**Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Harry Potter depicted in this story are the legal property of J. K. Rowling, Bloomsbury, and AOL Time Warner, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit is being made.

Chapter 20: Closing the Chasm

"Remus!" Lily cried.

James was already James again, and he was approaching the base of her tree. "He'll be all right. It takes more than a fall like that to kill a werewolf."

He held up his hand and was motioning her down. There was a hurriedness to his manner, probably due to Sirius' state. Lily tried to respect that urgency and climbed down as quickly as she could under the circumstances. The bark of the tree was cutting into her palms and her hands were still shaking, but she managed by keeping the singular goal of reaching James' hand in her mind. She held her eyes there and did not look at the ground.

When he helped lift her from the lowest branch and set her feet on the snowy forest floor, Lily was unable to keep herself from throwing her arms around his neck. She had many questions, but now was not the time. Really, there was only one thing she cared about. "You're safe," she murmured into his ear. "I was so scared."

James hugged her back. "So was I."

She took a step back. "What happened to Sirius?"

And there James seemed to struggle for words.

"Prongs!" Peter called. Lily was surprised to see that he had reappeared and was crouching beside Sirius. "You should get over here."

Lily and James rushed toward the fallen dog. The animal was shuddering and wheezing, and Lily noted that his fur was wet to the touch—blood and snow.

"He's been poisoned," James said quietly, and Lily couldn't bear the expression on his face.

"Have you?"

James shook his head.

Lily turned her attention back to Sirius. "Peter, help me lift his head. Gently." The boy assisted her by holding the head steady while she tenderly lifted the skin of the muzzle. Phlegm-filled blood was foaming, bubbling from Sirius' mouth. She lifted a floppy ear to see that he was bleeding there as well.

"Oh my god," she breathed. It was Hebenon. No wonder Regulus hadn't said anything. Tears were falling down her face at the sight of her friend in such a state, but she kept them from her voice when she spoke to him.

"Sirius, love, can you hear me?" She smoothed the fur on the side of his face. "Sirius are you conscious?"

After a moment, the dog's eyes cracked open just a bit. Lily tried not to show just how relieved she was.

"Sirius, I need you to shift back into your human form if you can. It's very important. The poison will have a harder time moving through your system." You'll last longer. She couldn't bring herself to say that last part aloud.

The dog shivered and whimpered for almost a full minute without change, and Lily found herself losing hope. But then, there was Sirius—fully human, and a far more upsetting sight than he had been as a canine. Now his pale skin and white shirt were making the blood even more striking. Lily reached for his wrist and counted heartbeats.

For the first time in minutes, she was able to bring herself to look at James. The hopelessness and fear on his face broke her heart.

She took a breath. "He needs help. He needs help now."

"I'll go," said Peter. "We'll load him on a broom and I'll fly him back to Hogwarts."

"No, I'll go." James stood and picked up his racing broom. "I'm the fastest flyer."

Peter conceded. There was no denying that.

Lily rose to her feet and kissed James. "Be careful."

"I will," he promised. But James had no sooner said the words than a call came through the mirror. It was Regulus' voice and Peter scrambled to the pile of supplies he and Lily had brought.

"We're here!" Peter cried as he retrieved the mirror. "We need help. Sirius has been poisoned."

"We're in the forest near you," the Slytherin's voice was coming through clear. "We just need you to send up a flare so that we can find you."

Lily snatched Peter's wand from his hand. Her arm shot up and she had fired off the spell before Regulus had even finished speaking.

"We see you."

It seemed that the rescue party had indeed been close, because in scarcely a minute, lanterns could been seen through the trees. Lily could not describe her relief.

"Here!" Peter was shouting. "We're here!"

The rescue party consisted of Regulus, Dumbledore, Slughorn, and to Lily's astonishment, Severus Snape. The sight of Sirius stopped all of them in their tracks.

The air was heavy with silence until Slughorn asked gravely. "Hebenon?"

"I think so," Lily whispered.

Severus fished in the pocket of his robes and withdrew a bottle full of dark blue liquid. "I have an antidote."

A grateful sob broke from Lily's throat and she launched herself at him, slamming into his arms and clutching him tightly. He seemed too shocked to hug her back.

"I didn't brew it," he confessed into her hair, his voice uneven.

She pulled back to look at him. Her tears and smeared mascara were clinging to his cheek. His face reflected just how stunned he was by her reaction.

Slughorn took the potion phial from his limp fingers and approached the prone Sirius to administer the antidote.

Lily's smile did not fade. For one moment, one glimmering little moment, he was her Severus again. She could see him clearly: twelve years old, casting spells outside of school, and Petunia living due to his indiscretion. Now Sirius would live, and Severus was a part of that. Just for this moment, he was not a Death Eater but a hero, arriving in the nick of time to save someone he could not stand but who she loved dearly.

"But you brought it," she said. Then she leaned forward and kissed his unsullied cheek. "Thank you."

And the moment ended there. She stepped back and turned away from him.

She approached a kneeling Slughorn, the bottle now empty in his hand. She lowered herself to a crouch beside James. He had an odd expression on his face that she couldn't quite read, but she could tell that he was experiencing emotional mayhem. Lily reached for his hand and took it between her own. She did not let go when he tried to pull it away.

He glared at her, but she did not flinch. This Severus-related anger and jealousy ended here—she was resolved. She wove her fingers with his and squeezed tighter.

Dumbledore was speaking to Slughorn and Lily turned her attention to them.

"Were we in time, Horace? Will he live?"

Lily already knew the answer thanks to all the research she had done in preparation for her Potions Master license. "His bleeding has already stopped," she offered.

Slughorn nodded gravely in agreement. "I would prefer to wait for Poppy to arrive here and confirm, but barring an adverse reaction to the antidote, I believe he will live."

James visibly sagged with relief beside her.

Things would have been another affair entirely if they had needed to brew the antidote from scratch. When she voiced as much out loud, Slughorn responded with a grimace.

"It wasn't luck," he confessed. "After the accident with Saunders that landed Severus in the hospital wing, Poppy and I agreed that it would be wise to have antidote on hand for all the poisons Severus included in his experiment. This one finished brewing earlier this week."

Lily's eyes snapped back to Severus, who did not meet her gaze. If he had not had not landed in the infirmary, Sirius would be dying now. The antidote for Hebenon was notoriously difficult to brew and took nearly a month to mature to potency.

Madam Pomfrey thrashed through undergrowth and snow, an overflowing bag of supplies carried cross-ways over her chest and a stretcher floating behind her into the clearing. Professor McGonagall was with her.

In the next few minutes Lily, James, and Peter were asked to step back and away from Sirius while he was examined and loaded onto the stretcher. Pomfrey talked in hushed tones to Dumbledore, Slughorn, and McGonagall, and Lily could not hear what was being said. The expressions on the adults' faces were serious and Lily began to worry again.

Was something wrong? Was Sirius' body rejecting the antidote? She was gripping James' hand like a vice, and he was every bit as tense.

Pomfrey noticed them and must have realized how worried they were. "He'll live," she said in a comforting sort of voice. "No lasting damage that I can see, but I should get him back to the castle as soon as possible."

Lily found herself in James' arms without knowing who had initiated the hug. James was shaking and she realized that he was hiding tears against her neck. Peter wrapped his arms around both of them.

Regulus and Severus were allowed to return to the castle with Sirius, Pomfrey, Slughorn, and McGonagall, but Dumbledore held the three of them back. Now that the pressing issues of the missing poison and the lives of his students had been resolved, the headmaster had questions regarding the giant hole in the ground and the shards of broken bottles that littered the clearing.

Lily and Peter told their part of the tale as directly as they could manage. James' account was more halting and emotional. For him evidently, the night had been quite traumatic. No mention was made of any animal transformations beside Remus'. Lily did not have enough information to explain it, really, and she took her cue from the boys that it was a secret Dumbledore knew nothing about. She would be getting her explanation from James, but now was not the time.

Dumbledore was particularly displeased at the thought of a liquor stash.

"It was only for personal use!" Peter was quick to stipulate.

But James sighed heavily, tiredly. "This year. In the past, it was used to supply other students."

Peter was gazing at James as though he was mad, but James only shrugged.

"In the interest of being honest, sir," he added. This struck Lily as somewhat strange, considering that James was still keeping the fact that he could turn into a stag a secret.

Dumbledore nodded grimly. "We will have a discussion about this tomorrow in my office."

James swallowed. "Yes, sir."

The headmaster made his way to the edge of the precipice, his gaze downward. "Mr. Lupin is down there?"

The three students nodded.

Dumbledore calmly withdrew his wand and cast silently into the chasm. Lily gasped when, a moment later, and unconscious werewolf rose into the air and hung awkwardly (back paws over muzzle) above them. Dumbledore rotated him to a more comfortable position and said, "I will bring him to the castle infirmary and you may come see him in the morning."

Peter thanked the headmaster, and James nodded.

"But first, matters of decorum: we have come into a home that is not ours and a large mess has been made. The three of you will address that mess." He gestured to the clearing. "Close the hole and return to the castle."

"Yes, Professor Dumbledore," Lily answered immediately.

Satisfied that they would carry out his wishes, the headmaster left the three of them in the clearing, Remus trailing behind and above him brushing the tops of the trees as they went.

In the wake of Dumbledore's departure, Lily turned her full attention to James. She lifted herself onto her toes and kissed him with all of her passion and relief, paying no mind whatsoever to Peter's presence. It took a moment, but James kissed her back.

"I was so scared that we wouldn't get here in time," she confessed.

Peter inserted himself into the exchange. "She even rode your racing broom."

James blinked in surprise at that piece of information. Lily blushed, but said nothing. Instead she walked over to retrieve her missing wand from the icy pile where it was currently lodged. After it was in her hands again, she found herself cursing the snow and cupping her numb fingers over her mouth so that they could be warmed by her breath. Now that the adrenaline was beginning to recede from her system, she found the cold was becoming unbearable.

"Goddamn it!" Peter cursed loudly.

"What is it?" Lily asked.

His shoulders drooped as he lifted the enchanted map he had brought from where it had been deposited near the hole. It was ripped, mangled, and soggy: what looked to be the work of hooves and snow.

James winced. "Sorry mate."

Peter stared at the parchment for a long moment, and then quietly admitted, "No, you were right. We don't really need it anymore—we'll be leaving school soon. And this was never the real Marauder's Map anyway."

Putting his hand on Peter's shoulder, James attempted a lighter tone. "Shame that Filch of all people has it. Poor map."

Lily couldn't bring herself to be sorry about the map. Honestly, it was a dangerous bit of magic and Hogwarts would be safer without it.

The three of them worked in silence, filling the hole they had made, burying their mess in the ground where it would be forgotten. It would take some time, but eventually the earth would heal. Grass would grow again, and no one would be able to tell the wound had been there at all.

It was slow going because Peter's mining spell had done so much damage, sprayed the dirt pretty much everywhere, and there was so much of it. Lily's ears were aching from the cold air by the time they finished, and she walked back to the castle with James' arm around her shoulders.

It was perhaps a form of self-torture, but Severus found he could not budge from his current position. Through the crack of the open door to the Hospital Wing, he could see that Potter was slumbering on a bed near Black and Lupin. Lily was on the bed with him, curled up against his body as she slept, like a loyal pet, her head on his chest.

It seemed she had found her way back to Potter, Black forgotten even as his life was in the balance. The embrace she and Potter shared was not that of friends.

Gone. He felt it now, in his marrow and in his being. All year he had been deceiving himself. There had been a stubborn certainty that it was only a matter of time—Potter was an irredeemable monster. Sooner or later she would see it. Potter would put things in perspective for her and she would finally understand that no one was willing to do more for her than Severus. Then she would come back. He had clung to this belief since the night he was branded with his Dark Mark.

She had been in his arms tonight. One tiny bottle of liquid had provoked such a powerful response in her. In his arms. Her softness had pressed against him, her spiced apple scented hair smothering his face. He did not mind the tears or the streak of mascara that she had left on his cheek. She had held herself too tightly against him for him to mind much of anything. He ached with regret that he had not returned the embrace. And now it had been ripped away.

Why was he being punished with this sight? He had not come to this door to see Lily at all. He hadn't some flimsy pretext—no, he's had entirely legitimate and separate reason.

Over his time at Hogwarts, Severus would freely admit that he had imagined the death of Sirius Black often. Always creative, always painful, returning in kind every indignity Severus had suffered at his hands.

But the reality was different. The sight of Black's blood everywhere had easily been the most uncomfortable of his life. He felt tainted, that the accumulated filth would crowd his soul and never wash away. The hatred toward his enemy was still intact, still as passionate as ever. The world would be a better place without Black in it. But Severus no longer wished to dispatch him personally.

After returning to the castle, Severus had spent hours following Slughorn's instructions that his dungeon be emptied, every potion or poison destroyed. The cauldron that had contained the Dark Lord's potion had already been disposed of, the first to go before Severus had even gone to tell Slughorn about the missing poisons. Even so, Severus found the empty cauldron goaded him while he cleaned up the rest of the room.

He'd always had misgivings about preparing that potion in particular. The potential effects were grisly, the stuff of nightmares. Death followed.

Would he now be able to brew it again? With his newfound squeamishness? Well, of course he would. The Dark Lord wished it. Severus would brew it or die, so Severus would brew it.

Without conscious thought, he had found himself here of all places, outside the infirmary. To verify with his own eyes that Sirius Black would live.

His eyes had found that and more. Lily…oh, his Lily. How had she wandered so completely out of his reach?

Without making the decision to do so, Severus found himself entering the room. There was a need—driving, persistent, sharp—to be near her. His footsteps made no sound against the stone floor in his approach, only the moonlight through the window to illuminate his path, and he found himself beside her and Potter. Her pale hand was clutching at Potter's jumper in her sleep, and she looked contented.

Severus felt bile rising in his throat; his whole body was trembling. For one pathetic moment he nearly became violent. There was a metal tongue depressor on a rolling cart adjacent to him that could easily have served as a knife given the wielder had enough conviction. But, in reality, he did neither. Instead, he found himself weeping. Not dignified tears, wracking ones that twisted his whole body as he fought to remain silent—the kind that accompanied great grief.

The death of something dear, cherished.

It had been a night of unpleasant self-discovery. Lily had hugged him, tightly. She had kissed him—something he had not experienced in years. And as in some children's story, the kiss had woken something thought lost, something repudiated and buried.

Severus had told himself two great lies this year regarding Lily Evans. The first was that she would return to him eventually. The other was that he did not love her, that he had never loved her. He was not his mother; love would not smother all that was free and powerful in him. His mind and his heart were his own; his judgment, his goals were not compromised.

It was an ugly lie. The affliction that he had always dreaded had taken hold, swallowed him and enveloped him. Perhaps it had been so since he first met her on that playground. But this year, in the shade of his denial it had grown. It had grown beyond him and was now a dragon he could never hope to slay. Loving Lily made him her servant, and a servant of a different kind than what he was to his Dark Lord. That was service driven by fear; this was far more sinister, and it would be for the rest of his life. Endless.

The justness or that lack thereof in that did not change the reality of it. She had indeed found her way back into arms she had left, but they were Potter's, and that was the world he lived in. A world of such unfairness, and such wrongness, it was breathtaking. Crimes he had committed perhaps, but this punishment did not fit them.

A pathetic, trembling hand extended toward her. He wrapped one shining red curl around his finger as he gasped through his tears. There was no forever, not really. This was the last important moment—nothingness followed.

Lily was resting her head on the cool, copper railing halfway up a spiral staircase in the school library, her eyes were fixedly toward a window, but in truth she saw nothing. She had a standing appointment to supervise a study group of third-years struggling with their freshmen term of Divination.

Try though she might, she had found herself unable to concentrate on reading tea leaves. So much chaos and confusion had hit her in such a short time, she was inwardly in turmoil. Her boyfriend was an unregistered Animagus, a criminal, and so were his friends. Last night, Lily had nearly been eaten by a werewolf. Not only that, the war had come knocking again. Jillian Pucey had not been messing about; her intention had been murder and revenge. Lily hadn't the details, but she'd gathered the broad strokes last night. After they had returned to castle and discovered that Jillian was herself dead. The mouse, of all people, was responsible on that count.

When had the world become such a scary and unpredictable place? James was safe, yes, but for how long? Where did she fit in this hostile landscape? A haunting prospect was that perhaps she did not.

The kids had cleared off almost a half an hour ago, and Lily was still summoning the will to move from here. The next thing was dinner, or a Charms Club meeting—she couldn't remember which.

She wasn't ready for the next thing.

"Hey," a soft voice drew her from her trance.

Lily was a trifle lethargic in her reaction, but she turned her head to see the speaker. It was Melody, standing a few steps down from her. She looked uncertain, but purposeful. Lily knew that her friend was not here by happenstance.

"Heard you had quite the night," she said with a timid sort of smile.

It was only then that Lily realized just how fast and loose she had played with this friendship she so cherished. The last twenty four hours had been some of the most pivotal of Lily's life, and not only had Melody not been a part of it, she was actually nervous to even approach Lily now.

Lily's throat expanded painfully, and the tears were falling down her face before she was aware they were coming.

Melody jerked with surprise and was instantly at Lily's side, encircling arms around her shoulders. Lily hugged her back.

"I'm sorry," she choked. "I've been a bad friend."

"No!" Melody countered. "I'm the one who's been a bad friend. I've been such an arse, I lost both of my best friends this year."

That made Lily cry harder. "Mel, don't say that. You are kindest, most earnest…. I was going through something—you didn't do anything wrong. I missed you so much."

Now they were both crying. "I missed you, too."

The two of them just sat holding one another. It was after several minutes of silence that Melody spoke once more, and it was in a whisper. "I miss Pilar. Nothing's the same without her."

That confession broke Lily's heart, and in response she tenderly pressed her lips to Melody's temple. "I know."

James sat between two hospital beds. Sirius was pale, drawn to his left. Remus was a mass of bandages and broken bones to his right. James had slept for a few hours, here in a bed nearby with Lily.

Pomfrey had urged him to leave, to go to his bed. His mates would be fine and he could return when they had woken. But he did not move, not even to attend classes.

It was nearing noon when Sirius stirred. James did not even know he was awake until he spoke.

"Why does my mouth taste like arse?"

James startled, a smile of happiness that Sirius was alive and himself splitting his face. "Maybe because you were poisoned."

"Oh…yeah. Am…am I still dying?" He was trying without success to sit up.


Sirius grunted. He sank back against his pillows. A moment later he jerked again and looked back at James. "You shit! What are you doing here? I'll fail the Transfiguration N.E.W.T.s without notes to copy."

James barked a laugh. "Too late. Class has been over for hours. We'll both have to find someone to copy from." This time James rose from his chair to help Sirius sit up. He even rearranged the pillows behind his friend.

"Mighty selfish of you, Prongs." Sirius puffed a breath as he settled in his new position.

James sank back into his seat and regarded the young man in front of him. "How are you feeling?"

"Oh, I'm fresh as a fucking daisy. Thanks for asking." Sirius rubbed his face and began surveying the room. His eyes stopped on a vase of flowers on his bedside table—marigolds. He raised an accusatory eyebrow at James.

"Sorry to disappoint you, but no," James said with a chuckle. "They're from Lily. She was here most of the night with me, but she had some Head Girl stuff to take care of."

"And you didn't have Head Boy shit?"

"Of course I did." James smirked. "Indisputable proof: I love you more than she does."

"I don't know. She did bring me flowers. What the hell did you bring?"

James acted insulted. "Myself. I brought myself."

"No offense, mate. Not really into that."

"Now I'm hurt," James threw up his hands.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "We've been over this, Prongs. I'm not fucking you—wait," he drew up short and stopped the pretense of the game and eyed James suspiciously. "You two didn't shag in here, did you?"

"Don't change the subject." James put his feet up on Sirius' bed with a smug, enigmatical smile. "And you'll never know."

"Shagging your bird while I'm on my deathbed negates any and all gifts, including flowers and this 'myself' bollocks. You're not a good friend."

"Absolutely I am. Your best friend." And here James stopped; Sirius did as well. "Right?"

After a moment, Sirius conceded. "Sure, what the hell."

James hid the breath he had been holding. "Good. Thought for a while I might have been replaced."

"By Lily? Not so much."

James drew back a bit at that. "I thought you said last night the friendship was real."

Sirius looked at James like he was an idiot. "Of course it's real." With a glower he kicked James' feet off his bed. "But she's not you."

"Noted," James said. He then cleared his throat and shifted his position on the chair.

"So," Sirius did not allow them to lapse into silence, "we're back together. Are you and she?"

"I think so."

Sirius was not pleased with that answer. "You're not sure?"

James shrugged.

Sirius' gaze was ahead now, not at James. "Look, if you're not sure…. Don't mess her around. Girl's mad about you, and she didn't do so well when you chucked her the first time."

"She seemed just fine," James was unable to keep himself from saying. He still remembered the nonchalance that had been evident the bloody next day after he and Lily had broken up.

"Well she wasn't," Sirius' voice was very close to snapping. "You fucked her up bad."

James was shocked, at how seriously his friend was taking this, and at the information being revealed. In the strained moments that followed, James found himself being honest and just as solemn, admitting something he'd promised himself he would never say out loud. "She's just…not who I thought she was."

"Well, boo hoo. Get over it," Sirius snapped. "Damn right she's not who you thought she was. She's better."

"She loves Snape!"

Sirius scowled. "Let's ignore for a second that you are neglecting the past tense on that one and cut straight to it. Sometimes people love unlovable things—just look at you and me. It means their judgment's poor, sure, but it also means their optimistic, yeah? Not exactly a bad quality to have in a bird, Prongs—especially for you." He puffed a breath and then collapsed a bit tiredly against his pillows. "It's not my business, not really. I'm just asking you to think about it, okay? Think about it and don't be a prick to her."

James nodded; it was all he could manage in response.

It was less than a minute later that James was surprised again.

"Now that we've addressed that, what the hell do I say to him?" Sirius was looking at Remus, who had yet to wake.

After a moment James gathered himself. "You tell him you're sorry."

Sirius scoffed. "You think apologizing is the solution to everything."

"And you don't do it at all."

"What would it solve?" Sirius demanded. "Really. How could a stupid apology possibly fix this?"

It was then that James smiled. God only knew what had changed in his friend—a near death experience, being reunited with James, spending too much time with Lily?—but he was considering it. He was considering the suggestion and the remorse was real, something James previously would have thought impossible.

"As we just agreed, you never do this. One of the upshots to that is that when you do say you're sorry, you'll get a lot of mileage out of it," James said softly. "Trust me, from you, it'll be enough."

James finally found her in the Shrieking Shack. He had been searching for over an hour before he found a note on his bedside table from Lily telling him where she was. It made sense once he thought about it. As of last night she had become aware that he was keeping quite a few secrets from her, and the Shrieking Shack was the seat of those secrets.

He thought back to his conversation with Sirius. He had promised his friend that he would think through the situation with Lily, that he would try to know his mind completely before he did anything rash. But with her calling him to the little hovel that would likely now be a symbol of his deceit and his delinquency, he wondered if he would even get the chance. She had spent the night in his arms, but she had been somewhat distant in the morning. She had paid more mind to fussing over his sleeping friends than to him. Had Lily brought him there to dump him? He couldn't rule it out and the whole business made him feel jittery beneath his skin.

He entered the shack through the Whomping Willow tunnel—there was no use in hiding anything from her anymore. Merlin only knew how she had gotten in.

James saw her when he ascended through the trap door. She was over by the fireplace, sitting on a shredded ottoman, elbows propped on her knees. She looked lovely and he would like to say that was the first thing he noticed, but it wasn't.

"Good Lord! What happened in here?"

Her eyes darted to him as he closed the trap door behind him, and she rose from her seated position.

There was tinsel…and confetti. Everywhere. There was also a hideous, sparkly banner hanging above the mantel that said "Happy Fucking Christmas, You Wankers". This had Sirius fingerprints all over it.

Lily glanced around the room. "You hadn't seen it yet?"

"No." James felt somewhat bemused.

"Oh. Well, Sirius and I decorated for you lot before the holiday."

Wait. Sirius had roped Lily into this nonsense? And she had gone along with it? When he voiced these thoughts, she smiled shyly and shrugged.

James slowly rotated all the way around to take in the entire room. "That is a really fucking ugly banner," he declared.

Lily gave a giggle at that. "I think that is the only way he knows how to make them. Mine is just as wretched."

James' eyes darted to her. "He made one for you?"

She nodded. "You've seen it. It says 'Potter's Bird'; I waved it at the Hufflepuff match."

Now James remembered. Yeah, that one was ugly, too.

"I think he and Peter were trying to embarrass me with it. They didn't think I'd wave it, so I did."

He laughed. "Proved a point did you?"

She inclined her head. "They're going to have to try a lot harder than that to embarrass me."

Yes, they were. James found himself grinning at her. Over the years, he'd had more than one girl run the other way because of the antics of his mates. An ugly banner was a lot to ask, but Lily had gone with it on principle.

Something over her shoulder on the boarded up window caught his eye. It looked like a design in tinsel. "What the hell is that?"

He was surprised when Lily actually side-stepped to block his view. "Don't worry about that."

"I wasn't worried before, but I might be worried now," he told her. He was joking with her, but there was an undercurrent in this room. An uncertainty, and a discomfort. He could tell it was felt by both of them.

Her smile faltered. Even though in the context of the conversation the words had meant one thing, she detected the other meaning and was taking it to heart. "I'll show you," she promised. "After we talk."

Why did that have to sound so ominous?

Lily drew in a deep breath and dug her hands into the pockets of her jeans. "So…Prongs, is it?"

His hand went to his hair to rumple unconsciously, and he sank to sit on the dilapidated sofa. "Not so subtle when you know what it's referencing is it?" He patted the seat beside him, hoping that she would accept the invitation.

She did. She sat sideways, facing him with one leg drawn up beneath her and one foot on the floor. "How long has that being going on?"

"Almost two years." He knew there wasn't really a solid defense for breaking a law like the one he over which he had run roughshod, but he wanted to at least explain the logic that went into it. "Remus…it was hard on him. He transformed every full moon and came out to this place alone every month. He was pulling away." Her face was expressionless, but he pressed on. "Sirius and I thought if we could come with him, he wouldn't be able to close us out of that part of his life so easily."

"You wanted to be a part of it?" She asked.

James did not like that question. "Yes, of course. Maybe we didn't know what we were getting into—I sure didn't understand until I was present for a transformation for the first time. I wasn't expecting that it would be so painful for him, or just how…altered he became. He's not, well, Remus when wolf comes out. I thought there would be at least something there, a glimpse at least, but no. When the full moon comes out, he's gone." James shrugged. "We were idiots, but our intentions were good. We wanted to show him once and for all how much we genuinely did not give a shit about his…condition."

"You did this as fifth years?"

He raised his brows and nodded. "Best bloody bit of mischief I've ever pulled off, and I can't even brag about it."

"You and Sirius? A stag and a dog?"

"And Peter. He turns into a rat."

Recognition lit in Lily's eyes. "That's how he disappeared and reappeared so quickly last night." She sighed. "I feel like such and idiot. All kinds of things make sense now. No wonder your friends thought it was so funny to send us to the masque in those costumes. You must have just been laughing at me about my dream."

"Actually, I was more terrified than anything. For a moment, I'd thought you'd found me out." James went to reach for her hand, but thought better of it. "You won't tell anybody about this, will you Lily?"

She did not care for that at all. "What makes you think I wouldn't? I told Dumbledore when I found out my last boyfriend was breaking the law."

James didn't like being compared to Snape, but he couldn't fault her logic. He rubbed his face with his palms beneath his glasses and groaned. "You're right. I can't ask you for that."

"I won't tell Dumbledore," she granted. "For now."

He had presupposed so much regarding Lily, not just today, in this conversation, but always. It was biting him in the arse. Why was it that he only regretted that when faced with losing her? Merlin, he was a shit.

He was staring ahead when he heard her words. "I don't love him, you know. I really don't."

His eyes went back to her. She was trying to give him a smile, but it seemed to be rough going.

"Please," she begged. "Stop comparing yourself to him. I have left him behind, and if you and I are going to try this again, I need you to do the same."

Air caught in James' throat. It was the first clear indication she had given him since he had entered the room that she was still thinking of a future with him. He showed agreement by nodding because he could not form words.

He felt Lily's soft hand against his face, and he met her gaze. It was then that he saw how much she was hurting. It all clicked into place: she was not being distant because did not care, or because she was doubting her feelings, their relationship. Rather it seemed she was simply overloaded emotion, and some of that escaped when she spoke again.

"Why did Jillian Pucey want to kill you?"

The expression on her face pained him. He found himself kissing her tenderly before he answered.

"I think she blamed me, and Sirius, for her brother's death. We had evidence that he was a Death Eater. I gave it to my father, who gave it to the Head of Magical Law Enforcement. Aurors went after him, and now he's dead." She was dead, too. The thought made him ill. "No one was supposed to die," he said very quietly.

Now it was Lily's turn to comfort. She held him for what felt like several perfect minutes. She was warm and near.

And she was Lily.

He understood what that meant now in a different and more comprehensive way than he ever had before. Sirius was right; Lily was different than he had always imagined her to be, but that was a good thing. The Lily of his projection had been judgmental and unforgiving, an unremitting killjoy. The real Lily accepted every one of his apologies, every one of his failings, and could still hold him this way after all of them.

It was then that he remembered that there was something important that he had never told her. She had figured it out, but he had still never said the words. He drew back from her embrace so that he could see her face. Her eyes were alive with everything she was going through; he could see the chaos and was compelled to at least put one uncertainty to rest.

"I love you."

It took a moment to absorb his words, but then he saw her face flush with happiness. She threw her arms around his neck and squeezed him tightly. The hug became a kiss, and quite a passionate one. James was just settling into it when Lily suddenly pulled back and stood. He looked at her quizzically, and she extended her hand to help him to his feet. He took it, then was surprised when she led him over to the tinsel design she had kept him from earlier.

"I'm going to show you now, but you can't laugh," she told him.

It was an octagonal design that radiated outward from a center point using loose nails, made out of one long piece of red tinsel. He read the sign beside it.

In a room full of perplexing decorations, this one officially took the cake.

"Happy Christmas," she said.

James didn't know what to think of the oddity, but he knew he was charmed by it. It was better than the stupid necklace he'd got her, that was for sure. The one he'd somehow never gotten around to binning. He'd have to remember to give it to her when they got back to the castle.

"Sirius did the plaque, but I did the tinsel," Lily confessed.

"Why?" It was the only word he started to say that he was able to finish.

"Because I love you too," she said simply, and James' breath hitched. He was far from used to hearing that. She continued as though she had not noticed. "I was pining over you, during our last Hogsmeade visit after seeing you in Madam Puddifoot's, and this was what came out," she gesture to the red mess. "Sirius ribbed me about it, and I mentioned that this room particularly made me think of kissing you. He named it accordingly."

James took stock of their surroundings one more time. "Really? This place makes you think of kissing me?" He laughed at the ludicrousness of that.

She only shrugged. "What else have I ever done in here?" She leaned into his shoulder. "Sirius was surprisingly sweet with me about it. I mean—for him. He teased, but I also think he sympathized with missing you. All he cared about really was that we hadn't shagged in here."

James had planned to tell her how he and Sirius had officially made up, but her last sentence grabbed him and he couldn't help but pick up that thread instead. "He asked me the same thing about the Hospital Wing earlier today."

Lily shook her head disapprovingly. "I think maybe he's a little too preoccupied with our sex lives."

Naughtiness was seizing James' thoughts and intentions. It had been so long since he had been inside her, and she looked so sexy in her well-worn jeans and jumper. "Shall we make his darkest fears come true?"

Lily raised her brows when she caught his meaning. "Here?"

With a wicked smile, he placed his hands on either side of her hips and steered her backward until she was pressed against the wall beside the boarded up window. "Here."

Her breathing had become uneven and her skin was flushing. God, he loved it. She was always randy, always. And yet he saw within her a hesitation he had yet to encounter.

"Something wrong?"

Her smile was nervous and she didn't meet his eyes. "I do love sex with you, James. You drive my body mad, but that's not the only…. I don't want you to think…."

He realized what was bothering her.

She sagged against the wall. "Maybe we should wait awhile."

Oh, hell no! James went into full panic. "That's a little drastic, don't you think?"

She disagreed. "Sex ruined us last time around. I'm not willing to risk that happening again."

"It won't." He was confident, and it wasn't just his hormones talking. "The only reason it even became a problem in the first place was because I thought that sex was all it was for you. I know that's not true anymore."

She chewed her lip. "It was never true. At least, not while we were shagging. The night we first slept together, I had already fallen for you. I think that's why I was so…um, enthusiastic."

That was a nice piece of information, and completely unexpected. So his plan to win her heart before her body had in fact been a success. Fancy that. He remembered that night and her "enthusiasm" well. He remembered that she had masturbated in his bed while she waited for him; the picture was complete and with her confession was now a visual that would drive him wild for years to come. His heart rate sped up and his trousers were downright uncomfortable.

He addressed this directly. "Lily, I need to fuck you. I need to fuck you right now, against this wall." She stopped breathing and was staring at him wide eyed. "You are sexy as hell, and I want you naked all the time anyway. But this conversation, you saying things like that, is doing this to me." He illustrated his meaning by pressing his erection right between her legs.

She was shocked, and when he rolled his hips against hers it caused her to cry out. She laced her fingers into his hair, tugged his lips to hers, and he knew that he had convinced her.

Immediately, his hand slid up her jumper to her breasts. James groaned and his legs nearly collapsed when he reached his target—she wasn't wearing a bra. That was the final straw: all of her clothes needed to be on this floor, immediately.

He jerked her jumper up over her head. God, those breasts—he would never get tired of those breasts. His mouth went to them without hesitation, and he was so engrossed that he was barely registering the noises she was making. Clearly she had missed this as much as he had.

James' fingers were fumbling with the fastenings of her jeans. Goddamn it, was that entire row of fucking buttons? Who the hell designed jeans with only buttons instead of zippers? Trying to undo them was taking serious concentration away from what he had been doing to her nipples with his lips and teeth. Lily recognized the problem, and he felt her hands push his away so that she could take over.

When he felt her begin to shove them down her legs, he began helping again. He wanted to make damned sure the knickers were going with the jeans.

Once the denim hit the ground, James fell to his knees. Fuck, how he'd missed the taste of her. Her clit was already so swollen. He flicked it with his tongue while he entered her with two fingers. How was she always so wet?

Lily's fingernails were raking his scalp and she was sweetly humping her hips against his face. Her words, however, were one hundred percent counter to her actions. "Don't you dare!"

He jolted backward, leaning away and utterly baffled.

She was winded when she chided him, and she was struggling to keep her pelvis still. "You can't promise me one thing and then give me another. On your feet, trousers off. Now."

He laughed as he took her hand to help him rise. God, she was hot.

She kissed his neck and unbuttoned his shirt while he worked his way out of his trousers. Her lips fell to the hollow of his neck, and her amazing hands closed over his cock. After a stroke or two, she used her hold to gently lead him forward until he was flush with her skin.

She looked him squarely in the eye when she made her next command. "I need you inside me."

He felt his organ twitch involuntarily in response to her words. He was nearly mindless with lust. Nearly. What was sex without a little teasing?

"Oh, I don't know," he said. "I was thinking maybe another hour or two of foreplay."

Lily kissed him hard, then bit down on his lower lip with her teeth.

Point taken.

With a grunt, James lifted one of her legs up around his hips before entering her. She was more than ready for him. His lips slid from Lily's as he did so, his head slipping beside hers until he was cheek to cheek with her, his forehead pressed against the wall. One hand came up to brace himself, the other was trembling as it held her thigh.

Sweet fucking hell! Had she always felt this amazing? Was this new? It felt new.

"Fuck, Lily. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…."

"I know," she gasped. "Me too."

Lily was grinding against him impatiently, so how could he do anything but begin to thrust. He went slowly at first, but it became apparent that Lily didn't particularly want slow.

She did manage to pull him back to her lips. Kissing, lots of kissing; she couldn't seem to get enough today. He could feel her moans in his mouth and it was driving him crazy.

He had just been thinking that nothing could feasibly make this better, could even compete with this, when Lily did the impossible.

"I love you," she whimpered against his lips.

James expected to smile when she said that, for there to be warmth in his chest. He did not expect to feel it in his cock. He gave an uncontrolled, forceful drive into her at the words and he was left breathless as he desperately hauled himself back from the brink.

"Goddamn it, Lily," he said raggedly. "You're going to make me come."

The chit actually managed to giggle through her panting and keening. He gritted his teeth because he could feel the clenching of her stomach muscles in her slick tunnel. Then the evil girl did it again.

"I love you."

Gentle was officially a thing of the past. He jerked her second leg up around him and used the more secure position to really give her a pounding.

"I love you."

Fuck that was hot. God, what was wrong with him that he found that so hot?

"I lov—"

He shut her up with a kiss. If she wanted to come too, she was going to have to knock that off.

He reached an arm around her back to pull her lower torso away from the wall and into him as he thrust. This increased the friction on her clit and had her screaming in moments. She was seconds away from finishing, and thank God.

Lily's nails dug into his shoulders as she broke in ecstasy, her teeth clamped down on his neck. And finally he could let himself go. Five, six more plunges and he cried out as he followed her. The pain and pleasure so intense as to be one and the same.

They clenched each other in heat and sweat as they recovered. The smell of her was consuming to him, his cheek rested against her collarbone.

James knew he had come back down to earth when he began to feel the true discomfort of his position. James was athletic, sure, but supporting another person's weight through rigorous activity was a good way to make yourself really sore.

He disentangled Lily's legs from behind him and helped her to stand. She continued to lean on him though, because it seemed her knees were still shaky. Some of her hair was matted to the side of her face, and James tenderly brushed it away, tucking it behind her ear.

"Hey," he said, and she opened her eyes. "Love you, too."

She said nothing, but grinned widely. He put his arms around her and held her for several minutes, the two of them silent and content.

Gradually, they pulled apart and began to dress. Pausing as they did so the kiss each other every few seconds. It was when he lifted his shirt that he found something besides Lily to distract him.

"Well, Sirius is going to be miffed."

Lily smiled cheekily. "Thought that was why we did it."

James gestured. "We busted his plaque."

It must have come loose from the wall while he was fucking her.

Lily was still topless when she walked over to retrieve the slab of wood.

"What are you doing?" he asked as she pulled her wand from the pocket of her jeans and fastened it to the wall.

"Fixing it," she replied. "I don't think kissing really covers it anymore."

And with that, she updated the inscription.




a postmodern, metaphysical rendering by:

Lily Evans

James chuckled. "That's a lie."

Lily's eyes had a mischievous gleam in them. "It doesn't have to be."

Minx. James was happy, and he was sure: this was the perfect girl, and she loved him. He was a lucky bloke.

Final Author's Note: Hebenon is the poison I ended up using the most in this fic, and it is fictional. In fact, it's the poison that Shakespeare invented for Hamlet. Sure I'm a geek for the Bard, but mostly I did this because the real poisons I found either worked too quickly or didn't have the graphic physical symptoms required. I wanted everyone to have a very immediate reaction, particularly Severus, so I needed the physical symptoms to be gruesome.

I opened a lot of cans of worms with this fic, and I tried to close most of them. However, it may be clear that regarding our Mr. Snape I left a lot of shit open and unanswered, unresolved even. The good news is that the sequel I have been planning is now in the works. It is called Heroes for Ghosts, and several chapters have already been posted. If you have any interest in where the story goes from here, I recommend that you check it out.

I would like to thank everyone who stayed with me and helped me through this process: my sister Katie, who is my biggest fan and cheerleader; my friend Logan, who hates Lily/James and still proofread for me; my brother Josh, who's sense of humor inspired many of my favorite moments in this story; pili204 who was my long-suffering beta for the first 18 chapters of this mess; and, of course, muchmuchmuch love to my readers and reviewers that have stuck with me through this ordeal we are going to call a fanfic. Thank you for all of your kind words, your encouragement, and your support. I would like to pretend that the only person I wrote this story for was me, but that would be a lie; if so, this would just be living on my hard drive, never to see the light of the internet. The truth is, reviews have a power to keep an author writing, and I doubt this would be finished now if it weren't for you guys. I thank each of you for taking the time to leave me your thoughts on my story.

It's finally complete guys! Let's all do cartwheels and get hammered.