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~ January, 1980 ~

Lilly sat dully in the oppressive silence of her kitchen, three months pregnant and falling apart at the seams. How could James be so callous? So… stupid? How could he not see that he was putting everything else before the life of their child? Their screaming echoed in her ears. Easily the worst row they’d have had.

Which was saying something, truly.

She’d begged him to go with her. To flee. For the baby. James had called her a coward. Insisted that he would fight this war until they won or he’d died trying. Somehow, unlike her, his world hadn’t changed axis when the little strip on the muggle pregnancy test turned pink. Her world was the baby’s now. Anything for the child.

The child that was now placed in the crosshairs between two warlords. Dumbledore had promised to protect them. But there was only so much he could do. The Dark Lord had people everywhere, supporters everywhere. Even within the order! Wasn’t that exactly why Remus was being cut out of the loop? Because he was suspected of being a supporter – if not a spy – of the Dark Order?

But noooo, James wanted to stay at an old family property (easily found in public documents by the way, wasn’t exact a secret that the Potter’s owned a cottage in Godric’s Hollow), with one measly protection charm? He wanted to put their child’s life on the line?

She couldn’t abide it.

Silent tears began to fall down wane cheeks as she struggled – once again - between what she did want, and what she felt like she should want. She did want her child to be safe – at any cost – and she should want the father of said child to stand by her. But honestly? James Potter had always fallen under what she should want. Just like she was what he should want.

She hadn’t seen it for a long time. And wouldn’t admit it for longer. But the flash of pain and longing she’d seen on his face, just after they’d returned from their honeymoon and were greeting the lads in the Leaky, when Severus had brushed past them and into muggle London, answered the question of what James did want.

It was a miracle they’d lasted this long. Stubbornness on both counts, she assumed.

Mother Magic, what was she going to do? This was such as mess. She and James, latching onto each other because it was what they should want, procreating like the fools they clearly were, and Dumbledore clearly desperate to name that unborn child his champion.

And how in the nine hells was that fair? Her child’s life was not predetermined. She could fix this… she would fix this.

…And Severus was going to help.

 


 

 

Hidden under layers of disillusion and notice-me-not charms, Lilly focused heavily on not thinking about what she was doing as she slipped down the alley towards Spinner’s End. She knew it was crazy, she knew that no one would understand if and when they found out. She knew that it was truly just a matter of time before they did. Things like this tended to come out, one way or another.

Banging on the door she waited impatiently for her old friend to open the door. She had the sneaky suspicion that selling him on this would not be easy.

To be perfectly fair, it was a rather insane plan.

The door was wrenched open, her oldest friend’s expression dour as he snapped, “What?” before even looking at who was – or wasn’t – at his doorstep.

“Severus,” She whispered. “I’m really sorry to just show up like this, but it’s important. Can I come in?”

His eyes widened as he recognized her voice. Face conflicted before an unnatural calm settled over his features. Occlumency shields, she knew.

“What was my first bout of accidental magic?”

Lilly pursed her lips. “A bubble-head charm, after you fell into the river.”

He moved away from the doorframe, opening it enough to allow her entry. Stepping inside, Lilly waited for Severus to lock the door and cast privacy wards before dropping her concealment charms. “Thank you Severus,” She whispered fervently.

He was quiet, glazed eyes looking over her shoulder. “Why are you here, Lily?”

Her breath shuddered out of her. “To ask something of you that I have no right to ask. Especially after how I’ve treated you the last few years.” At his raised eyebrow she continued. “I need your help, please.”

He swallowed heavily at the desperate tears that had welled in her eyes. “Help with what? What’s wrong, Lily?”

She suspected that he thought it was a problem in her marriage – which to be fair, was a partial factor – but my how she was about to surprise him. “I… I…” She took a deep breath, bracing herself before trying again. “I need you to take me to the Dark Lord.”

Severus’ jaw dropped, clear shock crossing his features before he could control his reaction. “I believe I misheard you. You need me to what?”

Her eyes steeled into a glare. This was hard for a number of reasons, and awkward for a dozen more. But she knew her friend. Knew how he’d always had an affinity for the deep magics – otherwise known as the dark arts - just as she’d always had an affinity for elemental magics. Therefore, she had not a single doubt in her mind about his status as a Death Eater. “I need to speak to him. It’s important.”

“You…” He trailed off, clearly incredulous. “A muggleborn witch, and probable member of Dumbledore’s resistance, are seeking an audience with the Dark Lord… through me.”

“Severus, please. I swear I am not trying to entrap you. I have a legitimate reason to,” she sneered despite the situation and her still wet eyes, “Seek an audience.”

Onyx eyes flicked quickly between swimming emerald. “Morgana and Merlin, Lily.” He breathed, reading her determination. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

She answered with a stiff nod.

Feeling weary and aged beyond his years, Severus returned the gesture. “Does anyone know that you’re here? Or what you’re planning?”

“No. James has a twelve-hour shift with the ministry tonight. I have just over eleven before anyone will notice I’m gone.”

It was lucky timing, Severus noted to himself. The Dark Lord had no raids planned for tonight, no significant gatherings of any kind. And with said Dark Lord being nocturnal – as far as Severus could tell at least – the late night and wee hours of the morning were equivalent to a teacher’s office hours. He would accept an audience. But he could not just bring Lily to his Lord’s stronghold. For a fairly long list of reasons, propionate among them the wards denying access to unmarked individuals.

“Very well,” he finally agreed, seeing acquiescing to this insanity as the way to finally gain her forgiveness. “I shall request an immediate audience. You must remain here until he has decided whether or not to grant that request. Stay here; remain hidden, under no circumstances reveal yourself to anyone but me.”

“Thank you Severus,” Lily trembled as fear, relief, and adrenaline coursed through her in equal measure.

He huffed. “Thank me if we both survive this lunacy.”

Lily looked at her oldest friend – hesitating by the door - with a wavering smile. “Be safe.” She whispered.

Severus didn’t respond. Merely pulled on a traveling cloak and stepped outside.

 

The crack of apparation alerted her to Severus’ return one nerve-wracking hour later. Lily dropped her disillusionment charm the moment the door closed behind him – much to Severus’ ire. He looked tired, stressed, and resigned.

“He’s agreed. I’m to take you there right away.” He held out a silver necklace with a dark mark engraved on the pendant. “This will grant one-time admittance through the wards.”

He snatched his hand back as she reached to take the necklace, asking one more time, “Are you really sure about this? The moment you touch the pendent, there is no going back.”

She frowned at her friend, who had already put his neck on the line for her. She might still have an out, but he certainly didn’t. If he failed to promptly deliver her to his Lord, Voldemort would take his pound of flesh out of Severus’ hide. She held her hand out insistently, eyes boring into his. Slowly, haltingly, he again proffered the silver chain.

Adrenaline and resolve had brought a certain calm. This was what she needed to do. For her unborn child. Dumbledore wouldn’t protect the child, not really. The Headmaster was so eager to pass the responsibility off, so blind to the nature of prophecies, and – she hated to admit – willing to manipulate. He would set the child on the path of ‘destiny’ as ‘the chosen one’ and forever rob them of the life they deserved. As an Unspeakable, Lily had more knowledge of the nature and ambiguity of spoken prophecy than most. The Hall of Prophesies existed for a reason. All she had to do was convince Voldemort (‘cause of course it would be easy to convince a megalomaniac to not attack a potential threat to their power), and her child wouldn’t be condemned to an early death or life as a child soldier.

Green light flared from the etched skull and snake – which began to move – the moment the necklace touched her skin. If she had to guess, she’d say that it was now keyed to her magical signature, making it so that the Dark Lord’s wards would recognize her as ‘marked’ and thus allow her to avoid any unfortunate consequences when crossing them.

Severus ushered her out his childhood residence, and beyond his anti-apparation wards. Lily Evans Potter was on her way to meet the Dark Lord.

Chapter Text

~ October, 1981 ~

The Dark Lord stumbled at the bottom of the stairs. Lily reached to steady him as he swayed with exhaustion, only to be met with sharp red eyes narrowed in a glare. “Don’t mother-hen me, woman!” He snapped.

She pursed her lips, green eyes now equally narrowed into a glare of her own. He wasn’t wrong, per say, her mother instincts were kicking in, but it was more than that. For over a year he had been her mentor, and this was the very first time she’d ever seen him even remotely vulnerable. The sight unnerved her, kicking protective instincts into overdrive.

She opened her mouth to respond, but the words clogged in her throat as his eyes sharpened in focus, head snapping toward the door. With a flick of his wrist, the Dark Lord was armed, pale yew trained on her, a transparent wave of power enveloping her before she could react.

The front door crashed open, James charging into the house wand raised, with Sirius and Professor Dumbledore hot on his heels. Lily reached for her wand, only to come up empty. It wasn’t in her robe! Desperate eyes searched the room even as a three-on-one battle began in earnest. Distantly she wondered what spell the Dark Lord had put on her, and why the others hadn’t even acknowledged her existence

Sirius deflected a violent purple stream of magic – that she absolutely recognized – sending it hurtling in her direction. Lily dove for cover behind the couch, finally spotting her wand on an end table. Franticly crawling toward it, she realized what spell the Dark Lord had cast on her when she reached an invisible hand for her wand. A hand she barely pulled back in time to avoid having it blown to smithereens with her end table, and – she caught sight of shinning unicorn hair, hanging limply from the willow - wand.

She cursed soundlessly – apparently the Dark Lord had woven a silencing spell with his invisibility enchantment - feeling stymied and useless. She didn’t want to attack James, Sirius, or Dumbledore, but she had sworn her life in service to Voldemort, she couldn’t just do nothing! Especially when he was facing magical exhaustion and three opponents: two of which were Aurors, and the third of which had personally defeated the last Dark Lord – singlehandedly! – and was something of a warlord himself.

James slammed into the wall beside her, dropping to the floor in an unconscious heap, bleeding profusely from a cut on his forehead. Sirius was next. Landing similarly, a meter from his friend, sans blood.

Crouching, she snuck back around the couch, body coiled and ready – for what, she didn’t know. Watching the unfolding battle between the exhausted Dark Lord and enraged Headmaster with awe. They were both so powerful, so skilled and creative. Her living room was demolished, and still they fought, stalwart. She felt the Dark Lord’s magic swell, felt powerful wards collapsing into useless threads and screamed silently as his defenses were breached. A swirling black spell nicked his ribs as he dodged, not quite quickly enough, falling to the ground with a pain-filled cry of his own. A flick of yew blasted the Headmaster back, but it would only buy seconds.

Lunging for the fallen Lord, Lily coiled around him, grasping the cold pale hand that held his wand, trying to channel her magic through it to escape. The crack of disapparation was deafening, the wand resisting, pushing back against her attempts to control, the wood now veined with cracks from the backlash. They landed – miraculously in one piece - in an undignified pile on the fine Persian rug covering the stone floor of Voldemort’s private study. She scrambled off him as he wetly wheezed for breath.

“Port…ke…” Blood bubbled up from his mouth, bright crimson spilling down his chin and neck. Weakly, he raised a hand, pointing vaguely toward some lower bookshelves.

Frantic, she spun, following his eyes and shaking finger. A brief flicker caught her eye; a small, inconspicuous onyx serpent reflected the light from the fire. Lily snatched it from the shelf, darting back toward the Dark Lord. She reached him just in time to see one side of his ribcage collapse with a violent crack. A fresh stream of blood flowed out the corner of his mouth in consequence. The man was literally drowning in his own blood, and without a wand, there was nothing she could do.

Following his implied command, she once again pressed in close, and helped long pale fingers grasp the figurine. He coughed, clearly trying to speak the activation phrase. Frustrated and no doubt desperate, he waved his free hand, apparently clearing the blood already in his lungs - if not actually stemming the flow – and hissed. Immediately she felt the fishhook pull from her navel, spinning them through the unknown.

Their second landing was as unfortunately violent as the first. But this time they landed on bare hardwood floors, disturbed dust billowing through the air. Lily laid him out as comfortably as she could, pillowing his head on her lap. She tried to speak, but his silencing spell held true. So instead she settled for stroking his cheeks, knowing that if he had the strength he’d protest such an intimate gesture, but not wanting him to feel alone as he died, cradled by naught but a cold floor and her invisible embrace.

Fresh blood flecked his lips as he again attempted to speak. “S… St… ay…”

She frowned, though he could not see. Stay? Was that his last command? But… why? Why would he command her to stay wherever they were? Aside, of course, from the fact that she sincerely had no idea where in the world they were.

His breath rattled and wheezed before stopping altogether. His body began to seize violently as he struggled for air, lungs deflated and filling with blood, pale lips turning blue. Soon his struggles stopped, leaving in his wake a terrible stillness. Her now visible hands continued their soothing ministrations, fingertips stained red with the blood still trickling from his mouth.

The Dark Lord Voldemort was dead.

And… smoking. She noticed with some horror.

Scrambling back she let his head fall to the floor, watching in mingled fascination and horror as his body seemed to be… disintegrating… into a thick vapor. Within seconds, the Dark Lord’s serpentine body was gone. The vapor above where he’d lain, forming into the visage of a should-be-handsome man. She cocked her head curiously, fascination winning out over horror. The image was fractured; it was like looking at a reflection through a dull, splintered mirror.

“My… Lord?” She queried.

The wraith gave a small nod of affirmation.

Now thoroughly fascinated, Lily rose and moved toward him, not noticing as she stepped onto his clothes. The wraith didn’t retreat, merely watched her, seeming curious himself. She reached to touch him, wondering if he would feel like a ghost. He didn’t look like a ghost, didn’t appear to be made of ectoplasma, but he clearly wasn’t alive either. This was some manifestation of soul. He withdrew from her fingers, startling her from her reverie.

Right. It probably wasn’t smart to touch him. If he had the power to posses her – which she suspected he might – then any merging of her physical body with his soul was quite dangerous for her. She had no doubts that such a combination would prove fatal to her body, no matter how temporary the arrangement. The human body just wasn’t meant to house two souls. Unless one was forced into dormancy… and even then, she’d really rather not test it.

They eyed each other. Lily suspecting from his continued silence that he was unable to verbally communicate in his current form. “Okay…” She started. Trying to gather her scattered thoughts. “You don’t have a body, I don’t have wand… or any idea where I am for that matter.” She looked at the obviously irritated wraith, then continued, trying to plan and talk at the same time. “I need to get the lay of the land, figure out basic survival and then get my hands on a wand.”

He drifted over toward a wall, gesturing imperiously. Intrigued, she moved to get a look at what he was pointing at. There, pinned to the wall and covered in dust, was a map. He pointed to a green space in southern Albania.

“Is that where we are?”

He nodded decisively, then pointed to another spot, this time in Croatia. She frowned, thinking about what she’d been saying. It was way too far away to qualify as “basic survival” especially since she was a muggleborn and could move about in their world… which meant he was pointing to a wizarding community where she could procure a wand.

“Wand?” She asked, mainly so he’d know that she’d figured it out. He nodded again.

She sucked in a breath and coughed on dust. He didn’t look impressed. Okay, time to move this conversation along. “It’ll probably take me a couple days to get affairs in order. I’ll need to leave the cabin and find the nearest muggle town, then figure out transportation to a wizarding one…”

She trailed off, eyeing him critically, before she realized why that sounded wrong. Albania was a communist state, under a dictator’s rule, with closed borders. Neither of her European Union visas (genuine or forged) would do her any good here. Shit. She couldn’t go to a muggle town. As an obvious outsider, and without valid papers, she’d be arrested on the spot. That meant finding a wizarding community within walking distance, and praying they had a public floo.

Nibbling her lip, Lily eyed the frustrated wraith. “I won’t abandon you,” She spoke much softer than before. “I don’t know how to fix this, but I suspect you might. Either way, we’ll figure it out. I promise.”

Now it was he who eyed her. He nodded once, then abruptly disappeared through the wall.

Right. Just her then.

Drawing in a deep, steadying breath, Lily studied the map, looking for the disguised symbols denoting a wizard’s space on muggle maps. Thrilling when she found a wizarding way station in her region.

Releasing the held breath in relief, Lily used her thumb and the ratio legend to figure out the distance. Frowning at the 32 kilometers she came away with. That was as unfortunate as it was expected. Of course Voldemort would prefer his safe house to have distance on people. But it was within walking distance at least. So that was something she had that was working for her, that and her own preparedness.

No longer distracted, Lily finally realized how dark it was. Too late to deal with that. She’d worry about it tomorrow. For now, she did have some more personal things to deal with. But first, she needed to settle in as much as possible. She gathered Voldemort’s robes, folding them haphazardly and placing them on a stool, wincing as she gingerly placed his cracked wand on top of the pile. Next she lit the fire, and beat dust from the cot and accompanying blankets. Sighing in relief at the warmth and light provided by the fire, she cracked open two of the windows to create a cross breeze and chase the stale air out of the cabin. The temperature outside was temperate, cool but not cold, and smelling of tress and life.

Lily looked at her handiwork, and with a wan smile, finally acknowledged to herself that nothing would make this easier, or more pleasant. Sitting down at the multi-purpose table, she pulled a small coin pouch from a hidden inner pocket of her robe. In a way, she’d been preparing for this day since the night she met the Dark Lord and vowed her fealty in exchange for his passive protection her then-unborn son.

Sighing with the sting of tears in her eyes, she pulled the drawstring mouth far wider than it had any right to go. Reaching in, she searched blindly for the document box, pulling it free and setting the pouch aside. Opening the box she looked sadly at the parchment sheets within. Truthfully, this was a long time coming, but as she’d already acknowledged to herself, that didn’t make it painless. Quite the opposite in fact.

First things first, resigning her post as an Unspeakable, effective immediately. These parchments were the master forms to duplicates held by her solicitor. Once signed with her blood (to verify that she was one the one who signed of course), the copies would also show her verified signature, and a glow would inform her solicitor as a copy would be automatically filed at the ministry. With a wrinkled nose and a wince, Lily signed her resignation with her pilfered blood quill.

Now unemployed and with limited personal assets, she moved to the thicker stack - her divorce papers. It felt cruel. Serving James with a finalized divorce without any notice or chance to discuss the situation. Essentially ghosting on both him and Harry.

She nibbled her lips, eyes welling as she thought about her son. That was the hardest part. She and James shouldn’t have gotten married, and while she may regret the circumstances of their divorce, she couldn’t regret the divorce itself. But Harry… it was so hard to realize that she wouldn’t watch her son grow. Wouldn’t hold him, and sing him lullabies. Wouldn’t send him off to Hogwarts, or suffer through his teenaged angst. Wouldn’t meet friends or girlfriends. Wouldn’t…

The tears spilled and she collapsed against the table with wracking sobs. Would he remember her? Would he know that she loved him more than anything? Would he hate her for abandoning him? Would she ever hold him again? Would she ever get the chance to explain that it was all for him? That she’d sold her soul to the devil to keep him safe, and couldn’t regret it. Because he was protected and she’d finally found the home she’d been looking for all along.

Lily allowed herself a few minutes to wallow. She’d give herself proper time to grieve later; she just couldn’t afford it right now. Time was of the essence. But a small dose now would help her keep her composure through the next hurdle. Sniffling, and wiping her nose and face with her hands, Lily closed her eyes, practiced the deep breathing exercises the Dark lord had taught her and willed herself to stop crying.

She needed these papers signed and dated today. That would give her some anonymity. Allow for the possibility that she just hadn’t been home when the Dark Lord had come calling. Perhaps she’d already left her husband. No one would know for sure. Her reputation would still find itself in shambles, but hopefully she’d be spared the more damning – and accurate – allegations of being a dark witch and follower of the Dark Lord. The less she was accused of, the more freely she could move.

Lily hadn’t known when or how it would all come crumbling down, but she had known it would. The figurative bomb had begun to tick the moment she’d made her agreement with Voldemort. Thus the preparations she’d cunningly pulled together over the last year and a half. Her two muggle visa’s, various contingencies (such as these papers) that allowed her to drop off the grid without incurring too much undue suspicion (Obviously, there would be suspicion, but no evidence. She’d signed her resignation willingly, with her own blood as verification. Same with her divorce papers, and the assigning of Severus Snape as her proxy.). And many more: clothes, books, supplies, money, etc.

She would shed Lily Potter like a snake sheds it’s skin, and become someone new.

Calm, and with a renewed resolve, Lily pulled the sheets close again, initialing each clause and signing and dating at the end.

 


 

~ November, 1981 ~

Severus pounded on the door of the Potter’s home in Godric’s Hollow. “Open the door!” He yelled for the fifth time. Hearing the same sharp cries of a young child through the wood that he had heard upon arrival.

Something was not right. In fact, something was desperately wrong. He’d been enjoying his breakfast, minding his own business, when an unknown, haughty owl had swooped in, delivering an official notice, that he had been signed proxy parental rights over one Harrison James Potter, by one Lily Juniper Evans. His spoon hadn’t even hit the floor when he was out the door and apparating to Potter Cottage.

“Potter!” Severus continued to pound on the door. Lily was gone. No doubts there. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been assigned her proxy by a legal notice, which had been signed in her maiden name. James was officially divorced – whether he knew it or not.

Finally he heard the loud thump of a body hitting the floor – likely after rolling off the couch – and James’ voice grumbling. Impatient for the fumbling man to finish unlocking his door, Severus wasn’t prepared for the potent fumes of alcohol that were seeping from the other man’s pores when he cracked it open, squinting in the weak sunlight. Rearing back at the smell, Severus scowled.

“What did you do?” Severus snarled, forcing his way into the house.

From his new position sprawled on the floor amidst the wreckage of what been a well-appointed living room, clutching his head, James’ very articulate reply was a slurred, “Wha…?”

Wishing he were surprised by James’ inebriated condition, Severus rolled his eyes, pulled a vial of Sobering Draught from his robes, and shoved it into the other man’s hands. “Drink that.” He snapped, storming his way up the stairs to take care of the still shrilly-crying child.

Harry’s screams abated to pitiful whimpers when he swept into the room, recognizing his ‘Unca Vev’ from all the times he’d played nanny to the brat while Lily had been apprenticing with the Dark Lord.

“Brat,” he greeted, lifting the child from his crib and carrying him to the changing table. Harry gave a smile that showed off his partial (and mix-matched) set of little teeth. Severus rolled his eyes. Really wishing that ‘brat’ hadn’t became a term of endearment for the little terror. Alas, it had… and apparently even said little terror knew it.

What a nightmare.

Carrying the now clean and contented child on his hip, Severus went back downstairs to deal with the overgrown toddler down there. James was sitting on the couch; elbows on his knees, empty vial dangling one hand, while the other massaged no-doubt aching temples. Choosing to ignore the man-child for now, Severus swept past him into the kitchen.

Putting Harry into his highchair, Severus conjured animal shaped bubbles and set them to dance around, much to the delight of the child. Happy squeals, hand-claps and giggles, filled the space as the Potions Master set to work on the child’s breakfast.

“He knows you.” Severus’ shoulders tensed at James’ rasp. Opting not to dignify the man-child’s statement of the obvious with a response, he instead settled by Harry and began to feed the brat his breakfast.

Severus could well understand Lily’s choice to assign a proxy if she herself were to be unable to provide care for her son instead of leaving him alone with just James.

The man-child sighed. “Why are you here?”

“Check your mail.” Was Severus’ caustic reply.

The man-child sighed again, but did as bid, clearly exhausted and likely in too much pain from his abrupt sobering to have much fight.

Outwardly, Severus was focused on Harry, but behind his occlumency shields chaos was reigning. He needed to know what had happened here last night. Clearly something had gone wrong. Aside from Lily and the Dark Lord himself, Severus was the only one who had known that He would be here last night, to place extensive protections on the brat.

The Headmaster’s machinations had continued unabated when Harry was born, despite the Dark Lord’s clear dismissal of the prophecy. Pleased with Lily as an informant and – after giving birth – apprentice, and seeing her worry, the Dark Lord had offered a boon: a willingness to actively protect her child. Samhain had been the night chosen. But this morning he’d received that bloody owl instead of his friend coming over to blow out the last candle as evening fell.

Clearly things hadn’t gone to plan. The only question now was just how wrong it had gone. Severus couldn’t sense any protections on Harry, which could mean that the Dark Lord had never even had the chance to place enchantments on the child. Alternately, it could mean that the Dark Lord had been successful and that the enchantments were as stealthy as they were strong; likely intention based.

The demolished living room was indication enough of a fight. But neither the obvious destruction, nor the owl he’d received had told him whether or not Lily’s cover was blown. He didn’t know if Dumbledore was aware of her duplicity. If he was, Severus would have to walk on a tightrope to prevent the Headmaster from realizing that Severus himself had only gone to him on the Dark Lord’s orders. Voldemort had had no intention of harming Lily or her son, but at the time it had been necessary for Dumbledore to continue to believe he had an ace up his sleeve. It had been risky – so very risky – but the only viable way to protect Lily and her true allegiance.

Severus’ attention was snapped as James landed heavily in the chair across from him. His expression staggered and devastated. Parchments slipping through numb fingers.

“She’s… gone.”