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If anyone asked Lily which of the Gryffindor fifth year boys was her favourite, she wouldn’t need a single moment to consider her answer: Remus Lupin.

It wasn’t really a case of ‘favourite’. Remus was nice, hard-working, and good company. The others were not.

Black was a law unto himself, delighted in chaos, thought himself far above the rest of the school population and indeed the teachers, and seemed to care for precisely nothing and nobody who wasn’t in his own little circle. If Pettigrew hadn’t befriended that lot, he probably would have stood a chance at being decent enough – but befriended that lot he had, and now he was doomed to be their lackey forevermore. The worst part of it was that he seemed honoured, which told Lily all she needed to know. And Potter, well. The less said about him the better.

(Unbearable, obnoxious, and she saw him tousle his hair hopefully in her direction one more time, Lily was going to hex his fingernails off.)

Quite why Remus chose to hang around with them, she could not fathom. If it was convenience, because they were his fellow Gryffindors, she could understand it to some extent. But it was definitely not just convenience. He spent all his spare time with them, he moped in lessons then they were split up by wise teachers, and she’d once seen him jinx a Second Year Ravenclaw because of a less-than-pleasant comment about Black’s genetics. The simple fact of the matter was that Remus Lupin was best friends with Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew and James Potter, and he seemed perfectly happy about it.

Lily wondered if sharing a dorm with them for the past four years had addled his brains. The thought of waking up every morning to James Potter’s wild-haired inane grinning made her shudder.

Still, at least their influence hadn’t rubbed off on Remus too much. He was still the same kind, quiet boy she’d met in the queue for the Sorting Hat back in First Year. When they’d been made Gryffindor Prefects together at the start of this year, she’d been pleased to know it was Remus she would be patrolling and attending meetings with (though Merlin knew it was a small and somewhat toxic pool to choose from in the first place).

Remus had proved to be a good Prefect, though – in all areas but one. He was calm, fair and measured in his approach; he didn’t game-play with the points system or abuse his powers. What he also did not do, unfortunately, was exercise any amount of control over his friends.

He’d written them up for detention twice so far. They were five months into the school year. Black’s overall detention count stood at 32, Potter trailing him on 29, and Pettigrew bringing up the rear with 21. That Remus, who ate, slept and studied with them, had apparently been oblivious to at least 30 misdeeds that had been considered detention-worthy by other Prefects, had not escaped notice. He was keeping his head well down in Prefect meetings, and Lily had seen him wince once or twice during discussion of certain things – a toilet that bit people when they sat on it, a Hufflepuff who’d grown sprouts out of her nostrils and a number of sausages on the Slytherin table that had jumped out of their dish, picked up forks, and launched a ferocious attack.

Alexus Lightbody, the current Head Boy, kept ending meetings with a reminder that it was vital that all Prefect treated everyone the same, regardless of house or prior loyalties. This time, he looked directly at Remus and said. “Perhaps if we all set Lupin a good enough example, he might actually notice when his friends are terrorising the school.”

It was Lily’s turn to wince. Remus flushed and stared at the floor. Alexus swept out, and the rest of the Prefects filed after him, with many an irritated glance thrown in Remus’s direction. Remus waited until the last had left and it was just him and Lily, and then he grabbed his bags and bolted for the door.

“Remus, wait.” Lily stood up quickly and hurried after him.

He stopped in the doorway and looked at her, and there was definite wariness in his gaze. Did he think she was going to scold him like Alexus had? The thought had her uncomfortable – she may not like his friends, but she and Remus had always got on well.

“Sorry about all that,” she said. “You know how Alexus gets.” She gave him a faint, conspiratorial smile. “He’s annoyed because Hufflepuff and Gryffindor are still neck-and-neck with points. He’s probably hoping Potter and Black are planning something to drag Gryffindor down.”

Remus gave her a forced smile in return. “Yeah. Probably.”

“I know it’s not easy,” she said as they walked back to Gryffindor Tower. “Having to be the Prefect among your friends, I mean.”

“Not easy may be putting it lightly,” Remus muttered. “It’s just – ” He looked like he was on the verge of saying something, but then he closed his mouth, lips tight together. “Never mind.”

“Remus?” Lily prompted gently.

Remus grimaced. “It’s just difficult. Listening to all that. They’re my friends. And people don’t really know them but they judge them. They’re really not as bad as people think.”

“Are you telling me Potter and Black are really a pair of sweethearts, wrapped up in that troublemaking shell?” Lily asked dryly.

Remus smiled a bit. “Sweetheart might be pushing it a bit,” he allowed. “But – ” His gaze became earnest. “Really, Lily. I know they cause trouble, but they are… they are so good to me.”

Lily couldn’t imagine what exactly they had done to make Remus so protective of them. As far as she could see, they teased him something rotten – their first week back, Black and Potter had played catch with Remus’s (stolen) Prefect badge in the common room, on their broomsticks, throwing the badge just above Remus’s head while Pettigrew shrieked and clapped like an idiot in the corner.

Her doubt must have shown on her face, because Remus stopped just round the corner from the Tower, took one look at her expression, and sighed. “Okay. You know the only reason Sirius has more detentions than James is because he takes the blame if there’s a Quidditch match approaching, so that James doesn’t have to miss practice? Sirius is on the team too, so he usually gets into trouble for missing practice himself, but he knows it means more to James so he takes the hit for him. Those sausages with the forks – they weren’t just a random attack, you should have heard what those Slytherins were saying about Sirius. James wouldn’t have it, he couldn’t let them just get away with it. Pete takes notes for me in History of Magic and Charms whenever I – whenever I’m ill, even though he learns better himself from listening rather than writing it all down as it’s said. And they – they do things for me that I would never ask of them, ever.” He looked quite emotional for a moment; Lily blinked, and then the moment was gone and Remus was looking away. “I know I should come down harder on them for messing about,” he said quietly. “But they’re better than everyone thinks and they mean too much to me.”

Despite her misgivings, Lily couldn’t help but feel touched. She laid a hand on Remus’s arm and waited until he looked at her, then offered him a soft smile. “I don’t blame you, Remus,” she said. “They sound… well, they sound like they’ve done more than I give them credit for.”

Remus nodded. “More than anyone gives them credit for.”

“And I have to admit,” Lily added as they resumed their journey and walked up to the Fat Lady, “as far as pranks go, theirs do tend to be rather…”

“Imaginative? Bonkers but in a weirdly impressive way?” Remus suggested.

Lily laughed. “I’ll give them that, yes. Don’t go telling Potter I said that, though.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Remus grinned at her, then turned to the Fat Lady. “Amicitia aeream.”

The portrait swung open and they climbed inside together. Remus headed off to the corner containing his friends; Lily watched as he was immediately greeted with a Chocolate Frog thrown at his face (Potter), a high-pitched gasp of, “Oh, Prefect Lupin, you’re back to honour us with your presence!” (Black) and an offer of a game of Gobstones (Pettigrew).

Lily returned to her own friends, who greeted her with no small amount of relief, as she was the only one who’d managed to make any sense out of Slughorn’s latest homework. She settled down to help them good-naturedly, accepting Alice’s bribe of liquorice wands. Throughout the evening, though, she found herself glancing over at the quartet by the fire and wondering at them to herself. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to give them another chance.

-

With the fifth years submerged in homework for their upcoming OWLs, Lily didn’t see much of Remus and his friends over the next couple of weeks. Well, it wasn’t that she didn’t see them – she did as usual at meal times, in classes, and in the common room. It was just that they were remarkably quiet, for them. She would have assumed that this was a dangerous sign that they were up to no good if she hadn’t seen the piles of homework surrounding them in the common room, and heard Potter complaining a thousand times that all this studying was getting in the way of his Quidditch.

His whining aside, it made for a pleasant environment in the common room. Yes, their antics usually lent the place some liveliness, and yes, a few people had commented that it seemed strangely dull in there recently, but Lily was ignoring them. There was no way she was going to let herself slip into thinking that the quietness of Potter and his pals was a bad thing.

Two weeks seemed to be their limit, anyway. Apparently unable to cope without receiving a single detention within the space of a fortnight, Potter and Black decided to let off some steam in Potions one Friday afternoon. They were hunched over a cauldron together, black hair making it impossible to tell where one began and the other ended. One moment they were side-eyeing Slughorn, and the next they were flinging themselves backwards, out of harm’s way, as their cauldron exploded and splattered everyone within a five metre vicinity with violently orange goo which looked absolutely nothing like the Shrinking Solution they were meant to be making.

For a moment there was silence. Then, from the table they’d ducked under, Black let out a great snort of laughter – whatever they’d made, it was singing the hair off anyone it had landed on. Lily just had time to be immensely grateful that she’d picked a table a good distance away from them before the howling started. Eyebrows were vanishing, bald spots were appearing, and a Slytherin girl fled the dungeon clutching handfuls of her long blonde hair and crying. Slughorn was bustling around trying to restore calm.

“Really?” Lily heard Remus say in the direction of the table Potter and Black had ducked under, sounding decidedly unimpressed.

“Class dismissed,” Slughorn shouted above the clamour, “anyone who is missing any, er, part of themselves, if you pop along to the Hospital Wing, I’m sure Madam Pomfrey keeps a healthy stock of Hair Replenisher for accidents such as this – ”

“Accidents?” roared a Slytherin boy with no eyebrows or eyelashes. “It was Potter and Black, wait til I get my – ”

“Yes, yes, Mr Warchus, hurry along to the Hospital Wing and you’ll have your eyebrows back in a jiffy. Mr Potter, Mr Black – really boys, there was no need – come with me, the pair of you…”

Once the coast was clear, Potter crawled out from under the desk, then held a hand out and helped Black up too. They were still laughing, teary-eyed from mirth, and trooped after Slughorn into his office without complaint, apparently too pleased with a job well done to care about the consequences.

Remus was watching them and grinning despite himself. Lily caught his eye; he looked away hurriedly and began to pack his things away.

Slughorn stuck his head back out of his office. “Anyone who has, er, retained all their hair – if you could assist Madam Pomfrey in handing out the Replenisher I’m sure she would be most grateful.” He vanished back inside.

Lily began to pick her way through the remnants of their cauldron, gingerly avoiding the bright orange potion. Remus fled before she got to him, clearly keen to avoid a conversation about point deduction. Lily rolled her eyes – she wasn’t nearly as militant as she suspected Remus thought she was, and she wasn’t going to touch this one with a barge pole.

At the Hospital Wing, she found Madam Pomfrey bustling around with a harassed expression, surrounded by students in various states of hairlessness. She thrust two goblets into Lily’s hands and barked, “One per person,” and then returned to trying to help the crying blonde.

Lily had barely stepped away when someone with a rapidly receding hairline had grabbed one of the goblets. “You’re welcome,” she said grumpily, turning to the nearest bed.

To her surprise, she found Peter Pettigrew sitting on it, minus one eyebrow, with a large bald patch forming on his crown. “Hullo, Lily,” he said, giving her a small smile. “Is that for me?”

“Er – yes, I think you need to drink it all.” She held it out; Pettigrew took it from her with a nod of thanks and downed the lot.

He grimaced at the taste and set the empty goblet down on the bedside table. Then he looked back up and found Lily staring at him. “Is it the eyebrow? Is it growing back?” he asked anxiously, groping his own face.

“No, I… I think that’ll take a while. I was just a bit surprised to find you here, that’s all.”

He looked confused. “Where else would I have gone?”

“No, I mean I’m surprised that they’d let you get caught up in this,” she clarified. “You’re their friend.”

“Oh.” She wasn’t sure what reaction she was expecting, but for Pettigrew to just smile at her wasn’t it. It was a bit disconcerting, though perhaps that was just the single eyebrow effect. “I don’t mind, not really. It was just a bit of fun.”

“It doesn’t look like a bit of fun for her,” Lily said, nodding her head at the Slytherin girl. She hesitated, then sat down next to Pettigrew.

He moved up a bit to make room for her. “No, I suppose not. No lasting damage though.”

Lily couldn’t argue with that. “I hope they knew that when they did it,” she muttered.

“Oh, they did. They would never deliberately hurt someone,” Pettigrew said earnestly.

Lily raised her eyebrows.

“Well, not permanently,” Pettigrew amended.

Lily resisted the urge to roll her eyes again. The scene in the Hospital Wing was calming down; Madam Pomfrey was returning to her office, muttering under her breath, and groups of people were leaving the Hospital Wing, most still minus an eyebrow or two, but looking a little more optimistic having downed Pomfrey’s concoction.

“Can I ask you something?” Lily said suddenly.

Pettigrew looked surprised, but nodded. “Of course. I might not know the answer, though,” he added hurriedly, evidently keen to dampen any expectations she might have.

“Why are you friends with them?” she asked.

“James and Sirius? Who wouldn’t want to be friends with them?”

Lily waited. Pettigrew glanced around at the handful of people still dotted around the Hospital Wing, and had the grace to look slightly guilty. “Well, I mean – I know their jokes aren’t to everyone’s taste. But we have fun, and…” His cheeks reddened slightly. “They really are friends with me, I know people think I just… hang around with them, or chase after them, but that’s now how it is. I’m their friend.”

“I wasn’t suggesting – ”

“No, it’s okay. I understand.” He considered, then said, “James is my best friend. I’m not his best friend, that’s Sirius. And Sirius and Remus are really close, but that’s okay, because me and Remus are close too.”

She noticed he hadn’t proclaimed his own closeness with Black. Pettigrew seemed to read her mind, but he just gave a small smile. “Sirius is… well, Sirius. He can be quite difficult sometimes. He’s a bit moody.”

“I can imagine.” She wrinkled her face. “Oh Merlin. Now I am imagining it. You share a dorm with him, your poor thing, how have you not lost your mind yet?”

Pettigrew laughed. “We have our moments,” he admitted. “But we are friends. One of his brother’s friends tried to curse me in the corridor last month, you know, and Sirius went berserk.”

“I thought that was Sirius’s general state of being,” said Lily dryly.

Pettigrew shook his head, smiling. “I think we were all a bit surprised by it. Including Sirius, probably. But it was nice. To know he cares.” Suddenly embarrassed, he looked down at his feet.

“Your eyebrow is growing back,” Lily commented, deflecting the subject.

He looked up eagerly. “It is?” He raised a hand and felt for his bald spot, which was still stubbornly there. Lily assured him that it looked like it was going darker in colour so it wasn’t as obvious, and he beamed at this news, and waved goodbye to her as he hurried out of the Hospital Wing to re-join his friends.

Watching him go, she felt like she understood him – and his friends – just a little bit better than she had before.

-

Nothing charged the atmosphere of breakfast in the Great Hall quite like the arrival of a Howler.

Lily was in the middle of buttering her toast when she heard a voice from Ravenclaw shout, “It’s heading for Gryffindor!”

Hufflepuff table let out a great swelling, “Oooooh…” as the owl neared, searching for its victim. A glance at the Slytherin table confirmed they were watching eagerly; Lily caught sight of Severus’s greedy gaze fixed on the bird and frowned at him. For once, he wasn’t looking at her.

“Oh, fuck,” said a voice a few seats up from Lily.

She glanced down the table. It was Potter, and he was looking up at the approaching owl with a grim expression.

She had a moment to feel a twinge of surprise – she’d never known Potter to receive a Howler, ever, not even the time he’d stuck a Slytherin First Year on top of one of the enormous Hogwarts Christmas trees and left her there all day. She’d been operating under the assumption that he was somewhat spoiled at home, which honestly, explained a lot.

However, Potter’s next words explained the situation – and explained why Black, next to him, was suddenly white as a sheet.

“You’d better leg it, mate.”

“Will that work?” asked Peter nervously. The owl had spotted Black and was bearing down upon him.

“No,” said Remus grimly. He and Potter both glanced at Black, and they straightened their backs, jaws tense. Peter was still staring at the owl anxiously.

Black took the Howler. Lily was expecting a flippant remark, but Black was unusually silent. He opened it slowly, and let go readily as it sprung from his fingertips and puffed itself up, ready to roar.

“WORTHLESS, VILE, IDIOTIC BOY, MUST YOUR FATHER AND I RECEIVE LETTERS ABOUT YOUR STUPIDITY EVERY SINGLE MONTH?!”

Lily hurriedly looked down at her toast, suddenly feeling that Black was the last person she wanted to look at, even as the rest of the school gaped at him.

“IT IS A WONDER HOW ANY CHILD CAN BE AS STUPID AS YOU, IF NOT ONE OF OUR LESSONS STUCK WITH YOU! TO PARADE AROUND THAT SCHOOL ATTACKING YOUR FELLOW PUREBLOODS – YOU DISGUST ME, YOU DISGUST YOUR FATHER, AND YOU ARE A DISGRACE TO THE NAME OF BLACK! YOU ARE NOT WELCOME TO SET FOOT IN THIS HOUSE UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO BEG OUR FORGIVENESS, SO YOU HAD BETTER HOPE SOMEBODY TAKES PITY ON YOU! YOUR FAMILY DO NOT WANT YOU, YOU SHAMEFUL CHILD, AND BEFORE LONG NOR WILL ANYBODY ELSE!”

Over the ringing in her ears, Lily could hear jeering laughter from the Slytherin table. Black sat stony-faced, staring straight ahead. He was very pale, save for two spots of colour high on his cheekbones. Potter, Remus and Peter were all leaning in closer to him, forming a barrier between Black and the rest of the school. Lily glanced up at the teachers’ table and saw discomfort plastered across every single face.

After a long moment, Black stood up. His friends stood up instantly too. The walked out together, the Slytherins still howling with laughter as they went.

Lily returned to her toast, or tried to. Her appetite had fled.

It was a Tuesday, which meant she only had one lesson with the Gryffindor boys, and that was dedicated to revising for their upcoming exam so there was little discussion. She didn’t know what she would say to Black even if she got the chance, really. She was glad that his friends were still rallied around him – Potter was shooting murderous looks at anyone who looked at Black for a moment too long, and she was sure she wasn’t imagining the way Remus’s hand twitched on his wand when a Slytherin walked by and coughed something that definitely wasn’t a cough.

The rest of the school had all but forgotten the Howler by the time dinner arrived. Lily sat with her own friends and put the boys from her mind. She helped herself to Shepherd’s Pie and listened with amusement to Dorcas’s increasingly dramatic impressions of her sister’s new boyfriend, ignoring Severus’s attempts to make eye contact with her.

After dinner, Lily had almost reached Gryffindor by the time she realised one of her library books was due back. Swearing under her breath, she doubled back, hoping that Madam Pince wouldn’t give her too much hassle. Fortunately, Pince didn't, and she was just leaving the library when she looked up and saw a large group of Slytherin Sixth Years up ahead, nudging each other and pointing at someone just out of her sight. Their predatory stance made her uneasy; she hung back, waiting to see what was going to happen.

The Slytherins rounded the corner. Lily followed them quietly, keeping a bit of distance, and felt a stab of discomfort when she saw who it was they were after.

“Oi, Black,” called Mulciber, his eyes glittering with malice. In front of them, Black wheeled round to face them. “How’s it feel to know Mummy doesn’t love you? They must rue the day you were born – I suppose your Father wishes he’d drowned you at birth, eh?”

Black’s hand was going straight to his wand – but too late, for Avery had hissed “Expelliarmus!” and Black’s wand sailed out of his grip, clattering to the ground between him and the Slytherins.

“That was a very interesting Howler you got,” Montague said as they advanced on him. He put on a nasal, high-pitched voice. “You shameful, stupid child!” His friends laughed; Black flushed, his hands balled into fists as though he was going to launch himself at them, magic be damned.

“I’m impressed you know what a Howler is, Montague,” said Black, somehow managing to sound derisive despite being thoroughly outnumbered. “I didn’t realise they had them in troll society – isn’t that where you grew up?”

Montague gave a snarl. Avery stepped forward, and so did his friends. Black held his ground, but he didn’t have much ground to hold. They would be on him within seconds. “Better be careful, Black. Potter’s not here to watch your back – ”

Lily didn’t stop to think. She took out her wand, pointed it around the corner, and whispered a spell. A flock of birds erupted from her wand and shot straight at the Slytherins, shrieking and beating their winds. The Slytherins yelled in alarm and stumbled about, trying to shake the birds off, but to no avail. Black was watching the onslaught open-mouthed.

Lily waited a few moments, then stormed around the corner as though she had only just arrived.

“OI! What’s the meaning of this?!”

She waved her wand and muttered a counter-spell; the birds vanished, leaving the Slytherins looking somewhat ruffled. A few were sporting scratches on their faces. They whipped round at Lily’s voice, but scowled when they recognised her.

“We were attacked,” snapped Avery.

“Really? Looks like you were the ones doing the attacking,” she said coldly, looking deliberately between them, Black, and Black’s wand on the floor. “Ten points from Slytherin for the lot of you, so that’s – sixty points in total. Now get lost before I decide to take more.”

“Oh, taking points, I’m so scared.”

“It’s also within my power to have you banned from Quidditch, Flint – would you like me to go ahead?” She cast a sharp look at the group and added, “That would leave the Slytherin team three members short for the semi-final next week, I believe.”

They didn’t respond, though Mulciber looked positively murderous.

“Get lost,” Lily said again, eyes narrow.

Muttering and casting dark looks her way, the Slytherins turned and slouched away. Lily heard snatches of their conversation, no doubt fully intended to reach her ears – “Mudblood” and “Jumped up bitch” among them. One of them turned and shouted, “Catch you later, Black!” before they turned the corner and vanished.

Lily ignored them. She stooped, picked up Black’s wand and turned to him, holding it out. “Alright?”

He took his wand from her, looking at her strangely. “The birds…”

Lily raised her eyebrows. “What birds?”

Black appraised her. “I’m impressed, Evans. Didn’t think you had it in you.”

“That’s down to your own lack of observation,” she said tartly.

Black’s handsome face broke into a sudden grin. “Yeah,” he agreed, which surprised her slightly. “My bad. I won’t be making that mistake again.”

“Sirius Black, admitting a mistake?” She whistled. “I am the lucky one.”

“Don’t get used to it. Are you going back to…?”

“The Tower? Yeah.”

A little hesitantly, not used to being alone together, they started to walk back to the common room.

“Actually, I’m the lucky one,” he said after a moment, casting a sideways glance at her. “Thanks. You didn’t have to – I mean. Six against one, it was… brave of you. To do that. For – ”

“For you?”

He nodded, looking uncomfortable.

Lily shrugged. “I thought six against two were better odds.”

“Can’t argue with that.”

They were quiet for a while longer, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. That in itself felt odd.

As they reached the portrait hole, Lily found herself holding out her hand and touching his arm. “Sirius, wait.”

He looked surprised at her use of his first name, and at her touch, but he stopped and looked at her questioningly. Lily looked up at him and tried to find the words that had been floating around in her head since breakfast, words she’d thought up and cast aside, over and over. What did it matter if words were sincerely meant, if they didn’t help at all? Did it matter that she was sorry that his home life was so terrible? Would he want to hear it?

“I just wanted to say…” she began, slowly. His expression shuttered off automatically, as though he knew the direction in which she was going. She ploughed on regardless. “If you ever want to talk about anything, you know where to find me.”

Whatever he had expected her to say, it wasn’t that. He blinked at her, visibly startled.

“I know you have your friends,” she said quickly. “Remus and Peter and Potter. It’s just, sometimes when I have things on my mind, it helps to talk to someone who doesn’t already know all about it. A clean slate, as it were.”

Sirius continued to stare at her. She felt a little bit embarrassed, but she ignored it. His mother’s voice had been ringing in her ears all day, and no matter how annoying she had always found him, the cruelty of those words would haunt her if she didn’t step forward and do something about it. Even if that doing was just the small action of letting Sirius know that she would listen, if he ever needed her to.

“Thanks, Lily,” Sirius said at last. He looked away, but then he forced himself to meet her eyes again. “You’re not so bad, Evans, you know that?”

“Oh, I know it.” She looked him up and down very deliberately, prompting a bark of laughter. “I could say the same about you, Black.”

 

-

So maybe Sirius was alright, deep down, and Peter was sweet enough. Remus was Remus, and pleasant as ever. But surely, if there was one thing Lily knew, it was that James Potter was an irredeemably arrogant toerag. There could be no denying that, and no persuading her against it. James liked to do victory laps of the Quidditch pitch whenever he scored; he’d once stood upright on his broom just so he could attempt to take bow. What made it all the more obnoxious was that he actually succeeded. He didn’t seem to put much effort into schoolwork yet coasted contentedly along with excellent marks in near enough anything, then had the nerve to scoff at other people for studying. He jinxed Severus whenever he saw him, he tried to get away with calling professors by their first names just to make Sirius laugh, and he asked her out at least ten times a year and had done since third year.

Lily couldn’t help but keep a slightly closer eye on the group, though, now that she was sort of friends with Peter and Sirius as well as Remus. It was only natural.

She saw things that she expected to see. Potter tormenting, Potter teasing, Potter troublemaking.

She also saw things she did not really expect.

Peter fell asleep in the common room late one evening, his head nearly drooping onto Remus’s shoulder. Remus let him sleep and continued to read.

“Jamie, let’s do the onion thing,” Sirius said with no small amount of glee, as soon as he noticed Peter was asleep. Lily did not know what the onion thing was, but sounded foreboding. She watched, expecting to find out what he meant any second, because there was no way Potter was going to pass up an opportunity like this.

But Potter shook his head. “Nah, let him sleep. He’s knackered, from – ” He trailed off, but gave Sirius a meaningful look which Sirius apparently got the meaning off, because he huffed a sigh but let it go.

Peter continued to sleep until his head was almost in Remus’s lap. Remus was trying not to laugh, for fear of waking him. Potter stood up. “I’ll sort him,” he murmured, and he levitated Peter very gently into the air, taking care not to jolt him. “Sirius, get the doors, would you?”

Sirius got up and went up the boys’ staircase. Potter followed him, levitating Peter carefully all the way.

Lily realised that Remus was watching her watching them, and looked quickly back at the book in her lap. The last thing she needed was for Potter to get it in his swollen head that she didn’t actually hate him.

Annoyingly, even with her eyes fixed on her book, she could sense Remus’s little smile.

The next day, Lily heard an intriguing rumour that Regulus Black had been sent to the Hospital Wing because he couldn’t stop shouting, “I’m an idiot!” and slapping himself around the face. He also slapped anyone who tried to stop him, which meant he’d whacked several teachers and most of his friends.

It was, Lily had to admit, an impressive bit of magic.

Regulus had taken his brother’s Howler as an opportunity to make snide remarks whenever he passed the Gryffindors about how he had considered himself an only child for years, and what a relief it was that his parents shared the same views as him. Sirius hadn’t retaliated, but at breakfast that morning Lily had accidentally overheard Potter telling Sirius firmly that nobody worth anything ever listened to anything Regulus had to say. So Sirius was affected by it, even if he was pretending otherwise.

By the time it got to lunch, Regulus was already in the Hospital Wing, Potter was wearing a satisfied expression, and Sirius had cheered up significantly.

That evening, the common room was quiet. It was fairly late, and some of the Gryffindors had gone up to bed already; a few older students were making the most of the quiet time to study, and someone was playing Bob Dylan in the corner.

“There’s a battle outside and it’s raging… it’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times, they are a-changin’…”

Lily found Potter alone in the common room, dark head bowed over an enormous old book, his glasses nearly slipping off his nose.

“Planning another prank to scare the First Years again, Potter?”

He jumped guiltily and snapped the book shut. “No, it’s – it’s nothing.”

“Of course.”

“It’s not a prank or a trick. But it’s a surprise, so I can’t tell you.”

Lily’s eyes narrowed. “A surprise for…”

“Not for you! No, it’s not – Merlin, Evans, I’m not trying to flirt with you,” Potter muttered, managing to actually look slightly embarrassed for once in his life. “It’s for Remus, if you must know.”

“Oh.” She hesitated, four and a half years of hard-earned knowledge telling her that this was a bad idea, and then she ignored it all and sat down next to him. “I won’t ask, then.”

“Thanks, Evans.”

“Is Sirius alright?” she asked.

He looked at her sideways, a mixture of confused and wary. “About…?”

“The Howler, Regulus…”

“Oh. Yeah, he’s alright. He’ll be fine, he’s – ” Potter broke off with a sigh. “I was about to say ‘he’s used to it’, but that’s not a good thing really.”

“Will he be okay going back there for the holidays?”

“He comes to mine at the holidays anyway, Christmas and Easter and most of the summer now too. I’m hoping he’ll stay the entire summer this year and not go back to them all together.”

“Your poor parents,” she commented, but she was smiling. “You and Black, without a teacher or a Prefect in sight? Terrifying.”

Potter laughed. “Well, Remus comes along too when he can. So you don’t have to worry, Evans, we’ll have a Prefect there.” He did an unnervingly good impression of Remus’s long-suffering voice: “Do we really have to do that?”

Lily snorted with laughter; Potter beamed at her.

“What about Peter, does he get dragged along on your summer misdeeds?”

“Of course,” Potter said, sounding surprised that she would even ask. “He’s always invited. It’s the best when everyone’s there… we play Quidditch in the field behind my house, and there’s this little stream not far away – Remus dunked Sirius in it once, it was so funny. And my mum bakes, so we pick her loads of apples and blackberries and stuff. Pete eats more than he picks, and Remus spends all his time collecting up all the apples with maggots in them ‘cause he probably feels sorry for them, and Sirius just throws them at everyone’s head. But it’s fun.”

“That sounds nice,” she said, a little wistfully. She loved going home for the holidays to see her parents, but Petunia made things… difficult. A carefree summer surrounded by friends did sound quite blissful.

“Maybe you could… um, you could come, one day.” Was it the firelight, or was Potter blushing?

Taken by surprise, Lily blinked at him. “Oh, er – ”

“You could bring your friends too,” he added quickly. “I didn’t mean to – I wasn’t, you know, asking you out. Your friends would be welcome, there’s loads of room, my mum wouldn’t mind – and Sirius and Remus and Peter will be there too, so it’s not like – ”

“I’ll ask them,” Lily said, before she’d even for her brain to catch up and question what she was saying.

Potter looked like he was awed at receiving something other than an outright no. He looked around in an obvious attempt to try not to stare at her, and his gaze was caught by something over Lily’s shoulder. She turned; Sirius was standing at the bottom of the boys’ dormitory steps, indicating for Potter to join him.

“Better go,” Potter said, picking up his bag. “See you, Lily.”

“See you, James,” she replied.

He looked at her for a moment, surprised and pleased, then gave a little nod and walked over to join Sirius. Lily wondered why for a brief second before she realised – she’d never called him James before.

Then again, she’d never genuinely considered spending time with James Potter and his friends out of pleasure rather than necessity.

Perhaps times really were a-changin’.