Godric's Hollow was always a pretty place to live - scenic in the winter when hidden among snowdrifts, pleasantly hazy in the summer when children played games in the little cobbled streets - but for Lily Potter, nothing compared to the little town in the fall. The leaves had seemingly overnight turned into a rainbow of bright, fiery colors: every shade of yellow, red, orange, and brown could be found on the trees in the yards of the villagers. When they fell they carpeted the ground so it was hard to distinguish lawn from road, and they muffled the footsteps of everyone who passed through, making the place seem more enchanted than the witches and wizards living there already did. The fact that the sun had just set, on Halloween, only added to its fairy-tale appeal.
Lily stood in front of one of the windows in the Potters' little home, facing the street, trying to tape paper pumpkins and bats onto the window panes in the fading light but finding herself hopelessly distracted by the scenery outside. At the best of times she was easily distracted, and fall just drove her senses a little further to wandering point. She swore silently under her breath as, for the third time, her pumpkin ended up tilted to the side ponderously.
"Why, Mrs. Potter," said a teasing voice suddenly, "I would hope you'd be more dignified than to use such foul language!" She grinned as she turned around. Her husband - she never got tired of saying that, even after two years of marriage! - was leaning against the tiny door leading into the kitchen, wearing a smug expression behind his glasses that was nonetheless loving as he watched his wife struggle with the crooked pumpkin. She stuck out her tongue at him and turned back to her decorations, choosing to ignore his sarcastic comments, as she often did.
But, as usual, he wasn't one to let things go; he crossed the room to the window and stood by her side, surveying her handiwork. "Paper pumpkins?" he grinned, crossing his arms and tilting his head. "Bats? Why are you putting these up, Lil, no one's even going to see them..." Under his teasing she caught the frustration that was increasingly prominent with each day they remained cooped up. She squeezed his hand briefly and tilted her head too, placing a final piece of tape on the pumpkin's stem.
"Oh, you know," she finally replied, rubbing the tape residue from her fingers onto her jeans. "Tuney and I always put these up, every year, for Halloween, and it never seems quite like the holiday without them..." She was silent, remembering years of crumbled blobs of orange and black tissue paper stuck haphazardly onto the Evans' windows, how she always managed to put one or two up on the dormitory window at Hogwarts. It seemed like her one last connection with the Muggle world, the world she knew beyond the one she had chosen to live in.
"Well, let's at least make them a little more lifelike." James's voice interrupted her thoughts as he drew out his wand, grinning mischievously, and gave it a little flick in the direction of the windows. The paper bats ripped themselves free from their adhesive bondage and began flapping miserably around the tiny sitting room, light from the lamps glowing dully through the tissue.
"James, no!" Lily laughed in spite of herself, looking at the bits of wriggling black tissue that had gotten left behind with the tape. "All that work for nothing... look, you're ripping them." They both watched the little bat fly into the corner of the coffee table and tear one of its wings. It flew even more crazily about now, and suddenly both of them were howling with laughter, watching the pitiful tissue flap meekly around.
All of a sudden there came a little pattering of feet down the hall that led to James and Lily's bedroom, and a tiny face poked around the door frame, his bright green eyes curiously surveying the scene before him: the flapping tissue and his mother and father in hysterics. "Ba?" he said confusedly, pointing to the struggling paper.
"That's right, Harry-boy," said James, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes and crossing the room to scoop his son up in his arms. "Your mummy made us a lovely bat and Daddy wrecked it. Daddy's a bad boy, don't you think?"
"Ba!" Harry said happily, cuddling into his father's arms and suddenly poking James's nose with a fat forefinger. James looked startled and frowned sternly, placing his forehead on his tiny son's.
"No poking, you hear? It's bad manne-" He suddenly stopped as Lily gave a seemingly random shriek of laughter and bent double, shaking with silent mirth. "What?" James asked, a little miffed, shifting Harry a little higher on his hip.
"James -" Lily paused, trying to regain control of her breathing; then she looked at Harry again and a fresh wave of giggle burst forth. "James, what is Harry wearing?!"
James looked back at his son, confused, and then a wicked and sheepish grin spread across his face. He'd wanted to surprise his wife, knowing how much she loved Halloween, by dressing Harry up for her. Unfortunately, his household spells were less than satisfactory, and making a little costume was quite outside his range of adequate magic.
"It... it was supposed to be a pumpkin," he said ruefully, looking with fresh eyes at the truly hideous outfit he'd managed to conjure up for Harry. A lumpy cap the color of a traffic cone was fitted rather poorly onto Harry's shock of untidy black hair; a matching outfit encircled his little body, with misshapen holes for his arms, legs, and neck outlined in garish green.
"Oh, he looks like a fungus!" Lily choked, crossing the room and holding out her hands to her son. Harry looked curiously at his mother before turning back to his father and poking his nose again with a loud, "Boo!"
"What did I just tell you about poking Daddy's nose?" James said in mock anger, swooping Harry high above his head and making whooshing sounds. Harry squealed in delight and kicked his legs awkwardly in the makeshift pumpkin costume, and then yawned widely, squinting up his bright green eyes in sudden sleepiness.
"Oh, let me have him, James, he needs proper clothes," Lily laughed, taking him from her husband's arms and kissing his lips quickly. "Your costume looked wonderful, dear." James rolled his eyes and ruffled his son's hair before Lily took him back to the nursery to put him in his blue pyjamas.
When she reentered the living room, baby Harry on her hip, James was seated on the small loveseat, staring absentmindedly out the dark windows at the children now trick-or-treating in their cowboy and ghost costumes. The candle in the jack o' lantern on the hall table had been lit for trick-or-treaters, but it was a futile and somewhat hollow gesture. No one would come to the Potter house; it was invisible to all except those trusted few who had been made Secret-Keepers.
"This is torturous, Lil," James said as she sat down beside him and crossed her legs. He let his head fall back on the couch and turned it to look at her. "I hate being cooped up here all day, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Are we ever going to get out of this mess?"
Lily didn't respond; she didn't have an answer. Instead she scooted closer to James on the loveseat and kissed him gently, feeling his sadness equaled in her own heart. "I know," she whispered, and laid her head on his shoulder, feeling the warmth and strength of his broad shoulders beneath her thin cheek.
Harry suddenly crawled across his mother's lap and onto his father's, attempting to stand up using the front of James's shirt. James grinned down at his son and fished his wand from the pocket of his jeans, waving it wordlessly in the air. A large puff of violet-colored smoke erupted from the end. Harry squealed in delight and reached for it, steadying himself with James's shirt, his tiny legs unsteady and wobbling. Lily laughed and leaned against James again.
It was peaceful, almost worry-free, sitting here on this Halloween night, watching her husband and son as they played carefree little games. Lily watched as James sent out red smoke, then blue, and Harry tried in vain to catch the little clouds before they disappeared into the air. James tossed his wand onto the couch cushion next to him and yawned, handing Harry back to Lily.
A sudden sound made them both freeze, and James's heart leaped into his throat, beating painfully against his Adam's apple. It was a tiny click, as though a key had been turned in a lock. A cold sweat broke out over his skin. Lily sat bolt upright, her face immediately devoid of color. Then, sudden as a gunshot, the front door banged open, confirming their very worst fears, their worst nightmare.
"Lily, take Harry and go! It's him! Go! Run! I'll hold him off!" * James cried, leaping up from the couch and sprinting into the hall, wand forgotten. Lily sprang to her feet, clutching Harry to her tightly, and hurtled up the stairs, already crying, knowing what was coming for the man she loved and yet still foolishly praying she was wrong...
But as she threw herself into Harry's nursery, she caught a glimpse of green light from the hall below. She closed the door frantically, stuffing a fist in her mouth to keep from crying, biting the knuckles so hard she drew blood, beginning to pull boxes from the room's corners in front of the door while still clutching her son, heart ready to burst from her chest...
The door wrenched open; the boxes were swept aside carelessly with a flick of his wand. Desperate, Lily dropped Harry into his crib and stood in front of it, arms splayed heroically, tears staining her pale cheeks silver. "Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!" she sobbed, her mind spinning out of control, not even trying to listen to what the high, cold voice was saying, panic and fear clutching her throat in a vise grip.
"Not Harry, please, no, take me, kill me instead -" *
James was dead, in the front hall, and she herself was inches away from death... but she wouldn't let Harry die... Not today, he was so young... She’d die before letting him touch her son…
"Not Harry! Please... have mercy... have mercy... Not Harry! Not Harry! Please - I'll do anything -" * She was screaming now, she felt like she was going to be sick, her screams were tearing her throat raw, her heart was lodged in her throat, blocking her lungs -
And then a flash of green light, and Lily Potter was gone. Another flash - a terrible scream, a baby's wail - and the light from the jack o' lantern guttered and was extinguished, a wisp of smoke curling to the open heavens where Harry's nursery had stood intact only moments before.
A/N (Edited 12/22/2011): This was my very first one-shot posted on this account, and I am still rather proud of it -- although it is no longer 'one of my favorite things I've written', it still holds a very dear place in my heart. If you're reading this for the first time, thanks very much!
* These lines are from the U.S. version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; I do not own them.