A brief note, here at the beginning. You shouldn't hear from me until the end of the story, unless I have an important notice for you.
This story has been long in coming for me. I've always tried to write the intense, dark Marauders story that still has light and humor and romance, but thus far I've yet to succeed. This is my success.
I'll stick to canon as well as I can, but that's not entirely possible with huge gaping holes in our information about Harry's parents. I've done my research and I've planned carefully, even being careful to not name James' parents or Lily's parents. We'll see where this goes.
Good luck to you, reader, and enjoy the journey. Because it'll be an adventure.
"I'm sorry to be keeping you from your beds. I'll only detain you another moment, but this is very important," Dumbledore said to them as he stood up from his chair. James had been staring unabashedly at Lily as she gazed around the Headmaster's room during the moment of silence, mostly at his bookshelves.
He had already explained the basic rules about taking and awarding points as well as giving detentions, in what situations to use magical restraining means and when a teacher should be found to deal with the situation for safety of all the parties involved. Dumbledore had outlined the duties in terms of extracurricular activities and decorating for holidays. James wondered what else he could possibly have to say, not knowing his Headmaster had saved the worst for last.
"Quite all right, Professor," Lily quipped and nodded quickly, causing her gentle red curls to bounce. "We understand." James was transfixed by how they fell and framed her face elegantly; he was roughly interrupted by Dumbledore speaking again.
"This year is very different from last," he continued. "The world outside these walls has become much darker and now it's time for us to increase our security measures." Dumbledore coughed slightly before continuing. "Most important in terms of your safety, you are not allowed to patrol alone. No one is to patrol alone, and when you arrange the Prefects' schedules, you must enforce that thoroughly. You must always be with someone else at night, especially you, Miss Evans."
James glanced over at her, and saw the slight fear in her eyes. He had never expected her to fear for her life, but how could she not? She was Muggle-born, an obvious target for You-Know-Who's followers. All the Gryffindor courage in the world couldn't protect her if they hunted her down, even within the school's walls.
James vowed silently to himself he would do anything to keep that from happening.
"You must promise me, here and now, Miss Evans and Mr Potter, that you will protect each other. The only two students in the entire castle should you ever trust fully is one another. I don't doubt Miss MacDonald's or Mr Lupin, Black, and Pettigrew's abilities, but I do doubt the level at which Voldemort will stop to reach anyone who defies him."
Lily gulped, James noted, and he reached out to steady her. Lily didn't notice, however, and James' hand hung in the balance between them. Taking a chance, he placed his hand on her shoulder, and she didn't move it. She turned and managed a weak smile at him. He remembered, suddenly vivid, the look of surprise on her face when he walked into the Prefects' carriage, the badge on his chest. It had been her idea to use first names, considering how closely they would be working all year.
"Promise me," Dumbledore insisted urgently, pulling James back to the moment.
"I promise," Lily whispered, staring into Dumbledore's blue eyes. For a moment, the gaze was unwavering, until the Headmaster flicked his all-knowing eyes onto the Head Boy, who hadn't been paying attention to the Headmaster, instead focused entirely on Lily Evans, and completely missed the intense stare.
"Of course, sir," James said, all the while watching Lily, oblivious to how much information Dumbledore had gathered about the Head Boy and Girl in the last few moments.
"That'll be all for now then," Dumbledore said quietly, looking up at the ceiling, almost as though he couldn't bear to watch them go. "Off to bed with you. And do not split up, for any reason."
Lily nodded once and James offered her his hand. She smiled weakly at him and took it. She seemed hardly able to stand, and James asked her, "Are you all right?" James didn't bother to question why Lily had taken his hand, and why she seemed so intent on squeezing his fingers numb. He had hardly managed to form a coherent question.
James saw the forced smile and the obvious tension around her eyes as she answered, "I'm fine."
She clung to him as he led her from the Headmaster's office. He held onto her elbow with his free hand, hoping it stayed on the appropriate side of the line Lily seemed to have when it came to him. He peered at her through his glasses, studying closely the drooping of her eyes, the downward turn in the corners of her mouth. Her eyes darted around once and again, her brow creasing into a thousand unnecessary wrinkles. "I don't think you're all right, Lily. Should I take you to Madam Pomfrey?"
Lily shook her head vigorously. "I'm just afraid," she whispered, darting a glance at him. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. He realized he had a few options, none of which were exactly ideal.
"You don't have to be afraid, Evans," he tried, hoping he sounded confident. "You can take on any of the Slytherins who are dumb enough to duel you."
Lily laughed, a little bitterly, and pulled her hand from his. "I'm glad someone has faith in my abilities."
"Hey, Lily," he said gently, causing her to look at him. "I won't let them hurt you, okay? I'll keep you safe. I promised Dumbledore, and now I'm promising you. Okay?"
He stared intently at her until she said softly, "Yeah, okay. Thanks, James." She looked away from him deliberately, her green eyes focusing instead on the hem of her shirt.
"Of course, Lily," he said, waving it away with a single gesture. "C'mon then, you heard the Professor. Off to bed with us."
They walked through the corridors without touching, hardly without speaking. James wanted to reach out and close the distance between them again, but with a subtle look in her direction, he realized that he had reached Lily's line and he was wise enough to stay this side of it.
She seemed to be slightly less afraid, the longer they walked, her arms swinging lightly at her sides. However, James didn't miss the tell-tale sign of her covered fear in the way she gripped her wand. He was half-tempted to fall behind and then frighten her, to see how prepared she was in terms of defensive magic. He slowed two steps, considering the possibility, and then doubted the genius of the plan when she turned to look at him, her eyes narrowing questioningly.
James scrambled for an excuse she would accept and in the pressure of the moment, he decided to keep quiet. She could assume whatever she wanted.
He picked up the pace again and walked evenly with her, his strides longer and timed farther apart. For every step he took, she easily took two. It seemed odd to him, for she had never seemed that much shorter than him. He had always assumed she was only a few inches shorter than he was, but it didn't seem to be so.
It had been a little over a year since they stood nose to nose and he had grown considerably since then. That was the day she had attempted to kill him for harassing Snape, again, and Snape had in turn called her a--, but he couldn't even think it. It was such an awful thing to call another person.
Abruptly, he found himself asking her, "How tall are you?" James tried to figure how the words had formed themselves, but couldn't manage it.
"A little over 5'6," she replied with a quizzical expression. "Where did that come from?"
He laughed nervously. They approached the Fat Lady before he could answer, or maybe he just decided to pause long enough to distract her. He wasn't quite sure of his own reasoning, but whatever it was; he didn't have to tell her exactly where the question began.
"Abyssinian shrivelfig," James announced to the Fat Lady who smiled courteously at the two as the portrait opened.
"I'll see you at breakfast," Lily said, nodding once to James before heading to the girls' stairs. "Good night, James."
"Night, Lily," he said quietly, raising one hand. As he tramped up the boys' stairs, he muttered to himself, "Well, that wasn't completely unfortunate."
He opened the door to the Seventh Year dormitory and didn't anticipate anyone to still be awake, but his three best friends were huddled on Remus' bed, as though they were waiting for him.
"What're you doing up?" James asked, loosening his tie and dropping his robe onto the chair beside his bed. He pulled off the sweater and his shoes before joining his best mates.
"We've been watching you," Sirius answered, pointing to the map the four had managed to make two years previous. "We wanted to see if you and Evans would manage to not kill each other."
"We survived the train ride, Padfoot," James replied, rolling his eyes. Sirius could forget nearly anything when he put his mind to it, and Sirius was determined in his belief that Lily Evans would never fall for James and kill him because he kept trying to woo her. Probably just to irritate James, not out of any real belief, or that's what Remus had speculated.
But Remus' speculations had been wrong on numerous occasions, so James took it lightly and never believed Sirius. His best mate could be supportive about it, usually in the middle of the night after he'd eaten a bunch of chocolate.
"Anything disastrous happen?" Peter asked, fluffing Remus' pillow. "Do you have to forgo all fun to be a responsible, well-to-do Head Boy?"
"Dumbledore didn't mention anything about buckling down," James said thoughtfully, wondering if maybe he just hadn't heard the Headmaster.
"I didn't mean Dumbledore," Peter said quietly.
"I think you guys have a serious misrepresentation of Lily," James defended indignantly. "She's not like that at all."
"She's not rule abiding, she never does her homework, and she doesn't believe in hard work?" Remus asked, raising an eyebrow. "Well, that sounds nothing like the Evans I've been at school with for years."
"Pete made it sound like you believe she doesn't have fun," James replied, pouting slightly. He ran a hand through his hair automatically, messing it up unnecessarily. "Of course she has fun. I just highly doubt it involves flicking dungbombs at Peeves."
"That was one time!" Sirius said defensively. "Will you ever let that go? I'm sorry he caught them and threw them back at us. Okay? I'm sorry."
"Sounds like it's not just James who matured over the holiday," Remus said, taken slightly aback. He pursed his lips. "You aren't going to woo a maiden now, too, are you?"
"I'll leave that to Prongs," Sirius teased, nudging his best mate in the ribs with his elbow.
"Oh, ha ha, you're all so hilarious," James said, throwing his hands in the air. "I'm going to bed. See you at breakfast, you dolts." He made to get off the bed, but Peter reached out and grabbed his hand.
"We're sorry, we really are. How did it go?" he asked earnestly, his blue eyes shining sincerity.
James sighed. "No one is allowed to patrol alone, for any reason," James said, answering the question evasively.
Exclamations of "What!" and "Why?" chorused around him. He reveled for a moment being the center of the group, telling a story. The place he had come to expect and had come to love. He despised being "in charge", as Lily accused him of, but he liked the feeling of the attention on him as he relayed an event which had occurred to him.
James said, "Because of You-Know-Who's rise to power. Apparently the outside world is way too dangerous and Dumbledore is worried about the possibility of it having spread to students here."
"No way," interrupted Remus. "That's not possible."
Peter agreed quietly.
"Dumbledore's right," Sirius said suddenly. He had been staring down into his lap, lost in his own thoughts. He sprang out of them as if he had been electrocuted. "I wouldn't past Regulus to be a Death Eater, to prove himself to dear old Mum. And some of the others here are, if not already Death Eaters, planning on getting the mark when they leave school next spring. It's spread within the pure-bloods really fast. I had to move in with the Potters last summer to avoid Mother's wrath when I wouldn't get the mark."
"I hadn't known that was the reason," Remus said thoughtfully.
"I didn't realize I hadn't told you," Sirius admitted. "But this war, whatever You-Know-Who is doing, it's true. It's scary, and he's going to get everyone he can. Especially within Hogwarts."
The four seventeen-year-olds stared off thoughtfully into the distance, each lost within his own world. James, while he recognized the danger, couldn't seem to draw his attention to it. All he could see in his mind's eye was the way Lily's eyes had widened slightly and the color drained from her cheeks at the end of the meeting with Dumbledore. She was the most talented witch in their Year, without a doubt. What would she have to be frightened of?
It unnerved him, how she seemed more aware of the situation in the Wizarding World than he was. Surely it should be the other way around, as he went home in the summer to a wizard father and a witch mother. His magical background, however, did not seem to help him in terms of understanding whatever turmoil existed outside of his comfortable world.
What could possibly have happened to cause Lily to know more about this war? Did she have an encounter? Was someone hurt? Did she simply care more and bothered to take the time? James admitted that she should be keeping closer track, being a Muggle-born. It wasn't safe for her to be ignorant. He just wished it didn't have to be that way. He couldn't bear the thought of Lily in danger.
The fifth boy in their room, Zacharias Doge, snored loudly, causing the Marauders to jump. The four laughed at each other, embarrassed to have been afraid.
"We best get some sleep," Remus said tentatively before shooing the other three off his bed. "Peter, give me my pillow back."
"What? Oh, sorry."
James and Sirius laughed as Peter tossed the pillow and Remus missed it, causing it to hit him in the face.
James changed into his pajamas and, as he was climbing under the covers, Sirius said, "Whatever happened with Evans that you won't talk about, I hope it was good."
James forced a laugh. "Yeah, me too, Pads." He sighed. "Me, too." He couldn't help his mind from wandering back to her terrified expression as he drifted off to sleep.