It was a few weeks later that Lily, Mary and Marlene finally found the time to have a girls' luncheon at Florean Fortescue's ice cream parlor.
It had been a very boring few weeks.
Lily had passed her exam with flying colors. Severus had hardly been surprised, but he made no secret of his contention. The conversation from Hogsmeade, his clear disapproval for her choice to be an auror, lingered unspoken as his eyes raked over her score. And then… well.
There just wasn't a lot to do.
She'd spent her first few days at the office studying for the exam. When that was done, she'd looked around and seen nothing else that needed doing. After trying and failing to look busy with a book, she'd stooped to scavenging Riddle's desk for paperwork.
There had been two criminals that had fallen to the London department, coefficients of 110 and 140 respectively, and they had been dealt with so quickly that she felt like a glorified taxi service for Riddle. He brought them in so fast that they hadn't even had time to realize what was happening. Lily had little to do with any of it, her part was to apparate Riddle to where he needed to be, and then back again.
Both of the criminals had been apprehended smoothly, textbook cases come to life.
It wasn't that she had expected, or even wanted, her life to be an action movie, but there was just something that felt missing, as if she was still in the trial period and her real career was about to start any moment.
«Hello, dirt at Lily,» Marlene said.
Lily blinked. «Sorry,» she muttered.
Marlene winked conspiratorially at Mary. «I use references from those Muggle things she likes to get through to her.»
Lily frowned in confusion. «Actually, I'm not sure what you meant by dirt… did you mean «earth to Lily»? Because that's-»
«Earth to Lily?» Mary frowned. «What, you mean… pay attention or we shovel dirt at you makes sense, but what's earth supposed to do?»
«No, no, that's not- nevermind,» Lily cut herself off, remembering the time she'd tried to explain «curiosity killed the cat» to Marlene, and gotten derailed explaining that no one was killing any cats out of curiosity to a horrified Marlene.
«Mary here was telling us about her date,» Marlene grinned, while Mary buried her head in her hands and groaned loudly. Marlene giggled.
«I take it he wasn't nice,» Lily commented.
«He was dreadful!» Mary complained, before launching into a very detailed retelling of how her date had bored her to death while Marlene howled with laughter.
Lily stirred her melting ice cream, her thoughts creeping up on her again.
She'd never been that close to Mary Pine when they were at Hogwarts, but she was a close friend of Marlene's, so Lily found herself included.
It was like that with all of Marlene's friends. She was one of those warm, wonderful people who made friends easily, and connected her friends together as well. Lily would have said she was lucky to have befriended a person like Marlene, but Marlene was so damn likable that Lily would have had a hard time not gravitating towards her.
For all that Lily felt she was a perfectly agreeable person and got along very well with most people, she didn't easily make close friends. She could easily find people to eat lunch with and make conversation with, but when it came to growing close to somebody, she found in most cases that although she wanted to, it was like she'd reached the top of a staircase, and she couldn't for the life of her figure out how to get further up. Her relationships plateaued at «let's get coffee, but not intimate». Severus, Marlene, and Petunia were her only real exceptions to that rule. Among those three, she didn't get along with Petunia anymore, and Severus… things were becoming difficult in a way she never thought they could with Severus.
That left Marlene.
And even Marlene - she was lovely to talk to, an ideal roommate, and Lily could confide in her. They could talk about anything. Even so, Lily just knew that they could have been closer, that their friendship was strong, but not remarkably so.
They were close friends, but they weren't sisters.
Lily supposed it didn't make much of a difference.
Still, she laughed at Mary's story, and wished she had more to contribute to the conversation.
«I still can't believe Potter became an auror,» Mary sighed, reigniting Lily's interest. «I thought for sure he was going to be a Quidditch player!»
Marlene rolled her eyes. «He wishes. He's not that good.»
Lily, who had never really gotten enough into Quidditch to know what constituted a good player, raised a brow. «Didn't you make that «Potter for President» banner back when-»
«No! No! Shush, Lily, don't ever mention that!» Marlene said in a panic, while Mary giggled at her. «I was doing it for Gryffindor! I made those for everyone,» Marlene insisted, convincing nobody.
«I seem to recall Potter Pants-» Lily tried again, but was cut off by Marlene practically launching out of her chair to stop her.
«Don't you dare!» she half-screamed, making heads turn in the parlor, while Lily lost herself to giggles.
«I had forgotten those! Merlin's pants, Marlene,» Mary laughed.
«Potter's pants,» Lily corrected, and snickered at the dark look on Marlene's face.
It was a quiet day at work the next day, though Riddle was in a good mood from finally being through all of his paperwork from the Weasley case. «Now I get to stare at a wall,» he said.
Lily had already finished all her own paperwork from the last two cases, so she busied herself with reading up on localized ward theory.
The others in the room didn't have much to do either. Skeeter was repairing one of her little devices, while Severus had his nose in a book, just like Lily. Black and Lockhart weren't even trying to look useful. Black was doodling directly on her desk while Lockhart appeared to be in a smiling competition against his portraits.
Riddle actually was staring at the wall, his eyes moving languidly as he traced a color pattern visible only to him and ALBUS.
Lunch came and went as plates of food appeared on their desks. Lockhart joined Skeeter at her desk, and Lily tried not to overthink it when Severus ate at his own desk instead of coming over to hers.
She supposed she hadn't come over to his either.
Somehow, even though weeks had gone by, they hadn't had lunch together a single time since that first chaotic day when they went to Hogsmeade, and it was turning into a barrier, like their own Berlin Wall.
When the loud, piercing horn of the alarm sounded a few hours later, Lily almost jumped out of her seat.
«Criminal detected. Coefficient 123 in Schnell's Café, Knockturn Alley 49c. Criminal registered as Evan Rosier. Detected by Aina Perkins.» intoned the monotone rendition of Albus Dumbledore's voice.
Lily had crossed over to Riddle's desk before the announcement was over, and held out her hand to him.
«We'll take the café,» she offered to Severus, who nodded his assent. He'd be in the main street, then.
Lily and Riddle hadn't talked much since that first day before they went to see Arthur Weasley, but each time the alarm had gone off in the past weeks they'd paired up. Perhaps it was like being assigned seats. Just as the seat you chose in Charms class on your first day was your seat forever, pairing up with Riddle on her first day had made him her default enforcer.
Or, less mysteriously, Severus and Riddle meshed so badly that another auror, any other auror, would be a better option. Even if it meant Severus not saying a word as Lily worked with the man he'd made out to be a chained beast.
Or maybe he was hoping Riddle would send Lily running out of the auror office screaming.
Lily didn't mind the arrangement. Her other options were Black or Lockhart, and while she admittedly had yet to exchange a word with Black, she didn't think either of the two would make for particularly good partners. There was also Skeeter, but Skeeter's seemed to alternate partnering with her devices, or else Lockhart.
Not that Riddle was the Harry to her Gonzales, but he was easy to work with. And he was just so damn interesting. Beyond the eye-catching coefficient (and she hoped he never ever used his gift to see that she thought of his coefficient as eye-catching), Riddle was a remarkably intelligent and talented wizard, and seeing him in action was nothing short of remarkable. She quite liked his sense of humor as well.
She wondered if Tom Riddle was what charisma looked like, or if there was something else about him entirely.
Riddle shrugged into his overcoat, and stepped out of his chair towards her, holding his arm out at an angle. Lily threaded her hand under his elbow, and with a twist of her heel they were pulled out of the room, and into the vortex.
They landed just outside of Borgin and Burke's, a delightful antique store where Lily couldn't afford a damn thing. It was closed already, the windows tinted to oblique black and the sign displayed «CLOSED» in large, handwritten letters. As she watched, Mr. Burke himself came hurrying out along with a customer, both clearly in the process of evacuating.
She looked around for a moment, still holding on to Riddle's arm, eyes flickering between the people around her, unsure of which direction the café was in.
She'd always liked Knockturn Alley. It was a snug cobblestone alley with brick walls and unpainted wooden doors. It had some of that ineffable medieval romance of the tourist attraction villages in France she'd been to with her parents as a child, only with that certain quirky feeling (or maybe psychedelic rustic was a better word for it) particular to what happens when British wizards are asked to design things.
Unfortunately, it was also a disorienting quarter, the main path taking bizarre turns and forking unpredictably, only to join up again with another fork a few yards down, and the existence of owls made house numbers superfluous. In all her years of being in the wizarding world she hadn't come close to visiting every hole in the wall shop and café it had to offer, and it was mostly because she couldn't find a damn thing in there.
Beside her, Riddle was scanning the dissipating crowd as well. «Rosier is Black's cousin. I've seen him in her mind, I'll know him when I see him. Medium height, blond, anemic.»
Well, that made things easier.
«Café's that way,» he smirked and inclined his head , having noticed her uncertainty.
She smiled in thanks, and they made their way down the street. Lily's uniform created a wide berth as people stepped out of her way, glancing at her skittishly as if simply by standing in her path their coefficients would turn on them. It was discomforting, and something she doubted she was ever going to get used to as part of being an auror.
Beside her, Riddle scanned every face they walked past. She wondered if he was only looking for Rosier, or if he was flickering through the minds of anyone who looked him in the eye, to see if they had seen Rosier. She'd have to ask him sometime.
She'd also have to ask him how he knew his way so well in Knockturn Alley. His step was surer than hers, he walked with the certainty of someone who obviously knows where he's going. She knew enforcers weren't ever allowed outside except for on missions, so when had he had the chance to become so well acquainted?
«Here,» he mumbled.
A hole in the wall, so narrow she'd nearly missed it, bore a sign arcing over its door saying «Schnell's Café». The S in «Schnell» was in the form of an emerald snake that hissed at Lily as she approached. Riddle glared at it.
«Old enchantment,» he muttered, and her eyebrows went up when she realized what he meant.
It used to be, before Dumbledore created ALBUS and reformed the wizarding world, that a lot of emphasis was placed upon the magical heritage of witches and wizards. A witch like Lily, born from Muggles and stranger to the wizarding world, would have had a much harder time than those considered pure.
That had been one of the main reasons the wizarding world even agreed to Albus Dumbledore's wild proposal. «Criminal» was a euphemism for «Muggle-born» to the pureblood lords of the Wizengamot, and the more Muggle-born-friendly lords couldn't oppose Dumbledore's idea without implicitly admitting that Muggle-borns are disproportionately criminals.
This way, only the good Muggle-borns get to stay, was the unofficial tagline that not even the Muggle-borns themselves could find convincing arguments against.
Well, ALBUS was created, and while poverty and unemployment did give Muggle-borns disproportionately high coefficients, witches and wizards of every blood type were thrown into Azkaban. For a time there was utter chaos as people rebelled, or tried to. In the end, however, the criminals were the minority, and the non-criminal majority enjoyed the thought of a world without criminals (and slightly fewer Muggle-borns) too much to remove the system.
And so here Lily was standing in Knockturn Alley today, a Muggle-born auror of ALBUS, in a world where the once overwhelming prejudice against Muggle-borns now remained only in the form of enchanted old signs.
She turned to look at Riddle. He was as Muggle-born as she was, yet the sign had directed its hissing at her alone. She frowned.
Riddle used his fairy-light homenum revelio and confirmed that there was only one person inside. With one nod towards Lily, he led the way inside.
She wondered if that was protocol, that enforcers make themselves canaries whenever a coal mine appeared, or if he always made it a point to walk in first.
She stepped in after him, careful not to hit her head on the low door frame.
The inside of Schnell's Café was much nicer than the exterior would suggest, as was the case with most of Knockturn Alley's enterprises. Enchantment charms had made the table area spacious, and the ceiling was high above their heads, supported by beams. Oil lamps floated gracefully around the room, suspended by levitation charms and lighting the room up in a soft, flickering glow.
In the middle of the room was a young man, maybe five years older than Lily. He was blond, as thin as Severus though shorter, and pallid, with thin, bloodless lips that seemed to have been formed solely to smirk. He was seated at his table enjoying his drink. He smiled when he saw Lily enter, and inclined his drink at her.
«Peccatamostra,» Lily said quietly, her voice the only sound in the room.
125 shone above his head in yellow.
He slapped the table and laughed, so unexpectedly that Lily jumped. Next to her, Riddle went tense as a coiled feather. «Merlin, that's disappointing,» Rosier chuckled, as if his bowling ball had veered out of the lane. «I wanted to go out with 123!»
Next to her, Riddle rolled his eyes at Rosier. Wandlessly, he made cords appear around Rosier's wrists, tying them together. Both hands went limp, Riddle's spell seeming to have immobilized them. Rosier frowned at his hands for half a second, then shrugged.
«You guys should be nicer, you know. Be good for PR. Smile more, you know?» He winked at Lily.
Lily shot a look at Riddle, who was looking profoundly unimpressed. Imperio? she mouthed. He shook his head back at her, then shrugged. So it wasn't an imperio, but Riddle didn't know much more than that.
Lily had never been good at telling when a person was under the Imperius, at least not until they did something outrageous. She wasn't surprised Riddle would be good at it, given his skill with minds. She wondered if he would be willing to give her a few pointers, or if it was too closely tied to his legilimency.
«We'll take that under consideration,» Riddle said coolly, not caring to humor Rosier at all.
«Thought your whole thing was you never consider anything, you just do whatever dear Al tells you to,» Rosier replied with the superiority of a young man who thinks his words are devastating. «But hey,» he continued, «I'm glad to be proven wrong.»
Riddle just shook his head at the man and turned to Lily. «Permission to…» he gestured towards his eyes and raised his brows at her.
Lily smiled. «Granted.» Rosier's behavior warranted an extra check to see if he was under some kind of influence, and if there was need for more investigation she would rather know sooner than later.
«Be gentle,» she added when Riddle looked a little too anticipatory to sift through Rosier's mind.
«I'm always gentle,» he replied, sounding oddly offended, as if Lily had questioned his driving skills. Well, wizards didn't drive, but if they could…
That actually caught Rosier's attention. «Excuse me, what?»
Riddle grabbed the chair opposite Rosier's, and sat in it with his legs crossed at the knee, as if they were gentlemen having tea at their club. «Your coefficient exceeds one hundred. That gives ALBUS' auror department an effective warrant, and we may extract information from your mind. Given your behavior…» he trailed off.
Rosier looked a bit less pleased now. «Some guardians of society you are.»
«Quite,» Riddle quipped back, and the grin that spread across his face was sharklike. «Now look into my eyes.»
Rosier tried to move his face away, but Riddle was working some magic on him, so he couldn't budge. Riddle leaned forward, and Lily watched as his eyes got that unfocused look of legilimency, his body tense as a spring.
After a minute or two, Riddle returned to himself. His body relaxed, and he blinked rapidly, as if something had been caught in his eye. He looked up at Lily. «No worries, he's just nuts.»
«Hey!» Rosier said.
Lily slumped in relief. She hadn't realized how worried she'd been that this would somehow become another Arthur Weasley. She flashed a wide smile at Riddle, who smiled back at her. Rosier frowned as he looked between them.
«You could have done with a lot less partying, young man,» Riddle said to Rosier, wagging a finger. «There's been a lot of pureblood parties on this one,» he added to Lily.
From what Lily had gathered, pureblood parties used to be formal, extravagant affairs, the wizarding world's flamboyant answer to cocktail parties. Now, however, it was code for the cool kids partying without the constraints of Hogwarts' many rules and restrictions, trying exciting drugs and acting very much like the wizarding world's coked up answer to frat parties. Blood status didn't have much to do with it anymore. The extravagance remained, however, and so the name had stuck.
Lily had always thought it was a bit of a miracle that those parties didn't ruin people's coefficients, and figured she was just being prudish, that these parties probably weren't all that when it came down to it. Besides, a person doesn't become a criminal because they like to go out.
She wondered, now, if Rosier was the one unlucky kid who got hooked on the substance, and all the other attendees were fine, or if he was symptomatic, that everyone had their coefficients raised at these parties, and Rosier just went a bit harder than the others.
Lily touched Riddle's shoulder, and caught his eye. «Well then, let's hope abstinence proves beneficial to his health.» She sent a concerned look towards Rosier. She really did hope that. He was far too young to have his life thrown out the window over wizarding cocaine.
Rosier was staring at her, a small crease between his brows.
Lily exchanged another glance with Riddle. Moving as one, she moved to the man's side and grabbed one of his arms while Riddle came up to grab the other.
As she spun on her heel back into the vortex and to the auror headquarters, it occurred to Lily that the young man reminded her of something, but she couldn't for the life of her remember what.
A/N: So I went on a slight break before this chapter to work on another fic, which I bet nobody noticed because I take forever anyway. Cheers to those of you still hanging in there!
Thanks be to the glorious Muffin, hope you all enjoyed.