I don't want this to be a long speech, but I want to say thank you. I started this pretty much two years ago, just as I started to recover from a pretty long period of mental illness. I feel like James and Lily and my story have been with me through all the ups and downs of my recovery, and I feel like you guys have too. So, while this is the end, I hope to keep writing, and keep getting better, and while this fic has a lot of mistakes and a lot of errors and way too many chapters, it's a testament to me getting through some of the most difficult days of my life.
And waking up to reviews and views has beat down any amount of bad thoughts or doubts that I have had.
So thank you for reading, and thank you for staying with me on this. It means more than you could know.
Two years in the making, please enjoy it as much as I have!
All too quickly, the night of the 28th arrived. James and Lily had gone through that day in a horrible, painful anticipation. They had exchanged significant looks across classes with the passing of each hour and whispered countdowns into one anothers' ears as they passed. She knew that their behaviour was odd, almost inevitably it would draw suspicion, and their friends were an incredibly suspicious lot. However, their reaction to this particular behaviour was strange in itself. At first, they frowned, confused and tried to ask what was going on, but then, after James and Lily returned from the Great Hall where they had been sent to smuggle sandwiches for everyone, they had the distinct feeling of having walked into an animated discussion which had been almost definitely about them. After that, their friends settled into a routine of what Lily described as 'smug and knowing', though she had no idea what it was that they thought they knew.
James didn't like it, he seemed to flush red at their raised eyebrows and smirks and even went as far as to grab Sirius by the arm and pull him aside for what looked like a stern conversation. For a second, Lily worried that James had been goaded into revealing what had happened, but Sirius returned even smugger if that were possible, and James looked as annoyed as ever.
With their friends winking and smiling like proud parents, Lily was glad when the classes ended and the sky began to grow dark. Fabian had told her that they would be meeting at 8 o'clock, and that left an unfortunate space of time when they had no classes to sit through and nothing to restrain them in their anxiety and anticipation. The evening seemed to drag by and once or twice, Lily felt certain that the clock had to have stopped, or that it was actually moving backwards. It was not a night for the library, and their friends seemed to agree, moving their paltry efforts at studying into the Common Room with relieved enthusiasm. Most of the students were crossing the line from devoted to apathetic in their exhaustion, and so the Common Room had a buzz about it, of students trying to chat over their worries about how many essays they still had to write. That gave the Gryffindor Common Room a feeling of camaraderie that usually only came about right before and after a Quidditch match. Few things, it turned out, could bond people together more quickly than the utter refusal to spend another second studying.
Lily looked across at James, trying to gauge how he was feeling. It was nearly time for them to make their excuses and head for Hogsmeade, but they still had to wait a little longer. He was staring off into the fire, his eyes glazed with its red and yellow glow. His face was completely passive, thoughtful and far-away, but his leg was bouncing rapidly. She had never noticed that particular tendency, a nervous twitch, but it made sense. She didn't think she had ever seen James completely still. He seemed to exist in motion, always fidgeting or talking, constantly reminding the world of his presence. Was he always nervous, or was it just a little habit that he couldn't control? She tried to think about when he had been still, any moment in their years of knowing one another. In her memory, there were a thousand versions of James, from his barrelling into her carriage in first year right through to now.
She thought harder, and saw him clearer. This was another version of him, not the close friend that sat before her, looking so unaware of her attention now. He had always been sprinting through corridors in their first year, barging into students and ignoring the chaos in his wake. He had chucked a Quaffle at her, he had seemed to bounce through life, laughing and punching and demandingly present.
As the years had passed, he had faded a little. It wasn't that he had become less, but she had tried to focus her attention elsewhere. She learned in that first year that he thrived on attention, and she determined to deprive him utterly of hers.
He had blown up cauldrons and nearly cursed Remus from tapping his wand on the desk without caution, he had thrown food and dove through the Portrait Hole a hundred times, reasoning with the furious Professor McGonagall who followed that he technically hadn't been caught out of bed since he had made it through the Portrait Hole before she had managed to lay a hand on him.
She had observed, she must have done for the memories to still be there, but she took no part in his life. She laughed along when he and Sirius learned to levitate one another and used it with alarming regularity. She had appreciated him when he took such an interest in her father's job at the Slug Club meeting in which she had seen the others sneering. She had smiled and laughed and joked her way through years of being James' classmate, and he had seemed never to stop.
She was sometimes funny, she could be quick-witted but James never let his mask drop for a second. He was always joking, perpetually good-humoured and it grew tiring. She had watched him, just as everyone else in their year had, glad not to be the focus of his attention.
After trawling through her memories, she could think of a few times when James was still. She thought of times when she had glanced across the room, unnoticed by him, and saw him with his friends, Sirius, Remus and Peter. She had watched, she now suspected with the beginnings of affection, as he laughed easily and shared sweets and played a card game, utterly unconcerned and completely at ease.
She wondered if all his motion, all his loud, boisterous fidgeting was just a nervous reaction, and she even indulged for a second in the notion that it was a reaction to being around her. She quickly told herself that couldn't be it, since there was one other memory of his being at peace which she could pluck from her memory.
The greenhouse, all vines of ivy and her red hair falling in her eyes and the golden light, from through the panes of glass, and from within James' impossibly luminous eyes, swam to the front of her mind and it seemed that that memory had been dipped in Felix Felicis. He had been utterly still then, and he had met her gaze without so much as blinking. It had been her who had to look away; it had been she who had needed to occupy herself, winding the vines together to obscure her reddened face.
But her thoughts about James had been overtaken by another important memory. Felix. She had never found another day to use it after she had taken that one tiny amount. She jumped up, and James' eyes were immediately on her, as he rose from his chair.
"No, sorry, I just... I've just got to... Just a minute!" She took off up to the dormitory before anyone could question her, and burst through the door. Beth and Lynn were both studious enough to have stayed in the Library, and Karen's empty bed posed no questions, so she was able to go straight to the business of pulling her heavy trunk out from under her bed and tearing apart the contents, hunting for the one tiny phial. In her hunt, she felt her fingers touch against the soft black velvet of her Mum's scarf, and she slowed for a moment.
She breathed in its soft, powdery scent, her mother's perfume seeming to still cling to it after all the years, and she wound it around her neck and pressed her face into the cloth.
It took her another five minutes of panicked searching and trying to remember if she had used it or left it somewhere before she found it, inside a wrapped up Gryffindor scarf that she hadn't worn since she had caught it on something and torn a hole in it. She tucked the tiny phial into the pocket of her robes, and took a deep, long breath. She was ready as she would ever be, and she got the feeling that if she didn't go now, she never would. She pulled the door open so hard that it nearly crashed into the wall as she barrelled out and down the stairs. She reached the bottom of the stairs without having breathed once on her way down. She was aware that she looked very suspicious, she was wearing a scarf, and her face was flushed and she looked quite breathless.
"I was just going to... Just for a bit, I think I might-" She gestured vaguely to the Portrait Hole, trying to think of an excuse. She didn't want to say she was going to the Library in case any of them decided to tag along, but she couldn't think of anywhere that was boring enough to stop them coming but interesting enough to be plausible that she would suddenly want to go to.
"Okay, see you." Remus yawned and slumped down into the space where she had been, his legs kicking over the arm of the sofa. She looked around, and realised that she couldn't have pried them off the sofa if she wanted to. They were exhausted enough to be unsuspicious and, deciding that this was as good as she could hope for, she said a quick goodbye and rushed out of the Portrait Hole.
It was a long and tense wait in the intervening moments, when they had agreed that James would wait to follow her, a measure she had intended avoid arousing suspicions that she was now convinced was unnecessary. She waited in the cold of the corridor without daring to summon a light from her wand in case someone was watching. She was scared, a little and she felt very alone but not once did she doubt that James would join her.
"Alright, Evans? What a coincidence meeting you here!" He joked as she offered a hand to steady him as he climbed through the Portrait Hole, keeping his voice quiet in case anyone was listening.
"What did you tell them?"
"Oh, you know, I said I fancied a little walk, trip to the kitchens, join a secret army... maybe punch a few Slytherins..." He shrugged but smirked as she glared at him.
"You're not taking this very seriously. I can go myself you know."
"Nah, you wouldn't leave me here."
"Oh, and why's that?" She raised an eyebrow.
"Well, I'm afraid of the dark, and you're far too nice to leave me here all alone."
She bit her lip and started down the stairs, trying to decide whether she was closer to rolling her eyes or bursting into laughter. She thought probably the latter, but she stifled it.
"Come on then, Potter, if you're coming."
She didn't bother to listen for the sound of his footsteps following after hers, and, true to form, by the time she had reached the bottom of the stairs he was beside her, smiling with more confidence than she could muster at the thought of the thing they were about to try to do.
"Oh, I almost forgot." She gasped, and James looked startled for a second before she produced the tiny phial from her pocket. He seemed to remember almost immediately what she had in her hand, from their Potions lesson so long ago.
"Really? You've used some."
"Only a tiny bit."
"Does it matter?"
"Well, I just... didn't notice..."
"Well, of course you wouldn't notice, you've had your lucky charm all along, but some of us need a bit of extra help."
James had the good grace to at least look a little sheepish at the memory of the joke he had teased Lily with for so long.
"So, go on then." He urged her, and she pulled the stopper from the bottle. There really wasn't much to it.
"I'm not sure how long it will last, I think probably it should be enough for a few hours each though."
James looked surprised.
"What, both of us?"
"Yeah, we are both trying to get into the Order, so I figure we're best if we're both on top form, as lucky as we can be, right?"
"Well, yeah, but... it's yours."
She smiled and took her sip, handing the bottle to James as she felt the lovely, sunny feeling soak through her skin. He still hesitated.
"James! This is really a time-sensitive thing. Go on, down it, or the meeting will be over before we get there." When he still looked hesitant, she placed her hand, which was still outstretched towards her, over his hand, and pushed the phial towards him.
"James, if you don't take it, I'm going alone. I really don't want to do that."
James put the bottle to his lips and drained what little remained. She took the phial and slipped it back into her pocket.
"Doesn't it feel nice?"
"Yeah..." James nodded, looking a little dazed. In fact, he didn't look well at all, he had grown incredibly pale. She reached out and touched his face, trying to draw his attention back to her.
"You okay, James? You look a bit... off."
He blinked, as though she was shining a torch into his eyes, and then smiled softly, the colour slowly returning to his cheeks as his eyes seemed to focus on her. She looked down for a second, trying to remind herself that the feeling in her chest, the sort of feeling that she thought might have sent a Patronus flying from her wand, was the result of Felix and not James.
She turned on her heels and began to march down the hall but found herself quickly halted by James' hand on her arm.
"Actually, no... I don't think we should go that way. I think I know a secret passage around here that will be better."
She thought that any passageway would take up time, and she and James had agreed that the main corridors would be best, given that the Aurors and likely a few teachers would be at the meeting and so not patrolling the corridors. However, she sensed that this might be the acting of the potion and so she nodded, and followed James down the side corridor that he had taken off towards.
They were both silent as they moved through the passageways, which seemed to wind through every part of the castle, moving slowly down a few stairs at a time, then long stretches of monotonous nothing. Lily began to wonder if the lucky outcome for James was to never make it to the meeting. She didn't know how Felix Felicis worked when two people took it together. She began to worry that she had made a mistake, but it was hard to maintain any real level of concern with this wonderful bubbling feeling inside of her.
"Are we lost, James?" she whispered, trying not to laugh.
"No, I know exactly where we are."
"Should we ask for directions?" she burst out in laughter that she had been holding back for a while. She was thinking back to the way her Mum and Dad would argue on every trip in the car. Mum was always determined that she had some internal sense of direction and refused to accept help, whereas Dad was always gently suggesting that they pull over and look at the map. She thought about Sirius, saying that they were practically an old married couple with their bickering, and those two thoughts combined were enough to make her laugh loud enough to bring the entire castle to the walls that they were contained inside.
"Lily, shut it!" James hissed, but he was starting to laugh himself, and soon they had to stop to catch their breath. They sat down for a moment, feeling like they had all the time in the world rather than a very brief window in which to execute their plan.
"So, what is the plan?" James asked, as though he had been listening into her thoughts.
"Well... we're going to get out of this maze, ideally. Then go to the Hog's Head, tell the barman the password, convince Dumbledore to let two students into his secret army, get back up to the school – providing they don't expel us on the spot – and then... I thought maybe a celebratory trip to the Kitchens?"
He laughed faintly, nodding as though they were discussing something decidedly less serious.
"Oh, I hope the House Elves will have éclairs, they never have éclairs when I get there."
"Well, I have a funny feeling it might be your lucky night!"
Hogsmeade looked like a scene from a postcard, a charming and silent little town, with yellow light streaming out of every crooked, paned window on each of the little winding streets. It wasn't hard to remember where everything was, and she thought that she could pick out the Hog's Head as she stood looking down upon the town from their high vantage point. They had taken a wrong turn in the tunnel, but they continued on, putting their faith in Felix, and they had come out of a tunnel that James hadn't even known existed. It did not escape her attention that the exit that they clambered out of was concealed by a cluster of high rocks which were within a close distance to the Lake, not very far at all from the place where Lily had sat and saw James picking on Severus, the time when she had intervened and been called a 'Mudblood' for her trouble. It was the place that had ended her friendship with Severus and, strange as it would have seemed to Lily at the time, begun her friendship with James. Before then, he had been cruel and immature but he had flown relatively outside her radar, and she had only occasionally had cause to hate him.
The fact that she no longer had Severus, coupled with the fact that she disliked him strongly enough to make it impossible to ignore had, surprisingly, led to their friendship.
She and James climbed to their feet and tried to get their bearings. It was a bit of a walk across the grounds before the town of Hogsmeade came into view and by the time they saw it, Lily was starting to get genuinely concerned about the time. She thought that it probably wouldn't make a very good impression if she was to show up as the meeting was ending. It didn't make her seem like a mature and capable person who could be trusted with membership of such a secret society.
She hurried James on. He seemed determined to go frustratingly slow, despite her urging.
"Oh, come on, James, we have to hurry!" she exclaimed, grabbing his hand and pulling him forward. They made their way down the grassy slope with their hands intertwined. If he had asked Lily would have said that it was partly to make sure that he wouldn't slow down again, and partly to stop her falling down in the mud, but the real reason was that despite her impatience and her determination to reach Hogsmeade as quickly as possible, she was feeling very unsure of whether this was a good idea. Having James' hand to hold made her feel, if not more certain, then at least not alone. If she was expelled, he would be expelled with her.
That was a comfort that she wouldn't have given up for the world.
It did not mean that she wasn't having her doubts, and it was as she approached the door to the Hog's Head that she strongest wave of uncertainty hit her and took all the wind from her sails, forcing her to a halt.
"Lily?" James asked, looking at her curiously.
"Yeah... I- I don't think..."
Somehow, from her stumbling and stuttering, James completely understood.
"Lily... It's going to be alright. Honest..."
"You don't know that. They're going to be furious. They'll throw us out of there, we could get expelled."
James sighed, his eyes darkening and his voice taking on a serious tone that told that he was being absolutely truthful.
"Lily, they could kick us out. Maybe they will, I really don't know. But I can see what's happening in the world as clearly as you can, and if we stay quiet and sit still and keep to our classes like good little students then by the time we get out, the War might be lost and it'll be too late. We don't have the luxury of waiting, and if they don't understand that then I would rather be kicked out and fighting against all that Pureblood mania, than playing by their rules and waiting for the fight to come to us."
With that, and seeing a fortified smile on her face, he grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the Hog's Head. He knew that she needed to be pulled into this; he knew that if left to her own devices, she would be weak and frightened and she would freeze on the spot. That was the problem with being so prone to over-thinking, sometimes your brain got in the way of your feet.
Fortunately, that did not seem to be an issue that plagued James Potter.
"What do we have here?" A voice cut across the smoke-filled room. The pub was not busy, but one man seemed to be smoking on a pipe that was pumping out voluminous quantities of purple-ish smoke. It was not that man who was speaking, though, rather it was the old barman, his white beard obscuring a large portion of his face, but doing nothing to disguise the suspicious and unfriendly expression. "You shouldn't be here."
"Er... yeah, we just... you know-" James strolled across the room with a sort of casual air that Lily never could have managed. She tried to follow him, but her feet were frozen and, when he realised this, he had to come back to the doorway and pull her up to the bar.
She was surprised to hear her own voice finally emerge, and frustrated from it's weakness.
"We are told to come here. For a meeting."
"I don't know anything about a-"
"With Fawkes." She spat the word out, hoping that anyone listening with bad intentions would think that this was the name of the person that they were supposed to be meeting with. She could tell from the light that flickered on in the barman's brilliant blue eyes that this meant something, but perhaps he had been told who was coming, perhaps there was some other safeguards, or perhaps he just wouldn't let them in, since they were undoubtedly students rather than powerful magical allies.
He frowned, and took a long moment to torment them by looking them over but then, almost imperceptibly, he nodded, and lifted the bar hatch to let them in. He pointed down to a doorway that led presumably to the stairs for the residence above the pub and both James and Lily took a deep breath before stepping through the doorway.
When the barman closed the door behind them, they were left with only the candles in scones on the walls and their faint glow to guide their way. The barman was a man of very few words, and so he pointed to a set of stairs which led down to a cellar.
"Thank you!" Lily called at the barman's back as he retreated through the door.
"Well, if that's the reception committee, we should be in for quite a welcome down there!" James joked, but quickly grew serious again at the look on Lily's face.
"Come on, Lily... You can't leave now, I know you."
And he did. She realised that there was no way that her feet, which seemed so rooted in the spot, would be able to turn and walk back up to the castle. She had thought that she could see all her futures the other day when she had told James. She had sat with him in the Library and she had thought of all the ways her life could go. In none of them did she turn away from the meeting. In none of them could she do anything but fight for a place in the Order.
He was right, and knowing this, she nodded and stepped forward, descending as quietly as she could down to the bottom of the stairs, and waiting for James to be at her side once again before she reached out her hand and turned the handle.
There was a silence in the room as she pushed the door open, dazzled for a moment as the light from the room spilled out and flooded over her. She took a breath as though she was about to submerge herself and stepped into the room, James doing the same right after her.
She didn't bother taking stock of the faces that were in the room, since there was only one whose opinion would make even the slightest difference to how this went.
"Professor." She greeted the Headmaster, who was looking at the two students with a strange expression. He didn't immediately start to shout, or expel them on the spot, which she would have taken for encouragement if she had been able to imagine that Dumbledore would ever do something of the sort. She didn't know if he was capable of shouting and she wouldn't have known what to do if he had.
His reaction was both as expected and disconcertingly inscrutable. There was a moment where the room seemed to wait on his reaction, and his reaction it seemed was to look with polite inquiry at the two intruders, as though they had just begun a mildly entertaining anecdote at a garden party.
Unfortunately for them, McGonagall was neither as polite nor as quiet in her reaction as Professor Dumbledore.
"Potter! Evans! What on earth do you think you are doing here?"
"Prof-" James began, and Lily was curious to see how James intended to justify their presence in the face of McGonagall's already considerable anger.
"Potter?" A voice piped up, and Lily saw that the speaker was an elderly man in a deep orange velvet suit, looking as wizards often did when attempting to wear Muggle clothes – very odd. Lily didn't recognise him, but he smiled at the sight of James. "Oh... hullo, James!"
James gave a casual nod and a wave to the old man, and greeted the rest of the room, once again with a grace that Lily never could have managed.
There were a range of expressions on the faces that Lily examined as McGonagall cut across James and the old man, her volume mounting and her voice shaking with anger as she detailed the school rules that they had infringed and the consequences that would result.
"Do you have any idea of the danger of leaving the school at this time? And..." She paused, frowning in confusion. "How on earth did you get here?"
Lily looked at Fabian, a reflex of a guilty conscience but he shook his head quickly and she looked to the floor. Sadly, Professor McGonagall was very observant and she noticed Lily's glance.
"Fabian Prewett" She breathed, with the sort of exhausted frustration that she usually reserved for James and his friends.
"Oh, thanks a lot, Lily!" Fabian grumbled, but he didn't seem too upset.
Lily was staring fixedly at the floor, and she realised that this wasn't what she had come here to do. She had taken this decision; she had done this undoubtedly brave thing and she wasn't about to ruin her chance by standing here like some scared child and letting herself be shouted at and sent back to bed.
"We've come to join the Order."
True, some people laughed, but it was more a smattering of shocked laughter at her saying something so bold in the face of McGonagall's anger. She imagined most of the people in this room were, rightfully, scared of McGonagall, and she was too, but she couldn't afford the luxury of fear right now.
"Out of the question!" McGonagall answered promptly. "You shouldn't even know about the Order." She said that with a sideways look at Fabian, whose good humour abandoned him under the Professor's gaze.
"She's right, young lady." Another person she didn't recognise called out, a middle-aged woman who was seated in the back of the room. "This is no place for children."
Lily could feel herself bristling, and despite the fact that she knew she would need to win these people over to have any chance at being allowed to join the order, she felt the words bubbling up.
"I'm not a child. And trust me, You-Know-Who doesn't give a damn what age I am, nor what age his followers are. He's not waiting for them to get their N.E. and he doesn't care what age the Muggleborns he kills are."
"All the same, you shouldn't be here. It's not your fight, you're still in school." Another voice, and another vote against her.
"Yeah, I am still in school, and I was still in that school when His followers brought me out to the Lake in the middle of the night and tortured me. I was still in school when I saw my friends lying in the Hospital Wing, attacked. I was still in school when someone who used to be my best friend tried to use the Cruciatus Curse on me. I've been called filth, scum, Mudblood, and they didn't care that I was just a child. It's more my fight than it is any of yours, because it's me they're trying to kill. So you can refuse to let me fight with you, but it isn't going to stop me fight. No one on the other side cares that I'm young, and if I can't fight with you, I'll fight them on my own." She fell silent, ignoring the trembling in her voice.
"What? You've fight the whole lot of them, Voldemort too?" Gideon called across, and she knew that he was trying to lighten the mood, since both McGonagall and the others who had spoken against her were looking very unhappy.
"If I must." She answered, determined, and she knew it was true. She might have had no chance of winning, but it wouldn't stop her trying. She heard James cough beside her.
"Honestly, I wouldn't doubt her. I've seen her right hook, she just about took Mulciber's nose off. She'd do the same thing to the rest of them given half a chance."
The laughter at that was stronger, and she looked around at the faces that hadn't spoken. She didn't want to judge too soon, but she had the feeling that more than a few were looking on her favourably. A few looked at her with understanding, some with pity and others with amusement, one or two seemed vaguely impressed. None of them spoke, however, and it was James' voice she heard eventually.
"Listen, you might as well let us join. If you don't, there'll be hell to pay from her. You'll never hear the end of it. Trust me."
There was more laughter at that, and a few smiles. James seemed to be doing a better job at winning them over than she was.
"I can vouch for that. She's been pestering me for months to get me to tell her how to join." Fabian grumbled, and she felt James eyes on her. She looked around and saw genuine surprise and something close to relief on his face. Was he just glad that someone else seemed to be on their side?
"Aye, persistent, she may be. But what good are you in a fight?"
"And what about you, young Potter. Do your parents know you're here?" The shouts of various parties layered over one another and all at once the room erupted in noise as various small arguments broke out amongst those sitting beside one another, between those who they had won over and those who remained unconvinced. It grew louder and went on longer and then one voice cut through it all. It was the rough, gravelly voice of Alastor Moody.
"She's as good as half of you in a fight. She's suspicious too, and not quick to lower her guard. I think we could do a lot worse. Potter, too, though I don't know how your parents will take it."
"Perhaps we ought to get their parents' permission?" Someone piped up, a thin voice which echoed from a thin, pointy-nosed man who was immediately shut down by the red-faced woman beside him.
"They're of age, I assume..." She paused for confirmation and both Lily and James nodded heartily. "So, it's not their parents' choice. It's theirs, and if they are as willing as they seem, as good in a fight as Alastor suggests and resourceful and determined enough to get out of your school and into the room of a secret meeting, then I think we'd be lucky to have them."
"Lucky is the word." James muttered to Lily and she almost smiled, not quite daring to believe that she was being considered.
Then someone asked "What do you think, Albus?"
"Can you believe it?" James said in her ear, in an excited whisper, as they spilled out onto the street in front of the Hog's Head.
"No... But don't act so surprised, and shut up!" She responded as Professor McGonagall stepped out into the cold night air behind them. The majority of the members of the newly formed Order of the Phoenix were disapparating from within the pub, and a few using Floo powder. She and James had sprinted up the stairs and out the pub in glee, but they forced their faces to look solemn and circumspect as their teacher approached.
"Potter, Evans... I assume you will be returning straight to the castle?" She asked, her tone clipped and difficult to read. McGonagall had argued against Dumbledore's decision, but they both knew that she had done it to protect them and so they were grateful to her in their own way. James and Lily both nodded, they weren't about to try their luck and they still feared that McGonagall would dock points despite the success of the evening.
"I will be back in the castle in fifteen minutes. Should any student, Order member or otherwise, be found out of bed after that time there will be, to echo Mr Potter, 'hell to pay'."
A thin smile crossed her lips as she finished speaking, and James and Lily echoed the smile but her sharp, arched eyebrows told them that they had better make quick progress back to the school. McGonagall marched off into the night, and James and Lily turned to look at one another, both completely stunned by the progress of that evening's events.
Then, simultaneously, they burst into laughter and, with a feeling that she wasn't sure was entirely Felix Felicis-based, she reached out and pulled James into a hug, laughing as she wrapped her arms around him, and hearing his laughter in her ear.
She could feel her skin tingle where it brushed against his neck, and felt a thrill when he leaned back a little and looked into her eyes, smiling beatifically.
"I can't believe they let us in."
"I can't believe McGonagall didn't kill us." Lily responded, unable to keep the brilliant smile from her face as she looked into his eyes.
"You were brilliant." James said, and his voice no longer seemed so surprised, his face changed from incredulous to admiring.
"You weren't so bad either. Though you're right, I was bloody brilliant!" She laughed and he gave her a playful shove. She felt herself pushed slightly off-balance and for a second she thought that she would fall, but just as she started to tip, she felt James' reassuring hand on her arm and, pulling her back towards him, she stumbled forward into his chest.
It was an impulse that she would never quite understand that made her act next. She would occasionally, when James was being annoying, blame it on James having taken Felix Felicis. Once or twice she would deny it completely. Mostly she would explain it as a consequence of the euphoria and adrenaline, the thrill of what they had accomplished and a profound gratefulness for James being there with her, to know her as well as she knew herself in her moments of doubt and to drive her into action when she ground to a halt.
Whatever the reasons behind it, she tripped forward into James and looked upwards into his eyes, and then she kissed him.
It wasn't a long kiss, and both of them were too surprised by this new development to really react to it. She took a definite step back, and James face burst into a grin even wider than before. She turned away and began the long walk up to the castle, not needing to look back to know he was with her.
Sometime between leaving Hogsmeade and entering the grounds of Hogwarts, James shifted from walking a few feet behind her to walking beside her, and then, a few moments later and without a word of acknowledgement, she felt him take her hand once again.
She smiled, closing her eyes in blissful satisfaction as she reached the crest of the hill and felt utterly and completely happy in the light of the growing moon. Nothing could touch upon this moment, and she knew that a thousand Patronuses could draw from it and it would never fade. This moment, she somehow knew, would be significant for the rest of her life. It would always matter and it would never fade.
She knew that things would grow dark, that there would be times of trouble and suffering ahead. She knew all of that, but none of it seemed to matter when she knew that she wouldn't face it alone. She knew that Sirius would barge his way in to their secret, with Remus, Peter and Jac following resolutely afterwards. She knew that it would not be just James and Lily for long, but she also knew that she had never felt as strong as she did when they stood in the moonlight, the Lake behind them and Hogwarts ahead, hand in hand and ready to face whatever would come.
For one brief and wonderful moment, nothing could trouble her. All was well.