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Chapter 38 : Chapter 38 - Lurking in the Shadows
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Lily rushed back into the main office room the moment she found that she was alone again. How in the world had she ended up alone in the DOM for the fifth time that day? She always tried to make sure there was at least one person floating around wherever she was at all times. Augustus Rockwood was still watching her like a hawk. She wouldn’t be surprised if he had placed little sensors that alerted him to her presence in the main rooms. Every time she turned around, he seemed to be right there. In fact, he was following her at that exact moment. She dreaded what might occur if he succeeded in cornering her, even here in the ministry. She quickly made her way back over to her desk, forcing herself to smile slightly at some of the other workers she passed so no one would be able to tell that her heart was racing and her senses were on high alert. How was she expected to research anything when she felt like she was being stalked at every corner in the maze that was the DOM?
She eventually saw her desk over to the right and felt instant relief. Her pace even sped up unconsciously. James had taught her how to ward her desk so there was no way anyone could even come close to her while she was in her space without the proper intentions. She may have had all sorts of charms on all of her paperwork and books, so much so that it looked as if everything on her desk was completely empty and worthless, but that was normal in the DOM. All of the workers in the DOM were equally protective over all of their work so she fit right in. Her use of a very powerful ward, however, was rather unusual. Lily didn’t care though. She knew that there was only one person who she didn’t want near her desk, and he was the only one who probably even noticed the ward’s presence— Augustus Rockwood, the one who was now also sitting back at his desk about two rows over looking back at her with a smug smirk.
She sank into her chair and immediately began looking over her paperwork, trying to remember to breathe easily. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that he was unnerving her, but at least when she was at her desk, she could feel safe. This torment occurred daily so it wasn’t like it was something new. She dropped her new book just to the right of her and immediately propped it open. It was like gold to her research. She was lucky to have gotten a hold of it when she had been surrounded by others. It had given her the time she had needed to charm it quickly and without alerting anyone, namely her stalker, to what she was interested in. She had been continuing her work in the love room and somewhat in experimental charms, but she had finally come to a snag in her research. Trying to utilize the force of love in a tangible form was turning out to be extremely difficult, next to impossible even. It had been bothering her for weeks, but she had finally had the epiphany she had been waiting for the other day which had allowed her to pull everything she had learned so far together. What she had come to realize was that the force of love would never be able to be pushed into a workable power unless one was under a threat; not only that, but the threat would likely not be against one’s own person, but rather against that of a third party. Love could only manifest tangibly as a defense. At the same time, the defensive action could come across as an offense, depending on the extent of the love for the one being defended.
She sank back into her seat, reading her new book furiously. There was really only one relevant chapter, but she was captivated. She read through it quickly, but she soon came to find that she had already taken into account most of the material she was reading about. This disappointed her slightly. The only new piece of information she had gotten from the material was that no person had been able to execute a demonstration of the power of love in a tangible format. The tests attempting to manifest the power of love had been mediocre and had come to no results, ultimately rendering the possibility of using love offensively or defensively practically null and void. Considering the circumstances that would be necessary to create the power could never have been induced in a closed room standardized for testing, this came as no surprise to Lily. Her principle changed all of that. She slowly smiled to herself when she realized that she was likely the only person ever to have witnessed such a display of power and had had the brains to put it together. James Potter, ever her inspiration. If others only knew what she was now aware of…
Her smile fell when she thought back to the night she and James had escaped from Voldemort. That had been just over four months ago now. She would never have put her work together had that night not happened, but it was not something she ever wanted to think about again. James had been able to use magic far surpassing his own energy levels at the time all at her expense. Yes, James has always been a powerful wizard, but after reevaluating that night and everything James had said to Voldemort that evening, she had suddenly had her epiphany. James must have been able to manifest his love in a tangible form so he could defend her. He was in no state to have completed the magic he had completed that night. If the force of love could only work in a life or death situation, it was no wonder why no one had been able to ever witness, document, or experiment with love tangibly. Sure, everyone was aware that the force of love was something to be reckoned with, but most laughed at the possibility of it even coming close to something that could be useful. As much as she wanted to prove everyone wrong, she didn’t really want to document her findings just yet, especially not when times were as they were. If Augustus Rockwood were ever to read about what she knew, it would give way too much information to the wrong people. No, this was something she was going to have to keep to herself.
Lily’s head immediately shot up upon hearing the sudden airy, carefree voice so close to her person. The wide and innocent blue eyes she found observing her rather closely caused her to relax instantly. “Hello, Arielle.”
Arielle Lovegood, considered beyond strange to most, tended to only come and speak with her. Lily didn’t really mind much though because talking to Arielle was always interesting, even if she sometimes had to be polite with the woman’s more…unusual beliefs. While she thought the woman with the long, flowing blonde hair was a bit different, she didn’t judge. Arielle was the only other woman in the DOM under the age of thirty so she hadn’t wanted to alienate the only other woman remotely in her age group. Arielle was also incredibly intelligent, even if the helpful insights you could draw from her way of conversing took a few minutes to ponder before you could understand them. Although the woman liked to skip back to her desk occasionally, hum odd riffs, or randomly shout out a rhyme that would cause people to smile, Lily was happy to have a friendly face to speak with in the office.
Arielle sat down at the empty seat across from her absently, not waiting for an invitation. She sighed loudly while looking away and twirling some of her long hair. “I noticed your smile today, Lily. It tells me the problem you have been working on has been solved in some way. I wanted to tell you my congratulations.”
Lily’s eyes widened before she recovered from her surprise. She forced a chuckle to cover up any of her shock at the blunt pronouncement. She didn’t want others to become aware that she was feeling good about her research so she quickly changed the subject. “Umm, thanks, I guess. Have you had any luck with that spell you were telling me about the other day? The new charm to tame a…nargle, was it?”
Arielle’s wide blue eyes noticeably became even wider. “Oh, yes. I believe I have had a breakthrough. Can you believe how much we all shall be spared as a result?”
Lily nodded in pretend solemnity. She couldn’t even remember what a nargle was…let alone if it really existed. “I’m sure it may help a number of us out. Have you brought it to Allen yet?”
Arielle nodded but looked a bit disappointed. “He was much more interested in my work from the planets room, but he definitely thought it had promise.”
Lily couldn’t resist her smile. Arielle was quite the astronomer and enjoyed stargazing more than most, but her passion was still in creating spells, namely charms and transfigurations, for what most would call odd purposes. Her planets room work was what was always fantastic and exemplary. “That’s good then.”
Arielle held her gaze suddenly. “Why did you stop working with potions?”
Lily blinked at the random question. “Umm, I didn’t stop really…I just felt like I wanted to look into some of the other areas that were available. I truly enjoy charms very much. I still am working on one potion that I have yet to perfect. I imagine it will take some time before I will ever have any sufficient results though.”
Arielle tilted her head to the side, observing Lily’s now frowning face. “And the frown?”
Lily shook her head. She didn’t want to think about Remus and his messed up potion right now. The boy was acting completely mysterious, in an extremely aggravating way. He showed up randomly looking distinctly rumpled, refused to talk too much as if he’d give something away, and always managed to look tired. She had a feeling that he hadn’t even used her potion for the past three months. If she was going to get anywhere with her potion, she was going to need a cooperative test subject, something Remus was not currently being. Any time she broached him with questions, he seemed to evade her or give her comments that left her with next to nothing to change. She supposed she understood that things had taken a turn for the worse over the last three summer months and that could be the cause of his distress, but that was not something she wanted to think about at the moment. It made her incredibly worried and scared, something she could not be at work. James was the only one she wanted to be around when she let herself worry. He was her rock and never let her get carried away, but he was not here with her while she was in the DOM so she had to keep it together. She quickly responded in order to cover up her dismal thoughts, hoping Arielle wouldn’t notice, “Just thinking about my potion. I don’t understand what the trouble is quite yet is all.”
Arielle just stared back at her in silent understanding before asking something once again out of nowhere, “It’s been an eventful summer, has it not?”
Lily could no longer meet her eyes. How did this woman seem to know everything? It was as if she said everything at the wrong time…or was it the right time and Lily just didn’t know it? When Lily didn’t respond, Arielle continued airily, “You’ve heard the latest, I’m sure?”
Lily’s head shot back up, her green eyes now wide and panicky. Something had happened? Was it James? Sirius? Christina? The Order? Her mind quickly began running in circles. What should she have heard? Or better yet, how come she hadn’t heard? As if things weren’t already rotten. She swallowed quickly, bracing herself for the worst. The summer had been filled with nothing but horror so she was positive that whatever ‘the latest’ was, it wasn’t good. She ignored the flickering images of when she and Christina had found Dorcas’ mangled body in the middle of Hogsmeade after she had disappeared while on one of her rogue missions about a month ago. She and Christina had been on their way to meet the Order at Hogwarts, but they hadn’t reached further than the trees that stood near the Three Broomsticks. The message had been clear. It had been a direct message from Voldemort that he did not take well to undercover persons trying to obtain information about him. Dorcas was definitely one of the many that had been killed by him personally. The whole presentation also gave off the impression that he knew that there was an independent group of persons who were monitoring him, namely the Order, and he was enjoying the ‘game’ such a challenge presented. That didn’t even come close to all of the other horrific acts that she had witnessed or heard about from Voldemort and his Death Eaters all over the area over the past three months— devastating fires, murdered families, random explosions, muggle raids, muggleborn raids, imperioused persons everywhere, Inferi surprising muggles and magical folk alike… The list continued on and on. Was the horror ever going to end? Hope was at an all-time low, and the ministry was struggling with trying to keep things sane and safe.
Her voice was hesitant as she quietly parroted back, “The latest?”
Arielle shrugged, her blonde hair dancing loosely around her. “Well, it seems that the Dept. of Magical Law Enforcement has lost yet another employee.”
Lily gulped. Arielle would not be telling her something about her husband or his best mate so carelessly so this had to be someone else, not that it made hearing the horrible news any better. She spoke resignedly, “Who was found dead this time?”
Arielle shook her head, her eyes wide once more as she leaned in closer to emphasize the startling news. “No, no! That’s just the thing! He’s not dead, he’s really lost! Crazy, isn’t it? How could someone as handsome as Caradoc Dearborn just disappear? If I hadn’t have met my Xeno first, Caradoc would have been a fine second choice. He may have been a seventh year when I was a first year, but he knew we had a connection. How many 35 year old men do you know that look 22?”
Lily felt herself start to tremble. Another Order member was missing. This was not good. “Umm, I don’t understand. What happened?”
Arielle snorted in laughter, which seemed so uncharacteristic as Lily contemplated the danger they were discussing. “Well, I overheard some employees during lunch mention it in passing. Apparently, he left work yesterday and went to Diagon Alley for some reason, but never made it home. Diagon Alley and parts of muggle London were searched extensively, but all that was found was his jacket. I can’t imagine him leaving the area so I think he was kidnapped by a rogue mistfly.”
Lily pretended to appear disinterested despite being anything but. Augustus was looking her way again. Arielle’s laughter was highly distinctive and had garnered his attention. She knew that Caradoc had been scheduled to monitor Diagon Alley for the Order the night before so this was definitely not something random. “Oh, that sure is something. I can’t believe they have no leads. It seems discerning; there’s usually always a magical signature to go by.”
Arielle sighed dreamily. “There was not one magical signature within a three mile radius of his jacket. That’s why I know it was a mistfly. My Xeno has told me all about them.”
Lily nodded uncomfortably. “And what is a mistfly exactly?”
Arielle looked her over carefully, her bright blue eyes now accusing. “You don’t know what a mistfly is? I’m sure you’ve seen them everywhere.”
Lily became immensely confused. She could do nothing but play along with whatever Arielle was going on about. “I have?”
Arielle nodded decisively. “Of course! Remember when you came back to work and then there was that huge attack at Hogwarts?” She continued when Lily nodded, “Well, that was when you saw one! I remember it clearly. Your face paled and everything! You were so lucky not to have been taken by one too. You’re very pretty. That’s what they look for. I’m sure you’ve seen them loads of times before that.”
Lily had no idea what she was talking about. “Right. I guess you’ll have to warn me next time then.”
Arielle smiled at a spot on the wall. “That I will. It’s been lovely to speak with you, Lily, but I think I must be returning to my work with Venus. It truly is a lovely planet.”
Lily said her goodbyes and watched slightly bewildered as Arielle bounced out of her seat rather quickly and continued walking aimlessly back to her own desk, humming softly to herself. She blinked as she mulled over their conversation, not ever really knowing what to take from them whenever they had one. From the corner of her eye, she knew that Augustus was still watching her with an intensity she did not feel comfortable with. She threw herself into her work and tried with fervor to ignore everything around her. She must’ve succeeded because the next time she looked back up, she found that she was one of three people left in the room. This startled her considerably because one of the two others still left was none other than Augustus Rockwood. She jumped to her feet and instantly began grabbing all of her belongings in a rush. She could not believe she had been so silly as to put herself in such a position. When she noticed Augustus looking amused over her hurry, she knew she had to move.
She was soon lost in the many hallways that encompassed the DOM. The fact that she could hear Augustus behind her caused her breath to catch. They were alone. If he caught her now…
She didn’t even want to think about it. She quickly made it to the circular room and begged mentally for the exit to reveal itself. As soon as the door opened, she frantically made her way out into the creepy, blue-flamed hallway. Her body relaxed exponentially when she noticed James leaning against the wall just off to the side waiting for her. She had expected Christina like usual, but seeing the love of her life instead made her feel that her safety was now unquestionable. He looked up immediately when he heard the door, and she could tell from his hesitant smile and sad eyes that he had even more bad news for her, but his look quickly changed to intense concern when he saw how riled she was. “What is it, Lily? What’s wrong?”
She didn’t answer him and chose to just rush into his arms instead. He didn’t question her further and when she heard the clearing of a throat coming from behind her a few moments later, she stepped away from her husband slightly. From the glare on her husband’s face as he looked past her, she knew why he hadn’t asked her anything more. He had seen Augustus emerge from the DOM and was not happy at seeing him anywhere near her. She had been careful not to tell him too many details about Augustus’ antagonizing behavior because of his overprotective tendencies, but she had told him enough that he knew she would not be safe if she were to ever be left alone with the man. She reluctantly turned in James’ arms, which he had not removed from around her, to look back at the man who would not leave her alone. Augustus merely smirked at her while twirling a quill between his fingers. “Lily, I was trying to catch you. You dropped this.”
He offered her the quill, and when James didn’t move or say anything, she knew it would be ok to touch it. If he didn’t sense anything dangerous from the object, she could take it for the moment. It was likely just an excuse for following her now that he knew that James was here with her. This wasn’t her quill. She took it carefully before responding as calmly as she could muster, “Right. Thanks. I forgot that James was waiting for me so I left in a bit of a hurry.”
Augustus just continued to sneer before addressing James amusedly, “Potter.”
James’ voice had an edge to it as he answered him, “Rockwood.”
Neither one of them spoke as they waited in silence for Augustus to get on the lift. As soon as he was gone, Lily relaxed her rigid posture, falling back slightly against her husband. James’ arms tightened around her from behind, and his voice at her ear pleaded with her, “Please do not leave that late again. He should never have gotten that close to you. Promise me, Lily.”
Lily shuddered, thinking about what could have gone wrong just then. However, she had no qualms with making that promise to him. “I promise.”
She turned in his arms once more and immediately felt guilty for the now worried look in his hazel eyes. She should’ve been paying more attention. Next time, she would set a personal alarm charm so that she left with everyone else. She ran a hand over his face to calm him. “I’m sorry. I love you.”
He sighed, likely melting at her obvious sincerity, and kissed her lips briefly. “I know. I love you too.” He hugged her closer to him as he whispered in her ear, “Let’s go. I have lots to discuss with you.”
Lily nodded and as they began to move, James silently got rid of the stupid quill Augustus had conjured to make his following her more believable and made sure there was nothing tracking either of them. Once they made it to an apparition zone in the main lobby, he pulled her closer to him and apparated them both away. Instead of arriving in the Potter Manor living room like usual, Lily found herself in Sirius’ living room where Sirius and Christina must have been waiting for them. Both of their friends looked incredibly troubled, but Sirius was clearly fuming beneath the surface. The room was filled with apprehension so Lily quickly asked, “What else happened?”
James pulled her onto his lap as he sat down in the remaining armchair in the room. His tone indicated that he was confused by her question, “Wait, what have you heard already?”
Lily watched Sirius and Christina looking her over equally confused so she answered her husband hesitantly, “Arielle mentioned Caradoc’s…umm, disappearance?”
Sirius snorted, throwing his hands up in the air. “How did Lovegood, of all people, hear about that? That was only discussed in the Auror office! Secrecy is essential, and yet, here’s the proof that none exists!”
Lily shrugged, feeling herself relax as James twirled a few strands of her hair absently. She could tell that he had also relaxed some by having her with him once more, even though the tension in the room had yet to dissipate. She rushed to correct Sirius’ assumptions, “I’m not sure how she finds out everything… I swear, she can hear a wasp on the other side of our office room so it’s no surprise to me. She mentioned overhearing the news during lunch, something about a lack of magical signature found anywhere near his jacket. I had to pretend to not care all that much because I was being watched, but I can’t imagine either of you having any other news about him. I just…I can’t believe he’s gone.”
James scowled behind her as she mentioned her stalker, and Christina met her eyes knowingly. Since Christina was the one to meet her after work more often, her best mate was well aware of all of Augustus Rockwood’s many ploys to get Lily alone. Her best mate appeared worried by James’ reaction. “Was Augustus the reason you were running late today? You and James should have been here already. Sirius and I were ready to go back and find you both if you had been any longer.”
Lily nodded her head, feeling guilty. James just remained tense around her so she spoke softly, “I succeeded in blocking him out a little too well and lost track of time. Don’t worry— it won’t happen again.”
Christina shook her head at her, frowning slightly. “Be more careful, Lily. Now is not the time to be so careless. Anyway, that was one of the things we were going to tell you about, but that’s not all.”
Lily turned back to James, once again scared for other Order members. “Not—“
He shook his head, cutting her off, “No, no one else is missing, not that Caradoc’s mysterious disappearance isn’t bad enough. We just have some new information from last weekend, and there’s been a new…development.”
Lily’s brow furrowed at James’ last word. He sounded immensely pissed about whatever was going on. Sirius jumped in, looking like he would like nothing more than to punch something, “You remember this past weekend, right? When Frank and Alice were on their second Auror raid?”
Lily nodded, shivering as she remembered that unexpected fight. Frank, Alice, Sirius, and James had recently been made full Aurors, although they still had meetings once a week in order to cover any things that may have been glossed over during their rushed training. At least they all had passed every single one of their tests. While Sirius and James had been put on new tasks, Frank and Alice had joined other Aurors on a few of the raids covering known Death Eater meeting places which had already been planned, but the one raid Sirius was referring to was the one where Voldemort happened to be present at the time. He had been none too pleased to find Aurors surrounding him and had fought back with gusto. Both Frank and Alice had been sent to St. Mungo’s for care for severe reactions to the Cruciatus curse once Voldemort had finally departed with his Death Eaters. They weren’t the only ones to have needed medical attention either. The Aurors had outnumbered the Death Eaters 2:1, but the Death Eaters had all just disappeared after having a little ‘fun.’ Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan’s magical signatures had been found on the sight, not that the Order had needed that information as the Cruciatus curse was a clear favorite of theirs so it had given their presences away already. She knew that there had been a huge uproar within the Ministry over the many Aurors being bested due to the unregulated use of the Unforgivables. Although she was happy that Frank and Alice were to be leaving St. Mungo’s the next day, thanks to hearing from Shelley last night, she had no idea what to think they might have found at the crime scene to make Sirius so upset. “What did you find? You were both going back to search for more clues today, right?”
James sighed and pulled something out of his pocket, mulling it around in his fist before placing the tiny item gently in her hand. Sirius practically growled and got up to pace in front of them as she examined the small token. It was a ring which, at first glance, appeared to be incredibly expensive. It was heavy and solid, indicating as such, but it was the elaborate, ornate design over the jet black stone on top that caught her eye. On a closer inspection, she suspected the design to be a large B with some details that she couldn’t quite make out. She blinked, looking up at Sirius in shock. This was the Black family crest. She had seen this ring before, or at least, one like it. Sirius had one on a chain around his neck. She spoke hesitantly not wanting to upset Sirius any further, “Is this what I think it is?”
Sirius turned back to face her, his grey eyes still clearly irate, only this time, she could see something more there— almost like disappointment or even…heartbreak. He shoved his own shirt to the side, and she could see his chain with his identical ring still hanging around his neck. “My family has finally done it! Go ahead! Read the inside, Red…just read it.”
Lily looked inside the ring and clearly understood why Sirius was so upset. Her heart began to break for him. He had hoped so much that his brother would escape the darkness just as he had, but that was not the case. The ring was evidence as such. She vaguely remembered him watching his brother with his family during Lauren’s graduation. Sirius had come for Lauren, seeing as she was his sister in every way just as she was to James. However, his family had been there gloating over Regulus’ graduation, seeing as it was a year in advance. They were extremely boastful and had insinuated on and on about how Regulus was going to ‘make the family proud.’ Because Regulus had not exactly looked enthused at this prospect, Sirius had been so sure that Regulus would escape. Sirius had set the example already; all Regulus would have to do was take some sort of action. If Regulus had been present at a known Death Eater meeting place this past weekend where curses had flown from all of the Death Eaters present, she knew that Sirius had just had all of his hopes dashed. She softly whispered out the engraving as she ran her finger over the words, “Regulus Arcturus Black.”
Sirius hit the wall behind him with his fist, his raw magic releasing and shattering the window closest to him. Lily could feel his pain. Her sister hadn’t completely turned her back on her like his brother had just done to him, but the situations were still similar in some respects. “I’m so sorry, Black.”
Christina stood up and wrapped her arms around Sirius, trying to calm him with words neither Lily nor James could hear. Soon, Sirius just pulled away from her abruptly and left quickly for his bedroom, leaving the three of them out in his living room. The sound of his door slamming caused Lily to jump in James’ lap. Christina was looking over the path Sirius had just taken with an intensely worried expression. James spoke quietly, “He’ll be ok. You’ll just have to be patient with him, Christina. At least we got Travers on that mission. Marlene and her family have gotten some sort of justice, even if the bastard hasn’t been able to tell us too much, Veritaserum or not.”
She nodded her head, sinking back onto the couch. She turned back towards the both of them with a conflicted expression. Her words were resigned, “Tell her the worst part now, James.”
Lily turned immediately back to face her husband. She met his hazel eyes easily, and she could see both fury and intense worry in his eyes now. One of her hands reached up and ran soothingly over the nape of his neck. “What? What else?”
He spoke dryly, “It’s been confirmed. Barty Crouch was just voted in as the Head of the Dept. of Magical Law Enforcement. His first official order was put through just hours ago. He has given express and written permission to allow the unregulated use of the Unforgivables by all Aurors. It can even be done as a first response. It’s not good. About half of the Dept. can’t wait to go out and use them. The other half can’t believe the rule was passed at all, let alone with such free reign. It’s going to put us at a serious disadvantage, particularly when all of our suspects are dead instead of captured and giving us information or when innocent persons are accidentally killed in a fight by a stray Killing Curse cast by an Auror rather than the murderers we are trying to catch.”
Lily’s face lost all of its color. “No.”
James just nodded, speaking more methodically now, “Yes. Dumbledore is furious. So is Moody, but even his seniority wasn’t enough to stop the Head Auror from supporting Crouch’s endeavor. It’s too late. We all have training over the next week to make sure we can even cast them. It’s going to be a disaster.”
Lily felt for her husband. She knew he would never want to cast any of them, but he was going to have to do it anyway, in a lecture room of all things. “This is awful.”
Christina sighed. “We’re going to have an Order meeting tonight about it. We’re supposed to meet at our usual place, the warehouse, at 11pm. Sirius and I were supposed to go to Hogsmeade tonight, but…”
As Christina’s concerned gaze looked back at Sirius’ bedroom door, Lily could practically feel how broken and useless she felt. She couldn’t stand watching her best mate look so devastated or troubled so she immediately spoke up, knowing that her husband likely wouldn’t mind, “No, Chris. James and I will go tonight instead. You help Sirius here. He needs you and some time to think things over before tonight.”
James’ arm tightened around her mid-section, and his chin fell to her shoulder. “Yeah, don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of it. Sirius likes to think things through so don’t expect him to say much. However, you are able to put him more at ease by just being near so I wish you luck. He loves you, you know.”
Christina nodded, forcing a smile at the two of them. “I know. Thanks, guys. We’ll see you tonight then.”
Lily felt James lift the both of them to their feet. As Christina walked toward Sirius’ bedroom, James apparated the both of them away.
James sat in silence with the love of his life as he gazed down the main street of Hogsmeade. There was no real point in the two of them walking around, seeing as there was no one outside. No one dared walk anywhere in the evening anymore. The sun was just starting to set over the village so he was expecting a quiet night with Lily in his arms. They had found a spot just in front of a tree at the entrance to the only pathway that would lead to Hogwarts. From that point, due to a slight incline in the road, they could see most of Hogsmeade as well as keep watch on anyone approaching Hogwarts without ever moving around. He had placed Lily in between his legs so she was leaning comfortably against him and then had thrown his invisibility cloak over the both of them so it was as if they were not even there.
He seriously could not believe how crazy everything had just gotten in a single day. Caradoc was missing, the ministry had gone from floating to sinking steadily in a matter of minutes, and no matter how much he fought it, he was going to have to learn to cast the Unforgivables and start going on missions for days at a time starting tomorrow. As much as he knew Lily understood that it was all a part of his job, these times were dark and the possibility of ambush or devastation was high. She would be so upset and worried if he had to go to the hospital again, let alone what she would be like if something worse was to happen. Not to mention that she would be all alone in Potter Manor whenever he was away, seeing as Lauren had insisted on getting a flat with Tasha and ‘being a grown-up’ just after she had graduated and started the Auror training program almost two months ago now. He shook his head and burrowed his face into her neck. He inhaled the sweet scent of her hair, trying to just enjoy being near the woman he loved once more while nothing was trying to take them away from each other. She suddenly reached up and ran her hand through his hair, likely trying to flatten the impossible mess in a loving gesture. “I thought I was the worrywart, James.”
He chuckled into her neck, his lips briefly brushing the spot just below her ear. Her words filled the silence, but he had no worries about being overheard by unforeseen persons as Lily could cast silencing charms better than anyone he knew. “True, but there’s a lot to be concerned about. I’m just spreading the worry away from you.”
Lily laughed softly at him, leaning her head back so he was now looking into her pretty green eyes. “I’m not worried if I’m with you.”
He couldn’t help but smile at the faith she had in him. It was crazy, but he was sure that there was something more behind it than merely the fact that she was in love with him. There had to be some reason she was so unwavering in her belief that he would keep her safe, not that he was complaining. He would never let anything harm her if he was around to do something about it. It also made him feel amazing…powerful even… Besides, if she had such confidence and trust in his abilities, then shouldn’t he? “I love you.”
The bright smile he fell in love with crossed her features, making his heart skip. “As I love you.”
He twisted her a bit in front of him so he could kiss her properly. She let him continue for a few seconds before she started giggling. She mock scolded him, “James, we’re supposed to be patrolling Hogsmeade, not snogging.”
He tightened his hold on her, sighing into her neck. “I know, but nothing is going to happen tonight— not when so much has already happened today.”
Her face fell slightly as she began to embrace the panic that he had already known to be lying dormant inside of her, “I know, but that just leaves the door open for more! Too much has happened, and I really can’t get over it. I wonder if Dumbledore has heard anything more about Caradoc. And what about Regulus? I haven’t seen Sirius that upset before. I hope Christina is able to reach him. And Frank and Alice? I can’t help but remember what that curse was like and for them to have been under the curse for over two minutes apiece… What if—”
James interrupted her rapid flow of concern by placing his hands on the sides of her face and kissing her softly. “Shhh, I didn’t mean to make you upset. I know there is a lot to worry about, but I promise Sirius will bounce back and both Frank and Alice are already practically fully recovered. All we can do is do the best that we can, and hopefully, things will—“
He cut off abruptly when he heard something crunching in the forest. It was rather far away, but he had heard it nonetheless. His sensitive hearing did have its advantages. It didn’t sound like an animal so someone must be walking into the Forbidden Forest, and therefore, towards the castle off the beaten path. He frowned. Lily pulled out her wand as she gazed over where he had turned his attention. Her voice was now but a whisper, “What? What is it?”
James’ eyes hardened as he pulled out his own wand. “Someone’s heading toward the castle. I can hear their footsteps.” He looked beyond his wife, and upon seeing nothing going on in Hogsmeade, he brought the two of them up to their feet. “Come on, we should check it out. No one’s going to be in the village, but someone wandering the Forbidden Forest at night is a bit obscure.”
He quickly disillusioned the two of them so they could walk without being hindered by the invisibility cloak while Lily silenced their footsteps. He grabbed her hand and pulled her along with him as he listened attentively for the footsteps. They were picking up speed and heading out into the deepest parts of the Forest. His brow furrowed. Why would whoever this was be heading that way? Was this another meeting point that they hadn’t discovered yet? They soon reached the beginning of the Forbidden Forest and crossed the castle’s wards, both of them heading east into the Forest in order to follow the person. He didn’t know how far they had walked, a mile or so, but neither of them spoke until James suddenly came to a stop. He listened hard for a moment before speaking softly so he could continue to listen, “Whoever it is just stopped, maybe just under a mile from here. There are only faint sounds now, which are dimmed out by the wildlife in the Forest. I don’t want to take us closer in case the person isn’t alone. I can’t tell.”
Lily’s expression was troubled. Her voice was equally soft, “What do you think we should do then?”
He listened harder, but then he heard something he had not heard in a long time. It was multiple bones cracking and different whimpers of pain. His head shot up, and his face whitened in horror as he took in the full moon now blazing high in the sky. With everything going wrong today, he hadn’t even realized that the full moon was tonight. Whoever was in the Forest had likely led them here purposefully. It wasn’t like whoever it was had made an effort to be quiet. There was clearly more than one werewolf, and one of them had led whoever was supposed to be on watch for the Order, namely them, right into their path. “It was a trap. We have to get out of here now.”
He quickly pulled out his wand, trying to send a patronus to Sirius to let him know that they were in need of some help and to meet them, but nothing happened. Lily’s eyes were now wide in horror as she also tried to do some magic, but it was as if they couldn’t cast a thing. James cursed outright, knowing that they must’ve walked into a ward unintentionally. He immediately shot out his hand and felt some relief when he was able to stun the tree. He quickly turned to face his scared wife. “Lily, you have to run. You have to get to Sirius. The animagus transformation is wandless. I’ll be fine. I’ll hold off whoever is out here, but you have to get out of here. You can’t be human around a werewolf.”
Lily shook her head, her eyes full of tears due to the stressful situation. “No, I’m not just leaving you here!”
He shook his head and braced himself when he heard the howls in the distance, indicating they had finished their transformations. She was all that mattered to him, and she had to leave. End of story. “Lily, there’s no time. Go…please! Please, Lily.”
He quickly transformed and nudged her impatiently with his nose so she would start running and get the hell out of there. Her hand gently touched the top of his head, and while her face was full of anguish, she reluctantly turned and began running back the way the two of them had come. As soon as she was out of sight, he quickly transformed back into himself. He was going to need to distract the multiple werewolves with his scent so they avoided hers. It was going to be a task, considering both Sirius and Remus had told him that females smelled way better than males due to pheromones or the like. As long as he was closer to them though, they would probably go for him instead. That would mean he’d have to transform very last minute, which was going to be dangerous. He wandlessly undid his and Lily’s silencing charms and started moving noisily toward the sounds in front of him. After a few minutes, he soon heard them howl at his scent. The sounds of the werewolves barreling toward him were familiar, and then not. While Remus had always been playful with him and Sirius while they were in their animagus forms, he was currently acting as bait in his human form. The sound of the werewolves running was similar, but he could instantly discern that he was being herded. They were going to surround him.
When he knew they were too close for comfort, he immediately transformed and prepared himself to attack. He could see them in a matter of seconds, coming at him from different sides. There were only three of them, but that was more than enough. The sudden change in scent had startled them, but all three of them together could do some major damage to him if he let his guard down. One of the werewolves leapt at him, confused, but James caught him with his antlers and threw him to the ground, a move he had used against Remus more than a few times. The werewolf struggled against his tight hold, and he had no choice but to release it as he turned to defend himself from an attack on his other side. He made sure that there was a large tree behind him as he allowed himself to be stalked and toyed with. He didn’t want any of them sneaking up from behind him otherwise he would get hurt.
He stomped the ground before charging at the largest of them, knocking it down to the ground, but that was when he noticed one of the other two sniffing wildly in the direction Lily had run off in. He quickly pounced on the werewolf, snorting menacingly in its face. His distraction cost him, however, because he soon found himself thrown aside and pounced on from two sides. He yelped wildly at being clawed and bitten at, but he was able to break away, even if he was now limping awkwardly due to the intense pain in his front limbs. His sides were also bleeding out some. He watched all three of them take off after Lily’s scent so he pushed himself to run. He could easily outrun them as a stag, but he was not in the best state to be running at the moment. The pain was practically torture as his front hooves hit the ground as he ran, but he quickly was able to round on the leader, throwing him sideways and successfully distracting the other two. He limped over and stood shakily in their way. He snorted as they began to circle him menacingly. All he could hope was that Lily had made it to the Forest’s edge so she could apparate away. He was going to need Sirius in order to get these three under some sort of control.
Lily ran faster than she had in her entire life. She had never been a classic athlete, but she often ran in her free time. It helped clear her head. This time she was running for both her life and her husband’s. Her heart panged as she thought of what she had just left James to be subjected to. Werewolves had no control. None. Even as a large stag, he would only be able to do so much by himself with more than one werewolf. They didn’t even know how many werewolves were even out there! She had to get to Sirius immediately, even if he would only be able to just pull James to the Forest’s edge so they all could apparate away together. She pushed herself to run even faster.
She was completely out of breath as she rounded around a number of trees and finally saw some of the lights of Hogsmeade. She couldn’t hear anything going on behind her, but that did nothing to reassure her of her husband’s safety. She had to get him out of there as soon as possible. As soon as she felt herself cross the castle’s wards, she apparated promptly to Sirius’ flat. She stumbled into his living room, due to apparating with little to no control. She had significantly startled the couple who had been resting on the couch together too. As both Sirius and Christina flew to their feet at her sudden appearance, Lily only had eyes for her husband’s best mate. “Sirius…”
Sirius took in Lily’s tear-stained cheeks, incredibly pale face, and loss of breath and instantly knew something was horrendously wrong. There was also the fact that Lily never called him Sirius to his face. “What? What happened, Lily? Where’s James?”
She gulped, struggling to catch her breath, “James…he…needs you…full moon…ambush…werewolves…”
Christina’s hands flew to her mouth swallowing her gasp, but Sirius was instantly at Lily’s side holding her arm. His eyes were fierce, despite the fear evident on his face. “Take me close. Chrissy, stay here. We’ll need to heal him ourselves when we get back so no one knows about our forms at the meeting tonight.”
Lily quickly apparated the two of them to the Forest’s edge. Not wasting any time, Sirius quickly took off into the Forest, transforming mid-sprint while sniffing wildly. She could hear rustling noises, howling, and snarls louder than she had before, indicating that the werewolves had likely followed her path at some point. James must’ve held them off, as they still weren’t close to Hogsmeade. There might not be people out and about within the village, but that didn’t mean werewolves couldn’t still wreak havoc on the village throughout the night. That must mean that he was ok, or at least, she hoped that was the case. She kept her wand at the ready as she tried to calm her erratic heart rate.
The wait was unbearable. The howls became even more distant so she hoped that both Sirius and James had led the werewolves deeper within the Forest, considering they knew the place better than even perhaps Hagrid. She must’ve bit all of her nails twice over by the time she heard anything remotely human in the Forest. As soon as she did, she was up on her feet, waiting impatiently for Sirius and James to emerge. When she saw her husband limping and leaning heavily on Sirius, she immediately rushed forward, horrified. James was once again covered in blood from multiple wounds on his arms and mid-section; his leg looked like it had been ripped open; and there were several large bruises forming everywhere. The fact that he was so white he was almost translucent was what scared her the most. “James, oh my God, what happened!?! Are you ok?”
James gave her a small smile. “Of course, love. Just another day at the office…”
She gave him a disapproving glare, and he immediately chuckled. However, his chuckle turned into a wheezing cough which caused his face to pain. “Oops. Broken ribs plus coughing equals badness. I forgot.”
Sirius rolled his eyes, even though they were filled with humor. “Well, don’t forget things that Padfoot tells you anymore, Prongs. Maybe that’ll help.”
Lily immediately began fretting as she helped Sirius with getting James out of the Forest so they could apparate away. In a matter of minutes, they were back at Sirius’ flat. Christina was already up and pacing as she waited for them, and she jumped when they all finally arrived. She had pulled out all sorts of potions and medical necessities so they all could patch James up quickly. Sirius also had a couple of scratches and bites, but she worked on James first. She quickly and carefully righted his ribs; then healed all of his open wounds and his broken leg; and finished with eliminating his many bruises. He was still a horrible mess and since they had to leave for the Order meeting, he quickly cleaned himself up and changed into some of Sirius’ clothes. While James was changing, Christina made sure Sirius was alright while they all worked on a story, seeing as the complete truth was not something they could tell everyone, or even Dumbledore.
James was force-fed a blood-replenishing potion and a pain potion by his stubborn wife before they all apparated to the warehouse. They were all late, and questions were a guarantee. As soon as they reached the room, they were under intense wand-point. Once their identities were verified and the room was re-sealed against eavesdroppers, the questions were continuous.
Lauren, in particular, was furious. She had, of course, joined the Order right after graduating and had been doing surveillance work all summer when she wasn’t in Auror training. However, in that moment, she was suddenly standing in front of James, tapping her foot rapidly in that annoying way his mother used to whenever he had gotten into trouble. And she had the nerve to say he was the one that was like his mother… She sure was channeling her rather well just then. Her voice immediately blocked everyone else’s out as she yelled at him, “Where in the hell were you all? Sirius and Christina were supposed to be in Hogsmeade! Did something happen? How dare you all act so irresponsibly tonight of all nights! Today has been a mess already! Jimmy, you had me so worried! I can’t believe you!”
James could feel Dumbledore and Moody watching them all incredibly closely. If Dumbledore asked James or Lily anything outright, they would be forced to tell the truth so he had to make this believable. As he had found over the years, a story embedded in truth was what always worked the best. He carefully recited the rehearsed version of what had happened. His only job was to convince Moody and Dumbledore that he was being truthful to Lauren. If he did that, Dumbledore wouldn’t pressure him for more later. “I’m sorry, Lauren. This day has been horrible, but it got even worse tonight. Sirius and Christina stayed in because of the unsettling news we got earlier about…well, you know. Anyway, Lily and I went to Hogsmeade instead, but we were led into a trap. We heard someone venturing into the Forest, but that person ended up leading us into an unnoticeable ward which left us void of casting any magic with a wand. We only discovered it was a trap when we became aware of just what the person was.” He grimaced before stating, “He was a werewolf, and we were suddenly near more than one.”
Everyone’s eyes were wide and more questions started, but James interrupted them all, “No, we’re fine, but we had to get out of there quickly. I could use some wandless magic, but that would only go so far. Lily and I were able to make it out and apparate away before we had any problems. We were just going over things back at Sirius’ flat, and then we realized the time…”
He drifted off purposefully, but everyone seemed to have believed him. Lily squeezed his hand, indicating she was happy with how he had presented everything. He smiled down at her some. He could tell she was still incredibly distressed about what had really just happened, but she was holding herself together really well. He sat down and pulled her seat closer to his so he could have her within reach so he could keep her calm, considering she couldn’t sit on his lap when he was still in pain. They listened as Dumbledore went through all of the horrible facts of the day, but no one had any further insights that James hadn’t already thought of. At the end of the meeting, Lauren was by his side in an instant with Peter traveling a bit slower behind her. She looked up at him and over at Lily, Christina, and Sirius intensely concerned. Her voice was worried as she spoke quietly to him, “Ok, what really happened?”
He made sure no one was really paying any of them attention. Dumbledore was busy talking with Hestia, Benjy, and Moody so he was sure it would be ok to give her a few extra facts. “I had to stall the werewolves so Lily could get Sirius. Sirius and I got them under control and away from the village. I’m ok. Sore, but ok.”
Lauren’s brow furrowed. “You’re lucky Remus didn’t escape the Shrieking Shack with all of that action going on outside, the howling and stuff.”
James blinked in shock as he thought about that comment. It wasn’t only that he hadn’t thought of that possibility, but that he just now realized that he hadn’t heard a distant howling from that direction. He spoke slowly in surprise, “Lauren, I don’t think Remus was even in the Shack tonight.”
Lily’s eyes widened at his words. “You’re right. There was no fuss from that direction. He would’ve been able to hear everything and would likely have gone crazy due to being all locked up.”
Sirius looked furious. “If he wasn’t in the Shack, then where is he? And why would he not tell us about doing something different?”
Christina tried to soothe him even though she was as surprised as they were, “I’m sure he’s fine. Maybe he found another place to go to. We’ll just have to wait until we see him tomorrow.”
Peter looked uncomfortable as he listened to all of them speak. He then spoke up hesitantly, “So…why weren’t Sirius and Christina in Hogsmeade tonight? That had been the plan, I mean…”
Sirius suddenly paled as Peter trailed off so he didn’t notice the odd expression that was on Peter’s face as he struggled to formulate what he was trying to ask in the first place. “Wait, you’re right, Pete. I wouldn’t have been able to hold off all three of them by myself. James is bigger than me so he was able to push them around, but I wouldn’t have been able to do that. If I hadn’t been so upset about Regulus and we would’ve gone, they would have gotten me…and likely Chrissy.”
All of them looked horrified at this revelation. Peter, however, also looked scared. He forced a chuckle, trying hard to lighten the mood. He looked incredibly anxious at Sirius’ words. “Pssh, no, uhhh, that’s not true! You would’ve been fine. I mean…things worked out tonight anyway, right?”
They all stood in silence for the moment, not knowing what to make of the revelation that Sirius and Christina could’ve been seriously hurt or worse. What was scarier to ponder was if the werewolves had somehow known Sirius and Christina were supposed to be there that night. Only the Order knew the schedule. The dismal atmosphere was broken when Fabian suddenly threw his arms around Lily’s shoulders, winking at her suggestively. “So has Lauren and Peter told you all the good news yet?”
Gideon stepped up to them all with a smirk as he purposefully sided up in between Christina and Sirius, locking an arm around Christina’s waist. “Yes, you must have heard by now.”
James rolled his eyes as he watched Lauren start to smile over whatever the twins were talking about. He couldn’t fathom what in the world those two could possibly be excited about. “No, and what could you both possibly consider ‘good news’ right now anyway?”
Gideon broke out laughing for a moment before trying to cover it up. Fabian was also chuckling, but he sobered up more quickly than his brother, and he said two words that no one had thought they would hear in such dark times, “Molly’s pregnant.”
Gideon couldn’t help but add unnecessarily with a wide smile, “Yeah…again.”
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