A/N: Okay, readers, I just gotta keep it real for a moment: this chapter was a serious bitch for me to get through. I knew exactly what I wanted to happen, and exactly how I wanted scenes to play out. Some made it in, some are postponed. But WHEW! I struggled immensely through certain scenes for a long time to get them just right. And, this was originally meant to be longer but I had to move certain important happenings to chapter 24. I just reached a certain point and thought, Nope, right here feels like where it's supposed to be. As it stands, it's 12 pages and pretty dense.

I swear, sometimes this story has a mind of its own and I'm really just along for the ride like you all are.

I really hope you enjoy it!


"I believe it's your turn to confess your deeply hidden and denied love for Remus to round out the love equation. Make it snappy and make it sappy, we have triple dates to plan."James

Chapter 23: Dissolved Resolves

Sirius and Remus strode together down the dark corridor, quiet and hidden in shadow as they made their way toward the Gryffindor entrance. With frequent midnight snacks in the kitchens, secret trips to Hogsmeade, and monthly visits to the Shrieking Shack under the full moon, curfew was more a suggestion rather than a rule to the Marauders. Over the years they'd created foolproof tools and ways to avoid reprimands and punishments. Furthermore, as long as Remus was present, the Fat Lady never really scolded the Marauders for being out of bed past curfew. It wasn't the only the Prefect badge that gave him authority and her nod of approval (the Fat Lady had no problems nosing into anyone's business with or without a badge, whether or not it was past curfew). Like most of the adults around Hogwarts, she considered Remus to be one of the most upstanding students among the Student body; his charmingly polite demeanor was no act but a genuine part of his personality, and it came through in his interactions with others.

Plus, Remus purposely yet subtly threw a little extra charm into his interactions with the flirtatious portrait. That certainly helped.

James and Sirius rode the coattails of Remus' spotless reputation when occasion called for it. At times he let them take advantage of being associated with him, indulging in the few shreds of innocence that his friendship gave them when it came to talking themselves out of a punishment. Some faculty reasoned that if Remus chose to be such good friends with these two, Sirius and James couldn't be so bad after all. In return they let Remus let his hair down with them, let loose, and be as snarky and unchecked as possible, when he didn't need to be "on" in front of others.

So, all things considered, the boys were confident enough to move somewhat unhurriedly while they lost themselves to their respective thoughts.

The reality of the situation at hand was settling deeper into Sirius's bones. After exchanging ideas with Remus, the possibility of James not being his James seemed to be the only one that made sense. He'd become silent on the way from the Owlery, retreating into his head to try to process it all. Unfortunately instead of coming up with answers and a plan, Sirius only managed to fall victim to mild anxiety as he imagining all the possibilities of where the real James was.

Who could possibly be impersonating his friend? How long had it been? How long should he have known? Each possibility that wormed into Sirius's imagination uncovered another level of guilt, and fear that he didn't know how to solve it, or whether the real James could come back.

As Sirius was wont to do, when he was overwhelmed, scared, and, uncertain, he grew angry.

He stewed inwardly for a few minutes while he and Remus waited in front of the Gryffindor entrance for the Fat Lady to come back to her frame. Then, he broke the silence quite abruptly with an outburst.

"I just don't understand why you want to wait to do something now that we have this theory! We have someone impersonating our friend and you want to just hold off and see what happens? It might be too late if we don't do something now!"

Remus sighed and looked warily and Sirius. After years of friendship he was used to how the boy's emotions ebbed and flowed. He wasn't surprised at Sirius's delayed reaction to the suggestion Remus voiced when they first started back to the dorm. "Sirius, theories aside we don't know all the facts," he told him. "Yes, this is the only thing that makes sense but we don't know enough to do anything about it."

"So you want to wait because we don't know all the answers? Moony, the answers come from taking action and finding out, not by waiting to appear by themselves!"

"Even if that James isn't the real James, whatever is walking around and acting like him could be dangerous! You want to just risk ourselves and confront it without a backup plan? That's foolish, Sirius, and it isn't helping James if we just impulsively draw our wands!"

On one hand Sirius knew that Remus had a point on the logical end. But he was too worked up and anxious to logically solve his problems. After all, nothing about this conundrum seemed logical as far as he could figure out. "What's foolish is letting this go one any longer than it already has; the time for thinking is over, and we need to do something!"

"Sirius, if we just go about accusing our friend willy-nilly, we are going to look insane if we turn out to be wrong!"

"That is not our friend!" Sirius furiously stabbed his forefinger toward the Gryffindor Common Room. "There's someone walking as James like his skin is a borrowed coat and has been doing so for who knows how long; what the hell do I care if come across as insane or illogical if it isn't really him?"

"Sirius, you need to calm down," Remus said, stubbornly remaining level-headed. "I'm just not willing to act unless I know for sure it isn't going to make things worse, and we don't know that right now."

"We know that that thing isn't James, what else could possibly be important?"

"I know you're scared. I know that's where this is all coming from. But I need to you to relax about this; we just accepted this as a serious possibility, and we need to watch and wait. We need to just observe and match things up with our theory."

Sirius folded his arms angrily and spat, "James isn't a case-study in Dark Arts class, Moony, and things don't just wait to be studied until the perfect time."

Remus set his jaw and glowered at Sirius. His expression was stormy and, although he knew that Sirius was lashing out due to overwhelming worry, he had to take a few moments before answering in order to keep his response civil. "That's hardly fair, Sirius," he finally said tersely. "I am extremely worried about what could be going on. You aren't the only one with a friend possibly in trouble; don't you dare imply that I don't care as much as you do just because I'm not ready to threaten James with my wand pressed to his throat."

At his friend's reprimand Sirius looked to his feet, ashamed that he'd let his emotions take over to the point of taking it out at Remus. "I'm sorry," he said, swallowing thickly. "I'm worried, is all. We've been asking ourselves for a few weeks why he's acting so strangely. As crazy as it sounds, from our speculations, this is the one that makes the most sense to me. And, if it turns out to be true, I can't believe I didn't see it earlier."

"Hey, it's okay, alright?" Remus reached a hand out and squeezed Sirius's shoulder, pressing into the tension he felt bunched within the muscle before delivering a hearty pat. "Whether or not this theory is truly possible, we'll figure it out one step at a time. But Sirius, please—it's a careful situation, and we don't know if it's dangerous or not. We can take action—eventually. We just need to move a little more slowly than lightning speed."

Sirius' eyes flicked to Remus from beneath the hair that had fallen unkempt over his forehead. "I understand that," he said. "But I also think we should have at least a little bit of urgency. We don't know whether this is time sensitive or how long it's been going on."

"Fair enough." Remus folded his arms and thought or a moment, stroking his chin while he thought things through. "Three days, alright?" he ventured, holding up three digits. "Let's give it three days where we just watch. It probably should be more, but…after that we can interrogate him however you like."

Sirius nodded slowly. "You mean, you'd be willing to go to Azkaban? Because it's entirely possible that my interrogation could be on that level."

"I might be willing to risk spending a night or two," Remus answered, lips giving way into a wicked grin.

The Fat Lady appeared and, with a short greeting to Remus, opened her door for them to go through.

Although the temporary decision was reached, Sirius still was far from being at ease. He had to force his mind to slow down as he continued to imagine where the real James was currently hidden away. This was about a boy closer to him than his blood family, the boy he would take a curse for without thinking. Sirius was furious at himself for not catching the importance in the different behavior. After all James had done for him over the years, what kind of friend was he that he didn't spot the red flags? And he knew that if repercussions were perilous or otherwise irrevocable, he would never forgive himself for being so oblivious.

They came through to the Common Room and almost immediately Sirius spotted James. As Sirius was still thoroughly consumed with his suspicions, just the mere sight of James ignited blooms of fury in his belly that spread to his limbs, bringing them to life with anger. His foot twitched against the carpet, fighting the impulse to stride forward and assault the impersonator. The heat spread up to his chest where he wanted to exhale a stream of expletives and threats to the possible imposter forcing him to reveal himself. It spread down his arms with the blood in his veins, curling his long fingers into balled fists that wanted to swing forward into the flesh that was concealing a mystery so well.

It's just three days. Three days is nothing; I can manage three days, Sirius told himself, willing his blood-pressure to go down. Aloud, he said, "Oh, look who it is." His tone was light, and when contrasted with his tense body language, it came across as highly menacing as he glared ahead. His forehead cramped slightly and it was only then that he realized how deeply he was glowering.

Sirius cleared his throat and slowly released the tension manifested in his face, forcing a neutral expression to replace it. Despite his efforts a hard and furious gleam remained in his eyes when he turned to address Remus.

"Well, shall we?" he said, seemingly calm. "You restrain and I'll stun, yes?"

Without waiting for Remus to answer, Sirius began to stalk forward and reached within his robes to draw his wand from his side. He only got a few steps before Remus caught him with a tight grip around his forearm.

"Three days, Sirius," Remus reiterated firmly. "Three days."

X


X

As a voracious reader Lily didn't usually ascribe any significance to her completion of novels, or the amount of pages she covered within a certain given of time. But tonight she felt especially accomplished after calculating that forty pages had joined the left side of the spine since resolutely planting her attention back to Jane Austen. Considering how much she still had on her mind, getting through even that small chunk felt like no small feat.

She smiled to herself indulgently, mentally patting her back at her accomplishment. James Potter was in no way worthy competition for her favorite hobby. She'd only had a momentary lapse in concentration, was all. And after all, it was past midnight. The day had been long and the hours were taking their toll.

Take that, Potter, she thought triumphantly, flexing the book wider and preparing to resume her passage.

She'd just found her place and prepared to lose herself in the story again when a strong clap to the back of her shoulder propelled her forward, upsetting her enough that her book went tumbling to the ground.

"What that hell?!" she cried, surprised and annoyed. Before she could reach down and grab her book, it appeared in front of her face, held by the hand that caused it to fall in the first place.

"Sorry, mate." Lily looked up and saw Remus looking down at her apologetically as he extended her book for her to grasp. "We didn't mean to startle you like that."

Lily bit her lip and suppressed the impulse to roll her eyes. During her much needed solitude, her mentality had drifted primarily back to being herself without worry. But now that two thirds of the Marauders were back, Lily knew it was time to put herself away and let her impressions of James take over. "It's fine," she said tersely, forcing a light tone. "Didn't see you there, was all."

Sirius sat on the arm of the chair, one foot on the ground to balance his body as he perched and tilted his head to peek at her book. He furrowed his brow as he studied the cover, which had a spring-green background etched with tan, curled stems creeping toward the top. Small white flowers and bulbs sprouted from their thin lines, melding with the cursive writing at the center that spelled out the title. "What are you reading?" he asked, squinting at the words.

"Uh…Sense and Sensibility," Lily answered, flipping it round so he could better see. "Jane Austen, Muggle writer."

"Huh. Interesting. I thought novels usually bored you to tears, James. You've often said, 'Why would I want to busy myself reading someone else's story when I could be living my own?' Don't tell me that's changed…" Sirius flittered his hand through the air, lips curled into a wry grin that didn't match his hard gaze. "…Just all of a sudden and out of nowhere."

"Yeah, well I'm just trying to make more time for it. Never too late to start, right?"

Sirius straightened up and folded his arms, fixing her with a stare that resembled a stern father scrutinizing his child for questionable behavior. "You said that you usually find it hard to focus enough to finish one. Remus has recommended countless books to you and each time all you've said was that books weren't your thing unless you were researching or had a specific answer to find."

Lily sighed and rubbed at the bridge of her nose, stalling to collect herself before answering. "I mean, it's just one book, Sirius, it's not like I've got the entire library in my lap. I don't see what the big deal is."

"And it's a book with a very fancy-looking cover," he pressed on. "I can't say that I would have expected you to pick out a something looking like that; it just doesn't seem like your…type."

"Well, you know what they say, don't judge a book by its cover and all."

"Indeed. That is what they say, isn't it?"

Lily knew she'd tripped over herself as soon as she uttered the phrase. Of all the sayings, that was the most foolish one she could repeat while Sirius was peppering her with questions. She'd spoken without thinking, which, these days, was a dear luxury. Her concentration on maintaining the illusion was slipping, and so was her patience. "So I picked up something new!" she snapped at Sirius. "What is going on with you? Why are you so salty tonight?"

Sirius's eyes widened incredulously as he pointed at himself. "Me?" he asked indignantly. "What's going on with me?" Before he could continue Remus threw up a hand and pressed it gently against his chest, pressing just enough that he encouraged Sirius to stand up and take a few paces back away from the chair. Sirius jerked his body away from Remus and held his hands up to show Remus he wouldn't do anything sudden. "Don't. I'm fine," he growled, sounding anything but. "I've got it."

Lily tried to peek around Remus to get a better look at the interaction, but with his back to her and arms out, she could make out much.

Remus leaned close to Sirius and murmured something that Lily couldn't catch, but she did hear Sirius snort derisively in response before Remus finally turned back to face her. "Sorry, James," he said to her. "Padfoot is tired and cranky; you know how he gets when he's sleepy. Plus we were up in the Owlery, and Sirius always has a sinus attack around the straw. It's all put him in a bit of a strop."

Remus's tone of voice sounded so casual but Lily's instincts alerted her that he seemed as tense as she felt. Something had shifted between the three of them tonight, and the easy relaxed camaraderie from the afternoon with the Hippogriffs evaporated into an taut and rigid atmosphere, thick with mistrust on both ends. It was so clear that all three were on edge, but Lily wasn't sure whether it was from suspicion or simply exactly what Remus explained. It had to be the latter, right? There was nothing she'd done to set off their suspicion between now and the last time she'd seen them.

"…Alright then," she said hesitantly. "I'm sorry I snapped at you, Sirius. I suppose the late hour is getting to us both."

Sirius barely acknowledged that she'd spoken to him. Instead he pressed his lips together gave a small shake of his head and looked sullenly off to the side. Keeping an eye on his friend in his periphery, Remus grabbed the base of a nearby chair and dragged it over next to Lily. "So, Jamie," he said, finally tearing his eyes from Sirius. "How was that detention?"

"Oh, fine. You know I'm used to it so it's not like it was anything new."

"Lily behaved herself, did she?"

"Oh, of course!"

"Oh, I don't know. I'm used to you coming back with stories about whatever she did to grate your nerves."

"No, it was fine. We've been getting along better lately, haven't you noticed?"

Remus laughed quietly. "How could I possibly not? The new peace around here isn't something you don't make a note of. It's definitely different, that's for sure."

Remus was speaking much more kindly to her than Sirius, but Lily could have sworn she heard a very gentle emphasis on the word 'different'. Lily bit the insides of her cheek in an effort to keep her expression neutral, but privately she felt her resolve crack a little bit further. She was feeling more sensitive than was normal after taking the brunt of Sirius's bad mood. Paranoia flared anew inside of her and was assigning significance to every eye flicker and shifting cadence of their words.

Remus pressed on in the conversation, mercifully saving Lily from the expectation of contributing with an empty response. She used the opportunity to take deep but subtle breaths that filled her lungs and emptied her overwrought mind of the disquiet that was rapidly collecting.

X


X

The last place that James thought he would find enlightenment of sorts was during girls' night. A girls' night of which he'd become an eager and active participant.

He expected to listen to inane chatter about the inconsequential goings on of Hogwarts students that he didn't care to know, while wishing he could drown it out with earplugs and reading materials about either art or Quidditch. He couldn't have imagined that tonight would be the remedy to his weeks-long anxiety surrounding his feelings for Lily. Tonight the most stereotypically feminine situation he'd ever been in, complete with wine, sweets, and manicures (his was a rich royal blue that he thought looked quite striking against Lily's skin tone; like a small child's coloring turned chaotic when they failed to remain within the pictures borders, James had made a disaster of painting his nail beds to the point that Parker snatched the polish away and insisted on beginning again). Oddly, his participation in these activities turned out to be just thing to temporarily release the burden of carrying so many secrets. He felt so relaxed from it all that he couldn't help feel refreshed.

Renewed purpose washed over James from speaking his mind so freely, putting to rest the pressure he'd unknowingly been applying to himself. The resolve previously used to resist his emotions was now redirected with a more positive purpose, as he accepted himself for his desire to go after Lily. It was a curiously lovely feeling giving up and giving in.

To a degree, being trapped within another's body under a mysterious, temperamental spell gave the subject the impression of being robbed of almost every shred of control. James gained new insight, now realizing that part of his panic was from the assumption that his feelings were solely a side effect of the spell he had no hand in casting. Without even realizing what she was speaking to, Parker's advice flooded him with reminders that just because he had no choice in the specific matter of being in another's body, didn't mean he was robbed of the privilege of choice all together and in all ways.

Remembering this made him strong again, and calmed him enough to withstand remaining effects of the spell that might come his way. And he was confident now that throughout the whole debacle, his feelings always had been his own.

There was no emotional effect the spell was meant to have. His feelings for Lily were no less real.

With that conviction firmly nestled into his conscious James leaned back into the pillows, locking his fingers together and resting his hands behind his head. He fixed Kate with a playful grin. "So, Kate," he said.

She returned his look with one of her own, this one unimpressed yet suspicious. "So. What," she deadpanned, lifting an eyebrow.

"Parker with Sirius, me with the other one. I believe it's your turn to confess your deeply hidden and denied love for Remus to round out the love equation. Make it snappy and make it sappy, we have triple dates to plan."

Parker gasped and sat up straight. Her eyes shone bright as she gleefully clapped her hands together, as she opened her mouth to voice her enthusiasm for the idea. Before she could Kate stopped her cold, her dark irises zooming to the corners of her eyes to deliver a clear cut, non-verbal disapproval of the idea.

"Oh, come on," Parker whined, imploring her friend. Her shoulders slumped down in disappointment. "That would be so much fun!"

"You are both completely mad." Kate ran a hand through her dense, curly hair, tugging roughly through the strands when her fingers became caught in various tendrils on their way toward her ends. "Listen, I love Remus. He's kind and lovely and has the makings to be a saint before he even dies. But, first of all, we are completely wrong for one another; we're both too cerebral and I think he needs someone with a bit more spunk to her, you know? Someone with real…I don't know, a girl with a louder personality than I've got. And, even if I were fighting the sort of feelings that you are for Sirius, or that Lily is for James, you don't know me at all if you think I would put myself in as public a situation as being the third friend of the same group to date the final third of the Marauders."

"How do you mean?" Parker asked her.

"You two know how I feel about my privacy. I could never have my conflicts out in the open like you and James, Lily, I would feel so…exposed. I can't stand feeling that way."

"It's not like we plan it," James explained somewhat defensively. "It just happens when and where it happens and there isn't much we can do but have it out right there. If I could choose to have your restraint I would, but I guess neither of us were built that way."

"Well, even if you haven't planned it, the boys you've both chosen are right at the center of the school's public eye. Three on three in a constant triple date? The student body would have a field day with our romantic lives and I would never have any peace from anyone. And my business circling round Hogwarts like it's the featured story on the Evening Prophet? No bloody way," she ended vehemently, swiping her hands horizontally through the air.

"Whoa," Parker remarked, leaning away from Kate. "You alright? You rarely get so worked up and I don't think it's just the booze talking."

Kate closed her eyes and rubbed her fingers against the lids and sighing deeply. "I know. I just…I get so uncomfortable when my privacy is compromised. Even the just the idea of it upsets me. And, as much as it really picks at my pride to admit it, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't an aspect that affected me from my parent's divorce. You two know I don't talk about this much." Looking somewhat sheepish, Kate fiddled with a section of pajama fabric covering her knee, repeatedly lifting it up into a tiny tent and letting it fall flat again. "And it isn't because I don't trust you. Please don't think that. With the exception of my brother, you girls are the closest friends I have."

She reached across the bed for James's hand and gave his fingers a gentle squeeze. Instead of feeling the warmth of her friendship he felt his gut clench along with the fingers within Kate's palm. It was clear how private Kate was and that she wasn't typically outwardly expressive with her emotions. James felt guilt rise at experiencing Kate's rare vulnerability while she spoke without abandon. He was deceitfully listening to a stream of consciousness when he hadn't earned access to her private council.

He felt no different from a thief.

Uncomfortable with the charade of intimacy he was supposed to maintain, James withdrew his hand and pat the top of Kate's gently. He busied himself by covering his legs to regain a relaxed demeanor. He was about to steer the conversation into safer, more playful territory when Kate spoke again, and the previous tenderness in her voice was replaced with a hard-edged, stubborn pride.

"I've just had enough of people talking about me and mine over the years, with the way things went down with my parent's divorce. I don't like calling attention to it anymore than necessary since there was way too much spotlight while it was happening, and all of it against my choice."

James furrowed his brows at the admission, unsure whether this was something he should feign previous knowledge of. But a quick look at Parker, whose lips were pursed tightly as she watched Kate, hinted at him to hold his tongue. Unlike what she normally did, Parker wasn't jumping into the join the conversation. James chose to follow suit, and let Kate keep speaking.

"Look, I'm no damaged little girl or…whatever," Kate added sternly, holding up her hand. Her large brown eyes were very defiant as they pierced Parker and James, overcompensating for revealing what she worried was overused to gain pity or sympathy. "So please don't take it that way. But I've hinted to you two how ugly it all was."

She hooked her right forefinger over her left digits in turn as she counted out examples. "The two of them disparaging each other in front of us, friends and relatives voicing their opinions about it all, my grandmother telling me that my dad never should have married my mom because 'breeds don't mix'. A kid doesn't experience stuff like that and manage to completely leave it in the past. Not me, anyway. "

James squinted at Kate, trying work out what her grandmother's words would have meant. From that sentence alone, Kate's grandmother was reminding him strongly of Walburga Black. "'Breeds don't mix'?'" he repeated. Considering his assumption of the meaning, he couldn't help the hard edge that accompanied his question. "What, she means Muggles?"

"No, nothing like that," Kate assured. "She wanted Dad to be with a fellow Egyptian witch, specifically one that she knew and whose family she was acquainted with. So when my dad married my mum, essentially without warning, she was beyond furious. And don't get me started about when they didn't choose an Egyptian name for me. But she's mostly fine, now. She only calls me Amunet, my middle name—or rather, my 'real' name as far as she's concerned, ignoring the Scottish side. Plus, Ishaq and I spend six weeks with her every summer in Luxor, and she makes sure we're familiar with the family and culture. My brother and I love it there, it's just beautiful. In fact…" Her fingers knotted and entwined together nervously and a deep breath as excitement began to build. "I may be going there for a while after we graduate," she speedily breathed out.

"You're moving there or something?" James asked her.

"We-e-ell…" Kate bit her lip, still clenching her hands. Her crossed leg had begun to bouncing, betraying her attempt at a stoic demeanor. Her teeth that were holding captive a suppressed smile were losing her lips to a large grin. "You guys cannot mention this to anyone. It's not yet a sure thing and even so…just please keep it to yourselves?"

James barely kept his displeasure in check at her request. Learning about Kate was truly fascinating for him, especially since she kept much of her thoughts tucked away. Nevertheless, the last thing he needed was another secret, especially one that should have belonged to Lily.

"Because I really don't want to jinx it," Kate continued. "And even if it does go through, it won't be common knowledge."

Parker nodded eagerly. "We won't tell anyone, Kate, you know that."

"Alright, then." She finally let her huge smile expand unbidden. "I'm fascinated by wandlore, as you both know, so before the end of the summer, I like to sit in Ollivander's shop and watch students get their wands."

"And he's never kicked you out?" James asked her.

"Nope. I don't interfere with what's going on, I just observe. Sometimes the students don't even see me, because they're too excited with picking their wands. But I always ask so many questions when he isn't busy with a customer—it's remarkable that he hasn't become sick of me. Anyway, it came up that I speak an Egyptian dialect, and how my grandmother taught me to read and understand Hieroglyphs and—"

"Wait, you do?!"Parker interjected incredulously. She dropped her head forward, chin nearly touching her décolletage, and her jaw fell open dramatically. She looked to James, as though searching for confirmation that he was just as shocked as she was, before whipping her head back to face Kate. "What?! You never mentioned that, Kate!"

Kate looked a little bit bashful as she launched into a passionate explanation how this came to be a possibility. Over time and after many conversations with Ollivander a faint kinship grew between them over their shared interests in wandlore and other magical properties. Ollivander was already impressed with Kate due to her intelligence and insatiable curiosity, and her background and personal ties to Egypt, combined with her tenacity, gave him ideas for cultivating, combining and indulging her dual passions. For some time now, he and an Egyptian colleague were discussing the possibility of Kate undergoing an externship of sorts, in which she studied Ancient Egyptian magical properties from various scholars in the country.

"There's just so much history and information about Egypt and magic! Wandlore, Alchemy, ancient Egyptian herbology…the list just goes on. But Ollivander says I've got to keep high marks specifically in Herbology, History, Magical Creatures, and at least a fair grade in Potions. So that means I need to keep my focus on my academics completely."

James's eyebrows shot up at the fascinating descriptions Kate provided. No wonder she had no interest in romance! Between Lily and Parker's more upfront personalities, Kate was the more held back of the three friends, the one who played her cards close to her chest. Tonight she shared information that he would never have begun to guess, and he wondered how much Lily knew about it if Kate naturally kept to herself.

"That is absolutely incredible, Kate," he told her. "What are you going to do with it all?"

"I'm not sure yet. It's not as though I can contribute anything new to Ollivander. I'll figure it out as I go, I guess. But anyhow, that's the long version of why I couldn't give fuck all about the boys of Hogwarts." She said it with a triumphant smile, pride shining through. "And besides, you two have enough going on with James and Sirius so I get all the benefits of hearing about it and none of the distracting bits. Win, win."

"That is insane," Parker said. She looked almost in awe of her friend, still taken aback from everything Kate told them about. "I had no idea about any of that!"

Kate shrugged modestly, back to her reserved nature.

"But also," Parker continued hesitantly. "I've seen you with boys here and there, Kate. I've been to balls with you and I know you've gone on a date here and there during trips to Hogsmeade. You seem to really enjoy yourself, and a few of them have been really cool blokes."

Kate shrugged again, raising one shoulder. "Well, just because I don't want a commitment doesn't mean I can't have a good time. I love getting dressed up and dancing, and flirting for the evening while looking your best. And hanging out with someone that I can connect with is nice for a little bit. But after that? I don't really want to go any further into something that could turn serious."

"But there are all kinds of people here! Surely there's someone who caught your eye at some point." Parker looked skeptical at Kate's pragmatic approach to romance. "You have hormones like the rest of us—you mean to tell me you don't want to do anything about it with anyone specific?"

"I never said I didn't have hormones. I said I wouldn't date. There're plenty of guys here nice to look at and have a date to the ball or Hogsmeade, but as for anything more, most of the boys here are idiotic. They're immature."

James couldn't help the quiet snort that escaped him when he heard the generalization. He'd heard it many a time, often directed toward him, but from experience his personal opinion was that the girls he dealt with hardly were the epitome of maturity themselves.

He was about to say so, but Kate pressed on, surprising him with her thoughts as she already had a multitude of times that evening.

"But so are we all," she said. "Merlin knows I am, and I don't want to be set up in a situation that I'm forced to end come graduation. We're sixteen and seventeen and to me, that's so young. I know we marry young in Wizard culture but it doesn't have to be like that and it certainly doesn't suit me. I, for one, don't want to end up like my parents—married at seventeen and divorced less than ten years later with some major ugliness in between."

"I'm not trying to judge. But that's why I don't date, really, or put myself in those situations. I know that isn't right for me. Besides, with all these possibilities going on after graduation, I don't want anything hindering me. What are the Hogwarts boys compared to that adventure?"

"Very true," James said in agreement. "Considering who I've fallen for, I have my own adventure ahead of me to win her over. But you have a ton of awesome stuff going for you Kate—I can see why you wouldn't want to do anything to mess with that."

She smiled at him somewhat shyly, but her pride at her accomplishments reflected in her eyes. "Thanks, Lil," she said softly. An enormous yawn escaped before she had time to suppress it, and Kate clamped a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound that escaped, closely resembling an owl's hoot. "Whew! I am so incredibly sleepy, you guys. I don't even know what time it is."

Parker took a peek at her wristwatch and winced when she saw the time. "Yeah, that's my cue to call it quits." She heaved her body from the bed and began collecting stray wrappers that littered the blanket, pinching up the ones that were tucked into the folds. "I certainly don't want to sleep all day tomorrow. But you know what? We really needed that, in so many more ways than just one." She looked at James fondly and grinned. "I'm so excited for you, Lily. This should be really fun to watch unfold, regardless of where things between you and James go. And I'm here to help of course."

"Me too," Kate chimed in.

"Thanks, ladies," James said. He rubbed the back of his head and sighed contentedly. "And you know the same goes for me. I suppose I have my work cut out for me. Thanks for everything tonight, I had an awesome time."

He helped them clean up the remaining mess and, after telling them he'd be back up shortly, exited the room. He didn't mention to them that he wanted to see whether the object of his newly accepted affection was still awake downstairs. He hoped to bid Lily goodnight before going to sleep.

And by the knowing looks and excited smiles Kate and Parker exchanged upon his leaving, an explanation wasn't necessary.

X


A/N: Can't wait to hear feedback from you guys! I really love hearing your questions, thoughts, and even constructive criticism. Hell, I just like discussing.

On a different, more important note, I want to put out there that I've been doing some heavy editing, currently up to chapter 4. Remember, I started this story when I was about 15, before I was more grammatically aware and experienced with life. Unfortunately, a lot of the chapters prior to chapter 16 or 17 reflect that. A lot of things changed during my 6-year hiatus, so I've been doing some very heavy editing between new chapters to make them much better!

I'll leave you with a fun fact: I just found out that this story, at this point, is over 500 pages. DAYUM. So pat yourselves on the back if you made it through to this point. Seriously.

Until next time,

Spirit