Severus wasn’t sure how it had come to this. He was sure that he had been present for it all, that he’d seen it happen with his own two eyes. But he was floored to realise that these two boys had grown to care about him more than ever before—and that love went both ways.
Without his knowledge or consent, the four of them had become a family. Now that one of their own was missing, it was time he did something about it.
He had reviewed his and Saturnine’s plan all week to see if they had overlooked something—a way out of this mess, other than to admit the truth and end the whole bloody masquerade. But it was too soon for that; they had yet to get their hands on Salazar Slytherin’s locket and Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem. Only then could they safely move to the next phase of the plan. Only then would they stand a chance to defeat the Dark Lord.
So, Severus had devoted all his intellect to the task at hand, spending most of his days and nights thinking and researching. He had neglected everything else, such as his duties and family. If it hadn’t been for the two persistent boys now leeched to each of his sides, he would have stopped eating and engaging with the world, losing himself to the recesses of his whirling mind. It was no sane way to live, and it needed to end—now.
Leaning down, he placed a soft kiss atop Draco’s head and then mirrored the gesture on Harry’s brown mess of tangled locks. “I’m sorry,” he admitted, and those weren’t words he said often. “We should never have kept that from you. I thought it was best you didn’t know what we were up to and convinced Saturnine not to say anything. I—it was a mistake, and I’m sorry.”
Severus always hated to apologise and rarely meant it when he was forced to do so. It was an admission of defeat—something utterly unnatural for him. It was akin to handing out open invitations for people to criticise his behaviour—something that always put him in a vulnerable spot and produced feelings of self-doubt–and it was too uncomfortable a situation to invite it upon himself willingly.
Harry and Draco barely reacted to his words. They neither criticised nor ridiculed his poor choices; they didn’t look down on him contemptuously or in a display of evident superiority, as was often the case. They said nothing and remained right where they were. The only change that his words invited was for them to want to hold him a little tighter.
That took some of the fear away and gave him the strength to admit to a little more. “Albus was going to die, and we feared what would happen when he did. The Dark Lord would have tried to force one of his minions down our throats to replace him. We couldn’t have that; so, we looked for ways to control the outcome. We considered many options but settled on the present alternative—a long, arduous investigation that enforced the status quo until its resolution. It was always possible that the Dark Lord would send one of his followers to the castle to investigate. But we didn’t plan on being targeted so directly. When it became obvious that it would be personal, we chose to take it in stride and agreed to take on ourselves as much of Talio’s ire as we could—both to shield everyone else and to buy some additional time.”
“Time to do what?” Harry asked from somewhere near his shoulder.
“Enough time to secure a way to kill the Dark Lord once and for all,” he replied, surprised at how easy it was to be truthful once he got going.
“And how close are you to doing that?” Draco asked, raising his chin a little.
Looking down, Severus caught his silver eyes and discovered that not only could he tell these two boys the truth, but he could also look them in the eye while he did it. “Nowhere closer than we were when the semester began,” he admitted. “We’ve hit a metaphorical brick wall.”
A pair of bespectacled green eyes looked up, too, oozing kindness and support that made Severus remember another pair of emerald eyes. “Maybe we can help,” Harry offered. “If you tell us what it is you’re looking for.”
Severus smiled at the tone and the brave resolve that shone in it. It was heart-warming to realise how strong these two boys of his were. He was more than a little proud of their sense of duty and inner strength—not that he was able to put that into words.
“You’re students, and you have N.E.W.T.s to pass in a few months. Your primary concern should be your studies,” he said, glad to see that the fact that he seemed to have recently become a parent didn’t make him any less of a professor and Head of House.
“Sorry to have to break it to you, Sev,” Draco said with a cheeky grin, “but we’re more than capable of doing both.”
The use of the nickname that only his sister was allowed to use, more than the stupid grin splitting Draco’s face, had him on instant alert. Something was happening that he hadn’t been made aware of; he was sure of it. “Are you now?” he asked, his tone darkly challenging.
“Kinda have been for weeks,” Harry confirmed with a smile that was a close match for Draco’s.
Severus felt his forehead twitch with a curious quirk. It made way to amazement when the boys launched into a recap of what they had been secretly up to for months: the newly reformed D.A., the secret meetings, and the casual perusal of other student’s memories as they tried to recreate a comprehensive timeline of the night of Dumbledore’s murder. They also mentioned their more recent turn to everything judicial as they desperately sought a way to free Saturnine from the Ministry’s clutches. He’d been so busy with his own scheming, all of it had escaped his notice.
His first instinct was to get angry at the sheer idiocy of it all: collecting other people’s memories, holding secret gatherings within the school, secretly siphoning information from the Ministry’s employees regarding one of their ongoing investigations? Together, Harry and Draco had broken more rules than Severus cared to count. And yet—he was hardly able to start throwing stones. What he and Saturnine had done had been more of the same—bravado in the face of certain desperation. And then it dawned on him that they would all have been better served if they’d pooled their resources.
“No more D.A.,” he told them sternly. “It won’t do to involve other students into this.” Then, looking pointedly at Harry, he added, “And that includes Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger.”
“But we can help,” Harry protested.
“Yes, you and Draco can,” he said. “But I draw the line at involving other students.” After a pause, he added, “If you want in, that’s the cost of entry.”
“Unless we believe one of them can be a valuable resource,” Draco said, and really, Severus shouldn’t have been surprised the blond would be the one to attempt negotiations.
“Only with my express authorisation,” Severus said with a show of reluctance.
“Will you tell us the rest of the plan, then?” Harry asked, pinning him with an intense look that clearly aimed to gauge the accuracy of his answer.
Severus wanted to say no, but instead replied, “Yes.”
“Deal,” Harry said.
Draco echoed the sentiment. “Deal.”
“You used Rita Skeeter?” Harry couldn’t stop himself from returning to that one fact that refused to align with everything else. “Rita Skeeter?”
Severus nodded again. He’d already explained it twice, but Harry had a hard time coming to grips with the notion.
“Rita Skeeter?” he demanded again. “The Queen of the Quills, the author of all that drab about Dumbledore and me—that Rita Skeeter?”
“Yes, Harry,” Severus replied, pinching the bridge of his nose. “That Rita Skeeter.”
Harry crossed his arms over his chest as he fought the urge to pout. A little further up the bed, Draco chuckled from where he was leaning against the headboard. They were still sitting atop Saturnine’s small bed. Harry had kicked off his shoes and moved towards the lower end of the mattress, where he sat crossed-legged. Draco had commandeered the upper half and now lay half-sprawled over the coverlet. Severus remained in the middle, sitting with his back against the bookshelves and his long legs dangling over the other end.
The Potions Master had explained everything from the beginning, including how he and Saturnine had used the press to sway the public’s opinion to influence the Ministry’s behaviour. It was a clever move, and while Harry had indeed recognised some of the Snape siblings’ words within the Daily Prophet’s articles, he was taken aback to learn that they had willingly resorted to muddy themselves with the likes of Rita Skeeter. That woman was the journalistic equivalent of a vulture—and she wouldn’t have agreed to help out of the kindness of her heart.
“What have you got on her?” he demanded, sure now that one of them must have blackmailed her into it.
Severus quirked a brow in a cutting arch. But there was a tremor at the corner of his mouth that betrayed his amusement. “That is solely between Saturnine and Ms Skeeter,” he said. “If you want to know more, you’ll have to talk to one of them. Personally, I value my private bits too much to ever risk such bouts of curiosity.”
Draco chuckled at that, and Harry felt laughter bubble up inside of him. ‘Funny Severus’ was a rare treat to be enjoyed. And he feared riotous laughter might scare him into never coming out again. He gave him a grin and a nod instead.
‘Information is key,’ Harry recalled the familiar motto Saturnine had drummed into him during their first summer at Cove Cottage. It had never held truer, and suddenly, he wondered if Severus shared the same literary interests as his sister. Quoting from memory, he said, “The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands. But the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”
That got him a nod of approval from the man. “Sun Tzu. I’m surprised you know his works well enough to quote him, Harry.”
“It’s a long story, but Saturnine gave me The Art of War for my birthday last year,” he explained.
Severus chuckled at that, and it was an even rarer treat than his odd bouts of humour. “Sounds like something she would do.”
“Who’s he?” Draco asked with a curious pout.
“Muggle Chinese war general that lived in 500BC and that was a very renowned military strategist,” Harry explained. “Wrote a whole book about it.”
“Sounds boring.” Draco shrugged. “I prefer my book.”
“The one with the free elves and the magic jewellery?” Harry asked. He’d caught Draco more than once with his nose in one of Severus’ old literary fictions and asked him one day about it. That had earned him a convoluted answer about elves and dwarfs and men uniting to fight some grand sorcerer alongside people with hairy feet that were known as ‘Hobbits’. Draco’s summary hadn’t been captivating enough for Harry to want to pick up the heavy tome.
“It’s not magical jewellery; it’s just the one ring,” Draco said as if he’d been offended by the comment. “And it’s not magical in a sissy kind of way; it allows you to become invisible and things.”
“Well, I much prefer my cloak than some girl’s wedding band,” Harry said. “Thank you very much.”
“Boys!” Severus cut in before they could rile each other up into one of their all too frequent verbal jousts that culminated into a back-and-forth volley of insults worthy of twelve-year-olds. “How did we get from The Art of War to the Lord of the Rings?” he asked.
Harry shrugged. “You’re the one who started making jokes. We just followed your lead.”
An imperious eyebrow arched up. “I most certainly did not.”
Draco sniggered. “You most certainly did, Sev,” he said, “but we forgive you for that momentary lapse of judgement, oh mighty Head of Slytherin House.”
The corners of Severus’ lips twitched again, and Harry could tell he tried not to laugh. Feeling that the man deserved a little more levity from the seriousness of the past couple of weeks, he kept the banter going. “Careful, Draco, or it might be your Slytherin bits that get hexed before the day is over. And what will we have to report to Skeeter, then?”
“Slytherin Head of House maims former Most Eligible Bachelor of Britain while the Boy Who Lived watches?” Draco tried with a wry grin and a pompous delivery.
“Jerk,” Harry said with an amused wink.
“Tosser,” Draco shot back without delay.
“Boys!” Severus cut in.
This word was what Harry had been waiting for, and he had a ready reply for the man. “Yours,” he said with a smile that added some levity to the seriousness of his tone. Harry wanted Severus to know he meant it, even if he gallantly offered him an out from what was undoubtedly a heavy discussion that he wasn’t ready for just yet.
Predictably, Severus let the comment slide, but he held Harry’s gaze for an instant with a seriousness of his own that told him his message had been received loud and clear.
“Have you talked to anyone within the Order about this?” Harry asked. “The only information we’ve managed to garner was from Percy Weasley, and he isn’t half as important as he thinks he is.”
Severus shook his head. “Who would you have me talking to?”
Harry shrugged. “I don’t know—Tonks or Moody? Or even Mr Weasley? They all work for the Ministry.” After a pause, Harry added, “I could ask Remus to ask Tonks to ask them about it if you want.”
“What a convoluted way to go about things,” Severus said with a huff. “And why get him involved in this?”
“Uh…” Harry hesitated. “He’s kinda dating Tonks, I believe.”
Ah, yes—even the mangy werewolf had found someone; Severus had seen indicators of that at the boys’ birthday party, hadn’t he? He wasn’t sure—when Lupin was involved, he tended to erase many things from his memory without a second thought.
Not wanting that goody-two-shoes St. Bernard anywhere near, he said with an arched brow, “My question still stands.”
“Well, it’s just that everyone knows Remus and I are friends; so, it wouldn’t be odd for me to be seen talking to him,” Harry explained. “We could use him as an intermediate to question the others, that’s all.”
A valid point—if they were going to meet in public for everyone to see. As it was, Severus much preferred clandestine meetups in 12 Grimmauld Place. But they could play a game of ‘fetch’ with the werewolf, he supposed. One chat with Lupin would save him the hassle of tracking down Tonks, Moody, Shacklebolt and Weasley Sr, and he knew it would make Harry happy to see him again.
With a resigned sigh, he pulled out his wand, and remembering a ginger-haired girl with emerald eyes playing in a park, Severus summoned his Patronus. “Message for Remus Lupin,” he told the translucent doe that came grazing at his feet. “12 Grimmauld Place, at your earliest convenience.” The doe gave him a slight nod before bouncing through the wall.
Severus came to his feet a moment later, cracking his back and shaking some life back into his limbs. Harry and Draco followed suit with a lot more agility. He was about to move out of his bedroom when the state of the place truly hit him. It was a mess. Dirty clothes, leftover food, and parchment were strewn all over the floor and his bed—he’d never let himself sink so low before, and it set a dangerous precedent. Wand still in hand, he vanished the clothes to the Hogwarts Laundry Room, the dirty dishes to the kitchens, and he stacked everything else into a neat pile by his bed.
“Was that a doe?” he heard Harry whisper to Draco behind his back, and his stomach dropped.
“Yeah, surprised me, too,” Draco replied in a similar tone. “I would have thought—something with more bite?”
“Or venom,” he heard Harry add mirthfully, and he relaxed a little. If they were joking about it, it meant they hadn’t made the connection. He prayed it would remain that way. He may have told the boys many truths today, but he wasn’t quite ready to tell them everything just yet.
Draco had never really understood Remus Lupin, but he figured he’d never gotten a chance to get to know the man. When he’d been appointed to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts a few years ago, Severus had made his opinion of the new staff member clear to the entirety of Slytherin House, and Draco had let that influence his views.
When he had met with the sandy-haired wizard again that summer, it had been in a much less formal environment. But Lupin had been the herald of bad news, and that had coloured everything, too.
Then there had been his shared birthday party with Harry. Lupin had been amongst the guests, and he’d gifted Draco with a book on Boggarts. He’d gone to the trouble of writing down a few words on the first page: “For Draco. Hoping that your birthday won’t be Riddikulus.” It was clearly a call-back to the professor’s first Defence class with the third years and Draco’s less than enthused comment about his teaching abilities. But the note had made him laugh, and the book had turned out to be extremely interesting.
Their latest encounter had been at the headmaster’s funeral—or whatever it was they had done that day; he wasn’t sure what to call it now that he knew the truth—and there, too, Lupin had been kind to him. He hadn’t engulfed him in a hug like he did Harry and Saturnine, but he’d given him an encouraging smile and a firm pat on the shoulder. That was more affection than most people usually gave him.
Now that he knew more about his godfather’s years at Hogwarts and his problems with a certain quartet of Gryffindors, he understood that maybe not everything he’d heard from Severus had been the truth. It was possible that he’d misjudged the man and that Harry’s evident attachment to Lupin wasn’t so—Riddikulus, after all.
“You wanted to see me?” Lupin asked after greeting everyone.
He’d been there already when they stepped through the Floo, and Draco surmised he must have been at 12 Grimmauld Place when he got the Patronus message.
The sandy-haired wizard looked exhausted, and his shabby set of wizard’s robes had seen better days. Draco caught sight of several places that had been darned—not that he was one to judge anymore. At least the man could afford clothes, unlike him. He had to rely on his godfather’s patronage for that.
“It’s about Saturnine,” Severus said without preamble.
That immediately got the other man’s attention, and he shot to his feet from the armchair he’d been sitting on. Only Harry and Draco remained seated now, Severus having refused the offer of a seat when they’d arrived. He preferred to remain a looming black presence near the mantelpiece while the others proceeded with the customary greetings.
“Have you any word on how she’s doing?” Lupin asked sincerely.
“None,” Severus replied. “Which is where you come in.”
Lupin seemed surprised by the inference. “Me?”
“Your girlfriend,” Severus said the word as if it left a bitter taste in his mouth, “works for the Ministry, does she not?”
In other circumstances, it would have made Draco smile to see the thirty-seven-year-old wizard blush like a schoolboy.
“Ah—huh, ’Dora—well—yes, she does,” he replied, never once managing to meet Severus’ gaze as he did.
“Presumably, you know how to reach the others—Moody, Shacklebolt?” Severus continued without seeming to take notice of Lupin’s embarrassed countenance.
“Of course.” The sandy-haired wizard nodded. “What is it you want to know, Severus?”
“Everything they can find out about the situation. Have them ask around discreetly about the state of the investigation and the evidence that the prosecution has. Everything they can find out will help us plan her defence,” he explained.
“Maybe she’s got allies there,” Harry said from his seat on the garish old House of Black sofa. “Saturnine, I mean. She did work for the Aurors. Maybe she’s still got friends there who might want to help her.”
Severus arched an imperious eyebrow that seemed to say, ‘Like the boy said.’
Lupin’s answering expression wasn’t what they expected; it was one of contrite restraint.
Severus noticed it right away. “What is it?” he demanded.
After a long pause, Lupin looked at his shoes as he admitted, “If you were to ask Tonks or Alastor about it, they’d tell you that they have never—in all the years they’ve been in service—seen Saturnine at the Ministry.”
“Why?” Harry asked, shooting to his feet. “What do you mean by that?”
“Are you inferring that my sister lied on her resume, Lupin?” Severus said in a dark tone that bordered on dangerous, and Draco got to his feet, too. What he would do if the two Hogwarts alumni started to brawl, he had no idea. But it was prudent to be ready just the same.
Lupin raised a placating hand even as he took a cautious step back, then another one. “Now, now. I’m not implying anything, Severus. I’m only telling you how things are.”
“What—do—you—mean?” his godfather said, advancing on the cowering man, the pacing of his steps matching the delivery of his words.
Lupin stepped backwards two more paces until the back of his legs hit a grand piano, and he couldn’t retreat further. He seemed to struggle for the correct reply. “I’m not sure—” His eyes glanced towards Harry and Draco. “This isn’t for everybody’s ears, Severus.”
“Whatever you have to say, Lupin,” Severus said with an emphasis on the name that betrayed his opinion of the man, “you can say to all of us.”
Lupin glanced at him and Harry one more time, then back at Severus, and his shoulders slumped a little as he seemed to come to a decision. “Very well,” he said, choosing to lean back against the piano as if he needed the physical support.
Severus remained where he was, two feet away from him, his black robes idle now that he’d stopped stalking forward, but he was still a damn intimidating sight anyway.
“Saturnine did work for the Auror Office, but not in the capacity you all assume,” Lupin began. “She never applied for the job, but she had to take it anyway. She’s held quite a variety of jobs over the years. But there was nothing she disliked more than what the Ministry made her do while she was there.”
All this was clearly news to Severus, and the intimidation factor diminished by half when his facial features relaxed into an expression of rapt interest.
“I’m assuming,” Lupin continued, “that you are all familiar with Saturnine’s—special kind of magic?” He paused as he waited for an answer. When none was forthcoming, he added, “If not, that’s not a story for me to divulge.”
“We know she’s an Elemental,” Severus said at last. “I’m assuming that’s what you were inferring?”
Lupin nodded. “She always took great care to hide it, but she was forced to use her Elemental Magic in broad daylight a few years ago to save a young child’s life. It was a stupid Muggle accident that could have had dire consequences had she not intervened. It would have been nothing if Rufus Scrimgeour hadn’t been the lead investigator on the case.”
“He figured out what she was?” Severus said in understanding.
Lupin nodded. “He had no evidence, but there were witnesses to her actions—and no spells that could explain the blasts of air that saved that child’s life. When he learned that her family name was Snape and that she was indeed your sister, well…” Lupin seemed reluctant to finish his sentence. “Scrimgeour was just an Auror back then, and he had no direct proof of his suspicions. So, there was no immediate backlash, and Saturnine all but forgot it even happened. But then Scrimgeour became Head of the Auror Office. Suddenly, he had the means to do pretty much everything he wanted—including tracking her down and blackmailing her into working for him.”
Draco had never liked the shameless hypocritical git that had been the former Minister for Magic. He’d met him once or twice when Lucius had dragged him to some Ministry dinner or other pompous party. Now, hearing that he’d used Saturnine’s talent against her, he liked him even less.
“It was either that or a trip straight to Azkaban,” Lupin continued. “She was his puppet for close to seven years until she managed to find herself a way out.”
“What way?” Severus demanded.
“That I do not know,” Lupin replied with a contrite expression. “She never said. I’m guessing blackmailing material of her own, but she struck a deal with him. She wouldn’t share what she had on Scrimgeour if he didn’t reveal what he knew about her—or something along those lines.”
It was Harry that asked the question they all wanted to know the answer to. “What did she have to do?”
Lupin sighed. “The Auror’s dirty work.”
“What’s that mean?” Harry demanded, stepping closer to his friend. “What did she do?”
Draco stepped closer, too, drawn to stand with the others in the face of the oncoming storm about to hit them. Now, Severus was no more intimidating than a desolate puppet, as if the strings had been cut above him. Draco stopped by his side in a show of support.
“Whatever shady mission Scrimgeour had for her. Intimidation and spying jobs, mostly—everything that required her keen intellect and special talent.” He paused, then added the obvious. “Off the record, of course.”
“Did she—” Harry couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence. Did she ever kill anyone? He wanted to know. And despite the morbidity of the question, Draco was curious, too. He’d come to care a great deal about Saturnine and had gone to great lengths to try and get her back. He was invested in the answer just as much as the other two members of their family.