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Across the Divide

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Title: Across The Divide
Author: idea_of_sarcasm
Pairing: Marcus/Katie, with side Angelina/Fred and Oliver/Alicia
Summary: As Voldemort gains power, Katie and Marcus start to learn there is more to life than Quidditch.
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Mild violence, and profanity
Author's notes: Originally written for the smutty_claus 2008 livejournal exchange for kereia.

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"Falcons don't sign females," Marcus remarked mildly, standing with arms crossed and watching the tryouts from the slightly limited vantage point on the ground beside the head coach.

Frederick Gainsdale didn't so much as spare a glance for his star chaser and captain. He barked out orders to the assistant running the drills, instructing him to start a complicated passing drill to test the arms of the chasers. The chasers were the ones on the pitch right then, and the ones Marcus knew the focus was on. As the tryouts had narrowed the field of twelve individuals to a smaller number with each practice, it also had become apparent that the focus was on a certain female who unfortunately was conducting herself fantastically during the drills and each scrimmage the recruits were forced into against the main team. Watching as the quaffles started to hurtle through the air, the coach responded absent-mindedly, "Falcons don't go on a five game losing streak either, and I'd rather have a bird on my team than have that recur."

Marcus fought against defending that as it was beneath him. But still, there were a multitude of excuses -- the flu that had hit their starting seeker, the unnoticed foul on their keeper during the last game, the supreme luck in that poncy seeker for the Cannons actually seeing the snitch for once, let alone catching it. The long and the short of it was that they were losing however, and he found that as intolerable as the coach. You didn't make excuses, you solved the problem. He agreed that there needed to be a shakeup in the lineup, and most of their reserves weren't up to the task -- but not her, if they could help it.

If he was going to have to put up with a former Gryffindor twit, couldn't it at least be Johnson? She might be a bitch, but at least that translated to fierceness on the pitch. Katie Bell might be good, but there were a multitude of factors that made him wish they weren't going to make her an offer to join his fucking team.

It wasn't like he could list to Frederick the more personal reasons. She was an annoying little bint for one -- a sarcastic mouth and a complete lack of breeding despite her annoyingly pureblood family. She couldn't hold a civil conversation, which was a lesson he'd learned in the attempt once at the behest of his mother before they'd even managed to nearly come to blows a few times at school. What it came down to was that he couldn't stand her, never had been able to, and it was annoying enough to have to socialize with her very peripherally occasionally, he didn't want to have to make it into an every day thing. It wasn't like he honestly thought she would benefit the team. Oh, there were upsides to her -- it wasn't like he could doubt her tenacity, after all she was annoyingly stubborn in all other respects as well. And despite how flimsy she looked, like she'd blow away in the stiffest breeze or fold with a bludger to the shoulder, she'd proved time and again over the preceding weeks that it wasn't the case.

It was her drawbacks though that he had to appeal to Frederick with, for there was a multitude of them as he saw it. "Her upper body strength isn't on par with Hercutic and Reynolds," Marcus pointed out, watching two of the other men trying out for chaser. Two men who looked like Falcons -- big brutes who could take on anything.

The coach gave him a pointed look, "It's not like I haven't noticed that Flint, I didn't get hit with a conjunctivitis curse recently. It's a benefit though because she makes up for it in speed. We've always had troubles against the smaller, faster line-ups from the other teams. It's time we had a player who could help us match up a bit better. Besides, she's no worse than any of the Harpies, and even they manage cross pitch passes -- as rare as those are in games. She's not had a pass picked off because it was too weak yet, and trust me, I've been watching."

"She favours her right hand," he watched as Bell swerved to allow for a forehand throw from her preferred side. "She was released from St. Mungo's only a few months ago. Do you really think she's up to peak conditioning already?"

With a rub of his eyes, Frederick showed his frustration. "That was disclosed in her medical forms Marcus. Guess what? There's a reason I'm the coach of this fucking team. I have some idea what I'm doing. Conditioning hasn't appeared to be a problem, and even if it is, you know the regimen you yourself put the team through. Her left side is weak, but Hercutic isn't even ambidextrous; Reynolds is more evenly balanced than her, but his other weaknesses outweigh that. He flies as if he's got blinders on. I appreciate your input, it's why I invited you to tryouts, but stop trying to find fault where there is none."

There were other nitpicks about her game, but none that would definitively convince Frederick of what a monumentously bad idea bringing on Bell was. Marcus knew her left side could be brought up to snuff easily enough, as he'd seen the same medical reports to know that the injuries she had sustained had healed fully over her time in the hospital under the healers care. He knew too her left hand side had been better before, after all she'd managed to hit him off his broom effectively enough with it once or twice during school. He hated that Frederick was right in those technicalities.

"A female is going to upset the balance," he warned Frederick, "upset a few fans and contributors." Their's was a mostly male demographic.

"Who will get over it when we win the league championship," the coach snapped, finally at his breaking point, "and as for the rest, we'll get over it. If all of you all keep it your trousers, and accept she's our best chance to win rather than blathering on about her lack of a prick, it will work just fine." That might be a bit optimistic, for it wasn't like their team was made up of the most sensitive men to get on a Quidditch broom. Still, Frederick wasn't finished, "Listen, it's my fucking decision Flint. She's on the team as of tomorrow -- full team, not reserves, Craig demoted and Farris cut. Get your bloody knickers out of a twist and get used to it."

He strode away, intending to cut off practice, but called back with what could only be a sadistic look on his face, "And it's your duty to inform her."

#######################

Merlin but it felt good.

That was all Katie could keep thinking as they began shooting drills on the Falcons' keeper. She really wasn't focused on how many goals she scored, or on what impression she made on those who would decide her fate with the team, it just felt so good to be up in the air again - trying out for a proper Quidditch team, not just scrimmaging with her mates, or getting herself into shape with Oliver these last few months. She was grateful the Falcons had accepted her for the mid-season open tryouts, that they were desperate enough to take a chance on the unknown ('open' tryouts never really were that open when they were mid season), as she hadn't even had this opportunity the first time around after graduation. Of course it would be brilliant if they would sign her on, because otherwise she was going to be relegated to accepting the pity invite for tryouts Oliver had arranged for her with Puddlemere United -- or accept the offer in the bush leagues for the North American league, neither palatable options.

She had been going to attend open tryouts at the beginning of the season, but she'd been too short a time out of St. Mungo's to even consider she might be in good enough shape to have shot.

Fucking Malfoy.

When the whistle blew to signal the end of the drill, she couldn't help smirking a bit at the chaser who was currently glaring daggers at her. She might not have been focusing on the stats, but she knew he'd been slow in the drills -- there had been way too often when she'd had to wait for him to catch up for a pass. Besides, he wasn't nice enough to waste her pity on, considering he'd tried to sabotage her broom the second day of drills.

As the ground approached in her descent, Katie jumped from the broom a few feet up, landing and catching her broom in her hand as it travelled the rest of the way on its own.

"Asinine," a sneering voice behind her said.

Turning around, Katie found Marcus Flint standing with arms crossed. Ignoring him, she started to ruffle through her bag, looking for the cloth to wipe down her broom. He was the biggest detriment to trying out for this team. Well, that and the fact they were all sexist blokes who weren't likely to take her on anyway - but if she did make it she could imagine Flint making her want too kill herself or him on a daily basis. He was arrogant and crude, and just plain downright insulting. He wasn't going to be put off right then however, just walking over and leaning right into her face. "Chasers who play for Quidditch League teams don't take chances on a fucking broken ankle," he enunciated directly at her, "not if they don't want their captain to kill them."

"Good thing that I don't yet...." Katie broke off grinning, despite the glare he was sending her way. "Is that your way of telling me I made the team Flint?"

In truth she couldn't believe it. This had been a whim of last resort. If she could have named a team in the league least likely to take her it would have been the Falcons. After the inevitable cut she had been expecting, she had considered switching metaphorical "teams" just so she could offer Gwenog Jones the type of favours she courted for letting somebody onto the Harpies.

"For now," Flint seemed to grind out the words, "we are giving you a chance. Against my better fucking judgment, and I happily await Gainsdale's firing when you utterly flop, chip a nail, or get hexed or cursed again like you seem so bloody prone towards."

Trust him to be the least sympathetic person ever to events that almost killed her. "Trust me, I wouldn't choose to play with you either," she snorted.

He shot her a derisive look. "Exactly. We're taking the other teams fucking droppings here. Honest to Merlin Bell, don't fuck this up." Katie didn't think he was imparting that advice for her sake.

Inside, she was ecstatic. This was Quidditch - honest to Merlin Quidditch she was going to get to play. She wasn't going to have to take the pity offer from Oliver, and she wasn't going to be relegated to the dredges of the sporting world. This position she was getting herself. Of that there could never be any doubt because she was certainly getting the offer in spite of Marcus, not because of him.

It wasn't that they were bitter enemies, but they were far from friends. They might have shared the same familial circles, but she was too much of a Gryffindor to properly fit in, and his lack of polish -- for lack of a better term -- led to the same, not that they found any commonality in it. She had no idea what his idea of her was, but she was well aware it wasn't complimentary. They'd sparred too many times on the pitch and off during school for there to be any mistaking the antagonism. He was an arrogant and ignorant arse, and that pretty much summed up all the more specific problems she had with him in a very general way.

"Ten game contract," he said brusquely, "to start off, at the league minimum. We'll reassess after if you're worth keeping on."

The contract was an insulting one, but Katie knew she couldn't hope for any better from any team. She was essentially a scrub finally getting her chance, and it would be an uphill battle from here to prove herself worthy of signing on for the next season. It was hard not to let it prick her pride, but she had to base herself in reality. Her fantasy might be that some top tier team would pick her out of the crowd, think her the most brilliant player this side of the ocean and offer her a 100,000 galleon contract, but that was not going to happen.

"It's going to be a pleasure proving you wrong," Katie said, placing a smile on her face. "Not that it's hard to do usually of course, but you are going to be so bloody glad I showed up on the Falcon's doorstep."

"Not fucking likely," Marcus shot back, "but please, play with a chip on your shoulder, it might be your only shot."

There might have been some entertainment in standing around and verbally sparring, but Katie knew that with the new contract she had a lot to do. Besides, sometimes Marcus got her to the point where she would happily punch him in his already demented teeth that no fine arse was ever going to make up for. "This has been a pleasure," she told him mildly, reaching down for her bag, "literally. If nothing else I can glean satisfaction from the fact you must be hating this moment."

Up until that point since he had approached her on the coach's behalf, Marcus had kept his absolute disagreement with this move to himself relatively well. He might dislike the little bint, who had a fucking annoying mouth on her, and who had that Gryffindor streak a mile wide that sometimes made him want to hit a bludger around a few million times. Still, for all he disliked her, he could see the argument that she was their best chance to win, and if nothing else that was what he put first. The team, and the win.

When she leaned up to him, with that little fucking annoying smirk that she had, it was a little harder to keep that thought in mind. "But not as much as you're going to hate the moment I take the captainship away from you," she almost sang the words, giving him a wink as she gathered her stuff.

"Cold day in hell," was all he muttered, not looking at her arse as she bent down to grab her broom.

Polite goodbyes were hardly expected, but Marcus found himself surprised when she turned to head towards the stadium's exit. "Leaving so soon?" He called out, "Not that I wouldn't prefer to see your arse on the way out, but fuck, try and wait at least a week before you prove me right."

Katie turned back to him with a look that could have withered a Hufflepuff. "I've got a lot to do in a day Flint. It's not that easy to find a place to live in Sicily, and unlike you, I do have a few people rather fond of me here in England that I might want to say goodbye too, or even celebrate with."

"What the fuck are you talking about?" He rolled his eyes, "Sicily... why are you... ."

Then it dawned -- Sicilian Snitwhistles. The Falcons' farm team in the developmental league. The little idiot thought they were offering her a spot on the farm team. He would prefer to relegate her there for the rest of the season, but that was hardly the case. Hell, she had got that excited over a farm team and thought it worth celebrating? It was a sign of how fucking pathetic her life had been for the last year. Merlin knew he couldn't stand her, but she wasn't that bad a player. It was tempting to leave her disillusioned, let her piss off the coach on her first day and get on his bad side, but they had practice -- and for better or for worse she was the new goddamn chaser. Four days until the Tornadoes game to get her into the offensive and defensive rhythm, and as much as he would like to fuck around, there wasn't time.

"You're on the starting squad," the shock in her eyes wasn't quite enough satisfaction to make up for the fact he was giving her good news, "remember? The part where I am your fucking captain now?" Marcus smirked, waving his hand, "You can genuflect now or later, whatever you would prefer."

There was the pleasure though in seeing Bell speechless for once.

He let himself take pleasure in it for a moment, then snapped out, "Go talk to the fucking coach, and then get your skinny little arse out onto the field. I don't think I can make you a proper semblance of a Falcon in four days, but with three a day practices you might be able to fake it.

#######################

When Katie let herself into her flat five hours later it felt like every single muscle in her body was screaming in pain. It wasn't half as bad as it could be -- she had been training vigorously for tryouts after all -- but that didn't mean she wasn't feeling the effects. She might have thought Marcus, who ran the practices single handedly while the coach watched and assessed, was picking on her specifically but the fact of the matter was this was the life now. This wasn't Hogwarts where they were limited by pitch time and professors. This was the real world where if you wanted to win, you practiced till you couldn't stand up straight, until you knew every twitch of your teammate's body and could read their intent like it was your own.

It might hurt, but she loved it so much it was hard to explain to the 'normal' people who existed outside the sport.

What she should do was crawl into a hot bath and then put herself to bed, but instead Katie found herself grabbing a hand of the floo powder that lay near her fireplace. Five floos later, and she had plans to meet her mates at the pub. Sensible didn't come when you had news that made you this happy. After a quick shower she sent an owl to her parents as well. Flooing was rather pointless, as it was easier for them to be happy by return owl. She loved them unconditionally, but they were of a different stock. They put up with Quidditch and 'all the rest' as they put it because they loved her, not because it was them by any stretch of the imagination.

She only allowed herself a quick spell to dry her hair before she was apparating out, not wanting to be late. However when she got there, everybody was already waiting.

The Greentail Pub in wizarding London was loud and bustling -- nearly filled to capacity. It was the standard for a Saturday night though, as the pub in the heart of the city made home to young and old witches and wizards alike. They had been lucky to get a table of any kind considering the crowd, and though they'd taken the time to transfigure it to accommodate them all, the pub wasn't quite large enough and Katie noticed a few dirty looks from the tables around them as chairs banged and people crowded over. She was too elated to care however - though she offered a sheepish look over her shoulder as her chair jostled the old man at the table behind her when she sat down.

Angelina approached the table, shots of firewhiskey on the tray she carried for all seven of them. She handed them out before sliding into the last remaining empty chair beside Lee, the latter casually slinging an arm around her shoulders as he accepted his drink -- to the annoyance of Fred who shot him a dirty look before sidling up closer to Angelina as if to claim his territory.

"To good times!" Alicia offered, holding up her glass in toast.

Feeling the need to not leave it at that Oliver spoke over her, adding, "To friends!"

"To the newest and most promising chaser for the Falcons, providing us with an excuse to get together," Angelina's tone was warm, as she tilted her glass towards Katie. She felt embarrassed, but lifted her glass back to toast her friend.

It would have been easy to push aside any congratulations, be self-deprecating, but she was in too happy a place. Marcus might have the sensitivity of a bloody bludger, but the last year had been fucking miserable- and that was before she took into account the events outside of herself like the headmaster's murder. She knew she wasn't Angelina, who had garnered a million offers to play professionally despite her complete lack of interest, nor was she Oliver who had taken obsession to a whole new level -- but still, all she had ever wanted to do was play Quidditch. Despite that though, nobody wanted to take a chance on somebody who had not only been passed over for captain despite being the only seventh year on the school team -- but one who had been laid up for months besides. It had taken her months to properly recover too -- she could still remember the lingering pain that had come with every twitch of her finger, and with every thought at the beginning.

If Malfoy was there, she would kill him on the spot.

"Hear, hear," the twins offered their toasts in tandem, before shooting back the alcohol.

Laughing, Katie followed suit, downing the liquid in one large gulp as she tilted her head back. It burned on the way down, but she didn't flinch, used to drinking competitions with the boys after games. Or, more importantly, the girls back at Hogwarts who were surprisingly much more adept at holding their liquor.

Oliver shot down his, then remarked in an annoyed tone, "Oi, I don't remember a party being held when I got named captain for Puddlemere."

"Ah, but that's because your appointment was commonplace, mate," Fred said with a grin, waving the barmaid over for another round. Noting the table and the crowd she had pestering her for drinks around the bar, she gave a heavy sigh and simply levitated a bottle of Ogden's finest over to them.

"Expected even," George nodded, "you're going to have to do something bloody brilliant to get us to take notice of your arrogant arse."

Undignified as it was, Katie stuck out her tongue at them, "I'm not sure if I should be insulted or not."

"Katie, darling," Alicia rolled her eyes, "you should be used to the twins by now. Just assume there is a compliment in there somewhere. It's easier for the sanity."

George gave a mock bow as he grabbed the firewhiskey bottle from mid air and began to pour. A passing patron did a double take at his missing ear as she walked by, and Katie's narrowed as the other woman looked appalled and relatively repulsed before moving past. People were quick to judge when they hadn't risked their own neck by doing more than just getting up in the morning.

"I'm hurt," Oliver said with an affected sigh, slinging an arm around the back of her chair as he leaned back in his.

She smiled as she turned to face him, bracing her elbow on the table to support her head. "Your ego can take it Wood. That's why we didn't throw a party -- we didn't want your head to swell anymore than it already is. As it is, it's a miracle the disproportionate weight doesn't effect your flying more." Ducking, she laughed as he tried to cuff her. Instead, he managed to succeed in ruffling her hair, and her eyes narrowed in annoyance.

His tone was easy though, as he took a slower sip of his fresh glass of firewhiskey. "I'll take solace in the fact I made you what you are today, Bell. If I hadn't made you one of the rare young'uns to make the Hogwarts team, you'd still be a knobby kneed girl quaking in her trainers at the very idea of talking to those upperclassmen, let alone flying viciously against them. And, if I hadn't trained you like there was no tomorrow, you'd still have the arm strength barely forceful enough to hold up a broom let alone whip a quaffle around. Possibly still giggling over boys in the locker room with these two here. I taught you everything you know."

Katie swatted his hand aside in irritation, resisting the juvenile urge to stick her tongue out at him, and her much more adult urge to hex him till his manly bits fell off. There would be permanent teeth marks from biting her tongue, she was sure of it. There was no malice in it when it came to Oliver, but it grated all the same.

A snort escaped from Alicia as she tossed a few of the peanuts from the bowl in the middle of the table at Oliver. "Conceited much? I made Katie what she is today. You're just jealous she could fly circles around your slow arse -- there's a reason they made you keeper you know. She would still be a shy timid little mouse if I hadn't befriended her, and got her out of those awful conservative outfits she used to wear." She rolled her eyes as Angelina looked pointedly at Katie's outfit, a plain long-sleeved loose jumper over jeans. "Fine, she regressed after she left my sphere of influence. But at least I got her to the point she could talk trash with those boys, even if she resisted the urge to do anything with them."

"And," Angelina added loftily, resting her head on Lee's shoulder, "she would have never made it this far if I hadn't taught her the ins and outs of being a chaser, how to strategize properly, and taken her under my wing. Talent is one thing, intelligence about the game is another."

Katie held out her hands in surrender, rolling her eyes as she went through the list, "Is there anyone who doesn't want to lay claim to being the cause of my success?"

She watched as Lee pretended to ponder, before adding, "I think I held your broom once while you tied your shoe. Or, perhaps my Quidditch announcements inspired you somehow." He let out an exaggerated grimace as Ang elbowed him.

"We made your nose bleed with one of our products," Fred offered helpfully, tossing a few peanuts on his mouth -- even as he affected nonchalance at the sight of Angelina and Lee's casual and mostly meaningless intimacy.

George snickered, casting a glance at him, "I'm not sure how that helped Forge."

"Good point," his brother conceded. "Well, our superior beater skills kept her safe enough then that some of those pesky Slytherins couldn't seriously hurt her before she went onto better and brilliant things."

She shook her finger at them, "You just forgot to keep me safe from your own brother."

They laughed then, George adding, "Well, Ronniekins is a law onto himself. I'm not sure Merlin himself could stop that boy from causing damage when he gets too nervous."

"Come on," Lee said as the twins snickered, "We're entirely too sober for a joyous occasion like this."

"Pff," Fred said, waving his hand, "we are the epitome of frivolity." He pretended like he had just got the meaning of his friend's statement, and emphasized, "Ooooh! You mean the alcohol is not flowing freely enough." He gestured to the only half empty bottle in the middle of the table, "Not enough for you old man? We did choose the hardest liquor in the house, though perhaps we are drinking in moderation."

Katie laughed, "Moderation or not, I'm going to get a pint. If there's one thing that gives me a headache in the morning, it's firewhiskey. A hangover is not worth the blissful mindlessness and the burn on the way down. It doesn't even taste good enough to make it worthwhile!"

With a wave of her hand, Alicia dismissed her statement, "If there's a time to get properly pissed, this is it Kates. Soon you'll be full into training and have no time to spend with us mere mortals, let alone the ability to drink in excess due to having to be on your game all the bloody time. Let loose, relax, I swear I won't let you try and apparate yourself home drunk like you did on your birthday." Laughing, she added, "Though you did look quite attractive without your left ear there for awhile."

George cast a glance over at Fred, pondering, before finally saying, "No, I think he still looks more like me. Nice try at imitation though Miss Bell. I know I'm worthy of emulation.... "

Whatever anybody had been going to say was cut off by the seemingly sudden appearance of Marcus Flint at their table. "Her captain with the Falcons just might mind her getting pissed," he said roughly, glaring daggers at her.

Angelina, bless her heart, stepped in when Katie had little retort, looking pointedly at his hand. "I'm sure that's water in your glass Flint."

"Next time you mistake me for a hundred pound weakling who's about to play her first game of real Quidditch," Marcus shot back, "consider getting your fucking eyesight checked."

For her part, Katie had no idea what he was doing at the pub. This was in essence 'their' hangout and she had never seen him around before. It didn't help that he had a point, but the game was a few days away still, and she wasn't going to drink an amount that would be a hindrance regarding her playing in any way. Still, the firewhiskey had mellowed her insides enough that it was even easier than it usually was to grin up at him. "Don't tell me you actually found people willing to be seen with you in public," she quipped, ignoring any attempt he made at trying to make her feel guilty.

He ignored that lame attempt at an insult, "If you drag at practice tomorrow I will personally kick your arse all the way to Tutshill."

"I won't," she said evenly, "and if you keep trying to dictate my bloody personal life I will personally take my broomstick and shove it so far up your arse you'll have something in common with Oliver here."

It was hard to account for, but she could actually see a glint of amusement in his eyes, even as Ollie gave an insulted, "Oi!" "A joke Bell," he said, crossing his arms, "insulting one of your own precious Gryffindors no less."

"I'm impressed enough that you understood it," she shot back, "how many times was it you repeated fifth year again?"

Marcus smirked a little, "Now, no need to get so fucking petty. It was those gorgeous tits of Professor Burbidge. Honestly, who could pass muggle studies with those hanging right in your face?"

There were a few honestly amused titters behind her, which almost annoyed Katie. Her friends were not supposed to find Marcus funny.

"Fortunately," his gaze drifted down to her chest, "I won't have that problem on the pitch."

Finally, there was a comment that drew some irate looks and comments from the people at the table with her. That in itself amused Katie in a way, because they were concerned with defending the size of her chest. All that seemed to have registered was that Marcus had insulted her, not exactly what he had said.

"To my everlasting relief," she said sweetly, "as I would rather shag a bloody sloth."

"And I'd even rather shag Johnson here," which drew some more clenched fists from the multitude of men at the table interested in her friend, "so on par I suppose."

Katie's eyes narrowed. "Fuck Flint, don't you have something better to do? Shoo, vamoose, go pay homage to he-who-shall-not-be-named, or whatever you do in your spare time when you aren't stalking the only females who will talk to you -- even if they do it out of necessity."

Something in that comment took away any level of tolerant amusement he had been harbouring. It wasn't that she knew his face well, but she could see it shut down entirely before he bared his rather large teeth. "I meant what I said Bell, don't you dare fuck this up." Before she could come up with any scathing retort, he had turned and faded into the crowd. Only careful looking located him rejoining a table that held Adrian Pucey on the other side of the room.

"I'm almost glad you got taken on by the Falcons," Alicia remarked offhand, and as the whole table looked at her in surprise she shook her head, "No really, I mean it."

"You like me taken down a peg or two?" Katie looked at her in disbelief.

Her friend shook her head again. "No Katie, I mean I know Flint is the biggest arse on the face of the planet but you're... you're you with him. Darling, I love you dearly, but when was the last time you stuck up for yourself like that? That you gave anybody, let alone a member of the opposite sex, what for?"

The truth hurt to hear. In many respects she was at ease enough with her friends that she could tease and joke, but she was more often than not protected by them and among them rather than offering up for herself. It had never been an issue when she was younger, but she'd been forced to confront that truth about herself once already. Her self-confidence wasn't there, nor was her ability to essentially stand up and be counted. McGonagall hadn't exactly said as much when she had tried to delicately explain to Katie that Harry had been named captain over her, but she had implied it. Leanne had never been able to figure out why Katie had been pale and drawn for the rest of the week after hearing that. It was never that she begrudged being passed over, but she begrudged what it meant for her. She was stubborn to a fault, but that was different. She had always been content to follow somebody else -- the only reason she had gotten up the gumption for Dumbledore's Army had been Angelina and Alicia's urging.

She might have implied to Marcus she wanted his captain's spot, but she was realistic enough to know that she would likely never get it.

With that arrogant bastard she was a slightly different person, but it was just a fleeting thing -- and insults weren't real life. Nor were they the kind of strength she really wanted to be able to draw on. Forcing a smile, she looked at Alicia. "You're right I suppose. Bloody hell, but I never thought I would hear Marcus Flint referred to as a good influence."

It was obvious Alicia had caught the hurt look on Katie's face and was rushing to rectify the situation, so Katie went ahead and spoke, rushing right over her.

"I think we were talking alcohol," she said quickly, getting to her feet, "next round is on me, considering I've dragged you all out with work and the like the next day."

Grabbing a tray full of pints from the harried barmaid, Katie made her way back to the table, after taking the time to steady herself. Nobody liked to be confronted with the non-ideal part of themselves, but this wasn't some unheard of truth. When she slid back into the table, the mood had turned more somber.

"Did you hear about this?" Angelina asked quietly, shoving the Daily Prophet they had acquired somewhere towards Katie.

Having forsaken the paper delivery to her flat, Katie peered over the lettering on the second page, before looking up in surprise, unable to believe exactly what she had read.

Muggleborn register.

"You've got to be kidding me," she said, astonished.

George shook his head, "No this is going ahead. You've got to prove you've got a close wizarding relative, otherwise they think you've stolen your magic."

Fred chimed in, "We were in the meeting with the... .you knows who's last night, and this isn't a joke. We told you what happened at the wedding, we're not in charge anymore."

A glance at the paper had Angelina shaking her head too. "I know. There's a new head of the Department as of this morning. The new policies... .and this is just the beginning." She was in her second year of auror training, and directly privy to a good number of things at the Ministry most of them weren't.

It was so fantastical to think about. Katie was safe, nearly all of them were safe -- pureblooded as the driven snow -- but that shouldn't matter. This shouldn't be in existence, and there should be no threat. Still, she had taken the history classes, she knew what had happened before -- and that with the right people out of power it very well could again. Unconsciously and consciously their eyes all drifted to Alicia, the only one of them very decidedly muggle-born.

She shrugged, trying to affect nonchalance, "I'm to report there tomorrow after I'm off work at the Three Broomsticks."

Angelina slid her hand over to her friends, grabbing it firmly. "You can't Alicia. This isn't....you can't."

The swallow was almost audible. "What else can I do? I don't have any surprise wizarding relatives."

"You hide," Oliver said firmly, "you get the hell out of England, and you hide."

Alicia shook her head, "I'm not running. This is never going to fly you know, they will be brought down eventually and...."

This time it was George who cut her off. "Love, we're hoping Harry Potter pulls off a fucking miracle like the rest of the Or... you knows, but who knows what is going to go on in the meantime."

Lee gave her a crooked smile, "You mean too much to us. Think about it Alicia, please."

Any element of celebration was sucked out of the evening, but Katie could hardly complain. For all she hadn't known about it, it was much more important than anything Quidditch related. It was an issue for the whole community, she couldn't ignore that, but more importantly right now it was an issue for Alicia.

"Or you could hide here," Katie said quietly, "with a pureblooded member of society above reproach. They can track you outside England's borders just as well if they get it in their head it's worthwhile. They won't think to look for you in such a way here."

All the eyes at the table slid towards her. Angelina was the one who spoke first, hesitantly. "That's not such a bad plan actually. They're going to assume everybody who's flaunting the register will run."

"They would think of her hiding with one of us," Oliver interjected, "society here in London is pretty bloody small, and we're not an inconspicuous crowd -- especially with the Weasley connections. They're going to know who her friends are. Besides, you lot were all there for Umbridge -- Dumbledore's Army is a matter of record. We might be pureblooded, but we are hardly 'above reproach for them'. If nothing else because we're Gryffindors."

"My family has a cottage," Katie said carefully, "just outside of Portsmouth. It's private, it's exclusive, and my father is so carefully integrated with the bank that he is above reproach. My family... outside of my parents, they were and are all for he-who-shall-not-be-named. And in spirit, my parents are lumped with them. They're not bad people -- they're not, but their objection is because of me and how I feel -- not because they believe strongly in the cause.

Her family wasn't a topic she brought up often with the group. Oh, they had all met her parents at one point or another, but they sometimes didn't understand what her family was. They were mostly pureblooded, this group around her, but it wasn't the same. Lee was an orphan who spent most of his time at the school, the Weasleys were considered the biggest blood traitors around -- and Oliver's family was in Scotland. They were mostly out of harms way since things were different there, and when they weren't, they would fight to the death for the less fortunate and down trodden. They were that sort of group. Hers was the epitome of pureblooded. They were rich, and they were horrible. Her extended relatives would donate their life savings to Voldemort, and had been appalled when she had grown up to be a Quidditch-obsessed Gryffindor female. Her parents weren't like that, not really -- they knew and liked Alicia, but they weren't like her either. It wasn't personal for them. They were the type of family nobody would think to challenge.

"You are still a part of your family," Lee pointed out sensibly, "you DA joining, mudblood loving, blood traitor you."

It was a valid point. Katie pondered, then gave a not entirely happy smile. "Not if I have a falling out with them. A public one."

Something like that should have been simple, but it wasn't easy to contemplate. She loved her parents. They might not be perfect, but they were hers. Still, it was an easy enough temporary solution. It would work for them to have a public argument, one in which she declared she would have nothing to do with them. She would be under suspicion, but they wouldn't be. Their properties would be safe for Alicia to stay in, and they could protect her where she couldn't. Katie was under no illusions. This would be her essentially guilting them into it, but they would do it. They would hide her friend for her.

Angelina contemplated it for a moment carefully. She was the auror in training amongst the crowd, and the one most likely to analyze it from every angle. Still, slowly she nodded, looking first at Katie and then at Alicia, "That could work. You wouldn't have to be on the run Alicia, with people hunting you down. You could be relatively safe."

"But I would be putting other people in danger," Alicia said quietly.

Katie shook her head. "Which you can't think about."

"It's your parents Katie. Not that I would relish putting any of you in any danger, but that is different too from what you're suggesting."

It was hard not to smack her upside the head. In the end, not even Angelina knew exactly what the Muggleborn register was going to mean for wizarding society, but it was rather obvious it would not be something good. Alicia should be thinking about protecting her own safety at any cost, because there was no way it would end well. "If you want honesty," Katie tried not to get upset, "I don't like putting my parents in harms way. In this case though, it is them or you, and this is the safest route. If you are discovered, this can be glossed over for them. I can claim I imperio'd them, confunded them, whatever it takes to get them acquitted of any blame. Still, it's not going to happen, because this can and will work."

"I can't...." Alicia began.

Katie was more stubborn, "You can and you will if I have to petrify you and take you there myself."

The words were almost foreign to her, taking the initiative like this. The situation was different here though -- this was Alicia, one of her very best mates. The girl who had taken her under her wing with a laugh when Katie had managed to annoy most of the Gryffindors in her own year her first week at school. This was the friend who had visited her in St. Mungo's every week without fail, even when she was unconscious and unaware, and who was a sucker for birthdays and Christmas every year. They were not going to let anything happen to her.

"It's not my family I'm risking," Oliver said quietly, "but I'll second that sentiment."

"You are always were overprotective," Alicia smiled gently. They two of them exchanged a look, and it implied a lot of things that were a foreign notion to Katie -- that there might be something more there between the two of them. "Fine then, I will go. For now at least. Otherwise I am going to find myself some illegal portkey that will get me to the States and then leave all of you out of danger."

George snorted, "Alicia, ignorant Alicia. Do you really think we will be sitting idly by while things go to hell here in England? We're going to be in danger no matter what you choose to do."

"So kindly take that notion right out of your head," Fred added.

Lee winked, "We're probably the type who would put you in more danger than you already are in, not the other way around."

"Besides," Angelina slid over to Alicia, tossing an arm around her shoulders, "do you really think that the Yanks could keep him out if things really do get that bad? They might be arrogant sods, but trust me, if things do go to hell the whole world is fucked over but good."

"Comforting," Alicia's tone was dry, but there was a hint of tears in her eyes.

Oliver's had covered one of hers, "This will be fine, but we - you are going to be careful."

As Alicia and Oliver got lost in each other again for a moment, Katie glanced around the pub. It seemed like such a bad idea, a discussion like this is a public place, but in truth it was probably the safest. Nobody was paying the slightest bit of attention to them, lost in their drinks and their companions. What did occur though was that looking across the expanse of the pub her eyes met Marcus', and he had been paying attention to them. She didn't really think he had any idea what they were talking about, but his interest was bloody annoying. Katie resisted the urge to make a crude gesture at him once he registered her notice, and turned her head back to her friends.

For his part, Marcus hadn't exactly been fixating on their table, but his interest had been caught momentarily.

Coming to the pub hadn't been to follow Bell, no matter what she might intimate. Not that he was exactly enjoying his night out with motherfucking Adrian Pucey. Still the prat had owled around after work and practically begged for an audience over pints. He wouldn't consider this pansy a friend by any stretch of the imagination, and he had a fairly creative one, but he was an acquaintance whom Marcus had known since they were on kiddy brooms, and he did owe him. Even if Adrian overreacted to pretty much everything under the sun and worried more than a fucking bird.

"It's the right decision," Adrian was saying dubiously, "I mean... it has to be, this time. It wouldn't do to turn them down and have it blow up in my face."

This time though, the problem he had wasn't entirely without merit. It had been strongly suggested by his parents that Adrian might consider taking the Dark Mark, his mother currently the Malfoy's accountant who had got entangled in the whole affair. Not that this wanker was made out for the Death Eaters except in that he did have the mindset to be a good little minion and was constantly desperate for approval. Fucking pansy though, in that he couldn't stomach anything that constituted real violence, and he didn't believe in any of this shite. He was happiest left alone with his potions lab, and his parents were fucking fools if they thought he would be a credit to their family name.

"Fuck Adrian," Marcus said, "I'm not your bloody conscience. It might be too much to suggest that you could be a man for once in your miserable little life and stand up to them. Take the mark, don't, whatever you want."

"I'm not a complete weakling who... ."

Marcus cut Adrian off, "Yes, you are."

Adrian raised his glass of beer in a mocking toast, "Thanks. Big fucking help you are. But hand to Merlin, I don't know what the right thing to do is."

"Are you looking for me to preach morality?" Marcus snorted.

"You? Hell no. Fuck Marcus, I didn't know what I thought, but I thought you might understand, just a little. Terence took the Mark a month ago, but he was always in with that crowd -- and Daphne wouldn't understand. She's always sympathized with those Gryffindor types, and basically told her parents to fuck off when they suggested she might become more sympathetic to the cause. Merlin help Hogwarts this year since it's required she attend. I know you're not one of those bleeding hearts, but you're not... ."

It was the crux of the matter. There were a lot of things Marcus wasn't and not a lot that he was.

"Listen," he finished the last of his pint, "I'm no fucking help here. Do whatever you want. Just keep in mind that Daphne will cut you off if you piss her off."

Adrian raised his eyebrows, "The most important decision of my life based on the fact my girlfriend will deny me sex?"

"What else have you got to go on?" Marcus shrugged, "Listen Adrian, this is your decision. If you're looking out for number one, keep in mind those fucking Gryffindor types always win." He titled his head towards the table of them, "Bell's on my team now, isn't she? If that doesn't beat all. You have to think though in the end, he will be defeated. I know that would have been fucking sacrilege to mutter in the common room back at school, but you know it's going to happen."

His smile was rueful, "At least if they win they won't spell me to a fucking tree and crucio to me until I go insane."

Marcus tipped his mug as he set it down, "A valid point."

It was obvious Adrian wasn't getting what he wanted from the exchange when he glared at Marcus in frustration. What he really had been looking for was somebody to tell him that he should take the mark. That their side would prevail, and that justified going after a few muggleborns and muggles, all in the name of protecting himself and his family. "Listen," Marcus said more seriously, "for once in your fucking life Adrian, make your own decision." Tossing some galleons down on the table, he strode out of the pub.

It wasn't that he was the bleeding heart type, but he stayed outside this fucking stuff. It would pass by in spite of him, no matter what direction it went in. He didn't believe in either side enough to truly give a damn enough to risk his neck. All he wanted to do was play Quidditch, and be left the fuck alone.

On his way out, a figure bumped into him coming out of the loo, and he stumbled back at the impact.

Bell, again.

"Going home?" She said, smiling that annoying little smile, "Alone I'm assuming. Pucey must have decided his arse was a little too sore to accompany you home for the evening."

Merlin she was a pain in his fucking arse. There was no denying she was a mildly attractive thing, but Merlin help a man who got involved with her. "God, fuck off Bell. Do you ever just shut up?"

Her grin was wide this time. "Lovely comeback Flint, just lovely. Your wit astounds me."

This time he didn't resist the rude gesture as he left the pub entirely.

#######################

"Katherine," her father greeted her warmly, sliding an arm around her shoulders as he welcomed her into the house.

At just over fifty, William Bell's hair was starting to show the shades of grey, and the wrinkles had settled into his face. Still, as she gave him a quick hug back, the smell of him was still the same as it had been throughout her childhood. The scent of his after-shave potion had always settled into his clothes, and smelling it now more than ever she realized he was still the man of her childhood -- who had settled her into his lap and let her sit there while he read reports, or had sometimes read aloud something a little more at her level.

They might not have been an overly affectionate family, and their life here had been uptight, but in moments like that she had no doubt that he loved her.

"Dad," she said in greeting before pulling away, "I was hoping you and Mum would be at home."

"You come around so rarely when I got your owl I made a point of it," he said. "I'm assuming this isn't a random visit, nor just an excuse to celebrate your new Quidditch position."

"Which your father and I are very proud of," Cleona's voice, her mother, drifted to her ears as Katie turned towards the door, "in case he didn't make that clear."

That was a partial truth, but it helped to hear it all the same. They were proud of her in their way, and Katie was grateful enough for it. They made the effort whenever it came to Quidditch, and she knew they would be there for the big games, even if they didn't really understand the sport or like it -- and she knew they would stick up for her even when Great-Aunt Lucinda, or whatever uptight relative of the moment was doing it, started to harp on her completely inappropriate career that was far below the worth of a Bell.

"Thanks," Katie said briefly, smiling warmly at her mum, "but he's right, this isn't exactly social."

She could tell their minds automatically jumped to the worst case scenario, but they didn't voice their concerns. She had to wonder what it was, out of curiousity, what they thought the worst would be. Somehow she thought it differed slightly from hers.

"What's going on?" Cleona asked, motioning towards the dining room -- her sliding into the chairs on one side with William beside her, Katie on the other side.

Pulling out the copy of the Daily Prophet she had brought along, Katie didn't beat around the bush. "You two saw this?"

Glancing at the paper, William nodded, "Of course. It was the only thing on everybody's lips at work today."

Katie was trying to choose her words carefully, not quite sure how to bring it up. "What," she began hesitantly, "exactly are your feelings on the matter?"

It was a horrendously vague question, and she knew she was going about it a bit wrong, but this wasn't an easy topic to discuss. They had always tried to avoid the deeper topics between them, because they never exactly saw eye to eye. Her parents exchanged a glance, and it was her mother who spoke first. "You know we're not like that," her mother said quietly, "we don't believe in that Ministry line. At the same time though, we're practical. Nothing will be gained by opposing the registry. If you...we're not going to dictate what you do, but we're not planning active opposition. Right now, it is just that."

"It won't be just that," Katie murmured, "you know it."

William shook his head, "No, you're right, it probably won't be." Still, despite the admission, he didn't offer anything more beyond the statement.

Leaning forward, her mother spoke next, "I don't know what you're looking for Katie, and what you are planning, but perhaps you should just spell it out."

Her fingers began to tap on the table, a nervous habit she could never break. Oliver always joked it was her tell sign in poker as well. "I'm not planning anything, I'm not a part of anything -- not...yet. I'm not here to suggest Dad starts burning the Daily Prophet in public, or badmouthing him. I want you guys to be safe." Within reason. "But I...Alicia, my very very good friend. She is muggleborn. No wizarding relatives whatsoever to speak of." Leaning forward, Katie spoke quietly, feeling as if somebody were listening in despite the house containing only house elves in addition to the three of them. "I've got her up at the cottage. Heavily spelled, my friend... anyways, a good friend of mine helped strengthen the wards and the protection spells around it. She refused to run, and this will keep her safe."

She gave her parents a crooked smile, "I've got to keep her safe."

Not a lot of surprise registered on their faces, "I understand." Her mother said simply. "We won't go up there."

There was so much relief that there was no opposition, for a moment it felt like it had hit her in the chest. Not that she had believed they would try and turn her in, but that she would have to convince them of the validity and it being worth the risk - remind them how important Alicia was to her. Katie shook her head, "No, I want you to. They'll check abandoned properties, and you two... people won't suspect you two. If it seems like you have the cottage under control nobody will worry about it."

"You are still our daughter," William reminded her gently, "I don't begrudge that you are more... principled, but you do realize there is always going to be shadow of a doubt because people realize that. She is a very good friend of yours besides. If anybody had any intent of really seeking her out, that is not hard to find out."

Katie took a deep breath. "That is why we're going to have to... fight in public. Pretend we are at odds over all of this."

"Melodramatic," her mother commented.

"And not going to happen," her father said firmly. "We might not be like those Weasleys, but like I said, you are our daughter -- and we are proud of everything you do. We won't disavow you."

"It makes sense! I know it is worthy of the sickle-novels, a public fight like that, but if everybody believes we're estranged over this they are certainly not going to think that you're hiding my friend for me."

Her mother arched her eyebrows, "And in the attempt we get to look like staunch supporters of he-who-shall-not-be-named."

"In the attempt you get to be safe," Katie said firmly. "You two and Alicia both. If she is ever discovered, it is easy enough for me to claim I imperio'd the two of you into helping me."

"Bloody hell." The epithet from her father was startling. It would take probably one hand to count the times she had heard anything objectionable cross his lips in the entire time she'd been cognizant of him. "I know I don't see this the way you do Katherine -- that I don't take complete offense to it all, but there is no way I will ever let my own daughter fall on her own wand, metaphorically or otherwise, to save me. What do you take me for?"

"It wasn't meant as an insult," Katie was startled.

Cleona smiled gently, "But it was all the same. We will help you Katherine, and gladly, because Alicia is your friend and we like her and would never desire to see her hurt. Just... please darling, be careful about rocking the boat. This isn't school anymore, this is real life, and there are consequences. Imagine how worried you are for your friend, and then multiply it by an indescribable factor to know how much we worry about you when you get these notions into your head."

As Katie smiled in relief, she couldn't help but wish that things were different. It would have been much preferable if they simply got it -- that they weren't doing this just for her and because Alicia was a close friend. Still, she wasn't all that different. What claim to actual activism did she have? She had faded out of the DA once it had been exposed, and even now she had no real plans to go protesting on the street. Oh, she wanted to do something, but she wasn't capable of much.

"Thank you," she said, pushing aside her own personal thoughts, and meaning it with all her heart.

#######################

In the first days following the muggleborn registry, things had been relatively calm.

Despite people who suggested the contrary, Marcus wasn't completely fucking stupid, he knew things had changed and were changing on levels that weren't quite apparent yet. Still, there was no rioting on the streets or mass executions like some seemed to be scared of. In the world of Quidditch, things were the same as they had been the days before. There had been an owl from Adrian informing Marcus he had decided against taking the Mark -- of course it was a decision that might be changed within a few hours judging by the number of scratched out words on the parchment.

Bell fit well enough into the team. It was a surprise, but a welcome one as much as it grated. He might think she was annoying as all hell, but he liked winning Quidditch games even more. Her conditioning needed some work, and he was going to drill her on the use of her left hand until she couldn't move it anymore, but all in all she should be positioned to have them properly wallop the Tornadoes when they arrived for the game.

They were all set to portkey to Tutshill when Frederick came into the locker room, cocking his head towards Marcus and motioning for him to follow.

Out in the hallway, Frederick handed him a crumpled up piece of parchment, saying nothing and allowing Marcus just to read.

Decree on the British and Irish League
As of this day, no muggle-born player shall be allowed to play or coach for any team governed under the rules of the British and Irish League of Quidditch. Any player or team official caught breaking this rule will be placed into the custody of aurors, and any team harbouring one of these individuals will lose their accreditation and be banned from the league for no less than two consecutive seasons. Investigations will be instigated on a case-by-case basis for individuals suspected of subverting this, or any other Ministry regulations, intentionally.

No muggleborn player will be eligible for consideration in the forthcoming national team selection. The same will hold true for any team officials.

If there are any questions, please send them the way of Harmony Jones, the newly appointed director of the Department of Magical Games and Sports. The Ministry appreciates your cooperation in this matter.

Marcus read the parchment unbelievingly. "Bloody fucking hell."

"I know," Frederick nodded. "We've got to have any of... them out before we head to Tutshill. It's all our arses if the Ministry catches us with any muggleborns as part of the team -- and besides the fact the owners won't stand for that, I am not letting us get suspended from the League."

Already the names of the players were running through his mind that he knew for sure. Hilton Garwin, their seeker, had not a single wizarding relative in his family tree. A fact he was quite proud of, considering he had been the first muggleborn seeker for the Falcons. Christopher Granite, their second beater -- Marcus was fairly sure he qualified as well. The other chaser was a halfblood, but able to prove it easily. The reserves -- fuck, for all he knew they were all mudbloods, not that he relished calling any of them up to play for the main team.

"We're so bloody fucked," he muttered, crumpling up the parchment and tossing it aside over his shoulder, "the season, it's done."

There was anger at the department. He knew if that disgrace to Slytherin Daphne was standing here she would tell him it was for the wrong reasons. That this was why Slytherin always had a bad name -- people like him who were unwilling to think beyond themselves, beyond their selfish desires. He wasn't going to deny she was wrong, but in school he had hardly cared what Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs thought about him and their house. They were the ones who got what they wanted. Things weren't that much different now.

The lecture had obviously been given to him before.

He should have realized somebody coming out of the locker room behind him had picked up the parchment he'd tossed. He also should have been more surprised to hear the entirely self-righteous voice of Katie Bell behind him than he was. "We're fucked?" She emphasized his point in disbelief, "what the bloody hell do you mean? You've just found out that they are taking muggle persecution to a whole new level and all you can think about is fucking Quidditch? What's next -- they're not going to be allowed into the pubs, or certain shops? They're going to be arrested? How can you not give a care for any of them?"

"This is a fucking Quidditch team Bell," Marcus ground out. "This is my priority. Like it should be for you."

Her anger seemed to grow, "You wanker. Absolute no good bloody wanker. You hear this and all you think about is the rest of your season. I knew you were an arse but...."

"Keep your bloody voices down," Frederick hissed, "Merlin Bell, I don't care if you want to champion the cause, but you are not doing it here - that is not going to be linked with this team. We can't afford it."

Katie had come out of the locker room to see what the delay was in taking the portkey for the game. For all the stress she was feeling over Alicia -- whose name had been on the ominous 'list' for not reporting -- there had been excitement for this game as well. Her first real one on a Quidditch team, and her first chance to prove herself as something genuine. Instead she had caught the parchment Marcus had tossed aside in mid-air, glancing over it and quickly ascertaining what was going on. Right now though, listening to the two of them, she felt a rage so deep she could hardly stand it. Neither of them cared. Marcus, she'd never thought much of him, but she'd never thought he could be so callous about everything that was developing.

"Fuck you both," she said, not caring she was talking to the two men who controlled her future on this team. Grabbing the parchment, she asked, "Who are they?"

Frederick looked at her in confusion, and she clarified, "Those who are off the team, who are they?"

"Hilton and Christopher for the players," Marcus said quietly, "who knows how many of the reserves. Why Bell? Did you want to go hold their hand for a bit? Let them sob on your shoulder?"

She wasn't going to answer, and turned to go in, but then faced back towards them. "I'm going to tell them," she said furiously, "that their teammates and coaches are cowards who won't stand up for them in the slightest, and who won't even consider taking a stand. And I'm going to tell them to get their arses out of here, because cutting them from the team is tantamount to giving them a bloody mark on their forehead as bigger name muggleborn targets."

"What would you have us do?" Frederick asked quietly, "Flaunting the decree solves nothing. It only gets the team out of the league, and the rest of us possibly suspended or arrested individually."

"If everybody took a stand, it would matter," she stressed.

"Nobody else will," Marcus said bluntly, "they will look out for their team, and their team's interests. They will know that Gryffindor foolishness isn't going to solve anything."

Katie looked at him with something akin to disgust. She opened her mouth to say something, but simply turned and stalked back into the change room, intending to still be the one to give the other men the news -- and suggest ways they might escape notice and leave England. That was never the ideal solution, but it was the only one she could offer right now. They were too well known to escape any kind of detection for long. If stuff like this was happening now, only worse was to follow.

As she stalked back into the locker room Marcus watched her go with an impassive face. It shouldn't have pricked at him to have her look at him like that, but somehow it had anyway. His points were valid, and he knew they were. He turned to Frederick, "How many from the coaching staff?"

#######################

Things got worse from there.

Despite wanting to visit, Katie had stayed far away from cottage, as being caught going out there would entirely defeat the purpose of their whole plan -- and became as well versed as she could in current events. From a superficial point of view, things were not so bad as of yet. Not that she thought being stripped of wands or being banned from things like Quidditch were good, but on the outside nothing had much escalated yet. The more damning stories however came from Angelina, who was on the inside. Aurors had become the puppet of a corrupt Ministry, and were being sent out on missions that Katie could barely stand to listen to. Angelina had wanted to quit and pack up, but she knew that if she did not only would she be marked as a sympathizer, she would lose any opportunity to glean any information on the inside. Katie might feel useless, unable to do anything in the face of what was occurring, but she did not envy Angelina's position in any way.

The League carried on in spite of the new decree, even if it seemed sacrilegious.

For her part, Katie felt bad enough. Both because she was playing in the most discriminatory Quidditch league imaginable, and because she was doing nothing in strict protest. It was futile though to consider it, especially for her as the lone person on the Falcons who even seemed to care. There was futility in it anyway, as much as she hated to admit that Marcus had had a point. Oliver and the starting line for Puddlemere had presented a united front, playing their game against the Cannons with three muggleborns in the lineup. All it had gained them was three arrests, an immediate ban on the team, and Oliver and his coach being placed under Ministry investigation for collusion.

The evening she was having right then was not helping matters either. Currently Katie was sipping slowly at a glass of champagne in the only fine dress she had bought in the last ten years, and surveying the pandering crowd in front of her. Normally she eschewed influential pureblooded affairs entirely, but tonight was the exception. It was hardly so devious as to try and gain access to any people in Voldemort's good graces, it was so she could have one monstrous and fake fight with her parents to catapult her out of this circle and leave them in it.

"Shouldn't you be burning something in protest of this evening?" Marcus slid up beside her, asking the question in a snide tone under his voice.

Katie ignored him. She had become very good at not talking to him during the time they had to spend together, satisfying herself with nods and Quidditch play much to his frustration. Somehow, she had expected a little bit better from Marcus, though why, she had no idea. He was an arse -- a violent arse, who looked out for himself. There still was a 'but' to the equation though. She had never heard the word 'mudblood' actually leave his lips, and he had never seemed to give a flying fuck about the ideals shared by most of those around him. None of that translated to anything positive exactly, but she had thought....

She had thought, and she had been wrong.

Surprisingly enough, so few people seemed happy over the course of the evening. Lucius Malfoy had slid in with his wife, causing her to employ all her self-control not to reach for her wand. They might not be Draco, but they were indicative of the problem. If there had been gloating on their features she might have stopped restraining her impulses, but they simply looked pale and drawn, though still with the affected air of being far superior to everybody in the room. There were others who did have the look of glee and self confidence, but those who were looking more uncomfortable than anything seemed to outweigh those few.

For a moment, she felt the need to let it out. "Shouldn't you be having the time of your life?" Katie shot back, "After all, last I remember your father was one of those under the Death Eater hood, wasn't he?

That was all she really knew about Marcus' parents. His mother she saw flitting around from time to time. Erathea Flint was an insubstantial creature, though graceful and beautiful. Every time she saw her, Katie thought Marcus must have inherited the majority of his attributes from his father. Though perhaps their rather limited brain cells might have been a shared trait.

"He was," Marcus said mildly, but didn't offer up anything more than that.

Katie set her glass of champagne down on the bar, waving the man over for another. "Shouldn't you be following in the family footsteps soon then? Your forearm looks so bloody bare."

As her glass was refilled, Marcus shot her a look, "Bell, don't go on about things you know nothing about."

However now that she was started, Katie was on a roll. "Hell Marcus, you are the quintessential Slytherin. You probably mentored Draco bloody Malfoy. They'd welcome you with wide arms. You'd probably enjoy it, wouldn't you - you'd have a legitimate excuse to beat up on people, not the contrived ones of a bloody sport. You could pick on the downtrodden and those less fortunate than yourself and be convinced you have the right of it, just by an accident of blood." Her voice had risen towards the end, gaining them some curious glances, but Marcus cut her off before she could say anything else -- an actual look of worry in his eyes.

"Bloody hell," he cursed, grabbing her arm, "are you trying to get yourself in more fucking trouble than you know how to deal with?"

It was a bit surprising that he cared in the slightest, but Katie was more focused on the oddly amused snort that escaped. In the end, that was the essentially the point of the evening, to out herself as somebody who was on the opposite side and distance that part of things from her parents. "Yes," she said simply, grabbing her newly filled glass and raising it in toast to him.

"Fuck," Marcus cursed, looking down at her, "you really are a bloody little idiot aren't you?"

"I like to call it... principled," Katie shot back.

"Completely nutters sounds more accurate."

What he wasn't saying was that he found her point of view entirely without merit. His only reason for condemnation seemed her well-being. Katie wasn't deluded enough to think that it meant he cared in any way, nor would she take it well if he did. Her attention was distracted from Marcus however, and pulled towards the view of her parents, laughing in what only she recognized as a forced manner and heading towards an unoccupied side room -- where she was to slip in to meet them. Not bothering to say goodbye to Marcus, she took her glass with her, heading after them.

Marcus watched Katie go with no small amount of confusion. The little bint was completely insane. His caring came only for the sake of the team, but she hardly seemed concerned with her own welfare. Blood traitor didn't exactly seem like it was going to be welcome position in society either, and she was courting that in a room of people who were nearly entirely of a different opinion.

He tugged at the tie of his dress robes, wondering the thousandth time why the fuck he'd come. The owl from his mother could have been answered the next day, no matter how urgent she made his attendance seem. He hated these affairs with a passion, but at the same time he was bored enough to consider attendance.

"Marcus," the soft and flowing voice of his mother came from beside him, and he looked to find the older woman standing there.

"Mother," he acknowledged her with a nod.

Motioning for her own drink from the bartender, she rested a hand on his arm. "Honestly dear, you could have made an effort for the evening. There are some very influential people here I want you to meet. Is a dental charm too much to ask -- or some proper dress robes?"

His dress robes were perfectly fucking serviceable, but she wanted him with a bloody bow in his hair or some similar nonsense. With her, so much of it came down to looks and to perception. "Lovely to see you as well," he muttered, wishing the scotch that he was currently holding was of much larger quantities. His mother always grated on him, even in the best of times and best of circumstances.

"You know I just want what's best for you darling," she reached up, running a hand over his hair to smooth it. "And your father...."

"Could we not bring the bastard into it?" Marcus ground out.

Erathea's eyes flashed, "Your father was not...."

"He was," Marcus snorted, "even if his parents had fucking rings on their fingers."

It was obvious she wanted to comment on his language, but at least she had learned there were some battles not worth fighting. "He would understand the importance of connections," his mother stressed, "he would understand the importance of leaving a good impression. He would understand the importance of being linked to the people in power."

He couldn't stop the snort from escaping, "Dad was a fucking little minion all his life, and he died a fucking little minion. Dead because he was doing somebody else's dirty work, without even questioning. The man couldn't think for himself, and let everybody else order him around. Definitely the sort of man I want to emulate, wouldn't you say?"

"Don't talk about your father like that," Erathea's eyes filled with tears. Marcus could tell she had to restrain herself from slapping him in public. Proper people didn't do emotion in public, and she was crossing enough of a line as it was. "Don't you dare Marcus. He was a good man, and my husband. Your father."

Contrition was beyond him, but Marcus knew better than to get into this with his mother. She had a version of his father in her mind that defied reality, but helped her sleep better at night, and with some semblance of pride. There was a set little view of the world that existed in her mind, and she stuck to it at all costs. He wouldn't apologize, but he wouldn't antagonize her. Eventually her expression regained it's serene nature, and her clenched hands relaxed. She would ignore his speech, as she always ignored the unpleasant side of life. Understanding however was beyond her, why he refused to pander to others and why he refused too play these stupid little games she helped to orchestrate.

"Let me introduce you to the new head of the International Trade Regulations committee," his mother said smoothly, and Marcus shook his head, ready to refuse her.

His attention however was diverted from his mother by the scene not far from them. It was easy enough to pick Bell out of this crowd, her amazingly modest silver dress was in stark contrast to the garish colours and flimsy coverings of most of the younger females present. This time however, she wasn't alone -- she was with her parents, whose names he couldn't remember even if he wanted to. They weren't yelling, but the fact they were arguing was obvious, and their voices were carrying to people in the near vicinity.

"I'm not foolish," Katie was saying loudly, eyes flashing, "I'm not naive. Merlin, how can you say that?"

"This isn't some silly little childish quest," her father retorted, "this is real life Katherine. You can't imagine conspiracies where there are none, and label everybody a villain just because you don't like the way things are going. I know you care about your friend, but if there is any validity to the 'stealing' of magic the Ministry has a right to sort that all out."

"You two are blind, how can you even consider...."

Her mother cut her off, motioning around the room with a loud voice, "You are not going to do this here."

"What better place to do it?" Katie gave a distinctly unamused laugh, "You'll be around people who support you implicitly after all."

Her father took her arm, and though it didn't look overly rough from a distance, Marcus found a weird urge to step in. "We'll discuss this at home later," he said, trying to keep his voice low.

She wrenched her arm from his grasp, "Not bloody likely. I'll not be coming to visit anytime soon. I thought you might understand, but obviously I was wrong. Perhaps you have more in common with the rest of the Bells than I thought."

"There is no need to carry on like this just because you don't feel like you belong."

"I don't think I want to," Katie shot back. "You two have supported me in everything else, why won't you support this?"

"There is a difference between tolerating Quidditch and your... eccentricities and this," her mother said.

Somehow up until this point, there hadn't seemed to be any real emotion in the fight. No real feelings on either side. When her mother said that however, a stricken look came over Katie's face -- and some slight confusion on the other woman's that followed it. Marcus took an instinctive step forwards, not sure exactly what he planned to do. There was no real chance to do anything however, because Katie simply shook her head, saying, "I can't believe this." Without another word, she turned and strode from the room, a bevy of amused and interested glances trailing in her wake.

Marcus took a step to go, but his mother's hand rested on his arm. "You know her?" Erathea asked.

He shrugged, "Meet the most recent addition to the Falcons."

The look that slid over her face was shrewd, and showed intelligence he didn't think her capable of having. "Be careful there darling," she said, sliding her hand from his arm, "someone with opinions like that she is willing to flaunt could be big trouble."

#######################

After Bell's rather grand exit, Marcus didn't stay long.

Especially considering he hadn't really had a desire to be there in the first place.

The 'uncouth' disagreement amongst the Bells was the topic of discussion though for the evening it seemed. The fight hadn't been obnoxiously loud, but word had travelled throughout the ballroom. For all the general consensus seemed to be pity for her parents for having such a mistaken daughter, it was obvious they all felt a sense of relief that they didn't have children like that. Their's were perfectly biddable little creatures who toed the family line quite well, and their's would certainly never embarrass them like that in public. A sense of superiority was like an aphrodisiac for this group.

The 'party' of sorts had been held at one of the grand wizarding hotels in London, and he decided against apparition, wanting the walk back in the cold weather to the flat he kept in the city.

Passing by the small park off the side of the hotel, he couldn't help but notice the figure in a silver dress and black cloak huddled around her sitting on one of the small benches. Marcus hesitated, fully intending to walk right on by, but found himself heading that way for reasons that were far from practical. As he approached, he could see a slightly lost look in Bell's eyes, and he noticed the half full bottle of firewhiskey she cradled in her lap. She didn't notice him right away, and he didn't say anything at first, watching for a moment before he offered. "You certainly like to be the fucking centre of attention, don't you Bell?"

"Fuck off Marcus," her voice sounded weary, and she also sounded drunk.

Taking it almost like a challenge, he sat down on the bench beside her -- grabbing the firewhiskey and taking a large swig. He wasn't sure where she had acquired it, but he'd had enough experience nicking alcohol at pureblooded parties to know that it wasn't exactly hard. It burned on the way down, but it warmed him against the cold, so he took another large drink before handing it back to her. He half expected her to wipe the neck of the bottle carefully, but she wasn't paying attention to much as she took another large sip, staring at the scenery in front of her.

He didn't do talk about goddamn feelings, but he had an ominous feeling she was going to share with him regardless. Marcus took the bottle from her again, took a large swig, and then it became a routine between them -- passing it back and forth.

"I hate them." Katie announced suddenly.

He hadn't met a bird yet who didn't have issues with her parents, fathers especially. "Oh grow up Bell. Parents aren't perfect creatures who...."

She shook her head furiously, confusing him with her next statement, "No, I love my parents. I hate them. Those people in there. They are elitist and wrong and they just don't care. They're so bloody inbred it sickens me." She licked her lips, looking like she wanted to cry, "and my life would be ten times easier if I could just be like them. Not that I want to be but... .." Her voice trailed off, and she consoled herself with the bottle again.

Her statements really didn't seem to need an answer, so he contented himself with the firewhiskey and the night air. It was odd, but he simply couldn't picture Bell as one of those simpering females. He couldn't picture her prim and proper and more concerned with fashion than anything else. Her idealism was so fucking annoying, but yet it was simply a part of her he just accepted it. It didn't mean that he liked any of it, but it was her, and he certainly wouldn't wish that mindless and annoying change on anyone.

"They weren't supposed to say that," she was almost talking to the air more than him, "they embellished you see, but they are right. So very right. I am tolerated, I am not a part of them, I am... " her waving arms almost hit him, "alone."

The statements he didn't really understand, but he understood what she meant. "Are you looking for me to comfort you Bell? Because what the fuck."

She shot him a look, and a snort escaped, " 'course not. You just sat down and I'm madl... maud... maudlin," Katie hiccupped, "and I am drunk."

They sat there in silence for a long time, not saying much -- the bottle of firewhiskey dissipating rather quickly. It was too optimistic to call the silence companionable, but it was hardly grating either. It was rather hard to say exactly why he was still sitting there, when he had a perfectly serviceable flat to go home to, and he had no real desire to chat with her -- but yet Marcus stayed where he was, beside her, drinking in silence.

The alcohol had started to mellow his insides, but it wasn't enough to put him on par with her. Still, he stayed silent while she continued, not even seeming to really care that he was there. "I hate them," she murmured, "my family, not my parents. They are family, but they are so... ignorant you see." She smiled up at him nonsensically, "Like you, but different. They hate me too, all of them. I'm not pretty enough, I'm not stuck-up enough, and I do things like wear short skirts and play Quidditch. I got sorted into Gryffindor, an I have muddleblood friends." She slurred the last words entirely.

"But," she sounded wistful, "I kinda wish they didn't. I wish I wasn't so bloody ashamed of them. My parents too. They love me, they're not bad... but they're not like me. I'm not like them... "

"Bell, have a care," Marcus snorted, "emulating your parents is fucking overrated."

"Just want to belong, to be a part... " Katie sighed again, her fingers dancing some kind of complicated rhythm over his thigh.

It was unbidden, because he specifically didn't think about the tender emotions and shite like that, but the thought sprang into his mind that he could understand that. For all he could hate what his father became and what he decided he would never be, he could remember being with the man as a child. Wanting and needing his approval, and doing pretty much anything to try and get it. He could remember it too as he grew just old enough to understand what his father was like, knowing that he was always going to be different from the old man, and both parents couldn't respect him for it.

He didn't much care now, but the younger him had.

Uncomfortable with the memories, he turned almost vicious. "Well, you don't obviously, do you Bell. I'm pretty sure they've decided you're something to throw in sacrifice to their ambition."

She didn't seem overly perturbed by the statement. "You have no idea," she almost giggled the statement, "and I can't tell you."

Women were fucking confusing creatures, but Bell was the worst of the lot. He took the bottle from her and kept it this time, knowing she wouldn't even notice in the state that she was in. Marcus downed the rest of the bottle as fast as his stomach could handle, knowing he would regret it in the morning and not really caring. Sometimes the oblivion of alcohol was a nice respite, and right then he craved it in a way that wasn't entirely healthy. The effects weren't noticeable right away, but as the minutes passed the world grew hazy and his thoughts less clear.

"Why are you so completely awful?" She murmured, resting her head against his shoulder.

Marcus snorted. "If you think I'm bad, you've got a more sheltered life than I realized."

"I know you're not bad bad," Katie muttered, "but you're... .you're such a fucking arse. You can't be as bad as all that."

Putting two fingers under her chin, he tilted her head up towards him so she was looking him directly in the eyes. "I am," he said forcefully, having no illusions and wanting her to have none, "so stop thinking that I'm anything like those fucking idiots of Gryffindors you hang out with... "

His voice trailed off, the rest of what he was going to say lost in the moment. Katie was obviously not even listening to him, tilting her face up and smiling uselessly. "You have such pretty eyes," she said, "such pretty hair... " she reached up to stroke it. Snorting, she added, "Not so pretty teeth, but... "

When his lips covered hers, it was a surprise to them both. Marcus told himself it had just been to shut her up and cut off the stupidity she had been spewing, but his thoughts were muddled, and any sense of intent and logic was lost quickly. Her mouth was so fucking soft, and she made a humming noise at the back of her throat as he deepened the kiss instantly, tongues mingling and his mouth moving forcefully over hers. Her hands slid to his neck and pressed so hard it almost hurt, trying to bring him closer.

Marcus pressed her against the bench, one hand sliding to the base of her throat. Not choking, not causing pain, just there. Her skin was soft to the touch, and warm under his hand in contrast to the evening air around them.

"Marcus," she murmured his name against his lips, and that in itself was a revelation because the woman he normally fucked with weren't the type where they bothered to learn each other's names. It was the first time his name, his actual name had passed her lips, and he enjoyed it far more than he should. The name that was just his, and not tinted with the stain of his stupid weakling of a father. It was a fleeting impulse and filled with more sentiment then he would consciously tolerate, but the flash of satisfaction he felt at hearing it was there.

The hand that had caressed her throat slid down the front of her dress to the vee of her thighs. He didn't slide his hand underneath, simply pressed over it as she let her legs fall slightly apart to allow him better access, the silken material between him and her moist skin.

Katie let out a sharp gasp, but moved against his hand as if by instinct, and he watched as she bit her tongue against louder noises.

"Here?" He muttered, because her hand had slid to the front of his dress robe trousers, toying with the belt she found there.

Her assent was murmured against his mouth, her teeth nipping at his lips, but it was also coupled with laughing people leaving the party headed their way. Marcus knew drunk he could splinch them at any fucking moment, and she was no better. He pulled her to her feet, even as she moaned her disappointment -- and dragged her into the cover of the trees behind them. Marcus was breathing heavily by the time the people walked past, but his attention wasn't for them anymore, it was focused on the panting woman in front of him whose eyes were lidded in desire.

The alcohol might have slightly addled her judgment, but it hadn't numbed the sensations.

As Katie looked up at Marcus she could feel the bark of the tree behind her, rough against her back. She could feel the bite of the cold against her skin, and the dryness of her lips. She could feel Marcus' body hard and warm against hers, and she could feel the desire that slid through her like a drug. Everything wasn't dulled -- it was heightened, and sharpened, and it felt like she was seeing things completely clearly. Clearer than she ever had before.

But for the night, Katie didn't really want to think about she was doing. All she knew was in that moment she wanted Marcus, and she didn't want to analyze it.

It was easiest when he didn't mince words or waste time, sliding his hands up to cup her head, kissing her like he wanted to fucking devour her. Her hands rose to clench at his wrists, but there was no attempt to push him away, only to anchor him against her. This was no tentative kiss, no fumbling around. He wasn't asking permission, or giving her the opportunity to change her mind without effort. She liked it more than she should have, as the intensity was something she craved and had rarely got.

Her hips arched against his, and for all Marcus Flint was a surprisingly good kisser, it wasn't what she wanted right now, not from him.

This time her hands slid down to the belt on the trousers of his robes, undoing it quickly and sliding her hands inside. She didn't waste time on tenderness either, stroking as hard as she could with the angle. "Now," she murmured against his mouth, "hurry."

"Greedy little thing aren't you?" Marcus smirked, dragging her dress up to her hips, the cool air barely noticed against her thighs.

Katie didn't answer him with words, wrapping her legs around his hips as best she could as he ripped off her knickers in a swift tug, sliding his finger deep inside her. The bark scratched through her thin cloak as they moved, but she barely noticed it. They were a jumbled mess of clothes and cloaks as they found the rhythm, shrouding them almost, not that there could be any mistake made in any observer noticing what they were doing.

When he replaced his fingers with his cock she groaned.

This wasn't a tender lovemaking. There was no 'sliding to her depths'. The first stroke might have been hesitant, getting the angle right, as if he thought for a moment she might say no -- the rest though, they weren't. He was slamming her back against the solid tree, thrusting into her repeatedly as if his life depended on it. The fingers on his spare hand fumbled for her clit, she was too busy clinging on for dear life. She could have almost sworn she heard him mutter 'Katie', but her attention span wasn't for the grunts in her ear.

It was for the fact it felt so bloody good.

When she came, it wasn't the nice and safe and polite little climax she was used to. It was her wanting to scream in satisfaction and surprise. As she shuddered around him, Katie had to bite down on his shoulder to stifle the sound, as he slammed into her still, looking for his own release -- her legs like jelly, hitched up by his hands alone.

His release was a low groan against her skin as he pressed his face into her neck.

The stood there in the aftermath, not moving. They'd half sunk to the ground, still wrapped in each other, cloaked in the clothes they had never bothered to remove. Katie could hear people wandering through the park that lined the hotel, chatting quietly as they headed home, but her attention wasn't for them. Her attention wasn't much for anything at that moment except the sticky feeling between her thighs and the fact if she had a choice she would do it all over again.

"My flat's more comfortable," she murmured, not able to move just yet, sliding a hand limply to his hair.

Marcus' eyes slid up to hers, and for a moment she thought he was going to refuse. Instead, a smirk came to his face, "Mine's bigger."

#######################

Marcus' head was pounding as the sunlight seemed to seep through his eyelids, the alarm beside the bed waking him up despite his best intentions.

With a groan he rolled over, nude beneath the cool material of his sheets, resting his face against the pillow -- and wishing he had anything but Quidditch practice that afternoon. It took a split second, and only a split second, before his addled brain registered the events of the night before and did an odd double take. The spot on his bed where Bell had gotten so bloody comfortable was empty, the sheets in disarray, and he rolled back over to find her shimmying into her dress all over again -- knickers and bra a pipe dream as those had been destroyed in their rather pleasurable fucking the night before.

It had been pleasurable, no doubt about it, but Marcus still couldn't believe it had happened.

"Leaving so soon?" He drawled the words, leaning back on his arms as he watched her try and rehook her necklace without much success.

Katie froze in front of him, obviously not aware he was awake. It took a moment, but she was readying herself again in a split second, not looking at him too closely. "Of course," her voice was clipped, "should I stay for some post-coital pillow talk? Maybe a little bit of snuggling under the covers?"

That hadn't been his intent, but he would have been amenable to getting rid of his early morning wood in a more pleasurable way than normal. Figured Bell would be pissy about the encounter, but it had been her initiating -- and certainly her encouraging anything that happened. Fuck but he had found that insanely arousing, the way she responded to him without question. It wasn't that he was entirely comfortable with the night before, not that he was exactly sure why considering he had done slightly ill-advised one offs in the past. Still, any discomfort was easy enough to squash down.

"Please tell me you're not going to affect maidenly modesty and virtue this morning?" Marcus muttered.

"No," her voice was clipped, "I'm not going to go screaming that the big bad Slytherin forced me into anything either. It was mutual and it was... satisfactory. It was also pretty bloody stupid, so yes, I think I'm going to be heading out."

He wasn't sure why he wasn't just letting her walk out. It was what he usually wanted. If he could have his way the birds would be gone in the morning, or not even stay the night in the first place. It wasn't that he wanted those things, snuggling and whatever other rot came with sentimental fools, but still. Somehow he wasn't just sitting stoically as she left.

"If this is going to drag onto the pitch...." He began, though it reality it wasn't something he had been really worried about.

Katie cut him off brusquely as she tied her hair back into one of those ponytail things, as it had lost any semblance of style overnight, "It won't. If it does, it's your fault as much as mine, but even if I'm thinking this was rather stupid you won't have to worry I'm going to turn into one of those birds. I'm not going to latch on, jealous if you look at another woman, or blame you for defiling me -- not that I can really see any girl having that sort of use for you. Any anger I've got for you would be there whether we made... whether we fucked or not."

"Fuck Bell, you haven't done this before have you?"

He didn't expect the anger that came with his question. "Of course not," she snapped, "I'm not a cheap tramp, and I'm not like you. I like to have love, or some semblance of it before hopping into bed with somebody. I... I really don't know what came over me last night, but it happened -- and no matter how... .fine it was, it's not going to happen again."

"Wasn't asking," he shot back.

"Good," she retorted, in the most mature conversation they could possible have.

As she fiddled with her necklace again, Marcus rolled his eyes, standing up with out false modesty from the bed and striding over to her. He watched as she tried desperately not to let her eyes slide down the naked front of him, staring straight ahead at the wall instead. She conceded the jewelry to him with stiff fingers, crossing her arms as if she couldn't wait to be out of there as he slid behind her, wrapping the piece around her neck.

As he fastened it, the urge was there lean down and kiss her neck, oddly fascinated with the soft spot he saw. He wanted to tug her hair down and start all over again.

It was odd, he was no stranger to desire, but he had never felt it exactly like this before.

Fastening the clasp, he dropped his hands to his sides, taking a slow step back. "There," he muttered with a mock bow as she turned to face him, "all ready to go. Fucking forget this ever happened. Tell all your friends how sullied you feel."

Her face showed frustration, "You prat, that's not what I meant and... " Katie broke off, shaking her head, "You know what, forget it, it doesn't matter. I'll see you at practice this afternoon. If you could keep your eyes off my arse it would be much appreciated."

"Never could before," he smirked, "why should I start now?"

She didn't say much else to him, simply strode from the room, leaving him standing there naked and in desperate need of a shower.

For her part, once she had escaped the confines of Marcus' flat Katie paused outside his door, resting against the wall of the hallway. She closed her eyes, trying to focus, and trying to center herself too. Her mind was a jumble of thoughts and emotions that she had no idea what to do with, and no idea what she actually meant. It was true that she thought it ill-advised, but at the same time... .

At the same time she'd wanted it. It was true that she had never done this before -- Merlin, she'd only slept with one boy in her entire life -- and that she'd certainly never fucked against a tree in the park. Still, it wasn't like she could blame the alcohol. She'd been drunker before, and with even more palatable candidates before, and she'd never let them get beyond a bit of a snog. It hadn't felt sordid and dirty, though perhaps it should have. There was a reason she'd let him into her knickers.

Still, it didn't matter what it was she supposed. He was still Marcus bloody Flint.

She didn't think she could even actually like him.

#######################

Quidditch carried on.

And things got worse.

It was testament to that that Katie barely cared about the season, even when the Falcons picked up her option for the following year before the season was even out, and they went on a three game winning streak.

With every change that came, Katie was more convinced then ever that Alicia had needed the protection they had offered her. They'd come to search her flat just a week before, the aurors who used to protect the people before, and found nothing of course. It had never occurred to her that they might use veritaserum, but fortunately it was never something they had suggested. They had threatened her though, repeatedly, with what would happen to her if she was found hiding a 'fugitive'. Talking to the others, they had all had similar visits to their places of residence. There were attacks against muggles, muggleborns, and against sympathizers, but those were of the subversive kind.

What was the scariest was the overt -- the legal.

There were muggleborns in Azkaban for no real crime.

Angelina said that Katie was on the list of 'people to watch' at the Ministry, though very low down on it, which had come mostly from influential people knowing what had happened at the party. The rest of them were 'under watch', though with little suspicion, save of course Fred and George who were far beyond even her level of suspicion given their last name -- and Oliver who kept speaking out too vocally for his own good. Katie had asked Angelina how she herself managed to stay in their good graces, considering her friends and her associations, but the woman had gone annoyingly mute on the subject, saying only that she was doing what had to be done

If Katie was honest, when it came to her personally she felt no small amount of fear at being on anybody's radar. There was pride there though too because finally she was doing something, instead of just standing on the sidelines. She wasn't the 'young'un' of their group to be protected as she'd often been before. It wasn't much to be truthful, but it was still something.

She knew others were frustrated too. Lee, Fred and George had been hiding behind closed doors frequently, the joke shop closed more often than it was open. It reminded her of the time before they plotted their escape from Umbridge's Hogwarts. She had no doubt whatsoever they were up to something, but exactly what they hadn't chosen to share with anybody yet. Still, when she had got the owl from George suggesting they meet for 'lunch' at the Three Broomsticks Katie wasn't deluding herself that it was for social purposes. They didn't do 'social' anymore, not this year.

"So?" She asked, sliding into a table across from the twins.

Fred raised his eyebrows. "What, no greeting, no pleasantries? My sensibilities are offended."

"One would think she would be more happy to see us considering it's been a few weeks," George snorted.

She rolled her eyes. "Fine. How are you? How's the family? How's business? Lovely to see you again." After a quick pause she continued, "Good enough for you?"

Fred raised a hand to his chest, "Ooh George, I think Miss Bell here has grown a metaphorical pair. I think I just had a vision of leather and whips that will serve for a few wanks at least."

Katie made a rude gesture even as George added, "That will serve our purposes though Fred, assuming you can keep your libido under control.

It was obvious they had something on their minds and she settled down, leaning forward on the table with crossed hands. She raised her eyebrows suggestively, and George shrugged. "We have a plan."

"A good plan." His twin chimed in.

"That we can't tell you about...at least not all of it."

"Not yet anyway."

"But we need your help."

"Badly."

"Since Angelina's all...undercover."

"And Oliver has got himself in a little too much trouble after that Quidditch stint. We're pretty sure he's got a hit wizard glued to his arse all day, every day."

George grinned. "Honestly, what was the wanker thinking? That he was us?"

It was sometimes a little hard to follow their back and forth discussions, and Katie spread her hands out. "Let me get this right," she began, "you need my help for a plan you have, that you are not going to tell me all that much about. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence."

"For your protection, love," Fred said affectionately. "The less you know, the less you can be forced to tell."

"Not that we think you're going to get caught," George added hastily, "it's just that you... .could."

It was wrong that Katie actually liked the fact they were coming to her with this, with a dangerous proposition. With the blokes especially she'd never been included in their more devious schemes -- but with the group too though, she was often excluded. It was the problem with being younger, and being perceived as needing protection (and being perceived as being too young for other things they did) and she liked it more than she should to feel completely included.

It was hard not to demand to be filled in further, but all Katie did was lean back in her chair as they all made sure nobody was listening in.

"Tell me what you need me to do," she said simply.

#######################

In the end she'd managed to cajole most of the plan out of them.

The radio show the pair of them and Lee were starting, under the direction of some more influential members of that mysterious Order of the Phoenix Fred and George were always on about. It was true that it was needed. Everybody knew things were wrong, but nobody knew exactly what was going on. The media was in his pocket, and everybody else was much too scared to talk as it was. Everything was whispers and rumours which could only make matters worse. Katie was fairly sure most of what she had heard was fact rather than fanciful rumours, but at the same time her news was from insiders, most people didn't have that advantage.

"It's getting bad," George said quietly, "and everybody is working themselves into a panic."

"Killing moldy-pants it's not," Fred added, "but it's what we can do. Besides, people have to know there's still somebody out there that's trying to right matters."

She knew they were convinced in the invincibility and eventual success of Harry Potter, but Katie wasn't quite as sure -- how could she be? He was a really good wizard, even without graduating his DADA skills far outstripped hers and had the benefit of prophecy behind him, but he was just a boy. If she had her choice she'd suggest this Order do a bit of recruitment and step into the matter themselves, but it didn't really matter in the end. What was needed was a rallying symbol, and Harry could provide that -- even if technically he was nowhere to be found.

Her mission was a one time one in the whole endeavour.

"We need you for word of mouth of course," Fred said, "dropping that first password in the right person's ear. Careful though of course love, as people are pretty good at pretending they aren't soul sucking bastards."

"But what we need," George said bluntly, "is a transmitter."

She couldn't pretend to understand the mechanics of wireless as she'd never given it much thought, but as they explained she thought she rather understood. Wizarding wireless ran off a magical energy source, modified by a modulator, which produced the signal that could be picked up by radios around the country. As the boys had explained, they had got the energy source by... slightly nefarious means, but under Ministry regulations the modulators were a controlled item and they were impossible to find. What their plan was, formulated by their dad, was to use a muggle transistor thing and modify it to work with the magical energy which would give it a wider broadcast range. Having seen some of Arthur Weasley's tinkering, Katie wasn't sure it would work with him at the helm of it, but it was worth a shot.

"There's none in storage at the Ministry," Fred explained, "Dad checked. So we need somebody to venture into muggle London and...acquire one for us."

"And as explained before, we're a little on the suspicion heavy side, and Lee's got a lot on his plate getting the rest of the broadcast equipment from the storage area at Hogwarts where it's sitting idly by."

"So that's where you come in."

"Yes, we know, you're hardly considered a true pureblood in sympathies. . . . "

"But in comparison to everybody we can trust you're the least likely to arouse suspicion going through the Leaky or however you choose to get there. It's annoyingly hard to just sneak into muggle areas these days as they even have people monitoring the streets, though they manage it for their attacks well enough. We don't have enough time to brew polyjuice, and.... "

George leaned forward, "If you're uncomfortable enough we can try and transfigure our features, but.... "

Katie cut him off, "I'm not. You don't need to take unnecessary risks when I can help."

It belied the serious nature of the conversation when Fred grinned, "Not that we want you to think we're implying you're not as bad ass as the rest of us love."

"But, well, you are small fish in comparison when it comes to those-who-are-stupid," George added, then paused, turning to Fred, "I've always disliked that saying. Stupid that. Small fish and all? Makes so little sense."

Fred shrugged, "I think it's supposed to mean in a big pond."

"But the smallest fish are the most dangerous," George protested, "look at piranhas. It's not size that matters."

They both grinned at that point. "Not," Fred added, "that we have any complaints in that department either."

It was impossible not to burst out laughing. Here they were, talking about subverting the powers that be and putting their own lives at risk, and they were still joking around. "Which I will never be finding out, fortunately," she rolled her eyes at them. "But listen, I am here for whatever you need. Just...write out what you need and give it to me. I know nothing about all that muggle stuff. I need something I can show somebody."

"Aww," George ruffled her hair, "our little Katie is growing up."

Fred however for once took things a little more seriously. "This isn't drawing your wand on a Death Eater, but there's some risk in it. You get caught bringing this back and they question you about it, you claim complete ignorance." It was a little hard to explain a transistor away. The ignorance thing was harder as well, but she appreciated the sentiment, since she knew it didn't really stem from concealing their plans - it was more about concerns for her.

"I'll have it for you by Friday," was all Katie said simply with a smile.

#######################

"Marcus," the sound of his name being used surprised him, stopping him short on his current run through the park - his favoured activity when he was bored.

Stopping on a knut, he found Yaxley sitting on the bench. Not the junior Yaxley whom had been a year ahead of him at Hogwarts, but the senior one who had taken over the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Ignatious was a right bastard whom thought he controlled his entire sphere of influence, made worse by his current appointment. Marcus had already run into him a few times since.

He was fairly sure he knew what pitch was coming, considering it had already been made unsuccessfully by the son a week before.

"What the fuck do you want?" Marcus asked, trying to calm his breathing.

It was obvious the other man had some distaste for profanity, but Marcus didn't give a shit. "A moment of your time," he said, wrapping his cloak around him, "I'm assuming my son talked to you earlier."

Marcus shrugged, "I'll tell you the same thing I told him - that I'm supporting the party line. The Falcons are muggleborn free, even if it has fucked with our chances to win the championship. I don't know what the fuck else you want from me."

He did know, but he wasn't about to admit it. They were keen on complete allegiance, which he was not going to give.

"A public statement at the very least," Yaxley was saying, "we need to put a better public face on this...administration. You might not grace the covers of Witch Weekly, but you are a bona fide Quidditch star who is a shoe-in for the national team." He snickered, "Especially now. We know you have your support on the surface, we want a sign to the public you believe in us. Let me rephrase that, we are going to get it."

"You are all are fucking morons," Marcus added, "do you really think it matters the goddamn least what I support? The people who think you all are the devil incarnate are still going to think that no matter what I do."

"People are sheep Marcus. Sheep. They believe what they are told to believe, and they look to famous people to guide them. They see a successful Quidditch star in support, and it legitimizes it. Right now, all they've got to go on is that wanker Oliver Wood who I would like to toss in Azkaban myself, annoying muggle sympathizer that he is."

"I'm not...."

Yaxley said firmly, "It's not up for debate. You will do it or... ."

If there was one thing Marcus didn't take well to, it was being strong armed or threatened. Getting up in the face of Yaxley, grabbing the front of his robes tightly, he spoke intently without raising his voice. "No it's fucking not. I am not going to be your little minion. I'm toeing the line and following regulations for the sake of the Quidditch team, but I am not going to be a fucking puppet." He shoved the older man back, who appeared rather stunned. "You are not going to fucking do anything about it yet, and we both know it, so leave me the hell alone."

He didn't give the other man any further recognition, turning to stalk away without a second glance. "You will eventually," Yaxley's voice carried back to him, and Marcus barely resisted the urge to turn around and give a rude gesture.

There was no familial pressure for him to take a more firm stance when it came to his allegiances, outside of his mother's pinched disapproving looks on her floo calls that he 'wasn't taking advantage of the situation', as she put it. Why the fuck should he though? He might not be praising muggles to the high heavens, but he wasn't about to go slaughter them in their sleep either. It might not be idealistic enough for somebody like Bell, but he didn't stick his neck out there just because. On the opposite side though, he didn't join a cause like that just because he was fucking ordered too.

As he turned into Diagon Alley, heading back towards his flat, it was as if the thought of Bell had made her appear. She was heading towards the Leaky dressed in jeans and a jumper, without her robes, and completely oblivious to his presence as she seemed to be glancing over her shoulder fairly frequently.

They hadn't talked since that night, only conversing professionally at practice as required. It almost pricked his pride that she always seemed distracted, as if she wasn't giving him a second thought. To be fair she played Quidditch well enough still, but she was there on the dot and not a minute before, never stayed afterwards, and never utilized the pitch for private practice. Normally a change like that in one of his players suggested they'd gotten themselves a new bird to fuck, but he hardly thought for her it was the case of a new relationship. He also knew the signs well enough to know she wasn't getting laid.

"Bell," he called out, stopping her in her tracks. Striding over, he nodded towards the Leaky. "We've got practice this afternoon."

"And I've got an errand to run," she looked at him in disbelief, "unless you have some kind of problem with that."

"In the Leaky," he snorted in disbelief.

"Why the hell do you care Marcus?"

That was the question for the ages. He had been planning on giving her a piece of his mind about drinking in the afternoon before practice, but they both knew an assumption like that was fucking ridiculous. "Muggle errand then?" He raised his eyebrows.

"So what if it is," she hissed. "If you would just let me go I'm trying not to... " her voice broke off, and she shook her head, "Listen, bugger off, I'll see you at practice in a few hours."

He took almost a perverse pleasure in falling into step beside her as she rapped on the wall at the back of the Leaky that let them through into the pub proper, following her through. The pub was almost completely deserted, a fact which escaped neither of their attention. Normally it was a bustling site, with muggleborns primarily passing through on their way back to Diagon Alley, but now it only housed a few wizards having a drink at the bar. Tom, the bartender, looked up at their arrival. "Muggleborn witches and wizards are forbidden access to... " he said the words wearily, as if repeating them by rote at this time.

"We're pureblooded," Katie said quickly.

"Names?" He asked, waving his wand which made a long parchment consisting of thousands of names levitate up in front of him. Katie could see 'Muggleborn register and unregistered suspected offenders' printed at the top. Marcus offered both his name and hers, and once Tom was satisfied they weren't on the list they were allowed to exit into muggle London.

Katie for her part had never been to the muggle side before, despite having met Alicia in the pub for drinks a few times. It was all she could do not to stare around in bewilderment. She knew muggles were nothing much different in appearance, but their world was. It was a world of those airflanes and cars and tepevisions... .she was sure she was getting the names wrong, but she'd seen some of them before, in books and on the fancy machinery Alicia had. She might have spent more time on wonder, as she jumped back at the seemingly loud honking sound by the contraption moving quickly by on the road in front of them, but her attention was more diverted by the presence of Marcus beside her.

"A time when muggles are being killed and muggleborns arrested and everything not entirely wizarding suspicious -- and you choose to do a fucking errand in muggle London," he remarked, glancing around, obviously not used to being here any more than she was.

"I didn't ask you to come," Katie said pointedly, "in fact I strongly suggested you didn't."

Pretending he wasn't there, hoping he would leave, she strode down the street. In her pocket she had the description of the item she was looking to buy, and she could remember the name of the specialty store she was supposed to find. Katie tried not to gawk around as she went, disconcerted by the entirely foreign environment. Marcus instead of leaving, walked down the street beside her, looking around. It wasn't enough to send her into a panic, but nobody was supposed to know what she was doing, and certainly not him.

In the past week it had been hard enough to be with him sometimes without remembering that night, but it was hardly a blessing to have something like this to distract her from it.

She never thought she would have done it, gotten involved with somebody who was so... morally ambiguous. Not that they were involved involved, but they had slept together, and Merlin help her she actually wanted to again. Besides, when he wasn't being a purposeful arse, he was mildly entertaining. It wasn't the foundation for something rock solid, considering she was currently worrying he might report her actions to somebody, but there was something there.

They didn't talk much, and it took five wrong turns on confusing street signs to find the shoppe. Besides, they had almost gotten killed by those moving contraptions twice -- and the people in them seemed mad at her when they were the ones who wouldn't stop those machines. Katie glanced up at the sign, making sure they were in the right place, before turning to Marcus.

"You can't come in," she said bluntly.

He snorted, "Not that I'm fascinated by any of this shite, but why the fuck not? I'm not going to stay out here like some trained lapdog."

"You could go home," she muttered, but when he didn't show any signs of moving she added desperately, "it's...female stuff they sell in here. For, you know, feminine problems." Katie stressed the word carefully. It was the oldest trick in the book, and she abhorred it, but at the moment she was so desperate she would try anything.

Marcus just looked amused. "I might not be a muggle," he nodded towards the store, "but even I know those contraptions have nothing to do with your fucking feminine issues."

Subterfuge wasn't going to work, and Katie heard the desperate note enter her voice. "You can't," she said, placing a hand on his chest.

For a moment she thought he was going to press it further. Instead, he nodded, crossing his arms and leaning against the outer wall of the shoppe without saying anything. She could feel the relief so deep in her bones that she almost sagged with it, but turned to go in to find the equipment the twins and Lee needed.

Throughout the entire exchange the man behind the counter seemed to find her vastly amusing. It didn't help she didn't know what the hell she was talking about, not in the slightest, and she didn't know what the items were he kept trying to toss in as part of a "deal". It was almost like visiting France without the translation charm, trying to converse with the man. In the end she was relegated to pulling out the paper and jabbing her finger at it where they'd written down the specifications, trying to make him understand that that and that alone was what she was there for. Once it was bought and paid for with the funny money muggles had, she waited until the man turned his back, then waved her wand quickly to shrink the transistor and shoved it into the bottom of her purse where Marcus couldn't see. When the man turned back she thanked him, though he seemed confused as to where the item had gone, and got out of the shoppe as fast as she possibly could.

Marcus was still standing there when she exited.

He looked up at the awning, then back at her, as she tried to school her face into the picture of innocence. "This is something I don't want to know about, isn't it?" He asked, almost distastefully.

Katie hesitated, then remarked, "Probably not."

They started to walk back to the Leaky without saying a word, but after a few blocks all of a sudden Marcus was pulling her into a back alley, and her back was against the wall with him looming over her. His eyes were a little wild, but he made no move to kiss her, no move to fuck her, no move to do anything but look down at her intently. His hands were tight on her arms, like he wanted to squeeze right through them. "You fucking idealistic little fool," he muttered, more to himself than to her, "going to get yourself hurt."

Katie wasn't scared, but she was confused. In that moment she would have given anything to know his thoughts.

In that split second though, Marcus seemed to come back to himself, releasing her arms and stepping back. There was no apology though, or explanation, and he turned and strode from the filthy side alley while leaving her to follow him, still at a loss to explain anything.

#######################

"You shouldn't have come," Fred hissed, even as he ushered her in and shut the door behind her.

The first broadcast of Potterwatch they'd set up in an abandoned flat off Diagon Alley. It had belonged to a muggleborn witch who had gone to stay with relatives overseas when things had started to decline. Though it had been originally confiscated by the shell Ministry they had eventually released it to be let again after all it's contents were searched and seized. She only knew that it was happening here first because it was where they had instructed her to drop off the transistor, in a mailbox booby trapped with charms they had set up outside.

"I couldn't not," she told him, leaning up to give him a quick peck on the cheek as she let herself into the flat. "I swear I won't make this an every time thing."

Glancing around, she could tell Lee and the twins were already there - set up and ready to go. Whatever Arthur Weasley had done to the machine she had picked up Katie wasn't sure, but it was hooked up to more wizarding equipment and seemed to be at least... powered up, even if she had no idea if it was going to work properly. They didn't seem overly perturbed, though Lee kept fiddling with the dials -- probably more a nervous habit than anything. Katie was surprised, and a little intimidated, to see Professor -- Remus -- Lupin chatting with George. Nerves around the man were partially due to the fact he was a werewolf, a fear she'd never admit to as it seemed prejudicial, but more so because he'd always intimidated her a bit as a professor - nice though he had been.

Instead of inserting herself into their preparations, she settled herself into the corner, drawing her cloak around her. They'd charmed the blinds to block out all light, and the little flat seemed so isolated from the world around.

"Think anybody will be listening?" Lee said nervously.

George snorted, "Think you should be more worried that it's the right people listening."

"Big help you are, you wanker."

"Oi, just trying to lighten the mood."

"Yes, this is something that calls for comedy. People are fucking terrified... ."

"Exactly," Fred interjected, "they are. Do you really think they need another ominous voice on the wireless?"

Lee looked ready to argue, but then he hesitated before nodding and conceding the point. Katie too had to admit that the twins were right, oddly enough, even if the topic matter was serious. They didn't have to make it worse. They were trying to alleviate fears, not create them. If they could lighten the load somehow, it would be even more of a success.

"I'm sure you boys will give the situation the importance it deserves," Lupin said quietly, and more than a little ambiguously.

"How much time till air?" Katie finally interjected, looking at her watch, "Did you try out the equipment?"

George nodded. "Functions smooth -- at least it does now; Dad had a few mishaps of course. But we know at least we're broadcasting to a... .two kilometre radius. We didn't want to take the risk to try it over a longer distance so casually. As for the time," he glanced at his watch, a little fidgety himself, "about ten minutes, though I don't think there's a law saying we have to start exactly then."

It was almost exciting being there. Katie knew it was all risky, horribly risky, but it meant something if they got this program to fly. It felt like a momentous occasion, even though it was just the little group of them in an abandoned flat, who may or may not have got word out enough to make it worthwhile. It wasn't really her project, but she was thrilled to be a part of it in any way that she could. It didn't mean that she wasn't glancing towards the door every moment though, convinced that every thud on the stairs was a Death Eater or one of their puppets aware of what was going on.

With that paranoia, the knock on the door startled her. Katie couldn't deny she'd basically held her breath until the door was opened, and Angelina slipped in.

It took a moment for her to take in the sight, but her friend looked awful. Her face was pinched and drawn, with bags under her eyes worthy of an elderly witch; she looked like she hadn't slept in days, and smiled in nearly as long. It had been awhile since Katie had seen Angelina, and longer since they had truly talked. The other woman really was keeping her distance as much as possible. However right then she was there, and she didn't waste time mincing words.

"Here," she muttered, shoving a piece of paper in Fred's hand, "I hoped I would get here before you went on air." He raised questioning eyebrows and she continued, "It's the addresses of the houses that are going to be searched tomorrow." Breaking off for a moment, Angelina gave a humourless laugh, "I should add that my task squad is going to be searching tomorrow, under suspicion of... fuck, who knows at this point. Warn them -- those who can should get the hell out."

Fred took the paper, but didn't turn to do anything right away. "They'll know somebody tipped these people off," he said quietly.

"Not everybody will hear it," Angelina said calmly, "not everybody who lives in those homes will. But those who can... " she gave Fred a look, "They'll suspect, but they won't know."

"When has knowing anything mattered?" He was almost angry, "Hell Angelina you...."

She cut him off, "This is why I'm doing this Fred, why the hell I'm staying in this newly screwed up auror training program even though I'm certainly not acting like an auror with the 'assignments' we get given. If we don't use the information I have, what's the fucking point?"

"It's not worth your safety!"

"It is," Angelina said quietly, "why you are doing this, isn't it? I know you have people in higher positions of power than me, but they're privy to less of these day to day things because people know they're suspect. This is all I can offer. I can't stop what we're required to do, but...." she shrugged helplessly, "I can do what I can to get people out beforehand." Again, she pressed the paper firmly into his hand, closing his fingers around it. "Get some of those people out, and it makes the risks worth it. I don't want to watch them sent to Azkaban, or to have to watch or participate in crucioing them for information."

Fred tossed the crumpled up paper to George who caught it easily, but his attention was all for Angelina. Katie watched as a sad expression crossed his face, his hands sliding up to cup her head. She'd never associated tenderness with Fred, nor caring on this level. "Are you okay?" He murmured, brushing his thumbs against the side of Angelina's face.

With a slightly broken laugh Angelina shook her head, "Not exactly."

Neither of them said anything else, but Fred simply cradled her head in his hands, leaning his head forward to touch his forehead to hers. They never kissed, simply stood there in a half embrace, the moment more intimate than anything sexual -- Katie had to look away, as it made her feel like she was intruding on a moment of utter privacy. In that moment, it all slid away, the frustrations of the on-again off-again relationship those two had, and the jealousy of the flirtation with Lee. Gone were the months of avoidance, and the lack of time and opportunity to be together in any way shape or form. They'd reverted back to the mates who loved each other despite the superficial differences, and who tended to have eyes for nobody else.

It was petty, but despite the solemnity of what had brought the moment about, Katie was so jealous of that look of caring in Fred's eyes that she almost hurt.

George came up beside them, resting a hand on Angelina's shoulder in comfort, and they broke apart slowly, Fred's hands sliding slowly to his side.

"Two minutes to our air time," George said quietly, and Angelina stepped back and finally noticed Katie sitting in the corner -- coming over to join her there.

As she slid into the chair, Katie opened her mouth to speak, but Angelina cut her off. "I don't want to talk about it." Her voice was brusque, but it was belied by the almost desperate look she gave Katie. More that she couldn't, not if she wanted to remain sane.

Katie simply nodded, looking towards the blokes in front of them. "Bloody brilliant idea," she said simply, crossing her arms.

"Yes," Angelina agreed whole-heartedly.

Their conversation was cut off by a motion from Lupin as he cast spells around the room, muffling the sound from carrying beyond the walls. George waved his wand, starting the machinery in front of them, and Lee leaned forward into the microphone.

"Welcome to the first airing of PotterWatch, in which we tell the truth, the whole truth -- and everything you're not supposed to hear. We're coming to you from a super secret location deep in the heart of hostile territory which, let's face it, is everywhere these days. Now, why PotterWatch you ask? Why not Destroy the Death Eaters or He-who-shall-be-defeated? Good question, we've chosen this name... ."

As Lee got into his rhythm, introducing the show, Katie settled back to listen.

#######################

"This is pathetic," Marcus said in disgust. He was looking around the pitch. Normally homes to thousands of screaming fans, the Falcons stadium was far from filled to capacity. Oh, there were people there, most of their 'elite' fans, but it was hardly the crowd they'd gotten in the past.

Fuck, it was only the conference final against the Pride of Portree, one win away from the Quidditch Cup that was held every February.

Their competition wasn't any better in terms of players. The Pride's squad had been the one hardest hit by the enforced Quidditch rules, and only one member of their starting lineup remained -- most had been muggleborns, and two others had managed to offend the newly minted and complete arses of league officials and get themselves arrested. He watched the Pride warming up on the pitch, having made this playoff due to the early season record, and almost snorted, knowing they would have the game won in an hour or two flat.

Bell stood beside him, Frederick over at the scorer's table with the official line-up cards, her mouth pressed into a thin line.

"What the hell else you were you expecting?" She asked, "Things to be business like usual?"

"No," he snapped, "doesn't mean I like to have this sham of a season though."

Bell latched onto his words. "Exactly. What we should do is sit out in protest... ."

"... and we might as well throw ourselves in bloody Azkaban," Marcus snapped. "Grow up Bell. This argument is getting fucking old."

She shook her head, but didn't argue. By now her protests were just a matter of form. If they refused to play, if they refused to pretend things were normal, it would... .not go over well with league officials, and with those above them, and she knew it too. Marcus knew too any misstep was just going to piss them off, because they just kept pressuring him to become one of the very public faces of this new regime. It helped they had nothing to threaten him with. His mother was connected with every bloody official in town, Merlin help her, so she was reasonably protected -- not that he worried about her overmuch. The only thing he really loved was Quidditch, and if they took that away, they took away his usefulness towards them.

"Fuck it," he muttered under his breath, motioning for the third chaser that made up their trio to join them.

Katie raised her eyebrows questioningly, and he shrugged, "Might as well have some fun with this shite. Let's try the Lugensen offense we tried out in practice."

She snorted, "This from the captain who preaches reliability, and never using unperfected moves in a game."

"Bell, fuck off, I know what I said. I also know what this game is going to be -- their seeker's no better then the kids at Hogwarts. The whole league championship tournament will be a fucking sham." When she looked at him oddly, he somehow felt compelled to explain, but bit down on it. It grated on him, that this was becoming so meaningless. This was his job, and his life.

For a moment it seemed like she was going to say something, then stopped -- then repeated the process all over again. Annoyed, Marcus rolled his eyes at her, "If you have something to say Bell, just spit the words out."

Again, she hesitated, but said, "Is it only the Quidditch that gets you upset?"

Wasn't that a stupid and ambiguous question. "What the hell are you on about?"

"I don't know," she was frustrated, "but...doesn't the rest get you this upset? Is it just that your competition isn't as good as you want, and your team is depleted? Don't you get upset over something more serious."

"Quidditch is serious," he snapped, "and if you don't think that it is, what the hell are you doing on... ."

Bell cut him off, "I know it is, but it's not life, and even you aren't that bloody dense." She gestured widely. "Don't you get this upset when you hear about the attacks? Don't you get this upset when you see the so-called 'wandless' now on the street, or know that innocent people are suffering, or being sent to Azkaban -- some even killed? I never see you get upset about the rest of it, but yet a simple game like this makes you so mad you want to hurt somebody or break something."

He didn't know quite how to respond. What was he supposed to say? It wasn't possible to stay entirely detached. He might not know fucking sentiment from a hole in the ground, but that didn't mean he didn't want to plow his fist into somebody's face when he was faced with the most ugly side of things - like when an old teammate had come around begging Marcus to vouch for his blood purity. It didn't mean that he approved of what they were doing at Hogwarts, which Adrian was kind enough to report to him through owls from Daphne. He wasn't quite used to giving a fuck, and didn't know what to do with that, but it didn't mean that he was going to actively do anything.

It wasn't just Quidditch, but that was his easiest target.

Annoyed by his own thoughts as much as anything Marcus snapped, "What does it matter what I feel?"

"It doesn't," she retorted, frustrated, "but... ." She trailed off, her brow furrowed. "Never mind, it's stupid.

"Listen Bell, just because I don't jump into Gryffindor foolishness, doesn't mean I don't... " he broke off himself, not sure what he had been about to say.

Katie looked up at him then, different expressions warring on her face. He didn't say anything further, simply crossing his arms and turning away from her to survey the pitch again, wishing what he saw in front of him was different. As their fellow chaser finally took notice of Marcus' summons, and started to walk towards them, it seemed to prompt her into speech, offering her words quickly to get them in before he approached. "Tune into the wireless tomorrow night," she said quietly, "the station changes, so you have to keep flipping through - with the password Grimmauld."

"What the fuck are you... "

She cut him off with a hiss, shaking her head, as they were finally joined by their teammate. Marcus looked at her oddly, but gave up, turning his attention back towards the game.

#######################

Katie still couldn't believe she'd given Marcus access to PotterWatch.

It wasn't that she was trying to turn him into something he wasn't, but it seemed like there was something there besides what he projected. If she told Angelina or Alicia what she'd done Katie was sure she would be berated, and told she was being foolish just because she'd let the man into her knickers, but she really didn't think it wasn't the case. At least not entirely. Marcus wasn't a bad sort, she'd stake her life on it, and considering everything he could start to piece together she was staking other's lives on it as well. Hell, he probably wouldn't even tune in, and she would have nothing to worry about.

Still, it was the weird and seemingly unjustified faith she had in him that was on her mind as she apparated to the little house outside of Bath.

True to her word, she'd stayed away from the broadcast sessions, nobody needing to draw any more attention to themselves and the gatherings than was necessary. Already, their broadcasts were often suspended due to not being able to find a place to set up safely as they always moved around, or because of Death Eater activity in the area. They'd never been targeted specifically yet, but Katie was sure it was a matter of time considering this couldn't stay completely isolated to the right people forever, not when it got passed on by word of mouth - like she had yet again that day. She was sure they could keep ahead of the proverbial bad blokes still, but when that day came it would be harder.

This time however Fred had floo called her, saying they needed somebody to help run the equipment since Remus was staying with his wife who was having some pregnancy complications, George was off sick, and their other rotating "correspondents" weren't scheduled for the evening.

Her role was easy enough, considering it was just making sure things stayed functioning properly, charming the mikes and equipment every so often to change between speakers, and making sure the broadcast range was kept up.

The show though wasn't easy to sit through. Normally there was an element of humour in the show, but that night it was harder. It was just the two of them speaking on air, which added to the problem, but it had been only bad news for the entire week. There had been numerous muggleborn attacks, all fatalities, and close classmates of theirs had been captured by 'Snatchers' -- one close friend of Lee's too had been bitten by a werewolf no less. There were reports out of the Wizengamot too now that not a single person left on that council was of any decency. They'd all allied themselves with this regime, or were scared enough to pretend they had anyway.

No news was as good a news these days as they could get -- there was little positive to report. Truth sometimes was just entirely depressing. The only upside was that nobody had found the mutilated body of Harry Potter lying anywhere yet.

"Miserable," Katie said bluntly, as they gathered up the equipment after the show and began to put it away.

Fred ran a frustrated hand through his hair, "Not one of our better ones, but...." he shrugged, "truth is truth, and we did promise that in spades at least. We're not sugar coating anything these people do, or spouting propaganda."

"An off night," Lee sighed, "but it happens. Like we said on the air, we'll try for an extra broadcast this Thursday despite...."

Whatever he had been going to say was cut off by a silvery white substance filling the room around them. To the astonishment of the three of them it formed into a lynx that stood right in the middle of their group. The voice that came out wasn't one that Katie recognized, deep and firm, but the two blokes beside her seemed to accept it without question.

'They know where you are, and what you are doing. Get out, they are on their way.'

For a moment Katie froze in panic, but the other two were already scrambling around her, gathering the last of the equipment and shrinking it away into a form they could carry easily.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck," Lee swore under his breath, even as he shoved everything into his pockets, and she started to help as fast as she could.

As Fred gathered anything could identify them he hissed at Katie, "Get out!"

She didn't bother to dignify that with a response, waving her wand in a handy spell she had learned from Angelina that would wipe their fingerprints from every surface in the cottage. In truth her heart was racing and she was almost nauseous with fear, but she couldn't leave while they were still there.

In the end, the only thing that proved a real hindrance was the main magical energy source for the wireless. They all glanced at each other in panic when they realized it couldn't be shrunken, and was too darn heavy to carry at any speed, and much too valuable to be left behind.

"No time," Fred decided quickly, reaching over and hefting it into his arms. He shoved the two of them out the door ahead of him, anti-apparition spells having been placed by him on the cottage before his arrival, not accepting the help they offered.

"Can you apparate with that thing?" Katie asked breathlessly as they emerged from the building, wishing she had got a better look around to ensure it was all clear.

When he replied, "Yes," she thought he might be lying, but didn't have time to question it.

Lee was out of there first with a crack, sending himself as far away as he could. Fred looked at Katie expectantly, but she only stared back, waiting for him to get himself off before she apparated away -- in case he would need a second set of arms to get that out if they had to try to run or fly instead. He looked like he wanted to strangle her, but there was no time to argue. His first attempt at apparition produced no results, not even a splinch, and Katie was about to suggest they get the hell out of there in a different way because there was no way it would work successfully -- but he managed it on the third try, leaving no belongings or body parts behind.

Her apparition out was only a second behind, but already she could see the shadows of people appearing in the yard.

When she apparated into the Falcons pitch -- she hadn't wanted to go straight home just in case -- her heart was in her throat and she couldn't stop panting, body clenched with fear. She almost expected one of those who had almost caught them to have been able to latch on, and follow her apparition, but though she stood there with wand at the ready it was only her who was present in the dark confines of the pitch.

It was another hour before she could let herself breathe normally again, but the fear never went away.

She had no idea if she had been seen.

#######################

"Your arse is dragging," Marcus yelled. Bell looked like she was about to flip him off, but seemed to literally bite her tongue before leaning over her broom. Even with the added effort and motivation of proving him wrong, she was still lagging behind everybody else on the pitch, the reserve team they were scrimmaging against included. It was an aberration that he couldn't explain, considering he knew even when she had been out for pints at the pubs the night before she was capable of flying at least faster than most of them.

He was watching on the sidelines from his broom as they scrimmaged with a limited lineup. Not one of his favourite activities considering he'd rather be playing, but a necessity all the same considering Frederick hadn't shown up for practice that day, and his assistants had the commanding presence of ants.

The scrimmage though, he let go on for a few more moments, before Bell got herself hit with a practice bludger and nearly fell off her broom. Normally it wasn't an occurrence to end anything, but she showed no inclination to dodge the next one coming her way, and was just dragging the whole team down. Frustrated and pissed off he blew the whistle loudly calling for a break. The rest of the team accepted it without question, heading towards the water jugs, but when Bell made a move to follow them he called her over.

"What the fuck is wrong Bell?" Marcus demanded as they landed on the ground, tossing their brooms off to the side.

From up close she looked downright exhausted. There were bags under her eyes, and she looked paler than an inferi. It was a testament to how tired she must be that she didn't tell him to shove any criticism up his arse. She accepted direction from Frederick well enough, but when it came to him she listened about as much as he'd listened to his school professors -- only when it suited her. Which was, to put it mildly, not a lot -- and in this case with a fair bit more vulgarity. She got away with it because he let her, because if he was honest he preferred players that weren't mindless little drones that buckled too easily.

"Nothing," she insisted, crossing her arms defiantly.

"I call a fucking lie," Marcus snorted, "are you even aware we're playing Quidditch here?"

"Listen, I know I'm not quite at my best, but... "

He cut her off, "You couldn't throw a whiffleball let alone a quaffle properly. Don't bother showing up again if you're going to waste our fucking time."

That did annoy her. "It's one bloody practice."

"It's the league championship in two weeks. Remember that conference final we just won? Got us all the way? Does that ring a fucking bell?"

Katie shook her head, "I'll be better tomorrow. I'm just... .tired."

He took a step closer, knowing he was invading her personal space, and knowing it would disconcert her. He didn't touch her, didn't even try, just stood very close. "What's going on?" Marcus asked quietly, "Seriously Bell, you look like absolute shit."

She opened her mouth to answer him, but whatever she had been going to say was lost by the arrival of a small entourage of wizards onto the pitch -- Yaxley at the head of them. If it was possible, Katie seemed to blanch even further, and turned her head sharply away from the wizards and from him -- heading over the join the rest of the team. Yaxley spared her a lingering glance, but his words were for Marcus. "A moment of your time?" He asked with deceptive civility. "If you have somewhere we could talk privately."

It was tempting to tell him to fuck off, but Marcus nodded, jerking his head towards the entrance to the locker rooms where his office was located.

Once they were in, Marcus sitting against the desk and Yaxley in the chair in front, the other man began abruptly.

"It's been a busy day," Yaxley said, brushing off his cloak. Marcus didn't bite, simply crossing his arms and waiting for whatever the point of this encounter was. Yaxley didn't disappoint as he folded his hands on his stomach and sat back. "We've caught wind of this subversive little radio program you see -- and almost apprehended the subjects in question last night. Arrived a few minutes too late of course, only caught a glimpse of one of the traitors." He paused, feigning thoughtfulness, "Female. We couldn't latch onto her apparition but...she looked awfully familiar." There was another pause, and then he murmured, "She looked an awful lot like that new chaser of yours."

Marcus' heart froze, but there was no outward reaction.

He knew though, even more than the other man did, that it had been Bell's idealistic little arse out there.

Yaxley seemed to have been hoping for a reaction, but he continued none the less. "There's no way to be sure right now," he said carefully, "but there are a lot of unexplained things to look into."

"Really." His voice was impassive, giving little encouragement.

"Really," the other man seemed to be taking pleasure out of it almost. "There are her links you see -- best friends with mudbloods and blood traitors, that distasteful fight with her own family in public. Plus of course there is that little detour she took into the muggle world. All together of course it's not conclusive, but it's very suspicious. We will need to look into this further, and interrogate her. Unless," he paused significantly, obviously milking the drama, "unless somebody was able to vouch for her, to give some explanation, especially since he took the last trip with her."

There was no way to qualify exactly what was running through Marcus' mind and his gut with Yaxley's announcement. His brain was trying to tell him that it was a blind panic over the state of his team, and the fallout the Falcons would face if their new chaser turned out to be an enemy of the people in power. His gut knew that wasn't just it, but the outcome was the same. All he could keep thinking was bloody little fool. and he kept wanting to hit something - preferably the man in front of him, or Bell if he could get his hands around her throat anytime soon.

"Muggle London is distasteful," Marcus said brusquely, "but if you have to know the truth we went there to find a hotel. We're fucking you see, and there's no privacy around here right now. Wouldn't do for the Prophet to report on teammate drama. We've got a bloody championship to win, you nosy bastard."

A small smile graced Yaxley's lips. "I was sure there was a logical explanation."

"It couldn't have been her you saw I'm sure," Marcus murmured, "considering I had her tied to my fucking bed."

Lies of course, and they left Marcus' lips without a second thought. They didn't have much effect on Yaxley however, though the man got to his feet, carefully smoothing his robes carefully over his body. "It of course isn't that simple," this time the smile was more feral, "we have no proof of your loyalty you see. For all we know, you could be in on something like this. We need proof."

His face froze before he realized he should have known what this was about right off the bat. "You bastard," he hissed.

The raised eyebrows of Yaxley were bloody annoying. "No need to be vulgar," the man remarked mildly, "you can of course understand our position. If we're to be convinced to ignore such a promising lead, we'll need persuasion."

Marcus had never hated anybody more in that moment. Apparently he was expected to just bend over and take it like a good little minion.

He hesitated, then cussed before offering, "Will you be requiring my promise in fucking blood?"

"Your vehement support will do," Yaxley remarked, "with of course a variety of public statements and advertisements to get your face out there even further."

"Of course." He remarked dryly.

The temptation was so strong to just hurt the man in front of him. A flash of his fist, and he would be lying on the floor -- a wave of his wand and there would be no having to deal with the man, but he knew there would be a hundred more just like him afterwards. Marcus didn't offer anything else, because it would satisfy Yaxley too much and demean him personally in the process. The other man paused momentarily on his way out, turning back to Marcus.

"Do be aware there is only so far a personal endorsement will go," he offered.

#######################

Katie couldn't explain the fear that had gripped her when Voldemort's minions had entered onto the pitch to anybody who might not have felt it before. It had literally felt like her heart had stopped and she couldn't breath. She'd expected something right away -- an arrest, a crucio, anything at all. Instead they'd only spared her a glance before shuffling Marcus away, much to the befuddlement of the other Falcons who stood standing around waiting. Katie couldn't participate in their speculation because she couldn't relax, couldn't think about anything except the night before. It was all she had been able to think about since she'd apparated away -- having spent the night in the locker rooms there at the pitch because she was too scared to go back to her flat. Sleep had proved elusive, as had concentrating on anything else, and she had been a jittery bundle of nerves since. The other Death Eaters who stood around, chatting while their leader met with Marcus weren't helping matters, because she was convinced every glance and every word was for her.

Eventually the taller man and Marcus appeared, the latter appearing angrier than she had ever seen him. There was no civil handshake before the Death Eater left, his minions following behind.

It caused her gut to unclench somewhat, until Marcus snapped. "Bell, my fucking office -- now!" His words brought the fear back all over again.

There was no small amount of trepidation as she followed him in, again with the Falcons speculating wildly behind them. She knew things weren't as they could be -- she hadn't been taken for interrogation, but yet something had gone on. This couldn't be unrelated to the meeting before.

"You'll be happy to know we spent a day in muggle London fucking," Marcus said crudely.

"What are you talking about?" Of all the things he could have said, that wasn't one she expected.

"If anybody asks," he ground out, "that little detour we took was to further our super secret affair. That is the new cover story. You will also be happy to know that you quite enjoyed the bondage we tried last night."

Cover story -- she didn't even care what had been offered. Katie blanched, and he seemed to take some satisfaction in her reaction, like he was satisfied that she was scared. Crossing his arms, he looked like he would have happily strangled her, but his tone was deceptively mild. "Want to tell me what the fuck you were doing last night?"

"Sleeping," she offered quietly, "at home." There was however not an ounce of conviction to her voice.

"Right," the laugh that escaped was incredibly devoid of honest amusement, "of course you were." Marcus turned his head for a moment, as if he couldn't bear to look at her in that moment.

Katie shook her head, "What....?" She began, wanting to know exactly what had been said, but he cut her off.

"It does not fucking matter," Marcus ground out, "not anymore. This is over with." This time there was no evasion of her. He stepped closer and pulled her to her feet, fingers grasping tightly into her arms. It bordered on pain, but Katie struggled not to react because she was taken in by his look in that moment. "It's over," his voice was intent. "It is over." He seemed to be looking for some reaction, but she didn't know what he wanted. With a little shake, he demanded, "Do you understand? That, it's all over."

"Yes," she conceded quickly, "it is. Over." It wasn't that she was scared Marcus would hurt her, but in that moment she was scared of the intensity. He was still gripping her tightly, and she added again, "It's over," trying to reassure him.

Her words seemed to help, and his grasp slowly lessened, till eventually his hands had dropped to his sides.

They stood like that for a moment, not saying anything - Katie because she didn't know what to say. She didn't really understand what had happened in that meeting, or what was happening between them. Whatever moment they were having though was broken by a knock on the door, and Frederick sticking his head in. "I heard we had an exciting morning," he let himself in, not seeming to realize he had interrupted anything at all as they both took a circumspect step back.

#######################

It had taken a few days for them to contact him again. Marcus had expected the administration of the Dark Mark as a prerequisite to this allegiance he was supposed to give. It would have been in character for Yaxley, giving him his jollies and letting him prove to Marcus exactly how directly under their thumb he was. Therefore it had come as a surprise when that hadn't been a requirement for him. It hadn't been spelt out, but Marcus understood the implications. They needed a 'softer' face of sorts, something to put on in support of these people that wasn't about torture and killing and fear, something more reassuring. The vigilant Death Eaters served their purposes, but they wanted the purebloods and respectable half bloods who were on the fence to support them, or at least not subvert them, with they wouldn't do with an overly militant line.

It was something, because he had balked at the administration in a way that would make Bell proud, but Marcus was under no illusions about exactly how he was their puppet now.

Fuck, but he hated the very idea.

He'd never pictured himself in role of protector, still couldn't in fact, but his gut simply wouldn't entertain the notion of leaving Bell to swing even if his brain had considered it once or twice when he saw the smug faces of the men and women he was now essentially serving. It was easiest to tell himself it was only for the sake of the Falcons, but even he wasn't completely fucking dense -- he knew his motivation was a little more, even if he'd turn off the inclination if he could. He didn't know when things had become about her, but they somehow had.

"Sit down with the reporter from the Prophet," Yaxley was ordering in his office at the Ministry, handing him a piece of parchment, "a 'pre-game' interview for the final coming up. Here's some talking points to hit on." Smirking, he raised his eyebrows, "You do know how to read?"

"Fuck off," Marcus muttered, but he took the piece of paper. Scanning it, he realized it was all bull shit, but it was their propaganda and he was to spread it. At least he wasn't going out to tell people to go out and slaughter women and children.

He was just indirectly supporting others doing it.

"Anything else?" He remarked dryly.

Yaxley just shook his head. "That's it. For now." He took pleasure in the emphasis. "You're going to have to come on some... excursions with some of the rest of us soon."

Marcus would rather fucking die, but he just nodded, letting himself out.

When he got into the lift, he hadn't been paying much attention, more absorbed with reading the ridiculous things he was supposed to parrot in the interview. He hadn't dictated what floor he was searching for, not really understanding how things at the Ministry worked -- never having been there before. When the ugly wizard beside him stepped off the lift, Marcus followed suit, expecting the main floor he had entered on.

Instead, he found himself in the bowels of the Ministry. It was a dark hallway, filled with cowering figures. It took a moment for it to register what he was seeing - muggleborns, and suspected offenders. He felt a deep sadness settle into the pit of his stomach, and while he knew it was partially due to the scene before him, as he saw the tall black hooded figures he knew that wasn't the only reason. Though he'd heard of Dementors before, he had never been in the presence of one, and the simple act of standing there was draining. One of the people cowering along the wall -- a face he recognized as a man he'd played rec Quidditch with during the off season -- raised his head, and Marcus backed up instinctively.

Everybody's attention was drawn though by a dungeon door opening, and the screams emitting from it as the person was dragged away, a short little pink witch following along behind before sending him off with two Dementors.

"Fuck fuck fuck fuck," Marcus muttered under his breath, as he slowly backed into the lift, relaxing only slightly when the doors closed in front of him.

This, this was what he was being bullied into supporting.

As he saw the figures waiting for their interrogation though in his mind's eye, he could see Bell's face superimposed on theirs no matter what he tried to replace the image with.

#######################

When Katie showed up in the locker room before the start of the championship game Marcus was uncharacteristically quiet, keeping to himself as the team prepared. It was Frederick who took over the duties of motivation and instruction, yelling at the team as they prepared for the game, pulling on their equipment. Katie had known better than to demand her own changing room, so she usually changed into the most skimpy parts of her uniform before showing up at the pitch -- though she had gained the poise to be able to strip down to her sports bra in front of them. To the credit of the blokes, when it came to game time, they kept the leering to a minimum.

Right then, her attention was on Marcus more than the game. She wasn't used to the look that he currently sported, nor his silence. Normally he was up in the face of his teammates, including hers.

"Ready to whoop some Harpies arse?" Katie asked, sliding onto the bench beside him in front of his locker. Harpies had been the only team in the league not to loose a single member, either due to sheer luck of having no muggleborns, or creative cover-up by the people on the team.

"Like I'd be worried about a team that only sports birds," Marcus snorted, but his heart wasn't in it.

This was the bloody league championship. It might not be as it had been before, but even she could work up the excitement. It was impossible not to care, even though it felt like she shouldn't. Marcus' indifference was staggering.

"What's eating you?" She murmured under the louder tones of Frederick's lecture.

Katie didn't really expect him to answer, so it came as no surprise when he shook his head muttering, "Nothing, bugger off."

"Come on," she elbowed him lightly, "no use going out to play if you're distracted."

His laugh was hollow, "No fucking chance of that not happening."

She was utterly confused. With four a day practices leading up to the championship they had rarely not been in each other's company, and he had been sullen and even more withdrawn usual the entire time. Now seeing it more one on one it was even more apparent. Marcus tossed his jacket into the locker, shrugging into his Quidditch outer robes, paying her little attention. Finally when he paid more attention to her, and saw her intent gaze, he shrugged. "I take it you didn't see the Prophet today?"

"No, I didn't. I listened to the advice about avoiding media before the game, you see." She'd trusted others to let her know if there had been anything of import in there during that time.

Marcus' attention was entirely drawn from her then, as Frederick called on him to go over the play calls. Having memorized the playbook already, and curious as hell, Katie slipped from the room - ignoring the way the coach's eyes narrowed. She couldn't not read the Daily Prophet after Marcus' comment, trying to solve the mystery that was whatever was going on with him. It took some snooping through the assistant coach's desk, but eventually she found a copy. The front page seemed fairly innocuous, at least as much as it ever was, and completely full of shite as the papers tended to be these days. It was enough to make her grateful again for the existence of PotterWatch.

However at the bottom, there was a small picture of Marcus crossing his arms with quaffles flying in the background -- with the headline overhead reading: Marcus Flint -- Quidditch star and previously a mystery. Get to know the man inside on page 11, interview by Jacinda Hanger.

She flipped curiously to the eleventh page, ignoring everything in between. There, she found what she was looking for.

In the comfort of his own flat, Marcus Flint resembles more the romanticized version of his fans than his fierce demeanor on the pitch. He was kind enough to grant me an audience in one of his few spare moments available as his Falcons team prepares for the league championship taking place this weekend. Needless to say, his less than humble abode isn't the dungeon that some people might think, and some women might wish.

The vulgarity is almost second nature it seems, but when one speaks with him, they see the man underneath in spite of it. It's the first personal interview he's granted, and I sought to uncover a man we never learn about in the sound clips he offers after games.

"I don't do public," he says bluntly, which has been apparently obvious all these years, "it's a drain. You can't imagine the hassle the more obliging players get. If I tell you all to bugger off, it makes my life easier." Really, this reporter wonders that she was even admitted at all today.

Still, as we get down to business, it's obvious that Marcus is willing to talk -- and that he has opinions outside of the Quidditch pitch. When I ask him about the proclamation that disallowed witches and wizards who steal magic on his team, he only shrugs, consigning the loss of talent to the annoyance it is, but emphasizes that he agrees with the decision. "How can the Ministry not take a threat like this seriously? Quidditch and besides. I can't stand the idea of people trying to subvert their way into wizarding society."

This reporter asked after his opinions on the Muggleborn Registration Committee, and he offers a surprisingly candid answer. "It was the only logical step. If people would just cooperate willingly, things would run smooth, and the world wouldn't be the way it is now. It's those who are resisting that are the problem, and those not cooperating. It's because of them that things are as unstable as they are, and as fearsome as they are."

His statements are of course edited for language, but this reporter assures you the correct sentiment is there.

When asked after his personal life, he only shakes his head. "Personal is personal, they call it that for a reason."

Ah well, this reporter tried.

Katie didn't bother to read the rest of the interview. As the article had gone on her ire had continued to rise, as had the sense of betrayal she hadn't expected. She crumpled it up in her hands, stalking out of the coach's offices and towards the locker room again. The team was just heading out, leaving behind Marcus and Frederick who were discussing last minute strategy for a moment. "You bastard," she hissed, throwing the paper at Marcus as the coach stared on in unadulterated shock. "Prat, wanker, you fucking arse."

"Leave," Marcus was obviously shocked, but he managed to hiss the word at Frederick, who even more surprisingly obliged -- obviously not wanting to get in the middle of their altercation.

Katie wasn't even waiting for him to leave. "How could you?" Her volume was rising, "You actually think these things. I thought... I thought...." She didn't know what she thought, but she'd believed in his decency. She hadn't believed he had ever bought into the new Ministerial propaganda, let alone that he would spout it like this. Trying to blame the muggleborns who didn't want to submit themselves for interrogation.

All of a sudden, her face drained of colour, shoving him as hard as she could. "It was you wasn't it? I told you about the fucking wireless. You must have been the one who tipped them off, and they were able to track the signal." Her hand slid to her wand without thinking, ready to offer something more than ineffectual physical retribution.

With a wave of his wand, Marcus slammed the door, closing them inside.

"Are you really that dense?" He hissed, knocking her wand from her hand, much to her chagrin.

"What do you mean am I that dense... "

"Of course I don't believe that shite, I'm not fucking stupid no matter what you imply. And no, you silly little bint, I didn't turn you in."

"Then why?" She motioned towards the crumpled Prophet.

Any explanation was cut off by Frederick sticking his head in the door again. "I don't care what the hell you two are on about," he said firmly, "but it ends now. The game is about to start, and I am not forfeiting the game because you two want to fight. Take the damn aggression and use it on the pitch."

For her part, Katie didn't care a whit about the bloody game, she wanted to resolve this -- but Marcus stalked past her and out of the locker room, leaving her no choice but to follow behind. They walked in angry silence down the hallway, Frederick shooting them quelling looks. When the starting lineups were announced to the crowd, Katie couldn't even take the slightest bit of pleasure in the moment -- the one she thought she had been waiting for all her life.

The game itself was a debacle.

They had lost the game even before the Harpies seeker had caught the snitch. Katie spent more time envisioning sending a spiked bludger at Marcus' head than she did envisioning the quaffle through the hoops, and his play wasn't much better. To give the Harpies credit, they were good, but the Falcons were a much better team than they showed during the game.

Katie cared, a lot, as she watched the Harpies jump on each other in mid-air in celebration -- but the anger at the loss, and the frustration of knowing what had been in their grasp was still secondary.

Secondary to the betrayal she felt from Marcus.

The rest of the team was dejected. There was no cheery speech from Frederick, no rallying for the next game because there wasn't going to be one, and Marcus was nowhere to be found. He had stalked off the pitch ahead of them all. They all showered and changed quickly, heading home to the comfort of their respective girlfriends and Broom bunnies. Katie waited before they had all left as was her wont, then finally shucked her clothes as she headed for the showers.

As the water ran down her hair and over her body, it hardly felt cleansing. It didn't wash away the hurt that she was feeling, or sooth the bitter disappointment. She stood there, hands against the wall of the large group shower that was empty save her, wishing it would. How could she have been so completely mistaken about somebody? How could she have let that bastard put his hands on her?

She had never felt more stupid than in that moment.

A sound to her left signaled she wasn't alone anymore. Marcus stood there, much to her chagrin, and Katie fumbled with the water before grabbing her towel and wrapping it awkwardly around her.

"Get out," she hissed, "I never took you for a voyeur, preying on... "

He cut off her diatribe, "Shut the fuck up Bell, and listen." His eyes were oddly dispassionate in that moment, his eyes on her face rather than the assets he had seen on display. "That is not me it that ridiculous article, and you fucking know it." Marcus shook his head, "What did you think had happened that day when the Death Eaters came to the pitch? Did you think they took my words at face value and left, promising to leave you alone? They do not work like that."

Katie knew they didn't, but she hadn't questioned it when he hadn't explained further.

"They knew it was you," he took a step closer, "they knew it was you who they caught sight of when they raided the site of that radio program. Yaxley might have coated it in double talk and innuendo, but he knew." He paused for effect, his voice only betraying slight emotion. "Do you have any idea what they would have done to you?"

He didn't even give her a chance to answer. "Probably the same thing they're doing to the muggleborns in the Ministry, and that they're doing to everybody who stands in their way. I saw it Katie, I fucking saw it, and it offended even my unoffendable sensibilities. So yeah, I made up a story, gave you an alibi -- because what they were really looking for was for me to help them, to become the public face. You were just the excuse. They would leave you alone and buy what I said if I become one of them. I get to bow down to those idiots, compromise myself, just because you were so fucking stupid as to not cover your tracks properly."

By then, he was right in front of her, and she was still so taken aback she barely registered the use of her name. "I get to fucking endorse the worst of it all," he said desperately, "it's the requirement you see. I do what they want me to do, say what they want me to say, and that night goes away. Don't you get all offended though because I fucking hate every second of being their little minion, and it hasn't even got to the worst of it yet."

She was shocked. "For me, you... "

"No, it is not fucking for you," Marcus practically yelled the words, but they both heard the lie behind them.

What Katie hadn't expected to hear was the betrayal of some emotion in his voice when he talked about what he knew was occurring, even if it was in generalities. She hadn't thought it would be such a hard task for him, but it was obvious even he couldn't stomach it well. She had no desire to be arrested, or to even be killed, but at the same time she couldn't bear to be the cause of somebody else's suffering.

She also hadn't expected to hear any betrayal of emotion for her.

Not really sure what she was doing, she raised an arm to his chest, letting it rest there. Marcus grasped it, pushing it aside. "Don't make this more than it is," he hissed.

However, Katie wasn't to be deterred, and risked the rejection -- sliding both hands up his still clothed chest to his shoulders, before wrapping her arms around his neck. He resisted her initially, as she knew he would. Marcus didn't hug, Marcus didn't do emotion -- and he remained stiff in her embrace. Slowly though, he softened slightly, until his arms slid back around her, and his face buried in her wet hair before it slid down to rest in the curve of her neck. Her towel was trapped between them, and right then he didn't even make any attempt to remove it.

How long they stood there, she couldn't pinpoint, in the unfamiliar embrace.

"You have to give that shite up," he muttered the words so softly she barely heard them, "eventually this won't be enough."

Katie almost wondered if right then it wasn't already too much for him. Not that he'd ever admit it.

The embrace turned less innocent then, his hands sliding down her sides and roughly pulling the towel apart. Katie didn't object, though it was work to stand there in the bright artificial light of the showers without trying to shield herself. Her attention was turned more to the expression on his face -- fierce, as if he was trying to prove to them that this was just about the physical desire, and not about anything else. His previous actions and words had tempered it, and that side of it was almost akin to desperation. The mouth that had been murmuring against her neck bit the skin there.

Despite the silence of the locker room beyond them, Katie knew there could be someone there -- a coach, a member of the cleaning staff, a teammate looking for a forgotten item, or a member of the ever persistent press looking for a quote. Desperately, she bit her tongue against any sound as he pushed her roughly against the shower wall, the bare skin of her back scraping against the tiles.

She almost muttered traitorous words she wasn't sure she meant when his hand slid between her legs.

It was a silent and fast fucking, no sounds save low grunts emerging from either of them. Even his climax when it came was silent, nothing escaping save a hiss as he shoved roughly, trying to milk out the end. Wound up tight, she slid her hands over his skin as he shuddered, not having reached the same end herself. Oddly enough she didn't feel like an empty vessel though, just there for him to use and abuse. It still felt right as he panted against her skin. It might not have been tender, but it had been about comfort all the same, and pleasure at the same time too even if she hadn't reached the peak of it.

Their bodies slid more naturally back to earth, Katie unhooking her legs from his hip, and her much abused back sliding down the tiled wall until she was standing on her on volition.

For a moment they just looked at each other, silently -- then Katie turned to bend down and pick up the towel he had divested her of and wrapped it slowly around her body again.

She felt Marcus' touch on her back as she straightened -- feather light and unfamiliar against the scratches he found there, and the gentle touch was at odds with the roughness she associated with him.

"Are you... ?" He asked, the hesitancy in his voice was unfamiliar too.

"I'm fine," Katie said firmly as she turned to press a kiss to his chest. She meant it in more ways than one.

#######################

The light of morning woke Katie slowly. Gingerly, she stretched and turned over, surprised almost to see Marcus stretched out beside her. Not that there had been any alcohol haze to shadow the memories of the night before. Not used to seeing him so at peace and vulnerable, Katie caved to her inclination to just lay there for a moment, watching him. Last time she'd awoken before him, she'd been more concerned with getting the hell out, this time she was content -- easier with the experience. It amazed her how much younger he looked when he was asleep; he looked so much less angry and tense.

They had come back to her flat without saying anything. Undressing each other slowly, and making love all over again. It wasn't that she was hung up on the term, despite the emotions she did have, but there was no way what they had been done could be called 'fucking'. It wasn't the stuff of romance novels, but it had been slow and languorous -- and full of tender exploratory touches that she wasn't sure she'd ever been privy to before. Katie was fairly sure if either of them had spoken it would have broken the moment, and turned it into a more frantic affair, or ended in recriminations.

She might have stayed there awhile longer, waiting for him to wake up -- or waking him up in a more pleasurable way, except the knock on her door startled her into awareness.

Whoever was there was loud and insistent, and Katie fumbled for her robe as she scrambled from the bed, trying to keep her early morning visitor from waking up Marcus. She ran through the living room, cursing viciously as she stubbed her toe on the side of the couch, finally belting her robe properly to cover her nudity just before she swung open the door.

Oliver stood on the other side of the door, looking like death warmed over.

Without waiting for an invitation, he let himself in, walking past her and leaving her no choice but to close the door firmly behind him.

"Katie...." he began loudly, but she waved a hand to 'shush' him, motioning towards the bedroom to signify she had company.

It was a testament to whatever was going on that he didn't slide into the big brother and overprotective role he played to the hilt whenever he thought a bloke might be taking advantage. This time, Oliver didn't spare so much as a cursory glance towards the bedroom before lowering his voice and beginning again. "I need to see her," his quiet voice was blunt.

She hadn't seen much of the other man in the preceding months. Group events as friends had ceased, and they were both busy with their respective lives. Even she had some level of pragmatism. Oliver had turned every event -- every game and every dictoquill in his face after his team's suspension - he was capable of into a protest, even if they were far from militant, and for all she'd had the urge to do the same she knew she gained nothing by allying herself with it. All it had gained him in the end was a tail and suspicious eyes on him, and a fear on the part of every one of them that he was about to be arrested on some trumped up (and not so trumped up) 'aiding and abetting' muggleborn charges at any moment. It might not have been the 'support Harry Potter' party Potterwatch had reported on, but it was no less inflammatory because every word out of his mouth struck at their actual policies and did it in a much more public venue.

"Huh?" Katie's mind was still half muddled with sex and with sleep.

Oliver ran a hand through his hair, "Alicia. It's... it's been months Katie, months. No owls, no nothing. I need to reassure to myself that she's okay. I keep seeing these things Katie, and I hear from Fred what Angelina is seeing and doing, and... fuck, it could be her."

"It's not," Katie reassured him quietly, "my parents use their patronus charm every week to let me know that she's still... "

"It's not enough. I... it's not enough. You've got to take me to the cottage."

For all that she wasn't the world's most astute person, Katie was well aware through their poorly concealed surreptious glances that there was something there between the two of them. Nothing admitted of course, and nothing ever acted on as they pretended at being mates, but something that was there none the less.

"The point of putting her there and cutting myself off," she said, rubbing a hand over her face, "was to keep her safe. If we apparate out there it compromises the months of safety that we've offered. If nothing else, that hit wizard you likely have glued to your arse is probably sitting outside my flat. Even if he's not on the ball enough to follow us directly, he'll know you were here, and if he can figure out we left while giving him the slip, they're going to start investigating things that much harder."

His smile was faint. "The hit wizard is a 'she' this week. I might not be the witch Angelina is, but I did manage to evade the hit wizard this once. She still thinks I've got my head in a toilet over at the Three Broomsticks."

It hurt her to say it, but Katie was blunt, "It's selfish." She murmured, aware of the sleeping Marcus in the room not far from them.

"I know," he said, "bloody hell I know it is. But... "

Without finishing his sentence Oliver turned and went to sit down on the couch. He rested his head in his hands in frustration, Katie watching on. Finally, he raised his head, "I think I might have gone a little bit too far this time Katie. Last night when I was catching your game on the wireless down at the pub, we all got a little bit too far down into our cups -- my mates from Puddlemere and a few other teams. I started... toasting. I've been able to choose my words carefully so far and... skirt any actual trouble, but I'd had a few too many pints, and I was feeling so damn angry and... .." He looked scared as much as he looked sheepish, "I got a little bit out of hand. My mates tried to get me out of there, but the whole fucking pub heard me."

"I suppose it's too much to hope it was all muggle sympathizers out for a drink last night?"

He shot her a look, "Hardly. If my ever constant hit wizard shadow doesn't report it in, one of the twenty others much worse then her that were present will. I might have insulted them directly too you see."

"You completely stupid arse," Katie swore, with sad affection in her voice.

Oliver's fingers raked through his hair again in frustration. "I'm not built for this Katie, I can't bloody stand it. I don't do stealth well, and I'm incapable of playing games. I've been as 'good' as I could be for the last few months, but every time I'm out there I just want to hit somebody, to curse them until they feel some of the pain and fear that everybody else is going through. I want to curse them out, and trying and make them understand how incredibly stupid they are."

"You're not a bloody first year. You don't get to give into your urges anymore. There is a little more at stake here than... "

He cut her off, "I know. Hell, I know that Katie. It's why I've held off as best I can, especially when our team protest went so fucking awfully. I'd do it again but... " he looked at her, "thanks for your support in that by the way." It wouldn't do to protest that she'd wanted to show she in no way supported the muggleborn ban, because the long and short of it was she hadn't done anything. Her reticence might have been on somebody else's orders, but now she could see the pragmatism in it.

A bark of laughter escaped Oliver's lips, with only a minimal tinge of amusement. "At least I got to see the expression on some of their faces when I toasted to the 'snivvely cowards who weren't fucking man enough to pick on somebody their own size' and to the Ministry that was going to destroy the world."

Katie slid down onto the couch beside him, resting a hand on his back. "You are so fucked," she said quietly, leaning her head on his shoulder as she patted his back comfortingly.

"I know," he murmured desperately, "and if I... if this all goes to hell even further, I just really want to see her. I know it's illogical, but I popped round to the others too, I feel somehow like it's saying goodbye."

At his defeatist attitude she almost rolled her eyes. Still, for all she might find it melodramatic, thanks to Marcus' protection of sorts she wasn't the one who was in any real danger at the moment. She wasn't the one who had people so pissed off at her they might essentially take her life away. So, she was in no place to judge, because she had no idea how she would be in the same situation. Probably curled up into a little ball in the corner of her room if she was thinking the worst of herself, trying desperately to pack and get herself the hell out of town if she was thinking the best, but either way accepting it all as inevitable.

"We'll hide you there too," she almost regretted the words the moment they were out of her mouth, because things were different now -- it was harder just to sneak him in. It was compromising him and Alicia both.

She wished in that moment that they weren't all just making this up as they went along. Essentially it was what they were doing, and while they'd skirted by on luck and chance mostly, that couldn't hold forever. The radio show, they would survive, if nothing else because they had help from better positioned and more powerful witches and wizards too. They had Remus Lupin helping them with the setup. Katie'd had... herself, with minimal help from Angelina the first time around who was only a second year trainee auror, in getting the cottage set up as a sort of safe house. They barely knew what a fidelius charm was, and certainly hadn't been able to cast one.

Here she was though, risking Alicia and her parents who had remained unscathed by the grace of luck all over again.

"I can't," Oliver shook his head vehemently, "It's too... "

"No bloody different than going to visit you arse."

That part was true enough. Getting him there once without detection was the risk. Once he was there, if they had no idea he'd been at Katie's, the situation was no different than it was now -- well, except for the fact Katie was going to start to have to obliviate hersef because she had too many people she would be giving up if she was ever actually interrogated. She had no delusions about her stamina as to holding out on their methods of persuasion.

"It was selfish for me to not just take off," he murmured. "I should have been trying to fly the ocean to America right now."

"Of course crashing in the Atlantic would have been a much better option." International portkeys had been cut-off by the Ministry months before. "Listen Oliver, it's a risk, but we took it for her and we will for you too. Even if your danger is from you being an idiot." She was too tired to feel any real anger at him, especially since she could understand the frustration, and had always wanted to do similar things herself. Sighing, Katie wrapped her arms around him in a hug, "This will work out." His arms slid back around her, allowing them both a moment of comfort.

As they pulled apart and got to their feet, Katie took a quick glance towards the bedroom, but not wanting to risk waking Marcus she transfigured her robe into some serviceable clothes. There was little chance he wouldn't wake before she returned, but even if she was faced with having to give total honesty -- she wasn't worried anymore that it might be a worst case dire scenario when it came to him.

Oliver followed her glance, a little less self-centered now that he had got some of it out. "I'm sorry to interrupt," he said awkwardly, "I didn't know you were seeing anybody."

Technically she wasn't, but she was...something. Rather than try to explain Katie just shook her head, tucking her wand into the back of the jeans she now wore. To say anything would be to bring up Marcus, and that was a distraction and an argument neither of them needed right then. "Let's go," she said, nodding her head towards the door. The apparition point for the building of flats was on the first floor, anti-apparition wards on the rest of the building. "I'll take you to the cottage now."

She almost apparated through five different stops to get to the cottage, but that was more of a risk than apparating there directly. Logically Katie knew that nobody could track them unless they grabbed onto them while they were in the act, but she always felt like there was a risk besides. Who knew -- magic was always changing and spells were being invented. Somebody might develop some method of tracking apparition besides straight physical contact.

Instead though, they apparated straight to the tree line in front of the cottage.

The protection wards were strong, to prevent the casual observer from entering. If somebody was determined they could work around the magic of them, but it was enough that Alicia would be notified that somebody was tampering with the wards and could try and get away or hide. Foolproof it wasn't, but it was the best that they could manage. "Wait here," she told Oliver, as she was able to get past the wards and taken them down.

Magic this complicated wasn't her forte. It took her all her concentration to lower the wards, and she knew it would take a monumental effort to raise them again -- and could only hope it would work properly.

Motioning for Oliver, as he could then cross the threshold of the trees easily, they walked towards the cottage.

Katie hadn't been out there since she'd brought Alicia out, and even that had been her first time in years. She knew 'cottage' was a bit of a misnomer, though it was what they called it. Bells didn't do 'cottages', but they did do miniature replicas of their homes as a get away. Once she'd developed a life outside of their family, and her father got busier with work, they'd rarely come out here. Her memories of time here as a child though were fond ones. It was the one time her family would relatively relax, and actually act a little bit more like the stereotypical family. She wished they'd come out here a little bit more as she got older, considering maybe they would have been able to kept some of that alive.

"Don't kedavra," she called out, in case Alicia was listening to people approaching, "It's Katie and Oliver."

What she didn't know was by that point, they were being watched.

Marcus had awakened that morning, disconcerted both by the fact he'd spent the night in a bird's bed, and the events of the day before. He'd expected awkwardness with Bell for a few hours, and maybe a nice excuse to fuck again, but what he hadn't expected to find was the bed empty and voices coming from the living room. Eavesdropping hadn't been his intent, he'd planned on walking in on them in nothing but his shorts and demanding to know what the fuck was going on, but he'd walked in on the end of whatever was occurring only to find Katie embracing Oliver bloody Wood on the couch.

Jealousy was a foreign emotion, and he didn't much care for it.

When she mentioned them leaving to go to 'the cottage', Marcus almost decided to fuck it and head home because he didn't need this shit, but instead he found himself sliding into his clothes. It would be much more tempting to follow along and sock Wood in his smug and self-assured pretty-boy face. It wasn't like she'd jumped out of the flat to go fuck him right after she was done with Marcus, but it was obvious she gave much more of a shit about the other man. The tender bloody look, the hug, and taking Oliver off to wherever else for some privacy. It bothered him more than it should have.

It would have been easier if he could have tracked their apparition -- instead he was limited to his faulty memory, and the assumption they were going to the same cottage he thought they were.

He could remember his mother asking about the Bell family cottage a few years back, when she was considering the purchase. Apparently they'd found prime real estate along the beach in a nice wizarding community near Portsmouth that catered to only those who could afford it. It was amazing he could remember that, but he'd been so interminably bored at the affair he'd at least pretended to listen politely.

As Marcus apparated to the community, he expected the search to be a deterrent, but it simplified the process when he saw Wood standing with arms crossed outside of one a mile out.

When he approached, Wood was already following Katie in. At least he didn't have his arm slung around her shoulders, or something even more intimate.

It screamed against Macus' better judgment, but already his feet were carrying him towards the cottage. It wasn't that he thought Bell was a complete slag -- as annoyed as he was he didn't think they'd come out here to fuck. She'd simply bought whatever sad arse story Wood had foisted upon her and was out here to comfort him or some such rot. No doubt she had tender feelings for the bastard. It rankled most because it was Wood, who had been a pain in Marcus' arse his entire life. What he was really going to do was just walk up, tell Bell last night and everything else had been a horrible fucking mistake, which would at least rankle Oliver -- and then leave. Nothing more.

If he'd thought about it, he would have realized the plan was pathetic, but his thoughts were clouded at that moment.

Marcus didn't hesitate at the door, and let himself in. The scene that confronted him wasn't quite what he expected however.

Bell had circumspectly removed herself to a corner while Wood and some blonde bird embraced in the middle of the floor. They were so wrapped up in each other that they barely noticed his presence. They might not have noticed for a good while longer if Bell hadn't noticed him herself, starting at his appearance and going, "What the bloody freaking hell are you doing here?" His attention was distracted from her though as the couple pulled apart and he recognized Wood's much better half.

Alicia bloody Spinnet.

On the list of muggleborns wanted for questioning since the very beginning.

"Flint," Alicia was the one who spoke the name, her hand flying to her mouth and her face blanching. Wood had stepped in front of her protectively, for all the difference it made, his wand drawn.

Katie's voice was sharp, "Oliver, put that the hell away, it's fine, he's not going to... ."

"Like hell it's fine," he retorted, "he's going to go right to that sham of a Ministry and turn us in. Did you see that fucking article in the Prophet? I almost went and shoved his wand up his nose right after reading it."

"I did," Katie conceded, "but it's not like that, you have to understand... ."

"We have to obliviate him," Alicia was panicked, "short of killing him... ."

"Which I like the idea of!" Oliver's brogue was escaping in his anger.

Despite the threats to his health and despite the slurs to his character, Marcus' attention wasn't for them at all. It was for the petite brunette in front of him -- it didn't even matter that she was defending him, she was the target of his anger. All jealousy was forgotten and filled with a real anger, a more righteous anger. She was taking these bloody risks again, when she'd promised that it was done.

"You bloody fool," he hissed at Katie, the other two ignored.

She ignored them as well, grabbing his arm, and pulling him outside - leaving the other two behind. She spared only a glance over her shoulder saying, "Just don't - don't worry about Marcus. I'll explain, just stay calm!"

When they got outside though, he was so angry that he could barely even look at her. It wasn't that he wished Spinnet harm -- much as he'd tried to bloody her face on the pitch a time or two as that was a different sort of violence, but didn't Bell understand the fucking risks that she was taking. She was taking them now and therefore risking him too, when he was doing all this shite so the Ministry would leave her alone. Did she think that would carry over into everything? They knew what she was, and that she wasn't a nice pureblooded extension of their beliefs.

"I've been hiding Alicia since the beginning," Katie said, stepping in front of him when he wouldn't look at her, "I couldn't just stop! It's the reason I had the falling out with my parents you see -- it was on purpose, so nobody would suspect this place considering my parents have made a point of coming up monthly. And Oliver... Marcus, he fucked up and angered the wrong people. He was likely going to be... I couldn't let that happen!"

He might be a bastard as he'd been called before, but he wasn't so dense that he could begrudge the logic. There were more factors at play though.

"Do you understand," Marcus said violently, "what the hell I have been doing." Did she have the first fucking clue exactly how uncomfortable, and how altering, the previous night had been.

"I do," she began, but he cut her off.

"Do you get it Bell? I'm their little puppet now. That interview was just the tip of the iceberg. I'm going on a little field trip to a muggle house with Yaxley next week. What the fuck do you think that means! You are risking all of that, and you are risking me. After you said. . . fuck!"

That pricked her ire a bit, "I know you're incredibly bloody self-centered, and I know I am risking you, but that's not the only thing I can think about that... "

He didn't let her finish. Right up in her face, the words were out before he could temper them or hold them back. "You are risking yourself. I can't keep you safe like I keep trying to do if you keep doing these fucking stupid and idealistic... " He broke off, unable to abide what he'd just admitted to her and to himself.

The pause was obvious, before her voice came out, a little strange. "You care, don't you?"

"Don't turn this into...."

This time it was her who cut him off, "No Marcus, don't you dare run away from this. You actually care."

It was one thing to admit something like that directly rather than indirectly and Marcus kept silent. This time it was her not giving up, her voice dropping to a quiet level so as to not be heard by the pair inside. "I know I'm risking myself, and I know I'm risking you - and I would never wish you. . . I want you safe too, you know. I know it's not right to do that to you without your consent, but at the same time, these two are my friends. Two of my very best friends, more like family than anything else. I know what risks they're running, but what am I supposed to do -- let them be taken to Azkaban? Let them be... killed?" Her voice hitched on that.

Let them take Wood was on the tip of the tongue, but it was a petulant response. Marcus couldn't say he begrudged her the protection, but fuck, this was going to blow up.

Katie seemed to be working up the courage to say something, and her voice was distinctly uncomfortable when she did speak. "I... care too," she said hesitantly, then cursed, "hell Marcus, I never thought I'd be saying that to you -- if for nothing else than you'd throw it back in my face, but I do. I've never really said even that much but... " she broke off. "Merlin, shut up." She was mostly talking to herself.

He didn't throw it back in her face, but neither did he offer anything more sentimental.

What he did do however was step forward, sliding his hands up to cup the side of her head and kissed her urgently -- giving into the urge to snog her that had risen up in place of the anger.

When he pulled back it was only slightly, as she kept his withdrawal limited by holding his hands still.

"I'm still going to be an idealistic fool," Katie said quietly, "I... I can't change that. I'm going to take risks, as much as I may limit them. I don't want you to be caught up in this but I can't... " Her voice trailed off.

"Fuck," Marcus ground out, "fuck fuck fuck fuck." He couldn't stop the string of expletives that slid from his mouth, turning from her in slight frustration.

Her hand slid from covering his to rest on her shoulder, and she continued. "I do know what you're doing Marcus, I do. I know I have it easier, I don't have to bow down to them not that much. I don't... don't know what to say to solve that. I hate what it's doing to you -- what it will. You're not the bastard everybody might have thought. I want you to quit because it's not good for you... "

"We're both fucked if I do," Marcus snorted.

That cut her off. There was truth in his statement. All they were doing now was going in circles. He was fucked if he helped them, fucked if he didn't - but more so in the latter. What he was going to do for them now, he was going to do for them regardless of whatever other chances she took, though there were other consequences if she got caught. They were doing everything both in spite of, and because of, each other - which seemed insanely fucked up. There was no easy answer in the situation, because he wanted to strangle her for putting herself at risk, and also understanding on some level that she had to.

"I can live with it," it was an ambiguous statement he offered, but in truth it meant he could live with all of it. His role, and the one she insisted on playing, and...her.

Katie had been shocked when Marcus had appeared at the cottage, and was still not sure how he got there, but even more shocked at his anger. Maybe she'd gotten a glimpse of it the night before, but she hadn't really got it until that moment that he actually cared - about her; sometimes even too, about others outside his sphere. Pants at expressing it of course, but it was implied if never stated. Like she would ever expect anything else.

Not that she was great at the affection thing herself. She was horrible at saying things first, and expressing feelings. The word 'love' had never passed her lips save to a friend or her parents, and even that was hard for her to utter. Not that this was love - not yet. Still, it was something. Her expression though was as hard as his, and the discovery that there was something there as much of a surprise.

Her hand reached out to brush his hair back. "I don't like you putting yourself at risk either." In the short term, his risk was more emotional than anything considering not even he could relish whatever they were going to drag him on, but he would tell her to go to hell if she suggested such a thing

Instead of pushing her away and rejecting any intimacy, Marcus slid his hands to her waist. Baby steps, but they were there.

His words however belied what his body was agreeing to. "I don't do sentimental," he said abruptly, "I don't... I don't do this sort of thing."

"I'm not asking you too," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck.

They stood there for a moment, not saying anything, until Marcus said abruptly, "I have no idea where the fuck this conversation went."

Katie burst out into laughter. All the stress and all the worry came out in the amusement, almost to the point where she seemed delirious. His statement wasn't that funny, but it was the truth. They'd decided on nothing, and never truly admitted anything. "I think," she said, when the weird guffaws had quieted, "that we agreed we're going to accept each other for who we are and... go with it, as screwed up as this all is." It sort of covered any relationship that might come from this sort of mutual affection, and the situation besides.

It was fucked up. This was Marcus bloody Flint though -- had she expected the standard?

"It's all going to work out," she added reassuringly. This time she meant more the situation than them, that Voldemort would fall and things would recover. Who had any idea how they would do.

He snorted, "Of course it will. You're a bloody idealistic little Gryffindor. Your side always seems to win in the end." This time the title sounded more like an endearment than an epithet.

"It's our side," she told him firmly, even if he seemed slightly uncomfortable with the notion, letting her hands rub at him gently.

It wouldn't be easy -- them, or the circumstances around them. Already she was thinking of the reaction of the other two when she brought Marcus back in, or of the twins. Still too, she was thinking about how things just kept getting worse -- and until somebody killed Voldemort once and for all they were just going to keep going downhill. The first more personalized problem was difficult, the latter still insanely screwed up.

But it would be fine.

She was going to do her best to ensure it.

The End

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