His last thought, of course, was of Lily Evans.
His hands shaking slightly, his heart thumping erratically in his chest like it's trying to fill up the last meager space of his heart's long set beating quota—he stood as erect and stubborn and chivalrous as ever, up to the last second, and his last thought and breath and heartbeat were all for her.
Impossibly beautiful, endlessly brilliant, and in the end miraculously his...only to be taken away by unfortunate, inescapable circumstances surrounding both their names, and their son's name, and all the worlds they are a part of—the big, the small, muggle, magical, home, family...crippling all chances of future that they would have had.
He hadn't really given afterlife that much thought, but he was sure of one thing: he couldn't quite imagine how it'd be like to live without her.
But he was James Potter, and he would manage, he would have to, because although the thought of not being with Lily scared him more than anything else, he concluded she was far too wonderful to rid the world of her existence. Even in the afterlife, he thought, if one even existed, to look down upon a world without Lily Evans was just unfathomable.
He only hoped his death would save her.
He thought of Harry, a silent apology resonating in his brain, and it was a feeble hope, but he wanted it to reach out to the crying infant upstairs, to that flying boy in a broom, to that brave, spectacular man James would never get to see, but who his son would someday undoubtedly be.
He thought of Sirius.
He thought of his friends.
He thought of everything he was leaving, of this one final desperate wish that they would win—please, please, win—one way or another.
But most of all, he thought of Lily Evans, whose eyes and smile and laugh and lifemade him brave now, despite everything, and before all was gone he thought of how the universe was kind enough to grant him one last, tragically ironic favor—the otherwise improbable but fortunate fact that the killing curse was the precise color of her eyes.
A flash of hazel, a doubletake, and then that distinct, gorgeous smile—marred in the slightest by the sigh of relief that she cannot hear from this distance.
As her strikingly green eyes meet his gaze from across the room, the first thing Lily's brain comes up with is that James Potter keeps his promises.
It's a fact Lily has never really noted about him before, and that's saying something, because she seems to have made it a point to note things about him on every passing day of her life. It took her a while to realize that she was, in fact, attached to him. But it can no longer be denied that he affected her the way no one else in the whole universe can, and now even he knows it.
She didn't really have any choice. They were surrounded, and she thought they were going to die, and she couldn't stomach the thought of going without letting him know how she felt about him.
Maybe someone out there really has it all planned out, because everything took an excruciatingly slow pace between them—from him realizing he's not doing himself a favor with going about and around declaring his undying love, to her finally accepting the truth she was too scared to face.
She's in love with him.
She takes a tentative step forward and thinks with an absolute, irrevocable certainty: yes, she's in love with him, and it's going to stay that way for a while, because she's Lily Evans, Gryffindor, a lioness and a flower and a proud, dauntless muggleborn, and she's in love with him.
She's Lily Evans, and he's James Potter—and she is so done running.
"Lily, take Harry and go! It's him! Go! Run! I'll hold him off—!"
Wandless, a nagging voice in his head taunted. Hold him off wandless?
Who would stand a chance?
You're going to die...
He had always jokingly announced to the general public—and sometimes quietly to himself, in the many instances wherein she had frustrated him and walked away—how she, someday, was going to be the death of him.
Once, in what both felt like forever and a second ago, he had even told her.
Exhausted, ruffled, and properly looking like she'd just had the scare of her life—which reflected how he had probably looked, too, considering they had just survived an unexpected attack together that night, on Slughorn's Halloween party seventh year—she still had somehow managed to look marvelous after everything, if not even more real and breathtaking and just...even more Lily, with her hair as fiery as the echoes of the recent battle in her eyes, her dress torn but her courage far from the same.
That night, as he could recall amidst the hazy mayhem of spells thrown and pleas screamed, she had told him she loved him. He had been too busy saving both their lives and marvelling at the truth of it to respond, but he remembered feeling like the luckiest bloke in all of the world, cuts and hexes and wounds and chaos and all.
"You're going to be the death of me" was what he had said the next time he'd seen her, about half an hour later, on a dim dance floor littered with torn fabrics and fallen streamers and assorted rubble, after he had gone to find his friends and she had gone to alert the higher Order people.
She had rolled her eyes (as expected), but unlike the countless times before that, she had extended her hand that one time, and wrapped her slender fingers around his calloused ones. She wouldn't agree if he told her, of course, but she made himfeel safe. She made him feel like all was right in the world. She made him feel okay, even with a war looming and a maniac at loose, even when the air smelled of smoke and blood and dust.
"I love you, too," he had answered, half an hour late, but it had made her smile nonetheless. "But really, Evans, you're going to be declared as my cause of death one day."
He had no idea then how literal the universe actually planned it to be.
He was going to die for Lily Evans.
The thought almost made him smile.
You're going to be the death of me.
He sprinted down the stairs in what would be his last attempt at playing hero, his heart aching over the fact that there was no stubborn, sardonic, adorable redhead to smile up at him or hold his hand now.
His fingers fit perfectly in hers.
"You're going to be the death of me."
She ignores his comment and shuffles forward to lean against him, her other hand rising to rest on his shoulder as his settles on her waist.
"I love you, too."
Of course he loves her, too.
It's unbelievable and beautiful and tragic, but most importantly, it's true. He never gave up on her. She was impossible and infuriating and difficult, she still can be, but he stuck around and loved her all the same.
Lily thinks she has never felt as fond of anyone else's heartbeat as she finds she is now with James'.
"Last dance," she mutters against his chest, tears welling up in her eyes as the fear and exhaustion catch up and the adrenaline rush steadily deteriorates.
"I know," he answers, drawing her closer and taking a small step sideways. She can hear his smile as he takes the lead. "I promised, didn't I?"
There's no music, but they sway slowly to the sound of their heartbeats and sighs and footsteps—because when James Potter makes a promise to Lily Evans, unless there's absolutely no more way in hell for him to deliver, and unless not even the tiniest, even seemingly impossible loophole is spotted by the best that his in-born faulty eyes could do, he will make it a point, always and every time, to keep true to his word.
There were no words that would quite capture what exactly he felt for her, because, in his opinion, even the word love had already been thrown enough for him to incorporate himself and Lily with it, even the word love had already been used enough and carelessly by so many people that he, James Potter, who sought to stand out on any given crowd, who had always been inevitably more than just a name and a face, thought it would be an utter disgrace for them to settle for it.
Like right now, with nothing but the sound of Harry's breathing and the faint, familiar symphony of nightly creatures wafting in through their open window, with Lily in his arms and the memory of one fateful night gracing both their consciousness at the same time, even the word love felt weak and inadequate in comparison to how he felt. Peaceful. Hopeful. He felt...well, alright, for lack of the existence of a more appropriate word, fine.
He felt in love.
He was in love.
"Promise me something," she whispered suddenly.
He didn't stop moving, his feet shuffling idly against the floor, remembering the first time she'd told him she loved him, that last dance from that Halloween night. "Hm?"
"We'll survive this, yeah?" she said, and the fear and uncertainty in her voice broke his heart. "We'll be fine. You, me, Harry. Someday. We'll be okay. Everything will be okay."
It took him a couple of seconds to answer.
"I won't let anything happen to you," he said finally, pushing her away gently so he could see her face. They both knew it wasn't quite the answer to her question. "You'll be fine."
They stayed that way for a moment, staring at each other in silence; with him silently imploring her to ignore the stark difference of saying "you" instead of "we", his mind memorizing her face, her voice, her everything.
She nodded and pulled him into a tight embrace, conceding, and he stroked her hair and kissed her on the forehead.
She sobbed once and he sighed once, and, over her shoulder, he saw Harry turn in his sleep—before they both heard the unmistakable sound of the door creaking ominously downstairs.
A cloud hovers over them, heavy and ominous, as the other side openly declares a war.
But if only for the short duration of tonight, of this rare, solitary moment with James, Lily's mind distracts herself by recollecting her earlier thought, an epiphany of sorts on this messy-haired, Quidditch-obsessed, loud, arrogant prat—who turned out to be the love of her life.
James Potter keeps his promises.
Whether or not it's because she hasn't really given him enough chances to keep his casual, thrown out oaths of affection in the corridors, he does keep them. Like now, standing here with her, worn out and battered, but still smiling that ridiculously gorgeous smile that makes her want to both whack him on the chest and snog him senseless...he's fulfilling the promise he gave her earlier that night, the last dance, the best dance, the dance he literally fought for, not just tonight, but in all those years she's persistently shunned him off.
James Potter keeps his promises, and as the darkness swallows them, as his eyes reflect all meager sources of light available, as he holds her close, he gives her more than just the night's last dance.
He gives her the promise of a miracle, because they survived, and because despite all odds, they still—and forever will—have each other.
"...and they lived happily ever after," he concluded, feeling foolish, but nevertheless smiling in affection and self-content to find Harry finally asleep in his cot. He got up to his feet to stretch, laying the book down on a nearby table, running his fingers through his hair.
"Not bad, Potter," someone from the doorway said, and he whipped around, his crooked smile already in place.
"How long have you been there?" he asked, as hushed as she had spoken, leaning against the window and crossing his arms.
"Long enough to know you're a fantastic storyteller." She walked over to him and gave him a quick kiss on the lips, which he eagerly returned. And then she moved to stand beside him, looping her arm around his and resting her head on his shoulder.
They watched Harry sleep, and although he didn't know, they were both imagining the life they would have once all this was over—the little Quidditch player this little bloke would be, the birthday parties he would have, the autumns and summers and winters and springs, his first word and first kiss and first love, the tears Lily would surely shed as they both waved at the eleven-year-old kid disappearing along with the scarlet train, the victories James would be proud of, the letters he would send and they would read together, the reprimands, the laughter, the tears, the Potters.
They both watched their son in silence, wishing him sweet dreams, and it was the kind of silence James loved, the kind of silence that lasted long but never quite long enough.
He turned sideways to look at his wife. "Hey, Lily."
She mumbled something in response, lingering a second on Harry before turning to him. "Yeah?"
"I love you."
She smiled. "Remember the first time I told you that?"
A chuckle escaped his lips, before he took a step back and made a theatrical gesture of bowing down and offering her his hand. "Can I have this dance, Mrs. Potter?"
She rolled her eyes, just like years ago, but she took his hand all the same.
"Last dance," she said; fondly remembering, unknowingly foretelling.
He twirls her once, and she deliberately ignores the remnants of that night's demise, drowning all the worries and fears in his eyes as she faces him again.
"So," he begins. "You love me."
Not a question. She raises her eyebrows, but doesn't say anything.
"Does this mean we're...?"
The question hangs in the air, and for some reason, it makes her chuckle. "I'm all yours, Potter," she says, and then she stands on her tiptoes to kiss him.
"Still mine, Evans?" he asked her after sometime, as they swayed on the spot, her chin digging on his shoulder.
"Forever and ever, yeah," she replied, her voice as soft as their muffled footsteps, as the sound of Harry's slow breathing, as the autumn wind blowing through the changing, dying leaves in Godric's Hollow's yard.
She swore forever again and for one last time, a few Halloweens later, in a voice as soft as the rustle of robes against the cold, hard pavement.
They break apart and she catches her breath, his forehead thudding gently against her own.
"I loved you always, you know," he says, just as breathless, just as happy. "Never stopped." Like she doesn't know. "Never will." Like she doubts it.
"Forever and ever then," she agrees, and it reaches out and echoes through his consciousness later—on a different Halloween night; much, much later but still so very soon, too soon—reverberating in his brain and his bones and his heart and his soul, loud and clear as if she is there, as if it's her and her eyes and his Lily in front of him instead of a curse, a shred of infinity seconds before he hits the floor and all light is gone from his eyes.