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


Mr. Potter stared down into his cup of tea, frowning at the bag that floated listlessly on top. He and James were sitting in a shabby Muggle establishment near the train station. They hadn't spoken since leaving Platform 9 3/4, and James was starting to worry.

"Dad?"

He shook his head wordlessly, and James shut his mouth with an audible snap.

"Things are changing, son."

James waited for a beat, and when his father didn't look up or keep speaking, he sighed.

"Yeah, Dad, I know. Is that what you dragged me here to tell me? Because I figured that one out on my own."

Mr. Potter looked up at his son, who looked so much like his wife but acted very much like he had as a young man.

"Are you still planning on applying to the Aurors?"

James blinked. He had not expected this line of questioning. "Yeah, of course. Nothing's changed in that regard at least."

"I know that you've been reading the papers, James, so I won't pull any punches here." Mr. Potter set his full teacup down and stared earnestly into his son's eyes. "There is a war on. People are dying—more than the Prophet or anyone else is reporting—and if you're accepted into Magical Law Enforcement, your life will be at risk every day. You'll be fighting on the front lines, and you won't get the easy jobs just because you're my son."

James snorted. "Is that what you're worried about? That I'm not serious enough about this?"

His father raised his eyebrows wordlessly.

"It isn't a joke to me, Dad. I want to do what you do...I always have. I know I haven't always been the most...law-abiding—"

Mr. Potter snorted, but didn't say anything.

"But that's all harmless fun," James pressed on. "Kid stuff. I'm past that. I've grown up a lot. I don't know why people have such a hard time seeing that."

"Why do I get the feeling you aren't talking about me anymore?" For the first time, a smile tugged at Mr. Potter's mouth. James sighed heavily and dropped his chin to his hands.

"Lily."

"Ah."

"I think I love her, Dad." His cheeks flushed but he kept on, knowing that if anyone could help him, it was his father. "I've had a crush on her for ages, but that was harmless. That was before I really knew her. Now it's like every day she does something that makes me more impressed and enthralled and I just..."

"And she doesn't feel the same?"

"That's the thing!" James straightened up, eyes blazing. "I know she likes me. There are times I even think she feels exactly like I do. But she won't act on it, and it's making me crazy!"

"Young love," Mr. Potter said with a chuckle. "Hate to say it, but the next move is probably up to you."

"I've asked her out more times than I can count. She always says no."

"When was the last time?"

"Er..." James thought about it for a long moment. "I dunno exactly. Sometime in sixth year."

"Well?" Mr. Potter waved his hand as if to say Get on with it.

James grunted and took a deep draught from his tea.

"Tell me about her. Does she want to be an Auror, too?"

The grimace on James' face melted away and he sighed, a soft smile on his face. "She has no idea what she wants to do. It's kind of funny, actually, because she has the rest of her life planned down to the last millisecond. Bit of a control freak, that one, but she's got a funny, crazy streak that surprises me every time. She's incredibly organized, brilliant, she's got a natural talent for Charms and Potions, and a wicked temper."

Mr. Potter laughed. "She sounds like your mother."

James snorted into his tea, but the older man shook his head. "I know you didn't have the pleasure of knowing your mother in her younger days, but she gave me a run for my galleons."

"So what did you do?"

Mr. Potter scratched his chin and stared out the window. "A lot of stupid things at first. Mostly I made a fool out of myself. The key to any young lady's heart is laughter. Do you make her laugh?"

"More and more. We're good friends now, I think." James' eyes got soft and distant as he counted off recent happy memories, and his father smiled at the sight.

"Then it may be time to push for a different answer, James. What does Miss Lily think of your dangerous aspirations?"

"I think she's actually grudgingly impressed. I know she's jealous that I have such a clear plan and she doesn't, but it's more than that. She respects that I want to keep our world safe, no matter the risk. I think she wants to do something to fight back, too. Being Muggleborn, this war affects her in a pretty serious way."

Mr. Potter nodded and continued to study his son. After a quiet moment or two, James sighed.

"What's this really about, Dad?"

"I'm retiring."

James' jaw dropped open. "What? When? Does Mum know?"

"One question at a time," Mr. Potter said, and James caught a glimpse of bone-deep weariness in the old man's eyes. "Officially, I'm leaving the department on the first of January. Unofficially, my last day in the office will be right before Christmas. I'm leaving quietly. Barty Crouch will be taking the reins from me; he's got a passion for the job, and far more energy than I do. Yes, your mother knows. In fact, it's because of your mother that I've made this decision. We are neither of us as young and spry as we used to be, and I've been growing more and more concerned about her health lately."

James opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.

"I know you don't like to think about this, son, but we're up in years. Both of us. My reflexes aren't what they were, and I am not a young man anymore, ready to sacrifice my life in the name of all things good and right. I am older and wiser, and most of all I want to enjoy the time I have left with you and Dorea."

"I didn't know Mum was poorly," James finally said, his voice coming out an octave higher than he would have liked. He grimaced and cleared his throat.

"She didn't want to bother you at school." Mr. Potter smiled. "I hope you know that you get all your strength and determination from her. I am brave when I have to be, but your mother...she was just born that way. She doesn't have any other choice."

"Wow." James took another absent-minded sip of tea and almost spit it back out. It was ice cold.

"I'm telling you this because I want you to understand what you're getting yourself into. I would be deeply proud to see you follow in my footsteps as an Auror, but given the danger, the department's new leadership, and the way the world is changing every day, I just wanted to be sure that you were certain this was what you wanted before you submitted your final application. It isn't a decision to be taken lightly."

James nodded, his heart heavy and his mind buzzing with new information. Mr. Potter stood and dropped some Muggle money on the table.

"Well, let's get back to the Manor, shall we? No telling what kind of destruction Sirius has visited upon it in our absence."

:o:o:o:o:o:o:

Lily sat on her bed and stared at her trunk, relishing the quiet of her room. Petunia had taken one look at her and her eyes had frosted over. She had spent the entire car ride back from Uni talking to their mother about her wedding and steadfastly refusing to acknowledge her younger sister.

When they got home, Mr. Evans had put his arm around Lily's shoulders and squeezed gently. "She'll come around. Just give her a bit of space for now. Why don't you smarten up for supper? I'm taking my favorite girls out to celebrate the family being back together."

Once her door was closed, however, Lily couldn't find it in herself to put anything away or get ready. Instead, she stared around the room, taking in the details that she missed so dearly. There was the series of scratches on her door jamb marking her height over the years that abruptly stopped at age 11. Next to the door, a hastily applied plaster patch marked the place she had kicked through the wall in a fit of rage one summer after Petunia had insulted Severus yet again. Her bedside table was neat and mostly barren, except for a tiny music box that her Grandma Evans had given her before she died. It played When Irish Eyes Are Smiling in tinkling, tinny chimes. There was also a dusty picture of the Evans family from when Lily was ten, before she had found out she was a witch and everything had changed. She and Petunia were shoulder to shoulder, matching grins on their faces.

"Lily!" Petunia's voice echoed up the stairs, and Lily sighed.

"What?" she yelled back, just as loudly.

"There's a boy here for you," came the response. "And he won't leave off until you come down. Hurry up, Dad says we're going to supper in ten minutes."

Lily heard Petunia stomp away toward the kitchen, but her mind was buzzing too quickly to really care where her sister was off to. A boy? Was it Sev, come to confront her already? She had only left King's Cross an hour before. Heart pounding, she tucked her wand into the back pocket of her jeans and opened her bedroom door, creeping toward the front of the house with trepidation.

She needn't have worried. James Potter stood on her doorstep, casually leaning against the stoop railing and looking around with an air of great curiosity.

"All right, Evans?" He grinned at her, and despite her complete confusion at finding him on her street of all places, she smiled back.

"What in blazes are you doing here, Potter? Bored with Black already?"

"Hardly." James' eyes swept over her face. "How about you? Everything still okay?"

"Fine," Lily said drily. "Petunia's ignoring me, my mother is intent on making us best friends before the end of hols, and my dad is attempting to fix everything by forcing us out in public together."

James raised his eyebrows, evidently confused.

"We're all going to dinner," Lily explained, and he nodded.

"Well, I don't want to impose..."

"Why are you here, anyway?" she interrupted. "You can't be showing up for guard duty already. Have you even been home yet?"

Her tone was stern, but her eyes twinkled with amusement and a pleased pink flush made her cheeks glow. James' stomach did flip flops.

"I came to see if you'd like to come out with me sometime." The words flew out of his mouth before he could stop them. Her green eyes widened, so he rushed on before she could turn him down. "You know, grab some ice cream in Diagon Alley, get out of the house and away from your sister. We could meet Alice, and I'd bring Sirius, of course. Meant to bring it up on the train, but I forgot."

Lily's heart, which had begun to race frantically when James first mentioned going out with him, sank with a sickening thud at the mention of Alice and Sirius.

"Sure," she said quietly. "I'd like that."

Sensing an opening, James stepped forward, cutting the distance between their bodies in half.

"I was also wondering if you'd like to come over for tea. To my house."

A pleased smile grew on Lily's face, although this time she didn't meet his eyes. "Tea?"

"My mum's idea," he said, regretting the words as soon as they escaped his mouth. "Erm, she just...she wants to meet you. I talk about you a lot in my letters. You know, talking about school and stuff."

"I'd like that, too," she said after a pause.

"Lily, are you just about—Oh." Mr. Evans appeared in the doorway, and the two teenagers jumped guiltily apart. "What are you doing here, then?"

"Dad," Lily muttered, mortified.

"Well, he can't have anything new to talk about, you've barely been home from school five minutes," her father said, a bit quieter this time. "Finish up, Lily. We'll be waiting at the carport."

There was an awkward pause and then they both started talking at once.

"I'd best be getting home—"

"I guess I'll see you later—"

They laughed.

"I'll owl you about Diagon Alley?" James said hopefully. "And maybe tea?"

"Yeah, all right." Lily backed into the house, still smiling. "Later, Potter."

:o:o:o:o:o:o:

James lounged in an armchair near the fire, staring out the window of the parlor into the night. Sirius, who was playing chess with Mr. Potter, looked up at him and groaned.

"Honestly, mate, how long are you going to pine like that? It's making me ill."

Mr. Potter laughed, but James just glowered out the window.

"Easy for you to mock, Marlene's been here half a dozen times. Jupiter has been gone for two days with my letter, and Lily still hasn't written me back! I mean, that's shockingly bad etiquette, wouldn't you say?"

"You did tell him to stay until he had a reply. It isn't as though she's holding him hostage, Prongs."

"She might as well be." He swung his legs over the arm of his chair and flung his head back, closing his eyes and sighing deeply.

After dropping by Lily's house unannounced and receiving a rather embarrassing welcome by both her sister and her father, James had determined that the best way to win her would be from afar. He had spent the days leading up to Christmas painstakingly drafting and redrafting his letter to her, agonizing over every word. Finally, on Christmas Eve morning, he had sent it off with Jupiter, the family owl.

Lily,

Hope your holiday is off to a good start, and that you haven't received any unwelcome gits on your doorstep (besides myself, of course, but I hardly count as unwelcome, right?). Sirius and I have been decking the halls and generally driving Bitsy up the wall. Bitsy's our elf, she's been with my family since before I was born. Mum says Bitsy was her family's elf when she was young, and given Mum's age, I think that means Bitsy must be about a million years old. You wouldn't know it to look at her, though. Why just this morning she was keeping up with Sirius and I as we attempted to liberate some sweets from the kitchen! Really, her speed and agility is impressive. I think elf magic should be an elective course, don't you?

Marlene is over right now...I think she and Sirius are up to something. It's been too quiet in the den for about an hour now, which usually means that something, somewhere is about to explode. My money's on the Christmas tree. Mum's outfitted it with enchanted floating candles this year, and fire has always been a bit of a temptation for Sirius. Honestly, she should know better.

I was thinking we could go to Diagon Alley after Christmas, say the 27th? Marlene has plans to meet Sirius that day around noon, and I thought we could tag along and take the mickey. Maybe you could owl Alice and Frank as well? Peter and Remus are both on holiday with their families, so they won't be joining us. Marlene mentioned wanting to get a new frock for her party as well, so perhaps you two could do that at some point. Sirius and I are completely hopeless when it comes to witch fashion.

If you can't make it to Diagon Alley, I'd still like to see you. You can spare a few hours to pop by my place and help me make Sirius miserable for a few hours one afternoon, surely. I never thought I'd miss studying, but at least it meant that I got a few guaranteed hours of Evans time in my week.

Anyway, this letter has gone on for far longer than intended. I know you don't have an owl, so feel free to keep Jupiter around for your answer.

Sincerely,

James

The letter and the owl it came with had taken up semi-permanent residence on Lily's desk. She had read and re-read James' words several times when it first arrived, lingering on words and phrases that seemed particularly suggestive. Was he inviting her on a double date, or was this just a gathering of friends? Surely he wasn't just inviting her over to spend time with himself and Sirius? Didn't he want to see her alone? Reading it gave her a fluttery, uncertain feeling in her stomach.

Try as she might, though, she couldn't decide just how she wanted to play her answer. Flirtatious? Coy? Oblivious? She could tell that Jupiter, the beautiful tawny owl that had delivered James' note, was growing impatient with her, and she couldn't imagine what James thought of her continued silence. After all, it was already the 26th.

"Lily, dear, you have a visitor." Her mother stuck her head in the doorway and smiled pleasantly, although there was something a little off about her eyes. "Won't you come down and see him?"

Her thoughts instantly flew to James, she could feel her heart begin to pound happily. He had given up on her letter and come to get an answer in person, it seemed. She took the stair two at a time and sprinted into the front room.

"Sorry I haven't returned your owl yet, I just..."

Severus turned away from the window to face her, his dark eyes flat and staring.

"You kids take all the time you need," Mrs. Evans said. Lily looked at her, shocked. She had discussed her falling out with Sev at length with her mother, and Mrs. Evans knew that he wasn't welcome in their home. Then Lily looked closer at the vague, unfocused look in her eyes and her stomach churned.

"The imperious curse is illegal, you evil little git. Take it off!"

"I haven't done anything illegal. She'll be fine. Nothing you can't put right quite quickly, with your brains."

Lily ignored the compliment and crossed her arms over her chest, wishing she hadn't left her room without her wand. "Mum, go to the kitchen and wait for me there. This won't take long."

Sev watched her, taking note of her pajamas and messy ponytail. She glared back defiantly, refusing to let him see how his obvious perusal unnerved her.

"What do you want, Snape? I'm sure you gathered that I'm not interested in speaking to you. Let's make this quick."

"Have you given any thought to my proposal?" His tone was even and emotionless, but Lily didn't miss the hope in his eyes.

"I've given it all the thought it deserves. None." Lily's mind whirled, trying to come up with a way to get her wand without him stopping her. She had never really tried wandless magic since starting at Hogwarts, and she doubted she could summon it from her room with any kind of ease.

Snape rolled his eyes. "I don't care that you're unarmed, I'm not here to attack you. Or anyone else for that matter."

Lily blanched. "How—what—?"

"Leglimancy is an invaluable skill in certain circles. I've been studying it with Professor Waldring as an independent project." He raised his eyebrows and glanced towards the stairwell. "Who did you think I was when your mother came to get you?"

She kept her mouth shut and tried not to even think his name, but James' face swam to the forefront of her mind all the same. Snape's face darkened.

"I might have guessed. He's going to put your life in danger, Lily. Sooner or later, if you insist on hanging around idiots like Potter and Black, you'll end up hurt or killed. This isn't something you want to take chances with."

"James isn't the one who keeps showing up uninvited and threatening me. Seems like that's a point in his favor on the danger side," Lily said coolly.

"He doesn't know how to protect you!" Snape eyebrows pulled together in an ugly glare. "Everything he does invites trouble. Putting aside all the things you used to find despicable, he's reckless with his safety and he has no idea what he's up against."

"Your concerns are noted. Is that all? I don't like having filth in my sitting room."

Snape went pale with anger. "This isn't over."

"I think it is," she said. "Leave now, before I have to make you."

He didn't move. "With what wand?"

"No wand. But I do know how to deliver a punch, thanks to my Muggle father. I've been itching to get some practice in. Try me."

They considered each other, wondering whether Lily would follow through with her threat. Snape smirked.

"No matter. You don't understand yet. You will. See you at school."

"Not if I'm lucky. Stay out of my way, Snape. I'm not kidding."

He turned and walked toward the front door, then paused to look over his shoulder. Instead of the haughty sneer, his pale face drawn in a look of genuine concern. "Be safe," he said, before blinking out of sight with a loud crack.

Lily hurried to the kitchen, where her mother sat at the table staring blankly at an empty mug.

"Tea, Mum?"

"Oh! Lily, dear. I was just going to make some tea." She stood up and looked around vaguely. "Have you seen the kettle?"

"It's on the stove, Mum."

"So it is. Odd."

It took another hour for Lily to sort out what exactly Snape had done to her, and about ten minutes to look up the spells to set it right. He had been right, it wasn't a complicated process. Still, the whole thing left her shaken, and when she returned to her room and saw Jupiter waiting patiently next to James' letter, she sat down and started writing immediately.

James,

My Christmas was lovely, thank you. I hope Sirius didn't end up setting anything on fire...or if he did, that Bitsy was able to put everything to rights again. I'm sorry I didn't get around to answering you sooner...you know how the holidays can be.

She paused, carefully considering her next words.

I'd love to meet you tomorrow. I can be at the Leaky Cauldron by noon, if that's okay. I need to talk to you in person.

I had a visitor today...exactly who you think. He did something to my mum in order to convince her to let him in. She's fine now, but it took some time to work out what kind of spellwork he used. He didn't seem to want to hurt me, but it was scary how easily he got into my house. I can't wait to be back at school. What if it had been someone else? My parents are practically sitting ducks. I can't protect them on my own. Maybe we can put our heads together and come up with a solution that leaves them less exposed.

She hesitated, scanning her letter and trying to read it from his perspective. Would he see how much she needed him? Would he understand that she was done pretending she didn't care about him? Making up her mind, she signed the note.

Yours,

Lily


A/N: Duhn duhn duhnnnn. :) Thanks for reading!