AN: Thanks go to:
The Good Doctor Monaco and Seriously Sirius for the betareadings.
LycanMystik, Mincot, Seriously Sirus, and Gryffinjack for the hilarious YM chat that spawned all of this.
Molly Moon, whose "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner", started the conversation in the first place. ( Read it here )
In all his years of Hogwarts pranks that went unexpectedly bad, James didn't think he had ever felt worse than he did now. Granted, the prank the Marauders played on Snape back in their fifth year wasn't the brightest thing they ever did, but they were fifteen. It was quite another thing to be in your twenties and be berated for immaturity and insensitivity.
You've managed to get yourself into quite a predicament, Prongs," Remus stiffly motioned for the barkeep at the Leaky Cauldron to supply another round.
"It's three days later and I can still hear Lily screaming. Remind me not to Apparate directly into your sitting room ever again," Sirius ran his hand over his head as he grimaced, "If I had used the Floo network I would've at least heard the row and jumped several grates over to the Three Broomsticks. There would have been a round waiting for you."
Peter tried to look hopeful, "Maybe she wasn't really as mad as you think, James. I mean we all know Lily has a temper. She could've just been having a bad day..."
"Oh no, it was not a bad day. She was right. I had it coming." James hung his head as his blunder echoed back again.
It was as if someone had zapped James' brain with a Cyclicus charm. Lily's words kept repeating in his head over and over and over again. He relived the scene every five minutes or so. Every detail of the row was crystal clear.
"I can count to twenty-eight, James; I learned the lunar cycle back in Muggle primary school. Why would you leave me a note that said you were going to work on something for Professor Dumbledore instead of just telling me that you went to make sure Remus was ok? I don't understand why you lied. Did you think I'd say, 'no, you can't take care of one of your best friends?' Do you think I am that controlling and heartless?"
"No, Lily, not. I...I...just didn't want to involve you..."
"Involve me in what, helping someone who is my friend too? Maybe I wouldn't be strong enough to lift him up or to help him Apparate, but I happen to be pretty adept at healing charms. I can't imagine why you'd think Remus would refuse my help. You're acting like you four were up to something illegal."
"What makes you say that?" James responded nervously, visions of three unregistered Animagi flashed before James' panicked eyes.
"It's the way you're acting so clandestine about having gone to meet Remus...but that's besides the point-"
"Well then, what is the point, Lily?" James regretted the question the instant it left his lips.
"It was the straw that broke this camel's back, James." Her voice was getting louder as she went on, "I am so tired of discovering you've gone off and done something that affects the both of us on your own: changing our vault number, telling the Ministry I wasn't interested in their job offer-"
A sudden POP signaled Sirius' arrival into the tempest, "You ready to head on over to the Three Broomsticks mate?"
It was obvious that his unexpected arrival only added to Lily's ire, "Hello, Sirius" the greeting was saccharine sweet, "I gather that you and James have plans that I didn't know about...again."
When Lily turned back to face James, he realised that he was really in for it.
"FINE GO OUT WITH SIRIUS! WHEN YOU GET BACK, MAYE YOU'LL REALISE THIS IS A PARTNERSHIP, A TEAM, A GROUP EFFORT; YOU CAN'T JUST MAKE A DECISION THAT AFFECTS THE BOTH OF US WITHOUT CONSULTING ME. SO STOP PRETENDING THAT IT'S YOUR INSTINCTUAL AND PROTECTIVE GRYFFINDOR BRAVERY TAKING OVER WHEN ACTUALLY IT'S JUST YOUR FAILURE TO TAKE THE TIME TO REMEMBER WE'RE EQUALS!"
Lily stormed off into the bedroom, leaving James and Sirius in an awkward, silent moment before they headed to the Three Broomsticks. Some serious cooling off time on both their parts was obviously needed.
Almost everyone he knew had warned James that marriage was an adjustment. Advice had come freely from all corners:
"Learn to compromise."
"You can't always be in charge."
"The Head Girl can more than keep up with the Head Boy."
"You'll have to make some sacrifices."
"Don't end the day mad at each other."
Well, at least James had listened to that last bit. We he returned home, he apologised to Lily. That night, down on one knee, he swore he would never decide anything without her, or keep things from her again. It was just plain stupid to act the way he had been acting.
Lily was wonderfully understanding as she sat before him on the edge of their bed, considering how mad she had been earlier in the day. After James apologised, she had even given him a way out.
Lily brushed James' hair tenderly out of his face, "No more secrets James? There's nothing else that's going to surprise me, right?"
James sat beside her and gently took her face in his hands, "No more decisions without you Lily. No more secrets. I promise."
"All right, because if there is, I swear-" James kissed her.
Lily broke free, "James, as much fun as making up is, next time I'm not getting mad, since that seems to have little effect; I'm getting even-"
James took Lily into his arms, lowered her down to the bed, and kissed her into silence. Unfortunately in all the fun of making up, he neglected one detail. If only he had picked that moment to be totally honest before he was distracted.
Coming back to the present, James pounded his fist in frustration on the table as he looked desperately at his friends, "So you see my problem. If I tell her, that we are unregistered Animagi, she is just as guilty as we are for suppressing information if we are ever caught. And if I don't tell her, we are back to the secret problem."
"Well, as I said before, James, you've got yourself into quite a predicament," Remus patted James on the shoulder, "I just don't think you can keep her from coming with you the next full moon. She thinks you stand guard in the shadows outside the shack. So, when and how are you going to explain things to Lily? I don't like lying to her anymore than you do."
"We could plead on your behalf," suggested Peter, "We'll all show up in animagus form on your doorstep and maybe she'll laugh."
Sirius chuckled as he swigged back his beer, "That would be fantastic; nothing like first hand knowledge. Although personally, I'd just as soon suggest to her that she cook venison for Christmas dinner and have you explain why you can't eat the lovely meal she went through all the trouble to prepare."
"REALLY, YOU THREE ARE OF NO HELP AT ALL!" roared James in complete and utter frustration.
After several more days of ruminating, waiting for just the right moment, and shaking with nerves, James knew enough was enough. Whatever the repercussions were going to be, he had to tell Lily. He resolved to do it as soon as he got home tonight, or tomorrow night, or at the end of the week...
Three Weeks Later
"Ick! As if the ants weren't bad enough. Well at least I have the problem solved." through the open kitchen window, James could hear Lily talking to herself as he came up the walk.
"What's the matter?" inquired James as he walked through the door and entered the kitchen. Lily sounded like their ongoing battle with pests was getting worse. Yesterday, she had actually threatened to call in a Muggle professional known as an exterminator. "The ant population multiplying?"
"It's not the ants this time; it's nothing really I suppose. I didn't realize I was talking out loud, I probably overreacted...I mean there was only one. It's not like there was a whole family. It's just that the largest mouse I ever saw was on our doormat when I came home."
James raised an eyebrow and made a mental note to check on Wormtail's whereabouts and throttle him if necessary.
"It was so brazen sitting there. I swear, it was staring at me. Then it got up on its hind legs and made these awful, squeaking rodent noises at me, like it was trying to talk."
James coughed into the glass of water from the tap he has just poured himself from the tap. That was Peter for you, as completely suave and subtle in animagus as in human life, "So, where did the little furry piece of vermin run off to?"
"Nowhere, I hit him as hard as I could with your broom. It was right by the door."
SMASH! The glass of water shattered on the floor.
"You hit him with my broom?" James gripped the counter so as not to join the glass on the floor.
Lily flicked her wand at the broken shards, "Reparo. I know, James, I'm sorry." Her face colored as she picked the reconstructed glass up and placed it on the counter, "I'll clean the fur and blood out of the bristles. I should have grabbed something other than your good broom."
"Lily...umm...you're sure it was a mouse and not a rat?" James was utilizing every trick he learned in Auror training to maintain his focus and to act nonchalant.
Lily looked at him incredulously, "Well I didn't ask his species before I hit him James. I didn't want him running inside and setting up shop. I mean it's not like we have a dog or cat or anything to keep vermin away. Although, I think getting one is a good idea."
James just blinked. He was too busy running scenarios through his head as to how they were going to explain Peter's massive head injury down at St. Mungo's.
"So are you open to the possibility of us getting a pet?" Lily smirked, "Think of it as a dry run for parenthood."
"Yeah, sure Lily whatever you want. Where's the mouse now?" James voice cracked on his last words.
"In the dust bin outside. Where else would I have disposed of it?"
James was struggling to breathe before full-blown panic set in. The words, "disposed of it", clearly implied it was dead. She said "mouse" after all, not "rat". Surely, if it were a rat, or an animagus rat, Lily would have said rat. Really there was no reason for undue alarm.
"So James, did you really mean it about us getting a pet?"
"Yeah, absolutely. A cat would be a great idea."
"Well I don't know as I'd fancy a cat. Would a dog be ok? I'd prefer something a bit larger."
"Sure Lily, sure, a dog is fine." James was opening cabinet after cabinet desperate to find a bottle of Ogden's. There was none to be had.
"Wonderful, we can talk about it more after supper. I'll just get it out of the oven, take a seat."
All throughout the supper that James barely touched, he assured himself that the rodent couldn't possibly have been Peter. It would all be fine in the morning. He'd see Peter and Remus and Sirius and they'd all have a good laugh over all of this.
After dinner and some snuggling on the couch, James convinced himself that he had just really worked himself up over nothing. Really, it couldn't have possibly been Peter. He blotted the entire episode out of his mind.
Everything was right once again as he fell under his wife's charms. He closed his eyes as he kissed her gently on the mouth. Soon he traced a light path of nibbling kisses around the side of her throat. Really there was nothing better than holding her and nuzzling her neck. Especially as she blew in his ear like that and ...licked...no...slurped it?
James opened his eyes and yelled when he saw another set of eyes staring back. They weren't mesmerizing jade green colour of his wife's. They were a soft grey and were surrounded by black fur, lots and lots of bear-like, shaggy black fur.
"Oh, you," giggled Lily, "You were supposed to stay locked in the bedroom until I broke the news to James."
"Ll-illy?" James stammered, "W-what is this...dog doing here?"
"Well, I found him on the way home James." Lily smiled sheepishly, "He followed me. He was so friendly and he had no tags. Now you did say we could have a pet...I heard you. Don't try and take it back."
"No, no...I-I-I," James swallowed hard he had to stop stuttering, "A dog is fine."
"I think Snuffles might be a good name. He seems to slobber a bit, but he's so cute you can forgive him. I mean look at those big grey eyes." Lily scratched Snuffles head and then proceeded to give him a vigorous belly rub when he rolled onto his back.
As she petted the beast, James desperately checked to see if this animal was Sirius. Other than the grey eyes the dog had no distinctive markings. James never had really paid much attention to the specific details of his friends' animagi forms. They usually transformed in the dark and things weren't that easy to see. Perhaps, jumping to conclusions wasn't warranted. Many dogs surely must have grey eyes, even the exact same shade of grey shared by Sirius and two thirds of his incredibly inbred, pureblood family. Yes, nothing to worry about in the slightest...
Lilly looked over her shoulder to talk to James, while she continued to give Snuffles the belly rub of a lifetime, "The only thing is, James, I don't know if he'll be much of a watch dog. He didn't go after that mouse at all. In fact, he started howling when I hit it. If I didn't know better, I'd say he went to sulk in the bedroom when I put him there. I can't believe he was quiet all the way through our supper."
James thought he was about to pass out.
"I wonder who's at the door. James, why don't you get better acquainted with Snuffles here while I get the door. Didn't Remus mention that he might stop by tonight?" Lily hopped up and went to answer the door.
She had barely left the room before James began interrogating the dog, hoping against hope he was wrong, "Sirius, is that you?"
"It's me," replied a very solemn Sirius.
"Oh Merlin! What am I going to do? Lily killed Peter and she has no idea. How are we going to tell her, and tell Peter's mother? We're headed to Azkaban all of us!" James clutched Sirius by the shoulder and began shaking him in desperation, "WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?"
James turned around to see his wife aiming a camera in his direction. Peter and Remus flanked her on either side. They were all about to burst at the seams from suppressed laughter.
"Remember this moment for the rest of our lives!" exclaimed Lily as she began to laugh.
She handed the camera and walked over to the befuddled James. "I have been able to tell for the last three weeks that you have been trying to tell me something, love." Tears were streaming down Lily's face as she continued to explain how she had just out-pranked the ultimate prankster, "I finally wheedled it out of these three. I'm not telling you who gave you up first, but lets just say that I would have caught on eventually from all the extra fur that seems to keep getting tracked in here. So darling...last chance...anymore secrets you want to share?"
James thought a moment before leading Lily back to the couch, "Why don't you sit down Lily?" James motioned to the others, "Could you all go down to the Three Broomsticks and bring back some Ogden's, and come back in about a half hour?"
As James' three fellow Marauders Apparated out, he turned back to Lily with a pensive look on his face, "Lily, how much do you know about Godric Gryffindor, and the legend of the Half-Blood Prince..."