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Chapter 45: Chapter 45
‘James. Hey, Potter.’ James swallowed the rest of his Nutritional Supplement Potion with a grimace and turned around.
‘Hi, Alice,’ he said, confused. While he and Alice were on friendly enough terms, it was Lily who usually got a greeting from the sixth year.
‘Hi,’ she said. ‘The Headmaster told me to give you this.’ She passed over a scroll of parchment.
‘What were you doing with the Headmaster?’ Remus - who had just arrived back from the Hospital Wing - asked. He gave James a bright smile to show he was feeling fine. James nodded discreetly, while raising an eyebrow to enquire about Peter; while Padfoot and Moony had been playing last night, Wormtail had ventured a little too close and Padfoot had stepped on him. His leg was broken, as well as several of his ribs, and he had a concussion. James pitied him, having experienced almost identical injuries at the hands of the Death Eaters. Remus winced but inclined his head, a sign that Peter was recovering, but that it was going slowly and he was in pain.
‘Frank and I were- It’s not important,’ Alice said blushing, while James and Remus sniggered into their breakfasts.
‘All right,’ James said, finally managing to summon his maturity. ‘Sorry, Alice. Thank you.’ She made a face and still looking mortified, went to sit down next to Marlene and Lily; the latter had received an owl from Mary.
‘What does Dumbledore have to say?’ Remus asked.
James unrolled the parchment. ‘James,’ he read, just loud enough for Remus to hear, ‘I would like a word with you this morning regarding certain sensitive matters; I understand you have a free lesson after breakfast. Bring nothing but the knowledge of my love of Liquorice Wands.’ James stared at the note. ‘What do you think “certain sensitive matters” are?’ he asked worriedly.
Remus shrugged. ‘Have you pulled any pranks lately?’
James thought for a moment and then shook his head. ‘The only one I’ve pulled since I got back was getting Peeves to Shampoo Snape.’
‘How on earth did you manage that?’ Remus said, looking awed. While Peeves was... sympathetic to the Marauders’ pranking cause, he was often more of a hindrance than a helper. It was a pity, really. Together, they had such potential.
‘Paid him off with Dungbombs,’ James said proudly.
‘And you didn’t get caught?’
‘Of course not,’ James said, insulted. ‘Besides, Shampooing Snivelly is hardly “sensitive” is it?’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Morning,’ Sirius said, flopping down next to James.
‘Morning,’ James said. ‘How’s Wormtail?’
‘Pissed. He’s been spouting fat jokes all morning while Madam Pomfrey’s out of earshot.’
‘You did step on him,’ Remus said, glancing at James, who was trying desperately not to laugh. Peter being hurt wasn’t funny at all, but the fact that Sirius had stepped on him was.
‘Yeah, but I also carried him all the way back to the bloody castle, from the middle of the Forbidden Forest. If anyone should be making fat jokes, it’s me!’ James lost his battle to keep from laughing and sprayed Sirius with Pumpkin juice. ‘Thanks, Prongs,’ Sirius said, bemused, as he siphoned the mess away with his wand.
‘You're welcome,’ James choked, while Remus roared with laughter.
‘Who’s the letter from?’ Sirius asked. James threw it at him. ‘Dumbledore wants to see you?’ James nodded. ‘Why- Fuck, Prongs, what if this is about last night? What if he knows about us being... er...’ He didn’t have to finish. James paled. What if Dumbledore knew about them being Animagi? Dumbledore, mad though he was, was not stupid. He’d know better than to think that Peter receiving substantial injuries on the night of the full-moon was not coincidence, even if they had told Madam Pomfrey that a Slytherin had pushed him down a flight of stairs.
‘Fuck,’ Remus said. He tensed his jaw. ‘I’m going with you, James. We can tell him that you only managed to do it last night, and that you’re planning to register over the Christmas break. I’ll say you did it for me and-’
‘You can’t come,’ James said. ‘He wants me to go alone. “Bring nothing”, remember. Maybe he doesn’t know about all of us. Maybe he just knows about me and Pete.’
‘If he knows about one, he knows about us all. There’s no way he’d think I’d sit out,’ Sirius said, ‘and there’s also no way that Pete would get it before I did.’
‘Maybe he doesn’t know,’ James said. ‘Maybe this is about something else.’ He doubted it though. He couldn’t think of anything else that he’d done.
‘Maybe you should just not go,’ Sirius suggested. Remus and James both stared at him. ‘Okay, it’s a bad idea-’
‘It’s a terrible idea,’ Remus corrected. ‘Look, Prongs, just go. Don’t say anything until he brings it up. Don’t tell him anything more than he needs to know. If you have to lie to him, do it, and tell us the story straight away so we can back you up.’
‘I’m not going to lie to him,’ James said. He respected the Headmaster too much to do that.
‘I know. But I don’t want you expelled because of me,’ Remus said, staring at the table.
‘Rem, it was our choice,’ James said gently. Sirius nodded.
‘You wouldn’t have done it if my... problem... hadn’t existed.’
‘I think we might have,’ Sirius said thoughtfully. ‘Third, fourth and fifth year would have been terribly boring otherwise.’ Remus half-smiled but he still looked worried.
James laughed nervously. ‘All right, I’m going.’
‘Good luck,’ Sirius said sincerely. Remus nodded.
* * *
James knocked on Dumbledore’s office door. ‘Come in,’ Dumbledore said pleasantly. James pushed the door open. ‘Good morning, dear boy. Thank you for coming.’ James nodded. ‘Please, sit down.’ James did. Dumbledore smiled at him. ‘I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve asked you to come.’
‘I have my theories,’ James said slowly, praying Dumbledore didn't know.
Dumbledore chuckled. ‘You’re not in trouble, James.
‘Okay,’ James said, suspiciously.
Dumbledore smiled. ‘Do you recall the curriculum outline that Professor Gurdan spoke about, back in September.’
‘Yes, sir,’ James said, trying to think back. ‘He said we’d be doing a mimic of the Auror Training Program.’
‘He did,’ Dumbledore agreed. ‘Originally, the Unforgivables were going to be covered in October, but neither of us thought the class was ready. Some members of the class had trouble repelling Boggarts, after all. Professor Gurdan was hoping to cover the Unforgivables next week, before the holidays, since there isn’t a lot of study that can be done around them. It is my understanding that he’ll set you an essay on the morality of using such curses.’
‘All right,’ James said, confused now, though relieved at the direction the conversation was taking.
‘I have given him my permission to place students under the Imperius curse for a short time, since experience is the only way to learn to counter its affects. I trust Nicholas Gurdan not to abuse such power, though being cursed will be optional.’
‘Have you written to students’ parents about this?’ James said frowning.
‘I have not,’ Dumbledore said. ‘All seventh year students are of age for a start, and I believe you all capable of making your own decisions. Furthermore, I do not believe that parents that all families will understand the implications – the Evans’ for example – or that the families will have their child’s best interests at heart – the Blacks.’
‘Yes, sir,’ James said, understanding.
‘I can see you’re still wondering why I am telling you all of this,’ Dumbledore said, looking worried. ‘It is also my intention to expose students to the Cruciatus Curse.’ James felt sick, his hand gripping his wand tightly. Dumbledore obviously noticed. ‘I assure you, dear boy, that Nicholas will not be casting the spell on students.’ James relaxed slightly. ‘He will be placing the curse on an object. A stone of some sort, I believe, that willing students will be able to touch. No one will be forced to do so, and Poppy Pomfrey will be on hand the entire time.’
James still felt sick, though he released his wand. ‘Why?’
‘Because I believe the students need to understand. I lived through the war with Grindelwald, and I have seen too many young people commit their lives to fighting, with no true understanding of what is at stake.’
‘You hope it will serve as a deterrent,’ James said. Dumbledore nodded. ‘That they’ll be so afraid of the pain that they won’t fight.’
Dumbledore nodded again and then sighed. ‘Though I hope otherwise, I do not believe that every student within these walls is pure of heart.’ Which was a kind way of saying he suspected there were Death Eaters, James realised. ‘There are also those few who will fight the darkness.’
‘And then there are those who are neither,’ James muttered, thinking of people like Regulus and Lockhart.
‘Exactly. I would prefer those few to stay neutral, than to be turned to the dark by delusions of power, or safety.’
James didn’t particularly like it, but he understood. Some of it, at least: ‘I’m sorry, sir, but why are you telling me all of this?’
The twinkle in Dumbledore’s blue eyes vanished. ‘I am telling you this because, despite everything you have experienced this year – the loss of your family, and being tortured by Voldemort himself as well as his followers – you have stayed strong, and you have never lost sight of what is important. You are one of those few who will fight the darkness, dear boy, and I would not have you doubt me over Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson plans.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I needed you to understand why I was exposing my students to these horrors, so that you would not believe me as bad as Voldemort himself.’
‘I wouldn’t believe that,’ James protested.
‘Thank you, James, but I saw your face when I first mentioned it.’ James reddened. ‘I needed you to understand, because allies are hard to find and I would not have them lost through misunderstanding.’
‘I would like you to join the Order of the Phoenix.’
James was stunned into silence. Finally, he managed to ask, ‘Sir, what is the Order of the Phoenix, exactly. I’ve made guesses, but-’
‘The Order of the Phoenix is an organisation I set up three years ago, when Voldemort first came into power. I have hand-selected individuals to stand alongside me, to fight Voldemort and his followers.’
‘And-and you want me to join?’ James asked.
‘I would,’ Dumbledore said. ‘Though only if that’s agreeable to you.’
James thought for a moment. He thought about his parents, about his aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents. He thought about Noddy, whose unmarked body had been discovered two days after his release from St Mungo’s. Then, he thought about Sirius, Remus and Peter. His brothers. If he joined, would they? Would they want to? Would Dumbldore let them? James felt a light breeze on the back of his neck and caught a faint trace of lilies. He hid a smile. And Lily. Would she want to commit her life to fighting Voldemort? If she did, how would he cope with the idea of her being in constant danger? ‘I’d like to, but there are people I need to talk to before I sign my life away. Would you come out, please?’
Dumbledore started, jumping about a foot off his chair as Lily, Sirius and Remus threw the Cloak off, looking guilty. ‘How-?’ Dumbledore stammered. James felt more than a little proud; it wasn’t often that Albus Dumbledore was rendered speechless.
‘We’re the Marauders, Albus,’ Sirius said brightly. ‘Although, right now we’re missing Pete and we have Lily, but you get the gist.’
‘Indeed,' Dumbledore said faintly.
‘How much did you hear?’ James asked.
Remus glanced at the recovering Headmaster; apparently he wasn’t used to having students materialising in the middle of his office. ‘From “I trust Nicholas Gurdan”.’
James nodded, grinning. ‘Right. Five points off from each of you for eavesdropping, five off from Sirius for taking my Cloak without permission and another five off for almost killing the Headmaster.’ Dumbledore chuckled. ‘And then you can have ten each for excellent timing.’ Dumbledore chuckled again and conjured them all chairs.
The other three sat. ‘If James is joining,’ Sirius said, ‘then I am too.’
‘I see,’ Dumbledore said. ‘I suppose this is true for you, Mr Lupin, and you, Miss Evans?’ James suspected Dumbledore was going to let them join but wanted to hear what they had to say first.
‘James has our support to join,’ Lily told Dumbledore. James raised his eyebrows and could have sworn she smiled slightly. ‘After everything he’s been through, he deserves the chance to fight back.’
‘You would sit back and watch?’ Dumbledore asked, looking surprised. James hid a smile; he could see on Sirius’ face where this was going.
‘Of course not,’ Lily said.
‘If you don’t let us join this Order of the Phoenix,’ Sirius said, ‘then that’s fine. We’ll just make our own little gang to fight Voldemort. We’ll name it... er... the Unicorn Association.’
‘Unicorn?’ Remus mouthed, looking mortified.
‘Is there something wrong with that?’ Sirius sniffed.
‘Yes,’ Lily said bluntly. ‘Voldemort would laugh at you.’ Sirius’ face fell. James smothered a laugh. ‘Sir, I’m a muggleborn. For me, it’s fight or die. And I will fight whether I have an organisation to pledge myself to or not.’
‘As will I,’ Remus said.
‘There’s nothing wrong with Unicorns,’ Sirius muttered, nodding, ‘but really, Unicorns, Phoenixes... what does it matter? We’re all on the same side anyway.’
Dumbledore’s twinkling eyes met James’. ‘In that case, I, Albus Dumbledore, would like to welcome the three members of the Association of the Unicorn-’
‘Unicorn Association,’ Sirius corrected, ‘and there are four of us; Pete’s one too.’
'Shut up, Sirius,' Remus hissed.
Dumbledore's beard twitched. ‘I, Albus Dumbledore, would like to welcome the four members of the Unicorn Association to the ranks of the Order of the Phoenix.’