The sun was glittering brightly on the dewy gardens of Blossom Court when a scraggly barn owl swooped over the neat curl of houses, landed lightly on the kitchen sill of number three, and rapped the glass with its claw. A slim, pretty girl pushed open the window to retrieve her morning copy of the Daily Prophet and dropped a copper knut into the owl's pouch. Her wavy red hair was caught up in a low pony tail and she wore a pretty pink nightgown under a light blue bathrobe that had a willow wand poking carelessly out of the pocket. To anyone else, this would seem like a very odd event. To the girl, it was just another part of her morning routine. Her name was Lily Evans and she was a witch fresh from her sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Lily distractedly shut the window as the owl took off. She turned with her tea to read the headline on the front page and suddenly dropped her cup. Heedless of the tinkle of broken glass and milky liquid seeping across the pristine linoleum, Lily collapsed into a chair, unfolded the paper and began reading frantically.

"Don't mind the mess," her sister Petunia said sarcastically as she came into the kitchen. "It's not like I don't have all day to clean up after you."

Lily grimly looked up at the older girl. She would usually have laughed at her sister's appearance, but felt closer to tears at the moment. Dressed in a short silk robe with her platinum blonde hair caught up in curlers and green paste masking her face, Petunia had entered the kitchen on her heels to avoid marring the fresh polish on her toenails and was attempting to open the cupboard without using her fingers to avoid a similar catastrophe.

"There was another attack last night. A wizard and an entire muggle family were killed," Lily informed her, tears glistening in her bottle-green eyes. "The wizard... I knew him. He was a few years ahead of me at school... He tried to save them."

Petunia's usually sharp face pinched in concern and she carefully took a seat next to her sister and patted her hand. "I'm sorry, Lil. Was it that..." she glanced around nervously and inadvertently lowered her voice, " You-Know-Who person, again?"

Lily nodded, reaching up to brush a tear off her cheek with the back of her hand. Their mother, Rose Evans entered the room and looked around in surprise. "Petunia, what did you do to your sister?" she asked wearily, assuming the girls had had another fight.

The blonde instantly bristled, but spoke in a low voice: "I didn't do anything, mum. Lily's had some bad news. It's not my fault she's clumsy when she's upset."

"Thanks, Tuny," Lily grunted with a watery smile. Petunia explained what had happened while Rose made tea for everyone and Lily used her wand to repair the broken tea cup and clean the spilled drink. By the time her mother sat down, everything was in order once again and she felt calmer. "It was just... a surprise. I mean, I know lots of people have... been hurt, but I've never known one of them before. And after dad..."

Tension surged into the room as the three women did their best to distract themselves and pretend they weren't thinking of Alan Evans, who had died in a car accident just before Christmas. He had gone to pick up Lily from the station and lost control on the treacherous roadway. Lily had walked out of the accident with a few cuts and bruises, but her father had bled out at the scene. The loss of the bright, loving man had devastated the three women.

Their mother suddenly cleared her throat, cutting through the silence and moving to a safer subject. "Lily, I need you to help with the cleaning today. Everything needs to be ready for Tuny's big night."

Resolutely folding the paper, Lily mustered up a smile and said, "Sure, mum. I can help with cooking, too."

"Oh no. Absolutely not," Petunia interrupted sharply. "I'm not going to risk you doing something funny to the food that turns Vernon into a walrus or something."

Lily couldn't help but laugh as this was the very image Petunia's massive boyfriend normally conjured up in her mind. He was an enormous hulk of a man with beady eyes, very little neck, and a bristly mustache that she thought any walrus would be proud of. The fact that she had only met the man a handful of times did not in any way dissuade her from despising him deeply.

"Well, that wouldn't take too much magic," she teased thoughtfully.

"Mum!" Petunia cried agitatedly.

"I'm only joking," Lily laughed, feeling a bit better. She pushed herself up from the table and stretched. "I suppose I'll go get dressed, then."

Petunia cast an appraising eye over her nightgown and robe and said sarcastically, "No, Lily, you should wear that. I'm sure your date would love it."

"Ha, ha," Lily laughed humorlessly. "I haven't got a date and you know it. Besides, Vernon might be a little to scandalized if I show up in my jams for dinner." She had turned toward the door when her sister let out a shrill scream and spun to find the older girl had somehow launched herself, trembling, onto the table and was pointing frantically at the corner of the room.

"A rat!" she shrieked. Her mother immediately joined her and the pair clung to each other as the table wobbled dangerously, well out of reach of the fat, sleek rat who was sitting up and watching them curiously from his place beside the pantry.

"Oh, for goodness sake," Lily sighed, pulling out her wand and stunning the small creature, which fell backwards with a surprised squeak. Lily retrieved some plastic gloves from the cupboard under the sink before casting a disparaging glance at her squeamish relations. "You can come down, now. He's not going to hurt you."

"Kill it! Kill it! Kill it!" Petunia squealed, stamping her feet and causing the table to tremble violently. Rose quickly dropped down to the floor, pressing her hands on the table surface to steady it and the frightened girl received identical emerald glares.

"I'm not going to kill it, Tuny. It's not hurting anything," Lily announced as she crouched to lift the stunned creature in her gloved hands and moved to the door. Her mother was there to open it for her. "I'll just set him free in the alley where there'll be lots of fresh garbage for him to eat."

She missed whatever her sister thought about this plan as the door shut firmly behind her and she made her way gingerly to the alley behind their house. She wasn't wearing shoes, so she picked her way carefully across the pavement before setting the rodent down near a heaping dustbin. "There you are. A nice new home for you... if the cats don't get you. Enervate."

With another squeak, the rat bounded away and disappeared into the rubbish without a backward glance. Lily smiled and headed back to the house. Even with the help of magic, there was a lot of work to be done. For some reason, Vernon Dursley had decided to come for dinner. Though he had been dating her sister for nearly a year now, he shown little more than cursory interest in her family, and had been over only a handful of times. In keeping with her rigid personality, Petunia always became frantic whenever Vernon visited, demanding that the entire house be spotless before he darkened their door.

Lily spent the better part of the day cleaning, dusting, polishing and pruning. She was sweaty and exhausted by five when her sister called her in to get changed. Petunia tottered dangerously down the stairs on three-inch high heels, hissing at her sister to take off her shoes and not track anything on the carpet. For the evening, her painfully thin body was clad in a frilly floral dress done in lurid pinks and purples hanging low over a bony chest that had been cleverly disguised by several ropes of multicolored beads. Lily grinned as she went into her room for a change of clothes and saw that her sister had laid out a matronly dress in sea foam green for her.

"I don't think so," she laughed quietly, going to her wardrobe and pulling out a silk navy dress. Bundling up the fresh clothes, she went to take a shower, relieved that there was still hot water after her sister's extensive pampering.

She was drying her hair with her wand nearly twenty minutes later when her mother called up to her, "Lily, there's a visitor for you!"

Curiously, she flicked her wand, sending her hair springing into loose curls, and slipped on her shoes before heading for the stairs. Though Lily had friends at school, none of them had ever visited her at home and she certainly hadn't been expecting anyone. All of her childhood acquaintances had lost touch over the years, so she had no idea who could be here. She felt a thrill of alarm as she descended the stairs and caught sight of a familiar, dark head of hair.

James Potter stood in the entranceway, staring avidly at a painting on the wall and, thankfully, refraining from poking the stationary figures with his wand. He was a handsome boy with untidy black hair and rectangular glasses framing his hazel eyes. His tall, athletic figure was ridiculously clothed in dark slacks and a striped button-down shirt under a garish Christmas sweater that clashed horribly with a starry silk tie. James was one of her classmates and had served as Gryffindor's Prefect with her the last year, but he was far from a friend. He and his best mates were some of the cleverest, handsomest, most talented boys at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, they often chose to use their powers for evil rather than good and she was willing to wager he had been the worst Prefect in Hogwarts History, although there was no reliable way of determining this. For some reason, Lily often found herself opposing the boys when their well-planned pranks got out of hand. Generally, they had been getting better over the last year, but the very sight of James in her home made her stomach jump nervously.

"What are you doing here, Potter?" she hissed angrily as she stomped toward him, planting her hands on her hips and glaring up into his face. "And what are you wearing?"

Unimpressed by her daunting glare, he held a bouquet of flowers under her nose with an innocent smile. "Am I too early for the dinner party?"

"How did you-?"

"Lily, why didn't you tell us you wanted to bring a date?" Rose broke in from behind them. Instantly, Lily's cheeks blazed and she turned to correct her mother, but James jumped in, throwing his arm around her shoulders and handing the flowers to the older woman.

"Oh, you know how Lily is, Mrs. Evans," he grinned unrepentantly. "She's just full of surprises. I hope it's not an inconvenience."

To Lily's astonishment, her mother actually blushed and beamed at the charming young man. "It's no trouble at all, um...?"

"James Potter, ma'am. I'm sure your daughter has mentioned me," he announced casually.

Rose's eyes widened in surprise and she glanced at Lily, who was too busy glaring daggers at his profile to notice. She had heard quite a lot about the infamous James Potter over the years, but never imagined that her daughter would give him an invitation to their home. "She certainly has. Mind you behave yourself, James. If you explode our toilets or start taking off your clothes, it'll be out straight to the curb for you."

James seemed delighted by the older woman's brief account of his more memorable achievements. "Of course, Mrs. Evans. I'll be on my best behavior."

Lily waited until her mother had gone back to the kitchen before rounding on the tall boy, slapping his arms and chest angrily. "What the hell are you playing at, Potter? Are you spying on me now? How did you know where I lived?"

James easily caught her hands to ward off the attack and grinned down at her. "Calm down, Evans. I wouldn't call it spying..."

"Do you prefer stalking? Because that's not even close to being legal. I am warning you, James Potter, if you're not out of my house in thirty seconds I'll kick your ass just like I did first year," she spat furiously.

"Okay, first of all, you only kicked my ass first year because you were bigger than me," he reasoned lightly.

"It's not my fault you were such a scrawny little bit of... nothing who shot his mouth off every few minutes," Lily interrupted heatedly.

James smiled, unperturbed by the outburst. "And secondly, I'm bigger than you now and your mum's expecting me. Wouldn't want to go through any sticky explanations when Vernon will be here any time, would we?"

Lily's irritation only increased as she realized James's argument made sense. Her mother would be furious if she found out Lily had been rude to him for no reason, no matter how she tried to explain that his presence was reason enough. And if her mother was angry, Petunia would certainly throw a fit because Lily was spoiling her big night. There was no other alternative.

"Come with me," she grumbled, stomping upstairs. She was blissfully unaware of the young man's appreciation of the view and clinging material of her dress as she led him up to her room. Shutting the door briskly behind him, she spun and began loosening his tie.

"This is... unexpected," he said in surprise, gamely reaching for the hem of her dress and leaning forward with the clear intention of kissing her.

Jerking back angrily, she slapped his hands away from her thighs and gave him a deathly glare. Her fingers flew as she ripped off the tie and tossed it on her bed. "That's not what I was going for, Potter. You look ridiculous. Who dressed you?"

"Remus assured me I looked perfectly fine for a muggle dinner party," he replied in a hurt tone.

"Then he was having one over on you," she announced, plucking his glasses from his nose and setting them on her desk before tugging his sweater up. James went unnaturally still, obediently allowing her to draw the garment over his head and drop it on the bed beside the tie. Without his glasses he was only able to make out blurry shapes, so he was relieved when she returned them.

Taking a step back, she examined him critically, then sighed and moved forward to comb her fingers through his unruly hair. "Why do you always do your hair like this? Do you think it's cool to look like you just fell out of bed?"

James, who was feeling slightly lightheaded from the sensation of her hands in his hair, her extraordinarily close proximity, and the subtle smell of her perfume took a second to respond. "I don't do it like this. It just grows all over the place. My dad's hair is the same. It sort of runs in the family."

"Bet it drives your mum crazy," she murmured distractedly, brushing the untidy mop to the side and tilting her head to study the effect.

"Actually, she thinks it's sweet," he replied with a smile, his hazel eyes studying her face just as intently.

Lily sighed as his hair sprang stubbornly back into place and abandoned it to tuck his shirt into his pants. "Well, I guess it can't be helped. Give me your wand."

"What? No," he replied automatically as small throb of alarm pulsed in his stomach.

Catching the hand that had moved protectively to his back pocket, she glared at him seriously. "I am not about to let you go down to a dinner party with my family and my sister's brainless boyfriend with your wand. Now give it here, or get out. I don't care what my mother will say."

Reluctantly, he pulled his wand out of his pocket and handed it over, the strange vulnerability he had felt without his glasses surging up again. Deliberately, she set the wand next to her own on the desk and turned to him. "All right then. Here are the rules-"

"Rules? You do know who I am, right?" James asked with a wry grin.

"Break them and I kill you," she told him earnestly. With a falsely frightened expression and an exaggerated gulp, he nodded gravely. "Right. No magic of any kind. No references to the magical world. Vernon Dursley is the biggest muggle you will ever meet. Stick to boring subjects like the weather and he'll be happy. No arguing. Background: we attend Smith's Academy in Chiswick and I'm hoping to go to Oxford next year. You and I are-"


"Friends," she corrected acidly. "You had better behave yourself, Potter, or I promise you will live only a very short while to regret it."

James smiled slyly. "Lovely. Now, tell me my incentive to remember all of this and be on my best behavior."

Lily glared at him, crossing her arms over her chest. "You mean threat of torture and death aren't enough?"

"We both know you're not going to kill me, Lily," he chuckled quietly.

The redhead sighed angrily and stared at the floor. She should have expected something like this. James Potter had been trying to blackmail her for the past two years into giving in to his frequent bids for affection. She knew what he wanted and it galled her that he was finally in a position to get it. "Fine, I'll give you a kiss."

"I want a date," he announced stubbornly. Her jaw dropped and she gave him an incredulous look. "One date in Hogsmede lasting a minimum of two hours. I will pick you up and you will dress nice and converse pleasantly the entire evening. When I take you back to the dormitory, you will let me hold your hand and we will share an obligatory good night kiss. Any breach of contract will result in further punishment of my choosing."

"You're not going to tell me what to eat, too?" Lily asked sarcastically.

James reached up and lightly chucked his knuckles under her chin, smiling at her fondly. "Of course not. That would be ridiculous."

"So in exchange for a date with my family, you want another date at Hogsmede?"

"That's right," he replied triumphantly.

"And if I don't do exactly as you say, you'll do something worse?"

"It's a distinct possibility," he admitted easily.

He recognized the fiery rage flaring up in her green eyes, but was proud of the neat corner he had painted her into. She was clever, so he knew she could see it too. Finally, she sighed and glared at him, unwilling to take her defeat gracefully. "Fine, Potter. Just behave yourself tonight."

"It's a deal," he replied, offering her his hand. She shook it reluctantly and spun to the door, but was quickly pulled back into his arms. He deftly caught her jaw and kissed her before ducking away from the fist she swung at his head.

"That is not behaving yourself, James Potter!" she spluttered furiously as she tore away from him.

James gave her another cocky grin and leaned in close. "That's true, but it was fun."

She hit him once more for good measure, but the doorbell was announcing Vernon's arrival and she didn't want to stay alone in her bedroom with James Potter any longer than necessary. The way he kept watching her, indeed, his very presence, made her uncomfortable. Like he was about to transfigure her nose into a gerbil at any moment. Catching his hand, she pulled him after her out of the room just in time to see Petunia letting her boyfriend into the parlour.

Her sister looked at her strangely when she entered with the unfamiliar young man and she rushed to introduce him. "James, this is my sister Petunia and her boyfriend, Vernon Dursley. This is James Potter, he's-"

She made the mistake of glancing at James and his hazel eyes twinkled as he shot a glance at Vernon. He was clearly communicating that he was as impressed with the hulking man as she had been. Lily had to choke back a laugh and James took advantage of the moment to reach out his hand and introduce himself as her boyfriend. Petunia, who had been subjected to hours of complaining about this particular young man, took the news in stride after a suspicious glance in her sister's direction. Lily shrugged helplessly before taking a seat on the sofa beside James.

"So you attend Smith's with Lily, do you?" Vernon began gruffly, making the best of his incarceration with this wild-haired weirdo. "How does it strike you?"

James grinned broadly and Lily winced, waiting for him to say something ridiculous. "I like it just fine, thanks. Both of my parents attended as well."

"I'm a Smeltings man, myself," Vernon replied, oblivious to Lily's sigh of relief. "What is it your father does?"

"He's a sort of... scientist. He works for the government," James replied with just the barest pause. Lily relaxed once more, blessing the Muggle Studies professor who had been able to beat that bit of information into his head. "What is it that you do, Vernon?"

Ignoring the fact that James seemed intensely amused by everything Vernon had to say, a matter that the hulking man was clearly unaware of as he droned on about his new company that made drills, the two men were able to converse amicably. Lily and Petunia kept exchanging nervous glances until Vernon asked James what he planned to do when he left school.

"Law enforcement," Lily broke in quickly with a smile as she pat James on the knee. She beamed up at him, doing her best to be the doting girlfriend because she was fairly certain he would behave himself better if she played along willingly. "He's looking into becoming a policeman. Isn't that right, darling?"

James swallowed convulsively, painfully aware of her hand on his leg and the endearing pet name. He stared at her for an uncomfortable moment before she nudged him. Belatedly, he replied, "Yes. Yes. Absolutely. I want to be a police man. That's absolutely right, sweetheart."

"Dinner's ready," Rose broke in cheerfully.

Everyone got up to file into the dining room and Petunia caught Lily by the arm and whispered, "Is that the James Potter from your school? The one that you hate? What the hell is he doing here?"

"Search me. He just showed up," Lily muttered apologetically. "He promised to behave himself if I pretended to be his girlfriend."

"Don't let him ruin this," she hissed quietly, releasing her sister and allowing Vernon to help her to her seat.

Unaware of the hushed conversation, James held her chair for her and Lily smiled and sat. Pushing her in, James leaned over her ear and asked, "Aren't we going to wait for your dad?"

Lily froze for an instant as her heart plummeted to her toes. She glanced around, but no one else appeared to have heard the question and she took a deep breath before smiling up at him and answering in a low voice. "No, James, dad can't make it tonight. He's dead."

She felt the tiniest inkling of satisfaction when his eyes widened in shock, but was swiftly overcome by her own personal pain. In order to distract herself, she turned to smile reassuringly at her sister and spotted the flowers that James had brought sitting prominently in a vase in the middle of the table. "Please tell me you didn't do anything to those," she begged out of the corner of her mouth while Vernon was busy filling up his plate.

"Do pixies count?" James replied coolly without looking at her.

"Oh no, mum! You know how Tuny's allergic to gladiolas," Lily cried abruptly, sweeping up the vase and hurrying to the kitchen. James followed her and she rounded on him when the door closed. "If this is your idea of good behavior, I need to have a talk with your mother! You might not care about my family, but my sister was very excited about tonight and you are going to ruin it!"

She was horrified as tears sprang into her eyes and she hurriedly put her back to him under the guise of setting the flowers on the counter. James moved to lean against the cupboard beside her, his face stony and impassive. After a few moments, Lily couldn't help the sniffle that escaped as she tried to inconspicuously brush away her tears.

"This isn't going well, is it?" James asked quietly.

"I always told you we'd be a hopeless couple," she laughed morosely. Finally, she looked up at him. "Why are you here, James? What's the joke?"

Completely straight-faced, James brushed his knuckles down her cheek and replied, "I missed you."

"We've only been out of school for a week," she reminded him quietly, turning away from his tender touch. "I'm sorry for surprising you about my dad. It wasn't very nice."

With an unexpected amount of tact, James didn't ask her any questions. Instead, he took her hand and pulled her toward the door. "They're probably wondering where we are."

Dinner passed civilly, with James managing to contain himself, though Lily was well aware he was itching to set a jinx on the vapid Vernon that he wouldn't soon recover from. She had experienced the same reaction in the past when Vernon had engaged in long, rambling soliloquize about all of the things he disliked, which generally encompassed anything that was interesting, creative, or the least bit out of the ordinary. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Petunia and Vernon retired to the parlour while James and Lily offered to help with coffee.

In the kitchen, James caught sight of Lily's edition of the Prophet folded under the phone book and shot Lily an earnest look. "Did you read about...?"

"Yes," Lily replied quickly, not wanting to start crying again. "I still can't believe it."

"They caught one of them," he announced quietly, pulling the good china down from the cupboard for her. Petunia entered to check on coffee and gave him a sharp look. "Alastor Moody, the auror, spotted him running away from the scene and brought him in. His name's Selwyn, and with the new laws he'll go straight to Azkaban."

Lily bit her lip as she set the china on the tray with a shade more care than necessary and asked, "That's the prison, right?"

James was suddenly aware that all the Evans women were watching him keenly and reached up to uncomfortably rumple his hair. "Yeah. Azkaban is the wizard prison. It's on an island out in the middle of the sea somewhere. My dad went to interview one of the prisoners once and he said it was awful."

"What's so bad about it?" Petunia asked quietly. "Do they torture people, or what?"

"It's a bit worse than that,"James explained somberly. "The prison is guarded by these creatures called Dementors that feed on happiness. They basically take away your memories and make you go insane. As if that's not bad enough, they can also suck a person's soul out through their mouths. They call it a kiss. Not very funny, if you ask me."

James shuddered at the thought and the women digested this information and his reaction to it silently. After a moment, Petunia picked up the tray and returned to the parlor while their mother claimed a headache and went upstairs. Lily did her best to smile at James as she reached for what was left of the coffee and offered him a cup. "I'm not much on coffee. I'll probably have some cocoa."

"Remus is obsessed with chocolate," James laughed as he stirred cream into his drink.

Lily smiled and nodded. "I remember. One time when we were prefects together I accidentally tripped on something during rounds that knocked me out cold. I could never figure out what it was, but it was like an invisible carpet got pulled out from under me. When he brought me around, he kept shoving chocolate down my throat until I was able to get back to my room."

For some reason, the story seemed to make James uncomfortable and Lily quickly invited him out to the garden. They had just taken their seats on the patio when a large black dog loped into the yard. Lily laughed in delight and called the massive beast over before explaining: "He seems to be a stray, but he's very friendly. He's been coming around almost every day since I got back from school," she told James quickly, reaching her hand out to the bear-like animal.

She looked up to find James regarding the dog with keen interest as she scratched behind his ears. "What have you been calling him?"

"I was thinking Snuffles or something," she replied distractedly. "He's such a lover, but it's hard to pick a name that fits his size."

The dog panted contentedly before emitting a low woof and surging up into Lily's lap, licking her cheeks and ears enthusiastically. James roughly grabbed him by his scruff and dragged him away, giving the struggling animal an angry look. "Stop that!"

Lily laughed at James as the dog whined and tugged out of his grip to rub himself against her legs. She reached down to pat him fondly before glancing up at her clearly frustrated companion. "He's just a dog, James. You don't have to get jealous."

"So you finally admit I'm being jealous and not just stupid?" he shot back wryly.

Lily sighed and looked down, rubbing the dog's ears to give herself time to think before answering. When she looked up at James, her eyes were sad and tired. "Why do you feel the need to trick me into liking you, James? It's like you're always trying to prove you're better than me or something. Every time I see you, you have some clever ploy to trap me into doing what you want. I feel like I have to be on guard against you every moment of every fucking day when we're at school. Why can't you just be yourself and see if I like you then?"

James stared at her, stunned. He had been teasing, expecting to get a rise out of her. Lily always seemed like she was ready for a fight and he was more than happy to give it to her. She'd never asked him why he did it. He'd never thought about why. He just knew that the only time she really paid attention to him was when he was harassing her.

"Everybody loves you, James. Well, almost everybody. So why would you think I'd be any different if you weren't hounding me every second of the day? No girl wants to be tricked into a relationship." she told him earnestly. "And the worst part is that I can't even have a normal boyfriend because of you. The last guy who asked me out for drinks disappeared before meeting me at the Three Broomsticks and turned up three days later wandering out of the Forbidden Forest with a boar's head! Don't think I don't know who was responsible for that, James Potter, because I'm not stupid."

"Why were you going out with a Hufflepuff anyway?" James asked sullenly, not bothering to deny the allegation.

"Because he asked me!" Lily laughed in exasperation. "I was fourteen and excited about being asked out by a boy two years older than me. I didn't know you and your mates were going to jump him. After that and the fantastic speech you made after winning the Quidditch Cup at the end of fifth year, every boy in the school has been too afraid to even talk to me in case you and your friends got wind of it."

"I didn't know you went to my quidditch games," James mused idly.

Lily rolled her eyes. "I don't, but Alice told me about it afterwards. That was the day I hit you from behind with the bat-bogey hex and you had to go to the hospital wing."

James winced at the memory, but they were interrupted by Petunia rushing out, her face flushed with excitement. "Lily, oh my god! You'll never guess! Vernon just asked me to marry him!"

The pair stared at her in stunned surprise as she extended her hand to show off a twinkling diamond ring. It wasn't too flashy, but certainly looked expensive, which suited Vernon's personality perfectly. Lily stared at it for a moment before looking blankly up at her sister. "What did you say?"

Petunia seemed to deflate and she stared at her angrily. "I said yes, of course! Aren't you going to congratulate me?"

"Oh... yes! Congratulations, Tuny. That's... that's fantastic," Lily said quickly, working to get over her shock as she stood and hugged the older girl. James added his best wishes and even the dog jumped up and wagged his tail enthusiastically. After a moment, Petunia hurried back inside to tell their mother the news, leaving James and Lily staring at each other blankly.

"So.. that was good, right?" James asked finally.

Lily shrugged. "Yes... They've been dating for a year now. Vernon is... he's exactly what Petunia wanted in a husband. Strong, hard-working, dependable..."

"So she could have also chosen to marry a toaster oven and been happy?" James asked wryly.

Against her will, Lily's mouth quirked. James saw the tiny smile and broke into a full grin. "The toaster would have had a better personality."

"That's true enough. Which reminds me, I brought something for you." He produced an envelope from his pocket and handed it over lackadaisically. Lily frowned as she recognized the Hogwarts crest. "Before you ask, no, I haven't been stealing your mail. Dumbledore was having tea with my parents and asked me to bring this over when he found out I was having dinner here."

"How did you find out about dinner anyway?" Lily asked distractedly as she broke the seal. Before he could answer, she squealed in delight, holding up the gold badge that had dropped into her hand. "I made Head Girl!"

She was so exhilarated that she grabbed James in a tight hug, which he returned enthusiastically. Unable to keep still, she surged to her feet, bouncing and flapping her hands excitedly. James laughed and pushed himself up, catching her around the waist and spinning her in a circle while the dog barked and raced around them. "Good girl, Lily. I knew you had it in you! And I promise not to cause you too much trouble this year."

Slightly flushed, she waved him away, feeling too good to be angry with him for the first time in her life. "Just because I'm Head Girl doesn't mean I expect you to stop being a pest, James. But don't get mad when I give you detention!"

"Well, that would be difficult anyway, wouldn't it?" he replied awkwardly, reaching up to rumple his hair.

Some hint of foreboding suddenly curdled in her stomach and she stared at him for a moment, sobering slightly. "What do you mean?"

"Well... Dumbledore's made me Head Boy," he announced uncomfortably.

"What?!?" Lily practically screamed.