Chapter 8

A New Beginning

A/N: I'm very sorry! Student teaching was more difficult than I anticipated. Hope you all enjoy the final chapter!

The slow tick-tock of the kitchen clock reverberated in the empty room. An abandoned cup of tea still steamed next to a forgotten book. The clock chimed twelve o'clock and clear, green eyes peeked into the room, staring at a lone appliance fixed on to the back wall. Urging the damn telephone to ring, Lily's hopeful stare turned to a stern glare as she silently cursed the phone.

She had been up since six o'clock that morning, waiting. She had rushed through her shower and breakfast, reasoning that the sooner she finished what needed to be done, the sooner James would call. It was the last day of her little "challenge" and not for the first time she began to doubt her decision. Maybe she really was asking too much of him.

Her constant presence in the kitchen unnerved her mother, who shooed her out of the room, advising her to get some fresh air on such a beautiful day. But nothing could persuade Lily to travel far from the kitchen. She snuck back into the room a short while later under pretense of reading a book and enjoying a cup of tea. Unfortunately, not even her favorite Jane Austen novel could distract her from her troublesome thoughts.

"Lily, dear. What are you doing?" a soft voice questioned from the next room.

"Just grabbing my tea, Mum," Lily responded, idly stirring her now cold tea.

She dropped her head in defeat, resting her forehead against the cool table. The sharp shrill of a telephone jerked her out of her reverie and she made a beeline for the phone. Unfortunately, by some cruel twist of fate, Petunia reached the phone before her. "Evans residence," Petunia answered with tight smile, praying it was Vernon on the other line.

Lily watched her sister's response with bated breath. She glimpsed the flame of hope extinguish from her sibling's gaze and her thin lips dip into a severe frown. Petunia's entire demeanor turned rigid as she stiffly held out the phone, hissing, "It's one of your kind."

Lily ignored the venomous jibe; holding her head high, she marched over to the phone and slowly lifted it to her ear in trepidation. "Hello?" Her voice slightly wavered, and she bit her lip in anticipation.

"Good morning, Miss Evans," a kindly voice replied, "I trust your summer vacation has been quite relaxing."

"Yes, thank you," she murmured, racking her brain for the speaker's name. "I'm sorry, sir; to whom am I speaking?"

"Oh, how foolish of me. Albus Dumbledore at your service, Miss Evans," he chuckled warmly.

"Headmaster?" Lily stuttered in shock.

"It's Albus now, Miss Evans. You've graduated from Hogwarts and are now my equal," he replied with a tint of amusement laced through his response.

"With all due respect, sir, I appreciate your kind compliment, but I am far from being your equal." Lily blushed in embarrassment.

"Do not underestimate yourself, Miss Evans. Your exemplary achievements in Hogwarts are one of the main reasons behind this call. Under normal circumstances, I would have owled you, but due to your sister's unusual allergy I used a telephone. A truly genius invention; my high regard for Muggles grows every day," Albus responded heartily.

"Sir?" Lily asked in confusion.

"Miss Evans, I wondered if you would do me the honor of attending a small meeting amongst friends this evening at the Hog's Head in Hogsmeade? Does eight o'clock work for you?" he asked kindly.

"May I ask what kind of meeting it is, sir?" Lily questioned.

"I'm afraid, Miss Evans, it's a private affair that should not be discussed over the phone. The meeting is purely information and offers, if I may say, hope in these dark times…" he trailed off.

Lily tightened her grip in the phone, a look of fear clouding her gaze as the implications of his words washed over her. Voldermort's dark influence had quickly spread throughout the wizarding world and his minions had begun to frequently strike against the Muggle world. The faint sound of the telly and her family's laughter seeped into the kitchen. A steely glint hardened her green eyes and gave her a confidence she didn't know she possessed. She had to protect her family at all costs; she was their only hope. "I'd be honored to attend your meeting, sir," Lily solemnly answered.

"Thank you, Miss Evans," he murmured thoughtfully. "Until tonight."

Lily hung up the phone in a daze, walking into the living room and slowly sinking into the couch. Her mother wrapped a comforting arm around her, and Lily turned into her embrace. She deeply inhaled her mother's light perfume and allowed the soothing scent to calm her frantic nerves.

Within Hogwarts' stone walls she had felt safe and protected from the harsh reality of the world. Unfortunately, with graduation came an understanding that Albus Dumbledore could not protect them all on his own. Too many innocent lives were already affected by Voldemort and his group of Death Eaters; someone had to stand up and fight alongside the Headmaster. She was so lost in her thoughts, she barely heard the shrill ring of the telephone.

"Lily, dear," her father's deep voice called from the kitchen, "there is a boy on the phone for you."

She jerked out of her mother's embrace with a start, a slow smile creeping over her lips. James, her mind sighed in anticipationDumbledore's call had completely distracted her. She ignored her father's pointed look and gingerly took the phone from his grasp. "Hello," she answered hesitantly.

"Hi, Lily." Remus' light voice greeted through the phone.

"Oh, hello, Remus," she sighed in disappointment.

"I take it he hasn't called yet?" he chuckled knowingly.

"No, the git is taking his good 'ole time," she muttered angrily. "Did you tell him how to use a telephone?"

"No. James is resourceful enough without my help. He's too smart for his own good, actually," Remus trailed off thoughtfully.

"Too true." Lily chuckled before asking, "How's your summer been?"

"An absolute bore. I never realized how much excitement Sirius and James added to my life," he laughed.

"You're still planning on visiting me over the summer, aren't you?" she prompted teasingly.

"Only if you visit me and Sirius at our flat," he teased back.

"You're rooming with Sirius? Willingly?" Lily chuckled.

"He's not that bad…" Remus trailed off thoughtfully before adding, "No, wait, you're right. What was I thinking?"

"A lapse in judgment, my friend," she sighed.

"Well, anyway, I won't hold up your phone line; owl me after your sister leaves," Remus reminded kindly.

Lily politely said goodbye and hung up the phone before resuming her position on the couch. Remus' call had done nothing more than remind her of Hogwarts. And Hogwarts reminded her of James. Funny how at the beginning of the year James was the only bad aspect of Hogwarts and now, less than one year later, he was at the top of her favorite reminders of the school. Well, he would be if the stupid prat would call already.

She began drumming her fingers in anticipation on the arm of the sofa. Three television programs later and the phone had still not rung. Her bright gaze flicked over her parents in boredom and she suddenly realized that her sister had slipped away. A nagging suspicion settled in the back of her mind and led her to practically jump off the couch and sprint towards the kitchen. Barging through the swinging door, Lily's eyes narrowed in fury at the sight of her sister chatting away on the telephone. "Petunia," Lily gritted out unpleasantly, "I told you I was expecting a call."

Tucking a wayward hair back into her neat bun, Petunia glared at Lily, murmuring a hushed goodbye and "see you soon," before hanging up the phone and whirling on her sister. "I was talking to Vernon, my fiancé. Your people can wait," she huffed and marched out of the room.

Tossing a rude gesture at her sister's retreating back, Lily sunk into the kitchen seat in defeat. Groaning in dismay, she sent a pleading glance at the phone, willing it to ring. With all her luck, James had been trying to reach her from a telephone for over an hour. And although the boy was persistent, that was stretching it a bit. Rising from her seat, she trudged up the stairs to her bedroom with heavy feet.

Thirty minutes later, the loud chime of the doorbell distracted Lily from her restless slumber and a small ray of hope flooded her system. What if James had called Remus and gotten her address and planned to surprise her with an impromptu visit? A hazy gleam settled over Lily's normally clear gaze as she pictured James bursting through the door with a bouquet of flowers and the intention to sweep her off her feet and away from her horrid sister. Her lips stretched into a soft smile and she rose from her desk and hurried to the door. Pressing her ear against the cool wood, Lily strained to make out the voices from the hall. At the sound of her soon-to-be brother-in-law's guttural greeting she collapsed against the door in disappointment.

Cursing at her ill luck, she ignored her parents' persistent entreaties to come talk with Vernon. They had no idea how deep the strife was between herself and Petunia. Although Hogwarts had given her a wonderful education, a brilliant group of mates, and introduced her to the love of her life, it had also served as a permanent estrangement from her only sibling, a fact that still left a hollow sensation at the pit of her stomach. By acknowledging her powers and becoming a "freak," Lily had lost the love and support of Petunia. It was no wonder that her sister had found a partner as bigoted and prejudiced as herself, although she was not yet certain whether Petunia had explained to Vernon the specifics of her "freak education." Lily shuddered to think how their children would turn out. Sitting with Vernon and Petunia and enduring their disdainful looks was now almost impossible to bear.

After forestalling the inevitable as long as she could, Lily finally acknowledged her parents' call and left the safe haven of her room. Squaring her shoulders, she lifted her chin and marched towards her parents and the darling couple. Exchanging a fake smile and hollow greeting with Vernon, Lily sank uncomfortably into the armchair adjacent to the couple. Petunia seemed to transform into the simpering fool she always was around Vernon, putting on airs and brushing his hand playfully, placing her now adorned ring finger in the best light.

Lily remembered to nod absentmindedly every couple minutes to whatever the group was discussing, desperately trying to block out Vernon's overzealous bragging. Really, the fool was too loud for his own good. It did nothing but further prove his complete ignorance of what constituted polite conversation. Her parents, bless them, ignored his faults and welcomed him into their family for the sake of the happiness of their eldest daughter.

The sharp shrill of the telephone jerked Lily out of her dream-like state. She locked gazes with Petunia, green eyes brightening in hope as she jumped from her seat and dashed to the kitchen. Sliding to a stop before the ringing appliance, she placed a palm on her racing heart and drew in a calming breath before lifting the receiver and answering with a light "Hello?"

"Lily?" His smooth voice seemed to slide over her tense frame, causing her body to go limp in relief.

"James," she sighed in relief, biting her lip in an effort to conceal her smile as she chided, "It took you long enough."

His warm chuckling reverberated across the connection, sending a hot flash to travel down her spine. "What's your address, Evans?" he prompted, fondly drawing out the sound of her surname.

"1622 Mifflin Lane in Kent," she replied softly, gripping the phone like it was her last lifeline.

"Hope you're ready for me, love," James teased.

Lily's mouth opened in a small "o" as the low dial tone drummed in her ear. She gingerly replaced the phone back on the receiver and froze as the chime of the doorbell rang through the house. Licking her lips nervously, Lily glanced at her Muggle outfit in trepidation. She was wearing a worn pair of shorts and casual tank top to combat against the hot July weather. "Darling, see who's at the door," her father asked from the next room.

Lily ran shaky fingers through her hair and drew in a deep breath before exiting the kitchen. She slowly walked towards the front door, keeping a neutral expression on her face as she passed her family and Vernon. She paused in the hallway directly in front of the door, confident that her family was too engrossed with the story of Vernon's job interview at some drill company to pay any attention to her.

Lily slowly opened the door and her breath caught in her throat at the sight of James' tall frame lounging casually against her doorframe. He looked handsome in Muggle clothes and seemed a bit too comfortable in them for a wizard. Her heart fluttered as he flashed her a smirk, his warm eyes crinkling in amusement.

Pushing off of the doorframe, James stepped closer to her, dropping his chin to meet her wide gaze. He drew her into a tight embrace, placing a chaste kiss on her forehead.

Lily melted into his strong hold, resting her face in the crook of his neck. She breathed in his scent, smiling when she felt his pulse quicken beneath her touch.

James pulled out of the embrace and gave her a charming grin as he presented her with a single daisy.

Lily eyed the flower in amusement before asking, "James, did you pluck that from my neighbor's yard?"

"Maybe," he smirked, tapping her nose with the petals.

"Well," she teased, flicking her hair over her shoulder. "Are you going to kiss me or not?"

His gaze gleamed with amusement as he leaned closer to her lips, lightly murmuring, "Always so demanding-"

Lily halted any further words by lacing her fingers through his messy locks and pulling James in for a heated kiss.

James quietly groaned against her lips, hooking an arm around her waist to pull her against his body. Bringing a warm palm to cup her cheek, he angled his head, halting her light, teasing kisses with a searing kiss of his own.

Lily slowly felt the support leave her legs and she clung to his strength, not minding when he guided her against the doorframe. She barely heard her mother's light voice asking, "Lily, dear, who's at the door?"

The couple quickly broke apart, quickly eying each other guiltily with heaving chests. Biting her lip, Lily gently led James into her home, calling out over her shoulder, "Just a friend from school, mum,"

James quirked a brow at her and muttered "friend?" in a disdainful manner.

Placing a finger against his firm lips to silence any further complaints, Lily held back the smile when James bit her finger playfully.

"Well, are we going to meet this friend of yours or will you both continue to hide in the hallway?" Mr. Evans's amused voice teased the startled couple.

James frantically attempted to control his hair, a vain pursuit. Chuckling at his concern, Lily grabbed his hands and drew them down to his sides as she placed a brief, reassuring kiss at the corner of his lips.

A goofy, besotted expression transfixed James' features at her attentions and he allowed her to tug him out of the safety of the hallway and into the tense atmosphere of the sitting room. "Mum, Dad, this is James." Lily shyly smiled, holding fast to his warm palm.

James flashed what he hoped was a confident grin at her parents and greeted them with a cheerful "Hello."

Mrs. Evans eyed him closely, focusing on his messy hair and askew spectacles before tentatively asking, "James… Potter?"

James shot a quick look at Lily's tense frame before nodding in agreement.

"You were Head Boy this year, weren't you?" Mr. Evans added, eying the couple's linked hands sternly.

"Yes, sir," James answered with pride, his telltale smirk creeping over his lips.

"We heard many stories about you over the years," Mrs. Evans fought down an amused smile, "and to be honest, they weren't very flattering."

Lily bowed her head in embarrassment, a faint blush quickly spread over her features before softly chiding, "That was over a year ago, Mum."

"So, a year ago my daughter couldn't stand you, young man. Has that changed?" Mr Evans abruptly asked, gauging his reaction.

"Yes, sir, it most certainly has," he grinned, squeezing Lily's hand affectionately.

Mr. Evans gave the young man a quizzical look, further prompting James to elaborate. "We're dating," James honestly admitted, meeting her father's appraising gaze with confidence.

"But you hate James Potter," Petunia murmured in disbelief, eying the strange scene before her.

Lily regarded her sister in surprise; she had never realized Petunia listened to her and actually cared to remember. "That changed this year." Lily smiled, her bright gaze fixed on her sister in hope.

Petunia realized her slip and felt a brief stir of regret for her sister's newfound hope. It was too late for the two of them to reconcile their differences. Maybe if she had ceased her insane obsession with that magical nonsense they would be able to bridge the gap between them. She drew in a small breath and considered saying something supportive. Vernon's uncomfortable shifting at her side brought her values back in focus. She forced her lips into a sneer and shrugged off Lily's gaze, glaring stonily at her.

Lily's shoulders slumped in disappointment and she leaned closer to James, threading her fingers through his. James regarded her closely, rubbing his thumb soothingly over her hand. "Well," Mrs. Evans broke the tense silence with a small grin, "if our Lily has changed her mind about you, that's good enough for us. Why don't you sit down for a spot of tea, James?"

Mrs. Evans patted the seat in between herself and her husband, smiling at him encouragingly. James hesitantly left Lily's side and sat down, mentally preparing himself for the longest interrogation of his life.

Vernon Dursley felt the end of his thin moustache twitch in annoyance as he pulled his lips into a grim line. His beady eyes narrowed at the handsome youth across from him. The insolent boy had the gall to steal his limelight! He had rehearsed a variety of jokes to impress the senior Evanses and this Potter fellow would not let him get a word in. Vernon had spent the last six months building a relationship with the Evanses. It had taken a lot of preparation and carefully planned compliments to worm his way into their favor. And all this boy had to do was gain the high opinion of their youngest daughter and he was immediately welcomed into the family.

Swallowing a lump of bitterness, he barely hid his sneer as Mr. Evans heartily clapped the boy on the back, gracing him with a friendly smile. Vernon cleared his throat, trying in vain to gain the Evanses' attention. Unfortunately, Lily's date, this Potter fellow, had once more launched into another elaborate, witty tale about his escapades at Hogwarts, silencing any sound from Vernon.

Lily took a slow sip from her drink, eying James from across the room. It was almost too perfect. He had won her parents over without even trying. And to think she once viewed his easy charm with annoyance. Her gaze flicked to the wall clock in interest and she was surprised to find that they had been sitting here for almost two hours. Pointedly clearing her throat to gain the cozy trio's attention, she remarked lightly, "Would you rather take my parents on a date today, James?"

Flashing Lily a cheeky grin, he winked at her, drawing Mrs. Evans' hand to his lips as he briefly kissed her knuckles charmingly. James gallantly murmured a sweet "farewell" against her knuckles before turning to Mr. Evans and shaking his hand. He stood up and hesitated to approach Vernon and Petunia, but in the end, thought better of it. "I'll have Lily back before eight o'clock, sir," James promised Mr. Evans.

"Actually, Dad, I'm going to a small school reunion after my date with James, so I'll be later," Lily added, avoiding James' sharp gaze.

"You should take your robe," James reminded her thoughtfully. "The temperature will drop by eight o'clock."

He watched her stroll out of the room and allowed his thoughts to wonder. Had Dumbledore contacted her as well? A hollow feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. He didn't want her mixed up in the resistance against Voldemort. He clenched his hands into fists at the thought of her in danger. The risks were twice as high for her due to her Muggle background. Then again, maybe he was reading too deeply into this. She might just be meeting some school friends for a drink. Biting back his sigh of frustration, James almost missed Vernon's sneering question directed his way. "What type of car do you drive?"

"I don't own a car," James evenly replied as he turned towards the stocky man.

Vernon snorted derisively and peered at him with mocking amusement. "I just purchased a new model myself with part of the bonus from my higher position in my company. What type of job do you have?"

"I don't have a job," James solemnly stated, anger coiling from the back of his throat as a superior look passed over Vernon's face.

Vernon, who was the only one chuckling, grinned maliciously. "You're off to a poor start for a lad of what, eighteen?"

Petunia blanched at the angry looks her parents were sending Vernon's way and discreetly pulled on his sleeve to keep him in line. She had chosen not to reveal her sister's magical background and lied to her fiancé. Vernon naively believed Lily had switched to different school because she lacked the intelligence to thrive where Petunia attended. Really, one would look batty if they told their would-be-suitor that her sister practiced witchcraft at a school in the Scottish countryside.

"Vernon," Mrs. Evans admonished sternly, "please treat our guest with respect."

He pretended to look abashed, but the triumphant glint in his eye told otherwise. "Dursley," James tightly smiled at the ignorant man before him, "I don't drive a car because I have faster means of traveling. Why drive when I can just fly, Floo, or Apparate?"

Vernon bristled at the strange vocabulary; a chilling brush of trepidation jolted his frame. "As for not having a job," James smirked sternly, "I am secure enough financially in my world that I don't need to work."

"What do you mean, your world?" he sneered, overlooking the rest of James' speech.

Eying Vernon as if he were daft, James elaborated, "The world of magic."

"All ready, James?" Lily asked as she breezed into the tense room.

"Magic?" Vernon scoffed, "What nonsense is this?"

Lily froze, eying Petunia's terrified expression. Whispering his name, Lily placed a cool palm on James' arm and led him towards the door. "Ignorant, bigoted Muggle," James muttered darkly, halting Lily from exiting out the front door.

"James?" Lily asked tentatively; she hadn't seen him this frustrated for a long time.

"You've passed your Apparition test?" he asked, turning towards her suddenly.

"Of course," she murmured, realization dawning over her with horrific fascination.

"Mr. And Mrs. Evans," James grinned, instantaneously switching moods and gracing them with a hearty smile, "has Lily ever performed magic for you before?"

"No, Lily didn't want to offend her sister," Mr. Evans replied, proud that the boy hadn't back down from the confrontation with his future son-in-law.

"Would you like to see some?" He grinned wickedly, reaching for his wand tucked in his back pocket.

"James, we can't," Lily chided, ignoring the spark of rebellion heating her frame.

"Oh yes we can, Lily," he winked at her, a flame of mischief lighting his dark eyes, "help me show them."

Her soft lips twitched into a smile and she removed her wand from her robe pocket. Lightly murmuring, "Accio footstool," Lily directed the plush stool to rest under her mother's resting feet. "My word, that's fantastic, darling," Mrs. Evans beamed, flexing her toes from their new, elevated position.

"Have you ever tasted a cold Butterbeer, sir?" James smiled and flicked his wand, turning Mr. Evans' nearby cup into a frosted bottle of Butterbeer.

Amazed, Mr. Evans raised the bottle to his lips and tasted the sweet liquid with relish. "Delicious," he gushed in admiration.

Turning to face her sister's dark glower, Lily smiled bemusedly and asked, "Remember how you always wanted to fly?"

Petunia opened her mouth to deny such a foolish fantasy when she felt herself gently raised into the air. Shrieking in horror from her raised position, she frantically worked her arms and legs, demanding to be released from this witchcraft. Vernon had jumped to his feet and was trying vainly to pull her back down.

James rounded on Vernon, smirking at the man's obvious discomfort. A thin sheen of sweat settled over Vernon's round face as struggled with Petunia. James raised his wand, hesitating when Lily ordered, "No jinxes."

Pouting at her, James sighed and murmured, "I suppose a cooling charm will have to do."

"I won't allow you to use any hocus pocus on me!" Vernon shouted, shaking his fist threateningly.

Before Vernon had completed his sentence, the cooling charm had already begun to take effect as a sharp blast of cold air rushed over his body, chilling him to the bone. James dryly chuckled and muttered a loud, "Oops, guess I cast that a little off," and flicked a finger against Vernon's frozen moustache.

Vernon roughly pushed James' hand off of him and gingerly touched his frozen hair with a horrified groan. "Mr. and Mrs. Evans," James began smoothly as Lily returned Petunia to her original position on the couch, "it has been a pleasure meeting you. I'll make sure your daughter gets home safely."

Lily slipped her hand into James' waiting one, squeezing it in assurance as he Apparated them both with a crackling pop. The couple missed Petunia's shrill shriek of horror and Vernon's terrified yelp at their sudden disappearance. Mrs. Evans settled her feet more comfortably into the footstool and raised her cup in salute to his husband's silent toast with his bottle. James Potter had made quite an impression.

Lily maintained her sure grip on his hand during the speedy journey, not daring to open her eyes in fear of getting nauseated. The moment her feet touched solid ground, she loosened her hold on him… but only a little. Giving in to the bubbling laughter that had been slowly building since Petunia's feet first left the ground, Lily let out a light peal of laughter, leaning against James' strong shoulder. "Lord, I have wanted to do that since third year," she admitted, pressing a light kiss to his cheek, "thank you."

"I had no idea your home life was like that, Lily," James admitted solemnly, "to have to hide your gifts, your superb talent, is such a waste."

"It's not that bad. Petunia can get annoying, but she's out of the house soon anyway. Besides, my parents have always supported me; I could never leave that sort of love and support," Lily explained, gazing at him in earnest.

"Never?" he quietly asked, eliciting a small smile from Lily.

"Not any time in the near future, James," Lily teased lightly.

"And by near future you mean…" he smirked, pulling her closer for a kiss.

"Potter!" She attempted her best McGonagall glare and smacked his shoulder.

"Merlin, I love it when you get cross," he admitted, kissing her softly, rubbing his thumbs tenderly over her cheeks.

"Odd git," she grinned, running her fingers through his mussed hair.

Her clear gaze glanced over his shoulder and she wiggled out of his grasp. "James, where are we?" she asked, gazing at the sloping countryside surrounding her.

"A favorite place of mine," he shrugged absently, and tugged her towards a large, weathered ash tree.

Lily gazed in wonder at the beautiful landscape. Soft, rolling, green hills sloped into a receding dip in the distance. A dense scattering of large trees decorated the plush landscape, their great branches reaching out to embrace the countryside. The gentle sunlight glinted off a small, clear lake in the middle of the valley. Resting her hand on the grey trunk of the ash tree, she lapsed into silence and stood in awe at the natural beauty of the landscape. "How did you find this place?" she murmured, finally meeting his gaze.

"It's a Potter family secret." He winked and, with a sweep of his hand, drew her attention to a large blanket spread on the soft ground.

Lily gazed at the large basket of food in the center of the blanket with a soft smile. "Oh, James," she sighed in affection before jibing, "who did you steal this idea from?"

"Hey!" he shouted in protest, scooping her against his frame, "this idea is one hundred percent Potter."

Laughing lightly, Lily grinned, "I find it hard to believe you were the first man to invent the novel idea of a romantic picnic."

Sinking into the blanket in a huff, James blew a wayward strand of hair out of his eyes in annoyance. "A bloke tries to do something nice…" he trailed off in exasperation.

Lily smiled and sank to her knees beside him. Gently brushing the strand off of his face, she lightly kissed his brow, murmuring, "I do appreciate the gesture, James."

"The idea was so creative," she continued, brushing a light kiss against his cheek, "a far cry from a trip to Hogsmeade."

James held back the pleased grin; he planned to savor this moment. "I must be the luckiest witch alive," Lily cooed, batting her eyelashes exaggeratedly at him as she stroked his cheek and kissed the tip of his nose.

He felt his mouth begin to betray his will and twitch into a small grin. "There must be some way I can repay you," Lily murmured in a low voice, halting over his lips and lingering above them teasingly.

James felt his eyes cross as he stared at her lips over the bridge of his nose. They were so close. He just had to lean over a tiny bit more-

"So when that time comes, let me know," she finished, moving away from James and his lips to lie on her back beside him.

James let out a frustrated sigh and collapsed back onto the blanket at her side. Why had fate delivered him such a cruel, teasing girlfriend? He glanced over at her out of the corner of his eyes, and his gaze narrowed at the sight.

Lily was clutching her stomach for support as she struggled to contain her silent laughter. Tiny tears had begun to trickle from her bright gaze and her lips were pulled back to reveal her brilliant smile.

"You minx," James cried and pounced on her; Lily's shriek of delight washed over the couple as he tickled her mercilessly.

"James," she laughed, drawing in ragged breaths, "stop, I can't breathe."

He ignored her pleas for mercy and chuckled, "Not so high and mighty now, are you?"

Lily grinned mischievously at him and hooked her hands around his neck, dragging him down for a kiss. James groaned against her lips and halted his assault; he had missed this: the heated, drowning sensation that clouded his senses every time her lips touched his. He deepened the kiss and ran his hands through her wild locks, wrapping the silky strands around his fingers.

Lily slinked her hands under his shirt, skimming them over his torso as his muscles clenched involuntarily at her touch. She loved this feeling of power of him. James was so strong and steady in all other aspects of his life; all except her. Grinning as she slid her leg up to hook around him, Lily sighed as his mouth left hers to place hot kisses along the column of her neck. "I missed you so much, James," she whispered into his mop of hair, running soft palms over his shoulders.

James stilled in her arms, raising himself on his elbows to stare down at her in complete adoration. "The feeling is shared, luv," he smiled, his warm gaze shining in joy.

Rolling off of her with a dramatic sigh, James reached for the picnic basket in vain. It stood a mocking six inches out of his lean grasp. "Sometimes I wish I could just move items with my mind so I wouldn't have to move," James admitted with a dramatic sigh, momentarily losing his desire for food.

"Honestly, James," Lily laughed, "you're a wizard; just use your wand."

"But that involves moving as well," James elaborated, linking his hands behind his head and letting out another sigh.

Clucking her tongue at him, she chided, "Potter, you lazy leech, if you didn't move you'd lose some very nice attributes," and ran her palm possessively over his flat stomach.

"Some sacrifices must be made…" he trailed off, waggling his brows at her. "Don't pretend you wouldn't still love me."

Rolling her eyes at him, Lily sat up and leaned over him to drag the basket closer to them and began rummaging through the bag. James grinned from his position beneath her, his gaze level with her pert breasts dangling over him. If he had moved he would have missed this lovely display. His fingers traced the slit of skin visible between those lovely Muggle shorts and thin cotton shirt. He could lie here touching her all day and be the happiest man alive. "James," her low voice interrupted his daydreams and brought him back into focus, "there aren't any utensils in this basket. How are we supposed to eat all of this food without forks and plates?"

"Easy," he grinned, placing a soft kiss on her tempting breasts before flipping her on her back.

He blindly reached for the first item of food in the basket and pulled out a container of grapes. Plucking one from the container, he held it to her lips. "You plan on feeding me with your fingers?" she asked tentatively, opening her mouth slightly to welcome the sweet fruit.

"I expect similar treatment," he smiled, opening his mouth, patiently awaiting a grape.

Lily humored him and plopped a grape in his mouth with a bit too much force, causing him to choke and cough for a few seconds. "That plan works well with fruit and sandwiches, but it will never work with the chocolate pudding," she explained patiently.

A slow smile worked over James' lips as he leaned over and whispered warmly, "I can think of a few ways to make it work."

Lily blushed a faint hue, opening her mouth to retort when he slipped a grape in to silence her. "Trust me, Lily," he smiled, placing a light kiss at the corner of her lips.

Lily licked the last drop of chocolate pudding off of her fingers in satisfaction, her gaze bright with mischief as she eyed the small drop of pudding on his cheek. She leaned in to quickly lick the offending pudding off and settled into James' warm embrace.

The sun was slowly sinking in the horizon, forcing James to transfigure empty containers into soft candles for light. It had been the perfect day… once James had showed up. She decided from her warm, secure position in James' arms that she could lie there for the rest of her life. And she planned on telling him that when a light buzzing vibrated against her thigh and distracted her. She raised her eyebrows at James' sheepish look as he withdrew a small pocket mirror, tapping it with his wand. "James, you bloody wanker, you're going to be late!" Sirius' voice shouted from the trinket and the handsome youth's face appeared on the reflecting surface.

"I lost track-" James began when he was rudely cut off again.

"I don't care! It's nearly eight and-" Sirius halt his rant, at Lily's surprised shriek as she leapt from James' embrace and flew towards her belongings.

"I have to be somewhere at eight," Lily explained, tugging on her robe to combat against the cool weather and searching for her shoes.

"I'll take you there now," James stated calmly, and tapped the mirror to erase Sirius' image before placing it in his pocket.

"I can't believe I got so sidetracked," Lily berated herself under her breath as she crouched to her knees and began cleaning up the mess from their meal.

"Leave it, Lily," he ordered, drawing her to her feet, "the house elves will get it."

"The house elves… how?" she asked in confusion and allowed herself to be tugged away from the mess.

"We're on my land," he shrugged, motioning to the view before her, "my family's estate rests right over that hill. The house elves made the meal and will clean it up."

"I knew it," Lily smirked triumphantly, tapping his chest with her finger, "I knew you didn't do this yourself."

"I came up with the idea," he argued half-heartedly.

At her snort of disbelief, James switched subjects and asked, "Where are you going?"

"The Hog's Head, but you don't need to escort me there," she explained, withdrawing her wand.

"No worries, I'm going there anyway," he replied evenly, not meeting her penetrating gaze.

Without another word, they both Apparated to Hogsmeade and the entrance of the poorly lit pub. Lily moved to enter, but was halted by James' strong grip on her hand. "I don't want you involved in this fight, Lily," he whispered, meeting her gaze sternly.

"We're all in this fight whether we want to be or not," she explained, squeezing his hand gently, "And I want to do everything in my power to help the right side."

"I can't bear the thought of you getting hurt," he admitted softly, bringing her palms to rest over his heart.

"And you think it doesn't kill me to think of you neck-deep in this war?" Lily admonished quietly. "But I know you and how you wouldn't be happy unless you did everything in your power to stop this crazed lunatic. I feel the same way."

"But you have more to lose; your background-" he protested and stopped at the touch of her finger against his lips.

"Muggles are in just as much danger as wizards and witches, and as a Muggleborn, I need to protect my own. I need you to understand that," she whispered, leaning against his strong frame.

Nodding mutely in acceptance, James opened the door for her, placing a warm palm on the small of her back to guide her in and support her. Lily entered the pub with James at her side and was directed by the bartender to a backroom. She was surprised at the number of Hogwarts students there she recognized and called friends. Meeting Dumbledore's kind gaze, she raised her chin and nodded in greeting at her old Headmaster before sinking into the seat besides James, holding fast to his hand. She would be fine… they would be fine.

A/N: The End! Finally, right? Thanks to everyone for reviewing and being patient. I hope the wait was worth it.