Chapter 19: Flight and Fight

"You overreact about the smallest things, Lily, it's bloody ridiculous! Any normal person would have just rolled her eyes and moved on but, no, you have to go ahead and be ready to fly off the handle. Literally!"-James

x


x

Lily and James had lingered a few moments longer, somewhat hopeful that the old professor would offer more helpful words at their departure. But Professor Dumbledore had turned his entire attention back to his desk, intently looking over a stack of parchment as though he'd forgotten the two students existed. With no other choice, they picked up their belongings and reluctantly shuffled out of the office.

"Well!" Lily said. She sighed, hitching her bag more securely over her shoulder. "I feel like we learned more about Dumbledore's childhood than we did about this spell. I wish there was more research to read about this; maybe some background would help."

"No, I don't think that'd do any good," James told her. "Dumbledore gave us any and all information about it that we needed to know. There's no way he'd hold out. Besides, the books would just say what we already know and the bottom line is the same—the only solution is a true understanding of one another."

"Okay, so how do we do that? We're already around each other more than we've ever been! What more can we possibly do?"

James stopped walking and looked at Lily mischievously. "Why, Lily, what impeccable timing you have with your questions! I was just about to suggest something to facilitate the return to our bodies."

Lily's head dropped back and her shoulder's slouched, her body taking on that of a pouting toddler as she groaned loudly. "Oh no. What are you going to put me through now?"

"We need to practice your Quidditch," James stated firmly. "Hopefully we'll be back to normal before the next match but we can't take any chances. We really should prep and run some drills just in case. I can't handle another tragedy like QA-1."

"What's 'QA-1'?"

"Quidditch Apocalypse the First, my name for what went down at the last game. Clever, right?"

"No!" Lily exclaimed. "It's rude and not reassuring for me at all! You threw me out onto a pitch with nothing more than one practice and a conversation under my belt, among players that have been playing and practicing for years; of course that game was a disaster! You think reminding me of that with some smart-arse title of the situation is going to make me want to run your stupid drills?"

"Look, you're right," James conceded. He placed his hands on her shoulders and jostled her ever so slightly to shake off her nerves and tension. "It was pretty unfair that I didn't prepare you properly and then expected you to just ace the game. It's a new beginning and we need to start slowly. You know, walk before you run and all that. Basically treat you like a first year with a training broom."

Lily folded her arms angrily and glared, saying sharply, "Maybe you should have had this mindset before launching me into the air with a bloody microscopic gold dot and a few homicidal cannonballs in front of the entire school!"

"I'm sorry, I'm trying to avoid that now in case you have to go out there again! Look, just trust me, alright? I'm a good teacher, you'll be fine. Just you and me. No crowds. No pitch. Just you, me, and a broom."

"Ugh, alright." Lily craned her neck and rubbed at the stiffness gathered in a knot. "Fine, I'll do it. But it's supposed to be freezing out there tonight."

"We won't be outside."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" she asked cautiously.

"You'll see." James laughed when Lily just looked even more skeptical after his attempt to reassure her. "You'll be amazed. I can't ruin the surprise."

He resumed striding down the hall and Lily quickly tried to catch up to him to get clarification on his mysterious answer, but any questions she had quickly evaporated when they turned the corner and nearly collided into Professor McGonagall, who stared at them sternly and pursed her lips together at the sight of them.

"Potter," she greeted crisply, looking at the correct of the two. She turned her head to look at Lily. "Evans."

"Hi, Professor," Lily returned guiltily. "I can explain about this morning."

"Enough, Evans. You know I don't tolerate any unexcused absences, especially from my upperclassmen."

"But I—!"

The woman held up a palm to stop any impending excuses. "No matter the current strange circumstances of you and Mr. Potter, your academic performances will remain at the appropriate level. Detention, both of you, to be served Saturday evening."

Professor McGonagall inhaled deeply and stood aside, nodding down toward the corridor to indicate permission to leave. James and Lily glanced at each other and exchanged exasperated looks before obeying their second dismissal of the afternoon.

x


x

Later that night in the Common Room, Parker and Kate sat near the fireplace surrounded by books and curls of parchment. For the umpteenth time Parker stopped writing on her parchment to check the time and looked toward the entrance. It had been a pattern of hers ever since they'd sat down to tackle their assignments. The steady scratch of her quill on the paper for a few minutes, then it would cease. Quiet for a few moments as she checked the clock and the door. A heavy sigh to break the silence before the scratch, scratch, scratch resumed and the whole sequence began again.

"You need to stop," Kate muttered to her without looking up from her own homework. "You're making me anxious and breaking my concentration, and it is driving me batty. You keep shifting around and messing me up while I write. She'll get here when she gets here, and you being like this isn't going to make her arrive any faster."

"But where is she?" Parker said, completely exasperated. "She was Merlin-knows-where during lunch and every time I tried to talk to her, she'd dart away without even listening to me! She said she'd be here later tonight doing homework and I have yet to catch her. All I want to do is find out what happened today and see whether she's okay, but I can't do that if she's harder to pin down than a Cornish pixie!"

Kate blasted out a sigh of her own and dropped her quill, setting her inkpot down on the table. "Alright, Parker," she told her friend firmly. "She may not be 100% fine but if she wasn't she'd be right here on the couch with us relaying everything that happened over and over again like she does when something is upsetting. If anything, all she's doing is getting on with her day after a morning that was complete shit. That's a good sign, don't you think?"

"Why do people keep saying that to me? That's great and all, yes, but it's completely unlike the Lily we know. That's what bothers me and that's why I want to check on her—I don't care what any of you say, something is not right here!"

"I get it, Parker, really I do; but in the meantime, until she's sitting right here in front of us, there's nothing we can do about it right now. I'm wondering what's going on, too, and once I see her I'll be right there next to you peppering her with your endless questions, as I know you'll do, until she gives us answers. But in the meantime I still have a two-foot essay to write that's still due tomorrow. The Lily we know, as uptight as she is about her studies, is probably working on it right now in the library as we speak. So, do yourself a favor." Kate reached over and picked up Parker's quill, jammed it into her hand, and poised her hand over her unfinished assignment. "And focus."

x


x

Lily's eyebrows knitted together in confusion as she watched James stride back and forth in front of a wall.

"I know this looks weird," James said, turning on his heel and walking back from where he came. "But you'll understand in a minute. I usually don't have to do it this many times but I lost count, so I have to start over."

She was just about to remark on his behavior, after listening to him count under his breath, when James gave a whoop of victory and pointed at the wall in front of them. "Low and behold," he said triumphantly.

Where there had been a solid and continuous wall mere moments before now contained a simple door that had appeared at some point during James's pacing, and Lily had no idea how and when it had gotten there.

Then again, she thought. Am I ever able to explain the way this castle operates? She warily looked at James, who had swung the door open and was waving her inside, before walking inside as well.

A single broom leaned against a stand in the middle of a vast space that was otherwise empty. The ground felt slightly springy underneath her. Experimentally rocking onto the balls of her feet, Lily looked down to see fresh, spring-green grass growing out from the floor.

"Cool, huh?" James said behind her. He shut the door and came to stand next to her. "This is the Room of Requirement. Not a lot of people know about it, but it's probably most incredible room in the entirety of the Hogwarts Castle."

"Because it has anything you need?" Lily ventured.

"Mhm."

"How did you find it?"

"A few years ago accidentally. I went wandering around the castle one day, wishing I had a sketch pad and a quill because I'd forgotten mine at home. Ever since I tried the Muggle ones, parchment doesn't really do it for me the same way. I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going, but I spotted a door and went through it. Found a brand new sketchpad with not only quills, but also a few Muggle drawing tools as well. It took me more than a few times to find it again and to figure out how to conjure it."

Lily blinked in surprise at his answer. "Oh," she murmured. The image of the picture he'd drawn earlier flashed across her memory. "This sounds super random but do you ever show anyone your drawings?"

"Well, it's not like I hide them or anything, but I don't usually show them about either. It's not really something a lot of people know about me. Why?"

"I don't know, I'm still a little bit in shock of how well you draw and I didn't realize you do it so much. I'm a bit curious about what your others look like. I know this is forward but would you ever let me see some more of them?"

James scratched his chin, suddenly a bit bashful. "Um…yeah, I guess I could do that sometime." Lily beamed at him excitedly and James felt as though his stomach plunged down to his feet.

"Great!" she said. "We'll call it a reward for making me go through with this. Speaking of, why is there only one broom?"

Thankful for her ability to distract herself, James cleared his throat and answered, "Because. I would like my body back without permanent paralysis." Lily glowered at him at his comment, the warm moment of before clearly forgotten. "I realized that the best way to avoid that outcome is to take small steps to the small steps."

"Meaning…?"

"Meaning we're about to break out of our comfort zones." He walked over to the center of the room and lifted it from its stand. After tossing it up a little bit and testing its weight, he swung his leg over the broomstick and moved around to get comfortable. "Get on," he instructed.

"What are we doing?"

"We're just going to fly around slowly. I just want to get you used to the feeling of the broom movement while we're in the air. No pressure, just zooming around. Now, hurry up and get on."

"Ugh, Potter—!" Lily protested.

"Yeah, yeah, I've heard it all." He waved his hand impatiently at her and rolled his eyes. "'You don't want to, you can't do this,' blah, blah, blah."

"Fine, but—"

"'If I grope you I'm dead, I better not drop you, or you'll come back to haunt me,' blah, blah blah. Are we done here, did I cover the usuals? Let's get on with it, please."

With nothing else to add to the conversation, Lily scowled as she finally followed suit, climbing on behind and scooting until she was flush against him. She lightly grasped his waist. "Well, Potter, looks like Veronique is out of a job with those impressive Divination skills you just used, anticipating my thoughts so well."

"James," he chided. "First name basis, if you will. We aren't getting our bodies back by calling each other by our surnames. What's your middle name, by the way?"

Lily began to answer but before she could speak James kicked off from the ground and into the air. She clenched her jaw, her loose grasp at his waist turned into a vice grip at his middle and she instinctively wrapped her arms around him and squeezed.

"What, no countdown?!" she yelled into his ear, acutely aware how high they were rapidly rising.

"I didn't want to make you tense by counting off, I thought a surprise would be better."

"What's the matter with you, I was plenty calm before! That plan is bollocks!"

"What's your middle name?" James called back to her.

"Is this really the time for that? Especially since you faked an interest to try to distract me?!"

"Lily, just answer the question, dammit!"

"Elise!" she shouted, squeezing her eyes closed. "It's Elise, it's some family name. Are you happy now? Why do you want to know, anyway?"

"I'm trying to get you to chill out and not think so much," James told her. "Riding a broom is like riding a bike."

"Except without the ground."

"Lily, don't think so much!" he reiterated. "When you're on a broom you become part of it. When it turns, it's because your body turned, if it hits a bump the air, your body absorbs the movement, it doesn't resist or fight it. That's why it's like a bicycle. The best way to become a good broom-rider is to stop turning things over and over in your head about how to do it and just do it instinctively. To stop thinking. And Merlin well knows that with you, the only time your brain isn't running a mile a minute is when your mouth is running instead. Plus we're supposed to share things with one another anyway, two birds and one stone. So go on and ask me a question."

She couldn't deny that his metaphors didn't make sense. So, Lily took a few deep breaths and tried to focus on finding a question to pose as James continued to zoom them around the Room of Requirement. "Okay, uh…do you have siblings?"

"Ha! Talk about random!"

"This entire situation is random! We're flying together on one broom, indoors where grass is growing from the carpet, where anything you need just pops up!"

James chuckled at her assessment, unable to deny the facts. "Fair enough. No, I don't have siblings. Not biologically anyway. But Sirius is more than a brother to me than many actual siblings are to one another, including his own."

"Well, he is one of your best friends, isn't he?"

James banked left and considered Lily's question before saying hesitantly, "He is. But…I mean, he's not just a best friend. He's just someone that really gets me on a level that no one ever has."

Lily mentally noted the change in his tone, wondering where he was going with this.

"The thing about Sirius and I," James began, still thinking through what he wanted to say. "Is that…well, the way people know and experience us is definitely part of who we are; but there are certain aspects about us that aren't all that obvious, things we don't really share. And that's just naturally who we each are, individually. We both kind of keep to ourselves in a way that I think most wouldn't expect. A lot of it I think is because of certain things we've experienced. Since we go so far back and we've both been there for a lot of those things, we each know each other in ways no one…" He trailed off as he came to realize that he'd already shared way more with Lily than he'd ever planned. Not only in regards to explaining his friendship with Sirius, but sharing his thoughts with a depth that he never meant to expose to her.

"Wow…" she murmured quietly. "I'd no idea that your friendship went so deep. I wish I had someone like that." Her grip at James's middle had become much more natural over the course of the conversation. James could feel her that her body wasn't as tense behind him as he maneuvered around.

"What about Parker and Kate?"

"Oh, of course I can talk to them about almost anything. You know I love them. But what you described with Sirius...well, I'm not sure I know anyone with such a bond as that with a friend. You don't have that with Remus and Peter?"

"With Remus, it's not like I couldn't. I am really close with him and he just picks up on things that most people don't. That's just who he is as a person. And you can tell him anything and he won't judge you. So it's not that I'm any less close to him, it's just a different level. Besides, he gets it. He understands the bond I've got with Sirius, and he respects it."

"And Peter?" Lily prompted.

"Psh." James snorted and shook his head. "Peter would do anything for the three of us," he explained. "But there's more desperation behind it so he's not exactly my first choice of a confidant in a deep vulnerable moment. It's more like, I'd tell him if I did something forbidden and he happened to see. Or if I broke a rule and it was a good story."

"So you don't trust him?"

"It's not that; I just know he'd say anything he thought I'd wanted to hear. Not exactly helpful."

"How do you let him hang out with you if you dislike him?"

"I never said I disliked him. Sirius isn't very fond of him, though," he added as an afterthought.

Lily looked extremely confused. "What am I missing?"

"Look, do I love Peter? Not completely, no. But I accept what he has to offer, no matter how limited—and it is. I didn't exactly choose him as a friend. Someone was picking on him on the train at the start of 2nd year and I happened to see, put a stop to it, and he's followed us around ever since. He has no other friends, really, so…yeah. He's harmless. Although how he got into Gryffindor, I'll never know. Well, I do—he says he comes from a line of Gryffindor, but he had to basically beg the hat to let him in. So who really knows?"

Lily grew quiet, turning James's words over in her head. She'd always looked at him and his friends thinking only of their juvenile antics, and their pranks. But after hearing how he described their friendship and the different relationships he shared with each of the other Marauders, she realized she had dismissed them without really watching them and how they acted otherwise. Over the time that she'd been with James, it was clear how very dear friendship meant to him, how loyal he was to those he cared about. He'd broken the law for Remus in order to keep him company while he was in werewolf form, and at a very young age. She felt a twinge of guilt as she thought back to her reaction when he'd told her, how she'd jumped to conclusions and straight into a lecture without even acknowledging the risks he had taken. It wasn't a matter of risk and recklessness. It was a matter of loyalty, and it seemed that when this was a factor, everything else went into the hindsight. Becoming an Animagus wasn't foolish, like she'd thought before. It was a deliberate and conscious choice that he had made.

James turned his head slightly and his eyes flickered back, silently checking in with Lily. He'd noted her silence but also realized how relaxed she felt behind him. Her arms rested securely around his waist, but had since lost the tight cinching from earlier. She leaned against him and had her cheek against the back of his shoulder, hunching slightly to accommodate their height difference that she'd been forced to acclimate to since their switch. Trying not to startle her, James eased into a smooth and shallow slope downward before easing up and curving left. Lily's form behind him remained uninterrupted.

Despite feeling accomplished in calming her down, James mentally kicked himself for the very conversation that that was responsible for Lily's relaxed state. He'd opened up to her far more than he'd ever originally intended. In hindsight, he should have known better than to combine her questions with the activity that made him the most pensive and his favorite method to clear his mind.

Of course I ended up running my mouth...

"Did you not have many friends growing up?"

Her quietly posed question broke their silence in a gentle tone, yet the effect of the words was still somewhat jarring for James. "What makes you ask that?" he returned lightly.

The tension that manifested in his body didn't go unnoticed by Lily, and despite his casual tone, she knew something she said had somehow touched a nerve. "I don't know...it's just...the way you put everything on the line for Remus and Sirius, I suppose."

"Wouldn't all friends? All good friends?"

"Yes, I reckon, so. But you really take it to another level. Almost as if you'd do anything to make sure you don't lose them."

In front of her, James gnawed slightly on his lower lip. The girl was far too perceptive for her own good. For his own good.

"It's as if you don't take for granted that friends like that aren't a given, so you'd go through anything for them," she continued to muse.

"Good Godric, you make me sound like such a needy sap," James replied.

"I'm sorry." Lily laughed at his griping. "I swear I meant it as a good thing. I'm just curious as to how you became so loyal."

James inhaled deeply and released a sound between a sigh and a weary groan. Did he really want to go there? They were supposed to truly understand and empathize with one another to switch back, that he knew and had been told. But until now, on the verge of showing a level of vulnerability that he rarely, if ever, showed to anyone, he hadn't realized what that would actual entail.

Lily opened her mouth to tease him about his silence, but reconsidered when sensing his hesitation. Something told her she'd crossed a line from small talk into personal territory, going well beyond any boundaries James had in place. She felt like such a stranger to him—and for the first time since meeting him as a new student to Hogwarts, it actually mattered. For the first time, she found herself wanting to know him. "Look, I didn't mean to pry, we can just forget-"

"No, it's alright," he said finally, anxiously ruffling the hair at the back of his head. "I mean, we're supposed to be understanding each other and all, right? But no pity, or whatever, yeah? As soon as I hear anything akin to 'Awww, James', we change the subject."

"As if I would pity you," Lily snarked. "I'm not a card-carrying mentor of your fan club."

James chuckled quietly. "I'm well aware. Anyway, it's not as though it's a big deal. I didn't deal with any major trauma or anything. I just grew up really lonely as a kid, before Hogwarts. There were kids in my neighborhood, but I didn't really interact with them. Barely at all, in fact. The scant few times that I did was at my mum's insisting and when I did, it was clear I was an outsider since I was never around them beforehand. So that made it even more uncomfortable. I could show a bit more of magic at an earlier age than normal, and my dad was always reminding me to behave. He was always nervous about me demonstrating it or losing control, and that made me nervous. So eventually I just found it easier to avoid the whole situation by keeping mostly to myself. I just convinced myself it wasn't worth it."

"You were pretty isolated then, I would bet. I get that completely."

"I guess you could say that. But I wasn't completely alone," he added quickly. "My grandfather and I got really close. He was a big kid at heart anyway, and quite frankly, I probably wouldn't have been as close to him if I had friends. He taught me a lot. To fly, for instance, among other things."

"When did he die?" Lily asked gently.

"Just before my eleventh birthday. Not long after I'd met Sirius, actually. Those two were peas in a pod, too, Sirius couldn't get enough of him."

"Oh? Did he spend a lot of time with your family?"

James nodded vigorously. "Oh, absolutely. Sirius knows what its like to be an outsider too. Worse than me, actually, considering the worst of it comes from his so-called family. That's why he's always with mine, he even spends summers with me."

"I have to say, you and Sirius sure know how to treat a fellow outsider," Lily said. "Just a tangent, but one of the reasons I'm surprised at you saying this is, is—well, shouldn't you be more understanding of Severus if you know all of this?"

"Who, Snape?" James clarified, taken aback by her random comment. He turned to look at her, eyes wide in disbelief at her defense of the Slytherin he could barely think of without being disgusted. "Lily, Severus Snape has a crap personality; he isn't a good person at all!"

"Yes, and you were the epitome of kindness when you had him at your wand's mercy upside-down!" she argued. "You didn't even know him, not the way I did!"

"Okay, whatever, you're going to say what you want," James told her dismissively. "You'll never convince me to like him, so we'll just agree to disagree."

Lily huffed and pursed her lips but decided to follow suit and let the subject go, knowing that James was right; as much as they were growing accustomed to the other's company and striving to reach understanding, the topic of Severus Snape would clearly be one of those that would undo that which they'd accomplished.

"What do you mean, Sirius's 'so-called family'?" Lily brought up, trying to bring back the previous conversation.

"The curiosity never stops with you, does it?" James said. "But that's not my story to tell. I can't rob Sirius of the theatrics he so enjoys. Plus, he does a bang-up and hilarious impression of his mum and her house elf, Kreacher. You'll have to ask him. Sorry, love." The endearment had slipped out before he could think, leaving him completely bewildered as soon as the words were out of his mouth.

"Oh, onto endearments now, are we," Lily remarked humorously. She snickered, clearly only it as purposeful ironic jab rather than a mistaken slip of the tongue. "At this rate we'll be switched back before leaving the room!"

"Don't be ridiculous, I call everyone that," he fibbed. He felt his face begin to heat as he tried to appear unaffected and completely comfortable with the conversation. Note to self: start calling everyone Love.

"Oh, don't lie, you know I've become your favorite these last few weeks."

"Psh, please! Favorite number, maybe."

"Um, you lost me."

"Favorite number, because honestly, Lils, who knew you were hiding this figure eight underneath all of that prim and proper!" James whistled a long cat call as he traced the number in the air with his fingers.

Lily was far from amused by his appreciation and elbowed him angrily in his side without letting go of his waist. "Potter, you'd better not know a damn thing about my figure eight," she told him sharply.

James was unfazed and just turned his head to look at her, tilting his head roguishly and throwing in a lopsided grin. "I might know a thing or two," he said, lowering his voice seductively.

"Ugh! Put me down. NOW!"

"Oh, stop."

"No, I mean it," she bossed. "Let me off this thing. Put me down!"

James pressed his lips together into a firm line and pulled upward on the broom handle and eased to a stop in mid-air, but didn't make a move to descend. He rested one hand on his thigh and gestured with the other toward the ground below them, which was still about twenty feet away. "Alright then," he said tensely. "Go ahead. The ground is right there, don't let me stop you."

Lily just scowled at him as she stayed put, as though she actually had a chance in the battle of wills that she'd started. After a moment of watching her be still, James rolled his eyes and snorted. He shook his head as he pressed forward, sending the broom in motion again.

"Yeah, that's what I thought. I don't know who you think you are, but I think I've had you pegged for awhile now. If there's one thing I've learnt about you it's that your bark is a whole lot worse than your bite. On one hand people love you and you can be the sweetheart of Hogwarts but the same people run around afraid of your temper when really all you are is one big overreaction on legs."

"Excuse me?!" Lily broke in indignantly.

"Yeah, I said it. Someone has to!"

"What the hell are you on about?" the girl demanded.

"Exactly what I said! You overreact about the smallest things, Lily, it's bloody ridiculous! Any normal person would have just rolled her eyes and moved on but, no, you have to go ahead and be ready to fly off the handle. Literally!" he added angrily, gesturing to the broom in front of them. James rolled his shoulders and leaned his head from one side to the other, trying to remain calm despite his temper swiftly rising. He hadn't realized how annoyed he was with the girl he'd been spending so much time with. He knew she irked him, yes, but things had been going so well—and at the same time she continued to nag and snap and harp. Despite learning about the different sides of her that were leading to his growing fondness, the flaws in her personality still were what they were, and had been for as long as he'd known her—that said, James hadn't known how close he was to losing it on her until now. Her constant drivel must have piled up on his nerves.

Little did Lily know, she should have quit while she was ahead. But she was on a roll. "I'm ridiculous?" she repeated incredulously. "I'm ridiculous?! Just because I don't think your joke is funny—sorry for hurting your ego or whatever—"

"But, Lily, it was just that! A joke. You act like I spent the entire afternoon feeling you up or something, and you do that constantly—overreacting based only on assumptions before you consider the whole story. You should learn to have all of he facts before you go postal on people, or at least more than what you normally act on. Either that, or go get laid! Whatever you choose get that anger out of you before you give yourself a bloody stroke."

Silence.

Lily sat behind him, stunned into keep her mouth shut for once. The end of James's diatribe was punctuated by explosive inhales and exhales and the intermittent soft popping noises while he continued to roll out his tension in his neck and shoulders.

"Any other assessments of me you'd like to add while you're at it?" Lily asked him tersely. "Been holding that in awhile, have you?"

"Nope, I'm good," he fired back, sounding anything but. "And yes, I may have thought about it once or twice."

Silence again.

Lily bit down and chewed at her bottom lip, clenching her jaw and looking off to the side. Her pride was hurt, she couldn't deny it. As much as she accused James of suffering from a bruised ego, the truth in his words definitely turned the tables on her. No matter how harsh the delivery, she couldn't argue against the accuracy in what he had told her. Her pride, stubbornness, and, yes, sensitivity, often got the better of her, something her mother used to warn her about and still reminded her of to this day.

"Just because you've got that flaming mane on your crown doesn't give you a right to be a hot-head anymore than the rest of us," she would tell her. "There's a time and a place, young lady, and you'll learn that place soon enough, even if you're put into it the hard way."

And of all people to put her in it, James Potter had been the one to step up to the challenge. Only Merlin knew how many thought and said the same things about her behind her back.

That sucked.

And as much as she tried to ignore it, as much as she wished it wasn't the case, Lily felt her respect for James grow ever so slightly because of it all.

Somehow that sucked even worse.

Lily pressed her lips together and exhaled through her nose, trying her damn hardest not to let her frustration manifest in a string of curse words which would no doubt give James validation. As her pride was still recovering, she couldn't allow such a thing to happen at the moment. So, instead she chose continued silence, even though she knew there was no way to mistake it for indifference. The air had too much tension for that.

James noted her quiet reflection with satisfaction and left her alone with her thoughts. Although his outburst was just as unexpected to him as it was to her, he felt no regret that they'd been aired out. He didn't even feel bad for his harsh delivery—Lily clearly needed such a tone to wake her up. Considering how much attitude she dished out on a regular basis, an apology for throwing some of her own medicine back at her would be nothing short of surrender. He couldn't decided whether this meant he should never fly with Lily again, or on the other hand, if it meant she should go flying with him more often. Taking a deep breath, James eased forward onto his broom stick until the broom began a steady descent to the ground. He guided it around and around in a downward spiral until his feet gently met the indoor grass. He dismounted and reached up to stretch his limbs, then turned around. To his surprise, Lily hadn't stormed off the way he'd been certain she would do once she was off of the broom. Instead she lingered somewhat awkwardly, eyes trained on the green ground.

James cleared his throat loudly, cracking his knuckles. "Um...so," he began. "Was that alright, then? Your stomach's contents still in their rightful places?"

Lily nodded, her eyes darting up briefly before returning to their previous focus.

He sighed and searched for something else to say. "Look, um, we're alright, aren't we? We've come so far and...I don't fancy undoing all that bonding we've managed over one row. We're so close to breaking Peeves' disaster, I can feel it."

Lily nodded again and muttered, "Yeah, we're alright." Twiddling her fingers, she took a moment to steel her nerves before continuing. "I'm sorry, alright? I shouldn't have gone off like that, in that tone, over nothing. You were right, I need to watch my temper. I've been told that before by my mum, so, I should have known something like this was going to happen at some point. I won't lie, having it come from you does absolutely nothing for my pride—" She cracked a quick smile at him. "But...yeah. There you have it."

Astonished, James finally lowered the eyebrow that had shot up during Lily's apology. He could hardly believe his ears—and apology and recognition from Lily Evans in one go? Not so long ago, James would have immediately thrown a joke or bragged in her face, reveling in a moment he thought would never come. But now, seeing Lily in momentarily lay down her pride like this, and come out of her comfort zone, the last thing he wanted to do was mock her. "It's all good," he said, shrugging one shoulder. "We've all got our faults and all."

Instead of easing her tension as he'd expected, Lily's body language remained unchanged. "There's something else. Something that's been bothering me and I may as well get it all out now in one go."

Huh?! James wondered. He was at a loss as to what Lily could possibly be talking about.

"I'm really sorry, James," she said.

He waited a for a few beats, thinking she would add clarification, but when she didn't offer an explanation he scratched back of his head and told her uncertainly, "No need to apologize twice, Lily. We're fine, I just—"

"No, no, I mean, about...just my attitude toward you in general. You're not exactly the way I assumed you were. And I'm sorry for the way I've treated you and talked to you without reason. You didn't deserve that. Well," she included as an afterthought. "Not most of the time anyway. Not as much as I thought, at least. So I'm not apologizing for the times you've been a right arse, just so we're clear, and there have been plenty of those, so—"

"Lily," James interrupted, amused. "Your insult is in danger of overshadowing your very sweet apology, and I would hate to make you do this twice for sincerity's sake."

She looked sheepish and a light blush stained her cheeks. "Right. Anyway, yeah, I'm sorry," she finally ended, glancing up at James.

He smiled at her and rested a hand on her shoulder amiably. "I actually really appreciate that, Lily. Apology accepted. And for what it's worth, you've changed a few misconceptions I've had about you, to. And I'm not just saying that for the sake of empty reciprocity. I mean it. I'm really enjoying getting to know you."

"Really?" she replied. Her lips turned upward in a tentative grin. "Why is that?"

James turned around and busied himself with the broom, pretending to tidy it up by dusting the handle here and there. Facing away from her gave him a chance to hide any expression that might involuntarily show up on his face while he explained himself. "I just mean," he began, keeping his voice casual. "Your personality isn't as obvious as I thought it was, that's all. I don't know, you surprise me a bit. I thought I had you all figured out, and I guess that wasn't the case."

"Oh," Lily responded, blinking in surprise and laughing softly. "Hope you're liking this side better than before!"

Suppressing the growing smile on his face, James nodded slightly. "You could say that."

They regarded each other for a few moments before Lily sighed, jerked her thumb toward the door and said, "So, shall we?"

"Yeah," the boy agreed. "How about some hot chocolate in the kitchens? One of the elves does an incredible concoction of hot chocolate and pumpkin juice that you absolutely need to try." He hoisted the broom onto his shoulder with one hand and with the other, reached into his pocket and pulled out his invisibility cloak, which he'd shrunken to store while they flew.

"Perfect, just what my sore legs and pride need," Lily said. She bent over and rubbed her upper legs, wincing at the pain she felt in her muscles. "And maybe an ice-pack to boot."

As they made their way toward the door they came across a small table right next to the exit that surely hadn't been there before. On the surface rested a box of bandages, an ice-pack, a bottle of fire whiskey, and two small glasses. James let out a loud peal of laughter. Lily's eyes lit up mirthfully and she looked up to the ceiling and called out, "Very clever! Thank you for the remedies!" Then she addressed James, saying wryly, "Of course, only in the magical world would a room have a comedy act and the final word. Bloody magic."

x


x

Remus pocketed the potion deeper into his robes and quickened his steps back to Gryffindor Tower. He had special permission to be out of the dorm out of hours on account of collecting the antidote for his condition from Professor Slughorn, and yet he always worried about running into other students sneaking around during the night. As a sixth year prefect he didn't need anyone questioning his credibility any more than he already got as a member of the Marauders; and as a werewolf, he didn't need any reason to seem any more suspicious.

He rounded the hall corner and when the Fat Lady's portrait came into sight at a distance, enjoying the sense of relief that calmed his heartbeat and came with the ease of making it back without incident. But as he drew closer his sensitive ears picked up muffled murmurs of two voices from behind him, carrying down from the opposite hall he'd just come from. Remus peeked back at the distance of the portrait and, determining he was too far away from the portrait to go through undetected, quickly ducked into a convenient alcove and pressed himself into the shadows.

"I'm just not sure it's the best thing," Remus heard the male say. He immediately identified the voice as belonging to James and rolled his eyes. I should have known. Assuming the only other person was Sirius, Remus made a move to come out but then stopped short at the second voice, a girl's.

"Oh, come on," she scoffed. "How is it worse? We've been sleeping on a couch together for weeks! How is that normal? We're so close now, and we need to start acting in a way that doesn't attract attention. The best way to do that is to go back to our beds."

Hold on, what?! Remus heard a mumbled response from James and strained his ears to make out the words. He couldn't pick up on the details but the tone sounded snarky enough.

"Okay, fine," Lily gave in. "maybe not our own beds but you know what I mean by now—stop splitting hairs!"

Their voices had drawn nearer and Remus tucked himself further into the darkness. By the volume of their voices they'd just walked in front of the hollow but he saw nothing.

Invisibility cloak, Remus determined.

"What are we going to tell them, though?" James worried. "They must think we're acting so strange! I still don't entirely know why we can't just say something. I'm tired of hiding and they could probably help us."

"How?" Lily countered. "You heard Dumbledore, only we can fix this. Besides, the more I think about it, maybe things we move along faster if we just rely on each other. You know, foster closeness through relying on just each other and some such stuff."

"Fair enough. Have they mentioned anything to you? Ugh, oh no, the Fat Lady is gone. Why does she constantly disappear when I need her!"

"Technically, now is the best time for her to do whatever it is she does, since we're not supposed to be on this side of the portrait. We'll just have to wait, I'm sure she'll be back soon. Anyway, no, no one's said anything to me. I know they're curious about our behavior, and that's a good thing because I don't think they'd be very good friends to us otherwise. But a few days ago I mentioned to Parker that you and I were helping each other with Charms and Transfiguration, since we're both respectively abysmal. She must have told the others, it's believable enough."

"Finally!" Remus heard James exclaim. "About time she's back. Fire of Leo."

Sneaking a look around from the alcove, Remus caught a pair of disappearing legs as James and Lily entered the Common Room. The Fat Lady's portrait swung closed, effectively cutting off his ability to eavesdrop on the rest of the conversation, and his opportunity to learn more about the strange circumstances that his two friends were talking about.