A/N: Continuity note, I changed Severus' patronus to a Salamander based on the Mugglenet explanations.
This one was hard to write, enjoy.
A sudden light in the dark, curtain drawn room caused them to disentangle themselves from one another.
"What was that?" Lily whispered in disappointment.
Severus sprang from the bed, hurrying to dress himself. "Zahrah, it's Lord Voldemort." Lily followed, dressing in a similar urgency as he continued. "He's in the Ministry."
"That's not far from here!" She gasped.
Another blue light filled the room, a phoenix this time, informing of an emergency meeting. With a quick spell, Lily smoothed her rumpled hair and the two of them disapparated together. They arrived in the grassy field on which the Order's headquarters sat and filed into the building with the mass of other Order members. They stood around, waiting for Dumbledore's instruction. Zahrah and the Aurors were the only ones missing, clearly with the Dark Lord.
"Lord Voldemort has infiltrated the Ministry. Our source is telling us he's attempting to get into the Department of Mysteries although he hasn't disclosed what he's searching for. Aurors have already been sent to apprehend him, but I'll need several others on stand by. We don't know how many Death Eaters are there and don't want to be caught without enough fighters. Any volunteers?"
Lily turned to look at Severus, asking with her eyes. He shook his head no which she seemed to understand. An abundance of hands were raised, the Marauders among them. Lily's hand however remained by her side.
"Very well. You three wait in the lobby." He pointed to several of them. "You four descend to the bottom floor. The rest of you wait here for further instruction." The eight of them, Dumbledore included, disapparated, leaving just a few stragglers behind.
"I thought she didn't fight." Lily asked under her breath.
"She doesn't. However, she does have experience with unusual types of magic. I'm assuming Voldemort expects her to lead them wherever he asks."
"Not if she can help it. Well find out soon enough."
Lily reached down, intertwining her fingers with his. "Shall we sit? There's no point standing around." She conjured a velvet chair that was just large enough for the two of them. He sat first with her curling beside him. It seemed they weren't the only ones prepared to stay there for sometime as around them Order members conjured their own furniture or retreated into the back rooms for some rest. The warning had come just after midnight and many of them had been pulled from their beds. As a result, the building was filled with a tired silence, no one caring to interact with one another.
Severus frowned, noticing something across the room. "Lily." He shook her gently.
"Hmm?" She asked already half asleep.
"Isn't Alice Longbottom an Auror?"
"Then why is she here?"
Lily lifted her head from his shoulder, following his gaze across the room. Sure enough, the petite brunette sat in a secluded corner chewing nervously on her fingernails. Lily left Severus' side, strolling across the room to check on her.
"Alice?" She whispered. "Are you okay?"
Alice turned her head towards Lily, taking her in with wet eyes. "Frank is out there, I don't like not knowing what is going on."
"Why aren't you with him? Dumbledore said-"
"I can't be. It's safer for me to stay here." She glanced around her, checking for anyone who might be listening in. "I'm pregnant."
Lily smiled brightly, leaning down to hug her friend. "Why don't you go home, get some rest?"
"No, that'd be even worse. I'm fine, really."
"Come join Severus and I at least."
"I'm not certain he would forgive me, the two of you looked so cozy together."
Lily looked over her shoulder, catching Severus' eye before looking back at Alice. "Nonsense, come on."
Alice followed reluctantly a few steps behind. Only when they were close to Severus did they speak again. "Don't tell anyone, okay? We want to keep it a secret a little while longer."
Lily smiled and nodded, agreeing that she wouldn't. She returned to her place at Severus' side and Alice took an empty seat beside them. There was tension in the air, mostly between Severus and Alice who always had had a different idea of what was right for Lily, much to Lily's displeasure. Despite him being here, proving that he was on their side, Alice apparently still didn't feel comfortable around him.
"Why didn't you volunteer?" She asked, a little snide.
"For the Ministry? Its best that I lay low for now." He explained with a cautious look at Lily.
"Your friend went."
"I'm afraid she didn't have much of a choice in the matter. She was the one who tipped off Dumbledore."
"Oh." Alice blushed a little. "She isn't from around here, is she?"
"Cyprus, but she moved around a lot as a child."
Lily listened with interest. "She went to Durmstrang then?"
"Does her family support You-know-who?"
Before Severus' could answer the room was rocked with apparitions. The few stragglers that had remained formed a circle around the returned fighters. Lily watched enviously as Severus pushed through the small crowd in search of Zahrah. Several conversations filled the room as those that had stayed asked what had happened. Severus came back to her suddenly, eyes wide.
"She's not here."
A searing pain shot through her head, drifting down her spine. Only a soft light flickered in the corner, the rest of the room bathed in darkness, but it was enough to make her head pound. On the edge of her vision she could spot Voldemort, pacing dangerously in front of her. His wand was held tightly in his hand, but it remained at his side, waiting for her to test him.
"My Lord…" She winced. "I thought it would be best, for you to have a shot at the Headmaster. I didn't intend to stop your plans."
"No?" The high voice called. "How can I be so certain? Perhaps you've been fighting with him all along." His wand was aimed at her suddenly, but he didn't speak. She waited for the cruciatus, knowing it was his spell of choice. Instead there was an audible snap in her ankle causing her to cry out. "I will tell you what I want and you will do just that. Should you ever step out of line again I won't be as forgiving."
"Yes, my Lord. I'm eternally indebted to you." She could see the satisfied smirk on his face despite the shadows.
"Perhaps we should test you once more, see how worthy you are to bare my mark."
"I am worthy." She bowed her head. "Tell me how I can prove it to you."
"I will let you know when I decide on your test. You won't be invited to our meetings for some time, I can't have you risking us again."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
"Its only a matter of time until tonight's events are leaked to the Prophet. If you hadn't been such a fool we could have kept this under wraps, preferably indefinitely. Until I decide what to do with you, I think it would be wise to give you a taste of what waits if you betray us again."
Her heart seized in terror, knowing what was coming. She opened her mouth to reply, to act obedient in the off chance he'd change his mind, but she was never given that chance. Instead of the words she had planned, a scream was ripped from her body and she fell backwards. Her head connected with the floor and she prayed for unconsciousness. Every nerve in her being danced to the cruciatus curse as he stood over her, smiling mirthlessly.
In the pain, her weak occlumency barriers came tumbling down. She closed her eyes both in torment and fear if the Dark Lord decided to use legilimency. She was unable to keep out the images that floated in her brain, resulting in a process more painful than what she was experiencing physically.
At first it was the fire, smoke filled her lungs as if she was there again and she heard the screams coming from inside. She fought to free herself from whoever was holding her back, but found it pointless. Her captor was much stronger than she was. Stop! Make it stop! Take me instead! She remembered her own voice begging. Slowly the heart wrenching screech began to die and that was almost worse. She kicked back again, connecting with what she guessed was a kneecap. The grip around her waist loosened momentarily, but it was too late. Now, as she watched her home and everything inside burn to the ground the cries for help stopped.
Severus paced his living room nervously, waiting. He knew where Zahrah was being held and he had a fairly good idea what was happening to her at that moment. Remus had seen her there, had told him she wasn't dead. That left only one other possibility and Severus was helpless to stop it. He was terrified for her. He'd been on the receiving end of Lord Voldemort's fury several times, had experienced the pain he could inflict. But, this was different. Zahrah had outright betrayed him, she'd be lucky to return home at all.
Reaching the end of his small circle he turned, heading back the other direction when Lily grabbed him, forcing him to stop. "You can't make the time pass any faster, Sev."
"I can't just sit there and do nothing!"
"No, but you can't find her either. Just stop and let me help you."
He plopped down beside her, holding his head in hands while Lily rubbed his back. His knee bounced up and down in anticipation when there was a sudden pop in the room. His stood up instantly, barely catching her before she fell. "Lily, can you make us some tea?" He asked hurriedly. She nodded, leaving the two of them alone.
Zahrah was sobbing uncontrollably as he lifted her from the ground. He sat back down, cradling her protectively as she cried against his shirt. "What hurts? What do I need to fix?" He didn't even know where to begin. The sleeves of her robes were soaked with what he assumed was her own blood. Even her face was dotted in scratches, a particularly bad one across her left eye had caused it to swell. Then there was her ankle which was turned at an unnatural angle. He removed his wand, going to start there when she spoke again.
"He made me remember."
Severus paused, wand hand hovering above her. "Does he know?"
"I-I don't know." She spoke between sobs. "It seemed worse, more realistic than usual.
"Oh, Zar." He hugged her tighter.
"I just want to forget, I want…"
He sighed. "I want to too, let me fix you and I can take care-" His speech was halted by her kissing him tenderly. He pulled back, breaking the contact.
"I made a mistake." She whimpered
"You can't do this! It was your decision to end things, not mine and it's too late now to change that." He shifted her off of him to stand. "I'm going to grab some potions, I'll…I'll be back." When he straightened he found Lily watching them from the doorway, a steaming cup in her hand. He groaned inwardly, knowing she had seen what just happened.
Severus approached Lily, taking the mug from her and passing it to Zahrah before pushing Lily down the hall and into his bedroom.
"Maybe I should go." She looked to be on the edge of tears herself which didn't surprise him after what had happened with James.
"Lils, please don't. I just need to patch her up and we can talk about-"
"What's there to talk about? It's obvious she still cares about you and I'm not sure I believe that you don't feel the same."
"I can't do this now. The hell she just went through has nothing to do with me. Just give me five minutes, okay?"
"Okay." She conceded and he smiled in a gesture of thanks before snatching several vials from his desk and returning to the front of his flat. He was grateful Lily didn't follow him, the situation was becoming increasingly difficult.
"Here." Severus shoved a dark green bottle into Zahrah's hand and she downed it quickly before he passed her the second and third one. He trained the tip of his wand above her ankle, humming a deep chant. He continued up her body, watching the gashes stitch close and the swelling diminish. It wasn't long before she began to look normal again.
He wrapped an arm beneath her, supporting her as she stood. "Stay off of that for a few days. I don't know what spell he used to cause such a messy break, it might take longer to heal." Zahrah nodded and the two of them hobbled to her room where he helped her change out of her bloody robes and cleaned her off. With some help she slipped beneath the covers.
Severus sat beside her, reaching up to touch the side of her head. "It's still hard for me too. I don't know how to make it better."
"You can't, Sev'rus." She dropped her still teary gaze.
Severus passed her the final potion, a sleeping draught. "You know where to find me, but I expect that won't be necessary with this."
After a muttered thank you she downed it in one gulp, anxious for the dreamless sleep. Once he was sure she was drifting off he snuck from the room and into the kitchen.
Lily had curled up on his bed, waiting for the explanation he had promised her. She heard the door reopen just a few minutes after he had left her waiting. He came in with a large bottle of fire whiskey in one hand and an a carton of ice cream in the other. It had been two weeks since they started dating, during all their moments together she had witnessed the alcoholism, but he'd been more careful to hide his eating habits from her, even if she did notice when her cupboards had been raided. The fact that he had brought both vices when he returned informed her whatever it was he had to share, it wasn't going to be easy for him.
Because of that, she let him take him his time. She didn't push for the answers she so desperately wanted. Severus sat beside her, the mattress sagging under his weight. Lily watched him uncomfortably as he drank from the bottle and scooped the ice cream into his mouth. She was starting to wonder if she'd made a mistake. He seemed to have a problem with obsessions. First it had been with dark magic and You-know-who and now this. He kept digging himself holes he couldn't get out of alone and part of that scared her. "Are you going to talk to me?"
Severus nodded, setting the carton to the side. "I can't put it off forever."
With a glance at the bottle still in his hand she spoke. "Why is she here then? Why are you living together if you're just friends?"
"We went through a lot, I'm afraid we'll always be connected."
"Is that what she meant about remembering?"
"How much did you hear?" Severus asked with narrowed eyes.
"Everything, I believe. It doesn't take long to make tea." She hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but hadn't exactly stopped herself either.
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "I haven't been completely honest with you. I agree that I should have, but it's easier said than done." She stiffened, straightening up, but keeping silent. "I told you that all of this was about Mum, and while that was the beginning of it, there's so much more to the story."
Her patience was running thin and his stalling didn't help.
"I left Cokeworth to travel shortly after it happened and met Zahrah a month and a half into the trip. It was just meant to be a one night stand, I left the next morning before she even woke up, but she tracked me down a couple weeks later." Severus sighed. "I got her pregnant, Lils." He looked at her carefully, attempting to gauge her reaction, but she didn't let the hurt show. "Well, the pregnancy was fine, we stayed together the entire time, settling down in Hungary as the end grew close."
She remembered how Severus had told her they were only together a few months. Apparently that meant at least nine. She also remembered the mention of "Hungary" when she'd witnessed a fight.
"It was a girl, Saffiah. Not long after she was born we-." His voice cracked and he cleared his throat. "We were attacked. I wasn't there at the time. They burned down our home…she…she was still inside."
Lily blinked, taking a moment to register the weight of what he was saying. "Severus, I-"
"No, no pity." He shook his head vigorously. Unsure how to comfort him she simply held his hand while he spoke. "Things between us ended after that. She resented me for a long time, for not being there when it happened. It was a blow we simply couldn't survive. It's been just over a year now, but she's still heartbroken, we both are. After tonight she just needed a little extra comfort. She's simply coped with it differently, certainly better, than I have."
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
"It's a large burden to bare and an even larger one to say out loud."
"Do you have any idea who it was?"
"That attacked us? Most likely a branch of Death Eaters. We don't hear of attacks outside of England, but they certainly happen. The Dark Lord's reach is bigger than most people realize. I don't think they knew she was one of them, but at this point we don't understand any of it."
"Come here." Lily opened her arms, gesturing for him to get closer and he did, Lily was propped against the headboard and he leaned back, laying his head on her chest. She crossed her arms over him. "I know you've been through more than the average person in such a short amount of time, but I'm worried about you." She bent forward slightly, kissing him lovingly.
"I'll work on it." He promised quietly as they split apart.