Merlin's Firm Behind
James went up to his dormitory a few minutes later and shook Sirius awake.
"Wha—huh? Prongs, what in the name of Merlin's firm behind are you playing at waking me at this ungodly hour? I need my beauty rest," Sirius mumbled into his pillow.
"Padfoot, come on! I need you to help me brainstorm things that would make Lily happy with me! It's urgent, I have to start tomorrow!"
"Nooooooo," Sirius groaned into his pillow. He sat up reluctantly and combed his fingers through his bedhead. "You finally figured it out? I was sort of hoping this phase would never end."
"She told me tonight that—wait, hang on a second, you knew? You knew why she'd stopped telling me off and you didn't tell me? Haven't you seen how I've been suffering for the past month without my Lily's attention?" Incensed, James smacked Sirius on the back of the head.
"Oh whatever, you deserved a little suffering," Sirius muttered, rearranging his hair and ignoring the smack. "I'm happy for you that you've worked out at last that what Lily wants is for you to not be a prat, but I'll be damned if I'm going to help you learn how to be less of a prat. Pranking, prat-like Prongs is your best look as far as I'm concerned."
Disgusted with his friend's nauseating devotion—really, a Marauder besotted to the point of giving up pranking was both wrong and unseemly—Sirius drew the curtains around his bed again and hoped James would get the message and go to his own bed.
James did so, spending the next hour sitting on his bed and coming up with a multitude of ways to show Lily a whole new side of him the following day.
By the next morning Lily had put their late night conversation out of her mind altogether. She knew James was incapable of behaving like someone who was actually of age already, so went through the meditation that had become part of her morning routine to help her abstain from letting her temper get the best of her with whatever asinine stunt he would pull that day.
She took a deep breath as she walked into the Great Hall for breakfast with Marlene. This was one of James's favorite settings for ruining her day so she was on edge trying to be prepared for anything. She spotted his mop of hair and saw that he appeared to be eating and chatting innocently with Peter, but she knew that was no indication of safety. Many of his elaborate setups allowed him to orchestrate from behind the scenes and have an alibi at the time of the execution.
As she and Marlene walked to their normal spot further down the table, James greeted her at a normal volume and without any over-the-top compliments. Lily had no idea how to react.
"Hey, Evans. How are you?"
"…Morning? I'm fine?" Lily's confusion and wariness at his seemingly sane manner turned her responses into questions.
"Good, good. You ready for the practice exam in Herbology this afternoon?" James continued in a friendly tone. Phase one, carry on a polite conversation, seemed to be going alright, although she was acting cautious. He supposed he couldn't blame her for that given their track record.
"I think so. It's only a mock test so I'm not too worried." She was pretty worried about this behavior, though.
"I'm sure you'll do great. Brightest witch of our age and all that," James said with a smile. "And you can relax. There's no prank today. I solemnly swear it upon my honor as a Marauder."
"Okay, whatever that means. I'll…see you around, Potter." Lily walked to her spot, still looking puzzled, and James saw that the second she sat down Marlene, Dorcas, and Hestia had started to grill her, most likely on the fact that she'd just conversed civilly with her sworn enemy and recent tormentor.
James turned to his three closest friends with a serious expression.
"Gentlemen, I just made a vow as a Marauder, and if any of you pulls a prank today and Lily believes I had anything to do with it then I will consider it a breach of the Marauder code of honor and that is an offense I will not forgive. Got it?" Although he spoke to all three of them, his gaze never left Sirius.
"You got it, Prongs," Sirius held his hands up. "I solemnly swear on my honor as a Marauder and also upon Merlin's rounded arse that I will not prank Lily Evans today." Peter and Remus repeated the oath, omitting the bit about Merlin's behind.
"Great!" James beamed, all seriousness forgotten. "Padfoot, what is your weird obsession with Merlin's arse these last few months about?"
Sirius shrugged and took a bite of his toast.
"I just think it's unfair that people all assume Merlin didn't have a nice rump. I mean, people are swearing left and right on Merlin's saggy left whatever and I just think it's slanderous to the greatest wizard in all of history! Just because he was old and had a long white beard? So does Dumbledore and he is the proud owner of one of the perkiest butts I've ever laid eyes on. Merlin was certainly powerful enough to enchant himself a better one if he wasn't born with a good bum. There's simply no evidence one way or the other. Plus, you know me, I like to be respectful to authority figures."
James, Peter, and Remus had all been laughing through the explanation but they lost it at the last assertion. Remus's snort sent pumpkin juice shooting out of his nose and they cracked up all over again at the humiliation of the most dignified Marauder.
From down the bench, Lily and her friends were watching the sixth year boys laughing hysterically.
"I don't trust Potter," Lily muttered, glaring darkly at her pancakes. "Look at them all living it up over there, probably planning the next prank that will kill me and put me out of this misery once and for all."
Against all odds, Lily made it through the day without falling victim to so much as a color-changing charm on her hair.
She was studying in the common room again as the clock struck twelve and James approached her table.
"Ladies," he began with a nod at her dorm-mates, "could I borrow Evans here for a moment? I promise to bring her back all in one piece."
The three girls looked questioningly at Lily, who shrugged back at them in response and stood, leaving them to their Ancient Runes. James led her to a corner of the common room and they sat down on a pair of beanbag chairs.
"So how did I do today, behavior-wise?" he asked her, looking into her eyes intently. He was definitely still reveling in that simple contact after being resolutely ignored for so long.
Lily felt an odd flutter in her own stomach as he stared at her earnestly. She thought back on his behavior from the day. The most prominent feature was what he hadn't done—the glaring absence of pranks.
When she didn't respond, he continued, "I think we should hammer down a real system here for the rewarding of good behavior. You did make a promise to reward good behavior—"
"I believe my exact words were 'I'd consider it.'"
"—and I know your Gryffindor honor wouldn't let you back out of a vow like that! So let's discuss. Is the absence of bad behavior sufficient to merit rewards? Can I earn bonus rewards by being an actively good person? If so, what types of deeds are you looking for? Finally, what will a reward entail? My suggestion is that for every day of good behavior during the week, I earn an hour in your presence on Sundays. No reward time added for neutral behavior, aka the absence of bad, and an hour subtracted from the reward total for downright bad behavior, which we'll consider being disruptive. Also, I request that non-disruptive and good-humored pranks not count against me. We can set out firmer guidelines for acceptable and non-acceptable pranking. If I misbehave on Sunday before reward time we'll cancel all of the reward hours for that week. We may want to draw up some kind of contract to keep all this straight."
Lily stared at James with her mouth hanging slightly open. She noticed it when she stopped talking, closed it and then opened it once more. Should she do it? Could she afford to take on the project right now of making James into a person whose presence would not offend everyone he came across? She glanced at him again and saw that he was still giving her that earnest look. Damn it. She sighed in defeat.
"Okay, Potter, let's write a contract. We'll have Remus witness it. As both a prefect and one of your best friends he's the most neutral party we're going to find in this school."
James's smile threatened to split his face in half as he called for Moony. Lily shook her head. What was she getting herself into?