Alright, don't hate me too much. I know this has been a LONG LONG LONG LONG LONG time in coming. But here it is. One more chapter after this, and an epilogue and this story will be all finished. I barely have time to sleep......or breath, this semester so I have to find time to write when I can. I won't make any promises about the next update but my goal is to have this story finished by the end of the month!!

Thanks all. Hope you enjoy :)

Chapter Eighteen

Lily screwed up her face in concentration as she tried to remember the exact angle of her wrist for the last part of her Defense Against the Dark Arts NEWT. She was healing a 'victim' of a bleeding curse and if she didn't get the angle of her wrist just right, the spell wouldn't work and her 'victim' would die. She had passed every scenario so far much to the examiner's delight and this last spell was wandless, clearly the biggest challenge she could face.

She focused her energy into her hands, envisioning the way it would spread over the injured body at her feet like water. She held her left hand over the 'victim's' heart and with her right hand flicked her hand in a deliberate L shape turning her wrist in a backwards loop back to the left at the last second. The effect was immediate and obvious. She felt her own energy flowing in a cool stream through her fingertips and she could almost trace it in her mind's eye as it moved throughout the 'victim's' bloodstream, stopping the bleeding and temporarily beginning to heal the open wounds.

She closed her eyes as she felt her energy stretch from head to toe of the injured body. When it stopped moving she pulled in her right hand quickly and efficiently and started pulling the energy back towards her. As she reversed the process, the wounds began to disappear, the slowly seeping blood was pulled back into the body, and the irregular and erratic heartbeat she could feel throbbing in her left hand evened out and picked up a steady rhythm.

The used energy slowly made it's way back into her hands where she let it pool. When the last of it left the body and rested in her hands, she released it into the ground at her feet feeling only a slight tremble of earth beneath her for her troubles. She opened her eyes slowly and sat for a moment in silence until the world stopped spinning.

"Congratulations Miss Evans. You are one of the most spectacular students I have ever had the pleasure to meet," her examiner was very nearly giddy with excitement over her.

"Thank you sir," she answered softly, her calm tone bellying the fact that she was near to the bursting with happiness inside.

"I'm sure you know that you have passed with flying colors but I'm not allowed to tell you that officially," he winked. "But I would expect your letter from our friend Mary at St. Mungos before the end of June. You performed outstandingly today. You have much to be proud of. I look forward to working with you."

Lily nearly threw her arms around the man. What encouraging thoughts.

She smiled again and repressed the urge to dance like a lunatic.

"You are free to go."

With that, Lily stood up and bowed thankfully to the man and escaped from the Great Hall feeling giddy and elated. All those years of work, the hours spent learning how to control her magic without the aid of her wand, all of it had finally paid off. She had made it.

"Lils! Hey Lils!"

Brought abruptly from her thoughts, she turned and spotted Bella's frantically waving figure on the staircase. The grin on Bella's face looked the way Lily felt and she couldn't help returning it as she made her way over.

"Are you finished then?" Bella asked, knowing her best friend well enough to know that the glow on her face was purely academia related.

"Yes!" Lily exclaimed. "I just finished my last examination for DADA. I can't believe we're done. I feel like I've been preparing for this for ages."

"That's because you have Lil," Bella laughed.

Lily stuck her tongue out, far too happy to get upset over the jibe to her studying habits, "I couldn't help it okay. It's a complex."

"Well that explains a lot."

Bella ducked as Lily made a swipe at her head. When her hand reached only air, the redhead rolled her eyes and asked, "How did yours go?"

Peaking bravely from behind her hands, Bella smiled and shrugged, "As best as can be expected. I almost didn't get through the last curse I had to break. I actually used something Sirius taught me. Never thought I'd see the day when it was Sirius Black getting me through a crisis."

Lily pretended to look horrified, "I don't think you should tell him that. It might make his ego explode."

Bella grinned, "I would never."

Lily rolled her eyes, knowing very well she would. Bella and Sirius were closer than she and James had become, which considering Sirius' reputation was surprising. Lily was pretty sure that Bella told Sirius about as much as she told her. It was funny how their relationships had changed over the year. Not long ago, if someone had suggested that she or Bella would be so hung up on a Marauder they would have been jinxed into oblivion. Life worked mysteriously sometimes.

"So what are the plans for the summer?" Bella asked.

"Summer? I hadn't thought that far ahead. I guess it hasn't really set in that we aren't coming back here. We actually have to plan to see each other now."

"Well Petunia is getting married, right?" Bella said and her eyes twinkled mischievously. "I wouldn't miss that for the world, and just think how fun it might be if you invited James…and Sirius…and Remus…and Marlene."

"Petunia would murder me," Lily returned Bella's wicked smile, however. "I'll inform James of it immediately. After all, Mum did invite them back when they were there at Christmas. Tuney can't say no to that!"

"Excellent," Bella did a little dance of celebration just as Sirius walked out of the Great Hall.

"What do you call that one, Bells? NEWT insanity?" Sirius was eyeing his curly haired girlfriend speculatively.

"Nope, I call that one 'up to no good'. We're going to crash Lily's sister's wedding."

Sirius grinned, "A good choice. I'll make sure to bring my best bottle of firewhisky for spiking punch and what not."

Lily started giggling as an image of her skinny sister dancing drunkenly around her fat husband to be came to her, "Can you imagine Petunia drunk? I think I might pee myself."

"Oh Merlin," Bella shook her head as if to will the image away. "Not really something I think I want to see."

"Which part, her sister or her peeing herself?" Sirius asked with his best solemn expression.

Bella burst into giggles while Lily made a face at him, "Such a gentleman, Mr. Black."

"I always do my best," he grinned and turned to Bella. "You ready to go?"

"Definitely," Bella answered, standing as the last of her laughter escaped. "I really need a drink."

"Off to Hogsmeade?" Lily asked, surprising even herself when she didn't even to think about uttering a reprimand.

Sirius gave her a look, "Depends I suppose."

"Oh what exactly?"

"On whether our Head Girl is going to be a bossy tattletale or not."

Bella smacked his arm, "Be nice Sirius."

"What?" he exclaimed. "I know she was thinking about it. I saw her face."

"Oh honestly," Bella rolled her eyes.

"No worries," Lily smiled affectionately. "I have no intentions of being a 'tattletale'. Just bring something back for me."

Sirius cocked an amused eyebrow and Bella grinned as she started pulling Sirius up the stairs, "Thanks Lils. Come on Sirius."

They disappeared around the corner and left Lily sitting on the stairs. It took her a moment before she realized she still had a silly smile on her face and was daydreaming. Laughing to herself, she got up and headed towards the Gryffindor Tower to meet up with James. He probably wasn't there yet, but from the way he had been acting at breakfast she didn't want any surprises. He was scheming, she mused remembering his shining eyes and troublemaking grin vividly as he'd sat across the table from her that morning, which meant she was probably in for a treat. And/or humiliation. Both were always possible where he was concerned.

Understandably distracted, she rounded the staircase on the second floor without looking up and ran headlong into someone who was clearly in a hurry.

"Oh! Sorry, I wasn't paying attention," she exclaimed and looked up into a rather ugly sneer.

"Well that's new for you." Severus Snape was looking at her rather fiercely, a hint of anger showing through the sneer on his lips. "Too caught up in that stupid ponce you're dating to look where you're going?"

Lily felt her cheeks get red, "Stop it, Severus. I have a right to be distracted. We just finished our NEWT exams after all."

"Indeed," he replied arrogantly and tried to move past her.

Unwilling to let it end that way, Lily attempted to stop him. Perhaps it was because she was still giddy over her exams or just happy over the prospect of her future, but it felt wrong for her to just let someone who had been such a huge part of her life just push her aside like so much air. She gave him a genuine smile, "How did your examinations go?"

He looked at her suspiciously, "Why, may I ask, do you care? Worried that your enemies will be getting the better of you?"

Lily frowned at the veiled threat," Severus…"

She couldn't decide if she meant his name rolling off her tongue to be a warning to him, or a plea.

He scowled, "Save it for someone who believes you give a shit, Lily. Like that blood traitor you've so conveniently lowered your standards for."

Lily watched him silently for a moment, not hurt by his words so much but rather by the fact that they couldn't even be civil to each other anymore. She sighed, "What happened to you, Sev? I miss the old you. It never would have mattered to you back then who I was dating. What happened to us?"

Snape looked at her suspiciously, "Stop acting like any of that suddenly matters to you. You've made it quite clear we aren't friends, aren't anything, anymore. You've changed too. The Lily I knew would never have dated someone like Potter, or been friends with scum like Black. At least, I haven't had to change what I believe in."

Lily felt her face go bright red with fury and hurt, "I haven't changed anything! You don't know what you're talking about. You're jealous. Maybe if you hadn't buried your head so far in the Dark Arts and become friends with those people it might have been you instead of James. God, Severus. I may not have been in love with you, but I loved you. That day, when you called me…when you said those things and let them laugh. I knew you had changed for good. So don't tell me that it was my fault and don't blame things on James, because he's the only one that has done nothing but love me from day one. If anything, I'm the stupid git for not seeing it and seeing what a sickening excuse for a person you really are."

"Disgusting. He's already got you brainwashed."

Without thinking, Lily reached out a hand and hit him smartly in the face. She watched in slow motion as his head snapped back and his eyes grew dark. She felt her lip curl as he slowly lifted his murderous gaze back to hers, "The only one who's brainwashed is you, Snape. It was stupid of me to even think that we could say a proper goodbye. Enjoy yourself in hell, you bloody bastard, because that's exactly where you're going."

Turning on her heel, she fled. It didn't matter where she went as long as it was far away from the thing staring daggers into her back. How could she have thought that there could possibly be any good left in him? All you had to do was look at him and you could see it in his eyes.

She paused for a moment when the portrait of the Fat Lady came into view. She suddenly felt tears burning in her eyes. The answer to her question was obvious. She had always seen a good in him that other people didn't, but then her Severus had always been different than the one everyone else knew. He had only ever tried to be good for her.

And that hurt, she realized. Because she had loved him and had hoped, if only for her sake, that he would become someone to be proud of.

In this last conversation, her last hope for him had died.

Merlin, she thought brokenly, life could be cruel.

She hadn't expected him to be there, or she would have composed herself better. But seeing him sitting on the dormitory staircase with Remus, knowing he was waiting for her, she wondered why she had thought he wouldn't be. She was learning that he rather had a knack for showing up just at the right moment.

As she approached, he looked up and smiled. For a moment, she wanted to give in to the tears sitting behind her eyes but knew that it wouldn't help the way she felt. James would only want to kill Snape and that wasn't the solution either.

She mustered a smile back and it felt overly false and bright, "Hello you two."

"Hey Lily," Remus answered and stretched slightly as he stood. "I was just getting ready to head to the kitchens. Either of you want anything?"

Lily shook her head.

"No thanks," James agreed.

"Well I'll see you in a bit then. I'm starved," he grinned warmly and headed for the portrait hole.

James laughed and turned to Lily, "I swear, the week before he changes he could eat a whole cow and still be hungry."

Lily forced a laugh.

"So how did your examinations go?" he asked and patted the stair next to him where Remus had been sitting. "From that look you were wearing when you walked in, I gathered something may not have went well?"

She sighed and took the seat he offered, "No, no. It was fine. Everything went really well. I aced the wandless healing."

"Congratulations!" he grinned and turned her chin towards him. "I thought you'd be excited. You worked so hard on that."

"I am, really," she tried to look convincing but saw the frown in his eyes before his brow creased.

"Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?"

Lily just looked at him blankly for a moment and took in the concern in his eyes and the particularly disheveled hair above his right ear that she knew he had worried to death in concentration during one of his exams. What had it taken her so long to see how amazing he was?

She opened her mouth to explain herself when suddenly she found herself gulping for air and tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Hey, hey, hey! Why are you crying?" he exclaimed and drew her into his arms. "Lily, I know it can't have been that bad, what's wrong?"

Staring quite baffled at the growing dampness on James' shirt, she couldn't understand why she had been about to tell him something and suddenly burst into tears. She hated crying on people, and certainly over Snape. Where had her self control gone?

"C'mon baby, what's got you all worked up?" he was murmuring gently into her ear.

"I…" she tried to explain but failed miserably. "The exam…fine…talking to Bella…Sirius…really happy…thinking about summer…Snape…fight…didn't mean to cry."

She felt rather than heard James chuckle, "Care to try that again."

She sighed in frustration and took a moment to bury her face in his chest to get a hold of herself. It was ridiculous that Snape had gotten to her like this. More so it was embarrassing.

James tightened his hold on her when she only pushed herself closer into his arms. He was beginning to get worried someone was hurt or dying when suddenly she pulled away and looked at him with a fiercely determined look.

"It was Snape."

She saw James eyes widen and he immediately grabbed her back to him, "Did he hurt you? Are you hurt? I swear to Merlin if he touched a hair on your head I'm going kill the fucking bastard."

"James!" she exclaimed softly. "Calm down. I'm fine."

He searched her face for a moment before relaxing, but didn't' let go of her, "Then what? What happened?"

Lily took a deep breath and told him. Told him about the exam, and Bella and Sirius, about her sister's wedding, and finally about running into Snape and wanting to say a proper goodbye to him.

"He's such a bloody git," she sniffed grumpily as she finished her story.

"Finally," James muttered, rolling his eyes. "An emotion the bastard deserves."

"What does that mean?" Lily pouted, rubbing her bright red nose.

"It means," James said giving her a pointed look. "That you cared and still do care far too much about Severus Snape and what he thinks. I mean, Merlin, Lils. I know you were friends, but the snake called you a mudblood in front of all of his friends on purpose. He'd just as soon sell you to Voldemort than kiss you. Can't you see that he doesn't matter? That he isn't worth a single one of your tears?"

He brushed another escaped tear gently from her cheek and cupped her face in his hands, "Crying over him makes him matter. And he doesn't, Lily. He thinks you're brainwashed? When you are the smartest, sweetest, kindest, albeit bossiest girl I've ever met? You told me yourself he's jealous. I know you cared about him, but there are so many other people that care about you. For Merlin's sake, you're the most important thing in my life."

"James, I…" she trailed off at a loss for words.

He pressed a warm kiss against her lips helpfully before looking her directly in the eyes, "He doesn't matter. All that matters is this."

He kissed her again, this time his tongue tracing her bottom lip and her breath mingling with his. She clung desperately as his lips moved to her nose and then her cheeks and her eyes, willing her to understand that she was worth more than any tear she could shed for Severus Snape.

"You're so amazing and you don't even know it," he finished, dropping a lingering kiss on her forehead and sighing. "He doesn't deserve to breathe the same air as you."


She pulled back to look at him and he smiled gently, "Yes?"

"Thank you."

He frowned, "For what? Lily, you don't have anything to thank me for…"

"Just shut up, Potter," she snapped and there was a hint of a smile on her lips. "I do have a lot to thank you for. For not giving up on me, for knowing something is wrong before I do, for loving me like you do, for letting me cry on you. Just…thank you. I don't deserve to breathe the same air as you."

She watched as his face softened in happiness and disbelief. It was almost funny how far they had come since the beginning of term.

"Lily, you never have to thank me for those things. I love you. It's part of the job description. If I got nothing else out of this school I got the Marauders and I got you."

She laughed at that and sighed, "Yes, the only important things."

"They are for me," he told her solemnly and for some strange reason it made her sad.

She sighed and felt like crying again, "Everything is going to change now, isn't it? I feel like it all went by so fast."

James nodded and entwined his fingers with hers, "Yeah. It's hard to believe it's over. I'm actually going to miss it."

"I always knew I would," Lily replied. "But I didn't know it would be so hard. It's strange, but somehow I feel like I won't ever get to see this place again."

"We'll come back," James answered her confidently. "One day our kids will be here and we'll visit. After all, Sirius and I will have to make sure that they live up to the standards we've set for them."

Lily rolled her eyes, "Kids, huh? Maybe we should get past this whole passing NEWTS and getting jobs thing before we think about that?"

"Why? Don't you want a little baby me someday?" He grinned slyly at her.

She chuckled, "Oh Merlin help me if I say yes."

"Just think, my messy hair and those pretty green eyes. A lady killer," James grinned affectionately.

"Who says I'll even marry you let alone have babies with you. Getting a little ahead of yourself there, aren't you Potter?" she smiled cheekily at him.

He screwed up his face in thought, "I hadn't thought of that. I always just assumed it was implied, since…you know, every female at this school wants to marry me."

"If that's your idea of a proposal James, you're failing miserably," she stood up and started stalking away.

"Lils! Lils, wait! What if it was a proposal? Are you saying no? LI-LY!!"

He scrambled after her, content that she was once more smiling and laughing.

The Great Hall was covered from top to bottom in red and gold, a giant lion's head frozen in a fierce and silent roar of celebration over the teacher's table. The Slytherin table was remarkably sullen while the rest of the school fought to be heard over the dull roar that filled the hall. It was the fourth year in a row that the Gryffindor colors had graced the Final Feast.

"I'm telling you Potter, it's you winning the Quidditch Cup that seals the deal every year," Eddie Podmore, a sixth year Gryffindor, spoke matter of factly across the table to the glowing Quidditch Captain. "I mean sure, we're all fairly bright but let's be honest, we aren't exactly the brownnosers Hufflepuffs are or the know it alls Raveclaws are."

"Agreed," Sirius said and leaned in confidentially. "I fear the worst for the poor fellows that must take our place. Finnigan is a good Chaser, but he doesn't have what it takes to be a Gryffindor Quidditch Captain."

"Oh honestly Sirius," Bella rolled her eyes. "Could we possible talk about something that isn't Quidditch just this once?"

Sirius pretended to look offended and buried his face in his food.

Lily smiled absently as her best friend started poking Sirius viciously in the side until he elicited a small squeak and, quickly after, a silly smile. It was hard to imagine at the beginning of the term neither she nor Bella had even known James or Sirius outside of being school acquaintances or, er, annoyances. She sighed. Things had changed so much.

"Hey there Miss Moody, knut for your thoughts," Lily felt James' hand creep up her thigh, teasing her skin gently under her skirt.

She smiled guiltily and felt her face flush as she moved absently under his touch, "Sorry. I guess I spaced out. Did you say something?"

James raised an amused eyebrow when she wiggled forward slightly towards his retreating touch, "I asked if you agreed that Finnigan had potential for next year? I mean, I wouldn't honestly have chosen him if I didn't think he was capable."

Lily gave him a bemused expression, he wanted to talk about Quidditch with his hand up her skirt and Eddie Podmore hanging on to their every word? She opened her mouth to give a decidedly neutral response when she was blissfully saved by Marlene's shriek.

"Bella! Lily! You'll never believe what happened," Marlene suddenly appeared, waving excitedly at them. She shoved Sirius over goodnaturedly and squeezed herself onto the crowded bench. "And Potter, everyone knows what you're doing to Lily under there. Please go find a broom closet or save us all the disgust."

Lily felt her face go hot but James just laughed, squeezing her naked thigh gently before removing it back to his own lap. He regarded Marlene expectantly, "Well, besides embarrassing Lily, what did you have to say?"

"Oh Merlin!" Marlene exclaimed. "I am positive that Frank just popped the question to Alice. I saw them in the entrance hall just now and Alice was all red and crying and Frank looked like he swallowed a flubberworm."

"Really Marlene," Bella began. "You shouldn't be spreading rumors…"

"I'm not gossiping Arabella," Marlene tsked in annoyance. "You know I take these things very seriously. I know I'm right on this one…"

As she trailed off her eyes fell on the entrance to the Great Hall and she smirked knowingly. They all turned to look just as Frank and Alice walked in holding hands, all but glowing.

Sirius let out a low whistle, "Forgive us for ever doubting you."

As they all watched, Alice spotted them looking and with a wave started dragging a very dazed looking Frank towards the table.

James quickly nudged the sixth years next to him and promptly cleared a space for the couple.

Alice immediately collapsed onto the bench with a huge grin, while Frank lingered behind her, clearly out of sorts.

"Well let's hear it then!" Marlene insisted before Alice could open her mouth.

"You spoil everything, Marlene, but I'm too happy to care!" Alice lifted her hand and flashed a glittering diamond at all of them. "Frank's asked me to marry him!"

The girls all exclaimed appropriately and grabbed at her ring while James and Sirius clapped Frank on the back in congratulations.

"Always knew you'd go to the dark side one of these days," Sirius winked at Frank who was almost as red as Alice.

Frank laughed weakly, "I can't believe she said yes. Dark side or no, that was possibly the scariest thing I've ever done."

Alice's musical laughter reached over her shoulder, "I though he was going to cry…or pee his pants."

"Thanks for that love," Frank muttered.

"No worries mate," James grinned. "Sirius there is just jealous that you had the bollocks to do something he hasn't yet."

Bella suddenly looked up from Alice's ring wide eyed and the whole group dissolved into delighted laughter.

"And just what is so funny?" Remus asked as he and Peter made their way to the crowded end of the Gryffindor table. They squeezed in next to Lily who quickly moved closer into James to make room. "Congrtulations by the way, Alice, Frank."

Alice looked at Marlene, "Can't I tell anyone myself?"

Lily rolled her eyes, "Come on Alice, you know her much better than that."

The girls laughed at this, each remembering the many times Marlene had spoiled their secrets over the seven years of living with Hogwart's biggest gossip queen.

"Oh hey guys," Frank nearly had to shout to be heard. "I promised my mum I'd take pictures tonight, you know, because she wants to preserve the memories or whatever. Maybe a group shot? I could get copies for everyone."

Everyone instantly agreed.

"Alright," Marlene grumbled. "But no googly eyes or mushy kissing. I'm not going to look at some picture full of you sops."

"Can it, McKinnon," James grinned and glanced mischievously at the others.

"Alright then," Frank smiled and brought out a camera. "Everyone on this side of the table. We need someone to take it."

Peter lifted a hesitant hand, "I will. I ha-hate getting my picture taken."

Frank gladly handed the camera over and Sirius and Bella climbed over the table to join the rest.

Lily grabbed Remus' arm as he tried to sidle behind Peter, "Oh no you don't. Everyone's in this one, Rem."

Remus' cheeks turned pink but he allowed Lily to drag him over to stand behind her and James. Sirius slung an arm around Bella's shoulders and pulled her down next to Lily and his best friend, while Marlene slipped an arm around Remus's waist and drew him in to stand behind them with Alice and Frank.

"Everyone r-ready?" Peter asked and held up the camera. He lifted his finger to push the button to take the picture. "1, 2…"

"…3!" Just as the flash went off, James grabbed Lily close and kissed her full on the mouth while Sirius and Bella laughed, Frank squeezed Alice's hip while she giggled and flashed her ring, and Remus and Marlene both got caught rolling their eyes.

Peter looked at them sheepishly, "That wasn't a very good picture I don't think."

"Sure it was," Marlene scoffed. "It's everyone being their idiot selves."

"And McKinnon with her normal look of disgust," James agreed pulling away from a very dazed and happy Lily. "I'm sure it was fine. Thanks Pete."

"N-not a problem," he answered and handed the camera back to Frank.

Alice sighed, "I can't wait to get that back. Maybe I'll frame it as a gift for all my bride's maids."

"That might be fun….wait what?" Lily exclaimed suddenly realizing what she heard.

Marlene and Bella immediately exclaimed after her.

"Bride's maids!" Bella laughed. "Oh Alice, that's so sweet."

"Okay, but we get to help pick out the dresses," Marlene said, immediately all business.

"Yes, because it isn't Alice's wedding or anything," Lily replied sarcastically.

"Really Lils, I don't mind," Alice objected. "I'd love to have you guys help with the wedding."

"Oh Marlene! Remember those dresses we saw in Hogsmeade?" Bella suddenly exclaimed and they both started gushing and talking about color schemes and jewelry.

Lily sighed in amusement and leaned into James. He grinned and dropped a kiss on her forehead, "Makes you wonder who's next, huh?"

Lily grinned, "I don't think I have to wonder."

James shot her a surprised look but she just rolled her eyes and looked meaningfully at his best friend who was watching Bella's animated face and gestures with an absent but reverent expression.

James just laughed and shook his head, "Poor romantic sod."

"Oh indeed," Lily murmured and silently enjoyed the affection she saw in his eyes.

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