Severus looked as if he could not decide whether to stay or run away—to hear the answer or cover his ears to drown out Lupin’s voice. Draco understood how his godfather felt; he wasn’t faring much better himself. What had Saturnine been forced to do? How far had she gone?
Harry’s question hung heavy between them. Had she killed anyone?
“Not that I know of,” Lupin replied without further delay. He’d clearly understood how vital that answer was to them. “I think she would have taken Azkaban over that kind of order any day.”
Severus exhaled a sigh of relief, and Draco leaned against his shoulder for an instant—without being too obvious about it.
“But she did more than a few things she wasn’t proud of,” Lupin conceded. “Though the orders came from Scrimgeour, she never deluded herself into thinking them sanctioned by the Ministry. But she was caught between a rock and a hard place; she was forced to execute her orders until she found a way out.
“It seems that no one at the Ministry has heard about that part of her life yet,” Lupin continued. “But I’m guessing Talio will manage to find her personal file at some point—or realise the true significance of a lack of relevant documentation.”
“They’ll send her straight to Azkaban without even a trial if that happens,” Harry said, worry thick in his voice. Then he turned to Severus with pleading eyes. “We can’t let that happen, Severus. We can’t.”
The plan. The siblings’ brilliant plan hinged on not revealing the truth of Dumbledore’s deception. But how far would they go to ensure its success? Would they sacrifice one of their own? Was winning the war worth Saturnine’s life?
Chancing a glance at Severus, Draco realised that it was a decision he clearly could not make at the moment. The Potions Master looked so lost within his head that he didn’t seem to realise that he was on the verge of a panic attack. Draco caught him by the arm and steered him towards the closest sofa. Severus went willingly, looking the part of a puppet that had lost the will to live.
Draco decided then and there that no war was worth the price of either of their lives. They’d do what it took to get her out. They’d find a way.
“We can’t let her rot in Azkaban for the rest of her life to protect Dumbledore’s mad schemes,” Draco said with a passion most unlike him. “We have to do the right thing: get her out of there—regardless of the cost.”
Harry was by his side an instant later, Draco’s words clearly resonating with him.
Severus came back to life in a flash. It was as if he’d been hit by a Renervating Spell. “What did you say?” he asked, looking at Draco with narrowed, intense obsidian eyes.
“We’ll get her out of there.”
“No,” he cut in. “What did you say—your exact words?”
Draco had to think back for an instant. “We have to do the right thing: get her out of there—regardless of the cost,” he repeated.
“Do the right thing,” Severus repeated, as if the phrase held a secret meaning for him.
Harry sat down next to the Potions Master and raised his hand to rub his upper arm. “What is it, Severus?” he asked. “Something just clicked in your brain at the words—didn’t it? Don’t lose the thread; run with it and take us along.”
His godfather didn’t need further prodding; he lost himself within his head again, and you could all but see the cogs turning behind his eyes. But he didn’t completely lose himself this time. He remained conscious enough to think aloud. Draco wondered if it was because Harry was touching him—anchoring him to reality.
“Saturnine’s last words to me before the Aurors arrested her were ‘I trust you to do the right thing.’ I thought she meant taking care of you two. But what if she meant something else? She had to have known how the situation would unfold when she decided to take my place. She had to have known they would unearth her past at some point and that it would send her straight to Azkaban. Why did she do it, then? When she would have known I would have been safer with them had I been arrested? Why take that risk?”
“Because she had a way out,” Draco said, sitting down on Severus’ other side.
“Whatever delivered her from the Ministry’s clutches two years ago—that leverage she had on Minister Scrimgeour,” Harry added, following Severus’ train of thought, “could get her out again.”
“But Scrimgeour is dead,” Draco said.
“If it implicates the former Minister for Magic, it could still do substantial damage,” Severus said. “She wants me to use it, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t even know where to find it.”
“If anyone can figure that out, it’s you, Severus,” Harry said, trying to keep his voice calm and measured. “You know her better than anyone. She trusts you to figure it out.”
“I don’t know how…” he said, his voice faltering. They were losing him again.
Draco reached for one of his hands to offer him a second anchoring point. “You know her like no one else does, Severus. It must be somewhere only the two of you would think of—somewhere not in any file or record.”
“I don’t know—there’s the cottage, but it’s too obvious. There’s our childhood home, but she hates it there. And I don’t know where she lived afterwards—I never asked.”
“Don’t think about that,” Harry cut in. “The answer’s in your past—in the Midlands.”
“In Cokeworth?” Severus asked, surprised, and Draco guessed that to be his hometown’s name. “I don’t think she’s been back in decades.”
“She took me to your mother’s grave the summer before last,” Harry said.
“And she attended your parents’ funerals,” Lupin added from where he stood, still leaning awkwardly against the piano. “Both of them.” They’d all but forgotten about him.
That was news to Severus, but it seemed to spur him forward.
“Cokeworth?” he repeated, cogs turning rapidly again. “The park. It’s the only place I can think of.”
“What park?” Harry asked.
“The small playpark we went to when we were kids. She always loved it there.”
“Is that the view from the frame in your bedroom?” Draco asked. “The one with the swing set in the back?”
Severus nodded, and Draco was sure they’d found the last piece of the puzzle. That had to be it; Saturnine had set up the frames, and there was little doubt that this one had been one more clue for them to anticipate her plan.
Harry shot to his feet, tugging on Severus’ sleeve to hurry him along. “Come on,” he urged. “We need to go. Now.”
His godfather got to his feet with more reluctance than Draco expected, and he found that puzzling. What followed next left him even more surprised; Severus and Lupin exchanged a knowing look.
“If you’re thinking about leaving us behind,” Draco started in a pre-emptive strike. “Think again.”
“That’s not it at all,” Severus said with a shake of his head. “Go wait in the lobby. We’ll Apparate from the front steps in a moment.”
Draco was tempted to argue, but Harry gave him a look that made him bow his head in agreement. They said their goodbyes to Lupin and went to wait outside.
Severus needed a minute to gather his thoughts. The temptation to Occlude was so strong that, like an addict offered a quick fix on a silver platter, he almost surrendered to the impulse. Going back home was never easy for him. He only forced himself to do it every summer because the house on Spinner’s End was all he had. But the playpark was another beast entirely. He hadn’t been back there in years, not since—Lily. He wasn’t ready to go back, and least of all alongside Harry Potter, of all people.
He was inches away from losing himself to his erratic thoughts again when a strong hand landed on his shoulder. Severus was startled and, looking to his side, was surprised to find it belonged to Remus Lupin. The pained expression on the man’s face was even more disturbing than the fact that he was touching him. It almost looked like Lupin—cared.
“I don’t envy your position, Severus,” he said. “I have an idea of the memories you associate with that park. It can’t be easy for you to have to take Harry there.”
“I’ve never been back,” he admitted. “I don’t know if I can.”
“You must go, old friend,” Lupin said kindly. “For Saturnine and,” he nodded towards the hallway the boys had disappeared into, “for them.”
It was a testament to how badly he fared that he did not remark on the use of the word ‘friend’. But thinking of Cokeworth had a way of twisting his head and his heart.
“I miss her,” Severus admitted, knowing that the sentiment was shared. He had so few people he could talk to about Lily; he barely uttered her name anymore.
“I miss Lily, too,” Lupin said, his eyes watering up. “But she’s gone, Severus. She has been for a long time. Saturnine and the boys aren’t; they’re right here, and they need you.”
“But—Harry?” he asked.
Lupin shrugged. “It’s high time someone tells that boy the truth, don’t you think?”
Does he mean for me to do it? Severus wondered. He couldn’t. There was no way in hell he would tell Harry what he’d done—that it was his mistake that had cost him his parents’ lives. Besides, what did Lupin know about it? Surely he’d meant something else.
“What do you know?” he asked darkly.
Lupin sighed. “Did you ever wonder how it is that she came back? Saturnine? Why Dumbledore went to get her?”
He had, but he hadn’t dared ask the question. He’d tried to guess but had found that he lacked some of the puzzle pieces. He nodded.
“Saturnine’s been my best friend for close to fifteen years, Severus. She was there for me when no one else was, and I’ll always be thankful to her for that. She knows everything about me, just like I know everything there is to know about her. And I knew—I had known for years—that there wasn’t anything she wanted more in life than to be reunited with you.”
Ah, he thought, there’s the missing piece. “It was you. You told Dumbledore to recruit her.”
“Yes,” Lupin nodded. “Once I knew Saturnine had escaped the Ministry, I told Dumbledore about her. I knew he would be able to keep her safe, and I knew he could give her the only thing she truly wanted—you. And the only way the old man knew to get her to sign up was to tell her the truth about you. To show her that you’d changed, and there was hope for you two to be family again.”
A pained gasp passed Severus’ throat. Discovering that the old man had broken his promise not to tell anyone hurt. Learning that Dumbledore had told his sister broke what little remained of his heart—it was consumed by the flames of his shame.
“I’ve known the truth for a while now, and so has she,” Lupin continued gently. “But neither of us spoke a word of this—not to Harry or anyone else. Out of respect for you, we decided to wait until you were ready.”
Lupin’s grasp on his shoulder tightened to a near painful level. “The choice is yours, Severus. But I strongly advise you to tell him the truth. Harry’s grown very attached to you and, I daresay, you to him. But you’ll never find peace with that secret hanging between the two of you—you can’t build a healthy relationship on a lie.”
“I’ll lose him if I tell him what I did,” Severus admitted, and he wondered at his admission. Since when had Remus Lupin become his confessor? This conversation between the two of them should never have occurred; this level of intimacy should never have been permitted. He disliked the man; he always had. Why was he spilling his guts out to him, then? Why was he so desperate for his guidance? Because you have no one else, a little voice at the back of his head replied—and damn if that wasn’t the truth.
“I can’t lose either of them,” Severus said, using the last of his strength to keep the tears from spilling from his overflowing eyes. “They’re all I have, Remus. They’re all I have.”
The hand on his shoulder propelled him forward, and a strong pair of arms closed around his back. Remus Lupin, annoying werewolf and former Hogwarts Marauder, chose to hug him when he could have taken advantage of his vulnerable state to hurt him beyond comprehension. Twenty years of rancour were wiped away by that single act of kindness.
“You won’t, Severus,” Remus reassured him as he steadfastly held him together so that he wouldn’t fall apart. “Trust them. Trust Harry—and most of all, trust yourself.”