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(November, 1978) 



 

"We have had two more attacks on Wizarding London," a man named Alastor said, his scratchy voice grating the ears of the members of the Order of the Phoenix. James and Sirius were both a bit lax, their posture slouched, arms around Lily and Dorcas respectively. 




 

"And what more can we do about it?" Sirius asked, twirling his fingers through Dorcas' hair and gaining a few titters from the room of newly trained Order members. 




 

"You think that's funny, Black?" Everyone stopped laughing and Sirius raised a dark eyebrow at Alastor. 




 

"I think it's inevitable," he said solemnly, his nose twitching as Alastor challenged him. 




 

"Well then maybe you should get your skinny arse up and move back to Grimmuald Place. Don't think that's too funny, do you boy?" Sirius sat up straighter and untangled himself from Dorcas. 



 

 


 

"Let's be honest. It's been months since anything really bad has happened," Sirius retorted. "I haven't had this little action since before puberty." Some of the older member's faces grew annoyed, and Dorcas coughed pointedly. 



 

"I think that's quite enough," Frank Longbottom said from the other side of the room. 


 

"Don't get your panties in a twist, Longbottom," he muttered. 

 

 


 

"Oi!" Peter exclaimed, clutching his leg. Lily's face turned red quickly and everyone burst out laughing at her failed effort to punish Sirius. Alastor's palm slammed down on the table, and everyone stopped laughing again.  


 

He tossed a folded up Daily Prophet into the center of the table, and Dorcas reached forward to unfold the corner. The silence was more evident now that everyone saw what graced the front page. 


 

"When did this come out?" Remus asked, reaching across the table and picking up the paper in disbelief. 

 

 


 

"Advance edition," the man coughed out, holding onto his knobbled cane and making his way around the table to Remus. "It'll run tomorrow. Why don't you read that for us, Lupin?" Remus swallowed deeply and his face lost a bit of color. 

 

 


 

"Vance Manor Collapsed." He paused, refusing to lift his eyes to Marlene, who he knew would be quite choked up about this. "Bodies found include, Emmeline (18), Stephen II (17), and Isabel (13)Vance, all survived by their father, Stephen Vance. For more information, turn to page 4." He folded the paper again, and threw it to the middle of the table. 


 

There was more silence. No one dared make a noise, and everyone feared Alastor's stare. 


 

"Do you lot think this is a joke?" No one answered again, but Marlene's mouth tensed and her lips pursed. 


 

"You'll get your assignments tomorrow," Gideon Prewett butt in exhaustedly. "You're free to go." The newest recruits backed out of their chairs quickly and James held the door for everyone. 


"Potter," Alastor said, motioning with a  twisted finger to come join him at the table that was now vacated. James held the door for Lily last, and squeezed her hand when she widened her eyes in fear. He let the door shut on her and joined Alastor at the table. 

 

"Yes sir?" 



  
"Don't call me sir, Potter. Come sit." James sat down across from Alastor and did his best to ignore the spider crawling around on the other end of the table. 
 

"Do you want to be here?" he asked. James' head snapped back up and he looked at Alastor in confusion. 


 

"Of course, Alastor." 




"It was your job to look after the Vance's." James ran his hand through his hair and wiped his nose where his glasses rested. "Look boy. When you get out there it's different than the training room." Alastor leaned forward on the table, his hands clasped. "Miss Evans isn't going to forgive you when it's her you get killed." James' mouth fell open and he blinked a couple of times to stop the tears from coming. "You understand?" James nodded quickly and looked away from the older man. "Go get some rest," he said, standing up. "You've all got a big day tomorrow." 

 

 

 


 






 

 

"Morning, everybody," Gideon said, placing a manila folder in front of each of the seven attending members. 




 

"Why do the meetings have to be at 5:30 in the bloody morning?" Peter asked, clearly disgruntled. Gideon ignored him and continued with his business. 




 

"Your new assignments are in the folders. Any questions, I'll be available through floo at headquarters." He walked out without another word, slamming the door. 




 

"What's his problem?" Sirius asked the room. No one answered. 




 

"He's the one who recommended us in the first place, you prick," Marlene said, standing up and slapping his head with her folder as she walked to the other side of the room. Sirius continued sneering.



 

 



 

"I'm undercover again?" he exclaimed in exasperation. 



 

 



 

"Looks like I'm stuck with you," Marlene said, disgusted at his unappreciative nature. "Go get a drink or something before we start. I'm not going to be able to deal with you if you're going to act like a pissy little teenager the entire day." She slammed the door, like Gideon, to emphasize her point. 




 

"Who put a stick up her arse?" Sirius asked, picking up a cigarette before having it smacked out of his grip by Dorcas. 




 

"Try the Vance's, Sirius. Or were you too drunk last night to even remember that?" She took a deep sigh and picked up her folder, glancing down and then back up at Peter and James. "Looks like we're on a training day again, boys." She clapped them on the shoulders, and led them out of the room, taking a quick glance back at Sirius who hadn't even reached for his fallen smoke. 




 

"What're you still doing here Evans?" Sirius asked darkly, pulling out another cigarette and lighting it. Lily flicked her eyes to his angrily, but said nothing. "Fine." He pushed back out of his chair and bent down, picking up the fallen stick and flicking it out the window across from him. 




 

"You can't do this to them again." Sirius' hand stopped on the doorknob, his mouth tightening. Lily looked up at him, hoping that her old friend would come back for a second to understand.


 

He took the new cigarette in his hand, blowing out a stream of smoke. "I'm with Dorcas, Lil. It's not my fault McKinnon can't get that through her pretty little head. And we both know none of that was my fault." He turned the doorknob again, and cracked open the door.




 

"I wasn't talking about that, Sirius." Lily stood up, her hands flat on the table, her arms straight. "I'm talking about the chip on your shoulder. It's bothering everyone, even James. So cut it out before someone else gets hurt." Lily's jaw unclenched as Sirius' grip on the doorknob fell. "You don't know how much you hurt us when you're like this." He opened the door again, and Lily walked over to him, taking her folder and heading out of the room past him. 




 

"When you're good, you're great!" Lily said, trying to get through to him. "But when you're bad, it's devastating." She placed a hand on his shoulder, and Sirius shook it off. "Don't get bad again, Sirius." 



 

 


 








 

The woman made her way smoothly through the crowd of various photographers and reporters. Walking in her heels without a stumble, she strut over the familiar gravel of the Vance's summer estate. 




 

"Excuse me," she said politely, nudging a man with a rather large camera to the side. Her 'The Daily Prophet' press badge swung around her neck, and the words Head Assistant to Rita Skeeter helped to clear her path. 




 

"Mr. Vance!" the voices chorused, deafening and with insincere sympathy. There was a barrier ahead. And although it was invisible it was powerful against unwelcome strangers. And after the tragedy, there were only a few that were welcomed on the estate anymore.




 

Her brunette bob swung back and forth about her shoulders as she power-walked through the blockade and up to the front stoop. Leaning forward to reach the intercom button, the crowd broke into shushed whispers. 




 

"Hello Victor," she said, emphasizing each word so it would reach the family's doorman without trouble. "It's Mary. Can you let Stephen know I'm here?" Her finger came off the button, and the man named Victor answered. 




 

"Hello Miss McDonald! Certainly." And with that, one Mary Ann McDdonald of The Daily Prophet was buzzed into the summer estate of the family that had been ripped apart only a week ago. Mary leaned forward again, reaching to rub the sign that read Vance Summer Estate with her gloved index and middle finger. 




 

The sweeping French doors on her left opened widely, and a stocky man in a suit smiled cordially at Mary. She walked in the doors swiftly, suddenly realizing that she would be bombarded with questions too if she didn't get a move on. 




 

"Hi Victor," she answered with a small smile. It had to be hard for him to smile after everything that happened. It was hard for Mary, too. He took her jacket and hung it in a coat closet to the right before stooping to her height to give a quick hug. 



 

 



 

"Long time no see, Mary," he said, not meaning to imply anything, but doing it all the same. Mary hadn't visited the Vance's since Emmeline's graduation party in June. He led them down the hallway, not needing to ask why she was there. He eyed her press badge with a bit of disdain. Even in knowing Mary wanted to become a reporter, no one thought that she would do so.




 

Stephen Vance came into view, his white collared shirt untucked and his black dress pants scuffed at the bottoms with mud. He held a bottle of firewhiskey in his left hand, and a clearly unused glass sat on the table on his right. 




 

"Mary!" he exclaimed drunkenly, putting the bottle down in what he probably thought was a very refined manner. She smiled at him sadly, taking the lanyard that hung around her neck off and leaning forward to give the man a hug. She sat in the squishy armchair on his right, the table separating them. 




 

"Hi Mr. Vance. How've you been?" she asked, taking the bottle off the floor and handing it to Victor discreetly, smiling gratefully. 




 

"I'm so tired, Mar-bare," he said, patting her knee. Mary put her hand over his, and her red lips screwed up. "I miss them." His vacant expression worried Mary.



 

 



 

"Me too, Stephen. I'm so sorry." Her quick quotes quill appeared out of her purse quickly, hanging on her right. 




 

"Do we have to do this right now?" he sputtered out, motioning loosely to the quill and pad. 




 

"Just a couple of questions," she pleaded. "I'm sorry if it's too forward Stephen. I could lose my job."




 

"Well I lost my family. I guess we'll be even." Mr. Vance tipped an imaginary bottle to his lips. "Damn you, Victor," he muttered to himself. 




 

"What happened?" Mary asked, pushing forward. The state her faux-father was in was easy to manipulate. 




 

"I went to work." He gulped and the quill began moving rapidly, hanging on his every word. "I came home to a bonfire." Mary licked her lips hungrily, forgetting about her red stain. 




 

"Is there anything else you remember? Anything that suggested something suspicious?" Mary was desperate. 




 

"Do you mean Morsmordre?" Mary sat back at the mention of the spell, blinking and pushing the quill back in her bag as the man she once knew fell apart. "You can say it Mary!" He laughed hoarsely, clutching the arm of the chair with a shivering hand. 




 

"I think it's time to go, Miss McDonald. Mr. Vance needs to lie down," a man in a stark white coat said. He pushed past Mary and placed his wand at the crook of Mr. Vance's arm. There was a small glow, and Mr. Vance relaxed into the chair, his expression going flaccid. 




 

Mary scooped up her purse from the floor quickly and stumbled as she rushed to get up. The heel on one of her shoes cracked, and was now half the size of the other. This made for an awkward and quiet hindered exit. 




 

It's been nice to see you Miss McDonald," Victor said as he ushered out the front door. 




 

"But maybe I could just-" she yelped back up at the intimidating man as he shut the door on her. Mary leaned up against the side of the door, her composure thrown out the window. Some reporters were still pushing up against the barrier to try and get into the white-brick mansion, but most had gone home for the day. Mary sighed, but picked herself up and hobbled off the property, just getting far enough to apparate with a snap.






 

 




 








As Mary snapped back to the London office, she rapped on the maple door that led to Rita Skeeter's upper office. She wanted to let her know personally what happened. This way Rita wouldn't get any skewed versions of the story that included Mary chickening out at the last second. Mary couldn't afford that. 




 

"Hi Mary. Just hold up your badge and I can unlock the door," Roberta Rodgers said from the other side of the door. Mary searched her chest for her badge. Then her bag. Then the surrounding area before coming up empty. 




 

"Shit! I think I left it at the Vance's." There was silence on the other end. "Can't you just let me in, Ro? I'll get it tomorrow. I don't think Mr. Vance is going to let me back in right now," she mumbled in shame. 




 

"Sorry Mary," Roberta answered. "New protective measures. I can't let you in unless I can see your badge." 




 

"You must be kidding, Roberta," Mary yelled at the door, gaining a few straying stares off the dimly lit street. Everyone else was going home for the night. 




 

"I'm really sorry Mary." There was more silence from the other end and Mary kicked the door in anger. 




 

"Maybe I should've taken up with the Gryffindor's," she said to herself, sinking down to the ground and letting her head fall into her hands. 




 






 

 




 

(May, 1979)





 



"Goodbye Mary." The man walked out of her room without another word. She sat back in her office chair, confused as to how no one else noticed the mysterious figure coming out onto the main floor. She just could not believe any of this. She was muggleborn. What would they want with her anyway?






 



 

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