Disclaimer... these characters belong to JKR
"Y'know," Lily said, staring straight ahead. "I was planning on going into Magical Law."
"Quidditch or dragons," James said glumly.
"I'm just a little bit irritated that we're being recruited for a secret vigilante spy group right after graduation."
"You're not, really"
They were sitting in the parlor of an unremarkable townhouse in a greyish suburb on the outskirts of London. It was tastefully decorated, yet forgettable, in shades of grey and beige and inoffensive blue. James fidgeted on the classically designed chesterfield.
"When did you first hear about the Order?" she asked James.
He shrugged. "Dunno. I just started hearing about it 'round school, but no one had any actual information. You?"
"Summer after fifth year. Marlene told us all about it while we were having a picnic in Anna's garden. Bit of a liability, now that I think about it. Fifteen year olds shouting about it in the back yard."
"Is that what girls talk about?" James asked curiously. "Underground vigilante fight groups?"
"Yep. That's Thursdays. On Mondays we topple governments."
They sat in silence for a while longer. The air in the parlor was still and filled with dust motes. It felt dead and thick, like no one had breathed it in, or disturbed it in quite a while. In the end, it had been Marlene who had brought it up casually during a night at the village pub in Godric's Hollow.
She had been on her second Muggle whiskey and soda of the night, and there had been a touch of pink, high on her sharp, tan cheekbones.
"I'm very bored without you lot around," she had complained. "Even catching Death Eaters is no fun."
"What d'you mean?" James had asked, eyes narrowed. "You've just started Auror training."
"Extracurriculars," Marlene had stage whispered.
Lily huffed. The pub was dark and a little bit smoky, and the three of them, plus Sirius, were crammed into a dim booth at the very back. The seats were cracked leather and the wooden table was stained, with a few burn marks, but she could smell whiskey and peanuts and chips and all in all, it seemed like a safe, comforting place.
"That's a thing?" Sirius asked. "Like, I dunno, rowing? You can just sign up to go and catch yourself a Death Eater?"
"Basically," she said, waving her fingers airily. They were painted a pale blue. She did not exactly look like the sort who would roam around catching Death Eaters as an alternative to after-work drinks.
"It's called the Order of the Phoenix," she elaborated. "We're always looking for members."
Lily tapped her foot edgily against the light blonde wood of the coffee table, jarring back to the present.
It had been Marlene who had sent them a Patronus with the address for the house, and instructions for traveling. They didn't know if Sirius was also coming, or if he had already joined, or if his initiation would take place later. They were completely in the dark and Lily hated it.
"We've been here for an hour," she said, tapping her foot some more.
James checked his watch. "Fifty-five minutes," he corrected.
"Pedant," Lily muttered.
They had graduated from Hogwarts three months ago, and had been married for a month, and as they fidgeted and traded nervous looks, they both felt very young and uncertain again.
"Is this even legal?" James wondered.
"Most definitely not," said Lily, smiling a little bit. "Vigilante groups are typically frowned on."
"Must be because of their non-existent punctuality."
"We try to take appropriate precautions, Mr. Potter," a mild voice replied. "We do not wish to put you in any undue danger."
Lily didn't appear to have moved, but James could see her fingertips resting on her wand. From a distance, she looked still, almost lazy, but he could see the movement of her eyes and the tightness of her shoulders.
Out of the shadows from behind the parlor door stepped a man.
He was tall and slender with brilliant blonde hair and Lily felt like she knew him. She frowned, trying to place him.
"Bliss?" James said, frowning.
"Most assuredly not," the man said, but he looked amused.
"Bliss is your daughter, isn't she? Bliss and David?"
The man sighed. "That's the problem with our world – so small already and then we meet everyone at school. I'm Edgar Bones. I've been placed in charge of you for now."
James stood, and Lily's fingers flickered away from where they'd been resting on her wand. Edgar Bones caught the movement, and met her eyes evenly, smiling slightly.
Edgar Bones led them into the narrow basement of the townhouse, which made James crack an ill-timed joke about serial killers and horror movies, and sat them on the rather damp smelling couch. As far as initiation into a secret crime fighting organization went, it was remarkably tame and Lily was feeling slightly disappointed.
That is, until Edgar Bones pulled out two clear vials from his pocket and handed one to each of them.
"Veritaserum. If you take it, it is under no duress and in full knowledge of the consequences."
Lily looked at it nervously. Once, she had played Truth or Dare with diluted Veritaserum.
"Why?" James asked.
"So we can know that you are sincere, and have had no contact with Death Eaters."
James shrugged, and downed the potion. Lily was about to shout – shouldn't they have talked this through? Discussed? Made the choice together? But they wanted to fight, didn't they? They had come all this way, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, because they needed this, because this was their only course of action.
She drank the potion and tasted nothing.
"Right," said Edgar. "Let's begin."
"Have you ever had contact with Voldemort or his Death Eaters?"
It was such a strange sensation – Lily struggled to describe it. It wasn't as if she was being forced into telling him things – it was more as if she wanted to. As if she wanted to spill secrets and shame out into the open until she was empty and clean.
"No," Lily said, and James echoed her.
"Do you think Muggles and Muggleborns are inferior?"
"Do you want to join the Order of the Phoenix to bring us down?"
"Are you working with anyone else?"
It went on. At a certain point, Lily realized that she didn't have to actually think – she could just relax and let her body respond to the questions.
"What is your greatest secret?" Edgar asked, finally, blue eyes sharp even in the dimness of the basement.
Panic, sudden and flighty in her limbs. Some corner of her brain screamed. No, no, no, close your mouth, don't answer, no.
"At graduation. Death Eaters attacked Hogwarts. One sent a curse at me – I used the Shield Charm – it rebounded. I think it killed her. I never checked."
"I'm an illegal Animagus."
Neither of them looked at each other. Edgar raised an eyebrow.
"Well," he said. "Quite the interesting pair."
Lily winced. Beside her, James looked at his hands.
"Why," James asked haltingly, "Did you ask that?"
"Insurance," Edgar smiled.
"Blackmail," Lily said dully.
"If you want to be crude about it."
"So is that it?" James asked. "Are we in?"
"Nearly. Go home. We'll contact you. The potion ought to wear off soon"
Lily and James left him in the basement. They exited the townhouse casually, walking through the grey little town and passing tired looking business people. Lily noticed with some alarm that the Veritaserum was still having an effect on her – if someone asked her a question at that moment, she would tell them everything. When they reached the edge of town, they Disapparated.
"Bloody hell," James said, slumping down in an armchair by the fireplace of their small cottage. Lily perched on the arm of it. Their cottage was cozy and small, bordered by tall evergreens and a stream at the back of it. Their garden was filled with roses, transplanted from the Potter mansion up on the hill overlooking the village. It was the place Lily had felt most at home in since her parents had died.
"Why didn't Marlene warn us?" James wanted to know.
"Maybe she couldn't," Lily suggested. "There's probably rules around telling your mates all about it."
James snorted. "Since when has Marlene followed rules?"
Lily leaned back against him, comfortable in the overstuffed armchair. It was a bright red velvet, and it clashed horribly with the sapphire blue footstool. Their house was an interior decorator's nightmare, if she was being honest. It was filled with colorful fabrics, wobbly wooden furniture, and random knick-knacks. She liked it, though. It felt like home.
She could feel James starting to relax, the tension leaving him as she held his hand.
"Are we sure about this?" she asked quietly.
"Bit late now."
They were quiet for a moment. When Marlene had told them about it, it had seemed so… exciting. Children, playing war games. Lily didn't know if wizard children did that the same way that Muggles did.
Fake guns, deliciously forbidden violence, 'I got you! You're dead!'
"We'll be fine," Lily said aloud, not sure if she was trying to reassure herself or James. "This is what we've wanted, for years. We'll be fine."
James squeezed her hand and she smiled, leaning down to brush her lips against his.
They heard nothing for several weeks.
After Lily married James, she was faced with the not-altogether-pleasant realization that if she so wished, she would never have to work a day in her life. Both Euphemia and Fleamont had done very well in their chosen fields, and James still retained majority shares in his father's successful potions business, though he'd passed off leadership of the company to his father's protégée. All of this meant that the young Potters were quite fabulously wealthy. They always paid for their friends' drinks when they went to the pub.
It wasn't terrible. It meant they were able to take care of the people they loved, and do what they wanted, but Lily did get bored. She'd not made many friends in the village. There was a Muggle woman about her age, who'd moved next door with her husband and young daughter, there was a couple that had been Hufflepuffs in the year above James and Lily halfway across town, and then there were their friends from school, who were not able to visit nearly often enough.
A week after their meeting in the townhouse, she cornered James early one morning.
"We should get jobs," she announced.
"Doing what?" James looked quite alarmed. He clutched a mug of tea in one hand, his red dressing-gown half falling open. He was wearing pajamas that were covered in Golden Snitches, and Lily smirked at him.
"I dunno," Lily shrugged. "Useful things."
"We are untrained teenagers," James pronounced. "We have no marketable skills. Besides, it's not like we need the money."
Lily removed the mug of tea from his hand, and took out the teabag before it steeped too long. She reached behind him for the milk and then handed it back.
"I just… feel a bit… unfulfilled."
"I thought that's why we were joining the Order."
"Yeah, but we haven't heard back."
James sighed, taking a swig of tea. He winced, and Lily passed him the sugar. "I'm assuming that getting recruited into a vigilante fight-club is a bit more complicated than owling a resume to the Leaky Caldron."
Lily frowned. "I guess I miss feeling busy."
"Ah yes," James said dryly. "I too miss the sleepless nights, constant nerves, and ever-present homework."
She whacked him with the newly arrived copy of the Prophet and moved to the toaster, starting to slice bread. He pulled out the butter and jam.
"If the Order doesn't come through, I'm getting a job. You used to want to be an Auror, James, what happened to that?"
"We graduated three months ago, got married, my parents died, and we basically applied to join an army. I feel fairly productive."
Lily jerked back. She hadn't meant that. When James' parents died, his reaction hadn't been nearly as dramatic as her own had been when her parents had died. Maybe she had discounted it, because they coped differently. James hadn't been back to the Potter mansion since the wedding, he didn't talk about his parents, he didn't visit their graves in the little churchyard, but sometimes he had a thousand yard stare that scared Lily. Lily visited the Potter graves every Saturday. She brought them flowers and told them about their son.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean… of course, you're right. We deserve a bit of a break."
He set his tea down and she set the slice of toast she was buttering down, and they hugged, standing in the middle of the warm, cluttered kitchen.
"I love you," he told her, smoothing her hair back. "We'll sort it out."
Life went on. If James was being honest, he was bored too. Godric's Hollow was a small town, with a small town's pettiness and penchant for gossip. They had dinner with their Hufflepuff neighbors and heard all about how the owner of the Apothecary had married a man ten years her junior, and how sure they were that he was just after her gold. They had drinks at the pub with the Muggles next door, and heard about the intense competition between the Catholic and Presbyterian Church. They went to the meeting at the town hall and heard about the question of the new statue in the town square and were asked their opinions on picket fences versus shrubbery.
James hadn't spent much time in Godric's Hollow, growing up. His memories were of sun drenched summers, of games of Quidditch in the clearing, swimming in the freezing lake in the forest. Lily had only been once or twice, and then for the wedding.
It was a little less magical when you actually had to interact with the villagers.
Both of them were bored. At dinner, they didn't talk. There wasn't much to talk about. Lily cultivated the garden, and he cooked and cleaned, and the two of them were perfectly, quietly miserable.
When the owl arrived, James was at the end of his patience, but he hadn't really wanted to admit to Lily that she was right.
Lily read out the letter that the owl carried.
"The party's at ten," she read. "Marlene's hosting. See you there."
"Marlene?" James asked. "We're just supposed to go to her flat?"
Lily shook her head. "Nah, can't be. Does Marlene have a cottage, or some other property?"
"Doubt it," James said. "I don't think she's that well-off."
The two of them sat down across from one another at the kitchen table, frowning. The scrap of parchment sat between them. James had been excited for a moment. The Order was thrill, danger, a path that would let him help people. They both needed something to wake them up and shake them out of their sleepy village.
"Didn't Marlene throw a party in seventh year?" Lily asked slowly.
"There were a truly distressing amount of parties in seventh year."
"True. But there was a specific one – she found a cave, in Hogsmeade. Round the mountain."
"Was that the one when Anna challenged Sirius to an arm wrestling match?"
Lily's smile flashed, quick and surprising. James hadn't seen her smile properly in a while.
"Probably," she admitted. "Maybe that's where they mean. D'you think?"
James considered. As far as mysterious locations went, it was a good one. Halfway up a mountain, dark, chilly, hidden.
"Seems as likely as anywhere," he agreed.
James supposed he was just getting used to real life. It was a big adjustment. He had gone from Hogwarts, where three meals a day were provided, where house-elves did everything, where he was safe, protected, where he didn't have to think about the war – to this. To marriage. To life without his parents, to life with Lily, to fear. Probably everyone went through this.
Lily certainly seemed to be. He worried about her. She seemed restless.
They had been perhaps, unrealistic. Neither of them had really thought much about life after school. In his mind, they would graduate, marry, and simply slip away into the sunset.
"I love you," he said hastily, as they started up the foot of the mountain. Lily gave him a slightly odd look. "I love you too," she said, smiling.
It was a steep hike, and James wished they could Apperate to the top. But neither of them quite remembered where it was, or what it looked like, and that was a recipe for Splinching themselves.
Hogsmeade was misty and cold, and no one was out. It was unseasonable weather for this early in the fall, and James suspected Dementors. There had been a surge in sightings recently, following a mass escape from Azkaban. He felt a bit nostalgic as they walked through the empty village. The Three Broomsticks was dark and shuttered, and so was Honeydukes. He missed Hogwarts terribly sometimes.
"Lily," James said, following her up a narrow path that seemed more designed for goats. "Are you happy?"
Lily didn't say anything for a moment. Her brilliant red hair was pulled back severely into a bun at the nape of her neck. Her pale skin was silvery in the moonlight. The black clothing that she wore seemed to absorb the light.
"I'm not unhappy," she said carefully, not turning to look at him.
"That's not what I asked," he told her.
"I know," she said, and sighed. "James, it's not you."
"Thanks," he said, a little more acidly than he meant.
"I feel useless. Like I'm not doing anything. I look at Marlene – and she's building a career, she's fighting Death Eaters. Remus is fighting for werewolf rights, and I have no idea what the hell Sirius is doing, but I bet it's cool, and then I look at you and me and we're growing heirloom tomatoes."
Lily seemed to let it all out in a rush, like a balloon deflating. She kept picking her way up the path, watching the gravelly surface.
"In our defense," James said lightly, "the tomatoes make an excellent spaghetti sauce."
Lily snorted a laugh.
"I understand, though," he continued. "I feel the same way. I want to be doing something to help fight this war."
Lily nodded once, quickly.
"No matter what happens with the Order, we'll do something, Lily. We'll figure it out."
She held up a hand, halting him and shushing him all at once.
They had found the cave.
It was shielded by vines and covered in moss. A boulder concealed half of the entrance. James shivered. It had been much more inviting looking on the night of Marlene's party. She'd filled it with golden candlelight, blankets, and music. Today it was misty and damp and dank. Lily offered him her hand.
The two of them entered together.
Lily sighed in irritation.
"They'd better not make us wait an hour again."
Inside, the cave was unexpectedly lovely. Some dim moonlight entered, shining on stalactites that were as delicate and slender as wands. There were crystal formations on the walls, and they glimmered shyly, sparkling from one angle and invisible from the next. James caught his breath, craning his neck. Smooth waterfalls of calcium carbonate rippled down one wall. The pristineness of the cave was stunning. James hadn't remembered this.
Lily carefully took a seat on a low rock, and James lowered himself next to her.
"Remind you of Hogwarts?" she asked, and James nodded.
"I miss it."
It was dark enough that Lily was just a shadowy silhouette, and James reached to tuck a loose piece of scarlet hair behind her ear. She had felt distant, lately. They didn't spend their evenings on the chesterfield with their books anymore. At night, she faced away, on the very edge of the bed. He didn't know what had happened or how to address it, because it was so subtle. It was like living with a polite stranger.
"I miss you, Lily," James said, reaching for her hand in the dark.
He heard her inhale, startled, and then he saw the bright shine of a lumos.
Edgar entered the cave, smiling mildly in the light of his spell.
"Good evening. I hope the instructions were not too cryptic."
"They were fine," Lily said sharply. "So what now? Initiation? Do we have to fight a troll? Catch a Death Eater?"
"Nothing so dramatic as that," Edgar told her. He extinguished his wand. "Typically, we like to have a sense of recruits' abilities. Special skills, that sort of thing."
"D'you want a copy of our N.E.W.T marks?"
Edgar sighed. "I do enjoy the witty back and forth, but I was trying to explain something."
James closed his mouth and sat back.
"Thank you. The two of you will be conducting surveillance on a member of the Wizengamot who we believe to be working with the Death Eaters. It'll be simple – just report on what you see and leave the rest to the Order. There will be more details sent to you tomorrow."
Edgar finished speaking, looked at them, and then Disapperated.
James blinked. "Bit rude, isn't he?"
"What did you mean," Lily said, "when you said you missed me?"
She looked straight ahead at one of the crystal formations. It shone like diamonds. They had never gotten wedding rings. James wasn't quite sure why. Lily had never even had an engagement ring. Something about the idea seemed nice, some physical display of love, of belonging to one another.
"I know you're bored," James told her. "In the village. I know there's not much to talk about. I know we both miss Hogwarts. But… it feels like you're a stranger, Lily. When was the last time you kissed me?"
Lily turned towards him. Her mouth looked tight. "Two weeks ago," she whispered, and it occurred to James, maybe she was counting too. Maybe he was a stranger too.
"But it was just a quick kiss – I think it was good morning – shit, James, what the hell happened to us?"
He shook his head. "I dunno. We stopped talking. Stopped putting any effort in."
She looked at him and raised an eyebrow. And kissed him.
He'd forgotten the fire that came with kissing Lily. It was like Firewhiskey, burning against his mouth, searing his heart. She tangled her fingers in his hair carefully, feeling just a little bit stiff, and he cradled her neck, breaking away and kissing the sharp curve of her jaw. Her skin was thin there, almost translucent, and she shivered under his hands. It felt like walking on eggshells, James thought, like touching china.
Lily seemed to realize this, because she climbed off of her perch on her rock and into his lap, tilting his head back and opening his mouth with her own. He gasped against her lips as she tangled their tongues. It was ungraceful and profoundly out-of-sync and just the littlest bit awkward because it had been far too long since she had kissed him like this.
He bit her lower lip gently, and set one hand at the small of her back, just edging under the hem of her jumper. Lily pulled away, resting her forehead on his and breathing heavily. He could see her eyes sparkling. Her cheeks were just the slightest bit flushed, dark in the faint moonlight.
"I suppose that's one way to get out of a rut," James whispered, nearly against her lips.
She grinned. "We'll sort it out, yeah? But the cottage is probably more comfortable than a cave."
"Yeah," he agreed, setting his hands at her hips and helping her slip off his lap. She pulled him to his feet, and rested her head against his chest, swaying in place for just a moment. Like they were dancing.
The last time they had danced was at their wedding. Lily had slipped off her shoes, and the two of them had swayed on the dark, cool grass, under the stars. He didn't remember what song had been playing for their first dance – only that it was soft and sweet and a little bit sad, and it had made his heart swell with both love and fear of losing her.
He wouldn't lose her. And she wouldn't lose him. They would be ok. They just had to learn how to talk again, how to put in the effort again. And also join a vigilante spy group, but James thought that that would be the easier task, on the whole.
A.N. Hey folks! I'm following up A Rise and Fall with another longer fanfic. You don't need to read that one to understand this one, though. I'd love it if you left a review - I haven't written in months, so I'm rusty as hell, and I would greatly appreciate constructive criticism. Thanks for reading!