"James, mate!"

James turned and saw his old partner, Frank, walking towards him. He grinned.

"Morning, Longbottom. How's the office?"

Frank grimaced. "Worse now that you're not around to cause trouble. But, mate, I've got orders from Moody to fill you in on some developments."

James didn't know what to say to that, so he remained silent, trying to force down a sudden feeling of apprehension. Said developments couldn't have anything to do with Auror business, as he no longer was one, so that meant it was Order related. And in some ways, that was worse.

Frank led him into an empty room, locking the door and setting charms into place to protect them from eavesdroppers. "Right," the Auror said. "I don't know if he's already told you, but Moody has told Evans to train for combat. He was impressed with her on that mission. We all were, to be honest. So she's going through training with Order-allied Aurors. Only, there aren't many of us. I've been handling the sessions up until now, but there are bound to be times when I can't. So Moody's next choice is you."

A thrill shot through James' body at that. He missed life as an Auror—not enough to go back, what with the new policies, but still enough to want more excitement in his life.

"She practices on weekends, in an empty classroom," Frank continued. "I'll continue to be the leading instructor, but in case I can't, you're up. Deal?"

James nodded. "Of course, mate." Frank made to leave, but James stopped him, asking, "How's she doing?"

Frank grinned. "She's brilliant.

Of course she is, James thought.

When James returned home, he found a letter waiting for him. It was from his mother, and she requested his presence at tea that afternoon. He didn't have anything else to do, so a few hours later in the day found him sitting in his mum's favorite parlor, surrounded by a number of women and feeling distinctly out of place. What seemed to be a pleasant invitation to spend time with his mum was actually a chance for her to practice her matchmaking.

Euphemia Potter had always been on his case, pushing him to find a proper woman and settle down. The tea was clearly another one of her attempts to do just that, as every woman in attendance was either a single girl his age or the mother of one. James thought it was too much, and quite a jump from her last effort, but it was too late to back out now.

"James, dear, how nice of you to drop by," said his mum when he walked in the parlor.

He gave her a customary kiss on the check and replied, "Always good to see you, mum."

"You remember Violet Brown, dear? And her mother Rose, of course. Violet was just telling us about a new broom that shall be on the market soon. Maybe you've heard something? Oh, and of course Cassandra Travers, and her mother Lucinda dropped by as well. Her father is an Auror, as I'm sure you remember, and he's just left for a mission. Isn't that right, Cassandra?"

"Oh, yes, Mrs. Potter. Father has just received a promotion, too!"

James didn't want to think of what that meant. An Auror doesn't receive promotions by disobeying laws, which meant Mr. Travers had to be following the new policies, especially regarding Unforgivables. Though from what James knew about the Travers family, he'd bet the man wasn't just complying, but agreed wholeheartedly and took advantage of his new rights.

He noticed this Cassandra Travers eyeing him while their mothers chatted about the goings-on of the Ministry. Already set on disliking her father, James tried not to wince when she began to speak. "How are you doing in the Auror office, James? Is it hard keeping fit?" she asked, laying a hand on his arm.

He refrained from flinching away from her touch. "Not hard, no. I play Quidditch on the weekends." He didn't want to advertise his leaving of the MLE. If she didn't already know, he wouldn't tell her. The fewer people in her circles who knew he didn't support the Ministry's new policies, the better.

"Oh? You're quite good at Quidditch, I hear. It's too bad I'm no good on a broom." Though James wasn't paying much attention to what she was saying, he noticed she hadn't removed her hand. Instead, Cassandra was brushing her thumb back and forth on his arm. He tried not to shudder, lest she misinterpret it as a good sign.

James was seriously regretting this visit. He searched the room, desperate to talk to someone more bearable. He made eye contact with Marlene McKinnon, who, by some stroke of luck in his favor, was in attendance, and gave her a look of desperation.

James loved his mother—really, he did. But her meddling and her penchant for all things high society didn't sit well with him. He knew she meant well, and that something like this tea was her way of showing she cared, but she would never understand exactly what James wanted.

And right now, what he wanted was to leave.

"James!" Marlene called from where she was standing, against the opposite wall. Her voice carried over the low chatter in the room, causing all heads to turn, but she ignored them. "Aren't you supposed to be meeting Sirius at the pitch?"

"The pitch?" Euphemia asked, finally drawn away from her conversation.

"They've got a round of Quidditch planned. James, the match starts so soon, and you're the best Chaser Sirius has. I'd have thought you'd be out there already!" The disapproving tone in Marlene's voice was a perfect touch, and her excuse was just what he needed. Mrs. Potter had a soft spot for Sirius, so bringing his name in the mix was a sure way to turn her opinion in his favor.

"I'm sorry, mum. I completely forgot. We've got a tournament going on this weekend. I've got to go now, or else I'll be late." Without giving her a chance to speak, he planted another quick kiss on her cheek in goodbye. "I'll drop by again soon, I promise. Thanks for the tea." On his way out, he said, "Thanks for the reminder, Marlene. See you."

He Apparated back to his flat as soon as he left the boundaries of the wards. He let out a large sigh and fell back against the couch. The Quidditch excuse was just that—an excuse—and he had nothing to do. But then he remembered his conversation with Frank, and an earlier one with Sirius, and decided to make plans with Lily.

James didn't think he'd ever known a woman worthier of his mother's approval than Lily, and that thought cheered him up. She'd be better company than what he left behind at tea, no doubt.

Despite having a demanding job as a professor, Lily managed to find time for a social life. Being the youngest professor at Hogwarts meant it was difficult to interact with people her own age while at the school, but thank Merlin for magical means of transportation. In between grading essays and planning lessons, she often used the fireplace in her personal quarters to Floo to lunch or dinner with friends. She truly, finally felt at home in the world again.

It was a crisp but sunny day that day, so she decided to get some fresh air and walk down the path to the edge of the school grounds so she could Apparate to James Potter's flat. She had been spending a lot of her free time with him and rather enjoyed his company, though she knew today's lunch would be with his friends, too.

Reaching the edge of the school's wards, Lily turned on the spot. She Apparated right to his door, and knocked.

Remus opened the door and smiled in greeting. Lily entered the flat, and he shut the door behind her. She followed him through the flat, towards the kitchen. "Took you long enough, Evans. Pete's been whining about starvation," James said.

They reached the table where the rest of the group, minus Sirius, was already seated, and Lily laughed. She took a seat and surveyed the table. "This looks delicious! No wonder you couldn't wait, Peter. Didn't know you had it in you, Potter."

"I can cook!" James said, mock-offended. At Remus' cough he grinned, a tad sheepish, and admitted, "Mum brought it over when she heard you were coming. My cooking skills aren't impressive enough, apparently."

Lily shook her head, smiling. "I'm sure it'll be delicious. Thanks for the note, by the way. I've been itching to get out of the castle."

"Going well over there?" Remus asked, spooning some food onto his plate. He held out his hand for Lily's plate to do the same.

"As far as I can tell, yes. A few of the older students have been acting up, but it's been that way all year. Nothing I can't handle." She took her plate back and began eating.

They lulled into silence while they ate. Lily found it a bit strange, since she didn't know those boys to ever be silent. Then she registered their missing fourth party.

"Where's Sirius?"

"Mission," James replied.

That explained it. Lily wasn't privy to many of the Order's more immediate plans, instead focusing on keeping an eye out at the school, so she never knew who was gone on missions and when.

"When should he be returning?"

"Soon," Peter said. "'Bout half an hour from now, I reckon. Was just recon, so it shouldn't take long."

The room went silent again, though Lily tried to stay upbeat. Even here, in a quiet kitchen, she was among peers and friends, and that was better than Hogwarts at times.

Then, as if their conversation had summoned him, Sirius came crashing through the front door. James leapt up from his seat, running forward and supporting Sirius when he swayed on his feet.

"Padfoot! You okay?"

"Fucking fine, mate. Just my rat arse of a family," Sirius grumbled. He heaved himself off James and onto the couch.

"What did they do to you?" asked Remus.

Normally, Lily wouldn't interrupt a conversation like this, but Sirius was injured. There was blood dripping from a gash in his cheek and one eye was swollen. His arms had multiple cuts and bruises, and judging from his entrance, one of his legs was hurt, too.

"Sirius," Lily said, "you need to be looked at."

Sirius looked up at her and smirked, though it looked like more of a grimace to her. "Isn't that what we've got you for, Evans? You're welcome to look at me any time."

Shaking her head at him, Lily used her wand to assess the damage. "Looks like it's mostly superficial injuries," she said. "Just bruising and lacerations. Nothing some charms and salves won't fix."

"So sexy when you talk Healing. Go on, Evans, I make a great patient," quipped Sirius.

Lily laughed at his innuendo. "Sirius, you dog. There's no need for that." Sirius woofed at her, and she rolled her eyes. "James, where do you keep that bruise-healing paste I gave you?"

"You stay here and work on him, Lily. I'll get it."

Lily made quick work of cleaning and sealing the open wounds on his arms, leg, and cheek while she waited for James. When he handed her the jar of paste, she applied it liberally to Sirius' arms and eye. "Right, that's about all I can do for you. I recommend staying home for the rest of the day, though."

James dragged a hand through his hair and sighed. "Thanks, Lily." He looked at Sirius. "Well, Padfoot, at least you're here in time for some lunch. Lily, I'll bring your plate in here when I get his, too. Pete and Remus ate while you were in here."

"Oh, thank you, James." She watched as he walked back towards the kitchen, distracted until Sirius spoke up.

"You called me a dog earlier. I don't think you know how spot on you were."

Lily turned to him, confused. "What do you mean?"

"I'm an Animagus, and I'm a dog. Barely remembered you were gonna be here when I was on my way, or else I'd have shown up as Padfoot."

Her eyes widened as she realized what he meant. "As Padfoot? You mean—your nicknames? They're your animal forms?" She knew she was right when Sirius smirked. "So you—you're all Animagi? No, wait. Remus can't be. He's a—" she gasped. "You did it for Remus, didn't you?"

She didn't realize that James had returned, but right then he said, "Yes, we did. Though it would've been nice to know you were gonna tell my biggest secret, mate."

"No wonder he's less beat up when I treat him after the full moon. But… why are you telling me this now?" Lily felt exhilarated that Sirius trusted her with something like this. She knew they were friends, but this, well…

Sirius shrugged. "Figured you'd earned it."

Lily sat next to him on the couch, taking her plate of food from James' hands. "Well, thanks, I guess." She took Sirius' plate and placed it on his lap. "Secrets aside, you need to eat."

Sirius laughed. "Yes, ma'am."

After a short while of eating in silence once again, Lily asked, "So, will I ever get to see your animal forms?"

James looked at Sirius, and they both grinned.


"C'mon, Evans, you're slacking!"

"Really, James! We're not all as in shape as you!" Lily panted, ducking to avoid yet another jinx.

She was sweating and short of breath, but was enjoying herself. Training with James was going well—much more fun, in fact, than with Frank. Not that she didn't like Frank. She and James just had more fun together.

Sending a nonverbal Jelly-Legs Jinx and then shouting another Shield Charm, she managed to hit James. She laughed as he fell, unable to control his legs.

"Jelly-Legs? Really? I wasn't aware I was dueling a first year," he said once he managed to counter the curse.

"It worked all the same, James. And besides, I don't want to hurt you." She sat on the floor next to him, summoning glasses of water for them to drink.

"Aw, Evans, I'm touched." He grinned, and Lily laughed. He noticed a slightly pink tinge to her cheeks, and took a drink to hide his smile.

Lily, still out of breath and panting, shook her head and groaned. "Ugh. I need a shower."

"We've still got some time left, so that's going to have to wait." Lily groaned again, but James stood. Offering her his hand and pulling her to her feet, he said, "None of that. I haven't seen you all week, and this is what I get? You're a lousy mate, Lily."

She laughed. "Alright then. Let's get on with it, so I can clean up and have dinner."

"You're still coming to the Leaky with us, right? Sirius wanted—Shite!" James exclaimed. "My portkey is burning. I'm sorry, Lily, I've got to go."

"Be careful, won't you? James!"

But he was already gone, and in the next second, he was in battle. It was a nasty one, with horrible curses. Some he'd never seen before, and they weren't pretty. In no time at all, he was caught up in a duel with a Death Eater who'd lost his mask. He was basically a kid, and James had no trouble gaining the upper hand. James soon noticed that seemed to be the case for most of the Death Eaters present, and there were no reinforcements coming. It was strange, he thought, that there was no backup, and it worried him. He had to remember to bring that up to Moody.

The battle, if he could call it that, was over fairly quickly and with minimal injuries on his side. He had been called for backup because there weren't supposed to be Death Eaters there, and because Frank was the Order member in charge of the mission. James almost felt that the whole thing was useless until he saw Frank pointing his wand at a bound Severus Snape.

"Think we could learn a thing or two from him?" Frank asked James as he walked over.

James nodded grimly. "We can't tell Lily, though. Not yet." Snape's head shot up when he heard Lily's name, and James noticed. "That's right. Your precious Lily Evans is back and fighting, Snivellus. Can't imagine she's too happy with you at the moment, after what you've done." Snape's eyes narrowed, but he didn't say anything. To Frank, James said, "I'll meet you in the office. I've got something I want to mention to Moody."

After James had left in the middle of their training session, Lily had showered, grabbed a snack from the kitchens, and headed to the Ministry. She was supposed to see Moody and talk about her training every so often, and since she suddenly had free time, she figured she'd go then.

Moody seemed preoccupied when she reached his office, but he let her in to talk. She wasn't there long when James burst in, startling her.

"Moody, listen, there was something—Lily? What are you doing here?" He looked antsy and, upon seeing her, apprehensive, and she didn't like it.

"What's wrong? Why are you back so soon? Did something happen?" Lily asked, standing from her seat and walking towards him.

"Er—" James faltered, his gaze flicking between Moody and Lily, trying to decide how to deal with the situation. He didn't exactly want Lily finding out about Snape so soon, but he couldn't put off telling Moody what happened. Squaring his shoulders against the inevitable, James said, "Moody, we've got someone in custody."

Lily looked curiously at him, but James refused to meet her eye. Moody stood and left his office, walking with James towards one of the many Auror interrogation rooms. Lily followed, listening to James as he explained the mission to Moody.

"There were a bunch of Death Eaters—at first. They were mostly new, just kids. But they didn't bring in any backup, which was strange. We should look into that." Moody nodded, troubled at the thought. When they reached the room that Lily assumed held the captured Death Eater, James glanced back at her and said, "We got Snape."

At his words, Lily blanched. "Snape? You got—he's in there?" she cried. Knowing who was behind that door, Lily wasn't sure if she wanted to stay and confront him or run far, far away.

"Lily—" James began.

"But he—" Lily struggled to piece together her thoughts. "James, I need—"

"You're not going in there." James' voice was bordering on harsh, but he walked towards her and put his hands on her arms. "There are things you don't know, Lily, things you won't let yourself acknowledge. I won't let you in there. We can talk about this somewhere else, but if you confront him, you'll only get hurt."

Lily felt a stab of anger at the thought that he would have any control over her actions, but her curiosity at his words was stronger. She knew she wasn't completely processing all that her parents' death implied. And if he had some information she didn't, well…

Holding his gaze for a long moment, she slowed her breathing and nodded. When she looked away, she noticed Moody had already entered the interrogation room. James' hands slid down her arms and squeezed her hands. She smiled weakly at him and suggested, "Your place?"

He let out a breath and said, "Sure." He led her the Apparition point at the entrance of the Auror offices, squeezing the hand he still held once again in reassurance, and with a twist they were in his flat. "Can I get you anything?" he asked.

Lily, looking around to see if anyone else was home, responded, "Tea would be nice, thanks."

"On it. And they're all out—my mates, I mean. It's just us."

She felt a sort of relief when he said that. Not that she didn't like his friends, of course, but considering the conversation that would be happening, she'd feel more comfortable without them. Moments later, James, tray of tea in his hands, walked towards his room. Lily followed, sitting on his bed opposite him, the tea in between them. He poured her a cup the way she liked, and handed it to her.

"I'm glad you're okay," Lily said, partly to break the silence but mostly because she meant it. "You rushed off so quickly and, well, I'm still not completely used to this."

"It was exactly how I told Moody earlier. I was only called in because they hadn't expected any of the other side at all." James set down his cup to ruffle his hair. "They had no reinforcements so it was an easy feat."

"And you got Snape."

"And we got Snape, yeah."

Lily looked down at her lap. "I don't know what I was thinking. I just—I haven't seen him in years. He was the reason I left this world, you know?" James did know, but he wanted to hear everything from her. "He was my first friend from this world. And sure, he had rotten mates in school, but he was all I had over the summer. He taught me things, like Potions tricks, and he was the first to tell me I was magic. My sister… she treated me like a freak. Called me that, too. And our parents eventually gave up on us ever getting along. But they were my family and I loved them so much." She paused to take a deep breath. "Sev helped so much. Especially when I was younger. So when he told me I was in danger in this world, that I should leave to keep my family safe, I did. I knew he had some connections with the other side, so I believed him. I mean, I knew first-hand how much of a target I'd be. He promised he'd keep them away, just as long as I stayed home. And for those few years, we were safe. I was sort of getting along with my sister, my parents were happy… I didn't regret leaving." She looked at James. "I do now. I feel so foolish. I was a coward, running away."

"Lily—" James began to protest.

"It's how I feel, James. There was a war beginning and I just hid in the Muggle world." She shook her head. "You said there were things I wasn't telling myself, and you're right. Intellectually, I know there's only one reason my family could've been attacked. He was supposed to protect us, and yet my parents get killed? I know what that means. I knew it as soon as it happened. It just—it hurts to think about." She sighed and slumped back on the bed. She stared at the ceiling for a while until she asked, "Is there anything I should know? About him, or my parents?" She turned her head to look up at James.

He didn't answer immediately. H placed both of their cups on the tray and moved it to the floor. He then sighed and moved to lay down next to her. "I know you weren't there when it happened. I reckon that was Snape's doing—if he couldn't keep your family safe any longer, at least you wouldn't be hurt, or something like that." His gaze flicked to hers and she nodded. That was what she assumed, too, when she allowed herself to think about it. "I'm sure you talked to the Aurors about it. I don't think I know much that you don't, other than who was there."

He was right about that. The Aurors were at her house when she arrived, and they told her plenty about what had happened. They hadn't been able to specifically tell her who had actually done the crimes, though. Lily grabbed James' hand to let him know he could continue, that she was fine, but also to gather support for what she was about to hear. It was one thing to have her childhood friend be the reason her parents died, but for him to also be the cause… Well.

"We, as in the Order, arrived in the town shortly after we got word of Death Eater activity. They had already set fire to a few properties and were working on more. I think they had already been to your home because I remember overhearing Mulciber laughing about finally getting to Snape's Muggleborn." Lily flinched, hearing this side of her parents' murder. "I didn't know what that meant at the time, and he wasn't talking to Snape. Though, Lily," James said tentatively, and Lily's chest tightened because she knew what was coming, "he was there. In the town, at least. Like I said, I wasn't there for, well. But I had to block a curse he sent to Sirius, one of his specialties in school, so he was definitely there."

James fell silent. Lily had scooted closer to him while he talked, and he brought an arm around her shoulders. Soon enough, his shirt was damp across his chest. He ran a hand up and down her back, trying to soothe her, but he knew this was her chance to fully grieve for her parents. If there was one thing he realized while becoming good friends with Lily, it was that she hadn't handled their deaths well. She herself admitted she wouldn't let herself think about it. So this, telling her the full truth and letting her cry as much as she needed to, was the least he could do.

After a while, though neither knew exactly how long, Lily looked up. Her cheeks and eyes shined, wet with tears. She brought a hand up and cupped his cheek. Before he knew it, she was kissing him. It was wet, but he had wanted something like this, with her, for a while now. He moved against her, threading his fingers in her hair and kissing her back fiercely. She had so much emotion pent up and he could almost taste it. She relaxed slightly against him, relinquishing herself to something she hadn't known she needed until recently, and it wasn't until her hands climbed their way under his shirt and up his chest that they stopped.

Lily was breathing hard, eyes dark but still slightly wet. James' hands squeezed her waist. He smiled down at her, affectionate but reserved. "We shouldn't do this while you're upset." Before she could make any wrong assumptions, he added, "Believe me, I'd love to continue, but I don't want to take advantage."

She shook her head to disagree. Now that she'd kissed him, it was like a dam broke. She had feelings for him before, sure. But they were slight and easily ignored in favor of being his friend. But suddenly, she practically ached for him. And maybe he was right, and some of it was misdirected grief for her parents, but she didn't think that mattered.

"Humor me," he said with half a smile. He sat up when she didn't protest and said, "C'mon. Let's grab something to eat. After that training session and the mission, I'm starved." He stood and held a hand out to help her up and she took it, trying to hide a small smile.

A/N: Yes, I know, it's been ages. But this one is the longest yet. And I've got the whole thing planned out. Anyways, don't yet know how I feel about the second half, as it's weightier than I'm used to, but lemme know what you think!