Mr. Manus Farmer was a pleasant man who owned a shop that sold picture frames on the corner of Victoria Street in Edinburgh. Along with a signature bowler hat, he was fond of three piece tweed suits and smoking a pipe. He also liked to check his gold pocket watch every quarter hour before clearing his throat with a hearty "harumph."

Entering the shop at precisely one o'clock in the afternoon, he checked his pocket watch and harumphed a hello at the lonely clerk. She was a slim, pretty girl with long, curling red hair that provided the perfect foil for her creamy pale skin and startling green eyes. Leaned against the counter over a large leather bound book, she greeted him with an amused smile. "Hello Mr. Farmer. How was lunch?"

"Fine, fine," he replied gruffly.

"Mrs. Galt phoned about her portrait," the girl informed him calmly. "She fancies the gold inlay this time."

In response, Mr. Farmer simply sighed. "It's different every day, isn't it? Well, off you get, Evans. Better have your lunch before Mr. Cader gets in."

Lily Evans had worked for Mr. Farmer for the past two summers when she wasn't in school. She was reliable, sensible, and friendly. If she wasn't going off to college next year, he would certainly keep her on full time. There weren't many young girls who dreamed of working in a shop their whole lives.

Marking her book carefully, Lily gave him an appreciative smile. "Thanks, Mr. Farmer. I'll do that."

She slipped her tan leather jacket on over her red sweater before heading to the door. Out on the street, she walked straight to a deli shop and ordered a sandwich. It was all very normal. From the outside, there was nothing to mark her as different from any other sixteen-year-old girl.

After receiving her sandwich, she thanked the gawky teenage boy behind the counter with a kind smile and turned away from his uncomfortable stare, heading for a small corner table. A portly man smelling strongly of aftershave bumped her as she passed, causing her to drop her change. Before anyone noticed, the coins bounced on the tile and flew perfectly into her open hand. Lily glanced around surreptitiously, then continued on to take a seat. No one had seen. Most people simply didn't want to see what was right in front of their eyes.

After eating, she returned to the shop and spent a pleasant afternoon dusting, reading, and helping customers when the occasion called for it. It was fully dark by the time Mr. Farmer turned off the light and locked the door. He harumphed through a good evening as they parted ways on the street and Lily could only smile and shake her head. He was a nice old man, if a little set in his ways. She liked him.

She was still musing when she heard a commotion up the street. It sounded like trouble, but she didn't know for certain until she got closer. Two men were standing suspiciously over a couple that were obviously tourists. Their voices were loud and mocking and she instinctively gripped the wand in her back pocket.

"Typical Muggles. Swannin' 'round like they bloody own the place."

Her pulse skipped when she heard the man who was clearly drunk and clearly a wizard. This was bad. This was very bad.

"What shall we do with 'em, eh? Shall we 'elp 'em find the pub?" the other man cackled in amusement.

Though she was still quite far away, she broke into a run as his wand came out. She wasn't particularly good at defense, but she had to do something to help these people. The man's wand tip flashed a violent purple, but Lily lashed out just a second later. Shouting "stupefy!" a blaze of red hit the man in the side of the face and he dropped like a stone.

His mate spun while the woman helped her husband to his feet. They ran without looking back and Lily didn't really blame them. The man she faced stood head and brawny shoulders over her. He had flaming orange hair that was cropped close to his egg-shaped dome and a ragged scar bisecting a rigidly square jaw. Heart fluttering in fear, she felt a bit like Wendy confronting Captain Hook.

Seeing that his opponent was just a girl, the man gave her an ugly grin and hooked his wand at her. Lily grunted in pain as she caught a lashing hex across her left side, but recovered quickly to throw up a protegio charm. The shield worked beautifully, but the man was coming closer.

"Expelliarmus!" she cried as her mind conjured up one of the few defense spells she had mastered in class.

The man flicked it away contemptuously. Air whooshed out of her lungs as he took a hard step forward and planted his fist directly in her stomach. The blow dropped her onto her back and sent her wand clattering into the street a few meters away. Grinning triumphantly as he stood over her, the man raised his wand for another spell and she kicked him in the groin. While he doubled over in pain, she used the opportunity to crawl for her wand.

She screamed when he caught a handful of her hair, wrenching her to her knees before she could get away. His breath was hot and foul as he growled into her ear: "Filthy little bitch! Crucio!"

His wand tip ground into the sensitive area just behind the ear and pain like she had never experienced ripped through her body. On its own her spine curled forward in an attempt at the fetal position, but he only laughed and held her still by her hair. She hardly knew that the frantic screams echoing off the shop walls were coming from her own throat as she twisted and clawed at her invisible tormentors.

It stopped when the windows of the shop behind them shattered. Before she could react, she heard several loud pops. The man was hit from three angles by simultaneous stunning spells. She would have been hit as well if not for the shield protecting her. It rebounded on the Auror that cast it, sending him sprawling on his back.

Instinctively, Lily held up her hands. She tried to explain what had happened to the stony faced wizards, but they weren't listening as they bound her hands behind her back. Having been revived, the fresh-faced Auror who had succumbed to his own stunning charm was none-too-gentle as he grabbed her arm and disapparated.

Gasping and retching, she dropped to her knees on the polished marble floor of the Ministry of Magic. She would have been sick if she had anything in her stomach; the sandwich from earlier was the only thing she'd eaten all day. Her head swam as her captor hauled her to her feet. Vaguely, she registered other Aurors arriving with the two men she had been fighting, both of whom were still unconscious.

"Careful there, Savage!" A gnarled wizard with a patch over his right eye stumped toward them with a thunderous expression on his face. His nose looked as though it had been knocked out of several joints and his ratty blonde hair was long and stringy, but he carried with him an air of authority that made the younger man pause. "Don't make someone else pay for your mistakes. What's your name, girl?"

"Lily Evans," she grunted, wincing up at the man who was glaring at her critically. "I'm a student at Hogwarts. I was trying to protect some Muggles."

The man's thin mouth twisted skeptically. "We'll see about that."

The Auror called Savage put a hand on her arm to guide her toward a set of lifts on the far end of the lobby, but she noticed that he was being a good deal more gentle. One blessing was that there weren't many people about so late in the evening, so there wasn't much noise for her to contend with. She'd never been in the Ministry of Magic before, but the gleaming marble and massive fountain were lost on her foggy brain.

Before they could reach the gleaming brass lifts, the doors opened and two men exited. The first was older, dressed in disheveled brown robes with a quill sticking out from behind his ear. His graying hair stood out wildly around his head and he wore a pair of round, wire-framed spectacles on his straight nose. The young man beside him could only be his son and Lily stiffened when their eyes met.

"Evans?" James Potter cried in shock as he took in the bound, bleeding, disoriented girl. He was an incredibly handsome young man with untidy black hair, hazel eyes, and the lean physique of an athlete. Not only had she been in school with him for the last six years, she had served as prefect with him for the last two terms.

"This is Auror business, Potter," Savage spoke up preemptively when the older man opened his mouth to question him. "None of your concern."

Lily was almost frightened to tears, but she managed a tense smile as the Auror pushed her into the lift. "Don't worry James. This is all just a misunderstanding. I'll be fine."

Without hesitation James pulled his wand from his sleeve. The situation might have escalated if his father hadn't physically held him back. The dark haired boy's eyes were frantic as he stared at her through the closing doors. Her legs were shaking so badly that she wasn't sure how much longer they would hold. She leaned against the back wall of the lift until they arrived at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement on level two.

She was placed in an interrogation room much like what she had seen of Muggle police stations on television, only chains sprung from the chair the moment she sat down and bound her fast to the uncomfortable wood. All she could do was watch as Savage tested her wand, revealing the spells she had used during the fight as well as a cleaning and unlocking spell from the week before. It was all very innocuous, but he gave her a searching look when he had finished.

"All right, Miss Evans. Tell me what happened," he said shortly as he took a seat across the table from her and set up a quick quotes quill on a long roll of parchment.

Lily took a breath to explain, but the door opened before she could begin and Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, swept inside. A pleasant old man with a crooked nose and twinkling blue eyes behind half-moon spectacles, he was dressed in immaculate emerald green robes and had a stern look on his face that he usually reserved for the worst offenders.

Rising swiftly, Savage moved to intercept him. "Can I help you, Dumbledore?"

"I've heard there was some trouble with one of my students so naturally I was concerned," Dumbledore explained enigmatically. "Lily Evans is not only a model student, she's also Head Girl this year and I would hate for a misunderstanding to tarnish such a flawless reputation. And since both of her parents happen to be Muggles, I assumed that she would be in need of an advocate. Have you asked for her side of the story yet?"

Like most people, Savage seemed to be generally in awe of the Headmaster and he shook his head dumbly. Raising his eyebrows and moving forward to take a seat, Dumbledore gave the younger man an expectant smile. "I suggest we get on with it, then. I'm sure Lily's parents are becoming quite frantic after that owl."

From then on, it was only a short amount of time for her to explain what had happened. With her wand corroborating her version along with what they found on the other men, she was released from custody in under an hour. Offering his support, Professor Dumbledore escorted her to the lifts.

Heaving a sigh of relief, she smiled at him in appreciation. "Thanks, Professor. I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't showed up."

The older man's lips quirked in amusement as his eyes rose to study the lift numbers. "I don't think I was given much choice. Mr. Potter was quite insistent that I come right away. It was very brave of you to get involved, Lily."

She ducked her head sheepishly, but was given no time to respond as the doors opened. Apparently James and his father had waited in the lobby. The instant he spotted her, he rushed over to catch her arms in an iron grip. His expression was livid as he shouted, "What the hell were you thinking?"

"I-" Her response was choked off by him pulling her close for a bone crunching hug and she blushed when she caught the significant look exchanged by the older men. Forcefully pushing him back, she gave him a calm smile. "Thank you, James, but I'm fine."

"You're bleeding, Evans. That's not fine." His voice turned suddenly gentle as his fingers tenderly touched her cut cheek. That along with his expression was almost too much for her and she blinked back tears as she gripped his wrists.

"Stop it, James," she whispered pleadingly.

Squeezing his son's shoulder, Aldan Potter gave him a wry smile. "Why don't I take a look at your friend, James?"

Lily was nearly twitching with nerves when James stepped back so that his father could examine her. She had only heard of the brilliant Aldan Potter. He had worked for years in the Department of Mysteries and invented several ground breaking spells. Being this close, she could also see a spark of mischief in his blue eyes that mirrored the roguish streak of his son. In spite of the horrible situation, she found herself smiling at him.

"My you are lovely, Miss Evans. I'm afraid my son didn't do you justice," Aldan murmured thoughtfully as he healed her.

Flushing prettily, she looked away and removed her jacket so that he could take a look at her arm. In spite of the fact that they had been working closely as prefects for the past two years, she couldn't understand James mentioning her at all. She wasn't even certain he considered her a friend since she was usually the fly in his devilish ointment. But she was a Gryffindor too and he was nothing if not loyal.

"Thank you, Mr. Potter. I should really be heading home now," she said softly, unable to look at any of the men.

Giving her a warm smile, Dumbledore offered to help her apparate, but her stomach rolled and she politely declined. Mr. Potter then pointed out that she could travel by floo powder, but she had to admit that her family wasn't connected. Finally James volunteered to take her home on the Knight Bus and she was forced to agree. After all, it would take forever to get there by train and it was also obvious that their fatherly figures wouldn't allow her to go anywhere alone.

"I'll have to phone my Dad," she announced in a quiet voice, feeling suddenly shy.

"Why don't I just pop over and explain things?" Dumbledore offered magnanimously. Lily reluctantly agreed to this plan when she remembered she didn't have enough money for the Muggle phones and he bade Mr. Potter a fond farewell before disapparating.

Turning to the young people with a warm expression, Aldan shoved one hand in his pocket and rumpled his hair with the other in a way she had seen his son mirror a million times. For some reason, it made her like him even more. "See that she gets home safe, James. I appreciate how you always look after my son for me, Miss Evans. He doesn't get into half the mischief he wants to when you're on hand."

"I do my best, sir," Lily said with a smile.

Oddly silent, James caught her wrist and tugged her toward the entrance. "We had better get going, then. See you, Dad. Don't wait up for me."

Aldan only waved with a smile as he practically dragged her away. She had to stand unreasonably close to him in order to get up to the Muggle street and it was then that she realized he was embarrassed. Looking closely, she noticed his ears turning slightly red and he refused to meet her eyes as he stared doggedly over her head.

"Your dad seemed nice," she said softly, doing her best to diffuse his discomfiture, even though she didn't really understand what he had to be embarrassed about.

His lips twitched in the semblance of a smile, but he only ran a hand distractedly through his hair as he tugged her down the street. "Yeah, he's great. Are you hungry?"

She was, but didn't have any Muggle money. Rolling his eyes, he gave her a condescending look. "I always keep a few Muggle notes on me in case of emergencies. What would you like?"

Emerging out onto a main thoroughfare, they blended easily with the night crowds and she was suddenly thankful he was wearing a plain charcoal sweater along with worn jeans and scuffed trainers instead of robes. It was a Friday night toward the end of the summer, so there were plenty of kids their age loitering on the streets. Taking a deep breath, she smiled at him. "I could go for some chips."

"Chips. Right. Healthy. No wonder you're so fat, Evans." The barb barely pricked her since she was so used to his brotherly teasing. Besides, he was distracted and had said it more out of habit than intention. Without warning he dropped her wrist and reached impossibly deep into the pocket of his trousers. His arm went in up to the elbow and he fished around for a moment before locating his stash. She stood in bemusement as he withdrew a small wad of pound notes and handed it over without a care. "This should be enough."

Her eyes nearly popped when she realized he had given her over a thousand pounds. Stripping one bill from the wad, she put the rest in his hand and smiled. "This is more money than I made working all summer, James. Do you always carry this much on you?"

The charming, lopsided grin he gave her was enough to make her heart flutter uncomfortably, but she ignored it to give him a stern look. Dropping his hand onto her head, he rumpled her hair affectionately. "You know me, Evans. I just like to be prepared."

He was acting strange. She wondered if she had shocked him. Most of the time, he was all smiles and jokes. Nearly everybody enjoyed his carefree demeanor, but she had to admit it was frustrating to work with someone who was physically incapable of giving a straight answer.

Even so, like everyone else, she genuinely liked James Potter. Since she wasn't dead, she couldn't deny that he was handsome enough to make any girl swoon, but he was also funny, clever, and secretly very kind. Unfortunately, he could also be rude, thoughtless, spoiled, and unintentionally cruel. Finding the balance was the tricky part.

"Have I got something on my face, Evans?" James asked suddenly, reaching up to wipe discretely at his nose. "Only, I thought you were hungry. Why are you just standing there staring at me?"

"Thanks for calling Dumbledore," she blurted abruptly. Her cheeks flushed and she looked away. "I mean... I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't been here tonight..."

Gathering her courage, she looked up to find him giving her a wry look that made her feel even more awkward and stupid. Shaking his head at her, he rapped his knuckles briskly against her forehead. "Just don't try anything foolish like that again, Evans. As a special favor? I won't always be around to rescue you and you should probably leave the heroics to the professionals."

"Right, because almost getting trampled by a hippogriff is so professional," she teased as they headed toward the nearest pub.

"If you'll recall, I did that to save your life, you ungrateful cow," he shot back indignantly.

"Only after shooting off the tickling charm that caused it to bolt in the first place!" she reminded him with a giggle.

Holding the door for her, he gave her a surly look. "Well, it's not my fault that someone didn't have the common sense to move out of the way."

"I tripped!" she said defensively.

"Yeah. Like a girl," he retorted sarcastically, as if the fact she was a girl proved his side of the argument.

They continued to bicker like siblings all the way to the table, but James took a break to flirt with the pretty blonde waitress. Charmed and surprised, the girl shot several surreptitious looks her way, but Lily kept her eyes riveted on the menu. He'd done this sort of thing before and Lily had long since ceased to be offended. She was convinced that he didn't really see her as a girl. Besides, he had already told her repeatedly and quite plainly that he didn't fancy fat, bossy gingers.

He waited until the girl had taken their orders and walked away before holding out a slip of paper. "What is this? I've got about a drawer full of these things and I really don't get the fascination Muggle girls have with giving them out."

"It's a telephone number, James," she explained without looking up. "A Muggle way of contacting people. Honestly, you should know that from Muggle Studies."

"You say that like you think I actually pay attention in that class," he replied mockingly.

Giving him a sharp look, she said, "Right, I forgot that's the time you take to work on experimental spells and pranks."

"Too right, Evans," he said with a smug grin. He made himself a bit more comfortable and she had to tuck her feet under the chair as he stretched his long legs out around her. Rumpling his hair distractedly, he glanced around the bustling pub. "What's that?"

In her experience with people from wizarding families, this was a game that everyone liked to play when they got into the Muggle world. When conversation ran dry, they would resort to playing "What's that?" and she would spend the next half hour explaining things like public telephones and post boxes.

"A billiard table," she informed him blandly.

He pointed again. "What's that?"

Sighing, she flicked her eyes over to the object. "A pinball machine."

"What's that?"

She had to fight back a giggle. "A chair."

"Fascinating." He grinned and leaned his arms on the table. "Other than a catastrophic rescue attempt, how have your holidays been, Evans?"

Lily couldn't help smiling at his charming expression. "It's been fine. I've been working in a shop and I even had a couple of dates."

His eyes widened in surprise. "With boys?"

Giving him a sarcastic look, she shook her head. "No, James, with gnomes. Yes boys!"

"Huh. Muggle boys must have really low standards," he prodded blithely.

She glared at him, but held back as the waitress brought their food. Once she disappeared through the crowd, however, she leaned forward and whispered, "Flynn McGray asked me out at the end of last term and I accepted."

Raising an eyebrow at her over his plate, he shook out his napkin and tucked in. "The Ravenclaw who just graduated? Did he tell you about his collection of sweater vests?"

"Don't be an ass," she grumbled irritably.

Taking a sip of beer, he almost choked when he chuckled, "How many times did he use the word "fantastic!" for no apparent reason?"

She shook her head at him. "Wow. You are in rare form tonight."

"Yeah, well I didn't expect the pleasure of your company." His grin was surprisingly affectionate as he reached over to daub a finger full of mashed potatoes on the end of her nose.

"I hate you," she sighed, trying not to laugh as she scrubbed it away with her napkin.

"Liar," he shot back easily. She looked down as silence fell between them. "Did he kiss you?"

Her head came up in surprise. "What?"

"McGray," he reminded her simply. He was watching the flow of customers through the door without an apparent care in the world, making the question seem oddly out of place. "Since I assume you two shared a magical, sweater filled evening, I figure you let him kiss you goodnight. Your first kiss, yeah? How was it?"

Warmth flooded her cheeks as she pressed her lips together. "Actually, you stole my first kiss during fifth year after the Halloween feast. You probably don't remember it. You seemed a little giddy. I sort of assumed it was the result of a Cheering Charm."

He glanced at her thoughtfully, but looked almost immediately away. "Sorry about that. I hope it wasn't too traumatizing."

Her blush grew a bit more pronounced as she remembered that evening. She had found him giggling hysterically in a stairwell and taken pity on him. With difficulty, she'd hauled him up and dragged his arm over her shoulders to support him. They made it up one flight of stairs before his feet got tangled with hers. Falling hard against a wall, she had laughed and said something about him being hopeless. The next thing she knew, his hands were in her hair and he was kissing her in a way that made her entire body tingle with mind-numbing heat.

The memory was making her stomach do strange things. Desperate to divert her attention, she asked, "What did you do with your holidays, James?"

"Lots of things. I traveled. Met people. Very nearly caused an international scandal concerning the Prime Minister of Belgium," he shrugged easily.

She noticed that his eyes were following one specific person around the room. He was a very respectable looking gentleman in a suit with a canary yellow tie and thick framed glasses. His attire more than anything else begged the question: what the hell was he doing in a dive like this?

"That's funny," James murmured without seeming to notice.

Tilting her head to the side, she gave him a curious look. "What is?"

"Vampires aren't supposed to be hunting in London anymore," he said softly. "The Ministry has been cracking down on all forms of part-humans."

"How do you know he's hunting?" Lily asked nervously. "Maybe he's just popped in for a drink or something."

He raised an eyebrow as he nodded at the man who was wandering over to talk to the pub mistress. "Look how hungry he is. And you can practically smell the pheromones from here. He's not in for the blood pudding, I'll tell you that much."

"What do we do?" she asked anxiously.

Finally, he looked at her and smiled. "I'd say you've had a bit more adventure than you need today. If he's a vampire worth his salt, he won't be afraid of a pair of snotty nosed kids anyway. Stay here and pay the tab. I'm gonna pop to the loo."

"James-"

"Don't worry, Evans," he assured her with a smile as he pushed himself away from the table. "I don't think you're his type. I'd say he only fancies pretty girls."

Ignoring the nettle, she caught his hand before he could move away. "Honestly, James, are we just gonna let someone get attacked?"

Leaning down over her, he tweaked her nose and smiled. "It'll be fine, Evans. Trust me."

"Ever notice how something terrible always happens when you say that to me?" she asked humorously.

He only laughed as he tugged his hand away and moved off to the toilet. There was no way the tab would amount to a hundred pounds, but she folded the note and set it under the salt shaker anyway. That way she missed James catching the suspicious man by his collar and hauling him into the back with him. She only noticed when he rushed out a moment later looking panicked.

Emerging with a pleasant smile, James clapped his hands together and nodded his head toward the door. "Right then. Let's shove off." Catching her skeptical look, he held out his hands. "I'm not completely irresponsible, Evans. Trust me. It's sorted."

She could do nothing but shake her head as he caught her hand and tugged her toward the door. James Potter was definitely full of surprises. It was one of the things that she liked most about him.

He led her to a quiet side street to call the Knight Bus. Once on board, he paid for their tickets and ushered her up the stairs to the top deck where the brass beds were completely empty. Tugging her after him, he made himself comfortable on a bed situated at the front of the bus and leveled her with a stern look.

"All right, then, Evans, have a seat. I've rescued you, fed you, and we are now safely headed back to your parent's house. I think I've earned a bit of an explanation," he told her frankly.

Biting her lip, she gingerly perched on the edge of the bed. She was nervous, so she pinned her hands between her knees to avoid fidgeting. "I was walking home from work and I saw two men bothering some Muggles. One of them attacked. I stunned him, but the other guy came after me. I wasn't good enough. I don't know what he would have done if the Aurors hadn't arrived."

She glanced up nervously, but couldn't read his expression in the dim light. She wondered if he guessed the part she had skipped over. If he wanted her to say it again. The very thought of it made her feel sick to her stomach. What was that spell? She didn't know things like that existed. Hogwarts didn't exactly specialize in spells that caused pain.

The bed springs squeaked as he leaned forward, but she didn't guess what he was about until he stabbed his hand under her hair at the back of her neck and flipped it up over her face. He rubbed it forcefully into her head until she jerked away from him. Anger flared up, but it was almost immediately replaced by something else. Hot tears puddled in her eyes as she glared at him, but he was smoothing her hair down with a concerned look.

"Sorry... sorry, Evans. I'm so sorry," he murmured, gently cupping her head while he hooked his arm around her waist to pull her close.

"You wanker!" she sobbed pitifully, slapping her hand ineffectually at his chest.

He hugged her tighter, dragging her back to lay across his chest between his legs. His hand smoothed down her hair in a comforting gesture. "I know. I know. It's okay."

"I hate you," she whimpered, fisting her hands in his shirt.

"I know," he said softly. He didn't hush her. Didn't try to stop her tears. He let her cry until she was done. Afterward, he gave her his handkerchief and said she looked like a puffskein.

Letting out a soft laugh, she nodded. "Thanks James."

His grin was devastating as he leaned in to brush a stray tear off her temple. "Anytime."

"I really don't hate you," she admitted quietly.

Putting an arm around her shoulders, he hugged her gently. "I know."

It was after midnight before they arrived at her house. Number 23, Yearling was one of many houses crammed onto a busy street, but it was saved from being stuffy by the terrace garden that looked out over the bustling city with remote serenity. Of course that couldn't be seen from the street. What she could see was the living room light burning even though it was long past time for her father to be in bed.

"Do you want to come inside, James?" she asked nervously as he helped her down from the bus.

"Sure," he shrugged.

William Evans was in the parlour staring half-heartedly at a book when they entered. Looking up expectantly, he set the book aside and rushed to draw his daughter into a tight hug. "Oh my god, Lily. What happened? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Dad. Everything's fine," she assured him quickly.

"She's lying to make you feel better," James announced honestly.

To his surprise, her father only smiled at him. "Yeah, she does that. She got it from her mum. You must be James Potter."

Lily huddled in the curve of his arm while he reached out to shake James's hand. A spark of anxiety kindled in her stomach as James recognized a kindred spirit. He grinned as he clasped the older man's hand. "It's nice to meet you, sir."

"You can call me Will," he told him pleasantly. "Thanks for taking care of my girl."

Chuckling, James reached up to rumple his hair. "Yeah, well, I figure she's earned it with all the help she's lent to me over the years."

"Why don't you stay the night, James?" her father offered suddenly.

Lily felt a sharp thrill of alarm in her stomach as she stepped away. "Dad, no. He's probably tired and needs to-"

"I insist," Will interrupted cleanly. "It's late and this is really the least we can do. Right Lily?"

He ignored the pleading look she was trying to give him and stared at her pointedly until she turned to James with a bright smile. "Of course. Please stay, James."

Shrugging his shoulders, he accepted without hesitation and Lily groaned inwardly. Since she was home safe, her father bade them a cheerful goodnight and headed off to bed. As the door closed behind him, James turned to her with a smile. "He seemed nice."

"Don't start," she grumbled as she headed for the stairs.

"What?" he asked incredulously. "I was paying you a compliment."

"Yes, but you had that stupid look on your face that makes me feel like you're laughing at me," she pointed out irritably.

He only grinned as he followed her up the stairs. The guest room was right beside her own, but she didn't bother telling him. Instead she showed him the bathroom and asked him if he needed anything.

"I usually sleep naked, so I should be alright," he told her absently as he turned around the room with his hand on his head. After a moment, he gave her a curious look. "Are all of your rooms this small? Can I see yours?"

Crossing her arms over her chest, she shook her head with a smile. "No."

She would have said more, but the door banged open downstairs and suddenly she had something else to worry about. Forgetting her guest, she rushed out to help her sister, who was stumbling acrobatically over her spiky stilettos. Petunia Evans was tall, blonde, and thin like their father. Unfortunately, it seemed that she couldn't come home from university without drinking herself into a stupor anymore.

"Oh, Tuny, not again," Lily sighed as she caught the older girl on the way to the stairs.

Petunia's unfocused blue eyes snapped angrily as she glared at her. "Fuck you, witch."

The impact of her words were somewhat lessened when she threw up. Bile rose in the back of her throat as she gingerly caught her sister's arms to turn her toward the stairs. She paused momentarily when she caught sight of James watching her with a concerned frown on the landing, but she just smiled. "You can go to bed, James. My sister had a bit of a rough night."

"Would you like a hand?" he asked quietly.

"Who the fuck is that?" Petunia slurred viciously.

"That's a friend, Tuny," Lily told her gently as she hugged an arm around her waist to support her up the stairs. "We're gonna go take a shower now, Petunia. I'll wash the sick out of your hair."

Petunia let out an obnoxious giggle as she swayed dangerously. "Why don't you use your magic, Lil? Cast a spell on me."

"Right, because that will solve everything," she muttered sarcastically, all too aware of James watching them.

"God, you're such a bitch!" Petunia slurred, swinging her arm to smack her in the side of the face with her purse.

From nowhere James's hand shot out and caught the older girl's wrist in an iron grip. Lily looked up in surprise as he jerked her forward and hit her with a stunning spell. She opened her mouth to protest, but he simply threw the unconscious girl over his shoulder and turned toward the bathroom.

"You shouldn't have done that, James," she bit out angrily as she hurried in his wake.

Flicking on the light, he moved to place her in the bathtub and switched on the water without hesitation. "It's a better solution than standing around watching you fight with your sister. If I've learned anything from Sirius over the years, it's never argue with a drunk."

"Thanks. I'll log that away," she said sarcastically, stepping around him in order to wipe the vomit off her sister's face. Biting her lip, she gave him a pained look. "Petunia isn't a bad person. She's just been upset since mum passed."

His expression made it obvious that he wasn't convinced, but he stood back while she finished cleaning, turned off the water, and dried her sister with the help of her wand. Once that was done, he moved forward to lift the thin girl out of the bathtub and carried her to her bedroom.

After making her sister comfortable, Lily carefully turned off the lights, ushered him out into the hallway, and closed the door behind her. She couldn't meet his eyes as she leaned back against the hard wood. "I'm sorry you had to see that, James. You should go to bed. It's late."

His eyes were full of disbelief as he stared at her. Feeling uncomfortable, she hugged herself and looked away. "What?"

"I'd say you had a pretty rough night, Evans. So tell me why in the bloody hell you are apologizing to me," he demanded in a hard voice.

Lily shook her head. "I don't know."

Heaving a heavy sigh, James took a step closer to her. She was confused about what he was up to until he bent down to hook his arms around her thighs. He lifted her easily and she squeaked in surprise as he bore her into her bedroom. The lights flicked on with a low word and he ferried her to her bed before dropping her unceremoniously onto the pink comforter. Pushing herself up from her sprawled position, she stared at him as he crossed to her wardrobe.

"What do you think-?"

"I can't do it anymore, Evans," he interrupted abruptly as he retrieved a soft white nightgown and returned to her side. "You're just too good at pretending you're fine. Everyone believes you! The sots... Listen, you've been through enough trauma for one night. You need to be looked after and it seems I'm the only one to do it."

"James, you don't-" She gasped when he pushed her jacket off her shoulders and moved on to her sweater. "Oi!"

His grin was maddening as he paused. "You should try to be a little quieter, Evans. People are sleeping."

Fighting him desperately, she hissed, "I don't think my dad had shagging his daughter in mind when he asked you to stay the night!"

"Well that's a bit inconsiderate of him," he quipped as he worked the garment up over her tummy. "Don't mind, Evans, I've seen it all before."

"Since when?" she asked in outrage.

He gave her an impatient look. "Well, not yours, obviously. But you girls all have basically the same parts, yeah? I've just seen better."

"I am not letting you undress me!" she giggled as he wrestled her onto her back.

"Why not, Evans?" he shot back mischievously as his hands slid under her shirt. "You might like it. And I've never shagged a fat bird, so-"

"You are such a bastard," she laughed, her cheeks going red as he unhooked her bra. "I can change myself, James."

Raising his eyebrows, he shook his head sadly. "No. You're obviously in shock. Being Head Boy means I need to look out for you, Evans, and sometimes that means doing things you don't like for your own good."

Her lips quirked into an amused smile as she dropped her hands from her chest. "Fine."

It was gratifying to see him blink in surprise. "What?"

"Go ahead. If you need to change me in order to feel better about yourself, then I won't get in your way," she shrugged.

Leaning back, he laughed and shook his head before tossing the nightgown in her face. "Get changed, Evans. I'll go make tea."

"Aw, but you seemed so insistent," she teased as he ducked out the door.

She couldn't understand his sudden acquiescence, but tried not to think about it as she swiftly changed into a light summer nightgown. He had teased her like that before and the harder she fought him, the more determined he became. She had only learned recently that giving in made him stop faster than anything else.

Her bare feet made almost no noise as she padded down the stairs to the kitchen. The kettle was on and the stove was lit while James systematically rifled through all of their cabinets in search of tea. Giving him a calm smile, she moved over to the canisters on the counter and picked up the one labeled Tea.

"You have a bruise on your stomach and a burn behind your ear," he pointed out quietly as he set out two mugs. "Is there anything you want to tell me about them?"

"No," she replied, shaking her head.

The kettle whistled and she pulled it quickly off the heat and filled their cups. She could feel him watching her. In fact, she could see him out of the corner of her eye. Waiting. After a moment, she sighed and turned to give him his mug. "What does... crucio mean?"

James's eyes closed in horror and he set aside the cup to keep from dropping it. It took him a minute to answer, but finally he said, "That's the incantation for the Cruciatus Curse. It's a torture spell. Dark wizards use it on their victims."

"Oh." The news was a bit shocking, but she couldn't think of anything else to say. After a pause, she smiled. "I guess I'm pretty lucky, then."

His look was caustic. "Pretty stupid is more like it."

She smiled wryly. "Thanks. That's really what I need to hear right now."

"If that's what keeps you from acting like you're bloody invincible, then I don't care," he shot back irritably.

"Oh and you're one to talk!" she bit out defensively. She regretted the words almost as soon as they were out of her mouth. Shaking her head, she forced herself to keep calm. "This is what I love most about our relationship, James. Our complete inability to have a civil conversation."

"You're angry with me, aren't you?" he asked smugly.

"Is that what you're trying for?" she retorted impatiently.

"Maybe," he said coyly. Moving forward, he tapped her nose and leaned in close to her face. "Don't ever pretend with me, Evans. I can read you like a book."

Shaking her head and trying not to smile, she mumbled, "You are such an ass."

"I know," he grinned, taking her cup from her hands and setting it in the sink. She was about to question him when he scooped her up in his arms and headed for the stairs. "Come along, Evans. Time for bed. You can't expect me to look after you all night. I'm a growing boy. I need my rest."

She gave him a searching look as he easily climbed the stairs. "If you're so tired, why are you carrying me?"

"It's faster than arguing," he told her simply. "And by the way, I'm sleeping with you tonight."

"Why? Are you afraid the Muggles will get you?" she teased as they entered her bedroom.

He set her gently on the bed before giving her a pointed look. "You're going to have nightmares. I figured I'm the one who's best equipped to wake up to screaming."

For once she didn't fight with him. Instead, she simply scooted over in bed while he turned off the light. She heard him rustling his clothing and froze. "You had better not be getting naked right now."

"Only in your dreams, Evans," he teased, laying down on top of the covers and putting his arms around her. They lay still for a moment before he shifted. "So, the way I see it, I saved you from a horrible situation, bought you dinner, and brought you home-"

"Are you really going to keep harping on how wonderful you are?" she asked with a sleepy smile.

He made a bearlike growl deep in his chest and squeezed her gently. "I'm only bringing it up because I think I deserve a goodnight kiss just as much as McGray. Maybe more."

"If I thought you actually wanted a kiss as much as McGray did, I wouldn't mind giving you one," she shot back lightly.

"Stingy," he taunted playfully, running his fingers up her side to make her squirm.

"I thought you were tired," she whispered in amusement.

His breath on her neck was giving her chills as he cuddled her closer. "Right. No snogging, no shagging, and now no talking. That's why it's so fun at your house, Evans."

"Are you always this whiny at bedtime, Potter?" she asked.

"I've always been spoiled," he admitted easily.

Rolling over on her back she looked at him thoughtfully. Faint moonlight spilled through the window, lighting on the side of his face. He had taken his glasses off for bed and his face looked oddly bare without them. She couldn't remember the last time she had seen him without his glasses since his eyes were so weak. The few times he had lost them in public, he had obviously been uncomfortable.

Before she even realized what she was doing, she lifted her hand to touch his face. His eyes were inscrutable as he watched her, making her feel unaccountably nervous. Licking her lips, she smiled at him. "You don't really want a kiss, do you?"

He raised an eyebrow at her and suddenly the tension was broken. Of course not. She was being stupid. "If I wanted a kiss, Evans, I would take it."

"Oh right. I forgot about that spoiled rich kid mentality," she murmured softly.

"Very important," he nodded with mock-severity.

Smiling, she pressed her hand to his cheek before dropping it away and rolling over. "Goodnight, James."

"Evans?"

She turned expectantly, but was taken completely by surprise when he hooked his hand around the back of her head and pulled her forward for a kiss. His lips were gentle as they brushed lightly against hers, but it wasn't nearly enough. The arm around her waist tugged impatiently and she turned into his embrace. Curling his fingers into her hair, he nipped tenderly at her bottom lip before easing her closer to deepen the kiss.

Drawing back, she pressed her lips together uncertainly. "I don't think this is very professional."

"Damn, and I was trying so hard," he murmured, leaning in to kiss her again.

Her hand came up to intercept and she smiled. "Goodnight, James."

Not seeming to understand, he stared at her wryly through her fingers for a moment. At length, he smirked. "All right then. Goodnight, Evans."

Smoothing her hand down to his chin, she kissed him quickly and rolled over. "Goodnight."

She could feel his chagrin, but he didn't push her. Within minutes, his breathing deepened and evened out. Lily smiled as she turned to watch his sleeping face, trying to tell herself that she didn't fancy James Potter. He was like a brother to her. An annoying brother who treated her horribly three-quarters of the time. It was only on days like this when he showed up just in the nick of time to do something unexpectedly wonderful in his terrible way that she wondered about the way her heart sped up when she was near him or ached when he was with someone else.