The Dark Lord had fallen once more.
The war was over.
Or, rather, suspended, pending further developments.
It was merely the calm before, yet another, storm but it was a welcome one. A time he and Lily played to their full advantage. No spying missions to contend with. No battles to fight in. No Order meetings to attend.
It had been easy to become complacent. To forget the stakes.
And with complacency came carelessness.
With Sirius Black dead, Remus Lupin stepped up to the plate, filling the void that the loss of his Godfather had left in Harry Potter's life; weekend visits became the norm. Two nights per week, just as before.
Only, this time, rather than being fraught with a seemingly endless stream of worries and doubts, the time was spent in relative harmony, their relationship becoming steadier, stronger, as the focus shifted from trying to be together to just being together.
Severus didn't think life could get any better than this. Though, later, these musings were proven quite false.
Lily would come to him every Friday night and, for two days, they were just Severus and Lily; together, no one to answer to, no one to hide from. Except the world and they were more than happy to spend the entire time indoors. Totally fooling themselves into believing they were normal; a simple life. Touching when they wished; kisses; conversing long into the night; shared showers in the morning; breakfast in bed.
Lots of it.
Both always ready to go. In the morning; the afternoon; the evening; the night. In the shower; on the couch; in the kitchen; on the stairs; in the pantry; on the floor. Whenever, wherever they wanted it.
They took all the right precautions. Used all the correct procedures; cast all the charms. But, under such an onslaught, it is no wonder the 'margin for error' saw fit to add them to its percentage.
It should have been no surprise, then, when Lily had turned to him, a rainy night in September, eyes full of apprehension as she spoke the words; "I'm pregnant."
It wasn't good news.
They talked until dawn.
Every word and thought driven by the simple question; could they have the baby?
Neither he nor Lily shied away from it. Both knew the stakes. Both knew the reality. Even if they had closed their eyes to it that year; allowed themselves to become lost in one another as the war faded from present to memory.
Question after question presented itself, one after the other, each one harder than that which came before.
What would it mean for them?
What about Harry? Was he ready to know? Was it too soon? He was only nine. Too young. Not ready for the burden.
Would they be able to protect the baby? Child of the spy. Blood of the Marked Boy.
Could they keep the baby a secret? The father? Was that even possible?
If so, who could know? Someone had to know. If something should happen to Lily – perish the thought – someone had to know the true identity of the father.
And would Severus even be allowed to know the baby; would the baby know him, who he was? Could he raise the child? Or would his involvement put the child in danger? Put Lily in danger and worsen the, already abundant, threat to Harry? Most definitely.
Cover blown; the Dark Lord would hunt them all. They two, little Potter and the baby. And with Severus' secret life discovered the Order would lose its last spy, Regulus' loyalties long since exposed. Leaving Harry sent in to fight blind. Defenceless.
Not acceptable. Not after everything they had done, had fought for, every decision carefully made with the heavy reality in the back of their minds that Harry Potter had to be protected, had to be prepared.
Give it a week, they'd said, and then they'd decide but both knew they didn't need it. Both knew what they had to do. It had always been clear, from the very start; there could be no children.
And so, one week later, with the decision made and finally verbalised, Severus set about brewing the potion.
He waited until the Friday to give it to her, wanted to be there when it happened, refused her insistence that it was fine, she could take it at home. He wouldn't leave her alone in this.
He turned to her, held up the goblet that contained it, and she took it from his hand; stared down into the liquid that bubbled. The solution.
The answer to their question; no, they couldn't keep the baby.
It had to be done.
To this day, how close they had come, sent a chill right through him; right to the bone. The goblet was lifted, mere inches from her lips, before Lily had hesitated, eyes still on the brew.
And then, a moment later, her eyes met his through the vapour.
Both knew then, in that instant.
It was only then that Severus dare to think it, that the reality sunk in, over a week after news was first broken to him;
He was going to be a father.
And his treacherous little heart had soared.
"I missed you!" his little girl declared as Severus swept her up into his arms.
He could almost marvel at it, really, the way things had turned out. Not just the circumstances, the situation that he and Lily had now found themselves in; a bittersweet adaption of the life he had sworn to her he could never offer.
But it was not only their new reality that floored him.
If someone had told him he would have this and how the way he would look at things, the way that he would change, as a result, well, he would have simply sneered and turned away.
It was a life he could not have even imagined, no matter how many glimpses he had had in the past into the lives of others who had made it; observing Lucius with his family, or Regulus with Malachi, neither of which prepared him for this. The overturning of his entire world.
Severus had fallen so far as to think in clichés. Silent declarations in his own mind that nothing mattered, not now nor whatever had happened before, except the happiness of his daughter. That he had never even known what it truly was, until Lily had given her to him. Hell, he was becoming a truly sentimental old fool.
"Hm. You too," Severus murmured, pressing his lips to the side of her head, before she drew back with a wide smile.
"Look!" She held up a rather uninspiring object, a piece of rock adapted into a heart, than hung from twine around her wrist; "Harry made it for me. At school."
Severus bounced her, manoeuvring as he did so she was now settled on his hip; "I'm thinking someone's supposed to be in their bed?"
"I heard you come home. Mummy thought you would. I was waiting."
Severus pushed aside the jab of guilt; hated the thought of either of them waiting.
"Let's head on up then."
She leaned her head on his shoulder, as he made his way from the kitchen.
Their daughter was all Lily.
Red hair. Green eyes. Stubborn beyond belief. But, and Lily delighted in pointing this out, she had her father's scowl.
Sometimes Lily would tell him to; "Look at that face, Sev. She looks just like you, don't you think?" when their little girl would be sitting peering into a book or colouring in a picture or focusing on a puzzle but Severus didn't think so at all.
And she couldn't be a Snape.
He and Lily never discussed it. Both knew the way it had to be.
But in the last month of her pregnancy, he had found the papers; a petition to the Ministry, already filled in, to change her name from Potter back to Evans.
Their child could be an Evans.
But there was still Harry Potter. And, after finding the papers, it seemed as if the name, the boy, was suddenly everywhere. Potter. Potter. Potter.
Lily Evans and Harry Potter and baby Evans.
Severus noticed the way her eyes lingered over her son's name while she read through the report card from the Learning Centre.
It was the first, and only, time Lily had ever done anything that even suggested putting Severus' needs or wishes above her son's. A name.
He loved her for it.
But he still tore up the petition that night.
May the 4th, four weeks later;
Grace Eileen Potter was born.
The first year was the hardest.
Severus missed so much.
Grace's eating and sleeping schedule were so sporadic and Harry Potter was ever present in the house, so moments with his daughter, even Lily, were rare and precious.
Sometimes, while he waited for Lily to give him the sign, he would see the three of them through the window.
Lily, Potter and Grace at the table; baby in her mother's arms as she shared a smile and a laugh with her son. And, sometimes, Severus would think; to hell with it.
Fuck the world.
And he wanted nothing more than to just walk into the house, there and then, and take them – all three of them – and just run.
Harry Potter didn't have to be the world's saviour.
Severus Snape would take the boy as his son, as he had declared he would some years before.
But reality put dash to those hopes.
He knew, when the Dark Lord returned, he would hunt and kill them all for his weakness.
And so he waited, mind lost in fantasies, until Lily hung a yellow t-shirt in the window. It was never the same item – over time, that would become suspicious. But it was always something yellow. The sign it was safe to come home.
"Harry said that wizards don't call him Santa. We're supposed to call him Father Christmas," Grace stated, seriously, as she paused in her tales of the various activities that she, her brother and their mother had partaken in and the gifts shared and received in the fortnight since he'd be home.
Grace never questioned it. Not yet. Why he was never home whenever her brother was.
"I doubt that he minds either way."
"What do you call him?"
Severus raised an eyebrow, considering the question. Christmas was something never even celebrated in his own childhood, poverty and the general ill-temper of his father rendering the holiday obsolete; rather, the day was an excuse for Tobias Snape to head out of the house earlier than usual, down to the local, and not return until late into the next night, barely lucid or able to stand on his feet.
His first real experience of Christmas had been at the age of nine, when little Lily Evans had presented him with a small wrapped gift and a soft kiss on the cheek, bidding him a 'Merry Christmas, Sev', and he was entirely uncertain whether the best present that day had been the book or the feeling of the little flutter in his stomach when her lips touched his skin.
"Mummy calls him Santa Claus," Grace said, when he didn't answer right away.
Severus shot her a smirk; "Ah. Well, I know better than to get on the wrong side of Mummy, don't I?"
Grace giggled, pulling him further up onto the bed, so that he swung his legs up and allowed her to nestle in alongside him; "Okay, now it's your turn."
"For a story."
"I fear it's long past that time, young lady." He titled her head up by the chin, giving her a small smile when he caught her in a yawn; "You'll not make it to the end."
"Yes I will!"
Severus shifted, a smile still playing in his lips, when a pleading 'please, Daddy' escaped her, as her little hand tightened around his wrist, the other reaching into the folds for his wand. She pulled it out, wielding it playfully; "Magic!"
"That is not a toy," Severus remarked, taking it from her, shooting what he hoped was a disapproving look her way, even as she beamed up at him, unabashedly, making it impossible for him to truly scowl.
With a sigh – and because he could never refuse her, especially not tonight, after such a long time away – he 'accioed' one of the nearby books from the bookshelf. He held it up, presenting the cover to her, raising an eyebrow in question and she nodded her approval.
"Alright," he conceded and her smile widened in triumph, before she settled in closer against him, nudging his arm around her and fitting easily into the nook beneath his arm; getting herself comfortable and melting his heart in the process, as he flicked open the book to the first page.
There were questions, of course. Enquiries.
Lily had never expressed an interest in anyone. There had been no potential love interests. No hint that there was a man in her life at all. So, when her pregnancy became apparent, those who knew her were floored.
Who was this little girl's father?
The only person who didn't ask or take part in the speculation was Remus Lupin.
But his apparent disinterest only made him appear suspicious and, with Sirius Black gone and Lupin her closest friend, well; the conclusion was inevitable.
Remus Lupin was obviously Grace Potter's father.
Lily denied it at first. But Severus told her not to. Let it be. Better they thought that than knew the truth. So Lily kept silent.
Only four people knew the truth of her parentage; they two, Remus Lupin and Regulus Black.
And Grace, of course, so long as she was too young to blow his cover.
And that was how things settled. The secret, the truth, became normal for them and Lily adapted just as well to it as she had to their relationship, some years before. But then, both had different ways of looking at the fight.
For Severus, he gained his strength from the glimpse, the promise that being with them gave of the future. The family he had long since given up on ever believing he could have, so close within his grasp, a life so much better and more than he could have hoped for. Whereas for Lily, what they had now was enough. They two and her children safe and happy and alive. Her strength came from the present and she never demanded more.
But, Severus was determined, he would give that to her anyway. Certainly, there were moments of happiness, moments of gold, in the life they had now, but they could do better. He could do better. And he would. He'd give her it all, all at once, the four of them.
He'd make sure Harry Potter would win this fight.
Of course, that was easier said than done.
The game was not an easy one to play. One slip, and it could all be for nothing. All they had done and all they had fought for wiped out, should anyone start to suspect the truth.
When Severus had first began teaching at Hogwarts years ago – before Lily – he had dreaded the year that the boy would be among the new intake of students.
A daily reminder of the marriage between Lily Evans and James Potter and all he had wanted and all he had lost.
By the time nineteen-ninety-one actually came around, Severus couldn't have predicted the way everything had actually turned out. And September couldn't come quick enough.
Partly because, in September, Harry Potter would be eleven and finally at Hogwarts, old enough to be at school, and his daughter, Grace, would be at home with Lily, two years old and still too young to threaten his cover. Young enough that Severus could be with them when he could steal the moments; they could pretend for a little while.
And also, because it would mean things were finally moving. He was finally doing something to make their future a reality. Start preparing the boy for the fight.
But, in the end, his resolve fell short.
Severus blamed his inability to pick up on the signs that the Dark Lord had possession of the insufferable Quirrell on the fact that every moment of every day at Hogwarts that year, all Severus could think or care about was just getting the day's lessons over with as quickly as possible so he could get back home in time to tuck his little girl into bed at night.
Some nights he didn't make it; Harry Potter saw to that.
A ghost of a kiss flickered against his cheek.
Soft tendrils of hair skimming the spot in turn and ticking his nose.
It was the little giggle that woke him, then, when the sensation made his face twitch, eyes slowly opening and settled on very familiar green ones mere inches away.
The voice was low, a mix of delight and seductiveness, and then Severus realised where he was. Fast asleep, still in his robes, on top of his daughter's bed, Grace snuggled in and sleeping soundly at his side, the book he had been reading to her lying forgotten on his lap.
Severus met Lily's eyes once more, giving her a small smile.
She returned it, lifting an eyebrow, and still speaking quietly, so as not to wake up the little girl at his side; "Happy New Year."
Severus sighed, reaching up and slipping a hand behind the nape of her neck, drawing her close and pressing his lips to hers, the leisurely manner in which he kissed her reveal nothing of his eagerness to finally do so again.
It had been too long.
Lily sighed soundly into his mouth, her hands coming up to his shoulders and her forehead pressing to his when she drew back; "I thought you might be back tonight."
"Sorry it took so long."
"Hm. I have an idea of what might have kept you."
Of course she did. Harry Potter. What else?
Lily gave him an affectionate smile, thumb caressing his cheek; "How was your Christmas?"
"Same as ever. Malfoy Manor is always a rather dull affair. But one can't fault the food."
"Who would dare?"
It was always the same, every year, Lily would spend Christmas with the children and he would spend Christmas with Narcissa and Draco Malfoy – it certainly beat the alternative of staying at Hogwarts – and then they would politely skirt around the topic and the reasons why they hadn't spent it together, the four of them – or, rather, five, for Lupin always received an invitation – as if it were all completely normal.
Lily shifted, meeting his eyes, and asked him the same question she never could keep from asking on the nights he managed to slip home; "How is he?"
Lily smiled, lowering her eyes, an affectionateness in them that always arose when the subject of her son came up.
"Nothing to be concerned about," Severus offered his assurances; a comfort to her to know that, in the few days since he had been back at Hogwarts and away from her, he had not yet managed to put himself in a life and death situation such as, oh, being lured to the Philosopher's Stone by the Dark Lord or, even, down into the Chamber of Secrets to save a stupid little girl.
Perish the thought that his own daughter should inherit such a foolish propensity of demonstrating 'bravery'.
Secretly and silently, he often pleaded with the deities that Grace would be more Slytherin than Gryffindor.
Then again, Potter and his antics had been relatively harmless so far this year, not yet putting himself or his merry band of cronies in mortal danger – though there was plenty of time for that – and he wondered if he could thank the werewolf for that, for keeping the boy in check and distracting him with promises of patronus charms and boggart fighting.
Occasionally, having the wolf around had its benefits.
Severus met her eyes with a frown; "Me?"
"How are you doing?" Lily elaborated.
Severus moved his shoulders in a lazy shrug; "I have no complaints to speak of."
Except the obvious, his mind supplied.
"Hm. Right. I thought you looked good."
Severus felt his lips twitch at the hint of suggestion in her eyes.
Lily raised an eyebrow, her smile turning wry; "Shall I head off back to bed by myself then? I noticed you looked quite comfortable here before I woke you."
Severus grinned, carefully slipping out from beneath Grace's weight as Lily stood, and gently adjusted the covers around her, before the two of them headed from the room, down the short hallway and into the room on the right.
Severus barely had the door shut behind them when he was suddenly pressed back against it, Lily's body flush against him and her lips seeking his.
Severus sighed against them, parting his lips as and his hands reaching up, grasping her by the hips, the waist, sliding upwards to her neck, wanting to touch everywhere all at once but, first, this pesky fabric had to go. He grasped it at her waist, easily pulling the silk nightgown up and up, palms pressing up against the skin beneath, before it came over her head and pooled at their feet.
"Better," he remarked.
Lily chuckled, moving to return the favour, unfastening and pushing his robes from his shoulders, each touch and kiss quickly driving away any and all thoughts of the past, the future and, hell, even their beloved little girl in the next room from his mind, at least for the moment, as his hands grasped tighter and his mouth moved hungrier against hers.
Lily grasped his wand, catching it before it fell to the floor with his robes, and muttered a quick silencing charm before letting it drop to the floorboards with a clink.
Severus leaned in a close, a smile playing on his lips before he claimed hers once more; "Planning on making some noise?"
"Count on it."