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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 36 : The Last Match
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 14

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Amazing image by heartfelt @ tda!
Chapter 36 - The Last Match

The old floorboards of The Hog’s Head Inn moaned and protested against the dozen or so pairs of shoes making their way across the wood. Dusty lanterns did what they could to illuminate the room, but there were still far more shadows than light gracing the walls.

As the members of the Order of the Phoenix all took a seat at the largest table, Albus Dumbledore walked to the entrance. He wasn’t about to venture farther than Hogsmeade for the meeting, not willing to leave the castle and all the youth that inhabited it without either his or Minerva’s protection. It was a riskier meeting place than his deputy Headmistress’s cottage, but the spells he was currently casting around it would keep them safe -- he was fairly certain of that. They wouldn’t be there long, at any rate.

“I remember sneaking in here to get sloshed a time or two,” Fabian mumbled, and Albus was grateful that his back was turned, for a smile couldn’t help but flicker over his wrinkled face. To be careless and young... though he supposed no one sitting at the table just a few yards from him was careless anymore. Hardly anyone in the wizarding world, for that matter. You couldn’t afford to drop your guard; it sickened Albus.

The hundreds of eager students he was watching grow into fine adults, still full of folly and naiveté, deserved to live in a world where matters that dictated life or death didn’t occur at every turn. A low-level hum of anger tried to inch its way into the man’s bones, but he dispelled it. He was surrounded by people willing to help him fight this war, and could still hold up a mug and toast to their good health. He had more to be thankful for than most, and wouldn’t let the frustration overtake that feeling.

“The final death toll hasn’t been announced,” Minerva said just as Albus was walking to the table and taking his seat. “They suspect it’s nearly a hundred, though.”

“Jesus Christ,” Miss McKinnon muttered. “And the Muggle authorities will never be able to understand what happened. Not like the Minister is going to pull them aside and tell them Death Eaters collapsed the building.”

“They’re getting restless,” Alastor responded. “The Ministry is still hanging on enough to keep them from completely controlling it. The new order that Crouch signed giving Aurors the go-ahead to kill has them wanting to shake things up. Let us know that, until we as good as hand Voldemort the position of bloody Minister, they won’t stop murdering.”

“It’s bigger than that,” Edgar Bones said. “People are tired of Minister Tanaka’s rubbish. Millicent Bagnold has been challenging her more and more. She basically runs the whole damn Wizengamont, and she’s started charging anyone who’s suspected of corruption. The Council of Magical Law and the Unspeakables are as tough as steel, carefully watching their own to make sure they stay clean. The threat of being hauled into court if you’re even suspected of switching sides is scaring traitors off. A few Hit Wizrads have already run.”

“But we have the Imperiused ones to worry about,” Dorcas Meadowes added. “Still, news of Millicent Bagnold cracking down has trickled all the way down to me. Usually us bookkeepers don’t hear about anything until after it happens.”

“There’s still a leak in my department,” Alastor voiced angrily. “I’ll burn the rat out, though. I’ve been thinking of setting up a false trail. There’s four Aurors I’d bet my good leg are loyal. The other two, I have my suspicions about. I’ll tell those two each a different location and time, say that we think we’ve cornered a few Death Eaters and the entire department is going to attack. The Death Eaters will be all over that; the lot of them will flock to whatever location the rat tells, and then we’ll know who is.”

Silence filled the table and Albus thought over the Auror’s plan. There were holes in it, but there always were.

“You’ll be as good as ordering them to their death,” Benjy Fenwick said, his voice carrying from the far end of the table. “But it’s better than the traitor setting the clean Aurors up to be captured or killed. As soon as the Death Eaters arrive and realize there isn’t a single Auror there besides their inside man, I’d wager that Voldemort will be cross enough to kill him on the spot.”

Another long beat of silence. Albus met his friend’s eye, the graveness in both the false and real showing clearly. He didn’t want to lead anyone into death if he could spare it, and Albus trusted that if Alastor thought it was the best way, it was.

Fabian shattered the mute air. “He shouldn’t have been working for their side, then. If you want to live like a bloody Death Eater, you can die like one.”

The table broke out in a round of discussion, and Albus let the conversations continue as he surveyed it all. He’d known Millicent Bagnold since she was a student, her determined, always brilliant mind marked her a true Ravenclaw. He suspected it wouldn’t be long until she challenged Minster Tanaka and took the position for herself; he was certain she would do whatever was necessary to keep the Ministry protecting the wizaring world, not forming alliances meant to aid the Death Eaters.

Even the purging of corrupted officials and the strengthening of the government would bring about terrifying results, though. Voldemort’s side would unleash their anger on the Muggles at every opportunity. Blood would be spilt in the most gruesome of ways.

Albus glanced at Minerva, curious as to why she seemed to have little to say. As their eyes met, each giving the other a reassuring smile, his curiosity became subdued. They both knew this meeting would hold another discussion about recruits, and those were nearly as painful as the topic at hand.

They’d come to the agreement to wait until after graduation to speak with the seventh years that they believed would be willing to help, but that date was just over a month away, now. Soon, they would ask some of the bright young minds that had grown up in the corridors of their castle, that had shared a first kiss and suffered a first heartbreak, to stand up and risk their lives. It wasn’t something they looked forward to doing, and maybe if he suspected they would decline it would have been easier.

Mr. Potter was getting restless, Mr. Black even more so. Albus could see it each time he met their eye in the Great Hall. They would do anything asked of them if it meant helping, and Albus was nearly certain the same could be said for Remus Lupin. Miss Evans would be accepted into the Healing Academy of Magical Medicine any day now, and Mr. Pettigrew had a position waiting for him for upon graduation. Whether the two of them would try to balance future careers alongside Order work, Albus wasn’t sure. Even living as long as he had, he still couldn’t be sure of everything. They very well might decline the offer. He suspected Miss Leclair would be uncertain... but the amount of courage he’d seen in the young woman who showed up at his school a year ago, asking to be taken in, made Albus think that she would eventually choose to join the others in the Order. Mr. Longbottom and Miss Christopherson, he had no doubts about.

“Yer thinking about the recruits?” Hagrid asked, and Albus noticed the large eyes were on him. He nodded, and realized the time for the discussion was upon them.

What he couldn’t seem to figure out was whether he wanted more for them to accept his offer when it was presented to them, or politely decline. At times they would be safer in the Order, others it would be a deadly association.

They were bright students with the hearts of lions.

But they were still just children.

“James Potter, if you tap your fork one more time...” Lily let her sentence drag off with a warning, and James smiled sheepishly at her. She rolled her eyes, then laughed as he went back to shoveling breakfast in his face. That had been the extent of their morning conversation so far, the tension in the Great Hall too thick to ignore. But Lily supposed that was to be expected for the hours leading up to a Quidditch match, especially when that match was the last of the season, the last of their Hogwarts career.

“Did you settle on a set of plays?” Remus asked James, passing a pitcher of juice toward him and adding, “don’t forget to hydrate.”

“Don’t drink too much,” Peter said, his eyes widening. “Don’t want to be a hundred feet in the air and realize you need to take a piss.”

Sirius choked out a laugh through whatever he was chewing. “Might make for an interesting show, though. James doing the potty dance on his broom, holding his legs together.”

“You lot about through?” James asked, cocking a brow at them. “Because, oddly enough, I’ve played plenty of matches to know how to properly care for myself before and during a game.”

“Nuh uh,” Frank said, wiggling his fork at James. “Don’t you remember fifth year when you puked your guts up and sprayed vomit through the air?”

“I had the bloody stomach flu!”

Lily couldn’t let that lie go untouched. “No, you had the firewhiskey flu!”

The Quidditch captain sent a round of glares at them, then turned his back and focused on Margaret sitting on the other side of him, getting into a discussion about a few of the plays they were considering.

“Such an attitude on zat one,” Belle said, making the entire table laugh at the irony of her statement. Despite the tension the final match caused, it was nice to be worrying about something else as opposed to N.E.W.T.s. They were slipping toward the last week of May, which meant less than a month until their exams.

Less than a month until graduation.

Lily tried to pacify the surge of sorrow accompanying that last thought. Of course they would graduate... everyone had to graduate eventually. They couldn’t stay wrapped in Hogwarts forever.

She’d be hearing from the Healing Academy of Magical Medicine during the next week, and McGonagall said that if she was admitted, they’d expect a decision by the end of June.

Then James still had the Bats to think over. Their manager hadn’t let his interest go unnoticed, sending James owls every so often to remind him of the benefits and pay that would accompany his position if he made the team. Lily knew if he did decide to go that route, he’d have no issues passing their trials. When James set his mind to something, failure wasn’t an option. She used to get annoyed by that trait of his, the bullheaded sort of attitude that always prompted him to think he could get whatever he wanted. Now she understood it better, and honestly couldn’t help but admire it. It wasn’t as if he thought he could get anything he desired because he was James Potter. No... it was the fact that he’d apparently realized long ago he had the ability to set his mind to something and try harder than anyone else to make it happen.

She glanced over at her boyfriend, feeling a rush of warmth flutter though her heart. They’d come so far in the last year. And whatever happened next, they would deal with it together. All of them.

The sound of wings beating against the air stole Lily’s attention and she glanced up. The owls flocked in and began separating, making their way to the recipients of whatever letters and packages clung to their beaks and legs.

“James,” Lily said, pointing a finger at the giant black and white owl that came soaring in. “It must be from your parents.”

Lily assumed it was probably a letter to wish him luck, as they were unable to attend the match themselves.

Though they’d been careful not to deliver too many details, Olivia and William had mentioned that their Healer thought it best for them to avoid traveling my magical means unless completely necessary. The elderly couple hadn’t expanded on the reasoning behind it, but Lily assumed it had to do with the way the body absorbed the shock of Floo and Apparation. It seemed so easy when you didn’t dwell on it -- just step into the fire and let yourself be taken away, or take a few quick turns and appear at your destination. But Lily supposed when you really thought about what was happening, it became a lot more complex. Bodies had to compress themselves and organs had to endure the pressure of squishing together until your travel was complete. A bit grotesque when you thought about it, really.

Even though it made sense for the Healer to want Mr. and Mrs. Potter to be cautious, that didn’t make it any easier. Lily was certain that James realized his parents were aging, but realizing it and being prepared to accept it were two very different things.

Sirius’s voice brought Lily’s attention back to the present. “What’s it say? Are they reminding you to hydrate properly and not piss up in the sky, as well?”

“Actually, they wanted to ask if I was still friends with that annoying Sirius Black.”

“James,” Lily said, impatient to know what the letter said. “Get on with it.”

He glanced over at her, smiling as he handed her the letter. “Here, you and Belle should read it for yourselves.”

Lily smoothed the parchment and placed it in the center of the table at an angle so both Alice and Belle could read along with her. She skimmed through, laughing as Olivia made a comment about William trying his hand at gardening. Though from what Olivia said, he seemed to be doing a rather decent job. After a few paragraphs of chit chat, Lily’s eyes fell on the part designed for her and Belle.

Her mouth dropped open as she continued to read, a huge grin covering her face without her even realizing it.

“Oh my gosh,” she muttered as soon as she finished reading. “Belle!”

“I know!”

“Well, fill us in, will you?” Sirius said impatiently, and Lily looked up to see all her friends’ eyes on them.

She heard the giggle in her own voice as she started to speak. “The flat that you lot are renting out, Olivia said that she received a letter from the landlord, Mr. Dewhurst, after mentioning that they were hoping to find a second in the same area. It turns out that they had an tenant vacate without notice, and he said that if we’re interested we can have the one they’re vacating! It’s a two bedroom, which is fine since it’s just Belle and I. And the landlord said that he’s alright with us having a cat. It seems perfect, as long as you’re okay with it,” Lily added quickly, glancing at Belle.

“Okay with it? Of course, it’s ever’zing we’ve been looking for!”

“And the rent is actually less than what we planned on having to pay,” Lily said, glancing back at the part of the letter where Olivia talked about the details. “We need to owl Mr. Dewhurst and tell him we’ll accept it. We can send a school owl or Beowulf over as soon as possible.”

“Uh oh,” Sirius started in a grave tone, leaning over and looking at the letter. “Mrs. Potter said that it’s basically across the corridor from our flat. That means we’ll have to be more careful sneaking girls in and out...”

Belle glared over at him then plucked the toast he’d just been buttering out of his hand, nibbling on it with a defiant look.

“When should I tell the landlord we’ll be moving in?” Lily asked, ignoring her friend’s comment completely.

“Our last exam is June sixteenth,” Remus supplied.

Lily thought for a moment. The last day and the end of the year feast was June twentieth, then the Express would leave the morning after back to London. Graduation was going to be held Saturday the twenty-fourth, allowing students to go back home for a few days before they and their families had to travel back to Scotland.

“Well, I know we have the option to remain at Hogwarts until the ceremony,” Lily began, thinking aloud. “But I don’t think we were planning on it. We could take the train back on the twenty-first with the rest of the students then all start moving in the next day? Then we’ll be able to get moved in over the twenty-second and twenty-third, and that way our flats will be ready for us after graduation.”

“Alice and I are planning to spend those two days looking at the house that mother and I visited over Easter,” Frank said, “but it shouldn’t take long, so I’m sure we could help you lot move, too.”

“Nah,” James said, waving a hand. “I don’t think any of us have much stuff to worry about. And if you guys do buy that house, you’ll want to start getting moved in, won’t you?”

“‘Ow exactly are you two purchasing zis ‘ouse?” Belle wondered, a question that they’d all been meaning to ask but hadn’t found the right time. Apparently Belle thought the middle of breakfast was as good as any.

“It’s owned by a wizard,” Frank started explaining, “so we won’t have to worry about dealing with a Muggle bank or anything. He and his wife built it themselves years ago when their magic was still, erm, fresh is what he said. And it’s held up well. It’s just too much room for them now and they don’t have the energy to bring it up to date. My mum said she'd purchase it now; she has more than enough gold in her vault with the way she saves, and Alice and I will pay her back when we start working. It’ll need a bit of work. Terrible pink carpets in one room... plenty of pesky creatures living in the attic.”

“I’m sure it won’t be too much trouble to fix,” Alice said, excitement seeming to radiate off of her. Lily watched the way her best friend smiled, and couldn’t believe how happy the prospect of house refurbishing made her. Though, the fact that she’d never been allowed to so much as paint her own room was probably where the desire in having her hand in it sparked.

“And we can ‘elp once graduation is over. We’ll ‘ave it looking perfect in no time.”

“So it’s settled then,” Lily said, getting back to the origin of the topic. “We’ll tell the landlord that we’ll take the flat and be moving in the twenty-second of June.”

The group agreed, and Lily slipped her hand into James’s under the table. She hadn’t wanted to rush things by moving in with one another too early, but getting to live with Belle and then being just across the hall from him was the next best thing. There was only one shower, but considering Lily was usually up hours before the blonde, she didn’t think Belle’s hour long baths would be a problem.

James leaned over while the rest of the group was taking. “You’re sure this is where you want to live? You’re not just saying so to make me happy?” he asked in a whisper.

“Does having me live that close make you happy?” she questioned, giving him a sly smile before reassuring him that it was absolutely what she wanted.

“If we ‘ave a bit of extra time during one of ze evenings we’re home, I ‘ave an idea zat I’ve been zinking about for a while now.”

The group hushed and focused on Belle. A mischievous look filling her ocean blue eyes peeked Lily’s curiosity, and she waited intently for her to continue.

“Well, Sirius and I were talking a while back about ‘is mother and ‘is inheritance.” She glanced at the dark haired boy, and Lily suspected she was testing the waters to be sure he was okay with her bringing up the conversation. After a quick nod, Belle continued. “She’s legally required to release ze money after ‘e graduates, and when we were talking about it we were just joking around about ‘ow she would ‘andle zat. ‘Is family is a lot like mine in ze sense zat money is zeir chosen means of control. My parents could have spent countless gold on zings zey wanted, but if zeir traitorous daughter came to collect some zat was ‘ers, zey’d do everything zey could to stop me.

“Well, I’m worried Mrs. Black won’t only try zat, which we know she will, but zat she may be able to find a loophole -- or buy one -- zat allows her to keep ‘is money. I’ve been zinking of something, and I zink I’ve come up with a plan to avoid zat from ‘appening.”

They all leaned in as the blonde began whispering her idea, and Lily’s lips crept up with every word.

The plan wasn’t just a good one... it was foolproof.

James paced around the tented area, the faces of his players looking up at him. Nigel, their reserve player who had been practicing as Seeker since Violet was kicked off the team, seemed the most nervous as James eyed them all. Which was natural, considering he hadn’t been with the team for long. But he played well and James didn’t doubt his ability.

Little beads of sweat were balling up around James’s hairline and he ran his fingers through it to calm himself. It was the last match. His only opportunity to bring home the Quidditch Cup. He knew they didn’t stand the best chance of winning the House Cup this year, Ravenclaw well ahead of all three houses. He didn’t care as much about that as he did the Quidditch Cup, though, and he wouldn’t leave this pitch until he and his team had won it.

“This is it,” James began, forcing himself to stay still as he planted his feet a few yards away, glancing at the row of players looking at him “There’s nothing more to say. You all know what this means; you know that you have what it takes to win it. I don’t need to tell you what weaknesses to watch out for and what strengths to play up. We’re all aware of how the points sit and we’ve gone over which plays to use and when to use them. It’s our game, Gryffindors. This is it. We’re winning that Cup, and there’s no other option but that.”

“Before we go out there,” Margaret interrupted, smiling at him with a soft glow in her eyes. “We got something together for you, James. Sirius, Remus and Peter helped us with it, too.”

Mary stood as Margaret spoke and dashed to the back of the tent. Alexander stood as well and blocked James’s line of sight so that he was unable to make out what she was grabbing.

“No peeking,” Polly added as the captain tried to curve his head and glance around Alexander.

Mary trotted up, holding something behind her back. She pulled out a slim box that looked remarkably like the one James’s wand been housed in after he purchased it.

“Well, open it,” Caldwell Jasper prompted and James took the box with a half smile, pulling the top off. He eased out a miniature sized broom and Nigel pointed his wand at it, casting the spell to bring it back to it’s full size.

“We thought of getting a new one,” Margaret started, “but then we talked to your friends about it they said you have plenty of gold to buy your own if you wanted one. And then we got the idea of using the first broom you played a match on, and Sirius was able to get it sent from your mum and dad’s house...”

As Margaret spoke, James ran his hands over his very first racing broom. A Comet Catcher 100 -- fast, dependable, and helped him win the first season he’d ever played in. Along the wood handle were swooping letters that changed between sparkling gold and crimson red. They made out the phrase: James Potter -- Gryffindor Quidditch Captain.

“Wow,” James said, shocked. His word cued the excitement and Polly, Mary and Margaret all reached for him and pulling him into a hug, followed by a few manly handshakes from Caldwell, Alexander, and Nigel. “This means loads to me, you guys.”

“So,” Margaret said, smiling at him as she tied her dark blonde hair into a bun. “Are we ready to get out there and win the Cup?” A round of cheers broke out and James charmed his broom back to the miniature size, then tucked it carefully into the box. He grabbed his current one and stepped forward, leading the team out onto the pitch and to victory...because James Potter wouldn’t have it any other way.


Sun was drenching the grounds, creating a dreamlike quality below as James hovered in the air. He’d left Mary to attempt to claim the Quaffle once Madam Hooch released it and positioned himself closer to the Ravenclaw’s goals. James was higher up than most the team with the exception of Nigel, and could hear little else than the sound of the wind whipping itself around his face.

His mind took on a fuzzy sort of feeling, keeping everything in it blurring. Seconds felt like ages, dragging on at an impossibly slow speed. This was one of James Potter’s favorite parts about the game: waiting for it to start, the rush of what would soon come and force his heart to pound in his chest.

He heard Frank’s voice, bewitched to boom through the entire pitch. But his words were nothing but incoherent mumblings to James. He wouldn’t waste energy figuring out what the announcer was saying, wouldn’t try and glance around and spot his friends faces smiling at him. Focusing completely on what would happen next was the only thing that mattered just then.

After a torturous wait, Madam Hooch appeared. James had to fly down a few feet, then took the Ravenclaw captain’s hand in his own. The sweaty palm of his opponent calmed James’s nerves. They were worried... the Ravenclaws. They knew what they were up against.

James directed his broom higher into the air once again and watched as the referee released the latch that kept the ancient chest locked. Three balls came zooming out, all going in their own direction. The Snitch was visible for less than a second before it glinted away, losing itself in the bright light of the day. Then, before James had time to get impatient, Madam Hooch threw the Quaffle into the air. The game had begun.

Mary made a dive at it, but Henry, a Chaser for Ravenclaw, was prepared. He darted with the same speed as her, causing both of them to either pull back or collide. Polly slid in as the other two Chasers pulled back, and captured the ball in her small hands. Her broom took on a speed similar to lightning and she zigzagged her way toward James at the far end of the pitch.

She lifted her hands and sent the ball soaring to him just in time, having to immediately retract her arms as a Bludger came plowing at her. James watched for a beat, relieved when the lead ball zoomed past and she escaped the possible incident, and then he went flying toward the hoops.

A Ravenclaw Beater had other ideas, and the crack of his bat sent an obstacle toward James. Pure instinct took over, forcing the dark haired Chaser to dive his broom into a roll, spiraling down before pulling himself back up and avoiding the assault.

When his mind resurfaced, he was dangerously close to the hoops. He lifted the Quaffle with both hands and aimed at the far hoop, heaving his body into the throw before turning last minute and sending it toward the center.

“Ten points for Gryffindor!” Frank’s voice shouted through the cheers.

James couldn’t resist letting out a loud, “Yes!” Now if they could just score another seven goals, then catch the Snitch before Ravenclaw was able to earn even a point, they’d be golden.

James’s wasn’t allotted even a second to bask in his excitement, for the Quaffle had already been captured and was being flown toward the Gryffindor goals. He shook off his joy at getting the first goal scored and concentrated, leaning into his broom with his upper body and using his weight to force it forward.

Tears built up in his eyes as the wind tangled around him, but his focus was on nothing but Arnold, the seventh year Ravenclaw who was maneuvering his way through the pitch.

James saw Margaret lift her bat out of the corner of his eye and smack a Bludger that was flying toward them, sending it cracking toward Arnold. It was halted quickly by a Ravenclaw Beater, but it had given Polly the chance to get ahead of the enemy Chaser.

James flew under the group while Polly and Mary circled around Arnold, trying to distract him. The Gryffindor captain kept his pace even with the three players above, then felt his heart race as his instincts paid off and the boy accidentally let the ball slip from his fingers.

Before anyone else could jump in, James was already clutching the Quaffle like it was the most precious thing on earth. He took one long breath, then torpedoed back through the sky, not bothering to worry about any players that might be in his way. When he realized the opponents were forming a chain ahead of him, he doubled back and chucked the ball at Mary, and the two of them played a game of keep away until they finally closed the distance to the hoops. One perfectly aimed shot by Mary and: “Ten points for Gryffindor!

Ravenclaw may have started out slow, but they caught up fast. The game’s intensity grew with every passing minute, and after less than an hour it was a match that had both teams fighting tooth and nail.

Alexander’s nose caught the edge of a Bludger early on, but when James flew by to see if the Beater was okay he just wiped the blood from the broken mash of bone and cartilage and kept going. It wasn’t a sport meant for the faint of heart, that was certain.

“A brilliant pass by Mary MacDonald! Polly’s closing in on the hoops, she shoots... intercepted by Arnold! And the Ravenclaw Chaser takes off with it -- is that drool flinging off of his face, folks? Well, no one said the game couldn’t involve bodily fluids, I suppose...”

Frank’s words reminded James of the discussion between his friends that morning, and he rolled his eyes as he cut through hot air. He felt a layer of sweat clinging to his face despite his attempts to brush it away, tasting the salty perspiration every few minutes when another bead dripped onto his tongue.

His shoulders were burning from a combination of the odd angle they’d been resting at and the constant weight being put on him. The muscles in his legs weren’t there yet, but that would start soon enough. And in another hour or so, he’d be too numb to care.

The glare of the sun hit James’s eyes just right and he had to squint, giving the Chaser he was advancing on a half-second window to zoom through two players and get farther ahead of James. Shit.

His breath was coming in spurts as he tightened his calloused hands on the broom, then he made a quick decision, reckoning he didn’t really need all his limbs. With that thought set firmly in place, he dove under the Ravenclaw then edged is broom back up. Once he was nearly vertical, he used his weight and the movement of his legs to kick off. As long as he didn’t aim straight at the player it couldn’t be considered an attempt to cheat...

Fuck, he shouted in his head as he came up inches away from the Ravenclaw, forcing them to collide together so that the Quaffle came tumbling from the player’s hands.

“Now that one had to hurt!” No shit, James thought at the sound of Frank’s voice, then shook his head a bit to clear the pain. He gave the Chaser a quizzical look, satisfied that his plan had worked and he’d come up early enough to allow the player to slow a fraction and avoid either of them getting seriously injured.

The Chaser glared at James before giving him a curt nod, signaling he was okay. Seconds later, they both resumed their pursuit. Mary had been prepared and caught the Quaffle as it fell. To James’s relief, she was already halfway across the pitch. See, it was worth it, James thought. He didn’t enjoy using those sort of tactics, but they were part of the game. James knew it and the Ravenclaws knew it; it was just they way things were played.

And Gryffindor played to win.

“The bloody idiot! He could have gotten himself seriously injured, and hurt the other student!” Lily lectured to no one in particular, still shaking her head at the move James had pulled in order to get the Ravenclaw Chaser to drop the ball.

“Lighten up, sweetheart. That’s how it’s done,” Sirius said, giving her a cocky smile that told her he was all too proud of his mate.

Lily just shook her head, but her annoyance was quickly dispelled as the Gryffindors sent the Quaffle jetting through a hoop. They were still cheering, the Gryffindors jumping up in the stand, when an irritated Ravenclaw Beater smacked the Bludger, accidentally aiming it straight at his own Keeper. A sickening crunch of bone followed, and Lily could swear that -- even at this distance -- she could see the Beater’s face pale as he realized what he’d done.

A whistle blew and James gestured to his players, using his hands and motioning them to gather to the ground. The seven Gyffindors landed smoothly, all of them standing in silence with their heads bowed as they waited for the mediwizard’s verdict. Lily assumed something must’ve just popped out of place as opposed to breaking, because after a few painfully long minutes, the wizard lifted his wand and sent a green shower of sparks in the air. The player was cleared to continue.

A cheer from both teams erupted and the match resumed, just as intense as it was when they left off.

“I ‘ate being short,” Belle huffed. The stands were tall enough to see perfectly fine when everyone was seated, but there were a few people standing in front of Belle, blocking her line of sight unless she wanted to stand on her own seat.

“I can switch you spots,” Peter offered from the other side of Lily, though he wasn’t much taller than Belle and wouldn’t be able to see from that position either.

“Want me to ask them to move over a few feet?” Remus suggested.

“Here,” Sirius began, and nudged Alice back a few inches so that there was more room between her and Belle. The raven-haired boy knelt down to a crouch, then grabbed Belle’s small hands in his own and heaved her up behind him. Once her thighs were positioned on his shoulders, he reached back stabilized her waist while standing smoothly. She locked her ankles around Sirius’s back with his hands holding onto her knees to keep her tightly in place. Lily thought briefly that it was a good thing the blonde had chosen to wear jeans that morning instead of the red skirt and blouse combination that she’d considered.

Belle’s face split open in a huge smile, her laugh ringing through the stands as she adjusted to her new height. She leaned down, wobbling a bit, and planted a loud kiss on the top of Sirius’s head.

Lily felt her own lips curve up as she glanced at Alice, their eyes meeting. The redhead was certain that we're both thinking the same thing; Belle and Sirius were head over heals in love. From what the blonde told Lily, neither of them had brought up that word, the future, or anything along those lines, but preferred to just let things happen. It fit their personalities, Lily supposed, to not give out promises and act like forever was a given, but to also not disregard the chance of forever being a possibility. Still, it was as plain as day to anyone watching them how Belle and Sirius felt.

For a moment, Lily couldn’t help but ponder on how everything managed to work out so well. She was in love with someone who was a boyfriend and a best friend, had the chance to watch her other best friends fall for one another, and was surrounded by a group that was more of a family than she could ever ask for.

As cheers rang around the pitch, Lily felt her mind tangle memories up in itself. When she’d sat in the hospital, identifying the mangled bodies of her parents and praying over and over for it to all be a nightmare, she’d never have thought she could be this happy. She never thought James would mean more to her than anything, or that she would be a month away from moving in with one of her best friends. Of course she’d always known she and Alice would spend the rest of their lives as close as ever, but now she was watching the brunette take a huge step in her own future.

“Hey,” Alice said, reaching over an squeezing Lily’s hands. “Everything okay?” Lily supposed it must’ve been obvious that her thoughts had stolen her attention, and she smiled over at her friend.

“Just thinking of how brilliantly things are working out. Although I guess there’s still the chance I could fail my N.E.W.T.s and be here another year.”

“Yeah,” Peter piped up from Lily’s other side. “That’s about as likely as James landing his broom and vowing to never play Quidditch again.”

Lily laughed at that, touched by her friend’s confidence. “What about you? Are you getting nervous?” she asked him, but his response was dulled by the quick uprising of cheers.

He just shrugged and gave her a small smile, then they turned their attention back to the game.

It seemed that Nigel had spotted the Snitch.

“Hi Lily,” Margaret greeted, her face sweaty and red from the combination of sun and exhaustion. Lily could practically feel the waves of excitement radiating off of her.

“Great job out there,” Lily said and wrapped her arms around her friend’s neck, getting the sudden urge to jump up and down. Of course nothing was final until the actual awarding at the feast, but if Lily’s calculations were correct, then Gryffindor had just won the Quidditch Cup. “Are the rest of the players coming?”

“No, we wore our robes down here and James told everyone to get up to the common room and get ready to celebrate.”

“Of course he did,” Lily said with a laugh. “So what are you doing over here?”

Margaret was silent for a few seconds, glancing around the dim tent. “I guess I just wanted to get one last look at the place.” Her voice was heavy, thick with emotions that were being driven down. She blinked a few times, then shrugged and gave Lily a small smile. “Well, I think James will stop by the tent soon. He has a few things to grab and wanted to check one last time to make sure he didn’t forget anything; he’s just sort of pacing around the pitch right now.”

“Okay, I sent the rest of the group along as well, so if you run into them in the common room will you tell them James and I will be right up?” Lily asked, knowing everyone else was eager to see James. But she’d wanted just a second alone with him first before the chaos began.

“Course. See you up there, then. Oh, and you can pretend you aren’t Head Girl for the night.”

Lily shook her head playfully, though she knew anyone could get away with just about anything after a game like this, and gave Margaret one last hug before the girl trotted off. The redhead was again left alone in the circular tent, deciding she’d give James ten or so minutes before heading back up. He might choose to just bypass the tent and leave for the castle.

She walked to the far side and lifted up the small flap, glancing out the impromptu window. Layers of blue covered the sky, still not a cloud in sight. Maybe she’d talk Belle and Alice into sitting by the lake with her. They could get some color on their faces and do a bit of N.E.W.T.s revision before the celebration in the common room started.

Heck, she might even join in on a bit of the party. She’d been nearly as stressed as James throughout the game, just waiting for Ravenclaw to see the Snitch or for a Bludger to come pounding into her boyfriend’s skull. She deserved to relax and enjoy a little bit of fun during one of her last weekends at Hogwarts, didn’t she? They hadn’t been able to attend anymore Hogsmeade visits, the attack on Valentine’s day being enough of a reason to cancel them. Which meant that nearly everything the group had been doing lately revolved around revising, and tonight they would take a necessary break. Maybe. If Lily thought she could get by without any studying...

Her thoughts were so wound up in her own mind, dulling her senses, that she didn’t hear the footsteps coming from behind her. It hadn’t registered that there was another body in the tent until the arms were already reaching around her, hands covering her eyes.

Every fear that Alrek had drilled into her came pouring back and she heard a strangled sort of sob come from her throat. Her instincts took over and she spun around, already poised to fight back, when she realized who the familiar face staring down at her was.

“Lily?” James said, forcing his tone to remain calm, looking at her as if she was a creature that may run at any second. “Lily, sweetheart...”

The sudden surge of emotions that had crept into Lily came crashing through her like a wave beating against the shore. Her hands started shaking, the tremors working their way up into her shoulders and down her body. She fell into James’s outstretched arms and tried to fight off the assault of images. The memory of Alrek’s fingers cutting off her supply of oxygen as he dug into her flesh was too strong; she could feel the places he’d touched, like they were burned into her.

Toughen up, she tried to tell herself as the night played through her mind. But she didn’t want to toughen up. She just wanted to be okay. That was all.

A few tears snuck their way over her cheeks and she tried to bite down on her irrational fear, hoping it would ebb in any second.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” James whispered, running a hand down her back as he held her body securely into his. “I shouldn’t have come up behind you, Lily. Shh, it’s okay, no one is going to hurt you.”

The way James said the last few words seemed more like warning than a promise, daring anyone to try and challenge his statement.

As the remainder of the tremors started to subside, Lily took in a few deep breaths. It was okay. She was okay. The words bounced through her mind and she tried to coerce herself into believe them.

She was okay. She would be okay.

A huge thank you to my awesome beta-reader, CambAngst!
Alright, I promised I would write a Quidditch match. I warned you all that sports are not my forte, and I know I didn't show every second of the match, but there just aren't many ways to keep James darting back and forth after a ball exciting. What did you guys think of it?

Thank you so much to everyone still reading and reviewing! Happy Saturday!

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