A/N: Well, I'm back! And with the last chapter! I had a lot of comments about how I could have ended the story on that last chapter. And I had debated and weighed my options, but this chapter is merely an epilogue. It sets up the sequel to this story. Speaking of, I talk a little more about the sequel at the end of this story, but I know right now, all you want to do is get to reading the final chapter. So without further ado, I give you the epilogue to the now-completed Kisses on the Balcony!

Kisses on the Balcony

Epilogue: Of Good Laughs, Good Friends, & Goodbyes

The ride back on the Hogwarts Express was one they would all remember forever. It was their last trip on the Hogwarts Express and they spent it exactly like they wanted to: in the company of good friends and good laughs. They used the entire time to reminisce on the past and enjoyed living in the past one final time before leaving Hogwarts, a place that they had all been able to call home, behind for good. The seven friends told stories of the pranks that were played and the snow days that were wasted and the late-night kitchen runs and the Quidditch games that had entertained them.

Lily and James rehashed the fist fight they had shared, much to everyone's amusement.

Sirius told the story of how he and Riley got together back in December.

Remus finally told them all the detailed story of how he and Jillian reunited the day before.

Kay informed them of the night Lance showed up on her doorstep back in August.

For the first time, James and Lily told the story of each kiss they had shared before they had gotten together in January.

And Riley and Sirius even talked about the fateful night they had first slept together that was the start of their original demise.

It was comforting, it was casual, it was nostalgic, and when the Hogwarts Express pulled into King's Cross Station, they all finally considered themselves ready to embark on their next journey.

After saying their good-byes to their other friends - Frank and Gideon, Alice, Drew and Dezzy, Jillian - they all apparated to Sirius' summer home with their trunks in hand.

"This place is awesome," Kay said with a warm smile, wrapping her arm around Lance's waist. He had met them at King's Cross Station and apparated with them to the lakehouse, but he wasn't staying the night. He had work in the morning, but he figured he could pop in and out when need be and had decided to tag along for the initial move-in.

Sirius shrugged. "It could use some repairing, but it's still in pretty good shape."

The summer house was gorgeous. It was pushed far from the road in a secluded area right on the bank of the lake. While rather large, it was an older cabin made of aged wood and it was clear that it hadn't been used in some time. The windows were slightly mucky and some of the shutters hung off their hinges. The bushes were overgrown and the trees were branching off wildly. But none of them saw the damages. All they saw was freedom.

"So, where's this hot tub you've been speaking so highly of?" Riley giggled, lifting her eyebrow suggestively.

Sirius laughed, kissing the side of her head. "It's around back on the patio."

"Sweet! I'll be there all week," she said with a grin, throwing a bag over her shoulder and heading that way.

"Er, why don't you unpack first?" Lily asked.

Riley turned back around to give her a look. "Because I'm not you."

Lily rolled her eyes. "Well, I am going to unpack," she said with a shrug. She glanced towards her boyfriend, quirking a curious eyebrow. "You coming?"

He snorted. "I'd rather follow Riley to the jacuzzi."

Lily couldn't help but laugh at the contorted look on his face. "Fine, fine," she sighed. "We'll start with the hot tub."

"YES!" both Riley and James cried out in unison.

"But we do need to change into bathing suits," she pointed out. Sirius started to open his mouth and Lily smacked the back of his head before he could say anything. "We are not going skinny-dipping!"

Sirius clamped his mouth shut, grinning and rubbing the spot on his head where Lily slapped him. "You know me so well."

Lily smiled nostalgically, nudging him gently on the shoulder. "I know," she said softly. Sirius recognized the weight of her statement and wrapped his arm around her shoulder, smiling back down at her.

"So, is this where we start fighting for the good bedrooms?" James asked with a grin.

Sirius gave him a look. "They're all virtually the same. Except for the one with the bunk beds."

James quirked an eyebrow. "So then, I repeat: is this where we start fighting for the good bedrooms?"

Peter groaned. "Let me guess: since I am the only one who will not be sharing a bedroom with a significant other at some point during the summer, I'll be forced to sleep in the room with the bunk beds?"

An awkward silence fell over them before Sirius snickered. "I guess this is why we should be fighting for them."

"Game on!" James cried out, immediately rushing into the house. He was quickly followed by the others, their laughter leading the way.

It didn't come as a surprise to any of them when Peter inevitably ended up getting stuck in the room with the bunk beds anyway.

Sirius and Riley were the last ones to the hot tub, which was no surprise to the rest of them. Sirius had darted straight into the master bedroom with Riley, but it wasn't unpacking that kept them from joining their friends. Knowing the two of them, they had gotten distracted while changing into their bathing suits and busied themselves in the King-sized bed in the meantime.

"Wasn't it your idea to jump into the hot tub?" Kay snorted as Riley finally strolled out of the kitchen, holding hands with Sirius.

Riley rolled her eyes. "I couldn't decide on a bikini."

The six of them in the hot tub burst into laughter. "You expect us to believe that?" James snorted, giving his oldest friend a knowing look.

"My guess is that you didn't even attempt to unpack and went straight to the sex," Lily suggested.

A hint of red formed on Riley's cheeks. "Hey, we only have six days left together!"

That reminder should have made Sirius squeamish and uncomfortable, but he had come to the realization that he needed to stop ignoring the fact that she would be gone soon and just enjoy the time he had left with her. And that included not dwelling on what was to come. However, it was easier said than done. "Yeah, so what the hell are we doing down here?" Sirius teased, kissing the side of her face. "We really should just spend the next six days in bed."

"This talk is making someone's brother very uncomfortable," Lance whined.

Riley rolled her eyes. "So said brother is saying that when he comes to visit on the weekends, he won't be spending all of that time in bed with K-"

"So you couldn't choose a bikini, hm?" Kay interrupted with sheepish laugh.

Riley laughed and climbed into the hot tub with Sirius right behind her, squishing the eight of them into a confined space. "Well, we're here, aren't we?"

Kay nodded. "Yes. And it's probably a good thing that we didn't send Peter up after you."

Peter shuddered, slumping down in the water. "And thank God for that," he murmured. "I've walked in on all of you at inopportune times enough already."

Every single one of them blushed, blaming it on the heat that was emanating from the water.

"Not us!" Kay chimed in with a grin, high-fiving her boyfriend.

"And can we please keep it that way?" Lance added. He fixed his stare on the two couples across from him. "It's called a lock. Please use it."

"It's Peter's fault for not knocking first!" Sirius argued.

Peter rolled his eyes. "I'm supposed to knock every time I walk into my own bedroom at Hogwarts?"

"No, but you could knock before entering our private quarters," said James with a cheeky grin.

"Oh, yes, because most people go at it like rabbits on the couch in the middle of the common room," Peter said dryly.

"Apparently Sirius and Riley do," Kay snorted, earning a laugh from Peter and Remus as well. "Should we have been knocking on the Fat Lady portrait before entering the Gryffindor house, too?"

"What?" Lily asked, furrowing her brow in bewilderment.

As scarlet emerged on the cheeks of both Sirius and Riley, another round of laughter erupted from Kay, Remus, and Peter. With the hustle and bustle of the last day at Hogwarts, the three of them realized they had never told Lily and James about waking up that morning to find Riley and Sirius half-naked under a blanket on the Gryffindor common room floor.

Much to Riley's protests, Kay dove into the amusing tale.

"You two need to be medicated," Lily laughed, shaking her head in disbelief. "You do realize that McGonagall could have walked in on you, right?"

Sirius shrugged. "Did she? No," he retorted. "We were in the clear."

"Oh, so that makes it alright," said James sarcastically, a hint of a smile creeping on to his face.

Sirius smiled slyly, giving his best friend a look. "You're just jealous because that officially makes me and Riley the winners of the Sexcapades List."

"You named that list?" Remus groaned, slapping his palm of his hand to his forehead.

"Er...dare I ask what list you are referring to?" Lance asked.

Kay shook her head vigorously. "You really don't want to know."

Lance shrugged. "I'll accept that."

James ignored them, turning back towards Sirius. "Jealous is not the word I'm thinking of when it comes to you two having sex in a very open Hogwarts location."

"Slutty is a better word," said Lily immediately, giggling.

Sirius smirked. "This coming from the girl who had sex on a roof."

Lance gasped, shaking his head in disbelief. "What the hell is wrong with you people?"

James, Sirius, Lily, and Riley all burst into embarrassed laughter.

Kay smiled slyly. "It's called horniness," she said, kissing Lance on the cheek.

"You should know a thing or two about that, bro," Riley snorted, quirking a suggestive eyebrow. "I've disturbingly caught you at home with a few girls."

"How many is a 'few?'" said Kay with a pout, her eyebrows raised curiously in Lance's direction.

Lance slowly turned to glare at his younger sister. "I never liked you."

"Like two? Three? Ten?" Kay continued with a pout.

Riley couldn't help but laugh, giving Kay a look. "After walking in on him with nine girls, you'd think I would learn my lesson for the tenth."

"So what you're saying is, it was ten girls," Kay harped.

Lance groaned, giving his sister a look. "You should really stop talking."

Riley grinned sheepishly. "It was no one important, Kay," she reassured. "Meaningless girls. Nothing like you."

"You're just saying that," she whined.

Riley rolled her eyes. "Sheesh, I can't win today."

"That's probably why you should just stop talking altogether," Lance repeated.

"I happen to like hearing her talk," Sirius argued, kissing the side of his girlfriend's cheek.

In unison, the six others all pretended to gag, earning a roll of the eyes from Sirius and Riley. "Seriously, I'm never going to get used to that," Lance argued.

Sirius knew that Lance was referring to the behavioral change of his newfound romantic side. "Sorry dude. I'm a changed man now."

"But apparently still as horny as ever," Lily smirked, flashing him a grin.

"I repeat: this coming from the girl who had sex on the-"

"Roof. Yes, I got it," she replied dryly, rolling her eyes.

"Do I dare ask how that's even possible?" said Lance curiously.

"You're better off not knowing," Kay sighed.

"That seems to be a common theme around all of you," Lance murmured.

"It's not our fault our stories all seem to be crazy and slightly taboo," Lily was quick to argue. "It's these guys. They really bring out the bad in us."

"HEY!" both James and Sirius cried out in unison.

"It's true," Riley agreed with a playful grin.

"Uh, ouch?" Sirius whined.

"Maybe it's you girls who make us crazy," James retorted.

"There is more of your gender," Lily was quick to argue.

"Oh, gee, thanks. You saying I bring out the bad in you girls, too?" Remus chimed in.

Riley shrugged sheepishly. "It's a guy thing."

Sirius made a face, turning to his other three Marauders. "It's times like these we need some sort of code word so that we can escape the women."

James, Remus, and Peter exchanged a look. "You mean something like 'let's get away from these girls, they're driving me crazy?'" Remus snickered, earning a smack to the shoulder by Kay.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "That is way too long and too obvious," he argued. "I was thinking more along the lines of...hm...how about gazpacho?"

Six pairs of dumbfounded eyes stared back at him. Lily finally spoke up. "What does a cold Spanish tomato-based vegetable soup have anything to do with getting rid of us?"

Sirius shrugged. "I don't know. I was just trying to come up with a code word."

"And you chose gazpacho?" Remus snorted. "What, you didn't like vichyssoise?"


His six friends couldn't help but erupt into laughter, the sound of their boisterous laughter filling the quiet lake air and echoing off the treetops.

Sirius grinned. "Vichyssoise can be our code word when we're in trouble."

"I'm thinking that screaming help would be a better option," said James with a grin.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "You are taking the fun out of this."

"And what shall bouillabaisse be a code word for?" Peter played along.

Sirius hesitated, shrugging. "That I'm hungry?"

"Yes, because just saying 'I'm hungry' wouldn't suffice," Kay giggled.

"How about bisque?" Lance added. "What will that stand for?"

"I sense that you're all mocking me," he pouted.

"Yes, a little bit," Riley snickered, kissing his shoulder.

Sirius rolled his eyes, ignoring the laughs of his friends. "Besides, the point of these code words is so we could use them in the girls' presence without them knowing what we're talking about. Coming up with the words here is totally defeating the purpose."

"Oh, damn, because I would really want to know when you were hungry," joked Lily, wiggling her eyebrows in amusement.

Sirius scowled. "Mocking time is officially over!"

"Sorry, Sirius, but mocking you will never be over," Peter pointed out.

"If I didn't love these jets of water, I'd leave," Sirius murmured.

Laughter filled the hot tub. "I could stay in here forever," Riley agreed, sliding into Sirius' arms. He kissed her hair, wrapping his arms around her shoulders.

"You'd shrivel up like a raisin," Lance stated.

"But a very cute raisin," Sirius teased.

Lance rolled his eyes. "Seriously, stop doing that," he whined. "I think we need a word for when we want to get away from Sirius."

"Gumbo?" Lily said.

Sirius scowled. "You said that a little too quickly for my taste."

She grinned. "And you're surprised?"

He scowled and turned towards the other Marauders. "Gazpacho."

That evening, Sirius and Riley ventured into town to grab some necessary food items. And after Lily and Remus had prepared a nice, easy meal of spaghetti and meatballs, they all went their separate ways. Kay and Lance took a leisurely stroll around the lake and didn't return for several hours (Sirius was convinced that they were now trying to top the infamous Sexcapades List), Remus and Peter took solace in the living room playing a game of wizarding chess while James tinkered around on the piano in the corner with Lily reading Pride and Prejudice in the large lounge chair beside him. Sirius and Riley retreated back to their room planning on changing into more comfortable clothes and popping in a movie. Since Sirius' uncle had married a Muggle, he had quite a few Muggle contraptions around the house.

As Riley pulled out a pair of comfortable shorts and a T-shirt from her trunk, Sirius made a face. "I like you much better in that bikini," he joked.

She shot him a look over her shoulder. "We have plenty of time for that," she said, winking at him.

His heart skipped a beat, forcing the smile to remain on his face. "Yeah," he murmured.

She sensed his discouragement. "We still have five days together, Sirius," she said softly. "Let's make the most of it."

"I know," he sighed. "It's not that, it's just..."


"I'm going to miss seeing your beautiful face everyday," he admitted with a sly smile. "I'm going to miss talking to you and I'm going to miss flirting with you. I'm going to miss kissing you and I'm definitely going to miss seeing you in that bikini." She cracked a bashful smile. "But most of all, I'm going to miss...well, this." He gestured between the two of them.

Riley furrowed her brow curiously. "What's 'this?'"

He smiled, wandering over to her and wrapping his arms around her shoulders from behind, kissing the nape of her neck. "Just being with you."

She turned around in his arms and pressed her lips firmly to his, a sense of haste in the simple motion. When they pulled apart, she found herself blurting out, "I'm sorry, Sirius."

"For what?" he asked, puzzled.

She frowned, hesitating as she attempted to form the words. "For taking so long to realize that you're the one I'm meant to be with."

Sirius shrugged awkwardly. "It's alright, Riley. We're together now. For me, that's enough."

"Well maybe for me, it's not," she insisted, swallowing hard.

Sirius furrowed his brow, confused.

She stepped out of his arms and took a seat at the edge of the bed, regret forming in her eyes. "If I hadn't been so damn stubborn and scared and…and paranoid, we wouldn't have broken up back in March. If we had stayed together since December, we would have a stronger bond. We'd have spent more time together and hence, realize that we'd want to spend less time apart. And maybe..." she trailed off.

"Maybe what?" Sirius asked carefully.

She let out a deep sigh. "Maybe the decision whether to stay with you or go to Australia wouldn't have been so difficult," she whispered, instinctively fingering the locket around her neck. "Maybe staying would have been easier."

Sirius' whole body tensed, his heart skipping a beat. He slowly sauntered over to the bed and sat down beside her, brushing a strand of hair out of her face and pressing his lips to her forehead. "No," he murmured. "It just would have been that much more difficult letting you go."

She smiled sadly and nodded, placing her head on his shoulder.

"Besides," Sirius continued cautiously. "If anyone should be sorry here, it's me. I'm the one who screwed it up in the first place. We could have been together for two and a half years. And maybe you wouldn't have felt the need to be so paranoid and scared and stubborn. I realize that the only reason your guard was ever up was because of what I initially did to you."

"Sirius, you're not totally to blame. There was Zach, too. And every other guy I ever slept with who was using me."

Sirius shrugged. "I still feel guilty," he admitted. "And I normally don't live my life with regrets, but if I could go back in time and change one thing about my life, it would be to never have let my fear of commitment get the better of me." He sighed, rubbing his temples. "I hope you realize that I will never forgive myself for hurting you. I will never forget the look on your face when you overheard James talking to Remus and Peter about me and Rhea. I will never forget that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized that I had made the biggest mistake of my life."

"It's like you said," she said softly. "We're together now, right?"

Sirius ignored the lump in his throat and nodded. "Yes," he said, pulling her legs over his lap as he leaned in for a kiss.

She smiled slyly. "Y'know...maybe I don't need to take this bikini off quite yet," she whispered suggestively.

His eyebrows shot up. "I have a better idea," he whispered, slowly untying the top of her bathing suit. "Let's just get out of these bathing suits altogether."

She grinned as her top fell to the floor. "You're right," she said, pressing her body into his. "That is a better idea."

Eventually, James and Lily trudged into their bedroom in the far corner of the house.

"This place is gorgeous," Lily said, looking out over the lake.

He smiled. "I'm looking at something far more beautiful."

She blushed, feeling his gaze upon her. "Lance is going to have trouble with your new romantic side, too."

James chuckled, falling back against the stack of pillows on the bed. "He'll just have to get used to it because it's not easy to stop complimenting you."

She offered him a smile before heading over to the full-length mirror. "It's things like that he's going to have trouble with."

James simply shrugged, stifling a yawn. "I can't help that I love you."

"I love you, too," she said with a smile before turning back towards the mirror. She attempted to throw her hair up into a messy ponytail. "I can't believe that only eight hours ago, we were at Hogwarts."

"I know," he murmured. "Seems like forever ago."

Lily nodded slowly, glancing into the mirror at the reflection of James. She smiled nostalgically, thinking back to the first night they had ever spent together. It was the night that James had broken up with Kristina for her. They had spent a good portion of the evening kissing, but spent most of that time just talking. She had asked him about his friendship with Riley and he had questioned her about her past relationships. He discussed what it was like growing up in a big family and she had talked about her goals for the future. She had mentioned her few spontaneous adventures in the past (thanks to Riley's persuasion) and James touched upon the many adventures of the Marauders. The conversation had lasted long into the still of the night and somewhere during that time, as James spoke about his friends and his family with passion and respect, Lily realized that she could really see herself falling in love with him. And she wasn't surprised when she did.


Lily was startled by his voice breaking her train of thought. "Hm?" she asked, still staring at him through the mirror.

He smiled. "You're staring at me. What are you thinking about?"

She hesitated before turning around slowly and crossing her arms in front of her chest, suddenly feeling very vulnerable. "How much I want to thank you."

His eyebrows shot up, confused. "For what?"

She shrugged. "I know that I've probably said to you about a thousand times over the years that I didn't need you to protect me or save me," she started slowly. "But thank you for not listening."

James' confused gaze didn't disappear. "What are you talking about?"

She smiled hesitantly. "I was kinda lost before you came along. I didn't like the person I was. I was hiding secrets from my friends and I was trying so hard not to get too close to anyone. But you changed all of that. It drove me mad how much you used to be able to read me because all I ever did was try to hide it from everyone, but at some point during our seventh year, what used to drive me mad ended up being what attracted me to you. What no one else could see in me you did. And I'll never be able to thank you enough for showing me that it's okay to open up and it's okay to let your guard down in front of the people you love and care about."

"You're the one who did that," James said. "I just gave you the push to do so."

"And I'm thanking you for the push," she responded firmly. "I needed it."

James shrugged. "Well, I need you, so let's call it even." He smiled and gestured for her to join him in the bed.

Lily blushed and slowly sauntered over to him, crawling beside him and curling her petite body right next to his. "Except I need you, too," she whispered, wrapping her hand around his and squeezing it. "So that's not really calling it even."

James hesitated, pursing his lips curiously. "Lily, I don't think you realize that just as much as you needed me to push you, I needed you to push me, too. I never would have gotten through Brite's death without you pushing me to talk about it. I never would have been able to make the right decision about the Quidditch offer without you pushing me in the right direction. And I certainly never would have been as happy as I am today without you."

Lily felt her face flush, a shy smile forming.

"So please, don't ever stop needing me," he whispered, kissing the side of her head. "Because I'll never stop needing you."

Her heart skipped a beat. "Seriously, when did you become such a romantic?" Lily murmured.

"I think I have you to thank for that," James said with a light chuckle.

Lily slowly climbed on top of him, running her hands through his hair. "Thank you for needing me, James," she whispered.

He slipped his fingers underneath the back of her shirt, feeling the warmth of her smooth skin. He lifted his lips to hers, kissing her. It was a tender kiss, filled with soft longing. "Thank you for loving me, Lily."

They had all spent most of the following day in the lake and down on the dock playing games of chicken fights, floating on intertubes, throwing around an old football that Peter had found, and sunbathing as they listened to the Weird Sisters on the radio. By evening, they couldn't have felt more relaxed. Hors d'ouevres with what food they had in the house were thrown together and cocktails were mixed together and they spent time out on the patio in Adirondack chairs and the porch swing, planning the summer out with barbecues and canoe rides and Quidditch games and hikes around the lake and movie nights.

Eventually, they all congregated in the living room late that night, looking for something fun to do. They went digging through the dusty cabinets trying to come up with a boardgame or playing cards.

When Remus trekked into the room after sending out a letter for Jillian, he couldn't help but wonder if he was better off in his room. "Twister?" Remus groaned. "Are you seriously playing Twister right now?"

"It was either this or Mousetrap," Kay giggled, spinning the arrow. "Left hand red!"

"Dammit, Richards!" Sirius whined, twisting himself into an awkward position as he was forced to reach over Lily. "I think you just make these up to screw me over!"

Kay grinned. "No, that's just an added bonus."

"You probably would have been better off with Mousetrap," Remus sighed, plopping himself on to the empty couch.

"And miss James being wedged between Sirius and Peter?" Kay snorted. "No way."

James' head was smushed into Sirius' back. "Don't make me hex you, Kay!"

Kay snorted, shaking her head. "And how exactly are you going to reach your wand?"

James hesitated. "Peter, do me a favor and grab my wand from my back pocket."

"I ain't going anywhere near your arse, Potter!"

James yelped as Peter purposefully shoved him playfully with his right leg. "Hey! Foul play!" James whined as his left hand lifted from the mat.

Kay rolled her eyes. "You are all such drama queens," she murmured, spinning the arrow again. "Left foot blue!"

Lily whimpered. "I don't have the flexibility for this."

James grinned cheekily. "I think you're pretty damn flexible."

"Ew," Riley murmured.

"Gross," Sirius added.

"Gag me," Peter said.

"Perverts," Remus snickered.

"Too much information!" Kay shuddered.

James grinned, glancing in the direction of Lily, whose back was to him. "I would kiss you, Lily, but that requires moving and I don't want to lose."

"A game of Twister is more important than your girlfriend?" Lily argued.

"Choose your next words wisely, Jamesie," Riley snickered.

James grimaced, glancing up towards Kay. "You gonna spin that thing anytime soon?"

"Way to avoid the question!" Lily argued.

"Those weren't the right words," Riley groaned, shaking her head.

Sirius couldn't help but smile as Riley and James started a bickering war while Peter attempted not to topple over and Remus and Kay debated whether or not Mousetrap would have been better than Twister. Riley may have been leaving in less than a week, but he couldn't imagine spending the last few days any differently. His friends were there for him as he spent Riley's last days with her and they would be there for him once she left. He couldn't remember a time he was happier.

And if only Riley wasn't leaving, he could keep that smile on his face.

Sirius' thoughts were interrupted when Lily bumped into him, causing Sirius to crash to the floor with Lily right behind him. "AGHHH!" he cried just as Riley, James, and Peter quickly joined her. "We should have stuck with Mousetrap," he whimpered with a muffled voice, trying to wriggle free.

Remus laughed, shooting a look in Kay's direction. "Told you."

"Okay, this is where you all get off me," Sirius pleaded, giving Lily a look over his shoulder.

Lily laughed, playfully smushing his head into the carpet. "Nah, this is more fun."

"Vichyssoise!" Sirius muffled. "Vichyssoise!"

Lily laughed, recalling the conversation from the night before, and let James help pull her off of Sirius. "I say we put Twister on hold for a bit," she suggested, dragging James over to the sectional couch where Remus and Kay were sitting. Riley pulled Sirius off the floor and they ventured over to the loveseat as Peter took solace on the floor, propping himself up with a pillow.

"How's Jillian?" Sirius asked Remus, knowing that she had written him earlier.

Remus smiled. "Good," he said. "She's coming to visit on Thursday."

"Sweet!" Sirius cheered. "That's a good excuse to party."

James rolled his eyes. "Any excuse to party is a good one in your book."

Riley snorted. "You complaining?"

"Not at all," he chuckled. "I'm thinking barbecue. We should invite Fabian and Gideon, Alice and Frank, Dezzy and Drew, Randy and Dedalus, Marlene, Teresa, your brothers."

"We're going to need food, too," Lily pointed out. "Burgers, hot dogs, chips-"

"Beer, firewhisky, rum," Sirius added.

Lily shot him a look. "Potato salad, ice cream, watermelon, chicken-"

"Vodka, gin-"

Lily glared at him, narrowing her eyes. "Soda, pretzels, coleslaw-"

"Maybe some mixers."

Lily chucked a pillow at Sirius, earning a laugh from the rest of them. "There is more to a party than alcoholic beverages!"

Sirius stared at her blankly. "Are you sure?"

Lily couldn't help but laugh. "If only I had another pillow."

Remus handed her one. "Feel free to use mine."

Sirius whimpered. "Traitor!" he argued, ducking as the pillow came soaring towards him. "And here I am trying to plan an awesome party for your girlfriend."

"I'm pretty sure this is more about you wanting to throw a party than my girlfriend's presence here," Remus argued.

"It can also be viewed as a goodbye party," Riley interjected with a sad smile.

Silence filled the room as their eyes all fell on her.

"Oh, don't get all depressed on me now," said Riley, shrugging. "I'm just saying it would be nice to go out with a bang. And Merlin knows, no one knows how to throw a party like the Marauders."

"Well, that's certainly true," James said, trying to ease the awkward tension. "But for now, can we focus on food for tonight? Anyone else starving?"

"You wolved down pretzels, chips and salsa, and leftover spaghetti an hour ago!" said Lily, smacking James on the arm.

James shrugged. "And I'm hungry again."

"It's midnight!"

"Which is ironically the perfect time for a midnight snack."

Lily snickered, rolling her eyes. "Well, sadly, our kitchen is virtually empty."

"We have all the makings for chocolate chip cookies," Riley chimed in.

Lily quirked an eyebrow. "Seriously? You forgot to buy toothpaste and you forgot to buy bread for the peanut butter and jelly, but you bought all of the fixings for chocolate chip cookies?"

Riley shrugged. "One guess as to who to blame for that one."

Everyone's eyes zoomed in on Sirius.

He grinned sheepishly. "So where did we land on the whole chocolate chip cookie thing?"

Lily sighed. "C'mon, I'll go make them."

Sirius pumped his fist into the air, jumping off the loveseat. "Sweet!" He led them all into the large, open kitchen and hoisted himself up on to the kitchen counter. "I think after we make cookies, we should try our hand at brownies."

Lily snorted, throwing him a look over her shoulder as she reached into the pantry and grabbed the necessary supplies to make cookies. "Who is this 'we' you speak of?"

Sirius grinned, shrugging. "I don't really think you'd want me to attempt to help you."

"I'm nervous knowing you're just in the room," Riley added, leaning back into her boyfriend's lap. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders from behind, kissing the side of her face.

"I'd argue, but it's probably true."

"Here's the mixer," Kay said, digging into a dusty cabinet and pulling an old mixing bowl and beater out. "Er...I think it needs to be cleaned out."

"What are you talking about? I love my cookies with a pinch of dust," Remus said sarcastically. He grabbed the bowl from Kay and started rinsing it in the sink.

"Where are the chocolate chips?" Lily asked, sifting through the pantry.

Riley and Sirius exchanged a look. "Um..." Riley said with a nervous laugh. "Sirius forgot them."

"It was your job to get them!" Sirius argued with a pout.

Lily rolled her eyes. "Guess we'll be making sugar cookies."

James sent a stern look in Riley and Sirius' direction. "Please tell me you remembered the sugar."

"This is Sirius we're talking about," Riley drawled. "Sugar is one of his main food groups."

"Yeah, it replaces fruits and vegetables," Remus snorted.

Sirius grinned. "I make it a rule of mine not to eat anything green."

"I have no doubt in my mind that you're going to grow up to be a very fat man," Kay joked, reaching into the refrigerator for the butter and eggs.

"Don't forget unsuccessful and lazy," James added, plopping himself onto the small round table off to the side of the kitchen.

"And horny and perverted," Remus said, chuckling.

"I happen to like him horny and perverted," Riley chimed in, squeezing Sirius' arm.

"Dude, you also wouldn't mind if the guy was fat as long as you could still have sex with him," James joked.

Riley scowled. "I have standards!"

"Says the girl who hooked up with Zach, the cheating, lying ex-boyfriend who couldn't be more of an asshole, last June because you were drunk and he flashed you a come-hither look," Lily reminded her as she started assembling the ingredients into the mixing bowl.

Riley hesitated. "So you were saying, James?"

The kitchen erupted with laughter as Sirius attempted to dip his finger into the batter. Lily swatted at him, tearing the bowl away from his vicinity. "If you eat the batter, there won't be any cookies to eat."

Sirius shrugged. "I can deal with that."

Lily quirked a sly eyebrow. "Can you deal with this?" she smirked, chucking a spoonful of batter at his face.

He gasped as the dough slid down his face. "You do realize that if you throw batter in my face, there won't be any cookies to eat."

Lily grinned. "I can deal with that," she said as she chucked another small spoonful at him.

"Oh, you want to play that game, hm?" Sirius said, quickly reaching for the bag of flour and tossing some at her.

She shrieked and attempted to duck unsuccessfully. When she stood back up, her clothes were covered in white and she was clearly trying to hide an amused grin with little success. "Did you really just throw flour at me?"

"It certainly would explain the white powder on your clothes, now wouldn't it?" he teased.

"Well, it's probably not cocaine," Kay chimed in.

Lily rolled her eyes. "You want some of this batter on your clothes, too?"

"Sheesh, a girl tries to help out by getting the ingredients together and you threaten her with a spoonful of cookie batter. That's the last time I try to help you-" Kay's sentence was cut short when Riley tossed a handful of sugar at her. "Out," Kay finished, wiping off crystals of sugar from her T-shirt. "You are so dead, Miss Gilmore." She immediately reached for an egg and threw it to the ground below Riley's feet, earning a burst of laughter out of everyone.

"EW!" Riley groaned as her legs became covered with egg yolk. "You play dirty, Kay Richards!"

As Riley reached for the bag of sugar again, chaos ensued. Sirius reached for the cookie sheet to shield himself against the batter Lily threw at him. Kay ducked as another handful of sugar came her way. James jumped off and reached across Sirius for the flour as Peter ducked under the kitchen table with a laugh. Sugar, flour, batter, and eggs went flying in every direction while laughter and shrieks filled the room.

"HEY, HEY, HEY!" Remus voice boomed throughout the kitchen. "STOP!"

The six of them froze, slowly glancing in Remus' direction with sheepish grins.

"This is a nice kitchen and you are all destroying it with a childish food fight!" Remus barked. "Did we not just graduate?"

They all cowered, lowering their eyes guiltily.

"We should really put down the food items and start cleaning this place up," he continued, giving them all a look. With a smirk, he said, "I'll even help."

And before any of them could respond, he was grabbing the retractable sink faucet and splashing them all with water. Shrieks naturally followed as they all tried to duck.

"Remus Lupin, how dare you make us feel bad!" Lily shrieked as she darted behind the counter so as not to get wet.

He grinned, laughing as an egg soared his way. He didn't even care that it had pelted him on the shoulder and egg yolk started running down his arm. "It's one of my many talents."

"Does Jillian know how heartless you are?" Riley whimpered, cowering behind Sirius who was still using the cookie sheet as a shield from Remus.

Peter scrambled out from underneath the kitchen table and tried wrestling the hose away from Remus' grip with very little success. Water sprayed everywhere and eventually, Remus tossed it into the sink as they all doubled over with laughter and the food fight had officially ceased.

Stepping on broken eggshells, James meandered over to Lily where he tried wiping flour out of her hair. "You're a mess," he joked.

"Looks who's talking," she said, kissing sugar crystals off his lip. "Ooh, yum."

James laughed, enveloping her in his arms, flour and all.

"It's too bad we didn't buy whipped cream yesterday," Sirius chimed in with a cheeky grin.

"Right, because this place isn't a big enough mess without it," drawled Remus sarcastically.

Sirius smirked, glancing down at his girlfriend who was covered in batter and egg. "Who said anything about using it for the food fight?"

They all groaned except for Riley who grinned and tightened his grip around her neck. "I like the way that sounds."

"Have I mentioned recently that you're going to grow up to become horny and perverted?" Remus snorted.

"It's been about ten minutes," said Sirius. "So you're way overdue."

James rolled his eyes as Remus let out another groan. "Speaking of horny and perverted," he started, reaching for Lily's hand with a cheeky smile, "I am in desperate need of a shower."

Lily laughed and kissed his flour-covered cheek.

"There have been way too many sexual innuendos in the past five minutes for my taste," Kay muttered.

"Oh, please. You'll just be adding to the mix when Lance drops by this weekend," said Riley, giving her friend a knowing look.

"Doesn't mean I want to hear them all now," Kay snorted, placing the carton of eggs back in the fridge. "Now, even though Remus was joking before, I do think it's time to give this place a scrub down."

"And that's what magic is for," Sirius said with a grin. He pulled out his wand from his back pocket and muttered, "Scourgify!"

Peter laughed, crawling out from underneath the table as the room cleaned itself up. "I always knew being a wizard had his advantages."

Lily rolled her eyes. "I don't think cleaning up after a silly food fight is what the founders of the wizarding world had in mind when crafting magic."

"How little they knew about the Marauders then," said James with a grin, kissing the side of her face. "C'mon, I hear that shower calling our names."

Lily smiled, grabbing his hand and leading him out of the room.

"What about the cookies!" Sirius cried out after them. "There's still some leftover batter!"

"Sorry!" Lily snickered. "A better offer just came up." She and James disappeared up the stairs.

Sirius pouted, turning to Remus. "Please tell me you don't have a better offer."

Remus gave him a look. "It's putting cookies into an oven, Sirius," he drawled. "Even you can handle that."

"Yeah, but I'm hoping a better offer might come up," he said with a grin, wrapping his arms tighter around Riley.

Riley laughed. "Well, I certainly like the way that sounds," she said, winking suggestively at him.

"I am surrounded by horny and perverted idiots," Remus murmured, a hint of a smile on his face as Riley and Sirius trekked out of the room.

Kay shrugged. "Y'know, this just means we get first dibs on the cookies."

Remus grinned. "I certainly like the way that sounds."

An hour later, James ventured down to the kitchen to grab himself and Lily a cookie. As he was about to head back upstairs, he noticed that the back door was slightly ajar. He went over to close it and the back porch light illuminated Sirius sitting on one of the Adirondack chairs.

Sirius heard the movement behind him but didn't bother turning around. Seconds later, James appeared beside him and handed him a cookie. Sirius didn't really want it, but took it anyway. He gestured towards the six-pack of beer on the ground and raised an inquiring eyebrow.

James shrugged. "Sure." Sirius tossed him a beer and James settled into the Adirondack chair beside his friend.

They both sipped their beer in peace, staring out towards the lake immersed heavily in thought. It was James who finally broke the silence. "You okay, Sirius?" he sighed.

Sirius hesitated, slowly taking another swig. "Yeah," he murmured.

James frowned. "The truth?"

Sirius sighed. "What do you think?"

James instinctively reached over and patted Sirius on the arm. He didn't say anything. He didn't really have anything to say.

Sirius swallowed the lump in his throat, wishing James would say something, anything, that could make him feel better. "You know what I keep thinking about?" he murmured. "Not me. Not how much I'm going to miss Riley. Not how I'm going to get through the year without her. No, I keep thinking about everything she's going to be missing out on. Like tonight. It was a silly food fight, but it's these silly little memories that are going to live with us forever. In a year when we're reminiscing on the past, she won't be able to partake with us." Sirius sighed, shaking his head sullenly. "It…it sucks to think that we're going to be making all of these memories that won't include her."

James sighed, nodding. "Yeah," he muttered. "It does suck."

Sirius peeked at him out of the corner of his eye, furrowing his brow. "That's it? No words of comfort? No 'hey, Sirius, it will be alright. She'll be back in a year and you can make memories with her then?'"

James frowned, busying himself by taking a slow drink of his bottled beer. "No," he mumbled. "All I have to say is it really sucks."

Sirius scoffed. "Remus was a lot better at giving words of encouragement."

"I think they're a bunch of lies."

Sirius' eyebrows knitted, confused. "Seriously, you really suck at this whole comforting thing."

"I'm not trying to comfort you, Padfoot," James replied immediately, shrugging. He met Sirius' shocked gaze.

"Yeah, I kinda figured that out on my own," Sirius snorted. "What's your deal?"

James sighed, ruffling his hair haggardly as he searched for the right words to say to his friend. "Honestly?" he said hesitantly. "I think you're an idiot."

Sirius scowled, glaring at him. "How does letting Riley accomplish her dreams make me an idiot?"

"It took the two of you forever to get together, Sirius," James reminded him, shaking his head in disbelief. "It took a lot of fighting and drama and confusion and uncertainty. One minute you were together and the next you weren't. Now you're finally at a good place in your relationship. And you're going to let her go? For a third time? Are you out of your mind?"

Sirius clenched his teeth, finishing off his beer and reaching for another. "I don't need this right now, James," he grunted. "Not from you. The decision's already been made. Don't try to change my mind. Please. I…" he trailed off, swallowing hard. "I have to let her go."

James hesitated. "Do you?" he muttered.

Sirius gripped the beer bottle tighter, finding himself getting increasingly frustrated with his best friend. "Yes."

James sighed, running his fingers through his hair anxiously. "Well, then you have a whole lot more willpower than I do."

"What do you mean?"

James frowned hesitantly, taking a sip of beer before saying, "I couldn't do it. I couldn't imagine letting Lily go for an entire year."

Sorrow built up inside of Sirius and he had to swallow the lump in his throat. "You think this is easy for me?" His voice was shaky. "You don't think I realize that after everything she and I been through that maybe for once we deserve a happy ending?"

"How fairytale of you."

"Yeah," Sirius snorted. "Except we're not living in a fairytale, James. Things don't always work out the way we want them to. We can't all live happily ever after like you and Lily."

James sighed. "You do realize that you can have that happily ever after, right? You just have to fight for it."

Sirius frowned.

James shrugged, glancing determinedly at his friend. "You just have to ask her to stay."

Sirius swallowed hard, sipping his beer slowly. "It's like I said," he murmured eventually, "We don't live in a fairytale."

James hesitated curiously, not sure how to respond to Sirius' last words. So he didn't. He let the still of the night provide silence between the two of them as he stared back down at the lake, watching the reflection of the moon dance on the surface of the water. "Sirius?"


"What exactly are you so afraid of?" James asked gravely, narrowing his eyes. "That if you ask Riley to stay, she might say no? Or that she might say yes?"

Sirius looked up at James, startled. He opened his mouth to argue but nothing came out. His heart skipped a beat and he glanced down at the now-empty six-pack. "Maybe a little bit of both," he admitted in a soft voice. "I wouldn't be okay with being the reason she stays."

"But you're okay with being the reason she goes?"

To that, Sirius had no response.

"Aren't you always going to wonder what would have happened if you just did what you really wanted to do and asked her to stay with you?" James asked, desperation seeping through.

"How do you know that's what I really want to do?" Sirius scoffed.

James gave him a look. "Because the other option is to let the girl of your dreams disappear out of sight for an entire year."

Sirius pursed his lips irritably. "It doesn't matter what I want, James. It matter what she wants."

"But you're not even giving her the option of choosing what she wants. You've already made the decision for her," James blurted out, shaking his head. He could tell that Sirius was getting frustrated, but he wondered if it was more because Sirius didn't need the constant reminder that Riley was leaving than it was about James' words.

"I'm done talking about this, James," Sirius said firmly, tightening his grip around the empty beer bottle in his hand. "She's going. I've gotten used to it so why don't you?"

James shook his head, ignoring Sirius' request to mute the subject. "Honestly, Sirius, I've kept my mouth shut for the past two days, both to her and to you, because I don't really think it's my place to get involved," he said slowly. "But it's not yours either."

Sirius furrowed his brow, confused. "What?"

James sighed, shrugging. "It's a decision that she should be making on her own. You aren't letting her make her own choices. You're making them for her. And by you telling her to go, she feels as if she has no reason to stay."

"So wouldn't the opposite ring true, too?" Sirius snorted.

James shook his head. "I'm not saying you should tell her to stay. I'm saying that you should tell her you want her to stay."

Sirius sighed. He understood where James was going with it. By telling Riley that he wanted her to stay, it still meant he believed she should go. But it also gave Riley the chance to make the decision on her own. "Oh."

"Yeah," James murmured. "Oh."

Sirius frowned, wishing that everything could just be easy for once. Why did his life have to be so difficult? "James, if you're so convinced she should stay, why the hell not just talk to her yourself?" he grumbled.

He shrugged. It was a valid question. "Because I know it doesn't matter what I do or say," he murmured, letting out a heavy sigh as he turned to meet the gaze of his best friend. "Once upon a time it did. I was the only one she would ever listen to. But times have changed. It's your opinion she cares about most. You're the person right now that matters the most to her."

Sirius could feel the burden in his best friend's voice. "I never meant to replace you, James," he said softly.

"I know," he sighed. "But you did. And I'm okay with that. As long as you tell her the truth. Always. She needs to hear what you have to say, Sirius. Right now, she needs to know what you're really thinking. So maybe it's about time you tell her."

"You really want to know what I think?" Sirius snorted, shaking his head incredulously. "I think that no matter how important this opportunity is for her, she should stay in England. I think that if I let her go I'll lose her forever. I think that she should reject the offer and come to New York with me. I think that if we're ever going to have a shot of being in a successful relationship we should just take the risk now!" Sirius swallowed hard, chucking the empty bottle into the darkness. A light crash sound collided against the grass somewhere in the near distance. "I think that the girl that I am head over heels in love with should realize on her own that she should stay so that I don't have to make the damn decision for her."

James was taken aback by his friend's outburst. "Did you ever think that maybe she already knows that she should stay?" he said softly. "That maybe she's just waiting for you to admit it?"

Sirius didn't know how to respond. He took a deep breath in and exhaled, shutting his eyes as the warm breeze surrounded him. He had briefly wondered in the beginning of the conversation if James was trying to get Riley to stay so that James didn't have to be the one to beg her. But the desperate, understanding look in James' eyes told Sirius that it was Sirius he was thinking of.

An awkward silence surrounded them as Sirius wondered if maybe it wasn't his determination to do the right thing for Riley that was giving him such doubt but if it was his own fear that was making him so hesitant. "You really think I should ask her to stay?"

James nodded immediately, glancing over at his best friend. "I know that it's probably a selfish move, but how can you let the girl you love slip away?" he murmured, Lily suddenly flashing through his mind again. "The last time you thought you two were over, you stood up in front of the entire student body and confessed your love to her, knowing you had nothing left to lose. Well, what about now? What…what could you possibly lose by asking her stay?"

Sirius' heart skipped a beat and he wondered if his friend was right. Silence engulfed them once again. The only sounds were the light sway of the trees with the warm summer breeze and a creak of the kitchen door. He glanced behind him at the slight noise and his attention was drawn to his uncle's house. He wondered if things would be different if his uncle wasn't dying. Would Sirius follow Riley to Australia where they could start their relationship together in a foreign country without the constant watchful eyes of their friends? Or would that have made things worse seeing as she would have a full, hectic work schedule and be frequently away from him?

The thoughts were immediately stricken from Sirius' mind. Dreaming of what-ifs were futile. His uncle needed him more than Riley did and that's where his next adventure was going to take him.

His heart ached. But he wanted Riley to come with him.

"Maybe you're right," Sirius eventually spoke, a hopeful feeling welling up inside of him.

James' heart skipped a beat. "As hard as it is for her to admit it, she loves you," he murmured. "And…and if you ask her to stay, I think she just might say yes."

Sirius didn't respond immediately. As much as he was grateful for the slight bit of hope, he also knew that there was a 50% chance she would turn down his offer and choose to go to Australia on her own volition. "Well, you know her better than anyone, James," he said slowly.

"No," James said with a smile. "I used to know her better than anyone."

When Sirius glanced up, he saw a flicker of comfortable approval in his best friend's eyes. And suddenly Sirius realized that that was James' subtle way of letting Riley go. He had always been there to protect her and save her from harm and now, James was hoping that Sirius would fill that role however possible.

But in order to do that, he needed to ask her to stay.

James wasn't sure how Sirius had left things or what Sirius planned to do, but James knew that Sirius needed to be alone to think. He trudged back upstairs, thinking about Sirius' predicament the entire time. He knew that Sirius should at least ask Riley to stay, but at the same time, James wasn't the one in Sirius' shoes. James could pretend he knew Sirius and Riley best, but really, only the two of them knew that.

James slowly opened the door to his bedroom, not wanting to wake Lily if she was asleep. He had taken a lot longer downstairs than intended and he wasn't surprised when he peeked in and saw her curled up on her side, only a thin sheet thrown haphazardly over her body. It was the moments like this one that James wished he could hold on to forever. A simple moment like watching the girl he loved sleep peacefully. It was heartbreaking watching Sirius as he attempted to let go of Riley; James certainly didn't know if he could remain so stoic and strong if Lily was the one leaving in five short days.

He shut the door behind him and cringed when he heard Lily stir. She picked her head off the pillow and smiled at him. "Hey, there. I was beginning to get worried."

"Sorry," he said. He tore off his T-shirt and crawled into bed beside her. "I was talking to Sirius."

She curled up beside him, draping her arm over his bare stomach. "How's he doing?"

James hesitated. He didn't want to tell Lily that he was potentially going to ask Riley to stay and get Lily's hopes up. He thought back to the conversation he just had with his best friend and he opened his mouth to tell her he wasn't entirely sure how his best friend was doing. But that's not what came out. "Will you marry me, Lily?" he blurted out.

Lily's whole body froze in shock by the sudden outburst. She definitely wasn't expecting that. "What?" she said, slowly sitting upright. "Where the hell did that come from?"

He chuckled, not surprised by her reaction. He was shocked that the words had come out of his mouth so why wouldn't she be shocked? He hadn't intended to propose, but the question was out of his mouth before he even realized it. But now that they were out, he knew he meant them. He wanted to marry her.

His gaze followed hers and he turned on to his side, propping himself up on his elbow as he offered her a sheepish lopsided smile. "I watch Sirius slowly crumble in front of me at the idea of losing Riley. It took my brother seven years before he proposed to Bianca and...and he didn't get to see his wedding day. My father left my mother because he was too afraid of having a family and having a career. I-I don't want to end up like any of them," James said softly, biting down on his bottom lip like he often did when anxious. "I want to be with you, Lily. And to me, that's enough of a reason to propose."

"I don't want you proposing to me out of fear, James," Lily murmured.

"It's not out of fear," James said determinedly, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "It's out of love."

Lily frowned. "So what happens if a year from now, I'm offered a job in the States? Or South America? Or Australia? What happens if in three years, you finish the Auror recruitment program and you're sent off to Italy or France or Scandinavia for a full-time Auror position? What then?"

"Well, that's kind of why I'm unexpectedly proposing," James pointed out with a shrug. "If you do end up being offered a job that takes you to the States or South America or Australia, I would start looking for Auror positions in the American Ministry or the South American Ministry or the Australian Ministry."

Lily's heart skipped a beat. "You would follow me?"

"I'd follow you anywhere, Lily," he whispered, slowly sitting up beside her. "You're my life. You're it. I can't live it without you."

Lily still showed hesitance, but James recognized a flicker of vulnerable adoration in her eyes.

"And I would hope that if I did get offered positions in Italy or France or…or what was it? Scandinavia? That you'd consider following me, too," he whispered, running the back of his fingers over her cheek adoringly. "I'm not like Sirius and Riley. I could never choose to live my life without you. I…I could never let you go so easily."

She tensed up, not sure how to respond, but she slowly let her eyes meet his. His eyes showed compassion and longing. She wondered what she would do if what he said actually happened. If she had to choose to follow him and his career, would she? She had already nearly had to make that choice if he would have accepted the Quidditch offer, but that was a different situation. She didn't really believe he wanted to play Quidditch. But if the Auror recuruitment program he had wanted was in Italy or France or Scandinavia, would she have followed him? Would she have put her own life and dreams on hold to follow his life and dreams?

Glancing up at him, the only answer she could find was 'yes.' And that should have scared her. The idea that she had become so dependent on someone that she would follow him wherever he went probably should have caused her to retract and become distant like she had often did in the past. But it wasn't fear or anxiety that took over Lily's mind. It was love. And she couldn't imagine not following him if the situation ever came up. She couldn't imagine not loving him.

Chills ran down Lily's spine as she realized that she was actually considering his proposal. "You really want to marry me?" she murmured.

He smiled, nodding. "Yes."

"I've got a lot of baggage, James," she reminded him with a snicker. "I'm stubborn, I'm strong-willed and set in my ways, I don't wear my heart on my sleeve, I have yet to break down all the barriers you'd like me to break down, fear and anxiety run my life, I've been classified as a neat freak, I can be too focused on work which distracts me from my friends, I'm controlling, I'm not very affectionate, I'm a picky eater, my hair's a righteous mess in the morning, and commitment scares the hell out of me, although you seem to have made that work for us."

"I hate to break it to you, but I already know all of that," James responded with a simple shrug of the shoulders. He hesitated. "Although, I think you might be a little harsh on yourself. I think your hair looks beautiful in the morning."

She laughed, playfully smacking him on his bare chest. "That's the point you decide to comment on?"

He smiled warmly and buried his lip in her hair. "I realize that we have both been through a lot and we both probably still have a lot to overcome. But I want you by my side with whatever is thrown my way. I want you in my life. Today. Tomorrow. Forever."

Lily's heart beat wildly inside her chest. "You're making it awfully hard for a girl to say no, Potter," she murmured.

He shrugged. "Then don't say no."

She swallowed hard and turned her gaze towards the window, trying to come up with a good reason why she should say no. They hadn't known each other very long, but to her, that wasn't the issue. She just wasn't sure if marriage was the next step. She still had a lot she wanted and needed to do with her life. But as she glanced up at his hopeful eyes, she couldn't figure out why she shouldn't say yet. Because truthfully, she was more afraid of a future without James than a future with James. "Okay."

James' heart skipped a beat, not sure he heard correctly. "Is that a yes?"

"That's a future yes."

James furrowed his brow, confused. "Er...what's a future yes?"

She laughed and rested her head back up against his shoulder, reaching for his hand. "It means that we're both not ready to get married right now and I think you know that. We have a lot ahead of us. It's like you said, we have a lot we yet to have overcome. I think we at least need to wait until we start our new jobs and we see how much our routine is going to change before we talk something as serious as marriage," she explained, shrugging awkwardly.

A sly smile appeared on James' face. "But that's still a yes?"

Lily smiled shyly and pressed her lips firmly to his. "Yes, James," she whispered. "Someday in the future, I will marry you."

James' grin couldn't have been any more excited. He whooped loudly and framed her face with his hands, kissing her passionately.

She couldn't help but laugh at his reaction and slowly climbed on top of him, leaving a trail of kisses down his jawline. "But word to the wise, James Potter," she whispered, her lips grazing his earlobe. "The next time you ask me to marry you, there better be a ring involved."

James let out a light chuckle and ran his hands up the back of her T-shirt, the warmth of her skin providing him with a sense of comfort and adoration. "Believe me, Lily Evans," he responded. "The next time I ask you to marry me there will not only be a ring involved, but I will get you to give me a present yes."

She smiled, wondering how she ever could have thought she hated him. She let her lips dance lightly against his, whispering, "It's a deal."

Sirius slowly pushed open the door to his bedroom and saw his beautiful girlfriend asleep in the large bed. His gaze lingered on the peaceful expression displayed on her face and he leaned against the doorframe, a nostalgic smile creeping on to his lips. He had remained downstairs after his talk with James for a few lingering minutes, mostly because he didn't know what to do. He was stuck, trying to figure out not only what was best for him but what was best for Riley. As the days loomed closer to Saturday, anxiety was continuing to build up inside of him. He knew that if she left for Australia, it didn't need to be over between them. He knew that his love for her was so strong that he could wait for her for a year. But what he knew and what he wanted were two completely different things.

But as his gaze fixated on the dimple on her right cheek and her hand tightly clutching her pillow, flashbacks of the time they had spent falling in love darted through his mind. He slowly realized that what he knew and what he wanted were merging together. Because he knew that he had to at least let her know he wanted her to stay with him. Otherwise, he'd always wonder if she just would have stayed if he had had the nerve to ask.

He probably should have woken her up and asked her right then to stay before he lost his nerve, but she looked too peaceful that he couldn't imagine stirring her. He crawled into bed with her and held on to her tightly, never wanting to let her go. For the first time in three days, he suddenly felt as if things were going to be alright.

The next morning, she was gone.

All she left behind was the locket he had given to her for graduation and a yellow Post-it note with only two words scribbled on it.

"I'm sorry."

Love. It used to be a word unknown to any of them. It was a word they hadn't been accustomed to hearing and a word that they definitely hadn't been accustomed to saying. A word that had feared them all. They were convinced that with love came the pressure to be perfect. With love came dependence on another. With love came an immense burden to trust. With love came the possibility of a broken heart. Love had been nothing but a mystery for them for years. But on the day they graduated from Hogwarts, the rest of their lives started. And love was a big part of that. As it turns out, all they needed to crush their fears was someone worth loving.

For Remus, to love was to trust. He understood that trust was hard to come by, but with Jillian he had found someone with whom he could share his deepest, darkest secrets with and not feel scared that she wouldn't accept him. He had found himself unwittingly letting go of all his fears and anxieties and embracing the possibility of having a future with a girl. And not just any girl. A girl who loved him for who he was. He had never thought he would find a potential mate and here he was with someone he could see himself spending the rest of his life with. He couldn't imagine being with anyone else, nor did he want to be with someone else. Loving her was one of the easiest things he has ever done. And he never planned on stopping.

Kay never thought she would fall in love. She had always been the tomboy of the group and had watched enough of Riley's failed relationships and Sirius and James unwillingness to commit in the past to know that perhaps love wasn't even worth the pressure of trying to be perfect. She wasn't perfect, nor did she want to be. And then Lance came along and she realized it wasn't about being perfect. It was about being herself. Lance had met the real her before they got together and he still wanted to be with her. She had no idea what the future held for them, but she wasn't scared. She was excited of the endless possibilities that came with loving Lance.

Against all of the odds, Sirius had done the unthinkable and fallen in love. He had been scared off before by the mere thought of it and yet, put his whole heart into loving Riley for the past few months. He knew that if anyone were to break his heart, it would be her, but he knocked down all of his defenses anyway to counteract her own. And she had gone and done exactly what he has been so afraid of from the beginning. She had broken his heart. And in the end, he wondered if love was worth it. As it turns out, love was still a mystery to him.

Lily and James had overcome a lot to get to a point where they were actually talking marriage. Both Lily and James had been so afraid of being with each other that they had sabotaged their relationship before it even started. But when they both let their guards down and took a chance, they learned that being dependent on each other wasn't such a terrible thing. It took a lot for both of them to let someone in unconditionally, but they had reached the point of no return. And yet, neither of them ever wanted to return to the endless questioning that came with the fear of getting close to someone. They had found the person that had squashed all of the past and future what-ifs. They stopped questioning the relationship and started living it. Love didn't scare them anymore. That night, something had changed between them. Instead of fear of the unknown, it was happiness that suddenly took over their minds and their hearts.

They had all had their reasons and excuses as to why they thought it had been better to run from romance and commitment. But perhaps it was that common bond that had inevitably brought the seven of them together. They were able to coax each other through the pain and confusion that came with falling in love. Love wasn't always just about the two people in the relationship but about the people who would be there for them through both the good and the bad. They had all found comfort in knowing that no matter what trouble was thrown their way, whether it was Kay's betrayal to Riley by dating her brother or James' shock in finding out about Sirius and Riley or both Lily and James finding it hard to let the other in or Riley and Sirius' first break up or James' almost departure to Italy or Remus being pushed away by Jillian's fear and now Riley's disappearance in the middle of the night, they would be there for each other to give reassurance and comfort when one of them might not have wanted it but definitely needed it. Love had its many ups and downs. But friendship was forever.

At least, that's what they had thought.

Unfortunately, forever didn't always mean forever.

A/N: Awwww, this story has officially come to and end! Just as quickly as everything was falling into place, it is now being torn apart once again. I guess you'll just have to wait until the next sequel to find out exactly what happens. Speaking of...I've had quite a few questions about the sequel. Drum roll please...IT WILL BE CALLED GOODBYES ON THE BALCONY. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to let me know! I've already written about a fourth of the sequel, although the entire story has been outlined. But to be honest, I'm still not sure where I plan on ending it. Do I end it before James and Lily die or after? I can't imagine killing them off, so I'm leaning towards ending the sequel before they die. But anything can happen. I can tell you that the sequel doesn't start exactly where this story leaves off. Some time will pass. And some relationships will stand while others will fail. There will also unfortunately be a lot of tragedy, seeing as Harry doesn't have any family after his parents die. Furthermore, the sequel will have a lot more description of the upcoming First Wizarding War. There will be talk of the Order and we'll get a good look into the Ministry, including the Auror department. Their jobs will be an important part to the sequel on top of all of the relationships and friendships. New characters will be introduced and old characters will become front-runners, such as Alice and Frank Longbottom and Fabian Prewett. We will still see some of Dumbledore and McGonagall, and Mad-Eye Moody and Rufus Scrimgeour will be included in the sequel. James' family will play important roles and relationships will be tested due to the turmoil of the wizarding world. But I guess you'll just have to wait and read all about it once I upload that story. I'm not sure when that will be but I am writing and editing the sequel practically every day.

I would just like to add a major THANK YOU to everyone who has stood by this story since the beginning. I know it's been a long journey to get to the end, but I hope that you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. So again, thank you. And please stay tuned for Goodbyes on the Balcony!