Disclaimer: Not JKR, not making any money
A/N: So here it is, the final chapter of the story! I just want to thank everyone for reading and commenting. Hugs to you all!
"Mummy, it's almost three o'clock! Why isn't Daddy here yet?"
Lily glanced up from cake she was desperately trying to finish icing. She'd already smeared half of the Welcome in Welcome Home, but it was more for her edification that she get the cake right than for his. Sev really wasn't the sort to notice cakes.
"Well, it's a bit of a walk from the castle, darling." Lily squinted up her face in concentration and drew a last little decorative swirl of dark icing across the bottom of the cake. Welcome Home, Daddy! was sprawled lopsided across the top. She sighed and dropped the icing applicator in the sink. The cake had been Harriet's idea; she was seven years old and this was the sixth welcome-home dinner they'd had since the end of the war. The dinners had gotten significantly more elaborate as Harriet got older.
"Can I see?" Harriet wormed her way between Lily and the counter, standing up on her tiptoes to peer at the cake. "It's beautiful, Mummy."
"Thanks." Lily leaned down and kissed Harriet on the top of the head. She had Sev's hair, dark and glossy when it was freshly washed, as it was now.
"Why didn't you use magic to put the icing on? Like Mrs. Ladmore does?" Harriet asked.
"I couldn't get it to work properly. Did you get your sign hung up?"
Harriet jumped a little and said, "Oh!" and then bolted out of the kitchen - but not before swiping her finger along the bottom of the cake to wipe away a little taste of icing. Lily sighed and used her wand to smooth over the bare spot. Then she covered the cake and left the kitchen, warm from the yellow summer sun pouring through the windows and from the heat of the oven. She always baked a chicken with basil and lemons for his welcome-home dinners. She'd done it the first year, when Harriet was two years old and wild with the mania of toddlers, when the separation from Sev had still felt like an extension of wartime. From there it had settled into tradition.
The bright scent of lemon filled the cottage as Lily made her way to the front door, where Harriet was balancing on top of a step stool to hang a sign she'd spent the last few days making out of construction paper and paint that Lily had bought for her from a Muggle store - a consolation prize for not being allowed to do magic yet. The sign flapped a little in the breeze trickling in through the open windows, flashing color like a kaleidoscope.
Harriet jumped down from the stepping stool and admired her work. Like the writing on the cake, the sign hung a little crooked, but Harriet didn't seem notice and Lily knew Sev wasn't going to care.
"When is he getting here?" Harriet asked, stamping her foot.
"He has a lot to do at the end of the term," Lily said. "Patience, my dear."
Harriet sighed and an over to the window, leaned up against the sill, squinted into the sun.
"Why don't we go wait out in the garden," Lily suggested. She checked the clock: a little after three. He always came home at 3:15 three days after the Hogwarts express left Hogsmeade Station. Three days ago, Lily had been in the garden, pulling weeds from a patch of tomato plants, and she had seen the pale trickle of smoke against the blue sky, heard the distant call of the whistle. Her heart had fluttered like she was a teenager again.
Out in the garden, she Transfigured garden chairs out of the grass and the ivy vines twining around the big sprawling oak tree. She and Harriet sat down and waited, Harriet bouncing up and down in her seat. Lily checked her watch constantly. It was true that Sev came home most weekends, hauling stacks of essays in an extension-charmed briefcase which he usually didn't bother to grade, opting instead to show Harriet simple spells in the living room, or kissing Lily in their bedroom as the twilight fell, in those lovely movements before he had to make his way back to the school.
But summer was different. Summer was the time their lives were what Lily always hoped for. She wasn't sad during the school year, but during the summer she knew for certain what happiness was.
At the end of the walkway leading to their cottage, a man appeared against the blue sky. Black hair, black robes
"Daddy!" Harriet shrieked, and she leapt out of her chair and raced through the garden before Lily could say anything. Lily watched as Harriet flew down the path, her pale summer robes streaming out behind her like the wind. Sev bent down and pulled Harriet into an embrace and then allowed her to drag him up the walkway. He was empty-handed; his chest of belongings had probably appeared in their bedroom a few seconds earlier, the way they always did.
Lily checked her watch. Three-fifteen. The same time every year.
Sev walked into the garden, Harriet chattering excitedly beside him. He tilted his head a little, listening to her, nodding along. But his eyes were on Lily, dark and intense. She had seen him a week ago, meeting him for lunch at the pub in Hogsmeade, but in this moment the sunlight was warm and bright around them, and the air was sweet with the scent of flowers. It was a dream. It was happiness.
Lily stood up. Sev pulled a small silver-edged box out of his pocket and gave it to Harriet, crouching down in the grass to show her how it worked. She listened to the instructions intently, her expression the same as Sev's whenever he worked on his potions. Lily's chest tightened.
"Go on," Sev said, straightening up. "Try it out. Behind the cottage!" he added as Harriet disappeared inside. Then he looked at Lily.
"What'd you give her?"
"Oh, just a little trinket I made." He shrugged, walked over to her, pulled her close. They didn't kiss, just stood there in each other's arms. Lily breathed in the scent of him.
"Another three months," Sev said.
"Another three months."
In a few moments' time, they would eat the chicken with the basil and lemons, they would cut into the cake, they would listen to Sev tell stories about the school year. They would let Harriet stay up late that night, and when she finally fell asleep, Sev would carry her up to her bed and Lily would take down her sign, folding it into careful quarters. She and Sev would remember the lines of each other's bodies. The days would carry on, the summer warm and indolent. Their entire life would unravel from this point, and it would be a life spent together, a life where Sev was not a Death Eater, where Lily was not dead.
That was the future. But right now, in the present, she kissed him, and together they melted into sunlight.