Chapter 2 : Down
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The well-lit entrance hall is packed and I mean packed, by the time I get there. There's at least fifty people, making the rounds introducing each other. 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 Professor 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, but if Alice notices something she doesn't mention it.
"Oh my goodness, Lily!" Alice envelopes 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. I feel slightly guilty, but I'm not really listening. I offer the occasional nod and “yeah”, or “absolutely” when Alice pauses for breath, but I'm really watching the rest of the room for signs of him. Only when I'm absolutely positive he's not there can I feel myself relax completely.
We all take a seat at the long scrubbed wooden table and the meeting goes ahead. Dumbledore looks older and wearier than I remember him from my school days, but then don't we all?
Even though I had strongly suspected it would be, I’m still a little taken aback when I realise that the meeting is actually about fighting You Know Who. The whole thing feels decidedly dreamlike; suddenly I’ve gone from a horrified spectator, to one of the key players. The war that seemed so far away and easy to dismiss had finally arrived on my doorstep and it was apparently more gruesome and bleak than I had ever been lead to believe.
I look around surreptitiously at everyone else’s expressions, all of which are sombre and serious. No one looks surprised or uncertain, apparently I’m the only newcomer. Dumbledore catches my eye and smiles reassuringly.
Edgar Bones finishes his account of the harsh new changes that are set to be implemented at the ministry, including the Crouch Act, giving Aurors new powers to torture and even kill suspected Death Eaters. The insight is news to me.
“But,” I say quietly before I can stop myself, and everyone at the table turns to look at me, I feel my face turn beet red, why do I have to be one of those people that blush? I press forward “But there’s been nothing in the Daily Prophet, wouldn’t they report on such a big change in law?”
Alice shakes her head sadly at my naiveté, “Lily, there’s a lot the Daily Prophet is neglecting to tell its readers, we think the ministry is relying on them to help avoid a mass panic.”
I stay quiet after that, only grimacing softly as the grisly image of Aiden Drinkwater is passed around the table. He was an 18 year old muggleborn whose body had been found under the Dark Mark at his home in Kent. I had tutored him in charms. He was a cheerful, happy go lucky boy that you couldn’t help but like. I have a sudden memory of him as a fresh faced 13 year old enthusiastically telling me about the racing broom he had been saving up for all summer and feel a lump form in my throat. The Daily Prophet had said he had died in a freak accident with a backfiring wand. The image of his mutilated body told a different story. This is what they would do to you, if they had the chance. And before I can stop myself the image of a hook nosed young man flashes before my minds eye. Without really knowing why, I duplicate the photo and put the copy in my pocket before passing it on.
At the end of the meeting Dumbledore beckons me over to a dusty little room just off the main hall, and I follow feeling a little uncomfortable; despite being head girl, I had never really had a proper conversation with the headmaster. Dumbledore lights his wand and I realise we’re in a murky cloakroom with peeling walls. “Lily, I invited you today because I thought that you would be a wonderful addition to the Order, and also so that you could have a taste of what it would mean to do so, before having to decide if you want to join us”
“Why didn’t you ask me to join before Professor?” I ask quietly; I’m embarrassed that my voice has a tinge of indignation. Did he think that I wouldn’t want to? That I had nothing to offer?
“Does this mean you are interested?” Dumbledore’s face is only half lit, but I can make out his eyes watching me intently.
“Yes, of course,” I answer honestly.
“Lily, I am not going to lie to you and say that this is a risk free commitment, there is going to be considerable danger involved”, Dumbledore says, still watching me closely in that probing way. “You are under no obligation to join.”
I struggle to articulate what I’m feeling into words.
“I know the danger involved, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare me”, I begin slowly, “but with all due respect professor, I do have an obligation-I’m muggleborn”. I state baldly, as though that’s an explanation in itself.
“Now that I know the Order exists, there’s no way I could live with myself if I just sit back and do nothing. Or” I add, determined to say everything on my mind, “If I allow other people to put themselves in danger fighting for my rights and fighting those that want to take them away.” Professor Dumbledore nods slightly and his eyes finally look away from my own, taking in my words. He seems to be having some sort of internal debate and I’m momentarily taken aback, why hesitate when he invited me in the first place? What is there left to consider?
“If things are really as bad as everyone is saying, then it seems to me that the Order could use as many members as possible” I add after the silence drags on, wanting to make my stance perfectly clear, “I want to do my part Professor.” I implore him silently with my eyes.
Dumbledore sighs under his breath and finally meets my eyes again. “Very well,” he smiles.
Almost ten minutes later I push open the meeting room door and take my old seat. I considered just leaving but feel I owe Alice a proper goodbye at least. 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 watch-less wrist unconvincingly. "I've just realised what time it is - I really have to be going." 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 sees me, I'm sure of it. I am also just as sure that his hand tightens around the slim waist of his pretty blonde companion.
A/n - A massive thankyou to Katie (my beta) for helping me with this chapter.
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