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Underworld by Aphoride

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 3
Word Count: 14,079
Status: WIP

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

Genres: Drama, Horror/Dark, Mystery
Characters: Dumbledore, Mundungus, A. Longbottom, F. Longbottom, Moody, R. Lestrange, OtherCanon
Pairings: James/Lily, Other Pairing

First Published: 08/12/2011
Last Chapter: 06/19/2012
Last Updated: 06/19/2012

Summary:



It's August, 1978. Caradoc Dearborn, member of the Order of the Phoenix and businessman, is dancing on the edge of a knife, trying to balance the two, all the while attempting to evade the Death Eaters. All he wants is to keep going, one day at a time.

Little does he know that these will be the last nine months of his life.

Incredible banner by jane @TDA.


Chapter 1: New Recruits
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Chapter One: New Recruits

4th August 1978, 4:59 pm

He was watching the clock again, staring intently as the second hand ticked ever-so-slowly around the face, counting down the seconds to go until he could leave. A glance at his watch broke the monotony of his staring, but continued with the same theme. Aimlessly, he fiddled with a quill, pretending to be doing something - not that he needed to as he worked alone. Except for his secretary Trisha, but she didn’t really count. She never did, for some reason - to anyone.

Twenty-six seconds, twenty-five, twenty-four, twenty-three…

“Sir,” Trisha stepped inside, clutching a piece of parchment inside her hands. The envelope was sealed with the plain black circle everyone in his line of business used. He’d always wondered how the Ministry hadn’t managed to cotton on to that. “An owl just arrived for you with this. I thought it would be best to give it to you now, instead of waiting until tomorrow.”

Caradoc sighed. It looked like, once again, he wasn’t going to get to leave on time - let alone early. Something always came up.

“Alright,” he held out a hand for it and she deposited it in his palm quickly, loitering in front of his desk as though she wanted something. When he raised an eyebrow at her, she ducked her head and rushed out of the room, the back of her skirt flapping against her legs.

Breaking the seal with a muggle letter-opener he kept around for this very purpose, he waited a minute. When nothing happened, he tossed the letter-opener into the top drawer of his desk and pulled the piece of parchment out of the envelope. Whatever it was, it had better be bloody important, he thought sourly. He was working after-hours for this and it wasn’t as if anyone was going to give him extra pay for it.

I need a couple more things. We’ll meet in four days - same time, same place, same rules.

Turning it over, he picked up a little bottle of thick, red liquid he kept under lock-and-key (well, really it was just a couple of protective spells and a hex) for this very purpose and delicately allowed two drops of it to fall onto the parchment. The drops remained there for a moment, before sinking down into the paper, vanishing from sight.

Caradoc drummed his fingers on the table, sneaking a glance at the clock. Five past four already. Damn. Why did his clients always have to be so ridiculously over-dramatic and paranoid? If anything got messed up, it wouldn’t be their necks on the line, it would be his - it was written in the rules.

Eventually, a single word appeared on the back of it, inscribed in green ink:

Paladin

Caradoc stared at it, lips moving feverishly as he hastened to memorise the new watch-word for this particular client before the parchment burnt itself.

Sure enough, thirty-four seconds precisely after the word had appeared, the letters burst into flame, rapidly spreading to the rest of the parchment. Dropping it on the table immediately, he flexed his hands, thankful that he hadn’t burnt his fingertips this time. Burnt fingertips never made a good impression - and he was already going to be late.

Standing up, he reached for the leather-bound book on his desk, opened it to today’s page and flipped through to the eighth. A line was scratched through the rows labelled ‘five pm’ and ‘six pm’; then the book was thrust hastily into his pocket, even as he slammed the drawer of his desk shut. He didn’t bother to push his chair in, only just remembering to grab his cloak from the peg before he strode out of the door.

Trisha was already gone, her things neatly arranged on her desk just outside his office. She’d brought another flowerpot to the office again, he noticed. Fuchsias this time, he guessed, mostly due to the fact that they were a violent shade of pink. Why she wanted flowers to ‘liven the place up a bit’ he’d never know. He quite liked the depressing atmosphere.

As he trotted down the steps outside his building, his black cloak pulled tight around him, he forced himself not to glance at his watch again. He knew he would be late, there was no point commiserating over just how late he was going to be - besides, he reasoned, it’s not like some of the others would have had the graciousness to turn up on time anyway. Benjy Fenwick, for example, was a repeat offender. Not to mention there was always the danger that someone on the street could recognise you from something as simple and unassuming as your watch; it made no sense to add to the risk of getting killed.

Making his way down the street, he turned into a small side-alley, stepping past a drunk being robbed in the entrance and a pair of men haggling furiously over a small jar of something. Probably something stolen. He checked to see that he wasn’t standing in anything completely repulsive and that there was no one behind him, waiting to mug him (or worse, of course) and disapparated with a sharp turn of his heel.

He landed in a field, watched by a flock of curious sheep. Ignoring them, he made his way down through the grass and, jumping over the fence, onto the track below. It didn’t merit being called a road, in his opinion, due to the amount of sheer filth there was on it - mud, horse dung, sheep dung, it was impossible to know what was what and impossible to avoid it all. Today didn’t seem to be a good day, as he immediately stepped in something which he was pretty sure wasn’t mud. Trying to ignore the smell now emanating from his boots, he began to trudge up the road towards the house that sat less than five hundred metres away.

To his relief, Doge was at the door almost as soon as he had finished cleaning the muck off his boots, cloak and robes. Peering nervously outside, the man ushered Caradoc inside before pointing his wand suspiciously at him.

“What did you call me the first time we met?” he asked, his voice reedy but strong. Stronger than it had been the last time Caradoc had heard it.

“Come on, Doge, that’s an easy one,” Caradoc rolled his eyes. “Anyone could get it.”

“Answer the question,” Doge persisted, not moving an inch.

“Elias Doche,” he responded, walking past Doge when the latter nodded and lowered his wand.

When he entered the kitchen, he was surprised to see that nearly everyone else was there - the room was pretty much full. There wasn’t a spare chair in sight. It was a blessed relief, as the last time they’d met there’d been enough chairs that they could each have brought a friend and they’d still have had spares. Things were looking up, he hoped.

“Finally,” Frank Longbottom grinned at him, sitting next to a group of boys Caradoc wouldn’t have said had finished going through puberty, let alone were of age and able to fight. He hadn’t thought things were bad enough that they needed to bring in children. “We were starting to wonder where you were.” Although Frank’s tone was mainly teasing, there was that faint, always-present undercurrent of worry. Worry that he wouldn’t be turning up; worry that the Death Eaters had got him, that he was dead. It was all too possible.

“Am I the last to arrive?” he asked, conjuring himself a chair on Frank’s other side.

“No, Benjy’s on his way. He should be here in a minute, though. I saw him at the Ministry before I left - he said he had to clear up a couple of things before he came,” Frank explained, brushing his hair out of his eyes. “Dumbledore’s in the living room with Lily Evans, and Alice is on duty tonight, so that’s all of us accounted for.”

“Lily Evans?” Caradoc repeated the name, before something clicked in his mind. “Oh, right, she must be one of the new recruits.”

“Yeah, she is,” Frank nodded. “In fact, these are the new recruits here,” he indicated the four boys, who all immediately turned to look at him.

Caradoc glanced over them all quickly, allowing their faces and dress to imprint in his mind - he’d connect them to names once Frank had introduced them. A small, chubby boy sat gripping the underside of his chair with both hands, looking about him with wide eyes; next to him a thin young man in tatty robes (Caradoc immediately classified him as ‘half-blood’, seeing as he had none of the looks of the pureblood families); and a pair of young men whose features he recognised well enough to know their surnames at least.

A Black and a Potter. Odd - but then he’d seen odder things in his time, he supposed. Those two looked perfectly comfortable, even curious as they glanced around. To the latter boy’s credit, before Frank could introduce them all, he stuck out his hand and declared,

“James Potter, Auror-in-training and new member of the Order of the Phoenix.”

Caradoc couldn’t help but return his cheerful grin as best he could, shaking his hand firmly and replying with, “Caradoc Dearborn, businessman and middle-aged member of the Order of the Phoenix.”

The other boy - the Black - didn’t proffer his hand or grin.

“Sirius Black, same as Jamie here,” he nodded lazily, although his gaze was sharp as ice, a faint frown marring his features. “I’m sure I’ve heard of you before - what’s your line of business?”

“Trade,” he replied, only half lying. He wasn’t telling exactly what he did to any of these newcomers, seeing as he’d only just met them. Anyway, they’d find out sooner or later. It wouldn’t surprise him at all if the Black boy knew, he mused, aware that he was watching him out of the corner of his eye.

A few minutes later, when Dumbledore had glided into the room, followed by a young red-headed girl introduced as Lily Evans and he’d been told the other two were Peter Pettigrew and Remus Lupin respectively, the meeting started. As always, Dumbledore spent almost five minutes filling them all in on recent events, giving details the newspapers never mentioned in their articles, and enquiring after everyone’s health.

“Now, I trust you have all met our latest recruits,” he indicated the five newcomers with a wave of his hand. “James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew and Lily Evans - all former Gryffindors, may I add,” this got a small cheer from the former Gryffindors in the room - the Prewett twins being the most vocal. Caradoc himself just resisted the urge to roll his eyes: as a former Slytherin, he didn’t see the reason to promote any house above another. Houses weren’t important at this stage - it was belief.

It was odd, though, he thought, his eye caught by the Black boy as he laughed off the cheer with James Potter, for a Black to be placed in Gryffindor. Blacks had been in Slytherin for centuries; it was practically a birth-right. A Black in Gryffindor… well, he had no idea what to make of that, apart from resolving to keep an eye on him in the upcoming weeks.

A crack outside the house made them all jump and Dumbledore stopped speaking. Several members reached for their wands. He felt his own fingers straying towards his pocket, heart pumping fast. They couldn’t possibly have found them, could they? They’d used every security measure available.

“Shall I go and see who it is?” Moody asked in a low voice, his eyes boring holes into the door, tense as always.

“No, no need,” Dumbledore shook his head with a smile as footsteps rushed through the house and Benjy Fenwick ran into the room, his travelling cloak askew and glasses slipping off the end of his nose.

“Sorry I’m late,” he panted, perching himself on the hard-backed chair Professor McGonagall conjured for him. “I got caught up at the Ministry - Travers wanted a word.”

“Somebody ought to ask him a question,” Moody growled, watching Benjy closely, as though he expected him to morph into a Death Eater any second.

“That is unnecessary, Alastor,” Dumbledore replied. “He is indeed Benjy Fenwick; there is no cause for alarm.

“As we are all now here, I shall move onto the real reasons for why we are here today,” he looked grave and, in the candlelight, very old. “I am not going to try and tell you otherwise: Voldemort and his Death Eaters are growing stronger, even as the Ministry grows weaker and weaker. Our strength and our support has never been more important. I believe that Lord Voldemort can be defeated, it’s just a matter of time and of faith. We must persevere, my friends, and keep faith.

“Alastor, I understand you and Frank have some news from the Auror Department,” he turned to the grizzled Auror, who nodded once.

“There have been reports of Death Eater sightings near Hogsmeade, as well as around the magical centres of Manchester, Bristol and Durham. Intelligence suggests that the Magical Institution of Fine Art may be the next target. A load of codswallop - it’s not worth anything to them. Not enough damage to society,” Moody rolled his eyes and Caradoc suppressed a smirk, noticing the Prewett twins exchanging grins. “Nevertheless, there will be an Auror presence there for the rest of the month, so there’s no need to worry about that. In the mean time, intelligence also suggests that the Death Eaters are using trade links to send messages to supporters in other countries and bring illegal substances into Britain to use against us and civilians. Other than that, there’s not really much except a remainder of security procedures and vigilance.”

“Thank you, Alastor,” Dumbledore nodded. “Minerva and I shall see to it that the defences and precautions around Hogsmeade are strengthened, particularly on those weekends when the students visit. Caradoc,” he looked up on hearing his name, tearing his gaze away the wall. “Is there anything you could do about the trade links? Perhaps monitor intelligence or try and limit the products reaching the Death Eaters?”

Everyone’s gaze turned onto him, but he felt Sirius Black’s more than most.

“I’m not sure,” he answered truthfully. “Most of my fellows keep their business very quiet - no one shares details of anything, regardless of the reputation of their client or the nature of the job. As for stopping things getting to Death Eaters,” he shrugged. “There’s no way to tell who is one and who isn’t, let alone who’s faking it and who’s the real deal. It’ll be extremely risky, and I doubt I’ll be able to do much, but I’ll see what I can do.”

Dumbledore’s blue eyes twinkled at him.

“Has anything suspicious come into the country recently?” he asked in an almost absent tone. Caradoc knew better: he was asked this question every time he attended a meeting.

“Nothing at the moment,” he shook his head briefly.

“Thank you,” Dumbledore inclined his head. “Now, I would like to make a suggestion. I should like two or three of our more senior members to take the position of mentors towards our recruits,” he held up a hand as James Potter made to open his mouth, eyes flashing indignantly. “Not because I deem them incapable or any less talented than any of the rest of you, but just to keep an eye on them, perhaps help and guide them through tricky situations. Any volunteers?”

“I’ll do it,” Marlene McKinnon offered, giving the group a smile.

“Excellent,” Dumbledore beamed. “Any others?”

“I will,” Frank added; Caradoc kept his mouth firmly shut, despite well aware that Dumbledore was looking at him. What with his business and Order work, not to mention this new assignment, his plate was pretty full already - he had no wish to add more to it.

After a few more uncomfortable seconds, Moody put himself forward as the third person, stating that the new ones would need ‘all the advice they could get’, a statement which made Pettigrew pale dramatically, looking quite faint. Caradoc was surprised he didn’t squeak with fright.

“I regret that I must take my leave of you now,” Dumbledore announced, standing up with Elphias Doge beside him, ready to escort him out. “But I do wish the rest of you a good evening, and good luck until we meet again.” The sentiment was echoed back on all sides as the Headmaster made his way out of the room, falling into conversation with Doge as he went, his hand clasped behind his back.

Instantly, James Potter leaned towards Frank and Caradoc, the light flashing off his wire-rimmed glasses, his eyes alight with a faint fervour that unnerved him. He’d only previously seen that kind of zeal in the eyes of the pureblood fanatics.

“So,” he asked eagerly. “When are we going to get to fight Death Eaters?” Beside him, Remus Lupin rolled his eyes.

“Soon enough,” Caradoc muttered in response, eliciting a frown from both James and Frank; the former because he didn’t understand.

“Lighten up, Doc, he’s just curious,” Frank commented, before turning to James. “Usually there’s an attack every two or three weeks, so it’ll probably be relatively soon, given that the last one was ten days ago.”

“Was anyone hurt?” Lily Evans wanted to know, her big green eyes worried and sympathetic. Internally, he wondered how she’d cope with being a part of the Order - she seemed too delicate, too caring and sensitive to last for long.

“A couple of minor injuries, nothing major,” Frank shrugged, adding under his breath, “Thank Merlin.” Caradoc gave a brief nod, acknowledging that he had heard. He understood the sentiment too. They hadn’t yet lost a member, but there had been a number of close calls, with Dorcas Meadowes notably going missing for five days the year before, and it was a well known fact that the Auror ranks, even supplemented with fresh-faced Hogwarts graduates, were being thinned by the day.

“How does this work?” Lupin questioned curiously, his eyes alighting on Caradoc rather than Frank. “Does everyone have the same basic tasks and then special jobs, or does everyone do different things?”

“Well, everyone fights, first off,” Caradoc told him. “And then if anyone hears anything they report it, but apart from that each person has specific tasks relating to their life outside the Order. Frank, Alastor and Alice - who’s at work tonight - are in the Auror department so they pass us information from that side, so we can co-operate with them. I’m in trade, so I keep track of things the Death Eaters might be using against us, try and find out whose buying what, that sort of thing. Benjy Fenwick’s in International Relations, so he keeps us updated on that front. It’s mostly a case of what you can do.”

“I hope there’s something I can do,” James mused. “But it seems like you’ve got a load of Aurors already.”

“At least you’ve got a job,” Remus Lupin replied gloomily. “At least there’s a possibility of you doing something other than fighting.”

“Oh, don’t worry, Dumbledore will probably find you something to do if you want,” Marlene McKinnon, who had ambled over to join them as Benjy Fenwick, who she had been talking to, had had to rush off home, smiled at him. “I’m Marlene, by the way, Marlene McKinnon.”

“Really? I might do that then,” Remus nodded thoughtfully. “Thank you.”

“It’s nothing,” Marlene assured him, conjuring herself a chair in the half-circle that had been formed on this side of the table. “So did you all just graduate this year?”

“Yeah,” Remus replied, as the others nodded. “James and Lily were Head Boy and Girl.”

Marlene gave a small smile, “Dumbledore likes to recruit Head Boys and Girls. I was Head Girl, Frank was Head Boy, Emmeline was a Prefect - I don’t know about the others.” It took him a minute to realise that she was looking at him curiously, as were the others. With a sigh, he supposed he would have to mention this - it couldn’t hurt, though, as long as he didn’t mention names.

“I wasn’t a Prefect or Head Boy,” he shrugged. “There were others in my House who could fill that position much better than me.”

“What House were you in?” Lily Evans wanted to know. “Gryffindor?”

Caradoc stared at her for a few seconds. Did she think everyone in the Order of the Phoenix was a former Gryffindor? Was she so naïve to believe only Gryffindors had the guts and the stomach to resist Voldemort? Oddly, though, the most pressing question in his mind was: why did she think I was a Gryffindor? Do I scream Gryffindor?

“No, I was a Slytherin,” he replied shortly, enjoying the way her mouth formed a perfect ‘o’ as she realised that she may very well have made a mistake.

“I’m sorry,” she apologised, and she sounded like she meant it, which was unusual. “I didn’t realise - I mean, I thought -”

“That all purebloods were Death Eater fanatics,” Caradoc finished for her. “No problem, lots of people make that mistake. It’s entirely untrue, though, look at your friend Black there,” he indicated Sirius, who scowled at him, his eyes a storm. “His family are pretty much as fanatical as you can get without being a Death Eater, and he’s here. You trust him, don’t you?”

Lily was now blushing, clashing with her hair, but he ignored it. The feelings had been bubbling up for some time: the bitterness, the fear that he wasn’t trusted, the concern that the word ‘Slytherin’ classed you as on the other side. It felt good to vent; the little voice in the back of his head telling him that it wasn’t fair to dump this all on her went unheard.

“Exactly,” he continued when she said nothing. “Houses don’t matter any more, they don’t mean anything out here. It’s impossible to know who to trust without bringing petty school rivalries into play as well.” Taking a deep breath, he stood up, feeling weary.

“You off then?” Frank asked, eying him warily. He could understand the concern; he hadn’t blown up like this in almost two years, since he was only a raw recruit himself. It certainly wasn’t his usual behaviour.

“Yeah, I should be getting home - got some things to sort out,” he lied smoothly. “I’ll see you next meeting, then?”

“Nah, Alice said to ask you if you wanted to come over for dinner some time soon - she thinks you can’t cook for yourself,” Frank grinned, waving off Caradoc’s attempted excuses. “Let me know when you’re free and we’ll see if we can find a date. You’re not getting out of this one that easily.”

Holding back a sigh (he knew Frank and Alice only meant well), he nodded.

“I will do,” he assured him, making his way over to the door, exchanging a pair of brief nods with Emmeline Vance and Moody as he left.

Even as he left, he could hear Marlene’s voice faintly, “Don’t mind him, Lily, he’s not usually like that - a tough day at work, I expect -”. Shutting the front door behind himself, he ran a hand along his jaw line. Well, that could have gone a lot better. Feeling incredibly grateful to Marlene for making excuses for him - what else could she do, after all? - he made a mental note to apologise in person to Lily Evans next time he saw her. He owed it to her.

As there was no one in sight, he disapparated on the top step, reappearing with a crack in a small, wooden shed. Cursing, he lifted his foot out of the trough of dragon fertiliser and drew his wand, Scourgifying it before the smell could sink in any further than it already had. He’d wash his boots later, just to be sure.

Slipping out of the shed, he locked it behind him and made his way up the lawn to the block of flats rising up in front of him. He should really have changed out of his robes into something more suitable for prancing around muggles in, but times were difficult and it would be nearly impossible to explain why he had muggle clothing with him to his clients. Besides, most of his block-mates had seen him about in this dress, and the story had got around that he was a magician, or worked for an acting company. Either one was fine by him.

This evening, he reached the door of his flat without seeing as single person and, upon hearing his neighbour Mrs Cartwright coming to the door, quickly darted inside, shutting the door and bolting it. A thin golden line drew itself around the edge of the doorframe, encompassing the door, before fading away. No unwanted visitors, then.

He turned away from the door, pulling his hood down and his cloak off his shoulders, flinging it onto a suitcase rack that had never seen a suitcase in it’s life. Crossing the living room, he stepped into his bedroom, pulling his dragon-hide boots off and throwing them through the open door at the other side of the room and into the bathtub. Next to go were his robes, which joined the boots shortly, the end of them stained with various questionable brown substances. Thankfully the combined smell didn’t carry out of the bathroom.

A flick of his wand, which he had rescued from his robes pocket just before he flung them into the bath, summoned a Butterbeer from his kitchen to his hand. It didn’t taste quite as good as they did from The Three Broomsticks, as his sat in the freezer, but he was used to it. Tapping the top of the bottle with a finger, he sent the cap flying off into his room somewhere. He didn’t bother to go and find it.

He walked back into his living room and sat on the sofa, slumping comfortably into the cushions with a sigh. This new mission from Dumbledore… well, he couldn’t have refused it, could he? But, on the other hand, he had no idea how he was going to do it without risking his cover and his life. Staring into the fireplace, he took mouthfuls of Butterbeer, thinking about nothing at all. He’d work out the details later.
 
 
 


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