As the days passed by, and life settled into something of a routine, Lily began to notice that there was indeed something suspicious going on around her. Unexplained absences, random disappearances, hushed conversations—it all pointed to a secret being kept under guard. There was, however, one big problem. She had no idea how she was going to go about uncovering that secret, for the only thing that her sister Petunia was better at than poking her nose into other people’s business was keeping them out of hers.
Having concluded that it wouldn’t be of much use to try and ask Petunia what was going on with her, and in the interest of keeping the peace, Lily had so far refrained from questioning her when she came home late after her typing course, or promptly hung up the phone whenever Lily entered the room. She hadn’t even really bothered eavesdropping or snooping around; after all, how exciting could a secret that belonged to Petunia really be? But when her sister came walking in the front door early one morning while Lily was about to leave for the Ministry, she couldn’t help herself.
“Where have you been?” Lily asked, bewildered. Petunia was blushing furiously.
“I just went out for a morning walk,” she sniffed, walking past Lily and toward her bedroom. Lily took in her sister’s haggard appearance, and a delightful thought occurred to her.
“Did you just get in?”
Petunia rolled her eyes. “Please, Lily. Do you honestly think I would stay out all night?”
“Well, no, to be honest,” Lily replied, “but you certainly look like you did.”
Her sister made a noise of indignation. “Think whatever you like, Lily.”
And this time, she really did escape to her bedroom, leaving Lily to go off to work in confusion.
Unfortunately, her attempts at uncovering wrongdoing at the Ministry were proving far less successful. The Office of Magical Records was not exactly a hub of exciting activity, and Lily probably had contact with two or three people at most on any given day. The only person she got a chance to really observe was Mr Finkley. The thought had occurred to her that perhaps he was working for Voldemort, but all he really seemed concerned about was document preservation and organization. If he was doing something suspicious, he certainly didn’t show it.
She couldn’t help but feel embarrassed by her lack of progress. If her job had really just been about keeping the records organized, she would have no reason to feel a sense of failure, but she didn’t feel like the other Order members were going to be impressed. There was another meeting planned for the following evening, and Lily did not want to show up empty-handed. She had to figure out something worthwhile today.
By lunchtime, her prospects were looking dim. No one except her and Mr Finkley had set foot in the office all morning, and her only task had been dusting off some of the highest shelves; the files there were of no use to her, since they were at least a hundred years old, and most looked like they had not been touched since being placed there originally.
While she took her lunch, she tried to think back over the last few weeks, thinking that perhaps she had missed something obvious. After a half-hour of wracking her brain, however, she couldn’t come up with a thing. All had seemed normal—tediously so.
When she returned to the Ministry after lunch, she happened to reach the lifts just as one was leaving, which meant a brief wait until another would arrive to take her back to Level Two. By the time she heard a rattle of the golden grilles that signified her departure, she had steeled herself for the several hours of quiet boredom ahead of her.
She was not, however, prepared for Lucius Malfoy to walk out of the lift.
Panic rooted her to the spot, while others who had been waiting for the lift brushed past her. The only thought in her mind was run, but that urge diminished when Malfoy appeared too engrossed in his conversation to glance her way. It took her several moments to realize that he was talking to the Minister of Magic, Alvin Mockridge, himself, and several more for her to connect the fact that the Minister of Magic was in conversation with a Death Eater who had kidnapped and tried to kill her.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true, since Avery would have been the one to kill her, but that was sort of beside the point.
She suddenly realized that the people in the lift were looking at her with a mixture of curiosity and impatience, waiting for her to get in. What on earth was she doing just standing here, and, more importantly, what was she supposed to do next?
“Sorry—forgot something,” she called out to the lift passengers, a couple of whom looked rather disgruntled about having waited for nothing.
Turning on her heel and manoeuvring through the small crowds of people walking through the Atrium, she followed as close to Lucius Malfoy and the Minister as she dared.
She stayed ten feet behind them at first, because she was anxious about him recognizing her, but quickly realized that she couldn’t hear a word they were saying.
She braved a few feet closer, and caught a phrase or two, but nothing intelligible. They were heading towards one of the fireplaces lining the Atrium, and she knew her chances were evaporating.
She closed the gap between them to less than three feet, anxiety swelling in her chest, for they were certain to notice her following them now—but the bustle of the Atrium and their conversation kept them from paying any attention to her.
They stopped in front of one of the fireplaces, continuing to converse as several employees emerged from the emerald green flames. Lily turned her back to them, pretending to search her robes for her wand while she listened intently.
“We would very much like to have your support,” Malfoy was saying to Mockridge. Lily felt a jolt of mixed horror and triumph, thinking that Malfoy was openly trying to convince the Minister of Magic to join Voldemort’s side. After a moment’s thought, however, that seemed unlikely, and Mockridge’s response confirmed it.
“I would give it wholeheartedly, Lucius, but as I said, it’s a matter of whether the Unspeakables deem it possible,” Mockridge answered. “In any case, I really must be off to meet with the International Quidditch Association…”
That was it. They exchanged pleasant farewells, and both departed into the fireplace: the Minister to wherever the International Quidditch Association was located, and Malfoy to St. Mungo’s Hospital.
Lily felt disappointed at once. She couldn’t say what she had been expecting to overhear, only that she had imagined something more interesting than Ministry affairs. She supposed she should have been thankful that Malfoy hadn’t spotted her and recognized her; in fact, the recklessness of what she’d just done suddenly hit home, and she was gripped by fear for several minutes. Perhaps he had seen her, but she hadn’t realized. And if Lucius Malfoy could go walking around the Ministry of Magic, how many other Ministry employees might also be involved with Voldemort?
Even though she was going to be late returning to the office, she had to step into the loo for a few minutes in order to collect herself. Incidents like this—and sometimes far less—could send her into a mild panic. She had not yet been able to find a way to stop herself from imagining the worst: her family being harmed, James being put in danger…but she was, at least, better at banishing them once they had manifested. She leaned against the tiled wall for a couple minutes, trying to take deep breaths and remind herself of what she already knew: by this point, Voldemort and his Death Eaters must know her real name, or at least could find it out if they wanted to, but no attacks had followed the one earlier in the summer.
You can’t be afraid all the time, she told herself. This had become something of a mantra for her. She had to remember that bad things could happen to her anywhere, at any time, and she couldn’t protect herself from Death Eaters any better than from getting hit by a car on her way to work every day.
She tried not to think about how strange it was to make yourself less afraid of danger by reminding yourself just how many things could put you in harm’s way. Life and death were often illogical and senseless, when you thought about them too much.
Instead, she tried to focus. The only real disadvantage of Lucius Malfoy spotting her at the Ministry is that the Death Eaters would know where she worked, but it wasn’t as if that information would be impossible to find out otherwise. Whether he had seen and recognized her or not—and he hadn’t seemed to—made little difference in the grand scheme of things. Still, she made a mental note to be more attentive to who she was walking past at the Ministry from now on.
Once she had reassured herself, she headed back down to Level Two, running the scant details of the conversation through her mind several times, trying to make sense of them. Malfoy wanted the Minister’s support for something involved with the Department of Mysteries, going by Mockridge’s mention of the Unspeakables—but what? The question remained on her mind for the rest of the afternoon, and more followed from it.
At least a few of those questions were answered in her late-afternoon dusting. She had to think for a little while about what Lucius Malfoy’s date of birth would be. He had been in his seventh year when she had started school, so that meant he had been born in 1953 or 1954. The files in the Hall of Records were organized first by decade, and then alphabetically—Lily had found this system confusing at first, but it seemed to work out rather well in practice. So she found the section that housed files from the 1950s, and then located the section under the letter “M”.
What she was doing was not allowed, technically speaking. Files were only supposed to be accessed for official Ministry business, not for personal perusing. She located “Malfoy, Lucius”, and pulled it from the shelf, hesitating. If she just took a quick peek, no one would be the wiser. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them, right?
She opened the file and flipped through it quickly. Frankly, she didn’t care about most of what was in it—all she wanted to know is if the Ministry had any clue about Malfoy’s ties to Voldemort. Birth record, marriage record, O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. results, donations to various organizations…she reached the end and had to go back through it more carefully. Upon re-reading, she noticed a sheet of paper with a record of an “Investigation into possible ties with Dark magic” that had been completed two years previously, ended with the words, “CLEARED OF ALL SUSPICION”. So, even if the Ministry had been suspicious at one point, they weren’t any more.
She located Avery’s record in its section, and found similar results—he had been investigated twice in the last three years, but cleared both times.
Well, that was frustrating, but at least somewhat informative, she thought to herself. It at least explained why Malfoy was able to walk around the Ministry as freely as he pleased, though it brought up some disturbing possibilities for the tacit level of influence that Death Eaters might be exerting in the Ministry. From hearing the Order members talk, they really had no idea exactly how many followers Voldemort had—if Malfoy, who had been officially investigated, could show himself at the Ministry, how easy would it be for those who had never been suspected of wrongdoing?
Even if she hadn’t found out anything concrete in her day at work, Lily thought that now she might have at least something useful to say at the Order meeting the following night. Whether they would be interested in any of it, given the way they usually reacted to information without evidence was another question.
When five o’clock rolled around, Lily gathered her things and left the office. Mr Finkley always seemed to be relieved to see her go, though she thought he resented her less and less with the passing days—she was, after all, getting quite good at dusting shelves.
James had the last watch before the Order meeting, and was anxious to be finished—as usual, nothing had happened, and he was getting more impatient with every shift. If it hadn’t been for the other Order members coming and going, he would have thought this was all a fool’s errand.
Tonight’s watch had been especially frustrating: with the Order meeting looming, he had been able to think of little else other than Remus’ defection. Joining the Order without Remus felt wrong, like he was missing his left arm, and he still didn’t understand why his friend had changed his mind. Neither Sirius nor Peter had been able to get any more of an explanation out of Remus than James had, and they were all thoroughly puzzled about what to do. Lily kept telling him to leave it alone, and to let Remus make his own decision, but James knew his friend was making a mistake—how was he supposed to just let that happen?
So, he had spent the better part of three hours alternating between ruminating on Remus’ choice and determinedly trying not to think about it (which didn’t work out very well).
He checked his watch. There was to be a half-hour gap tonight, since Sturgis Podmore couldn’t make it until eight-thirty, and James had to be at the Order meeting at eight. James didn’t really see that it mattered, since they’d been watching the pub for several weeks now and nothing suspicious had happened, so far as he knew.
It was two minutes to eight, so James thought it was probably time to depart. He hoped they would put him on some other assignment tonight; sitting in an alleyway across the street from a pub for hours on end was going to be miserable when the weather started to get colder.
As he was about to remove his Invisibility Cloak and Disapparate, he heard shouts, garbled in echoes, but distinctly angry all the same.
He hesitated for a moment—in all likelihood, it was just a typical drunken argument, which he’d seen many of from the alleyway—but decided he ought to check anyway.
Following the sound of the voices brought him to the back of the pub, where the red-faced barman was yelling at another man amid the rubbish bins.
“—and you won’t come back again until you’ve paid up!”
With that, the barman turned on his heel and slammed the door behind him. James had almost given it up as a bad job when the man reached into his right pocket and pulled out a wand.
After a moment of surprise, James examined the man much more closely: he was of short stature, and had a rather sour looking face. Having been raised in a pureblood family, James wasn’t always able to separate bad-but-sincere Muggle fashion choices from the misguided attempts of wizards and witches who were trying to look like Muggles, but now that he was paying attention, he felt fairly sure this man’s attire fell into the latter category. He was wearing loose trousers that went down to his knees, long socks that covered his calves, black trainers, and a pinstriped suit jacket.
The man started to walk off in the direction opposite of where James was standing, the Invisibility Cloak still covering him. Even as James followed him, he wondered whether this wasn’t entirely coincidental—it was possible that this man, although a wizard, wasn’t connected with Voldemort at all. Was his paranoia getting the better of him, and causing him to follow innocent strangers down London alleyways?
As if some higher power had sensed his confidence waning, the man took off his suit jacket (revealing a button-up shirt with a truly alarming purple-and-yellow pattern) and rolled up his left sleeve. In the dim light, and because he was walking behind the man, James couldn’t tell exactly what he was doing—but who, other than a Death Eater, had cause to examine their left forearm?
The man was a good four inches shorter than James, and far from on his guard. If James were to curse him right now, he would surely have the upper hand…
But just as he had resolved to do it, the man slipped through a door on his right.
Swearing under his breath, James sped to the window next to the door, which was covered in too many years’ worth of grime for him to see anything inside. He pointed his wand at a patch of the window at eye-height, and muttered, “Tergeo.” The dirt disappeared just in time for James to see the man disappear into the fireplace in a blaze of emerald flames.
He sighed and swore again. The best—the only—lead he’d had so far had just escaped him, and he was now late for the Order meeting with nothing to show for it.
When he arrived at the meeting several minutes later, he was met with curious stares from Lily, Sirius, and Peter. The Order had gathered at the same cottage where he and Lily had attended their first meeting, and many of the same faces were present—even Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Hagrid, despite the fact that the school year was in session once again.
No one, apart from Lily and his friends, seemed too concerned that he was late, and so he took a seat that Peter had vacated for him. Lily looked down at him from several places over, and he could tell she was wondering what had kept him. He tried to communicate silently that all was well.
The meeting had started off with a discussion of what seemed to be the most pressing issue for the Order: various groups that Voldemort was attempting to recruit. Dearborn was largely in charge of monitoring the situation with the giants, since he had ties to them from his days in the Department of International Magical Cooperation.
“The situation is precarious,” he told the group. “No wizarding community has ever been able to call their relationship with the giants comfortable, but it could be that Voldemort’ll be the first to come close to it. The Ministry won’t touch the giants, and I’m not sure we can.”
“I’d’ve done it meself,” Hagrid spoke up. “Still would, in fact.”
Dumbledore smiled. “I still don’t believe that it would be worthwhile to send you on such a dangerous mission alone, Hagrid.”
“It’s true. The chance of it making any difference, even if you were to make it there unharmed, would be slim at best,” Dearborn agreed. “We were too late before we even started on this one—years of bad blood did half of Voldemort’s work for him. We’re just going to have to try to control the situation, should it get worse.”
“‘Control’ it?” Dorcas Meadowes asked, with a little laugh. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but, much as Crouch might brag, we’re really not equipped to fend off a giant attack.”
James often found it difficult to keep up with conversations among the rest of the Order, though it was becoming easier with time. Bartemius Crouch was the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, and by Dorcas’ use of the word “we”, he assumed she must work somewhere within the department. The bit about a giant attack, however, threw him.
“That may never occur,” Dumbledore said, "though, I might point out that giants are nearly extinct because of the actions of wizards, so I think it would not prove entirely impossible to combat them, should the situation arise.”
From there, conversation passed to a discussion of Dementors; Edgar Bones, who worked in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, explained that there had still been reports of stray ones across the country, and that there was evidence of it in the form of their victims, but the Dementors themselves were proving hard to track down. Meanwhile, the majority of them still seemed to be under control at Azkaban.
Edgar’s news also included a report on the werewolf community. James found himself shifting a little uncomfortably in his seat as he thought of Remus, and was ashamed to admit he was glad his friend was not here for this. Then, like an electric shock, a thought occurred to him: was this why Remus didn’t want to join?
Remus hardly ever talked about his lycanthropy, but he had to know more about other werewolves than he let on. Did he know that Voldemort was trying to recruit werewolves, and had been too embarrassed to join the Order? It didn’t really make sense, though—even if some werewolves were interested in joining Voldemort, that didn’t mean Remus was.
“I think we’ll see a decline in werewolf attacks in coming months,” Edgar said. “That incident in Diagon Alley a couple weeks back got a lot of Tyrus March’s close friends arrested—might have gotten him, too, but they all swear he wasn’t part of it.”
“Convenient,” Marlene interjected, and many in the room exchanged dark looks. James did the same with Sirius and Peter, though for very different reasons.
“Even if they do decline,” said Frank Longbottom, “it’ll only be temporary. As long as March is at large, we’re going to get nowhere with the werewolves.”
James wished he knew more about the subject so he could speak up—maybe point out that not all werewolves were as bad as they seemed to think—but he had only the vaguest idea of who Tyrus March was, and almost nothing about any werewolves other than Remus. He was glad when the meeting moved on to other topics.
“Has anything come up during our surveillance of The Lazy Harp?” Dumbledore asked the group.
“Nothing as of last night,” Benjy Fenwick answered.
“Potter had the first shift tonight, though.”
Still distracted by the conversation about werewolves, it took James a few seconds to realize they were talking about him, and then a few more to realize that they were referring to surveillance of the pub. He had completely forgotten the events of the night until now.
“Er, actually, something strange did happen,” he said. There was an instant spike in the room’s energy. He explained what he had seen, and everyone seemed to jump into action at once.
“Did you hear where he was going before he Flooed away?” Marlene asked. James shook his head, but before he could elaborate, Benjy spoke.
“We can narrow down the location easy enough. There can’t be that many fireplaces hooked up to the network in one block, and then we’ll at least have an idea of where he was headed.”
“Explains why we never saw anyone coming or going when we were watching the front of the pub,” Frank remarked bitterly, and Alice rubbed his shoulder in sympathy.
“Sorry, but what exactly are we going to do if we find out who this bloke is?” Dorcas broke in.
Every set of eyes fell upon James.
“Er, well…I mean, if we know who he is, maybe we can keep an eye on him,” he suggested.
After a few moments of silence, Hestia said, “We don’t even know for certain that he’s a Death Eater.”
“He did look at something on his left forearm, though,” James reiterated. The facial expressions around the room were mixed, but some made it plain that they were having a hard time accepting his conclusions.
“I think we’ll have to wait until Benjy and I can find out where the fireplace led,” Marlene said. “Who knows—it might lead us to one of the Death Eaters’ hideouts.”
“Hideouts?” Dorcas snorted. “I didn’t realize they’d started using those. How convenient.”
“I think that’s enough on that matter,” Dumbledore said, in the kind but forceful tone he had mastered. “Thank you for the information, James.”
James was ready to stew for several minutes over his frustration with Dorcas, who apparently wasn’t content before she insulted half a dozen people in an hour, but could only be amused when he saw the look of complete disgust on Sirius’ face. Sirius never got along with people like Dorcas—he hadn’t even gotten on with Lily’s friend, Anna, who had been perhaps a tenth as inflammatory as Dorcas was. Maybe he should have warned Sirius, but his expression was too priceless to regret it much.
James thought that he had dealt with his share of his unpleasantness for the evening, but there was still one more surprise in store for him. As the last matter of business for the evening, Lily gave her report on her job at the Ministry.
“I haven’t seen anything suspicious yet, at least not in the records office,” she said. “I did see Lucius Malfoy at the Ministry yesterday, though.”
James nearly started out of his chair, but he was the only one that seemed moved by this news.
“Oh, Lucius is there at least once a week,” Edgar replied, waving his hand dismissively. “He’s nothing to worry about, though.”
Easy for you to say, James thought to himself. If had been Dorcas who had said it, he probably would have shared his thoughts aloud, but he didn’t feel as antagonistic towards Edgar.
“I figured it was probably nothing,” Lily added. “He was just talking to the Minister about something to do with the Unspeakables—Malfoy wanted his support for something. But since we know he’s a Death Eater, I thought I ought to mention it all the same.”
James tried to make a mental note to sound less like himself, and more like Lily, next time he made a report to the group.
Dumbledore adjourned the meeting soon after that. James was exhausted from trying to keep up with all the different reports, and eager to depart.
“Go for a drink?” Sirius asked the rest of them, and they were all about to escape when Alastor Moody, who had been so quiet that James had forgotten he was even there, stopped them at the door.
“Not bad, Potter,” he growled. The mingling of his scarred face with an expression of amusement was somewhat terrifying. “Next time, you might want to get out your wand and finish the job.”
James mumbled some kind of agreement, thinking that he needed a drink more than ever. By the time he, Peter, Lily, and Sirius had found the closest pub, James had decided that the last thing he wanted to talk about was Order business—but it was unavoidable, and he couldn’t think of an alternative.
“Who’s Tyrus March?” he asked, before they even had their first round. Sirius and Peter shrugged.
“He’s…sort of the leader of the werewolf community,” Lily explained tentatively. “I read about him in the Prophet when there was all that vandalism in Diagon Alley a few weeks ago—you know, the incident Edgar mentioned—and he seems really awful.”
“I don’t really know,” Lily said, looking down at the table, “but it seems like he’s making life miserable for other people who are werewolves. Forcing them to ally with Voldemort, and threatening them if they don’t. That sort of thing.”
James wished he hadn’t asked. He realized now that he’d been something of an insensitive arse to Remus, and the only question was whether he’d make it worse by bringing all this up.
While Sirius and Peter began a commentary of the meeting’s events—it had been more exciting for them, being their first time—James considered how part of him was steadily growing to hate working for the Order. It never felt like he could do anything right among them, and he had expected it to feel more fulfilling. Every time he thought he had done something worthwhile, Dorcas or someone else would find a way to ruin it. It didn’t even feel like they were all on the same side, fighting a common enemy.
He looked up at Lily, who was sitting to his left. She gave him a sympathetic smile and took his hand in hers. Without even saying it, he knew that she understood what he was feeling—was maybe even having the same thoughts herself. And as much as he loved Sirius and Peter’s company, this was one of those moments where he wished it was just him and Lily, and no one else.
All in all, the evening turned out to be somewhat downcast, even though Sirius’ vilifications of Dorcas brought them several minutes of laughter. What James wanted most was to have a long, uninterrupted sleep, but even that was proving harder and harder to find these days. He didn’t like being at home, because there was inevitably some Healer visiting his father every morning, and he had even been avoiding Sirius’ flat because of his non-argument with Remus. What he really wanted…well, he normally wouldn’t have asked, but he must have found the courage somewhere in his third pint.
“Can I go home with you?” he asked, his profile pressed against the side of Lily’s head. He could feel her tense up slightly; when he pulled away, her face showed it even further.
“Er…well, I have to be at work in the morning,” she said.
After a moment’s pause, James said, “Right.” Dealing with yet another wave of disappointment, he observed Sirius and Peter debating about whether Peter would indeed have made the Gryffindor Quidditch team in his third year, had he not been sick on the day of tryouts. They never seemed to get tired of that one.
“I only mean…you can,” Lily suddenly added, her cheeks flushing, “but you might have to get up a bit early.”
His heart lifted. “I don’t mind. Can we go soon?”
“All right. I’m…just going to go to the loo first,” she answered.
Once she had left the table, Sirius fixed him with a critical look.
“I could kill you, you know.”
“When I suggested we go out for a drink, I didn’t expect you to turn it into date night.”
James just laughed. “Well, I hate to make things worse, but Lily and I are going to hers after this.”
The words took on a very different character when they were out of his mouth; they sounded much more salacious than he had intended them to. He realized that he probably shouldn’t have announced it like that, but he would look like even more of an idiot if he tried to take it back, probably.
A hardened expression momentarily crossed Sirius’ face, but it quickly transformed into one of bemusement.
“I suppose it was inevitable that one of us would eventually choose some girl over the Marauders,” he said, “and we all know it wasn’t going to be Wormtail.”
Peter punched him quite hard in the arm at this.
Sirius had a rather nasty talent for casually attacking a person’s weak spots. It had been a while since James had been subjected to one of these assaults, but it was as uncomfortable as he remembered it. The art of Sirius’ barbs was in the fact that always placed them halfway between insult and joke: you were overreacting if you took them seriously, but foolish to think he hadn’t meant something by it. With the way the evening had gone, the last thing James needed was Sirius reproaching him, but he was, nevertheless, stuck in the trap. Sirius, more than anyone, knew how bring him down. It was funny how that came with the territory of having a best friend.
When Lily had returned and helped them all to pay with Muggle money, Sirius had some parting words for James.
“Don’t forget what Moody said, all right?”
James looked at him quizzically, and he and Peter smirked.
“Make sure you finish the job this time,” Peter said, glancing pointedly at Lily.
Despite everything, James laughed along with them.
“What’s so funny?” Lily, who had been busy putting on her coat, asked. This only brought further peals of laughter.
Sometimes, James needed a reminder of what exactly his work for the Order was all about, even if it came in the form of a low-brow innuendo.
Author’s Note: If you happened to read, I would be endlessly grateful if you would leave me a review with some comments on stuff like the pace of the story, and whether you’re interested in what’s happening with the plot. Or if you just want to tell me if you liked it or not, that's great, too.