Chapter 1: D (Debriefing, Dinner, Dumbledore)

Who said that the first year of marriage is heaven on earth, and then everything else is downhill after that? thought Lily Evans Potter, as she drummed her fingers on the kitchen tabletop in brief staccato beats. Whoever you were, well done, you said something exactly right. She sighed and looked at the clock. Half-past eight already. Supper had been cooling on the table since six-thirty that evening, which was when he was supposed to have come home. Lily thought the 'he' with particular venom, mixed with a bit of anxiety, and smacked her hand on the table for emphasis. The silverware rattled and a single drop of water hovered—trembling—at the rim of a cut-glass vase filled with fiery red poppies, which served as the centrepiece of the table.

Rain pattered steadily on the roof as Lily got up to shut the blinds. The growing darkness outside made her a little uneasy; the trees that surrounded the house obscured it from view of passersby, which gave the dwelling privacy, but also kept the inhabitants from seeing any sign of neighbours. Lily slid her chair a little closer to the roaring fire in the fireplace, which was clear of rainwater, and held out her palms to its welcoming glow. Brow furrowed, she checked the clock again and sighed bitterly.

The marriage between James Potter and Lily Evans had been a match made in heaven—or so everybody believed, when the couple had married right out of school and settled down in a sizable house near Hogsmeade, so as to be near wizarding establishments and Dumbledore. The two had been together since their fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and though the relationship had certainly not been all smooth sailing, it most definitely had been one of the more ideal relationships in Hogwarts history. Even strict Professor McGonagall, who seldom treaded the halls without directing reprimands at loving couples for "improper public displays of affection," had been wont to smile at Lily and James when she caught them snogging in various hidden corners of the castle (that is, she smiled before taking off points. McGonagall never slacked.). She'd been present at their wedding, along with Dumbledore and various other professors from Hogwarts—well, excluding one Severus Snape, who'd been in their year at school and had just happened to get a temporary position as Potions master upon graduation (it took weeks for Sirius to get over the shock). James had flat-out refused when Lily suggested asking him—she'd thought it would only be polite, since they were inviting all the rest of the faculty—and since Lily held no great love for said greasy git either, she hadn't pushed the matter.

James and Lily, both being generally "nice" people, had had almost no tiffs in their relationship once it had finally started, after much prodding and shoving and primitive torture courtesy of Moony, Wormtail, and Padfoot. Of course, when they finally admitted that yes, they'd both been harboring secret crushes on each other for the past year or so, and that no, they would rather not continue hexing each other whenever they came face-to-face in the halls (it was becoming rather painful, as their knowledge of hexes was becoming more complex each year), James's best friends and Lily's particular acquaintances had celebrated by throwing a huge party in the Gryffindor common room. That is, after they'd confiscated Lily and James's wands and hexed them both within an inch of their lives to make up for the previous four years of migraines the two had put everyone through.

No one doubted that James and Lily would end up together. The way they looked at each other, the way they walked together through the halls, the way they smiled in each other's presence…(Sirius made loud kissing noises when he saw them). Of course, no one had really expected it so soon, but really, if it was all just a matter of time anyway, why not sooner? The fact that their parents died during their sixth year probably sped the process, some said, since both of them were left without any family to speak of, clinging to each other and to their friends. Their relationship grew in depth through mutual dependence.

Lily's parents, typical (though on the wealthy side of the thin financial line) muggles, had died by act of increasing supporters of Voldemort's Order of Dark Magic; this was hardly unexpected at the time, as the families of muggle-born witches and wizards were often targeted in hate-crimes. Ministry workers involved in the incident had had to modify the memory of Lily's sister Petunia, who had been hysterical at the scene, into believing that her parents were killed in a car crash. Further memory-obliterating spells were unnecessary, as Petunia had already known about Lily's being a witch.

Lily's parents' deaths, while tragic, had very little comparative impact on the wizarding world; it was a completely different matter, however, for James's. James's parents had died, similarly, in a devastating Death Eater attack on their estate. The tragedy had been completely unexpected to everyone except perhaps Dumbledore, who had been the one to deliver the news and had not looked particularly surprised at it, though extremely grief-stricken. But then again, not many things surprised Dumbledore, and it was doubtful that anyone noticed his lack of astonishment at the news what with the general chaos that ensued. James' family had been of pure magical blood, and dated as far back as most historians could remember—with the possible exception of ancient Professor Binns. The attack sent the rest of the pureblooded wizarding world into confusion.

James proposed to Lily midway through their seventh year—no one had yet been able to figure out how he'd done it, though Sirius tended to look a bit smug when friends puzzled over it—and Lily had walked around with a dazzling diamond-emerald engagement ring on her pretty little finger, and an equally dazzling, secret smile on her face, until their wedding ceremony that summer following graduation. The newlyweds had gone on a brief honeymoon to some small island in the tropics, and then settled down in their "cottage" ("Mansion, more like," scoffed Remus) to live happily ever after.

This lasted...for almost a year. Then, somehow, things had begun to wear a little thin. After all, Remus would say quite rationally, during one of James and Lily's increasingly frequent arguments, it's only natural that two teenaged people would get annoyed at each other if they spent enough time in the same house. ("And weren't having mad sex," Sirius added with an evil grin, which landed him with singing boils, due to simultaneous hexing from James and Lily both. The sight of Sirius covered in nasty red boils which continually sang "God Save the King" in different pitches left all witnesses in a state of hysterical laughter, thus ending that particular lovers' quarrel.)

It might just be some small annoyances after having to spend so much time with a single other person, Lily admitted, glancing at the clock again. But small annoyances add up, like millions of tiny mosquito bites, and certainly don't go away quickly. I'd rather have it out with a meat-axe, she thought bitterly, noting that it was now ten minutes to nine. And where is he?!?!?!?!?!!?!?

A door slammed and footsteps echoed in the hall. "Lily?" a familiar voice called.

"In the kitchen, dear!" she replied, her falsely sweet voice bouncing off the walls.

The footsteps approached rapidly and a tired-looking James Potter entered the room. His usually untidy black hair was messier than ever, sticking up in all directions, and his brown eyes were weary behind his wire-rimmed glasses. The usual spring in his step was replaced by a slight drag, as he paused for a moment before dropping his things on one of the chairs.

James was working as an Auror, having received an invitation to join the force under Moody at the end of his seventh year at Hogwarts. Lily had chosen to work at the Ministry, something about developmental defense. Her schedule was therefore much more of a nine-to-five job than James's was. Which was in part why she had been waiting, dinner prepared, for over two hours. That, and the fact that it was their wedding anniversary.

James paused for a moment, before saying anything else, to look at his wife. Lily looked beautiful, as always, he reflected, as he appreciated the way the long, dark red waves of her hair glowed in the lamplight. Her bright green eyes, while showing a good deal of annoyance, softened a bit as he regarded her. The emerald green of her robes was muted in comparison to her eyes, and seemed to accentuate the lovely contrast between her hair and eye colour. He noticed, as she stared back at him, that she looked a bit, well, tired. Tearing his eyes away from her face, he peeked at the clock and at the cold dishes set out on the table and sighed.

Lily watched as her husband tried to look at the time without her noticing. It was just so James, to not even notice the time in his absorption in his work. While James wasn't the hottest male at Hogwarts, Lily had always found his unkempt hair and thoughtful brown eyes to be rather adorable. They gave him a rakish look, especially when he was thinking up a new prank.

But now he just looked incredibly tired. She felt a little twinge of guilt for being so annoyed at him previously, but steeled herself—it wasn't the first time James had come home late (by more than two hours!) for dinner, without so much as calling home through the fireplace or sending a quick owl. She knew he could get extremely absorbed into his work, but really, couldn't he remember to at least tell her if he wouldn't be home? Then at least she wouldn't be so worried, wondering what had happened to him. (And she would know to eat something first, so that she wasn't getting lightheaded from hunger by the time he got back.) Even though James really hadn't had enough experience as an Auror to be let into the truly dangerous situations, she couldn't help feeling a bit apprehensive when he didn't show up at the agreed times, especially on dark and stormy nights like this one.

"I'm sorry," James said softly, pulling up a chair. "You know how it is at work, with Moody...the last few cases we've been investigating..."

"Yes, I know, James," Lily tried to think through what she was about to say. "I know it's important work, and I know you get very absorbed, and I know it's for everyone's good, and even more for ours because Voldemort was after something in your family when he—well, when he did what he did—but really, James, couldn't you remember to owl or call or somehow let me know if you're going to be two and a half hours late for dinner?" And do you remember what day it is? her mind tacked on.

James winced at the shrillness that had entered her voice towards the end of her sentence. Sighing again, he nodded. "I know, Lily, I'll try to remember next time."

Lily didn't answer. She took a few deep breaths and watched James, as he sat wearily before her. Her eyes softened, but her mouth was set in a stubborn line that James knew all too well. She was silent for a few moments more, just sitting there, her eyes fixed on his. Finally, she let out a breath she didn't even know she'd been holding, and cast her eyes to the clock, then downwards to her folded hands. In a low voice, which James could barely hear, she replied, "But you say that every time, James. And today…well, today was special."

Realization dawned in his eyes. He didn't answer her, and the two sat in silence for a bit longer, neither seeming to know what to do.

Just then, there was the sound of a throat being cleared, and the familiar face of Albus Dumbledore smiled out at the couple from the fireplace. The two of them immediately stood and moved closer to the fire.

"Albus," James greeted, slightly uneasily.

"Sorry for interrupting dinner," Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling.

"It's all right," mumbled Lily. "We hadn't started yet."

Dumbledore's bespectacled eyes, never missing anything, took in the sparkling silverware and the covered dishes, then the clock still ticking away on the wall behind the table, and then Lily and James, who were unconsciously standing a bit apart, their backs turned toward one another. Dumbledore's expression grew more sober, though his eyes still twinkled a bit. "...I see."

"Well," he continued, after a barely perceptible pause. "I have a rather large favor to ask of the two of you. I'll understand perfectly if you'd rather not accept, but I'd like to let you know first that this is exceedingly important to—well, to everyone at Hogwarts."

Two attentive faces were turned towards Dumbledore now, and they both stepped closer, starting a little when their shoulders touched and then shrugging it off and looking back towards the older man. In one voice, they replied, "Continue, please."

Dumbledore grinned, then cleared his throat and continued. "Ahem,....well, what I wanted to ask of the two of you was this: Minerva's taking a bit of a trip to do some rather critical research for me in various other parts of the world—" Lily and James nodded in perfect synchronization, motioning for him to continue. Dumbledore smothered another grin. "—and so her place as Transfiguration professor has been left vacant. I remembered that James, here, was always partial to the subject, and thought I would ask if he might be available to take up the post—temporarily, that is..."

James beamed at Dumbledore, but then his face fell. "I'm so sorry, Professor, I'd love to, but Moody's rather strict when it comes to—"

"You needn't worry about that," Dumbledore interrupted, still smiling. "I've talked to him already, and he's given his permission, if you so choose to take up the position. He said that you tend to overwork yourself, and that you need a change of scenery anyway." Lily smirked at this remark, but said nothing.

James smirked at Dumbledore, not noticing the look on Lily's face that so resembled his own expression. "I doubt Moody said anything so refined as 'a change of scenery,' sir..."

Dumbledore chuckled. "I take it you accept, then?"

"Of co—" James seemed suddenly to remember a certain little problem. It looked like a light bulb had gone off above his head, right below the words Discuss with wife!! in neon letters. Oops.

"Er...well....Lily...and...." Lily was glaring at him.

Dumbledore interrupted again, kindly. "Actually, that's why I needed to speak with both of you. It just so happens that Minerva needed an assistant with some expert knowledge of charms..." Lily perked up noticeably at these words, and began nodding ecstatically. "...which is why Professor Flitwick decided to accompany her." Lily's face fell, until the implications of these words hit her, at which point her face lit up once again. James, who hadn't been listening, was watching Lily's face instead and looked quite amused at the changing expressions. "We thought Lily might make a good stand-in, and yes, it's already cleared with the Ministry."

Lily and James, for the first time that evening, exchanged looks of similar brightness. "Of course we'll do it, Professor!"

He smiled benignly and nodded. "All right, then, I'll owl you the details, and you'll start work here at Hogwarts on September first. You may have to come a week or two earlier, just to get acquainted with what you'll be doing, but we can arrange that later..."

He was about to disappear with the familiar popping noise and the couple was about to return to the dinner table when, suddenly, he called them back. "James, Lily! One more thing!" He looked at them sternly, though his eyes were still dancing beneath his moon-shaped spectacles. "I'll have you remember that neither of you are students anymore, and you must strictly enforce the school rules! I'd like you both to please try to behave properly around the students and the rest of the staff. Especially the faculty." With one last twinkle, his head disappeared.

"'Especially the faculty,' eh?" said James thoughtfully. He and Lily had pondering looks on their faces. "The faculty...the faculty..."

Their faces were startling. It was as if they were two hungry children who had just seen a chocolate cake ahead.

Lily: "Professors..."

James: "History of Magic...Herbology...Potions...Potions…"

Lily: "Potions..."

Both: "SNAPE!"

With identical expressions of glee.

After-Note:

Is it just me, or is James always an Auror/Transfiguration guru, and Lily always doing something Charms-related? Simply because Ollivander mentioned somewhere early on that their wands were suited for Transfig./Charms, respectively? Ah well, my fried brain can't come up with creative jobs.

I think I'd also just like to mention that I completely agree with whoever it is that began pushing the idea of James not being the "hot" type of guy. That adjective could perhaps be applied to Sirius, since he was the bad-boy flying motorcycle try-to-kill-Snape type, but I always think of James as more of a cute, personality-speaks-louder-than-looks type. Any thoughts on that?