Notes: I knew I'd manage to work Lily into this story somehow. Anyway, here be the ending. I'd be most delighted that, upon completion of your reading, you'd use the friendly review button and tell me what you think.
Disclaimer: all herein belongs to JK Rowling. I am making no money; I am only having fun.
The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black
A New Order
I was half afraid that, upon arriving back at 144 Odocoileus Court, I'd be yelled at or even hit for running away. I found nothing of the sort; when Remus and I landed by the shed, the whole lot staying at James's house rushed out and descended on us with cries of relief; Mr. Potter shook Remus's hand repeatedly until I was afraid Moony might get whiplash; Peter jumped up and down, squeaking that he was so very glad to see us and they'd all been very worried; Mrs. Potter rushed over to me and enveloped me in such a hug that I began to fear I'd never be able to breathe
(or kiss Remus)
again; James stood a little back from all the commotion, but the utmost relief on his face spoke volumes. In the confusion, it was a while before it was sorted out that they'd set up a system of spells to alert each other when someone found me, and that once Remus had discovered me the rest of them had hurried back to the house, but that we'd been gone so long (I bit my lip yet again, this time to keep from laughing) that they'd started to worry again. And finally there was a break in the commotion.
"I'm sorry I went off like that," I said into the pause.
Everyone stopped talking altogether and looked at me.
"I really shouldn't have," I pressed on, feeling a bit stupid about it and knowing it needed to be said. "Especially after you've been so … patient … with me all summer." I took a deep breath. "And I'm ready to explain what happened. To make me run away from home."
"Not right now," James said firmly. I looked at him; he gave me a half-smile that told me I wasn't getting away with not telling altogether, but that he had patience for me left. "I'm abso-bloody-lutely starving." He turned to Mrs. Potter. "Breakfast, Mum?"
She laughed, and we trailed into the house.
As the four of us sat at the dining table, smelling hotcake batter and bacon wafting in from the kitchen and listening to Mr. Potter bang around in the next room, muttering about finding the Prophet, Remus raised his eyebrows at James.
"Abso-bloody-lutely, Prongs? You do know that isn't a word."
"Yes," said James calmly, and "thanks, Mum," as Mrs. Potter came out, bearing our breakfasts. Mr. Potter joined us a moment later, newspaper-less and looking rather disgruntled, though he cheered up upon seeing the food.
We ate in relative silence. I kept my eyes on my plate, feeling James and Peter shooting me furtive glances, as they had on that train ride from Hogwarts to London, three months ago and seeming ages before that. I'd promised to tell them what had happened; I knew I'd have to, and the sooner I got it over with, the better. But there was something different in telling the story of my horrible family to Remus when we were alone amid trees at dawn, and telling four other people about it at midmorning in a cheerful dining room.
I took a deep breath and looked up. As if on cue, everyone stopped eating and looked at me. Faced by all those expectant eyes, my own darted away and came to rest on the safest thing – which happened to be Remus's face. One corner of his mouth turned up in a secret smile, and I felt his almost-too-warm hand slide onto my knee, just where it had lain during the first telling.
And somehow that did make it easier, and I told them.
"Earth to Prongs."
I waved a hand in front of my friend's bespectacled face. He didn't take any notice; he was gazing straight past me, across the packed platform, at the rather pretty girl with red hair and striking green eyes who was busy saying hello to one of her friends. I waved the hand in front of James's face a little more vigorously.
"Huh?" James blinked at me twice, seemed to recognize who I was, and grinned. "Sorry. You were saying?"
"Not much. Just wondering if you could tear your eyes from the lovely Miss Evans."
James began to blush, opened his mouth, closed it, coughed, and said quickly, "I've been thinking – d'you think Evans will take me seriously if I'm not trying to impress her?"
I bit back a smile. James was asking an honest question here, and even if it did amuse me, I had to answer as straight-faced as possible. "Sometimes people will like you more if they can tell you're not pretending."
James blinked again. "I see." He straightened his shoulders and turned towards Lily, who was still talking with her friend. "Right. Be myself with Evans." He turned back to me. "I don't know if I can do that." His hand rose in the direction of his hair.
I caught it and pushed it back to my friend's side. "No hair-mussing, James. And call her Lily, for goodness sakes." Seeing the panic-stricken look on James' face, I relented. "Of course you can, as you cheesily put it, 'be yourself' with her. If she doesn't like that, she's not worth your time. What?"
For James was giving me a very odd look. "You really did grow up this summer," he said in a quiet voice.
"Not much," I told him. "Don't hold your breath waiting for me to become a reasonable adult. Now." I took James' shoulders and pushed him firmly in Lily's direction. "Good luck, oh admirable friend."
He grinned back at me and sauntered off.
I leaned against the side of the train and watched him cross the platform. It was so nice to be back here, even if it was London and far closer to Grimmauld Place than I would have liked. Grimmauld Place. I'd never have to see it again. Mr. and Mrs. Potter had offered to take home both James and me (and Remus and Peter, if they wished) during the Christmas holiday, and the Easter one; Mr. Potter had even added that once I'd left Hogwarts, I'd always be welcome for Sunday tea. A home away from home, whatever home was going to be. With James as a brother, I supposed. I grinned. If Prongs had his way, I'd also be having Lily Evans as a sister-in-law of sorts.
Speaking of which …
I turned my attention back to James. He was standing in front of Lily, his hands twisting together behind his back – the boy was nervous! And Lily was watching him with a peculiar expression on her face, half skepticism and half surprise. Thanking Padfoot for lending me excellent hearing, I listened to what my friend was saying.
" … so let's just pretend, for a moment, that when you always brush me off, I do mind. Never mind that I never have the decency to ask you straight out, not offhand."
"Decency?" Lily repeated faintly.
James shuffled his feet. "Yeah. Anyway, seriously, Ev – Lily, I'd really like it if you'd go out with me sometime."
"Just … sometime."
"Well – er, Hogsmeade weekend, I suppose," James said, both looking and sounding rather flustered. "No, wait, that's in October – never mind that, what would you like to do?"
"What would I like to do?" Lily echoed.
(I might have worried that the girl couldn't do anything but repeat what James said, but – goodness, he was acting like a normal human being around her. I was impressed.)
"Yeah – do you like sitting around in the Three Broomsticks drinking butterbeer and pretending like you're having a good time talking to me about nothing in particular?" James allowed himself a grin, but it wasn't his usual self-assured grin at all. He was nervous. "Because, I mean, if you don't think that's a good time, we can do something different – Quidditch, or a … a candle-lit dinner, or – or –" He floundered.
"Walk by the lake in the evening, picnic dinner, no kissing unless I start it," Lily said quickly. "Deal?"
James glowed. "Deal."
She thrust a freckled hand at him, giving him a wary look that put me in mind of a hippogriff around annoying little kids. James didn't seem to see this look, because instead of taking her hand, he gave her a quick and very enthusiastic hug, swept her a bow, and bounded back in my direction, leaving the poor girl standing there and looking more startled than ever.
"I did it!" James crowed, almost leaping on me in his excitement.
"Good job, Prongs," I said, fending him off as best I could by scrambling onto the train and into the compartment we had agreed to meet Peter and Remus. The two of them were sitting there, Peter once again fooling around with his Snap deck, Remus once again reading. I leapt in Remus's direction and pretended to cower behind him as James bounded into the compartment.
"What's all this?" Remus asked amusedly.
"James has discovered girls," I told him.
Remus snorted. "James discovered girls when he was twelve."
"Fair enough." I grinned at James as he made a face at us. "Let's just say that girls have discovered James back."
"Lily Evans?" Remus said curiously.
"Indeed," James said, and slumped into a seat. "Whoa. I didn't know I could get so nervous just asking her out."
"It's a good sign," Remus said absently, turning back to his book. "If you're nervous it means you actually like her." He shot me a grin from behind his book. "Nervous?" he muttered.
"Me?" I whispered back. "Of course not."
I was. We both knew it. It didn't seem to matter a bit.
The rest of the summer had gone wonderfully. After I'd told the Potters and my friends how the beginning of my summer had gone, they had all treated me somewhat differently. Mrs. Potter was still being wonderfully motherly, but seemed to have a sort of instinct about when to leave off, usually when my eyes started to burn a bit and I found myself trying very hard not to wish that my mother were anything like her. Mr. Potter acted mostly the same, but he seemed to be honestly interested in my opinions on things, and quizzed me at length about precisely what charms I'd put on my lovely motorcycle, which I'd given up calling the White Dog and was now being referred to by all simply as 'Sirius's motorbike'. James too was acting as though he greatly respected my opinions now, though I wasn't entirely sure why. Peter was positively hero-worshipping me, clearly in awe of the way I'd defied my family. This was the attention I was most uncomfortable with; it was the sort of thing that had encouraged every reckless thing I'd ever done, so I was trying to be wary of it.
In fact, Remus was the only one who wasn't really acting differently around me; it occurred to me that perhaps the way he acted didn't need to change, because he'd always understood or comforted or joked at exactly the right time. Of course, before this we'd never gone around stealing kisses when we bumped into each other in the hall, or groped each other under the table during dinner while doing our best to remain straight-faced, but what we were doing had absolutely no effect on the way Remus behaved, unless it perhaps made him smile a bit more.
So here we were on the train to Hogwarts, with Peter absently shuffling the Exploding Snap deck as he listened to James going on about what he could possibly do on a date to make Lily Evans really like him, and Remus and I sitting there pressed up against each other grinning at one another from behind Remus's book, and once again I felt fiercely happy to be just here just now, because for just this one moment I could let everything be perfect.
Perfection doesn't last. Within our first week back at Hogwarts, along with our great load of homework came a great load of whispers and rumors and awful fears, because it suddenly seemed to be common knowledge that there was a madman gaining followers, a madman whose name I caught to be Voldemort before everyone began to be afraid to say it, like the name was a deadly curse, and the kids started to say simply You-Know-Who, because everyone did know who, and didn't want to. Every time I heard the whispered phrase of You-Know-Who, my insides went cold and I'd remember my father's shining face as he explained about the Dark Lord, and how it was only a title, a formality.
A bloody formality that was getting people killed.
Fear is catching. Peter's eyes seemed to grow wider by the day; James's pranks, and mine, took on a slightly wilder edge, and a part of my mind remembered the desperation of last year, the need to keep the party in my head going at any cost, but somehow this was different. Even stolen minutes with Remus were different, because I'd be having a good time and suddenly realize that if Lord Voldemort ever took it into his head to have Remus killed, I'd lose this wonderful boy – and then, with this in mind, even kissing Remus would become a sort of act of desperation.
Remus caught on, of course. One day in October, while James was at Quidditch practice and Peter in the library catching up on homework, Remus and I were in our dorm, cuddling. We were lying in the window seat, Remus with his back against the stone window frame and me sort of sprawled out in front of him with my head in his lap. I had my eyes closed, trying to enjoy the moment, but I felt Remus's eyes on me, as though they were trying to bore their way into my forehead. I blinked my eyes open and looked up at Remus, whose face was upside-down and looking rather cross.
"You're trying too hard," Remus told me, running a hand through my hair.
"What d'you mean?"
"To enjoy yourself," Remus explained. "Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps if you concentrate too much on having fun, it ceases to be any fun at all?"
"Er, no, I don't think that's occurred to me," I said, but I knew what he was getting at. "Don't worry about it, Moony."
Remus chuckled, an ironic little chuckle with almost no mirth in it. "So I'm to believe you want me to stop concerning myself with you. Not a chance, Sirius. You're not getting rid of me unless you run away."
But Remus didn't say that, because Remus always manages to be tactful. Even then I couldn't get angry with him, because I knew somehow he understood. I only shrugged, as best I could while lying on my back. "I suppose so. It's just … I feel so bloody useless. What on earth am I doing, hanging around in school?"
"Getting an education?" Remus suggested sardonically, but the line of annoyance had disappeared from his forehead. "Look," he said softly, "if you're feeling all that useless, go talk to Professor Dumbledore. I'm sure he'll have something for you to do."
"All right," I conceded. I wasn't entirely sure; after last year, in the episode with Snape and the Willow, Dumbledore seemed to regard me as a potential for real hazard. Still, Remus seemed to think most highly of the man, and going to the headmaster was a fairly good suggestion, so off I went.
I took the map with me, so just outside Dumbledore's office it told me the year's new password ("peppermint humbugs"). At the top of the moving spiral staircase I almost thought better of it and went back down, but instead I knocked on the headmaster's door.
"Come in," Dumbledore's voice called mildly.
I opened the door and went in. Dumbledore's office looked much as it always had; lots of whirring silver contraptions and other stranger things James and I have been itching to get our hands on for years. Some of the old headmasters' and mistresses' portraits waved me in cheerful familiarity – I spotted dear Phineas Nigellus … he gave me a surprised and almost relieved look, then made a face at me and stalked off out of his frame. I turned to face Dumbledore.
The headmaster didn't look even remotely surprised to see me, but he gave me a smile and said, "Good afternoon. Do sit down," so I felt somewhat less nervous.
"Thanks, sir." I sat in a large chair across the desk from Dumbledore, took a deep breath, and got straight to the point. "I'm feeling useless at Hogwarts, after hearing all the rumors about this Lord Voldemort – You-Know-Who, as everyone seems to be calling him. Are any of the rumors true, sir?"
"A great deal of them," said Dumbledore heavily, and looked at me intently with that bright blue gaze of his.
"Ah." I fidgeted a bit in the chair. "So … is there anything we can do? Because I feel like someone should be doing something, and it may as well be me –"
"Indeed," Dumbledore said, looking at me more intently than ever. "In fact, Sirius, I'm glad you came to me. Your friend James Potter, incidentally, came to me earlier today, with much the same sentiments. And I shall now tell you what I told him.
"Lord Voldemort is indeed a threat. I know something of him, having taught him myself when he went to Hogwarts. I know that he has a deep and abiding hate of everyone whose blood he does not deem 'pure' enough, though he himself is only a 'half-blood' by his own standards. If given the encouragement or means, he could very well attempt to 'cleanse' the wizarding world of all those whom he deems unworthy to inhabit it.
"This is why it is entirely critical he be counteracted now. I am in fact looking for people with two very important strengths – belief in the matter of Lord Voldemort, and a willingness to counter him."
"Anyone who believes you and wants to do something?" I broke in eagerly.
Dumbledore gave me a grave look and I subsided. "Yes," he said quietly. "Anyone at all, for we will need all the help we can possibly receive. So far this order of people remains quite small, but I have hope in the willingness of youth, and we may yet have an Order of the Phoenix."
"Order of the Phoenix," I repeated. "That's what it's called?"
"Indeed." Dumbledore finally granted me a smile. "And you are interested?"
"Very," I said fervently.
Dumbledore's mustache twitched in amusement. "Your friend Mr. Potter said much the same thing, and more besides. Will you echo him in his nomination of Messers Peter Pettigrew and Remus Lupin as additional individuals interested in joining the Order?"
"I'd think so," I said, "though you should probably ask them yourself, sir."
"Perhaps," Dumbledore said, standing, and I stood too, "it would be best if yourself and Mr. Potter told them of this idea, and let them come to me if they are interested."
"Yes, sir." I grinned at Dumbledore. "I'll do whatever I can. Thank you."
"Thank you," said Dumbledore, and let me out of his office.
"Of course," James said, frowning. "Is there any question?"
We were sitting in a circle on the floor in our dorm room, a candle flickering and casting light around the circle. Peter's eyes still looked almost too wide in the candlelight.
"Of course there's a question," Remus said, frowning a bit in return. "Which is why Dumbledore is asking us, instead of outright recruiting." His frown dissipated. "Of course, it's not a question for you, James. Or for Sirius." He paused and stared at the flickering candle flame. "I'm in too," he said finally.
"Me three," Peter said quickly, and grinned sheepishly when we looked at him.
"You sure, Wormtail?" I asked him seriously. "This isn't games anymore. This is really important."
Peter nodded. "I know. That's why I'm in."
"Excellent," I said, and then, fervently, "Thank you."
We were silent for a moment. Then, "A lot to happen in one summer," James said thoughtfully. "I've never really thought it was possible to say, 'ah, look, that's how I acted last May. I was a kid then. And then that's how I'm acting now, in October, and I'm not a kid anymore'. Is that allowed to happen? Is it strictly legal to just suddenly become an adult?"
"I wasn't aware there was another way," Remus said, looking amused.
"Yes, but –" James raked a hand through his hair. "That date with Lily, for example. I never seriously thought she would go out with me. And I never even considered that she'd be so intelligent, or have a great sense of humor, or even bother liking me."
"Ah," I said, grinning. "So our dear Miss Evans has finally been wooed?"
"Yeah," James said, grinning back. "And damn hard it was, too." He gazed dreamily into the distance. "Bloody worth it, though."
Remus and I exchanged an amused look.
"Speaking of which," James said, snapping back into the moment, "if you won't beat me up for this, I'm just wondering why the two of you were doing rather obscene things to each other under the table at breakfast this morning."
Peter squeaked, and I felt my face flame. Remus looked completely unruffled. "Now, that's a rather unfair exaggeration."
"Oh?" said James, looking from me to Remus and back again.
"It was just a bit of friendly groping," Remus said mildly. "If you want to see anything really interesting you're going to have to skip Quidditch practice."
The grin froze on James' face. Peter was looking absolutely shocked. I glanced at Remus, and he gave me a very innocent look, his eyes sparkling. I couldn't help it. I gave a snort of laughter.
And the next second, James was howling with laughs of his own, tears running down his cheeks. Peter giggled a bit. I covered my mouth with my hands, because I knew I'd be sniggering loudly if I let myself. And Remus just sat in the light of the candle, and watched us mildly.
"Okay," James gasped, pulling his glasses off and wiping his streaming eyes with the sleeve of his robe. "I thoroughly deserved that." Settling his glasses back on his nose, he said in a business-like voice, "But don't you dare tell me what the two of you get up to. I have absolutely no interest. How would you feel if I started telling you things about Lily?"
"Well, first, you haven't been seeing her long enough for there to be anything interesting to tell," I said, "Second, you completely ruined the fun of it … If you forbid us to tell you things, we'll never be able to threaten to tell you. And third, just now you have completely proven yourself wrong in that earlier comment about being a reasonable adult."
James sobered. "Well no, I did mean that."
I stopped grinning too. "I know."
"So," Remus said quietly, "faces forward, then. One last hurrah this year, and then we'll go out and really get things done."
"Right," we said.
I looked around at them all in the candlelight, my three very best friends in the world. Remus was looking the same as always, mild and cheerful and slightly tired. James' face was set. And Peter was holding his head high, looking almost comically solemn. I felt a funny jolt in my stomach, half pity and half envy, seeing him like that. He'd had nothing to atone, and nothing to promise, and no horrible thing to look back on to remind him of it. Peter was only sitting here with us because he was our friend.
I supposed that had to be enough, that we were friends.
Then I caught Remus's eye, and he gave me a faint rueful happy grin.
And, I decided, it was enough.