Prologue – Parental Pacts
James Potter had been a member of the Order of the Phoenix for over a year. To say that Lily Potter hadn't been happy when he had suggested it was like saying that Severus Snape's hair was greasy. The only thing that had placated her at the time was that he had relented to letting her join as well. Of course, as she had been very pregnant with their son, Harry, James had known in the back of his mind that she would never be assigned a high-risk post. Later, he knew she would be perpetually busy taking care of a toddler, and, hopefully, pregnant again soon.
The Order meeting that night was at their house and Lily was upstairs, rocking Harry to sleep. James levitated the chairs around the living room into a circle to prepare for the arrival of the members of the Order. He had already closed the drapes; it wouldn't do to have the nosey Pratchett woman across the street seeing chairs floating in their front room.
Their fireplace ignited with a whoosh, signalling their Floo connection had been activated. Sirius Black shot out of the grate and dusted himself off with loud slaps against his leather jacket.
"Shh," admonished James. "Lily's putting the baby to bed."
Sirius stopped immediately. "Sure thing." Then with a wicked smile, he added, "You old softy."
"Knock it off," James warned good-naturedly as Remus Lupin followed his friend through the grate. "If you'd let yourself be satisfied with one girl at a time, you might discover the joys of matrimony."
"Har, har," Sirius chuckled. "Who would keep Moony in line if I got hitched?" he said with a playful lunge at Remus.
"I happen to have a fine-looking witch to fill that need in my life, thank you very much," Remus responded.
"What?" James and Sirius chorused as Peter Pettigrew slid into the room through the still-lit fireplace.
"What, what?" Peter asked, sitting nervously on Lily's clean sofa, behind the circle of chairs.
"Remus has got himself a girlfriend," Sirius chortled. "Is it that Isabella girl that was a year below us in Ravenclaw?"
Remus hesitated and James could tell from over nine years of knowing him that he was caught. "Maybe," Remus temporized. "Or maybe it's Kathryn, the one that works at the pub in Diagon Alley."
Sirius let out a low whistle. "How'd you score with her?"
"I didn't," Remus said, leaving out the implied yet.
"Well, you all look like you're thirsty, gabbing about like a bunch of prattling school-girls." The four men turned to see Lily descending the stairs. Her voice still caused James to shiver. She was looking pointedly at her husband and had a very awake Harry in her arms. "He must have heard you talking with this lot and refused to go to sleep," she explained and held out their son to her husband.
James took Harry and laid him over his shoulder, fumbling with the blanket until it covered most of his little body. "There's a good boy, Harry. Daddy'll help you go to sleep."
Lily rolled her eyes and kissed Harry on the cheek.
"What?" James protested. "No kiss for me?"
"I don't kiss prats," she replied and saucily stuck her tongue out at him. Then, turning to the other occupants of the Potters' living room, she asked, "What'cha fancy tonight? Butterbeer? Pumpkin juice?"
Peter made a face at the former and Sirius did so at the latter. "Right," Lily said and swept into the kitchen.
Several Order members began to Apparate into the hall between the entryway and the living room, the designated Apparition point. Soon, a dull roar enveloped their house as people began to fill each other in on their respective assignments. Everyone had a drink in hand as Lily moved back and forth between the kitchen to the living room. Little Harry was silently taking in the scene, content to be in his father's arms.
Albus Dumbledore arrived last, just after Minerva McGonagall. Clearing his throat, Dumbledore produced a parchment that presumably held the agenda and said, "Let's bring the meeting to order, if you please?"
The rumbling died down and little Harry instantly locked eyes with the elderly wizard. James thought it uncanny that Dumbledore could command respect from almost everyone, from the smallest of babes to the most hardened wizard.
The meeting ranged in topic from current efforts to discern Voldemort's tactics and how the Order would counter them. There were a few husband-and-wife teams at the meeting and James mentally went through each one. Craig and Angela Dervish, curse-breakers who had joined at the same time as James and Lily; Frank and Alice Longbottom, two of the best Aurors working for the Order; and of course, he and Lily.
There were also several other members there that didn't belong to a ready-made team. Mad-Eye Moody was the most notable, who was famous for wanting to work alone and had the scars to prove it, but there was also a new fellow that James knew only in passing. Arthur Weasley sat across from the Longbottoms, twiddling with one of the lamp plugs they were using. From what James knew, the Weasleys were good people and had Arthur's wife not been pregnant at the time, she would likely be in the Order as well.
"Moving on," said Dumbledore. "We need a team to investigate a suspicious gathering in Surrey. It appears that there is a Death Eater recruitment drive centred there, but we need to get a solid report from first-hand witnesses if we are going to be able to bring in official resources to stop them." Dumbledore winked at Mad-Eye Moody and the Longbottoms.
"Sirius, Peter and I are busy with the operation you assigned last week," Remus ventured. James knew exactly what it was, too, though there were others at the meeting that didn't. Remus was to act as a sort of bait for another recruitment drive in Scotland. There were rumours that Voldemort was trying to attract many dark creatures to join his cause and werewolves like Remus were at the top of that list.
"I'll go," Arthur Weasley offered. "I haven't been on a proper assignment yet and have been anxious to go. The only problem is I don't have a partner."
"Lily's been watching Harry, so I haven't got a partner, either," James said, still looking at his wife. She nodded her approval and James looked over to Arthur, who met his gaze.
"Excellent," Dumbledore said and made a notation on the parchment. "We'll go over the particulars when the meeting is over. "Now...moving on to the issue we're having in the Ministry..."
Following Rodolphus Lestrange was the easy part, Arthur decided. With his overly large black trench coat and enormous camouflage boots, it would take a concerted effort not to notice him. The trick was keeping him from noticing that two men, one with bright red hair and the other with distinctive black hair and glasses, were following him. Since Arthur only needed his glasses for reading, they wouldn't help him stick out any more than he already did.
Arthur quickly solved the hair dilemma by donning a brown derby, while James somehow transfigured his hair until it was light brown and short all over. "It's a natural gift," Potter had explained.
Now that they were nearing the meeting place, Arthur was sure that the man at least suspected he had a trail. After all, it would be terribly costly not to suspect it.
An owl hooted in an alleyway, making all three men stop short. Rodolphus tilted his head as if to check for more noises, causing Arthur to give James a grateful glance for the Silencing Charm he had cast on their shoes.
The dark-haired man in front of them continued to listen, and then moved forward at twice his previous rate of speed. James followed, matching the Death Eater's pace, just as Rodolphus turned a corner.
He was gone.
"He didn't Apparate," James said at once as Arthur caught up with him. "I would have heard him."
"Let's each take a side of the alley and look for clues," Arthur offered.
There were piles of trash propped on the walls of the buildings that made up the alley's boundaries. A thin mist fell from the sky, highlighted by a single bare bulb at the end of the alley, and it carried the already putrescent odour further into their nostrils. Several rats scurried from under a rusted-out skip as they approached.
"Here," said Arthur as his eye caught a partially-opened door. Checking for hexes with a wave of his wand, James pushed on the stout metal door until they could see inside. It started to creak, so Arthur muttered a Silencing Charm, nodding at James to take the lead.
They entered the building and were immediately presented with a flight of rickety stairs. Another Silencing Charm was cast and they ascended.
The wooden stairs gave way to a long hallway, which they followed. There were doors on each side that looked like they were once a set of flats. There were burned-out Muggle devices and more piles of trash in the ones that were open. As they approached the end of the hall, they heard voices from the last open door on the right.
"...Lord will reward you for your service, if you are found worthy," said a man in a gravelly voice.
Creeping along the hall, their backs flat against the peeling wallpaper, they got as close as they dared.
Someone else spoke up with what only could be described as a whine. "But what about the Aurors? I don't want to go to Azkaban."
"Silence!" said the first man. There was a period of quiet where Arthur was sure he could hear whispering, and then there was nothing.
All of a sudden, a large boom accompanied by a flash of light knocked Arthur and James down to the ground.
James moaned softly beside him and Arthur could barely see the faces of three menacing figures through the spots in his eyes.
"What do we have here?" drawled a woman somewhere to Arthur's right.
"Looks like a couple of meddling fools," said someone from the left. "A little Cruciatus will teach them not to butt into our business."
James was coherent now and had his wand held loosely in one hand, pushing himself up slowly with his right. Arthur tensed, his vision slowly clearing.
One of the Death Eaters kicked James in the shoulder, forcing him back down, but James had seemed to be expecting that, using the force of the kick to be pushed further down the hall. In a flash, his wand was up, "Concussus!" he yelled.
A loud slapping sound knocked all three of the Death Eaters down to the floor, but several more heads appeared from the doorway. Arthur righted himself and ran pell-mell down the hall and towards the stairs. He could hear James hot on his heels and several bolts of light flew past their heads, sizzling as they hit walls and doors.
A dozen wizards appeared in the stairwell, dressed in all black, with white masks. James grabbed Arthur and pulled him through the closest doorway, using his shoulder to force the door.
As soon as they tumbled inside, Arthur shut and magically locked the door with the most advanced Locking Spell he knew. James added an Unbreakable Charm and they heard the pounding of feet echoing in the hall.
"Apparate back to my house," James yelled, transfiguring bits of garbage and broken furniture into large pieces of stone, and propping then against the door. "Go now!"
Arthur focused on the front hallway and twisted his wand. Nothing happened. "Can't – it's warded," Arthur said with a note of panic. "We'll have to fight."
"That means they can't get in here, at least," James said, his face a mask of concentration and dripping with sweat. "Can you make a Portkey?"
"No, sorry," Arthur said. "That's restricted to more senior Ministry officials."
"Right," James said as they heard the door Reducted into a million splinters. Another slab of granite was levitated onto the pile. "If we ever get out of this, I'll marry my son off to your daughter." There was brief tenseness in the air as James continued to stack stone in front of the door.
Arthur guessed that James was thinking the same thing that he was – he needed something to focus on, something that he could use to inspire him to fight in the face of an increasingly bad situation. The difference was that Arthur already had six children and James barely had time to be with the one he had. No wonder the offer had been so seriously given.
Transfiguring his own bits of rubbish into stone, Arthur laughed, a strange sound considering their desperate circumstances. "Fine, Potter. But know that I don't have a daughter and there hasn't been a female Weasley in six generations."
James placed the last of the stones against the door and gave Arthur an oddly sombre look. "Fine, fine," he said, holding out his hand. "Do we have a deal?"
Arthur took it and felt a surge of power. He was about to ask if James had felt it, too, when the stones that were keeping them safe exploded with the force of a small bomb.
Dust obscured Arthur's vision, but he could hear struggling off to his right. "Stupefy!" came James's voice followed by a whump.
A blue jet of light illuminated the room and sent Arthur rolling to his left. He shot a Stunning Spell blindly and heard someone scream. Thinking of his unborn child, Arthur fired off a whirlwind spell and the dust cleared, taking along with it two Death Eaters and slamming them into the wall across the way. In this confusion, he zapped a Muggle machine in the corner, which came to life with an annoying roaring sound as it scuttled about. A few of the Death Eaters turned to hex the hapless machine, giving Arthur an opportunity to incapacitate them with several nicely placed Stunners.
James was duelling with the man they had followed, his wand moving faster than Arthur had ever seen. But the hole in the wall that used to be a door was wide enough to allow several more Death Eaters to enter.
With a surge of determination, Arthur shot a blast of pure white light from his wand. Three Death Eaters were hit and knocked out, the Sleeping Spell doing its job.
James appeared next to Arthur, his opponent left crumpled on the flat's floor with a nasty cut on his head. They worked as a team, covering each other's backs as the four remaining Death Eaters surrounded them. Two had fallen when James let out a scream, followed by a sickening crunch.
"Avada – " yelled someone behind Arthur, but he couldn't let himself get distracted. The Death Eater in front of him was very crafty with his tactics and Arthur was having a hard time keeping ahead of the man's spells.
Another loud whump sounded and Arthur was sure that James had fallen. Desperate, he flung himself to the right in a half-dive roll, ending up behind a small wall in what was once the kitchen. A spell glanced off the wall, leaving behind the smell of burning paint and plaster.
Outnumbered, Arthur decided to take a risk, banishing a heavy-looking object at his attackers. The dense, square object flew over the wall and slammed into the man Arthur had been duelling. Using the distraction, Arthur jumped up and let off a series of Stunning and Binding hexes.
The remaining Death Eater swatted the spells away, but was forced to move away from the prostrate James. Arthur's partner lay on the floor, his leg sticking out at a strange angle, but he held his wand firmly and was chanting something under his breath.
The Death Eater shot a Cutting Curse at Arthur, who erected a hasty shield in time to deflect it. Another series of spells and Arthur was on the defensive, backing away from James and towards the door.
A giant hand appeared out of nowhere and Arthur heard James let out an almighty groan as his partner pulled the hand in an arc towards the remaining attacker. The hand caught the Death Eater in the back and propelled him into the wall, knocking him unconscious.
Breathing heavily, Arthur stood rooted to the spot, unable to believe that the fight was over. When he didn't hear any more curses, he walked stiltedly over to James and conjured a splint for his leg.
"Thanks," James said through clenched teeth.
"Thank you," Arthur replied. "I don't think I would have lasted much longer."
"Oh, tosh," James said with forced laughter. "You had him beat cold. I just didn't want you to think I wasn't going to help, you see."
Arthur cast the counter-spell for the Anti-Apparation Ward and offered a hand to James. "Think you can Disapparate?"
"Do I have a choice?"
Arthur winced as he rolled his shoulders. "I could always leave you here and bring Lily back for help," Arthur said with a wry grin.
"No thanks," James said at once. "I'll take my chances with a splinching."
"You first, then," offered Arthur.
"See you at St. Mungo's." Then with a modest crack, James was gone.
Arthur checked to make sure there was no part of James left in the destroyed flat, and decided that he would check with Molly first – there was nothing more terrible than his wife when he neglected to inform her of everything. He concentrated on arriving at the Burrow's front parlour and was gone.
Far away, in a little, underused office on the second level of the Ministry of Magic, a quill dipped itself into a magically sealed jar and began to scribble a line of words. What was most peculiar about this event was not the words it was writing, so much as it was the fact that it had not written anything for almost a hundred years. For this was the quill that had been enchanted to record all the arranged marriages in all of Wizarding Britain since Merlin set the quill to motion thousands of years ago. It wrote out three lines:
Potter – DOB 31/7/80
Child Weasley – DOB –unknown- estimated at 14/8/81
A/N: This story is brought to you by the combined minds and talents of several people. As always, I have had the undaunted aid of my wife, Rachel, my prebetas Kokopelli and Art, and my betas, Sherry and Ara Kane.