To Tim, you deserve it. And Happy Birthday.

Chapter One: The Test

I have much influence in Ministry Tests.

I know it is wrong, but I used my influence in the Ministry tests that year. I simply asked them to include a single question.

I mostly asked it to teach four students something. So I stood, unseen, in the Examination Room, watching and waiting for their reactions.

They did not disappoint.

Sirius Black stretched lazily, pushing his bangs out of his eyes. He turned to his paper, his eyes skipping past previous answers, actually reviewing for… two seconds. Thereabout.

He was preparing to use a bit of his brainpower for this one, he mused, because it was the last question. The last question was worth a hundred points or something like that. He had heard Moony talking about it with Evans last week.

His eyes flitted over the page and he almost gagged.

What is love?

What kind of idiotic question was this? He thought incredulously. But he realized, sobering, that is wasn't a bad question. It might actually have some use, in life, to know what love was.

The only problem was that he really didn't have a clue.

Remus Lupin saw the question and chuckled. This had Dumbledore written all over it. It was a fitting parting gift from the Headmaster, a way to make the students think long and hard about one of the only things that would help them win this war. Very clever, really.

He took his quill and began to write.

Stupid question worth a stupid one hundred points, she cursed.

Lily Evans glared at the exam paper. She had prepared loads for this question, thinking about it over and over again. There were entire sections of books that talked about this question, speculating and calculating, and Lily herself had thought and decided on which topics would be the most likely be used, studying diligently. None of her thoughts or preparations could have trained her for this.

What is love?

Three words and ten letters. Three words and ten letters were to be her obliteration. But despite her brutal anger, she sighed and found herself returned into a halcyon state. It wasn't a bad question. It was actually an excellent question. It was a practical, well-thought out question that had a very important use in real life. Either that or the whim of some moron who had decided to torture the Seventh Years.

So she wasn't truly thinking when she wrote. She just wrote and wrote, letting her feelings pour out onto the paper.

It wasn't until she passed it that she realized that her essay was all about James.

James Potter stared at it.

He blinked. Once. Twice. Thrice.

No, that was really the question.

He glanced at Remus, whose mouth was twisted into a slight smile, and Sirius whose brows were furrowed and he knew they had seen it too. He turned to look a bit at Lily, who was muttering unintelligible words under her breath. Just that image of her with her red hair twisted into a knot at the back of her neck to stay away from her face and that frown made his heart skip a beat.

He glanced back down at the question.

What is love?

It was so spot on it wasn't even funny. God, he was so whipped it wasn't even a joke anymore.

But he sighed and ran a hand through his hair, irritated. He'd better start writing and think about Lily Evans later. Heaven knew he'd thought about her enough the past three years.

A bodiless voice announced throughout the hall that the Exam was over. Papers magically flew from their desks, into the waiting hands of proctors who looked bored, and sitting side by side, four students sat, feeling winded.

And as papers flew, they all thought the same thing.

I cannot believe I wrote that.

What was going on here? Was the cosmos conniving against her to make her talk about that… that contumacious contender, that Potter? And what was with all these Cs?

She groaned. This was getting ridiculous. She really hated it when someone hampered her usually halcyon view of the world by being filled with hauteur. Especially when the said someone wasn't even filled with hauteur anymore. That ass. And now it was H. What was with her and the alphabet and Potter today?

"Miss Evans," a voice called.

She turned around to find the Headmaster looking at her kindly.

She smiled. The sight of the bespectacled blue eyed man with the slightly wrinkled face always cheered her up a little. There was something so safe about the man. "Hello, Headmaster."

"I was wondering if you could accompany me somewhere?"

The Marauders, she thought flatly. That's where he was taking her. Three of the four were present.

"Hello, Headmaster," Remus said, his pale brown hair flopping into his face. He smiled.

Sirius' hands were tucked into his pocket and a corner of his mouth twitched upwards as he drawled, "What's up, Albus?"

It was James who looked a bit down, Lily mused. His hair was all mussed up – more so than usual - and his eyes were looking rather crazed, jumping around between the four of them like he couldn't handle it right now. "Hey, Dumbledore." But of course she was only imagining things. What reason would James Potter have to be depressed? The bloke had everything anyone could ever want: good looks, good humor, charm, dozens of fan girls, money, influence, intelligence. He was even compassionate. Now that she really thought about it, James Potter was actually quite the catch.

"Hello." His eyes twinkled merrily. "I was wondering how you found the exam?"

They all chorused something along the lines of Fine.

"And the last question?"

"Interesting," Remus replied, eying the Headmaster speculatively.

Sirius coughed. "It was alright, I guess."

"Fine," James said flatly and Lily stared, because James Potter just didn't do angst. He just… didn't. It felt wrong somehow.

But then she realized Dumbledore was still talking and the three boys were looking rather squeamish. "…I will enjoy checking your papers very much."


Lily looked around vaguely, wondering who on earth made such loud screeching noises when she realized --- oh. It was her.

The four stared at her and she felt herself heat up. "You're… you're going to be checking our papers, sir?"

"Yes," Dumbledore replied, smiling slightly. "I will. Do you have an interesting essay, Miss Evans?"

She was choking on words and all she could think was fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck and there was a shit in there somewhere, but it was mostly just fuck. This was… bad. Very, very bad.

Then Dumbledore had left and the three boys were staring at her warily.

"Fuck," she whispered and Remus started.

"Merlin, Lily, what did you write?"

But this time she ignored Remus and flew towards Alice. Alice, who, surely, would have something to say to comfort her, some soothing words or something, or anything, really except this fact that Dumbledore was going to read an essay of hers on love which was stamped James Potter, over and over and over again.

"ALICE! I need you!"

"You think she'll be okay?" James asked, still sane enough to worry about Lily, even if she was causing all this... this crap.

"Evans'll be fine, Prongs," Sirius said, clapping him on the back. "Don't turn into overprotective mother bear on me."

But Remus saw through it all and saw that James was tired. He would have said the words, but Sirius beat him to it. Sirius, it seemed, saw just as well as he did.

"James. She'll come around."

It almost made James smile, the expression on Sirius' face. Like he really didn't know, but really, really hoped.

"I hope so, Pad. I really do."

And in another corridor, there was a blue eyed man in spectacles who held four papers. "You'd be surprised, Mr. Potter. Very, very surprised, indeed."