Chapter 9 : Stranger Danger
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‘How is it you can wear something like that and still look so beautiful?’
Deep in the heart of the English countryside, somewhere non-descript in the north, a small village stood isolated, surrounded by the rolling hills of a foggy Moore and situated along a singular straight road. Houses lined either side, perfectly dull and unimpressive, alongside a dingy village corner shop and a cold stone church, half the size of what would have been considered regular. Dim street lamps lined the cracking pavement and highlighted the occasional car with faded paintwork and a muddy underside. Near by, a curious fox sniffed around a dustbin bag that had been left to fester, pawing at a hole to release it’s contents as a late night snack. Though seemingly asleep on the most part with little to no visible activity, the rickety old pub at the end of the line of houses murmured dully with the voices of the villagers enjoying an evening pint in their local. Yellow light poured through the cream net curtains in the windows and out into the street. A rickety sign swung limply in the slight breeze, squeaking above the entrance; a roaring golden lion emblazoned in faded paint sat proudly in the centre.
Inside, a haze of smoke floated through the air and danced off the cigarette sources of several drinkers. A fire crackled happily in the large grate, decorated with hunting trophies and odd countryside paintings, as well as a few small, engraved trophies. The furniture was solely dark wood, polish dulling and stains of water rings littering their surfaces. Ashtrays stood in the centre of each table and sporadically along the bar top, interspersed with splashes of spilled liquid and the odd coaster of a faded beer brand, bent from over use. Behind the bar, rows of alcohol bottles were displayed proudly in varying tones of brown, as their contents were consumed in large amounts and became the guilty cause of the increasing rowdiness within. In a secluded corner away from the mass of merry bodies at the bar, was a young couple, both sat on worn comfortable chairs with leather seat cushions.
‘James Potter you are a complete toe rag.’ The young woman of the couple said. Her dark red hair sat silkily over one shoulder and rested on the clothing item in question; a dull faded top in a brown colour that would have looked terrible on whomever wore it, and a pair of faded old jeans, the combination of which would not have stood out in a room where the wearer was the single occupant. Her vibrant emerald eyes, full of spirit looked the man in front of her up and down as a playful smirk danced upon her lips.
‘Now if you had said that two years ago that would of hurt my feelings Lily Evans, but now I’m pretty sure you don’t mean such a thing,’ the man beside her joked with a wink that sent Lily’s heart into a fresh flutter. James’ messy hair was, as ever, a mop that sat charmingly with various flicks in different directions. His glasses sat wonkily on his nose and he too sported a less than desirable outfit, so dull he could have blended into the stone wall behind him. With a casual ease he took a large swig from the beer bottle in front of him; a bitter muggle brand that left an odd taste on his tongue. Lily twiddled with the stem of her wine glass, turning it between her thumb and forefinger, as it slid effortlessly on the table top. She looked up at James, her large doe eyes glittering with their undying shine.
‘That’s what you think Potter,’ She winked at him before taking a sip from her own drink, refreshing her from the heat of the room. ‘I wish I could say you looked good too…’ she trailed off flirtatiously, the smirk remaining on her soft lips throughout.
‘You’re words hurt me Evans!’ James said dramatically clutching at his chest with his hands and waving from side to side on his chair. ‘Why must you be so cruel?!’
‘James!’ Lily hissed, giving him a playful smack in his side, ‘You’ll draw attention to us!’ Though serious in her words, she couldn’t help but smile through them, taking away any authority she was trying to use. Still grinning with a wide smirk plastered all over his features and in his annoyingly charming way, he stopped, taking another swig from his beer bottle, but not breaking his eye contact with Lily.
‘I bloody hate undercover stake out stuff,’ James concluded, stretching his arms in front of him before leaning back on the chair with his hands casually behind his head. ‘It has to be the dullest job in the universe.’
‘Well you were the one that insisted on coming,’ Lily quipped with a raised eyebrow as she took another small sip of her elderflower wine, it’s sweet taste dancing on her tongue delightfully.
‘Some boyfriend I would be if I let you go on a mission alone.’ James replied, still grinning stupidly; Lily had that effect on him.
‘I am perfectly capable of looking after myself thank you very much!’ Lily frowned in fake outrage, playfully pushing James’ side once more.
‘Oh believe me, I know!’ James laughed into his bottle, consuming another swig with raised eyebrows.
‘Oh Merlin…’ Lily rolled her eyes with a chuckle and blush grew on her rosy cheeks. ‘James we have to concentrate!’ She insisted, trying to focus once more and resist the charms of the handsome young man next to her, but Godric his smile was hard to hate and his stupid face was just so lovely.
‘I’m joking,’ James chuckled lightly, ruffling his hair in the way Lily adored. ‘You’re right, we should focus.’ He took another swig from the bottle in front of him, finishing it off easily. ‘Have you seen anything? Did they tell you what this guy looks like?’ He questioned.
Lily scanned the room discreetly, making sure to cover all of the hidden corners of the small, but full pub. All she could see were muggles, drinking away their troubles, unaware of the world of magic that existed along side their own. No one stood out to her as suspicious; there was no one lurking in corners, no one was wearing a hooded cloak, no one was cursing the living daylights out of someone. From what she could see it looked thoroughly normal; normal but without a doubt a sad, unimpressive sight.
‘I can’t see anything out of place… Dumbledore said this person would be meeting someone here, to exchange some information but that’s it.’ She said with a slight frown forming on her features.
‘That’s it?!’ James said with quiet urgency, ‘So we are essentially just looking for a man?!’
‘Or woman!’ Lily replied insistently.
‘Merlin Lils, we have nothing to go on!’ James shook his head in disbelief. ‘It could be bloody anyone!’ James began to gesture at various patrons around the room emphasising his point in his own comic way to lighten the mood; it came naturally to him. ‘It might be that short guy over there, falling asleep standing at the bar.’ The man was indeed resting his head in his arms on the bar surface to steady himself as his eyes drooped heavily. ‘Or the lady who’s just walked out the loo…’ He gestured this time to a tall, thin woman with a facial expression of someone who had just smelt something particularly foul. ‘Maybe it’s the bar tender!’ He exclaimed, gesturing towards the plump man waddling along behind the bar, squeezing past another two younger workers and squashing them into the bar top. ‘Or Maybe it’s that man who’s just walked…’ he trailed off and finished in a hushed tone, ‘…through the door.’
James’ immature demeanour suddenly hardened as his spoke these words. A gust of wind had rushed through the doors to the pub as they opened and slowly a man walked in heavy footed. Most of the muggles near the entrance didn’t give him a second look as floor boards creaked slightly with his movements. A few turned towards the entrance to see where the cold breeze had come from, but quickly looked away again as the appearance of the man struck a small note of fear in them; he did not look like someone who appreciated being looked at unnecessarily. Therefore in typical English fashion, the majority of patrons carried on enjoying their drinks and avoided any unnecessary eye contact. The man was able to move easily towards the bar, completely unhindered as people moved out of his way almost subconsciously. His muscular, tall physique was covered by a long, brown leather trench coat, worn from age and stained with dark patches that almost resembled oil, or maybe blood. The jeans he wore were tattered and dirty, ripped in various places, and his trench boots traipsed mud along the uneven wooden floorboards. A few pieces of faded red cloth were tied around his waste, neck and upper arm in a pirate like statement, showing belonging to some place or another. When he reached the bar he sat heavily on a bar stool, his callused hands resting on the bar top, partially covered by leather fingerless gloves. Deliberately, he wrapped his unusually long and yellowing fingernails on the wood, indenting and scratching the surface as he did so. Quickly one of the bar tenders saw to his needs and presented him with a straight double whiskey in a glass. The man bought the drink to his lips and downed the lot in one mouthful, licking his chapped lips with the aftertaste. Not a single sign of a grimace crossed his face and as he did so he grunted for another, downing that in the same manor when it arrived. The man had long shoulder length brown hair, unwashed and slightly matted. It framed the dark chiselled features of his grubby looking face, along with a beard of thick brown hair streaked with hints of grey. Clearly the man was unwashed, but unlike most this did not seem to bother him, instead he seemed to own the sweat and dirt on his skin with an odd sense of pride, almost as much as the scars that littered his visible skin. But the thing that stood out most about this man was his piercing amber eyes.
Lily took a shaky breath in an attempt to calm the nerves that had started to turn her stomach and were making her feel ever so slightly lightheaded. ‘Do you think…’ she breathed.
‘Yep,’ James turned to her with a small nod, his face serious and without humour. ‘I’d say that’s our guy.’
‘Well what do we do?’ Lily said, looking down into her lap, attempting to act as normal as she could. ‘He looks dangerous James!’ She whispered earnestly, flicking her eyes up to him.
‘Hey,’ James said, taking her trembling hand in his, calming her almost instantly as she looked up once more into his deep hazel eyes that filled her with warmth. ‘We are just as dangerous.’ He gave her a small devilish side smile, his Gryffindor bravery shining through proudly in that moment. ‘We just have to wait and watch that’s all… we don’t have to go anywhere near him, just observe him, okay?’ He brought his hand up to the soft porcelain skin of her cheek and brushed his thumb lightly along it.
‘Okay,’ Lily nodded with a small smile, her confidence increasing slowly once more. James leaned forward and kissed her sweetly, the smile never leaving his features and his touch making Lily glow brightly, her radiance shattering any nerves he still had.
For what felt like a lifetime they remained in the corner, blending in perfectly with their surroundings, chatting away as if they didn’t have a care in the world. To the casual observer they were just a young couple enjoying some precious time together, so very clearly in love. Though all the time they remained on guard; eyes occasionally flicking in the direction of the stranger and always painfully aware of the location of their wands.
As time moved slowly on, the stranger grew visibly more agitated, as evidenced by the forceful scratching of the surface that had increase in intensity. A small pile of wood shavings started to grow beside the several empty glass tumblers that were gathering in front of him. His jaw started to grind and occasionally he would run his tongue over his teeth a look of distaste plastering his features in a dark frown. His nose started to twitch slightly as anger bubbled through his veins and it became clear to both James and Lily that the man at the bar had been stood up by whomever it was had agreed to meet him; and they were sure that a grizzly fate would await that person at the hands of this stranger.
Eventually, after several hours of waiting impatiently, the man rose from his stool, his features filled with darkness that had undoubtedly been fuelled by the alcohol he had consumed. He looked around the space, contemplating for a second with a snarl, sharp teeth being bared slightly as he did so. Suddenly his eyes became fixed on the young couple in the corner. It was only for a split second but it was enough to strike them with paralysing fear as their breath caught in their throats. The stranger moved his eyes from the dark corner of the room and he continued to make his way back outside, darkly eyeing people as he walked by, his deep breaths sounding more like a growl. He soon reached the door and steeped out into the night, the familiar gust of cold air circulating the pub once more.
Quickly Lily leapt to her feet, grabbing for her dark coloured coat and throwing it hurriedly onto her body as she started to move her way around the table to free herself from the confinements of the corner of the pub.
‘Lily, what are you doing?!’ James hissed as he followed her from around the table, grabbing his own jacket as he went and pushing the chairs aside in a rush to reach her before she got to the door, practically hurdling a few drunken patrons slouched in some.
‘Following him,’ Lily replied, though she didn’t slow down her pace and was soon facing the heavy door pulling it open with some effort. ‘Isn’t that obvious?’ she quipped, an almost excited smile darting across her lips.
‘Evans you are mental.’ James laughed, wide eyed with a shocked smile.
‘Coming Potter?’ she asked suggestively with a raised eyebrow, adrenaline now running through her veins.
‘And people say I’m the reckless one…’ James laughed, a wide grin on his features as he took her hand and let her lead him once more into the darkness of the night.
The cold had intensified since they had been inside and came as quite the shock in comparison to the fire warmed interior of the pub. Lily stood closely to James as they both looked around outside to see the direction in which the stranger had walked. The warmth of his hand on hers filled her with the courage she needed at that point in time and the imminent danger didn’t faze her because she was with James, they were in it together and they were a force if ever there was one. A slight movement to their right caught their attention; a wisp of fabric disappearing around a corner and into an alleyway situated next to the village shop. Without hesitation the two took off in a silent pursuit through the night, careful to keep their distance just in case.
Once they reached the side of the building next to the eerie alleyway, they stopped and pressed their bodies to the brickwork behind them. Each reached in their pockets for their wands and held them tightly in their hands before taking a long breath to steady themselves and peering around the corner ever so slightly.
The stranger was indeed still there, walking slowly along the path, his footsteps echoing ominously, ricocheting off the walls. After a few seconds, as if instinctively, he turned his head to the side and sniffed into the air, eyes narrowing with suspicion. Before the stranger could catch sight of them, James pulled lily back quickly and tightly into his chest. They stood frigid and still, hearts pounding in their chests against each other waiting for a sound but the sickening silence did not leave them. Eyes focused only on each other in that moment, everything felt more real than it had in a long time. The thrill sent the blood pumping ten to the dozen around their bodies’ their nerves were heightened as they listened out for the slightest noise; a fox rustling in a distant bin, a door slamming shut in one of the surrounding houses, or the squeaking of a rusting pub sign and the hair on their bodies stood on end with electricity.
Then the footsteps began once more, and they were getting louder.
With quick thinking James dived his hand in his pocket and pulled out the shimmering silver cloak that Lily knew all too well. With a sigh of relief and a trusting smile Lily closed the gap further between the two of them as James enveloped them both in the security of his invisibility cloak.
The steps continued, louder, more echoing.
James felt his heart race, not because of the danger they faced, but because of the girl in front of him. Still she made him feel this way; In awe of her bravery and beauty. He adored her, he always had and he always would. And in that moment, as he breathed in the floral smell of her rose shampoo, he knew that there was no point in putting it off any longer. They were living in the moment, from one day to the next, never knowing what was going to happen. It was now or never…
The steps were louder still.
‘Evan’s…’ James breathed. She peered up at him, more beautiful then he had ever seen her.
And then the footsteps stopped and the heavy blanket of fear covered them once more. Lily’s eye’s widened as her breaths grew shaky, she was unable to look away from James, frozen in fear and confusion. And behind her stood the ominous figure of the stranger.
He sniffed the air loudly in long breaths. He knew he wasn’t alone. Slowly he turned from side to side, his amber eyes narrowing as he searched every inch of the sight in front of him. A growl escaped his mouth as the hunter within him started to emerge, soon the animal would be released. He turned to face James and Lily directly, picking up some kind of scent in the air as evidenced by the continuing twitching of his nose. He was starting to home in on them. Lily’s breath started to shake and became ever so slightly more verbal. James pulled her close protectively, cradling her head to his chest. The stranger raised a hand to his face and scratched roughly at his beard, before he began to slowly extend his hand toward the hidden couple, head tilted curiously to the side with a sadistic smile plastered on his face. His yellowing claw like nails got gradually closer and his sleeve rose, displaying tattooed symbols that had been crudely inked on his skin. Closer still; James could now see the dirt under the strangers nails and almost feel his breath against the cloak.
With a sudden start the stranger whipped around, his body tense and teeth bared threateningly, his hand now raised in a claw shape, ready to lash down at the source of the sudden noise. A slight raw came from his mouth in anger as he realised who had appeared in the dark behind him and he grabbed his wand in a sharp action from a pocket in his worn coat.
‘Easy now Fenrir, calm now,’ the thin gaunt looking man said with a wining pitch of voice.
‘You’re lucky I didn’t kill you then and there McNair,’ Fenrir growled back at the man, advancing on him threateningly. ‘Where the fuck have you been? I waited for hours in that shit hole.’ His voice was rough and throaty, almost uncomfortable to listen to.
‘I was with the dark Lord,’ The man sneered. ‘He wants to see you in person.’
After a moments hesitation and turning to look once more behind him, Fenrir replied, ‘Fine.’ With that he strode over to the man and placed a hand heavily on his shoulder digging his nails in and making the other man wince.
CRACK they were gone.
As soon as they were alone, Lily threw the invisibility cloak from the both of them and aggressively shoved it back into James’ hands making him stumble backward slightly.
‘What the hell was that?!’ She hissed, her hand pointing at him that still happened to contain her wand. ‘What kind of sick prank is that James? You know I thought you changed…’ She growled, her face reddening in anger and what looked like tears forming in her eyes.
‘Woah Lily!’ James put his hands up defensively. ‘It wasn’t a prank. I want you to marry me!’ He repeated, ‘I’ve always wanted to marry you, ever since that first time I saw you on the Hogwarts express, when I told you, you had eyes like emeralds and Sirius got into a fight with that greasy git. I knew then! I love you Lily Evans, I’ve always loved you and I always will! Sure I probably picked the wrong moment, but I’ve been planning to do it for ages, I was just waiting for the right time…’ James fumbled in his pocket and almost dropped the small velvet box that he pulled from it. He opened it and extended it towards Lily who stood in front of him, wide eyed, her hand covering her mouth in shock.
‘James…’ She breathed. The ring was beautiful; a simple Emerald surrounded by diamonds. It was perfect.
‘Oh right yeah… one knee,’ James mumbled to himself. But before he could lower himself to the floor, Lily slammed into him enthusiastically, pulling his face to hers and bringing their lips together in a passionate kiss.
‘Of course I’ll marry you, you complete toe rag!’
A/N: So we are well into the swing of things now! What does everyone think? Feedback really helps me so i'd appreciate any you have! :D
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