Chapter 37 : The End of the Beginning
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“I think twelve-across is Mandrake,” said Sirius, scrawling the answer into the squares.
“That means the last letter in this one is an ‘A’,” I said, pointing to the word crossing it. “Warbeck… what’s her first name, Celestana? Celestina? I don’t remember.”
“Celestina, that’s right,” said Sirius. I raised my eyebrows and looked at him – I hadn’t expected him to be a fan of the crooning tunes of Celestina Warbeck. “James’s mum likes to listen to her,” Sirius explained with a laugh.
“So you say,” I said in a skeptical tone. “But I bet you actually have all her songs memorized.”
Sirius sighed dramatically. “I guess it’s time for the truth to come out – I did write all her songs for her,” he invented. “If you listen closely to her music, you can hear me; I’m one of her backup singers.”
I laughed and we continued on with the crossword. “How was your meeting with Dumbledore this afternoon?” I eventually asked Sirius.
He set the quill down. “It was good,” he said, then sat up so he was no longer slouching. “Very interesting. I think you’ll be getting a message from him pretty soon yourself, actually.”
“Why?” I asked. “I wasn’t the one who replaced the cups on the Hufflepuff table with Nose-Biting Teacups, why should he want to see me?”
“I wasn’t in trouble,” said Sirius. “Well, that’s not what that meeting was about, anyway. It was about Dumbledore’s secret group that’s been fighting Voldemort.”
I stared at him. “He has a secret group that’s fighting Voldemort? I want to join!” I couldn’t let Charlotte’s death be in vain. Ever since then I’d wanted to help in the effort against Voldemort, and it sounded like I had a chance now. “What exactly do they do?”
“I can’t say, because Dumbledore is the Secret-Keeper. But I told Dumbledore you would want to join. See, he had asked Prongs and Lily about it originally, after everything they’ve done this year as Head Boy and Girl dealing with all the Dark stuff going on, and Prongs said all of us should be in – me, Moony, and Wormtail. And then I suggested you and Mandy, if you’re interested.”
“Of course!” I interrupted.
“I knew you’d say that,” Sirius said thoughtfully. “I almost didn’t recommend you for it though, because it’ll be dangerous, and I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you. I want you to stay safe. But at the same time, I know how much it means to you to be able to help out in any way you can because of what happened to Charlotte – you’ve been saying ever since then that you want to do something about it.”
I admired his thoughtfulness and respect for my wishes even though he disagreed with me. “Thank you, Sirius. I really appreciate it. It does mean a lot to me – thank you for understanding.”
“But I meant what I said, you know,” he said seriously, looking into my eyes. “It’s going to be dangerous, as you told me once – fighting Death Eaters all the time.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve changed a lot this year, you know. Being in love was never something I thought would happen to me, and it scared me at first; I have so much more to lose. Sometimes I wonder what I ever did to deserve the love of an amazing girl like you. It’s made me think about stuff more, about how my actions affect more than just me. And as much as I want to fight in Dumbledore’s resistance group, I’m scared of losing you. I don’t know what I’d do.”
This confession from Sirius left me rather speechless for a few moments; he had never been particularly introspective before. I had, of course, noticed that Sirius seemed less reckless than he used to be, but I’d attributed this to my becoming more reckless by spending time with him. But he really had changed.
I threaded my fingers through his. “I’m scared too,” I admitted. “But I guess it’s part of growing up. We have to face the things that are scary and difficult.”
Sirius said nothing and kissed my forehead. As I considered my uncertain future in the war, thankful I’d have Sirius by my side, I realised how much I’d changed as well.
“You’ve made me a better person,” I added finally. “I used to just do whatever was easiest in a hard situation, but you’re willing to take on anything, and I admire that so much. You inspire me to be the best I can be. Everything changed for me over the summer when I got kicked out of my house, you know, and I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I never had much faith in myself before, but your trust in me made all the difference in the world.”
I recalled what Sirius had said when he’d burst into the apothecary after me and told me he loved me, how almost losing someone makes you realise what really matters. And what mattered was that we were both there for each other, despite our trivial arguments. “Let’s not break up over stupid things anymore,” I said.
“Never,” he said, and then laughed. “I’m sure we’ll still fight all the time, but we can work it out. We always do.”
I smiled. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Without looking away from Sirius, I took the Daily Prophet crossword from his hands and tossed it carelessly on the floor. He wrapped his arms around me as I slid over onto his lap and kissed him. It was nice when the Gryffindor common room was deserted this time of night…
Or it was until Remus and Peter walked in with food they’d clearly just obtained from the kitchens, and saw us. “Snogging in the common room?” Remus cried in mock indignation. Peter eyed Sirius’s hand on my thigh and added, “Get a room.”
“Go away,” I said, undeterred, removing one arm from around Sirius to wave a dismissive hand at them. I knew it was silly to tell Gryffindors to go away from their own common room, but the room had been empty until they selfishly walked in. “We’re not doing anything against the rules.”
“Yet,” Sirius added with a devilish grin.
I giggled, and felt my cheeks going red. Peter shook his head and rather quickly disappeared up the boys’ staircase with his bowl of lasagna. Remus stuck around long enough to tell us, “Don’t get up to anything too naughty. Prongs and Lily haven’t come back yet, so they’ll be interrupting you anytime now. Good night!” He grinned and headed up the staircase after Peter.
As Sirius had suggested, a couple of days later I received a message from Dumbledore asking me to come to his office for a meeting. Mandy had got the same note, and I told her what Sirius had told me about Dumbledore’s secret resistance group. To my surprise, however, Mandy did not seem eager to join.
“It sounds like an invitation to die, that’s all,” said Mandy.
“But what about Charlotte?” I asked. “You told me that you and I were going to defeat Voldemort, and do it for Charlotte. This is how to do it! And what about all the defence meetings?”
“If we live, you mean,” she said. “I’m not going to be doing much for her if I die too, am I? I wasn’t there when she died, so the image I have in my mind of what we’d be doing is running out and looking for a fight with Voldemort, and then dying. It was Charlotte last time, it could be me next time.”
“That makes sense, I suppose,” I said. “I’m still going to this meeting, though.”
“You could die too,” Mandy said quietly. “We’ve been so caught up in our plans, our great duelling club, but have we ever really thought that it’s not going to be anything like this out in the real world?”
“I know there’s that risk,” I admitted. “And Sirius joined, and he could…” I stopped, not wanting to even consider that possibility. “The thing is, it’s not only about Charlotte. It’s about the whole wizarding world. We have to help save what we still have.”
“I’m not saying that I don’t want to help,” Mandy insisted. “I want it all to be over too. But I think the best way I can help is just to keep people out of the Death Eaters to begin with. Or I can help Muggle-borns escape the war altogether and get away. I’m just not cut out for fighting like that – I’m getting better at Defence, but I’m still rubbish. There has to be a place for people behind the scenes.”
“How are you going to do that?” I asked. “Keep people out of the Death Eaters, I mean.”
“Well, I’m a friendly person. I can just have a chat with everyone who comes into Gladrags.”
I laughed. “Welcome to Gladrags, my name is Mandy,” I parodied. “Please do not join the Death Eaters. Here’s your dress robes!”
“You could work there too, with that kind of persuasion!” she said, laughing too. “But really, if I have some sort of anti-Death-Eater leaflets or posters – you know, to help inform the people who aren’t sure if they want to join or not… Couldn’t you see that working?”
“I have no idea, to be honest. Maybe you should come to the meeting anyway and ask Dumbledore. He’ll know what to do.”
That evening, when Mandy and I were halfway to Dumbledore’s office, we ran into Sirius in the corridor. “Are you headed to the Order meeting now?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. I was starting to get a bit nervous. What if they changed their minds? What if I wasn’t up to it? I had only a vague idea of what I was getting myself into, although I knew whatever it was would be dangerous. But I was going to do this, for Charlotte. “You’re going too?” I asked as he fell into step beside me. “I thought you already went.”
“He’s getting everyone together to talk about it this time, rather than having the same meeting over and over again with smaller groups. So there will be some new stuff I’m learning tonight as well.”
In near silence we walked to Dumbledore’s office, finally making our way up the spinning spiral staircase.
“We’re going to go make a difference,” Sirius assured me. He gave my hand a squeeze while Mandy knocked on the door to the office.
I’d only been here once before, the time after that watch had cursed Remus. Then, I would have given anything to know what it was… and now that I knew, and the cost I’d paid for finding out… But thinking of that only convinced me that I was doing the right thing now. The door opened and we saw Lily, James, Remus, and Peter already there, as well as Marlene McKinnon from Ravenclaw, and the Hufflepuff prefect Caradoc Dearborn.
“Welcome,” said Dumbledore, looking at us over his half-moon glasses. He gave us a friendly smile as we walked in and tried to find a place to sit, and then he began talking.
“You have all expressed interest in joining a group to fight back against the Death Eaters,” he said. “This is the goal of the Order of the Phoenix, a secret group that operates independently of the Aurors to gather intelligence about Voldemort and his Death Eaters.” He turned to face me, Sirius, James, and Lily. “The Order was, of course, the group that discovered you were in the abandoned Apothecary in Hogsmeade. They were the group that fought off the Death Eaters, with your remarkable help,” he said, inclining his head towards us slightly.
Then he turned back to face the whole group. “You are all of age, and responsible adults who have showed that you can handle what would be required of you in the Order, so I’d like to offer you the opportunity to join the Order when you leave Hogwarts. Normally we’ve tried to keep current students out of the group at least until they’ve left school, but as it’s now June, I think it couldn’t hurt to give you a few weeks to get used to the idea before you’re out there in the middle of it.
“We have meetings every so often. Your tasks would be varied, and could include anything such as following or impersonating Death Eaters to get information from them, or figuring out how to prevent attacks. Our work is done when Voldemort and the Death Eaters no longer attempt to establish a pureblood-ruled society – when their side either gives up or they all end up in Azkaban.”
A long silence followed this. Voldemort would never give up, and it seemed impossible to imagine him contained in Azkaban. So the Order was likely quite a long commitment. It was all becoming real now. All of us had questions, but we let Dumbledore’s words sink in before we asked anything. And then it was question after question – who else was in it? How often would we meet? What were the rest of them doing now?
Gradually we began to get a clearer picture of what our future would hold: Meetings every now and then, whenever they were needed; a lot of information-gathering by being in the right place at the right time in the right disguise. It would be hard, but Dumbledore trusted us, which meant we were up to it. I left feeling like I had a purpose and a way to help out in this endless war. I was not brave. But I was determined, and maybe that would be enough to get me through.
Mandy stayed behind after the meeting to talk to Dumbledore on her own – I supposed she didn’t think it was for her now that she knew the whole story, but I’d ask her about it when I saw her again. I went back to the Gryffindor common room with Sirius and we sat in one of the spacious window seats, looking out at the misty grey evening.
“I’m going to become an Auror,” said Sirius.
I looked away from the window and back at him. “Are you going to be starting that training in the autimn?” I asked.
“What? Well, I haven’t actually signed up for that yet. But I will.”
I laughed. “You better get on that – you can’t just waltz into the Ministry and join the Aurors on the spot. But I think you’ll be great as an Auror.”
“Thank you,” he said, smiling. “I have got some of my life sorted out, though. I just bought a house!”
“Wow, congratulations!” I said. I hadn’t even considered getting my own place yet; there was just too much to think about for after Hogwarts. I knew Mandy’s parents would be glad to let me stay on as long as I needed, but I didn’t want to feed off their hospitality forever. Now that I’d sorted out my post-Hogwarts job, maybe I should look into renting a flat. “Okay, so we’re even,” I said. “I’ve figured out my job for next year, but not my living situation.”
“You could always stay with me at my new house…” Sirius said with a grin.
“Now there’s an idea,” I said, smiling too. “How’d you end up getting a house so soon, anyway?”
“My uncle left me some gold when he died,” Sirius explained. “Bet the rest of the family was thrilled about that. They probably erased him from the family tree for supporting me.”
“Well, see, not everyone in your family is that bad,” I said. “Some of them cared about you, at least.”
“There are a few cool ones,” he said with a grin, which faded quickly. “But then the rest of them… I last saw my cousin Bellatrix a few years ago, but I know she and her husband are Death Eaters, and I’d bet you anything Regulus is too now. Bella’s going to be particularly hard to send to Azkaban; she’s sadistic and crazy for power. I don’t think the Order of the Phoenix has any idea what they’re getting into with her.”
“That’s why they need you,” I said. “They need people like us who know some Death Eaters personally. It’s going to help the Order.”
It had to help. Many lives depended on the Order, relied on all of us… relied on me. It was weird to think about it that way, but it was true.
Later that evening I met up with Mandy again once I’d returned to my own common room. It transpired that Mandy had stayed to talk with Dumbledore because she felt the requirements of the Order would be too much for her. Even though she knew about it and had not joined, she was still sworn to secrecy about it. And, she informed me, Dumbledore had liked Mandy’s idea about anti-Death-Eater leaflets. Mandy said she’d write a new, more detailed brochure about how to protect oneself from Death Eaters and have them all over Gladrags, if her supervisors at the job allowed it. But she had a good feeling about it – who wouldn’t want to put that information out, unless they were Death Eaters?
The last few weeks of our time at Hogwarts were the busiest of my life. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my friends, because this was the last time it would be as easy as just strolling through a few corridors to visit. Later on, we’d have jobs and real lives and probably live in different towns, and even if we would be able to just Apparate on each other’s doorsteps, there might be no one home. And then there were people like Althea, who was a year behind me and I’d likely not see her at all next year.
But my NEWT exams were fast approaching. So I tried to squeeze in a social life, Quidditch, homework, and studying for NEWTs, and even occasionally sleeping, when I could find the time. I essentially reprised my habits of sequestering myself in the library within a tower of textbooks I willed myself to memorise. Mandy and I quizzed each other about Transfiguration over breakfast, discussed only Potions at lunch, and practised Charms together before going to sleep. We didn’t lead the most interesting lives that month, but it would pay off.
I rather envied James and Sirius, who were brilliant and quick to memorise things, so they still found time to turn the Great Hall into a tropical paradise one day, complete with palm trees, sand, seashells, and even a salty breeze. Filch was furious because the sand ended up getting tracked all over the castle. I wasn’t sure whether I hated it for distracting me from my tenacious studying, or whether I loved it – it was hard to be stressed at the beach.
The end of June brought the very intense pressures of NEWTs, and then it was all over. There was a ceremony in the Great Hall before everyone left; all the parents came, and the four long tables were moved out of the way to make room for the festivities. Students mingled, saying goodbye to friends and classmates; parents congratulated their children and met up with their own former classmates… it was a very happy time for all. If only Charlotte were still here to share it with us.
Mr and Mrs Macintosh beamed at me and Mandy when they saw us, and hugged us both tightly. They repeatedly said how proud they were of both of us, and asked all about our year. As Mandy answered a question from her mother, I looked over Mrs Macintosh’s shoulder and saw Sirius. He was too far away to talk to, not with all the noise in the room, so I smiled and waved. He grinned back at me – even though I was already happy as it was such a celebratory day, that one gesture multiplied my happiness tenfold. He turned back to face Mr and Mrs Potter, whom he’d been talking to, and I looked back at Mandy.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” she said, her face alight with joy. “We did it!”
“What a journey it’s been,” I reflected.
“I’m just glad I’ve had you as my best friend the whole time,” Mandy told me. “Some day, thirty years or so into the future, that’s going to be us.” She looked out at the sea of people talking, some of whom had probably left Hogwarts thirty years ago and were still best friends, reminiscing as they were brought together again. I was reminded of the guests at James’s parents’ New Year’s party who’d stayed until late in the night remembering their Hogwarts days.
“Of course it will,” I said, grinning. We hugged each other, neither of us wanting to be the first to let go, and then we both laughed as the hug went on for an unnecessary amount of time.
Finally we let go, and I continued looking around the Great Hall at all my classmates saying their goodbyes. Rays of bright sunlight shone through the window, the sun smiling down upon us. We were on our way out into the world, a feeling both liberating and terrifying – because although it was sunny here at Hogwarts, we were entering into the raging storm of war, and there was no way of knowing what to expect. Today was about us, but tomorrow we’d just be pieces of another story, small parts in a big war. But I had wonderful people by my side and I knew we’d stick together until the end.
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