A/N: This story is almost entirely canon – there's just a minor deviation from canon in terms of timeline but that's it. Thanks to my beta readers, Katie, Natalia, and Stefanie. You guys are amazing. :) The title is a song by Fountains of Wayne that I listened to on repeat while writing (although this is not by any means a songfic).

Firelight Waltz

"I'd like to assign the two of you a special, undercover mission," Dumbledore says, his wrinkled fingers steepling on his desk.

Lily hasn't been in his office in several months, but it smells just the same as it always has, with the same afternoon light catching on dust motes hanging in the air. Somehow she thought everything about Hogwarts would seem foreign after she finished her exams. Instead it's like coming home. With James sitting next to her, she could very well pretend that they're still Head Girl and Boy.

"What sort of undercover work?" Lily asks.

"I require two Order members to pose as a newlywed couple."

Lily wants to ask for how long, but James beats her to a response.

"No," he says immediately. "Absolutely not."

Lily's head whips sideways to look at him. "What do you mean, no?"

"I won't do it," James says firmly.

"We don't even know what the mission is, or where, or for how long. How can you say no?"

"Easily. You've said it to me plenty of times – I know you're familiar with the word."

It's been so long since she's spoken to him properly, or seen him for more than a few minutes at a time. She'd forgotten how quickly he makes decisions, but not how obstinate he is once he's made them.

"I admit to some degree of surprise," Dumbledore says mildly. "However, if you're quite decided…"

"I am." James stands up, his tea sitting untouched on the desk, small wisps of steam trailing up into the air. "If that's all?"

"James, wait." She looks helplessly to Dumbledore. "Why does it have to be a couple?"

Dumbledore's mouth curves into a small smile. She's missed that, too, how reassuring it can be. "I've reason to believe an item I require is being held at an inn on the coast of France that specializes in romantic stays."

"It doesn't matter why," James says. "Find someone else. I'm sure Remus would be happy to go."

"Remus will be otherwise occupied with matters only he can attend to," Dumbledore reminds him.

"There are plenty of young men in the Order. Ask one of them."

James marches out the door, but at least he's not so childish as to slam it behind him.

Lily turns back to Dumbledore, ignoring the interested whispers of the portraits surrounding them. "Is there someone else who can go instead of James?"

"I'm afraid every other suitable man is otherwise occupied. James is the only one between missions at the moment."

"Then send another girl," Lily says. "If it has to be him."

"With as much work as we have to accomplish, I scheduled everyone's activities several weeks ago. Foolishly, perhaps, I did not foresee James' reluctance."

"Then have me trade missions."

"The other missions have already begun, some months ago, and this mission must begin tomorrow. We've only a narrow window of opportunity before the object in question moves to a more secure location."

"I can go alone, then."

"I believe it would arouse suspicion to send a young woman by herself to this inn. No, I'll simply have to find another way. Thank you for your cooperation, as unnecessary as it turned out to be."

Dumbledore is just smiling as though he's reconciled himself to this outcome, as though this is the end of the conversation. He isn't actually demanding anything of her, or of James, but she knows what he wants her to do. She doesn't particularly want to—this mission does not sound appealing—but needs must in a war.

Lily sighs. "Let me talk to him."

Her shoes echo on the stone steps as she hurries down to the corridor, but she needn't have run. James hasn't gone far at all.

She finds him slumped down next to a suit of armor, his head hanging between his knees.

He looks up as Lily approaches, and she's never seen him look so defeated, not since—well. The day she broke his heart for good.

The stray voices of the students bounce off the castle walls, some laughing, some shouting, some teasing. Lily knows Hogwarts has many empty corridors, but she never feels alone in the castle.

She could probably still pass for a student if she wanted, slide into a seat in the Defense classroom without the new professor realizing she shouldn't be there.

It's only been three months since she left Hogwarts, but it feels like an era. She's already so different from the person she was then, her heart now tinged by battle.

And this new Lily, this hardened Lily, knows what she and James must do.

"There's not much choice," she tells James.

"I guessed as much."

"He wouldn't ask if he didn't need us."

He flicks a piece of dust off his shoe. "I know."

"So come pretend to be my husband." She folds her arms over her chest. If he's going to be recalcitrant, she'll have to be the adult. It's not a role she's taken with James since they were sixteen and she finds she hasn't missed it. "It'll just be for a little while."

"I can't."

"It's not that ruddy hard, you know. A little hand holding, maybe a peck on the cheek. We'll be back in no time."

He closes his eyes. "But I really, really can't."

"Don't be such a coward."

"I am not a coward," he says, smoothly climbing to his feet, and Lily is glad of it. She'd rather deal with an angry James than a moping one. She can live with making him angry. "This is simply self-preservation."

"I'm not going to kill you in your sleep when no one's around."

"That's not—" One of his hands finds its way to his hair and ruffles it, the way Lily has always wanted to but has never dared. "You really don't get it, do you?"

Of course, she does understand. That doesn't mean she wants to admit as much. She would prefer to pretend that he weren't so bloody transparent, that he didn't still feel the way he did four months ago.

"It's just pretend," she reminds him.

"That's why I can't," he says, his voice rough. "So Dumbledore will have to find another way."

"Then why didn't you leave the castle altogether?"

He wrenches his gaze away and just stands there, hands clenched into fists at his side.

She knows why he didn't leave, and he knows, but he's being stubborn as usual. That doesn't mean she'll answer for him, though. She knows he'll never walk away.

And so they stand in silence as the seconds tick by.

Lily hears Professor McGonagall's brogue in the distance, taking five points from Hufflepuff. The reasoning is drowned out in the protest of the students.

"I was going to ask out a girl tonight," James finally says. "On a date. We've been flirting and I think she fancies me and I…well, I was going to ask her out."

"Who?" Lily asks, before she can even think about it.



Now they're both standing with their arms crossed, in a sad parody of the many fights they had as schoolchildren.

"Shut it, all right?" James says, only highlighting the parallels. "She's nice and I'd feel like an arse pretending to be your husband when I'm, well."

Lily rolls her eyes to hide her shock. She'd wanted him to move on, or at least she'd told herself as much. She just hadn't anticipated the sharp pang in her stomach when he broke the news.

"Dorcas is in the bloody Order," she says. "She knows if Dumbledore asks us to do something…she'll know it's not real."

"Yeah, but…." He uncrosses his arms and rubs one hand along the other forearm. "It'll still be awkward."

"Well, that's unfortunate," Lily concedes, "but she'll just have to live with it."

"I haven't agreed to go."

"No," Lily says. "But you haven't left."

He hangs his head a little, a resigned smile on his face. "I haven't, have I?"

"And we both know why. So get your arse back in Dumbledore's office. We leave in the morning."

"Bloody fantastic," he mutters.

"I hope you enjoy your stay, Mr. and Mrs. Woodrow." The receptionist's overly white teeth show through her smile as she hands over two room keys. "Please let any of the staff know immediately if you require anything."

Lily links her arm through James' and leans in against him. "We're so excited to be here."

James is too stiff next to her, and she nudges him in the ribs with her elbow. He grimaces, just barely, but enough for Lily to see it.

"Flying always upsets his stomach," Lily explains to the receptionist.

"Ah, yes, the same with my mother," the receptionist says, nodding sympathetically. "A nice stroll through the gardens will help. I guarantee it."

"Sounds lovely," Lily says. "Come on, sweetheart."

The receptionist's assistant, a cherub-faced boy who can't be older than sixteen, grabs their luggage and nods for Lily and James to follow.

They traipse up the carpeted stairs in a row, passing by framed photos of wildflowers. At the top of the stairs they hang a right into a short corridor with doors painted a variety of pastel colors.

"You 'ave the green room," the boy says. He sets down their luggage and opens the door for them.

Afternoon sunlight trickles in through white lace curtains, falling in a mottled pattern across a large four poster bed. An antique loveseat stretches out in front of the window next to a whitewashed wooden desk. The hotel's decorated the room in flowers—a pattern of roses on the duvet, dried baby's breath on the nightstands, a fresh bouquet on the desk. The room is quiet, peaceful, and perhaps to some, romantic.

Lily lets her hand intertwine with James' while the boy brings in their luggage.

"On the bed is fine," she tells him, looking up at James.

James looks constipated.

Lily resists the urge to huff and tips the boy. She shuts the door behind him and turns back to James.

"You're a shit actor."

"Yeah, well, apparently I hate flying."

"Your wit has always been your best feature."

"I thought it was my hair."

"Mm, point. Second best, then."

He frowns at her.

Lily casts privacy charms around the room. "Look, if we're going to pass as a couple, you need to at least pretend. A little. Anything at all."

"Remus was always the best actor among us."

"Be that as it may, you're here, not him. Now get your wand out of your arse and focus on the mission, all right?"

"I'm plenty focused," he tries.

Lily raises her eyebrows at his pathetic attempt. "You're right. Remus is the better actor."

"Happy to prove my point."

"But really, do anything. Just hold my hand like—well, not like I'm the giant squid, all right? You don't have to do anything more than that. We can say we're not into public affection."

"You promise you won't get angry if I…well."

"No, just do whatever you need to do to make the ruse work, all right?"

He swallows. "All right."

James has been holding out on her.

She's regretting asking him to put on a show.

His arm feels too right around her shoulders, a warm, reassuring weight, his fingertips rubbing gently along her bare shoulder.

"And then," he eagerly tells the German couple across the dinner table from them, "she said, 'I'd rather go out with a giant squid!'"

The couple roars with laughter. James squeezes his arm around Lily and leans in to peck her on the cheek.

Lily curses her pale skin and how easily it reveals her blush. He's modified the beginning of the story, and she doesn't mind him telling it, but his arm….

She had not been prepared for James to turn on his charisma like a switch.

It isn't that his charm is surprising or unprecedented. The problem is that she's all too familiar with it.

She'd hoped that maybe in the past four months he'd forgotten how, or that she'd somehow become immune.

She is not. In fact, she seems genetically susceptible.

"That is love," Rolf says. "No, and then yes."

"Not always," Lily mutters.

Britta gives her a knowing look. "But sometimes."

"Sometimes," Lily concedes.

"Our time." James grins like, well, a lovesick idiot.

His hand begins stroking the strands of her hair that dangle over her arm and she is definitely not enjoying it, not at all, because they are pretending and they're not really together but only because she said so and why did she say that, when he knows just what she likes even though they've never actually dated?

"Play along, why don't you," he whispers in her ear.

Lily gives him a flat look, but she shoves him playfully, letting her hands linger on his chest.

"You don't need to remind me," she teases.

"Doesn't mean I won't take every opportunity anyway."

He winks at her.

Oh, James had said, I can't act. Bollocks. Complete and utter bollocks.

"And how did you two meet?" Lily asks Britta, trying to clear her head.

"She was my secretary," Rolf says. He looks down lovingly at Britta's brown plaits. "The—the hair thing, what do you call it?"

"Braids," James supplies.

"Yes, braids. Very pretty. I could not think of work when she was outside my office."

"I said I'd quit," Britta says, "but only if he would marry me."

James laughs, his head tilting back, and Lily's eyes trace the line of his throat. His arm is still clinging to her shoulders, like he never wants to let go.

It should not be as comforting as Lily is finding it.

"Why did you choose to come here?" Lily asks.

"My friend came, said it was very good," Britta says. "And French food is my favorite."

Lily smiles. "Mine, too."

James' arm drops from her shoulder as he leans across the table and whispers conspiratorially, "Don't tell the staff, Rolf, but I have never cared for the French."

Rolf answers, "Me neither," and holds a finger to his lips.

Britta rests her head on Rolf's shoulder.

Lily reaches down and clasps James' hand under the table. Her hand disappears in his, which she shouldn't like but she does.

"The things we do for love," Rolf says contentedly.

James' lips quirk. "Quite."

"You're a terrible actor my arse," Lily says once James has shut the bedroom door.

"You told me to act."

"Well, you certainly did."

He lets out a low laugh. "Is this it, then? You're angry with me because I did what you asked me to do?"

Leave it to James to make Lily feel like a proper idiot with one sentence.

He'd known she'd get angry, and then she did, and she hates living up to that expectation.

She presses her lips together.

"Oh, Lily Evans, speechless," he says, starting to grin.

"Shove off," she mutters. She pulls back the lace curtain and looks out into the garden courtyard below. A few lights glow yellow in their sconces.

"At least you acknowledge you're being stupid."

"At least I'm stupid only some of the time."

"I think the French food is dulling your wit."

"I think you need to shut it."

"Again, not your best, but—"

"No, I mean someone's out there," Lily says, throwing a glance at him. "I want to hear what they're saying."

She unlatches the window and gently pushes it open, just enough for the sound to drift through.

James walks up behind her, and she feels his shoulder brush against hers when he leans in.

But it's only a couple from the south of France. Lily's French is rusty, but she can make out their conversation well enough. They're spouting silly romantic things that no one could ever live up to.

"Nevermind," she says.

"Just as well." James turns to sit on the edge of the bed. "We need to focus. I don't plan on going home empty-handed."

"There are only twelve rooms in the inn. If we assume one of the female guests has the locket, we need to search four rooms per night."

"It might not have been one of our exam subjects, but I assure you I'm perfectly capable of basic maths."

"I'm only talking through it," Lily says tightly.

She's wound up in more ways than one from his behavior at dinner, but damned if she'll admit as much to his face. It's not just her pride standing in the way. She's already stomped on his heart once and the thought of accidentally leading him on ties her stomach up in knots.

"Fine," he says. "We can each take two rooms per night. That's perfectly manageable."


"Do you want to discuss specific spell strategies?"

She sighs and drops onto the loveseat. "I suppose."

Lily slowly pulls the door to the blue room shut behind her, and it closes with a quiet snick. She glances both ways and creeps down the corridor to their room.

James is already fast asleep.

They hadn't discussed sleeping arrangements, but he's only sprawled over half of the bed. Lily briefly eyes the couch but dismisses it. She needs to be well rested more than she needs to avoid sleeping in the same bed as James.

Or so she thinks until she wakes up with his arm curved around her waist and zero ambiguity about whether it's a man or a woman behind her.

She takes a deep breath and rolls out from under his arm.

They've slept in late, according to the clock on the nightstand. Not too surprising given how they spent the night.

James rustles, pulling his arm back to his body. "Mhm?"

"Go back to sleep," Lily says softly, slipping into her dressing gown.

She takes her time showering, wishing the water pressure were louder so she'll have no chance of overhearing James, and ties her hair in a low ponytail.

She hadn't known what to pack for her fake honeymoon. The general concepts of marriage and honeymoons have always seemed like far off events, things she thinks might happen someday but isn't really sure, and the details of those arrangements have never seemed important at this stage in her life. She's never thought about where she'd want to go on her honeymoon before. Probably somewhere without floral bedspreads, although being near the ocean certainly appeals.

She makes a show of flushing the toilet and loudly splashing water around the sink before opening the door to the bedroom.

James is gazing out the window, and Lily quickly memorizes how he looks with his hair all mussed up and his pajama pants hanging low on his hips, exposing a sliver of taut stomach below his shirt.

He turns and shoots her a sheepish smile. "Sorry about…whatever might have happened."

"It's just nature," Lily says dismissively. She folds her pajamas and places them back in her suitcase. "Besides, I'm rather a catch. I'd be offended if you hadn't."

"So certain of yourself," he says, grinning.

"Shouldn't I be?"

"I'm not disagreeing. Not in the slightest."

She nods. "I'm going down to the sea. I figure we've little better to do until tonight."

"By yourself?"

She wants to kick herself for dropping character. Because she has to consider James on everything here, doesn't she?

"Dearest husband," she says with mock seriousness, "would you care to accompany me to the coast this fine morning?"

He takes a bow. "I would be delighted."

She bites back a smile while shutting her suitcase and hopes he didn't see.

"But breakfast first?" he asks hopefully. "I mean, food, yes, and also maybe meeting more guests. For the mission."

"You just want to be able to feel me up again."

She's teasing, but the mirth drops from his face like a stone in water, and one of his hands rubs his hair, making it even more disheveled.

And attractive, if she's being honest with herself.

"You don't really…that's not." He stops. "We're just pretending."

"I know," Lily says, more to herself than to him. "I know."

Of course, Lily has never been one to let others have all the fun. And if she's only half-pretending, then that's between her and herself.

"James used to drive me batty," she tells Hank from Texas. "Always asking me out, doing stupid little things to get my attention."

Hank chuckles, and Lily lets her hand drift up to the back of James' neck, where she starts fondling the short wisps along his hairline.

James retaliates by tracing a hand along her thigh, just lightly enough that she can feel it through the light cotton of her skirt. Against her best efforts, she shivers.

"But we're just thrilled to be here," James says with enthusiasm. "Absolutely thrilled. My Lily loves the ocean, but we live in London most of the time, where all we get is a manky river."

"Speaking of," Lily says. "Fancy accompanying me down to the coast, dear? You did promise."

He gazes into her eyes, and she manages not to shiver this time, but just barely.

"Anything for you," he says.

"Get a picnic basket and stay all day," Stella says, her brash American vowels grating on Lily's ears. "They're the best. We got one yesterday, and let's just say we came back starving for dinner."

She waggles her eyebrows at Lily, who forces a smile.

"Then we absolutely must get one," James says seriously. "Don't expect to see us until dinnertime."

As soon as they're out of eyeshot of the inn, Lily lets go of James' hand and wanders ahead on the narrow footpath, leaving him to carry the heavy picnic basket. She thinks it's only fair since he insisted on bringing it.

After a few minutes she reaches the top of a short, grassy hill, and lets out a deep, contented breath.

The ground drops off not ten steps in front of her, falling a hundred feet along sheer yellow cliffs to a rocky shore dotted with colorful rowboats, where it disappears into endless miles of glittering ocean.

"There are worse places we could be stationed," James comments from behind her.

She didn't hear him catch up, but she doesn't mind. Nothing can bother her now, not when she can ignore him for the distant thunder of the waves.

Holding onto her sun hat with one hand, her long hair whipping around her shoulders, Lily starts running down the path to the water, slowly at first but quickly gaining speed. Her sandals slap against the dirt and she finds herself laughing giddily, like a child.

She flies down the hill and across the beach, kicking up rocks around her feet, not letting herself lose momentum until she's ankle deep in the cool waters of the sea.

The weak remains of a wave sweep past her ankles, brushing a few pebbles over her the tops of her feet.

"I didn't know we were racing," James says. He's next to her now, reaching down to wash his hands in the water.

Lily tilts her face up to the sun, soaking in the warmth and salt and wind.

She is alone in the ocean, she tells herself. She is not pretending to love the boy she really does love. She does not hold his heart in the palm of her hand, hers to crush or cherish at will.

"Remind me to muss up my hair and get some lipstick on me before we head back," he says.

She'd love nothing more than to actually run her fingers through his hair, properly this time, and leave lipstick in places he probably wasn't even thinking of.

But she's not wearing lipstick, for one thing.

And she would be sending terribly mixed messages by snogging him senseless, for another, so she won't. She mustn't.

"You know, as much as I love talking," James says, "and believe me, I do, it's much more entertaining if there's some level of call and response."

"I'll participate," she says primly, "only if I get to do the calling."

"You know I come running when you call."

He's trying to come off as joking but Lily knows him too well for it to work.

"I should like to sit in the sun," she declares, turning toward him. "And watch the waves. On occasion you may regale me with some witty repartee."

One corner of his mouth curls up in an amused smile. "As the lady wishes."

Time ticks by as they sit atop a rock beside the sea, Lily dangling her feet off the edge, the waves licking up against them. They don't speak much, just to point out interesting people or objects on the beach. As far as company goes, it's tolerable. She'd prefer if he weren't there but only because she doesn't know how to act.

She's forgotten what it's like to spend so much time in James' presence. They'd gone from speaking multiple times a day about anything and everything, to speaking only about Head matters the last few weeks of Hogwarts, to never seeing each other except at full Order meetings, where everyone else served as a buffer. She's only seen him a handful of times since they said goodbye at King's Cross, a grossly awkward, forced moment that she wishes they could have skipped altogether.

He offers her another wedge of cheese, and she graces him with a smile that she hopes he takes as encouraging, but only of friendship.

At the time, saying no had seemed to be the best option. Some of her friends had thought she was a complete idiot for doing so, but others had understood.

Lily has not permitted the topic to come up in her presence since they left Hogwarts. Not for lack of trying on her friends' part – offers to set her up with others, or subtle attempts to ask if she's seen James, have led to Lily blatantly changing the subject.

Not that she's dated since Hogwarts. She's been busy fighting a war and has had other things to worry about besides boys. Or at least, that's her party line.

She's wondered about him since exams, obviously. They're friends. Friends wonder about each other.

And if she sometimes dreams about him and wakes up gasping, that's no one else's business.

She's not in denial. She knows what she wants, but she's also practical. Her feelings may not have changed yet, but they will, she's sure of it. She just can't let James know in the meantime that they're there, as alive and sparking as ever, and risk giving him false hope.

After all, she's not some harpy who wants to toy with him, even in a forced scenario like this.

But then Hank and Stella show up on the beach, a picnic basket of their own in hand, and wave at Lily and James. Lily grabs James' hand, frantic to show any indication of a romantic relationship with this man, and Hank and Stella walk away arm in arm.

This time it's James who pulls his hand free.

When Lily's had her fill of watching the waves, they decide to go exploring along the cliffs. They walk hand in hand, in case anyone is watching, toward a rocky outcropping jutting out into the ocean.

He's been awfully quiet all day and Lily hates seeing him that way, beaten into submission. That's not the James she knows or likes. Loves, even.

"Algernon must be missing you terribly," she says.

"Yeah, I suppose so."

He stops to fish a rock out of his sandals, and takes her hand again, all without another word.

"Who's cat sitting for you?" she asks.



She thinks maybe she can get away with encouraging him to move on, which would have the dual purpose of indicating that she's not interested and getting him to open up.

"I like Dorcas," Lily says. "She's really fun."

But James' face closes at the subject. "She's great."

"I'm glad—well. That you're not permanently damaged from me."

He doesn't answer.

"At least, I hope you're not," she hastens to add. "It's good you're trying to see other people."

He stops walking but doesn't let go of her hand, and she's forced to stand next to him, a seagull croaking above them.

"You're not happy about it," he says, eyes fixed on hers. "Not at all. But I want you to know, I learned, all right? No means no. You were never going to change your mind and I wasn't going to sit around alone and pining the rest of my life. That's just pathetic."

"You were never pathetic," she says quietly.

"Yeah, well, took bloody long enough for me to listen to what you were saying, didn't it?"

She wants to say that she really is glad he's going to ask Dorcas out, and how dare he accuse her of lying about it, but she's not glad. Not remotely, not anywhere near the realm of even moderately okay with it.

Except that she knows this makes her a giant fucking hypocrite and she's not childish enough to demand that he not date anyone else.

He throws her hand back at her. "I'm going for a swim."

She doesn't know what to say. She can lie or she can be a hypocrite. Either way she loses.

She says nothing and it still doesn't feel like winning.

She thought that it would be fine pretending.

It's not.

It's the worst.

She can tolerate being apart from him, or possibly being with him, but this feigned togetherness is a sharp, deep cut, bleeding out no matter how much she tries to staunch it.

Even after their row on the beach and the tense, silent walk back, he switches right back to playing the loving husband once they near the inn. He calls her all manner of silly nicknames at dinner and brushes a lock of hair out of her face so gently and holds her hand just the way she likes it, tight enough that she can't forget he's there.

And she allows herself to perform all the little acts of affection she's always wanted. Most of them have to do with touching his hair, but there is also his neck and hands and arms to explore.

"James works for the police," Lily tells Rolf.

"I like to think I work for the public, actually," James says. "And this is just my particular method of doing so."

"He saved a man's life the other day," Lily says with a proud smile.

"He saved himself," James protests. "He hadn't passed out from the fire yet."

"But his leg was broken. He would've had to crawl. He might not have got out before the building collapsed."

"You make it sound so dramatic."

"Well, it was."

"You weren't even there, dear."

"But I can imagine. And I like to." She raises off her seat enough to kiss him on the cheek.

She's never been into public affection. She refused to partake in it with her short-lived boyfriends at Hogwarts. But with James... She loves showing that she's won him over, that she alone can do this to him.

Even if it's not real.

"We need more men like you," Rolf says. "Strong, kind men."

"Too bad for you, Rolf," Lily says, squeezing James' hand under the table, "this one's already taken."

They fawn over each other until they're locked in their room, at which point they retreat to opposite ends of the room. James lays stiffly on the loveseat and Lily takes up the part of the bed furthest from him, holding up a book in front of her face.

She's not reading, not even pretending by turning pages, because all she can think is how much she hates rowing with James. She wants him to joke with her and mean it, tease her and listen to her and nudge her playfully like he used to. As co-Heads they'd worked beautifully off each other's strengths – James directing the masses while Lily darted around, knowing which prefects needed which reassurances or instructions. They'd been a proper team.

Now they're anything but.

She wants him to like her again, wants that easygoing balance they'd achieved, but it seems impossibly out of reach.

"I don't like this," she says, book still in front of her.

"Me neither," he bites out.

"I wish we could get along."

"Obviously we're physically incapable of it."

Their last year at Hogwarts says otherwise, and they both know it.

"Can we at least not be angry with each other all the time?" she asks.

"Apparently not."

"I just—I want us to be us again."

He doesn't say anything.

"I mean, as friends," she adds. She must never, ever lead him on, not again.

He bolts up in his seat, looking aggravated. "Merlin, I know you said no, all right? You don't have to keep shoving it in my face."

"I only want to be clear," she says delicately. Everything she does seems to make things worse.

"Yeah, well, message received."

He lets himself fall back onto the sofa, arms wrapped around his chest, eyes staring at the ceiling.

"I'm sorry if I've ever led you on."

He rolls over on the sofa, his back to her, and a slow ache creeps across Lily's chest.

She thinks the conversation must be over and decides to take a bath, if only to put a door between them.

She sets her book aside and is halfway to the bathroom when he speaks.

"Why didn't you just say yes?" he asks, his voice low and muffled by the cushions.

She stops in her tracks and looks at him, feeling completely at a loss. He must have been wanting to ask this for months, but he's held back and she hasn't felt compelled to tell him her reasoning.

But she owes him this, she supposes.

"Because," she says. "You're you, and I'm me, and you'd been asking me out for years—"

"I didn't think you were a trophy to be won."

"No, I know," she allows. Maybe this will help, make him understand that it wasn't him she was rejecting, that he's bloody marvelous. "But you—you'd been wanting it for so long, and I hadn't, and I—that's too much pressure, James. You'd been chasing me for years and probably didn't even know why you fancied me anymore and you'd probably get into a relationship with me and realize you'd been stupid for all those years for pining because we would never be as good as you'd imagined."

He remains silent, long enough that Lily thinks maybe now she should take that bath. He needs time to absorb, maybe, start understanding why she turned down what they both wanted.

But then he rolls onto his back and sits up, swinging his feet onto the floor. He doesn't look hurt. Instead he looks outraged. "You're the stupidest girl I've ever met."

"Rubbish," she says automatically.

He springs to his feet and starts advancing on her. "You're afraid you won't live up to your imagined version of my imagined version of you."

"No, that's not it—"

And then he's in front of her, leaning over her. "It sure bloody sounds like it."

"Don't tell me what I think." She refuses to take a step back to give herself space, even though it means craning her neck up to look at him.

"I'm not—you're so bloody stubborn," he says, one hand rubbing against the back of his neck. "Just give me an inch once in a while, would you?"

"I've given you yards."

"Yeah, only before I gave up!"

Lily scoffs. "That's not true."

"You've been nothing but cold to me since—you know. We were friends and then I thought, obviously idiotically, that maybe you felt the same way, but then you said no and then that was it. We weren't friends anymore."

"We are friends," she protests.

"No, we're bloody not. We never talk about anything besides the Order or people we know or just meaningless things like the weather."

He's not wrong, she knows he's not, but this isn't fair, she's only been trying to make things marginally better.

"I didn't want to hurt you anymore." Her hands clench into fists at her side and she's trying to keep from shouting but her heart is pounding and he just makes her so angry sometimes.

"Then you were too bloody late," he says coolly.

"I'm sorry!" she says, her voice cracking.

She's said it before and she'll say it again but it's never enough, and she knows it.

"Good!" He finally retreats, stepping back a little, but nonetheless triumphant. "You should be. Because I know you wanted to say yes, Lily. I know you, and I know you did."

She had. She'd warred with herself long and hard, spent plenty of nights debating what to do about her growing attraction to him, to the point where she fell asleep in Transfiguration one morning.

"I thought," she says, looking at the hardwood floor, "it would hurt less if we never…. I couldn't get into that relationship and then just back out a month later."

"Of course you could have!"

"I would've felt so awful."

"Then maybe, just maybe, you shouldn't go into relationships expecting them to end," he throws out. It takes him a second to realize what he's just said, and he turns toward the window.

"What," Lily presses, "you thought we'd stay together forever and get married?"

He doesn't say anything, his shoulders a tense line, and every second that the silence drags on, Lily becomes more disbelieving.

"You did not," she says.

"Doesn't matter," he says tightly. "You never said yes to a date."


He spins around lazily, voice dripping with condescension. "Blokes don't usually doodle the name of the girl they fancy if they're only interested in shagging her."

"James, we're eighteen—"

"And in the middle of a war," he says fiercely. "And anyway, it's not like I asked you to marry me, I just asked if you wanted to go out sometime. Yes to that wasn't yes forever."

"But you wanted it to be," she says uncertainly.

His arms raise up in a helpless gesture. "I don't know! I never learned whether we'd work as a couple or not, so how should I bloody know whether I'd actually want to marry you."

Lily had never considered that he might be in it for the long game. She'd wondered, but she'd told herself she was foolish if she expected an eighteen-year-old boy to settle down, but James—he's always known what he wants, she realizes. He makes a choice and sticks to it, whether it's dinner or classes or a career.

And apparently he's chosen her.

"We need to search the rooms," she says, folding her arms and looking at the door.

He laughs once, low and dark. "Yeah, run away from it again. Because that's the mature way to deal with this."

"I'm only thinking of our responsibilities."

"You're so full of shit, Evans. But fine, go on and search the rooms. You'll still have to deal with me in the morning. "

Her mind is such a mess, she nearly botches her sleeping charm on Hank and Stella. She recovers, though, and begins pulling open drawers in the vanity.

Her hands are searching for the locket but her thoughts are whirling.

James has thought about marrying her.

Marrying her.

She's always said loudly and proudly that she's not getting married before she's thirty, that only fools marry in their teens, and that she doesn't even know if she wants kids. Everyone's always been quick to reply that she'll change her mind, which has only had the effect of hardening her resolve to prove them wrong.

But getting into a relationship with James….

She isn't so sure she wouldn't have to take all that back.

She's seen him with children. Sometimes Order members bring theirs along to meetings and damned if James isn't the most adorable nanny, charming bubbles and lights and songs for the children, or drawing them onto his lap to bounce them while quietly singing them songs.

And he knows her. She can't pretend that he's pining after some illusion he has of her. He's always known exactly how to rile her up, or calm her down, or make her laugh.

And, terrifyingly, she knows him. And she knows they could actually work.

But they might also make a huge mess of everything, and James will have felt a fool for waiting all these years.

She can't hurt him that way. She's not sure she could live with doing that to him. They'd never recover from that, never go back to being friends.

But as he pointed out, they're not friends. Not really.

She thought she could handle being friends but it's not possible. He laid his soul bare and she may as well have cast the Cruciatus at it. They both shattered the friendship that existed, and now they're in some bizarre, awful limbo, and there's no going back to what they had.

It's all or nothing for them.

And it always has been, really. They've never felt anything resembling mild for each other. Not since the moment they met.

And if she's forced to choose between all or nothing….

Well, she's had close to nothing. Enough to know how vile it is.

Which leaves her with all.

Her heart beats out in a rapid pace, loud enough that she worries her Charm won't be sufficient to keep the couple in bed sleeping.

She must go all in.

There's no other option left, or at least nothing that she's comfortable living with.

She'll have to rescind some of her earlier statements to do it.

It might take some persuasion, on her part.

But she knows, with utter conviction, that it will be worth it.

The locket is not anywhere in the yellow room. She sneaks back to their room, her mind a flurry of thoughts about how she's going to explain her sudden reversal to James, but he's not there.

She crawls into bed and waits for him, blood coursing too quickly for her to sleep, but she gives up after ten minutes. Instead she paces around the room, absently braiding her hair.

He doesn't come back.

Eventually she does start to drift off, curled up on the sofa.

She hopes he's warm, wherever he is, and falls asleep.

She wakes up at the muffled hissing of the shower.

She sits up slowly and stretches, her back cracking, her mind still blank on what to say to him.

Soon enough he wanders out of the bathroom with his shirt off, one hand toweling his hair dry. He doesn't even look at her, just moves toward his luggage.

"James," she says. The opening is easy, but she's hoping the rest of the words come to her out of nowhere. Everything she thought of last night seems either hopelessly romantic or vaguely hostile.

"What?" he says absently. He drops the towel on the ground and rummages through the heap of clothes in his suitcase.

She hesitates.

The words do not come.

"Did you find the locket?" she asks.

"Don't you think that would be the first thing out of my mouth if I had?" he says tightly.

She bites her lip, and he slams his luggage shut, a shirt sleeve hanging out the side.

"I can't deal with this today, all right?" He tugs on a t-shirt, and it briefly catches on his glasses. "I thought I could sleep it off but I can't."

"Then what do you propose?"

"Sod the mission. Newlyweds can have spats like anyone else. We'll go to the beach and spend our time apart. We'll find the locket tonight and be done with it."

"All right," she says, because she doesn't know what else to say.

They skip breakfast entirely, grabbing a couple pastries from the kitchen staff, and set off with another picnic basket. Most of the couples have retired to their rooms to prepare for the day, it seems, and James and Lily are alone on their hurried walk to the shore.

He's practically racing there, always half a step ahead of Lily no matter how quickly she walks, the basket banging against her thigh every other step.

He doesn't even pause at the top of the grassy hill, too engrossed in walking with his head down and his arms stiff.

Lily does, though. She stops and soaks in the view, James hurrying down the cliffs out of the corner of her eye.

He's in such a rotten mood, she doesn't know where to begin. She wants to tell him about her change of heart, wants to tell him how sorry she is for saying no, but she can't seem to find the words.

And it wouldn't matter, she thinks, because he's still barely looking at her when they're alone. She said no when she wanted to say yes, so why should he trust anything she says? She's ruined her integrity with him.

By the time she makes it down to the shore, James is nowhere in sight. Lily sighs and occupies the rock they sat on yesterday, figuring he'll need to find her eventually for lunch.

After checking discreetly that no one's watching, she casts a Cushioning Charm on the rock, and sun protection spells on her skin.

The waves wash in and out in front of her, and she waits.

He seems much calmer when he wanders back sometime after lunch, his hair hanging in thick, wet locks that drip water onto his shirt. He nods in greeting and fishes around in the picnic basket, emerging with an apple and a wedge of cheese.

Lily's barely touched any of the food, her appetite rather ruined, but he seems to have no such issues.

She manages to pick at some bread.

"Did you have a nice swim?" she asks.

He nods but doesn't look at her, gaze fixed on the horizon.

She forces a smile. "Good."

He doesn't speak again, not even when he wants to go back. He simply packs up the picnic basket, tries to brush the sand out of his hair, and leaves.

Lily trails after him and it feels like losing.

Every night the hotel puts on group activities after dinner, game nights and movies and the like. So far James and Lily have eschewed them to retreat to their room, but Britta insists that they stay for the band that night, that James can wait.

Lily and James share a look, one that she knows they mutually understand to mean they'll stay, but not for long.

And so they follow Rolf and Britta into the garden courtyard, where someone has draped a web of fairy lights overhead. Autumn hasn't touched here yet, the leaves on the tree still shading them from the fading sun. They continue discussing the rich food of the hotel with Britta and Rolf while the musicians warm up. Soon one of the hotel staff stands at the microphone, welcoming every one and introducing the band.

James looks a little peaky at the thought of dancing, but Lily drags him out among the couples to stand next to their German friends.

She loops her arms around his neck, and his settle in around her waist, a solid weight she can't ignore.

The musicians strike up a mournful ballad, and James starts slowly turning her around the courtyard. They're moving perfectly in sync together, as always.

She forces herself to look up at his eyes, and he's looking back at her, and she flashes him a smile.

She lets herself pretend this is real for a moment, that they are newly wedded and simply here to enjoy each other's company. Maybe this song is their song, the one they played at the wedding, and by fate the band here is playing the same song.

And the thought is appealing, in a way. She wouldn't come here for a real honeymoon, but she could marry James. He's clearly considered it as a possibility. That part could be real.

He smiles back at her. Maybe he's pretending the same thing.

And then it occurs to her that there is one glaringly obvious method for convincing him that she means it. That she's in, now, for good.

Before she can doubt herself, she stands on her toes and presses her mouth over his, not a mere peck but a full-throttle snog.

He'll be furious later, she's sure, but it doesn't seem to bother him at the moment. He kisses her back without hesitation, and she wonders if this is part of his act. Either way, she tries to embed upon his lips how marvelous he is, that she loves his charm and humor and bravery and the fact that he will never, ever let her win anything without a fight.

Including this kiss, now turned aggressive, his arms barricading her close to him, his mouth ravenous, and she stops wondering whether he's pretending, thoughts lost on the warm slide of his lips.

The one remaining ghost of a thought lingering in the shadows of her mind is what a fool she was for denying herself this perfection.

The kiss ends abruptly in a draw when one of the hotel staff coughs loudly next to them.

They break apart, and Lily tries to step back, but James still won't let her go.

"Sorry," he says to the staff member, his cheeks beautifully flushed. "This is our song."

"Won't happen again," Lily assures him, feet picking up the rhythm of the song again.

Britta winks at Lily, and Lily grins sheepishly.

James slants a fond smile at Lily. "I don't know what demon's possessing you right now," he says, so softly that only she can here, "but if you do that again I will turn you into a seagull."

"Understood," she says, her voice loving.

"What the fuck was that, Lily?" he says once Lily's shut their door.

"A snog," Lily says simply. "Don't tell me your parents never had the talk with you."

He paces across the brief distance of the room, one hand raised, clenching at the air, like he wants to grab something and smash it. "You can't just—just snog me. I mean, that's—that's not on, all right? If we weren't leaving tomorrow I'd put it off limits for the rest of this farce of a mission."

Lily rests her weight against the door behind her, hands still clenched around the doorknob. She instigated this conversation but still feels woefully underprepared for it. "It wasn't meant to be some sort of trick," she says quietly.

He makes a big show of rolling his eyes and scoffing, but she still loves the sight of him, even with his overreaction.

Especially with his overreaction.

She's never left wondering what he's thinking. He's always been perfectly transparent. Painfully transparent, sometimes, revealing all the cracks in the glass for the world to see.

She takes a deep breath, waiting for him to look at her before speaking.

It takes a few moments, long past the point when conversational etiquette suggests she should have replied, but eventually his eyes find hers, needing to see her reaction.

"I kissed you," she says, "because I wanted to."

His raised hand drops to his side. "That's never bothered you before, not snogging me."

"The thing is, James," she says slowly, fingers aching from clutching desperately onto the doorknob, "I want—I want in."

"In what, my mouth?"

She shakes her head twice, and only twice. "I want to give us a go."

He stares at her like she's speaking Mermish, and his mouth opens once, and then closes. "You can't just change your mind like that."

"Why not?"

"Just—because," he says, frowning in annoyance.

He's not completely repulsed by the idea. She didn't expect him to be, but there was still the chance that he'd think she was mad. And he does think she's mad, probably, but not…not in a way that matters.

She finally lets go of the door handle, stretching her fingers out at her sides. "That's a bloody stupid reason."

"I thought we were going to be friends."

She gives him a knowing look. "You know we can't."

"Isn't that the bloody truth." One hand combs through his hair. "You—I can't handle you, Lily Evans."

"I promise, my parts are the same as any other girl. I'm sure you'll get the hang of them soon enough."

"Think you're so bloody funny, don't you," he mutters.

"We make awful friends," she points out. "And I'm not…I'm not interested in cutting you out of my life."

"Oh, so by process of elimination, we've got to shag, is that it?"

She arches an eyebrow at him. "Essentially."

He shoves his hands in his pockets. "You and your bloody logic."

She leans her weight forward, intending to walk toward him, but then she holds herself back. "You know I said no even though I didn't—I wanted to say yes."

"Yeah," he says, his voice low. "I do know."

"So…I'm trying not to be so idiotic anymore."

He's been standing half-turned away from her, his skin golden in the soft lights of the room, but now he faces her entirely, tensely poised, a deer prepared to bolt.

"Are you admitting a mistake?" he asks, daring her to answer.

And this isn't easy, but her mouth, fondly recalling the sweet curve of his lips on hers, says, "Yes."

The tension seeps out of his body. Not entirely, but enough.

"Oh," he says. "Well, good."

"I should hope so."

"I'm just—" He turns toward the window, and then abruptly back to her. "You've caught me off guard."

"I realize," she says dryly.

He pauses. "You'll need to give me a moment."

"Take as long as you need."

He makes another pass along the bed, and spins around in front of the bathroom door.

She's not surprised he's a bit stunned. She's spent so long trying to convince him that she was absolutely not interested in a relationship, despite her feelings, that she must have finally convinced him it was never going to happen.

She's perfectly aware her change of heart happened in an instant, but once she made the decision, it seemed natural, a foregone conclusion.

"I told you we weren't good at being friends," he says, asking for confirmation.

"And you were right."

"But that's it," he argues. "I only had to tell you that you were being stupid, and then you realized you were being stupid, and now you want in?"

She shrugs. "I'm not some irrational bitch, James. You made a valid point. I listened. I changed my mind."

"I just—I can't believe that's all it took."

"Would you prefer that I lie and say no, I don't want to be with you?"

James adjusts his glasses with one hand. "Well, no—"

"Then I don't see what the problem is. We both want to be together, right?"

He smiles without humor and looks out the window for a moment.

"I was trying to get over you," he says.

"I know."

"I was going to ask out another girl."

"You were."

His mouth lifts up at one end. "Sirius is going to murder you."

She laughs, and the air feels lighter around her. "I'm sure I can fend off his attempts."

She could approach him now, if she wanted. But she's made the offer this time—for the first time—and it's up to him to respond.

"I don't know what to say," he says.

"Well," she says, "are you still interested?"

He doesn't answer right away, and panic strikes lightning-quick through her – she'd assumed he'd be interested because his feelings were crystal clear, but maybe she's wrong. Maybe he's decided to follow her example and ignore his attraction.

"I told myself I didn't want to be with you anymore," he says, more to himself than to her. "I told myself I was over you."

"But you're not, are you," she says quietly.

"Of course I'm bloody not."

"Then it seems awfully clear to me what you should say."

He runs both hands through his hair, locks sticking up every which way in their wake. "You really hurt me, Lily."

"And I'm really, really sorry," Lily says sincerely. "I was being—stubborn. For no reason."

He nods, but he seems lost in his head, his eyes unfocused. She wishes there were something more, something bigger she could say than sorry, but she doesn't have the words. Telling him sorry feels like treating a gunshot wound with a plaster.

"Tell me, then," he says. "That you want me. That you like me."

"I haven't exactly prepared a speech," she says uncertainly.

"No, but…." He ducks his head. "I want to hear it."

"What do you want me to say?" She barely prepared for the part of the conversation they've already had, much less composed a sonnet for him. "That I think you can be infuriating? That you're bloody ridiculous sometimes but I don't seem to care?"

His eyes come up to meet hers again, and the pleased look on his face, wary and vulnerable, hits Lily like a satisfying chord, sending shivers down her spine.

"That's a start," he says.

"That you've got hair that makes even me envious?" she goes on. "That you're adorable when you talk to your cat?"

His mouth starts to curve back in a grin. "Yes, continue."

She speaks now without thinking, spurred on by his smile. "That I've been miserable since I said no? That I only did it because I was afraid of how much I fancied you, that I was afraid we would end up together for, well, a really long time?"

"That's pretty idiotic," he comments.

She gives him a look of mock anger. "You're not encouraging me."

"I encouraged you plenty over the years. You'll be fine, I'm sure."

She concedes the point with a nod, and takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry it took me this long to come around, but I'm in. Now. If you are."

He's just standing there, and she wonders how he tolerated the cold silence when he bared himself to her, the agonizing seconds until she responded.

He sighs, rubbing a temple with two fingers. "I suppose I am."

"And here I thought I might inspire some genuine enthusiasm from you."

"I'm sure that'll come later. After the shock."

"I certainly hope so."

And then they look at each other, both at a loss, as the silence draws out again, but now it is softer, expectant.

"So what do we do now?" he asks.

She looks at him strangely. "It's too early to search the rooms."

"No, I mean now in the general sense. With us. Are we—what are we?"

"I…don't know. We're more than friends."

He rubs his hair, gently now, a small, persistent smile gracing his face. "Going on a date seems…it seems like we're past that, somehow."

"I know."

"But I think—I don't know what else to do."

"We're doing this in all the wrong order." She tries to muffle a short laugh with her hand. "We went on our honeymoon before our first date."

He starts to laugh, too, because this is admittedly ridiculous. "Couldn't this be considered a first date, of sorts?"

"We did already have our first kiss," Lily muses.

He looks vaguely stunned at this. "That was our first, wasn't it?"

"But not our last," she assures him.

"No. No, not by any stretch." He cocks his head at her and frowns. "We're…together."


"As of now."

"What would you propose instead? We start at the stroke of midnight?"

"No, no, now is good for me. It's fabulous for me, in fact. Couldn't be more perfect. Truly couldn't imagine anything better."

"Well, good," she says. "Good."

She laughs again and looks around the room because this is absurd. They're together now, only because they said so, but she feels it, too, and she wants him to share in this moment, and she looks at him and he is, he's wearing a smile as bright as starlight, but that's all right because she is, too.

He changes the tilt of his head, to a calculating sort of way. "Can we have our second kiss now?"

The room suddenly seems cavernous. They're not even at opposite ends of the room, but each step she takes an age to go by, her heartbeat thudding in her ears, but it's James at the other side of this stupidly large room, and he's smiling at her, pleased but still in shock, and then she's in front of him, flush against him, and then she's sliding her hands into his glorious hair and she's kissing him, and all she can think is yes yes yes yes yes

Her body's sweltering hot, but she presses herself closer to James all the same, unable to reach enough of his skin. A cool breeze from the window tickles across the back of her neck, and she shivers.

She breaks her mouth away from his to murmur against his cheek. "I'm all right continuing with the newlywed façade if you are."

Normally she wouldn't move so quickly, but this is James, and if she can't find a better word than sorry, maybe she can show it.

"No need to convince me," he replies.

She trails a line of kisses down his jaw and neck before her hands reach for the bottom hem of his shirt. She peels it off him, James obliging her by raising his arms, and drops it on the floor.

"I, er—" he starts to say.

"It's all right," she says quietly, taking her lips off him long enough to speak. "I'll show you."

"Fine by me," he says, and then Lily is being lifted up, his arms cradling her under her back and knees, and she laughs.

"Aren't you supposed to carry me over the threshold?"

"No time," he says, gently tossing her on the bed.

She bounces and covers her face, she's laughing so hard.

He crawls over the bed to straddle her and smiles, so softly she thinks her heart could break from the sight of it.

Yes, she thinks. Yes, this is worth it.

It's nothing like what she thought it would be.

It's better.

So, so much better. Leagues better. Infinitely better.

She'd thought they might take it slow the first time, but instead it's quick, and fervent, and beautiful, a rainbow after a long storm. It's a hurried attempt for them to say all the things they've felt but never been able to voice. At one point she kisses her way down his chest, murmuring his name. He shivers, and groans, and her heart flutters.

Later, when they're done, she'd prefer to bask in the afterglow, press her face into his neck and inhale the scent of him, but lovesick as she is, she's also an Order member.

They smile at each other, playful, knowing, and she kisses him once more before getting out of bed.

She spares a moment to refresh herself in the bathroom before darting down the corridor to search the remaining rooms.

Her cheeks haven't cooled down since they finished, and she has to force herself to thoroughly search the rooms. Her mind is swarmed with thoughts, mostly of James, of his smug grin, of his bubbling laughter, of his warm fingers sliding over her skin.

It's terribly distracting.

But it also doesn't help that she's not had any luck. She nearly panics in the last room because she hasn't found the locket, even after checking it over twice, and she hopes James has come across it in one of his rooms.

She tip-toes back down the corridor to their room, wondering how critical this locket is to Dumbledore. They might be able to stay another night, she thinks, if they've availability. She wouldn't object to an extension of the trip at this point. But there's no guarantee the guests they're looking for will be there the next night.

Of course, everything works out fine.

"Found it," he says when she opens the door.

"Thank Merlin."

"It's a funny old thing." He's stretched out on the sofa, feet hanging over the edge, dangling the locket above his head. Everything about it is so James: her cocky, curious, wonderful James.

She walks over, head tilted. Part of her wishes she knew why Dumbledore wanted this trinket, but then she reminds herself that she's probably best off knowing as little about it as possible.

The pendant hangs off a thick golden chain, glinting in the lamp light. Several sapphires are clustered in the center, forming an oddly shaped star. She knows it must be old—it certainly looks like something out of the Middle Ages—but it seems to be in unusually good repair.

She holds out her palm in a question, and James drops the necklace onto it.

It hums with a faint ring of magic. Not much, but enough for Lily to notice.

"It looks like it's made out of the Ravenclaw hourglass," James says. "I'd say put it on, but I prefer you in Gryffindor red."

She gives him a small smile and hands back the necklace. "I wasn't aware you had such an interest in my wardrobe."

"Not often. But I'm not blind, you know." He tosses the necklace toward his open suitcase in a perfect arc, and it lands solidly on one of his shirts.

"So now that we've accomplished our mission," she says, lowering her voice a pitch.

"I think congratulations are in order."

"I was thinking more mutual celebrations, actually."

She offers him a hand and he takes it, letting her pull him to his feet. She keeps tugging, even once he's standing, until he's pressed against her, close enough she can feel the rapid beat of his heart through his chest.

One of his hands cups her cheek, and he grins. "I've no qualms with that."

She wakes with the sun in the early morning. Not fully awake, just a groggy, faint level of awareness. Her head has somehow shifted from her pillow to his chest, rising and falling with his breath.

This is what she's wanted. This is what she's missed out on the past four months.

She wonders, sleepily, what everyone else in the Order will say when they go back to England.

She wonders if Dorcas will be angry with her.

She wonders if Sirius will jinx her.

Mostly she wonders if this wasn't Dumbledore's plan all along.

But she decides it doesn't matter, none of it, because she wouldn't change her mind again, not for anything. Her moments with him, even this one now, one that he's not even awake for, are worth any ridicule, any hex, any I told you so.

She presses a gentle kiss to his skin and dozes off again.

They spend their last morning strolling down to the beach, their hands entwined, even once no one can see them.

They summit the grassy hill one final time to see the ocean stretching out in front of them, shimmering in the sunlight.

Lily turns to James, and he looks at her as he's done for so long, with wonder and awe and endearment. It might have taken them a while to get here, longer than by all rights it should have, but they are here all the same.

Her chest swells with warmth, and it is not from the sun.

She flashes him a mischievous smile, and speaks the words she knows he's thinking.

After all, she knows him, and he knows her, and that is just how it should be.

"Race you."

She's barely finished speaking before he breaks out of her grasp and bolts down the hill. She chases after him, holding on to her sun hat as best she can, and laughing.

He's quick, but so is she, and they both slow as the near the shore.

She grabs his hand before they step onto the beach and beams up at him. "Together?" she asks.

He nods, and speaks with conviction. "Together."