Whenever she paused for a moment and thought about it, Lily could hardly believe that it had only been two months since she had left school. She could never decide, though, whether it seemed like the time that had passed seemed far longer than two months, or whether it seemed like it had been just yesterday that she had ridden the Hogwarts Express for the last time.
Either way, there was always some part of her which longed deeply to go back, because life there had been much simpler. Her biggest worries then had been things like the due date of her next assignment, or fretting over a marmalade stain on her jumper. Now, she found that everything was cause for anxiety. The future loomed over her like some inscrutable, grey cloud, threatening either to open up and send down torrents of rain or to move aside and let the sun shine for a little while. It was the uncertainty that bothered her more than anything.
She had all but forgotten that the most important part of her final year at school had been her N.E.W.T.s. Perhaps if she had not already made plans to start working at the Ministry at Dumbledore and the Order’s suggestion, she would have found it hard to forget about her N.E.W.T. results, since they would have determined what opportunities were available to her post-graduation. Though it had not been in the forefront of her mind, when a thick, cream-coloured enveloped arrived by owl, addressed to her from the Wizarding Examinations Authority, her pulse skittered like a handful of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans that had been dropped on the floor.
“Oh, Lily, dear,” her mother said, striding into the kitchen, “I finally found that box of old dishes in the basement, so make sure we don’t forget to bring it up when we take you and Petunia down to London.”
Lily was still standing with the envelope resting in her hands, too nervous to open it yet. What if she had failed everything? She couldn’t have. Well, technically she could have, but she’d done well throughout her time at Hogwarts, so it was unlikely. But what if she’d failed something? Transfiguration had always given her a bit of a trouble, after all...
“Did you hear me?” asked her mother. “Is everything all right?”
Lily looked up and nodded. “I’ve just got my exam results.”
Her mother’s face lit up as Lily held out the envelope to show her.
“That’s wonderful! Are you going to open it?” she asked. Lily paused, still feeling slightly trepidatious.
“I suppose...I should,” she said. Really, there wasn’t much point in standing around with it, so she tore it open and removed its contents, holding her breath as she unfolded the parchment.
She quickly found what she was looking for: two columns, one with a subject name, and, to the right of that, one with a single letter indicating her grade. It took a moment for her brain to take in what was in front of her.
Charms ........ E
Defence Against the Dark Arts ........ E
Potions ........ O
Transfiguration ........ A
Herbology ........ E
The “Acceptable” in Transfiguration caused a swoop of disappointment in her stomach, but as for the rest...nothing below an “Exceeds Expectations,” and an “Outstanding” in Potions! Not only had she passed, but she had done well.
“So?” her mother prompted, and Lily handed over the parchment for her to look at. “Oh, yes, I remember these letters. The ‘O’ is the highest grade, isn’t it? And then ‘A’ comes after?”
“No, ‘E’ is after ‘O’. It stands for ‘Exceeds Expectations’, and ‘A’ is just ‘Acceptable’,” Lily explained, feeling that disappointment again. She had very much hoped to get nothing less than an “Exceeds Expectations” in every subject, but perhaps she should have resigned herself to the possibility that she might not be able to meet her goal where Transfiguration was concerned.
“Lily, you’ve done wonderfully! The highest grade in Potions, and an ‘E’ in three other subjects! You should be very proud of yourself,” her mother said.
News of Lily’s exam results spread to the rest of the Evans household (though Petunia could hardly have cared less). Her mother declared that she was going out to buy a roast for supper to celebrate Lily’s success, and Lily found herself revelling in the chance to be a regular teenager again. She passed the rest of the day in a sunny mood, only enhanced when she received an owl from James, which invited her to meet him, Peter, Sirius, and Remus for drinks later that night to celebrate their N.E.W.T. results.
Her parents were full of questions at the dinner table. They had always taken great interest in Lily’s education, and it seemed it was no different when it came to her plans beyond school. Lily found their enthusiasm and curiosity rather amusing, which was a refreshing change from the dynamic between them in the last couple of months. Between their worry for her safety and disapproval of James, there had been a fair amount of discord.
“So, now that you’ve gotten your results, will you get that job at the Ministry?” her mother asked, sounding as if she didn’t quite know how to form her mouth around the word Ministry.
“Well, I already had it,” Lily explained, pouring some more gravy onto her plate. “Professor Dumbledore arranged it for me.”
This was as much as she had told them about the circumstances under which she had gotten the job—it seemed like a much neater explanation than telling them about the Order and her role in it. Lying to her mother and father made her feel guilty, but their reaction after her run-in with the Death Eaters made her certain that keeping the truth from them was better, at least in the short-term. She could comfort herself with the fact that she wasn’t really lying to them, just leaving things out.
“He’s been very kind to you,” her mother remarked.
“Oh, be fair, Gertie,” her father said, winking. “She was Head Girl, after all! Bet your professor wouldn’t do that for just any student!”
“Maybe not,” Lily said, smiling slightly. Definitely not, added a voice in her head. But then, how many of them would want to even if he did offer?
She could tell just from glancing across the table as the meal continued on that Petunia was less than enthralled by the conversation, and kept expecting her to make some kind of venomous interjection at some point. Surprisingly, however, she simply remained silent, if sullenly so. If Lily hadn’t known better (and, perhaps, if she hadn’t received an “Acceptable” in Transfiguration), she would have thought she’d been given a dose of Felix Felicis.
More and more, Lily found herself enjoying the luxury of normalcy. She laughed over meals with her family, whiled away time with James, and prepared to make the move to London with Petunia.
The two Evans sisters had been exceptionally lucky in finding a place to live in London: old friends of their parents were living abroad for the year, and had agreed to let Petunia and Lily be their live-in house-sitters.
Lily supposed that moving away from home should have been somewhat troubling for her, but she found herself often pretending to be wistful about it for her parents’ sakes. The truth was that she had already left her real home, and she couldn’t go back even if she wanted to. She had spent the majority of her life at Hogwarts, and the fact that she wasn’t getting ready to go to King’s Cross and take the train to school felt much stranger than leaving home did.
If moving away wasn’t sad, it was certainly stressful. The day before the big move was chaos in the Evans household, largely due to Petunia’s incorrigible perfectionism. She spent half the day running around town, buying “essential items” for their new home (Lily noticed that many of these items seemed to be cleaning products), and the other half trying to make everything fit in the car, which would also be carrying Lily’s things and four passengers.
By the time evening rolled around, Lily was in desperate need of a break from the preparations. She slipped out through the back door of her house, taking an opportunity to practice her Disillusionment Charm; lately, she had gotten good enough at it that only neighbourhood cats seemed to sense her presence as she walked through the streets.
She was especially glad of this when she turned a corner and saw Severus walking in her direction.
Her first instinct was to let him pass without alerting him to her presence. Enough trouble had come her away attached to Severus that she now knew better than to try to make civil conversation. And she almost did it—almost let him go. Yet even now, she could not look at him without seeing his hardships, his vulnerabilities, and remembering that he had once been her best and only friend.
She let him get ten paces past her before she relented, removing the Disillusionment Charm and calling out to him.
“Severus,” she said, anxiety in her voice where she had intended there to be calm and nonchalance.
He whirled around in surprise at the sound of her voice, and stood still, stunned, for a moment.
“Where did you come from?” he asked in a surly tone.
Lily shrugged evasively. “My house.”
Severus retraced his steps, drawing closer to her.
“I haven’t seen you in weeks,” he said, his face red. “To what do I owe the honour of being graced with your presence?”
Lily chose to ignore the edge of sarcasm in his voice.
“I just wanted to tell you that I’m leaving tomorrow,” she said evenly, folding her arms across her chest.
His face contorted with displeasure. “Leaving?”
“To London,” she said. “My sister and I are moving there together.”
Severus said nothing.
“I’m starting a job at the Ministry,” Lily continued, if only to fill the silence.
Still, he didn’t speak a word in reply.
“All right,” Lily said, sighing. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, but...good luck, I suppose?”
She didn’t realize how callous the statement sounded until the words were already out of her mouth, and yet, at the same time, she couldn’t quite bring herself to apologize.
He finally spoke just as she began to walk away.
“You don’t see it, do you?”
Dread settled in her stomach; this sounded like the start of a conversation she didn’t want to have.
“Everything I’ve ever done has only been to help you, but you’ve never trusted me,” he explained.
She looked at him in bewilderment. “Are you joking? I never trusted you?”
“You didn’t! You let people turn you against me so easily—“
“Oh, will you give it a rest?” Lily cut across him. “It’s always you who’s the victim, isn’t it? Never mind the fact that I wouldn’t have been so easily turned if everything other people said about you hadn’t turned out to be true.”
He went red again. “You only saw what you wanted to see.”
“If that were true, things would be very different today," Lily replied. This silenced him for a brief moment, and the space was filled with mourning for what might have been.
“Lily—please, if you never trust me again, you have to listen to me now,” Severus said. “I tried to warn you about Potter before, and it wasn’t a joke. I told you that being—being associated with him would put you in danger!”
She almost fired back with another incredulous remark, but then Lily suddenly remembered—the written warning which Snape had tried to get Mary to deliver to her, the one she had never read, in her misplaced effort to try and make amends with Mary. She hadn’t even thought of it since that conversation.
“Well, that’s rich, coming from you,” she said, refusing to get drawn in to yet another argument about James.
“Lily, you have to listen to me!” Severus said, taking another step toward her. “I thought for weeks that you were dead—and if you keep hanging around Potter, it’s going to happen, sooner or later!”
“Right, because you’d know, wouldn’t you?”
It was saying it that made her understand.
He would know.
She felt like she had just been doused with cement, a terrible weight settling on her shoulders and holding her still. Part of her was still rejecting the thought which had entered her mind.
It couldn’t be true.
He wouldn’t. Not that.
She couldn’t stop herself from asking, though she wasn’t even sure she wanted to know the answer.
“Did you know?”
It was the smoothness of his tone, the way his expression went inscrutable, that told her the answer.
“You were warning me because you knew what was going to happen to him,” she said, still hardly able to believe it.
His face was its reddest shade yet; it seemed he was struggling with the possibility that evasion wouldn’t work in this case.
“I didn’t—Lily, it wasn’t my fault,” he said quickly. “I couldn’t have done anything except try to warn you—“
“Warn me? What about James?”
Severus sneered. “He would have done the exact same thing to me. You know that.”
“I might have used to think that, but I know James now. He would never do that, no matter who it was.”
“He’s fooled you so well,” Severus said acidly.
“This is not about him!” Lily shouted, so loudly that a dog started barking from inside a nearby house. Somehow, it brought her back to her senses, and it hit her like a train that there was nothing left for her here.
She threw one last word at him as she walked away, and it pounded along with her footsteps as she made her way back home.
It had been several days before James could bring his friends together to tell them every detail about his first meeting with the Order of the Phoenix. They hung on his every word as he told them about everything he had heard about their fight against Voldemort, about all of the members—he wanted Sirius, Peter, and Remus to be as enthused about it as he was.
And they were. It would not have felt right to James to have the Marauders divided in anything, and he was glad that they all agreed to dedicate themselves to the Order as he had. All there was to do was let Dumbledore know, and await the next signal of a meeting.
Waiting was torturous, but it was over rather quickly: little more than a week later, Dearborn summoned the four of them to meet at a cottage near Brighton. James was excited for his friends to have their first exposure to the Order, and he was not alone in this feeling.
“I can’t wait to get right into it, fighting Death Eaters, rounding them up for Azkaban...” Sirius remarked as they tried to find their destination, walking along a country road.
He had expected Sirius to be single-mindedly enthusiastic about joining the Order; it wasn’t the first time they had discussed fighting Voldemort, and Sirius never seemed to do anything without jumping in head-first.
One thing that James had not let on to the fact that he wasn’t so sure that Sirius’ heroic visions were going to become a reality. After all, Lily’s role was more or less a desk job at the Ministry (not that he ever would have pointed this out in her company); it was possible that they might end up in a similar position. He was the one who had gotten the three of them into this, and he didn’t want to disappoint them.
“Do you really think they’ll let us?” Peter asked, kicking a stone as he walked. “I mean, we’re not Aurors, or anything.”
“Yeah, well, neither are they,” said Sirius.
“Some of them are,” Remus pointed out.
Remus’ reaction to the Order had been difficult to gauge—he had agreed to join with the rest of them, but he had been silent through most of their discussions about it. James could sense he was going through some anxiety over it, but had no idea what it was about. Perhaps he was just nervous; James certainly was.
“This looks like it,” James said as they came to a hedge that enclosed a small garden and cottage. There was no number marking it, but there was a phoenix weathervane sitting atop it that Dearborn had told them to look for.
It took several minutes for anyone to come to the door when they reached it and knocked; James almost thought they had come to the wrong place. But finally, Dearborn opened the door and welcomed them in. Upon entering, they realized that there was another member to their group.
If James could have pictured how Remus, Sirius, and Peter would be first introduced to the Order, it would not be with grisly-looking Alastor Moody holding them at wand-point. The three of them looked at James in confusion.
“Are the three of you dense as a troll?” he growled at them. “Walking into unfamiliar territory without even a wand in hand!”
James stood still, no clue how to respond. Peter, for his part, drew out his wand, which caused Moody to bark with laughter.
“Much good it’ll do you now,” he spat.
A warning to his friends about the Order’s habit of interrogating people to confirm their identities might have been in order, James thought to himself. He personally thought the entire thing was a bit ridiculous. As he had said to Dumbledore that night after the Death Eater attack, he would know if any of his friends weren’t who they said they were—or, rather, that some stranger said they were one of his friends.
Moody eventually lowered his wand after being satisfied that there were no impostors in their midst (though James noticed he did not let it leave his hand).
“Now that that’s settled,” Dearborn said, “Alastor Moody, you and James have already met—these are his friends: Peter Pettigrew, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black.”
An odd silence fell until Moody spoke again. “Black, is it?” he asked, eyeing Sirius curiously.
“Just Sirius is fine, thanks,” Sirius replied with a tight smile. Moody grunted assent, but cast an expression of dissatisfaction in Dearborn’s direction. James felt somewhat indignant; it seemed almost as if Dearborn had left introducing Sirius last so that Moody would not miss his name.
“Right, let’s get to it, Caradoc,” Moody said, pulling out a hip flask and taking a draught from it.
“So,” Dearborn began, offering a much-needed dose of sanity to the proceedings, “it seems we ought to find some sort of useful purpose for the four of you. I’m sure you’re all dying to see a bit of action.”
They all nodded, with varying degrees of fervour.
“I thought so. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait a while for that opportunity. We have something different in mind.”
James exchanged deflated looks with his friends. He knew they were going to get stuck in some boring job...
Dearborn laughed suddenly. “Please, don’t look so eager all at once.”
Moody had been peering out of one of the cottage windows surreptitiously, but he suddenly interjected.
“Anyone who wants to go out and come wand-to-wand with a Dark wizard isn’t ready for it.”
James’ face felt hot; this entire situation was turning out to be downright embarrassing. They were being treated like children, something he thought would have stopped after Dearborn had spoken up for him and Lily at the Order meeting.
“The time for that will come,” Dearborn continued. “But just because we aren’t going to be sending you out to try and apprehend Death Eaters doesn’t mean we don’t have an important job for you to do.”
Moody stumped over to them, his false leg clunking against the floor noisily. Peter shifted backwards slightly as he neared them.
“Albus and Caradoc tell me you four have a knack for evading notice when you want to,” he said. “Good at coming and going quietly—disappearing, even.”
No one replied, but Moody only laughed and took another drink from his hip flask.
“Well, they’re good at keeping quiet, at least!” he remarked. It was the first indication they’d gotten that Moony was a normal human being with some kind of sense of humour, and the atmosphere in the room relaxed slightly.
Dearborn took over again. “We thought you might be perfect for surveillance.”
James wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded more promising than being stuck in some boring Ministry job.
“Spying on people, you mean?” he asked.
“Spying, eavesdropping—yes. Sometimes we need to follow people we suspect are associated with Voldemort. Other times we need people to stand watch; for example, if we think someone or something has become a target,” Dearborn elaborated.
James’ ears weren’t lying: it sounded all right. In fact, as he thought back on his childhood and years at Hogwarts, it sounded better than all right.
“Sound acceptable?” Dearborn asked, and they all agreed, exchanging amused looks with each other. This was something they would be good at, without question.
Moody appeared to have less faith, though.
“One thing you’ll be getting straight, then, before we start,” he said, leaving James wondering what he meant to start, “is that these assignments—whatever it is you’re asked to do—are strictly non-combat situations. Unless your life or someone else’s is in immediate danger, you’re not to use a wand against anyone. Not a single charm, hex, jinx, curse—nothing. Understood?”
That was a bit harder to stomach, and James could tell by his friends’ expressions that they felt the same way. But what was there to do? Refuse, and be kicked out of the Order altogether? He wasn’t sure Moody wouldn’t use his own wand against them if they were to disagree, and he didn’t want to chance it.
“Understood,” he repeated. Remus, Peter, and Sirius followed suit.
“That being said,” Dearborn cut in, “I thought it might be worthwhile for you all to spend a short time with me and Alastor, just to make sure you won’t have any trouble defending yourselves.”
“I think we can handle that,” Sirius said, folding his arms across his chest haughtily.
Moody grinned—an alarming sight.
“We’ll see, now, won’t we?”
After an hour of having Moody try to find every last crack in their defences (James reflected that it probably would have been more productive for him to investigate where there weren’t cracks, so apparent was it that they were unprepared), the idea of confronting Voldemort himself didn’t sound so unappealing. Dearborn stood on the sidelines offering advice, teaching them new spells, but it was an awful lot to take in all at once, especially when they were being so thoroughly battered by Moody’s spells.
The worst part for James by far was when Moody tried to toughen up their defences against Legilimency. James had breathed a giant sigh of relief that they had not been tested on Occlumency during their N.E.W.T.s, for he had always struggled with it. It was even worse now—not only was Moody relentless, but despite his ornery behaviour, James also wanted his approval. Instead, he was unwillingly divulging many of his most embarrassing and private memories to him.
“Come on, Potter, you’ve got to try!” Moody shouted. James suspected that the smirk on his face was the result of the memory they had just witnessed, which had involved him and Lily in the space behind greenhouse five.
But James apparently lacked talents at obfuscation; try as he might, he could not focus his mind enough to defend himself from Moody. It didn’t help matters that Peter was a natural at Occlumency, making James feel like even more of a failure.
James could hardly believe how incompetent he felt at the end of it all. He’d wanted to be an Auror, before the Order had come along, and could have been, too—he’d gotten an “Outstanding” in both Defence Against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration, and “Exceeds Expectations” in every other subject. That night when Avery had come to take him captive, he knew he hadn’t done very well, but he had chalked that up to being in a panic—now it seemed that perhaps he was completely out of his depth.
“That’ll have to do for now,” Moody finally said. At once, James felt relieved that he would no longer be trying to curse them, but after a few moments, a question formed in his mind.
“Are you going to train us, then?” he asked both Moody and Dearborn.
“No time for that,” Moody replied briskly. “I’ll leave them with you, Caradoc? I’ve stayed too long already.” He stumped toward the door, pausing to leave them with one last order. “Non-combat, remember that. And don’t walk into another room without taking your wands out first!”
James was too shocked to speak after the door closed. Half of him wanted to beg Dearborn to help them so that they wouldn’t get killed before the end of the week, but the other half was too proud to admit that Sirius had been wrong, that they couldn’t handle themselves. Couldn’t Dearborn see that they needed some kind of guidance?
“Well, that’s that,” Dearborn said. “You held up as well as I could have expected. Any questions?”
James had a thousand, the biggest one being: How are we supposed to survive?
“Good. I expect Albus will be in touch with you soon enough about your first assignments.”
None of them spoke until they were out the door, except to mutter good-byes to Dearborn. James realized as they walked back out to the lane that he had never even asked whose cottage they had been at. Moody probably would have been too paranoid to tell them, anyway.
As he looked at his friends, he had a feeling in his chest that he had only had a few times before. When he, Sirius, and Peter had realized that Remus was a werewolf, he had felt like this, and when he discovered that Sirius had sent Snape down to the Whomping Willow during the full moon, he had felt like this. He supposed it was dread, or disappointment, or perhaps something different that he couldn’t name.
Finally, Sirius broke the silence. “Sod it. Right?”
James wasn’t immediately sure what he meant. The possibility that Sirius had changed his mind about being in the Order occurred to him.
“I mean, the three of us learned how to be Animagi, all on our own,” he continued bitterly. “We can learn a few stupid curses without anyone else’s help.”
He was right, James knew. Like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, he felt his confidence returning. Surely, Moody had been extra hard on them, trying to test their strength. If he and Dearborn weren’t concerned, why should any of them be?
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