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Chapter Four

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. “ 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.


“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.

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