Consciousness lapped at Lily in slow waves. Dawn shone brighter than she expected for this time of year. Her sheets felt impossibly soft between her fingers. James Potter was staring at her intently, his mouth curved into a dangerous smirk.

"G'morning," she croaked, hoping her hair didn't look the unholy mess it felt.


His voice was quiet, calm. Same as it had been last night, only amplified, because he reached forward to brush a stray hair off her face. He stared at her like she stared at the stars.

She wanted to kiss him. She told him so.

And then they were. And it was world ending. Beginning? James Potter was an excellent kisser, even with dragon breath. All-encompassing, too, with his hands and warmth and smiles against her cheek.

Something unfurled inside her—that wave, threatening to drown her—and she pulled him closer.

His fingers fumbled with the laces of her bodice. She did the only logical thing: helped him, and started on his trousers.

As their pile of discarded clothing grew larger, the space between them grew nonexistent.

Until Lily woke up again, sharply, a pail of frigid water dumped over her head. It was still dark outside, pitch, the cold before dawn breaks. James Potter had his hand on her thigh, yes, but he was still fast asleep.

She'd had a goddamn dream.


He mumbled her name into her neck.


His lips moved on her neck, kissing, then his teeth scraped, and it felt so, so—fuck. Yet she was certain he was still sleeping…

She extricated her hand from his trousers—holy buggering fuck—and pinched his nose. He started awake.

"What the hell—" And then he registered the situation: he, in her bed, and her, pinned between him and the mattress, his trousers undone, and his hand in her dress. "Fuck."


"Shit. Evans. I'm sorry. I dreamed…" He rolled off her, away, backed up as far away from her as the bed would allow.

Lily shivered involuntarily, already missing his warmth, and she wrapped her arms around herself in a pathetic kind of hug.

"Look, Evans, I'm so sor—"

"I should go," she said, cutting him off before he could stammer an apology, or worse, his regrets. What if he hadn't meant it?

"I—but it's your room."

A reasonable observation, wasn't it? He did not, however, make any effort to leave.

"Then you should go." She took the blanket from him and wrapped it snugly around her middle.

"Or," he said, "we could go back to sleep." He tugged on the blanket, but she gripped it tightly so it wouldn't give.

"Or you could leave."

"Or, Evans, we could bloody talk about this like rational adults."

He found his glasses and jammed them onto his face.

"Or…or, Potter, we could not talk about any of it, and just go back to sleep."

"Nice try, Lily, but that's not going to work."

"But that was your suggestion not sixty seconds ago!"

"Your hand was down my trousers sixty seconds ago, Evans."

"And yours was up my skirts—"

"Exactly my point! We need to talk."

"I don't want to talk."

"Too bloody bad."

He wasn't being unreasonable, and she wasn't being fair. It's just, her head pounded, positively cleaved into. She hadn't had much to drink last night, had she? Exhaustion and hunger and stress, she supposed, were cause enough.

Especially stress. Example stressor: the boy in her bed, staring at her with an incredulous expression on his face.

"Why do we have to talk?"

Whining? Pathetic, Lily.

"You know why, Evans. We're bloody married, in case you've forgotten, and we will be, permanently, whether we like it or not, unless we sort this mess out today. I'm leaving tomorrow, and—"

"This bed is too small."

"It wasn't five minutes ago," Potter said with a snort.

She rolled her eyes. "Really? This is no time for jokes."

"What time is it for, then?"

"Not for being a first-rate smart arse."

She buried her chin in the blanket, but he tugged it back down so she couldn't hide. Double prick.

"Nor is it time for being a first-rate, subject changing, avoidant shrew."


"Are you done?"

No, she was not. And he hadn't given her much hope, had he, with the 'whether we want to be or not' business. The room had closed around her, suffocating and heavy, like he'd been just minutes before. The pounding in her head sharpened.

Dawn broke, the feeble, grayish early morning light filtering through the gap in her curtains. Any other morning, she would've thought it beautiful.

She needed sleep, and in order for that to happen, he needed to leave.

And so: "No."

He bristled, exactly as she had hoped. "You drive me mad, Evans, you know that?"

"Back to that again, are we?"

"Only because you're taking us there."

"And here I was, thinking I'd misjudged you or something."

"Still the same bloke I was three days ago, Evans."

"Then why in the hell are you still here?"


Why wasn't he leaving?

"Don't 'Lily' me."

"We can talk about—"

He chose that moment to do the worst possible bloody thing: console her with a placating hand on her shoulder.

She shrugged it off. "I can't."

"You can't, or you—"

"I just can't, okay?" She wasn't even mad at him, not really. She just—needed space. To clear her head. For her heart to stop beating so wildly. Bloody sleep. Her lungs to work. Mary. "Just—go. Please."

"You really want me to leave?"

He sounded injured, a wounded puppy. Could she blame him? She tried to calm her breaths, to will her voice to work, so she could give him a proper answer. Explain. Something. He interpreted her silence for her.


And before she could object, he rolled from the bed, picked up his shoes in one swift motion, and stormed to the door. His hand was on the knob when her voice finally bloody showed up. Strangled, yes, but it called after him.

He spun around quickly, and the almost-hopeful look on his face, barely illuminated, nearly did her in.

She was no better than her sister, with her biting remarks and driving him away, only to call him back again. Cat and bloody mouse. She swore Petunia got sadistic pleasure when Lily turned back around. Lily, however, felt nothing but guilt: it wasn't fair to him, any of this.

Whatever she'd been about to say died on her lips. His face hardened, stone, a coldness she hadn't thought possible. He gave a crisp bow.

"Good bye, Miss Evans."

The poor door shuddered on its hinges as he wrenched it open, and it quaked under the force with which he slammed it shut. The echo joined the exquisite pain blooming behind Lily's ears, reverberating long after he'd gone.

Well, he'd finally gotten his dramatic fucking exit, hadn't he?

She hadn't chased after him.

Sirius emerged from his room midmorning and found James tucked in his cozy arm chair, meticulously folding an intricate paper crane from one of the pages they'd created the day before. The corpses of its brethren lay smoldering in the fireplace.

James appreciated the poetry of it—creating something, watching it burn.

She hadn't chased after him, and he hadn't gone back. He'd yet to decide whether that was his saving grace or his ruination.

"Took you long enough to wake up, mate," he grumbled.

With a weary sigh, Sirius settled into the adjacent chair. "Don't get tetchy with me, mate, especially if you're going to brood in my sitting room and neglect to call for tea."

"I'm not brood—" James said, cutting it short when he caught Sirius's knowing expression.

"She a terrible shag?"

"I wouldn't know."

Sirius arched an eyebrow but didn't ask James to expound. He didn't retreat to his room, either, and James took that as an invitation.

"It's not real," he confessed, "any of it—the snogging or the declarations of love. It was revenge, all of it. To get back at the Dursleys and Mum and Dad."

Though Sirius said nothing, he grabbed a sheath of parchment and tore the edge off, squaring it. He was in for the long haul, then.

"I think I might like her, Padfoot, and I'm pretty sure she hates me."

"Her tits?" Sirius scraped the back of his thumb against the table, flattening the crease he'd just made.

"No." James said. "I mean, yes, those, and…more. Maybe? I don't know."

James sent his crane flying into the flames, and they reached up to devour it. He watched until it was ash. A long, easy silence stretched between him and Sirius as they folded, then folded again.

"What is it you want, Prongs?" Sirius finally asked.

"To run away," James tried.

Sirius shook his head. "Not plausible. You can either go home with her, mate, or without her."

"Well, I don't know which one I want to take," he lied—mostly. He liked her—was that enough? Christ.

He was nineteen. Married?

"Suppose we go home without her, then," Sirius said.

"All right."

"We'll end up, what?"

James threw his head back against his chair to mope at the ceiling. "Back here," he said. "Same issue, different girl."

Sirius tapped his chin. "You're a noble bastard, Prongs. I see the signs. You don't fancy her. You're half in love with her."

"I'm not." And he wasn't, because how could he be half in love after only two days?

"You are. Brooding. Indecisive. You dangled out a window to get a vase to impress a girl. You haven't acted this idiotic—not over a girl—since that professor."

Hell, Sirius was right…to a point. He wasn't in love with her, but whatever this was, he'd never felt it before, and he wasn't sure he would again. He wouldn't admit that just yet, though, so: "You're wrong."

"Makes no difference to me, mate. It's not my bloody marriage. And if you ask me—which you didn't, though I'll tell you anyway—you should be bloody well glad to be rid of her."


"What was it you called her the other night? A nasty, vindictive, redheaded shrew? You ought to be relieved."

"I know what you're doing, Padfoot. It's not going to work."

"Because, really, Prongs, she set you up for that vase thing, whatever you say, and she led you on. And that does make her worse than all of them combined, like you said not,"—Sirius glanced at the clock—"two and a half days ago, in this very room."


"And if that was her bloody idea, the revenge thing, it sounds like she's as much of a piece of work as you thought, and she and the Dursleys deserve each other…"

Black was trying to provoke him into defending her, into admitting it. Dammit if James didn't want to throw the prick out the window for it. He didn't, but only because he found himself saying, "She's not the worst of them, Sirius, and don't fucking say that about her and the Dursleys."

James didn't have the decency to hate himself for it, even, because Sirius was right.

"Which part of that did you find objectionable? The bit about the rest of them?" Sirius asked, trying not to sound bored with the conversation. Decent of him.

"Yeah." He turned in his chair to face Sirius. "And I reckon you're a bit right—about the other thing."

"The 'you being half in love with her' bit, you mean?"

"Do you have to say it like that?" James whined.

"Time is short, mate. Cut the bullshit."

"Fine. I'm not half in love with her, but I do like her." Freeing, admitting it. Embarrassing as hell, too. Time was short.

"A lot."


"What should I do?"

"Go find her and fuck her."

"Not helpful."

"You want me to go fetch Mum?"

James shook his head vehemently. His mother was the last thing he needed right now—she was going to be awful about the whole business, wasn't she?

"Thought so." Sirius gave James a wolfish grin. "Her tits must really be great, yeah?"

James flicked a crane at him. "Not the point, Padfoot."

"Then what is the point?"

James told him—that she was fantastic, brilliant, and wonderful, and all the reasons why.

To his credit, Sirius fidgeted a fair bit, but he didn't interrupt while James waxed poetic. He endured James's blathering about charm, her resourcefulness, her bloody spontaneity, her damned hair, her flair for dramatic exits, the ladder and the swing, and being held captive with Riddle's gang, even the extent of the shit she put up with from the Dursleys.

When he started describing her laughs, however, Sirius snapped. "Enough! Christ, Prongs. I should punch you."

James looked at him, despondent. "Please do."

"Fuck you for making me be Moony, Prongs, but here it is, best as I can figure: you are a goddamn fucking catastrophe."

"Obviously," James said, snorting.

"And you're mad about her, which is frankly an understatement. She fancies you. Whatever poetic sadness you're indulging in, mate, I've talked to Mary, and the girl bloody fancies you. She's not awful." Understatement, sure. This was Sirius, though, and James let it pass. "You've no idea what she's considering, or what her objections are. And the pair of you, self-sabotaging idiots who deserve each other, keep letting shit get in the way, distracting yourselves with the revenges and the shenanigans and whatnot."

"So? What should I do?"

Sirius waved a hand in the air. "Just, ask her out—to dinner. Cut the bullshit. Talk to her. Sort out her objections and soothe them. Win her bloody affections."

"That's…actually not half bad, Padfoot. Thanks."

Sirius shrugged. "Was bound to happen eventually."

Another silence. Sirius formed his cranes with renewed vigor, perhaps trying to scrub James's ramblings from his mind. James pondered how he was supposed to ask her to a proper dinner.

Moreover, what in the fuck he was supposed to do if she said yes.

"Prongs?" Sirius said, after he'd sent the last crane soaring into the fire.


"This." He gestured between them. "Feelings? This isn't going to be a regular occurrence. Now, get out of here and go find Evans."

James snorted. "I tried talking to her, Padfoot. She wouldn't bloody have it."

She was still upset—he needed to write it out. Be formal. Give her a chance to breathe, and all that. He explained this.

"Send an emissary, then. Stepford? Whatever his name was. He'd do it."

"I don't trust the stable boys like I trust you, Padfoot."

"Oh—no. No fucking way."

"You owe me," James reminded him. A lie, sure. Sirius usually owed him for something, though, so it was worth the risk.

"The last three days have been the opposite of me owing you."

"Don't pretend my misfortune hasn't amused you."

"That doesn't mean I owe you."

James crossed his arms. "You will."

Sirius considered the point, then held up three fingers. "Three cock ups, free pass."

James shook his head. "One."

"Four," Sirius said, "and I'll deliver your invitation. I'll even help you sort out supper details."

"Two," James countered, "and you'll keep the whining about helping me to a goddamn minimum."

"Deal, now can we please order some fucking tea?"

Midafternoon, Mary showed up in Lily's washroom with tea, a large vase of sunflowers, and tarts balanced on a tray.

"Might want to rethink that, love," she advised Lily.

"Give me one good reason," Lily whined.

She'd hadn't been about to drown herself, really, but she had indulged in a proper cry. Or three. She preferred the practicality of crying in the bathtub, if it had to be done. She'd only just calmed herself, however, and the smallest provocation would certainly wind her up again.

"I'll give you seventeen." Mary held out the vase—their vase—overfilled with sunflowers. "Sirius just dropped them off."

"He—he can't fix this with flowers, Mary. Especially since I picked those four days ago."

"I watched Potter pick them himself, Lily."

Lily jutted her chin out in defiance.

"In the rain."

"The bastard."

"Yes, flowers," Mary said. "How deviant."

Lily splashed at Mary, and Mary nibbled on one of Lily's tarts as revenge.

"The card, if you're wondering," she said between bites, "is an invitation to a 'proper' dinner—proper is in quotes. Just the two of you. That bit was underlined. Someone wrote 'no bullshit' on the back, and I'm not sure whether that was him or not. It's a shit invitation, really, but I think he means well."

When Lily didn't respond, Mary nudged her elbow with her hand.

"Well," she said, "I accepted on your behalf."

"Oh, Mary, you didn't!"

"Give me one good reason why you shouldn't go."

"I'll give you twenty," Lily said, and her tears came in earnest, and those damned hiccupping sobs, and she couldn't carry on. Mary, bless her, moved Lily's hair back, and patted her shoulder, and handed over a handkerchief, and waited until she'd dried up again. When she'd regained control, however tenuous, Mary handed her a cup of warm cup of tea. She drained it, twice, before Mary pressed the point.

"What is it that has you so upset, Lily?"

Lily didn't answer. Not to be contrary, but she didn't know where to begin.

"Did he insult your hair? Is he a terrible snog?"

"Quite the opposite."

"Out with it, then."

"I don't want to have this conversation."

"I'd rather be sewing instead of trying to keep my balance on this ridiculous stool, but here we are. Start from the beginning, love."

Mary patted Lily's hand, and that tiny act of comfort spurred her on. Her words came haltingly at first. Then something broke, and she found she couldn't stop them.

The whole story tumbled out: her fight with Petunia, the ultimatum. That first morning, his croaky voice. Potter's wit. Their revenge—the practice—and how it had all gone horribly, catastrophically wrong. Although she didn't tell the story in anything like the proper order, Mary got the gist. Heart flutters and stomach twists. That easy grin in his voice when he told a story. His mates. That cursed jaw. The failed pillow fort and the vases and the banisters. Not knowing how he felt.

Eventually, of course, her words ran dry. She lay still and silent, spent, staring at the ceiling. Her water had gone cold, though she hardly noticed.

After a long silence, Mary said, "It pains me to say this, Lil, but you're well on your way to falling in love."

"I know." An overstatement, really, but close e-bloody-nough. Lily disappeared beneath the water. The soap stung at her eyes. When she emerged a moment later, she leveled a helpless, manic plea at Mary: "What do I do?"

"Say yes, then."

"To marriage?"

"To supper."

"He's a conceited arse!"

"Except we all have our flaws, don't we? And, Lily, when you were talking about him, just now…"


She ran a hand through Lily's hair. "I haven't seen you that animated in months."


Mary nodded sagely, a very McGonagall gesture.

"He's kind of great, too," Lily confessed.

"He must have a great—"

"Christ, Mare. I've only felt it, not seen it. I'm not a tart."

Mary held out the tray. "Have a tart, tart."

Lily helped herself. She wasn't better, precisely, though the tarts helped. Mary helped. Getting the story out helped. The tea helped, even if it was sadly devoid of whisky.

Mary waited patiently—four entire minutes—before launching in again.

"I have one question, Lily Evans, and I need you to give it fair consideration before answering."

Lily sighed. "Fire away."

"Is this all so bad. Really?"

"What? Of course it is!"

"Yes, I know. World ending, suffering, woe to you—"


"My next question, then, is—why?"


"Asking the question again won't help you answer it," Mary said, ignoring Lily's murderous scowl. "Why is it so awful? Because the Dursleys? Because they'd be right?"

Lily sank into the water until her ears were submerged.

"This looks bad for them," Mary tried to reason. "The Potters are eccentric, perhaps, yet they outrank the Dursleys. You would outrank them."

"What's your point? They don't care what lengths they have to go through to get rid of me? Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"No, Lil. It's—there is no feeling better with them, don't you see? That's my point."

"She's pregnant." There. She'd said it—this thing she'd been holding onto. "Petunia."

"That doesn't make it better, Lil." Mary said. "That makes it worse."

"I know, but it—at least I can understand. From her twisted point of view. The why, you know."

That was a falsehood. She couldn't understand, would never understand. However antagonistic their relationship, a sister shouldn't just—

"Do you want to be here, Lily?" Mary asked bluntly.

"No," she said. The realization was freeing.

She did not. Her sister was using her baby as a pretext for cruelty. Lily didn't want to be here to have any part of it. She'd held some naive hope, when she'd first arrived, that things could be mended. And if not mended wholly, like what Mary could do, some sort of patch, more like Lily's handiwork. Petunia had taken her in, after all.

Those hopes had evaporated within days of her arrival.

She'd been trying to escape ever since.

"Take them out of this, if you can," Mary said. "And me—I know she included me in her ultimatum, about going with Potter or kicking you out, to try and sway you, but don't worry about that. Please. What do you want?"

That, at least, was easy: "To make my own choice."

"You can say no, then. To the Potters."

"And be cast out? Wandering and impoverished?"

"I'm not saying they're good choices, but hear me out. We could make for the coast. Perhaps the Potters would consent to take us—they seem decent enough that it's worth asking. I could sew, you could…sell swings, or something. I don't know. We'd make it work."

Lily's tears started in earnest, this time for an entirely different reason. She squeezed Mary's hand. "This got serious, all of a sudden, didn't it?"

"Well, dear, I don't mean to be a wet blanket, but your time is short. Did you think you were going to avoid it forever?"

"That was my aim."

"Have another tart."

A gloomy quiet settled between them as they picked the tray clean.

"D'you know what the irony is?" Lily said at last. "I think I would have chosen him. If things had been different. If I'd had a proper choice. In a heartbeat, I would have. Isn't that funny?"

Although it wasn't at all funny, an odd smile formed on Mary's face. She leaned in so they were inches apart.

"So the real question is, Lily: if you like him so much, can you get over the rest of it? The Dursleys and the Provision and everything? Is he worth it?"

Sirius came bounding back into the room. "She said yes."

"What exactly did she say?" James demanded.

"No, Prongs. I'm not doing that verbatim shit."

James grunted his displeasure.

"So, what's the plan?"

"What d'you mean?"

"I mean—Christ, Prongs, you don't have a plan?"

"No," James replied, "I've got a plan. I've just…no idea how to make it work."

She said yes. The same thrill—anticipation mingled with horror—overtook him. His legs begged to pace, yet seemed to have gone numb, and his stomach kinked into knots even he couldn't untie.

He laid it all out for Sirius: what he'd worked out as her main concerns, how to address them, and what they'd need to do it.

Sirius rocked back on his heels. "That's ambitious, Prongs, even for you."

"I know." James ran a hand through his hair. "She's worth it."

She was, absolutely worth it. He'd made peace with it. Now he was determined to, as Sirius had said, woo her.

"You know what this means, right?"

"Yes," James said heavily. "She's going to be awful about it, yeah, but it's—"

"—the only way, yes."

Sirius pulled James to his feet, and they set out to find their mother.

Even blindfolded, Lily could trace the path to her tower room.

Except when she climbed the ladder—blindfolded, per the instructions he'd given Mary—and he took her hand and gave her the okay to slip it off, it was unrecognizable. Every inch had been scoured, not a cobweb to be seen. He'd lined the perimeter of the room with candles and hung cheerful curtains around the window. Matching yellow flowers, along with one unlit candle, adorned a table in the middle of the room—the only place where proper chairs could be used without knocking heads on the slanted walls.


She jumped—she'd been so intent inspecting the room while he closed the trap door that she'd failed to properly notice him.

And now that she did properly notice him… Well. Damn He looked—good. Fit. Unfairly, devastatingly handsome, more like.

Sirius's polished touches—straight vest, crisp cravat—were obvious. She smiled at his hair, which was an unholy mess, as always, like he'd tried and given up halfway through. And he had a new smile. Not quite a smirk, not quite a grin.

It all added up to a version of James she hadn't seen before, or that she'd only seen glimpses of. He sucked in the hollow of his cheek.

She was staring. But it didn't matter, did it? He was staring, too.

"Hi," she returned, her throat feeling strangely constricted.

"Thank you for coming," he said, his hand moving halfway to his hair, then stopping. He walked forward to pull out her chair.

"Thank you for inviting me," she said, taking her seat. As he took his, she gestured to the room. "What is all this?"

"A proper dinner, like the card said."

She sipped her water. "And what does that mean? Proper?"

"No servants. No plots or subterfuges. No bullshit, Evans—that's Sirius's word, not mine."

No bullshit. Sirius Black had his uses, didn't he?

"It's brilliant," she said, and she meant it. As she exhaled, her tension lessened. Only infinitesimally, yes, yet it was enough. "Really, James, this is all brilliant. How'd you manage it?"


"Helped you with all this?"

"No." James smiled. "He bribed Stebbins and a few of the other boys with some brandy. Reckon they're making proper use of it by now."

"Awful," Lily said, but she didn't mean it at all.

"Mary told him which ones to go after."

"Any of them would've done it, you know, just to spite Petunia."

"Probably, yeah. You know, he's a bit put out."




"If Mary comes back with us… He's a flirt, yeah? That's all though. He's not—it's complicated. And Padfoot, for a bloke who loves complications, hates complicated."

"Oh, well—"

What was she to say to that—any of it? To the insinuation that Mary might come back with them, or the acknowledgement that Lily might not. She knew Mrs. Potter had offered Mary a position. That he was privy to that came as something of a surprise.

"It doesn't scare me, though," he told her.

"Come again?"

"It doesn't scare me—complicated."

She bit her lip to stifle a nervous laugh. "You're really, erm—taking Sirius's advice to heart, aren't you?"

"No bullshit," James said matter-of-factly. "I did warn you."

"You did."

"Does it scare you? Complicated?"

His voice had shifted to something gentler, bordering on wheedling, yet firm enough to let her know he wasn't going to let her maneuver out of an answer. Lily placed her hands in her lap and made a study of them. Because—she'd settled her mind about him, yes, but it was all so large, so permanent—and she fought against it because she didn't have a choice at all, not really.

Still, she knew she owed to him, and to herself, to be here, and she'd wanted to come—

"Yes," she said finally, truthfully. "It terrifies me."

"Do you want to eat?" He reached behind him and lifted the picnic basket into the air. "I'm not avoiding this. I just don't want it to go cold, if you're hungry."

"Oh—erm. I'm honestly not sure I can."

"Me neither…." He set it back down. "More mead?"

"Yes, please."

He refilled her glass, and waited until after she'd taken a sip before asking, "So, you know about the loophole."

She nodded.

"It ends tomorrow," he said.

"Which is why we're here tonight?"

He nodded.

"I'm sorry about this morning, James…"

"It's—all right. We both needed to take a breath, yeah?"

She opened her mouth to speak, and shut it again.

"No," he said, "if you've a thought on your mind, share it…please."

Lily set down her glass. Well, in for a farthing… "All right," she said. "Mary. You said, 'if she comes with.'"

"I did."

"What did you mean by that?"

"If you are coming home, with us, I asked Mum that she be part of the deal. Mum offered her a position without contingencies, which is—between them, really." He tugged at his cravat, mussing it up, suddenly unsure of himself. "I didn't mean to be an interfering git, Lily. I assumed you would want her to come, based on what you said about her…"

She risked a sip of mead and sorted that out, because—hm. She didn't know he was the one who'd fixed it. For Mary. For her. That was…exceptionally thoughtful of him. Damn.

"Based on what I've let slip about her, you mean," she said. "I haven't been forthcoming with you."

"I've noticed."

She sighed. "This conversation is extraordinarily awkward, James."


Her breath caught in her throat at the way he said her name. She'd been waiting for someone to say it like that for nineteen years... She hadn't known so much could be said in two syllables. He mirrored her own shocked expression, as if he'd surprised himself as well.

"I know," he continued, "that this is uncomfortable. Very. Everyone else has been having it for us, around us, about us—and I'm. I've never been one to sit idle and let people make decisions for me. I just—I want to talk." Then he added, "If that's amenable to you, of course. I'm not trying to be a prick, or—"

"You aren't being a prick. And you're right." Because he was, wasn't he? All he was asking was that they discuss all of this. He hadn't laid down any kind of ultimatum.

"Oi! Before I forget—here."

"What's this?" she asked, eyeing the large bag of jangling coins he'd just plopped onto the table.


"Clearly. Why?"

"Because I have options—real options. I could avoid this, all of it. Say no, leave here. Leave you. I could run away."

Hearing it didn't make her feel any better, and seeing the evidence made it worse.

"I know," she said. "Part of me despises you for it…"

"That's…fair. Only, I need to say this one thing. And then you can—despise me, rant all you want, and I'll listen." He paused, waiting for her acknowledgement before he continued. "I have this choice, Evans, and you don't. This isn't a choice for you at all. And—it doesn't sit well with me. I can't abide the thought that the only reason you'd come is to escape here, or to save Mary. Not that I would blame you." He waved a hand in the air. "I just don't want it on my conscience."

"You could leave me here—"

"To rot? To shiver at night? You're too damned clever to live as some shadow version of yourself. No one deserves this treatment."

She raised her chin, meeting his gaze head on. "I don't need your pity."

"Christ, I know, and I don't pity you." He leaned forward, placed both hands on the table. "You're stronger than anyone I've ever met, tolerating this bullshit. And—I'm not being a bloody hero here. The Dursleys paid this,"—he lifted the bag several inches and slammed it back to the table, nearly upsetting their glasses—"to my parents three days ago. This is your money."

The room swam around her, and tears prickled at the corners of her eyes. Her mouth dried up, like she'd swallowed ash.

"Shit," he yelped, seeing the tears slipping down her cheeks. "Please don't. I'm sorry—fuck. I shouldn't have let my temper best me." He held out his hand. "I'm sorry."

She took it in hers and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "No—it's not you, James. It's just—those bastards."

Because it wasn't him that was making these damned tears fall. It was him, yes, but in the greatest bloody possible way… Her sister, on the other hand… She'd didn't know this much joy and hurt could coexist in one heart.

"I'm sorry, Lily. I really am," he said, low and soothing. His thumb ran comforting circles on the palm of her hand. "I didn't intend to tell you like this."

"It's—there's no good way to break something like that…" she said, watery, shaky. "I think I did—know, that is. And, of course, I didn't want to believe it…"

The hot tears slipped down her cheeks, and she couldn't continue.

He pulled that sodding green handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her, and she withdrew her hand to blow her nose. A damn fine sight she looked now, surely, with her face all blotchy, yet there was nothing to be done for it.

She'd known she'd cry—an inevitability, really. It was just that she hadn't expected it to be over this.

"It's your inheritance, isn't it? Your share—from your parents?"

Although Lily could scarcely choke a response, that proved answer enough.

He swore under his breath, then said, "Well, my parents don't need it. It's yours. All of it, no contingencies."

"I don't need your pity," she said, "and I don't need saving."

"I know you don't need saving."

"Then what is this?"

His mouth quirked. "Consider it a rope ladder."

"I don't need it. Or—"

"Don't be stubborn," he snapped, then caught himself. "You do need it. You and Mary will need something to live off of—"

"Don't interrupt me, Potter."


"James," she said, and that proved enough to silence him. "You said you could say your piece, and then I'd have mine. Are you going to keep your word, or not?"

He gaped, then closed his mouth. He straightened his tie. He crossed his arms, and then uncrossed them. He fiddled with his cufflink. Finally he settled a hand on the table and encouraged her to proceed.

"You did all of this—Mary, ensuring the choice was mine, really mine—because you care. About me. You care about me."

"Yes, I do."

His gaze was unwavering, sure, and she didn't look away. She blushed, yes, but she didn't look away.

"I don't need the gold," she said. "I mean I do want it, and I'm glad I have it back from them. I don't need it so I can run away with Mary."

"You'll have safe passage," he said. "We'll take you wherever you want to go. And if you decide in a month or more that it's not working, we'll help you then, too."

He was misunderstanding her, though not intentionally.

"Why would you help me with all that?" she asked. "Why would you let me change my mind?"

"Let you? Evans, I don't think that I could 'let' you do anything."

"Is that a compliment or an insult?"


She smiled. "I'm not sure how I feel about that."

"The assertion that you're stubborn and pigheaded and will do exactly as you damn well please?"

"You sure that's a compliment?"

He grinned at her—easy, full. "Absolutely, yes."

"Then I'm not sure how I feel about you complimenting me."

"You'd prefer I insult you?"

"Erm, no. If that's your compliment, James Potter, I'm not sure I could handle your insults."

"Well then, take the compliment and say 'thank you, James.'"

She kicked his shin. Not enough to hurt, mind, but she communicated her point.

"Good enough, Evans" he said, "good enough."

And easy silence settled, then, until Lily eventually felt compelled to say it—it it—because he'd said his piece, put it out there, and she supposed it was her turn.

"What if I told you that I didn't need the gold to run away, James, because I wanted to come with you?"

He fingers ceased their drumming on the table. "Evans?"

She rolled her eyes. "Stop calling me that. Please."

"What do you want me to call you, then?"


"What?" James said, rubbing the nape of his neck, and his eyes widening. And then: "Oh."

Lily buried her smile in her drink.

"Oh, shit."

"What?" Lily started at the sudden curse. Had she said too much? "You don't have to, if you don't want—"

"No, not that—that is brilliant. Only, I forgot to give you this earlier." He slid a small package across the table to her. "You're ever so distracting, you know, Ev—Potter." His face split nearly in two, and Lily's did likewise. "Sorry, I don't stand on ceremony. If you hadn't noticed, I'm rather rubbish at this.""The art of romance?"

"I think Sirius would say 'wooing,' but essentially, yeah. And I'm sure there's an opportune moment here… This is yours. I've no claim to it, or to pretend it's a proper gift or anything…"


"I'm rambling, I know." He ducked his head, and his ears turned pink. He reached his hand up, to fuss with his hair. "I do that when I'm nervous."

"You rumple your hair when you're nervous, too."

James quickly removed his hand from his hair. "Open it."

He was watching her so eagerly—she almost hoped—and the package was the right size. Except when she pulled back the cloth, it wasn't.

"It's beautiful."

It wasn't a lie. She turned the bracelet in her hand. A bit tarnished from years of use, yes, though the details were exquisite. Perhaps a family antique? She tried to bite back her disappointment—she had no right to begrudge him a beautiful bracelet. She'd been foolish to hope…

She must not have done a good job hiding it because James pounded the table with his fist.

"Damn," he said, "I was afraid of that. Hold on…"

He grabbed another bag—how many sodding bags did he have hidden over there?—and she gasped when twenty gold bracelets of all shapes and sizes spilled over her side of the table.

"Where on earth—"

"I'll tell you about it sometime."

She looked up at him. "Not tonight?"

"We'll save it for another rainy day. Is it any of these?"

She examined them—and there, buried beneath the pile, there it was. Her bloody tears spilled again, though she was smiling brightly.

"That one," she choked. She held out her wrist, and he clasped her mother's bracelet back on. "Thank you—"

"Don't thank me, Lily. Christ. It's yours." He twisted the bracelet on her wrist with his thumb. "You never should've had to give it up."



"You aren't rubbish at this."

He grinned that grin—the kind that made her want to upend the table and launch herself at him. She reached forward and slipped her hand into his.

Their appetites returned. They cleared the table of the gold and the bracelets, then picked their way through the basket and unraveled all that had elapsed between them.

"You know the money?" he said. "Dad played coy that first day, to drive the price up. He wanted that bastard to pay as much as possible."

"I like your parents," she declared.

"They like you," he said. They bloody adored her, really. His mum had only been a tad intolerable this afternoon. Mostly she'd been teary and a tiny bit intoxicated as she'd given him permission for the carriage and enough gold to buy off Riddle.

Lily was suddenly serious. "I came into this determined to make you loathe me. To loathe you."


"Failed miserably on both counts."

"All your plans turn to shit, Evans."

"That they do."

Damn, hearing her say that was good. He'd been smiling and laughing like a love-struck fool. He was a fool already, and it was a bloody relief to know she was coming with for the ride. He hadn't realized how much the idea that she might say no had been pressing on him, until the weight was gone.

His mum had refused to give him the ring, however much he'd pleaded. She seemed to think that if Lily had said no, he'd do something rash and dramatic with it.

Ridiculous, wasn't it?

He'd have to give it to her in the morning.

"When did it change for you?" she asked in between bites of chicken.

He sipped his brandy while he considered the question. He could've named a dozen moments. He settled for: "When you told the story about the giraffe. You?"

She picked at her peas and smiled at her lap.

"The first night, I think. Anyone who could be that mischievous was worth knowing."


"I know."

The candles had dimmed significantly—had they really been here two hours? James remembered his match.

"Oi," James said, pulling Lily's unfocused gaze back to him.

She watched, bemused, as he pulled the match from his jacket pocket.

"Your last match?" she asked.


"For me?"

"Sort of—I mean. I've got more at home," he said, shrugging.

He made to strike the match on the wall behind him and light the candle on their table. He'd saved it, to be symbolic, or whatever, but she shifted forward and grabbed his arm.

"The gesture is—ah—sweet, James, but you should keep it. I—kind of like the thought of you carrying it around, you know? Just in case we need to create a little mayhem." She plucked her napkin from the floor and placed it primly back in her lap. "Or for nostalgia, you know. Whatever."

With a grin, he slipped it back into his pocket.

"Your middle names?" he asked idly, after a lull in the conversation.

The food had long gone, and the silence wasn't uncomfortable, but he wasn't sure what came next. He could use his imagination, sure—had been using it quite vividly for three days. Only he didn't want to be presumptive, did he?

He'd ensured both their beds had new sheets though, just in case.

"I don't have one, unfortunately," she said. "But you've got three, so that makes up for it."

"I do have three."

"Well?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, what?"

"What order are they in?"

"Ah, Potter," he said, raising his goblet to her. "You can't expect a bloke to part with all his secrets at once."

She raised hers as well. "To shit brandy."

It was truly, awful brandy, but she was too buoyant to be picky.

"To never seeing Vernon Dursley's face again."

"Hear, hear," she said, laughing and tipping her glass at him. "To many more contests—"


"And creative ways to resolve them."

"Is that a threat?" he asked. He leveled that smirk at her, the one that made her flex her fingers and bite her cheek.

"Not a threat, Potter. A promise."


She crossed her heart, and gave him the sly grin that made his cock twitch. "I solemnly swear."

"You have been paying attention."

"I have."

"To Provision 712?" James tried, and then frowned. "No. Too far. To adventure?"

"You mean risk?"

"Isn't it one and the same?"

She matched his grin, clinked her glass to his, and then she kicked his shin.

James Potter, he thought, rubbing said shin, you are still a fucking arse, and then he leaned over and kissed his wife.

Laughter echoed in the corridor: Stebbins and Davies, hauling the last of her things to the carriages. The carriages, where she'd soon meet up with Mary, James, and his family. Not only his family—they were hers now, too.

Lily did not follow. Instead she lingered, tidying her room for no one in particular. Not her room, the room.

She hadn't anticipated that leaving would be this difficult.

How odd, to feel pangs of nostalgia for a place she'd so long despised. Oh, she'd gladly light a match to the bed, but she'd definitely miss the rickety, crooked old table upon which she and Mary had spent so many evenings playing cards, and the armoire with its hidden compartments, and the room's one comfort—the cheerful yellow draperies.

She'd definitely miss the wobbly chair, which she and James had put to, well, adventurous uses the night before.

She'd woken before early, before dawn, strangely invigorated when she ought to have been exhausted. After disentangling herself from James and pressing a light kiss to his shoulder, she'd dressed, then indulged in a farewell tour of her favorite haunts: the gardens, her tower room, a particular oak tree overlooking the back pond.

Upon her return she'd found a very flustered James pacing in front of her fireplace. Poor James, who'd woken to an empty bed and thought—well, he'd been nearing panic, hadn't he?

She'd quickly assuaged his anxieties and properly distracted him. Distracted him so thoroughly, in fact, that they were half an hour later to breakfast.

Worth it.

And just as well, for breakfast had been awkward, bordering on miserable, the air heavy with the desire to have the thing over and done with as quickly as possible.

It had taken all morning, actually, to gather her things. And now Lily surveyed her room, struggling to pinpoint any discernable difference between today versus the day she'd arrived.

She came up short. Once she left, it might be as if she'd never lived here at all.

Except that wasn't entirely true, was it? Petunia could—and undoubtedly would—erase any physical evidence of her existence, but the staff would remember her.

She'd already endured a dozen emotional goodbyes, receiving well-wishes and small tokens of affection from the various staff: a bag of piano keys from the butlers; small box of seeds from the gardener; a bottle of questionable liquid from Davies. She'd bequeathed her map to him and Stebbins with the instruction that they were to use it for mischief, and to use it often. They assured her, grinning broadly, that it would be their life's work.

The best and worst gift, however, had come from Minerva.

She still reeled from the news that McGonagall would not be coming with them. Minerva had followed her and Mary here, after all, after Lily's parents had died, so she'd just assumed…

But Minerva had refused the employment offer, citing to Mrs. Potter her many thanks, but explaining that her constitution simply did not permit such a large and sudden upheaval. To Lily, she'd expounded: Lily's need for her had lessened, and she was needed more here. Mothering the staff, she'd called it, but Lily knew she meant protecting them from Petunia's wrath.

Lily had disagreed, of course, quite vocally, but to no avail—Minerva would not be dissuaded. She'd stayed up all night, painstakingly writing down Lily's favorite recipes for the new cook.

They didn't bother lying about visits; they were both entirely aware that Lily would not be returning.

A soft rap on the door frame interrupted her reverie. She turned to find James leaning against the doorframe.

"Hullo," she said, trying to discreetly wipe her tears.

"Hi." He shoved his hands into his pockets. "I'm not pressing, yeah? I just wanted to see how you—d'you need a moment alone?"


"Do you want me to get Mary?"

"No, James. I think I just had my minute, actually."

He stepped into the room. "You can have another, if you need. Or twenty…"

"I don't need it, thanks, but could you, erm, come here?"

He quickly crossed the space between them and wrapped her in a tight embrace.

"Minerva?" he guessed.

She nodded. She hoped the tears slipping off the end of her nose in earnest weren't soaking through his vest, but James, rubbing soothing circles on her back, didn't seem to mind.

They hadn't hugged yet, had they? Not properly. Lily didn't consider herself the hugging sort, but she could grow accustomed to this, to him. He radiated warmth, and she gladly let him envelop her.

Eventually, her tears slowed, and her breathing calmed, aligning with his.

"Some goodbyes are harder than others, I guess," she said, once she could trust herself to speak.

"I understand…" he said, running a soothing hand up and down her back. "Actually I don't, but I can imagine…y'know, intellectually…actually I can't do that either, but—"


"I'm muttering, aren't I?"

"Yes. And thank you."

He pressed a light kiss to her temple. "Off topic, but d'you want something to cheer you up?"

"Yes, please."

He pulled her hands down from around his waist, and Lily flushed, embarrassed that she hadn't let go sooner. But he didn't let go of her hand. He held it up between them, and before Lily could ask what on earth he was doing, he slipped an intricately wrought ring onto her finger.

The wrong finger, sure, but she wasn't bloody complaining.

"It's an engagement ring—my grandmother's. And we were never technically engaged, but—"

She stared at it, mouth open, and then closed it again.

"Sorry," he said, "I should have asked if you bloody wanted it, before I just shoved it on your finger."

"No, James. It's actually perfect. Really." She popped onto her toes, and gave him a short kiss.

"Oh, good." He wore that proud, preening grin. She patted his cheek. "D'you think we'll stop having awkward moments like this?" he asked.

She laughed. "It's been less than a day, yes? I think we'll need more time, don't you?"

"Well, when you put it that way."

"You're setting an awful precedent, you know."

He quirked his head. "Oh?"

She held up her hands. "Yesterday, a bracelet. Today, a ring. You're going to spoil me into expecting something new every day."

"Erm—I could swing that, probably, we've got a massive—"

"Christ, James!" she said, draping her arms around his neck. "I was joking."

He put his arms around her waist again, and pulled her flush against him. "I wasn't."

"I know."

"I could make you a swing for you, though."

"Or"—she raised an eyebrow—"you could admire and compliment me while I make one myself, yes?"

"Even better."

He grinned at her, but his eyes flickered to the window.

"They're waiting for us, aren't they?" she asked.

"Yeah." His hands dropped from her waist, and one of them jumped to his hair. "Most of them, anyway."

"What does that mean?"

"Erm, well. I don't think you brother-in-law will be coming to bid us farewell, actually."

"Dare I ask?"

"Do you really need to ask?"

"Only because I want the sordid details. I expect great things from you."

"Okay," he said, fidgeting from one foot to the other. "Thing is, we bumped into each other in the corridor, just now. And yesterday it was none of my business, and I kept silent, yeah? Because you asked me to. But today, Lily,"—he gestured to her—"you are my wife, and it is exactly my business. So, y'know, I gave him a piece of my mind. Or forty pieces. He is not coming, if he knows what's good for him, and good fucking riddan—"

She cut him off with a kiss, a proper kiss, flinging herself into his arms. A thank you, a declaration, perhaps all of the above. It quickly deepened into something hungry, devouring—they wouldn't have any time alone for hours, after all, so they might as well indulge now while they could. When she was sure he was thoroughly stupefied, she pulled away.

Punch drunk. Exactly as she felt.

He leveled that boyish, lopsided grin at her, the one she'd grown so fond of.



"I'm ready to leave now."

"Yeah," he said, his voice low, and sweet, and everything she wanted. "Let's go home."