Chapter 10 : Work As Usual
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He, on the other hand, was not suited much for the Ministry in any case.
“You took forever,” James’s best friend informed him plaintively, already setting off down the corridor, so that James had to hurry to keep up. He grinned, showing that his nitpicking was in good humor, but it was also heartfelt. Sirius had a very ingrained habit of speaking his mind.
“Excuse me for doing my job,” James responded sarcastically, nudging Sirius in the ribs slightly with his elbow. “You’re such a good dog, though, to wait for me -“
“I am capable of hexing you,” Sirius said in a sing-song, holding his arms out to his sides and pretending to balance on the pattern that ran the length of the carpet runner. “I am not a dog.”
“You just smell like one,” James said cheerfully. “On the plus side” - he made a sort of wonky thumbs-up gesture, causing Sirius to snort - “we’ve got another member!”
Sirius halted in the middle of the virtually deserted corridor, squinting a bit at the Ministry-invented sunshine streaming through the windows - the real weather outside was steely and gray, proof positive of the cold Christmas season that was rapidly approaching. “You serious?” he said, shoving a bit of hair away from his forehead. He craned his neck, trying to read the gold-embossed nameplate on Fenwick’s door with fresh eyes. “Why him?”
James shrugged one shoulder and pushed his glasses a bit further up his nose, the sun glinting off them and momentarily making it look as though he had no eyes behind his lenses. “I dunno, do I?” he said casually. “I get assignments from Dearborn, who gets them from Dumbledore. A bit far down in the ranks to question things, wouldn’t you say?” He smirked a bit.
Sirius tossed his hair away from his eyes again, where it had fallen once more. “Hey,” he said suddenly, with the distinct air of changing the subject. “Why do you think Beth didn’t want to come with us?”
James threw his friend a rather suspicious sideways look. “I don’t know,” he said patiently. “Nor did I know the first time you asked. Or the time before that.” Sirius said nothing, and resumed his mock balancing act on the carpet, so James didn’t press the subject.
But his mind was turning, and not just over the new Order member he’d managed to recruit. Getting Benjy Fenwick to agree to be a part of the secret society hadn’t really been all that difficult, once James had laid the facts in front of him. Fenwick had been acquainted with Moody for some time, Dearborn had said, and all his intentions were in the right place. The most surprising thing for the old man had probably been that it was a twenty-year-old boy telling him about it, but that reaction was to be expected, too.
No, it was Sirius who had James frowning in slight concentration as they made their way toward the small areas where the lifts sat - mostly empty now, as it was the middle of the day. Sirius had been acting slightly strangely about Beth all morning, and James couldn’t think of why. He wondered if something had happened - she’d done something stupid on a mission, or whatever - but that wouldn’t have made him like this. Now it was like all he could talk about was something Beth had said or done…
A slight feeling of nerves pinched the very pit of his stomach. That was too weird to think about, and so, for the time being, he shoved it firmly from his mind. Beth and Sirius are friends, he told himself. He knows she’s still a little unsure about the end of seventh year, all that stuff that happened then with her and Severus. He’ll take his time, if those really are his intentions. But it was Sirius he was talking about, and where Sirius was concerned, nothing was set in stone.
Sirius stopped outside one of the lifts with doglike energy - there was no other way to describe it, even if he would have taken offense to the characterization - and whistled tunelessly. “You’re in a happy mood,” James ventured cautiously, that same anxious feeling twisting about his stomach again.
Sirius shrugged in a perfect imitation of James’s previous one-shouldered gesture. “It’s a nice day,” he said, waving a long arm at the windows. James opened his mouth to inform him of the falseness of that sunshine, and that it was only there on the whim of Magical Maintenance, but again, he thought better of it, and kept silent.
The lift rolled into view, golden grilles clattering of their own accord. Sirius stepped onto it and began jabbing at the buttons in impatience.
“No, Padfoot, we’re going down,” James said, but Sirius grinned wickedly at him and waggled his eyebrows. “The atrium’s on Level Eight,” he tried again, but his best friend cut him off.
“We’re not going to the atrium,” he said pleasantly. “I reckon we ought to pay Moony a visit.” James’s own face cracked into a wide grin at this; the fact that another of their friends actually worked here had completely slipped his mind.
Remus had been placed in the Department of International Magical Cooperation - he, Mary, and Marlene had been spread out among the upper departments, so as to provide the Order more coverage in that area, and offer more chance for overhearing potentially useful information. Unfortunately, in this particular department there hadn’t been a lot of room for a new hire, and certainly not one so young. As such, Remus had been unceremoniously dumped in an impossibly small corner at an impossibly small intern’s desk, sloughing papers about for the rest of the office workers there.
The two boys, upon approaching this corner, at first thought Remus was absent from his desk, hidden as it was by mounds of parchment. Many of the sheets were moving, waving about despite the distinct lack of fresh air here. A couple of them seemed to be shouting things at him, waving corners and demanding to be sent to their proper places.
One of the memos was making a particularly vocal bid as James and Sirius peeked over the stack it was sitting on top of. “I don’t know why I’m still sitting on this shriveled stump of a desk,” it said, in a rather high-pitched, throaty voice, “when it clearly states that I was due to the Office of Misinformation yesterday!”
“You shut up, or I will set you on fire.” And at last, Remus emerged from the swamp of paper, looking just as frazzled as one might expect.
“I don’t think that’s a very nice way to greet your two best mates, you know,” said Sirius heartily, resting his chin on the stack of paper; the memo squealed in protest. Remus jumped a foot from the seat of his half-broken desk chair, and James distinctly heard one of its legs crack more than it had already done.
“Blimey! You might announce yourselves a bit more obviously!” But he was grinning as he slung a careless, at-ease arm around Sirius’s shoulders, and then James’s. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“Recruiting,” said James, puffing out his chest importantly. Sirius let out a rather undignified snort, and so, to get back at him, James added, “Sirius played the part of the flea-bitten mongrel I couldn’t shake off on the way up here. But he did refrain from making a mess on the carpets, so…”
Sirius barked accordingly, pretending to look rather pleased with himself. Remus rolled his eyes, smiling and said, “Good to know those canine instincts are kicking in.”
“Hey.” Sirius folded his arms on the memo stack and leaned forward conspiratorially, and James instinctively did the same, although he didn’t know what was going to be said - it was a pose too familiar from years of hushed library conversations not to instantly mimic it now. “How are your things going, by the way?”
James choked. “His things?”
“Oh, grow up, you’re married,” Sirius snapped, nevertheless giving him a devilish sort of grin. “You know. Your…” He let his voice trail off a bit, and then said, in a voice just above a whisper, “Your transformations.”
Remus made an indistinct little noise. “All right. It’s a bit lonely, not having you all there when I come out of it.” He proffered them a sad little smile at that. “I’ve got access to some really well-made wolfsbane here, though. It works wonders, way better than Slughorn’s ever did.”
“Good news, mate,” said James, clapping him on the back; as he did, he was suddenly reminded of something, and added, “Hey, you’re coming over for Christmas, aren’t you? It’s only a few weeks away,” he added, as Remus made a slightly sour face. “Lily’s been bugging me about how much cranberry sauce she needs to buy.”
“That’s a full moon, though,” Remus said in a low voice, his face losing color ever so slightly. Sirius waved this information away as if it were unimportant.
“That’s not until Christmas. You’ll have a whole day.” He pulled a sort of grotesque pouting face that would have done nothing to convince anybody of anything under normal circumstances. “C’mon. Beth and I will be there!”
He says it like they’re a couple, James thought, and then quickly told whatever nagging bit of conscience kept rearing its head to shut up.
“All right, all right. I’ll go,” said Remus, grinning a bit and, bending over, making a sort of curlicue mark on one of the memos on his desk. As he was doing so, the sound of approaching footsteps met the ears of the three boys, and they all looked around at the same moment to see who it was.
“Hey, Frank. Good to see you.” Sirius reached over and shook Frank Longbottom’s hand; James felt awkward doing so, having hardly ever spoken to him and having to reach around a large stack of parchment besides, but followed suit anyway.
The older man bent over the desk and pretended to be reading something that was on it, even going so far as the point out something nonexistent for the benefit of anyone who might be watching. But in a low voice, and speaking from the corner of his mouth, he asked, “What are you up to?”
“Recruiting,” James said back in a similar voice, and had to fight a grin at the sort of pleased expression on Frank’s face. He decided instantly that he liked him - he may not have been older by all that much, but there was a sort of paternal air about all the same, as though James could go to him with any sort of problem and Frank would resolve it.
He wondered if it was weird to think like that.
“Excellent. Did you get one?” Frank was still speaking from only one side of his mouth, and his face was contorted strangely. James nodded, and he made a sort of hand gesture that was supposed to emulate success. Sirius snorted appreciatively.
“Benjy Fenwick,” he answered for James, sweeping his hair out of his eyes. “Hey - Beth was at my place the other night and mentioned that Alice wasn’t feeling well. How’s she doing?” He was looking straight ahead as he said this, and James was sure that he wasn’t looking at him or at Remus for a reason. Which was probably a good thing, because his jaw went south before he could stop it.
“She was at your place at night -?” he began, but for all his blustering, he only received a quick jab in the ribs, courtesy of Sirius’s left elbow. But he didn’t care nearly as much as he did about the news, and that sick, twisted sort of feeling began blooming in the pit of his stomach again. For some reason, his mind flashed briefly back to Hogwarts - not as long ago as it seemed - and how hung up Beth had been on Severus Snape. For years, he saw in retrospect, although being of the male species, he’d been blind to it until that final year. For some reason, the fact that Sirius was intimating that she’d moved on… It didn’t sit well with him.
Frank quirked an eyebrow at the pair of them, clearly unsure as to whether he was still supposed to answer the question or not, but forged on bravely. “She’s doing loads better now. Actually…” And here he trailed off, an uncharacteristically boyish grin slipping across his face. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I reckon we’ll announce it at the next Order meeting, anyway.” His cheeks flushed with excitement. “Alice is going to have a baby.”
The three boys let out simultaneous noises of excitement and congratulations, the distinctness of their words getting lost as they talked over one another.
“You serious, mate?”
James looked at Sirius disbelievingly. “Smooth.” His friend flashed him a winning smile in return, and, reaching over, patted Frank’s shoulder again as though trying to prove he’d only been kidding.
“She’s a bit less than two months, she reckons,” Frank was saying now, a rather infectious grin on his face now that the news had broken, “but we’re really pleased. But anyway.” He straightened up, still hunched over as he was, and cleared his throat. “I’d better head on, but I’ll see you around.” There was only the slightest pause of significance between the last two words, and then he walked off.
Remus looked up at the two of them, his mouth open just slightly. “Blimey, that’s weird,” he said, sounding a bit stunned. “He’s not that much older than us.”
“Yeah,” said Sirius, cracking into that grin again, “but unless you’ve got something you’re not telling us, the only one of us who’s got to deal with that weirdness is James.” He nudged James in the ribs again, and James was rather embarrassed to find a telltale flush creeping high into his cheeks. “Can we expect James the Younger soon? Lily the Second? Or are you going to go for Elvendork? It’s still got kicks, mind you -“
The entire way home, James tried to find a way to bring up Sirius and his constant mentions of Beth, but there was no good opening into the conversation. Half of him suspected that he was talking a mile a minute on purpose, just to deflect potential awkwardness. It would have been a rather Sirius thing to do.
As it was, James and Sirius parted way in front of the Potters’ apartment complex without so much as a hint in that direction. James let himself into the apartment and waved a friendly hello to the security guard, who couldn’t be bothered to look up from his eternal crossword to do more than grunt at him.
There were clattering sorts of sounds from the minuscule kitchen as James let himself in, slinging his coat over the back of the loveseat jammed right up next to the door for want of space. “Lils?” he called, following his coat onto the sofa’s armrest and draping his body lazily over it.
The banging stopped, and a few seconds later Lily poked her head around the frame of the door. “Hi,” she beamed, wiping her hands on the front of her jumper and seeming to think nothing of it. “Any luck?”
“Yeah, we got Fenwick,” James said, crossing his arms behind his head and grinning up at her. Lily smiled and crossed over to him, perching on the very edge of the seat and kissing him gently once, and then once more.
“I’ve got news,” he said brightly, suddenly remembering about Frank and Alice. Lily straightened expectantly.
“So do I - but yours first.” She tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear and leaned forward, resting her chin on her palm. She’s so beautiful, he thought, a bit sappily, and hastily recalled that his beautiful wife was, in fact, waiting for him to say something.
“We saw Frank today, Sirius and I did,” he said, shifting his elbows a bit so his head perched a little higher. “Apparently Alice is going to have a baby.”
Lily’s mouth dropped open. “No! Are you joking?!” James struggled into something that resembled something like a sitting position, leaning on one arm, and frowned. That wasn’t quite the reaction he had expected - it wasn’t that shocking.
Lily covered her eyes with her hands, laughing loudly. “Oh, Merlin. James.” He sat up just a bit higher and reached out with his hand, not seeking to grab her hand but just sort of hoping that the gesture might help him to understand what the heck was going on.
She was still laughing, and as she uncovered her eyes, he saw that they were bright - with tears? - and that her hands were trembling ever so slightly. For the umpteenth time that day, a sort of hidden feeling twisted his insides, but this one was clearly labeled as excitement. “Lily?”
She laughed again, and her fingers fumbled until they found his, gripping so tightly it hurt. “I’m pregnant too, James!”
There was a slight pause as James, momentarily forgetting where he was, fell off the sofa gracelessly.
“Are you - Lily! You’re having a baby?” He felt his face split into a wide grin, so large he didn’t even know his mouth could stretch that far. She nodded, and laughed again as he jumped to his feet with surprising swiftness and threw his arms about her tightly, clutching her to him as though afraid she’d disappear if he let go.
“This is horrible timing,” she laughed, a bit shakily, swiping away tears as she pushed away from his chest. “Now I look like I’m mimicking Alice.”
“Trust me, I don’t care a bit,” James said, only half-teasing. He kissed Lily, three or four rapid kisses in quick succession, unable to keep a sort of airy, sunshiny feeling from bubbling up in him like liquid luck. “This is the best news I’ve - Lily, you’re pregnant!”
“I know!” she cried, grinning just as widely as James was sure he was. He folded his arms around her again, wondering how he’d ever survived his early years without being able to hold her, to feel the softness of her hair as she buried her face in his neck.
“So,” he said at last, and she drew away again. “About names - where do you stand on Elvendork?”
A/N: Baby Harry! Baby Neville! Oh, it's kind of a weird thing, writing about their parents when they just found out those boys were going to exist (and really, they didn't even know they were boys yet). I love writing this specific point in Marauders-era, though, because it's like where everything's coming together. And it's even more fun for me to post these chapters after they've been sitting there for months, while I've finished through chapter 23 and giggling at all the things you guys don't yet know. Anticipation!
Thank you guys so much for all the incredible responses to this story -- I've never once requested a review for this, and sitting at 70 is amazing! If you're so inclined, please leave this chapter a review, too.
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