Chapter 6 : Actually Alone
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James had imagined his work for the Order being many things—even before he had know what the Order was, or what he was to do for it. He had imagined it being exhilarating: jumping into dangerous situations and fighting his way out. He had imagined it being frightening: meeting with intimidating foes, and possibly not fighting his way out. He had imagined it being rewarding: risking himself for the betterment of others, and of the rest of the wizarding world.
What he had not imagined it being was boring. At the moment, though, there didn’t seem to be a more appropriate word to describe it.
He yawned, wishing that he could move around and loosen up his joints. For the past three hours, he had been alternating between sitting and standing in the same place under the Invisibility Cloak, watching for any suspicious signs. All he’d noticed so far was his stomach growling.
When Dumbledore had introduced the idea of James, Peter, Remus, and Sirius doing surveillance for the Order, it could not have seemed more perfect. Hadn’t they spent years sneaking around Hogwarts? Following suspected Death Eaters, gathering information about people and places, standing guard in places of suspicious activity—the way Dumbledore had phrased it had seemed exciting, and they were all confident that it played to one of their greatest strengths. It had quickly become apparent, however, that “surveillance” was not the same as what they had done at school.
Perhaps Dumbledore was not fully confident in their abilities, and had been sending them on the least dangerous missions, or perhaps Voldemort had really earned his reputation of being harder to catch than smoke. Either way, this was the third straight time that James had spent stuck in one place without a single thing of note happening.
There was suddenly a loud crack, and James whipped around, wand out underneath the Cloak—but it was only Frank Longbottom, come to relieve him from the watch.
“Abraxan,” said Frank, the codeword they used to identify themselves as Order members and not impostors. James pulled the Invisibility Cloak off. “Anything tonight?”
They were keeping watch on a pub in east London which was a suspected meeting place for Death Eaters.
“I did see some blokes walking around with black robes and masks on,” James said. “Seemed a bit off.”
Frank looked at him in consternation, apparently not getting the joke.
“Kidding. Sorry,” James amended. In his brief moments of contact with the other Order members, James had noticed that they didn’t exactly go out of their way to be friendly. He kept trying to break down their defences, but it didn’t seem to be working so far.
“S’alright,” Frank said distractedly. “Just came off a double-shift, and Alice...well, anyway, glad to hear it’s been quiet.”
Brief though it might have been, it was the first time any of them had really talked to him. Maybe his attempts were beginning to work. He almost offered to cover for Frank, who was clearly exhausted, but he had already promised Lily he would visit her at her new flat that night. With her moving and him dedicating time to the Order, they hadn’t seen each other much over the past week. Apparently, she wanted help unpacking, but in James’ opinion, they could probably find better ways to spend their time alone together.
He Apparated back to Sirius’ flat first, however, mostly out of habit. More often than not, either James, Remus, or Peter could be found there, sometimes even when Sirius was out. James had especially taken to spending time there; though he was ashamed to admit it, it was easier than being at his own home, where all he could think about was what was wrong with his father.
Tonight, he found Remus there, sitting at the kitchen table by himself. When James entered, he seemed to be jarred from deep thought.
“All right, Moony?” James asked, tossing the Invisibility Cloak onto Sirius’ sofa.
Remus nodded. “How was the watch?”
“Boring—as—hell,” James replied, following his Cloak onto the worn leather cushions. “I think I might have to take up knitting or something, just to pass the time.”
Remus laughed, but it sounded off to James. His friend’s expression seemed to be tense, as well.
“What’s up with you?” James asked. Remus leaned back in his chair, perhaps trying to appear relaxed, but it didn’t work very well.
“I have a bit of a problem,” he replied. “I think...well, I’m not sure if I can do this whole...Order thing.”
James sat up in alarm. He knew Remus hadn’t been as enthused about the Order as Sirius or Peter, but he had never imagined that he wouldn’t want to do it.
“I just—I don’t think it’s the right thing for me right now, you know?” Remus said.
Remus sighed. “I dunno, it’s just—I guess it’s sort of your thing, and maybe I need my own thing.”
“Oh, come on, Moony, you know that what’s mine is yours,” said James. Remus laughed, but his sombre expression returned quickly. Silence fell for a moment. James had no idea what was going through Remus’ head; for his part, he was trying to figure out what had changed his friend’s opinion so suddenly.
“I mean, I know the other Order members seem like a bunch of gits right now, but I think they’re all right,” James said.
“It’s not that,” Remus responded. “You and Padfoot and Wormtail can still be in it together. I’m going to try out something else.”
“You’d leave me alone with the two of them?” James asked, looking at him sceptically. Remus grinned weakly, but didn’t reply. James reclined back on the sofa again, staring up at the cracked paint on the ceiling.
“Well, I know I can’t force you to do it. But I don’t know if Dumbledore’s going to be too pleased about it, not after you’ve gone this far.”
It was a few moments before Remus spoke. “Yeah. Well, I’ll talk to him about it.”
James had been hoping to guilt Remus into relenting, and now, he bit back any further argument, difficult though it was. It was supposed to be the four of them doing this together, not three of them together and Remus off on his own. And James had been the one to suggest they all join the Order—whatever had happened to make Remus change his mind, he felt partially responsible. What if Sirius and Peter both wanted to back out, too?
Finally, frustrated with the silence that had descended on the room, James stood up and asked, “Where’s Padfoot?”
“Out,” Remus said shortly.
“Right, well, I’m off as well,” James told him. “See you?”
Remus nodded, and James had a momentary urge to tell him to reconsider his decision, but he held back.
After that conversation, James was even more relieved to see Lily. He tried to put Remus out of his mind as she showed him around the new house, but it remained in the back of his mind, like an itch he couldn’t quite reach. The more he thought about it, the less appealing the idea of the Marauders being split up became.
He had completely missed whatever Lily had just said to him.
Lily rolled her eyes affectionately. “I asked if you wanted anything to drink or eat. Although I don’t actually have much food yet, now that I think about it.”
“I’m all right,” he replied. “Great place, though.”
“It is, especially when Petunia’s not around,” Lily said, smirking. “Now, come on, I need to finish unpacking.”
James followed her to the room that was her bedroom, finally deciding that he couldn’t stand being alone in his thoughts anymore.
“It’s strange that he’d just suddenly decide not to join, isn’t it?” he asked her, after telling her the whole story.
“Maybe it’s not sudden,” she suggested. “He might have been feeling reluctant from the start.”
“Well, he should have said something at the start, then, don’t you think?”
“He might have been worried that you’d get all worked up about it and try to figure out a way to convince him out of it,” she said, smirking.
“Funny,” James shot back.
“James, this isn’t the sort of thing that everyone wants to commit to,” she said. “I mean, it’s not like asking someone to go play football with you—”
“It’s not like asking someone to go play Quidditch with you once a week.”
“So, what, you think he’s...afraid, or something?”
“I have no idea why he’s changed his mind, but he must have his reasons. And, knowing Remus, they’re probably good ones,” said Lily.
Part of James was annoyed that she wasn’t siding with him on this issue, but through his frustration, he grudgingly admitted that she was right. Remus wouldn’t have made the decision to back out of the Order rashly, so whatever the problem was, it had to be significant.
Of course, that only made James more determined to figure out what it was.
“This is really bothering you, isn’t it?” Lily asked, folding her arms across her chest.
He shrugged. “Sort of.”
“I mean, here we are,” she said, “completely alone. And there you are, thinking about Remus, of all things. Something is very wrong with this situation.”
She was grinning slyly, suitcase of clothing forgotten on the floor.
“Wait—we’re alone?” James joked.
Lily nodded, mock-thoughtfully. “Last time I checked.”
“Can we invite Remus over?”
She laughed, which, of course, had been his intention. He crossed the few feet between them and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“You know,” she said, “as weird as it is, your concern for your friends is also kind of attractive.”
“So is your concern for properly-folded clothing,” he told her.
“Oh, I know; it’s been bothering me all day.”
For a few moments, they stood looking at each other, anticipating where things would go next—and then they both burst out in laughter. James loved times like this most, when things between him and Lily seemed back to normal. They joked and laughed, and he was seized by wild desires to kiss her, which he knew would be returned. And finally, it seemed like these moments were definitively outweighing the bad ones.
After the laughter had passed, Lily wrapped her arms around his neck and said, “But seriously, we are alone.”
Which James all too happily did something about.
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
Lily shifted her gaze upward from a lurid-pink back cover of a book to the young Flourish and Blotts employee next to her. He looked to be about fourteen or fifteen, and Lily thought he might be a Hufflepuff student, though she didn’t know his name. Perhaps he knew hers, since he was looking at the book in her hand rather judgmentally for being a complete stranger.
“No, thank you. Just looking,” she said, feeling a blush creeping up her cheeks.
As soon as he ambled off to greet some other customers, Lily replaced the book back on the shelf among the store’s collection of Fifi LaFolle novels. Though the author herself had died years ago, the popularity of her Enchanted Encounters series had not diminished, especially since several novels had been posthumously published. The one that Lily had been holding, entitled Magic at Midnight, was the most recent addition to the series.
Lily had never been an avid reader of Enchanted Encounters, largely for the same reason that she knew the Flourish and Blotts boy had been staring at it like a poisonous toadstool. Alternatively cloying and scandalous, Fifi LaFolle’s novels had come to be known as the literature of hopeless romantics the magical-world-over. What had possessed Lily to pick one up off the shelf today, she couldn’t say, although she had read one—if memory served her right, it was called Curse This Heart Of Mine, or something like that—that had belonged to Mary in fourth year.
She was trapped in a moment of reflection. It had been so long since she had thought of Mary without also thinking about the unpleasant end that their friendship had met...and how strange that, of all days, this should be the first time that she did.
“Lily, your taste in literature disappoints me.”
Lily turned to face her assailant and shrugged. “What can I say? You caught me in a moment of weakness.”
Seeing Anna gave new meaning to the phrase “old friend”. She was immediately recognizable, but also visibly different: the same long, dark hair, but groomed much more impeccably than it ever had been at school; the same snarky bearing with crossed arms and a smirk, but draped in finely-tailored grey robes with an intricate scarlet-and-gold “G” embroidered on the chest. It was certainly Anna, but a strangely grown-up and polished version of her that took some getting used to.
“Well, hi,” Anna prompted. “It’s been a while. What—almost two months, is it?”
“Yes, I guess it has been,” Lily replied. She could not ignore that a certain amount of awkwardness hung in the air over this fact. So much—too much—had happened since they had last seen each other, and though Anna was Lily’s closest friend, she could not bring herself to share all of it. Nor did she plan to.
“Good to see you,” Anna said. “Shall we go get a coffee? Unless you wanted to buy that book first.”
“Very funny,” Lily muttered.
They left Flourish and Blotts and headed in the direction of The Leaky Cauldron. As it was nearing the end of August, families purchasing school supplies hurried around Diagon Alley. Lily saw a harried-looking mother trying to pry her young son away from the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies, and a few moments later, a girl trying to find a comfortable way to carry an owl cage which was more than half her size.
More noticeable were those in the alleyway who were not buying school supplies: Magical Law Enforcement officers patrolling the crowds, looking for any suspicious activity. With each year that passed, signs of Voldemort’s presence in the wizarding community had become more glaring in Diagon Alley. This year’s additions included large Ministry of Magic signs which announced a ten p.m. curfew.
Anna must have noticed her looking at the signs, for she said, “It’s kind of laughable, to be honest. Nobody in their right mind would have gone walking around here at night, anyway. Bit of a scramble to pretend like things are under control, seems like.”
Lily grinned. She had forgotten how entertaining talking to Anna could be. The only problem was that, entertaining as it might be, it was also going to be very difficult if she left out everything about the Death Eater attack and the Order.
When they sat down at The Leaky Cauldron for coffee, Lily tried to stick to the safe topics. Anna displayed less shock than Lily had expected when she told her that she had moved to London with Petunia, of all people. It finally felt like they had gotten settled in their new house.
The questionable nature of the decision to live with Petunia had been apparent every moment since they had arrived. They couldn’t agree about how to arrange the furniture, who was to do the washing, how long was too long in the shower—it seemed like the only time they spoke to each other was to squabble over something or other, and Lily had already begun second-guessing the arrangement. She had to keep reminding herself that, now that she had started work at the Ministry, and Petunia had started her typing course, they’d probably have much less contact with each other.
“So, tell me about this new job,” Anna asked eagerly, taking a sip of her coffee.
“Well, it’s not very glamorous,” Lily began.
“Oh, come on, there’s no need to be modest.”
Lily smiled, but for the first time, she was confronted with the ugly thing that squirmed in her stomach every time she described her new job—the feeling that she deserved better, that she was better than being a glorified secretary. She couldn’t help but resent that the real reason she had taken the job, and the one that had any significance, was one that she also couldn’t share with anyone.
“It’s in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” she said. Anna nodded, pressing her for more. “There was an opening in the—er—Office of Magical Records. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it. I think it’s a very tiny department. Well, ‘tiny’ in the sense that there’s currently only one person working in there at the moment.” She paused, laughing to cover her embarrassment. “Not actually tiny, though. When my supervisor—his name is Mr Finkley—showed me the records hall, I couldn’t believe the size of it.”
Today, in fact, had been Lily’s very first day; her meeting with Anna had been a brief escape on her lunch break. Mr Finkley was an old wizard who wore a pince nez, and she suspected he might have something of an obsession with Bathilda Bagshot, the famous magical historian. (There was a framed portrait of her over the filing cabinet next to his desk.)
“It’s really not glamorous, not at all, but I sort of just happened on it, and I thought: well, I’ve nothing better to go on, really, so why not start somewhere?” Lily finished explaining.
Anna looked confused. “So...what exactly are you doing?”
“Well, it’s just...sort of...organizing and monitoring all the records, I think,” Lily replied. She had a feeling Anna would see straight through this to what Lily really meant, which was filing. Taking out records, and then putting them back. Reorganizing filing cabinets when one got too full. And, to cap it all off, dusting everything inside the cavernous records hall. Mr Finkley had explained it all, and then handed her a Muggle feather duster.
“Cleaning with magic often damages the records, we’ve found in the past. Too much room for error,” he had said to her. Then he fixed her with a stare and said, “Document preservation is a very serious business.”
Of course, there was a whole other side to the job, but Lily couldn’t confide that in Anna, nor could she share the mounting concern she was feeling about how likely it was that she was going to be able to do what the Order wanted her to under Mr Finkley’s watchful eye. All morning, he had been standing over her shoulder, observing everything she did. Watching out for other people’s suspicious doings was one thing, but how on earth was she going to be able to change Mr Finkley’s prized records, like Marlene McKinnon wanted her to?
“Are you serious?” Anna asked, bringing Lily back to the conversation. Seeing her friend’s disbelief, Lily’s hackles immediately raised, even though she’d been expecting this.
“What do you mean?”
“Well... no offense, but that sounds really boring,” Anna stated matter-of-factly. “The Lily I know wouldn’t have just settled for whatever came her way. You seriously want to do this?”
Lily had forgotten how brutally honest Anna was, often to the point of rudeness, in the months since they had seen each other. But she’d spent the last two weeks with the same thoughts swirling around in her own mind, and she knew how to respond to them.
“I’m all right with it for now,” she said, shrugging, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “I don’t want to do it forever, but I’d rather make use of my time than wait around for my dream job to come along.”
Anna raised an eyebrow, but didn’t belabour the point.
“Well, at least there’s not much interaction with people,” she remarked. “Sounds like my kind of job.”
Lily smiled weakly, glad to redirect the conversation elsewhere. “But you’re working for Gringotts, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Anna said, “but almost all of my interactions are with the goblins that work there, so it’s not so bad.”
“What is it that you’re doing?” Lily asked.
“I suppose I’m sort of in Goblin Liaisons,” Anna said thoughtfully, as if she had never considered the matter properly before. “It’s sort of specialized though, because I just liaise between the Ministry’s treasurers and Gringotts. I kind of like it, actually.”
Lily thought about Anna’s no-nonsense, acerbic attitude, and thought she probably fit right in working at Gringotts. After hearing stories about Anna’s days at work, Lily was even more disheartened about her own situation. She had not been under any illusions about what working in Magical Records would be like, but to have it pointed out so openly, and then to have anecdotal proof that there were much more interesting jobs out there...she felt like crawling into a hole and hiding there for as long as she could.
“So,” Anna said, “I don’t suppose you’ve talked to Mary at all.”
The list of pleasant topics to discuss seemed to be endless.
“No, have you?” Lily asked. Anna and Mary had always been closer to each other than Lily had been to either of them, and though they had fallen out before school ended, she wouldn’t have been surprised if they had patched things up.
“Not once,” Anna replied. “As far as I know, she’s working at the Ministry, like she planned, so you might run into her.”
Lily nodded, and a strange silence fell. It seemed that Anna didn’t have anything else to say as far as Mary was concerned, which was just fine with Lily. The last time they had really spoken, Mary had revealed herself to be something of a bigot, and Lily didn’t think there was any way she could forgive that. There was also something to be said for the fact that Mary was, to put it plainly, a bitch. That was hard to forgive as well.
Not long after that, Anna and Lily both had to return for the second half of their respective work days. Lily could not say their first visit had gone spectacularly, but she nevertheless promised she would be in touch soon—Anna was more or less the only friend she had left, and for all her bad qualities, she was generally a good sort of friend to have. She hoped that there might come a day when she could tell Anna about the Order, and maybe even ask her to join; she envied James the company of friends in their new venture.
When she arrived back at the Ministry of Magic, she found herself paying more attention to everything around her; earlier that morning, she had been so nervous about what was ahead of her on her first day at work that she had not taken it all in. While she was at Hogwarts, she had read about the Ministry of Magic, and known classmates whose parents and relatives worked there, but she had never seen it for herself: it had always been a shapeless concept in her mind, vaguely resembling Muggle government buildings. She had been surprised, therefore, to discover that it was actually housed far underground. Whereas the government buildings she knew were all grey stone and marble, the Ministry of Magic was dark and glossy, much like being in a beautiful sort of cave.
By contrast, the Office of Magical Records was small and nondescript, located on Level Two and largely overshadowed by the Auror Headquarters, a hub of frenetic activity just down the corridor. Inside the office, Mr Finkley sat at his desk, behind which sat two black filing cabinets. On the wall to his left stood the door that led into the records hall. Other than that, the room was empty. With its stone walls and floors, it was practically an echo chamber.
“Ah, you’ve returned,” Mr Finkley said, depositing the quill he had been using very precisely in its inkwell, “and on time, as well. Excellent.”
It sounded a bit like he hadn’t had much faith that Lily would come back at all, much less on time. She wondered if her lack of enthusiasm had been so obvious.
Mr Finkley had apparently decided to trust her enough to let her on her own, while he spent time locating records for a non-government request. She settled herself at the desk, wondering if she should dust it off, or just sit there twiddling her thumbs. On the bright side, she realized, there would hopefully be times like this where Mr Finkley wouldn’t be around, and she could do what the Order wanted. For the time being, though, she found herself bored, her only distraction listening to snippets of conversation as people walked past the office door.
“—trial’s been set for three-thirty tomorrow—”
“I told him that a team of only six wouldn’t be near enough...”
“—next thing you know, they’ll be asking him to resign.”
Lily concluded that, whatever all these people were talking about, it was clearly much more exciting than anything she was going to witness in this room. She started to organize the quills on the desk according to their size, which seemed like something Mr Finkley would appreciate.
Surprisingly, one of the bits of conversation she caught while she sat there actually carried into the room, and it came from someone that she recognized.
“...if you could just go back and respond to the French Minister’s undersecretary, I think we’ll see the end of that issue,” Lily heard, and a moment later, Marlene McKinnon walked into the office.
“Hello,” Lily said brightly, smiling at Marlene, whose expression did not change.
“Well, you’re not old Finkley, are you?” Marlene said. “Don’t tell me he’s finally died, or I’ve lost a bet.”
Lily laughed, wondering in the back of her mind why Marlene would ask such a question, when she knew perfectly well that Lily was Mr Finkley’s new assistant. “Oh no, he’s just—”
Right on cue, Mr Finkley emerged from the records hall. Lily was beginning to think he had a sixth sense rivalling that of Filch.
“Good afternoon, Madam MacKinnon,” he said. The expression on his face made Lily think that he might like Marlene just about as much as he liked her.
“Oh, Finkley, I’ve told you a hundred times, there’s no need for formalities,” Marlene replied.
“Yes. Well,” Mr Finkley said, but he never continued his sentence. Marlene seemed to rather enjoy teasing him.
“Now, don’t let him pass on those habits to you,” she said, speaking to Lily now. “A simple ‘hello’ will suffice, and you can just call me Marlene.”
She outstretched her hand to shake Lily’s, as if it were the first time they were meeting. Lily stood still in confusion for a moment—could Marlene have actually forgotten who Lily was? Should she remind her that they already knew each other?
She was starting to become accustomed to Order members acting strangely, however, and so she did her best to play along.
“Very nice to meet you, Marlene,” she replied, taking her hand. “I’m Lily Evans.”
It turned out that Marlene had come to request a record, just like everyone else who had entered the office that day. Mr Finkley couldn’t have looked happier to leave the two of them behind while he located it, and Marlene’s demeanour changed the moment that he left.
“Sorry, I know that must have seemed strange,” she said, speaking quietly. “But believe me, it’s less strange than trying to explain to someone how we already know each other would be. Especially to someone who works at the Ministry.”
Lily was reminded of something that had been mentioned during the Order meeting she had attended: they had to hide their activities as much as possible from the Ministry, who didn’t like another group taking care of matters that were supposed to be their domain.
“Anyway, he’ll probably be back in a moment—I swear, it’s inhuman,” Marlene continued. “Is everything going all right?”
“Oh, yeah, it’s been fine,” Lily said. “I haven’t gotten to do much yet, though.”
“But you haven’t noticed anything strange? People acting suspiciously?”
Of course, Lily should have realized that Marlene hadn’t been asking how she was doing.
“No, nothing so far,” she replied. The truth was, she had been so busy trying to follow Mr Finkley’s instructions all day that she’d hardly remembered to be on the look-out for suspicious behaviour.
Marlene looked disappointed, but her response was cut off by Mr Finkley’s return to the room. Returning to her former charm, Marlene took the white folder that he handed her and said good-bye to them both. Mr Finkley seemed to be muttering to himself after her departure about carelessness, and Lily had to suppress laughter.
After a few more hours of doing not much of anything, Mr Finkley finally entrusted her with the task of re-shelving the last few records left on the desk; for one of the few times that day, she actually found herself excited about something.
The records hall was breathtaking, and easily Lily’s favourite part of her job. The entire room was a large circle, filled to its center with smaller and smaller circles formed by shelves. There were walkways that cross-sectioned the room, and between each of the shelves, so it ended up feeling much like a maze. And it was cavernous: Lily could not see the wall opposite her, and the shelves were so tall that darkness prevailed long before the ceiling was visible.
Not without some confusion, Lily managed to put the files back in their proper places, and as she left, she used her wand to put out the lights in the room. As boring as her day had been, when she closed the door on the dark room, an ominous feeling settled itself in her stomach. With a room that big, there were bound to be secrets hiding in the shadows.
Author’s Note: Just a quick note about the events of Petunia’s life—which includes a minor Pottermore spoiler about her, fair warning—the back-story which JK Rowling wrote for her and Vernon on Pottermore doesn’t exactly fit with the timeline of events in this story and Once Defied. (I’m not thrilled about this, since I like sticking to canon, and am also terrified for how much might end up being non-canon once all the books are available on Pottermore. Oh well, though.)
On Pottermore, JKR states that Petunia moved to London and got engaged to Vernon while Lily was still in her last year at Hogwarts. So, while my version of events may not be exactly correct, it’s still pretty close, if just bumped into the future a bit. At least I got the part about London right! :P
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