Previously in the Darklyverse: Lily baffled James with her stony silence following a Christmas kiss (CH24, CH26). After Lily was orphaned and Sirius was disowned, the two rented a flat together to stay in on breaks and during the summer (CH31). Disillusioned by Lily's trip to France (CH24) and the Ministry's authorization of the use of Unforgivable Curses against Dark wizards (CH31), the Gryffindor sixth years consented to Dorcas Meadowes's interest in turning their newly formed awareness and activist group, the Order of the Phoenix (CH26), into a terrorist organization (CH30). Mary and Marlene's friendship suffered from Mary's closeted feelings for Marlene (CH27) and jealousy of her friendship with Lily (CH24), while Emmeline made the effort to reconnect with the group (CH29).

xx

April 9th: James Potter

He bites his tongue, hard. She is so beautiful when she stands there, sits, used to jog across rooms to greet him and—once or twice—leant up to encircle his neck and smile. Her lips, though, so soft but commanding, too—enrapturing. Maybe it was just once, and maybe it's been months, but that Christmas Day hasn't fogged up and he replays it again, blows the cobwebs from the undone within her wet smile and her frightened almond eyes, oh she is so enchanting. She captivates him from afar and he chases the bones she drops, tail between his legs and tongue-flashing panting, and silly spoiled James has never known how to take no for an answer.

He doesn't understand it, the interruption—they'd been doing so well, he'd thought, before. Perhaps he moved too fast, or startled her off, or the rumors all along were true about Lily and Snivellus sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g; anyway, Lily is not his. James has loved her for so long and Merlin, he tried so hard to be what they thought she needed, but maybe that was manipulative or she thought it was manipulative or you can't force what's not there, at least not emotions, and James isn't particularly interested in overpowering her body with his (not scare her, never harm her) or in slipping love potions into all of her goblets. No. Potters get everything they want (don't they?), and so he'll just keep perching at her feet, waiting to fetch a smile, a kiss; ignoring how it stabs him so when she sees him, then always droops a little and trudges off.

"Mate, you're not making sense."

"Shut it, Sirius," he growls after a very extensive silence; "that's an excellent nap I was having, really excellent."

Through the bleary film of his vision, he thinks he sees Sirius flash something between a grimace and a grin. "Think you're getting your Animagi mixed up. Last I checked, I'm the one who, what was it, wags my tail and likes to play fetch?"

"Shut up!"

"Though I don't know, man, you sort of botched it when you started muttering about love potions and how Lily—ow—how Lily gets so wet whenever she's around—OI, let GO of—PRONGS!"

James lets go his chokehold on Sirius and glances around as he straightens himself—the crowd seems to have thinned, and they're the only ones left in their compartment. "You want any suggestions where you can shove the attitude? And I don't mean down your throat—"

"Merlin, you wake up quick," says Sirius. "Look, you need to get up anyway, train's parked. Parents coming to get you first?"

"Nah, I told them to get me from your flat on—Tuesday or Wednesday or whenever it was—thought it'd be easier not to have to pack my trunk up again to meet you tomorrow."

"Fine by me, but you get to do the honors of breaking it to Lily."

"Right, okay," says James, tripping over his feet a bit as his trunk clangs behind him.

"Careful, though, or you might give the lady an orgasm right there on the Knight Bus—"

"I'm warning you, Sirius, one more time!"

"All right, all right."

Sirius and Lily's new flat—courtesy of Sirius's inheritance from his uncle Alphard, may he rest in peace—is crammed in the back of one of those rent-a-room houses in Muggle London, across from the boiler room, where no neighbors will think to come inside. Good thing, too, because the place is chock full of dancing teapots and (none to Lily's satisfaction) lingerie-clad models arching their backs within their portrait frames. As Sirius swings the door shut behind them, Lily's already unrolling parchment scrolls from her bag and laying them out amidst newspaper clippings on the kitchen table, shoving moving boxes out of her way with the ball of her foot. "For tomorrow?" asks James.

"Yes."

"Quite a bit of intel you've got there."

"Brinn gave me lots to work with for when we went to France last winter. I've been collecting articles out of the Prophet ever since, and I started on Witch Weekly last month."

"Witch Weekly? You must be spending too much time with Marlene. Oh, dear, James, I think she's been indoctrinated."

She shoots him a look, then goes back to flattening the rolls with a hunched back. If he could, James would work the knots out, but that time is over. "It's more useful than you'd think, following high society."

"Yes, well," says Sirius.

"Just—wait for what she comes up with tomorrow, yeah?" James tells him. Lily freezes stock-still for just a second, but then it's gone and she's back to working.

They've got a few days to kill before the meetings—with Dorcas on Tuesday to lay out ideas and without on Wednesday to confer. It wasn't long after the Unforgivable battle at the Ministry that took Dorcas up on her proposition and revealed the girls' involvement, and while they've come to some preliminary understandings—scale up the Order pranks to set the stage for future recruitment, but not unravel their plans yet to those interested, not until they've done enough scoping to have a concrete plan to lay out to others. Until then, they've been tracking potential candidates: Frank Longbottom, Elisabeth Clearwater, Fabian Prewett.

Until then, Lily unsurprisingly throws herself into her books and away from James, although she concedes to bantering with Sirius in his tireless commitment to make the most of his new living arrangement with her. He takes James out for a couple of gorgeous nighttime runs on the flying motorbike. They go out shopping in questionable shops for more posters of even barer Muggle women. They swig drinks in wizarding nightclubs and swagger home to pester Lily.

On Monday afternoon, Marlene drops by with Mary in tow to check out the apartment and try to smuggle some words out of Lily. They're successful in one of the two, anyway. "Oh, lord, this is adorable, so much character. Loving the slanted floors—and they're wood, too, that's nice—and that door. It's so crooked. It's so perfect."

"Hullo, James," says Mary, sidling away from Marlene and Sirius's incredibly enthusiastic reunion.

"McKinnons treating you all right?"

"Uh-huh. It's always really nice staying over there," Mary answers, flashing a glance toward Lily's general direction in the kitchen.

They put their feet up in the living room, catching up on Marlene's siblings' antics and the new flat. "Michael and Matt have been spending way too much time together now that Matt's at Hogwarts—they've been raising hell for Mum the last few days. Em was actually over the other day to visit Maggie, which was—awkward. She's really trying, I think, though. Tried making small talk with me and Mare and everything."

"Merlin. Well," says Sirius. "She coming tomorrow?"

"I think so, yeah. I think we all are. Alice is none too happy about it, but there you go."

"Arse," Sirius says.

James cuts him a look. "You're quiet, Mary."

She shrugs. "It's… it's good to be here. With you all."

"You, too, Mary." They talk about the war—they always talk about the war—and then he catches her again as they're packing up, while Sirius and Marlene are again enthusiastically exchanging goodbyes.

"It's been—good with Marlene, though. It's hard, too, because—well, Rem might have mentioned—but…"

"Mentioned what?"

"It—nothing. We were just weird for a while, but I think we're better."

"We all get weird sometimes," says James. He's weird; Lily's weird. "We'll see you tomorrow, all right?"

Dorcas (expectedly) and Emmeline (unexpectedly) are the first to arrive the next day and open Lily up properly for the first time since they got off the train. "Good to see you two, too," she says, shaking Dorcas's hand and a bit hesitantly returning Emmeline's proffered hug. "How've you both been?"

"Good, you know, excited. Sort of tense about—yes," says Emmeline. "Dorcas owled me, we went out shopping—"

"I'm commandeering your kitchen for a pot roast," Dorcas informs them. "Potter, Black."

"Meadowes," returns Sirius.

"Here, I'll show you in, I've got some papers all strewn out, I'm sorry, I was preparing…"

"Oh, no, you're fine," Dorcas tells her, striding inside with her and Emmeline's bags. "Just thought it would be nice, you know, because…"

"Right, yeah," says James. "That's good of you, Meadowes, thanks."

She goes all-Muggle while preparing it and lets it stew on the stove as they get started. "Thanks for this. You know, bringing me in. I know we're not close, and I did spring it on you, cornering you when you were close to getting caught in trouble like that."

"It's not like we had much to go on ourselves before you came in, though," says Peter, smiling. "It's good having you here to help."

"Thanks, Pettigrew. I mean, you weren't totally stranded. Lily, you said you had some ideas worked out?"

"Yes," says Lily, and she holds up a copy of—"Witch Weekly. I know it sounds far out, but if we're trying to get into society for information, it's actually a great start if you read closely. See, look here, two weeks ago they did an interview with some Selwyn woman, and her family's hosting a gala next week that's apparently supposed to be—well. And she name-dropped some of the guests, so I was scanning the Prophet archives in the library for any mention of their husbands—I know, but they didn't seem like the type of women who would—…and anyway, well, some of them had spoken out before against some recent Muggle rights laws. You know, the new protections for wizard-Muggle marriages, things like that."

"So you thought we should get in on it and bomb the place straightaway," says Sirius. "Foresight, Lily."

"Merlin, no! No. No, I thought we could maybe find a way in, feel out the people there? Get on the guest list, check it out in advance to see if it's anyone who knows anyone we know? Something, I don't know, I know it sounds sketchy…"

"It's a good thought, Lily," James tells her, but she pointedly looks to Dorcas.

"You wouldn't happen to have any connections, would you?"

Dorcas screws up her face in thought. "My aunt's in with the Selwyns, I think, and she's always riding me about ditching Fabian and spending more time in the family tradition. I could play on that and talk to her."

"Um," says Alice. Eyes flick to her. "Are you talking about Agatha Selwyn, Lily? Because I'm pretty sure my mum's friends with her."

"Uh… yeah, yes, Agatha Selwyn," says Lily, checking the magazine.

"Great," she says curtly. "That makes two of us who can probably get in, and—honestly, I could probably bring you with me, too, James. Our families know we're housemates, and your parents—dabble in these things."

He's about to comment that he's on board, glad to provide an extra set of ears since they obviously can't all make it in, but that's before Dorcas cuts in again. "Actually, you know what, Potter, my aunt would lap it up if I took you as my date."

"Oh, hell," he can't stop himself from saying, and for the first time possibly ever, for a moment there, Dorcas doesn't look assertive anymore.

Lily—most of them—is looking at him funny. Alice sits back. "When we were little," James says precariously, "our parents considered setting us up in a betrothal. It's not done as much anymore—Sirius's family is big on it still, I know—so it didn't pan out, but it was my parents who backed out, not Meadowes's."

"That's brilliant, Dorcas," says Remus. "Would anyone buy it, though, you think? Everyone knows you're with Fabian, and James—…"

"It's common knowledge that James is after me," says Lily frankly, not looking at him anymore.

"Not adults, necessarily," Emmeline says. "And you know, you could actually make that work. Dorcas, how close are you and your aunt?"

"Fairly, when she's not hounding me about the family."

"Perfect. So you can owl her to maybe meet up for Easter, say something condescending about the party—say one of your mates is subscribed to Witch Weekly and was talking about it? Get her on the defensive, and make out like you're reluctant to go, ask if you can bring James and Alice for moral support, casually mention that you've been talking lately to get her hopes up, insist that it's platonic to make her hope that it's not platonic."

"Em, you're a genius," says Peter. "Lil, how soon is the party?"

"Er—Friday night next week, so we'd have some time to get you all in."

"Wouldn't be fishy that it's on a school night, either," Marlene adds.

Mary says, "So you go in and—what? Talk around about politics? You don't want to incite anything, but you didn't want to agree with pureblood politics, it'd be too suspicious and it goes against what we're trying to do anyway. Only the people you want to get close to are the ones who might be in with You-Know-Who—you'll have to be careful."

"No. No, we can figure out who knows of them but disagrees with them," suggests Alice. "It would take some careful social maneuvering, though."

"Yeah, well, if anyone, you'd be good at that," says Sirius, and Alice tenses.

"And Dorcas," says Peter quickly. "Dorcas, I'm sure you've got plenty of practice, haven't you? Growing up in your family?"

"They're thick into it, yeah," she tells them. "All right, so I'll owl her about Saturday or Sunday and let you all know, but we should be a go. That's really good thinking, Emmeline, Lily."

"It just made sense," says Emmeline, shrugging. "It's mostly Lily."

They keep on for a while but don't come up with anything so concrete. Now: the waiting. They'll not have much to talk about tomorrow, James knows, but he feels like it's taking over their lives, the war, like they petty drama-distractions can't hold up any longer against the shadow of the disappearances, the deaths. Sirius and Marlene haven't even fought in months, he thinks.

Nope, no more drama that James can think of besides his silly head. He finally gets Lily alone that night, and it's good timing, too, because he's leaving for the manor tomorrow after they regroup. "You never look at me anymore," he tells her, twisting his hands. "Why don't you ever look at me anymore?"

And she looks at him, green-eyed. "I don't know, James, I think I'm just… it was a lot, okay?"

"You've been icing me out for four months just because I kissed you. Four months for a kiss."

"It was a…"

He leans in. She leans out. "Sorry."

"It's all right." Expectantly, he waits. "You're always so full of… you're very intense, especially—especially about me. And you're an arse. You've always been an arse. And we never got on, and you bullied my best friend, and then you were around all the time so fast, and I don't know who you are. You—honestly, you scare me."

"I scare you. Merlin, I scare you."

"Not like that!" she says hastily. "Not—it's just a bit much, James. I mildly disliked you, and then you were there after the car crash, and you were there at the dance, and we talked about the war, I went to your Quidditch games, and you kissed me and I haven't—you're so many things. I can't pin any of them down. I miss Sev. I know he's got no right, but James, I miss him sometimes."

"Okay. Yeah, all right."

"James, don't be like this, please."

"Why not? You've been like this. Four months, Lily."

"Yes. Yes, I suppose that's fair."

She leans in. He leans in, too. Lily is rosemary and mango and curved hips under soft skin, and then she is gone.

xx

Dorcas's robes are silver, like her eyes but less blue, or her hair but less blonde, and the whole effect goes quite pleasantly with her pencil nose and the sharp angles of her jaw. He could kiss her, too, because he's an arse. Alice wears pink and a subtle narrowing of her eyes.

They leave Alice to make connections and step out onto the floor. "Spin me," says Dorcas, and after that she leads—does it well, too. "You're a bit of a flirt, James Potter."

"Reckon I am, yeah. Less so this year, though."

"Lily's good for you. It's awful, but I think the war's good for you, too."

"You're terrible."

"I do my best."

She reminds him of Marlene, except less vicious, and stronger, too. "So you're with Fabian."

"Yes."

"Most people aren't too happy about that."

"No—well, I can understand the reservations, but no. I'm like Black that way, but he doesn't know that he's like me, because my house colors are green."

"That, and you don't make a show of it. You came here, for instance," says James.

"Black couldn't have if he'd wanted, though."

"There's your difference, though, isn't it? He couldn't have come, and he wouldn't have wanted to."

"This is true," Dorcas says. "Think we should find someplace to mingle?"

"Yeah, I reckon so," he agrees, and the step out and into the other world.

Shortly thereafter, James finds himself tied up with Georgia Greengrass in all her champagne-chugging elegance. Her heels clack together as she supports herself against the wall. "Surprised to find you at a function like this, James. Didn't your parents drop out of these when you were an itty bitty?—like this big—?"

"Oh, no, they didn't set me up. I'm here with Dorcas Meadowes—her aunt talked to Mrs. Selwyn and had her invited last week. Always holding out for her niece to integrate herself into these things, you know."

"Integrate. You're a polite one, Potter. You all were betrothed for a while there, weren't you? Who was it who pulled out, your parents? Merlin forbid the Meadoweses back out, isn't it?"

Oh, is she making this easy. "Yeah, the Potters have been getting away from it the last few years. The war, you know."

"The war," says Georgia, swigging. "I don't understand why everyone associates us with that. We're not all the Lestranges, you know. Some of us just want some respectable laws in place, you know, defending our rights against those—those…"

She seems to find herself incapable of expressing her distaste and so downs the rest of her glass instead, snatching up a new one from a passing waiter and smacking the old onto his platter a bit too forcefully. The waiter scowls but entirely evades Georgia's attention as he tiptoes around her to safety.

"One of my mates' cousins married a Lestrange a while back," James slips in.

"No good, those ones. Keep away from that mate of yours, honey. Charleses, Averys, you know. No one here, thank Merlin, the Selwyns have fine taste, just fine. Exquisite, even."

"Charleses, huh?"

"That Reggie Charles. Look out, boy." Too easy.

Alice and Dorcas, too, have compiled their own lists of surnames by the time James checks in with them: Terrius, Mulciber, Cunningham, Nott—more than enough to do some digging around to identify how deep their political alliances really run. Bedraggled, they latch onto Dorcas's arms to Apparate out around one.

It really is a beautiful ballroom: French doors, windows that span the walls, creamy parquet floor, arched ceiling decked out with a mural and everything. In it, dancers dip lower than Dorcas did tonight, and their paint-swabbed floor is darker than blood.