Ever since her father's death, Lily had been struggling to learn to stand without fear of the world in which she had unwittingly found herself. If she had known at eleven that this was where her life would take her, she would have had so much more to dread than merely becoming the freak Petunia had so often called her. But she had never seen this coming. There was so much she had never seen coming. First there was magic itself… then the war… then her parents' deaths… Charlie Pryce… Regulus… hating James… falling in love with James… leaving school… marrying… teaching… fighting… getting pregnant… prophecies… giving birth… starting a family… and now this…
"Lily," she could hear her father's voice. "Learn to stand."
But she could also hear Professor Dumbledore's. "I do not want to see you lose your child, Lily. You already know how devastating it is losing parents. But for a mother… there is nothing worse than losing a son." Voldemort was going to kill Harry, just like he'd killed James, but he wanted her to live. She didn't know why, but he wasn't going to kill her, either because he wanted to see her suffer or because he still intended to use her against Professor Dumbledore, to convince the world that love meant nothing. It didn't matter to her, it didn't make a difference whatsoever why he'd choose to spare her. The fact was if she outlived her family, it would assuredly drive her mad and she was helpless to stop it. She had no wand. She had no weapon. She had no advantage. She had already lost.
"Lily," her father's voice echoed insistently one last time in her ears. "Learn to stand." If she couldn't, then absolutely nothing she had seen, done, and undergone up until now would have meant anything at all. After all these years, if there was one thing she had learned, it was how to be brave. No matter what Voldemort took from her, she had to be brave. No wand, no weapon, no advantage, but she could still stand… she could stand here… between him and her son… and if she could do that, for Harry's sake, then all of it, absolutely all of it, since she was eleven years old and terrified of magic, would have been worth it. It all came down to this.
Peter, what have you done? Flying his motorcycle as fast as it would carry him, Sirius knew it would still take ages to reach Godric's Hollow, which gave him ample time to reflect on what might have happened. And the more he reflected, the more terrified he became. His plan had been flawless. No one would've ever dreamed that Peter could be Secret-Keeper, especially with Sirius himself as the popular choice. No one should've even been looking for Peter, much less at Grimmauld Place. All the git had to do was stay out of sight upstairs, which should've been easy for him, considering he could literally turn himself into a rat. So what went wrong?
He should've seen it before. Remus wasn't the one who'd lowered the defenses at the Potters' mansion, letting in about half a dozen Death Eaters. Greyback and that Amycus Carrow bloke had only suggested it was him in order to throw the rest of the group off the scent. The truth was it must've been Peter. Ever since they were kids, Peter had always liked knowing he had someone to protect him, and now, with the war going the way it was, who could protect him better than Lord Voldemort? No one had discovered the bastard at Grimmauld Place. He had willingly left Grimmauld Place to run to his latest master, betraying them all.
It's all my fault! If only he hadn't convinced James to make Peter their Secret-Keeper… if only he'd followed Dumbledore's plan… if only they'd made Dumbledore himself Secret-Keeper… none of this would be happening. It was all his fault!
There was still time. He was almost there. If he could just get there in time, he knew everything would be all right. After everything they'd already been through, what was one more battle? They'd survive. They had to survive. There was still hope. There was still time. It wasn't over yet. Not tonight. They'd been through much worse than this before. It wasn't as bad as he thought. He was almost there. It was just a little bit farther.
"Stand aside, Lily," Voldemort commanded, his voice soft and triumphant. Nothing could stop him now. Potter was dead and the girl defenseless. She could either cooperate with him now or fight, she could either make this easy on herself or hard, but either way, her son would soon join his father, and then… then, he would reign supreme over the entire world, with no one left to threaten him, not even Albus Dumbledore. There was only one with the power to vanquish him and that one was about to be obliterated. His victory was so imminent he could almost taste it.
"Please!" Lily continued to plead with him, tears brightening her green eyes. Cowering before him, but still blocking her son completely from sight, she had never looked more like a little girl, vulnerable and terrified. "Not Harry! Take me instead!" He had every intention of taking her. Despite her helplessness, despite her distress, there was something radiant about her, some kind of energy sizzling in the air around her, that he did not recognize and could not identify. He had never felt anything like it before, which only reinforced his determination to take whatever measures were necessary to turn her against everything she presently believed in, to turn her against Dumbledore, and to win their argument once and for all. Lily would not die tonight and once he eliminated the threat her progeny posed, he would direct his attention on her own personal enlightenment.
"That's enough," he broke into her cries, aimed his wand, and flicked his wrist. The spell immediately and quite carelessly tossed Lily out of the way, as if she were a doll. Plowing heavily against the side wall, she groaned quietly, sinking to the floor, conscious, but clearly dazed. "Stay down," Voldemort advised her pitilessly. "There's a good girl." He turned towards Harry.
"This portkey will take you to Godric's Hollow," Professor Dumbledore quickly briefed Hagrid, standing in his hut beside the teakettle he had so recently altered into an unauthorized, magical mode of transportation. "I cannot say what you will find there, chances are you might not find anything at all. But the Potters' Secret-Keeper has been compromised, which puts them in extreme danger. Hagrid, listen to me, for this is very important. Nothing must happen to their son. Harry Potter is the only hope we have left. If you somehow manage to discover him, it can only mean the Fidelius Charm has broken and the worst has come to pass, in which case, you must take him and trust him with no one, absolutely no one, until you hear from me. Do you understand?"
"I understand, professor," Hagrid somberly assured the old, tired wizard. "Yeh can count on me." And without another word, he took the portkey in one of his enormous hands, clutching a pink umbrella tightly in the other. Within half a second he was gone, starting a journey to Dumbledore's hometown. God willing, he'd make it there in time.
"Stay down… There's a good girl…"
Lily could barely breathe, the wind had been knocked right out of her. She sat on the floor, leaning against the wall, dizzy, dazed, disoriented. The room was spinning, her ears were ringing, and Voldemort, though she could barely see him, was turning towards her son. Harry… precious Harry… she couldn't… she wouldn't… let anything happen to him. She was his mother… and only fools dared separating mothers from their babies.
Drawing on reserves of strength Voldemort had no idea she possessed, Lily pushed up off the wall, clambering back to her feet, and all but dove towards Harry's crib.
The words were out of Voldemort's mouth before he realized what was happening. Lily leapt in front of the Killing Curse, screaming as it struck her in the back, as her whole world turned green.
"Everything's gonna be okay, Harry… It'll be okay… I promise, it'll be okay…"
And then, everything was gone.
"What a waste." Voldemort stared down at Lily's body in disgust. She was lying bent on her side, clearly broken, and yet even then, there was something warm about her. She really would have been the perfect specimen, to prove Dumbledore wrong, and now she was dead. What an inexcusable, disappointing waste. Women. They were all the same.
"Now, Harry Potter," he said, approaching the crib where the child stood, clutching the bars with his small hands, staring up at him with eyes so like his mother's. "Shall I keep you from the orphanage? Take my word for it, boy, you wouldn't like it there. Avada Kedavra."
There was a flash of light, pulsating towards the green sparks of the Killing Curse. When they crashed against each other, there was a brilliant eruption and the next thing Voldemort knew, he was crumbling apart, crumbling to pieces, slowly breaking, bit by agonizing bit, until he was reduced to nothing more but a wretched mockery of his former self.
In the days, weeks, and even months that followed October 31, 1981, the wizarding world experienced one of the greatest upheavals it had ever known. After the initial celebrations directly following Voldemort's unexpected, unforeseen, extraordinary demise, during which owls flew in broad daylight while stars themselves seemed to fall from the heavens, a manhunt began for all those who had followed, supported, or pledged their allegiances to the despicable wizard. The war, it seemed, had yet to end, for there were those among the Death Eaters who remained faithful to the memory of their ruthless leader, and they were angry, furious by their loss, desperate, and as violent as ever. The Ministry of Magic and even the Order of the Phoenix continued to suffer heavy casualties as they dealt with the horrific aftermath, the most famous of cases being the capture and torture of Frank and Alice Longbottom by a band of Death Eaters, resulting in their eventual, long-term residence at St. Mungo's Hospital. Neville was to be raised by his grandmother.
Needless to say, much of the whole affair remained quite the mystery. Rubeus Hagrid arrived by portkey at Godric's Hollow, moments after the explosion. He had barely managed to pull the sole survivor, the boy who lived, Harry Potter, out of the wreckage when a distraught Sirius Black arrived by flying motorcycle on the scene.
Never in his entire life had Sirius ever felt more lost, more empty, more devoid. James was gone… his best friend, not to mention Lily, both gone, and it was his fault for trusting Peter, all his fault. What was the point? He had nothing left. First his brother and now James and Lily… Peter had betrayed them. Remus still felt betrayed by them. All his friends, in the blink of an eye, gone…
"Give me Harry, Hagrid," he asked the half-giant, who carried in his arms the only family, the only hope, he still possessed. "I'm his godfather, I'll look after him." But Hagrid refused. Apparently, he had come on Albus Dumbledore's orders and was strictly forbidden to part with the child. Sirius argued, pleaded, even begged Hagrid to let him at least hold the boy one last time, but how could he put into words the despair he felt? How could he express it? How could he possibly make Hagrid understand that he was slowly going mad and that the only living soul left with the power to save him now was being so heartlessly kept from him? He couldn't… Hagrid was unable to comprehend his turmoil… and so Sirius lent him his flying motorcycle and watched him take off with Harry in tow, wondering if he would ever see the boy again. "Damn you, Wormtail."
It took him little over twenty-four hours to track Peter Pettigrew down. The bloody rat had nowhere to go and no one to help him, for it was common knowledge among the Death Eaters that Voldemort's spy, whatever his name, whatever his face, must have double-crossed them. After all, why else would the Dark Lord have fallen? They so wanted to blame him for their master's defeat and Peter, fearing for his life, took shelter among muggles.
Sirius would kill him. It wouldn't bring James and Lily back, he knew that, and it wouldn't solve anything, it wouldn't make the world right or better, but he was crazed, slightly demented, and mad with grief. He must have looked like a monster to the muggles who saw him storming down their streets, wand in hand, out for one of his best friend's blood. And Peter was there waiting for him.
Peter had known Sirius would come. Ever since word spread of Voldemort's defeat, he had known the smarter, cleverer, by far more dangerous wizard would work out the truth and after the seven years he had spent with Sirius at Hogwarts, Peter could easily foresee the consequences of his traitorous actions. He had no one left to defend him, so… for the first time… he had to defend himself. He had long since past the point of guilt, remorse, and shame. After all, he'd already betrayed everyone he'd ever cared for and every belief he'd ever held fast to, and there was no more honor left in him. Once upon a time, back at school, Lily had assured him there was nothing he couldn't come back from; no matter what his mistakes were, he could always make amends. But now Lily was dead… and all his hopes died with her. He could never redeem himself, so why should he even bother trying?
Meeting Sirius in the middle of the muggle town's largest, busiest street, Peter immediately took the initiative. "Lily and James, Sirius! How could you?"
He never once saw it coming. Blinded by grief, anger, and hatred, he barely registered the fact that Peter had spoken at all, but then there was an explosion. The entire street blew apart, causing a minor earthquake. Sirius barely managed to take cover, but there were dozens of innocent, muggle bystanders who weren't as lucky. When the dust, smoke, ash, and debris finally settled, he found himself facing an enormous crater with bodies strewn about all over the place, some muggles dead, some muggles injured, and all the rest running for their lives in the midst of a full-blown panic.
For a moment, he literally could not move. Shock had set in and there was no sign of Peter whatsoever, aside from the heap of bloody robes and the one finger he had left behind. By now, the bastard could be anywhere, having no doubt transfigured himself into a rat and taken flight. Who knew how long it'd be before he could catch up with him again? "Damn you, Wormtail." And then he slipped into hysterics. The absurdity of it all, the absolute absurdity…
When one of the Magical Law Enforcement Squads and various members of the Department of Magical Catastrophes arrived on the scene, Sirius could not stop laughing. He couldn't cry… he couldn't scream… he couldn't even rampage… but he had to do something or suffocate, and in his madness, he found himself laughing. He didn't stop laughing until he was locked in Azkaban Prison, without a trial, surrounded by Dementors, and facing his first visitor.
When Remus had heard of James and Lily's deaths, his knees had buckled and he had collapsed to the ground with silent tears rolling down his face. A conversation he had had with Lily over two years ago, back when they had first joined the Order of the Phoenix, returned to him in his grief.
"I'm selfish, Lily… if I lose you, James, Sirius, and Peter, who will I have left? That's my curse, you know? Wolves get packs, but werewolves get nothing. I don't want to have nothing, Lil. I don't want that to be my lot in life… after you, I've got nothing. I can't lose you, Lily. I can't."
"You haven't lost us yet, Remus. You haven't lost us and you're not going to. I promise you, you're not."
But now he had, and what hurt the most was that he never even got the chance to say goodbye. James had written a letter to him, begging his forgiveness for turning against him the night of the fire. Remus, who had felt so betrayed, so hurt by James's accusations, would now never have the chance to make peace with him, to tell him it was okay, that he forgave him… and it felt like a weight had taken root in his stomach. Why had this happened? It didn't make any sense! Where had they gone wrong?
Determined to find out, he arranged a visit to Azkaban Prison with the help of Professor Dumbledore. Scared, terrified, with a heavy heart made only worse by the Dementors, Remus slowly walked towards his best friend's cell. There, he confronted Sirius, who had finally stopped laughing. "They're saying you were the spy. They're saying James made you Secret-Keeper, and you sold him, Lily, and Harry out to Voldemort. Hell, they're even saying Peter tracked you down and that you killed him, along with countless other muggles!"
"Is that what they're saying?" Sirius asked darkly, in a voice Remus did not recognize.
"Sirius, please!" he begged, wiping tears from his eyes. "Tell me what really happened! Tell me the truth! I can't believe what they're saying! I've been set up by Death Eaters, too, you know! I understand what it feels like to be framed! They're all dead, Sirius! James, Lily, Peter… They're gone, and you're the only friend I have left in the entire world, so please tell me they're all wrong and that you're innocent! I'll believe you, you know I will!"
"I killed them…" Sirius whispered numbly, to which Remus shook his head in denial.
"You didn't. I know you better than that. You couldn't have. You were their best friend."
"I killed them…" Sirius repeated, to Remus' dismay.
"No, you didn't!" he insisted, horrified.
"Yes, I did," the prisoner's voice amplified, suddenly reverberating with hatred – though Remus didn't know, couldn't possibly know, that it was a self-hatred and nothing else. "I killed them. I killed them! I KILLED THEM! I KILLED THEM!" Unable to bear listening to such a mantra any longer, Remus turned and fled, hastening back down the way he had come as quickly as he could. Sirius gasped, suddenly realizing, in a single moment's clarity, exactly what he must have sounded like. Jumping to his feet, he tried running after the only friend he had left, but the Dementors immediately swooped in and slammed the cell door in his face. Nevertheless, he pounded on it vehemently. "No! Remus, no! Wait! Come back! Remus, come back!" But it was too late. He was already too far gone to hear any of Sirius's pleas and he left Azkaban with a fractured heart.
How could he live? Lily… James… Peter… his best friends… all dead… and Sirius, the traitor, locked away for the rest of his life in a hellish prison that often drove its inmates mad… He was alone now, truly alone, trapped in a world that hated him for what he was. He had no one else to turn to and so he found himself running again… into the wild… where maybe he could escape from the countless memories that tortured him… and if he ran far enough… maybe he could prevent himself from ever growing close to anyone else again – including Harry – because all werewolves were cursed… and he didn't want to feel this kind of pain, or inflict it, ever again for as long as he lived.
Meanwhile, little Harry Potter was sent to stay with his aunt and uncle. Once Albus Dumbledore managed to fully grasp what had happened – that Lily had sacrificed her life for Harry's, immersing him in the wild, ancient magic she'd always been gifted with, so that her love, her infinite, unconditional, incalculable love protected him from Voldemort, causing the Killing Curse to rebound – he sent word to Hagrid, telling him to bring the boy to the Dursleys'. By living with his aunt, his only surviving blood relative, Harry would be safe from Voldemort when the wizard rose again – for there was no doubt in Dumbledore's mind that he would rise again. But as long as Harry lived where his mother's blood dwelled, thanks to her sacrifice, he would not be harmed.
Petunia, however, was not pleased. When she awoke on a Wednesday morning and went about her day business as usual caring for Dudley, only to hear Vernon curse as he ran out of the house at half past eight, she was not at all prepared for the surprise awaiting her. A baby boy with an odd, lightning shaped scar on his forehead, a scar that looked painfully new, had been left on their front doorstep. Vernon was, of course, outraged, but when Petunia read the letter that had been addressed to her – not to the Dursleys, but just to her – by Albus Dumbledore, whose name she immediately recognized, words could not describe the cyclone of emotions that welled up from the deepest reaches of her soul.
After all this time… She had always told Lily the magical world was dangerous! She had always told Lily to renounce it and come back home! For so long, she had hated her sister, envied her, and even feared her, but it wasn't supposed to end like this. Now, she had to accept responsibility over little Harry Potter, to keep him alive, the letter said. Harry Potter… the boy whose survival had cost her sister's life… She couldn't help but abhor him for that and she was not the only one.
Standing in his office near the dungeons of an ancient castle, Hogwarts Castle, Severus allowed the darkness to wrap around him. He felt weak, he didn't know much longer he'd be able to support his own weight, he was trembling. How could Black have betrayed his friends? He had always known the man was capable of cruelty, but to turn against Potter? Not even Severus would have ever expected such a thing. And now Lily… whom he would have willingly given his life for… the only person in the world he would have given his life for… she was dead. All because of Harry Potter.
Why hadn't it been the Longbottom brat? It should have been the Longbottoms, not the Potters. When Severus overheard Trelawney's prophecy, he had assumed it meant the Longbottoms, for he hadn't known that Lily and James fit the profile, too. He hadn't wanted this. The Chosen One should not have been Harry, it should have been Neville. It should have been Neville! Damn them both.
The last time he had felt such despair, he had left the Dark Lord, he had joined Professor Dumbledore, and he had sworn to make amends, to try and become a wizard who could die with honor. But the despair he felt now… having failed Lily… it was so much worse.
"You know how and why she died," Dumbledore had told him hours ago, up in his office. "Make sure it was not in vain. Help me protect Lily's son."
He would. He hated the boy, quite possibly more than he had ever hated anyone else – including the boy's father – but what else could he do? The pain was too great… his heart was bleeding in a way no Healer could ever mend… If the Dark Lord returned, and Dumbledore seemed to think he would, Severus would personally see to it that no one, no one, hurt the boy Lily had sacrificed herself for. If she believed Harry was worth so much, no matter how he hated him, no matter how he blamed him, he would do whatever was necessary to keep him alive. And maybe that would be enough.
When Lily awoke, it took her a moment to recognize where she was. King's Cross Station, right between platforms nine and ten. The place was completely deserted, which, she thought, was something as a blessing, seeing as how she had no clothes. Eventually, however, her white dress appeared and she put it on quickly, all the while wondering what she was doing here and where she was supposed to go now.
"Well, fancy seeing you in a place like this."
Heart stopping, Lily spun around in astonishment. A teenage boy dressed in long, flowing green robes, bearing a striking resemblance to Sirius, was watching her with crossed arms and a smile. She hadn't seen him since he was twelve years old, but she recognized him immediately and nearly whooped for joy. "Regulus!" She ran to him and he caught her, swinging her around before setting her back down. To her surprise, there were actually tears in his eyes.
"I never got a chance to say goodbye," he apologized before she could speak another word. "The night I was expelled… I never got to say goodbye or even thank you. You have the strangest effect on people, Lily. You make them actually want to make something of themselves, something good, and I tried to do that. I really did. And I hope… I hope I was able to give something back to the world. I just wanted you to know."
She smiled, blinking past tears of her own. "I feel like I've always known, Regulus. I've always had faith in you." They embraced again and for several minutes they just stood there, holding onto each other with everything they had. James had always promised she'd find him again, somewhere out in the midst of all the world's chaos… She just hadn't expected it to be like this… but it was better… it was better than not finding him at all. "I'm sorry," she said after a moment, finally pulling back to glance one more time around the empty station. "What are we doing here?"
"Well," Regulus turned, gesturing towards the barrier between platforms nine and ten. "There's a train waiting, Lily. You can catch it if you want to."
She stared at him. "You mean… I can accept my death."
Regulus nodded gravely. "Don't fear it, Lily. It's actually better than it sounds. It's even trying to reassure you!"
He smiled, as if amused. "Well, just look at this place! Not everyone wakes up at King's Cross, you know, especially right off platform nine and three-quarters. You remember what you told me about the first time you boarded the Hogwarts Express?" Lily remembered all too well, back when she feared magic, feared where she was going, and feared what she was becoming. "You were scared then, too, but you still went. Do you regret it?"
"No," she answered honestly. "I don't regret any of it… and I wouldn't change it for the world."
"Exactly!" Regulus looked pleased. "That's why it brought you here. It's trying to show you: you won't regret this, either."
She had absolutely no idea what to make of him and couldn't help but feel slightly exasperated. "What do you mean: 'it'?"
"It," Regulus said mysteriously, with a sly grin, "is something I can't tell you, in case you do decide to go back."
"As a ghost?" The question didn't need to be answered, but he nodded anyway. She hesitated, pondering all that she'd been told, as well as everything she'd been through up 'til now. Every time she'd ever boarded the Hogwarts Express, in spite of her fears, she had left her sister behind, and she knew, deep down, Petunia had yet to recover from that. And what about Harry? What about Remus? Sirius? And even Peter? She glanced over her shoulder, towards the world she'd left behind. "Will they be okay without me?"
"It's hard to say," Regulus admitted, taking her hand and squeezing it comfortingly. "But really, truthfully, the ones you love the most, they won't ever be without you. Your son… you'll get to be with him, closer than you were before."
"Really?" Lily smiled; it was a pleasant thought. She glanced sideways at Regulus. "Have you any idea just how close I already was to him?" Harry… Harry James Potter… Somehow, she'd managed to protect him. Somehow, her gift had been stronger than the darkest magic the world had ever known. Harry was safe now… and he'd grow up to be brave, strong, smart, and resilient… just like his father. She didn't have to fear for him. He was James's son.
"Are you ready?" Regulus asked and she nodded, turning towards the barrier. "James is on the other side. He's waiting for you. And, when you catch the train, it'll carry you to where your parents are."
Lily almost cried and she almost laughed. James… and her mum and dad… She wanted to see them all again, she loved them so, so much… but especially James. Her heart still belonged to him.
"Let's go," she said. Regulus beamed and together, they walked towards platform nine and three-quarters, ready to embark on a brand new journey.
A/N: I apologize, everyone, for not drawing it out to 150 chapters as so many of you requested. It makes my day just knowing you wanted more, but I really needed to finish it. Please understand, I've been working on it for over a year, and the word count makes it almost as long as the first five Harry Potter books combined. That's pretty hard to do. There were times when I never thought I was going to finish it, but here it is. Thank you all so much for your support. Trust me, I never would've made it here without you. Oh yeah… Don't forget to review, one last time. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.