FALLING WITH GRACE
Ministry of Magic
Department of Magical Education and Research
Dear Miss Evans,
I am pleased to inform you that based on your recent exemplary results for your N.E.W.T.s, and the more-than-satisfactory report from our Interviews Officer, the Charms Division of the Department of Magical Education and Research would like to offer you a junior position with our Experimental Charms research team.
If you wish to consider working with Charms as a career option, please send your return owl by the thirty-first of July.
We await your return owl.
Head of Division
Lily Evans stood inside the Muggle entrance to the Ministry of Magic – an out-of-order telephone box in a seedy district of London – nervously clutching her employment letter in her fist.
This was it. Her new job as Junior Charms Researcher with the Ministry’s Department of Magical Education and Research would begin in less than fifteen minutes. Her initiation into the wizarding working world – a job that was meant to support her and pay her rent.
She also saw it as the means to an end: an opportunity to create the protective spells so desperately needed in a war-torn nation.
Lily had known before she had even left school that she would stand against the Dark wizard Voldemort. She had already foiled him once, helping to save the lives of her friends and schoolmates during a Death Eater attack on the wizarding village of Hogsmeade. She would continue to do so, with whatever talents, whatever capabilities that she had. And that included an aptitude for Charms. A strength that she hoped she could bank on, to wield a powerful shield for the Light side.
It was a daring plan of miraculous proportions. Just thinking about it scared Lily – and she wasn’t sure what was more frightening: the thought of failure, or the possible complications of success.
But she wouldn’t know if she never took the next step forward. Which was to dial six-two-four-four-two on the telephone.
‘Welcome to the Ministry of Magic,’ stated the mechanical, recorded voice. ‘Please state your name and business.’
‘Lily Evans,’ Lily said, taking a deep breath, ‘Junior Charms Researcher.’
~ * ~
Ministry of Magic
Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Dear Mr Potter,
It is our pleasure to tell you that your application to the Auror Academy has been accepted.
Successful applicants are to gather report to the Auror Academy at Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, on the first of September where they will await further orders.
We would like to remind you that a career as an Auror is highly dangerous and requires great strength of mind as well as intellect. The training will take three consecutive years of learning and testing. More than half of our trainees fail to make the cut each year. Please do not attempt this career option without serious dedication.
Congratulations on your successful application, and I wish you all the best should you decide to carry on with the training.
Head of Department
Magical Law Enforcement
It should have been something to celebrate – acceptance into the Auror Academy, a chance to join the elite in battle against Voldemort. The opportunity to make a difference. But it didn’t feel quite right to James Potter.
The war with Voldemort had continued to get steadily worse over the past month. The last remaining Dementors of Azkaban Prison had finally defected. It was summer, but the weather was cold and gloomy, as the soul-sucking monstrosities ran loose all over Britain.
Diagon Alley and all the other market streets of wizarding Britain were ghost towns. People occasionally passed through, huddled in groups; no one dared travel alone. In fact, it was already rare for people to wander outside their home. Wizarding security firms were doing a roaring trade in private home-warding, despite the common knowledge that if the most powerful Dark Wizard of the age wanted to kill you, a few paltry spells weren’t about to stop him.
And still, Voldemort gained power. Supporters continued to flock to him, and not just from the wizarding community too. He was gathering werewolves – it took James’s friend Remus Lupin a full week after receiving the dreadful letter to stop shaking – and it was rumoured that he was allying himself with the giants from the continent too.
Their world was falling apart, and not even the Ministry, despite Bartemius Crouch’s best efforts as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, seemed to be able to prevent it. With the Dementors gone from the wizarding prison, a significant number of Aurors had to be posted to Azkaban to guard it; add this to the number who had been murdered, and the once-formidable team of Aurors was reduced to a skeleton. They needed more help.
And James needed to do something. For that very reason, he and his best mate, Sirius Black, had sent off their applications to the Auror Academy even before their N.E.W.T. results had arrived by owl. Seven Outstanding N.E.W.T.s apiece had practically guaranteed them entry to the prestigious Academy – not that prestige had anything to do with their eagerness to join. This letter of confirmation was not, in any way, a surprise.
But his hesitation in replying to it was.
He and Sirius had first wanted to join the Aurors in order to be able to join forces against Voldemort. To hunt him down and bring him to justice. Initially, when they had first decided this, it had been a lark – an extension of their campaign of hexing Slytherins in the Hogwarts corridors when they had been arrogant, ignorant prats of fifth-years.
Then his ideals had changed, to become more serious, as events during the last two years of school had shaken his world and forced him to change, he hoped, for the better. He’d found himself questioning his means to an end – realising that the methods used to exact justice were in fact just as important as the final verdict.
The Ministry of Magic, however, didn’t seem to have reached that same conclusion, after seven years of war. Conversely, Bartemius Crouch seemed to have become more ruthless and brutal with each passing year that Voldemort remained at large.
Two Christmases ago, he’d sanctioned an arson to kill and capture ten Death Eaters. Thirty-six Muggles had fallen in the Ash Christmas tragedy, but that hadn’t stopped Crouch from stepping up his cutthroat tactics. Just last week, James had read of an alarming initiative in the Daily Prophet: the use of the Unforgivable Curses on Death Eaters by Aurors was now officially approved, even encouraged.
The information had sent a chill down James’s spine. If he joined the Aurors now, he would be taught the Unforgivables – Imperio, Crucio, and Avada Kedavra. Curses to control, torture, and kill. They were curses used liberally by Voldemort and his Death Eaters. And now, it seemed, they would be flaunted by the Light side as well.
How different from Voldemort would that make them?
What would Lily, James’s brilliant, principled girlfriend, say if she realised that he was fighting Voldemort with the very weapons that the Dark wizard used to terrorise the wizarding community? James remembered clearly every biting comment that she had thrown at him in his hex-happy past, her disgust for those who would descend to the same level of their enemies.
Lily believed in him now; James couldn’t let her down. There had to be another way to battle besides being a Dark-wizard catcher for the Ministry and playing by Bartemius Crouch’s warped logic of justice.
~ * ~
Barely a fortnight into her job, Lily already felt discontent. The Charms Division of the Department for Education and Magical Research was severely understaffed: with little money being channelled to research work during the war, few people were willing to put in the long hours for low pay. As such, Lily, being the most junior staff member, was tasked to all sort of odd jobs for the senior researchers, from menial errands such as enchanting memos to tedious assignments of uncovering spell webs. Once the senior researchers had discovered her talent for Revealing Charms – one which few of them possessed – they hadn’t failed to make the most of it, keeping her busy assisting them with tweaking spells from Accio to Evanesco. It was research that was interesting and potentially useful – just not during a time of war.
Lily didn’t need to work a month to realise that this was going to be the extent of her contribution to the war research effort (which was basically non-existent). It was a painful shattering of ideals; instead of the glowing picture of usefulness that she had painted for herself when she imagined working together with more experienced witches and wizards on war-ready charms, she was labouring away to cater to minds capable of producing new and improved Summoning and Vanishing Spells, but seemingly uninterested in charms that might be able to save lives.
‘It’s not possible,’ Clíodhna Finnigan told her, when Lily broached her ideas once. ‘And dangerous, sure. We’d not be wanting to bring You-Know-Who down on us, now, would we?’
‘No interest from the Minister,’ grumbled Graham Staples, their Head of Department. ‘Who gives a pile of Doxy droppings about research now? No – all the Galleons go into the DMLE. We haven’t a Knut to spend on funding new research.’ This effectively put a damper on any new initiative that Lily suggested.
It was a pity, Lily thought. The Auror corps was in a sorry state – their numbers dwindling as Voldemort’s power grew; resorting to fighting back with the very curses that they were meant to eradicate. James, she knew, was hesitating to accept his place at the Auror Academy for this very reason. But if no alternative solution presented itself soon, he would go, because he would never be able to sit idle when Dark wizards ran rampage.
She would be sorry to have him enter the Academy, knowing that he must adopt the inhumane methods of the Ministry. However, she would understand that there was no other way, because she already knew that there were few paths outside of the Aurors that enabled one to be at the front line of the battle against Voldemort.
~ * ~
The chance James had been waiting for arrived late in August, on a gloomy, drizzling Saturday. The crimson bird appeared out of nowhere, trilling a high-pitched, spine-tingling note. James yelped and leapt back in surprise.
The phoenix that usually perched in Dumbledore’s office blinked his beady black eyes at him.
‘Fawkes,’ acknowledged James, reaching out to stroke his beautiful plumage. His hand came away with a red-gold feather. James stared inquisitively at Fawkes, who opened his beak to the lilting melody of phoenix song. A thrill washed over James – he knew, without understanding how he did, that the opportunity that he longed for, to be useful in opposing Voldemort, had come.
With a last, haunting note, Fawkes vanished, leaving a letter in his place, addressed to James in a familiar, looping handwriting.
Hands trembling, James unfolded the parchment to read what Dumbledore had written.