James was playing exploding snap with Albus and Roxanne one Saturday evening in the Gryffindor common room when Professor Longbottom came to find them. James cursed when Roxanne won, but when he looked up at her face, she wasn’t smiling. She wasn’t gloating. In fact, her face was deadly serious.
He swiveled and found an identical expression on Professor Longbottom’s face. “Will you three please come with me?” he asked. At least one of them must have looked alarmed, because Longbottom quickly added, “Don’t worry.”
Despite those words, James felt a shiver run down his spine. He, Roxanne, and Albus followed Longbottom out of the portrait hole, through the corridors, and up the stairs to Professor McGonagall’s office.
She was not there, but Lily, Rose, and Hugo were. He and Albus took seats on either side of Rose, and he gave her a questioning glance. She gave a small shrug and shake of her head, and James slumped back in his chair.
“What’s going on?” Albus asked Professor Longbottom, his voice steady.
Before the professor could answer, however, they heard footsteps on the stairs. After a moment, Professor McGonagall swept into the room, followed by their cousin Louis.
The pit in James’s stomach grew bigger. Whatever Longbottom had said, James could not think of a reason that they would be in the Head’s office and that Louis would be present that was remotely positive.
“What’s going on?” Lily asked loudly.
“Everyone’s fine,” Louis said quickly. “V’s in St. Mungo’s, because of an…” he paused, and then continued, “an accident at work, but she’s fine. Don’t worry.”
“If she’s fine, then why are you here?” Lily pressed. She was right, James realized; it wasn’t as though they hadn’t had family members land up in St. Mungo’s before, and it usually didn’t merit a somber meeting with the Headmistress and their Head of House.
Louis sighed. “Because it’ll probably get reported in the Daily Prophet tomorrow, and not everyone involved pulled through okay.”
James looked at his sister. Her face was white, and she darted a glance at him. “What do you mean, not everyone pulled through?” she asked, her voice high. It occurred to him, and not for the first time, that his sister was not cut out to pursue the same sort of career that he and Albus were.
“I mean that they’ll be in the St. Mungo’s longer than she will,” Louis said calmly.
“What kind of accident would get reported in the Daily Prophet?” Hugo asked. When James leaned over to look at him, he was frowning.
Louis sighed. “The kind of accident that I can’t tell you about.”
“So not an accident, then,” Hugo said. He looked concerned and more than a little curious, but he also looked fairly collected. That was more than James could say for Lily, who was clutching the seat of her chair so hard that her knuckles were white.
“Won’t we just read about it tomorrow in the Prophet, anyway?” James looked at Rose, who was frowning at Louis and waiting for an answer to her question.
Louis shrugged. “She’s fine,” he repeated. “That’s all you need to know. Would you like to visit her tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Hugo said before the rest of them could react.
James looked at Professor McGonagall. It might have been his imagination, but she looked especially grim. “In that case, you may report to Professor Longbottom’s office tomorrow morning to travel to the hospital using floo powder,” she said.
James nodded, and out of the corner of his eye, he could see the others doing the same. “Thank you, Professor McGonagall,” he said. There was a chorus of “thank yous” from his cousins and siblings before they followed Professor Longbottom down the stairs.
When they got back to the common room, Marion and Tyler were sitting at the table that they had vacated. Both were hunched over what James assumed was the long review Goldstein had set them in preparation for N.E.W.T.s, but looked up as the portrait of the Fat Lady closed.
“Where have you been?” Tyler asked, trying - and failing - to look severe. “Don’t you have work to do?”
Before James could figure out what to say, Roxanne answered him. “Not as much as you, since we haven’t wasted countless hours snogging people.” Marion looked back down at her paper quickly, and James felt his face growing hot. “Oh, wait,” Roxanne said, a look of mock thoughtfulness on her face. “I guess that’s just me, then.”
“Just because you can’t—” Tyler started, but Roxanne cut him off.
“Who said anything about can’t? I said haven’t. I could.” She threw herself into the armchair closest to the table and smirked. “I just don’t want to.”
Roxanne was notoriously picky.
Lily cleared her throat. “I’m going to go to bed,” she said.
James frowned. It wasn’t even eight yet. “Are you okay?” he and Albus asked at the same time.
She smiled. It looked forced. “Fine. Just tired.” As she made her way toward the staircase to the girl’s dormitory, James and Albus exchanged a look. On one hand, it was no good trying to get Lily to talk when she didn’t feel like it, and they both knew it. However, at the same time, it was difficult to back off when your little sister was clearly upset, especially when you knew that it could easily be your fault in the future.
“Me, too,” Hugo said, breaking the silence. “Not because I’m upset and lying about it, I’m just tired because I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
“How come?” Rose asked, cocking her head to the side. “You weren’t down here.”
Hugo shrugged. “Strange dreams,” he said after a minute.
Rose’s eyes narrowed slightly, but she didn’t challenge him. “Sleep well.”
“Thanks.” He waved. “Goodnight.”
“Sickle for your thoughts?” Albus asked Rose once Hugo had disappeared up the stairs.
She looked at him in surprise. “Are my thoughts worth a whole sickle, now?” When he just raised his eyebrows, she shrugged. “It’s nothing.”
James was fairly certain that he didn’t believe her, and he didn’t think anyone else did, either.
“So where were you?” Marion asked, drawing the conversation away from Rose.
He grimaced and sank into the seat next to her.
“Victoire is in the hospital,” Albus said flatly. “She's apparently fine, but we’re going to see her tomorrow.”
Tyler said something, but James lost track of what it was when Marion touched his hand. He looked up.
“Are you okay?” she asked softly.
He swallowed hard. It was a reasonable question, but he didn’t really have an answer. If he was being honest with himself, he wasn’t really okay, but he wasn’t sure why. He knew that what he wanted to do was dangerous and could land you in St. Mungo’s—or worse. It wasn’t just that he knew intellectually; he understood it, and he was okay with it. It also wasn’t about people he cared about getting hurt: that was stressful, but it was stress that he knew how to deal with.
So why was he feeling so tense?
It must have shown in his face, because after a moment, he felt her other hand on the side of his head.
“You’re going to mess up my hair,” he mumbled as she ran her fingers through it.
She laughed, and he heard the others join her. “That would be a shame,” he heard Albus say dryly.
“Come on.” Marion stood up. “Let’s go upstairs.”
James looked up at her. “Huh?”
“Let’s go upstairs,” she repeated slowly.
“Oh.” He got to his feet. “I’m really fine,” he told her as she led him toward the stairs.
“Good to hear.” He could tell that she didn’t believe him.
When they reached the door that led to his dormitory, he turned the knob and the door swung open to reveal an empty room. He’d known it would be; Tyler and Julian were sitting in the common room, and Vincent was patrolling.
Marion crossed her arms. “What’s wrong?”
James flopped onto his bed and buried his face in his pillow. “I don’t know,” he said, his voice muffled.
The bed moved slightly as she sat down next to him, and she began to run her fingers through his hair again, and he felt some of the tension drain out of him. “Come on, James. What’s wrong?”
He turned his head to the side so his voice was clearer. “I don’t know,” he repeated. “I know that fighting things that can hurt and kill you is, you know, capable of hurting and killing you. And I’m okay with that.” James’s voice sounded a little more defensive than he’d meant it to.
“I know you are,” she said calmly.
“It’s not fun to worry about people you care about,” James continued, “but I’m used to it. My dad is an Auror. I can’t just spend my time worrying.” After a moment, he looked up at her. “Not that—”
Marion shook her head and continued to stroke his hair. “I know what you mean.”
“I mean, part of it is just not knowing. Louis said that V is fine, but I don’t know what fine means. He said that not everyone pulled through as well as she did, but I don’t know what that means, either.” He trailed off.
“Not knowing is hard,” she agreed.
James closed his eyes. “Lily freaking out didn’t help, either.” Marion made a questioning noise, and he sighed. “She just fell apart. I thought she was going to pass out or start crying hysterically.”
Marion sighed, too. “James, she’s in the rather unenviable position of having almost everyone in her family that she loves the most in the line of danger as it is, and she knows that that’s where her brothers are headed as soon as they possibly can.” She paused, and the hand in his hair stilled. “I think that she knew that you were a lost cause, but that she was hoping Albus would think the better of it, and it’s become clear that he won’t. That’s what I think, anyway,” she added quickly.
James frowned. “Aren’t I in the same position?”
“Yes,” she said slowly, “but you and your sister are very different people. You react to the people around you being in danger by accepting it as a natural part of life. She doesn’t really seem able to do that, which is probably part of why she isn’t planning on doing anything particularly dangerous with her life.”
“Seekers get hurt all the time,” he pointed out.
Marion laughed. “Somehow, I think that playing Quidditch and fighting dragons are two very different experiences, bludgers or not.”
“But I’m not going to fight dragons. That’s Dominique.”
“Not the point, James.”
“I know.” He touched her arm. “Come on, lay down.” When she did, he put one of his arms around her and pulled her closer. “What about you?” he asked.
She twisted her head around to look at him. “What about me, what?” she asked, clearly confused.
“Your parents don’t have what I’d generally call tame jobs,” he pointed out.
“That’s an understatement,” she said wryly. Her father had had a brief stint in the Auror department after the war, and shortly after that he’d moved on to Hit Wizards and never left, while her mother worked with dragons.
Marion probably had everyone beat when it came to parents in dangerous professions.
James grinned. “Well, yeah. But you don’t seem to get tense about them.” He didn’t add ‘only about me,’ though he wanted to.
She seemed to know what he was thinking, anyway. “They’re my parents. What can I do about it? I was just hoping to avoid it elsewhere in my life.”
“I’m sorry I’m inconvenient,” he told her.
“No you’re not.”
“I am,” James said earnestly. “I’m not sorry for who I am, but I am sorry that it’s inconvenient for you.”
He could feel her trembling with suppressed laughter. “Of course you are.”
“I am who I am,” he said, starting to feel defensive again. “And it’s a job that needs doing.”
Marion groaned. “James, do we have to do this now?” As he opened his mouth to apologize, however, she shook her head. “No, wait.” She pulled away from him and sat up, ignoring his protests. “I know that it is who you are, and I know that it’s a job that needs doing.”
“So what’s the problem?” he asked, looking up at her. Sooner or later, he needed to learn how to keep his mouth shut.
“I’m scared of my best friend dying,” she said after a moment. He was startled to see tears in her eyes. Marion usually didn’t cry. She got annoyed or hurt, but she didn’t cry.
“I thought Roxanne was your best friend,” he said stupidly.
She ignored him. “James, you are one of my favorite people in the world,” she said, her voice wavering. “I don’t want you to die.”
He blinked perplexedly. “Mari, I’m not planning on dying,” he told her.
“But it could happen,” she pointed out. “Your cousin isn’t in St. Mungo’s because she got hit by a bludger.”
“No one’s ever died in the DCB,” he reminded her.
“Yet,” Marion said darkly, and he had to admit, even if only to himself, that she was right. It was only a matter of time. “James, I love you. I have been in love with you for years. I don’t want you to die.” Her lower lip trembled, and James suddenly felt the urge to kiss her. He pushed himself into a sitting position, put a hand on her cheek, and crashed his lips to hers. When he pulled away, he was pleased to see a small smile on her face. “I really don’t want you to die,” she reiterated.
“Too much left that you’d like to do to me?” He leaned over to his bedside table and grabbing a box of tissues off of it.
She blew her nose. “Yes, actually.” She dabbed away the tears on her cheeks.
“I’ll be extra careful to avoid dying, then,” he promised.
“Will you?” she asked lightly. He wasn’t sure whether he was disappointed or relieved when she lay down next to him. Probably a little of both. “I really wonder sometimes,” she said.
He ran a hand up the leg she’d slung over his and was gratified to feel her shudder. “What can I do to help you feel better, then?” he asked.
“What, about you dying? Not much.”
“No, about my job,” he said, sliding his hand over so that he was touching the inside of her thigh.
Marion tried to suppress a gasp, but did not quite succeed. “James, I can’t think with you doing that.”
“That never seems to stop you,” he said. She had a highly disconcerting habit of licking her lips in a way that she knew would come across as very suggestive to him in awkward situations, including when professors had just called on him to answer a question.
“Yes,” she said, squirming away from him, “but I’m usually not actually touching you.”
James snorted. In his opinion, that was a very fine distinction. “Fine,” he said, putting the offending hand behind his head.
She lay back down and James put his other arm around her. “You feel good,” she murmured as she snuggled into his body.
“You’ve told me that before,” he quipped, and she smiled.
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Marion said after a moment. “What you can do to make me feel better, I mean.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I don’t—” he started, outraged.
“Not now,” Marion said quickly. “Later. Tell me the truth about what’s going on. About what you’re facing. About what the dangers are.” She sighed. “It’s the idea of not knowing that’s the worst.”
James thought for a moment. “I can do that. Should I start now?”
“If you want to kill my sex drive for the rest of the night, sure.”
He grinned. “But won’t you want me even more knowing how brave and heroic I am?”
“Are you feeling any better?” she asked, ignoring his question.
“A little,” he said. “I just don’t know how to deal with people worrying about me.”
“I know you don’t.” She propped herself up and looked down at him. “I bet I can think of a way to make you feel better, though.”
He reached up for her. “I bet you can, too,” he said softly.
Tyler’s knock at the door came way too soon.
By the time James met the others in front of Longbottom’s office the next day, he was feeling a little better - Marion had a tendency to help him relax - but something about the conversation wasn't quite sitting right with him. Probably the part that required him to be responsible. James believed very strongly that being responsible was for people over the age of 30.
When they entered Victoire’s room at St. Mungo’s, Teddy was sitting by her bedside. The two of them were holding hands and speaking to each other softly. James did not feel jealous, exactly. He certainly didn’t begrudge them their happiness.
He just wished his relationship wasn’t so uncertain. Whatever Marion had said about telling the truth making her feel better, he had a hard time believing that it would truly be that easy.
Victoire saw them first, and struggled to sit up. “Everyone’s coming to see me,” she said, grinning. “I feel so special.”
“Who else has been here?” Albus asked, glancing around the room at all of the flowers that had presumably been sent by well-wishers.
“Everyone,” she said cheerfully. “How are all of you doing?”
“Fine,” Rose said. She seemed to consider this to be a ridiculous question, considering the situation. James heartily agreed. “What happened?”
Teddy frowned. “You know we can’t answer that.”
“You know?” Roxanne asked, looking a little outraged.
He rolled his eyes. “Yes,” he said dryly. “As I am her husband, yes, I know.”
“But we’re her family.”
“So am I,” Teddy said mildly. He knew Roxanne well enough not to take her seriously. “And I actually have to live with her.” He conjured several more chairs and gestured to them. “Take a seat.”
“I bet Fred knows, too,” Roxanne muttered as she sunk into one of them. She couldn’t quite pull off a scowl.
“Yes,” Victoire agreed, still very cheerful. “He does. But he’s the only cousin who does, if it makes you feel at all better.”
Roxanne sniffed. “You like him the best of all of us.”
“Yes,” Victoire agreed again. “I like you all very much, but I have to admit that I like your brother the best.”
James suspected that the fact that they might have been a bit more forthcoming had he and Roxanne been out of school, or even if Lily and Hugo weren’t there, but there was nothing to be done about that now.
Albus sat down in one of the chairs. “What can you tell us?” he asked. When Victoire and Teddy hesitated, he rolled his eyes. “You must be able to tell us something.” Unlike Roxanne, he was starting to sound truly annoyed, and James chose to exercise his better judgment for once and refrained from mentioning quintapeds.
“My squad was checking out a report from up north,” Victoire said slowly. James had the impression that she was choosing her words very carefully. “We were attacked. Now we’re all in St. Mungo’s.”
“How are the others doing?” Rose asked, looking concerned.
“Less well than me,” Victoire admitted. “I’m really fine, I’m just here as a precaution. Van is conscious, and he should make a full recovery.” She hesitated. “Sienna is more touch and go. That’s really all I can say.”
James looked at his sister. She was clutching her jacket, but otherwise looked much calmer than she had the night before. He wondered what had happened in between then and now. Maybe it was just a good night’s sleep.
Victoire cleared her throat and jerked her head toward the clock on the wall. “I’m really sorry,” she apologized, “but the heads of the division are coming to see us, and they should be here in a few minutes. It won’t take long. Do you mind…”
“Why don’t we go get a cup of tea and come back in a few minutes?” Albus suggested, getting up. Lily and Hugo—who for some unfathomable reason loved the St. Mungo’s cafeteria—were halfway down the corridor before James, Albus, Roxanne, and Rose had even exited the room.
James caught sight of a name on the door two doors down from Victoire’s and stopped short.
“What’s up with you?” Roxanne asked, looking back.
He put a finger up to his lips, his excitement mounting. With his other hand, he pointed at the name on the door.
Albus peered at the name. “Who on earth is Van Dedworth?” he asked, mispronouncing the first name.
“Van,” James corrected him absentmindedly.
“Oh.” Then Albus’s eyes widened. “Oh.”
“If they’re coming to see Victoire, you can bet they’ll be checking in on him.” James looked at Rose, who seemed to be thinking along the same lines that he was.
“James, do you have the cloak?” she hissed.
“Of course I do.”
Roxanne looked from James to Rose. “The four of us can’t fit under it.”
“No, we can’t,” Albus agreed. “And I think that it’s my turn.”
“Are you joking?” Rose snapped. “This is our department, we have dibs.”
“It’s not your department yet,” Albus said stubbornly. “And I want in.”
James looked at his watch. “We really don’t have time to argue about this now.”
“Well, we should go.” Rose crossed her arms. “It is our department.”
Roxanne looked at the three of them, and then up the corridor at Hugo and Lily, who had stopped and were looking back at them suspiciously. “You owe me,” she said before jogging to join them.
When James looked at his brother, Albus was scowling. “No. All three of us can fit under it, we’re not that big.”
“Come on, then.” Rose glanced up the corridor. “No one’s out here, hurry up.”
James had just slipped the cloak over the three of them when the door to the room opened and a girl backed out. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
“Don’t worry,” came a voice from inside the room. “I’m sure it will be fine.”
James, Albus, and Rose took advantage of the open door and slipped in before it could close.
They had just made their way to a corner when the door opened again, and a man stepped into the room. James knew exactly who he was.
This was one of the best ideas he’d had in a long time.
The man sat down in a chair next to the bed and leaned forward. “What happened, Van?” he asked without preamble.
“Is Sienna alive?” the man in the bed asked urgently.
“For the moment, yes, but Van, I need to know what happened.”
“Did anyone else get hurt? Viv wouldn’t tell me.”
The man sighed. “Viv probably didn’t know. No. No one else got hurt. What happened?”
The other man groaned. “I screwed up, Seamus. I wasn’t thinking.”
“That doesn’t tell me much.”
“Oh, hell.” Before Seamus could ask again, Van said, “They weren’t quintapeds.”
Seamus did not seem relieved. “Then what were they?”
“Acromantulas,” Van said, his head still in his hands. “Big ones. They wouldn’t go down.”
“What do you mean, ‘they wouldn’t go down’?” Seamus asked, a crease between his eyebrows. “No, wait. Start at the beginning.”
“We didn’t find anything where there had actually been sightings, so we went further inland and split up just to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. Natalie probably told you that.” He looked at Seamus, who nodded. “We planned to touch base every fifteen minutes, and I sent Vic to compare notes.” He looked up. “I couldn’t go and leave the two of them, and Sienna hates apparation, so I thought—”
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Seamus said. He had his head down, and appeared to be studying the floor. “What happened next?”
“After the third or fourth time V left, there was a loud noise further into the forest. We should have left it alone until she came back, but it was so close, and we didn’t want her to apparate into an attack if it came at us-”
Seamus nodded. “So you went after it.”
“Yes.” Van looked positively miserable. “So we went after it. It turned out to be a nest of acromantulas. Maybe they were waiting for her to leave.”
“What makes you think that?” Seamus asked. James was glad; he’d been confused by the statement, too. Acromantulas weren’t usually very good at planning – they liked human flesh too much.
Van shrugged. “It seems like too much of a coincidence that we’d hear something seconds after she left, especially after the third or fourth time. If they’d been watching, they’d have known she was usually gone for two or three minutes at a time. Maybe I’m wrong.”
“How confident are you that you’re right?”
“Not very.” Van gave a humourless laugh. “It’s just my gut, and we’ve seen how good that is these days.”
Seamus shook his head. “You might have something,” he said. “Keep going.”
“We walked right into it,” Van said simply. “They were on us, and suddenly Sienna was down. They’d separated us somehow, but I was trying to blast them away from her and keep them off me and to get to her all at once.” He shuddered. “I don’t even remember getting hurt, I just remember looking down and seeing all the blood. That’s when Vic came in. She blasted them away, pulled me over to Sienna, and apparated us away.” He was staring down at his bed. “Thank god for Vic. If it wasn’t for her, we’d both be dead.”
“Yes, you would,” Seamus agreed.
“Do you want me to resign?” Van asked after a minute or two of silence.
Seamus looked surprised. “No, of course not. Why would I?”
Van frowned. He looked as though he rather doubted his superior’s sanity. “I almost got Sienna killed.”
“You also kept Sienna alive until help could reach you,” Seamus pointed out. “And you almost died in the process.”
“I should have…” Van started, and then gave up. “Is there anything else?”
Seamus rose. “Not for the moment.” He paused at the door. “No one blames you, Van,” he said. “We’ll all be glad to have you if you choose to come back.”
“Why wouldn’t I choose to come back?” Van asked, a look of surprise on his face. “If you’re not firing me, of course I’m coming back.”
Seamus smiled and stepped through the door. James, Albus, and Rose hurried through it after him. They waited to pull the cloak off until he joined a woman with a face nearly as scarred as their uncle’s and they’d disappeared down the hall.
Rose’s eyes were shining. “You have got to be kidding me.” She looked both excited and terrified. James could understand that particular mix of emotions.
He was experiencing them, too.
A/N: I feel like this isn't quite up to my usual standard of writing... I edited it, but still. Blegh.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the chapter! I'm hoping that all the references can stand on their own, but a little extra information in case you're curious:
Marion's parents are Dean Thomas and Padma Patil. I have a one-shot about Padma called "Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon" up, if you're curious.
In case you've been reading "The Dark Side of the Moon," this takes place about a year and a half after it. It was probably clear once they started talking about acromantulas that it was, but just in case anyone's still curious about when this is in relation to that. Along those lines, some of the things alluded to in that story are part of why Seamus was talking to Van and Lavender was talking to Victoire, rather than the other way around. ;)
If you haven't read "The Dark Side of the Moon" or the other stories this is mentioned in, Seamus and Lavender are in charge of the D.C.B. Van has either appeared in or been mentioned in a few other stories as well, including DSM.
Thanks for reading, and as always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the chapter!
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