Before: Sixth year, Snape was supposed to cast Crucio on Lily. Instead he cursed Marlene and tricked Hester into thinking she was Lily. Only Snape and Marlene know this. Last night, Lily invited Colista to the Toadies to give her a chance to not be evil, but then she insulted Lily, and James publicly humiliated her. Sirius said he's meddling with L/J to distract himself from the war. Lily and Mar fought, and Mar said (in front of the Marauders) that Lily's mates know she has a secret she's told the Marauders. L/J almost kissed (again) but got interrupted, and now James thinks Lily knows how he feels about her, but she actually thinks he's in love with Carlotta.
What else, what else...Jules published a deleted scene on her Tumblr that includes Lily's letter to Madam Keepdown. If you haven't read the whole thing you SHOULD! It's linked on my Tumblr jilyesplz, along w/ a scene I wrote featuring James's letter. But if you just wanna jump in...the first sentence of Lily's letter is "James Potter is a clueless prat" and the last sentence is "I fancy James Potter, and that's all there is to it.
Do with that information what you will.
"Cut Me & I'll Bleed"
A rainbow of light-beams raced through the air, and suddenly, she became aware of her back coming into contact with something firm and solid—James. As a silver shield soared from her wand to knock three curses off their course, James's wandless hand reached behind him, between their bodies. The backs of his knuckles brushed her lower back, sending a rush of electricity through her thin t-shirt. His free hand found hers and gripped tightly, large and strong and warm. It was damp with exertion from the duel, but his sweat mingled with hers and she found she wanted it that way, liked the confirmation that he was giving everything to this fight too.
Her Shield held off four Death Eaters at once, all bedecked in the familiar billowing black robes and masks. She could feel their combined power battering her Protego, knew from the heat of her wand and how it shook in her hands that she could only guarantee ten seconds. When the Shield fell, she'd have no time to cast again before a curse made contact…her mind raced.
She chanced a glance over her shoulder and saw that James was using the respite from her Shield Charm to go on the offensive against his own opponent, as she had hoped he would. His wand slashed through the air with the skill and confidence of a much older wizard, and a spell finally sailed beneath the fifth Death Eater's outstretched arm to hit him in the ribs. He crumpled.
James grinned crookedly at her over his shoulder, then spun fully toward her as her head whipped back toward the Death Eaters. His chest now pressed into her back, their left hands still entwined at her hip.
She felt his mouth move at her ear and knew: when he remembered what they were facing, his smile had fallen from his face.
The couple stared at the four Death Eaters through the shimmering forcefield. Her shield had five seconds left, and they all knew it. When it collapsed, there would already be curses flying at them. The spells coming from black-robed arms were almost lazy now…with four-on-two odds, they had already won.
Then she knew.
"Arizona!" she cried, and James burst out laughing behind her, completely delighted even as they battled for their lives.
"Diffindo!" he bellowed obediently, pointing not at the Death Eaters but the ground behind them, and the earth split open with an almighty shudder.
She leaned back into his chest as he brought their conjoined hands to wrap around her waist. She let her weight sag into him, knowing he'd never let her fall. She focused every ounce of her strength on lifting her wand arm, sending her shield exploding outward, a half-second before it would have collapsed on its own, knocking the four Death Eaters back. They stumbled only perhaps two steps, but it was enough…three lost their footing and tumbled into the chasm James had rent in the earth, and James sent a simple Tripping jinx to topple the last one with them.
Her eyelids drooped with exhaustion, and she felt rather than saw James send rubble tumbling into the chasm to trap the four men.
James allowed her only one more second's rest before he yanked at her hand, spinning her backwards to face him, then dropped it to seize her face between both palms. The thin line of his wand pressed into her cheek, hot from the magic coursing through it seconds before. She fisted one hand in his t-shirt and one in his messy black hair.
Breathy, needy, exhilarated: "James, that was…"
"Fantastic," he panted back, eyes wide and gleeful and awed. Then his lips landed on hers, and her eyes closed, and the soundtrack of war faded in the heat and passion and rightness of feeling James against her and around her and everywhere.
She reached up on tiptoe as James pulled her into him. He parted her lips, and she sighed, earning a smirk that she felt pressed against her mouth, neither willing to break the kiss. Her hand on his chest slid down to slip beneath his shirt, then up again to feel his heartbeat beneath her fingers, in his skin. His fingers pressed hard into her neck, and she knew he was finding her pulse too.
They knew this dance well; they had seconds before the next wave reached them…a minute at most. Time enough for proof of life, but very little more.
Sure enough, footsteps pounded behind her, and they broke from the kiss as one. James wrapped a hard, lean arm around her back and pulled taut, pressing her whole torso against his and lifting her feet from the ground as he spun them to put himself between her and the next Death Eaters.
He dropped his forehead back to hers for one more moment before they faced the enemy. His hand still on her face gripped her with bruising force. His specs dug into the bridge of her nose. His eyes blazed with emotion.
"I love you, Car," James whispered.
Lily bolted upright in her dark, empty room.
Pale freckled hands came up to card frantically through frizzy red hair as huge green eyes squeezed shut; a kaleidoscope of not-Carlotta. Then she flopped back on the bed, only to instantly regret it when a cramp stabbed her side, reminding Lily that she had slept curled in a ball at the base of her bed where she had first collapsed.
What a way to start a day.
Lily took a little more care with her make-up than usual; eyeliner as well as mascara; concealer and then powder. Instead of her usual messy bun, she massaged a few drops of Sleekeazy into her hair and brushed it until it fell down around her face in loose waves.
It wasn't for him.
She was Head Girl, and she ought to look professional on the first day back after tragedy had rocked the school.
Pillowless sleep (or lack thereof) had not been kind to her hair or her face.
Revealing that you like someone who doesn't like you back (and he'd figured it out—the very real pain in his voice had made clear he knew he'd hurt her) is a self esteem hit. She needed a requisite boost for herself.
It wasn't for him.
Lily turned away from her vanity, caught sight of parchment and ink lying on her desk, and thought (simply, innocently, horribly): I have to tell Sam.
She stood stock-still in the center of her room for a very long moment. Then she swallowed, shrugged her robes off her shoulders, and tore off the simple white t-shirt she wore beneath them. She crossed to her dresser, opened the bottom drawer, and pulled out the shirt Sam had given her. Before she could overthink it (had she waited another moment, she might have worried that a muggleborn had no right to wear the letters for which those purebloods had died) she pulled the shirt over her head.
Lily did not properly know how to sort out how much of this act was penance for forgetting Sam Dearborn's death, how much was private rebellion against the wizard who had killed him, and how much was simply selfish comfort, for the green letters against her breast felt warm somehow. She did not try to understand; she simply accepted it.
She wrapped her robes back around herself, tying them carefully because she had no desire (and no right, she suspected) to flaunt this shirt to anyone else. James's face last night flashed back into her mind, this time with a much deeper, more painful sense of understanding.
He had sought comfort in oblivion with her, and she had refused it.
She did not regret her choice. She knew she had done the right thing. But she could not bear to hurt him again.
Lily checked her reflection once more in the mirror and picked up her bag. She couldn't unlive those flawless hours dancing with James or the shattering three minutes that followed, but she could fix something from last night. With that resolution in her mind, Lily set out for the seventh-year girls' dormitory.
She waited against the wall outside rather than knock, eager to avoid Carlotta at any cost. She didn't have to wait long before her friends appeared. They stopped short at the sight of her.
"Hi," Lily managed.
"Hi," Marlene said coolly.
Not forgotten, then.
The looks on Donna and Mary's faces told Lily they knew too.
"I'm sorry," Lily said. "I shouldn't have said what I did. You're allowed to make mistakes; you're allowed to look for comfort anywhere you can get it right now."
Marlene bit her lip. She hesitated on the verge of forgiveness, Lily thought. Then—"What about your little secret club, Ginger?"
"Gingers aren't a secret, Mar," Lily quipped. "We're quite obvious about it, actually."
Marlene rolled her eyes.
"If you mean the Fourth Doctor's fanclub," Lily tried, "Tom…"
"I hope this isn't about the Austenites' disdain for Bronte…"
Marlene raised a hand to cut Lily off and then folded her arms tightly over her chest. "You know what's worse than knowing that your best mate will talk to anyone but you about what's wrong with her?" she said, staring Lily down. "Having no bloody clue why."
The blonde left for breakfast without another word. Mary—with a helpless, 'we both know I've picked my side' shrug—followed.
Feeling little and mean and unwanted, Lily shrank into the wall to let Donna pass her by too...until Donna parked right in front of her and crossed her arms over her chest.
"What, are you too afraid of Price to eat?"
Lily blinked. "No, I just thought...She's angry about the same things that you were last year. I thought you'd pick..."
Donna rolled her eyes. "You only have to pick sides when your friends fight with each other. Price was never my friend."
Slowly, Lily smiled, and then she tucked her arm through the crook of Donna's and rested her head on her friend's shoulder. "I love you, too, Liar."
When James dreamed it, he told her himself.
Everything else was the same. The feel of her, cheek against his chest, lips pressed to his fingers. Her smell, mouth, hair, freckles, yellow dress. Her eyes.
And afterward…that was the same too. Long, awful silence. Yellow slipping through his fingers. Green like he'd betrayed…her? Their friendship? The meaningless snog she wanted? Who knew.
But he got to say it. He had always thought he would get to say it.
James's eyes opened to the deep-red of his four-poster curtains and he realized—with a sense of great loss and profound relief and all-consuming guilt—that for the first time in a week, he had gone a night without dreaming of Sam Dearborn. James rubbed his eyes and coughed, loudly and painfully, to rid his throat of the lump of whatever stupid morning phlegm was making it hard to swallow.
What a way to start a day
His watch declared that it was seven am—a shit time to be awake, James decided. Nothing good happened between two and nine. No one should have to be conscious for it. He rolled over and picked up a small handheld mirror sitting on his nightstand.
Sirius Black's voice cracked through the Great Hall like a whip, and dozens of heads turned.
"Oh, no," Lily whispered, frantically shoving her things into her bag. "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, this is not happening. Not here. Not now. No."
"THAT'S YOU, RED!" he barked, much closer now, and Lily turned, wincing, to face him. Half-standing, bag half-slung over her shoulder, halfway to an escape. Donna stared, toast frozen halfway to her mouth.
"Is there…any chance this isn't about the thing it's definitely about?"
"I hear ya like the Stones!"
"You know who else likes the Stones? ME! I love the Stones. What a fucking coincidence."
"Mr. Black!" cried McGonagall from the Head table. He ignored her, the surest sign yet that he was furious.
"'Paint It Black?'" Sirius continued, voice dripping sarcasm, "I say: Doncha mean, Paint It, Sirius Black?"
"Could you not make this a joke?" Lily snapped.
"Do I look like I'm fucking laughing?"
He turned to face the Head table, finally, and tipped an imaginary hat in salute. "Sorry, Minnie, but this is not the last F-bomb I'm going to drop in this conversation, so shall we just say …detention for the whole weekend? Call it insurance."
"I don't think you understand the concept of insurance," Lily muttered, and he glared.
"Hey, Evans, since we both like the Stones, I wonder why we've never…"
"If you dare finish that sentence…"
"I'm just saying, we're mates, and clearly, you and your mates…"
"ACTUALLY," Lily all-but-screamed, panic overriding her volume control, "I think it's time I moved on, mate-wise. It's been a beautiful friendship, ours: You tried to get me killed, and in return I was your only friend in the world for two months, and in return for that you showed up in my room to ask me a very presumptuous question and be really bloody smug about the answer, which, if you'll cast your mind back, I never technically confirmed, and now I'd quite like to kill you, which, speaking as a writer, is a beautiful point of symmetry for our narrative arc to end on, so, what do you say? Let's never talk again?"
Sirius raised his eyebrows. "That was cute. Would you like to chat in private, or shall I yell my next question across the Great Hall?"
Lily bit her lip and led the way toward the exit. When they had almost reached the steps to the Entrance Hall, she stopped abruptly and faced him, hands on hips. "Give McGonagall a real apology."
Sirius almost smiled at that. "You're in no position to be making demands."
He turned and bowed regally to his Head of House. "I am sincerely sorry, Minnie. The soullessness of gingers, while regrettable, is never an excuse for public profanity."
Professor McGonagall had much more practice than he at hiding her smile.
"And…?" Lily prompted him quietly. Sirius raised his eyebrows. "You don't want weekend detention. There's a match Saturday."
"Oh, yeah. And I plan to be hungover Sunday…"
"Lovely. And don't you somehow have a date Monday…"
"Yep. Which will ideally stretch into the early hours of Tuesday…"
"You disgust me."
"Cheers." He turned back to McGonagall. "Minnie?" he called, "Since I am so very, very sorry, and since I only said 'fuck' twice—oops, three times—and since House spirit is an intrical part of the Hogwarts experience…shall I take those detentions starting on Wednesday, actually?"
"Intrical is not a word, Mr. Black," his Head of House informed him. "My office, 5pm, Tuesday."
"Minnie, you glow like the dewy buds of May."
With that, Lily and Sirius finally left the Great Hall. He led them to a corner of the deserted Entrance Hall before he rounded on her, eyebrows raised in furious interrogation.
Lily clasped her hands together in front of her and said brightly: "So…what did you want to talk about?"
Sirius flicked her on the forehead. "That's only hot when he does it."
Lily sighed heavily. She leaned the back of her head against a pillar and closed her eyes. "Fine," she said without opening them. "What did he tell you?"
"Dance, dance, dance, tra-la-la, dance, dance, dance," he ticked off on his fingers, "Dads. 'Wild Horses.' Almost snogged. Libby blurts out how he feels, and you book it like a fucking Hufflepuff. Am I missing anything?"
"Like a…I booked it like a woman with self-respect!" Lily snapped, eyes open and hands on her hips now.
"How do you figure that?" But Lily was on a roll.
"…And I'm sorry your mate didn't get his rebound fuck, but I don't see where you come off screaming at me about it in front of half the school."
Sirius blinked. "What sort of fuck?"
"I'm not a rebound!" Lily said brokenly. "I just can't do…I can't be that for him. I can't."
She looked like she had sacrificed some great personal secret, but Sirius was nonplussed. "That's a sex thing?"
"Is 'rebound' a sex thing? 'Cause he's quite experienced, Evans. If you tell him you don't want to do the Rebound Fuck, I'm sure…"
"Oh my God…"
"Is it bouncy? It sounds bouncy. Oi, is it the one that's sort of like Doggy Style but with jiggly knee action…"
"It's not a sex thing, Padfoot! It's a metaphor, damn it."
"For what? What is it?" Lily didn't answer, just swung her bag over her shoulder and pushed past him toward the edge of the Entrance Hall. "What's a rebound?" he repeated louder.
"Look it up," she called without stopping. She was almost out of the Hall when she suddenly turned back, eyes wide and manic. "Why did he tell you? When you were all rigging votes left, right and center everybody managed to keep quiet, but this he's got no problem broadcasting all over the dormitory?"
Sirius smirked. "Naturally."
"Prat!" Looking like she really did want to follow up on that murder threat, Lily turned on her heel and stormed away.
Please let me go.
James stayed in his room after Sirius left for breakfast, toying with a Snitch he had nicked...nearly two years ago now?
He'd snuck into Hooch's office after he won the Quidditch Final his first year as Captain, looking for a memento. The little gold ball was entertaining enough to play with, gratifying enough as a record of his triumph. But it always felt very slightly wrong in his hands.
It remembered who had caught it. It knew James wasn't supposed to...
She hadn't felt wrong in his hands.
He was such an idiot.
She knew. It was over, because she knew, and she didn't want him, and there wasn't any more to say, and anything he did say would only freak her out more, and it was over.
It had to be over, because…
'Get over yourself, mate.'
'Mind if I join you? I'm counting on it.'
'Friends. And about time, too.'
...because fuck, he had so much to lose.
James released the little golden ball, letting it zoom away to the other side of his room.
He stood up and checked his watch—five to ten, past time to head to Potions—then the Marauders' Map, in case anyone was left in the dorm to sprint with.
The other three Marauders were not in the dormitory, but Adam was. Still in his bed.
James shoved the Marauders' Map into his robes and bounded downstairs, opening the door without knocking and only pausing halfway to Adam's closed bed curtains when it occurred to him that he might not be welcome.
"Oi, McKinnon," said James loudly, and felt quite proud of his tact.
An opening emerged in the bed curtains. Though Adam presumably had had significantly more sleep than James, he looked awful—haggard and broken. It was the same face James had seen in the mirror for the first two days after Tuesday, but it had been a week, and this was Adam's reality.
It took a moment for James to force his feet to move. At length, he continued forward until he stood beside his old roommate's bed.
"You were at the feast last night?" James asked by way of greeting. Adam nodded. "So you know we have a match Saturday." Another nod. "I need to play Quidditch...so I'm going to." James took a deep breath. "What do you need?"
Adam's eyebrows lifted infinitesimally. When he spoke, his answer was not an answer. "Both our reserve Keepers are shit. Weatherby..."
"They're Hufflepuff; we're Gryffindor," James cut him off, rolling his eyes. "If Weatherby scores an own goal, people will chalk it up to good sportsmanship. What do you need?"
A long pause that stretched on as the second bell rang faintly overhead, guaranteeing they were both late for Potions. Then: "I need a fucking win."
"Alright," James said, and he started to grin. "That I can do." He straightened unconsciously, ran a hand through his hair. "What...er...what do you need from me?"
Adam blinked, and despite it all, one corner of his mouth twitched. "You're a git, Potter. What else would I want from you?"
James nodded slowly. "Get the hell to Potions, McKinnon. If you can't play because you get Saturday detention for lolling around the dorm like a useless prat, you're running laps until you puke next week and Weatherby's Keeping in the final."
Adam stood up.
Horace Slughorn was born to be a bureaucrat. He possessed the short, squishy build, the perpetually jovial tone of voice, the eyes which could spot a family resemblance to power and wealth from across a ballroom. He had become a schoolteacher instead at the prodding of a lifelong friend, however, and found that the cushy lifestyle and the dozens of talented students available to be collected suited him quite well. Horace Slughorn had settled comfortably into the role of school teacher, no doubt, but after an act of war drew battle-lines through his classroom he wished that this was not the case.
It was Horace's discomfort with discomfort, the anxiety he felt in the presence of any sort of tension, that led him to make the apparently innocuous, if misguided, decision to pair his NEWT students off himself on Thursday morning, putting each student with someone from another House to foster cross-House unity. Thus Lily Evans went with Reginald Cattermole, Sirius Black with Alexa Kyle, Colista Black with Carlotta Meloni, and so on and so forth.
"Reginald, you're going to take someone's eye out!" Lily cried, grabbing her partner's arm and pulling it down to the chopping board as the Venomous Tentacula strands in his gloved hand tried to latch onto her neck. She did this, as she had done everything since James Potter walked into the classroom seven minutes late, without ever looking in his direction. He had come in slightly out of breath, with hair even messier than usual and sleeves rolled up to the forearms. She had seen all this in the two seconds before his eyes, scanning the room, reached her table. Lily then swung frantically back to her cauldron, jittery, panicked, and sure of only one thing: she was not ready to make contact with those eyes.
Instead, Lily pulled the Venomous Tentacula from Reginald's hand and expertly sliced each stalk into single-leaf segments. "Now swing them around all you want," she said, smiling. "Not dangerous anymore."
"Thank-you," Reginald muttered. "But could you not yell?"
Lily blinked. "I'm sorry, I didn't think I…" inspecting her Potions partner closely for the first time today, Lily noticed a few telltale signs. She began to grin. "Reginald...are you hungover?"
He gave her an embarrassed, hangdog look, and Lily bit her lip to stifle a giggle. "I've never been hungover before," he confessed, blushing.
Lily nudged Reginald's arm with her own. "I have. Stand here and try to look very focused on stirring this cauldron…" Lily pulled out a smaller cauldron and set it behind the larger one. "I'll whip something up."
His eyes widened. "A cure? You can do that?" Lily nodded, smiling, and Reginald shook his head in disbelief.
"I should've listened to James Potter," he mumbled as he stirred. "He always reminds me to drink water."
"That's nice of him," she said truthfully.
Twenty minutes later, Lily passed Reginald an elixir and he swallowed a mouthful, the effects kicking in almost immediately.
"That was...wow," he enthused. "Thank you. If there's enough...I think Mary could use some too?"
Lily's eyes widened, and she tried to hide just how much the question thrilled her. She glanced over at Mary, who had never admitted that she liked Reginald, but they spent so much time together and they would be so adorable and...Mary wasn't speaking to Lily, she remembered abruptly.
"Yes," Lily said, busily bottling it up. "Here, give her this after class...tell her it's enough for Marlene, if she needs it too, yeah?"
Reginald nodded, then confessed: "It's my fault if Mary's in a bad way. Turns out I'm terrible at Goblet-stones."
"Don't worry," Lily said. "It's not a question of skill. Like everything else at the Toadies, the games are just an excuse to drink too much."
"Oh." Reginald took a thoughtful swallow of potion. "In that case, I am great at Goblet-stones."
From the other side of the room, two brunettes watched James Potter's head lift from his potion for the briefest of moments. The witches' potion—already more royal blue than the desired cerulean—drifted steadily darker as his Adam's apple bobbed.
"Man, I hate that bitch."
Carlotta Meloni whipped around to stare at Colista Black, who was looking at her out of the corner of her eye, slight smile touching just the corner of her lips. Carlotta blinked. She looked straight ahead again, and she realized she had a choice: she could stick to her principles (petty jealousies are beneath you)(You hate girls), ignore Colista, pretend to have no idea or interest in what she was talking about. Or she could acknowledge that, well…
"Bloody fucking cow," Carlotta agreed. A beat of silence, and then both girls burst out laughing. Maybe each laughed a little louder than the joke merited, and maybe each glanced at James Potter out of the corner of her eye, and maybe each was a little disappointed when he didn't look at her. But only a little.
It was really nice to laugh with somebody.
The end of Potions found both Carlotta and Colista, having had more fun in the last hour than they could remember doing in weeks, packing up their things while still chattering. Without really noticing, they walked into the Great Hall together. They reached the Slytherin table first, and both hesitated.
"Did you want…"
"I mean, if you…"
"I suppose I could cancel my other plans…"
"Reckon I could probably rearrange…"
"Well, if you insist."
No sooner had they sat down together at the Slytherin table, however, than Nicolai Mulciber sat down across from them. Carlotta, who had nothing but disdain for Mulciber, scooted closer to her new friend.
"Oh, look, it's the Potter's leavings club."
Carlotta merely rolled her eyes, but Colista turned red. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said.
"No? So you weren't prancing around at Potter's fucking Frogfest last night?"
Carlotta rolled her eyes again. "It's called the Toadies," she snapped when Colista didn't answer, "which you'd know if you'd ever been invited."
"It's pathetic, is what it is." His eyes narrowed on Colista. "Hoping to be another black mark on the family tree, are you?"
"No," Colista said quickly. " And don't try to joke, Nick. You'll just embarrass yourself."
He laughed loudly and without humor. "Embarrass myself? I'm not the one trying it on with a blood traitor...and getting rejected, from what I hear…"
"You heard wrong," Carlotta piped up, annoyed and eager to display her loyalty to her new friend. "James and Colista were getting along just fine until Lily Evans decided to start telling lies about her."
"Mum? Is that you?"
Lily looked up from Persuasion to level Sirius with a deeply unamused look.
"Really, Evans? You haven't forgiven me yet? I forgave you."
"Big of you."
"Well, I am that."
Lily rolled her eyes. "Pray tell—would I be forgiving you for yelling about my private life in front of the whole castle, for implying that I owe your mate sex, or for leaving your drink on my bag?" Lily inquired, pointedly eyeing the steaming mug that Sirius had set down atop her satchel.
"All of the above, preferably, since it's your drink that I got you as a bribe."
The scene that morning had been awful. Marlene and Mary were ignoring her completely now. Even Donna had been oddly chilly after Potions, and had mumbled some implausible excuse about Quidditch before leaving Lily to fend for herself at lunch. And all that said nothing of how Sirius's accusations had felt to Lily herself...of the sick, nauseous feeling of having him sicced on her over a missed hook-up. Padfoot could talk all he wanted about wedding bells and mad-haired children, but what he'd demanded of her that morning was...not that.
Still, the gesture was undeniably generous (by Sirius's standards), and Lily was Lily, so forgiveness was tempting.
She looked back at her book. Sirius scoffed loudly.
"You're not getting rid of me that easy," he announced. "Pete needs help with Potions, and I've been sent to fetch you." Lily looked up in instant terror, and Sirius rolled his eyes. "Prongs is at Quidditch, coward."
Lily breathed a little easier, but still: "Help Pete yourself."
"I refuse on principle to do homework before the day it's due."
"What principle is that? Hedonism?"
"Historically, yes." Lily rolled her eyes again. "But now...if I'm dead in six months, I'm not going to be standing at the pearly gates talking about the homework I got an O on."
Lily looked up, closing Jane Austen. "Padfoot, you can't think…"
"That's the only way you can think, Red," Sirius said coolly. "That's war."
"Maybe that's how it ends, but you can't live your life like the worst outcome is inevitable!"
"You can and you should. That's war," he repeated. "You kill and you kill and you kill and then eventually you get killed. Speaking as the only murderer among us…"
Lily glared. "You are not a…"
"Would-be murderer, then…"
"It's a good thing, Evans," he said with hollow and brittle bravado. "You and Prongs both say you want to be soldiers, but I don't reckon either of you have got it in you to take a human life. Me...it's all there already. On or off the battlefield, doesn't matter to me...I'm exactly the godless killing machine we need."
Lily set her book down, watching him. He was not looking at her. She bit her lip to hold back the quippy retort that always came by instinct with Sirius and took a moment to assemble her thoughts.
"You'd make a terrible murderer, Sirius Black," Lily said at length.
He looked up at her, surprised, and snorted derisively. "Just because I failed last time..."
Lily shook her head. "No, because my God, you were the angstiest attempted murderer in wizarding history, and your 'plot' barely drew blood. If you ever managed to kill someone in anything but self defense...bloody hell, you'd be unbearable. If I were a dementor, I'd let you walk right out of Azkaban just to avoid listening to you whine about it."
Sirius continued to look at his hands rather than Lily, but one corner of his mouth tugged up, and Lily smiled.
"Maybe you'll make a good soldier, maybe you won't, but if you do, it sure as hell won't be because you're fantastic at murder." Sirius finally broke a real grin at that, and at length he reached over and ruffled her hair.
Lily smiled back and rested her head on his shoulder. "You're one of the good guys, Padfoot. No escaping it now."
Before Sirius could answer, a pointed cough sounded behind them. Lily lifted her head so that she and Sirius could turn. Shelley Mumps was looking between the two of them, expression some combination of nervous, confused, and hopeful. "Is this happening?"
"Are you two...together?" Lily and Sirius exchanged a look of amused disbelief.
"No," said Sirius.
"Ew," said Lily.
"Well, don't say 'ew,'" Sirius grumbled. "I'm fit."
Lily laughed. "It's not like you would, mate."
"Well, no, but that's a function of 'ow,' more than 'ew,' know what I mean?"
"Just as well. It's usually illegal."
Shelley's head ping-ponged back-and-forth between them. "You're really not…?"
"Really, really not," said Lily.
"Ew," said Sirius.
Shelley still looked skeptical. "So this morning wasn't...a lovers' tiff?"
Lily and Sirius stared for a long moment in disbelief, then burst out laughing. "Shelley," said Lily at length, "He's Sirius Fucking Black. His lovers' tiffs threaten lives and lose Q-Word finals. They don't end two hours later with a bribe of a cuppa."
"Hah!" Sirius crowed, immediately forgetting Shelley. "This ended. I knew I was forgiven. Charms it is."
"I thought it was Potions?"
"What'd I say?"
Lily rolled her eyes, but with a long-suffering sigh and an apologetic farewell for Shelley, she pulled her bag over her shoulder and stood. As she and Sirius started toward the Gryffindor boys' staircase, she took a sip from the cup, only to realize—"This is coffee."
"I drink tea."
Sirius shrugged, tossing a smirk over his shoulder as he started up the stairs ahead of her. "You're a witch."
Lily repressed a laugh. "I detest you."
"Nah, I heard you, our lovers' tiff's over. I'm forgiven."
"Yeah, but the terms of the forgiveness were dependent upon false presumptions about the contents of the bribe. Unforgiven."
"You can't unforgive me."
"You cannot," Sirius insisted as he pushed open the door to the seventh-years' dormitory. "Evans, d'you have any idea how much trouble I'd be in if people could unforgive me to get better bribes?"
"Great point." Lily grinned, following him inside. "Oi, Moony, Wormtail! I'm unforgiving Black until he learns my drink order; who wants in? Moony, play your cards right, I think you could get a beach…house," she finished in a very small voice.
Because, of course, there he was. And maybe Lily had expected it; maybe she had known he would be here; maybe that was why she'd forgiven Sirius, and why she'd let him drag her up here, and all of it.
James stepped out of the loo, and yes, maybe Lily had known he would be here, but bloody hell, she had really, really not known he would be shirtless.
Which he was.
Lily had known for years that James Potter was attractive. Had known since this summer that he could be—that he was—beautiful. Had known last night, pressed against his chest, that he was broad and firm and shaped...well, the way that boys ought to be shaped.
Lily had not known, until she saw him step out of the bathroom fresh from a shower, hands on his waistband, arrested in the act of fastening his jeans, that he was shaped like a man. The shirtless James who featured in Lily's dreams had been smooth. The shirtless James before her now was covered in fine, dark hair which thickened noticeably in a trail toward his waist. He was cut in sharp, hard lines—purposeful lines, drawn by hard work. She could trace last night on those lines...that curve had dipped her back...those planes lifted her in the air for a spin...that taut angle whirled her behind him at the first sign of danger.
One long, frozen, drawn-out moment passed in silence as Lily took him in, and then she hoarsely choked out the only words flashing across her mind: "Nice shirt."
James's eyes widened. One corner of his mouth twitched almost imperceptibly. "Nice hat."
Another beat of silence, this one broken by Peter, who asked Remus in a stage-whisper: "Is she wearing a hat?"
Sirius made a noise of such primal, disgusted outrage that both Lily and James snorted instinctively, and then their smiles infected each other and they were laughing together.
Could still laugh together.
"Patrol schedules?" Lily asked, when they had calmed down.
He fastened his jeans. "Nothing I'd rather do."
Sirius Black wore James's Invisibility Cloak on his way back from a delicious and enlightening jaunt to the Kitchens. He had borrowed it (nicked, if you want to get technical, but why would you?) with the vague intent to wreak havoc in the Slytherin Common Room, and it was in that direction that he now strolled.
When he turned into the corridor in question, however, Sirius saw something that made his stomach turn.
Nicolai Mulciber's arm was wrapped around the shoulders of Regulus Black.
"...time for you to take the next step," Mulciber was saying. "And long past time she remembered who she is. What she is."
Regulus looked ill.
At that moment, they reached the stretch of wall that contained the Slytherin common room. Rather than answer Mulciber, Regulus muttered, "Twenty-eight," and the wall melted away, leaving a doorway through which the men disappeared.
Sirius became slowly aware that he had drawn his wand and his knuckles were white around it, his breath coming in furious, shallow pants.
He could break in. He knew the password (not that it would've been much obstacle to begin with; it had always been easy to guess), and with the Cloak he could most likely hex a half-dozen of them, including his idiot brother, set the room on fire, and disappear with them none the wiser.
Unless he couldn't.
Unless something went wrong.
Unless he got expelled.
Slowly—very, very slowly—he put his wand away and rolled the tension out of his shoulders.
A distraction. He needed a distraction. Sirius turned and headed for Madam Hooch's office.
"So this is where the magic happens."
Lily and James's heads jerked up. Sirius was leaning casually against the doorframe, tossing a Quaffle from hand to hand.
The Head Boy and Girl swallowed in unison.
"You've missed a few crucial details about this school, mate," Lily said lightly.
Sirius tossed the ball in the air once more and caught it in his right hand. "Snitch," he said.
Lily and James stared.
"Snitch is the gold one. Getting kicked off the team has not been kind to you, Padfoot."
Without warning, Sirius chucked the ball at the wall behind Lily, hard enough that it bounced back to him, and caught it with his left hand. "Whoops. Quaffle." He paused for dramatic effect. "Maybe. Or maybe it's falling out of my head because I've moved on to a new sport."
"Never known you to be a one-at-a-time sort of bloke," James said, and Lily snorted.
Sirius ignored him. "I'm thinking of taking up basketsball."
"Basketball," Lily corrected automatically, eyes back on her paperwork. Then her head jerked up. "Wait, what?"
Cheeks violently red, Lily managed: "You looked it up."
"I looked it up."
James looked between them, confused, but neither spared him a glance.
"You went to the library?" Lily asked. "You really are serious about this…project."
"Well, you know what they say about a dog with a bone."
"Neuter him?" Lily suggested, and it was James's turn to snort.
Sirius smirked. "Just think about what I said, Love."
Lily's eyebrows rose. "You haven't said anything! You came in here, mistook the terminology of a sport you've been playing since you were in diapers, and then—"
"Snitch," he interrupted, spinning the ball on his finger.
"Quaffle," Lily and James repeated together.
Sirius chucked the ball yet again at the wall by Lily's head, close enough this time that she had to jerk out of the way. When he caught the ball again, he tsked: "Aw, shoot. I just keep missing that word. Quaffle it is."
"What are you—"
"Give it a think, Red." With that, he turned and walked away, still tossing the Quaffle from hand to hand and now whistling 'Jolene.'
Lily ran a hand through her hair as she looked back down at her paperwork without reading a word, head full of Quaffles and Snitches and basketballs and Sirius went to the library? Since when did Sirius even know where the library…
"What are diapers?"
Lily blinked. She looked at James, whose fingers were drumming very hard on his knee for such an innocuous question, and collected her thoughts. "Wizards don't have diapers?"
"I dunno. What are they?"
"They're…insulated pants, I suppose, for babies to poop in."
"Well, what do you do before your kids are potty-trained?"
"First of all, I don't do anything, because I'm not having kids until I'm at least forty."
Lily rolled her eyes. "You would, James. When you're forty, then…what'll you do?"
"Never thought about it..." He shrugged. "Just let them poop on me and Vanish it, I suppose."
Lily made a dramatic, choked noise in the back of her throat, and her eyebrows soared upward. "What?"
James grinned. Seeking a reaction (Lily could tell) he leaned back in his seat, propping his hands behind his head: "I mean, it's my baby…it's all made of me…"
"Potter, your poop is made of you; that doesn't mean you let it sit in your trousers…"
"Actually, wizards did exactly that until the last century…"
Lily buried her face in her hands, resolutely refusing to laugh. "That's it, I'm marrying a Muggle."
"What does Sirius know that I don't?"
Lily pulled her head up to face him, bewildered both by the abrupt shift in tone and the question itself. "What does…what?"
He was kneading his hands furiously on the table. "What's basketball? What did Padfoot look up?" With heavy irony: "Speaking as a member of 'every bloody Marauder,' what do I know about you that your 'supposed best mates' don't?"
If practice makes perfect, Lily ought to be getting better at this conversation, she reflected.
It should have been easy—far easier than telling Marlene. He knew she fancied him; he knew she knew he knew it. The answer to his question contained no real confession, and compared to their enormous conversations about the war only days before, it should have been easy.
I'm not just into you, James, Lily imagined herself saying slightly hysterically. I'm so gone over you that your best mates saw it the minute they walked into my train compartment, and you would have too if you could see girls who aren't Carlotta.
I'm Valerie, I'm Colista.
Lily shifted in her chair, feeling uncomfortably hot under his searching gaze. She broke eye contact with James as she shrugged her robes off…half to borrow time to answer, half because why was it so hot in here…
She steeled herself.
"I..." she began at length, looking back at him. But her voice died in her throat, because James was staring at her shirt.
"Oh, God, I'm so sorry…" Lily struggled frantically to pull her robes back over her shoulders. "James, I'm so, so sorry, I forgot…I just…I-I-I wanted to wear it, but I've got no right…I'm so…"
He picked up his wand and pointed it at her collar. "Germinio."
The shirt glowed uncomfortably hot, and for an absurd moment before she registered the familiar spell, Lily thought he was hexing her. Then her torso cooled, and an identical t-shirt fell into James's lap.
Both Lily and James gazed down at it for a long moment, and then James folded the shirt into his bag and said: "I'm going to wear it tomorrow. I'd like it if you did, too, but that's up to you, obviously."
"Th-th-that's not going to fit you," Lily said faintly, dry-mouthed and completely unprepared to wrestle with the tidal wave of very incompatible emotions and images his statement inspired.
"I'm a wizard," James reminded her. "I'm sure I'll be able to come up with something."
Lily almost smiled at that, but her hands still trembled uncertainly on her robes—which she had pulled over her shoulders, but not yet across her front.
James swallowed. "Please cover it up," he said roughly, and Lily complied immediately. "I'm going to wear it tomorrow, but I'm not…I'm not ready yet."
Lily shook her head. "You don't have to explain. You don't ever have to explain. Grief isn't rational." She hesitated. He watched her. "I have to explain."
And it should have been easy.
Ever since Tuesday, Lily had been waiting (hoping, perhaps) for the moment when, compared to the massiveness of the Peverell Hall tragedy, her feelings for James Potter would seem small and unimportant. But still that moment had not come.
She had been occupied by other things, of course; James had by no means stayed at the forefront of her mind (though he and his grief, which must be so much greater than her own, which she wished so desperately she could shoulder for him, had occupied more of her thoughts than she liked to admit)…She had recognized the utter insignificance of all the drivel about Meloni vs. Mumps…She had realized how much, how good, how wonderful it was simply to be his friend.
But alongside all that, even in the face of tragedy that ought to make her romantic concerns petty and small, the emotion that swelled inside her every time she saw this man just mattered.
It mattered so goddamn much.
Which was why it was so very hard to express.
"It's fine," James said harshly, after almost a minute of silence. "It's your secret; I can't make you trust me." Then, in a different tone, he added, "Can you…" his eyes darted to the bag where he had stuffed the shirt, then back to Lily, and he looked suddenly very, very young. "Can you just tell me something good?"
And there it was. The question Lily had felt so ill-equipped to answer for so many people for so long.
Ever since Tuesday, every conversation had felt laden with failure, simply because the optimism that had flowed through Lily's veins her whole life had vanished in the wake of Peverell Hall. Only Alice had asked her flat-out, but in every conversation with Donna, with Marlene, with James, she had sensed that request hovering, and walked away ashamed that she had not risen to it.
James had waited. He had wanted this; he had probed, even, she suspected, by telling her what Sam saw in her. But instead of asking for what she could not yet give, he had waited. He had given the whole castle—given Lily—a night of normalcy, and laughter, and childhood, and he had waited until Lily told him that she was ready to be herself again.
He had waited to ask until he knew she could answer, and she could have kissed him for it.
Instead she touched her hair and asked, "Do you lot have a drinking game called Arizona?"
James blinked. "Er…yes? You dig the Grand Canyon, and then…but why?"
Lily nodded slowly. Pieces that had been turning over in her mind since the protest were falling into place. Odd snippets of dialogue …they were in t-shirts rather than Ministry robes in her dream…and Alice…"Then yes," Lily said softly. "I don't think the Aurors are alone. I think there's another way to fight. And I think when we graduate, we can join them."
James's eyes widened, but then he started to nod too. "Emmeline and Dory say strange things sometimes. I wrote it off as old doddering, but…it makes sense." He tilted his head in question. "How did Arizona get us here?"
Lily blushed. "I...I had a dream, and in it, I knew…or someone knew…" she was going pinker by the second, and valiantly trying not to think about the bit of the dream that she very much hoped had not been real.
Luckily, James was too excited to notice. He leaned toward her, outside elbow propped on the table. "So there's a... secret team," James said slowly.
Lily nodded, mirroring his posture. "Fighting Voldemort."
"You can join basically out of Hogwarts…"
"And Alice and Frank are in it." James's eyebrows lifted and Lily explained: "Alice said some things this week that were just…odd. And her letters…she used to be utterly bored by Auror training, but now she's too busy to write back half the time. She claims they accelerated training, but…"
"It's a six month program, and it's month five and they're still in it," James finished. Lily nodded, and he grinned. "Brilliant, that's our in. You write to Alice…"
"Ask her to Floo to the fireplace in my room for a chat, then...well…
"Could I...be there?"
Lily nodded. James smiled.
She wanted to hold his hand, to lay her head on his shoulder, to kiss his cheek. She just wanted to touch him, this wonderful man who stood up for all the right things and picked all the right battles. Picked this battle, here, by her side.
She couldn't touch him, though, not without smudging the line she had drawn last night. Instead, she tucked her hands in the pockets of her robes and started talking about other people. "We should invite everyone who wants to fight…more peer pressure for Alice. I don't know...Sirius, no question."
"All the Marauders," James answered immediately, without any of her uncertainty.
Lily opened her mouth to protest, and then closed it again. She tilted her head slightly as she watched him, propped her elbow back on the table and her hand on her cheek. You don't know that, she had planned to say, and you can't hold it against them if they don't. Even if you want to. But she was wrong.
James would ask, so they would fight. There was no question at all.
"What?" he had caught her staring, caught her lips tugging upward in a smile that was much too fond, much too awed for comfort. Lily turned back to her paperwork quickly.
"Nothing. It's just...you're right."
"Always the tone of surprise."
Lily laughed. "Hey, I'm not that surprised. Law of averages, right?"
James snorted. "Play nice, Snaps."
"Who else?" Lily mused, twirling her quill between finger and thumb.
He didn't even suggest Carlotta.
Lily was not surprised exactly—she didn't think Carlotta would fight either, never mind the dream. But, Lily realized in that moment, she would not have thought that James Potter could love someone who did not want to fight this war.
She chose not to say any of that, and merely answered his question: "Marlene."
"She told you?"
"Well she hinted, but also: Marlene. I just know this one." She hesitated slightly over linking the names, but… "Adam, too, I think."
James nodded. "Shack? Mary?"
Lily sighed, chewed on her cheek, then said softly, "I think for Donna, Gryffindor means protecting her family at all costs. And for Mary, it's about people...about interpersonal bravery."
"There's a war on," James retorted. "You don't get to pick and choose what bravery means to you."
"Yes, you do," Lily said firmly, and it did not escape her notice that she was defending Carlotta. Could it truly escape his? "The only good reason to fight a war is so that someone else doesn't have to. If I lay down my life, I want to do it so that the people I care about can live theirs."
Behind the panes of his spectacles, his eyes were fixed on hers. For just a moment, before Lily looked away, she didn't think about Carlotta at all, and she thought maybe, for that moment, he didn't either.
The weak November sun dipped slowly lower on the horizon as Lily and James sat, her hands in her pockets, his drumming on the desk, talking about everything in the world except the patrol schedules scattered on the table between them.
They were both startled when a Hufflepuff fourth year knocked on the door and peeked her head in.
"Hi, Katie," said Lily, who recalled the small pigtailed girl from a tutoring session once upon a time. "What's…"
"Elizabeth Bennet, you devious bitch!" Katie interrupted in a shriek, pointing an accusatory finger at a startled Lily.
"Try again," said James dangerously, starting forward in his chair, and the little girl's eyes widened in terror.
"I'm so sorry," she apologized at once, her hand dropping and then hiding behind her back. "Marlene Price paid me a Galleon to say that to you, Lily...she said you'd know..."
Lily's eyes widened. "Oh, Merlin."
"You do know, right? If you don't, I'm supposed to look really incredulous and say, "Touring Pem…"
"I know!" Lily interrupted. "Got the reference, thanks. Where..."
"She's waiting in your dorm," Katie said sagely.
Lily jumped to her feet, then looked nervously down at James. "I need to...um...I mean…"
He nodded. "Go."
"But," she protested feebly, "the schedules…"
He gave her a look. "Make up with Price."
Lily nodded, biting her lip. She reached for his arm, then pulled back just before she touched him. "Thank-you, James." With that, she shoved her books in her bag and all but sprinted from the room, only to be stopped the moment the door had swung shut.
Hiding her impatience with everything in her, Lily turned back to Katie. "What is it, hon?"
"It's just…" Katie tugged nervously at the sleeve of her jumper, then looked up at the Head Girl and smiled abruptly. "I was rooting for you." She cast a meaningful glance back at the Heads' Office. "I would've picked you, if I could."
Warmth filled Lily's chest. She couldn't remember caring or even thinking much before this year about who the Head students would be. She'd been happy for Frank because he was her mate, sure, but she hadn't rooted for him...and certainly as a fourth-year, before she'd even been a prefect, it never would have occurred to her to care. The idea that Lily's tutoring had made such an impact on Katie that the little girl had actively wanted her to lead the school…
Her intense emotional reaction to the compliment could likely be chalked up to the adrenaline still racing through her veins over the Marlene revelation, to her three hours of sleep (if that) last night, to the not-yet-dissipated nervous energy that had become her constant companion around James Potter, but Lily found herself a little hot behind the eyes as she pulled Katie into a tight hug.
"Thank you so much," Lily said. "I'm so touched...I never would've expected or thought...thank you, sweetie."
Katie hugged her back, looking pleased and proud when Lily released her.
"But now I really do have to go," the Head Girl remembered. "Aunt Catherine awaits…"
Katie didn't understand the reference, but she nodded agreeably, and Lily set off for Gryffindor Tower. She was still two corridors from the Fat Lady, however, when she bumped straight into Nicolai Mulciber.
Or rather, she realized when he did not move aside, he bumped into her.
"I heard about your little stunt last night," Mulciber sneered, and Lily blinked.
"Merlin, he really did tell everyone," she sighed, falsely casual. "Well, if you're after a dance partner, it's a 'no' from me, but I hear Sirius Black's on the market…"
Lily rolled her eyes. "Never mind. Just being hilarious."
"I'm not laughing."
"Do you know how?" She tried to sidestep him, but Mulciber grabbed her arm. Lily's eyes narrowed, and her heart rate sped up. Classes didn't let out for twenty minutes. They were alone in this corridor. Lily's other hand moved subtly toward her pocket. "Don't touch me."
"Believe me, I'm not enjoying this either, Mudblood." But he didn't let go.
"That's Head Mudblood to you," Lily said, and her voice did not shake. "So walk away right now or the slur is five points from Slytherin."
"First, explain where the fuck you come off humiliating a pureblood in front of all your disgusting little mates."
Lily blinked. Was he drunk? "My disgusting little mates aren't here, Mulciber."
"I'm not talking about right now. That cutesy trick you pulled on Colista last night."
"You know what you did. Tricking her into coming to your stupid little blood traitor party so you could—"
"Black told you that?" Despite everything, Lily still couldn't help the cold, sinking sensation in her gut at the idea, but Mulciber ignored her question entirely.
"Seems like maybe our last lesson didn't quite sink in. Perhaps you need to be reminded of your place here, Evans." Mulciber clearly meant his words to be threatening, but Lily had no clue what he was getting at.
"Your last lesson…?"
He yanked her forward, his lips directly in her ear, and Lily could not repress a horrified shudder when he hissed, "Crucio."
She jerked back in terror. She nearly lost her footing when he released her, laughing maniacally.
"Ringing any bells, Mudblood? A little birdy told me you cried like a baby, so I'm guessing you haven't forgotten."
Lily snatched her wand from her pocket, stumbling backward until there were five paces between them. Now armed and out of his reach, Lily pushed her hair behind her ears and felt considerably calmer. "I know you think muggleborns are less than human, Nick, but we are actually distinguishable from each other. I'm not the Mudblood you cast that curse on, though I'll be more than happy to let Dumbledore know you were involved."
He blinked, genuine shock crossing his face, but Lily had no desire to stick around to talk Mulciber through an existential crisis over his own stupidity. She also did not feel safe turning her back on him, however, and so—knowing that the move was not particularly Head Girl-ish, but also that her only other option was violence—Lily cried "Expelliarmus!"
Mulciber's wand flew from his pocket into her hand. She threw it as hard as she could behind him, and then sprinted away in the opposite direction.
When Lily finally reached the Fat Lady ("Why're you all out of breath, dearie? I hope it's not that..." "Runespoor") she collapsed into the Common Room and then leaned against the wall, catching her breath and trying to gather her wits before she ascended the stairs to her room. She found herself overtaken by an entirely different fear—she now felt rather like she walked the plank.
How Marlene had worked the thing out she had no idea. It was rather a moot point now, though, because she already knew, and, if she had any doubt, Lily immediately sprinting to her room was sure to be a dead giveaway.
Would Marlene still be angry? Would she demand more details? Would Lily have to recount last night? And how the bloody hell had Mar figured it out?
All these questions were still swirling, unresolved, through Lily's head when she reached her door and pushed it open.
It wasn't just Marlene.
Mary, Donna, and Marlene were all seated in a row on Lily's bed. They sat very still, looking for all the world like a tribunal impaneled to determine her punishment.
Lily took in the sight in silence for a moment, and then she nodded casually, as if she wasn't still panting from her sprint up the stairs, as if it was perfectly normal that her best mates were lined up on her bed waiting for her, as if they didn't all know exactly why they were there.
"My, how you've grown, Ira," said Lily drily.
She turned away from them and went to her desk to drop off her bag. She fidgeted with the clasp, a simple knot that had somehow become a complex Transfiguration problem in the silence. After a moment, Marlene's voice, quiet but with conviction, came from the bed: "You fancy James, then?"
Lily's hands stilled. "What happens if I say no?"
"Then you're just a bitch who screamed at her mate for having a moment of weakness during a national tragedy."
At long last Lily turned to look at Marlene, the truth scrawled across her face in bold black Sharpie. "To be honest," she admitted, "I'd sort of rather be the bitch."
Things came out quickly after that.
The first question had broken a dam inside Lily, and once she began to tell the story, she couldn't stop. She sat down on the bed. Picking at a stray thread, meeting no one's eyes, Lily found herself telling them details that she had never spoken aloud, because the Marauders had already seemed to know them all. She traveled unsteadily from the first almost-kiss through seeing him on the platform through—albeit with some notable omissions—last night, up until…
"Quick work on the rebounds, Mr. Potter. Not so hard to move on from love, after all, eh?'"
The other girls were quiet for so long that Lily actually glanced at them. Their eyes were much too gentle. She went back to the thread. It was getting rather frayed.
"The elf really said that?" Marlene asked softly.
"I always thought…" But Lily shook her head. She knew what Marlene had thought, and she had no desire to hear it.
Mary scooted down the bed until she was next to Lily and could rest her head on the Head Girl's shoulder. "Men are pigs," she said firmly. "We know this. If you'd like to join the no-shag pact, Love, we're always taking new members."
"That's the problem, though, isn't it?" Lily said with a sad little laugh. "He's not. Don't I wish he were." She rested her cheek against Mary's hair and looked—a little anxiously—at Marlene. "I'm sorry," Lily admitted. "For going off on you. It's just...I thought we were in the same boat. And then I found out you'd jumped overboard and swum off into a different boat without me."
"How could we be in the same boat if I don't know you're in the boat?"
Lily sort-of smiled. "It's a big boat. One of those yacht shebangs. Shelley's captain, you were skipper, Remus was first-mate. I stay below-decks and shovel sad, lonely coal into our sad, lonely engine."
Marlene nodded pensively. "I wonder if Potter owns a yacht."
"The S.S. Carlotta," Donna mused, and Mary kicked her. "What?"
But Lily's smile was growing. "It's a little funny," she admitted. She looked back at Marlene. "Are we...okay?"
Marlene chewed on her lip. "I really wish you'd told us."
Lily tensed. "I'm a private person…"
"Evans, I'm not having a go at you for not talking to us in general," Marlene interrupted. "We were on your side in that fight"—Donna gave a sardonic snort—"And we still are. It's just…it was one thing when it was like…'that's Lily! She doesn't talk about her feelings, ever, with anyone! We're her best mates, and even we don't know what goes on in that wacky ginger head.'"
Mary nodded. "But then it became, 'that's Lily, our best mate, who only talks about her feelings with Gryffindor's biggest arsehole.'"
"Second biggest," said Marlene, patting Donna bracingly on the arm. "Don't forget about Shack." Lily and Mary both managed to smile. "It just hurt that you did tell someone," Marlene added softly, "and it wasn't us."
Lily took a deep breath, tucking her hair behind her ears nervously. "I'm sorry. Really, I am. Honestly…they asked. I think I would've admitted it to anyone who…" but she trailed off, because the other girls were looking just a little bit disappointed, and, after all, they had a point.
"And also, maybe…" every word felt pulled from her against her will, but if this was what they needed… "There are things you can tell your best girlfriends of seven years, who will hug you and pet you while you cry. And then there are things you can tell Sirius Black, who will laugh and mock you. And then there are things you can tell James Potter's lovely cousin whose face you won't even have to see when he reads your letters, and maybe this makes me emotionally stunted, but for me those categories get exponentially bigger as you move down the list."
A long, long pause, and then Donna said, "If it helps, I will never, ever, ever pet you while you cry."
It did help. One more beat, and then all four girls started to laugh.
When the girls headed down to cram in a quick dinner before Marlene and Donna's Quidditch practice, Lily remembered her earlier confusion.
Lily looked at her friends, puzzled. "How did you figure it out?"
"Evans, we know you," replied Marlene. "Honestly, you weren't subtle. You found a way to be alone with him for every bloody second of the protest. You screamed yourself hoarse at his girlfriend the first day of school, after being in an awful mood from the moment you found out he was dating her, when you should have been waxing lyrical about the indomitable beauty of stone turrets. You've been intermittently furious with him and best friends even though, for the first time ever, he's talking to you like a normal human being. You were writing letters to his cousin all year...You called his mansion Pemberley, for Merlin's sake, and Jane Austen is 'the reason you believe in love.' Every single sign on the Lily Evans radar was flashing neon. You've always been our best mate, Evans, and we know you."
Marlene patted Lily on the shoulder. Lily nodded slowly. "But, really, how'd you know?"
"Five minutes after Black dragged you out of the Great Hall this morning, he marched back in and asked us what a rebound fuck was."
Lily's jaw dropped. "That TWERP!"
As the other girls laughed, she frog-marched Marlene and Mary into the Great Hall, Donna following behind her. She made a beeline for Sirius, Remus and Peter—James never ate right before practice—and parked herself in front of them, hands on hips.
"Oh look, it's Tweedledum and Tweedledee and Tweedle-dead-to-me."
Sirius grinned. "That's not very friendly."
"'The library?"' Lily demanded, waving one hand at Marlene and the other at Mary. "Really, Black?"
He snorted. "And now you're mates again. I believe the phrase you're looking for is 'Thank-you, Padfoot, King Among Men.'"
"The phrase I'm looking for is inappropriate for the dinner table."
Lily stuck out her tongue. Nevertheless, she had already sat down and started serving herself chicken, so Padfoot figured he was forgiven.
"So…" Sirius addressed the other three girls with an expansive grin. "Redhead has the hots for Bedhead. Let's discuss."
"Price and I should go," Donna said at a quarter to eight, swinging her legs off the bench. As Marlene gathered her things, Mary coughed pointedly at Donna, who frowned at the Head Girl. "You...er...you look very pretty today, Evans," she said abruptly. The Marauders stared at Donna like she'd grown an extra head, and Lily dropped her own head to the table.
"You promised not to pet!" Lily said into the wood.
Donna scowled. "I wasn't petting. And you're not bloody crying anyway, so that isn't actually…"
"I'm not allowed to think you look nice? You've clearly tried harder than usual…"
Lily snorted. "There she is."
Donna rolled her eyes. "I'm trying to be nice…"
"But I don't want nice…"
"Then why are you always yelling at me when I'm mean…"
"You've got it all wrong," Sirius interrupted grandly. "Can't be nice to Evans. She's the nice one."
Mary made a face. "What, there can only be one nice person in any conversation?"
"In any friend group. Or it throws off the whole dynamic."
"Hey, I…well, no, but Mar...eh...but Remus is nice!" Mary crowed triumphantly, but Lily and the Marauders shook their heads.
"We thought so," Pete said solemnly.
"When we made him our friend," Sirius agreed. "We thought we'd caught one."
"But I'm just polite and respectful."
"Hey, don't sell yourself short," Sirius said, patting his friend on the back. "You're also perpetually wracked by crippling parasasms of guilt that dictate your every life choice."
"That's not a word."
"Sure it is. Meloni gave you one just the other day…"
"It's not. You're just combining 'spasm' and 'paroxysm…'"
"Okay, I know 'paroxysm' isn't a word…"
"I think it's an STD," Peter suggested.
"Meloni could give you one of those, too."
"Mean!" said Lily, slapping Sirius's arm lightly.
"See?" said Sirius to Mary. "That was the appropriate amount of physical violence to respond to that joke. Two slaps would've been overkill…one nice friend."
Lily slapped him again. Remus and the girls laughed.
Still, Marlene looked unhappy. "That's idiotic," she said. "Maybe Lily's the nice one, but Lily can't be Lily for Lily, so it's our duty to tell her that she's…"
"Please don't," Lily interrupted tightly. "This is exactly what I didn't want. I know you're trying to help, but I don't want compliments right now, that's not who I am."
"Fine, but you're our friend. We can't just leave when you're clearly…"
"I'd actually love nothing more than to be left..."
"Observe the master at work, Price," Sirius interrupted grandly. He cleared his throat (Donna rolled her eyes).
"Never fear, Evans," consoled Sirius as only Sirius could, "One day, you will have my best mate's children, and Carlotta Meloni will have a wrist tattoo of a Bible verse."
"In Mandarin," said Remus.
"With a typo," said Marlene.
It took great effort, but Lily managed not to laugh. "Mean," she told them, shaking her head. "Mean, mean, mean." Then she dropped her head to Marlene's shoulder and allowed herself a small grin. "You're not rubbish, as far as mates go, though."
Sirius smirked. Click.
Marlene, James, and Adam were the only three members of the team left in the locker room. Marlene had managed to go the whole practice without saying a word to Adam, though she suspected the other members of the team could still sense the tension. It was, perhaps, why they had evacuated so quickly. Marlene had hung back at James's request, however, becoming steadily more anxious as each player left and the buffer between her and Adam shrank.
"You're third Chaser." She had known Saturday was why he had asked her to hang back, and there had only been two possible outcomes of this conversation, but a bubble of disbelieving elation still filled Marlene's chest.
"Really? Again?" No. Dumb. Very, very dumb.
James stared at her. "What are you, bored?"
"No, no, no! I want to… but Hopkirk hasn't…I mean…" she trailed off, strongly considering punching herself in the face.
"No, please, keep telling me why you shouldn't play. Hopkirk's got a stronger left arm than you, maybe you'd like to mention that?"
Marlene blushed. "No. No, I...thanks, Potter. Sorry. I'm happy. Very, very happy."
"Good." He clapped her on the shoulder. "You're playing again because you're better. Keep it up." With that, James left the changing room, and Marlene could do nothing to stop the goofy grin that unfurled across her whole face.
Though Marlene had no idea how to sort through what had happened between her and Adam, though she'd avoided speaking even a word to him all practice for exactly that reason, though even feeling joy in front of him seemed cruel right now, she couldn't help herself: she turned to her best friend with a face like sunshine.
A long, frozen, drawn-out moment; Marlene gleeful and proud; Adam shocked, his eyes almost frightened.
Adam took a single step forward, gripped Marlene's face in his hands, and pressed his lips to hers. She gasped—desperate, joyful, needy—robbing air from his lungs. Her broom fell to the floor with a resounding crash as she clutched at his hair with one hand, his shirt with the other. His tongue dipped inside her mouth and Marlene whimpered, collapsed into him.
Their hands were everywhere at once and still not enough, couldn't touch enough, feel enough. He was pushing her backward, though Marlene didn't know it until her back hit the lockers, and then his hands were at the hem of her jersey.
"Off. I need this off…"
Her arms flew over her head and Adam yanked the shirt up, so impatient that he abandoned the effort while it still tangled around her wrists, mouth latching back onto hers with a passion that knocked her head back against the locker, and "Sorry, sorry, baby, sorry," as hands that had found the soft, smooth skin of her bare sides raced up her back to cradle her head. Marlene, shirt shaken off her wrists now, grabbed his face too and tilted hers, hitched a thigh up over his hip.
Then she was off the ground, his hands supporting her thighs, trapped between his body and the lockers, and somehow he was shirtless too, and she didn't know how they'd gotten there. Linear time felt nonsensical. There was only this, mouth on neck and nails on back and bodies rocking against each other and friction and Adam Adam everywhere Adam and...
"Oi, anybody seen my jersey?" James Potter's voice burst the bubble.
There was a sound (an unfathomably sexy sound, Marlene noted without meaning to)—Adam's breathy grunt of surprise combined with a wet, sucking pop as his mouth left her skin—and then Marlene was on her feet, sort of, stumbling, Adam's hand at her waist and hers on his shoulder to steady her.
James's eyebrows arched as he took in the scene. He looked deliberately, politely away as the couple shuffled, Marlene's body hiding behind Adam's larger one.
Then James and Adam made direct eye contact.
James bobbed his head, just slightly, just once.
Adam nodded back.
There was a way boys nodded at each other sometimes, when one bloke caught another in the middle of it with a pretty girl. A head jerking up with a smirk—"nice work, mate;" the response a bobble-headed grin—"hell, yeah." For the girl, a little gratifying, a little objectifying.
Miles had loved giving that nod. Potter and Black had probably passed it back and forth a dozen times.
Whatever passed between James and Adam in that moment, it wasn't that.
Marlene didn't have time to decipher it, though, because as fast as it had come it was gone, and Potter was smirking crookedly. "Jersey-free zone, I see," he said, and stepped back toward the hallway. "As you were." He disappeared. Marlene and Adam held their breaths until they heard the door to the locker rooms open and close. Finally they slumped against each other, laughing helplessly.
When their laughter was spent, Marlene looked up at Adam in blissful, trusting hope.
"It's over?" Her eyes were wide, her smile irrepressible. "This means it's over with Prudence?"
He waited a heartbeat too long to answer. "I...I don't know."
Marlene's smile faltered. "How can you not know?"
"I don't...I said…"
"She said she loved me and last night I...I told her I didn't," Adam said in a rush.
"Oh. Wow." Marlene touched his cheek with the tips of her fingers. "And then?"
"And then...I went to bed early. Before the party. And I...haven't seen her today."
"That's...what? That's all?"
"That's...Adam, that's not a break up. You...you didn't break up with her. A break up is...is...is awful and messy and there's a long, horrible talk and she cries and she hopes maybe you cried but you probably didn't but that's okay because you got really drunk with your mates multiple times and all her friends tell her she's too good for you but she doubts it and she thinks maybe…"
He cut short the rant, but not the emotion. "You didn't break up with her, Adam. You cheated on her. You…"and she thought awful words, the same ones Lily had yelled at her: You're just like Miles. But she knew, in the same moment that the thought occurred to her, that Lily had regretted it.
A heartbeat later, she knew she would too. Marlene shook her head disbelievingly, and, unable to say a word she wouldn't regret, picked up her shirt. She pulled it back over her head and ran from the locker room.
Lily, Mary, and the non-James Marauders had retired to the Gryffindor Common Room to "study" after dinner, and that was where Marlene found them when she clambered through the portrait hole five minutes later, tears pouring freely now. Mary and Lily stood when they saw her, and Marlene charged into Mary's embrace so forcefully that she nearly bowled the tiny girl over. Lily exchanged baffled looks with the Marauders behind them.
Finally Marlene pulled away just enough to wail, "Adam kissed me. Snogged me. Practically tried to shag me against the lockers…"
"Still with Prudence!"
"Oh, Honey." Mary reached out an arm and pulled Lily into the embrace.
At length, Marlene stood on her own two feet again, though all three girls' arms remained around each other. "Well," she sniffled, looking at Lily, "Guess I'm in your boat after all."
"The S.S. 'ass he never thought he'd get to tap' on Lake 'he needed a win today.'"
Lily swallowed hard. "When I said don't be nice, I meant don't coddle, not 'could you please knock me over the back of the head with a blunt instrument," she said quietly.
Lily sighed and squeezed her friend's shoulders. "Marlene Price, would you like to come sleep in my bed and drink my liquor and leave candy all over my floor and not pass the Bechdel test once all night?"
Marlene managed a small smile and nodded, finally releasing Mary, and together the two girls departed for the dormitories.
The Marauders, who had watched the entire scene like it was a nature documentary on strange foreign beasts, shared a deeply disbelieving look.
"Are women...okay?" Peter asked slowly. "I mean, as a species."
Remus just shook his head.
After a moment's pause, Sirius turned to Mary. "Get Shack and Price alone tomorrow morning. I think we have some catching up to do."
One hour, two bags of Chocolate Cauldrons, and three shots later, Marlene choked out: "Should we just have let them use us?"
Lily would be a liar if she said the same question hadn't occurred to her that day, but seeing her situation mirrored in Marlene had given Lily the certainty she lacked when only her own pain had been at stake.
"No," Lily said firmly. "That's not friendship, and it's not right. It wouldn't have made anything better in the end. If the feelings aren't equal…" she shook her head. "Everybody gets hurt."
Marlene took a deep breath and nodded. "Last Valentine's Day," she whispered, "I thought I was ready. I was going to tell him. I think about that sometimes. I could've been the one...I would've been, except..."
Lily wrapped an arm around Marlene's shoulders as the blond trailed off. Mulciber appeared in Lily's mind, leering horrifyingly as he hissed 'Crucio.' She wondered if this was the moment to tell her friend what she had learned…but what would she even do? The Imperius had not even earned him a detention, and she had no concrete proof…would Marlene want to know that Mulciber had been her attacker if she'd still have to face him in class tomorrow?
Lily stayed quiet.
Soon enough, thoughts of Mulciber drew thoughts of Severus to mind—not an association Lily loved, but an undeniable one.
"You said something about Sev," Lily recalled. "Yesterday, when we were…" (an awkward moment they both acknowledged) "You said, 'after Snape!' What did you mean?"
It was Marlene's turn to hesitate. She couldn't tell Lily the truth, but how could she lie now, when Lily was being vulnerable for the first time all term, and only because Marlene had chewed her out for lying?
"Mary's my best friend," she said finally, looking down at her hands. She would tell a truth. "And I love her to death. So…I know you wouldn't, but don't tell her this: When we started at Hogwarts, I…I hoped it would be you. My best mate, I mean. We listened to the same music, and read the same books…well, I read about a tenth of the books you did, but still. We were just…we've always been on the same wavelength. Obviously. And you're Lily Evans, you're…the dream friend."
Marlene spoke over her, hugging her knees to her chest and picking at the sheet, but voice loud and sure. "But you never opened up, not really, and so I stayed closer to Mary than to you. And that's great, I love Mary. She's my best mate. I'm not trying to…but…I'm not proud of this, but it's true, and I'm going to say it." She finally looked up at Lily, who was watching with wide eyes. "When Snape said Mudblood, and you stopped being friends…the first time…there was this piece of me that thought: now she'll be mine. Now I'll be Lily's best mate, and she'll tell me all the stuff she used to tell Snape. But…you didn't. And now Mary's my best mate, and you're not, and that's never going to change. I don't want it to change, not anymore. I don't mean to be mean, because I love you, and I always, always, always want you in my life. But that's…yeah," she finished lamely. "That's how I feel. That's what I meant."
"I'm sorry," Lily said in a small voice.
"You don't have to…"
"No, I do. Not for Mary being your best mate, that's—I mean, that's lovely. Obviously. But…" she lifted a hand, almost nervously, to trail through Marlene's hair, and the blond laid her head back on Lily's shoulder. "It's really hard, after what Snape did, to trust anybody. He was the only one I opened up to about my dad—and maybe that's another thing I should've…"
Marlene sat up and shook her head. "No, you don't owe us talking about your trauma..."
"But if it's made you feel like this…"
"But if that's not what you needed…"
"But…whatever, that's not the point." Lily laughed, rueful and shaky. "It's just…the idea of turning around and trusting somebody, just like that? Letting them in like I did Snape?" Like I did Tuney? Lily shuddered, and Marlene grabbed her hand and squeezed.
"That makes sense. Really. I'm sorry I blew up at you…especially in front of the Marauders…and I really do get it." She took a deep breath. "Now, since I can see you are literally trembling with the desire to get up and run out of this room immediately…" Marlene clapped her hands together and grinned. "James Potter's jaw…a work of art, yes?"
Lily blinked, and then started to giggle in spite of herself. "A fucking Michelangelo," she wailed, and flung herself back onto the bed.
Marlene laughed and grinned down at her. "See?" she declared proudly, "I come with perks Sirius Black can only dream of." Lily wiggled her eyebrows lasciviously, and Marlene smacked her in the face with a pillow. "You really have been spending too much time with the Marauders."
Lily laughed, pulling the pillow down to peek at Marlene. "Possibly. Sooooo...good snog?"
"Bitch!" Marlene squealed, and then she flopped back to join Lily lying down. "Bloody fucking good."
"I'll tell you something else if you want," Lily said a little later, after a lovely load of boy talk. "Actually I kind of need to tell you, and you do want, but you can't tell Mary. Really. It can't get out. Will you swear?"
"I…yeah. I swear."
Lily chewed on her lip for a moment, then her face broke open in a gleeful grin. "My God, Marlene, you will never believe what was going on behind the scenes during Meloni vs. Mumps..."
By the time she finished the tale, both girls were fairly howling with laughter.
"And the Marauders…"
"My God!" and Lily and Marlene were off again, rolling around Lily's bed, clutching their sides as they cackled.
"I mean, it's awful," Marlene finally pulled herself together enough to say. "I'm so sorry, and that they all wanted to cry to you about it, and, God, that you told Sam, and then…but…I mean…"
"Yeah," Lily said, sobering too, "But it's laugh or cry, and…"
"…you can't kill Death Eaters if you can't see them through your tears," Marlene finished flatly.
Lily's stomach jolted, but she took another long drag of Firewhiskey and raised her bottle in a cheers. "Dry eyes, black hearts, can't lose."
Marlene smirked and clinked Lily's bottle with her own. "Hear, hear." The girls did not speak for a while. At length, Marlene resurrected the conversation: "I just cannot believe you didn't tell him she rigged it. I mean…I can. It's quintessential Lily Evans…"
"On the package," Lily said ruefully, and Marlene grinned and bumped her friend's shoulder with her own.
"But look, Evans, I know you can't kiss every bloke you want to kiss or whatever, but you also don't have to shove them into a broom closet with the fittest girl in school and start chanting, "SNOG!"
"I did not shove them into a broom closet," said Lily with dignity. "I shoved them into a single room with a King-sized bed."
The two girls dissolved into giggles once more.
"Okay," Marlene said at length, "No story I have will ever top that, but you'll enjoy this: So a couple weeks ago I asked Prudence how she'd want to find out if Adam was cheating on her…"
"You fucking what?"
God, Lily had missed this.
"Are you in love with him?" Marlene asked much, much later, when the dawn was just starting to peek through Lily's shades.
"Of course not," Lily laughed. "Merlin, can you imagine? He fancies me for two straight years while being an absolute twat, then he chucks me just as he's deflated his head, and I fall in love with him? I would've had to commit serial murder in a past life for that sort of karma."
Because, after all, she wasn't a saint.
Marlene retired to her dorm in the morning with the promise to meet Lily downstairs in half an hour. Naturally, when Lily traipsed down to breakfast thirty minutes later, she found no trace of Marlene, Mary, or Donna. Having slept less than seven hours of the last forty-eight, Lily spent the first ten minutes of breakfast rubbing her eyes and pouring tea down her throat and trying with everything she had to mold herself into something resembling consciousness.
When the Great Hall grew quiet around her, therefore, it took Lily a moment to look up. At length, she noted the energy shift and peered around the room, bleary-eyed and stifling a yawn…
James Potter was striding through the center of the Great Hall, eyes forward, back straight, gait sure as ever. He looked exactly as he did every day, except that in a sea of black robes and pointed hats and House ties, James wore only Muggle jeans and a white t-shirt emblazoned with the green letters "MFP".
Lily's yawn died in her throat.
Whispers began to fill the silence; heads bounced back-and-forth between James and the professors' table as if to see if he would be punished; James strolled leisurely to his House table without glancing at anyone. He swung one leg, then the other over the bench to sit down directly across from Lily, folded his long, angular fingers together on the table, and cocked a questioning (challenging) eyebrow at the Head Girl.
Lily met his gaze. Trembling only very slightly, she stood, then peeled off her own robes, revealing her own matching shirt. She folded her robes neatly and tucked them into her bag, then calmly sat back down.
For a long moment, Lily and James looked at each other, a storm of whispers raging around them.
"Well, this is embarrassing," James said seriously.
Lily repressed a smile. "One of us is gonna have to change."
A few meters down the table, Adam McKinnon was frozen in place. His fork, halfway to his mouth, had not moved since James Potter had walked through the Great Hall's double doors. At the sound of James's voice, Adam set his fork down with a clatter and stood. He crossed the distance between himself and the Head Students, and then it was their turn to freeze, eyes wide as they stared at him—James deeply uncomfortable, Lily guilty and stricken.
Adam shucked off his robes. "Got another?"
James Duplicated his own shirt, and Lily performed a Switching Charm to replace Adam's undershirt (following a brief interlude in which both men were clearly preparing for Adam to strip half-naked at the breakfast table). Adam sat down beside Lily, and for a moment, the three teenagers just looked at each other.
James, grumpily: "Now where the hell are my idiots?"
"How the hell are you here?"
Sirius Black waved Donna's question away and marched inside her dormitory without waiting for an invitation. Mary and Marlene joined the party as Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew followed, looking at least mildly apologetic.
"Never mind that," Sirius said. "Was Evans dropped on her head as a child?"
Donna folded her arms over her chest. "Not as hard as you're about to be."
He ignored this too. "She thinks Prongs is in love with Meloni?"
"He's not?!" chorused Mary and Marlene.
"Of course he's not fucking in love with Meloni!" Sirius roared. "Great Merlin and Agrippa, aren't birds supposed to be emotionally intelligent?"
"Well, we wouldn't have thought…"
"But the house elf said…"
"Seemed pretty cut-and-dried…"
"Anyway, that's a stupid stereotype. Donna's never been emotionally intelligent once in her life."
"Watch it, Price."
Sirius waved a dismissive hand. "He's in love with the same bird he's always been in love with, who he'll continue to be in love with until the sun blows up and takes us all with it and he still hasn't gotten his prick inside her."
"Don't talk about her like that," Marlene said instinctively, even as all three girls gasped.
"Yeah, it's insensitive to those of us undergoing withdrawal," Mary agreed.
"Withdrawal from what?" Pete wanted to know.
"I've taken a vow of chastity…"
"Can it really be called 'chastity' when we hear you going at it by yourself almost nightly?"
"That's just about enough out of you, Shacklebolt…"
"No one cares," Remus interjected quickly. "Returning to the point…"
"Let's not be hasty, Moony," said Sirius. "Someone might care. Someone might have a very detailed fantasy about convincing a woman to violate a vow of…"
"You're certain?" Marlene asked. "James is really in love with…"
"Macdonald, can you say these words in this order? 'Mister Black, my virgin loins are not for your filthy…"
The hangings around Carlotta Meloni's bed opened abruptly, and the bed's owner emerged, looking very white, marched to the door of the dormitory and fled, pausing only to slam it behind her.
"So…er…she'll have been here the whole time, then?" Peter asked.
"Just about," said Donna.
They all took a moment of silence to digest this information.
"What about Measles?" Sirius inquired, peering at the still-closed curtains around Shelley's bed.
"Mumps," Remus corrected.
"What'd I say?"
"Smallpox is here, too," Mary confirmed. Marlene and Peter snorted, and Sirius walked over to her bed and knocked smartly on one of the wooden posts.
"Excuse you," he announced, "People are having a private conversation here."
Shelley opened her curtain and her blonde head poked out, eyebrows raised incredulously. "I live here."
"Yeah? Is that nice for you?"
Shelley left the dorm, and all six looked around at each other as if suddenly realizing that the boys had said what they came to say.
"So…" Mary began slowly, when no one else did: "What now?"
To Marlene, however, the answer was completely obvious. "We're going to get them together, right?"
Peter, Remus and Donna raised their eyebrows skeptically. To everyone's surprise, it was Peter who spoke. "Is it really our business?"
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Of course it's not our business! When has that ever stopped us before?"
"Not once," Marlene answered solemnly. With a sudden rush of emotion that welled up in her throat and thickened her voice: "This needs to happen. We need to do this…We need a fucking win."
Sirius clapped his hands together and jumped onto Carlotta's bed, shoes on.
"So, the situation is thus," he announced. "Potter has shown himself to have excellent taste in women who are Evans, and shit taste in women who are not Evans. Meanwhile, Evans is shouting from the rooftops that she's ready to climb that Quidditch-toned bod and ride him like a bucking broomstick. And yet somehow, every time they get in a room together, one or both of them manages to screw the pooch. So the question is: How do we get them on track for marriage before he shacks up with Influenza and I'm morally obliged to push one or both of them off the Astronomy Tower?"
"We are speaking about the same Madam Keepdown?"
"Merlin's beard, there's more than one?"
"It has occurred to me that she might perhaps be two rather short women stacked on top of each other."
The six young witches and wizards eyed their headmaster with trepidation, uncertain whether or not he was joking. Blue eyes twinkled.
"If I understand your request: you would like Madam Keepdown to schedule additional meetings with prefects in the wake of the crisis, and you believe the student body will be best served if these meetings commence with its leaders…with the Head Boy and Girl."
"And all of you are convinced of the value of this course of action?"
It was like he knew. Five pairs of eyes darted to Sirius.
When Mary had suggested the idea, all three Marauders had burst out laughing. The other girls had immediately cottoned onto it, however, arguing ferociously for forcing them into a room together to sort things out, even if that room did happen to include a woman they both despised. Remus and Peter backed down, but Sirius had remained steadfastly against the idea until Remus called a vote and the 5-1 tally quieted his objections.
Now, Sirius sighed. He still didn't like it, but Remus was on board…"We agree."
The headmaster nodded slowly. "The lady may be...surprised at the idea of offering our Head Students more time alone with her."
"You mean…" Donna, incredulous now that it seemed the plan would actually work: "You're really going to make them go?"
"Oh, certainly not," said Professor Dumbedore, blue eyes twinkling. "I am going to request that Fiona host these meetings if she sees fit. The sorry task of depositing a willing—or at least conscious—Mr. Potter and Miss Evans at her door will fall to the six of you."
Another long, disbelieving beat, then Peter yelled: "Nose goes!"
"Oh, bloody hell."
"Can't believe I have to do your lot's dirty work," Sirius grumbled as they descended the spiral staircase. "It's a shit idea; they hate her. Pr-James came back from the last meeting looking for a spell to blow up the Bakery…"
"It's what he calls her office. Said she wears a lot of scarves…?" he trailed off, looking at the girls for any sign of recognition, but their faces were blank. Sirius shrugged. "Yeah, it didn't make sense to me either. But the point is…"
"The point is wrong," Donna snapped. "Only one of them has to take the plunge, and maybe you know Potter, but we know Lily. She'll do this."
Marlene nodded, folding her arms over her chest. "She really opened up last night. She's ready. She just needs a little push."
"Gonna need more than a little push to get her through that door," Sirius muttered. "A little drop-kick, maybe."
Donna crossed her arms too. "We know our best mate better than you do, Black."
Sirius would have replied, but at that moment, he pushed open the door to the Transfiguration classroom and saw Lily, James, and Adam. Sirius and Donna stopped abruptly in the doorway, the others bumping into them from behind.
Sirius recovered first, and he pointed his wand straight at James's chest. "Germinio." He dropped his robes to the floor, then reached back to yank his t-shirt over his head.
"Nobody wants a show," James snorted. "Use a Switching Charm, idiot."
Lily looked at him. "Git."
Marlene and Remus were first to follow Sirius's lead; Marlene could not tear her eyes from Adam's as she copied Lily's shirt.
Donna wondered whether there was any point to it. She had wondered this so many times since Tuesday that it seemed less like a thought than a drum pounding rhythmically in her skull. And yet she found she wanted to wear that shirt when she sat beside Lily, and so she did.
Mary's hands shook with a strange passion, and she did not properly know what she wanted to do, but for Marlene's sake, she put on the shirt.
Peter did not want to wear the shirt. He wanted to win this war. He wanted to defeat You-Know-Who. He wanted the good guys to vanquish the bad. But he did not see how any of that was served by identifying with the losers...the defeated...the dead. James and the other Marauders were wearing the shirt, though, and the Gryffindors did not take Transfiguration with the Slytherins, so Peter cast Germinio.
When a group of Ravenclaws entered the classroom a few minutes later, Alexa Kyle gasped very sharply. The robeless Gryffindors turned toward her, looking mostly defiant. Only Lily Evans's face showed immediate sympathy—immediate recollection of Alexa's parents' deaths—so it was Lily's shirt that she duplicated.
Alexa's mates were awestruck for several seconds longer. Then, for perhaps the first time in his life, Charlie Plex took off his Hogwarts robes for the right reasons.
When McGonagall swept in at one minute to ten, she took a deep, shuddering breath. She took one point from each House for flagrant violation of uniform policy, and at the end of class she passed out biscuits.
Things moved quickly after that.
At luncheon, Sabrina Barbery copied Mary's shirt. Reginald Cattermole, James Potter's. Mundungus Fletcher, to several people's surprise, scurried past the Gryffindor table as he left lunch and copied Sirius Black's.
Clancy Goshawk could have found a girl who wore a t-shirt in her size, but instead she crossed the Great Hall to find Remus Lupin and touched him gently on the arm. "May I?" she asked. Padfoot and Prongs beamed.
Shelley Mumps looked so nervous, so uncertain, so small that Lily copied her own shirt and set it beside Shelley's plate as she left lunch with her mates.
Carlotta Meloni ran into James in the Entrance Hall as she was on her way into lunch and he out, and she stopped him long enough to make two copies of his shirt. She brought them over to the Slytherin table and sat down beside Colista, offering one to her new lunch partner, only to realize with a chill that there was not a single white shirt in sight at this table. Carlotta lifted her brows, but Colista shook her head. "I want to," she said softly, "But…" she didn't finish the thought.
"I'm going to," Carlotta told her. Colista bit her lip as she looked away from her new friend, down the table.
"Please wait," she said softly. "Not while you're eating here...for your sake as much as mine."
Carlotta did not properly understand what that meant, but she waited until lunch was over all the same.
Farther down the Slytherin table, Severus Snape wore black robes and a furious scowl.
He hated this.
Lily didn't want to fight wars; not really. James Potter wanted to fight; Potter yelled and screamed and hexed and punched and took off his stupid robes in the middle of the Great Hall like the rules didn't apply to him, like because he was a big Quidditch star and Dumbledore's pet he was King of all the idiots...of Lily…
Severus had seen her that morning. He watched her peel off her robes for him, watched her put herself in terrible danger, make herself a target, because Potter told her to…Severus would have warned her to keep her head down. He would have protected her.
Severus was no longer hungry. He had no companion to keep him at lunch, since Hester, Mulciber, and Avery had been absent all day, so he shoved his plate away and stood. Unfortunately, the new vantage point offered him a better view of the other tables. Three quarters of the Great Hall were now speckled with white; most sixth- and seventh-years in three Houses wore the fallen warriors across their chests.
"Are you blind?"
"Are you Confunded?"
"Is somebody in the Ravenclaw stands flashing you her tits?"
"No, Potter, I..."
"Okay, I'm out of guesses," James snapped, running a pointless hand through hair the wind was already ruffling. It had been a long, long practice. "Is one of you going to explain why my Keeper can't keep his eyes on the Quaffle, and my Chaser can't..." he trailed off, eyes flickering between Adam and Marlene. "Oh, fucking hell."
"Okay, Potter, it's not…"
James's whistle-blast cut Adam off. "EVERYBODY ON THE GROUND NOW!"
Eight players flew to land in a circle, Marlene situating herself half-behind Donna so that she could not see Adam.
Donna moved to let her into the circle. Marlene edged backward. Donna put a hand on her back and pushed. Marlene smacked her away, and Donna rolled her eyes.
"Fuck's sake, we're only here because you can't keep it in your—"
"Donna," Marlene hissed, blushing furiously. "For once in your life, could you just…" she trailed off in favor of crossing her arms very tightly over her chest. "Honestly, it's no wonder Lily trusted the Marauders more than us."
"Whenever you two are done," James snapped. A muscle popped in his jaw, and Marlene and Donna both hung their heads.
"It appears to have slipped all of your teeny, tiny brains," James barked, "but we have a match to win tomorrow. The next person to bring their catfights or their drama or—God forbid—their feelings onto my Quidditch pitch is running a lap for every goal more than you that I score tomorrow. That goes for all of you, not just Chasers. Understood?"
"Yes, Potter," chorused everyone except Ricki Nivens.
Imbued with that special arrogance of the Seeker who knows his own importance, Ricki piped up impertinently: "Does that mean you'll run laps if you don't score fifteen goals?"
The whole team winced as the Captain turned, very slowly, to face his Seeker. "Are you happy?" James asked, deep and deadly. "Are you glad you said that?"
Nivens withered. "I'm sorry...I mean…no, Potter."
"That's what I thought." James swung his leg over his broom, and the rest of his team immediately followed suit. "I don't care that it's Hufflepuff and we could beat them blindfolded and flying upside-down. Every goal tomorrow counts the same as a goal against Slytherin in the final Cup tally. Fly like it."
"Y'know," Donna muttered to Marlene as James kicked off, "Generally, I think Evans is barking mad, but...when he does shit like that, I kinda get it."
Marlene burst out laughing. "You are a sick, sick woman, Donna Shacklebolt."
Curled up cozily in an armchair by the Gryffindor Common Room fire, Lily Evans pulled The Princess Bride out of her satchel and flipped it open, ready to sink into the comforting oblivion of a well-loved book.
Books were nice.
Lily had spent an exhausting afternoon traipsing around the castle, distributing dozens of MFP shirts for underclassmen to three House common rooms after Bridget Shacklebolt had shyly approached Lily in the library and asked her for a duplicate. Proud though she was of the demonstration, the sight of each new shirt made her chest ache even as it touched her deeply. Sam was gone, every green letter reminded her, and James was perfect.
Lily felt guilty for letting these thoughts sit beside one another, but that guilt did nothing to assuage the pain of the one-two punch.
So books were nice.
Books neither listened to your teenage drama with unfathomable grace nor used their exquisite shoulders to start rebellions.
Books didn't ruffle your hair and let you wear their ghastly hats.
Books didn't dance with you and laugh with you and look at you like...
Books didn't die, and books didn't fall in love with other girls.
Books were nice.
Lily was only five pages in, however, when...
That day, Buttercup was amazed to discover that when Westley was saying 'as you wish,' what he meant was, 'I love you.' And even more amazing was the day she discovered she felt…
Oh, absolutely not. Buttercup could keep her discoveries to herself, thanks. Lily had no use for the late revelations of the most beautiful girl in the land, who held the prince under her thumb, who could have had any bloke in the bloody castle...
Lily took a deep breath and flipped to the middle of the book.
Westley, naturally enough, was considerably ahead of Buttercup with the realization that they were heading into the Fire Swamp. Whether it was a touch of sulphur riding a breeze or a flick of yellow flame far ahead in the daylight...
Yes, reading was a great idea. How could you think about wars or boys who loved other girls or 87 dead witches and wizards when Westley and Buttercup were stuck in the fire swamp? After all, if James Potter were in the fire swamp, he'd…
The final fight sequence. She could focus on the final fight sequence.
The man in black was nearly stiff when Fezzik reached...
"Love that book."
Sirius Black had appeared behind Lily and he now sat down on the arm of her chair, arse unceremoniously bumping her side. Sirius yanked The Princess Bride out of her hands, smirking, and pretended to read: "And then Buttercup realized that when she was saying "Git," what she was really saying was..."
Lily snatched the book back and bonked him over the head with it. "You will die slowly," she threatened.
"That'd be a very different book, Red." He thought about it. "A better one, probably. It might have swordfights."
"Princess Bride has swordfights," Lily pointed out.
"Does it? Full disclosure, I only read the first and last ten pages. Prongs bet me ten Galleons the fit Muggle Studies sub wouldn't snog me, and it was helpful recon."
"Gross. Did you win?"
"Ten Galleons have been redistributed from the coffers of billionaires to my poor disinherited orphan pockets, and the world is better for it."
"A regular Karl Marx, you are."
"A regular whosit?"
Lily smirked. "I guess you didn't cover Communist revolutionaries on your Muggle Studies oral."
Sirius blinked, and then he barked a loud laugh, tossing his head back. "You don't suck, Lily Evans."
Lily smiled and bumped his arm with hers. "Whoa there, Padfoot," she teased, "I love you, too, but there's no need to get sappy about it."
Sirius grinned, then looked across the common room and saw something that perked him up. "Hold that thought," he said. At Lily's look of confusion, he elaborated: "That warm, gushy, love-for-me thought. I've got something to tell you…"
Lily's eyes narrowed. "What's on fire?"
"Who's on fire?"
"No, it's...c'mon, Prongs is back, he needs to hear this too." Sirius hopped up to interrupt James on his path to drop off his Quidditch equipment in his dorm. Lily followed anxiously.
"Where's on fire?" Lily demanded as James halted, looking between the pair with raised brows. Sirius rolled his eyes.
"'Lo, Prongs. Honestly, Ginge, how big a blast radius are you imagining?"
"Hi, James. Padfoot, every time you evade this question, a new classroom joins my imaginary blaze."
"What's he set on fire, Snaps?"
"He won't say, but apparently it's big enough we both need to know…"
"Literally never said I set a fire…"
"He had a weird look in his eye during Potions yesterday…" Lily began, but James shook his head.
"Doubt it. Been there, exploded that."
"Can't believe I've Boy-Who-Blew-Up-The-Wolf-ed myself…"
"Merlin, of course that was you lot fourth year. Y'know, I lost a month of independent study research that day..."
James winced. "Maybe he got Hufflepuff," he suggested quickly. "Sabotage for the match tomorrow."
Lily rolled her eyes. "They're Hufflepuff. We're Gryffindor. If anything, he should set our tower on fire in the name of good sportsmanship."
James's bag slipped off his shoulder. Rather than answer her, he snatched at it rather frantically, swinging it back up his arm.
"What about the library?" Lily suggested, and James's tone was perfectly casual when he answered.
"The White Whale? Without me? Padfoot would never, Snaps."
"Prats, the both of you." Sirius scoffed. "That's not my news…"
"Just point us toward the epicenter…"
"You've got Keepdown tonight."
Lily and James exchanged a gleeful, wide-eyed look. "You actually blew up Keepdown's office?" James cried, laughing. "Right on! I mean...er...ten points from Gryffindor."
"Let's not be hasty," said Lily, also giggling. "But five points at least."
Sirius shook his head. "Would you two shut up and listen? I didn't blow anything up. Sort of the opposite, actually."
James, hopefully: "You flooded it?"
"No. You two have to meet with her tonight, mate. McGonagall snagged me at lunch today, told me to tell you. She's doing everybody extra, because of...y'know. And the Head Students are up first, so you can lead the school through this troubling...something. I stopped listening. But...eight tonight."
A stunned silence followed while Lily and James digested this piece of information.
"You're joking," said Lily at length.
"I'm not that funny."
"Do I look like I'm fucking laughing?"
Sirius grinned. "Good one, Evans." He clapped both his friends' shoulders: "I love our little chats. Why don't we do this more?"
Lily and James kicked him simultaneously.
"Anyway, come join," Sirius continued, jerking his chin toward the fire where the other Marauders sat with Mary and a freshly-showered Marlene and Donna. Something about the sight of all of them together alarmed Lily after last night. That feeling only increased when Lily and James approached their mates and all five leapt to their feet as one.
What are we, the King and Queen now?" James asked.
Sirius snorted, sliding past them to join the others. "Are you married in that scenario, David?"
James ignored the question and opted for: "David?"
"That's Sirius," said Marlene, grinning. "Honestly, David."
"David, are you okay?" Remus asked seriously.
James and Lily shared a baffled look, and then James rolled his eyes at the crew. "I'm getting changed," he announced grumpily. "When I come back, I want my old nickname back." The other six just smirked, looking far too pleased with themselves.
James made for the stairs, and as soon as his feet disappeared, Lily rounded on her mates, hands on hips: "David?"
In a move so gorgeous, so synchronous, so evil, that it was very clearly choreographed, all six collapsed backward onto the couch, throwing their arms across their faces and wailing, "A fucking Michelangelo!"
As her mates burst out laughing, Lily shrieked with outrage and grabbed a cushion to smack Marlene over the head. "And you people wonder why I don't tell you things?" she cried.
Marlene grabbed her own pillow to fight back, and Lily, repressing a laugh herself, aimed a whack at Sirius: "And you! 'Are you married in that scenario, David?'...Gonna wish you'd set yourself on fire by the time I'm done with…"
"Alright, Evans?" James had reappeared on the stairs, white from exertion, presumably summoned by the collective wail. All seven Gryffindors froze mid-pillow fight.
"All good here, Dave," Remus said brightly. "Lily's just having a lovely game of Whack-a-Mate."
Lily nodded, stepping hard on Remus's foot. "Moony's next on my list."
"Right." James ran a hand through his hair. "Leave Price and Shack intact for tomorrow, yeah?"
Lily nodded mutely.
Interrupted in her pursuit of supper, Lily turned to see Inaya Bhatia, a fourth-year who had come to Lily's Tuesday 'office hours,' hurrying toward her. Lily waved Mary, Marlene, and Donna ahead and hung back to wait for the younger Hufflepuff.
"Hi," Inaya said breathlessly, having won Lily's attention. "I wanted…" she blushed and looked pointedly at Lily's shirt. "Can you...I've been trying all day, but I haven't mastered the spell yet. Would you mind?"
Lily complied, Inaya thanked her profusely, and Lily turned to go, but the little girl called her back again.
"I heard Katie told you," Inaya began, tugging on her ponytail. "That she tried to pick you."
Tried? Lily briefly imagined the diminutive fourth-year pleading her case to Professor Dumbledore and stifled a smile. "She did, yeah."
"I just wanted to tell you that it's not just Katie...I would've voted for you a half-dozen times if I could."
A half-dozen...Merlin's beard. If she was laying it on any thicker, she'd be declaring Lily Headmistress.
Nice try, kid.
"Okay, out with it," said Lily, crossing her arms and trying to appear stern, though this effort was somewhat thwarted by the fact that the little girls' scheming amused her to no end. "What are you plotting?"
"Huh?" Lily had to hand it to this one—she played innocent well.
"Not that I don't enjoy the ego stroke," Lily said, "but I simply do not believe that two different rising fourth years were honestly concerned about who got Head Girl. Just fess up to whatever I'm about to find out you and your mates have done, Inaya—you've got a better chance of getting out of detention that way than with the flattery bit."
The little girl blinked back at her in total bewilderment. "Head Girl? Lily, I was talking about Meloni vs. Mumps."
It was as if someone had cracked an egg against the back of Lily's skull.
"You...Meloni...what?" she managed.
Inaya took an eager step forward. "We were rooting for you in Meloni vs. Mumps! All my friends would've voted for you, if only Fletcher would've let us."
"I...I don't understand," Lily said weakly, although she thought she just might. "It was...Meloni...versus Mumps. It wasn't...I'm not on that list."
Inaya waved away this irrelevant detail. "It was 'who should James Potter date,' and that's obviously you!"
"You're, like, the most romantic thing I've ever seen!" the girl bulldozed over Lily. "For my first two years he asked you out every week! It was like a movie. Everyone thought you were gonna get married."
"Bu-bu-but I said 'no.' Always. Vehemently. Rage and hellfire and many-a-hex…"
"And he kept trying!" Inaya clasped her hands under her chin and rocked back-and-forth on her tiptoes, the picture of youthful infatuation. "So romantic! And he's James Potter, and you're Lily Evans…"
"Right," said Lily. Her breath was coming in quick, shallow pants. Zips of electricity seemed to be running through her whole body. She thought she might throw up. "Right, well...thank you, Inaya. That's very sweet of you, but...I need to go."
And go she did, turning and racing down the corridor with hands shaking and peripheral vision blurred. She barely registered the paintings on the walls or the twists and swings of the staircases she raced down or the gradual shift from daylight to torchlight until she was standing outside the Slytherin Common Room, pounding on the stretch of wall that held its portal. When a third-year opened the door, Lily heard herself ask him to fetch Mundungus Fletcher.
The door swung shut behind him, and Lily finally looked around at the empty dungeon corridor. She recognized, in an intellectual way, that she ought to be frightened. This was not the corridor she used to skip down to collect Sev. The men who lived here planned to join the battlefield in only months, fighting for the side that wanted her dead, and today Lily wore the uniform of the resistance. Lily had put herself in a very dangerous position. But the righteous outrage that vibrated in her chest, frantic for outlet, left no room for any other emotion.
The tirade on the tip of her tongue had to wait, though, because the moment Mundungus bolted out of the common room (in black robes, though she knew he had a t-shirt), he pointed a finger at her chest and yelped, "I didn't let 'em vote for you! Did you tell Potter I did? Because I didn't!"
Her eyes widened. She had not considered the possibility that hearing it confirmed might somehow make it worse.
"I…" but she didn't try for another syllable.
"You better tell Potter I heard his guard dog loud and clear. I can't be blamed for a couple of fuckin' idiot fourth years, and…"
"His guard dog?"
"Lupin…" he said slowly, as if Lily were very dense. "Warned me off you?" Dung backed up, scrubbing at his ginger curls. He poked a finger toward Lily's chest. "I didn't do nothin'. Don't you go telling Potter I did."
And then he was gone, and Lily very much wished for a chair.
James had known.
James had known his childhood crush would be dragged up, had known James Potter's insane exhibitionism would outweigh any and all of Lily's attempts to assert her own agency, and he must have known—or guessed, or feared—that it would hurt Carlotta, so he'd decided...and Remus had agreed...
"I would've bet on you."
Lily whipped around. Severus Snape stood a few steps away, fists clenched, chest heaving, lip curled contemptuously as his eyes darted over her face. She had no idea how long he had been standing there, but long enough, at least, that he'd clearly caught the gist of their conversation.
"I...would have bet...on you," Severus repeated, slow and soft and cruel. "I didn't bother because I don't care, but if I'd had to bet who Potter would shag…"
"Severus." Lily's voice was thick with warning, but he did not heed it.
"I'd put my money on the girl he's wanted to fuck since fourth year, who's suddenly hanging on his every word, begging for scraps of his attention…"
"Severus," she warned again, no warmth, no curiosity left in her voice now.
"You're pathetic!" He stepped toward her. Lily, torn between desire to run from the rage in his eyes and to get right in his face and scream back, stayed rooted to the spot. "The whole castle can see how desperate you are...Why do you think Fletcher even considered…"
"Don't presume to know anything about my friendship with James."
Severus actually laughed at that, though there was no humor in it. "Your friendship? You actually think you're more than a shag to Potter? You think he'd willingly keep spending time with you after you let him in your knickers?"
Now Lily did step up to Severus, eyes flashing furiously. "You don't know anything about him."
"Like hell I don't!" Severus roared. They were nearly nose to nose now, and he shook with fury. "You think you're his friend? Potter has three friends, Lily. Three pathetic little lapdogs who follow him around because he needs applause every time he takes a piss…"
"Don't start," Lily snapped. "Every Marauder is twice the man you are, and every one of them has proven himself as a friend to me and to each other, which is more than I can say for you."
For a moment, just a few heartbeats, Lily thought she saw real hurt cross his face. Then it smoothed into a manic sort of anger Lily had never seen before, rage that burned so hot it almost looked like desperation.
"Potter's going to end up dead," he cried. "And if you don't stop following him around, doing whatever he wants, desperately hoping he'll notice something besides how you look in a too-short skirt, you will too."
Some piece of Lily had surely known Sev was lost forever, that there would come a day when she would stare across a battlefield at a black hood and know that it might hide his face. None of that prepared her, however, to be seventeen years old and look into her best friend's eyes and hear a death threat.
She felt outside her body. It was as if she could see herself and Snape staring each other down, black robes facing off against white shirt...the very same contrast she had seen in her dream.
"But that's already what you want for me, Snape," Lily said. His brows drew together, and he opened his mouth, but if he meant to deny it she didn't want to hear. "Maybe, fighting by James's side, I'll take a few of you with me."
He took a sharp, furious breath. Of all the ways Severus Snape could have answered Lily Evans, he chose this: "So he's James now, and I'm Snape, is that it? Seven years of friendship, and you can't even call me by my name?"
"That's right," Lily said. "You ended seven years of friendship, and now you're Snape."
"No, I'm not Lily to you anymore, either," the Head Girl said. "Call me Evans if you must address me, but I'd rather you call me Mudblood than hear my name from a future Death Eater's lips."
She did not stay to watch the pain unfold on his face, but turned on her heel. She was only a few steps down the hallway when his voice crawled up the back of her neck, an angry, slimy, evil thing.
"Whatever you say, Snaps."
Lily whirled on him, white-hot fury surging through her. Her hand rocketed into the air to smack him. Her arm reached the apex of its arc, ready to strike...and Snape seemed to transform before her eyes.
Greasy black hair went peroxide-blonde. Dark eyes turned pale. Angular face became long and horse-like.
The spectre of Petunia froze Lily's arm in its tracks, and Lily and Snape (for she saw Snape again a heartbeat later) stood in stalemate, two pairs of eyes flickering between each other and Lily's trembling, still-raised hand.
Slowly, so slowly, Lily lowered her arm. In a voice that was not her own: "I've had a violence-free term as Head Girl so far, and your pathetic need to drag everyone at Hogwarts into your preteen rivalry with James is not going to change that. You don't matter enough to me to change that. But from the bottom of my heart, Snape: you make me sick."
She turned on her heel and was gone.
Severus had not yet rearranged his expression or tamped down the furious (surely it was fury?) heat racing through his body when a door materialized in the wall, and someone stepped out of the Slytherin common room.
Severus moved to walk away, but Mulciber stepped in front of him in the corridor. "I spoke to Hester today."
"We had a very interesting conversation."
"A first for both of you," Severus muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes. "Congrats," he repeated aloud, and turned to walk away in the opposite direction.
It was a very big mistake.
Severus's face, body, mind all relaxed in an instant. It was a wonderful day, and Severus was warm and blissful in a way he had not been in a very long time. The grass was green, and the sky was blue, and Lily Evans was nine years old and Severus Snape hung the moon.
Tell me the truth, said Nicolai Mulciber, somewhere, somehow. It was a wonderful idea. Telling the truth was the right thing to do; Lily loved when he did the right thing. Did you cast the Cruciatus Curse on Lily Evans?
"NO!" Severus cried. "Of course not! I would never do that!"
"As I suspected," Mulciber snarled.
Get in your bed and go to sleep, and don't get up tomorrow until I tell you to.
It was, perhaps, the best suggestion Severus had ever heard. He hurried toward the Common Room door.
That's right, off you go, Nick told him. Get some sleep before your final exam.
"Why aren't you eating?"
This question, posed by James Potter to Sirius Black as the latter shoveled mashed potatoes into his mouth, was—to the naked eye—a ridiculous one. James was not wrong, however, and both knew it; they'd been at dinner ten minutes, and Sirius hadn't yet started seconds.
Still: (thickly, through potato) "What do you call this, David?"
James rolled his eyes. "Evasion, Steve."
Sirius smirked. He didn't speak for a long moment, then: "I think Regulus is joining the Death Eaters."
"Yep. He has to hurt some bird…" Sirius sneered disgustedly. "Some kind of initiation."
"Are you going to try and stop him?"
Another beat. The Great Hall was loud, filled with all the usual chatter of a dinner rush, but the air between Sirius and James felt silent. Then—
"Could you fight him?"
Sirius opened his mouth, unsure what he was about to say. Remus and Peter chose that moment to slide in beside them, however, and he closed it again at once.
"What were you two talking about?" Pete asked innocently. A glance at Sirius told James the conversation was over, so in lieu of answer he passed Sirius his plate and requested more roast beef.
"Does size matter?" Sirius inquired, holding up the beef platter for inspection, and James snorted.
"Not if you know what to do with it, mate."
Sirius smirked. "Good of you to share your expertise, Prongs."
"Well, I'm nothing if not generous with the less fortunate, Padfoot."
"What a shame God didn't practice the same generosity with you, Prongs."
"Children," Remus interrupted, and they ceased the bickering. The boys wiled the rest of dinner away chatting about Quidditch, all talk of Regulus shelved for now.
"Remus?" All four Marauders looked up to see Lily Evans standing before them, arms wrapped tightly around a stack of books. "Can I speak with you? About...um...patrols?"
Remus blinked uncertainly at her, then at James. "Er...you need me? Wouldn't patrols be Prongs's..."
"Nope. I need you."
"I feel like this is probably Head Boy and Girl business…"
"Wanna bet?" Lily inquired. "No...wait…" (this practically shouted) "That's not allowed!"
Remus and Peter's eyes widened in sync, and Remus began, "Lily, I don't think…"
"I don't care what you think."
"Evans," Sirius tried, "It's quarter to seven...seems like the wrong time to...
"No, you're going to want to not argue," Lily cut him off. "I just came this close to hitting Snape, and do you know what I learned from that? I really, really miss physical violence."
"Why would you hit Snape?" said Remus and Peter.
"Why would you not hit Snape?" said Sirius and James.
"Lupin," said Lily.
"Let's talk patrol schedules."
"Yes. Let's do that."
"Lily…" Remus tried (for the third time since she'd yanked him into this empty classroom and proceeded to pace in front of him in silence for minutes on end).
"No! I'm talking!"
"You say that…" he muttered, and Lily glared. "Sorry."
"I had a right to know!" she finally cried. "If Potter knew the stupid contest was going to affect me…"
"Just because you're in love, that doesn't mean your friends don't matter...If I were really his friend, then…"
"He and his girlfriend don't get to just decide for me and not let me in on…"
"Lily, that's not what happened!"
(Three Weeks Earlier)
"Oi, and Dung?"
Mundungus sighed. He had thought Lupin's don't-bet-on-Potter's-love-life threat-and-lecture combo package was finally over. "Yeah?"
"When you've forgotten every threat I just made, which I assume won't take long…"
"Between the two of us, I wouldn't take the over on ten minutes."
Remus snorted. "Right. But…" his expression changed and his tone grew serious for the first time. He turned his head toward the Entrance Hall and cast a very quick glance toward a flash of red hair. "When you've forgotten all that, you still won't be a fucking idiot, right?"
Mundungus's brow furrowed in confusion, but only for a moment before his eyes widened and he shook his head. "Shite, Lupin. I like a Galleon, but not as much as I like my neck."
"Good." Remus wasn't as confident as he let on, though, and as he walked into the Great Hall with Pete, he eyed the other Marauder. "Do you think we can trust him?"
Pete nodded. "Even if Prongs wouldn't rip off his knob and choke him with it, it's good business sense to leave her out of it." Remus raised an eyebrow and Pete shrugged. "When James ends up with Lily, Dung gets every single Knut."
Remus laughed and clapped his friend on the back. "You scare me sometimes, Wormtail."
"Lily, I did it to protect you. James didn't tell me to do it...he didn't even know! He doesn't think Meloni vs Mumps had anything to do with you!"
"Oh." Lily's self-righteous fury seemed to seep out of her in a rush, her whole body shrinking before his eyes.
"That's worse," Remus realized aloud. He sighed, rubbing his jaw unhappily. He didn't understand girls at all. "Why is that worse?"
"It's not," Lily said in a very small voice.
"It clearly is."
She bit her lip, perhaps debating how much to admit. "It's...I mean...he didn't even…" she had grown so quiet that Remus had to lean toward her to make out the end of the sentence... "think about me?"
Remus coughed. "Well," he said carefully, "The thing wasn't about you. And I mean...popularity contest over who's the bigger slag doesn't exactly scream Lily Evans…"
"Clearly to some people it did…"
"Not to Prongs. Lily, if it had crossed James's mind that it could affect you…"
"Then what, Remus? What would he have done differently? Because the girl he's in love with wanted to see it play out, so…so if he'd thought of it..."
"Lily…" but he did not try for another word.
She swallowed hard, and Remus suddenly feared she might cry. "It never occurred to him at all?"
"I...Lily, it never occurred to you…"
Her eyes flashed. "No, it didn't." Lily's voice dripped sarcasm, but anger was better than tears, at least. "No, it did not occur to me that the entire school might start voting on my sex life to punish me for the crime of being the girl Carlotta Meloni's boyfriend wanted to shag two years ago! What an idiot I am to not have thought..."
"I'm not saying you're an idiot!" Remus interrupted. "And...technically...they were trying to reward you for the achievement of being the girl…" at the dangerous flash of Lily's eyebrows, he changed tack. "Er, never mind. I'm saying it never occurred to you—why is it so awful that it never occurred to Prongs?"
"Because...well, I don't know," she faltered slightly, "but because…because you knew! You knew, Remus, so don't you dare stand there and tell me that just because I was too stupidly naive to think I'd get mixed up in it, he shouldn't have seen it coming!"
"But I'm a cynic, Lily. Prongs just pretends."
She crossed her arms over her chest and huffed a furious breath. "Right. He's a romantic. He's in love."
"Don't do that," Remus said sharply. "That's not what I mean, and don't pretend you don't know it. He's one of your best mates, you love him—"
"I—No, I don't—what—"
"As a friend!" Remus said quickly. "Like the girls. Or us. He's your friend, Lily, and you know him, and you know that for all he laughs at Fate and God, he..." Remus shrugged, half-smiling. "He still believes we're going to win this bloody war."
"He believes in all of it," Lily mumbled, and she shook her head but her smile was undeniable. "He can turn twenty nobodies into two hundred marchers, a front-page story, and a new head of DMLE the way he believes."
Remus grinned. "Get a grip, Evans. You're so gone it's embarrassing."
Lily blushed and made a face. "You don't get to make fun of me, Moony! I'm still angry with you."
"That's fine! I deserve it," he said quickly. "But...look, Prongs didn't ignore the possibility because he didn't care. He just didn't anticipate that if you hand teenagers a disgusting, pointless, hurtful popularity contest, they will always, always, always find a way to make it worse. And that's something you have in common, so...try to forgive him. Please?"
Lily sighed heavily. She just felt so...tired. "You know I will," she said finally. "I always do. It's James...how could I not?"
Remus accompanied Lily to Madam Keepdown's office in near silence. James and Sirius were already standing by the door chatting when Lily and Remus arrived a minute late—possibly the first time that had ever happened, Lily reflected with a small smile.
Lily turned to the werewolf as they reached their friends, perking up just a bit. "We decided I can stay angry at you, though, right?"
"You can and you should," Remus said fervently. "I—Lily, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have done it."
"No you shouldn't." But she softened.
"And if I was going to do it, I should have told you."
"Yes, you should've."
"And if I wasn't going to tell you, I should have made damn sure you never found out." That was James-ish in a way that made Lily want to laugh, but she kept all traces of amusement from her face.
"Yes, you should've."
She lost the battle and cracked a smile.
"It's okay," Lily interrupted the werewolf. "I know you were trying to do something kind, and I forgive you. You're not the villain here, I'm just taking it out on you, so...I'm sorry too. Just, next time...I'm not a child. Please don't go behind my back to protect me."
He looked, somehow, even guiltier. "You're right. Of course you're right. I just knew it would've hurt you, and you didn't need that on top of everything, and…"
Lily, overcome by a wave of affection for the boy in front of her and remorse for giving him yet another thing to feel guilty about, surged forward and wrapped her arms around his middle. "I love you, too, Moony."
As Remus's arms wound automatically around Lily, he stared helplessly over her shoulder at his friend. Animated a moment before, James Potter's face fell like a marionette whose strings were cut.
Sirius reached for his best friend's arm, gripped him hard by the shoulder. "Skive off," he suggested suddenly, eyes darting back and forth from James to Lily, who was now peeling out of Remus's arms to stare at Sirius, baffled. "Who needs this psych-healer bullshit? So you'll lose points, who gives a…"
But he broke off because, with a rustle and a swish, Madam Keepdown had appeared in her doorway. "I see we're all here now," she said, with just the slightest emphasis on the last word. "Shall we begin?"
"Better get this over with," James said with a shrug that knocked Sirius's hand off his arm. He disappeared into Madam Keepdown's office, and Lily—with one last confused glance at Sirius—followed.
"So I thought we would try something a little different today," Madam Keepdown began after a tense series of greetings. Lily carefully avoided catching James's eye, knowing she would laugh. (You don't want us to spend the next hour mocking each other's physical appearances? Whyever not?) "Well, not entirely different…"
"Entirely different is fine," James said quickly, and Lily nodded.
Madam Keepdown smiled (falsely, Lily thought) and continued as if he had not spoken. "With all of the terrible events going on outside these walls, and given the two of your—er—special relationship, I thought we could revisit an assignment which had…mixed success in the group setting…" she trailed off expectantly. Lily and James glanced at each other, baffled, and Madam Keepdown elaborated: "I thought perhaps the two of you might try sharing some positive energy with each other."
The Head Boy and Girl's eyes widened in horrified unison. Then—"Nah."
"No, thank you," added Lily.
"Waste of time," said James.
"We're mates already, see."
"Positive energy out the wazoo."
"Exactly. I really think our time would be better spent on the sources of strong emotions in our lives..."
"Exactly. And you know what really has me feeling emotions is this Quidditch match tomorrow…"
"Yes, I too feel emotions about that! I feel the emotion of 'Please win, James!'"
"And I feel the emotion of 'Will do, Snaps!'" Head Boy and Girl grinned hopefully at Madam Keepdown, but she raised her eyebrows.
"I really feel that it would be better to..."
"Madam Keepdown," James interrupted, fingers drumming on the table and bottom perched on the very edge of the loveseat as if ready to fly up and duel (or run away) at any moment, "Evans and I are fine. Really, we're mates."
"Last time was just…we bicker and we make up," Lily explained, nodding earnestly. "That's what we do. It's part of our…our friendship. You caught us on a bicker day, but we...we like each other."
"Exactly. And this is a make-up day."
"That's lovely, dears," said Madam Keepdown. "So it should be simple for you to explain what you like about each other."
This brought them both up short, but not for long.
"But see," James ruffled his hair. "We've already done this, actually."
"Right!" Lily bobbed her head eagerly. "In the big group. I'm gracious about accepting apologies."
"And I'm perceptive of other people's feelings."
"But what he's not is prepared to play Quidditch on Saturday—er, emotionally prepared, that is."
"Exactly. And she's not emotionally prepared to watch."
Madam Keepdown was not impressed.
After a long, uncomfortable pause, she stood up from her armchair and crossed the room. "Tea, I think," she decided aloud. Perhaps she had anticipated a standoff of this sort, because a kettle was already steaming prettily on a small table in the back of her office, three little cups and saucers laid out for Madam Keepdown to float over to their table.
It took nearly a full cup of tea for Lily to accept that there were only two outcomes of their little stalemate. She, Lily, had to speak, or James did. And there was, improbably enough, something in the world worse than having to tell James Potter why she fancied him: having to listen while James Potter tried to gently, tactfully explain what a great gal she was for someone who wasn't him.
"James is brilliant," Lily began softly.
If you set aside the fact that she would rather spend the winter hols in Voldemort's guest bedroom, it wasn't as if finding nice things to say about James Potter was a challenge. And maybe...maybe it would even make him happy.
Lily gathered her courage and met his eyes—he looked like a deer in headlights, which wasn't exactly encouraging, but she plowed on. "You don't care what anyone thinks of you. You're funny—you always have been, even when it drove me nuts to think it...you're the most loyal person I…"
"Can I go?" James interrupted.
Both women blinked. "What?" said Madam Keepdown.
"Can I go?" James repeated. He addressed only Madam Keepdown. "This is pointless, and I have a Quidditch match to win."
"James, this exercise is important for you two to break down your barr…"
"I don't see how my barriers are relevant to Peverell Hall," he interrupted. "That's what we're here for, isn't it? National tragedy, talk to the psych healer and...what, pat each other on the back for not kicking the bucket yet?"
"Eighty-seven people are dead. That completely sucks, but I don't see what talking about Evans' eyes is supposed to do about it. So can I go?"
Something big and hot and fluttery swelled in Lily's chest. "My...my eyes?"
James swallowed, the first break in his furious rant. He looked Lily over once, briefly, appraisingly, and turned back to Madam Keepdown. "She's well fit, it's not exactly news. What else am I supposed to say?"
The hot thing in her chest turned cold.
"I found something to say about you besides how you look in Quidditch robes, James."
"Well, I didn't ask you to!" His fingers drummed on his knee hard enough to bruise. "I'm a seventeen-year-old bloke. Evans is a good-looking bird. I don't know what else anyone's expecting to hear."
'You really think you're more than a shag to Potter?'
"Classy, James," Lily snapped.
"Thanks," he sneered, "Add that to your little list."
"Yeah, I'll put it down right next to 'considerate,' 'tactful,' and 'sensible hair.'"
"Mine says 'hilarious.'"
"Does it say 'easy to man..."
"Now, really!" Keepdown cried, and both teenagers remembered she was in the room. "This exercise is valuable, for goodness' sake. There are clearly things you both want to say to each other..."
"Can't think of any at the moment, no," said Lily brightly.
"No? But you're usually so honest and straightforward with me, Evans…"
Lily swallowed over a painful lump.
'She's honest...and funny, and not afraid to say what she's thinking, and I have a good time with her. That's why I'm dating her'.
"Here's some positive energy," Lily said coolly. "James has fantastic taste. Really knows how to pick 'em."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"What do you think, James?"
"I think it's fascinating how you hated me dating Carlotta from the first minute we got back…"
She didn't want to be talking about this.
She didn't want to care about this.
Just yesterday, she had been so sure she didn't care about the awful teenage rubbish of Meloni vs. Mumps, but Everyone thought you were gonna get married and James didn't think it had anything to do with you and...
"Right, because I turned out to be completely off-base there when she manipulated the whole school into getting you dumped…"
"You knew about that?" James turned bright red. He was angry at Lily for snooping in his relationship, but—
"I didn't ask," Lily snapped, folding her arms over her chest. "I didn't pry; she just came in and told me, just like you, James, and like Moony and Wormtail and Padfoot…"
"Then why didn't you tell…" but he broke off, and, like he couldn't help himself: "And you use their nicknames now? What is that?"
Lily recoiled. "Wh-wh-what?"
"Who said you could use the nicknames?" James rephrased.
'Potter has three friends, Lily.'
"Who said...Sirius said! Sirius said directly in front of you!"
"Well, it wasn't his decision to make! Just because you're all bestie mates now…"
"Well, I'm sorry your mates don't hate me! I know that's what you're looking…"
"Bloody hell!" Madam Keepdown snapped, and Lily and James both snorted, eyes meeting for a moment of shared hilarity before looking furiously away again. Keepdown turned away from them and stomped—nothing like her usual peaceful glide—to her desk, where she rummaged for a moment. She collected two sheets of parchment and thrust one at each Head Student. "Read," she commanded.
Lily looked down.
It was never about fucking biscuits.
It took one nonsensical sentence to realize that the handwriting was James Potter's. She immediately looked back up in outrage, shoving the parchment at him, only to find that he was holding his out to her.
"This is yours…"
"I don't want to…"
"How dare she…"
"Totally illegal!" James roared, balling up the parchment Lily handed him and shoving it deep into the pocket of his robes. "You can't make us write about ourselves for your filthy therapy rubbish and then run around showing it to random people!"
"Random people…" Madam Keepdown repeated slowly. She sat down heavily on her desk and massaged the corners of her eyes as she stared between them. "Random people."
Lily took a deep breath, bracing herself to wrench from her chest the words she owed him. "I'm sorry, James. I won't use the nicknames anymore." (softly...she feared she might cry) "I should have asked each of you. I shouldn't have presumed...I'm just sorry."
James nodded. He didn't look happy, but she could see him turning it over, readying himself to apologize in turn…
"Oh, no, Lily," Madam Keepdown simpered. "This is an apology-free space. We never apologize for our feelings."
Lily's eyebrows shot up. Fury—at James just as much as at Keepdown, though she knew blaming him was irrational—spiked through her. Before she could help herself: "Oh, you two clearly just got off on the wrong foot. She doesn't believe in apologies, James...what's not to love?"
She knew it was too much when she said it, knew she crossed a line by throwing his failed love story in his face, but nothing could prepare her for the rage that crossed his face then.
He stood up, and so did she, and they were fifteen again, screaming at each other across the grounds. Even as Lily flung back every barb he threw at her, voices pounded in her mind.
We were all rooting for you...And he kept trying! And he's James Potter...He doesn't think Meloni vs Mumps had anything to do with you…
"...and Meloni vs. Mumps!" Lily snapped.
"It was awful, and spiteful, and small, and it hurt people, and not just the people in your little bubble, James…You have no idea how much you…You're the Head Boy, and letting them vote on who you were going to shag? It was gross, and archaic, and…beneath you."
"Beneath me? Beneath me?! So I'm above Carlotta, is what you're saying?"
"No, I…" It was, sort of, but you couldn't say that about the girl he was in love with. You just couldn't.
"I picked the wrong girl, should've picked somebody on my level?"
"You should have stopped it because there were little kids getting…"
"And who exactly would that be, Evans? Who would've been alright with Her Majesty? Could I get a copy of the social pyramid so next time I debase myself I'll at least know how many levels down from your throne I'm dropping?"
He didn't know.
Still, after all this, after two months of unfathomably obvious hints, after the way she'd danced with him, after the Jesse Owens she pulled...he did not know she fancied him.
He hadn't seen, because he wasn't looking.
Which meant the 'pain' she'd seen in his eyes on Wednesday...it wasn't guilt, it wasn't regret, it wasn't sorrow over hurting a friend. It was 'seventeen-year-old bloke missed out on a shag with a good-looking bird.'
Lily shook her head disbelievingly, ran a hand so roughly through her hair that she yanked out strands when they got caught in a tangle. "God, you clueless…"
"Prat?" James cut her off. "There she is."
Lily blinked. "What?"
"Clueless prat," James repeated coldly, taking a step even closer to her with each insult: "Arrogant toerag...bully...bastard...prick…" They were inches away from each other now, both flushed and panting, chests heaving. They were so close that she could see the faint stubble he must have shaved this morning, the subtle indent in his right cheek that became a dimple when he smiled. The last time she'd stood this close to him, her arms had been around his neck...her fingers brushing over the silky hairs there...so much softer than she ever expected...
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me," said Madam Keepdown, and Lily and James burst apart, Lily spinning instantly away from him, hands covering her face.
"What the hell?" James bellowed, and to Lily's horror, hot tears blurred her vision. "You don't get to…" he trailed off, as if expecting her to fill in what exactly she had been doing. She was still heaving deep breaths, trying to steady herself and stop her tears. She could not find the breath to shoot back, "Blueball you?" and so she didn't answer.
Lily squeezed her eyes shut, back still turned to him. She could not see; she could only hear both their breathing as slowly, fitfully, it steadied. A wild, ghastly piece of Lily wanted to laugh at the absurdity of having let herself land here again, not 48 hours later...
"You know, Evans, sooner or later you're going to have to make up your mind, whether you like me or hate me."
She was not quite dry-eyed, but she could see clearly again when she looked up at him. "Believe me, I've made up my mind."
She saw the instant he realized she was crying. She felt it when he reached for her, hand trembling before she shoved it away. She heard it in the way his voice hitched, in the desperation that laced between the cracks in his anger when he said, "I don't know what that means."
Lily took a deep breath, wiped the remaining tears from her eyes, set her shoulders.
Both his hands had flown to his hair when she pushed him away, and they stayed there, scrubbing frantically at already mad curls. "I don't know what you want from me."
"I'm trying to be your friend! That's what you wanted. You said that's what you wanted."
'You actually think you're more than a shag to Potter?'
'You think he'd willingly keep spending time with you after you let him in your knickers?'
'You think you're his friend?'
Severus Snape really did know his ex-best friend very well.
"Well, it's not. This isn't friendship, James." I'm not your friend, Lily thought. "We're not friends," she said.
'You're a jerk!'
'I sort of want to be your friend.'
'Sev was my friend first.'
'Sometimes they surprise you for the better, too.'
'Friends. And about time, too.'
'We've been drinking!'
'Get over yourself, mate.'
'Mind if I join you? I'm counting on it.'
'Please just let me go.'
'This isn't friendship, James. We're not friends.'
He wished, for the first time in his life, that he had never met Lily Evans. That he had never known what it was like to have a piece of her when he lost her utterly.
"Right." James slung his bag over his shoulder and stood up from the couch.
"James..." she reached for him, trying to soften the blow, perhaps, but he stepped out of her reach.
"Word of advice, Evans? Show the next poor bastard the flow chart so he doesn't spend seven fucking years trying to figure it out." With that, he stormed out the door.
"Git," Lily whispered, but James was already gone.
I'm always the one who leaves, Lily realized. She didn't know what to do with herself now that he had left instead. Lily shrank back into the couch, her shoulders hunching, and Madam Keepdown leaned toward her, holding out a box of tissues.
"If you'd like to talk, dear…" And then Lily realized that she might not know what to do, but she knew damn well what she would not do.
She would not cry to Madam Keepdown.
She would not.
She might have just ended her friendship with James, but she would not be that bloody cliché. Wordlessly, not trusting herself even to manage an apology or goodbye, Lily grabbed her things and fled the hot, stuffy, perfume-drenched room.
When the Gryffindor Common Room portrait opened and James Potter swept inside, Donna, Mary, Marlene, and the other Marauders whipped around, their conversation immediately ceasing. He strode toward the dormitories without a glance at his friends, and his furious, stomping footsteps echoed across the common room.
A pair of third-years playing chess impeded the wizard's direct path from portrait to stair. With no change in his stony expression, James Potter pulled out his wand and flicked it, and the two students in his way flew off the ground to swing in the air, suspended by their ankles.
Potter stepped directly on the chess board, cracking a bishop in two, and then he disappeared up the stairs.
The whole room seemed to hold its breath for a moment, and then—
No one but Remus and Peter had ever heard Sirius Black's voice like that.
A heartbeat later, Sirius hopped cheerfully to his feet. "Well, that's our cue," he announced, clapping his hands together firmly. He looked at Donna, Mary, and Marlene. "Yours'll be along any minute now…meet back at this couch in twenty to trade war stories?"
The others nodded silently.
Sirius and Peter followed their leader up the boys' staircase. Remus paused a moment to flick his wand at the suspended third-years once, twice, three times, dropping them in slight increments until they landed safely on the ground, and then, with an apologetic wince, he too followed his friends. Donna, Mary, and Marlene exchanged quiet, nervous glances, then walked single file up the girls' staircase. They waited outside the Head Girl's room for only five minutes before a head of ginger hair appeared at the bottom of the stairs.
Lily reached them a moment later, but she seemed to look right through her friends. Her lips quivered. She was blinking very rapidly. When she stepped past them and reached for the handle to her door, her hand shook.
Donna, closest to the door, pressed her hand against it to hold it closed.
"Evans, what happened?"
The Head Girl still faced her dormitory door. "Men are pigs. What happened is that men are pigs."
"Oh, Lil…" Marlene reached for her, but Lily took a step back. She turned to face her friends, at least, and Donna let her hand fall, but Lily flattened her back against the door to her room.
"I can't. I just…I just can't." Lily pressed the heels of her palms very hard against her eyes, squeezing them shut. "I'm going into my room now," she continued tightly, "and I'm not inviting you. That's not because I don't love you and care about you and appreciate you. I do. But I'm going to cry, and I hate crying in front of people more than I hate some Death Eaters." With that, the Head Girl turned on her heel and marched into her room, shutting the door behind her.
"And then she came back out, hugged us all, said, 'You're the loveliest mates anyone's ever had,' handed us a bag of Jelly Slugs, and went back into her room." Marlene shrugged. "And now here we are."
Remus sighed. "Men are pigs."
"Yeah, can we swap with you lot next time?" Sirius asked grumpily. "Prongs busted into our dorm without knocking, swore at us, and then stole my cigs and marched back out again. He's currently chain-smoking on the Quidditch Pitch, unless on the way he ran into…well, anyone who looked at him funny, probably, in which case he's in the middle of a knock-down-drag-out fist-fight that'll probably end in expulsion."
The boys looked at each other, and then Sirius shrugged. "Long story short…You may recall that Potter was a bit of a prick for a couple years there? Well, it turns out actions have consequences."
"Who would've thought," muttered Remus. Sirius made a face.
"Wow," said Mary.
"I'll have three."
"Men are pigs."
They chewed their candy in silence for a while. The three girls looked at each other, and then Marlene, the elected representative, cleared her throat and muttered: "Black…we should've listened to you."
"What was that?"
Marlene glared. He raised his eyebrows.
"You...were...right," she ground out. "You knew them better than we did, and we...should have listened...to you. Happy?"
"Ecstatic." Sirius grinned, reclining back against the couch and propping his feet up on the table. "I think I finally get where Evans is coming from with the whole self-righteous moralizing kick. That was hot." He sat up abruptly and pointed across the room at a random first-year. "That's mean!"
The little girl yelped and fell off her chair, and Sirius sighed. "Nah, I still don't get that part."
"No, you really, really don't," said Remus.
"So…what the hell are we going to do?" Donna demanded. Every head turned toward her.
"This didn't work...we've…" she grimaced, "admitted you were right, Black. Much as it pains me to say this, you're sort of both of their best friend right now. So...how do we fix it?!"
"Donna Shacklebolt, do you care?" asked Marlene.
Donna rolled her eyes. "Just because I could give a damn about any of you doesn't mean I don't care about Lily. How do we fix it?"
"We don't," said Sirius.
"What? But you're the one who said…"
"And we tried, and now we're done trying."
"But we have to fix…"
"No," said Sirius firmly, "We do not. If they can't work it out on their own from here, then they're too stupid to procreate, and we'd be doing the human race no favors."
"So we just ignore…" Mary gestured skeptically at the dormitories: "all that? Just forget about it?"
"Forget about it?" Sirius looked affronted. "Certainly not. We ignore them, but our next step is to nickname our team."
"Our operation, if you will. I've had a think, and nickname-less-ness has got to be where we went wrong. It's the only difference between this and the success of Operation: Mancy."
"The what-now?" said Remus.
Sirius grinned. "I'm thinking 'Operation: Head-Head.' Both because they're both Head students and because, well, we're getting them in a position to give…"
"Isn't anyone else concerned about making Sirius Black the moral rudder of this ship?" Remus demanded. Sirius rolled his eyes.
"The moral rudder of this ship would like to steer us away from the goddamn boat metaphors."
"This is ridiculous," Donna snapped, "Mancy didn't even succeed."
Sirius waved this away. "That's Lupin's fault. We accomplished our bit."
"Donna's just mad because Plex survived," Marlene explained.
"She didn't even maim him…"
"Boring bint," Sirius agreed, then quickly pivoted at Remus's furious look. "Also under consideration is 'Operation: Prefucking,' which has the added benefit of implying that Prongs is a Prefect, so that's fairly awesome..."
"He's not going to stop as long as he has an audience," Remus sighed. He and Donna, exchanging exasperated glares, stood up and walked away, Marlene following reluctantly and Donna dragging Mary ("But I wanted to help pick a name!") behind her. Sirius, unconcerned, turned to Pete.
"Wormy, my loyal compatriot, what say ye?"
Pete considered the question. "I'm sort of partial to Prefecking, actually."
Sirius frowned thoughtfully. "You may be onto something there. It has an element of class that Prefucking lacks." He clapped Peter on the back. "Don't listen when they say you're a waste of space with broom bristles where your hair ought to go. Jelly slug?"
"You stole their bag?"
"Men are pigs. I'll have two."
A few minutes passed in quiet chatter, and then Sirius's arse barked, "BLACK!"
Wormtail jumped, but Padfoot just smirked as he leisurely pulled a handheld mirror from his pocket. "Well?!" demanded Prongs's furious mirror image. "Where the hell are you?"
Sirius's grin widened. "On my way."
The next morning, Lily dressed for the Quidditch match with a leaden stomach. She remembered, as she gazed at her wardrobe, the Gryffindor-Hufflepuff match last year, when she and James had just decided to try to be friends.
'Gee, Snaps, you really went all out with the house spirit, didn't you?'
In a strange mockery of a happy ritual, Lily dressed in red-and-gold underthings—Mary had inexplicably bought them all matching Gryffindor lingerie after Marlene made the team. She magically cleaned and then pulled on Sam's shirt, followed by a gold jumper, her red-and-gold Gryffindor scarf, and a pink skirt—she really, really didn't own much red.
She considered stopping by the seventh-year girls' dorm on her way down, but she had wished Donna and Marlene good luck the night before, and she simply couldn't face seeing anyone until she had to.
Lily exited the portrait hole alone, therefore, lost in her thoughts and paying little attention to her surroundings. She didn't notice the shadow behind the suit of armor that shifted very slightly when the Fat Lady's painting swung open.
When the spell hit her from behind and the world turned black, Lily was aware of two thoughts running through her head: first, recognition of the fact that she had been stunned, and second, that she sincerely hoped James would not notice when she wasn't at the match.
Whoo. If that hurt to read, I can only promise it hurt more to write...maybe it's now clear why this took six months. But I s2g it had to happen like this, and it will be worth it for the Final Sequence (TM). The next chapter is the reason I decided to write this fic.
Thank you so so much to everyone who has reviewed and talked to me about this fic...I swear I love you dearly, even though you may not love me at present. Also HUGE ENORMOUS thank you to vestida-de-verao and magixbeans, without whom this wouldn't exist