Author's Notes: One thing I was surprised we didn't find out more about in DH is how the Potters and the Longbottoms both survived an encounter with Voldemort three times, as the Prophecy said. This fic is the product of one possibility that I couldn't help but have come to mind for how they managed to do that. Though it may be a stretch to describe what Lily and James do in this fic as "defying Voldemort," as they never even meet him face-to-face this time. Prophecies seem to be worded weirdly just so they sound fancy, anyway. :)
Sirius was the last to return to the Order's headquarters with Gideon Prewett by Side-Along Apparition, and everyone in the room seemed to breathe for the first time in hours, releasing a simultaneous sigh of relief. It was over.
"Christ," Sirius said, leaning back against the table in the dining room where the eight Order of the Phoenix members were gathered, many of them already nursing injuries. "Was that a close one. I need a drink after that..."
"Now that's an idea," Frank Longbottom sighed, his arm around his wife Alice.
As Sirius went to the kitchen with the intention of acting on this idea as soon as possible, James looked over at Lily. She had done nothing but sit silently ever since they'd made it back. He put a hand on her shoulder. "You alright?"
She looked up at him, the look in her eyes still distant and shocked. "Yeah, I'm fine," she said, reaching her own hand up to hold over his for a second.
"Well, nothing like a narrow escape from You-Know-Who himself to keep you on your toes, eh?" said Mad-Eye once Sirius had come back with a bottle of firewhiskey and was passing around shot glasses. Most responded with a kind of groan, not able to share his light sense of humor about it yet.
"Blimey," Sirius said, pointing to Frank and Alice and then Lily and James. "You four have got some kind of stroke of good luck, haven't you? What does this make, four times you've escaped right out from under his nose?"
James laughed. "Only two, mate."
"Yet," Frank added, laughing as well; the immense relief they were feeling now that they were safe seemed to be making something like this unusually funny.
Sirius shrugged. "Still...And not to deny you lot any deserved credit, but you do seem to just get lucky every time. God, if that one Death Eater hadn't just happened to slip up and drop Gideon's wand..."
"Let's not think about it," Sturgis Podmore suggested before knocking back his own shot of whiskey.
James then drank his, and looked back down at his wife, who had not taken one. She still was sitting in silence, staring off into the air and hardly seeming aware of what everyone around her was saying. Perhaps she was just too tired to even celebrate that everyone was, quite astonishingly, all right.
"Er...We ought to get home," James said to all of them. That Lily did seem to hear, and with a weak smile she stood up. "I suppose we could take the Knight Bus. It's not too far to go, at least."
"Yeah. Damn..." Sirius said, also realizing that Disapparating was quite impossible for most of them now with their wands taken.
"Oh, don't worry," Gideon said. "I can drop you both off at your house. No problem."
"Thanks, Gideon," Lily said.
Sirius and James hugged each other goodbye for the night, clapping each other on the back, before Gideon took James tightly by the arm and they both vanished from the room with a loud pop. Then Lily tiredly told everyone goodnight and kissed Sirius before he returned to take her.
It really did not make much sense that they were now safe. Sirius's explanation of them just having good luck didn't feel adequate. Their capture made the third sign to come up in the last several months that there must be a spy among them, that someone was telling the other side about their plans. But nobody even talked about that openly, not when in the company of a whole group of Order members. Many of them would surely be worrying and talking about it even more now when in private, once their elation over being able to escape this time dimmed.
But this time, just as they had all been overcome with the foul, horrifying feeling that the trust they had all put in someone was going to be the cause of their deaths, something had happened to make Lily feel almost like someone else was just as unexpectedly acting in their favor. It was a strange kind of feeling of intuition that had now stayed with her, only growing stronger the more she reflected on the events. It was like there had been an angel looking over them, blessing them with just the smallest change they needed to be able to turn their fates around. Or maybe it had been something much more simple than that.
None of them even knew where they'd been taken after they were captured. They didn't recognize the house from the inside, and all of them had been blindfolded while being taken there. But right before they were thrown into a dark room, Dolohov had removed the blindfolds with a swish of his wand just so he could warn them what would happen if they didn't cooperate and keep quiet, jabbing his wand in their faces for emphasis. And then one Death Eater standing in the back of the group had slowly removed his mask, in a seemingly unconscious movement as of someone sleepwalking, and looked at Lily wide-eyed for just a second, making her gasp too obviously when she recognized him. And as the others took notice of the way she was looking at one of them, Severus Snape had immediately replaced the mask before anyone could realize what had happened. Then they were all locked up in the tiny room, wandless and helpless.
They'd been there for almost two whole days. The ones they could recognize as the Lestranges and Dolohov would take out two of them at a time to torture. They never even got to asking questions. They were just having fun with them for now, warming up, showing them they weren't fooling around. Twice a Death Eater opened the door just to bring them food, the promise that they weren't going to be given fast and easy deaths at all, and that they intended to keep them around quite long enough to wish for death first. The second time, Lily and James were drifting off to sleep against the wall near the door, and before the door shut again only she thought she heard something fall to the floor. Something sounding like a long wooden rod.
It was then that everyone in the room became more awake and alert, and realized who Bellatrix Lestrange must be talking loudly to on the floor above them. Lord Voldemort himself had just arrived. Perhaps some of them had been troublesome enough to him that he wanted to deal with them himself. But he wouldn't get the chance.
Now, back in their quiet home in Godric's Hollow they had been so sure an hour before they would not see again, they just stayed in a somber silence in the kitchen for a while, Lily sitting at the table as James started preparing some tea. Finally, Lily spoke up and gave him some indication of what was on her mind.
"Severus was there," she said quietly.
James looked up at her in surprise, stopping in the middle of opening a tea bag, and then turned back to the stove. "Yeah." It was all he said, but he said it very seriously.
Lily took a long, uneasy breath before she asked him the question. "James...which Death Eater took our wands?"
He turned again. "What?"
"That short one and Dolohov disarmed everyone, but then when he was talking to us later, neither of them were holding them. Who ended up taking all of our wands?"
James just shook his head. "I didn't see...Why?"
She hesitated. "What if Severus was the one who dropped that one wand?"
"So what if he was?"
"I mean on purpose. To allow us to escape."
He blinked at her, looking completely caught off guard. After a long silence, he said in the kind of quiet tone one uses when trying to break bad news to somebody gently, "Lily, that's ridiculous."
She looked away from him, staring forward with her arms crossed on the table. "I know it sounds absolutely mad. But doesn't it make some sense? Whichever Death Eater it was that last came into the room, how can they have been so careless to have just let that wand drop out of their pocket or something?"
James stood there watching her a moment, and then he went over to pull out a chair and sit facing her. "Honey...I understand that he was your friend..."
But he didn't sound very understanding, and she couldn't help but interrupt him defensively before he finished. "You didn't know him like I did. There must still be some good in him. He owes you his life, doesn't he? And..." She stopped, sighing in resignation. "Look, don't ask me to explain it, but I just can't believe he would be able to stand aside and just let me die. I can't."
"Why not?" he asked. "Why not especially you? I mean, considering he finally figured out you're a 'Mudblood' quite a while ago," he added bitterly. "I thought that was why you stopped getting along."
"He was just angry and upset that one time he said that - no thanks to you!" she said. "He never actually felt that way about me."
"And what makes you think he doesn't now?" he asked, starting to raise his voice. "For God sakes, just look at who his master is!"
The severity and desperation with which he yelled it made her only able to stare at him in alarm for a moment, reminded fleetingly of somebody else. She was suddenly right back in school, not sixteen years old, with the other one pleading with her not to fall for it - "I didn't mean - I just don't want you to be made a fool of - He fancies you, James Potter fancies you! And he's not...everyone thinks...big Quidditch hero..."
James seemed to realize he'd gotten too worked up, and sighed. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, touching one of his temples like he had a headache. "Anyway...why does it even matter?"
"Because, James, I know perfectly well who his master is!" she said, her eyes then welling up with tears. "Don't you see? If he really did help us, then he could die for us!"
"Maybe he deserves as much."
As soon as it was out of his mouth, her face became a ghost of how it had looked before, her eyes wide open and seeing him clearly, and it was easy to tell he regretted saying it right away. But perhaps it wasn't anger showing on her face then as much as it was a sudden feeling of alienation from her husband, the realization that this was something they both could still not understand. For the first time in all the years they had been together, Severus Snape was once again something dividing them apart.
She rose slowly from the table. As she turned away, James said softly, "Lily," and reached for her, but he could be no help or comfort now. She left the kitchen without another word, just as the steaming teapot started singing a note of discord. It was left neglected for an awkwardly long moment before James even seemed to notice it, and then he finally stood up to tend to it.
Lily had never thought of herself as naive, but James sometimes said things to suggest that she was, in a most positive and admiring way. She would never dare tell him, but the other one sometimes used to say things like that, too.
The other one. His rival for her. Maybe that was one way she was a little naive, at least back then: that she never really realized until after he was gone that he had been anything like that. No, not Severus. Sev, her best friend - really. How silly.
But now when she looked back on that time of her life, his more hidden feelings for her were quite obvious to her. And they had been to James, too. Apparently he had never been completely thick-headed and imperceptive when it came to understanding other people and their emotions.
But in his unbelievable foolishness at age fifteen, he had thought a good thing to do about it was deliberately humiliate this enemy right in front of her. Surely that would make him seem more impressive, he must have thought. The stupid git. Though now she always smiled a little to remember it, unlike in her younger years.
It was like she had been Helen of Troy, an entire war being brutally fought just because of her, when that wasn't the way to win her over at all. All of it had been so pointless. She'd never wanted to be fought over by anyone.
But for Lily to have no idea about this rivalry going on, about what he suspected about Severus himself, must have made him seem like that much more of a threat to James: something appearing to her to be harmless, like a large constructed horse that warriors are going to spring out of in the middle of the night to attack from inside the protective walls. It was no wonder he now still lovingly said things to her in jest like "Of course you'd say that about her. You think badly of no one," and "Darling, what do I always tell you about talking to mysterious strangers?" and "Oh, I wouldn't play that card game with Padfoot - You're much too trusting, he'll fool you."
She would never be able to explain to him, of course, how Severus's ulterior motives in so many of the things he used to say to her and do for her did not make him a threat he'd needed to protect her from at all. The most ridiculous thing about James feeling that much more hatred for him because of him wanting her is that poor Severus probably never even thought he had much of a chance. She could not possibly believe that he'd stayed constantly at her side for so long only out of that kind of selfish desire - if there can even be such a thing as selfish love. To her, those feelings he'd had only proved further that even a man like him must have a heart in there somewhere, after all.
As she and James lay in bed that night with their backs to each other, she wondered if Helen ever felt torn between Sparta and Troy, between the past and the present. Both must have been an important part of her. She wondered if, even as she may have had no real regrets, she ever felt just a little bit guilty for all that was suffered on her behalf.
The next morning, Lily was the first to get up and sit in the kitchen. She made the tea this time, more than enough for two. James walked in silently, poured himself a cup, and looked over at her reading the Daily Prophet as he replaced the pot.
The other chair at the table was still pulled close to hers as he had arranged it the night before when talking to her, so when he took his seat they were already sitting very close. He set his cup of tea down, and she put down the paper, looking up at him acknowledingly, invitingly.
James reached over and caressed her face, the touch seeming to relax her so that her eyelids became heavy a moment and the corners of her lips tugged into the smallest smile, and then he ran his hand back through her hair in a sort of lingering way, like he couldn't touch her enough. He leaned forward as she closed her eyes a moment, kissing her softly on her forehead.
"I love you," he said.
Lily leaned into him, letting him hold her against him, and let out a quiet, tired sigh into his chest. "I love you, too."
He rubbed a hand up and down her back soothingly for a while, and then she could hear his smirk in his voice when he said, "I guess I can still get a little jealous."
"Oh, shut up, Potter," she shot back, even though she knew he'd only been half joking, and she felt his chest shake as he laughed.
Then she relaxed into him again, her eyes going back shut. "...I just wish this war could be over."
"I know," he said. "Don't worry. It will be."
Lily pulled back a little to look up into his eyes, and he just stared down at her a while, running his hand through her hair again revelingly, looking like he was in so much awe of her. As he smiled and started to shake his head, as if in an expression of disbelief of what he saw in her, she grinned up at him and giggled.
"I know," she said, able to guess what he wanted to say. "I'm so silly...I don't think badly of anyone. Right?"
"Yes," he said. "And thank God."
She raised her brow in surprise at that, and he added, "Otherwise I don't imagine you ever could have done something as ridiculous as marrying me."
This time her smile spread across her face slowly, practically against her own will, and then she laughed in a way that was simply out of a momentary, overwhelming feeling of happiness. His own face a mirror of her wide smile, he took one of her hands and pulled her up from her chair and over into his lap. For so long they just held each other, feeling their breathing matched and together, and kissed each other slowly and leisurely. For a long time, they just allowed themselves to forget everything else.
There may have been a war going on. It may have been likely to still last a very long time. But even in the most violent, dangerous times, in which even good and honest people seemed to become easily divided and turned against each other out of fear and distrust, there was still this. There was always love. And in these quiet moments they had together, at least peace and rest didn't feel impossibly far away.