When Lily and Sirius reached Lily’s room, James was sitting on the bed, hands balled at his side. He was staring fixedly at the wall, something Sirius knew was a very, very bad sign. ‘I’m so sorry, Lily,’ James said in a forced-calm voice. Sirius watched warily. James had stages of an emotional breakdown. First, his jaw trembled and he sought a quiet place where he inevitably built up his anger, second, he apologised and blamed himself. Third, he got angry and if no one found a way to vent that anger, he’d shout until he’d let it out. Once that was done, he’d need emotional support. Lastly, James would come up with a brilliant prank to make him feel better, a prank often involving the person who’d upset him.
‘What for?’ Lily asked, going to sit beside him. Sirius held back, waiting to see how she’d handle him.
‘For being such a git to your family. I shouldn’t have yelled at them like th-’
‘Enough,’ Lily said, covering his mouth. ‘You have nothing to apologise for. Nothing,’ she said, noticing James’ mouth opening. ‘What Vernon and Tuney did was horrible. It was completely unfair of them.’
‘I still shouldn’t have yelled.’
‘Probably not,’ Lily said, ‘but I don’t think anyone blames you for it, given the circumstances.’
‘Stupid Vernon,’ James growled, unclenching, then re-clenching his fists.
Sirius caught Lily’s eye and jerked her head to tell her to step away. James would need to talk about his feelings later, but for the moment, he was still angry and he looked perilously close to shouting. ‘Prongs,’ Sirius said.
Sirius shook his head, smiling. ‘Prongs.’
James’ eyes widened. ‘Here? We’d destroy the room!’
‘Destroy the- Sirius Black! What in Merlin’s name are you planning?’ Lily asked, her eyes narrowing.
‘Nothing bad,’ Sirius promised. ‘Can you do us a favour?’
‘Depends what it is,’ Lily said cautiously.
‘Shrink us,’ James said, stealing the words out of Sirius’ head. ‘Remember, Reducio, not Recucto.’ Peter always got the two confused and had destroyed the boy’s dormitory on one such occasion in fourth year.
‘What-oh!’ Lily said, as Sirius and James transformed. Sirius barked and she waved her wand. The room grew before Sirius’ eyes until he was the size of Lily’s shoe. Prongs was just as small. Sirius yapped happily and pounced. Prongs danced out of the way, tossing his antlered head. Sirius found shelter behind “A Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi” which was lying under Lily’s bed. ‘Do you do this often?’ Lily asked. Sirius yelped; her voice seemed so much louder now that she was so much bigger. Her head was roughly the size of his entire body.
James was shrugging, or trying to; his shoulders weren’t very flexible in Animagus form. Sirius crept up and nipped his flank. James turned around, jabbing his side with an antler. Sirius growled playfully and a fight ensued, Lily laughing all the while.
* * *
‘Lily? Boys?’ Mr Evans called, knocking on the door.
‘Hide,’ Lily whispered. James and Sirius, still in animal form, darted under the bed, play-fight forgotten. James appreciated Lily’s subtlety; he didn’t really mind whether Mr Evans knew about him being an Animagus and he doubted Sirius would be bothered by it much either, but he was happy Lily didn’t expect it of them. ‘What, Dad?’
James saw the door open and sock-covered feet enter. ‘I wanted to check on- Where are James and Sirius?’
‘Getting rid of a little excess energy,’ Lily said. James’ eyes sparkled. Padfoot’s tongue lolled out of his mouth.
‘Is he all right?’ Mr Evans asked, concern touching his voice. ‘I doubt Vernon would have asked if he knew what James’ answer would be-’
‘But he did,’ Lily said, cutting him off.
‘He did,’ Mr Evans agreed. ‘Lils, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, or if James wouldn’t want me to know – I understand it’s a sensitive matter – but... were the people he talked about... were they Death Eaters?’
‘Yes,’ Lily said without hesitation. James nodded in approval, as did Sirius.
‘Is it getting worse, the war?’ The bed creaked gently as Mr Evans sat down.
‘It’s not looking good,’ Lily said quietly. ‘Death Eater attacks aren’t even front page news because they’re so common. No one knows who’s going to be next anymore – they’ve been attacking at random. Dumbledore’s worried enough that he’s started recruiting students to fight back-’
‘You among them?’ Mr Evans cut in. Lily must have nodded because the bed creaked and James was willing to bet his new broomstick that Mr Evans had just hugged his daughter.
‘I’m sorry,’ Lily mumbled from above. James blinked, feeling Sirius’ hand on his shoulder. He hadn’t even realised he had transformed and was halfway out from under the bed to comfort Lily.
‘Thanks,’ James whispered. He didn’t feel small, but his head didn’t even touch the bottom of the mattress. Sirius nodded.
‘I should have talked with you about it first or... I don’t know.’ Lily continued, sounding agitated. James decided that if Mr Evans hadn’t calmed her down in thirty seconds, he was coming out.
‘Was it a spur of the moment decision?’ Mr Evans asked.
‘Of course not,’ Lily said, sounding shocked her father had reached that conclusion.
‘Didn’t think so.’ Mr Evans laughed quietly. ‘So you’d obviously given thought to joining the resistance before the opportunity presented itself.’
‘Obviously,’ Lily said slowly, wondering, like James, where Mr Evans was going with this.
‘Then you’ve done the right thing.’
‘You’d say that even if I became a Death Eater,’ Lily said.
‘Of course I would. I’m your father, Petal-’ James and Sirius exchanged evil grins at the nickname, ‘- and I’ll support you in whatever choices you make because I know you well enough to believe you’ll make the right ones.’ That was more or less what Mr Evans had said to James that afternoon.
‘You’re not going to tell me I’m too young?’
'That would make me a hypocrite,’ Mr Evans said dryly, ‘I was only a year older than you are now when I joined the army. You’re considered an adult in your world and that’s good enough for me. Be honest with me, though: how dangerous is it?’
‘I could die,’ Lily said, without fear.
‘From what you’ve told me about Death Eater views on muggle-borns, that would be true even if you hadn’t joined the resistance,’ Mr Evans said mildly.
‘So you were listening,’ Lily said, with a slight smile in her voice. ‘But yes, that was my thinking. I’m in no more danger fighting back than I would be trying to keep my head down.’ James had never loved her more than in that moment.
‘Harold! Lily? Pudding’s ready!’
‘Pudding!’ Sirius whispered excitedly.
‘Can you tell Mum we’ll be down in a moment?’ Lily asked.
‘Sure.’ Mr Evans’ weight left the bed and James watched his feet walk to the door. ‘Hey, Lils.’
‘I'm proud of you.’ Mr Evans left.
‘Make me big again!’ Sirius cried, sprinting out from under the bed.
‘Me first!’ James shouted. Lily waved her wand and Sirius grew back to his normal height. James scowled. Sirius shouted something incoherent about pudding and dashed out of the room. Lily waved her wand again and James shot up. ‘I really, really love you,’ James said, stepping forward. He picked her up and spun her around in a circle, fairly sure he was grinning like an idiot and not caring in the least.
‘Oh, really?’ Lily said when her feet were on the ground again. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling his mouth down to meet hers.
‘Really, really love you,’ James said breathlessly, a moment later.
Lily grinned. ‘I really, really love you too.’
‘Good,’ James said, giving her his famous mischievous grin. ‘Pudding time?’ Lily laughed and shoved him toward the door.
Mr Evans set a bowl of sticky-date pudding, caramel sauce and ice cream down in front of James as soon as he sat down. James was grateful because Mrs Evans, Petunia and Vernon had all stopped talking the moment he walked in. Lily sat down beside him and glared at her sister and mother until they resumed conversation. Lily caught James’ attention and winked.
‘So, Lily,’ Mrs Evans said, trying to dissipate the tension in the room, ‘are you all staying here tonight or are you going back to school?’
Petunia choked on a mouthful of pudding. ‘Pardon?’
‘I asked if your sister and her friends are staying tonight.’
‘Oh, umm, I don’t know. James?’
James didn’t really mind either way. ‘If you’d like to.’
‘Whatever we do, we can’t go home before we watch Bambi,’ Sirius said. James nodded his agreement. Vernon looked at Petunia mouthing “Bambi?”. She shrugged.
‘It’ll be late by the time you finish watching,’ Mrs Evans said.
‘I guess we’ll stay the night then,’ Lily said, shrugging.
‘And how about you, Vernon?’
‘I’ve already said he can, Mum,’ Petunia said.
‘So I’ll set up the guest room for the three boys, shall I?’ James really, really didn’t want to share a room with Vernon.
‘Mum,’ Petunia whined, ‘I’m engaged.’
‘Yes, but it wouldn’t be fair to have Vernon in with you and not let James and Sirius stay in with Lily, would it?’
Petunia said nothing.
* * *
‘I don’t see how that was a kid’s movie,’ Sirius muttered as he and James headed upstairs to transfigure their clothes into pyjama pants. ‘And why were the dogs portrayed as the antagonists?’
‘Because dogs and deer don’t generally get along,’ James reminded him as he shut the door to Lily’s room. ‘They need a wolf to act as a catalyst.’
Sirius sniggered. ‘And a rat to ease the tension.’
‘Exactly.’ James waved his wand, giving himself a pair of stag adorned pyjama pants. He waved his wand again.
‘Than- Ducks?! Change them! I am not wearing ducks to bed!’
James surveyed the bright yellow ducks on Sirius’s pyjamas. ‘No, I like the effect.’
‘Anything but ducks, Prongs, please,’ Sirius begged.
‘Snakes?’ James suggested innocently.
Sirius made a rude hand gesture that Remus would certainly have told him off for. ‘You’re funny, aren’t you?’
‘I like to think so,’ James said. ‘Fine, how’s that?’
Sirius glanced down and beamed. Black dogs that looked uncannily like Padfoot had replaced the ducks. ‘Better, thank you.’
He and James headed back downstairs to the guest room where three single mattresses were set up. ‘I don’t know why we can’t just bunk with Lily,’ Sirius grumbled. James raised an eyebrow. ‘All right, I do, but I don’t want to bunk with... It.’
‘Nor do I, but it has potential,’ James said, grinning.
‘How so?’ Sirius asked, returning the grin.
‘Revenge,’ James said happily.
‘Ah. What’s the plan?’
‘None at all,’ James said. ‘I’ll take the middle bed, between you and Vernon and fall asleep as per usual...’ It didn’t take Sirius long to catch on; James still had fairly bad nightmares about his imprisonment. He and Remus had discovered that – despite the noise he made - James never seemed to wake himself up.
‘Good in theory, but if I don’t wake you up, you’ll have no voice tomorrow.’
James thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. ‘It’ll be worth it.’
‘You’re magic might lash out too,’ Sirius said thoughtfully. ‘Or at least, I can make it look that way. Vernon has one too many eyebrows...’
* * *
‘No! I won’t join you! I said no!’ James shouted.
‘Would you shut him up!’ Vernon roared. Sirius couldn’t quite take him seriously with one eyebrow missing.
‘What do you want me to do?’ Sirius said, shrugging helplessly.
‘I don’t know! Wake him up, gag him, who bloody care- Oof!’ One of James’ flailing arms had just slapped Vernon across the face. Vernon turned a nasty shade of purple that Sirius didn’t like one bit.
‘Prongs,’ Sirius said, shaking him. ‘James!’
James’ eyes flicked open. He sat upright, glancing around in terror. ‘Padfoot? Where are we?’
‘Lily’s,’ Sirius answered.
‘Oh, right. Is it morning?’
‘Does it look like it’s morning?!’ Vernon snarled. ‘It’s still fucking dark!’ He pointed a thick finger at the window. Sirius grinned.
‘Someone’s grumpy,’ James said. Vernon tried to punch him, but James dodged. ‘I stand corrected: someone’s extremely grumpy.’
‘That’s because you’ve been screaming all night!’
‘Liar,’ Sirius said. ‘If he’d been screaming all night then it would be morning and you’ve just pointed out that it isn’t morning because it’s still dark so-’
‘Get out!’ Vernon bellowed.
‘That’s rude,’ James said.
‘Where will we sleep?’
‘I don’t care! Just get out!’
‘James is right. You’re very rude,’ Sirius said. Vernon yelled wordlessly and lunged for them. Laughing, James and Sirius fled the room. ‘Get the front door, Mr Prongs?’ Sirius said.
‘Of course, Messr Padfoot,’ James said, opening it. ‘May I ask why?’
‘You heard Vernon: out. Besides, I’ve heard there are some noisy strays that like to howl outside the guest room window.’
‘Ah,’ James said, obviously trying not to laugh.
‘You’ll get some sleep?’ Sirius asked, stepping out into the snow.
James nodded. ‘I’ll sleep on Lily’s floor and sneak back into Vernon’s room before the rest of the family gets up.’
‘Lily won’t let you sleep on the floor.’
‘Probably not,’ James agreed cheerfully. ‘See you in the morning.’
‘Indeed.’ Sirius morphed into Padfoot, nudged James back inside and then trotted around to the back of the house. He settled in the snow beneath the guest room window, his shaggy fur protecting him from the cold. Vernon was in for a long night.