A/N: Here we go! I sincerely hope that this story lives up to your expectations! Thank you for reading and reviewing, and for continuing this journey with me! Enjoy!

I still don't own Harry Potter.

The Beginning

"Are you sure you have everything?"

"I must. Moony checked under every bed twice."

Remus smiled. "At least ONE of us is willing to make sure that nothing gets left behind."

James sighed. "You know, this is the first time that we've had to be seriously concerned about leaving things behind. I mean, in the past, we could always just assume that anything we left would be here for us next year."

Sirius looked pensive. "It's weird, isn't it? The idea that there won't be a 'next year?'"

"There's always a next year," Peter said as he dragged his trunk across the dormitory. "We just won't be spending it the same way."

Sirius looked at him, and sighed. "I still wish you were coming to live with us."

"No more than I do," Peter replied. "But my mum's right. Dad's really ill, and she can't take care of him alone. After all that they've done for me, I owe it to them to move home and help her."

"It's not going to be the same without you," Remus said. "You'll have to come and visit all the time."

"I will," Peter promised with a grin.

"When are we going flat hunting?" James asked. "We need an address to give Peter so he can visit."

"We can start tomorrow if you want," Sirius replied.

"Good plan!" James exclaimed. "Remus, why don't you stay at my house with us tonight? That way we can get an early start tomorrow."

Remus laughed. "When have you two ever started anything early?"

"Well, there's a first time for everything," Sirius grinned. "How 'bout it, Moony? Nothing's more entertaining than a night spent at the Potter manse!"

Remus laughed again. "I'll check with my parents when we get to the station."

"Fair enough," Sirius replied. "Do you want to come, Peter?"

"Yeah, even if you just want to stay the night, that would be fun," James coaxed. "I know that Hetty will have an incredible dinner for us when we get home!"

Sirius laughed. "What he means by that is that Hetty will have made all his favorite foods."

"She makes a fair share of yours, too," James grinned. "What do you say, Wormtail? Are you in?"

"I'll check with my parents," Peter said noncommittally.

"I should owl mine to let them know that you guys might come over," James said, digging a piece of parchment and a quill out of his trunk. "They'll want to know how much food they need to have."

Sirius grinned. "Very considerate of you. You've grown up, Prongs. The old James wouldn't have thought to do that."

"I guess growing up happens no matter how much you fight it," James grinned as he wrote his quick letter. "There. Now Mum, Dad, and Hetty will know what's going on." He sealed the letter, and pulled Owl out of his cage. "Sorry, buddy," he said. "Please take this to Mum and Dad."

The owl hooted softly as James tied the letter to his leg. James patted his head, and Owl took off through an open window.

"We'd better get going," Remus said, glancing at his watch. "We don't want to miss the train."

James grinned. "Like it would leave without us."

The boys levitated their trunks, and made their way down the staircase for the last time. Lily, Dana, and Olivia were already in the common room, standing amid the swarms of underclassmen. James' face lit up when he saw Lily. She noticed him with his friends, and ran across the common room.

"I got a job!" she cried.

"Lil!" James cried, picking her up and swinging her around the common room. "That's incredible! Congratulations! Doing what?"

"Writing for the Daily Prophet," Lily giggled as he set her down again. "I just got their owl about a minute ago."

"That's what you wanted," James enthused. "What department?"

Lily made a face. "You're going to go crazy."

"Why?"

"I'm writing for the sports section."

James laughed out loud. "Are you serious?"

"As a heart attack," Lily giggled. "I guess it's a good thing I'm friends with you and Olivia – without the two of you, I wouldn't know anything about Quidditch."

James laughed again. "Well, this calls for a celebration."

"Really? Do you want to celebrate with me?"

"Of course I do. Hey! The guys are coming for dinner at my house tonight. Do you want to come? That way we can all celebrate together."

"I'll have to check with my parents. We usually go out for dinner the day I get home."

"Another time, then."

"Yeah, that's probably a good idea."

James nodded slowly. "Lil – when will I see you again?"

Lily's eyes widened. "I don't know."

The portrait hole opened, and Professor McGonagall walked into the common room. An unnatural hush fell over the room. She looked around at the now- quiet students, searching for someone.

"I need to see Potter, Black, Lupin, Pettigrew, Evans, Morgan, and Alexander," she stated loudly.

The seventh years walked to her, all with expressions of confusion and concern on their faces. How could they all be in trouble on the day they were to leave this school forever?

"There you are," she said as they approached. "Professor Dumbledore wants to see you. Bring your things with you."

They picked up their trunks, and followed her wordlessly to Professor Dumbledore's office. She gave the password, and they all stepped onto the moving staircase. Lily looked at James with questions in her eyes. He shrugged.

"Ah, here are my Gryffindors," Dumbledore smiled as they filed into his office. "Please, sit down."

James' eyes widened as he saw Laura already seated. Suddenly, their reason for being there became clear. He glanced at Lily, and knew that she was now aware as well.

"I won't keep you long," Dumbledore said once they were all seated. "I know that you have a train to catch, but there is one issue that we need to resolve before you leave Hogwarts."

Sirius glanced at James. This was it.

"Just after Christmas, I made an offer to you," the Headmaster said, touching his fingertips together. "I offered all of you membership in the Order of the Phoenix. I told you at that time that I wanted you to think it over until the end of the year. Well, obviously, this is the end of the year. Today, I need your final decisions. You've had a good deal of time to think this over, so now, I must ask you: Will you join the Order of the Phoenix?"

Silence fell over the group. James looked straight at Dumbledore. Yes. He would join Dumbledore's Order – his army against Voldemort. He opened his mouth to give his answer when another voice spoke.

"Yes," Sirius said, his eyes determined. "I'll join, Professor."

Dumbledore smiled at him. "How unlike your family you are, Mr. Black."

"Thank you, sir," Sirius replied.

Dumbledore nodded, and took a quill and parchment, holding them out to Sirius. "Sign this agreement. It is a magical, binding contract."

Sirius nodded, and took the quill in his hand. "I understand, sir."

Dumbledore nodded again, watching Sirius write his bold signature on the paper. As Sirius took his seat again, James stood from his.

"I'll join, Professor."

Dumbledore smiled again, and held the quill out to James. "Your parents will be so proud," he whispered.

James smiled slightly. Yes. His parents would be very proud.

Remus and Lily stood at the same time, both ready to sign. Olivia and Dana looked at one another, and lined up behind the others. Laura took a deep breath, and stepped up behind them. James and Sirius, who had already sat down, looked across at Peter.

An odd expression crossed his face. Was it fear or sorrow? He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. His hands shook as he stood up. Why was he doing this? How could Dumbledore's small group defeat the Dark Lord, the one who had killed his Kathleen? Then, as he thought of Kathleen, resolve passed through him. He would do this for her – to avenge her death.

Once they all had signed, Dumbledore put the parchment away. He smiled at them.

"Welcome to the Order of the Phoenix," he said. "I will contact you in two weeks to begin your training. If you have any questions before that time, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me."

They realized that they were being dismissed, and rose from their chairs. As they began to gather their things, Dumbledore spoke again.

"James – a word, please."

James nodded, and returned to stand in front of the Headmaster's desk. Professor McGonagall herded the other students out of the office, then returned to join their conversation.

"James, Professor McGonagall has informed me that she has advised you to look for a position in the Ministry. Have you pursued that career path?"

James sighed. "To be perfectly honest, sir, I'm not sure what department I'd like to work in. I've considered applying to be a writer for the Daily Prophet."

Dumbledore studied him for a moment. "You wanted to work with Miss Evans?"

James had the decency to blush slightly. "That wasn't my only motivation," he mumbled.

"Have you applied?"

"Not yet."

He nodded. "James, I have a suggestion, if I may."

"Any advice would be appreciated, sir."

He leaned forward in his chair. "I'd like to place you in the Ministry. Professor McGonagall is certain that you would do well there, and the Order is in need of an inside ear in the Department of International Magical Cooperation. This department has become increasingly important in the Ministry as Voldemort's power has spread outside our country's borders. However, because none of our members work in that particular department, we are missing out on vital information as to what exactly is happening abroad."

James considered his words. Would he want to do that? Could he handle a desk job in the Ministry?

Dumbledore studied James again, looking at him as though he could see the younger man's thoughts. "If you would be willing to work in the Department of International Magical Cooperation, I will put in a good word for you. You will, of course, begin at whatever level the department deems appropriate. You will perform the tasks you are assigned by your superiors in the Ministry, as well as the missions you are assigned by the Order."

James looked at him with wide eyes. He quickly realized that this would be far more than a simple desk job. Dumbledore had chosen him for this?

"It's going to be difficult, Potter," Professor McGonagall spoke up. "You'll be dealing with two completely different supervisors, whose commands won't necessarily always be the same, or will even contradict one another. You'll have to please both the Ministry and the Order. Do you think you can do this?"

James frowned slightly. Could he?

"I think you would be well-suited for this work, James. Are you interested?"

James grinned. Dumbledore's vote of confidence was all he needed. "My mum's going to be thrilled that I've found a job."

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "May I take that as a yes?"

"Yes, Professor, you certainly can."

***

They made their way to the last compartment of the train without speaking. They all knew where they were going. Lily looked at all the underclassmen as they walked past. They were talking excitedly about their plans for the summer, and the classes they would take upon returning to Hogwarts. She sighed, wanting to tell them to enjoy it while they could. Seven years had passed so quickly.

Once they were all seated, Sirius broached the topic that was first in all their minds.

"What did Dumbledore mean by 'training?'"

"I don't know," Remus replied. "It sounds like it could be intense."

"I don't think it could be any worse than Auror training," Olivia said. Like Sirius, she had been accepted into the Auror Academy. "My brother said the Academy is brutal."

Sirius grinned. "Nothing we can't handle, right?"

"Right."

"It's not worth worrying about now," Dana said. "We have to wait for Dumbledore to contact us before we'll know anything."

"Good attitude," James grinned.

"What did Dumbledore want to see you about, James?" Lily asked. They hadn't had time to discuss the conversation as they rushed to reach the train and their compartment.

"He offered to help me get a position with the Ministry," James said. "He wants me to work in the Department of International Magical Cooperation. He said I'll do both Ministry and Order work."

"Did you take it?" Lily asked.

"Yeah."

She smiled, and kissed his cheek. "Congratulations! Your parents are going to be thrilled."

"Yeah, I know." He looked around at everyone. "I just wish the rest of you were going into the Ministry, too."

"Dana and I could work for the Ministry," Remus pointed out.

"Yuck," Dana said, wrinkling her nose. "I'm not becoming a Healer just so I can give politicians a clean bill of health. I'd far rather work at St. Mungo's."

Remus glanced at her. Unlike him, Dana was thrilled to begin training to become a Healer. Attended classes with her would do him good.

"Well, Sirius and I will be in the Ministry eventually," Olivia said.

"But not right away," James countered.

"I will," Laura said quietly.

"Really?" James asked eagerly, turning to her. "What department?"

"Magical Justice. I'm starting as an assistant to a prosecutor, but I'm going to train to become a prosecutor as well."

"Brilliant!" Remus exclaimed. "When did you find out?"

"Just this morning," Laura beamed. "I told Dumbledore before you lot got to his office. He was really excited – he wants me to do Order work there, too."

"This is incredible!" Remus kissed her cheek. "So you'll be living in London, then?"

"I'm not sure yet," Laura said. "Where are you guys going to live?"

"We aren't sure yet," Remus said.

"We're going flat hunting tomorrow," James said.

"So are we," Lily said, indicating Olivia and Dana, who were going to be her roommates. "We tried to talk Laura into living with us, but she said she wants to be on her own."

Laura giggled. "I'm not trying to be rude, and you know that I love you girls, but if you had grown up with as many siblings as I did, you'd really want to live alone, too."

"You won't want to be alone all the time, right?" Remus asked, putting his arm around her shoulders.

"No, not all the time," she replied, flushing slightly.

Knowing that Laura wasn't all that found of public displays of affection, Remus removed his arm from her shoulders, and glanced at his watch. "Don't we have some prefects' meeting today?"

"In about half an hour," Lily replied. "We just want to say job well done, and to thank everyone for all their hard work this year."

Remus grinned. "Well, since I have the basic content, can I skip the meeting?"

James laughed. "If you'd rather spend your time with Laura than with us, just say so."

"Well, I didn't want to hurt your feelings," Remus laughed.

"I hereby absolve you from going to the meeting," James laughed. "Go snog Laura somewhere. We'll cover for you."

"Oh, you know I'll be there," Remus grinned. "I couldn't miss the last meeting. Besides, Laura has to go too."

"Oh, did you both need meeting absolution?" James laughed.

"They'll be there," Lily said, giving the two boys a warning look. "Come on, James. We should get down there to get ready."

"All right," James agreed, standing with her. "We'll see you guys down there."

"See you later," Remus replied. Laura smiled at them.

"You've got this under control, right?" James asked as he and Lily walked to the prefects' compartment. "I've never been to one of these end of the year prefect meetings."

"You'd never been to any of the meetings we've held before this year, and you've done an excellent job at every single one," Lily replied. She pushed the compartment door open.

"No one's here yet," James commented as they walked into the prefects' compartment.

"Did you expect them to be? They're probably all off with their friends."

"How was I supposed to know? This is the first time I've done this!"

Lily laughed. "All right, I know you're inexperienced, Potter. You don't have to keep going back to it."

James grinned, and put his hands on her waist. "Actually, I'm sort of glad we're alone."

"So am I," Lily whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck. "God, James, I don't know how I'm going to handle not seeing you every day."

"Don't talk about it right now," James said softly, putting a finger against her lips to silence her. "Don't talk at all."

He lowered his lips to hers, drawing her even closer. Lily sighed softly against him as they sank into their kiss. All questions and fears were chased from their minds.

***

"I swear, this trunk gets heavier every year," James grumbled as he dragged two trunks off the train. He held his trunk with one hand, and Lily's with the other.

"Maybe it's carrying two of them that's a problem," Sirius said with a laugh.

"Shut it."

"If you insist."

They walked through the barrier together, and instantly spotted the Potters. Mrs. Potter hurried forward to greet them, a beaming smile on her face.

"Welcome home!" she exclaimed, hugging both boys. "Where are your friends? Didn't you say they were spending the night with us?"

"They have to talk to their parents," James replied. "I need to take Lily her trunk, Mum. I'll be back in a minute."

"I have to take Olivia hers," Sirius added.

"All right. We'll be waiting right over there."

James and Sirius nodded, and made their way to where Lily and Olivia were greeting their families. The girls' parents were chatting like they were old friends. Apparently, they had met before.

"Here you go, love," James said, setting Lily's trunk down next to her.

"Thanks, James," she grinned.

"Good to see you again, James," Mr. Evans said, shaking his hand.

"You, too, sir," James grinned.

"How are you, James?" Mrs. Evans asked, smiling at him.

"Fine, Mrs. Evans. How are the plans for the wedding coming?"

"Well enough," Mrs. Evans replied. She launched into a description of what exactly had been completed, and what remained to be accomplished.

Behind her mother, Lily winked at James. She had told him how excited her mother was about Petunia's wedding. Asking about it was a stroke of genius. If her mother had had any doubts about him before, they were surely vanishing as she spoke.

Not ten feet away, Sirius was attempting to befriend Olivia's parents. She smiled as she held out her hand to pull him closer to her family.

"Mum, Dad, this is Sirius Black, my boyfriend," she said.

"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander," Sirius said, holding out his hand to shake theirs. "How are you?"

Olivia had to hand it to him: Sirius knew how to be polite when the situation demanded it. She smiled at him, knowing how much her parents valued proper manners.

"Just fine," Mr. Alexander said, shaking Sirius' hand rather reluctantly. "I trust you're treating my daughter well?"

"She deserves to be treated like an angel," Sirius replied with a smile.

Olivia gave him a warning look. He was laying it on a bit thick. He caught her eye, and quickly amended his behavior.

"Olivia's very special to me, sir," he said. "I'd never do anything to hurt her."

Mr. Alexander nodded, but the doubts lingered in his eyes. Mrs. Alexander gave him an appraising look.

"What do you plan to do with yourself now that you're done with your education at Hogwarts?" she asked.

"I've been accepted into the Auror Academy," Sirius replied. "I'll be starting classes in August."

"Like Olivia," Mrs. Alexander murmured, giving her husband a pointed look.

"When did you decide to become an Auror?" Mr. Alexander asked bluntly.

"It's what I've always wanted to do," Sirius replied. He knew very well what the man was implying. "This isn't a decision I've made to follow Olivia," he added. "It's something that means a lot to me, and something I wouldn't go into without careful thought. Mr. Potter has given me a lot of guidance."

"Harold Potter?" Mrs. Alexander asked, raising her eyebrows.

"Yes."

She exchanged a glance with her husband. Sirius looked over at Olivia, who managed a slight smile. It could be going a lot worse.

"Well, Sirius, we do need to get Olivia home," Mrs. Alexander said. "I'm sure you understand."

"Of course," Sirius replied, his veneer of politeness never faltering. He took Olivia's hand, and squeezed it gently. "I'll owl you tomorrow."

"Right," she replied. "Have fun at the Potters'."

"Oh, I will."

"Come, Olivia," Mrs. Alexander said, holding out her hand for her daughter. Her husband had already started walking away with Olivia's trunk.

Olivia smiled at her mother, then turned back to Sirius. "I'll talk to you."

"Right. Bye."

"Bye."

Sirius watched her walk away with her mother. He exhaled deeply. He was really going to have to work to win over her parents. He glanced over at James, who was kissing Lily's cheek. He smiled, and stood back as she walked away with her parents. Sirius closed the distance between them.

"It's tough to say good bye with their parents right there, isn't it?"

"How did things go with the Alexanders?"

"Not well," Sirius said grimly. "I dropped your dad's name. Sorry about that."

"He won't mind. Why did you mention him?"

"They were asking me about Auror training – sort of implying that I'm only doing it because Olivia is. I mentioned that your dad had given me advice about it."

"My parents and the Alexanders are friends," James said, nodding his head. "I'm sure that helped your case."

"I hope so. They really don't trust me." He sighed. "Thank goodness Liv is moving in with Lily and Dana. If she wasn't, I don't think that I'd ever be able to see her again."

"Well, you never know. Lily and Dana might not want her hanging out with the dangerous Sirius Black," James teased.

"Oh, sod off."

James turned serious again. "Do you want me to have my parents talk to them? You know, tell them that you aren't like the rest of your family?"

"I don't know. I'd kind of like to win them over myself." He grinned. "But if it gets too bad, I'll be begging for their recommendation."

"There you guys are!" Remus came toward them with a grin. "My parents said I can stay tonight, and go flat shopping tomorrow."

"Brilliant!" James exclaimed. "Did they say when you have to be back tomorrow?"

"No. They just said to let them know how late I'd be."

"Perfect," Sirius grinned. "Have you seen Peter?"

"He was arguing with his parents about it a minute ago," Remus said.

"That doesn't sound promising," James said. "You know how he is about arguing."

"Yeah," Sirius said darkly, "he always gives in."

As if to prove Sirius right, Peter came toward them with a dejected expression. He sighed as he approached. Why was he suddenly always being left behind?

"Hey, guys," he said. "I'm sorry. My parents want me to come home tonight."

"That's all right," Sirius said quickly. "You'll come to visit us once we're established, right?"

"Of course," Peter replied.

"We'll have wild parties, and get you drunk so you have to stay overnight," James grinned. Peter's miserable expression was enough to temper James' good humor. He sighed, and ran his hand through his hair. "I'm sorry you can't live with us, Peter. And I really wish you could come tonight for dinner. It would have been fun."

"I know," Peter replied. "I think that my parents are punishing me, in their own way, for joining the Order. Well, not my mum. She seemed excited about it, even if she didn't really want to show it. It's my dad who's going to be a problem." An ugly expression crossed his face. "It's like the old man got sick just to spite me."

The other three boys exchanged a look, unsure of what to say. Remus cleared his throat.

"You told them you've joined, then?" he asked.

"I told them Dumbledore had asked," Peter replied. "I'm going to tell them that I joined tonight."

"James! Sirius!"

"That's my mum," James said. "I guess we'd better go. We'll owl you as soon as we have an address."

"Good," Peter replied. "You aren't getting rid of me this easily!"

"We wouldn't dream of trying," Sirius grinned. "Talk to you soon, Wormtail."

They all bade Peter farewell, and returned to James' parents. For the first time since Christmas, James got a good look at his father. The transformation was amazing. No longer was he the powerful Auror who had played Quidditch with James in the back yard. He looked troubled, battered, and years older. James and Sirius both stopped short, and looked at one another. Remus nearly ran into Sirius, and gave them both a look of confusion.

"Come on, boys," Mrs. Potter said quickly. "The car's waiting."

***

James was up long before his friends the next morning. He had planned it that way. He climbed out of bed, and wrote a quick message to Lily, wishing her good morning. He hoped she would have a chance to write back before Owl took off again. Maybe he should buy her an owl of her own. He could call it a "congratulations on your new job" present. Yes, he'd do that. Once Owl had soared off with the note, he went downstairs.

His mother was in the kitchen, as he had known she would be. Mrs. Potter always got up with her husband in the morning. Once he had left for work, she sat in the kitchen with a cup of tea and the Daily Prophet. When James came down, she would get his breakfast.

When he was a little boy, he had always gotten up early, and they had shared special time together before he had to leave for school with his Muggle friends. As he had grown older, he had taken to sleeping in, and they had lost their early morning bonding time. James was ready to rekindle it. He needed some answers.

"James!" Mrs. Potter exclaimed as he walked through the kitchen door. "You're up early. I didn't expect to see you boys for at least an hour. Are you practicing to enter the work force?"

James grinned. His parents had been thrilled when had told them that Dumbledore was helping him find a job. "Not exactly. And I'm sure you won't see Sirius or Remus for awhile," he said, sitting down across from her. "I wanted to talk to you, Mum."

"All right," she replied with a smile. "About what?"

"Dad."

Mrs. Potter looked at him sharply. "Now, James, I don't want you to worry –"

"I am worried, Mum! Dad looks terrible! What's wrong with him? Has he been to see a Healer?"

"He's an Auror, James. They have to be checked by Healers once a month to continue with their jobs."

"Then why hasn't anything been done for him?"

"Because nothing's wrong! Nothing a Healer could fix, anyway."

"Mum, please. I'm not a little boy anymore. I've joined the Order, for goodness' sake! Tell me what's going on!"

Mrs. Potter sighed. "It's just everything that's going on, James. You've all been so protected at Hogwarts. You have no idea of what's happening in our world."

"We read the Prophet every day at school."

"You've gotten the Prophet's version of what's going on," Mrs. Potter said, waving her hand to dismiss his words. "That's only the beginning of what's actually happening. And your father is fighting on two fronts, James. He's doing his work as a Ministry Auror, and his work as a member of the Order."

James shook his head. "He's been doing that for years, and he's never looked this bad as a result. He looks – he looks OLD, Mum."

"It's gotten harder," Mrs. Potter said quietly. "Every day that the battle rages, it becomes a bit more of a weight on our shoulders."

Suddenly, James remembered that his mother was a member of the Order, too. He looked at her critically for the first time. Had she always had those crows' feet near her eyes? Had her brow always displayed those creases? Had her shoulders always been slightly stooped? Had those shadows always lurked in the back of her eyes?

"I'm glad you and your friends have joined the Order, James," she said. "Your father and I are both so proud of you."

"I know. You said so last night."

She nodded. "I'm also glad because I think that younger people are exactly what we need. We need your enthusiasm, your commitment, you innocence, and your strength. Without new, younger recruits, the Order may fail."

James' eyes widened. "The Order can't fail, Mum!"

"It's a fact of war, James. One side has to lose."

"Voldemort can't win, Mum. The Order has to find a way to prevail. If Dumbledore and his soldiers can't defeat Voldemort, what hope is there for us?"

"What hope indeed," she murmured. "What hope indeed."