So, as with before, I'm playing with things that didn't really make sense to me. We know Snape takes the Dark Mark. I'm taking liberties of when he does that. I'm also going with the theory that the man, who was willing to sell out the Potters to Voldemort and then ask for Lily's life, has an obsession with her. And please. Those who get Dark Marks are not nice. We also know that Snape was drawn to the Dark Arts from an early age – I find it baffling that no one seems to think that Lily Evans, who was so very close to him, wasn't aware of this. Even if she didn't practice those arts, I'm assuming she has a great deal of theoretical knowledge of them and has at least learned how to defend against them. (Because honestly, there had to be more than Lily Evans just stepping in front of the AK and thus, saving Harry. Seriously. But that's another argument.) And I'm not entirely sure that Snape would've been able to help himself when it came to showing off how good he was at something to Lily (even if she didn't practice it herself, there is lots of room for theoretical debate).

Again, this is clearly an AU. =)

Ravyn


Severus Snape had taken the Dark Mark.

Lily Evans curled her fingers tightly together, ignoring the running footsteps along the corridor outside her compartment on the train. The locking charm she had used kept everyone else out, which gave her time to think. And she desperately needed to think. Ignoring another student trying to open the door of the compartment, she stared down at her chipped nails and rapidly tried to come up with a plan. Any plan.

Five years of friendship had broken after the rather infamous incident by the Lake, but she hadn't thought it through; hadn't expected it to culminate like this because last summer she hadn't been home. The first part had been spent on Holiday, which had given her the time she needed to recover from the grueling effects of the O.W.L.S and then later, they hadn't run into each other again until they set foot back onto the Hogwarts Express. The complete lack of welcome had hurt, but it had been expected. Hadn't she been unconsciously avoiding him all summer? Severus, who had been her constant companion since she was nine, who had snuck her into the library before tests because she was terrified of failing? Severus who had found the kitchens and the secret passage way into Honeydukes? Severus, who had brought his family's books to the park each summer so they could understand their DADA classes better, understand the theory and the intent behind those spells? Who had helped her with her charms work to better defend against the very things he was learning each shining, summer afternoon?

Severus, who had called her mudblood and had joined the ranks following Voldemort, who had spent the year watching her with narrowed eyes and something she couldn't quite place – something nearly violent. The frantic, apologetic friend who had hurt her so badly had disappeared into a sneering, brooding classmate who would hurt her if she gave him the chance.

And now she had a problem. A very large problem. She was muggle-born, not stupid, and she was brilliant at Charms (hadn't Flitwick told her that?) So she knew Protean Charm and could guess how Voldemort had twisted it to his purposes. (Hadn't the papers been filled with stories about what those with one had been committing… she could only imagine at what one must have done to receive it.)

And Severus Snape lived three blocks from her muggle family.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she bit her lip and tried not to whimper. They were both seventeen now, had been since January. No longer were they limited to cold silences and muted anger between them – now they had magic outside of the walls of Hogwarts. Beautiful, wonderful, dangerous magic – it didn't matter that from him, she was supposed to be safe. He knew where she lived. And it wasn't a stretch to think that he would have little trouble offering her family up for another one of those muggle killings if she stepped a toe out of line.

Hadn't he already promised that?

Wasn't that the very reason he had pushed her into the deserted Charms room two days ago and showed her the mark? The face that she knew better than her own had twisted into something like rage while he had quietly explained what he would do if she told anyone. What would happen if she didn't do exactly as he said.

How very easy it was to explain away an accident.

The next day, the paper had been filled with the story of the muggles not sixty miles from her parents, slaughtered in their homes. Three other families, these with students at Hogwarts, had been killed. She had sat in the Prefect meeting not even a week ago as Dumbledore had quietly explained the dangers of the summer for muggle-born students and that it was best if they kept quiet and their heads down – but there had been no talk of protection. No talk of finding a place to hide.

It had been clear that Dumbledore hadn't been an option. So that left her with so few choices. And a library that was singularly unhelpful in the few hours she'd had to devour it. She had managed to buy/borrow a collection of advanced books that were shrunk down in her trunk on runes, protection charms and warding but they were complex and it would take time to figure out how best to use them. She hadn't anticipated this problem and so she hadn't spent the last few months working out a basic protection scheme under the eyes of her favorite professors.

And now she found herself with no options and only one choice.

James Potter.

The Marauders had been odd this year. Oh, there was still the occasional, viscous prank that was usually directed at the Slytherian house but there had been a sort of watchfulness that had disturbed her. After a year of avoiding Potter and his ridiculous requests for a date, the complete lack of dramatics had been disturbing even as it was welcome. There had been… moments, when she had caught him watching her with an expression behind his eyes that made the small hairs on the back of her neck stand up, but outside of class or a project, he hardly approached her.

Mostly out of habit, she had kept on eye on them, making sure they weren't going to get themselves into some hair brained scheme that lost Gryffindor points. She had heard that Black had a falling out with his family (the one encounter with Regulas and Black had by the Lake had been ugly). But other than that strange watchfulness, she hadn't noticed anything in particular that had been… unnecessarily immature.

Which was the only reason she felt like it would be worth the risk to ask for help. Potter was a lot of things but he understood magic in a way that left her baffled sometimes. Certainly he understood people enough that he knew exactly how to hit to make it hurt when he chose, a habit he thankfully hadn't been using on the younger students. And as much as it made her grit her teeth, he was a pureblood and that gave him access to things she couldn't. Not yet, at least.

It certainly helped that there was no love lost between them and Snape.

So now she had six hours to work up the courage to ask for help.

The train lurched forward and she breathed a sigh of relief. If Snape hadn't located her yet, then odds were he wasn't going to try – comfortable with his message having been delivered earlier. Pressing her knuckles to her forehead, she took several minutes to steady herself before pushing to her feet and canceling her locking charm.

Finding the Marauders was going to be difficult if she wanted to do it without getting caught. While Severus wasn't looking for her straight out, she didn't doubt he was keeping an eye on things to see if she tried to talk to someone she shouldn't. Just the idea of him getting wind of what she was planning made her skin run cold. But she wasn't a coward (even if the hat had considered Hufflepuff first, she was in Gryffindor).

Being in Gryffindor didn't stop her heart from leaping into her throat when the door was suddenly pulled open. Fingers curled white knuckled around her wand she stared at the surprised face of James Potter. Lily wondered what Potter saw as he looked at her. His expression was stilted and he gave her a quick, reflexive grin and started to back away. It was clear he had been expecting her to react but all she could do was blink stupidly at his sudden appearance right up until he started to back away.

"Potter, wait."

He paused, eyes jumping back to her face. The confusion was evident even behind the blankness of his face and she swallowed. "Would you… stay a moment?"

His head tilted and an expression she usually associated with Quidditch settled over his features – narrow eyed intensity that seemed to absorb even the light – before he blinked and that expression disappeared. It was replaced by that smile that made her stomach jump and he leaned against the open door jam with a lazy sort of confidence.

"Finally decided you can't keep your hands off me, Evans?"

The usual cutting response was on the edge of her tongue but she forced herself to swallow it. She hadn't had one of those discussions with Potter in a year and she didn't want to fight. Not now. Curbing the urge to do something drastic – she had always had a burning desire to see Potter with scales – she shook her head and swallowed her pride.

"I was hoping you could help me."

She saw the flicker behind his eyes turn into mischief, saw the way the edges of his mouth continued to curl upwards and for a moment, she regretted even bringing it up. But then her wand jumped in her hand, buzzing in warning and she stared at it stupidly before her heart leapt into her throat.

Snape couldn't find her with Potter. Couldn't suspect she was anywhere near Potter.

Reaching forward, she fisted her hand in Potter's shirt and pulled him forward. She misjudged how much resistance Potter was going to give; they both staggered backwards when Potter un-expectantly crashed into her. Somehow she managed to flick the door shut and cast the strongest locking charm she knew before Potter's tall body knocked the breath out of her. Tumbling to the floor, she yelped when Potter's chin bounced off her forehead as they ended up in a tangle of arms and legs.

"Owe," Potter said after a few moments of painful gasping. "If you wanted to touch me that badly, you just had to ask Evans. I didn't know you needed this kind of 'help.'"

Lily clinched her teeth and ignored him, instead staring at the door and waiting to see if it rattled. When it didn't she counted silently in her head, not fully relaxing until her wand settled. Breathing out a sigh of relief, she turned back to Potter and almost flinched at having his face so close to her own. The lack of mischief and the utter seriousness of his hazel gaze left her faltering and she stared at him, unable to blink.

Licking her lips, she shifted a little and winced. "Can you move please?"

He tilted his head and to her frustration, he shifted just enough that her hip no longer felt like it was going to pop out of socket, but he made no move to let her up off the floor. Instead he settled his weight a little more firmly on his hands and pinned her legs under his own. Potter's eyes locked with hers and the weight of his seriousness left her mouth dry.

"That was a rather complex tracking spell, Lily."

The use of her first name jarred her.

Lily stared at him, trying to decide if that had been a question and if he realized that her pulse was pounding her throat. Easing back against the wall, she decided to blame her sudden breathlessness on the adrenaline rush. Potter didn't seem to be in any hurry to move.

"Does that tracking charm have something to do with why you need help, Lily?" His voice had deepened and she swallowed at the unexpected timbre and that continued intensity behind his eyes.

Lily licked her lips. She had asked for help – she needed it – and she wasn't going to waste this chance even if Potter was sprawled against her and watching her with eyes that were trying to swallow her.

"Yes."

He nodded slowly and pushed himself back. Lily felt off balance at the sudden, unexpected chill of the room now that he wasn't a fingers breath from crushing her. She didn't recognize this Potter, with his serious eyes and calculating expression. The thoughtful way he glanced over her trunk and the precise way he tapped his wand along her things before seeming satisfied.

"Alright," Potter said as he settled himself on the bench across from her. Shaking her head, she pushed herself to her feet and rubbed at her hip for a moment. He frowned a little at the motion but his face smoothed over as she sat down as well. "What's going on, Evans."

The return to her last name was… she didn't know what it was. She wasn't even sure if it bothered her. Instead of concentrating on it, she smoothed down her skit for a moment before rolling her wand between her fingers, trying to find a place to start.

It was unnerving how still Potter was being. She couldn't remember a time when he hadn't fidgeted around the place, either tapping his fingers along his thigh or tossing that stupid snitch back and forth. He was just… constant motion in some way.

"I'm sure you've all heard about the muggle killings in and around London."

"The Daily Prophet has been blaring everything it can for the past couple of weeks." Potter agreed. Lily wondered what it meant that for a moment, his eyes were more green than brown. "Things have been a bit tense."

Lily grimaced but nodded in agreement. "I'm not sure what Remus mentions about our Prefect meetings?" She let her words hang but Potter didn't even blink so she continued, carefully choosing her words. "There was… an implication that it wouldn't be safe for muggle-born students this summer."

Potter lifted a brow and studied her. "I would think there would be more than an implication, Evans."

She narrowed her eyes at him but he shook his head. "No, you're right. Dumbledore wouldn't have done more than that, would he?"

She bit her lip at the pensive expression that crossed his eyes. For the first time, Lily realized she might not be the only one who was uncomfortable with the way things were being handled. She wasn't sure how it could be handled differently, but it was clear that something different could have been done. Potter seemed to be going through some internal debate before he stood his lanky frame suddenly tense.

"Will you be alright if I leave you here for a few moments?"

Lily blinked at him. "What?'

Potter was tapping his fingers against his thigh in a familiar, impatient gesture. "I need to go and get the others, they'll start looking for me soon and I need to see if Remus saw the same thing you did. We haven't had the time to discuss it."

"Saw the same thing I did?"

"Lock the door behind me and don't let anyone in unless you know it's me."

Lily huffed at him. "How am I supposed to know?'

"The password," he grinned at her suddenly, the seriousness disappearing behind his usual boyish mischief.

Lily knew she was walking into it, but she couldn't avoid it. "Which is?"

"James is dead sexy, of course."

If pressed for details under cruciatus curse, she might have admitted that she was nervous sitting there by herself. She hadn't realized how she had relaxed until she was alone and tensing back up. Cursing herself she curled her fingers around her wand and waited, feeling antsy. She wasn't used to waiting – she was a Gryffindor, she did things.

The sudden rapping on the door had her heart leaping into her throat and she glared. "What do you want?"

The deep, unexpected voice of Sirius Black left her fighting a smile. "James Potter is extremely dead sexy."

"I don't think that was it," said Peter's amused voice.

"Of course that was it!" Black argued. "A more sincere statement hasn't been uttered by my lips in years."

Biting her lip, Lily canceled the locking spell and opened the door. She wasn't entirely certain she had been expecting all four of them, but they're they were. Hiding her sudden shyness, she moved away from the door and let them stumble in before someone saw her hanging out of the compartment. Settling back against her window, she was silent as they made themselves comfortable.

"So, Evans," Black said mildly, blue eyes careful as he eyed her. "Hiding from someone."

"Actually, yes." She pulled lifted her wand and arched an eyebrow. "Anyone mind if I cast a charm?"

Muffliato was one Snape had taught her, so she kept her voice down to a low murmur as she cast it. Even after the end of their friendship, she found herself reluctant to share what good memories she had – even if they were in the form of self-made charms. Sitting back down, she wondered if she was going to need to break the silence. She shouldn't have worried.

"Remus?"

Lily glanced over at Potter but his eyes were centered on her fellow prefect.

"She was right," Remus agreed. "Dumbledore didn't do more than suggest that the muggle-born keep their heads down and avoiding drawing attention to themselves. It was disquieting."

Lily tilted her head in confusion. It felt like she was being let in on the end of a discussion instead of the beginning. There was tenseness to Potter's shoulders she hadn't really seen in him before… and Remus looked grave. Even Black was simply watching. Peter was always quiet around her, so that was expected but his mouth and jaw were hard. She wasn't certain she would have ever thought that these four had this level of seriousness in them.

"I'm sorry, what?" Lily interrupted, frowning at her gaze skipped around. "Where is this conversation starting from?"

Black leaned back, crossing his arms. "Jamsie said that you were concerned about what happened at the prefects meeting, that since you needed help, it might have to do with a lack of by Dumbledore. We figured it was best to have the rest of the conversation here."

Lily stared at him. It was clear there was more to that – but when had he had the time to convey what had happened? Black had known she was hiding, but Potter had only been gone a few minutes. She had to assume he knew better than to talk in the corridors so…

How?

Peter smiled at her. "James talks fast."

She knew there was more to that. She knew it. She just couldn't think of a way to call them on it. Frowning to let them know that she knew there was something else going on, she shook her head. "I am concerned about Dumbledore's lack of… apparent concern for those who are going back to homes without any protection."

Potter leaned forward. "Is that why you had a tracking charm on someone, because you were worried about protection? And from who?"

Lily dragged her teeth along her bottom lip. "That's… part of it. Dumbledore didn't really offer any advice other than to stay hidden and that's… not exactly an option for me."

Another one of those shared glances between the four that she couldn't interpret.

"Why?" Potter asked. Lily met his gaze and he held it, eyes narrowed behind his glasses. "Why is just staying out of sight not an option. And while you're at it, you can explain why you panicked when your little alarm system went off – and instead of pushing me out, why you pulled me into the compartment."

Lily wondered if he would notice if she wiped her sweaty palms dry on her skirt. "First, just staying under the radar is not a logical course of action. There appears to be no way of predicting where the Death Eaters are going to strike, so how can we know that we're safe?"

Black considered her, blue eyes narrowed. "A single protected house in the middle of a muggle neighborhood might not be any better, Evans."

Lily lifted her chin. "While that's true, that is also based on several assumptions – the biggest being that the Death Eaters are looking at Muggle neighborhoods for places that are protected. I'm not saying we all need to be under a fidelous charm, but some sort of warning system to get out would be better than pretending it can't happen to us." She licked her lips. "And is it really going to matter? You can't tell me that there isn't a list somewhere of Hogwarts students who are muggle born; that there isn't a risk that that information might leak out someday."

Remus looked at her. "You think someone would leak that information under Dumbledore's nose?"

"I think it would be prudent to plan for it." Lily countered.

"Then why not just go to Dumbledore?" Peter asked. He didn't seem critical that she hadn't gone to their Headmaster. In fact, there was a glint of something behind his eyes that suddenly made her wary.

Uncertain and feeling shaken for a reason she couldn't really place, she finally just shook her head. She wasn't even certain why she was explaining this to them other than that niggling, gut-deep knowing that she couldn't shake that Dumbledore wasn't the answer this time. She had always held him in a bit of awe, but his lack of preparation in regards to her safety had stunned her out of her usual respect of authority figures.

"Lily," Potter cut into her thoughts and she glanced back at him. "What is it?"

She bit her lip and studied him before lowering her gaze to his shoes. "Snape knows where I live."

"Well," Remus murmured. "That does add something to this."

She felt the sudden tension in the room and she wanted to bolt. They didn't know about the Dark Mark (did they?) but they obviously knew enough about his new friends to be wary. And they couldn't have known what Snape knew about Dark Arts, not the way she did. She wasn't expecting Potter to pull out a wand and mutter a second charm or for the other three to overlay that with their own. Lifting her eyes, she blinked at the grim expressions now looking back at her.

"What did he do?" Potter's voice was low and his eyes were snapping now. "What did he say, Lily."

Black leaned forward, bracing his forearms against his thighs and staring at her with that imperious look of his that always left her feeling half-bare. "You were hiding from Snape, Evans?"

Lily chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, considering. She had to be careful, because she didn't trust these four not to go off on Snape and that would lead to disaster. Because she wasn't certain she could tell them about the Dark Mark if they didn't know – not yet. She didn't trust them for that and what she needed was a chance to buy enough time to keep her family safe. Outside of that, she didn't fear Snape. She never had and she refused to start now.

"What he did or didn't do doesn't matter right now," she put steel into her words, meeting both Potter and then Black' eyes head on. "That's not what I need help with. What I do need help with is figuring out where to start so I can protect my family. I haven't… rune or ward schemes haven't been something I've done more than a cursory overview on. I don't know where to start."

Potter's eyes went dark and the temper she did know tightened the skin along his cheekbones and the room suddenly felt too small. Curling her fingers around her wand, she straightened her spine and stared him down. She refused to be intimated by him, either.

"I don't think you understand the position you are in, Evans." Potter's voice was tight. "Snape is dangerous in ways you apparently don't understand and if he has threatened you…"

Lily snorted, tossing her hair and narrowing her own gaze. "Severus Snape was my best friend for six years Potter. He lives three blocks away from me. I am perfectly aware of what he is capable of and I assure you, I am perfectly capable of handling him on my own."

Black moved into her line of sight and glared at her. "Well, if you and Snivellus are so chummy, what do you need our help for?"

Lily clenched her fingers together and told herself to get her temper under control. Leaning back, she glared out the window for several seconds before she felt confident that she wouldn't curse now and apologize later. "I can handle Snape. But my family can't. And if he decided to win points with those new friends of his..."

It was like dropping a hammer in the room. She didn't look away from the window, even when Potter spoke again. She was relieved he sounded so calm, although she wasn't certain she could trust the tone of his voice.

"What did he say, Lily?"

She closed her eyes. "He hasn't said anything, not directly." Which was true, in a way? That Dark Mark had said everything he needed to say and he had made it clear that it was only a matter of time before he did suggest something directly. It made her feel nauseous to imagine exactly what those suggestions might be.

"Lily," Potter voice tugged at her and reluctantly she glanced back at him. There had obviously been some more of that silent communication between the four boys and she felt uncomfortable with their scrutiny. "He threatened your family."

"He implied." Lily corrected with a sigh.

Potter and Black glanced at each other.

Lily shoved her bangs out of her eyes. "Look, Potter. I'm not asking you to come up with the answers here, alright? All I want is to know where to start looking. You know the magical world better than I do. This isn't something I've had to worry about before and I need a starting point. That's all."

"I don't think so."

Lily frowned at the hard edge in Potter' tone. "What?"

He shook his head, eyes dark. "You cannot possible think that I'm – that we – are going to just give you a couple of names or book titles and leave you to it."

Lily pushed to her feet and frowned at him. "Why not?"

"Use that head of yours Evans," Black drawled at her. "While I'm sure those marks of yours translate to intelligence outside of the classroom, you're being a right idiot."

Before she could decide whether kicking Black in the shins was a better alternative to hexing, Remus broke into her furious glaring match.

"Lily, please. Sit down. Then James and Sirius will explain why just giving you some information won't work." His voice was quiet, but it was the same tone he took to cut through the clatter of the Prefect meetings.

Lily curled her fingers into fists. "I don't know why I'm even bothering right now."

Remus shook his head. "It doesn't matter why you have. You did. Now let us help."

Peter nodded. His round face was serious and there was a set to his shoulders she hadn't noticed before. He looked… confident. "He's right. We can help."

Lily stared at him, considering. "And what do you think that you can do? Dumbledore has made it clear he doesn't believe this to be a problem and having you four threaten Snape is not going to solve this."

Peter's eyes glittered for a moment at her mention of hexing Snape before it disappeared behind his usual boyish expression. "Maybe, maybe not – obviously you think we can do something or you wouldn't have asked."

Remus braced his elbows on his thighs and studied her. "You're not easy to spook, Evans. So clearly there is more to this than just concern over what Snape implied." He shook his head when she opened her mouth. "Don't. Just listen for a moment. You're concerned for your family and rightly so. Snape's predilection to associate with the crowd that he has chosen is worrisome, especially considering your past history. If he is considering making a play for a position with this Voldemort and his Death Eaters, then you have reasons for more than concern. But that doesn't explain your reaction to being seen with James."

Black tilted his head. "Hey, that's true. It's not like you haven't spent the last few years verbally shredding us all into little pieces every chance you had." He snapped his fingers and his smile didn't reach his eyes. "You worried about something Evans?"

Lily squeezed her eyes shut and spoke through clenched teeth. "Snape has a particular hatred for you four."

"Come on now Evans," Peter said. "There has to be more to it than that."

Lily opened her eyes and frowned. "Why does it have to?"

Potter leaned back and studied her. "Snivellus has been watching you, hasn't he? I thought it was just the usual from him, but now that I think about it… certifiable stalker."

"Interesting," Remus murmured, "that he specifically told you stay away from us though."

Lily kept her mouth shut. She wasn't sure what she could say on the subject that would convince them that Snape hadn't told her, specifically, to stay away from Potter without making it look like she was the one who hadn't wanted to be seen with him. That her first reaction to Potter in her compartment hadn't been to jump down his throat and verbally eviscerate him; Snape would have expected that. They were right. And while Snape had warned her to keep this to herself… she was the one who had immediately thought of Potter.

"Think they are getting suspicious?" Black asked, head tilted to the side oddly.

Lily blinked out of her thoughts and frowned at him. Remus glanced at her and something he read their must have amused him, because the seriousness of his tone when he spoke was at odds with the way the edges of his eyes had crinkled. What?

"Possibly. We know they've been trying to intimidate Pete."

Peter gave an uneasy smile. "But why Evans?'

Remus arched a brow and Peter ducked a little, cheeks flushing; Lily was just confused. What on earth were they insinuating? That Snape had harassed her because of Potter? But why? Feeling bewildered she glanced around the room, trying to put her finger on the subtext.

"The statue of limitations does allow for self-defense." Black drawled, "If you can prove it of course. Right now, even his friends wouldn't be able to manage that without collateral damage."

Potter finally lifted his eyes and studied her. "Risky, letting it stay in the ministry hands like that if they are getting suspicious. We know there are leaks. If they make a move like that then it isn't going to matter what Evans does."

"What does this have to do with protecting my family?" Lily finally interrupted, her nails digging into her palms. "What are you talking about?"

Potter just studied her, hazel eyes more brown than green. Something about the angle of his eyes was making her heart pound and she stubbornly held his gaze out of sheer determination. Surely they weren't discussing what she thought they were discussing. That Snape would ambush Potter and then make it look like an accident. But what would the ministry have to do with that and what did any of this have to do with her?

Remus tilted his head and suddenly snapped his fingers. "Portkey?"

Black paused, fingers stilling against his knee. "Hmm, that might work."

"Portkey?" Lily repeated, looking at Remus. Finally someone was talking about something she could follow. Her expression turned considering. "Those aren't easy to get your hands on and it's illegal to make one without permission; where would we go with it?"

Potter leaned back and considered the ceiling, foot bouncing against the floor. "That'd work. We'd have to give them something to slow them down though, Portkeys take time."

Lily opened her mouth to comment when Black caught her attention. His face was uncharacteristically tense. "The Lords of the Ancient and Noble Houses can make Portkeys, Evans."

Lily blinked and then frowned at him. She knew a little about who Black was and that Potter's bloodline was old. It was one of those pieces of information that Snape had never been able to let go of – she remembered that first train ride with painful clarity. But she also knew that Black had been… if not disowned completely, at least put into a position where everyone felt that Regulus would inherit. (She didn't gossip as a general rule, but the library was an excellent place to listen and she'd found herself with an unusual amount of free time this year.) Her eyes skipped over to Potter who was watching her with that expression again and she laced her fingers together tightly.

"Let me get this straight," Lily said slowly, not looking away from Potter, because… just because. "I tell you that Snape has made me uncomfortable about the possible safety of my family and you four automatically start discussing 'self-defense' and leaks in the ministry. You aren't willing to help me in the conventional way of protecting my family, or even explain what the conventional way is, but you're willing to get me a Portkey. What exactly do you think is going on here?"

Black sighed and leaned out of her peripheral vision. "Good thing some of us think your trustworthy, Evans – bird like you could get the lot of us into trouble."

Potter looked away from her and she swung her eyes back and forth between the best friends. There was a tension that crackled between them and the small hairs on the back of her neck rose at the change of pressure. She was starting to feel like a broken record but… what was going on?

"The reason Snape warned you away from me, Lily," Potter drew her name out, gaze finally leaving Black, and she swallowed at the edge there. His eyes were dark and the anger she could see so clearly left his magic humming in the air. "Is because he knows exactly how I will react to his threat – that I won't let him anywhere near you."

And her heart was lodged somewhere in her throat at his implacable tone. Alarm made her cranky and she narrowed her eyes, chin lifting. "Potter, I'm asking for help to protect my family because it's necessary, not because I expect anything from you. And I've told you, I can protect myself."

Black laughed the sound booming through the room. A sudden surge of temper was turning her face red and she kept her hands firmly laced together. Cursing him right now wouldn't solve anything.

"Evans, you have no idea." He shook his head and waved off Remus when he tried to talk. His eyes glittered and there was a distinct lack of amusement now. "Oh stuff it, Mooney. I'm not going to sit here and listen to her ramble on about protecting herself. She doesn't even know what she has to worry about."

Lily didn't have to look at Potter to know he agreed. She forced herself to think for a moment, to keep from lashing out as badly as she wanted too. And she wanted too. And she could very easily ram those words back down Black's throat. Shutting her eyes, she forced her temper back down. Black was an arse, but as far as he knew, he was right. But she hadn't stayed friends with Snape as long as she had just in an attempt to maintain a friendship that was important to her. And if she was going to ask Potter, the Marauders of all people, for help, either she trusted them a little or not at all.

'…that I wouldn't let him anywhere near you.'

And that was rubbish, because she didn't need protection. She needed help.

"Black, how many times am I going to have to say this?" Lily finally said through clenched teeth. "Severus Snape was my best friend – I've known him since I was nine years old. I know how to deal with him because we learned together."

She opened her eyes and met that startled gray gaze straight on. "I know pretty damn well what is going on and that it is going to get much, much worse. Stop treating me like an idiot. I don't want you to rescue me, understand? I need help. My muggle family has no defense and what do you think is going to happen if I casually mention that the boy who used to spend every waking hour and every holiday at our house has become a terrorist? I can't legally apparate for another month and even then, I risk splinching myself or my family if I am running for our lives. Plus, I don't think I can get them all out – I'd need three trips. So stop looking at me as a muggleborn who doesn't pay attention and use that brain of yours!"

The silence in the compartment was heavy. Then Pete bumped into her and she looked down. His blue eyes were grave. "You know dark magic?"

She pressed her lips together for a moment before speaking. "I am very, very good at defense. I didn't practice it, not the way that Snape did, but I know it. And I know the theory behind it."

Remus tapped his fingers against his thigh and she watched the only one she truly considered a friend mull that over. "Well that changes things."

And Lily really just wanted to bang her head against the wall.

"Explains a lot," Potter said finally and Lily peaked at him out of the corner of her eye. She didn't bother looking at Black. She knew how much he hated anything that smacked of dark magic, but if you didn't at least know of it, how did you fight it?

"Especially why Snape is targeting her family instead of her directly."

Black made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a growl. "Dark magic."

Lily growled back. "Oh stuff it, Black. I'm muggleborn. Damn straight I learned it. How else was I supposed to know what it would do? Don't you sit there and judge me for trying to find a way to understand why the old families are divided by it when we don't even talk about it in History of Magic. How else am I supposed to know how to deal with the Slytherin house when they decide to start making trouble on rounds?"

Remus made a noise and Lily glanced over him, concerned. His eyes were shut and he was holding the bridge of his nose as if he had a sudden headache. She glanced over at Potter and Black… Potter looked…

"They've been harassing you on patrol?" Potter said softly, the green flecks in his eyes bright and somehow, unnerving. Lily had several things click into place at once and she just sort of stared at Potter, suddenly uncertain. Fourth and Fifth year had been a crazy sort of hell – Snape's growing rage at each of Potter's ridiculous attempts to ask her out compounded by the break in their friendship. This year had been quieter and lonely, but it had given her a chance to really look at herself. But she had never once thought that… she blinked rapidly at Potter.

Taking a deep breath Lily tried to shove her sudden revelation aside – he liked her. Even she knew that depth of rage didn't happen if there weren't feelings involved. Two years of childish displays and a year of a careful, cautious sort of co-existence where they mutually avoided each other… and for reasons she couldn't explain her mouth was suddenly bone dry and there was a fluttering of butterflies taking residence in her stomach.

"Look, we're not getting anywhere with this."

Potter fisted his hands and glared at her then shifted the weight of his anger to Remus. "Who?"

Lily tossed her hands up and let out a noise of frustration. "Remus wasn't there when most of it happened, Potter."

Remus stared at her blankly. And Potter even looked surprised out of the worse of his anger. Then his brows bunched together and he squinted at her. "You and Remus are patrol partners."

Lily cursed mentally and crossed her arms. "It doesn't matter."

Black sneered at her. "Like hell, what have you been doing? Arranging secret meetings with Snivellus behind our backs, Evans? This all some sort of set up?"

"What?" Lily whipped around and stared at him. "You…" Her palms stung from her nails digging into her palms in an attempt not to go for her wand. She felt herself flushing with the force of her rage and shifted back to her feet. Somehow her wand made it into her palm anyway and she went to cancel the wards, furious. Snape had been her friend, but he had betrayed her. She wasn't some sort of puppy to go back and beg especially when he had become the type of person who could threaten her parents, who loved him.

Like hell she was sticking around for this. She'd find another way.

Before she could do more than tighten her grip on her wand, Remus' fingers had curled around her wrist and there was an expression behind his eyes that made her pause. She sensed Potter, Black and Pete standing as well but kept her attention on Remus. Remus who had somehow become her friend.

Then Remus closed his eyes and groaned. "You know."

Lily frowned at him, ignoring the explicit cursing coming from Black. "Know what?"

Remus wouldn't look at her. His face had gone pale and there was a line between his brows she hadn't seen before. It was only a lifetime of hiding her hurt from Petunia that allowed her to hide reaction to the realization that Remus expected her to reject him.

Pete broke into her sudden hurt. "About Remus."

Lily arched a brow and forced herself to maintain her blasé expression. She didn't know how these three wouldn't know about Remus, but she wouldn't betray him on the off chance that they didn't. "I'm sorry…. but what exactly about Remus are we talking about?"

Black snorted. "Cut the shit, Evans. I'm such an idiot. If Snivellus knew, you knew. Fuck it."

"Padfoot," James said quietly. Black snorted and shook his head, running his hands through his bangs.

"Hasn't this been on big revel? What exactly are you playing at Evans?"

Lily was completely lost. The hostility in Black's eyes was for far more than simply knowing that Remus was a werewolf. Did he think she had set this up? Why would she? What could they possibly be into that someone would even attempt to trap them in this way? What were they involved in that had Black so paranoid? Reaching up, she pressed the fingers of her free hand against the headache pounding between her eyebrows.

This was such a mess and clearly a mistake. "I stood with Snape for five years because he was my friend. Why would I do less for Remus?" Her lips curled at the edges in a bitter smile and she lowered her hand, tugging on the hold Remus had on her wrist. "We have to patrol."

Remus' seemed to still be in that same stunned state as his fingers slid off her wrist. Ignoring the angry, hostile frustration coming off Sirius in waves, she stepped around Remus and somehow found herself face to face with James. She blinked at him.

His face was unreadable, but those sparks of green were still bright and that unusual seriousness kept her still, even when she wanted to shove around him and cancel their protection spells. But there wasn't a lot of room in the compartment and his back was pressed against the door; she'd never tried to physically push past him before, hadn't needed too. The set to his jaw told her he wouldn't budge and she knew those shoulders had muscle.

"I need to go Potter."

He leaned forward, holding her gaze. "You know Remus is a werewolf."

Lily sighed. "Yes."

"How long?"

"Since we started patrolling third year, Black is right – Snape was always suspicious. It wasn't hard to figure out those suspicious were correct."

Black let out a string of curses that were cut off. She heard Pete mutter something and a growl was ended before it really began. James seemed to be considering something because his eyes narrowed.

"You covered for him."

Lily refused to blush, but she wasn't certain it really worked when James leaned back and stared over her shoulder. It remained silent and she shifted her weight. "I need to patrol now, Potter."

The air was tense between them as he continued to watch her. Lily felt somewhere between tears and screaming rage – she wanted out of the compartment. If she was going to do this alone she needed someplace quiet to think.

"I'll find a way to protect your family, Lily."

Lily start to shake her head but he leaned back in again and met her eyes squarely. "We'll figure it out. I promise."

She blew at her bangs. Closing her eyes, she slowly shook her head. "Potter…"

Warm fingers curled around her jaw. She opened her eyes and blinked at the close proximity of James Potter. "Lily. I promise. We'll be in touch."

She bit her lip. "Snape…"

Something bright and mischievous flickered through his eyes and was gone. His fingers slid away from her jaw line and she bit the inside of her lip to keep from shivering at the drag of his calluses. Then he slowly took one very careful step to the side.

"We'll be in touch."

And Merlin help her, some of the tension at the base of her neck eased. To cover up her unexpected relief at his assurance, she narrowed her eyes and studied him for one long moment. Then she nodded, cancelled the spells and set off to the prefect compartment. Remus was close behind her but she ignored his one attempt to start the conversation.

She'd either bought herself the time she needed or made the biggest mistake of her life. Only time would tell her which one – or tell her why her insides were a jumbled mess of butterflies after James had touched her. She would have to spend the summer carefully re-evaluating everything she thought of the boy. But first, she had to make it off this train without raising Snape's suspicions. Great.

Something on Potter's face told her he wasn't going to forget her comment about rounds.


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