Well, here is part 3. I intend of putting out a few more chapters, but I don't expect they will be out any time soon. This muse is not in any particular hurry. Eventually, I'll make my way into Seventh Year.
Hope you enjoy.
Note: I do not own Harry Potter. Any mistakes or liberties taken are mine and mine alone. =) (This has yet to be beta-read.)
Christmas at the castle was quieter than Lily had expected, even with the larger number of muggle-born students spending the holiday safe inside Hogwarts. The usually tension that hung in the air had been muted with Christmas sparkles and the occasional magical flute playing something cheerful in the hallways. The large fireplaces in the library were crackling with heat and Lily felt that she was finally gaining some feeling back into her fingers and toes after tossing snowballs like a First year.
It was nice, she decided. She missed home. She missed hot chocolate and Christmas fudge and decorations that didn't explode into song or a colorful barrage of tinsel and confetti. But fairies were an interesting change in direction from lights and here the occasional stocking was likely to sing… sorting hats and singing socks; she wondered if Dumbledore's Christmas Robes were as blinding as his usual wear.
Besides, this year wouldn't have been the same anyway.
Lily turned and blinked at the sight of Remus. He was a bit damp at the edges and he looked like someone had recently set him on fire. Blinking rapidly to make sure she wasn't imagining this, she frowned. "Remus?"
He smiled. "You really don't want to know. How'd I miss you being on the lists?"
She shrugged, still staring. Personally, she was more interested in figuring out how she'd missed him in the common room the last three days. She'd spent the evening huddled in front of the fireplace with pilfered hot-chocolate (the kitchens were not so great a secret as everyone suspected) and eating sugar cookies with the small first years and a few of the upper classmen.
"I was a late addition." McGonagall had been surprisingly sympathetic to her late request to stay. She had frowned only a little. "How have I missed you?"
"I just got back." Remus gave a little shrug. "Family issues."
Lily tried to remember the details of Remus' home life, but other than his mother continually fighting an illness, she had very little to go on. There was a slight, niggling suspicion about Remus that she had never really dug into – either to confirm or deny. But Snape's curious, questioning voice had taken a long time to push to the back of her mind. Remus didn't seem to mind her lack of questions, folding his arms on the table and using them to brace his chin.
"I would have thought you would have gone home."
Lily frowned. "I usually do."
Remus didn't say anything, but Lily could feel that soft curiosity he seemed to wear like a cloak. Sighing, she shrugged uncomfortably. "My sister is engaged."
That seemed to baffle him. When it seemed like he was going to dig for more details, she gave him a tight smile. "Are you expecting company this Christmas?"
Remus' expression changed to something considering. For a moment, there was an intensity she did not normally associate with her quiet friend and she blinked at it. Then it had disappeared back into warm brown eyes like it never happened.
"Not until Christmas afternoon. Mrs. Potter likes to have James and Sirius around for some of the vacation and Peter's family probably won't let him return until term starts."
Lily felt a little relief. Every since… the incident, as she was calling it, had happened she hadn't been able to completely control her reaction to James Potter. It was… irritating. Something had changed that day regardless of how much she denied it. She accepted she was a teenager with a teenager's hormones (her memory of an expression, a kiss and later, the hot look in his eye and the smell and feel of him pressed against her after they had escaped…) but she was determined to deal with this on her own terms and those did not include Potter.
"He's a good friend, Lily."
She pulled herself out of her thoughts and studied Remus. He was watching her with a hint of that previous expression in his eyes and she shook her head. There was really only one 'him' between her and Remus. Sometimes she let herself wonder what that meant.
"I have never accused him otherwise."
Remus gave a little shrug. "I suppose not. But I don't think you've thought about it, either."
Lily frowned at him. "Remus…"
He sat up and lifted his hands. "I'm not trying to get in the middle of whatever is going on between you two, honest. That's more of a Sirius thing. I just want to make that clear. He's a good friend. The best friend I've ever had. I take that seriously and I know you do as well."
It hurt, just a little and she couldn't quite stop the flinch but Remus didn't apologize. What had happened between her and Snape had happened for a reason. She was learning to cope with that edge of loneliness and the hostility that she couldn't shake in potions, regardless of Slughorn's watchful eye. For once, she was almost grateful to be a favorite.
Tapping her fingers on her thigh, she studied Remus. He seemed to be okay with that, closing his eyes and for all intents and purposes taking a nap. Remus was right. She did take friendships seriously. Snape's decision to call her… that word, had hurt. That Potter had been the… catalyst that had driven that decision home and left her angry for a very long time. But Remus wasn't the only one to point out that her behavior might be a little off in regards to Potter; he was just kinder about it.
Alice had no such qualms.
'I think you overreacted.'
Lily paused, turning to stare at her best friend. "What?"
Alice crossed her arms. "Amelia agrees with me."
"You and Amelia think I'm over reacting." Lily repeated, trying to make sure she had this right.
"Yes." She took a deep breath. "Look, you were chased by Death Eaters. You flung spells, you ran, you depended on each other – no way in hell you would have done that with someone you didn't trust. Would you have done that with Snape?"
Alice nodded. "Exactly. You're not the Lily Evans who was Snape's friend anymore either. If you can change, why can't he?"
Lily crossed her arms and closed her eyes. "Alice…"
"No, it's time this was said. Snape and you broke ties in Fifth Year. We're in Sixth and you still refuse to admit that something might have changed – you let Snape hurt you with everything he doesn't do and you let Potter be the outlet for your anger. Just… just think about it, okay, Lils?"
Sliding her eyes over, Lily considered the sleeping Remus. She could ask him what Potter had said, but that would be close to asking him to break a confidence. Then there was the added bonus that it would get back to Potter that she was asking about him. She had no intention of anything making its way to Potter until she had everything figured out in her head. That was important. But right now she felt a little soggy and wanted the laughter of first years clustered around a singing stocking because it made her feel lighter. She needed lighter today.
His lashes fluttered a little and then tired brown eyes fixed on her face. Lily bit her lip to hide her smile.
"I'm heading back to the common room. You want to come with me or do you want to nap here?"
Looking pained at the thought of moving, Remus finally grunted and pushed himself to his feet. Lily shook her head and pushed to her feet and waited for Remus to collect himself before making their way back to the Gryffindor common room. "I usually sneak my way down to the kitchen for an evening run of hot chocolate and cookies. I could use an extra hand tonight."
Remus looked momentarily surprised at her mention of kitchen (his eyes narrowed just a little at the corners) but supposedly allowed himself to be distracted by the thought of chocolate. Lily kept her face carefully straight. She knew she had a reputation for being a bit of a goody, goody but her once-best-friend had been in Slytherian for a reason. Only Alice knew that she had been risked a warning letter from Ministry on the Improper Use of Magic to win an argument with Petunia. Lily didn't mind taking risks or bending the rules nearly as much as everyone thought. Letting out the fact that she knew about the kitchens would make its way back to Remus' friends (Potter), but for once she found that she didn't mind nearly as much as she had.
Lily stared up at the ceiling in her dorm room. Right then, she was the only girl there. Alice, who had offered to stay with her, was probably enjoying an evening at the Longbottom's. Or panicking, rumor was that Augusta was quite the handful. She missed her friend. She could have used someone of her clear cut honestly just then. Her conversation with Remus wouldn't leave her alone. (Even in the turmoil of her head and heart concerning Petunia, Potter managed to make himself an annoyance.) Who knew her fellow prefect could cut to the heart of a matter with such ease given the chance. 'The best friend I've ever had.' Crinkling her forehead, she pursued her lips.
'You're avoiding me.'
'I'm mad at you.' Lily said firmly, watching the way Potter seemed to flinch just a little at the ire in her voice before his own eyes narrowed.
'That gives you a reason to avoid me?'
'I don't need a reason, Potter. I can just choose not to be near you.'
Lily sighed and pulled her pillow over her face. She knew she felt justified in her treatment of Potter the last few months. It had… hurt some unexplainable part of herself that he had just brushed off their experience as fun. She had been terrified. She had been worried and had struggled to protect James Potter – and he had thought it was some great big Joke. The last few months had been difficult. Alice and Amelia were the best and she adored them, but she had grown up with Snape as part of her. He had been the one who told her she was magical. It was an experience that she had foolishly thought would always connect them.
She supposed between the terror of the Death Eaters – people killing muggle-born because they could, because they considered them some incurable disease – and her still sharp pain at Snape's utter rejection of everything they had had contributed to her reactions. Because no matter how angry it made her she couldn't quite shake the look behind Potter's eyes when he looked at her after the world had stopped shaking. With bits of plaster and dirt clinging to his bangs, eyes hot with tension and relief – pressed so tightly against her, he had just simple looked at her. There had been no teasing, no amusement in that expression. Just a deadly seriousness that had almost left her believing that their escape hadn't been nearly the amount of luck she had thought.
Then he had opened his mouth and ruined it.
Pushing the pillow off her face and onto the floor, Lily sat up. Frowning down at her hands, she finally did what she hadn't ever let herself do. She seriously considered what James Potter was becoming instead of what he had done. Because Alice was right. If she could accept the changes in Snape – if he had made her – then she could at least give Potter the same chance. (Because maybe it would hurt less that way, knowing that someone else had the ability to change so completely from what they had been…)
Lips pressed together, fingers curled into knots, she went over every conversation, every glance. If she was honest with herself… Potter's behavior since the attack had been almost subdued. But even before that, there had been a seriousness that had lurked behind everything he had done. (She would not think about that Kiss.) Yes, he was ridiculous and this… strange obsession in her was uncomfortable, but she removed Snape, removed his ridiculous crush…
Lily blew her bangs out of her eyes and sighed.
Then she would have considered Potters someone worth becoming friends with.
In one term, she would go back home to a sister she didn't understand and a wedding she couldn't agree with. She would live in constant concern for the safety of her family and wondering what was going on in the Wizarding World. What was happening with Voldemort. (She had never bought her own subscription to Daily Prophet, she just borrowed Alice's. Now there were other reasons not to buy it.) What she would come back to… what would happen after graduation?
"This has nothing to do with being able to handle yourself, Lily. You've lived in the Wizarding world long enough now to know that pure bloods have other ways of fighting back." His eyes burned behind his glasses and his jaw worked for a moment and he took a step back. "So I'm asking. If you ever find yourself needing help, you know where to find me."
Lily pushed off the bed. She was willing to admit that Potter may have realized the seriousness of what was happening the Wizarding world. She may have been willing to admit that she had made some mistakes where he and his friends were concerned (when was the last time she had seen them throw a hex in the halls?) But she wasn't willing to do more than end this… embitterment between them. Because although Alice and Amelia and everyone else were right, that maybe he deserved a second chance, she was right as well. She couldn't be friends with someone she couldn't respect. And James Potter had a long way to go before she could say that she respected him. Tucking her bottom lip between her teeth, she considered the piece of parchment in front of her and considered what to write.
The heat burned his nose and finger tips as he dripped melted snow in clumps, shaking out his cloak and off the ends of his broom. Shuddering at the sudden change in heat, he scrambled out of his outwear; afraid he would suffocate even as he continued to shiver.
"James!" Sirius gasped theatrically as he swiped his hands through his longer hair. "What would your mother say?"
James snorted as he pulled his wand out to dry the floor and their damp clothing. Sirius bounded into the living room, hair bouncing along the back of his neck like a tail. Shaking his head, he shoved his glasses a little higher on his nose and followed Sirius a little more sedately into the living area where the fire was crackling alongside the tree. With his parents out calling on relatives, they had the house to themselves until dinner. Usually they would require him to accompany the family to the Christmas Eve outing, but with Sirius with them this break and possibly this summer after his falling out with the family, they had agreed it would be best if they stayed put. Until they go a feel for how the Black family would respond.
Tomorrow they headed back to Hogwarts. He loved being at home; with the family wards protecting him from the Underage Magic Statute he never felt completely disconnected from his magic. (He wondered how Lily did it every summer… she sure made up for it in the school year.) Having Sirius here this year was even better. He'd been forced to watch his best friend for five years return each summer and Christmas with hollow-eyes and a stiff jawed determination to terrorize the Slytherian house. This year, he'd found himself sharing his family with the brother he'd always wanted.
His cheeks felt permanently wind burned from the cold and flying. He'd been pranked and pranked (the bathroom, he'd never expected it!) They had hung an outlandish amount of Christmas decorations and garish amounts of tinsel. James was of course curious to see what was under the tree, but his parents could have gotten him socks and it still would have been the best
But it hadn't been all fun and games. Both James and Sirius had every intention of joining the Aurora Corps after graduation and spent the first week with that goal in mind. They had spent hours perfecting a variety of spells they had nicked from the school library. After the attack on Hogsmead it wasn't just a matter of having a wider base of spell work for pranking; now it was about being able to fight back. James hadn't forgotten his mad rush through Hogsmead with Lily (or how well she had handled herself.) It was important for him to fight against Voldemort, but thinking of a certain redhead and the half-terrified expression behind her eyes drove him more than he had expected.
When they weren't practicing their spell work, transfiguration and 'making a nuisance of themselves' as his mum had accused, they were busy raiding the kitchen for late night cookies or re-arranging the ornaments on the tree. James grinned as a particular enthusiastic piece of tinsel jumped out and tried to attach himself to his sweater.
Sirius grinned. "I named that one Lily."
Sirius placed a hand on his heart and looked hurt. "But prongs-y, I only do this for you!"
James rolled his eyes as he slouched on the couch, biting firmly into a cookie from the platter his mum had left out for them.
"Any word from Peter or Remus?"
"Peter hoped on the mirror this morning while you were busy primping yourself." Sirius said. "Things are going okay as can be expected."
"We really need to make another set of those mirrors." James muttered around a mouthful, his eyes narrowed. "Could come in handy."
"We had two sets. You broke one."
"I believe that was you."
"I confess nothing!"
"Hmmm. At the least, we should see…" The flutter of owls pulled interrupted his thought.
Grinning, he sprang to his feet and headed to the table to intercept the bundling of letters. Most of the gifts had been handed out before the end of term, so he wasn't expecting much from anyone. Remus, Peter and Sirius had already (in great drama) handed out their gifts. James was quiet pleased with his own selections this year. Grinning, he finished collecting envelopes and handing out owl treats before setting to sort the stack. Pulling out the note from Remus, he tossed it backwards to Sirius who yelped when it bumped him in the shoulder.
Snorting, James ignored his friend's grumblings. Halfway through the stack, he paused and stared down at the familiar writing on the envelope. A self-depreciating smile tugged at his mouth. Even without knowing her handwriting as well as he did, he would have known it was from her by the way his heart leapt into his throat. Ignoring the curious expression on Sirius' face, he stuffed it into his pocket and smiled brightly. Purposely.
Sirius rolled his eyes.
"Don't tell me."
"So I won't."
Sirius looked to the heaven as if for patience and then waved the opened letter. "Remus has news."
"That makes sense, since he wrote us."
Sirius made a great showing of being abused before relating the new. "The spells he was working on tragically end in spontaneous combustion of wood and caught his robes on fire. Sorry I missed that. He said we'd have to try it again on something a little more… durable. Oh, and Evans ended up staying at Hogwarts."
James frowned, his attention pulled from the possibilities of that spell. "Lily never stays."
"I'm just the messenger!" But his eyes were dark. "You know she grew up next to snivelous. Think she's concerned?"
James considered the words and then shook his head. "No. Even Snape isn't prepared to do something to call attention to his home life. This summer…"
Sirius sat up and frowned at the ceiling. "The attack this summer set the stage. Voldy-wart shouldn't have been willing to draw so much attention to himself. Not with Dumbledore so close."
James set his jaw. There would be some classmates who wouldn't return next year. Shaking off those thoughts – not yet, not now, but soon – he curled his fingers around the message in his pocket and pulled it out. There it was. His name in Lily's Evan's scrawl.
"Might as well read it." Sirius said as he chopped into another cookie. "Get it out of the way. She probably hexed it anyway. Gotta give me time to figure out the counter before your parents come home and laugh at you."
Ruefully agreeing, James cracked open the wax with the tip of his wand and opened the parchment. Reaching up, he adjusted his glasses, reading the message multiple times. There, in Lily's near-perfect writing were two words he had never expected to hear, much less receive in writing. Proof. Tangible proof that something was changing.
Lily's pile of presents was filled with its usual far; a decent collection of Honeydukes Finest chocolates, sugar quills and her personal weakness, Droobles Best Blowing Gum. She supposed her love steamed from a lifetime of blowing bubbles and wishing they would float. Now they did and they were the color of bluebells. Alice had gotten her a few unusual charm tomes and Amelia had tracked her down several very nice quills and a scarf she had been eyes for weeks. The gifts from her parents were the usual (pretty sweaters, a few muggle novels she hid under her mattress and a few extra gallons for her to spend on her own.) Petunia had sent her something that might have once been a vase but had been tortured into something else.
On top of the pile was what was clearly a wedding invitation (that was stuffed out of sight) and a thank you note from Professor Slughorn for his present. She was pleased that he liked it – she had gotten the idea from a drawing she saw in a muggle museum once. It had taken a fair bit of charms and transfiguration to get it right (and an A for McGonagall's extra credit.) But the little fish should last as long as she did. For someone as absent minded as the professor, she felt that was apt.
Satisfied with her haul, she had put everything up, pocketed a few pieces of her gum and cheerfully headed down the stairs. It was later in the morning than she had anticipated sleeping in and she was looking forward to breakfast.
To her surprise (and secret delight) Remus was waiting on her in the common room.
"I thought you would have already eaten?"
Remus shut the book in his hand and smiled. "I thought I'd wait. No real point in eating by yourself on Christmas."
Remus' smile was amused. "That's what friends do."
'The best friend I've ever had.'
Lily eyed him. "I suppose it is."
The great hall looked like it had exploded. Even the previous nights meal hadn't been… quite this much… color. The garlands were a variety of Christmas colors and hung mid-air. Christmas trees were everywhere, including the giant one that nearly reached the ceiling and was charmed to change through the rainbow. The loud popping sound of magical Christmas crackers filled the occasional bought of silence, leaving the scene with a sense of childish chaos that was catching.
Remus leaned forward, lips twitching. "I think they are trying to blind us this morning."
"Are they always this… bright?"
"You haven't seen Dumbledore yet."
Lily managed to turn her laugh into a cough, but just barely. Breakfast was eventful, with so many muggle-borns rushing through the aisles; it seemed louder than the usual breakfast during Term. (Dumbledore was indeed clad in robes so bright you saw spots if you watched him too long.) Full, as satisfied as she thought she could feel away from family, Lily groaned and leaned against the edge of the Gryffindor Table.
"Do they have some way to roll us back to our rooms?"
Remus made a remarkably noise in the back of his throat – something like a groan or a growl. "We should only be so lucky."
Pushing to their feet, they began to long walk back to the Common room.
"You never said what you got this morning."
Remus looked surprised that she asked and smiled a bit bemusedly. "Oh, the usual. James and Sirius were competing to see who could get me the most and the best chocolate. There might have been some reading material included, but I haven't really made it through the chocolate. Peter got me a couple of potions and DADA books I've been wanting that aren't in the library."
Lily raised a brow. "Not in the library?"
Remus grinned a little sheepishly. "I suppose we could say they aren't easily accessible?"
"Ah." Lily nodded. "So those would be the type of thing you'd consider letting a friend borrow sometime during term?"
Remus gave her another one of those inscrutable looks before shrugging. "Sure. I'll let you know when I finish my first read through."
Watching him from the corner of her eyes – she wondered what he made of her request – she pulled out two pieces of her Droobles Best Blowing Gum and offered him one. Remus blinked stupid for a moment before grinning.
"This stuff was so much fun as a first year."
Lily grinned, chewing noisily. It took some work, but she managed to make and successfully blow a blue bubble that floated cheerfully down the hall. "I love this stuff."
Remus grinned and mimicked her; rolling eyes at her snort at the size of it. Puffing out her cheeks, she carefully blew one the size of his head before letting it go.
"Show off." Remus groused good naturedly.
She grinned and blew another bubble.
The first actual sign that Potter and Black had returned as Remus had said they would was the loud explosion from the Common Room. She had been in the middle of working out exactly what she needed to say to both her mother and Petunia in regards to the upcoming nuptials. For a long moment, she listened to the laughter and noise and debated moving down the stairs to join them. Truth said, she was a bit nervous about Potter's reaction to her note. But this was also important.
By the time she managed to congratulate Petunia and word her letter to show the appropriate amount of happiness for sister without sounding strained, the noise was gone. Unwilling to head out to the Owlry just yet, she dug around in her new collection of books and pulled out the Advanced Charms volume from Alice and headed down the stairs. A few hours relaxing in front of the fire before heading outside to walk the ground sounded about what she needed for the afternoon.
The sound of male voices in near hysterical laughter pulled her out of her reading daze just before three of the four Marauders fell through the portrait opening. They staggered into the common room a tumble of half-burned robes and large smiles. Lily bit the corner of her lip to keep from laughing at them. Remus met her gaze and looked sheepish – it appeared whatever had left him so out of sorts yesterday had been repeated for the enjoyment of his friends. She supposed as long as she didn't get word that it had been used on unsuspecting students; she could let this one go.
Potter, in particular, was a mess.
Black was loudly discussing the finer points of the explosion/fire when Potter looked right at her. She curled her fingers into the textbook in her lap. His smile was slow and sparked something along her spine like a well placed heating charm. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a single, plain white handkerchief (that had miraculously survived the spell) and waved it in the air like a little kid. Black was watching with a strange expression on his face. Remus looked surprised.
But it was the expression behind Potter's eyes – a mix of the fierceness of that day in Hogsmeade and the intensity she had witnessed once in the Great Hall – that had her palms breaking into a sweat. He seemed to be searching for someone on her face, some sign that she meant what she had said, understood his own return message.
So Lily smiled at him (really smiled, no gritted teeth) and went back to her charms book, ignoring the way her insides trembled. James Potter had his chance.
So she'd see what he'd do with it.
Yes, I am aware that I have the Marauders coming back from break early. (Some of them, anyway.) We can assume either the Potters worked it out ahead of time, or Dumbledore had it set up where students could come back early due to the growing war. I didn't really go into detail on how they got back, so I either of those would fit.
There is not date for when Petunia marred Vernon (that I could find.) So I took liberties with the sister's relationship and the engagement.