A/N: Okay, listen up, nerds… I am not abandoning any of my WIPs. I AM NOT DEAD. I HAVE BEEN BUSY. I wasn't even going to update yet, but y'all can thank ThisIsJayKay on Twitter for spurring this chapter. You people are insatiable, not to mention your trust issues need to be worked on. If I'm going to work on updates, you guys have to work on *that*.

This chapter is not what I originally promised, so my sincerest apologies and I am to blame, at least a little, for your trust issues. My laptop bit the big one and so I had to do everything – content, notes, dialogue – from scratch. I've salvaged what I could, in the best way I could do it (give me a break, I'm rusty). Frank and Alice's wedding was supposed to happen here, but I've decided to devote an entire chapter to all those good Christmas feelings, so that's coming next in Chapter 15 (title to be determined).

All that being said, here. *throws computer monitor at your face* Here is your update. Ten points if you can spot the Mean Girls joke.

Saturday, 9:00 A.M.

"This is going to be bad."

It was Peter who had voiced what they were all thinking as they watched Marlene and Lily settle into the commentator's booth. The wind was sharp and frostbite-cold, and the falling snow was less gentle bits of fluff and more torrential pinpricks of ice, but one look at the girls' faces was enough for anyone to tell that they couldn't give half a damn (much less a whole one). Their premature self-satisfaction was enough to set their friends on edge, especially since the last Quidditch match of the season was between Hufflepuff and Slytherin, and it was no secret where the Gryffindors' loyalty lay.

"I think it's going to be brilliant," Sirius countered enthusiastically, despite his misgivings about Marlene and Lily in control of a megaphone. "Maybe McKinnon can work in something else about what a good shag I am."

"Whatever they've got to say, you can bet the Slytherins have it coming," James was forced to agree.

Alice and Remus exchanged a look, then shrugged it off and said "Your girlfriends, your problem," just as Madam Hooch's whistle cut a shrill tune through the howling wind. The players were off, and neither Marlene nor Lily wasted any time.

"McKinnon and Evans here, reporting for Quidditch duty," Marlene said in her best impression of a Muggle newscaster (she'd been hankering for an opportunity to do so ever since she watched telly at Lily's the previous summer). "This morning's weather conditions –"

"Are obvious," Lily interrupted through chattering teeth, "seeing as we're all freezing our arses off, so we can only hope the Hufflepuffs trounce Slytherin in the next minute and a half, let's go."

"Evans…" Professor McGonagall's warning voice carried across the stands, but her ill-appointed commentators played deaf.

"Did you know," Marlene said, "that badgers, in their natural habitat, rip the heads off snakes and consume them whole for sustenance?"

"Really?" Lily feigned shock and awe. "I heard they do that just for the fun of it. Let's watch and find out."

The conversation was met with equal parts laughs, cheers, and jeers from the crowd in the stands, and several reprimanding looks from McGonagall that went wholly ignored. Sirius and James shook with laughter, Alice was fighting back a smile, and Remus and Peter were torn between horror and amusement.

"And that's ten points to Hufflepuff!" Lily cheered into the megaphone.

"Chaser Robbie Lewis of Hufflepuff!" Marlene clarified, then hooted appreciatively and added, "Lewis, I could kiss you!"

"Oy!" Sirius turned in his seat and glared at the commentator's booth. "I'm right here, you know!"

"Shove it, Black!" Lily shouted back, and conveniently passed the megaphone back to Marlene just as McGonagall was reaching to confiscate it.

As the match wore on well past Lily's request of a minute and a half, the snowstorm intensified, the cheers became more raucous, the jeers more brutal, and the commentary even less apologetic than anyone had anticipated.

"Harsh conditions are, of course, no match for the Slytherins," Marlene was saying within the next forty minutes. "It's ideal for big, lumbering trolls like the Carrows, for instance, who don't seem to have a problem with wind resistance."

"Truer words have never been spoken," Lily agreed with a sage nod. "In fact" – she hopped out of her seat and slipped over to Marlene's other side to avoid McGonagall's next attempt at reproach – "the Slytherin team seems to prefer brawn over any actual technique, as you can see, they use their looks to defend rather than athletic tact…"

"Bunch of ugly sods, they are," Marlene said as she rolled down to the next tier of bleachers, successfully avoiding the headmistress's hand as it reached once more for the megaphone. She hopped up and continued talking. "Wonder why the Sorting hat didn't mention that particular serpentine attribute…"

By the end of the match two hours later, Hufflepuff came through with a 200-80 win, and Marlene and Lily were pink-faced and surly when they met up with their friends in the stands.

"We're not allowed to commentate anymore," Lily grumbled moodily. She leaned against James and he put his arms around her. "After all that rubbish Jorkins pulled last year, and we're the ones in the wrong. McGonagall's off it."

"To be fair," Remus began carefully as the group made their way to the grounds, "you weren't exactly promoting inter-House unity."

"Oy, who's side are you on?" Marlene demanded while Lily kicked him. "Not like the Slytherins make an effort, either, unless you count blowing up the library as unifying."

Remus twirled a hand through the air. "True, I know. I'm just trying to put McGonagall's attitude in perspective, that's all."

"For the record, I thought you did beautifully," James assured them. His hand slid from around Lily's waist to grasp one of her hands, which he lifted to kiss. "That bit about the Carrows? Observant. And it's not as though they're not faultless..."

"McGonagall – and everyone else, for that matter – knows our position about our up-and-coming Death Eater friends," Remus pointed out. While he'd laughed along with Marlene and Lily's commentary, he still felt there was a point to be made, and it was important that the others grasped it. "That doesn't mean we have to advertise it every chance we get."

"Oh, you always want us to be chummy with the Slytherins," Sirius attempted to dismiss his friend's concerns, but Remus was having none of it.

"Laugh all you want," he said, and his disappointment in the rest of them was almost palpable, "but laughing at them won't change the reality of things."

This truth was met with silence, which was only disrupted by the wind through the trees and the crunch of snow beneath the Gryffindors' feet. They considered Remus's words and tried not to feel guilty about them, especially Lily, who recalled a conversation she'd had with James just last year, after he and Sirius played a prank on Snape's cauldron, about how having a laugh at their enemies didn't help to resolve anything. But then, what was there to resolve? There was a war going on and no one was backing down, so "resolution" seemed almost pointless when no one was interested in introducing it. And how could they, when people were hurting and dying? There was nothing fixable about that, but all the same...

"Perhaps you're right," Lily said as the group crossed the threshold into the torch-lit warmth of the castle. They knocked their boots against the stone floor and shook snow from their hair. "I'm not sure that hating them really helps us, does it?"

"It might," Peter said. "I mean, it's not hard to fight or attack or… kill… someone you hate, is it?"

"Dunno." James's stomach twisted unpleasantly. As ready as he was to fight, killing was another matter entirely, wasn't it? Or maybe he just hadn't thought about what fighting meant, when you followed through to the end. Walking away from a school-nemesis brawl was one thing, but walking away from an actual battle didn't sound like an option at all.

"Well, this has taken an unpleasant turn, hasn't it?" Alice noted glumly.

"Tell me about it," Marlene said. "Can't even have a laugh anymore without serious repercussions."

"I s'pose that's the problem, isn't it?" Lily sighed; she felt suddenly spent, exhausted, and she would have liked nothing more than to curl up in a ball and sleep away the day right there on the staircase. But what good would that do?

James looked at her, waiting for her to go on, and then he prompted her when she didn't: "What's the problem, love?"

Lily yawned. "Nobody laughs about the same things," she said tiredly, "so you're always pissing somebody off, and I guess, when you think about it, that's why all of this started in the first place."

Tuesday, 5:07 P.M.

Researched and Written by Yours, Rita Skeeter

After the outlandish prejudice that was demonstrated during Saturday's Quidditch commentary, it seems that the animosity between old rivals Gryffindor and Slytherin will never cease. Jibes about both the Slytherin team and House as a whole were bandied about by Marlene McKinnon and Lily Evans, the latter of whom has a long, malicious streak when it comes to House rivalries.

Evans's romantic relationship with notorious instigator James Potter has only served as further evidence that she is not, as her typical masquerade would suggest, the sweet, unassuming Muggle-born striving for equality. Despite last month's rumored liaison with Severus Snape, Evans's taste for Slytherin House has apparently run dry, as she refused to so much as comment for the Scoop (her question was, in fact, intercepted by one Sirius Black, who told this reporter to "Sod off, twerp").

When the likes of prominent purebloods such as McKinnon, Potter, and Black band together behind the Muggle-born prejudices that Evans is touting, one must beg the question: How will the Houses – and, more importantly, the Wizarding world as a whole – ever reach a state of mutual respect?

Fortunately, Lily Evans's influence does not impact all of her friends. Although former speculation suggested a tryst between Evans and Remus Lupin, it has come to this reporter's attention that Lupin's affections reside elsewhere. And what better way for Gryffindor and Slytherin to resolve their issues than through the power of inter-House love?

"Lupin's clearly smitten with Dorcas Meadowes, and vice-versa," said a Scoop insider (who wishes to remain anonymous). "Sure, it's only a half-blood and a pureblood, but it's a start. After all, you see a Mudblood and a pureblood together, like Evans and Potter, and what has that done to change things? It's not the blood that needs mingling; it's the Houses and their attitudes towards each other."

Dorcas couldn't read anymore. Her hands shook as they crumpled Rita's latest pamphlet into meaningless pulp. Although it was already meaningless pulp, as far as Dorcas was concerned, and no matter how much she crumpled and how hard she tried to forget what she'd just read, the words continued to swim before her eyes: Rumored liaison with Severus Snape… Muggle-born prejudice… Lupin's clearly smitten with Dorcas Meadowes… anonymous… Mudblood… It's not the blood that needs mingling…

Dorcas didn't know Lily very well. What she did know, though, was that the likes of Lily Evans would certainly never betray her friends the way Rita had just betrayed her. An anonymous insider, was that it? Dorcas thought furiously as she chucked the ruined pamphlet into the common room fire. "Anonymous" because certainly citing yourself as an insider to your own publication wasn't credible.

And what was all that rubbish about blood status? True, Dorcas and the rest of them were from old pureblood families and they accepted those from all walks of life, but prejudice certainly wasn't the Muggle-borns' fault, as Rita had suggested (or blatantly accused, really). Who gave a damn about your House at school when it was your blood that counted everywhere else? What the hell was Rita talking about?

And why – Dorcas felt right stupid for worrying about it, but she couldn't help wondering, anyway, why why why Rita had sold her out like that. Lupin fancies Meadowes fancies Lupin – she might as well have written that a hundred times, all across The Skeeter Scoop, for all the good it would do Dorcas now. Everyone knew Rita was full of it, but plenty of them had accepted everything she'd written about the Gryffindors thus far, so who was to say that they'd brush off this new gossip?

Bloody hell, when had everything become such a big sodding mess?

"There you are!" a voice – the voice Dorcas wanted to avoid most after what she'd just read – disrupted her furious internal tirade. "I've been looking for you."

"Have you?" Dorcas didn't bother turning as Rita threw herself down onto the couch next to her. She didn't think she could look at her old friend if her life depended on it.

Rita looked at her curiously. "Yes, that is why I said it."

Dorcas's jaw tightened but she managed to talk through it. "And you always say what you mean, do you?"

"What's your problem?"

"What's –?" Dorcas wished she still had her copy of the Scoop so she could shove it in Rita's face, but she'd have to make do without it. She stared at the fire and wished it could swallow her up. "You don't know, Rita? You really don't know?"

"I –"

"Oh, forget it!" Dorcas stood and started pacing. She knew Rita was about to hand her every excuse in the Skeeter Book of Manipulation, and she didn't want to hear it, couldn't bear to hear it. "Merlin, Rita, I know you threatened to throw me into the fire, but I didn't believe you'd actually do it. Don't hand me that rubbish about promoting unity and equality or whatever the hell you were going on about in that blasted newsletter of yours, either. I've got nothing to do with that, but you found it appropriate to drop my name, anyway –"

"Settle down, would you?" Rita requested. She sounded unperturbed, almost bored, and that only made Dorcas angrier. "I laid off Evans, didn't I? I dismissed all those multiple boyfriend rumors, made her and Potter sound like a right good team. Isn't that what you wanted?"

Dorcas choked out a humorless laugh. "Is that what I wanted?" she reiterated. "How on earth could you have interpreted it that way? You made them sound like a right good team, sure, Rita, whatever you say, but at what cost? You've turned them into the enemy, as if they're the ones to blame for an ages-old blood feud!"

Rita studied her friend for a moment, thinking, considering, calculating… "Oh, I see," she said after that quick moment of reflection; it never took Rita Skeeter long to figure things out. "I see what this is about."

"You're a right bint, that's what it's about –"

"This is about Lupin, isn't it?" Rita continued as if Dorcas hadn't said anything to stop her. "You're worried about what I, your friend, say about his friends, because Merlin knows he won't come near you again if I'm less than charitable. After all, what would dear sweet Remus Lupin think of someone who freely spent their time with nasty little me?"

"Oh, that won't be a problem," Dorcas said. Her voice shook but she tried not to give Rita's accusations any credit. "You want to spew nonsense about blood status like that, you want to betray my trust just so you can write some tacky piece about my personal life, you go ahead and do that. Do all of it. See what I care. Because I'm done, Rita."

"Hmmm." Still unperturbed, still bored, Rita pulled her Transfiguration book from her bag and started flipping through it for her homework. "I'm sure you are, dear."

It wasn't her words, but her tone that told Dorcas the argument was finished. Fine by me, she thought as she spun on her heel and stormed out of the common room (she slammed the entrance door shut for good measure). Rita could write whatever she wanted, she didn't even have to care about it, because Dorcas certainly wasn't going to anymore, just like she'd said. She wasn't going to take anything Rita said seriously anymore; she wasn't even going to entertain the idea that Rita was even the tiniest bit right about why Dorcas wanted her to back off the Gryffindors.

Right now, all Dorcas was going to do was find Remus Lupin and straighten this whole thing out once and for all.

"I can't believe this," Lily muttered as her eyes scoured Rita Skeeter's latest excuse for pertinent and interesting news.

"We should really stop picking it up every time she comes out with something new," James said, but he continued reading over Lily's shoulder, anyway.

Remus stared at the pair of them from across the library table they – along with Sirius and Peter – were sharing. He knew as well as the rest of them what Rita Skeeter had written about him, and Peter had been avoiding his eye all evening because of it. So, not surprisingly, Remus wanted to change the subject, so he tried to be droll and asked, "Didn't we come here to do homework?"

"I didn't," Sirius declared as he rocked back and forth on his chair legs. "I came here because McKinnon had to go to Hogsmeade with Alice for something I don't understand, and now I don't have anything better to do."

"It's a dress fitting, Sirius," Lily told him for what felt like the thousandth time in the past hour. "The wedding's this weekend and she's lost weight. She's certainly gained muscle definition, though, I'll give her that. Must be all the shagging."

Sirius grinned self-indulgently and James frowned.

"We shag," he said, completely unbothered that his friends were listening in. "You haven't lost weight, have you? Am I supposed to notice things like that? Wait, am I in trouble?"

"Oh, shut up. I'm about the same," Lily said. She folded the Scoop and dropped it on the table. "Thing is, not only do I eat a lot more treacle tart than Marlene does – thanks to you, by the way – but on my last count, Sirius and Mar actually do shag quite a bit more than we do. It's the class-skipping that does it, so I reckon we'd better start skiving off something useless. Like Potions, Transfiguration, Defense…"

"You're going to list all our lessons, aren't you?" James guessed, and Lily nodded.

"Quite right." She stabbed a quill through a stack of parchment to commemorate the moment. "Let the shag-a-thon begin!"

Sirius whistled loudly, careless of those students who had come to the library to study, and Remus shook his head and piled books into his arms.

"Shagging makes you all mad," he observed, then, in an attempt at normalcy between them, he turned to Peter. "I've got to put these back. Need anything?"

But Peter merely kept his eyes on a book he wasn't really reading. The shake of his head was almost imperceptible, and that told Remus enough to know that he actually had no idea what he was supposed to do, so he simply took his books and left the table to put them away. Perhaps he'd think of something while he wandered amongst the shelves, but he doubted it.

Sirius, James, and Lily, for their part, were torn about what to do. By now they were all well aware that this whole fancying-Dorcas-Meadowes business had culminated in something of a mess; the trouble was that they didn't know how to clean it up. This didn't seem like a situation in which they would take sides, nor would they know what to do if it was one of those situations – no one was right or wrong; they all just felt lousy and helpless. Peter wasn't talking about it and neither was Remus, so it was just a silent burden on all their shoulders, and they were all trying to figure out what to do about it. Lily, for her part, decided it was best to wait it out until Dorcas made up her mind, and then the rest of it would follow suit.

Meanwhile, Peter kept pretending to read, Sirius kept rocking back and forth in his chair, Lily went back to her homework, and James tried to get her to pay attention to him by playing with her hair and saying, "I thought there was a shag-a-thon to start." She swatted at his hand and Sirius laughed at them both and Peter even smiled a little and then…

"Is Remus around?"

The four of them looked up, their smiles faltering ever so slightly, not because they didn't like Dorcas Meadowes, but because she was at the heart of a problem they couldn't rectify. Dorcas, however, didn't know that; she only saw their smiles fall and suddenly she felt very, inconsolably lonely.

"I just – I wanted to tell him not to listen to Rita," she said lamely. She felt the adrenaline rush from her fight with Rita ebb once, twice, then disappear completely. "Or something. I don't know. She caused a mess and I don't know what else to do about it."

"There should be a support group for that," Lily said in an attempt to take the edge off the discomfort. "'Hello, My Name Is Whatever-Your-Name-Is, and I've Been Personally Victimized by Rita Skeeter.' Something like that."

"Something cleverer than that, I hope," James suggested. Helpfully, he thought, but then Lily whacked him with a roll of parchment so perhaps he hadn't been so helpful, after all.

Satisfied that James had been duly punished, Lily turned back to Dorcas and said, "Remus is in the shelves somewhere. Odds are he'll get distracted by a book and we won't see him for another five hours, so you might as well go look for him."

"Thanks," Dorcas said, grateful for both the information and the opportunity to leave the Gryffindors to whatever it is they'd been doing before she interrupted. But before she'd gotten six feet away, she heard footsteps behind her and Lily Evans was saying her name.

"Dorcas, hey." Lily put a hand on the other girl's shoulder and Dorcas turned around; she flinched a little as she did so, unsure of what this could be about. "Listen, I'm sorry that Rita's after you now. It's one thing when it's, say, me – it's not as if Rita's my mate or anything – but this… It's ridiculous, to be honest, so if you want to talk or anything…" She trailed off with a shrug.

"Oh." Dorcas wasn't sure what else to say. She'd just thought – what, not even an hour ago – about how she didn't know Lily Evans very well, and now here she was, sticking her neck out for no reason, just because it was the right thing to do. Gryffindors.

"Thanks, Ev– Lily." Dorcas still didn't know what to say, but she thought it best to come up with something. "I'm sorry, too, for everything with Rita. She's just… Rita. I don't know how else to put it."

Lily shrugged again, this time to dismiss Dorcas's apology as unnecessary. "Eh. It pisses me off, yeah, but that's sort of my life, isn't it? The big picture can get pretty lousy, but I've got the good things, too."

At that, Lily's gaze shifted back to the table she'd been sitting at, and Dorcas's followed. Peter had quit pretending to read, and was now laughing at Sirius as the latter took the mickey out of James, who was scribbling out Lily's homework for her. Lily rolled her eyes at the sight but Dorcas couldn't miss her smile.

"He's only doing that so I'll pay attention to him," Lily confided to her. "Joke's on him, though; James is rubbish at Astronomy – sleeps straight through it sometimes – and now I'm going to have to do that star chart all over again."

"He loves you a lot, doesn't he?" Dorcas said. She hadn't meant to say it out loud, but Lily's smile only broadened in response.

"Oh, he really does," she had no problem agreeing. "I love him a lot, too. He's just an idiot."

But there was something there, something in the sound of Lily Evans's voice as she called James Potter an idiot… Well, it told Dorcas that Lily Evans wouldn't dream of loving anything – or anyone – else.

"He's charming and all that, too," Lily continued as if she were reading Dorcas's mind, "but he's not smooth, and that whole cocky thing? Yeah, he's that, but I reckon he overcompensates. Because he's an idiot, he really is. He fumbles and he stutters and his palms still sweat when we hold hands. But my palms sweat, too, and I can't breathe when he's around, but it's the most fantastic kind of not-breathing. And the thing is" – Lily thought she was about to be sick with butterflies, but dear god, she was in love and she couldn't stop talking about it now that she'd started – "I mean, do you really want anything else?"

"No." And even though she'd never given it that much thought before, Dorcas knew that Lily was right. "You really don't."

"And I'll tell you something else..." Lily bit her lip, released it. "When you feel like so many people hate you, and he loves you, anyway, even though he could have it so much easier with someone else but there he is, because he'd rather take the hard road with you, it's... It's incredible."

Lily shook her head and Dorcas didn't think she was supposed to say anything to that; there was, after all, nothing to add. So they were quiet for a heartbeat, maybe two, and then Lily said, "Go find Remus. You can tell me about your sweaty palms later."

Dorcas didn't need telling twice. She smiled and she could have sworn that Lily Evans shot her a wink, too.

It took ten minutes and a few dizzying turns through the library shelves, but Dorcas found Remus standing in front of one, book in hand, brow furrowed in concentration as he read whatever was printed on the pages. He heard her approaching footsteps and his concentration broke; he looked up and his eyes widened a little.

"Hi, Dorcas," he said. He didn't stutter, she noticed, and he didn't fumble and drop his book, either. But there was a pink tinge blossoming on his face, and she figured she could work with that. Her heart skipped and faltered and then the adrenaline rush was back; she'd let it take her from there.

"Remus, do you like me?" And there it was.

"Wha–?" Thrown off-guard, Remus wasn't sure how to answer. What kind of like? As a friend? As more? Does it matter? What about Peter? "What – er – what d'you mean?"

Dorcas wanted to take a breath but she didn't have the time. "You know what I mean. Sometimes I think I even know the answer. But I've been wrong about people before" – my best friend Rita, for one – "so what do I know for sure?"

Remus knew she was right. He knew what she meant and he'd bet everything he had that she was right about the answer – because of course he liked her, who was he kidding? He hadn't tried to kid himself about that for awhile now; no point in starting now. But maybe it didn't matter. He thought about Peter, about how his friends meant the world to him. He thought about his lycanthropy. He thought about the war, the Order, about how they didn't know how it was all going to turn out, how they'd probably lose more than they gained. And he knew that Dorcas wanted an answer – she wanted it now – but how could he give her one when he couldn't figure out what the best thing to do was?

He struggled for something, anything, and landed on a completely inadequate "Dorcas, I –"

"Nevermind." Dorcas held up a hand to stop him. She heard the tone of his voice and she didn't like what it told her. "Forget it. I'm being stupid."

"You're not stupid," Remus hastened to say before Dorcas could leave, and it was so clear – painfully, achingly clear – that she wanted to leave. "It's not that, it's not what you think, it's just that I don't know what to do about it."

"What, you don't know what to do when two people fancy each other?" Dorcas tried not to be frustrated, but it wasn't an easy feat and she was failing spectacularly at it. Remus Lupin was just so infuriating. "I know you've never gone out with anyone before but I assure you, it's not that difficult to figure out."

"It's not that," Remus said again. He wanted to make her understand, but perhaps he didn't understand it himself. "It's just – there's so much going on. You're in the Order now, too, so you know that –"

Dorcas wanted to laugh but couldn't, because nothing was funny. "Don't do that, Remus, okay? Don't. Don't use the war as an excuse. Look at your friends – Lily and James especially, they're a walking target – so don't tell me that's why you can't."

He knew that wasn't going to work. But what else was he supposed to say? He couldn't use Peter as an excuse, either, and he couldn't tell her about his lycanthropy. You don't just tell people that, he thought; that's not how it worked.

Everything he had – every couldn't, every shouldn't – was an excuse. None of them were good enough, but he couldn't help but hide behind them, anyway, and he hated himself for it.

"I really like you, Dorcas," he said. He didn't need to see the look on her face to know that it was the wrong thing to say, but he still saw it and it still hurt.

"Yeah," Dorcas said. Her hands were sweaty and it was hard to breathe, but she was sure it wasn't supposed to feel quite this bad; she was sure this wasn't what Lily Evans had been talking about. "Yeah. You really like me. I can see that."

She turned away before he could say anything else. She wanted to leave, and this time – no matter how much it made him hate himself – Remus didn't try to stop her.