A/N: I had no idea I was gonna update today until about an hour ago. But I split the chapter into two because it began to be very lengthy and I'd actually had a good cut off point. The good news is that I'm almost done with the next chapter, since it was originally part of this one! That one will be up before the end of the month, or at the very beginning of September. Enjoy!

Chapter 20: Paradox of Life's Experiences

"This is either going to be the dumbest thing I've ever done or the coolest," Lily muttered.

"Both," Sirius answered. "Come on, Prongs, life is hardly as straightforward as being one or the other. It's almost always both!"

Remus sat in the library, absentmindedly twisting his quill this way and that by the stem between his thumb and index finger as he stared off into space. His blank scroll remained furled and forgotten in front of him, as his thoughts drifted far from the homework he was supposed to be tackling to the interaction he'd witnessed between Lily and James a few days prior. Instead of saying anything to Sirius or the others Remus preferred to keep his thoughts to himself; he considered it the best path to just watch rather than voice concerns about something he wasn't clear about.

They had been discussing something they needed to 'fix', he contemplated. It can't be that serious if Dumbledore is letting them take care of it on their own… maybe it's nothing more than just an extracurricular something he assigned… it's probably nothing more than that. Come on, Lupin, practice what you preach and stop reading so far into things. Then again, there had been that part where Lily said they needed to keep relying on each other — which was clear to Remus that such an approach was beneficial to the duo in terms of how well they got along now.

Except, if he was honest about what he felt, it wasn't simply a matter of Lily and James finally maturing and just setting aside their differences. He hadn't paid much attention to it before, but now that he had seen them together while they assumed no one else to be around, he definitely picked up on nuances that weren't apparent when the two were around other people. Not long before they would constantly infuriate and provoke each other (on a good day), and now their communication seemed beyond simply civil or indifferently respectful. Now it seemed to go beyond a matter of familiarity.

The animosity and volatility had not only been lifted, but entirely replaced. There was a new underlying essence of warmth and fluidity in their communication that hadn't been between them initially. Try as he might Remus couldn't pinpoint specific examples in what he'd overheard that made it so, but he picked up on the something all the same.

"Hey, Jamie."

Lily looked up from her textbook and squinted through the streams of sunlight at Sirius and Remus approaching her. Both boys were heavily cloaked to stay warm in the spring air. Despite the bright light beaming down unblocked from the sky, there was still a biting chill that prevented any heat from being gained.

"Hey, guys," Lily greeted, holding her hand in front of her eyes.

Sirius drew his cloak tighter around him to protect himself from the unusually cold chill in the air. "Working on that assignment for Binns? I'm so lucky I woke up in time from my nap in that class, I wouldn't know where to start without those instructions."

Remus snorted and nudged his friend in the ribs with his elbow. "You're so lucky you've got friends like me to wake you up in time," he corrected. "You pretty much owe your entire History of Magic grade to me, you know; you may know what you're doing enough to get good marks on the assignments but if it weren't for me poking and prodding you, and snapping your head forward from its charming drooling position, you'd think that class were completely homework-free. So, you're welcome."

"Yes, Moony, I owe all of my awakenings to you — I say, with friends like you who needs servants? I'm sure my mother could always use an extra."

Remus rolled his eyes and looked back to Lily. "Well, James, while his royal highness-in-training contemplates his narcolepsy, how about a break to stretch our muscles?"

"Let's go for a run," Sirius added. "We could head to the lake. Hagrid mentioned that a herd of hippogriffs have been gathering there lately."

He withdrew his hand from his thick cloak and revealed a long cluster of dead game, each hanging by an additional chain connected to their necks. It mostly consisted of ferrets but Lily also spotted (and smelled) squirrels, a few rabbits, and small rats scattered among the collection.

Lily wrinkled her nose and swallowed thickly around the lump of nausea that formed in response to the scents that wafted unwelcome into her nose.

"How did you get all of that?"

"Oh, I went out last night, too," Sirius supplied. "Fancied a break from my studies."

"Psh," Remus scoffed, folding his arms.

"Okay, okay," Sirius interrupted defensively, glaring at him. "I fancied a break from my break. Don't judge me, McGonagall."

"You caught all that on your own?" Lily peered a little closer to the bunch; despite being somewhat disgusted by the idea of the blood, bone and fur in Sirius's mouth, Animagus or not, she couldn't help but be impressed that Sirius could hunt so much in one outing.

Quick reflexes, she mused. An afterthought struck her as she caught sight of more rats buried within the various furs. "You didn't accidentally get Peter, did you?" she asked him.

"Nah, he wanted to come but I left when he ran upstairs to put his things away." Sirius's eyebrows knitted together and he held up the cluster in front of his face, considering her words. "Although that's a bloody brilliant idea," he murmured. He stroked his bottom lip with his thumb and a small dark smile appeared quirked in the side of his mouth. "Accidents canhappen, after all."

"So, how about that run?" said Remus loudly, clapping his hands and rubbing them together.

Lily closed her book, keeping an index finger within the pages as not to lose her place. "I'd love to but I don't have the proper shoes," she said apologetically. The truth was, unless she was late for a class or train, running was no strength of hers.

Sirius cocked his head and raised an eyebrow at Remus, who just shrugged a shoulder and shook his head. "Forgot your size 'hoof' trainers on the Hogwarts Express, Prongs?" he asked Lily dryly. Turning to Remus he jerked his thumb in her direction and added softly, "I'm beginning to lose hope on this one, I'm telling you."

Ugh…he meant Animagus form,Lily told herself. She pursed and twisted her lips to the side and considered the invitation a moment. Now that she thought about it, she couldn't see why she hadn't been taking more advantage of James's ability. Before she transformed the first time, while James was explaining what would happen, all she could think of was the fear of being caught breaking the law. But this time, at Sirius's suggestion, there was no anxiety. No fear. Just a stirring enthusiasm at once again feeling such freedom that came with shifting for a while. Besides, if she got caught in any fashion it wasn't like her true self that would be in trouble anyway.

Goodness, she thought, suppressing a smirk of her lips. That Potter way of thinking is rubbing off on me the longer I'm in here.

"You're right, that actually sounds perfect right now. I can finish this later. It'll be good to clear my head." She stood and began to gather her things. "Let me just go put the lot of this away and I'll be right back."

"Okay," Remus replied. "I'm gonna start ahead with the food, so I can just let them get used to one of us there and all. Sirius will wait here for you." He stretched his hand out and grabbed the dead animals from Sirius.

"Hustle, Prongs," Sirius told her. "I'm itching to get moving." He hoisted his body up and seated himself along the stone ledge, shifting from side to side to gain balance and comfort.

Lily gave them one last smile and turned on her heel, swiftly making her way across the courtyard and into the castle. A wide grin began spreading across her face and her steps quickened, climbing the stairs up toward Gryffindor Tower as fast as she could without tripping over her feet. A month prior she never would have thought that her heart would thrum in excitement at the prospect of shape-shifting illegally. Then again, a month prior, she wouldn't have believed any of the things that had occurred thus far. But the truth was, her time as a stag that night was one of the only times in recent memory where her mental wheels stopped spinning out of control. There was no space to think of anything else. Marveling at the heightened sensations of everything around her took up all her focus.

The reminders of what she remembered came flooding back and caused her to pace to increase once again, coming closer to the tower entrance.

"Where's the fire?"

Lily looked up and saw James standing in front of the portrait entrance. A stack of books tilted precariously in his arms and he was leaning back ever so slightly to help keep his balance.

"Hey!" she said breathlessly. "I'm trying to hurry putting this stuff back. Sirius and Remus are waiting for me, we're going for a run. Well, I mean, Sirius and I are going for the run–" she looked around and lowered her voice conspiratorially, "-Animagus form. But Remus is meeting us there. I guess he can't shift on command, now can he?"

Unable to turn his neck without compromising his belongings James slowly pivoted his body to look at her with an amused smile.

"That's great, Lil," he panted. "But, um…I was just saying the password." His eyes flicked over to the Fat Lady's portrait, which continued to slowly creak open. "I actually hadn't seen you yet," he added sheepishly.

"Oh! I see. Sorry. Here, I'll help you with those." Lily reached out and carefully slid half of his stack into her arms, and James groaned at the welcome change, rolling his shoulders a few times to adjust to the lighter burden. "Look at us — you, completely overwrought with books from the library. Me, being all chivalrous and offering to help. We really have switched, haven't we?"

"Thanks," he sighed. "I knew as soon as I left the library that carting so many was a mistake, but it became harder to set them down than it would be to just get here as quickly as possible."

"WELL DON'T STOP NOW!" the Fat Lady barked from the frame, her voice muffled from facing the wall.

James jumped and raised a shoulder apologetically toward the painted woman before scurrying inside. Lily followed closely at his heels and narrowly made it inside before the Fat Lady snapped shut, her sour attitude reverberating through the wood to echo her continued displeasure.

"So, where do you want these?" Lily asked.

"Uh… by the fire is fine." He rapidly stepped ahead and brushed away stray papers to the corner, scattering dust mites and other left over scraps into the air. "I have a lot to do with this essay for Binns, and I may as well set up camp here; then I can just conk out without really moving."

Lily obliged putting the books where he directed, then wiped her forehead free of the beads of sweat.

"Yeah, about that," she said. "Why don't we just start sleeping in our own beds? I mean—well, you know what I mean. You were right; it looks weird to keep doing this whole camp-out-on-the-couch thing. I know Parker's been trying to trap and interrogate the both of us, especially you, about what's going on. I guess we can just say we've been working on a private assignment for Dumbledore and expand on that?"

"Which, really, isn't that far from the truth, anyway," James remarked. "The 'special assignment' is to get our own bodies back, as assigned by Professor Peeves and overseen and monitored by Professor Dumbledore."


"Alright, then. You're sure about this? I can sleep in your room?"

"I'm sure," she agreed absently, examining a cover of one of the library books. "I trust you, James."

Lily's eyes were trained downward and she didn't see the wide smile that broke out unbidden on James's face upon hearing her words, before he quickly bit his lip and set his expression back to neutral.

That's the first time she's ever said anything like that,he crowed inwardly. It's about time, and damn it if I don't feel like I've earned it.Aloud he said, "Brilliant. My back has been starting to act up since sleeping on that couch. It's just not at all the same as sleeping in our beds, my spine is so stiff." James twisted his body around and reached his hand over to his opposite shoulder, kneading the pads of his fingers into his blades. "I can't muck around, you know. I ve gotta remain in tip-top form for when I get myself back onto the Quidditch pitch. What I should do is send you a bill from St. Mungo's if I get back to myself and my body is all crippled, seeing as this situation ismostly your doing." He winked to emphasize his playful tone.

"Whatever, old man," Lily bit back. "It doesn't bother me at all. Someone so athletically gifted as you should have much more stamina instead of complaining at every tweak and twinge."

James sidled up closely to her. "And what would youknow of my stamina, Evans?" he asked, dropping his voice suggestively.

Without missing a beat, Lily matched his flirtatious sass, replying in a similar tone, "I've been in your body for nearly a month. Believe me when I say that if it had any stamina to speak of," she paused, before changing her tone to a dry drawl and adding, "I'd know."

James's eyebrows shot up at her comment. After years of growing accustomed to her accusing him of perversion or disrespect at his flirtatious teasing, he was completely taken aback at her matching him this time around. And as much as he implored her before to take a joke, he couldn't help feel a little uneasy at her words.

"Wait, what does that mean?" he asked warily. "What exactly have you been up to in there, Lily?"

Her eyes twinkled mischievously as she moved past him to leave. "It means what you think it means," she responded breezily.

Squinting one eye slightly and tilting his head, James considered her words and several options sifted through his head. "I'm a teenage boy, the possibilities are endless…so…that doesn't really make me feel any better."

Lily ignored his words and continued on her way. "Could you keep an eye on that for me?" she asked over her shoulder, indicating the belongings she'd set down next to his. "I've kept those two waiting long enough, I think."

"Okay, sure thing. But what-?"

"It means what you think it means," she called back. A smirk played across her lips when she looked back at him once more before leaving through the exit, leaving the baffled boy to simmer alone in his confusion.

James rolled his eyes and let out an explosive breath, reaching for the top textbooks and cracking it open. I know I shouldn't be bothered, he told himself, uncapping an inkwell. She's totally teasing, she got that from me.

But try as he might, whether or not she was giving him a hard time over nothing, her words yielded a slew of possibilities that were still running through his head, and replacing the information he should have been focusing on from the text.

I can't believe she just got me at my own game. What the bloody hell was I thinking when I told her to lighten up…

But still, he couldn't help a small smile in spite of himself, marveling at Lily's bawdy humor that he'd finally been able to experience.

No, Lily Evans is certainly anything but predictable.

Earth. Fresh, pungent, and solid.

The pollen that wafted on top of the breeze whipping by. Flower petals that littered the path on the trail, crushed into the soil. All these things and more permeated Lily's sense of smell so deeply that she could taste them on her tongue. It was incredible, and entirely liberating.

One of the things she'd been surprised at during her first transformation was the unrivaled power she felt in her movements. She caught amazing air heights that she would not have been capable of as a human. Her body navigated rocks and ditches in the uneven forest ground, nimbly with sleek sharp turns without losing speed.

Sirius led the way some paces ahead, guiding her to the lake's edge where Remus waited to meet them. His movements were more rugged and raw than Lily's own, and in between the sounds of rustling leaves and pounding hooves she could hear him pant in time to his lengthy four-legged strides. Instead of leaping over tiny obstacles Sirius chose to barrel straight through, momentarily disrupting the settled atmosphere as his tongue dangle joyfully out from the side of his mouth.

This is true freedom,Lily thought blissfully. A pile of a forest creature's dung from up ahead and Lily leaped up, kicking off from a large boulder to avoid it.

Relying on pure instinct to get around and survive was one of the most liberating things she'd ever experienced. It was no surprise to anyone that she overcooked her thoughts so to speak. She knew it more than anyone — she alone was privy to the process. It was interesting, that the more time she spent with James and his friends the more she desired to let go as well. Who had known that she could learn something so important from the Marauders?

Sirius finally slowed to a steady lope indicating they'd neared their destination. He nudged a few branches aside and crawled through to a clearing. Lily followed underneath and inhaled deeply at the scene revealed. The lake looked beautiful, a still clear mirror of liquid glass and the image of peace, tranquility and serenity. Several hippogriffs grazed along the edge, snuffing at the grass, and some lounging languidly as the soaked up the day.

Wow,Lily thought in awe. She turned and spotted Remus sitting with his elbows rested on his knees, ankles crossed and hands folded. He rested a safe distance from the pack as not to disrupt or threaten their peace, but close enough that they could adjust comfortably to his presence.

"It never ceases to amaze me," Sirius whispered at her side, "how quickly that boy gets animals of all species to just chill when he's around. I swear that boy is half animal. Well, I mean, minus that half werewolf bit."

Lily followed suit and transformed back, then said, "I can't remember when I've seen those things looked so relaxed. I guess it makes sense, seeing that this is their environment. It's strange to see them without a rope about their neck, being all wary around us students. Think of how that must feel, actually — facing a crowd of unfamiliar creatures and restrained at the same time. No wonder they're so hostile at first, it's amazing they let us near at all."

Remus turned his head to the side at the sound of his friends' hushed murmurs and beckoned them closer to sit with him. At the sound of Lily and Sirius creeping closer some of the hippogriffs pricked their ears up held their heads erect, alert at the newcomers. When the two sat down next to Remus quietly and didn't come any closer, the creatures watched them sharply for a few moments, slowly going back to their activities but keeping a wary eye on them while they adjusted from one observer to three.

"You know, after I became a werewolf and started to change," Remus spoke quietly. "I began to feel a kindred spirit in feared animals. I think maybe that's why they didn't scatter when I first got here. To be…feared, when really you're the frightened one… Suddenly I really understood them. The behavior that scares us is really just them acting first before that which threatens them has a chance to. That's survival.

"I've always felt close to them," he continued. "But there was such a perceptible shift after I was bitten. It was as though animals sensed that part of my spirit had transformed too, even when I was human. Maybe if they knew what it was changed to, they might not want to be around me. But I think they just feel that it's not human. They've been more peaceful around me ever since. More at ease."

Lily ran her hand absentmindedly through the tail of one of the rodents in the pile in front of Remus, considering how privileged she felt to be privy to the thoughts of these boys.

We all know them as the cheeky popular Gryffindor of Hogwarts, but if only everyone knew how much more to them there was.

"Did you startle them at all when you first got here?" she asked aloud.

"A little. But I sat down and bowed my head slightly and they went back to it, a little sooner than what they're doing in response to you. I think we should wait before we feed them, though. They see us sitting here so let's let them get more used to our scents and presence for a bit."

A serene silence took over the companions for several minutes as they watched the herd a bit longer, content to be part of the tranquility until Sirius spoke.

"I had a letter from my mother," he announced, eyes downcast. He let his fingers drift in the small spread of melting snow in front of him, dragging his tips through to create small trenches.

"You hadn't heard from her in a while, right?" Remus replied.

"Not since Christmas," Sirius confirmed. His tone was casual but Lily saw his fingers betray his emotions as he picked and tugged tersely at the blades of grass near his feet.

"Same old, same old, huh?"

"Ha! Is it ever any different? She told me that Regulus is spending the summer with a mentor who would be training and educating him on the 'values and ideals that House Black strived to follow', and that at the end of the summer she was taking him on some sort of retreat led by a sorry kook she keeps calling the dark prophet or some such nonsense."

At the end of his sentence Lily looked up sharply. "The dark prophet? Do you mean the Dark Lord?"

Sirius's hand fluttered as he scoffed and made a face. "Yeah, as I said, some such nonsense."

Lily turned away to hide her troubled expression, eyebrows knitted together and rubbing her thumbnail along her bottom lip as she remembered her last interaction with the boy she'd been so close to in childhood. The last time they spoke it was privately. Severus had been standing stalk still as she lit into him for treating her like dirt after she defended him earlier in the afternoon. He only broke his steady gaze when she pleaded with him one last time to abandon his blind following of the man he'd called the Dark Lord.

"Yeah, it was something like that," Sirius was reaffirming when she returned her focus. "Dark Lord, also known as Lord Something. I kind of just skimmed her letter and I always glaze over when she starts up about that guy and the other stuff at home."

"What other stuff?" Lily asked.

"You know, Jamie," Sirius sighed. "It's that whole 'Purebloods only always and forever' bullshit. My mother and father have always felt that way. And Regulus is in with them, too, nowadays. You should see his room. Fully of admiration for the Dark Lord, Death Eater this and that."

"That's strange," wondered Remus. "The one or two times I've met your brother he's always seemed really sweet-natured; not like your mother at all."

"He issweet-natured, and that's just the issue. He's all about being united as a family. I don't think he sees much harm in the whole supremacy ideals since we live pretty separately from Muggles as it is. And the icing on the cake is that it's like a family bonding thing, talking about all that."

"You make it sound as though he views it as some sort of family picnic or something," Lily commented sourly, "instead of joining a hate group."

"Exactly. I think that's not too far from how he doesview it. Shows you how naïve he can be." Sirius snorted and shook his head, scowling deeply as he muttered, "He is being sucha bloody idiot."

"So your mother's doubling her efforts to get you to join?" Remus asked him.


"What do you think?"

"It's such bollocks. Why would I want to spend my summer's going to meetings when I've just gotten done with class? I've just finished listening to the likes of Binns and McGonagall drone on, why do I want another lecture? She's been at this for awhile, but it's gotten worse. Sometimes she'll say stuff about how nice it would be for us to be a close family again, to be involved together. Other times it's all about how I'm the family disgrace and being foolish to refuse the status and favor that comes with joining. Keeps going on about how he's a revolutionary that will change our world for the better. Says that if I had any pride or sense I'd be doing it too. Her letter had stuff like that this time, but then she started saying some other pretty nasty stuff about me." His hunched shoulders visibly tensed, opposite of the effort he made to look as unaffected as possible.

"So it was a howler?" Lily asked him.

"Pft, no!" Sirius laughed and looked at Lily. "My mother hates howlers! As vile as she can be, she loathes the idea of public disgrace and of course, a howler would only amplify attention of how much of one I am. No, she prefers her venom served the old fashioned way. So, anyway…" He trailed off and uncertainly looked at Lily. "I was wondering, James, whether I could…just come with you at the beginning of the summer instead of at the middle of it. I, um, I really don't want to go home."

Lily had never pictured seeing this type of side of Sirius. The swagger of the teenager that usually walked the halls was gone, replaced by a vulnerable and child-like boy who seemed uncertain of himself as he requested a place to say, after having been deeply hurt by his own family.

"I'll contribute to food and other expenses," he went on. "But I really don't want spend time around my family. This guy is a complete whacko. And I know my parents are going to have him over and that whole gang over for meetings this summer. I just don't want to be anywhere near it. The violence is picking up and I hate knowing about the things they plan."

Lily reached a hand out and clapped Sirius on the shoulder. She badly wanted to wrap him in a bear hug and squeeze him tightly after hearing what he was going through. But she was unsure whether James would ever bowl over his friend in such an emotional display. So, a clap on the shoulder would have to suffice her impulse.

"Of course, Sirius," she assured him. "His—my parents wouldn't mind that at all. And I highly doubt they'll take so much as a sickle from you."

He released a breath and nodded, eyes downcast to the ground. "She's gonna kill me if I tell her I'm not coming back. Best if we sneak in the night after we're done here. We'll grab the bike and load up what I need while they sleep, then I'll write her after I'm all settled in."

Lily made a mental note to relay all of the information to James later that night.

"Hey," Sirius said, brightening up. "What's black and white and red all over?"

"What?" Remus asked.

"My mother, when she's angry," Sirius finished. He let out a loud bark of a laugh at his own cleverness and neither Lily nor Remus couldn't help but join in.

"I never thought I'd say this but that was one of your best," Lily chuckled. It's so good to see him smile after all that.

"Well I do have a bevy of good ones, so I understand the difficulty in your decision. Now, then," he added briskly. "Enough of this dark talk, I've paid more attention to my mother in this conversation than I ever do at home. Remy, do you think the hippogriffs would let us near them now?"

Remus shielded his eyes from the sun as he gazed toward the creatures. "I think so. Let's go. Slowly, though — no sudden motions."

Bracing her palms against the ground, Lily hoisted herself onto her feet, careful to move smoothly and not to make any jerky movements. "This is either going to be the dumbest thing I've ever done or the coolest," she muttered.

"Both," Sirius answered. "Come on, Prongs, life is hardly as straightforward as being one or the other. It's almost always both!"

A few hours later as night fell Lily, Sirius and Remus returned to the dorm together. Their noses and fingers were numb from the cold, but their spirits were high after their time outside. James felt a twinge of jealousy as he observed his friends laughing and joking with Lily in his body. When Remus and Sirius told him that they'd all only been to visit Hagrid and gone by the lake, he felt a nudge of longing for the days where he'd have been in on the secret rather than the one being lied to. Although he was happy Lily was finally seeing that there was more to his friends than her assumptions, he hadn't realized how much he missed their company until he witnessed their camaraderie. He made a bit small talk with them, as Lily would have per usual, and then went back to his studies as Lily urged the two to go upstairs, adding that she'd be up in a few minutes.

"How was your great adventure?" James queried when she was alone. "Still have both hands and fingers, I see."

"Yep!" she said cheerfully, plopping down next to him. She grabbed a nearby blanket that hung over the arm of the couch and folded her legs beneath her body. "It was a lot of fun, actually. A bit nerve wracking at first and me eyes were absolutely burning because they took longer to bow to me than the other two. But they warmed up to us pretty quickly, all things considered. I honestly think it was partly because we were with Remus. His way with animals is remarkable!"

"Yeah, I agree," James said, multi-tasking by scratching a few notes down. "He's always been like that since before his transformation but it definitely got stronger. I told you, Remus was super intuitive."

They were both quiet for a few minutes as Lily replayed the day and James focused on his work. The din of the dorm surrounding them in hushed tones and James's quill scraped against his parchment. The added warmth and glow from the fire polished off the cozy evening in the Gryffindor Common Room that they both enjoyed.

"James," Lily said hesitantly. "There's something else." At the serious tone in her voice, James lowered his quill and tucked a thumb within his book to give her his full attention. "Sirius asked if he could live with you and your family at the start of the summer versus just the middle and end of it. I told him yes, on your behalf. I hope that's okay."

"Really? I mean, of course that's more than fine. My parents love him like the second child they couldn't have. I did tell you that he's like my brother, and I meant it. But he's never come at the beginning before." He stopped and pressed his lips together worriedly. "Did he say what happened at all? Usually he likes to be home just for a bit to spend time with his brother, Regulus."

"Well, he had a letter from his Mum—"

"Ugh!" James interrupted, making a face. "That terrible woman, what'd she say now?"

"She said that Regulus is spending most of the summer with some other man who was to mentor and educate him on the ideals unimportant to the family or something. Then at the end he was to spend time under Voldemort himself at a retreat, but I may have that bit wrong."

At her words James sucked in a breath and squeezed his eyes closed. He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head slowly. "That's not good at all, Lily. That means they're upping his progression to become a serious member."

"Sirius said that his mum tried getting Sirius to join but then started calling him all sorts of names, like saying he was a disgrace and embarrassment."

"She's the disgrace," James protested heatedly. He felt the quill in his hand begin to bend a tad under the pressure he'd put on it in his anger, and put it down to avoid snapping it in half. "Walburga Black is a venomous woman. I would never talk to my son the way I know she has to Sirius, its borderline abusive."

"She's that terrible, huh?" Lily lifted her feet and tucked them underneath her form, settling in more comfortably as she geared up to hear what she hoped was more back story to what Sirius told her that afternoon.

"She really is," James reiterated. "I remember when I came over for dinner one night and she was so tense and cold. I tried engaging her by talking a little about our life at Hogwarts, thinking it would be something we could all relate to. Instead she spent the entire conversation talking about the merits of Slytherin and about how Sirius was the first Black wizard in generations sorted into a house other than that. And, oh, dear! Why did it have to be Gryffindor?" he mocked scathingly. "She talked about how he was such a disappointing eldest son and the 'waste of an heir.'"

"Sounds like the stuff she put in her letter."

"Yeah, but it was much worse. We were only twelve or so at the time. Sirius hadn't built up the mettle against her yet the way he has now. Before we came here, his relationship with her was normal and just fine. That other shit didn't pick up until were at school. She was realizing who he was as he came into his own person, when he was sorted into Gryffindor, rather than the person she assumed him to be."

"When it was obvious how different he was," Lily supplied.

James tapped the pad of his finger to his nose. "Exactly. He tried to joke with me about the whole thing after dinner but I'll never forget how he looked at that table. He's never looked so…" James paused trying to find the words to capture what he'd seen, reminiscing on the look on his friend's face that night. Even now, the image in his head gave him a twinge of emotion at how wrong everything had been to him. He came from very loving and doting parents—the possibility that parents could be anything but was a concept he hadn't deemed possible until he'd met Walburga Black.

"Lily, you don't understand what it was like to see. He was just so deeply hurt. Hurt, and embarrassed because I was there. I've never seen him like that, before nor since. I honestly think that was the beginning of the Sirius we know today, the side that jokes all the time with most people that don't know him well."

Lily leaned her cheek onto her fist and sighed. "Laugh to keep from crying sometimes, I suppose."

James nodded resolutely. "It's definitely better for his spirits if he were with me the entire summer. I suppose Regulus is a lost cause now."

"Hey, we don't know that," Lily defended. "It's a bit premature, don't you think? You have to be pretty far gone to be a lost cause, and there could still be time for him to change."

She hadn't let herself think too much about it, but the story of Regulus reminded her too much of Severus and his decision to become a member of Voldemort's followers. If Regulus was a lost cause, the possibility of the same fate for Severus became much more real. And even though they weren't speaking, Lily just couldn't accept that. Not yet.

"Lily, have you been reading about this guy in the papers?" James demanded incredulously. "It isn't front page news because people think he's only ruffling some Muggle feathers with a bit of intimidation. They think it's so far away from our world and community that we don't need to worry; but this guy is such bad news, I can't even begin to tell you! I've heard my parents discussing classified stuff that that they won't print in the media, you know why?" He didn't wait for her to guess before plunging ahead. "Because they don't want to cause panic—don't you think that if they're hiding things, it'd be something to panic about it if the public knew?

"My dad says the ministry doesn't want to worry people over what they're convinced is an overzealous rebel that they've got under control. My parents have told me some stuff though because they want me to be prepared. And I am telling you," he intoned gravely. "People are kidding themselves by not paying attention. Dumbledore, though…he knows. He's already taking action, which is what everyone would be wise to do as well."

Lily's eyebrows shot up at the implication. "What kind of action?" she asked James.

Shit, not again! James thought, taking great control over his face not to reveal his turmoil. How can I be so bloody stupid to say that much about this?! And in the Common Room no less, without a silence charm over us. My dad would thump me thoroughly if he knew. He forced himself to appear calm and slowly reached for his book, opening it to his place and resuming his writing with ease. "I—nothing," he muttered. "I've already said way too much; don't mind it."

"Oh, come on!" Lily protested, annoyed. She scowled deeply and kicked at him with her heel. "You can't do that—I hate it when people do that, start telling something they can't or won't finish." She kicked at him again, this time a little harder. "Tell me."

"No. Stop that."

She shoved his thigh with her foot again. "Oh, come on, you've already said this much; I won't tell anyone, I promise."

James grunted at the impact of her foot and grabbed his book to keep it from sliding from his lap. "Seriously, Lily," he told her firmly. He gripped her foot before she could shove at him again. "Drop it, please. Forget I said anything."

Lily scrunched up the side of her nose indignantly, but didn't badger him again, letting him go back to what appeared to be concentrating on his essay while she grew quiet.

You can't run your mouth to her this time, James told himself firmly, his eyes roving over the same three sentences. This time it isn't just my business. Good Godric, this girl is way too easy for me to talk to and need to watch what I saw once and for all. Had she been like other people he'd been around, girls he'd dated especially, James would have simply fabricated an realistic enough explanation, pasted a charming smile on his lips and smoothly changed the subject, knowing he could gently persuade attention away from anything he'd revealed.

But Lily was far too sharp and, irritatingly, combative to fall for any of that. He could see she was already trying to figure things out in her head based on what he'd told her. Furthermore, he knew that if he so much as twitched his wand toward her to cast a mild Obliviate she'd have him in a body bind faster than he could defend himself from and throwing a temper tantrum he didn't want to deal with.

"Well, then," she said finally, shifting her body. "If all is as you say, then Sirius is really lucky to have someone like you and your parents to take him out of the thick of it." She yawned and stretched her arms high over her head. "Oh, goodness," she proclaimed around her yawn. "I am exhausted. That run took my physically energy out of me and talking about all this sucked out what was left. I've got to turn in."

"You're done with your essay?"

"Of course I'm not. But I started it a few days ago, I can spare one night not working on it. I don't want to interfere with the way I feel after this afternoon." She covered another yawn with the back of her hand and curved her back in an arched stretch, saying, "I'll probably sleep really well tonight."

"You will," James answered. "I always do after my time as a stag."

Lily nodded and turned toward the staircase, then turned around and stepped back to James as an afterthought hit her. "Am I going to see a bunch of naked Gryffindor boys walking around?" she asked him in a low voice.

"Ha!" James laughed loudly, attracting a few glares from other students. "Sorry about your luck, but no. It's a dorm room, Lily, not a bathhouse of Ancient Rome. We don't just let all the goods hang out anymore than you girls have naked pillow fights."

Lily suddenly looked panicked. "How'd you know about that?" she asked tersely.

James's mouth dropped open, momentarily struck dumb. "No way."

"Oh, relax, I was only joking." Lily chuckled. "You are too easy. Now who can't take a joke, Potter?"

He reached down between the couch cushions and grabbed a balled up discarded piece of parchment, lobbing it at her face. "Shut it, I've been at this shit for hours and my mind has turned to putty. I'm not as sharp as I usually am. Get out of here."

Lily let out another quiet giggle and tossed back the trash she'd caught, and then walked to the staircase. "You really do have some great friends," she told him as she climbed the steps. It's been good getting to know them properly."

James shrugged and grinned at her. A sense of pride spread at her praise of the two closest people in his life that he knew so many others had misconceptions about. "That stuff's normal to me," he responded. "That's just who they are, and most people have no idea."

"Well, now I do. Good night, James. " She returned his smile with a tiny one of her own and continued upward.

"Good night," he said softly. He watched her strode onto the landing and into the room. Once she disappeared he groaned and squeezed his eyes closed, dropping his head backward.

Lily had always stood out to him, that he knew. Before, it'd been the overall theme about her that drove him crazy. In the heat of their conflicts and at the height his ire he would wonder why she couldn't just be like others and not do this, that, and the other, or whatever was bothering him at the moment. This had always been the trouble about her and the particular pain in his behind. And Merlin knew that at times it still was, especially in the last few weeks in their predicament.

The difference now, though, was that sometimes those same aspects that made her more infuriating were what he was beginning to enjoy about her. She questioned so many things, and let her curiosity lead. She was candid and didn't always think about how she was coming across before speaking. She was challenging and never boring.

Thankfully his train of thought was disrupted. A fellow housemate had strolled up to him and leaned over the back of the couch and into his personal space, her curly dark hair a stark contrast against the crimson couch.

"What's going on with you and Potter?" she asked nosily without prelude. "You two seem to be getting pretty cozy."

"What's going on with you and your own business?" James said back loftily, returning to his work. "You two seem to be missing one another."

The girl's jaw dropped open at James's impatience. "Screw you, too, Lily," she told her curtly, before flouncing off.

Hope that wasn't one of her friends…guess I should have considered that first. Oh well, serves her right for being such a busybody.

James's glanced after her and spotted the girl rejoining a small group of students that had been huddled with their chairs pushed together, watching her ask her question. The girl leaned in a spoke in hushed tones, no doubt echoing what she'd been told. A couple heads turned quickly to look at him, and one of the boys snickered in amusement but stopped abruptly when his friend thwacked his shoulder with her roll of parchment.

"Come on, it was funny," he defended.

James rolled his shoulders a few times to reset his concentration on his homework, gripping his quill and resuming his writing resolutely. Infuriating and for the same reasons fascinating. James summed up that he was becoming appreciative of the traits he learned about and the person who Lily was. In some situations appreciation could eventually turn into other feelings.

And obviously, he had no intention of letting this turn into one of those situations.