"I solemnly swear I am up to no good," Sirius whispered, tapping his wand to the map

"Why didn't you open the damn thing up in the common room?" Peter muttered, "Sneaking around when we've got a perfectly good map…Going to get us caught…Dentention with McGonagall…"

James suppressed a laugh. The three boys were crouched behind a statue of Meric the Shortsighted near the Great Hall while Sirius did one final check to make sure the coast was clear.

"Oh, shove off Pete," Sirius retorted, his eyes busily scanning the corridors on the map. His wand light was the only light in the otherwise dark hall.

James craned his neck around Meric to look out the window at the moon, "Hurry up, Black, or we'll miss the chance to greet Moony when he arrives."

"Greet Moony," scoffed Peter, "Ha. Don't you mean 'prevent Moony from tearing himself to shreds as he transforms'?"

This time James outright laughed at the description of what they did every month, "Well, that too," He agreed. James loved this: sneaking out, helping Moony, breaking the rules even though he was Head Boy.

"Oi, Prongs." Sirius whispered in a tone that stopped James' laughter instantly. Something was wrong. He gazed into Sirius' eyes which were uncharacteristically tense before moving his eyes to the map where Sirius was pointing.

Sirius was pointing to a spot on the fourth floor near the Runes classroom. Lily Evans he read. Further down the hallway he read Walden MacNair. James felt the color drain out of his face. He was supposed to be doing the rounds with Lily, but he'd begged off to be with the Marauders. This was the first time that the full moon had fallen on a patrol night and James had tried his hardest to switch it to another night. He had never missed a full moon since he had become an Animagi, and he wasn't going to start now. Finally, unable to change it, he had explained that he needed to help Remus. Lily had been understanding, and had told him not to worry about it—that she would cover for him "this once".

Now, she was on a collision course for MacNair—a pure-blood fanatic, and one who wouldn't hesitate to take out some of his feelings on her.

James felt sick to his stomach at the thought of Lily meeting MacNair. But Remus…He hesitated.

Sirius met his eyes again, knowing he was torn between his friends and the girl he loved, "Go," he ordered, "We'll take care of Remus."

James turned and ran.

Lily Evans was not going to show Walden MacNair that she was afraid of him. He towered over her by a good eight inches and she had heard enough about him from Severus to know he had a large repertoire in the Dark Arts. But Lily was determined. He was out of bounds and breaking curfew. She took a deep breath, "MacNair," she called, walking towards him briskly with her lit wand held out, "Twenty points from Slytherin."

MacNair jerked around with surprise. He'd obviously had no idea she was behind him, "Why, you filthy mudblood…" He said angrily.

"Another ten for disrespect." Lily said impatiently, "Get a move on, back to your dorm." She gestured down the hall towards the stairs, praying silently that he would leave and that this wouldn't come to a confrontation.

He took a step towards Lily and she noticed that the veins on his neck were starting to stand out from his anger. She raised her wand a little higher. "Move."

MacNair moved his wand hand, "Sectum—"

Suddenly another wand flared into light, directly next to MacNair's left temple, illuminating his face. "Do you really want to finish that Walden?"

Lily sighed with relief at James' sudden appearance. He appeared slightly out of breath, but Lily was rather surprised at the look on James' face. She had never seen that steely look in his hazel eyes. He was…scary.

MacNair's anger visibly grew, but he said nothing, recognizing that he had lost the upper hand and was now out numbered.

After a long moment where nothing was said, James lowered his wand ever so slightly. "Go." He commanded.

MacNair didn't need a second invitation. He backed away from James, turned and walked down the hall.

When MacNair's footsteps had died away completely and James' breathing returned to normal, he lowered his wand to his side and turned to Lily. She was as pale as a sheet. "Evening, Evans. Come here often?" He joked, trying to lighten the mood.

Lily noticed the steely hard look had been replaced by a look of exhaustion. "Potter." She acknowledged.

They started to walk silently down the halls together, continuing the rounds together. Lily couldn't bear the silence and finally spoke. "I thought you needed to help Remus tonight."

"Ahh," James said, as they rounded a corner, "Sirius and Pete are helping him with his furry little problem tonight."

"Furry little problem?" Lily questioned. It wasn't the first time she'd heard James refer to Remus having a furry problem.

"Furry little problem." James repeated back at her, smiling tiredly.

"What is this 'little problem'?" Lily asked.

"Hmmm…Well, that's something you'll have to ask Remus."

They continued patrolling.

"How did you know I was in trouble?" Lily finally asked.

James gave her a wide smile, "That would be telling."

The answer infuriated Lily. James never answered her questions fully. And it never ceased to bother her that somehow he got away with more, knew more, studied less and got better grades. He was always appearing at the most opportune—MacNair—and inopportune—when a boy would be about to ask her out—moments. His omnipotence was just too much to handle. Her previous relief at his appearance disappeared and she rounded on him in her frustration, and hissed, "You are so irritating. I didn't need your help with MacNair."

"I know you didn't." James smiled, as he poked his head into an empty classroom to confirm that it was, indeed, empty.

His smile clearly said he thought she did need him. "Sod off, James."

James' smile disappeared as he closed the door with a bang, "Sod off yourself, Lily."

"Excuse me?" Lily retorted, putting her hands on her hips.

James closed his eyes for a moment, and shook his head, seeming to have a conversation with himself. "I'm not doing this with you. Not tonight," He muttered. When he opened them, the steely look was back, "This patrol is over. Good night Evans." He walked rapidly down the hall.

Lily's jaw dropped in shock. James Potter never retreated from an argument with Lily Evans. And an argument he would clearly win. However, after nine or ten steps, Lily's shock vanished. Her voice regained, she called out, "I don't need you Potter. I can take care of myself."

James stopped abruptly and he whipped around to face her. "Can you Evans? Can you take care of yourself?" He growled.

Lily was surprised at his response, but even more so at his expression of anger. "Yes, I can…"

James interrupted her, "Then stop me." Without warning, James waved his wand and sent a spell towards her. She barely had time to get a weak shield spell up when it hit. It hit with a low gong and her shield visibly weakened.

James walked towards her, throwing spell after spell at her. Purple, yellow, blue… She was holding up her shield with everything she had. When he was mere feet away, he threw one last hex—orange—and her shield spell broke. Before she had time to put another shield up, James had his wand at her temple, much as he had with MacNair.

Lily's eyes were wide with fear. She was more afraid than she had been with MacNair—this was James. In the six years she'd known James, she had never seen him behave like this. He was frightening.

James, on the other hand, was angry and breathing heavily. Without lowering his wand, he whispered furiously, "Can you Lily? Can you take care of yourself?" He lowered his wand from her temple and backed away. He took a few calming breaths and ran his hand through his hair. When he spoke, he spoke more calmly, "We're at war, Lily. And if it's in my power to help the people I love when they're in trouble, then I'm going to help them, to hell with how they feel about it."

He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a scrap of parchment. He transfigured it into a red Gerber daisy and handed it to Lily. He gazed silently at her for a moment before he turned around and stalked off, his robes flying out behind him in his speed.

Everything that had happened was too much for Lily to take in at once. In a round about way, James said he loved her, or at the very least, that he cared about her….still. She'd not said 'thank you' for his help with MacNair when he definitely deserved a thank you. She had been upset with his half-answers—she had felt like they were becoming friends, and yet he kept answering her with riddles. She wanted to blame James, but she knew she had no one to blame but herself. He had appeared the moment she needed help, and she had lashed out at him in frustration. To keep herself from bursting into tears, she tried to focus on what had just happened: she had been thoroughly beaten in an impromptu wizard's duel. She leaned against the wall, looking at the daisy and said to herself, "I could always charm the knights…"

She could faintly hear James' chuckle from down the stairs, "You've certainly charmed me."

There was no amusement in his voice.