Disclaimer: I own nothing. All characters, plots, and places belong to JK Rowling. She is awesome. I am not.

A/N-Oh my goodness, I am so terrible! I'm so sorry to everyone for making you wait so long. This is an extraordinarily long and significant chapter so I hope that that can in some very small way make up for my awfulness! I promise that I am not going to give up on this story. As long as I don't die, it will get completed. Unfortunately, I cannot make any type of promise about how long it will take for the next chapter to go up. My life is so busy right now that I spend maybe 4 nonsleeping hours a week in my apartment and those are usually filled with eating and bathing. I will be working on it, that I can promise you, and my awesome beta, Sabrina, sends me lovely e-mails every once in a while that urge me to continue writing.

Speaking of my awesome beta, there is no way that this chapter would be any good without her. She took a very raw chapter and made it lovely and made it flow in a way that I never would have been able to. She's awesome! I'm so lucky (and so are y'all) to have her editing this for me!

Thanks for all of your favorites, reviews and PMs - they really do encourage me to keep going. Now, without further ado, please enjoy...

Chapter Seventeen: The First Reveal

Quidditch. Lily was so sick and tired of hearing about stupid Quidditch. It's all anyone could talk about these days. Did anyone care that Slughorn was giving them a N.E.W.T. level exam next week? Nope. Did anyone care that Belinda Drewely passed out on top of a Venemous Tentacula plant on Monday? Even though it was because of said N.E.W.T.s and the stress that they induced that she hadn't eaten anything in a week and therefore succumbed to unconsciousness due to lack of proper nutrition? Not a bit. How about the fact that the Slytherins (and quite possibly a few from other houses as well) had doubled their efforts in attacking Muggleborns? No one could care less.

However, the rumor that Professor McGonagall had caught Sirius Black making a crass hand gesture during her class and had subsequently dislocated said finger (resulting in his inability to play in Saturday's match against Ravenclaw) had spread through the castle like the flu in February. The only thing that spread faster than that little tidbit of news was the confirmation that Madam Pomfrey had healed him, and had in fact ensured it was better than ever, increasing the velocity of his throws by .23 percent.

The Prefect meeting on Wednesday had consisted entirely of reports detailing nasty fights that were breaking out in the corridors between students supporting different houses. They hadn't had time to go over any official business at all, because by the time everyone had finished their overly dramatic retellings it was five minutes to curfew.

Not that Lily needed any reminder of those fights anyway. She'd hardly had a chance to speak with James all week, because everywhere he went he had at least five people around him acting as a human shield. As the team's (to be honest – though she'd never admit this to James - probably the school's) best player, he was in the most danger. While he'd ardently attempted to get everyone to leave him alone, claiming that he could take care of himself, no one would listen. It wasn't until after Mary had been "accidentally" slammed into a suit of armor Tuesday morning that James had ordered everyone on the team to utilize the buddy system when traveling anywhere outside their common room. And he meant anywhere. The Owlery, the Great Hall, the loo. Anywhere.

Lily didn't mind that so much, though. She missed James. There was no denying that. Her life had been missing a sufficient amount of laughter (and snogs— not that she would ever admit to that), but she just kept reminding herself that after Saturday, things would go back to normal. At least until the next match.

What she did mind was the fact that no one on the grounds seemed capable of talking about anything else. It was maddening.

It wasn't that Lily didn't like Quidditch. She really did harbor a genuine affection for the sport. People had always assumed that since she was both a girl and moderately intelligent, she must hate sports. Not so. Not in the slightest. However, everyone has their limits. She did not want to talk about it every waking second the entire week.

Considering the fact that she could find no one else who shared her sentiments - which was proven to include professors when McGonagall had held her after class earlier in the day to ask how James's reflexes had seemed – she was seriously contemplating cramming her nose in a Charms book and not coming up for air until Sunday morning at the earliest.

That plan had been working rather well, and so it was precisely what she was doing that Thursday night in the Common Room. James was sitting on the couch beside her, but had hardly said a word all evening. Instead, he sat with Becca going over and over Keeper strategies. He had drawn a model of the hoops on a sheet of parchment, then a figure that Lily assumed was supposed to be Becca (James clearly would never be any kind of artist; even his stick figure didn't look quite right) and a circle representing the Quaffle, which he then proceeded to prod with his wand, causing the figures to wiggle around and demonstrate whatever it was that he was yammering about.

Lily had tuned them out a while ago, immersing herself in the wonder that was Vertigo spells.

Even without listening or watching, though, Lily could tell that James was allowing the strain of it all to get to him. They were barely touching, his shoulder brushing lightly against hers only when he would lean back into the couch, but she could almost feel the tension rolling off him.

A little while later, Becca had gone off somewhere, but James remained in his seat, prodding more stick figures along what Lily assumed to be the Pitch (really, how hard could that be to draw?), his eyebrows pulled together in a look of deep concentration. Lily stopped reading and set her book down in her lap to watch him for a moment.

He was so engrossed in the bit of parchment that he didn't even notice. Occasionally, another student would walk over to the couch to clap him on the back, saying something encouraging or manly like "Can't wait to see you rip Ravenclaw apart," or "I'd take out Stallings for you, but I figure you'll flatten them anyway," and each time James would give an extremely forced laugh and a tight response before turning his attention back to his now wrinkled and battered notes.

Lily wasn't sure why no one else was noticing (or how it had taken her this long), but James was clearly freaking out. He was agitated, his shoulders raised with tension while he absentmindedly nibbled on the inside of his cheek and jiggled his leg up and down. Lily reached out, touching his knee to get his attention, and he jumped so violently that he jabbed his wand into the parchment, setting it on fire. James jumped again and cursed under his breath before shooting a thin stream of water at the flame.

Lily raised her eyebrows at him when he looked over at her, wincing slightly, still with that wildly shocked look in his eyes. Just as she was about to ask him if he was all right, a figure walked up next to them, casting them into shadow.

James slowly looked up and gave 6th year Luke Billows a smile so forced that it resembled more of a grimace than he intended it to.

Luke didn't seem to notice.

"All right, Potter?" he beamed. James had just opened his mouth to respond, a sound not even escaping his mouth before Luke quickly continued. "Listen, I'm counting on you to win Saturday. I've made a bet with Susie Marks, you see. If I win, she has to give me ten galleons. But if she wins…well, I have to take her out next Hogsmeade weekend." A pink blush bloomed on his cheeks at his admission and he had the decency to shuffle a bit nervously, but he was still beaming like a fool.

Lily pierced him with her best skeptical look, her eyes narrowed nearly to slits. "Aren't you dating Stella Angelo?"

Luke seemed to burn a darker crimson as his gaze shifted momentarily to Lily. "Yes," he drawled, "So you see my predicament. I really need Gryffindor to win."

James sighed softly and again, Lily could sense his frustration with this flighty 6th year. He looked up at Luke and surprised Lily with his response. She would have ripped into this boy, telling him that if he didn't want to go on a date with Susie, he shouldn't have made the bet in the first place. James however, playing the role of confident captain to perfection, merely shot him a winning smile and said, "You should have bet more money because there's no way we're losing to Ravenclaw."

Luke grinned broadly, uttered a few more ridiculously male, macho comments before making his way across the room. Lily rolled her eyes and looked back over at James. His charming smile was gone, and the troubled frown had returned in its place. He looked back down at his charred piece of parchment and then leaned back into the couch and groaned.

Lily suppressed a grin before tucking her Charms book back into her bag and cautiously tapping James on the knee again.

"What?" he grumbled, his eyes closed as he laid his head back.

"Come with me," Lily ordered.

James opened one eye and peeked out at her. "Where exactly are we going?" he asked, his voice emotionless as though he were merely placating her rather than experiencing any genuine curiosity.

"To the library," Lily answered. When his only response to that was to close his eye again, she stood up, grabbed his hand and tugged. "Come on. I need help with our Transfiguration assignment."

"It's not due until Monday," James whined as he reluctantly allowed Lily to pull him off of the plush cushions. When she just ignored him and began tugging him toward the Portrait Hole, he continued his complaints. "Evans, I have other things I need to do. Get Sirius to help you."

"Yeah right," Lily laughed, releasing his hand as she pushed the portrait open. "The last time he helped me, I failed because he thought it would be a laugh to give me all of the outdated methods to transfigure outerwear instead of the ones we currently use." She heard James chuckling behind her. "Oh yeah, laugh it up! McGonagall thought it was really funny too. So funny, in fact, that she gave me detention. No doubt hoping I'd grace her with some more of my witty Transfiguration theories. I'm afraid she was a tad disappointed."

They made their way into the corridor and once Lily made sure there was no one around, she slid her arm underneath James's and around his waist. He made a startled noise but recovered quickly. Lily felt his fingers lightly move up her back before he draped his arm over her shoulders. He heaved another heavy sigh, but this one sounded more content than frustrated. Traveling so lightly up and down her arm that it felt like the memory of a touch, his fingers managed to send tiny shocks and shivers down her spine.. It was only seven, and the path to the library wasn't typically what Lily would describe as deserted, but she found that she didn't really care if anyone saw them or not. Her gesture already seemed to have made James feel a little better, making the risk of being found out worth it.

"I really don't have time to help with your Transfiguration," James muttered seriously after they'd taken a few more steps. "I can help you after the match, but I've just got too much to do right now."

"That's okay," Lily said with a shrug of her shoulders. "I finished it last night. I just wanted to give you an excuse to get away from all of our mental housemates."

James looked over at her, shock rapidly transforming to gratefulness. He squeezed her shoulder and pulled her a little tighter against him. She couldn't quite suppress the grin that was threatening to emerge on her face, and indulged herself by leaning into him.

"You seem pretty tense," she muttered, turning her head a bit so that she could get a better look at his face.

James snorted humorlessly. "Picked up on that, have you?" he asked, running a hand through his hair. He sighed again and shoved his other hand into his pocket. "People keep coming up to me and asking me what our strategy is. People who aren't even in our house. I just want to know why they assume I have enough time to sit around and discuss various Quidditch strategies with everyone at this bloody school. Or that I'd even want to. And everyone has some stupid idea of something we could do that would help the team. Marlene McKinnon tried to convince me the other day that if we only ate cottage cheese for the entire week we'd be sure to win." He paused to consider this for a moment before adding, "Though to be fair, I think she was just kidding. I never can tell with that girl.

"Oh, and the Hufflepuffs think they're so funny trying to psych Becca out just because they want us to lose so they don't have to face us in the final. Poor Bex is already so stressed out anyway and then Kevin Hildebrand has to come along and say that he'd snog her behind the greenhouses if we lost, y'know, to make her 'feel better,' so now she's all jittery about that. And jittery is about the last thing she needs to be. I can't get her to stay centered in front of the goals for the life of me. Keeps drifting to the right. Last week she was so engrossed in watching the Chasers that she drifted so far that she wasn't in front of any of the posts anymore. And Emmett…"

Alas, even her boyfriend couldn't talk about anything but Quidditch. Though, him being captain and all did give him a more legitimate excuse than all the rest of the idiots at the school. As he began regaling her with the intricacies of Beater moves and defensive strategy, though, there wasn't much she could do but nod occasionally and let the words wash over her because she had no idea what he was on about.

Even as she noticed that the words spilling out of his mouth had taken on a stream-of-consciousness-like quality, Lily felt assured in her conclusion that he'd been holding quite a bit of this back for some time. While it wasn't the topic of conversation that she would have chosen, the tension which had been so prominent in his shoulders seemed to be gradually releasing, convincing her to keep her mouth firmly shut.

So she let him talk…and talk…and talk all the way to the library, not understanding a word that came out of his mouth.

He finally looked over at her as they turned the corner and the entrance was in sight. "I'm sorry," he muttered with a sheepish grin. "I know you don't want to hear about this."

It was Lily's turn to grin at him. "Picked up on that, have you?" He smiled too as he instinctually dropped his arm from around her when the doors to the library opened and a couple of third years tumbled out. "What was it that tipped you off?" she asked playfully. "The fact that I have contributed nothing to the conversation in five minutes? My generic lack of enthusiasm about all things Quidditch? Or was it the glazed look that settles over my eyes whenever I stop listening?" She grinned cheekily at him and he just rolled his eyes.

Madam Pince sent them both steely glares as they continued talking and made their way to a table in the back of the library.

"It had more to do with the fact that you were practically sprinting through the corridors to get here," James added, not bothering to lower his voice in the slightest. His only response to Madam Pince's fresh hiss to be silent was an insolent wink which caused her to scowl so ferociously that a pale blush bloomed on her cheeks.

Lily grinned again, her eyes twinkling. She snapped her fingers in a faux disgruntled manner. "Ah, you found me out." James quirked an eyebrow at her as he pulled out a chair and plopped down into it. "But now that we're here, no more talking unfortunately." She shrugged her shoulders pretending to be disappointed.

James shot her a smug look. "Joke's on you, Evans. I'm a Marauder. Rule breaking is in my job description. As if Pince could keep me from talking your ear off for the next hour." Then raising his voice just to prove a point, he added, "I'm not scared of that mad bint!"

Lily fought to keep the corners of her lips from turning up in a grin, but wasn't sure that she'd completely succeeded. "I knew I should have pushed you down that flight of stairs!"

James chuckled at that. "What was it that stopped you? Was it my devilishly good looks?" he asked, flashing her a charming smile. "My stunning wit? My excellent snogs?"

Lily shook her head seriously. "Who else am I going to cheat off of in Transfiguration?" she asked somberly.

"My talents are so underappreciated," James muttered, shaking his head slowly.

"On the contrary, I am very appreciative of you. That last essay earned me an O. McGonagall actually smiled at me on the way out of class. That would never have happened without you."

Their banter could have continued this way for quite a while, but it seemed that Madam Pince had had enough for she made quite the show of marching back to their corner of the library and uttering some very pointed and scathing remarks that made Lily wince. James managed to hold back his laughter until Madam Pince had stomped back to her desk, after which he dissolved into a fit of laughter so raucous that he had to bury his face in his arms to muffle the sound. Lily watched this madness with wide eyes, waiting for him to stop shaking and look back up at her.

Tears of mirth were glistening in his eyes when he finally did as she shook her head and flashed her eyes up to the ceiling. "Did you enjoy that?"

"Immensely," he answered. She glared at him and then hit him in the arm before finally pulling her books out of her bag. She unrolled her unfinished Potions essay and pulled it toward her, beginning to reread what she had already written. James watched her quietly for a moment still chuckling at random intervals.

"Are you actually going to do anything or are you just going to stare at me until dinner?" Lily asked, without looking up from her parchment.

James grinned and waited for her to look up, knowing that she wouldn't be able to keep averting her gaze for much longer. She crossed her arms at him and then cocked an eyebrow as she awaited his answer. "You're the one who dragged me up to the library. What am I supposed to do?" he asked.

Lily rolled her eyes. "Is that a rhetorical question?"

"Nope. But that was."

Lily rolled her eyes, "Study."

James wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Boring. It's much more fun to watch you." The grin that formed on his lips indicated that he was quite pleased by the wide-eyed expression she had on her face after his comment. "You're pretty cute when you're embarrassed and flustered, you know." His grin widened as a blush crept up her cheeks.

She swallowed hard, trying mentally to force it away and cursing herself whenever she didn't succeed. She pulled a new sheaf of parchment out of her bag and shoved it none too gently toward him. "Here. Go back to drawing your squiggly lines…"

"It's called strategizing," James interrupted pompously.

"Fine, go back to strategizing. And try not to set the paper on fire this time."

"Ha, ha," James muttered sarcastically, before obediently pulling the parchment toward himself and retrieving a quill from his pocket.

Lily expected him to disregard his strategizing fairly quickly and resort to what he did best when they visited the library together—irritating and distracting her. She supposed it said a lot about the importance of the upcoming match that James didn't once look up or attempt to converse with her for the next hour as they sat there. He just stared at his little X's and O's, waving his wand at the page and watching the way they wiggled about, occasionally mumbling to himself. Intermittent sighs would escape him from time to time, his fingers usually following with a quick and forceful rub of his eyes beneath his glasses.

Lily found herself wondering if James had always seemed this stressed before matches. She tried to think back to the match against Slytherin earlier in the year, but all she could remember was their fight. She knew that some of his anger at her had come from the stress of the match, but she hadn't been paying close enough attention to notice how much of it had been from the game and how much had been justified anger. Matches from the years before were difficult to recollect, as well. She remembered 3rd and 4th year when he would make such a ruckus that Lily had learned to avoid the common room at all costs the week before matches. She couldn't remember anything from 5th and 6th year once he'd been made captain. Either avoiding the common room had become a natural instinct or – more likely - she just hadn't been paying attention to him.

She looked over at him now. His eyebrows were furrowed and he was chewing on his thumbnail. All of the tension that had evaporated as they'd made their way into the library was back in full force. Every once in a while he would shake his head slightly and then scribble something at the bottom of the page.

"Hey Potter," someone said from behind them. Both Lily and James turned in their seats to see Aidan Powell, a 4th year Gryffindor materializing from a between a few nearby bookshelves. James smiled at him and muttered a greeting back.

Aidan wasted no time at all pulling out the chair across from James and plopping down. Lily scowled at him. She itched to bark at him that no one had invited him to sit down. Not only that, but he hadn't bothered sparing her a glance, let alone a greeting or any general acknowledgement of her existence. And the second he'd sat down his mouth had immediately started yammering on about Quidditch, a sure fire way to irritate her these days.

Lily would have ignored him and gone back to her work, but before she did, she caught sight of James's face. His smile was completely forced and though it probably wasn't evident to Aidan, James's entire being was screaming that he didn't want to talk about Quidditch with a 4th year. Credit it to his manners or social awareness, but James was still playing the lighthearted captain and would chuckle at appropriate times and let Aidan keep talking.

Lily wasn't sure if it was affection for James and the way he was trying so hard to placate this idiot 4th year that prompted her, or if she was still just irritated at being ignored, but whatever it was, she didn't stay silent for long.

"Go away, Aidan," she said forcefully, effectively interrupting him and stopping whatever stream of verbiage was shooting out of his mouth. He looked over at her, shock evident on his face. Lily didn't look over at James, but she was fairly certain that a similar look would be present on his face as well.

Aidan floundered for a moment before regaining his composure. He seemed to sit up a little straighter in his chair. "I just thought we'd talk some strategy," he said, gesturing to James and flashing her a winning smile.

Lily raised her eyebrows patronizingly, as though that particular possibility had never occurred to her. She turned and finally made eye contact with James, who did look quite shocked, but she could see the amusement shining in his eyes as well. Bolstered by his reaction, she turned back to Aidan, her patronizing look still firmly in place. "Really? And what was it that made you think we want to listen?" She arranged her features into a politely curious expression as the smile slipped off of Aidan's face and a glare replaced it.

"I don't remember inviting you into the conversation," he spat at her.

"I'm sitting right here," Lily shot back as she gestured to the table, her polite manner disappearing completely as she openly scowled at him. "Not being included doesn't change the fact that you're still bothering me. Besides, what exactly makes you think that anything you have to say will be news to James? He's been Quidditch captain since 5th year. He could fly circles around the entire England National team. Do you really think he needs to hear anything you have to say?"

Aidan's shocked look made a brief reappearance before he glared even harder at her, his eyes lacking any trace of the friendliness he had recently been beaming at James with. "Sometimes it helps to talk things like this out."

Lily nodded, again feigning as though his comments were something she hadn't thought of before. "I agree. That's very true, yes." She peered at him like someone who is explaining something very difficult to someone very dim. "But, you see, that's what he has friends for. He has an entire Quidditch team full of people who are more than willing to chat about strategy with him. An entire team of people who know a whole lot more about what they're talking about than you do." He continued to stare at her, so finally she lifted a hand and made a shooing gesture. "Go on now, I need to finish my essay."

Aidan sat there for a few more moments before slamming his chair back violently and stomping away from the table, muttering a few choice words under his breath about Lily. A few of them reached James' ears and his shocked look turned quickly into something dark and menacing as he whipped his head around to scowl at the retreating 4th year. He scooted his own chair back and made to go after him when Lily put a restraining hand on his arm.

"Don't," she ordered, gently squeezing his forearm. "It's fine." Calmly she pulled him back down into his seat as James turned to fix his glare on her.

"Fine? He can't say things like that about you!"

Lily smiled at what she could only describe as an adorable display of protectiveness. "Well, to be fair, I was pretty nasty just then. I probably deserve much worse than any insult that could pop into that naive little head of his."

James's expression softened and he visibly relaxed. "You were pretty harsh." The words were a rebuke, but the tone of his voice made it clear that he was rather impressed. "I don't think I've ever heard you be that brutal to anyone other than me."

"Yes well, he was bugging you, that much was obvious," Lily said with a shrug, her cheeks tinged with pink.

"Sirius bugs me on an hourly basis and you don't verbally abuse him," James pointed out.

Lily stifled a grin. "That's the thing about heroically saving your boyfriend from hours of annoyance. It tends to work better if the person you're sending away is afraid of you. Sirius, in this case, would see my defense of you as a challenge, or an…an insult match. One that I would inevitably lose and then spend the next four hours in the loo crying about," Lily replied matter-of-factly.

"'Heroically'? What are you, my knight in shining armour? The brave witch with the shining wand?" James snorted.

"Yes. Feel free to fall at my feet in reverence and awe whenever inspiration hits."

James snorted again as Lily turned back to a book that she'd been flipping through. She was about halfway through the page when James spoke up again, this time more softly.


Lily looked over at him. His eyes were trained on a corner of his parchment that he was nervously fidgeting with, and the back of his neck was bright pink. Reaching out and placing her hand over his twitching fingers, Lily smiled warmly and waited for him to look up and meet her gaze. His eyes were serious but the corners of his mouth were turned up ever so slightly.

She shrugged. "It's not a big deal. Who says it's always the boy that has to come to the rescue, anyway?"

James' lips quirked up in a half smile. "Yeah, and I am grateful for that. But I meant thanks for all of it. For being so…I dunno…okay with all of this Quidditch madness. I know you hate it, but it's a bit of a relief that I haven't had to deal with you being irritated all week because of it, as well."

Lily smiled affectionately at him and then checking out of the corner of her eye to make sure that no one was approaching them, she leaned in close. "It's the least I could do. You put up with all of my secret nonsense. I suppose it's only fair that I put up with a week of your Quidditch insanity." She kissed him quickly and made to pull away, but James was quicker and managed to snake an arm around her waist and hold her against him a few seconds longer. She grinned against his mouth before pushing firmly against his chest and finally ending their kiss.

"Don't you have a strategy chart to study?" she asked a bit breathlessly.

James smirked mischievously at her. "This is much more fun," he quipped, still holding her close.

She rolled her eyes dramatically and gave him a harder shove, prompting him to finally release her and move away, leaving what she considered a slightly less than respectable distance between them, but it was a big step up from being held flush against his body. "Well, I don't think I'm going to be able to stand Transfiguration with those Ravenclaws if we lose, so get back to work," she demanded.

He sighed loudly, but reluctantly turned back to his parchment and began fiddling with the X's and O's again. It wasn't long before his previous disposition of complete concentration returned. Lily found herself envying him, because at no point during the rest of their stint in the library was she able to fully focus on her work again. She found that her thoughts were quite often being distracted by the bloke sitting next to her.

Friday's classes were indescribably boring. Even the professors seemed on edge about the game. Jenna said that she thought Professor McGonagall deliberately gave them an assignment that she knew James, Sirius, and Mary would be able to do in their sleep so that they could discuss their game plan in more depth. Lily honestly couldn't say that she disagreed. Normally, McGonagall would never let James and Sirius mutter in the back of the classroom. If they ever finished an assignment early, she gave them extra homework (so naturally, most of the time they faked difficulty with a spell). Today was different though. She had turned a deaf ear and didn't even ask them to perform the task for her whenever she made her rounds about the classroom.

Jenna seemed a bit outraged by this blatant favoritism, but Lily wasn't surprised by it in the least. McGonagall's obsession with Gryffindor Quidditch was legendary. Stories had been passed down for years about her explosions at the referees for what she deemed incorrect calls. One rumor even claimed that dear Minerva had once turned Professor Rochester, the previous Charms professor, into a toad in a fit of rage. Lily had even heard that a few years prior to her own enrollment at Hogwarts, McGonagall had given a Slytherin captain detention on the day of a Quidditch final just to ensure a Gryffindor victory.

At any rate, by dinner on Friday, the school was abuzz with talk of Quaffle size regulations and point spreads and player comparisons. Lily sat quietly next to James, occasionally nodding her head in agreement or muttering a "you don't say?", but on the whole, ignoring every word that came her way. No one really seemed to notice, and she certainly didn't mind. They had a Potions exam coming up the following week and Lily passed the time by mentally going over the steps for brewing an Adrenaline Draught.

She was so engrossed in it that she didn't even notice when someone walked up and was standing across the table from them until she spoke.

"Enjoying your last meal, Potter?" Lexi asked, a playful smirk gracing her lips. Lily's head snapped up at the sound, trying to ignore the way that her stomach automatically began to clench uncomfortably. She looked over at James, hoping to find a look of disgust or annoyance there, but all she saw was amused delight.

"You mean my last meal before I'm officially named the winningest Quidditch captain in Hogwarts history? Yes, I'm quite enjoying it," he quipped. Lexi rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over a t-shirt that Lily noticed already claimed victory for Ravenclaw. "The stew especially is very tasty. You should have some."

Lexi shook her head and then took a seat on the bench in front of her, squeezing between Jenna and Remus. "No, I meant your last meal before your legacy is forever tainted by your inability to make it to a final in your 7th year, and all the Gryffindors hate you, and you're forever shamed, etc., etc…but if you'd rather focus on that meaningless award, be my guest." She seemed pleased with herself, but Lily felt James tense beside her. Lexi may not have known it, may not have even meant to do it, but she'd hit a nerve with James, and Lily, who recently had discovered her own white knight streak when it came to all things James, felt her pride bristling with indignation.

"If those are my only options…" James mumbled.

"Actually, I'm surprised at you James," Lexi interrupted, piercing James with an inquisitive look. "I honestly never thought that you were the type of person who was more invested in your own individual achievements than in those of your team." She let her words sink in, and when it looked like James was about to retaliate she continued, effectively cutting him off. "After all, what does a measly record mean if you don't succeed as a team? Sure, sure, you'll have a little plaque in the trophy room until someone else comes along and breaks your record, but in the grand scheme of things, is that really what you want?"

James was quiet for a moment, and then seemed to regain some of his usual swagger. "Oh, I'm pretty sure we're going to beat you tomorrow…"

He looked ready to lay out another long list of the reasons that Gryffindor should win the next day, but Lexi cut him off again.

"It's a distinct possibility," she interjected, nodding slowly. "The Ravenclaw team as a whole isn't all that superior to Gryffindor. I suppose you could get lucky." She grinned now, seemingly unbothered as every member of the Gryffindor team stared at her with open hostility.

"You're kidding me, right?" Sirius asked, his words flooded with harsh incredulity.

Lexi turned a playful glance over toward him. Lily didn't think Sirius looked even slightly amused by her taunts and secretly thought that this girl must be either extremely brave or extremely stupid to continue provoking him the way she was. "Of course not! I'd say if you get right down to it we're about evenly matched. Ravenclaw may have a slight advantage…"

"Evenly matched?" Sirius roared. "You're bloody mental!"

Lexi didn't look even remotely harassed as she blinked serenely in his direction. "Regardless, the fact of the matter is, even if you win, you're still not going to the Quidditch final."

"What makes you so sure about that?" Lily asked, equally as fed up with the taunting as she was concerned that Sirius might pull out his wand and start hexing this poor girl until she couldn't even crawl to the Hospital Wing. She felt her cheeks heat up as all eyes instantly focused on her. She instinctively knew that James was grinning at her, probably biting his tongue to keep from spitting out some comment about her resurgent heroics.

Lexi turned her gaze onto Lily this time, the amusement still alight in her eyes. Lily wasn't sure what she'd expected. After her embarrassing show of flirting with James the previous weekend and Lexi's outburst, Lily figured there might be some underlying coolness there, an unspoken jealousy or something. Remarkably, it was absent.

"Well, Lily," she began, using the same patronizing tone Lily had earlier (it was far more infuriating to be on the receiving end of it, she discovered). "You may not know this, but Gryffindor has to win by 260 points to overtake Ravenclaw for 2nd in the standings."

"So?" Lily tried to inject her voice with a confidence that she wasn't really feeling. She thought she might have succeeded, but then again, Lexi was still looking at her like she was a bit of an idiot.

"So…that means your team has to be up by 110 points before the Snitch is caught."

Lily shrugged nonchalantly and picked at a hangnail on the corner of her thumb. "I still don't see a problem." Now Sirius was the one looking at her like she was an idiot. So much for support and solidarlty.

Lexi's mouth was quirked in a half grin, as though she knew that whatever she was about to say would take Lily down a few pegs. "Not to be rude or anything, but the likelihood of your team being up by 110 with Becca as your Keeper is about the same as the likelihood that Dumbledore is about to declare his love for Professor Vector, throw her down on the table, and start shagging her."

Remus piped up now, no doubt hoping to diffuse some of the tension. "I hear that's actually quite likely," he threw Lily a look and chuckled nervously. "I saw Vector drawing the initials 'AD' in little hearts all during class today." Peter laughed appreciatively and then abruptly stopped whenever no one else joined him. All eyes were still focused on the two girls.

Lily continued to look impassively at Lexi, as though her words hadn't made any impact at all. "I'm sorry, let me be clearer," she continued, her words dripping with smugness. "Becca can't guard well enough to keep us from scoring," she said, enunciating each word carefully and slowly.

Before Lexi could feel too pleased with herself though, Lily added her two sickles. "I'm pretty sure Chasers have to have aim in order to score though," Lily said matter-of-factly, and couldn't keep the grin off of her face as everyone in earshot appreciatively guffawed and James' mouth dropped open in shock. Unable to reel herself in, she found her mouth continuing on in the same vein. "I mean, the object is to get the Quaffle through the hoop, is it not? And, not to be rude, but from what I saw of your match against Slytherin, your Chasers don't do much of that, do they? Good thing you have a decent Seeker, yeah?"

The smug smile dropped from Lexi's face almost instantly. The entire mood of the surrounding spectators had shifted from tense annoyance to gleeful. Lexi's cheeks burned red, but she didn't lose her composure. "Say whatever you need to get some sleep tonight, but it's still not going to happen!"

Lily continued as though she hadn't even heard her. "Despite your earlier claims, there is some merit to looking at personal statistics, don't you think? For example, our Beaters had more combined blocked goals than any other duo last year. And James here not only is about to become the 'winningest' captain, but also already holds the record for most points scored in a career. And sure, big deal, I'll bet your Beaters have been working like house elves trying to figure out some way to stop him. It's a completely useless effort of course, but they've got to try, I suppose. Maybe that'd be worth something if say our other two Chasers were rubbish…but they're not. James, Sirius and Bill combined scored more points as a trio last year and also scored the most points in a single game."

After rapidly spitting off statistics, Lily paused here, the silence of the people around her a stark contrast to the noise of the rest of the Hall. Something about their awed silence and Lexi's lack of a rebuttal spurred her on though and she continued. "Furthermore, it seems to me that you had to come over here and try to be intimidating in order to reassure yourself because you aren't feeling very good about your own chances of making the final. And judging by the look of your team over there," Lily said, glancing quickly to a group of huge Ravenclaws who were sitting at the end of the table, secluded and huddled together, muttering and not touching a bit of their dinner, "I'd wager that you're not the only one feeling a little nervous. So why don't you scurry on back and tell them that we're all shaking in our earmuffs so that you can all feel better about yourselves. At least until tomorrow that is, when at precisely eleven, you realize that Gryffindor is going to win and win by at least 260 points, thus ending your season completely."

Lexi didn't move for a few seconds. Shock was clear on her face. Of all the people she'd expected to challenge her when she'd come over here, Lily doubted that she'd have ever dreamed it would be her.

To her credit, after a few moments of awkward staring, Lexi cracked a grin, her eyes glittering with amusement. "We'll just see, shall we? I'll pay you a visit tomorrow at dinner, and I expect a full apology full of groveling and an admission of my team's superiority," she said as she threw a leg back over the bench and prepared to stand up.

Even Lily, who was more than a little irritated at Lexi because of her taunting, couldn't help but grin back. "I'll get to work on it," she muttered, before Lexi turned and headed back to her group of friends at the Ravenclaw table.

Lily bit her lip, reluctant to look up at her own friends, knowing from the continued silence that they were all probably still staring at her. Finally, cheeks burning at an all new level, she looked over at James. His mouth was gaping but the second his eyes connected with hers, his lips turned up.

"Is this a dream? Did I just hallucinate?" he asked, his eyes shining. Lily rolled her eyes, though she couldn't completely conceal her self-satisfied grin. James held out an arm to her. "Pinch me, I think I've lost my grip on reality." Lily didn't need telling twice. She lifted her own hand to the bare skin on his arm and pinched as hard as she could. "Ow! No, I'm awake. Jeez, Evans." He clutched his arm protectively against his chest.

"I don't think I've ever been more scared of someone in my life," Sirius muttered, still staring at Lily as though he'd never seen anything like her before.

"Yes well," Lily started, feeling distinctly uncomfortable and squirming underneath everyone's gaze, "I've had enough of this stupid taunting nonsense. Sometimes a girl's got to stand up for her house."

"Whatever you say, Evans," Sirius said, still donning a teasingly frightened look and holding his hands up in a position of fearful surrender. Lily glowered at him, though he didn't wither under it as he should have if he'd really been scared of her.

"Sure am glad you're on our side," Remus added, smiling at her as he reached for a roll.

"Where'd you learn all of those stats?" James asked, still looking completely shell shocked. "Are they even true?"

"Oh…um," Lily stuttered. She really didn't want this subject being broached. She looked down at her bowl of stew and stirred absently. "McGonagall told me after the final last year."

Lily knew immediately that the boys weren't going to accept this answer at face value. She felt herself drowning in embarrassment, wishing for a Time Turner so that she could go back and stop herself from snapping at Lexi if only to avoid what was surely going to be an uncomfortable line of questioning.

Sirius scoffed loudly and shot Lily a look full of disbelief. "Sure she did, Evans. And that's a completely believable excuse because of all those long, detailed, Quidditch-oriented chats you and McGonagall have on a regular basis," he finished sarcastically.

Lily shot Sirius another nasty look, but James ignored them both and went right in with his own narrow-eyed interrogation. "Why were you talking to McGonagall after the final last year?" he drawled. Lily hated the amusement in his voice. Maybe it was because he knew her so well, or maybe it just came from years of practice embarrassing her and others, but it was almost as though he could sense that she was withholding something and that whatever detail it was that she was glossing over would be mortifying. A good boyfriend would have recognized this and cleverly steered the conversation in another direction. Unfortunately for Lily, her boyfriend's instinct was to draw it out and have a good laugh.

Before she could even get an answer out of her mouth; before she could even formulate a plan for how to distract everyone, Jenna inserted herself into the discussion. "She had detention." Lily supposed she should have been proud of the sounds of shock and amazement that met her then; should have reveled in the fact that she was in detention so little that these infamous trouble makers were impressed with her own rule breaking, but she didn't. Instead, she felt the blush that had been present since Lexi had left deepen and creep from her cheeks down her neck, under the collar of her shirt.

James especially seemed impressed by this. "Ah…I remember you weren't at the after party last year. I never knew you had detention!" The glee that was permeating his words was nearly sickening. His legs bumped against hers underneath the table and she gave his a none too gentle bump back.

"What did you do that was so bad that McGonagall gave you detention after a final?" Sirius asked, amazement and perhaps a hint of admiration evident on his face.

"Nothing! It was nothing!" Lily exclaimed while shooting Jenna a particularly nasty glare because her friend's mouth was already open and ready to pour out the whole sordid affair.

Sirius rubbed his hands together, his features pulled into an all too eager expression. "Oh, I love when Jenna drags out Evans' dirty laundry. Her face gets so hot you could toast a biscuit on it." He sat up a little straighter and looked around the table completely ignoring the dirty look Lily was piercing him with. "Speaking of…anyone got a biscuit?"

"Oh, ha, ha. You're so funny, Black," she said sarcastically, watching warily as he spotted one, picked it up and pulled it into two pieces. "And if you even think about putting that biscuit on my face, I will reach over and push you off of the bench. I swear to Merlin." Sirius stopped mid-movement, holding half of a biscuit across the table and smirking at her. He hesitated for a moment, his smirk widening, and then he continued moving toward her. She wasted no time slapping the biscuit out of his hand and then made to launch herself across the table at him. Sirius's eyes widened. Obviously he had believed she wouldn't do anything, and was laughing as he instinctively moved away from her. James grabbed Lily's upper arms and pulled her back down to the bench. She tried to look angry as she crossed her arms, but couldn't quite keep the small smile from reaching her own lips. Sirius was still grinning at her like a maniac and would occasionally flash the other half of his biscuit at her threateningly.

"Ahem," Remus said after a few moments of glaring, "Some of us are still waiting to hear about what happened last year."

Jenna looked over at Lily, grinning like the madwoman that she is. "Either you tell them, or I will," she said smugly.

Lily sighed dramatically and lifted her eyes to the enchanted ceiling. Without looking back down, she murmured, "I had detention because I punched Serena Marcelas at the match." She said it miserably before letting her gaze lower back down to the six sets of eyes that were fixated on her. It was quiet for only a brief moment and then everyone exploded. Jenna and Mary were giggling madly, their heads ducked together.

"You punched somebody?"

"Wicked! Was there any blood? How much?"

"I've been telling people for years that you had violent tendencies, but no one ever believed me!"

"What in the name of all that is magical would have possessed you to do something like punching another person in the face?"

"How often do you run about punching people, Evans? Can I come with to observe on your next rampage?"

The boys' ramblings were getting more and more outrageous. Sirius was utterly impressed and was looking at Lily with a deep sense of awe. Remus was staring wide-eyed, seemingly unable to reconcile an image of Lily and an image of someone getting punched to each other. Peter kept going on about how it seemed like the last thing she'd ever be caught doing and the irony of it considering all the times she'd yelled at them for hexing people. James looked torn between admiration, unquenched mirth, and curiosity, and was laughing so hard he barely seemed to be keeping himself from falling off of the bench.

Lily just sat scowling silently, waiting for someone to address her with a reasonable question. It was James who finally managed to control himself enough to speak coherently.

"What in the name of Merlin" – laughter – "did Serena say" –more laughter – "to make you" –chuckle – "punch her?" He concluded his statement by collapsing onto the table and laughing a bit more into his arms.

Lily had every intention of ignoring him some more, but Jenna spoke up again, apparently ready to get the story out.

"You've never seen Lily when she gets competitive have you?" she asked. The boys shook their heads and Jenna grinned a bit manically. "She goes a little mad sometimes. It's absolutely hilarious!" she elaborated.

"The real surprising thing about it is the fact that it's actually Quidditch that brings it out in her," Mary chimed in. She too was donning a grin, but hers held a bit more sympathy for Lily's embarrassment.

Lily's ears perked up at her friend's statement. Perhaps she'd be able to get out of this without admitting the most embarrassing detail, after all.

"Yeah," she started, forcing a quick laugh and hoping no one noticed how unnatural it sounded. "I just get really competitive during Quidditch. House solidarity and all." She paused for about a second, continuing before anyone could comment, "Anyway, who wants some trifle?"

James was piercing her with a most disbelieving look, but Lily was ignoring it, hoping that for once in his life he would just let it bloody go, but Jenna, wouldn't let her get away with it.

"Hold on just a second there, Evans. I seem to remember there being a bit more to it than that. Specifically about what it was that actually set you off. Maybe I should tell my side of the story, yeah?" Though her word choice suggested that she was asking for Lily's permission, Jenna didn't even hesitate before she launched into the retelling. "Serena was sitting behind us at the match…"

"Wait a second," Remus interrupted, holding up a hand to halt Jenna. "Why was a Slytherin sitting in the middle of the Gryffindor section?"

"She said it was because she knew we were going to lose and she wanted to watch our destruction up close," Lily answered bitterly, the prat's words still standing out clearly in her mind.

"That was stupid of her," Mary added.

"No one ever said Slytherins were particularly brainy. What was it the hat said at the Sorting this year?" Peter asked.

"Smelly, ugly and despicably slimy; I haven't got a clue why we let them in…blimey," Sirius supplied, dead panning. He didn't even smirk when the rest of them chuckled appreciatively.

"Erm…yes, something like that," Jenna grinned before continuing. "But like I was saying, she did sit behind us, and it was right annoying, let me tell you. She went on and on about how Hooch was favoring us and how we were cheating and she made all these snide personal remarks about the team. She never shut up. It was like this rolling commentary throughout the whole game, except that it was rude and offensive and loud."

"As would be expected, I stood up for our house. There's nothing wrong with that!" Lily jumped in indignantly. "I can't be expected to just sit there and listen to that. It was a two hour match!"

"Of course not," Jenna replied, and for the first time since her tale began, she sounded as though she were being sincere. She then proceeded to pat Lily's hand soothingly and continued with her story. "I was quite proud of you, actually. Showing off that Gryffindor pride!"

"So how did you end up fighting with her?" Peter asked, enthralled in the story and seeming rather put out at the detour.

"I was getting there. Don't rush me!" Jenna exclaimed with a warning look at Peter. "At the end of the game…well, I don't know if you remember what happened, but Potter here did some pretty fancy flying which somehow managed to block the Seeker, giving Mary a huge edge, and we ended up winning." Everyone was nodding, silently waiting for Jenna to continue. "Of course Serena wasn't very happy about that. We were jumping up and down and screaming and she started going on about how James is a cheat and how he'd clearly bribed Hooch into looking the other way while he ensured a Gryffindor victory. She claimed that was the only way we'd ever be able to manage to win anyway.

"I guess that was the last straw for Lily. I don't even remember exactly what it was she said, but it was pretty nasty and Serena practically had steam coming out of her ears, she was so angry. At first she seemed so shocked that I thought she'd just walk away fuming, but you know Serena. She always has to have the last word, and any time you shoot a hole in her pride she bristles up and says the first scathing thing that comes to mind. So she said…well, I don't remember the exact phrasing. Lil, do you remember?"

Lily glared at Jenna a moment and then sighed resignedly. "She said, 'Of course Potter's bloody girlfriend is going to stick up for him. It doesn't change that fact that he's a no good cheater.'" Lily said it all very monotonously and left out a few of Serena's choice expletives, particularly her slur against Lily's family, knowing that it would only create tension.

"That's right," Jenna continued, her sly grin widening. "Well, you know how Lily reacts any time someone connects her to James in a way that doesn't involve murder. She freaked out. She launched herself over the chairs and knocked Serena to the ground and just started hitting her as hard as she could. McGonagall finally made her way over and pulled Lily off, but Serena's mate Jillian had to take her to the Hospital Wing."

"Nice," Sirius murmured, nodding admiringly at Lily.

James was smirking, an eyebrow cocked smugly at her. "Even then you had a bit of a hero complex when it came to me…I never knew that."

Lily narrowed her eyes and hit him hard in the arm. "I wasn't defending you, you prat. I was standing up for my house. Her little remark about you just sent me over the edge." She hit him again, just for good measure, but it only made his smirk widen.

Remus was grinning now too. "It sounds a bit like you were defending him, Lil." She turned her glare on him and he playfully recoiled. "Just a bit though," he added with a wink. "What d'you think, Pete?"

"I think we better warn whoever's sitting near us tomorrow not to say anything bad about Prongs, that's what I think. Also, if I ever decide that I need to speak with Pomfrey urgently, it's good to know that all I have to do is call Evans his girlfriend."

Lily rolled her eyes, but it seemed that Sirius was ready to move on to a new subject. "And why exactly would you need to urgently speak with Pomfrey? Are you planning on making her your latest conquest?"

"She's already putty in my hands, Padfoot. Don't be jealous just because she prefers me to you," Peter quipped.

All in all, the mood was much more relaxed for the rest of dinner. They kept the conversation away from Quidditch and the match the next day which kept James's fidgeting to a minimum. Not to mention the fact that he couldn't seem to look at her without bursting into fits of laughter. That seemed to be a contributing factor as well.

Things changed a bit as they made their way back into the common room, though. Since becoming captain, James had a tradition of meeting with his players one at a time the evening prior to a match to go over any strategies they were working on, any moves they needed to remember, and perhaps a word of encouragement. So while he did that, Lily went up to bed. It had been a long week, and knowing how James could get when he got into Quidditch mode, Lily doubted he would miss her very much anyway. He probably wouldn't even notice that she was missing.

She couldn't fall asleep though, tired as she was. She kept thinking of James and how much pressure was mounting on him. She hadn't known until Lexi had pointed it out at dinner just how crucial this match was to the rest of the Gryffindor season. She'd just assumed that as they'd won their first game that winning their second guaranteed them a spot in the final. Apparently she'd been wrong. She was sure that at some point this week someone had mentioned this fact, but she had become so accustomed to blocking out all talk of Quidditch that it had never sunk in.

She also returned her thoughts to wondering if James always felt this much pressure, and though he was always pretending that it didn't bother him, she wasn't sure whether she'd just overlooked it or not bothered to look deeper than his façade. She would have hardly believed it had someone told her last year that James Potter was anything less than completely and arrogantly confident of his own ability, if not his team's collective ability, to do everything necessary to win the Quidditch Cup.

She wanted to do something to help, but she didn't know what. He'd done so much for her this year. Everything from letting her cry in his arms, to making her laugh when she was having a rotten day, to forfeiting his own sleep to make sure that she was okay. He'd been there for her through times much more difficult than the pressure of a Quidditch match, and she couldn't help but feel that the scale was unbalanced. She owed him a little bit of comfort.

She heard Mary come in and get into bed which meant it was too late to do anything now anyway. Mary's arrival meant that James had ordered the team to bed. He would be up in the 7th year boys' dormitory now, doing Merlin only knows what. But maybe that was a good thing. If anyone could make James feel better, it was Sirius, Remus, and Peter. They also know him well enough to tell when he's lying about feeling okay. Lily hoped that whatever their plan to make him feel better was wouldn't land him in detention, but if it did, she'd be okay with it. Sure, she'd throw a fit just for looks (she was Head Girl after all) but in the grand scheme of things, she could survive him getting a detention.

Jenna and Claire were quick to follow Mary into the dormitory. She heard them chatting quietly before settling in. The familiar sounds of her roommates getting ready for bed were soothing. She liked that she could predict the order in which things would happen. She liked the dependability. She would miss it come July.

Soon though, another sound joined Jenna's toothbrush and Claire's quiet humming. It was an owl. Lily could hear the beat of its wings and its soft hoot as it flew in one of the windows.

Even more surprising was when the owl flew over her bedposts and gently landed on her comforter. Lily wasn't sure whose it was, but stroked its feathers lightly as she untied and read the note.


Apparently you think it's okay to waltz upstairs without telling you're certain someone good night. I'm here to tell you that this is a falsehood, Evans, and not okay in the least. Don't you know that it's good luck for the captain to get a kiss from his girlfriend the night before a big match?


PS-Please don't punch me just for calling you my girlfriend. I don't want to end up in the Hospital Wing. Pomfrey scares me.
PPS-Good night. Sorry I missed you.

Lily couldn't help the ridiculous grin that immediately surfaced on her face. It meant much more to her than it should have that somewhere in the midst of his ridiculous Quidditch-obsessing brain, he had noticed her absence. She reread the note, drinking in the words written in his familiar scrawl.

Suddenly she had an idea. She scrambled to the edge of her bed and struggled to find the opening in her hangings before rushing out and grabbing a few items out of her trunk.

"Lily?" Jenna asked, peeking out of the bathroom at the racket Lily was making. "Was that James's owl? Is everything all right?"

"Um…yeah, everything's fine," Lily answered as she scrambled back to her own bed. "He just wanted to see if he could borrow my Potions notes after the match to study."

It was a horrible excuse and she knew even without Jenna's eye roll and answering "Yeah, uh huh…sure," that there was no way that she would believe her. Luckily, Jenna didn't press it and went back to brushing her teeth muttering, "Could have just told me it was none of my business…"

After she'd scrambled back into her bed, she held her quill between her teeth as she unscrewed a bottle of ink. Quickly she scribbled a note of reply before tying it to his owl's leg and sending it back to his owner.


I'm impressed you even noticed I wasn't there. I figured you only noticed people in Quidditch uniforms on a night such as this.


PS-I'm almost constantly considering punching you, but not for calling me your girlfriend. Consider yourself warned.
PPS-I was really tired, so I came up early. I didn't realize I was jeopardizing our team's chances. My apologies. For what it's worth, I
was planning on giving you an especially cheerful 'good morning' to make up for my not saying 'good night,' but if you want to forfeit that, it's fine.

As Lily expected, it wasn't a very long time before a response came flying through the window. She chuckled at how quickly it had come back and didn't even bother commenting rudely when Jenna asked if he needed Charms notes this time.


Ever since your Snitch costume at Halloween, you have forever become synonymous with Quidditch in my mind. And I certainly don't want to forfeit my 'good morning.' At least until I find out what 'especially cheerful' entails.

Lily, grinning at her own cleverness and also her ability to so correctly predict her boyfriend's weaknesses, quickly penned a reply.


I'm afraid that details of what that entails are best not written down where they may fall into innocent and unsuspecting hands. I'd hate to be responsible for corrupting or scarring one of our younger Gryffindors. If you'd like a detailed description, I can provide you with that in person at midnight in the common room.


PS-Obviously if you need to sleep or carbo-load or something I understand. After all, I've already jeopardized the team enough as it is. I don't want to be responsible for a sleep deprived captain as well.

His response came quickly and sent a thrill to the pit of her stomach.


Even if I did need to carbo-load (whatever that means), I'd be there. You can't honestly expect me to pass up something that might scar a younger student, especially when you're involved. See you in a few hours.


Lily made her way down to the common room a while later after her dorm mates had all settled in and assumed that she was sleeping as well. She heard Mary's watch chime midnight and carefully crawled out of bed. She wasn't sure if Claire was fully asleep yet, but she didn't say anything when the door opened, and that was enough of an assurance for Lily.

The fire was still crackling warmly in the grate, but James was the only one in the room. He was sitting on a couch, staring intently into the fire and looking very tired. Lily felt a twinge of guilt for keeping him up late, but it disappeared whenever the door shut behind her and he turned and grinned at her. She smiled too, unable to curb the automatic reaction as she made her way over to him. She sat down next to him, tucking her feet underneath her and leaning on his shoulder. She felt him push his lips again her hair as one of his arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her tighter against him.

"Sorry if I'm damaging our chances by keeping our captain up the night before the big match," she said. Her tone was teasing, but her words were genuine. She wanted him to know that her feelings wouldn't be hurt at all if he jumped up and took the stairs three at a time in order to get a good night's sleep.

He smiled tenderly at her and then lifted a warm hand to push her hair back. "Don't worry about it," he murmured. "I can't ever sleep before matches anyway. I stopped trying in 4th year. Normally I just stay up running plays and scenarios in my head over and over again. It will be nice to have a distraction for once."

Lily smiled. "Is that all I am to you now? A distraction? Two hours ago I was someone special. You forget one good night and all of a sudden you're downgraded to distraction."

James rolled his eyes at her antics and then lowered his forehead to hers. "It's an unfair system, I know. But for what it's worth, you're a very good distraction," he said with a dangerous glint in his eyes before pushing his lips to hers. She made a small noise of protest, though wasn't surprised when it didn't do any good. James had tightened his grip on her, pulling her more snuggly against himself. And Lily, despite her well intentioned initial sound of protest, wasted no time in kissing him back. She reached her hands up to cup his cheeks, pulled him harder against her lips and then ran her fingers through his hair.

Somewhere in the back of her mind she remembered that there was a reason, aside from uninterrupted snogging, that she'd invited James into the common room in the middle of the night. While it didn't seem nearly as important at the moment, she somehow forced her hands down to James's chest and gently pushed him away. Now he was the one making protesting noises, and the put out look he was piercing her with was so harsh it was comical. Lily had to force herself to keep her laughter contained when he continued to look disgruntled.

"Evans," he growled, "I thought the whole point of this little rendezvous was to give me my especially cheerful greeting. It's not particularly kind of you to drag a bloke out of bed with that kind of bait and then snatch it away before he's been properly greeted."

Lily rolled her eyes at him and shook her head. "I'm trying to give you the especially cheerful bit. I can't do it if you're snogging me!"

James narrowed his eyes at her and looked as though he were deeply confused. "You mean the snogging isn't part of the greeting?" His puzzled look morphed into a scowl. "You were very misleading, Evans. I could sue you for that."

"You know what they say about when you assume…" Lily said in a sing-song voice as she wriggled out of his arms and put a few small (all right, miniscule) centimeters of distance between them.

"That you're usually right unless you have an especially cruel girlfriend who likes to get your hopes up only to smash them to bits?"

"Exactly," Lily answered turning on the couch so that she was squared to him.

James couldn't help but grin at her remark. He crossed his arms and donned a "this better be good" look and watched as she reoriented herself. "Fine. What's the other part then?"

"I wanted to give you something…well, let you borrow something really," she answered, suddenly feeling a bit nervous as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a silver bracelet so full with charms on it that it jingled loudly in the deserted common room.

She smiled as she held it out to him. His puzzled expression resurfaced as he slowly reached out and took it from her. He fingered it for a moment, surveying it closely as though expecting it to suddenly become something different or more useful. Finally, when it didn't, he looked up at her with an arched eyebrow. "Er…you shouldn't have?"

"It's a charm bracelet," Lily said quickly as if James had asked her what it was rather than giving her the universal response for "I don't want this but I don't want to hurt your feelings either."

James nodded, still looking very confused. "I can see that," he said. "I'm really not a bracelet kind of guy…" he started before Lily cut across him.

"It's good luck," Lily finally explained, letting out a quiet giggle though James still seemed thoroughly confused by her behavior. "My dad gave that to me. It was kind of a tradition really for Petunia and I. On each of our fifth birthdays, he bought us a charm bracelet with only our first initial on it." She ran her fingers over the warm metal still held in his open palm until she found the small "L" written in a curly script. "He traveled a lot for work, and it became a tradition with him that when he went on a business trip he would come back with a different charm for both of us."

Lily paused, her throat tightening as memories came flooding back. James was fingering the bracelet more carefully now, surveying each charm with interest. "One year…I don't even remember when it was…but Dad had to go on a trip to the city where they were playing the World Cup. I was really into football when I was younger and I was obsessed with England's team. I read every article I could get my hands on. I watched all of the interviews with the players on TV. Mum wouldn't let Dad buy me a jersey so I got some permanent markers and colored all over my white shirts so that it looked like I had an England jersey. Mum was so mad…she grounded me for three weeks. And then she wouldn't take me to buy new clothes so I had to wear these hideously colored shirts to school…I was so embarrassed." Lily chuckled quietly remembering her mum yelling at her when she'd found all of the jerseys.

James was grinning at her but when she paused, all he said was, "Football?"

"Oh, it's a muggle sport. We can go a little crazy for it. Anyway, my dad was in the city that the World Cup was being played in and he managed to get some tickets to see England. He went to the match and it was terrible. After the first half England was down three, nil." James looked confused and Lily had to remind herself that Quidditch scores were usually really high and that three, besides being a score that you could never get, would seem like nothing to overcome even if you somehow managed it. "Oh, that's a lot. You don't come back from something like that typically. Anyway, at the half he went to get me a charm and he got this one." Lily reached for the bracelet again, but this time she pushed the charms around until she found a small, football shaped one. "He put it in his pocket and said that it brought him good luck because England managed to come back and win."

Lily felt embarrassed at the story, even with James smiling so tenderly at her that she knew he wasn't going to make fun. Even so, she felt herself reflexively doing what she always did when she got nervous or embarrassed. She started rambling.

"I know it's lucky because I didn't wear it all the time, I was always afraid that I'd lose it or that it would break, but when I would wear it, good things happened a mysteriously large amount of the time. And it's just the football charm, so you don't have to wear the whole bracelet either. And I think that the good luck will work all the way from the locker room." James was chuckling now and Lily couldn't help but grin as well. "I looked into the physics of it and if you just put it in your locker, I think the luck should carry over onto the pitch. Obviously you don't have to wear it…I just thought that maybe you'd want to, but there's no pressure."

James chuckled quietly as he snaked an arm around her waist once again and pulled her close. She sighed, more words dying in her throat and then snuggled her head into the crook of his neck. He let his head fall, his lips grazing the bare skin at the base of her neck right on the edge of her night shirt. She shivered as he whispered, "Thank you."

Lily pressed a brief kiss on the underside of his jaw and then moved away from him; just far enough that she could look up and see his face without straining her neck but not moving out of his arms.

She gazed up at him. He was still smiling at her, but Lily found herself wondering the same thing that had been bugging her the past few days. "Are you okay?" she asked, concern filling her voice. She didn't want to press him. If he didn't want to talk about it, then fine. He was a man, after all, and weren't men supposed to be anti-feelings and anti-talking and anti-communication?

Before she could really ponder this too much though, he sighed heavily and leaned back, running an anxious hand through his hair and gripping it firmly before letting his arm drop limply back to his side. "Yeah, I'm fine," he answered. "I mean…it's nothing that I don't deal with before every match."

Before Lily could even form the words "Do you want to talk about it?" James had launched into a full explanation, though the look on his face made her think that the words were rather being wrenched from him without his consent. "There's so much riding on the game tomorrow. Right now I'm everyone's favorite person, but one loss and that all changes. And it's not that I really care what anyone thinks, but it's not like I want to lose either." He paused and looked down at her as if he were considering the wisdom of his next statement. "What Lexi said…tonight at dinner…that was true too," he said quietly, dropping his eyes from hers. "I have all of these Quidditch records, but none of it means anything if the team doesn't win."

Lily pursed her lips and repressed the wave of jealousy that threatened to rise up within her before she spoke. "James, the team has already won. The last two years we won the Cup. Third year as well."

"This is different though," James interjected. "This is my last chance. This is what people will remember after I leave. No one will care if I won two before but lost the last one." Lily was getting ready to jump into a tirade about how it won't matter in thirty years if he won two or three Quidditch Cups and that it doesn't matter what other people think of him anyway, but James' lips quirked up in a half smile as though he knew every thought that had just raced through her mind. "There's no use in arguing with it. Great minds before you have tried using logic to make me see sense and it's never worked before. You just have to go with it. At about three tomorrow afternoon I'll come back to my normally sensible perspective."

Lily smiled too. "Well, I promise I won't stop liking you if you lose tomorrow. In fact, I might prefer it. If everyone gets angry with you it means they'll probably stop dogging your every step and I would actually get to see you again!"

James rolled his eyes. "I'll keep that in mind if we lose and I need a compelling reason to talk myself out of jumping off of the Astronomy Tower."

"Glad to be of service," Lily giggled and then gave him a little smirk. She ran her hands up his chest and gripping his shirt, she tugged him back toward herself. "And speaking of services," she added as he lifted an eyebrow at her, "I'd like to offer my skills at distracting. I've recently been informed that I'm quite talented when it comes to that."

James seemed to be done talking at that point, because he quickly drowned out the rest of her words with his mouth. It became clear to Lily within a matter of seconds that she wasn't the only one who'd been missing him over the course of the week. James kissed her hard, his lips moving urgently over hers, his hands spread wide on her back and pulling her closer, holding her tightly against him.

In all honesty, though, Lily couldn't say that she was necessarily discouraging his efforts to basically ravish her. She had gone pliant against him the moment his lips had met hers, twisting her arms around his neck and pathetically letting out quiet, involuntary moans any time he did something that felt even slightly good (basically everything, so they came out an embarrassingly large amount of the time) which only served to spur him on more enthusiastically.

Before she really knew what was happening, James was pushing her down on the couch, and since she'd been starting to think that her only other option was to hop up on his lap in order to make the heated snogging more convenient, she didn't put up much of a fight (or any at all, for that matter). Her body instantly recalled the last time James had been lying atop her and faint warning bells went off in her mind, but it felt so good sinking into the couch cushions with James's warm body covering hers that she ignored them. His mouth had migrated to do something maddening to a particularly sensitive spot on her neck and she was no longer in a frame of mind to make him stop even if she'd really wanted to.

She deliberately didn't check the clock when she finally made her way back to her own bed later. She didn't want to know how long they'd spent putting on what surely would have been a very entertaining show for anyone who'd ventured down from the dormitories. She was fairly certain, however, that it was much further along in the night than she cared to admit. She also didn't want to admit to the fact that James had once again ended up shirtless, though she couldn't for the life of her pinpoint the exact moment in the evening in which she'd shoved it over his head and dropped it unceremoniously onto the floor.

What a shameless tease, she thought with a guilty smile as she curled up underneath her warm covers.

Whatever else the evening had ended up being, she had definitely succeeded in distracting James. That much was for sure.

Mary was already gone when she woke up the next morning and Jenna was banging around, digging under her bed and looking for a banner that she liked to hold up at the beginning of the matches. Lily got ready quickly, pulling everything in her trunk out until she found what would be the warmest and threw on as much as she could. It wasn't nearly as cold as the last match had been, but Lily knew from experience that the stadium acted as a wind tunnel, and that Mary would be doing everything that she could to keep the match going until Gryffindor was up by enough points. All things considered, it was shaping up to be a very long match.

She and Jenna made their way down to the Great Hall earlier than normal on a Saturday, but of course there were loads more people up than usual in all the excitement for the match.

They made their way over to the Gryffindor table where the team was already seated. Lily sat down next to Mary, who was looking a bit green and staring forlornly into a bowl of oatmeal.

"Good morning!" she exclaimed happily, smiling around at them all. "Lovely morning, isn't it?" Her eyes locked briefly with James' before she had to look away and mentally force the blush that was threatening to creep up her cheeks back down.

"That it is, Evans! That it is!" Sirius all but shouted, reaching across Mary's untouched breakfast and rumpling Lily's hair. He grinned so brightly at her, his smile so wide, that she was sure she could count all of his teeth. She shot him a skeptical look as he shoveled a forkful of egg into his mouth. "But what day wouldn't be considered lovely when we're about to pummel Ravenclaw?" he continued, his voice rising with each word until he was yelling the last two words as more of a war cry to which several people around them cheered.

"Ignore him," Remus commented, throwing his mate a disgusted look as he continued chanting different battle cries. "This is how he deals with nerves…he just gets louder. Now, I realize you must be thinking that it's impossible for him to get any louder than normal, but you're wrong. Prepare to be amazed."

"I'm not nervous, Moony," Sirius protested quickly (and loudly, Lily noted), narrowing his eyes and pointing his fork accusingly at him across the table. Remus didn't look the least bit intimidated, merely cocking an eyebrow and pushing the offending object off to the side whenever it came too near his nose. "I am just supremely confident in our impending victory!"

Lily, in spite of herself, found a giggle escaping her lips as Sirius continued to make a complete fool of himself.

"You're in a good mood this morning," James commented quietly as she reached for a muffin and began lathering jam on the top of it.

"No more than any other morning," she replied with a shrug.

James' face, which up until this point had been sporting a very solemn look, suddenly split into a smirk. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with that. You normally don't stop scowling at the fact that the sun is up until halfway through lunch."

"Bloke's got a point," Jenna chimed in. "You were practically skipping in the corridors on the way to breakfast." Lily only shrugged her response, taking another bite of her muffin.

James's smirk widened and his eyes glinted behind his glasses. "You are in a good mood. One might even go so far as to say that you're looking especially cheerful this morning." Lily's grin fell from her face and she glared at James across the table which only managed to make him chuckle more, his face splitting into a true grin now. "Well, not anymore, but I bet you're working really hard to keep from smiling again."

He was right. Of course he was right. Lily could only keep scowling for a few more seconds before her grin returned. "I hate you," she murmured with a wink, but kicked him underneath the table just for good measure. "Are you going to eat anything?" she asked, gesturing to his clean plate.

He shook his head. "No. I stopped sleeping in 4th year and I stopped eating in 5th. There's no use." He sighed and ran a hand anxiously through his hair, tousling it and making it stick up wildly in the back. "I'm going to head out there," he said, addressing Sirius this time.

"So early?" Lily asked before she could stop herself. She felt a blush creep up her cheeks now, one that she wouldn't have been able to stop no matter how much effort she put into it. It seemed that she wasn't the only one who had noticed the disappointed tone in her voice either. James was smiling warmly at her and Jenna was smirking to her right.

"I have to go through my pregame routine. You know, check the conditions, survey the equipment, offer up animal sacrifices…the usual," James joked. Lily laughed, as did quite a few of the other people listening in. "Padfoot, ten minutes and then round everyone up and head to the locker rooms."

"Aye, aye Cap'n," Sirius said loudly, lifting his hand in salute.

James rolled his eyes. "I mean it, ten minutes and not a second later. If you're late I'm playing the reserve," he warned as he walked backwards away from the table.

"Threats only work if you can follow through!" Sirius shouted after him. James pretended not to hear, lifting his hand to his ear and shrugging his shoulders. Then he gestured to his watch before turning and walking purposefully out of the Great Hall. Applause from the Gryffindor table and a few of the Hufflepuffs intermingled with boos and hisses from the Ravenclaw and Slytherin tables.

Lily waited until James had completely exited the hall before she began searching her bag. "Oh no," she groaned in her most believably irritated voice. "I'm such an idiot…I left my scarf up in the tower. I'll be right back."

"You're going to get it?" Jenna asked, her brow creased.

"Jenna, it's freezing outside. I don't want to lose my ears to frostbite, thank you very much. I'll be right back."

"We only have ten minutes!" Jenna argued as Lily had already swung her legs over the bench.

"So? It doesn't take that long to make a round trip to Gryffindor Tower." When Jenna continued to glare openly at her, she added, "I'll run, okay?" And with that she scampered away.

However, when she reached the Entrance Hall, instead of turning left to head for the staircases, she went right, toward the front doors of the castle. She hoped she hadn't waited too long. Sure enough, as she ran through the hallway, she spotted James's back as he was pulling on the doors. He heard her footsteps and turned to look at her. His eyes widened as he took in her sprinting form.

"Lily? What're you –" but his words were cut off as she slowed down just enough to keep them from toppling over as she ran into him. Without explanation or hesitation, she pressed her lips to his, swallowing the rest of his question with her mouth. She was pushed up on her toes and felt James' hands grip her waist, steadying her. He seemed rather shocked by her sudden attack, but got over it quickly enough, kissing her back until she lowered herself back down and pushed away from him.

She backed up a few centimeters, grinning at him. "Good luck," she murmured before releasing him fully.

He beamed down at her and then began fumbling with something at his neck. "Looks like this thing's working for me already," he said, his eyes twinkling. It was then that Lily saw what he was holding on to. He had a long, silver chain around his neck that had been tucked beneath his jumper. Hanging from the chain was her football charm.

Lily was silent for a moment. "You're wearing it," she said softly, her voice hoarse as she lifted her hand and touched the small charm. She looked at it for a moment and then let her gaze drift up to James who was watching her. She wasn't sure what emotion was playing on her face at that moment, but she was fairly certain that it was unguarded and probably all too revealing.

"Yeah, well, I know you said you'd worked out the physics of it and all and that it should work even from the locker room, but I just wanted to make sure." The side of his mouth quirked up in a half smile that had Lily all but melting in the middle of the corridor.

She chuckled and nudged him in the side. "That was very wise thinking, though I am slightly offended that you would doubt my physics prowess."

James rolled his eyes and took a step toward the doors again. "What did you tell them to get away?" he asked, his tone curious.

"What do you mean?" Lily asked, disoriented by the sudden change of subject.

"I'm guessing you didn't tell everyone that you needed to come out here and attack me. So what did you tell them to get up from the table?"

Lily grinned slyly. "The truth. That I left my scarf up in Gryffindor Tower."

James nodded slowly. "Ah, and here I was hoping that you'd spent the whole morning thinking up some intricate lie in order to accost me in the corridor," he sighed wistfully.

Lily laughed again and shook her head. "What I didn't tell them was that I left my scarf up there on purpose…for the sole reason of having an excuse to run out here and, as you so delicately put it, 'accost you.'" James's grin was all too smug as he snorted and pulled the doors open. "Now go on, you're running out of time to properly prepare your sacrifices. And if there's one thing that the Higher Powers of Quidditch hate, it's an ill-prepared offering." She waved goodbye and then turned on her heel to run all the way up to her dormitory, James's chuckles chasing her until she reached the staircase.

She had barely sprinted into the Entrance Hall, scarf tied haphazardly around her neck and hair all askew, when she spotted the Gryffindor Quidditch team closely followed by Remus, Peter, and Jenna about to exit the castle. There was already a large crowd on the front lawn and Lily could hear the sounds of hundreds of people moving within the Great Hall, preparing for the mass exodus to the Quidditch Pitch.

Jenna somehow managed to spot Lily and made a wild waving motion at her that prompted Lily to begin sprinting again, pushing through groups of people to reach them.

"What took you so long?" she asked crossly, once Lily had managed to catch up with her.

"Couldn't find it right off," Lily lied, smiling to herself while tugging the scarf more neatly around her neck.

"Well, you shouldn't have forgotten it in the first place. We almost had to leave without you and then what would you have done? You would have had to sit by yourself…"

Lily rolled her eyes. "Oh, honestly, Jenna! First of all, you could have stayed and waited for me. We don't have to sit with Remus and Peter," she interrupted. Then spotting the boys' affronted looks she quickly added, "Not that we don't want to…just pointing out a fact. Obviously I'm very happy that I caught you in time." They nodded, placated, and went back to having some loud conversation with Sirius. "And even if you had left with them, I am more than capable of either finding you in the stands or sitting by myself. I'm not so pathetic that I can't watch Quidditch for a few hours alone. And if I got bored, I'd pick a fight with some unfortunate Slytherin who happened to be in my vicinity."

Jenna, who had been scowling throughout Lily's whole speech, couldn't help laughing at her last comment.

They were about halfway down the lawn when Lily noticed something very peculiar. Random students from different houses kept coming up to Sirius, Remus and Peter, muttering something in hushed whispers, making some kind of exchange, and then quickly scampering away.

After a few minutes went by and it didn't happen again, she decided it wasn't worth the effort of trying to wheedle whatever mischief they were up to out of them, but no sooner had she settled on that decision than a 3rd year Slytherin came up and repeated the same strange actions.

Lily stared at them suspiciously as Remus and Peter ducked their heads together and scribbled something down onto a piece of parchment. They pretended not to notice her staring, but Peter's constant furtive glances in her direction confirmed her suspicions that they couldn't be up to anything good.

"What are you three doing?" she asked, her tone equal parts menacing and intrigued as she narrowed her eyes at them.

"Nothing," Peter answered too quickly.

"Nothing wrong," Remus amended immediately after. Lily arched her eyebrow dubiously at them.

"I'm not involved at all," Sirius added. When he received the most disbelieving look of all, he continued, feigning indignation. "It would be a conflict of my morals."

Lily snorted loudly. "You have morals?"

Sirius smirked wickedly. "I'm flattered by your low opinion of me, Evans. And while it's true that in certain areas my morals could be considered…erm, less than wholesome, I would never do anything that could be construed as cheating in the arena."

"Cheating?" Lily exclaimed loudly, her eyebrows knit together as she turned her attention back to Remus and Peter.

Remus was shooting Sirius a severe look. "It's not cheating if we do it," he insisted, his voice completely rational even though he was still looking daggers at Sirius. "We're just taking bets on the match. And seeing as we're not playing and would therefore have no bearing on the outcome of the match, it's not cheating."

"Oh," Lily said simply. She knew that she should care that they were taking bets and that, despite Remus's assurances, they were probably finding ways to cheat younger students out of too much money, but she really couldn't find the will to summon the emotion. "So, just bets on who's going to win?"

"Nah, that's boring," Peter answered. "It has to be an obscure bet."

Lily furrowed her brow. "Obscure? Like what?"

Remus was looking at her warily, but glanced down at his sheaf of parchment nonetheless. "Marcus just bet three galleons that Becca flies in the opposite direction of the Quaffle 13 times during the match."

Lily snorted very indelicately. First, because of the perfect randomness of that bet and second, because of the fact that it was probably a very smart bet to make. "That's clever."

"That was my idea," Sirius chimed in proudly.

"I thought you weren't involved," Lily scolded.

Sirius scrunched up his face as though in deep thought. "Perhaps I was a bit involved in the beginning phases. You know, helping it get off the ground, offering the use of my keen business sense. I don't take or place bets though." Lily clicked her tongue suspiciously, but didn't press the subject.

"So…you're not upset?" Remus asked warily. Lily shook her head and shrugged. "You're not going to yell at us or give us detention or anything?"

"I wasn't planning on it," Lily said, grinning at the plain fear she clearly had the power to inflict on troublemakers. "If you want me to, I'd be happy to oblige. But as it is, I'd rather not."

"Spot on, Evans," Peter said gleefully, clapping his hands together. "What do you say? Want to make a bet?"

"Oh…I dunno."

"Go on, Lily. It'll give the game a bit more interest," Jenna encouraged.

Lily shot her a skeptical look. "As if it isn't going to be interesting anyway…" she muttered but then dug around in her pockets to see how much money she had. "I'll put…seven Sickles on James scoring the most goals."

Remus jotted it down, but Peter shook his head sadly. "Afraid your returns won't be too high on that one, Lily. Odds are very in favor of that."

Lily shrugged as she handed over her money. "I'm not much of a risk taker, I suppose."

"All right, lads," Sirius said, stopping in the middle of the path. "I should head off. I think Prongs may have been serious about benching me if I'm late again. Ladies, I'll see you after."

Before he could run off, Lily, who was standing next to Sirius, grabbed his arm, pushed herself up onto her toes and kissed him on the cheek. She murmured "good luck" and then released him. Sirius looked at her with more shock than anything else before the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly. He nodded at her and then took off in the direction of the locker rooms, a few paces behind the rest of his team.

Lily kept walking, hoping that no one would say anything about her recent display of affection for Sirius. She knew that Jenna was watching her with a look of mingled confusion and skepticism on her face but the only thing that was said about it was from Peter who muttered, "Prongs will be disappointed that he missed Evans handing out good luck snogs," under his breath to Remus, who didn't get a chance to respond as another student ran up to them to place a bet.

The game was, to quote something Remus had said an endless number of times since the Quaffle was first released, a 'nail biter'. Almost a full two hours of play, and there was still no end in sight. Ravenclaw had jumped to an early lead, taking all the wind out of Gryffindor's sails and prompting the Ravenclaw and Slytherin section to reach deafening noise levels. When they were down 20-60, James called a timeout and did a fair bit of yelling at his fellow Chasers. After that they were like a completely different team. James quickly snatched the Quaffle, flinging it quickly to Sirius, who put it through effortlessly. Then James managed to fake out the Keeper so badly that he went hurtling into the stands while James easily scored. What really got the Gryffindors back into the game though was a particularly impressive stop by Becca, in which she actually leapt from her broom, swatted the Quaffle to Bill, and then caught her own broomstick and hoisted herself back onto it.

After that remarkable feat, the Gryffindor team had taken off. The Ravenclaw Beaters did seem to focus much more on James than any of the other players on the field, the majority of their Bludgers headed toward the Gryffindor captain, but unlike in the Slytherin match earlier that year, they seemed less intent on maiming James, and more intent on impeding his path. James, however, was too quick and his fellow Chasers too talented for it to have much of an effect on their scoring.

Mary had provided a fair amount of entertainment herself. Her game plan was to keep an eye out for the Snitch and either distract the Ravenclaw Seeker from seeing it as well or keeping him from catching it without catching it herself. She feinted so believably at one point that Lily feared she was actually going to catch it. Instead, she'd sent the Ravenclaw Seeker racing toward the ground. He just managed to pull out of his dive without completely plummeting into the hard earth, but his leg scraped against the ground, sending him wobbling into the side of one of the stands. Another time, Mary actually made her way to the Snitch and kicked it as hard as she could away from the match.

Gryffindor was now up by ninety points and Becca had just made another incredible save, urged on by the excited Gryffindor crowd. It was obvious that the Ravenclaw supporters were nervous, anxiously cheering on their Seeker, hoping that he would catch the Snitch before Gryffindor could score twice more.

It wasn't too long before both Seekers were diving toward a flickering speck of light near the ground. Jenna jumped to her feet next to Lily with her hands over her eyes screaming "Please be feinting! Please be feinting!" but Lily could tell that this was the real thing. She looked frantically for the Snitch and saw with a flood of horror that the Ravenclaw Seeker was much closer to the elusive gold ball. Mary was gaining quickly, but it was clear that she wouldn't have time to bat the Snitch away.

This was it. Gryffindor was going to lose.

James, throwing a glance over his shoulder, immediately understood what was happening, and sped furiously down the pitch. The Gryffindor crowd was urging him on, praying for one last miracle from the captain they'd idolized for years. Luckily, both Ravenclaw Beaters were too busy watching the Seekers to bother with sending Bludgers in his direction. Unfortunately, the Ravenclaw Keeper was only too aware of how close Gryffindor was to winning and was watching James with narrowed eyes.

Lily, along with the rest of the Gryffindors, had wrenched her eyes from the Seekers and glued them to James. It was almost too easy for him. With only the Keeper to beat, he raced toward the right goal, and at the last minute flipped the Quaffle behind his back and through the middle hoop.

It wasn't enough, though. Gryffindor was still only up by 100.

With a quick glance up at the Seekers, Lily didn't think they had enough time to score again. Mary was too close. James, however, had raced back to the middle of the pitch and, with a tricky little move in front of one of the Ravenclaw Chasers, easily intercepted the Quaffle, throwing it back into play.

He passed to Sirius who caught it and dodged one of the Ravenclaw Chasers before passing to Bill who was closer to the goals. Bill beat the Keeper, sending him toward the left goal and then aiming for the right, but his throw was off the mark. It was obvious that it was erring too far to the right. Suddenly, out of nowhere, James sped into view and tipped the Quaffle just enough to send it through the hoop, seconds before the whistle blew sounding that the Snitch had been caught. Lily's eyes raced frantically around the pitch to see which team had caught the Snitch. About the same time as the rest of the crowd, she saw that it was Mary's hand that was clenched around the fluttering bit of gold, her arm raised high in victory.

Simultaneously, all the Gryffindors went completely mad, roaring wildly. The team attacked Mary in midair and gradually made their way to the ground hugging each other and cheering. Lily and Jenna were jumping up and down screaming, and their actions would be considered calm in comparison to the reaction of some of the other people around them. Lily would later swear that she saw Claire sobbing on the ground with happiness.

Lily was still screaming and hugging every single person she saw when Jenna grabbed her hand and started pulling her down onto the field. They weren't the only Gryffindors rushing the field, either. The team had already disappeared in the sea of gold and scarlet.

Lily's only thought was that they must be going to find James, because he was the only person that she could think about in that moment. She quickly realized, however, that Jenna obviously would not be sharing her sentiments about wanting to find, congratulate, and possibly accost her secret boyfriend when Jenna maneuvered them through the mass of people to find Mary.

Of course Lily was happy to congratulate Mary who really had been something of a hero that day, extending the game long enough to allow Gryffindor to score the points that they needed and all. She eagerly praised her fabulous flying, catching, anything she could think of, perhaps doing a bit more jumping up and down and screaming than she would ever admit to. Still, Lily couldn't deny that her eyes were scanning the crowd around them for James. She wanted to see him. Wanted to see the relief on his face; the excitement shining in his eyes. She wanted to congratulate him on his brilliant play and on being everything that the Gryffindors had come to expect from him. She knew he would be jubilant and she wanted to share that with him.

"Lily!" She heard her name in the familiar tones of his voice. Turning without hesitation, she saw him a little ways off. He was waving at her, his smile blindingly bright, his eyes gleaming even from a distance. He was still holding onto his broomstick, his hair sweaty and sticking to his forehead. Something about the fact that he'd been looking for her, along with the thoughts that had already been racing through her mind, set her on a course of action that she certainly wouldn't have authorized had she stopped to think about it.

Her face split into a huge grin and she took off in his direction without a parting word to her friends who were still giggling a bit madly. She wasn't sprinting like she had earlier in the Entrance Hall, but she was anxious to get to him, pushing people out of her way and speeding up as she got closer to him. As she approached him, she launched herself into his arms, hitting him with such a force that he was required to spin her around a bit in order to keep them from falling over. He caught her, broomstick in hand and all, and didn't protest as she wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him.

He released her, placing her back on the ground and beaming down at her, but she didn't move out of his embrace. "You were brilliant!" Lily practically shouted over the din of the crowd. "Really! I've never seen anything like it!" He didn't say anything, but just smiled wider, gazing happily down at her. Before she really thought about what she was doing, before she even knew that she should stop herself, she responded to what her body was telling her to do, ignoring any and all protests from her brain. Without a moment's hesitation, she pushed herself up on her toes and met his lips with hers, showing him, in a much more effective way than words, how excited she was.

He gasped, actually gasped, with the shock of her action, and then responded so enthusiastically that Lily would have laughed had she not been enjoying it so much. He dropped his broomstick and wrapped his arms firmly around her, pulling her up into him and even lifting her off of the ground once more.

The rest of the world seemed to disappear for a moment. She could still hear the people around them, but she wasn't really aware of them. Instead she was very much focused on James and the wonderful things his lips were doing against hers. She didn't care that the crowd could see them and she didn't care that people would soon be gossiping about the inappropriate snogging the Head students had done in the middle of the Quidditch pitch. All she cared about was James.

If anyone deserved a good snog in front of the entire Hogwarts population, right now it was probably him.

She wasn't sure what she'd expected whenever they pulled apart. In movies or books whenever something as momentous as this happened, the crowd would go silent, all eyes on the pair of them. Perhaps someone would wolf whistle before the whole group began applauding.

Obviously, nothing of the sort actually occurred.

There was certainly a bit of pointing or staring from the people closest to them, but most people just acted as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Everyone continued chatting with their friends and shouting of Gryffindor's victory while walking back toward the inviting castle.

The same calm can't be ascribed to everyone's reactions, though. Remus and Peter were looking on, a bit bug-eyed, from a few meters away. Mary had her hands over her mouth, and Jenna was bouncing up and down on her toes in excitement. As soon as she was sure that more kissing wasn't about to commence, she raced towards them.

James's reaction, for his part, was exactly as you would imagine. He was flushed (even more than he had been before) and grinning so widely that his cheeks were bound to start into spasms at any moment. Lily was blushing, but really could only force herself to feel the smallest amount of embarrassment as she too did nothing but beam right back up at him.

The fear that she had expected to accompany the outing of hers and James's relationship never settled in. She couldn't even make herself care that the biggest gossip in the school, Ellie Cartwright, had just spotted them and had immediately started whispering to a fellow student. She was in too deep with James now. It didn't make the smallest lick of sense for her to continue insisting on all of this secrecy.

Jenna reached them quickly and based on the impact that she had on Lily's back as she wrapped her arms around James and Lily as a unit, Lily could only assume that she too had hit them at a sprint.

"Best. Day. Ever!" she was shouting, still jumping up and down. James was chuckling while Lily grumbled and pushed backwards off of James's chest (where her face was currently plastered quite painfully).

Lily went on and on about abuse and a fractured jaw and how the Ministry should really criminalize the act of forcefully attacking another person from behind, but Jenna didn't seem to hear any of it.

"I can't believe that actually just happened!" she squealed as she finally released Lily, who noticed that James wasted no time in slipping his arm around Lily's shoulders and pulling her back against him. Upon seeing this, Jenna seemed to squeal at an even higher pitch. Lily was about to point out that if she kept going, they wouldn't be able to hear her anymore, but that dogs would probably start responding to her call, when Jenna stopped smiling, held up her arm and stood directly in front of Lily.

"What're you doing?" Lily asked quizzically.

Jenna shook her head solemnly and continued to hold her arm up. "I must delusional. That's the only explanation for why you would finally desert your state of constant denial and snog that man. Pinch me…I need to know if this is real."

"I've heard Quidditch can have that effect. They call it a Quaffle induced coma," James chuckled as Lily simultaneously swatted her arm away, rolled her eyes, and told Jenna to stop being such a daft henwit.

Jenna, again, ignored her. "We need to do something to…to commemorate this!" she exclaimed, still bouncing up and down on her toes, a giddy smile on her face.

"Commemorate what, exactly? A historic win for Gryffindor?" James asked, playing dumb, though it was quite clear that he knew exactly what Jenna wanted to commemorate. The giddy smile Jenna was sporting was outshined only by the one on James's face. It looked to Lily like nothing could wipe it off.

"No! The fact that Lily finally stopped being an idiot and snogged you." This drew out a loud laugh from the other three Marauders (Mary had run off to find Emmett) who had joined them. Normally Lily would have been affronted by this apparent display of negativity toward her, but she too was feeling exceedingly happy, and couldn't even manage a proper scowl at the insult. Not to mention, she wasn't so oblivious that she couldn't admit that she had been rather idiotic about that whole thing. "We need to celebrate this!"

"What say you, captain?" Sirius asked, clapping James on the back and sounding utterly ridiculous.

James however didn't seem to share her sentiment. Instead, he just grinned like a madman and pretended to ponder his best mate for a moment. "I say," he began in a tone of most seriousness before yelling at an earsplitting volume, "PARTY IN THE COMMON ROOM!" Lily rolled her eyes as tons of people who hadn't even been listening cheered and applauded before beginning to chant again. James was beaming down at her, his arm still slung around her shoulders holding her snugly against him. He kissed her once more, his lips warm against her chilly ones.

Just as Lily was starting to think that, as her proximity to his lips was sending shocks of warmth down her spine and into the pit of her stomach, perhaps if she kissed him a bit longer he might be able to warm up her frostbitten toes and fingers as well, they were shoved rather unceremoniously from behind by Sirius who was smirking something awful. "Come now, you two. There will be plenty of time for snogging later. And you might want to think about doing it somewhere a bit more private. I hear the dormitories get taken up rather quickly, so you might want to hurry up and claim one for yourselves." Lily bristled with embarrassment and was about to tell him off for being needlessly suggestive when he seemed to recognize her intention and quickly added, "I didn't mean it like that, love…though interesting that your mind went there. I simply meant that not everyone wants to watch the two of you molesting each other. You'll find that some people have a rather weak stomach when it comes to sickening displays of affection."

Lily glowered at him and muttered "noted" while simultaneously swinging out a leg in a weak attempt at a kick, one that he easily evaded.

James, on the other hand, chuckled quite happily before offering his chosen remark of "Sod off, you ugly git," which earned him a chuckle in return. Sirius then disappeared into the crowd that was making its collective way towards the warm castle.

James was still grinning as his arm slid from around Lily's shoulders, his fingers drifting down her arm and interlocking with hers. He stepped forward tugging her along with him. She wasn't sure if he was so happy because they'd won the match by 260 points, or if it was relief that the match was finally over, or if it was because he'd just been snogged quite thoroughly, or if it had more to do with the fact that the snogs had been rather public and everything that that implied, but she'd be lying if she said that she wasn't a little thrilled that some of his obvious joy was in part due to her.

"Padfoot has a point, you know," James said, pulling Lily out of her musings and back to the present. "If you are going to continue to molest me, we should find a more private spot."

"Oh really?" Lily said in a politely curious tone, piercing James with a look that was anything but polite. "Did you have somewhere particular in mind?"

"There's a roomy broom cupboard on the 5th floor that has excellent maneuverability," he answered lightly as though commenting on mattress firmness or the pros and cons of different wand cores.

Lily snorted loudly to which James's only reply was a self-satisfied smirk. "Leaving aside the fact that I don't want to know why you are so well acquainted with any broom cupboard's maneuverability, I think it would be somewhat rude of us to not attend the party. It is, after all, being held to commemorate the end of my idiocy. Though I'm fairly certain that were my idiocy still firmly in place, the party would be raging regardless."

James nodded and tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Probably true," he said pensively, "but now you'll get all flustered and embarrassed all night and as we established yesterday, you do look quite pretty when you're blushing." James's comment again caught Lily by surprise and of course she started blushing like mad. Luckily, between her scarf and her already pink, cold, windblown cheeks, it was hidden fairly well. "Not to mention, I can use it as an excuse to get away from people I don't want to talk to."

"And how exactly do you intend to do that?"

"Simple really," he said with a shrug. "I'll just say, 'Yes, I know I just captained a very impressive win that guarantees our spot in the final, and I know you want to carve my likeness into the walls. That's all well and good, but you see, this party is really to celebrate my recently acquired public girlfriend and I really must get over there and snog her until she can't see straight. What's that you say? You have a weak stomach where sickening displays of affection are concerned? Not a problem at all, my man. I know of this wonderful broom cupboard on the 5th floor. Brilliant maneuverability! I'll just run and grab Evans and we'll be off. You're so…" Lily socked him playfully in the stomach to get him to shut up. She was certain he could have continued in his imaginary conversation with himself for hours if she didn't put a stop to it.

"You are, under no circumstances, to say anything of the sort to anyone. Do you understand?" she scolded while he just continued to smirk at her.

"But what if they really are trying to carve my likeness into the wall?"

Lily released an exasperated sigh. "They won't."

"They might," James countered. "They've tried before."

Lily couldn't stop the giggle that had been threatening to escape. "Then do whatever you did the last time to get them to stop."

"What? Let them? And hope that McGonagall walks in right before they get started and sends everyone to bed?"

Lily shook her head and grinned. "That sounds about as good a solution as any."

They had reached the portrait of the Fat Lady. "Loud one going on in there," she told them, gesturing to the room behind her with a jerk of her thumb.

"Ready to face the giggles and inquiries and get embarrassed and flustered?" James asked turning to Lily after a quick acknowledgement to the Fat Lady.

"Yes. Ready to stand still for hours while your face is carved into stone?"

James laughed, his voice echoing off the walls of the empty corridor. "I was born ready." And then quickly he bent down and kissed her again before straightening up and giving the Fat Lady the password.

She hadn't been lying when she'd told them it was loud. A roar like none Lily had ever heard erupted when the portrait swung open and people inside saw that it was James. Hands reached through the hole and pulled him in, leaving Lily to scamper in after.

By the time the portrait slammed shut behind her, James had already been hoisted up on someone's shoulders and was being carried toward a table where the rest of the team was standing. He looked back at her and shrugged his shoulders. She grinned and waved him on and then began looking about for Jenna. She spotted her across the room squeezed between Claire and a couple of rowdy 4th years. As she made her way across the room, she found herself chuckling more than a few times at some of the things people were calling out to James. "Hero", "Quidditch god", and "future father of my children" were only a few of the things she heard.

"Hey," she said as she reached Jenna, still laughing about something one of the 4th years next to them had yelled.

Jenna squealed with pleasure at her appearance, giddy from a Quidditch high, grinning from ear to ear. "What took you so long? Did you stop for a bit of fun with our fearless captain on the way up here?" Lily rolled her eyes and nodded sarcastically, but was spared having to make a biting comment back when James started speaking.

Lily didn't really pay attention to what he was saying, partly because it was so loud already and partly because everything he said was followed by some assortment of applause, laughter or cheering which bled over into whatever he started to say next. His eyes would flicker in her direction regularly, which would make her smile like an idiot and then blush because of it. Jenna took notice after James had caught her eyes for the ten millionth time and nudged her in the side.

"I really am afraid that I'm dreaming. There's no way this could really be happening," Jenna said over another round of laughter now that Sirius had started bantering with James.

"It's a rather sad statement about your life if you're dreaming about my relationships though, isn't it?"

"Ooh…relationship! Bold word choice, Evans," Jenna cooed, completely ignoring the sarcasm in Lily's comment.

Lily rolled her eyes and sighed exasperatedly. "Can we find somewhere to sit before the team finishes whatever it is they're doing? You know the minute they're done we won't be able to find a spare pillow let alone an actual couch. As much fun as the last party was, I don't want to spend the next three hours sitting on the stone floor."

Jenna quickly consented and they set off in search of a suitable area to hold their normally large group and did manage to find a large couch that wasn't already claimed by other wise 6th and 7th years or surrounded on all sides by chattering and giggling girls. Though it wasn't large enough to hold everyone in their usual group, Jenna very smartly pointed out that as three of them were on the actual team and all four boys loved being the center of attention in mass chaos, it was very unlikely that all seven of them would be in need of a seat at any given point in the evening.

She was right, of course. As soon as Sirius shouted something about getting the party started, emphasized with a loud bang and a few bright fireworks from the end of his wand, the room went crazy, and Mary was the only one who came to find them. Peter and Remus were distributing food that had surely been stolen from the kitchens, and Sirius and James were talking animatedly with a few of the 6th year boys, the whole group busting up into wild laughter every few seconds.

Lily told herself that she wasn't going to spend the evening staring at him, but it seemed that her eyes had every intention of doing just that. Though she scolded herself for her own weakness and began telling herself to stop staring at him, it was a failed effort. It really wasn't her fault, though. He was just too good looking. If he were a bit uglier, maybe she could be expected to pull her eyes away, but he wasn't. It was just something she would have to live with.

She watched as he left Sirius with the other boys and began to make his way toward her, proceeding exactly two and a half steps before someone else had roped him into a conversation. Then she watched as it happened four more times. Lily figured he would make it over to her by midday Wednesday at the rate he was currently going. Every once in a while when he would catch her eye, he'd shoot her an apologetic smile or shrug again. Lily didn't mind though. He should enjoy his victory. Plus, she'd been to enough of these parties to know that James was a hot commodity after a Gryffindor win, especially when he was the hero of the match. It was an inevitability.

"I was going to try really hard not to hound you about what happened with James on the field, but you are making it so sodding difficult not to, Lily," Jenna growled with feigned anger in her voice.

Lily snapped her head around to look at her, peeling her eyes from where James was talking to Rosalyn and looking very uncomfortable. Jenna was grinning and Mary was smirking rather knowingly. Lily looked between the two of them quickly. "What're you talking about?"

If it was possible, and Lily wasn't convinced that it was, Jenna's grin only got wider. "Well, it would be one thing to ignore it if you weren't acknowledging it either, but you keep staring all moony-eyed at him across the room and you have this giddy little grin on your face that makes you look like you just won the Prophet's Galleon Draw. So, I'm sorry, but there's no way I can be expected not to badger you about this." She turned her eyes to their other friend. "Mary, do you second the motion?"

"Absolutely," Mary answered with a smile.

"No need to badger me," Lily said defensively, "I will happily offer up any and all information pertaining to the event of interest." Jenna and Mary giggled and Lily couldn't keep herself from adding, "It was rather nice too, so it's not like I mind reliving it."

"Ooh!" Jenna cried, rubbing her hands together. "Details!"

"Hang on," Mary interrupted. "We can get the specifics of James's snogging prowess later on. I want to know how this happened. One minute you're standing there talking to us and the next I look up and you're sprinting across the field and jumping him. How? Why?" Jenna looked like she would much rather talk about snogging, but conceded and looked at Lily expectantly.

Lily considered the question for a moment. It had happened so fast and had felt so beyond her control that she wasn't exactly sure how it had happened herself. She shrugged before she started talking. "I guess it had a lot to do with how stressed out James had been all week. I'd never seen him like that before…maybe it's just because I never bothered to notice, but I noticed this time. I guess I was just feeling it too, you know…everything he felt, I felt." Lily shrugged again, not sure if she was making any sense. "Anyway, I was so excited that we won, and so excited that all this pressure would be lifted off of him, and so excited by how close we'd been to everything going the wrong way that when I saw him and I saw how happy and relieved he looked, I just…couldn't stop myself. It was meant to be just a hug at first, but when I pulled away and he was smiling down at me, something just overtook me and the next thing I know I was kissing him." Another shrug punctuated with a blush ended her explanation.

Jenna scrunched her face up. "That's it? You were just relieved that he was relieved so you snogged him? That's weak, Evans, and you know it. We want to know about the heart-wrenching revelation you had as you ran toward him that he's your soul mate at that if you didn't take action soon that you would lose him forever!" Jenna finished dramatically.

Mary, grinning, added, "Yes, or some kind of admittance of preexisting feelings."

"Yes!" Jenna agreed, looking over at Mary and nodding her head encouragingly. "Something like that."

Lily rolled her eyes at the pair of them. "Of course I have feelings for him! I don't go around sympathy snogging people every time someone's feeling stressed. That would make exams a very busy time for me. Not to mention I'd probably catch all kinds of illnesses."

"Of course? OF COURSE!" Jenna cried, looking at Lily as if she'd just lost her mind. "What do you mean 'of course'? You've spent the entire school year telling us how your relationship was only platonic and how you only liked him as a friend. You told me that on Tuesday!" Jenna's eyes were bugging and she looked like she was torn between laughing and smacking Lily in the face.

Lily wasn't fazed though. She just smiled serenely at her mad friend. "I was lying, obviously."

Jenna couldn't stop herself from laughing now. "Obviously," she repeated under her breath and giving Lily a friendly nudge. "You make me insane, do you know that?"

"Okay, okay," Mary interjected with a dismissive sweep of her hand, still anxious for more information apparently, "So you've fancied him forever. What made today different?"

"What do you mean?" Lily asked, confused.

"You've been running around pretending that you don't like him and that you don't want to be with him for who knows how long," Jenna explained, interpreting Mary's question. "Why do you decide after all of that time that today is the day to act on it? And don't spout off any of that relief rubbish. That's not nearly romantic enough."

"Does it matter if it's romantic enough if it's the truth?" Lily asked dryly.

"Yes," Jenna replied emphatically. "If that's really all it was, then make something up."

Lily snorted and nodded. "Why today?" she muttered to herself as she paused to think through her answer. "It had just been building up, I suppose. I just kept trying to put it off and kept reasoning to myself why I shouldn't do anything even though it hardly made sense anymore…and I dunno, I just couldn't keep pretending. It was time. Past time actually…way past time."

Happy that they seemed satisfied with the girly romanticism of that, Lily just listened as they took turns making conjectures about what kinds of things had happened recently that had pushed Lily over the edge. She laughed when they asked if James and Sirius melting their pot in Potions (because they wanted to skiv off, they thought it would get their potion finished faster if they just threw all of the ingredients in at once rather than following the directions. At least, that's what they had said. Lily suspected that they knew precisely what would happen, and were more interested in the loud popping sounds and variously colored smoke that unfurled from the destroyed cauldron for the rest of the class) and having to come share with Lily and Mary had been a factor. She frowned and cleared her throat awkwardly when they suggested that James going to the Slug Club party with Lexi had been a big push in the right direction.

"Lily, I have to say, I'm rather impressed with how well you're handling all of this," Mary commented after a few minutes giving her a contemplative look.

"How well I'm handling what?"

Mary shrugged. "I just thought that if anything ever happened between the two of you that you would completely freak out and avoid James, or pretend that it was nothing and go into a fit of denial for a bit longer. I'm impressed that you're not."

Jenna was nodding her agreement and shared sentiments. "That's true. You do tend to overreact when anything concerning James happens. Like at Halloween…nothing even happened between the two of you and you didn't talk to him for weeks."

Lily drew her eyebrows together. She wasn't sure what her friends were talking about. They were right, of course. She did tend to blow things concerning James out of proportion and she would admit that she did seem to have certain commitment issues when it came to him, but why would that come up after what had happened that afternoon? It's true that she had run from her feelings when they'd begun dating, but this was just an acknowledgement of their relationship. She had no reason to run into fits of denial now.

But as she looked at the proud looks on her friends' faces, she realized what she should have recognized earlier. They assumed what was only the natural conclusion, what the rest of the school would be assuming as well – that her relationship with James had started that afternoon on the Quidditch pitch.

A guilty squirming settled in her stomach. She had just opened her mouth and was about to start awkwardly explaining that she and James had been dating much longer than the hour that had passed since she'd hurtled herself into his arms when none other than James himself called to her from a spot halfway across the room.

"Lily!" he shouted loudly. It only took her a few moments of scanning to find him. He was being held captive by a group of 5th year boys, one of which was much larger than average, and had his arm slung around James's shoulders, effectively holding him in place. James grimaced at her and with merely a look she knew that he was pleading with her to come rescue him. "C'mere for a sec," James shouted, waving rather frantically at her. Lily wondered at these boys who seemed completely oblivious to James's very obvious desire to remove himself from their presence.

Lily though, just smiled and wiggled her fingers at him. She only grinned cheekily at him long enough to see the shocked look on his face before she turned back to Jenna and Mary.

Maybe it was because she was listening for it, or maybe it was just because she's that pathetic and that able to pick his voice out of a room of a hundred yelling students, but she heard James say, "Excuse me for a moment," and knew that he would be making an appearance at their couch momentarily.

Still, knowing that he was about to make an appearance and suddenly feeling his warm breath against her neck and hearing his low, hoarse voice in her ear were two entirely different things. When he growled "You were seriously just going to leave me there?" she had no hope at all of stopping the involuntary shiver that shot down her spine. He slowly made his way from the back of the couch to the side and leaned over the armrest so that she could see him, his eyes narrowed. "Don't you care about me at all?"

The shock at James's sudden arrival dissipated and Lily felt a smirk settle on her lips. She lifted a hand and patted James's cheek. "Of course I care! I'm just letting you fight your own battles today." She shrugged at him and smirked wider. "Sometimes that's the best thing you can do for someone."

James rolled his eyes. "What happened to all of your knight in shining armor rubbish?" he asked, leaning back a bit. "I thought that was what you were supposed to be doing. If there was ever a time I needed rescuing, it's now!"

Now Lily narrowed her eyes. "You didn't seem to think it was rubbish when I was telling Aidan off," she said in a clipped voice. "But it's a come and go thing. I already used it all up. You're going to have to wait for it to build up again…so sorry."

"Come on, Lily…please. I'm dying over there."

"Why don't you just excuse yourself for good and come sit over here?" Lily asked, dropping her playful tone and looking seriously up at him.

James shook his head. "It's not that easy. When you are the Quidditch hero, everyone wants to talk to you," Lily rolled her eyes, but James pointed his finger at her and said pointedly, "That's not me being arrogant. That's four years of experience talking. And if I blow everyone off, they're just going to come find me. So really, if you think about it, I'm being chivalrous by getting all of the Quidditch talk out of the way before I come over here." Lily cocked an eyebrow at him, clearly letting him know that she was not about to credit this to him as chivalry. "Not to mention someone forbid me from using my bonafide get-away-from-annoying-people excuse."

"Merlin's beard, Potter. There are other ways of getting away from people you don't want to talk to without insinuating that you're about to come haul me off to a closet somewhere…"

"And what exactly do you suggest?" James interrupted, crossing his arms across his chest and smiling expectantly at her.

"Just go over there," Lily began, gesturing to where the boys were still standing watching the two of them closely and waiting for their hero to return, "and say, 'Do you see that picture of perfection sitting over on that couch? Well, you see, I'm hopelessly obsessed with her and I really just can't even be in the same room with her for more than a few minutes before I have to be at her side. So pardon me, but I must go over there and compose some love sonnets for her.' Be creative James, I guarantee you they won't follow you if you say that."

James couldn't hold back a laugh at that and he leaned back down so that his face was close to hers. She grinned up at him as he gazed at her, amusement dancing in his eyes. "Or," he said quietly, "I could just pick you up and carry you over there against your will, because I promise you those words will never come out of my mouth." He paused and considered her for a moment. "Not that the obsessed bit is necessarily a lie," she smiled at that, "but sonnets? That's never happening. I just can't go about telling people that. I have a reputation to maintain, you know?"

He leaned closer to her as he made this last declaration so that she could feel his breath on her cheek as he whispered the last few words. He kissed her, albeit briefly, before straightening up once more. It was one of those kisses that didn't last long, but James had made it count. He'd given her just enough to leave her feeling dazed and wanting more.

She looked up at him and noticed that the look on his face seemed to indicate that he was feeling the same light headedness and unwillingness to leave. She swallowed hard and then forced herself to remember what it was that they'd even been talking about. "Um…" she stammered, blushing slightly as she felt Jenna giggling on the couch next to her, "I would…I would seriously reconsider the whole forcing me to come with you business," Lily said as she slowly became capable of focusing and using words again. "Unless you have some secret desire to make me so angry with you that I never speak to you again. You'd also be risking, y'know, bodily harm, because I promise that if you pick me up, I will use every ounce of strength I have to hit, kick, and maim you until you put me back down on this couch."

James grinned wickedly at her and took a step forward, reaching out as though about to grab her and throw her over his shoulder. "What part of that is supposed to scare me?"

"James Potter!" she screeched as a warning before slapping him hard on the arm closest to her.

He winced and pulled his arm back into his chest. Lily was glaring at him, daring him to even try something like that again. "Okay, okay!" he said, holding his hands up as he took a quick step in retreat. "But I want you to know, I'm not bowing out because I'm afraid of you. It's because I respect you so much," he added with a wink.

Lily rolled her eyes and watched as he walked back to the 5th years, chuckling to himself. She momentarily considered joining him. Not because she thought the situation nearly as dire as he was making it out to be, but because she figured it was the "good girlfriend" thing to do. She had almost decided to stand up when she noticed Sirius joining him and figured that he would make better company than she could in that particular circumstance. So she turned her attention back to Jenna and Mary.

"Well, would you look at that," Jenna said with a grin to Mary. "Apparently James is also aware that they're in a relationship now. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that you two had planned all of this beforehand."

Lily's guilt, which had been momentarily forgotten, resurfaced and squirmed even more violently in her stomach. "About that, Jenna…" she began, but she was interrupted again.

Emmett had suddenly appeared, plopping down right next to Mary on the couch, pushing Jenna and Lily together. Lily couldn't help but notice the tight lipped smile he sent Mary's way and the fact that he didn't put his arm around her or take her hand or really pay much attention to her at all.

"Hello ladies," he said, addressing all three of them. They returned the greeting, but Lily could tell from the tight tone of Jenna's voice that she hadn't been the only one to notice Emmett's strange behavior.

"Good game," Jenna said, her tone passing as friendly enough. Lily was watching Mary closely, careful to notice the way her eyes were suddenly downcast and the way her fingers began to convulsively clench and unclench on her Quidditch robes every time he spoke.

Mary looked at her suddenly and Lily wrenched her eyes away, not wanting to make Mary feel even more uncomfortable that she already was. "Yes," she said suddenly, catching Emmett's eye and adding on to what Jenna had already begun saying. "You did a very good job…er...beating," Lily said slowly, finishing with a grin. Emmett pierced her with an odd look while Jenna and Mary both giggled, Mary adding an eye roll at Lily's attempt to talk Quidditch.

Emmett also seemed to be aware of Lily's lack of Quidditch knowledge and promptly asked, "Are you just saying that, or was there any play in particular that you thought qualified as 'good beating'?"

"Of course I have specific plays in mind!" Lily proclaimed even though her mind was completely blank. Jenna giggled more loudly as Lily visibly began squirming, trying to recall any play at all that Emmett had been involved in. She doubted that anyone besides players or Quidditch experts ever paid attention to anything other than the present action, let alone the Beaters, but surely if she racked her brain she could remember one play in which a Bludger was involved.

As an image flew into her head, she quickly began speaking. "You did a wonderful job keeping James from getting his head bashed in."

Though she'd thought nothing about that particular recollection as she'd said it, she felt her cheeks heat up when Jenna snorted and muttered not nearly quietly enough to Mary, "Big surprise that's the first thing she remembered." Mary laughed too. Some of the tension that had been so blatantly obvious before perhaps hadn't left, but was at least much better masked.

Lily cleared her throat awkwardly. Shooting Jenna a harsh glare first, she said, "And that one time when you knocked the Ravenclaw Seeker out of the way right before she caught the Snitch. That was absolutely brilliant! Saved the match!" She said this last bit with a shout of triumph, sitting up proudly and smirking at her friends.

"Is that all you remember?" Emmett asked in what Lily thought was a rather haughty tone. "Two plays out of a two hour match?"

Jenna was quick to pipe up, saying in a voice dripping with such smug airs that Lily knew she was going to hate whatever she was going to say before it was even out of her mouth. "Don't be cross with her, Emmett. You have to remember, she spent the majority of the match ogling James. It's not her fault she has no memory of anything else." She sent Lily an unbelievably superior look, a wicked glint in her eyes. "If anyone's to blame, it's her hormones."

Lily gave Jenna a very dirty look and elbowed her a bit harder than was strictly necessary, but felt the intended bit of pleasure whenever her friend winced and elbowed her back. "I hate you," she grumbled, but an indulgent grin crept up onto her lips anyway.

Jenna grinned too and turned back to Emmett. "That was a pretty brilliant shot though, Lily's right. My heart nearly failed when I saw Jamie was getting closer."

Emmett nodded. "It did get to looking a bit precarious there for a moment, didn't it? Good thing I noticed in time." Lily's smile froze as she watched Emmett smirk haughtily. She really wanted to roll her eyes, but for Mary's sake she held it back. "Though if someone had done her job properly, I wouldn't have needed to make that shot in the first place." At this, he shot Mary what was probably intended to be a teasing look, but it really only ended up looking pointed and made Mary blush and look down at her hands once more.

Lily was still trying to think of a polite response when Jenna blurted out a loud, "Excuse me?"

"What?" he asked, shooting her a blank look.

Jenna was looking at him incredulously, her temper clearly beginning to boil as she came to the defense of her friend. "Mary was brilliant today."

"I'm not saying she wasn't…" Emmett began, recognizing that Jenna was in attack mode, but if Jenna heard him, she didn't acknowledge it. She just kept speaking, her only recognition of his attempt to defend himself present in the way she began talking louder so as to drown him out.

"If it weren't for her we would have lost a lot earlier in the game. Jamie never stood a chance. I doubt he ever located the Snitch until Mary had caught it."

"With the exception of that one play," Emmett interjected, louder himself, causing Jenna to pause in her rant. "You're right, she played nearly perfectly the rest of the game, but it was the one play that nearly made it all worthless. If it hadn't been for me…"

Emboldened by Jenna's rant, Lily found herself not caring a whit about the politeness of her own words. "I'm sorry Emmett, but if I recall correctly, your own work during the game couldn't necessarily be thrown into the perfection category either. Stop me if I'm wrong, but a Beater's job is to keep the Bludgers away from their team and to use it to keep the other team from scoring as well, right?" She only waited for Emmett's slight nod of his head before cutting across him and continuing to talk before he could start. "I seem to remember a few occasions that our Chasers were stopped as they were trying to score, and the Ravenclaws scored quite a few points themselves. Had you done your job properly, none of that would have happened either, am I right?"

"You're completely missing the point…" Emmett began, looking darkly over at her.

"Am I right?" Lily repeated, a hard edge to her voice.

Emmett looked completely baffled for a moment before composing himself. "Yes," he answered, and then, as if worried that either she or Jenna were about to start attacking him again, quickly added, "I'm sorry if it sounded like I was insulting her. I swear I know how incredible she was today. I wasn't trying to take anything away from that. I was just saying that she did make one mistake…and Mary will agree with me, won't you?" He turned to look at Mary, making eye contact with her for the first time since he had joined them.

Mary looked a bit shocked at suddenly being addressed, but quickly regained her composure and nodded. "He's right," she said in a small voice, looking at Lily and Jenna. "I took a bad line when I tried to cut her off and it put me too far behind on the dive. It was a stupid mistake."

Jenna didn't seem to care a bit about this completely logical reasoning; she was still horrified that Emmett had said it in the first place. "Be that as it may, it doesn't really seem like something a person should say to their teammate, let alone their girlfriend."

"Sorry," he muttered, though it sounded as though he was saying it more to placate her than as a genuine sentiment.

Jenna's eyes narrowed as she noticed this. "Don't tell me," she ordered, her voice cold.

Emmett looked up at the ceiling as though praying for the strength to keep from strangling her and sighed exasperatedly, but then turned and addressed Mary (who was blushing to the roots of her hair). "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

Mary's lips turned up in a forced smile and she shrugged. "It's…not a big deal," she murmured quietly.

Nothing more was said on the subject, but Jenna sat broodingly, watching Emmett as though waiting for him to say something else that she could jump on him about.

After a few moments of painfully awkward silence, Emmett cleared his throat and turned his eyes on Lily. "The real reason I came over here was to tell you that there was a group over in the corner getting ready to play Butterbeer-Pong."

Lily waited for him to elaborate, but he didn't. He just sat there watching her as though this information should have meant a great deal more to her than it actually did. "Um…alright. That sounds…fun," she said slowly when he still remained silent.

Emmett seemed to get that further explanation was needed. "I was going to join them, but thought I'd check with you to make sure that you weren't just going to shut it down as soon as it started getting fun."

Lily bristled at the implication that she was the ultimate antidote for anything fun, but swallowed her pride in order to answer in a manner that wasn't sure to start up another verbal attack. With a shrug, she said, "That's fine. I really don't care as long as it doesn't turn into Firewhiskey-Pong that makes you all act like a bunch of idiotic berks."

Emmett smiled happily and clapped his hands together. "Brilliant, absolutely brilliant," he said, standing up. "Knew I could count on you, Evans."

Again, Lily fought the urge to roll her eyes. Emmett looked primed to make his exit, which Lily felt was probably a good thing at this point, but Mary didn't seem to share her sentiment. She watched with what could only be described as a look of panic as Emmett made to leave and scooted herself to the edge of the couch, ready to jump up and follow if need be. "Can I play too?" she asked, her voice remarkably calm for someone who looked as though she might start hyperventilating at any moment.

Emmett's smile vanished and was replaced with an expression somewhere between contemplative and grimacing. "Er…why don't you stay here. It's just going to be the lads playing. You know…just stupid, ego-boosting nonsense."

"Oh, right," Mary said slowly, her eyes turning downcast, but before she could become too forlorn, she perked up and looked back at him. "I could come and cheer you on," she suggested with a bright smile.

Emmett shook his head. "I don't want to tear you away from the girls. You just stay here and I'll go play. Butterbeer-Pong isn't really much of a spectator sport anyway." Mary's smile tightened, but softened again when he touched her gently on the cheek and leaned down to drop a kiss on the top of her head. "I'll come find you later, all right?"

Mary looked up into his face, searching for something. Whether she found it or not, Lily couldn't tell, but soon enough she was nodding and giving him a slightly brighter smile before he straightened up and headed for a gradually growing group in the corner.

Mary watched him stroll eagerly away, but Lily suspected that it had more to do with avoiding the inquisitive looks of her friends than the hormonal impulse that she was trying to make it appear to be.

It didn't faze Jenna in the least, though. She had barely waited for Emmett to get out of earshot, and she certainly wasn't going to wait for Mary to reluctantly turn her eyes back to them before she started her interrogation.

"What the hell was that?" she demanded, her words coming out loudly and causing Mary to jump in their suddenness.

Mary looked at them guiltily, but only shook her head ever so slightly. "I don't know what you mean," and then shrinking a bit under Jenna's quelling look, added, "It was nothing," in a very quiet voice.

"Come on, Mary," Jenna said with so much impatience that she threw her arms up in the air. "We're not stupid. We saw what just went down. You know what I'm talking about, don't you, Lil?" she asked, looking to Lily for confirmation.

Lily nodded, throwing Mary an apologetic look. "Afraid I do," she replied. She saw that Mary was getting flustered and decided on a less hostile form of questioning. Leaning forward, she gave her a sympathetic sort of smile and asked, "Is everything okay between you two?"

"Yes, of course," Mary immediately assured with a vigorous nod of her head. She pointed her thumb over her shoulder to the approximate spot that her boyfriend was standing and said, "That was…we're…it's just that…" She visibly deflated as she stammered, her eyes dropping as her words trailed off.

Lily and Jenna shared a quick glance, communicating their shared concern, before Mary glanced back up looking utterly helpless.

"Mary," Jenna started in a voice much gentler, "what's going on?"

Instantly, but only for a brief second, Mary's walls of defense seemed to crumble down around her. She sighed and Lily could see her eyes quickly beginning to moisten before she blinked the tears back quickly and began trying to pull herself back together. Mary hated crying. She hated anything that made her appear as if she wasn't in complete control. There was no point in pushing her though, they just had to wait as she put the wall back up brick by brick.

Finally she calmed herself down and looked up at them. "Emmett and I are fine," she lied. The looks Lily and Jenna gave her must have conveyed their disbelief, because she quickly began arguing her case. "We are. We're just…we've just had a tough few weeks. But we're perfectly fine."

Jenna pursed her lips and appeared to be biting something back, something cynical that she knew Mary wouldn't appreciate.

Lily, on the other hand, saw little red warning flags going up everywhere. This encounter savored strongly of the same types of things that happened right before her first breakup with Emmett. Add to that James's prediction at Christmas that the two of them wouldn't last much longer and Lily suddenly found herself feeling anxious about the whole situation.

"What exactly is it that's made it tough?" she asked carefully. Lily wanted Mary to really think this through. She was a girl who hated conflict, who hated anything that caused even the slightest amount of discomfort. When Mulciber had attacked her in 5th year, she hadn't reported it to the professors. When Jenna blew up at her 6th year for something that hadn't even been her fault, she had apologized. Lily was afraid that she would, out of fear of any type of confrontation, try to sweep any real problem in her relationship under the rug, which would only lead to her inevitable misery.

Mary shrugged noncommittally, her eyes shifting around indicating her discomfort. "Just life stuff, you know?" She looked at her friends, hoping for a confirmation that they did in fact know what she meant, but both girls just looked stoically back at her. She sighed huffily and sent them both dirty looks, knowing they were being difficult on purpose. "The match has had us both busy and stressed and exhausted, and then school has kept us busy. We haven't had a lot of time to ourselves lately. It's just been a little awkward, I guess."

"Have you talked to him about it?" Lily asked, knowing the answer, but needing Mary to acknowledge it.

"No," she admitted, averting her eyes and looking instead at a pair of 4th years chucking Dungbombs at each other. "I haven't had time to bring it up." Jenna cocked an eyebrow at her and stared disbelievingly. "Or…perhaps I haven't brought it up because I hoped it would just go away?" Jenna nodded, and Mary had the decency to look properly shamed at her admission.

"You need to talk to him about it, Mary," Lily urged. "Things like this don't just go away. They only get worse."

"No offense, Lil, but being in a relationship for all of two hours doesn't suddenly make you the greatest living expert on all things romantic," Mary snapped. Seeing Lily's shocked and slightly hurt expression, she immediately apologized.

"Sorry," she muttered quickly.

Lily shook her head and waved off her apology. Swallowing her pride, she said, "You don't have to be the greatest living expert to know that relationships don't work without communication. It's just common knowledge." She accompanied her statement with an apologetic shrug of her shoulders.

Mary nodded, but didn't respond immediately. She clicked her jaw the way she always did when she was thinking hard about something, and again became very interested in the Dungbomb war next to them, before looking back up. "I know that. And I know that you're both just trying to help, but I really think that this is just something born of not having spent any time together, and that it will all blow over after we do."

Lily disagreed, and from the way that Jenna was sitting up straighter in preparation to argue, it seemed that she did as well. Before either of them could get a word out, they were cut off by an awfully loud explosion to their left.

"OY!" Sirius was yelling at one of the Dungbomb launchers. He was standing inches away from the 4th year who was clearly frightened out of his mind as Sirius towered over him. Holding a Dungbomb inches from the kid's face and looking terrifyingly menacing, he continued to yell. "Hit me with one of these again and I will personally toss you OUT OF THE NEAREST WINDOW!" Just to add a bit of an emphasis to a statement that really didn't require it, he tossed the Dungbomb forcefully at the 4th year, bouncing it right in between his eyes. The poor kid was trembling as Sirius turned on his heel and, spotting the girls, headed in their direction. "Cheers, girls!" he greeted in a tone so different from the one he'd just been sporting it caused Lily to burst out laughing.

He caught her eye and winked before dropping onto the floor and resting his back against the wall. He stretched his long legs out in front of him and gracefully flipped his hair out of his eyes.

"You really shouldn't have yelled at Simon like that," Mary said in a serious tone, shooting a concerned glance over her shoulder at the still trembling boy.

Sirius donned a look of confusion and then narrowed his eyes in thought. "Who's Simon?" he asked innocently, a grin only touching his lips once Jenna started laughing as well and Mary was well into her eye roll.

Lily shook her head though her shoulders were still shaking from her laughter. "Honestly Black, this shouldn't be so difficult for you to figure out. How many people have you yelled at recently?" she asked.

"Quite a few if you really must know. It's not my fault you were too wrapped up in yourself and your own conversations to notice the goings on of the people around you." Lily rolled her eyes and again swung a leg out at Sirius, trying to kick him, but he evaded it. "I will, however, assume that you are speaking of the little sod who has nailed me with Dungbombs seven times in the last five minutes." Sirius glanced at Mary with an inquisitive expression and she nodded her confirmation. "All I have to say in my defense is this: What else could I be expected to do? It seriously hurts your game with the ladies if you smell like a pile of dung."

Jenna snorted loudly. "Heaven forbid," she said with a grin.

Lily made a show of looking absolutely shocked, "And here I was, thinking that your, as you say, 'game with the ladies' couldn't be tarnished by anything!"

Sirius grinned as well. "You know, you may be onto something there, Lily. There's no denying that if anybody could make it work, it would be me. In this case, though, it has more to do with my own desire not to walk around smelling like dung the rest of the night than anything else."

"So you terrorized that poor child just for the sake of your own vanity?" Jenna asked, feigning disappointment.

Sirius shrugged. "What can I say? Eau de Dung is not my preferred cologne."

"I've got news for you then, Padfoot," Remus said as he and Peter joined them, both looking rather harassed, "You smell a lot worse than that on a daily basis."

"Eau de Dung would be an improvement, actually," Peter added with a thoughtful look, grinning happily when it earned him a round of laughter from the girls.

"Good idea for a birthday present, yeah?" Remus said with a nod at Peter.

"Oh ha ha," Sirius said with a scowl and shooting them both a rude hand gesture that had Lily and Jenna laughing harder and Mary scolding him. "You two think you're so bloody funny. We'll see who's laughing whenever I pour it all over your pillows."

"All over our pillows? Is that really the worst you could do?" Peter asked, clicking his tongue.

"They're called House Elves, Padfoot," Remus said patronizingly. "All I have to do is take my pillow to them and tell them my idiot mate is a complete klutz and they'll clean it for me. Not to mention the fact that smell permeates. It isn't like the scent would be isolated only to our pillows. It would eventually get into all of your things as well, not to mention Prongs', Emmett's and Brady's."

Sirius glowered at them, beginning to resemble the menacing bloke he'd been all of three minutes earlier while yelling at poor Simon Dungbomb-Launcher. Lily was impressed that neither Remus nor Peter cowered under their friend's glare. She supposed they'd been on the receiving end of it enough times not to be affected anymore.

"Fine, I'll pour it into your pumpkin juice at breakfast and watch happily when you're slowly poisoned to death. Bad enough for you Wormtail?" Sirius asked throwing Peter a particularly nasty glare.

Peter yawned dramatically and then looked over at Remus as he leaned closer, still speaking in a very audible voice. "Let's go the non-toxic route, yeah?"

Sirius snorted and rolled his eyes, but proceeded to wipe his face of its menacing glare, only looking mildly put out now. "Bugger off, you gits."

About that time, James slid down onto the arm of the couch next to Lily. She tried to keep her face impassive as she gazed up at him, but she wasn't sure how well she pulled it off. As pathetic as it was, she was glad to see him. So as she felt the completely telling grin creep up her face, she scooted over to create a space for him, and watched as he slid down the arm and next to her, slipping his arm around her shoulders and dropping a quick kiss on her lips.

When he leaned back, she saw in his eyes a mixture of tender emotion and amusement. His fingers travelled up and down her arm and she had to concentrate to keep herself from shivering. He cocked an eyebrow and pointed an accusing finger at her. "You, Lily Evans, owe me…big time."

"Oh really? And why is that?"

James was sporting an extremely pained expression. "Because I just spent the last twenty minutes talking to Brady. And by 'talking' I mean listening to him dissect every single thing Becca did, and then he proceeded to telling me exactly what he would have done differently and why that would have been better."

Grinning at the tone that suggested it had been the worst twenty minutes of his life, Lily patted his arm sympathetically. "As terrible as that surely was, I still don't understand why it is that I owe you."

James scoffed and looked at her as if it were the most apparent thing in the world. "Obviously, Lily, if I weren't the kind, compassionate, and understanding gentleman that I am and had forced you to come spend time with me," he paused here and fixed her with a very pointed look, "something you should want to do anyway – then you would have had to listen to him as well."

Lily looked at him and replied dryly, "I'm very lucky to have you in my life then…to protect me from the dangers of boredom." She cocked her head to the side thoughtfully. "Or at the very least from boys who either can't tell or don't care when the person they're talking to has absolutely no interest in the conversation," she added as an afterthought.

James, completely ignoring her sarcasm, leaned in a bit closer, smirked and said, "And don't you forget it," before swooping in and placing another brief (though not quite as brief as before) kiss on her lips.

She drew back away from him before he was finished, fearing that he might not finish if she didn't do something to stop him, and the feeling of eyes on her had her face heating up instantly.

She was too embarrassed to look over at any of them, so instead she focused all of her attention on James, who looked torn between feeling smug about somehow managing to slip another kiss into the day and disgruntled at having it cut short. It was actually quite an amusing expression, and had she not been so discomfited by some of their friends who were blatantly staring, she probably would have laughed.

"Why do you keep doing that?" she finally managed to force out of her mouth. James raised his eyebrows and she quickly added, "Not that I mind really, but they have been occurring in a very high frequency tonight."

James grinned at that, the half grin that still managed to make her insides feel all wiggly. "Because I can," he answered simply, but his voice was low and Lily got the impression that he was enjoying it even more than he was letting on.

She rolled her eyes and shook her head at him. "Oh Merlin…how long am I going to have to put up with it then?"

"I thought you said you didn't mind?" James asked with a wicked amusement in his eyes. Lily shot him a look at that only succeeding in making him laugh. "I don't know if you can put a specific time frame on it, Lil."

"Ballpark estimate?" she asked sardonically.

James appeared to ponder this for a moment, looking off in the distance and slowly tapping his chin. "Let's just say this; that it will last until I feel like I've fully made up for lost time."

"Is that code for forever? Or just at times that will really irritate me?"

"Could be either one, Evans," he quipped. Another eye roll later and he was chuckling again. "More realistically though, I'd say a couple of months. However, there is another option. There are certain ways to lump all of the missed time together and knock it out in only a few attempts," James added, suddenly very business-like.

Lily narrowed her eyes at him. "You still thinking about the broom cupboard?"

He fixed her with an impish look, the corners of his mouth turning up slowly. "With you, Lily, I'm always thinking about the broom cupboard."

She was just about to reply indignantly when Sirius started making some rather horrible gagging noises. "Merlin and Agrippa," he spit out, "Are we going to have to put up with this all the time?"

"Put up with what?" Lily asked lamely, though she had a feeling she knew exactly what Sirius was talking about.

Sirius shot her a disbelieving look, but before he could explain further, Remus had piped up, in a serious tone that was rather ruined by the slight grin that accompanied the comment, "The nausea-inducing flirting

"Exactly!" Sirius exclaimed, giving Remus a thankful nod. "And nausea-inducing flirting falls into the category of sickening displays of affection, in case you were wondering."

"I wasn't, but thanks."

"I feel sick already," Peter murmured, rubbing his stomach for affect.

"To be fair, that's just because you hid all of the Pumpkin Pasties for yourself rather than putting them out for everyone else to enjoy," Remus pointed out thoughtfully.

Peter opened and closed his mouth several times, trying to think of any way to defend himself, finally giving up and sighing before shooting Remus a withering look.

"I'm shocked! Didn't your mummy teach you to share, Wormy?" Sirius asked in a very patronizing tone, one which Peter clearly didn't appreciate if the frustrated grimace on his face was any indication.

"Yes!" he answered loudly, throwing his hands up in defeat, his face flushing in anger and embarrassment. "Yes, she did. And I did share, but everyone was going crazy and grabbing the food and I just wanted to make sure that I got some too," he finished in a quick and exasperated outburst. He looked a bit mad as he turned his head to all of them, waiting for any kind of response. They were all quiet for a moment and then catching each others' eyes, simultaneously burst into laughter.

Laughing so hard he was throwing himself back and nearly toppling over, Remus managed to sputter, "That really doesn't make it seem any better," between chuckles.

Peter was still looking rather put out when Sirius reached an arm out and flung it around his shoulders, pulling his head down and rumpling his hair. Peter pushed him away and instantly began flattening it back down. "Oh, lighten up, Peter. We're only teasing. Even you have to admit that it's completely ridiculous to be hoarding sweets."

Judging by the look on Peter's face, it seemed unlikely that he would admit any such thing. He pierced Sirius with a steely glare, still combing his fingers through his hair. "Sure, it's ridiculous when I do it. But if it had been you, everyone would be going on about how clever you are and how cool it was and how you're such a rebel…"

"Wormtail, don't be stupid," James piped up, finally having calmed his laughter down enough to breathe, "Padfoot would never do something as asinine as that." Peter turned his glower on James now, no sign of relenting in his eyes.

Lily was just gearing up to scold James for being so cruel to his friend when Sirius cut her off, addressing Peter. "Mate's got a point," he agreed, nodding solemnly at Peter, who was now fuming. "Let's just say though, for the sake of argument, that I did. First of all, refusing to hand out sweets that you paid for to the general public hardly counts as 'rebellious.' I am also of the personal belief that people would not find my greedy refusal to hand out Pumpkin Pasties cool and clever, but if they did, I can't say that I'd really blame them." Peter cocked his head questioningly at Sirius waiting for him to explain himself. "When everything I do is in some way clever, cool or rebellious you really can't blame people for just lumping that in with everything else. Sure, perhaps it's a bit mindless. Maybe it's lazy, a refusal to take the time to critically examine my actions, but I think it's a right I've earned."

Lily and Mary rolled their eyes at one another while James, Jenna and Remus all fell back into bouts of laughter. Peter stared for a long moment and then a rueful smile crept up his face. "You're such an arse," he muttered.

Sirius sighed dramatically. "I know, I know. But I'm a clever, cool, rebellious arse, and that's all that really matters, isn't it?"

Peter had a few more biting comments for his friend, but seemed to have calmed down a bit. Lily listened to them trading insults for a few minutes before it finally reached the point where she feared that if left unchecked, they would continue for hours. Interrupting them seemed like as good of a course of action as any.

"Speaking of Pumpkin Pasties," she chimed in addressing Peter, "do you have any of them left? I'm starved."

Peter shifted uncomfortably on the floor, avoiding looking directly at Lily, knowing that he was sure to catch more crap for the confession he was about to make. "No," he admitted, his face heating up. "No, I ate them all."

After many more minutes of Sirius, Remus, and James picking on Peter (really, they were relentlessly cruel sometimes) James added, "You know Wormtail, Lily isn't the only one at this party who I've heard complaining that they were hungry. While I was being forced to mingle with a bunch of people I don't like," he paused and threw Lily a pointed look here, "I heard a lot of people complaining about the lack of food." Then, so subtly she nearly missed it, she saw James shoot very quick glances at Sirius and Remus before casually scratching the end of his nose. "I think someone needs to head to Hogsmeade and get more food." Before Peter even had time to comprehend James's meaning, the other three boys had muttered "not it" and held a finger up to their noses.

Peter looked around at them, shocked, but then said "not it" as well and looked around at the girls, a hopeful look on his face.

"Come now, Wormtail," Sirius said, his voice full of mock disappointment. "Be a gentleman. You can't make one of the ladies go."

"I can," Peter argued. "I'm all about feminism and a level playing field." Lily had to stifle her giggle, but James just fixed Peter with a disappointed stare and shook his head. Peter looked as though he would stand his ground for a few seconds before he slumped his shoulders and pouted. "But I always lose that stupid game," he whined.

"That's because we specifically designed it so that you would lose," Sirius grinned.

"That's why we only use it when we don't want to do something and want you to do it for us," James explained in a chipper voice. Peter shot him a very nasty look to which James' only reply was a smirk.

"Go on, Pete," Remus commanded with a hearty slap on the back. Then he leaned in a bit and said in a conspiratorially quiet voice, "And I would suggest you use the witch passage. You'll get into Honeydukes faster."

"I know," Peter grumbled mutinously. "I'm the one who discovered the bleeding tunnel." After he'd finished his muttering, he stood up and smacked Remus hard on the side of the head. He sighed angrily and began to walk toward the Portrait Hole before stopping and turning back to them all. "Prongs, can I use something from your trunk?" He then proceeded to wink so obviously that James' only response was to stare at him in amazement.

"If you honestly can't do this in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday without getting caught, you have no business calling yourself a Marauder," he said wryly.

Peter scoffed and threw James a rude hand gesture before rushing out of the common room.

Sirius smirked and leaned back, putting his hands behind his head. "And that ladies," he said with haughty arrogance, "is how it's done."

Mary rolled her eyes with a reluctant smile. "That was possibly the most juvenile thing I've ever seen."

"It works though," James countered with a wink. "And with the proper training, you too can learn to manipulate Peter in this way," he added to Lily as if he were a salesman pitching a product rather than discussing one of his best friends.

Lily grinned skeptically at him. "What exactly am I going to do with that skill?"

James looked up to the ceiling, as though he was putting a lot of thought into his answer. "The possibilities are endless Evans," he replied with a nostalgic sigh. "The better question is: what can't you do with it?" Lily looked at him expectantly and he just grinned back at her. "Be creative, yeah?"

Lily was about to respond when Remus spoke up. "So," he drawled, looking back and forth between the two of them, "how long has this been going on?" he asked, gesturing at them.

"What do you mean?" Lily asked, feeling her face heat up once again. Knowing where this question would lead, she began to feel uncomfortable, and judging by the way that James was fidgeting, he was feeling a bit self-conscious too.

Remus shot her a look, informing her wordlessly that he was aware that she was just stalling, but then obliged anyway. "Did you two really only start whatever it is that's going on between the two of you just now, or has it been going on for a while?"

James shifted a bit next to Lily and cleared his throat loudly. He glanced over at her and gave her a quick half smile. "Truthfully," he began turning back to Remus, "it's been going on for a while." Lily blushed and grinned sheepishly over at Jenna and Mary, who were both looking a tad shell-shocked.

"How long is a while?" Remus asked suspiciously. "Like…a few weeks? Or…"

James scratched idly at the back of his head. "A bit longer than that actually," he admitted guiltily. He looked back over at Lily who was watching him with an embarrassed smile. "Since November?"

She nodded slowly and grinned. "Yeah, the end of November," she confirmed.

"What?" Jenna exclaimed at the same time Remus clapped his hands together and pronounced, "I knew it! I knew it!"

"You did not," Lily laughed. "How could you have known?" The smile vanished from her face and she turned a playfully narrowed eye on James. "Did you tell him?" she asked accusingly.

James held his hands up, pleading his innocence. "I swear I didn't." He turned to look at his friend. "How did you find out?"

Remus shrugged nonchalantly. "I had a hunch," he explained. "I wasn't sure before Christmas, but when term started there was no doubt of it."

Lily scrunched her face up. "Were we that obvious?"

Shrugging again, Remus grinned knowingly at them. "It was more James than you. He was smiling all the time and he'd finally stopped bugging us about you." James pulled his eyebrows together and muttered something under his breath about not-talking-that-much-about-her while Lily laughed at him. "Not to mention, the two of you would have these mysterious arguments that would pop up and then resolve themselves without any of us knowing how it had happened. And once I figured it out, it was pretty obvious. You two suddenly had an extraordinary number of things you had to do alone."

"Glad you figured it out, mate," Sirius said with a clap on the back. "I would have been ashamed if you hadn't. They were unbelievably obvious about it."

James had opened his mouth to argue when Jenna cut across him. "You knew?" She sounded indignant, but Lily couldn't tell if she was putting on a show or if it was a genuine emotion because her eyes were focused on Sirius and didn't even flicker in Lily's direction. Sirius nodded. "What about Peter? Does he know too?"

"Doubt it," Sirius answered with a shrug. Lily gave him a severe look. "What?" he asked indignantly. "It's not a slight on him. It's just an honest conclusion based on observations I've made about a friend. Peter isn't the most observant guy. I doubt he noticed."

"Well, what about us?" Jenna asked, waving her hand between herself and Mary, the same hard tone in her voice. "We didn't know."

Sirius furrowed his eyebrows at her, but she didn't seem to notice. Remus seemed to detect her less-than-pleased tone and intervened. "To be fair, Lily was much better at hiding it than James was."

"Hmm, what do you suppose that means?" James asked, looking over at Lily with narrowed eyes.

Lily scrunched her face up in concentration and pretended to think really hard about his question. Then she looked down at him and plastered a solemn expression on her face. "I guess it just means that you're clearly much more into me than I am you."

"Yikes," James muttered.

"Sorry," she replied with an apologetic shrug.

"No, I think it means that James trusts his mates more than Lily trusts hers," Jenna said angrily, finally making eye contact with Lily.

Lily was stunned silent for a moment, the atmosphere changing quickly from playful to icy cold. "Jenna," Lily started, her voice shaking slightly. "It wasn't like that."

"Oh, it wasn't?" she asked sarcastically, folding her arms over her chest and piercing Lily with a murderous look.

"No, of course not," Lily replied wanting to reach out to her, but afraid of what might happen if she did.

"Then what was it like, Lily?" she asked, no hint at all that she believed her. "If it wasn't that you don't trust us then by all means, explain what it was." Jenna stared at her coldly, her jaw set. Lily didn't have a reply right away and felt herself floundering as she tried to find the right words. Jenna looked determined to wait it out, satisfied with merely sitting and glaring until Lily said something.

"I don't…" Lily finally began in a quiet voice, but that seemed to be all that Jenna was okay with letting come out.

"I can't believe you. I can't believe you!" she exploded throwing her hands up in anger. "How could you not tell us about this?"

"Jenna," James interjected as he moved his hand down to the middle of Lily's back in a soothing gesture. She would have thanked him or acknowledged it in some way if she weren't so preoccupied with trying to keep her best friend from hating her. "It wasn't a trust thing. We both agreed when we started dating that we wanted to keep it a secret from everyone so that we could figure out what we were doing. It wasn't to do with you."

Jenna turned her scowl on James now. "That's a load of rubbish and you know it, James Potter. And don't you even pretend like this was your idea. This has Lily Evans written all over it."

"And you did tell Sirius," Mary piped up quietly. Her scowl wasn't nearly as vicious nor her expression nearly as hard, but it was clear that she was upset too.

"That wasn't really the same…" Sirius added, before quelling under the ferocious look Jenna gave him.

She then turned her still fierce gaze on Lily, but this time, underneath all of the anger, Lily saw the first traces of hurt beginning to break through. She felt her stomach clench, hating herself for being responsible for the emotion on Jenna's face.

"Okay," Jenna said quietly, attempting to control her own temper, "I understand you wanting some time to figure everything out. I get that, okay?" Lily nodded, afraid to speak in case in riled her up again. "But we're your best friends. We should know about big things in your life. It's not like we can't keep a secret. We wouldn't have told anyone."

"You aren't exactly the world's best at keeping secrets Jenna." The words flew out of Lily's mouth before she had time to think. She couldn't disguise the horrified look on her face as she glanced up at Jenna, wishing there was some way to reach out and shove the words back into her mouth and then clamp her lips shut to prevent their escape. Instead, her mouth seemed intent on getting her into even more trouble. "You do have a penchant for gossip."

Jenna's eyes went huge and round, anger filling them instantly. "Oh, I see how it is," she shouted, her voice rising impressively. She stood up and moved away from the couch and held her arms stiff and straight against the side of her body, clenching her fists. She looked torn between kicking Lily hard in the shins and screaming at her so for long and so loudly that her vocal chords would be permanently damaged. Lily moved to the edge of the couch, poised perfectly in case she needed to get up and run, though she wasn't sure if it would be to run after Jenna or to run away from her. "I get it!" Jenna continued to rant. "So, it wasn't really that you wanted to keep it a secret from Mary or Remus or Peter or anyone else in this sodding school. It was just me! You just didn't want me to find out because of course I lack the self control necessary to keep my best friend's secrets!"

"No…no, it wasn't like that," Lily pleaded frantically.

"We just thought it would be better not to tell anyone," James interjected as well, hoping to be some kind of voice of reason. He knew that Jenna had the grounds to be angry, but it seemed like she was blowing things a bit out of proportion. "It wasn't anything specific against you. It would have gotten complicated trying to remember who knew and who didn't—"

"Oh, shut the hell up, James," Jenna snapped, glaring venomously at him. "You can let her tell herself whatever it is she needs to justify treating us badly so that she can sleep at night, but it doesn't mean you have to believe it."

"Oh, come on. Really Jenna—" James said, his voice growing angry, but before he could say anything else, Lily put a restraining hand on his arm and told him it was all right. He tried to argue, but she silenced him with a look. Settling for a deep sigh before slouching back against the couch, he began tapping his foot angrily, but said no more.

"You know what, Lily?" Jenna asked, as Lily turned back towards her, "You didn't want Mary and me involved in your relationship? Fine. Your wish is my command." And with a dramatic sweep of her hands, she turned and walked towards the girls' dorms, calling Mary after her as she went. She didn't turn back, but Lily could hear her stomping up the stairs loudly and then the telltale crash as she slammed the door shut.

Mary still sat on the other side of the couch, watching silently. Lily locked eyes with her, and found something like deep disappointment there. Mary sighed and shook her head before standing up and following Jenna without a word.

Lily remained where she was for a few moments, feeling helpless and as though all the wind had been knocked out of her. Was it possible that only a few hours ago she'd felt weightless and free of all her problems?

She finally sighed, her shoulders slumping in defeat, and leaned back against the couch. James' arm immediately went around her shoulders and his hand moved in a soothing pattern up and down her arm. She leaned her head against his shoulder and tried to ignore the horrible sinking feeling in her stomach.

Peter reappeared some time later and handed her a large parcel of Pumpkin Pasties, but she hardly had any appetite. She took one out and nibbled on it occasionally, but eventually handed them out to the boys, who had started up another conversation in the wake of the argument and had quickly made their way through all of the food that Peter had brought them.

"It'll be okay," James said quietly to her when Sirius, Remus and Peter were all very involved in a debate about which was the better snack candy: Bertie Bott's or Sugar Quills. She looked up into his hazel eyes for a long time, hungry for the comfort that she found there. At that moment, it was easy to pretend that everything was okay. Reality held a much different and hopeless feeling whenever she looked away.

"Yeah," she muttered in agreement when she looked away from him and down at her hands. "I know."

James clearly heard the despondent edge in her voice, as he removed his arm from around her shoulders and hooked a finger under her chin, lifting it until she had no choice but to return her eyes to his. "She'll come around. Just give her a little time," he promised moving his hand up to her temple and brushing his fingers through a few tendrils of her hair.

Searching his face, she couldn't help but feel that he was right, even though her fearful thoughts that she'd ruined something important were rushing through her brain. She nodded after a while, letting his assurance wash over her, leaning in eagerly when he kissed her lightly, and grabbing the front of his robes to hold him there. Despite his teasing earlier that he was trying to make up for lost time, Lily couldn't help but savor the freedom that she had to kiss him in the middle of a crowded common room.

She pulled her lips away eventually, but didn't allow much more space than that to separate them. When James opened his eyes, they were so bright that Lily couldn't help but grin back at him. "You know," he said, his voice low and hoarse, "if you need something to take your mind off of it…" He didn't finish his thought, but the suggestive wiggle of his eyebrows said enough.

Lily narrowed her eyes at him. "If you mention that bloody broom cupboard one more time…" she said with a threatening tone. James smirked, causing Lily to laugh as she sat the rest of the way up. "You have an entirely one-track mind, my friend."

James shrugged and sat up too. "What can I say? It's a gift."

Lily considered him thoughtfully for a moment, watching as the silly grin that had been wiped off his face while Jenna had been arguing with them reappear. "Hmm, maybe later," she commented off-handedly, before sliding down onto the floor to join Peter and Remus in a game of Exploding Snap.