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    Chapter Thirteen

    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.

    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!

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