The well lit entrance hall is packed, and I mean packed by the time I get there. There's at least fifty or so people, making the rounds introducing each other, and as far as I can see, it's a completely eclectic mix; old, young, witch, wizard (squib in some cases - I'm sure I just spotted Mrs Figg), ministry officials, aurors, housewives, purebloods, muggleborns (obviously as i'm here). A lot of people I know only by sight, like the Prewett brothers who left Hogwarts in my third year, but there are some very familiar faces too, for example Prf McGonagall offers a tight lipped smile and Mr Elphias Doge (a sweet old wizard whose reports I often write up for work) gives a start when he sees me and waves, I smile and am waving back when I see something that makes me want to simultaneous run from the building and upchuck my measly lunch.
Oh God. Please no. This cannot be happening.
Remus Lupin and Sirius Black are casually talking in the corner, and where they are, he is usually close by.
I stand stock still with my mouth open in horror like an idiot, for at least thirty seconds before I regain some semblance of control. Idiot! Why didn't I consider the fact he might be here? Closing my mouth I search around for a familiar face and thankfully I spot Alice Longbottom nee Highton with her husband Frank not too far away. I make a beeline for them.
"Hello" I say, my voice sounds high and shrill to my own ears, if Alice notices something she doesn't mention it.
"Oh my goodness, Lily" Alice enveloped me in a hug and I embrace her warmly. I've missed Alice, we used to be close at school but we've drifted apart since leaving. She is honestly one of the loveliest people I have ever met. "It has been far too long".
"I know" I agree, my eyes widen as I feel something press against my stomach. What the hell? Alice pulls away abruptly and starts talking about married life with Frank and how much things have changed since school. Okaay, I recognise a deliberate change of subject when I hear it.
I feel slightly guilty, but i'm not really listening, I offer the occasional nod and 'yeah', 'absoloutely' when Alice pauses for breath but I'm really watching the rest of the room for signs of him, and only when I'm absoloutely positive he's not there can I feel myself relax completely.
The meeting goes ahead. Dumbledore looks older and wearier than I remember him from my school days, but then don't we all? I won't bore you with the details but...the outlook isn't very good. You Know Who is taking over and we are going to try and stand in his way. We have Dumbledore, but apart from that silver lining there isn't really much to smile about. I join - of course I do. It's barely a decision. I am now a member of the Order of the Phoenix. I smile at the others in what I hope is a convincing way, but inside I am hiding the unwanted truth - that we are all doomed. It's easy to forget the state of our world when cocooned in the safe melodrama of job searching and mundane tasks such as laundry. I don't read the daily prophet anymore and the meeting was the harsh slap of reality I have been missing.
The next meeting is in a weeks time. People are beginning to leave, chairs scrape against the floor as the long table slowly empties. Dumbledore had already left, as well as McGonagall. I sit with Alice and Frank as they tell me about their honeymoon. I can't help but wonder who owns this beautiful house?
In my periphery I see Remus Lupin watching me from the other side of the table where he sits with Sirius and Peter. I have a feeling he's going to approach any minute, and I really don't want to talk to him.
"Oh Alice" I interrupt mid stream, glancing at my watchless wrist unconvincingly, "I've just realised what time it is - I really have to be going" I say. I see her face fall and I feel like a complete bitch.
"Oh, right, well don't let me keep you" she sounds put out. I touch her hand.
"I really have missed you Alice" I say quietly, completely sincere, " maybe we can meet for lunch and catch up properly?". We exchange a time and place, and with a final smile to Frank I make my way to the door. I don't know why I do it, but I look back over my shoulder at the three young men I had avoided all evening. I am not surprised to see all three watching me leave, Remus smiles sadly. For some reason the gesture makes me want to cry, but I have done enough of that for one day. Sirius raises his hand in farewell. Peter looks concerned. I smile to be polite and exit.
The hall is empty, a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of before. My shoes rap loudly against the flagstones and then I see them.
They have just come in through the main entrance and their cheeks are flushed from the cold.
I don't stop this time, thank God, and stare with my mouth open. Instead I pass them with a polite 'excuse me' and an equally polite smile.
James Potter's eyes widen as he see's me, I'm sure of it. I am also sure that his hand tightens around the slim waist of his pretty blonde companion.