A sudden light in the dark, curtain drawn room caused them to disentangle themselves from one another beneath the sheets. The twisted, mass of fabric was flung off them as Severus sprang from the bed in response.
"What was that?" Lily whispered in disappointment, her voice still husky from sleep.
He fiddled with the buttons on his robes, dressing himself in a hurry. "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 them both 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 small crowd of other Order members, each ambling in confusion. They stood around, waiting for Dumbledore's instruction. Zahrah and the few aurors that joined their group were the only ones missing, clearly with the Dark Lord.
Dumbledore spoke immediately, garnering everyone's attention with a tone of urgency. "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 standby." He looked at them all in question. "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 if he was going to go. He shook his head no and she faced forward again, keeping any further curiosity to herself. An abundance of hands were raised, the Marauders among them. Lily's hand however remained by her side, to Severus' relief.
"Very well. You three wait in the lobby." Dumbledore 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 when the remaining members meandered away from them.
"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."
"Will she?" There was a hint of uncertainty in her voice.
"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. They made no attempt to hide their budding relationship from the others.
It seemed they weren't the only ones prepared to stay there for some time 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, other than Severus and Lily cared to interact with another person.
As the minutes ticked by he frowned, noticing something across the room. "Lily." He shook her gently.
"Hmm?" She asked already half asleep. She straightened her position to meet his eyes.
He gestured to a far chair with a nod of his head. "Isn't Alice Longbottom an auror?"
"Then why is she here?"
Lily lifted her head from his shoulder, following his gaze. Sure enough, the petite brunette sat in a secluded corner chewing nervously on her fingernails. Lily left Severus' side in interest, strolling across the room to check on her.
"Alice?" She whispered with a peek over her shoulder. "Are you okay?"
Alice turned her head towards Lily, taking her in with wet eyes. "Frank is out there, it's hard 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 as Lily had before, checking for anyone who might be listening in. The act was pointless. Their number was small, and the order members were spread about the house. "I'm pregnant." She admitted finally.
Lily smiled, showing each of her teeth and leaning down to hug her friend. "Why don't you go home, get some rest?"
"No, that'd be even worse, to be alone. I'm fine, really."
"Come pull a chair up to Severus and I. We'll keep you company."
Alice hesitated, her brow furrowing. "I'm not certain he would forgive me, the two of you looked so cozy together."
Lily looked over her shoulder, catching Severus' eye. She couldn't admit he'd be entirely happy about the idea. "Nonsense, come on."
She walked away, giving the other woman no choice but to follow and she did. "Don't tell anyone, okay? We want to keep it a secret a little while longer." Alice gave Severus a narrowed glance as the whispered hurried from her mouth before he was close enough to hear them.
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, breaking the awkward silence.
"For the Ministry? It's not an opportune time for me to be in the presence of death eaters." He gave lily a cautious look.
"Your friend went." Her chin was lifted in arrogant defiance as though he hadn't thought of that himself.
"I'm afraid, being a Death Eater herself, she didn't have much of a choice in the matter. She was the one who tipped off Dumbledore."
"Oh." Alice blushed a little before changing the subject. "She isn't from around here, is she? Certainly not from Hogwarts."
"Cyprus, but she moved around a lot as a child."
Lily felt him shift beside her in discomfort which made her all the more curious. "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. The buzz of chatter made her mind go fuzzy and she was unable to concentrate.
Severus was back almost as soon as he had left, eyes wide in an uncharacteristic worry. "She's not here."
A searing pain shot through her head, drifting down her spine. She squeezed her already closed eyes in an attempt to make the pounding stop. It felt as though her skull might crack from the pressure within.
Only a soft light flickered in the corner, the rest of the room bathed in darkness, but it was enough to make her head thump even harder. When her eyes were opened again she could spot Voldemort on the edge of her vision, pacing dangerously in front of her. His white wand was held tightly in his hand, but it remained at his side, waiting for her to test him, begging her to give him a reason to use it.
"My Lord…" She winced. "I thought it would be best, for you to have a shot at Dumbledore. 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 footsteps halted on the gravel ground as his arm whipped upward. 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." The words were forced through her clenched teeth as she tried to focus on her working her mouth rather than her twisted leg. 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." His wand was raised teasingly again and what could hardly be considered a smile crossed his face.
"I am worthy." Her head dropped to her chest in a desperation to prove herself, a fear that more pain would come. "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."
Lord Voldemort let out a huff of air. "It's 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. Instead of the words she had planned, a scream was ripped from her body and she fell backwards. Her head connected with the floor a second time 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 into her brain, resulting in a process more painful than what she was experiencing physically.
She could see the flicker of fire burning in the foreground. Acrid smoke filled her lungs, causing her to struggle for fresh air. She sputtered over it as if she were really there, not in the Dark Lord's headquarters.
In the memory, her arms were bound tightly behind her, nearing a dislocation of her shoulders. Zahrah struggled forward, anxious to get away from her captor. He laughed at her attempts, tightening his grip as she screamed in desperation. Stop! Make it stop! Take me instead!
The agonized screams coming from inside the burning house were too much. She swung a leg upwards, connecting a foot against the man's groin. He slackened his grip just enough that she was able to slip from his hold. She ran with a stumbling gait toward the home as the heart wrenching screech began to grow quieter. That was almost worse.
Her sight was blurry from tears and she tripped along the uneven ground. She was shoved to the grass suddenly, a momentus weight holding her down. She hadn't gotten far at all, not nearly far enough. With the weight of an entire human being on top of her there was no way for her to react, to kick back like she had before. Her sobs came harder, it was too late and there was nothing she could do. As she watched her home, and everything inside burn to the ground the cries inside stopped while hers worsened.
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!" He grit his teeth.
"No, but you can't find her either. Just stop and let me help you."
His eyes drifted closed in defeat and he paused in his steps. 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. Instinctively, Severus stood, barely catching Zahrah before she fell. Her face was full of anguish and her ankle was twisted unnaturally. "Lily, can you make us some tea?" He asked hurriedly. She nodded, leaving the two of them alone.
Zahrah was sobbing uncontrollably as he hefted her entirely into his arms. He sat back down, cradling her protectively as she cried against his shirt, warm tears soaking through to his skin. "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. He removed his wand, going to start at her leg when she spoke again.
"He made me remember."
Severus paused, wand hand hovering above her as his own stomach plummeted. There was only thing that could cause her to be this distraught. "Does he know?"
"I-I don't know." She spoke between sobs. "It seemed worse, more realistic than usual. I could smell everything, hear…"
"Oh, Zar." He hugged her tighter.
"I just want to forget." She choked. "I want…"
He sighed, watching her diamond shaped face and the small features it held. "I want to too, let me fix you up and I can take care-" His speech was muffled by her kissing him tenderly, an act he wasn't entirely angry about. Part of him had missed this part of her, but he knew this wasn't love. More importantly, he was with Lily. His arms went slack around her, and he broke the contact with a glare.
"I made a mistake." She whimpered. "I should never ha-."
"Bloody hell, Zahrah! You can't do this!" He swiped a hand across his mouth, removing her spittle. "It was your decision to end things, not mine and it's too late now to change that." He shifted her off him to stand, fists clenching and unclenching at his sides. "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 with him.
"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 I can explain everything."
"What's there to explain? It's obvious she still cares about you and I'm not sure I believe that you don't feel the same."
He was disappointed he couldn't deny it. "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 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.
Swallowing hard, he helped her remove her bloody clothes. Each layer was stripped, left on the floor to be dealt with at another time. He averted his eyes, trying not to gawk at the body he had once covered in kisses. Instead, he focused on guiding her to the bed and beneath the covers.
Severus sat beside her, reaching up to touch the side of her head and giving a large exhale. "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 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 swallowed the bite in his mouth and took one last swig before setting the carton to the side. "I can't put it off forever." He admitted in defeat.
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." He filled with the neck of the bottle.
"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. Slowly the puzzle pieces began to come together.
"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, she was propped against the headboard and he leaned back, laying his head on her chest. She crossed her arms over his large middle. "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.
"You aren't the only one."