For a split second, green is all James Potter sees.
Grass, he realizes belatedly. The green is grass, and he's laying face down in it.
At least he thinks it's grass. It looks like grass, though as he reaches out to rub a blade between his fingers, it feels too smooth. No, not smooth enough. It feels… odd. Wrong. Unreal. It feels like nothing.
I've lost it, he decides, and pushes himself to his feet, taking stock of his surroundings. Gentle hills stretch as far as he can see. The sky is cloudless and the sun is high, but he feels no warmth from the light. He's not sure where he is, and even less sure how he got there.
It's as though the cogs of his mind are jammed. Hovering at the edge of his confusion there's a sense of urgency, like he's left a cauldron boiling. The haze in his mind won't clear, and he pinches the bridge of his nose.
For want of something to do, he climbs to the crest of the nearest hill. In the valley below, a village glimmers like a mirage, familiar and inviting. Godric's Hollow and Hogsmeade and the town he'd grown up in all rolled into one, it plunges an instinctive hook in his chest and tugs him forward. He takes one step towards it, and then another, before he freezes again.
Something is wrong, he thinks, stronger than before. He's forgotten something, something important, the most important—
He spins away from the village and there, standing at the bottom of the hill, looking as lost as he feels:
They move at the same time, hurtling towards each other and colliding with so much force he staggers backward. Unlike everything else in this place, she feels mercifully, wonderfully real; her hair gets caught in his smile, her elbow knocks his shoulder as she throws her arms around his neck, and the arm of his glasses digs hard into his temple as her hot, heavy breath tickles his ear.
"James," she whispers, and for some mad reason he wants to cry. "Oh, God, James." She pulls back to look at him, her hands on either side of his face. "I heard him—I saw the light—I thought—how did you…?"
Lily's voice dies on her lips. Realization dawns on her face and strikes him like a blow to the chest. It's like a veil has been lifted; he remembers, now, calling for her to run, a flash of green light—
"Oh," is all she says, and her voice shakes.
Silence creeps between them, a burden settling low in his stomach and the set of her shoulders.
James forces a smile. "No offense, Lil, but I've never been more disappointed to see you."
"Yeah," she agrees, the ghost of a smile on her lips. "Likewise." But a cloud passes over her face and his heart drops. She gets the words out just a second before he can: "Oh, no, Harry."
Echoing like a Howler in his ears, the name clears the last of the cobwebs from his mind. Harry. Harry, Harry, Harry.
How could he have forgotten Harry?
The urgency he hadn't understood only a moment ago reaches a fever pitch now, drowning out everything else. He and Lily break apart from each other at the same time, looking wildly around the vast hills and finding nothing but endless grass. There's no sign of Harry, here or anywhere — no shrieks of laughter, no pink cheeks, no dark hair or bright eyes or sticky, curious fingers or toes like Every Flavour Beans.
"Where is he?" she asks, her long hair swinging from side to side as she turns, frantic. "He should be here. He should be with us." She looks back at him, eyes questioning. "Shouldn't he?"
"I don't know," James admits. He'd run the lengths of these hills for whatever time he has left if he thought it might help, but somehow he knows it won't.
Lily frowns, chewing her lip anxiously. He knows she's suffering the same dilemma he is: wanting to find their son but dreading what it will mean if they do.
"Maybe we wait," she says, and James has no better suggestions, so he nods.
Time creeps along in an unfathomable lurch, bringing no change to their scenery, no wind in the air, and no Harry. Eventually, after what might have been minutes or might have been days, a hunch crystallizes into certainty.
"I don't think he's coming," James says at last.
"Good." Lily's face is set, but the waver in her voice belies her words. "That's good. Right?"
"Yeah." He hears his own voice as though it belongs to someone else. "Someone must've… or something must've…"
Unable to describe the miracle that must have taken place, he stops trying. Harry's okay, he thinks, over and over. Harry isn't here, so Harry must be okay. The relief is dizzying.
At the bottom of the hill, Lily nods. "We did it, then. We…"
But her face crumples. She clamps her hand over her mouth as a sob erupts, then sinks to her knees on the grass. Heart in his throat, James rushes to her side, and she collapses into him, keening against his chest.
"Our baby…" Her words come in stuttering breaths, trickling in between cries. "Our poor baby…"
Each of her sobs reverberates in his bones. "I know."
Harry's safety is what he had wanted—what they had both wanted, what they had both worked so hard to preserve—but James feels the separation now as sharp as losing a limb. One after another, all the things they will miss crash into him: first words and lost teeth, birthdays and Christmases, Hogwarts sorting and Quidditch matches and summer holidays...
With the lump in his throat threatening to choke him, he rests his wet cheek against the top of Lily's hair and runs his hand up and down along her spine.
Lily's fingers clutch at the front of his robes. "He's all alone," she whispers.
"He won't be." He has conviction in this, at least. "Sirius will look after him."
It's the best he can offer her, and Lily nods. James pulls her as close as he can, wondering which of them finds more comfort in it.
"He'll be okay, Lily. He'll be loved. And… maybe, if we're lucky, we get to see him again one day." His voice cracks, but he carries on. "In a long, long time. When he's gone gray, and his beard is longer than Dumbledore's, and he says things like back in my day and when I was your age."
Lily sniffs, but when she speaks there's a smile in her voice. "When he's blinder than you."
She wipes at her eyes and then settles against his chest, her hand resting over his heart. "And when he's got enough grandkids to form his own Quidditch team. The Potter Puffskeins."
"Oh, enough to form his own league, definitely."
Lily giggles into his neck through her tears. Weak and watery though her laugh is, right now it's the most beautiful sound he has ever heard.
Finally, once their cheeks have dried, Lily speaks again, her voice strong and steady: "What do we do now?"
"There's a village down the hill." Its hypnotic allure, weak against the call of Lily and Harry, beckons even stronger now. "I think we're supposed to go there."
She unfurls herself from his arms and rises to her feet, squinting into the horizon. Leaning back on his palms, James gazes up at her. He doesn't want her here, not really, not now that he knows what here means, he wants her safe, always, and yet—
Merlin, he's glad to have her.
"So what happens when we get there?" she asks, while he stands up next to her.
"No idea," he answers, and this time he doesn't have to force a grin. The excitement of the unknown, the prospect of adventure, sends a welcome shiver down his spine. He looks over at Lily, raises his eyebrows, and reaches out one hand. "What d'you say, Evans? Shall we find out?"
Her mascara is smudged from tears, but there's a brave expression on her face now as she turns her head to face him. The sunlight catches in her hair, a glowing halo of Gryffindor red. Amid the endless sea of grass, her eyes shine greener than it all.
James doesn't think he's ever loved her more.
Lily reaches out, slips her hand into his, her wedding ring bumping against his knuckle, and she smiles. "Lead the way, Potter."