Real Life

Chapter 5

Disclaimer... these characters belong to JKR

Dinner was unusually quiet. Marlene, overcompensating, was bubbly and bright in a way that she hadn't been since Hogwarts, and Lily felt a sudden fierce ache for their life before. They all ate quickly, and the bottle of red wine on the table was hardly touched. Lily wasn't sure why she was so nervous. The Order was the good guys, or, as good as it was possible to get right now. She poured herself some wine.

After the dishes were cleared, and coats and scarves and cloaks were gathered up to ward against the burgeoning autumn, the six of them headed out. Marlene had instructed everyone to bring brooms, and Lily stared at hers with some skepticism. She hadn't flown in a year or so, and she wasn't sure she wanted to start again. Once she'd found the stereotypical nature of them somewhat comforting but now she just found them cloying.

She glanced at James. He was smiling. Well, he was smiling at the broom. He hadn't flown in ages either, she knew, and she knew he missed Quidditch. Once, he'd wanted to play professionally. Sirius looked slightly nervous. Remus was sighing in a long suffering manner, and Peter was grinning like a maniac. Lily felt slightly reassured.

"Everyone ready?" Marlene asked brightly, perched on her own broom like a broomstick model for Witch Weekly.

At a chorus of nods, she kicked off into the air.

Flying wasn't so bad. The balance component wasn't quite as tricky as Lily remembered, and gazing at the city lights far below caused a low swooping in her stomach that wasn't too far removed from excitement. She remembered school holidays and supervised flights with Mary and Marlene when they first started at Hogwarts. The night air was cold on her cheeks but she welcomed the bitter chill. It was numbing, and she had to concentrate on flying straight and keeping her hands steady on the broom. There wasn't much time to think.

Lily didn't recognize where Marlene was taking them – there were no lights and it appeared to be farmland. Marlene was waving them down so Lily leaned forward and dove for the ground, hitting it a little too hard and stumbling. Peter caught her with a hand under the elbow and a slightly nervous smile. Lily smiled back. She hadn't seen much of Peter since they all left Hogwarts, and she regretted it.

She had always liked James' friends, and over the years they'd become less James' friends and more her boys.

Marlene was grouping them together, looking around with some concern.

"Did anyone see anyone following us?" she asked, still glancing over her shoulder.

"No," Sirius said. "Did you?"

Marlene shook her head, but bit her lip.

"We've had people get picked off on their way to meetings before. We really can't be too careful."

"Fuck," Remus breathed, and there was a collective murmur of agreement.

"Come on," Marlene ordered, shaking off her nervous demeanor. She offered Lily her hand, and Lily took it gladly. "It's not far."

It wasn't far. They walked for about four hundred meters through a tall field of grass that whipped at James' legs and bit at his exposed hands. Marlene and Lily were in the front and he fell into step beside Peter, who kept looking back over his shoulder where they'd left the brooms.

"You alright?" James asked quietly.

Peter nodded. "Fine. Are you ok? I haven't really talked to you about what happened with Lily – that must've been really frightening."

James ran a hand through his hair, keeping his eyes forward. Peter had good intentions, he knew. He was a good friend. But thinking of Lily bleeding out on that hard cave floor still made the fault lines in his bones spread a little wider.

"Yeah, we're alright. Mungo's took care of her. We both just want to know who Pendya was talking to."

Peter nodded seriously, and nearly tripped over Sirius's heels when he stopped.

"It's just a bit further," Marlene said. "It's protected by the Fidelius charm – you're made a Secret-Keeper once you're a senior member."

James vaguely remembered reading about the Fidelius charm years ago – he remembered that it was extraordinarily complex magic and he felt briefly reassured that the side they were on had such powerful defensive magic at their disposal.

Marlene grouped them all into a vague circle and offered Remus a slip of parchment.

"Read it and memorize it," she told them. "Incinerate it once you're done."

When the paper got to James, he illuminated his wand.

The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at Number 13, Tutum Way, Northumberland.

James pressed his wand to the parchment and murmured a spell, feeling the brief flash of warm in his fingertips as the paper turned to ash and blew away in the gentle breeze. As he turned back to his friends, there was a house.

It was a huge, rambling thing, with faint light in the windows and a few murmured laughs coming from within. The farmhouse was painted a light blue, but it was muddy in the dim light spilling from the slightly dusty windows. They stood at the front of a large wraparound porch that had some derelict looking rocking chairs resting by the railing, and a few pot plants sat by the stairs.

All of them were silent for a moment.

"It's not much," Marlene said hastily. "I mean, we're not a large organization and Northumberland is a good area – it's so underpopulated."

Sirius grinned at her. "I happen to think it's a superb secret headquarters. Very stealthy."

Marlene beamed at him and started up the steps.

Lily turned to James and offered him a smile.

"You ready?" she asked quietly.

He smiled back at her and slid an arm round her waist.

"'course. I was always wonderful at being stealthy."

Lily raised an eyebrow.

"Well," James amended. "I was never caught sneaking into your dorm."

"Yes you were," Marlene called down. "The rest of us were just tactful."

The house gave no sign of being magical as Marlene led them through the hallways, apart from the floating candles that illuminated their path. Their light was dim and they smelled like spice and something stranger, shining golden light on the gentle lines of the house, which bowed gracefully out, softened with age. The halls that they passed through felt labyrinth like. There were no pictures on the wall, no signs of personal life, and James felt a vague flutter of discomfort as he touched a wall and his hand came away dusty. There was laughter coming from somewhere in the house and the effect of it was disorientating as it bounced off the high ceilings and stroked its way up the rib-like walls of the house.

The group of them was silent.

Marlene led them past a rickety staircase, and finally into a room that was brightly lit and filled with dusty air. It was the source of the laughter.

James spotted Professor Dumbledore sipping at a bottle of butterbeer serenely, Professor McGonagall staring at some mildew on the ceiling with a disapproving frown, and a rather battered looking wizard with a carved wooden leg who turned his gaze on the group of them when they entered.

"McKinnon," the wizard barked, glaring at Marlene. "Four minutes past the agreed upon arrival time. Who's your favourite member of the Curses?"

Marlene rolled her eyes, appearing put-upon. The wizard slammed the wooden staff that he carried into the ground, a slightly deranged look in his eyes, and Marlene relented.

"Merlin and fucking Morgana, calm down, Alastor. You know my deep and abiding love for Nila Confringo."

Sirius made a disparaging noise and Marlene rounded on him. "Shut up, Sirius, Kata is a talentless hag and everyone knows it."

"Unnecessary," Sirius muttered, frowning at her.

"Welcome back, McKinnon," the wizard told Marlene.

James scanned the rest of the room. Edgar Bones was perched on top of a counter next to a tall golden haired boy that James recognized as his son, David. James had known David's twin, Bliss, at Hogwarts. The two of them had been in his year. James wondered where Bliss was. Edgar looked uncharacteristically relaxed, leaning back on his hands. Benjy Fenwick and his wife Kalia, who had been two years ahead of James and Lily, were standing by a window, a tall dark haired witch who looked several years older than James sat at the table and a dozen or so other people were scattered about the room. Several of them were wearing bright purple t-shirts emblazoned with a rather misshapen golden bird. A phoenix, presumably. James grinned. He liked t-shirts.

Lily took his hand, leaning into his side with a familiar weight.

Conversation resumed in the room – Kalia Fenwick and David Bones discussing something regarding the Department of Mysteries, McGonagall speaking quietly to the wizard that Marlene had called Alastor.

"We'll start in a few minutes," Marlene told the five of them. "We're just waiting for a few more members."

"Is this everyone?" Remus wondered.

She shook her head, blonde hair glimmering in the brighter candle light.

The kitchen was overly warm and a bit crowded; floating candles spilling pools of light over the occupants. James could smell the caramel scent of butterbeer and what smelled like tomato sauce, with the windows shut against the autumn chill. The floor creaked underfoot.

"We've got small groups scattered all over the country. Some are undercover, some have families, and some just don't like coming to meetings."

Lily let out what sounded like a relieved breath. James couldn't blame her.

"Welcome, everyone!" Dumbledore called, setting down his butterbeer and adjusting his spectacles. A few more people dressed in dark cloaks had trickled in, filling up the edges of the room.

He looked disturbingly cheery, beaming at the gathered crowd and waving. James was reminded of the start of the year feasts.

"I'm glad to see you all here, mostly unharmed. I'm sure that nasty curse will wear off soon, Edgar, I wouldn't worry."

Edgar glared.

McGonagall cleared her throat.

"Yes. Anyways. We'd like to welcome several new members of the Order – James and Lily Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew. Our thanks to Marlene McKinnon for recruiting them. Mr. and Mrs. Potter have had Prema Pendya under surveillance for the past week – it has been confirmed that she is working with Lord Voldemort. She is also attempting to recruit someone that the Death Eaters believe have enough power to decide the war. There is no information on who this person is."

He paused to let a flourish of murmurs sweep the room. He didn't mention the attack.

"Mr. Black, Lupin, and Pettigrew were conducting a stake out waiting to intercept a shipment of obscure potions."

There was a smattering of polite applause.

"As for the rest of us, Voldemort has been recruiting faster than ever. His Death Eaters have managed to use the Imperius Curse to control many witches and wizards, as well as intimidating a large number into joining their cause. Many of the Pureblood families have grown bolder, and have declared for Voldemort. These families include the Blacks, the Greengrasses, and the Yaxleys."

Sirius stiffened, blankness washing across his face. Peter dropped a hand to his shoulder, reassuring.

"Our efforts must be concentrated on preventing magical creatures from joining the cause."

Dumbledore paused, peering over the tops of his half-moon spectacles. The room was quiet.

"Mr. Lupin," he said, almost gently. "It's very good to have you here."

Remus' brow wrinkled in confusion, until Dumbledore smiled at him. The room remained silent, but there was an air of confusion. Lily's hand tightened on James' and she looked unhappy. She'd found out about Remus' furry little problem in seventh year, and she'd become immediately protective of him. It was hardly surprising that she didn't like the idea of Remus being used for his condition.

"We should focus our efforts on the centaurs," Kalia Fenwick spoke up. She was standing half in shadow. When James had known her, she had been short and laughing, with golden skin and glossy black braids. Now, her hair was cut brutally short and there was a bitter slant to her mouth that looked like it had been carved into her face. "They're one of the largest groups, and they're deadly in battle."

"The centaurs would never join Voldemort."

It was the elegant dark haired witch that James didn't recognize. Her eyes sparkled slickly in the candlelight. "They wouldn't join the Dark Lord and they certainly won't join us – they're an independent party, Fenwick. We've mistreated them for centuries; they won't come running to our side now."

"Going by that logic, we shouldn't even try to recruit magical creatures, Emmeline," Benjy Fenwick pointed out, coming to his wife's defense. "We've mistreated goblins, merpeople, and we would've probably abused the giants if we thought we could control them."

Dumbledore didn't say anything, but he watched the unfolding debate with interest. The warm dusty air drew taut about them.

James' group had found seats, and he twisted around to raise an eyebrow at Marlene, who shrugged.

"It's an ongoing issue," she mouthed.

To James' surprise, Remus spoke up next.

"A considerable number of British werewolves were turned by ones loyal to Voldemort. Most of them hate him – they'd be glad to have a chance to fight."

The dark haired witch turned to him. "Would they be concerned about retaliation? Voldemort has used lycanthropy as a threat against families before."

Remus' face went dark. "Yes. But many could be convinced – they'd probably rather fight for the right side if we could promise their families some measure of protection."

"Mr. Lupin," Dumbledore called. "That will be your new directive. I'll speak to you after the meeting."

Remus nodded, looking troubled. James worried about him.

"Is the surveillance on Prema Pendya being continued?" David Bones asked.

McGonagall looked inquisitively at James and Lily. Lily squeezed his hand again, and they both nodded.

"We'll check on her again tomorrow," Lily said. "I think we should concentrate on trying to find out who she was talking to – she sounded powerful. And the Death Eaters really wanted her. If we could get her on our side, or at least capture her, it'd be a huge blow to them."

There was an almost wistful feeling in the air. The idea of someone powerful enough to end the war was a seductive thought, and they all basked in it for a moment, wishing. The war had officially started in 1970, the year before James started Hogwarts. There had been debate over whether he would go to school at all. His father, protective of his only child, his late in life son, had been reluctant. His mother had been the one to insist on it. For years before the war started, there had been tension. Strange murders and Muggles being tortured. Riots in Diagon Alley and copies of The Pure-Blood Directory being left on porches and quoted in political speeches. Their world was so entangled with hate; it was hard to imagine those roots ever being pulled up.

"Thank you, Mrs Potter," Dumbledore said. "If anyone has anything to add?"

The room was silent again.

"Very well. Please depart slowly. Till the next meeting."

Dumbledore faded into a corner with McGonagall, and the room broke into tense whispers.

"D'you think we get t-shirts?" Sirius asked. "I like t-shirts."

"Do we get t-shirts?" James directed his question to Marlene, who raised a sculpted golden brow.

"T-shirts are fifteen Sickles," she told them.

"We don't just get them as payment for fighting evil?" Sirius said indignantly.

"We need snack money. Chocolate frogs aren't free."

"Fair enough," Sirius allowed. Lily snorted, shaking her head at Sirius, but smiling in a fond sort of way.

The group of them remained on the edges of the stuffy kitchen, waiting as it drained of people and talk.

A.N. Thanks for reading! Fun fact - the original Order of the Phoenix actually did have t-shirts. In the Harry Potter Prequel card that JKR wrote for a charity auction a few years back, there's a bit that talks about James and Sirius escaping from some Death Eaters and a few Muggle policemen tried to stop them. They were described as 'both were dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with a large golden bird'.