James stepped out of the fire in Dumbledore’s office, brushing off the soot as he walked. When he glanced up, Dumbledore’s eyes were twinkling at him. “I trust everything is well at Potter Manor, James?”

James just gave him a small smile. “Never better, Sir.”

He noticed Lily, Sirius, and Lauren had all waited for him, and his grin turned rather mischievous. “Ready to go have our run of the castle?”

Sirius smiled back broadly, Lauren started giggling, and Lily just gave him a look although she was still smiling. Dumbledore chuckled. “Do keep things to a minimum, James. No need to give Professor McGonagall any grey hairs. Besides, including you four, there are only a total of sixteen students in the castle.”

Sirius’ eyes widened. “That’s too bad. I always figured more kids stayed.”

Dumbledore sighed. “Not necessarily. That said, however, I am expecting an appointment soon and must send you all on your way. Off you go then. Mr. Lupin arrived an hour earlier and should be in Gryffindor tower.”

They all nodded and left the Headmaster’s Office. Everyone dropped off their things, and Christmas Break at Hogwarts began. After a day or so, things got rather boring so they all tried to find things to do in the interim. James and Sirius would drag Lauren and Remus to go play quidditch. Lily had already told James that she would be horrible and hadn’t been on a broom properly in three years. She would occasionally watch, but it soon became rather chilly for her to be just sitting outside. Other times, they would all end up on the grounds in the snow. They usually went to visit Hagrid, but somewhere along the way back, it would always end in an all out snowball fight. Lily always managed to win though because she was so gifted with Charms. She would levitate, summon, and banish snowballs so quickly, none of them ever saw them coming. Of course, whenever James and Sirius finally stole her wand, she would immediately be defeated.

James would often pull Lily away from her reading to take her for walks on the grounds, saying she shouldn’t be stuffed up in the Heads’ common room over break. He showed her every single secret passageway in the castle, they had lunch in the kitchens one day, and they actually walked all the way around the Black Lake at one point. Lily loved it. She had no idea how she had ever thought James was annoying. Now, she just wanted to be around him constantly. She couldn’t think of another person who made her smile like he did.

A few times, he hadn’t managed to pull her away from the Heads’ common room because she actually was invested in her reading. He would just sit with her during those times, doing some reading of his own or catching up on homework until she wanted to leave. Other times, he would try (and usually succeed) to distract her using his own persuasive charm, which almost always led to some fun snogging on the couch, not that she was complaining in the slightest. The boy could really kiss, and if there was one thing she liked to do more than read, it was kiss him.

When she did manage to stay reading, she focused on Potions, mainly for Remus, but also Occlumency and Leglimency. She had already begun brewing a potion for Remus prior to going home, but it was finally just about finished. Since she wanted to give it to him for Christmas, she was looking at various ways to perfect it. As for the Occlumency and Leglimency, she felt completely lost and inadequate. She had read five books on the subject over the course of a few weeks, but still found herself fumbling through trying it out practically. She wasn’t sure she was ready for someone to just start prying into her head to practice though. However, what she remembered James telling her about the subject, sometimes that was the best way to learn how to block— that brute force would show you just what was at stake and how it feels which would help initially to set up a beginning and then further and less aggressive practicing would help one realize how to make the block stronger. She was sure James would have to be the one to practice with, as he mentioned learning from Dumbledore and his father. Dumbledore was far too busy and his father was gone. She would have to broach the subject with him soon.

It was now late Christmas Eve and the boys had run off doing Merlin knows what within the castle. Lauren had been up in her room, avoiding the boys all day, most likely getting some sleep after all the things they’d dragged her to do over the last few days. Lauren was quite the tomboy, but even she couldn’t keep up with what must be male-crazed energy. Lily, meanwhile, was sitting and skimming over her reading in the Heads’ common room, still confused about Occlumency. After a few minutes of feeling at her most confused, James made his way past the sphinx with a smile. “Hey, you. I told the guys and Lauren to come here to open presents tomorrow morning. I stopped by the kitchens and the house elves said they’d be happy to re-route some of the breakfast food here for us. What have you been up to?”

Lily shrugged and tossed her book in his lap after he sat down next to her. “Just reading. I’m still not sure about this whole Occlumency thing. As for Christmas, that sounds like a great idea, but if that’s the case, I think we need to do a little decorating before tomorrow morning…”

He frowned. He could see this Occlumency thing was bothering her more than she was letting on, but he wasn’t so worried about it anymore for reasons that would be revealed tomorrow. He still wanted her to learn of course, but he could help her with that in a bit. “Well… How about we decorate the place first and then I help you with Occlumency right after?”

Lily sighed. “Ok.” She looked around the room briefly. “So I’m thinking the overwhelming scarlet and gold has to be changed…and we need a tree…hmmm…and lights of some kind.”

James furrowed his eyebrows as he pulled the two of them up so they were standing and could see the room better. “Well, let me do a little transfiguration here and then you can charm the place, ok?”

Lily nodded and watched as he transfigured a blank piece of parchment into a large tree, placing it in the corner near the entrance to their dorm rooms. He then looked over at her briefly before transfiguring, with a grand wave of his wand, all of the scarlet in the room to red, but it was a shade of red that seemed to be the exact color of her hair. He transfigured a lot of the gold to a combination of silver, gold, and green. He conjured a number of wreaths, hanging them about. He then conjured a bunch of fairy lights that seemed to twinkle all over the ceiling. He took a deep breath before conjuring an assortment of candles that appeared on the coffee table. “Ok, you can charm those candles to float in the air, like they do in the Great Hall. Then, you do whatever charms you want to and tell me what you want for the tree.”

Lily was looking around at his decorations in awe. He was incredible with conjuring spells. She then flicked her own wand, sending the candles flying into the air. The candles all lit up as she went along placing them in different areas and heights across the room. She then pointed to all his conjured fairies near the ceiling, charming them to dance hypnotically slow so they were not fluttering and flickering about so quickly. The effect was illuminating as their shadows and lights mingled with that of the candlelight. She frowned as she turned to their empty tree, and pointed to another piece of parchment. “Could you transfigure that to a star for the tree top?”

James did as she requested, and Lily charmed it to sit on the tree and light up in an assortment of colors. He then conjured tiny lights and placed them on the tree, which Lily immediately charmed to match the star. He glanced over at her. “Ornaments? What kind?”

Lily looked thoughtful. “We could do an assortment of colors and sizes. I could change the lights to all white light if it looks funny.”

James conjured the ornaments and helped Lily place them all over the tree. As they stared critically at the tree, Lily frowned and flicked her wand. The lights and star all changed to a bright white light that seemed to shimmer on the pine needles. The light reflected on the shiny multi-colored ornaments, making them glow softly. James whistled. “Nice charm. I like that.”

Lily chuckled and leaned into his side with her arms around him. “So anything else?”

James rubbed his arm down her back as he surveyed the room. The furniture, once colored scarlet, was now a combination of red, green, silver, and gold; the tree was perfect; the carpeting had even been changed to match the red motif with his overall transfiguration of the color scheme. He kissed her forehead and shrugged. “Not really. Nox.”

The lighting dimmed so it was just the tree lights, the fairies, and the candles. He looked around and frowned slightly. “I think that tomorrow morning, the candles won’t be necessary because it will be light out, but I like them.”

Lily pulled away from him slightly, flicking her wand around the room a few times. “Ok, now the light that will come in through the windows tomorrow will be dimmed as it enters the room, which should keep the room in minimal light like this. That should help.”

James smiled and hugged her to him. “You’re brilliant.”

She just shrugged innocently in his arms. “Well, you know…”

He leaned down and captured her lips for a few seconds, before whispering against her lips, “And so modest too…”

She laughed as he tickled her sides. “Hey! That’s not fair!”

He maneuvered the both of them to the couch and plopped them down together. He grabbed the Occlumency book she had been reading before turning his attention back to her. “I was just teasing. So what is bothering you about this? I can try to answer your questions, but really the best way to learn is to just do it.”

She sighed and leaned over him, fumbling through the pages of the book for what she had last been looking at. “I know. It’s just these relaxation exercises are so tedious, and I have trouble focusing.”

He skimmed over the page she had turned to, before sighing. “If you don’t mind, I can try and see what kind of block you are setting up so I can tell you what to practice on. However, I have to warn you that what you have set up will likely crumble, and I would see whatever memories fly to the surface. I won’t use brute force at first, but once you get better, I’ll have to so you know how to fight it.”

Lily’s brow furrowed. “Does it hurt?”

James sighed. “Not really. I used to get a few headaches when my Dad and Dumbledore were trying extremely hard to break into my defenses. It actually feels like having the Imperius Curse cast on you. Have you ever been subjected to that?”

Lily shook her head, looking at him slightly alarmed. He was definitely implying that he had been subjected to that illegal curse. “You’ve had that done to you?”

James gave her an uneasy look. “Nothing bad happened. My Dad thought it best I learned what it felt like so I wasn’t left defenseless. It’s a very dangerous and popular curse— even average wizards could cast that Unforgivable without any real practice. It’s like a voice in your head telling you to do things, but you have to mentally find your own mental voice and fight against it. This is hard, which is why it’s an Unforgivable; most people can’t fight it off without proper practice, if at all in most cases, and the people casting it on you will use that to their advantage. Leglimency is similar because your thoughts will be swimming in front of you, and they are no longer within your control. It would be your job to fight against the Leglimency using your own mind, just as you would have to do in order to fight off the Imperius Curse. Do you see the similarities?”

Lily nodded. “So that’s what Occlumency does in response to someone invading your mind?”

James made a face. “Sort of. For example, when I enter your mind, I will face whatever block you have prepared, whether it's just blackness, a wall, or whatever. However, seeing as you have never fought to keep whatever block you are using or strengthened it enough, it will likely crumble, and I will be able to enter your mind. Once I have entered you mind, your thoughts will swim in front of you, no longer in your control, but in mine. What you have to do is use your mind to bring forth the blocking mechanism once more so I can no longer penetrate your thoughts. You would essentially be using your mind to push me out. There are other ways of doing it, of course, but that is the way you want to learn. The other ways include focusing on me and attacking me with your wand while I am occupied within your mind. I also remember using a shield charm once which reversed the connection briefly, but my Dad pushed me out without even blinking.”

Lily felt a little better about the whole thing. Besides, it was just James, and he would never hurt her. “Ok.”

James looked her over carefully, a bit hesitant. “You’re sure you don’t mind me entering your head?”

Lily gave him a small smile. “I trust you. I’ve got nothing to hide.”

James nodded and then got up with her. He led her over to sit in the armchair while he pulled one of the chairs from the table so he was sitting across from her in front of the fireplace. “Ok, ready your mind with your block, and please try not to kill me with your wand. I’d prefer not to be disfigured on Christmas.”

Lily gave him a cheeky smile before concentrating hard on her block, a large brick wall surrounding her memories. James watched her for a few moments before pointing his wand at her, looking into her beautiful green eyes, and saying softly, “Leglimens.”

Lily immediately felt his presence in her head as it slammed into her brick wall. He was right when he said it didn’t hurt at all, but trying to keep up the brick wall was rather taxing and she could feel her energy levels drop instantly; not to mention that she was sure James was barely even trying. Sure enough, within a second of her thinking that, James broke through her defenses. She watched the brick wall crumble before her and her vision swam.

She was five, running around the front of her house furiously in a frilly yellow dress as her mother chased after her, shouting that she only had to wear the dress for a couple of hours.

She was nine, talking angrily to a boy who had been picking on Petunia. The boy suddenly had boils all over him.

She was eleven, meeting with Professor Dumbledore in her living room. He was smiling at her while he spoke with her parents, who were looking rather mystified and impressed at the whole idea of magic. Petunia was standing off to the side with an unsure and upset look on her face.

She was eleven, walking into the Great Hall for the first time, admiring the ceiling and talking excitedly with a brunette who would eventually be sorted into Ravenclaw.

Finally, her vision returned to normal, and James was looking at her concerned. “Are you alright? I cut it off since I didn’t notice you trying to fight it as much as you were initially.”

Lily noticed he had gotten up out of his chair and was now kneeling in front of her. She supposed she was a bit disoriented. “No, I’m fine. I see what you mean about once you’re memories begin swimming in front of you. It’s very difficult to try and fight that away. It’s mesmerizing— you almost don’t want to fight it at all.”

James nodded while he conjured her a glass of water. “Yes. Now you see why it’s a highly useful skill to know how to not let that happen.”

Lily sighed and gave him a weak smile. “On the upside, I think I understand the reading a whole lot better.”

James chuckled. “Well, I entered your mind so that you would notice, which you did. I let you get your bearings before trying a bit harder, which was when your wall crumbled. Now, there are people who can enter your mind without you noticing, but if they are able to penetrate your wall, you will then begin to notice. I wanted you aware that I was in your head so you would know what an invasion felt like. You were doing pretty well for someone just starting, but most people won’t be as kind as I was, letting you strengthen your wall a bit before continuing. My best advice is to practice clearing your mind, especially at night. The relaxation exercises you were asking about help with that. Try and make your wall stronger each night before you go to sleep. Soon, the wall will be so strong that you won’t need to force it to be strong like you were doing. That takes a lot of energy that you will need while you are supposed to be getting rid of the person trying to invade your head. That energy shouldn’t be concentrating on strengthening your wall.”

Lily nodded. “Right.”

He gently picked her up so he could sit down on the armchair and pull her onto his lap. “So you really gave a kid boils?”

Lily laughed. “Yes. I told you I had accidental magic a lot. Now, tell me about tomorrow. What time is everyone coming?”

James sighed. He was a bit distracted by Lily running her fingers over his forearms as he had his hands resting around her hips. “Umm, I told them to get dressed and be here by 9am. If I didn’t say that, Sirius would have shown up here at 4am, probably naked or in nothing more than his boxers jumping around like a lunatic. I suppose Remus and Lauren would probably have got him to put some pants on, but still. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Lily giggled. “I see. Well, I guess we should get some sleep. Happy Christmas.”

James smiled at her. “Happy Christmas.”

Lily leaned over and kissed him goodnight. He sighed when she pulled back after a minute or so. “Night, Lils.”

“Night, James.”


Lily was just about ready the next morning at about 8am. She had pulled on a pair of her jeans with a green camisole and a white v-neck cashmere jumper to finish. It wasn’t red, but she still felt Christmasy. She had parted her hair off center and used a barrette to pull some of it back. She opened her door, hoping to organize a few things before the rest of them got there, only to find herself looking at James, who had obviously had the same idea. He was wearing a pair of dark jeans and a black button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. With his dark hair, his hazel eyes, being the only color in his ensemble, seemed to gaze into her more strongly than usual. He had turned around at the sound of her door, and his eyes widened at the sight of her. “Wow. You look beautiful.”

Lily wasn’t expecting the compliment so she blushed. “Thanks. It’s Christmas.”

James smiled wickedly. “It certainly is. What are you doing up so early?”

She shrugged. “I thought I would help organize things, but it looks like there’s not much left to do.”

She was right. The house elves had already dropped off food and pumpkin juice, which was now sitting on the coffee table; the presents had all been re-routed to under their tree; and James must have tidied up a bit because the parchment and books that had been left around were now put away over on the study table. James sighed and gestured towards the now clean room. “I couldn’t sleep. Sirius was shouting at me through the mirror last night, waking me up in intervals. I thought I would tidy up a bit or do something useful.”

Lily nodded and sat down with him on the couch. “If Sirius was up all night, I imagine he’ll be here soon, correct?”

James nodded, pulling her closer to him. “He’ll need to get Remus and Lauren first though.”

Lily wasn’t disappointed when he leaned over and kissed her softly, with one of his hands running through her hair. He deepened the kiss a little, but ultimately pulled back to look in her eyes. “So do you want your present now?”

Lily’s eyes were mischievous. “You want me to open it without everyone here, am I right?”

James shrugged, but his eyes were twinkling at her assessment. “They’ll rag on me either way so it’s up to you.”

Lily smiled. “Ok then.”

James summoned two things from the collection of presents, and they landed in front of her. One was a small box and the other was a larger rectangular box. She looked at him quizzically. “You didn’t have to get me jewelry, James.”

He just laughed at her knowing at least one of her presents. “Of course, I did! It’s a boyfriend’s job. Besides, you only wear that ring on your middle finger and your watch. I can get you something.”

She absentmindedly played with the ring he mentioned. She honestly had no idea he paid that much attention to detail, but she found it rather endearing. “This was from my grandmother.”

He just shrugged and gestured impatiently for her to open her presents. She opened the small box first, and when she caught a glimpse of what was inside, she couldn’t help but gasp a bit. It was absolutely beautiful. It was a white gold necklace with a white gold lily pendant. However, the pendant in question was littered with sparkling diamonds and outlined in emeralds. “James, I can’t possibly accept this! It had to have been outrageously expensive!”

James just guffawed and waved his hand like it was nothing. “Lily, I had that made for you. There’s not another like it anywhere. Besides, I do have the money to spend, and I choose to spend it on you. I also had some extra things done to it for you.”

Lily was looking at him like he was crazy, but the necklace was beautiful. Her fingers grazed over it gently. “How’d you have it made? And what kinds of extra things? Like what you did with Lauren’s satchel?”

James gave her a small smile. “I drew it, of course. I knew what I wanted so I sent the drawing over to a jeweler my Dad used to use for my Mum. There’s an anti-copy spell on the necklace, and the drawing was destroyed. As for the extra things, there were the basic charms making it unbreakable and whatnot, but there were some others that I had someone else do for me for you.”

Lily was curious now. “Like what?”

James’ brow furrowed. “Well, there is a strong shield charm attached, making certain spells hard to get through to you or even affect you at all. However, the main thing was a complicated charm to produce a sort of Occlumency shield for you. It isn’t impervious, which is why you should still continue to learn, but it will help. Think of it as…extra strength that goes towards your mental block that you yourself use. That way, it won’t take as much energy to hold up the block and you can use your own energy to deflect your attacker and push him from your mind instead.”

Lily was amazed that he was her boyfriend. He thought of everything and obviously cared very much about her. She cared for him just as much, without a doubt. It wasn’t really anything he had said to her, but it was more what he hadn’t said that made her feel special. She leaned over and kissed him gently. “I love it. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

James kissed her cheek and grinned at her happily. He immediately pulled out the necklace, pinning it around her neck for her. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

She laughed, before turning her attention to the other present. “You didn’t have to get me anything else, you know.”

He chuckled. “This one was very last minute. You actually gave me the idea after that dinner with your parents.”

She was rather confused, but her confusion ended when she saw what was inside. She smiled softly, and her green eyes sparkled back over at him. “This is lovely! How did you get a picture of this?”

James looked down at the picture in question, smiling at the two of them dancing in the muggle restaurant. In the picture, the two of them were laughing and smiling and James would spin her, dip her, and kiss her softly, just like he had done that night. “I used a pensieve. I know someone who has one so I just entered the memory and took a picture for you.”

Lily wrapped her arms around his neck. “Thank you. You’re amazing.”

James blushed a bit. “Well—“

He was cut off by Lily kissing him, not that he minded in the least. He didn’t hesitate to deepen the kiss and pull her onto his lap. He hadn’t a care in the world until, “Oi! Do you two mind?”

The two of them broke apart to look over at Sirius, who was looking at them as if he was ill. Lauren was fanning herself with a smile while Remus was grinning wickedly at them. James just smiled innocently. “Oops, guess we didn’t hear you.”

Lily giggled at his words. Lauren shrugged, but gestured impatiently. “Ok, so what did you get her, Jimmy?”

James sighed and helped Lily to turn in his lap so they could see her necklace. They all oohed and ahhed over her necklace, but Sirius just gave him a look. “You’re whipped, my friend. 100% whipped.”

Remus started choking on some pumpkin juice he had been drinking. “Leave him be…even if it’s true.”

Lauren and Lily were laughing at the boys’ words. James rolled his eyes, but after glancing back at Lily with a smile, he turned back to his friends resignedly. “Well, if this is whipped, it’s not so bad. You two should try it some time.”

Sirius and Remus guffawed. Lauren was looking at James and Lily with a knowing smile on her face. Lily looked over at James, her eyes twinkling. “If you want whipped, I’ll show you whipped.”

James glared at her playfully. “That’s enough out of you, lady.”

Everyone was soon helping themselves to breakfast and grabbing their presents. Sirius rushed through his presents like a kid in a candy store. He got tons of different Zonko’s products and Honeyduke’s chocolates from the guys, a black jumper from Lily (Lily was the first to point out that the jumper was ‘black’— haha), and a new black cloak from Lauren (Lauren mentioned to everyone that he had ruined his at the funeral by trying to play with fire because he was bored). Lily frowned when she noticed he hadn’t received anything from his parents.

Remus received different Zonko’s products and Honeyduke’s chocolate than Sirius had received from the Marauders, a bunch of clothes and blueberry muffins from his parents, a dark blue jumper from Lauren, and a collection of potion vials from Lily. He had looked at her questioningly until she explained what she had attempted to do— create a compound potion that would counter the effects of his sickness and weakness leading up to the full moon. Remus’ face lit up and he immediately gave her a big hug, eliciting comments from James’ about keeping his hands off of his girl. Lily just smiled and told him that if it wasn’t exactly right, she could make adjustments to it as needed.

Lauren had received gift certificates to Gladrags from the Marauders minus James (Remus and Sirius explained that they refused to go in there to shop for a girl and that going in when they needed robes occasionally was bad enough), her satchel from James (Lauren had given him a big hug for that), a crystal thestral figurine from her friend Tasha, and a dark purple cashmere jumper from Lily. She had also received a rather large set of DADA books and a gorgeous forest green winter coat that was similar to Lily’s black one from someone who had signed the card GAD. Her hazel eyes were sparkling over her new coat, and she immediately began looking through her new collection of books.

Lily had received similar gift certificates to Gladrags from the remaining Marauders, an emerald green v-neck jumper from Lauren, a bunch of muggle clothes and oatmeal cookies from her parents, a pink jumper from her sister Petunia (James immediately transfigured the color to dark blue per Lily’s request), a couple of picture frames and some scented candles from Shelley, and a cream colored zip up jumper from Christina.

James had received a bunch of Zonko’s products and Honeyduke’s chocolate from the guys, a couple of jumpers from Lauren, and a muggle set of sketchbooks, pens, and pencils plus a book on how to use them from Lily. His face had immediately lit up when he saw Lily’s present and he thanked her by kissing her, causing the others to groan and avert their eyes as if they were scorched by the sight. He also had received a large set of Transfiguration and Ward books as well as a new broom, the latest and best model which had come out about a year ago— the Nimbus 1500. His latter presents had also been from the mysterious GAD.

The guys were going crazy over the new broom. Sirius was talking rapidly about how the Nimbus series could never be beaten. It had only been around for ten years now and this was now the third broom from them, the first being the Nimbus 1000 (which was James’ old broom) and then the Nimbus 1001. Lily was lost after a while so she addressed her curiosity about the gift giver. “Who’s GAD, James?”

Sirius shrugged and answered for him. “He and Lauren never tell. We all have no idea. It’s someone in their family.”

James just nodded. “Family is family, and that brings me to the fact that Lauren and I have somewhere to go really quick. We’ll be back, as usual.”

He gave Lily a quick kiss before leaving the Heads’ Dorm with Lauren. Lily looked over at the two boys questioningly. “Where do they go? I don’t get it.”

Sirius sighed. “To wherever GAD is probably. They usually disappear for a while and then come back. This is my fourth Christmas with them both, and they do it every time.”

Lily just nodded, but now she was more curious than before. Sure enough, James and Lauren returned within a half hour smiling and talking animatedly. They all continued to eat breakfast and chat about anything and everything, until there was loud crack. A rather ugly house elf in a tiny, tiny tea towel had appeared in front of Sirius. Lily, after seeing the Potter house elves, was rather alarmed at the horrible dirty clothing and the horrendously disgruntled features of the house elf. Sirius just scowled and looked at him warily. “What is it, Kreacher? Tell me the truth.”

The house elf looked at Sirius with absolute fury on his face. He bowed slightly, although his watery grey eyes never left Sirius’ piercing ones. “My Mistress bids the nasty blood traitor, Master Sirius, a Happy Christmas.” And then he thrust out a poorly wrapped package.

Sirius frowned at the house elf and didn’t make a move to take the package from his tiny hands. “Kreacher, I order you to tell me if there is a trick, dark spell, or anything on that package that could harm me physically or mentally in any way, shape, or form.”

Lily was looking on curiously while the others were watching the interaction apprehensively. Kreacher scowled and looked fit to burst with inappropriate comments. “The nasty ungrateful brat wants to know if my Mistress tries to kill him. He is a blood traitor of the worst sort, yes, but my Mistress will not kill him. How Kreacher wishes his Mistress would change her mind.”

Sirius sighed and grabbed the package tentatively. His eyes darkened, and his voice was laced with sarcasm, “That’s touching, Kreacher. I think the same of you.”

Kreacher scowled at him as he opened the gift. It was a book entitled: ‘Pure-Bloods: Keeping Yourself Proper and Distinguished.’ Sirius rolled his eyes. “Tell my mother thanks, but no thanks. I’m already a proper pure-blood, thank you very much.”

Kreacher grabbed the book from him, hugging it to his little body. “Nasty Master! Yous…yous crush my Mistress’ heart every day, such a disappointment yous is! Yous is a disgrace to the Noble House of Black!” He glanced around the room at the lot of them, sniffing with disapproval. “Ungrateful Master hangs around Gryffindor filth— nothing but blood traitors, a half breed, and now a Mudblood, who Kreacher can see.”

Everyone gasped in surprise at the house elf’s foul language; both James and Sirius began yelling at the house elf. Sirius cut James off, looking furiously at the house elf, his grey eyes now as cold as ice. “Kreacher, I have ordered you not to use that offensive word around me.”

Kreacher just smiled nastily. “Yes, but my Mistress says I can say whats I please around you, Master Sirius, blood traitor and scorn of my Mistress’ flesh—“

Sirius cut him off angrily with a wave of his hand, “That’s enough, Kreacher. I order you to go away. Take that offensive book with you.”

Kreacher just looked at him smugly before snapping his fingers and disappearing with a crack. Sirius forced a smile at the lot of them. “Sorry about that. Gotta love Mum. At least she tries, huh?”

James just patted him on the back. “It’s ok, mate. You have us, and I do believe you and I forgot something earlier, something that could brighten everyone’s day back the way it’s supposed to be.”

Sirius suddenly smiled mischievously, the last few minutes with Kreacher completely forgotten. “Oh yes, I can’t believe that slipped my mind!”

Remus, Lauren, and Lily were looking at the two of them like they had lost their minds. Lauren was the first to get over her confusion; she did live with the two of them and knew they were weird. “Ok, I’ll bite. What is it, boys?”

James chuckled. “How lovely of you to ask, Lauren, since it is a last present for you!”

Lauren was now looking at the both of them warily. “Do I even want to know?”

Sirius nodded slowly, and his eyes were twinkling at her. “Yes, you do. Now, I give James full credit for coming up with the idea, but we worked out the kinks together.”

James nodded affirmatively to Sirius’ summary, and with a flick of his wand, a white envelope appeared in his hands. “Yes, and while it is your present, I do say that every single one of us, plus Tasha I’m sure, will reap the same benefits as you.”

Lily and Remus were both completely lost, but watched on as James handed the envelope over to a curious Lauren. She opened it carefully and upon reading whatever was inside, she immediately smiled brightly and squealed before leaping to hug James, sending the both of them crashing to the floor. “Oh my GOD! Are you serious?”

Lily and Remus laughed at the sight of James being squashed by an overzealous Lauren, who continued squealing in excitement. Sirius grumbled over being forgotten. “No, I am.”

Lauren rolled her eyes at Sirius playfully before hugging him just as she had James, although with slightly less vigor. James, meanwhile, was righting himself up so he could sit near Lily again. He was rubbing his lower back as he grimaced playfully. “That hurt, Lauren.”

Lauren was practically beaming. “Shut up. I love you right now, Jimmy.”

James guffawed, but smiled at seeing her so happy. “Good. That makes things easier to get away with…”

Lily laughed. “So what is it?”

Remus nodded, indicating an explanation would be welcome. Lauren just smiled and bounced up and down in excitement. “We’re all going to Miami for Spring Break! It’s a Christmas and birthday present for me! Isn’t that so cool? I’ve been wanting to go for forever! It’s how my parents met! I thought Aunt Judy and Uncle Drew didn’t want me to go, Jimmy? How’d you ever persuade them?”

James shrugged. “You are turning seventeen, Lauren… I spoke with them about it, but you will be of age, you’ll pass your apparition test with no problem, and technically, you could just go on your own. However, Sirius and I thought it would be better if we went with you so you wouldn’t be by yourself. So now it’s a Spring Break belated birthday party for you with all of us in this room, plus Tasha and Peter.”

Remus shrugged, a bit disappointed. “I don’t think I can go. Doesn’t the full moon fall on one of those days in Spring Break?”

Sirius and James’ faces fell. Sirius groaned. “I knew we forgot to look at something! Maybe you could come for some of it and then portkey back here, Moony.”

James nodded at the suggestion, and then looked over at Lily excitedly. “You’ll come, won’t you? It wouldn’t be the same without you there. We rented a huge townhouse in a magical area so we have tons of space for people to crash.”

Lily smiled. “I would love to come, but I will have to go home at some point. I was supposed to get fitted for my bridesmaid dress, or as I call it, the pink dress of death, that week.”

Lauren laughed and was looking at her mischievously. “You have to come, Lily! Tasha and I can only keep the boys at bay for a little while. If you’re there, you’ll be able to distract James and make things so much easier for us.”

Lily chuckled. “I don’t see why not.”

Sirius nodded. “Then, that’s that. Remus, you are going for some of it; Lily, for all of it. Peter will be going too unless he has a really good excuse not to go— he’s such a Momma’s boy and likes to go home. I’m sure Tasha will be just as excited as you are Lauren.”

They all spent the rest of the day relaxing, talking excitedly about the upcoming vacation, testing out James’ new broom, playing in the snow, and attending the Christmas feast in the Great Hall. Dumbledore had made it so there was only one table for the sixteen students and all of the professors. There was food upon food everywhere, and Lily couldn’t imagine eating anything more for the next week. James and Sirius even spiced up the occasion with crazy feats of magic, making the dinner that much more enjoyable, although Professor McGonagall tried to pretend she wasn’t enjoying the magic by pursing her lips and fighting her urge to smile. By the time they all made it back to the Heads’ common room late that evening, they all just sunk into the furniture utterly beat. James and Lily sat on the far right armchair together, Sirius was sprawled out on the couch, Lauren was lying comfortably on the left armchair, and Remus had conjured himself a cozy cot in front of the fireplace.

Lily maneuvered herself around on James’ lap to get a bit more comfortable, and he groaned, “Owww, that hurts my stomach. Sirius, you and I have to go running at some point so I can get rid of all of the food I just ate today.”

Sirius had an arm thrown over his face as he lay on the couch. He didn’t even move. “Transformed or not?”

James sighed as he hoisted Lily more comfortably on his lap. She was now lying on his shoulder yawning. He played with some strands of her soft red hair absently. “I don’t care. Both. We work more muscles when we’re transformed, I think.”

Remus groaned pitifully into his cot. “I don’t even want to think about transforming right now. There’s a week and a half left til full moon. I have to do it in between our detentions. I think I’m going to ask McGonagall to switch mine to the following week so I don’t die.”

Lauren sighed. “Don’t talk like that, Remus.”

He glanced over at her wearily. “If you had to deal with this, you would feel the same way.”

Lauren giggled in response. “At least you have a nice body because you get a lot of…exercise.”

Lily and Lauren began laughing while Sirius and James guffawed. Remus just grimaced. “Haha, Lauren. No girl would want to be with me anyway. Who would want to deal with all of my baggage?”

Lauren sighed and looked over at him sadly. “Remus, you’re great. If you don’t have someone by age thirty and neither do I, I’ll marry you. A guy with a nice body and baggage will be my cup of tea by then, I’m sure.”

Everyone was snickering, but Remus smiled faintly back at her. He knew she was just teasing him, but he liked how she made light of the situation for him. She had told him before that someday he would find someone who loved him for who he was regardless when he had whined to her before about girls. “I love you too, Lauren.”

They all eventually quieted down, and it wasn’t long before they all fell asleep just as they were.


The last week of Christmas Break seemed to fly by. Besides continuing their rampage within the castle and in the snow on the grounds, Lily made James catch up on his homework and the two of them began discussing the Valentine’s Day dance they were going to have. James and Sirius would disappear for awhile during the days, supposedly running in the Forbidden Forest and around the Black Lake to ‘work-out.’ It was now the weekend before classes would resume, and the feeling of starting the semester back up again when they all had been having fun seemed so foreign and unwelcome. That didn’t change the fact that it was going to be hitting them full force.

It had been an extremely long first day of the New Year. The night before, Sirius and James had procured firewhiskey somehow that left all of them with hangovers that morning; at least James had sent Reeny over to her room that morning with some sort of hangover potion that he and Sirius had created. It tasted absolutely foul, but worked almost instantaneously. She would have to get the instructions from James to see if she could get it to taste better without weakening it.

The rest of the day hadn’t been much better. She had finally completed the plethora of homework for the beginning of the week back. They were going to be starting human transfiguration in detail with McGonagall, which Lily was dreading, although James had told her that he would help her. Not to mention that she just had an hour (or longer) discussion with James about the upcoming dance where she actually wrote down all of the ideas the two of them had been throwing around for the past week. They had talked decorations, whether it should include dinner, if there was no dinner then would there be food there at all, whether dates should be required, which band they should try and get that would appease everyone, what sort of dress one should wear, which years should be able to attend, etc. Grant it, the prefects would help with the final decisions on those things, but the two of them had wanted to have a prefects’ meeting with some choices so they could all have something to choose from and vote on if necessary.

Lily had just retired to her dorm room for the night, hoping to get a good night’s sleep. Her mind seemed to be on overload. She forced herself to relax and breathe easy, using the relaxation exercises to clear her mind like she had been practicing all week. She really wanted to get the hang of Occlumency. She hadn’t had James attempt to break into her mind again that week, but with her beautiful new necklace, she knew it would be more aggressive than the last time he had tried. She wanted to be as ready as possible herself for the next time they practiced.

Her mind was still fitful, but it was as clear as it was going to get. With her brick wall firmly in place, she let herself drift off to sleep.

She was afraid, but her fears were somewhat appeased by a man she felt extremely comfortable with. He was talking to her soothingly, and she felt loved and safe in his arms.

Suddenly, there was a loud noise. Her fear reached new heights. She was being told by that man to leave and escape because she needed to protect something, something she loved more than anything in the whole world.

She was running up the stairs, frightened beyond belief. Her whole body was trembling. She heard loud noises— the man she loved screaming and yelling as well as manic laughter from another. The laughter pierced her very soul and left her feeling every sense of dread. She saw flashing lights in all sorts of colors, but she couldn’t turn back— even though she wanted to with every fiber of her being. That man was her everything, but so was what she needed to protect.

She finally reached the room where she needed to be. She entered it, locking it magically, but it wasn’t quick enough. The door exploded in front of her.

She stood fierce and determined. She had to protect whatever it was with her very life if need be. She would do it. She had to do it. The love for what she was protecting was more important than anything else.

The new man’s presence made her feel disgusted, frightened, and unsafe. Yet he offered her a choice, a choice she would never make. Her fear was at paramount levels, yet she would not yield.

His horrible high-pitched laugh made her cringe and her stomach lurch. He pushed her aside, but she entered into his path for the last time, seeing nothing but overwhelming green light…

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