“Well, that’s it,” said Sirius suddenly, throwing his quill down on the table and stretching his arms above his head. “I officially give up on this stupid assignment. Flitwick can give me a ‘T’ and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash.”
Remus leaned over to look critically at what Sirius had written. “All you have down is your name and the title,” he said blankly, pointing with his own quill for emphasis. James snorted from across the table but didn’t look up from his own work.
“It’s pretty bad when you don’t even attempt to butcher an introduction,” said Beth, scooting her feet up under her on the armchair and using a finger to mark her place in her book; her own essay had been completed last night. “What’s the story?”
With a magnificent flourish, Sirius scrunched the parchment and tossed it gracefully into the blazing fire beside them. “I am so utterly sick of homework at this point, it’s not even worth it,” he said, swinging his legs up over the side of his own chair so that he was now sitting sideways. He promptly closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of the chair.
It was only the first weekend since the winter holidays had ended, and if Beth had thought that the professors would take it easy on their workload after the break, she was rather sorely mistaken. The upcoming N.E.W.T. exams at the end of term had harried them all, it seemed, and the essays and question lists had rarely ever poured in so thick. Beth hardly blamed Sirius for feeling as listless and overwhelmed as he apparently did.
“Well, at least we only have half a year left,” said Peter positively. “And then we get to go and do stuff for the Order.” He said this last in a bit of a hush, in case ears were turned in their direction. Sirius sat up quickly in the chair, no longer slumped and bored.
“I’ve been thinking about that,” he said, eyes bright with excitement. “I wonder when we’re going to hear from Dumbledore, he’s bound to give us a bit more information soon, don’t you think?” His entire manner conveyed one of almost dog-like eagerness.
“You’d think,” said Remus, hunched back over his own essay. He scratched out a sentence and began to scribble away again, brows furrowed. “I mean,” he added, looking up at the rest of them, “we don’t know much at this point, do we?”
“Sort of depends on how much we’re going to start out knowing,” Beth pointed out. “I don’t think we’re going to do much hands-on work right at the beginning, do you reckon?”
Throughout this entire debate, James alone had remained virtually quiet. The concentration he seemed to be devoting to his essay was feigned; Beth, glancing at him while Sirius and Remus argued about the amount of experience they’d need, knew he was thinking about what he’d asked her about in the tree. He still hadn’t brought up the fact that he was going to ask Dumbledore if Lily and her friends could join the Order.
She felt a sort of pity for him, knowing how nervous he was about broaching the subject to the other boys. Asking her about it was different, as she was a girl, but that sort of conveyance of feelings to Sirius or Remus was bound to be difficult for him.
“Talking about it’s going to make me feel worse,” said Sirius, curling back up in his armchair and once more closing his eyes. “The sooner we get word, the sooner I’ll be happy again.”
Beth rolled her eyes at his dramatics, and scrunched down further in her chair, pulling her book closer to her. The only other sounds that disturbed the evening were the fire’s cracklings and the scratching of quill and ink on parchment. Nobody said anything more about the Order, and Beth could sense James’s relief at the silence.
Luckily for Sirius – and for the other four, as he grew increasingly more apathetic and annoying about his load of school work – the next letter from Dumbledore was not long in arriving. The four of them were walking back from their last class only the following Monday when a small second-year Gryffindor girl ran up to them, seemingly out of breath. Her messy black braid was flopping over her shoulder in untidy strands, and when she spoke Beth noticed a large gap between her two top teeth.
“Professor McGonagall said I should give this to you,” she said, licking her lips a bit nervously and thrusting the scroll in her hand at the five of them collectively. Her eyes kept darting from the prefect badge on Remus’s chest to the Head Boy badge on James’s.
“Thanks,” said Peter kindly as the other four continue to stare at her. He took to proffered paper and, with one last look at James, the girl scurried away just as quickly as she’d appeared.
“She was a bit twitchy, wasn’t she?” said James, grinning broadly after her. “Blimey, you’d think I was about to hex her or something.”
“More like put her in detention,” Sirius smirked, craning his head to peer eagerly at the parchment Peter had just unfurled with a little tap from his wand. “What’s it say? Is it from Dumbledore?”
“Yep!” said Peter, lowering his voice a bit. The five heads crowded together as they read aloud to them the note that Dumbledore had sent:
Beth, James, Peter, Remus, and Sirius,
I would request you to come to my office this evening the ninth of January at eight o’ clock, as before. Should you follow the trail of Ice Mice you will find where you need to go.
Remus laughed and rolled his eyes. “I sometimes wonder whether he’s not half-mad,” he said in wonder, shaking his head a bit. Peter was still staring at the scroll, looking confused.
“Don’t you guys think following a trail of sweets would be a bit obvious?” he said, and Sirius snatched the scroll from him, stashing it in an inside pocket of his robes. All four of them set to laughing.
“There aren’t literally going to be sweets on the carpet, that would drive Filch mad,” said James, sniggering. “I’ll bet that’s the password to get into his study.”
“Oh,” said Peter, his brow relaxing to normal but his cheeks turning a bit pink.
“This is excellent,” said Sirius, rubbing his hands together and looking, in Beth’s opinion, rather comical. “Couldn’t have come at a better time, either. I was just about to run away and leave school forever, N.E.W.T.s or not.”
“Oh, you were not,” said Beth, giving him a small shove in the shoulder. “We’re all just glad you’re going to stop moaning about it, actually. Maybe now you’re actually going to get something besides sleeping finished with any amount of regularity.”
“And if you try and deny that, we’re locking you in the dormitory tonight,” cut in James firmly as Sirius opened his mouth to protest the unfairness of Beth’s last statement. He did his best to look serious, but there was a sort of shine to his eyes that conveyed exactly how far he was really going to take that threat. Sirius did him the decency of looking offended, however.
At that moment, loud footsteps behind them sounded down the corridor, and they all turned to see who was coming. Evan Rosier, flanked on each side by the other Slytherin seventh year boys, was strutting down the hallway as though he owned it. Beth’s stomach gave a small flip as her eyes found Severus behind him. His own gaze landed on her, and he gave a small smirk. She lowered her eyes to avoid smiling back; making herself conspicuous was exactly the last thing she needed.
“Mind you don’t take up the entire corridor,” said Rosier in a bored, drawling voice, walking right through the group of them as though they didn’t exist.
As before, the time until Remus’s watch clicked over to five minutes before eight was unbearably slow, even though the waiting time was considerably less than it had been the first meeting. It was obvious that Sirius was working hard to restrain his impatience – he was always waiting for the next thing, Beth thought – but every so often, a sort of comment would come bursting out of him.
“Are we ready to go yet?” he asked for the hundredth time, shoveling custard into his mouth at a rather impressive speed, as though late for something. With forced patience, Remus humored him by glancing at his watch. His eyes widened dramatically.
“We’re going to be late!” he gasped, half-rising from his seat on the Gryffindor bench. Sirius, who had been taking a large swig of pumpkin juice, choked and made to get up from his seat, as well.
“Really?” he spluttered.
“No,” said Remus flatly, sitting back down and smirking. “And if you ask me again I’m making good on James’s offer to lock you in the dormitory.” Sirius, too, sank back into his seat as Beth and James howled, barely able to breathe for laughter.
“Some friends you are,” he muttered, stirring his spoon violently in the custard. “Need I remind you that I’m the reason we’re even going tonight?”
“We’re just teasing,” Beth said, still giggling and wiping her eyes from the tears that appeared there. “You’re too much fun to rile up when you’re like this.” But Sirius, apparently preferring to act like a wounded soul, didn’t speak again until Remus finally checked his watch and announced that they had better go.
The entrance courtyard was slick with snow that had been packed down by hundreds of pairs of feet, and making their way to the gargoyle that concealed the entrance to Dumbledore’s office. James nearly went down and it was only by grabbing onto the back of Peter’s robes that he managed to keep his balance.
“Ice Mice,” said Sirius excitedly, bobbing from foot to foot in front of the gargoyle, all his previous ill humor gone now that the event he’d been anticipating was upon him. The gargoyle cocked its head and looked at him before springing aside, and Sirius stared blankly at it.
“You must look suspicious,” said Peter, unable to help one more snide remark at their friend’s expense. The five of them clustered onto the slow-moving spiral staircase and rose up once more in tight, dizzying circles; Beth closed her eyes and gripped James’s arm as the sense of vertigo hit her as it had before. Finally the staircase came to an end, and the door at the top creaked open to admit them.
Dumbledore was seated behind his desk again, but he appeared to have been waiting for them. His attention was diverted out the window at the night sky, which had fallen rapidly a couple of hours before and was now speckled with stars. Beth noticed absently that the moon was rapidly approaching full; Peter and Beth were scheduled for the January watch, and she found herself already selfishly mourning her loss of sleep.
“Good evening,” said the headmaster politely, as the five filed in. This time five chairs were arranged in a line in front of his desk, and each took one. Professor Dumbledore’s hands were clasped upon a thin stack of parchment on his desk, and a quill was balanced to the side of his left hand, curling over and sweeping bits of nonexistent dust off the surface.
“I thought it was time to give you a bit more information about what you’re going to be doing after term ends,” Dumbledore continued, and his blue eyes twinkled as Sirius was apparently unable to help wriggling a bit excitedly in his seat. “Not much,” he added, upon seeing the gesture. “I don’t think I need to remind you of how well the walls can listen, should they have a mind to.
“But there are some things you five should know. For example –“ He removed his hands from the pieces of parchment in front of him and handed one to each. “I urge you to commit this to memory.” Beth took her paper and, glancing sideways at Remus beside her, saw that they bore the exact same sentence:
The headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix is located at 9 Dustund Way.
Almost simultaneously the five of them looked up from their papers, and each of them looked just as perplexed as Beth herself felt. Dumbledore collected them and, humming a few notes, set fire to the stack with his wand.
“The information you have just received,” he said at last, only then looking up and surveying them from over the tops of his half-moon glasses, “is strictly confidential, as I am sure you are aware.” He smiled gently at the group of them. “The address refers to a small apartment located in a district outside London that has been rented for the society’s purposes. It is here where the Order operates, and where most of the work is being done.”
Sirius looked as though he was about to faint with excitement. “What sort of things are we going to be doing?” he burst out, scooting forward a bit in his chair and leaning his hands on his knees. “Chasing down You-Know-Who?” He was only half-kidding.
Dumbledore chuckled as though Sirius had told a rather amusing joke. “Not right away,” he said, the ends of his long silver mustache still turned up in a smile. “Your assignations are still as-yet undecided. Not everyone’s job is running about the town loose with wands, chasing down the Death Eaters.”
“Death Eaters?” Peter piped up, half-raising his hand as though unsure whether he was supposed to or not. “What’s a Death Eater?”
“It is what Voldemort has termed his followers in recent years,” said Dumbledore evenly; everyone reacted to the name in various shudders and gasps, which he appeared to have expected. The headmaster continued as though nothing had happened. “We have a select few members out working toward the aim of locating and apprehending them, but there is much more to the Order than that, of course.”
By the fanatic light that gleamed in Sirius’s eyes, Beth could tell that being out chasing down You-Know-Who’s followers was exactly what he wanted to be doing. She felt a certain thrill deep within her at the prospect, as well, and an image of herself capturing some of the most wanted people in the country rose to her mind. It was an intoxicating vision, to be sure.
“And the others? The ones who aren’t out capturing people?” asked Remus.
“Recruiting members, taking Ministry positions, and jobs of that type,” said Dumbledore. “I think you’ll find that the Order is much more widespread than you might have thought it to be.”
“There are people from the Order in the Ministry?” said Beth; it had never occurred to her that a witch or wizard she might have seen walking normally in Diagon Alley might be part of an underground anti-You-Know-Who movement. Dumbledore nodded.
He glanced again out of the window and stood, leaning lightly on his desk with the tips of his fingers. The five Gryffindors immediately stood as well. “And if you will excuse me for the brevity of the interview, I think that will conclude today’s meeting,” he said. Beth glanced at Remus’s watch; they had hardly been in the office fifteen minutes. She felt only a bit more prepared than she had walking into the office. Apparently seeing puzzled expressions on each face, the headmaster beamed at them once more.
“I realize it does not seem like much to go on,” he said gently, “but I can assure each of you that you will be well-prepared. That being said,” he added, “there is still no forcible action being taken on any of you to participate. This is not a requirement.” He peered at each face in turn, but no one said a thing.
“Until our next meeting, then,” he said lightly, resuming his seat.
James watched Sirius, Beth, Peter, and Remus file out of Dumbledore’s office, a sort of nervous apprehension twisting his insides. The entire time he had been meaning to spit out the question that was on his mind, but somehow saying it in front of the guys didn’t enthrall him too much. He waited until they had disappeared down the staircase, and made a little noise deep in his throat. Dumbledore, who had been looking out of the window again, turned in his direction. James knew the headmaster had noticed he’d stayed behind.
“Is there something you wish to ask, Mr. Potter?” he said amiably.
“Erm –“ James stopped, not exactly sure how to go about bringing the topic around. Dumbledore looked at him expectantly, and he was struck by a sudden feeling as though the professor knew exactly what was running through his mind. Oddly, the thought braced him.
“I was wondering, sir,” he said quickly, with the air of getting over a rather unpleasant task, “how many other students are going to be allowed in the Order after term ends?” He caught his breath – he liked to think he was a fairly brave person, but asking a question like that of Professor Dumbledore…
The headmaster tilted his head, thinking about it. “Are we referring to Lily Evans and her friends?” he said, and before he could stop it, James’s jaw went earthward.
“How did you…?”
“The question was written fairly plainly on your face,” said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling again. James’s mouth was still gaping open, and as he came to this realization he shut it, grinning a bit sheepishly. He wasn’t sure he entirely believed him, but that wasn’t the issue at stake right now. He cast a hopeful sort of look in the headmaster’s direction.
“I think extending the invitation to them as well would not be met unfavorably,” Professor Dumbledore said. “I have in fact been thinking about addressing Professor McGonagall about that very subject – new and young members are needed in the Order, I’m afraid.” He let out an uncharacteristically despondent sigh, and James felt a bit uncomfortable through his delight.
“Well, erm – thank you, Professor,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck and wondering if this was the moment when he should take his leave. “I mean –“ He cast about for words and found himself at an utter loss for them. Dumbledore had returned to staring pensively out the window.
“Good night,” he said finally, hoping a bit absently that the headmaster had really meant what he’d said about inviting Lily and her friends into the Order. He didn’t think he could go through the slightly awkward ordeal of asking him again. When Dumbledore nodded his head, he turned and went down the staircase after his friends.
They were grouped at the bottom, waiting on him; Beth gave him an encouraging sort of smile when he came out. “Go all right, then?” she said cheerfully. James nodded and returned the grin.
“Did what go all right?” said Sirius nosily, frowning. “You’re not thinking of dropping out of it, mate?”
“Nah,” said James, shaking his head. “But –“ He hesitated for a fraction of a second before continuing on. “I’ve asked for Lily to be allowed to join in.”
Remus and Peter met this suggestion with general enthusiasm, and Beth squeezed his elbow reassuringly, but Sirius’s face fell a bit. “Lily’s in?” he said doubtfully. “You’ve asked to have her in?”
“Yeah, I have,” said James a bit defensively. “Because you know what? I love her.”
The quiet that filled the section of the entrance courtyard was one of deafening proportions. Beth was half-embarrassed, half-amused, and Remus and Peter were just staring at James rather blankly, as though not quite sure they’d heard what he’d said. Sirius let out a derisive sort of noise.
“Come off it.”
“It’s true,” James said lightly, and Beth found herself rather impressed at how composed he was keeping his demeanor. The expression on his face made her believe his words, too. He looked at each of them in the eye, nodded once, and added, “Right, then. I’m off to the common room.” Without further ado, he strode away across the stone towards the doors leading back into the castle.
Sirius swiveled to gape at Beth, apparently not knowing whether to laugh or look furious. “He’s not serious?” he asked. She merely pressed her lips into a line, gave a non-committal sort of shrug of the shoulders, and set off after him, silently cheering James on all the way.
A/N: Go James! He can be a bit of an idiot sometimes, but mostly I think he's the most level-headed of the lot. Or it might be Remus. Yeah, probably Remus, but I wanted James to have a strong foundation of affection for Lily, and he's got to think things through for that to happen. Ergo, he thinks sometimes.
And -- I'll only be on my soapbox for a moment here -- recently I've been the victim of a bit of plagiarism on some of my stories, so if you ever see anything of mine posted anywhere other than here, please let me know. I don't say that there's going to be a lot of instances of that happening, because I'm only a mildly well-known writer here, but there's a first time for everything. And now I'm done! Thank you so much for the reads and reviews and favorites, and I really hope you'll think to leave a review for this chapter, too -- you cannot imagine how they brighten my day.