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    In all the seven years we had been friends, Henn and I had never fought.

    We had bickered, of course, like any other pair of teenage girlfriends, but I don’t believe we ever had been truly furious with one another. There were those few days back in our seventh year when Henn and I had been distant after I had started going out with James – but that had been quickly remedied when we had confronted one another and cleared the air. I thought that I had been angry with her then. Now, with my fury tenfold, it was nothing – and what was more, I was sickened by it.

    As I stormed out of my flat I had no time to contemplate where I was going. I simply let my feet carry me away from Henn, whose angry face I could still see clearly as if she were still in front of me. My stomach was boiling up in anger. My rage infested me like a disease. At that moment, I hated her.

    Once I calmed down a bit and rational thought finally took precedence over rage, I thought about where I could go. To return to my flat was simply unthinkable – at that moment it was unbearable to face her again.

    My first thought was Sirius, who I knew would listen and let me rage. That was quickly crossed off the list, for Sirius lived with James, who I did not want to see just as much as Henn. Remus, I knew, would be understanding, and probably even give me good advice – but I did not want advice. I wanted to be irrationally angry. I wanted someone to tell me that I was right. I wanted to be told that I hadn’t been out of line at all – in fact, I should’ve been worse!

    Peter, I thought, but quickly dismissed the idea as well. I hadn’t seen him in ages, and undoubtedly he’d be more than a little alarmed at me arriving at his flat at seven in the morning, only to rant abusively about one of our friends.

    When I reached the park I often frequented, I realized that there was no one to listen to me.

    With this depressing thought, I slumped, defeated, into one of the park benches, staring at the for once vacant playground. The sky was a pale yellow now. It was officially morning. Distantly, I could hear cars starting up and a general, subdued bustling from the people around waking up to go to work. I had not had a proper sleep for days. And despite the fact that it was September, it was cold at this hour of the morning, when the sun had not yet gone about warming park benches that I could possibly sleep on.

    And with this deluded possibility my anger returned in full force. Here I was, pondering the most comfortable position to sleep on this cold bench when I could be sleeping in my own bed! My own bed which I was so unceremoniously kicked out of by my ex-best friend (that’s right, I said ex!) – I mean, who did she think she was? If anyone had to leave, it should’ve been her!

    I was off the bench at once, rapidly making my way to our flat as I experienced this epiphany. All sorts of vengeful possibilities were taking place in my head – images of me self-righteously throwing Henn out of our apartment and down the stairs were vivid as ever to me.

    I sprinted up the stairs, ignoring Mr. Livingston’s inquiries about what I was doing at this hour of the day, and shoved our door open, storming into my room where I assumed Henn would be. But it was empty, as was the living room, kitchen, and Grace’s bedroom. I peeked inside and saw that the cot that had been set up next to Grace’s bed, was gone. Grace slept on, oblivious to the catastrophic changes that had happened in the last hour, her red hair peeking out from beneath the covers as her soft, untroubled breathing filled the room. I backed out, closing the door quietly behind me, and returned to the living room.

    The anger that had been resonating in my entire being was gone now, replaced by a detached sort of feeling as I sank into our sofa. It was as if I was observing everything through an impartial person’s eyes, taking everything in calmly and rationally. There was no sign of Henn. Our coffee cups were now sitting on the counter, still full, but now cold. Her clothes were gone, her luggage was gone, even the hairpins that had been left on the television stand for days were nowhere to be seen, and so was she.

    It was days after I spoke about our fight to anyone. Grace, sensing that some sort of altercation had happened between us, wisely refrained from asking me about it, and didn’t question me any further. It was only one hot afternoon that Sirius and I were returning from a patrol that the subject was brought up.

    “It’s inhumane to have us patrol on a scorching day like this,” said Sirius irritably as he shuffled into the kitchen with me.

    Seeing as I had heard this particular sentence several times over the last eight hours, I refrained from replying.

    “Where’s Grace?” I wondered out loud as I realized that the flat appeared to be empty. I knew that she had had the day off and was hoping that that she had something delicious prepared for lunch. Good food that I had absolutely no part in making was only one of the many luxuries that came with living with Grace Lawson.

    I barged into Grace’s room without knocking, and instantly regretted it. It was not the dreaded nightmare of discovering your roommate in the throes of passion with her beau, but something far, far worse.

    For by the window, my redheaded friend was gaping at me, the incriminating object in her hand.

    “Oh, bugger,” she cursed, extinguishing the offensive item in the ashtray.

    “You smoke?

    Sirius was soon in tow, holding two glasses of lemonade. “Shit,” was his greeting, and Grace nodded morosely. I observed their exchange and yelled out upon comprehending.

    “You knew?” I exclaimed, my voice very nearly approximating a banshee’s shriek.

    Sirius glanced helplessly at Grace, who merely shrugged. “Yes,” said Sirius finally, with the air of one who had been found guilty of some despicable crime and would soon be destined for the gallows, “I knew.”

    I stomped over to the ashtray and pointed at it as if it had done me a personal evil. “How long?”

    “Months,” was Grace’s apocalyptic reply.


    “Ow,” said Sirius, covering his ears gingerly.

    “Why would you hide this from me?” I demanded, and Grace flinched as if I had slapped her.

    “Uh, well…”

    “Because she knew you’d freak out, okay?” Sirius intervened, taking pity upon the defendant. “And oh, will you look at that – she was right.”

    “I’m not freaking out!” Realizing that I should probably lower my voice a few octaves to make this appear convincing, I added in a softer tone, “I’m just…surprised.”

    “Surprised,” both of my friends repeated flatly and in sync.

    “How could I not have noticed?” I asked myself. “This place or your breath don’t smell…I never find any ashes –”

    “Uh, hello,” said Grace, holding up her wand with a ‘duh’ expression.

    “Oh. Right.” Magic really wasn’t for the best sometimes. “Okay. I just…I don’t understand why you would start such an awful, disgusting habit, which causes cancer – lung, mouth, and esophageal, mind you – and makes you die.”

    Sirius and Grace simultaneously rolled their eyes.

    “And makes you die,” I repeated significantly, my eyes practically bulging out of their sockets as I tried to make a point.

    “Yeah, she gets it, don’t beat her dead over the head with it. No pun intended,” said Sirius. Sirius was never big on puns, being that his name was constantly the target of said jokes.

    “I can’t handle this right now.” Perhaps it was because I had experienced just too many emotional upheavals this summer, or that I was PMSing or suffering some equally hormonal bodily function, or maybe because I felt that every now and again a girl needed to perform her own personal theatrics, but I was being melodramatic, and I knew it. “Two of my best friends are either thousands of miles away or hating me right now, and my ex-boyfriend avoids me like the plague. I’m short on friends, Grace, and I just really can’t have you dying on me right now.” When I saw that she continued to remain stoic during my rather convincing lament, I sought to make my dire situation clearer. “Otherwise, I’d be stuck with Sirius.”

    “Oh, I get it,” said Grace with a theatrical gasp of understanding, and ignoring Sirius’ rather girlish gasp of outrage, “this is about you.

    “When isn’t it?”

    “Hear, hear,” muttered Sirius, although audibly.

    “Look, it relaxes me, okay?” explained Grace. “I bummed one from one of my co-workers the day after the Charing Cross attack and it helped me. I’m okay with dying from it as long as I don’t die stressed out.”

    “That’s terrible logic!”

    Grace shrugged, lighting up her cigarette again. I watched, trying not to look like I had just witnessed something indecent and unnatural.

    “I don’t want you to die,” I said as earnestly as I could, yet I knew it sounded ridiculous.

    “I don’t want you to die either,” replied Grace callously, “but I let you do your job anyway, don’t I? Let’s face it, Lily – you and Sirius have way more of a chance dying out there in the field than I do from inside this room, smoking.”

    I was stunned silent at this. She was right, of course, and we both knew it. Hearing my survival rate compared to hers, however, was a shocking and otherworldly experience.

    Before I could open my mouth Grace said, “Drop it,” with an absolute finality as if she had read my mind.

    Sirius coughed. “Now that we have that resolved,” he started loudly, “exactly which friend of yours is ‘hating you right now’?”

    Clearly the guilt showed in my face, because he then said, “Shit, Lily. What did you do now?”

    “I’ll straighten this out for you, Sirius,” said Grace behind a new cloud of smoke. “Henn is getting married. Lily hates marriage. End of story.”

    Clearly smoking makes Grace a bitch.

    My jaw dropped. “She told you?”

    “Of course she told me. Why do you think I haven’t been asking around about my disappeared friend? She left me a note. She didn’t really give any details, though.” She gazed at me, silently adding, ‘but I wouldn’t mind a few.’

    “What did you do?” Sirius repeated.

    “Why am I always the one to blame? Not everything is my fault!”

    Sirius and Grace exchanged looks that clearly meant that they begged to differ.

    “She – she said James and I were twisted!” I spluttered, in a desperate attempt to redeem myself.

    Sirius rolled his eyes and sat on the edge of Grace’s bed, while Grace merely took a long drag from her cigarette, than regarded me. It seemed that she was making up her mind about scolding me or letting me ride out my self-righteous anger. “What did you say for her to attack you like that?” she asked finally.

    I gaped at the pair of them, blushing furiously. Watching the pair of them sit like that, arms folded and cigarette burning reminded me very much of some sort of warped jury judging my case. I wanted them desperately to be on my side, even though this was Henn we were talking about. Not only was she one of their good friends as well, she had a much cleaner record than me. Sirius and I had had at least two serious rows ever since we became friends, and Grace hadn’t been on my good side for more than one occasion. I might as well give up any chance I had of defending myself.

    “I…might’ve called her engagement –” I paused, as they waited impatiently for me to continue. “– ridiculous.”

    Grace’s jaw dropped, her cigarette dangling precariously off her lower lip. Even Sirius looked appalled. “What?” I cried defensively.

    “Are you mental?” exclaimed Sirius. “Do you not remember Alice? You were there at her wedding – right at the front line!”

    “What are you on about?” I asked, pushing Sirius away as he tried shoving his still-bruised arm in my face.

    “Lily, no one comes between a bride and her wedding,” said Grace in a ‘you-should’ve-known’ voice, which let’s face it – was totally called for. Sirius was right. I had experienced a bride at the worst possible level in the form of Alice. It was stupid of me to insult Henn’s engagement, even though it was imprudent, irresponsible and yes, ridiculous.

    “But there’s more to it, isn’t it?” said Sirius as he watched me.

    “Yes,” I said, shocked at this display of rare perception. “She…said – well, brought up, rather…that I haven’t written her. I think that she had been wanting to get that off her chest for ages.” The guilty look on Grace’s face confirmed my suspicions. I felt my stomach tighten in anger and hurt. The possibility of Henn complaining about me to Grace was unbearable to think about.

    “Well, this is easily remedied,” said Sirius in an inappropriately cheery voice. Grace and I looked at him, confused. “You apologize!”

    There was a moment of silence, then both of us erupted in snorts of laughter.

    “Apologize?” Grace repeated, wiping tears out of her eyes. “Don’t be thick.”

    “It’s been known to happen,” said Sirius darkly, clearly wounded at our immediate dismissal of his suggestion.

    “Girls don’t apologize often, Sirius,” explained Grace condescendingly. “Have I ever apologized to you?”

    “No. Although you should have after that one time you hit me on the head with a –“

    “Exactly,” said Grace serenely. “And even more rare, is me apologizing to say…Lily here.” I nodded, as Sirius looked at us, dumbfounded.

    “You’re telling me broads never apologize?”

    “Occasionally,” Grace shrugged.

    “You’ve got to be kidding me!” exclaimed Sirius. “What a load of rubbish. Lily, just write her a letter and apologize. It’ll be killing two birds with one stone – not only will she be happy to be talking to you again, but she also can’t complain about you not writing her anymore.”

    “I’m not apologizing!” I said heatedly. “I didn’t do anything wrong!”

    “So, what, are you just going to stop talking to her?”

    “Of course not,” I sniffed. “Only until she apologizes to me.

    “But you – you just said!” he sputtered, looking from one of us to the other in utter disbelief. “Ah, forget it! You are all mad.” He sank back onto Grace’s bed, crying out loud in frustration.

    “And yet you’re here round the clock anyway,” said Grace slyly. I smirked.

    “That’s only because James is in one of his moods.”

    Instantly interested, I could practically feel my ears perking up, ready to take in any information. “About what?” I asked, not even bothering to pretend to be nonchalant.

    “Who knows? He’d get like that sometimes before we had some Marauders prank set up. James isn’t quiet often, but when he is, you know he’s planning something. Lost in his thoughts. I just leave him alone then.”

    “Planning? Like some sort of Auror thing?” asked Grace.

    Sirius merely shrugged in response, but I had already lost interest. Clearly whatever had put in James in a ‘mood’ didn’t matter, for he wasn’t talking about it.

    Sometimes I really hated myself.

    I thought about this often when I was on patrols and left to dwell on my own destructive thoughts during those long hours. I had to hand it to myself – I really knew how to push people away. And it just so happened that it was whoever was the closest to me who had the greatest probability of hating me. James, now Henn…irrationally I blamed myself for Gaby being so far away as well, even though I knew that her moving on with her life had nothing to do with me. Still, I felt lonelier than I had ever felt before.

    “Distracted, are we?” said a voice right beside my ear, causing me to jump.

    Of course, I knew it was Dorcas. She was my partner tonight after all. Nevertheless, being jerked out of my thoughts like that was not a pleasant experience, nor was Dorcas’ threatening proximity to me. She smiled mirthlessly at me as we walked in sync, our footsteps echoing simultaneously on the sidewalk.

    “Forgive me,” she continued softly, “but you seem just a bit – off your game, lately. Almost careless, really. I doubt that this sort of attitude will help you be promoted to Defender, after all.”

    She said everything in a casual sort of way, but I knew that every word was deliberate. If I didn’t know about the woman’s stoic, professional behavior, I would’ve believed her to be jumping up and down in her tiny cubicle upon finding out that I was her partner. I had never seen Dorcas Meadowes happier than when she was provoking me. I forced myself to remain silent and satisfied myself with gritting my teeth.

    “Distracted like that,” said Dorcas brusquely, “and you could find yourself in a spot of trouble, Evans. Death Eaters – I know you don’t have too much experience with them, but let me enlighten you…well, they’re experts at waiting for windows of opportunities. You can be the best Auror of all time, and know all your spells and potions and what not…but it all means nothing, if you let your guard – slip.

    “I suppose you would know,” I said before I could stop myself. Dorcas stopped in her tracks, but I kept going, glancing aloofly behind me to see her staring at me with pure venom in that heavy silence; even my pounding heart was drumming in my ears, leaving me breathless.

    “What are you insinuating, Evans?” she said quietly, her voice barely softer than a hiss.

    “You know what I’m talking about, Dorcas,” I replied just as quietly, deliberately using her first name.

    There was a pause, then Dorcas smiled. Her smile seemed more dangerous than her silences or quiet threats and taunts. “I know your theory,” she said pleasantly as she started to stroll beside me again. “Moody told me all about your little outburst after that woman was found hanging – what was her name again?” She paused and pretended to contemplate her answer. “Ah – yes. Eleanor, wasn’t it?”

    I couldn’t believe how cruel this woman was and how Moody didn’t see it. I gaped at her. Here she was, talking about the woman who she had sent to her death, without the slightest bit of remorse. How could any of the Aurors trust her?

    I was shocked that Moody had told her about what I had said, however. I had already known, of course, that Dorcas knew exactly what I suspected, given the ‘leave of absence’ she had ‘requested’ I take after the incident in Victoria Park. I had assumed that it had been one of the other Aurors who had informed her – I had suspected Robards, despite how cordial he had been – but I would’ve never thought that Moody, of all people, would tell her. He himself had ordered everyone present not to speak of what had happened – more pointedly, what I had said – so I had assumed he’d be doing the same. Then, as quickly as the shock came, it was replaced by a resigned realization. Of course Moody had told Dorcas – she was his right hand in the Auror office. He trusted her, for some unfathomable reason.

    “Surprised Mad-Eye told me, are you?” said Dorcas, correctly interpreting my silence. Her voice grew infinitely colder. “Silly girl. You really are that naïve, aren’t you?”

    “Maybe,” I said heatedly, “but that doesn’t change the fact that you sent an innocent woman to her death, Dorcas. It should’ve been you, that morning. You’re more skilled, you would’ve been able to fight them off, or at least alert the people around us in time. You had no business controlling our lives like that.”

    The second after I said this I couldn’t believe that I did. I had never stood up to Dorcas Meadowes before, although it felt empowering somehow. Someone had to pull that woman down a notch. True, a rookie like myself probably wasn’t the best person to do it, but it had to be done. I glanced to see Dorcas’ reaction – clearly, she was fuming, but struggling to control it. She merely narrowed her eyes at me, her expression frightening.

    Then, alarmingly, she was smiling that awful smile of hers again, all fury dissipated. “I’m not going to indulge you in what you think might or might not have happened that day,” she said dismissively, as if I were a mere toddler imagining things. “But while we’re on the subject of Mad-Eye…he wants to see you tonight, after the patrol.” She seemed to be rather resentful to be passing to me such information.

    “See me?” I asked, shocked.

    “Yes, I was rather surprised as well,” drawled Dorcas, and she sped up her pace. We did not speak or look at one another for the remainder of the night.

    There were still people in the office at four o’ clock in the morning. I knocked on the wall of Moody’s cubicle. Although he was in clear view of me, he was a senior Auror, and I felt rude to invade his tiny space without him allowing me to first. Moody had that effect on people.

    “Come on in, Evans,” he growled, without looking up. His magical eye whizzed around in its socket. I couldn’t help but cringe – even after all these months, sometimes it was hard to get used to.

    There was no other chair other than the one that he was sitting in, so I leaned against his cabinet, leaving little room between us.

    “Don’t get too comfortable,” he barked, standing up himself. Without explanation, he strode out of his cubicle without a backwards glance – not that he needed one.

    I followed him into one of the small offices that branched off of the main room where all the cubicles were. Here at least, there were chairs. He cast a few spells towards the door, which I found odd – we were all Aurors, after all, who did he not want to overhear?

    “Sit down, Evans,” he said, throwing a scarred, grotesque hand at the chair opposite his. I obeyed, trying my best to keep eye contact with him. He was a very unnerving person, especially if you were alone with him.

    “What did you want to speak to me about, sir?” I asked, but Moody was never one to beat around the bushes.

    “You’re a talented Auror, Evans,” he said harshly, so harshly, in fact, that it didn’t even sound like a compliment. “Don’t interrupt me. I know you think that you’re not, just because you haven’t been picked to be an Defender yet. But you know my reasons for it and I’m not going to try to keep placating you!”

    I hardly thought our last conversation about this situation warranted as ‘placating me’, being that I had departed with him yelling, “get out of my sight!” at me. However, now was not the time to mention this.

    “The truth is, we’re losing this war, Evans,” said Moody, and there was a definite change to his tone. He seemed for a moment, almost defeated. It was a strangely foreign thought to imagine a defeated Moody. He had always been indestructible to me. I thought about arguing with him, but knew it was useless – he was right. We were losing people everyday and we hadn’t caught a single Death Eater in months. “And people we think are on our side, aren’t always,” he continued, and immediately I thought of Dorcas. I straightened in my chair. Did Moody suspect more than he let on? I knew it! I knew that he couldn’t possibly wholeheartedly trust that evil woman.

    “I agree, sir.”

    Moody regarded me with both his eyes grimly, as if he knew exactly whom I was talking about. “I’m sure you do, Evans,” he said roughly. “What I’m saying is that I trust you. Well, not perhaps 100%, because I’m not an idiot. But in these times we can’t afford to be too picky about our allies. And greater, more trustworthy wizards than I have faith in you, so I suppose I can’t argue.”

    I furrowed my eyebrows. “Greater wizards, sir?”

    “There’s a meeting tomorrow,” he barked over my answer, “at Hogwarts. Dumbledore is having a select group there. I think that what he’ll have to say will interest you, Evans.”

    Dumbledore. Of course.

    “I’ll be there,” I said firmly.

    Moody smiled grimly. “I thought so. I also want you to tell a few other people about this. The Longbottoms already know, I sent them an owl over their honeymoon. I’m sure it cheered them right up,” he said, and I would’ve laughed if I hadn’t been so shocked that Mad-Eye Moody made a joke. “I’ll want Black and Potter involved in this – those two are reckless, but stupidly brave, and we need people like that.”

    “Sir?” I asked, as he stood up, about to dismiss me. “This is about fighting You-Know-Who isn’t it? But more than what we’re doing now.”

    Moody did not answer me. Again, his two eyes were focused on me. That was answer enough.

    “When you tell the others about this,” started Moody, “make sure that no one – and I mean no one, Evans – overhears. And owls can be intercepted, remember. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!”

    “Uh – right,” I said, unnerved as I always was whenever he shouted that particular phrase with such ferocity.

    As we left the office I spotted Dorcas across the room, talking to Gawain Robards. Our eyes met, and that momentary savage pleasure I had gotten from being included in Moody’s trust quickly evaporated, as I realized that Dorcas probably already knew about the meeting, and would be there tomorrow. She waved to me sardonically, then returned to her conversation.

    I set out to see if Sirius was in his cubicle, but he was not. Thinking that perhaps he was in the magically enlarged room where we all practiced our spells and charms, I looked for him in there, but it was empty, except for James. His patronus was galloping around him, reflected brilliantly in all the mirrors. The animal was blurred, and I only recognized it as a stag as it charged towards me, evaporating into mist. James spun around.

    “It’s beautiful,” I said, waving my hands unnecessarily around the space the stag had just disappeared. “I’m not surprised that it’s a stag.”

    “Well, you wouldn’t,” he said, and I was relieved to hear him sound normal, unlike the strained polite version of himself that had been present at the wedding. “You’ve seen Prongs plenty of times before.”

    I smiled. Yes, I had seen James transform before. He had done it in my very own dormitory back at Hogwarts, and nearly scared me out of my wits.

    I stepped towards him. He stepped towards me. We met halfway, with some distance between us.

    “What are you doing here so late?”

    “I could ask you the same question. Patrol?”

    James nodded. It was as if our conversation back at the Longbottom wedding had been forgotten. Both of us were being forcedly polite.

    “I actually need to tell you something,” I said, after several moments. James blinked.


    I pointed my wand at the door behind me and muttered the same incantations that Moody had. James raised his eyebrows. I told him all that Moody had told me, and how it was supposed to be a surreptitious meeting.

    “And you need to tell Sirius about it too,” I said.

    James frowned, obviously thinking hard. “Who else do you reckon is a part of this?”

    “I know that Alice and Frank are. Probably Dorcas Meadowes,” I added grimly.

    “Do you reckon it’ll be just Aurors?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Oh, well, thanks for telling me.”

    “Well, Moody told me to.”

    James gazed down at me, awfully solemn. “Good night, Lily,” he said quietly.

    He might as well have grabbed me and snogged me senseless right then. It would’ve had he same melting effect in my stomach. Never had I heard my name said so tenderly. My throat closed up as I struggled with an adequate answer.

    “’Night,” I mumbled, then shuffled ungracefully out of the room.

    “Where are you going, exactly?”

    I looked up in the mirror I was standing in front of to see Grace leaning against my door, her arms folded. I was getting ready to Apparate to Hogsmeade. Grace looked rather skeptical as she contemplated my outfit – not that I blamed her.

    After my encounter with James, I found myself oddly apprehensive to see him again. I tried to forget that he’d be there, at the meeting tonight, and convinced myself that he played absolutely no factor in what clothes I picked to wear. I told myself not to get dolled up – it wasn’t like I was going on a date, for Merlin’s sake – so I forced myself to pick the first pair of jeans I could find (okay, so it happened to be my best ones that fit me really well, but that was a coincidence!), and wore my hair up in a high ponytail. I looked the best I had looked in weeks – with patrols and all the other responsibilities I had taken on at the Ministry, personal hygiene wasn’t really a priority.

    For the first time that day I looked at Grace and forgot about James. She had asked me where I was going. I debated how to answer her.

    Moody had said to be cautious. He had told me to talk to James and Sirius, and no one else. I could not tell Grace where I was going – she’d ask why. I concentrated on putting on some lipstick while I answered, “Uh – Auror stuff.” It wasn’t really a lie. Not exactly, anyway.

    “Oh,” said Grace, granting me with her ill-deserved belief. “You’re so dolled up – I thought you were going on a date or something.”

    She shrugged and left, leaving me feeling horribly guilty. I did not like hiding things from Grace. We had gotten incredibly closer over the months it had just been the two of us as roommates. Things weren’t like at Hogwarts anymore, when we each had our own secrets. Although we were still rather reserved (especially when it dealt with romantic entanglements) there was far more trust between us than ever before.

    “Don’t wait up,” I called, almost apologetically, right before I Disapparated.

    It was odd being back at Hogsmeade. Over the silhouetted rooftops I could just make out the faint outline of Hogwarts, my home for seven years. I never thought I’d be back so soon.

    A few moments later Alice and Frank Apparated right beside me. They both greeted me jovially – a little too, jovially – I suppose love really was a natural high or something. Or just made people friendlier.

    “Good honeymoon?” I grinned, and they nodded enthusiastically. “Got a bit of color, I see.”

    “We went to Spain,” said Alice breathlessly as we made our way to the school gates. “Lovely, really. Barcelona was fantastic –” She stopped abruptly upon seeing another hooded figure by the gate. Although it was hard to discern who it was in the shadows, I knew instinctively from her frame and intimidating stance that it was Dorcas. My suspicions were correct. She made no move to acknowledge us as we stood together, waiting.

    Soon a figure appeared on the grounds, heading towards us to let us in. A witch with a soft face and warm smile approached us, ready to let us in. Dorcas patted her foot impatiently as she proceeded to unlock the gate and remove the protective charms.

    “Security has been tenfold ever since the attack,” she explained as we approached the castle. “I’m Marlene McKinnon, nice to meet you.”

    We each introduced ourselves in turn, then Frank asked, “Who else is here?”

    “Oh, loads of people, you’ll see…although I think you were the last to arrive…”

    She was right. The Great Hall was filled with far more people than I had expected. Moody was already there, quickly joined by Dorcas, who rushed to his side, as were James and Sirius, who were talking to a pair of two redheaded wizards, who were clearly twins. There were several other people there, people who I had never seen before for the most part – although I did recognize the Hogshead barman and Sturgis Podmore, who had gone to school with us and was two years ahead of us. Dumbledore was nowhere to be seen.

    Frank, Alice and I approached James and Sirius, who like the rest of the room, were discussing amongst themselves their curiosity of why they were all there.

    “What do you reckon?” asked Sirius in a grave voice, which was at complete odds with the delighted look on his face. It reminded me strongly of his Marauder days of mischief and havoc. Sirius loved adventure, and undoubtedly was thrilled to be included in something so high profile and secretive.

    I shrugged, but Frank answered, “Dunno, but whatever it is, it seems big. Have you seen some of the people here? Elphias Doge – everyone knows him. And Emmeline Vance – blimey, she’s supposed to be brilliant –”

    “Damn, Frank, fancy her a bit?”

    Frank punched Sirius playfully in the arm, and the two of them guffawed with laughter. Blokes. I shushed them and looked about consciously.

    “What’s eating you, Evans?”

    “Well, if all these people are ‘brilliant’ like you say…well, what are we doing here?”

    “What do you mean?” asked Alice, uncomprehending.

    “I mean, what do we have to contribute?”

    “Obviously something,” replied Sirius proudly, and I could’ve sworn he puffed out his chest a bit. “I mean, we were asked to be here.”

    “You prat,” snapped James, “She’s saying that we’re just a bunch of kids. Why would Dumbledore invite us?”

    I blinked, shocked that James had defended me.

    “Shh, he’s coming now,” whispered Alice, prodding me in the side as the hall silenced immediately. Dumbledore, serene as always, walked to the front of the hall where the teachers’ table usually sat. It reminded me intensely of all the welcoming feast speeches I had heard over the years I had been a student there. He still radiated that powerful presence, and although there were people in that room far older and wiser than us, they gazed at him with the same reverence.

    “Thank you all for coming,” he said cheerfully, his arms upraised. “Why don’t you all sit down?”

    Instead of the house tables, there was one long table where we all took our seats.

    “You must all be wondering why I called you all here,” he said, as we all sat down and he remained standing, “as for the circumstances that brought you here. All will be explained.

    “Let me get to the point,” he continued, his voice ringing with absolute authority over the hall. “We are in the midst of a war that we are not winning. More drastic measures should be taken if we are to defeat Voldemort.” Several people cringed. “Every person here I believe is trustworthy and a valuable asset to our cause. I have chosen you all with great care, ensuring that we have a broad range of view and opinion.” At this, I felt Dorcas glancing at me. I sensed rather than saw her smirking. “Now, it’s time to know who will support me.”

    For a moment no one said anything but simply stared at him, blankly. Dumbledore stood calmly with his hands behind his back, waiting patiently. Then, one by one, everyone stood.

    I realized then that no one had even asked what we were expected to do, what tasks we were to perform. We all trusted the wizard in front of us wholeheartedly, unabashedly. We would follow him blindly anywhere. Dumbledore smiled.

    “Excellent. From henceforth, the Order of the Phoenix is born.”

    Things became slightly clearer after that. Apparently, a lot needed to be done. He talked to several members individually, clearly appointing them tasks that required immediate attention. Then we were dismissed. We would be told of our next meeting.

    The four of us lagged behind in the entrance hall, waiting for Sirius, who had been one of the members of the Order who had been called to have a private audience with Dumbledore. One by one people filed out of the Great Hall, barely acknowledging us. Then Sirius came out.

    “What did Dumbledore want?” asked James immediately. I could tell that he was trying very hard to mask his envy at not being included – James hated being left in the dark about things. The fact that Sirius, who had always been his best mate and partner in crime at Hogwarts, had been asked to stay behind whilst James had not, I knew had struck a chord with James, although he’d never admit it.

    Sirius did not answer immediately but led us into the grounds. Frank and Alice, sensing that this was personal, left shortly after that, discussing the events of the night amongst themselves. The three of us headed over to stand behind the beech tree by the lake. Sirius leaned against the trunk, his arms folded, and said, “He wanted to know if I was still in contact with anyone in my family.” His usually handsome face looked paler than usual, and strained. “Regulus is dead.”

    Phew! Editing took a while on that one. If it's any comfort, 70 is halfway finished and will hopefully be updated shortly.

    I'd also like to thank you all! I cannot believe this story reached 3000 reviews! You are all amazing. I would never have been able to get this far without you! Please continue to review! I really love reading them.

    Thanks, guys!

    - Katie

    Thank you AnyaAndMerlin and KRenee for the corrections! They have been changed!

    UPDATE (again): I made a banner. I don't think I like it. Let me know what you all think of it, yeah? (Thank you padfoot4ever for the inspiration and the quote!)

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