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Shadowplay by dominique_fox
Chapter 30 : Thirty: The End
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8

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“No, mate, look,” says James urgently, brandishing a bottle of Butterbeer in one hand and jabbing the index finger of the other at Frank. “People always underestimate the importance of a really good Beater. But think about the World Cup in Hong Kong, remember? Argentina would never have won if their Beaters hadn’t clocked out Hungary’s Seeker.”

Frank takes a gulp of Firewhisky. “I don’t mean that they’re not important, though. I’m just saying it’s very violent, isn’t it?”

James chuckles, shaking his head. “Yes, Frank, it’s violent. That’s rather the point.”

“Which is all well and good when you’re a professional,” Frank continues bravely. “But how responsible is it, really, to let a load of underage kids--”

“Frank,” interrupts Lily soothingly. “I see your point. I really do. But you’re getting yourself into very dangerous territory.”

Frank glances at the look on James’ face, shrugs, and nods. “Fair enough.”

Alice laughs, snaking her arms around her husband’s neck and nuzzling her nose against his ear. We all groan at them.

“Can you please not drink if it’s going to make you act disgusting,” says Peter, taking a hefty sip from his own glass of Firewhisky.

Alice and Frank are sitting piled together in one of my armchairs. Lily’s curled up in the chair beside theirs, and James is sitting at her feet, resting his head against her knees. I’m sitting in the middle of the couch, my glass of Firewhisky resting between my thighs, with Remus and Peter on either side of me. It’s a humid afternoon -- the sky outside has been threatening rain all day. We had all planned to walk down to the Leaky Cauldron for a drink -- risky these days, but we’ve a big enough group -- but ended up hanging around here, drinking and talking rubbish, rather than braving the sticky, heavy air outdoors.

Remus folds up the copy of the Prophet he’s been reading. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the headline: Ministry Catches Tarot Killer, by B. Cuffe.

“Load of shite?” I ask Remus. Our elbows brush as I turn toward him, and I draw mine back instinctively, feeling shivers run down my spine. We’ve patched things up pretty well in the last couple of days, but I can’t say things are quite back to normal. I keep having to remind myself not to stare at his arms, and I swear my heart started beating double-time when he came out of the shower yesterday with his hair still all drippy. Even now, surrounded by friends and sipping on Firewhisky, I’m having trouble taking my mind off of the fact that he’s sitting right beside me.

“It’s actually decent,” he says, offering me the paper. “Cuffe apologized on behalf of the Prophet for all the rubbish they’ve been spouting about the Auror Office. He even said some redeeming things about you.

“Barnabus Cuffe wrote something about me other than slander?” I raise my eyebrows. “I don’t believe it.”

“Seriously.” Remus pushes the paper at me. “It’s all very pro-Aislin.”

“I s’pose he’s grateful that I saved him from being burned alive.” I take the paper from him, and toss it onto the coffee table. “I’ll take your word for it, though. I’ve done enough reading about this case to last me a lifetime.”

“What about Barty Crouch, sending Selwyn off to Azkaban without a trial?” says James, shaking his head in disgust. “It’s mad. Even Lily admits it’s mad, and we all know she’s got it in the pants for old Barty.”

Got it in the pants?” seethes Lily as the rest of us laugh. “I haven’t got it in the pants for Barty Crouch, thank you very much. I think he’s been a very devoted civil servant, and I think it’s a shame that this atmosphere of panic is making him forego the usual--”

“Ah, but Lily,” says Frank earnestly. “It’s not as if he hasn’t got a choice. Sure, these are troubled times, but Crouch could’ve easily had a trial. The Wizengamot would’ve been certain to convict Selwyn to life in Azkaban, anyway. It’s just a stunt. He’s setting himself up to be the Minister after all this ends.”

If it ends,” says Alice glumly. Frank tightens his hold on her waist.

“Come on, puffskein,” he says, kissing her cheek. “It can hardly last forever.”

“Well,” says James bracingly. “Trial or no trial, the Tarot Killer’s been caught -- and the world’s a bit brighter for that, isn’t it?”

“Did you see the Witch Weekly article about the two of you?” says Alice, turning to me and Remus. “Rita Skeeter’s finest.”

“What?” I say, looking from Remus -- who shrugs at me -- back to Alice.

“”She got wind that the two of you were working together… and, you know,” Alice grins a cheeky grin, “living together.”

Remus shakes his head vigorously, as if trying to distract us from the fact that his cheeks have gone a little pink. “She’ll say anything if she thinks it’ll make a good story.”

“She’s disgusting,” says Lily vehemently. “Honestly. Anything for a Galleon.”

“Yeah,” agrees Peter. “Even more disgusting than Frank calling Alice ‘puffskein.’”

Frank pulls a face at him.

“It’s just the time,” says James, sitting up straighter and looking around at us earnestly. “It’s a mad time, right? So people like Skeeter and Crouch and all the rotten gits at the Prophet can get away with what they’re doing right now. But once everything’s back to normal they’ll all be chucked in the bin where they belong -- you mark my words.”

Franks shakes his head. “It’s people that’re mad. I’ll bet you five Sickles that Barty Crouch gets made the next Minister.”

“I love betting with you, Frank,” says James, grinning. “It’s so easy, taking your money.”

“Any interesting new cases?” asks Alice, glancing at the small pile of opened letters strewn across the carpet. Remus and I glance at each other, and roll our eyes.

“Not in the least,” I tell her. “Unless you consider a ten-year-old witch in Cornwall who thinks her cat’s been kidnapped interesting. I’m guessing her mum hasn’t got the heart to tell her it’s died.”

“Something will turn up,” says Remus with an easy shrug.

We chatter like this for hours, until the Firewhisky has all run out and the sky outside has grown dark. Finally, Alice and Frank extricate themselves from their perches, yawning and stretching and pleading to be released.

“It’s not even midnight,” says James, affronted and a bit tipsy. He points at Frank and Alice. “Wait. Moody’s having a party and he hasn’t invited us. Is that it?”

“Right in one,” says Alice. “And we’re hoping to get him drunk and find out where his mother lives, so we can finally meet her, so you see why we have to get going.”

I giggle into my glass, trying to imagine what Moody’s mother would be like.

“I think it’s downright shameful,” says James, as Alice and Frank clamber into the fireplace. “Going home before it’s struck midnight, even. Frankly, Frank, it’s adultlike.”

“Sorry we’re not a bunch of useless freeloaders like you lot,” says Frank cheerfully. “We’ve work in the morning, you know.”

“Next thing you know they’ll be having bloody children,” grumbles James, as Frank and Alice start to spin away out of sight. “Merlin knows that’s the last thing we need, another Longbottom in this world. Oi -- DON’T YOU DARE GO HAVING CHILDREN!” he shouts after them.

“They’ll be lovely parents,” says Lily with a small smile, patting James’ head. He takes her hand and squeezes it. We all grin around at each other hazily, caught up in the Firewhisky and warm air and good mood.

Then the fire whorls up again in the grate, which we’ve forgotten to close after Alice and Frank. I feel Remus tense at my side, and instinctively reach for my own wand. James, on the other hand, scoffs: “come crawling back to us, have they?” -- apparently anticipating the return of Alice and Frank.

But it’s a lone figure that materializes out of the green flames -- the figure of a tall, slim man with dark hair and deep-set, grey eyes. He slinks into the sitting room, hands in his pockets, unscrewing the cap of a small, silver flask -- which he takes a casual swig from. Swishing the liquid between his cheeks, he looks around at us appraisingly.

“I can only assume,” he says finally, into the stunned silence, “that my invitation got lost in the mail.”

“YOU SLICK GIT,” James roars, already dashing over to his friend. They hug each other like children, like brothers. And the others all crowd around Sirius, waiting for their turn to greet him. I stay behind on the sofa, watching the merry group and thinking how young we all are, how childlike still -- and how unfair it is that we have to face so much.

I hear Sirius telling the others that he was held up in Europe, that the Death Eaters were staking out his hiding place and he didn’t dare leave. I see him peering over their heads, looking a bit miffed about something. Then I get to my feet, and he spots me.

“What’re you frowning about?” I say evenly, though my heart is hammering madly in my chest.

The others turn, looking back and forth between us uncertainly. Sirius navigates around them and approaches me, until he’s close enough to touch. He takes another swig from his flask.

“Well,” he says. “I had sort of expected you to come running over to me the minute I appeared, and maybe faint dramatically in my arms, something like that.”

I feel my lips twitch. “Sorry to disappoint. But you can feel free to faint into my arms, if the mood strikes you.”

He grins broadly, and even with deep shadows under his eyes and the beginnings of a scruffy beard across his face, he’s as handsome as ever. “You really annoy me,” he says. He sets his flask down on the coffee table, puts his hands on my waist. And I grin back at him -- and before I know it, his lips are on mine and my hands have flown up to knot themselves in his hair. And he’s pressing himself into me so hard that I stumble backwards -- and he moves with me, kissing me again and again, his hands smoothing down my waist to my hips--

“I’m sorry,” says James’ voice from somewhere far, far below us. “It’s just we didn’t realize that this was your bedroom, and not a common living space.”

And Sirius laughs, and then I find myself sitting beside him on the sofa -- leaning into his chest, his arm thrown over my shoulder. I breathe in the smell of him, feeling the faint, steady beating of his heart somewhere close to my ear. And as the others chat and catch up with him, I feel so safe and warm in their brightness that my mind wanders, and I hover between consciousness and sleep. Maybe Barty Crouch will become Minister, maybe not. Maybe the war will end tomorrow, and maybe it’ll last for years. But I can rest easy for now, knowing that there’s light in the world and that it’s here, all around me -- and I’ll fight to keep it from fading.


A/N: THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading Shadowplay, especially to those of you who have been reading since the beginning!

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