The Sugar Quill
Author: Angel of the North  Story: Ludlow Fair  Chapter: Default
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Ludlow Fair - Angel of the North Ludlow Fair

Sirius Black tightened the last spell on the Ferris wheel, and stood back. The chief Magi-chanic set it rolling, and the team watched in awe as it set a course around the fairground, following its prescribed route, and working on the Knight Bus principle: anything in its way gets out of its way. Hardly surprising, since they were part of the same team that had built the Knight Bus.

"Proud of yourself, Black?" Severus Snape was leaning against a stand, his potion-makers' gown draped neatly around his shoulders. The black fur shone against the matt silk, the folds hanging smartly. The hood lining was a very deep green, appropriate to one so outstandingly slytherin. "Or are you ashamed not to be doing real work?" Sirius scowled, but remembered his promise to Dumbledore four years before, and held his tongue. Snape didn't look at him as he arranged his stall, putting out the finest ingredients he had, ostentatiously putting his patents to the fore, and carefully exhibiting the best he had to offer.

"It all seems a bit pointless, your doing something so trivial, when there's a war going on. Wasting your time on a technology that was perfected in my father's time, when you could actually be contributing to the wizarding world, in some significant sort of way." His recent article in Potions had been magnified and placed on the wall behind him , and Sirius found he had to turn his back. Severus Snape was really excessively successful for someone of his age. Sirius moved away, and followed the wheel as it completed its circuit of the fair, and leaving the Apothecary's stall far behind him.

Two years after Hogwarts and eighteen months into his apprenticeship, he was fairly contented, insofar as one could be. The undisputed leader of his year, he was now at the bottom of a long ladder, and enjoying the climb immensely. He'd described his job to a Muggle-born friend as approximating to 'Civil Engineer', and he loved the inventiveness of it all, and not having final responsibility for the projects. It would be a further five years until he qualified and ten on top of that before he made a name for himself in the field, but that suited him fine. He resented Snape's insinuation that his work wasn't valuable, just because it wasn't so famous. Or notorious.

His present project was for Auror Transportation. The aim was to create an improved Portkey that would allow movement by stealth, and carry upwards of a dozen Aurors - double that allowed by present methods. On the side, however, they had found time to design the Ferris wheel, the centrepiece of the Fair. They'd done it on the side, snatching minutes here and there for the sheer joy of being alive to do it. Not a particularly Snape-ish concept. The team watched their creation with glee as it halted at the start point, lifted, and dropped the witches and wizards out, one at a time. This was their contribution to Ludlow Fair, and by far the most spectacular. It glowed as it spun, the capsules carrying as many people as wanted to get on it, with a ceiling of about a thousand.

Other parts of the Ministry were here in full force, today being the day before the Fair officially opened. The Old Fairground was huge, and had been the first Wizarding Location to have Muggle Repellent embedded in its fabric. The Wards were being renewed, every inch covered, while the entry points for the quarter million expected wizards were being checked and double checked.

Margaret Fletcher, the present Minister for Magic was determined to show the Wizarding World that Britain was not beaten, and had ordered that Ludlow Fair would go ahead. A pureblood sympathiser, she had been elected that June, on the promise to get Britain moving again. She had promised to step down if a single foreign visitor was killed, and made extensive pleas for sponsorship from various companies. Held every ten years, Ludlow Fair was the greatest Wizarding event in the world, and for it not to go ahead would be tantamount to saying that Voldemort had won.

Before Sirius were hundreds of pavilions - tents and arcades that fed the body, mind and soul. Sirius left the team to their drinks, and wandered through the half-empty streets, watching as dwarves and goblins made their final preparations. The workers were uneasy though. Wands and hammers were being dropped, and beings were wittering rather than chattering while the little folk looked round all the time, checking for strangers, and using their own, powerful magics to repel what they could plan for. Aurors patrolled the boundaries, checking with individual goblins to make sure the place was secure. All their leave had been cancelled, and the young recruits were nervous. Some of them Sirius knew from school, most of them were ex-Gryffindors, and the natural camaraderie of the house extended even to their notorious liability, and hero of so many pranks, Sirius Black.

Ten years ago, this had been the scene of Voldemort's rising. In the biggest pavilion he had held a rally that called for "a return to certain standards of blood-purity", commenting on the historic threat Muggle-borns had posed. He'd spoken of opportunities, offering jobs and education to those denied their birthright because of those born of Muggles. He had named some prominent families that presented the opposite view, notably the Pevensies and the Potters. Nothing had been said about killing, then. It was all about justice, and what was right. Some notable miscarriages of justice had been made then, and talk was made about how the changes brought had damaged the fine traditions of the Wizarding World.

A year later, the murders on the Hogwarts Express had marked the beginning of the reign of terror. Sirius and James had both lost their brothers, something that had brought them even closer together. By the time James had become Head Boy, Sirius was the only family he had. Even now, it was strange not to be so close to one another.

At that thought, Sirius headed for the nearest public Floo. He was damned if his friends were going to miss out on the fair if he could help it. Most of them would be there, but there were no plans that he knew of for meeting up, and with all the balls, bars and ceilidhs it was probable they wouldn't all get to the same places. He didn't count the Beautiful People in this analysis. The Malfoys and Lestranges of this world would always find each other.

Returning from the Floo, he passed the Hogwarts Portal. Rather than the students skiving school to go to the fair, Dumbledore had arranged for the school to have a Portal there so that adults could accompany their children. All those under sixteen had to be accompanied by someone over twenty-one. It would only be available on the weekend at specific times, and twelve Aurors guarded it round the clock. The Longbottom brothers were there: John knew Sirius, and introduced him to his older brother, Frank. They both promised to join the school reunion at 'The House-Elf Bar and Grill' on the last evening, the third of November.

The Lads in their hundreds to
Ludlow come in for the fair
There’s men from the barn and the forge and the mill and the fold,
The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there,
And there with the rest are the lads that will never be old.

James surveyed the fair as he walked from his entry point to the 'House Elf'. Everyone brought something with them. Some were here to demonstrate a new potion or enchantment. Others wanted to sell their books, or advertise the fine quality of their potions ingredients. Weavers had their cloths and robe-makers their cloaks. Others were hawking a very different sort of trade - more than once Sirius had been accosted by witches and wizards in suggestive clothing. They seemed to know that James wasn’t really interested, but Sirius was fair game.

He watched as the Ferris wheel delighted the crowds once again, wishing he was doing something useful, like Sirius, instead of being unemployed. Working would be worse though. James Potter on the staff would make any workplace an automatic target, and he couldn't do that, even as a casual labourer. Meanwhile, Lily was working in a Muggle kindergarten as a respectable teaching assistant, hoping to get some practical experience before she planned to return to Hogwarts when a vacancy came up.

Peter had been around a fair bit as well, going to the pub at the weekends, away during the week doing his sales job for a potions company. He travelled around the world, hawking ingredients to various corporate entities - schools, ministries, factories and individual researchers, and had become rather gifted with international apparition, putting his hard-won transfiguration skills to good use. He was waiting by the bar as James walked in, and already had James' bitter to hand, waiting for him. Mostly Peter's news was about work, and about the rest of their year. He’d seen Snape on his own, demonstrating for the Apothecary that he’d been apprenticed to, immediately after Hogwarts. He was being feted as the biggest success of the year – about to become a Master of Potions before he was twenty-one, a near unheard-of feat. By contrast, James, always one of the Golden Boys, was mooching around, enjoying himself, and distracting Lily. For all that he was ‘most wanted’ James had a streak of Gryffindor recklessness that ran deep and wide, and he was determined to live life to the fullest, and that did not involve settling down any time soon. He headed to the broom-rider challenge, determined to get his thrills legitimately, leaving Peter and Sirius engrossed in conversation.

Apparently no one other than James had seen Remus for some time, and Peter was speculating about whether he'd even turn up. Sirius, when he joined them, said he'd left a message in his fireplace. James was still in touch with Remus fairly frequently, but hardly ever saw him. Work for Remus was elusive for different reasons, mostly because of his status, and he tended to be away for weeks at a time, exterminating fellow Dark Creatures. The others didn't seem to care. He'd always been the quiet, capable one, hiding at the back of the class, always struggling to either keep up or stay awake if it was the wrong time of the month. By turns inventive and cautious, he was gifted when it came to defeating the Dark Arts in a way that no one else was.

A crowd of Slytherins wandered into the bar, their faces familiar and loathed from school. Sirius had been all for hexing them, but Peter had vetoed it on the grounds of being impolitic. Come the following Monday, he could well be selling them ingredients, and he really didn’t want to screw up his business. Sirius had reluctantly agreed, before heading for the broomstick challenge, where James was holding his own against all comers. He’d had to turn down professional contracts, because they wouldn’t have been able to guarantee anyone’s safety in his presence, but he still flew like a demon, leaving everyone else in his wake as he covered the course, Will Avery not far behind.

There’s chaps
from the town and the field and the till and the cart
And many to count are the stalwart, and many the brave,
And many the handsome of face and the handsome of heart,
And few that will carry their looks or their truth to the grave.

After James had taken first place on the Broom Rider Leader board, they'd headed for Rosmerta's, where she'd packed up the "Three Broomsticks" and relocated for the week. They grabbed their drinks and hovered at the edges, waiting for Lily to arrive and greeting the other Gryffindors with slaps on the back, while the other houses received polite nods and grins.
The place was colourful, even if one wasn't smoking something you shouldn’t, but the spliff being passed around made the place come alive, and everyone with any authority was ignoring the drugs.

Some of the Gryffindors that looked in were Aurors, taking a few minutes break from duty and unable to relax, despite the surprising lack of violence. John introduced his brother Frank to them as promised, and left them to it. Frank explained that he would be James' security adviser for the cottage at Godric's Hollow, and then sat down and joined them for a time, introducing them to his wife, Alice , a translator at the Department of International Co-operation. She had been wandering around the fair, looking for baby-clothes, and had three large bags full. Frank's face was nervous, and pinched, in sharp contrast to the younger ones around him. The responsibility had aged him by ten years, and he was constantly on the alert, following in the paranoid footsteps of Alastor Moody, who was sitting two tables away. Grey hair clouded his temples, and he clutched his wand instinctively at any sound.

Moody himself was following the whole fair with one magical eye. On a slight rise, the Three Broomsticks provided a good vantage point amongst trustworthy company to view what was going on. He acknowledged the school-leavers curtly, and they watched this legendary Auror at work. He limped badly – the fault of a wooden leg – and was covered in scars from hexes and bites. He ignored the drugs, and blithely suggested that Potter ought to keep his wand to hand instead of tucked in a fancy holster. Severus Snape had sneered in the background, as if no one who had actually been living properly these last two years would have done anything but. Moody had looked at him with undisguised hatred, but said nothing, wand twitching in anticipation, as if seeking an excuse to do something instead of watching a bunch of young hooligans get wasted.

James was worried about Lily. They’d arranged to meet, and it was unlike her to be late.

To be honest, things hadn’t been going terribly well for them recently. They’d been together three years now, although it was only the first year since Lily had left Hogwarts, and he wasn’t sure that it was going to last much longer. Since she’d returned to Muggle life it had been increasingly difficult to keep in touch with her, and her family seemed to disapprove of him rather strongly. He had tried to extend olive branches towards the rest of her family, but her sister refused to have anything to do with him, refusing all invitations to visit him.

He'd even been placing bets with himself as to who was going to split them up first. She’d gone home crying from their last two encounters, and he hadn’t been in a fit state to Apparate home. Sirius had picked him up and dusted him down when he’d fetched up on the doorstep, and let him stay overnight, again. For once Sirius had been tactful, and let him deal with it himself, when what James had really needed had been someone to talk it out with.

The Beautiful People were gathered by one of the tents – Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy, Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange, Evan Rosier and a number of other Slytherins that composed Wizarding High Society. The Minister for Magic herself was there, dancing with Richard Wilkes, and laughing at the pro-Muggle propaganda that was being circulated. The Aurors skulked about outside, watching from any angle, seeing their favourite fish getting fatter, while evading all the hooks.

Snape was watching them all, his face in its perpetual frown, seemingly unaware of those that were circulating round him, a scarce nod to his friends or grimace to his enemies. He commented on James’ foolishness, telling him and Sirius that their recklessness would cost them their lives or their freedom, if the Ministry saw fit to see them as they were rather than protecting them all the time. He was ignored. Peter stood in the background, chatting to all who came his way, as he knew most of the present group, and joined in dancing with the Minister even. Sirius had scowled, and he and James had gone to sit on the swings by the kid’s area, which was empty by this time of night.

Lily finally joined them, her eyes red, and cheeks stained with tears.  James hugged her in greeting, while Sirius stood to one side, letting them have some space. They didn’t ask what the matter was, it could have been anything, and it was always best to let Lily actually tell them.

I wish one could know them, I wish there were tokens to tell

The fortunate fellows that now you can never discern;
And then one could talk with them friendly and wish them farewell,
And watch them depart on the way that they will not return.

Just as she was about to speak, a family came over to the swings to let the middle boys play for a bit. Sirius introduced James to his cousins, explaining that he also knew Arthur through work, although failing to admit that was where he'd found out they were related. Molly Weasley greeted James and Sirius somewhat distractedly, before wandering off, and leaving the children
with Arthur and the three teenagers. Lily looked even more upset when Sirius played with Jane, a mutual cousin, who would be starting at Hogwarts the following year. James cursed himself mentally, when he made a typical remark about admiring them for having kids in these troubled times, and Lily suddenly disappeared entirely. Turning to follow, he found his way blocked by Molly Weasley.

Bill had been sorted in Gryffindor, and Molly boasted to the young men about the achievements of her eldest, while Bill looked suitably embarrassed by her. He preferred talking to Sirius of the wild hair, and even wilder life than hearing his mother blow his trumpet for him.

“Don’t mind Mum. It’s just cos  I’m the eldest, and she doesn’t have much else to talk about, really.” Sirius ruffled the lad's hair in a matey manner, and Bill grinned. Molly told Charlie off for wanting to play on the climbing frame, while Jane was talking quietly to Percy, and discussing what was going on – a serious discussion that had its effect quite ruined by the children’s reedy tones. Sirius turned towards them, the physical similarities of Percy and Jane quite apparent, in spite of only being cousins with their horn-rimmed glasses, and precisely arranged hair.

James had gone after Lily, and found her by a shed on the edge of the fairground. She was talking to someone, but he seemed to disappear among the shadows around them when James appeared, and he thought little of it, preferring to focus on her who was there than he who might not be.

“James, I’m pregnant.”

“Are you sure? I mean, those Muggle pregnancy…”

“James – I’m a witch you know. I did a charm. It’s going to be a boy. Early July.”

“What do you want me to do about it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe support me or something?”

“Are you sure I’m the father?” A resounding crack answered that one, as Lily forgot she was a witch and delivered an old-fashioned slap across the face. Then she remembered again, and a well-aimed hex had James clutching his privates.

“James Potter, how dare you!”

“I’m sorry. I had to ask. I don’t know what to do, Lily. I’m only twenty.”

“And I’m only nineteen, unmarried, and with a job that expects me to be an example to the kids. I’ll be sacked if they find out.”

“So what do you want me to do? Marry you? Is that it? Because things haven’t been great between us for some time. Do you really think a baby’s going to help that?”

“What do you want me to do? Kill it? Are you like those Purebloods that think Muggle-borns shouldn’t reproduce? Is that it?”

“No, of course not. It’s all rather sudden.”

“How do you think I feel?”

“I thought you were taking a potion or something.”

“I was. Then I found out from Peter that there’d been a faulty batch made.”

“So you’ve talked to Peter about this? Great.”

“No, I haven’t talked to Peter about this. What are you going to do? Wallow around in misery, waiting to die?”

“Lily, this isn’t a good time to be having kids. You know that. I’m number one target – He wants 'the last of the Potters'  – everyone knows that. If there’s a chance it isn’t mine, then it’s safer. Safer for him, safer for you.”
 The shadowy figure that Lily had been talking to before James emerged from his cover, and James found himself sprawled out on the ground, a fist having connected with his jaw. A stream of hexes followed, and not just from one source either. Sirius had found them, having followed James at a distance in his animagus form, and had heard the last of the conversation.

Lily left with her shadow, and the boys returned to sit on the swings, and look at what was going on around them. People were running helter-skelter, high on excitement, Billywigs, and Pot forgetting the shadow-dwellers.

“What the fuck did you do that for, James? You know, you really don’t deserve Lily.”

“What was I supposed to say? I’m crap with kids, heck, you’d be a better father to the kid than I would.” Sirius grinned for a second, and then responsibility took over his face again.

“You’re accusing me of being the responsible one. Maybe I am. Maybe I’ve grown up. Maybe, just maybe, I think you’re being a Godforsaken selfish prat, that’s wrapped up in your own stupidity. Maybe that shadow was right when he called you an arrogant bastard, who was reckless and self-centred, and didn’t give a damn about anyone else.”

“Was that what he said? Who was it?”

“Recognised the voice, but couldn’t put a name to it. It’ll come back to me.”

“I just don’t want the kid to spend his teenage years as I did – scared, watching my family disappear. Heck, I want him to have a father for life, not just for a few years, like I did.”

“Then give him that. Fight Voldemort. Do something to make him proud of you, instead of walking around with a target on your back, and no great way to defend yourself. Do the right thing, and look after Lily. And if you can't, then I will. And the kid. At least you don’t need to worry about what your family would say.”

James looked murderously at Sirius for a minute, and then stared at the ground.

“Would you do that, I mean, pretend he was your kid, and marry her if I wouldn’t.” He found himself facing the wrong end of a wand, with a rage that was more familiar in Snape’s eyes than Sirius’s.

“You do not talk like that. However, yes, I would. And I'd look after her if anything happened to you, you know I would. You’re meant to be a Gryffindor. You were Head Boy, the icon of every boy in the school, as the hero who had escaped, and fought Voldemort, and had the record for detentions, and the epitome of derring-do.”

“Shared record for detentions. Hey – we’ll have to teach the kid about the school. And show him how to play tricks without being caught. Moreover, Remus can show him how to defend himself. And Lily can teach him at home if she wants – I can afford it.” James looked wistful.

“A proper family again. I know you want that, Prongs.”

“Thanks Padfoot. I don’t know. Look, Remus is over there, with the Weasleys. Shall we go and talk to them?”

Sirius shook his shaggy head realising this conversation was at an end, and the two walked across to the swings again. Jane was a pretty little girl; with hair so dark, it was almost brown. She was sitting on the swing, talking seriously to someone or other.

They called out greetings to those they passed. Molly seemed to be quite a tyrant, and was apparently pregnant again. “See – that kid’ll be at school with your kid, James. Maybe they’ll raise hell together. And the Longbottom kid.” They didn’t speak to Molly at all though, and joined Remus in watching the Ferris wheel.

“You did that, Sirius?” Remus was watching it swoop and roll around the ground, making pretty patterns in the air.

“Yep. Along with about a hundred others.” Sirius was quiet, while James and Remus talked easily. Peter came over, and he and Sirius talked about work, while James and Remus compared notes about not working. The Weasleys wandered off, Molly having decided she wanted to look at the knitting stall, while the elder boys begged to be allowed to go to the Quidditch fair. Jane, ever the responsible one, had been allowed to go to the doll’s fair on her own, while the boys were kept back, in spite of being older. Their red heads seemed to glow with the emotions, and Arthur eventually persuaded Molly to let him take the boys to the Quidditch stall, while Molly took the twins in their papoose to the knitting stall, shaking her head.

Others came by, passing the oasis by the swings, jokes flying around about Hags, Leprechauns and Ghouls, calling names, half-remembered, nearly familiar.

The flow of the crowd seemed to change, and the shouts and screams shifted from joy to something more sinister. Sparks were seen to shoot up, at first mistaken for fireworks, and then realised as cries of distress, echoed by the crowd, and building up into a howl. The Gryffindor Quartet stood up, uncertain what to do. Sirius contemplated transforming, as did Peter, thinking it the easiest way to get anywhere fast. Remus seemed oddly detached from it all, as if he was expecting something like this, his reflexes kicking in as his wand was at the ready. Peter looked shocked. James seemed dead in the eyes, looking for Lily had become his top priority, never mind his own survival.

Near them, an explosion sounded, and they ducked for cover, throwing up shielding spells, and running for the sheds. Wandfire was coming in all directions, and they found their shield being broken by a potion thrown at them from somewhere. They threw up more shields, Sirius and Peter transforming, James staying with Remus only because his form was too conspicuous, and knowing that even in human form the werewolf was his best chance of finding Lily. Two pairs of eyes would be better than one.

They hid in a shed, watching the scene through the windows. Howls and screams were rising with the smoke and the flames. James wanted to go and find Lily, but was held back by the fact the door had been warded from the outside. He slumped against the wall, knowing that it was him they were after, that perhaps a few people would have been safer had he not been so selfish as to want to enjoy himself, spend some time with his girlfriend.

They could hear the chaos outside. Witches and wizards were stampeding in an echo of the last fair, many unable to Apparate because of the presence of their children. Sirius was hurriedly looking for his Portkeys that he’d been working on for the Aurors, wondering whether he could transform their shed into a portal straight to the ministry or to Hogwarts.

Sirius suddenly panicked, and ran for the entrance, muttering charms to let them out in a rapid stream, and joined in with by Remus.

Peter looked confused.

“The Hogwarts link. They’re after the Hogwarts link. It’s meant to open in twelve minutes.” Sirius had suddenly remembered the details. “We need to set another one up. Try to get the kids back somehow.” They got out of the shed, and found themselves in the middle of mayhem.

“What about Lily?”

“Nice to see that you’ve actually discovered the meaning of caring about your girlfriend. Shame you couldn’t have managed that earlier.” The shadow voice was back, static as they moved around the shed.

“Just tell me where she is.”

“Right here.” The shadow was dressed in black, floor length robes, his face covered by a hood. In his arms was a red-headed girl, limp and lifeless. James felt the bile rise in his throat. He’d seen too many of his family like that to not know what it meant. The shadow shook his head, and motioned to the woman beside him. Lily was there, bruised, tear-stained, but very much alive.

“Who is she?”

“Jane Weasley. The Doll’s stand was the first they blew up. It was run by two Muggle-born witches.” The stranger was contemptuous. He took a small bottle from his pocket, and poured it down Lily's throat, massaging her neck so she'd be able to swallow.

“Who are you?”

“Can two years really have dulled your wits so much, that you fail to recognise those you tormented for most of your school life?” He indicated Lily with his wand, and James remembered how he’d teased her for the first few years of school, in spite of her being younger than him. She looked so small and vulnerable next to the shadowy figure. It was hard to remember that this was the same witch who had hexed and punched him earlier. “You really don’t deserve her, you know. She’ll live. As will the child.”

The sneer in his voice told them who the shadow was, but he’d already vanished with Jane Weasley, leaving James wishing for the first time in his life for the presence of Severus Snape.

But now you may stare as you like and there’s nothing to scan;

And brushing your elbow unguessed-at and not to be told
They carry back bright to the coiner the mintage of man,
The lads that will die in their glory, and never be old.

The fairground lay deserted by morning. James had returned, to lay a wreath in the place where they’d seen Jane’s body, it joining the many other tributes being laid before them.

Albus Dumbledore was there, his head bowed in contemplation. He had known every single one of the dead. Some he'd taught at Hogwarts, others at Auror college, still more were personal friends, or trusted advisers. The best of a generation of British Wizardry had been decimated at a stroke. British Wizardry. True to the Minister's promise, not a single foreign wizard had died. He barely moved when a young man touched his elbow.


“Mr Potter. You, at least, are well. How is Lily?”

“She’s as well as she can be. We’re getting married.”

“So young, Mr Potter?” James got the feeling that the old man really did know everything, and not for the first time in his life.

“Yes, well, she’s pregnant. And…”

Dumbledore watched and waited.

“I’m tired of being on the side-lines, a sitting duck, waiting for the attack to come to me. I want to do something. I can’t go through the usual channels. I make my colleagues a target. Do you have a job for me? Something I can do?”

“I think I may be able to help. Such a waste. We lost so much yesterday. I warn you though, you should not be doing this out of misplaced guilt, or a sense of duty that is not really there. But I think, perhaps, you have been regretting cooling your heels for so long, have you not, Mr Potter, while others have been fighting.” Together they stood and gazed at the fairground. The bodies were still being cleared from among the waste generated by quarter of a million wizards from all over the world, and the Dark Mark hovered over what was now wasteland.

There was no blood – just scorched earth, and painful memories.

Aurors littered the ground, young men and women that James had known at school, and would never know again. Ministry wizards wandered past them – the old man and the young, oblivious to life amidst so many corpses. Some seemed to snarl at James, as if he personally was responsible, as if he himself had not faced down Voldemort and survived a mere two weeks after leaving school, and again at his only job so far, six months later. Others simply conjured more and more stretchers, bearing away a body to the mortuary, before solemnly returning for the next. It is a sorry day, when the dead outnumber the living.

He was relieved that Dumbledore did not ask about the bruises and hex marks on his skin. He had taken Lily to safety at Sirius’s flat, and then found that he’d been locked in again, with a note that the two needed to sort things out. They’d agreed to marry in three weeks time, the bare minimum in either wizarding or Muggle terms, at the registry office in Ludlow. He had a cottage at Godric’s Hollow that he’d inherited from his uncle, and they could live there for the time being. He’d been working on it during the day, when Sirius, Remus and Peter were out at work, putting up wards around the house, and her skill at charms would be useful in setting the wards properly.

She’d agreed to marry him, because that was all she could do. He had the money to support them, and even if to all the world he looked like a lazy layabout, he was a good man at heart. He knew she was worth more than he could give her, and that hurt his pride. She could keep her job - Apparating to work wouldn't be a problem, and it would give her some independence. And she'd be a good mother. It was just that Sirius, Remus or Peter would be better parents than he would.

Sirius hadn’t spoken to him when he returned that morning – he’d crashed at Peter’s to give them some space. Remus had gone to his latest job, and Sirius had acknowledged Lily, while ignoring James. Lily had left for home, and James had been alone in the house, until his decision to go to the fairground. He stood, a little apart from Dumbledore, and watched the Ferris Wheel complete its final circuit, before being finally brought under control and toppling gracelessly to the ground, like so much more rubbish.

Dumbledore looked at James. The young man was pale, and somehow older in his soul than he had ever been. Maybe events had done him some good. They would find out when they visited the Potter vault in Gringotts in a couple of hours. If this were true, then the box would find them. He turned back to James, and spoke in the quiet way of his that had always unnerved the kings of recklessness.

“Mr Potter, tell me: what do you know of the Order of the Phoenix?”

Author's Notes: The poem is from 'A Shropshire Lad' by A E Housman. Thanks to my various betas - the folk at Le Cafe Dangereux, on Livejournal and especially to Niki (wcspegasus), Julie (Slytherincess), and my SQ beta Zsenya.

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