FALLING WITH GRACE
A Chance to Fight
There were at least twenty people in the room, a huge meeting hall on the seventh floor that Lily had never even known existed. She heard James and Sirius Black exchange amused whispers about a ‘Room of Requirement’, to which Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew nodded in agreement – but then, the Marauders had known almost every inch of Hogwarts. She wouldn’t be surprised if they’d been here before.
Looking around her, she noticed many familiar faces. Alice Moody and Dorcas Meadowes – the other two Gryffindor girls from her year. Marlene McKinnon of Ravenclaw, who had been a year ahead of them. Frank Longbottom and Emmeline Vance, the Head Boy and Girl when Lily had been a first-year. Hagrid the Hogwarts Gamekeeper, Professor McGonagall, and Albus Dumbledore himself, of course …
And a familiar grim face that looked much more grizzled since the last time she’d seen it, nearly two years ago.
Alastor Moody caught her eye and made his way over to her.
‘Miss Evans,’ he said gruffly. ‘So – our paths cross again.’
~ * ~
‘Our world is falling,’ said Dumbledore gravely. ‘The Ministry is unable to stop Lord Voldemort from gaining power and control. We have all seen the situation deteriorate year after year. Now, it is time something is done, before it is too late.’
‘But what can we do, sir?’ said a square-jawed wizard in a purple cloak.
‘Whatever we can,’ a tall wizard with flaming red hair – one of a pair of twins standing in the corner opposite James – said promptly.
‘Thank you, Mr Prewett,’ said Dumbledore. ‘I am about to ask a great deal of all of you.’ He raised a hand to stroke the beautiful plumage of the phoenix beside him. Fawkes opened his beak and let out a warbling note. ‘All of you come from different walks of life, representing different Hogwarts houses – but I hope that you will agree to come together for one united purpose. I ask all of you to face dangers and run high risks. I ask you to go where no other dares, to continue fighting when all else fails; in short, to save our world from Voldemort’s destruction.
‘The Ministry is fighting a losing battle, from inside and out. Voldemort’s spies have infiltrated it, and bureaucracy is ineffective in fighting a war. You are all sorely needed. You are our last hope.
‘Today, you must make a choice, between what is right, and what is easy. I will not force anyone to stand with me, but I hope you will all consider joining this new Order, in the hopes of forging a better future for the wizarding world.’
It wasn’t a difficult choice to make. James glanced at the parchment that was handed to him. It was completely blank, and looked perfectly ordinary, but he knew it was more than just that. Just as the decision he was about to make was more than just a choice. If he said yes, if he signed that parchment, he was pledging his life to the cause.
And yet, there was no hesitation. James knew, without a shred of doubt, that this was his path. This was the answer to what he had been looking for: a resistance group, which would fight by the principles of what was right. He wasn’t going to wait for three years of Auror training only to have to sink to the enemy’s low in fighting back; his mind was made up in an instant. He’d quit the Auror Academy immediately. Here was his calling, his destiny. Someone had handed him a knife; he flicked its blade across the palm of his left hand and a bead of blood dripped down. It touched the parchment, and the letters curled midway down the page.
James Andrew Potter.
Dumbledore nodded grimly, and shifted the parchment towards Sirius. The others watched solemnly. Marlene McKinnon handed him a handkerchief and he rubbed absently at the small cut on his palm.
Sirius went through the same ritual, not even wincing as the sharp blade touched his palm. The name Sirius Orion Black curled across the parchment and faded. One by one, everyone added their names. One by one, the words bled into the parchment. When they had finished, there was a strange, almost tangible bond between them all. It was as though that they had all been irrevocably linked to each other – they were no longer strangers, but brothers and sisters of a cause.
‘Welcome,’ said Dumbledore, ‘to the Order of the Phoenix.’
~ * ~
Lily twisted her hands nervously behind her back as she sat in the high-backed chair facing Alastor Moody. He stared at her with piercing black eyes which bore into her face as though they could see past her skin, into her brain. It didn’t make her feel very calm.
Dumbledore broke the silence, approaching the table with a tea tray.
‘Tea, Alastor?’ he said, setting the tray down with a clink.
‘I’d prefer not,’ said Moody. He reached a gnarled hand into his cloak and extracted a hip-flask. ‘I’ve got my own drink.’
‘Oh, yes, please, Professor,’ said Lily. Dumbledore smiled at her, and gracefully poured a cup, which he held out courteously. He then served himself and took his seat.
‘Well, Alastor, I assume you had something to say to both Miss Evans and me, since you requested this private meeting,’ said Dumbledore, after a few moments of silence and tea-sipping (or in Moody’s case, drinking from his hip-flask).
‘You assume right. It’s about Miss Evans, Albus. There’s something she can do – quite unique, it is, and I want to know if you’re going to do anything about it.’
Lily looked at Moody in astonishment, before she realised that he had only ever seen her execute one spell before – her first attempt at revealing a spell web. A thrill of anticipation ran down her spine. Was Moody suggesting … was it possible that she would have a chance to attempt what she had hoped she could upon starting work?
‘I believe Miss Evans was an excellent student in the fields of Charms and Potions,’ agreed Dumbledore, with a nod in Lily’s direction. ‘Horace Slughorn, in fact, gave rather glowing reports about her marks –’
‘I’m talking about Charms, Albus. Two Christmases ago, I saw her succeed at uncovering the spell web of a Containment Charm put up by experienced Aurors.’
Lily remembered it, too. Her first attempt, a brief success at producing the shining, golden, visible form of magic. It hadn’t ultimately managed to help at that point of time, but it had led to further trials and lessons from Professor Flitwick, developing her skill until she could reveal almost any charm now.
‘I am aware,’ acknowledged Dumbledore, ‘that Miss Evans is particularly accomplished at Charms. Her splendid marks at N.E.W.T. level attest to that –’
‘I’m not talking about examination results, Dumbledore!’ growled Moody. ‘I want to know how much the girl can do.’ He was talking about Lily in the third person, as if he had forgotten that she was in the room.
‘Of course. Miss Evans, I believe you were taking extra lessons with Professor Flitwick last year?’
‘And the result of these lessons …’ Dumbledore’s eyes had an encouraging twinkle in them; Lily understood that he already knew what she was capable of, but was allowing her to speak to Moody herself.
She turned to address the wrinkled Auror. ‘I’m able to do more than what I tried two years ago, sir.’
Moody’s dark eyes scrutinised her keenly. ‘And if I were to request a demonstration?’ His gaze flickered to Dumbledore. ‘With your permission, of course, Albus?’
‘Certainly. Miss Evans?’
‘What – which spell would you like?’
‘Av – no, let’s try Wingardium Leviosa first.’ Moody crossed his arms on the table and watched her expectantly.
Lily took a deep breath and held out her wand. ‘Revelio Wingardium Leviosa!’
The criss-crossing lines of light that illustrated the magical energy perpetuating the charm blossomed from the end of her wand, spreading out to form a net above the table. She held it there for a minute before Moody nodded and motioned for her to drop the spell.
‘Impressive,’ he said, making Lily flush with pride at the respect in his tone. ‘What more can you do?’
‘Almost everything I’ve tried.’
Her choice of words did not escape him. ‘Almost?’
‘I – there was one I couldn’t do.’
Lily glanced hesitantly at Dumbledore before she answered, in a barely audible whisper, ‘Avada Kedavra.’ What would Dumbledore think of her playing with the killing curse? And at Hogwarts, too, although she hadn’t mentioned that bit. Her intentions had been honourable, but nevertheless, it was a dangerous curse to be messing about with.
Moody drew in a sharp breath – whether he was shocked or impressed by her answer, Lily couldn’t tell.
‘Lily,’ Dumbledore addressed her. She met his eyes a little timidly. ‘Why did you try to reveal that particular spell?’
‘I – I thought of … I wanted to create a spell. A charm to – to counter it.’ She made herself speak louder, more boldly. ‘I think it’s possible to invent a Shield Charm for Avada Kedavra.’
There – she had said it. Her brilliant idea, which her colleagues and superiors at work had dismissed as impossible or too improbable to warrant trying. Now she would find out if Moody and Dumbledore believed it to be so as well.
‘Most people would believe that impossible,’ said Dumbledore quietly.
‘I don’t,’ said Moody. ‘If a curse to kill can be created, I say a charm to protect against it can be conceived as well.’ He thumped his fist exuberantly on the table, almost sending Lily’s teacup flying. ‘And Miss Evans here could be our chance of discovering it.’
Lily felt the excitement bubble up in her at Moody’s impassioned words. He believed it was possible – he believed she could make it possible …
Dumbledore, however, was more guarded. ‘I’m still uncertain as to whether magic can counter death. And this is a dangerous endeavour, Alastor.’ He turned to Lily seriously. ‘You understand the possible implications of your experiment – that you may find yourself drawn towards the power in that curse? You will have to become very close to the killing curse if you are to study it – perhaps even learn how to use it. Do you realise the dangers associated?’
‘It wouldn’t be easy, Professor,’ Lily found herself saying, knowing suddenly the very reasoning that would convince the Headmaster, ‘but it would be right.’
Dumbledore’s blue eyes peered at her in surprise, which gave way to twinkling delight. ‘Indeed, Miss Evans. Well, it does seem that both of you have given this a great deal of thought. I assume you have something to propose, then, Alastor?’
Moody nodded grimly. ‘I want to make this a personal project for Miss Evans – her contribution to the Order. She’ll do best with this.’
‘If you’re happy with this arrangement, of course, Lily …’
She nodded fervently. ‘I am.’
‘I wish you luck, then.’
~ * ~
Moody had arranged a meeting in the Shrieking Shack of Hogsmeade. Lily had never actually been inside the Shack – it was rumoured to be haunted by violent ghosts, who gathered there once a month to moan and howl. Moody had assured her, however, that it was perfectly safe. ‘Dumbledore charmed it himself – he had that old shack built some years back.’
When Lily Apparated into the Shack, there was a dark-haired witch standing in the living room, her back towards Lily. She turned in response to the pop of Lily’s Apparition, and Lily had the chance to observe her face. She had the most striking eyes Lily had ever seen – large, round and protuberant. They made her appear to glow with a foreign light.
Before either of them could say anything, however, a second pop indicated Moody’s arrival. He clomped over, his wooden leg thudding against the floorboards of the Shack.
‘Both here already,’ he said. ‘Good. I don’t suppose you’ve met before, so – Lily Evans, Eurydice Ollivander.’ He nodded towards each of them in turn, by way of introduction.
‘Eurydice Elizabeth Ollivander,’ said the witch, making a face. ‘I’m sure you’ll understand why I prefer to go by ‘Liz’.’
‘Formalities aside,’ continued Moody, ‘we’re here to work. You’re both here because you’ve the finest brains for Charms we have on hand, so I’m expecting a lot from you.’
‘What’s the assignment, then?’ asked Liz.
‘A Shield Charm for Avada Kedavra,’ said Moody. Liz’s jaw dropped.
‘You can’t be serious.’
‘Oh, I am, Miss Ollivander. Dead serious.’
‘But – there’s no precedence, no research –’
‘Are you a Charms Researcher or not?’ Moody barked.
Liz gaped at him for a moment before replying, ‘Of course. I was just – surprised. This … well, with the right elements … and we’d need someone really talented with spellcrafting – we’d have to tamper with the killing curse’s spell web –’
‘That’s where Miss Evans comes in,’ interrupted Moody. He whipped his head around to look directly at Lily. ‘I need you to do a Revealing Spell on this.’ Then, without warning, he lashed out at a spider in the corner of the room – ‘Avada Kedavra!’
The bolt of green light seared across the room and struck the arachnid dead. Lily couldn’t help flinching from shock and horror. Just like that – two words, a flash of light … and a life – albeit that of a spider – had just ended. She was reminded vividly of the murder of Zinnia Prewett: a green beam streaking through the darkness, followed by a dull thump. The killing curse was swift, merciless, evil; this was why it was so important for them to come up with a counter-curse.
Moody had cupped his hands around the dead spider, and was now holding it out for her, evidently expecting her to do something. Lily, however, wasn’t too sure if she was supposed to do the Revealing Charm on the spider itself. It wasn’t as though the killing curse was still present and active.
‘There’ll be a residue,’ said Liz, looking shaken but still relatively steady. ‘The curse leaves its imprint – so you can track it, if you act quickly enough.’
Understanding, Lily nodded and waved her wand over the spider. ‘Perspicuous Avada Kedavra!’
It was working: over the spider, smoky, writhing threads began to form. And the most frightening feeling of revulsion started to grow within her, so intense that she felt nauseous. This was the manifestation of Avada Kedavra, Lily realised – a nefarious, sadistic embodiment of malevolence. A power so strong that it could easily corrupt the controller of the curse. The longer she held on to the spell, the sicker she felt. When she could stand it no longer, she dropped her wand, trembling from head to toe.
‘Finite Incantatem,’ said Moody quietly, erasing all traces of the web she had created.
‘Rowena’s pixies!’ breathed Liz, who was visibly shaking. ‘That was …’
‘Avada Kedavra, in its visible form,’ said Lily, finding herself panting as though she had just flown a trans-Atlantic broom race. ‘Not a very – not a very clear web, but the bare bones.’
‘And we’ll have to work with that.’
‘That’s right. Are you going to get squeamish on me now, Miss Ollivander?’
Liz shook her head. ‘No. It’s probably going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but in the end, if it’s going to save lives … you can’t keep me away from it, Alastor.’
Moody gave her an approving nod. ‘Miss Evans? Now that you’ve seen what you’re up against?’
‘I – I might take a while to get used to conjuring the web … maybe even without having someone cast the spell for me, now that I know what it’s supposed to be like …’ Lily wasn’t really answering the question, but Moody seemed to understand the underlying sentiments of her words: they were going to do this, and it was only a matter of how.
~ * ~
The sounds coming from Lily’s room were odd.
‘Odd sort of girl, she is,’ said her Mancunian landlord, shrugging, with a hint of a grin that seemed to indicate that ‘odd’ wasn’t unattractive to him. James felt the bile rise in his throat, as he wondered for the umpteenth time why Lily wouldn’t just accept his invitation to stay with him. Surely Potter Manor couldn’t be worse than a place like this?
James chose to ignore the landlord, and he put his ear to Lily’s door. Inside, something was grinding and slicking. Curious, he knocked, softly at first and then louder, when Lily didn’t respond. She still didn’t reply – worried, James eased open the door a crack and peered in cautiously.
Lily was concentrating hard on the strangest looking model he had ever seen. Beads of sweat were breaking across her forehead as she drew, with her wand, little maggot-like brown creatures that flashed green quite attractively. It stirred something in James, a red-hot desire – whatever those green things were (and they suddenly looked more brightly green than ever), they were powerful. James crept closer, fascinated. He reached out a hand …
‘Don’t touch that!’ screamed Lily.
James stared at her. Lily’s face looked contorted, twisted in anger. He recoiled in horror.
‘James – please, stand back,’ cried Lily. She sounded far away and afraid. James came back to his senses with a jolt, withdrawing his hand. The world seemed to slide back into focus. Lily looked normal again, though sweated and scared. James turned back to the creatures, and realised they were actually paths of light, ugly and brown, turning upon themselves. He understood now – Lily had been making a spell web. But what horrible spell was this?
‘Finite Incantatem.’ Lily had to murmur it three times before all traces of the spell she had been meddling with disappeared. Her knees wobbled and she sank backwards onto the bed. James rushed to her side.
‘Lily, what are you doing?’
She looked around anxiously. ‘James, you shouldn’t have come in – if you’d touched that –’
‘What was that?’
‘A spell web. Of – of Avada Kedavra.’
James stared at her in horror. A spell web of the killing curse?
‘What would have happened if I’d touched it?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t want to risk it. It’s possible – it’s possible that it could have killed you. It is the killing curse, after all.’
James shivered. Lily had literally called him back from death.
‘How come you’re trying that here?’ he said finally, not wanting to dwell on the morbid thought any longer. ‘How come you ended up experimenting?’
‘I’m sorry – I didn’t really mean to do it in here. I usually work with – well, it’s for the Order. It’s just that I needed to manage to create it on my own, without somebody casting the spell for me, because otherwise I can’t get to the bottom of it, and we can’t proceed – I haven’t done it before, you know. The last time I tried to do it myself, at Hogwarts, nothing happened.’
‘How did you manage it now, then?’
Lily twisted her hands in her lap guiltily.
‘Come on. Tell me.’
‘I used anger,’ she whispered. ‘I had to summon anger … hate. It’s just like working the curse – drawing on the emotions behind it. I have this awful feeling that I might possibly be able to cast it now if I tried, only I don’t want to try. And it worked. I saw the same thing too, James. The green light, the power …’
‘But you didn’t touch it.’ Thank Merlin not.
‘No. It just … faded. I don’t know why, I just knew I didn’t want that kind of power, and I wanted to destroy that spell. That’s when the green disappeared and I saw the bare bones of Avada Kedavra.’
‘It’s based on hate, isn’t it?’
‘Not only that. That’s the hard part. The green light – it’s actually an important part of the spell. I’m glad I saw it, actually, because it helped me understand. It’s a thirst for power, it’s righteous indignation, vengeance – all the excuses that people need to kill. Underneath all that, it’s fuelled by hatred – the brown bit. But only the green light comes out because the want for power is so strong, and so seductive. That’s why it’s so dangerous, James. This curse is addictive.’
James thought of the brown light – could it even be called light? – writhing and coiling onto itself, making squelching, grinding noises. And how it had flashed green when he’d first seen it. He buried his face in his hands, not wanting to face Lily and admit that he had thought the power of the killing curse attractive, even if it had only been for a minute, when he hadn’t known what it was. She’d said that the curse was addictive. Had he nearly been sucked in?
Lily pulled his hands away and forced him to look at her.
‘It – it had an effect on me,’ he admitted hoarsely.
Lily patted his back gently. ‘Tell me,’ she said.
So he told her, about Voldemort and what he’d said in Hogsmeade. About how the world had felt different, when he saw the spell web of the killing curse. And his fears of being seduced by power.
There is no right or wrong, James Potter. But there is power. Voldemort’s cold, chilling voice tempting him. He could remember it as clear as it had been yesterday.
Lily studied his face carefully when he finished. Then she said, simply, ‘I know you won’t be blinded by power.’
‘But even if I don’t join Voldemort, it’d be just as bad if I fought him with Dark magic.’
‘You won’t. James, you stopped yourself from touching that spell web. It’s okay if it seems appealing at first. In the end, you rejected it.’
‘You stopped me,’ said James morosely. He didn’t want to think about what might have happened if Lily hadn’t called out to him.
‘No – James, I don’t think it would have helped unless you knew you had to fight it in the first place,’ said Lily firmly. ‘Believe me.’
‘It was like you were in a faraway place. I wanted to get back to you.’ James touched her cheek softly. ‘I think you keep me anchored, Lily. You’ve always taught me what was right.’
She gently placed one hand over his heart and leaned forward to kiss him. ‘You already know it in here.’