Chapter 14 : A Steel Trap
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A Steel Trap
Byron Gamp lived in a stately, column-fronted brick row house near Belgrave Square. The Gamps were an old pureblood family, and filthy rich—emphasis on the “filthy”, Sirius had said—and James got to observe the outside of their house in detail, since that was where the Order was now sending him and his friends to help with surveillance. They were keen to observe who was coming and going from the Gamp home, and what kind of hours Byron Gamp kept.
James sat in a manicured garden square across from the red-brick houses, hidden beneath his Invisibility Cloak, his arse slowly turning numb. The evening hadn’t been entirely uneventful—Rabastan Lestrange had come calling for supper, as he did more often than James thought was normal, despite being Darnella Gamp’s brother—but it had also been chilly. Despite the several Heating Charms he had conjured in the two hours he had been on watch, he hadn’t been able to thaw the cold out of his bones.
He still had a couple hours left to sit and watch. Their shifts were usually only three hours, but the full moon was the following night, and Remus wasn’t feeling well, so James, Sirius, and Peter had all taken an hour extra each today to make up for his absence. Though he was used to sitting for three hours, the addition of the extra hour seemed to make his shift eons longer.
He sighed audibly, and the next moment, he heard dry leaves crackling under footfall. He nearly shot right out of his skin in panic, thinking that his cover had somehow been blown, and leapt to his feet, wand in hand. His eyes locked on the shadowy figure emerging from a tree behind him, feeling a slight sense of relief when he saw that he or she was significantly smaller than him—
Then the sea-green moonlight hit red hair, and he realized that it was Lily.
“James?” she whispered, searching the air in front of her with her eyes. He was feeling a bit faint with the rush of both fear and relief, so quick in succession, but he pulled the hood of the Invisibility Cloak away from the front of his face a little so she could see him.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Oh, you know, just sightseeing,” she deadpanned. The residual shock kept him from catching the joke as quickly as he would have normally. Lily laughed lightly and shook her head. “Are you going to let me under there?”
As she joined him underneath the Invisibility Cloak, he could smell the shower she had taken after work in the flowery scent of her damp hair. The thought made him feel even more miserable about being trapped there for two more hours. What he could do with Lily and two hours...but he comforted himself with the knowledge that after he was done watch, he didn’t have anywhere else he needed to be.
“I came to see you,” she purred, in genuine answer to his question, draping her arms over his shoulders. Her forehead brushed his jaw, and his stomach turned happily at being so close to her.
“It’s not very safe,” James pointed out.
“For me, or for you?” Lily asked coyly. “And if you say me, I may have to hex you.”
“If I don’t, will you kiss me?”
She rolled her eyes, but obliged all the same. Her lips tasted like mint, and her skin turned to gooseflesh as his frozen hands pressed against her. For a while, as they kissed, he completely forgot about where they were and what he was doing, and they eventually had to stop before they got completely carried away.
“I think it may be dangerous for me, after all,” he muttered. “You’re very distracting.”
She laughed. “All right, we can sit down and make sure there’s a safe distance between us—”
“No such thing.”
“—and I’m going to light a fire, because you’re cold as death,” she said, before shooting him a furtive look. He didn’t know why for a moment, until he realized that she probably felt guilty for mentioning death because of his father’s illness. All of his friends seemed to have adopted this cautious approach when they were around him lately, but no one seemed to realize that it actually made things worse. Comments that otherwise would have been heard and forgotten instead became unpleasant weights that dragged him back to reality.
He didn’t say any of this, though, because he knew Lily was only trying to be kind. She conjured a glass jar with her wand and filled it with blue flames that flickered happily and filled the space under the cloak with warmth.
“I knew Flitwick taught us something like this once,” James said. He held his hands near the jar, palms-first, and felt the heat radiating out from it.
“Sometimes, I get the impression that you didn’t pay attention in Charms very often,” Lily teased him. Her hair looked almost black with the blue light hitting it.
“Only during sixth year,” he argued, “and that wasn’t my fault.”
“You decided to sit right in front of me. How could I be expected to pay attention properly?”
She smiled. “We learned this spell in second year, James.”
“Well, I can’t remember everything,” he replied, shrugging, and for whatever reason, this merited being kissed on the cheek. “How was work?”
“Mad, as usual,” she said. “It’s not enough that this rubbish decree’s been passed. Now the people who were pleased with that are unhappy again, because the Minister won’t put other laws in place. So, those people want someone else as Minister, and everyone else wants him sacked because of the decree.”
“Maybe they’re right,” James said, shrugging.
She looked at him with eyebrows raised. “You think so?”
“I think I’m tired of hearing about politics. If someone else can focus on the big picture, then maybe they’d be better to have as Minister right now.”
Lily tilted her head side-to-side in appraisal.
“Well, I agree,” she stated, “so long as they don’t think the big picture is stamping out Muggle-borns.” She reached forward and slipped her hand inside his, slight as a bird. “Oh! So, I got some news from Petunia today. Or, from a note she left me before she went out to dinner with Vernon.”
Vernon was not simply Vernon among the two of them now, but Vernon-whose-name-caused-an-involuntary-grimace. James had told Lily that he would apologize to her sister’s fiancé for the terrible dinner they’d all had together, but as far as he was concerned, avoidance was the best policy. That, and he wasn’t sure it was all his fault.
“They’re getting married on Valentine’s Day,” Lily said, making a face of derision. “I’m sure she’s known that for months, but only just decided to tell me.”
James found it odd that Lily seemed to be so bothered by her sister’s slights. After all, Sirius’ relationship with his family was bad, but he didn’t fret over what they thought of him anymore like Lily did with her sister.
“Are you going?” James asked.
“Well, I don’t want to,” Lily replied, “but I know my mum and dad will force me to go.”
“I’m sure it won’t be that bad,” James assured her, because that seemed the right thing to do (though he remembered saying something similar before their dinner, too).
Lily adopted a persuasive smile that he knew spelled trouble for him.
“You’ll go with me, right?”
He snorted with laughter. “You really want me to go? After what happened last time?”
“I think you have to,” she said, and James gave her a dubious look. “It’s part of being my boyfriend. Weddings, fun—other family events.”
James didn’t miss the fact that she had started to say funerals and then changed tack. He tried to fill the hole that had formed in his stomach with humour.
“I don’t remember signing up for that,” he said, glancing sideways in mock-paranoia.
“I could make it worth your while,” she countered, arresting him with her gaze. “I’ll be all dressed up, and I promise you can stare at me as much as you like.”
James would have leaned forward and resumed snogging the living daylights out of her, were it not for the possibility that they might knock over the jar of flames and burn to death.
“I’m not really fussed about staring at you when you’re clothed,” James said, “but if you—”
He stopped dead in the middle of his sentence, the moment lost as a scream rang out in the night. Lily also froze, and they stared at each other in uncertainty until another scream came, this one louder than the first.
“Stay here,” James told her, putting a hand to his jacket pocket to make sure his wand was stowed there.
“No, thanks,” Lily said obstinately.
“I’m going with you!”
Before he could argue any further, she darted out from underneath the Invisibility Cloak and started heading toward the center of the garden, where the screaming seemed to be coming from. She looked a little hesitant as she did so, but James wouldn’t have put it past her to go running off on her own, so he wrenched the cloak off and followed.
The garden square was not very wide, so they travelled only a short distance before reaching its centre, where a statue of a dancing woman stood encircled by hedges. Another woman, this one living and breathing, ran into their view, a look of terror on her face.
“A Dementor!” she cried, eyes wild as she approached them. “Please! Help!”
James reached for his wand, but Lily was quicker. His first instinct was to cast one anyway, since the last time he had checked, she couldn’t produce a Patronus properly—but then all thought of instinct or plan left his mind, because he saw that Lily most certainly could perform the spell.
And her Patronus looked a lot like his.
“Oh, thank you—thank you,” the woman said, breathing heavily. She had dark brown hair, but part of it near the front was white-blond. James wondered if she had dyed it this way on purpose, and whether it was some sort of Muggle fashion; then he reminded himself that she must be a witch, if she knew what a Dementor was. He was still having trouble pulling his eyes away from Lily’s doe Patronus.
“Are you all right?” Lily asked the woman, who had a hand pressed to her chest in relief.
“I am now,” she replied, smiling graciously. “I’m so glad you were here—I’ve never been able to make a Patronus. And what are the odds that there would be a witch and a wizard around?”
She tittered nervously.
“Are you sure it was a Dementor?” James asked. How could there be a Dementor floating around the middle of London undetected?
“I think so,” the woman answered. “I’ve never seen one before, but it was cold, and...I heard things.”
James exchanged a glance with Lily. They had both been spared crossing paths with a Dementor, but James thought this sounded like an accurate description. His mind started to jump back into motion—he needed to tell the Order, and the rest of the night’s watch should probably be called off, if there was a Dementor nearby.
“You should go home,” Lily said kindly to the woman. “Stay indoors for the rest of the night.”
“Yes—yes, I think I will,” the woman agreed, crossing her arms. She looked to be forty years old or thereabouts, with wrinkles lining her pale forehead. “Thank you again. And be careful.”
She hurried off, glancing over her shoulder with every step. James kept scanning the dark foliage around them for any sign of a shadowy figure, but it seemed Lily’s Patronus had driven it off.
“We should get out of here, too,” Lily said uneasily. “I don’t fancy being around if that Dementor comes back.” She glanced back to where they had been sitting before. “Let’s get rid of that flame, and we’ll go.”
James followed her, a smile slowly spreading across his face. She put out the blue flame and then Vanished the jar before looking at him.
“Shall we go back to my flat? Petunia should be out for most of the night—”
James interrupted her. “Are we going to talk about what just happened?”
“What?” Lily asked blithely. James gave her a pointed look, but her expression didn’t budge.
“Well...your Patronus is a doe,” he said.
“And mine is a stag...”
She was trying to look at him blankly, but he could see that part which was trying squirming behind her green eyes.
“I don’t see what difference it makes,” she said. James shook his head, feeling rather like falling to the ground in exasperation.
“It makes a difference to me,” he explained.
“Because! Because...well, to know that you—”
“To know that I what?” Lily asked, in a huff. He could see, even in the dim lighting, that her cheeks had flushed pink.
“That you love me,” James said. Lily raised an eyebrow severely.
“Don’t I tell you nearly every day that I love you?” she asked, sounding unexpectedly angry. The question was, apparently, rhetorical. “I don’t see why it makes any difference, unless you didn’t believe me and you need something else to prove it to you, which is just—”
James took her face in his hands and kissed her, silencing the rest of her words. He had known Lily for long enough to realize that she was often a few steps behind him when it came to matters of their hearts. It was part of what made her her, even if it infuriated him at times.
After a few moments, he broke away, and looked straight into her eyes.
“You love me,” he said.
She sighed and nodded. “And you love me.”
Maybe she was right, and it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Maybe she didn’t like the idea that it proved something to him, but it did—not that she loved him, but that he had been right for so long about them being right together.
Standing there, he didn’t worry about a thing: not about his dad, not about Ministry politics, and not about a Dementor that might by lurking nearby. If he had cast his own Patronus right then and there, it would have illuminated all of London.
As gravel on the chilly earth crunched underneath her feet, Lily tried to suppress a grin as she thought of the night before last, when she had gone to visit James on his surveillance shift. She hadn’t exactly intended for him to find out about her Patronus, and she had reacted somewhat defensively, but now, she could only smile about it.
She had spent a fair amount of time mulling over the similarity between their Patronuses, and most of her refused to believe that it was as significant as he wanted it to be. After all, she had never known what her Patronus form was before falling in love with James, and so perhaps it wasn’t a response to him. In fact, she had wondered more than once whether his was a stag because hers was a doe, and not the other way around, given the way he had sopped around after her for so long. Other times, she thought that perhaps it was a coincidence, and that they were simply alike enough that their Patronuses happened to take the same form. But she had to admit that, no matter which way she looked at it, it meant something.
It had been another brisk but sunny day, and the sun was just dipping below the horizon as Lily opened the clanking iron gates in front of James’ house. She walked through the gloaming, simultaneously thinking of how she had missed being with him the previous night and telling herself that it was silly to miss someone after only one day apart.
Sprotty, the Potters’ house-elf, came to the door when she knocked, and told her that James was in his bedroom. She could have guessed this herself, because that was where he spent most of his time, and ascended the staircase as quietly as she could. As she approached James’ bedroom door, however, she heard a collection of voices coming from inside—that was unusual.
The door was shut, so she knocked, her brow furrowed in confusion. James appeared a moment later, and beyond him, Lily could see Peter and Sirius.
“Oh—sorry, do you want me to come back later?” she asked, caught off-guard.
James shook his head. “No, it’s all right. Come in.”
As she did so, she couldn’t help but notice that all of their faces were knotted with concern. Her heart dropped slightly.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. They all exchanged dark looks, confirming her suspicion, and it was James who answered.
“Sturgis Podmore got attacked last night when he was doing surveillance.”
Lily’s mouth dropped open in shock. She had been expecting something wrong with James’ father, or Remus, and though she felt terrible for Sturgis, she was slightly relieved.
“What happened?” she asked, leaning against James’ desk.
“He was outside Byron Gamp’s house, and he says—he thinks it was the Lestrange brothers—they came up behind him and attacked him,” James explained, his voice grim.
“So, he’s alive?” she confirmed.
“Frank said he got hexed pretty badly, and he’ll probably have to stay in St. Mungo’s for the next week,” James answered, “but yeah, he’s alive.”
She exhaled heavily, making room in her chest for the weight of this news.
“I think Dumbledore’s wrong for calling off the surveillance of Gamp’s house,” Sirius remarked in a surly voice, and Lily got the impression that they had been in the middle of discussing this subject before she had arrived. “It’s obvious, after this, that they’re hiding something there.”
“Maybe he’s going to deal with it himself,” James said, shrugging.
“He can’t,” Peter pointed out. “Not when he’s so far away.”
Lily could see that Sirius and Peter were one in the same mind, as they often were when it came to dangerous things, but that James wasn’t as convinced. It was odd, now, seeing the dynamics between them, when for so long she had just assumed that James was fully invested in all of their recklessness.
“Well, I’m glad none of you got hurt,” she said, before changing the subject slightly. “How did they know he was there? Wasn’t he hiding?”
“He was under a Disillusionment Charm, but Frank said that they must figured out that he was there somehow,” James said.
Lily considered this for a moment, as James lit a couple lamps in his room. The days were getting shorter, and soon, they would be standing in full darkness.
“It’s strange, isn’t it?” she mused. “How would they have known, unless he drew attention to himself, or they happened to be walking by and heard him breathing?”
“Sturgis is a private investigator, isn’t he?” Peter ventured. “Hard to believe he would have given himself away.”
“Yes,” Lily agreed, “and what are the odds that...?”
She trailed off, the words triggering something in her memory. After a few seconds, she remembered where she had heard them before, and a horrible thought occurred to her.
“What is it?” James prompted her, and Lily tried to find a way of putting what she was thinking into words.
“Sirius, did you ever meet Darnella Gamp?” she asked. His face registered mild surprise at the question.
“Er—yeah, once, I think, at my cousin’s wedding,” he replied.
“What does she look like?” Lily asked, ignoring the looks of confusion on all of their faces. She was desperately hoping that her hunch was wrong, and Sirius was the only one that could help her figure it out.
“I don’t remember that well,” he said, frowning. “I was fourteen, and there were loads of people there.” He paused for a moment. “Hang on—I think she had strange hair. It was dark, but then some of it was white, or grey.”
Lily looked at James, and his confusion had been replaced by dismay.
“What does this have to do with anything?” Sirius asked.
“Well—the other night, when James was on watch, I—er—I went to visit him,” Lily said, flushing slightly as Peter smirked. “While I was there, this woman was running around, screaming that a Dementor was chasing her, and so we got rid of it. Her hair looked exactly like what you just described.”
Sirius’ eyes went wide, and James swore under his breath. Lily felt slightly ill—the entire incident seemed suspect, looking back. Why had the woman assumed they were magical, when it she would have been far more likely to run across a Muggle in the middle of London? They had never even seen the Dementor.
“So...she knew there were wizards out there, and she told her brothers?” Peter said, still sounding puzzled.
“It could be a coincidence, I suppose,” Lily said, shrugging weakly, “but it seems like more than that.”
She wasn’t sure whether it was her wool sweater or the guilt that was making her skin crawl. James crossed the room, nudging some of his dirty clothes underneath his bed, and picked up his Quaffle, squeezing it anxiously. It reminded her of the way he used to mess up his hair, another manifestation of his compulsive need to fidget when he was uncomfortable.
“Should we tell Frank?” he asked, after a few seconds of silence.
“No,” Sirius said, his voice firm and appalled.
“It might be the reason Sturgis got attacked,” Lily argued, but she could Sirius wasn’t having any of it.
“Telling the Order isn’t going to change that. Do you really want them to go back to thinking that we’re a bunch of idiots?” he asked, his grey eyes flashing.
“That’s what they’ll think, if you tell them,” Sirius interrupted her.
She snapped her mouth shut, feeling anger flare slightly in her chest. If Lily had come to accept James’ flaws, she still had a difficult time doing the same with Sirius, whose flippant and careless nature (and, these days, the fact that he didn’t really seem to like her) had always bothered her. While most of the girls she knew at Hogwarts had ooh-ed and ahh-ed over Sirius Black, the handsome and aloof white sheep of the Black Family, there had always been something about him that had made Lily uneasy. Looking at Sirius often made Lily feel like she was looking at a steel trap disguised as a pretty necklace.
At that moment, she felt caught in the trap. She was opposed to the idea of keeping this a secret, since someone’s safety was in question, but she didn’t know how to oppose Sirius—not when he was flanked by both Peter and James, both of whom seemed to be in agreement with him.
“You don’t think we should say anything?” she appealed to James. He tossed the Quaffle about six inches in the air and caught it before answering.
“I don’t think it’ll help, if we do,” he replied, noncommittally.
Indignant though she felt, Lily sighed and decided not to press the issue further. Half of her was worry that nothing good would come of keeping secrets from the rest of the Order, while the other half thought of the modicum of respect she’d gained from Alice and the other women so far, and didn’t want to lose it. She just hoped that they were doing the right thing.
Author’s Note: I hope you liked the increased James/Lily in this chapter. I definitely enjoyed writing it! Please drop me a line in the review box below to let me know what you think. Enough James/Lily? Too much? Suspenseful? Not suspenseful? Too short? Too long? Makes you want to read more? Bored you to tears?
Also, just a final plug—Dobby voting goes until October 4th, and Once Defied is nominated for Best Romance and Best Canon Story. (I promise this is the last time I’ll mention it!)
Until next time!