Lily stormed out of the great front doors of Hogwarts Castle, eyes full of tears. It was the first time in her life she'd ever cut class and she didn't even care. She just couldn't take it any more.

It had happened as she and her classmates were leaving the N.E.W.T. class in Charms. Someone—she hadn't seen who, though she had a good guess—had stuck out their foot in front of her and she had tripped, sprawling across the hallway, her books flying in all directions. "Ooooh, did the Mudblood fall down?" chanted a low voice, and she had glanced up to see Bellatrix Lestrange standing over her, nearly doubled over in laughter, surrounded by a group of grinning Slytherins.

"Shut up, Bella," Lily had growled, pulling herself to her feet. "Just shut up. Why can't you leave me alone?"

"Why, I think the Mudblood's mad! What's the matter, Evans? Can't take a little joke?"

"Maybe you just ought to go back to your own kind, then."

"Yeah! Go back to the Muggles, Evans!"

"I think I hear your Muggle mommy calling you!"

Lily would have dearly loved to curse them all, but it would mean losing her position as Head Girl. Abandoning her dignity, she had fled.

Now she stormed across the grounds toward the lake, not really paying any attention to where she was going, not noticing the chill in the fall air. She was almost as mad at herself as at Bella. Why had she let them get to her? But why, oh why, did it matter so much to people that her parents were Muggles? It wasn't as if she'd chosen not be born into a wizarding family.

It wasn't until she almost walked into a tree trunk that she looked up and noticed she was standing at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Heaving a dramatic sigh, she flung herself to the ground, miserable.

Suddenly the sound of a twig snapping caused her to stop in mid-sob and look up in alarm. Had someone followed her? Then she saw it, and gasped.

Standing not three meters from her was a beautiful stag.

Its rack of antlers was small, marking it as a young deer barely out of adolescence, but it regarded her with its dark almond-shaped eyes almost as calmly as if it had been waiting for her.

"H-hello," she stuttered, glad there was no one around to see her talking to a deer. She hadn't known there were deer in the Forbidden Forest, but she supposed it made sense. To her surprise, it didn't run away when she spoke, but stepped closer and knelt to the ground.

Did that mean what she thought it did? She approached it, tentatively. Was it inviting her to climb onto its back? What on earth kind of stag was this, anyway? Taking a deep breath, she swung her leg over its side and came to rest astride the beautiful creature.

When it got to its feet, she was startled for a moment, and threw her arms around the thing's slender neck to steady herself. As the stag set out a trot among the trees, a breeze picked up and sent scarlet and gold leaves showering down upon them. Lily sighed again, this time more calmly, and laid herself down along the stag's back, closing her eyes. She didn't care where it was taking her, as long as it took her away from her problems.

Even when she opened her eyes and realized they were going deeper into the forest, she was unafraid. The watery sunlight filtered through the trees and made motley patterns on the ground. Enjoying the beautiful day, Lily felt the hard knot of tension inside her begin to relax.

After a few minutes they emerged into a small clearing. In its center was a small pond covered in white water lilies. The stag knelt and Lily tumbled off its back. Gazing at the pond, she murmured, "Thank you for bringing me here. It's beautiful."

"You're welcome," answered a horribly familiar voice. She whirled around to discover herself face-to-face with none other than—

James Potter.

"Lily Evans, you are the most beautiful girl in the whole world," he said, grinning. "Even when you've been crying. Feel better now?"

She nodded, dumbly, and then remembered that she hated him. "You!" she cried, turning red. "You're—you're an Animagus? And how did you know about this place, anyway? What's going on?"

"I'd stayed after Care of Magical Creatures to ask Professor Kettleburn something, and then I noticed you coming down from the castle. You looked upset, so I waited for you. As for the rest—" he winked one hazel eye "—that would be telling."

"James... I..." Her voice trailed away as she stared at him, heart pounding. "I..."

Luckily, the need for further conversation was ended as he put his lips to hers and she lost herself in his kisses. Maybe James wasn't such a bad guy after all...