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Chapter 10 : All Right
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When James’ feet found solid pavement again, the smell of smoke and the sound of glass shattering filled the air. He and Lily had Apparated into the alleyway from which the Order members usually kept watch on The Lazy Harp, but there was no sign of Sirius or anyone else there. Where the alleyway intersected with the street that the pub was on, he could see the flash of spell-fire, followed by more crackling of breaking glass.
He set off towards the road, taking out his wand. Lily did the same beside him, and his stomach twisted uncomfortably. He wished she had never come, but it was too late now—he just hoped it wasn’t anything too dangerous. Sirius hadn’t given them much information to go on.
Adrenaline was careening wildly through his body; if he ought to have been afraid, he wasn’t. This was a welcome escape from the way the night had been going, and a good way of channeling the frustration it had caused. On top of that, it was his first real chance to prove himself to the other Order members. Fighting Dark wizards was exactly what he wanted to be doing.
The only problem was that, when they emerged onto the street, the mob of people didn’t appear to be Dark wizards at all. They were wizards, or at least mostly, with a few witches dotting the crowd, but none of them were in black robes or masks, as the Death Eaters usually were. In fact, they looked perfectly ordinary, other than the fact that they were breaking windows, starting fires, and hexing anyone who tried to stop them.
Lily was as confused as he was. “What’s going on?”
James scanned the crowd, trying to make sense of it. He saw a few people that must have been Ministry officials, by the look of their uniforms, but they didn’t look like Aurors to him, which meant that they were probably Hit Wizards, who were trained to deal with common wizarding criminals. Although they were restraining quite a few of the members of the mob with Full-Body Bind Curses, or chasing them out of the area, there seemed to be more appearing by the second.
This wasn’t what he had expected. It wasn’t much different than Peeves wreaking havoc in the Great Hall.
He turned to his right and saw Sirius hurrying towards them, his forehead covered in a sheen of sweat.
“What’s happened?” James asked quickly. The next moment, a window behind him broke loudly, and a shower of green sparks came within inches of their feet. He looked around, trying to find the source of the spell, but there were simply too many people in the street to tell.
“They showed up about half an hour ago,” Sirius explained, keeping his eyes on the mob and his wand out in front of him. James mirrored his best friend’s guarded stance, though he still felt completely wrong-footed. “A big group of them went inside the pub—the rest stayed out in the street—a few minutes later they started going mad—”
“Did you tell Dumbledore?” James asked, raising his voice so as to be heard over the noise. The scattered shouts were starting to congeal together into one unified voice. Sirius had either not heard his question or was too distracted to answer, and James supposed it didn’t really matter. The Ministry was here, even if it seemed like they were struggling to quell the mob.
“What are they saying?” Lily shouted, and James shrugged. It sounded a bit like “dureblas” to him, but that didn’t make sense.
The fighting had was starting to move away from them a bit now, and something told James that if they didn’t act now, they were going to miss their chance altogether. He just didn’t know where to begin. Each time he fixed his attention on a target, and started to raise his wand, they moved out of sight or were jinxed by someone else. He watched the Hit Wizards, who shot spells this way and that without a moment’s hesitation. That was what he needed to do.
How many times had he directed a jinx someone’s way when he was in school without thinking anything of it? What was so different about this? It was true that, at some point during his later years at Hogwarts, he had started to grow a conscience, or at least had found less enjoyment in it. These people really deserved it, though; there was no reason to feel guilty. And yet for whatever reason, he did. Judging by the way Sirius and Lily were surveying the scene, he wasn’t alone.
A moment of true desolation settled upon him as he wondered if maybe he wasn’t cut out for the Order after all. Maybe Dumbledore had been right in saying that they were too young; maybe Remus had, once again, proved himself the wisest of them all. James had wanted to fight Voldemort so badly, but maybe he just wasn’t cut out for it.
His palm was lined with sweat, still encircling his wand, and the smoke in the air was starting to burn his nose. Lily stepped forward to use her wand to put out a fire inside the shoe repair shop next to them, and shards of glass crunched under her feet.
When James glanced over at Sirius, his best friend was holding himself in a way that strongly recalled his Animagus form: entire body tensed and focused on a single point, ready to attack at any second. James followed his gaze and saw three people sidling out of an alley about twenty feet to their left. He could see that they were intending to take advantage of the fact that the Hit Wizards were turned the other way so that they could free about a dozen of their friends, who were magically bound and slumped against the wall across from them.
If they didn’t do something, the Hit Wizards were going to lose the ground they had gained. He hesitated, but there was time for that; more importantly, there was time to talk himself out of it, to steel his nerves, to decide what spell to use.
Two of them were caught by his Trip Jinxes, and the third was held in place a second later by an Impediment Jinx from Sirius. He heard one of the Hit Wizards cry, “Over there!”, saw a couple faces turn, but it was Lily who got there first. The three wizards were yanked upwards—one, two, three in impressively rapid succession—as if invisible hooks had attached itself to their ankles. Two of their wands clattered to the ground, and Sirius easily Disarmed the last of them.
“Thought you didn’t care for that spell much,” Sirius remarked to Lily, looking slightly surprised.
“It has its uses,” she replied, trying and failing to shrug nonchalantly. It was obvious from her smile and slightly pink cheeks that she was pleased with herself, and James didn’t blame her. He was feeling rather proud of himself, too. Some higher power seemed to have heard his confusion and taken pity on him, offering a perfect opportunity to boost his confidence.
“Look,” Lily said suddenly, gesturing towards the crowd. Dorcas Meadowes was pushing her way towards them. Her expression was even more displeased than James had usually seen her.
“Think we ought to hex her, too?” Sirius muttered hopefully. James smirked.
“What the hell are you three doing here?” she yelled, once she had reached where they stood. There was a resounding bang that made all three of them recoil, but Dorcas didn’t move, except to turn around and look for the source of the noise. The chanting had started again, louder this time, and a few seconds later, a strange wailing sound filled the air. It sounded oddly familiar, but it took James a few seconds to place it—it was the same sound that the Muggle Hit Wizards, whatever they were called, made from their cars. He, Sirius, and Peter had heard it once before, on a rather ill-advised evening out in London.
Dorcas swore and looked down at her watch hurriedly, before snapping her gaze back to them.
“You can’t be here,” she said. “Clear off, now.”
“I don’t have time to argue!” Dorcas yelled, interrupting Sirius’ protests. “You’re not helping by being here!”
“We can help,” James said, rather weakly, since he had a feeling that winning an argument against Dorcas Meadowes wasn’t likely to happen.
Another bang slammed through the air, followed by a series of anguished yells. Dorcas set her jaw.
“Do you know what’s going to happen when we get this cleared up?” she said, drawing closer to them. “Magical Law Enforcement is going to go around, questioning every single person here. And what are you going to say when they ask why you’re here?”
James thought through it for a moment, and saw her point. They couldn’t very well say that they came because of the Order. Perhaps they could lie and say that they just happened to come across the fight, but it was still slightly suspicious. What were the odds that three wizards would be walking around a Muggle area at night, far from where any of them lived?
He was really starting to get sick of the other Order members being right all the time.
“Now go,” Dorcas repeated, “before the Muggles show up and arrest you.”
She rushed off without another word. James turned to Lily and Sirius, shrugging in resignation.
“Let’s Apparate back to my flat,” Sirius suggested, fire still burning behind his eyes. James knew he didn’t want to go far from the conflict, in case there was an opportunity to rejoin it.
“Are they—?” Lily stopped mid-sentence, an expression of mingled confusion and disgust on her face. “Are they saying purebloods?”
James listened to the chanting again, and with a twist in his stomach, he realized that Lily was right. They had to be Voldemort’s supporters, then, even if they weren’t true Death Eaters. What they were trying to accomplish by blasting Muggle buildings was still a bit of a mystery to him, but now wasn’t the time to figure out.
“Idiots,” Sirius spat.
“Let’s go,” Lily said, raising her voice to be heard above the chanting. The glow of spell-fire lit up her face, flashing blue, red, green...James turned to survey the scene once more, disappointed. “Dorcas is right—”
“Hey!” James cried out. He had just seen the squat, sour-faced man that he had pursued from the pub one night while he was on watch.
“What is it?” Sirius asked, but it was too late—James had finally acted without hesitation. He sprinted off towards the man, who had just disappeared into one of the alleyways leading off the main street. He heard Sirius and Lily call after him in confusion, but he couldn’t stop. He wasn’t going to let this bloke escape for a second time.
The man was just exiting from the other end of the alleyway when James entered it. He tried to Apparate and get himself closer to his quarry, but either he was in too narrow a space or someone had set up an Anti-Apparition Jinx, because it had no effect.
When he skidded out into the next intersection, James turned in the direction the man had gone, and found him much closer than he had expected—about three feet away from him, in fact, with a wand pointed in his face. He ducked.
A jet of orange light spiralled like a corkscrew right over James’ head. If the man had been a better wizard, James’ ducking probably would have been too late, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He was glad no one had seen him do that. It had been foolish to come bursting out like that without even looking first, in retrospect.
Luckily, though, the man wasn’t a very good wizard, and perhaps he knew it, because he turned tail and started to run. His stubby legs didn’t get him very far before James drew himself up and caught him with another Trip Jinx. The man stumbled, slamming into a rubbish bin. He shot a badly-aimed Stunning Spell backwards; it rebounded, zig-zagging back and forth up the walls on either side of them, until it ricocheted off into the night sky.
James waited until he had straightened up fully before raising his wand and saying in his head, Incarcerous! Thick ropes sprang forth from the tip of his wand and bound the man from shoulders to ankles. He fell down to the ground like a sack of potatoes, spewing forth a string of curses in between groans.
He couldn’t find a single piece of identification on the bloke, whose face had a rather squashed look to it. Someone like Ollivander could have identified him from his wand, but James couldn’t do that, so he resorted to more basic measure.
“What’s your name?” James asked. The man responded with a slew of nasty insults, most of which had something to do with James’ mother. Half of them were completely unintelligible under the circumstances; the man had a very thick Scottish accent. Giving it up as a bad job, James put a Silencing Charm on him, and then sat down on his haunches for a few moment.
“I know a girl,” he said, smirking, “and I think probably the only time she cracks a smile is when she gets her hands on filth like you.”
The man didn’t look particularly threatened, but James didn’t care. In fact, he felt a little bit like skipping, but he forced himself not to get carried away.
Instead, he carried his captive away, back to where the Ministry was holding the others. He knew that he had to make sure that someone associated with the Order knew that this wasn’t just any other member of the mob, and then get back to where he had left Sirius and Lily. He scanned the crowd of warring faces, trying to seek out Dorcas or anyone else that he recognized.
As he searched, a Stunning Spell came shooting wildly out of the crowd, speeding off in the direction of the second floor of the building next to him. The next second, everything went black.
It was nearly three hours later when Lily, James, and Sirius departed the scene of all the mayhem. The adrenaline that had accompanied Lily when she had first arrived was long since gone, leaving a feeling of oppressive exhaustion in its stead. How the evening had gone from laughing at James’ dress robes to being detained and interrogated by Magical Law Enforcement, she wasn’t quite sure.
Well, that wasn’t true. She had seen exactly what had happened, after all: James had come back from the ridiculous chase he had been on, and then a Stunning Spell had rebounded off a building and hit him in the side. Naturally, both she and Sirius had rushed over, intending to revive him. The moment that they did, a couple of Hit Wizards had bound them all up with magical ropes and stuck them inside the area where all of the other captured mob members were being held.
James and Sirius had both struggled furiously and fruitlessly against their bindings, their indignation blinding them to the thing that Lily had silently realized: they should have left when Dorcas had told them to. Eventually, after about a quarter of an hour, James and Sirius had resigned themselves, and they sat there for another two hours, watching as the fight gradually subsided, and the numbers of captives increased.
Then, the questions had begun.
“Names?” the Ministry wizard had asked, in a dreary sort of voice. He had already been through a dozen people before them, most of whom had outright refused to speak to him, and a couple of whom had tried to spit on him.
“There’s been a slight mix-up,” James had said in response, ever the charmer. Their questioner had then fixed him with a rather uncharitable stare.
“If you don’t tell me your names, I’ll have to confiscate your wands indefinitely so we can bring them back to the Ministry and identify you,” he said.
They relented, and the Ministry wizard had recorded each of their names on his register.
“Right,” he pressed on, “I’m now informing you that charges have been laid against you by the Ministry of Magic—”
“Hang on!” James exclaimed, while Sirius swore vehemently. Lily felt like she had just been kicked in the stomach.
“—for breach of the International Statute of Secrecy; vandalism; assault on Magical Law Enforcement Officers; and suspected collusion with a known Dark wizard, alias Lord Voldemort—”
“We didn’t do any of that! We’re—on—your—side!” James said, struggling against the ropes once more.
“Sure you are,” the Ministry wizard remarked, sounding bored.
“Aren’t you going to let us explain?” Lily had asked. Her voice felt heavy after all the time she had spent silent.
“You can’t just charge us without proof!”
The wizard had looked completely unmoved, but just then, Dorcas had walked up to his side. Lily had immediately felt a surge of hope in her chest, but it was extinguished almost at once, when Dorcas’ gaze had flitted over them without any hint of recognition. Having an Order member vouch for them was likely their only way of escaping this, but it was also completely out of the question.
“How’s the processing going, MacDougal?” Dorcas had asked, in a business-like tone.
“Like hell, thanks,” the wizard, whose last name was evidently MacDougal, had replied.
Dorcas had turned her attention to Lily, James, and Sirius.
“Looks like they’re getting them young, doesn’t it?” she asked. “These ones look like they ought to be in school still.”
Lily was sure that she could actually hear James and Sirius rolling their eyes at this. There was no doubt about the fact that she thought they deserved this: she looked at them with a small, triumphant smile on her face, as if to say, I told you so.
MacDougal rubbed his eyes tiredly with his quill-hand, and Dorcas looked back at him.
“Do you mind if I look up a name on there? We need to question one of the men you already recorded, but he’s not exactly cooperating,” she asked, pocketing her wand. Lily sincerely hoped that there was a point to all of this. MacDougal handed the register over without question, yawning widely.
If Lily hadn’t been watching Dorcas very closely, she might not have noticed her take her wand out—MacDougal certainly hadn’t. While Dorcas had chattered away about what a nightmare the evening had been, Lily saw her shift her wand from her right hand to her left in a strange sort of way. MacDougal hadn’t seen that, either. Even if he had, though, he wouldn’t have remembered it: when Dorcas had handed the register back to him, she passed it to him with the hand that her wand was in, and in the split second that her arm was still outstretched, MacDougal’s eyes glazed over.
“Did you hear me?” Dorcas had then asked him, without missing a beat. MacDougal blinked rapidly several times, looking disoriented.
“I said to go tell your superior to put someone else on processing for now,” Dorcas said. “We need everyone here to be alert and on their toes.”
“Oh,” MacDougal replied, looking both confused and relieved. “Right. Probably a good idea.”
For a moment, he had hesitated. Dorcas smiled pointedly, though, and he had wandered off with the register in hand.
Finally, she knelt down in front of them, giving them a look that threatened to cut them into tiny pieces.
“Don’t ever make me do that again,” she hissed.
Lily flinched as Dorcas waved her wand, but she had only removed their bindings. A few of the other captives who were sitting nearby noticed that Lily, James, and Sirius had been freed, and started moaning about unfair treatment. Lily had never seen someone perform so many Silencing Charms as fast as Dorcas did.
Lily got to her feet with James and Sirius. Dorcas was looking over her shoulders surreptitiously.
“I don’t know what you were thinking,” she spat at them. She cut a rather imposing figure, being about the same height as James and, apparently, rather good at spells. She reached inside her robes and stuffed three wands into Sirius’ hand. “Now, bugger off.”
At that point, Lily would have been quite happy to oblige, but James had stayed in place for a little longer.
“You see that bloke with the funny nose and red vest down there?” he asked Dorcas, gesturing off to his right. Dorcas had looked like her head was going to explode, and her mouth was pressed into a thin line. James had finished his explanation rather quickly at that point. “He’s, er, the one I saw coming out of the pub that one night. The one who I chased and then he Flooed away.”
Lily supposed this was who he had gone chasing after earlier in the night. It didn’t really seem worth it to her, but James seemed rather proud of himself—he must have been, if he was willing to incur Dorcas’ wrath to tell her about it.
So, finally, they had made their escape, and James had offered to see Lily home. Sirius went off to meet Peter and break the news to him that he had missed their first real fight for the Order, which he seemed to find amusing. The windows of her flat were all dark when they arrived, and the round clock inside the kitchen showed it to be nearly one in the morning. Petunia had either not come home after dinner, or was sound asleep—Lily didn’t really care to find out.
It was only when she sat down on her bed, and James sat down next to her, his arm touching hers, that the weight of everything that had happened started to press down on her.
“What just happened?” she thought aloud, staring at the wallpaper across from her. She had never really noticed the fact that it was patterned with calla lilies before.
“I have no bloody clue,” James replied. “I suppose we’ll find out at the next Order meeting.”
“Yeah,” Lily said listlessly. After a moment, she looked over at him, and he was smiling. “What is it?”
He laughed and let his back fall onto the mattress.
“Was that a Stunning Spell that hit you, or a Confundus Charm?” Lily asked, smiling uneasily. James narrowed his eyes at her playfully.
“It rebounded off a building, all right?”
She snorted with laughter and put her face in her hands.
“Why are we laughing?” she asked woefully. “Nothing that ever happens to us is funny!”
She felt James tug at the back of her dress, and she reclined next to him in a moody sort of way. There wasn’t very much room for the two of them, since she only had a single bed, and so her left arm overlapped his right. They fell into silence for a few moments. Lily decided that it was more or less James’ trademark to laugh at any given moment, and that it was one of the things that she loved about him. She was about to tell him this when he spoke up from beside her.
“I duelled with someone,” he said, matter-of-factly. “A real duel.”
“Yes, you did, you idiot,” Lily said, elbowing him. “Why did you do that?”
James grinned. “Because I knew I could.”
Lily made a noise of exasperation, then turned and propped herself up on her elbow so she was facing him.
“You can’t just do things like that,” she argued.
“Because,” she said, and there was suddenly a lump in her throat, “it scares me to death.”
She pressed her face into his shoulder and tried to force back her tears. He hadn’t wanted her to go with him because he was worried it was too dangerous, and somehow, he had been the one to run off and put himself in harm’s way. It wasn’t fair, and a small part of her still felt like he hadn’t forgiven her for not being willing to sacrifice herself for him all those months ago, when they had been taken by Malfoy and Avery. The memory of its still made her burn with shame. Did he think that she didn’t care what happened to him?
James wrapped an arm around her and kissed the side of her head.
“I’m all right,” he said in a bracing voice. Lily didn’t miss the fact that he didn’t apologize for worrying her. “If you’d seen me, you wouldn’t be afraid—I handled myself pretty well, I think.”
“All I saw was you getting Stunned by the side of a building,” Lily said in a small voice, hoping James would laugh. He did.
“Not my finest moment,” he admitted. “Sirius’ll be taking the piss for ages...”
Fairly sure that she wasn’t going to cry again, Lily lifted her head up to look at him.
“I don’t want you to go off like that again,” she stated, trying and failing to sound completely serious about it.
She knew that he probably would one day, not because he could, but because he wanted to, and because it was the right thing.
“What happens if I do?” James challenged her, smirking again.
Lily sighed. “I’ll wait around, being terrified, until you come back, I suppose.”
“And then?” His hand had migrated from her back to where the hem of her dress rested on her thigh. Something was fluttering around in her stomach.
“You’ll tell me that you’re all right.”
“And?” She found herself hopelessly tangled in a web of desire and anticipation as his fingertips started to ascend again, dipping underneath the fabric.
“You’re not very subtle, you know,” she breathed.
He kissed her, and from the moment their lips met, she knew it was a very different sort of kiss. The upheaval of the evening had drawn everything close to the surface; it felt like she was pouring her entire soul out as their lips and limbs wound around each other. If this was what a Dementor’s Kiss felt like, it was sublime.
She pressed the length of her body into his, and felt something ignite. James felt it too, she knew, because he made a little noise of longing in the back of his throat. He pulled her on top of him, the narrowness of the bed requiring some awkward adjustments, but it was though their mouths had never left each other when they came back together.
It was a few seconds after this that Lily realized how different this kiss was, and the path that they were throwing themselves down headlong. And she wondered if she cared, or if it mattered, or if there was a right time for these things to happen.
She pulled away, looking down at James in a haze.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, sounding pained.
Lily didn’t have an answer for him. She didn’t even know why she had stopped, except that it seemed like the sort of moment where you should stop, if only to acknowledge that reality still existed in and around what you were doing. Or perhaps to acknowledge that it would be better to wait for another time, another place, another reality.
James seemed to cotton on, even if his brow remained furrowed in confusion.
“If you don’t—it’s all right,” he muttered.
Lily shook her head. The truth was, she did, and she wasn’t sure what could be wrong with that. She loved James, and she knew that no matter what happened, he would always, always love her. When she thought about the fact that they’d both seen each other nearly die once or twice, this seemed like something they could manage.
She figured she might as well do something with the life she had worked so hard to hold onto, and by virtue of the fact that James, too, had helped to protect it, she knew that a small part of her would always be his.
“It’s all right,” she repeated softly, and she leaned down to kiss him again.
And when she was with him, everything really did seem all right.
Author’s Note: Please drop me a review to let me know what you thought!
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