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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 29 : Dueling Lessons
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 14

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Amazing CI by heartfelt @ TDA
Chapter 29 - Dueling Lessons

James pulled open the door, letting his mates and the girls all file out before closing it. They were twenty minutes early for the dueling lesson, only a few other students dotted around the courtyard with Professor McGonagall and Moody standing near the center.

The nearly March air was warmer than usual, though still far from comfortable. Overcast hung heavy in the sky; the promise of rain bulging in the dark clouds as the wind twisted about. The combination was enough to drive a cold chill through James. He pulled his robes tighter, wishing he’d reconsidered his decision not to wear a cloak. But the added weight was the last thing he wanted to deal with, especially if they were practicing dueling and not just listening to the Auror give a lecture on it.

A small hand gripped gently on his shoulder and distracted James from his thoughts. He turned around to find Lily’s green eyes looking up at him.

“We’re going to be over at the bench. Girl talk stuff. Keep your nosy selves away from us,” she said with a smile, then ran off to catch up with Alice and Belle who were already halfway to the other side. He watched as her braided hair swung back and forth, fighting the urge to creep up behind her and tug on it.

“They’ve been acting kind of funny this morning,” James said, glancing around at his mates for confirmation.

“It’s Tuesday,” Peter reasoned. “Everyone acts funny on Tuesdays.” James shrugged, supposing that could be it. But he didn’t think so. Lily hardly said a word to him that morning; she and Alice were having some sort of silent conversation from across the Gryffindor table. Then in Transfiguration when Sirius managed to vanish the flame in his jar then conjure it again before anyone else, none of the girls even batted an eyelash. Well, maybe they did. They seemed to be batting them constantly, but they certainly didn’t comment on it.

“Let’s not worry about it,” Remus said, and James glanced over at him, confused. Out of all of them, their occasionally furry friend was usually the first to worry about somebody else’s problem and try to fix it.

Remus raised his eyebrows at James and sent a glance toward Frank, nudging his head that way. So it had something to do with Longbottom?

Apparently they weren't as sneaky as they thought, because Frank cleared his throat and said, “I saw that, Remus.”

“You’re what has them acting all out of sorts?” Sirius asked, shaking his hair so that the newly fallen drops of rain jetted off in all directions. James snickered to himself, thinking that a few of Padfoot’s mannerisms must’ve become part of Sirius’s everyday life.

Frank shrugged. “I guess. Alice and I talked about something last night and I suppose she wasn’t thrilled with what I said.”

“Do you want to...err.. talk about it?” James asked, instantly wishing Moody would begin the lesson. It wasn’t that he didn’t like talking to his mates about this kind of thing, but he wasn’t exactly good at it. Especially when it came to Frank. The bloke was a lot more private than the rest of them. He’d always been that way.

“No, thanks though,” Frank said, giving James an apologetic shrug. “It’ll work itself out.”

“Well, next time you piss Alice off,” Sirius began, “make sure you tell us so we can be prepared for the rest of them to be out of sorts. Common courtesy, really. Right, James?”

“Absolutely,” James agreed with a firm nod. “No reason we should all be taken off guard.”

“See, this is why I don’t have a girlfriend,” Peter said. “Too much bloody trouble.”

“This is why you don’t have a girlfriend?” Remus asked, laughing. “You don’t have a girlfriend because you left Ellie without so much as a word when we all got taken back from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts.”

“You left Eleanor, too! We both did... to get the cloak!” Peter reasoned, though the slow burn of his cheeks made James think that Peter had been feeling guilty about leaving his date to herself after the crisis in Hogsmeade. “Besides, she wasn’t going to be my girlfriend. All she talked about at the Three Broomsticks was some gossip magazine.”

“What Witches are Wearing?” James supplied, then instantly wished he hadn’t.

“Have something you want to share with us, then, mate?” Sirius asked, laughing as James struggled to blurt out an explanation.

“My mum had a subscription for a few months when she wanted to try and feel younger or something. Didn’t read any of the stuff... just looked at some of the pictures. You know... bathing suit ads,” he added, puffing out his chest. Was it his fault that the magazine featured page after page of models, all moving about and blowing him kisses? No. Any man would have flipped through it.

“Sure, maybe it was that magazine,” Peter continued, “but it was all she talked about. I tried to bring up lessons. She didn’t like any of them. Tried to bring up Quidditch, apparently she doesn’t fancy that either. Then she asked for a butterbeer with no sugar in it.”

“Well, at least Eleanor and Remus had a better time,” Frank said, sending a wink across their small circle to Moony. “She’s been talking to him constantly in Arithmancy.”

“You didn’t tell us that,” James said, furrowing his brows together. That was the one class they didn’t all have together, with only Frank, Remus and Lily taking it.

“She’s nice enough,” Remus said, shrugging. “A girlfriend is the last thing I need though. Don’t want to turn into you and Sirius, do I?” he added, smirking over at James. Part of James wanted to push the topic, but he talked himself out of it. There was no use. Remus had tried dating, but as soon as a girl asked him where he’d been during one of his moons he found some excuse to break it off. James suspected it was because Remus didn’t feel right lying to the girl’s face, but wasn’t going to tell her the truth or anything. So he just avoided it.

But Remus wouldn’t be able to forever. One day when everything went back to normal and they all had jobs and houses and adult lives, he’d finally stop thinking that every person would turn their back on him because of his condition. He’d get over it and finally tell someone the truth, or she’d pry it out of him, using that talent only girls have. Then they’d be able to make fun of Remus for being the world’s most whipped werewolf.

The thought brought a smile to James’s face. He knew Remus’s situation was a lot more complicated than they liked to think, but Wolfsbane had been in the making for years now; it was bound to be ready for public consumption soon. Remus would be able to use the potion and stop stressing constantly.  

Then they’d find some pretty brunette, or maybe a blonde, to tie Remus too. Peter would end up with some girl that smiled constantly and never stopped talking, and none of this shit would matter anymore. The war would be over. Voldemort would be in Azkaban. Hell, maybe they’d hang him like they used to do to witches and wizards caught violating the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.

Lily would be a Healer and maybe James would be playing Quidditch. Or maybe he’d decide to go back to his original plan of being an Auror. Who knows, maybe Dumbledore would want him for the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts professor. That’s something that James could really see himself doing. He’d be better than most of the rubbish professors they’d had in the past.

“James?” Sirius’s voice brought his focus back to the conversation, and for a moment he struggled with the feeling of his stomach falling ever so slightly. He’d been so stuck imaging the future, one without murders and disappearances everyday, that it was hard to feel anything but disappointment when he came crashing back into the present. Where an end to the war was nowhere in sight.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” James mumbled, kicking a pebble on the ground and shaking off the feeling of discontentment. He glanced over at Lily, her legs folded up under her body as she sat on the bench, Belle and Alice on either side. Her fingers were twisting through her hair, re-braiding the red strands. Just when he was about to avert his gaze, her eyes flickered up and met his. A smile passed over her lips, like they were sharing a secret together.

“You’re a lucky man, James,” Remus mumbled, and James turned his head to realize it was just the four of them again, Remus’s eyes following James’s.

“Where’d Frank go?” he asked, glancing around.

“Talk to Alexander about something,” Sirius said.

“Do you guys ever...” James paused, trying to figure out the best way to word his thoughts. “I don’t know. Do you guys ever think he feels out of place? We’re all mates and stuff...”

“But the four of us were mates for longer,” Remus supplied.

“Yeah. And he isn’t exactly... I don’t know. He isn’t exactly one of us,” James finished lamely.

“Nah, I don’t think he cares,” Remus answered. “He’s our friend. And he knows he’s our friend. But he’s friends with loads of other people, too. It isn’t like us, where we just sort of stick with each other.”

“Cause no one else would put up with your arses,” Sirius said, laughing.

“Our arses?” Peter replied, both his eyebrows shooting up. “You’re the one who has more mood swings than a bloody girl.”

James laughed as shock covered Sirius’s face. Peter didn’t often trade insult for insult like the rest of them did, so when the occasion occurred it was a pleasant surprise.

“He’s got you there, Padfoot,” Remus said, smirking. “And we all know there isn’t anyone else that would put up with James. The arrogant prat he is.”

“Not a chance,” Sirius agreed. “I suppose we might as well stick together, then. Since it’s blatant that no one else will put up with us.”

“Well, to Belle and Lily’s credit, at least they're trying,” James added, glancing again over at the girls.

“Brave girls, they-” Sirius cut himself off, his eyes focused on the entrance of the courtyard. James craned his neck and saw what had caught his mate off guard.

“For bloody sakes,” James mumbled, watching as the Slytherin Prospects came strutting in. James reached down and looked at his pocket watch, disappointed to see that there were still three minutes left until noon. Which meant that the slimy gits weren’t late, and wouldn’t be kicked out.

“What are they doing here?” Peter hissed, his features crinkling together.

“Probably assessing their competition,” Remus supplied. His tone held its evenness, but James could hear the hints of anger in it.

James forced himself to look away. “Well, hopefully one of us will be up against them and we can finish them off here.”

“Professor McGonagall won’t let that happen. She knows our... history with them,” Sirius  said, disappointed. James knew he was right. Even if the Auror tried to pair one of them against one of the Slytherins, he doubted the professor would let it happen. Or maybe she would... maybe she wanted them to finish off the Slytherins just as badly as they wanted to. They could curse them so bad they’d have to spend the rest of the year in St. Mungo's.

James heard the professor's voice echo around the courtyard, and all the boys turned to watch as she stepped up to a raised platform. He was relieved when he noticed that she wasn’t as pale as she’d been the last few weeks. Her injuries had been severe enough that when the group went to see her the day after the attack, she hadn’t even been able to open her eyes. But she’d been back in the classroom teaching only a few days later. Nothing could slow that woman down, James thought.

“Good afternoon, students,” she began, glancing around at them all. “As you’re aware, this is the first of what is to be semimonthly dueling lessons offered to of age students. In these lessons we’ll focus on defensive dueling and you will be assigned a set of spells. You are to use only those. Any person who attempts a spell not assigned will not be invited back.” Her eyes narrowed, making contact with each group. James didn’t know if it was his imagination or not, but he thought she paid special attention to the Prospects. “This is Mr. Alastor Moody. He’s kindly volunteered his time to assist you in these lessons, and you are to listen to each and every thing he says. Mr. Moody.”

She stepped to the side and the Auror climbed up the platform as well, his wooden leg making a heavy thud. “Some of you may recognize me,” he began, his magical eye spinning around until it fell on Evan Rosier. James smiled as he thought about when the slime had provoked Moody, resulting in Alice cursing him. Never mess with a Gryffindor.

“For those of you that do, you know that I don’t tolerate insubordinate behavior. If you’re here to screw around and waste my time, I suggest you leave this instant.” Silence clung to the courtyard, only the wind daring to disturb the Auror’s speech. “Now then. As your Deputy Headmistress said, we’ll be working with certain spells on defensive and offensive dueling. I don’t know if you lot are up to date with the events around this school, but if you’re not you sure as hell better familiarize yourself with them. Because that’s why we’re here.

“Some of you may never come in contact with a Death Eater, with one of Voldemort’s-” A gasp from the students filled the courtyard. “Oh, get a hold of yourselves. It’s just a damn name. As I was saying, some of you may never have to deal with any of these people. You’ll be the lucky ones. But with things going the way they're going, most of you will. Most of you will be approached.” He paused as that sunk in.  “Did any of you read the front cover article in this morning’s prophet?”

James thought of the picture he’d seen, a small girl holding a fake wand. The article accompanying it talked about the dangers of letting these Muggle-born children attend their school when magic was such a joke to them. He’d been thankful that Lily had been too preoccupied with Alice to notice, but it seemed she was seconds away from finding out anyway.

“Yes sir,” came a few voices, and the man glanced around, his eyes landing on Margaret. Oh God, James thought, don’t tear apart my Quidditch player.

“You, Miss...”

“Blackbourne. Margaret Blackbourne,” she answered confidently.

“Miss Blackbourne. What did the prophet say this morning?”

She cleared her throat, her eyes still on the man’s. “It talked about Muggle-borns and how there are people petitioning for them to not be permitted entrance into Hogwarts.” James glanced at Lily, proud to see her gaze steady, eyes hard.

“And why do you think that article was written the way it was?” Moody asked.

“Well, it’s clear the prophet’s controlled by the Ministry. Isn’t it? And the Ministry gets a great deal of donations from certain... families... who have made their stance on Muggle-borns clear. I suppose they had no other choice but to write it that way... as if,” her voice faltered for the first time, “as if Muggle-borns weren’t as good as pure-bloods.”

“Exactly,” the Auror hissed. “But you’re wrong about one thing. They did have a choice. You always have a choice. But if they’d made the wrong choice, it would have cost someone their life.”

“It’s scary, isn’t it?” Peter whispered to the group. “That just because you don’t do what they want, they’ll probably kill you.”

“That’s why you never even give them the chance to talk to you,” Sirius answered in a gravelly tone. “And you sure as hell don’t let them blackmail you into doing something.”

James glanced at Peter and gave him a solid pat on the back. “Don’t worry, Wormtail. That’s why we’re here. To make sure no more of those bloody Death Eaters ever get the chance to talk to us.” Peter nodded, offering James a small smile.

James knew the uncertainty of it, of the world they were going out into, was scarier for Peter than the rest of them. He’d spent so much of his life avoiding his drunk of a father who happened to get mean every time he lifted a bottle of firewhiskey, that the idea of not being able to avoid something must’ve been hard for him. But he’d have to adjust to it, because they wouldn’t avoid the war. That’d been made more than clear the moment Bellatrix cornered James and Lily. Instead, they’d learn how to protect themselves during it.

“And it isn't just certain people wanting the school that way,” Moody said, his voice growing louder. “But it’s all the people that are too scared to stand up against this. They go along with it to save their skin, ignore the fact that innocent people will get killed simply because of their blood line. One person, one sick bastard-”

“Alastor,” Minerva said, her voice an obvious warning.

“One sick man is all it takes. And now he has an army of people who agree with him, half of them because of their own prejudices, and the other half because they’re too scared to do otherwise. The fear is what’s keeping this war going, and if any of you are ever cornered, it’s going to be fear that either gets you killed or has you agreeing to sign your life away to these monsters. The knowledge of how to defend yourself is what’s going to save you.” He paused for a second, searching the students. “Miss Evans, up here, please.”

James watched as Lily’s cheeks filled with color. He felt part of himself aching to run up ahead of her, not wanting her to be the first to test out whatever the Auror was going to be doing. But he reminded himself that Mr. Moody was, in fact, an Auror and a friend of his parents. And Professor McGonagall was just a few feet away. Nothing bad was going to happen to Lily.

“Miss Evans,” Moody said once she was standing on the platform. “Why did I select you first?”

Lily paused for a second, her arms crossed over her body. “Because I’m a Muggle-born.”

“Yes. Because you’re a Muggle-born. And because your name is already being talked about through the halls of the Ministry, different Heads wondering what it would take to get you in their department. You’re a Muggle-born and you’re possibly the most promising witch Hogwarts has seen since Minerva.” Lily’s cheeks grew to an impossible shade of red, so bright that James was sure she’d burst into flames at any second.

“Sheffield,” Moody said, glancing over at Alexander. Brilliant, James thought. His girlfriend and Beater dueling one another.

“I recognize your name. Pure-blood. Your father’s Maxwell?”

“Yes sir,” Alexander answered, glancing at Lily nervously. “But I don’t think anyone’s better than anyone. Lily beats me at every test. It doesn’t matter what sort of blood she-”

“Calm down, boy,” the Auror instructed. “You’re not up here because I think you dislike Muggle-borns. You and Miss Evans are going to demonstrate the spells we’ll be using today.”

James saw Lily’s face even out a bit as she realized she wouldn’t be the first to duel, and Moody went on to explain what they were and weren’t allowed to do. All basic stuff, but not easy, James noted. They could disarm, shield, temporarily paralyze, and use an array of counter curses to block.

As the Auror finished the demonstration, with Lily and Alexander performing each spell he addressed, he began to start calling up the pairs. They were only permitted go one pair at a time because of the protective shield surrounding the platform, making it so a spell couldn’t bounce off and hit another student. In spite of that, things seemed to be going relatively fast.

James tried to ignore the disappointment when Moody called up Snape and paired him with a Ravenclaw. Not that he wanted to deal with what Lily would say if they’d been paired together... but it would have been a nice excuse to remind the Slyhterin that his group better stay far away from them.

A small sense of satisfaction came though when Remus was paired against Avery, and just as the two began their duel the rain picked up. The light sprinkle gained momentum, fat, heavy drops replacing it.

“It’s freezing out here,” he heard someone say and glanced around, not surprised when he realize that the voice belonged to Abigail. “There’s no reason we need to be doing this outside in the disgusting muddy grass when it’s a bloody downpour!”

James was sure she’d meant to only address her friends, but Moody looked over from the duel and his eyes focused on the girl.

“Finished,” he growled, signaling an end to Avery and Remus’s match. “The duel goes to Remus Lupin. You had impressive wand control, boy. And your spells are deadly accurate.” James couldn’t hold back a congratulatory whoop with Sirius, Frank and Peter joining in. But their excitement was quickly cut off when Moody began speaking.

“Potter.” James felt a thrill of excitement at it finally being his turn and didn’t hesitate as he began walking to the platform. “And Black,” came the Auror's voice. James’s feet stopped momentarily, but he forced himself to keep going. Were they doing partner duels now? Would he and Sirius be up against two Slytherins? Now that would make his day even better...

“Dueling is a skill on its own,” Moody said as they reached the platform, Sirius clearly just as confused as James. “And dueling isn’t easy. But dueling against somebody you hardly know in order to save your own life... it’s something that most of us are capable of. Uncertainty is at every corner, though. Those people you think are your friends... there’s no telling what they’ll be a few years down the road. They could very well be the face on the other side of the wand trying to attack you. You need to keep focused, even if you’re dueling someone you believed to be a friend. Don’t let those emotions cloud you; don’t let yourself believe that just because they used to care about you, they’ll have any qualms with killing you then and there.”

James’s mind began reeling. He and Padfoot had dueled, well, jokingly dueled, many times before. As soon as James turned seventeen they started shooting harmless spells at each other. But dueling like this? Pretending that he actually wanted to hurt Sirius? He didn’t know how capable of that he really was.

He glanced around and noted that the rest of the students seemed nearly as shocked as both boys. Their eyes wide and curious as they waited to see what would happen. James lifted his hand and brushed off the collection of drops that had formed, eying Sirius as he did. His friend’s shrug and smile made it clear that he was okay with it if James was. James gave him a small nod. If Moody wanted them to duel, they’d duel. Besides, how often had they fought about which of them was the most skilled with a wand? Maybe this would finally settle it.

“Same rules apply as the previous duels,” Moody said. He pointed his own wand at the sky and a jet of red sparks shot into the foggy air, signaling them to start.

James watched Sirius, hazel eyes locked on grey. A cannon of thunder boomed overhead, but neither of them let it serve as a distraction. Who would start the duel off? James held his wand between confident fingers, his back straight and shoulders steady. He bent his knees just a fraction, prepared to jump if a spell came too quickly for him to create a shield.

But now... who would be the one to start it? The question had barely left James’s mind when out of Sirius’s wand came a jet of purple streaming toward him. James sliced his own wand down, forcing a shield to appear. The spell bounced off, and before Sirius had the chance to try another James focused his power and sent it crashing through the tip of his Mahogany wand. The spell shot toward its target, though instead of taking Sirius’s hand carved Acacia instrument and sending it flying to James, his mate managed to block the spell and send another of his own.

James felt beads of sweat begin to ball up on his forehead and mix with the pelting rain, his hair dripping as he threw his body in all directions. His breath came in ragged gasps as the minutes ticked by, but the smirk on his bests mate’s face wouldn’t allow him to give anything other than his best. The spells became second nature, his mind barely having to think the word as he coaxed out another attempt to either disarm for temporary freeze Sirius.

Despite his desire to win, he couldn’t silence the small part of him that said, ‘Nice one, Sirius!’ each time the black haired boy blocked yet another attempt at victory.

“Finished!” James nearly sighed with relief as the Auror’s voice slashed through the pounding in his ears. He could feel his heart gallop through his chest, still refusing to slow down even after James lowered his wand and took a few, deep breaths.

They stayed in their places on the raised platform as Moody stared off at nothing in particular, his magic eye spinning like mad. James wondered if he, like Alice, had a photographic memory. Maybe he was going back over the duel, imagining every detail as if it was just now happening.

After the silence dragged on, Alastor Moody finally climbed the platform, his wooden leg making an intimidating clunk with each step.

“Well, I’ll have to give that duel to both of you, I suppose. Damn talented. One of you would have died from exhaustion before lowering your guard.”

As Moody said the words, James watched his one eye slip to the side and meet Professor McGonagall’s. He would’ve thought the Head of Gryffindor House would be proud to have them both in her class, but for some reason the look she gave Moody was almost a sad one. It was probably nothing, James reasoned. They made their way back down and the duels continued.

A while later, Lily, Alice and Belle finally merged with the boys. Alice and Frank still remained tense, neither speaking to the other. Though James hardly gave that a second thought. For some reason, each time his mind started to wander it was plagued with the image of McGonagall’s face. The look she’d given Mr. Moody... like something bad had happened and James didn’t even know it yet.

“And ‘e ‘asn’t brought it up yet?” Belle asked, her soaking wet hair tied up in a bun on top of her head. Despite it being imprisoned in the elastic, that didn’t stop the drip drip drip of water from hitting the stone floor. Lily offered to use a charm to dry it, but Belle had shrugged off the idea. Why, Lily had no idea. But Belle rarely made sense. The redhead supposed it was part of her charm.

“Nope. Hasn’t said a thing,” Alice answered in a clipped tone. Lily glanced at her watch; it was just a few minutes until three. They needed to get to Charms. The girls hardly had a second to talk to Alice during the dueling lesson about her and Frank’s falling out, though. And despite her best friend trying to act like it wasn’t a big deal, the large, puffy circles surrounding Alice’s dark eyes were a clear indicator that she’d stayed up late worrying over the row.

Lily thought back to last Thursday’s Charm’s class. They’d gone over the things that would be on their N.E.W.T.s and practiced with abstract Charms - creating the illusion of fear, joy, those kinds of things - on one another. Lily and Alice already had that down, and with Belle it depended on her own mood. Lily was nearly sure they’d be doing the same thing in class today. Flitwick had neither assigned them a new chapter to read nor an essay to complete.

After deciding they wouldn’t be missing much, Lily turned to her friends. “Let’s go to the kitchens and get some snacks, then go up to the Heads’ Quarters and talk until dinner,” she suggested. “We’ll go by Flitwick’s tomorrow and see if we missed anything that we need to make up.”

For a moment, both Alice and Belle just stared at her, the blonde being the first to break the silence. “You realize what you just suggested, yes? Zat we skip class zree and a ‘alf months before we sit for our N.E.W.T.s.”

“You’ve stayed in class with the flu before, refusing to go to the Hospital Wing until the professor released us. And you’re wanting to skip class now?

Lily shrugged, still certain that this would be the best thing for Alice. A few hours of talking together, relaxing, and getting to the bottom of Frank’s issue.

“It’ll be fine. When’s the last time the three of us just got to spend time together?” Lily asked, more confident in her decision. She wasn’t worried about her performance for the Charms N.E.W.T.s. Well, that was a lie. She was. She was worried about everything that revolved around N.E.W.T.s, but that didn’t mean she thought this one class would do anything to change that.

“If you’re sure...” Belle said, dragging her words. “I say zat we should do it!”

Alice’s lips tilted up, the small smile growing into a large one. “Okay. Yes... let’s do it!”

The girls broke into the sort of giggling that could only occur between best friends. Lily glanced around then grabbed their hands, pulling them down the corridor and toward the pear painting that, thanks to James, Lily knew the secret to.

“Wait,” Lily said as soon as they stood outside it. “With all this stuff going on we should let the boys know we’re going to be together in the Heads’ Quarters and to leave us alone.” She hated to set a somber mood over their newly found excitement, but the three of them couldn’t just not show up for Charms and expect the boys not to worry.

“Well, ‘ow do we find zem and tell zem without going into the Charms class?”

Lily smiled at Belle’s question then reached into her rucksack and pulled out a heavy locket, nearly the size of her palm. After popping open the top she carefully removed the picture of James, eyes laughing up at her as he waved back and forth, his Quidditch broom dangling carelessly from the other hand.

“James,” she said, looking around to make sure no one was near. “I need you to talk to my photo and make sure that it tells James we won’t be in Charms. We’re going to be in the Heads’ Quarters talking, and we’ll see the group at dinner.” The image nodded and disappeared. Lily waited, glancing at the empty space. She wasn’t sure if James had the Snitch with him... they had been dueling after all. He might not have wanted the weight in his pocket.

As soon as she started growing more certain that the messaged hadn’t been successfully passed, the picture of James returned to its proper place and the dark haired boy was smiling up at her, sending his infamous wink.

“Okay,” Lily said, raising her eyes to her friends. “He knows. And since he didn’t send a back some lecture, I suppose they're going to leave us alone.”

“Do you have the map right now or does James?” Alice asked, glancing around them.

Lily reached forward, trying not to feel like total loon as she tickled the pear. Thankfully, it worked and the entrance to the kitchens became visible at once.

“He has it,” she answered as they stepped into the chaos filled room. “We’ve been switching days and checking it at least twelve times a day. The Slytherins are never anywhere odd. Alrek’s never anywhere odd. The Slytherins are never with Alrek...”

“I suppose-”

Before Alice could finish her sentence a small creature came scurrying over to them. Her large, yellow eyes looked like two full moons as they blinked up at the girls. “Good afternoon there! I is Elsie. Can Elsie help Hogwarts students with anything?”

“We’re just hoping for some snacks. Maybe some sweets? Or some pudding? And a few drinks?”

The creature nodded, her smile never faltering, then left them alone and hurried off.

“Quick to help, aren’t they?” Lily mumbled as she watched the house-elves all bustling about with smiles.

In the blink of an eye, Elsie was back filling their arms with sweets and stuffing bottles of butterbeer into their pockets. The girls left, laughing as they climbed the stairs to the Heads’ Quarters. Only a few students were scattered through the halls, making the stone fortress seem oddly empty as the rain pattered against the windows.

Lily glanced at Alice out of the corner of her eye, her heart sinking as she realized the brunette was forcing herself to try and smile with the two of them.

Alice and Frank hadn’t had many falling outs since they’d been dating, their rows usually ending quickly and never really causing much of an issue. But this time, Frank had done something that was nearly impossible to do: Piss off Alice Christopherson.

“So,” Lily started once they got into the common area and dumped their goodies. “Ready to talk about it?”

Alice sighed, throwing her body across the couch. “I already told you guys most of it. It just... seeing that article a few weeks ago about the attack on the Inn and the Aurors that died really made it clear to Frank what this job means, I guess.”

“But ‘e knew zat before,” Belle argued, crossing her arms over her pixie sized body. “‘E can’t zink zat just because something is more dangerous zan he zought, zat gives ‘im reason to order you around.”

“It’s scary for him,” Lily reasoned. When one of them had issues with James or Sirius, Alice always kept a level head and looked at both sides of the argument. Lily owed it to Alice to try and do the same for her. “He loves you. He wants you safe, and this was a terrifying wake up call about how unsafe you really are as an Auror.”

“Obviously she’s not safe as an Auror! ‘Er career is fighting dark wizards. And even if it’s just because ‘e’s concerned, ‘e shouldn’t ‘ave told ‘er she ‘ad to choose.”

Lily nodded at Belle, watching as Alice took the words in. The blonde was over sensitive to this kind of thing. She’d spent too long living her life for other people, and Lily appreciated that she didn’t want that to happen to Alice. But this was different. Frank wasn’t trying to control Alice, he was trying to keep her safe.

“What exactly did he say? Word for word?” Lily asked, popping a handful of chocolate covered blueberries into her mouth.

Alice closed her eyes, leaning her head against the couch. “He said that he couldn’t handle reading my name in the Daily Prophet. He wouldn’t know what to do if something happened to me, and he thinks I should rethink joining. I sort of laughed at him at first, then when I realized he was serious I got a little bit angry. And I told him that I wanted to do this...” Alice’s eyes filled up with tears, but she blinked them quickly away. “Then he said that its’ either the Auror department or him. And I know he’s just being stubborn. He’ll come around. But...” What if he doesn’t, Lily thought, knowing that’s what was playing in Alice’s mind.

“You already ‘ave your transcripts turned into Mr. Moody, right?” Belle asked.

“Yeah, and he’s already given them to Mr. Crouch. The Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. We’re cleared to start training three weeks after Hogwarts ends. Six months after that, we’ll be Aurors. We’ve already passed all the tests that you need to be cleared to move on from your first year of training to second, and now we’ll cram the second year into the rest of this year and the following six months. Mad-Eye, I mean Moody-”

Lily almost spit her drink up as a laugh threatened to break through. She rushed to swallow, choking on it a bit, before saying, “Mad-Eye? What on earth?”

“Oh God. I’ve never said that out loud before.” Alice’s cheeks were bright red, her hand still pressed over her mouth. “I just... sometimes in my head I call him Mad-Eye. Because of the way that thing moves. It isn’t just that it moves around; I’m certain he can see through walls with it, too. Probably even see through our heads and read our thoughts.”

“That’s brilliant,” Lily said, wondering what the Auror would think if he ever heard about it .

“Don’t tell anyone, promise?”

“Don’t worry,” Belle reassured, her blue eyes dancing with amusement. “We won’t tell anyone. But I ‘ate to zink of ze kind of nicknames you ‘ave for us!” The comment earned a pillow aimed at Belle’s head, and the blonde had to duck to avoid it.

“You know that he wouldn’t be doing all this, Mr. Moody, Mad-Eye-” Lily held back the giggles that time, though it was challenging. “He wouldn’t be doing all this if he didn’t know you had what it takes. Remember in A History of Magic? There’s only been a few instances when they’ve waived the Auror requirements and allowed someone entrance. Obviously you’re still meeting the requirements this way, but it’s incredible rare.” Lily paused for a moment, wondering if the brunette was feeling pressured by the sort of attention the Auror had given her. “Is this what you really want to be doing?” She tried to make the question sound as casual as possible, not wishing to put Alice on the defense.

“I used to wonder that,” Alice answered. “I wondered if I just got started because I was thrilled that he noticed me and wanted to train Frank and I. And then I realized that I really do love it. I’m good, I mean, really good... at picking the right spell and using it at the right second. I never thought I had any neat sort of talent. I can’t brew potions the way you can, Lily. And I don’t have the kind of confidence that you do, Belle. But this...”

“You love it, don’t you?” Lily asked, reaching forward and grabbing her friends hand.

“I really do. And I want to help end this. I want to make sure the people who started it are served justice, and I want to be part of bringing this all to an end.” Emotion became thick in Alice’s voice, causing Belle and Lily to scoot closer toward her. Lily couldn’t stand seeing her friend upset like this, especially when Alice went to such lengths to pretend she was okay.

“Then ‘e’ll ‘ave to understand zat, Alice,” Belle whispered. “You need to tell ‘im ‘ow much it means to you, and ‘e’ll accept that.”

“But what if-”

“No,” Lily said, cutting her words off. “He will accept it. He loves you. He wants you to be happy, and once he realizes that this is what you want, he’ll understand that he can’t give you an ultimatum.”

Alice remained silent, a large tear running down her cheek. “I can’t lose him,” she mumbled, turning her head and burying it into Lily’s shoulder. Lily glanced over at Belle, who pulled out her wand and pointed it up towards Lily’s room. Second’s later, a box of tissues came zooming down the stairs with Butterscotch chasing them, leaping up and pawing at the box.

“He wouldn’t know what to do without you, Alice,” Lily reasoned, rubbing her friends back. “And that scares him. Maybe he was hoping that if he told you it was one or the other, you’d realize that you didn’t want to be an Auror and he could keep you safe. He cares about you, and you know what you have to do.”

Alice sat up and Belle brushed the tears away with the corner of a tissue. “I have to talk to him, don’t I?” she asked, looking like a child who’d been told they had to eat their Brussels Sprouts.

“Yes, you ‘ave to talk to ‘im. But zat doesn’t mean you can’t stay angry at ‘im for just a bit longer,” Belle said with a smile.

“Yeah, tell us about all the irritating things he does. That will help,” Lily added, happy when Alice let out a laugh. It was small, but it sounded like the first genuine one she’d had all afternoon.

“Well,” she started, reaching forward and grabbing a jam doughnut. “He always has to act like, even if he got something wrong, he didn’t.”

“Zey zink it’s impossible for zem to be wrong or something,” Belle added, rolling her eyes.

“Exactly. His mother’s just the same, so I know it’s never going to change. And most of the time I don’t get annoyed, but every now and then...”

“If you didn’t get annoyed every now and then, you’d explode,” Lily said, happy to see the brunette’s eyes gaining some of their usual shine back.

“Sirius is terrible at admitting when ‘e’s wrong, too. And ‘e zinks ‘e’s a kissing God or something. ‘E’s very good at it,” Belle added smugly, “but ‘e doesn’t need to know zat.”

“Frank is the same way. And with...well...” Alice’s cheeks turned red. “You know, that. He gets so big headed after.”

“Christophe was incredibly awkward after,” Belle said, and to Lily’s relief the mention of him didn’t seem to bring any extreme feelings to the surface. “Sirius and I ‘aven’t gotten zere yet, and I ‘ope ‘e doesn’t act differently or any’zing once we do.”

Lily glanced down at the ground, trying to figure out what she could add. James never actually seemed overconfident in his snogging abilities... and she’d never gone far enough with someone to know how they acted after that.

“Lily,” Alice said, and it was clear she’d picked up on her avoidance. “You and James haven’t...”

“No, of course not. You know I would tell you. Christmas time was as close as we got to it.”

“I’m surprised ‘e doesn’t try when you two are up ‘ere all alone,” Belle said with a wink.

Lily smiled, thinking about how often he complained about the ‘no kissing in the Heads’ Quarters’ rule. “Well, I’m not certain he hasn’t tried. He just...”

“He’ll be your first. He wants that to be special,” Alice said, a misty sort of glow filling her eyes. “He really loves you, Lily.”

She felt her heart race in her chest. The words were some she’d thought often about, but neither her nor James had said them yet.

“You know, I didn’t think I’d fall in love this young,” Lily said, thinking about how odd it was to admit it out loud. “And especially not with James Potter. But he’s...I don’t know. We’re completely ourselves together. And we talk about everything. And we argue, but we get over it.”

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Alice asked. “Being this young and caring about someone so much.”

“For me, it’s later zen most girls. At Beauxbatons it’s common to already ‘ave ze wedding planned and get married immediately after graduation.”

“Do you guys think...” Lily started, trying to find the words. “I don’t know, do you guys think it can happen? That we can all meet our person this young, and all stay together?”

“I think that you have to work at everything you want,” Alice began. “James and you love each other, and if you end up staying together it will take work. Just like everything else. But I bet it’ll be worth it.”

Lily smiled at that answer, but she felt a sharp sting behind her eyes. She never thought she wouldn’t have her mum there to talk about this kind of thing with. To talk about falling in love for the first time.

“What’s it like?” Lily asked, taking herself by surprised. “Being with someone that way. What’s it like?”

Alice and Belle exchanged a look, and she felt an odd sense of nervousness.

“Well,” Alice began. “First you have to make sure that you haven’t had anything to drink or eat in the last four hours.”

“And zen,” Belle said, taking over. “You have to make sure ze room isn’t cold, but isn’t warm. And you ‘ave to take a shower first.”

“After that you need to drink one tablespoon of mermaid oil...”

“You are both terrible,” Lily said, reaching forward and snatching away the pile of chocolate. “No sweets until you two get it together and tell me the truth.”

After Alice and Belle managed to stop giggling, eyes teared up from the laughter, Belle leaned forward and took Lily’s hand. “With you and James, it will be just ‘ow it’s supposed to,” she said, her tone serious. “I was too young and we didn’t trust another. And I wish it wouldn’t ‘ave ‘appened ze way it did. But it wasn’t bad either.”

“Ours was over last summer,” Alice said, a dreamy look filling her eyes. “And it wasn’t... I don’t know. You now those racy romance novels of your mum’s we used to read, Lily?” Lily nodded her head. “Well, it isn’t like that sort of earth shattering thing. It was scary, but at the same time it was also special. Then it gets better.”

Lily nodded, almost wishing James wouldn’t have stopped her in the hotel room. She hadn’t felt nervous then.

“And Alice and I will both be ‘ere to talk about it with you after it ‘appens,” Belle said and Alice nodded in agreement.

Their conversation slipped back to Frank and as the hours ticked by; Lily was almost certain they’d talked Alice into speaking with him. She knew he would apologize... he’d probably realized hours ago what a prat he’d been.

Wrappers and crumbs were piled on the table, empty bottles all lined neatly against the couch. Lily was sure they missed dinner, not that any of them could eat a bite. But she didn’t mind. Being with her two best friends, laughing and talking, had been the best thing for all three of them that evening.

As always, thank you so much to my awesome beta reader, CambAngst!

I had a lot of fun writing the girls' section and giving them a few hours to themselves. What did you guys think of that?

Thank you so much for reading!

Also, I chose the wood for Sirius's wands based off of a section of Pottermore that talks about the different types of wood and who they're best suited for. If you're curious, you can look up the facts behind it :)

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