Disclaimer: Most of the following characters are the property of JK Rowling and associates, with the exception of Maddy, who belongs solely to me.
Lily smiled to herself as she heard her men talking loudly in the sitting room. Peter, Sirius, Remus and, of course, James, were all her men in one way or another. She continued to think about them as she finished cleaning up the kitchen. All four men were very important to her, each in his own way and she didn't know what she would do without them.
James was her heart, of course. He always had been in a way, despite the fact she had disliked him for the first six years she'd known him. There had never been a time when she could completely blot his existence from her mind. Her smile widened as she remembered him striding around Hogwarts as proud as a peacock and very nearly as colourful, she thought with an unladylike snort. Seventies fashions had really not done anything for his image. Thank heavens fashions were a little more subdued in the eighties. Still, fashion sense or no fashion sense, she wouldn't swap her husband for any other man in the world. Not even the handsome and dashing Sirius Black, notorious womaniser and prankster. The comparison changed the flow of her thoughts and she considered her husband's best friend.
Her relationship with Sirius was hard to describe. It would probably best be described as that of an annoying younger sibling. Most of the time she wanted to throttle him but then, just when she thought she might actually do it, he would do something so incredibly sweet and thoughtful that she would just melt. It was easy to see how he had managed to persuade half the female population to help him inspect the various broom cupboards dotted around the school. She was almost positive that he had managed to snog a different girl in every single one of them, and there were a lot of broom cupboards in Hogwarts. Now that he was of age and had his own flat, she didn't want to think about what he was getting up to. Thank Merlin James had always been single-minded in his pursuit of her. There were times when she thought Sirius would never grow up but he seemed to be changing now. Maddy was most likely the cause of that. They had been seeing each other for almost a year now, which was an abnormally long time for Sirius to remain interested in a woman. In fact she was almost positive that Maddy broke the record for all his previous girlfriends when she made it through the first month. Still it was good to see him finally settling down a little. She shook her head to clear out thoughts of Sirius. If she dwelled on him for too long she was almost certain to remember some outrage he had committed and her mood was too fragile just now.
She moved on to Peter instead. There was nothing offensive about little Peter. It was strange how she always appended his name with the word "little". Peter was actually taller than her by half a foot and slightly chubby to boot. Still she couldn't help but think of him as little, perhaps in a small boy sort of a way. Not as a man. It was difficult to give poor, nervous, little Peter that title. He was such a sweet person though. She frowned slightly when she considered how flippantly the other boys treated him. It was all right for the other three, she thought crossly. They were all outstanding in their own different ways: bright shining stars at Hogwarts, and later, men of courage fighting against Voldemort. Except for poor little Peter, he always seemed to trundle along in their wake. Not quite as good at school as the other three, an adequate quidditch player but not as fast and daring as James, the last one to learn how to do a spell, and the least handsome of the four men. He always appeared to be running to catch up with them. At times she wondered if Peter had done himself a disservice by choosing the three friends that he had. In any other company he would have stood out favourably but in this particular group he was the least impressive. It didn't help that the other three rarely missed an opportunity to point it out to him. No doubt they thought they were merely being witty but in her eyes it was almost cruel. The number of times she had seen that crushed look on Peter's face after one of their taunts made her want to slap them all. Or at least give them a right telling off. Not that they would listen to her of course; she had tried to point it out to them unsuccessfully too many times and had given up. She just hoped it wouldn't come back to haunt them later.
The rich baritones of Remus leaked into the kitchen, switching her thoughts to the last member of the quartet. He was something of an enigma to her and always had been. Part of his mystery had been cleared up when James revealed that he was a werewolf but there were still hidden secrets about the quietest Marauder. Sometimes she thought he disapproved of the way Sirius and James carried on most of the time, especially when it came to picking on others but she had never heard him say anything to them. He was even more of an enigma lately, disappearing for days on end, reappearing suddenly for a few days before taking off again. James and Sirius had tried to get out of him where he was going but he always refused to say. Personally, Lily thought it was a girlfriend but the others had darker thoughts. Professor Dumbledore had discovered there was a spy in the Order and James and Sirius had begun to think it might be Remus. She was positive they were wrong however. To her eyes Remus was dressing a little more sharply and was more fussy about his appearance. That was a sure sign of a new girlfriend she decided and she couldn't blame him for wanting to keep it hidden, at least until he was certain of her. Sirius and James could scare off a troll without making an effort. In the meantime she had to stop Sirius and James from jumping to yet another idiotic conclusion. Sometimes she thought she was more of a mother to those two than wife and friend. She must find time to chat with Remus as well, she decided. If she didn't clear up this mystery then those two hotheads were likely to say or do something stupid.
'Hurry up, Lils!' James shouted. 'We're waiting for you to start the discussion.'
She wiped her hands on the tea towel and folded it carefully before joining her men. Her husband's eyes lit up when he saw her and she felt her heart jump slightly. Seeing him after a short absence, even if it were only minutes, always made her heart beat faster. She wondered if she would always feel this way about him. Would there come a time when she could walk into a room and not be aware of his presence, not reach out instinctively to touch him in some way, even if only with her eyes?
He moved over on the sofa, making room for her at his side, his hand reaching for hers automatically as she sat down. She leaned into him, tucking her legs up next to her as she let him take her weight. 'So where are we up to then?' she asked as his arm snaked around her.
'James has just told us that there is some sort of prophecy which means that Voldemort might come after Harry,' Peter informed her helpfully.
She smiled graciously at him, he was always so eager to be of assistance. His face flushed a little and she pretended not to notice. His crush on her had been one of the worst kept secrets at school and in the intervening years it had persisted. After years of practice it was easy to ignore him but she did wonder if that was the kindest solution. Perhaps she should have sat him down in the beginning and told him that it was never going to happen but whenever she started to say something he would get a hurt look in his eyes and she would quickly change the topic. That was the trouble with Peter; it was too easy to pity him.
'We've decided to go into hiding,' James told them abruptly.
'So much for breaking it to them gently, James,' she admonished. They had discussed it and decided it would be best to work their way up to the announcement. Her eyes went to Peter first. Just as she had expected he was the most affected by their announcement. The poor little thing was already trembling with fear for them.
She jumped in to soften the blow. 'Professor Dumbledore thinks it would be best for us to simply disappear and has suggested we use the Fidelius Charm.'
Remus looked thoughtful. 'That's the one where the only person who can find you is the Secret Keeper. According to what I've read you could be standing right next to a house hidden under the charm and you wouldn't see anything unless the Secret Keeper revealed the location.'
Sirius rolled his eyes. 'Thank you for yet another outstanding lecture, Professor. That was almost as boring as when Professor Flitwick spent an entire lesson discussing it in detail. I swear you're going to end up teaching one of these days. Merlin knows you're pedantic enough.'
Remus threw a cushion at him, hitting him squarely on the head. 'Oi, watch the hair,' he said, pulling out a comb to smooth it back into place.
'Could you be any more vain?' Lily asked him. 'Your hair will fall out if you keep combing it so much,' she warned him. For a moment he looked fearful and she felt a small sense of satisfaction at his discomfit. Unfortunately he recovered all too soon.
'Enough,' James snapped. 'If you don't mind, this is a serious discussion, not some stupid prank planning session,' he asserted.
She was startled by his vehemence. He was normally the first one to escalate a pillow fight and it was disquieting to see him so uncharacteristically serious. Dumbledore must have frightened him badly when he told them about the prophecy but when she considered the implications for their only child, she conceded it was no wonder he was upset. Harry meant the world to James. She had never seen him as besotted with anyone or anything as he was with his son. Sometimes she even felt jealous of how much he loved Harry.
'Right now we need to choose a Secret Keeper,' he continued. 'Dumbledore has offered to take the role but the three people I trust the most in this world are in this room right now and I wouldn't put my family's safety in the hands of anyone else. So who wants to volunteer?' He was almost cavalier in his attitude when he made the offer but she knew how desperately scared he really was. He wouldn't have risked his friends if it were simply for himself but for her and Harry he would ask this sacrifice of them.
All three had jumped up to volunteer at once, just as she had known they would. James had picked Sirius; she had known he would do that as well, and for this she couldn't fault him. It was a well-known fact that the only person Sirius loved more than himself was James. He would die before he betrayed them, of that Lily had no doubt. To her though, the choice seemed a little too obvious. In choosing Sirius they were almost certainly condemning him to death. Could they really do this? Nobody else seemed to have any objections, although Peter seemed to be really jumpy. Poor little thing is probably worried about his friends, she decided. The love that these men of hers had for each other was really quite beautiful, although she couldn't tell them that. They were all far too manly to admit it openly, but it was there, quite plainly, in their actions and the lengths they would go to for each other.
Not long after the decision was made she caught Remus looking at his watch, a torn look in his eyes. 'Listen, guys, I've really got to go,' he said quickly. 'This meeting was short notice and I couldn't cancel the arrangements that I had for tonight. I'm already an hour late,' he said apologetically.
Sirius looked at him sharply and it appeared that he might be going to say something. Lily jumped in before he could. 'That's okay, Remus, we understand. We would have told you sooner but we only found out this afternoon that Voldemort has learned of the prophecy and Dumbledore wants us to do this tonight if possible. You and Peter were going to have to leave soon anyway so we could perform the spell.'
Remus left quickly but Peter lingered over his butterbeer. They made small talk for a while, with Sirius being uncharacteristically quiet. Eventually James questioned him about it. 'What's wrong, mate?'
Sirius looked grim. 'I was just thinking that picking me for your Secret Keeper was a pretty predictable thing to do. It's exactly what everyone would expect you to do.'
James looked at him sharply. 'What are you saying, Sirius? Are you trying to tell me that you don't want to be our Secret Keeper?' James looked hurt.
For once the handsome face looked serious. 'There's no doubt in my mind that I want to be your Secret Keeper,' Sirius said with a sincerity she rarely heard. 'I'm just questioning whether or not I should.' James looked puzzled. 'Look, imagine you're Voldemort.' Both James and Peter shivered at his words. 'You find out the Potters have gone into hiding. Who do you reckon is going to be the Secret Keeper?' A look of understanding crossed James' face. 'That's right, mate. So who do you reckon he's going to go after? So why don't we just let him think I'm the Secret Keeper and give the job to Peter instead? That way I can lead them all on a merry goose chase while Peter hides away in safety.' James sat quietly on the lounge, his face twisted in concentration as he considered the proposal.
It really was quite a clever plan, Lily had to acknowledge. Even Peter looked happier with this new plan. He really was a dear to worry about them so much. If more people were like Peter the world would be a much better place she decided.
James smiled for the first time all evening. 'Sirius, you are absolutely brilliant. Only you could have come up with a plan this great. Voldemort would never consider looking for Peter if you're out there baiting them.'
Sirius leaned back into his chair with a satisfied grin. 'So it's all settled then. Peter will be the Secret Keeper and I'll be the decoy. If we keep this between ourselves everything will be sweet.'
Later on that night when the charm had been performed and she and James were left alone, her thoughts began to wander. She thought about her school years, in particular about the way she had dismissed the men that had been in her house tonight when she had first met them. For six long years she had thought they were nothing but trouble makers and would come to a bad end but they had proven her wrong. Oh, had they proven her wrong! Two men whom she had thought were worth less than the dirt under her shoes had just agreed to risk everything, even their lives, for her family. The third probably would have if given the chance. She would never believe that Remus could betray them. Their support could quite well cost their lives. How could you thank someone for such a wonderful gift? She couldn't even begin to imagine how to start saying 'thank you'. It was then that the tears began to flow for the first time.
'Here,' said James, passing Lily a tissue. He enfolded her in his arms. Everything is going to be all right,' he promised, stroking her hair softly. 'It's in the hands of Peter and Sirius and I couldn't think of two better people to take care of us.'
She continued to cry softly as she wondered how much it was going to cost them all in the end…