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Love, in real-time.

By Zoe Cheah

Romance

Love, in real time.

Six weeks after graduation, he’s standing on the doorstep of some unknown building, address clutched in his hand. He knocks three times, and waits for an answer.

The door opens ever so slightly.

“What’s the password?”

“Knitting needles,” He replies promptly, wondering, for about the fourth time, Why knitting needles?

The door opens, and McGonagall herself is at the door.

“Mister Potter,” She says, primly, “Come in.”

He walks in, and notices straight away that his mates, along with Lily herself are there, seated in chairs around the table, and he swells with pride. Light refracts off the chandelier, illuminating fractions of the dim room. The house is slightly older, and fashioned with the air of someone who was probably an aristocrat with a huge regard for carpeted floors and high ceilings.

James takes a seat next to them, waving off their cheers and greetings.

“You’re late,” Lily reminds him fondly. He’d seen her two hours ago, and he’d lied about needing to grab some supplies from Diagon Alley in order to make the inconspicuous trip here. All is forgotten, though, as she leans against his shoulder and begins chatting to Remus about the latest novel Bathilda Bagshot published. James turns to his left and sees Sirius grinning.

“We did it, Prongs, we made it into the Order,” He stage-whispers, sotto voce, and James can’t help but return the infectious grin.

“It’s about high time,” He replies, tipping backwards onto his chair. Merlin, everything makes them feel so repressed and old, but they’re only seventeen- eighteen. Everybody is convinced that they’re the only hope for this world, and that they’ll sober up with responsibility, but war doesn’t make heroes.  

It makes soldiers.

“..I’ve found my one true calling, Peter," Sirius carries on, starry eyed and dramatic," Imprisoning and executing members of my beloved family. It’s the dream job I’ve been looking for.”

“You won’t be dreaming of anything unless you shut up and listen to what’s being said up front,” Someone says, and James blinks in shock. It’s Mad Eye Moody, right down to the grisly hair and glass eye.

“You were told to come here in secret,” He begins, scanning the room. “Look at the people around you, would you trust them?”

With my life, he thinks.

“Yet, they did not say a single thing to you about attending this meeting. They could have been lying to your face about the food they ate, who they met last week, or even about where their true 
alliances lie. So firstly- and lastly: trust no one.”
It’s a statement that hammers home, and he knows Lily’s shaken by it too, because she reaches under the table. and gives his hand a squeeze.

“Don’t leave me,” She whispers jokingly, but it doesn't meet her eyes.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” He replies back, under Moody’s watchful eye, and he is rewarded when her lips curl into a ghostly smile.      

                                                         *
Sometimes, they forget that war has a funny way of ruining things.

As the fight begins and more lives end, they end up spending less time together. She’ll wake up in the morning to an empty house and a short note tinged with apology and love. Other times, she’s 
luckier and wakes up to James himself.

But the battles are long and arduous, and it leaves them all weary, with bone-numbing grief. They should be exploring the world, making lives for themselves, not engaged in a war that’s murdering more people than she can count.

They’re settled on an old couch now, resigned, bloody and bruised.

“Screw it,” She hears James murmur to himself, and then he hoists her off the seat. 

“What-“

“Let’s get out. Meet you at Ogden’s,” He tells Sirius, before he pulls her in close and side-Apparates her- and him- away.

They land in a bar.

Remus orders Firewhiskey (who knew he drunk?) and she gulps it down hastily, sputtering and coughing but grinning because it burns her insides just right, and the heat that licks her ribs and shoots up her throat to remind her that she’s still alive.

“Alright, Evans!” Sirius cheers, and she throws her head back and laughs, actually laughs, drinking it all in.  

The night trails on like that, in a blur of colours and light. A song (she's forgotten which one it was) comes on momentarily, and she recalls James leading her on the dance floor, trying to remember where to put his feet and when to twirl her, and both of them just failing- horribly- when they fall apart gasping for air at the sight of Peter slow dancing with Sirius.

It’s in this haze of euphoria that she takes a close look at him, for the first time in days. His hazel eyes are sparkling as he tracks his friends’ movements, cheeks flushed, finally content and carefree. 
It’s in this moment that she falls in love with him again, and she wonders, not for the last time, if this was the fairy-tale ending she’d been looking for her whole life. (Not that she’d ever tell him.)Call her idealistic; she wouldn’t have cared. The world was falling apart, anyway.

He’s looking- no- staring, at her now, slight concern showing on his face. “Lily?”

“You need to work on your dancing, Potter,” She scolds, in her best Professor McGonagall impression, and the laugh that echoes in her ears after she kisses him is worth it.
                                                        *

It’s not all sunshine and daisies in the world, though. There is more grey than colour in the skies, and everyone knows that the war isn’t going to end anytime soon.

It’s late at night, and green streaks light up the sky more than the stars ever have. It was supposed to be a stakeout for a four man team, but it soon turned into an ambush. They’ve called in cavalry, but there are anti-Apparition wards everywhere, and they’re soon cornered.

James hits the ground running, dirt painted on his skin; the ruddy colour of blood mixing in with the 
brown, staining his jeans. They're hopelessly outnumbered, and he can't possibly bring himself to look behind, because he'll be staring at Fabian Prewett's lifeless, glassy eyes.

"Moony!" He yells, as he watches his friend narrowly dodge death, "There's too many over here!"

"What about Prewett?" Comes the reply.

He can't bring himself to answer, just focuses on firing hexes back and staying alive. Remus grows quiet too, the realisation adding to the sombre atmosphere in the air. After some maneuvering and gritty sprinting, they wind up together, stood back to back, wand to wand, equal pairs. 

“There’s a building on the left of the area, about a few metres from here,” Remus hisses, as they carefully circle their captors, “We can create an explosion, and then run off into the woods there, and make a U-turn to it. I’m pretty sure it’s outside the ward radius.”

“How exactly are we going to create an explosion?”

His friend looks at him sheepishly. “I’ve got a Dungbomb in my back pocket. It’s been there since the end of Seventh Year.” 

In any normal situation, he’d have given Moony a look, because it’s Remus, of all people, but for now he just thanks his lucky stars and shakes hands with fate. 

“Alright. On the count of one, two, and three…”

The bomb is thrown to the ground. There’s a split second, a flash, and then noxious smoke pours out, making their eyes water and gasp for air. With no time to lose, they break off in a run, leaping 
and jumping over stray branches that seem to reach out for them at every turn. Remus is leading the way, his wand-light illuminating the dense foliage ahead. He counts to about nine seconds before he can hear them, hot on their heels and desperate, firing curses that never strike home. There are 
crashes as they enter the undergrowth, coupled with shouting, 

“Find them!”
He can hear his heart beating; hear his breathing in the quiet. It’s far too loud in his ears, but that stops as soon as they reach the derelict building, looming over them with a silent warning.

“James, we have to-“Remus begins, but he’s cut off with a scream that resounds from the upper floors. 

“You stay here,” He tells him. “I’ll go check.”

He rushes up the flight of stairs as the sobbing gets louder, increasing in desperation, “Help me, please!” James knows he’s never going to forgive himself if he doesn’t save her, because his brain will always taunt, what if it was Lily? Are you going to let her die?
So, it comes as a bit of a shock when he rounds the last corner and comes face to face with Voldermort himself. 

His hand tightens around his wand, but it’s of no use anyway. 
“James Potter,” Voldemort sneers, “Always playing the over-achieving hero. Reckless and dashing; my, my, my, such a perfect fit. Send my regards to your wife.”

“We’re not married.”

James is met with a piercing stare, and he finds himself unable to hold his gaze. “I think you know what I mean,” His enemy says quietly. “This is why I’m going to offer you a proposition.”

“I don’t want anything from you.”

He raises his hands in shock, with danger in his reddish eyes, “Don’t be too hasty, Mister Potter, you should listen to what I’m about to tell you. I’m offering you, and your wife, a position in my ranks.”

“She’s a Muggle-born,” James spits, incensed, “Isn’t that the species you’re trying to eradicate?”

“I am willing to over-look her lack of purity, because she is of exceptional talent and use to me,” He replies. “What do you say?”

“I think you’re insane.” He’s disgusted, furious. “She’s not impure- it’s only because you filthy fanatics associate and taint her lineage with disease and poison. We don’t want anything from you, and we would never join you.”

“I know you fear for her safety,” Voldemort persists, “You watch her all the time on the battlefield. Granted, you would take a bullet for the blood-traitors you call friends, but Lily Evans? You would do anything for her. Even suffer a fate worse than death. You can’t stop death in this world, Potter, but I can prevent it. No harm will come to her, if you join me.”

He hesitates for a second, and hates himself for it.

“No.”

Voldemort’s eyes narrow. “So be it,” He snaps, and there’s a whirl of black smoke as he disappears. 

All James can do is stare at the floor where he was, when his attention is diverted to the sound of crackling coming from below. Its fire; Fiendfyre, and it soon licks the walls and chases his feet. 

There’s no way to run, and the only option he sees is the open window, inviting him to jump out. 

He steadies himself, plunges headfirst in his downwards one-way trip to Earth.

There’s a shriek echoing upwards. ”Arresto Momentum!” Someone yells, and he finds himself lowered, slowly, safely.

Lily runs into his arms, tear-streaked and red eyed. “Are you trying to kill me?” She screams, burying her face in his shoulder, “Don’t you dare do that again!”

He makes her eyes meet his, stares at the beautiful emerald.

“I won’t.” And then, “I promise.”
                                                         *

She rolls over in the tangled blanket, wincing as the sunlight hits her face and forces her awake. The smell of breakfast assaults her senses, and she slowly sits upright. She remembers what happened the night before, and what James told her about Voldemort, but it’s alright now. They have each other, they are safe, it’s their day off after a horrendously late night, and everything can go about as smoothly as it can go.
And that’s the melancholic thing about life. It goes on. It doesn’t matter if they don’t realise it; the minutes creep into hours and then hours into days. The sun might be out today, but she knows that the clouds will soon gather. They’ll enjoy it while they can.

She pads downstairs, half awake, and she sees James setting the table for breakfast. 

Since when did he cook?

“I-ah- Lily,” He fumbles, running a hand through his hair, fidgeting nervously. “Sit.”

She watches him fill her mug with tea through bleary eyes. 

“James?”

“So, Lily, I, um, the thing is…” He trails off, and she stares in confusion as he slowly gets down on a bended knee.

The sleep-induced part of her brain tunes out his speech, trying to make sense of the whole thing; is he, is he... oh? Oh. Oh. 

“…Lily, I know it’s early, but- look at me- this is me trying to propose here,” James says forlornly, the ring clasped in between the folds of the velveteen box, in all its bejewelled glory.

She laughs, hand flying to her mouth, and despite all of the happy endings in the world, she’s infinitely content with just this. She bends down, kisses him soundly on the lips.

“And this is me saying yes, you idiot.”


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