J.K. Rowling owns Harry Potter and all the rest. I'm just playing in her sandbox.

The train station in Hogsmeade was packed with students the day after the end of term, and Lily had given up trying to maintain any kind of order. Someone had let off a handful of Dr. Fillibuster's Fabulous Wet-Start No-Heat Fireworks (she suspected Sirius, but had no proof), and there was a festive feeling in the air.

"After all, Lily," James had said sternly, with a twinkle in his hazel eyes, "school isn't technically in session anymore. And if we aren't in school, then you and I don't technically have any authority to enforce school rules."

"Fair point," she answered, leaning back to admire a firework that was rocketing over their heads, its sparks taking the shape of blooming flowers. "I guess we're just rulers without a country."

"Heavy is the crown." James nodded solemnly. He spotted a couple of third years with their wands out, furtively looking about and obviously about to cast some kind of spell. "Oi! You lot! Wands away, we aren't at Hogwarts anymore! Haven't you heard of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underaged Sorcery?"

At Lily's amused expression, he shrugged. "We may be rulers without a country, but there's no sense in letting the anarchists take control."

"Spoken like a true ex-anarchist," she said with a laugh.

"Oh, Prongs, say it isn't so." Sirius, closely followed by a freshly mussed Marlene, strolled up to them with a sad frown on his face. "If I had known you were planning on joining the rank and file rule-followers, I would have intervened sooner."

Lily pulled a face. "Don't worry, Padfoot, I think you bring enough chaos into the world all on your own. You won't miss one troublemaker."

"Ah, that's where you're wrong," Remus said, joining them with Peter. "Every time a troublemaker grows up, Padfoot here mourns the loss personally."

"How many times do I have to tell you, Moony." Sirius glared at Remus and shook his head. "Don't use the G word around me. My weak constitution just can't stand it."

The surrounding Gryffindors laughed but Sirius sniffed loudly. "I can't believe you're all taking the self-destruction of one of Hogwarts' finest troublemakers so lightly. I can see I shall have to take curative action. I'll apologize in advance to your parents, Prongs. It won't be a restful holiday."

James grinned. "They're used to it. I think they'd be almost disappointed if we laid low."

"Are you spending your entire holiday with the Potters?" Lily asked curiously. The group hushed immediately, and Marlene put a gentle hand on Sirius' shoulder. Lily blanched. "I'm sorry, was that the wrong question?"

"No, it's fine," Sirius said lightly, although his eyes had gone cold and flat. "I spend most of my holidays with the Potters. My parents aren't exactly the type of people who take their eldest son's rejection of their lifestyle lightly."

"Lifestyle?" Lily looked from James to Sirius, bewildered.

"They're pureblood fanatics and Slytherins to the core," Sirius said brusquely. "And that's all I have to say about the subject, if that's quite all right with you, Evans."

He turned and stalked toward the train alone. Marlene gave Lily a quick apologetic glance and hurried after him. Dorcas sighed heavily, and Alice shook her head.

"I'm sorry," Lily said immediately, not knowing who she was apologizing to. "I didn't know."

"He doesn't like to talk about them," Remus said quietly, when no one else responded. "He ran away from home summer before sixth year and never looked back. I don't think he's talked to his younger brother Regulus since."

Lily stared after Sirius, torn. "Should I go after him and apologize? He looked upset."

"Marlene will take care of him," James said sensibly. "Best to leave him alone when he gets in a mood like this. It'll sort itself out."

"But you all knew? About his family?"

Dorcas shrugged uneasily. "It isn't exactly a secret, Lily. Everyone was gossiping about it last year."

"Especially the pureblood families," Alice rushed to say. "The Blacks are a very old family, and they don't have a reputation for scandal. It was big news for a while. You couldn't have been expected to know, being Muggleborn."

"But if it was such big news, then I should have," Lily protested. "I feel awful."

James put an arm around her shoulders and squeezed gently. The action sent shivers down her spine. "Honestly, Evans, let it be for now. If you feel that bad about it, you can always apologize at Mar's party. He'll be over it by then, and he'll have access to large amounts of alcohol if he isn't."

The train let out a loud, long whistle, and students started to fill the cars. James didn't remove his arm, but instead sauntered forward, effectively pulling Lily along with him.

Dorcas and Remus exchanged glances, but Alice and Mary just grinned. The budding relationship between Lily and James was no longer a well-kept secret, and most of Gryffindor house was simply waiting for it to become official. The wide-spread gossip about her love life would have horrified Lily if she knew, as would the running bet Peter and Sirius had over when their friend would finally kiss the reluctant redhead.

"Just how crazy is Marlene's party going to be?" Lily looked up James with uncertainty. While she wasn't exactly a stranger to drinking, she didn't make a habit out of getting completely hammered. Without her Head Girl duties as an excuse to abstain, she was worried things would get out of hand quickly.

Marlene's words about expecting fireworks echoed in her ears, and she had spent a lot of time since then wondering whether she would be able to stop herself from acting on her feelings for James. In that moment, tucked into his side and awash in his cologne, she knew her fears were justified. It was hard enough controlling herself when she was sober.

"Why, you worried the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is going to crash the party?" He dipped his head and discreetly sniffed her hair. For the one millionth time, he wondered what was stopping her from just giving into what was happening between them. It seemed to be obvious to everyone but her.

Lily felt his breath ruffle her hair and smiled. "No, I just don't know how much Marlene's parents are going to appreciate cleaning up after ten seventeen-year-olds on a bender."

James laughed as they climbed aboard the train. It was noisy and crowded, and students stood in doorways chatting, excitement over the long break tangible in the air. Here and there, trunks still sat in the corridors, and they had to pick their way around roadblocks as they made their way toward the back of the train to drop off their things. Generally speaking, although it was always an option to stay behind at school, most students spent the Christmas holidays with their families, which meant that a train patrol was still necessary to keep order. James and Lily had volunteered to take the first shift of the ride in order to spare the Prefects, although James' good will had only extended that far.

"It's a long ride, Lily," he had said when she pressed him to take a longer shift. "I'm not going to pace the corridors for six hours. One's enough."

They stood on a small, outside platform near the front of the train as it pulled away from Hogsmeade Station, watching Hogwarts grow smaller and smaller as they sped toward London. The platform was usually reserved for the conductor at the station, but it was one of Lily's favorite places to grab a quick breath of fresh air on the train.

"Hard to believe this is almost the last time we'll see this sight, isn't it?" Lily said quietly.

"You never know," James said, his eyes tracing the familiar sight fondly.

Their arms dangled loosely at their sides, and Lily felt his fingers on the back of her hand. Her heart sped, and she wondered whether this was the moment she had been waiting for. He had been so quiet, so complacent, lately. Maybe he would finally confront her. For all her avoidance tactics, she had been longing for him to just make the decision for her and breach the silence.

"Excuse me." A low voice with a nasty edge interrupted the moment. With a guilty start, Lily whirled around to face Severus. "I didn't know patrolling the train meant stealing an unsupervised romantic moment. But then, you're hardly the paradigm for doing one's job, are you, Potter?"

The words were directed at James, but his eyes never left her face.

"Snape," James said coolly. "I was under the impression you had passed on patrol duty. The only other reason you could possibly be out here is to report an emergency. What it is?"

"No emergency," Severus answered, just as smoothly. He continued to stare at Lily, never acknowledging James. "Just came out for a bit of fresh air. I suffer from...motion sickness."

Lily shivered. At school, it was easier to forget that they didn't live that far apart in the outside world. He knew where she lived, had met her parents and visited her home. Suddenly, she worried about the safety of her parents once she had officially refused Snape's help.

"How terrible." James stepped forward to block Lily from Snape's sight. The other boy clearly read his intention, and his nostrils flared. "Maybe you should see the school nurse when we get back after break. Come on, Lily. Let's get out of here."

They strode back into the corridor and down the length of the train, not stopping until they had put significant distance between themselves and Snape.

"He scares me," Lily said once they had gotten out of earshot.

James looked down at her curiously. It was the first time she had spoken directly about Snape in quite some time, and it wasn't the reaction he had been expecting. Disgust or anger, perhaps, but not fear. "Really?"

"I don't even know him anymore. After Halloween and everything that's happened since...he lives just down the road from me, James."

He bristled. "What?"

"That's how we met. He...he figured out I was a witch before I did. He wanted to be friends. Sev was the one who told me all about Hogwarts and magic and everything else. But now, with him so close—"

She shivered, and this time James did grab her hand. His palm was rough and calloused but warm, and his hand completely engulfed hers.

"Don't worry, Evans. We'll figure it out. I won't let him hurt you or your family. We'll guard you in shifts if we have to."

And despite her fears, when she looked up at his fierce, determined eyes and his gentle smile, she trusted him implicitly. She squeezed his fingers before easing her hand from his grip.

"You know what, Potter? I believe you."


James didn't mention what happened with Snape again, but when they arrived at King's Cross Station, he followed Lily out into the crowd, hauling his trunk and hers behind him, not bothering with magic.

"You really don't have to do that, James."

He just waved her off.

"Nonsense. It's no trouble. Lead the way, Evans."

And then they were meeting her parents, and Lily was running up and wrapping her arms securely around her father, while her mother cooed over how long her hair had gotten. The comforting smell of her mother's perfume filled her nostrils, and for one, blissful moment, Lily forgot that she was towing unexpected company.

"Are you going to introduce us to your friend, Lily?" Mrs. Evans asked gently, her eyes sparkling with humor as she took in the tall, messy-haired young man who stood just apart from the small family.

Lily's cheeks turned pink, but she let go of her father and smiled back at the boy. Mrs. Evans had never seen her daughter give someone that look before, and it filled her with joy and sadness all at once. Her daughter was in love.

"This is James...James Potter. He's—"

"Ah, yes, we've heard an awful lot about you over the years. Can't say it's been good," Mr. Evans interrupted, leveling a stern look at the youth. James' bright smile flickered.

"Oh? Well, I promise you, only about 75 percent of it is true. The rest is completely invented. Your daughter does tell wild stories, don't know where she picked that up from. Obviously not from her honest, hard working parents."

Lily elbowed him in the ribs and laughed, missing the knowing look her parents exchanged.

"James was just helping me with my trunk. He's got to be going now, don't you, James?"

But James was sidestepping her, approaching her parents with his hand outstretched. "So nice to finally meet you, Mr. Evans. And Mrs. Evans."

"Are you sure about that, son?" Mr. Evans said, staring him in the eye. James didn't blink.

"Don't mind my husband, James," Mrs. Evans said, shooting her daughter a sly smile. "He doesn't tend to have a sense of humor about his daughters' boyfriends."

"Mum!" Lily groaned loudly, feeling like a twelve-year-old as James laughed delightedly. "James is not my boyfriend. And he really has to get going."

Without waiting for further parental commentary, Lily grabbed his arm and towed him a safe distance away, ignoring his vague sounds of protest.

"Well, that was horrifying," she muttered. "Stop laughing!"

James pursed his lips together, but he couldn't quite contain his amusement, and his shoulders continued to shake with mirth. Lily sighed, but the corners of her mouth twitched with the tiniest suggestion of a smile.

"So I'll see you at Marlene's party, then?" he asked, coughing to hide one last giggle.

Lily looked over her shoulder to where her parents still stood. Her mother was drinking in the sights and sounds of Platform 9 3/4, but her father was staring directly at them.

"What happened to guarding my house in shifts?" she teased, smiling but watching him closely to catch his reaction. She wasn't disappointed. He swallowed, blinked, and then grinned.

"Are you inviting me to your house over the holidays, Lily Evans?"

"I just...well, I..." she stuttered, her embarrassment growing as quickly as his smile.

"Lily! We're picking up your sister for the holidays, and if we don't get going we're going to be late." Mr. Evans' gruff voice broke into their conversation.

"Sorry," Lily said, turning back to James. "I'll...um, I'll see about the party."

He watched her scurry away and duck under her mother's arm.

"James, darling, who was that?"

Dorea Potter emerged from the crowd, her husband and Sirius trailing behind her talking about Puddlemore United's chances in the Cup.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "I'd have thought you'd recognize your future daughter-in-law by sight."

Dorea's eyebrows disappeared under her hair, and she crossed her arms forbiddingly. "James Potter, do you have a girlfriend?"

"Of course not," James said, sighing a little as he tore his eyes away from Lily's back. "Lily is Head Girl, Mum. I was just helping her with her trunk."

"That's not all he wants to help her with," Sirius said, and Charlus chuckled.

"Pretty girl, James. You could do much worse."

"Wait, wait, wait." Mrs. Potter flapped her hands in front of her face, eyes suddenly wide with understanding. "Lily? Lily Evans, that girl you're always talking about? That Lily?"

She turned on Sirius, swatting him and scowling. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"Me?" Sirius yelped, dodging her blows and laughing incredulously. "He's the Head Boy! Hit him!"

"Oh, I can't count on him to tell his poor, old mother anything." She sent a meaningful glance at her son, who rolled his eyes and levitated his trunk. "He could get married and I would be the last one to know."

"Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you, Mum?"

"But you, Sirius," she continued, ignoring James. "You're supposed to be my eyes and ears. Honestly, I thought I could count on you."

"Mum, I swear I told you about Lily being Head Girl. It isn't a big deal."

His mother could embarrass him like no one else on the planet, and as they made their way toward the apparition point near the barrier back into the Muggle world, James flattened his hair down compulsively and tried to cover his rapidly reddening face.

"You'll invite her over for tea. I want to meet her."

"Oh, come off it," groaned James, now regretting enjoying Lily's mortification quite as much as he had. "She has better things to do over her holidays than sit through some stuffy tea."

"James Potter, are you insinuating that your darling mother is anything but enchantment and charm all wrapped up in one beautiful package?" Sirius said, grinning at the irritation on his best friend's face. "I am offended on her behalf. Why, I have half a mind to curse you silly just for the implication!"

They reached the apparition point and Mrs. Potter laughed. "Don't think I didn't see you standing off to the side with Marlene McKinnon. I see tea in her future as well!"

"Right, mate," Sirius said suddenly. "Every bloke for himself."

With a loud *pop!*, he apparated off the platform, leaving the Potters behind.

"Nice one, Mum," James said with an impish grin.

"Don't think for one second you're off the hook," she warned, shaking her finger and blinking out of sight, leaving him alone with his father. Placing a restraining arm on his son's shoulder, Charlus Potter shook his head briefly.

"I thought we could get a drink before we joined your mother and Sirius," he said gravely.

"Uh, yeah, all right." James looked up at him, noticing his grey complexion and the new lines that had sprung up under his eyes and around his mouth. "What's up, Dad?"

"It's time that you and I had a serious talk."

A/N: Thanks for reading!