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In The Black by TenthWeasley
Chapter 25 : The Order Assignments
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 15


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The rest of her friends were all already arranged in a neat row in front of Professor Dumbledore’s desk when she finally arrived at the top of the winding spiral staircase to his office. It was looking a bit crowded in the small circular room now, eight chairs having been squeezed into it for the purpose of tonight’s meeting. Professor McGonagall was standing behind Dumbledore’s right shoulder again, and Beth wasn’t surprised to see her mouth was drawn into an extremely thin line.

“Sorry, Professor,” she said a bit stiffly, feeling awkward as every eye in the room swiveled in her direction. “I had – stuff –“ Her cheeks flushed as she stumbled over the words, and she didn’t know why she was having this sort of a bizarre reaction, unless it had something to do with the accusatory look on Sirius’s face at the moment. The headmaster didn’t seem to mind, however.

“Not at all, Miss Bridger,” he said, almost cheerfully, touching just the tips of his fingers together on the surface of the highly polished desk in front of him. “Mr. Potter informed me that you would be running a bit behind schedule. Please have a seat.” He indicated the far right seat with a tilt of his head, still unoccupied, and she shuffled over and sat down quickly by Lily before she could attract any more unwanted attention.

“As we were discussing, this is the first meeting for the three of you,” Dumbledore said, apparently moving right on with a previous thread of conversation Beth had missed as he nodded toward the other Gryffindor girls. McGonagall’s lips tightened a fraction of an inch more at these words, which was an admirable feat. “I assume your friends have told you a fair amount about how the society works?”

James shuffled his feet back and forth on the floor, revealing his answer to that question at once. “Not a lot,” he said quickly, glancing up and seeing Dumbledore’s knowing yet kind smile. “I mean… just the basics…” Lily offered him a sideways smirked as he returned his gaze to the floor, rubbing his neck in something like embarrassment. The headmaster did not seem to mind, however, and did not touch on the point further.

“Then I won’t spend any more time dwelling on it here,” he said, sitting a bit straighter in his chair and adjusting his half-moon spectacles on his long, crooked nose. “I am afraid that this will be our last meeting before term ends –“

“What?” Sirius burst out from the opposite end of the row of chairs, half-rising from his seat, his mouth open in evident horror. “Is something wrong?”

“Sit down, Mr. Black,” spoke up Professor McGonagall crisply from behind the headmaster’s chair. “The problem is that, with so many of you joining at the end of term” – and here she looked rather miffed at the general idea, which was nothing new – “things are becoming rather conspicuous, and the less people are suspicious, the better it is for all of us.” Her dark eyes shifted down to Dumbledore, who nodded in agreement.

“It has been deemed best to put these meetings at a halt until the summer, when we can convene on somewhat safer ground,” he explained. “There are several reasons, one of which Professor McGonagall has already listed.” He bowed her head briefly in her direction. “The other being that there is a sort of mission, if you will, being undertaken in June, and preparations are to be made from now until its enactment. I trust you all remember the address of headquarters?” he asked abruptly, quickly changing tact. It was directed this last question at the four boys and Beth, but Remus was the one to speak up.

“9 Dustund Way,” he said promptly; Peter squirmed a bit in his chair, looking both relieved and uncomfortable, and Beth was willing to bet her wand that he’d completely forgotten all about the address until Dumbledore had brought it up.

The headmaster looked pleased that at least one of them had remembered the information. “This is the address you will meet at, once it has been decided when that shall be,” he explained. “No sooner than July, I am thinking.” His eyes sparkled as he watched Sirius’s expression fall more and more with each successive word. “Is something troubling you, Mr. Black?” he said, not unkindly.

“It’s just… well, that’s a long time away,” he said after a momentary pause; Beth thought it was rather brave of him to contradict his superiors at all. “Are you sure there isn’t anything we can do until then?” he said, a pleading note creeping into his voice. At any moment now he’d actually clasp his hands together, perhaps get down on his knees. Beth let out a little chuckle and tried to disguise it as a cough that fooled nobody, and instantly felt a bit bad for having done so.

Professor Dumbledore exchanged a look with Professor McGonagall, and her thin eyebrows rose so high on her already-creased forehead that they were liable to disappear altogether. It was clear which of the two was the authority figure, however; with a small and yet imperative cough, the old man turned back to face them, seeming to only just conceal a smile in his long silver beard.

“As a bit of a compromise, Professor McGonagall and I have discussed a matter at some length, and she agrees that revealing this bit of information would do no harm – provided, of course, as with everything else we have discussed, that it not leave the confines of this room.” McGonagall gave a distinctly disapproving sniff, but not a single occupant of the room gave her as much as a fleeting glance; the eight students ranged before the headmaster had leaned forward in their chairs almost as one, eager to hear whatever was about to be divulged. Professor Dumbledore continued.

“Various members of the Order have been notified that we will have eight new members among our ranks this summer, and have agreed to take on positions as sort of mentors, aiding you in your assigned tasks.” Sirius was nearly bouncing in extremely tangible excitement; Beth, too, felt a flutter of nerves and anticipation stir in the pit of her stomach.

“Your assignments have been prepared –“ Dumbledore began, and this time it was certain that a smile was lurking underneath his beard. That was as far as he got with the sentence, however; with a gasp that was almost a sort of shout, but not audible enough to be so, Sirius leaned forward and clenched the edge of the headmaster’s desk with taut fingers. At this, even Professor McGonagall smiled.

“Keep in mind that what you are going to do requires no small amount of training,” Dumbledore said firmly, the twinkle in his eyes contradicting the sternness of tone. “Years, perhaps.” He directed this last comment especially to the boys at the far end, Sirius now both doing a sort of odd dance of anticipation. “Several years.”

“Can we hurry up and get to the good stuff?” James burst out suddenly, and Lily laughed. Beth did not miss the slightly sheepish, incredibly pleased look he gave her at that.

Dumbledore, with a final and perhaps most twinkled look of all (he seemed to be using that particular gaze of his a lot tonight), reached forward and took a thin sheet of parchment from the upper corner of his desk. There was a short list of a few names in some sort of tiny, unrecognizable handwriting, although Beth didn’t know if she could have recognized anyone’s handwriting upside down. With a small cough, he began to read the list, and another shiver shot up her spine like fire.

“Remus Lupin, Mary Macdonald, and Marlene McKinnon,” the headmaster spoke in a surprisingly grave and somber tone. “You will be working within the Ministry, under Edgar Bones and Caradoc Dearborn. Official sorts of work, getting the Order grounded.” He looked up and smiled as Remus drew himself up a bit with something like self-importance, and Mary and Marlene giggled simultaneously behind their hands. McGonagall’s forehead creased dramatically.

“James Potter, Lily Evans, and Peter Pettigrew, you will be working under Gideon and Fabian Prewett on recruitment and propaganda.” Lily smiled up at James, and he slipped his hand into hers, giving it a small squeeze. Glancing over her head, however, he caught sight of Beth, who was giving him an odd look; she raised one eyebrow, and he crossed his eyes in response.

A sort of thrilling fear spread through her bones now, knowing her name – along with Sirius’s – had not yet been uttered for an Order assignment. Sirius was looking as though he might either faint or run around the room shouting various obscenities. She edged unconsciously forward on the uncomfortable seat of her wooden chair, hands clasped in her lap.

“Sirius Black and Beth Bridger,” he said at last, a small and rather amused smile twisting the general area of his moustache, “will be working under Alastor Moody and Frank and Alice Longbottom in the assisting of locating and apprehending known Death Eaters –“

Whatever else he might have been about to say was cut off from an abrupt and yet not all that unexpected shout from Sirius, who had jumped from his chair at last, fist raised in celebration as though he’d made a spectacular goal in a game of Quidditch. It was a sort of odd thing to be celebrating, but Beth knew how much Sirius had wanted to do something exactly like this, and apparently, so did everyone else in the room, for no one made any attempts at any sort of reprimanding, or even eye-rolling.

“Excellent!” he said enthusiastically, when at last he’d found his seat again, and everyone laughed, Professor Dumbledore chuckling merrily as though at a particularly humorous anecdote. But as his words started to process the slight numbness of her brain, Beth felt another rather familiar sensation begin to cause the hairs on her arms to stand on end. The thought of being one of the ones picked out for that job, in particular – nothing in her life before this had made her this nervous.

Dumbledore replaced the parchment to the corner of his desk and surveyed them all over the winking tops of his half-moon spectacles, peering at each in turn; when his eyes met Beth’s own, she felt as though he could see a lot more about her than what he let on. The feeling unnerved her even more, and she swallowed.

“Your assignments will be explained in more detail this July,” he said calmly, pushing back his chair slightly and rising, the light from the numerous silver spindly lamps around his office catching the shining folds in the fabric of his robes, making them shine. “Until then, all I must ask of you is that you practice – work on your wandwork, your spells, your charms.” His eyes twinkled especially at Peter, who admittedly had the poorest concentration of the lot of them – it was not an unfriendly gaze, but merely a knowing and sort of complacent one. The boy flushed both with embarrassment and acceptance at being denoted as such.

“And now,” Dumbledore added, “I am afraid that we must say goodbye, in the knowledge that it will not be the last.” He smiled serenely once more, this time including all eight of them under the scrutiny, and Beth felt somehow that his speech was oddly formal for a mere evening departure.

To her right, Marlene and Peter both nodded solemnly; the rest of the group said nothing, merely looking at the staid figures of the headmaster and deputy headmistress. They both appeared as though they had nothing more to say, and so, a bit awkwardly, the eight all stood up from their chairs. One by one, and without the usual sort of chatter that accompanied leaving in a fashion, they left through the door and down the spiral staircase. But Beth remained temporarily behind; the knot in her stomach was still very much present.

“Professor?” she asked hesitantly, taking a tentative step towards the desk, where Dumbledore had resumed his seat. Professor McGonagall moved out from behind him and crossed to the other side of the room, concentrating intently on a piece of parchment; it was evident that she was just trying to appear busy, not wanting to intrude on the conversation about to be had.

Beth toyed with a strand of hair that had fallen over her shoulder while the headmaster looked expectantly at her. “I don’t… Are you sure you gave me the right assignment?” she asked hesitantly. “I just – I’m not sure if I can do it.” The thought of going after and actively seeking some of the most dangerous wizards in the wizarding world currently was, quite simply, terrifying, and was only growing more potently so the more she thought about it.

Professor Dumbledore placed the tips of his fingers together and looked intently at her over them. “Not sure you can be a part of the Order?” he asked gently.

“Not that,” she fumbled. “But the – the seeking, and the apprehending…” Her tongue suddenly felt as though it was much too large for her mouth. “I want to do it, but I’m scared of not being able to,” Beth said at last, although it sounded lame even to her own ears.

Dumbledore seemed to consider this for a moment. “We have thought over your assignments very carefully, yours and those of your friends,” he said at length. “I feel as though you are more capable than you might perhaps think you are. It is not an easy task, but you are not one to give up easily, I would wager.” He raised his eyebrows slightly. “If you should like to change, however, it could be easily arranged.”

Beth didn’t know exactly where Professor Dumbledore’s convictions of confidence in her were coming from – the headmaster had never taken particularly special interest in her – but in hearing him voice them, she was oddly compelled to believe him. Something about her had given him the notion to place her along the passionate, enthusiastic Sirius in perhaps one of the more dangerous Order jobs (although she couldn’t speak much about that, not knowing the full extent of them), and if he thought she could do it, then there must be something inside her that could.

“No, I want to do it,” she said quickly, feeling as though a bit of the knot in her intestines was unraveling with each consecutive word she spoke. “I mean – if you think I can –“ Dumbledore smiled, and she almost swore he winked at her. A warm surge of self-confidence surged through her. “Thank you,” she added, a smile of her own turning the corners of her mouth. Feeling considerably better, she followed the others out of the door.

*

When Beth had left the room, Professor McGonagall looked from the parchment she had still been poring over, disapproval etched in every line on her face, and crossed over to stand in front of the other’s desk. Professor Dumbledore seemed not to notice, instead absentmindedly beginning to tinker with one of the spindly silver objects on the corner of his desk. After a prolonged pause, she gave a sharp and pointed cough, and he looked up, smiling.

“You see? They are too young,” she said crisply, folding her arms tightly over her chest and sitting down in one of the recently vacated chairs. “Even they feel it themselves.”

“They are young, but they will learn,” said Dumbledore patiently, his fingers tapping on a long rod connected to a thinly-constructed silver sphere, which was twirling and emitting a faint tune that one had to strain one’s ears to hear properly. “We were all young once, Minerva.”

She said nothing for a few seconds, although her nostrils still flared. “Do you think it wise to send them out on missions, Albus?” she asked at last. “The Ministry work and the recruitment, yes – but actively looking for followers of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?”

“They are the ones who joined for the largest reasons,” Dumbledore said firmly. “Sirius Black and Beth Bridger are perhaps some of the strongest proponents of our cause. I’m sure haven’t already forgotten what Mr. Black did to Mr. Avery only a few weeks previously?”

“Of course I haven’t,” the woman said brusquely. “But strength does not always equal capability, Albus. Force only goes so far.”

“Which is why they are only one cog in the clock, if I may use the metaphor,” said Dumbledore now, turning from the silver sphere and looking the deputy headmistress squarely in the eye. “I trust in their ability to do the job assigned to them, and so do the ones under whose care they were placed.”

Professor McGonagall’s argument faltered, and she merely opened and closed her mouth for a few seconds while no sound issued out of it. Dumbledore’s repeated strong convictions, the second of its kind in less than five minutes, was a bit hard to argue against.

“Perhaps you’re right,” she conceded at last, crossing and uncrossing her ankles restlessly. “Only time will tell.”

*

James was the last to arrive back in the boys’ dormitory later, having said a thoroughly prolonged good-night to Lily in the common room for a solid fifteen minutes. Beth, who had been sitting cross-legged on his empty bed while she and the rest of the boys talked about the meeting, gave him a knowing sort of smirk as she shifted over to allow room for him to sit down.

“Got lots of good snogging in?” said Sirius from the bed to the left, chuckling in a self-satisfied manner and rocking back and forth a bit. James picked up his pillow and lobbed it at his friend, but it missed, falling with a sad sort of noise to the floor.

“See if you get that back,” said Sirius, and then turned to him. “So what did you think?”

“What did I think about what?”

“The assignments!” Peter burst in from Sirius’s other side, already tucked up under his covers, his feet sticking straight up and making a sort of tent. “We’re really members now,” he added in an awed sort of voice, earning him a snicker from everyone else in the room.

“They’re great,” said Remus enthusiastically.

“Because you’re with girls!” Sirius crowed now, sitting up on his knees. His whole demeanor spoke of ecstatic excitement, and everything that came out of his mouth sounded giddy. Beth found herself laughing along with him without even knowing why, unless it was that the nervous twisting in her stomach abated more and more each time she remembered the headmaster’s words to her after everyone had left.

A sort of content silence fell about the room now, each looking at something unseen, each with smiles larger than was perhaps necessary on their faces. Finally James cleared his throat a bit, and all heads swiveled in his direction.

“So, I’m thinking about proposing to Lily… within the next month or so.”

Sirius and Peter both fell off their beds in one motion, with sorts of squawking sounds that might have been better attributed to pigeons or chickens. Beth’s mouth dropped open so fast it was a wonder it didn’t land square in her lap. “You’re what?!” she screeched; Remus’s mouth had fallen too, although he remained silent.

“What on earth would possess you to do something that stupid?” Sirius added ferociously, having clambered back onto his bedspread. Peter was still attempting to extricate himself from the tangle of sheets that had fallen to the floor with him.

“It’s not stupid,” James said, a bit defensively. “I’ll be eighteen next month, that’s not too young to get married. You parents –“ he began, turning towards Beth, and quickly shut up before the thought could be fully completed. But she knew what he had been about to say – she’d once mentioned something about her parents getting married at eighteen, and look where that had ended up. But she knew that James and Lily were different from her parents; they actually had things in common.

“So you’re really going to do it?” she asked, turning toward him. James gave her a sidelong look through his glasses and nodded.

“Already got the ring, too – Mum sent it –“

“Your parents are okay with this?” Sirius interrupted.

“Yes, they are,” James said firmly, his mouth setting into a thin, hard line. He reached over and rummaged about in the drawer of his nightstand, finally emerging with a slightly battered black velvet box. Lifting the lid, Beth saw a ring nestled on the black silk inside – it was surprisingly plain, a silver band dotted with small, modest diamonds.

“It was my grandmother’s,” he explained a bit sheepishly, snapping the lid back down over the box and tucking it away in his drawer once more. He glanced at Sirius, as though defying him to say something else about it, but he appeared to having nothing else to say.

“Well, I mean – congratulations, mate,” he managed at last, still looking a bit confused and lost, but with the air of wanting to be happy for James about something that obviously meant so much to him. Beth understood, for she was having small inclinations of similar feelings – like Sirius, it felt a bit as those she were losing a part of her best friend at this declaration of intention.

“I’ve got to head to bed,” Beth said now, feeling a bit uncomfortable at how much her present emotions lined up with Sirius’s just then – always a sure sign she was tired.

“Don’t tell Lily!” James gasped then, pausing in the motion of climbing out of bed to get his pyjamas from his trunk. He looked so alarmed that she had to laugh aloud.

“I won’t,” she promised solemnly. As a look of relief crossed his face, her eyes slid over to Sirius, who had fallen back against his pillow, still fully clothed. He looked to be in deep thought, his eyes trained unseeingly on the canopy of his bed. Feeling a twinge of pity somewhere near her heart, she retreated from the room, closing the door softly after her.

It was only once she was in her own bed in the darkened dormitory that she had time to process James’s news. The fact that any of them were even old enough to think about getting married was an abstract thought, and one she couldn’t quite wrap her head around. Things were changing at an unprecedented speed, and she wished for something to hold onto – something to slow it down, and let her know that life might still be somewhat normal after everything was over.

A/N: I guess it never really occurred to me how strange it was that James and Lily got married right out of school until I realized just how young eighteen really is. And in the wizarding world, they live longer than normal, but they come of age at seventeen, so their eighteen is like... our nineteen, I guess? Well, now my brain hurts, but my point was, writing this made me feel like a mum watching her baby boy grow up before her eyes. Weird stuff, that.

Not that my characters are my children. Because most of them aren't even mine

I'll stop this ramble before it gets too long. Thoughts? Predictions? And did Dumbledore make the right decision on Beth's assignment? Looking forward to hearing from everyone!


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