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Twice Defied by pennyardelle

Format: Novel
Chapters: 14
Word Count: 68,711
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Romance
Characters: Lupin, Snape, Sirius, Lily, James, Pettigrew, OC
Pairings: James/Lily

First Published: 06/01/2010
Last Chapter: 09/30/2012
Last Updated: 06/10/2014

Summary:
Banner by PhoenixAlthor at The Dark Arts



In both of their hearts was love's one, most desperate wish: I don't want you to die.

In the uncertainty and terror of war, James Potter and Lily Evans were going to fight as hard as they could to make sure this wish came true.

:: Sequel to Once Defied, the 2012 Dobby Awards Winner for Best Canon ::
 


Chapter 1: Seven Still
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Disclaimer: The Harry Potter series is the original creation of JK Rowling. This story remains my property and cannot be copied or distributed without my permission.







Chapter One
Seven Still



Unseasonable fog surrounded the dark, crowded streets of London as Severus Snape walked along a wrought-iron fence encircling a small park. The glow of the streetlamps hung heavy in the mist. Severus was in unknown territory, his wand was stowed within easy reach: if this were a test of his abilities, and not the meeting that it had been purported to be, he was prepared. The fog, however—which Severus knew to be the result of Dementor activity, and not the weather, as Muggles like his father might think—was a most unwelcome complication.

He was heading for a row of brick houses, all with white-framed windows caged by iron fences. Number Twelve, he kept repeating in his head, the name of his destination. Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. He did not know who lived at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, but he knew who would be there waiting for him.

He almost missed Grimmauld Place in the fog, a right turn off the road he had been on. The houses were close together, and he came soon to Number Ten...Eleven...and then, inexplicably, there was Thirteen. Severus’ hand twitched towards his wand, feeling an instant rush of paranoia, and he sensed the weight of another body in the air behind him.

The next thing he knew, he was in a dim room, standing around a large wood table with a number of other black-robed figures. Against one wall stood a fireplace that provided the only source of light in the room. The flames gleamed and flickered in the reflection of the glassy wooden tabletop, and on the masks that they all wore. His wand had been taken from him.

Looking around, Severus recognized some of the others without seeing their faces. Avery’s stocky stature gave him away immediately; his shoulders resembled something like the top of a large, rounded boulder. He could tell it was Mulciber who stood directly across from him, for he was wearing the ring with his family crest that he had worn at Hogwarts every day since fifth year. The rest were not recognizable immediately, but there were seven of them in all, just as they had been in the past year at Hogwarts.

He breathed a sigh of relief.

So Potter had not been coerced into joining the Dark Lord. Severus had been afraid of it, in spite of himself—at first he had thought that Potter was too pig-headed and proud to ever compromise his precious morals, but as time passed without a mention of his death in the Prophet, it seemed that perhaps he had been wrong. Perhaps he had finally shown himself for the coward he was, and had agreed to join when threatened. But if he were here now, in someone else’s stead, Severus would know. His blood would boil just from being in Potter’s presence; that, he was sure of...

He had known for some time in advance what was being planned—had even been complicit in it. More than a small part of him had felt immensely gratified by the knowledge that Potter was about to fall so far, so quickly. Severus had happily abided Bellatrix Lestrange’s request for information on whomever Caradoc Dearborn was paying extra attention to, since it meant singling out the person he hated most. The only flaw in the plan was Lily, of course: now that she seemed to have fallen under Potter’s spell, Severus had been concerned that she would get hurt. But her death had not been reported, either, and he supposed that she had wisely heeded the warning he had written to her about staying as far from Potter as she could.

Now that there were only seven here, Severus was relieved. For all he knew, and hoped, Potter was lying dead in the ground somewhere, far from this place, and forever away from Lily.

“Now that everyone has arrived,” a voice said, breaking the heavy silence, “welcome.” Having spoken with Bellatrix on several occasions, Severus recognized her deep, heavy voice. He had, of course, expected that she would be here tonight. She had been their link to the Dark Lord for most of the past year, and had known almost all of them when they had first arrived at Hogwarts, and it seemed fitting that she would be here now.

“You all know why you are here tonight,” she continued, standing at the far end of the gleaming table. “You are here to submit yourselves to the most noble service of the Dark Lord. Tonight, you free yourselves from the trivialities of the world, and from life.”

Severus' impatience swelled quickly. Bellatrix was already getting the slightly fanatical edge to her voice that usually preceded a lengthy sermon on glory and surrendering one's will of the Dark Lord.

“You have already done well in serving the Dark Lord. You have given him information. You have upheld his beliefs in the halls of Hogwarts. Some of you have even helped to purge our world of the unworthy already. For this, you are to be rewarded.”

She paused, and Severus glanced around uncertainly, wondering which of his schoolmates had already committed their first murder. That was not a story they had ever exchanged in the common room.

Bellatrix seemed almost to be waiting to see if any of them would be overcome with some kind of revelatory gratitude, but no one moved, let alone spoke. The door behind them opened, and another robed figure stepped into the room.

“He is here.” Severus did not recognize the man's voic. Beyond Bellatrix, he knew few of the other Death Eaters: Avery’s father, and Mulciber’s, and the Lestrange brothers. He knew there must be many more that he had never met.

“I am aware,” Bellatrix snapped. “Did you think that I could not sense his presence?”

“Bring one to him,” was all the man said in response. Severus felt a rush of anticipation. One of them.

Bellatrix’s hand came to rest on the shoulder of the boy at her right.

“Regulus first,” she whispered reverently, apparently forgetting that the others could hear her.

The two of them swept from the room, tense silence falling in the room. There seemed to be no conversation appropriate for this particular situation. Severus did not mind: he usually found what his fellow Slytherins had to say was self-aggrandizing and petulant. They wore their family names like badges of pride, as if it made them immune to danger. He knew that they had always looked down on him for being half-blood, but it clearly had not stopped him from getting to this point—and, as far as he was concerned, not having the security of privilege would make him all the more capable when it came to serving the Dark Lord.

The fire crackled occasionally in the minutes they sat there. Mulciber tapped his ring against the bottom, apparently ignorant to the waves of irritation being sent in his direction.

Regulus did not return when Bellatrix came to take Mulciber, nor did Mulciber when she came again, this time gesturing for Severus to follow her. He wished that he had seen Regulus and Mulciber after their initiation. Though he would not have admitted it, he felt a twinge of apprehension at walking into this blind.

“Last chance to back out, Severus,” Bellatrix said. “Not that we wouldn’t kill you if you did, of course.”

Her giggles were like flies buzzing around his head in the dimly-lit landing. He made no response, refusing to provide her with more amusement. It was as she said, though: the point of turning back was long past, not that Severus would have considered it in the least. He could not help smirking when she practically shoved him into the room across the landing, no doubt irritated with his refusal to acknowledge her threat. Bellatrix could be so petty.

The room was even darker, the lines of the elegant furnishings and pattern of the wallpaper little more than whispers in the dark. His eyes fell quickly to the chair sitting in the middle of the room, silhouetted against another low-burning fire. All he could see of the chair’s occupant was a black-robed forearm.

Severus held his head high, determined to appear confident.

“My Lord,” he said, “I—”

“Do you not think it wise, Severus Snape, to wait to speak until you have been spoken to?”

The voice was like ice, and powerful as any Silencing Charm. He could think of nothing to say that would make him seem neither weak nor impudent.

“Tell me, Severus Snape: why have you come here?”

“To serve you,” Severus said quickly. “It is my greatest wish.”

There was yet another pause. “Come face me, Severus.”

He moved across the room in trepidation, uncertain if the request was a positive sign or not. When he reached the other side of the chair and looked upon Lord Voldemort for the first time, he was glad to be wearing a mask. What he had been expecting the Dark Lord to look like, Severus could not say, but certainly more man than animal. The flat face and snake-like red eyes that he now looked on made his blood run cold.

“Remove your mask,” Voldemort said. Severus did so slowly, composing himself. He might take off the mask put on him by another, but his own face could become one just as easily.

Voldemort surveyed him for a few moments.

“Bellatrix tells me you have been of use recently,” he remarked. “It was you who provided us with information on Dumbledore’s recruitment at Hogwarts, was it not?”

“Yes,” Severus answered, wondering what Dumbledore had been recruiting for. Clearly, Bellatrix had not told him the whole story.

“She also tells me you have a talent for Potions,” Voldemort said.

How to respond to this statement, Severus was unsure. He knew the extent of his own abilities, but was it smart to boast of them?

“I received an ‘Outstanding’ O.W.L. in the subject,” he replied, leaving it at that.

The Dark Lord nodded thoughtfully.

“Talent, indeed, then. Yet was it not also you who failed to properly brew the poison that Bellatrix ordered you to?”

“It—it was an oversight,” Severus said. “A mistake.”

“I see.”

Severus’ heart was beating more rapidly with every moment that passed. Had Bellatrix sold him out and brought him here for punishment?

“I have no time to waste on mistakes,” Voldemort stated, “much less those who have not the courage to look me in the eye once they are made.”

The aspersion cast on his courage made Severus bristle. No, he had not seen the value in poisoning a group of witless students, but that hardly made him cowardly. It made him smart, cunning—unlike the others who had come here tonight, he did not spend time preening his feathers or drawing unnecessary attention to himself. He felt no shame in looking his soon-to-be master in the eyes and answering for his actions.

No shame, certainly—but regret, he did feel, from the moment he turned his head up. The surrounding room faded behind images of the past. Severus saw himself cowering as a child, saw his father towering over him in rage, relived flashes of the humiliation he had received at school. He knew that this was Legilimency; he had read and learned of it at school. He was supposed to push the intruder from his thoughts, but something told him that Lord Voldemort would not take kindly to being denied anything. He would have to abide his new master, though it was a sensation akin to someone poking around his eyeball.

But then there were glimpses of green eyes and heartache, and Severus could not help but resist, however pointless it was. That, he would not allow anyone else to see, especially not anyone here tonight. As quickly as the invasion of his mind had started, it was over, and he knew it was only because the Dark Lord had allowed it.

An invisible force wrenched him down onto his knees.

“I will not tolerate being used for personal vendettas, Snape,” Voldemort hissed. Severus could only shake his head in response, trying to muster up some form of supplication. “You are here to serve me, and not yourself.”

“I only did what was asked of me,” Severus croaked.

“You give me cause to doubt your intentions.”

“My intention is only to serve you!”

Severus’ head was lifted upward, so he was looking once more at the empty red eyes.

“We shall see,” Voldemort said. “We shall see exactly what you are prepared to suffer at my command...”

The Dark Lord raised his wand. In the moment before unearthly pain tore through him, Severus silently cursed himself for having failed so miserably at not appearing weak.

 

.........





He awoke to someone nudging him rather roughly in the side. The pain was immense—not just the nudging, though that did nothing to relieve it, but the ache over all his body. It was nothing compared to what he had felt under his new master’s wand, of course, but reminders still dug at every joint. Opening his eyes against the mid-morning light was like a dagger to his throbbing head; seeing his father looming over him only made it worse.

“Where’ve you been?” his father spat.

“None of your business,” Severus mumbled, getting to his feet. He seemed to be lying in the narrow alley behind his house at Spinner’s End, among the trash bins. Apparently, whoever had Stunned him and taken him home had seen fit to leave him here, of all places.

“Out all night at the pub, weren’t you?” The irony might have made Severus laugh, were his father’s tone less aggressive.

“I leave that to you,” he said, getting to his feet.

“What did you say to me?”

Severus glared at the pathetic excuse for a father that stood before him, his fists clenching as he tried not to reach for his wand.

His wand. He felt around his robes, and breathed a sigh of relief when he found it in his pocket.

“Look at you, fumbling around.” His father’s voice was a razor of criticism and contempt. “Your mother must be ashamed of the way you’ve turned out.” His expression changed from disgust to fear when confronted with a wand, as it always had.

“I’m going inside,” Severus said. Cursing and glowering, his father moved enough for him to get past him in the alley, but not enough for it to be a comfortable passage.

He went straight to his bedroom, casting his wand at the doorknob to lock it against any further interruptions his father might want to make. The bed he sat down on was the same one that had stood in his room since he was young. While some things might stay the same, not all did: Severus was greatly changed. His nerves tingling, he rolled back the sleeve of his robes and stared at the inky black skull that was tattooed on his skin.

So it had really happened, then—it was hard to separate what had been delusions caused by the pain of the Cruciatus Curse, and what had actually occurred in that room at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, or wherever they had really been. Now, he could call himself a Death Eater, one of the Dark Lord’s trusted few.

Things will change because of this, he thought as he looked down at the tattoo. He held the power now. Anyone who had looked down on him would now have to beg for his mercy, his leniency...yes, things were going to change.

The days of humiliation by people like Potter and his friends were over. He was not eager to make the mistake of seeking revenge against Potter immediately. It would be too risky. Thanks to Legilimency, the Dark Lord now knew that he had handed Potter to him for selfish reasons. Instead, he would wait. He could be patient, waiting for the timing to be right, waiting for the precise moment when he could take his revenge and still prove unwavering loyalty to his master...

He heard his father shouting downstairs, and his stomach turned. His mother was weak and afraid, but Severus was not. Tobias Snape would know soon enough the order of the world. Before long, when the Dark Lord’s aims were achieved, and wizards took to their rightful place, his father would have to rely on his son. Seeing him grovelling, pleading...that would be justice served for all the years of abuse.

And they were all of them the same, Muggles. They could not help but look down on those who were different from them; their small minds could not comprehend anything beyond the smallness of their lives, and they rejected the unusual in fear of it. Wizards would no longer need to live in secrecy, not once the Dark Lord was triumphant.

In the end, Severus though as he laid back on his bed with a wince of pain, it came back to Lily. She had once asked him why she should be any different from other Muggle-borns, and at the time, he had not known how to answer. He wished now that he could go back to that moment, and tell her that she was different from them simply because she was. She was unmarred by the world she had come from. She was different, and Severus now held the power to make everyone see that. And more importantly, he held the power to make her see that he was different.

Things were going to change.





Author's Note: I just wanted to say that this story is NOT going to be in Snape's POV. The next chapter jumps back to Lily & James.


I would love a quick review if you have a moment!


Chapter 2: Stop Motion
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Chapter Two
Stop Motion




James’ feet fell heavy on the ground as he sprinted through the trees, his wand providing him illumination in the falling darkness. His breathing was laboured, and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end with the knowledge that he was being hunted. A sheen of sweat covered his skin: the day had been hot, and the sun had not been gone long enough yet for the air to cool. It was not a night to be running, but he was not about to give up and surrender. Giving up was out of the question.

At that moment, a jet of blue light flew towards him from his right; he ducked, and the spell rebounded off the tree behind him. He remained crouching, completely still, barely breathing, searching in between the dim tree trunks for a glimpse of his attacker. There was no movement and no sound, save for the chirping of a bird somewhere above him. He slowly started to raise himself back up to standing, holding his wand in front of him.

Suddenly, his entire body went rigid, and he fell to the ground, unable to move. A stream of curses flew through his head as he heard the footsteps of his assailant approaching; the next moment, Sirius’ grinning face was hanging over him in the twilight.

“You’ve got to learn to watch your back, Prongs,” Sirius said. “Finite.”

James’ muscles relaxed and he sat up. “Don’t I usually have you to do that for me?”

“Fair point,” Sirius said, holding out a hand. James took it and pulled himself up. “Well, I think that means I took the day. Where are Moony and Wormtail? I have to thank whichever one of them distracted you with that Jelly-Brain Jinx.”

“That was me,” Remus said. James turned around and saw him and Peter ambling over.

“Good one, Moony,” Sirius replied.

“I wouldn’t be so quick to boast about winning,” Peter said. “I got Remus about five minutes in, so I think you and I are still tied.”

“Well, well, the mighty one’s been properly unseated,” Sirius teased Remus. “Three-day winning streak, and now you’re the first one out?”

“He was sitting up in a tree,” Remus said defensively. “How was I supposed to see him?”

“Want to have another round, then?” Peter asked, looking at Sirius. “Break our tie?”

“Let’s go back,” James said. “My mum’s going to get even barmier than usual if she notices we went outside Dumbledore’s protective barrier. Besides, we don’t want to give Moony another chance to beat us all.” Remus grinned, and they all began making their way back towards James’ house.

It had become a favourite pastime of theirs, these late-afternoon chases through the trees near James’ home, seeing who could avoid the others’ jinxes and hexes longest. Ever since his run-in with the Death Eaters, James had been determined to learn how to defend himself better. Peter, Remus, and Sirius had all tacitly agreed, it seemed, after he had explained what had happened to them. They had started out blocking jinxes in his backyard; one duel between himself and Remus had gotten so heated that they had ended up running into the nearby trees, and from there, the duelling had ceased being structured and one-on-one. It became a chase, where each one of them was both hunter and hunted until only one was left standing.

“Heard from Dumbledore yet, speaking of him?” Sirius asked.

“No,” James said, shaking his head. The last he had seen of Dumbledore was when he had come to speak with James’ parents the day after the attack. He had refused to give James a definitive answer about whether he could join the Order, as he called his organization, instead assuring James that he would be in contact soon. With every day that passed, James began to wonder more and more whether Dumbledore was just avoiding him entirely. His friends were all growing as impatient as he was, for they were eager to join as well.

“If he takes much longer, I’m going to go and find him,” James added. “He can’t expect us to just sit around doing nothing the entire summer.”

“And it doesn’t seem like anyone’s still trying to kill you,” Peter interjected. “We’ve been outside the protection at least half a dozen times now, and we haven’t run into any Death Eaters.”

“Maybe we’re just lucky that they haven’t been around when we were,” James said, as they neared the edge of the cleared lawn surrounding his house.

“Have you seen anyone lurking about, then?” Sirius asked.

“No,” James replied. “I suppose you never know, though.”

“And Lily’s house has been okay as well?” Remus asked.

“I think so,” James answered, without thinking. Remus looked at him curiously.

“You think so?”

“You still haven’t talked to her?” Sirius added, jumping in.

“Do we really have to get into this again?” James asked. They reached a cluster of lawn chairs near the wooden shed where James stored Quidditch equipment and sat down.

“You’re really going to win some special distinction for going after the same girl for three years and then buggering it all up in the space of three months,” Sirius said, propping his feet up on the arm of Peter’s chair.

James rolled his eyes, but part of him knew it was the truth. He had been a first-class arse to Lily that evening, so much so that she hardly looked at him the next day when they said goodbye. It had been nearly two weeks since that morning; he had not received a visit or even a small note from her.

“How did you even manage it?” Peter asked.

They had fallen into a habit of occasionally pestering him for more details about what had happened, but James had managed to avoid the subject rather well so far. He wasn’t at all proud of the way he had acted, and the last thing he wanted was for more people to know about it.

“I don’t know,” James replied. “I told you, it was just a bad situation all around.”

“So, why haven’t you spoken to her yet, then?” Remus asked, with an all-too-knowing look in his eye.

“Is it such a crime to want to spend time with my best friends?” James asked.

Sirius laughed. “Tell the truth: did she ditch you? Or did you just decide she wasn’t all you built her up to be?”

“Neither,” James replied, unable to disguise the mild annoyance in his voice. Sirius seemed to be fairly pleased that James had not been spending much time with Lily lately, but he would have appreciated a bit more sensitivity. “Let’s just talk about something else.”

He certainly spent enough time when he was on his own thinking about Lily, missing her, regretting treating her so coldly—he didn’t need to dwell on it when he wasn’t alone as well.

“Did you...?” Peter began, but then trailed off. “Well, you know?”

James gave him a perplexed stare. “No, I really don’t know.”

“Well...I’m just...did you and Lily...you know?” he said. It was his pointed eyebrow movement that clued James in to what he was trying to say.

“Really, Wormtail?” James asked disdainfully. Sirius was laughing, and even Remus was smirking slightly. “Do you three have nothing better to do than sit around and think about what goes on in my relationship?”

“It’s a valid question,” Peter argued.

How is that a valid question?” James asked. “Why would she and I be avoiding each other if that was the case?”

He was answered with more laughter. “Well,” Sirius said, “sometimes these things don’t go very well.”

“Really? How would you know?”

“I have to find something to do in London in my spare time,” Sirius replied, stretching his arms above his head and smiling devilishly. James reluctantly exhaled a laugh. He was fairly certain that Sirius was just posturing to be funny, which was fine with him if it meant that they moved on to a new topic of conversation. And they did, at least for a few minutes, since Peter wanted to know what had happened to a Muggle girl Sirius had met in a shop a week ago—mostly for his own purposes, since Sirius had mentioned that the girl had a friend that he might be able to introduce Peter to. As usual, Sirius had since decided that the girl was brainless, and hadn’t seen her in several days.

“I’m telling you, not having one of those Muggle ringers is a dream,” Sirius said.

“What’s a ‘ringer’?” Peter asked.

“You know,” Sirius replied, “one of those things that birds are always asking you to ring them with.”

Peter snorted with laughter. “It’s not called a ringer, you idiot, it’s a telephone.”

“Ah, so that must be why those red boxes on the street always say ‘telephone’,” Sirius said, a crease appearing between his eyebrows. “I always thought it was the name of the company that made them.”

“And you accuse other people of being brainless,” Peter said, still laughing.

“Well, my point was that half the girls think it’s mysterious when you tell them you can’t ring them, and you don’t have to worry about talking to the ones you don’t like ever again,” Sirius continued.

“Maybe I’ll lie about having one next time I meet a girl,” Peter mused.

James was busy wondering whether he might be able to reach Lily on a telephone—he knew she had mentioned having one in her home a couple times, and it might be easier to hear her voice without having to see any accompanying looks of disgust or coldness. Peter must know how to use one, since his mum was a Muggle. But, then again, why should using some Muggle contraption be any easier than just walking up to her door, or Owling her? It was what she might have to say when they spoke, by whatever means, that kept him from seeing her. Lily had disliked him for much longer than she had liked him, and he was fairly certain that it wouldn’t take much for her to revert back to form—perhaps it had even already happened.

“Fascinating as this conversation is,” Remus interrupted, “weren’t we talking about Prongs and Lily?”

“I’ll go see her tomorrow, all right?” James said, before anyone else could offer their profound thoughts on the status of his relationship.

“You’ve been saying that for the last ten days,” Remus said.

“So I’ll actually do it tomorrow,” James countered.

“Oh, rubbish,” Sirius dismissed him. “For years, you used to go out of your way at every opportunity just to get a glimpse at her, and now you’ve gone nearly two weeks without even writing her? And she’s your girlfriend? Something doesn’t make sense there.”

“It’s true,” Peter agreed.

“Listen, it’s nothing for all of you to worry about,” James said, letting his head fall back and rest uncomfortable on the back of the lawn chair.

“It most certainly is,” Remus replied.

“I can’t go through another three years of you trying to win Lily Evans over,” Sirius added. “None of us can.”

James lifted his head back up. “That’s not going to happen,” he stated. Even as he said it, a strange feeling of horror gripped at his throat—maybe it was true. He didn’t know whether Lily considered them finished already, but if that was the case...well, he wouldn’t be able to just let it go and move on. Sirius was right; he would probably end up spending years trying to get her back. Why, if there was a chance of avoiding that, was he sitting around doing nothing about it? Why had his dilemma never appeared to him this way before?

“Shouldn’t you be just as determined to go see her as you are to see Dumbledore? Maybe even more so?” Remus suggested.

James knew that Remus was right—the situations in which he wasn’t right were few and far between, of course. He sighed and let his head fall back again.

Before he could respond, he heard what sounded like a window being unlatched and the sound of his mother’s voice.

“James, come inside! I don’t want you sitting out there in the dark!”

He made a noise of great irritation as the window was shut. His mother was right: night had fallen fully since they had returned to the lawn, though James had hardly noticed it.

“You guys want to stay over?” James asked.

“I should get back,” Remus replied. James knew that his mum was nearly as fussy as his own, and figured he had told her he would be home at a certain time. At least Remus’ mum had reason to worry, though, with her son suffering from lycanthropy.

“I’ll pass for tonight,” Sirius said, standing up with the rest of them. “I heard that tone in your mum’s voice, and I think I’ll steer clear.”

“Fair enough,” James said. “Wormtail?”

“I have that job interview in the morning, so I should go home too,” Peter responded.

So James said goodbye to all three of them, Remus and Peter Apparating and Sirius roaring away on his motorbike, likely giving Mrs Potter even more to be irritated about when he went inside.

He looked at the grandfather clock in their foyer. It was only nine o’clock, and perhaps still early enough to go visit Lily. Why had it taken two weeks of his friends nagging at him to finally realize that he was only making the situation worse by staying away?

Because you aren’t, a very small voice said in the back of his mind. It was true that the thought of going to see Lily concerned him for reasons that had nothing to do with the state of their relationship. The Death Eaters had been after him, and the last place they had known him to be was in that park near Lily’s home. Perhaps they knew that James was protected here at home, and were waiting for him to go to Lily. Going to see her might put them both in danger again, and he could not have that on his conscience. The Death Eaters did not know her real name, and as long as James kept away, she could stay under the protections of both Dumbledore and of anonymity.

Not being able to see her was painful, though. In moments like this, when he allowed his mind to grasp at memories of her laughing at one of the jokes he made solely for her, of holding her close to him during late-night interludes in the castle, even of her aggravating inability to admit that she was wrong about something, it took great effort to simply sigh and try to focus on something else.

“James!”

For once, he welcomed an oncoming scolding from his mother.

“Where are you going?” his mother asked, sweeping down the staircase.

“Nowhere, Mum,” James said dully. “Remus, Sirius, and Pete just left.”

“I knew Sirius must have left, with the racket that thing of his makes,” his mother said. “You will be staying here, though?”

“Yes,” James said. His mother smiled and took his face in her aged hands.

“That’s my boy,” she said. “Thank you for being so sensible, dear.”

“Yeah,” James said, pulling away from her grasp. Her ability to make him feel like a ten-year-old was uncanny. “I’ll be in my bedroom.”

“Say good night to your father, dear,” his mum said. “He’s just settled down in bed.”

Her ability to stretch the truth of a situation was also uncanny. His father had been “settled down in bed” for the better part of the past two months, as far as James could tell, but his mother never failed to make it sound as though he had been up and moving around all day. Her tendency toward obfuscation had become even more pronounced since James had been captured: he had never seen someone able to fret at every opportunity at the same time as they pretended that everything was all right.

When he reached the landing, James considered walking down to his parents’ bedroom and heeding his mother’s wishes. But he thought of the last time he had done so, remembering how thin and tired his father had looked, and he decided against it. He instead went the other direction, toward his own room, and hoped as he closed the door behind him that he would not end up doing the same thing the next day when he tried to go see Lily.

..........





Being afraid of a window was absurd. This, Lily knew. She tried to imagine herself saying it aloud, and realized how pathetic it would sound.

I don’t like going near the window.

Pathetic.

But it was the truth. Well, perhaps she wasn’t afraid, but she was certainly anxious. She had moved her bed as far away from the window as she could, and she felt small fluttering of panic whenever she had to get within a few feet of those glass panes. Despite the muggy weather, she had kept them shut tightly against any invading breeze, and her curtains remained drawn.

It wasn’t just the windows; that, Lily knew just as well. Everything about being in her home made her feel on edge, for this was where it had happened. Words could not put into meaning how awful it had felt to return back to this neighbourhood, to her home right down the street from where she had found James being attacked...even now, nearly two weeks later, the memories of spells flashing in the dark and a menacing, robed figure overpowering James were too much for her to take. If she was lucky, they would come during her waking hours, when she would be able to close her eyes and eventually force them away. But they would also plague her when she slept, and then she was defenceless against them; the only respite came when she would wake up with an electric current of terror running through her.

These dreams, these thoughts, these fleeting moments of panic—they were what had kept her closeted inside her bedroom for the better part of two weeks. Her days were filled with nothing, but that was how she preferred it. She liked safety and comfort, having now seen the alternative.

And yet for some reason, she was suddenly starting to realize how pathetic she seemed. She wished she had someone to shake her out of this melancholy.

She understood why her family had decided to leave her to her moping, for the first few times her parents had attempted to talk to her or cheer her up, she had snapped at them. But even if she had confided in them, she doubted they would have understood. After all, Dumbledore had explained the situation to them, and patiently answered all their questions, but it still seemed like her parents were unable to comprehend it. And Petunia—well, Lily didn’t think she had any clue what was going on.

There was no one to help her. At first, she had assumed that James would be her shoulder to lean on, but it was as if he had disappeared completely. While she knew that Dumbledore had told them to stay close to home, she hadn’t thought that James would really listen to him. Trust him to start following rules now, of all times.

She sighed, and let her head rest against the wall behind her. She was sitting on her unmade bed. What was she going to do with herself?

There was a knock on her door, though Lily was fairly sure that it was not opportunity on the other side, but rather one of her parents.

“Come in,” she said, trying to sound as normal as possible. To her great surprise, Petunia stepped into her room, switching on Lily's light as if she owned the place. Annoyed already, Lily asked, “What is it?”

“I need to talk to you about something,” Petunia said.

“Did Mum send you up here?” Lily asked.

Petunia shook her head.

“Dad?”

“No.”

“Well, if you're trying to—”

“Will you shut up for a second?” Petunia interrupted her. She crossed her arms and took a few paces into the room, eyeing Lily's dirty pile of laundry as if it might come to life and attack her when her back was turned.

“Have you showered at all in the past week?” she asked, scrunching up her nose.

“Would you mind getting to your point?” Lily asked. Petunia merely raised an eyebrow, unflappable as ever.

“Fine,” Petunia said. “I want to leave, and I need your help.”

Lily looked at her in bewilderment. “How am I supposed to help you with that?”

“You can convince Mum and Dad of things that I can't. They'll listen to you,” Petunia said.

“They only listen to me when I beg them,” Lily replied, “not when I'm trying to make a well-reasoned argument. You're the one they listen to for that.”

“I know, and begging is exactly what I need.”

Lily stared at her, puzzled again. “You're going to have to explain.”

Petunia looked at her as if she were the dimmest person alive.

“You hate being here, I can tell. I hate being here. What's not to understand?”

“You want me to beg them to let us both leave? And is this still about you moving to London? They've told you no at least a dozen times, and I’m not going to—”

“That's why it's going to be about us moving to London now,” Petunia said, trying to pretend as though she was not flushing furiously. For her part, Lily would have gotten less of a shock from a lightning bolt than her sister's suggestion.

“Are you joking?” she asked.

“Believe me, I wish I were,” Petunia said. “I’ve realized it’s my only chance—and you’d better believe it’s yours, too.”

“Let’s not get dramatic,” Lily responded.

“I’m not joking, Lily,” Petunia said. “Get out now, while it’s still easy to. You think it’s well and good now to be at home, but all of sudden it’ll be three years later, and you won’t know what you’ve done with that time. Besides nothing, of course.”

“Or…it’s possible that I’ll have my own experiences, and not just repeat exactly what you did,” Lily said. She felt badly for saying it a moment later. “Listen, Petunia, the thing is, we don’t really—I don’t see why either of us would want to live with the other.”

“We’ve managed it up until now. And I’m not asking for us to become close flatmates, or anything like that,” she added quickly, when Lily opened her mouth to retort. “We hardly even have to see each other, really. It’s just that I know Mum and Dad would be more willing to let us go if you were on my side, especially if you told them that you had to go to London for your—stuff.”

Stuff, of course, being any and all things magic, in Petunia’s vocabulary, accompanied by the usual pinched, uncomfortable expression.

Lily sighed. “I don’t know. I really don’t think this is the best time…”

“All right,” Petunia said, clearly frustrated, “stop being so negative for one minute, and try to think about why you would go with me.”

Lily sighed and assented. There was the fact that she still wasn’t any closer to finding gainful employment, for one thing, and that London was simply the centre of both Muggle and magical Britain. There was also, of course, the added security that would come with the anonymity of city life. Here, Lily felt like leaving her home made her a walking target, but in a city of millions of people, she would be able to blend in. And, of course, there was James. Though there had been nothing but silence between the two of them recently, Lily could not help but hope that nearness would change that.

“I’ll think about it,” Lily stated. Petunia smiled happily and pranced toward the door without a moment’s hesitation.

Lily didn’t know why she was even bothering to hold out still, considering that she had already more-or-less convinced herself into agreeing with her sister. When she imagined herself living in London, she had felt momentarily freed: she knew it was silly to rest so much on such a little thing as a location change, but she didn’t want to continue living in constant fear. There was nothing here for her, in some respects, but in others, there was too much. And both the lack and surfeit were pushing her away.

A small voice in her head was nagging at her, telling her that perhaps she was so eager to change her situation was because she wanted run away. After all, that was what she had done that night when they had been captured by Death Eaters, so it would not be a stretch of her character. And since it seemed likely that James was upset with her for that first lapse in courage, what would he think of her if she were to do the same thing over again?

Things could not just change, she realized. She had to change: had to become braver, more determined. It wasn’t going to matter where she was if she stayed exactly the same.

She dug around the piles of dirty clothes until she found some shoes to shove her feet into, and then very carefully walked downstairs. If her parents heard her leaving, they would try to stop her, and Lily knew that her resolve would weaken if that happened. She had to do this now.

It was a rather gloomy day outside, considering it was summer. Lily had been glad of the dismal weather until now, since it had given her another way to excuse her hermit-like tendencies, but now that she was outdoors, she would have been glad for some light and warmth. She folded her arms across her chest, looking all around while her heart beat in panic.

But nothing happened. No one jumped out at her, no spells shot in her direction—nothing. She finally released the breath she had been holding in, and part of her thought that maybe just this was all right. She had been outside, hadn’t she? She nearly gave in and went back inside, but she forced herself not to.

Instead, she went back to where it had all started. The park that sat at the end of her street looked the same as it always did, but it was no longer a place of happy childhood memories. She knew what she was doing was stupid, and recklessly dangerous. If Dumbledore could see her now, he would be disappointed. But the alternative was continuing to feel disappointed in herself, and Lily couldn’t stand that.

For a minute, she just stood at the place where the grass met the pavement, watching for any sign that she might be about to get herself killed. Again, she saw nothing but trees and shabby playground equipment. One of the swing seats was hanging limply from its chain, probably broken since she had last been here by a group of neighbourhood teenagers.

No one was here but her.

She crossed the grass and sat down on the remaining swing, trying her best to breathe evenly.

I’m fine, she told herself. This is fine.

Her hands were clasped together in her lap so anxiously that they were beginning to turn white.

She tried to think of something more cheerful, to distract herself, but failed miserably—the first memory that came to her mind was sitting on this very swing weeks ago, kissing James, which only made her feel terribly alone.

Tears were prickling behind her eyes, and she rested her forehead in her hands, willing herself not to cry. She was going to stop this silly, overemotional nonsense in its tracks.

There was nothing to be afraid of, at least not here. No one was waiting to attack her or her family.

It wasn’t the end of the world if she was alone. Just because she didn’t have anyone around that understood what she was going through didn’t mean that she couldn’t get through it. In fact, maybe being alone was a good thing. Maybe it would help her to become stronger, as she wanted to.

Lily sat there in the park for at least a quarter of an hour, and she thought. She thought about what had happened since she had left school, about her sister, about London, about her family, and about James. Somehow, by the time she stood up on shaking legs to return home, she felt like she knew what she needed to do to make things right.

She slipped back inside, taking her shoes off so as not to make as much noise on the staircase, and returned to her room. All her dirty clothes were thrown into a pile that she would deal with later, and she even made her bed and cracked open the window to let some fresh air in. She was crossing the upstairs landing to reach the bathroom and shower when raised voices reached her ears.

“I’ve told you already, she’s not in!” Lily’s mother was saying shrilly, presumably to someone at the door. “Now—I’m sorry, but if you won’t leave, I’ll—I’ll have to call the police!”

Lily edged to the top of the stairway anxiously, hearing the faint noise of someone responding to her mother. It was a male voice, and Lily wondered who could be upsetting her mother so much that she was threatening to have them arrested.

“I don’t care who you say you are! I’ve had strict orders to keep this door closed to anyone who comes calling for Lily, and as that’s what you’re doing—”

“Mum, what’s wrong?” Lily said, walking down the stairs hesitantly. Her heart was starting to pound faster, like it had when she was back in the playground. “Who is it?”

She did not need her mother to answer, however: the voice that called out her name in the next moment was unmistakable.

“James?” Her heart lifted as she flew down the rest of the staircase and pushed the front door open further.

And there he was. The last person she had expected to see, and the first person she had hoped to: her spectacled, messy-haired James, standing on her doorstep as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, making Lily forget entirely the promises she had made to herself not an hour earlier.


Chapter 3: The Right Thing
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A.N. – A gigantic, too-big-to-articulate thanks to almonster for helping me get this chapter finished. Without your advice, who knows how much longer it would have taken for this to get posted!




Chapter Three
The Right Thing



It was too good to be true: Lily could only stand staring at James, frozen in confusion, excitement, and shock. It took a few moments—in which she was unable to speak, move, or even breathe—until the simple fact that he was here clicked in her mind. She practically leapt across the threshold and embraced him with abandon, but no matter how tightly she gripped him, it could not communicate how happy and relieved she was.

“I missed you,” she said, her voice slightly muffled from being pushed up against his shoulder.

“I can tell,” he replied, sounding amused. She stepped back to look at him again, to take in his presence fully, and only then did she remember that her mother was still standing in the doorway.

“Oh—Mum, this is James,” she explained. “He’s—” she paused, unsure of how to define James, since the two of them had not spoken in weeks, “—you know, I’ve told you about him before.”

“I see,” her mother said, but she looked unconvinced and anxious. “Are you...quite sure, dear?”

The fearful glance that her mother gave her made it plain that she was recalling what Dumbledore had explained to her and her husband about Polyjuice Potion: how people could look exactly like someone else with the help of magic. Lily’s first instinct was to tell her mother not to worry, that she was being ridiculous, but worry had already taken root in her chest. She was once again frozen, a sensation of dread filling her like poison, and she did not know what to think.

Surely, though, if this were not really James, she would not still be standing there unharmed. She searched for him in his eyes, and he finally seemed to understand.

“On our first date, I took you to a Golden Snidget reserve,” he said, “and that was on the second of April of this year.”

Lily exhaled with relief. Only James, and perhaps a few other people, all of whom were their friends, would know that.

“This is James,” she repeated, looking at her mother assuredly.

But it was like the lead weight she had been hauling around for the past two weeks had returned, this time even heavier than before. All her excitement at seeing James had been forgotten; her mother’s harsh reminder of everything they had been through had brought her back to reality. It was a painful return trip.

From there, things did not improve. Lily invited James in, and he politely told her mother that he was very pleased to meet her. The response he received in return was decidedly cool—surprisingly so, if you considered how curious her mother had once been about James, though not so surprising if you had been living in the Evans household for the past two weeks. James, of course, did not have that advantage in his favour, and so looked very anxious about the bad reception he was getting.

Lily didn’t know how to explain it to him, and she wasn’t even sure if there would be a point in doing so. How could she tell him that her parents seemed to think that it was James’ influence, and not the plans of an evil wizard, that had gotten Lily kidnapped and threatened with death? His parents were not Muggles; he could not understand what it was like to have parents who didn’t have any concept of what a Death Eater or blood status were.

All she did was smile to cover the awkward moment, which passed quickly, since her mother retreated into the kitchen, leaving them along in the foyer. For lack of a better place to go, she led James into the sitting room and onto the floral-embroidered sofa that stood against the wall. There was a kind of nervous undercurrent to the air around them, and Lily was saved the difficulty of figuring out what to say when James spoke first.

“How have you been?” he asked. “Are you all right?”

Unbidden, a rather nasty voice in her head wondered why he was suddenly so concerned after spending weeks forgetting about her entirely.

“Mostly, yes,” she replied. If the situation were different, she knew that she could have looked forward to leaning on him at a later point: perhaps telling him all the fear and misery she had felt, and he would make funny but tender reassurance to her. The thought of that moment, which she knew would never come to be, pained her terribly.

“Lily, I—I’m so sorry,” he said, the words tumbling out like he had lost control of them. “I wish I knew how to explain myself, but...I’m just really, really sorry.”

She wasn’t sure what to make of this pronouncement. She didn’t doubt his sincerity, and her first instinct was to forgive him—after all, she had things to be sorry for, too. But then there was that nasty voice sprouting up again, like a fungus, wanting James to be more accountable, more than just “really, really sorry”.

“It’s fine,” Lily told him. There wasn’t much of a point in making him apologize any further unless she simply wanted to be vindictive; one little voice in her head wasn’t going to force her to go against her better nature.

When she had been in the park earlier, all her thoughts had led her back to one conclusion. She felt horrible about not standing up for James, for allowing him to sign away his freedom because she was too afraid. At the time, she had believed that there would be a way to save him, if only she could escape unharmed. As long as she could stay alive, James would not really end up having to join the Death Eaters. Now, of course, she realized that any chance of saving him would have been slim at best. He would have been condemned to a life of killing and torturing other people—and that was if he himself had lived. Fear had led her to swap James’ life for her own, to put it in its simplest terms, and the guilt of that was crushing her.

But done was done, and Lily had realized that she could only try to do better in the future. After all she and James had been through, Lily could see very clearly what she needed to do. It was so clear, in fact, that she couldn’t believe she hadn’t seen it before—it was like some kind of painful connect-the-dots game that ended in a very ugly picture.

Dumbledore had told them to stay at home until he contacted them, which meant they were still in danger. Lily assumed the danger was not because Voldemort still hoped to recruit them, but because he was looking to tie up the loose ends of his failed attempt. She also assumed that when the Death Eaters discovered that she was not a pureblood, as James had lied and told them that night, their desire to kill her would increase significantly. And by extension, their desire to kill James would also increase, significantly. Once again, she was putting James in danger, this time just by being connected to him at all.

And so she was left with only one conclusion: a way to fix things, though she hated it with all of her heart.

The silence between her and James had now drawn out to the point of being uncomfortable.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” she muttered, not making eye contact.

“I’m fine,” James said, as if it wasn’t already apparent. His hand found hers, and Lily felt guilty, like she was giving him false hope. She felt even worse when she realized she was building up the very same illusion for herself.

“That’s good,” she said, smiling weakly. She couldn’t remember when conversation had ever been this stilted between her and James; even when they had been at odds, their conversations had always been dynamic. She hoped it would make what she had to do easier on the both of them.

“Do you want to take a walk?” James asked her.

She hesitated for a moment. If she was honest, she didn’t really want to go outside, especially now that the sun was on its way out of the sky, but she reminded herself that she needed to be brave. Hadn’t she already gone outside without incident today? And hadn’t James made it here all right, too?

“Sure,” she said, exhaling heavily. Even if she was uncomfortable being so exposed, she didn’t want to have the conversation they needed to have in a place where all of her family could hear.

It had been another day where the summer warmth was unable to burn away the gray clouds in the sky, and, without the sun visible, it was darker than it usually would be at such an early hour. As she walked beside James down her street (the opposite direction from the park, she noticed), neither of them spoke. Lily wondered if he had some great thing to tell her that he was contemplating, like she was doing at that very moment.

They reached an area where the river drew very close to the road, flowing along below a steep but small embankment. James stood at the top of the bank with his hands shoved in his pockets, doing a very bad job at feigning that he was admiring the foliage around him. She could tell he was very troubled about something, and, since this was James, it took all of about thirty seconds for him to blurt it out.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, sounding close to panicked. “Are you angry with me? You have every reason to be, and you can yell at me, or—” He looked around wildly, as if the perfect course of action would pop out of thin air. “Here, you can hex me, and I won’t even defend myself. You can do your worst.”

He stretched his arms out in a gesture of surrender, and Lily almost laughed.

“I’m not going to hex you,” she said, though she did momentarily wonder if there was some easy break-up hex that she had never heard of, before dismissing the idea as silly. That was the sort of thing Muggles thought of when they learned of magic, because they assumed it made everything in life easier. Magic could making sweeping the floor or cutting the grass a bit easier, it was true, but when it came down to the really difficult things in life—the things that broke your heart in half—wands and spells were no help at all.

“Lily, I know you’re mad,” James said, raking both hands through his hair. “Please, just—please.”

She felt like she was quickly approaching the point where her heart couldn’t hold any more sadness, and it made her want to scream. Instead, she sat down at the edge of the embankment. James joined her after a moment’s hesitation. And suddenly, for no reason at all, she realized what an awful point her life had come to: she was about to willingly shut out the person she knew best, and whose company she enjoyed most.

“You can talk to me,” he said, taking her hand again.

With the greatest sensation of inner turmoil she had ever experienced, and several deep breaths, Lily found that she could indeed.

“These past few weeks have given me a lot of time to think,” she began.

It was strange how such a regularly innocuous statement could become so ominous, given the right context.

“Mostly about me, I hope,” he said. He was always trying to make her smile, even in the worst circumstances.

“Well...yes,” she said, without trying to match his cheerful tone. The grin vanished from his face; her stomach was squirming and her palms were covered in perspiration.

“What are you getting at?” James asked.

She opened and closed her mouth several times without finding the right words, before she realized that there really weren’t any right words in this situation.

“I was just thinking a lot about what the right thing was,” she told him. “For us, I mean.”

James did not respond; he was, in fact, looking rather stone-faced.

“And...well, I just thought that, considering all the danger we’re in, and everything we went through...it might be better if we weren’t...dating each other.”

The statement hung in the air heavily, and there was nothing but the sound of the water trickling through its path for what must have been nearly five minutes. James would not look at her, and the tension eventually led her to bury her face in her hands.

When he finally spoke, he simply swore under his breath. His voice sounded unusually hoarse and ragged.

It took a couple more minutes before he said anything more.

“Lily...I know I buggered this up—royally buggered it up, in fact—” he faltered, sighed, and didn’t continue.

Lily breathed deeply. “It’s nothing that you’ve done—”

“Really?” he interrupted her. “Because, you know, it sure feels like you’re punishing me.”

She finally looked up, feeling indignant. Had he not listened to her at all?

Punishing you? I’m trying to do the right thing, and I know that it’s not what either of us wants—”

“Well, it’s not what I want,” he said. The accusation in his voice was difficult to miss. Lily could not remember ever feeling so totally helpless and defeated as she did now.

“I’m trying to do the right thing,” Lily repeated, her voice near a whisper. She had felt this conviction so deeply earlier in the day, and she wanted that feeling back.

Too many thoughts swirled in her head as she sat there in silence once again. Why did James suddenly care so much about the state of their relationship? Why hadn’t it bothered him just as much to be separated from her for so long? Why had he not come to see her earlier? Couldn’t he have at least written to her?

It felt surprisingly good to let the anger take over her for a few moments, and she realized that it had been there all along, lying dormant until James himself had brought it out into the open. Her more reasonable side pointed out that she shared the blame, that she had not tried to see him either—but she was upset, and some small part of her knew she had a right to be. And, rather than her determination to do the right thing, it was this self-righteousness which strengthened her resolve.

“You know, it’s not all up to you,” she said coolly.

“Oh, so someone gave you the right to decide this on your own?” he shot back. Little red bursts of flushed anger punctuated his face. “If—I mean, if this were even for a legitimate reason, if you hated me, or even just didn’t like me anymore...”

He trailed off, looking at her questioningly.

“I don’t hate you,” she muttered. She heard him sigh.

“Lily, if you don’t want to be my girlfriend anymore, I’d rather you just tell me that than try to make it about something else,” he said, sounding like every word was torturing him.

She found that she had to think about her reply to that statement more than she would have expected.

 

..........

 

The moment when James waited for Lily to announce the fate of their relationship had to be one of the worst in his entire life. Whatever he had been expecting would happen when he came to visit Lily, her breaking up with him had certainly not been it. He had supposed that she might be mad at him, that she might be very sad, even that she might be hurt or in danger—but he had been enough of an idiot to believe that her feelings for him would have remained steady.

He wished she had just hexed him instead.

After what seemed like an eternity, she shook her head, which James wasn’t sure how to interpret. No, she didn’t want to be his girlfriend? No, she didn’t want to break up? Or was it just a meaningless motion that had no relevance to what he had said?

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I don’t know how I feel about anything anymore.”

For a moment, James thought he could almost see her unhappiness tumbling out onto the grass around them, it was so palpable. She looked horrible—she was beautiful as ever, but profoundly sad. She did not look like the same Lily that James had always known.

And still, he loved her.

He couldn’t begin to contemplate what was going through her mind, or what had been going through it the past few weeks. But she was clearly conflicted, and this provided James with a small glimmer of hope, for it meant that it was at least possible for him to come out of this without losing her. He wanted—needed—to say the exact right thing, but he had been able to do that with Lily only on rare occasions.

His search for the right words stopped abruptly, however, when he noticed that she was hunched over again, shuddering slightly: she was crying. He sighed and moved closer to her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. His own throat felt thick as they sat there. Being with Lily, who was the one person who could really understand what he had gone through, was bringing up so many inexplicable feelings that he had not even realized were there, lying dormant. Terrible things were rustling around in his head—flashes of suppressed memories, bursts of feelings that made him feel heavy and very much unlike his usual self.

He thought he had been all right when he had been at home, with his friends to keep him company—now he could not help but question that.

“I love you,” he said, finally, more to comfort himself than Lily.

“You shouldn’t,” she said, sniffling loudly. This just baffled him even more; not for the first time, he wished girls were easier to understand.

“Well, I do,” he replied.

Silence fell yet again. James retreated deeper and deeper into his thoughts, further into the darkness that he had only just realized was there. He knew now why Lily was so filled with despair: she had spent weeks with only thoughts like these to keep her company.

“You have to try and let go,” he said, as firmly as he could. “I know it’s not easy, but nothing’s going to make it better if you can’t let go of all the bad things you’re feeling.”

He tried to take his own advice—nothing could change what had happened, and so wallowing in the mess it had created was pointless. He wasn’t going to keep reliving that experience, wasn’t going to let it drag him down and keep him from being himself, and he wasn’t going to let that happen to Lily, either.

Finally, she looked up at him. Her eyes were red-rimmed, but no tears were in sight, and when she spoke, her voice was steady.

“I think...the only way I can let go is if I feel like I’m doing the right thing,” she said.

James turned this over in his brain several times, before something hit him.

“So, you’re not punishing me...you’re punishing yourself.”

She looked at him with wide eyes. “No. That’s not—no.”

“That’s really what it seems like,” James replied.

“It’s not!” Lily said, and the edge of frustration to her voice was back. “Why is it so hard for you to believe that I want to do the right thing? That I’m not a complete coward?”

“I don’t think that about you. Or, I didn’t, at least.”

“You see? This is exactly what I mean; you’re never going to be able to see me as anything but a coward now—”

“No,” James said, his tone slightly harsh. He understood that Lily was going through a rough time, but she was being ridiculous. “I didn’t see you as a coward until you sat out here and told me that you thought it would be better if we broke up!”

“It would be selfish of me not to!”

“No, what’s selfish is you trying to make yourself feel better about what you did by pretending like running away is the right thing to do,” James said, now truly angry. Lily’s face was white with a mixture of shock and rage.

“This is even worse than I thought,” she said, standing up.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that, even if I did want to work things out, I’m not even sure if we could! You’re always going to hate me—always going to think I’m looking out for myself more than you, always going to be doubting my motives and my feelings, and it’s not fair!” she said, her eyes shining once again. “I can never win! I’m sorry that I didn’t fancy you first, and that I didn’t stop being friends with Snape, and that I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t! I didn’t, and somehow it seems like you are always better than me. I can never do the right thing, and the first time that I really try to, it’s still not good enough for you!”

Even in his anger, it took James a few seconds to recover from that pronouncement—not only because it was true that he felt that way sometimes, horrible of him though it was, but also because he had never imagined that he had ever made Lily feel so inadequate. Didn’t he know how much he loved her? And how had they gotten into an argument again?

He tried to take a deep breath before speaking again.

“All I’m trying to say is that it seems to me that the brave thing to do in this case would be to carry on just as we were before, and not let anyone else scare us into giving up things that make us happy,” he stated.

She still looked angry, but she didn’t contradict him. James exhaled heavily, getting to his feet and facing her.

“Lily,” he said, fixing her with the firmest stare he could manage, “I love you.” Something closed off in her eyes, like she didn’t believe him. “I can’t fix this, and I can’t make it so it never happened. I really wish I could, but I know that I love you, and that has to mean something in all of this.”

She stared off into the trees across the river as if in a trance. As he watched her, he saw something shift in her gaze and her posture. Her shoulders dropped and her arms uncrossed just slightly, like something was unwinding her.

He braced himself, hoping that she had seen his point, or even that she was simply sick of arguing. In fact, he didn’t care what her reasoning was, so long as he didn’t have to walk away without her. He didn’t even know if it was physically possible for him to do that at this point, after everything that had happened.

“I’m sorry,” she finally whispered, and that was all. James didn’t know what she was sorry about, but he wasn’t going to press her: he had a feeling that this was the best she could do, for the moment. There would be time later, he hoped, to work out the rest.



 


Chapter Four
Orderly




The summer continued much as it had before, besides the fact that it seemed to carry infinitely more promise of a better future. James began to feel freer with each day that passed without encountering any further threat or danger, and more optimistic with each day that he found something to reassure him that things could, and eventually would, get back to normal with Lily. Even the weather seemed more cheerful, and he had taken advantage of the streaming sunlight to enjoy several games of Quidditch outside on the lawn. July was slowing coming to a close, and it felt as though he could at least spend the last month of summer in better spirits.

On one of these late July mornings, James was woken unexpectedly by the sound of his mother shouting orders at a much louder volume than usual. He assumed at first that his mother was simply directing missives at Sprotty, their house elf, but eventually he registered the low and sporadic rumble of unfamiliar voices. He lifted his head from the pillow, freeing both of his ears to listen more carefully, but he still couldn’t make out what was going on. The Potter home was all thick stone walls and heavy wooden doors, which didn’t make listening in on other people easy—and James would know, since eavesdropping was something of a persistent habit for him.

His curiosity got the best of him, as it usually did, and he finally dragged himself out of bed and into some slightly more presentable clothes than his pyjamas. By the time he made it downstairs, it was only his mother standing in the sitting room; whoever else had been here was already gone. There was, however, an unfamiliar object standing in the room—a large cabinet made of mahogany wood with intricate carvings covering its entire surface.

“Hello, James,” his mother said. “Did you sleep well, dear?”

James nodded blithely. “What’s all this about?”

“Isn’t it lovely?” his mother asked, smiling widely at their new piece of furniture.

“Is it some sort of antique?” James asked. His mother found great pride in the past—family history, legacies, heirlooms—and so he assumed she must have acquired this cabinet for a particular reason, one which would probably bore him to tears. His mind had already started drifting toward breakfast.

“Oh, no. No, no, it’s brand new,” she said, opening one of its double doors an inch and then shutting it again. “It’s a Vanishing Cabinet.”

James held back an eye-roll. Vanishing Cabinets had become something of a trend over the past few years. Though their purpose was fairly practical, it seemed like more and more people were purchasing them simply to be fashionable, often when there was little threat that might necessitate their use. It wasn’t as if you could even use them for storage, since anything placed inside would simply disappear. They were just empty boxes that took up space, in most cases. He couldn’t see why his mother would feel like their family needed an escape route, since they were purebloods, after all—then, of course, he remembered that most of the Death Eaters probably had orders to kill or at least abduct him at the first opportunity.

“Are you just going to leave it in the middle of the room like this, then?” he asked, deliberately side-stepping the uncomfortable subject that had arisen.

“Well, I would have preferred for it to be brought upstairs, but the gentlemen who delivered it were less than careful, and I was afraid of it getting damaged on the way up the staircase,” his mother replied, examining the lower half of the cabinet carefully. She clucked her tongue in disapproval.

 “Right,” James said. “Well, I think I’m going to go make myself some breakfast, then.”

“Oh, goodness, dear, you needn’t go to the trouble,” his mother replied, crossing the room to place her hands warmly on his shoulders. “I’ll have Sprotty make something for you.”

Part of him had an instinctive desire to reject her coddling, but he didn’t find it objectionable enough, however, to have him turn down the prospect of a delicious meal, and so he smiled weakly to show his agreement.

He was glad he had not turned it down out of stubbornness as soon as the smell of bacon and eggs wafted out to the sitting room, where James had remained. While he sat in an armchair that afforded a view of the front lawn, he began to sift through thoughts in his mind, contemplating the day that lay ahead, wondering if it would bring anything different than the one before.

His thoughts drifted to Lily, his stomach clenching uncomfortably when he thought of how...strange things had become between them. It wasn’t all bad news, of course: he had really thought she was going to end things, but luckily that disaster had been averted. Still, their parting words that day hadn’t exactly been encouraging.

He hadn’t been able to say goodbye to her without knowing for certain. “So—are we still...together, then?” he had asked, refraining from cringing at how pathetic he sounded.

“Yes, I suppose so,” she had replied. Even now, he could remember very precisely how her voice had sounded: like she was trying to swat some irritating fly with her words.

“Listen, I don’t—I don’t want you to just say yes because you feel sorry for me, or something. That’s only going to make me feel worse.”

“It’s not like that,” she said, shaking her head. Her expression softened slightly. “I’m so sorry. Nothing I’ve said or done lately has gone right. Can we just chalk today up to me being incredibly stupid?”

He had nodded and agreed at the time, wondering ever since then whether he wasn’t the one being stupid. But things had gotten better, slowly but surely, over the past few weeks. It was far from the idyllic bliss of their first few months of dating; James knew this shift happened to most couples, but he suspected that few of them had needed to go through near-death experiences first. He’d used to think that he’d rather be dead than have things boring and simple all the time, but he had been proven wrong in the most literal way possible (a thought which he found himself laughing at more than was appropriate).

As much damage as staying apart had done in the first place, both Lily and James had agreed that they could not hope to start seeing each other every day, with the possibility of Death Eaters coming after them or their families. Letter-writing was similarly dicey, and James found himself wishing that he had another set of two-way mirrors like the ones he and Sirius often used.

The best they could do was visit intermittently. They tried to avoid patterns—not specific intervals, for example, or certain days of the week—and James used his father’s Invisibility Cloak to his advantage.

He sighed, coming out of his reverie momentarily. The sounds from the kitchen promised that breakfast would be on the way within minutes.

And then...what? He felt like he was being forcibly restrained with every passing day; nothing was moving forward, nothing was changing. As far as he could tell, Dumbledore had forgotten that he and Lily had ever existed. If Dumbledore weren’t a genius, James would have thought that old age had hampered his memory. The problem was, of course, that they could hardly write to him and ask if he had decided to let them become a part of his secret organization. They simply had to wait, and James had never been good at that. It was getting to the point where he was ready to make his way to Hogwarts and march up to Dumbledore’s office, demanding an explanation.

“Breakfast, Master James.” He didn’t realize that Sprotty had drawn up next to the armchair until her squeaky voice jarred him from his thoughts. The plate of food, larger than the house elf’s head, hovered in the air until James took it in his hand.

“Thanks,” he said quickly. Sprotty bowed until her large, rounded nose nearly touched her knee, and at that moment, James’ mother returned.

“Very good, Sprotty,” she said. “You may take the cabinet up to my bedroom now, and be careful to avoid the railing and the walls.”

James stuffed half a piece of toast in his mouth in one bite, expecting that his mother would leave the room once her orders had been doled out. He was in an unusually introspective mood at the moment, and didn’t much want company. Once she had stood there for nearly a minute, silently watching him, he felt like he wasn’t going to have much luck in that regard.

He looked up at her: she was standing behind another armchair which stood opposite him, a copy of the Daily Prophet clasped in her hands. Her expression was apprehensive once again, and James suddenly felt a jolt of anxiety.

“What is it? Is something wrong?” he asked, thinking that perhaps there was some terrible news in the paper.

“Oh, absolutely not, dear,” she replied. “I was only thinking that perhaps...once you were finished eating, you might like to go bring the paper to your father and sit with him a while.”

James put down his knife and fork with more force than he had meant to, and they clanged harshly in the uncomfortable silence. He tried to remain expressionless.

“Don’t look like that, darling,” she said.

“Like what?”

“Like you’ve just eaten something unappetizing. I know Sprotty’s cooking can’t be responsible.”

Coincidentally, James felt rather like he had lost his appetite; he swallowed the last mouthful of eggs he’d been chewing bitterly.

“It would make him so happy,” his mother continued. “You’ve hardly seen him in the past two weeks.”

“He’s always sleeping when I go in,” James muttered, avoiding eye contact.

“Yes, so you say.”

“Is it really going to make him happy?” James asked. He stood up, putting his unfinished breakfast on the end table next to his chair. “Here, let me see the newspaper...ah, yes, I’m sure it’ll really cheer him up to hear about how three Muggles were tortured into insanity for no reason. That’ll really start off his morning nicely.”

“There’s no need to be smart with me,” she said severely. “Quite frankly, I only phrased it as a suggestion because I didn’t imagine that you would refuse. Now, let me make it clear that you will go sit with your father, even if only for a few minutes. Is that understood?”

James would have liked nothing better than to defy her order just on principle, but it occurred to him that it was very pig-headed to even consider it. While sitting beside his ailing and frail father was not his idea of a nice morning, there was something distinctly horrible about actually arguing over it.

“Fine,” he fumed, tossing the newspaper down on the seat of the armchair, “but you can keep that rubbish; I’m not going to go up there and depress him.”

He ascended the stairs miserably, torn between dread at seeing his father and guilt over that dread. He tried to tell himself that it wasn’t going to be as bad as he thought. Perhaps he could even get used to seeing his father so feeble and devoid of his former personality, if he were around him enough—it certainly seemed that his mother had managed it. Even still, he had to take a moment to steel himself before he walked into their bedroom.

The smell of must clung to the air in the dim light; only one of the windows had the curtains drawn back to let in the light. The Vanishing Cabinet had already been delivered to its resting place on the wall opposite the massive four-poster bed. His parents never seemed to have left behind their days at Hogwarts completely, for the deep red hangings on the windows and on the bed were strongly reminiscent of the ones in the Gryffindor dormitories.

At first, James thought that his lie from earlier might ironically come true, for his father seemed to be sleeping, but after a few moments, he stirred.

“Ah, James,” he said, voice hoarse from sleep. “Good morning.”

“Morning,” James replied. He felt uncomfortable already, and wished he had brought the Prophet with him after all to give him some kind of purpose. “I...er...came to...look at the new cabinet.”

“Ah, yes,” his father remarked, with a knowing smile. James found himself encouraged by this smile, small as it might be; this was the smile of the Potter men, who knew all too well the way the mind of Mrs Potter worked.

James took a few moments to feign interest in the cabinet while he tried to think of something to say.

“I would have preferred a wireless,” his father said into the silence. “Listen to the matches, you know.”

With Quidditch as the subject of conversation, some of the awkward tension in the room lifted. It was something he and his father had always shared an interest in—James could remember more than one occasion during his childhood when his father would give him a conspiratorial wink when he wanted to escape from some sort of formal gathering to play Quidditch in the garden.

“Guess it didn’t fit with the décor,” James said, smirking.

His father cleared his throat loudly. “Any news about Bagman leaving the Wasps?”

“Just rumours,” James replied. “I don’t think he will, though. They had a good season this year, so it wouldn’t make sense for him to jump ship when they might have a shot at winning the league.” His father nodded thoughtfully. Encouraged by what was the first real conversation they’d had in at least a month, he continued on the subject. “The World Cup semifinals happened last night. Belgium and Japan are playing this Sunday for third place, and Uganda and Spain are going on to the finals.”

“I heard they’re having bad weather in New Zealand,” his father remarked. “Might postpone the matches if it’s bad enough.”

James contracted his brow in confusion. New Zealand? New Zealand had been the location of the previous Quidditch World Cup, four years ago; this year, it was being held in Italy. It only took him a few moments to understand that his father was mixing things up. He wasn’t sure whether to ignore the mistake or correct it.

“Maybe for the New Zealand league,” James said, attempting a weak smile, “but not the Cup. It’d have to be really bad weather to affect matches all the way in Italy, wouldn’t it?”

He waited for the confused look in his father’s eyes to fade to comprehension, for him to chuckle at his own mistake, but the moment didn’t come. The aged face seemed to struggle without relief, and James felt the leaden feeling return to his stomach. It shouldn’t matter so much—it was a small mistake, by all accounts, but somehow it pushed all his worst fears back to the surface, and gave them new life.

“Uganda’s the favourite to win,” he said, trying but failing to break the tension. He had always been the person who could find the right thing to say to comfort people, or lighten the mood, but this...this was too much, too personal for him, and he realized that it was because he was trying to find the right words to comfort himself, not anyone else. He didn’t know how to do that.

“I’ll...tell Mum you’re awake, so she can bring you breakfast,” he muttered. His throat felt thick with guilt as he turned to leave the room.

“Yes, thank you, son,” his father replied.

Leaving the room did not make James feel any better, and the last thing he was about to do was face his mother with such obvious failings written in his expression. Instead, he returned to his bedroom. There was something incomprehensible about the way he was feeling that didn’t lend itself to self-reflection or solitude. After a few minutes of staring blankly at his ceiling, he sought out his two-way mirror.

“Hey, Padfoot,” he said. Moments later, his own reflection was replaced by Sirius’ face.

“It’s a bit early, isn’t it?” Sirius said by way of greeting. James laughed, though he didn’t feel very cheerful.

“My mum bought a Vanishing Cabinet,” James told him. “I went downstairs and it was sitting in the middle of the lounge.”

“Did you wake me up to play a game of crazy-pureblood-furniture-one-upmanship?” Sirius asked, yawning. “I hate to tell you this, but I think mounted house-elf heads trump a Vanishing Cabinet any day of the week.”

“I suppose so,” James said. Now that he was talking to Sirius, he wasn’t really sure what he had intended to say. The thought of telling him about the exchange with his father flitted across his mind, but he held back. Sirius was an excellent confidant, but James could not help but feel like he wouldn’t understand something like this, not with his family history.

“Right, well, I’m going to go eat breakfast, then,” James continued, telling what felt like his hundredth lie of the day. How had his day gone so wrong in less than an hour of being awake?

He stretched out on his bed again once he had said goodbye to Sirius, feeling very mixed-up. As he stared at the ceiling once more, he realized that he had never asked his mother where the new Vanishing Cabinet led to. He wasn’t sure why this should bother him so much.

Eventually he decided that all he really wanted to do was to go back to bed and maybe start the day over, if that was possible. He woke up sometime late in the afternoon feeling overtired and grouchy. He whittled away a few hours by alternatively practicing Quidditch and Patronus Charms outside, happy that his mother did not seem to be hunting him down for his feeble efforts earlier. It wasn’t until it was starting to get dark out that he heard her voice calling to him from inside; he trudged in, resigned to a good ear-lashing.

She was waiting for him in the kitchen, her lips pursed and eyebrows raised—a sure sign that she was unhappy.

“What is it?” he asked tonelessly.

“Professor Dumbledore is here to see you.”

James felt he might keel over with shock.

“What?”

“Albus Dumbledore is in the sitting room,” she said. “He won’t tell me why he’s here, but he says he needs to speak with you.”

James practically sprinted from the room and into the sitting room. Dumbledore, wearing billowing blue robes, turned to greet him, but he wasn’t alone—Lily was there, as well.

“Hi,” James said. Having both Dumbledore, who he had been waiting to see for weeks, and Lily in his house at the same time was a little too much to take in all at once.

“Hello, James,” Dumbledore said cheerfully. “I hope we haven’t come at a bad time.”

“No, not at all,” he replied. Because it seemed polite, he asked, “Is everything all right?”

“Oh, yes, no cause for alarm,” Dumbledore said. “I’m merely here to make good on the promise that I made to you and Lily.”

Silence fell for a few moments. James looked inquisitively at Lily, who had a small smile on her face.

“What was that?”

“That I would be in touch,” Dumbledore replied. “I assume you haven’t changed your mind about joining my organization?”

“No,” James replied quickly and emphatically. Dumbledore looked slightly amused.

“Well, we’re having a meeting in half an hour, and I was wondering if you might like to join us.”




..........




Lily was a jumble of nerves. Dumbledore had showed up at her door completely unannounced, and what had followed—from him inviting her to a secret meeting, to going to James’ house, to leaving James’ and arriving at their destination—had all felt like a blur. She hadn’t had time to take in what was happening, but she felt flush with anticipation and adrenaline about what was awaiting them inside the home they were now walking towards. They were in a sleepy village surrounded by thick forests; Lily pictured the inhabitants of most of the homes sitting inside sipping tea while reading leather-bound books. It was the sort of place that you couldn’t help but feel safe in, which was unusually refreshing for her.

They had reached the front door when he turned to them, looking serious.

“Before we go in,” he said, “I feel that it is my obligation to remind you once more that this is no small matter. If you have any feelings of hesitation, or any second-thoughts after tonight, I urge you to reconsider joining us. We will not leave you with no way out should you decide you wish to quit in the future, of course, but there are things that you will do as part of this organization that cannot be undone.”

Lily glanced briefly at James, whose jaw was set in determination.

“Are you certain that this is what you want?” Dumbledore asked. Lily felt like his eyes were looking right through them as he waited for their answers.

“Yes,” James said, and Lily nodded in fierce agreement.

The feelings of fear and listlessness that had plagued her during the first few weeks of the summer had turned into anger: a desire for revenge that she knew was not healthy, but was nevertheless sustaining her through moments of emotional weakness. This was something she needed. She knew it was dangerous, and her parents were certainly not going to approve when she explained the details, but she didn’t care. This was where she needed to be; she could feel it.

“Very well,” Dumbledore said, taking out his wand. He tapped on the door in a funny sort of pattern with its tip for several seconds until there was the sound of a lock sliding from its place. Dumbledore opened the door and gestured them forward. “After you.”

Anxiety was swirling in Lily’s stomach like a carnival ride, and she took James’ hand as they stepped forward into what was a very dark entrance hall. She started slightly at the noise of the door closing behind them, and felt relieved when Dumbledore filled the room with wandlight.

He led them through the house, which was unexpectedly silent. She didn’t hear the sounds of conversation, and, as the house wasn’t large, she thought this was odd. They finally reached a door, under which a thin beam of light was visible—a sign at last that there might be someone else here.

As Dumbledore stretched his hand out and opened the door, Lily felt as though she were about to jump off a cliff. James squeezed her hand and smiled at her.

She looked at the room before the people inside. It was a moderately-sized study with paneled-wood walls and bookshelves on the wall directly opposite the door. The green curtains were drawn on the only window in the room. There was a desk with a chair near the window, and two armchairs across the room from the desk; several chairs seemed to have been added to the room for people to sit on.

She was too overwhelmed to look properly at the occupants of those chairs. Her brain took in general facts, not specific faces: the massive form of Hagrid, Hogwarts’ gamekeeper; a fairly even ratio of men to women; many of them fairly young, or at least not much beyond thirty. She did recognize Professors McGonagall and Dearborn immediately, but no one else was familiar, and suddenly she felt very self-conscious. The fact that everyone seemed to be sitting in stunned silence did nothing to make her feel any better.

“Good evening, everyone,” Dumbledore finally said. “I would like to introduce James Potter and Lily Evans to those of you who aren’t already acquainted with them. They have just graduated school and have decided to join us.”

Still, no one reacted.

James said hello pleasantly, but even that didn’t prompt a reaction. Lily’s face was starting to get very warm.

Finally, mercifully, someone spoke up. A dark-skinned woman with long hair and rather gangly limbs shifted slightly in her chair and said, “Merlin’s beard, Albus—I know you said they were young, but...”

Dorcas,” another woman said, shushing the first speaker. This woman looked to be about the same age as Dorcas, though she appeared to be short and slightly plump, with closely-cropped blond hair and an impish look to her features. Dorcas shrugged unapologetically.

Lily saw James open his mouth to speak in indignation, but someone beat him to it.

“This was already discussed,” Dearborn said. “And I think we all agreed that we’re lucky to have these two here tonight.”

Lily felt a sort of claustrophobic discomfort surround her upon hearing that their joining had been a “discussion” among all the people in the room. She knew Dumbledore had had his misgivings, but it hadn’t occurred to her that other people might feel the same way.

“We’ll have to make this quick,” said an older man with a voice like a growl and a face marked with several prominent scars. “I have to be back on duty in an hour.”

“Very well,” Dumbledore said. “James, Lily, please take a seat.”

Lily wondered as they did so whether James was feeling as uncomfortable as she was. He did not glance over at her, but she felt certain that he was trying to mask indignation.

“First, I suppose an introduction is in order for Lily and James,” Dumbledore began. “I have not been able to share many details with you yet, but now I think it best for you to know exactly who we are and what we do.”

Lily tried to put her indignation aside, and focused her attention on Dumbledore

“It was a little over two years ago that the idea of secretly bringing together a group of talented, like-minded individuals to fight Lord Voldemort occurred to me,” he said, sweeping his hand around the room to indicate the product of this idea. “I saw that the Ministry was struggling. The hard work and long hours put in by the Aurors was achieving very little. They were—are—fighting an enemy that moves in shadow, that never reveals its plans until they are put into action, and yet their own plans and movements had to be played openly. I knew that it was impossible for the Ministry to operate as Voldemort does, and yet the only way that I believed it possible to defeat him was to do just that.

“And, so, I started to speak of this idea with some of my close friends, to explore whether it could function as I envisioned. Eventually we became a more formal group, albeit a small one, meeting regularly, seeking avenues to effect change within or outside the Ministry, all with the aim of striking at Lord Voldemort and his followers.

“Our group is neither formal nor official, save for the fact that we have adopted an official name to refer to ourselves by: the Order of the Phoenix.”

It took her a few moments to digest each word. The Order of the Phoenix. For a few moments, she felt like she had been drawn into the exclusive circle, like she was going to fit in just fine.

But it seemed this was all the guidance that she and James were going to get; with a round of introductions that Lily forgot half of the moment they were made, the meeting got on its way. There was so much of what was being said that she didn’t understand—Ministry meetings, giant alliances, power struggles among the werewolf community, raids, surveillance, all of which were discussed so professionally, so perfunctorily—that she wondered if perhaps she wasn’t qualified to be sitting here after all, and Dorcas’ tactless comments had been fair.

What she did observe was that Dumbledore’s assertion that there was no official nature to the group was somewhat off the mark. There was a clear hierarchy to the group, even if it was a tacit one; Lily could see it just from where people were positioned in the room. Dumbledore, standing alone behind the desk, was clearly the acknowledged leader, but not far to his right sat Professor Dearborn, Professor McGonagall, and the man with the scars. She had to think about his name for several moments, but then she remembered that it was Moody, or at least his last name was. She could tell that these three were respected in the group—they were older than most of the others in the room, and Lily wondered if perhaps they were the friends and colleagues that Dumbledore had first allied himself with.

Then there was a younger group, their chairs set very close together. An aura of intimacy and close friendship surrounded them, so much so that Lily felt certain that they had all been friends at Hogwarts. This group included Dorcas and Alice, whose names Lily remembered readily, but also several others—a light-haired man who must be Alice’s husband or boyfriend, since his arm was around her shoulders; a witch with jet-black hair and a round face; another witch, this one with blonde hair, who had a rather bony face; and a man with brown hair, a large nose, and heavily lidded eyes, which made him slightly resemble a bloodhound.

Once again, Lily had trouble recalling all of their names, and only remembered them when someone spoke to them directly. The blonde witch was Emmeline and the black-haired one Hestia; the man paired with Alice was Frank, and the other, Benjy. The more she watched this group—the way they looked to each other for support whenever they spoke, the way they whispered to each other when someone else said something of interest, the way they raised their eyebrows or shifted impatiently in their seats—the more she got a sense that they were somewhat restless, and maybe a little rebellious.

Hagrid seemed to constitute a group all his own, taking up as much space as he did. Finally, there was a collection of people who seemed relatively close in age, yet this similarity did not seem to bond them as tightly as their younger compatriots. Though they sat together, they did not seem to constitute a faction of their own: they were neither the most respected nor the most radical. They seemed possessed of great independence and self-sufficiency, like island fortresses. There were five men—one with very neat dark hair and rectangular glasses, one with an untidy mom of blond hair, a third with an unusual magenta top hat sitting in his lap, and two who looked so similar that Lily knew they must be brothers—and a woman with long dark hair and flat facial features. Again, she took note of their names when someone spoke them: Edgar, Sturgis, Dedalus, Gideon, Fabian, and Marlene.

She went around the room repeating everyone’s names, memorizing them until she no longer had to think before matching each face with the right name. After passing several minutes this way, she realized that she hadn’t been paying attention to a word anyone had said. And, typically, this was the moment when she was finally included directly into the conversation.

“So, how are our new recruits going to fit into this picture, Albus?” Marlene asked, after all the official news had been reported. She had a low, throaty voice that reminded Lily of Anna.

“A very good question,” Dumbledore replied. After a moment’s pause, he turned his gaze on Lily and James. “Lily, James: what do you think?”

Lily was completely wrong-footed. Why would anyone expect her to know how to contribute? Unless, of course, they all expected that she had been listening to and understanding everything that they were saying, and had thought of some innovative way to use her natural talents to help them out. Which, of course, assumed that she even knew what her natural talents were to begin with.

“We—erm—I think we’re happy to be involved in any way we can be,” she said, hoping that this answer didn’t come off as incompetent, but rather eager and helpful.

“And we’ve got friends that will help, too,” James added.

Lily couldn’t help but notice the exchange of glances among some of the Order members as James said this; some of these glances were interested, others anxious. Whatever the expressions, the possibility of more members certainly evoked a reaction.

After a few moments of silence, Marlene spoke again.

“What about the records job?” she asked. The feeling of impending protest rippled through the room. “I know—I know we weren’t all agreed on the necessity of posting someone there—”

I thought the question was directed at the wisdom of it,” Hestia interrupted. “It’s far from being a foolproof plan, and if it fails, it spells disaster for the person in the job and for the rest of us, as well. They’ll want to know who was behind it—”

“The chance that anyone at the Ministry would notice is very unlikely.”

“But if they do,” Alice chimed in, “if they do, you have to think outside of us. It would call attention to the Muggle-borns and their families, and it’s the sort of thing the Death Eaters would jump on as cause for retribution. And you know pureblood sentiment toward Muggle-borns in general hasn’t been at its finest lately. This would just make things worse.”

Lily had no idea what they were talking about, and was grateful when Dumbledore held up a hand and the room was silenced.

“We should first explain the proposed plan to both Lily and James and then ask for their judgment, as we are contemplating putting one of them in this position. Marlene?”

Marlene leaned forward, her elbows resting on her knees and her back hunched.

“I work in the Department of Magical Transportation,” she explained. “I work a lot with the Magical Identification Agency, and for a while now, I’ve suspected that someone within the Ministry is passing information—or being forced to—about blood status to the Death Eaters. Almost all of the recent attacks on Muggle-borns and their families have coincidentally been on people whose files from the Office of Magical Records—which is part of the Identification Agency— were pulled for cases from different departments and spent time sitting on desks or circulating around Ministry.

“Obviously, if there’s someone passing this kind of information, it’s very bad news for Muggle-borns. This person may have limited access now—they may have to scavenge what they can from files already removed—but it’s a distinct possibility they could overcome those limitations. For Voldemort, records that denote the blood status of most of the magical population in Britain are like a road map to his takeover. What we—what I—want is someone in the Office of Magical Records itself, so we can keep a closer eye on who’s moving in and out of there on a regular basis.”

This was almost all new information to Lily, who had never known many specifics about the Ministry of Magic. However, the idea sounded perfectly reasonable to her, even if others in the room disagreed.

“Well, Marlene, let’s be clear,” Dorcas interjected. “We don’t just want a set of eyes. Whoever agrees to do this is at some point going to be expected to falsify the Ministry’s records to protect Muggle-borns that might be targeted, and if they get caught, they’ll be put on trial for it. It’s a lot of boring filing and filling out forms that disguises breaking the law.”

“We’re not talking about changing hundreds upon hundreds of records,” Marlene replied. “It would be a tiny fraction of the population at most, only when requested through the Order, and if the person we plant there manages to find out how the information is leaking, the job will be done.”

This elicited a pronounced eye-roll from Dorcas, but she apparently decided not to pursue the argument any further. Lily found herself stunned for the second time at Dorcas’ irascibility. Marlene’s proposal sounded reasonable, and, as much as Lily hated to admit it, much safer than the visions of dangerous wand-to-wand combat she had been envisioning up to this point.

But more than that, she found herself angry that there was such a simple way for Death Eaters to find out someone’s blood status. She had just been hit with the knowledge that somewhere there was a file with her name and blood status in it—if she had been unlucky enough to have that file pulled from the recesses of storage, perhaps for something as simple as registering a broomstick or having her house connected to the Floo Network, she might have been the next target. The senselessness of some family being attacked when they had done nothing at all made her chest feel tight with a mixture of anger and pity.

And finally, the feeling that had been with her as she walked through the door returned to her. No one here has any idea, she thought to herself, not about me, or what I can do, or what I want to do. And yet they all seemed to have judged her at first sight. Regardless of what other people thought of her abilities or age or anything else, she knew that her place was here. She could do something meaningful, even if it was saving the lives of one or two people. Other people might not think that was much in the bigger scheme of things, but Lily had had her own life threatened before, and she knew that it mattered very much indeed.

“I’ll do it,” she said, her cheeks flushing hot as she spoke up. “That’s something that I’d like to do.”

She knew they would ask her at least twice if she was really sure, but she was going to keep saying yes until the day came when they knew they didn’t have to anymore.


Chapter 5: New Beginnings & Old Endings
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Chapter Five
New Beginnings & Old Endings




Whenever she paused for a moment and thought about it, Lily could hardly believe that it had only been two months since she had left school. She could never decide, though, whether it seemed like the time that had passed seemed far longer than two months, or whether it seemed like it had been just yesterday that she had ridden the Hogwarts Express for the last time.

Either way, there was always some part of her which longed deeply to go back, because life there had been much simpler. Her biggest worries then had been things like the due date of her next assignment, or fretting over a marmalade stain on her jumper. Now, she found that everything was cause for anxiety. The future loomed over her like some inscrutable, grey cloud, threatening either to open up and send down torrents of rain or to move aside and let the sun shine for a little while. It was the uncertainty that bothered her more than anything.

She had all but forgotten that the most important part of her final year at school had been her N.E.W.T.s. Perhaps if she had not already made plans to start working at the Ministry at Dumbledore and the Order’s suggestion, she would have found it hard to forget about her N.E.W.T. results, since they would have determined what opportunities were available to her post-graduation. Though it had not been in the forefront of her mind, when a thick, cream-coloured enveloped arrived by owl, addressed to her from the Wizarding Examinations Authority, her pulse skittered like a handful of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans that had been dropped on the floor.

“Oh, Lily, dear,” her mother said, striding into the kitchen, “I finally found that box of old dishes in the basement, so make sure we don’t forget to bring it up when we take you and Petunia down to London.”

Lily was still standing with the envelope resting in her hands, too nervous to open it yet. What if she had failed everything? She couldn’t have. Well, technically she could have, but she’d done well throughout her time at Hogwarts, so it was unlikely. But what if she’d failed something? Transfiguration had always given her a bit of a trouble, after all...

“Did you hear me?” asked her mother. “Is everything all right?”

Lily looked up and nodded. “I’ve just got my exam results.”

Her mother’s face lit up as Lily held out the envelope to show her.

“That’s wonderful! Are you going to open it?” she asked. Lily paused, still feeling slightly trepidatious.

“I suppose...I should,” she said. Really, there wasn’t much point in standing around with it, so she tore it open and removed its contents, holding her breath as she unfolded the parchment.

She quickly found what she was looking for: two columns, one with a subject name, and, to the right of that, one with a single letter indicating her grade. It took a moment for her brain to take in what was in front of her.

Charms ........ E
Defence Against the Dark Arts ........ E
Potions ........ O
Transfiguration ........ A
Herbology ........ E


The “Acceptable” in Transfiguration caused a swoop of disappointment in her stomach, but as for the rest...nothing below an “Exceeds Expectations,” and an “Outstanding” in Potions! Not only had she passed, but she had done well.

“So?” her mother prompted, and Lily handed over the parchment for her to look at. “Oh, yes, I remember these letters. The ‘O’ is the highest grade, isn’t it? And then ‘A’ comes after?”

“No, ‘E’ is after ‘O’. It stands for ‘Exceeds Expectations’, and ‘A’ is just ‘Acceptable’,” Lily explained, feeling that disappointment again. She had very much hoped to get nothing less than an “Exceeds Expectations” in every subject, but perhaps she should have resigned herself to the possibility that she might not be able to meet her goal where Transfiguration was concerned.

“Lily, you’ve done wonderfully! The highest grade in Potions, and an ‘E’ in three other subjects! You should be very proud of yourself,” her mother said.

News of Lily’s exam results spread to the rest of the Evans household (though Petunia could hardly have cared less). Her mother declared that she was going out to buy a roast for supper to celebrate Lily’s success, and Lily found herself revelling in the chance to be a regular teenager again. She passed the rest of the day in a sunny mood, only enhanced when she received an owl from James, which invited her to meet him, Peter, Sirius, and Remus for drinks later that night to celebrate their N.E.W.T. results.

Her parents were full of questions at the dinner table. They had always taken great interest in Lily’s education, and it seemed it was no different when it came to her plans beyond school. Lily found their enthusiasm and curiosity rather amusing, which was a refreshing change from the dynamic between them in the last couple of months. Between their worry for her safety and disapproval of James, there had been a fair amount of discord.

“So, now that you’ve gotten your results, will you get that job at the Ministry?” her mother asked, sounding as if she didn’t quite know how to form her mouth around the word Ministry.

“Well, I already had it,” Lily explained, pouring some more gravy onto her plate. “Professor Dumbledore arranged it for me.”

This was as much as she had told them about the circumstances under which she had gotten the job—it seemed like a much neater explanation than telling them about the Order and her role in it. Lying to her mother and father made her feel guilty, but their reaction after her run-in with the Death Eaters made her certain that keeping the truth from them was better, at least in the short-term. She could comfort herself with the fact that she wasn’t really lying to them, just leaving things out.

“He’s been very kind to you,” her mother remarked.

“Oh, be fair, Gertie,” her father said, winking. “She was Head Girl, after all! Bet your professor wouldn’t do that for just any student!”

“Maybe not,” Lily said, smiling slightly. Definitely not, added a voice in her head. But then, how many of them would want to even if he did offer?

She could tell just from glancing across the table as the meal continued on that Petunia was less than enthralled by the conversation, and kept expecting her to make some kind of venomous interjection at some point. Surprisingly, however, she simply remained silent, if sullenly so. If Lily hadn’t known better (and, perhaps, if she hadn’t received an “Acceptable” in Transfiguration), she would have thought she’d been given a dose of Felix Felicis.

More and more, Lily found herself enjoying the luxury of normalcy. She laughed over meals with her family, whiled away time with James, and prepared to make the move to London with Petunia.

The two Evans sisters had been exceptionally lucky in finding a place to live in London: old friends of their parents were living abroad for the year, and had agreed to let Petunia and Lily be their live-in house-sitters.

Lily supposed that moving away from home should have been somewhat troubling for her, but she found herself often pretending to be wistful about it for her parents’ sakes. The truth was that she had already left her real home, and she couldn’t go back even if she wanted to. She had spent the majority of her life at Hogwarts, and the fact that she wasn’t getting ready to go to King’s Cross and take the train to school felt much stranger than leaving home did.

If moving away wasn’t sad, it was certainly stressful. The day before the big move was chaos in the Evans household, largely due to Petunia’s incorrigible perfectionism. She spent half the day running around town, buying “essential items” for their new home (Lily noticed that many of these items seemed to be cleaning products), and the other half trying to make everything fit in the car, which would also be carrying Lily’s things and four passengers.

By the time evening rolled around, Lily was in desperate need of a break from the preparations. She slipped out through the back door of her house, taking an opportunity to practice her Disillusionment Charm; lately, she had gotten good enough at it that only neighbourhood cats seemed to sense her presence as she walked through the streets.

She was especially glad of this when she turned a corner and saw Severus walking in her direction.

Her first instinct was to let him pass without alerting him to her presence. Enough trouble had come her away attached to Severus that she now knew better than to try to make civil conversation. And she almost did it—almost let him go. Yet even now, she could not look at him without seeing his hardships, his vulnerabilities, and remembering that he had once been her best and only friend.

She let him get ten paces past her before she relented, removing the Disillusionment Charm and calling out to him.

“Severus,” she said, anxiety in her voice where she had intended there to be calm and nonchalance.

He whirled around in surprise at the sound of her voice, and stood still, stunned, for a moment.

“Where did you come from?” he asked in a surly tone.

Lily shrugged evasively. “My house.”

Severus retraced his steps, drawing closer to her.

“I haven’t seen you in weeks,” he said, his face red. “To what do I owe the honour of being graced with your presence?”

Lily chose to ignore the edge of sarcasm in his voice.

“I just wanted to tell you that I’m leaving tomorrow,” she said evenly, folding her arms across her chest.

His face contorted with displeasure. “Leaving?”

“To London,” she said. “My sister and I are moving there together.”

Severus said nothing.

“I’m starting a job at the Ministry,” Lily continued, if only to fill the silence.

Still, he didn’t speak a word in reply.

“All right,” Lily said, sighing. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, but...good luck, I suppose?”

She didn’t realize how callous the statement sounded until the words were already out of her mouth, and yet, at the same time, she couldn’t quite bring herself to apologize.

He finally spoke just as she began to walk away.

“You don’t see it, do you?”

Dread settled in her stomach; this sounded like the start of a conversation she didn’t want to have.

“See what?”

“Everything I’ve ever done has only been to help you, but you’ve never trusted me,” he explained.

She looked at him in bewilderment. “Are you joking? I never trusted you?”

“You didn’t! You let people turn you against me so easily—“

“Oh, will you give it a rest?” Lily cut across him. “It’s always you who’s the victim, isn’t it? Never mind the fact that I wouldn’t have been so easily turned if everything other people said about you hadn’t turned out to be true.”

He went red again. “You only saw what you wanted to see.”

“If that were true, things would be very different today," Lily replied. This silenced him for a brief moment, and the space was filled with mourning for what might have been.

“Lily—please, if you never trust me again, you have to listen to me now,” Severus said. “I tried to warn you about Potter before, and it wasn’t a joke. I told you that being—being associated with him would put you in danger!”

She almost fired back with another incredulous remark, but then Lily suddenly remembered—the written warning which Snape had tried to get Mary to deliver to her, the one she had never read, in her misplaced effort to try and make amends with Mary. She hadn’t even thought of it since that conversation.

“Well, that’s rich, coming from you,” she said, refusing to get drawn in to yet another argument about James.

“Lily, you have to listen to me!” Severus said, taking another step toward her. “I thought for weeks that you were dead—and if you keep hanging around Potter, it’s going to happen, sooner or later!”

“Right, because you’d know, wouldn’t you?”

It was saying it that made her understand.

He would know.

She felt like she had just been doused with cement, a terrible weight settling on her shoulders and holding her still. Part of her was still rejecting the thought which had entered her mind.

It couldn’t be true.

He wouldn’t. Not that.

She couldn’t stop herself from asking, though she wasn’t even sure she wanted to know the answer.

“Did you know?”

It was the smoothness of his tone, the way his expression went inscrutable, that told her the answer.

“Know what?”

“You were warning me because you knew what was going to happen to him,” she said, still hardly able to believe it.

His face was its reddest shade yet; it seemed he was struggling with the possibility that evasion wouldn’t work in this case.

“I didn’t—Lily, it wasn’t my fault,” he said quickly. “I couldn’t have done anything except try to warn you—“

“Warn me? What about James?”

Severus sneered. “He would have done the exact same thing to me. You know that.”

“I might have used to think that, but I know James now. He would never do that, no matter who it was.”

“He’s fooled you so well,” Severus said acidly.

“This is not about him!” Lily shouted, so loudly that a dog started barking from inside a nearby house. Somehow, it brought her back to her senses, and it hit her like a train that there was nothing left for her here.

She threw one last word at him as she walked away, and it pounded along with her footsteps as she made her way back home.

Coward.



..........






It had been several days before James could bring his friends together to tell them every detail about his first meeting with the Order of the Phoenix. They hung on his every word as he told them about everything he had heard about their fight against Voldemort, about all of the members—he wanted Sirius, Peter, and Remus to be as enthused about it as he was.

And they were. It would not have felt right to James to have the Marauders divided in anything, and he was glad that they all agreed to dedicate themselves to the Order as he had. All there was to do was let Dumbledore know, and await the next signal of a meeting.

Waiting was torturous, but it was over rather quickly: little more than a week later, Dearborn summoned the four of them to meet at a cottage near Brighton. James was excited for his friends to have their first exposure to the Order, and he was not alone in this feeling.

“I can’t wait to get right into it, fighting Death Eaters, rounding them up for Azkaban...” Sirius remarked as they tried to find their destination, walking along a country road.

He had expected Sirius to be single-mindedly enthusiastic about joining the Order; it wasn’t the first time they had discussed fighting Voldemort, and Sirius never seemed to do anything without jumping in head-first.

One thing that James had not let on to the fact that he wasn’t so sure that Sirius’ heroic visions were going to become a reality. After all, Lily’s role was more or less a desk job at the Ministry (not that he ever would have pointed this out in her company); it was possible that they might end up in a similar position. He was the one who had gotten the three of them into this, and he didn’t want to disappoint them.

“Do you really think they’ll let us?” Peter asked, kicking a stone as he walked. “I mean, we’re not Aurors, or anything.”

“Yeah, well, neither are they,” said Sirius.

“Some of them are,” Remus pointed out.

Remus’ reaction to the Order had been difficult to gauge—he had agreed to join with the rest of them, but he had been silent through most of their discussions about it. James could sense he was going through some anxiety over it, but had no idea what it was about. Perhaps he was just nervous; James certainly was.

“This looks like it,” James said as they came to a hedge that enclosed a small garden and cottage. There was no number marking it, but there was a phoenix weathervane sitting atop it that Dearborn had told them to look for.

It took several minutes for anyone to come to the door when they reached it and knocked; James almost thought they had come to the wrong place. But finally, Dearborn opened the door and welcomed them in. Upon entering, they realized that there was another member to their group.

If James could have pictured how Remus, Sirius, and Peter would be first introduced to the Order, it would not be with grisly-looking Alastor Moody holding them at wand-point. The three of them looked at James in confusion.

“Are the three of you dense as a troll?” he growled at them. “Walking into unfamiliar territory without even a wand in hand!”

James stood still, no clue how to respond. Peter, for his part, drew out his wand, which caused Moody to bark with laughter.

“Much good it’ll do you now,” he spat.

A warning to his friends about the Order’s habit of interrogating people to confirm their identities might have been in order, James thought to himself. He personally thought the entire thing was a bit ridiculous. As he had said to Dumbledore that night after the Death Eater attack, he would know if any of his friends weren’t who they said they were—or, rather, that some stranger said they were one of his friends.

Moody eventually lowered his wand after being satisfied that there were no impostors in their midst (though James noticed he did not let it leave his hand).

“Now that that’s settled,” Dearborn said, “Alastor Moody, you and James have already met—these are his friends: Peter Pettigrew, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black.”

An odd silence fell until Moody spoke again. “Black, is it?” he asked, eyeing Sirius curiously.

“Just Sirius is fine, thanks,” Sirius replied with a tight smile. Moody grunted assent, but cast an expression of dissatisfaction in Dearborn’s direction. James felt somewhat indignant; it seemed almost as if Dearborn had left introducing Sirius last so that Moody would not miss his name.

“Right, let’s get to it, Caradoc,” Moody said, pulling out a hip flask and taking a draught from it.

“So,” Dearborn began, offering a much-needed dose of sanity to the proceedings, “it seems we ought to find some sort of useful purpose for the four of you. I’m sure you’re all dying to see a bit of action.”

They all nodded, with varying degrees of fervour.

“I thought so. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait a while for that opportunity. We have something different in mind.”

James exchanged deflated looks with his friends. He knew they were going to get stuck in some boring job...

Dearborn laughed suddenly. “Please, don’t look so eager all at once.”

Moody had been peering out of one of the cottage windows surreptitiously, but he suddenly interjected.

“Anyone who wants to go out and come wand-to-wand with a Dark wizard isn’t ready for it.”

James’ face felt hot; this entire situation was turning out to be downright embarrassing. They were being treated like children, something he thought would have stopped after Dearborn had spoken up for him and Lily at the Order meeting.

“The time for that will come,” Dearborn continued. “But just because we aren’t going to be sending you out to try and apprehend Death Eaters doesn’t mean we don’t have an important job for you to do.”
Moody stumped over to them, his false leg clunking against the floor noisily. Peter shifted backwards slightly as he neared them.

“Albus and Caradoc tell me you four have a knack for evading notice when you want to,” he said. “Good at coming and going quietly—disappearing, even.”

No one replied, but Moody only laughed and took another drink from his hip flask.

“Well, they’re good at keeping quiet, at least!” he remarked. It was the first indication they’d gotten that Moony was a normal human being with some kind of sense of humour, and the atmosphere in the room relaxed slightly.

Dearborn took over again. “We thought you might be perfect for surveillance.”

James wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded more promising than being stuck in some boring Ministry job.

“Spying on people, you mean?” he asked.

“Spying, eavesdropping—yes. Sometimes we need to follow people we suspect are associated with Voldemort. Other times we need people to stand watch; for example, if we think someone or something has become a target,” Dearborn elaborated.

James’ ears weren’t lying: it sounded all right. In fact, as he thought back on his childhood and years at Hogwarts, it sounded better than all right.

“Sound acceptable?” Dearborn asked, and they all agreed, exchanging amused looks with each other. This was something they would be good at, without question.

Moody appeared to have less faith, though.

“One thing you’ll be getting straight, then, before we start,” he said, leaving James wondering what he meant to start, “is that these assignments—whatever it is you’re asked to do—are strictly non-combat situations. Unless your life or someone else’s is in immediate danger, you’re not to use a wand against anyone. Not a single charm, hex, jinx, curse—nothing. Understood?”

That was a bit harder to stomach, and James could tell by his friends’ expressions that they felt the same way. But what was there to do? Refuse, and be kicked out of the Order altogether? He wasn’t sure Moody wouldn’t use his own wand against them if they were to disagree, and he didn’t want to chance it.

“Understood,” he repeated. Remus, Peter, and Sirius followed suit.

“That being said,” Dearborn cut in, “I thought it might be worthwhile for you all to spend a short time with me and Alastor, just to make sure you won’t have any trouble defending yourselves.”

“I think we can handle that,” Sirius said, folding his arms across his chest haughtily.

Moody grinned—an alarming sight.

“We’ll see, now, won’t we?”

After an hour of having Moody try to find every last crack in their defences (James reflected that it probably would have been more productive for him to investigate where there weren’t cracks, so apparent was it that they were unprepared), the idea of confronting Voldemort himself didn’t sound so unappealing. Dearborn stood on the sidelines offering advice, teaching them new spells, but it was an awful lot to take in all at once, especially when they were being so thoroughly battered by Moody’s spells.

The worst part for James by far was when Moody tried to toughen up their defences against Legilimency. James had breathed a giant sigh of relief that they had not been tested on Occlumency during their N.E.W.T.s, for he had always struggled with it. It was even worse now—not only was Moody relentless, but despite his ornery behaviour, James also wanted his approval. Instead, he was unwillingly divulging many of his most embarrassing and private memories to him.

“Come on, Potter, you’ve got to try!” Moody shouted. James suspected that the smirk on his face was the result of the memory they had just witnessed, which had involved him and Lily in the space behind greenhouse five.

But James apparently lacked talents at obfuscation; try as he might, he could not focus his mind enough to defend himself from Moody. It didn’t help matters that Peter was a natural at Occlumency, making James feel like even more of a failure.

James could hardly believe how incompetent he felt at the end of it all. He’d wanted to be an Auror, before the Order had come along, and could have been, too—he’d gotten an “Outstanding” in both Defence Against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration, and “Exceeds Expectations” in every other subject. That night when Avery had come to take him captive, he knew he hadn’t done very well, but he had chalked that up to being in a panic—now it seemed that perhaps he was completely out of his depth.

“That’ll have to do for now,” Moody finally said. At once, James felt relieved that he would no longer be trying to curse them, but after a few moments, a question formed in his mind.

“Are you going to train us, then?” he asked both Moody and Dearborn.

“No time for that,” Moody replied briskly. “I’ll leave them with you, Caradoc? I’ve stayed too long already.” He stumped toward the door, pausing to leave them with one last order. “Non-combat, remember that. And don’t walk into another room without taking your wands out first!”

James was too shocked to speak after the door closed. Half of him wanted to beg Dearborn to help them so that they wouldn’t get killed before the end of the week, but the other half was too proud to admit that Sirius had been wrong, that they couldn’t handle themselves. Couldn’t Dearborn see that they needed some kind of guidance?

“Well, that’s that,” Dearborn said. “You held up as well as I could have expected. Any questions?”

James had a thousand, the biggest one being: How are we supposed to survive?

“Good. I expect Albus will be in touch with you soon enough about your first assignments.”

None of them spoke until they were out the door, except to mutter good-byes to Dearborn. James realized as they walked back out to the lane that he had never even asked whose cottage they had been at. Moody probably would have been too paranoid to tell them, anyway.
As he looked at his friends, he had a feeling in his chest that he had only had a few times before. When he, Sirius, and Peter had realized that Remus was a werewolf, he had felt like this, and when he discovered that Sirius had sent Snape down to the Whomping Willow during the full moon, he had felt like this. He supposed it was dread, or disappointment, or perhaps something different that he couldn’t name.

Finally, Sirius broke the silence. “Sod it. Right?”

James wasn’t immediately sure what he meant. The possibility that Sirius had changed his mind about being in the Order occurred to him.

“I mean, the three of us learned how to be Animagi, all on our own,” he continued bitterly. “We can learn a few stupid curses without anyone else’s help.”

He was right, James knew. Like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, he felt his confidence returning. Surely, Moody had been extra hard on them, trying to test their strength. If he and Dearborn weren’t concerned, why should any of them be?


Chapter 6: Actually Alone
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Chapter Six
Actually Alone




James had imagined his work for the Order being many things—even before he had know what the Order was, or what he was to do for it. He had imagined it being exhilarating: jumping into dangerous situations and fighting his way out. He had imagined it being frightening: meeting with intimidating foes, and possibly not fighting his way out. He had imagined it being rewarding: risking himself for the betterment of others, and of the rest of the wizarding world.

What he had not imagined it being was boring. At the moment, though, there didn’t seem to be a more appropriate word to describe it.

He yawned, wishing that he could move around and loosen up his joints. For the past three hours, he had been alternating between sitting and standing in the same place under the Invisibility Cloak, watching for any suspicious signs. All he’d noticed so far was his stomach growling.

When Dumbledore had introduced the idea of James, Peter, Remus, and Sirius doing surveillance for the Order, it could not have seemed more perfect. Hadn’t they spent years sneaking around Hogwarts? Following suspected Death Eaters, gathering information about people and places, standing guard in places of suspicious activity—the way Dumbledore had phrased it had seemed exciting, and they were all confident that it played to one of their greatest strengths. It had quickly become apparent, however, that “surveillance” was not the same as what they had done at school.

Perhaps Dumbledore was not fully confident in their abilities, and had been sending them on the least dangerous missions, or perhaps Voldemort had really earned his reputation of being harder to catch than smoke. Either way, this was the third straight time that James had spent stuck in one place without a single thing of note happening.

There was suddenly a loud crack, and James whipped around, wand out underneath the Cloak—but it was only Frank Longbottom, come to relieve him from the watch.

“Abraxan,” said Frank, the codeword they used to identify themselves as Order members and not impostors. James pulled the Invisibility Cloak off. “Anything tonight?”

They were keeping watch on a pub in east London which was a suspected meeting place for Death Eaters.

“I did see some blokes walking around with black robes and masks on,” James said. “Seemed a bit off.”

Frank looked at him in consternation, apparently not getting the joke.

“Kidding. Sorry,” James amended. In his brief moments of contact with the other Order members, James had noticed that they didn’t exactly go out of their way to be friendly. He kept trying to break down their defences, but it didn’t seem to be working so far.

“S’alright,” Frank said distractedly. “Just came off a double-shift, and Alice...well, anyway, glad to hear it’s been quiet.”

Brief though it might have been, it was the first time any of them had really talked to him. Maybe his attempts were beginning to work. He almost offered to cover for Frank, who was clearly exhausted, but he had already promised Lily he would visit her at her new flat that night. With her moving and him dedicating time to the Order, they hadn’t seen each other much over the past week. Apparently, she wanted help unpacking, but in James’ opinion, they could probably find better ways to spend their time alone together.

He Apparated back to Sirius’ flat first, however, mostly out of habit. More often than not, either James, Remus, or Peter could be found there, sometimes even when Sirius was out. James had especially taken to spending time there; though he was ashamed to admit it, it was easier than being at his own home, where all he could think about was what was wrong with his father.

Tonight, he found Remus there, sitting at the kitchen table by himself. When James entered, he seemed to be jarred from deep thought.

“All right, Moony?” James asked, tossing the Invisibility Cloak onto Sirius’ sofa.

Remus nodded. “How was the watch?”

“Boring—as—hell,” James replied, following his Cloak onto the worn leather cushions. “I think I might have to take up knitting or something, just to pass the time.”

Remus laughed, but it sounded off to James. His friend’s expression seemed to be tense, as well.

“What’s up with you?” James asked. Remus leaned back in his chair, perhaps trying to appear relaxed, but it didn’t work very well.

“I have a bit of a problem,” he replied. “I think...well, I’m not sure if I can do this whole...Order thing.”

James sat up in alarm. He knew Remus hadn’t been as enthused about the Order as Sirius or Peter, but he had never imagined that he wouldn’t want to do it.

“Why not?”

“I just—I don’t think it’s the right thing for me right now, you know?” Remus said.

“But why?”

Remus sighed. “I dunno, it’s just—I guess it’s sort of your thing, and maybe I need my own thing.”

“Oh, come on, Moony, you know that what’s mine is yours,” said James. Remus laughed, but his sombre expression returned quickly. Silence fell for a moment. James had no idea what was going through Remus’ head; for his part, he was trying to figure out what had changed his friend’s opinion so suddenly.

“I mean, I know the other Order members seem like a bunch of gits right now, but I think they’re all right,” James said.

“It’s not that,” Remus responded. “You and Padfoot and Wormtail can still be in it together. I’m going to try out something else.”

“You’d leave me alone with the two of them?” James asked, looking at him sceptically. Remus grinned weakly, but didn’t reply. James reclined back on the sofa again, staring up at the cracked paint on the ceiling.

“Well, I know I can’t force you to do it. But I don’t know if Dumbledore’s going to be too pleased about it, not after you’ve gone this far.”

It was a few moments before Remus spoke. “Yeah. Well, I’ll talk to him about it.”

James had been hoping to guilt Remus into relenting, and now, he bit back any further argument, difficult though it was. It was supposed to be the four of them doing this together, not three of them together and Remus off on his own. And James had been the one to suggest they all join the Order—whatever had happened to make Remus change his mind, he felt partially responsible. What if Sirius and Peter both wanted to back out, too?

Finally, frustrated with the silence that had descended on the room, James stood up and asked, “Where’s Padfoot?”

“Out,” Remus said shortly.

“Right, well, I’m off as well,” James told him. “See you?”

Remus nodded, and James had a momentary urge to tell him to reconsider his decision, but he held back.

After that conversation, James was even more relieved to see Lily. He tried to put Remus out of his mind as she showed him around the new house, but it remained in the back of his mind, like an itch he couldn’t quite reach. The more he thought about it, the less appealing the idea of the Marauders being split up became.

“James?”

He had completely missed whatever Lily had just said to him.

“Er—sorry, what?”

Lily rolled her eyes affectionately. “I asked if you wanted anything to drink or eat. Although I don’t actually have much food yet, now that I think about it.”

“I’m all right,” he replied. “Great place, though.”

“It is, especially when Petunia’s not around,” Lily said, smirking. “Now, come on, I need to finish unpacking.”

James followed her to the room that was her bedroom, finally deciding that he couldn’t stand being alone in his thoughts anymore.

“It’s strange that he’d just suddenly decide not to join, isn’t it?” he asked her, after telling her the whole story.

“Maybe it’s not sudden,” she suggested. “He might have been feeling reluctant from the start.”

“Well, he should have said something at the start, then, don’t you think?”

“He might have been worried that you’d get all worked up about it and try to figure out a way to convince him out of it,” she said, smirking.

“Funny,” James shot back.

“James, this isn’t the sort of thing that everyone wants to commit to,” she said. “I mean, it’s not like asking someone to go play football with you—”

“Quidditch.”

“It’s not like asking someone to go play Quidditch with you once a week.”

“So, what, you think he’s...afraid, or something?”

“I have no idea why he’s changed his mind, but he must have his reasons. And, knowing Remus, they’re probably good ones,” said Lily.
Part of James was annoyed that she wasn’t siding with him on this issue, but through his frustration, he grudgingly admitted that she was right. Remus wouldn’t have made the decision to back out of the Order rashly, so whatever the problem was, it had to be significant.

Of course, that only made James more determined to figure out what it was.

“This is really bothering you, isn’t it?” Lily asked, folding her arms across her chest.

He shrugged. “Sort of.”

“I mean, here we are,” she said, “completely alone. And there you are, thinking about Remus, of all things. Something is very wrong with this situation.”

She was grinning slyly, suitcase of clothing forgotten on the floor.

“Wait—we’re alone?” James joked.

Lily nodded, mock-thoughtfully. “Last time I checked.”

“Can we invite Remus over?”

She laughed, which, of course, had been his intention. He crossed the few feet between them and wrapped his arms around her waist.

“You know,” she said, “as weird as it is, your concern for your friends is also kind of attractive.”

“So is your concern for properly-folded clothing,” he told her.

“Oh, I know; it’s been bothering me all day.”

For a few moments, they stood looking at each other, anticipating where things would go next—and then they both burst out in laughter. James loved times like this most, when things between him and Lily seemed back to normal. They joked and laughed, and he was seized by wild desires to kiss her, which he knew would be returned. And finally, it seemed like these moments were definitively outweighing the bad ones.

After the laughter had passed, Lily wrapped her arms around his neck and said, “But seriously, we are alone.”

Which James all too happily did something about.



.........




“Is there anything I can help you with?”

Lily shifted her gaze upward from a lurid-pink back cover of a book to the young Flourish and Blotts employee next to her. He looked to be about fourteen or fifteen, and Lily thought he might be a Hufflepuff student, though she didn’t know his name. Perhaps he knew hers, since he was looking at the book in her hand rather judgmentally for being a complete stranger.

“No, thank you. Just looking,” she said, feeling a blush creeping up her cheeks.

As soon as he ambled off to greet some other customers, Lily replaced the book back on the shelf among the store’s collection of Fifi LaFolle novels. Though the author herself had died years ago, the popularity of her Enchanted Encounters series had not diminished, especially since several novels had been posthumously published. The one that Lily had been holding, entitled Magic at Midnight, was the most recent addition to the series.

Lily had never been an avid reader of Enchanted Encounters, largely for the same reason that she knew the Flourish and Blotts boy had been staring at it like a poisonous toadstool. Alternatively cloying and scandalous, Fifi LaFolle’s novels had come to be known as the literature of hopeless romantics the magical-world-over. What had possessed Lily to pick one up off the shelf today, she couldn’t say, although she had read one—if memory served her right, it was called Curse This Heart Of Mine, or something like that—that had belonged to Mary in fourth year.

She was trapped in a moment of reflection. It had been so long since she had thought of Mary without also thinking about the unpleasant end that their friendship had met...and how strange that, of all days, this should be the first time that she did.

“Lily, your taste in literature disappoints me.”

Lily turned to face her assailant and shrugged. “What can I say? You caught me in a moment of weakness.”

Seeing Anna gave new meaning to the phrase “old friend”. She was immediately recognizable, but also visibly different: the same long, dark hair, but groomed much more impeccably than it ever had been at school; the same snarky bearing with crossed arms and a smirk, but draped in finely-tailored grey robes with an intricate scarlet-and-gold “G” embroidered on the chest. It was certainly Anna, but a strangely grown-up and polished version of her that took some getting used to.

“Well, hi,” Anna prompted. “It’s been a while. What—almost two months, is it?”

“Yes, I guess it has been,” Lily replied. She could not ignore that a certain amount of awkwardness hung in the air over this fact. So much—too much—had happened since they had last seen each other, and though Anna was Lily’s closest friend, she could not bring herself to share all of it. Nor did she plan to.

“Good to see you,” Anna said. “Shall we go get a coffee? Unless you wanted to buy that book first.”

“Very funny,” Lily muttered.

They left Flourish and Blotts and headed in the direction of The Leaky Cauldron. As it was nearing the end of August, families purchasing school supplies hurried around Diagon Alley. Lily saw a harried-looking mother trying to pry her young son away from the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies, and a few moments later, a girl trying to find a comfortable way to carry an owl cage which was more than half her size.

More noticeable were those in the alleyway who were not buying school supplies: Magical Law Enforcement officers patrolling the crowds, looking for any suspicious activity. With each year that passed, signs of Voldemort’s presence in the wizarding community had become more glaring in Diagon Alley. This year’s additions included large Ministry of Magic signs which announced a ten p.m. curfew.
Anna must have noticed her looking at the signs, for she said, “It’s kind of laughable, to be honest. Nobody in their right mind would have gone walking around here at night, anyway. Bit of a scramble to pretend like things are under control, seems like.”

Lily grinned. She had forgotten how entertaining talking to Anna could be. The only problem was that, entertaining as it might be, it was also going to be very difficult if she left out everything about the Death Eater attack and the Order.

When they sat down at The Leaky Cauldron for coffee, Lily tried to stick to the safe topics. Anna displayed less shock than Lily had expected when she told her that she had moved to London with Petunia, of all people. It finally felt like they had gotten settled in their new house.

The questionable nature of the decision to live with Petunia had been apparent every moment since they had arrived. They couldn’t agree about how to arrange the furniture, who was to do the washing, how long was too long in the shower—it seemed like the only time they spoke to each other was to squabble over something or other, and Lily had already begun second-guessing the arrangement. She had to keep reminding herself that, now that she had started work at the Ministry, and Petunia had started her typing course, they’d probably have much less contact with each other.

“So, tell me about this new job,” Anna asked eagerly, taking a sip of her coffee.

“Well, it’s not very glamorous,” Lily began.

“Oh, come on, there’s no need to be modest.”

Lily smiled, but for the first time, she was confronted with the ugly thing that squirmed in her stomach every time she described her new job—the feeling that she deserved better, that she was better than being a glorified secretary. She couldn’t help but resent that the real reason she had taken the job, and the one that had any significance, was one that she also couldn’t share with anyone.

“It’s in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” she said. Anna nodded, pressing her for more. “There was an opening in the—er—Office of Magical Records. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it. I think it’s a very tiny department. Well, ‘tiny’ in the sense that there’s currently only one person working in there at the moment.” She paused, laughing to cover her embarrassment. “Not actually tiny, though. When my supervisor—his name is Mr Finkley—showed me the records hall, I couldn’t believe the size of it.”

Today, in fact, had been Lily’s very first day; her meeting with Anna had been a brief escape on her lunch break. Mr Finkley was an old wizard who wore a pince nez, and she suspected he might have something of an obsession with Bathilda Bagshot, the famous magical historian. (There was a framed portrait of her over the filing cabinet next to his desk.)

“It’s really not glamorous, not at all, but I sort of just happened on it, and I thought: well, I’ve nothing better to go on, really, so why not start somewhere?” Lily finished explaining.

Anna looked confused. “So...what exactly are you doing?”

“Well, it’s just...sort of...organizing and monitoring all the records, I think,” Lily replied. She had a feeling Anna would see straight through this to what Lily really meant, which was filing. Taking out records, and then putting them back. Reorganizing filing cabinets when one got too full. And, to cap it all off, dusting everything inside the cavernous records hall. Mr Finkley had explained it all, and then handed her a Muggle feather duster.

“Cleaning with magic often damages the records, we’ve found in the past. Too much room for error,” he had said to her. Then he fixed her with a stare and said, “Document preservation is a very serious business.”

Of course, there was a whole other side to the job, but Lily couldn’t confide that in Anna, nor could she share the mounting concern she was feeling about how likely it was that she was going to be able to do what the Order wanted her to under Mr Finkley’s watchful eye. All morning, he had been standing over her shoulder, observing everything she did. Watching out for other people’s suspicious doings was one thing, but how on earth was she going to be able to change Mr Finkley’s prized records, like Marlene McKinnon wanted her to?

“Are you serious?” Anna asked, bringing Lily back to the conversation. Seeing her friend’s disbelief, Lily’s hackles immediately raised, even though she’d been expecting this.

“What do you mean?”

“Well... no offense, but that sounds really boring,” Anna stated matter-of-factly. “The Lily I know wouldn’t have just settled for whatever came her way. You seriously want to do this?”

Lily had forgotten how brutally honest Anna was, often to the point of rudeness, in the months since they had seen each other. But she’d spent the last two weeks with the same thoughts swirling around in her own mind, and she knew how to respond to them.

“I’m all right with it for now,” she said, shrugging, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “I don’t want to do it forever, but I’d rather make use of my time than wait around for my dream job to come along.”

Anna raised an eyebrow, but didn’t belabour the point.

“Well, at least there’s not much interaction with people,” she remarked. “Sounds like my kind of job.”

Lily smiled weakly, glad to redirect the conversation elsewhere. “But you’re working for Gringotts, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Anna said, “but almost all of my interactions are with the goblins that work there, so it’s not so bad.”

“What is it that you’re doing?” Lily asked.

“I suppose I’m sort of in Goblin Liaisons,” Anna said thoughtfully, as if she had never considered the matter properly before. “It’s sort of specialized though, because I just liaise between the Ministry’s treasurers and Gringotts. I kind of like it, actually.”

Lily thought about Anna’s no-nonsense, acerbic attitude, and thought she probably fit right in working at Gringotts. After hearing stories about Anna’s days at work, Lily was even more disheartened about her own situation. She had not been under any illusions about what working in Magical Records would be like, but to have it pointed out so openly, and then to have anecdotal proof that there were much more interesting jobs out there...she felt like crawling into a hole and hiding there for as long as she could.

“So,” Anna said, “I don’t suppose you’ve talked to Mary at all.”

The list of pleasant topics to discuss seemed to be endless.

“No, have you?” Lily asked. Anna and Mary had always been closer to each other than Lily had been to either of them, and though they had fallen out before school ended, she wouldn’t have been surprised if they had patched things up.

“Not once,” Anna replied. “As far as I know, she’s working at the Ministry, like she planned, so you might run into her.”

Lily nodded, and a strange silence fell. It seemed that Anna didn’t have anything else to say as far as Mary was concerned, which was just fine with Lily. The last time they had really spoken, Mary had revealed herself to be something of a bigot, and Lily didn’t think there was any way she could forgive that. There was also something to be said for the fact that Mary was, to put it plainly, a bitch. That was hard to forgive as well.

Not long after that, Anna and Lily both had to return for the second half of their respective work days. Lily could not say their first visit had gone spectacularly, but she nevertheless promised she would be in touch soon—Anna was more or less the only friend she had left, and for all her bad qualities, she was generally a good sort of friend to have. She hoped that there might come a day when she could tell Anna about the Order, and maybe even ask her to join; she envied James the company of friends in their new venture.

When she arrived back at the Ministry of Magic, she found herself paying more attention to everything around her; earlier that morning, she had been so nervous about what was ahead of her on her first day at work that she had not taken it all in. While she was at Hogwarts, she had read about the Ministry of Magic, and known classmates whose parents and relatives worked there, but she had never seen it for herself: it had always been a shapeless concept in her mind, vaguely resembling Muggle government buildings. She had been surprised, therefore, to discover that it was actually housed far underground. Whereas the government buildings she knew were all grey stone and marble, the Ministry of Magic was dark and glossy, much like being in a beautiful sort of cave.

By contrast, the Office of Magical Records was small and nondescript, located on Level Two and largely overshadowed by the Auror Headquarters, a hub of frenetic activity just down the corridor. Inside the office, Mr Finkley sat at his desk, behind which sat two black filing cabinets. On the wall to his left stood the door that led into the records hall. Other than that, the room was empty. With its stone walls and floors, it was practically an echo chamber.

“Ah, you’ve returned,” Mr Finkley said, depositing the quill he had been using very precisely in its inkwell, “and on time, as well. Excellent.”
It sounded a bit like he hadn’t had much faith that Lily would come back at all, much less on time. She wondered if her lack of enthusiasm had been so obvious.

Mr Finkley had apparently decided to trust her enough to let her on her own, while he spent time locating records for a non-government request. She settled herself at the desk, wondering if she should dust it off, or just sit there twiddling her thumbs. On the bright side, she realized, there would hopefully be times like this where Mr Finkley wouldn’t be around, and she could do what the Order wanted. For the time being, though, she found herself bored, her only distraction listening to snippets of conversation as people walked past the office door.

“—trial’s been set for three-thirty tomorrow—”

“I told him that a team of only six wouldn’t be near enough...”

“—next thing you know, they’ll be asking him to resign.”

Lily concluded that, whatever all these people were talking about, it was clearly much more exciting than anything she was going to witness in this room. She started to organize the quills on the desk according to their size, which seemed like something Mr Finkley would appreciate.

Surprisingly, one of the bits of conversation she caught while she sat there actually carried into the room, and it came from someone that she recognized.

“...if you could just go back and respond to the French Minister’s undersecretary, I think we’ll see the end of that issue,” Lily heard, and a moment later, Marlene McKinnon walked into the office.

“Hello,” Lily said brightly, smiling at Marlene, whose expression did not change.

“Well, you’re not old Finkley, are you?” Marlene said. “Don’t tell me he’s finally died, or I’ve lost a bet.”

Lily laughed, wondering in the back of her mind why Marlene would ask such a question, when she knew perfectly well that Lily was Mr Finkley’s new assistant. “Oh no, he’s just—”

Right on cue, Mr Finkley emerged from the records hall. Lily was beginning to think he had a sixth sense rivalling that of Filch.

“Good afternoon, Madam MacKinnon,” he said. The expression on his face made Lily think that he might like Marlene just about as much as he liked her.

“Oh, Finkley, I’ve told you a hundred times, there’s no need for formalities,” Marlene replied.

“Yes. Well,” Mr Finkley said, but he never continued his sentence. Marlene seemed to rather enjoy teasing him.

“Now, don’t let him pass on those habits to you,” she said, speaking to Lily now. “A simple ‘hello’ will suffice, and you can just call me Marlene.”

She outstretched her hand to shake Lily’s, as if it were the first time they were meeting. Lily stood still in confusion for a moment—could Marlene have actually forgotten who Lily was? Should she remind her that they already knew each other?

She was starting to become accustomed to Order members acting strangely, however, and so she did her best to play along.

“Very nice to meet you, Marlene,” she replied, taking her hand. “I’m Lily Evans.”

It turned out that Marlene had come to request a record, just like everyone else who had entered the office that day. Mr Finkley couldn’t have looked happier to leave the two of them behind while he located it, and Marlene’s demeanour changed the moment that he left.

“Sorry, I know that must have seemed strange,” she said, speaking quietly. “But believe me, it’s less strange than trying to explain to someone how we already know each other would be. Especially to someone who works at the Ministry.”

Lily was reminded of something that had been mentioned during the Order meeting she had attended: they had to hide their activities as much as possible from the Ministry, who didn’t like another group taking care of matters that were supposed to be their domain.

“Anyway, he’ll probably be back in a moment—I swear, it’s inhuman,” Marlene continued. “Is everything going all right?”

“Oh, yeah, it’s been fine,” Lily said. “I haven’t gotten to do much yet, though.”

“But you haven’t noticed anything strange? People acting suspiciously?”

Of course, Lily should have realized that Marlene hadn’t been asking how she was doing.

“No, nothing so far,” she replied. The truth was, she had been so busy trying to follow Mr Finkley’s instructions all day that she’d hardly remembered to be on the look-out for suspicious behaviour.
Marlene looked disappointed, but her response was cut off by Mr Finkley’s return to the room. Returning to her former charm, Marlene took the white folder that he handed her and said good-bye to them both. Mr Finkley seemed to be muttering to himself after her departure about carelessness, and Lily had to suppress laughter.

After a few more hours of doing not much of anything, Mr Finkley finally entrusted her with the task of re-shelving the last few records left on the desk; for one of the few times that day, she actually found herself excited about something.

The records hall was breathtaking, and easily Lily’s favourite part of her job. The entire room was a large circle, filled to its center with smaller and smaller circles formed by shelves. There were walkways that cross-sectioned the room, and between each of the shelves, so it ended up feeling much like a maze. And it was cavernous: Lily could not see the wall opposite her, and the shelves were so tall that darkness prevailed long before the ceiling was visible.

Not without some confusion, Lily managed to put the files back in their proper places, and as she left, she used her wand to put out the lights in the room. As boring as her day had been, when she closed the door on the dark room, an ominous feeling settled itself in her stomach. With a room that big, there were bound to be secrets hiding in the shadows.




Author’s Note: Just a quick note about the events of Petunia’s life—which includes a minor Pottermore spoiler about her, fair warning—the back-story which JK Rowling wrote for her and Vernon on Pottermore doesn’t exactly fit with the timeline of events in this story and Once Defied. (I’m not thrilled about this, since I like sticking to canon, and am also terrified for how much might end up being non-canon once all the books are available on Pottermore. Oh well, though.)

On Pottermore, JKR states that Petunia moved to London and got engaged to Vernon while Lily was still in her last year at Hogwarts. So, while my version of events may not be
exactly correct, it’s still pretty close, if just bumped into the future a bit. At least I got the part about London right! :P


Chapter Seven
Dead Ends




As the days passed by, and life settled into something of a routine, Lily began to notice that there was indeed something suspicious going on around her. Unexplained absences, random disappearances, hushed conversations—it all pointed to a secret being kept under guard. There was, however, one big problem. She had no idea how she was going to go about uncovering that secret, for the only thing that her sister Petunia was better at than poking her nose into other people’s business was keeping them out of hers.

Having concluded that it wouldn’t be of much use to try and ask Petunia what was going on with her, and in the interest of keeping the peace, Lily had so far refrained from questioning her when she came home late after her typing course, or promptly hung up the phone whenever Lily entered the room. She hadn’t even really bothered eavesdropping or snooping around; after all, how exciting could a secret that belonged to Petunia really be? But when her sister came walking in the front door early one morning while Lily was about to leave for the Ministry, she couldn’t help herself.

“Where have you been?” Lily asked, bewildered. Petunia was blushing furiously.

“I just went out for a morning walk,” she sniffed, walking past Lily and toward her bedroom. Lily took in her sister’s haggard appearance, and a delightful thought occurred to her.

“Did you just get in?”

Petunia rolled her eyes. “Please, Lily. Do you honestly think I would stay out all night?”

“Well, no, to be honest,” Lily replied, “but you certainly look like you did.”

Her sister made a noise of indignation. “Think whatever you like, Lily.”

And this time, she really did escape to her bedroom, leaving Lily to go off to work in confusion.

Unfortunately, her attempts at uncovering wrongdoing at the Ministry were proving far less successful. The Office of Magical Records was not exactly a hub of exciting activity, and Lily probably had contact with two or three people at most on any given day. The only person she got a chance to really observe was Mr Finkley. The thought had occurred to her that perhaps he was working for Voldemort, but all he really seemed concerned about was document preservation and organization. If he was doing something suspicious, he certainly didn’t show it.

She couldn’t help but feel embarrassed by her lack of progress. If her job had really just been about keeping the records organized, she would have no reason to feel a sense of failure, but she didn’t feel like the other Order members were going to be impressed. There was another meeting planned for the following evening, and Lily did not want to show up empty-handed. She had to figure out something worthwhile today.

By lunchtime, her prospects were looking dim. No one except her and Mr Finkley had set foot in the office all morning, and her only task had been dusting off some of the highest shelves; the files there were of no use to her, since they were at least a hundred years old, and most looked like they had not been touched since being placed there originally.

While she took her lunch, she tried to think back over the last few weeks, thinking that perhaps she had missed something obvious. After a half-hour of wracking her brain, however, she couldn’t come up with a thing. All had seemed normal—tediously so.

When she returned to the Ministry after lunch, she happened to reach the lifts just as one was leaving, which meant a brief wait until another would arrive to take her back to Level Two. By the time she heard a rattle of the golden grilles that signified her departure, she had steeled herself for the several hours of quiet boredom ahead of her.

She was not, however, prepared for Lucius Malfoy to walk out of the lift.

Panic rooted her to the spot, while others who had been waiting for the lift brushed past her. The only thought in her mind was run, but that urge diminished when Malfoy appeared too engrossed in his conversation to glance her way. It took her several moments to realize that he was talking to the Minister of Magic, Alvin Mockridge, himself, and several more for her to connect the fact that the Minister of Magic was in conversation with a Death Eater who had kidnapped and tried to kill her.

Well, that wasn’t exactly true, since Avery would have been the one to kill her, but that was sort of beside the point.

She suddenly realized that the people in the lift were looking at her with a mixture of curiosity and impatience, waiting for her to get in. What on earth was she doing just standing here, and, more importantly, what was she supposed to do next?

“Sorry—forgot something,” she called out to the lift passengers, a couple of whom looked rather disgruntled about having waited for nothing.

Turning on her heel and manoeuvring through the small crowds of people walking through the Atrium, she followed as close to Lucius Malfoy and the Minister as she dared.

She stayed ten feet behind them at first, because she was anxious about him recognizing her, but quickly realized that she couldn’t hear a word they were saying.

She braved a few feet closer, and caught a phrase or two, but nothing intelligible. They were heading towards one of the fireplaces lining the Atrium, and she knew her chances were evaporating.

She closed the gap between them to less than three feet, anxiety swelling in her chest, for they were certain to notice her following them now—but the bustle of the Atrium and their conversation kept them from paying any attention to her.

They stopped in front of one of the fireplaces, continuing to converse as several employees emerged from the emerald green flames. Lily turned her back to them, pretending to search her robes for her wand while she listened intently.

“We would very much like to have your support,” Malfoy was saying to Mockridge. Lily felt a jolt of mixed horror and triumph, thinking that Malfoy was openly trying to convince the Minister of Magic to join Voldemort’s side. After a moment’s thought, however, that seemed unlikely, and Mockridge’s response confirmed it.

“I would give it wholeheartedly, Lucius, but as I said, it’s a matter of whether the Unspeakables deem it possible,” Mockridge answered. “In any case, I really must be off to meet with the International Quidditch Association…”

That was it. They exchanged pleasant farewells, and both departed into the fireplace: the Minister to wherever the International Quidditch Association was located, and Malfoy to St. Mungo’s Hospital.

Lily felt disappointed at once. She couldn’t say what she had been expecting to overhear, only that she had imagined something more interesting than Ministry affairs. She supposed she should have been thankful that Malfoy hadn’t spotted her and recognized her; in fact, the recklessness of what she’d just done suddenly hit home, and she was gripped by fear for several minutes. Perhaps he had seen her, but she hadn’t realized. And if Lucius Malfoy could go walking around the Ministry of Magic, how many other Ministry employees might also be involved with Voldemort?

Even though she was going to be late returning to the office, she had to step into the loo for a few minutes in order to collect herself. Incidents like this—and sometimes far less—could send her into a mild panic. She had not yet been able to find a way to stop herself from imagining the worst: her family being harmed, James being put in danger…but she was, at least, better at banishing them once they had manifested. She leaned against the tiled wall for a couple minutes, trying to take deep breaths and remind herself of what she already knew: by this point, Voldemort and his Death Eaters must know her real name, or at least could find it out if they wanted to, but no attacks had followed the one earlier in the summer.

You can’t be afraid all the time, she told herself. This had become something of a mantra for her. She had to remember that bad things could happen to her anywhere, at any time, and she couldn’t protect herself from Death Eaters any better than from getting hit by a car on her way to work every day.

She tried not to think about how strange it was to make yourself less afraid of danger by reminding yourself just how many things could put you in harm’s way. Life and death were often illogical and senseless, when you thought about them too much.

Instead, she tried to focus. The only real disadvantage of Lucius Malfoy spotting her at the Ministry is that the Death Eaters would know where she worked, but it wasn’t as if that information would be impossible to find out otherwise. Whether he had seen and recognized her or not—and he hadn’t seemed to—made little difference in the grand scheme of things. Still, she made a mental note to be more attentive to who she was walking past at the Ministry from now on.

Once she had reassured herself, she headed back down to Level Two, running the scant details of the conversation through her mind several times, trying to make sense of them. Malfoy wanted the Minister’s support for something involved with the Department of Mysteries, going by Mockridge’s mention of the Unspeakables—but what? The question remained on her mind for the rest of the afternoon, and more followed from it.

At least a few of those questions were answered in her late-afternoon dusting. She had to think for a little while about what Lucius Malfoy’s date of birth would be. He had been in his seventh year when she had started school, so that meant he had been born in 1953 or 1954. The files in the Hall of Records were organized first by decade, and then alphabetically—Lily had found this system confusing at first, but it seemed to work out rather well in practice. So she found the section that housed files from the 1950s, and then located the section under the letter “M”.

What she was doing was not allowed, technically speaking. Files were only supposed to be accessed for official Ministry business, not for personal perusing. She located “Malfoy, Lucius”, and pulled it from the shelf, hesitating. If she just took a quick peek, no one would be the wiser. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them, right?

She opened the file and flipped through it quickly. Frankly, she didn’t care about most of what was in it—all she wanted to know is if the Ministry had any clue about Malfoy’s ties to Voldemort. Birth record, marriage record, O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. results, donations to various organizations…she reached the end and had to go back through it more carefully. Upon re-reading, she noticed a sheet of paper with a record of an “Investigation into possible ties with Dark magic” that had been completed two years previously, ended with the words, “CLEARED OF ALL SUSPICION”. So, even if the Ministry had been suspicious at one point, they weren’t any more.
She located Avery’s record in its section, and found similar results—he had been investigated twice in the last three years, but cleared both times.

Well, that was frustrating, but at least somewhat informative, she thought to herself. It at least explained why Malfoy was able to walk around the Ministry as freely as he pleased, though it brought up some disturbing possibilities for the tacit level of influence that Death Eaters might be exerting in the Ministry. From hearing the Order members talk, they really had no idea exactly how many followers Voldemort had—if Malfoy, who had been officially investigated, could show himself at the Ministry, how easy would it be for those who had never been suspected of wrongdoing?

Even if she hadn’t found out anything concrete in her day at work, Lily thought that now she might have at least something useful to say at the Order meeting the following night. Whether they would be interested in any of it, given the way they usually reacted to information without evidence was another question.

When five o’clock rolled around, Lily gathered her things and left the office. Mr Finkley always seemed to be relieved to see her go, though she thought he resented her less and less with the passing days—she was, after all, getting quite good at dusting shelves.



………




James had the last watch before the Order meeting, and was anxious to be finished—as usual, nothing had happened, and he was getting more impatient with every shift. If it hadn’t been for the other Order members coming and going, he would have thought this was all a fool’s errand.

Tonight’s watch had been especially frustrating: with the Order meeting looming, he had been able to think of little else other than Remus’ defection. Joining the Order without Remus felt wrong, like he was missing his left arm, and he still didn’t understand why his friend had changed his mind. Neither Sirius nor Peter had been able to get any more of an explanation out of Remus than James had, and they were all thoroughly puzzled about what to do. Lily kept telling him to leave it alone, and to let Remus make his own decision, but James knew his friend was making a mistake—how was he supposed to just let that happen?

So, he had spent the better part of three hours alternating between ruminating on Remus’ choice and determinedly trying not to think about it (which didn’t work out very well).

He checked his watch. There was to be a half-hour gap tonight, since Sturgis Podmore couldn’t make it until eight-thirty, and James had to be at the Order meeting at eight. James didn’t really see that it mattered, since they’d been watching the pub for several weeks now and nothing suspicious had happened, so far as he knew.
It was two minutes to eight, so James thought it was probably time to depart. He hoped they would put him on some other assignment tonight; sitting in an alleyway across the street from a pub for hours on end was going to be miserable when the weather started to get colder.

As he was about to remove his Invisibility Cloak and Disapparate, he heard shouts, garbled in echoes, but distinctly angry all the same.

He hesitated for a moment—in all likelihood, it was just a typical drunken argument, which he’d seen many of from the alleyway—but decided he ought to check anyway.

Following the sound of the voices brought him to the back of the pub, where the red-faced barman was yelling at another man amid the rubbish bins.

“—and you won’t come back again until you’ve paid up!”

With that, the barman turned on his heel and slammed the door behind him. James had almost given it up as a bad job when the man reached into his right pocket and pulled out a wand.

After a moment of surprise, James examined the man much more closely: he was of short stature, and had a rather sour looking face. Having been raised in a pureblood family, James wasn’t always able to separate bad-but-sincere Muggle fashion choices from the misguided attempts of wizards and witches who were trying to look like Muggles, but now that he was paying attention, he felt fairly sure this man’s attire fell into the latter category. He was wearing loose trousers that went down to his knees, long socks that covered his calves, black trainers, and a pinstriped suit jacket.

The man started to walk off in the direction opposite of where James was standing, the Invisibility Cloak still covering him. Even as James followed him, he wondered whether this wasn’t entirely coincidental—it was possible that this man, although a wizard, wasn’t connected with Voldemort at all. Was his paranoia getting the better of him, and causing him to follow innocent strangers down London alleyways?

As if some higher power had sensed his confidence waning, the man took off his suit jacket (revealing a button-up shirt with a truly alarming purple-and-yellow pattern) and rolled up his left sleeve. In the dim light, and because he was walking behind the man, James couldn’t tell exactly what he was doing—but who, other than a Death Eater, had cause to examine their left forearm?

The man was a good four inches shorter than James, and far from on his guard. If James were to curse him right now, he would surely have the upper hand…

But just as he had resolved to do it, the man slipped through a door on his right.

Swearing under his breath, James sped to the window next to the door, which was covered in too many years’ worth of grime for him to see anything inside. He pointed his wand at a patch of the window at eye-height, and muttered, “Tergeo.” The dirt disappeared just in time for James to see the man disappear into the fireplace in a blaze of emerald flames.

He sighed and swore again. The best—the only—lead he’d had so far had just escaped him, and he was now late for the Order meeting with nothing to show for it.

When he arrived at the meeting several minutes later, he was met with curious stares from Lily, Sirius, and Peter. The Order had gathered at the same cottage where he and Lily had attended their first meeting, and many of the same faces were present—even Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Hagrid, despite the fact that the school year was in session once again.

No one, apart from Lily and his friends, seemed too concerned that he was late, and so he took a seat that Peter had vacated for him. Lily looked down at him from several places over, and he could tell she was wondering what had kept him. He tried to communicate silently that all was well.

The meeting had started off with a discussion of what seemed to be the most pressing issue for the Order: various groups that Voldemort was attempting to recruit. Dearborn was largely in charge of monitoring the situation with the giants, since he had ties to them from his days in the Department of International Magical Cooperation.

“The situation is precarious,” he told the group. “No wizarding community has ever been able to call their relationship with the giants comfortable, but it could be that Voldemort’ll be the first to come close to it. The Ministry won’t touch the giants, and I’m not sure we can.”

“I’d’ve done it meself,” Hagrid spoke up. “Still would, in fact.”

Dumbledore smiled. “I still don’t believe that it would be worthwhile to send you on such a dangerous mission alone, Hagrid.”

“It’s true. The chance of it making any difference, even if you were to make it there unharmed, would be slim at best,” Dearborn agreed. “We were too late before we even started on this one—years of bad blood did half of Voldemort’s work for him. We’re just going to have to try to control the situation, should it get worse.”

“‘Control’ it?” Dorcas Meadowes asked, with a little laugh. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but, much as Crouch might brag, we’re really not equipped to fend off a giant attack.”

James often found it difficult to keep up with conversations among the rest of the Order, though it was becoming easier with time. Bartemius Crouch was the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, and by Dorcas’ use of the word “we”, he assumed she must work somewhere within the department. The bit about a giant attack, however, threw him.

“That may never occur,” Dumbledore said, "though, I might point out that giants are nearly extinct because of the actions of wizards, so I think it would not prove entirely impossible to combat them, should the situation arise.”

From there, conversation passed to a discussion of Dementors; Edgar Bones, who worked in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, explained that there had still been reports of stray ones across the country, and that there was evidence of it in the form of their victims, but the Dementors themselves were proving hard to track down. Meanwhile, the majority of them still seemed to be under control at Azkaban.

Edgar’s news also included a report on the werewolf community. James found himself shifting a little uncomfortably in his seat as he thought of Remus, and was ashamed to admit he was glad his friend was not here for this. Then, like an electric shock, a thought occurred to him: was this why Remus didn’t want to join?

Remus hardly ever talked about his lycanthropy, but he had to know more about other werewolves than he let on. Did he know that Voldemort was trying to recruit werewolves, and had been too embarrassed to join the Order? It didn’t really make sense, though—even if some werewolves were interested in joining Voldemort, that didn’t mean Remus was.

“I think we’ll see a decline in werewolf attacks in coming months,” Edgar said. “That incident in Diagon Alley a couple weeks back got a lot of Tyrus March’s close friends arrested—might have gotten him, too, but they all swear he wasn’t part of it.”

“Convenient,” Marlene interjected, and many in the room exchanged dark looks. James did the same with Sirius and Peter, though for very different reasons.

“Even if they do decline,” said Frank Longbottom, “it’ll only be temporary. As long as March is at large, we’re going to get nowhere with the werewolves.”

James wished he knew more about the subject so he could speak up—maybe point out that not all werewolves were as bad as they seemed to think—but he had only the vaguest idea of who Tyrus March was, and almost nothing about any werewolves other than Remus. He was glad when the meeting moved on to other topics.

“Has anything come up during our surveillance of The Lazy Harp?” Dumbledore asked the group.

“Nothing as of last night,” Benjy Fenwick answered.

“Potter had the first shift tonight, though.”

Still distracted by the conversation about werewolves, it took James a few seconds to realize they were talking about him, and then a few more to realize that they were referring to surveillance of the pub. He had completely forgotten the events of the night until now.

“Er, actually, something strange did happen,” he said. There was an instant spike in the room’s energy. He explained what he had seen, and everyone seemed to jump into action at once.

“Did you hear where he was going before he Flooed away?” Marlene asked. James shook his head, but before he could elaborate, Benjy spoke.

“We can narrow down the location easy enough. There can’t be that many fireplaces hooked up to the network in one block, and then we’ll at least have an idea of where he was headed.”

“Explains why we never saw anyone coming or going when we were watching the front of the pub,” Frank remarked bitterly, and Alice rubbed his shoulder in sympathy.

“Sorry, but what exactly are we going to do if we find out who this bloke is?” Dorcas broke in.

Every set of eyes fell upon James.

“Er, well…I mean, if we know who he is, maybe we can keep an eye on him,” he suggested.

After a few moments of silence, Hestia said, “We don’t even know for certain that he’s a Death Eater.”

“He did look at something on his left forearm, though,” James reiterated. The facial expressions around the room were mixed, but some made it plain that they were having a hard time accepting his conclusions.

“I think we’ll have to wait until Benjy and I can find out where the fireplace led,” Marlene said. “Who knows—it might lead us to one of the Death Eaters’ hideouts.”

Hideouts?” Dorcas snorted. “I didn’t realize they’d started using those. How convenient.”

“I think that’s enough on that matter,” Dumbledore said, in the kind but forceful tone he had mastered. “Thank you for the information, James.”

James was ready to stew for several minutes over his frustration with Dorcas, who apparently wasn’t content before she insulted half a dozen people in an hour, but could only be amused when he saw the look of complete disgust on Sirius’ face. Sirius never got along with people like Dorcas—he hadn’t even gotten on with Lily’s friend, Anna, who had been perhaps a tenth as inflammatory as Dorcas was. Maybe he should have warned Sirius, but his expression was too priceless to regret it much.

James thought that he had dealt with his share of his unpleasantness for the evening, but there was still one more surprise in store for him. As the last matter of business for the evening, Lily gave her report on her job at the Ministry.

“I haven’t seen anything suspicious yet, at least not in the records office,” she said. “I did see Lucius Malfoy at the Ministry yesterday, though.”

James nearly started out of his chair, but he was the only one that seemed moved by this news.

“Oh, Lucius is there at least once a week,” Edgar replied, waving his hand dismissively. “He’s nothing to worry about, though.”

Easy for you to say, James thought to himself. If had been Dorcas who had said it, he probably would have shared his thoughts aloud, but he didn’t feel as antagonistic towards Edgar.

“I figured it was probably nothing,” Lily added. “He was just talking to the Minister about something to do with the Unspeakables—Malfoy wanted his support for something. But since we know he’s a Death Eater, I thought I ought to mention it all the same.”
James tried to make a mental note to sound less like himself, and more like Lily, next time he made a report to the group.

Dumbledore adjourned the meeting soon after that. James was exhausted from trying to keep up with all the different reports, and eager to depart.

“Go for a drink?” Sirius asked the rest of them, and they were all about to escape when Alastor Moody, who had been so quiet that James had forgotten he was even there, stopped them at the door.

“Not bad, Potter,” he growled. The mingling of his scarred face with an expression of amusement was somewhat terrifying. “Next time, you might want to get out your wand and finish the job.”

James mumbled some kind of agreement, thinking that he needed a drink more than ever. By the time he, Peter, Lily, and Sirius had found the closest pub, James had decided that the last thing he wanted to talk about was Order business—but it was unavoidable, and he couldn’t think of an alternative.

“Who’s Tyrus March?” he asked, before they even had their first round. Sirius and Peter shrugged.

“He’s…sort of the leader of the werewolf community,” Lily explained tentatively. “I read about him in the Prophet when there was all that vandalism in Diagon Alley a few weeks ago—you know, the incident Edgar mentioned—and he seems really awful.”

“Awful?”

“I don’t really know,” Lily said, looking down at the table, “but it seems like he’s making life miserable for other people who are werewolves. Forcing them to ally with Voldemort, and threatening them if they don’t. That sort of thing.”

James wished he hadn’t asked. He realized now that he’d been something of an insensitive arse to Remus, and the only question was whether he’d make it worse by bringing all this up.

While Sirius and Peter began a commentary of the meeting’s events—it had been more exciting for them, being their first time—James considered how part of him was steadily growing to hate working for the Order. It never felt like he could do anything right among them, and he had expected it to feel more fulfilling. Every time he thought he had done something worthwhile, Dorcas or someone else would find a way to ruin it. It didn’t even feel like they were all on the same side, fighting a common enemy.

He looked up at Lily, who was sitting to his left. She gave him a sympathetic smile and took his hand in hers. Without even saying it, he knew that she understood what he was feeling—was maybe even having the same thoughts herself. And as much as he loved Sirius and Peter’s company, this was one of those moments where he wished it was just him and Lily, and no one else.

All in all, the evening turned out to be somewhat downcast, even though Sirius’ vilifications of Dorcas brought them several minutes of laughter. What James wanted most was to have a long, uninterrupted sleep, but even that was proving harder and harder to find these days. He didn’t like being at home, because there was inevitably some Healer visiting his father every morning, and he had even been avoiding Sirius’ flat because of his non-argument with Remus. What he really wanted…well, he normally wouldn’t have asked, but he must have found the courage somewhere in his third pint.

“Can I go home with you?” he asked, his profile pressed against the side of Lily’s head. He could feel her tense up slightly; when he pulled away, her face showed it even further.

“Er…well, I have to be at work in the morning,” she said.

After a moment’s pause, James said, “Right.” Dealing with yet another wave of disappointment, he observed Sirius and Peter debating about whether Peter would indeed have made the Gryffindor Quidditch team in his third year, had he not been sick on the day of tryouts. They never seemed to get tired of that one.

“I only mean…you can,” Lily suddenly added, her cheeks flushing, “but you might have to get up a bit early.”

His heart lifted. “I don’t mind. Can we go soon?”

“All right. I’m…just going to go to the loo first,” she answered.

Once she had left the table, Sirius fixed him with a critical look.

“I could kill you, you know.”

“What?!”

“When I suggested we go out for a drink, I didn’t expect you to turn it into date night.”

James just laughed. “Well, I hate to make things worse, but Lily and I are going to hers after this.”

The words took on a very different character when they were out of his mouth; they sounded much more salacious than he had intended them to. He realized that he probably shouldn’t have announced it like that, but he would look like even more of an idiot if he tried to take it back, probably.

A hardened expression momentarily crossed Sirius’ face, but it quickly transformed into one of bemusement.

“I suppose it was inevitable that one of us would eventually choose some girl over the Marauders,” he said, “and we all know it wasn’t going to be Wormtail.”

Peter punched him quite hard in the arm at this.

Sirius had a rather nasty talent for casually attacking a person’s weak spots. It had been a while since James had been subjected to one of these assaults, but it was as uncomfortable as he remembered it. The art of Sirius’ barbs was in the fact that always placed them halfway between insult and joke: you were overreacting if you took them seriously, but foolish to think he hadn’t meant something by it. With the way the evening had gone, the last thing James needed was Sirius reproaching him, but he was, nevertheless, stuck in the trap. Sirius, more than anyone, knew how bring him down. It was funny how that came with the territory of having a best friend.

When Lily had returned and helped them all to pay with Muggle money, Sirius had some parting words for James.

“Don’t forget what Moody said, all right?”

James looked at him quizzically, and he and Peter smirked.

“Make sure you finish the job this time,” Peter said, glancing pointedly at Lily.

Despite everything, James laughed along with them.

“What’s so funny?” Lily, who had been busy putting on her coat, asked. This only brought further peals of laughter.

Sometimes, James needed a reminder of what exactly his work for the Order was all about, even if it came in the form of a low-brow innuendo.




Author’s Note: If you happened to read, I would be endlessly grateful if you would leave me a review with some comments on stuff like the pace of the story, and whether you’re interested in what’s happening with the plot. Or if you just want to tell me if you liked it or not, that's great, too.

Chapter 8: Peeled Grapes & Monogrammed Towels
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Chapter Eight
Peeled Grapes & Monogrammed Towels




When Lily shook James awake the next morning, it was from the best sleep he had had in weeks. He felt miles better than he had the previous night, and it wasn’t for any reason that Sirius and Peter would make some kind of suggestive remark about—it was only that, with Lily next to him, he had felt more at peace than he usually did.

“James, I have to leave for work soon,” she said softly. He answered by positioning the pillow so that he was more comfortable.

“That’s nice,” he mumbled. “I’ll stay here. See you later.”

She laughed.

“On second thought,” he said, wrapping his arms around her waist, “you’re going to have to call in sick today.”

“James.”

“I’m sorry, but I can see that you’re not well at all—”

James!”

Her attempts to chide him, however, were half-hearted, and she giggled as he tried to pull her further onto the bed. She relented after a few moments and lay down, facing him.

“Did you sleep well?” she asked. He nodded and mumbled a “yes”. He didn’t want to say it and sound pathetic, but it he hadn’t needed to spend one moment wondering if she was all right, and the absence of those kinds of thoughts had allowed him to sleep soundly. For the first time in a long time, he had felt relaxed and carefree.

Still a bit bleary-eyed, he looked across the pillow at Lily. Her red mane of hair seemed especially bright today, almost like she had stepped out of an illustration. The smile on her face as she looked back at him was slightly sheepish. They slept every night in their respective beds (or, for James, sometimes on the couch in Sirius' flat), but something about being next to each other had changed that invisible tether that stretched between them—the intangible connection that was their relationship. They had grown closer in silent slumber, which was somewhat unbelievable, considering the difficult few months they'd experienced. In these kinds of moments, it was easy to forget the past.

After a few minutes, his eyelids closed again, and he felt Lily's hand on his forearm.

"I really do have to go now," she whispered. He opened his eyes and made a pleading face. It was murder to have to get up from such a comfortable position. The bed was practically hugging him.

Lily laughed again, and leaned forward and kissed him. She had meant for it to just be a quick peck, but James was never one to miss an opportunity, and pulled her in for more. He inhaled the flowery smell of her shampoo as her hair fell next to his face, and the clean smell of soap as he moved his lips to her neck.

"I have to go," she said reluctantly, pushing herself up and away from him. James exhaled in frustration.

"Why do you have a job, again?" he asked. Lily laughed as she looked in the mirror next to her wardrobe and ran her fingers through her hair. James pushed himself up lazily, so that his back was resting against the creaky wooden headboard. "Sirius and I could make room for you in our merry band of unemployed bachelors, you know."

This made her laugh even harder. "I'm not a bachelor. And is it really a 'band' if there's only two of you?"

"You know what I mean," James said, reaching over to the nightstand and putting on his glasses. The floral-patterned green wallpaper came into clear focus. It was a bit like being trapped inside some old lady's garden.

Lily turned back to him, folding her arms across her chest and smiling rather saucily, considering it was eight thirty in the morning.

"I have a job because I have to pay the rent and eat."

James waved a hand dismissively. "Sirius and I eat well enough. I might even take you out for a nice dinner every once in a while, if you're lucky."

"Oh, I see," Lily said, "so we'll just be living off your money, then?"

"Why not?" James asked, shrugging. He was joking—mostly. Lily walked over and kissed him again. This time, she was too fast, and ducked away before he could pick up where they had left off a few minutes before.
"Throw in a few holidays to a place with sunny beaches, and you've got a deal." He knew Lily well enough to know that she was entirely joking, but he couldn't help but push her a little further. He wanted to see her reaction, because even though he was mostly joking, there was a small part of him that had started to hope for more with Lily. Thinking about his future, and everything it would eventually include—moving out into his own place, marriage, a family—it didn't seem strange at all to him to picture Lily by his side. He was completely happy when he was with her, and the only thing that concerned him was whether she felt the same way.

"Perfect," he said. "So, you'll resign today? I can hire someone to feed you peeled grapes all day."

"I like the skin on grapes," Lily replied, and then went back to ushering him out the door.

After wishing her a good day at work and parting ways, James already had a plan of where he was going to go next, and that was to find Remus and talk to him. It suddenly seemed silly that he'd been avoiding him for this long. He debated for a moment about whether to visit Sirus’ flat or Remus’ home first, since there was a chance he would find Remus at either, but decided to check the former first. Luck was on his side, for he found Remus in Sirius’ sitting room, which was really just a sofa and an armchair sandwiched between the kitchen table and the window looking out at the street below. His friend was sitting on the sofa and reading the Daily Prophet. Nothing moved but his eyeballs as James strode into the room, flitting upward to look at his friend and then back down to the newpaper in front of him.

“Hey,” James said. Remus mumbled a “hello” back.
James picked a dead leaf off Sirius’ houseplant as he tried to decide how to broach the subject. Why Sirius had even bought a plant in the first place was a mystery to James; it had been marked for death from the moment he'd bought it. “It occurred to me that I may have been a bit of a berk recently.”

Remus smiled a little, but it was clear that he wasn’t ready to let it go that easily. James sat down in the armchair, the springs in the seat creaking noisily, as they always did.

“All right, here it is—I’m just going to say this,” he said. “I know the whole Order thing might not be—well, your thing, but I don’t see why. And since you have a habit of keeping important personal issues to yourself, I have to ask—why?”

Red blotches appeared on Remus’ neck, and there was a long pause before he replied. At that point, it hardly mattered whether he confirmed or denied that there was something wrong, so clear were the signs he had given off.

“I just didn’t feel like I fit in,” he said. James wasn’t sure if this was the truth or not, but it was somewhere to start, at least.

“Is it…because of your furry problem?” James asked. He always felt awkward, not about having to bring his friend’s condition up, but at having to acknowledge that it made him somehow lesser in the eyes of others.

Remus opened his mouth to answer, but then seemed to second-guess himself. He exhaled heavily.

“Isn’t it always about that?” he grumbled. James frowned.

"Come on, Moony. It's Dumbledore's group, isn't it? He's the one who helped you all through Hogwarts."

"We're not at Hogwarts anymore, James," Remus said.

"Right," James replied, confused. He knew they weren't at Hogwarts, but he wasn't sure what that had to do with what they were talking about. "But no one in the Order is going to hold your furry problem against you."

Remus raised his eyebrows dubiously. "Are you sure about that?"

"Of course," James said, the memory of the last Order meeting and the conversation about werewolves joining Voldemort flitting into his mind. Remus' mouth twisted in thought, but then released. It reminded James of a rubber band being stretched and then let go of.

"It's not about that, anyway," he muttered. "Can we just leave it alone?"

James almost slumped back in his chair and let it go, until he remembered how much this had bothered him for the past couple of weeks.

"Just tell me what it is," he insisted. Remus closed his eyes in exasperation, but James didn't care. If it took badgering for his friend to explain what was going on, so be it. "I'm not going to laugh at you or anything—"

"If I had the luxury of inheriting a bunch of gold from my uncle, or having rich parents, or even being able to get a job to pay my own way, joining the Order might seem a lot more appealing, all right?" Remus snapped. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he looked mortified.

James felt as though someone had hit him with a Stunning Spell. This was not what he had expected. He couldn't find a response that sounded appropriate in his own head, and so just sat in silence for a few moments, trying to let it sink in. Remus was concerned about money? Well, of course he was—now that James had spent even a second thinking about it, he felt like an idiot for never considering it before. He suddenly felt embarrassed by his own privilege, ashamed that he had been joking with Lily not an hour before about throwing his money around on peeled grapes, sunny holidays, and fancy dinners, when his best friend was worried about making ends meet.

"I didn't know," was all he could think to say. "Can—can't you just keep living at your mum's house, until—"

"Until what?" Remus said. His voice had lost its acid, leaving behind only corroded misery. "I don't want to live there for the rest of my life. That was half the point of me going to Hogwarts, so I didn't have to depend on my parents to support me forever. But now every job I try to apply to has a section that asks whether you have any chronic diseases, and they've always listed lycanthropy there..."

James felt a rush of indignation on his friend's behalf.

"You don't have a disease!"

"It doesn't matter what they call it," Remus countered, massing his forehead in a frenetic way. "The point is, no one wants a werewolf working for them."

"Well—maybe the Order would help," James suggested, the wheels in his mind turning. "Lily got her job because of them. Maybe they'd do something like that for you."

"It's not the same situation," Remus muttered. James decided not to press the issue, since his friend seemed so dejected. There was only one other thing he could think to do that might help. He wasn't concerned so much with Remus joining the Order anymore—though he didn't want him to have to drop out of it purely because of money. He was far more worried about his friend just having the money to pay rent and buy groceries—he suddenly had a new perspective on what Lily had said earlier that morning.

"Let me help you. I'll give you a loan."

Remus started so violently that he nearly jumped off the sofa.

"No. Absolutely not."

"Moony—"

"Don't ask me again. I'm not taking your money, not in a million years."

"You'd be doing me a favour!" James protested, and Remus' face contorted unpleasantly.

"Don't do that. I'm not stupid, and I don't want your charity." James had never seen Remus like this—shades of it, perhaps, when they had done various things over the years to make his life slightly easier, but he had never been this vehement before.

"Make me a deal, then," James proposed, continuing before Remus could object. "If you haven't found a job by the end of the month, I'll give you a loan."

"That's not a deal," Remus argued, looking as though he was on the verge of tearing out his hair. "There have to be two sides to a deal."

"I wasn't finished. In exchange, you have to give the Order a chance, and keep coming to meetings until you get a job," James added. Remus' face screwed up in concentration for a few seconds, but then collapsed.

"No, I can't. I'll be fine—"

"Moony. You should know by now that I don't take 'no' for an answer." James had that feeling of high-flying invincibility, when he knew that he could convince someone to his side by sheer force of will and persistence. "If you don't take the money and use it for practical things, I'm just going to give it to you in other ways. I'll buy you a racing broom and the most expensive dress robes I can find—"

"It's not funny!" Remus said in a strained voice.

"Who's joking?"

Remus exhaled again, resignation visibly settling on him as he did so. He made James wait out at least thirty seconds of silence before replying.

"I hate you sometimes," he finally said. James smirked.

"We're agreed, then?"

"Yeah. But James?"

"What?"

"Just for the record, you're still being a berk."

James only laughed. There was relief filling the spaces left by anxiety on his best friend's face.



..........






Work at the Ministry continued to be uneventful for Lily. Some days, she wondered whether Marlene had been simply exaggerating the need for someone in the Office of Magical Records. Hardly anyone came in, and there never seemed to be any pattern to those visits that did occur. Nor did it seem as though a strange number of files on Muggle-borns were being requested from the shelves, which had been one of Marlene's main concerns.
Midway through the afternoon, while Mr Finkley was off searching for a file that had been misplaced, Lily was sitting at the desk day dreaming. She was mostly thinking of James, and the strange things he had been saying about her living off of his money. She wasn't quite sure, but it had all seemed like a bit of a roundabout way of broaching the subject of them living together or getting married, or something along those lines. What she couldn't figure out was why he had brought it up at all—she knew James loved her, of course, and she loved him back, but he couldn't possibly be thinking that sort of thing. Wasn't she supposed to be the one dreaming of wedding dresses and monogrammed towels, not him?

The thing was, though, that she wasn't dreaming of those things at all. It had nothing to do with James, and everything to do with the fact that she just didn't care about the superficial trappings of coupledom. She didn't care about having a fancy wedding or picking out china place settings—in fact, the entire thing kind of made her shudder. It just seemed so unnecessary, especially when there were much more important things going on every day. People were being killed or seriously injured every day; thinking about a dress and hors d'oeuvres seemed like a waste of good time.

But she didn't even know if James had been hinting at that, anyway. Even if he had, it was all hypothetical, and hypothetically...could she see herself marrying James? Wasn't it too early to be thinking about any of this, considering that they hadn't even been dating for half a year, and that neither of them had been in any other serious relationships? How was she supposed to know that there wasn't someone else out there who was better suited to her? Could there even be someone better suited to you than one who had been willing to die for you? Sometimes the magnitude of James' love for her was terrifying.

On that alarming thought, Marlene walked into the office, as she tended to do at least once a week. Lily wasn't looking forward to explaining that nothing unusual had happened yet again, but at least it gave her something else to do than circle the drain of hypothetical questions.

"Hello, Miss Evans," Marlene said. Order members were always careful not to betray their associations with each other beyond that of casual co-workers—Lily had recently seen Alice Longbottom and Dorcas Meadowes walking into the Auror Headquarters, and neither of them had so much as smiled at her. (Not that Dorcas seemed to be the type of smile at someone in a corridor, of course.)

"How can I help you?" Lily asked. She herself had gotten quite used to playing this double role, though her instincts for politeness still tripped her up at times, since she always wanted to acknowledge other Order members when she saw them.

Marlene was holding one of the files from Magical Records in her hand, with its large "M" stamped across the front of it. She tapped the top of it as she answered.

"I have a file here that I took out last week, and I was wondering whether you could find out anything more about whether Mr"—she paused to look at the name on the file, which Lily had a feeling was for dramatic effect only—"Oxlade had been out of the country in the last year. Or if his family had."

"Er..." Lily searched Marlene's face for some hint of what she was getting at, because this wasn't the sort of request that they usually got in the Office of Magical Records. "Well, if he had, it would probably be in the file. Or if he'd set up a Portkey to travel, someone in your department would probably—"

"Yes, I know, but I thought you might just be able to take a look for me," Marlene said, handing the file over. "A second pair of eyes, in case I missed something."

Lily didn't see what that would help, but, playing along, she opened the file. Instead of the Ministry forms that usually stared back at her from the insides of the folders, there was instead a handwritten note sitting at the top of the file. She glanced up at Marlene, who nodded meaningfully. Lily started to read the note.

Lily,

We mentioned at the first meeting that there would be some additional duties associated with your job here in Magical Records. Consider this your orientation with those duties. I'd suggest saying that you need to check another file, and that you'll be right back, so you can take care of it away from prying eyes.


For one of the few times since she had started working at the Ministry, Lily actually felt excited about something. She knew what Marlene was asking her for, and sure enough, when she looked at the section under Blood Status on Lawrence Oxlade's file, she saw that it read Muggle-born.

She snapped the file shut. "You know, I think I might have seen something useful in his wife's file when you had us pull his for you. I'll just go into the shelves and take a look."

Marlene smiled. Lily scurried off into the records hall, hoping that she could make it back before Mr Finkley would notice. He didn't like to have no one supervising the office, but Lily was so caught up in finally getting to do some real work for the Order that she didn't very much care. She knew Mr Finkley had been looking for something under the letter "B", so she tried to pick a section of the records hall as far from where he would be as possible.

When she had checked and triple-checked her surroundings, listening for the sound of Mr Finkley's footsteps or the terrible, off-key tunes he sometimes liked to hum when he was working, she opened the file again and took out her wand. She knew the charm for what she needed to accomplish, but she was slightly worried that there would be some protection on the Ministry records that would prevent her from using it.

Detratamens, she thought, pointing her wand very carefully at the word Muggle-born. She breathed a sigh of relief when the ink siphoned off the page and into the tip of her wand, leaving the field under Blood Status blank. She then performed the counter-charm (Atratamens Exempli), which was a bit more precise than simply getting her own quill and writing what she needed, because it preserved the original handwriting and appearance of the document while allowing her to reform the ink into whatever words she wanted. This spell had been quite well-used by Hogwarts students in her fifth year to forge notes from Madam Pomfrey—as long as they'd attended the Hospital Wing and gotten a note from her once, they could make it look as though she'd written it for them any time. Eventually, the teachers had realized what was happening because Sirius had tried to get out of Professor McGonagall's class twice in one week using the same note that he'd splattered pumpkin juice on, and they had started to put enchantments on their notes so students couldn't tamper with them.

The Ministry, however, appeared to harbour no such concerns, because Lily could easily perform the charm. When she put down her wand, the file read Pureblood instead. As she stared at her handiwork, it suddenly hit her that what she had just done was quite illegal, and, on top of that, sure to infuriate anyone with anti-Muggle-born sympathies. Like, for example, Voldemort, who already would have been happy to see her dead.

Well, at least I'm not making myself any worse off, she thought to herself, before closing the file and heading back towards the office. Not for the first time, she felt a strange sense of understanding why James had spent so much time breaking rules in school. It was a bit fun, after all.

Marlene was still waiting in the office, and, to Lily's dismay, Mr Finkley had joined her.

"Find anything, Miss Evans?" Marlene asked. Lily shook her head.

"Nothing, sorry," Lily replied, handing the file back over to her. "Maybe ask someone in the Portkey Office?"

"Oh, I have already," Marlene said airily. "Looks like I'm just chasing smoke. Have a good day, both of you."

Mr Finkley looked down at Lily through his pince-nez severely once Marlene had gone.

"The desk should not be left unattended," he stated. Lily tried to give him an apologetic smile.

"She was in a hurry." Apparently, she hadn't looked apologetic enough, because he gave her enough work that she went home an hour later than usual. It didn't dampen her mood in the slightest, though—doing something useful had felt like a rare triumph.

When she arrived back at home, she was still basking in that glow, and found Petunia sitting at the kitchen table. It was unusual for her sister to be sitting out in one of the common areas of their flat like this, especially since her body language indicated that she had been waiting for Lily to get back from work.

Lily considered retreating to her room, as she always did, but guilt and good spirits tugged at some part of her, so she entered the kitchen instead. She put the kettle on for tea, and silence reigned.

It was infuriating how Petunia did this: everything about her expression and the way she was sitting told Lily that she wanted to talk to her about something, but she refused to be the one to initiate the conversation. The worst part was that when this happened, it was usually about something important, and so Lily couldn’t even feign disinterest. Sighing, she took the first step.

“How are you?” she asked. What she really wanted to ask about was Petunia’s arrival this morning, but it seemed better to ease into things.

“All right,” Petunia said stiffly, adjusting her bracelet.

“Do you want tea?” Lily asked. Petunia shook her head in reply. She was beginning to think it wouldn't be so difficult to ignore her sister after all, if only on principle. And typically, it was then that Petunia decided to speak her mind.

“There’s something that I need to tell you,” she said briskly. Her face was blooming red already; Lily couldn’t wait to hear what was coming. “I’ve been—dating a man for several months now.”

This didn’t exactly shock Lily, given her sister's behaviour lately, but she was surprised to hear it had been going on for months. She also felt a bit like laughing at her oddly formal use of "a man".

“Well, that’s nice,” she replied, unsure of what else to say. After a few moments of awkward silence, Petunia continued.

“His name is Vernon Dursley,” she said, and a picture of a portly, mustachioed man in a suit immediately entered Lily’s mind. She tried not to laugh, especially when Petunia added, “He’s a junior drill salesman.”

“So…how did you meet?” she asked, genuinely curious. Petunia had dated one boy several years ago, when Lily was in third year, but she had been too distant from Petunia (both physically, since she was at Hogwarts, and emotionally, for the very same reason) to ever hear any details.

“After work one day,” Petunia said evasively.

“You just bumped into him on the street, then?”

“Of course not.”

“Did he try to sell you a drill?”

“Lily, that’s enough.”

“I’m only asking—”

“We met when I went out for a drink with some of my co-workers, all right?” Petunia finally explained, looking truly exasperated. “I really don’t see why this is so important.”

“You’re the one who brought him up!”

“Yes, I’m aware,” Petunia snapped, “but not to tell you silly stories about how we first met, and what our first date was like, and that kind of nonsense.”

Lily crossed her arms and waited for her sister to gather herself.

“I brought it up because we’ve been engaged for a month, and I didn’t see how I could put off telling you any longer.”

Lily’s jaw dropped like a piano shoved off the roof of a tall building. Petunia was engaged? It almost seemed like a joke, but Petunia had no sense of humour to speak of.

“You—you’ve been—engaged for a month?” Lily spluttered. Out of all the things she was thinking, this was what formed into intelligible speech. “Have you told Mum and Dad?”

Petunia at least had the decency to look away as she said, “Yes. We told them right away. In fact, they’ve been begging me to tell you.”

“I should think so,” Lily said caustically. “Hang on—you’re only telling me now because you couldn’t put it off any longer, and because Mum and Dad were begging you to?”

There was a moment’s pause. “Well…yes, more or less.”
The kettle began to whistle shrilly, but Lily appreciated the sound. It seemed to convey something of how she was feeling better than she could at the moment.

“I don’t see why you even bothered telling me at all,” she shot back. Petunia looked momentarily overwhelmed by an urge to spit insults back, but instead removed the kettle from the burner. Its shriek faded to a restless hiss.

“I would have told you sooner, but it’s not as if you’ve ever seemed particularly interested in my life. Not even since we started living together.”

Lily opened her mouth to protest the injustice of this remark, but hesitated. The same, of course, could be said of Petunia, but she couldn’t exactly deny her own guilt.

“Anyway—I’ve told you now, haven’t I?” Petunia continued. “And the reason I’ve told you now is because Vernon thinks it’s proper to meet my sister before the wedding, of course, so you’ll come out to dinner with us soon.”

Lily was surprised, but somewhat mollified by this. Vernon sounded like he might not be so bad, if he was the one who wanted to meet her.

“There is, of course, one condition,” Petunia said. She didn’t even need to elaborate: it was all in her tone. Lily felt any glimmer of hope at an improved relationship with her sister fade. It could never again be like when they were children, because too much had changed. "You can't say a word about—what you are."

"Does he know?"

Petunia's face went red. "Yes. Unfortunately."

Lily considered asking what Vernon Dursley's reaction had been, but decided she didn't even want to know. She was furious with her sister for a litany of reasons, many of which hadn't even settled enough in her mind for her to put words to them.

"When are we having this dinner?" Lily snapped. She figured this was the barest minimum of details she needed to walk away from this conversation without having to revisit it again soon.

"This Saturday night?"

"Busy." She wasn't, but it made her feel better to make her sister's life just an ounce more difficult.

"Friday, then?"

"Fine," Lily said. "I'm bringing James."

Petunia's eyes nearly popped out of her skull.

"You will not."

Lily shrugged. "If James doesn't go, I'm not going. Do you think I'm going to go sit and be the third wheel while you and your fiancé have dinner together?"

Petunia's face went from white to brilliant red to pink in a matter of seconds. She turned to one of the cupboards, got a teacup, and slammed it down on the counter. She then picked up the kettle, poured a cup of steaming water carelessly, and slammed the kettle back down on the burner.

"Fine. But not a word about your school, or your job, or anything."

With that, she picked up her teacup and strode from the room. Lily wondered when she would notice that she was just carrying around a cup of boiling water. She sighed and poured herself a proper cup of tea, her mind racing with everything that had just happened. What an absolute hag Petunia could be sometimes—she'd been dating someone for months, and had been bloody engaged for a month without telling Lily, her only sister. And never mind the fact that she still had no idea when the wedding was, or when Petunia would be moving out...

There was the sound of breaking china from Petunia's bedroom.

"Oh, bugger," Lily said to herself, rather loudly, not because of the broken teacup, but because she had absolutely no idea what she was going to do when Petunia moved out with her new husband, leaving her with the entire rent to cover on her own.






Author's Note: If you have a moment, I would really appreciate any thoughts—however brief or long or good or bad—on the chapter!!


Chapter 9: Vernon Dursley
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Chapter Nine
Vernon Dursley




While waiting for James to finish his Order shift, Lily contemplated the benefits and drawbacks of looking presentable for her dinner with her sister and Vernon Dursley. On the one hand, they were going to an upscale restaurant, The Adamantine Room, and she didn't want to make a fool of herself. On the other, she was still annoyed with Petunia, and embarrassing her by association was not exactly unappealing. So, Lily spent at least ten minutes standing in front of the skinny, spotted mirror in her bedroom, trying to decide whether she should change out of her blue dress and into a sweat suit. In the end, she flopped down onto her bed face-first in frustration, and stayed in that position until she heard James knocking on the door twenty minutes later.

The front of her dress was wrinkled and the sheets had left red creases on her face.

Good, she thought darkly.

As was generally the case, James seemed to be in a better mood than her. He had the distinct advantage of not being related to Petunia, which meant that he was not dreading this dinner. In fact, he seemed to find the entire thing exciting.

He stepped across the threshold and kissed her in greeting. She immediately fixed a scowl on her face, and he laughed.

"It won't be that bad," he said, reading her mind.

"We'll see," Lily replied, completely unconvinced. "I—what are you wearing?"

It had taken her a few moments to notice that he was wearing long black dress robes. From the waist up, they looked more or less like a Muggle suit jacket, but it continued down toward his feet in one piece of fabric, flapping around his ankles.

"What?" James asked innocently, looking down at his torso. "I thought we were going somewhere fancy."

"But James, we're going to a Muggle restaurant," Lily said. "You can't wear dress robes!"

He looked momentarily puzzled, but then an expression of understanding settled on his face.

"Oh. Right. I didn't really think about that."

For a few seconds, all that buzzed through Lily's head was what a disaster this was already, and she buried her face in her hands. But then, the whole thing just seemed funny, so she laughed.

"I don't have any nice Muggle clothes," James said sheepishly. Lily continued to laugh as she dug around in her purse for her wand. "Should I just wear this anyway?"

"Well," Lily said, surveying his outfit a little more closely. The robes were a problem, but he did have black trousers on underneath them, so perhaps all wasn't lost. "Maybe if we just make some alterations..."

She raised her wand, and James eyed it warily.

"What do you mean?"

"Just...to make them not so long," Lily said innocently. Before he could protest further, she performed a non-verbal Severing Charm. He made a funny sort of squawk as the left side of his robes tore around the level of his hips. When she was done, the effect was not one of marked improvement; the robes looked more like a suit jacket, but still hung loosely around his arms and torso. The new hem she had created was also slightly uneven in places.

"Do I look all right?" James asked. His face was filled with such nervous earnestness that she couldn't bring herself to tell him the truth. And it didn't really matter, anyway—she had a feeling that this evening was going to be an uphill battle no matter what.

"Better," she said, not meeting his eyes as she stowed her wand back in her purse. "I suppose we ought to get going."

The reservation had been for seven o'clock, and it was two minutes past seven when they arrived at the door of The Adamantine Room. The restaurant was decorated rather traditionally—lots of dark panelling, crushed red velvet, and fussy flower arrangements—which didn't surprise Lily, since it had been Petunia’s choice. Subdued classical music filled the dimly-lit room. It was the sort of place that tried to be as refined and civilized as possible, and Lily felt completely out-of-place. One glance at James told her that he felt the same way.

"May I help you?"

The maître d' reminded Lily forcibly of Argus Filch, though much better dressed and coiffed. She saw him take in James' strange attire, eyes bulging slightly.

"Er, we're meeting two people here for dinner," Lily said hesitantly. "The table should be under the name ‘Vernon Dursley.’"

The maître d' managed to harrumph without even making a sound, and did not look like he believed that they were legitimate customers of his establishment. He looked up from his ledger of reservations after several long moments with a disappointed expression on his face.

"Very well," he said. "If you'll just follow me..."

They entered the dining room, which was a sea of crystal and candlelight. Despite the fact that she would rather be having dinner with a dragon, Lily's curiosity about Vernon Dursley was getting the best of her. She scanned the room, finally locating her sister at the table furthest from them, wearing a pink dress, her blond hair pulled back severely. Across from her was a man who, unbelievably, managed to fulfill every preconceived notion that Lily had possessed about him.

Vernon Dursley was a barrel-chested man with a round, red face and an impeccably trimmed mustache. His brown suit was tailored as well as it could be to his round body, and as she and James approached the table, Vernon looked at his watch with an air of clear impatience.

"Mr Dursley, I believe your guests have arrived," the maître d' said, phrasing it more as a question than a statement.

When Petunia looked up at Lily and James, she had a momentary spasm before shooting up out of her seat. Vernon followed suit, and in that moment, Lily felt absolutely certain that this dinner was going to go terribly.

"Hello," Petunia said awkwardly, her nose twitching.

"Hi," Lily replied. Her arms suddenly felt like the most unnecessary appendages ever, hanging down limply at her sides.

Vernon Dursley cleared his throat.

"This is my sister, Lily," Petunia said to him. Vernon stuck out his meaty hand to her, and they shook tersely. His hand was squishy and slightly clammy. No one seemed to know what to say next—except James, since he seemed to be impervious to awkward social situations.

"I'm Lily's boyfriend, James," he said, offering his own hand.

His loose sleeve hung down; Vernon eyed it like it might be a poisonous snake. Vernon barely touched his palm to James' before taking his seat again. One of James' eyebrows shot up as he shared a glance with Lily, and she dreaded to think what was going on his mind. From her experience, James tended to react badly to people who were less than friendly with him. A foreboding feeling had settled itself in her chest, and she started to wonder if it would have been better not to invite James after all.

They suffered through a couple minutes of polite small talk as a group—Lily hadn't realized it was possibly to make the day's weather into a four-minute conversation—before the waiter came by their table to take their drink orders. Petunia asked for sparking water, Lily for the same; Vernon made a telling request for scotch and soda, and James—

"Could I have a firewhiskey, please?"

Lily wished she could hide under the table for the rest of the dinner. Petunia's face had gone red as a tomato, and Vernon’s expression was one of deep suspicion. James, however, had no idea of what he had just done.

"Pardon me?" the waiter asked.

"Ogden's Old, if you—" James stopped midsentence as Lily nudged his ankle pointedly with her foot. She looked at him, eyes widened, trying to communicate with him silently. "Er—actually, I'll just have the same thing as he is."

If James had thought this would endear him to Vernon, he had been wrong. Vernon seemed to take it as a personal slight that someone would copy his drink selection, and Lily, sensing a further dive in the quality of the evening, tried to divert the conversation.

"So, Vernon, Petunia tells me that you...er, sell drills."

Vernon looked slightly mollified to be talking about something related to himself, and he went on for several minutes about the exciting world of drill sales—in his vocabulary, "exciting" meant things like upward mobility, secure benefits, and generous commissions. As he talked, a grin crawled slowly onto James' face, and Lily had to nudge him under the table again. All she wanted was to make it through this evening.

"I never knew that there were people that sold drills," James remarked, when Vernon appeared to be finished. Lily was quite sure that he had no idea what a drill was, either.

"Yes, well, it's an essential industry," Vernon said gruffly. As James smirked, and Vernon seemed to become even more suspicious of him.

When the waiter returned to take their food orders, James managed to avoid any further missteps, but the wait for their meals was excruciating. They all seemed to be aware of the fact that they had almost nothing in common, and it was hard to find safe topics of conversation. Vernon seemed to dislike James more with every moment they sat across the table from each other.

"Name's Potter, is it?" he inquired. "I don't suppose you have relatives in Surrey, do you?"

"Not that I'm aware of," James answered. "Although—"

"Are you from Surrey, then?” Lily asked, quickly interrupting whatever smart remark she was sure James had been about to make. On the one hand, it was lucky that Vernon answered by launching into a five-minute long monologue about being brought up in a town called Little Whinging in Surrey, and how he still thought it was the most respectable sort of place to live—quiet, clean, with sensible traffic planning—but on the other, James’ expression of amusement just grew more and more pronounced.

Vernon suddenly got an alarmingly soppy expression on his face as he looked over at Petunia.

“I’ve told Pet that it’s the perfect place to raise a family,” he said, and Petunia blushed and donned a similarly maudlin expression. Lily was staring at them, feeling embarrassed on their behalf, until she was startled out of her thoughts by James, who was making a choked sort of noise that barely disguised his laughter.

“Are you all right?” Lily asked him pointedly. He made a final, exaggerated noise that sounded like he was trying to expel his brain through his throat, and looked up at the rest of him. His eyes were watering slightly.

“Couldn’t be better,” he said. Vernon looked as though he was moments away from storming out.

Lily exchanged a brief look with Petunia, and for once, she knew exactly what her sister was thinking—what they were both thinking, in fact. Why on earth couldn’t these two men behave themselves? And then, as suddenly as it had come upon both of them, Petunia looked away, and the moment—rare proof that they were, in fact, sisters—vanished.

“What was that you were saying about pavement, Vernon?” James asked, and this time, he ignored Lily’s foot as she pressed it on his ankle warningly.

Civility interrupted the conversation for a few moments as their meals arrived, but all the while, Vernon was eyeing James suspiciously.

“I don’t expect it’s something your kind would understand,” Vernon finally said in a gruff voice, as he took his knife to his steak aggressively.

“You might be surprised,” James said. Tension rippled around the table. Vernon set down his knife and fork on his plate with a clatter.

“You drive, then?”

“All the time, and very well, I might add,” James replied. Lily had no idea what he was on about; as far as she knew, James had never touched a car, let alone driven one.

Vernon huffed incredulously. “What kind of car do you drive?”

“Oh, were you talking about cars?” James asked, smirking. Vernon’s face started to turn purple, and Lily kicked James again under the table.

He ignored her.

“Of course I was bloody talking about cars,” Vernon snapped. “What else would I be talking about?”

Petunia put a hand on Vernon’s forearm. “Vernon—”

Lily suddenly realized what James was going to say. “James—

“I thought you meant broomsticks,” James replied. Petunia squeaked; Vernon reeled backwards, his chair creaking; and Lily closed her eyes briefly, resigning herself to the fact that there was no saving this evening. “Have you heard of the Nimbus series? No? I’ve got a Nimbus 1500—just came out two years ago. It’s top of the line, goes up to one-hundred-and-seven miles an hour.”

Petunia and Vernon appeared to be truly flummoxed at this, and neither of them even tried to respond. James tucked in, starting with his boiled potatoes.

“So,” Lily said, with the trepidation of walking into a war zone. “Petunia told me that the two of you met at work, Vernon.”

“Yes,” he said, but as soon as the word was out of his mouth, he turned on James again. “What is it that you do, exactly?”

“Me?” James asked. The way he asked it, you never would have known that he had been instigating an argument the entire time. “Er, I’m actually doing some...volunteer work right now.”

At this, Vernon smiled in a smug way. He picked up his knife and fork again, spearing a large piece of steak and chewing it furiously.

“I suppose your sort has to live off of unemployment benefits,” he said, waving his knife in the air. Lily noticed the eyes of a few of the other diners flit in their direction: Vernon was talking rather loudly. “Since it’s not as if you could hold a job, with your...peculiarities.”

Up until that moment, James had been having a laugh at Vernon’s expense, but the tables turned immediately and dramatically. His expression hardened, and there was no quick and clever comeback ready to fall from his lips. He put down his own utensils with a kind of restrained fury, and Lily observed in the moment before he spoke that a different James—a James who was younger, who had a different life than the one he led now—had hardly known the meaning of restraint. She could hardly find the strength not to pull out her wand and start hurling jinxes at her sister’s fiancé.

“We can hold jobs just fine,” he said evenly. Vernon snorted. “My parents had jobs their entire lives, and they saved enough money that I’ve been able to do what I want, instead of going to some mindless job every day to make ends meet.”

Lily, who knew James so well, could tell that there was no joke or jibe in his statement this time, but Vernon seemed uncertain.

“You people have money?”

“Of course we have money,” James retorted, his face reddening with anger.

“And where do you keep it all, then?” Vernon asked, sounding like a police interrogator who had just found the weak point of their suspect’s alibi.

“A bank. The same place you do, although I don’t know how you keep anything safe without goblins in charge of it all.”

The coupling of a Muggle bank and the word “goblins” in the same sentence seemed to enrage Vernon more than anything else James had said so far. He became near apoplectic, and it took him several moments to form words.

“Not in mybank, you don’t! I think I would know if there were—well—blighters like you waltzing around my bank!”

Lily tried to make eye contact with Petunia again, but her sister had her blue eyes fixed on the tablecloth in front of her. The night was beyond salvaging, but Lily really wanted to make it out of the restaurant without James breaching the International Statute of Secrecy.

“Well, I think we’re just going to go,” she said in a strangled sort of voice, but no one at the table appeared to have heard her.

“No, not your bank,” James shot back at Vernon. “We have our own bank, called Gringotts.”

“And I suppose it’s located at the corner of Malarkey Street and Twaddle Drive, is it? A few blocks down from Imaginary Insurance?”

She would have laughed at this if the entire situation weren’t so depressing. She knew her sister was dull and hated magic, but how on earth could she be engaged to someone who was so unbelievably pompous and narrow-minded? Looking across the table at Vernon’s red face, his mustache twitching with indignation, and at Petunia’s tacit acceptance of his behaviour, everything became tragically and pathetically clear.

Had she really thought that living with her sister could somehow repair their relationship? For years, she had blamed their estrangement on Petunia’s stubbornness—and that was at the heart of it, to be sure—but she now realized that her years away at Hogwarts had made the gulf between them too large to bridge. She didn’t know her sister at all. The foolishness and the finality of it all made tears start to prick at her eyes.

“No, it’s on Diagon Alley,” James said matter-of-factly.
This seemed to be the last straw for Vernon, who stood up out of his chair with such force that everything on the table in front of him rattled and clanged.

“I won’t sit here and be ridiculed,” Vernon pronounced, sticking out his chest. “I simply will not.”

Lily looked over at Petunia, whose own wide-eyed gaze was fixed on Vernon’s towering figure. There was something like admiration in the look she was giving him.

“I think we ought to go,” Vernon said to Petunia, less a suggestion than an order. Lily knew before her sister got up from her seat, before her eyes flitted across the table and betrayed the small bit of embarrassment in her heart, that it was an order Petunia would have no objection to following.

With one last insult added to injury, Vernon took out his wallet and left money to pay the bill, his suspicious expression making it clear that he thought James and Lily would be incapable of taking care of it on their own. This was the last thing Lily really paid attention to, since the tears had continued amassing an army—and no matter what else happened, she refused to let Petunia see her crying because of this. She stared down at the table, concentrating on her barely-eaten chicken leg and nothing else around her. As the moments passed, her vision became more and more blurry from tears.

It was James’ voice that told her it was safe to resurface.

“What an unbelievable tosser.”

She tried to look up at him and nod in agreement, but the tears overran her words. She tried not to let James or anyone else in the restaurant see, out of some silly sense of pride, but this was not graceful or dignified crying. She choked on shallow breaths, sniffled loudly, and had to wipe sheets of salty tears from her cheekbones with her once perfectly-pressed white napkin.

“Oh, Lily, don’t let him bother you,” James said, rather unfeelingly. He was clearly still bothered by the conversation, which made his suggestion all the more difficult to take seriously. And the truth was, it wasn’t Vernon who had upset her. Petunia’s intention to marry a grumpy bigot had upset her. James’ unwillingness to swallow his pride for the sake of having a normal evening had upset her. It was the people that she expected more of who had made her cry, not the drill salesman with a stupid mustache, whose bad manners she had been at least somewhat prepared for.

James seemed to understand when he reached over to take her hand, and she yanked it away. She didn’t want to be like her sister, blinded by love to James’ mistakes. Vernon was a tosser—but perhaps he would have been less of one if James hadn’t goaded him.

“You heard the things he was saying, didn’t you?” James muttered to her. “I couldn’t just sit there—”

“Yes, you could have!” Lily interrupted him, her voice thick with tears. “You could have just sat there, but you didn’t want to. You never do, not even when it’s something that matters.”

She heard him sigh. After a moment, he suggested that they go outside. Lily dabbed at her eyes one last time and agreed, partially because the maître d' had started circling their table like a hawk.

With the sun gone down, the late September air had taken on a slight chill. The skin on Lily’s arms turned to gooseflesh as they settled just beyond the circle of light thrown by a nearby lamp post. She crossed her arms, both to protect from cold and to make her displeasure clear.

“I don’t understand why you’re so upset,” James began, apparently one in the same mind with her. “The way he was talking to us—‘you people’ and ‘your kind’, and all that—I thought you’d have been glad that I was standing up for us!”

“Don’t try to twist this into you being all noble and protective,” Lily shot back. “That entire conversation was just fun for you, like the kind of rubbish you used to do at school!”

She regretted saying it almost immediately, seeing the hurt that crashed over his face.

“Fun? That’s what you think that was for me?” he asked. The next moment, something seemed to shut down in his brain, because he turned on his heel and started storming away, as if further words had failed him. Lily, half-indignant, teetered on the brink of Disapparating and leaving him to sulk on his own, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. As much as she hated chasing him down when she was the one who was angry, she hated the idea of letting him go even more.

They walked for several minutes in uneasy silence. Lily didn’t want to be the one to apologize, and she knew James was thinking the exact same thing. Someone was going to have to give in first; James was often the one to adopt this role, but he seemed well and truly angry this time.

“I shouldn’t have said that,” she finally admitted. “I just wanted the evening to go well—”

James stopped short, so that Lily almost walked right past him.

“Do you know that I talked to Remus earlier this week, and he told me he quit the Order because he can’t find a job?”

Although she didn’t see exactly what that had to do with what had happened at dinner, Lily’s stomach squirmed with sympathy. She knew James had been concerned about Remus’ decision to leave the Order, but she had never entertained the possibility that it would be for such an unfortunate reason.

“Why—why not?” she stammered. James gave her a meaningful look as a middle-aged couple passed by them. When it came to Remus, there was generally a very short list of possible causes for his problems, it seemed.

“I didn’t mean to ruin the dinner,” James said, his eyes darting back-and-forth behind his glasses a little uncomfortably. “I just—well, he started saying that stuff about unemployment, and it got to me. He might think it’s a joke, but there are people who really have to live with that kind of thing, and I didn’t want to just sit there.”

Lily had no words to offer in reply, at least not right away. Remus’ struggle was one thing to process, and made her own worries seem so small in comparison. James had evidently experienced a similar revelation. She felt terrible for Remus, and bad for assuming the worst of James. The voice that was her guilt wondered if there would ever be a time when she wouldn’t.

She was starting to feel the tears returning. James swore under his breath and shoved his hands into his pockets. He had apparently taken her silence as continued remonstrance, for his next words were conciliatory.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’ll try to patch things up with him,” he said begrudgingly. Lily was about to tell him not to worry, that it didn’t matter—because, all things considered, it seemed unlikely that Vernon Dursley would ever give someone like James half a chance—when another voice joined their conversation.

“Prongs!”

It took Lily a moment to place the voice, but then it all made sense.

“You brought that with you?” she asked, her words squeezing past the large lump in her throat.

“Yeah,” James replied unapologetically, digging into the pocket of his black trousers. After a few seconds, he drew out a small, rectangular object that Lily knew to be one of the two-way mirrors that he and Sirius carried around. This little mirror—which James only had to speak into for his face and voice to appear on Sirius’ mirror, and vice versa—had interrupted many an afternoon and evening that she and James would have otherwise spent alone. The fact that he had brought it into a Muggle restaurant, of all places, was both mind-boggling and exactly what she should have expected.

She grabbed James’ forearm and tugged him towards the nearest alleyway, not wanting any passersby to see him talking into a mirror, or, even worse, hear it talking back to him.

“Oi!”

Sirius’ voice was insistent, but then, it nearly always was. She crossed her arms, annoyed that Sirius was interrupting such a serious conversation, probably over trivial Quidditch news or some other rubbish like that.

“What’s going on?” James asked, the urgency in his friend’s voice mirrored in his own. James was not an anxious person in the slightest, so hearing him speak this way, Lily knew he must have heard something in Sirius’ voice that she hadn’t.

Lily couldn’t see Sirius’ face in the mirror as he replied, but there was no mistaking what he said.

“You have to get over here.”

“Over where?” James asked.

“To the bloody Lazy Harp—the pub,” Sirius’ voice emanated from the mirror. Now that she listened more closely, Lily heard the slight breathlessness in his voice, and an edge of panic. “I was on watch, and this crowd—it’s some kind of riot!”

“Is it Voldemort?” James pressed.

“I—”

There was a pause that lasted a beat too long.

Sirius!”

“Sorry, I don’t know—just get over here, will you?”

Whatever was going on, it was enough to make Sirius sound unusually preoccupied. Lily looked up at James, who was stowing the mirror away.

“Do you think he told the Order?” she asked.

“I hope so,” James said. He fixed Lily with an apologetic expression. “I’m sorry, Lily, but I have to go. We can deal with this tomorrow, can’t we?”

“What do you mean, you have to go?” Lily asked, her arms uncrossing and falling to her sides in defiance. “I’m coming with you!”

James’ eyebrows contracted.

“Lily...”

“I’m part of the Order, too, aren’t I?”

“Yes, but—”

“I’m going.” She fixed James with as steely a gaze as she could muster. His objections were sure to be many and, in her opinion, irrelevant. It was too dangerous, to be sure. Seeking out a mob of Voldemort’s supporters was a bad idea in light of the fact that she was Muggle-born. The Order hadn’t assigned her to surveillance. James had to go because Sirius was his best friend, but Lily was under no such obligation. There would be other times for her to get involved, but not now.

Of course, all of these excuses came down to love’s one desperate wish, and she saw it flash in James’ eyes: I don’t want you to die. It was harder to ignore when you had already been so violently confronted by death—when you knew that it was always there, waiting for just one misstep. She knew he was thinking back to that night when they had been captured, and it was strange how one event could be so fundamentally different in the minds of two people.

James looked back and feared that history would repeat itself. Lily, on the other hand, almost welcomed it: a chance to do better, to be better.

He still looked hesitant.

“We’re wasting time,” she pointed out. “Sirius needs—us.”

The last word was like a new pair of shoes that needed wearing-in.

James’ shoulders slumped in resignation.

“Fine,” he said. “Take my arm.”

She felt a little flutter in her stomach as she did, thinking about how familiar it really was, and wondering if perhaps she ought to be more careful about what she wished for.




Author's Note: Again, if you have an extra few moments to spare, I'd really love to hear your thoughts in a review!

Chapter 10: All Right
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Chapter Ten
All Right




When James’ feet found solid pavement again, the smell of smoke and the sound of glass shattering filled the air. He and Lily had Apparated into the alleyway from which the Order members usually kept watch on The Lazy Harp, but there was no sign of Sirius or anyone else there. Where the alleyway intersected with the street that the pub was on, he could see the flash of spell-fire, followed by more crackling of breaking glass.

He set off towards the road, taking out his wand. Lily did the same beside him, and his stomach twisted uncomfortably. He wished she had never come, but it was too late now—he just hoped it wasn’t anything too dangerous. Sirius hadn’t given them much information to go on.

Adrenaline was careening wildly through his body; if he ought to have been afraid, he wasn’t. This was a welcome escape from the way the night had been going, and a good way of channeling the frustration it had caused. On top of that, it was his first real chance to prove himself to the other Order members. Fighting Dark wizards was exactly what he wanted to be doing.

The only problem was that, when they emerged onto the street, the mob of people didn’t appear to be Dark wizards at all. They were wizards, or at least mostly, with a few witches dotting the crowd, but none of them were in black robes or masks, as the Death Eaters usually were. In fact, they looked perfectly ordinary, other than the fact that they were breaking windows, starting fires, and hexing anyone who tried to stop them.

Lily was as confused as he was. “What’s going on?”

James scanned the crowd, trying to make sense of it. He saw a few people that must have been Ministry officials, by the look of their uniforms, but they didn’t look like Aurors to him, which meant that they were probably Hit Wizards, who were trained to deal with common wizarding criminals. Although they were restraining quite a few of the members of the mob with Full-Body Bind Curses, or chasing them out of the area, there seemed to be more appearing by the second.

This wasn’t what he had expected. It wasn’t much different than Peeves wreaking havoc in the Great Hall.

“James!”

He turned to his right and saw Sirius hurrying towards them, his forehead covered in a sheen of sweat.

“What’s happened?” James asked quickly. The next moment, a window behind him broke loudly, and a shower of green sparks came within inches of their feet. He looked around, trying to find the source of the spell, but there were simply too many people in the street to tell.

“They showed up about half an hour ago,” Sirius explained, keeping his eyes on the mob and his wand out in front of him. James mirrored his best friend’s guarded stance, though he still felt completely wrong-footed. “A big group of them went inside the pub—the rest stayed out in the street—a few minutes later they started going mad—”

“Did you tell Dumbledore?” James asked, raising his voice so as to be heard over the noise. The scattered shouts were starting to congeal together into one unified voice. Sirius had either not heard his question or was too distracted to answer, and James supposed it didn’t really matter. The Ministry was here, even if it seemed like they were struggling to quell the mob.

“What are they saying?” Lily shouted, and James shrugged. It sounded a bit like “dureblas” to him, but that didn’t make sense.

The fighting had was starting to move away from them a bit now, and something told James that if they didn’t act now, they were going to miss their chance altogether. He just didn’t know where to begin. Each time he fixed his attention on a target, and started to raise his wand, they moved out of sight or were jinxed by someone else. He watched the Hit Wizards, who shot spells this way and that without a moment’s hesitation. That was what he needed to do.

How many times had he directed a jinx someone’s way when he was in school without thinking anything of it? What was so different about this? It was true that, at some point during his later years at Hogwarts, he had started to grow a conscience, or at least had found less enjoyment in it. These people really deserved it, though; there was no reason to feel guilty. And yet for whatever reason, he did. Judging by the way Sirius and Lily were surveying the scene, he wasn’t alone.

A moment of true desolation settled upon him as he wondered if maybe he wasn’t cut out for the Order after all. Maybe Dumbledore had been right in saying that they were too young; maybe Remus had, once again, proved himself the wisest of them all. James had wanted to fight Voldemort so badly, but maybe he just wasn’t cut out for it.

His palm was lined with sweat, still encircling his wand, and the smoke in the air was starting to burn his nose. Lily stepped forward to use her wand to put out a fire inside the shoe repair shop next to them, and shards of glass crunched under her feet.

When James glanced over at Sirius, his best friend was holding himself in a way that strongly recalled his Animagus form: entire body tensed and focused on a single point, ready to attack at any second. James followed his gaze and saw three people sidling out of an alley about twenty feet to their left. He could see that they were intending to take advantage of the fact that the Hit Wizards were turned the other way so that they could free about a dozen of their friends, who were magically bound and slumped against the wall across from them.

If they didn’t do something, the Hit Wizards were going to lose the ground they had gained. He hesitated, but there was time for that; more importantly, there was time to talk himself out of it, to steel his nerves, to decide what spell to use.

Two of them were caught by his Trip Jinxes, and the third was held in place a second later by an Impediment Jinx from Sirius. He heard one of the Hit Wizards cry, “Over there!”, saw a couple faces turn, but it was Lily who got there first. The three wizards were yanked upwards—one, two, three in impressively rapid succession—as if invisible hooks had attached itself to their ankles. Two of their wands clattered to the ground, and Sirius easily Disarmed the last of them.

“Thought you didn’t care for that spell much,” Sirius remarked to Lily, looking slightly surprised.

“It has its uses,” she replied, trying and failing to shrug nonchalantly. It was obvious from her smile and slightly pink cheeks that she was pleased with herself, and James didn’t blame her. He was feeling rather proud of himself, too. Some higher power seemed to have heard his confusion and taken pity on him, offering a perfect opportunity to boost his confidence.

“Look,” Lily said suddenly, gesturing towards the crowd. Dorcas Meadowes was pushing her way towards them. Her expression was even more displeased than James had usually seen her.

“Think we ought to hex her, too?” Sirius muttered hopefully. James smirked.

“What the hell are you three doing here?” she yelled, once she had reached where they stood. There was a resounding bang that made all three of them recoil, but Dorcas didn’t move, except to turn around and look for the source of the noise. The chanting had started again, louder this time, and a few seconds later, a strange wailing sound filled the air. It sounded oddly familiar, but it took James a few seconds to place it—it was the same sound that the Muggle Hit Wizards, whatever they were called, made from their cars. He, Sirius, and Peter had heard it once before, on a rather ill-advised evening out in London.

Dorcas swore and looked down at her watch hurriedly, before snapping her gaze back to them.

“You can’t be here,” she said. “Clear off, now.”

“But—”

“I don’t have time to argue!” Dorcas yelled, interrupting Sirius’ protests. “You’re not helping by being here!”

“We can help,” James said, rather weakly, since he had a feeling that winning an argument against Dorcas Meadowes wasn’t likely to happen.

Another bang slammed through the air, followed by a series of anguished yells. Dorcas set her jaw.

“Do you know what’s going to happen when we get this cleared up?” she said, drawing closer to them. “Magical Law Enforcement is going to go around, questioning every single person here. And what are you going to say when they ask why you’re here?”

James thought through it for a moment, and saw her point. They couldn’t very well say that they came because of the Order. Perhaps they could lie and say that they just happened to come across the fight, but it was still slightly suspicious. What were the odds that three wizards would be walking around a Muggle area at night, far from where any of them lived?

He was really starting to get sick of the other Order members being right all the time.

“Now go,” Dorcas repeated, “before the Muggles show up and arrest you.”

She rushed off without another word. James turned to Lily and Sirius, shrugging in resignation.

“Let’s Apparate back to my flat,” Sirius suggested, fire still burning behind his eyes. James knew he didn’t want to go far from the conflict, in case there was an opportunity to rejoin it.

“Are they—?” Lily stopped mid-sentence, an expression of mingled confusion and disgust on her face. “Are they saying purebloods?”

James listened to the chanting again, and with a twist in his stomach, he realized that Lily was right. They had to be Voldemort’s supporters, then, even if they weren’t true Death Eaters. What they were trying to accomplish by blasting Muggle buildings was still a bit of a mystery to him, but now wasn’t the time to figure out.

“Idiots,” Sirius spat.

“Let’s go,” Lily said, raising her voice to be heard above the chanting. The glow of spell-fire lit up her face, flashing blue, red, green...James turned to survey the scene once more, disappointed. “Dorcas is right—”

“Hey!” James cried out. He had just seen the squat, sour-faced man that he had pursued from the pub one night while he was on watch.

“What is it?” Sirius asked, but it was too late—James had finally acted without hesitation. He sprinted off towards the man, who had just disappeared into one of the alleyways leading off the main street. He heard Sirius and Lily call after him in confusion, but he couldn’t stop. He wasn’t going to let this bloke escape for a second time.
The man was just exiting from the other end of the alleyway when James entered it. He tried to Apparate and get himself closer to his quarry, but either he was in too narrow a space or someone had set up an Anti-Apparition Jinx, because it had no effect.

When he skidded out into the next intersection, James turned in the direction the man had gone, and found him much closer than he had expected—about three feet away from him, in fact, with a wand pointed in his face. He ducked.

A jet of orange light spiralled like a corkscrew right over James’ head. If the man had been a better wizard, James’ ducking probably would have been too late, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He was glad no one had seen him do that. It had been foolish to come bursting out like that without even looking first, in retrospect.

Luckily, though, the man wasn’t a very good wizard, and perhaps he knew it, because he turned tail and started to run. His stubby legs didn’t get him very far before James drew himself up and caught him with another Trip Jinx. The man stumbled, slamming into a rubbish bin. He shot a badly-aimed Stunning Spell backwards; it rebounded, zig-zagging back and forth up the walls on either side of them, until it ricocheted off into the night sky.

James waited until he had straightened up fully before raising his wand and saying in his head, Incarcerous! Thick ropes sprang forth from the tip of his wand and bound the man from shoulders to ankles. He fell down to the ground like a sack of potatoes, spewing forth a string of curses in between groans.

He couldn’t find a single piece of identification on the bloke, whose face had a rather squashed look to it. Someone like Ollivander could have identified him from his wand, but James couldn’t do that, so he resorted to more basic measure.

“What’s your name?” James asked. The man responded with a slew of nasty insults, most of which had something to do with James’ mother. Half of them were completely unintelligible under the circumstances; the man had a very thick Scottish accent. Giving it up as a bad job, James put a Silencing Charm on him, and then sat down on his haunches for a few moment.

“I know a girl,” he said, smirking, “and I think probably the only time she cracks a smile is when she gets her hands on filth like you.”

The man didn’t look particularly threatened, but James didn’t care. In fact, he felt a little bit like skipping, but he forced himself not to get carried away.

Instead, he carried his captive away, back to where the Ministry was holding the others. He knew that he had to make sure that someone associated with the Order knew that this wasn’t just any other member of the mob, and then get back to where he had left Sirius and Lily. He scanned the crowd of warring faces, trying to seek out Dorcas or anyone else that he recognized.

As he searched, a Stunning Spell came shooting wildly out of the crowd, speeding off in the direction of the second floor of the building next to him. The next second, everything went black.



..........




It was nearly three hours later when Lily, James, and Sirius departed the scene of all the mayhem. The adrenaline that had accompanied Lily when she had first arrived was long since gone, leaving a feeling of oppressive exhaustion in its stead. How the evening had gone from laughing at James’ dress robes to being detained and interrogated by Magical Law Enforcement, she wasn’t quite sure.

Well, that wasn’t true. She had seen exactly what had happened, after all: James had come back from the ridiculous chase he had been on, and then a Stunning Spell had rebounded off a building and hit him in the side. Naturally, both she and Sirius had rushed over, intending to revive him. The moment that they did, a couple of Hit Wizards had bound them all up with magical ropes and stuck them inside the area where all of the other captured mob members were being held.

James and Sirius had both struggled furiously and fruitlessly against their bindings, their indignation blinding them to the thing that Lily had silently realized: they should have left when Dorcas had told them to. Eventually, after about a quarter of an hour, James and Sirius had resigned themselves, and they sat there for another two hours, watching as the fight gradually subsided, and the numbers of captives increased.

Then, the questions had begun.

“Names?” the Ministry wizard had asked, in a dreary sort of voice. He had already been through a dozen people before them, most of whom had outright refused to speak to him, and a couple of whom had tried to spit on him.

“There’s been a slight mix-up,” James had said in response, ever the charmer. Their questioner had then fixed him with a rather uncharitable stare.

“If you don’t tell me your names, I’ll have to confiscate your wands indefinitely so we can bring them back to the Ministry and identify you,” he said.

They relented, and the Ministry wizard had recorded each of their names on his register.

“Right,” he pressed on, “I’m now informing you that charges have been laid against you by the Ministry of Magic—”

“Hang on!” James exclaimed, while Sirius swore vehemently. Lily felt like she had just been kicked in the stomach.

“—for breach of the International Statute of Secrecy; vandalism; assault on Magical Law Enforcement Officers; and suspected collusion with a known Dark wizard, alias Lord Voldemort—”

“We didn’t do any of that! We’re—on—your—side!” James said, struggling against the ropes once more.

“Sure you are,” the Ministry wizard remarked, sounding bored.

“Aren’t you going to let us explain?” Lily had asked. Her voice felt heavy after all the time she had spent silent.

“You can’t just charge us without proof!”

The wizard had looked completely unmoved, but just then, Dorcas had walked up to his side. Lily had immediately felt a surge of hope in her chest, but it was extinguished almost at once, when Dorcas’ gaze had flitted over them without any hint of recognition. Having an Order member vouch for them was likely their only way of escaping this, but it was also completely out of the question.

“How’s the processing going, MacDougal?” Dorcas had asked, in a business-like tone.

“Like hell, thanks,” the wizard, whose last name was evidently MacDougal, had replied.

Dorcas had turned her attention to Lily, James, and Sirius.

“Looks like they’re getting them young, doesn’t it?” she asked. “These ones look like they ought to be in school still.”

Lily was sure that she could actually hear James and Sirius rolling their eyes at this. There was no doubt about the fact that she thought they deserved this: she looked at them with a small, triumphant smile on her face, as if to say, I told you so.

MacDougal rubbed his eyes tiredly with his quill-hand, and Dorcas looked back at him.

“Do you mind if I look up a name on there? We need to question one of the men you already recorded, but he’s not exactly cooperating,” she asked, pocketing her wand. Lily sincerely hoped that there was a point to all of this. MacDougal handed the register over without question, yawning widely.

If Lily hadn’t been watching Dorcas very closely, she might not have noticed her take her wand out—MacDougal certainly hadn’t. While Dorcas had chattered away about what a nightmare the evening had been, Lily saw her shift her wand from her right hand to her left in a strange sort of way. MacDougal hadn’t seen that, either. Even if he had, though, he wouldn’t have remembered it: when Dorcas had handed the register back to him, she passed it to him with the hand that her wand was in, and in the split second that her arm was still outstretched, MacDougal’s eyes glazed over.

“Did you hear me?” Dorcas had then asked him, without missing a beat. MacDougal blinked rapidly several times, looking disoriented.

“Sorry—”

“I said to go tell your superior to put someone else on processing for now,” Dorcas said. “We need everyone here to be alert and on their toes.”

“Oh,” MacDougal replied, looking both confused and relieved. “Right. Probably a good idea.”

For a moment, he had hesitated. Dorcas smiled pointedly, though, and he had wandered off with the register in hand.

Finally, she knelt down in front of them, giving them a look that threatened to cut them into tiny pieces.

“Don’t ever make me do that again,” she hissed.
Lily flinched as Dorcas waved her wand, but she had only removed their bindings. A few of the other captives who were sitting nearby noticed that Lily, James, and Sirius had been freed, and started moaning about unfair treatment. Lily had never seen someone perform so many Silencing Charms as fast as Dorcas did.

Lily got to her feet with James and Sirius. Dorcas was looking over her shoulders surreptitiously.

“I don’t know what you were thinking,” she spat at them. She cut a rather imposing figure, being about the same height as James and, apparently, rather good at spells. She reached inside her robes and stuffed three wands into Sirius’ hand. “Now, bugger off.”

At that point, Lily would have been quite happy to oblige, but James had stayed in place for a little longer.

“You see that bloke with the funny nose and red vest down there?” he asked Dorcas, gesturing off to his right. Dorcas had looked like her head was going to explode, and her mouth was pressed into a thin line. James had finished his explanation rather quickly at that point. “He’s, er, the one I saw coming out of the pub that one night. The one who I chased and then he Flooed away.”

Lily supposed this was who he had gone chasing after earlier in the night. It didn’t really seem worth it to her, but James seemed rather proud of himself—he must have been, if he was willing to incur Dorcas’ wrath to tell her about it.

So, finally, they had made their escape, and James had offered to see Lily home. Sirius went off to meet Peter and break the news to him that he had missed their first real fight for the Order, which he seemed to find amusing. The windows of her flat were all dark when they arrived, and the round clock inside the kitchen showed it to be nearly one in the morning. Petunia had either not come home after dinner, or was sound asleep—Lily didn’t really care to find out.

It was only when she sat down on her bed, and James sat down next to her, his arm touching hers, that the weight of everything that had happened started to press down on her.

“What just happened?” she thought aloud, staring at the wallpaper across from her. She had never really noticed the fact that it was patterned with calla lilies before.

“I have no bloody clue,” James replied. “I suppose we’ll find out at the next Order meeting.”

“Yeah,” Lily said listlessly. After a moment, she looked over at him, and he was smiling. “What is it?”

He laughed and let his back fall onto the mattress.

“Was that a Stunning Spell that hit you, or a Confundus Charm?” Lily asked, smiling uneasily. James narrowed his eyes at her playfully.

“It rebounded off a building, all right?”

She snorted with laughter and put her face in her hands.

“Why are we laughing?” she asked woefully. “Nothing that ever happens to us is funny!”

She felt James tug at the back of her dress, and she reclined next to him in a moody sort of way. There wasn’t very much room for the two of them, since she only had a single bed, and so her left arm overlapped his right. They fell into silence for a few moments. Lily decided that it was more or less James’ trademark to laugh at any given moment, and that it was one of the things that she loved about him. She was about to tell him this when he spoke up from beside her.

“I duelled with someone,” he said, matter-of-factly. “A real duel.”

“Yes, you did, you idiot,” Lily said, elbowing him. “Why did you do that?”

James grinned. “Because I knew I could.”

Lily made a noise of exasperation, then turned and propped herself up on her elbow so she was facing him.

“You can’t just do things like that,” she argued.

“Why not?”

“Because,” she said, and there was suddenly a lump in her throat, “it scares me to death.”

She pressed her face into his shoulder and tried to force back her tears. He hadn’t wanted her to go with him because he was worried it was too dangerous, and somehow, he had been the one to run off and put himself in harm’s way. It wasn’t fair, and a small part of her still felt like he hadn’t forgiven her for not being willing to sacrifice herself for him all those months ago, when they had been taken by Malfoy and Avery. The memory of its still made her burn with shame. Did he think that she didn’t care what happened to him?

James wrapped an arm around her and kissed the side of her head.

“I’m all right,” he said in a bracing voice. Lily didn’t miss the fact that he didn’t apologize for worrying her. “If you’d seen me, you wouldn’t be afraid—I handled myself pretty well, I think.”

“All I saw was you getting Stunned by the side of a building,” Lily said in a small voice, hoping James would laugh. He did.

“Not my finest moment,” he admitted. “Sirius’ll be taking the piss for ages...”

Fairly sure that she wasn’t going to cry again, Lily lifted her head up to look at him.

“I don’t want you to go off like that again,” she stated, trying and failing to sound completely serious about it.
She knew that he probably would one day, not because he could, but because he wanted to, and because it was the right thing.

“What happens if I do?” James challenged her, smirking again.

Lily sighed. “I’ll wait around, being terrified, until you come back, I suppose.”

“And then?” His hand had migrated from her back to where the hem of her dress rested on her thigh. Something was fluttering around in her stomach.

“You’ll tell me that you’re all right.”

“And?” She found herself hopelessly tangled in a web of desire and anticipation as his fingertips started to ascend again, dipping underneath the fabric.

“You’re not very subtle, you know,” she breathed.

He kissed her, and from the moment their lips met, she knew it was a very different sort of kiss. The upheaval of the evening had drawn everything close to the surface; it felt like she was pouring her entire soul out as their lips and limbs wound around each other. If this was what a Dementor’s Kiss felt like, it was sublime.

She pressed the length of her body into his, and felt something ignite. James felt it too, she knew, because he made a little noise of longing in the back of his throat. He pulled her on top of him, the narrowness of the bed requiring some awkward adjustments, but it was though their mouths had never left each other when they came back together.

It was a few seconds after this that Lily realized how different this kiss was, and the path that they were throwing themselves down headlong. And she wondered if she cared, or if it mattered, or if there was a right time for these things to happen.

She pulled away, looking down at James in a haze.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, sounding pained.

Lily didn’t have an answer for him. She didn’t even know why she had stopped, except that it seemed like the sort of moment where you should stop, if only to acknowledge that reality still existed in and around what you were doing. Or perhaps to acknowledge that it would be better to wait for another time, another place, another reality.

James seemed to cotton on, even if his brow remained furrowed in confusion.

“If you don’t—it’s all right,” he muttered.

Lily shook her head. The truth was, she did, and she wasn’t sure what could be wrong with that. She loved James, and she knew that no matter what happened, he would always, always love her. When she thought about the fact that they’d both seen each other nearly die once or twice, this seemed like something they could manage.

She figured she might as well do something with the life she had worked so hard to hold onto, and by virtue of the fact that James, too, had helped to protect it, she knew that a small part of her would always be his.

“It’s all right,” she repeated softly, and she leaned down to kiss him again.

And when she was with him, everything really did seem all right.




Author’s Note: Please drop me a review to let me know what you thought!


Chapter Eleven
Grown Up




The next Order meeting didn’t occur until nearly a fortnight later. The last days of September, chilly and grey, seemed to announce that fall had truly arrived, and slipped away like withered leaves tumbling from the trees. Lily and Petunia had adopted a frigid sort of civility, which involved an outright refusal to discuss anything related to Vernon or the wedding, that got them through the rare moments that they were in each other’s presence. Had their dinner not been followed by things that seemed much more significant to Lily, she might have been more upset about it.

In fact, she was surprised at how steady she had felt after that night. She would have expected that all of it would have made her feel inherently different somehow, but she had woken up the next morning and felt completely like herself. Petunia’s resentment was disappointing, but manageable. She still wanted to go to work on Monday and keep helping the Order. And, most importantly—for it was the thing that she had worried about the most—she didn’t feel anything less or unwanted when she looked at James.

So, in the meantime, she went to work every day, she spent time with James, and that left little time for worrying about Petunia.

The next meeting was on a rainy Tuesday evening, in an house in the outskirts of Reading. Lily had deduced by now that all of these meeting places were the houses of various Order members, and this one—squat and square, with a neglected-looking hedge—was apparently Gideon Prewett’s, since he welcomed Lily, James, Sirius, Peter, and Remus at the door. (James had confided the story of his and Remus’ deal to Lily, and though Remus was still refusing James’ offer of money, he had made good on his promise to attend the next Order meeting. Lily couldn’t help but notice that, though he had protested to James, he looked pleased to be there.)

Lily still felt like the five of them were the odd ones out with the Order, but there was at least a slow thawing to their presence taking place. Almost everyone smiled and said hello as they arrived, even if they continued on to form their typical groups around the sitting room: Emmeline, Hestia, Benjy, Alice and Frank, and Dorcas cloistered together near the opposite end of the room, muttering and pulling faces as they traded gossip; Dedalus, Edgar, Marlene, Gideon, and Fabian chatting amiably on the sofa. Hagrid and Caradoc (Lily had to remind herself to start using his first name, rather than calling him “Professor Dearborn” still) arrived together, having just come from The Leaky Cauldron. Alastor Moody stumped in about five minutes later. Dumbledore and McGonagall were the last to arrive, the latter sporting a tartan pair of rain-robes.

There was more energy in the air that night than the other Order meetings Lily had attended, and she knew why. They were all anticipating an update on the riot that had occurred near The Lazy Harp. It had appeared on the front page of the Daily Prophet’s the following morning, but the article had been decidedly unsatisfying.

“I still can’t believe nobody told me,” Peter grumbled. As they had all expected, he was none too happy to find out that Lily, James, and Sirius had been involved in something so exciting, and that he had not been included. James had told Lily that Peter’s complaining was nearly insufferable in the days immediately following, and now, faced with such an immediate reminder of what he had missed, he was back at it.

“At least you didn’t almost get arrested,” Lily pointed out, trying to be helpful. Peter only shrugged glumly.

“I suppose,” he replied, as if he’d really wanted nothing more in his life than to be arrested for something he didn’t do. James and his friends tended to have a strange perspective on these sort of things.

“Shall we get started?” Dumbledore’s voice cut through the anticipation hanging thick in the air.

Although the Order’s activities were varied, there was no sense in dancing around by talking about anything but the matter that was on everyone’s mind. It turned out that Dorcas had the most to report—which made sense, considering that she had been present and she was an Auror, but Lily nevertheless exchanged unkind glances with James and Sirius as she began.

As Dorcas explained what had happened on the evening in question, Lily felt, for perhaps the first time, that she knew exactly what someone else in the Order was talking about. It made a monumental difference in her confidence as she sat and listened, until she reminded herself how the story ended. Strangely, however, Dorcas didn’t mention Lily, James, or Sirius in her story. Lily was surprised, since she would have thought Dorcas would relish any opportunity to criticize them. Was she trying to deny them any sort of credit? (James and Sirius’ disgruntled expressions seemed to be sure this was the case.) Or did she just have something else up her sleeve? (Lily, for whatever reason, couldn’t put aside this possibility so easily.)

“The good news from all of this is,” Dorcas said, “that I think we’ve finally started to put together the connections between the patrons of The Lazy Harp and Voldemort.” She paused for a moment to let this sink in. “We were first suspicious because we heard that people we suspect to be Death Eaters—Dolohov, for one—were seen going in and out of the pub a few times, but for whatever reason, they never came back.”

“We thought for a while that we’d gotten bad information,” Benjy Fenwick added. He was seated directly slightly behind Dorcas, and looked intently at the back of her head after he spoke, as if expecting—or hoping for, Lily amended in her head—acknowledgement. Dorcas merely shook a strand of dark hair off her face and continued.

“Until the night a few weeks ago, when Potter saw a wizard coming out of the pub,” she said. “Marlene traced the fireplace he used to escape, and it turned out that the building belongs to a member of the Wizengamot named Byron Gamp—which didn’t give us a lot to go on, until the night of the riot, when Potter apprehended the man he’d seen before.”

James looked rather mollified, if a bit surprised, that this had been delivered without remonstrance.

“His name’s Roddy Darrow, and he has a record—nothing Dark, and nothing particularly clever, either. Stealing a broom, possession of a Class C Non-Tradeable Substance, Apparating without a licence—he doesn’t have one, which partly explains the use of the Floo Network that night.”

“I assume that the final piece of that puzzle rests in where he was going when he used the Floo Network,” Dumbledore broke in. “Were you able to find that out, Marlene?”

“Yes, but I’m afraid it doesn’t shed much light on things,” Marlene replied, a disappointed smile on her lips. “He went to the Ministry. The fireplace was illegally connected to the Floo Network, and very poorly so: the only place it was connected to was the Atrium at the Ministry. We shut it down and fined Gamp, since he owned the building, but that’s the most we can do about it. Gamp’ll claim that someone else broke in and did it without his knowledge—”

“That’s not what Darrow said,” Dorcas interjected, looking smug. “You see, he’s not a particularly clever criminal, so when we intimated that he might be suspected of supporting Voldemort, he started talking before he’d had enough time to think. And he sang us a very helpful song about how Byron Gamp asked him to go to The Lazy Harp a few nights a week to help some of his other associates. He was hired muscle to make sure money was collected and delivered to Gamp, while the other associates were there to try and solicit the money, by talking to wizards and witches about the safety of the community. Apparently, Gamp is at the head of an underground—well, underground as of yet—pro-pureblood movement, and he’s been promising his adherents that he’ll push that agenda at the Ministry.”

A few beats of silence followed.

“Sorry,” Lily interjected, feeling her cheeks flush slightly, “but what exactly does he mean by ‘pro-pureblood’? It sounds more or less the same as ‘Death Eater’, doesn’t it?”

It was Frank who answered. “Yes and no. It’s certainly the Death Eaters’ philosophy, but there are more people than you’d expect who subscribe to the philosophy without being willing to kill for it.”

“Darrow isn’t a Death Eater,” Dorcas added. “At least, he doesn’t have the Dark Mark, like some of the others do. Like I said, he’s practically got porridge for brains, so I don’t see why Voldemort would bother recruiting him.”

“And so the question is,” Dumbledore said, pulling the ends of the conversation back to centre, “how our friend Mr Darrow, Byron Gamp, and Voldemort are all connected.”

Dorcas nodded. “We’re still working on that.”

“I can keep an eye on Gamp’s dealings with the rest of the Wizengamot,” Edgar spoke up. Lily knew that he was one of the members of the wizarding court, as were Dumbledore and Moody. Edgar was the Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, and was therefore very senior at the Ministry. Lily had spotted him taking the lift down to Level One a couple times since she had begun work at the Ministry.

“With all the people we’re going to be seeing in court because of the riot, something’s bound to turn up soon,” Frank said confidently. Everyone seemed to agree with this.

Questions still danced around in Lily’s mind as the meeting came to a close about a quarter of an hour later. The rain had ceased beyond the windows of Gideon’s house, and a few of the Order members made quick exits into the dewy night, called away by work or family or exhaustion. Others lingered, Lily, James, Peter, Sirius, and Remus among them.

“I’m still confused,” Peter said candidly.

“If only you’d been there to witness it first-hand,” Sirius needled him. He was staring off into space rather discontentedly, and teasing Peter seemed to distract very little from whatever was on his mind.

“I don’t quite understand it, either,” Lily chimed in. She didn’t really feel the need to rush to Peter’s defence—he seemed to hold his own rather well, most of the time—but it was true that she was feeling similarly confused. Even though the meeting had added more pieces to the puzzle, it felt like there were many still missing.

“I’m surprised nobody mentioned anything about the Daily Prophet,” Remus remarked.

“I’m sure they know all about it,” Sirius grumbled.

Lily rather agreed with him; it seemed that the other Order members often forgot that their five newest members weren’t privy to the same kinds of information that they all were. Their conversation was cut short, however, by the approach of Frank and Alice.

“Hello,” Alice said, with a tentative smile. Her blue eyes sparkled atop the rounds of her cheeks with genuine warmth, something that Lily felt was rather lacking amongst the Order. She was rather surprised that Alice and Frank had deliberately come across the room to speak to them, and perhaps her facial expression prompted Alice’s next question. “Do the five of you have to run off somewhere?”

“Er—no, I don’t think so.” It was James who replied, ever-ready with words in a way that the rest of them were not.

“Oh,” Alice said brightly, “well, a few of us—Frank and I, and Sturgis and Hestia—we were going to go for a drink, and we thought we’d ask if you want to come.”
James was exchanging glances with Remus, Sirius, and Peter, and Lily could see a cloud of hesitation forming over them. She knew that James and Sirius didn’t particularly like most of the other Order members, but she wasn’t quite ready to write all of them off.

“I’ll go,” she blurted out, feeling a little overeager even though Alice had been the one to invite them.

“Great!” Alice replied, before turning to the four boys. “What about the rest of you?”

They all looked a little taken aback.

“It could be fun,” Peter piped up, and this seemed to offer the final blow of shock that landed them all around a table at a small pub near Wandsworth, which Frank said quietly catered to wizards and witches in the middle of a Muggle street. Lily could tell as they approached that it was rather like The Leaky Cauldron—any Muggle who passed by seemed not to even see the place.

It seemed to Lily that, despite their hesitation, James, Remus, Peter, and Sirius warmed to Frank and Sturgis rather quickly, bonding over a shared interest in the upcoming Quidditch season. For her part, Lily was very pleased that there were—for what was the first time in ages—other people to turn to when she didn’t really feel like talking about Quidditch. Alice and Hestia asked her about Hogwarts, lamenting that they missed their own school days.

“Were you all at Hogwarts together?” Lily asked, taking a sip of her gillywater.

“Frank and Hestia and I were,” Alice said, weaving her fingers together and resting her chin on them. “And Emmeline, too.”

“And were you all in the same House?” Lily added.

“Well, Frank and Emmeline were both in Gryffindor, and Hestia and I were in Hufflepuff,” Alice answered, tilting her head back-and-forth slightly as she lifted the names. She had a very sprightly sort of look to her that was almost elfish, with short blonde hair and slightly large ears.

“We’ve been friends for too long,” Hestia joked, and Alice elbowed her.

“What about Sturgis?” Lily asked.

“He’s two years younger than us,” Alice explained.

“Dorcas is four years older than us, and then Benjy is two years older. I think that’s right.”

Hestia nodded.

Prodded by Lily’s incessant questioning, they sketched out the background of all of their friendships for her. Alice and Hestia had been best friends since they started at Hogwarts, and after they were done school, Alice had gone into Auror training. Frank, whom she had only been briefly acquainted with at school, had done the same.

“And they fell in love,” Hestia interjected, with a mocking, love-struck impression. Alice elbowed her again.
Auror training was also where they had met Benjy and Dorcas. Hestia, meanwhile, had gone on to become a Healer at St. Mungo’s. They had only really become friends with Emmeline, who worked for the Daily Prophet, later on.

“When we had all joined,” Alice said cryptically. Lily would have liked to ask them how they had started with the Order, but thought that the middle of a pub probably wasn’t the best place to ask.

“It’s too bad Dorcas couldn’t come,” Alice remarked. Lily smiled a little uncertainly and took another sip of her drink. Hestia laughed, catching the subtext of Lily’s expression. “Oh, no, really—I know she can be difficult at times, but you’d like her. I know you would. Eventually, at least.”

“Why couldn’t she come?” Lily asked, trying to humour them. She wouldn’t have been surprised if Dorcas had declined to go just because Lily and the others were invited.

“She and Benjy both had to go back to the Ministry. They’ve been drowning in paperwork ever since the riot,” Alice replied.

“Yes, well,” Hestia said, leaning in conspiratorially, “that’s what they said they had to do, anyway.”

Alice rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “Dorcas would kill you...”

Suddenly, Lily was reminded of Benjy gazing at the back of Dorcas’ head.

“Is—?” She paused, wondering if it was any of her business. Hestia had been the one to bring it up, though. “Are they—together?”

Alice was in the middle of shaking her head when Hestia said, “In Benjy’s dreams, very much so.”

Hestia,” Alice admonished her. She turned back to Lily with a look that was in the vicinity of condescension. “It’s complicated.”

Lily nodded, and for some reason—maybe it had been Alice’s look, which had suggested that Lily wouldn’t understand—she couldn’t stop herself from blurting out the response that was on her mind.

“Well, I understand what that’s like,” she said. Alice and Hestia’s eyes both lit up with interest. Lily had expected both of them to be much more serious and mature, since they were almost ten years older than her, but it seemed that some curiosities lingered far beyond adolescence.

“James?” Hestia asked. “Or someone else?”

Lily had been about to say it was James, without a moment’s thought, until Hestia had asked the question. She was reminded rather uncomfortably of the fact that it hadn’t been just James, if she was really honest. The thought of it, especially knowing what Snape was now, and what he had done to both her and James—she almost bit right through her tongue. There was no way she was going to share that with anyone.

“James, yes,” Lily said, hoping that her smile would cover the beat of awkward silence that had passed.

“Well,” Hestia said, pressing her fingernails into the grain of the wood table, a sly look on her face, “maybe Benjy does have a chance after all, then.”

Alice cleared her throat. “So, all of you were in Gryffindor?”

Lily nodded, and she didn’t miss Alice’s eyes floating towards Sirius, who was listening to Sturgis describe how he had once crashed a broom into greenhouse three at Hogwarts. For some reason, it made Lily feel a little uneasy. The next moment, though, Alice managed to merge the two conversations going on by asking who had won the Quidditch Cup the past year, and Lily let it go.



..........




The following Monday, James was shaken awake by Sirius late in the morning. It was unusual that Sirius awoke before him, so he pulled himself from the slightly uncomfortable position he had been sleeping in on Sirius’ sofa, and reached down to the ground to retrieve his glasses.

“What’s wrong?” he mumbled, thinking that there might be something wrong with the Order again. As his mind focused, slowed by the last vestiges of sleep that were still upon him, he saw that Sirius was holding an envelope.

“Bloody owl wouldn’t stop pecking at the window,” Sirius grumbled, tossing the letter into James’ lap. “You sleep like the dead, mate.”

James turned the envelope over, and saw his name written on the front in a familiar hand. He slumped back on the sofa.

“Right. Thanks.”

Sirius went stalking off into the kitchen, and the sounds and smell of him making toast soon followed. Meanwhile, James stared glumly at Sirius’ floor. The sun was streaming in the window behind him, illuminating the dust particles dancing in the air. It was so easy to forget about things when you couldn’t see them. Too easy.

James sighed and looked down at the letter again. He knew it was from his mother. She had sent him a few others over the past week, asking when he was going to be home next. He had managed to make himself feel a little better about his absence by clinging to the fact that he had been there less than ten days ago, but the truth was, he had come home near midnight, went straight to bed, and then left again before noon the next day.

Might as well get it over with, he thought, and tore the envelope open.

James,
It seems that my previous letters were not clear enough. Come home today, or I will be forced to start sending you daily Howlers until you do.
Mother


His eyes lingered on “today”, with its angry underline. He read it again, and then once more. A surge of defiance filled his chest for a few moments; he didn’t want to go back just because she’d written him some unpleasant letter. He didn’t care if she sent him a year’s worth of Howlers. He was an adult now, and he didn’t have to do what she said.

But even stronger was the dread that followed, because he had a feeling he knew why his mother was being so demanding. In the rare moments that he had been back home, he had seen enough to tell him that his father still wasn’t well. And if his mother, who had initially been determined to pretend like everything was all right, was breaking that facade...

His fingers closed, crumpling the parchment slightly. Everything had been going so well lately—and now, this had to happen.

Sirius re-entered the room, a slightly burnt piece of toast in his mouth. Only on very rare occasions were there clean dishes to be found in Sirius’ flat, and so he more or less had to survive on food that could be easily eaten with your hands.

“What was it?” he asked, sitting down in a creaky beige armchair across from James.

“Letter from my mum,” James muttered.

“Just like first year again, isn’t it?” Sirius joked. James remembered the number of letters he had received from home during their first year very well—at least three a week. He had put up with it (partially because it did, in fact, give him some comfort when he was eleven years old) for the first year, but during Christmas holidays in second year, he had told his mother to stop. One letter a week, he had told her, was the most he could stand. It was making all of his friends laugh at him.

Apparently, some kind of regression had occurred.

“We ought to go to your house for tea next Sunday,” Sirius said, shoving the last bit of toast into his mouth. “I could do with real food for once.”

“Yeah,” James replied, in a voice that felt empty. “We’ll see. I think she’s upset with me because I haven’t been home much.”

He wavered on the edge of explaining the rest of the story to Sirius, but decided against it. He had told him that his dad was ill some time ago, but he didn’t really want to bring it up again. Sirius was never a very good confidant when it came to family issues, which was strange, considering that he’d had so many of his own. But—and perhaps this was why Sirius had trouble understanding—not everyone had the option or the justification to run away and never look back.

When Sirius had shown up at his door years ago, having just walked out on his family for good, James had not really been able to understand what his friend was going through. Now, though, he thought he had at least some insight. He knew that some desire for retribution had made him stay away in the first place. He had been so angry with his mother for pretending that everything was all right that he had been determined to show her just how all right he could pretend things were, too. Going away was the easy part, though. After the feelings of resentment had faded, the fear of what was happening remained. There had been shame, too, because he knew that refusing to go home was cowardly. Over time, the shame and fear had developed into true discomfort with being in his own home. He had been afraid, and too ashamed, to go back and face up to it all.

Besides, with everything that had been going on with Lily and the Order, it had been easy to convince himself that there were good reasons for his absence. His father’s health had been in the back of his mind through it all, but it was easy to distract himself from the pain of the memory of their last conversation, in which his father had not seemed at all like himself.

He took his wand out and Vanished the letter, but this time, he knew he would have to heed his mother’s request.

“She’ll understand,” Sirius said confidently. “You can tell her it’s my fault if you want. Mrs Potter would never get cross with me.”

James laughed a little.

He spent a half-hour lingering at Sirius’ flat, trying to brace himself for whatever he was going to face when he got home. It didn’t work very well. When he finally left, he felt more anxious than ever. He ran a clammy hand through unwashed, slept-on hair, a particularly unpleasant combination.

As if to spite how he was feeling, it was a beautiful fall day outside: sunlight spread on crisp, breezy air. James had to squint a little as he Apparated just outside of the gate in front of his home. Everything was exactly the same as he remembered it, from the funny clicking and creaking of the iron gate to the way the stone house and its garden looked slightly neglected. The same Flutterby bush twitched lazily in front of the sitting room window, as it had for as long as James could remember.

He walked in the front door and hesitated in the entryway, wondering if he should call out to announce his presence.

“James?”

The sound of his mother’s voice echoing around the stone walls prompted a very painful combination of emotions, most of which he couldn’t name. It got even worse when she appeared in the entryway. He was prepared for her to narrow her eyes in anger, to shout, to make him feel ashamed—but instead, she embraced him.

It must be bad, a voice in his head said, unbidden. He tried to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat at the precise moment his mother had put his arms around him.

Acantha Potter drew back, her hands still on James’ shoulders. At first glance, she might have appeared as unchanged as their home, but James could see the extra lines that had been carved into her milky skin. His mother was nearing eighty, but she had never quite seemed her age to James until that moment.

He wished he had never come home. Whatever would have happened if he had continued to defy his mother, it couldn’t possibly have been worse than what he was being confronted with now—and he was sure the worst was yet to come.

“Thank you,” his mother said, her voice faltering slightly. She put a hand to his cheek. “Would you like some tea?”

“No.”

“Breakfast, then? Sprotty can—”

No—Christ, Mum, you’ve got to stop.”

She pinched her lips together in displeasure.

“Mind your cheek,” she said, but her voice was tired.

James never in his life spoken to either of his parents like this, but he was sick of it: sick of them trying to keep a stiff upper lip and treating him like he was still a child. If they knew what he had been through in the last six months alone—he had been put under the Imperius Curse, had escaped from two Death Eaters, had been in the thick of the Ministry fighting a mob, and had made a girl love him and made love to her—he was far, far from being a child. The problem was, the things that had made him stop being a child were exactly those things which he couldn’t talk to his parents about.

He couldn’t help but glare at his mother as they stood facing one another in silence. Maybe if she had told him what was wrong months ago, they wouldn’t be standing here now, in such a mess.

“Why did you want me home so urgently?” James demanded.

“You can at least sit down, so we can talk properly,” his mother replied, equally firm.

“I don’t want to.”

“Stop being so childish.”

The pinpointing of it—of the exact thing that made him so angry—was the last straw.

I’m being childish?” he shouted, louder than he had meant to. “You’ve lied to me for months for no reason, and I’m the one acting like a child?”

“Yes, precisely,” his mother said, her eyes flashing.

“Would you just tell me—?” He couldn’t finish it, couldn’t say the word “wrong”. It stuck in his throat and refused to come out.

His mother tilted her head sideways in an expression of sympathy that he wanted to fling aside. He didn’t want sympathy.

“James,” she said, and the tone of her voice asked him, Don’t you know by now?

It was then that he stormed past her, climbing the staircase to retreat to his bedroom, slinging barbs about immaturity and deception as he went. It was ten minutes later that she entered without knocking, and sat down on the edge of his bed, where he was lying, tossing a Quaffle against the ceiling and catching it as it fell. And it was there that he let his mother hold his hand while she explained to him what he had suspected, what he had hidden from, what he had dreaded.

It was there, among dirty laundry and Quidditch posters, that he learned that his father was dying.



Chapter 12: The Night of the Second Day
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Chapter Twelve
The Night of the Second Day




Time was elastic in the weeks following the news. Days and nights—especially nights, when the rest of the world made its great escape from reality—sometimes seemed to stretch out interminably, and then other times, rushed past in a blur. James would have wished for more of the latter, if not for the fact that time now felt so precious, and each day lost was a small occasion for mourning.

He had developed a penitential determination to confine himself to his home ever since he had found out. The first two days hadn’t been so bad. He had taken the news as stoically as he could, looking at his mother’s aged face and knowing that it would be selfish to put the extra emotional burden on her. It would be fine, he told himself: his father had lived a long and happy life, after all. Dying was natural, normal, and impossible to fight against. He felt grief fall in step with him, but it was a quiet companion.

It was the night of the second day which had broken him. Alone in his bedroom, he had wept, the tears stinging his eyes and making him feel like a failure. Grief had gotten tired of being ignored, and vanquished all of his strength and calm. They were frail opponents. Anger and guilt acted as replacements, digging in their heels. He hated the moments when those feelings were roused, because he could never anticipate or control them.

He found his only comfort in the predictable routine that his days settled into as the end of October crept closer.

Most mornings, he awoke late; half the time, he spent a minute or two debating whether he ought to eat breakfast or lunch, but usually settled on the former. He didn’t like to feel like he had missed something, not now, not when not missing was so important.

The world outside his window on the morning of October twenty-fifth was grey and blustery. James made his journey down to the kitchen, and waited while the Potters’ house elf, Sprotty, did him a fry-up. While he was waiting, he picked up the Daily Prophet that had been left on the kitchen table and read through it, marking each page with a story that he felt was important. Today, the front page carried a story about a protest that had been carried out by the Wizarding Families Alliance in Diagon Alley—James only skimmed it, but it had something to do with Muggle-borns endangering other people. He also marked a story about the match between the Wigtown Wanderers and the Caerphilly Catapults, and another about a potioneer named Damocles Belby, who had developed a better cure for Vanishing Sickness.

When his breakfast was ready, James returned back up the stairs, newspaper and plate of food in hand. He stopped at the first door on his right when he reached the landing and pushed it open with the hand that still clutched the Daily Prophet. It swung open with its familiar stuttering creak, and he entered his parents’ bedroom.

His mother was there, as she usually was, tidying things unnecessarily. James stopped a few feet from the end of the bed, and she gave him a weary smile.

“Good morning, dear,” she said, flicking her wand so that the glass phials and bottles sitting on the nightstand wiggled into a neatly organized group.

“Morning,” James said stiffly, deliberately leaving the word good out. He was saving that for a day when he really meant it. After the moment they always had at this time—the moment in which she seemed to expect or hope for him to say something more, and he never did—she stowed her wand in the pocket of her blue robes, and leaned down to kiss her husband’s forehead briefly.

“He’s doing well today,” she said quietly, as she drew past the place where James stood. He made eye contact with her, acknowledging that he had heard, but refused to respond. How could anybody be doing well when they were dying?

When she had left the room, James sat down in the wooden-backed chair next to the bed. He placed his plate on his lap, turned the newspaper right-side-up, and only when he was fully settled did he finally look at his father.
He tried to force himself to do this for as long as he could every day, simply because it made him so uncomfortable. Edgar Potter was barely recognizable to his son. His hair was a shade short of transparent, the skin on his face seemed in danger of sagging off, and his thin body stretched out beneath the bedcovers like a railing. His frail hands were mottled with deep blue veins and liver spots.

But James forced himself not to look away, because he knew he had done that for far too long already.
His father was often sleeping when James visited, but this morning, he was staring at the window in a vacant sort of way. James knew, of course, what his mother had meant—there were days when his father moaned in pain as he slept, and others where his mental state was so disturbed that he seemed to be an entirely different person. A day like this, where his father was not only awake, but also seemingly at peace, was the exception to the rule.

When James first spoke, recounting the first story in the Daily Prophet without preface, his father started slightly, as if he had not even realized James was there. Then, recognition dawned, and he relaxed.

These mornings were not an exchange, not a meeting. An outpouring might have been the only appropriate word for it, for James simply sat and read until he was done. He never held back the unpleasant stories, because he knew how it felt to be on the receiving end of that kind of deception. Once he had finished both his breakfast and the stories, he laid his fork and knife to rest on the plate with a clatter, and folded the newspaper with a rustling. And somehow, it was enough to make him feel better, if only because he was there.

This time, however, it went differently. The room was quiet but for the distant sound of the wind beyond the window, until a voice wheezed from the bed, interrupting James’ slightly bitter ponderings about why there were still so many bottles on the nightstand, when the potions were supposed to have stopped.

“Thank you,” his father said. The words fell somewhere between a statement and a question.

Some part of him knew, as he sat there in shock, that this was an opportunity that he shouldn’t pass up. What if this was the last chance, the only chance, he had to talk to his father again? They didn’t know how long he would live now that they had ceased treatment.

The disease he had was rare—and James hated that, perhaps more than anything else—and incurable. His mother’s explanation had been a mix of things that he understood and things that he didn’t. Usually, when a witch or wizard’s physical and mental condition began to deteriorate due to age, their magical abilities would follow a similar course. They would decline, until finally sputtering out for good. The disease his father was suffering from, which was called venefantosis, changed that, for some reason that no Healer had yet been able to determine. Instead of receding naturally, the magic that lived in his father had turned against his body, sapping him of his strength, his memory, and his life, all to sustain its own existence. It was why his father was bedridden, and why his mental state was so fragile. The disease could also cause dangerous and uncontrollable outbursts of magic when untreated.

There were potions that could slow the disease and control the magical energy, but there was no reversing it, no destroying it. And now, his mother said, it had come to the point that there was no sense in putting off the inevitable.

Even if he lived for the full two months the Healers had given him—given him, like it was some kind of gift, James had often raged to himself—there was no telling if this would be the last time his father was lucid enough to carry on a conversation.

He thought of trying to apologize for being absent, or even of giving some parting speech that expressed what his dad meant to him, but he couldn’t. The possibility that it was all a coincidence, that the thank you had not really been directed at him, but perhaps at some random memory of another person and another time, frightened him too much. And he wasn’t ready to let go, not yet.

“You’re welcome,” he said, picking up his plate, standing up from the chair, tucking the newspaper under his arm, all with almost surgical precision.

When he emerged into the hall beyond the bedroom, he found his mother standing there. It looked as though she had simply been hovering outside the room the entire time that James had been inside. He felt his jaw clench, remembering not only the bottles at the bedside, but also everything else that had been quietly tucked away before.

His anger with himself was only matched by his continued anger at his mother. He had tried and failed to let go of the resentment—it kept coming back, convinced of its own righteousness. The fact that she had finally shared the whole truth with him meant little, because in his eyes, it had been far too late.

“Why is he still taking potions?” he asked, in clipped and accusatory tones.

“It’s not—they’re only to help with minor ailments,” his mother replied weakly. She was wringing her hands, and James suddenly felt a small surge of pity for her. He looked at her properly for the first time in weeks, seeing through all of the anger that had gathered around her, and he thought of Lily. He thought of how he would feel if it were Lily who was dying, instead. It was not the first time he had contemplated it in the aftermath of finding out about his father’s condition, but it was the first time he had ever compared it to his mother’s situation.

“He’s awake,” James said, lost for anything else to say. Once again, he had been presented with an opportunity to make up for a mistake, and once again, he had been unable to seize it. It would make for an excellent source of self-loathing later.

The rest of his days were usually filled by visits from either his friends or Lily, and today, Lily arrived a little after five o’clock. She was still dressed in her work robes, though she had a coat and scarf on over top of them. James always teased her slightly when he saw her all dressed-up like this, but truthfully, he thought she looked cute. Or beautiful. It was sometimes hard to separate the two, in his mind.

He took comfort in the company of all of his friends, but he found that it was Lily who made him feel least troubled. There was something, he thought, in physical refuge—in the ability to embrace Lily and breathe in her familiar scent, to have someone there who could hold him together when he felt like he was falling apart.
Her face was cold from the wind when he kissed her in greeting.

“How was work?” he asked, happy to have something else to think about.

“The Ministry was a mess today,” she said, eyes widening. “There were reporters everywhere trying to get a statement about the protest.”

“I read about it in the newspaper,” James said, taking her coat and scarf for her. “Do you want tea?”

This was how most of their conversations went these days, and how James preferred it. For a while after he had told Lily about his dad, she had tried to coax his feelings out of him, but he had finally found some way of expressing to her that the last thing he wanted was to dwell on all the doom and gloom. That was something he could do perfectly well on his own.

But routine was a series of actions, and it seemed that eventually, they always ran into reality.

“Are you all right?” Lily asked quietly, later, when the house had gone quiet and the sky had turned inky black. They were laying side-by-side in James’ bed, and his head was resting on her shoulder.

James gave his usual answer. “Not really.”

Lily wrapped her arms around him tightly, and he felt melancholy reach into his chest and take hold of his breath.

“You will be,” she reassured him. For the first time, he thought she might be right, after all.



..........




After the next Order meeting, which had revealed little in the way of new insights about Byron Gamp or Roddy Darrow, Hestia approached Lily, much like Alice had at the previous meeting.

“Want to go do something fun with us?” she asked, brown eyes alight. James, Remus, Sirius, and Peter had stopped their conversation about the new surveillance assignment Dumbledore had decided to give them, and were looking back-and-forth between Hestia and Lily curiously. Hestia noticed their confusion.

“Sorry,” she said to them, “we only need Lily this time.”

Lily laughed nervously; she was surprised by Hestia’s question, too, but excitement was blooming in her stomach. Across the room, Alice, Dorcas, and Emmeline were throwing glances their way, clearly waiting on her.

“Maybe,” Lily said, in answer to Hestia’s question. “What is it?”

Hestia pursed her lips in thought for a moment.

“You’ll find out if you come,” she finally said, grinning in a persuasive sort of way.

Lily felt slightly hesitant, and not just because Hestia wouldn’t tell her where they were going. She felt a responsibility towards James these days, with all that he was going through. It had surprised her that he wanted to come to that night’s meeting, but she had noticed that he had been doing a little better over the past few days. More than that concern, though, there was something about Hestia and Alice’s sudden friendliness towards her which was a little off-putting.

She looked over at James, trying to gauge from his face whether he would be hurt if she went. On the contrary, however, he looked a little like he was going to laugh.

“Well, this is a relief,” he said, some of his usual levity making a rare reappearance, “because I was just about to say that we have some very exclusive, blokes-only stuff to do.”

Lily smiled widely. “What a lucky coincidence, then.”

As she joined the other women, she felt a little like prey being closed in upon by its predators. All of them were so much older and more worldly. Two Aurors, a Healer, a reporter for the Daily Prophet, and her. One of those things was very, very different from the others, it seemed to Lily.

The mysterious excursion took them to the middle of nowhere: a field full of pumpkins, far from the twinkling lights of homes and businesses. Lily was reminded that Halloween was only a few days away, and an image of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, filled with pumpkins and bats and laughing faces, floated into her mind.

The sound of Emmeline exhaling in a huff, some five feet to her right, pulled her away from the twist of longing in her stomach.

“Another pair of shoes ruined,” she groused, stepping gingerly off of the rotting pumpkin that she had Apparated onto. Emmeline always looked perfectly pulled together. Her blonde hair was drawn back into a low chignon, not a hair out of place; her lips were perfectly painted with red lipstick; and she always wore pearl earrings the size of sickles and perfectly-tailored robes.

The night air was filled with that indefinable smell of the cold, and the ground was covered with a web of tangled vines. Lily could see her breath forming clouds as she exhaled.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“My uncle’s farm,” Alice answered in her honeyed voice.

“Let’s not stand around like a bunch of ninnies,” Dorcas stated, before locking her eyes on Lily. “We’re here to initiate you.”

There was a moment, in which the bottom of Lily’s stomach seemed to fall out, before anyone else spoke.

“Oh, Dorcas, don’t be so mean,” Alice said. “You make it sound like we’re going to string her up by her thumbs!”

“I’m only repeating what the rest of you said,” Dorcas countered, somewhat defensively.

“Yes, well,” Hestia interjected, the tip of her wand flaring with light, illuminating the small circle they had formed, “you do have a talent for making things sound much nastier than they really are.”

Dorcas rolled her eyes.

“We’re not here to torture you or anything,” Alice explained to a bewildered Lily. “We just—well, Dorcas told us that you were at the riot that night a while ago, and we thought—you know, it would be helpful if we showed you some spells. Because we thought that James and the others probably got some kind of training because of their assignments, but you probably didn’t.”

“Okay,” Lily said. Her pulse had quickened slightly—she wasn’t terrible at Defense spells, but she was not unusually good at them, either. There were half a dozen people she could think of almost immediately who had been better in their Defense Against the Dark Arts class, and here she was, standing in front of two women who were practiced Aurors, about to demonstrate her abilities.

“Did you do a N.E.W.T. in Defense?” Dorcas asked, pulling the very thought out of Lily’s mind. Lily nodded. “Well, that’s a start. And I suppose you can cast a Patronus?”

Lily’s hesitation made Dorcas’ eyes bulge.

“You can cast a Patronus, can’t you?”

“Sort of,” Lily said, her cheeks burning. “I can do a silver mist, but I haven’t tried in ages.”

To her surprise, Dorcas didn’t dwell on it. “Well, we’ll start there, then.”

Twenty minutes later, after all four of them had taken turns demonstrating and trying to coach Lily, she had still only been able to cast a shapeless silvery mist. She was trying to keep positive, but the more they tried to advise her, the worse she felt she was doing.

“Maybe I should just keep practicing on my own, and I’ll get it eventually,” she said, after her umpteenth failed attempt.

“Your memory’s just not happy enough,” Alice said.

“And you’re holding your arm too low,” Emmeline, who was sitting on a pumpkin observing them, added.

Lily held back a sigh of frustration.

“You have to think of something that’s...vivid,” Alice continued. She had said something like this before, but Lily didn’t really know what she meant. “Not something you really remember, but something you feel, something that makes you all warm and makes your hands tingle.”

“Very poetic,” Dorcas remarked disinterestedly. Hestia snorted with laughter.

“Oh, hush,” Alice said, swatting her hand in Dorcas’ direction. “Just give it one more try, Lily.”

Lily thought it was pointless, but she didn’t want to give up in front of any of them. She took a deep breath and tried to think of a memory like the one Alice had described. She wasn’t sure she could think of one like that—there were dozens that made her smile, but she had to think for a very long time before she hit on one that came close to what Alice had described. She thought of her last birthday, when James had surprised her in the Hogwarts kitchen with a piece of cake. It was like being doused in molten gold. It wasn’t something she had thought of very often, but maybe that was the reason why it seemed to be so powerful.

Expecto Patronum,” she said—it was going to take a lot more practice before she could do it non-verbally—and the silver light that emitted from her wand was like a bolt of lightning, coursing through the air, stretching out like fingers from a hand...

When it had finished taking form, Lily stood frozen in confusion for a split-second, because she couldn’t understand why she had just conjured James’ Patronus—but then her eyes adjusted to the sight, and she realized that it wasn’t his. It was a doe, and not a stag.

“Good job,” Dorcas said, with an exhale of impatient relief. The doe’s image lingered for a few seconds more, and then disappeared in a shimmer.

Lily could hardly believe it—she’d cast a real Patronus, finally! It didn’t even seem that hard, now that she had done it.

Invigorated by her own success, she spent the next half-hour practicing different curses and counter-curses. Some of them, she had learned at school, but most of them were entirely new—things that they only really taught to people who entered Auror training, Dorcas said. By the end of it, she was starting to feel drained from all the spellwork. She took a break for a few minutes, sitting down on a pumpkin like Emmeline had. Dorcas and Hestia decided to have a mock-duel, and Alice came to join Lily.

She sat in amazed silence for a while as she watched Dorcas and Hestia duel. They were both frighteningly good, though Dorcas was certainly better. Watching them made her wonder how, if there were witches and wizards like Dorcas among the Aurors, Voldemort had not been caught yet.

“It’s chilly, isn’t it?” Alice remarked, folding her arms and hunching over slightly, as if to brace herself against the air.

“It is,” Lily agreed. “Thanks, by the way.”

Alice tilted her head from side-to-side nonchalantly.

“It took me ages to cast a Patronus when we started Auror training,” she said, a self-effacing substitute for a you’re welcome. The re-emergence of the subject made Lily think back to her Patronus’ form.

“What does your Patronus look like?” Lily asked. She wasn’t sure if this was too personal a question to ask someone you hardly knew, but she had a feeling Alice wouldn’t mind.

“It’s a kestrel,” Alice said. She grinned a little self-consciously. “I had to look through some books about birds before I figured it out.”

Lily let a few second pass before posing her next question.

“Is it the same as Frank’s?”

“Almost. His is an eagle,” Alice replied, in a knowing voice.

Lily didn’t quite know what to make of that information or what it meant about her own Patronus, but she decided that it at least meant that her situation wasn’t entirely unusual. She wondered what James would say, if she told him.

“Lily—I—”

Alice was stammering slightly, the dark outline of her seated form wound with tension.

“I just thought I should say—not just for myself, but for everyone—we don’t think that you’re...incompetent, or anything.”

Lily got the sense that she wasn’t just referring to tonight’s activities, but to the attitude that most of the rest of the Order had taken towards her, James, Sirius, Remus and Peter. She thought back to Dorcas’ initial reaction, her incredulity about their age, and the way Alice had remonstrated her.

“Oh, it’s all right,” Lily replied. “I understand. We are a lot younger than everyone else.”

Alice shrugged. “It’s not really about you, though. Well, I mean, of course it is...but it’s more about everything else we see when we look at you. Like Dorcas.”

Lily glanced at the woman in question, who was currently laughing in reaction to Hestia tripping backwards over a pumpkin.

“I know she wasn’t very nice, not even from the start, but the thing is, the week before all of you joined, she had to deal with this awful case—Death Eaters tortured a bunch of Muggle kids who were probably about your age, so badly that they might as well have killed them,” Alice said, her voice gaining strength. “I think we all just felt so guilty when we saw you.”

Lily tried to absorb this, to understand it. She looked at Dorcas again, and some of her steely, intimidating exterior seemed to have worn away.

“It’s not your fault. We wanted to join,” Lily pointed out.

“Yes, but...” Alice’s sigh came out in a cloud of vapour. “It’s really just the fact that you had to join at all.”

Lily didn’t know what to say in response to that, but Alice wasn’t done. A troubled look seized hold of her usually sunny features as she spoke.

“You can’t know what it’s like for us,” she said, almost as if she was speaking to herself. “When we went to Hogwarts—even when we left—the name ‘Voldemort’ meant nothing to any of us. I remember the first day anyone ever talked about him. I was about a year-and-a-half into Auror training, and I overheard two people talking about how they would have him in six months.”

She paused to smile bitterly.

“Of course, when I finished training, he was still around. People only talked about him more and more every day. The number of times we convinced ourselves that we were close to catching him, that he was running out of places to hide...and yet, here we are, and things are worse all the time. And you don’t know what it’s like, to live in a world without a threat like that, and then have it become your world.”

Yet again, Lily found herself at a loss for words. She could vaguely remember a time when Voldemort hadn’t been front-page news every day, but it was true that she had never really known a world in which he didn’t exist. The realization made her feel like she had a hole in her chest.

“I always thought that I could make things better for the next generation, and then...well, I see you, and you are the next generation, but I haven’t managed to make anything better,” Alice ruminated. “That’s what I mean when I say it’s not about you, not really—it’s just that when we look at you, we get reminded of how we’ve failed.”

Lily had no idea whether this was supposed to make her feel better or not. The best she could say was that she felt about the same as before: glad that no one seemed to dislike her solely because she was younger, but still not really on equal footing with them. Being associated with failure wasn’t exactly what she would have wished for.

Hestia was now practicing the Levicorpus spell, which Lily had mentioned to them earlier, on Dorcas. Even prim-as-a-rose Emmeline was laughing as Dorcas hung upside-down in the air. Lily, however, couldn’t share in their amusement.

“Do you think the Aurors will catch him?” Lily asked. “One day?”

The corner of Alice’s mouth, which had been curled in a smile as she watched her friends, unfurled itself.

“No,” she said, her voice thudding in the night. Lily was caught off-guard by the unequivocal tone in her voice—she would have expected more platitudes and words of comfort from a woman who was herself an Auror. “I don’t think the Aurors can. But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that the Order will.”

She gave Lily one last weak, self-conscious smile, then stood up and went over to try her hand at Levicorpus. Lily watched the four women as they talked and laughed, and tried to keep Alice’s words from defeating her. A chill had worked its way into her bones—whether it was from the air or their conversation, she couldn’t quite tell.

Even though she was young, and even though she hadn’t experienced anything like they had, there was one thing that Lily suddenly saw. Each one of them, behind the face they presented to the world—behind Dorcas’ critical glares, Alice’s twinkling smiles, Hestia’s gentle teasing, and Emmeline’s immaculate lipstick—were jaded. The trials of the world had not filled them to bursting: they had emptied them, instead. Lily wondered how long it would take before she became the same way, and if she would even notice it when she did.




Author’s Note: I hope you liked the chapter, and, as always, I would appreciate a review—I’d particularly be interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on the disease I’ve come up with. JKR said that James’ parents died of a “wizarding disease”, and since we didn’t hear too much about those in the books (I thought dying of spattergroit was probably stretching credibility :P), I’ve had to go a bit rogue on this one. Does it seem believable?

The next chapter holds the reappearance of a familiar face...can you guess who?




Chapter Thirteen
Exodus




The Ministry of Magic had become a hornet’s nest of late. The riot had left a general sense of unrest in its wake. Every day when Lily went to work, she saw dark looks and mutters being exchanged in the Atrium. Once or twice, there had been a group of protestors stationed among the crowds of Ministry workers, levitating signs that were emblazoned with phrases like “Don’t smuggle Muggles!” and “Fairness = Safety”. And, without fail, there was always an opportunistic reporter or two waiting to try and catch a Ministry employee who was willing to give them a statement.

In the Office of Magical Records, Lily was mostly insulated from all of the chaos, but she knew exactly what it was about. She didn’t think it was a coincidence that, immediately following a riot in which “purebloods” had been chanted as a sort of raison d’être, scrutiny was suddenly being placed on the Muggle-born segment of the magical population. Guinevere Constance, the spokesperson for the Wizarding Families Alliance, had made a speech questioning the safety of allowing Muggle-borns to exist among other wizards with complete anonymity.

“For the safety of our families and our children, we urge Minister Mockridge to put in place some kind of public identification system, so that no one need wonder if the person standing next to them will be He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s next target,” she had said in the speech, which she had made in the Atrium of the Ministry itself. Lily had caught some of it on her way out of work that day, and every word had made her blood curdle.

It was a preposterous idea, of course, and wouldn’t do anything to solve the problem that Guinevere Constance and people like her had imagined into existence. No one from the Minister’s office had deigned to comment on it so far, but their failure to do so was causing problems of its own.

MINISTER TO RESIGN?, Lily read on the front page of a Daily Prophet tucked underneath someone’s arm, as she arrived at the Ministry on Wednesday of the first week of November. She didn’t think this was a sign of good things to come.

As she made her way through the Atrium, a blue and gold leaflet was shoved under her nose.

“Don’t be an innocent bystander,” the green-haired witch who was holding the leaflet said, parroting the words that were printed on it. “W.F.A” was printed across the top, in shimmering gold letters. These days, it was almost impossible to make it to the lifts without being accosted by someone from the Wizarding Families Alliance.

“No thanks,” Lily snapped, brushing by her.

She already knew exactly what its contents would be: more fear-mongering statements about the dangers associated with Muggle-borns. One of these days, she thought, I’m just going to tell them that I’m a Muggle-born, and see if Voldemort swoops in and turns them into an “innocent bystander”. It was an empty threat, though, because she had once seen a Ministry wizard do the very same thing; unbelievably, the WFA member hadn’t flinched a bit, and said that they welcomed the support of Muggle-borns. That was part of the appeal of their message: they managed to somehow conceal the fact that they were espousing bigotry, and they were getting a lot of people to fall for it.

When she finally reached the lifts, there was the usual scrum of haggard employees trying to make their way to their desks. Most of them usually cleared out on the first few levels, and Lily found herself left with two wizards who looked to be in their forties as they descended down towards Level Two. The wizard on the left was extremely rotund, much like Professor Slughorn, and dark-skinned. Lily thought she had seen him a few times before. The other had greying dark hair and a square jaw. They were both dressed in purple Wizengamot robes.

She was still cross, silently vilifying the WFA, when she heard the portly man say a familiar name.

“Did you speak to Marlene McKinnon?” he asked in a baritone voice.

“Yes,” the other man replied. He was fiddling with a silver pocket watch. As it caught the light in the lift, Lily saw the initials BTG engraved on the front.

“Well?” the first wizard prompted, sounding impatient.

“She was...uncooperative,” the man with the pocket watch responded. Something about him reminded Lily of curdled milk. “We may have to redirect our efforts towards someone in the department who is more sympathetic.”

The lift halted on Level Five, and a middle-aged woman with angular eyeglasses and Wizengamot robes embarked.

“Jewkes,” she said, nodding at the dark-skinned man. She turned and did the same to his companion. “Gamp.”

Lily was glad that she was standing in the back of the lift, and that none of them were paying any attention to her, because her mouth dropped open in shock. So this was Byron Gamp, the man who had owned the building that Roddy Darrow had used to Floo away, and whom the Order suspected of having a hand in the riot.

“I do hope we can count on your support today, Verena,” Gamp said in a smooth voice, speaking to the witch. The lift shuddered and started descending.

“Perhaps,” Verena sniffed. Gamp flicked his pocket watch open, and then closed: click, snap. They were passing Level Four.

“The tide is turning,” he said to an unconvinced-looking Verena. She refused even to turn and look at him fully. “We need to act decisively, and decisive action is what I’m proposing.”

The lift fell silent. The man named Jewkes was appraising Gamp, and his expression suggested that he wasn’t sure of his value.

Come on, Lily urged them silently. Say something else. The number 3 above the lift doors was lit; there wasn’t much time left.

To her great disappointment, however, not another word was exchanged. Gamp just kept turning his watch over in his fingers; Verena refused to look at the two men; and Jewkes yawned widely.

“Level Two,” the smooth female voice said, when the lift doors clattered open. “Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters, and Wizengamot Administration Services.”

She knew that it would have been too good to be true to pick up some kind of valuable information in the lift, but it was still somewhat disappointing. At least she now knew what Gamp looked like, which might help her find something out in the future.

Her day had begun rather inauspiciously, and continued on in a similar manner. She was once again assigned to tidying the shelves of the records hall with a feather duster for the duration of the morning. Though she had initially tried to heed Mr Finkley’s wishes about not using magic around the files, she had long since lost the patience. Whenever she was sure that he wasn’t going to show up unexpectedly, she took out her wand and used a Dusting Spell (Depulvis). He couldn’t seem to tell the difference.

This was not the extent of her rule-breaking when it came to her job. Dusting was dead boring, and she couldn’t help being curious when a name on one of the files caught her eye. Sometimes, she even positioned herself specifically to look at certain files, as she had done with Malfoy and Avery’s files; today, she found herself drifting towards the area where she knew she would find Byron Gamp’s.

His parents were named Corvus and Valentine Gamp, and he had a younger sister named Leonora. He was from a pureblood family, and had been a Slytherin at Hogwarts. He was married to a woman named Darnella Lestrange, a name that set off warning bells in Lily’s mind. She found a long list of properties that he owned, and there was no specific occupation listed in his file, so she assumed that he was in the business of buying and selling real estate. There was a record of the fine he had been required to pay recently because of the illegal Floo Network connection, but this was only the first in a list of about two dozen minor infractions collected over the past few years.

“Miss Evans?”

Lily started violently as she heard Mr Finkley’s voice echoing in the dark records hall. She closed the file and shoved it back into place as fast as she could. The very next second, he appeared at the end of the row of shelves.

“Yes?” Lily asked, snatching up the feather duster belatedly. Mr Finkley’s brow creased into a furrow.

“You may take your break for lunch now,” he said after a moment, and Lily breathed a sigh of relief.

Since the weather was particularly nice, she decided to go eat outside on a nearby park bench. Thoughts of Byron Gamp preoccupied her for her entire lunch break. She didn’t know much more about him than she had before, and probably nothing that the rest of the Order didn’t already know, but she did wonder about his wife. If Lily remembered right, Sirius’ cousin Bellatrix had also married a Lestrange, and James was always saying that she was definitely a Death Eater—it could be the connection to Voldemort that they had been looking for.

She was in good spirits as she returned to the Ministry, having almost convinced herself that her theory was right. She was so distracted by the idea, in fact, that she was a good ten feet out of the lift before she registered the fact that there was a blonde-haired young woman walking her way, and another five feet before she realized that it was Mary Macdonald.

There was a second that would have allowed Lily to duck inside one of the doors leading off the corridor without being noticed, but she froze, and it was too late. Mary’s cheeks flushed pink as she recognized Lily. There was absolutely no way of avoiding each other, unless they both turned around and walked back in the direction they had come from. Lily was definitely not going to do that.

She forced herself to keep walking, jaw set and stomach turning. Mary had been one of Lily’s closest friends, when they were both in Gryffindor together at Hogwarts, but they had not left on speaking terms. Their falling-out had been mostly due to the fact that Mary had expressed some unkind views about people who were werewolves—she had never known that Remus, whom she had fancied for the better part of their seventh year, was a werewolf himself. At the time, Lily had thought that was a blessing, but in retrospect, she wondered if Mary’s opinion would have been changed if she had known the truth.

When they came within speaking distance, there was a moment of awkward silence. Mary was dressed in the navy-blue robes that Hit Wizards and Witches wore as their uniforms; except for this change in attire, she looked exactly like she had the last time Lily had seen her.

“Hi,” Lily finally said. She wanted to get this conversation over with as quickly as possible.

“Hello,” Mary said. Her delicate features arranged themselves into an expression of surprise after a moment. “Do you work here?”

Lily nodded and issued a silent curse. She hadn’t even thought about the fact that she would have to explain her embarrassing job to yet someone else.

“Where?” Mary asked, and Lily heard the note of incredulity in her voice.

“In the Office of Magical Records,” Lily answered, trying not to let any of her chagrin show. This became very difficult when Mary’s lips spread themselves into a smirk.

“Really?” she said, and just like that, Lily could feel the tension from their last row return, like the snap of an elastic band. “Here I thought you’d be training to be an Auror or a Healer. Or running for Minister of Magic.”

Lily didn’t know if Mary was trying to bait her, but she was doing a very good job at it.

“I guess you became a Hit Witch after all, then,” Lily said. She could at least gloat over the fact that this had been a singularly idiotic decision on Mary’s part—she was timid as a mouse, and it was only because Lily and Anna had cast aspersions on her abilities that she had signed up at all. Mary looked distinctly proud as she answered, though.

“I just finished my training last week.”

“Well,” Lily said, realizing that she was nearly late in getting back to work, “good luck with everything. I suppose I might see you around.”

Mary nodded, and then, just as Lily was about to walk away, she spoke up again.

“Lily—take care of yourself, all right?”

Mary’s voice had an ominous tone to it that made it clear she was not just spouting off some pleasantry, but Lily had no idea what the subtext was supposed to be. At least, she didn’t at the moment when Mary said it. One of the Wizengamot’s administrative assistants—they wore robes of a lighter shade of violet than the members of the court themselves—came into the Office of Magical Records about an hour after she had returned from lunch.

“New decree from the Department of Magical Transportation,” he said, handing a piece of parchment to Lily. “Effective immediately.”

Lily usually had no idea what half of the decrees that were handed around the Ministry were referring to, but there was no mistaking this one. Her stomach swooped unpleasantly as she read it.


—By order of—
The Ministry of Magic


Emigration of Muggle-born witches and wizards from Britain has, for the foreseeable future, been restricted by the Department of Magical Transporation.

Refer to Condition Number Forty-Six, Subsection Three, in the Statute on Magical Residency.


Signed:
Alvin Mockridge
Minister of Magic




..........




Even at James’ house, which was nearly a hundred miles from the Ministry in London, the news about the new decree had landed with the force of a giant Apparating. He could hardly believe it when he first heard of it from Lily after she finished work, was still incredulous when he read it to his father in the Daily Prophet the next morning, and his shock only turned into curiosity as the day wore on. How the Ministry had come to this, he couldn’t understand—yes, there had been rather a lot of volatile talk about Muggle-borns in previous weeks, but the Ministry had given every impression of not giving in to any of the ridiculous demands that had been circulating.

The Minister had been quick to try and mitigate its impact, of course. The Prophet article had included a detailed statement from him, in which he explained that the measure was temporary and not absolute. There would still be ways for wizards and witches with legitimate reasons for leaving the country to do so, but the Ministry had put this measure in place in order to prevent any sort of mass exodus on the part of Muggle-borns, which would cripple wizarding Britain’s economy.

“Well, at least if you decide to ditch me, I know you won’t get very far,” he had joked to Lily feebly. Like many of his attempts at humour lately, it was a little less than funny.

“I think they might consider escaping from you an acceptable reason,” Lily had shot back.

He loved that girl.

Disturbing as it all was, James had other things on his mind: mainly, the fact that it was November ninth, which meant that it was Sirius’ nineteenth birthday.

Sirius had suggested that they all go to James’ house, and James knew that he had done so for his sake. It had been a nice gesture, but he had refused, in the end. For one thing, it didn’t really seem fair to Sirius that he should have to accommodate James on his birthday, and for another, James was finally beginning to think that he wanted to get out, if only for a few hours.

He felt guilty for wanting to leave the house under the circumstances, of course, but it was getting to the point that it was making his feelings of grief worse, and not better. With each day that his father still lived, he was feeling less afraid of the inevitable. (A very small part of him wondered if it really was inevitable—though his father’s health did not seem to be improving, neither did it appear to be worse than before.)

With that in the back of his mind, he had insisted that they all meet up at Sirius’ to celebrate. It was only the second time he had been out since finding out about his father. The one other time had been to do surveillance for the Order, and he had felt miserable the entire time. He was hoping this occasion went better.

When he arrived at Sirius’ flat, Remus and Peter were already there, sitting on the sofa. A forgotten pile of Exploding Snap cards lay on the kitchen table.

“Prongs!” Sirius said, clapping him on the shoulder in greeting.

“Happy Birthday, Padfoot,” James said. He wasn’t yet at the point where he could smile and have the lightness reach his chest, but he tried nonetheless.

“Thanks, mate,” Sirius replied. “It’s going to be a good night.”

There was something in Sirius’ tone, and in Remus and Peter’s affirming nods, that made James feel that this was said mostly for his benefit.

“What’s the plan?” he asked, shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat.

Excitement danced in Sirius’ eyes, but he held back for a few moments, building suspense. The sound of music on the Wizarding Wireless Network and the shriek of a Muggle siren from beyond the window mingled together in the pause.

“We’re going to drive a car.”

James laughed, but apparently, Sirius wasn’t joking. He was one of those wizards who had developed a fascination with Muggle vehicles, which had led to him purchasing his motorbike.

“How are we going to do that?” James asked.

“We’re going to find a car, and drive it,” Sirius stated matter-of-factly. Remus was smiling in a long-suffering sort of way; Peter was trying to balance his wand on the tip of his index finger.

“I’m still confused on the part where we find a car,” Remus spoke up in a bemused tone.

“They’re all over the place,” Sirius said, waving a hand impatiently. James made eye contact briefly with Remus; he knew exactly what his friend was getting at.

“Don’t we need keys, or something like that?” James inquired.

“Nah,” Peter jumped in, pocketing his wand. “There’s a spell you can use. I’ve used it on my mum’s car once or twice.”

James looked around at the faces of his three friends and at Sirius’ shabby flat. He still felt anxious, but it was Sirius’ birthday, and he had a feeling that the task of stealing a car would probably get enough adrenaline flowing that he’d forget about his troubles for a little while.

They spilled out into the night, and the cool air, crisp with the smell of fall, lifted James’ spirits slightly. He watched Sirius and Peter talk excitedly about what kind of car they wanted to drive—not surprisingly, they were somewhat divided on the issue—and it reminded him of being at Hogwarts, plotting and planning their next full moon adventure.

A red car, a yellow car, a red and yellow car, a fast car, a car without a top—they saw them all in the first fifteen minutes of walking about, but couldn’t commit to any of them. It took a bit of screwing your courage to the sticking place to steal a Muggle car, it seemed.

Sirius was keeping up a constant flow of suggestions, though. “Maybe we should find one of those big flat bits of pavement where they—hang on.”

He had stopped and backtracked a few steps, stopping next to the back of a green sports car.

“Look,” he said, chuckling and pointing at a black-and-silver rectangle on its side. “We have to drive this one.”

James took a closer look, his eyes adjusting slightly to the dark, and saw that it said “STAG”, with a small picture to represent the animal in mid-leap. He grinned at Sirius.

“Wormtail,” James said, tipping his head towards the door. It was easy to fall into their old patterns: Peter was the one who unlocked, who broke in, who did these things subtly enough to evade notice. If he hadn’t known what to look for, James himself would have hardly realized it as his friend took out his wand, took a step closer to the door, and silently unlocked it. The most obvious part of it all was the click that emitted from the car itself.

After James and Remus had climbed into the back seat, Peter settled himself into the driver’s seat, and Sirius into the front passenger seat.

“Anyone watching?” Sirius asked, craning his neck towards the back seats. The car smelled faintly of cigarette smoke.

“Don’t think so,” Remus replied, looking out the windows at the street beyond, which was still deserted.

“Start her up, then, Wormy,” Sirius prompted. Peter took out his wand again, and tapped the ignition.

The engine rumbled to life, and Sirius’ face split into an excited grin.

“Where to? Peter asked.

“Oi, Wormtail, can’t you move your seat?” James groused. “My knees are getting murdered back here.”

“Hang on—” Peter wiggled around slightly, and after a moment, his seat slid forward a couple inches.

So did the car, until it lurched to an abrupt stop, throwing them all forward.

“Are you sure you know how to drive?” Remus questioned Peter, who looked affronted.

“Of course I do. It’s been a while, is all.”

James, Remus, and Sirius all stifled a mix of laughter and groans.

“Oh, sod off,” Peter said good-naturedly. “Now, where are we going?”

Sirius wanted to drive out of the city, and they did, albeit poorly so. Peter might have been able to drive better than the rest of them, but he was a far sight worse than the Muggles on the road. The car rolled backwards and forwards unexpectedly, stalled once or twice, and Peter vacillated between abominably slow and dangerously fast speeds. James had been mildly curious about cars in the past, but now that he was in one, he didn’t really see what the fuss was. You could get anywhere faster by Apparition or Portkey, and if you wanted to speed around the country with the wind blowing in your hair, a broomstick was much more exciting. Still, Sirius seemed to be having the time of his life.

They pulled off the road after about half an hour, on a quiet country road surrounded by damp fields and the silhouettes of bare branches. A light fog hung in the air, obscuring the sky above, but James could tell from the dark circles under Remus’ eyes that the moon was close to full.

Sirius produced four bottles of butterbeer from the inside pockets of his jacket.

“Just like old times at The Three Broomsticks,” he remarked nostalgically.

“I’d’ve thought we would have moved on to something a bit stronger by now,” said Peter.

“Yes, well, we might have,” Sirius replied, opening his bottle with a small crack and a fizzing noise, “but Muggles have all those laws against drink driving, don’t they?” Obeying a Muggle driving law seemed to give him an odd sense of glee.

He paused and held up his butterbeer in a salutatory way. “Let’s drink to us. The Marauders. And to things always staying the same.”

“And to your birthday,” Remus added.

“Right. That, too.”

Once they had finished their butterbeers and Peter had shown Sirius the basics of driving, they decided to head back to London. Peter got behind the wheel again—though none of them ever would have said it to him on his birthday, Sirius seemed to be even less competent than Peter. It would be a miracle if they made it back home in one piece.

“Hang on,” Sirius said, when James, Remus, and Peter had gotten into the car. He spent a minute standing near the back end of the car before jumping back in and tossing something to James. “Souvenir.”

His Quidditch-honed reflexes had gone to seed slightly, but James still managed to catch the small, rectangular object. He turned it over and saw that it was the emblem from the car with the stag on it.

“Cheers,” James said. His eyes lingered on the leaping stag, and he felt a jerk of longing. The car’s engine rumbled to life, and they started halting forward. After a moment, he said, “We ought to go out together. For the full moon, I mean.”

“Yes!” Sirius burst out, startling Peter and causing the car to lurch forward again slightly. “Haven’t I been saying that for months now?”

There was a beat of guilty silence; it was true that Sirius had suggested it several times, but there had been rather a lot happening lately, and it had always seemed to fall by the wayside. Once or twice, James had forgotten entirely until a few days before the full moon, and had not brought it up out of guilt.

“What do you think, Moony?” James asked Remus, who had been staring out the car window with a look of consternation on his face.

“I don’t know,” he muttered.

“Well, if Moony thinks it’s a bad idea, then it has to be a great one,” Peter said. Even Remus smiled weakly at that.

They spent the next quarter of an hour discussing the logistics of it, since getting together on a full moon was always more difficult when they weren’t within the confines of Hogwarts. James had rather forgotten that they were driving until lights started flashing from behind them. He started slightly, immediately thinking that it was wand-fire—but then he twisted around in his seat and saw that it was one of those Muggle law enforcement cars.

“Not again?” he moaned. The last time that he, Sirius, and Peter had been driving around in a vehicle in London, they had been involved in a similar chase. “How fast were you going, Wormtail?”

The moment he asked it, he realized that they were, in fact, travelling at a dismally slow speed.

“Merlin’s arse, Wormtail—are you honestly about to get us arrested for driving too slow?” Sirius asked. This caused Peter to press down on the accelerator.

“I don’t think you should do that,” Remus said. The entire car had filled with a sense of panicked anticipation.

“Well, what am I supposed to do?” Peter asked, his hands clutched around the car’s steering wheel with white-knuckled anxiety. As if in answer to his question, there was suddenly the sound of a magnified voice from behind them, commanding them to pull over the car and stop.

“Can that car talk, then?” Sirius asked, staring through the back window in fascination.

I don’t think this is the time, Padfoot,” Peter said, wide-eyed.

“I think you’re supposed to pull over,” Remus pointed out.

“And what? Get arrested? I don’t have one of those licences—”

“Just pull over and stop, and we’ll Disapparate away,” James cut across him.

“Won’t we get in trouble for breaking the Statue of Secrecy?” Remus asked, uncertainly.

James shrugged. “Only if he sees us.”

The booming voice was back, more threatening this time.

“I think you ought to pull over,” Remus said again.

“I’m not going to a Muggle prison. My cousin Gordon once told me about what happened to him—”

“Wormtail, you’re not going to prison! Just pull over and we’ll Disapparate,” James repeated.

With a seat-shifting jerk to the left, he pulled the car over to the shoulder of the road and started to slow down. Disapparating from a sitting position was neither particularly easy nor pleasant; you had to find a way to create the same momentum as stepping forward, and—

It had occurred to Sirius at the same time it had to James.

“Put the brake on quickly, and we’ll Disapparate then,” Sirius said. He twisted his head around to face James and Remus, and the grin on his face made it clear that he was enjoying all the drama immensely. “See you back at mine?”

A second later, the car staggered forward, and James did his best to twist in place as he was rocked forward into the back of Peter’s seat...

Like a Snitch being caught in mid-air, he felt the hand of Apparition pull him from his seat, out of the car, and towards his destination. When it released him, he landed hard on his side in the rubbish-strewn lane behind Sirius’ building. The wind had been completely knocked out of him, and he rolled onto his back and lay in seizing pain for a minute or two.

He heard scuffling footsteps to his right, and Peter’s face floated above him.

“All right?” his friend asked him, holding out a hand to help him up. None of them, it seemed, had Apparated well. Remus joined them shortly, having landed several blocks away.

“Where’s Padfoot?” he asked. Peter gestured skyward, and James looked up to see a figured descending the rickety fire escape.

“He landed on the roof?” Though James himself had not exactly arrived gracefully, he couldn’t help but laugh as he said it. Peter laughed, and Remus laughed, and when Sirius joined them on the ground, even he laughed.

If James had often felt like the entire world was sick these days, Sirius’ birthday taught him that laughter was indeed the best medicine. It wasn’t a cure, but it let him know that one would come, someday.


Author’s Note: Not sure how I feel about the second half of the chapter, but I hope you’ll leave me a review and let me know your thoughts. :)

ALSO. Hem, hem, important news. Voting for this year’s Dobby Awards is starting very shortly, and
Once Defied is a finalist for Best Romance and Best Canon Story. If you think it deserves either award, please head over to the forums over the next week and vote for it! (Again, you need to have a registered forum account to view and vote in the Dobbys.)

The line spoken by the “lift lady” at the Ministry above with an asterisk is taken from
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, US edition, page 130. If anyone is curious to where Lily’s job fits into that picture—I consider the Office of Magical Records to be a part of the Wizengamot Administration Services. Also, the format of the decree (though not the content of it) is cribbed from the one that appears in Order of the Phoenix, US edition, page 624. Also, one last thing—the "Stag" car is not made-up. I was researching for cars they might have found in 1978, and one of the first I found was the Triumph Stag. Couldn't resist. :P

Until next time!

Chapter 14: A Steel Trap
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Chapter Fourteen
A Steel Trap





Byron Gamp lived in a stately, column-fronted brick row house near Belgrave Square. The Gamps were an old pureblood family, and filthy rich—emphasis on the “filthy”, Sirius had said—and James got to observe the outside of their house in detail, since that was where the Order was now sending him and his friends to help with surveillance. They were keen to observe who was coming and going from the Gamp home, and what kind of hours Byron Gamp kept.

James sat in a manicured garden square across from the red-brick houses, hidden beneath his Invisibility Cloak, his arse slowly turning numb. The evening hadn’t been entirely uneventful—Rabastan Lestrange had come calling for supper, as he did more often than James thought was normal, despite being Darnella Gamp’s brother—but it had also been chilly. Despite the several Heating Charms he had conjured in the two hours he had been on watch, he hadn’t been able to thaw the cold out of his bones.

He still had a couple hours left to sit and watch. Their shifts were usually only three hours, but the full moon was the following night, and Remus wasn’t feeling well, so James, Sirius, and Peter had all taken an hour extra each today to make up for his absence. Though he was used to sitting for three hours, the addition of the extra hour seemed to make his shift eons longer.

He sighed audibly, and the next moment, he heard dry leaves crackling under footfall. He nearly shot right out of his skin in panic, thinking that his cover had somehow been blown, and leapt to his feet, wand in hand. His eyes locked on the shadowy figure emerging from a tree behind him, feeling a slight sense of relief when he saw that he or she was significantly smaller than him—

Then the sea-green moonlight hit red hair, and he realized that it was Lily.

“James?” she whispered, searching the air in front of her with her eyes. He was feeling a bit faint with the rush of both fear and relief, so quick in succession, but he pulled the hood of the Invisibility Cloak away from the front of his face a little so she could see him.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Oh, you know, just sightseeing,” she deadpanned. The residual shock kept him from catching the joke as quickly as he would have normally. Lily laughed lightly and shook her head. “Are you going to let me under there?”

As she joined him underneath the Invisibility Cloak, he could smell the shower she had taken after work in the flowery scent of her damp hair. The thought made him feel even more miserable about being trapped there for two more hours. What he could do with Lily and two hours...but he comforted himself with the knowledge that after he was done watch, he didn’t have anywhere else he needed to be.

“I came to see you,” she purred, in genuine answer to his question, draping her arms over his shoulders. Her forehead brushed his jaw, and his stomach turned happily at being so close to her.

“It’s not very safe,” James pointed out.

“For me, or for you?” Lily asked coyly. “And if you say me, I may have to hex you.”

“If I don’t, will you kiss me?”

She rolled her eyes, but obliged all the same. Her lips tasted like mint, and her skin turned to gooseflesh as his frozen hands pressed against her. For a while, as they kissed, he completely forgot about where they were and what he was doing, and they eventually had to stop before they got completely carried away.

“I think it may be dangerous for me, after all,” he muttered. “You’re very distracting.”

She laughed. “All right, we can sit down and make sure there’s a safe distance between us—”

“No such thing.”

“—and I’m going to light a fire, because you’re cold as death,” she said, before shooting him a furtive look. He didn’t know why for a moment, until he realized that she probably felt guilty for mentioning death because of his father’s illness. All of his friends seemed to have adopted this cautious approach when they were around him lately, but no one seemed to realize that it actually made things worse. Comments that otherwise would have been heard and forgotten instead became unpleasant weights that dragged him back to reality.

He didn’t say any of this, though, because he knew Lily was only trying to be kind. She conjured a glass jar with her wand and filled it with blue flames that flickered happily and filled the space under the cloak with warmth.

“I knew Flitwick taught us something like this once,” James said. He held his hands near the jar, palms-first, and felt the heat radiating out from it.

“Sometimes, I get the impression that you didn’t pay attention in Charms very often,” Lily teased him. Her hair looked almost black with the blue light hitting it.

“Only during sixth year,” he argued, “and that wasn’t my fault.”

“Really?”

“You decided to sit right in front of me. How could I be expected to pay attention properly?”

She smiled. “We learned this spell in second year, James.”

“Well, I can’t remember everything,” he replied, shrugging, and for whatever reason, this merited being kissed on the cheek. “How was work?”

“Mad, as usual,” she said. “It’s not enough that this rubbish decree’s been passed. Now the people who were pleased with that are unhappy again, because the Minister won’t put other laws in place. So, those people want someone else as Minister, and everyone else wants him sacked because of the decree.”

“Maybe they’re right,” James said, shrugging.

She looked at him with eyebrows raised. “You think so?”

“I think I’m tired of hearing about politics. If someone else can focus on the big picture, then maybe they’d be better to have as Minister right now.”

Lily tilted her head side-to-side in appraisal.

“Well, I agree,” she stated, “so long as they don’t think the big picture is stamping out Muggle-borns.” She reached forward and slipped her hand inside his, slight as a bird. “Oh! So, I got some news from Petunia today. Or, from a note she left me before she went out to dinner with Vernon.”

Vernon was not simply Vernon among the two of them now, but Vernon-whose-name-caused-an-involuntary-grimace. James had told Lily that he would apologize to her sister’s fiancé for the terrible dinner they’d all had together, but as far as he was concerned, avoidance was the best policy. That, and he wasn’t sure it was all his fault.

“They’re getting married on Valentine’s Day,” Lily said, making a face of derision. “I’m sure she’s known that for months, but only just decided to tell me.”

James found it odd that Lily seemed to be so bothered by her sister’s slights. After all, Sirius’ relationship with his family was bad, but he didn’t fret over what they thought of him anymore like Lily did with her sister.

“Are you going?” James asked.

“Well, I don’t want to,” Lily replied, “but I know my mum and dad will force me to go.”

“I’m sure it won’t be that bad,” James assured her, because that seemed the right thing to do (though he remembered saying something similar before their dinner, too).

Lily adopted a persuasive smile that he knew spelled trouble for him.

“You’ll go with me, right?”

He snorted with laughter. “You really want me to go? After what happened last time?”

“I think you have to,” she said, and James gave her a dubious look. “It’s part of being my boyfriend. Weddings, fun—other family events.”

James didn’t miss the fact that she had started to say funerals and then changed tack. He tried to fill the hole that had formed in his stomach with humour.

“I don’t remember signing up for that,” he said, glancing sideways in mock-paranoia.

“I could make it worth your while,” she countered, arresting him with her gaze. “I’ll be all dressed up, and I promise you can stare at me as much as you like.”

James would have leaned forward and resumed snogging the living daylights out of her, were it not for the possibility that they might knock over the jar of flames and burn to death.

“I’m not really fussed about staring at you when you’re clothed,” James said, “but if you—”

He stopped dead in the middle of his sentence, the moment lost as a scream rang out in the night. Lily also froze, and they stared at each other in uncertainty until another scream came, this one louder than the first.

“Stay here,” James told her, putting a hand to his jacket pocket to make sure his wand was stowed there.

“No, thanks,” Lily said obstinately.

“Lily—”

“I’m going with you!”

Before he could argue any further, she darted out from underneath the Invisibility Cloak and started heading toward the center of the garden, where the screaming seemed to be coming from. She looked a little hesitant as she did so, but James wouldn’t have put it past her to go running off on her own, so he wrenched the cloak off and followed.

The garden square was not very wide, so they travelled only a short distance before reaching its centre, where a statue of a dancing woman stood encircled by hedges. Another woman, this one living and breathing, ran into their view, a look of terror on her face.

“A Dementor!” she cried, eyes wild as she approached them. “Please! Help!”

James reached for his wand, but Lily was quicker. His first instinct was to cast one anyway, since the last time he had checked, she couldn’t produce a Patronus properly—but then all thought of instinct or plan left his mind, because he saw that Lily most certainly could perform the spell.

And her Patronus looked a lot like his.

“Oh, thank you—thank you,” the woman said, breathing heavily. She had dark brown hair, but part of it near the front was white-blond. James wondered if she had dyed it this way on purpose, and whether it was some sort of Muggle fashion; then he reminded himself that she must be a witch, if she knew what a Dementor was. He was still having trouble pulling his eyes away from Lily’s doe Patronus.

“Are you all right?” Lily asked the woman, who had a hand pressed to her chest in relief.

“I am now,” she replied, smiling graciously. “I’m so glad you were here—I’ve never been able to make a Patronus. And what are the odds that there would be a witch and a wizard around?”

She tittered nervously.

“Are you sure it was a Dementor?” James asked. How could there be a Dementor floating around the middle of London undetected?

“I think so,” the woman answered. “I’ve never seen one before, but it was cold, and...I heard things.”

James exchanged a glance with Lily. They had both been spared crossing paths with a Dementor, but James thought this sounded like an accurate description. His mind started to jump back into motion—he needed to tell the Order, and the rest of the night’s watch should probably be called off, if there was a Dementor nearby.

“You should go home,” Lily said kindly to the woman. “Stay indoors for the rest of the night.”

“Yes—yes, I think I will,” the woman agreed, crossing her arms. She looked to be forty years old or thereabouts, with wrinkles lining her pale forehead. “Thank you again. And be careful.”

She hurried off, glancing over her shoulder with every step. James kept scanning the dark foliage around them for any sign of a shadowy figure, but it seemed Lily’s Patronus had driven it off.

Lily’s Patronus.

“We should get out of here, too,” Lily said uneasily. “I don’t fancy being around if that Dementor comes back.” She glanced back to where they had been sitting before. “Let’s get rid of that flame, and we’ll go.”

James followed her, a smile slowly spreading across his face. She put out the blue flame and then Vanished the jar before looking at him.

“Shall we go back to my flat? Petunia should be out for most of the night—”

James interrupted her. “Are we going to talk about what just happened?”

“What?” Lily asked blithely. James gave her a pointed look, but her expression didn’t budge.

“Well...your Patronus is a doe,” he said.

“And?”

“And mine is a stag...”

She was trying to look at him blankly, but he could see that part which was trying squirming behind her green eyes.

“I don’t see what difference it makes,” she said. James shook his head, feeling rather like falling to the ground in exasperation.

“It makes a difference to me,” he explained.

“Why?”

“Because! Because...well, to know that you—”

“To know that I what?” Lily asked, in a huff. He could see, even in the dim lighting, that her cheeks had flushed pink.

“That you love me,” James said. Lily raised an eyebrow severely.

“Don’t I tell you nearly every day that I love you?” she asked, sounding unexpectedly angry. The question was, apparently, rhetorical. “I don’t see why it makes any difference, unless you didn’t believe me and you need something else to prove it to you, which is just—”

James took her face in his hands and kissed her, silencing the rest of her words. He had known Lily for long enough to realize that she was often a few steps behind him when it came to matters of their hearts. It was part of what made her her, even if it infuriated him at times.

After a few moments, he broke away, and looked straight into her eyes.

“You love me,” he said.

She sighed and nodded. “And you love me.”

Maybe she was right, and it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Maybe she didn’t like the idea that it proved something to him, but it did—not that she loved him, but that he had been right for so long about them being right together.

Standing there, he didn’t worry about a thing: not about his dad, not about Ministry politics, and not about a Dementor that might by lurking nearby. If he had cast his own Patronus right then and there, it would have illuminated all of London.



..........




As gravel on the chilly earth crunched underneath her feet, Lily tried to suppress a grin as she thought of the night before last, when she had gone to visit James on his surveillance shift. She hadn’t exactly intended for him to find out about her Patronus, and she had reacted somewhat defensively, but now, she could only smile about it.

She had spent a fair amount of time mulling over the similarity between their Patronuses, and most of her refused to believe that it was as significant as he wanted it to be. After all, she had never known what her Patronus form was before falling in love with James, and so perhaps it wasn’t a response to him. In fact, she had wondered more than once whether his was a stag because hers was a doe, and not the other way around, given the way he had sopped around after her for so long. Other times, she thought that perhaps it was a coincidence, and that they were simply alike enough that their Patronuses happened to take the same form. But she had to admit that, no matter which way she looked at it, it meant something.

It had been another brisk but sunny day, and the sun was just dipping below the horizon as Lily opened the clanking iron gates in front of James’ house. She walked through the gloaming, simultaneously thinking of how she had missed being with him the previous night and telling herself that it was silly to miss someone after only one day apart.

Sprotty, the Potters’ house-elf, came to the door when she knocked, and told her that James was in his bedroom. She could have guessed this herself, because that was where he spent most of his time, and ascended the staircase as quietly as she could. As she approached James’ bedroom door, however, she heard a collection of voices coming from inside—that was unusual.

The door was shut, so she knocked, her brow furrowed in confusion. James appeared a moment later, and beyond him, Lily could see Peter and Sirius.

“Oh—sorry, do you want me to come back later?” she asked, caught off-guard.

James shook his head. “No, it’s all right. Come in.”

As she did so, she couldn’t help but notice that all of their faces were knotted with concern. Her heart dropped slightly.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. They all exchanged dark looks, confirming her suspicion, and it was James who answered.

“Sturgis Podmore got attacked last night when he was doing surveillance.”

Lily’s mouth dropped open in shock. She had been expecting something wrong with James’ father, or Remus, and though she felt terrible for Sturgis, she was slightly relieved.

“What happened?” she asked, leaning against James’ desk.

“He was outside Byron Gamp’s house, and he says—he thinks it was the Lestrange brothers—they came up behind him and attacked him,” James explained, his voice grim.

“So, he’s alive?” she confirmed.

“Frank said he got hexed pretty badly, and he’ll probably have to stay in St. Mungo’s for the next week,” James answered, “but yeah, he’s alive.”

She exhaled heavily, making room in her chest for the weight of this news.

“I think Dumbledore’s wrong for calling off the surveillance of Gamp’s house,” Sirius remarked in a surly voice, and Lily got the impression that they had been in the middle of discussing this subject before she had arrived. “It’s obvious, after this, that they’re hiding something there.”

“Maybe he’s going to deal with it himself,” James said, shrugging.

“He can’t,” Peter pointed out. “Not when he’s so far away.”

Lily could see that Sirius and Peter were one in the same mind, as they often were when it came to dangerous things, but that James wasn’t as convinced. It was odd, now, seeing the dynamics between them, when for so long she had just assumed that James was fully invested in all of their recklessness.

“Well, I’m glad none of you got hurt,” she said, before changing the subject slightly. “How did they know he was there? Wasn’t he hiding?”

“He was under a Disillusionment Charm, but Frank said that they must figured out that he was there somehow,” James said.

Lily considered this for a moment, as James lit a couple lamps in his room. The days were getting shorter, and soon, they would be standing in full darkness.

“It’s strange, isn’t it?” she mused. “How would they have known, unless he drew attention to himself, or they happened to be walking by and heard him breathing?”

“Sturgis is a private investigator, isn’t he?” Peter ventured. “Hard to believe he would have given himself away.”

“Yes,” Lily agreed, “and what are the odds that...?”

She trailed off, the words triggering something in her memory. After a few seconds, she remembered where she had heard them before, and a horrible thought occurred to her.

“What is it?” James prompted her, and Lily tried to find a way of putting what she was thinking into words.

“Sirius, did you ever meet Darnella Gamp?” she asked. His face registered mild surprise at the question.

“Er—yeah, once, I think, at my cousin’s wedding,” he replied.

“What does she look like?” Lily asked, ignoring the looks of confusion on all of their faces. She was desperately hoping that her hunch was wrong, and Sirius was the only one that could help her figure it out.

“I don’t remember that well,” he said, frowning. “I was fourteen, and there were loads of people there.” He paused for a moment. “Hang on—I think she had strange hair. It was dark, but then some of it was white, or grey.”

Lily looked at James, and his confusion had been replaced by dismay.

“What does this have to do with anything?” Sirius asked.

“Well—the other night, when James was on watch, I—er—I went to visit him,” Lily said, flushing slightly as Peter smirked. “While I was there, this woman was running around, screaming that a Dementor was chasing her, and so we got rid of it. Her hair looked exactly like what you just described.”

Sirius’ eyes went wide, and James swore under his breath. Lily felt slightly ill—the entire incident seemed suspect, looking back. Why had the woman assumed they were magical, when it she would have been far more likely to run across a Muggle in the middle of London? They had never even seen the Dementor.

“So...she knew there were wizards out there, and she told her brothers?” Peter said, still sounding puzzled.

“It could be a coincidence, I suppose,” Lily said, shrugging weakly, “but it seems like more than that.”

She wasn’t sure whether it was her wool sweater or the guilt that was making her skin crawl. James crossed the room, nudging some of his dirty clothes underneath his bed, and picked up his Quaffle, squeezing it anxiously. It reminded her of the way he used to mess up his hair, another manifestation of his compulsive need to fidget when he was uncomfortable.

“Should we tell Frank?” he asked, after a few seconds of silence.

“No,” Sirius said, his voice firm and appalled.

“It might be the reason Sturgis got attacked,” Lily argued, but she could Sirius wasn’t having any of it.

“Telling the Order isn’t going to change that. Do you really want them to go back to thinking that we’re a bunch of idiots?” he asked, his grey eyes flashing.

“No, but—”

“That’s what they’ll think, if you tell them,” Sirius interrupted her.

She snapped her mouth shut, feeling anger flare slightly in her chest. If Lily had come to accept James’ flaws, she still had a difficult time doing the same with Sirius, whose flippant and careless nature (and, these days, the fact that he didn’t really seem to like her) had always bothered her. While most of the girls she knew at Hogwarts had ooh-ed and ahh-ed over Sirius Black, the handsome and aloof white sheep of the Black Family, there had always been something about him that had made Lily uneasy. Looking at Sirius often made Lily feel like she was looking at a steel trap disguised as a pretty necklace.

At that moment, she felt caught in the trap. She was opposed to the idea of keeping this a secret, since someone’s safety was in question, but she didn’t know how to oppose Sirius—not when he was flanked by both Peter and James, both of whom seemed to be in agreement with him.

“You don’t think we should say anything?” she appealed to James. He tossed the Quaffle about six inches in the air and caught it before answering.

“I don’t think it’ll help, if we do,” he replied, noncommittally.

Indignant though she felt, Lily sighed and decided not to press the issue further. Half of her was worry that nothing good would come of keeping secrets from the rest of the Order, while the other half thought of the modicum of respect she’d gained from Alice and the other women so far, and didn’t want to lose it. She just hoped that they were doing the right thing.




Author’s Note: I hope you liked the increased James/Lily in this chapter. I definitely enjoyed writing it! Please drop me a line in the review box below to let me know what you think. Enough James/Lily? Too much? Suspenseful? Not suspenseful? Too short? Too long? Makes you want to read more? Bored you to tears?

Also, just a final plug—Dobby voting goes until October 4th, and
Once Defied is nominated for Best Romance and Best Canon Story. (I promise this is the last time I’ll mention it!)

Until next time!

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