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Chapter 7 : Halted
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Sighing heavily, Lily pushed the heavy volume away from her and ran a hand through her hair in agitation. She glanced towards the window. There was rain pouring down the glass pane like it had somewhere to be. Lily sighed again.
I smiled secretly. How long had I waited to be with her like this? We were sitting in the library on a rainy March afternoon, surrounded by books. Even though we were arguing and I was losing by a landslide, it was alright. Being completely and utterly alone with her was worth whatever lecture I was about to be given.
"James." She stated finally, turning her head back to me. She seemed to have gathered her wits, and I disposed of the grin because I knew she wouldn't appreciate it. "You need to start thinking seriously about your future. I'm here to tell you it's right around the corner and the less time you spend figuring it out the more time you'll spend wishing you had."
Here we go. I internally rolled my eyes.
"James?" She waved a hand in front of my face. "Did you hear what I just said?"
God she sounds so much like my mum right now, I thought dryly, recalling echoes of similar words said to me time and time again over winter holidays. It's so fantastic that I've got two people telling me these things. Lucky sod I am.
I sighed, but my labored breath contained twice as much frustration as hers. "Yes. And of course I know that, Lily. I'm not so much of an idiot as you seem to think. I have started figuring out my future, okay? You know that. I applied to the Auror internship at the Ministry, didn't I?"
"Yes, only thanks to my incessant nagging!" She burst, green eyes flashing. "Oh, God, to think what you'd had done instead of that if I hadn't forced the paperwork in your face."
"I'm sorry," I countered agitatedly. "But I really think I would have filled it out even if you hadn't been there to hand me the quill, thank you very much."
"Oh, I hardly have the humor in me to believe that, and you know it isn't true," she practically laughed. She motioned to the clearly less-than-stellar mark on my Divination exam that lay on the table before us. "It just simply confounds me that you're just realizing right now that it's a great idea to do well in final term so the Ministry won't see less than stellar marks."
"I'm not!" I nearly jumped out my chair with indignation. "Lily, what on earth gave you the bloody impression that before now I didn't care about my marks?"
Lily rolled her eyes at me. "Oh, I've had plenty of indications."
"Oh, yeah? Like what?" I countered sarcastically.
She paused, pursing her lips. A beat passed. I glared at her steadily. "This is ridiculous," she said finally. "This isn't getting your Divination grade anywhere."
I huffed inwardly, angry that she wasn't letting me finish out my side of the dispute, but couldn't have agreed more. And besides that, I knew better than to re-hash it when she was offering me a clean getaway. "So we're calling this quits, then?"
Lily looked up at me quickly with a sudden fear in her eyes. "What?" No!"
I looked at her quizzically. Her eyes had abruptly melted into pools of apprehension. "Well, I'm all for continuing the argument, if that's what you're so concerned about..." I ventured, puzzled by the oddity of her reaction.
"Oh." Lily visibly relaxed, tense shoulders sagging. "I thought you meant..." her voice trailed off and she looked away, biting her lip.
"Thought I meant what?" I asked, still perplexed, anger dissolved.
She looked back at me and silently motioned between the two of us.
"You think I'd let you off again that easy?" I whispered to her, wounded. How could she even think I'd end our relationship because of some stupid argument?
"It's been broken on less logical grounds," she murmured. I spotted a tear sparkling in the corner of her eye.
She turned away from me, drawing her knees up onto the chair and hugging them to her chest. "Oh, God, James, I'm sorry. That whole..." she waved her hand in the air. "Discussion was just stupid on my part. Stupid as always." she added quietly, almost as an afterthought.
"Yeah, it was sort of stupid," I agreed hesitantly, trying not to sound cocky about it.
Lily sniffled. Oh Merlin almighty, I thought. Girls are the most fluctuating creatures on the planet.
Sliding out of my chair, I knelt before her on the ground. I reached out to lift her tilting chin. "Hey there, champ, don't cry. Everything's alright."
I looked at her, her face hidden partially by her hair, partially consumed by shadows cast by the early-evening storm skittering down the window. I thought pensively on the last five minutes we'd spent together. Arguing, doubting, and now reassuring. What a day. "You say I haven't thought a whole lot about my future," I told her slowly. "But what you don't know is that you're entirely wrong."
"James," she warned.
I gave in. "Yes, I'll admit, in some ways, you're right. The schoolwork bit, for example. You're 3 quarters of the way right on that one."
Perhaps weary to restart the quarrel, Lily conceded not to fight me there. Grateful, I went on. "When it comes to the future, I know a few things. Firstly, a professional Quidditch career is not in the writings."
Lily giggled. I relished in the sound of it.
I reached out and took her hand, examining its indentations for a moment. "The second thing is that you're in it. Always have been." I whispered to her hand confidentially, as if it was a secret between me and the valleys and ridges lining the skin of her fingers. "I don't know what role I'll play in yours, but I can tell you that I don't plan on leaving you alone any time soon." I told her hand. The promise was solid. I placed a gentle kiss on her knuckles.
I was hesitant to look at her face. I didn't want to find discomfort brought on by what I'd just told her, or awkwardness because she didn't feel the same way. But I heard her sniffle again, and tentatively, I raised my eyes to hers.
Surprisingly, there were tears on her cheeks and a lopsided smile on her lips. "How do you do it?"
My brow crinkled. "Do what?"
"One second I want to curse your head off and the next I want to curl up in your arms forever. You- you just..." She lifted her free hand to touch my face as her words seemed to expire in her mouth. My skin felt singed with heat beneath her fingers. "Why are you so infuriating and yet so perfect?"
I laughed. "Far from perfect, Lils."
"Don't be such a pessimist, Potter." She grinned cleverly through her tears, removing her hand from my cheek to wipe them away. "I'd like to think you're perfect for me."
Lily was always well-versed in how to make my heart swell, but right then I couldn't help but think she'd taken a course on the art. "You're going to make me cry here." I returned quietly.
"Oh, what a sight that would be!" She exclaimed, green eyes lighting up at the thought. "The mighty James Potter, reduced to tears."
"That's just what you do to me, Evans." I smiled. "Get used to it."
It's me again. And I'm here to tell you that I've been selfish recently.
I've been so focused on my own tortuously exciting love life (note the sarcasm) that I've let other people's problems slide to the back of my mind. Namely, those of my three closest companions.
Sirius, as you know, is having some reality issues with a certain blonde.
Peter, as you probably don't know, received four detentions in the past week for cutting class and no one has any clue why.
And Remus. Oh, my dear, dear Remus. He's got a crush.
I'll introduce the last point first, because frankly, it's the most emotionally stirring.
This selfishness I've mentioned was brought to my attention yesterday during a free period when Remus and I were lingering in the Great Hall to do our Charms homework. The hall was relatively empty, except for other Seventh years like ourselves who had just gotten out of Arithmancy or Charms along with a few Sixth years.
Remus was already slaving away at the assignment, no doubt half or more ahead of me on the free-response essay. I was staring at the first line I'd written, trying desperately to calculate how many more words I needed to reach the required two feet.
But my estimating was interrupted by an unfamiliar female voice. "Remus?"
I recognized right away an accent that was anything but English. I looked up. Before us was a girl I'd laid eyes on once or twice, but didn't know by name. I was unsure even if she was a Seventh year. She was tall and slim, with sleek brunette hair that hung in a shiny sheath across her shoulder. Her eyes were a brilliant shade of blue-purple, and they seemed to sparkle even in the dull lighting of the hall. I glanced across at my friend, who'd turned his head to look at the girl. I noticed immediately a flush spreading across his cheeks. Odd.
"Oh, hi, Daria," He sounded flustered, like he was out of breath.
"Hi," She replied warmly, sliding her book bag more securely onto her shoulder. She was holding at least five textbooks in her arms. "I was wondering if you wanted to go over our project during lunch today?"
"Um, sure!" Remus replied, perhaps a bit overexcited. "Sure, that sounds great."
"Alright." Daria smiled at him widely. "I'll see you then." She lingered for a second – a second too long for it to have not been intentional – before waving a small goodbye and heading towards the hall's exit.
Remus turned back to me and blinked. He must have been dumbfounded by the unbelieving expression on my face. "What?"
"What?" I spluttered, incredulous. I shook my head back and forth. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you liked that girl, Remus Lupin."
The flush that hadn't left his cheeks seemed to intensify. "Oh, Daria? She's just- I mean, it's not like- we, uh...it's just-"
I couldn't contain myself. I laughed with mirth. "Remus Lupin!" I shook my head at him again, astounded beyond articulation. "I can't believe it."
"James, I really don't know what you're getting on about. I mean, we're just doing some stupid project together," Remus insisted, loosening his tie. I thought I saw a drop of sweat accumulating on his brow.
I saw right through the facade; I knew him well enough to spot the signs I'd never spotted before. I regarded him with a more muted amazement. "Don't even try to deny that you fancy that girl."
I didn't let him finish. "I am thoroughly blown away. You were-are blushing. You don't blush, Moony. Come on." I pointed in the direction Daria had just left. "You like her."
He looked at me unsteadily, and I thought I saw fear in his eyes. "I've only really just met her, James. I don't want to...scare her away."
"Scare her away?" I chuckled. "You wouldn't scare a flea. How did you only just meet her?"
"Well, she's only a Sixth year," he explained, obviously still ill at ease with the topic. "But she's in O.W.L level Herbology because she transferred from a school in the States that had more advanced levels."
"Ah," I nodded. "That explains the accent."
"Yes, she only just transferred this term." He rolled up his sleeves. "But she's not having any trouble making friends, from what I can tell." He paused. "Especially of the, er, male variety."
"Ah," I saw where he was going with that. "So you don't think she fancies you back."
"Well, I'm not even sure how I feel, I mean..." He trailed off uneasily, scratching the back of his neck. It was strange to see my friend this way, so completely and vulnerably honest. "Merlin, James, I've never actually gone steady with a girl before. I wouldn't know where to start, or what to say." He shook his head. "I can barely put two syllables together when I'm around her."
I grinned at him. I felt like a professional doctor, because I recognized the symptoms and possessed an acute diagnosis. "You're in deep, my friend."
"Oh, you're one to talk," Remus finally smiled, his blush receding.
I held up my hands. "Guilty as charged." We laughed together. "So." I pressed on. "When are you going to ask her out?"
"Ask her out?" He replied disbelievingly. "Haven't you heard a word I've been saying?"
"Yes, of course I have. And it's all normal, obviously." I assured him. "But I saw the way she just looked at you and am entirely convinced she likes you, too, so I think you should definitely ask her out."
"But..." He pointed down at his essay."I've got Charms to do!"
I rolled my eyes. "This conversation," I reported as he turned his attention back towards his homework. "Is not over."
So that's my Remus news. Stay tuned for more thorough accounts of Sirius and Peter.
Over and out,
The next morning at breakfast, the world changed a little bit.
The Dailey Prophet lay open in front of Remus when Lily and I came down before our first class. Sirius, Peter and Charlotte were huddled around Remus, reading intently. I noticed right away that several alike clumps of students were scattered down every House table. Lily noticed this too, and looked at me quizzically. "I wonder what's going on."
I shrugged in equal confusion, approaching our cluster of friends. "Somebody die?" I inquired, only half-joking.
Sirius turned to me, and I found an unfamiliar emotion on his face. "See for yourself," he offered, his voice uncharacteristically quiet. He scooted down the bench so Lily and I could look at the newspaper. I sat down on the bench and read the headline.
"MYSTERIOUS DISSAPEARENCES ESCALATE AND CULMINATE IN MASS MURDER AT EDINBURGH"
I gulped, raising my head to look at Lily. Her eyes were wide. I turned back to the article and read on.
The sole suspects of a recent mass murdering just outside of Edinburgh remain to be a shadowed clan of dark wizards who are likewise thought to have been responsible for the increasing number of wizard disappearances that began in May of last year. A summary of recent reports on these disappearances estimates that fourteen wizards and witches have vanished from surrounding areas in Scotland and England, including – but not limited to – Edinburgh, Clarkston, Whitby, Oxford, and St. Ives.
The murders at Edinburgh occurred last night at approximately 10:32 PM, when a Muggle bystander – whose memory was fixed following the event – notified a Muggle bobby that a group of hooded figures were loitering outside his Coffee shop late at night. Ministry Intelligence that interviewed the shaken bystander before the Memory Wipe asked the man to describe what he had seen. "There were seven or so of them, but I rotten well couldn't see their faces because of these gigantic hoods they were wearing, and it gave me the jitters, so I just decided to call someone about it. I went to bed before any of the...killing happened though, I swear it." The man declined further comment.
The suspicious group of wizards remained outside the shop acted until a night University let out just down the road, according to a second eye witness. Twenty or so Scottish students exited the building before the group of wizards began firing spells.
Though the investigation has surmised that the totaled 23 Muggle killings may have been meaningless, one victim of the attack in particular has taken the notice of the Ministry. Anna Sperrings was a 27 year-old witch, the daughter of the famed Pureblood William Sperrings, creator of many invaluable magical war facilities and spells still used today. Anna was attending night University in Edinburgh to obtain a Muggle degree of higher education. Her recent fiancé, Samuel Brigs –a Muggle– was born and raised in Edinburgh. The Ministry was quoted "unsurprised' when Brigs was discovered dead in the couple's flat early this morning.
"We just can't imagine what would possess anyone to kill our dear Anna," a hysterical Claudia Sperrings, Anna's mother, told the Prophet shortly following the traumatic death of her daughter. "Why would you kill an innocent girl? And all the others? They were unknowing Muggles. They had no way to defend themselves."
I stopped reading. I'd read enough. My throat suddenly felt acidic, like I'd swallowed cleaning fluid.
"That’s awful," Lily whispered, sounding every bit and stunned and disgusted as I felt.
Sirius was shaking his head. "This has been going on far too long for this to come as a surprise."
"What do you mean, so long?" Peter inquired. "I haven't heard anything of it until today."
"That's because you don't read the paper," I murmured, not caring particularly much if I was being offensive. "These weird..." I searched for the right word. "Occurrences have been going on since long before May. They've just been scattered, and have all seemed unrelated."
Lily shifted her position on the bench beside me. She looked confused. "Who's 'they'?"
"Well, clearly even the Ministry doesn't know that," I replied, motioning towards the article. "They haven't found traceable evidence to anyone involved in any of this."
"That's rather depressing," Charlotte murmured. "I mean, so there's just going to be some big tragedy where everyone in the wizarding world dies because the Ministry can't connect any dots?"
"Not if Bagnold has anything to do with it," Sirius answered, emitting a laugh that lacked humor. "She'll get to the bottom of it, I'm sure."
Peter looked completely mystified. "Bagnold?"
"Millicent. Current Minister of Magic," Lily told him.
Pete mumbled something to the extent of "why'd they let a woman in there?". Everyone ignored him.
"There's definitely something organized going on here," I prodded, looking up at Sirius. He had a grave mask on his face, one he wore rarely. It was disconcerting to see.
He nodded in agreement. "But who are they targeting, collectively? I can't find any parallels between those who are missing and those who have been killed."
I shrugged, lost myself. There was a long moment of perturbed silence at the table. No one had eaten anything.
"Strays." Remus said, suddenly. We all looked at him. He hadn't said a word since I'd arrived at breakfast.
"Strays?" Lily questioned. “What’s a stray?”
"Someone who strays from society, someone who isn't accepting the rules of our society, someone who isn't conforming," my chestnut-haired friend continued rapidly, in an almost incoherent stream of consciousness. He sounded as if he'd had an epiphany. And I suspected that he had. "They're targeting outcasts. People they don't approve of."
Sirius was nodding. "Yeah, that makes sense."
"I mean, just take this most recent example," Remus continued, motioning towards the Prophet. "Anna Sperrings was pureblood, right? But she was engaged to a Muggle." He shrugged. "Someone who's got a very specific view on how magical society should function probably wouldn't like that."
Charlotte crinkled her nose. "That’s just...pretentious."
"Pretentious it may be," Remus continued. "Criminals aren't usually concerned about their character traits."
Lily shook her head. "I can't believe any person would think like that."
"There's a whole lot of people who already think like that sitting right over there." Sirius titled his head towards the Slytherin table. "So I wouldn't be surprised that there's a lot more of them out there in the world."
"What does this mean, then, for us?" I asked abruptly, looking up at my friends.
"What do you mean?" Remus returned.
"I mean," I shrugged. "For our future."
There was a unconscious but collective Oh. around the table. No one seemed to know how to answer my question. I felt Lily take my hand and squeeze it.
In that unsettling instant I realized what foreign emotion I'd seen on Sirius' face earlier.
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