Author's Note: I would like to give credit to SunshineDaisies (aka Katie) for the idea of having Dorcas Meadowes be a journalist. I read it in her story "In Fields of Poppies" – which I highly recommend if you have not already read it – and she has me sold on the idea.
Chapter Fifteen – The War to Come
Lily had always been a fan of Christmas. While she was growing up, her mum had really gone all-out to make sure that she and Petunia had a magical experience. Even though Lily knew that her parents didn't have a lot of money, Father Christmas always brought them three presents and a stocking full of sweets and miniature toys. His presents were always wrapped differently than the ones her parents gave her.
The presents hadn't been what she loved most of all, though. On the first weekend in December, her father would always put up a huge Christmas tree in their sitting room and they would decorate it as a family. Her father would get tangled in the lights, her mother would remind them to be careful with the breakable ornaments, and little strands of tinsel would somehow be found all over the floor by the end of the evening.
At some point after school let out for the holidays, they would climb into their beat up grey car and go looking for holiday decorations around town. On Christmas Eve, she and Petunia would be given one present that was, without fail, a new pair of pyjamas. Usually, they would match. Her mother would then insist that she needed a family photograph in front of the tree and that they leave out cookies for Father Christmas before going to bed.
That had all changed when Lily found out she was a witch. She had discovered the truth about Father Christmas the same year she found out magic really did exist. It was weird, in a way – she stopped believing in one sort of magic around the time she learned that an entirely different kind was not only real, but that she would soon have the skills to control it. More importantly, that had been the year that Petunia had decided that she didn't like matching Lily any longer.
Their mother had made them wear their matching pyjamas for another year and told Petunia to change her perspective quickly. Petunia had put up a front and did her best to convince their parents that nothing had changed, but they all knew it had.
Lily's first year at Hogwarts threw everything off even more. She hadn't been home when they would usually set up the tree, so her parents insisted on waiting until the day she got back from school for the first time. Petunia had bitterly told her that they had to ruin their traditions because Lily just had to go off to a special school, which stung. Even so, she hadn't been able to keep herself from gushing about everything she was learning and what she was experiencing, which made Petunia scowl even more.
As the years went on, Lily went back to loving the holidays. She grew used to the fact that Petunia was jealous of everything she was getting to experience, which she told herself repeatedly when her once friendly sister acted cold to her. Forging close friendships at school also helped, as did the decorations of the school. The trees in the Great Hall dwarfed the ones she had grown up with at home and there was something magical about fake snow falling with candles everywhere. The fact that the school got more snow, being further north than her home, certainly didn't hurt either.
That year, the snow started in the middle of the week in early December. She had gotten up early, prepared to rush through getting ready to go down for breakfast before class, when she first saw the huge, fluffy snowflakes falling outside her window in Gryffindor Tower.
Lily pulled back the curtains on the four poster bed beside her. "Aurora, wake up," she said. In response, Aurora put her face down in the pillow. "Come on. Look out the window."
Aurora opened one eye. "Why?"
Aurora shoved off the covers, but didn't stand up. Instead, she leaned over to peer out the window. "I can see that. And it will probably be snowing for a while longer."
Lily had to give her best friend that much. "That may be true, but we still have Defense Against the Dark Arts soon and I would like to have time to actually sit down and eat my breakfast today."
When class started, Lily was glad she had filled up at breakfast. They were starting work on non-verbal spells, which was much easier in theory than in execution. Professor Montgomery had instructed them to disarm their partner using expelliarmus. They had learned the spell in second year under Professor Lynch, who had not returned after she had a baby that summer. Lily knew how to do the spell well and had used it in practice a few times when she caught students duelling in the corridors.
To her left, Lily heard Claire whisper, "Do we really want those guys to learn how to do non-verbal spells?"
She followed her friend's gaze to Mulciber, Avery, and their friends. For once, they all seemed to be on task and intent at learning the skill at hand. Wilkes caught her eye and the corner of his mouth twitched upwards, sending a chill down Lily's spine. Turning back to Claire, she said, "I really don't think we do."
She was unable to shake the feeling that this new skill was going to be used against unsuspecting students in the future. It was hard enough to prove the bullying and who started hexing whom as it was, since it would quickly become a he-said, she-said situation in uncrowded hallways. When people could potentially be hexing others without uttering a word, it would be even harder.
While patrolling with Remus for the final time before the holiday break after they found two students shooting spells at one another. One girl claimed that she had been called a Mudblood and was only trying to defend herself, while the other claimed that the first girl had called her brother a wannabe Death Eater. After the two girls had been given detentions and walked off in the directions of their respective common rooms, Lily brought up some of her fears up to Remus.
"What if her brother is a wannabe Death Eater?" she asked
Remus looked uncomfortable at the question. "I don't know," he said after a long pause. "I don't know if there's anything we can do about it. It's not like we could walk up to somebody and tell them that their views about Muggleborns, purebloods who do not marry other purebloods, and the like are wrong. Well, I suppose we could but it wouldn't get us anywhere."
Lily hated knowing that he was right. She hadn't even been able to change Severus's mind about the people he hung out with. Even after six years of friendship, he had still called her a Mudblood. It was a word she had only been able to explain to her parents as a racial slur when they asked why he wasn't coming around the previous summer and, only after saying it out loud like that, had she realized that maybe she never really knew Severus or his thought process at all. If she couldn't truly know somebody after that long and not convince them that their feelings on Muggleborns were wrong by being such a dedicated friend, what hope did she have when talking to somebody like Mulciber or Sirius's brother?
"I wish we could change it," she said bitterly.
Remus shoved his hands in his pockets. "It would be nice," he agreed. Lily wondered if he was also thinking about how much easier his life would be if people changed their opinions about werewolves inferiority. "It won't be easy to eliminate such a huge, ingrained prejudice. Especially if the Ministry doesn't seem to have a plan about how to tackle the issue."
She knew what he was talking about. While the Ministry of Magic had declared He Who Must Not Be Named to be the number one criminal in wizarding Britain a couple of years ago, they seemed to have no idea on how to actually go about catching him. The Minister herself talked about doling out harsh punishments to those found guilty of participating in You-Know-Who's crimes, but there had only been one Death Eater found guilty since school had started up again. Even when people went missing or were found dead, the Auror office never spoke about what they were doing about it.
It seemed like most of the information they got was from the Daily Prophet, which had a section every morning dedicated to people who had been reported missing or found dead in suspicious circumstances. There was never much information, but they at least would give a list of names and mention if the Dark Mark had been found around any of them.
The most thorough information seemed to come from a journalist named Dorcas Meadowes. From what Lily had found out, she was a twenty-something reporter who seemed to be assigned to lots of on-the-scene coverage. Every time Lily read one of the articles that Dorcas Meadowes wrote, she couldn't get it out of her head. Rather than skimming over issues, her articles would be filled with details and usually some information about the victims involved. Ms. Meadowes did more to make the people who had vanished or been killed seem more real than anybody else seemed to care to do.
"Things have to change," Lily said, more to convince herself than because she truly believed it.
Evidently, she hadn't convinced Remus. "I would like to think so, but don't count on other people to do something well."
"I'm going to become a Healer! You were planning to do research on magical creatures!" she said, feeling herself getting worked up. "Neither of us will be able to change any minds with those jobs."
"Sirius wants to become a Muggle rights activist. James is planning to do Auror training when we graduate, if he has the marks," Remus said slowly. "I'm sure they will be able to do some good. Maybe even more than you or I, since they're purebloods and actually have a shot at getting people to listen to them. And who knows. Maybe you will help change the world as a healer. Maybe you'll create some sort of treatment or provide comfort to bigoted families who will be surprised to learn that you don't have magical parents."
"And if I don't?" Her voice was so soft she wondered if he heard her.
It took him so long to answer that she almost repeated herself. "Then we can find like-minded people. Ones who have influence. Like Dumbledore."
Despite herself, Lily laughed. "Are you saying we should just stroll up to his door and ask him if he wants to fight Death Eaters with us? Build some sort of army to fight against the darkest wizard alive?"
Remus shrugged. "He beat Grindelwald. Maybe he wants to try round two. You never know."
"I'm glad to see you've thought this plan through."
Remus grinned. "I thought you knew me."
Julius Avery was glad when the winter holidays came. He'd been forced to spend the past several weeks in school, pretending that everything was normal. He kept up his grades, went to cheer on Slytherin in their first Quidditch match of the season (a disappointing loss to Hufflepuff), and spending time with his friends. In reality, he had been rather preoccupied ever since the Hogsmeade trip.
He had slipped away from his friends to meet up with Bellatrix Lestrange in the Three Broomsticks. By the time he had arrived she was already sitting at a table on the very edge of the room, her long dark hair flowing over one of her shoulders and her hands clasped around a steaming mug.
"Sit," she had told him, not bothering with greetings, and he had done as he was bid.
She had asked who he had talked to. He had explained to her that he had four other Slytherin boys in his year and two of the girls. He had been less confident when explaining who he had talked to from the other years, since the numbers were far lower. If she was displeased, she didn't say anything. Instead she wrote down a list of surnames in minute writing in a tiny notebook she had fished out of her handbag. When the list was complete, it was tossed back in as quickly as it had been pulled out.
She had finished her beverage in a few gulps, placing the now-empty mug down on the table with a clang. "We will do some research," she said. He assumed she was referring to the names she had written down, but he wasn't entirely sure. "You are to keep talking to others in fifth, sixth, and seventh year."
As she pushed back her chair, he had asked, "And tell them what?"
Bellatrix had glared down at him. Clearly, she hadn't liked his question. "What you have been saying so far. You may get more information when you return home for the holidays."
With that, she had swept out of The Three Broomsticks without saying farewell, leaving him alone with a nearly full butterbeer. He wanted to get out of the noise and away from the excited third years near him who would not stop giggling at Merlin knew what. He had done his best to get out of there quickly so he could find his friends again.
They had asked what he had been off doing, but he had only given them vague answers. He didn't want to say anything he wasn't supposed to. He did not know very much about what his father did or what the Dark Lord's plans for him were, but he did know that the Dark Lord was not somebody you wanted to disappoint.
The weeks from the first Hogsmeade trip to the train ride home seemed to go both too quickly and too slowly at the same time. Julius had done his best to talk to students from the year above and the year below him, but he didn't know if it would be enough. Talking to somebody to see where they stood on the Dark Lord's ideology was hardly something you could slip into casual conversation. Even when it came up, there was no way to know if people answered truthfully.
Julius was unsure of how much he was really learning about people. If he had struggled to get a grasp on the thoughts of Severus Snape, a boy he had spent more than five years living with, how was he supposed to get to know the others? Evan Rosier had been able to tell him a bit about his Quidditch team mates (Lennox Rookwood and Regulus Black in fifth year, Charles Burke and Zebulon Pronger in seventh year), which had helped a bit, but there were so many students to get through in Slytherin alone, never mind any reasonably minded people in the three other houses.
When the Hogwarts Express arrive in King's Cross Station, he collected his trunk and went to find his mother in their usual meeting place. She greeted him warmly, with a kiss on each cheek, his younger brother near her side. They waited for before his sister, who was in her second year, in near silence. When she finally arrived, their mother greeted her with the same kiss on each cheek before guiding them through the crowd so they could go home.
A steaming dinner, prepared by the family house elf, was waiting on the table when he got home. Julius immediately noticed that there were only four place settings at the table. That meant that his father was out on some sort of business and would not be home for hours, if he came home at all that night. There had been several occasions over the past few years that his father had never come home at all. It was an unspoken family rule that they did not discuss his father's comings and goings.
At first, when he had been younger, Julius had worried that his father was having an affair. He had never voiced the concerns out of fear of the answer, but as he grew older his understanding changed. Now he was nearly an adult, well versed in the events of the world, and he was pretty sure he knew what kept his father out at night. Yet, despite his confidence that he was right, it remained an undiscussed topic.
As Julius expected, his father had not come home before he went to bed. When Julius woke up in the morning, his mother said that he had left early but that he would be back for dinner to talk about something important.
His mother's comments kept him preoccupied all day. He was certain that, upon his father's homecoming, they were going to discuss what he had learned about his school mates over the past few months. Perhaps he would even figure out what the purpose of his mission had been, although he wasn't counting on it. For all he knew, the sole purpose of it could have been that the Dark Lord was trying to find new recruits and thought that Hogwarts was a good place to look. Julius thought there would be more to it, but who was he to question the Dark Lord?
His father, Cassius Avery, arrived just before dinner. Over the meal they discussed the past semester without ever touching on the fact that Julius had been doing work for the Dark Lord. His younger siblings would never know that there was anything important to be discussed later. Julius wasn't even sure how much his mother knew of the matter, because she was perfectly composed and showed no hint that she had any idea of what was going to happen.
When the dishes were cleared by the house elf, Julius followed his father into the study. It was a luxurious room, filled with mahogany furniture and an oversized black leather couch. Yet his father walked past the couch to sit behind his desk, which Julian took as a sign that he should sit on one of the hard chairs opposite his father.
"Do you have anything new you would like to report? Anything since you talked to Bellatrix Lestrange?"
Julius was a bit disappointed that this was it, but he kept his composure as he shared his newest findings with his father. Across the desk, his father sat straight backed, listening intently. Julius could feel his father's icy blue eyes examining him.
"The information you gave two months ago has been helpful. I know the Dark Lord has appreciated having a different perspective on the young witches and wizards of good birth."
Julius nodded and suppressed a smile. He knew that his father was one of the Dark Lord's most trusted confidants. He knew that they had been friends together at Hogwarts and that his father had been one of the first people to join the ranks of the Death Eaters. It was something that filled him with pride.
His father continued, "You have offered some… unique information on the behaviour of some of the children belonging to some of the pureblood families that have shown support for the cause. The Dark Lord would like to thank you for this."
Julius could feel his eyes widen. As far as he knew, the Dark Lord didn't thank people, he merely commanded them. "What exactly will this reward entail?"
His father smiled. "You will be coming with me next week, Julius. I have something scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday. I would do it tomorrow, but I have work obligations I cannot miss. You will get to see what your new lifestyle will entail."
As much as he wanted to ask for clarification, his father's tone made it clear that the conversation had ended for the night. After thanking him, Julius left the study and made his way to his bedroom, thinking about what was going to happen.
Thankfully, he did not have to wait long. His father was able to leave work early on Tuesday and, around four o'clock, opened the door to Julius's bedroom.
"Get up," he said. "We have somewhere we need to be." After looking him up and down, his father added, "Put on plain black robes and clean trainers. Get the elf to clean them if need be."
He found a pair of clean shoes and clean robes in his closet. A few minutes later, he joined his father at the foot of the stairs, dressed as he had been commanded to. "I'm ready Father," he said unnecessarily as he stepped onto the landing. "What now?"
"You will side-along apparate with me to our location," his father said. "Come."
They left their property, father walking slightly ahead of son. Once they were far enough to have cleared the protective spells that surrounded their house, his father offered his arm. Julius gripped tightly and, moments later, they were spinning.
Almost as quickly as it started, the spinning stopped and he was able to breathe again with ease. He found himself in the dark and his eyes blinked rapidly, trying to adjust to the lack of light. He looked at his father, who was unfazed, before examining his surroundings.
The room was similar to every other dining area he had ever seen, but different at the same time. It was significantly smaller than the one in his house, with a table that could only sit six. The table was not set and the china cabinet was full of Muggle knickknacks. He didn't even recognize what some of the things were, but apparently they were important to whoever lived here. Through an archway, he could see a Muggle kitchen with appliances in a colour that he could only describe as a sort of harvest gold.
He turned to his father. "This is a Muggle house," he said.
Cassius nodded. "Very good." He sounded pleased that Julius had been able to deduce this, which made the younger Avery relax slightly. "But, unfortunately, not quite right. This is the house of a squib."
Julius looked around, as though he would suddenly see something that revealed the secret family history of the person who lived here. Yet, even when looking with fresh eyes, he didn't see anything that he had not noticed the first time. "Why are we in a squib's house?"
"This is a squib by the name of Nathaniel Travers."
Suddenly, it all made sense. The Travers family was an old one, filled with people of good birth who married well. To a family like them, a squib was a disgrace, one that was to be hidden and cut from the family like you would cut contact with a blood-traitor. It would have been terribly embarrassing if he had been related to somebody who turned out to be a squib. He knew his father would have disowned them as well. As for Nathaniel Travers, Julius knew that his father had an acquaintance from school named Gregor Travers. The surname couldn't be a coincidence.
"What are we supposed to do?" Julius asked.
"Since you have helped the Dark Lord, you will get to help remove this stain from the name of a noble house." His father's voice was steady and, as he stared down at Julius, the younger Avery couldn't help but feel like his father's icy eyes were trying to figure out what he was thinking.
"You want me to kill him?" Julius asked.
"What I want or do not want is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what the Dark Lord wants," Cassius said sternly. "If you want to prove your worth and that you should be treated like an adult, you will need to show that you are willing to help the cause."
Julius nodded. "So, am I just supposed to kill him when he comes home?"
"Yes." The answer was firm. "He usually arrives home within the next fifteen minutes, so we will be here waiting for him when he arrives. Don't worry, he lives alone. You will have no distractions. Be grateful that the Dark Lord has selected such an easy target for your first time."
After that, the two Avery men stood in silence, waiting. As his father had promised, it was no more than twenty minutes before they heard the turn of a key in a lock and a deadbolt. Julius looked up to his father, who pressed a finger to his lips as they heard the squib kick off his shoes and relock his front door. A few moments later, there were footfalls moving in their direction. As a light turned on in the kitchen, Cassius motioned for his son to follow.
Julius slid into the kitchen after his father, wand drawn. The squib looked up from where he was standing at the kitchen counter, opening brown envelopes. He looked from Julius to his father and back again, eyes occasionally drifting down to the extended wands. When he spoke, his voice was surprisingly calm. "Who sent you?" he asked. "I suppose it would be my brother, wouldn't it?" When he did not get a reply, he asked, "How is Gregor these days?"
"Silent, squib," Cassius snarled. He then looked down at his son. "Do it."
Julius felt the squib's eyes on him. "They sent you to kill me, did they?" he sounded sad, but unsurprised. "I guess I'm an easy target. My brother must figure what is one old man who can't do magic? How can I fight back?"
"Now," his father hissed again.
In one fluid motion, Nathaniel Travers reached across the counter to a wooden block and pulled out a long, sharp kitchen knife. As he was straightening up again, Julius raised his wand higher. "Avada Kedavra," he said, summoning all the force he could muster.
The man fell immediately, hitting the floor before the knife even slipped from his grasp. His body fell to the floor with an extremely loud thud and blood began to pool underneath his head. It was a grotesque sight, but Julius found himself unable to look away. Only when he felt his father's hand on his shoulder did he pull his eyes away from the corpse.
"Well done, son," Cassius said quietly. "The Dark Lord will be most pleased with you. I told him that you were a good, helpful boy and I am glad you have not let me down. Now come. We must leave as soon as I set the Mark over the house."
His father cast the spell and extended his arm. "Come, Julius. I will buy you a drink."
A moment later, Julius felt the air being pushed out of his lungs as they apparated away.