a/n: Another AU, but this isn't nearly as dark as the last one! Title and lyrics are from Augustana's "Just Stay Here Tonight."

My hands are tied, and I've been rollin' the dice.

My legs are broken, and I ain't up for a fight.

I'll make it rain from an empty sky,

If you just stay here tonight.

She is eighteen, and she is ready for her life to start, for something to start.

School finished in May, but she isn't on her way to university, because somebody ran a red light, and her parents were in the car that flipped, spinning off the road, and Lily can't waste time at university when she needs a job now. She needs money now.

"Everything is going to be alright," Petunia says, and Lily wants to believe her.

But her parents are dead, and she uses her savings to help her sister with the debt.

Petunia manages to find Lily a job at the typing pool where she works. In a few boring, frugal years, she will have saved enough to support herself while she goes to university like she planned, but for now summer seems to stretch endlessly before them. Already, temperatures are record high, a drought scorching the grass brown, and the roses in the back yard are wilting. Her father loved those roses. How fitting.

She doesn't want to think about her father, or what's supposed to happen next, how nothing is supposed to happen next. Her friends ply her with drinks, trying to distract her from everything.

They drag her to the pub with them, and that's where everything starts.

It's her pub, or it's the Cokeworth pub, and these boys with their posh accents, their goofy grins, and their funny clothes aren't from Cokeworth. She smirks at his jumper, a lumpy, patterned thing.

He laughs at something his mate says, shoving the boy towards a table.

He looks like a prat, but he's fit. Or, well, he isn't fit. But he carries himself like he is, like being tall, bony, and pale is something to talk about. His hair sticks up in every direction, and the careless way about him seems fitting with that hair. She looks away as he comes to stand beside her stool.

He taps his fingers absently on the bar, glancing around at the same moment she looks back at him.

She smiles, and a grin splits his face. He is definitely a prat; it's always in the grin. He orders a pitcher for his mates, "and, let's see," he glances at her, "what's that?" He nods at her drink. Grins.

She bites her lip. Diana is playing darts with Michael Richardson, Maureen is chatting up Carl Abbott, and Lily is bored. "Whiskey sour," she agrees, and the boy orders a whiskey sour for her.

"Ta," she says, raising the drink to him in salute.

He leans stupidly against the bar, running a hand through his hair. "I'm James."

"Lily." She sips her drink, and he doesn't move to take the pitcher to his mates.

"Are you local?" he asks.

She smirks. "I think you're the only person in this pub who isn't," she replies. But they don't really talk, because Diana starts to twirl her hair around her finger, which is her signal that she wants Lily to rescue her from a bloke. Diana used to date Mike, but her interest in him lately varies depending on the day. This must not be his day. Lily stands, smiling at the boy. "Have a good night, James."

Within an hour, Diana changes her mind.

She starts snogging Mike, and Lily plays darts against herself until George White offers to play a round with her. She trounces him. He laughs at his defeat, his hand resting on her lower back. "I guess I should get you a celebratory drink," he says, squeezing her hip before he heads to the bar.

It's easy to spot James at the booth near the window. She starts towards him.

"Lily!" he greets, grinning, and his mates look amused.

She hooks a hand around his elbow. "Come on, quickly," she says. "I've known George since I was six, and I know that I'm not interested in the twit. Play darts with me, and I'll buy you a drink."

"I don't know how to play darts," he says, but he lets her haul him to his feet.

She makes a face at him. "Really aren't from around here, are you? Well, I'll teach you. Come on."

George returns with a rum and coke for her, never mind that she doesn't like rum and coke, and she smiles in thanks as James exclaims, "pick a number!" She picks eleven, and he whirls around to throw the dart wildly, declaring, "close enough!" when the dart sticks in the inner ring on fourteen.

She snorts. "Okay, practice is finished," she says. George leaves, and James winks at her. Prat.

But he is fun to play with, loud, punctuating his shouts with wild hand gestures, unabashed about how absolutely awful he is at the game. It's infectious in a way, his enthusiasm, and she likes him.

Somebody is waiting to play a round after them, and she buys him a drink. Fair's fair.

"Ta," he echoes, raising his glass in salute. They tap glasses, and he grins at her.

He looks like he is about to say something, but he doesn't have a chance, because Maureen tosses an arm around her shoulders, and Maureen is drunk. It's time to go. "Go get Diana," Lily says, and Maureen toddles off. Lily finishes her drink, looking at James. "Have to take her home," she says.

He nods. "Will you be back?"

"Not tonight," she says, "but, um —"

She grabs his hand, turning to search for a pen on the bar, and his fingers curl slightly against her palm. She smiles to herself. The pen she finds is sticky, but she ignores that as she writes her number across his hand. The writing is slightly shaky, smudging on his knuckles, but it's readable.

"There." She tosses the pen back onto the bar.

He nods. "Cheers." His gaze flickers to his hand, and the slightest crease appears in his forehead. But when his gaze returns to her, the crease gives way, and he grins that stupid, boyish grin at her.

Amused, she raises an eyebrow at him, and his grin widens.

Maureen is hopping around stupidly as Diana fusses with hair, and Lily heads towards them. But James shouts to her. "I'm going to ring you, Lily! I am!" She glances back at him, and he grins brightly at her, his glasses sitting a little crookedly on his nose. "I'm great at using the tellyphone!"

She snorts. He is a prat, and he's a drunk one at that. But. Still. She hopes he rings her.

"Morning, dear," Petunia says, standing at the stove. "How was your night?"

Lily smiles. "Met a bloke at the pub," she says. Petunia hands her a plate piled with good, greasy food, and Lily grins. Her sister is the best cook. "He was fit, and he seemed smart. And he isn't from Cokeworth, which you know is always a good thing." She takes the fork Petunia hands her.

"What does he do?"

Lily shrugs, sitting at the table. "Don't know. But I gave him my number."

Petunia pats her arm. "Well, I hope he rings you. He'd be a fool not to." She smiles.

He rings her the next day, seemingly delighted with himself as he loudly asks how she is.

She assumes the connection is bad on his end. "I'm fine, thank you," she says, and she smiles stupidly at the empty kitchen when he asks her what her thoughts on dinner are. "I happen to like a good dinner," she replies, breezy, flirting with him; she can't stop smiling at the grin in his voice.

"Brilliant. How about I take you to dinner? Tonight, wherever you want."

She laughs at him for no reason, and she gives him her address. "Pick me up at seven."

"So. Why are you in Cokeworth?" she asks.

He shrugs. "I have a mate that grew up across the river. Remus. We shared a flat in London after school, but a few months ago he had to move back to look after his mum, who hurt her hip. I came to visit him for the week." He points his fork at her mushrooms. "Do you want those?"

"No. Feel free." He spears the mushroom slices on his fork, and she steals a few cucumber slices from his plate in exchange. He tuts his tongue, and she smiles innocently. "What do you do? In London, I mean." She would've thought he was in school, and she is tempted to ask why he isn't.

But she isn't about to volunteer why she isn't.

"I, um, I volunteer for — I work for this, um, this volunteer organization. Against — crime."

She sips her water. "Mmm, that was terribly descriptive; you've painted a vivid picture."

He chuckles. "Well, what about you?"

"I work in a typing pool for Glasson Electric Company. It's likely the worst job in the world."

He raises his eyebrows at her. "Why do you do it?"

She rolls a radish around on her plate. "It's a job, isn't it? My sister worked at the branch in London, and she transferred home a little while ago. When I finished school, she found me a job."

"What do you want to do? If you could do anything, what would you do?"

She doesn't have to think about it. "Architecture. It's in the plans for someday. Fingers crossed."

"I want to work for the Ministry. Of — the government. The government ministry." She bites her lip, amused, but he doesn't give her the chance to poke fun at him for his fumbling. "Stupid. Let's change the subject." She laughs, and he asks her what her opinion on deer is. "Specifically, stags."

"Well. I don't know that I have an opinion on deer," she says. "Or stags."

He nods. "They're brilliant," he says. "I think you should love them."

In the end, she deems the date her strangest yet, but she likes him, likes how much fun he is. He insists on showing her card tricks, because, "I'm a magician," he brags, and he is amazing at them, but he looks ridiculous as he whistles a silly, foreboding tune with every trick. They split ice cream for dessert, and she nearly chokes on a spoonful at the wretched jokes he tries to regale her with.

He didn't bring a car; they walked to the restaurant, and he walks her home from it.

His hand finds hers as they leave the restaurant, and she smiles.

The light in the living room is on, but Lily doesn't want to introduce James to Petunia yet; looking at James, she doubts her sister will approve. His clothes are clean, pressed, and expensive, but his hair is wild, sticking up in the back, and his grin is cheeky. Petunia Evans doesn't appreciate cheek.

She faces him on the stairs, and she squeezes his hand. "I liked dinner."

"Good." He rocks on his heels, his other hand finding her other hand.

But he glances down, laughing, an awkward tilt to his shoulders. "What?" she asks, amused.

He shrugs as he looks at her, swinging their arms a little. "Nothing. I've — I've never been on a date like this. I mean, I've been on dates. But I've never — I've never really tried this hard before." He chuckles, flustered. "It's just that you — you've got to be the most beautiful girl I've ever met."

"Oh." Her face is hot. "Good to know." She bites her lip, laughing shyly, and he laughs with her, but he squeezes her hands, and she tilts her head at him. "Are going to kiss me, or what?"

He grins, stepping closer to her. "Yes." He nods. "I'm going to kiss you."

"Good," she whispers, and he kisses her.

For the briefest moment, she can feel his smile against her lips, but the moment doesn't last; the smile melts away, and he kisses her, stealing her breath. His hands release hers to find her hips, to pull her against him, and she fists her hands in his shirt, tilting her head before he draws away.

His breath warm is against her face, and she is dazed. But she isn't finished yet.

He starts to step away, and her hands catch on his shoulders. His smile is purple honey, a slow, smooth, sweet smile, and his mouth slants back over hers a moment later. She sinks her fingers into his hair, soft to the touch, and he murmurs her name against her lips, kissing and kissing her.

"I'll ring you," he promises.

She doesn't hear from him for nearly a week.

The storm that hits London on Sunday kills eighteen people, sends dozens to the hospital, and destroys a city block, and she worries that he might've been caught in the chaos, but she doesn't have a number to ring him. She tries to watch the news on the telly, but Petunia complains that the reports upset her, and Lily sits in the kitchen with the radio on, the volume as low as possible.

But she doesn't know that his silence is from the storm. He might've changed his mind about her.

As soon as she resolves not to care about the tosser, he rings her.

He picks her up from work on Monday afternoon, driving an old, dented Rover that he sheepishly admits belongs to his mate. She buckles her seat belt, leans across the console, and kisses his cheek. "Where to?" They settle on oily food from a kabob stand, sitting on the car hood as they eat.

She spills sauce on her shirt, and he teases her. She steals chicken off his plate as punishment.

He describes his friends to her, describes the trouble they got into at school, mouthing off to professors, clogging toilets in a rival dormitory, exploring the woods that surround the old school.

They stop at the pub for a drink, commandeering the dartboard. It's a good night.

James is everything Cokeworth isn't. Fun. Interesting. New.

She doesn't work on Saturday, and they drive to the lake where she learned to swim. The sky is cloudy, the water is cold, and the place is theirs. They have a diving competition off the rickety, rotting dock, but they can't agree on a winner, and they decide to settle the matter with a competition to see who is able to stay under water for the longest. Lily wins, sitting cross-legged.

But James is able to stand on his hands for longer, and he is better at catching her when they play sharks versus minnows; she can't swim for more than a minute before his hands are on her ankle, flipping her. He drags her into his chest, only to toss her across the lake triumphantly. He is a prat.

She wins the splashing competition, and that victory is sweet.

They eat sandwiches on the shore, staying at the lake until the sun starts to set. He kisses her, his glasses tossed to the side, his body warm over hers as the pebbles in the sand dig into her back.

In some ways, she knows from the start.

She knows when his stories are like jokes with punch lines that don't really fit, like puzzles with missing pieces. She knows at the childish delight he takes in the simplest things; she knows at the odd phrases he murmurs under his breath every once in a while. She knows, except she doesn't.

The truth doesn't really occur to her, isn't something in her conscious mind.

She never thinks to attribute his odd, amusing quirks to that.

He wants her to meets his mates, and he takes her to a club on a particularly muggy night.

They find Sirius at the bar, and he grins when he sees them. He is absurdly attractive in that way real people aren't supposed to be, and he looks like he knows it. He waggles his eyebrows suggestively at Lily when James introduces her as his girlfriend, and Lily grins back at him, because James introduced her as his girlfriend. His hand is on her waist, and she is his girlfriend.

"Nice to meet you, Lily," Sirius says. "I've heard a lot."

She takes the whiskey sour James hands her. "Care to share?" she asks.

"I don't think that is necessary," James cuts in.

"Snort when you laugh," Sirius says. "Smart. Really nice tits."

"Look!" James exclaims. "It's Remus! Lily, this is Remus!" He turns her away from Sirius to face another boy, and she bites back her laughter. "Remus, this is Lily," he introduces. "Lily, this is my mate, Remus. Remus is my best mate. I don't know that other guy. I've never seen him in my life."

"Hey, Remus. It's great to meet you."

Remus smiles, and he looks like the friendly sort, his hair neatly combed. "I'm glad you came tonight," he says. "I haven't stopped hearing about how brilliant you are since James first met you."

"Thank you," James mutters, and Lily laughs.

Peter appears beside Remus, or who Lily assumes is Peter. "It's really nice to meet you," Peter says, sandy hair falling into his forehead, dimples appearing in his cheeks when he smiles at her.

His friends were at the pub the night she met James, but she didn't meet them, or talk to them, and now she feels as though she knows everything about them; James talks about them constantly. She tries to talk with Remus at first, but Sirius buys a round for the group, Peter gets the second, and Lily is tipsy within half an hour. She giggles madly when James licks salt off her neck, pounds the shot, and slams the empty glass on the bar, dipping her back in a sloppy kiss that tastes like tequila.

She drags James onto the floor to dance with her, and his friends follow.

Peter starts dancing with a girl who bumps into him, and Sirius flails about like a nutter, attracting attention; Lily doesn't know what happened to Remus, because she loves this song, and James spins her, laughing as she sings every word. He tugs her to his chest, and she gives him a wet kiss.

But she doesn't know the next song, and she is flushed from the heat.

Grabbing his hand, she drags James from the floor, across the club, and to the door.

It isn't really cooler in the open air, but she leans against the bricks, and she smiles when he offers her a ciggy. They smoke in quiet, the sky starry above as the humidity weighs down on the world.

"I like your friends," she says.

"They like you," he replies.

She realizes that his knuckles are bruised. "How'd that happen?" she asks, nodding at his hands.

"Wrestled with Sirius," he explains, and he doesn't wait for her to respond; he drops his ciggy, stomping the end off, and suddenly his arms box her against the brick, his hands framing her head.

She smiles, and the smoke curls from her lips. He grins at her. Slowly, she smokes, and she feels sweat trickle down her back, gathering on her upper lip, slick on her hands. She finishes the ciggy.

He grins, leaning in; his mouth hovers over hers, and she feels the grin in his warm breath.

"Kiss me," she says, and he kisses her.

It's a wet, greedy kiss, his tongue licking at her lips, plunging into her mouth. She is flushed, drunk, happy, and his hands slide around her waist, palming her arse, making her gasp a little against his mouth. And a moment later his lips are on her jaw, on her throat, on her neck, lapping at her skin. She scraps her fingernails against his scalp, and he groans into her collarbone.

He raises his head, his mouth returning to hers, and she tugs his bottom lip between her teeth.

His hands find their way to her waist, circling her stomach, spanning her back; they're everywhere, they're on her ribs, his thumbs brushing beneath her breasts, and her breath stutters in her chest. His lips soften a little against her mouth, and a quiet, calm moment hovers between them. But she doesn't want a quiet, calm moment. She slides her hands to his cheeks, kissing him; a moment later, his hands graze her tits, and her heart pounds madly. She touches his shoulders, steadying herself.

He mumbles her name into her mouth, and he cups her breasts, squeezing lightly, his thumbs rubbing circles around her nipples; she can't think for the feelings, for the heat from the muggy night, for the warmth pooling in her, for the need that jolts through her when he flicks her nipple.

She hasn't ever been kissed like this, hasn't ever been touched like this.

Her breath is ragged, and his hands drop.

But they're at her waist, and they're on her arse, and he hoists her up. It's reflex, wrapping her legs around his waist as he pins her to the wall, and she feels him against her as his kisses grow sloppier.

She feels the muscles working in his arms beneath his shirt, beneath her hands.

She wants to tear off his shirt, to feel his muscles under her palms, to feel his skin.

Her mouth travels to his jaw, a hard line beneath her lips, and she noses at the skin beneath his ear, kissing his pulse point. He squeezes her arse, grunting a little, and his head bends to find her mouth.

His kiss is bruising for a moment, only to end abruptly as he groans into her lips, and he rests his forehead against hers. Slowly, the world steadies, coming into focus, and she catches her breath. He moves away from her, allowing her to disentangle herself from him, and her feet hit the ground.

"I swear, I'm addicted to you," he breathes.

He doesn't ring her the next day, or the day after that, and she doesn't have his number.

The idea seems suddenly absurd to her. Why doesn't she have his number? But she doesn't, and she doesn't have a way to contact him. Her friends don't know him, and she doesn't have a way to ask his friends. It's maddening. She doesn't even know where he lives to send a letter in the post.

She doesn't hear from him for four days, and she knows that isn't a reason to be upset, but she finds herself glaring at the phone, annoyed that he might never ring, and she wouldn't know why.

But he rings on Thursday morning; Petunia answers the phone. "It's your boyfriend."

"Morning, Lily!" he greets, cheerful.

"What's your number?" she asks. "Why don't I know it?"


"I don't know your number," she says. "I don't have a way to contact you."

"Oh, shit. I'm sorry, Lily. I'm a prat. We don't have a phone at the flat in London, and I didn't think. But I'm living with Remus for a while — should I give you his number?" He is earnest, apologetic.

She wants to stay mad at him, but she can't.

It's his idea to visit London for the weekend, because they're eating ice cream, and she mentions that she read about an art festival in London that weekend. "Do you want to go?" he asks. The moment she says she can't, he is convinced that she needs leave work early to go for the weekend.

She isn't hard to cajole into agreeing, and they take a bus on Friday afternoon.

They wonder through the city when they arrive, taking pictures with the camera that belonged to her Dad. The festival isn't until Saturday, and she can't remember the last time she explored the city.

James asks about her parents, and she explains how they died in a car accident.

"It's the reason I didn't go to school," she admits. "We had bills to pay, and Dad left a few debts, and school wasn't the priority. But I'm going to go back at some point." She looks away, flushing.

But he nods. "Mine are around," he says, "and they're the battiest pair you'll ever meet."

She smiles, and he starts in on a dozen silly stories about growing up with them.

They spend the night at his flat.

His mates have been staying with Remus, too, and the place is empty for the weekend.

The place is cluttered, smelly, and gross, but James cooks dinner, and he sleeps on the sofa while she takes his bed. The sheets smell like him. She looks at the barren walls, at the crap that he must've hastily tried to clear, at how very much the bedroom is like him, and she smiles to herself.

He doesn't sleep on the sofa the next night.

The art festival is spectacular, and they eat dinner at a pub when they're finished, because it's quick, easy, and good, and she is starving. As they're finishing, she realizes she hasn't taken a single photo that features them both, and she asks the man at the next table over to take a picture of them.

James blows a raspberry into her cheek as the camera flashes.

It is pouring as they leave, and they're soaked through when they reach the flat.

He finds her a towel, water dripping in a steady stream off his nose as he wraps the towel around her shoulders. She bats at his hands. "I'm going to change," she says, and she leans in for a kiss, because he looks like a drowned rat, and his glasses have slid down his nose, and she can't help it.

She puts on warm, dry clothes, and she finds him in the kitchen, drinking beer in boxer shorts. He must've toweled off, but he doesn't look interested in changing. He grins when he sees her, and she raises her eyebrows at him. "I'm finished with your room," she says. "I bet you'll find a shirt in it."

He smirks at her, and she wants to laugh at him, because he is showing off like a sixteen-year-old boy. As he walks past her, he raises his arms over his head, his fingers brushing the ceiling. Prat.

She whistles at him, and he glances back at her to grin stupidly before he disappears into his room.

Biting her lip, she starts after him.

"Changed my mind," she says.

"What?" he asks, pausing with a t-shirt in hand.

But she doesn't explain. With her hands on his shoulders, she propels herself up for a kiss, and the shirt drops when his arms comes around her. His skin is soft as her hands skate over his back, and his hands are warm on her hips as he walks her backwards. Her calves hit the bed, and she sinks down to sit, bringing him with her as he tugs lightly on her shirt like a little boy asking permission.

Breaking the kiss, she holds her hands up over her head, and he pulls off her shirt.

She is naked from the waist up, and her neck flushes.

His pupils dilate as he stares at her, but a moment later his mouth slants back over hers. His kiss leaves her breathless before he starts to trail open-mouthed kisses along her throat. The tips of her breasts brush against his chest, and the contact makes her shudder, only for James to take her tits in his hands, his thumbs circling her nipples; she whimpers at his touch. She finds herself sprawled on her back as he kisses the valley between her breasts, and she tangles her hands in his damp hair.

He mouths at her breasts, taking a nipple into his mouth, and she moans.

She is dizzy when at last he starts to kiss his way down her stomach, everything inside her coiled, edged with a warm, frustrating neediness, but her heart starts to race when she feels his fingers toying with the strings on her pajama bottoms, and she starts to sit up. He looks up at her, and she smiles shakily at him, running a hand through his hair. "Do you want to stop?" he asks softly, his hands warm on her knees over her thin cotton pajamas. She shakes her head, because she doesn't.

He moves to sit beside her on the bed, and her gaze sweeps over him.

"Why don't I feel you up for a chance?" she teases, and he grins.

He flops onto his back, putting his hands behind his head as he smirks at her. "Go on," he says.

She laughs, and he lunges up suddenly, his hands ghosting over her stomach, tickling her. She squeals, swerving away from his hands, only to catch them, to pin them up over on his head, and she swings a leg over his hips to settle on his waist. He looks immensely pleased with himself, grinning at her, his gaze flickering to her breasts, and she leans down to kiss the smirk off his face.

Her hands are splayed against his chest, his skin warm beneath her palms, and she bends down to press kisses along his chest, his stomach, feeling the muscles tense under her lips; his hands graze her back, tracing down her spine to twist around her curls. She looks up, find his gaze. He smiles.

She moves off him, kneeling at his side, and tugs on his boxer shorts. He doesn't try to stop her.

His erection springs up, and she stares. It's quiet. "That's my cock," James says, and she smacks his stomach as he laughs. She reaches forward, only to hesitate, and she looks at him. "I am not going to stop you," he says, teasing her, only for his gaze to soften. "But you really don't have to."

She wants to. "What do I do?" she asks.

He sits up, and she meets his gaze. "Lick your palm," he says. She licks her palm, and she touches him, takes him in her hand. His jaw twitches, and he wraps his hand around hers. "Like this." His forehead rests against her temple as his hand guides hers, and she slides her hand down to the base, back up, stroking him. His forehead is rests against hers. he squeezes lightly. "More," he instructs, and she squeezes tighter before flicking her thumb over the head; he groans into her hair.

"Merlin, Lily," he breathes.

His hand starts to slacken on hers as she continues, and she tugs a little, feels him stiffening in her palm, pulsing, and he spills against her hand, splattering his stomach with a long, low moan that makes her stomach twinge. His hand pats around the bed, grabbing a sheet and wiping her hand for her. "Gross, James," she says, and he kisses her cheek with his lips curved up in a slight smile.

He wipes off his stomach, and his gaze flickers to her breasts.

She flushes, but, God, she adores this boy, sitting naked in his bed as he ogles her.

He kicks away the messy, wet sheets, and he surges forward to kiss her.

"Fair's fair," he mutters.

She doesn't know what that means, but his kisses makes her toes curl, and his hands are back on her tits, and she is on her back, blinking dazedly at the water stains in his ceiling. She doesn't stop him when he starts to pull down her pajama bottoms, but he breaks away before he goes further.

He looks at her, and she hooks her hands in her own knickers. He helps her tug them down.

He sprinkles kisses on her belly, and her legs are trembling as her stomach tightens, and she lets him spread her thighs when his hands press gently on her knees. His nose brushes between her legs, and her breath catches. When his tongue swipes across her, she fists her hands in his sheets.

She doesn't know how to help him, but one hand snakes up to her breast, and the other is between her legs, his fingers curling up into her as his tongue circles, and she is panting, arching towards him; a moment later, she shifts uncomfortably, only for the feeling to give way to sharp pleasure as licks a stripe up her. Her hands find their way into his hair, curling into fists when he kisses there.

He tongues at her clit, his fingers curling, and he doesn't know how long his mouth is on her, but she comes apart in a sudden, dizzying rush, and he presses soft, sweet kisses to her leg, to her hip.

He crawls up the bed to sprawl beside her, propping himself up on his elbow, and after a moment she turns her head lazily to look at him. She smiles. "Fair's fair," she agrees softly, and he presses a sweet, chaste kiss to the mouth. "James, I'm hungry," she whispers. He laughs. "I mean, for food!"

"Right," he says, rolling off the bed. "I'll scrounge something up." He pulls on his boxer shorts.

They have bangers in bed, eating the split sausages with their fingers off napkins. She is back in her pajamas, and he wears a worn, cotton shirt as they talk about nothing, and she thinks she might be falling in love with him. It's stupid; she met him a month ago. But he smiles, and she is a goner.

Diana talks Lily into going to the pub with her, and Lily gushes about James throughout the night. Maureen claps a hand over her mouth at one point. "Nobody wants to hear about your sodding boyfriend, Lily," she says, and Diana shoves another pineapple upside down cake shooter at Lily.

She is happy, and she doesn't want a single thing to change.

In the end, Severus Snape is responsible.

They've driven to the pub, because James is convinced that he has finally learned the secret to playing darts, and he intends to clobber Lily at the game; she laughs as she steps out onto the curb.

James starts to walk around the car towards her, only to falter.

She follows his gaze to Severus. "What's the matter?" she asks.

"Nothing," James replies, turning to her. "I think I know that bloke. I went to school with him."

"I doubt that," she says, watching as Severus disappears around the corner. "That was Severus Snape. He went to a fancy boarding school in Scotland." James might've gone to a fancy boarding school in Scotland, but she knows that he couldn't have attended this particular boarding school.

James nods. "Right. He looked familiar, but. Never mind." He smiles, and the truth occurs to her.

Finally, she considers the idea.

It's impossible, but the thought is in her head, and everything fits. As he takes her hand, she rakes her gaze over him, and her heart skips a beat when she realizes that something is in his pocket. She slaps her hand on his thigh abruptly. "What's that?" she asks. But she knows exactly what that is.

"What?" he asks, startled. "Nothing. It's — nothing. It's —"

She acts quickly, yanking the wand from his pocket, and it is a wand. It's long, thin, and the slightest bit crooked. "You're a wizard!" she exclaims, tapping the wand to his chest in triumph.

"I'm —"

But she is too excited, too shocked. "Did you go to Hogwarts?" she demands, grinning.

He gapes at her, his mouth opening, closing, trying to form a shape. "Did you?" he asks at last.

"Oh, no," she says, waving the wand dismissively. "I'm a plain, old Muggle. But my sister is a witch!" She grins. "She got a letter when she was eleven, and everything. Oh, I can't believe this!"

"Holy Hopping Hippogriffs," he mutters, and she giggles in delight.

She can't believe he managed to hide the truth from her for weeks.

This is why he mutters funny things, why his stories are puzzles with missing pieces, why he knows Severus. "Do you know my sister?" she asks. "She is a couple years older. Petunia Evans."

He shakes his head. "The name sounds familiar, but. Wait. This is — I don't really know what to say." He runs a hand through his hair. "Wait. So. Does this mean you don't care that I'm a wizard?"

"Do I care? James, this is spectacular! I mean, you're the first wizard I've ever met, because, really, the only magical person I've met is Petunia. But, oh, gosh, do you have a broomstrick? Did you play that sport, um, it's Quidditch, right? Petunia talked about Quidditch, but she didn't have a broomstick, or, wait, which dormitory were you in? My sister says I would've been in Hufflepuff."

She can't talk fast enough.

He laughs. "I have a broomstick, and I played Quidditch for five years. Actually, I was the captain for two years." He grins. "And I was in Gryffindor. I just — Merlin, Lily!" He surges forward suddenly, cupping her face. "This is incredible," he says, laughing, peppering her face with kisses.

"Wait, wait," she says, "I thought Gryffindors were evil!"

His head rears back, and she laughs at the look on his face. "Who told you that?"

"Petunia," she says. "She says the Gryffindors are the worst. She was in Slytherin."

He scoffs. "Well, that explains that. I suppose your sister failed to mention the fact that Slytherins hate us because we're the ridiculously attractive, talented ones, and they're mad with jealously. Green with envy. Seriously, their colors. Silver and green. I think that says everything, doesn't it?"

"Oh, yes," she teases, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Certainly."

He kisses her quickly on the lips, and she laughs for no reason. "For the record," he says, kissing her jaw, bending his head to kiss her neck, "you wouldn't have been in Hufflepuff. Pfft." He grins at her with an easy, stupid confidence in his gaze. "I know these things, and you are a Gryffindor."

She laughs at his tone, at him, at everything.

He explains how he stayed with Remus the week that he met her, but he returned to London after that week, and he started simply Apparating to Cokeworth to see her. "I made the boys clear off when you came to London for the weekend," he says, "and I had to hide my Gryffindor stuff, too."

She shakes her head, amazed.

"Mrs. Lupin told me not to wait too long to tell you, or you wouldn't trust me. She is a Muggle, you know. But I was nervous about how you'd react." He smiles sheepishly at her, and she grins.

She describes her sister to him. Petunia is a pretty in a cold, aloof way. By nature, her curls are like Lily's; they're thick, wild, and frizzy. But while Lily simply ties her hair back as best she can, Petunia wears hers neatly trimmed, treated to stay in styled ringlets, and frosted for a glossy shine.

"It is a pretty look," Lily admits.

James tugs lightly on a frizzy red curl springing from her clip. "I like your hair."

She smiles.

Petunia is taller than her, as thin as a whip, and keeps a severe expression on her face. Lily used to say that her sister scowled at everyone that way because she didn't want people to see her front teeth. Petunia would give her the stink eye while their father tried to muffle his laughter as a cough.

"I love her, but those horsey teeth were awful. I think she used magic to fix them at some point."

"Wait," James says, "I think I remember her. Oh, I do! I remember her!" Lily starts to laugh; he remembers her sister because he remembers her teeth. "Seriously! I remember! I remember Peter talking about her in fifth year, about how the Muggleborn —" He falters, flushing. "How the Muggleborn in Slytherin had teeth like a horse." His tone is apologetic, but she doesn't understand.

"What?" she asks, amusement fading at his abrupt change. "What's a Muggleborn?"

"That's the term for a magical person born into a Muggle family," he explains. "It isn't a bad thing."

She nods, and the quiet is uncomfortable. "Have you seen a dragon?" she asks.

He grins, and he admits that he hasn't seen a dragon, but he describes the types to her, and she peppers him with questions about dragons, about goblins, about broomsticks. "I mean, is the broom magical, or can a magical person ride around on any old mop?" He answers her questions, laughing, and she doesn't want the night to end, can't stop kissing him when they're on her porch.

She can't taper her smile when she watches him Apparate from a shadow in the street, and she presses her hands to the smile in her cheeks as she crosses the dark hallway into the sitting room.

Her sister is watching the telly, but she looks away to smile briefly at Lily in greeting. "How was your date?" she asks, her gaze already back on her program. "I thought you would be back earlier."

Lily sits. "It was fun," she says, smiling. "Startling, too. James is a wizard."

"What?" Petunia says, looking alarmed when her face snaps to Lily.

"He was always a bit odd," Lily explains, "and tonight I saw his wand in his pocket, and that explained everything. He is wizard. Can you believe it? He was amazed that I knew about magic."

"I thought you met him at that dreadful pub," Petunia says.

Lily nods. "His friend from Hogwarts, Remus, lives across the river. He was in Gryffindor. James, I mean. He thinks he remembers you. His name is James Potter. Do you remember him?"

She wants Petunia to remember him, to be excited, to talk about magic with Lily.

But Petunia purses her lips. "Vaguely. As I recall, he was a cad."

The disappointment settles in her stomach. "He isn't," she says. "I really, really like him, Petunia."

Petunia seems to soften, and she touches Lily on the arm. "I know that. I understand that you feel fondly for him. But you are my sister, and I love you, and I need you to listen to me." She pauses, and Lily nods. "Wizards are proud, entitled men," she says. "They are manipulative, and they are arrogant, and they are cruel, Lily, and they will use you as they please before they toss you aside."

Lily blinks at her. She wasn't certain what to expect from Petunia, but this isn't it.

Petunia doesn't live in the magical world, but she is a witch, and that world is still her world, and she hasn't even met James, doesn't know a thing about him. "James isn't — isn't like that," she says, imploring her sister to listen. "I've never felt like this before, Tuney, I've never —" She sighs.

She doesn't finish, because Petunia is scowling at her, and Lily knows Petunia won't hear a word.

It's quiet.

"He is going to hurt you, Lily," Petunia says.

Lily looks at her hands. "He won't."

"Fine," Petunia snaps. "Do as you like. But he isn't welcome at this house, and I don't care to hear another word about him." She doesn't wait for Lily to respond. She clicks off the telly and stalks from the room in a huff, disapproval swirling around her like the folds in her sensible brown skirt.

James isn't welcome at her home, but he invites Lily to visit his for the weekend. He doesn't mean his flat in London, or the house where he stays with Remus. He means the house he was raised in.

He wants her to meet his parents. "They're brilliant," he says, "and they'll love you."

She stutters in amazement when he explains that they're going to Apparate, and he laughs.

She was exposed to magic as a child. When they were young, Petunia bought Lily chocolates that tried to hop away, told her stories about moving pictures, and practiced making flowers bloom in the garden while Lily watched. But this isn't like that. Petunia showed her tricks. James wraps his arms around her, grinning as he turns, and everything spins madly, the world collapsing in on her.

Her knees buckle when they arrive at his house, but he catches her.

"Isn't pleasant, is it?" he says, apologetic. "But it's the fastest way to travel."

"I think you might've accidentally left my stomach in Cokeworth," she replies. He grins.

He lives on a large, sprawling estate, and she doesn't recognize the odd, colorful plants sprinkled across his lawn. Inside, the carpets are plush, the ceilings are high, and the place feels magical; he squeezes her hand when she gasps at the moving paintings on the wall. "This isn't real," she says.

He chuckles, and he leads her into a parlor room where his parents wait.

They're older than she would've thought possible, and their manners are impeccable.

His mother is a tiny woman with thick black hair to match his, the curls combed into a braided crown on her head, and she peppers Lily with questions about her parents, about her schooling, about her interests, about Muggle politics, and she smiles at every answer, at every word, nodding as though Lily is brilliant. It's flattering, and Lily suspects James must've inherited a lot from her.

Mr. Potter starts snoring softly before they're finished with tea, and his wife doesn't seem to notice.

Lily likes them, and she hopes they like her.

After tea is finished, James leads her to the backyard, and she gapes at the wide, grassy expanse, a lake to the left, partially hidden in a thick, woody patch that extends as far as she can see. "James," she breathes. "This is incredible." When she looks at him, he is staring at her with bright, shining eyes.

"Do you want to fly on a broomstick?"

It's terrifying, but he is pressed against her back, his arms around her. She screams a little when he pushes off the ground, and he laughs, kissing her neck wetly, and they rise up, up, up, before he leans forward, and they speed forward fifty feet in the air, the wind whipping wildly at her cheeks.

This is magic.

Eventually, her feet hit the ground. Her hair is tangled, and she snorts when she sees the nest on his head, but she is giddy, her heard thudding in her chest, and she kisses his chapped lips, kisses his nose, the tip pink from the wind, and she kisses his cheek as he laughs, kisses his chin, his jaw.

He squeezes her hips, and she loves him.

They look through his school books that night, and he demonstrates spells for her, transforming a tea cup into a turtle, using a spell to bring biscuits in from the kitchen, putting a Cheering Charm on her. She giggles endlessly when he uses a charm to make the chair under her float, to make her float.

Dinner that night is a proper, reserved affair; Petunia would've loved it.

Actually, she would've hated it.

She would've hated the House Elf who served the meal, the talk about magical politics, the candles that floated over the table. Her sister hates everything related to the magical world. She always has.

It's why she never talks about magic, why she pretends magic doesn't exist.

According to Petunia, magic is foolish. She is a witch, and she works in a typing pool.

But Lily resolves not to think about her.

She smiles at James. "What's the best spell?" she asks, sitting on his bed. He grins, waving his wand with a flourish, and a silvery, smokey stag emerges from the tip to prance around the room.

They spend the next morning with his dad, who trounces them repeatedly at chess. Lily wants a set like that for herself; the pieces move, and they talk, and it's brilliant. Mr. Potter wants a nap around noon, and Mrs. Potter is at her book club. They're on their own for lunch. Lily suggests a picnic. "The weather won't stay lovely like this for much longer," she says. James helps her pack a basket.

He finds a blanket, and she doesn't bother with shoes as they walk to the lake.

It's breezy, but there isn't a cloud in the sky, and the sun bakes her skin as they spread the blanket beside the lake. They eat cucumber sandwiches, biscuits, and strawberry butter from the jar, licking the sweet, sticky spread off their fingers, and James describes Hogwarts in a way that Petunia didn't, in a way she couldn't. It's a place he loves, and his face shines as he talks, as he describes it.

"I wish I could've gone," she says. "I don't usually wish for things like that. For things to be different. I'm okay with how things are. But the way you talk, I think I would've liked Hogwarts."

He smiles. "I wish you could've gone," he says. "I would've met you sooner."

She laughs softly as the sincerity in his words melts into a grin, and he kisses her.

He shifts, and she finds herself on her back, blinking at the white sun above them, but he eclipses the sun as he hovers over her, and his hair glows nearly blue with a halo. As he leans in for another kiss, she grazes her hands over his back, over the patches where his shirt sticks to his skin with sweat, her fingers groping greedily when she found the slice of soft skin above his trousers.

A moment later, he pulls back to tug his shirt up over his head.

He rests on his knees, looking at her, glasses askew, and she pushes up onto her elbows, drawing her legs up to fold at her knees. Her dress slides down to pool at her waist, and he ducks his head to kiss her calf. She closes her eyes, feeling the sweet trickle over her temple, and his kisses trail up her thigh, his hands burning as they follow, sliding along her skin, until they're at her hips. She arches up a little, melting from the inside out, and his fingers fumble with the buttons on her dress.

It's one of her favorites, a long, floaty yellow dress that buttons from top to bottom in the front.

He noses at her tummy, his mouth at her belly button, and she opens her eyes to look at him, her hands resting on his shoulders as he litters kisses across her, slowly, lazily unbuttoning her dress.

She didn't wear a bra.

Her hands slide into his hair when the last few buttons are undone, and his lips are at her breasts.

She fists her hands in his hair, trembling.

He kisses her breasts, nips at her skin, only to sooth the bite with his tongue, lapping at the sweat the rolls beneath her breasts, making her gasp when his cheek brushes against her pebbled nipple. She feels his smile against her skin, and she presses her fingers to his scalp, demanding. He chuckles, his breath fanning hotly against her sweaty skin before his lips skate over her nipple, and he takes the bud into his mouth, sucking. His hand is on her other breast, tweaking her nipple, and and finds herself dragging his head up, dragging his mouth to hers, and his kisses are possessive.

"Lily," he says, rocking against her; she can feel him against her leg. "Lily."

She nods, her hands damp with sweat as she traces the smooth, firm planes in his back.

He presses kisses along her jaw, along her throat. "Do you want to?" he asks, talking to her collarbone. His body is tense over hers. "Please, Lily," he says, a needy, boyish lilt to his voice.

"I want to," she whispers, because she is warm, burning, everything coiled tightly inside her, and she is tantalizingly close to something, to relief, and she wants more, wants everything, wants him.

She is comfortable with him, and she loves him, and she wants this.

He pulls away, sitting up, and her body starts to follow him, but she takes a deep breath, a breeze skating across her bare skin. He moves to his feet, quickly shucking his clothes, and he is back on his knees a moment after he tosses aside his pants. He kisses her quickly. "Do you?" he whispers.

"I said yes, didn't I?" she asks, impatient, giving him a real kiss. He laughs against her mouth.

His tongue slides over hers, tempting her tongue into his mouth, and he sucks lightly on the tip at the same moment his hands graze over her breasts. But his hands are at her hips in the next moment, tentative, fingering her pants. She lifts her hips off the ground to help him, and he breaks away from her to slide them down her legs, tossing them. He presses his palm against her, pushes a finger into her, but she is ready for him, doesn't need his fingers, and he is smug as he kisses her.

She pinches the skin on his shoulder for that, and he chuckles, fumbling with his wand.

He casts a spell that makes her stomach glow softly for a moment; the wand rolls away, abandoned, as he kisses her. His hands rest warmly on her calves, folding her legs as he settles between them.

He pauses, his nose brushing hers, and he stares at her.

She nods, digs her fingers into his arms, and his tongue plunges suddenly into her mouth.

He starts to push into her.

It's a slow, burning stretch, and his mouth is slack against hers. He stops.

"What?" she pants.

"I love you," he mutters, and her jerks forward in a fast, abrupt thrust.

The pain washes through her in a dizzying way, but he resumes his kiss, his mouth moving softly against hers, and she tries to adjust to the feel of him; sweat trickles from his forehead to hers before slowly, hesitantly, he starts to move, pulling out, only to bring fresh pain when he thrusts back in.

But it's not as bad, and the pain starts to recede. She moves her hands to his face, her fingers in his hair as she cups his cheeks, and he murmurs nonsensically into her mouth as he kisses her, as he pushes into her, as he pulls out; when she raises her hips to bring him back in, he groans into her lips.

She is on the edge when his thrusts become faster. He starts to mutter her name before he shifts onto his right arm, and his left hand snakes down between them, squeezing her breast, blazing a hot trail along her stomach, and everything sharpens around her, in her, when he fingers her clit.

"James," she breathes. "James."

She arches up into him, and she comes apart with him inside her, with his thumb pinching her clit.

The warm relief washes through her, and he starts pounding into her. She wraps her arms around his neck, sluggishly trying to meet his thrusts; he rams into her with a sudden ferocity, and she feels him pulsing inside her. He gasps against her sweaty cheek, and she shifts, kissing his cheek.

He rolls off her.

She never actually took her dress off. She moves to her knees, slips the flimsy material off her shoulders, and flips onto her stomach. Her thighs are slick, and she is naked as can be in his backyard, but she presses her cheek to the blanket, and his gaze finds hers. "I love you," he says.

She bites her lip, smiling. "I love you, too." She reaches out, touches his mouth with her fingers, brushing her thumb along his jaw. He smiles as his lips catch on her pointer finger, kissing the tip.

"Also, picnics," he adds. "I love picnics."

She giggles, closing her eyes for just a moment as he kisses her palm.

She learns about the war on Wednesday night.

It's supposed to be a night in, a night wearing pajamas, eating dessert for dinner. But as Petunia checks on the pie, there is a abrupt, frantic knock on the front door. Lily glances up from her puzzle, and Petunia frowns. "It is half past ten," she says. "Look through the blinds. See who it is."

The pounding grows louder, more insistent, and somebody shouts.

"James," Lily breathes, alarmed. "It's James!" She stumbles from her chair.

"What?" Petunia asks, straightening.

Something is wrong, and Lily runs for the door. "I'm coming!" she shouts.

But before she reaches it, the door springs open, and the boys pour in. Her heart jumps into her throat at the sight. James touches her arm. "I'm sorry," he says, and she gapes at him, at his face, but Sirius isn't conscious, and they're dragging him into the sitting room before she can say a word.

She follows, dumbstruck.

Peter waves his wand, and the lacy throw pillows fly off the settee in time for James to haul Sirius onto the faded, floral cushions. Remus is unscathed, and Peter doesn't have worse than a swelling nose, a badly scraped ear, and a torn jumper, but Sirius is ashen, his leg twisted unnaturally, his breathing shallow, and James tears open his shirt to reveal a nasty, purpling wound in his stomach.

Her stomach churns; she looks away as Remus starts waving his wand in quick, jerky movements.

But her gaze lands on James, and she can't breathe.

He is battered, his hand swollen strangely, and blood soaks his jacket. Her gaze snags on a nasty, twisting gash on his forearm, but that isn't the worst; half his face is mottled, blackened skin, disfigured with a nasty burn, and his eyelid is melted over his eye, the other ringed and bloodshot.

"What happened?" Lily breathes.

"I'm sorry," James says. "This was the closest place, and —" The kitchen door opens; a moment later, the strawberry rhubarb pie hits the ground, pink filling splatters across the carpet, and Petunia gapes at them. "I'm so, so sorry," James repeats. "I should've told you, but I didn't know how —"

Sirius groans wretchedly. "It's spreading," Remus says. Petunia stumbles from the room.

"Can you slow the spread?" James asks.

Remus runs a shaky hand through his hair. "I'm trying, but I —"

James looks at Peter. "Go to Poppy."

But Petunia is back. "Move," she snaps, a small wooden box in hand. Remus moves, and Petunia kneels beside the settee. There are potions in the box, small vials with thick, colored liquids, and Petunia flits her fingers over them before selecting a squat, round one with a dark, colorless potion. She uncorks the vial with her teeth. "Lily, fetch a towel from the rag drawer," she says. "Quickly."

Lily runs to the kitchen, grabs every tattered towel, and returns to find Petunia with a knife in hand.

She starts to slice thin, precise cuts into the spidery, purple lines that spread from the wound, and Lily knows what to do; she stumbles forward, kneels beside her sister, and uses the towels to soak up the thick, purple poison that oozes from the cuts. Petunia picks another potion from the box, uncorking the vial, and forcing Sirius to swallow the green, glowing liquid as he starts to shudder.

Petunia throws her arm over his chest, pinning him to the settee, and the poison spills from his twisted, puckered wound quickly now; Lily uses every towel, and her hands are slick with blood.

But Sirius isn't as pale, and Petunia gives him a third potion before she uses her wand, and Lily watches in amazement as she starts to sew the gash on his stomach closed, leaving flat, pink scars.

The poison is gone, and Petunia heals him.

Her sister is a witch.

"He needs to rest," she says, "and I suggest another blood replenishing potion in an hour."

"Merlin," Peter says, gaping at her.

She scowls. "I like to be prepared. But I don't owe you an explanation." Her gaze snaps to James.

He sighs, running a shaky hand through his hair. "It was Death Eaters," he says. "They attacked us." He glances at Lily. "I'm in the resistance." Immediately, Petunia levels him with an awful look.

But James is hurt. "Heal him," Lily says. "Heal him, and he'll explain."

Petunia stares at her. "Fine." She flicks her wrist, James flinches, and Lily steps towards him in alarm. But his face shimmers, glistening, and Lily watches the skin seems to stitch together, the burns fading; he blinks rapidly, using his sleeve to wipe the blood off his cheek. His face is healed.

Slowly, the gash on his arm stitches closed.

Lily smiles shakily, and the knot in her stomach loosens.

"If you're fighting in the war," Petunia hisses, "what business do you have with my sister?"

Lily gapes, looking between them. "What? What are you talking about?"

It's impossible. She misunderstood. But looking at Sirius, she knows she didn't.

James glances at his friends. "Let's go into the kitchen," he says.

They sit in the kitchen, and James explains. "It's about blood." He explains how there are wizards that believe that Muggles are beneath them, that believe wizarding blood needs to remain pure. He explains who Voldemort is, and what he believes, and how he rose to power. He explains how the violence escalated, how a resistance formed against Voldemort, how the wizarding world is at war.

He explains how he started fighting with his friends against Voldemort, how they were attacked that night while on a reconnaissance mission, how a Death Eater used a poisoning spell on Sirius.

He reaches for her hand, and Lily realizes his pinky finger is broken.

But he doesn't seem to care; he wraps his hand around hers, and she lets him.

She looks at Petunia. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"What would I have told you?" Petunia asks. "It isn't your world. It isn't your war."

Lily doesn't know what to say, what to think. She stares at her sister, and Petunia stares back.

James squeezes her hand, and she looks at him. "I should've told you," he says. "But when I met you — I wanted an escape. That's why I was visiting Remus. It's why I was at the pub with my mates. I wanted to have a single night that wasn't about the war, and — and I never expected to meet you, but I knew the moment I saw you that I wouldn't be able just to walk away after a night."

Petunia sneers. "What's that make her?" she asks. "Is she the pretty Muggle girl that you take to dinner whenever you need a distraction from your real life? I think you should leave now, James."

But James ignores her.

"I know I should've told you," he says, "but I didn't know how, and I was — I was scared, Lily, and the truth is that the war doesn't matter. It doesn't. Not when I look at you. Voldemort doesn't matter. We're going to bring him down, and I don't want to lose you. I love you, Lily. I love you."

She stares at him, at his shining eyes.

"I love you, too," she whispers, nodding. "I love you, too." She smiles.

"No," Petunia hisses. "Lily, he is dangerous. He is going to bring the war into this house. He is going to put you in danger. He is going to put us in danger. I won't allow you to see him. I won't."

But that isn't for Petunia to decide.

She doesn't know how she is supposed to act now that she knows the truth, the whole truth.

James acts as though nothing is different, nothing is changed. But since the moment she met him, he has been fighting in a war. It doesn't seem real, and she asks him a hundred questions about Voldemort, about the organization that resists him, about what fighting in a wizarding war entails.

She can't forget how battered he was, how bloodied. She wants to know what might happen next.

He answers her questions, and he describes a few missions to her.

But for the most part, he doesn't want to talk about the war. He wants to talk about her, or about his friends. He wants to kiss her, or to tease her. He wants to be an eighteen-year-old boy, and she can't blame him for that. She kisses him, and she pretends nothing is different, nothing is changed.

For the first time, she knows where he is when he disappears without a trace.

He is on a mission for Dumbledore.

She doesn't hear from him for days, but she tries not to worry about him; he is a wizard, and he is able to protect himself. But when she arrives home from work on Thursday to finds him on the front steps, the relief that washes blissfully over her leaves her as weak in the knees as his kisses.

"Missed you," he murmurs, and she hugs him tightly, buries her nose in his neck to breath him in, to kiss his pulse. "What do you want to do?" he asks, smiling, and she won't think about the war.

She takes him to the movies.

He wants to buy everything at the concession stand, and he chokes on his sugared popcorn when the movie starts. He knows what a telly is, but they didn't learn about this in Muggle Studies. He shouts at the characters, breaks into applause at one point, and whispers loudly to Lily every few minutes. "Did you see that?" he exclaims, and the man three seats down leans over to glare at them.

As they're leaving the theater, he can't stop talking about the movie.

"I think we should see another," he declares.

She starts to protest, because she wants to eat real food, but he doesn't listen, and he pulls her suddenly into the theater they're passing at that moment. They don't have tickets for this movie, and she whispers that this isn't allowed, but he plops into a seat at the very back, tugging on her hand.

The movie started a while ago. James doesn't seem to care, and Lily shakes her head at him.

She starts to doze off, only for James to elbow her in the ribs on accident.

But he takes her to dinner when that movie is finished, and he is happy, and the war doesn't exist.

He disappears for days at a time, but he always come back.

She starts to spend weekends with James in London.

In September, an owl appears at the window on a Saturday morning, and James is needed. Peter keeps Lily company for the day, teaching her how to play Exploding Snap, and James comes back that night. He acts like he isn't hurt, but he sports a broken nose, and he walks with a limp. Peter heals him, and Remus brings steaks to grill for dinner, and they try to pretend everything is normal.

In October, a dog trots into the bedroom after she finishes her bath.

He is a big boy, but he is friendly, butting his head against her knee, and she scratches him behind his ears. "Hi, puppy," she coos. His tail wags, and he sniffs at her bare legs, at her towel. She hears James in the hall. "James!" she calls, laughing a little. "I didn't know you had a puppy dog!"

"What?" James asks, his voice muffled through the door.

The dog whines. "I didn't know you had a dog!" she repeats.

It's quiet for a moment.

"PADFOOT!" James roars.

He storms in, and the dog paws at his snout as though to cover his eyes. A few minutes later, Lily learns that Sirius is able to transform into a dog. Pervert. But Peter is able to transform into a rat, and she watches James transform into a stag. His fur is soft beneath her fingers, and she is amazed.

In November, Remus shares his secret with her. She is his friend, and he thinks she deserves to know. He rubs his palms on his robes, and she takes his hands in hers, smiling until he smiles, too.

She doesn't see him, or James, for three weeks after that. But they come back. They always do.

Petunia is cold to Lily for weeks, but she softens at Christmas.

The house is quiet that year, and missing her parents is like having a bad toothache, this constant, throbbing pain that remains no matter where she is, or what she is doing. But Petunia hangs stockings on the mantle, and she bakes ginger biscuits, cinnamon roles, and carrot cake. The house smells like Mother, and they listen to Christmas songs on the radio in the warm, cramped kitchen.

James wakes her on Boxing Day, tossing snow balls at her window.

She stumbles from bed, pushes up the window, and sees him in the yard. He grins at her, his cheeks pink from the cold, and she feels giddy in that way Christmas is supposed to make you feel.

They ice skate in the morning, have good, greasy food at the pub for lunch, and help his parents string cranberries. James isn't allowed to string popcorn, because he ate the popcorn that he was supposed to string when he was seven, and he isn't trusted. He flushes, and Lily grins at his father.

James gives her earrings with a bracelet to match.

"They're garnets," he explains. "That's the birthstone for January. For you."

She bites her lip. "James, garnets are red. These are green." She laughs at the look on his face, but he insists that those are garnets, and they match her eyes; his mother helped him pick them. She doesn't bother to argue with him. They're delicate, beautiful earrings, and the bracelet is strung on yellow gold, and she loves her gifts. She kisses him in thanks, and he asks her eagerly for his gift.

He tears off the pretty wrapping paper that Petunia bought, unwrapping the dart board like a child, and she watches his face. "Brilliant!" he breathes. "I didn't know pubs sold these!" She laughs, and he kisses her suddenly, wetly, but he is on his feet a moment later to pin the dart board on the wall.

Sirius arrives, and he is awful at darts as James is.

Dinner is a feast, and Sirius presents her with a small, lopsided box that he wrapped in newspaper. "Happy Christmas, Evans," he says, grinning. She is touched at the gesture, and she feels bad that she didn't think to buy him a gift, but he brushes aside her apology. "It's a chocolate box," he says.

But a gift is a gift, and she is pleased. Mr. Potter insists that she choose a book from his library as her gift, and she picks a book on fairy tales; the illustrations are beautiful, and the book feels magical. Mrs. Potter is excited to show Lily the shimmering, silver dress robes she bought for her.

Lily blinks away her tears, and James smiles into her hair.

They eat treacle tart for dessert. Mr. Potter nods off at the table.

Lily smiles stupidly to herself as she changes into her nightgown, and she isn't surprised when James sneaks into her room. He wraps his arms around her from behind, and she tilts her head up to look at him. He smiles. "Happy Christmas, Lily," he whispers. His hands are at her hips, bunching her night gown up in his fingers, and she turns in his arms, raising them up. He pulls off the gown, and she hugs him around the neck as she kisses him, as she walks him towards the bed.

His fingers brush against the bracelet on her wrist as he pins her arms over her head, and he grins.

He abandons her knickers at her ankle, and she laughs at his glasses, sitting crookedly on his nose as he crawls up her. He tosses them aside carelessly, his hands folding her legs, sliding to her hips, his fingers splayed against her arse when he kisses her, when he thrusts into her. But she knows what she wants, and she flips them, straddling his hips. "I love you," he says. "Merlin, I love you."

He shifts to sit up, settling her in his lap; his head bends to her tits, and she scraps her nails up his back as she moves over him. She rocks up on her knees, sinking down, and she wants to cry with the feeling, with the pointed pleasure that washes through her in tantalizing waves. "James, James," she hums, and he releases her breasts with a wet pop, moving to kiss her, and the angle is perfect.

She is close, and she digs her fingers into his shoulders as he thrusts up into her.

"There," she breathes. "Right there."

Her body seizes up before the pleasure comes in a sudden, dizzying rush.

She feels him twitching inside her before he pushes her back onto the bed, ramming into her. She arches up to meet his thrusts, and his pace is jerkier, wilder, her breasts bouncing as he fucks her. He takes her with him for a second time when he finishes, and she loves him. Merlin, she loves him. She kisses his cheek. "Happy Christmas, love," she says, and his kiss to her mouth is sweet.

She spends her birthday with Petunia.

Her sister bakes a triple chocolate cake, and she presents Lily with a soft, green scarf that she knit herself. It isn't a fancy gift, but money is short, and Lily doesn't mind. She kisses Petunia on the cheek, wraps her soft, green scarf around her neck, and eats her triple chocolate cake, and they spend the evening in the sitting room, knitting hats for premature babies while they watch the telly.

When she can't sleep that night, she sketches nothing for a while.

She doesn't know where James is. She hasn't heard from him in six days.

He apologizes for missing her birthday, but she doesn't care. He is alive, and that's what matters.

The necklace he gives her is charmed; the three, small gold balls that hang on the chain are meant to warm when James thinks about her. She assumes the charm is a gimmick, but the notion is sweet, the necklace is pretty, and the three, small gold balls feel warm against her skin when he kisses her.

A month later, Mrs. Potter faints in church. She is sick.

Lily spends night after night for weeks at the Potter manor, and she knows what James refuses to admit. She is at the house with him when Mrs. Potter doesn't wake on a cold, cloudy Thursday morning in April. Mr. Potter wears orange checkered dress robes to the funeral. "How do I look?" he asks. "I usually wear what Dorothy picks for me, you know," he adds, tugging on his green tie.

Lily manages to smile, patting his arm. "The robes are lovely, Mr. Potter."

He dies from Dragon Pox a month later, and James struggles to give the eulogy at his funeral.

His parents are gone, and she can't change that, but she knows what he needs; it wasn't long ago that she lost her parents. She lets him cry when he wants to cry, and she lets him talk when he wants to talk. Moody won't let him use the war as a distraction, and she listens to him rant about it.

He starts to sleep over at her house, and Petunia doesn't comment.

Their house is small, crammed in a line six long, and the place is really too old to be lived in, with creaking floorboards, spidery cracks in the ceiling plaster, and narrow halls with fading wallpaper. Her mother lingers in every room, in the platitudes stitched on pillows scattered across the settee, in the platitudes stitched, framed, and hung on the wall, in the elephant figurines littered everywhere.

But James doesn't seem to care.

Petunia stabs the carrots on her plate at dinner, and he stays another night.

As the weather warms, things only get worse, and Lily doesn't know what to do.

James leaves on a mission, and she hasn't seen him for a week when a crash in the kitchen wakes her at three in the morning. She finds James in the kitchen, a nasty bruise on his cheek, and the butter dish is shattered on the floor at his feet. His knuckles are white as he grips a broken bottle, and she realizes that he is plastered. She doesn't know what to do; he won't let her tend to his face.

When he shoves her away from him, she stumbles, and she slices her foot on the butter dish.

She slumps against the cabinets, and Petunia storms into the kitchen; the curlers in her hair seem to shake with her fury as she brandishes her wand at James. But Lily forces Petunia to leave, because James is on his knees. "She is dead," he breathes, sobbing. "They raped her, and they killed her, and she is dead." He tries to drink from the jagged edge on his broken bottle, and he cuts his cheek.

Lily sinks to the ground beside him.

Her heart breaks for him when he curls against her like a child.

After a little while, he manages to explain. He isn't sober, but he explains. Marlene McKinnon is dead. She is his third cousin. He played with her when they were children, and she was in the year below him at Hogwarts. The Death Eaters caught her. They murdered her with her family, and they left her body for the Order to find, and he couldn't look at her, couldn't see what they'd done to her.

"I'm sorry," James breathes, but he doesn't need to apologize.

They stay on the floor like that for hours, and that isn't the worst.

The summer passes slowly, and every day brings a tragedy; others in the Order are dead, Muggles are murdered in their homes, buildings are burned, and the news on the telly reports that lightening hit the house. James is thinner, paler. He doesn't sleep, doesn't eat. He is a soldier, and he is at war.

She worries about him, but he brushes off her concerns.

In August, he shouts at her that he doesn't have time to sleep. As soon as he says the words, he is apologetic, and she watches the anger in him deflate like air from a balloon. She forgives him, but she hates how the war is changing him, destroying him; his humor is lost, and he isn't who he was.

But as bad as things are, he is alive, and she clings to that. He is alive, and she loves him.

In September, he takes her to dinner in London.

She doesn't know why, but he is in a good mood, and the last thing she remembers clearly is the stupid grin on his face after he steals a pork chop off her plate as she asks the waiter for a napkin.

But she doesn't have time to reprimand him, or to steal something off his plate, because somebody screams in the kitchens, and she doesn't remember much after that. She remembers the fire, how the flames licked the walls in a way that wasn't right, that wasn't natural, and she remembers the lights flickering above her, the brilliant bursts, a sparkling white, a bright red, a strange, eery green.

She knows she tried to run, and she remembers the ground coming up from under her.

She remembers how she dangled in the air, and she remembers the pain when the fire snaked up her arms. The smoke in her lungs made her cough, and she couldn't see, or hear, or think, or feel.

The voices are tinny, distant, a world away from her.

Shadows move, and she blinks, but her eyelids are heavy, and she must not have slept enough; she wants to turn onto her side, to slip back to sleep. But she hears voices. James. She slides her hand along the bed. He isn't beside her. What time is it? Why is he awake? She blinks. The room is dark.

Her head is as heavy as her eyes, and sleep tugs insistently on her.

But she hears her sister. "— her in the ground," Petunia hisses. "I won't."

"They healed her," James replies. "She is going to be fine." His voice is strained.

Slowly, sleep releases her, and Lily remembers herself. The dinner, the Death Eaters, the fire, and she skims her hands over her arm, only to find soft, unblemished skin. They healed her; she is fine.

"Yes, she is going to be fine," Petunia snarls. "This time. But what about next time? What about a week from now, or a month? This might've been a random attack, but you can't truly believe that she won't ever be targeted. She is a Muggle, and you— you're a pureblood." She spits the word, the accusation. "When they find out, what do you think they'll do? Have you even considered that?"

"They won't find out," he says. It's quiet, and the shadows shift; she sees his face clearly when he opens the door, when light from the corridor pours in. She opens her mouth, but her lungs feel like they're stuffed with cotton, and she can't say a word. He leaves, and the door shuts softly. It's dark.

Heels click on the floor, and the door opens a second time. Petunia, her face drawn, tired.

Lily tries to sit up, to stop her sister from leaving.

But abrupt, aching exhaustion washes through her at the effort. She blacks out.

When she wakes, James is in the chair beside her bed.

He smiles, and he explains softly what happened, the attack on the restaurant, how they took her to Poppy, and the nurse healed her, but she was fed at least six different potions, which might've muddled her mind a bit. She means to ask him about the conversation with Petunia, but she forgets.

There isn't a scratch on her, and Sirius walks in with chips from a kabob stand.

She hadn't realized how hungry she was.

Sirius takes her home after they eat, because James is needed. She doesn't see him for two weeks.

He is at the house on Halloween, arriving in the morning with bloody clothes on, dark smudges beneath his eyes, and an odd haircut. He takes a bath, crawls into her bed, and sleeps for the afternoon. She knows he must've been hurt, and he must've had somebody heal him before she saw him, and she doesn't like that; she doesn't like that he shelters her from the worst of the war.

But it isn't as though she'd be able to heal him, or to help him.

She doesn't want the noise to wake him, and she sits on the porch to give sweets to the children.

As the sun starts to set, he joins her on the porch steps. He kisses her quickly as a little boy dressed like a pirate scurries up the walkway towards them. Lily puts a sweet in the boy's bucket, and he hurries back to his mother in the street. "I put your clothes in the wash," Lily says.

He nods. "Thanks."

"What happened to your hair?" she asks, running a hand over the short, cropped locks.

His smile is sheepish. "I might've taken a spell to the head," he says. "Sliced into my skull a bit. I wasn't in a state to stop her, and Poppy lobbed off my hair when she was getting read to heal me."

He talks like what happened wasn't a big deal, like somebody might've accidentally hit him over the head with a book, and she knows that isn't the truth, but he smiles at her, smiles at how funny his hair looks, and she manages to smile back at him. "Is there a spell to make it grow back?" she asks.

"What's the matter?" he asks. "Don't you like the shorter cut?"

"I feel that loathe is a good word for my feelings," she replies, and he laughs.

Three girls dressed like princesses appear, and James gives them each a sweet. As soon as they're gone, he leans in to kiss her. "I missed you," he says. His gaze is soft, concerned. "How are you?"

"How am I?" she asks. "What about you?"

He sighs, looking at his lap. "I don't know how I am, but I — I think I'm alright as long as you're alright." He grabs her hand, intertwines their fingers, and kisses her knuckles. "So. How are you?"

"I'm fine," she says. "Honestly, I am. I don't need you to worry about me, darling." She smiles.

"Can't help it. I worry about you. The things I —" He clears his throat, but he doesn't continue.

"What is it?" she asks. "James, tell me. I want to know."

He looks at her, and his gaze is soft. "I see all these terrible things. They don't just kill people. The Death Eaters. They slaughter them. They torture them, mutilate them, and — and I see that. I see the Muggles that they've left dangling in the air dead for fun, and I'm — I'm terrified that I'm going to come back to the house, and I'm going to find you like that." His eyes are wide, glossy with tears. "I can't breathe when I'm on my way to you," he says, "because I don't know what I'll find."

"James, no. I'm fine. I'm safe. They don't have a reason to hurt me."

"They don't need a reason!" he exclaims. She is startled, and he looks away, running a shaky hand through his hair. "But — but I'm not going to let them hurt you," he breathes. "No matter what, I'm going to keep you safe." He looks back at her with such fierceness, such ferocity, his eyes shining.

She releases his hand to cup his face. "I know," she says. "I know."

He turns, kissing her palm. "Good."

"Come on," she says. She sets the sweets bowl on the porch, and she takes his hand.

He follows her into the house, wrapping his arms around her from behind. He kisses her shoulder, and his lips are warm through her thin cotton shirt. She relishes his closeness, his hands around her waist, his stubble tickling her neck. She hears children giggle on the porch, and she kisses him.

Usually, they talk to her, and that's how she keeps the worry at bay. She counts on them.

When James is gone for longer than he expected to be, Sirius drops in to check on her, or Remus rings to say that James is fine, or Peter writes to let her know the mission was extended two days.

But a week passes, and nobody drops in, or rings. Nobody writes, and she starts to grow anxious.

After a week and a half without a word from them, she rings Mrs. Lupin. Nobody answers. She watches news on the telly, but she doesn't know what she wants. She doesn't want to hear what terrible things might've happened in the war, because she doesn't want him to be hurt, but she wants to know where he is. She takes a bus to London that weekend, walking ten blocks to his flat.

But the door is locked, and nobody answers when she knocks.

She wants to stay, to wait for him, or for his friends, but she can't spend the night at his door.

It's three weeks without a word, and she hates that he is inaccessible to her, that she is expected to wait for him to come to her when he deems fit. But as soon as she thinks that, the guilt overwhelms her, because he is in a war, and she doesn't want to imagine the terrible things that might've happened. She rings Mrs. Lupin a third time, a fifth, a tenth, and her frustration brings her to tears.

She can't think, can't sleep, and she doesn't know what she is supposed to do.

The necklace he gives her remains warm, and every once in a while the heat seems to blaze, but she is afraid to hang her hopes on a silly, sentimental necklace that he charmed for a belated birthday gift.

After a month, she returns to London.

But the door is locked, and nobody answers when she knocks.

She is prepared for this. She brought a thermos with tea, and she packed a sandwich. She sinks to the ground, pulls her knees to her chest, and waits for somebody to appear. She doesn't care what Petunia says about murderers and rapists and thieves. She isn't moving from this spot until she knows what happened to him. The afternoon passes slowly. She doesn't bother with her sandwich.

She hears footsteps in the stairwell, but she doesn't rise to her feet.

He stares at her for an impossibly long moment when he sees her, and he deflates. "Lily."

"Hello, Remus," she says, standing. Her legs are shaky beneath her. "What happened? I haven't heard from him in a month, and nobody answered when I rang your mother, and I need to know."

The words stick in her throat, but she manages to say them.

Remus sighs. "He isn't dead. Things aren't good, but he isn't dead."

She stares at him. "He isn't dead," she repeats.

"He isn't dead," Remus says, nodding. "I'm sorry you've been thinking that he is." He pauses. "He is on a mission with Sirius right now, but I'll have him ring you as soon as they're back." Slowly, she starts to understand. His apology shines in his pale, lined face. "I can take you home," he says.

"Right," she whispers.

He isn't dead. He isn't hurt. But he hasn't bothered to contact her in a month.

"I'm sorry, Lily," Remus says, pained, and he takes a step towards her.

She steps away from him. "I need to catch the last bus back to Cokeworth," she says.

"Lily, no," he protests. "I can take you. I don't mind, and, you know what, we can talk. Come in. I don't know what food we have, but I'll scrounge something up. No, listen. Things really have been bad for him lately. There is a spy in the Order, and things look worse every minute, and —"

She moves around him, past him. "I have to go," she insists.

She doesn't want Remus to see her cry, and she needs to catch the bus.

It's awful, trying to sleep that night.

But Remus keeps his word, and she arrives home from work three days later to find James on the porch. He stands when he sees her, and his face is grim. He is thinner, and he needs to shave. She stops a few feet from him. "How are you?" he asks, and the anger in her gut stirs at his disinterest.

"I'm fantastic, thanks," she hisses. "I spent a month thinking that you were dead, but I'm really great." She glares at him, and he drops his gaze. He doesn't say a word. Her throat starts to close, and she fists her shaky, sweaty hands. "What the fuck is your problem? Why are you — I need you to explain. I need you to make this right, and I need you to — I need you to say something!"

He runs a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry," he says

She stares at him. "What is the matter with you?"

He looks away from her, and the anger chokes her.

"I thought you were dead, James! I cried myself to sleep! I couldn't sleep! I thought —"

"I know!" he says. "I know that, and I'm sorry. I was a prick. I am a prick. But there is a war on, and the truth is that I — I said I was going to keep you safe, and this is how — this is for the best."

"What are you talking about?"

His chin trembles. "I'm splitting up with you."

She shakes her head. "What happened? What's this about?" She knows this isn't right, this isn't him; something awful must've happened, and that's what this is. "Did something happen to Sirius?"

"Lily, don't," he says. "Just — don't. This is hard enough as it is. I'm trying to protect you."

"How is this supposed to protect me?" she exclaims.

He stares at her. "Fine. Fine, you want a reason — fine. I don't have time for you. My world is at war, and I don't have time for this. I don't know what you thought, but the truth is that I'm a wizard, and you're a Muggle, and you were always just a distraction. That's it. But I'm in a war, and I don't have time for distractions. I'm sorry, but that's it, that's the truth. That's what happened."

She doesn't breath, doesn't cry. "Do you really think I believe a word you've said?"

His jaw is locked. "It's the truth."

"It isn't," she says.

"I needed an escape from the war, from magic, and you were — you were this funny, beautiful girl, and I didn't have to think when I was with you. But you're a Muggle, Lily, and you don't understand magic, or the wizarding world, or — or how things are. I'm sorry, but we're finished."

"I don't need you to protect me," she spits. "I know you think you're doing this for me, but —"

"If they knew that I was seeing a Muggle, they'd kill you!" he exclaims. "I can't keep you a secret forever, and they'd come after you, and they'd find you, and you wouldn't be able to fight back!"

He stares imploringly at her, and she looks away.

"Right. I understand." She crosses her arms over her chest, meeting his gaze. "I'm a Muggle," she says, "and I'm useless. I'm a stupid, useless Muggle, and you don't have the time to look after me."

She hates the tears clinging to her lashes, and she hates him.

"That isn't —" He looks pained. "Look, I shouldn't have said — I was just trying to —"

She backs away from him, but he takes a step towards her, and she jerks her arm from his grasp, stumbling past him up the stairs. Again, he reaches for her. "Go to hell," she says, refusing to cry.

She slams the door shut, and everything she counted on is shattered.

She takes a deep breath as she stares at the door. She takes a deep breath as she climbs the stairs to her bedroom. She takes a deep breath as she closes the door. And she claps a hand to her mouth. But the sob is in her throat, and she stumbles to the bed, choking on tears, fumbling with the quilt.

A few minutes later, Petunia knocks softly on the door. "Is something the matter?" she asks.

"I'm fine," Lily says. But the sob catches in her throat, and she presses her face into her pillow. The door opens, and Lily swallows her tears, trembling against the bed. But Petunia isn't fooled, and she climbs onto the bed. She reaches for Lily, touching her cheek, and Lily rolls over to look at her.

"What is it?" Petunia asks gently, her face soft.

Lily takes a deep breath, and the sob catches in her throat. "He split up with me," she whispers.

Petunia strokes her hair. "Oh, lovey," she says, and Lily sobs. Petunia rubs her back, whispering softly to her. "My sweet sister," she coos, "my pretty sister. Oh, lovey, I'm sorry. Oh, my sweet, sweet sister." She brushes the hair from her face, hugging her, and she lets Lily curl into her side.

Slowly, Lily calms, and her sobs subside.

"I used to love a boy, you know," Petunia says.

Lily sniffs. "Who?" she asks, breathing raggedly, and Petunia strokes her arm.

"His name was Evan Rosier. He was in my year at school." She sighs. "He was handsome. He had this lovely, thick blonde hair, and he was the tallest boy in Slytherin. His smile was the kind that just made you melt, and I melted around him. My heart dropped to my stomach, and I adored him."

Petunia talks softly, steadily, and Lily is quiet.

"I didn't have friends at school. But Evan was kind to me. I was a Muggleborn, and I didn't know the simplest things about the magical world. It was embarrassing, and I hated the way that people looked at me, the way they judged me. I hated how stupid I felt around them. But Evan would explain little things to me, and he never treated me poorly, or like I was less than him." She pauses.

"What happened?" Lily whispers.

"I thought I was in love with him. I was in love with him. In fifth year, he kissed me. I told him that I didn't know how to kiss a boy, and he smiled, and he told me that he'd teach me." There are tears in her voice, and Lily presses closer to her. "I slept with him. I was fifteen, and I slept with him. I shouldn't have. I should've waited. But I was foolish, and I thought he was in love with me."

Lily hiccoughs softly, cuddled against her sister.

"He didn't want people to know that I was with him. He thought that people would judge me, would think that I was after his money. It was to protect me." She laughs coldly. "I was an idiot."

"No," Lily says.

Petunia hums softly under her breath, and she kisses Lily on the cheek. "I was. In the end, he split up with me in sixth year, because I gathered the courage to confront him in public about the secret."

It's quiet, and Lily is sick to her stomach. "I wish you would've told me," she whispers.

"I wish I would've told you, too," Petunia says. "I was ashamed, but I shouldn't have been."

The tears rise up in her throat. "Tuney, it wasn't supposed to be like this. He wasn't supposed to be like this. He wasn't —" She wants to explain, tries to explain, but she can't. Petunia hushes her, murmuring sweetly, stroking her hair, and Lily drifts to sleep cocooned in blankets with her sister.

She waits to be alright, and she pretends she is.

Petunia throws a dinner party, and Lily helps her. They shop for new dresses to wear, Petunia takes Lily to the hairdresser, and the dinner is perfect. Petunia is delighted, and Lily pretends to be.

The necklace he gave her is hot in her palm, and she tosses the thing in the bin.

She decks every room in the house with holly for Christmas, and she holes up in the sitting room, eating the biscuits that Petunia bakes, watching the snow through the window as they show Christmas movies on the telly. She practices on the piano for hours, and she hasn't played in years.

She works, and she spends an evening at the pub with her friends.

She smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish.

But the tightness in her chest remains, and she wants not to care, not to cry. She hates herself for caring, for crying. She wants to be angry with him, and she is. She knows exactly what happened.

She won't let him off the hook, though. She won't forgive him.

She tries to read, but she can't focus, and she feels sick to her stomach.

Oh, God. She is sick to her stomach. She scrambles from the bed, stumbling to the toilet. It's half an hour before her stomach settles, and she brushes her teeth. Her back doesn't hurt, and isn't achy, or sore. It must've been her dinner; the salmon must've disagreed with her. She doesn't dwell on it.

But she wakes up in the night, and she is sick until her throat burns.

Petunia says the flu is bad that year, and Lily goes in for a prescription. But she doesn't have the flu. The doctor smiles sadly at her, because he knows she is surprised, and he knows she isn't married. "Are you certain?" she asks, gripping the table beneath her to hide the tremor in her hands.

His nod is apologetic.

Afterward, she sits on the porch steps for two hours, and that's where Petunia finds her.

She needs to talk to James. She needs to tell him.

She rings Mrs. Lupin, but the line is disconnected. Her heart sinks, and her stomach churns. She doesn't want to go to London; her chest burns with humiliation at the idea, at how pathetic that seems. But she can't write this in a letter. "What do I do?" she asks, drawing her knees to her chest.

"I'll do it," Petunia says.

"What?" Lily asks.

"I'll go to London." Petunia stirs her tea, taps the spoon lightly on the cup, and takes a sip. "I'll take the bus," she says, "and I'll wait at the flat, and I'll talk to him, or to his friends. I'll explain that you need to speak with him. I'll make certain he understands how important this is." Her mouth is set, and she looks at Lily with resolve, and Lily hasn't ever loved her opinionated, obdurate sister more.

She nods. "Okay," she says, sniffing. "Thank you."

Petunia smiles thinly, and she sips her tea. It's settled.

She takes the bus on Saturday morning. Lily paces the kitchen. She starts to put on a dress, but she stops. She won't. He doesn't deserve to have her dress up for him. She stays in her pajamas, and she paces the kitchen, and she waits. Petunia isn't back for lunch. James doesn't appear on the porch. Lily watches the telly for an hour, and she flips through a few books. The afternoon is quiet.

She sketches for half an hour, but she can't really concentrate.

She makes dinner, and she puts a plate in the oven to stay warm for Petunia.

Her sister must've taken the last bus back to Cokeworth, arriving home a little after eleven.

As soon as she sees Lily, she drops her gaze, and she focuses intently on unbuttoning her coat.

"What happened?" Lily asks, standing. "Did you talk to him?"

Petunia hangs her coat, takes off her scarf. "I spoke with him, yes." Slowly, she removes her gloves. "I waited a few hours. He came to the flat in the afternoon. I was able to speak with him."

"Well, what did he say?" Lily asks. "Is he coming to the house tonight, or tomorrow, or what?"

Petunia sighs. "The bus ride was very unpleasant, Lily, and that wild, mangy dog that lives in park growled at me, and I was very nearly frightened to death. I need a moment to collect myself. Let me make a little tea, and we'll sit, and I'll explain." She starts towards the kitchen, but Lily follows her.

"Tuney, I've been waiting the whole day," she says, "and you're starting to worry me. Just tell me."

Petunia puts water on the stove to boil, and she looks at Lily. "He wasn't happy to see me," she says. "I told him that you needed to speak with him, and he wasn't interested. He didn't want to listen, and he was very rude." She pauses. "I did something I shouldn't have, and I'm sorry for it."

"What?" Lily asks, nervous.

"I told him." She turns away, only to look right back after a moment. "I'm sorry," she says. "I was furious with him, with how dismissive he was. He didn't want to listen, and it was maddening, and I — I told him. I told him that you were pregnant. I suppose I wanted to shock him, to wipe that awful look off his face. But that is a terrible reason, I know, and it wasn't my place, and I'm sorry."


"I'm sorry," Petunia says. "It wasn't my place, I know that."

"It's fine, Tuney. It — it isn't important. But how'd he react? He wants to talk, right?"

Petunia presses her lips together, but Lily doesn't miss the tremor in her cheek "Let's sit," Petunia suggests. She smiles oddly at Lily, smiles nervously, and Lily sinks into a chair at the table. She starts to ask what happened, how he reacted, but Petunia grasps her hand across the table, and the words stick in her throat. "I told him, and he was — he was understandably shocked. He was shocked. He didn't believe me, and I had to be very firm with him." She drops her gaze. She sighs.


She looks back at Lily. "He was upset, and he started to go on about the war, about how he didn't have time for this, how he — he couldn't deal with this, how he didn't ask for this, and the — the wretched — he gave me —" She pauses, reaching for her purse, and the paper she pulls out isn't paper; it's heavy, yellowing parchment, and it's folded strangely. "He gave me this to give to you."

The parchment is folded like a purse, like an envelop, and Lily finds several gold coins inside. She doesn't know how much this is supposed to be, and the coins look like they're meant for children, but she knows the coins are wizarding money. She looks back at Petunia. "I don't — what is this?"

"For the baby," Petunia says.

"For the baby," Lily says. Her stomach clenches.

"He wanted me to give you the coins, and — and he said that he didn't want to be bothered about this." Petunia reaches for her hand. "He doesn't want to talk. Oh, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry, Lily."

No. That isn't right. No. That doesn't —

"I don't — what are you talking about?" Lily asks.

"He isn't interested in talking with you," Petunia says. There is a softness in her voice as she speaks, as she says the words. "He isn't interested in the baby," she explains. "He doesn't care."

Lily breathes in, breathes out.

"No, that isn't him," she says. "He isn't like that." She shakes her head. "I don't believe you."

"Oh, Lily," Petunia says, and Lily hates the tone in her voice, hates the sympathy in her face, and she jerks away when Petunia squeezes her hand. "I know you don't want to believe it. I know. I don't want to believe it. But he made it clear that he didn't have time for a baby, that he had more important responsibilities." She sneers, and her voice is harder, colder. "He is an absolutely wretched man. The way he treated you, the way he acted like this baby was your fault. Wretched."

"No," Lily says.

But Petunia doesn't stop. "He might think the war is more important than you, than his child," she says, "but he is a wretched, wretched man, and he never deserved you. Never. When I tried to talk sense into him, he just — he left. Just like that. Apparated, and I wasn't quick enough to stop him."

"No," Lily says. "No. He would've at least wanted to talk. I know him, and the James I know —"

"The James you know," Petunia says. "The James you know wouldn't have split up with you the way he did. He wouldn't have avoided you for a month, making you worry, and he wouldn't have said those awful things. I know you don't want to believe it, but the James you know doesn't exist."

Lily wants to shake her head, wants to argue with her.

"He split up with me to protect me," she says. "I knew what he was doing. He tried to be cruel about it, but he couldn't — it was stupid, and I hate him for it, but he was trying to be noble, or —"

Petunia picks up a few large, wizarding coins. "This isn't noble."

"He wouldn't," Lily breathes, blinking at the tears that sting her eyes.

"I know how much you want to hate me," Petunia whispers. "I know you want to make me the villain, but it's the truth. James Potter never deserved you, and you just have to — to forget him."

But she can't forget.

She remembers everything about him, every moment she knew him, every moment she loved him.

She remembers, and her throat starts to close.

She remembers how apologetic Remus was, the things James said. She claps a hand to her mouth, trying to swallow her tears, but she can't, and she crumbles, and arms come around her. Petunia holds her, and Lily sobs. But this can't be real, this can't have happened, this can't be her life, can't.

The sickness is sudden, dizzying, and awful, and she lurches to her feet. She can't reach the toilet, and she is sick in the kitchen sick. Petunia strokes her back, and Lily can't breath through her tears.

"Everything is going to be alright," Petunia says. "I promise, everything is going to be alright."

James doesn't want to talk. He doesn't care. He isn't who she thought he was.

She wipes her mouth, and she runs the faucet. He made the decision for her, didn't he? She cups her clammy, shaking hands under the water; she needs to wash the awful taste from her mouth. She hadn't known what to do, but he made the decision. "I need to go to the clinic," she whispers.

"What?" Petunia asks.

"The clinic," she says. She shuts off the water, and she wipes her hands on a dishtowel, trying to focus on the little tasks, breathing through her nose to stave off tears. "I can't have it. Not like this."

Petunia frowns. "No. Lily, no."

But Lily shakes her head. "I can't do this by myself," Lily says. She wants to go upstairs, wants to go to bed, wants to hide under her sheets, hide from the world. Her head starts to pound. "I can't."

"Don't," Petunia says. "I mean, don't make a decision based on him. If you don't want this child, fine. But if you do, he doesn't matter." She pauses. "Don't let him decide. Don't let him have a say."

"I can't have a baby, Pet," Lily says.

"If you want to, I will help you." Petunia grasps her hands. "No matter what, I am right here."

Lily stares at her, and Petunia stares back. Petunia, who cares what the neighbors think. Petunia, who does what is expected. Petunia, who wants a normal, ordinary life. Petunia, who is her sister.

Her chin trembles, and Petunia reaches for her.

"I don't know what to do," Lily breathes, crying, clutching Petunia. Her head hurts, and her face hurts, and everything hurts. "I don't know what to do," she sobs. Petunia holds her closer, tighter.

She spends the night beside the toilet, and the biscuits Petunia fetches are tasteless in her mouth.

Her stomach churns, and she can't blame the baby, but, oh, God, when she remembers that a baby is inside her, his baby, everything is worse. She doesn't know how she tricked herself for months, but that's what happened. She convinced herself that he felt the way she felt, that he loved her the way that she loved him, but he didn't. She was blind to the truth, and she wants to hate him for that.

But she is at fault.

He tried to push her away that summer, and she refused to acknowledge the obvious.

Petunia warned her, and Lily didn't listen. The truth was right there, and Lily ignored it. Her sister was right. Lily was a distraction. James said it. She didn't belong in his world, wasn't really welcome in it. She thinks back, and every memory fits. She met his parents, met his friends, but he kept her away from the war, from the world he lived in, because she was a distraction, and that's it.

Suddenly, every memory is tainted.

He might've loved her in a way, but he didn't love her the way she loved him.

He wasn't who she thought, and they weren't what she thought.

She knows how easily her life could return to the way things used to be, to her life before James walked into the pub. But she doesn't want that life, and she thinks about the life inside her now, this new, tiny person that can exist, that can be hers. "What do you want to do?" Petunia asks her, and she knows the answer. This thing inside her is hers, and she wants this thing to be her baby.

She wants to keep it. Him. Her.

She is going to do it. She is going to have it, and she is going to keep it.

But as certain as she is about her decision, well, for the most part, pregnancy makes her miserable. She is sick throughout the day, and she is exhausted, but she can't sleep. Headaches plague her, bringing her to tears. Her back aches, her breasts are sore, and she can't go an hour without peeing.

She doesn't change her mind. She wants it.

The worst part is that her anger isn't enough. No matter how angry she is, she misses him.

It's like having a phantom limb, but it's a person that's supposed to be there.

He was cut off from her, and things aren't right without him.

There are jokes she hears at work that she wants to share with him, and there is an ache in her gut when she realizes that she can't. She misses how easy talking to him was, how she shared every silly, stupid thought in her head with him. She misses how he used to sing along with the radio, how he used to tap his foot when he was bored. She taps her foot on the floor, and she misses him.

She wants him back, just wants to hug him. To see him. To look at him.

The floorboards creak in her bedroom, and she blinks sleepily through the dark. "James," she mumbles, happy, elated, because he is creeping through her room at night, back from a mission.

But the light from the hall flickers on, and Lily recognizes Petunia.

"I was looking for your letter opener," Petunia says. "Go back to sleep."


James isn't about to creep through her room at night, to climb into her bed, to kiss her. But she could've sworn that was him, and she cries into her pillow until she falls back asleep, cheeks damp.

She burps the alphabet at breakfast, which garners a foul look from Petunia, and Lily hides her smile in her cornflakes. The morning sickness begins to peter off, and she isn't as tired every day.

Things start to get better.

She looks at her baby bump in the mirror, and she laughs a little through her tears.

Her dreams are stranger every night. She dreams about drowning, and wakes up choking on tears. She dreams about flying through the air, about cats that talk to her, about James, about his mouth, about his hands; she hasn't dreamed that vividly before, hasn't ever been woken from need like that.

She presses her hands between her legs, and she feels his lips on her neck, his breath on her skin.

When they learn the baby is a boy, she cries herself to sleep.

It isn't that she doesn't want a boy, or that she wouldn't have cried at the news that she was having a girl. But the person inside her is a person, is a he, a him, a boy, and he will grow up, and he might look Lily, or he might look like his father. He might have that messy hair, or that stupid grin.

But she runs her hands over her bump, and she promises to love him no matter what.

Petunia starts to circle names in a baby book.

"What about Rudolph?" she asks, sitting in the kitchen. "It's a strong name. I'm circling that."

Lily eats her ice cream off a celery stick, and Petunia circles a hundred old, awful names.

They decide to give the master bedroom to the baby. It isn't as though they've been able to sleep in the room that belonged to their parents, and Lily doubts they ever will be able. They use blue paint, and Lily finds sailboat stencils to make a border; it takes a whole afternoon, but putting together the disassembled cot they find in the attic takes longer. Petunia sews curtains for the window, buys a rocking chair from old, nosy Mrs. Gilliland, and hangs a few cross-stitched platitudes on the walls.

They have a nursery for the baby, for her baby. For him.

Petunia hosts a shower in April. The house is flooded with cute clothes, disposable nappies, and a dozen plushies, and Petunia is thrilled. But when Lily puts away the gifts, she finds the fairy tale book from Mr. Potter. She spends the evening crying in the nursery as the plushies stare at her.

A few weeks later, she has a bloody nose at work, and she goes to the doctor in a panic. He says that she doesn't need to worry. He starts to describe her baby's progress to her, and he says the baby might be able to hear her voice at this point; the tiny bones in his tiny ears are staring to form.

She starts to talk to him.

"Can you hear me?" she asks, her hands spanning her belly. "I'm your mummy, darling."

She knows her friend are curious about James, about what happened. But she can't talk to them, and that makes everything worse. Diana takes her to have her nails done, and she mentions that lightning struck a flat in Ireland, starting a fire that killed thirty-eight people. "It's awful," she says, and Lily starts to panic, because she knows lightning didn't strike a flat in Ireland, knows the truth.

She can't say that, though. She can't explain. She chokes on tears, and Diana pats her arm.

Afterward, Lily stares at the glossy pink nail polish on her fingers and feels sick to her stomach.

Her morning sickness is back, and there is nothing remotely related to the morning about it.

It's easier when her friends aren't around, when she watches the telly with her baby.

She wraps herself up in blankets, and every report about a freak accident upsets her, but she can't not watch. When she realizes that James might be dead, might've died months ago, and she wouldn't know, she can't sleep, and she swears she can feel her heart beating madly in her mouth.

The first time the baby moves inside her, she is watching the news.

Three cars drove off a bridge in London, and they show the damaged cars as they're lifted from the river. One looks like an old, dented Rover, and her heart stutters in utter, blinding terror. Her stomach seems to leap, and she realizes after a moment that the baby is moving inside her. She feels the odd twinge inside her, and that's him, fluttering around inside her, poking her, tickling her.

"Oh, baby boy," she breathes, hugging her stomach.

In a week, the little gymnast in her belly has a name.

When she hears the name at the grocery store after work, she likes it.

She tests it on her boy at dinner.

"Hush, Harry," she says, rubbing the spot where he kicked.

Petunia glances at her. "What's that?"

"I picked a name, I think," Lily says. "Harry." She looks at her belly, at the bulge where he is pushing on her skin with a tiny hand that wants to be held, or a tiny foot that wants to be tickled.

"Harry." Petunia frowns. "I don't think I circled that name."

But Lily is decided. "Why don't you pick the middle name?" she asks. "That way Harry will know how much his aunt Petunia loves him. How's that sound, Harry?" She smiles at her tummy. Harry.

For months, she waits for him to change his mind. To come to his senses.

She waits for him to bang his fist on the front door, an apology written in his eyes. She hates him, but this isn't him, and she can't accept it. She hates him, but she doesn't know how not to wait. He doesn't change his mind, though. He doesn't come to his senses, or bang his fist on the front door.

Eventually, she stops. She doesn't know when. It doesn't matter. She isn't waiting for him.

But her stomach balloons at six months, and that's when everything changes.

She comes home from work to find a dog on the front porch, his head on his paws as he waits.

But at the same moment she sees him, his head perks up, and she knows. Slowly, she walks up the porch steps. She doesn't take her eyes off the dog, watching as he transforms into Sirius Black.

He looks gaunter than the last time she saw him, his hair at his shoulders, a thin, white scar fading on his cheek, and he gapes at her with tired, bloodshot eyes. "I knew it," he breathes. "I fucking knew it! I thought you looked chubby, but when you waddled off the bus yesterday — shit, Lily!"

She crosses her arms. "What do you want?"

"What do I want?" Sirius exclaims, staring incredulously at her. "I'm — you're pregnant!"

"I've noticed."

He gapes at her. "Alright, look, I get it," he says, softening. "James was an arse, and you hate him. But whatever he told you, he didn't mean a word. When he split up with you, it wasn't because he'd met somebody else, or — or whatever he told you. He was trying to protect you. He thought that him staying with you put you in danger, and the only way to protect you was to split up with you."

"Right," Lily says, her mouth dry. "Right, it was to protect me. He ignored me for weeks, let me think that he was dead, and he told me that I was a — a Muggle who didn't belong in his world, and he — he broke my heart — but everything was to protect me." She sucks in a breath. "Right."

"It was!"

Lily presses her lips together, and she circles around him towards the door. "Go away, Sirius."

"I'm telling the truth!" Sirius says. "He's always loved you. He split up with you, I know, and he was cruel about it, but he thought he was doing the right thing. I know he was a prick, finishing with you, but he did it because he loved you, and and he hasn't stopped." He stares imploringly at her. She stares at the split paint on the porch railing. "I'm not lying. He loves you. He always has."

"Stop," Lily says, breathing hard. "Just — stop."

"Is it really that hard to believe?" Sirius asks. "Lily, you know him, you know everything about him! Are you really going to tell me that you never once thought that he was trying to protect you?"

"Yes," she says, fisting her hands. She won't cry, she won't. "Yes, I thought it. I didn't want to, but I couldn't help it. I was in love with him, and I thought I knew him. But do you really expect me to believe he was trying to protect me when he — when he brushed off Petunia, when he told her that he didn't give a flying fuck about —" She chokes, swiping angrily at her tears. "I'm not that pathetic, Sirius! I'm not some stupid, silly girl that refuses to acknowledge when a boy is an arse!"

"He would've lied to Petunia, too," Sirius says. "He was trying to protect you!"

"It doesn't matter!" she exclaims. "I don't care what he was trying to do! If he had some warped reason to split up with me the way he did, fine. He did what he thought he had to do, and maybe if it was just me that he walked out on, I could try to forgive him. But do you really expect me to forgive him for walking out on my baby? Do you really think that he can abandon my baby, and I'll let him do it, because he wants to claim everything was a stupid, chivalrous attempt to protect me?"

Her voice breaks at the end, and she is left tearful, breathing hard. But she holds her ground, glaring at him. "It's one thing to walk out on me," she says. "It's another to walk out on my baby."

Sirius gapes at her. "James doesn't — he doesn't know — he doesn't have a fucking clue!"

"He knows," she says, fisting her hands, and the words are bitter in her mouth. "He doesn't care."

"There's no way," Sirius says, shaking his head. "He doesn't know. He'd care, I swear. I've been friends with him since I was eleven fucking years old, and there is no possible way he wouldn't care. Even if he didn't love you, he'd care about his kid. I mean, how'd you tell him? Did — did you write him? It might've been lost, I bet, like the Muggle post couldn't reach him properly, or —"

"Lost in the mail?" Lily says. "That's what you think? I wrote him a letter, and the thing got lost in the mail? Sirius, he knows! Petunia talked to him when I first found out I was pregnant, and he brushed her off just like he brushed me off. He didn't care. All he did was give her money for me!"

"No," Sirius says. "He wouldn't —"

"He might not have told you about it," she says, "but he knows."

"I swear, he doesn't know," Sirius says, emphatic. "Why do you think he knows? Because your sister says she talked to him? But that — damn it, Lily, that isn't James. He wouldn't act like that!"

He stares at her, and Lily stares back at him.

"What are saying?" she asks. "Do you think Petunia —" She stops. "My sister isn't a liar."

"But she hated James, didn't she? She hated him, and I — Lily, I know James. I've known him since we were kids, and he would care that you were pregnant. He wouldn't just brush that off."

"Petunia told him," she says.

Her baby somersaults in her stomach, and she thinks she might be sick.

"She didn't," Sirius says. "Look, I've been watching you for months, because he can't — he can't sleep without knowing that you're safe. It's all he thinks about. Things with the war are bad, and the man is a bloody wreck. He never should've split up with you. He throws himself into battle, and it's like he doesn't think about the odds, or — he is going to get himself killed, but he doesn't care. If he knew you were pregnant, he would care so fucking much. I swear, it'd be all he cared about."

His gaze is desperate, imploring, and she takes a slow, steadying breath. "I would like you to leave," she says. She fumbles with her keys, yanking open the screen door, yanking open the —

"He doesn't know," Sirius says. "I swear to God, he doesn't know!"

But she can't listen to this.

She stumbles into the house. He starts to step towards her, to stop her, and she slams the door in his face. Her hands tremble as she locks the bolt. He knocks on the door, saying her name, and she backs away. It isn't possible; that isn't what happened. Sirius is wrong. He doesn't know her sister.

Petunia wouldn't have lied to her.

But she hears her sister in the kitchen, and she can't breathe.

"Who was at the door?" Petunia asks, standing at the stove. "I heard voices."

"I need you to promise me something," Lily says, unable to speak clearly. Petunia glances over, frowning. "I need you to look me straight in the eye," Lily whispers, "and I need you to promise."

"What is it?" Petunia asks, stepping hesitantly towards her. "What's the matter?"

Lily holds up her hand, stops her. "It didn't make sense, everything with James. How abruptly he split up with me. But I refused to believe that he had some — some noble reason, because I didn't want to be that girl, convinced that her boyfriend really loved her no matter what he said. I told myself it didn't matter what his reasons were. But suddenly I was pregnant, and you talked to him."

"Dear, you're worrying me," Petunia says. "What is this about?"

"I'm not finished," Lily says. "Listen to me. I was pregnant, and you said he didn't care, which was wrong, it was just wrong. It didn't make any sense, but what was the alternative? That you lied to me?" She stares at her sister, and Petunia stares back. "That was Sirius Black at the door. He was a bit surprised to find out that I was pregnant." Her tears break loose. "I need you to look me straight in the eye, Tuney, and I need you to swear to me that you talked to James. That you told him. Please."

"I talked to him," Petunia says. "I went to London, and I waited at his flat. I talked to him, and I told him, and he reacted the way that I told you." She stares at Lily, stares her straight in the eye.

It's quiet. On the stove, the chicken starts to blister.

"If you're lying, I'll find out," Lily says. "Sirius is going to talk to James. If you're lying, he'll —"

"I'm not lying," Petunia says. "I don't know what Sirius thinks, but — " But she doesn't finished, because somebody bangs on the front door. She glances down the hall for a moment, and her gaze jumps back to Lily in the next. Her lip trembles. "He never deserved you," she breathes. "Never."

There is something in her gaze, and her jaw is locked, and —

"Oh, God," Lily whispers. "You lied."

The pounding on the door grows louder.

"I was trying to protect you," Petunia says.

But Lily shakes her head, clapping a hand to her mouth. Oh, God. Her sister lied to her. She didn't talk to James. He never said he didn't care, because he never knew, because Petunia never told him.

Sirius told him, though, and that's him. He is back.

He bangs on the door, and she sways on her feet. But Petunia cuts the gas on the stove, tears off her apron, and strides from the kitchen. The baby flips inside her, and Lily breathes in, hugging her belly; a sob rattles in her chest, and she breathes out. She hears voices at the door. Petunia shouts suddenly, shrilly, and there are heavy, hurried footsteps in the hall. The kitchen door swings open.

Oh, God.

James. His hair is cropped short, his eyes are ringed red from exhaustion, and a yellowing bruise colors his chin, but he is James Potter, and he is right there in her kitchen, gaping at her with this breathless, broken look on his face. "I —" He swallows thickly, shaking his head. "I didn't know."

Petunia storms into the kitchen behind him. "How dare you!" she shouts.

"Tuney —"

"I didn't ask you in, and you are not welcome! If you don't leave this instant —"

"Tuney, stop!"

The shock at everything, at Sirius, at James, it's giving way inside her. She can't deal with Petunia right now. It's too much. "I need to talk to James," she says. She stares at her sister. "In private."

Petunia stares back. Her chin wobbles. "Fine." Abruptly, she turns on her heel, back straight as a pin, and she glares at James when she stalks past him. The frame rattles as she slams the door shut.

It's quiet. She needs to talk to James. But she doesn't have to look at him while she talks. "I realized I was pregnant a few weeks after we split up," she says, crossing her arms over her chest.

James nods.

She swallows thickly. "I tried to contact you," she says, "but the phone was disconnected. I didn't want to tell you in a letter, and I couldn't stomach going to London to wait at your flat. Petunia volunteered to go for me, and I thought — I trusted her. But she told me that when she tried to talk to you, you brushed her off. You didn't have time for a baby. She said that you didn't care, and —"

"That's not true," he breaks in. "She never told me. I never talked to her."

She looks at him, at his wide, desperate eyes.

"But she said she did, and I believed her. It made sense after the way you finished with me."

"I'm sorry," James says. She doesn't know for what, whether he is sorry for splitting up with her, or for making her believe the worst about him, or for the fact that she did believe the worst. "If she'd told me, I would've been at your door in an instant," he says. "I would've been there for you."

She nods. "I —" She clears her throat. "I know."

But she can't think about what might've happened. Petunia pretended to talk to him, turned him into a villain, and everything is upside down. She doesn't know what is supposed to happen next, and she doesn't know what to think, or what to feel. She doesn't know what she wants to happen next.

She knows that they need to talk, though. "It's a boy," she says. "Harry. That's what — I like it."

He nods. "Me, too." He runs a hand through his hair. It's a nervous tic, and the gesture is familiar, making her stomach tighten, making her heart pound with feelings she doesn't want to think about.

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

"I missed you," he says.

She doesn't know how to respond to that, and opts for nothing. She moves to sit, hand on the table to steady herself, and James reaches towards her to help. She shakes her head at him. She can sit.

But he doesn't seem to know what to do with himself, his hands flapping about stupidly before he shoves them into his pockets. Impulsively, she grabs his arm, and she puts his hand on her stomach. She doesn't look at him as she slides his hand down. "Do you feel that?" she asks. She looks up at him, and he nods at her with large, bright eyes. "I think he might have the hiccoughs."

Again, the kitchen is quiet.

She drops his hand, and he steps back.

"I wrote you a letter," he says. It's abrupt. "Once. In the Muggle post; I even bought a stamp for it. I was — I was missing you, and I convinced myself that I had to check on you. I don't remember what I said. I rambled on probably. But you never wrote back, and I figured that was for the best."

"I never got a letter from you," she says. He doesn't say it, but she thinks it. Petunia.

"Doesn't matter," he says, and she nods. "Look, Lily, I —"

She clears her throat. "How've you been?"

"Miserable," he says, and he smiles sadly when she looks at him. "I know you hate me, and you'd be right to me. I was a bastard, the way I spit up with you. But I — I thought that it was what I had to do. I thought I had to make you hate me, because that was the only way that you'd — you'd let me split up with you. All that shit I said about how you were a Muggle, how you didn't belong in my world — it really was all shit. I mean, you were my world. I had a ring for you. My mother's."

"I know," she says. "I mean, I know you were trying to protect me. Petunia convinced me that I was wrong after —" She shakes her head. "But I know you. I know you didn't mean those things."

She doesn't want to talk about this, though.

They need to talk. But the more they take about this, the harder it is to breathe.

"After the attack at the restaurant, I thought — I wanted to protect you," he says. "I was convinced that you were in danger as long as you were with me, and I figured the only way not to lose you, really lose you, was to give you up. It was the hardest thing I've ever done." He stares sadly at her.

"I know," she says. "I know, and I don't you need to convince me." Her eyes burn with tears she won't cry. "I don't need to hear about hard it's been for you. It was to protect me. I get it. But where's that leave us? Are you about to say that you have to leave to keep the baby safe? Is that it?"

He gapes at her. "No, that isn't—" He shakes his head. "I was an idiot," he says. "I never should have finished with you. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I wasn't, and seeing you now —"

"What's that supposed to mean?" she asks. "Do you want to take it back? But if it was really about protecting me, nothing's changed. The war hasn't ended, and you can't just say that it was all a mistake, that breaking my heart was a mistake. It isn't — it isn't something you can just take back."

She wants him to leave; this is too much for her, and she wishes he hadn't come, that she'd never known the truth, that Sirius had never decided to tail needs him to leave, to go, to get out.

"I know that," he says, pleading with her. "It's why I haven't tried to come back. I made a choice, and I told myself it was the right one. I was miserable, but I had to believe it was the right thing, and at least I know now that you've been safe. That the war hasn't touched you. But Harry is like this — this sign from the universe that I didn't have to be miserable, that I made the wrong choice. Like I was supposed to be with you. If your sister hadn't lied, I would've gotten you back, and —"

"Would you have?" she says. "Do you think things would've been that easy for you?"

"No, no, I didn't mean it like that!"

"Look, you know that I'm pregnant," she says. "Fine. But I think it's time for you to go. I mean, there's a war on, and you have to stay away from us to keep us safe. And I'd like you to go. Now."

"Lily —" He steps towards her, a plea in his eyes, but she looks away from him. "I just meant —" He stops. "I just meant that I would've been there for you, and I — I want to be there for you. For him. He's my son. I want to know him. I want to be in his life. I don't want to lose him. I lost you, and that's on me." There is a tremor in his voice, and she looks back at him. "I was a coward. I know. I shouldn't have walked away like I did. I just want — I want to be his dad. That's all." He wipes his eyes, looking away from her. "I'm sorry," he mumbles. "I don't know what I'm saying."

She stares at the three missing buttons in his shirt. He is drawn, pale, wearing a tattered shirt.

As quickly as she was angry with him, she isn't.

She looks at him, at his missing buttons, at how defeated he is.

How battered, bruised, and broken he is, fighting in a war that won't end, unable to see a reason to live. He isn't the James she knew, because the James she knew hadn't been beaten down like this, hadn't been lost like this. It's what Sirius tried to explain. But he has a reason to live. He has a son.

"That isn't what I meant," she says. "I didn't mean that I'd keep you from him."

"Wouldn't you?" he asks, doubtful. She didn't know James Potter knew how to doubt.

"I know you split up with me to protect me. I know you were being noble, and I haven't forgiven you for it, but I have been safe, and — and now with Harry in the picture, I don't know, maybe it is better that nobody in the wizarding world knows about him, about me and you. Maybe he is safer."

"Maybe. But I can't — I can't leave now that I know he exists. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to — to leave the Order? I will. If it's him, or the Order — if it's you, or the Order —"

She shakes her head. "The Order needs you." That's the worst part, isn't it?

The world needs him, and she can't keep him to herself.

"Right," he says, bitter. "But what's that supposed to mean? Am I supposed to walk out the door, go back to the war, and, what, pretend you aren't pregnant? I can't do that. I won't do that. I was wrong when I walked away from you, Lily, and I'm not going to lose him the way that I lost you."

"But you won't lose him," she says softly. "I won't keep him from you. Only you are in a war, and Sirius told me about how reckless you've gotten. He says you barely sleep, that you're risking you own life like it doesn't matter. But you have a son, and your life matters to him." She reaches for his hand, intertwining their fingers. "I'll look after him, and you fight with the Order, and you survive. And when the war is ended, I won't try to keep him from you. I want you to be in his life."

He nods. "What about you?" he asks. "If I survive, do I get to be in your life?" His gaze searches her face. "Do I get another shot with you? If I survive the war, will you let me have another shot?"

"Is it me you want?" she replies. "Because if you want to be in Harry's life, you don't have to —"

"I've always wanted you," he says, smiling sadly at her. "I've always loved you."

She can't look at him, and she drops her gaze to the table. "I don't know," she says. "I don't know how I'm supposed to — to forget what's happened since we split up. I mean, we were apart for longer than we were together, and things have changed." She forces herself to meet his gaze. "I'm sorry," she says. "But I don't believe in signs, or fate. I don't believe that a baby means we're meant to be together. I can't just forget what's happened." She drops his hand. "I'm still angry with you."

"I understand," he says. It's quiet. "I guess I should go."

She nods. She needs him to go.

She needs a minute to catch her breath, to remember how to breathe.

He hesitates. "Can I —?" He glances at her stomach. She nods, and he squats beside her. But he is tentative as he touches her stretched belly. She covers his hands with hers, guiding his hands to the spot where Harry hasn't stopped hiccoughing, or burping. His thumb brushes over the spot. "I love you," he says softly, and she doesn't know who he means. But when he starts to stand, he leans in.

His lips brush against Lily's cheek before he steps back. "I'm won't stay away for long," he says. "And if you need me, I'll — I'll get a phone. I'll bring you the number, and you can just ring me whenever you need anything, or you want — or anything. How's that?" He looks hopefully at her.

"It's a good idea," she says.

He nods, running a hand through his hair as he turns away, and that's it. She hears him say something to Sirius in the hallway, and she hears the soft popping noise that means they've left.

She pretends not to notice Petunia when she returns to the kitchen; instead, she focuses on salvaging the burnt, abandoned chicken. But the boys are gone, and Petunia wants to be noticed.

"I know you're angry with me," she says, "but I wasn't trying to hurt you. I was trying to protect you from him." She pauses. "I betrayed your trust when I lied, but I lied for you, Lily. I lied to —"

"To protect me, yes," Lily cuts in. "I heard." She doesn't want to deal with this, but she needs to. "Did you ever intend to talk to him?" she asks. "When you volunteered to go to London to find him for me, is that why you volunteered? To lie about talking to him? To turn him into the villain?"

Petunia purses her lips. "Yes, that's why I offered to go for you."

Lily scoffs, turning away from her.

"But he was never good enough for you," Petunia adds quickly, "and he didn't deserve to —"

"That wasn't for you to decide!" Lily exclaims.

"I am you sister," Petunia replies, voice rising, "and that might not mean anything to you, but that means everything to me!" She shouts the word, and Lily is stunned into silence. Petunia takes a deep breathe, and there are tears in her eyes. "I hated Hogwarts, you know," she says, her arms crossed defensively over her chest. "Hated it. I was a Muggleborn, and I wasn't welcome at Hogwarts. I wasn't supposed to be there, and my fellow students loved to remind me of that fact."

Lily wants to protest that everybody at Hogwarts wasn't like that

"I was in Slytherin," Petunia says. "They were the worst, but the others houses didn't want a thing to do with me. I didn't have a single friend at that school. But when I came home, I didn't know how to talk to my friends from Cokeworth. I was a freak. No matter where I was, I didn't belong."

Lily shakes her head. "Petunia, that isn't —"

But Petunia isn't finished "I didn't have friends," she says, "but I had you, and you were always happy to see me, to talk to me. Always, I had letters from you to read at school, and I had my summers with you to look forward to. I couldn't believe how brilliant you thought magic was, and I didn't have to watch myself when I was around you. I could be me, and you were fine with that."

Lily is at a loss. "Petunia, you're my sister," she says. "I've always been fine with who you are."

"Exactly," Petunia replies, and her cheek trembles. But she straightens, and she goes on. "I know you're angry with me right now, and you might have a right to be. I shouldn't have lied. But I was trying to protect you from everything I suffered, from how very cruel that world is. He split up with you, and I saw what that did to you. I wanted to protect you."

"Petunia, you manipulated me," Lily says softly, "and you made me think my whole relationship with him was a lie. Do you have any idea how cruel that was? And what about Harry? He needs a dad."

Petunia doesn't have a response, and Lily turns back to the stove.

She stares at the chicken, and she shakes her head. "I'm going to get take away," she murmurs.

She needs to get away from the house for a while. It's all too much for her. Sirius, James, Petunia. The truth. It's all too much, and she'd rather waddle around a bit in the rain than stay in that kitchen.

He promised he wouldn't stay away for long, and he doesn't. A few minutes after she wakes up the next morning, he is at the front door. "I bought a phone," he says, "and they've installed it, and that's the number. There." He hands her a parchment sheet. "Also, I bought an owl." She steps back in surprise as he holds up a cage, and the large, snowy white owl inside blinks sleepily at her.

"Oh," she says.

"It's for you. She, I mean. She is for you. To write me." He grins eagerly at her. "All you have to do is write the letter, roll it up, and give it to her, and she'll find me wherever I am, no matter what."

She starts to smile at him, at how pleased with himself he is. "Ta," she says. "Here." She steps back, opening the door to allow him into the house, and he carries the owl into the kitchen for her.

"She doesn't have a name yet," he says. "That's for you to pick." He shuffles his feet a bit. "How, um, how are you feeling?" he asks. "I read that morning sickness isn't really morning sickness. I mean, that you get sick throughout the day. But — but that is mostly during the first three months."

She nods. "Right. When did you read about that?"

"Last night," he says. "I didn't really sleep. Had lots to think about. And read." He smiles nervously, and the realization makes her cheeks warm for reasons she can't explain.

"Well, I haven't been as sick lately," she says. "It's mostly the first few months, you're right."

It's quiet.

"But I'm glad you've been reading up on everything," she adds. "And thank you for the owl. And for the number. I don't know how you managed to have a line installed that quickly, but I'm impressed." She smiles, and he laughs a little. "Actually, how did you get it installed that quickly?"

"I may or may not have spend, you know, a lot of money," he says, grinning.

She shakes her head at him.

Again, it's quiet.

"Well, I, um, I have to get ready for work."

"Oh, of course." He nods. I'll — I'll be off." He smiles nervously, turning to go, but he turns back a moment later. "Ring me. Or owl me. Or I'll just — I'll see you." He runs a hand over his hair, flushing as he turns to go a second time. But before he disappears from sight, he glances over his shoulder and waves awkwardly at her. She waves back, and she is left feeling things she shouldn't.

The days that follow are strange, and she is miserable. In some ways, it's as though nothing in her life has changed. She lives with her sister, she works in the typing pool, and she grows steadily larger every day. James isn't in her life; the war rages on away from her. But her life has changed. In a single night, her entire life was turned completely around. How is she supposed to handle that?

She can't avoid Petunia, yet she doesn't know how to talk to her, or how to deal with her.

She hates her sister when she remembers everything, but she softens when see Petunia knitting booties for the baby, and she knows her sister loves her. Honestly, she doesn't know what to feel.

Things aren't easier when she thinks about James.

He was trying to protect her, and she hates that, wants to hate him, but he was sorry for it, and she knows what a toll the war's taken on him; that was plain to see months before he finished with her.

She names her owl after her dotty, old Aunt Iris, and the bird is a sweet, affectionate girl. But an owl doesn't change everything that happened. Lily doesn't finish a single letter she starts.

Mostly, she is angry. With Petunia, with James.

She doesn't need them to protect her. She hasn't ever. She didn't need James to give her up for her safety. She didn't need Petunia to lie to her, or to try to make things easier her by turning James into the villain. When Sirius greets her every morning in the yard with a bark, she curses at him. She doesn't need a dog. She might not be magical, but that doesn't mean she can't look after herself.

The gifts start to appear within a week. She opens the door to find a box that holds a mobile for the cot, and somebody delivers chocolate frogs to her desk at work. Iris returns in the evening with a package dangling from her beak, and Lily laughs in amusement at the toy broomstick she unwraps.

One minute she is irritated at the gifts, tossing the chocolate frogs in the bin.

The next minute, she misses him terribly in that way she hasn't allowed herself to for months.

She is three long, awful days late when the world shifts under her feet.

It is two in the morning, and this is it.

Nobody answers when she rings the number James gave her, and she realizes that she hasn't seen Sirius for a few days. She knows what that means. The Order. But she gives a letter to Iris, and she pretends that she doesn't care that he is on a mission rather than with her. She doesn't need him.

Her sister takes her to the hospital.

The place is crowded; there isn't an empty room to spare.

But Petunia Evans isn't about to stand for that. As soon as the woman in room 227 leaves, Petunia wheels Lily in, and she refuses to budge. In the end, she gets what she wants, and she sits beside Lily as the day drags on, complaining about everything from the pillows to the lighting to the noise. She manages to lecture four nurses. It's a long, horrible morning, and it's a long, horrible afternoon.

The baby is born at night, and he is a red, shrimpy thing with dark hair. Harry. Her son.

They clean him off, and they clean her off, and they put him in her arms.

The doctor who offends Petunia the least shows Lily how to nurse him, and Lily watches his tiny fingers curl, uncurl. "He is a very handsome boy, isn't he?" Petunia asks, stroking his downy hair.

"He's perfect," Lily says. His big, big eyes stares at her, and she is madly in love.

She wakes from a nap to find James on the floor. His back is to the wall, and he looks exhausted, his jacket in tatters, a nasty welt circling his wrist. But he smiles when he sees her, his eyes bright.

She runs a hand over her face. "How long have you been here?" she asks.

"Only an hour," he says. "I didn't want to wake you. Or him. He is — he is perfect."

"I know," she says, rising to her feet. Harry is awake in his cot, his eyes swiveling around as he fails an arm at him. She picks him up, breathing in his sweet, sweet baby smell. "Hello, darling boy," she says softly. "Who's my sweet boy?" She glances at James. "Do you want to hold him?"

He stands, wiping his palms on his trousers. "I don't —" He clears his throat. "I don't know how to hold a baby." He looks nervously at her. "I don't want to hurt him, or something. Or drop him."

She smiles. "Don't worry. It's like this." She shapes his arms, showing him how to cradle Harry properly against his chest, and Harry kicks his daddy lazily, blowing a spit bubble at him. "There."

James smiles. "Hey, buddy, hey," he murmurs. "I'm Dad."

It's quiet. Harry makes a wet, smacking noise with his mouth.

"His middle name is James," she says, flushing slightly when James glances at her in surprise. "I didn't — Petunia picked a name, but at the hospital it seemed wrong suddenly to let her pick the name when you should've — I panicked, and Harry James Potter sounded good to me at the time."

He smiles. "It's perfect. Really." But his smile falters. "I'm sorry I wasn't there. I wanted to be."

"I know." She smooths her skirt needlessly. "How're — things? I mean, with the war?"

"Awful. But that isn't news, is it?" He smiles wryly at her. She doesn't know what to say, and his gaze drops to Harry. "There's a spy in the Order," he murmurs. "I don't know what to do. I trust every single person in the Order with my life, but somebody is a traitor. It's a fucking train wreck."

She nods, but he isn't finished.

He starts to talk about everybody, listing off the people in the Order. He explains how most people think that Remus is the spy, including Peter, but that's the stupidest thing. Remus might be the person he trusts most. He hasn't ever talked about things like this with her before, and she doesn't know what to say. He doesn't seem to need her to say anything. He just needs somebody to talk to.

But the baby starts to fuss, and she knows what he wants. "I — I need to nurse him," she says.

James stares at her. "Oh. Right." He nods.

She doesn't look at him as she takes Harry.

She turns away, and she keeps her back to him as she unbuttons her nightgown. The room is quiet, and she glances at the clock. It's seven in the morning. "I don't need you to stay," she says. "I mean, you look like you're ready to keel over. If you want to go home, I understand. I don't mind."

"I'm fine."

The sun starts to peek through a slit in the curtains, and she sways a little on her feet. But she burps Harry, and she lays him to sleep in his cot. She puts the booties Maureen knitted for him on his teeny, tiny feet, and he blinks sleepily at her as she brushes her fingers over his dark, downy hair.

"How is this supposed to work?" she asks, keeping her gaze on Harry. "What is supposed to happen next?"

"I don't know," James says. "But I don't want to leave."

She swallows thickly. "Maybe you should."

"Lily —"

"I'm glad you came tonight to see him; I'm glad you wanted to see him, but the war isn't over —"

"Do you really want me to leave?" he asks, and she refuses to look at him, to see the look on his face. "Do you really want me just to walk away like it's nothing? Like I don't care about my son?"

"It's safer that way," she says. "I've thought about it, and you were right when you split up with me. They'd target me for being with you, and they'd target Harry for being your son. It isn't your fault, but — but we're safer when you aren't with us. And I just — I don't know how else to do this. When the war is over, we'll figure things out, but until then — but for now you need to stay away."

She keeps her gaze on Harry, but James looks at her, and he is right beside her, and —

"I don't know how to stay away," he says softly, plaintive.

"But you have to."

His hand is on her hip.


His chest is to her back, his arms loosely boxing her in.

"I know I can't take back what I've done," he says, his breath warm against her neck. "I thought I needed to hide you away from the war, away from the world — I wanted to protect you, but I shouldn't have walked away the way I did." He leans in closer, and his hands find her hips. "I'm going to go, and I'm going to keep fighting in this bloody war. I'm going to stay away. But there won't be a second when I'm not thinking about our boy. And when it's over, when we've finally killed the bastard, I'm going to come back to my little boy, to you, and I'm going to win you back."

"Don't — you can't say things like that," she murmurs, turning.

She means to push him away, but his hands hold her hips, and his lips are on her cheek, kissing away that stupid, stupid tear. He smells the very same, and his arms around her are the very same.

"I told you that Harry was like a sign, and you said you didn't believe in fate, and your'e right. It isn't about fate." He cups her face. "It's just about you — it's about how fucking much I love you."

"James, don't," she whispers.

He kisses her.

It's like he never stopped, like they were never apart.

His hand run up her back, and she opens her mouth to him; he tastes like tea, and his lips move softly against hers as she deepens the kiss. His hands twist in her hair, and her grip on his shoulders tightens. When the kiss ends, he presses his lips softly to her jaw, to her cheek, to her temple, and he breathes her in, his face pressed in her hair as she winds her arms around him. As they stand there like that, hugging, breathing, she starts to cry, but his hold on her doesn't loosen.

"I want to hate you," she murmurs.

"I know," he says. "I'm sorry. Merlin, I'm sorry." Slowly, she pulls away, and James steps back. He runs a hand over his hair. "Look after our boy." She nods. He manages to smile, and he leaves.

The months that follow are messy, exhausting, and awful. She is on leave for a month and a half, but Harry keeps her awake through the night, and he is a fussy baby. Petunia takes a job as a secretary at a drilling firm, but the raise isn't enough to support a baby, and Lily goes back to work.

Those first few weeks at the office, away from her baby, she misses him in an aching, awful way, but she adjusts. She spends her nights with her small, fussy baby, his tiny fingers curling around her thumb, his tiny feet kicking at nothing as she gazes down at him, Harry, her sweet, sweet baby.

How is James able to stay away?

How can he not want to see these tiny toes, or hear this small sneeze, or hold this little, perfect person they made? How can he not want to smell that soft baby smell, or touch the teeny tiny ears?

But he does, doesn't he?

He stays away because she told him to. It's what she asked from him.

He writes her, though, and every letter is a remainder that he is alive. She keeps every single one, and she reads them over and over when she knows she shouldn't. I miss you, he writes, and she stares at the line like words on parchment are supposed to make right everything that's gone wrong.

When Harry is three months old, her friends talk her into a night on the town.

"He won't hate you for leaving him with his auntie for an hour!"

They take her to dinner, and they won't let her pay; when dinner is finished, she is dragged to the pub, because, "I miss you," Diana exclaims, and Lizzie adds that she needs to have fun once in a while. "It isn't healthy for your son to have a mummy who holes up in her house night after night."

Petunia is at home with Harry, and Lily orders a whiskey sour that she can't drink.

But she manages to drink something that doesn't remind her about the man she met at this pub, and she is happy to leave the pub for a club when Maureen suggests they top the night off with dancing. Diana wants to teach Lily a dance that she learned while Lily was sitting at home, and Lily can't breathe for laughter while Diana wiggles about. She wipes tears from her eyes as she goes to the bar for a drink, and that's where a bloke with blond hair, blue eyes, and shy smile runs into her.

She tries to talk to him, and he is handsome, is funny, is smart.

He asks for her number, and she fumbles to explain that she isn't, actually, I'm not, I have —

"It's fine," he says. "But I'll give you mine. Just in case. Throw it out when I'm not looking." He writes the number on a linty scrap from his pocket, and she manages a flustered, panicky smile in thanks.

"Why didn't you give him your number?" Maureen asks. "He was fit."

"I — I think it's a night for me," Lily replies. She tries to smile, tries to light a smoke, but her hands are trembling too much to use the lighter. "But you should stay." A weak smile. "I'll catch a cab."

She leaves before her friends can talk her into staying, and she is sick in the toilet at home. She thinks she might've had too much to drink. She goes into the nursery, and Harry sleeps in his cot as Petunia dozes in the rocking chair. Quietly, Lily picks him up, and she bring him into her room.

How is this her life?

It was supposed to be easier to have James stay away, but it isn't.

Her days are measured in Harry, in how old Harry is today, in what Harry accomplished this morning, in how Harry sat up this afternoon, and Harry rolled over on the nursery floor last night.

Petunia takes a hundred photos when Harry starts to babble, giggling, drooling with a smile on his face, and she has them printed at the shop next door to the framing store. He is six months old, and his picture litters every surface in the house. She takes a hundred more at Christmas. Maureen buys him a red, reindeer jumper as her gift, and Diana gives him a headband with fuzzy antlers to match.

He looks adorable, drooling at them with antlers on his head; it's her favorite photograph.

She writes to James, and she tucks the photo into the envelope.

He writes back, and he asks her what Harry needs for Christmas.

When she replies that he needs clothes, and, to be honest, she wants an electric bottle warmer, too, she doesn't have to wait a week before the packages start to pour in. There is a package with clothes, and there are three packages with three electric bottle warmers, and she is supposed to pick the one she likes best, return the others, and use the money from them to buy whatever she needs.

"Good for him," Petunia says.

They're struggling to make ends meet, and Lily isn't about to ask James for money, but —

He knows, and this is his way to help.

She uses the money to pay the water bill, and she buys Harry a bigger cot with what's left.

It isn't until Harry is asleep and the lights are off that she starts to cry. Once she starts, she can't stop. When the door opens, she quiets, but Petunia isn't deterred. She comes in, sitting on the bed.

"I don't want to talk," Lily says. She can't deal with her sister right now.

"I know," Petunia says. "I know you haven't forgiven me. I understand. But I know why you're crying, and I need to say this. I need you to listen to me for a moment." She pauses. "Forgive him."

"What?" Lily asks, frowning at her sister in the dark.

"James. I know you're angry with him, and you needn't be. It is the hardest thing in the world to hate somebody you miss, and you shouldn't torture yourself like that. Forgive him. He left to protect you, and he apologized for it. Let that be enough. I know you've kept him away with talk about how you're safer when he stays away, but that is talk to you — I know you don't really believe it."

"Do you?" Lily asks.

"I used to. I suppose I do. But the safest thing isn't always the best, is it?"

"No. But —why've you suddenly changed your mind about everything?" Her eyes have adjusted to the dark, and she sees her sister smile sadly as she reaches for Lily's hand. "I mean, you hate him."

She squeezes softly. "I do. But you don't."

"Petunia —"

"I've made you miserable," she says, sighing, "and I never wanted that."

"I'm not —"

"Yes, you are. And I'm to blame. I was trying to protect you, and I — I acted selfishly. If I'd told him, he would've been around while you were pregnant, and he'd have won you back, and you wouldn't have been miserable these many months like you have been. I'm sorry, lovey. I truly am."

She stares at her sister, and she is at a loss.

Petunia leans forward, kissing her forehead. "Forgive him."

She leaves, closing the door quietly behind herself, and Lily doesn't fall asleep for hours.

She used to grab his elbow. They didn't hold hands in public; she used to say she didn't like having a sweaty palm in her hand, and he would slip his hands under her shirt as he teased her about his sweaty palm on her back, on her stomach, or he would cup her face in his hand to rub his palms against her cheeks. She would elbow him in the side, laughing, and he would draw her in for a kiss.

She didn't like to hold hands, but she would grab his elbow in a crowd.

He never really threw his arm around her shoulder; instead, he'd keep a hand on her hip.

She thinks about that when she is at work; her mind wanders, and her fingers hover over the keys, and she thinks about how his fingers tapped absently against her side as his hand rested on her hip.

On her walk home, she hugs herself, and her hands slide to her hips.

It isn't even close to the same. She taps her sides, and she misses him.

The first time Harry uses magic, he is six months old, and Lily is on the phone while Harry rests on her hip. He drops his plushie, and he starts to whine, wiggling around. She shushes him, only to drop the phone, astonished, when she sees the stuffed bear floating through the air towards him.

His chubby hands grasp it, and he happily bites down on the soft, fuzzy teddy bear head.

She laughs, kissing his cheek repeatedly. "Oh, my boy," she breathes. "My brilliant boy!" She puts in him in his swing before she grabs up the phone while he giggles delightedly at her.

James answers when she rings him. "What's the matter?" he asks, worried.

"Harry used magic!" she exclaims. "I saw it! He made his plushie float to him!"

"What? Really?" He laughs, and she grins into the phone as she glances at Harry in his swing. He gives her a big, gummy smile. "Wait, wait," James says, "can I come over? To see — to see him?"

She doesn't think about it. "Sure."

He doesn't waste a minute, Apparating into the kitchen before she hangs up the phone, and she starts in surprise. But he grins broadly at her, and her heart skips a beat. "Morning, Lily," he says.

"Morning," she says.

Harry flails a chubby fist, chattering nonsensically at them, and James laughs a little. "He's big," he says, glancing at Lily with this look on his face, this awe. "I can't — Merlin, he's big. Look at him!" Harry drools, and James laughs, running a hand over his hair. "Can I pick him up?" he asks.

"Oh — oh, of course," she says. "That isn't — you don't have to ask my permission for that."

"Right." He nods.

But when he picks up Harry, she can't help laughing at him, at how he doesn't seem to know what to do, and he makes a face at her. She shapes his arms like she did months ago when Harry was truly a tiny little thing, and he holds Harry on his hip. "Like that," she says, and she bites her lip as James murmurs something to Harry, and Harry blinks at him, pokes his cheek, and babbles back.

James glances at her, and she smiles.

"How're things?" she asks.

He shrugs. "I've started to train as an Auror. It's what I wanted to do before I joined the Order. But it's actually for the Order. Dumbledore wants me to try to discover who the mole in the department is." He makes a funny face at Harry, who blinks at him. "He recruited a dozen new members for the Order a month ago, and seven have already been killed. They don't listen, and they're reckless."

They aren't like him. They aren't old hats at war.

"I'm sorry," she says softly, and she is.

Harry looks at her, and his little fingers flex as he reaches for her. She takes him from James, and he settles on her hip, curling his hand around her necklace. She kisses his cheek, looking at James. "I'm always glad for your letters," she says, because she needs to say it. "I'm glad to know you're alright." She bites her lip. "Is finding the mole — is that safer? For you?"

"I don't know." He pauses. "I live on the letters you write back."

She swallows thickly. "I haven't written as much as I should've," she says. "I — James, I —"

"I know," he says, smiling sadly. "I shouldn't have come. But you hadn't rang me since he was born, and I — I'm sorry. I hate that I have to miss everything. I know that it's for the best, but —"

But she shakes his head. "That isn't what I wanted to say. I was going to say that I'm glad you came, because I think we need to talk about everything. This isn't right, what we're doing. It's not."

"What do you mean?" He stares at her, and she takes a deep breath.

"Having you stay away," she says. "I've thought a lot about it, and . . . " She doesn't finish.

He searches her face. "I hate staying away," he says. "It's making me mental."

"Me, too." But she can't meet his gaze, and she turns away, putting Harry back in his swing. "It was my idea, but I've had months to think about it, and I, well, truth is that I've really missed you."

"Have you?" he asks.

She nods. Faces him. "I have. And I know I was wrong to make you stay away. It was easier like that. I was used to you not being around, and I was angry with you, and I didn't — it was easier."

"I was an arse to you," he says.

"But you loved me. And you were an arse, and it was all too much for me. I wasn't allowed to hate you, because everything you'd done was for me, but I was punishing you for it, or trying to hide from — everything. But these last several months have been the hardest in my whole life, and —"

"Lily —"

"Let me finish. They've been the hardest, and I just — I've stopped being mad at you. And all that's left is missing you. I miss you." She shrugs. "There. That's the truth. Hand to God. I miss you. And I want you to be in Harry's life, and I want you to be in mine, and it might mean that the Death Eaters would target us, but I don't really care. I don't want to put my life on hold for them. I won't."

"Lily," he says, looking at her with this fondness that makes her throat close.

"Do you forgive me?" she asks.

He smiles. "It was never about me forgiving you," he says, and she smiles, too. "But you weren't wrong," he says, and his smile is sad. "Voldemort is stronger every single day. You really are safer when I stay away. As long as the Death Eaters don't know you exist, they won't touch you."

She shakes her head. "I don't care. We'll figure it out."

"Even — us?"

"Especially us."

He steps towards her. "Why don't we start over?" he asks.

"In a war?" She raises her eyebrows at him, but he shakes his head.

He brushes his hand over her hair, tucking a little behind her ear, and he cups her cheek. "I don't care about the war," he says. "All I care about is you. Let's start over. A first date, and everything."

She leans into his palm, and she can't help herself. She nods.

He grins, but his stupid grin isn't as stupid; it's softer, sadder. He's grown up. "We'll figure it out," he echoes, and she nods. He steps even closer, and his lips brush against her cheek. She takes a quick breath. "It's going to be the best second first date ever in the world," he says, and she laughs.

But they don't get to have a second first date. He is supposed to pick her up on Thursday night.

He phones in the morning, though.

Petunia answers, frowning. "Who is it?" Lily asks.

Petunia doesn't respond as she hands the phone to Lily, and James is on the line. He says that he needs to talk to her, or, well, that Albus Dumbledore needs to. "Can we come over this afternoon?"

"Alright," she says, hesitant. "But what is this about?"

James is quiet for a moment. "It's, um, it's complicated. How's an hour?"

By the time he arrives with Sirius in tow, Lily is an anxious, agitated mess. Albus Dumbledore is with them, too, or who Lily assumes is Albus Dumbledore. He is a tall, thin wizard, and he looks like a wizard; he wears flowing lavender robes, sports a long white beard to match his long white hair, and wears half-moon spectacles on his long, crooked nose. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Lily."

She nods, and she leads him into the sitting room. "Have a seat."

"Where's Harry?" James asks, stepping close to her, his hand on her hip. "Upstairs?"

"He is in the nursery, but —" She looks at Dumbledore.

"I am sorry to intrude on you like this, but I needed to speak with you."

She glances at James, but he doesn't have an answer for her. "Fine." She sits. "What's this about?"

Petunia sets the tea tray on the sitting room table, and Dumbledore thanks her. She glares at him, and she gives Sirius the stink eye when he grins at her. But she serves tea, and she sits on the sofa.

She might not want them in her home, but her manners never fail.

Dumbledore sips his tea, smiles at Petunia, and look at Lily. "James told me that you have a son."

Lily nods. "Right. Harry." She looks at James. "What's that matter to you? I mean, why —" She shakes her head. She doesn't understand what this is about, and they're worrying her. "He isn't even a year old," she says. "Is something the matter?" She glances at Sirius, who drops her gaze.

"I'm afraid your son is the child referred to in a particular prophecy," Dumbledore explains. "Do you know what a prophecy is?" He gazes kindly at her, and she nods; she understands the concept.

But as he goes on, she wishes she didn't.

There is a prophecy about a boy with the ability to defeat Voldemort, a boy born as the seventh month dies, a boy to parents who have defied him three times. "Lily hasn't defied Voldemort," Petunia says, frowning at him. But Dumbledore explains that James has, in fact, defied him three times exactly, and that the prophecy might very will apply to Harry. But that isn't the worst part.

Dumbledore thinks that Voldemort has heard the prophecy, or at least a part.

"But he doesn't know about Harry," Lily says. "Nobody does, right?" She looks at James.

He nods. "It's us, and Remus and Peter. That's it. But if he found out, he'd come after you."

"It is possible that the prophecy is intended for another boy," Dumbledore says. "He was born a few days before Harry, and his parents have thrice defied Voldemort. But I believe that when faced with a choice, Voldemort would see your son as the greater threat. You see, Voldemort is not himself a Pureblood wizard. Rather, he was born when a Pureblood fell in love with a Muggle."

"That's why he'd pick Harry," James says. "Because Harry is like him." He reaches for her hand.

But she doesn't want to be comforted, doesn't want to take his hand.

"Right." She smooths her skirt. "What am I supposed to do? Voldemort doesn't know about him."

"It is likely he doesn't, you're right. But we cannot be certain." Dumbledore sighs. "After all, there are situations we don't control. I believe you have a neighbor who is a wizard. Severus." He pauses, waiting, and Lily nods. "I'm afraid that Severus Snape is a Death Eater. And he might've seen you with James. He might've noticed that you have a son, and he might've guessed the truth."

"I doubt Severus remembers who I am," Lily says. "He stopped speaking to me a long time ago. Look, I realize that Harry is in danger. But what am I supposed to? Leave my home? Hide? Because there is a prophecy that my baby is going to save the world? Do you really believe that?"

Dumbledore smiles sadly at her. "Unfortunately, what I believe isn't —"

"Have you come to take him?" Petunia asks sharply.

"What?" Lily asks, glancing at James, at Sirius. "Take him?"

"Lily —"

"No! I won't let you take my son. I won't let you — you come into my home, tell me that my son is in danger, and you have to take him. He is my son, and I don't need you to protect him, or to protect me. I'm not a witch, fine. I know that. I'm a silly, stupid Muggle. But that doesn't mean I'm an imbecile, or a foolish, flighty doll that you have to hide away, that can't look after her own son!"

James grabs her hands. "No, Lily! Listen! Nobody is about to take Harry from you."

She stares at him for a moment, and she looks at Sirius.

"I'd kill the bastard who tried," Sirius says. He smiles. "I've missed you, Evans."

"I know that you are the best person to protect your son, Lily," Dumbledore says.

She nods. "Good. So. What is is that you want me to do?"

"There's a charm," James says, and she looks at him. "The Fidelius Charm. When it's cast, it hides a house from everyone but the Secret Keeper, who has to tell somebody the address personally in order for that person to find the house. If we cast a Fidelius Charm on your house, you'd be hidden from Voldemort. He could be on the pavement right outside, but he wouldn't be able to find you."

He stares earnestly at her, and she starts to nod. "So let's do that."

Dumbledore smiles. "Who would you like to be the Secret Keeper?" he asks.

"James, I guess," Lily says. "Or Petunia." She glances at her sister, who nods.

"I'll do it," Petunia says. "I may not enjoy magic, but I am very capable with charms."

"It is possible for your sister to be the Secret Keeper over her house," Dumbledore says. "But the charm is strongest when somebody who is unrelated to those under protection casts it. The spell intends the Secret Keeper to be somebody who is not family yet who you trust as though he were."

For a moment, Lily look at James. But he is family, isn't he?

Her eyes dart to Sirius. He grins. "I'm available for the job," he says. "Just say the word."

Sirius never seemed to care that she was a Muggle. And he followed her around with a tail for months while she was pregnant, and he is best friends with James, but he is her friend, too, isn't he?

Petunia sniffs, but Lily nods. "Sirius. I want Sirius to do it." She looks at her sister. "He wouldn't betray James for the world. If he's willing, I am." James squeezes her hand, and Dumbledore nods.

"There's one last thing," James says.

He looks at Lily. "I want to stay with you. Go into hiding with you. It means that I'd have to quit the Ministry, and I wouldn't be doing much for the Order." He glances at Dumbledore. "But, honestly, I can't worry about a mole in the Ministry when my own family is in danger. I just can't."

Dumbledore smiles. "I understand."

But James stares at Lily. "I'll sleep on the sofa, or whatever you want," he says.

"I don't think it is necessary to have you on guard in our living room," Petunia says, nostrils flaring. She hates James.

She might've told Lily to forgive him, but clearly that doesn't mean she likes him, or wants to have him living with them.

"It isn't as though I want to live with you," James says. "I mean, you aren't really my favorite person."

Petunia purses her lips at him.

It isn't exactly the second start that Lily imagined, going into hiding in her own home with him. But he'll be around for Harry. And if Voldemort is really after Harry, aren't they safer with James around? She nods. "Alright."

They talk for a little while longer. When Dumbledore suggests she quit her job, she balks. But the charm keeps her safe within the house, and James is quick to assure her that she doesn't need to worry about money. She isn't happy, but she agrees, and they decide to cast the charm on Saturday.

The sooner, the better.

She doesn't have a chance to talk to James before he leaves with Dumbledore.

When the boys arrive on Saturday, Peter is with them. "I have an idea," Sirius starts. The moment Voldemort learns that Harry exists, he'll go after Sirius to find where Harry is being kept hidden.

"He'll expect Sirius to be the Secret Keeper," James explains.

"But he won't expect Peter," Sirius says, grinning.

Petunia rakes her eyes over Peter, and her lip curls with disapproval, but she doesn't say a word. Peter smiles at Lily, and she nods. "Alright." The charm is cast, and they're hidden from the world.

She watches James play with Harry, and this is the way things are supposed to be. Harry sits in his lap, and James prods at the plushies on the sitting room floor, making them dance for Harry, who giggles happily at the sight. When James produces a Snitch from his pocket, Petunia chokes on a biscuit. But James explains quickly that he cast a spell on the Snitch; it won't fly too fast, or too far.

He figured Harry would have fun playing with it.

"It's a choking hazard," Petunia hisses, and James deflates.

But as far as Lily is concerned, they simply need to watch Harry with the Snitch. As long as they keep an eye on him, he isn't about to choke on a toy like that. James grins at her, and Petunia sniffs.

Harry loves the Snitch, and Lily is happy. But —

But they aren't allowed to leave the house, and she is restless at the thought. The charm was cast an hour and a half ago. How are they supposed to live like this day after day for weeks? For months?

They eat roast chicken for dinner, and James plays with his food to entertain Harry; for the first time in months, Harry isn't the messiest eater at the table. James helps Lily give Harry a bath afterward, and she pretends not to care that James is in the nursery when she sings Harry to sleep. She isn't a great talent, and she blushes when she misses a high note, but James doesn't say a word.

Petunia waits for them to return downstairs before she sets the spare sheets on the sofa, and she looks pointedly at James before she retreats to her bedroom for the night. The sitting room is quiet.

Lily starts to unfold the sheets, and James helps her.

"What are you thinking about?" he asks.

She sighs. "Honestly, the prophecy." She looks at him. "Do you think it's real?"

"I don't know," he says. "But if Voldemort believes it's real, he'll make it real. That's how that stuff works." He takes the pillow she hands him. "Doesn't matter, though. Voldemort won't touch him."

They're finished with the sheets; his bed is ready, and they stand in the quiet for a moment.

She bites her lip, and he starts to smile.

She laughs, shaking her head. "This is odd, isn't it?" She crosses her arms over her chest.

"Awkward," he says. "I think awkward is the word you want. But there's lots to talk about." He sinks onto the sofa. "Tell me about Harry. He's like his own little person, and I don't know him."

Slowly, she nods. "Alright." She sits beside him on the sofa, curling her legs up.

She doesn't know how long they talk. She isn't short on stories about Harry, and they have a lot to catch up on. She remembers that at some point she fetched pretzels to snack on, and she remembers when James put a couple in his mouth to make fangs, because he wanted to imitate properly the vampire he met when he was younger. He started to choke on one, and she laughed until she cried.

She must've fallen asleep in the sitting room, because she remembers being carried up the stairs.

When she wakes up the next morning in bed, she realizes that he must've carried her to bed. Her clothes are on, but her hair clip sits on the night stand, and her shoes are at the door. She smells bacon on the stove, but Petunia would've left for work an hour ago. She stares at the ceiling, and she starts to smile at nothing. She covers her cheeks with her hands, hiding her smile in her palms.

Petunia arrives home from work in a flurry, and she slams her bedroom door shut.

"What's the matter with her?" James asks, biting into a sandwich.

Lily shrugs. "She saw you eating that without a plate."

But Petunia emerges from her room half an hour later, and she exchanged her droll brown dress suit for a pretty yellow gown with lacy edging. Her hair is dolled up, and she put on pink lipstick.

"I have a date," she says, walking in pink heels, and Lily gapes at her. "His name is Vernon, and he is picking me up at seven, and I expect you to be on your best behavior." She glances at James.

He nods.

"There is cheese on your shirt," she adds.

James looks at his shirt. "Oh, there is." He looks back at her, and her frown deepens. "Right," he says, standing, "and I'm going to change my shirt." He makes a face at Lily as he leaves the kitchen, and she disguises her laughter as a cough.

When Vernon arrives at seven, Lily doesn't know what to think. He is as loud as he is large, and he glances at James with beady, suspicious eyes. "I didn't know you had a brother," he says. He frowns when he spots Harry on the sitting room floor beside James. They should've shut the door.

"Oh, he isn't my brother," Petunia says, flustered. "He is my — my — my brother-in-law!" She laughs nervously. "My, look at the time! We need to hurry, or we'll lose those reservations you made!"

The door slams shut behind them, and Lily stares at in shock for a moment.

Slowly, she walks into the sitting room. It's quiet. She bites her lip, and she looks at James.

"Merlin's beard," he says. And he starts to grin. "I was married, and nobody told me!"

She laughs. Her sister, the woman who can't bear to explain a complicated situation. The shame! How is she supposed to explain that her nephew is illegitimate? How can she excuse the fact that her sister was with a man before marriage? The utter, absolute impropriety!

But on their own, they manage a good, shameful night together.

James makes spaghetti for dinner, and Lily bakes pudding. As they're clearing dinner, he puts a record on, dancing from the table to the sink as he brings her dishes to wash, and she can't help it.

She joins in, and he spins her around, wants to be spun around, dips her back.

Harry waves his arms at them, and James swoops him up, hoists him in the air, and makes a whooshing noise as he runs around the kitchen. He is breathless when Lily takes Harry from him.

She isn't thinking at that moment, her son on her hip, a smile in her cheeks, and James at her side, and she kisses him. She leans up on her tiptoes, and she gives him a soft, sweet affectionate kiss on the month the way she used to do. She steps back quickly, shaking her head in embarrassment.

"I'm sorry," she says.

But his hands are on her hips, dragging her back, and he kisses her.

It's a long, proper kiss, and Harry is content to stay squished between them as Lily presses closer to James, as she wraps an arm around his neck. She buries her fingers in his hair, deepening the kiss, and she is dizzy with him when he draws away at last to press warm, happy kisses to her lips.

Harry yanks on her hair, and she winces through her laughter as she steps back. "Alright, alright." She puts Harry down, smoothing down his hair. He drools, and she glances at James. "Stop it."

"Stop what?"

"Grinning like that. Stop it."

"Like what?"

"Like that," she says, flapping her hand at him, and he grabs her wrist.

"Come back," he says, tugging on her arm, "and I'll stop." He grins.

She shakes her head at him, but she grins, too, feeling silly, feeling stupid, and — and she hears it. She glances at the window, the giddiness inside her fading quickly. "Did you hear that?" she asks.

"What?" he asks, following her gaze to the window. The curtain is closed.

The music is loud, but she could've sworn —

"I heard that," James says, moving past her to the window, and Lily rushes to Harry, picking him up, holding him close. "The street's on fire," James breathes, turning back to her. "Death Eaters are here."

Her heart stops, and she gapes at him. "What do we do? They don't know where we are, right?"

"No, but they must — I don't know that the Charm protects from fire, and they've lit the block!" He runs a shaky hand through his hair. "We need to leave. We can't Apparate in a house under the Charm, so we'll have to go outside, but we'll just be in the yard for a second, and I'll Apparate us."

She nods. "Alright. Let's go."

The record is on, but the screams have grown louder than the music.

"Where is my wand?" he asks. "Shit. Shit!"

"The sitting room!" she exclaims. "It's in the sitting room!"

He sprints for the sitting room, and she follows at his heels, Harry in her arms. He grabs his wand off the ground. "The backdoor," she breathes. "It's safer, right?" He nods, touching her arm, and Harry squirms in her grasp. This is it. They'll be in the backyard for a second, and they'll Apparate.

They're in the kitchen, they're at the door, and the glass in the window shatters in a fiery rain.

She stumbles, the ground giving way under her feet, but James catches her around the waist, hauls her up, and they scramble to get away as flames leap into the house like downpour from a storm when the door is left open. The flames start to billow up to the ceiling with a fury, licking the walls.

"The front door! We have to!" James shouts. "That's enchanted fire; it's searching for people!"

But as they're running for the door, it blasts open.

The man who walks through wears billowing black robes, a silvery mask, and a twisted grin.

James reaches an arm around to keep Lily close to his back, and they stagger into the sitting room as a second Death Eater follows the first into the house. James raises his wand, shoving Lily back.

"Lily, take Harry and go! Run!"

It's too late for that, though. The Death Eaters stream in, and there's nowhere to run.

James is ready for them. He sends the first flying, and he deflects a spell from the second. It's three against one, but James knows how to fight. He disarms the blonde one, who topples over the sofa as his wand spins in the opposite direction, and James ducks to dodge a jinx from the shrimpy one.

She wants to help him, but she doesn't know how.

The fire from the kitchen has spread into the sitting room, and the daisy wallpaper bubbles, browns, and burns. The bookshelf is engulfed in flames, and she chokes on the thickening smoke.

There isn't a way to escape, and James needs help.

He deflects a buzzing, purple stream from the taller Death Eater, but his ankle twists, tripping him, and a spell hits him squarely in the chest. He stumbles, and another spell seems to explode on his face; she hears his nose break. His face is bloodied, twisted with pain, but he isn't finished. He deflects the next jinx, clutching his side with one arm while he holds his wand aloft with the other.

The Death Eaters circle him. She needs to help him.

She shifts Harry to her hip, kissing his red, wet cheek as he wails, his chubby hands fisted in her jumper. "Oh, lovey," she breathes. She tightens her hold on him, and the large, beastly Death Eater start to advance on James, distracted with the other. She panics, grabbing the fishing trophy off the mantle. The cold, fake gold is slick in her sweaty hand, but she grips the base, and she lunges.

He doesn't expect it.

She pummels the Death Eater with the old, dingy cup, and he drops his wand in shock, stumbling. But he isn't fazed for long, and he lands a fist in her stomach, violently tearing the breath from her.

He wraps his arm around her middle, trapping her against him. Her back is to his chest, his hand at her throat, choking her, and she feels his silver mask evaporate. His stubble scratches her cheek, his breath hot on her face. "Did you really think you could take me on, you filthy Muggle whore?"

Harry screams, and the Death Eaters tightens his grip on her, on them.

But she struggles with everything in her, trying to tear away from him. She elbows his side as best she can with Harry in her arm, and the Death Eater laughs, but he isn't prepared for her other arm; she jab him in the eye with her finger. He howls, his grip on her loosening enough for her to throw him off. She snatches the trophy off the ground, rising in time to lob it at him as he reaches for her.

The blow makes him stumble backwards, and a spell hits him. James.

She meets his gaze for the briefest, brightest moment as the Death Eater crashes to the ground.

In the next moment, the third Death Eater flicks his wrist. Suddenly, James is paralyzed. His body contorts, he drops to his knees, and his back arches backwards unnaturally; the scream torn from his throat trails off abruptly, pain strangling it. He curls in on himself, twitching, twisting, tortured.

His face crumples in awful, absolute agony, and she starts towards him. But she doesn't manage three steps before the Death Eater waves his wand at her, and her feet are knocked from under her.

Her wrist snaps as she tires to break the fall for Harry, and the pain shoots up her arm.

She pulls Harry to her chest with her other arm, struggling to stand.

The Death Eater raises both arms over his head, his nostrils flaring as he stares at James, and the whole world seems to slow. He is about to kill James with a single spell, and she can't stop him. Her limbs move like the air is molasses, the man is deranged, and James is a broken, twisted mess.

But the Death Eater is thrown suddenly to the side like a puppet on a string.

The flames seem to leap through the air to catch him. She stumbles back in horror, turning, and her heart stops. For a moment, time stops. The room crumbles around her, Harry wails, and she can't tear her gaze from the figure who sweeps in. He killed that man. But he hasn't come to help, and he isn't a Death Eater. His robes swirl around him, smoke curling in the dark folds like snakes.

His eyes glow a bright, bloody red, his wand held in a bony, white hand. Voldemort.

James struggles to his feet, and Lily rushes to help.

But she can't reach him. Voldemort flicks his wrist, and she flies backwards.

She crashes into the sofa, and Harry tumbles from her arms. Voldemort tilts his head at her baby, shrieking. "No," she breathes. "No!" She reaches for her boy, but she can't take him away, can't take him to safety. The fire circles the room, circles them, and Voldemort starts towards them.

She manages to drag Harry behind her, coughing on the thickening smoke. Her eyes water as she looks up at Voldemort, as she tries to rise to her knees. "No," she says, "please, no!" But Voldemort starts to wave his arm over her head. She turns to shield Harry, his soft, baby hair brushing her nose, and James shouts her name, but he can't help her. An invisible hand grasps her, lifting her, tossing her.

Hot, blistering air whips at her skin, and the flames reach out to catch her.

For the shortest, most terrible moment, she feels the fire on her skin.

It's pain like she's never known, consuming her, and it's —

Nothing. Or something. Loud, distorted noise, the world tilting into view for a moment before spinning away in a dark, dizzy rush, something brushing her, pain, colors, screaming. She blinks.

Her body throbs, and every breath hurts to take. She is sprawled across the ground.

She blinks. Harry wails. Where is he? What happened?

She starts to push herself up, but she can't.

Her vision swims, clouded with smoke, with the pounding in her head, but Harry cries, and she needs to get to him. Over her head, there is a bright, brilliant explosion like a firework, and she blinks. James slashes his wand through the air, Voldemort deflects the curse, and they circle each other.

Harry screams.

I'm coming, she thinks. I'm coming, I'm coming.

The fire rages on the walls, and smoke distorts the air; the window explodes from the heat.

"I do not wish to kill you," Voldemort says, flicking his wrist.

James deflects the curse. "If you want him, you'll have to," he snarls.

She pushes herself to her knees, and her stomach rolls. She collapses at the same moment plaster from the ceiling starts to rain down, and the whole world falls to pieces with it. As the ceiling caves in, Voldemort raises his arms over is head, and she screams, but her voice is drowned in the fire, and everything happens in a flash. She watches as James is tossed across the room like a rag doll.

His wand clatters to the ground, and time slows.

In the distance, Harry wails.

The heat from the fire blisters her skin, and everything in sight shimmers with it.

James is motionless, and Voldemort raises his wand. He tilts his head. "It is a pity to shed blood as pure as yours," he says softy, slowly, but his voice rises, contorting into something darker, something denser, "but your mongrel will die with you, and your sacrifice will have been a waste."

She reaches for him.

She won't be able to get to James. But Voldemort is above her.

His wrist turns, and she grabs him. Her fingers curl around his ankle. She yanks. Her vision is blinded with a fiery, flashing green, but the spell strikes the wall above her, and Voldemort falls. She claws at his robes, at his arms, at his face. But his hands find her neck, and she can't breathe.

His nails dig into her throat, and he raises his arm. His wand soars back into his hand.

"Avada Kedavra!"

She blinks, and he topples to the ground.

Her ears are stuffed with cotton, but she hears him. Harry, screaming for her. Her breath rattles in her chest, but he isn't dead. Harry. James. Her boys. They've survived. Her baby shrieks, alive. Her vision is peppered with black, the world spinning, spinning, spinning, and everything is black.

Hands touch her face, but she can't find him. The fire rages. My baby, she thinks.


Petunia, she thinks. Save him.

The bookshelf from a room above comes crashing through the ceiling, and the world ends.

The breeze skates softly across her cheek. Her head is heavy, but she blinks, and she is in a cool, quiet room. In a bed, tucked beneath thin, starched sheets. Where is she? What happened? The window is open, and the lacy green curtains rustle as the sun pours in. She blinks at the brightness.

And the night returns to her in a rush, the fire, the Death Eaters. Voldemort.

She panics. What happened to Harry? To James?

She tries to sit up, and she is dizzy, sick to her stomach.

"Lily, slowly," Petunia says, reaching to steady her. "Slowly, or you'll hurt yourself."

Her sister is in a chair by the bed, a knitting book in her lap, but Harry isn't with her, and the last time Lily saw James — "What happened?" she asks, desperate. "Is James alright? Is Harry —?"

"Harry is fine," Petunia says. "I promise. I carried him from the house myself. He was very upset, and he had a few bruises, but a Healer fixed him up, and he is fine. James is, too. He's in a bed a lot like this, but he is alive, and he'll recover. But you need to rest. You were badly burned, and the ceiling were very nearly crushed you. Rest." She squeezes Lily's hand, but Lily isn't about to sleep.

"What about Voldemort?" she asks. "What happened?"

"He is dead," Petunia says. "He was killed." She turns, taking a vial from the small, wooden table beside the bed. "Drink this. It'll help you heal. Go on." She helps Lily drink the whole little bottle.

She feels the effects with the first breath she takes, warmth curling through her.

"What happened? Where's James? Can I see him?" But her eyelids are heavy; she shouldn't have taken that potion. They're fine. Harry is fine. James is fine. Her sister wouldn't lie to her about that.

Petunia strokes her hair. "Sleep, lovey. The war is over, and you've nothing to worry about."

"And my boys are fine," Lily says. She sinks back into the pillows. "Where is Harry? I want to see him." She blinks at her sister, the world starting to soften at the edges. She just needs to see him.

Petunia smiles. "In a little while, darling. Everything is going to be alright. Rest now. Our little Harry is fine, and his daddy is fine, and I'm right here with you. Everything is going to be alright."

She doesn't remember a lot from the slow, sleepy hours after the attack. But she wakes, and Sirius puts Harry in her arms. He is warm, heavy, and alive, her darling, darling boy, and she cries into his hair as he babbles at her. She sleeps, and she wakes when Remus brings her something to eat.

The war is over. Slowly, she learns what really happened.

"It was Sirius who saved you," Petunia says. "I panicked. The house was falling to pieces, and I couldn't find you after the ceiling fell though. I had Harry, but I couldn't find you. But Sirius appeared, and he tried to drag James out, and James wouldn't let him. Half dead, the house going up in flames, and the man wouldn't budge until you'd been found, and you were safe." She smiles.

But Sirius didn't stop Voldemort.

Remus explains.

Petunia saw the smoke from the restaurant, and she arrived in time to stop him. He was about to kill her sister, and she couldn't let him. There isn't a soul in the wizarding who doesn't know her name now. Petunia Evans, the woman who defeated Voldemort. The woman who saved the world.

She isn't supposed to be on her feet, but Sirius volunteers to give her a piggyback ride.

When they brought her in, she suffered from a broken wrist, a twisted ankle, a crushed lung, seven shattered ribs, and severe burns. They've healed her, but she is forced to swallow a few, nasty potions every hour, and her skin is raw; she isn't allowed to remove the bandages on her burns yet.

But she isn't about to sit in that room when James is three doors down from her.

She is breathless when Sirius delivers her to James. Healer Mott might've mentioned something about a fragile state, but she isn't going to dwell on that. James grins, and he looks good. Healthy.

His face is flushed with color, and he is propped up with pillows.

Remus sits in the chair beside the bed, Harry in his lap, and Lily takes her baby from him as she settles against the pillows besides James. When Harry looks up at her, she covers her face with her hands for a moment, and she pulls them back. "Peekaboo!" He gurgles at her in excitement, pointing. She smiles, covering her face. She pops back into view. "Peekaboo!" And Harry laughs.

Her sweet, sweet boy. It's as though nothing happened to him, as though there were never a threat.

She doesn't know how long they play, but Harry starts to grow sleepy, and she glances at James, who hasn't said a word yet, toying absently with her hair in the quiet. He meets her gaze. "What?"

"What are you thinking about?" she asks.

He shrugs, tugging on a curl. "You."

"Go on."

He laughs.

"Really, go on," she says.

He sighs, and his smile is rueful. "Alright. I was just thinking — I was thinking about how I tried to keep you hidden from the whole world, and I split up with you, and I stayed away when I should've bothered you incessantly. And for what? In the end, you didn't need me to protect you."

She stares at him.

He has everything wrong. "I did, too. I needed you." If he hadn't been at the house, she would've been killed. He saved her from the Death Eaters, pulled her from the fire that should've consumed her, struggled with Voldemort to the end. She needed him. She always has. "And you needed me."

"Still do," he says, smiling at her.

She nods.

"Well, I guess that settles it," he says. "No more splitting up."

"And no more staying away," she says. "I'd prefer you bother incessantly, thank you."

His eyes crinkle with his smile, and the way he looks at her is almost too much; she looks away, biting her lip, and he leans forward to nose at her cheek; she feels his lips curve against her cheek.

She looks back at him. "Well. Are you going to kiss me, or what?"

He laughs, and he kisses her.

It's a soft, sweet kiss, it's how much he knows her, how much he loves her, how much he missed her; his hand slides around to cradle her head as he deepens the kiss, and it's a promise. The kiss ends, and she rests her forehead against his. "I love you," he says. She draws away to look at him.

He tucks her hair behind her ears.

"I love you, too," she says.

She loves him. She never stopped, not really. It isn't something she could've stopped. She loves him, and it's who he is. It's the way he talks with his hands, and it's the way he grins that stupid grin at her. It's his hand on her hip. It's how what's right isn't a question to him, and it's muggy, hot summer days, and it's how his voice breaks comically when he sings. It's how very much he is, and it's everything he is.

She reaches up to cover his hands with hers.

"What?" His thumb brushes her cheek.

"What happens next?" she asks. Her house burned to the ground. She doesn't know what Petunia wants to do. She doesn't know what she wants to do. And what happens with them, with James? Another first date, or do they skip that? Do they start where they left off? Or back at the beginning?

His hands slide from her face to clasp hers. "What do you want to happen?" he asks.

"What do you want to happen?" she replies.

He smiles. "Easy," he says. "I want you." She raises her eyebrows at him, and his smile widens boyishly. He intertwines their fingers. "Honest. That's it. I want to be with you. And I want to marry you, and I want to live in a house with you, and I want to grow old with you. But just this, just being with you, it's more than enough. As long as what happens next has you in it, I'm good."

Harry makes a soft, sleepy noise, and the smile tugs irresistibly on her mouth.

"I want another kiss," she says. He kisses her. "Ta."

He laughs, and the nurse bustles into the room. She frowns when she sees how they've crowded into the one, narrow bed, but she doesn't say a word. She gives James two potions to drink, leaving to fetch the potions for Lily. "Healer Mott wondered where you were," she says, clucking.

"With my boys," Lily says. It's more than enough.

She settles back against the pillows, closing her eyes.

If she falls asleep, she might not have to drink those awful potions.

There are nightmares for a long time, and she wakes with a scream in her throat.

But Petunia stays in the hospital with her for a week, and she moves into a cottage in Godric's Hollow with her afterward, crawling into bed beside her in those first few weeks when the nightmares are at their worst. She gives Harry treats when Lily's back is turned, and she gossips about the neighbors, and she likes to address Sirius as Simon, or Sylvester, or Silius, or whatever name isn't his name. Her sister is who she always was.

They never talk about what she did.

She knows Petunia loves her, and that's what matters. No matter what, her sister loves her, and she loves her proper, pretentious sister right back. That won't ever really change. It couldn't; it's how sisters are.

But they do talk about some things.

She tries to remember what happened that night, to put the pieces together in her muddled mind, and she starts to question Petunia, James, Sirius. Some questions are easy. "What happened on your date?" Lily asks, and Petunia is eager to talk. But other questions aren't. Sirius darkens when he explains that Peter was the spy. He was their friend, but he betrayed them, and he disappeared.

"Well, I never liked him," Petunia says, frowning. "He had a face like a rat."

As the ground starts to thaw beneath them, the Death Eaters are caught, and the world is righted.

She is twenty-six, and her fingers are sticky with peanut butter biscuit dough.

But Harry insisted that he wanted to help make the biscuits. Summer is mild this year, and it hasn't stopped raining in two days, which means Harry is about ready to climb the walls. Baking is a welcome distraction.

His glasses slide down his nose, and he smears batter on them when he pushes them back up.

"Harry, darling, you have batter on your hands," Petunia says. "Here." She hands him a napkin.

But she is too late, and he uses his shirt to wipe the peanut butter off. Petunia sighs, glaring at James, because she likes to blame every fault in her nephew on him. James grins at her.

He holds Rosie in his lap, and she chews on one hand as she smashes the dough with the other. As messy as her brother, she gifts everything she touches with dough; her hair is styled with peanut butter, and her pink, printed dress from Aunt Petunia is stained with batter, but she giggles at her daddy when he praises her lumpy, misshapen biscuits, and she is the sweetest thing on earth.

Under the table, James nudges Lily's foot with his.

There is peanut butter on his cheek, and he wants to play footsie.

This is it. This is her life.

She loves her job, and the library that the city wants to build on Fourth Street is her project; she is lead, there is a team that answers to her, and it's her design that's going to become a real building.

But she loves this, too, and her mind isn't on the library when Harry wants to shape a biscuit like a Snitch. They have to root through the pantry to find something to be the wings, and Remus suggests they sculpt wings from batter. But Sirius wants to use marshmallows, and they decide to have a competition. Petunia is declared the judge, because she is impartial. Also, impossible to bribe.

When Petunia declares that both biscuits look awful, Sirius throws a marshmallow at her.


You'll be the last one pickin' up the pieces,

You'll be the last one standing up strong,

You'll be the last one making all the right things wrong,

As the days go by, the days go by.