There was a gentle pop sound, and a young man appeared at the front gate of a pleasant, homey looking house. With frantic but shaking hands he opened the gate, and then desperately stumbled up to the front door, which he knocked.
"Coming!" a voice called from within. Moments later the door was opened by a man with deep red hair that was beginning to go grey around the sides, and surprise launched itself onto this man's face. "Severus!" he exclaimed. "What -?"
"I'm terribly sorry to visit without calling first Mr Evans," Severus Snape interrupted. "But I didn't know where else to go. I've made a terrible mistake, sir," he said, the pain on his face clear to the man of the house.
"Come in lad," Mr Evans said kindly, stepping aside and ushering the boy in. "Come in and tell us what's going on."
Severus gratefully stepped across the Evans threshold and followed the older man through the house to the living room. Mrs Evans was sitting there with their two daughters, Petunia and Lily, all of them sharing in a cup of hot chocolate before they were going to retire for the night.
"Sev?" Lily yelped in surprise when he came through the living room door after her father. "What are you doing here?"
"I've made a terrible mistake," he said, breaking down at last in the living room of the muggle family that had been so kind to him when he was a child, the home that had raised his first ever friend. "I'm so sorry Lily. So sorry!"
"Severus?" Lily questioned, getting up from her chair and kneeling down beside where the young man had collapsed onto their carpet.
"Could you fetch another cup love?" Mr Evans asked his wife quietly.
She nodded and quietly excused herself from the scene. She was back just as Severus seemed to finally calm down a little bit.
"Think you can tell us what's bothering you Severus?" Mrs Evans asked as she gently pressed the cup of hot chocolate into his still shaking hands.
"I made a terrible mistake," Severus said again. "He said such things... It all sounded so good... almost too good to be true... It was too good to be true... They were all lies... I'm so sorry..." he didn't drink from the cup, merely holding it tightly to his chest, absorbing some of its warmth.
"Sev, what did you do?" Lily asked quietly.
Severus choked on tears and handed her the cup her mother had given him, then rolled up his sleeve. "The worst thing I could have ever done. I'm so sorry."
Lily gasped at the horrible black tattoo on the arm of her childhood friend.
"Lily? Severus? An explanation for those of us who aren't intimately involved with the world of witches and wizards please?" Petunia asked. She didn't know what was going on, but the way those two were acting was making her nervous.
"There is a wizard, a powerful, cruel wizard, and... well..." Lily hesitated, not sure how to really explain it to her family.
"Think of him as a wizard version of Hitler," Severus offered, "it's almost right. Except he hates all non-magical people, not just the Jewish people, and he brands his followers with this symbol, rather than a swastika."
The Evans family was silent and still as they stared at the mark on Severus' arm that he had shown them.
"He's a very moving speaker," Severus continued. "I believed what he was saying... right up until about five hours after I was given this... this thing!" Severus gestured to the mark again. "I made a terrible mistake."
"You can't get it removed?" Mrs Evans asked. "Since you've clearly changed your mind about following him."
Severus shook his head. "It's not just a tattoo," he explained sadly. "It's a cursed mark. As long as he lives, it won't ever go away."
"You can't even cut it off?" Petunia asked.
Every head turned to stare at her, all of them shocked.
Petunia shrunk back a little under the four intense gazes. "I didn't mean the whole limb!" she said, indignant that they might have thought she meant that. "But your people must have spells for removing skin and re-growing it, right? And even if you don't, there's surgery. I've seen a couple of cases this last month of people coming to get a tattoo removed or a skin-graft over burned skin." She was in training to be a nurse at the local hospital.
Lily set down Severus' mug of hot chocolate and rushed her sister, wrapping her up in a tight hug.
"You're brilliant!" she exclaimed, kissing Petunia's cheek and giving her an extra squeeze.
Petunia smirked. "So does that mean you'll listen to what I have to say about other things as well?" she asked.
Lily laughed, shaking her head happily.
"Lily?" James Potter asked, getting down on one knee. "Will you marry me?"
Lily blinked, staring at the whopping great diamond she was being presented with. "James..."
"I know there's a war going on," he said quickly, "and being an aurora I could die any day, but that's why I'm asking. The Potters are an Ancient and Noble House, and I'm sure you can use all that clout to do something when everything is over."
"You don't have to like him Lil," Sirius chuckled from where he was watching, eating a sandwich, just a few feet away. "James can't even give you a kid. We learned how some pranks can go very wrong in about our third year. You just need to accept the Potter name."
"A paper marriage?" Lily asked, completely shocked.
James winced a little at the question, but nodded. "If you want a kid, Sirius has offered to be a sperm donor," he said.
"I what!" the young man yelped in demand.
"You're the one who got him neutered Padfoot," Remus reminded absently. "You promised back then that if James wanted a kid you'd do the duty for him."
"Swore on your magic," Peter added.
"Oh yeah. Right. Sure, no problem," Sirius agreed, nodding solemnly, though there was an embarrassed red tint to his ears cheeks.
Lily tried not to laugh at the four friends. She'd gone for a walk in the park to get away from the fumes of potion making for a while. She and Severus were taking turns brewing potions that might help get rid of his Mark. Being accosted by Marauders and proposed to was not on her list of things she had expected to happen that day.
"I think this is something I want to talk to my family about," she said, "but, pending their disapproval, I guess... Yes?"
James smiled in relief. "Thanks Lily. I know you don't like me all that much, and would prefer to be married to someone you love -"
"Don't keep reminding me why I shouldn't go along with this," Lily said sharply, cutting him off. "I know all of them perfectly well James Potter."
James chuckled weakly. "Right. After the papers go through, I can start taking the riskier missions, knowing I don't have to worry about what the Ministry will do with the family fortune if I die."
Lily raised an eyebrow. "You couldn't leave it to your friends?" she asked, gesturing to Remus in his slightly tatty clothing.
James shook his head. "The Ministry doesn't allow werewolves to benefit, and then there's the hereditary political clout that would just disappear without a Potter to use it."
Lily nodded in understanding. The argument was a logical one, not a romantic one. "Go, set it up for as soon as possible. Don't worry about it being fancy, just legal. I'll talk to my family."
The four friends nodded and vanished with a series of four gentle pops.
"I hope Sev will understand," Lily muttered to herself as she stared at the ring that had been left behind before pocketing it and walking home again.
Her parents, big sister, and best friend since before even kindergarten, all sat at the table and stared at the ring that she had set down in the middle of it. None of them spoke as she explained what had happened on her short walk in the park.
"Opinions?" she asked tentatively when she finished.
"Sweetheart, we never wanted you to be in a loveless marriage," her mother said.
"We'd rather you were happy," her father added.
Petunia snorted. "You're usually more sensible than this," she quipped. "That magic school of yours must have stripped you of your ability to think logically."
Lily laughed a little at that. "I think I was only thinking logically," Lily answered. "I'll be a Potter: rich, influential, and if I want a child I have a willing sperm donor in the form of a Black, also rich and influential. That's a lot of well-off."
"But no love," Petunia pointed out, frowning at her baby sister.
Lily sighed. "They talk like they don't expect to survive the war. I almost think that James doesn't want to. I won't be married long before I'm a widow."
Severus reached out to cover Lily's hand with his. "I don't like Potter," he said. "I don't like Black all that much either. I know that Potter cares about you though, and that Black is loyal to his convictions, whatever they may be. I don't like it, but this is a good plan."
Lily smiled weakly. "Thanks Sev," she said quietly.
The next morning, Lily sent out an owl to James saying that her family was in agreement, and asking where and when for the ceremony. She hadn't expected James and Sirius to appear at her front door an hour later to whisk her off to Gringotts.
"Why the bank?" Mr Evans asked.
"So that the records of who may inherit the Potter line are updated to include Lily and any children she may have," James said.
"Whoever the father may be," Sirius added, blushing and trying to pretend that he wasn't. "I'll be writing up that if any of the kids are mine, they'll be my heirs. I'm the current heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black, so... potentially a very rich kid."
"Is Remus here?" Lily asked. "I wanted his help on setting up a safe house for my family." She also wanted his help in finding a cure for lycanthropy, or at least something to make him safe during the full moon. She and Severus had been working on it at the same time as they were making potions that might remove the Mark from his arm.
"He's waiting for us at the bank," James said. "He can escort you back here if you like. We'll be off pretty much as soon as the ink is dry on the papers."
Three hours later, she was Lady Lily Potter, Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Potter. The first female family head since the days of the founders of Hogwarts. It was rather radical actually, but it was the security that James wanted for his family name, as well as a security for Lily herself, while he could still go out and fight in the war. She also had a little jar full of sperm from Sirius, waiting for when she was ready to have a child.
Severus was in the hospital. Not the wizarding hospital, but rather they'd made an appointment with one of the surgeons at the hospital where Petunia worked. Spells and potions had been researched, rediscovered, tested, even created new, and in combination had even worked – to an extent. The Mark on his arm no longer linked him so painfully to its maker, but it was still there, still visible, still a connection that Severus did not want.
Today, three months after he had stumbled into the Evans family home, he was getting the Mark cut off of him.
Lily and Remus had come with him, as moral support, but they couldn't be with him in the operating room, even if it was only minor surgery. They were also the safety-net if something went wrong. The idea of the Mark causing some horrific reaction with the process or perhaps being deeper than his skin... These were not things that muggles would like to see, and if they did, then they would be better off not remembering. The only exception would be Petunia, would was assisting in the procedure. She was allowed to be on hand as a member of the nursing staff, and also someone who could make note of any strange reactions that Severus might miss, so that they would have an idea of what went wrong in case they wanted to try again.
They were going into this with a rather pessimistic outlook, even if they all hoped that it worked perfectly the first time, and there would be no further need for trying again.
Severus sat in a special chair, his arm stretched out on a table covered in cloth, watching as the local anaesthetic was given, blinking in surprise as he suddenly could no longer feel his arm, and then staring in horrified fascination as the Mark was cut away, and then a sort of sealing goo applied to the area to slow the bleeding before gauze was wrapped around and he was handed a small pot of the goo and given a slip of paper with instructions for changing the bandage and caring for the wound in the shower. The Mark wasn't large, so they were comfortable releasing him the same day, but it still wasn't exactly small. He would have to take good care of the area for a while until the skin grew back.
Which, as soon as he got back to the potions lab that the Evans family had so obligingly allowed him to set up in their basement, would be all of two hours.
Lily had an extra reason for coming to the hospital though. James had been hit with a nasty curse a couple of days ago, and would be dead within the year. He was still capable of fighting, but he was now living on the clock, and when he wasn't fighting in the war, his friends were helping him to enjoy what was left of his life. Lily had decided that she was going to give James Potter, idiot that he had always been, the chance to hold the baby that would carry the name of his family into the future. She had an appointment to get pregnant today.
"Mother's name?" the nurse asked.
"Lillian Potter," Severus answered.
"Not married?" the nurse asked, surrpised.
"He's the sperm donor, and best friend of her neutered husband," Severus explained.
"Oh," the nurse answered, blushing. "Right. Erm, name of the child?"
Severus was getting the forms filled out because the family were in with Lily and the new baby, praising her and admiring the child. He wasn't sure if he was glad that he didn't have to be in the same room as the slowly dying James Potter or if he was upset that he wasn't in there with Lily and her baby. He did know that he was glad that the Mark had finally been removed from him five months ago. It had taken a few potions, a few spells, and a second removal surgery, but it was gone at last, and he was free of the Dark Lord.
"Harveste James Potter."
"Harveste?" the nurse asked.
Severus shrugged. "Damned if I know why," he answered the woman. "I'm just telling you what they told me they decided. I think some of the honorary uncles are already calling the child Harry, if that makes you feel better?"
The nurse shook her head in bewilderment rather than negativity, and wrote the name down. She already had the doctor who had delivered the child, as well as the time and date of birth. She'd get weight and length from one of the nurses in the new infant ward next. Such was the life of an intern.
"Thank you Mr Snape," she said, tucking her pen behind her ear and giving a smile before politely shooing him back to the new mother's room and excusing herself.
It was the full moon, and it was Harveste James Potter's first birthday, and Remus John Lupin was smiling as he gave the child a ride on his back around the living room. They hadn't found a cure to lycanthropy yet, but Lily and Severus were both convinced that they could do it eventually, and Remus was happy to be their test subject until they managed to achieve their goal – because really, it was his too. What they had managed so far was to create a potion that allowed him to keep his own mind when the transformation happened, and while he had his own mind, he was also safe.
Sirius had left that afternoon on a mission, Severus was down in the potions lab with Lily, and Peter was... well, Remus wasn't sure where Peter was always disappearing to these days, but his best guess was something to do with the war-effort. After all, who noticed when a rat was listening in? Dumbledore was probably making good use of the youngest Marauder as a spy for the Order. The man would be rather foolish not to take advantage of it really, unless he didn't know, and as much as the four of them had thought that they were being very clever, Remus was fairly sure that there was nothing that the man didn't know of that happened within the walls of his school.
Well, the important things anyway, and during peace time at least. With the war as things were now, he was understandably a little bit preoccupied, and no one really wanted to know which kids were kissing in closets... unless it was their duty to make sure it got no further than that of course.
Remus swung his head around and trotted to the front door, Harveste still on his back.
"Moony, get Lily and Severus. I'm afraid I've got bad news," Sirius said, taking the baby off of his friend's back.
The wolf nodded and trotted back down the corridors to the lab where Lily and Severus were working, scratching on the door to get their attention and request that they come out. When the three of them got back to the kitchen, it was in time to see Sirius handing Petunia a calming draught.
The woman was visibly shaking. It visibly got better after she'd swallowed the potion.
"Petunia?" Lily asked, running to her sister. "Pet what happened?"
"The whole street's gone Lil," Petunia answered. "Our parent's house, the Dursley's place, Severus' old home, the corner shop, the playground, everything! I think they even went further and got the school and the mechanic's shop."
There was more to their neighbourhood of course, but Petunia wasn't going to just list every house in their street and the next five just so that Lily would know that their home, their street, their neighbourhood were all gone.
"What happened?" Severus asked.
"Death Eaters," Sirius answered simply. "That's the call that we got this afternoon. We've been fighting them since, but while the Death Eaters there all got caught or killed... well, with that level of destruction I'm not about to call it a victory."
"One of the wizards was going to erase my memories of the incident," Petunia said. "Would have too, if Sirius hadn't stopped them, saying that I knew already."
"Well, I'd failed Lily's parents already, I wasn't going to fail her sister."
"Thank you Sirius," Lily said, gratefully, holding her sister tightly. "I can't tell you how thankful I am."
"Just doing what I can," Sirius said. "Got to keep you and Harry safe for James, since he's not here to do it himself any more."
Lily nodded. She knew it hadn't been easy for Sirius since James had died, but he was getting better as well, and fighting in the war was a constructive distraction from his grief. At least the man wasn't having to watch as his best friend wasted away before his very eyes any more. That had almost been even more painful. James had gone out with a bang at least, after he'd been able to hold little Harry. He'd taken a 'suicide mission' and taken twenty Death Eaters with him on the battlefield, rather than waiting for the curse that had been eating at him to finish him off.
"Wrong house," Lily growled standing fiercely between the figure in the door and her baby boy.
Voldemort narrowed his red eyes. "Stand aside."
"Albus told me that damned prophecy you know," Lily hissed, not moving. "All of it. I wouldn't have picked you to be that much of an idiot as to believe in something so wishy-washy as prophecy."
Red eyes narrowed further. "You will tell me," he ordered, his wand-tip glowing with a dangerous green light, just waiting for the spell to be unleashed.
Lily, with her wand behind her back, pointed at Harveste as she silently cast one protective spell after another over him, was glad to stall. Sirius would probably get here in time if she could just hold out long enough. Severus was staying with Petunia as her 'guard' that night, and Remus – her own 'guard' – was out cold downstairs. Voldemort probably intended to convert another werewolf to his side when he woke the man up.
Lily recited the whole saints-damned thing. "And I'm fairly sure I've defied you a hell of a lot more times than just three you bastard," she added on the end, whipping her wand around, already silently casting the first hex that sprang to mind.
There was a reason she'd been Flitwick's apprentice.
Voldemort's wand hand exploded in a bloody mess, splinters of wand raining down with the tiny bits of mangled hand as well.
"And I'll be damned if I let you so much as breathe near my baby," Lily said, righteous fire in her eyes as she aimed a slicing hex at the Dark Lord's throat.
Sirius arrived at that moment. "Who knew the bastard could still bleed," he commented, surprised as he watched Voldemort's head come mostly off his neck and fall to his knees. "You really don't believe in divination, do you Lil?"
Lily shook her head firmly. "I'll take precautions," she said. "But I don't believe, no. Peter as a Secret Keeper was obviously a bad idea though."
Sirius nodded. "Shall I go rat-hunting, or just call in at work?"
"Is Remus awake?" Lily asked.
"He'll feel like he's got the hangover from hell for a couple of hours, but yeah," Sirius said, smiling just the tiniest bit.
"Then put set up a BOLO on Peter at work quietly. If he doesn't know he's being hunted he'll be a lot easier to find."
Sirius nodded. "You alright? Harry?"
Lily nodded. "I was casting protections on him the whole time I was stalling," she said with a smile. "When I ran out of ideas for stalling, I figured it was attack time."
Sirius looked down at the body on the floor. "You'll be getting a big fat medal for this you know."
Lily chuckled and shook her head. "I've upset a lot of people who believe in prophecy though I bet," she said.