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Perfect CI by heartfelt @ TDA
Chapter 30 - Compromising and Conniving

“The distraction at the Inn worked well, my Lord.” Red lips, nearly trembling, hardly parted as the woman spoke. Her eyes stayed where they belonged, glued to her Master’s feet.

“Yes. It was adequate,” came the hiss of a response.

“We were able to kill seven filthy creatures and two Aurors. And the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is still being held in the Malfoys’ dungeon. The Prophet has yet to comment on his disappearance, though. I’ve made this clear to him, as well as pointed out that fact is reason to believe he isn’t being searched for. That frightened him; I believe it won’t be long until he reveals the location of the giants.” Her words sped up as she continued, and it took all of her unstable control to stop from shaking as she spoke. She just wanted something, some sign that he was pleased with her.

“He’s been your captive for weeks now. We won’t give him much longer. I shall take a trip to the Malfoy Manor myself. If we’re unable to convince him to tell us what we wish to know, he can serve as an example of what is done when the Dark Lord is defied.”

Bellatrix’s eyes lit with excitement, her love for watching Master remind the world of his power stronger than anything else. There’d been talk of making a Ministry official’s murder public. The Dark Lord wanted witches and wizards to feel unstable, unsure if they should believe the words of the Prophet when dozens of houses had been found with a branding of the Dark Mark above their roofs. Bellatrix knew he wanted them unaware and afraid at every turn, and dropping the mangled and distorted body of a Ministry official in the center of Diagon Alley would serve well to remind them that no one is safe.

“And during your capture of the Magical Creature’s Head, was the other portion of the plan able to go accordingly?” Master asked, placing his hand on the arm of the chair, his fingers tapping against the aged leather. The room around them grew to a soft grey, and Bellatrix knew the sun must’ve been awakening. Her time with her Lord would end soon.

“Yes, Master. We drew Dumbledore away from the castle. Once Rodolphus confirmed that the headmaster was present in Hogsmeade, he signaled Lucius. Regulus was waiting at the edge of the Forbidden Forest for Malfoy, along with Evan Rosier, Burgess Mulciber, Orson Avery, Severus Snape, and Abigail Brookwin.” Bellatrix struggled against the venom that wanted to accompany her last few words. Abigail Brookwin. She herself was the only women marked by the Dark Lord; her intelligence and skills far beyond that of any other female.

“And Rukin?” Master asked.

“He was there as well. Lucius delivered your message, and the boy knows he will continue to pay for his incompetence. It was also made clear that you still hold interest in that group, and he is to play his part accordingly.”

“Very good. I was not pleased to be absent the past few weeks, Bellatrix. But there were important matters that required my attention. Despite my disappointment at being away, I am still pleased with your ability to manage.” His tone grew softer, and Bellatrix dared to flick her eyes toward him. Just for one brief second. “You’re recovering well from your past failure, my servant.”

She let her knees grow weak; her legs folded beneath her as she bent down and bowed her head to the Lord. She’d thought of nothing else for months apart from how to regain her place in the Lord’s favor. And no matter what, she’d never again fall from that place again.

“What we discussed at the start of the year,” Voldemort continued, “if you are able to manage your task without killing any of the others, I suppose I can permit it. I would like the rest left alive until I’m able to give them one final chance to join me. After that, I’ll take care of them myself. But I understand your need for vengeance, and if you’re able to only kill her, I’ll allow it.”

Blood grew hot in Bellatrix’s veins, the feeling of it threatening to take her breath away. She raised her head, her knees still pressed into the marble floor. “Thank you, my Lord,” she said in what could hardly pass for whisper. But she knew her Lord heard her. He heard everything.

“It is vital you begin arranging times for my prospective servants to meet with one of my First Five. If they’re deemed worthy, the marking ceremony will be held immediately after Hogwarts graduation.”

“Yes, my Lord. Hogwarts has a holiday for Easter in a few weeks time. I’ll owl Regulus in our usual code and the message will be passed. We’ll prepare to host the initial meeting at Malfoy Manor.”

The Dark Lord nodded his head at her, his attention drawing away as he grew lost in his own thoughts. She found herself struggling to take her eyes from Master’s features, the angles of his face more pronounced than usual, mirroring the power that lived inside the greatest Wizard to walk the earth.

A simple motion of his hand dismissed her and she struggled with disappointment as another rare one on one meeting drew to an end. As she showed herself through the front room and to the door, a house-elf waiting with her cloak, she played through the meeting in her mind.

The rising sun assaulted her eyes once she slipped past the front doors; her legs felt unsteady as she walked the few yards to the Appartion point. The meeting had gone better than she could have hoped. Her Master was pleased with the work she’d been doing. That knowledge forced her to breathe faster, deeper, in order to supply adequate oxygen to her racing heart.

He was pleased with her.

And he was allowing her to take revenge on the filthy creature, the reason she’d failed to capture Potter and Evans. Yes, she thought as her lips curved into a very infrequent smile, she would get justice. She would stand and watch as the light fled from her prey’s eyes. Watch as the heart slowed, then stopped.

And it wouldn’t be quick. It wouldn’t be painless.

The girl would suffer every bit as Bellatrix had suffered.

Alice wiggled her shoulder, distributing the weight of her rucksack more evenly across her back. Her mind was still foggy from staying up until nearly dawn in the common room, studying for the practical portion of the Defence Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T. with the rest of her friends.

Professor Genov had just taught them a nonverbal shield the other day. One that they could cast simply by thinking, no wand required. She made it clear that if they messed up on other portions of the practical, being able to do this would almost guarantee them a passing grade. So naturally the group had wanted to master it, and they’d all managed at least a time or two last night. But they’d stayed up until nearly four in the morning to do so.

Considering it was the weekend, that normally wouldn’t have been a problem. But it was her and Frank’s Auror training that day, nine a.m. as always. Oh well, Alice thought. As soon as they began energy would come pouring into her; it always did.

As she drew closer to room that they practiced in she had to struggle to ignore the feeling of emptiness beside her. Frank was usually right there, and they’d go over what they learned the previous lesson together. But she and Frank were still unable to come to terms with his issue regarding the Aurors. And as much as she tried to forget that, to block it out, it didn’t seem to be working. In fact, it seemed the more she attempted not to dwell on it, the more it filled her mind, coming back with a vengeance.

The conversation she’d had with her friends a few weeks ago had calmed her down enough to speak with Frank. That was always how she approached something, anyway. She talked it out. She didn’t play games and see who would stay angry the longest like Belle. She didn’t avoid things, afraid to hear an unsavory answer the way Lily did. No. She talked. She brought it up as soon as possible, addressed it as best as she could, and talked it out. That had always been her solution to fixing things. When she’d had an issue with the way Augusta treated her, constantly belittling her, she’d talked to the woman herself. Sure, Augusta could still annoy Alice in even the best of moods, but not with the intention of being hurtful.

When she’d been angry at Frank in fifth year for using her photographic memory as a way to avoid carrying his books around, she’d told him that she was upset. And they talked it through. She’d explained what it’s like to be constantly badgered for information. Just because facts, dates, memories, were all terribly easy for her to recall, didn’t mean she wanted to spend hours doing so. But they’d worked it out. He apologized and they ended up laughing about it.

And now it’d been weeks since their argument, and they still hadn’t talked. Alice had tried, to her credit. She sat him down, stayed calm, said all the things in her heart. He wouldn’t listen. He was too stuck on it being a deadly career, saying he refused to watch her die.

Well, she’d rather die than live some sheltered existence where it was too dangerous to open a window and receive her own post. But even as she thought that, part of her questioned what kind of life she’d have without Frank. Would it even be one she wanted?

She shook that away, not willing to feed to puffiness around her eyes with more tears. She didn’t deserve to feel so hurt, so broken. She compromised on as many things as she could and was always willing to meet one of her friends or her boyfriend halfway. But Alice wasn’t willing to negotiate her career. What she worked for, sweated for, and struggled for. There would be no compromise.

She slowed down as the room came into view and glanced at her wrist: 8:40. She still had twenty minutes. Her feet gravitated toward the large window that looked out from the third floor into the Quidditch pitch. The next game was in May, a little over a month away. She was already looking forward to it, though. Being surrounded by the entire school, all of them yelling and laughing, was one of the easiest times to forget about all the things going on in their world. And she loved hearing Frank over the-

She felt tears threaten to swell up in her eyes but blinked them back. No crying. Not now. They would work things out; they’d been together for almost four years. You didn’t just quit something after that long because of a simple disagreement. Sure, they were young, but that didn’t matter. She loved Frank and she knew his feelings matched her own. Besides, most people met their spouses in Hogwarts. There wasn’t the biggest selection of witches and wizards around. Not that there was anything wrong with marrying a Muggle, but the amount of compilations that came with it were usually too great for anyone to want to risk. So when you found someone you loved the way that she loved Frank, you didn’t just throw it away and decide you’d see what else came along.

She could only hope he felt the same way and not allow herself to imagine the possibility of him keeping his stance on the issues, of having him walk away from her. If that happened... she took a deep breath, steadying herself. It wouldn’t happen. He wasn’t selfish enough to walk away just because she wouldn’t give up what she’d worked so hard for.

A small thought sprang into her mind, asking her if she was the selfish one for being unwilling to change her career path, but she stomped it away. Maybe she was selfish, but it happened so rarely that she didn’t think she should feel guilty for it. That trait was something she’d always strived not to inherit.

Being the daughter of two selfish people taught her at an early age how fragile feelings could be, and she never wanted her own desires to hurt anyone else. Not that her parents had been bad by any means. She knew she was luckier than most people. She had a safe home; her family didn’t support blood purity nor did they speak against it, giving her a safe surname. Her mother and father were both terrible snobs, and they’d never really wanted to alter their life for their daughter, but that didn’t make them bad people. It made them selfish. And for once in her life, Alice was going to take a lesson from that and hold tightly onto this one thing, the career that she’d fallen in love with and wasn’t willing to trade.

Just because she didn’t want to throw her spot on the Auror department away, didn’t mean she was a bad person. And it didn’t change the fact that she’d spent nearly every night for weeks crying, Belle constantly slipping into her bed to soothe her back to sleep. It didn’t take away the dark circles that clung to her eyes, the sickly tinge filling her flesh.

She had to fix it. He had to understand that she wanted, needed, both him and the Auror department.

“Hey.” Speak of the Devil, Alice thought as she glanced around and saw Frank coming down the corridor. It gave her a tiny bit of hope that the tone of his voice sounded nearly as miserable as she felt.

“Hey,” she answered, giving him what she could muster of a smile. “Did you bring the essay Mr. Moody wanted?”

He didn’t answer, just walked over and placed his elbows on the same windowsill she was staring out. After a few moments of dragging silence, he let out a sigh and said, “It’s going to warm up soon.”

“Yes.” She wanted them to be on as good of terms as possible until they worked things out, but she wasn’t sure she was able to carry on a conversation full of pleasantries. Not when she was struggling to convince her heart that everything would be okay and it didn’t need to break.

“Summertime always reminds me of third year. When it was just getting nice enough to go outside, and you made me come take a walk with you around the lake.”

The thought brought a sad sort of smile to her lips. “Well, you spent so much time in the common room. You needed to get a bit of fresh air.”

“I was always more comfortable in the common room, just the other Gryffindors around.”

Alice remembered the shy boy that spent his first few years of Hogwarts barely saying a word. She’d been nervous about coming to Hogwarts too, but as soon as she entered Great Hall and was placed among the Gryffindors, that nervousness started fading and she was more exciting than anything else.

She clicked with Remus instantly, both being excited to start classes. Lily was as warm as she looked, and everything just sort of fell into place. She’d had to bite her tongue a few times when Lily would break plans to go hang out with Severus, and had to stay neutral when the redhead would rant about James and Sirius’s pranks. But still, she had a solid best friend and housemates that she really enjoyed. Frank hadn’t opened up as easily, though. He’d chatted, got along, but kept to himself. Until Alice had pulled him from his hermit shell.

“I’d just finished talking with Lily,” Alice said, her mind recalling the details as easily someone would their own name. “We were in the girl’s dormitory, and she was going to hang out with Severus for a while. I was annoyed that she wouldn’t let us all hang out together, but she said that Severus wouldn’t like that. So she apologized and promised to study together later and took off, and I headed down with every intention of forgetting about my disappointment and sitting out in the sun. Then you were there, off in a corner chair with a book in your hand like always.”

“And you couldn’t just leave me be,” Frank joked.

“Of course not. And what happened next?”

Frank rolled his eyes, his smile nearly falling into a laugh. “You pulled me along with you outside, and talked all about how I had four more years left in the school and it was time to start making friends. But I did have friends.”

“No,” Alice corrected, nearly forgetting they were angry at one another. “You had acquaintances. And I made you come outside with me, brought you over to James’s group and you had plenty of fun chatting about Quidditch with them.”

“James talked me into trying out for Quidditch commentator for fourth year,” Frank said, turning to her as he spoke. “And you talked me into trying to make friends. Into becoming part of this school and not... how did you word it?”

Alice blushed. “Just a fixture, is what I may have said. But it’s true, you were no better than the oil lamps... sitting there quietly doing what you were supposed to.”

“Exactly,” Frank said, flashing a wide grin. “And once we started talking more, I started talking to people from other Houses and to our Housemates more. You realized I didn’t just have to be the quiet kid that doesn’t have any friends.”

“Well,” Alice said, not sure where this was going. “You’re welcome, I suppose.”

“You saw my potential and you helped me find it, Alice,” Frank continued, more serious now. “James and Remus actually reminded me of that yesterday. Of the day when you pulled me over to them all. And I realized that you were really the first person to see that I wasn’t, or didn’t have to be, a shy friendless bloke. Just like Moody saw your potential in class that day and realized what you’re capable of.

“I never really thought before what being an Auror meant...” he paused, and Alice felt her heart give a jolt. She hoped this conversation was going where she thought it was.

“Of course I knew what an Auror does, but I don’t think I realized the actual danger of it. At least, I never put you and danger together. But you’re brilliant at it, Alice. You’re better than me-”

“No,” Alice starting arguing.

“Yes. When it comes to what Moody is teaching us, you’re always ahead of me and your spells are always stronger. Not that mine aren’t good; they’re excellent or else Moody wouldn’t be training me. But you’re... you’re something else. I don’t want to take that away from you. But I need security, Alice. You know I’ve always been that way.”

Alice thought, wanting to choose her words carefully. What Frank said was true. He’d always needed to know exactly what was happening, what would happen next. “Frank,” she started, her eyes stinging again, “if the kind of security you need is knowing I’ll always be safe, I can’t give that to you. I’ll do my best, and I’ll use everything Moody teaches us to stay safe. But if you need to know without a doubt that I’m not in danger, that I’m just sitting in a bubble where nothing can touch me, I can’t give you that.”

God. This couldn’t be how it ended, could it? Alice fought with herself, struggled to not take back the words she’d just said.

“I thought I needed that,” he mumbled and she glanced up, his dark eyes looking every bit as nervous as hers. “But if it’s either you as an Auror or no you, I’d rather have you.”

She stared for a second, barely able to believe his words. “What changed your mind?” she asked carefully, wanting to make sure he was positive of what he was saying and they wouldn’t go around in circles, him eventually coming back to this.

“You’re going to laugh at was a bit of what James and Remus said this morning. But it was also a letter I got from my mother.”

Alice’s eyebrow raised. “You talked to your mother about this? About us? As if Augusta doesn’t already think she has a million reasons not to like me, now she’s going to come after me for saying no to her precious Frank...”

Frank laughed, a sound that Alice had missed so much over the last few weeks. “Not exactly. I did tell her some things; you know how I am. I know I know, I tell her more than I should. But I’m all she’s got. Anyway, her response was rather... angry. She reminded me that she didn’t raise me to be an, erm, bullheaded pig of a boy who thinks a woman is any less capable than a man. And that isn’t it, I do think you’re capable.” His cheeks reddened as he spoke, and for once Alice thought that Augusta may have given advice worthy of listening it.

“She also said that there aren’t many people that could hold their own against her. But you’re one of the few, and she’d be a centaur’s arse before she watched me let go of a girl who could take care of her son as well as have an outstanding career. And she may have mentioned something about getting settled with the idea that we’d end up married, and adjusting to that relatively well. Which, as you know, is a compliment for her.”

Marry. It was something they’d talked about before, but knowing Augusta was thinking along those lines with her and Frank was both relieving and a bit traumatizing. She did like knowing that Augusta wouldn’t throw a fit about a marriage between them, but she wasn’t thrilled that the woman thought they needed her approval.

“It’s nice to know she isn’t on her little Frank’s side, I suppose,” Alice said, smiling as she spoke. “Though I still don’t love the idea of you speaking to your mother about our disagreements.”

“Well, I don’t love the idea of you chasing after murderers. I suppose we’re even,” he answered, and Alice could only laugh. The anger she felt at Frank for thinking he needed to make her choose in the first place started to dissolve, and she knew soon there would be nothing left of it. She understood where he was coming from, and was ready to move past it if he was.

“There’s one other thing,” he started hesitantly. “I have to go away with her, mum, over Easter. Nothing big, she just has to visit her sister in Switzerland and thinks it would be a good opportunity for us to spend time together before gradation. And before ‘that too thin of a girl takes you away from me for good and keeps you too busy to ever stop by and say hello to your mother.’ Her words, not mine.”

Alice rolled her eyes, then immediately felt bad about it. Of course Augusta should be able to spend as much time with her son as she wanted. But still, something in his voice made her feel like he wasn’t telling her everything. The way he avoided her gaze while he spoke... but she wasn’t going to dwell on it, not now. If there was even anything to dwell on.

“Well, that will be nice, then,” she answered, though they both knew she didn’t mean it. Augusta and her sister were very similar, and spending a week stuck with two Augustas was something that she wouldn’t be bothered by missing.

“Are you still planning on staying here over holiday?” he asked, checking his pocket watch as he spoke.

“Yes. Since Dumbledore and James’s parents all think the safest thing would be for James and Lily to stay, we decided we should all just stay, too. I think Peter was relieved to not have to go home, though I know he feels guilty that his mum will be all alone...”

“Well, while you are all here having a brilliant time you can think of me... stuck between mother and Aunt Beatrice, either arguing about me or stuffing food in my face.”

Alice winced. Yes, she definitely had the better of the holiday plans.

She was about to ask him if they had any plans in Switzerland, when the sound of a thump thump thump signaled Moody’s arrival. She could hear a string of muttering curse words as the man unlocked the door. It would be a long lesson.

“Oh great,” Frank whispered as they started moving from the window to the now open door. “What do you think it is this time? The incompetent bastards at the Ministry or the piece of shit raccoon that set off his security spells?”

“Neither,” came the growl of the Auror as he turned around and faced them through the door. “It’s the bloody, arrogant students that I’m trying to mold into respectable Aurors.” Though his voice was hard like always, it had just enough of a change to make it clear he was joking, or as close as he got to joking.

“Respectable Aurors, just like you?” Frank asked with a laugh as the man turned around and began writing on the chalkboard. Alice directed her gaze back to Frank, the imprint of the shy boy he used to be still filling her mind.

“Hey,” he whispered just as she was about to step away from him and take a seat at the desk. “Sorry about our argument. I love you.”

“Me too,” she said, laughing as the Auror at the front of the room made some sort of gagging sound. “Don’t worry, Mr. Moody. We love-”

“Stop right there, girl,” he said, twisting around meeting his eyes with hers. “Let’s not say something that’s going to make me throw up the breakfast I just had. Besides, after today, you’re going to hate me more than you’d hate an ornery dragon hell bent on taking off your head.”

With that, he rubbed his hands together and told them to take out their wands and prepare to leave the room with at least one less finger.

Lily brought her quill back to the parchment, crossing off the facts they’d already gone over. History of Magic was going to be her most grueling exam for the N.E.W.T.s. It didn’t have a practical, so the written test was the only thing their mark would go off of. And it was all dates, facts, information that nearly everyone besides Peter and Alice had a tough time retaining. She wished she could love history the way Peter did. And she may actually have enjoyed some of it, but Professor Binns was just so boring. Why she continued with the class after fifth year, she had no idea.

“Alright, let’s get back to the Egyptian curses,” she said, glancing up at her peers all sitting around the table. She tried to ignore the rays of sun pouring through the large, stained glass window a few yards from them. There would be other sunny days, she reminded herself. But they only had one chance at their N.E.W.T.s.

She could tell by the way Margaret fidgeted with her paper that she was feeling the same, but Belle, Eleanor and Briscoe all seemed content enough. She knew Briscoe was on patrol that evening, and hoped the Slytherin wouldn’t be too exhausted after their study session. And Margaret had Quidditch practice, too... maybe they’d only a do a few hours instead of the usual four.

A few tables away James sat with Sirius, Peter, Alexander and a few Ravenclaws, all working on Defence Against the Dark Arts. Lily furrowed her brow, a bit jealous. She wanted to be working on that. Not boring History of Magic. Remus had offered to head the Charms table, and was surrounded by four other students, and a few prefects were scattered about heading tables as well. They had thirty seventh-years show up that day, with only the Slytherins absent. Besides Briscoe, of course. Not that the Slytherins ever showed up, anyway.

She knew Frank and Alice would be arriving soon, hopefully on good terms at last, and wondered if she could talk one of them into taking over Jenna’s place at the Potions table. Or at least join in on that study group. She really wanted someone from their circle sitting with Alrek, for no other reason than to stop her from getting shivers down her spine each time she happened to look up and meet his eyes.

She was almost irritated with herself for feeling so negatively about the seventh year transfer, but ever since the Quidditch game she just couldn’t shake the feeling of something being off. He was always kind; they never saw him on the map doing something he shouldn’t be doing, and he never acted anything but casual when they spoke.

Still. The feeling wouldn’t go away.

“Ugh,” came annoyed sigh from Margaret. “I can’t figure out exactly what year Curse Breakers started being used to try and get into the Pyramids that the Egyptian witches and wizards sealed.”

Briscoe leaned over to glance at Margaret’s notes and Lily watched as the girl’s tan skin grew a bit red at the apples of her cheeks. This was new, Lily thought. Margaret crushed on a different boy constantly, claiming there were too many to decide, but she didn’t usually get nervous around one she liked. Lily tried to gear her thoughts back to studying, but was now focused on wondering if Briscoe liked Margaret back.

Margaret cleared her throat, probably trying to cover the nerves, before speaking. “You know, my sister Elodie thought of becoming a Curse Breaker after Hogwarts. But then she got more interested in Magic Marine Study.”

“I sort of remember her,” Eleanor said, taking Lily’s attention off of the possible blooming romance. “She was a seventh year when we were seconds, right? Wasn’t there an article in the Daily Prophet about her getting engaged to a Prewett? Sometime during the start of the year?”

“Yeah, she’s five years older than me,” Margaret answered, and Lily wondered if the girl was relieved or annoyed by the distraction. “Her and Gideon are still engaged. He and his twin are moving into Hogsmeade, actually. Which is fine, because Elodie didn’t want to live together until after they get married this winter anyway. Something about not wanting to see all his annoying habits until there’s a Ministry issued Marriage License to stop her from leaving him.” Lily couldn’t help but chuckle at that. She didn’t remember Elodie very well, but from what Margaret said, she and her sister where a lot alike. She didn’t think she’d be thrilled about the idea of moving in with James before... or if, they ever got married, either. Not for the same reasons as Elodie’s, though.

It was hard to imagine what her parents would say about it if they were still alive. Her mum had always been realistic, and even though she encouraged Lily to do things the proper Catholic way... waiting until you’re married to be with someone, not living with someone until you’re married... and so on, Lily didn’t think she’d have held it against her daughter to make different decisions.

The thought brought her mind back to the conversation she’d had with her friends a few weeks ago, and she tried to stop herself from blushing. It wasn’t that she was completely thick on the subject of sex... she’d just didn’t have any first hand experience. She glanced up and caught Belle’s sky colored eyes. The small smile sneaking over the blonde’s face made Lily feel like she could practically read her mind.

“Is your sister close by, then?” Briscoe asked, causing Margaret to grow red again. Wow, Lily thought, she really did fancy him.

“She’s in London, so not terribly far.”

Lily heard a familiar voice and glanced away from their table, then had to force her eyes not to roll as she saw Violet, Mary, and another sixth year Gryffindor walking over to James’s table.

“Brilliant,” she muttered to herself, though it obviously wasn’t quiet enough because Belle gave a half snort/half laugh.

Lily met Mary’s eyes, who sent her an apologetic sort of shrug, as if to say she didn’t condone whatever Violet was up to. As her gaze traveled to the Gryffindor Seeker, she felt suddenly self conscious about her attire: one of James’s Jumpers with the Puddlemore United emblem on it that she often wore on lazy study days, and jeans. Violet had on some kind of fitted robes that almost looked more like a tight dress; her blonde hair was wavy and perfect, much different than the messy bun Lily hadn’t bothered to try and tame.

She attempted to ignore the jealous sting, shushing the snide remark in her head that was saying Violet had way too much makeup on.

“What is zat girl doing?” Lily turned to Belle, who had scooted her chair right next to the redhead’s.

“She’s been a bit ridiculous lately, hasn’t she?” Lily asked, thinking how Violet had steadily gone from just acting friendly toward James after he put her on the Quidditch team, to flirting with him any chance she got.

“Look what she has!” Margaret chimed in, and Lily glanced away from Belle and back to James’s table. She was putting something down, a plate full of sandwiches, and giggling in a way that made Lily want to cringe.

“She’s bringing ‘im lunch?” Belle said in disgust as she started to stand.

“Belle...” Lily said, placing a hand on her friend’s shoulder to keep her there. The last thing they needed was a cat fight. “Stay. I’m not going to make her think I’m worried about her flirting with my boyfriend.”

“Well,” Eleanor started, “I don’t think you have a choice. James is waving you over.” Lily glanced in their direction, surprised to see James motioning for her. Apparently that surprised Violet too, because she stood with nothing less than a scowl on her face and her arms crossed.

Lily was nearly tempted just to send a smile at James and wave him off. She couldn’t be bothered to deal with that ridiculous girl right now. But she didn’t want to give Violet even more of a reason to hang around flirting with him. So instead she stood from her chair, ignoring the fact that she looked like a mess compared to Violet, and made her way over to the table.

“Violet,” Lily greeted as politely as possible.

“Lily,” James started, “er, Violet brought us some lunch from the Great Hall.” Lily could tell by his face that he genuinely had no idea what to do. He had plenty of practice flirting and understood when someone was flirting with him, but didn’t seem to comprehend how to make them stop.

“Actually I brought it for you,” Violet corrected. “Nothing against you Lily,” she added, her voice full of false sweetness. “I just wanted to make sure James was able to eat before Quidditch practice. He doesn’t want to fly on an empty stomach, I’m sure.”

“You know-” Lily’s breath caught in her chest at the sound of Belle’s voice right behind her. “James ‘as managed to stay alive for zis long. I’m certain he knows when to feed ‘imself. If you’re zat concerned, maybe you should chew ze food for him just incase you zink he’s unable to do zat, as well.”

“Sorry for being considerate,” Violet countered. Her voice drenched with anger, but no one could match Belle when it came to that. Except maybe Sirius. “I suppose it’s a crime now to do something nice.”

Before either Belle or Lily could answer, Sirius cut in. “How come you never bring me lunch, Princess?” He asked, sending a wink and laughing as Belle rolled her eyes.

Lily took a few steady breaths and reminded herself there was a Head Girl badge pinned to her jumper. She wasn’t any less irritated at Violet than Belle was, but that didn’t mean she could abdicate her responsibility and act like someone who didn’t deserved to be a Head.

“Thank you for the food, Violet,” Lily said, using the clipped tone she saved especially for annoying students. “But, as I’m sure you’re aware, food is not permitted in the library. This is a seventh years only N.E.W.T.s revision group, so if you’d please let us get back to work, that would be greatly appreciated.”

“I told you,” Mary hissed, again giving Lily something between a desperate and apologetic look. “I told her that we couldn’t bring food in. Come on, let’s go.”

Lily stayed silent as she watched Violet first glare at her friend, then give James what was probably meant to be a seductive smile, before turning around and stomping off.

“Well,” Peter said, nibbling on a ham and cheese. “Erm, terrible sandwiches.”

Lily tried to smile, but she still felt too irritated.

“Why don’t you just tell her to leave you alone?” she asked, glancing at James.

“I try,” James said, holding his hands up in surrender. “I promise. But she never... she’s always so careful not to seem too forward that I don’t know exactly what to say.”

It wasn’t James’s fault, Lily reasoned. She trusted him and knew he didn’t purposefully bring the attention on himself, but it was still irritating. “I know,” she said, forcing herself to smile at him. “But there really shouldn’t be food in the library.”

As she reached forward to take the plate of sandwiches away, Remus appeared at her side.

“Quite the show,” he commented, glancing at Lily. “If you want to go take those back to the Great Hall or something I can head your group.”

She felt like throwing her arms around Remus. He was giving her a way to disappear for a few minutes, which was exactly what she needed. She could feel all eyes on her, and resisted the urge to tell everyone to get back to work. She’d dealt with the situation the best she could, but that didn’t stop the embarrassment from creeping in. She never wanted to be part of such a ridiculous scene.

“Yeah... yeah. Thanks,” she mumbled, picking the plate up and ignoring Sirius’s disappointed look when he realized he wasn’t going to get any more snacks.

She started for the door, Belle right behind her, and forced the angry tears to stay back. She was just so frustrated. Violet had gone past a small annoyance to a constant bothersome pest. A mosquito. But like James said, she was careful to keep her actions too subtle to be able to really do anything about it. Not like when she’d faked the love bite from him at the start of the year. And Lily wouldn’t ask James to remove her from the position as Seeker. She knew that Violet was a big part of Gryffindor’s winning streak, and wouldn’t let her antics cost James the Quidditch Cup during his first and only year as captain.

“I wish you’d ‘ave let me slap her,” Belle said, her voice hot and angry as they started down the corridor. 

“I know. I sort of wish I would have let you, also,” Lily answered truthfully. “Why is she trying so hard to take James away from me, anyway? She must know that he isn’t the sort of person to just break up with me and go to her?”

“She’s probably trying to cause tension between ze two of you. Zinking if she can get you angry at ‘im zen maybe you’ll have a row and zat could be ‘er opportunity to try and snatch ‘im. You know what she is? A sneaky little salope, zat’s what.”

Lily laughed at Belle’s matter-of-fact tone, and she was certain that the blonde was right about Violet’s game. But it still baffled Lily. Didn’t Violet realize that there were more important things than trying to steal someone’s boyfriend out from under their nose?

“Wait, ‘old on,” Belle said, grabbing Lily and pulling her towards the wall. She was about to ask what was going on, but before she could, she saw Violet standing at the end of the corridor, half visible as she leaned against the wall.

“Be quiet,” Belle instructed as she stayed toward the shadows and crept closer. Lily was going to tell her that they couldn’t listen in on Violet’s conversation, that it would be rude. But somehow the words never found their way from her lips and into the air. Instead, she allowed herself to be pulled behind a large statue of a wizard riding Hippogriff, just close enough to make out Violet’s words. She struggled to keep the plate of sandwiches balanced, not wanting to imagine the embarrassment she’d feel if the platter dropped and they were caught spying on the sixth years.

“I think you should just give up,” came a voice that Lily was sure belonged to the third sixth year that had been in the library.

“He really cares about her, Violet. The whole school knows he’s in love with her.” That was Mary’s voice, Lily was certain of it.

“I don’t care,” came a snotty reply. “I waited all fifth year for him to notice me, and he never did. And now that he’s leaving for good in a few months, I won’t let the chance slip away again. In the fall I’m going to return to Hogwarts as a seventh year and girlfriend of James Potter.”

Lily rolled her eyes, more than a little sickened by the girl.

“No, Violet,” Mary countered, “you’re not. You’re just going to keep making an idiot out of yourself. James knows you like him and he hasn’t done anything about it. He’s not going to. All you’re going to do is piss him off enough that he’ll throw you off the team.”

“Yeah right. Find another Seeker with only three months left of the season? Fat chance. You’ll see. By the end of the year he’ll realize Lily Evans is just a boring prude and that he’d have way more fun with me.”

Lily felt Belle tense beside her and glanced over, fire brewing in French girl’s eyes. She placed a hand on the slender arm to warm Belle to stay put.

“Or he’ll have you committed,” Mary mumbled, clearly annoyed.

“Not after I give him his birthday present. It’s next week, you know,” Violet giggled, following her words. A birthday present? Lily felt herself grow more and more irritated by the second, wanting nothing more than to let Belle loose on the girl. But that would do no good, so she instead kept her firm grip.

“No, I didn’t know,” Mary answered, “because I don’t stalk him. This is getting ridiculous. Leave him alone, Violet. He has Lily. They’re happy. He’s not going to dump the Head Girl who he’s fancied for nearly seven years for a sixth year that keeps throwing herself at him.”

“Oh yes he will, and you want to know why?” Violet’s voice was slick, nearly giddy as she spoke. “Because she’s a prude that doesn’t put out. Remember when I went to the Owlery to mail my mum’s letter the other night? Well, guess who was already in there?”

“James Potter and Sirius Black. And I may have accidentally overheard their conversation. James said something about mailing his and Lily’s responses back to his mum, and Sirius joked asking if that’s why they’d been late to dinner. Because they were ‘writing letters.’ Then James talked about how Sirius knows they don’t do that kind of stuff in the Heads’ Quarters because Lily the Prude doesn’t think it’s right.”

“He did not say that,” the third girl said in disbelief.

“Oh no, ça pute,” Belle hissed, and Lily could feel her body vibrating inches away, wanting so much to unleash the temper brewing inside.

“She’s not worth it,” Lily whispered, drilling into the blue eyes with hers. “Stay calm. I want to hear the rest.” Though Lily said the words, she didn’t know how true they were. Still, she strained to hear the conversation happening just a foot away.

“Well, he didn’t say it in those words. But then he went on about maybe it being the right time after they’re graduated and can have more privacy. So they’ve never even done it.”

“Who cares?” Mary said, clearly getting angry now, though Lily didn’t think it was anything compared to her own. “Not everyone has sex with all their boyfriends, Violet.”

“Well I’m fairly certain James cares. His birthday is on a Monday, so I can’t give it to him then. But our last class before Easter Holiday is Thursday and we have Quidditch practice that night and we don’t have to be up early the next morning so I bet it will be a longer one. I’m going to pretend to hurt my ankle during practice, but not bad enough to go to the Hospital Wing. Then I’ll just sit out and watch the rest of practice. After it’s over, I’ll tell James I’m worried about walking on it but that I have to go get something from the greenhouse that I forgot. He’ll walk me there, arms around me to help support me of course, and that’s when I’ll make my move and give him his present. He’ll forget all about that stupid redhead after that.”

Lily felt the breath in her throat catch, threatening to choke her. She heard the girls mumble something to Violet as they walked away, but she couldn’t get herself to move. She wanted to go after the girl, tell her she’d heard everything, to do something.

“Lily,” Belle said gently, squeezing her hand. “What she said, it doesn’t matter. You know James doesn’t care zat you ‘aven’t been together zat way. ‘E stopped it from ‘appening, remember? Because ‘e wants it to be right, to be special. If ‘e zought the way Violet is saying, ‘e wouldn’t have stopped you.”

Lily nodded, trying to get the image of James and Violet wrapped around one another from her mind. She knew what Belle was saying was true. And if James was the kind of guy to care so much about that, then Violet could take him for all Lily cared. But he wasn’t.

“We’ll tell James and zen I’ll kill her,” Belle started, a cold growl in her voice. But Lily started shaking her head.

“No, we can’t. She’s right about replacing a Seeker. I can’t make him do that, and I know he’ll throw her off if he knows what she said. I’ll just...” Lily paused, not knowing what she’d do. Why couldn’t Alice was there, too? She wanting both of her best friends to help talk her through this. “I’ll just ignore it,” she said after a few seconds.

“No you most certainly will not! Zat girl is not going to get away with zis!” Belle seethed.

“Belle, please.” Lily couldn’t handle calming the blonde down right then, she could barely keep herself calm.

There was really the only thing she could do. Violet’s plan was mean, conniving, and showed what a brat thing the girl was. But it wouldn’t work and it was nothing she could go after the girl for. Curse her out of anger because Lily had been listening in on someone else’s conversation? Sure, that was the responsible thing to do, Lily thought sarcastically.

Belle must’ve picked up on how fragile upset Lily was, because she didn’t make another attempt to go after the girl. They made their way back to the library, the image of Violet and James continuing to force itself into Lily’s mind.

She wouldn’t let it eat at her. There were bigger things to worry about, more important matters at hand. James was hers, and no snotty girl was going to change that.

Thank you as always to my awesome beta reader, CambAngst! I can't believe there are less than ten chapters left! Either seven or eight, most likely. Then book two!

*salope - probably French for 'bitch'
*ça pute- probably French for 'that whore.'

Google translator was my assistance on both these colorful words, so I apologize to any of you that can speak French if this is incorrect.

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