Lily snatched the Cloak and the fallen trowel-Portkey off the ground and helped Remus tow Sirius away. They’d gone about twenty paces when they hit a slight resistance in the air; the wards. Hope fluttering in her stomach, Lily pushed through. Remus reversed his Disillusionment Charm, becoming visible again, and swapped his wand for a cracked flowerpot, still somehow managing to keep his hold on Sirius.
‘Prongs!’ Remus shouted. ‘Hurry up!’
James didn’t spare them a glace - he bound a fallen Death Eater with conjured ropes and blocked another attack a second later. ‘Get Sirius out of here, Moony!’
‘Lily, where are you?’ Remus asked.
‘Hold on,’ he warned. ‘Tufty.’
Three. The flowerpot glowed blue. Lily pressed a finger to it, ignoring the twinge in her broken wrist. Remus held his hand in place, and Sirius’ with it. Lily glanced over her shoulder to see where James was.
Two. Lily tucked the Cloak into her pocket and let go of the trowel Portkey so James would be able to follow them, wherever they were going. A flash of red light – a Stunner – burst from the tip of James’ wand. Lord Voldemort strode into the clearing and flicked his wand, his awful red eyes bright with excitement.
One. The last Death Eater fell. James was knocked to the ground, his wand soaring out of his hand and into Voldemort’s pale one. ‘Hold on,’ Remus said. Sirius stirred. James’ hazel eyes looked straight at Lily – despite her being Disillusioned – and he smiled a sad smile.
Zero. Lily let go. The flowerpot glowed blue and Remus and Sirius disappeared. Lily’s hand – the one that wasn’t holding her wand, stuffed the trowel Portkey into her pocket.
She turned and ran back toward James, toward the boy she loved. She couldn’t leave him, not now after he’d come for her and Sirius. As she ran, she flicked her wand, upsetting leaves and branches twenty feet to her left. She doubted it’d work, but if she could confuse Voldemort for even a moment, they might get away.
Voldemort stopped advancing toward James, who was trying to get up, and stared at the false-footsteps. And then he looked at Lily. His head continued to flick between the two. ‘Ah,’ he hissed. ‘How sweet. Your little mudblood friend has come to save you.’
‘Lily,’ James breathed, eyes scanning the area. He said her name sounding as if he didn’t want her to be there, but couldn’t be anything but grateful that she was. It was odd, that despite everything, Lily found time to fall in love with him all over again.
‘Stupefy!’ she shouted. Voldemort blocked the spell with a flick of his wand. He didn’t even blink. He made an odd stabbing motion and Lily’s body tingled. She was visible again. She shivered as she realised that he could have cast any spell, and she wouldn’t have blocked it. ‘Protego!’ she shouted as he flicked his wand again. James morphed into Prongs and charged, buying Lily time; with Voldemort’s attention diverted, the jet of orange light missed her by almost ten feet, hitting a tree which burst into flame. Voldemort stumbled back to avoid Prongs’ antlers. ‘Expelliarmus!’ Lily yelled as James dove out of sight to avoid a curse. Voldemort stared at Lily, shocked, as James' and his own wand flew out of his hand. He fell to the ground, dazed.
Lily caught James’ wand, stuffed it into her now full pocket. Voldemort’s wand landed on the forest floor with a clatter. ‘Lily?’ James came through the trees at a run, his handsome face pale and strained.
‘James, I’ve got your wand!’ she shouted, holding her ground; if they ran, only she could defend them.
‘Where?’ he asked, reaching her side.
‘Pocket. Petrificus Totalus,’ she said. Voldemort rolled out of the way – he’d been crawling toward his wand.
James grabbed his wand. ‘You have the Portkey,’ he said, relieved. ‘Thank Merlin.’
‘And the Cloak,’ Lily added.
‘You’re amazing,’ he said fervently. And then he pulled her to the ground; Voldemort had managed to grab his wand and had sent a curse in their direction. ‘Levicorpus!’ James shouted, as Lily blocked another jet of orange light with a conjured wall of water. Slowly, they took a step back, trying to get back outside the wards, but they still had metres to go and by an unspoken consensus, neither of them was prepared to turn their backs.
‘Enervate,’ Voldemort said coldly, pointing his wand at one of his the Death Eaters James had Stunned before. Cold trickled down Lily’s spine.
‘Proteg- My Lord!’ the man said, bowing his hooded head.
‘Get up,’ Voldemort snapped, sending a jet of purple light toward Lily and James. ‘You’ve already disgraced yourself enough tonight, Nott, being beaten by the boy. I expected more-’
‘My Lord, I-’
‘Enough,’ Voldemort said. Lily and James leapt out of the way of a blasting curse. ‘I want them subdued.’
‘It will be an honour, My Lord.’ The Death Eater, Nott, stood up, brandishing his wand.
‘Colloshoo!’ James whispered. Nott stumbled; a sticky, ectoplasm type substance had cemented his shoes to the mossy ground.
‘Diffindo,’ Lily heard Nott mutter. A loud crack was the only warning they had before a branch fell. James dove right, Lily left. She landed awkwardly on her broken wrist, but she gritted her teeth and ignored the pain.
‘Duro!’ James said. A tall tree behind Voldemort and Nott solidified, turning to stone. ‘Expulso!’ The tree exploded, showering the two dark wizards with rubble and dust. Voldemort threw himself to the ground, while Nott swore violently, unable to move. Lily ducked behind a tree. ‘Lily? Are you all right?’
‘I’m fine. Where are you?’ James’s form materialised out of the settling dust; he was on all fours, wand in hand, crawling toward her.
‘Here,’ he said, smiling briefly as he took in her hiding place. ‘Merlin you’re beautiful.’
‘Liar.’ She was flattered, but she had leaves in her tangled hair, her face was scratched and her robes were torn. James grinned, his face covered with sweat and dirt, hair messier than ever and grey with dust, his formerly white Quidditch pants red and green and brown and his red shirt covered in stains. Despite it all though, she couldn’t name a time when he’d looked better. Perhaps that was what he meant. She grinned back. They would probably both be dead soon, but she’d never felt more alive.
‘My Lord, they’re gone!’
‘They’re not gone, you fool.’ Lily felt an odd prickling sensation in the back of her head. James’ wince told her he was feeling the same. ‘Come out, Potter and bring your mudblood.’ James clenched his jaw. ‘You’ve both proven your worth, though it was never in doubt...’
‘I’m not joining you!’ James shouted.
‘Oh, but you will. You see, James,’ Lily could hear quiet footsteps getting closer, ‘I don’t care whether your lovely muggle friend lives or dies. You on the other hand...’
Lily had to hold James’ sleeve to keep him from jumping up. ‘It’s what he wants,’ she whispered. He nodded once.
‘... well, I imagine you’d care quite a bit. I’m willing to offer you both a position in my ranks. She’d be safe, James,’ Voldemort said softly. ‘I know that’s what you want.’
‘You’re not actually considering it?’ Lily hissed, smacking James.
‘Of course not, but he’s right – I do want you safe.’
‘But, James, the risk’s what makes it fun,’ Lily said, grinning. He’d said that to her in third year – she’d forgotten the context - but she'd always remembered those words for some reason. Until now, she'd never truly understood it.
James stared at her, awed, as if he’d never seen her before. ‘Marry me,’ he said in a somewhat strangled voice.
* * *
Remus tumbled onto a hard, stone floor, presumably that of Charlus Potter’s Wine Cellar. He heard the thump that was Sirius landing, and then everything was silent. ‘Lily?’ he whispered squinting around in the dimly lit cellar. ‘Lily?’ He took a deep breath to stop his voice shaking. ‘Lily, this isn’t funny. Lily, please, if you’re here, say so.’ He half expected to hear her start to laugh, but she didn’t, and that didn’t surprise him either. Lily wouldn’t joke around about something like this. ‘Enervate,’ he said, poking Sirius with his wand.
‘Just me, Padfoot,’ Remus said wearily.
‘But-but the others were here a second ago,’ Sirius said, leaping to his feet. ‘They can’t be far. Prongs! Lily!’
‘You were Stunned,’ Remus said patiently. Obviously, Sirius’ eyes hadn’t adjusted and he still thought he was in the forest.
‘I was- Never mind, where are we now?’
‘The Potters’ Wine Cellar.’
‘No,’ Remus said sarcastically, ‘not really. I made it up.’
‘Really?’ Sirius asked again, grinning. ‘Lumos.’ A tiny ball of light shone from the tip of Sirius’ wand but it lit a surprising portion of the room. The Cellar was huge with walls lined with shelves of wine and no windows. At one end there was a small iron-barred door that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Azkaban. Remus assumed that was the door that only a Potter could get out of. Next to the door, though, was a brass bell. Remus headed toward it. ‘So where are Prongs and Lils?’ he asked anxiously.
‘Still back in that forest,’ Remus said with a shiver, tugging on the bell. A loud clang echoed through the cellar, and presumably all through the house too, if James had been right. ‘After you were hit, James charged the Death Eaters and shouted for us to run. Lily and I carried you out of the wards and activated the Portkey. She was definitely there when we activated it, but she must have let go.’
‘Do you know why? Did something happen?’ Sirius pressed, sounding agitated.
‘I don’t know,’ Remus said miserably. ‘She was still Disillusioned so I’m not sure when she let go; I was too busy trying to keep you holding the flowerpot – you’re not very cooperative when you’re unconscious – but it has to have been something important or she’d have come back with us.’
‘James’ Portkey!’ Sirius shouted, his hand flying to his pocket. ‘Oh thank Merlin,’ he said, relaxing a moment later.
‘What?’ Remus asked, trying to listen through the bars on the door. He thought he could hear faint footsteps.
‘James gave me that trowel, remember?’ Sirius said. ‘Without it, they would’ve had to make another Portkey which takes time they wouldn’t have if they’re fighting Death Eaters. It’s not here though.’
‘Lily,’ Remus said, shaking his head.
‘Lily,’ Sirius agreed. ‘Please let them be all right. Please, please, please-’
‘Lupin?’ Dorcas’ tired face appeared on the other side of the Cellar door. ‘And Black! I don’t believe it! You’re alive!’
‘Just,’ Remus said tiredly. ‘Is Dumbledore around? Apparently only a Potter or a House-Elf can get us out of here.’
Dorcas’ blue eyes saddened. ‘And our Potter hasn’t made it back.’ She scanned the Cellar over Remus’ shoulder. ‘Neither’s Evans. Are they...?’
‘We don’t know,’ Remus said, choking slightly.
‘They’re not!’ Sirius said furiously. ‘Hurry up and get that Elf, Meadowes, I need to get back out there.’
‘You could say please,’ she sniffed.
‘Please,’ Remus said, knowing Sirius wouldn’t.
‘Wait there,’ Dorcas said, winking.
‘Like we’ve got anywhere else to be,’ Sirius snarled, kicking a shelf. Remus prayed Dorcas would hurry up; he wanted to be out of there before Sirius started breaking things.
* * *
‘You’re asking this now?’ Lily asked, smothering the instinct to shout “yes” and throw her arms around him. When Lily was younger, she and Petunia had liked to imagine how their marriage proposals would happen. Crouched behind a tree that was her only protection from homicidal madman who was torn between wanting her to join him and wanting her dead was not the way she’d pictured it. Somehow, though, it seemed oddly appropriate.
‘You just told me "the risk's what makes it fun",' James said, looking dazed. 'I've always known you were perfect but this proves it. Besides, we'll probably be dead in a moment since I’m sure as hell not joining him.'
'Are you sure you're not just asking because you think we're going to die?' That was Lily's one doubt. She knew James loved her and they'd talked about getting married but to genuinely propose so soon... she had no qualms about getting married young and she doubted James did either, but she had to be sure.
James snorted. 'Yes. Even if none of this were happening, I still would have asked soon – I’ve had the ring since Christmas.’
‘Are you serious?!’ Lily asked beaming. Again she had to smother the urge to throw her arms around him. She was his. Utterly and completely his.
‘Of course not. I’m Jame- Look out!’ Lily rolled aside as a branch crashed to earth.
‘This is your last chance,’ Voldemort said, sounding impatient.
‘We’re seventeen,’ Lily pointed out, making her way to James’ side. She was just toying with him now.
‘We’re in love and we’re of age,’ James said, helping her up.
‘True.’ She sent a Stunner toward Nott, who’d realised he’d be free if he took his shoes off.
‘That’s not a no,’ James said, grinning.
‘No, it’s not,’ Lily said, smiling back. She was playing with him and he knew it. She cast a quick Shield Charm as James turned another tree to stone and blew it up. They made it another few metres closer to the ward-boundary before Voldemort and Nott recovered and sent a jet of fire in their direction. Lily blocked it, but it gave her an idea. ‘Distract them,’ she told James.
‘What do you think, gentlemen?’ James asked, giving Nott and Voldemort his signature mischievous look. ‘Should she marry me?’
Lily groaned, but the distraction worked; Voldemort looked confused and angry. He lifted his wand but Lily was faster. ‘Incendio Maxima!’ she shouted, creating a wall of fire between her and James and Voldemort and Nott. She threw the Invisibility cloak over both of them. ‘Run,’ she told James, who grabbed her hand and obeyed. Behind her, she could hear water – no doubt Voldemort was trying to break down her wall, but it would be too late. She felt the tingle of the wards and pulled the trowel out.
‘Salva,’ James said, touching it.
Three. James grabbed a handful of the Invisibility Cloak so as not to lose it when the Portkey left.
Two. Voldemort and Nott had quenched her wall of fire and were searching the area for them.
One. Voldemort’s blazing eyes stared straight through the Cloak and met Lily’s. In that moment, she could see that he knew he’d never stop them in time, that he’d lost. And then he looked away and stared at something else, so she wasn't sure he'd seen them at all.
Zero. Lily looked at James, grinning, and kissed him. ‘Yes,’ she whispered, pulling away slightly. James beamed and pulled her mouth back to his. Blue light flared around them.