Classes resumed on Monday, the 5th of January, and Harry let it slip to a few Gryffindors the next day that Severus and Saturnine would pass their N.E.W.T.s again. The news shot through the entire school like lightning. And in a single afternoon, no less than two dozen people from all four Houses caught up with him in the hallways between classes to ask if it was true.
“Snape’s really going to do it?” they kept asking. “He’s retaking his N.E.W.T.s?”
Harry was forced to tell them the truth: yes, their Potions professor would be retaking his exams in five months, alongside the seventh-years. That Saturnine also competed didn’t seem to hold quite the same appeal to the student body at large.
“I think that’s excellent,” Hermione commented Thursday evening. “It shows the importance of the exams and reminds everyone that they should be studying hard and reviewing even harder.”
“I could have done without the added pressure,” Ron said. “Now he’ll be able to rub it in that he beat us all.” He sighed. “Frankly, Weasley,” he said in a dark tone that was a good match for Severus’, “even I could do it. You must really be a troll, after all.”
Next to him, Ginny and Neville broke into peals of laughter. Harry joined in heartily.
On Monday, everyone discovered that Harry and Draco had changed their last names. And things had been tense ever since. Their other professors had been informed of the change and correctly addressed them both as ‘Mr Snape’ in class. But that came as a surprise to some. While Harry’s close friends were supportive and understanding, it had upset their routine. Their group, much like the rest of the school, had a habit of despising Severus brazenly at times. But now that the man was Harry’s family, they found themselves to be walking on eggshells whenever his name came up.
That was until earlier that evening when Seamus Finnigan had felt the need to vent his frustration at having been given a detention by his Potions professor. He’d done it quite loudly, in the middle of the Gryffindor common room. Either he hadn’t noticed Harry’s presence, or his ire had made him forget everything about the recent adoption. But he launched himself into a riotous impression of the bat of the dungeon—stalking the hallways in a billowing cape and declaiming that he was out for students’ blood. The caricature was made even funnier with Seamus’ thick Irish accent. Everyone present laughed at that, but no one laughed harder than Harry himself, and this caught everyone’s attention. The assembled crowd turned to him in surprise.
“That was a good one, Seamus,” Harry had remarked, still smiling. “Except for the accent, of course. Severus doesn’t come from that far up north.”
That single comment had solved the situation for everyone, and the uncertain tension that had danced between them all week vanished as if it had been magically spelled away. While Harry wouldn’t be telling jokes at Severus’ expense anymore, it seemed he had no problem laughing when someone came up with a good one—if it wasn’t insulting, of course.
The change in status of his relationship with Saturnine happened much more smoothly. The Defence Against the Dark Arts professor was widely appreciated throughout the school, and she was rarely the butt of any jokes. The consensus amongst the students was that she was exacting but fair and always available after hours for students who needed help to understand something. After only four months in, it already felt like she’d always been part of the staff. The fact that she was now Harry’s mother changed nothing regarding the widely accepted idea that she was the most knowledgeable Defence professor Hogwarts had ever had—and a competent teacher to boot.
Draco never returned to the Slytherin dorms after the Christmas break. The day Harry packed his trunk to prepare to go back to Gryffindor Tower, the blond went to Severus to ask if he could stay in the dungeons. He’d prepared a whole speech to explain his reasons and was ready to admit to how bad the situation had become for him in the Slytherin dorms, but there had been no need.
“You’re home, Draco,” Severus had said. “You needn’t ask my permission to stay.”
And so, he’d moved in permanently. And while he still wore his Slytherin silver and green uniform, he now spent most of his time in the company of red and gold Gryffindors. Harry’s friends were slowly becoming Draco’s friends, too. And he would often spend time between classes brainstorming ideas with Hermione while Harry and Ron chattered about something moronic or other. He quite willingly volunteered his opinion to Ginny when she brought up new Quidditch tactics she was eager to use for their upcoming games. Draco never acted against Slytherin House’s interests, of course. But he had no such hesitations about Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. And he had had one or two very informative discussions with Neville about exotic venomous plants.
Thus it was that Draco had no qualms enlisting the lions’ help to set up Severus’ not-so-secret birthday party. He and Harry had discussed it at length and had already secured Saturnine’s help. The golden trio—technically a multi-colour quartet now—would handle the preparations while she would provide a distraction.
With Professor McGonagall’s permission, the students commandeered one of the empty classrooms on the third floor, close to Saturnine’s quarters. A quick chat with Dobby secured them platters of finger food, a birthday cake, and thirty-eight candles. A visit to Professor Flitwick told them everything they needed to know about charmed decorations. Professor Vector was roped in to ask Severus if they could switch their patrol nights under false pretences. And by the end of the week, everyone in the staff but Hagrid—who notoriously couldn’t keep a secret—was in on it.
When classes ended on Friday, the 9th of January, Harry and Draco walked down to the dungeons as if it were any other day of the year. Once in Severus’ living room, Harry pulled out a small chocolate muffin he had nicked at breakfast and a single candle. Retrieving a plate from the kitchenette, he placed the muffin in the middle. Then he planted the candle on top. While they planned to keep the party a secret until the last minute, they weren’t stupid enough to think that Severus would buy that they had forgotten about his birthday entirely. So, they had decided to give him what he expected—nothing much.
Saturnine and Severus arrived shortly after, and the grumpy Potions Master made a show of having requested that his birthday shouldn’t be celebrated. But he agreed to blow out his candle, and his lips twitched upwards when he did. They all wished him a happy birthday, and Saturnine kissed him on the cheek before making as if to check his head for grey hair—because he was getting rather old now.
Then Harry and Draco gave him the gifts they had prepared for their pre-birthday party. Those weren’t the real gifts at all, but they would do for now. Both Harry and Draco had bought them using money from their new monthly allowances. Harry got his adoptive father a long, elegant raven quill and Draco, no less than five bottles of red ink, hoping that it would last him until the end of the school year.
Saturnine’s present was much more thoughtful. She hadn’t been told all their plans, and her gift was a set of delicate-looking ornate glass phials, jars, and other potions equipment that fit inside a handbag that slightly resembled a doctor’s bag. Even the leather holdall looked expensive, and the gift’s unveiling left Severus tongue-tied and watery-eyed.
While the dark-haired wizard checked each item in the bag, one by one, Saturnine explained to Harry and Draco that it was tradition for a potioneer to be given a bag like this on the day they got their mastery. The gift usually came from the wizard’s parents, or a close relative, acknowledging his accomplishments. And apparently, Saturnine had been waiting for well over ten years to uphold the tradition.
Placing the bag carefully at his feet, Severus got up and did something he rarely did; he grabbed his sister in a tight hug. She hugged him back eagerly and whispered something in his ear for him alone that forced a few tears past Severus’ eyelashes.
Glancing over at Harry, Draco gave him a discreet wink. Phase one was completed. Now, they could only hope that phases two and three would go equally well.
Severus found himself glad to have switched his patrol night with Septima Vector. After tonight’s events, the quiet calmness of the empty hallways soothed his soul and felt like a calm balm for his raging emotions. While he’d known all along that Harry and Draco wouldn’t let him forget that today was his birthday, he hadn’t expected his sister’s gift to floor him quite so thoroughly.
He had completed his mastery some thirteen years ago, and he was well over the fact that tradition hadn’t been upheld where he was concerned—not that he had ever expected it to be. No one had come to applaud him at his graduation ceremony. And he hadn’t cared one iota that there hadn’t been any gift waiting for him when he’d gotten home—or so he’d thought. His sister had been there that day, and she had given him the potioneer’s bag, along with the words of praise his twenty-five-year-old self had been waiting to hear for years.
Stopping in the middle of a hallway, Severus pushed open a window and leaned his head outside to breathe in the cold winter air. “Damn it,” he muttered, realising that just thinking about it made his eyes well up.
Two minutes later, he returned to the task at hand and found comfort in the familiarity of the deserted hallways and the rhythmic momentum of his feet pounding the floor.
The many corridors of Hogwarts seemed deserted tonight, and Severus wasn’t too surprised. Students rarely broke curfew the week of their return to the castle. They had too much to discuss with their friends to feel the need to defy authority brazenly. But it would come again in a week or two, he knew.
Or perhaps not, he thought, freezing in his steps on the third-floor landing. He waited to see if he heard it again. A giggle echoed in the distance, followed by a loud “Shhh.”
Wand in hand, Severus skulked forward even as he took bets with himself on the culprits’ identities. It had sounded like a boy and a girl, and he wondered if it was an amorous pair looking for a secluded nook to hook up. There weren’t many places of interest on the third floor, save for a few empty classrooms. Silent as a ghost, he trailed forward, following the sound of light footsteps echoing off in the distance to orient himself. He’d always liked the thrill of the chase, and scaring students half to death in the dead of the night was a favourite pastime of his.
Swiftly rounding a corner, Severus rose his wand-hand, ready to expose the trespassers to the blinding light of his fury—and found the hallways deserted.
The Potions Master cursed beneath his breath; he’d been so sure he’d caught up with them. Where had they gone? A faint scraping sound broke the silence an instant later, and he got moving again. He hadn’t missed them; the scoundrels had moved inside one of the classrooms to hide. And he knew just which one.
Straightening his back, schooling his features into his most displeasing frown, Severus grabbed the door handle in a firm grasp. Wand held high, he barged in with all his raging might, and someone was left blinded, frozen in fear, and slightly scared. But it wasn’t one of the students present in the room; it was himself.
Severus wasn’t sure he had ever seen that many people smile at once—or at least, not at him. People rarely ever smiled when they saw him, but tonight, everyone seemed happy to do so. They greeted his arrival with cheers and applause and a chortle of Happy Birthday!
Taking in the room at large, Severus noticed that balloons floated about the room, along with candles and magical lights that blinked in silver and green. One of the tables was covered in plates of food, and on another stood a large, frosted cake covered in yet more candles. A pile of boxes of various sizes, all wrapped in a coloured paper, stood behind it.
It looked like—
No, it couldn’t be. No one ever would.
Not for him.
Saturnine walked up to her brother, and she engulfed him in a warm hug. One of her hands went around his back, and the other shot up to the back of his neck, forcing him to place his head in the crook of her neck where he could safely hide from sight.
“Breathe,” she murmured over his head. “Breathe, Severus.”
He figured that wasn’t a bad idea, and he tried to follow her instruction. But he wasn’t sure he remembered how. The room was spinning around him, and he held onto his sister for support.
“Breathe, silly,” she repeated. “It’s okay; you’re safe. It’s only a few people who care about you and want to do a little something special to mark the occasion, all right? Now breathe.”
He managed to draw in a few shaky breaths, and a moment later, the world stopped spinning.
“Just pull back when you’re ready,” Saturnine advised. “Stand up, smile, and say thank you to people. Okay?”
Severus stopped trying to make sense of anything and did as he was told. It was clear by this point that he’d stopped living his own life somewhere along the way. He was living someone else’s now. And that someone had a much better life than his.
As he thanked everyone for coming, Severus figured he might as well enjoy the ride while it lasted.
Phase Two was a complete success, and Harry was high on happiness. Everything had been perfect, and a few drinks in, Severus started smiling openly. He chatted amicably with his colleagues, opened the gifts they had got for him, and politely thanked them for each one. He even had a nice word for Ron when it was time for the redhead and Hermione to hand in their gift. It was just the one gift from the two of them—a book, which meant it probably came from Hermione rather than Ron, but Severus thanked them both in turns. And he looked like he meant it.
The party lasted until eleven. Then McGonagall escorted the two Gryffindors back to their dorms. The other teachers left, and Vector assured Severus she would take over patrol for the rest of the night. A few flicks of Saturnine’s wand cleaned up the entire room, and they set out for her quarters so that they could return to the dungeons using the shortcut only known to them.
Only, that wasn’t where they were going, but neither of the siblings knew that yet. It was still the 9th of January, and Harry was determined that they would celebrate until the last second of the final minute of the last hour of the day. And so, he didn’t stop when they reached the entrance to Saturnine’s rooms—and neither did Draco.
“Where are you going?” Saturnine demanded when it became clear they weren’t heading for the dungeons.
“I don’t think I can cope with any more surprises,” Severus said, slowing in his steps.
“You can, and you will,” Draco tossed over his shoulder. Then he gave Harry another wink, and they started climbing the Grand Staircase.
“Don’t look at me,” they heard Saturnine say behind them. “I have no idea where we’re going.”
Many steps later, they finally made it to the Astronomy Tower. Harry pushed the door open, silently thanking Professor Sinistra for leaving it unlocked, as agreed. The place was ready for their arrival. There was a large throw rug on the platform and a couple of charmed blankets that would help fend off the cold bite of the January air. Candles had been placed all around the rug, charmed so that the wind wouldn’t blow them off.
“We thought you might like to spend the last moments of your birthday with your family,” Draco explained. “And the stars.”
Severus nodded before cautiously stepping forward. The blond must have felt that he wasn’t walking quickly enough, for he grabbed his hand to pull him forward and onto the rug. And soon enough, the four of them sat together in a tight circle, wrapped in warm blankets.
Leaning back on his hands, Harry looked up at the black sky and the myriad of stars that danced in it. He hadn’t looked at the night sky in a long time, he realised—not since he’d left Privet Drive. Stars had been Harry’s companions when he’d been alone in Dudley’s second bedroom. Only, he hadn’t been alone since Saturnine came to get him. He wondered if Severus felt the same way today. Going by the way he was leaning his head on his sister’s shoulder, Harry figured he might.
Estimating that they had about ten minutes left until midnight, Harry reached beneath a corner of the throw rug to grab the last gift they had. As so often was the case for their family, it came in a Manila envelope that bore the Ministry of Magic’s crest.
“From Draco and me,” Harry said as he held out the envelope to Severus. “For you and Saturnine.”
A twin pair of surprised eyebrows shot up on the sibling’s faces, making it clear that neither of them had seen this coming. Cunning and ingenuity ran in the family, and Severus and Saturnine weren’t the only ones who knew how to spring the odd bout of misdirection.
“Before you panic and threaten to ground us until the end of time,” Draco added, “we didn’t go to the Ministry ourselves. We sent Remus instead.”
“And he says Happy Birthday, Severus,” Harry added.
Severus seemed to have forgotten how to open an envelope, and Saturnine did it for him. She quickly pulled the flap open and retrieved the certificate inside. It came from the Ministry’s Administrative Services and Registry and confirmed that they had received the family crest Harry and Draco submitted and recorded it in their archives. Attached to it was the design they had sent: the brand-new House of Snape crest.
They had designed it themselves; Draco had drawn the symbols, and Harry had come up with the motto. In the centre of the crest stood a heraldic coat of arms with a background of a colour that was a perfect balance between Slytherin green and Ravenclaw blue. On it stood a simple, slightly curved, elegant capital “S”. It perfectly matched the pendants Harry and Severus wore around their necks.
A snake was coiled around the coat of arms, its long tail disappearing behind the lower part before reappearing towards the top. Its mouth was open, with a long, forked tongue sneaking out in warning. It was clear to all that, coiled as the snake was, it was here to stay and would protect its nest at all costs.
At the top of the crest stood another fierce animal. It was a large raven with sharp, intelligent eyes that stared straight ahead. Caught mid-flight, it had its large wings stretched open wide, but they looked ready to close at a moment’s notice to better engulf and protect the heart within. And they were more than large enough to guard the stubborn snake, too, even if it thought it didn’t need it.
A simple ribbon had been drawn just below the snake. It contained three words in Latin that were the epitome of what the Snape family stood for—what they had fought and bled for throughout their lives: Familia Ante Omnia.
It was the creed two children of simple means had made for themselves and to which they had adhered their entire lives; the promise to do everything, to stop at nothing, to protect the other. A sacred oath between two kindred souls who would always put each other first and gladly lay down their own lives if it meant the other would survive.
Theirs had been a family of two for decades. But it now extended to include the two sons the snake and raven had taken in and who shared the same values. It was them against the world, as it would always be.
Family before all.