There was definitely tension in the air. Lily could feel it, even though she was sitting across the table from Sirius and next to Remus at the Sorting Feast. They had avoided direction conversation with each other all night, and that didn't sit well with her. There were few things one could count on at Hogwarts, and the friendship between Sirius and Remus was one of them.
The entire meal passed almost awkwardly as the rest of the Marauders tried to compensate for the obvious tension in two of their members. Sirius spent most of his time chatting with James, while occasionally granting Peter some of his attention. Lily turned her focus on Remus, and they had a quiet conversation about classes.
Leading the first
years to the Gryffindor common room was always one of her favorite tasks, even though this year she had to share the enjoyable duty with James Potter.
"The password this year is ‘Hinkypunk rock'," James informed everyone and smiled broadly as the Fat Lady swung open with a "Nice to see you James, Lily. Isn't this a lovely crop of first years?"
After pointing out where the boys' and girls' dormitories were, and soothing the few first-years who were just beginning to feel the first onslaught of homesickness, Lily collapsed in her favorite squashy armchair, watching the first years
run about the common room and all over the tower.
"Long day, eh?" James asked, sitting down on the hearthrug across from her.
"You're telling me," Lily said, and stretched out her legs. "The day's not even done, you know. We have to have our beginning-of-the-year meeting with Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and the rest of the prefects, but first we have a private meeting in Professor Dumbledore's office."
James raised his eyebrows. "Have to have? That doesn't sound quite like you, Lily. Wouldn't you normally be excited about something like that?"
"Yes, I would," Lily confessed, "but I'm just too tired at the moment to want to do anything other than sleep."
"Casting that spell really took it out of you, didn't it?"
"Yes, well, it's not an easy spell to cast and…" Her words were lost in a wide yawn. "I'm afraid I just don't have any energy left. I stuffed myself at the feast, too, which didn't help."
"Ah, so food-induced sleepiness and spell casting-induced tiredness, right?"
"Yes, that's exactly right."
A roguish grin crossed James's face. "Well, if it looks like you might be starting to sleep, I'll just give you a shock with a Zap Jinx."
Lily laughed aloud and pushed herself out of the armchair. "Thanks, James, that's very sweet of you."
"Just trying to play the noble gentleman. I hear the ladies like that," he teased, and winked at her.
"To a certain degree," Lily said, drawing the words out in a way that she knew would spark James's interest.
"Oh?" Distracted, he pushed open the portrait almost carelessly.
"Yes. That certain degree stopping just before casting Zap Jinxes to keep us awake during meetings we don't particularly want to attend, anyway."
"Lily Evans, you are just full of surprises."
Chuckling, Lily nodded. "Thank you, I guess."
"Let's go and get this over with, eh? I don't suppose we can speed up the meeting with Du—excuse me, Professor Dumbledore, but we can surely move the prefects' meeting along at a fairly fast pace, right?"
"We can, as long as we don't allow certain people to talk," Lily said thoughtfully. "Remus and I used to team up together. He has a great deal of subtlety…"
"Well, I don't have any great deal
of subtlety, so I'll just be direct, and you can be subtle," James teased, but then realized that Lily wasn't laughing. "What's wrong?"
"You're going to have to learn to be more subtle, James. There's a lot of competition and politics among the prefects. They all think they're hotshots, or they've got something to prove, or they haven't grasped the reality of the responsibilities thrust in their hands yet. We're going to have to be subtle. Together."
"You don't ask for much, do you?" James asked with a sigh. "Just a complete change of character, that's all you want."
This time, Lily did laugh. "Nothing so drastic as that. Just – be considerate, all right?"
Feeling a range of emotions that were familiar -- he experienced them every time he dealt with Lily Evans -- but always infuriating, James struggled to keep his comments on Lily's assumptions about him to himself. He was considerate, dammit. Did an inconsiderate bloke save the life of his archrival? No. He most certainly did not.
His father had had a lot to say about self-control and self-examination following the events that had taken place last year, but then, he had also had a lot to say about James growing up.
Suddenly, he realized with full force that this was to be his last year at Hogwarts. He would never again return here as a student after the exams at the end of the year. This was, in effect, his last year to make things right.
"James? Are you all right? You're being very quiet over there," Lily commented as they turned down the last corridor to get to Professor Dumbledore's office.
"It's not really anything," James said, forcing those sorts of thoughts out of his head. He didn't want to be thinking about anything unpleasant before he entered the headmaster's office. It was bad luck, and James, being a prankster, was a firm believer in luck.
The gargoyle at the entrance waited patiently for the password until Lily supplied him with "Cherry Mash".
"What's a Cherry Mash?" James asked as they walked up the stairs.
"It's a sort of Muggle sweet. I don't really care for them." Lily shrugged. "It's chocolate and cherry – I don't really like the cherry flavor they use. It's not my cup of tea."
Professor Dumbledore had apparently heard them coming because he opened the door and said, "Well, to each his own, Miss Evans. I'm not that fond of them myself, but every once in a while I'll remind myself why I only eat them every now and again."
Lily blushed. "Hello, Professor."
"Come in, come in. Have a seat. This won't take very long, I'm quite certain," Professor Dumbledore said with a very direct look at James.
James felt a shudder run up and down his back. The amount of information the man knew without any way of knowing was scary, especially to him, who specialized in finding information.
"Thanks, Professor," he said, and tried not to let Professor Dumbledore see his reaction. Dumbledore seemed like he was trying to tell him something. What was it?
"You're quite welcome, Mr. Potter. I have a feeling both you and Miss Evans are quite tired from today's events?"
"Yes, Professor," Lily said quickly. "It took quite a lot of me – out of us, I mean," she finished, and blushed.
Unable to really relax in Dumbledore's office like he had before last year's events, James rested his ankle on his knee and leaned forward.
"Lily was brilliant," he said quickly. "I just helped her get to where she needed to be to cast the spell."
"I took a look at the charm myself, you know, Miss Evans," Dumbledore said conversationally. "It was done quite well. Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters would have been hard pressed to get through that tight a spell."
"Thank you, Professor."
Absently, James noticed that Lily didn't just blush. She turned so red he imagined she blushed all the way to her toes.
"Combining that Shield Charm with the Ward was also well done," Dumbledore said, turning to face James. "Very powerful magic."
It was James's turn to blush. "Thank you, Professor."
"I confess, I had my doubts about you two when I finally decided on Head Boy and Head Girl for this year, but I was convinced at the time that each of you held qualities I considered essential to Hogwarts in the struggle that is about to take place. In fact, I fear it has yet to begin."
"Lord Voldemort, you mean?" James asked, feeling very thick.
"Yes," Dumbledore said, in a way that didn't make James feel stupid at all. "It's more than that, really. People have harbored these anti-Muggle-born feelings for quite some time now… In fact, since the beginning of Hogwarts. We can never really say for certain the truth of why Salazar Slytherin decided to leave Hogwarts, but we have a very good idea it was over the acceptance of Muggle-born students. Prejudice has a way of splitting good things like that, and worse, it's contagious. I fear for the wizarding world," he added, becoming contemplative. "I fear for the strength of the witches and wizards who can't and won't stomach this. I fear for the strength of those who will have no choice…"
"But sir, you can't possibly believe that he'll become that powerful, can you?" James asked, true dismay evident in his voice. "Surely the Aurors will be able to stop him…"
"The Aurors are not, and never have been, all-powerful, James," Dumbledore said firmly. "There are some threats neither they, nor I, can anticipate. We had all thought Lord Voldemort gone for a very long time."
James nodded. He had long ago accepted that not everything was fair in the world, but a deep sense of fear and caution was setting in now. Before, it had been the short-term threat that seemed the most dangerous. Now, it was the long-term, the future, that worried James.
"I don't believe in teaching politics in my school," Professor Dumbledore continued, "but I do believe in enforcing common sense. The rules will have to be strongly enforced this year, Miss Evans, in particular the curfew rules and Hogsmeade safety regulations. This is not a time to become careless.
"I need to have the utmost faith in you two, as a team, during this time. I have to rely on you to follow directions from professors, or in their or my absence, I have to be able to count on you to be able to give competent directions to the student body.
"You both are extraordinarily talented. This year, let's put it to some good use, eh?" As he said this, he looked directly at James and gave him a wink.
With that, Dumbledore rose and left the office, leaving Lily and James to stare at each other for a moment.
"So, in other words, get along with each other, just for this year, so that we can keep Hogwarts safe, right?" James asked.
"I think that's what he's saying," Lily agreed, and rose. "We'll have time to discuss that later. Now we have to attend a prefects' meeting."
James groaned. "Do we have to?"
A chuckle escaped Lily. "Yes, we have to. It's part of this whole ‘responsibility' thing that Dumbledore thinks we ought to have."
James shook his head and dragged his feet as though he were attending an execution instead of a meeting.
"Really, James, they aren't that bad. I swear."
"Care to wager on that?" James asked, brightening a little. "I say that it will be so boring I will nearly fall asleep."
"And I say that you're just hearing things from Remus that are greatly exaggerated, and you might enjoy dictating to a bunch of your peers."
"What's at stake, then?"
"Does something have to be at stake?"
James looked confused. "Yes. Otherwise, it's not a wager."
"All right then. If I win, you have to tell me why Sirius and Remus aren't getting along."
"They're getting along," James protested, albeit weakly.
"They are not," Lily disagreed. "They've hardly said a word to each other. I can't be in the same room with just the two of them. You could cut the tension with a knife."
"Maybe wagering wasn't such a good idea," James said suddenly. "We'd best call it off."
"Why? Are you frightened?" Lily seemed shocked at the mere possibility.
"I can't put that at stake," James said firmly. "I would have to break promises. It's a matter of honor."
Slightly taken aback, Lily nodded. There were a lot of things the Marauders were willing to sacrifice in the name of a good prank. Honor wasn't one of them. "All right then. We won't wager."
But as she headed for the meeting, she couldn't help but wonder what it was that none of the Marauders were willing to talk about that had changed their relationship so drastically.
If she thought about it, she supposed that they had started to act abnormally a while back, at the end of last year. She just hadn't paid a lot of attention to it because she was preoccupied with her mother's death.
"James, I…" Having started the sentence, she didn't know what to finish with.
"What?" James asked, not unkindly.
Lily took a deep breath. They were at the entrance to the library. "I wish you luck."
Grinning, James reached for the doorknob. "Thanks. I have a feeling I'm going to need it."
Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and review the last two chapters. My thanks and gratitude goes out to all of you.
Also, Anne, you're the greatest thing since sliced cheese. May you live forever in fandom memory as one of the greatest betas alive.
Thanks, KC, for putting up with me. I know it can't be easy. Honestly, our working relationship is one of the most fulfilling I've had in the fandom.