“Yes, but you still have to answer the question.”

He blew out an exasperated breath, tickling the fine hairs on her neck. She giggled and he pulled her closer to him, resting his chin on her shoulder. “I know, I know. You stubborn little witch.”

Lily nodded. “Come on now.”

“There’s not really much to explain, actually.” She felt him shrug. “I guess I zipped through the training faster than you did, mastered the concepts a little quicker, and passed the exam a few months ahead of you.”

She frowned and turned around. “You’re allowed to do that?”

James looked thoughtful. “Well, I don’t see why not. There’s only so much to learn, and if they feel that you’ve mastered everything, why keep you as an Auror-in-training longer than necessary?”

“This is depressing.”

He pulled away, surprised. “Why?”

“Because it proves that you are smarter than me.” Lily let out a sigh and then gave him a little smile. “You were right, you know, when you said at Hogwarts that you were the better of the two of us.”

James scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Oh please, even you know better than that. It was a battle of words. Of course I had to make myself seem superior.”

“Finally!” She grinned cheekily. “You finally admitted that you were bluffing! Took you a while, you know, but…”

He narrowed his eyes and his lips turned down into a frown. “You…you…” And then without warning, he promptly stood up and dumped her onto the floor. “That’s it.”

Lily’s mouth fell open in shock and she glared up at the towering figure standing above her. “You just dumped me!”

“I did, didn’t I?”

“And you think I’m going to just stand around and take all this?”

He smirked and looked down his nose at her. “Well no, considering you’re currently sitting, not standing. Do you need me to help you up or can you do that on your own?”

Lily slowly pushed herself to her knees, and when she noticed that cocky smile on his face, she surged forward and grabbed his legs, toppling him over onto the couch. He hit the armchair and fell to the ground with an ‘oomph.’

She stood up and dusted her hands off. “Well, look what we have here.” She snickered. “Now let’s see you gloat, Potter. You aren’t so high and mighty anymore are…” Lily was stopped mid-sentence when she felt something soft but rather big smack her in the face. She stumbled back and crashed into the bed.

A pillow lay before her…a white and fluffy one actually. Her jaw dropped and she gaped at his smug expression. He had thrown a pillow at her!

Lily shook her head and stood up, wand poised at a dueling stance. “That’s it, Potter. That was the last straw.”

And then she sent a wad of stuffed sheep flying in his direction.


----*----



“It took us three weeks to find out where she was last seen, and then another week and a half to finally reach the site. There were Death Eaters everywhere…at least five at each gate. It was apparently one of Voldemort’s strongholds.”

Lily leaned in closer to hear his story, but even that space was limited. After their impromptu stuffed animal battle, James had led them to his bed and they were now leaning against the headrest, a few plushies resting here and there. James had come up with a rather startling variety. She had no idea where he came up with the idea of throwing armadillos and hippopotamuses, but he did. And now he was mindlessly fiddling with the ears of a miniature elephant, his thoughts elsewhere.

“Was it…was it hard to save her?”

His smile was half-hearted. “You have no idea. Yes, it was hard. Not the getting in part, believe it or not. It was the escaping-with-Aileen-part that was difficult.”

She tilted her head, confused. “Why?”

James blew out a breath of air, closed his eyes, and leaned back against the wall. “It wasn’t a pleasant sight to see when I first entered. It was dark…”


----*----



James pulled his wand out of his pocket and hid in the dark corner. He was incredibly tempted to cast a light down the dark hallway, but he knew he would give himself away. His dad had specifically told him to keep himself hidden, and while it was beneficial to a certain degree, it forced him to take leave of one of his senses…one that he would’ve preferred to keep. He peaked out from the darkness and upon seeing that there were no guards, he slid out from his hiding spot and trekked along through the darkness.

His dad had gone to distract the guards from entering, and while he wished that he had gone with his dad, he knew that he had to save Aileen first. From the information they had gotten, he knew that she was locked in one of the deeper cells.

It paid to be a high-ranking Auror, he thought wryly. Back at Hogwarts, he had aspired to be the best Auror that the wizarding world had ever seen, but if he couldn’t even find his childhood best friend, he was pretty much useless.

James shook his head to clear his thoughts and concentrated on the flight of steps that were mostly concealed by the darkness. He took them two at a time to quicken his pace and reached the second floor without much trouble. There, he saw a couple of tables with a few chairs, but found nothing else. He squinted, and through the mass of darkness surrounding him, managed to see a door. It was implanted inside the wall to make it seem like it was part of it, but James could see where the hinges were and where the discreet lock was.

He glanced around. There was a slim chance that Alohomora would actually work. He snorted and shook his head with a wry smile. His dad would never have agreed to something like this, but he was in a desperate situation, and desperate times called for desperate measures.

He pointed his wand at the lock, muttered a spell, and hastily stepped back to avoid the debris that flew in all directions after the door had blasted into smithereens. James quickly ducked through the hole in the wall and hid himself under the first object that he saw, which just happened to be a half-broken table.

There were no sounds.

From his point of view, he could count at least six jail cells, each guarded by metal bars that were undoubtedly secured by magic. Which one would Aileen be in? He ran a hand through his hair, frustrated. It was at a time like this that he missed Lily the most. She always had a cool head when it came to these situations. He briefly wondered what she was doing…was she sleeping? Getting a midnight snack? Talking on the Muggle phone with her friends? Or was she touring the world with her family?

He shook her face out of his head and concentrated on the task at hand. Lily may have been a good mind soother, but she was also incredibly distracting. He smiled faintly. Who could’ve thought that James Potter would fall so hard? She wasn’t even next to him and he was seeing her as if she were right there.

James averted his attention back to the pressing problem at hand and recounted the cells. There were seven, actually, and now that he was in a better position, he realized that he was able to see the inhabitants from his position. He slowly stood up, looked around, and then frowned. It was beneficial that he didn’t run into any Death Eaters along the way, but at the same time, it was disturbing. For Death Eaters not to guard their main base was highly unlikely. Even Voldemort wasn’t a fool.

But there could also be the chance that his dad had drawn all the attention away, leaving James an evacuated hallway. Making sure that he didn’t touch any of the metal bars, he leaned into the cell. It was a man that he didn’t recognize, battered and bruised. He didn’t stop to feel pity and moved down the line.

Each cell’s inhabitant was either unconscious or oblivious to anything except his own hands. All heads were down and the ones that were actually looking forward weren’t seeing anything. James could tell from the vacant look in their eyes. For all it mattered, he could’ve blinded them and they wouldn’t have noticed anything. He winced upon this realization. Aileen was one of these people. How badly had she been treated?

He got his answer upon arriving at the sixth cell. The lighting was darker here, and James had to wait for his eyes to adjust before squinting into the tiny space. There he found her, slumped against the wall, seemingly unconscious save for the occasional twitch of her fingers.

James felt ill to his stomach. He could recognize Aileen no matter how much she had changed, but the girl in front of him was too different. Her hair was no longer blonde, and instead, was a shade of black. He didn’t want to think about how many layers of grime were caked on it. From the looks of it, her skin was so pale that it was practically glowing in the dark. Her appearance faintly reminded him of the Malfoy family’s disgustingly pale complexion. His best friend had been beautiful, but now she was a mere shell of who she used to be.

He rushed forward and gripped the metal bars, ignoring the sharp pains that coursed through his hands from defensive magical barrier. “Aileen,” he whispered. “Aileen!”

She slowly lifted her head, her eyes a deep violet. James bit his lip. Previously, her eyes had turned violet only when she was angry…but now they just seemed dead. She stared at him, her eyes unblinking, her face pallid.

“Aileen! I’m going to get you out of here.” He leaned forward and winced slightly as the magic bit into him. “Can you stand and move back a little? I’m going to blast this door open.”

To his utter confusion, she didn’t move, merely cracked a grin and let out a bitter, hoarse chuckle. “Oh hell, I’m hallucinating again.” Her laughter died down. “For the bloody thousandth time…”

James suffered through a mild shock. This had to be the first time he had ever heard Aileen utter a curse word…or wait, two curse words.

“You’re not hallucinating. Aileen, I’m really here. Me, James Potter. Remember me? I’m going to get you out of here, all right? Can you work with me?”

“James Potter?” Aileen cocked her head. “Oh.” Her expression registered distaste. “Him.”

His heart thumped. “What do you mean? Aileen, look at me!”

“I see you, I see you,” she assured him, waving her hands listlessly. “The guy who rejected me, right?” Aileen looked at him and smiled, albeit slightly crazily. “I hate that guy, you know? I hate him, I hate him, I…” She paused, then. “Wait, you are him.” She nodded. “Yes, that’s right. I hate you.”

James’s hands tightened around the bars and he looked away. He had known she was angry and hurt, but he didn’t think that she would’ve held a grudge for so long. She wasn’t completely lucid, yes, but wasn’t there a line that went something like, “Drunkards have no secrets.” And her mindset was no more complex than that of a drunk person…which meant that she was telling the truth…

“Look Aileen, now isn’t the time. I’m going to get you out whether you hate me or not, all right?”

She rolled her eyes. “You could possibly get me out…but James Potter can’t. He’s weak. He’s stupid. He’s a coward. He was scared that he’d get attached, you know?”

James bit down on his lips hard enough that he tasted blood. He couldn’t stand it anymore. He stepped back, sucked in a deep breath to quell his rising emotions, and yelled, “
Reducto!”

The cell door was blasted open and he ran in and flew to his knees in front of Aileen. Her face was still bland, her eyes blank. The only slight form of expression on her face was the faint curve of her lips, but even that seemed directed to some invisible being. James took her shoulders in his hands and he shook her.

“Aileen, get a hold of yourself! Get up!”

Her smile twisted. “Up? Get up?” And then she suddenly broke out into violent shudders. James looked at her, horrified. What was happening? Was she convulsing? “I-I c-can’t get u-up! I can’t!” she said brokenly.

He gritted his teeth. He didn’t want to do this, but he was going to have to do it by force. Without her consent, he grabbed her arm and yanked her up to her feet, attempting to pull deaf ears to her sudden gasp of pain. The chains prevented her from going too far, and she had almost fallen back down when James whipped out his wand and blasted the lock apart.

And that was when pure chaos broke out.

Spells shot out from the four walls, and it took James a moment too late to realize that breaking the chains had been the detonating key for them. He ducked and pulled Aileen with him. She fell down too easily and couldn’t get up quickly enough. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her forward with him…only to face five masked men.

The Death Eaters had decided to join the party. James sighed. He should’ve known there was some trick to this whole thing. How could he have been so stupid?

Aileen was laughing, her head tossed back, as if this was some wonderful spring day in the park. She was weaving in and out of the spells, dodging them by some miraculous coincidence. James whirled around and jabbed a Death Eater in the stomach and Expelliarmus-ing another Death Eater’s wand. He grabbed Aileen again and seeing an opening between the last three standing, he sprinted through, his pace slowed down by her stumbling.

“Are you James Potter?” Aileen asked after they had passed the initial door that James had entered, the Death Eater still hot on their tail.

He didn’t look back. “Doesn’t matter who I am.”

“Of course it does,” she replied, nodding vigorously even though she was still running. “If you are, then I wouldn’t go anywhere with you. If you aren’t, feel free to take me and elope off to the horizons.”

If James hadn’t been in such a tight situation, he would’ve laughed. The entire scene was too hilarious, and he would’ve stopped and briefly celebrated a sudden return of Aileen’s previous personality if a hex hadn’t narrowly missed his head. He was encouraged to increase his speed, and a moment later, burst out of the base and into the open air. The sky had darkened while he was in there, and he breathed in a sense of relief. He could finally apparate now.

James held Aileen close in case she were to fall again and scouted the grounds for his father. A minute later, he found him battling off the last remaining Death Eaters, and he appeared next to James, his breaths coming in short gasps.

“Ready?”

James nodded. “Ready.”

And then they apparated back to the closest Auror safe house.



----*----



James lifted his hand. Lily noted the faint lines that ran down his palm. They weren’t prominent enough for his hand to feel rough, but if she looked, they were definitely visible. It had to be from the magic that had protected the jail cells.

“It must’ve hurt,” she whispered, running her fingers along his palm. “Does it hurt if I touch it?”

“No, don’t worry.” He laughed and ruffled her hair. “It’s fine now.”

Lily frowned, her green eyes troubled. “But I don’t understand. How could she have hated you? The two of you are so close now.”

James shrugged, and he tugged harder on the stuffed elephant’s ear. “She slept for three days after we rescued her. When she woke up, she seemed to have forgotten everything except for the fact that my dad and I had saved her.”

“Then you have nothing to worry about.”

A corner of his mouth tipped up. “Lily, I’m not worried. It’s just a fact. And I know she wasn’t just blabbering nonsense because she said the exact same thing to me when I rejected her.” He sighed. “She knew who I was.”

“Oh come on,” she said, swatting his shoulder lightly with her sheep. “If Aileen didn’t mention it again and the two of you are as friendly as ever, what’s there to lose? All you have to do is pretend it never happened and everything’s good to go.”

“You’re so optimistic about this,” he observed, his voice light and amused. “Not so bitter about it anymore?”

She crossed her arms and blew out an exasperated sigh. “Get over yourself, James. It was just a momentary lapse of my judgment. It won’t happen again.” She shrugged as airily as possible. “Besides, you seemed so melancholy.”

“Yeah, well, I guess I was pretty hurt.”

Lily cocked her head and leaned slightly towards him. “I never knew so much happened after you had left. And come to think, I was just sitting around feeling bored.”

James grinned. He picked up her hand and wove his fingers through hers. “You had a lot on your hands too. Head duties, graduation, spring event, and all that. I wouldn’t have been able to manage it.” His thumb stroked her hand soothingly. “Now come to think of it, I haven’t properly thanked you for taking up double roles.”

“I’ll be generous.”

There was a period of silence between them. Lily’s gaze was focused on the window that faced the giant field surrounding the safe house. The sun was bright in the sky and the day looked warm. She looked back at James and saw that he was staring at the elephant, his brows furrowed as if his mind was elsewhere.

A question suddenly popped into her mind. “Hey James?”

He glanced at her. “Yeah?”

“Remember back when I was doing my exam, you asked me if I knew anything about the Order?”

James nodded slowly, his expression guarded. Lily watched him with mild confusion. “Yes,” he said. “I remember. What about it?”

“What is the Order, exactly?”

He sighed and pushed himself up so he wasn’t slouched against the headrest. It seemed as if he was mentally prepping himself for a long explanation. “The Order is short for Order of the Phoenix. It’s a kind of a secret association that Dumbledore created, and we specialize in handling more secretive information regarding Voldemort and his plans.”

Lily frowned as she took the information in. “So are all Aurors a part of this?”

“No. Only a select few whom Dumbledore trusts beyond everyone else.”

“Then…” She was beginning to feel rather heavy-hearted. “Wouldn’t you be violating some Order code since you just told me all about it?”

James laughed and shook his head. He tugged her closer so that she rested her head on his shoulder. “Of course not,” he murmured. “You’re already on Dumbledore’s list. We just had to wait until you became an Auror before we could get you to join. Dumbledore will tell you more about it when you see him later.”

Lily nodded and lapsed into silence. James’ constant stroking of her hair was entirely too comfortable, and she probably would’ve fallen asleep if the door didn’t open right then.

Aileen poked her head in and her eyes widened upon seeing the interaction. She smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, I should’ve knocked first. Am I interrupting something?”

James grinned and shook his head. “Nope, not really. Did you need something?”

“Actually…I was hoping I could talk to Lily for a moment.” She glanced at Lily. “If that’s okay with you, I mean.”

Lily smiled. “It’s fine.” She untangled herself from James and gestured for Aileen to sit on the bed. James heaved out a big laborious-sounding sigh and hopped off the bed, making a grand bowing gesture towards Aileen as he did.

“See how much I sacrifice for you people? I’m even getting kicked out of my own room.”

Aileen rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes, we appreciate you for it.” She waited until James closed the door before she turned around and gave Lily a hesitant smile. “I’m not sure how much you know about me, but…”

“Not much,” Lily cut in hurriedly. She didn’t want the girl to think that James had practically told her his best friend’s life story. “James didn’t really tell me much, only that you’re his childhood best friend.”

“Oh, that’s good.” Aileen blew out a breath of relief. “It’s kind of embarrassing to tell a story twice, if you know what I mean.”

Lily blinked. “You’re going to tell me your…story?”

“Well…actually, it’s more of an explanation.” For once, there was no smile on Aileen’s face. “I know you were shocked when you realized I was here with James…and I heard about that fight you had with him because of me.”

Lily flushed a furious crimson and ducked her head slightly. “Ah that.” She rubbed the back of her neck sheepishly. “Um…I don’t know how to explain it. It was more of a misjudgment on my part since I have a tendency to jump to conclusions and…”

“It’s all right, Lily. You don’t need to explain.” Aileen brushed a stray lock of blonde hair out of her eyes. “I understand. I know where you’re coming from because…”

“Because you like him too?” Lily said softly.

Aileen looked surprised. “How’d you know I used to…”

“Remus told me,” she said, by ways of explanation. “James was really anguished over a period of time when he thought you had died. I was curious as to why he had undergone a sudden change in personality.”

“Personality change?” She looked surprised.

Lily nodded slowly. “Yeah…you mean James didn’t tell you?”

“No. He didn’t mention it.”

“Oh…” Lily mentally kicked herself. If James hadn’t mentioned it, he probably hadn’t meant for Aileen to know. What would he say if he knew that…

Aileen reached forward and grabbed Lily’s hand warmly, knocking the redhead out of her thoughts. “Thanks for telling me that, Lily. It really means a lot to me.”

“No problem…I guess?” She slowly pulled her hand away and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Um…Aileen? I was wondering…please don’t take offense to this…but um…”

“It’s all right. Just ask.”

“Well I was wondering…if you still like James.”

Much to her relief, the blonde merely smiled and shook her head. “I’ll admit that I liked him before. I know it’s strange for you to hear this, but who doesn’t like James?” Lily had to smile at that. “Before I left, I told him that I liked him…but he rejected me.” Aileen’s smile was slightly bitter. “I hated him for a while, but now I’m over it.”

Lily nodded slowly, her breathing coming easier. She didn’t bother mentioning that James had told her the entire story about Aileen’s escape. It appeared as if Aileen really had just been delirious at the time. After all, she had just admitted that she didn’t hate James anymore.

“Well that’s good to hear.”

Aileen laughed. “I suppose.” Her smile was earnest. “I know you may still be a little worried about the fact that James and I are so close, but I just wanted to say that…”

“No, no, it’s all right. Don’t worry. I’m not…”

“No, I want you to hear me out.” Lily fell silent. “I won’t lie and say that the Aurors haven’t speculated that James and I could possibly become a couple. But I know that we could only ever be friends because it’s so blatantly clear that he loves you.”

There was a brief lull in the conversation, and then Lily said, “Thank you. I’m truly flattered.”

Aileen held out her hand. “So…are we friends?”

She grinned and grasped the blonde’s hand. “Of course.”

The moment was ruined when the door slammed open, and before Lily knew it, James was flying over, and his hand landed on theirs with a loud smack.

“And me!” he cried. “Don’t forget about me. I want to be friends.”

Lily and Aileen glanced at each other, shared a secret smile, and then simultaneously shoved him away. “Oh sod off, James. This is a girls’ thing.”

Lily nodded. “Yup.”

James was unprepared for the sudden shove and would’ve fallen in a heap on the ground if two people hadn’t arrived to catch him by the arm and stabilize him.

“Smooth move, Prongs. And I thought you had a way with women.”

Lily started at the voice and looked up to find Sirius Black and Remus Lupin standing, one on either side of James. They both sported wide grins, and Lily’s heart fluttered. She hadn’t seen either of them in so long and they were looking as good as ever.

“Remus! Sirius! What are you two doing here?”

James glared at her and muttered something incoherent under his breath, but it was clear that the words weren’t flatting. He rubbed his shoulder and then crossed his arms. “Why don’t you ever give me a friendly greeting? The first chance you had, you hid yourself under the covers.”

Lily ignored him and hugged Remus and then Sirius. She smirked. “That’s because they’re more lovable than you are.”

Sirius nodded and clapped Lily on the shoulder. “That’s right, Prongs. Don’t worry though. I’ll try not to outshine you too much during our missions.”

The redhead lifted a brow. “Our missions?”

Remus blinked. “You mean you don’t know?”

Aileen came forward and stood beside Lily, her smile warm. “She doesn’t. We haven’t gotten the chance to tell her yet.”

Now Lily was feeling rather left out. “Tell me what?”

“We’re part of your team.” Sirius sported a wide grin. “We’re groupies!”

The others gaped at him. “We’re what?”


----*----



Author's Note: I considered writing this full chapter in James' POV but then I realized that it wouldn't have fit the general POV of this entire story. So I inserted a little blurb in there. Hope it provides an adequate explanation :)

Thanks and please review!

Chapter 5: Mission: Chaos
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5: Mission: Chaos


Lily gaped at the Quidditch pitch before her. A few seconds ago, it had clearly been the multipurpose room situated on the highest floor of the safehouse, with its plain walls and lack of any furniture or decoration.

Now, however…

“You can’t be serious,” she sputtered. “How’d you…holy Merlin…”

Sirius grinned and flicked his wand. Six brooms popped out of midair and landed parallel to one another on the ground. “Why not? It’s not like we have anything better to do.”

Lily visibly struggled for words. True, they didn’t have anything else to do, but Quidditch? If flying had been considered a subject back at Hogwarts, she’d have gotten Ts on all the exams.

She turned to Alice pleadingly, but found that her friend was quite excited at the prospect of playing the game. Aileen seemed impartial, but her amused grin suggested that she wasn’t averse to the idea either. Was Lily the only one who couldn’t handle a broomstick?

She gazed helplessly at her boyfriend, who at the moment, had quite forgotten about his girlfriend’s lack of experience in the area. He was currently engaging in mindless banter with Sirius and Remus.

Alice picked up a broom and threw another to Lily, who just managed to catch it with her pudding-like fingers. She glared at the offensive object. She wasn’t even off the ground and she was already shaking. Imagine how things would be if she actually started flying.

“Six of us, right?” Sirius hollered. When there were affirmative nods, he nodded satisfactorily. “What a nice round number. Three on each team.”

Alice immediately lunged over to Lily and grabbed her hand. “Lily’s on my team!”

Sirius smirked. “How about guys versus girls?”

“Now that would be hardly fair,” Aileen said. “Who doesn’t know James was the Quidditch captain and both you and Remus are excellent players? We would hardly stand a chance.”

“Fine then.” Sirius glanced at James and Remus. “How do you guys want to do this?”

James looked at Lily and a corner of his lips lifted into that secretive smile. Lily scowled. Did he finally remember that she couldn’t fly? He walked over and threw his arms around Lily and Alice. “I’ll be on their team.”

Remus smiled. “So it’s Sirius, me, and Aileen versus James, Lily, and Alice?”

Aileen picked up a broom. “Is there going to be a Seeker?”

Alice glanced around. “Sure. One Seeker, Keeper, and Chaser. Works out perfectly fine.”

“All right guys!” Sirius yelled. “We all know the basic rules. Let’s hop to it, boys and girls!” And with that said, he jumped onto his broom and zoomed into the air. Remus and Aileen quickly followed till they were huddled around one of the goal posts.

Lily bit her lip as her two group members turned to her. One was her friend and the other her boyfriend. Both were brilliant, talented players…and then there was her, who knew next to nothing about flying.

“Do you think I could sit out on this one?” she asked hopefully.

Alice shook her head. “Nope. If you sit out, we’ll be a player short and that’ll give them an advantage.”

James laughed when Lily turned a shade of bright red. He patted her head. “Don’t worry. You may not be an advantage, but you aren’t a hindrance either.”

Alice’s eyes widened. “Did you just call her a hindrance?”

“I doubt she minds.”

“And she doesn’t like people talking about her as if she isn’t here,” Lily snapped. She crossed her arms and tried to look imposing. “So what if I don’t know how to fly? It doesn’t mean you can freely insult me.”

James lifted both hands, palms outward. “All right, all right.” He smiled. “Let’s see you in action then.”

She sniffed indignantly and tightened her grasp on the broom. So maybe she hardly knew anything about flying and had never played Quidditch in her life, but it couldn’t be that hard, right? There were so many people out there who knew how to play the game.

Sadly enough, Lily was eating her words ten minutes into the game. Sirius had charmed the Bludgers to do their own whacking business without having Beaters, which meant that she had an extra thing to focus on other than her own job as Keeper.

She let out a little gasp when she saw James perform a complicated little maneuver that involved a little flip to the side to avoid Sirius’s groping hands, and with the Quaffle tucked tightly under his left arm, James raced towards Remus. From the force that he had thrown it, Lily actually thought that it would go in…until Remus knocked it away from the metal hoops and towards a waiting Sirius.

And that only meant one thing.

Sirius was heading right towards her.

Lily panicked. So far, James had managed to keep the Quaffle away from her end of the pitch, but now with Sirius pelting towards her at a mile a minute, her mind went completely blank. Natural instinct kicked in then. Lily mustered up all her courage and shot away from the hoops at full speed. Her move was so strange that Sirius even paused for a moment to observe her before he lazily tossed the Quaffle into the tallest hoop.

It was only until Lily had haphazardly landed on the ground did she realize what she had done.

Dear Merlin, how could she have been so stupid? She was a Keeper. Keepers didn’t fly away from the Quaffle. They blocked it.

Someone landed next to her a few moments later and gently pried her hands away from her face. James’s smile brightened when he saw her flushed cheeks and he picked up the broom she had dropped.

When he held it out for her, she shook her head and grabbed his arm insistently. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to fly away. I really was going to block it, but then…”

Alice interrupted her confession with a loud burst of giggles. She had just touched down next to James. “Of course you didn’t.” And then she started laughing again. “I can’t believe Lily Evans was scared! The girl who could face a Death Eater without batting an eye.”

“Oh shush.” Lily scowled, embarrassed. “I can’t believe I…”

James rubbed her back soothingly. “Oh Lily, calm down. You’ve never played Quidditch before. It’s perfectly understandable that you’d fly away from the scary Quaffle.” Even as he said this, Lily could detect a small quiver to his mouth. He cleared his throat and smoothed his expression when he noted the suspicious furrow of her brows.

“Anyway, listen closely. Sirius has a chance of shooting into either three of the metal hoops. Your job is to determine which one he’s going to aim at. It’s relatively similar to dueling. Figure out what your opponent is going to do next and act accordingly. Watch his eyes and his movement. Got that?”

Lily nodded slowly. “I think so.”

“Good. Just watch the Quaffle and focus on getting it away from the hoops by all means necessary.”

The game resumed. James had managed to score another twenty points and Sirius was, once again, pelting towards Lily with that ominous-looking ball tucked securely under his arm. She tensed in anticipation, James’s words still running through her head.

Focus on getting it away from the hoops by all means necessary…

And then Sirius was practically in front of her, and without thinking, Lily whipped out her wand and shouted, “Reducto!” Sirius was thrown back as the Quaffle under his arms burst into shards, shattering in multiple directions.

The game halted.

Alice and Aileen paused in their search of the Snitch to watch Sirius as he righted himself from the unexpected blast. James and Remus stared at her, shocked. Lily gulped and felt her face grow even redder than before. She cast one glance at them, shook her head, and flew as steadily as she could down to the ground and walked towards the stands where she would sit and watch the rest of the game. She refused to participate anymore, especially not after what had happened.

She was halfway towards the bleachers when Remus caught up to her and pulled on her arm. “Lily, Lily,” he said, laughter in his voice. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to sit down,” she told him evenly.

“James and Alice will be lacking a teammate then.”

Lily just shrugged. “They can do fine without me. Alice will catch the Snitch even without me acting as a Keeper.”

“Lily, don’t be such a spoilsport!” Sirius shouted, making his way towards them. He landed gracefully and engulfed her in a wild hug. “Bloody hell, that was awesome! Now that’s something that has never happened in all my life at Hogwarts.”

She blinked, surprised. “You mean you aren’t…”

“Mad?” Sirius looked shocked. “Bloody hell, no! That was one of the most exhi-”

He never got to finish what he was saying. A sudden loud chorus echoed through the pitch, a blare that sounded alarmingly similar to a siren. It was a warning call, and it meant that something was very, very wrong.

James, Alice, and Aileen landed next to the two hurriedly. James jabbed his wand towards the sky and shouted a spell, transforming the Quidditch pitch back into the gray-walled multipurpose room.

“What do you think it is?” Alice asked urgently, her voice hushed.

“An attack,” Remus replied grimly. “These are the warning sirens.”

The double doors of the room were suddenly flung open, revealing Marlene McKinnon in her frenzied state. “There’s been an attack on a safe house!”

James and Aileen flew out the door after her. The others exchanged a glance and quickly pursued. Lily made sure that neither James nor Aileen left her sight, else she would’ve been lost in this maze of a house. They stopped upon reaching what appeared to be a meeting room, and Lily saw that the rest of the group was already there, congregated around a brown-haired guy and a map that he seemed to be pointing at.

Lily squeezed herself in as much as she could so that she could see the speaker and the map. Maxim Caden pointed his finger at a diagram that represented the safe house.

“The safe house is here, so we should enter through the back door and…”

The sirens blared again, louder this time.

Maxim, however, continued talking. “I suggest blasting the door open, but if it’s possible, we could…”

Sirius let out a grunt of annoyance and forcefully shoved his way through the Aurors till he was face-to-face with Maxim. “We don’t have time for this nonsense! We have to go. Now.”

Maxim eyed him with a look of distaste. “We can’t just go barging in without thinking. That would only get us killed. We need to plan things out.”

“If we continue planning, they’ll already have control of the safe house.” Sirius rolled up the map and tucked it into the sleeves of his robes. “We have to get there now and you need to learn how to be more spontaneous.” With that said, he Apparated away, taking Alice and Dorcas Meadows along with him.

Lily turned around to search for James, and found him frowning thoughtfully at the ground. She reached out to grab his arm, but right at that second, his eyes widened and he abruptly sped out of the room. She blinked in shock and went after him.

“James! Where are you going?”

“Go along first,” he called, looking back briefly. “I’ll catch up with you guys in a second!” And then he turned the corner and disappeared.

Before she had even vaguely registered what had happened, a blue-haired girl stepped up beside her. She smiled at Lily’s expression and offered her arm cheerfully. “Want a ride? It’s free of charge.”

Lily looked at the girl, smiled gratefully, and then felt the familiar sensation of Apparation. She landed behind what she assumed was the safe house and gaped at the condition it was in. There was smoke drifting out of a shattered window, and Death Eaters were swarming the place, their wands out and shouting various curses at anything even remotely alive.

The girl quickly grabbed Lily’s arm and dragged her off to the side so they could observe without being seen.

“I’m not sure where Sirius took Alice and Dorcas, but they shouldn’t be too far.” Lily turned to the girl and her eye caught a strange-looking pendant on a black leather cord hanging around the girl’s neck. She would’ve inspected the symbol further, but there was limited time. “Max and the others should be here soon, and when they…”

Remus, Maxim, Marlene, and Aileen suddenly appeared beside them. Marlene grimaced at the scene and coughed a little at the fumes. “So what’s the verdict, Tris?”

Triscilla Montgomery, Lily recalled abruptly. The girl shrugged briefly. “I say we just waltz in there and give them the old one-two.”

Maxim lifted an eyebrow disdainfully. “I don’t see how that would be a good idea.”

Tris rolled her eyes. “It’s called sarcasm, my dear Max. Have you not heard of that term in all your excessive studies?”

Remus lifted a hand to keep Maxim from saying something scathing in return and shifted slightly over to the right so he could better observe the scene in front of them. He frowned when he saw a hoard of Death Eaters running out of the burning house, their expressions hidden by the masks they wore.

“What’s up with the stampede?” he muttered.

Lily’s eyes narrowed when she noted their hurried footsteps. It was clear that they were all fleeing from the house, but what had sparked their sudden desire to retreat? She zeroed in on one of the masked men who was attempting to stuff something into his pocket as he ran.

She jumped up and pointed at the object. “What is that?”

Tris caught onto her line of sight immediately. “Oh blasted hell!” she shouted. “Those are our stupid plans!” She jumped over two burnt planks of wood, nearly tripping over a crate in the process, and raced off after the man, waving her wand madly in the air as she ran.

Maxim let out a curse. “You can’t just run off like that!” he yelled at her retreating figure. “That’s not what we discussed in the beginning!”

Remus patted him on the back gently. “I don’t think anything is going according to your plan, Max.” He tilted his head ever so slightly towards the steadily burning house and lifted an eyebrow. Lily caught onto his silent meaning and nodded once.

She blasted away the boxes that were in her way, startled a few Death Eaters in the process, and stunned the first one that she saw.

Maxim let out a roar of indignation and barely managed to dodge a hex. “You two are utter barbarians!” he cried, punching the nearest Death Eater in the face. “Tris already ruined my plan, and now you two…”

It was getting steadily louder, with all the yelling and curse-shouting that Lily could hardly hear what he was saying. She stupefied three more Death Eaters and shoved her way into the house. The smoke was so thick that her eyes began to water. She blinked them rapidly in hopes of seeing where she was going, and stumbled against someone who came up from behind her.

“Lily, go after Tris!” Remus shouted over the din. “I’ll find Sirius and the others and clean up this mess!”

She wanted to protest, but realized that he was right and nodded once before heading back out. She passed Maxim, who was holding his own in a duel against three Death Eaters, and started running towards the direction that Tris had taken off.

Lily didn’t know how long she ran, but it seemed as if she had gone quite a distance when she saw dark blurs ahead of her. Certain that she was getting closer, she quickened her pace…only to hear a loud voice that could only belong to one person.

“Just because you guys have more people doesn’t mean you can outsmart me!” Tris shouted. She was occupying all their attention, so Lily was able to slip up, unnoticed. “You think you look so cool hiding behind those horrendous masks, don’t you?”

The Death Eater that was closest to the girl jeered at her. “If you had half a brain, girl, you’d get out of our way.”

“Well then you’d best be thankful that I have more than half,” she retorted. Lily smiled with disbelief at the wide grin that was plastered across Tris’s face. She was already taking a liking to the girl and she had only met her a few minutes ago.

Another Death Eater was growing steadily impatient, evident in his constant shifting of footing and his wary glances around the area. Funnily enough, he didn’t notice Lily in his scans. “Crabbe, come on. We don’t have all day. Just kill the girl and leave.”

Tris faced him now, her blue eyes narrowed dangerously. “I’d like to see you try.” A second later, the man was lying flat on the ground, his face in the dirt.

Chaos suddenly erupted. There were shouts and hoards of spells flying around. Tris was doing an alarmingly good job of ducking and firing at the same time. Lily jumped into the fray, attempting to seek out the man who had the important parchment with all the plans on it. But with the constant movements and the spells, it was proving to be rather difficult, and she suddenly found herself back-to-back with Tris, surrounded by a circle of masked men.

Tris let out a loud huff of annoyance. “This is bloody great,” she muttered. “We’re surrounded.”

Lily shifted her stance, her eyes wary. “What are the chances of getting out of this alive?”

“Pretty good, actually.”

“What?”

“I’ll create a diversion and then you can lunge towards the bastard with our plans.”

Lily turned slightly to look at her fellow Auror. “And how do you propose to create a diversion when we’re the center of attention?”

Tris winked and produced a sleek black ball from within her robes. “I have my ways.” She gave a brief command of “duck!” and then threw the ball with all her might at the Death Eater that was directly in front of her. Lily had just flattened herself on the ground when the loud explosion rocked the earth.

When she looked back up, she saw the Death Eater flat on the ground, blood seeping from every inch of his body. The other men were looking on with pure horror in their eyes and they scrambled away without another word. Lily jumped up to go after them, but she stopped upon noticing Tris sitting on the ground, a hand to her abdomen.

She looked up when she noticed Lily crouch down and smiled faintly. “I think I got too close to my target.” She lifted her hand slightly and Lily saw the blood. “You go on ahead and give those bastards a good kick in the rear. I think I’ll just admire the scenery a while.”

Lily peered at her worriedly. “Are you sure? Maybe I should bring you back first.”

“Nah, there’s no need.” Tris made a dismissive motion with her hand. “Now shoo.”

Lily could do nothing but nod. She gave her friend another look before she turned around and followed the Death Eaters. She had never been the fittest girl back at Hogwarts, and the running was taking a toll on her. Still, she persisted until she could hear the shouts of the Death Eaters she was pursuing. It dawned upon her then that they could’ve Apparated away, but then realized that there were anti-Apparation wards around the house. Apparently, they hadn’t gotten out of the boundaries yet.

It was three minutes later when Lily realized that her pace was slowing. Her stamina was weakening and the distance between her and the Death Eaters was growing.

Letting out a groan of exasperation when she felt her legs give in, Lily was forced to stop and take in deep, labored breaths. She was hunched over, hands placed at her sides in an attempt to catch her breath again. The cramp that she was getting from the lack of oxygen was not doing her any good, and as it was, she was letting the Death Eaters escape.

She was still trying to figure out how she was supposed to catch up to them when there was a sudden gush of air around her. James jumped off his broom and hurried to her side. “Lily! Are you hurt?”

She didn’t have time to convey her surprise. “I’m just a little out of breath.” She pointed an urgent figure towards the spot that she had seen the Death Eaters last. “Go after them!”

He nodded and swung his leg over the broom handle. “Patronus me if you need help, all right? Tris said that she already went back to the safe house.”

“Okay, thanks. And be careful.”

James sped off, leaving behind a trail of dust. Lily waited another second or two to fully catch her breath before starting in a slow sprint back to the safe house. It took her longer than she wanted, but she knew she had to save her energy.

The safe house was in shambles by the time she returned. Lily stared at the gaping holes and the semi-smoky atmosphere. Remus and the rest of the Aurors seemed to have done a good job with clearing away most of the smoke, but some still lingered. She stepped through a hole in the wall, alert for any attacks.

But the house seemed to be empty.

Confused and alarmed, she jumped over the fallen boards and looked around. What used to be an entrance hall was now nothing but burnt wood and charred furniture. She picked her way through the debris, searching for anything that was out of the ordinary. Perhaps she would be able to find a clue as to how this whole thing had started?

Lily headed to the other side of the room. She saw a particularly cluttered section, and assuming that nothing was there, turned away…only to do a double take at something she saw sticking through the wreckage.

It was an arm.

Lily’s eyes widened in alarm. The arm could’ve belonged to an Auror or a Death Eater. Deciding that the person was probably dead by now, she lunged forward and levitated the pieces off as quickly as possible.

The person was hurt badly, burned in several places, and from the red that was tinting his dark brown hair, he had a severe cut in the head. It took a few minutes for Lily to recognize whom the person was, and when she did, she could barely contain her scream. Though she didn’t remember him too well, Alice had shown her more than one picture of the two of them together, and she also had a vague memory of him from when they were back at Hogwarts.

Frank Longbottom lay there, bruised and broken, either unconscious or dead. Lily laid her ear on his chest and blew out a faint breath of relief when she felt the shallow rising and falling. He wasn’t dead yet, but she knew that without help, he would be as good as dead in a few short hours.

Her instincts kicked in then. Hurriedly sending her fellow Aurors a message through her patronus, she gently levitated Frank out from the ruins and transfigured a plank of wood into a mattress that could cushion his broken body. She then moved to fix as many cuts as she could, but the conjured bandages were soon dyed red.

There was a sudden cry behind Lily and she turned around to see Alice rushing in, her eyes wide and fearful. She let out a strangled gasp when she spotted Frank and stumbled over, crashing into him.

“Frank! Frank, talk to me! Frank!”

Sirius and Dorcas stepped up, both looked rather alarmed by the situation. Sirius tilted his head towards Frank with a concerned frown but Lily could only shake her head at his query. She had no idea what had happened to him, and until they got a professional healer, they could do nothing but wait.

Alice had grabbed Frank’s tattered shirt and was now shaking him like there was no tomorrow. It unnerved Lily somewhat to see Alice in tears. The girl wouldn’t even cry if her arm was broken in three parts and now she was practically in hysterics.

“Lily?” She turned around to see Remus, Marlene, Tris, Maxim, and Aileen behind them. Remus stood beside her. “What happened?”

“Frank’s in critical condition,” she murmured. “We need a healer.”

Aileen nodded. “I already sent for one.” She winced when she saw Frank’s battered state. “Poor guy.”

There was a loud pop behind them and then a sharp “Move aside!” was heard. They obliged, shifting to the left and right to clear out a path for the newly arrived healer.

The healer furrowed her brows when she saw Frank’s condition and impatiently brushed at Alice. “Out of the way, Auror. You’re making him worse.”

Alice glared at the woman and tightened her hold on Frank in defiance. The healer let out a grunt of annoyance and forcefully tugged Alice away, causing the girl to stumble back. Lily reached out and steadied her fuming friend.

“Come on, Alice,” she cajoled. “Let the healer work.”

They all cleared a ring around the woman, who clucked her tongue when she noticed a particularly nasty burn or cut. She would mutter random words under her breath and would occasionally turn around and glare at the rest of them as if everything was their fault. Alice and Tris sometimes let out a few words of protest, but other than that, everything remained silent…until Moody’s distinct voice came reverberating throughout the ruined safe house.

“Who did it?!” he thundered, storming his way in. Even the healer paused her work to turn around and stare at the furious man who had just entered. Moody ignored her and zeroed in on the rest of them. “Who’s the damn traitor?!”

Dorcas lifted an eyebrow. “Traitor?” She crossed her arms. “I think you’re looking in the wrong place, Moody.”

“No, I’m definitely at the right place, girlie,” he spat. His magical eye whirled around, focusing on each person before moving onto the next. He was huffing and puffing in his anger. “Someone let those damn Death Eaters leave! Someone told them we were coming!”

Now it was Tris’s turn to look skeptical. “Are you sure you didn’t drink one too many goblets of firewhiskey?” She transfigured a plank of wood into a chair and moved to help him. “Perhaps you should lie down and sleep away that hangover before yo-”

“Do not tempt me, Montgomery!”

Tris’s eyes grew wide and she lifted both hands in surrender. “All right, all right. Jeez…temper,” she grumbled.

Moody ignored her and looked at the rest of them. “Well? Who is it?” He took a step forward. “Do I need to bring out the Veritaserum?”

“Now that’s going a little too far, Moody,” Maxim spoke up. “It’s against the law to use Veritaserum on Aurors unless there’s solid proof that the Auror has committed a crime.”

Lily observed Moody with furrowed brows. While Moody was often rather irritable, he never accused without reason. “Moody, do you have some kind of proof?”

“A huge portion of the Death Eaters had already fled by the time we got here.” Moody stomped around, aggravated. “And then others left right when we just got here. There was no way they could have done that unless someone spilled the damn beans!”

“What beans?”

Lily looked up, along with everyone else, to find James standing in the doorway, broom in hand and looking rather breathless and ruffled. He tipped his head in confusion when he detected the seriousness of the atmosphere.

Sirius started forward. “Prongs, Mad-Eye’s gone off his rocke…” Moody’s cane lashed out in front of Sirius, stopping him from taking another step forward. He scowled. “Oh shove off, Mad-Eye. This is just James.”

Just James?” Moody snarled, rounding on him. “It was you, Potter, wasn’t it? You’re the traitor!”

There was a moment’s pause before James’s eyes grew wide and horrified. “I’m the what?!”


----*----



Author's Note: A lot more action in this one :) Hope you all enjoy it! I had quite a bit of fun writing all the intense parts of the chapter.

Thanks for your reviews! :) I loved them all!

Chapter 6: Trouble In Paradise
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6: Trouble In Paradise


“Don’t lie to me, Potter.” Moody’s wooden leg clunked against the ground as he stomped over to James. “You’re the one who warned those bloody Death Eaters!”

James was entirely shocked. “What are you talking about?”

Moody’s face was only an inch away from James’. “Are you trying to wiggle out of this, boy?” He let out a low cackle and his magical eye practically bore into James. “I’ve seen the likes of you. You all appear to be innocent, but I know what you’re thinking.”

Lily watched with bated breath as James shook his head, his eyes wide and confused. His grip on his broom tightened considerably. “Mad-Eye, I really don’t know what you’re referring to. I didn’t release information to anyone.”

Sirius couldn’t seem to hold his tongue anymore. He stepped around Moody and clasped a hand on James’ shoulder. “Mad-Eye, you’ve seriously got the wrong guy. James would never…”

“You don’t know what Potter is capable of, Black,” Moody snarled. He grabbed Sirius’ shirt and forcefully yanked him away from James. “And I suggest you stay away from him until we’ve got everything figured out.”

James had just opened his mouth to protest when Moody roughly grabbed his shoulder and shoved him towards the center of the room. James, unsuspecting of the move, stumbled but managed to regain his footing a moment later. He looked positively agitated.

“Will someone tell me what the hell is going on here? Why are you all acting as if I’m the culprit?”

“Not all of us,” Sirius reminded. His voice lowered to a grumble. “Just the madman over there.”

If Moody heard Sirius’ last comment, he didn’t say anything. Instead, he focused his whole attention on James. “Confess, Potter,” he growled. “What benefits did they give you? Why would you do something like this?”

James was growing more and more exasperated. He crossed his arms and set his face in a glower. “I don’t know where you’re getting your information, Mad-Eye, but as far as I see it, you’re making accusations out of thin air. Just because it looks like there’s a traitor doesn’t mean there is one.” Moody opened his mouth, but James continued, ignoring the Auror’s attempt to speak. “And just because there might be a traitor doesn’t mean I’m the one.”

“You were the only one who appeared at the safe house last,” Moody snapped. He looked around the room and his eyes settled on Maxim. “Caden, was Potter there when you arrived?”

Maxim didn’t look all too pleased at being singled out. “No, he wasn’t,” he muttered.

“Montgomery?”

Tris blinked and scratched her ear with a sheepish smile. “I didn’t see James at first, but it was way too messy to see anyone clearly. He helped me get back to the safe house later on though!”

Moody growled and punched his cane into the ground. “Do not try to cover for him.”

James threw his hands into the air. “Mad-Eye, come on. You’re just being paranoid.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Moody’s wand was at his throat in the blink of an eye and Lily barely choked back a protest. Sirius was fuming and even Remus looked a tad angry.

“What were you doing, Potter?” he hissed.

“Getting my broom,” James said through gritted teeth. “I thought it would come in handy.”

Moody let out a loud huff of rough laughter and pressed his wand into James’ windpipe even further. “Pathetic excuse, boy.”

“It wasn’t an excuse.” James looked positively murderous. “Why won’t you just believe me when I tell you I’m not the traitor?”

“Because that’s what they all say.”

Lily’s mouth suddenly worked. “Veritaserum!” When Moody’s magical eye whirled towards her, she cleared her throat. “You can use Veritaserum to see if James is lying or not.”

Moody’s mouth twitched. “Trying to save your boyfriend, Evans?” At Lily’s confused look, he scoffed. “Veritaserum can only be issued by the Ministry.”

Alice rested a reassuring hand on Lily’s arm. “So you’re going to accuse James just like that? Without further proof or anything?”

“I’m not going to accuse him yet. He’s just going to be under close watch.” Moody grabbed James’ arm, and without warning, apparated away with a loud pop. Sirius cursed under his breath hurriedly apparated and Remus nodded towards the others in the group before he followed.

Everyone stared at the empty spot that had been occupied by three people just a few seconds ago.

Lily turned to look at Aileen, who appeared rather pale. She frowned. Perhaps the girl was sick? “Why don’t you follow them to make sure they don’t do anything rash? I’ll stay behind and help clean up.”

Aileen nodded rather eagerly and apparated as well.

Alice was now back at Frank’s side, where the Healer was still working rather fastidiously. From the Healer’s occasional mutters, it seemed as if Frank was still in rather critical condition.

Tris blew out a loud sigh and slumped to the ground. “Why does it seem like things are getting more and more complicated?”

Marlene had already started on the clean-up work. She was busy repairing the windows on the east wall. “Do you really think there’s a traitor among us?”

“Oh definitely,” Tris drawled. “Will the traitor please raise his hand and say ‘aye’?”

Maxim scowled at her. “Why are you using ‘his’? What if the traitor is a woman?”

“I was just trying to generalize. We substitute the word ‘man’ for human a lot anyway.”

“That still implies that you’re accusing the male gender of treachery.”

Dorcas rolled her eyes and shot a glare at Marlene. “Look what your question started. Those two will go at it for hours.”

Lily laughed at Marlene’s insulted look and replaced a few boards that had been torn up from the hardwood ground. She saw Dorcas move over to the tattered furniture and assess one of them through shrewd eyes. If it were up to Dorcas, she probably would’ve thrown everything away and then buy everything anew.

Tris and Maxim were still arguing in the background, and since Alice was still looking over Frank like a hawk, it was up to the three of them to work on the entire safe house. Lily blew out a sigh. They probably wouldn’t be home until it was well after dark.


----*----



Lily nearly stumbled when she apparated outside the ward that protected their safe house. Dorcas and Marlene popped up on either side of her, and then Alice appeared with an unconscious Frank. Tris and Maxim were the last ones to arrive.

They had spent at least five hours cleaning up the safe house, repairing everything and setting up the wards and protection that the house originally had. Tris and Maxim had stopped their arguing halfway through and concentrated on helping and Alice joined in at the last minute when the Healer had assured her that while Frank was still in poor condition, he was no longer critical. Even so, Lily knew that the house would remain empty for a period of time, since that division of Aurors was pretty much wiped out.

Dorcas sent her Patronus past the wards and to the door of the house, where someone disabled the wards briefly for them to enter.

Sirius greeted them at the entrance, looking extremely huffy.

Lily was the last to enter and closed the door behind her. The safe house was alarmingly quiet. “Is everything okay?”

“No,” he said sulkily. “Moody locked Prongs on the third floor and interrogated him for at least an hour. And then when he finally came out, he forbade us from seeing Prongs.”

She winced. “So Moody is serious about James being the traitor?”

“He’s not even providing a truly valid reason! Just because Prongs met up with us late doesn’t mean he’s a bloody traitor. He would never betray his friends.”

Lily smiled sympathetically. “I know. I don’t believe James would do anything like that either.” She looked over his shoulder to see the rest of their group gathered around in the nearby room. “Come on, let’s go join the others.”

Everyone was lounged on the couches and armchairs that surrounded the fireplace. Tris had taken up an entire couch so Marlene could only sit on an armrest. Remus was in an armchair and Maxim and Dorcas shared the second couch. There were two empty spots on the remaining loveseat.

Lily seated herself in one while Sirius practically threw himself beside her. There was a period of silence as everyone played the day’s events in their minds.

Dorcas was the first to speak up. “How’s James doing? And where’s Aileen?”

“James is locked in a room on the third floor,” Remus said. Lily was surprised that he managed to sound so calm, but then again, he had always been the most mature out of the Marauders. “Aileen is in the kitchen preparing food. She knows you guys are hungry after a day’s work.”

Tris shifted and blew out a happy sigh. Her blue hair was incredibly tousled. “You have to love that girl. She’s going to make someone a wonderful wife someday.”

Marlene laughed. “I’m glad you can think about other things at a time like this.”

At that, Tris groaned and pressed her face into the couch. Marlene patted her head and looked at Remus. “So what’s Moody’s verdict on James? Is he going to take him to the Ministry?”

Sirius interrupted before Remus could say anything. “Nothing!” he spat, practically foaming at the mouth. Lily eyed him worriedly. It was rare to see Sirius react so strongly about something, but James had always been special. “Not a bloody word. He just told us to stay away.”

Dorcas lifted an eyebrow. “Really? That bad?”

“Yes.” Remus sighed and rubbed his temples. “The room is supposed to be constantly monitored so the only way we can see James is if Moody agrees. But it’ll take a miracle for that to happen.”

There was a loud thump from upstairs and then Alice appeared at the foot of the steps, looking rather hassled and furious. She conjured a seat and threw herself into it. “Bloody hell, Mad-Eye is making me so angry!”

Lily frowned. “What happened?”

“I was finding a room to situate Frank in and I accidentally tried to open the door that Mad-Eye had apparently locked James in.” She threw her hands into the air exasperatedly. “It’s not as if I knew he had put James in there. Sheesh.”

Maxim tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Moody’s really serious about this.”

Alice huffed. “You think?”

Tris lifted her head and eyed everyone in the room. “Do you really think James would do something like that? Honestly. He’s so…” She gestured with her hand in an attempt to come up with a fitting word. She ended up with “good.”

Lily wanted to smile. “Good?”

“Not as in angelic or anything,” Tris said. “I just mean he’s as Auror-ish as an Auror can be. It’s impossible for him to betray us.”

“Exactly,” Sirius snapped.

Maxim shifted in his seat. “But Moody did have a point back there. Why was James late?”

“He said he had to get his broom,” Marlene reminded.

He grimaced. “You have to admit that the excuse was pretty weak. I don’t think it’d serve as a very good reason if he were on trial.”

Lily felt herself growing angrier. She had managed to tame her temper back in Frank’s safe house since she knew it wouldn’t have done James any good if she had blown up. But now even Maxim was openly criticizing James, and it made her wonder just how many of them truly thought James was the traitor.

“So you’re siding with Moody?” Her question came out a lot harsher than she had intended.

He looked at her carefully. “No, but we can’t really rule out the possibility. Moody doesn’t accuse without reason. Maybe…”

She had heard enough. Without waiting for him to finish, she got out of her seat and ignored the scattered calls questioning where she was going. She had to see James and Moody. She couldn’t let Moody make false assumptions and while she didn’t admit it, she knew instinctively that there was more to James’ lateness than he had openly stated.

Lily passed Aileen, who had just come out of the kitchen, bearing a platter full of newly made sandwiches and butterbeer.

Aileen visibly brightened when she saw Lily, and Lily noted that the paleness had faded from her cheeks. “I just prepared a late night snack for you guys.” She gestured towards the tray. “Do you want some?”

Lily shook her head. “No, it’s all right. Thanks anyway.” She was about to head up the stairs when Aileen called her name again. She turned around. “Yeah?”

“Are you going up to see James?”

She nodded. “I want to. But apparently, we have to get Moody’s permission, right?”

Aileen winced at that. “Yeah.” She sighed. “He’s been barring us from James’ room ever since he was locked in there. I wish you luck.”

Lily nodded grimly and continued on her way. The second landing was quiet and she saw no signs of Moody anywhere, which meant he was probably on the third floor. She tread lightly on the stairs, but it was no use. Moody was scribbling hurriedly on a parchment in the study and he stopped writing when he sensed her presence.

“Sorry, no visitors allowed.”

She walked into the study and stopped right in front of the desk that he was working on. “Do you really think locking him in a room and preventing him from seeing other people is going to make him testify to something that he didn’t even do?”

He chuckled and leaned back in his seat, his magical eye swirling in every which way. “I know Potter’s personality, Evans. He’s going to spit it out sooner or later.”

Now Lily was truly exasperated. “Spit what out?” she cried. “Is there something specific that you want to hear from him?”

“And what if there was?”

“You probably won’t hear it then,” she said resolutely. “You could threaten to kill James but he would never admit to something he’s never done. You should know this, Moody.”

He looked at her seriously for a moment before he sighed and leaned forward on his desk. “Look here, Evans. Whether Potter is innocent or not depends entirely on him. Once he’s willing to tell me the real reason he was late to the rescue, I’ll give him back his freedom. It’s as simple as that.”

Her grip tightened on the chair that she had clutched onto. “What makes you think he wasn’t telling the truth?”

Moody smiled then. “I believe you know the answer to that one yourself, Evans,” he said quietly.

Lily sucked in a deep breath. Moody was no fool. He had detected the lie the minute James had said it, just like she had known that James was hiding something. But what was so important that James would keep it a secret even in a situation like this?

“Let me talk to him.”

Moody shook his head. “Sorry, Evans. That’s not possible.”

“I can convince him to tell me,” she said. “Moody, James listens to me. He’ll be willing to talk to me.”

“That’s what everyone else has said so far.”

Lily slammed her palms onto the desk and leaned forward. Her green eyes were sharp. “You and I both know that James is hiding something,” she whispered. “And I have a much bigger chance of figuring it out than you do.”

Instead of being outraged by her behavior, Moody seemed amused. He eyed her with a certain gleam in his eyes. “You do know that everything that is said and done in that room is monitored.”

She nodded.

“Do you think Potter will be willing to talk to you under that circumstance?”

“I’m sure that he’ll be more willing with me than he will ever be with you.”

He smirked at her bluntness. “All right, Evans. You’ve convinced me. Go in and have your little chat with him, but remember that I hear and see everything that goes on in that room.”

“Thank you, Moody.”

Lily headed down the hallway and stopped at the third door from the end. There was no noise emitting from the room. She sucked in a deep breath and muttered, “Alohomora.”

The door swung open.

James was seated on the couch, his elbows resting on his knees and his hair fisted in his hands. He didn’t even look up when she entered.

“What the hell do you want now?” he asked tiredly.

Lily closed the door quietly behind her. She slowly approached him, her heart thumping erratically. It pained her to see him so upset and aggravated and she knew that she was willing to do anything to make him feel the least bit better.

She knelt in front of him. “James?”

His entire body froze. There was a moment as he tried to place her voice and then he slowly looked up. His hazel eyes were wide behind his glasses. “Lily?” he whispered.

Tears were filling her eyes and she rubbed them away furiously. Now was not the time to cry, she scolded herself. James needed her more than anything at the moment, and from the look in his eyes, she wondered just how much he had gone through in the past few hours.

“James,” she murmured, grasping his hands. They were cold. “Oh James.”

And before she knew it, he had pulled her up and was hugging her as if his life depended on it. She rubbed his back soothingly, noting just how tense he was. She worked on giving him a massage as he held onto her, kneading his muscles to loosen them.

She had no idea just how long they were in that position. It could’ve been seconds, minutes, hours…she had lost track of time. Eventually, however, James pulled away from her. His smile was shaky.

“Thanks, Lily,” he murmured. “I really needed it.”

She touched his cheekbone. “Are you all right?”

He closed his eyes and sighed. “Yeah. I’m fine.”

Lily shook her head. “No, you’re not.” Her denial made him open his eyes and she offered a faint smile and pushed him gently so that he was sitting on the couch again. She took the spot beside him and turned around to face him fully. “Moody must’ve really hammered you for information.”

James’ laugh was bitter. “Of course. The man’s set on the idea that I’ve betrayed everyone.”

“But have you?”

His reaction was sudden. He pulled away from her, his eyes wide and hurt. “Lily…you think I’m the traitor too?”

She shook her head hurriedly. “No, no, of course not.” She grasped his hand tightly, wondering how she was going to word the next sentence. “It’s just…I think…I get the feeling that you weren’t telling the whole truth back in the safe house.”

James was shocked. “Why…why would you think that way?”

“It’s hard to explain.” Lily gnawed at her lower lip. “Well, at the risk of making you mad, the reason you gave really was kind of hard to believe.”

He jumped up from the couch. Her eyes widened when he narrowed his eyes at her. He looked absolutely furious. “So you’re siding with Moody, is that it? You believe what he says more than you believe me?”

She stood up as well. “James, listen. This really has nothing to do with who I believe.” At his flabbergasted look, she sighed. “If it were a choice between you and Moody, of course I’d be on your side. But…” She approached him and grabbed his arms. “But your reaction earlier basically confirmed that you had lied back in the safe house. I’m not here to accuse you. I just want to know the truth.”

James looked away from her. “I didn’t lie.” Lily heard the unspoken words: but I didn’t tell the whole truth either.

She looked at him earnestly, her gaze imploring. “Tell me, James. Please?”

He sighed and shook his head. “I can’t, Lily.”

Her gaze dropped to the ground and she let her hands fall from his arms. “I see.” She forced herself to stay calm. It seemed as if James had never willingly told her anything. Back at Hogwarts, she had forced him to tell her about what happened to Aileen, and now he was keeping something from her again. Only this time, he was more adamant than before. Was she just that untrustworthy?

She sucked in a deep breath. “All right then. I think Moody’s going to kick me out if I stay in here much longer.” She spared a glance at him and saw that he was staring at the opposite wall, his jaw tight. “Good luck, James.”

Lily turned to go. She had only made it a few steps when she felt his arms wrap around her waist, pulling her to a halt.

His voice was ragged. “Lily, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…but I can’t tell you. It’s just not my place to say anything. I made a promise to a friend.”

And that was James’ best feature, Lily realized, but also his biggest problem. He had an impossibly strong sense of loyalty towards all his friends and he was willing to go to the end of the Earth for them. It had been the case with Remus’ werewolf secret and now it was the same situation all over again. But the problem was, he was often so stubborn about protecting his friends that he forgot about protecting himself at the same time.

She turned around and read the apology in his eyes. “James…you’re willing to jeopardize everything for this friend?”

He nodded slowly. “I…I owe it to her.”

“I see.” Lily smiled faintly and pressed a light kiss to his cheek. “I accept that.”

“Lily, please don’t be mad. I don’t think I could stand it if you…”

She reassured him with a firm shake of her head. “Of course I’m not mad at you, James. How could I be when you’re being such a good friend?” She gave his hand a warm squeeze. “I’m going to see if I can talk some sense into Moody.”

“Thank you.” He brought the back of her hand to his lips. “I love you, Lily.”

Her heart jumped and she smiled brightly. “Good night, James.”


----*----



Moody was waiting for Lily in the study. She slid down into one of the two chairs in front of his desk and rubbed her eyes.

“I’m assuming you heard our conversation?” she asked wearily.

He nodded. “I did.”

“Then you should know that James isn’t the traitor, if there even is one in the first place.”

“I don’t know that.” At Lily’s shocked expression, Moody shrugged. “I only know that Potter did indeed lie to us when he told us that he went to get his broomstick.”

She couldn’t help but protest on his behalf. “He told a half-truth for a friend, Moody. Didn’t you hear that part?” She deflated then. She felt rather emotionally drained after the conversation with James and she didn’t feel up to another argument with Moody. “James is just so…he’s so loyal and I…”

Moody sighed and absently fiddled with a quill lying on the desk. “Evans, I have to admit that Potter may value loyalty much more than I had thought.” He paused and looked Lily straight in the eye. “But remember that loyalty is both a good thing and a bad thing. When you’re loyal to the wrong side…”

“But James isn’t!” she cried.

“He may or may not be. In any case, you have to make him understand that what he’s hiding, whatever he’s hiding, is hurting him. And if his friend knows this, he or she should step out.”

Lily sighed and rubbed her temples. James made friends faster than she could finish a book. He had so many…which one was he protecting now? “So you aren’t going to let him go until you have solid proof that he isn’t the traitor?”

“Exactly, Evans. Either give me solid proof or bring me the one who is the traitor. I know for a fact that someone gave the Death Eaters an advanced warning, and I won’t stop until I find the damn culprit.”

“All right, Moody. I’ll work on it.”

She got up and was about to leave when Moody spoke up again. “Evans, try to convince Potter to think more for himself and less for others. His loyalty to his friends may just get him killed one day.”

Lily bade him a good night and started down the stairs. Why had things gotten so complicated? There was a traitor in their group and Moody was so adamantly certain that it was James.

She suddenly stopped walking. Had Moody ever affirmed that he knew it was James? He had been rather vehement back in Frank’s safe house, but wouldn’t he have taken more action than simply locking James in a room if he knew that James was the traitor? Something in her mind clicked. Ever since she had talked to Moody, he had never outright accused James, which meant that he…that he knew James wasn’t the traitor.

But how was that possible? And why would he keep James locked in the room if he knew?

Lily shook her head. Everything was just too tangled for her to figure out right at that moment. There were too many points of suspicion that needed to be covered and she needed at least another head to help her sort things out.

She had already reached the first floor by then. The room that everyone had been congregated in earlier was empty except for Sirius and Remus, who seemed to be talking rather seriously next to the fireplace. They looked up when they heard her footsteps and Remus gave her a smile while Sirius merely looked curious. Had they known that she had gone upstairs to talk to James?

She was about to head over to them when Aileen suddenly appeared from kitchen. She was in the middle of rolling her sleeves down, which meant that she had probably been cleaning up.

She smiled when she noticed Lily. “How did it go? Did Moody let you speak with James?”

Lily nodded.

Aileen’s eyes widened and suddenly she didn’t seem so calm anymore. “Really? He let you?” She rushed forward and grabbed Lily’s hands. “Is James all right? Did he say anything?”

Lily was barely processing anything that the blonde was saying. Her mind had gone back to the conversation she had with James earlier.

“Lily, I’m sorry…I’m so sorry but I can’t tell you.”

“I made a promise to a friend.”

“I…I owe it to her.”


James owed it to her. He owed her. And suddenly, one thing became alarmingly clear.

“Aileen, I need to talk to you.”


----*----



Author's Note: All right, so I think I'll give everyone a hopefully good explanation. Phew. So I've been receiving quite a few reviews asking if I was going to finish this story or if I got my inspiration back. And then New Years came around. I finally decided to sit down one day and map out the entire outline for this story, and now that I have, I believe I'll be able to finish it.

So that's my reason for returning this to a WIP instead of the previously Abandoned status. I'm sorry for taking so long to get my inspiration back and I hope that this chapter and the upcoming chapters don't disappoint. Thanks for bearing with me and my uncertainties for so long.

And wow...this is quite a long A/N. Hopefully they'll be shorter in the future :) Please enjoy and please review!!! Thank you!!!

Chapter 7: Divided We Fall
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7: Divided We Fall


Lily gestured for Aileen to sit down. She had decided that they should go to her room to prevent any eavesdropping on Sirius and Remus’ part, and just to further ensure that their conversation remained private, she put silencing spells and unbreakable wards around her room.

Aileen looked anxious. “Is something the matter?”

“I was actually able to talk to James earlier,” Lily began, watching Aileen perk up at the information. “He mentioned a few things that got me thinking and I just wanted to ask you a few questions.”

Aileen now looked considerably warier. “I see,” she said slowly.

“I would appreciate it if you answer honestly, Aileen.” Lily looked at her imploringly. “I know that I might be getting a little nosy and personal, but James’ life is on the line here and…”

Aileen shook her head. “No, I understand, Lily. James is my good friend too. Go ahead.”

Lily took in a breath. “Is James keeping a secret for you?”

Her eyes widened as if she was surprised that Lily had made such an accurate assumption. “Yes.”

“And does this have to do with why he was late to the safe house attack?”

The answer came a bit more hesitantly now. “Yes.”

Lily’s brows furrowed.

Aileen sighed and tucked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “I really didn’t intend for James to find out. He just… I don’t even know how he did. But he realized that I had a problem… and well… you know James. He just wouldn’t forget about it. He had to help.” Lily smiled then, nodding at Aileen’s words. It was just so James. “I asked him to keep it a secret for me because I don’t know what I’d do if it got out. I could lose my job and I really love being an Auror and…”

Lily’s eyes widened and she held up a hand. “Wait a minute. You could lose your job? What could be so bad as to…”

Aileen grimaced. “It’s pretty bad.”

Lily contemplated the next question, but then decided that she might as well ask. This was for James after all. “Would you mind telling me? Maybe I can think of a solution for you or…”

“Lily, I…” She paused then, as if she was having an internal debate about whether or not she should continue. “I just… I’m not really comfortable with talking about this just yet.” When she looked up, her azure eyes were wide with apology. “I’m sorry.”

Lily sighed. “It’s understandable.” She played with a corner of the comforter on her bed. “James refuses to speak and Moody already knows that James hasn’t told the whole truth. He won’t relent unless James tells, and even then, he might not agree to let him out of the room.”

Aileen’s eyes lowered to the ground and her shoulders tightened. It looked like she was fighting back tears, which surprised Lily. She distinctly remembered the Marauders telling her that Aileen’s emotional strength was unbeatable. But she supposed that being held by Death Eaters probably weakened a person significantly.

“Aileen?” she said quietly.

Aileen sniffed a little. “I feel like it’s my fault James is in trouble.” She lifted her eyes and Lily saw that they were watery. “I didn’t think he would still remember something so insignificant when we were all in such a frenzy, but he did. And now he’s in trouble for it.”

“Perhaps you can explain to Moody?” Lily suggested. “I’m sure he won’t tell anyone else.”

Aileen seemed horrified at the thought. “I can’t!” she cried. “He’d definitely suggest I take a break from being an Auror.”

“But what could be so bad? Aileen, you can trust me. I’ll try to help you like James did. We’re all friends here. And I’m sure Sirius and Remus and everyone else would…”

Aileen jumped out of her seat, nearly knocking the chair over. “Don’t you understand, Lily? I can’t! If I did, I’d be shipped back home right here and now. No one wants a dysfunctional Auror.” With a last look of despair, she threw the door open and ran out of the room, ignoring Sirius and Remus, who were posed by the frame.

Lily sighed and ran a hand through her hair, a habit that she had picked up from James back when they were still at Hogwarts. She had known Aileen would be stubborn about this particular piece of information, but she had thought that James’ reputation and life were enough incentive for her to at least reveal something so they could come up with a way to save him. But she hadn’t even attempted to…

Sirius strolled into the room and seated himself in the chair that Aileen had just vacated. “What was that all about?”

She shook her head. “I just wanted to ask Aileen something. It’s not important.”

He snorted. “Liar.” At Lily’s frown, he arched a brow. “We’re not daft, Lily. We know when something is up, and right now, your talk with Aileen spells pretty damn fishy.”

She was about to protest, but Remus interrupted. “Come on, Lily,” he said warmly. “We care for James just as much as you do and we already have a rough idea of what’s going on.”

“I don’t know the details either,” she said truthfully. Sirius’ brows furrowed and Remus looked contemplative. “I’m just assuming that the secret James is keeping has to do with Aileen. No one else fit the description.”

Remus nodded slowly. “So it is a secret.”

Sirius’ eyes had narrowed in thought. “But a secret regarding Aileen? What secret could she possibly have?”

They both turned to Lily and she shrugged helplessly. “I don’t really know. But it seems pretty serious. Aileen said she could potentially lose her job if it gets out.”

Sirius whistled. “That bad? Did she commit murder or something?”

Lily could only shake her head.

“And you talked to James already? What did he say?”

“He said nothing, Remus. You know how tight-lipped he can be.”

Sirius grimaced. “Which poses a problem for us.” He jumped out of his chair and started pacing the length of the room. “Why must he be so stubborn? Why can’t he just…”

“Because he’s James,” Remus said quietly. There was a tinge of fondness in his tone. “He won’t ever let any of his friends down, much less Aileen.”

Lily closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. “We’re going to have to act pretty quickly if we want to figure anything out. I have a feeling Moody won’t wait any longer, and even if he does, the real culprit might strike again.” She eyed them seriously. “One of us should ask around and see if any of the house elves saw James and saw what he was doing.”

Remus nodded. “I’ll talk to them in the morning.”

“Sirius, maybe you could…”

“I’m going to talk to Aileen.” He looked grim. “I love her like a sister, but if she’s the one bringing James down, I want a reason at least.”

As harsh as that sounded, Lily had to agree. And maybe Sirius had a better chance. After all, he knew her much longer than Lily did, and he was a well-known charmer who could probably talk his way into and out of everything.

“And I guess I’ll try to convince Moody to let James go in the meantime, even though it’s pretty futile.” She gnawed on her bottom lip thoughtfully. “I wonder if Alice would…”

Sirius shook his head. “We can’t risk bringing more people into this. It won’t be the least bit helpful to us if word gets out.”

Lily conceded.

Remus glanced at his watch and lifted an eyebrow when he saw the time. “Wow. It’s already three in the morning. We still have that meeting at eight tomorrow.”

Sirius groaned and fell flat onto the ground in spread-eagled fashion. Lily let out a light chuckle. He was always the dramatic one. “I hate waking up early,” he muttered. “Do you think I can be excuse from it if I tell Mad-Eye I broke a toe or something?”

Remus snorted and stepped over him as he headed towards the door. “You’re welcome to try, but you’ll probably end up with more than just a broken toe if you do.”

Sirius was still complaining when Lily shooed him out the door.


----*----



Frank was seated off to the side, his head bandaged and arm in a sling. Despite the scratches and bruises that adorned his face, he looked like he was in relatively good condition, at least compared to when Lily first saw him, tattered and broken at the safe house.

Alice was sitting right next to him, wary of every twitch and sound he made. Everyone else was scattered throughout the room, looking extremely tired. After all the hard work that they had gone through the previous night, Moody had called for a meeting at eight in the morning. It was no wonder no one was extremely eager to talk. And Lily would’ve been in the same situation if she weren’t wondering whether or not she should ask Moody to let James join in on the meeting.

She glanced at Sirius, who was snoring next to her, and gave him a little nudge. He suddenly jumped out of his seat and shouted, “I wasn’t sleeping!”

His voice was so loud that even Tris opened her bleary eyes to shoot him a scowl. “Do we care?”

Sirius looked around, disoriented. He blinked and glanced back at Lily. “What happened?”

She rolled her eyes and yanked him down. He sprawled onto the couch, his eyes only half-open again. “Sirius?”

“What?” he mumbled.

“Do you think I should go ask Moody if he’ll let James join us? He’s still part of the group and…”

His eyes widened at her statement and his brows furrowed as he gave her an assessing glance. “You know the chances are slim, right? When Mad-Eye’s gone mad, it’s kind of useless trying to bring him back to normal.”

Lily sighed. “I was worried you’d say that.” She turned to look at Remus, who was sitting on Sirius’ other side. “What do you say?”

He stifled a yawn. “I think it’s worth a shot, but don’t get your hopes up. I doubt Mad-Eye will be very lenient when it comes to this.”

Lily nodded. She had expected as much, but she knew that on James’ behalf, she had to at least try. He would want to know what was going on, especially since what they were inevitably going to talk about had to do with him as well.

She was just about to get up when Maxim’s voice stopped her. “Lily, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

She crossed her arms, her eyes narrowed. “And why is that?”

“Moody has James confined for a reason. He wouldn’t make any false accusations unless he actually has some kind of proof.” At Lily’s look of fury, he sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. “Look, I understand that you want to protect James, but-”

She cut him off. “Just what is your problem with James, Max? You’ve never even attempted to be supportive of him and-”

“I have nothing against James,” he replied smoothly, “but if he’s a suspect, I certainly don’t plan to condone his freedom. He could get us all killed.”

Something in Lily snapped. She made to lunge at him but Remus hurriedly grabbed her arms to restrain her. Maxim took a step back at her sudden display of violence, his eyes alarmed.

“You know what I think?” she spat. “I think you’re the culprit. You’ve been accusing James ever since the very beginning. What did he ever do to you?”

Maxim shook his head. His expression suggested that he was disappointed in her. “I never expected this from you, Lily. This was one of the first things we learned during our training. Set aside personal issues when you’re working on the job.”

Lily’s face was so red from repressed fury that it was almost as red as her hair. And if Alice hadn’t cut in at that moment, Lily knew she would’ve said or done something that she’d regret.

“Not everyone can be as objective as you when it comes to human feelings, Max,” Alice said sharply. “If you have nothing positive to say, we’d appreciate it if you didn’t say anything at all.”

Maxim’s lips thinned. He eyed the other Aurors in the room, as if expecting them to back him up. After noticing a lack of reaction, he frowned and grudgingly slumped back into his seat. Aileen patted him on the back comfortingly and he settled into a brood.

Moody chose that moment to arrive. He hobbled down the stairs, magical eye whirling around to look at the room’s occupants. The eye rested on Lily for a split second longer before shifting to Maxim. He finally trudged towards the empty armchair and sank into it.

Lily was in mental turmoil. There was a part of her that really wanted to ask Moody if he would let James attend the meeting, but Remus’ hand tightened on her arm, as if he had guessed what she was about to do. A subtle shake of the head affirmed his thoughts, and finding the situation hopeless, she finally sighed and seated herself between Sirius and Remus again.

Moody was watching her with a careful eye, but after seeing that she had settled down, he turned his attention to Frank, who had remained silent up to that point.

“Tell us what happened, Longbottom,” he growled. “How could your group have let such a ridiculous thing happen?”

Frank sighed and ran his good hand through his hair. His face was drawn, and Lily knew that this wasn’t a particularly good memory for him to recall. “No one expected it and the timing was just so… perfect. We didn’t even have time to properly react to what was happening, and before we knew it, we were under attack.”

His story was chilling. The group had realized that parts of the wards surrounding their safe house weren’t functioning properly and they had just taken down the wards briefly to set up newer and more powerful ones when the Death Eaters struck.

“It seemed as if they were lying in wait all that time, as if they knew we were planning to bring the wards down temporarily,” he said.

Moody let out a low chuckle that sounded more like a growl. “It wasn’t a bloody coincidence,” he snapped. “Nothing in the world can be so perfectly timed. They bloody well knew your plans.”

“They could’ve been extremely determined,” Marlene suggested. Lily looked at her with faint amusement. She had always been the most optimistic of the group. “They could’ve been there for weeks for all you knew.”

“Not possible,” Dorcas said. “Death Eaters don’t have that much time on their hands to wait around for one Auror group to drop the wards. First off, there are way too many groups for You-Know-Who to send Death Eaters to monitor all of them. Secondly, for all they know, they could be waiting forever.”

Remus nodded firmly. “Dorcas is right. Frank’s group was targeted specifically.”

Aileen’s brows knitted. “But why Frank’s group? What does their group have that others don’t?”

All eyes turned to Frank. He blinked at the sudden attention he was receiving and frowned. Lily could literally see the wheels turning in his head, as if he was trying to come up with anything that could’ve inspired the targeted attack.

After five minutes of silence, he finally gave a defeated shrug. “I really have no idea. Other than the plans, I don’t see how our group was any different.”

“But every group had those plans,” Alice pointed out. She squeezed his hand reassuringly. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll figure something out.”

Sirius snorted and rolled his eyes. Alice glowered at him, but he ignored her and drawled, “I doubt that’d be possible at the rate we’re going at.”

Moody scoffed and smirked at Sirius, the scars cracking at a particular angle that made the Auror appear more terrifying. “Anything constructive to say, Black?”

“Yeah. A lot, actually.” He straightened in his seat in one smooth move and tipped his head back slightly. The arrogant gesture dared Moody to contradict him. “I want to know why we’re locking up an innocent and letting loose the actual criminal.”

To Lily’s shock, Moody remained calm. “I advise you to get your mind off Potter, Black. He’s in there until he or anyone else can prove me wrong.”

Lily opened her mouth to protest, but Aileen was the one who spoke. “Even if you think James has done something wrong, locking him up isn’t-”

“Enough,” Moody snapped. He magical eye whirled dramatically, focusing on each Auror in the room before zooming to another. His posture was tense. “We’re here to discuss more important matters than Potter’s innocence or his well-being. I don’t want to hear another word about him in this meeting.” He gave them all a piercing glare before focusing his gaze on Frank. “Do you have anymore ideas on possible reasons?”

“No. Not yet, at least.”

“Why don’t we send a team over to do some investigations?” Alice suggested. Her eyes were wide with excitement. “There’s still bound to be some sort of evidence left in that safe house.”

Dorcas shook her head. “There’s nothing suspicious within the safe house. We checked when we were cleaning it up.”

Alice seemed to deflate at this, but Marlene perked up. “We didn’t check the outside perimeter! There could be forgotten wands or dropped items that we didn’t see. The Death Eaters did flee pretty quickly.”

There was a period of contemplative silence, occasionally interrupted by a small snort or mumble from Tris, who had fallen asleep. Interestingly enough, Moody hadn’t forcefully woken her up. It was a side of him that Lily rarely got to see, but it proved that he cared about them despite the crude front that he constantly put up.

Alice suddenly jumped up, breaking the silence that had formed. “Well then, what are we waiting for?” She turned to Moody. “What do you say?”

Moody looked pensive. Lily knew there were dangers to Alice’s decision. Since it was clear that the Death Eaters had planned out the attack on Frank’s safe house, there was a possibility that they were still there, knowing that it was custom for Aurors to return to the site of attack to do further research on the event. And if they were there, Alice would be pretty much throwing herself into a fire pit. But on the other hand, it was the Aurors’ duty to go back, and weren’t they pretty much trained for all situations?

There was another period of long silence. Finally, after what seemed like a good half an hour of thought, Moody made up his mind.

“Longbottom,” he commanded, “you take four people back to the safe house to see if you can find anything.” He turned to the rest of them. “The rest of you. Find contacts or information on anyone who could’ve been around when the attack happened. See if you can get anything out of them.”

There were nods around the room. Tris had finally woken up and was blinking blurrily at everyone, her eyes narrowed as if she was trying to figure out what had happened over the past thirty minutes that she was out.

Moody spared a glance at her before turning back to everyone. “Recheck our wards and make sure there are no loopholes that the Death Eaters can use. For safety measures, survey our perimeter. We don’t want any possible lurkers out there.”

“I can do that,” Sirius volunteered. Lily hid a smile. He had never been fond of researching of any kind.

“All right. The rest of you, figure out your own jobs.” He stood up and left, giving Tris a rough pat on the arm as he did. She scowled lightly and rubbed her bruised appendix.

“If we don’t get killed by Death Eaters, we’re surely to get killed by him,” she huffed.

Dorcas rolled her eyes, but Lily could see her amusement. “If you were all that fragile, you probably wouldn’t live till today.”

Maxim cleared his throat and conjured a parchment and quill with the flick of his wand. “So who’s on what task?”

“I’ll go with Frank to check out his old safe house,” Alice announced.

“Dorcas and I’ll go with you guys,” Marlene said. She looked around the room and her eyes landed on Tris. “Do you want to come along? I doubt you’d be interested in interviewing people.”

Tris’ blue head bobbed eagerly. “You know me all too well, Marl.”

Marlene frowned. “That’s a horrible nickname.”

Maxim cleared his throat again when he saw that they were getting off topic. “So Alice, Dorcas, Marlene and Tris are heading with Frank out to the safe house. I’m suggesting we leave at least three people here to survey the perimeter and check the wards.”

“I’ll stay,” Lily said. Maxim looked at her and their eyes locked. She knew that he saw the reason behind her wanting to stay, but interestingly enough, he didn’t say anything and merely wrote her name down on the list.

Remus nodded towards Maxim. “I’ll stay as well.”

“I guess this leaves Aileen and me to interview?” When Aileen confirmed this with a nod, he rolled up the parchment and tucked it into his robes. “All right then. Everyone report back by midnight.”

The group dispersed.

Lily tagged Aileen’s arm before she could leave and pulled her towards the kitchen. Aileen looked wary, but to her credit, she didn’t resist. She regarded Lily with faint concern. “Is there something wrong?”

“I’m going to try to persuade Moody to let me talk to James again. I know this is a sensitive topic for you and I respect that, but I’m still hoping that you can consider talking to someone.”

Aileen sighed. “Lily-”

“I know,” she cut in. “But I’m still going to keep my hopes up for James’ sake. I’m just asking you to do the same.” She gave Aileen’s hand a reaffirming squeeze before she headed out to look for Sirius and Remus.

She found them congregated outside, talking in low undertones. They gestured her over when they saw her. “Moody’s heading to the Ministry today to report the situation to them,” Remus told her.

“And you’re thinking of breaking James out.” It wasn’t a question.

Sirius nodded. “Of course. This is the best time.”

“Moody’s still going to find out,” Lily pointed out. “He’s not stupid. He’s going to find out one way or another.”

“The fact that he knows and he’s still leaving is saying something,” Remus said quietly. His brows were furrowed. “He’s letting us do it.”

Lily was confused. “But why would he…”

Sirius shrugged. “We’ll worry about that later, but now, we’ll concentrate on talking to James first.”

They managed to get into the room with little hassle. To their surprise, the room was locked simply, easily opened with an Alohomora. Lily was beginning to think that Remus was right. Moody had known that they’d come to see James, and from the lack of protection spells on James’ door, it appeared as if Moody was only concerned with keeping him in the room.

Sirius practically lunged himself at James, who was sitting on the couch, his head tilted back and eyes closed. His eyes flew open at the war cry Sirius made and rolled to the side right when Sirius would’ve landed on him.

Sirius groaned when he hit his mouth on the hard back of the couch. “Bloody hell, Prongs,” he grunted. “What was that for?”

James’ eyes were wide. “Padfoot? What are you doing here? And what the hell were you trying to do?”

“He was trying to express his love for you,” Remus said wryly. He smiled when James turned his attention to him. “It’s good to see you again, Prongs.”

Needless to say, James was shocked. His wide eyes fell on Lily and she gave him a small smile. “Moody went to the Ministry so we decided to come visit you.”

They filled him in on everything that had happened in the meeting. “Frank just took Alice and them back to the safe house to see if there’s anything still there,” Lily finished.

James looked thoughtful. They were sitting in a circle, and Remus had locked and placed spells on the door to keep anyone from listening in. Lily was aware that Moody was probably hearing every word of their conversation even though he wasn’t in the safe house, but as far as she was concerned, he could’ve listened in all he wanted.

“I don’t think they can find anything,” James finally said. “From what you’re saying, the Death Eaters had already planned everything. I doubt they’d leave room for possible error if they had time to think things through.”

“But there is room for mistake,” Sirius said. He was sprawled in an armchair, leg dangling over one armrest.

James shook his head. “The Death Eaters wouldn’t have brought anything with them that would’ve given any of their plans away if they knew this was going to be an attack. And even if anything is found, it could very well be a fake. It’s very possible to plant evidence.”

Lily blinked. For some reason, this had never occurred to her before, and from the looks on Sirius’ and Remus’ faces, they were in the same boat as her.

“So we can’t trust anything they bring back,” she said slowly.

“Now I wouldn’t go that far,” James commented. “Just be extra careful about what you find. Don’t believe anything on face value.”

Lily exchanged a look with Sirius and Remus. She personally found it rather amazing that James could think through the information so thoroughly given the short period of time that he had access to it. It was a trait that she would always be in awe of, and she supposed that it was something that made James… James.

He seemed to detect her pent up frustration and rested a hand on her knee, his expression concerned. “Lily? Is something the matter?”

She blinked. “What?” Truthfully, she hadn’t expected him to notice. But then again, he had always noticed everything that had to do with her… and more. “I’m just a little frustrated with Max at the moment.”

Now it was James’ turn to frown. “Max? What did he do?”

“He’s just being a bloody ponce,” Sirius drawled, flicking his fingers disdainfully, as if he were brushing off a few dust particles. “He keeps going on about how we should all listen to Mad-Eye and keep you locked up and confined like a bloody prisoner.”

James’ eyebrows rose. He looked skeptical. “Max? Really? I’ve never done anything to him. Why would he be on my case?”

Remus offered him a sympathetic smile. “Max is a little uptight sometimes. I heard he was a model student back at school. It’s not surprising that he follows Moody with a little more dedication than the regular Auror.”

“It just doesn’t make much sense,” Lily said. She poked absently at James’ hand, ignoring his grin when she accidentally hit a particularly ticklish part. “I remember Dorcas when she was at Hogwarts. She was an outstanding prefect, but you don’t see her shadowing Moody’s footsteps.”

James smiled and gave her shoulder a light squeeze. “It could just be his personality, Lily. Don’t worry too much about it. I don’t want you to get into a fight with him because of me.”

She sighed. She knew that what he said had an ounce of truth in it, but at the same time, she didn’t feel a particular urge to treat Maxim with friendly courtesy. His actions and words had gone a little overboard, and it just didn’t make sense that he didn’t even attempt to back James up. They were in the same group. They were all Aurors. Aurors were supposed to…

Lily was abruptly snapped out of her thoughts when James pressed his lips gently to hers. She blinked and pulled back, shocked. It was then that she noticed the room had vacated till she was the only one left with him.

He gently tugged on a strand of her hair. “What’s on your mind? You were so lost in your thoughts that you didn’t see Padfoot and Moony leave.”

She offered a faint smile and grabbed his hand, lacing her fingers through his. “I was just thinking about Max.”

James blew out a breath. “Do you really think Max has something against me?”

“I’m just not sure,” she confessed, rather troubled. “James, something just isn’t right about this whole thing. First you get accused of being a traitor, then Aileen won’t say anything when she clearly could help you, and then Max refuses to speak in your favor.

“Maybe I’m reading too much into everything, but does this seem like a conspiracy to you?”

James suddenly burst out laughing. The sound was so startling and unexpected that Lily nearly jumped out of her seat. “Oh Lily. A conspiracy? You really are thinking too much.”

“James…”

His smile dropped slightly and he looked solemn again. Lily watched as he stood up and tucked his hands into the pocket of his trousers.

“Truth is, I’ve been doing a bit of thinking with all this free time I have. The only way the Death Eaters could’ve received information to evacuate early and to know when to attack is through owl.”

“We use Patronuses sometimes,” she reminded.

James shook his head resolutely. “Not possible. Patronuses are way too obvious. The shape defines the caster.”

Lily nodded.

“And if it’s through owl, there has to be a considerable amount of parchment spent on sending the messages.”

She was confused. “Are you saying you want us to do a parchment check for all the Aurors? See who used the most?”

James looked amused. “No, that’s not what I meant. Mad-Eye tends to keep track of all information. But besides him, who else does it?”

Lily frowned in thought. It was a valid point. Who was in charge of all the information? Both James and Sirius were extremely active and didn’t bother with paperwork. Remus, while he sometimes took on the responsibility of recording things down, was never in charge of the information. Tris never bothered, Dorcas and Marlene were more interested in heading out than keeping track of data. That left…

There was suddenly a loud crash outside, followed by hasty footsteps and furious mutterings. Lily jumped out of her seat and was out the door in an instant, her wand drawn and posture ready. She ran down the hall and turned a corner… and stopped in her tracks.

Maxim and Aileen were there, expressions angry and tense. He was gesturing wildly, his brows knitted together. She, on the other hand, looked absolutely furious. Both suddenly stopped their conversation when Lily rounded the corner.

Maxim looked as if he had been caught in the act while Aileen just looked properly shocked. Lily’s eyes trailed down to a stack of parchment that was in her hands and her eyes narrowed.

It suddenly dawned on her that while Maxim often had the habit of recording everything down, Moody had given Aileen the role of being a historian for the group, keeping everything filed away neatly so that things would be easier to reference if necessary.

Lily stared at them accusingly. “What are the two of you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be out interviewing possible witnesses?”

“We were… we were just…”

And the seconds ticked on by.


----*----



Author's Note: Hey! Yes, I know, late chapter. Humbug. For some strange reason, this story is just difficult to write. I think I packed in too much plot into it or something, but I even get confused sometimes and then I have to think through all the twists to make sure they make sense and connect together in the end. And in the end, I came up with this chapter. I agree that it's kind of a filler in a way, but as uneventful as it may be, this chapter is pretty much necessary to continue the story. Hope you all don't fall asleep reading this ;)

Thanks to all of you for reviewing for me! Please do continue! I want to know what you guys think, and if you have anything to say, please feel free to voice your comments :)

Chapter 8: Aileen's Troubles
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8: Aileen’s Troubles


Aileen was the first to shrug out of the stupor that she and Maxim were in. She shook her head insistently, her eyes wide and horrified. “Lily, this isn’t how it looks.”

Lily’s mind quickly ran through the conversation she and James just had. The traitor got information to the Death Eaters through parchment, and reasonably speaking, this would be the person in charge of all the recorded data.

Her eyes zeroed in on Aileen. “And what do you think this looks like?”

“Don’t be so critical, Lily,” Maxim suddenly said, drawing her attention to him. “We were just going over some information before we go find witnesses.”

He sounded so blasé that Lily would’ve believed him if she hadn’t been so suspicious of him in the beginning. And now that the damage was done, no statement, no matter how casually stated, was going to dissuade her from finding out the truth.

“It didn’t look like you were just going over information.”

Maxim rolled his eyes. “Then what do you think we were doing? Selling information to You-Know-Who?”

She crossed her arms. “Maybe that’s exactly what I think you’re doing.”

Aileen looked like she was ready to collapse. “Lily, please, it’s not like that at all.”

“Then what is it like? Tell me, Aileen.” Lily started pacing along the small corridor. “I just don’t understand you. You claim to care so much about James, but you won’t do anything to help him. You’re just idly standing by and-”

Don’t put your own problems on other people,” Maxim snapped, cutting Lily off. Her eyes narrowed as she turned to him. “We all care about James, but you don’t see the rest of us ignoring our duties. Just because you’re letting emotional ties ruin your job doesn’t mean the rest of us are going to do the same.”

Lily was so incensed that she really thought she’d take out her wand and hex him. Her hands were clenched at her sides, her eyes smoldering. To his credit, Maxim didn’t seem alarmed. In fact, he was looking at her with an odd glitter of triumph in his eyes.

“What did you just say?” she finally spat.

“I’m tired of your mindless accusations.” He grabbed the parchments from Aileen and tucked them into his robes. “If you’d stop acting like a lovesick idiot for a minute, maybe you could go check on the wards like you’re supposed to.”

He bade Aileen goodbye and gave Lily a look as he brushed past her. Her hand itched to slap him, and she probably would’ve if Sirius hadn’t shown up right at that moment. He sidestepped just in time before he crashed head-on into Maxim and frowned at the palpable tension in the area.

“What’s going on here?”

Maxim snorted. “Lily was just giving one of her spiels, like usual.”

She whirled on him. “Oh you are not going to pin this one on me, Max. And you’d better think again if you thought I’d let you get away with all those parchments.”

“Those don’t contain any vital information,” Aileen said quietly. Lily and Sirius turned to her. “They’re just lists of tasks for each person for the past few missions.”

Lily grabbed Maxim’s arm before he could leave. “Give them to me.”

“Why? You’re not in charge of keeping information.”

“Neither are you.”

He sighed and removed himself from her hold. “I’m double checking our records to verify who we’re going to be interviewing and to ensure that there are no possibilities of corruption.”

“But I thought that was Aileen’s job,” Sirius pointed out.

“We decided to do something different for once.” Maxim narrowed his eyes. “Must I report everything to you now?”

“Not if you were being truthful in the first place. And in this case, you aren’t,” Lily retorted.

Sirius stepped in before Maxim could comment further. He grabbed her arm to prevent her from launching herself at him and gave the other two a strained smile. “Just ignore her for the time being. She’s a little stressed lately.”

Lily was furious. “Sirius, let me go. I’m not through with them yet!”

He ignored her. “We’ll get on with our task now. See you later.” He then grabbed her other arm firmly and pulled her away, despite the sharp glares that she was shooting his way. It was only until they stepped out onto the grounds did he release his hold on her.

“What the hell was that?”

She glared at him and smoothed out the wrinkles in her robes. “That was me trying to get to the bottom of everything and you coming in and screwing everything up.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “If that was your attempt, it was a bloody horrible one.”

Lily was smoldering. “Excuse me?”

“Calm down, Evans. What are you trying to do with that glare? Burn a hole through my head?”

“That sounds terribly tempting at the moment.”

He smirked. “Yeah, yeah.” As quickly as his smile came, it disappeared again. “I talked to Remus earlier. Apparently, the house elves saw nothing.”

She nodded slowly, processing the information. “I guess I’m not too surprised. James was pretty quick when he ran off. And if what he did was meant to be a secret, I doubt he’d let other people see.”

Sirius had already started walking along the perimeter of the house. He took a few steps, paused, waved his wand at the area, and watched a light shimmer reflect in the air. He seemed satisfied with the result and moved on.

Lily followed slowly. Even though she couldn’t prove that Aileen and Maxim were the culprits, she knew they were up to something… something that she wasn’t sure she really wanted to know. But the hard part was figuring out what that something was. If only she had a small piece of evidence that could pull her out of the hole she had dug herself into.

Sirius stopped and blew out an exasperated sigh when he noticed that she was still quite a ways behind him. “Come on, Lily. We don’t have all day, you know.”

She scowled. “I’m trying to think.”

“You’re just going to give yourself a bigger headache.” He threw an arm around her shoulders and steered her forward. “And the next time you do think of something, can you not act so redheaded?”

Lily frowned, unsure of whether his statement was a compliment or an insult. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Sirius lifted an eyebrow. “It means you shouldn’t act so rashly.”

Lily nearly laughed at the irony of the statement. Back when they were still at Hogwarts, she didn’t think she would ever hear Sirius Black of all people telling her to think before she acted. If there was anyone who was terrible at thinking things through, it was Sirius.

And yet he was now giving her advice. She bit her lip. Maybe she had been acting too rashly? Was she really jumping to conclusions? Those were possibilities, but something in her was telling her the exact opposite.

They continued circling the region, pausing once in a while to check on the wards. Sirius, who seemed to have forgotten the gravity of the situation they were in, started whistling an anonymous tune, one that sounded mysteriously like one of the recently popular wizarding bands that had formed. Lily grinned. She didn’t think Aurors had enough time to keep up with the popular media… all except for Sirius.

She suddenly stopped, her brows furrowed. Had something just glittered on the ground? She slid into a crouch and brushed her fingers along the grass. She was sure that she had seen something… or was it only a trick of the eye?

And then her fingers touched cool metal. She brushed aside the grass and picked up a silver ring that had made its way close to the earth.

“What’s that?”

She looked up to see Sirius bent at the waist, his head tilted slightly as he examined the ring.

“It looks like a ring of some sort.”

His eyebrows rose. “A wedding ring? Who around here is close to being married?”

Lily stood and brushed the dirt from the bottom of her robes. She blew the dust away from the ring and let it glimmer in the sunlight. It seemed to be rather gender nonspecific, which meant it could’ve belonged to either a male or female.

“Have you ever seen this on anyone before?” she asked.

Sirius shook his head. “Nope. At least not from what I’ve seen. Maybe some people wear them on chains or something.”

Lily’s brows were furrowed in thought. All the safe houses were situated in areas that weren’t frequented by many other than the residential Aurors. It didn’t make sense for a ring to be on the ground… unless it belonged to an Auror.

“Bloody hell!”

Lily turned at the shout and saw Sirius gaping at empty space. She frowned at his reaction. “What?”

“There’s a bloody huge hole here.” He flicked his wand at the empty air before them and a light shimmer flickered in the air. And then Lily understood Sirius’ shock.

There was a large, gaping hole in the ward. It was large enough that one more well-placed spell could shatter all the wards around the safe house, rendering the residents open to attack. Was this what had happened to Frank’s safe house?

Sirius let out a low whistle and ran a hand through his hair. “Bloody hell, this is ridiculous.”

“How come we didn’t detect this?”

“Either someone blocked the warning system or it broke down without our knowing.”

Lily doubted the warning system would break down just like that. It had been carefully constructed so that there was no chance it could fail without sending out some kind of notice. She glanced down at the ring in her hand and saw it wink at her in reflection of the sunlight. The wink was almost evil, as if it was saying: “I know something you don’t.”

“I wonder if Moony discovered that the warning systems are down.”

“I’m sure he’ll be able to.”

Lily shifted the ring in her palm. The jewelry was extremely familiar and she knew she had seen it somewhere. But where? And on whom?


----*----



Lily gnawed on the ring’s owner the entire day. For some reason, the answer just didn’t seem to come to her. It bothered her that the memory was just out of reach. If only she could recall where she had seen the ring, then maybe they could find the traitor. She had concluded with Sirius and Remus earlier that whoever had the ring was probably the one who had created that big hole in the wards.

She was currently in the kitchen, mindlessly looking through the food cabinet for a snack. She had discovered long ago that eating helped her think. She was still in the middle of figuring out whether she should eat some Pumpkin Pastries when Tris practically waltzed into the kitchen. Her blue hair flopped around her and she grinned when she saw Lily.

“Hey, how you doing?”

“Hungry,” she replied. “What about you?”

Tris wrinkled her nose and nudged Lily aside so she could get access to the cabinet. “Blah. Boring stuff. We didn’t find anything special.”

Lily couldn’t help but glance surreptitiously at Tris’ fingers as she fiddled around with the food. She had a ring on her thumb and another two piled on her middle finger. The other hand displayed a rather flowery-looking ring on her index finger.

“Hey Tris?” When the girl turned around, Lily held out the ring she had found on the ground. “Is this yours?”

Tris peered at the ring and then glanced at her fingers. “Nope. I’ve got all of mine here.”

She nodded and pocketed the ring again. She hadn’t expected it to be Tris’.

“But it does look familiar.”

Lily’s head flew up. “You’ve seen it before?”

Tris lifted an eyebrow skeptically. “Yes I’ve seen it before. I do have eyes, you know. And better yet, I use them too!”

“Oh come on, Tris. This isn’t the time,” Lily said exasperatedly. “You could be the answer to everything.”

“That important? Wow. I’m not sure I want to tell you now. You’d probably kill me afterwards.”

Lily’s brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t really know who it belongs to,” Tris admitted sheepishly. “I just know I’ve seen it around before.”

Lily wondered faintly if choking Tris to death would be penalized by the Ministry. She could’ve said that it was only a slip of the hand, because honestly, she felt the urge to strangle the blue-haired girl.

Tris must’ve seen the look on Lily’s face because she started backing away slowly, a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans in her hands. “Okay now… I’m going to be going. Try to control yourself okay?” And then she fled, leaving Lily to fume after her.

But even though Tris hadn’t managed to come up with a name, she did confirm that the ring belonged to someone in the group. That idea alone made Lily even more antsy. There were only a few people that the ring could belong to, and she already had the top two suspects in mind. The only problem was, could she literally go up to Maxim and Aileen and ask them if the ring was theirs?

Lily started heading towards the common room. She needed a comfortable area to do a bit more thinking. When she entered the room, however, she found Alice sprawled on one of the long couches, her face in one of the decorative pillows. Frank was sitting in an armchair adjacent to the couch, his eyes closed and head tilted back.

She frowned in concern and seated herself on the edge of the couch Alice was lying on. “What’s the matter?”

There was a muffled groan.

Frank lifted his head and eyed her wearily. “That’s the problem. Nothing is the matter. There was nothing.”

“You couldn’t find anything?”

“No. We looked inside and outside but either they had cleaned everything up or they just didn’t leave anything behind.”

“Those sneaky bastards,” Alice growled, lurching up suddenly. “Wait till I get my hands on them.”

Lily patted her head sympathetically. “I’m willing to bet they went back right after we cleaned up. They’re not stupid enough to let possible evidence destroy their plans.”

Frank nodded slowly. “We figured as much.”

Alice pulled herself up and crossed her arms with a scowl. “I’m going to figure this out even if it kills me. It just doesn’t make sense. How could a safe house be breached?”

A sudden thought came to Lily’s mind and she quickly told Frank and Alice of her findings with Sirius earlier that day. They listened with rapture, and when she was done, Alice jumped out of her seat, literally spewing fire.

“Who the hell would be stupid enough to do such a thing?” she shouted, punching the air with a finger. “How dare you think we’re stupid enough to not detect it? You coward! Show yourself!”

Frank grabbed Alice’s arm just as she was about to go rampaging through the house and pulled her back. She was still shouting at the top of her lungs, but he maintained a firm hold on her.

“How did the warning system break?” he called out to Lily.

“I don’t know. We’re waiting for Remus to get back with that information,” she replied.

Alice suddenly stopped flailing and turned to Lily. Her eyes were wide. “Do you think the same thing happened to Frank’s safe house?”

Lily nodded slowly. “It could be a possibility.” She had been entertaining that thought the moment Alice mentioned the word ‘breach’.

Frank’s brows furrowed. “But who?”

“Are you certain everyone was as reliable as you thought they were?”

He rolled his eyes. “Come on, Lily. Just because you guys have a traitor to deal with doesn’t mean every Auror group has one.”

“But you still can’t rule out the possibility,” Alice interjected.

He sighed. “Yeah, I know. I’d just rather not think badly of them, seeing as they’re all gone now.”

Lily grimaced and she couldn’t help but agree. It was always disheartening when the people you trusted betrayed you. She took out the ring from her pocket and fiddled with it, flipping it between her fingers. And whoever this person was, she didn’t think the result would make anyone very pleased.

Lily was startled when Alice suddenly leaned over and rested her chin on her shoulder. She was peering at the ring. “Hey, isn’t that someone’s ring?”

“You know whose this is?”

Alice frowned. “I think it’s-”

Aileen walked into the room. “Hey, have you guys seen-”

“Aileen!” Alice shouted, making everyone else in the room jump. “It’s Aileen’s! I knew had seen it before. It was just taking me a while to match a face to my thoughts.”

Lily turned around. Aileen was frozen, perhaps from shock, perhaps for some other reason. But right at that moment, Lily had never felt more disappointed in someone in her life.

She slowly lifted the ring. “This is yours?”

Aileen smiled. “Yeah it is.” She reached out and took it. “I’ve been looking for it for quite some time. I thought Sirius hid it as a prank again or something.”

Lily struggled to steady her breathing. She had to be calm. She had to be rational. “Aileen, do you know where I found that ring?”

She slowly shook her head. “No.” And then she let out a little light chuckle. “Why do I feel like I did something wrong?”

Lily’s smile was tinged with bitterness. “Because you did.”

Both Alice and Frank were looking from Lily to Aileen and back again. Frank looked extremely confused, but Alice’s eyes were narrowed. She seemed to have caught onto the problem rather quickly and was looking at Aileen with a gleam of distrust in her eyes.

“What did you do, Aileen?” she asked.

Aileen frowned. “What are you talking about?” She turned to look at Lily. “What do you mean I did something wrong? What did I do?”

Lily stood up. “Let’s take this to James’ room, shall we? He deserves to know the truth.”

Aileen was growing frustrated. “What truth?”

Alice stood up as well. “Even though I’m not fully aware of what’s going on, I’m inclined to find out. Let’s go.” She grabbed Aileen’s hand and started pulling her up the steps, despite the girl’s protests. Lily exchanged a look with Frank and beckoned him to follow.

Frank’s eyebrows were way up in his hairline. “What the hell is going on here?”

“Possible traitor,” Lily replied grimly.

He sounded extremely exasperated and a tad tired. “Since when did the trust between Aurors die out?”

“Since Voldemort.”

They had now reached James’ room and Alice unlocked the door. She dragged Aileen in and Lily and Frank followed, only to see that Sirius and Remus were already there, speaking to James.

They stopped their conversation when they saw everyone file in.

Sirius lifted an eyebrow. “Is this some impromptu group meeting that I don’t know about?”

“In a way,” Alice said promptly. She transfigured a teacup into a couch and seated herself on it, pulling Aileen down with her. “We’ve come to sort things out.”

Lily seated herself on the armrest next to Alice. She frowned when she saw that James was looking at Aileen, his eyes narrowed and his head tilted slightly, as if they were engaged in secret conversation. She knew it shouldn’t have, but the fact that they were able to communicate with each other without words bothered her slightly.

She cleared her throat and she saw James break his connection with Aileen to look at her. She spared him a look and then turned to Aileen. “Do you want to know what Sirius and I were doing this afternoon?”

Aileen stared at her.

“We went to check on the protective wards around the safe house.” Lily watched Aileen’s face, which remained neutral. “And then we found one spot in the wards that was completely torn down. Completely.”

She was now standing directly in front of Aileen. “Do you need me to tell you where I found your ring?”

Aileen was tense. Her hands were clasped around each other tightly. “You don’t mean to say… you’re trying to accuse me of…”

“I’m not trying to,” Lily said bluntly. “I am.”

“You’re accusing me when you don’t even have all the facts.”

Lily scoffed. She crossed her arms and shook her head. “Are you really trying to weasel out of it? Are you honestly going to attempt to deny your connection to it?”

Before Aileen could say anything, however, James spoke up. He looked slightly alarmed and a little confused, but when he glanced at Aileen, his gaze was firm, as if telling her that he was going to back her on this no matter what.

“Listen, Lily, maybe you should calm down for a second.”

She was incredulous. “Calm down? James, did you not hear what I said? Don’t you understand the situation?”

“I heard you and I understand you. But I think you’re jumping to conclusions.”

“I’m jumping to-”

“Yes,” James said firmly. He walked towards her and placed both hands on her shoulders. “Think about it. If Aileen did break the wards, why would she go around asking for her missing ring?”

Lily twitched. “How was she to know where she dropped it?”

“But if she was guilty, she wouldn’t overlook the possibility of losing it outside.”

She shook her head and stepped out of his hold. “That’s just your excuse for her, James. You know that.”

Now he was the one who sounded exasperated. “Lily…”

“Okay, okay, let’s stop right here before we get into a needless argument,” Sirius intervened. He threw his hands into the air as a gesture of peace. “Aileen is right here. Why don’t we just ask her for the truth?”

Remus nodded. “Aileen?”

Aileen sighed. “I know some of you won’t believe me if I say I don’t know why my ring was there. But I really have no idea. I just remember taking it off to take a bath, and the next thing I know, I can’t find it anymore.”

Alice lifted an eyebrow. “You’re right. I’m finding it hard to believe you.”

“But why would you automatically think I’m the culprit?”

“There’s no other explanation,” Lily said promptly. “Believe me when I say that I have nothing against you personally, Aileen. But if you are the traitor, I’m sure that I’m speaking for everyone when I say that we won’t let you get away with it.”

“But I didn’t-”

“Give me proof that you didn’t.”

Aileen suddenly jumped out of her seat, her eyes wild. She reminded Lily of a cornered animal. “I can’t give proof that I didn’t because I don’t even know how it happened! Why can’t you give me the benefit of the doubt?” She jabbed a finger at James. “You guys all willingly believe that James didn’t betray us but why-”

“Oh don’t you dare bring James into this,” Lily snapped, fully incensed. “You’re his best friend and yet you refused to give up even the tiniest bit of information to prove that he’s innocent! How can you even expect us to believe you?”

“Hey!” James grabbed Lily’s arm. “Don’t go there, all right? That has nothing to do with her.”

She couldn’t believe her ears. Was James defending Aileen? “What do you mean this has nothing to do with her? You obviously did something for her that got you into this trouble. If she’s a true friend, she’d explain!”

“You don’t know the whole story. Stop jumping to conclusions.”

Now Lily wanted to hit him. She wrenched away from his hold. “Then tell me the bloody story, James! Go on, tell all of us.” Her arm swept the room. “Maybe one of you could be kind enough to let us know what’s been happening around us so we aren’t all stuck in the dark!”

James seemed to realize that he had hit a nerve. His face softened and he reached a hand out cajolingly towards her. “Lily, I didn’t mean…”

“Lily is right, you know,” Sirius said. He looked at James, dark eyes serious. “We’ve been trying to find a way to convince Mad-Eye of your innocence, but you and Aileen are hiding key information from us. How can you expect us to help you when you won’t let us help you?”

Aileen was trembling by now.

James exhaled and shook his head. “It’s not my place to say anything.”

Alice turned to Aileen. “I guess you’re the only one who can help us out here.”

There was a lengthy silence in the room. Aileen was biting her lip so hard that Lily thought it would bleed. Her eyes were wide and glistening with unshed tears, as if she was undergoing a serious mental debate about whether or not she should say anything.

Lily suddenly felt a pang of guilt. It seemed that what Aileen was going through was definitely a traumatizing experience, one that Lily wasn’t sure she was completely entitled to hear. But there was more than just Aileen’s feelings on the line. There was James’ innocence, the breach in the wards, and most important of all, the identity of the traitor. And at the moment, all this relied on Aileen’s story.

James was at Aileen’s side, his eyes worried. Wordlessly, he pulled her into a hug and whispered something into her ear.

Alice glanced at Lily, her eyes troubled. “Are you okay?”

Lily wanted to say that she was most certainly not okay, that she couldn’t believe James was being so intimate with Aileen. But Aileen seemed to be going through a mental breakdown, and she was one of James’ best friends. James was never one who would let his friends suffer alone.

“Yeah,” she finally replied, her smile strained. “I’m fine.”

James had his arms around Aileen for at least another minute. He ran his hand through her hair soothingly and said something quietly, something that made Aileen’s eyes light up.

Lily sucked in a deep breath and willed the sudden surge of jealousy down.

Finally, James pulled away and Aileen took in a deep breath. Her gaze swept past everyone in the room. And then she began to talk.

“As you may or may not know, I was captured by Death Eaters two years ago. Conditions in the cells were horrible and we went days without food or water. Occasionally, Death Eaters would come and visit, and when they did, they tortured us for information.”

Aileen took a shaky breath.

“It was… it was maddening. I had lost count of how long I was there and I had pretty much forgotten everything and everyone. I would hear screams at night and wonder when they were going to come for me. Sometimes, when the pain became too much, I would say something, anything, just to get them off my back.

“And to make sure I wasn’t lying, they’d repeat the question over and over again. I almost always forgot what I had said towards the end of it and then they’d go at it again. For the remainder of the time in the cells, I was always half conscious, half aware of what was going on. I think the Death Eaters thought I was on the verge of death and so they stopped coming for me or paying me any attention.”

Aileen looked towards James then and her eyes held warmth. “And that’s when James and his dad came to rescue me.”

He returned her smile encouragingly. There was a period of silence as everyone tried to digest Aileen’s story. Lily had to admit that she was horrified. While James had told her what Aileen had looked like when he had found her, he hadn’t gone into detail. And now that Aileen had, Lily couldn’t help but feel her heart go out for the poor girl. She had been through so much.

“After I was rescued, it took me a while to get back into the swing of things.” She paused then, as if she didn’t want to continue. “It… it was during this time that I realized… that I realized…”

“Repeated use of the Cruciatus Curse wears the body down. Aileen has panic attacks every time she sees a battle or every time she’s in one,” James said quietly. Aileen sank down into a chair, her head in her hands. “She has to take a potion to relax her nerves or else she won’t be able to fight properly. That’s what I went to get the day Frank’s safe house was attacked.”

Lily’s eyes widened. Alice even let out an audible gasp and Frank had to cover her mouth before she made even more shocked noises. Sirius and Remus stayed still, though Lily could see the worry on their faces. And as much as she didn’t want to admit it, Aileen’s reason for not telling her made sense. If Moody heard about this, it was pretty much guaranteed that Aileen would be forced to go on leave, or until she was cured.

A thought suddenly occurred to her. “Moody can hear everything that goes on in this room.”

Aileen’s eyes widened before she let out a sniffled hiccup.

“We’re going to make Mad-Eye see reason,” James said adamantly. “Aileen performs perfectly well after she’s taken the potion. It’s no reason to stop her from being an Auror.”

Lily nodded slowly and the room was immersed in silence again. She was in turmoil. While Aileen’s story sufficiently confirmed that James wasn’t the traitor, was the story enough to wipe away all her doubts regarding Aileen? What about the ring that she had found?

Alice must’ve had similar thoughts. “But that doesn’t explain why Aileen’s ring was where it wasn’t supposed to be.”

Sirius nodded. “I don’t think Aileen’s the traitor, but what the hell is up with that ring?”

Remus sounded thoughtful. “Did you take a walk on the grounds?”

Aileen shook her head. She had cleaned herself up in the duration of silence and was now looking more like her regular self. “I’m really not sure. I’m thinking someone stole it from me, and when they were breaking down the wards, they accidentally dropped it.”

Frank’s eyebrows rose. “You’re saying someone’s trying to frame you?”

“Not necessarily. They could’ve dropped it on accident and it was just dumb luck that it happened to be right when he or she was breaking the wards.”

Though Aileen’s explanation made perfect sense, Lily couldn’t help but question its truthfulness. There was just an odd feeling in the pit of her stomach that she couldn’t fully explain.

“But who would want your ring?” she asked. “The only people who would have access to it is the eight of us, and I just have trouble imagining-”

“Lily, let it go.” It was James.

She turned to him, her brows knitted. “What? Let it go?”

“Yes,” he said firmly. “Forget about it. Let your suspicions of Aileen go. Now that you know the truth, they’re unfounded.”

“Then how do you explain the ring?”

“I believe her.”

And Lily knew, without a doubt, that he did. She could see it in his eyes and the way he spoke. And the sad thing was, he would probably believe Aileen no matter what she said. She could’ve told him that the grass was purple and he would find it somewhere in him to believe it, no matter how far-fetched it was.

It was this realization that hurt Lily the most. She knew she was being a little paranoid, but to fully excuse all the evidence that something strange was happening was not something James would regularly do. But he was doing it now, and it was for Aileen.

She smiled, almost bitterly. “All right. Fine.” It didn’t matter if James believed Aileen. She would figure this out on her own.

She gave her friends brief nods before she turned to walk out the door. But James was suddenly there, his hand on her arm.

“Where are you going?”

“Out,” she said shortly.

He frowned and his hand tightened slightly on her arm. “Stay, please?” And then his voice lowered. “I haven’t talked to you in so long.”

“Because you were too busy talking to Aileen?” Lily didn’t even bother keeping the bitterness out of her voice. It wasn’t completely her fault that she was jealous.

James looked troubled. “I…”

She took that as an affirmative. “Then what do you need me for when she’s already here?” And with that said, she stormed out the door, slamming it shut in her wake.


----*----



Author's Note: So now we finally know what James and Aileen were hiding. Were you all surprised? People have had a few guesses, and I have to say, they were all considerably accurate :) Have fun reading and please review!


Chapter 9: The Tell Tale Sign
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9: The Tell Tale Sign


Lily seated herself on the kitchen countertop, mentally exhausted.

After Moody had returned from the Ministry, he had called everyone to the common area, including James. He then proceeded to lecture on constant vigilance and spent a good amount of time yelling about the broken wards, the traitor and anything else he could yell about.

After further speculation, Moody had finally realized that James wasn’t the traitor and agreed to stop his confinement. The Marauders had done a little impromptu jig in the room, much to everyone else’s amusement, until they realized that there were still more pressing matters to deal with.

Moody had questioned Aileen’s ability as an Auror, as expected, and James had risen to the occasion and defended Aileen until he was practically blue in the face. Lily had to admit that her jealousy had soared to unpredictable heights during that period of time, but as a testament to sheer willpower, she hadn’t done or said anything about it and managed to keep up a friendly face throughout the entire event. She had even put in a word or two for Aileen. Moody was finally overruled by the rest of the Aurors and decided with resignation that Aileen could still remain an active Auror as long as she didn’t do anything to mess the rest of the group up.

And now that everything else was covered, they had to deal with the traitor problem. She scratched her head. While James had vehemently denied that Aileen could be a traitor, she still had her doubts. And it was her doubts that led her to the kitchen, where she could sit and think the situation over.

If the traitor was Aileen or Maxim, they had to leave some kind of evidence behind. Aileen’s ring was one thing, but what about Maxim? Was he so perfect as to plan everything without being seen and with no mistake? It was either that or he just wasn’t the traitor to begin with. But she couldn’t dismiss him so quickly, not when…

She felt a presence behind her and then a pair of strong arms wrapped around her. She didn’t have to turn to know who it was.

“What are you doing all alone here?” James murmured, pressing a kiss to her temple.

Lily extracted herself from him, ignoring the furrow in his brows. She had more important matters to focus on at the moment. She didn’t want to be distracted by James and by the anger she would undoubtedly feel if she looked at him and remembered how close he and Aileen had been.

“I’m just thinking,” she finally replied.

He let out a faint chuckle and shifted so that he was in her line of sight again. “Thinking and ignoring me at the same time?”

“I haven’t been ignoring you,” Lily said, as mildly as she could. She even offered him a small smile, though she knew that he could see through it. “You’ve just been busy.”

James shook his head. He picked her up, ignoring her yelp of astonishment, and set her down a little ways from where she was originally sitting so he could sit beside her.

“Don’t try to pretend you haven’t walked out of rooms just because I walked into them.” He gave her a look that suggested she shouldn’t and couldn’t argue with him. “I just want to know why.”

She scoffed. Loudly. Was it not obvious? Why were boys so daft sometimes? “If you can’t figure it out for yourself then you’re just an idiot.”

If James was affected by her insult, he didn’t show it. “So you admit that you’ve been avoiding me.”

“So what if I have been?”

“I doubt it’s very normal for a guy’s girlfriend to run away from him. Shouldn’t she be running towards him instead?”

She covered her mouth with a hand and feigned surprise. “You have a girlfriend? Oh my, what news! How come I didn’t know about this?”

Frustration was apparent on his face. “What are you talking about, Lily?”

“Well, gee, I don’t know.” Her mouth just couldn’t seem to stop. She knew she shouldn’t have talked to him, and now that she had, she wanted to dump all her unhappy thoughts from the past few days on him. A part of her was convinced that he deserved it, but the other part knew that she was just overreacting. But now that he was in front of her, acting like the daft boyfriend he was, she just couldn’t help it. “Maybe it’s because you’ve been focusing all your attention on someone else these past few days?”

James sighed. Lily wondered if he finally understood what she was getting at, but when he opened his mouth, she knew that it was hopeless.

“If you’re talking about Aileen-”

“Oh of course not. I was talking about Sirius,” she said sarcastically.

He ran a hand through his hair. “Lily, I know I haven’t been spending as much time as I should with you. But Aileen needs support right now.”

Lily closed her eyes and took a big breath. “I know, James. I know. She needs support. She just went through the traumatizing possibility that she might lose her job. She has panic attacks whenever she enters a fight of some sort. I know.”

“Then…”

“But you’re my boyfriend, not hers.” She knew she was sounding incredibly possessive now, but she really couldn’t help it. “I get it that you’re supporting her and I understand… believe me, I do. You guys are best friends… it’s only natural. But the fact that you’re ignoring me-”

“I am not ignoring you,” he protested vehemently. His lips were pressed into a thin, tight line. “You’re the one who’s been avoiding me. How am I supposed to spend time with you if you won’t let me?”

Lily jumped off the counter in a burst of anger and crossed her arms, her eyes narrowed. “Haven’t you ever thought that you hurt my feelings?”

James faltered. He looked at her, a peculiar look in his eyes. It was as if he had never considered the possibility, and the realization made her snort. It was rather annoying that he expected her to always remain headstrong no matter the circumstance.

“I…”

“Right.” She turned to leave then, but unlike what had happened the previous day, he didn’t let her go.

“Lily, come on. Can’t you just let this one go? I don’t want to argue with you right now.”

She nodded. “That’s a splendid plan. I don’t really want to talk to you either. Now let go of my arm, please.”

James shook his head and tightened his hold. His lower lip was stuck out slightly and it looked like he was pouting. It was a rather lovable sight to behold, but Lily couldn’t help but remember the way he looked at Aileen, that particular spark in his eyes…

“If I let you go you’ll leave,” he said.

“You’re not wrong,” she replied.

James let out a groan and tipped his head back in exasperation. When he looked at her again, there was an angry spark in his eyes. His hands were clenching and unclenching at his sides, and Lily wondered if he wanted to hit her. She knew he wasn’t that type of guy, but he had told her more than once that she often exasperated him beyond anything he had ever experienced.

“Lily,” he finally said, voice patient. “I know you’re mad at me, but I’m trying to tell you that there’s no reason to be. I haven’t done anything to betray you.”

“Oh so we’re thinking that far already, are we?” she fumed. “Why didn’t you say so earlier?” Her fist lashed out, but he grabbed it before it could meet its intended target.

“Bloody hell. Just listen to me for one damn second!”

She wrenched her hand away from him. “No. And frankly, I don’t want to.”

He was incredulous. “You’re angry with me just because I supported a friend in her time of need?”

“Of course not!” Lily shouted, as if his suggestion was absolutely preposterous. “I’m perfectly fine with you supporting her. But what you did with Aileen went far beyond normal support. You were hugging her, whispering things into her ear, stroking her hair-”

“I was comforting her,” he retorted. “What, am I not allowed to do that now?”

“Not when it comes to Aileen!”

James shook his head, his lips curled with something akin to disgust. “I don’t even know why I’m arguing with you about this. You’re being completely unreasonable.”

“Unreasonable?” Incensed, she shoved him with all her force, sending his back crashing against the cabinets. “Unreasonable? Who’s the one giving his undying support for someone without all the evidence? Who’s the one hugging another girl when his girlfriend is in the same room?”

His teeth flashed. “Because unlike someone, I know how to trust.”

Lily stepped back, her chest heaving. “Is that what you think?”

His reply was sharp. “It is.”

“Fine. Just fine.” She stormed out the room without sparing him another glance.


----*----



Lily adamantly avoided James for the rest of the day. The moment she heard his voice or even a mention of his name, she left the room and went to seek quiet elsewhere. But since she didn’t want to stay in her room the entire day, she headed outside. It was dangerous to a certain degree, but it was better than watching James and Aileen sitting on the same couch, conversing under their breaths.

She breathed in deeply when she stepped outside and felt a sense of bliss when the sun hit her face. It wasn’t quite winter yet but the weather had chilled slightly. Still, the day was nice enough for a walk, and a walk was exactly what she needed. She had to calm her temper.

Lily picked up a particularly large branch that she had found on the ground and swung it to and fro as she walked. It whacked against the bushes that she passed and she took the opportunity to scan the perimeter to make sure that there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. And that was when she saw the owl.

It looked like an ordinary owl, with its tawny feathers and black eyes. But when she looked closer, she saw that the animal was in pain. There were splatters of blood on its wings and it was hooting softly.

Lily frowned and gently picked it up, examining the wings. If she was right, the unsuspecting owl had flown into a ward. Her frown suddenly deepened. If it had flown into a ward, it couldn’t have been able to fly much further considering the damage to its wings. And since the owl had fallen here, it clearly meant that the ward was somewhere close to the safe house.

Or maybe even protecting the safe house.

But that hardly made any sense. All owls that the Aurors owned and all classified owls had already been screened and the wards had been designed to let them through. The fact that this owl had been blocked meant that it was foreign.

Lily quickly checked and noticed a note attached to the owl’s leg. The words ‘Maxim Caden’ were scrawled on the top. Did it mean that the owl was Maxim’s? But no, she had seen his owl before… a dark-feathered serious-looking animal. Then this meant that Maxim was communicating with someone not in the Auror circle.

She had just unraveled the note when the doors to the safe house swung open and Maxim charged out, his hair mussed and eyes wide. His expression was something between shocked and horrified and he froze when he saw Lily kneeling on the ground with the owl.

He approached her slowly and offered her a faint smile. “Hey.”

Lily nodded. “Hello.”

“I see you’ve found my mail.” He gestured towards the bird in her hands. “I’ve been in contact with one of my interviewees. I forgot to tell him that we have wards protecting against anonymous owls.”

Her smile was tight. “That’s all right. It’s good that I just happened to be taking a walk then.” She handed him the owl carefully, making sure that the note went with the animal. “How are the interviews going anyway?”

“Not that great,” he admitted. “Many people didn’t see anything clearly enough to say, and those who did don’t want to say anything in fear that they’ll be jeopardizing their lives.”

“I wish you luck then. I’m sure Moody wasn’t expecting too much when he gave you and Aileen the assignment.”

Maxim nodded. “Yeah, I guess.” He turned to go, but then as if a thought suddenly occurred to him, he turned back around and offered her an apologetic smile. “Lily, about before… I never meant to argue against you all the time. It’s just… I guess our views differ on many things and…”

Lily shook her head, cutting him off. “It’s all right, Max. We all have our off days. My actions weren’t always rational either.”

His smile was hesitant. “Yeah.” He lowered his gaze towards the ground for a moment and then he bit his lip. “I guess I’ll see you around. I’m going to go answer this and see if I can get a bit more information.”

“All right,” she replied. They bid each other farewell before he headed back indoors.

Lily ran a hand through her hair, feeling rather overwhelmed. It didn’t take a genius to know that something was wrong with Maxim. He was acting extremely odd and she was willing to bet that the note wasn’t from his interviewee at all. But the question was, who was it from and why was he so anxious about it? The normally calm and unruffled Maxim had practically charged outside, as if scared that the note would fall into someone else’s hands. Just what was he hiding?

She was still thinking about the situation when the doors to the safe house opened again and Dorcas and Marlene walked out. They stopped their conversation when they noticed Lily and smiled at her.

“What are you doing out here?” Marlene asked.

Lily shrugged. “Just thinking.” That seemed to be one of her popular responses lately.

“About what?” Dorcas seated herself on the edge of a planter and brushed her blonde hair back. “Is there something going on between you and James that we don’t know about?”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s been talking to Aileen nonstop ever since that meeting we had with Moody earlier. It’s as if they’re plotting some unspeakable thing together.”

Lily’s head jerked up at the word ‘plotting.’ “You think they’re planning something?” She tried to ignore the painful tug of her heart.

“No, I don’t think so,” Marlene said. She leaned against the wall in front of Lily and Dorcas. “He doesn’t seem very happy. It almost seems as if he’s trying to get back at someone or something.”

Lily tried to keep her face expressionless, though her heart was pounding against her chest. Was he getting back at her for accusing him of having some kind of relationship with Aileen? And since she had accused him of it… was he really going to do what she had said? And that involved… that involved cheating on her. But James wouldn’t do that, would he?

“James and I are just in the middle of a fight,” she finally said, answering Dorcas’ earlier question. “We’re kind of mad at each other at the moment.”

Marlene let out a small giggle, her eyes bright. “The two of you are cute in your own way. I’ve never seen a couple fight as much as you guys do.”

“Yeah it’s great,” Lily said dryly.

Dorcas must’ve noticed her sullen expression because she patted her on the arm comfortingly. “Don’t worry about it, Lily. Really. James isn’t an idiot. He’ll soon see that he’s being an idiot and come crawling back to you, begging for your forgiveness.”

“That doesn’t seem to be likely, at least not from what you just said.”

“Stop being so pessimistic,” Marlene admonished.

Lily smiled at the two girls. “Thanks guys. I appreciate it.” Her eyes trailed to the ground, where a few specks of blood from the owl that she had given Maxim were still present. She suddenly remembered something. “Hey, do the two of you know what’s going on with Max?”

Marlene frowned and tipped her head. “No. Is there something wrong with him?”

“He just received an anonymous owl earlier. He said it’s from an interviewee, but his expression seemed… off. I don’t know for sure, but he was rather out of character.”

Dorcas nodded. “I agree. He’s a little too jumpy these days.” She frowned then. “An owl, you said? Did it bring a note?”

“It did, but Max got here before I had the chance to read it.”

“Well that’s no good.” Dorcas rubbed her chin thoughtfully. She was staring into the distance, looking pensive. “Is there a possibility that we can see the letter? Sneak into his room?”

Marlene shook her head. “I doubt it. Max probably destroyed it as soon as he read it if it’s something he doesn’t want other people to see.”

Lily blinked from a sudden realization. “What about Aileen? She would have an idea, wouldn’t she? They’re working together, which means she should know if there’s any information from the interviewees.”

Without waiting for Dorcas and Marlene’s nod of affirmation, she jumped off the edge of the planter and rushed back inside. From what Dorcas and Marlene had said, she assumed that James and Aileen were in the common area, and was rewarded when she saw the two sitting on the loveseat.

“Aileen!”

Aileen jumped, her eyes wide. “Lily?” She took one look at Lily’s harried expression and her brows knitted in concern. “What’s wrong?”

“When you and Max interviewed people, did you get any good information in return?”

Aileen thought for a minute. “Not really. There were a few people who were willing to say some things, but there was nothing satisfactory enough that would be of use to us.”

Lily gnawed on her bottom lip. “Do you know if Max has any form of correspondence with any of his interviewees?”

“Of course. We both told them to send us any more information they gather.” Her expression morphed from concern to curiosity. “Is something the matter? Why are you suddenly so interested in this?”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. I’m just curious.” She ran a hand through her hair. There was the possibility that Maxim was speaking the truth then. But that still didn’t explain why he was so frazzled about it. It wasn’t as if a follow-up letter from an interviewee was something that ought to be hidden from everyone else.

It didn’t make sense. Something was missing… something vital. There had to be a reason.

James had gotten off the loveseat and was standing by Lily. His expression was a mixture between confusion, concern and a tinge of annoyance that still had yet to fade from their earlier confrontation.

“What are you thinking about? What’s wrong?”

Everything was wrong, Lily thought. Everyone was asking her that exact same question but she just couldn’t seem to give an adequate answer. There were too many questions and too little responses. Maxim’s behavior didn’t make sense… the hole in the wards didn’t make sense…

“Lily? Lily!”

She was jerked out of her thoughts by an insistent hand on her arm. She looked up to see James staring at her.

“You’re spacing out on me here,” he said quietly.

But she didn’t see James. She heard his voice instead, echoing inside her head again and again.

“If it’s through owl, there has to be a considerable amount of parchment spent on sending messages.”

“Mad-Eye tends to keep track of all information. But besides him, who else does it?”


And whom had she thought of?

Aileen and Maxim.

Maxim… Maxim… Maxim.

And then she looked at James, her eyes horrified. “James… oh Merlin…”

His concern was palpable now. She was gripping his arms tightly, her eyes impossibly wide. He grabbed her hands and noted with shock that they were ice cold. “Lily, what’s the matter? Tell me. What are you…”

Aileen had stood up by now as well. “Lily, are you all right? You look petrified.”

“No…” Her nails dug into James’ arm, her eyes focused on his face. “James, tell me! Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me it’s not true. Just say it!” She was halfway hysterical by now, her shaking uncontrollable. She had always had her doubts, but now that she was so close to finding the answer, she didn’t want to believe it.

“Lily! Snap out of it!” He was gripping her shoulders tightly, painfully, but she didn’t care. She could barely feel it. “Lily, please, what’s wrong? You’re scaring me.”

A sudden thud shook her out of her hysteria. She turned to see Sirius landing smoothly after jumping down five steps on the stairs, Remus right behind him.

He stopped and blinked. “Has everyone gone insane today or what?”

James had his arms wrapped tightly around Lily. “What are you talking about, Padfoot? Who’s going insane?”

“Well you have Lily here who looks like she’s just seen something horrific and then you’ve got Max who’s suddenly obsessed with burning incense.”

Lily did a double take. “Burning incense?”

Dorcas and Marlene walked in at that moment and Alice, Frank and Tris appeared from the kitchens.

“Yeah. He was burning something and muttering under his breath all the while. Maybe he’s secretly Buddhist and we didn’t know?”

Lily wanted to throw up. She knew that Maxim definitely wasn’t burning incense. Her gaze traveled to Dorcas and Marlene and she saw dawning suspicion in their eyes. But she wasn’t suspicious at all. She knew… oh Merlin she knew with a sudden clarity that she didn’t appreciate.

James leaned down. “Do you want to get out of here?”

She could only nod weakly. He said something to the others and she found herself being pulled outside. The breeze brushed her face and she was able to take a shaky breath, but it did little for her nerves.

He seated himself on the exact same planter that she had occupied just a few minutes ago and set her down on his lap. His arms were secure around her waist and she found his presence reassuring. “Lily, please, what’s going on? Tell me something, anything.”

“James…”

He shifted so he was looking directly at her and cupped her cheek gently with his palm. “What’s the matter?” he asked softly. “You’re only ever like this when you thought you did horrible on an exam or you realized something earth-shattering had happened. And since we’re no longer in Hogwarts, I’m assuming it’s the latter.”

Lily closed her eyes and buried her head into the crook of his shoulder. “I know, James. I know.”

He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “What do you know?”

“I know.”

And then he froze. Lily felt his body stiffen as the realization of what she said sank through him. She waited as he processed the thought and then she lifted her head to see his reaction.

He was looking at her with sheer incredulity. “You know.” It wasn’t a question.

“I do,” she whispered.

“Are you sure?” He didn’t ask her who it was, but she knew without a doubt that he did know. James had always been brilliant. “Do you have evidence?”

She shook her head. “Not yet. But I will find it. I will…” And as quick as her determination came, it went. She hid her face in her hands, her breathing uneven. “I just can’t believe… I mean it’s one thing to suspect but another thing to actually know.”

James gently pulled her hands away and pressed tender kisses to each of her knuckles. He let his lips linger for a moment before pulling away. “I know,” he murmured. “I know it’s hard.”

Lily stared at the ground for a moment, getting her thoughts back in order. When she looked up at him again, she was grim but determined. “All right, let’s do this. We need to find evidence and we need to do it as soon as possible.” She got off his lap and ran a hand through her hair, straightening it out. “Do you think everyone else knows about this?”

He shrugged. “I’m not sure. I don’t know how much everyone has guessed.”

“Then we’re just going to have to let them know,” she said resolutely. “And somehow come up with a plan without letting Max know about it.”

James nodded slowly. Lily turned to look at him. He seemed to be in deep thought about something else other than the problem with Maxim. Just as she was about to ask, he grabbed her hand and pulled her closer to him.

“So… are we okay?”

She didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “We have to be okay. We have a traitor to catch.”

He sighed and dropped her hand. “Which means we aren’t okay.”

“It’s not like you’re very upset about it,” Lily couldn’t help but say. “You were looking pretty comfortable with Aileen on that loveseat.”

“Does your jealousy have no bounds?” he asked exasperatedly.

Instead of being offended, Lily merely shrugged. She had long come to terms with the fact that she was indeed quite jealous, and now that she realized it, she was willing to admit it.

“You’re the one who’s continually feeding the jealousy.” She held out her hand. “Now come on. Let’s go before they think we’ve run off.”

James gave her a look of utter exasperation and annoyance before he grabbed her hand and allowed her to pull him up. He tugged her closer as they walked, a hand around her waist.

“You’re going to be the death of me, you know?” he whispered.

Lily couldn’t help but offer him a small grin. “Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


----*----



Author's Note: Quite a drama-filled chapter, isn't it? And yes, the culprit is finally revealed here :) You can consider this the end of the first "part" of the story and the beginning of the second. The next chapter will feature the Aurors' plan in capturing Maxim and provide more explanations as to how he did everything and got away with it. Thanks so much for continuing to stick with this story :) Chapter 10 should be a blast.

And before you leave, please review! Thank you :)

Chapter 10: Catching the Culprit
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10: Catching the Culprit


Lily was steadily growing more and more aggravated. She had been in Maxim’s room for the past fifteen minutes and had yet to find any incriminating evidence. The plan they had cooked up was straightforward, but the crucial bits were based on sheer luck, something Lily barely trusted with half her life, much less the lives of all the Aurors in her group.

But after a good two and a half hours of debate, it was the only viable option they had come up with.

Find condemning evidence. Confront Maxim. Proceed with the next appropriate action.

To their credit, Sirius and Remus hadn’t been very surprised by the news of Maxim’s betrayal. From their grim expressions, it looked as if they had suspected Maxim all along and was just waiting for confirmation. Tris, Aileen, Alice, and Frank had been wide-eyed with alarm, and Marlene and Dorcas had been shocked but not overly surprised. Nonetheless, the vote to oust Maxim had been unanimous, and they had all been assigned tasks to accomplish their goal.

And that was why Lily was currently snooping around in Maxim’s room, digging through anything and everything to see if he had accidentally left clues lying around. She knew the chances were slim since Maxim was such a meticulous person, but in his haste, he could’ve tripped up.

She rifled through the stack of parchments on his desk. There were order forms for books he had bought from Flourish and Blotts, a few personal letters from his family, and even an interview sheet from someone who had witnessed the attack on Frank’s safe house. Lily had to admit she was somewhat surprised he had actually gone through with his job. But then again, it was part of his cover, and who knew how long he had planned to stay undercover?

Lily had just moved from Maxim’s desk to his nightstand when the door suddenly opened. Her wand was in her hand in a flash, but she blew out a sigh of relief when she saw that it was only James.

He lifted an eyebrow when he saw her stance. “Were you really going to hex Max if he walked in right now?”

“Yes,” she admitted and then turned back to look at the nightstand. There wasn’t much, which was disheartening. Was Maxim so perfect that he didn’t even slip up? Just once?

James chuckled and closed the door, locking it behind him. Lily frowned. “What are you doing? Max is going to be suspicious if he comes back and finds that he’s locked out of his own room.”

“Wouldn’t it be worse for him to barge in on us digging through his belongings?” James moved towards the closet and slid the door open. He let out a grunt of disgust and Lily saw that Maxim’s closet was as orderly as everything else he owned. He had arranged his robes and shirts by color.

“But at least we’d have a chance to knock him out if we surprised him,” she pointed out.

James stopped sifting through the clothing and turned around. “Do you have so little faith in our abilities? You think we’d lose in a duel?”

She tensed when she heard his tone. It was borderline threatening, and she knew to tread carefully when he was in one of his moods. His nerves were clearly shot to hell, and if she wasn’t careful, this conversation could easily launch into a full-blown argument.

She mentally counted to three before speaking. “James, you know that’s not what I meant.”

He looked at her, his hazel eyes half-narrowed. It looked like he wanted to speak up, but then apparently thought better of it. James blew out a breath instead and raked a hand through his unruly hair. “I know, I’m sorry. I’m just tired.”

“We all are.” She started looking through the cabinet drawers. There was nothing of interest in the first two, but when she went to pull on the third one, it refused to budge. She tugged again, this time with both arms. “James?”

“What?”

“I need help. This drawer is stuck.”

He was at her side in a second and she stepped away so he could deal with it. He tried pulling it as well, but when that failed, he took out his wand. “Alohomora.”

Lily heard the lock click open and the drawer sprang free. She knelt down next to him and watched him pull out a thin box. It looked suspiciously like the boxes that contained wands at Ollivander’s.

James flipped it open, his lips curling in disdain when he saw the content. “Max has two wands.”

She swallowed. “Are you even allowed to have two wands?”

“Yes, as long as you can provide a legitimate reason to the Ministry.” He scrutinized the weapon in his hand. “Although, I can’t imagine how Max could’ve gotten away with this.”

“But why would he just leave an extra wand sitting in a drawer? Isn’t that a bit too obvious?”

“We never had any reason to believe that he would have two wands. He wouldn’t have had to hide it.” James sighed and slammed the drawer shut.

They both stood and he handed her the box. Lily watched as he took out his own wand and tapped the box, muttering something under his breath. Nothing happened at first, but then her eyes grew when she realized what he had done.

The spell that floated out of the tip of the wand was one that all Aurors recognized. “The Imperius Curse,” she whispered.

James nodded grimly. She took in a deep breath in an effort to calm her nerves. It was obvious that this was the wand Maxim used as a Death Eater. And from the looks of it, he had recently forced his will upon someone. Could it have been Aileen?

“This wand should be enough to prove that Max is the spy,” she said.

“No, it isn’t. The Imperius Curse is an Unforgivable, but the Ministry will exempt Max if he can prove that it was a special situation. This can be used as backup, but not as solid evidence.” James looked around the room, frustrated. “We need something else.”

“But we’ve pretty much looked through everything. What else can we hope to find?”

“Letters?” he suggested. He took the box from Lily and stuck it in the pocket of his robes. “We definitely know he had correspondence with the Death Eaters these past few days.”

Lily rubbed her temples. “He burned them all, remember?”

“A pensieve then.”

“Where would he possibly hide that? His closet?”

The doorknob suddenly rattled, interrupting whatever James was about to say next. Lily froze, and she cast him a horrified look. Had Maxim returned already? Why hadn’t anyone warned them?

But her worries were quelled when Alice’s voice filtered through the door. “Lily? James? Open the door. This is urgent.”

James had the door open in a flash and Alice was at the threshold, her cheeks pink and expression harried. But there was a glint of triumph in her eyes, a glint that gave Lily much more hope than she had thought could be possible.

“Max is on his way back. You two better put his room back in order and come with me. Tris has news for us.”

Lily whipped out her wand and magically set everything back in its place. She and James then followed Alice down the hallway and into Tris’ room, where everyone else had already gathered. The room was buzzing with excitement when Lily walked in.

Tris was waving a piece of paper in her hand. “I was patrolling the grounds when I saw Max release his owl. I made sure he was gone before I went after it.”

James snatched the letter from her. “Where’s the owl now?”

“I stunned it.”

Sirius walked into the room, Aileen closely behind him. “That’s no good,” he said, clearly having heard the tail end of the conversation. “Max will get suspicious if his owl doesn’t return. Obliviate it and then let it fly back to him.”

Tris nodded and disappeared. James growled when he finished scanning the letter and he practically threw it at Sirius, who was motioning for it.

Lily touched his arm. “What does it say?”

“Max told them about our broken wards,” he snapped. “He’s requesting to meet them in Blackthorn Woods tonight at midnight.”

Alice blinked. “That’s about ten kilometers west of here.”

“It’s deserted property,” Marlene said. She had been rifling through a large folder. “No one has any claim on the place, so that can either work in our favor or prove disastrous for us.”

Sirius crumpled the letter and tossed it into the air. The wad of paper flew in a perfect arch and landed right in Lily’s lap. She scowled.

“We’ll just have to risk it,” he said. “Although I, for one, don’t see the problem. The bastard pretty much set the stage for us. We just need to send a return letter agreeing to this little rendezvous and we can catch him red-handed.”

“But that’s the hard part,” Dorcas chimed in. She had tied her hair up in a ponytail today, making her blue eyes appear incredibly sharp. “None of us have seen what Death Eater correspondence looks like. How can we hope to mimic it correctly? They must use some sort of code for communication.”

“I can help.”

They turned to look at Aileen, who had remained silent until then. She smiled grimly when she noticed their stares. “I spent a good amount of time under Death Eater captivity, remember? They would sometimes show me their letters to taunt me. I don’t remember everything, but I know enough to make it sound believable.”

“All right then,” Sirius said, suddenly all business. He snapped his fingers and pointed at Aileen. “You, craft the letter and send it out. Alice, brainstorm possible traps to ensnare our dear Max. Marlene and Dorcas, go find us some realistic Death Eater robes. Prongs, you…”

He abruptly paused, his eyes narrowing when he saw James perched nonchalantly on the armrest.

James raised a brow. “Yes?”

“Wait a minute. Why am I doing all the delegating?” he complained. The finger he had raised wobbled slightly. “You’re the one who’s been in charge of this in the first place. You should be planning!”

The abrupt change of his mood was startling. Marlene and Dorcas exchanged amused looks and Alice barely stifled a giggle. James, however, was looking thoroughly unimpressed.

“Mate, you’ve gone bonkers,” he said.

Sirius shook his head wildly, sending his dark hair swishing across his face. “This is ridiculous. I can’t handle responsibility like this. I need to find Moony.” With a dramatic flounce, he stormed out of the room, sending the doors crashing to the walls. There was a moment’s pause as everyone watched him leave, and then the entire room burst into laughter.

“A dramatic Sirius,” James said, giving Lily a wry look, “is just what we need right now.”

She shook her head. “Your sarcasm isn’t helping, Potter.”

He flashed his pearly whites. “But honey, you love everything about me.”

Lily snorted but chose to dismiss the comment. Instead, she turned to look at the others, who had already started brainstorming for their respective roles. It was always intriguing to Lily to see just how effective the Marauders could be. No one had ever crowned them leaders, but one word from them could inspire a revolution.

It was a skill she had always struggled to master when she was Head Girl but had always come so easily to James and Sirius.

She looked at James just as the thought occurred to her, and found him focused on what appeared to be a very troubled Aileen. She was sitting on the couch next to the fireplace, staring at the crackling flames as if they would provide the solution to all her worries. Her brows were knitted in an attempt to recount what she had seen and heard while she had been held captive, but the experience was apparently proving to be taxing.

Lily blew out a sigh, already cursing herself for her soft heart. She couldn’t stand to see anyone upset, even if it was her potential rival, which was why she found herself giving James a very sharp nudge.

He stumbled forward. “What?”

She jerked her chin towards Aileen. “Go help her. It seems like she needs you.”

He looked startled for a moment, but then his features softened when he recognized what she was saying. His smile was kind when he turned back to her. “Aileen will be fine. She can take care of herself.”

Just as he said this, a small visible shudder passed through the girl’s shoulders.

“Or… not,” Lily muttered.

He sighed and tugged on his hair. “Oh Aileen…”

Oh Aileen, indeed. Lily wanted to yank on her own hair. Why did the girl have to have such a turbulent past? Why couldn’t she just be a normal rival?

“Just go. Don’t make me regret this.”

James’ smile was a borderline grimace. “Why do I have the feeling that I’m the one who’s going to regret this later?”

Yet even so, he pressed a warm kiss to her lips and walked away, his hand still in his unruly hair.

Lily shook her head and worked to suppress her jealousy when she saw Aileen’s frown bloom into a megawatt smile at James’ presence. She didn’t have time for this. She had work to do.


----*----



It was a quarter to midnight and the woods were deathly silent. Lily had cast numerous warming spells over herself so that her shivering wouldn’t give her away. She had been assigned lookout duty alongside Remus, Marlene, and Dorcas, and the four of them were spaced out around the edges of the small clearing they had designated as the meeting spot.

An owl hooted in a distant corner of the woods.

Lily glanced at her watch. Five till.

There was a rustle in the leaves above her and she glanced up to see Alice give Tris a light smack on the head. She pressed her finger to her lips urgently and the other two had the grace to look abashed before resuming their positions.

She checked her watch again. The second hand ticked on. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four…

There was the distinct sound of the pop of Apparition.

A hooded figure appeared in the exact coordinates that Aileen had dictated in the letter. He had his wand out, his movements still as he assessed his surroundings. Lily didn’t dare breathe too loudly. When it seemed that the figure was certain of his solitude, he lowered his wand and pulled his hood back.

Maxim’s brown hair glinted under the moonlight.

And that was the cue.

Two more pops shattered the silence and the cloaked figures walked into the small clearing. They stopped a couple of feet from Maxim, who had his wand raised again.

“Caden,” the one on the left said, and Lily was relieved to hear that she barely recognize the voice.

But Maxim apparently did. “Avery.”

“Your letter was a little too hasty for my taste,” ‘Avery’ drawled. He voice held just the right amount of impatience and boredom. “What’s got your panties in a twist?”

Lily rolled her eyes. That was so typically Sirius.

Maxim, however, didn’t seem to appreciate the humor as much as Lily did. “They’re catching onto me,” he admitted. “I don’t know how but Evans seems to have sniffed me out. She has the rest of them hot on my tail. I don’t have much time left. We need to attack soon.”

“Compromised already? I had thought you more capable than that,” James said. “Not tooting your own little horn anymore, are you?” He snickered then, and Lily had the impression that he was enjoying himself a little too much. “I’m sure the Dark Lord will be very pleased to hear of your incompetence.”

Maxim’s face was growing steadily redder. “Get off my back, Nott. This is not the time,” he snapped. “The wards to the safe house are weakened now. Gather me a group of capable Death Eaters and await my word.”

James and Sirius suddenly burst into laughter, the sound so loud that it startled Lily into taking a step back. From the faint rustle in the trees, it appeared that Alice and Tris had been equally as alarmed. What were the boys doing?

“Oh Caden, you’re a regular jester, aren’t you?” Sirius said. He strolled forward languidly, dark cloak swishing faintly with his walk, and stopped a mere two feet in front of Maxim.

“Let me make this clear to you,” he said. “We won’t be doing a single thing until you can guarantee our success. We saw how the Dark Lord dealt with the last group who failed to kill off Longbottom.”

“You’re just a coward then,” Maxim snapped. He was shaking now, whether from fear or fury Lily couldn’t tell.

Sirius leaned back. “Better a coward than a fool.”

She started. Sirius had sounded entirely too much like himself.

Maxim seemed to have caught on as well. He was suddenly on high alert, his wand raised. His eyes were wide in the gloom. “What did you just say?”

James’ wand was out in a flash. “Stupefy!”

Maxim threw himself to the right at the last minute, allowing the spell to zip past his ear and hit the nearby tree, charring the wood black. He was up in a flash and he threw up a protective spell instinctively.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Six months later and you still don’t recognize my voice? I’m hurt.”

Maxim’s face twisted as recognition lit in his eyes. “James.”

James’ smile was blinding in the darkness. He tossed off his cloak with a flourish, the movement seemingly frivolous, but his wand was up and ready. From the corner of her eyes, Lily saw Marlene prepare to move in, but caught the other girl’s eyes and shook her head firmly. Maxim had probably anticipated their presence, but they had no need to confirm his guess. The longer they kept Maxim under the impression that he was alone with James and Sirius, the better. They needed to lure him under Alice and Tris’ tree.

“Surprise!” James cried, sounding a little too happy for the situation.

Maxim, however, wasn’t pleased at all. In fact, he looked downright furious, and a little bit worried. “What the hell is going on?” he snapped. “Why are you here?”

“You know, we wanted to ask you the same question actually,” Sirius said. He was pacing a casual circle around Maxim, an action that served to make the man in the middle more anxious. “We sort of followed you here. We were kind of hoping you could provide some sort of insight into our midnight rendezvous.”

There was a short pause as they eyed each other, and then Maxim began to laugh. It was a cross between a cackle and a sound that bordered on insanity, both of which served to terrify Lily. She had not thought him capable of making such a noise, and it made her wonder just how dangerous he could actually be.

“Oh Sirius,” Maxim finally said, his tone belying his smile, “if only you were smart enough to figure it out for yourself.”

And then he made a dive for it. Maxim propelled himself towards the right, effectively dodging the invisible barrier that James and Sirius had formed, and made a beeline towards the western border of the forest.

James’ voice could be heard over everyone else’s shouting. “Sirius, go!”

Lily whipped around to see what Sirius was going to do, but the space next to James was empty. Instead, she saw a dark blurred figure charging off into the forest and she knew that Sirius had transformed under the guise of the darkness. She was relatively certain no one else in their Auror group knew that James and Sirius were Animagi, and she knew they would rather keep it a secret. In this case, it definitely was an added benefit.

Alice and Tris had jumped down from their tree, still carrying the supposedly foolproof net between them.

“What the hell just happened?” Tris yelled. Her hair was a dull gray to reflect her anxiety. “Why are we all just standing here? We can’t lose him!”

James shook his head. “Don’t worry, he won’t get very far. Sirius will have him back here in no time.”

Lily frowned. “And how will Sirius do such a thing? You realize that he has no wand?” She wasn’t saying it out loud, but she was desperately trying to convey the problem to James. Maxim had a wand, and no matter how fast or clever Sirius was, he was still going to be in animal form. There was no way an animal could take on a wizard, and a dark wizard at that.

Remus and Marlene were with them now, but one look at Remus told Lily he wasn’t worried at all. In fact, he was wearing a very complacent look on his face, as if he believed they had all the time in the world to chat. She didn’t understand it.

Alice was observing them through narrowed eyes. There was a shrewd look on her face, one that often reminded Lily of when her grandmother used to stare her down when she was being particularly naughty in her childhood.

“There’s something you’re not telling us,” she said.

“Not really,” James replied.

Lily glared at him.

Remus rolled his eyes and stepped in between the two subconsciously, as if he had already anticipated the stirrings of a fight and was trying to do his best to keep them under control. Lily briefly wondered if she was starting to get a little too predictable.

“Let’s settle down now,” he said. “There’s no need to get into an argument.”

Alice opened her mouth to argue again, but at that moment, they heard a victorious-sounding bark resonate throughout the woods.

Remus glanced at his watch. “That was quicker than anticipated.”

“Looks like Max wasn’t as smart as we initially gave him credit for,” James scoffed. He thrust his wand into the air and shouted, “Accio Shooting Stars!

There was a moment of silence as they waited with baited breath, and then twin brooms shot out from the darkness to hover in front of James and Remus.

Alice’s mouth was wide. “You had these prepared, didn’t you?”

James smirked. “Of course. You forgot who we were.” And then without warning, he grabbed Lily’s arm and hauled her onto the broom, eliciting a loud squeak. “Come on! We’ve got a Death Eater to catch.”

He sped off without another word.

They raced through the forest, dodging wayward branches as they flew. Lily tried to suppress her innate fear of anything that involved alarmingly high speeds and clutched onto James’ back as securely as she could.

They suddenly jerked to a stop, the action nearly sending Lily tumbling off the broom.

She stumbled off the deathly transportation device and caught sight of the muted figures in front of her, two of which were shrouded in darkness. Sirius had returned to his human form, his clothing immaculately replaced. But instead of the look of triumph she had expected, he was wearing a furious frown.

Her eyes averted to the left… and then she saw why.

Maxim was standing with his back to a tree, effectively shielding himself from behind. But he was smarter than Lily had thought; his wand was raised, directed at the temple of his hostage.

James cursed when he saw whom Maxim was holding.

Aileen’s figure was semi-hidden in the darkness. Her blonde hair glinted from the moonlight that filtered through the branches, giving her head an almost iridescent glow. She looked deathly pale, her lips pressed in a firm tight line. To Lily’s surprise, the girl wasn’t struggling. It looked as if she was frozen in fear.

“Remove the Anti-Disapparition jinx,” Maxim snarled. “Or else prepare to see Aileen dead.”

James immediately moved forward, but was forced to stop when Maxim dug his wand further into Aileen’s temple. She let out a muted cry. “Not another step, Potter.”

Remus landed at this point, quickly followed by Alice and Tris. Alice let out a gasp when she saw what was happening and Remus had to grab onto both hers and Tris’ arms to prevent them from taking further action.

Dorcas appeared on his right. “Keep Max distracted,” she whispered. “Marlene and I are going to contact Moody.”

Remus nodded and subtlety inched to the left, shielding Dorcas and Marlene’s figures as they slinked off.

Maxim was eyeing all of them with rising unease and suspicion. “Last chance,” he snapped.

Remus tipped his head, his voice calm and oddly soothing. “Don’t be stupid, Max,” he said quietly. “The odds are against you. There are six of us. You have no hope of escaping. So do the smart thing and release Aileen. You aren’t doing yourself any favors by hurting her.”

“Shut up, just shut up, Lupin!” He let out an enraged roar and threw his wand out, nearly slapping Aileen in the head with the ferociousness of his movement. “Expelliarmus!”

Remus ducked in the last second, but the momentum of his movement sent him crashing to the floor. Tris let out a scream and moved to retrieve her wand, but she was stopped when they heard a loud sucking noise in the air. There was an almost deafening crackle, and then a loud pop that they all knew signaled the removal of a warding spell.

A pause, as if an Immobulus had been cast… and then the spells came raining down. Jets of red, blue and violent purple flashed in the night sky, zapping trees and upturning the dark soil.

Alice’s scream could be heard in the din. “What the bloody hell is going on?”

Lily heard James curse loudly next to her. “Our jinx was lifted. The Death Eaters are here!”


----*----



Author's Note: Hello everyone! After a good two years I've finally returned to HPFF, with one goal and one goal only: to finish up all my WIP stories. Cast the Die is now my top priority and I'm hoping to finish this story within the year. Keeping my fingers crossed!

Since it's been so long, I would strongly suggest you go back and reread the previous chapter... or even the story itself :P Please let me know what you think! I'd love to hear back from all of you, especially after so long of a writing hiatus.

Thanks!!

http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com