After that evening, Lily noticed there was a sharp rise in pranks on Slytherins. She also noticed that the pranks' victims had picked on Emma or been particularly vocal in bashing muggle-borns.

Lily immediately had her suspicions about who was responsible. The Marauders had actually been spending time in the library, usually whispering and pointing to a piece of parchment. One evening she had seen Peter Pettigrew fetch a book called Magical Motor Disorders and bring it to their table. The next day Gregory Mulligan developed a strange twitch. On another night, she had seen Sirius Black (who never studied) pouring over a potions book. The next day, Peter Pettigrew bumped into Ryan Mulciber at breakfast, nearly sending his drink flying. A few hours later Mulciber started sweating and steam poured out of his ears.

To confirm her suspicions, Lily tried mentioning it to Remus during rounds.

His answer was an evasive shrug.

"Does it matter? Does it really bother you that a bunch of bigots are temporarily going bald or having their ears enlarged?"

Lily couldn't honestly say it bothered her. It was as much curiosity as anything else driving her questions. If the Marauders were going to insist on making trouble, which was a forgone conclusion as far as Lily was concerned, then she thought they might as well do it for a worthy cause.

Two weeks later, Dumbledore announced the athletes from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang would be arriving. That put the castle in uproar. The house elves usually stayed out of sight, but now they could be spotted assisting Filch with cleaning. Professors were also helping between classes. Hagrid and Professor Greene were busy trimming shrubs and planting trees. Professor Flitwick was charming tapestries and draperies to resist stains. Lily saw Dumbledore himself inspecting the ceiling in the Great Hall with Professor McGonagall and saying he might refresh the spell on it.

Rumors were also flying about the guest students. The girls from Beauxbatons were supposedly more beautiful than any ordinary British witch. The boys of Durmstrang were fierce and well versed in the Dark Arts.

Members of the Quidditch team were training with renewed vigor. Annalise Foster was seen walking through the halls muttering to herself as she stared at diagrams of plays. Frank Longbottom and Alice trained every day that James didn't hold a Quidditch practice. Alice also started running around the castle grounds five days a week, even when Lily and Marlene declined to join her.

"I've still got a ways to go though," she said over breakfast one morning. "James literally lapped me yesterday, though he was nearly sick afterward."

"Well, he's been training for years," Marlene said.

"I know, but it's rather humiliating to get lapped," Alice said. "I told Frank about it when were training last night and he said I might need to work on my running form, whatever that means."

"Form?" Marlene rolled her eyes. "Don't you just put one foot and front of the other and move quickly?"

"No," Lily said. "Muggles have written books about it. Lots of muggles run, even if they aren't athletes. It keeps you thin and they obviously haven't got weight loss potions, or at least not ones that actually work. They've tried to develop them though."

Alice nodded.

"Frank was telling me that you've go to hold your arms a certain way, put weight in certain parts of your foot, all kinds of things," Alice said. "He's going to work on it with me tomorrow morning."

"You and Frank have been spending a lot of time together," Marlene raised an eyebrow and grinned.

"Well James told him to train me to be his backup Keeper. Frank is very responsible, so he wants to make sure he does a good job of it."

"Mmmhmm," Marlene grinned.

"Come of it," Alice said. "He's not flirting with me."

Alice shook her head and then tucked her hair behind her ears. She had no trouble meeting their eyes, but Lily saw a flicker of emotion that she couldn't quite explain.

"Would you want him to flirt with you?" Lily asked.

Alice opened her mouth, then shut it again and shook her head.

"No no. That would complicate things with Quidditch."

Marlene was about to press the issue when someone shouted, "Look!"

A cameraman and several unfamiliar witches and wizards were walking into the Great Hall. They approached the staff table and shook hands with Professor Dumbledore, who began scanning the Great Hall after he spoke with them. A few moments later, his voice rang out over the sounds of breakfast.

"Has any one seen James Potter?"

"He's running around the grounds," Sirius Black shouted. "It's his usual morning ritual. In fact, he should be here-ah, yes!"

Sirius had looked towards the doors of the Great Hall and grinned. Lily followed his gaze and saw that James had just entered the hall red-faced, drenched in sweat, and wearing athletic gear. He didn't even look up at the strangers at the staff table, but made his way straight towards the Gryffindoor table.

"Prongs! Are you camera ready?"

James looked up at Sirius, clearly puzzled, but then shrugged and said,

"I'm always camera ready."

Just as he tossed Sirius a grin, there was a series of flashes. The cameramen rushed down from the staff table and continued to snap pictures as James gaped at the chaos in front of him. He looked up at the staff table and something seemed to click into place.

"I didn't realize you'd be coming so early," he said. "I was under the impression the interviews were going to be after dinner."

"That was the original schedule, but it seems our friends from the Daily Prophet happened to be in the area for another story and just couldn't wait to come by," Professor Dumbledore said. He smiled at James and made his way to the Gryffindoor table with the reporters in toe.

"Mr. Potter, do you remember Ms. Skeeter, I believe you were in your second year during her last year at Hogwarts."

A woman with bright makeup and glasses stepped forward and shook James' hand.

"I do remember you," James smiled. "I apologize for making you shake my hand when I'm such a mess."

Ms. Skeeter didn't seem to think he was a mess at all. Lily almost rolled her eyes as the woman shook his hand firmly and looked him over. Lily had to admit James looked rather handsome with his tighter shirt, messy hair, and slightly flushed cheeks. Still, she thought a reporter oughtn't look at the student she was interviewing like he was a delicious meal.

"Call me Rita, dear," the woman said.

"Well Rita, I'm going to have to put you off while I get changed," James said. He looked around the hall for a moment, then shouted. "Oi Frank!"

Frank Longbottom stood up from the Ravenclaw table and James waved him over. After James introduced him to Rita Skeeter, he said,

"Frank is my assistant captain and he can talk to you while I shower and that."

"Wonderful," Rita said. The reporters turned their attention to Frank and James came over beside Lily, Marlene and Alice.

"Manning," he whispered. "I don't want anyone other than Frank talking to these reporters. I was going to bring this up at practice, but the nosy sods are here early. Tell everyone that I'd prefer they not speak to the reporters, but if they do, to remember that everything they say could end up read by all of England, and our opponents as well."

Alice nodded and she immediately rose from her spot and made her way to where Jenny Wong was sitting.

"Marlene, Lily," James nodded a hello to each of them.

"Quite a start to the morning," Marlene said.

"Isn't it? Evans, sorry about this, but I'm going to reach past you and grab some of that fruit. Brace yourself for the smell."

Lily laughed and leaned away, but when James moved past her she found she almost liked the scent that wafted by her.

"Alive still?" he asked.

"Don't worry about it," she said with another laugh. "It was fine."

"Good, because I'm thinking about grabbing some sausage as well."

"Why not some toast, too? Make it a full meal."

"Nah, I don't care for it without marmalade and there's no time for sitting around fixing my toast."

James balanced the fruit in one hand and Lily looked down at the toast on her own plate. She had just finished putting marmalade on it, but she had plenty of time to fix herself another slice.

"Here, you can have my toast," Lily told him.

"I can't do that."

"James, there's plenty more where this came from."

"Alright."

He looked at his full hands, proceeded to stuff all the sausage in his mouth, and held out his newly free hand for the toast.

"That's disgusting, Potter," she told him.

He shrugged and looked as though he wanted to say something, but had entirely too much food in his mouth to do so. Lily started laughing and James covered his mouth as he stifled his own laughter.

"Here," Lily giggled. She stood up and held out the toast.

"Fanksh," he mumbled, causing her to laugh even harder. James still couldn't afford to open his own mouth to laugh, but his eyes were twinkling as he watched her.

Then Lily saw a flash and heard the crack of the camera. Startled, she glanced around and saw that the Daily Prophet's photographer had snapped a photo. He gave them a quick smile before moving his camera on to other candid shots. Lily suddenly felt quite aware of her smiles, they way James' eyes sparkled at her, and how close she was standing to him. She stepped back and sat down in her chair again.

"I have a feeling that's going to be a rather unflattering photo" she said. "You should probably get going, it seems they're awfully eager."

James nodded, gave her a wave, and jogged out of the Great Hall.

Two days later, a story appeared over two full pages of the Prophet's sport section. The story included a picture of the team and the picture of James when he first entered the Great Hall. There was also a caption that mentioned the Hogwarts captain went on daily runs and was quite fit.

The article itself was somewhat bland. James and Frank Longbottom failed to express anything other than confidence in the team and excitement about the upcoming tournament. But, as Remus explained to Lily during their patrol, this was actually part of James' media strategy.

"Media strategy?" Lily giggled. "Potter has a media strategy?"

"Well, it's more like him forbidding anyone from speaking to the Prophet," Remus said.

"Oh, I'd heard something about that," Lily said. "I thought there was more to it. Besides, can he really do that, tell people whether or not they can talk to the Prophet?"

"Dunno," Remus shrugged. "He said he'd bench anyone who did. He doesn't want people gossiping or getting distracted by articles written about them. So, he's hoping to ensure the Prophet writes really boring articles by controlling what gets said to the reporters."

"Makes sense. I barely ever read the sport section, but when I do it's half gossip about players dating one another or getting into trouble for drinking and that."

Remus nodded and they ambled down a corridor on the fifth floor of Hogwarts. They hadn't caught anyone out of bed that night. In fact, most of their patrols this year had been fairly uneventful. When Lily pointed this out to Remus, he actually chucked a bit.

"I'm quite glad to hear you say that. It's taken quite a bit of effort on my part."

"What do you mean?"

"Really, Lily? Don't you remember the beginning of fifth year?"

She hadn't been thinking about it before, but now she recalled it quite vividly. James Potter, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew were constant companions on their patrols for the first half of fifth year. Sometimes they bewitched suits of armor to chase Remus and Lily through the hall or set off dung bombs. Other times, James had shown up somewhere along the patrol to ask Lily out, or, in one instance, to join him in the broom closet which he had popped out of holding a rose. Even if the Marauders were not there specifically to bother Lily and Remus, one of them was usually caught snogging in a broom closet or sneaking food from the kitchens.

"How did you get them to stop?" Lily asked.

"You," Remus said simply. "I told James that if he kept pranking us, you'd hate him even more than you already did. So, that's when he started pranking other prefects and asking you out during patrols instead. Then I had to explain that you didn't approve of him breaking the rules to ask you out, and he was even less likely to get a yes out of you that way."

"You know, he's been much better this year," Lily said. "He's actually been pleasant sometimes."

Remus slowed down and looked at her carefully for a moment. He opened his mouth to speak, but chuckled instead.

"Well, 'pleasant sometimes' is probably the best compliment you've ever given him. I'll be sure to tell him he's growing on you."

"Please don't!"

"I'm joking. I think he's finally starting to realize that you're not interested in him."

"Oh…well, that's good I suppose."

She thought it was. It should have been after all. But Lily found she didn't entirely like the idea of James Potter losing interest in her. She pushed that thought out of her mind. It was her vanity talking, and it wasn't fair to expect James to continue his attention just to boost her ego. It was good of him to move on to someone who would return his affections.

She realized Remus had never replied and was now looking at her again. She couldn't think of what she ought to say and searched her mind for something to end the awkward pause.

"Well, I suppose we might as well patrol by Ravenclaw," she said at last.

"Sounds good."

When they rounded the corner, Remus stopped short and let out a groan.

"Honestly."

He shook his head and Lily followed his gaze. It took her a moment recognize James because at first all she saw was the back of his head. His messy hair was sticking out at all angles and he had one arm resting against the stone wall. On closer inspection, Lily realized that his other arm was around the waist of the girl he was snogging.

"Prongs!"

James made as if to move, but the little hands around his neck pulled him back down. Lily rolled her eyes.

"Now Potter!"

James jumped and stepped away from the wall, revealing his snogging partner to be Julia Taylor. Lily had heard they were seeing each other, but she previously would have said Julia was too sensible to snog James Potter outside the common room after curfew. At the moment, however, Julia was looking anything but sensible. Instead, she was staring doe-eyed at James with her cheeks flushed and her blonde waves tangled around her face. If Lily were in a more charitable mood, she might have admitted that Julia looked rather pretty, even if she was staring stupidly at Potter. But Lily wasn't feeling charitable, she was feeling irritable. So she found the way Julia was staring at Potter and clinging to his arm absolutely obnoxious.

"Really Prongs, you knew Lily and I were patrolling tonight," Remus shook his head with exasperation.

"I'm sorry," Julia said, not sounding it at all. "He was going to leave on time, we just, uhm, well we-

"Were too busy snogging each other's faces off?" Lily supplied.

Julia let out an indignant huff and glared at Lily, who realized she probably sounded rather rude, but just couldn't be bothered to care.

"And so what if we were?" James snapped.

"Well you would be breaking curfew, so it would be against the rules. That's 'so what', Potter!"

"Oh, and I'm sure when you were dating Davies you never snogged after curfew."

"Prongs-

"No I didn't! There's plenty of time to snog before curfew and on the weekends. Not everyone thinks they're above the rules just because they're good at throwing a ball through a hoop!"

"I'm no more above the rules than anyone else, Evans. I think most rules are rubbish and you're just as entitled to break them as I am. You could have snogged Davies all night for all I cared! It's not my fault you didn't find the rewards were worth a little risk!"

Lily stepped back, shocked. Why the bloody hell did he have to go and bring that up? Her mind raced as she remembered fighting with Jonathan, who always wanted to go further, and Christine Evans telling her she must be an awful girlfriend since she didn't want to sneak out at night to shag him. Why did Potter have to go bringing all that up again? Now she couldn't even slow her thoughts down enough to formulate a reply.

"For fuck's sake James!" Remus said quietly. "That hasn't got anything to do with it. Ten points from Gryffindoor for violating curfew. Now would you and Julia please go to bed?"

"We'll talk tomorrow, yeah?" James said to Julia. She nodded and he gave her a quick hug before setting off towards the common room.

"Good night Julia," Remus said. Then he and Lily started walking towards Gryffindoor tower. James was striding quickly, and it wasn't hard to stay well behind him. Lily remained silent as she contemplated both her fury at James and her relationship with Jonathan Davies.

The lack of chemistry had been a problem. Lily thought he was handsome, but she found snogging him neither particularly pleasant nor unpleasant. Certainly not so much fun that she was willing to risk a detention for it. And she wasn't just going to jump into bed with him either, though she couldn't quite explain why. She just hadn't wanted to, and shouldn't that have been reason enough? But apparently it wasn't to Jonathan, nor to Christine Waters, though it wasn't her damn business anyway.

As time went on, Jonathan started to seem preoccupied and wasn't available to study, hang out in the common room, or even snog. So Lily had decided there was no point and she might as well just end it. Jonathan hadn't seemed too broken up over it and Lily had to admit she wasn't either. She was more upset that people like Christine, and now Potter, thought it was their business to comment on her relationship.

"Listen Lily, I'm sorry about James."

Lily pushed her thoughts aside and focused on Remus.

"Don't be, it's not your fault. I wish he hadn't brought up Jonathan, that's all."

"And that's why I'm apologizing. I should have-I don't know- cut him off or something."

"No you shouldn't have, Remus. That's not your responsibility. Potter's a big boy now, he can control his own mouth."

"Sometimes I don't think he can," Remus said with a sigh.

Lily shrugged and thought back to the argument. It was better than thinking about Jonathan anyway. She wasn't sure if he had meant to imply anything about the lack of chemistry between her and Jonathan the first time he mentioned the relationship. He had been trying to get her to admit that she occasionally broke rules too. But she was sensitive about the whole thing, so she jumped down his throat the moment he said 'Davies.'

Of course the last comment he made had certainly been implying something about the lack of chemistry between her and Jonathan. And what did he know about it anyway? She supposed he must have overheard Christine. Even so, he had no business bringing it up.

She and Remus turned a corner and took the stairs up to Gryffindor tower. When they reached the portrait hole, Lily stopped. James Potter was outside it, pacing back and forth. When he saw them, he stopped and ran his hand through his hair.

"Uhm, I-well, maybe we should go inside."

He muttered the password to the fat lady, who shook her head, and they stepped inside the common room. A few seventh years were working quietly at a table, but it was otherwise deserted.

Lily turned to go to the dormitory, but James stopped her.

"Wait Lily, please," he said. "I'm really sorry about what I said earlier."

He spewed the words out quickly and ran his hand through his hair again. When Lily said nothing, he continued.

"I shouldn't have brought Davies into it. That had nothing to do with anything. I just-

He sighed and shook his head.

"I just lost my temper and was an arse. No two ways around it really. I'm sorry."

Lily sighed. She hadn't expected him to apologize so quickly. She would have thought it would make things better. And it did in a way, but she still felt sad.

"Apology accepted Potter."

She did mean it. It was a perfectly acceptable apology. It just didn't make her feel any less shoddy about everything with Jonathan, and it didn't change the fact that he had been the one to bring that all up again.

"Really? Because you don't seem happy."

"Well, I'm not. I accept your apology, but that doesn't mean I can just forget what you said and all the emotions that came with it."

"Emotions?"

"Yes Potter. Emotions. It was a rather sore subject."

"Oh, uhm. Sorry?"

Lily sighed, half amused and half exasperated. Was he actually this dense? She really thought he might be.

"You do have a habit of doing this to me Potter. You lose your temper and bring up painful things in my life. Like that bit with Severus last year, and now this."

James winced. Out of the corner of her eye, Lily saw Remus glance nervously at the two of them and make for the boys dormitory. James must have caught it as well, because he gave Lily a small smile and said,

"Can't say I blame him."

"Me neither."

They stood quietly for a moment, both staring at the floor. At last James said,

"Listen, I was going to apologize about that, before uhm-anyway, I am sorry about that. It was a shit way for you to lose a friend. I'm not going to pretend that I liked him, I don't, but I never meant to hurt you."

"You don't think taunting my friend hurt me?" she asked quietly. "Because wouldn't you have been hurt if someone was cruel to Sirius, or Remus, or Peter?"

James looked at her for a moment, his mouth slightly open.

"No wonder you hate me! If someone did to Sirius, Remus, or Peter, what I did to Snape, I'd hex them into a pile of purple mush. I-I…well that explains that."

"I don't hate you. But honestly, you're just now starting to understand this Potter?"

"Well-er-I didn't really think of you and Snape as friends-

"What?"

"No, that's not it. It's not coming out right," James shook his head. "He was just so…so prejudiced. And you are muggle-born. And so I always thought there was no way you two could care about each other the way you care about Alice and Marlene. Or the way I do with my friends. I thought-I don't know."

He ran his hands through his hair.

"I didn't understand it. Still don't. I mean how is it that he could think all muggle-borns are inferior, and yet be a good friend to you? And all the dark magic! And-

"I know all that. I don't need you to remind me!"

"I'm not trying to! I'm trying to explain why I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that someone as good a person as you could be friends with someone like him! I just…I didn't get it, so I didn't really accept it, so I didn't really accept that I was treating you badly every time I treated him badly."

Lily stared at him in shock. She could sort of understand how he felt about it. She wasn't sure that made it right, but she could see it. And he looked remorseful, remorseful but also frustrated.

"And I am sorry! I am sorry I hurt you, but damnit Lily, he's a fucking-never mind, sorry," James shook his head. "I can't tell you I'm sorry for hurting him, because it wouldn't be true. Snape and I have been at each other's throats forever. Since he insulted Gryffindor in front of me. And he's obsessed with dark magic, wants the power, and-

"James-

"Right, right, not the point. Point is, there is so much bad blood between the two of us that I can't really say I'm sorry about it."

"Look, James, I didn't ask you to be sorry for Severus-

"I know, I know, I'm missing the point again. What I'm trying to say is that I may not be sorry about Snape, but I am sorry for hurting you."

He sighed and began pacing again, running his hand through his hair and looking a bit overwhelmed. Lily was trying to think of something to say. Some way to explain how much she appreciated what he was saying. But she was too overwhelmed to collect herself and James seemed to be on a roll.

"Maybe if I had understood how involved you were I'd have been better with Snape. But truthfully I don't know, he's such a git. But I didn't mean to hurt you either. So," he swallowed. "I'm going to tone it down. I should anyway, Dumbledore told me I have a real leadership position or something now. And, and well, I can't promise I'll never jinx him again, but I won't start the jinxes, how's that?"

Lily bit back a smile. There was something amusing about the amount of effort it seemed to require James to convince himself not to jinx someone. But there was no denying that he meant it, and that he was truly sorry.

"It's a start," she said, but then more quietly, she added. "Thank you, I really do appreciate it. And, I know it was Severus too. And I know he's…not a good person. We just knew each other before Hogwarts. He was the one who told me I was doing magic, convinced me I wasn't some kind of freak. So, when he came here and fell into that crowd, I kept trying to save the friendship. But I shouldn't have. We each chose our paths."

"I'm really sorry, Lily."

"The friendship was going to end sooner or later. I wish it hadn't been like that, a public spectacle, but-

"I'm sorry, I-

"James I know! I sometimes think it was a blessing in disguise. I'm not sure I'd have been willing to end the friendship if it weren't something impossible to ignore. Marlene and Alice had been telling me to stay away from him for the last two years, but I kept thinking he wasn't all bad. It took something like that to make me realize that maybe he was, or at least close to it."

James shrugged.

"I forgive you. I couldn't before, but I do now," Lily said, glancing nervously at the floor. "And I'm sorry I yelled so much, last year and tonight. It was more than you actually deserved."

She chanced a glance back up at James and he rewarded her with a warm smile. It made Lily realize why girls were so fond of that smile. It was playful, disarming, and seemed to light up his whole face, even making his eyes sparkle beneath his glasses.

"I forgive you too. I was never angry to begin with really," he said. "So, this means we're good then? I forgive you, you forgive me, everyone's happy, yeah?"

"Yeah."

Lily giggled and he smiled again. They both continued looking at each other and Lily decided that the firelight made the flecks of gold in his hazel eyes jump out. He met her gaze for a moment longer then let his eyes drift downward. Lily wasn't entirely sure if he was looking at her lips, the line of her jaw, or even lower. The thought sent a warmth through her body and she dropped her gaze, blushing.

"Goodnight," she whispered.

"Night, Lily."

She watched him turn away and followed his progress up the stairs. He glanced back at her and smiled again. She returned the smile quickly, then made for the stairs before he noticed her blushing.