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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 27 : A Game of Sorts
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 16

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Awesome CI by heartfelt. @TDA
Chapter 27 - A Game of Sorts

James tried to organize his thoughts as he stood on the outside of the Quidditch pitch and watched the stands fill up. His teammates were already changing in the players’ tent and he’d have to be in there soon to give them a talk, but he needed a moment to himself first.

Between classes, Head Boy duties, revising, keeping their eye on the Slytherins, and trying to snog Lily every chance he got, Quidditch had been one of the last things on his mind. Not that he let the team’s performance slip by any means. He was captain and it was his job to put them first, and he did just that. But it was more difficult to get his personal intensity at the level it needed to be in order to play his best. With so many different things buzzing through his mind, he was surprised it didn’t just explode.

They also had the Valentine’s Day Hogsmeade trip tomorrow. Lily told him she didn’t want a gift, considering her birthday had just been a few weeks ago and he’d given her a new set of art supplies, but he didn’t know if he was supposed to believe that or not. He didn’t really have any idea what sort of thing you got someone for Valentine’s Day, though. Alice and Belle said that as long as he took her somewhere to eat in Hogsmeade, then that would be perfect. Consequently, he had to tell Frank and Sirius that they were expected to take their dates somewhere lovely, as well.

Being a boyfriend was complicated, but James couldn’t deny loving it. He loved knowing what kind of mood Lily was going to be in just by the look on her face. And he loved knowing that she’d be waiting there at breakfast every morning, usually with a story about something ridiculous Scotch − Butterscotch − had done in her room the evening before. She’d been so focused on revising lately that they’d barely gotten any time together, so he was rather excited to spend an afternoon alone with her. But first, he needed to get his head in the game if he wanted to win this match.

James went through the calculations in his mind: they beat Slytherin the first match, Gryffindor scoring two-hundred and thirty points to Slytherin’s ninety. Then Ravenclaw beat Hufflepuff back in November, four-hundred to three-hundred and ten. The start of January brought the third game, ending in a Slytherin win against Ravenclaw... one-hundred and sixty to ten. So Slytherin was sitting at two-hundred and fifty, and only had one match left for the season. Ravenclaw was at four-hundred and ten, but they also only had one game left.

Neither of those teams worried James too much, it was mainly Hufflepuff he was concerned about. They were eighty points ahead of Gryffindor; both teams had only played one game so far. James needed to tell Violet not to catch the Snitch unless they were ahead by at least eight goals.Ten would be better... but he’d settle for eight. Then when it came down to the last game of the season, Gryffindor against Ravenclaw, James would have a better idea of how many points they needed to earn to win the Cup. But this game was just as important; the more points they earned today, the bigger their lead would be.

He took a deep breath, ready to face the noise and excitement of his players as they donned their Quidditch robes and prepared to kick arse. They were the best team around. He was captain, after all. He’d settle for nothing less than the best. Now it was time to get his heart into the game and show the school who would walk away with the Quidditch Cup come June. It was his only year as captain and he sure as hell wouldn’t let that go to waste.

“James!” He turned around to see Lily sprinting up to him, her cheeks full of color from the chilly February air. Behind her was the rest of the group, all making their way over. He noticed Alrek walking with a Ravenclaw girl... Janet? Janice? Something like that, James thought. Well, good that the bloke finally found someone in his own House.

James smiled down at Lily as she reached up and threw her arms around him, her hair catching in the wind and blowing everywhere. The sun bathed her red strands, causing a small glow to shine off of them . Scarlet and gold... James smiled as he thought about that. Lily really had been born a Gryffindor.

A shiver rushed through him as she gave his neck a small kiss and moved her lips up to his ear before whispering, “You’re going to do brilliant today James, I just know it.”

He nuzzled into her, the desire to get to his team and the urge to stand there in the biting February air and cuddle his girlfriend fighting against each other.

“Oi! James!” Sirius’s shout came barging through James’s thoughts and he glanced up to see his best mate running closer, pulling Belle along with him. “You aren’t going to win the Cup by snogging Lily. No offense,” he teased, sending Lily his typically charming smile. “I’m sure you’re lovely to snog and all, but, you know...”

Lily rolled her eyes at their friend, then laughed with Belle in a way that made James feel like he’d missed something. Alice, Frank, Peter, Remus, Alrek and his Ravenclaw girl all made their way over and circled around, everyone laughing and chatting. James heard a mixture of good lucks, even from Alrek and Janet (Janice?) who didn’t seem too concerned about the Gryffindor vs. Hufflepuff outcome.

“So he’s watching the match with you lot?” James asked Lily as the rest of group began venturing toward the stands.

“Yes, and Jenna.”

Jenna! That was it. He was about to tell Lily he’d forgotten the girl’s name, but decided against it. He was sure she wouldn’t understand how he couldn’t recall the name of a student he’d gone to school with for seven years.

“It’s nice the bloke finally has someone from his own house,” he said instead, nodding at his own words. “That must’ve been who he was with during the match in January since he didn’t sit with us.”

James began walking with Lily toward the pitch, though it was only a few feet until they’d need to split and go their separate ways.

“Yeah, he only watched that first match in November with-” Lily cut herself off and James glanced down. The thud of his heart strengthened in his chest at the sight of her face, frozen and pale.

“Lily?” he prompted, turning to her and placing his palm against her cheek. “Lily, what is it?”

“Oh, no it’s...” she tried to mumble out some sort of excuse, but James knew her better than that.

“Tell me the truth,” he insisted, taking her hand and stepping to the side so they weren’t in the way of students still rushing in.

“James...” Her usually light voice was nothing but serious. “You need all your attention focused on the match. We’ll talk about it after, yeah?”

“No,” he said firmly. James wasn’t that kind of person. The... wait until a better time to know what was happening, kind of person. Sure, he made other people do it; he put off talking about things if he felt like the timing wasn’t right, but he couldn’t handle when it was done to him. “I’m going to play much worse not knowing than I would if you just told me.” He watched as she struggled with herself, probably trying to decide if what he said was true or not.

“Okay,” she began, glancing around them. “Okay, but listen to me. It probably means nothing. When Alrek watched that first game with us, I remember us talking about Christmas. I don’t know exactly what I said or if I said you were coming to the wedding. And it wasn’t for long that we talked about it, maybe a few seconds before we started watching the match. Then he became ill and...”

James felt his breath quicken and struggled to even it out. Could the exchange student have anything to do with this? Rukin seemed nothing but casual around them... but he’d heard enough stories from his parents to know that it didn’t matter what someone appeared to be. They could be anything.

“Listen to me,” he said, holding Lily’s face with both hands. “Don’t say a word to anyone else in the group. Not here. Don’t make it seem like you suspect Rukin of anything. If he’s involved in any way, we don’t want him to know that we know.”

“The more I think about it, the more I don’t think it has to do with him,” Lily said, and to James’s surprise it sounded like she actually meant it. “It’s just... he’s never with the Slytherins, and we were already getting friendly with him so if he was involved you’d think there would’ve been better ways to get us alone with Bellatrix. He could have invited us straight into Voldemort’s... house? People like him don’t really live in houses, do they? Lair? Lair sounds better.”

James thought about what she said. There were just too many damn people it could be. Lily hadn’t remembered talking to Alrek about it until, well, just then... so any of them could be forgetting a time that they spoke to anyone in the entire fucking school about their Christmas plans.

How were they supposed to remember exactly who they talked to and what they talked to them about? But that still didn’t mean he was convinced Rukin didn’t play a part.

“Okay, sure, I see what you’re saying,” he said. “But no one is to be alone with him and, unless we somehow learn it definitely wasn’t him, he isn’t to be trusted. And Lily...” He waited until she was glancing back up at him, worry evident in her green eyes. “Thanks for telling me. I’ll play better than ever just because you did.”

She smiled and gave him another small kiss before turning around to take off toward the stands.

“Wait, not so fast,” he said, grabbing her hand as he turned around to see what group of students were passing them on the path. After spotting Ethan, a sixth year Gryffindor, he darted over to him, pulling Lily along.

“Hey there James, good luck tod-”

“Yeah yeah, thanks,” James said, cutting him off. “Walk Lily to the stands and make sure she gets to my mates, yeah?” Ethan looked at James like he’d inhaled a bit too much broom cleaner, then just shrugged.

“James Potter,” Lily growled, pulling James to the side as Ethan waited on the path for her. “I am not some child that can’t handle looking after herself.”

James put on the face he used for his mother the few times she’d been angry at him. “I need to know you get there safely,” he said quietly, hoping she’d understand. He wasn’t sure if he was off the hook or not, but she just rolled her eyes and walked to the path, sending James on last glare before continuing down it with Ethan and his friends.

After he watched a few more seconds to be sure she stayed with him, he turned toward the direction of the players’ tent and sprinted into it, knowing his team would be fuming by now.

“Sorry for taking so long,” he said as he tore through the flap. James took a deep breath and forced his brain to shut off and ignore what Lily had just told them. He couldn’t do anything about it now, and she’d been right when she said that maybe it wasn’t Rukin. It still seemed more likely for a Slytherin to be behind it, but now at least they could keep an eye on the Bulgarian transfer too.

He shook away the thoughts, then glanced around the room at the faces of his teammates, their eyes hungry for a win. After the game, he and his mates would figure out what to do about Alrek. For now, the only thing that mattered was the match.

Lily stood on the tips of her toes as she watched James soar through the sky. He looked like he was on fire, the crimson robes tearing behind him and catching every speck of sun. She gasped and reached down, squeezing Sirius and Alice’s hands as a Bludger went spiraling toward James.

“Please see it, please see it,” she whispered aloud, hoping with all her might that the ball wouldn’t crash into him. Just when she was sure it was going to make contact, Margaret came out of nowhere and smacked the Bludger so hard a crack echoed through the pitch.

“What a hit! That, folks, could have been a bloody mess if I’ve ever seen one. James Potter’s bones will remain intact though thanks to the brilliant Gryffindor Beater, Margaret Blackbourne!

Lily laughed at Frank’s voice, sounding so much more powerful than usual as it boomed through the air. She tried to take a deep breath to steady her nerves but it was no use. Every point Gryffindor scored seemed to be followed by a Hufflepuff goal. Finally James, Polly and Mary got into an incredible routine, and the Gryffindors started creeping further ahead. People still underestimated Polly because of her size and she managed to score three goals in a row. Lily honestly couldn’t believe how powerful someone so tiny could look up there, her moves precise and clean.

As the minutes ticked by Lily felt her throat grow raw from cheering and the crowd was losing their stamina ever so slowly. She watched Violet scour the pitch, and felt herself urging the Seeker to the find Snitch and end the game. She glanced around and noticed Professor McGonagall leaning over in her box, but couldn’t make out who she was talking to. The man looked young with short hair, but wasn’t the slightest bit familiar to Lily.

“Hey,” she said, turning to Sirius at her side. “Who is Professor McGonagall speaking with?”

Sirius narrowed his eyes the same way Lily had, then after muttering, “No way,” he reached forward and plucked a set of Omnioculars from a student in front of them. The girl turned around, presumably to shout at him, but her eyes grew large as she saw it was Sirius that had been the one to snatch them. Lily let out an accidental snort before focusing her attention back on the stranger.

“Lily,” Sirius said, gripping the Omnioculars so tightly that Lily could see his fingers turning white. “That’s Bain Turner. Polly’s brother. Then you see that man next to him? That’s Stanley Henniway, the Ballycastle Bats manager.”

“Doesn’t Polly’s brother play for the Cannons?” Alice asked from the other side of Lily. “Why would he be with the Ballycastle Bats manager?”

Sirius turned to them and handed the girl her field glasses back, ignoring her flirtatious smile completely. Lily couldn’t help but wonder if the younger Gryffindor was crazy for being so obvious... Belle’s feistiness had become something of a legend throughout the school.

“Well,” Sirius started, sitting down and leaning in as Remus and Peter both turned their attention from the pitch to what the group was talking about. “Word may have gotten around that the Ballycastle Bats were interested in looking for players. Maybe the Cannons got wind of it and wanted to scout for new talent as well and decided to be a bit more secretive about it all. Having Polly on the team gives her brother a good excuse to be here, after all.”

“And Violet’s spotted the Snitch!” Franks announcement forced their attention back to the pitch. Violet jetted through the air, her entire body forming to the broom with the Hufflepuff Seeker yards behind her. The crowd all held their breath, then broke into a wild cheer as Violet’s hand reached out and she brought her broom to a halt, holding her fist up to show the sneaky ball tucked inside of it.

“Gryffindor Wins! Two-hundred and thirty to one-hundred and sixty!”

Lily and Alice turned to each other and fell into a tight hug, both of them letting out the kind of squeal that was sure to annoy every student around. When the girls released their hold on one another, Lily noticed that the Hufflepuffs were already filing out of the stands and headed toward the castle. They didn’t look angry, just rather disappointed. A small twinge of guilt crept into Lily but she shook it away. It was a game, after all. The purpose was to try and win. She glanced over at her friends to ask if they wanted to head down to the pitch or just wait for James in the common room, when her eyes caught Alrek’s.

For a brief second, something in them terrified her. Icy fingers dipped through her and stole her breath before she managed to shake herself from the strange feeling.

She knew she’d never be able to recall what it was or explain it to her friends... but something about the way he’d been looking at her, the color of his blue eyes... It sent a violent shiver through her body. She told herself to stop thinking and ignore whatever the hell she thought she felt. She followed the group as they started making their way down the steps, trying to focus on what they were saying, but it seemed the harder she tried to forget, the more doused her mind was in it. Was she simply creating things in her mind because of the discussion she’d just had with James? She wanted to convince herself that was the case, but couldn’t begin to fathom how her imagination could have created such a feeling.

She wasn’t sure of anything regarding Alrek; what she was sure of was that this was James’s moment and she wouldn’t ruin it. As they neared the Gryffindors, all huddled together laughing and shouting, she plastered a sincere smile over her face. She was happy, after all. That wouldn’t be diminished by some odd feeling she couldn’t even explain.

Although the smile did threaten to falter when she saw Violet throw herself on James. Lily pushed down the urge to go peel the girl off and instead watched as James nudged her away. She trusted James. If the girl wanted to make a fool of herself by flirting with Lily’s boyfriend, that was her choice.

“Excuse me, James,” Belle said, her sharp features looking more dangerous than ever as she glared at Violet. “I believe you ‘ave some’zing stuck to you.”

Lily tried to cover a laugh by fake coughing, then grabbed Belle’s arm and faced her friend away from the players. “You know I can’t let you insult a student,” she lectured, raising her eyebrow. “But if I wasn’t Head Girl, I’d tell you how brilliant that was. Unnecessary, but brilliant.”

“It’s disgusting ‘ow she zrows herself at him,” Belle said, raising her voice a few octaves.

Alice stepped to the side of Lily and crossed her arms. “Belle, don’t sink to her level. Everyone knows she looks ridiculous trying to flirt with James, but you don’t need to make yourself look ridiculous as well by insulting her.”

“Fine, fine. I’m finished insulting ‘er for ze afternoon.” Belle held up her hands in mock surrender and the girls turned back to their friends just as James was walking over.

“Congratulations, mate!” Sirius said, reaching over and ruffling the captain’s hair. Lily felt a smug sense of satisfaction as he scooped her up and gave her a tight hug, but tried to force it down. She didn’t want Violet to be upset or anything, only to stop throwing herself at James.

“You all played brilliantly,” Remus said, beaming at the entire group.

“Though with all the talk James has been doing, we knew you would,” Peter added. Lily’s smile grew at the confident tone to her friend’s voice. Peter was still the shyest of the group, but nothing like he used to be. She made a mental note to prod him into asking Ellie, a sweet Hufflepuff girl that fancied him, to Hogsmeade for Valentine’s day. Remus was going with Eleanor − the seventh year Ravenclaw prefect − and Lily didn’t want Peter left out. And she might have already mentioned to Ellie that Peter would be asking her.

“Polly,” Lily started, leaning forward and hugging the small girl that came bounding over to them. “You looked perfect up there. Like you were born playing.”

“Well she practically was,” James said, patting her on the back. “Okay team-” Lily covered a giggle as James took on his ‘captain’ voice and turned to the players crowding back around him. “We won today, and I can’t tell you all how thrilled I am at the hard work you’ve put in at practices, but there’s still a ways to go for the Cup. We-”

“Mr. Potter.” The voice of Minerva McGonagall caused James to cut his sentence off. They turned around as the Head of House walked closer, Polly’s brother and the manager for Ballycastle both in tow.

“Bain!” Polly squeaked, running up and hugging her brother.

“Polly, you were bloody amazing out there,” tfohe deep voice said followed by a sharp cough from McGonagall. Lily tried not to laugh as the Quidditch star muttered a quick apology for his language.

“Mr. Potter,” the professor continued, “Mr. Henniway would like to speak with you. If you would please join us in my office at your soonest convenience, we’d greatly appreciate it.”

“Yeah, sure,” James mumbled as he shook both Mr. Henniway’s hand and Polly’s brother’s. “Let me just go get changed and talk to the team for a sec, then I’ll be right there.” McGonagall nodded and James gave Lily a nervous smile before taking off, the team right behind him.

“Miss Evans, I need to speak with you as well. Are you able to accompany us on the walk back to the castle?” Lily could only nod, not sure what the professor had to talk with her about.

“I’ll meet you guys in the Gryffindor common room,” Lily said to her friends, knowing full well that by the time she got back there would be a party for the books going on. Maybe she’d take her time making her way to the tower. That way they’d get longer to celebrate before she broke it all up and confiscated every forbidden item that they were either chugging down or lighting off.

As she waved goodbye to her friends and trailed behind the adults, her mind turned back to Alrek. Could the boy she’d just spent three hours sitting beside be the reason her and James nearly lost their lives? Most of her knew it wasn’t likely, but one small corner of her mind kept reliving the feeling she’d gotten when their eyes had met.

Regardless of how probable, or more likely improbable, it was, Lily decided it was worth bringing up to the professor once the manager was no longer around. Then maybe the nagging feeling would leave her alone

Minerva waited patiently, or as patiently as she was able, for the three men to arrive. Waiting was not her strong point. She was a woman who liked action, liked getting things done the moment she was able and always seemed to have another task on her list. Idle hands were the Devil’s tools, her father always used to say. A motto her family was raised on and one she never forgot.

“They’ll be here any moment, Minerva,” Albus said gently from his position behind the wooden desk. She simply nodded then resumed staring at the fireplace on the far side of the office, willing the flames to turn green and their guests to walk through. She wasn’t sure why she was so anxious. Possibly because she disliked the waiting, or the fact that she knew the longer it took for the others to arrive the longer Albus would have to leave the Floo connection unlocked. That allowed more time for someone to find a hole and break into it. She was confident that the headmaster had made certain his network couldn’t be tapped, even by the Ministry, and had taken every precaution possible before unlocking it for these painfully long minutes. Still, that didn’t ease her nerves.

Of course Floo was by far the safest way to allow their guests into the study, and with the nature of the conversation, it was much too sensitive to discuss anywhere but there.

The fire erupted and growled to life, causing Minerva to let out a small sigh of relief as a stocky body came clomping out.

“Good evening, Alastor,” Albus greeted, nodding at him. Minerva didn’t have the chance to add her pleasantries, for it was barely a breath until the next two came tumbling in.

“Oi, you didn’t wait long enough! You big baboon! You nearly stepped on my face,” came an annoyed huff from one of the men as he stood and shook his robes off.

“Maybe stepping on your face would have improved the ugly thing a bit,” the other man replied, to which Minerva could only further tighten her lips to stop herself from pointing out the fact that the men were identical to one another.

“Gideon, Fabian,” Alastor growled, before raising his wooden leg and bringing it down a few rough, hard times to get their attention.“You both best shape up unless you want to find my wand six inches deep in-”

“Mr. Moody,” McGonagall interrupted, not wishing to hear the crude remark that was on the tip of the man’s tongue. “Mr. Prewett and Mr. Prewett, if you would all care to take a seat...”

Albus flicked his wand as she spoke, causing three ancient chairs to dance their way over and settle near the desk. After everyone was seated the headmaster cleared his throat.

“As you all know, a full Order meeting wasn’t currently feasible. We will go forth with the one scheduled for the start of March, but it was necessary that I speak with a few of you prior to that.” Everyone nodded at the man’s words, and Minerva felt her anxiety lessen as they began the meeting.

Fabian sat up a touch straighter, his voice losing the teasing tone it held when he and his brother first entered. “If this is about the Dementors research, we really don’t have a way to slip any more than what we’re doing under the Ministry’s nose. We’ve nearly doubled our allotted fund for Magical Creature research and if we keep pushing, someone's bound to notice.”

“Yeah,” Gideon said, picking up where his twin left off. “Not filing your current project is as severe as committing murder, at least in the Ministry’s eyes.”

“Bloody bastards are keeping everyone on shorter leashes than ever,” Alastor growled. “It’s a mad house. If it weren’t for Crouch’s influence, I’d be disgusted at what my department would turn into. Thank God no one can say no to that son of a bitch; he’s the only reason my Aurors are still allowed the freedom they are. Minister Yang-gae Tanaka has her head so far up her-”

“As true as that may be,” Minerva cut in, “we aren’t here to discuss the happenings at the Ministry.”

“We had an interesting conversation with Miss Evans and Mr. Potter earlier today,” Dumbledore said, and Minerva was satisfied that they were getting back on track.

“Finally got ‘em in on the Order, did you?” Moody asked, his false eye glancing from Headmaster to Deputy Headmistress.

Albus answered before Minerva had a chance to. “Not precisely. In fact, Mr. Potter met with Stanley Henniway today about the possibility playing for the Ballycastle Bats. Another team sent one of their players to survey his skills as well, I believe.”

“I don’t understand,” Fabian said, leaning forward impatiently. “Are you reconsidering speaking with them about the Order?”

“No, no,” Albus said, holding up a patient hand. “I believe they are aware of certain aspects as it is. Mr. Potter is frighteningly perceptive. He doesn’t know what we are by name, but he understands that there is a ‘group,’ as he put it, devoted to stopping Voldemort. I didn’t have it in me to bring the information up just then. He deserves to think through the offer presented by Mr. Henniway. A decision isn’t needed by the team until after graduation, regardless.”

“What if he decides to play?” Gideon asked. “We need more people. We barely have a handful of us. Anyone willing to help-”

“Anyone willing to help would greatly increase our chances of stopping this, I know,” Dumbledore said calmly, flicking his wand at the wall to bring the lanterns alive. “But we must allow him control of his own future, or we’re no better than Voldemort’s side.”

A silence fell over the room, the crackling of flame on oil being the only thing to puncture the stillness.

“Oddly enough,” Minerva said after a few beats, “Mr. Potter’s future isn’t the only one that’s been discussed this evening. I received word yesterday from the Healing Academy of Magical Medicine that Miss Evans’s application has gone through to the next round. I discussed that with her while Mr. Henniway spoke with Mr. Potter. It was hard to read her exact reaction, but If she chooses to join us, she may be able to attend school and assist our cause at the same time. Frankly, it may do us good to have someone inside St. Mungo’s.”

“Minerva, you know what those hours are like,” Moody argued as he stood up and began pacing. “The girl wouldn’t be able to manage both. Not well, at least.”

Two deep lines appeared on either side of Minerva’s lips, creating a heavy frown. She knew the truth behind Alastor’s words, but she didn’t want to believe Miss Evans’s dream of being a Healer wouldn’t be possible. So much of her was torn... she wanted desperately to recruit more willing souls to help them fight, but she didn’t want to see any more of her students in danger. In many ways, she felt like a mother sending her children off to war.

Albus’s aged voice broke through her thoughts. “Well, true as all that may be, it’s necessary we let them decide for themselves. Minerva and I will discuss the Order and divulge any details we feel comfortable with come graduation. For now, I believe we’re doing the correct thing. But this is not the reason we requested the three of you to join us this evening.” Albus was silent a moment, fiddling with the hairs of his beard before continuing. “Mr. Potter and Miss Evans have discovered something that we already feared to be true. There is someone inside this castle who is responsible for passing information to Voldemort. Accurate information, I believe.”

“You go right ahead and tell them to talk to my Aurors,” Moody said with a proud grin. “Longbottom and Christopherson have more insight and brains than anyone in my whole damn department. They’ll have it figured out in a few weeks flat.”

“They’re still my students Mr. Moody. Not yet your Aurors.”

“Let’s not argue affiliations just now. Mr. Potter and Miss Evans did bring some interesting theories upon us,” Albus said. “Of course the ones we’ve already suspected are those whose families are known supporters of Voldemort, but it seems that James and Lily also believe Mr. Rukin is worthy of suspicions.”

“The odd thing about that,” Minerva continued, her skin tingling with the excitement of a mystery, “is that our Defence Professor, Genov, has also mentioned distrusting him.”

“But you searched his background thoroughly before accepting his transfer, didn’t you, Albus?” Fabian asked

“Oh, quite. Nothing out of the ordinary caught my attention. One thing is certain, though: information is passing from our school and into hands where it does not belong. After discussing it further, Minerva and I are hoping that the two of you,” he inclined his head toward Fabian and Gideon, “would both be willing to relocate to Hogsmeade. We’ve already spoken with a shop owner who is willing to rent her apartment for a fair price. We understand it’s a large favor to ask, but safety for our students has to be a top priority and I believe the more Order members we have in a close radius, the better protected we are.”

“‘Course, Albus. You know we’ll do whatever we can. Right, Fabian?”

“Absolutely, Gideon. In fact, I’ve heard that there’s an attractive barmaid working at the Three Broomsticks.”

Minerva could only roll her eyes and conceal the smile that threatened to sneak in. Regardless of the circumstance, the Prewett twins were always able to keep their spirits up. It was something that she admired greatly.

“Wonderful, and my deepest gratitude for that. Alastor, our request for you is a bit more time consuming. It’s something we’ve thought about occasionally, but never before felt the need to go forward with. We believe our of-age students would benefit from weekly dueling classes. Rigorous ones that allow practice of more complicated spellwork. If you are able to spare one of your Aurors to teach these classes weekly, and possibly be present every so often, we would be sincerely grateful.”

Alastor’s eyes lit with excitement. She and Albus had both known he’d be willing. The man would preach his mantra of Constant Vigilance to anyone who would listen, and getting to show them just how to act that way was even better.

“I suppose I can fit it into my busy schedule...” Moody said with what could pass as a smile. “First and last Saturdays of the month are when I have Longbottom and Christopherson. So we’ll work around that.”

Albus nodded and rose from his chair. He and Minerva thanked the others for their time before seeing them back through the Floo. Once the three Order members disappeared and the last flame died into the darkness, Minerva felt herself breathe a bit easier. Albus pulled out his wand and gave a few sturdy flicks, locking access once again.

She turned to Albus, ready to wish him a good night, when his glance stopped her.

“Is there something worrying you?” she asked, taking a step toward her old friend.

“It seems as if there’s always something worthy of worrying over, doesn’t it?” he answered before looking up at her and offering a warm smile. “Alas, that’s simply life. Pleasant dreams, Minerva.”

She understood the request to be left alone and stepped through the door, closing it quietly behind her. His words were still ringing in her head, and the truth behind them caused a dull ache in her heart. No matter how hard they tried to protect their students, no matter what they did to keep their Order members safe, it never felt like enough. Yes, as usual, Albus was correct. There really was always something to worry about.

Thank you to my lovely beta reader, CambAngst. He's the best ♥

The phrase 'Idle hands are the Devil's tools' is first traced back to Chaucer's 'Tale of Melibee.'

What did you guys think of this chapter? I've mentioned before that I try to avoid writing Quidditch games, so I hope none of you mind that I sort of jumped to the end of this one. Thank you so much for reading!

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