Chapter 4 : Howl
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“Just go through it again, one more time.”
Alice sighs irritably, flumping back onto my bed, as though I’m being deliberately obtuse.
“It’s just a meeting, Lily; that’s all I know,” she says. Her voice is slightly muffled by my pillow.
We’re in my bedroom, the biggest room in my flat (although that isn’t saying much), and Alice tells me I’m wearing a hole into the carpet with my pacing. I can’t help it though. Emergency meeting? What on earth for? Was someone hurt? Another attack? Giants? Dementors? My imagination runs high with all the horrible things that could have happened.
I can feel that tickle on the back of my neck, and look up to see Alice’s kind blue eyes watching me in concern. Pull yourself together, Lily.
“We’ll know soon enough,” she says softly, and I nod a little. The meeting is at six, two hours left. There’s no point in worrying. I sink down onto my armchair, which is draped with discarded clothes from this morning. I run a hand through my too long hair and sigh.
“I’m sorry I missed your wedding.” It’s a little random, but the guilt has been eating away at me.
Alice nods, her brow furrowed, “Why?”
“Why did you miss it?”
I stare at her. “Well, because…because I was busy—you know, with work and stuff.” I cringe a little inwardly. Even to my own ears the excuse sounds so overwhelmingly feeble.
Alice glares at me, and it looks so completely unnatural on her usually kind face.
“I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough—you owe me an explanation.”
I flounder silently for a while, but then, what’s the point? I may as well tell her the truth. She deserves that at least.
“Because I didn’t want to see James Potter.” My voice breaks a little at his name, and I shut my eyes. God, I am so pathetic.
I open my eyes, to see Alice watching me curiously. “What on earth happened between you two?”
I blanch. “Alice, I really don’t want to talk abou—” I begin to say, but she continues as though she can’t hear me.
“I mean one minute, you’re thick as thieves, and you spend every possible waking moment together, get along like a bloody house on fire, and the next, you completely ignore him, stop talking to him, refuse to even look at him—everyone at school hated you for that, you know. We could all see how cut up he was about it.”
I can’t help it, I snort at that.
“Oh yeah, I’m sure he was just devastated,” I sneer sarcastically. She doesn’t know the half of it. “I don’t know why you’re asking me then, you’ve obviously made up your mind. I’m the heartless bitch and he’s the poor victim.”
“I didn’t say that.” Alice looks remorseful. “You’re one of the most level headed people I know. There must be a reason you treated him the way you did; I just don’t know what,” she admits, but I can still see the curiosity in her eyes.
I tell her the condensed version in a hollow voice. “I wanted us to be more. He said he didn’t like me in that way.” It sounds so trite, so trivial. Such a little thing to get so worked up over.
“What,” hissed Alice. Whatever she had been expecting, it certainly wasn’t that. “That makes no sense,” she said.
I scoff and turn away. “He said he fancied me when he was fifteen, but he outgrew it.” I sound so little and meek and timid. I hate it. When did I become so weak? Where did the fire go?
I get up so suddenly that Alice jumps. What was the matter with me?
No, really, what was the matter with me?
He had moved on, so why was I stuck on something that had never even existed? Why was I allowing any man to make me feel so shitty? I was Lily Evans, dammit. It was his fucking loss.
“Alice,” I say, a ring of steely determination colouring my words, “help me get ready.”
Her name was Isobel Laurie. A pretty name for a pretty girl. Her mother was French, and Isobel was the same age as me. She had gone to the Beauxbaton Academy of Magic, which explains why I had never seen her before. She was one of the top students. Her grades were very good, but mine were better.
Her father was a curse breaker at Gringotts and good friends with the late Mr. Potter—James’ father. Apparently, the families would get together, and she and James would spend summers together at various holiday homes in their youth before their respective fathers became estranged for some reason. No idea why.
Funny how James had never mentioned her to me, not once, and we used to talk about literally everything. Was it a deliberate omission? Was he enamoured with her, even in those days?
It’s amazing how much information Alice is privy to, gossiping wasn’t one of her most endearing qualities, but it certainly came in use. There was no way I was going back to HQ caught unawares like I was last time. This time, I would have the upper hand.
I took my time getting ready, dressing like the lady my mother had always pushed me to be. No more scraggly jumpers and frumpy tracksuit bottoms. Gone was the ratty bun at the top of my head, replaced by hair that was glossy and pinned back.
“Do you think it’s too much,” I ask Alice. I rarely ever dressed up and the woman in the mirror, although beautiful, polished and refined, looks nothing like myself.
“You have to change your shoes. Haven’t you got any heels?”
I look down at my feet and the comfortable flat shoes I’m wearing. “No, then it will be too much,” I complain. The last thing I want is a certain someone thinking I made a special effort. I’m going for effortlessly chic.
“No it won’t,” Alice assures me as she flicks through the newspaper. “Women dress smarter just for work everyday.”
“Yeah, but I don’t—they’ve all seen me at the last meeting and Sirius saw me at lunch. They know I don’t put in that much effort.”
“You had your coat on both those times. It’s just your hair and makeup they’ll notice,” Alice says, exasperated. “Besides, who cares. You’re doing this for you, and let me tell you: if I could pull off that dress like you, I most certainly would.”
She was right. Oh, what the hell, heels it was. I could always transfigure them later if I needed to run or something.
I picked up my keys, my purse, my wand, grabbed Alice’s hand and we both apparated in unison to the manor.
It was packed by the time we got there. I squeezed in beside Elphias Doge and Alice, and waited for Dumbledore to start the briefing. Most people I recognised by sight. There were a few who I had never seen before, and they clustered around the scrubbed wooden table, sitting in mismatched chairs. Others stood further back near the walls. The candle light cast an odd orange glow over everything.
I caught Sirius’ eye and he winked from his seat across the room; Peter was sitting with him. There were three empty seats near them, presumably for Remus, James and Isobel.
Okay, the nerves were back in full force. Forget butterflies, dragons felt like they were about to burst forth out of my stomach.
The odd thing was, nobody was frightened, and the mood wasn’t sombre. Instead, there was a buzz, the murmuring was infectious, exciting—something had changed. The meeting wasn’t to arrange damage control from some calamity. No, this was something else entirely.
“What’s going on,” I asked Elphias. He had interviewed me for my job at Transfiguration Today and had always had a soft spot for me.
“Very exciting news, my dear girl,” he wheezed breathlessly. “The goblins are swaying. Reports indicate they are on the verge of joining the war.”
“Our side,” I ask to clarify, even though I know the answer.
Suddenly, there was a hush as everyone took their seats. Dumbledore had arrived and was patiently waiting to begin.
“Is it true,” someone called from the back of the room, barely muted excitement lacing their words. “Are they joining us?”
“Nothing is definite yet,” replied Dumbledore, “but yes, all indications show at least five of the nine leading goblin families are considering revolt.” Dumbledore’s bright eyes sweep over the room. He pauses and seems to grow more grave. “However,” he says. “They may well be swayed the other way, so the next few weeks will be critical. We cannot allow Voldemort to have control of Gringotts. We cannot allow the other side to include goblin magic in their arsenal.” Dumbledore pauses again and looks around the room. His gaze pauses for a fraction of a second longer on me before looking away.
“We need to act.” Everyone waits with baited breath, the silence is heavy. “Our objective is simple, recruit the other four families and continue our talks with the remaining five who have shown interest in our cause. I do not believe we need to worry about the first five families, are talks going well?” Dumbledore addressed his question to about six people around the room including Isobel, who I notice for the first time.
Of course. The pieces begin to come together. Her father was a curse breaker, and I now know she works at Gringotts. She’s ideally placed to make contact with the Goblins discreetly, and she’s probably familiar with Goblin culture from her father. James is sitting beside her; I look away.
“We’re getting there,” says Isobel. “They point blank refuse to share their magic, but they’ve agreed to a treaty. The finer points should be smoothed out in the coming weeks.”
“Excellent, continue to work with them. We cannot allow talks to collapse at this stage.”
Dumbledore nods to the other bankers. “We must turn our attention to the remaining four families. We will require a delegation of at least two people to see to each.” Dumbledore probes the room, searching every attentive face. “News has reached me that they have fled abroad. The Death Eaters will undoubtedly pursue them. You will need to first and foremost prevent them from joining Voldemort, or from being murdered by Death Eaters. I doubt their kin will take kindly to their harm. It could destabilise everything we have worked for. Any volunteers?”
There’s an almighty silence, and then a thickset man with greying hair speaks up.
“Yeah, I’m up for it, I’ve got experience working with magical creatures. I speak Gobbledegook an’ all.”
Personally, I see no problem, but Dumbledore and several others around the room including McGonagall shake their heads.
“With all due respect, you work in the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures Department. I hardy think the goblins will respond well to that implication,” McGonagall says rather tartly.
“Yes, unfortunately, I agree. Furthermore, there are spies in the ministry—all ministry officials are being watched and all magical means of travel are being supervised,” Dumbledore adds.
“We need someone who doesn’t work for the ministry, someone who has a legitimate reason to go abroad—the Black Forest specifically—perhaps for work related reasons. Someone who has knowledge of Goblin culture and language.”
Oh dear. The sensation of being cornered is growing.
Dumbledore is looking at me. “Miss Evans,” he says. He looks resigned, almost apologetic. I take a deep breath.
“I think I fulfil your requirements,” I say speaking up so that the whole room’s attention shifts to me. My face feels a little hot.
“I work for Transfiguration Today. We’re doing a feature in six months regarding Goblin transfiguration with a special emphasis on metal manipulation.” I explain, looking around the room. “I usually use second hand reports for my articles, but I’m encouraged to go abroad and do my own research. It’s a perfect alibi.”
A couple of people around the room nod, seemingly satisfied, but Isobel shakes her head.
“But she doesn’t know anything about Goblin culture, does she? Can she even speak Gobbledegook?”
Is it me, or is her tone bordering on rude? Besides, I don’t appreciate being talked about as though I’m not here. Brushing it aside, I align my features so they’re more neutral.
“No,” I reply, as pleasantly as I can. Be the bigger person, Lily. “I’m not an expert on Goblins, but I can take someone along with me,” I say, remembering the way my boss, Neil, was allowed to take his girlfriend along with him to the Dominican Republic.
“Okay, then,” says McGonagall. “Who here has experience with goblins?”
About seven people raise their hands and my stomach lurches. James is one of them. Please, God, no. Don’t be cruel. The bankers are immediately asked to put their hands down; they’re needed for negotiations here. Three people remain: Professor Kettleburn, the Care of Magical Creatures teacher, James Potter and the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures man.
Disposal man is immediately out for the reasons discussed before. It’s between Kettleburn and Potter.
Kettleburn! Kettleburn! So what if he has a limp and falls asleep every ten minutes mid-conversation? I’d much prefer him.
“Sorry, dear, I have to teach,” he says apologetically.
“We can find a substitute,” I cry in desperation. This can’t be happening. This is hideous.
“Not without drawing attention to his absence, which may raise questions as to where you are going. Discretion is paramount,” says Dumbledore slowly.
“James fits our criteria perfectly, are we in agreement?” Dumbledore phrases it as an open question for the room, I want to jump up and say, “No, we’re bloody well not in agreement,” or something equally childish, but even I have to admit this makes sense.
The room is silent. I chance a glance at the dream team across the room. James is looking at Dumbledore, his expression difficult to read, almost blank. Remus looks concerned; Sirius looks as though he’s trying very hard not to smile; Peter is asking Isobel if she’s alright, and Isobel is giving me one extremely cold look.
Oh, please, like I asked for this.
“Excellent,” says Dumbledore standing up. “I think that concludes our meeting. We’ll schedule the next one in the usual way. Lily, James, please stay behind to discuss the particulars.”
This whole thing is hideous.
As soon as the meeting was over, Isobel jumped up and left the room, James hot on her heels. The room slowly emptied in twos and threes soon after. I was alone now. I sat at the table with a headache, tracing the wood grain with my finger tips.
It felt like at least half an hour, but it was probably 15 minutes before they came back. Remus is the first through the door. I give him a small apologetic smile, and to his credit, he does smile back. James and Isobel come next. They wordlessly take a seat across from me.
Okay. I feel really awkward. I don’t quite know where to look.
Okay, okay, time to put on the big girl pants, Evans. Just do it.
“Hello,” I say in a pleasant voice, holding my hand out to Isobel. “I’m Lily.” She looks at me in surprise before taking my hand and shaking it for about a second, then wiping it discreetly on her robes.
“Hello James,” I say nicely. I might as well try and get off on the right foot. He doesn’t say anything, just narrows his eyes and nods once.
Remus takes pity on me.
“So, you’re working for Transfiguration Today,” he asks kindly. I jump on the topic like a drowning man to a lifeboat.
“Oh, yeah, I have been for about two years now.” Another long silence ensues.
This is unbearable.
“It’s really wonderful,” I lie through my teeth with great enthusiasm. But I forget who I’m talking to. Remus’ smile tells me he doesn’t believe a word and James’ eyebrows rise imperceptibly.
“I thought you hated transfiguration,” points out Remus.
“It grew on me,” I continue to lie. More silence ensues, and not the easy comfortable kind.
Oh, I give up. Fine, let’s all be unsociable and taciturn. Suits me just fine. I slump back in my seat and wait for Dumbledore to arrive. I try not to think about the impending weeks with just James Potter for company.
A/n: A big thankyou to Katie, my wonderful beta.
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