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The first time she sees them, actually, is way back in third year, back before things got really messy. It’s before their story really starts, but it’s also after, and it’s also maybe where their stories starts.

The first Quidditch match of the season has Potter walking onto the pitch alongside sixth and seventh year Gryffindors who look much bigger and much more intimidating than he does, but apparently, no one gave him that memo. James Potter looked perfectly gleeful out there, shaking hands with older and bigger players. Lily Evans almost pities him from her place in the stands, poor sod who didn’t know what beating he was about to take from the Slytherins.

Only, Potter doesn’t take a beating. Soon as he’s up in the air, something about him changes. He’s not a tiny third year in over his head, but a strategic Chaser, using his small size to his advantage. He’s tucking and rolling on his broom in ways the older players can’t keep up with and in a way that Lily Evans, who did her research years ago, hasn’t seen in any of the books for Chasers but for Seekers. 

When Lily screamed the last of her voice hoarse, she forgets to be annoyed at the fact that Potter was right all those nights he spent bragging about making it onto the team. When the game is called for Gryffindor by almost double, Lily forgets to care about anything besides how James Potter helped jump Gryffindor leagues ahead for the Cup.

“Good game, Severus,” Lily said jovially, finding him in the crowd headed back to the castle with only a slight spring in her step. “Exciting, wasn’t it?”

“If you call that travesty exciting,” Severus muttered sourly, kicking the ground as he said so. He gave her a sidelong look. “Did you see Potter, galavanting around like that?” 

“Yes, I did,” Lily said, still buzzing, her hoarse voice giving an enthusiastic high-pitched squeak when she said so. “Who knew he actually had reason to brag?”

“Don’t tell me you’re impressed so easily like every other daft girl,” Severus scoffed, his tone harsher than usual. “No talent there but an expensive broom.”

Lily stopped walking. She grabbed the arm of his cloak so that he couldn’t walk away either, fixing him with a serious look.

“That was really mean, Sev.”

“It wasn’t," he rolled his eyes. “I’m just saying it doesn’t make sense for you to— to be impressed or anything like that by Potter.”

Lily dodged his accusation. “Why do you have to be so judgmental all the time?”

“Judgmental?” His eyes sort of flashed at her. “I’m not being judgmental. I’m just reminding you that James Potter’s a prat and you shouldn’t forget that.”

“I know Potter’s a prat. I don’t need to be reminded. All I said was he looked good out there-

“Looked good?” Severus sputtered, his cheeks reddening in anger. Lily’s did so as well, for different reasons. 

“Flying. His flying looked good,” Lily rolled her eyes. “Merlin, Sev, you’re so one-track minded about everything when it comes to him, it’s a wonder you two haven’t offed each other yet.”

“Not for lack of him trying.” He pivoted, leading them back to the castle. “Or did you forget that he and Black exploded my cauldron only yesterday?”

“Of course I haven’t,” Lily comforted. “But Remus told me they were actually aiming at Mulciber’s cauldron, not your’s. Why were you even working with Mulciber? You know how creepy I find him.”

“No worse than you pairing with Potter for the Pepper Up Potion last week.”

“Yes, worse! I told you what Mulciber called me the other day, and Potter’s a giant git, but he’d never say what Mulciber did.”

Severus muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like it’s not a big deal. Lily rounded on him in full force, stepping in front of him, standing taller than he thought he short build would have allowed. 

“Not a big deal?” She hissed back. “Not a big deal for you to hang out with someone who calls me a dirty Mudblood?”

“Potter and Black-”

“Give as good as they get,” Lily cut him off sharply. “I’m not oblivious, Severus, to any of this. You lot have had it out for each other since the start, and he may be obnoxious, but he isn’t cruel like I’m trying to tell you some of your friends are!”

He nearly spat out his next words. “So you’re choosing him over me?”

“What?” Lily blinked, taken aback. “That’s not at all what I’m saying.”

Here’s the thing about trouble— James Potter usually had a pretty good idea about how to find it, and find it he did.

“Evans! Oi, Evans!” Startled by his absolutely awful timing, Lily turned around to see James running to catch up to her, sporting a grin that looked like it could power a switch board, leaving his mates behind. 

Severus sneered at her, the cruelest she’s seen from him yet. “Here’s your blessed chance. Don’t let me get in the way.”

“Sev, wait-“ 

But it was too late. Severus was headed back to the castle, robes billowing behind him. He never dressed in Muggle clothes, even on the weekends. Before she could begin to register what was happening, Potter was there, prattling on. 

“Brilliant game, wasn’t it? Did you see that last goal? Did you see him completely buy my feint?”

He’d neglected to change out of his Quidditch robes, and down here on the ground, James Potter looked a lot more like the thirteen year-old kid she was all too familiar with. He continued, “Could you believe the look on Rosier’s face when the score was called?”

She turned her head from him, opting to look towards the Forbidden Forest instead of his too-vibrant smile. “It was rather disgraceful.”

“Yes, it was- Merlin, Evans, are you crying?”

“No,” Lily lied, furiously swiping at the errant tear Potter noticed. Observant blighter.

“You are,” he stared at her, wide-eyed, almost like a deer caught in headlights. Not that he’d know what headlights are, but Lily could see the resemblance. He gave her now-red eyes a shrewd look, then looked ahead to Severus nearly at the castle, practically radiating his sour mood off in visible rays.

“What did Snape do this time?” Potter asked darkly. 

“Argh, nothing!” Lily lied again, throwing her hands up in the air. “Can I please have one minute where you two aren’t at each other’s throats? Can I have one good day not be ruined by your idiotic spats? Can I please just-”

“Jumping hippogriffs,” Potter cut her off, “Slow down, woman, I’m sorry I asked. I just figured he did something. Ya know, ‘cause he’s awful.” 

“He’s not awful,” Lily defended him. “It’s just that you’re-

“Yeah, yeah, a prat, I know.” He didn’t seem all that bothered by it, just kind of shook it off with a toss of his head. “Forget about Snivellus. Look, my parents came up for the match,” he pointed her attention to his mates, and Lily saw Remus talking politely with an older woman dressed in maroon robes decorated in ornate gold and ruby details, draped like a sari around her. Her hair was peppered with gray, tied back neatly in a thick plait over her shoulder. Sirius was animatedly retelling some sort of tale to an older man looking appropriately amused, donning an expensive looking golden silk. The resemblance in the Potter men— thick dark hair, dark skin, thin nose, thin frame— was uncanny. James continued, “We’re going walk around the Lake. Come. It’ll take your mind off things. Dad’ll bore your ear off with Potions shite.”

“You want me to… you want me to hang out with you and your parents?”

James Potter looked confused, mirroring her tone. “That’s what I said.”

“Well,” Lily stalled. “Why?”

“Why?” His brow knit in further befuddlement. “Well, why not?”

“It’s just…” Oh, he was really going to make her spell it out for him. “It’s just we aren’t friends, Potter.”

“Not friends?” He sounded genuinely shocked. “‘Course we’re friends, Evans!”

Lily stared at him, trying to see the joke on his face before it could go any farther. 

“Last time I checked, friends enjoy each other’s company. Friends don’t purposefully piss off each other.”

“Well, that’s what I like about being your friend,” he smirked, an arrogant thing. “You’re really fun to rile up.”

“Ugh, you are so-“

“Yeah, yeah, awful, I get it,” he waved off again, but his smirk didn’t have the decency to leave his face. Instead it widened almost critically, almost like a grimace. “Suit yourself then, Evans. I was just observing how it seems you could use a reminder of whether you’re a Gryffindor or a House traitor these days.”

But before she could throw a retort at him, he was the one throwing a casual wave over his shoulder, running back to his parents and the other boys. “S’long, Evans!”

Her glare followed him all the way to the Lake.

***

On one of those irresistibly mild autumn days, Lily found herself nestled amongst the roots of one of the willow trees towards the Great Lake. Not that monstrous Womping Willow which had nearly taken out Davey Gudgeon’s eye just a week ago when some first years tried to outsmart its branches, but a lovely, calm thing with hanging curtains of leaves protecting her from the observant gaze of other students.

Most other students, that is. Mary was here, but she had fallen asleep sprawled on the picnic blanket while writing her Transfiguration essay, so she didn’t really count. 

Lily wasn’t doing much better with her own work. Her quill wasn’t writing a brilliant expos é on violence against Goblins in nineteenth century Britain but was instead making absentminded marks up and down her scrap bit of parchment, a symptom of both boredom and frustration with the start of fourth year and the recommencing of her and Sev’s annual tradition to fight upon their return to Hogwarts. 

Sometimes she could calm down enough to see his point, but now…. now his ideas seem more extreme, darker and more real than before. She could see him scribe strange words in the corners of his books and last week he checked out a book on spell crafting from the Restricted Section with a note signed from Slughorn. He got all defensive when Lily told him it was weird and didn’t even smile when she complained about Potter and Black charming all the cushions in the common room to vanish when anyone sat on them. 

She scratched a tear into her parchment from moving her quill and forth too vigorously and decided that Mary had the right idea. She chucked her book to the side and closed her eyes, ready for some peace.

Only to hear an only too familiar voice.

“Ah! Knock it off, would you?”

“Honestly, your father invented Sleak-eazy’s for a reason, James. Do you think you could do him the kindness of trying it out every now and then?”

Lily’s eyes flew open, but she didn’t dare move for fear of being seen. Peaceful Saturday’s by the Lake typically do not include James Potter, and she intended to keep it that way. Turning her head over her shoulder, she could see him and a woman she recognized as his mother walking towards the willow tree as they meandered around the Lake. She had an accent much like James’, one that betrayed wealth, but her voice was warm and inviting despite her teasing tone. Lily could hear James grumble when his mother reached a hand out to wrangle with his hair.

“Mum, stop . I happen to like my hair like this. It’s cool .”

“Sticking up at all angles like you’ve just gotten off your broom?” Lily could hear the smile in her voice. “Tell me, is there someone else who might like your hair like that?”

“I’m leaving, you know. I’ve suddenly lost interest in why you’re here,” James retorted airily, making no effort to pretend to be serious about his claim.

“Coming to watch you practice isn’t reason enough? I’m hurt you could think me duplicitous.”

“You didn’t watch me practice, you and McGonagall gossiped amongst yourselves the whole time.”

“It wasn’t gossip. I was simply reminding Minerva that when we played for the Cup, it was me at the Keeper’s post who made sure she couldn’t pull Gryffindor ahead. It’s a shame you aren’t in Ravenclaw, dear, I’ve always thought you’d do well there.”

“Merlin, no,” James laughed. “Ravenclaw hasn’t had a decent team in centuries. Not since you were playing.”

“Very funny,” Mrs. Potter said in her own lofty tone. “School is more than Quidditch— I know, it took me years to learn, too, but I did— and I was talking about your brains, dear. I’d like to see you use it for more than thinking of new ways to earn detentions. Though,” the smile was back. Lily could see it reach Mrs. Potter’s ears this time, because they’d stopped walking to watch the giant squid go by in the water. “Earning a week for stealing a Transfiguration book from the Library did surprise me. No one can accuse you of not having range.”

“Thanks, Mum,” James deadpanned. “So you came to not watch me practice and to mock my academic interests.”

“Nonsense,” Mrs. Potter continued briskly. “Your impatience is baffling, you know I always tell you what I need to-”

“Which you always take forever to, by the way-”

“I’m here for Dumbledore,” she finally explained. Lily turned herself to get a better view and help her ears hear, still unnoticed. “There’s an upsetting sect of the Governor’s who want to ban Muggleborns from Hogwarts— oh, of course for their protection, they claim,” Mrs. Potter continued when James made an offended noise. Her own voice held some derision in it. “Hogwash. It’s a wonder Sirius came out as decent as he did, given how horrid Orion Black and his cronies can be, hiding behind a sentiment of goodwill.”

“Ban Muggle-borns?” James asked indignantly, his voice rising a few undignified octaves. It would have been funny, if Lily could find breath to laugh, but everything in her was crashing down, thinking about what it will mean to leave Hogwarts, leave magic. James could talk, though. He wasn’t the one at risk, but words still seemed hard for him then. “Ban Muggle-borns? I don’t- they can’t- I don’t understand. They won’t— he won’t do it, right?”

“Of course not,” Mrs. Potter said brusquely. “They don’t have majority, and it’d be easier to roll a dragon up a hill than have Albus Dumbledore ban any type of student from Hogwarts.”

Lily found breathing to be a little easier now. 

“Why’re you here, then, if you don’t need to convince him?”

Mrs. Potter smiled warmly at him. “See, James, this is why I think you could do well in Ravenclaw, you’ve always asked the right questions.”

“Mum, focus.

“I wanted to remind Albus Dumbledore that he still has support on the Governor’s Board despite what Orion Black has been trying to say to The Daily Prophet,” Mrs. Potter said proudly. “And then I wanted to remind him of what ire he’d face from me if I get one more report of a Muggle-born being threatened on school grounds.” 

If Lily weren’t so convinced she was well secluded with Mary under the tree, she would have thought James’ eyes flashed worriedly over to her when his mother spoke. If she weren’t convinced it wasn’t really possible for James Potter to be concerned with anyone besides himself, she would have believed it when he made eye contact with her and held her gaze steady. If she weren’t so convinced James Potter was an arrogant, self-absorbed tosser, it would have occurred to her that he knew what she’d tried to keep secret— and that James Potter is the one who told McGonagall that Rosier had shoved down her and threatened her. Told McGonagall and his mother, two women he trusted to take care of it.

But Lily Evans is convinced that can’t be the case, so she doesn’t realize anything.

His attention was pulled back when Mrs. Potter said, “Minerva was wrong to give you detention for hexing those Slytherins. If you ask me, some words can be just as violent as curses. You were right to fight back.” 

“Ah, she let me off easy, considering,” James defended. Lily was the one who was almost amused now. No one could ever talk too poorly about McGonagall without James defending her, no matter how many times she’d docked points from her own house because of the Marauders. 

“Well, keep up the good work. The Potter name has remained far too proper for far too long. Though your father won’t believe me when I tell him I’m certain he’s got Lovegood in him, which would be properly improper…” She shook her head. “I digress. It’s time it got properly soiled with more of this sort of blood betrayal.”

James smirked. “You’ve been talking to Great Aunt Dorea again?”

“The one and only,” Mrs. Potter grimaced, then resumed walking. “How’s Peter, dear? Remus?”

“Good, and good. Moony’s miffed, though, because he was in the Hospital Wing when we decided to fight Rosier, and he says he always wanted to see a real duel.”

“You know, I’d have also liked to have seen you in Hufflepuff-“

“Mum!” was the last thing Lily could pick up before the crunch of the pebbles beneath their boots overpowered anything else, and then they were gone, mother and son more alike than any pair Lily had seen before.

It was hard to do much of anything after that. Lily followed their figures circle the lake, looping them back towards the castle the long way. 

Lily couldn’t say she was surprised, in the end. Her first year at school was the first year You-Know-Who started making the press, the first year there were killings, and it’d only gotten worse in the years since. The papers were calling it a war now. Aurors were starting to disappear, not just civilian witches and wizards. Wizengamot members were either being threatened or doing the threatening. She had been a fool to think the wave wouldn’t start breaching the walls of the castle. 

If James Potter was staring at her at dinner that evening, she didn’t notice. If Lily Evans was staring back, trying to figure him out, that really wasn’t anyone’s business.

***

Lily Evans had a lunar chart in her bag, stuffed to the bottom, hidden beneath her Charms homework with two bars of Honeyduke’s chocolate she’d been hoarding. She tried to let the echoes of the empty hallways bring her some kind of peace, but she couldn’t escape the nagging sensation that Severus was right. 

Not that it would matter to her, of course. 

It was a full moon. Remus Lupin missed patrol. 

But that could be any reason, couldn’t it? Remus was just usually better at rescheduling himself on the prefect’s schedule when he needed to, but O.W.L.S. were just around the corner, and they all had so much to worry about…

Even if Severus were right, it wouldn’t matter in the least. Whatever she found out tonight was meant to inform, because if Lily Evans was going to lie to Severus, she needed to know what parts of the truth to keep hidden. Another part of tonight was simply meant to help out a friend, because she knew a thing or two about what it felt like to be an outsider at school and every inch of her wanted to help Remus Lupin feel just a little more normal. 

Strange how comforting a Marauder had her acting like one, taking her out of bed at midnight. She smirked to herself. Remus wasn’t the only prefect who could learn to bend the rules.

The quiet of the castle was disturbed and panic flared in Lily’s chest, fearing the worst because she doesn’t sneak out like this and is afraid of consequences like Filch or Peeves or Mrs. Norris— but it wasn’t any of them. Coming from the corner in front of the headmaster’s office, which she’d already been dreading passing, was something even more troubling than anyone who could get her in trouble. Creeping closer, Lily Evans registered two things: she knew that voice and knew she’d never heard it sound quite like that before. 

Poking her head around the corner to see just beyond it, she sees James Potter’s back turned to her, his shoulders tense, one hand in his hair, not to ruffle, but to pull. His mother was there as well. 

“He’s in there now,” James was muttering. “Mum, please, you have to do something.”

“I’ll do my best.” Her round eyes were pulled down in concern. “But James, he— I mean, it was dangerous—”

“I know, I know, I know, but he can’t be expelled. You know that, you know he can’t be sent back there.”

“We do know,” said another voice around the corner, deeper, not unlike James’. “But the damage may already be done.”

“Nothing we can’t fix! I’ll make sure he doesn’t— that he never—

Whatever James says next is indiscernible. Lily has the distinct, heart wrenching realization that the cough she hears next is more like a sob. James Potter was crying.

She knew she needed to walk away. She knew she needed to abandon this, to completely turn the opposite direction and dart back to the Gryffindor tower, but her feet just weren’t moving.

“Go to bed, James,” Mrs. Potter was saying. Smart woman. Her voice also sounded muffled and watery. “You’ve done more than enough. What you did tonight was wonderful and brave. You must be exhausted.”

“We’re very proud of you.”

There was a long pause. When James spoke again, his voice sounded more stable, though no less desperate. “Don’t let anything happen to him, Mum. Dad. Please .”

“Leave it to us to worry about. Go wait in the tower and he’ll be along soon as he can.”

“Right. Okay. Droobles,” James said, which was baffling enough, but it was followed by a loud noise, the sound of stone turning and rumbling that drowned out whatever else was happening. Lily strained her ears but couldn’t distinguish any conversation, couldn’t make out any other noise, except for the sounds of footsteps coming closer and closer and—

Lily Evans tried very hard to pretend like she hadn’t heard far more than she should have, to pretend like it was perfectly reasonable for her to be walking this path of the corridors at midnight when James Potter suddenly and completely collided into her. 

“Oh, blistering fuck— would you— Evans?” James’ face passed almost comically quickly between shock, confusion, and anger, but Lily couldn’t find it in herself to be amused rather than feel rather ashamed in this moment. It was dark, but she could see his eyes were tinted red. “What are you doing here?”

Truth was usually better than a lie, and here she’s got a half-truth already prepared. “I’m bringing Remus some chocolate.”

He looked at her sharply. “Why?”

“He wasn’t on patrol,” she said, another truth. ”I couldn’t sleep. He’s in the Hospital Wing, right?”

“He’s—” James looked strained. James Potter looked more stressed than she’d ever seen him look. “Yeah. Hospital Wing. Whatever. Give it to me, Evans, I’ll take it to him.”

She pulled her bag away from his swiping hand, not wanting him to see the chart she had hidden away. She narrowed her eyes at him, trying to figure him out, trying to make sense of him, as she had tried time and time again to no avail. 

“I’ll bring it myself, thank you,” Lily stepped back, looking at him carefully, weighing what risks she could take. “Unless there’s a reason I shouldn’t?”

James narrowed his eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing at all,” Lily shrugged. “I was just asking in case you wanted to save me a trip to the Hospital Wing that could have Gryffindor lose its lead in the Cup so close to end of term.”

“You’re talking to me about points right now?” He shook his head derisively, brushing past her without a second glance. “You’re just as bad as Snape sometimes, sticking your nose in business you’ve no reason to.”

Lily grabbed his retreating arm. She felt it go tense beneath her grip, but he didn’t turn to face her.

“Remus is my friend,” Lily said to his back, less defensive than she had expected, soft and sincere in her tone, trying to get through to James, because seeing him look this exhausted is a strangely upsetting thing to her right now. “Really, Potter. I’m asking because I care.”

“Care?” James repeated angrily, turning his head over his shoulder to glower at her. “ Care ? If you cared about Remus, you’d get your blessed friend Snivellus to back off stalking him, following his every movement. If you were his friend you wouldn’t be friends with Snape, but look at where we are after years of me telling you so.”

“They aren’t mutually exclusive!” She hissed, aware that James was speaking too loudly into the echoing stone halls. “Life isn’t so simple like that!”

“Oh, but it is, Lily,” his eyes flashed at her, a vicious thing, sharp like a knife. “I’ve never understood it. I’ve never understood why someone as smart as you could be such an absolute idiot- No ,“ he cut off her angry interjection, continuing. “No, I’m not going to be lectured by you of all people about him of all people. Not tonight.” In this fit of firsts, she’d never seen him so worked up, taking the single stride he needs to stand right over her, squared up in a match of equal egos. “You either like what Snape does or you don’t. You either see him as a Dark magic idealizer, a Voldemort supporter, or you don’t. You’re either a friend to Remus, or you aren’t. You’re either a friend to Mary or your bloody fucking self , or you aren’t.” 

Then he was walking away before she can recover enough to cut back. With one last wavering glare at her, James Potter left her with one more thing to figure out. 

“He’s picked his side. Haven't you?”

***

Professor Slughorn knew how to throw a party better than anyone she knew. The one thing he could do better than a party was his Christmas party, an extravagant affair by even Slug Club standards. There were paid waiters serving pixie eggs in a fine cranberry sauce, roasted duck and pheasant dressed with herbs from Professor Sprout’s personal garden, and Butterbeer, fairy wine, Ogden’s Old, and other drinks she didn’t recognize that were smoking or glowing or bubbling merrily in one fashion or another.

The only problem with the Slug Club Christmas Party was how it was still, well, the Slug Club. And this year had been a particularly poor year for her in the Club without being able to rely on Severus’ company. Mary had never been invited, and the only other Gryffindors she knew with invitations never took Slughorn up on the offer. That meant that the walk alone from the tower in her dress robes, a lovely dark navy velvet ensemble with constellations sewn into its hem, felt a little ridiculous. 

But that’s what happened and this was where she was, grabbing a goblet of wine from a waiter who conveniently didn’t ask for her age, and trying to decipher what conversation was safest for her to enter. Cornelia Cornwall, seventh year Ravenclaw, was talking to a woman wearing Ministry robes she didn’t recognize and an older man she— oh no, an older man she did recognize. Lily panicked, turned right around, but over her shoulder was— oh no.

Severus was coming this way, tripping over his too-long dress robes, and Lily Evans was left with no other option. Turning quickly away from Severus before he can say her name, she marched right up to Cornelia Cornwall and who she was obviously schmoozing for connections. 

With one large stride and one large sip from her goblet, Lily intruded with a timid, “Mr. Potter?”

Fleamont Potter jumped a little, turning around to face her. Cornelia blinked a little, then gave a blank grin at her.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. My name is—”

“Lily Evans,” he smiled warmly at her. The resemblance between the Potter men was rather remarkable. James was taller than his father, who was rather hunched, but the narrow nose, hazel eyes, playful smile… all the same. “I’ve been told me all about you. You’ve a knack for brewing, I hear.”

“Er, yes,” Lily confirmed. “Then I guess you must already know that I know—”

“My son,” Mr. Potter finished. “I’m rather sorry about that, I must say.” 

Lily tried to moderate her amused smile to a more polite thing. “Oh, no, he really isn’t that— he’s not… well, thank you,” she laughed, seeing Mr. Potter laugh amiably with her with the attitude of a man who clearly adored his son and who clearly received one too many letters home from school. 

“Who, James?” Cornelia asked politely, though rather unnecessarily. “I also know him, Mr. Potter, he’s a good student. ”

“Then you must not know him very well,” Mr. Potter chuckled, pulling out an intricate looking pipe that he lit with a tap of his wand. “Least he could be a good student, if he weren’t in detention every other day.”

“Your boy, in detention?” That was the Ministry witch. Lily thought her robes to be from the Department of Mysteries. She shook her head ruefully, a playful smile on her lips. “Why am I not surprised, Fleamont?” She reached out her hand to Lily. “Hestia Jones. Any friend of the Potter’s is a friend of mine.”

Lily took it tentatively, smiling politely to bite back the automatic response in her about how she and Potter aren’t friends , just... friendly. Friendly but maybe more. Maybe. More? Is it hot in here? She took another sip of her drink. 

Cornelia grabbed a glass of smoking Ogden’s from a passing waiter. “Well, James and Sirius Black do have quite a thing going for them. If it’s any comfort, Mr. Potter, they’re really very funny when they want to be. You should have seen how they charmed a pumpkin jumper onto Peeves for Halloween.”

“Must have been a devil of a feat,” Hestia Jones snorted. “I thought Dumbledore would have gotten rid of Peeves when he was instated— I had just graduated, it wasn’t all that long ago, after all— But I guess Dumbledore is always up for a laugh.” 

“Rather so,” Mr. Potter agreed. He had to speak up as a band started playing something jaunty with bells in the background. “Something he and James share. Actually, I understood he was supposed to be here tonight.” 

“Dumbledore?” Hestia asked with interest.

“Ah! No, no, James, dear.”

“Just as well,” Hestia said. “I can remind him he’s always welcome in my department should he choose to work instead of play.” Lily snorted into her goblet. She couldn’t imagine a James Potter opting to write reports over playing Quidditch. “Euphemia says he plans to go professional?”

“Yes!” Fleamont Potter squeaked importantly, puffing smoke from his pipe with a little too much enthusiasm, brimming with pride. “Yes, but I can’t keep track of who he says will start scouting (too much in the old thinker nowadays it seems), he’ll have to explain when he gets here.” 

Lily tried to hide her amusement and some level of pity for the poor man, feeling bad about having to break reality to him. “Oh, no, I’m sorry but Pot— James doesn’t usually come to these things.”

“Doesn’t come to what things?”

Eyes going wide, Lily Evans turned around too late to rediscover James Potter’s ability to find and/or cause trouble in the most unnecessary of ways. Standing right behind her in fine silk dress robes, high collared and neatly pressed, and looking more put together than she’d ever seen him, Potter also found it in him to look innocent about it all, staring back at her curiously. Black was right beside him, donning dress robes with the air of someone who had been born to look as good as he does in them, sharp features matching the sharp seams in his tux-like ensemble. 

“Perfect timing!” Fleamont exclaimed with a small jump, beaming up at his son. “James, tell Hestia which of those scouts have written back…”

Lily was happy for the break, listening to James talk about Puddlemere United and the Foulmouth Falcons with a great level of enthusiasm. She could have listened to him prattle on happily for longer, had Sirius Black not muttered under his breath just for her to hear, “Staring much, Evans?”

She jumped, turning her head to see him add a rather pleased grin to his wardrobe of things that looked good on him. Lily had the urge to slap it off. 

“I don’t know what you mean,” she tried to lie off innocently, wondering if letting Snape talk to her earlier would have been better than being caught in the illicit act of staring. 

Stupid bugger looking stupidly fit, ruining a term’s worth of successful repression of this strange new fascination with all the inner and outer workings of James Potter. 

“Merlin, playing it cool?” He laughed quietly, too practiced in not being caught in conversation in class for others to rescue her from this. “You’ve got it worse than I thought.”

Lily tried to rejoin the group, turning away from him, hissing out of the corner of her mouth, “I do not .”

“You do too .”

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

“Oh, very mature,” Lily huffed, working to figure out what Cecilia was telling Hestia Jones so she could get back into safer territory.

“Maturity would be telling him,” Sirius said. “You really want me to be mature?”

Lily abandoned subtly. She elbowed Sirius in the side with all the force she could muster.

“Oof, madwoman, I was only—”

Sirius ,” Mr. Potter cut across the group, as all eyes were now on Sirius and Lily, who tried to paint her features into a neutral expression under James’ watchful gaze. “Son. Could you please leave Miss Evans alone so we can return to civil dialogue?”

“Why’re you singling out me ?” Sirius asked with all the indignation suiting a man framed for murder. “I was just trying to ask Evans if she needs to visit Madame Pomfrey since it seems she can’t see things that are right in front of her eyes, when she attacked me.”

“Oh, I’m sure she had good reason.”

Lily beamed, a smug grin taking over her face. “Thank you, Mr. Potter.”

“Kiss-arse,” Sirius muttered petulantly. Lily made to slam her foot onto his toe. He pretended not to notice. 

James’s eyes darted between Sirius, Lily, and his father before settling on hers, his expression filled with concern. “Anything the matter? Do you need to go to Pomfrey?”

“Yeah, Evans, anything you want to tell us?” Sirius Black asked, prompting Lily to wonder what part of him had such a huge death wish that he wouldn’t let this go.

“Nothing at all, just that I wanted to hear a little more about the Department of Mysteries,” she covered with one last glare that Sirius returned with an impish grin. “I’m thinking of applying to the Ministry after graduation, something in experimental brewing…”

Safer territory. Hestia Jones had to remain tight-lipped about her work, but Mr. Potter had story after story to tell about experimental potion making and product design, something that immensely bored James and Sirius and finally Hestia Jones and Cornelia Cornwall soon afterwards. Eventually Mr. Potter was called away to another group and Lily’s left alone again with a hurried “Oh, one second, my dear, Archibald is supposed to know a good de-knomer…” as he wobbled off. 

Lily talked to a flying carpet merchant, a biographer and magical creatures researcher, and someone who claimed she knew the alchemist Nicholas Flamel. She dodged Severus talking sullenly to Lucius Malfoy, who graduated five years ago, and landed right in front of James Potter with two Butterbeers in his hand. He extended one out to her.

“You got my dad to side with you over Sirius after only just meeting him,” Potter said. She had to strain her neck a little to really see his impressed grin. He’d grown too tall over the last few months. “Dad takes Sirius’ side over mine more times than not.”

“What can I say?” Lily grinned widely, feeling more than just her few sips of Butterbeer flutter warmly in her stomach. “I’m a charmer.”

He laughed fondly. “That you are, Evans. I’d be mad about it if I weren’t already trying to figure out how to use it for good.”

“Good?” She quipped an eyebrow in question. “By ‘good,’ you mean…?”

“Maraudering, escapading, seeing how you can help us leave this god awful party early without him ratting me out to my mother.” Sometimes it was hard to look at him when he beamed like that, the corner of his lip pulling up arrogantly or dashingly or both. “You know. Good.”

“Should have guessed,” Lily shook her head. “Where is Black, anyway? He’s usually plastered to your side.”

“Having a smoke outside. He can’t stomach these things. Only came ‘cause Dad was coming.”

“They’re close,” she commented mildly.

“Makes me miss being the only one,” Potter confirmed, sighing wistfully. “I used to get all the attention.”

“Really? It never showed.”

“Oh, laugh it up, Evans,” he didn’t bother to mock looking hurt. Just keep smiling at her like that. All teeth. Too white. Too bold. “Anyway, what would you know? Aren’t you an only child?”

Lily had never been more grateful to see Professor Slughorn saunter over, his face ruddy with brandy and holiday cheer, talking animatedly with Mr. Potter, saving her from James’ knack at prodding.

“James, my boy!” Slughorn called jovially. “Knew I’d get you to one of these things sooner or later. Knew I could prove it a good time! Ah, and Lily Evans!” He looked like Father Christmas, red nose and big belly and maybe too much spirit. “Monty, have you met Lily Evans? Brightest witch of her age, I tell you, and a sharp sort of humor, too!”

“I have!” Mr. Potter squeaked. He also seemed to have found some holiday spirits. “A proud time to be a Gryffindor, Horace.”

“Gryffindor’s been getting a little too much glory lately,” Slughorn said, wagging a finger at James. “Another good season for you, it seems. Try to leave some room for my Slytherins in the Cup, eh? Regulus is a good Seeker, I’d like to see his pro chances improve.”

James smiled politely back. It was more like a grimace, but the effort was there. The band started back up in the background, with students and guests alike moving to its sophisticated, other-worldly sound.

“It’s a shame we sort so early,” Slughorn was saying. “I’ve told you this before, Lily, I think you’d have done well in my House.”

James nearly spit out his drink, recovering only a little bit of his dignity before commenting, “ Evans? In Slytherin? Are you mad—?”

“I think I could have done well in Slytherin,” Lily said evenly, trying to save James from outright insulting a professor. “If only to make it that much easier to hex them in their beds with access to those dorms."

“Ah, there’s that cheek,” Slughorn sighed dramatically. “It’s a lost cause. Besides, Monty, if the talk I hear in the staff room is accurate— and I have pretty good reason to believe it to be—  you’re looking at the two leading contenders for Head Boy and Girl right here.”

James’ entire face fell dramatically, looking like he’d been slapped. 

“Indeed!” Mr. Potter hiccuped excitedly. “James, you never mentioned!”

“There’s nothing to mention,” he said, a dazed, horrified look still on his face, voice strained. “Evans is the prefect. Don’t drag me into this.”

“Indeed,” Slughorn confirmed for Mr. Potter, ignoring James’ protests. Lily was too concerned with trying to hide her immense pride at being considered for Head student to rescue him this time. “Well, you know what Dumbledore thinks about students right now, and how—“ Maybe Lily and James looked a little too eager to be privy to this, because Slughorn cast a wary glance at them and then Mr. Potter before stalling. “Well, you know—“

Then Mr. Potter did something to prove that his progeny made sense. Without a thought for her sanity or that of his son, Mr. Potter waved them off with, “James, why don’t you and Lily go make use of the band while Horace and I chat?”

The band, who was playing enchanting music that sounded like a waltz. Enchanting music that triggered Lily’s fight-or-flight response. 

Same thing seemed to have happened to James, who said warningly, “Dad-”

“Oh, no, I-” Lily sputtered. 

“We’ll catch up later!” was all the acknowledgement Mr. Potter gave to their protests as he took their drinks from their hands. Lily felt a foreboding sort of sinking in her stomach as her fate was sealed when he physically pushed them towards the dance floor. She mindlessly followed James, or was rather led by him, his hand at the small of her back.

Somewhere on the walk over, she felt him mutter in her ear, “Back out if you want, Evans.”

She doesn’t. Here with him, it’s her hand on his shoulder, her hand wrapped around his free hand. His hand, still, at the small of her back. Front to front, too close, he’ll see right through her kind of close, not close enough. 

When the music resumed, Lily learned another surprising fact about the inner and outer workings of James Potter. He’d been taught this wizard’s waltz. He steps forward and she steps back, he goes left and she goes right, he pulls her close and she’s already there.

“So,” Lily started. She hoped she sounded casual, sounded like the fact that his hand was at her back wasn’t bothering her at all, “James Potter, Head Boy?”

James laughed. It wasn’t fair, because it didn’t seem like he was distracted by her. “Merlin, I hope he’s joking,” James muttered to her, a little closer to her ear than Lily thought strictly necessary. She’d never truly admired how tall he’d grown or how that meant she could basically tuck her head right beneath his chin if she wanted to. He continued, “I have a reputation to uphold.”  

“Well, think about it,” Lily mused, taking her time. It was harder to think with him so near, with them casually rocking back and forth like this. Neither of them really looked at each other, preoccupied with how his chin kept ghosting above her head, half convinced he could lay his chin on her head, half convinced she’d flay him alive if he did. Lily wouldn’t. She just asked, “Who else?”

“Remus,” James said without a pause.

Lily shook her head. “Both you and Sirius rank above him, not considering any Ravenclaws. Besides,” she lowered her voice, speaking low so no one could overhear. Speaking low so she had an excuse to lean her chin on James’ shoulder and whisper directly in his ear, “We both know he won’t be named Head Boy even if he deserved so.”

James tensed below her grip, beneath the pressure of her chest brushing his, but didn’t deny it. They swayed together in silence a few minutes, moving in sync to the rhythm of their own thoughts.

Somewhere in those thoughts, Lily wondered what sort of charm the band had put on their instruments to make dancing feel like this, to make her feel this good in the sway of the music and in this small enclosure of his arms . She can’t see his too bright, too bold smile. Instead she feels the too good, too right jolt of recognition between her touch and his, like she had just been biding time until this first moment, wondering when, if ever, they’d connect again. 

James chuckled after a while, a pleasant sort of sound, a deep, reverberating noise that radiated from his whole body into hers. It really wasn’t fair, his palm against her hip bone, his long fingers reaching back, a nice thing, a heavy thing. “You. In Slytherin. Old man’s losing it.”

She found herself smiling up at him teasingly. “I don’t know. Cunning? Ambition? You could do well there, as well.”

“Thanks,” he said grimly, not meeting her eyes or her smirk. “But I’d really rather die.”

That’s the James Potter she’s coming to know a little bit better, one who is black and white when it comes to these things, one who hasn’t had to navigate for his survival in the wizarding world the same way she has. This James is all fists and big ideas and act-now-think-later movements, blatantly discrediting any of the protection his background would have afforded him in these times. This James is one she likes, one she thinks could do bigger things than play Quidditch. 

“Seems a little petty to die over a bit of green and silver,” she commented, wanting to stay away from where he’s leading them, chin back on his shoulder. “So extreme.”

“Not more extreme than half the Slytherin’s nowadays.”

“That’s fair,” Lily said. She didn’t want to say anymore. She didn’t want to think about how the war found itself in these castle walls, fought not with curses but words and the spreading of an ideology, fought through the disintegration of trust and friendships. Muggle-borns were left questioning which students, or even professors, wanted them dead. Muggle-borns were left questioning which of their pureblood friends would care what happened to them when they ended up dead, which was happening more and more as the months of fear grew into years of terror. 

Lily Evans did not want to think about that. Lily Evans just wanted to be a teenager dancing with a boy she fancied for the first time.

The music stopped, and so did their waltz, but not the dance they’ve been doing around each other for forever now. They leave the party without any good-bye’s, James Potter escorting Lily Evans through the dungeons and up the stairs. There’s a sort of buzzing quality in the air between them, something that Lily attributes to the music she can still hear in her head, something that James attributes to the vivacity always radiating off her, something that neither want to allow themselves to hope the other feels just as strongly.

“What was Sirius on about earlier?” James asked through the haze. “About you needing to go to Hospital Wing?”

“Oh,” She shrugged, trying to lie. He’s all teeth again, teasing, light. He’s too much at once, like always. “Nothing at all. Don’t worry about it.”

“Alright,” James said, but he didn’t sound convinced of it, even though he was still looking at her like that. “If it is something… you’ll tell me, right?”

“Yeah,” Lily lied easily, trying to imagine a world where she could be honest with James Potter about how she felt about him. “Of course.”

“Good,” he nodded. They reached the Great Hall, but instead of following her up the stairs to the tower, James moved towards the east wing. Just beyond his shoulder, she could see the other boys waiting for him. Sirius had changed out of his dress robes into jeans and a black leather jacket, smoking a cigarette. Remus and Peter were waiting too, looking down at a piece of parchment without noticing her. 

“Where’re you off to?” She asked, pushing down her disappointment that this seemed to be the end of their evening.

James shrugged casually. “I told you, Evans. I’ve a reputation .”

“So you’re…?”

“Making sure you don’t get too attached to the idea of me being Head Boy. Just so I can let you down easy.”

“Right. Thanks for that, then.”

His smile matched hers. Playful, teasing, pleased. 

“Night, Lily.”

“Night, James.”

***

There was really something to be said about James Potter’s proclivity for trouble-making. Lily Evans had never been more grateful for that particular character trait of his, as it meant he knew of all the hidden nooks and crannies in the castle for hiding or for… other things.

Here in this broom closet on the hidden corridor of the sixth floor is one of those other things, nothing but the sensation of a mop pressing into her back and James’ hands in her hair, her hands in his hair, letting him overwhelm her. Her space is filled with nothing but him, all body and shoulders and hands and hips, fingers tracing static across her skin, lips eliciting forth the sensation of being numb to the world and being too alive all at once.

Buttons were really an inconvenient thing, when one thought too long of them, but Lily prided herself in her dexterity with both wand work and buttons, looping her hands around him back, nails scratching lightly along the skin there. The smile of his kiss turned into a moan she proudly took in and he seemed to move to counter that, moving his hands lower. Lily thinks she could spend forever in moments like this one until—

The door flung open. The dark of the broom closet was replaced with too bright light and—

“Ah,” Euphemia Potter said evenly, like this was some curiosity she happened upon frequently. She adjusted her glasses smartly. “Sirius was right. I’ll have to tell him.”

“Mum!” James squeaked, jumping as far away from Lily as the supply cupboard would allow, moving to re-button his shirt. Lily grabbed at her hair, trying to smooth it down, trying to look like she wasn’t doing exactly what she was doing. She was immensely thankful her shirt was still on. 

“Yes, hello, James,” Mrs. Potter clipped back, then smiled fondly at Lily, who had smoothed down the creases in her skirt by then. “You must be Lily. We’ve not had the pleasure.”

“Er, yes,” she said awkwardly, stepping out so she could shake Mrs. Potter’s hand, but she was instead pulled into a hug, full bodied and comforting. Mrs. Potter pulled away, holding Lily at arm’s length, scanning her over with warm brown eyes.

“Of course, Fleamont said you were absolutely lovely when he met you last year— I couldn’t go, we were having a summit at the Ministry on Muggle-relations— and I’ve been looking forward to meeting you since. Sirius says you’re Gryffindor as well? James hasn’t told me anything, ungrateful boy, I didn’t know he was even seeing anyone.”

“What— what’re you doing here?” His cheeks and ears were still tinted red, mortification lacing every word. Least he was dressed now.

“The Governor’s Dinner, James. The thing I wrote you about? The thing I asked you to meet me for?”

He rubbed the back of his neck abashedly. “That was today?”

“Yes, dear,” Mrs. Potter said somewhat critically, but then her lips pulled up in a twinkling smile. “I daresay you had other things on your mind.”

Not having a lot left to hide in front of Mrs. Potter, Lily narrowed her eyes at James, hissing out, “Why did Sirius know where we are?”

He looked strained, muttering back, “Long story. I didn’t think about the, uh… I didn’t tell him!” 

“Keeping secrets from Sirius!” She grabbed James by the cheeks, a mean feat, considering her height, and maneuvered his face back and forth as if looking for signs of an imposter or a sick man. “What has gotten into you?”

“We were trying to keep things under wraps,” James said, voice pulled, his cheeks and ears still glowing with a faint red as he pulled away from her manhandling. 

“Whatever for?” Mrs. Potter asked, throwing away his protest with a simple flick of her wrist. “Life is short, and I am old, and I would like to be the kind of mother who knows such things about her son!” James flinched a little bit under the critical gaze of his mother. Lily had the distinct impression that he was ill equipped to face any real ire from her. Mrs. Potter smiled again at Lily and said, “Of course, I’m not upset at you, dear. I’m sure you just wanted your privacy. Can’t be too careful these days.”

“Isn’t that what I just said—”

Mrs. Potter ignored him, starting to walk. “Come, Lily, and tell me more about yourself. Of course Albus made glowing remarks at dinner, but I’d like the unfiltered version, please. What does your family do? Who’re your friends, and are they well? Is everything okay for you at school? No trouble with you being Head Girl? Oh, what a stir it gave the likes of Aristella Montague…”

James was left trailing behind, trying and failing to defend himself while his mother ravished over Lily all the way down to the Great Hall before she began the trek back to Hogsmeade to Apparate home. 

James shut the door to the Entrance Hall shut with finality, then marched past Lily, beelining for the stairs. 

“Where’re you off to?” Lily exclaimed, startled.

He threw the word over his shoulder, refusing to divert from his path as she jogged to catch up, explaining with a simple “Padfoot.”

“Oh no, not without me,” Lily warned, stopping him with a pull on his sleeve.

He looked at him impatiently. “Then come along, Evans,” he said, as if she were daft. “We’ve a rotten best mate to hex.”

“And we will,” she promised, staying in place as James carried on with his revenge fantasy. “But I rather thought we’d finish what we had started before.”

James found it in himself to listen to her (not a hard thing to do, when she had such great ideas). He also found it was not a very hard thing to do when he climbed onto Sirius’ bed as he was sleeping and transformed into Prongs right there, earning a well deserved scream of terror and non-fatal amounts of crushing and wrestling that ended with bed curtains on fire (Peter’s) and Butterbeers and chocolates (Remus’) to accompany James’ excited confessional about how yes , Lily Evans does actually fancy him, he has proof this time, and yes, he knows he could have said so earlier, and yes, if it were possible he’d like to find a way to memory charm his mother and himself into forgetting the events of the sixth floor broom closet, but they may as well start off trying by getting sloshed.

***

He loved his job. He did. It’s just that Arthur Weasley did not get paid enough for this. 

He expected grown men. He’d expected trouble, seeing the name Black, even if the name Potter didn’t make sense for his department. He’s expected burly and sour wizards, not these two boys looking entirely too amused at everything, given the circumstances. But then the circumstances did change, it seems, as soon as he found out he was headed to Godric’s Hollow and as soon as he walked around a charming cottage to find the whole Potter family present and then some. 

“Got a report in,” Arthur announced with some authority after announcing his name and station, pulling open the low fence so he could join them in the yard. “About a giant, flying Muggle motorbike that was seen by some Muggle please-men.”

He nodded respectfully to those he did recognize. “Mr. Potter. Mrs. Potter.”

“Good to see you, Arthur!” Fleamont Potter called from his chair under the shade of the awning, toasting a glass of lemonade at Arthur. “Knew you’d come around one of these days.”

The young woman there sitting with the elderly Potter’s (he wondered if she were a Prewitt he didn’t know about) set down her book and narrowed her eyes at the young Indian wizard he assumed was James Potter. 

“You said no one had seen you!”

Running a hand through his thick hair, he thought carefully, “Er, well, now that you mention…”

Sirius Black (also young, also not what he expected in Muggle jeans and a thick leather jacket), matched his pondering. “We may have…”

“Forgotten?”

“Forgotten,” Black nodded smartly. 

“Forgotten to memory charm the please-men.”

Arthur nodded. “According to witnesses, you consorted with Death Eaters, yelled a strange word— was it magic? That’s a whole different story if so— and attacked the please-men’s car before fleeing the scene.”

“Consorted?” Black said with offense, as if that were the most important part of what Arthur had said. “Consorted? Good sir, we were not consorting, were we, James?”

“I’m afraid not, good sir,” Potter said, miraculously keeping a straight face.

“Oh, Merlin and Morgana,” the young woman swore. “Not this bit. Anything but this bit.”

Next to her, Mr. Potter snorted into his drink. Mrs. Potter looked amused, more so than her embroidery would have warranted. Arthur felt his cheeks turn red, getting himself worked up.

“Now, really, this is no laughing matter! You’ve been seen with known Death Eaters, using magic in front of Muggles and threatening the International Statute of Secrecy, all while flying an illegally magicked Muggle artifact.” He walked up to the bike, leaning down so we could inspect it’s engine and gears up close— for professional investigation, of course. “This is the enchanted bike, then?”

“Enchanted and enchanting, Mr. Weasley, would you like to see what she can do?”

“It can really fly?” Arthur said, walking a circle around the bike. Black had a greasy rag thrown over the shoulder of his jacket, smirking arrogantly as Arthur ran his hand over the complicated looking Muggle invention. Those Muggles, always surprising him with the most delightful sort of things in the most delightful shapes! This thing looked nothing like a broom or a carpet, though he supposed it must be their version of a broom, skinny and long and really only suited for one person.

 From behind him, he heard the girl say, “James, love, can you please explain that you are not a Death Eater to the poor man before you’re shipped off to Azkaban?”

“Right,” Arthur stood up, clearing his throat, remembering his purpose. “Do you deny the charges?”

Black just scoffed, squatting down to look at the engine, taking the rag off his shoulder and picking up a long metal stick with a mouth at the end that he used to tighten different knobs on the bike. Ah, Muggle tools! But he mustn’t get distracted.

“We weren’t with Yaxley and his crew,” Potter said, sparing his friend a look of reproach for ignoring the question. “ They cornered us. It was rotten luck the please-men thought we were miscreants— I’ve no idea why, of course,” he said innocently, but Arthur was left with the distinct impression that these boys were miscreants, just not murderers. “They were poking their nose in business that wasn’t theirs. We didn’t expect the Death Eaters to follow us and, well, forgot about the Muggles after we took off. Honest, Mr. Weasley,” he added at the end, sounding sincere enough, sounding serious enough. 

“Well,” Arthur oscillated, taking in the new information. “I can hardly believe you a Death Eater, Mr. Potter.”

“I’d hope not!” Fleamont called out. “I’m much too old for that hoopla nowadays.”

“The other Mr. Potter, Mr. Potter.”

“Ah! Right, then. James, are you a Death Eater?”

“Not to my knowledge. Lily, do you know if I’ve decided to join Voldemort’s ranks yet?”

“I don’t think so. You would have put it on the calendar,” she remarked, casual as could be. Then she added, to Arthur, who was busy trying to not rip his hair out as he suspected Molly wouldn’t be pleased if he sped along his balding process, “It’d be a real shock to the system if he were, Mr. Weasley, as he’s recently been married to a Muggle-born; he’d have my ire to face before magical law enforcement could ever dream to get involved. I’d really rather not regret a short-lived marriage.”

Married! These kids couldn’t be out of Hogwarts more than a year, Arthur thought. The times were doing crazy things to a whole generation of witches and wizards, acting like the world could end at any moment. Then again, that’s how he felt as well, and look at him and Mollywobbles....

“Regret?” James asked his wife, a teasing tone in his voice. “Please, Evans, you couldn’t live without me and you know it.”

“Maybe so, but I’d rather not have to test that theory out with you casually breaking the Statute of Secrecy.”

“You were fighting the Death Eaters, you say?” Arthur asked curiously. “What’s a couple of kids like you two doing fighting Death Eaters?”

“More than the Ministry, I’d say,” Sirius Black muttered quietly, looking up from his mechanical work to give him a look of disdain that held more truth than Arthur wanted to acknowledge. 

James Potter just shrugged. “Boredom?”

“Fun?” Sirius added, sounding a little less sour.

“Pride?”

“Sport?” Now Sirius had on a wide smile across his too-sharp face.  

“Oh, that’s good.” James nodded in approval, then smiled widely at Arthur. “I guess just for the hell of it, sir.”

Their identical grins reminded him of Gideon and Fabian, and even more foreboding, his own sons. He didn’t want to think of where that might lead. 

“Took care of them good,” Sirius continued, still with the tool in his hand. Arthur desperately wanted to know its name. “Tell me, Mr. Weasley, have you seen Macnair return to work yet? I expect he’s still nursing his wounds, the old creep.”

What these boys were doing knowing the Death Eaters was another concerning matter. He’d have to talk to Alastor next time he got the chance to see if he knew about Yaxley and Macnair, but talking to Alastor was always such a to-do… Mr. Weasley looked between James and Sirius, the latter having no problem outing wizards connected to his family, and then to the elder Potter’s and Lily, and decided it was no longer worth his time to be interrogating one of the few good wizarding families left these days.

There were more important tasks for the Ministry to focus on now besides needlessly punishing a couple of kids holding their own against Dark wizards. Arthur sighed dramatically, hoping to make it seem like a difficult thing, like a favor to let them go in case any of his superiors heard. “As for the Statute of Secrecy violation…. The Muggles have been identified, we’ve destroyed the wrecked vehicle, and modified memories accordingly. Let’s say all’s well that ends well, shall we?” 

“We shall!” James agreed enthusiastically, shaking Arthur’s hand with the same energy, like he’d just won a sports game. Rather quickly, he was kneeling before the bike with Sirius, conversation and Arthur forgotten, saying petulantly, “You were supposed to let me adjust the chains.” 

“Stay for tea, Arthur?” Fleamont asked, waving his wand without waiting for Arthur’s answer, levitating the teapot tantalizingly in the air.

“Oh, if you insist,” Arthur said, settling down in the cool shade and cool conversation. He discovered the Lily Potter was friendly and cutting at the same time, Fleamont as genial as he’d ever known him to be, and Euphemia still active in the Muggle-relations Committee, which reminded him—

“Mrs. Potter,” Author started, then regretted, when both women looked up eagerly and said “Yes?” simultaneously, not bothering to conceal their amusement.

“No, no, the er- elder,” Arthur again fought the urge to pull at his thinning hair. “Euphemia,” he clarified, “We heard you’ve retired from the Governor’s Board, is that right?”

“Mhm,” she nodded serenely. “Monty wanted a quiet retirement, but it’s been-” the engine on the motorbike backfired and James gave an excited shout- “Well, rather not quiet.”

Arthur shook his head. “A shame, really, though of course I understand. Any word on your replacement? Heard a rumor about a Malfoy...”

“Malfoy?” James popped up from behind the tailpipe, obviously not bothered by being covered in soot now. “Thought you needed a kid to be on the Board.” He looked between Sirius and Lily. “Narcissa isn’t pregnant, we just— we just saw her.”

Sirius just shrugged. “Hell if I know.”

“What about you throwing your name in, Arthur?” Fleamont asked, puffing circles from the pipe he’d been fenagling with for a while, chuckling heartily. “You’ve enough kids to qualify you over and over!”

“And another on the way!” Arthur swelled with no small amount of pride. “Though I do hope it’s a girl, you know, house full of boys— and the twins, you wouldn’t believe— but ah, that’s how it is.”

After tea and conversation, when it was finally past time he returned to his office to write the report and catch Perkins up on the situation, Arthur Weasley lost his sense of self-control. Turning around at the gate and looking longingly at the motorbike, he decided that simply knowing couldn’t hurt. 

“Mr. Black,” Arthur said hesitantly. “You think those charms would work on a larger machine? Say, perhaps, a family vehicle?”

***

Lily Potter had never seen him so aimless before. This is a different James than the one she’d learned to fight beside. This is a different James than the one who has run into burning buildings for her, whose taken the Cruciatus for her, whose done more than any one else has for her. She’s seen him after fights where they can’t find Sirius, all shaking and unwound. She’s seen him after fights where she’s been out for the count for too long, all shaking and unhinged by the time she’d been brought back from the dead. Those are the James Potter’s she knows, boundless energy turned into something fierce and violent and vengeful or victorious. This one, standing stoically still at the foot of the freshly dug graves, is a stranger to her. 

Sirius Black, dressed to mourn in black jeans and black boots and black leather jacket, knows this stoicism. When Lily looks at Sirius standing next to James, hands deep in his pockets, silky hair covering his porcelain face, she thinks that maybe she does recognize James’ behavior. It’s Sirius, whose known what it means to lose family. Now he also knows what it means to lose family that actually loved him. 

Church bells ring a solemn count out for the village of Godric’s Hollow. It was a small funeral, just friends of the Potter’s, and now that Lily’d waved off a still-tearful McGonagall, she thought it might be time to go home if not for any other reason than standing for so long while being so pregnant did horrible things to her back and feet. 

Still. she gives the boys space, walking along the grave stones, stopping to see if she recognized any of the wizarding families, taking whatever time she needed to in order to covertly swipe away her own tears. It’s wrong, she thinks, to feel an odd flare of envy in her stomach at the finality of this day. She hasn’t seen any of her family since graduation. She doesn’t know if Petunia’s okay. She doesn’t know if her mother is still around.  

The walk back to the cottage is an equally solemn affair. Sirius doesn’t talk. James doesn’t either, he just keeps rubbing circles on her lower back the way he knows helps with the weight of it all. Lily Evans wonders if the war has always felt like this, just them against the world, and if today is just the first time she’s letting it settle into her bones. 

Sirius storms into the cottage. James holds her back with a gentle tug on her sleeve.

“Sit,” he prompts, leading them to the swing. Mrs. Potter always liked rocking on it as well. His voice seemed smaller than ever when he tells her again, “Sit. We should talk about what happens next.”

“Not today,” Lily says gently. “We don’t need to talk about anything today.”

“Yes, today. Some of it I’ve already arranged. Some of it I wanted to ask…” He shakes his head. Sometimes it’s like he’s got too many things to worry about and it feels as if his thoughts will ooze out of his ears if he doesn’t clear them out soon. 

“Dad sold the manor when they moved in to Mungo’s,” James starts. She didn’t know that. Lily Potter hadn’t realize how big the part of her was who also believed James’ parents could live forever, just as they were. He pulls out a piece of parchment from his robes, and there’s the Lily Evans in her who wishes it were the old Map, not a compilation of what feels like too real tasks for a couple of kids. 

“The Gringott’s vault,” he says, shaking out the parchment. “It’s fully ours now. It’s grown, after the manor got sold. Anyone could live lifetimes off of it.”

“James,” Lily cuts him off, ever more gently. Of course she’d assume the vault went to James. The fact that it’s sizeable isn’t a shock either, as they’d been living off his family’s fortune since graduation when they joined the Order. Around her, the summer air is oppressive, but in the yard of their little cottage, it wasn’t so bad. “Why’re you telling me all this?”

He doesn’t exactly meet her eye. “Because I want to update our wills. I want- I need to make sure everything’s worked out in case… just. In case.” His hand reaches out, lays itself delicately on her too big belly. “Everyone needs to be taken care of.”

He hands her the parchment. “This is what I wanted to tell you. That if we aren’t around, it’s in writing for Sirius to take the baby. The vault will pass on to the baby, but Padfoot will have access to it for management and whatever he needs. And I wanted to write down that Moony and Wormtail, but especially Moony, get a share of the Galleons so that they’re alright.”

“You don’t need my permission to do that. Of course I want that.”

He smiles at her, but it’s strained. It’s desperately sad, one that has resigned itself to a fate it doesn’t know is coming yet. “I figured. But equal partnership, yeah? I wanted to tell you. And I wanted to ask,” he points down at the parchment, and she sees a clause there with a name she hasn’t seen in years. 

Petunia Evans Dursley. She looks up at him sharply. He just shrugs. 

“Family’s important, Evans,” he whispers. “I’m not saying you should make up. I’m not saying she’s right or anything; Merlin knows she’s a piece of work. I’m just saying she should know, just in case anything…”

“Happens,” Lily finishes flatly. She doesn’t want to be upset at him right now and is trying to reason past her anger and offense. Her family is here in Godric’s Hallow, not in some suburb in Surrey. Her family is James and Sirius and Remus and Peter, people who decided she was worth waiting for, worth sticking around for. 

“She won’t care,” Lily says, staring at the name.

“Maybe not,” James whispers back, tactfully not commenting on how thick her voice sounded. “But maybe she would. There’s a kindness in certainty.”

Lily didn’t need to be reminded. She’s spent the last week being upset about ambiguity without ever saying so to James, who knew anyway, because he knows her .

“Nothing’s going to happen,” Lily says quietly but fiercely, like if they speak their fears too loudly the world will know how to destroy them. Looking up from the parchment, she meets his eyes, which seem so distant. “Not now. We aren’t even out there anymore. We’ve protection charms on the house and only ever leave to see Bathilda or Dumbledore.” He still didn’t look convinced. Lily touched her hand to his cheek, needing him to hear. “No one knows about the baby, except for the Order.”

He leans into her touch, closing his eyes, whispering back, “What it’s not enough? What if we’re already too late?”

Lily shook her head softly. “We’ve put our faith in good people, James. We just have to keep trusting that.”

She knows him, as well. She knows that James’ sense of loyalty runs thicker than blood, that evoking this in him will bring him back to where he can function, and it works.

He nods, ducking his head down to rest gently atop hers. She doesn’t bring up how Sirius thinks there’s a rat amongst their ranks. Sirius told James once, who refused to entertain the idea that someone he knows in the Order would deliberately betray any of them. Lily doesn’t bring up how she agrees with Sirius. She just prays that she and James and the baby are insignificant to the traitor now that they’re out of the thick of things, and that Sirius stays safe until Dumbledore works it all out. 

It’s nice, when the baby is born. They aren’t the last Potter’s any longer. There’s hope for the family again, something even Sirius starts to feel, swelling with pride and new purpose in the boredom he’s battled since James went into hiding. Seeing Padfoot so alive again invigorates Lily as well. Harry laughs, and James starts laughing freely like he used to, a beautiful, deep, warm thing that pairs wonderfully with Harry’s excited babblings.

It is just them, the Potter’s in Godric’s Hollow, against the world— and that’s enough.