Make or Break

"Oh – no – stop it – don't fall!" shriek-whispered Lily. The book tottered and slipped from the desk, landing with an almighty crash onto the metal waste basket beside the desk.

Lily swore loudly and froze; holding her breath, she listened for any sound or even hint of movement around her. A moment passed and, as she could hear no footsteps or angered voices, she sighed with relief, tiptoed closer to the desk and resumed her search of James' bedroom.

She had no idea what she was even looking for: a clue, perhaps; some sort of explanation as to why he had flown so completely and totally off the handle at her the other morning… or maybe, just maybe, something that would let her know just how he felt about her…

She sighed again. This being in love thing really sucked. Flicking glumly through the stack of papers, books and half-empty bottles of ink on James' desk, she thought despairingly of their last conversation one more and cringed. Definitely not her finest moment. James hadn't spoken to her, not one word, since that morning – now almost a week ago. And so, early that Sunday morning, a very desperate Lily Evans had resorted to the one idea she had remaining: to spy on him.

Unfortunately, though, James' desk was as blank as his expression, when it came to Lily being able to deduce anything from it. There was nothing here, save a few Potions texts, some scrap pieces of parchment dotted with the odd rune translation and a half-molted quill. Lily glared around the room frustratedly, as though expecting the answers to her questions to reveal themselves from behind the curtains. What was she doing here, anyway? It was ridiculous to expect to find anything; and besides, hadn't James himself told her plainly enough he wanted nothing to do with her? She hated him, could hardly stand the sight of him, and yet she wanted nothing more than to snog him senseless before taking them both hostage in either of their rooms for at least a couple of days. Her gazed returned to his bed, this time filled with longing. She shook herself and attempted to resume her search once more, but it was hopeless: there was nothing here, not under the bed, in his bedside table drawers, not even between the mattresses.

Then, as though drawn there, her eyes happened upon his closet. Its door was slightly ajar, almost like it was inviting her in… slowly, tentatively, she stepped cautiously towards the door and, taking a deep breath, pulled it open.

Jackets, shirts, pants and robes hung on its racks, as neat as her own clothes; shoes lined the racks to her left. Lily could see the suit she'd bought him for Christmas hanging at the far back. She began to hunt around – a scrap of paper with her name, maybe, or something – but she knew straight away the search would be fruitless still, even inside the closet. Resigned to her unrequited, love-struck, miserable fate, she took one last glance around the room, her hand already pushing on the door –

Wait a second. What was that? A glint from the very back of the closet, atop the last set of drawers, caught her eye. Lily's breath caught in her throat as she hastened for it. Reaching it, she felt her heart give a painful pang: it was the Cartier watch she'd bought him, the inscription glinting in the cupboard's soft as she picked it up. She hadn't even noticed he'd not been wearing it. The silvery cloth that it had been sitting upon drew her attention. It was almost like liquid to the touch, she realized, running her fingers over it; she'd thought it must have been acting simply as a perch for the watch, but now, picking it up, Lily realized it was much too large. It seemed to be some sort of cloak, although she had no idea what kind; it was too light to provide much warmth, and she highly doubted James was the type to wear such flamboyant capes to parties and the like. It really was gorgeous, though, and she watched interestedly as it rippled slightly as she lifted it. Lily swung it up and around, over her shoulders, and stepping back (almost stumbling into the shelving behind her), she looked over her shoulder in the mirror –

- and let out a scream worthy of an Oscar.

"What the f-!" she shrieked, then gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth. Once again, she froze, listening intently, but caught sight of herself again in the mirror; Lily just managed to stop herself screaming again, though it was a close call.

For, in the mirror, Lily's reflection stared back at her in the most amazing way: from her left shoulder to her waist and downwards, where she could feel (but not see) the cloak had slipped to, she was completely invisible.

Once she had calmed herself sufficiently, Lily realized exactly what had happened. James was obviously in possession of an Invisibility Cloak, an immensely powerful magic object. She herself had never seen (quite obviously) and had only very rarely even heard of these Cloaks before; Lily had thought they were simply the stuff of magical myths and legends. But now, standing here, in James Potter's closet and with half her body having disappeared before her very eyes, she could hardly deny their existence any more.

She didn't know why she was so surprised: if anyone was going to own an Invisibility Cloak, it would be James Potter, subtle troublemaker and wizarding royalty. And all those times he'd appeared from nowhere, and that time he'd disappeared during Ally's interrogation… Cautiously, she pulled the Cloak up to cover her head, and uttered a small gasp as her entire reflection vanished. Hidden beneath the Cloak, a smile spread slowly over her face. Oh, the fun she could have with this… provided James never found out, of course – this was it, this was her perfect way to find out how he felt about her! Using his secret weapon against caused her stomach to squirm a little with exhilaration and guilt; he'd forgive her, of course, once she'd figured out how to get him to talk to her long enough for her to apologise, and for him to forgive her, and to fall in love with her, and fall into bed with her for days on end…

Buoyed with her own brilliance, Lily – still cloaked and entirely indiscernible – left the closet quickly, swept past his bed and through the door to the kitchen, already halfway across the common room –

Footsteps sounded on the other side of the portrait hole, and a gruff voice spat out the password.

Lily froze; she definitely hadn't imagined that. The portrait hole swung open and her instincts took over: not used to the Cloak, she ducked behind the nearest sofa, crouching down. She could hear their footsteps approaching, and their indistinct chatter. A perilous thought occurred to her: this was James' cloak, obviously he knew it a lot better than her; could he see through it somehow, or did he have some device that allowed him to do so? Christ, she'd not thought this through. Two inhabitants swung themselves into the armchairs nearest the fire, and she recognized their voices instantly – it was Remus and Sirius.

"Where's James?" asked Remus, looking around. "I thought he was meeting us here?"

"Must be running late," said Sirius unconcernedly. "Hey, you reckon they've got any of those éclairs the house elves always give us here? I'm starving…"

"Nah, I doubt it, James said they just have basic stuff here," answered Remus. From her position on the other side of his lounge chair, she could just see his sandy-haired head tip back to peer over at the kitchen. "Lily mustn't be here, either. What's been up with her lately, anyway? She's been really quiet since the end of Christmas break."

"I dunno," she heard Sirius say. His voice was still undaunted and gruff. "James didn't say anything to you about their holidays, did he?"

"Not really," admitted Remus. "But then, he hasn't told me much about anything since… well – you know."

"Yeah." Sirius' reply was short. Lily tried to keep her breathing quiet in the hesitant silence that followed. After a minute or two, though, she heard Remus speak again:

"I guess it's just James' way, you know?" he said, scratching at the back of his neck with one hand. "He's never been all that –open – I guess…" He sounded uncomfortable, and she could hear Sirius shift in his seat.

"Yeah," said Sirius again. "It can't have been easy, getting through Christmas without his mum, for the first time. And being at Lily's like that, and the way he feels about her…"

Lily could feel her ears perk up at his words, almost like a dog; she became absolutely still, hardly daring to breath. Go on, she urged him silently, say something more…

She heard Remus laugh quietly. "I guess it would be hard, living with her and then having Christmas together… meeting her family and everything… It wouldn't really be helped by the fact that he's practically been in love with her since third year-"

Lily gasped; she couldn't help it – but at that moment the portrait hole door banged open with surprising force, disguising her sudden intake of breath and distracting the two boys. She chanced a glance over the chair and past Remus' shoulder, still covered in the Cloak, and saw James striding into the common room, his expression uncharacteristically telling and angry.

"Hey, mate," said Sirius, looking a little surprised at their friend's sudden entrance, "what took so long? Are we still heading down to the-"

"I'll meet you guys down there," James interrupted, shoving a piece of parchment roughly into his back pocket. "I just need to sort something out first."

She saw Remus and Sirius exchange a quick, confused glance, but neither of them voiced their bemusement at James' tone. "Alright, Prongs," agreed Sirius, "we'll meet you in the Entrance Hall in five."

James nodded, not looking at either of them, but glaring at the fire place instead. Lily watched the others leave quickly, and she had hardly heard the door click shut again when James strode forward and, in one fluid motion, had ripped the Cloak from her static figure.

His snarling face didn't register with her shocked brain. "How – how did you…" she stammered, eyes wide, "can you see through the Cloak?"

"Don't be stupid," he snarled. "Of course I can't, no one can. The naked eye can't see through Invisibility Cloaks. Especially not this Cloak."

"Why? What do you mean, not this one?" She asked, confused. "Is there some sort of, like, level of quality or power or something with Invisibility Cloaks?"

He merely shook his, looking disbelieving but angrier still at her. "What the hell are you doing, Lily?"

Excuses flooded her brain, each more pathetic than the last. Realizing he would accept nothing but the truth, she took a deep breath and raised her eyes to meet his. "I just – I wanted… James, I have to know," she said earnestly, "do you – how do you feel – about… about me?"

His eyes narrowed at her with distrust, and she rushed on.

"Because – well – the truth is… I love you," she told him. Lily's breath caught in her throat: excitement, fear, nausea, anticipation and terror swirled in her stomach and her brain. She could hardly remember to breathe as he said nothing, clearly hesitating to answer her declaration. Then –

"No," she heard him say, his voice quiet. He wasn't looking at her, but at the Cloak.

"'No?'" she repeated, heart in her throat. "What do you mean, no? I tell you I'm in love with you, James, and all you can say-"

Her words died as he turned to look at her, his eyes blacker and his face wearier than she'd ever seen him before. "No," he said again. His voice was louder this time, and unyielding. "You don't love me, Lily. It's just like Travis all over again, isn't it? You only want me because you know you can't have me."

"I don't know that," she said immediately, her tone defiant. "I never really loved Travis, you're right, you know I didn't," she went on; too late, she realized this confession was hardly helping and the muscles in his jaw clenched. "But this isn't the same! I love you, I do, only I was too stupid – and too proud – to realize it… and then at Christmas, I thought you felt…" But he was barely listening to her, continuing to shake his head, and she grew further frustrated and her protests even more garbled. Why wasn't he listening to her, understanding her, reciprocating her assertions? She had to make him understand. "James, listen to me! I love you, I really do-"

"No you don't!" he burst out. The look in his eyes sent an involuntary chill down her spine as he glared at her, her lungs so squeezed with emotion she could barely breathe. "You think you can just decide that this is how you suddenly feel and that now everything will be lovely and perfect and okay? It doesn't work like that, Lily! Not when up until five seconds ago you were eternally pledging yourself to Travis-"

"No, no, don't you see? I never really loved Travis, I never said anything when he was talking like that at Christmas, but I only realized it when you told me how stupid I was being – you were right, you were always right, Travis and I are complete opposites – not like you and I! James… I…" She was feeling desperate now; the angry and sceptical look on his face only worsened as she rambled on. "You… James… you were the only one who ever saw me for who I really am-"

He snorted. "In your case, Lily, that's not a good thing."

His words drove an icy spike into her heart; tears spilled over onto her reddened cheeks, but she blinked them away furiously.

"James – please-"

But he was shaking his head, not even looking at her, already walking away. In her desperate and heartbroken state, all rationality, all thoughts of pride and self-respect had fled; she went after his retreating figure, her blurred vision causing her to knock into couches and shelves – blows she hardly felt.

"James!" she tried one last time, and to her immense astonishment, he turned to face her once more, his eyes vacant and his hand already on the portrait-hole door.

His dark features seem to swim before her, and her desperation reached its peak. "Do – do Scarlett and Rhett..." Her frantic mind was grasping at straws, her voice almost breathless with pleading. "Do they get a happy ending?"

Her words were childish, infantile, and their immaturity caused a flicker of indisputable resentment to pass over his face. He looked down at her derisively, his voice cold and cutting.

"No," he said frankly. "They don't."

And he walked away.

"Lily, seriously, what's wrong? You've been jumpy all morning, you hardly touched your breakfast, and you haven't talked about anything other than school stuff since classes began again." Ally frowned at her over the library desk. "So, unless you've switched bodies with Hestia Jones, something is not adding up."

Lily felt herself hesitate and sigh. Telling Ally would mean a week of guilt-trips and the silent treatment, but really, wasn't that what James had already put her through? She chewed her lip, still unsure, but suddenly the urge to spill the secrets of her heavy heart overwhelmed her; before she knew it, she was telling her best friend everything, her words rushing out and tripping over each other in their haste to be heard.

Ally's expression, at first shocked, grew slowly darker as Lily detailed the drunken escapades as Varco's, their strange intimacy after Mrs. Potter's death and – with cheeks reddening in shame – the morning Ally had caught them out. Her friend, of course, looked simply mutinous at this, and Lily rushed on, eager to move away from that particular misadventure. She detailed their Christmas: how Travis had accosted her in the wine cellar, her growing relationship and ease with James, the fight with Petunia and that horrible, horrifying moment down by the Quidditch pitch. Then, with a heart so heavy she could barely get the words out, she told Ally in a whisper about their last conversation.

"I guess I'm just not very good at telling people I love them," she sighed glumly, in finish. "Or, at least, I never seem to garner the desired reaction."

Silence fell between them, awkward and deafening. Slowly, Lily raised her eyes to meet Ally's angry face, blanching with shame as she saw the rage settled there.

"Right," said Ally furiously. "I'm going to help you any way I can, because Merlin knows it'll be beneficial to both our mental healths if James just stops being a ponce and realizes he loves you. But when this is over, I'm not speaking to you for a week."

This was better than Lily could've hoped for, and certainly better than she had any right to expect. "Oh, Ally," she practically fawned, "thank you, thank you, so much! I've just been so distraught all week – ever since he – oh, but I don't know what I can do, I was so sure he loved me too, but he just – he just-" She was in tears already, and Ally looked startled; Lily was not a crier, but right now, she was practically in hysterics.

"Lily – don't – Madam Pince-" she tried, but Lily was sobbing too hard to take any notice.

"-and Remus and Sirius, I know they said he loved me, but you should have – have seen the way he – he – he looked at me, Ally! Like I was… Marjorie Johnson, or something, and then he just walked away, and he hasn't spoken to me all week and he thinks I'm a horrible person and now he hates me-"

"He doesn't hate you," said Ally soothingly, rubbing her back as Lily flung herself dejectedly across the desk, her head in her arms, "but please, Lily, I mean it, Madam Pince is going to-"

"-and then-" sob "-he said-" sob "-Rhett and Scarlett-" sob "-don't even live happily ever after!"

"Who are Rhett and Scarlett?" asked Ally, bewildered, but Lily only continued to cry, engendering more than a few inquisitive glances, and after another few minutes of this wallowing, Ally's resolve broke.

"Oh, pull yourself together," she snapped, and Lily looked up in surprise so quickly that a piece of parchment stuck to her forehead. Ally frowned at Lily's widened red eyes. "Do you honestly think this is helping? Yes, it hurts that James rejected you, and yes, it seems like he'll never speak to you again-" Lily let out another wail "-but going to pieces like this isn't going to get him back! Think, Lily! What can you do to show him that not only do you really love him, but make him realize that he loves you too?"

Lily could only look at her friend, astonished, for a few seconds, before Ally's words sunk in and she began to truly think about this. What could she do? Ordinarily, she'd strut around in her cutest little outfits, and send herself candy and flowers whilst flirting like there was no tomorrow, but James would see through any of these ideas in two seconds flat. She slumped, defeated, in her uncomfortable wooden library seat. "I've got nothing," she confessed, planting her head in her hand with a sigh.

Ally, next to her, sighed too. "Yeah," she agreed dejectedly, "me either."

The next few weeks passed slowly, and for all the world, as per usual. Homework stacked up; patrols were undertaken; and James spoke not a single word in Lily's direction.

Lily and James' silent rift went unnoticed amongst their friends, apart from Ally, who – after Lily's hysterical explanation of the state of affairs (literally) – flicked anxious glances between the two of them whenever she saw Lily and James together. Lily, however, was usually too busy struggling to breathe in these situations to notice. Sirius, Remus and Frank (Lily had made Ally swear not to tell her boyfriend) seemed to be oblivious, thank God. But she could no longer come within ten feet of James, not without feeling the tears spring to her eyes or her heart break once more.

This was, of course, not helped by the fact that they lived together.

Lily had seriously considered moving back to Gryffindor tower – anything to escape him. Because now there was no escape: they lived, studied, ate and worked together. But the very idea of the probing questions likely to be thrown at her by Dumbledore and the rest of the girls in her old dorm was too much to bear, and grudgingly, she realized that – until graduation – she was stuck there.

The corridors were draughty with the late January wind. Lily pulled her robes tighter around her and quickened her stride, hurrying towards the library where she knew warmth awaited. She turned left at the corridor end, head down against the wind, until a loud bang! sounded, and she raised her head in shock.

"What's going on?" she began, but her words were drowned out with a shout from the other end of the corridor.

"Get away from me, vermin!" spat a dark-haired girl. Lily instantly recognized Marjorie Johnson's face, contorted with rage, as she screamed at a boy in Slytherin robes. The Hufflepuff Prefect was flanked, as usual, by Bebe and Leslie, both of them looking on with sickening amusement. With a nasty laugh, she cried "Diffindo!" and the boy's shoulder bag split open, scattering quills, books and parchment everywhere, which were quickly drenched by exploding ink bottles.

Lily strode forward, fury writhing within her, towards the scene. As she came within ten feet, Marjorie opened her mouth to speak again.

"Death Eater wannabe," she spat at him, a feral look on her face.

Lily found her voice again. "Hey!" she yelled, stepping in between Marjorie and the boy. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Marjorie, though she looked shocked at Lily's sudden appearance, recovered and rolled her eyes impatiently. "Get lost, Evans," she said, glaring at her. "We're not doing anything-"

"Detention, Marjorie, and fifty points from your house," Lily declared furiously. If there was one thing she would not tolerate, it was such gratuitous cruelty. She folded her arms over her chest resolutely. "And twenty each for your mini-me's."

Marjorie and her doppelgangers looked at her in outrage and horror. "You can't do that!" she exploded, shocked.

"Watch me," she said coolly, though her eyes burned. "And once Professor Sprout hears about this, I'm sure she'll be backing me up. Honestly, Marjorie, how did you ever become a Hufflepuff? Did you slip the Sorting Hat Firewhisky, or something?"

Marjorie's hand, still clenched around her short hawthorn wand, sprang up, but Lily disarmed her calmly before the other girl's wand was even trained on her. Lily laughed softly but bitterly.

"How brave," she said quietly, "to take on another younger, wandless student, when it's three to one? Seems like you've been taking tips from Voldemort-"

Marjorie looked outraged at the insinuation. "I'm not the one who's groveling to the Death Eaters! It's all those conniving Slytherins-"

"You think you're any better, Marjorie, because you do the exact opposite? Picking on a student just because they're from a house you distrust?" Lily's lip was curled in disgust. "A person's background doesn't make them who they are; it's their choices that do that… and it looks like you've made some pretty bad ones." Her eyes ranged over Bebe and Leslie's disgruntled faces, Marjorie's furious expression and the clutter around them. She looked back to the other Prefect and sneered disgustedly. "Get out of my sight."

Marjorie sent one last rage-filled glare in Lily's direction before sloping off towards the nearest staircase, friends in tow. Lily followed their path with her eyes until she could no longer see them, then turned for the first time back to the Slytherin boy standing behind her.

He was watery-eyed and short – she'd thought he was much younger, from a distance – but she recognized him as the sixth year Slytherin Prefect. He looked tentatively at her as though expecting retribution, before relief flickered visibly over his reddened expression as she smiled kindly, and genuinely, at him.

"Are you okay?"

"I – I'm fine," he stammered, still looking a little shocked and shamefaced. "I guess I'm just a little embarrassed."

She smiled bracingly. "It's not your fault. Marjorie's just a nasty cow who thinks she knows everything. Although, I guess I never thought she'd be that deliberately cruel to another student," she mused, frowning a little.

"It's not just her," said Peter suddenly; he looked as though he had been bottling up his emotions on the subject for some time, and was now spilling them as full to bursting. "Everyone's taking sides, and in Slytherin, a lot of people are starting to openly attest their support for Lord Voldemort and his stance-"

She stared at him, shocked by his admission; how could anyone – regardless of their thoughts on pure-bloods or muggle-borns – stand for the unabashed cruelty that went hand-in-hand with the Dark Wizard's regime? "You mean there's actually, really a pro-Voldemort group at Hog-?" she began, but he was wound up and not listening.

"-and the rest of the school is no better; if you're a Slytherin right now, you're either a traitor or a liar." His round face looked frustrated and wan as he frowned. "I just…" He sighed. "I don't know what to do anymore."

Lily felt her emotions tug a little. "That really sucks," she conceded her expression saddened and sympathetic. "I guess since you're – uh… you're…"

"It's Peter," he told her, face shining up at her own earnestly. "Peter P-"

"Pettigrew," finished Lily, smiling lightly. "I remember. I was just trying to remember what class you're supposed to be in. Potions, right?" A week of shuffling the sixth-year class schedules around in order to fit in Apparition lessons had emblazoned their timetables in her mind.

He nodded and hesitated before his face broke into a tight, watery smile; it was the first time she could remember ever seeing such an expression on his face. "Thanks," he said finally, and shyly so. "That was really nice of you."

Lily shrugged a little, still smiling friendly at him. "I always thought all this house rivalry stuff was rubbish, myself. I mean, it's just like all that blood status drivel, isn't it?"

She was surprised to hear his affirmative reply. "Absolutely!" he agreed, enthusiastically. "I mean, every person here has at least some magical power, and if Victor Crabbe is anything to go by, blood status is certainly no indicator of talent. Or the ability to read."

Lily giggled. "Marjorie's in the same mould," she assured him. Her glance flickered around them, taking in the debris of his bag's contents, which were strewn around the corridor. "You know," she said thoughtfully, "we may not technically be allowed to use magic in the corridors-" bloody James had won that one "-but if no one ever finds out, who says it even happened?" She winked at him and swept her wand over the area, watching jubilantly as the scattered items flew into his newly restored bag. She turned back to him, smiling lightly with success, and he returned the grin quickly as he stowed the bag over his rounded shoulder.

"Thanks," he said. "I guess there are some perks to being Head Girl, then-"

Footsteps sounded nearby, silencing him. James stood near the south-facing window, leaning effortlessly against a pillar. "If there are, Evans will find them," James agreed. He smirked and stood straight, walking over to where Lily and Peter stood. Lily stiffened and didn't look at him. Apparently they were back on last-name terms now. Excellent.

"Well – I was just – I mean, my bag broke, and Lily was just helping me fix-" squeaked Peter, and even in her agitated state (being this close to the man she declared her evidently-unrequited love for was making her physically ill) she appreciated the swiftness with which Peter had jumped to her defence. She smiled quietly at him, still not looking at James, and Peter's face reddened a little.

"Relax, Pettigrew," said James, amusement in evident in his voice – God, how she longed to slap him right now – and he waved his hand lazily. "No one's in any trouble. Isn't that right, Evans?"

She ignored him entirely, only stiffening a little more. Lily placed a hand on Peter's shoulder. "Come on, Peter, I better get you down to Potions," she told him. "Professor Slughorn will be wondering where you've gone." She turned her back on James, guiding Peter to do the same, and together they left him in the corridor, standing alone.

After they'd turned right to the hall from which she'd come, Peter looked at her with eyebrows raised; thankfully, though, he did not comment on the strained interactions they'd just left behind, for which Lily was immensely grateful.

"So, you think you'll be able to stop Professor Slughorn from giving me detention?" he asked, obviously keen to break the tense silence.

Lily broke into a reluctant smile. "I might be able to swing it," she told him drily, with a sly smile. He grinned. "How many kids are in your class anyway? It's NEWT level, right?"

Peter nodded. "Four Slytherins, including me, a couple Ravenclaws, and one each from Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. I guess being cunning evidently makes for a better Potions maker."

Lily laughed at this. "It does seem to be a rather snake-dominated subject," she agreed, as they passed the doors to the Great Hall.

"You're good at Potions, though, aren't you?" he asked as he readjusted the heavy book bag on his shoulder. "Professor Slughorn's always going about your work in class."

"Really, I had no idea." She rolled her eyes but couldn't help smiling. "You know," she went on suddenly; she'd never told anyone this – not even Ally – but it felt like she could trust Peter, and more importantly, that he wouldn't judge. "The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin, at first."

His watery eyes widened with surprise. "It did?"

"Yeah." Lily was surprised too, but more because she had never imagined she would tell anyone this – certainly not Remus and Sirius, who were too wrapped up in their interhouse Quidditch rivalry to entertain the thought of ever being friends with a Slytherin, and not Ally, who had hated the lot of them since first year, when Lucius Malfoy had levitated her into the lake for fun. "But I told it I didn't like snakes, and that I thought lions were prettier." She grinned at the memory, and Peter laughed too. "But," she went on, as they arrived at the dungeon door, "if you wouldn't mind – I haven't really ever-"

"I won't tell anyone," he assured her, smiling kindly as he knocked on the door. It swung open and Lily immediately heard the booming sound of Slughorn's voice across the classroom.

"Pattison! What time do you call this?" Peter blanched visibly and Lily, hiding a smirk, stepped around to the doorframe as Peter shuffled through. Slughorn's expression and tone changed instantly as he recognized her.

"Oho! Lily!" he cried delightedly, and every other head in the dungeon turned to look at her.

She smiled placidly. "Sorry, Professor," she said. "I was just brining Peter here back to class. You don't mind, do you, Professor Slughorn?"

He smiled benignly, first at her and then Peter, who looked shocked at this change in treatment. "Of course not!" boomed their whale-like teacher, "although – may I ask why-?"

"Oh," said Lily somberly, and she very theatrically raised her eyebrows at Slughorn, making sure her voice carried across the class. "I was on my way to the library when I came across Peter, who was single-handedly fighting off a cruel and senseless attack by no less than three older students!" She paused impressively for effect, watching as the other students gaped at Peter in disbelief and awe. "Well, he was doing just fine on his own, of course, but – as Head Girl – I couldn't let it go on, so I stopped the attack and punished the other students involved. There's no doubt, though, that Peter would have been fine without my assistance, Professor Slughorn, so there's no need to worry."

Slughorn, like the rest of the class, was goggling unattractively at Peter, who stood frozen beside her, his face bright red. Lily grinned and nudged him. Peter swallowed with some difficulty, then managed to squeak, "yeah, that's – that's right," before lapsing into self-conscious silence again.

Slughorn simply continued to look at Peter as though he'd never seen him before. Lily cleared her throat loudly, indicating for Peter to take his seat, which he did, gratefully. "Well then," said Lily brightly, and the professor finally turned back to look at her, "I trust you'll be able to find a fitting reward for Peter's actions, then, Professor?"

He nodded fervently, his walrus moustache bouncing everywhere. "Yes, yes, fifty points to Slytherin!" he proclaimed, and Lily grinned as Peter looked more astonished than ever. "Yes, Pritchard, you've certainly proved yourself worthy of our noble house today! Not unlike Lily here," he went on, with a chuckle. "Lily, my dear, if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times – with your guile and determination, you'd have made a remarkable Slytherin!"

Across the classroom, Peter looked at with surprise, and Lily dropped him a tiny wink and a smirk.

"Sorry, Professor," she told Slughorn with a rueful smile, halfway out the door, "I guess I just like lions better."

January passed: the snow around the castle melted, Quidditch went ahead full swing, Prefect meetings were called and attended. Voldemort and the Death Eaters' attacks flared up once more; she saw James' father's face emblazoned across the front page of the Prophet alongside Bartemius Crouch, fighting for the Auror's use of Unforgivables in life-threatening instances. She and James 

continued to ignore each other, seamlessly controlling different parts of Prefect meetings and patrol rosters without ever actually consulting with one another.

And so life dragged on.

Lily's usual effervescence became noticeably subdued: she rarely spoke up in classes, didn't flirt with the boys around her, and her laughter was few and far between. Slughorn commented more than once on her lack of cheeky responses and chattering voice in the dungeons, and even McGonagall had thrown inquisitive looks at her. Lily ignored them all, concentrating on her school work: her grades had never been better, but Lily had never felt more like grabbing her RocketRacer and just getting the hell out of there.

But worst of all, the staring was now more obvious than ever: she could not pass him in the corridor, or sit near him in classes or at the Gryffindor table (something she avoided regardless) without her eyes being drawn to him, seemingly of their accord. She was like a moth to a flame. Ally had thankfully agreed to play arbiter, helpfully nudging Lily (or shoving, or propelling her through the nearest open door if she was really gawking) whenever she sidled into this daydream-like reverie. But Ally was not always there to help her, as at lunch that day. It certainly did not help matters that Lily had seen him naked more times than she could count, as this only spurred her already vivid imagination…

"Lily?" A voice startled her out of her musings; she jumped and blushed furiously as she was drawn back to earth abruptly, hoping to God no one was practicing Legilimancy on her at that point in time. Peter Pettigrew stood before her, smiling tentatively. "Hey, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she said automatically, then remembered herself and smiled. "And you?"

"Dying under the weight of my homework, but otherwise, fine," he said, seeming quite cheerful.

"Yeah, right," she said, rolling her eyes playfully, "wait till you get to seventh year. You won't know what hit you."

A few faces had turned their way, some curious, other suspicious, and still others downright unpleasant. It was almost like a pack of dogs, their hackles raised as they looked at Peter. His expression became uncomfortable, but Lily ignored them entirely.

"Do you want to sit down?" she asked, clearing some space on the paper strewn table top for him. "I've just finished my Arithmancy essay."

He glanced around at the heads angled their way. "I'd – I'd better not," said Peter awkwardly. "I'm not sure I'd be so welcome on this side of the hall-"

"I don't care," she said stubbornly, letting her voice carry around her, though she addressed only him. "I told you, all this house rivalry crap is nonsense."

He smiled ruefully. "Maybe it is," he said sadly, looking around them, "but I still don't have a lion's courage, Lily." With one last sad smile, he left, walking rather dejectedly through the tall doors of the Hall. She turned back to the table, glaring frustratedly at the angry faces still angled her way.

"Bloody sorting hat," she mumbled to herself, stabbing viciously at her textbook. She raised her eyes to check the time on the clock above the Great Hall's doors; they were still looking. "What?" she snapped defensively, glaring around at them again. One face amongst the others stood out clearly; James looked at her, his face unreadable, but before she could even catch her breath, he was looking back at Sirius and Remus. Maybe he hadn't even looked at her; maybe this whole love-struck teenager disaster had sent her insane… she shook herself. Enough was enough. She gathered her books clumsily in her arms, sweeping out of the hall and away from prying eyes. It was only six floors up to her dormitory, into her trunk to grab her broomstick and out the window…

A slight but noticeable cheer, however, had begun to grow within the castle walls, despite the permanently grisly tidings of the Daily Prophet. A palpable excitement seemed to rage through the hordes of teenage girls – and, to a lesser extent, the boys also – as February, and Valentine's Day (a Friday, coupled with a trip to Hogsmeade the next day), approached.

The thought made Lily want to wretch. Only last week she'd watched, unable to tear her eyes away, as a giggling, blonde Hufflepuff fifth year (her name was Hallie, or something infernally stupid like that) flirted her way through breakfast with James. Only a steely resolve – and Ally's wand pointed permanently and firmly at her below the table – had kept Lily from cursing the girl's blonde locks into king cobras right then and there. By the time the bell rang to signal the start of their first class, Lily's cheeks were burned scarlett with fury and envy; the only advantage to this being, of course, that they were given a wide berth on their way to Charms, ensuring she didn't lose her badge for hexing anyone out of her way due to her limited patience. Thank God, she thought, settling into her desk and promptly turning to the window, I don't have to put up with that every morning.

But fate seemed to playing a very cruel trick on her this year: everywhere she went, she saw him – always coupled with another girl, flipping her hair or fluttering her eyelashes or giggling at his most stupid comments or generally making Lily want to cast an Unforgivable. It was like some goddamn conspiracy, she realized viciously, after making a wrong turn on the way to Transfiguration and stumbling upon a sixth year Ravenclaw fawning over James bloody Potter. None of the girls she saw him with had red hair. Wanker.

She was, for the first time in her life, mostly oblivious to the male attention sent her way. February 10th found her stalking down a corridor on the fourth floor to get to Arithmancy, Gregory Roberts from Hufflepuff struggling to keep up with her furious stride. Though she had only spoken to him a few times before, she couldn't get past his likeness to a little puppy dog as he yapped on about something she wasn't listening to. As they turned into the side hallway nearest the Arithmancy classroom, she could see him chatting to an annoyingly pretty Slytherin girl from their year, Lindsay Price, leaning nonchalantly against the corridor wall. She scowled, interrupting Gregory's spiel about God-knows-what with venom in her voice.

"God, look at that loser," she snapped. "Thinks he's the bloody king of the world, and she is such a-"

"And so I was thinking," he had been saying, but stopped abruptly as she spoke up. "Lily – what?" he asked confusedly, then looked in the direction of her vicious glare. "Oh, yeah. I heard something about Lindsay Price asking Potter to the Valentine's Hogsmeade trip-"

"What?" she practically screeched, whirling around to look at Gregory's face and hardly caring that the entire waiting class had turned to see who had caused the disturbance. "She's what?

"Um, yeah," said Gregory, shifting uncomfortably and rubbing the back of his neck; he still looked like a confused puppy. "So, I was thinking, Lily, maybe you wanted to go to the Hogsmeade thing with me-"

"-that's just ridiculous, as if James would go out with her, she's got a face like a Hippogriff's backside and a personality to match and she'd so not pretty at all and what the hell is she even doing, asking him out, and you don't think she's pretty, do you?" Lily bit her lip anxiously and turned to Gregory again. Realization seemed to dawn on his face.

"On second thought," he said suddenly, "maybe I'll just see you there." He walked away quickly, over to where the other Hufflepuffs stood, leaving Lily standing alone to throw more scathing glares in the Head Boy's direction. Someone approached her from behind and tapped her shoulder; still seething, she began talking before she even whirled around again.

"Ally, I can't believe this, that stupid Lindsay Price is going to ask James-" she stopped. It wasn't Ally at all. Patrick Jameson, a handsome Ravenclaw, was smiling down at her charmingly.

"Lily, glad I caught you," he said smoothly, evidently not bothered by the fury written all over her face; Patrick seemed to be all business. "Listen, do you have a date for this weekend? Because if you don't, I'd like to take you. I think we could have a really nice time." He smiled charmingly again. Lily blinked at him.

"Um… no," she said, unable to summon any compassion to consider his feelings at this stage in her emotional welfare.

Patrick's expression only brightened. "You don't have a date? Excellent," he said briskly, misinterpreting her. "How about we meet in the Entrance Hall at, say, ten thirty? That would give us plenty of time to spend together."

"No, I mean no, as in, no," she said plainly (still no compassion, then). "I'm not going."

"You don't want to go with me?" He looked stunned. Lily rolled her eyes and turned back to where the rest of the class stood, craning her neck to see where James and Lindsay stood; she heard Patrick stalk off behind her, muttering angrily to himself. Oh, well, he would just have to - was she touching his arm?

The door to the class finally opened, and she swept past the others waiting and down to one of the very back desks, throwing herself into it with a huff. Stupid Lindsay, stupid James, stupid bloody Valentine's Day –

"Lily?" came a timid voice. She looked up furiously to see a weedy Slytherin boy she thought was named David. God, where was everyone's self-preservation these days? Couldn't they see she was about to breathe fire? Did they want to suffer through a Furnunculus Curse?

"Hi," he went on, still timid. "I'm Damien, Peter Pettigrew's friend?" She didn't respond, just looked at him blankly, and he hurried on. "Well, I just wanted to know if you were going with anyone to Hogsmeade this weekend? Because I thought, maybe, we could go together? If you want? I-"

"I'm not going!" she veritably shrieked. Half the class turned to look at them: Lily's expression mutinous; Damien looking as though he wished the floor would swallow him. She could see Lindsay – sitting next to James – looking over at her curiously and amusedly, but James hadn't even flinched at the hysterical tone of her voice. She glowered further.

"Right then," Damien muttered, and sped back to his desk at the front of the class. Some idiots in the front began to titter, but she shot quick, I'm-wishing-death-on-you glares at them and they immediately shut up. Lily sighed to herself as instantly regretted her bitchiness, especially towards Damien, who deserved it least of all. What kind of Head Girl was she? A demonic one, apparently.

Ally finally came in, looking bewildered at the circle of empty desks that surrounded Lily, and the pink-faced ferocity of Lily herself. Then her shoulders sank with comprehension.

"Merlin, Lily," she sighed, dropping into the chair beside her. "Again?"

"It's been one of those days, Al," she replied drily.

Ally rolled her eyes, already digging through her bag for her textbook. "Well, at least it looks like you didn't curse anyone," she muttered, flicking to the chapter they were currently studying.

"Didn't curse anyone yet," corrected Lily, and she actually managed a wry smile at this. Ally laughed grudgingly.

"So, about this weekend-" began Ally.

"If you ask me about Hogsmeade, I will hex you," Lily warned, and her friend rolled her eyes again.

"No, I mean the Charms assignment. Do you want to work on it at yours or in the library?" Professor Flitwick had set them their toughest assignment to date: to invent up their own charm. By the grace of Merlin, though, they'd been able to pick their own partners.

"That depends," said Lily slowly. "What day were you thinking of? Because I'm pretty sure he'll be out of the dorm on Saturday-"

"Oh, that's right, James is going to Hogsmeade with Lindsay, isn't he? That'll make things – silencio!" she said hastily, just catching Lily before she screamed, right there in the classroom. "Merlin," said Ally again, watching half- stunned, half-curious, as Lily's face began to resemble a Grindylow's as she screamed silently. "It has been a bad day."

Valentine's Day dawned grey and chilly – the exact reflection of Lily's mood. She groaned and rolled out of bed, wandering into the empty common room. Morning had, however, recently become her favourite time of day: if she woke early enough, she could ensure that she would miss James by heading down to the Great Hall before he got in from his morning run. Lily yawned and slumped into a chair at the breakfast bar, her head falling into her open hand dejectedly as she stared out at the balcony windows. If the miserable, drizzling rain was anything to go by, today was going to be a truly awful day.

She made and drank a cup of tea before dragging herself back to her room, clambering into her cupboard. School clothes again; how exciting, she thought sardonically. She reached up to the very top rack to pull down a sweater –

Something very cold and very hard hit her on the crown of her head. Staggering a little, she glanced up stupidly to find the missile, before remembering herself and looking to the floor.

It was the silver and emerald hair pin James had bought her for Christmas. Her heart almost stopped at the sight of it. What on earth had it been doing up there? She'd not even seen it since they'd returned to Hogwarts – obviously an oversight on her part (it had cost several thousand pounds, she remembered guiltily). She picked it up and turned it over in her hands. It really was beautiful… it was a shame she'd not had a chance to wear it…

Today was Valentine's Day, she realized with a rush, maybe if he saw her wearing it, he'd finally recognize she really did love him… it was foolish, stupid even, but it was the only plan she had… and she was desperate enough, at this stage, to try anything…

She took a breath and pulled her hair back on one side, sliding the clip in place. Even in the dim light of the cupboard it sparkled, its emerald stones matching her own green eyes almost exactly. Lily stared at her reflection, wondering if this could work… could it possibly help, in any way…

But as he finally took his place at the Gryffindor table – hair still wet from the shower – as their eyes met for the first time in a week, his glance froze on the clip for only a second before he turned away once more. Her heart sank.

"Lily? Hello?" Ally was saying as owls fluttered down all around, clutching scrolls in pinks and reds. Her eyes followed the direction of Lily's shattered gaze and she winced with understanding. "Oh."

The rest of the day dragged on. James didn't look at her once. Lindsay sat next to him in Transfiguration and Ancient Runes. Lily's anger had disappeared, and in its place lay a terrible, devastating sadness.

All this time… she'd always believed that he would eventually realize… her heart and throat constricted painfully. Even the signal she'd tried to convey with the hair pin had been coldly rebuffed, just as he'd rebuffed her by the Quidditch pitch and after she'd hidden in the invisibility cloak. By some form of horrifically ridiculing irony, Professor Harrow chose that day to introduce them to the Patronus Charm in Defence Against the Dark Arts. Lily had known instantly she'd have no chance of producing the desired effect from the second he'd described the happy, positive memory needed to conjure one's Patronus, and sighed dejectedly as he cleared their desks to create room for practice. She scurried over to a dark corner, away from the others and especially from James, muttering pathetically in an attempt to look busy.

"Expecto Patronum," she tried glumly. "Expecto Patronum…"

She was not the only one having difficulties. Lily looked up fifteen minutes later to see that no student had progressed beyond producing a light, vapory mist. Her eyes met with James' again, and his gaze held hers once more before flickering away as suddenly as it caught her own. She sighed to herself, looking out the window. It really was terrible weather, all grey and miserable and so cold it looked as though it might snow again… she thought of Christmas Day, tobogganing with James in the beautiful, untouched powder; unwrapping presents; his face when he'd read the inscription she'd surprised him with on the watch…

The memory burst, clear as day, into her mind; seized with inspiration, she raised her wand: "Expecto Patronum!"

A doe, beautiful and innocent, burst free from the end of her wand. It raised its head to her hand as she stared, captivated by it, and nudged her hand so that she was almost patting it. She let out a breathless, disbelieving laugh; for the first time, she noted the drop in noise around her and glanced up to see the rest of the class staring at her.

"Oh, well done, Miss Evans!" cried Harrow excitedly, watching the doe as it began a slight canter around the class.

"No – way," she heard Sirius croak; confused, she looked over to where he stood with James and Remus, all of them looking on it disbelief.

"I don't believe it," Remus said in a half-whisper, awe evident in his voice. Lily frowned, bewildered.

"What?" she asked, semi-defensively.

"I-" he began, but he broke off and looked, still stunned, at James. She very unwillingly turned her eyes to him once more.

He was staring at the doe, a bizarre mix of anger, disbelief, exhilaration and downright astonishment muddling his features. Then, before she could even question his odd reaction, he turned on his heel and strode away, the door to the classroom slamming shut behind him with a deafening bang.

The sudden noise seemed to reawaken the rest of the shocked class. A gaggle of excited noises and enquiring faces broke out around her.

"Wow, Lily! Is it always a doe?"

"How long have you been able to do it?"

"Do you think it'd let me touch it, too?"

She could only stare, totally dazed and confused, at the door James had left through. Eventually she regained enough motor control to turn back to Remus and Sirius, both of whose faces still registered evident shock and amazement.

"What-?" she asked again, cutting herself off as she realized she had no idea how to finish that question.

Remus half-glanced at Sirius, who shook his head insistently; her frown of confusion deepened. She opened her mouth to speak again –

The bell rang.

"Class dismissed, then!" called Harrow. "We'll try again tomorrow – oh, Miss Evans," he said, remembering, "take thirty points for Gryffindor. Excellent work, indeed."

She nodded dazedly, gathering her books and making her way out the classroom with disinterest. Half-way out the door, she looked back, realizing she hadn't even looked for the doe on her way out, but it had long since vanished. It felt almost as though a friend had left her. Her shoulders slumped as she emerged into the corridor where Ally and Frank waited.

"That was a really cool bit of magic, Lily," commented Frank, flashing her a grin. She attempted a smile – more like a grimace, really – and Ally gave her a sympathetic look.

"Do you want to just go straight down to dinner?" her friend asked thoughtfully. "Then we could go to the library or just head back to Gryffindor tower-"

"No, it's okay," said Lily, "I'm not really hungry. I think I might just go to bed. I'm fine," she assured Ally, who continued to look worried. "Fine. Just tired."

"Well… okay then," agreed Ally, biting her lip. "If you're sure-"

"Really. You two go and enjoy your Valentine's Day," she told them. "Someone around here ought to." She smile-grimaced again, waved once, and turned, heading in the opposite direction to almost everyone else in the corridor. Maybe if she did go to sleep, she would wake up tomorrow and this would hurt just a little less…

She barely noticed the walls slipping past her as she trod the now-familiar path. Before she knew it, she was in front of Sir Cadogan, his armour suit decorated with pink and red paper hearts from the portrait of a fat little cherub, three floors down.

"Password?" he asked gruffly, inspecting her.

"Love lurgy," she muttered dejectedly, caught between rolling her eyes at the stupidity of his password and breaking into fresh sobs at the painful lump in her throat caused by the 'l' word. She settled with heaving another sigh, climbing through the portrait hole and slinging her heavy book bag to the floor near the bookcase. It was much warmer in here, and she hurried over to the fire, glancing up to look out the balcony windows – maybe it was snowing now…

A dark, tall figure blocked her view of the darkening, almost-night sky. James stood alone outside, pacing up and down along the balcony despite the bitter cold. She made no sound, but he seemed to sense her presence regardless; for the third time that day, her eyes met his.

As his gaze bore into hers, Lily felt her feet moving of their own accord. She was like a moth drawn to the flame; James would burn her, as he already had, and she knew it, but the pull she felt towards him was irresistible. Suddenly she was stepping out onto the cold balcony to meet him, shutting the door quietly behind her. His eyes had not left her face once.

Lily turned slowly. His face was half-hidden in the darkness, and there was barely a moon to speak of to illuminate the balcony. James' dark eyes seemed more foreign, more unreadable, than they had ever felt to her before.

His voice was quiet, and somewhat odd-sounding. "A doe, then?"

"Apparently so." She still had no idea why this was of such significance, but his frown deepened a little all the same.

"And the hair pin," he said, his tones deep and slow. "You wore it."

She could think of no answer to this. Lily settled for nodding silently, watching his face. She'd never been able to read him, and she never would, but she could not take her eyes from him as he stood before her. A minute passed in silence, just them, the dark sky, and the increasing cold she could no longer feel.

"Do you mean it?"

"Mean what?" she asked breathlessly. They were getting close now, she could feel it.

"Do you-" He broke off, and for the first time a note of disquiet crept into his voice. "Do you really love me?"

"Yes," she answered simply; it was, she knew, all he needed to hear. Her heart thumped wildly as he frowned again, apparently musing this. God, she could kill him for doing this to her, for unhinging her so completely. What was he thinking? He began to speak again, and so desperate to hear his answer was she that Lily almost stopped breathing.

"I thought I was so smart," he said slowly, almost as though he could barely understand his own words, "not to fall for your act like every other male in this castle." He sounded frustrated. "But even though I could see right through you-" her heart clenched painfully again "-I still couldn't help falling for you."

He turned to her, and she was shocked to see the wry smile now on his face. Had he just said what she thought he had?

"Lily, I've been an idiot," he said simply, reaching forward to grab her hand; her heart thumped like it had been electro-shocked; every hair on her body stood on end. "I was too proud, and too stupid. I was just like you." He smiled, and her breath caught in her throat. "Can you forgive me?"

She swallowed. "I think I might be able to manage it," she told him breathlessly. He smiled once more, and she actually felt her knees weaken. His arms were around her instantly.

"Good," he said, bringing a gentle hand up to the side of her face. "Because I'm in love with you, too."

And then he kissed her.

(For real this time.)